PONY POV SERIES SEASON 8: FINALE!

by Alex Warlorn

First published

The finale of the Pony POV Series is here. Discord and Nightmare Diamond Tiara's end game is here. The Mane Six. Trixie. The Cutie Mark Crusaders. All have roles to play. Can they bring back the truth? Or will lies rule? Can hope pierce despair?

The royal wedding is over. Fate has spiraled off in a completely new direction. But the ponies have proven strong enough to overcome it and are closer friends than ever for it. The journey of the Cutie Mark Crusaders is reaching its conclusion. Discord and the Nightmare of Diamond Tiara are done preparing however, and are ready to bring the world to its knees in one swoop. And one last climbing out of the dark is needed. Years in the making. Now is the time to end this.

Shining Armor, "What is there really left to say?"

Pinkie Pie, "Except that we hope you enjoy the show."

This is it. Let's set the stage and assemble the actors.
It is time for things to come full circle!

PLEASE check out the ton of recursive fanfics of this fanfiction series. A lot of heart went into them! They also answer a lot of unaswered questions. http://mlp-pony-pov-series.deviantart.com/ For heaven sake they rock! Kendell2 and Oracle Mask and Richforce and Ardashir and Jawmax and Persona22 and Dragon of Twilight and ItsFromPeople and all the rest!!! http://alexwarlorn.deviantart.com/journal/Pony-POV-Series-Fanworks-fanmedia-By-Category-332817406

Cover art by Atomic Chincilla, the same guy who did the art for the original Discorded Ponies Epilogue and Trixie's Discording and Rainbow Dash's Reharmoization episode. http://atomic-chinchilla.deviantart.com/ I really wish I had the brains to ask him to include Scootaloo's new braid. But I had already asked him for several changes already.

Let Us Begin...

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"I've scanned the fog around Ponyville repeatedly. The fog's magic is inert. In my opinion a weather wyrm likely took a nap in Everfree," Twilight Sparkle said, going over a slew of notes held up by Spike and Owlowiscious and her own magic.

"When has anythin' with us been 'likely'?" Honest Applejack asked.

"Granted. But if it was a Weather Wyrm, their snoring isn't nearly as dangerous as a fire breathing dragon."

"I hope so, darling," generous Rarity said.

"I have'ta go with AJ on this one," loyal Rainbow Dash said. "Stuff with us never stays 'likely' for long."

"Hey, girls! Don't go turning into me, I'm the one whose supposed to notice the crazy patterns our lives follow." Pinkie Pie laughed.

"Well, I can conclude, the fog itself is just fog," Twilight said.

"In that case, Trixie wonders if the fog is a cover, smoke bomb make good distractions."

"If something's hidden in the fog, then the alarm spells I've set should give us plenty of warning. Be it thieves, the sass-squash, gremlins, or The Legendary Fog Monster of the Isle of Pony, we'll know ahead of time and be ready."

"Half of those even real, Twili?"

"I've learned you can't be too careful."

The kind Flutters said nothing, Fluttershy just happy no one had brought up 'Princess Gaia's fog', and smiled to herself remembering finding the lion inside her to Stare down a dragon into submission, protecting her friends. Fluttercruel enjoyed the memory of her mother growing a spine in front of her worst fear.

"This wasn't in anything I read," Pinkie Pie said under her breath looking the window, seeing ponies doing their best to go about their lives in spite of the annoying fog. "I hope it's nothing. I want to go back to when we only had a big meanie once a year instead of four."

+

Outside the library Derpy looked at her friend, 'Golden Harvest.'

"Hey, Carrot Top. Does this fog remind you of our adventure? The ruins in Everfree, the skeleton ponies and spider, who turned out to be nice, and the icy unicorn queen who turned out to be mean and-"

"Derpy I remember! Our family and friends wondered where we were, you were taught how to use a flame sword, while I was trapped with the queen after she acted like she my friend when we first met her: only she wanted my body or to drain my life or something!" Carrot Top huffed. "I wondered if I'd see my little sister ever again. Derpy, how could you bring that up?"

Derpy didn't cower nor whimper, instead, she merely nuzzled her friend. "Because I want you to know, if something like that happens again, I'll be there for you again. 'Neither rain, wind, hail, or sleet,' isn't just for mail, Carrot Top. It's what I do for all of my friends. I just wanted you to know, whatever happens, you don't have to be afraid. I'll protect my family, and I'll protect my friends."

Derpy remembered the last time fog unbidden had rolled into Ponyville, it was annoying for the walled eye pegasus to swim through it, but she remembered how she had fought Nightmare Whisper's animal puppets to protect her filly, and the medal she got from Princess Luna as Best Mother In Equestria, and even her biological mom FINALLY told Derpy she was proud of her. That was something wonderful Derpy never wanted to forget, it made her smile.

Carrot Top grinned. 'Derpy you act like a clown, but you have the heart of a lion, I finally get why Princess Luna awarded you. Oh, look, it's the crazy Earth Pony who lives in that tiny blue shed, why is he always dragging her off into that thing? The one time I wandered in...ugh, don't want to think about it...This fog does give me the chills. Maybe I should leave town for a bit with Orange Top...No, I won't abandon the farm. If the Apples can keep their apple orchard running through everything thrown at Ponyville, then our carrot farm can keep running! If Derpy can weather a storm, so can I.'

+

The fog around Ponyville's train station proved stubborn later that day; the weather team having to exert themselves to push it back.

Trixie and Twilight stood on the platform together.

"Trixie, if you're going to leave Ponyville again after everything-"

"Twilight! Trixie promises! She is NOT going back home just to mooch off her loving and wonderful family again. I'm just going to get my affairs in orders!"

"So you're finally moving to Ponyville?" Twilight grinned a little too eagerly.

"I can't make a living as a stage magician staying in a small town like Ponyville or Hoofington...But now that I have a reputation in Canterlot..."

"You could always commute."

"Commute?"

"Between Canterlot and Ponyville. YOU TOLD ME you teleported all the way from Hoofington to Ponyville with your props! It's something to be proud of Trixie! Most ponies shouldn't be able to do that. Canterlot and Ponyville should be much easier. In fact, why not just teleport to Hoofington right now and skip paying for a train ticket?"

"When..." Trixie blushed. "When I teleported to Ponyville with my luggage, it almost landed on me. This time I'm going to play it safe and...I just want the alone time right now. That's why my family went on ahead. Twilight, I Pinkie Pie PROMISES, cross my-heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eyes, I will be back in a few days! Not a few weeks, not a few months, not a few years, A FEW DAYS. Count them."

They hugged and nuzzled.

"You've truly become a strong unicorn, Trixie. And that's why I need to tell you this, as a friend. The two of us are dangerous. You know that right, Trixie?"

Trixie grinned. "Well if you want me to brag-"

"I'm serious. We break the system. We can both use magic that's not related to one field, we can use magic that's outside our PONY-TYPE! Weather magic? Plant growth? Exclusive to pegasi and Earth ponies: yet we can anyway."

"Twilight, if we're going to spend ten minutes speaking about how I used to be AGAIN."

"Nononono! I promise no! I'm just saying be prepared...when I did my magic entrance examine...and my magic went wild...I turned my parents into plants."

Trixie thought of her mother's magic. "I understand."

"A part of me's always been scared that they've been scared of ME for that. After the wedding, I finally asked. They reminded me Discord made Mom want to have her stories be perfectly organized and for everything to be absolutely perfectly explained and perfectly coherent, calling her own books 'candy for fillies, not oats for mares', not fantasy, but dementia of ideal pasts and futures that didn't exist. Dad says what she ended up writing while discorded read like textbooks rather than any fiction. 'It read like that time you tried writing a romance novel, Twilight.'" Twilight smiled in spite of herself.

Trixie did too, then asked, "Well, what did he do to your father? If you don't mind Trixie's asking? And what does that have to do with your question?"

"Dad...he made him terrified of everything magical."

"But everything in the world is magical! That a base principle of...oh."

"Exactly. He's happy he didn't saw off his own horn."

They shuddered.

"But...Since Discord twists ponies into their opposite...it made me truly realize that dad ISN'T scared of my magic, at all. And maybe I should accept why mom's books are popular, instead of focusing so much on why I don't like them. Then we went out for donuts."

"Trixie is, forgive me," Trixie bowed her head, "Happy to hear that Twilight Sparkle still has her little moments that make her a mere mortal."

Twilight blushed and said, "You have't heard the capper. They said they shared a dream last year where they told Discord they'd do ANYTHING to be with me, even if Discord had crushed my heart, he turned them into the same plants and stuck them in my room! I was so far gone it took me a thousand years to recognize them, but they didn't care!"

"I sees. I know what it's like to suddenly appreciate how truly your family loves you. It's a wonderful, magical feeling."

"And how much your friends love you." RD flew down and hugged Trixie from behind.

"HEY!"

"Hey, yourself. You didn't think you'd get to sneak away for a few days without saying bye to your OTHER friends did you?" RD grinned. "NOT THIS TIME!"

Pinkie Pie popped out of the waiting train as Fluttershy floated down above Trixie as Rarity and AJ and Spike all gathered around the blue unicorn and gave her a giant hug.

"And you BETTER BE BACK in a few days, or I'm going to Hoofington and dragging you back here by your tail!" Rainbow Dash swore.

"Heh! I'm tempted to stay just to see you try!" Trixie grinned.

"Oh believe me, I won't just 'try!'" RD grinned back.

"I'd pay good bits to see that tussle!" Spike laughed and pointed.

"I'll try to work it into my show then."

"Well it involves yours truly so of course ponies are gonna love it."

"Same old RD, same old Trix'." AJ smiled nuzzling them both.

"I'd say new and improved all around." Pinkie Diane quipped as she rubbed her cheeks against her friends'. "Remember Trixie, you Pinkie Promised to put on a show at my Age Of Dreams public park!"

Trixie shuddered, that reminded her too much of her painful birthday party affairs, but yes, she had, drunk on her success at Princess Cadence's wedding reception, promised. She she must admit, a part of her found the place somewhat enjoyable. "Trixie won't forget."

"Don't worry Trixie," Pinkie Pie smiled warmly putting a hoof on her shoulder. "The foals will play nice or won't get to stay, and maybe you'll find something new about yourself too."

The way Pinkie Pie said that confused Trixie, but after the changelings, a show at a sunshine and rainbows theme open park wouldn't be that hard.

"Alright...could it perhaps be on Nightmare Night?"

Trixie had no idea why she'd added that.

"Sure!" Pinkie replied with a bright grin.

"And darling, don't forget, I still have that suit of armor to finish making you," Rarity said.

"You're STILL working on that?"

"Once I start a project I finish a project, especially for my friends. Remember that little blue pony." Rarity said with a firm smile.

Trixie felt warm inside. "Thank you."

"Isn't friendship wonderful?" Fluttershy sighed happily.

Several hugs and kisses later, Trixie was on her way back to her family. Trixie had this odd feeling she was saying goodbye for good, but she wasn't sure if it was to her friends in Ponyville, or her family in Hoofington. 'Humph! Neither, I'm not leaving something this wonderful after finally finding it.' She waved her friends 'see you again real soon' as the train drove out.

+

Was when I was a filly with Celly and Dissy happy days? They were perhaps the most happy of my mortal life. My siblings were right: living life bereft of godhood, seeing it through their eyes, did me good. I only wish it hadn't taken a war in the spirit world to prompt me to finally live it. I just hope Celly doesn't think I plan to decentralize my power like her.

I think it was only after tasting true friendship with Pip', one that happened without having to save the world or being part of a family, I realized how distant I have made myself, and why Celly had gone to such lengths to ensure Cadence would be seen as the people's Alicorn that they could relate to.

I should have enjoyed when ponies thought me a cute innocent mare following my 'rescue' from the 'Nightmare Forces.' Thankfully the lunar tribe informed on my return visit they're keeping my moon palace clean for me and telling them no, we won't be invading the planet. And sadly, the 'Welcome back to the moon ponies! We kept the flag intact!' Party will have to wait for a couple more centuries. Do not allow Pinkie to hear that such a thing is being planned, I imagine she'd become an Alicorn just to live long enough to throw it if she had to.

I think they were all HAPPY to hear I'd given up this 'endless night' nonsense, but had been reluctant to inform me before. They said they'd been worried about endless night since 'every-rabbit needs time to rest.' Yes, I laughed at the irony.

They also said they didn't care for the black magic I had taught them as Nightmare Moon, they were just being polite.

I just wish I had made more friends when I had such a golden chance before. Maybe that's the other reason I created Moonlight. So she/I could have the friends I never let myself have before.

+

"Take that, mist! And that! And that!" Apple Bloom shouted as she and her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders swung their wooden swords at the mist surrounding their club house.

"Let me guess, next we're attacking the darkness?" Silver Spoon asked, taking a break from the assault. The filly couldn't help giving a chuckle. She'd come to enjoy the occasional mindless fun they had together.

"We tried. Pipsqueak and his pals counterattacked, remember?" Scootaloo said, being a pegasus, her sword was actually cutting the ground based clouds, and incidentally, for her going through the mist was like swimming through water.

"And I proved knights beat pirates!" Spike said, breathing NORMAL dragon fire at the mist.

"This reminds me of that scene in the last Daring Do book I read," Scootaloo said.

Her friends just smiled and nodded.

'Please don't start gushing again,' Spike thought, 'it's bad enough when Twilight and Rainbow Dash do it! First Twilight infected Rainbow Dash, then Rainbow Dash infected Scootaloo, who's next?!'

"Okay, so Daring Do had her wings stuck together with tree sap-"

"AGAIN?" Silver Spoon rolled her eyes. "How many times are they going to use that plot device?"

"Not the point!"

"At least it's kinda a realistic one," Apple Bloom remarked, sheepishly looking to the tub marked 'In case of more tree sap' set under the tree house.

"Okay, so she was at the bottom of a canyon and the walls were too slick to climb up, but the place was also really misty, so she was able to actually swim THROUGH the mist all the way to the surface!"

"Ah'm not sure pegasi can actually do that," Apple Bloom said.

"Hey! Who has wings here and who doesn't?"

"Let me get back to you on that in a few decades," Spike said in a small voice, raising a claw.

"You sure like those books," Sweetie noted.

"Yeah! I'm talking with Cheerilee to get them to be mandatory reading for class."

The fillies gritted their teeth, eyes widened and took a step back at the thought. Spike put his claws to his head, and ran screaming into the mist.

"Now you see what you've done!" Spoon yelled.

"Hey! I didn't do anything, and just imagine, soon everypony will be talking about Daring Doo, everypony," The way Scoots said that reminded Apple Bloom of some ponies talking about 'the new world order.'

"Aaaaaaahhhhhh!" And Spike ran out of the mist, from the opposite way he had run into it to begin with, and bumped right into Apple Bloom, "Oooof!" Spike looked around confused. "How'd that happen?"

The fillies shrugged.

"Scootaloo," Apple Bloom asked, "Ah've been meanin' ta ask. How DO they handle earth ponies and unicorns born in Cloudsdale? Ah mean, if Mr. and Mrs. Cake can have a unicorn and a pegasus, then the opposites' gotta happen right? If only pegasi can walk on clouds, then how do they handle that? Do they always make sure ta have their foals on the ground or somethin'?"

"I think Rainbow Dash said they have special enchantments for hospitals," Scootaloo remarked, rubbing her head. "Besides that...I dunno, I guess the parents decide or something."

"Ya don't know?" Apple Bloom asked.

"Do you know every single thing there is to know about being a earth pony?"

"...Okay, Ah gotcha."

"I don't either, and I like it that way," Spoon admitted. "We're foals, we shouldn't NEED to know everything."

"Hey don't go turning into a broken record there," Scootaloo said. "Growing up is part of being a foal too."

"You WANT THAT?" Apple Bloom asked bewildered.

"Sure! Growing up into a pony like Dash, of course!"

"Of course," the company echoed.

"Now who's a broken record?" Spike sighed.

+

Ya know. I don't like this at all. Nope. Not one bit. The Dash most certainly does not! Sigh. Okay, let me back up some and explain.

I HAVE been looking for Scoots' parents.

I tried the house Scoots says was her family's before the wedding, but the place was empty, and it looked like somepony had been through it and I could only ask so many questions without drawing attention from the Guard. And her parents left her three years ago, so it wasn't exactly like everypony would know 'em.

Her parents aren't dead (I sorta discreetly checked the obituaries from when Scoots says she last saw them). So they've gotta be out there somewhere. But that isn't the only issue.

Normally if I wanted to find somepony I'd just check house to house, barge in, and demand if they'd seen 'em...except that would kinda ruin the whole point of this 'discreet' thing. And I'd have to check all of Equestria since I don't know if they're even still in Cloudsdale or have moved since then. But that isn't what I don't like.

I certainly don't mind the happy feeling I get with Scoots' being here. I won't say I was incomplete without her, but she's added more to me. And I definitely don't mind how proud I felt when Scoots FLEW, helped save Equestria and earn her Cutie Mark.

I hate to admit it...but I even kinda like being the responsible one for a change. I didn't like spanking her, but...I like being responsible FOR her. Having a little bird completely under my wing and all.

And it's not the bad feeling I have that if I do find 'em, they'll be monsters but legally I won't be able to keep them from taking Scoots back (yes, I've had nightmares like that). That's something I could FIGHT with an egghead like Twilight at my side.

Or the bad feeling I get if I do find Scoots' parents and they turn out to be good ponies who had a perfectly good reason to do what they did, who can provide for Scoots a lot better than I could.

It's worse than that.

It's that I haven't gone to any of my friends for finding Scoots' parents. All because I'm afraid that if I tell any of them, they'll either tell the authorities, or they'll accidentally let it slip to somepony who will.

And I chewed out Trixie because she couldn't be sure if anypony was a changeling or brainwashed when doing her whole 'secret identity' nonsense at the wedding! Yes I called it nonsense! Bucking sue me!!! Yeah I used three exclamation marks, what are ya gonna do?! Huh?! Huh?! Huh?! And I DID just use a question mark and exclamation together AND used all cap letters to get across how tough I'm speaking! What are ya...oh sweet Celestia I'm turning into old Pinkie Pie!

Deep breaths, Dash. Deep breaths.

No I'm not doing the whole 'I'm not worthy' crud that so many ponies seem to be into these days! We make ourselves worthy.

I'm just upset that I went and told Trixie what a jerk she was for not trusting any of us, and here I am: not trusting my friends to not spill the beans or not trusting ME to look after her. And instead would hoof her over to 'professionals' whose JOB it'll be to help her...instead of...instead of because their heart saying so, instead of...family.

I said it. Yeah. She's my family. As much as dad. I promised her I'd find her 'real' family, no matter what. I can't break that promise. I don't want to lose the trust she has in me.

And what makes the feeling worse? I KNOW Scoots well enough to know she's postponing her party until the others get their marks because she knows her parents CAN'T be there. I know because when I bring up Applebloom getting HER mark she's not COMPLETELY stoked about it, she's happy, but not AS happy...because I don't trust anypony with it, she doesn't...and she's not enjoying life as much as she could because of it...I feel like a bad rolemodel...

Okay, I'll admit it! I'm scared. Ya know. It's crazy. I freakin' wish TRIXIE was still in town so I could share my feelings with her. Why?...Because she appreciates being sneaky to help unlike my other friends? I don't think 'Shy or Pinkie would keep quiet? Yeah I know it's dumb.

That paperwork? Nothing. Just some background checks and stuff ya gotta do to be acceptable for adopting or become a foal's legal guardian. And I haven't been arrested once, am a national heroine, and have a steady job I always get done that makes good bits, so I know I'll pass the background check. Been working on it for the last year about, slowly getting help there and there. It's...almost done. Just need to sign my name in a few places and Pinkie Promise Twilight not to tell before asking her to proof read it. Gonna ask Scoots about it tomorrow after she gets home from school.

I've seen enough plays. I know exactly how this story always goes. Our cover's gonna be blown. No I'm not worried about Guards, sheech! This is Equestria, 'follow yer heart' is practically on the rule books! But if I've learned anything, is that life is gonna throw ya fast balls and curve balls at the same time whether yer ready or not.

So yeah. Back to what I was saying. I'm ticked that the pony I feel that I can trust most with all of this is the one I chewed out for not trusting me. After Rarity once gave me that smack down about not trusting them! Maybe I should just tell Pinkie or Shy.

I don't care if it sounds selfish. No matter how long or short it lasts, I'll be Scoot's family, and she'll be mine too. Because she trusts me to be.

+

"Excuse me, have you see this filly?" A mare with her husband asked in Cloudsdale. She showed a picture of a pegasus with small wings, a violet mane, and purple eyes.

"I haven't, sorry."

"She would have been in this neighborhood, about…three years ago or so?"

"I'm sorry, that's a long time ago."

The couple tried again with similar luck. Having 'vanished' their house's ownership had defaulted to Cloudsdale, and a search there revealed no clue where their foal might have gone. She wasn't in any of the areas of Cloudsdale they had told her to stay, and had even with heavy hearts searched some spots they had told her to stay out of.

They'd even searched the orphanages, but nothing. She'd never been to any of them in Cloudsdale.

Nothing.

They finally got their break when a air-bus driver recognized the filly in the photo.

But he couldn't remember where she had gotten off or even remotely what date it was, it could be as easily Canterlot or Las Pegasus.

"I only remember her because of how dirty she looked," he said. "And she was carrying a bag. She was running away from something. Heck if I know what."

"...Honey you don't think Digger Wasp's agents-"

"Don't jump to conclusions. She's a strong girl. We wouldn't have done what we did if she wasn't."

+

The girls' unanimous consensus was that any profits from the Mare-Do-Well craze would go to charity, with Rarity watching the money-trail.

Tootsie Flute had used this justification to convinced Lyra to buy her a variety of Mare-Do-Well merchandise.

While some ponies had been disillusioned by the reveal that Mare-Do-Well was four mares, Tootsie didn't care, that meant she had four heroes to look up to.

"When I grow up, I'm gonna be Mare-Do-Well!" She'd told her guardians. Lyra found the idea was healthy for a young foal who wanted to dedicated her life to helping and saving others. Bon Bon was less than pleased, fearing her foal would go off and do something stupid and get herself hurt or worse. Especially given the number of Equestria threatening disasters that happened.

"I came close to losing Lyra and Moth more than once on during that war...I don't want you putting yourself in danger like that too." Bon Bon had hugged her child, worry clear in her eyes.

Tootsie sighed. They wouldn't let her become a super hero. Then they wouldn't let her become a changeling (even after Aunie Moth didn't mind!). And her guardians thought her new name Liza Doolots, "Needs work honey," they told her.

Then came Hearts and Hooves Day, she'd been seconds from showing Truffle her card. Then TWIST twisted her way into him and TWISTED him to her instead. She felt her heart break in two when she saw him hug, how well they fit together. How they always complimented each other in any assignment or hobby they did together. How they seemed to mesh together.

Lyra and Bon Bon didn't have experience with colts, so she asked Auntie Moth instead what she should do.

"If you really care about him, you should tell how you feel, and let him make his OWN choice between you." Auntie Moth had told her.

"BUT what if he DOESN'T pick me?!"

"That's his choice, you can't MAKE another pony be your special friend. Then he wouldn't REALLY be your special friend. He'd just be a puppet pretending to be."

Tootsie grumbled. It wasn't fair. Why should Twist be special friends with Truffle instead? She likely only wanted him so he could be a taste-tester or something cliche because of his weight. Only Tootsie saw the polite young colt where other foals only saw his belly. He deserved better. She owed it to him. She'd find a way to help him.

+

Like many in Ponyville, Cloud Kicker never stood out from the crowd, and as Ponyville ponies tend to be, that suited her fine. She wouldn't live in a small town if she wanted to make a big impact and stand out.

She had a little sister to look after, and unlike some mares she didn't have some well to do family to fall back on. She didn't have time for stallions and she certainly wasn't going to charm one for his bits. What point were bits if she spent her life with somepony that made her miserable.

Cloud Kicker was a weather pony through and through, while she couldn't clear the sky in ten seconds flat, her weather manipulation talents were second to none, she didn't have RAW POWER behind her, but she certainly was more sublime and delicate.

She had taken part in the Running of the Leaves and the Sisterhood Social and won neither, but she didn't mind, well, not greatly. Nopony LIKED to lose after all. The time she spent with Alula with the latter made it worth while, and made losing a lot less hard to swallow. Hard to upset when your little sister is cheering and laughing about just spending time with you.

Discord's torture for HER involved being turned into a cloud being left to the mercy of the winds and mad pegasi. And raining on the 'ungrateful brat' Alula as the only functional raincloud within miles as Alula struggled with wings that had a mind of their own. She hated to think what would have happened if the little filly had somehow gotten stuck in a hole or something that the sapient cloud gleefully filled with water.

The pair had recovered thanks to professional help paid for by Princess Celestia. No grand revelation, no great journey of self discovery, and that again suited her just fine. Though Cloud Kicker had taken a vacation from weather duty for a while after. Rainbow Dash had been understanding, thankfully. Then again, given Discord's reach, it'd be harder to find one that DIDN'T sympathize with somepony he hurt.

She had dressed up as a witch for Nightmare Night, and been freaked out and scared for Alula when the reformed Nightmare Moon arrived like everypony else.

Ironically, that fear had made her rethink that maybe life was too short, and consider getting a job at Wonderbolt Academy, fancying the idea of applying. It would look good on her résumé at least.

Blech. Then Princess Gaia happened! It had taken Hurricane Fluttershy for Cloud Kicker to forgive the mare for surrendering to the manipulations of the Nightmare Forces and trying to conquer Equestria (how the Tartarus could she care for her family if she was just a foal herself?). Now she considered Fluttershy at least a comrade and teammate. She still didn't understand why Fluttershy had worshipers.

But still...

"For the last time Alula, I'm sure Thunderlane is nice and everything, but I'm not interested in seeing any stallions."

"Well, there are some mares who-"

"Alula! No! I'm just not into ANY relationships right now. I'm happy looking after you, and providing for us right now."

"But don't you WANT to be happy?"

"Alula I AM happy! I don't NEED a special somepony!"

"Isn't that what lonely and sad mares say?"

Cloud Kicker groaned. "You've been watching way too many soap opera plays Alula!" She had hoped Alula would stop this fixation after making friends with Tootsie Flute (they were a wonderful family, and Cloud Kicker didn't hold Moth being a changeling against her, especially given the royal announcement of how she'd HELPED Equestria during that mess).

"If I was a Princess, and you didn't have to look after me, you'd have time for stallions right?"

Cloud Kicker laughed and patted her sister on the head. "Yes, Alula, if you were a Princess, I'd go on a date with Thunderlane, promise."

Alula smiled to herself. 'And maybe, you need a little loosening up.'

+

The mist was creepy, but it wasn't causin' trouble, so school AIN'T canceled.

So there Ah was, in class. Ah'd helped save Equestria! Me! Spoon! Scootaloo! And Sweetie! Shouldn't we all get a big fancy stained glass window too? We didn't even get 'extra credit' fer savin' the world.

Sigh. That ain't the Apple way. Hard work is done cause hard work needs doin', not cause ya'll get a rewarded. Just kinda wonder if this is how AJ felt when those snobs in Canterlot don't even remember she saved the world twice.

Least Miss Cheerilee was all understandin' 'bout the whole 'trapped inside a magic bubble' explanation for why we missed more days of school than we were gonna.

It's... weird. Kinda unreal.

This isn't like our other adventures that happened where nopony could see 'em. Everypony SAW US HELP. Scootaloo flew over Canterlot. Sweetie got named heir by a wicked witch. Me and Spoon helping save all them brainwashed ponies. But here we are. back in school. Everythin' going along like it was before.

Save the world then go back to doin' borin' stuff? How the heck does Applejack and her friends do it?

But...there's still even MORE unreal stuff. Scoots and Sweetie got their marks. No Ah ain't angry that I ain't got mine. We were all happy and charged up but, Ah mean...it feels like...some big rule got broken or somethin'. Somethin' not meant to happen, happened. It was kinda like when Spoon was clappin' her hooves for Granny Smith.

And...Diamond Tiara ain't here. She's been gone for pretty much a year, anypony who thought she'd run away and hid just to get attention has shut-up by now. She's...not here. Two of us get our cutie marks. And she's not even here to freak out about it. Or come up with insults for our new cutie marks since she can't call us blank flanks. That sounds like her, Tiara is never one to admit she's done, and she's one heck of a sore loser. Either that or she'd suddenly just ignore Scoots and Sweetie like she was with Twist when she earned her mark.

And Spoon's still here, but she's our FRIEND now, she's HAPPY Scoots and Sweetie got their marks. She's not freakin' out or scramblin' to come up with new names to call us neither!

Diamond Tiara and Spoon were a stubbed hoof. Only think about 'em when they're hurtin' ya. But now that two of us got our marks, and Spoon's a friend and Diamond's a no show...Ah almost feel...disappointed, like parts of the trophy for finishin' the race were missin'. Spitin' Spoon and Diamond was never the point of gettin' our cutie marks...and seein' Sweetie and Scoots with theirs, fer the first time, Ah'm thinkin' did we even know the point of gettin' 'em?

So yeah, it feels like we're missin' party guests with 'Our Friend Silver Spoon' here instead of 'Diamond Tiara and Diamond Tiara's Little Minion.'

Ah think even Spoon feels that way. She told me it felt so weird that she'd had nightmares about us gettin' our marks and now she CHEERED when we did.

Ah don't wanna lose Spoon's friendship, but Ah still can't help but feel...like Ah've been running through a wooden tunnel with lanterns all around, but Ah've now run past where the construction ends, and Ah'm suddenly in the dark and the fog. Ah don't know where Ah'm supposed to go from here.

Ah'm sure usin' a lot of metaphors huh? Ah bet at least one of the Elements would be proud.

We still try new things each day. But Ah can't help but feel a little selfish. Spike needs no mark, and the rest have theirs, we're goin' through all this just fer me now.

And Ah know technically...how do ya pronounce it? Kifuko? Is an honorary Crusader, but she's just a toddler and she won't even be able to talk for awhile...and when she can, she'll be wherever Cadence lives and not here. So...it's just me we're doin' all this for.

But Ah can't help feel...like we've been buildin' and buildin', and suddenly, Ah've gone past what we've built. Even with my friends. Ah know Ah said we'd be Crusaders forever, but...is that the point? Or just bein' friends the real point?

Maybe the Cutie Mark Crusaders have done their job.

There's Truffle and Twist again, Ah swear those two are like one pony now. Can't find one without the other. And there's that unicorn filly...what's her name?...Ah've never asked. Ah've never caught 'er name. Ah've never seen 'er ever talk to anypony. She socializes even less than Button Mash (the first time we tried for our Cutie Mark Crusader Truancy officers cutie marks it turned out he didn't have the stuff to go to school yet, then it turned out he was EXCITED to go to school. Weirdo.).

She's like Alula, not always in the same class as us. I know Miss Sparkler foalsat for 'er when the town was lovin' Rainbow Dash's hero job, but Ah heard she called it lame or somethin'. She was at Diamond Tiara's party. And Ah've seen 'er with...Ah think...a horseshoe cutie mark, a flower cutie mark and...and she's a blank flank? Ugh. Why am Ah gettin' a headache right now? She must'a used them fancy rub on cutie marks ya can find in comics Ah've read about.

...Wait a tick! Ah remember! Geeze! No she ain't some long lost cousin! Get a grip! Her name's Tootsie Flute...Ah wasn't kiddin' when Ah said Ah don't see her socializin' much outside of being part of the herd. She's Lyra Heartstrings and Bon-Bon's foal, Ah think. Not sure how that works. Maybe she's another Changelin' like her 'aunt'.

How da hay could Ah forget?! She was at the weddin', the real weddin'! No we didn't say hi ta 'er. No we weren't snubbin' 'er! There were like a zillion things goin' on at once! Sweetie and Scoots'd earned their marks, we fought a whole war, we got to be part of a fake and real weddin', we were all really really busy. Yes, Lyra's family helped us out big time! But we all had stuff ta do! Ah'm sorry! Me and the girls didn't mean it!

Well. She's a blank flank. Maybe it's about time we Crusaders help another foal find out what makes 'er special. This is free period. So Ah'll head over nicely to 'er, and introduce myself. Ah worked with her family, so it should be easy-peasy.

Alright, here we go and-hay.

"Hi, Tootsie!"

"Hey, Alula!"

What just happened?

That girl just dive bombed out of nowhere, she's a pegasus yeah, but Ah didn't see'er comin' at all.

Ever since she convinced Shady Daze and Featherweight and Miss Cheerilee to let 'er be editor of the newspaper she's REALLY come out of the background! She's been givin' afternoon speeches about, well, everythin', anythin' anypony wants ta chat about, she will too, Ah thought she was a gymnast, not a luginist, languinist, uh, really good with words. Ah'm serious, Ah never gave 'er another look! But now she's makin' sure she's seen left and right.

And those new fancy magic newspapers, it'll put the printer out of business! They just publish it, and boom, right ta the reader!...But what happens when ya want ta save an older copy? I guess the printing press has got some good uses still. Ah don't know what the deal is with 'em, but they've gotten the paper super popular again, as much as...as much as Gabby Gums.

I heard from Sweetie, who heard from Rarity, who talked with Miss Twilight, that she bought a copy and tried to figure out how the magic worked...and said she couldn't make heads or tails of the spell involved. Ah don't know who this Umbra Breeze is, but he must be one fancy Earth Pony to make a unicorn confused on a spell. Yes Ah said Earth pony. Why? He sure looked like one ta me. Rarity and AJ were talkin' about why he'd use a new magic like this on a school paper, but Ah figure it's just market research or somethin'.

To be honest, Ah don't like 'em much. Winona hasn't come near the school since he came around and Scoots said Tank won't either. Twilight said it was probably just the magic's got 'er spooked, said it spooked her owl (who's name Ah ain't even gonna try to pronounce) when she brought it over. Maybe it's just cause Ah'm scared cause of the last time the paper got this popular or from dealin' with the Flim Flam Brothers tellin' meh if somethin' is too goo to be true it probably is. Eh, Ah'm probably just paranoid. Worst he's probably just a constallion tryin' to make a quick buck. No Ah don't know where he lives, why should Ah?

But yeah, ya should see it, over half the town's subscribed now. And the paper's new captain just cut me off at the pass.

"I have a new column in the school news paper I'm going to be needing a lot of help with, and I know you'll can be that help."

"Me? Help with the paper?"

"Sure Tootsie. Your guardians helped save Canterlot right? Think of all the amazing things you've seen you can share."

Okay. Now Ah feel shelved. She wasn't there personally when it all happened. Meh and the rest of the Crusaders were! Ah look around, the others are beginnin' ta look this way too. Ah wasn't that interested in bein' part of the paper again. But...but...What about all the amazin' stuff me and the others have seen? But nopony cares about? What has she seen?

"Thanks Alula but...I'm not a good story teller."

She put a hoof on her shoulder. "It's not he same with a newspaper. You don't have to face them. It'll just be your words. This is a chance to let ponies know what YOU think. They won't judge you on how old you are or how good you are at other things. And so many ponies will hear what you have to say. They'll never be able to ignore you again."

She looked over at Truffle, don't ask me why. "Never ignored again."

Alula leaned and whispered, I strained my ear to hear.

"Besides, I was told in my dreams you'd be great help."

"Your dreams? Why didn't you just say so?"

"You woke up early, and she said it had to be your choice."

Dreams? Her? Do they mean Princess Luna? I heard she can go into dreams and all that stuff, does that mean they got a visit from Princess Luna herself? How does she even visit so many ponies' dreams?

"Of course I will!"

And just like that. Where did Alula learn ta speak so good?

Alula leads Tootsie off like a shot to show her around the newspaper and meet Umbra Breeze. Well, she got a friend, that's what's important.

Do Ah feel bad about not tellin' Twist 'bout the Truth or Sunny Town?

...No.

It wasn't my secret to share, Ah don't know if that was the Truth or me, but that's how Ah rolled with it. And, Ah don't know how she'd react to there bein' a place where Spoon was MY toady, and Diamond Tiara's the one Scootaloo and Sweetie stood up for. It was scary enough for me to realize Ah coulda been just like Diamond Tiara. Maybe this is why AJ doesn't go tellin' me and others what she saw in the Truth.

Sunny Town...Ah ain't never lied 'bout Sunny Town never. Ah just ain't got no reason ta talk 'bout it.

Miss Twilight, Futtershy, the doctor Twilight invited, lots of ponies know about the town now, we just ain't got a point in sharin'. Ah shared it with my friends caused it helped Spoon.

AJ won't let me near the town even though Ruby is a friend of mine. Miss Fluttershy wants to save the adults who hurt Ruby too?!...And...and Celestia they tried to...they tried to...They tried to kill me. Make me a zombie too.

They ain't like Diamond Tiara, they're monsters, and Ah don't mean them bein' zombies. Ah'm sorry, but oh Celestia. What they put poor Mitta through.

Ah...Ah need ta lie down.

...

S-sorry. Ah don't get why Fluttershy wants ta help t-those ponies. It don't feel right. Ah wanna see Ruby and Mitta again sure, Ah really do. But...them towns folk. Ah don't care if they thought they were helpin' me, they were gonna...Please. Ah just don't wanna talk about this no more.

Roneo and Starlet?

Ah won't call Miss Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie bad ponies for helpin' 'em...Please. I just don't wanna talking about this.

Thank ya kindly.

+

A little brown blank flank colt sat in the corner of the school room. He wore a beanie and had a Gamecolt (the newest technology in this reality), and bore the name Button Mash.

The pricey piece of technology wasn't exactly forbidden on school grounds, but it wasn't exactly allowed either. He knew starting a new adventure of Pony's Quest at school maybe wasn't very smart, but he never let that stand in the way of video games before.

ENTER NAME OF THY HERO!

ButtonMash of course!

ENTER NAME OF THY PRINCESS!

Huh? He needed a filly's name?

He didn't want to use his mom's name, that was too weird! Well, the Princess was a big rip off of Princess Cadence (the video game character)...Princess Cadence sang, who around here sang a lot? (Which for a pony meant sang like they breathed).

Hmm. Oh there was that little white filly who went to Canterlot where when all the bug ponies tried to conquer the world. She had a singing Cutie Mark, right? She was one of the Crusaders, she asked him to join their group and interrupted him at the video arcade once...singing...her name was

SweetieBelle

WELCOME YOUNG HERO ButtonMash, YOUR QUEST TO SAVE PRINCESS SweetieBelle BEGINS NOW!

Onto to slaughtering slime with a butter knife for the next fifteen minutes unless Miss Cheerilee spotted him first!

Miss Cheerilee didn't, but one of his classmates did, who happened to be Ruby Pinch, who saw the names on the games' screen, and immediately whispered to her nearby classmate, Archer, who whispered to her nearby classmate, who whispered next to her classmate, who whispered next to...

+

Why was everypony in class giggling? It's like one of my parents' 'grown-up' parties. I didn't have anything on my face. It's funny though. I finally have my cutie mark. It's almost surreal. I was so sure I was gonna be a designer like Rarity, then I was thinking I'd get my cutie mark being princess of the changelings.

-
(Dawn's Notes: Tell her she almost did?)

(Noon's Notes: No.)
-

Whenever I have a bath, my hooves getting pruney gets attention too. Rarity has that happen to her too. She says it's because our ancestors were seaponies! Well, if changelings are real, why not seaponies? I bet they're out there waiting for us ponies to say it's alright you don't need to be afraid of us either! That's what the Changelings were really were...just needing somepony to tell them they didn't need to hide from the sun anymore. Maybe the Sea Ponies will hear about the Changelings and come right on up to the surface!

I hope we get to meet them real soon!

Am I still staying at Rarity's?

...

It's kinda a long story.

I've...I've never stayed nearly a whole year (give or take a few weeks) at her house before. Sure, I've spent days, or weeks there before, okay, months...but never ever a whole year.

I'm so happy mom and dad are back. So happy. It's like a dream come true. And for the dream to come true it had to end first. I look at my parents' house, and...it doesn't feel like my house anymore. It feels like a friend's house almost. But...it's where I belong, isn't it?

I love my parents, and having them back is wonderful. Maybe there was always a little part of me that was scared they'd never come back. A little part of me, that just wanted to look to Rarity, and grow up to be like her, she was that pony I was wanted to be like.

My cutie mark almost feels like icing on the cake, and the whole world's been turned upside down again, or maybe I was the one who was upside down. No! Not literally...right now...maybe at recess.

I was surprised at myself when I felt relieved that after a year, the house needed cleaning and reorganizing, and with the amount of junk dad had collected over the years, that was a lot to organize. And I had sooo much of my stuff at Rarity's house, and after a year, I had collected so much new stuff, like dresses and stuffed toys and props from our Cutie Mark projects. Which meant it was going to take time for me to move back in.

Mom and Dad said how sorry they were that I couldn't move back into my room yet. I was sad that I was happy that I wouldn't have to move OUT of my room yet. Uh. Did just make sense?

I know it's not my special talent now, but I still want so badly to help Rarity any way I can with her shop, like Spike does with Miss Twilight Sparkle and Rarity. And Rarity's Special Talent is finding gems, so maybe I can get my songs to help...somehow.

It reminded me of when we practiced for our play for Princess Gaia's Festival, and we forgot some of the pages, so we suddenly found ourselves on stage with no idea what we were supposed to do next. That's how I felt now. I'd spent so long trying to get my cutie mark, and now I have it. And there was no magical transformation into an adult. I understood how much I TRULY loved to sing, but I wasn't suddenly an all-knowing adult, I was still just me, Sweetie Belle.

And I could now do magic. My parents exploded at that. I mean they were so proud of me. Before I was wondering if there was something WRONG with me when I couldn't even glow or levitate. I was scared that I was, defective.

That may or may not be how me and Scootaloo started being friends, I'm just...happy she learned how to fly at the same time I learned magic. Any other time we'd have been super excited, too bad we were enemies for five minutes when it happened.

I may have told a few white lies of how I was taught magic...No no no they know what happened, that I was kidnapped by Chryssy and Scootaloo and Rarity rescued me. I just kinda, left out the 'becoming friends with the evil witch', part.

What surprised me was when Rarity began putting ads in the paper about wanting to put together a vocal group. Big Mac was her first audition and I was blown away by how deep his pipes could go! But that wasn't what confused me. Rarity already had her second musical quartet pony.

But that wasn't what was on my mind. "Rarity...if singing isn't your special talent, why do you want so badly to put together a singing group? Can I join?"

"Sweetie Belle, it's not about what's JUST your special talent. My special talent is finding jewels. MINING! What does THAT have to do with dresses? I COULD HAVE been a singer Sweetie Belle, just as Applejack could have been a musician, it's a wonderful talent, but it isn't my north star. There are ponies in Ponyville who are better at singing than some, but don't have it as our special talent, but that doesn't mean it's not something wonderful to share with ponies. But I WANT to make beautiful dresses, just as Applejack...Applejack wants to tend to her farm. And Sweetie," She hugged me, "With a beautiful voice like yours, I want you to be able to shine on your own. It's your special talent, explore it for a while before deciding what you want to DO with it!" She kissed on my nose. "Finding your talent isn't the end, it's the beginning."

So much had happened at once, it left my head swirling by the time we all finally got home to Ponyville. My parents were already saying how they knew some tutors I should see to hone my singing and places I could perform when I was ready.

"Just because it's your special talent, dear, doesn't mean you can't improve yourself, and it's always important to improve yourself," Mom told me.

Mom. So...so much had changed since I'd last seen her at Rarity's on that fateful morning I was dropped off. It feels like three years instead of one. Like suddenly everything was different.

Spike and Spoon becoming our friends was something that happened over time.

I'd gotten so used to looking for my cutie mark, to living at Rarity's, to not having magic, to Scootaloo not flying...The world suddenly feels so strange.

On the bright side, as much as I now enjoyed Spoon or Spike's company, there was a certain freedom in being allowed to walk home by myself again, and WITHOUT wearing that itchy sweater or that big dream catcher! That was a nice silver lining! It made me skipped and sing a little song as I went along.

It made feel so happy that I imagined Diamond Tiara being found, and that instead of abandoning Spoon, she chose to become our friend. After all, nopony likes to be alone.

I was getting near our house (mine and Rarity's), and I realized there was this...weird shape following me. I looked behind, and saw my hoof prints in the moist ground behind me.

I felt like I was remembering a dream.

"H-hello?" I called out, noticing in the mist there wasn't anypony else I could see.

Then there was a shape in the mist, following the way I came.

The shape came closer and closer to me, I held my breath, I couldn't move.

"Uh...Hi, doggie?" I said to it. It walked over, and it sniffed me for a moment.

I laughed.

It was just a puppy!

A cute little puppy!

"Ahh, who are you?" I asked scratching him behind one ear. He didn't have a collar. Did he belong to anypony?

It looked at me simply as dogs tend to do. Well, I think it was a dog, but it was kinda shaped like a timber wolf but not made out of wood. And its shadow was all wiggly.

"I'm Sweetie Belle," I introduced myself. After vicious Opalescence (who always seemed to be wherever Rarity didn't want me to be), this little guy was a nice change of pace.

The little puppy barked happy.

Okay. Maybe the last few times I brought a pet home didn't work out, but a cute little puppy with a funny shadow I found near the school all the animals seemed to be avoiding due to the new magic paper had to be alright right?

"Uh, you're not evil, are you?"

The puppy shook its head.

"You aren't gonna bite me and turn me into a werewolf are you?"

He shook his head again.

"You aren't gonna steal my face are you?"

He shook his head really fast.

"You're not going to turn into me, then turn me into a puppy, then try to drown me, I'll escape, then you trick Apple Bloom into turning me into a puppy again and drown me for you are you?"

The puppy's eyes widened and took a step back and really shook his head.

"Okay!" I scooped him up with my magic and hugged him. "How'd you like to go home with me?" I held him out. He looked confused. "I promise you'll like it! Nice and warm, and...well, I'm sure Opalescence won't bother you. She's just been staying in Rarity's room since we came back. So wouldn't you like to come home with me? I bet you're hungry."

The puppy looked confused again, but eventually he nodded. "Okay! I'm gonna call you...uh...well, you're all white, like a blank sheet of paper, so I'll call you Blanky, how's that sound?"

The puppy looked at me funny and shrugged (no that wasn't a cringe).

"Okay, Blanky! Let me take you home! I'll tell you all about it!"

So I took Blanky home with me.

Maybe I was a little too distracted because I bumped right into a vase at the front door (I swear that hasn't happened in months! I could walk the shop blindfolded now!), which tipped over and landed with a crash.

"Sweetie Belle!" Rarity said. "What is? Sigh. Stay right here, I'll get the glue." Rarity trotted to the kitchen.

"That wasn't supposed to happen," I whimpered. One of Blanky's ears perked up. I didn't see what he did. My eyes were on the door. Rarity was taking longer than she should have and I came in to see her working a new dress for Miss Tiara. "Rarity? What about the glue?"

"What glue?"

"For the smashed vase?"

"Smashed vase?! Where?"

"At the entry way. You told me you were getting the glue."

Rarity rushed past me, looked and said. "Sweetie Belle, I know you're proud of not having any accidents. But if that was a joke, it wasn't funny."

I looked to see the vase, it was perfectly fine. Huh? And there was Blanky, just sitting there innocently.

"Uh, but it was broken...I swear it was. Rarity, I'm not lying!"

"Maybe you bumped it and imagined things dear, or a breezie granted you a wish, at this point in my life I'll accept either. Either way, it's not broken now."

"Uh, Rarity," a BIG part of me wanted to sneak Blanky off and keep him a secret from Rarity forever, or maybe for a long while so I can show I can take care of a pet (this time), but...after Canterlot, I...was just tired of hiding things.

"Rarity, this is Blanky, he followed me home."

"Sweetie Belle, I swear we can play with your new invisible friend later. Can you help me in the sewing room a little? Just don't touch anything unless I say so." Rarity trotted in.

"Didn't she see you?" I asked Blanky. He shook his head.

I went inside the sewing room with Blanky following.

Rarity is great at what she does. But even she wasn't perfect.

"Oh dear, that shouldn't have happened," Rarity said, as a stitch on her sewing machine went off-center, one of those one-in-a-zillion chances things. Blanky blinked, hopped onto the table, and nipped at the thread. Things blurred, and Rarity was working like the mistake never happened.

I stared, then look at Blanky and stared more. Thankfully Rarity didn't notice. Then I took out my homework and whispered, "Blanky, this shouldn't exist."

Blanky sniffed my homework, turned his nose up at me, closed his eyes and shook his head at me in defiance.

Okay, I took out a pop quiz pointed at one of my wrong answers. "Blanky, this shouldn't exist."

He still ignored me.

"Oh well." So now I had a magic dog that could undo mistakes that only I could see, but only did it when he wants to. This could be fun.

Blanky also wouldn't make my alfalfa vanish, as I found out. Everything I fed him Rarity seemed to forget had ever existed (though sometimes that meant she thought she forgot to feed me). Still, I wondered if I should show him to Twilight, you know, just to make sure he was safe. And the other Crusaders too, of course. But maybe...that could all wait until morning. I was tired.
-
Sweetie Belle slept soundly that night in the bedroom she had used for the past year, peaceful in her dreams.

Things that could not be seen, heard, smelled, or touched by mortal ponies slithered into her room, windows and walls meaning nothing.

Why were Sweetie's parents almost never seen? Why only her big sister? Why did she get her cutie mark just when she happened to leave Ponyville and it was hidden like stage magic under her dress?

'Ro-bot...Sweetie-Belle.' One of the things with no shape, form, or substance soundlessly hissed, creeping towards the angelic little filly. Ready to worm inside.

A soundless snarl startled the no-things, one was torn to shreds and never was in an instant, the rest hissing and crying in a mad retreat, some not being fast enough and were destroyed as well. The blank wolf driving them away from the sleeping filly. It guarded over her all night, curled up on her bed. No no-thing dared approached now.

+

I live in a world with no consistency, changing to the whims of the hearts of those who lived there. A world of no regrets for there was always a happy outcome waiting for you even if sometimes it took the combined efforts of all your friends to get you there.

Concepts like despair, hate, spite, revenge, and grudges didn't exist. We'll go for any excuse to have a party, cause they show how much we care for each other. They were special the same way a song was special. Even if there were many of them, each one was said 'you're my friend' in a different way..

I fly by on my scooter like nobody's business, and just about anything else on wheels.

I have a friend who always dresses in style, she ad-libs a hat fashion show out of thin air, the five of us jump at the chance with Pinkie Pie acting as one of the judges.

Our hats...a part of me right now is yelling they're ridiculous even as everypony loves them. Absurd. Delusional. Mine is a trophy with very obedient living butterflies.

The rest are just as ridiculous, Cheerilee's with an open self-flipping book on top that only those around her can read. Starsong's is a top hat with a piano brim played by the little stars hanging from the top. Sweetie's has cupcakes with candles that...somehow or other form a heart when she concentrates like one of those stretchy whistles. And Toola-Roola...her's is a paint palette, she does a twirl and now the paint's a pretty feather pattern.

Everyone loves them. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie debating on which one of them has to decide the winner, until they declare we all are!

And I feel happy, not cheated or shorted or feel like they took the easy way out like I should. After all, we all had fun, we made our hats to reflect ourselves, what we thought was pretty, we had fun doing it, and that was the point wasn't it? And most importantly, we'd done it together.

I remember the Winter Wishes Festival, the last one I think, but I feel like it happened later, even though it happened when I was little.

It's weird, towards the end, or maybe the beginning, ugh, it was so confusing! Like events happened out of order, but always forward. But before...the world changed, I began to feel things that I hadn't felt before, like being angry at my big sister. Okay, so I wanted to take a LITTLE peak at the wishing star, so the star flew out of out of the box when I dropped the box, it was an accident, so the dragon Whimsy Weatherbe swooped and grabbed the wishing star and the others had to go on an adventure to rescue Twinkle Wish (that's the name of the Wishing Star by the way).

It wasn't easy with me and Sweetie being the youngest.

Okay. I think I've figured out I'm dreaming. But these don't feel like dreams. They feel like...memories? But they're all jumbled.

But before the world changed? I somehow felt like there was somehow, more of me then there had been before.

Uuugh. Okay. I'm dreaming. But what's the point of this? Can't I dream I'm a Wonderbolt with Dash instead? I bet she'd design the most dashing flight suit. Uh. Something about that sentence didn't feel right. Rainbow Dash's an Earth pony, and so am I.

Wait. No. We're pegasi. And fashion isn't Rainbow's thing. But...

Yes. These memories. Something's coming together. Winter Wishes Festival. Pairing up. Accidentally leaving my sister out. Everyone donating something to her ordainment for the contest. Why help the competition? But still, we were the ones who managed to forget her, I forgot my own sister, and...sigh, I let her take something from mine, ugh, she just had to take the lucky button. Of course she wins, we all gave her bits of ours.

But...now that the contest is over...maybe, maybe that isn't so bad, that means it's a part of all of us...maybe.

AWAKE!

Okay! Check! Pegasus! Check! In my cloud bedroom! Check! This is Dash's house! Check! Butterfly Cutie mark wasn't a dream! Check! That means saving Equestria, flying, and saving Sweetie weren't dreams either! I'm a hero. Check! Cheerilee is now my teacher, not my big sister. Check.

Right...Twilight told me about how the way the world used to be...I made her show me the memories I had of how the world used to be...I think trusting me with the existence of an old universe was about the only thing she could do to get me to trust her again after what she did.

Maybe I should be more freaked to learn the world got changed and I used to be an Earth pony, but...nothing happens. It doesn't change what's here now. I already looked up to Cheerilee. And I can certainly fly NOW!

Maybe we didn't get a 'Thank You Cutie Mark Crusaders For Saving The World' parade like I thought we would (though Pinkie invited us to the big 'We saved Equestria, AGAIN' party), but flying, and my cutie mark in the same five minutes isn't so bad! All we need now is to figure out Apple Bloom's special talent and...and what? We'll still be friends, we'll still hang out, we'll do exciting and fun stuff.

I think I finally get why all the adults were saying we were getting way too wrapped up in getting our cutie marks. At least Sweetie had the idea to make Kifuko a Crusader so we can be her mentors someday. Makes me wonder if we should start getting more ponies (we tried with Button Mash before)...I wonder if she has dreams of what she was like before she got changed. Ugh...even if she's a different pony, I still can't believe a part of me would sympathize with that witch.

And when Apple Bloom earns her mark, I'll be out of excuses not to have my cute-ceañera with the others...Maybe Dash'll have found my parents...maybe we can ask a couple of changelings to pretend to be them...or I'll just have to brush up on my forgery talents.

I look around my room, full of the stuff I moved from the club house, and more stuff I've gotten since moving in with Dash.

Before you ask, my old home in Cloudsdale is EMPTY, I don't know if it got resold or if they tore it down, either way, there is literally nothing there for me.

What my parents did? I don't understand it at all. Why did they do that? I want to find them, so I can ask them, and, so I can introduce them to Rainbow Dash...I want my whole family together.

I take another look at my bedroom. Feels like it's missing something. Well, I'm not getting back to sleep any time soon, so it's not like I have anything better to do.

I don't know WHAT I'm doing at first, I'm just gathering stuff I have laying around, stuff given a mild enchantment so it doesn't fall through the floor.

Just random junk. I guess you could call it 'stuffy stuff.' I don't have a plan, I just let my heart guide me, okay DON'T tell the others I just said that!

When I say what I made, I gasped.

It was the same tree ornament from my dream. Okay, not exactly like it, I didn't have the exactly same colored trinkets laying around, or the exactly same material, but it was a pinecone, and it had a button at its center, and bore feathers and ribbon.

Was I scared I was gonna start losing myself to these dreams? No way. Forget it. I knew who I was, and who I am. I wouldn't have the cutie mark if I didn't. I figured I'd put it in my school bag as a good luck charm. Maybe show it to Cheerilee, ya know, just for fun?

Still not feeling tired I went to the bathroom and washed up. Careful to wake up Dash. I looked at my mane. I hate to admit it, but I might need a mane cut soon. I tie up part of my mane in a small braid on one side. Did I just...? Doesn't it look like in my...oh whatever.

Time to do the one thing I couldn't do in that world. Spread my wings and fly. Truth be told? In my heart of hearts, I was terrified that I'd be grounded till the day I died. That me flying was just a delusion.

Sweetie felt the same way about her magic?...I never knew. Sweetie isn't the kind of filly who puts her problems on others. Come to think of it, I think Spoon said since we saved Spike she wants to learn a bit about Earth Pony Magic. I felt my Pegasus magic at the same time, so I know how that feels.

I sneak outside, and check out Luna's moon and stars. Even now that I can fly, I feel like I'm breaking some mold every time I do. Not able to fly, even before I became so set on getting my cutie mark, it was always just there, and now I had the freedom I wanted for so long. I was no longer glued to the ground.

Who am I kidding?! I know what I want to do! I want to fly! I dive down off Dash's house, zooming along. I twisted and spun, every motion as natural as breathing, I pierced a cloud layer, then dove back down, and up again, the wisps of cloud behind me creating a butterfly symbol, hey, Fluttershy doesn't have those copyrighted.

The winds and my wings are my brush and the sky is my canvas as I dance in the clouds.

A rainbow-colored streak of light zaps in and touches base on each of the points of my 'wisp drawing,' making it flash rainbows colors for an instant before I'm face to face with my closest family.

"Getting in some late night flying, squirt?" she asks evenly.

"Y-yeah, had some...interesting dreams, nothing bad, just wanted to clear my head a little."

"Wanna talk about 'em?"

"Uh, they're a little, personal. Not nightmares, promise. Just got me thinking."

"I'm happy to let you stretch your wings and have your fun with today's left over clouds Scootaloo, but it's a school night, morning comes quick, and you need rest. You may have helped save everypony young filly, but you still need your sleep."

I saw that 'no nonsense' look on Rainbow Dash's face, I wasn't getting out of this. I've actually gotten used to it, before it was so weird. "Alright."

"Don't worry, we'll have plenty of time tomorrow. Trust me, flying while half-asleep isn't good. Remember what AJ was like when she let herself get wicked tired."

I chuckled. "Yeah, she was silly."

"Yeah, she was. We can fly together tomorrow, but first, back to bed kiddo!"

I rolled my eyes and followed behind. "Yes mom," I heard myself whisper. I don't know if Dash heard me or not. She smiled, nodded and led the way.

Chaos' Revenge

View Online

It's so dark and foggy, Ah can't see a thing. Where am Ah?

"Yer asleep, Apple Bloom."

"Applejack? Is that you?"

"No."

"But ya sound just like her."

"Ah was an Applejack."

"Dreams are weird."

"Ya might be asleep, Bloom, but it ain't right ya think this here is just a dream. Ya might be sleepin' in yer bed, but this is very real."

"That doesn't make sense!"

"Ya ain't in the dream world, what happens to ya here, happens fer real. But explainin' it all ta ya ain't the point of ya bein' here."

"If yer not Applejack, who are ya?"

Then, like a snap of Spike's fingers, Ah was layin' face up on my bed, Ah couldn't move. It was just my bed, the smoky darkness was still all around.

Then Ah was looking at an Alicorn lookin' down at me, but she wasn't an Alicorn. She had eyes like a dragon, and her coat had a dark orange tone to it. Her magic mane reminded me of a sunset. Her bardin' was all reflective and silvery with green jewels all over that looked like her eyes, her armor covered her wings too. Ah moved my eyes and saw her cutie mark was three green apples with red leafs. She was wearin' pa's hat, just like Ah wore Ma's ribbon.

"My name is Nightmare Mirror. Ah was a pony named Applejack until Ah decided to stop smiln' and noddin' every time somepony lied through their teeth rather than face the truth. Ah'm not from yer world. Mine disappeared a long time ago."

"But, but, Applejack! If you just wanna help ponies be honest, why are ya a Nightmare?!"

"Ah told ya, Ah ain't 'Applejack' no more. Ah don't deserve to be called Applejack anymore. Stop cofusin' me with yer sister. And because Ah wasn't gonna take 'don't upset the applecart' for an answer."

"But didn't ya get possessed by the Nightmare Forces?"

"There is no 'Nightmare Forces.' And even if they did they can't make real Nightmares. That's just a lie they made up so Luna and Fluttershy could move along without ponies botherin' 'em. The spirits of black magic can't 'control' anypony against their will, they just service ponies who WANT to become monsters to change the world, they can't influence ponies' choices in the least, and they ain't got one say in what ya do after. They're just the benefactors fundin' a Nightmare's plans. Ah'm a Nightmare, Luna became a Nightmare, Fluttershy became a Nightmare, and it's all our own rotten fault, and everythin' we DO as monsters is our own rotten fault!"

"Y-yer lyin'!"

"Ah'm Nightmare Mirror, Ah only speak the truth. An' here's another truth, 'Bloom. Ah've stuck 'round here too long as is. Yer world is 'bout to change, and not for the better. There are those whose names don't matter that hate seein' ya ponies' always comin' out smellin' like a rose whenever somethin' rotten happens to ya all. There about ta fill the world with lies that are twisted up with the truth until they'll become the truth. And ya'll think them lies have always been the truth, and the world's...the world's gonna become somethin' horrible."

"But, Applejack, if yer a Nightmare, Ah thought that meant ya were...I dunno, evil?"

"Nightmares are monsters. We throw out everythin' inside us except one bit of us. And we're crazy...But ya know how in comics sometimes a bad guy sees somethin' so evil even they think it's horrible? Now's one of those times." Her horn glowed red, and a drop of some silverly stuff stopped floated into my view. "I'd tell ya who, but the truth is it won't change what's gonna happen, and ya'll just panic."

No, it ain't some 'stuff', it was...the Truth.

"Brace yerself, Ah ain't got no clue if this'll hurt or not." Suddenly mah eyes weren't moving no more, and her magic pulled on my right eyelid.

"N-no."

"Ah'm gonna do this whether ya say yes or no, but yer gonna say yes. Even though ya don't want ta lose yerself. Ah'm doin' this, so ya can pierce the lies that fill the world. And yer gonna see how ugly and horribles lies really are. Like Ah did. And when it's all over, yer gonna remake the world yerself. Because ya'll want to. Nightmares are hypocrites, and when it's over, ya'll won't just champion the truth, at the end darlin', ya'll MAKE THE TRUTH! Ya'll be the one!"

"H-How do Ah know ya ain't the one behind the world turnin' bad? Did you make that weird magic fog?"

"Ah swear on Ma and Pa's graves, Ah ain't, nor are any of my friends, cohorts, partners, or whatever else ya might call 'em, are behind that fog, or had anythin' ta do with that fog comin' about. We're as connected as Nightmare Moon is responsible for Twilight Sparkle bein' born. It ain't no plan of ours. But yer gonna be part of stoppin' it. And for that, Ah need to do this. And ya know why, Bloom?"

I felt so small, everythin' she said, it held, I couldn't call any of it fake. "W-why?"

"Because if Ah didn't, ya'll won't notice the world changin', and ya'll be twisted up inside into just another gritty dark piece of trash that's a mockery of everythin' yer supposed to be...and so will everypony ya love. Or ya can do somethin' to save yer friends, yer family, yer neighbors, yer classmates, and yer princesses from an army of lies. These here are the words of Nightmare Mirror, who only speaks the truth!"

"...Ah wanna help my friends."

"Found, found, found, you Applejack! Am I interrupting interrupting interrupting anything?"

Yikes! What the-?! NIGHTMARE PINKIE PIE?!

"Ah'm just about done here, Pinkie Pie. Tell RD Ah'll be back in a tick."

"Okay okay okay AJ! I'll be sure sure sure to tell Dashie! Be hurry back back back! We've a got a lot do..."

"Ah know." She looked me in the eye, Ah couldn't move my mouth now. "Ah hope we don't meet again, Bloom. Ah'd say Ah love ya more than anything, but that'd be a filthy lie, 'cuz Ah love truth more. Down this here path, yer gonna lose the right ta call yerself a filly....Maybe ya already lost that. Ah don't want ya to forgive me, ever," She let the drop of the truth fall in my eye. It did hurt.

"YEOW!" Ah screamed, sitting up in bed, in my room. Ah had a headache, and my right eye was throbbin' something fierce! Like somepony stuck a hot poker in it! Ah brought my hooves to my face, Ah didn't feel anythin' there, but dang it hurt!

Ah went to the bathroom...Mah eyes looked fine. No fancy glowing stuff. No fallin' into myself or nothin', at least the pain was fadin' fast. Ah looked out my window. No monsters. No z-zombies. No Mare In the Moon. No chaos monster. Just more of that dang fog!

Maybe it WAS all a dream?...Ah can hope, can't Ah?

Huh? Look at the clock, oh no Ah'm gonna be late! Rush down! Eat breakfast, say good mornin'! Got gotta do my mornin' chores before even gettin' ready for school! Can talk with AJ and Miss Twilight 'bout this later!

Okay, so after a rush through everything, Ah was on my way to meetin' up with the others, and now with time to spare. Funny how things work out, ain't it?

"Scootaloo," Ah asked. "What's with the braid?"

"Oh this? Didn't want a mane cut, but still had to keep it out of my eyes."

"Apple Bloom, Winona gets along fine with the rest of your animals, right?" Sweetie Belle asked glancing at her saddle bag.

"Yeah, she knows not to bother the cows for their bridge game, leaves the sheep alone for their poker night, and we made sure she knows not to get herself hurt botherin' the pigs."

"The pigs? Shouldn't they be more scared of her?"

Ah told Sweetie Belle, "Pigs are NOT harmless, and they are NOT docile if ya invade their pen. They're animals, they're dangerous. Especially the males."

"Come on, Apple Bloom, we helped feed your pigs once, remember? Blech. They weren't...that bad," Scoots said.

"And I..." Silver Spoon spoke, "Had a dream where I got pushed into a mud hole with pigs at the train station with Diamond Tiara."

"Scootaloo, Ah have a cousin who ended with broken ribs and had to go to the hospital because she wandered into a pig pen thinkin' she could just play in the mud with the pigs and they didn't like 'er invading their space. They knew we were brin' 'em food and not invadin' their turf. But ya get 'em upset, it's not pretty. Pushing another filly into a pigpen puts 'em in DANGER! Ah'd never do that."

"Oh it wasn't you in my dream, Apple Bloom. I imagined you had a cousin from Manehatten called Babs Seed who did it. And she didn't push us, she scared us, I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest and...Apple Bloom?"

Ah'd stopped dead n my ah track. "Wha...what did you just say?"

"I said I dreamed up you had a cousin in-"

"Manehatten? Babs Seed?"

"So? It was just a dream and-"

I grabbed her and looked her in the eyes. "But that's impossible!"

"W-what is?"

"AH DO have a cousin in Manehatten! Her name IS Babs Seed! But Ah've never even met 'er! Ah've never even mentioned her to any of ya! Have Ah?" Ah looked at the others who shook their heads. "Silver Spoon! How can ya dream of a cousin Ah never told ya about?! You dreamed this last night?"

Her eyes went wide. Almost scared.

"N-N-no! It was before the wedding! It...reminded me of things I wasn't proud of."

"Don't know things you should, knowing things you shouldn't. Whaddaya think that means?" A creepy voice said.

"WAAA!" We startled at the little colt that just popped out of nowhere between us.

"Oh, heheheh, sorry." He gave us a sheepish grin and brushed the back of his head. "Scaring ponies is my special talent." He showed us his flank: a jack-o-lantern. "I' kinda let it slip sometimes, I'm Phobia, nice to meetcha!" he exclaimed, giving a smirk and offering a hoof.

We didn't recognize him, but that wasn't weird. Foals transferred in and out of our school all the time. We each politely shook his hoof and introduced ourselves.

"I"m Sweetie Belle."

"Ah'm Applebloom, ya new in town?"

"Naw, just unnoticed."

"Sounds like Button Mash," Scootaloo said. "I'm Scootaloo."

+

Okay, I'm stepping in. Apple Bloom can't appreciate this next part, as a pegasus who was scared she'd never fly, I can. She knows Earth Pony Magic better than a lot of grown-ups, so the idea of not having what makes her tribe special just isn't something she knows.

I noticed first this brown colt was a pegasus like me...but his wings were broken. My own wings pressed against my hard, Dash said it was rude to stare but I couldn't take my eyes off 'em. Any pegasus reading this will know exactly how I feel!

Phobia followed my look to 'em.

"It's alright, I don't mind," he said casually. "Life isn't fair. Crud happens...that's the truth...but it's also the truth that life is something worth fighting for...funny thing about truth? Ponies say things they think or want to be true, and if enough ponies THINK it's true, it's said to be true. Does that make it true?"

"NO," Apple Bloon said sternly.

"True, but remember, that truth you just spoke, isn't everypony's truth, and most ponies have no clue what they're saying not be true, they're just going by what they know. And they aren't bad for it...but the one spreading the lies might be..."

"Ahem, that is enough for now." Burr, that voice is frosty. Where did she come from? It's this really pale blue unicorn lady, is she his nanny or grandma? She's wearing this hood-cloak thingie, and I can't see her eyes...

+

My turn, it was never as bad as with Scootaloo, but I was beginning to think I'd never be able to do magic before the wedding. Phobia's nana had a broken horn. I ran a little magic through my own horn without thinking.

"Oh sorry! Got to go! This is Void! Don't worry, she's not as bad as she makes everypony think she is."

"Oh, storytime. The story is 'Something Wicked This Way Trots'."

"Uh...my sis don't let meh read that one, she said it was too scary for foals."

"Oh, it is scary, but I love scary. And it's also a delightful story about how love can conquer evil and the pursuit of love can lead you out of the darkest of times. I think we can all learn from that, don't you?"

"Is yer pa a publisher?"

"Move right now," Miss Void said sternly.

"Seriously, nice to meetcha! See ya later!"

Then...uh, I'm not really sure, I think they teleported, Miss Void must be really good if she could teleport with that cracked horn, I think her magic color was black or really dark gray. Or the fog suddenly got so tick we couldn't see them. I really couldn't tell.

Fog? Yeah. Scootaloo was flapping her wings a lot just to get it away from her. And it was getting thicker. Like, the sky was whiter than my coat!

After we talked with Phobia I was worried that we were gonna be late, but the public clocks showed we still had time to spare.

"Hi Sweetie Belle!" Who was that again? Oh right, Button Mash, he too young for Miss Cheerilee, and didn't care about his cutie mark. Maybe he changed his mind? He happily trotted over to me and put an arm around my shoulder. What? "How are ya doin' today?" He smiled.

"Uh, I'm fine," I said, trying to be nice as I tried to gently slip his hoof off me. The others were looking at us weird too.

I didn't like how he looked hurt. He pressed his ears against his head. "Um. Are you still mad about me getting brain freeze on our date and making a scene? I...I really am sorry and...you did call me still cute so I thought..."

"What are you talking about? I've never been on a date with you." I asked. Was this a game? Or was there another Sweetie Belle in Ponyville...? Who looked like me? Was there a changeling going around pretending to be me?

Now he looked like I had just kicked him in the stomach. "Sweetie Belle I..." His eyes misted over as he sniffed. "I'll, talk to you later?" He ran ahead to school.

"Did you two have a fight?" Silver Spoon asked.

"What?" I looked at Silver Spoon, she was being completely honest. "I've never been on a date with him in my life!"

"Sweetie Belle, that's not nice, I know he's a lunk-head but he really does care about you. You shouldn't just brush him off after everything."

I shook my head. Was I dreaming? I check. Nope, I still have my fur and mane. "Silver Spoon, I'm not joking. I've never dated him before!"

"Sweetie Belle are you sick?" Silver Spoon put a hoof to my forehead, "No fever. Sweetie Belle listen to me, you and Button Mash have been coltfriend and fillyfriend since last year! Diamond and I teased you about it!"

"Silver Spoon, Ah don't remember any of that." Thank you, Apple Bloom!

"I don't either." Scootaloo shook her head.

Silver Spoon looked at us. Looking a little hurt herself. "What are you saying? That I told Button Mash to pull a prank on you? Girls I know what I remember!"

I look at my friends. And they didn't even know what to say.

"Silver Spoon I...I don't think you're lying, but...I know what I remember too," I said.

"But that makes no sense! We can't remember things THAT differently. And girls, I swear, I didn't have anything to do with Button Mash!"

"I think we're gonna have to save this mystery for a bit later! Don't forget we've got class!" Scootaloo said.

Silver Spoon reluctantly nodded. And I had the worst sense of being left out...I didn't like I had hurt somepony's feelings, but why would he and Silver Spoon think we were special friends? Did Chryssy's magic mess with my head more than I thought or something? But...that doesn't make sense if Apple Bloom and Scoots both remember it the same way!

Ruby Pinch and Orange Top were outside the school house waiting for the first bell to ring.

"Button Mash ran into class crying, Sweetie Belle what did you do to him?" Ruby Pinch asked.

"I didn't do anything!" I blurted out.

"Well, you are his fillyfriend, and I heard you were embarrassed on your latest play-date so-"

"We're not special friends!"

Ruby and Orange looked at each other, looking shocked. Ruby said, "It was THAT BAD huh?"

"No no no, you don't understand, there wasn't any date."

"He stood you up? I guess he likes his video games more than you after all." Ruby sighed. "Colts."

"He didn't stand me up because there wasn't any date!" I felt like I was going crazy! Apple Bloom and Scootaloo gave me a hug. Now I felt like crying.

Ruby and Orange looked a little scared of me.

Not knowing what else to do, I went to my desk inside...but...my stuff wasn't there...it was...in a desk next to Button Mash who looked miserable and had his head buried in his video game, the 'game over' jingle beeping out over and over.

Okay, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo knew this wasn't right, but why did Silver Spoon and everypony else seem to think it was? If this was a prank, I really didn't get the joke. Not even Silver and Diamond at their worst would've done something this cruel. And poor Button really did look heart broken! Who was the prank even on?!

"Twist? Ya okay, why aren't ya with Truffle?" I turned my head, the others were talking to Twist. I hadn't noticed with this weirdness but...Twist was sitting by herself, she looked lonely. And Truffle, was sitting on the other side of the room with a happy Tootsie Flute draping one of her forelegs around him. Neither of them were even looking Twist's way.

"Why would I be?" Twist asked.

"Because you two are special friends, duh," Scootaloo said.

"That's not funny Scootaloo!"

"Huh?" Scootaloo tilted her head.

"Wait, you're not..." Apple Bloom looked like she had a little headache, I know how those are. "Not Truffle's special friend?"

"Of...of course I'm not, Tootsie Flute is, she has been since last Hearts and Hooves day, maybe you were too busy giving Miss Cheerilee her giant heart to notice but...yes, she is. I'm not."

Apple Bloom's headache looked like it was getting worse. Why was she covering one eye? "But...that ain't true."

+

"Bon Bon," Lyra said, "I have something to confess."

"Yes?"

"I'm really, SECRETLY A CHANGELING!" Green flame, and Lyra revealed her true form.

"What? But I'M secretly a changeling!" Bon-Bon shifted into her changeling form.

June Bug stuck her head through a window, "Well that's a surprise! Cause I'M secretly a changeling too!" And she revealed herself as such.

Moth looked at her family, feeling very confused and conflicted. "Why did none of you bring this up before?!"

+

A royal guard walked into the room set aside for the slowly recovering Neatly Spell, with Prince Blueblood there along with Arcane Spell for her morning visit with her healing sister.

"Prince Blueblood, a Miss Twinkle Sharkle is here to see you, she's wondering why you've constantly avoided appointments with her."

Prince Blueblood's brain threaten to shut down at the combination of words that came out of the guard's mouth. "Twilight Sparkle wants to see me?"

"No no no sir, Twilight SHARKLE."

"Dear I'm not going to be jealous, it's just business," Arcane Spell said.

Prince Blueblood felt dizzy.

+

Dinky hadn't arrived at school yet. She was still in her home's kitchen. She was sitting at the table, looking between two identical pegasi. Neither one about to let their precious muffin off with an 'impostor' who was clearly a shape shifting plastic pony in disguise.

"Muffin, it's me! Your mommy! Ditzy Doo!"

"No Muffin! I'm me! Your mommy! Derpy Hooves!"

"Muffin you can tell right?! It's really me!"

"Muffin, don't listen to her, I'm me!"

"Okay, joke's over, I opened the TARDIS and found gardening tools inside and the inside as big as the outside, so where did you girls move my real- GALLOPING GALLIFREY!"

"DOCTOR! LOOK OUT! SHE'S AN ALIEN! Quick! Zap us both! Hey!" They shouted together.

"Dear, we're hom-" said a third walleyed grey Pegasus and a second brown Earth Pony walking in. These ones the opposite gender of their counterparts.

"...Since when did I have a daddy?" Dinky asked.

+

There was a heavy slamming on Fluttershy's door that morning. If a pound could sound angry, that's what it would have sounded like. Fluttershy pulled herself from bed, ugh, was her mane longer?

She opened the door to find an angry bear in a vacation shirt looking very cross with her. "So what's the big deal?! I trust you and Rainbow Dash to look after my cave, while I'm playing volleyball at the beach and collecting sea-shells, and you never show!"

Then ANOTHER BEAR pushed the first one aside and said, "Hey! No! They were gonna watch my house while I was while I'm playing with seashells at the beach and collecting volleyballs, and they never showed!"

"Who do you think you are?"

"I'm Harry!"

"No, I'm Harry!"

The Flutters fainted.

+

Applejack, had finished her workload for the minute, and turned things over to Big Mac (her big brother and her had come to the compromise after AJ's workaholism nearly made her work herself to death, practically poisoned plenty of ponies, overpropelled a pegasus, and terrorized bushels of brand-new bouncing baby bunnies).

Their tenant flocks had already produced this month's quota of wool and milk, and Fleece and Daisy Jo were asking for their cut of the profits. AJ didn't want to think about what new lopsided contracts Flim and Flam would have written up for the flock and cows if they'd gotten Sweet Apple Acres. If they'd actually bothered to keep them on, since the brothers seemed to be in it for the money on apples, not on wool and milk.

AJ took a minute to read through the magically self-updating copy of the Foal Free Press.

AJ hadn't wanted to see the little school paper ever again after the misery it had caused her family before, but...they had been given a free test drive of the paper, and a quality control promise that everything that was printed in the paper was true. And Cheerilee asked ponies not to judge the NEW foals in charge of the paper for the trouble caused by the foals who were no longer working on the paper.

Applejack's eyes bulged as she read the articles. "This...this here is all hogwash! This makes what 'Bloom and her friends printed look like a love letter to everypony in Ponyville! Why Ah outta! This is...this is like somethin' out of some trashy horror movie RD would watch! Who wrote this slop? Ah'm gonna pull 'em by their ears and tell their parents what big fat liars they are!...But...that there's impossible, uuuugh."

Applejack lowered the paper, feeling sick to her stomach. Her eyes laid eyes on several empty bottles of hard cider of the table she knew hadn't been there a moment before. Her head was spinning, she felt her brain drowning in booze. Her legs fell out from under her as she fell on the floor.

"B-Big Mac!" She cries out, the world above her wouldn't stop spinning.

Her big brother rushed in. "Oh no, ya over did it again." Applejack knew she couldn't have heard him right.

"N-no, not again, it's not-"

"Shush, ya just relax AJ, let me just lay ya on the couch...and ya can just sleep this off."

"N-no, can't, don't wanna-" AJ felt herself fall into a whirl pool of unconsciousness.


+

Vendetta Mask (he changed his name and cutie mark regularly) knew it! He knew he knew it! He had been right! He had always been right! So what if Mr. Rich had fallen under the sway of the conspiracy and refused to let him share the truth with his daughter? It was clear her believing the truth was why the Alicorn had her silenced! They likely had the stallion eliminate her himself to prove his devotion. So what if only one little foal's news paper was the only one who'd print the truth? He was finally getting his message out there! Ponies were finally reading it!

He did wonder what the pink filly without a shadow or reflection was doing in his apartment (he always kept his doors and windows locked and teleport proofed). She looked very very familiar, but for reason, his mind couldn't connect with who was standing before him, with what he was trying to remember.

"You've done a very good job at speaking your message, it's been an honor for the Foal Free Press to spread your theories."

"They aren't theories! They're the truth!"

"Yes...yes they are...and, I actually am sorry, but you see, like most conspiracy theorists, you forgot to ask yourself one important question."

"Which is?"

"If the nation we live in, is so corrupt, so ruthless and without moral, and perfectly willing to silently remove anypony who opposes their will...how have you been speaking this message in public for years?"

A dozen literally-faceless identical unicorn mares in black suits promptly busted down the door and dogpiled him, and began hitting him with door knobs.

"You were an intense teacher," she said, "Too bad you could never accept ONE theory."

"WHAT THEORY?"

"That you could possibly be wrong. But don't worry, you're completely right now. Enjoy being right."

+

"You know Apple Bloom," Ruby Pinch said helpfully, coming over to the farm filly, taking her attention away from Twist. "My mom got help with her problem and is better now, maybe your sister should get help too."

"What are ya talkin' about?" It took all of Apple Bloom's maturity not to say 'the hay' in there.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I know it's not nice to talk about it," Ruby Pinch said sounding genuinely apologetic. "But if they could help my mommy, maybe they can help your big sister."

"Ruby, Ah honestly, don't know whatcha mean."

Ruby looked left and right, then leaned in and whispered, "Uh, ya know, about your big sister, um...liking cider way too much?"

"Say wha'?" Apple Bloom felt her brain break.

"Apple Bloom, you shouldn't pretend, I did, I know it's hurts but...but mommy got better and so can she," the other filly pleaded.

"My sister doesn't have a cider problem!" Apple Bloom shouted a little bit too loud. She looked around, seeing foals looking at her with pity. Except for Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle who were as confused as she was.

Twist and Silver Spoon sadly shook their heads.

"No," Apple Bloom whispered.

"Hey, Dash has never said anything about Applejack drinking too much cider."

"And whenever Rarity complained about Applejack, she never mentioned that either."

"Yer sister complains about my sister?"

"Uh! For a long while she hasn't!" Sweetie Belle said quickly.

"Apple Bloom, over half the town knows it," Silver Spoon said.

"That's dumb! How could...how could Applejack be like that if she's managin' the farm?!" Apple Bloom felt her blood pressure rise.

"Doesn't your big brother take care of it?"

"They work together! Ah work with 'em! We're a family! The farm is a family effort!"

"Apple Bloom, calm down," Silver Spoon said. Ruby Pinch politely took several trots back, recognizing now WASN'T the time to talk about this.

Apple Bloom growled. This wasn't right!...Like...Like Sweetie Belle and Button Mash.

Had their time traveling had some time-delayed effort? Or did they slip into some parallel universe again and this universe's versions of them into theirs? Were they having a shared dream? Maybe they were in some buggy virtual reality machine like in that play?

Scootaloo noticed it first. She fluttered over to Archer, "Hey, mind if I borrow that?"

"Sure, I was about done anyway."

Archer hoofed Scootaloo her copy of the Foal Free Press.

Scoots fluttered back over to her friends (a part them distantly thinking it was odd the school bell STILL hadn't rung).

"Brace yourselves." She showed it to the others.

If Apple Bloom was a flower and her bow her petals, it would had fallen off from wilting from what she read.

"This is nuts," she whispered.

APPLE-FARMER CAN'T HOLD CIDER AGAIN

"Let me guess, none of you remember that either," Silver Spoon said reading their faces. She wondered if her friends had been hit by an false-memory spell or something...she couldn't help feeling her friend's predicament felt familiar. Where had she seen something like this before?

"'Cause it didn't happen," Apple Bloom said this time keeping her voice down.

There was another article titled:

TOOTSIE FLUTE AND TRUFFLE, REAL LIFE HEARTS AND HOOVES DAY SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP

Apple Bloom saw the paper was printed today. "Twist, did you read the Foal Free Press today?"

"No," Twist replied.

There was also a whole bunch of guest articles talking about evil conspiracies keeping stallions and earth ponies down, but they all went over Scootaloo's head. They reminded her of the horseapples the Changelings had used to justify what they did.

Scootaloo caught a look at Rumble the pegasus colt, normally the colt was the best little athlete the school had, now he looked a little pudgy, staring into space. There wasn't any article about Rumble. But Scootaloo shuddered about an article about his BIG BROTHER Thunderlane. It was titled:

'How Many Mares Can A Stallion Do In One Night If A Stallion Could Do, Would Do, Mares?'

Scootaloo wondered what that meant, and decided she was better off not knowing and didn't read further.

There seemed to be a similar article about Alula's big sister Cloud Kicker on the next page, Scoots didn't even look!

"Anything in there about me having Button Mash for a special friend?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"...No." Scootaloo then felt a bad thought and skimmed again. "And there's nothing about me tying up part of my mane either. Girls..." Scootaloo felt sick to her stomach. "You need to see the by-line for these articles at the bottom."

+

The colt Lickety-Split was not at school. He was holding his head, ignoring the pounding of his mother's hoof on his locked door. To him it sounded distant, muted. Dulled.

Besides him was the free copy of the magical Foal Free Press.

On one page, was a picture of a mare known to Ponyville mostly as Barking Mad on one side, and a poorly done doctored photo of a were-beast version of the same mare on the other.

His bedroom, and that of his mother's as well, now had claw marks on the walls. He couldn't help feeling scars on his skin trying to exist.

'It's not true. It's not true. It's not true. It's not true. Grandma was recovering. Grandma was recovering. The doctor's said that she was on the road to being herself again. Miss Fluttershy was helping her! Grandma RECOGNIZED ME when me and mom last visited! This isn't. This isn't. This isn't! Grandma isn't a monster! This isn't. This isn't. Celestia help please!...'

+

Zecora felt herself suffering one horrible headache after another this morning. And she had found the strangest of items in her collection, there were her leeches yes, but also eye of newt, zombie-powder, toadstools, and timber wolf fangs.

She found herself cackling at the thought of the undead ponies of Sunnytown and what they had done to innocent ponies. And why did she look like herself from when she dressed up for last Nightmare Night?! (Her first one welcomed in Ponvyille). And felt hungry at the idea of foals in her, oh Celestia!

"She's an evil enchantress,
Who does evil dances.
When you look in her eyes, she'll put you in trances.
And what will she do?
She'll cook up an evil brew,
And gobble you up in a big tasty stew, sooooo
Watch out!"

+

Pumpkin Cake and Pound Cake brawled their eyes out as they were pulled further and further apart. Pumpkin with mommy and Pound with daddy, the toddlers not understanding why their parents were going in different directions with sad looks on their faces. Pumpkin Cake wailed and her horn glowed, the Cakes were teleported back together. There! Now everything was alright! No! Why were they walking away again?

Doctors suggested against using a seal on a baby foal's horn to deal with magic surges, saying it could cause side effects on their long term magic growth. Otherwise the Cakes would have put one on her.

"It's...it's okay Pumpkin, you'll, you'll see your brother again soon, we're just...going out for some new treats." Mrs. Cake lied as the two adults looked at each other sadly.

The broken couples' thoughts echoed each other. 'I don't know what went wrong. We were so happy. They're still the only pony I could ever want as my very special somepony. Why did this has to happen?'

+

"Lock me in here!" Princess Celestia commanded in the Royal Canterlot Voice. "And ignore all orders to release me! That is a order from your Princess!"

The Solar Guards looked at each other confused.

"PLEASE!" Fear in the voice of the most powerful pony in the world. "Do not let me out or anypony enter, especially Twilight Sparkle! IGNORE ALL MY COMMANDS UNTIL THE FOG PASSES! OR I'LL BANISH YOU TO THE MOON!" Horrible images swelled up inside Celestia's mind, feelings rising like a tide threatening to drown her. Each more obscene and deprived than the last! She felt like she was drowning!

'Dissy...' She found herself thinking as her guard numbly obeyed her commands. 'Is this what it felt like for you? When Discord devoured you? Wiped you away? Pulled you under where all you could do was scream?' She dived into her bathroom and gave herself an Arctic frigid cold shower, struggling to maintain self-control for a little bit longer.

She magically created several golden chains with the density of a dwarf-star that she anchored to the floor and placed around herself, but she feared even this wouldn't be enough. That was when her chains were reinforced by a shape of magic she hoped to never seen again. She did not know who it was, but she knew what it was.

As she felt her clarity slipping, and impulses not her own infesting her flesh and blood brain, she called out. "Why help me?"

'Believe it or not, I hate those flank-clowns too. And I respect you wanting to stay loyal to your subjects. Loyalty is all I am.'

Celestia barely got a 'Thank you," to the enemy of her enemy before she gave out a last shudder. She duly looked at the chains holding her, feeling they were not a part of this reality, she casually tried to break them, but found they would not. This was kinky, but not the kind to enjoy by herself with.

She called out to her guards in a sultry voice, "Guards! Forget everything I just said. Bring Twilight Sparkle to me at once for some of our private lessons!"

No! Please! Don't! Twilight!

The obedient guards were about to comply, when like chains around their necks they were reminded of their Princess' orders to keep their princess within and not to let any inside, and that it would not be the loyal thing to disregard her warnings.

Princess Celestia was not pleased that her guards were not obeying her. Oh well, she began to rub herself against her bindings, thinking of Twilight Sparkle and her other sweet ones.

Please...my little ponies...survive…


+

Pipsqueak wasn't going to school. He was at home with his parents. Moonlight had shown up to walk with him to school, when she had fallen on her side and began convulsing. Pip's family realized in dismay they had no idea where Moonlight's family lived.

Moonlight knew, how everypony in town knew her as the foal who was Pip's best friend, a little strange perhaps, but that was all she was. She didn't have any Alicorn-like powers, that would be just silly. Yes. She was just Pip's friend, nothing more. No!

+

In Princess Luna's room, a Windigo wailed about the lack of hate around to feed it.

And there was an Alicorn the size of a normal pony with a blue mane devoid of stars...Every time she tried to form thoughts, her emotions and mind turned to how mean and unfair her big sister was, and how she had kept her imprisoned against her will ever since coming back to keep all the power to herself and had banished her to keep her quiet about Equestria sordid past, and she just kept crying and crying and crying in-spite of herself.

+

"But that's impossible!" Apple Bloom shouted, "That's not truth at all!" Her eye felt like it was on fire.

The other students shushed them.

"This is a really bad joke right?" Sweetie Belle whimpered reading the by-line.

"We didn't write any of this!" Scootaloo snarled in righteous fury reading the name at the bottom.

-Gabby Gums.

"It's a lie, it's all a lie!" Apple Bloom said to herself. Apple Bloom raced up to her teacher. "Miss Cheerilee!"

"Apple Bloom class is about to-"

"This is all fake! We didn't write any of this!"

"Your names aren't on there."

"Yes it is! Gabby Gums!"

"You'll have to ask the news club after school Apple Bloom, I didn't pick the name."

"But everypony's gonna think we did write all this! This is horrible! You can't let this happen!"

"Apple Bloom you're causing a disruption. I understand why you're upset, I truthfully am as well, but I promise I had no idea about this and wouldn't have approved, now PLEASE calm down, you're causing a scene, and it won't get a recant done faster."

"How about right now?"

"Class is just about to start! None of the news club have come in today."

"YES THEY HAVE! There's...where's...Tootsie? She was just here!"

"She said ...something about...being sick, I think..."

"Miss Cheerilee are you okay?"

"Just a headache. And I'm sorry, but she's already left."

"Sure convenient."

"Yes it is, I'll be sending a note to her family and the families of the other club members and see who this morning has been using school equipment. Now PLEASE sit down! Or I'll have you sit down."

+

= School Days -Persona 1 =

My eyes were taken off Apple Bloom and Cheerilee when I noticed a colt and filly both Pipsqueak's age going through my saddlebag! That was a gift from Dash you jerks!

"Hey!" I said, I tried grabbing my bag back back but the filly slipped through my hoof like she made out of Pinkie Pies. "That's mine!" I said.

"It is yours," said the foal plainly standing aside not doing anything. "And it's against the rules to take things that aren't yours."

"But it's got lots of interesting stuff in it!" The white and red haired filly giggled rummaging through my stuff. They were both Earth ponies, but she kept hoping out of my grip like she was the one with wings.

I looked around but nopony else seemed to notice two kindergarteners in the class room, or me complaining.

"And it's my stuff!"

"Are you sure it's your stuff?"

"Yes I'm sure!"

"Are you really really really sure?" She smiled at me straight in the face. She reminded me of Pinkie Pie when she first met a pony in Ponyville. Almost annoyingly happy just to meet somepony.

"Yes I'm really really really sure!"

"Including this?" She pulled out the pinecone, and fuddled with it like it was a new toy.

"Be careful with that!"

"So it's really important?"

"Yes!"

"You shouldn't play with things that aren't yours," said the colt. "It's against the rules."

"Okay, you play with it," No! She tossed it to her friend who caught it easily.

"So why is this important to you?"

"Because it's a reminder of a friend."

"Just a friend? Only a friend?"

"Okay! I guess she's family too! Kinda! It's complicated!"

"Feelings are always complicated, it's what makes them special."

"No they aren't! Sometimes it's just a matter of what you feel! And I feel that's important!"

"Good. Then you should be careful not to lose it," He, stuck a hook-eye on it and slipped a little bit of thread through it faster than I could move and hopped right onto my back, ugh! And he placed it around my neck.

"If it's really there for somepony you care about, then you shouldn't take it off except for them," said the colt said. The filly closed in on the pinecone again, I pulled it out of her hooves as she tried to grab it. I had a strangest feeling of being given a taste of our own medicine on our night of Fluttershy looking after us.

"I bet there are lots of nice feelings in that pinecone!"

"I'm not letting you break it open to find them!" I said.

"Oh silly filly! You don't need to break something open to get the feelings inside!" She grinned at me.

"Who are you calling silly?" I asked, though I admit, what she said made me have flashbacks to the whole Wedding mess and the Changelings learning that.

"Everypony's silly sometimes! Except the really silly ponies who are always serious!" She gave a giggle to the colt.

"I am not always serious, I have a sense of humor."

"I know! Meant like some of your friends!"

"...That is true."

I felt my head hurt.

"But you shouldn't take that pendant off unless it's for the pony it's important for," the colt said.

"If you're sure yer feelin's are real!"

"Yes, they are!"

"Then you oughta remember those feelings," the colt said, "Real feelings can't be faked, real feelings don't just go away. On the other hoof, feelings don't care how they got made, it's your choices that make those feelings real."

"Even if the world is remade, what's inside hearts don't just go poof!" The filly said. "True feelings can pierce anything!"

I tilted my head. "What? That makes even less sense."

"Feelings make their own sense." The filly smiled so annoyingly at me. She gave me my saddlebag back. There was nothing damaged or missing inside.

"You didn't break anything?"

"No way! That'd make you sad."

"The rules say we oughta be going now," said the colt, "We aren't in this class."

"Aww!" cried the filly. Then she smiled at me. "It was nice to see you again!"

I blinked. "We've met before?"

She giggled like the adults at a play seemed to when there was some joke I was too young to get happened. "You wouldn't remember, it was a long time ago. Bye-bye!"

The colt's expression hadn't changed once as he politely bow and trotted out the door while the filly hopped out the window...which I didn't even know could open!...Maybe she was related to Pinkie Pie?

"And that's why Princess Celestia is really Rainbow Dash's mother. Scoots? Are you even paying attention?"

"Wait, what?! Silver Spoon! As awesome as that would be, I know it's not right! I've seen pictures of her family, Celestia's not in it!"

"She's obviously adopted."

"Then why does the dad in the picture look like her?!"

"You said dad, not mom. Scootaloo calm down, you're getting worked up, I thought you'd think it would be great your idol is a demi-goddess."

"Because I know it's not true! Just like everything else that we've heard today!"

"Scoots, I'm not trying to trick you!"

"...You're our friend, right?"

"Of course I am, why wouldn't I be?"

"...I just had to check....nothing has made sense all day..."

"Like you heroically saving Sweetie Belle from a wicked witch and getting your cutie mark and learning to fly all the same time? And when did you put on that pendant?"

"I mean nothing makes sense like...things I know are right aren't right...it's more like when we ended up in that other Ponyville, it's like this isn't the same Ponyville we went to sleep in last night..."

Her question finally hit me. "Oh...you didn't see the little foals?"

"Well there's you, me, Sweetie-"

"I meant the preschool herd!"

"No. What other Ponyville? Scootaloo, are you girls feeling okay? Maybe you all caught a fever or something? Maybe you should all go home for the day." Silver Spoon put the back of her hoof to my forehead.

"Silver, don't you remember? Cutie Mark Crusaders time travelers? The other Ponyville? That crazy dead universe ruled by that D__t guy?"

"Oh right! I REALLY try not to think about that one."

"Well right now I feel like I'm in something like that...Like we just stepped into some bizarro world...Can you honestly say that sounds weirder than anything that's already happened to us?"

"No. But it wouldn't be the first time you came down with dementia."

"Dash's cooking has improved a LOT since then! And if it WAS that, then why would me, Apple Bloom, AND Sweetie all have the exact same hallucination?"

"Please don't hate me for this but...ever heard of Folie à deux?"

"Say what?"

"Uh...one of you went nuts, and drove the other two nuts?" Silver Spoon offered meekly, not wanting to upset her friend further.

"And when would we have had the CHANCE to do that? We only saw each other for the walk over here before we noticed any of this crazy stuff. The only other time we all saw each other was yesterday, and you were with us, were we acting crazy then?"

Silver Spoon shook her head. "This is kinda more articulate than I'm used to from you, Scootaloo."

"Ugh...sorry, all this craziness is making me have to be logical!...And Silver, somepony is using the Gabby Gums' name in the paper...I agree with Apple Bloom. If nothing else is wrong, that IS something for the three of us to worry about...what if they think we've gone back to being Gabby Gums? Even if we are just hallucinating or something, that IS something for us to worry about!"

Silver Spoon shivered. "You're very right about that."

"Silver, I don't know what's going on, but I don't like it...You have to admit, there's something fishy about Cheerilee letting somepony use the name Gabby Gums in the school paper AGAIN after what happened. That's not like her, is it?"

"Maybe she just didn't see it until now? I didn't."

Applebloom nodded remembering Miss Cheerilee had said.

Silver continued. "And she's just waiting until after class to deal with it so it doesn't become a big deal and she didn't want you three to worry?"

Sweetie finally picked up on the conversation. "But why didn't she watch them more closely? After what happened with Diamond Tiara, I thought she was going to keep a closer eye on the paper."

"Would you think Featherweight, Shady Daze, or Alula would ever do anything like this?" Silver asked.

Cheerilee made a brief cough. "Apple Bloom, now I think you, Scootaloo, and Sweetie are quite upset. Please go outside for some fresh air until I come for you. You can share notes with Silver Spoon, Twist, and...whatever notes Button Mash might take...please."

Silver looked concerned to her friends. "...Maybe it'd help clear your heads...or figure out whatever's going on," she said, somewhere between a lie to make them take good advice and genuine fear just maybe there was something wrong with her and not them. With all the craziness that had happened, the silver filly couldn't entirely just discount her friends' worry or her own.

+

AK Yearling had come to Ponyville, getting an unmarked letter saying that the Golden Oak's Library had a deceptively diverse collection of books, including original prints penned by Walter Trot himself, the original adventure story novelist. AK Yearling's clubmates had said how Walter Trot colored history far too fancifully to its hard realities, but Yearling felt there was nothing wrong with that...it showed ponies how those times SHOULD HAVE been. What was wrong with romanticizing things a little bit? Wasn't that part of what made fiction so well liked? That it didn't NEED to be true to life?

She intended to meet up with Rainbow Dash once there. It wouldn't be too hard, from what she'd heard Ponyville was a place where everypony knew everypony. But after arriving off the train she had fallen ill and had checked into what just vaguely passed for Ponyville's only Bed and Breakfast (with how small a town it was, she was surprised it had such a thing at all), not feeling serious enough for a trip to the local hospital. Even if it was home to legendary holy healer Redheart, the descendant of the divine holy healer Sweetheart. Both who could heal with a touch.

One thing was for sure, looking out her window, she wasn't going anywhere flying in this fog. Not unless she wanted a broken wing like Daring Do in the Sapphire Statue (she unfortunately wasn't so able to handle such an injury). At least she had the newest Daring Do to read.

"Awkward Kindness Yearling."

Yearling turned and yelped at the pony with the maze cutie mark suddenly in her wrong.

"Awkward Kindness Yearling. I'm afraid you won't be reading Walter Trot today."

Yearling didn't feel as shocked she should have. "You again...I met you on the train to Canterlot...before the Royal Wedding."

"Yes...and I made you a promise...your heart and belief will be needed soon. But right now, you need to be a 'nobody' a little longer, sleep, so those who now hunt protectors of the world look over you."

Yearling fell back asleep on her bed, cuddling her Daring Do book.

"Sweet dreams...I wish I could say a brighter day awaits you when you wake up..."

+

Nurse Red Heart's head hurt, but she couldn't let that get in the way. She had an important job. She had inherited her ancestor's healing touch and she intended to use it.

Something without scent, sound, mass, or shape slunk towards her, rumor of a nurse who drugged and mercy killed her own patients, who kept a handsome stallion prison in his hospital bed, trying to worm inside the nurse, to follow the first one that already had. A Pegasus's green hoof landed on her shoulder.

'Choose you own fate.'

For a moment, Nurse Red Heart rippled, a green magic field forming around her before it became transparent. The No-thing tried to slink into her, but bounced off unseen like a fly hitting a window. A green hoof stomped down on it, silently obliterating it.

Red Heart blinked, turning to the panting stallion next to her. He was a green pegasus with a mohawk, his Cutie Mark chains breaking. From the look of it, he'd been run ragged today.

"Are you alright sir?"

The green stallion looked out a window, only his eyes seeing more of the No-Things beyond counting. And too many ponies, and only one of him. He was surprised Red Heart hadn't been at the top of Umbra Breeze's list.

"Oh! Me? Yeah... I have an important job to do and been running here and there to get it done in time. Gotta help some ponies nopony looks at." 'It's why they CAN help.'

More things unseen swarmed on her, bouncing off her like rain.

"Do you need help?" Remembering drunk off he flanks Applejack running around town after Discord telling ponies what they needed to hear, wait did that even make sense?

"Nah, just a little winded," he replied, catching his breath.

"Maybe you should take a break. I have a dear friend who nearly worked herself to death once."

"I can't, I'm the only one who's...special talent can do this," the pegasus panted, wiping sweat off his brow. "If I don't do it, it won't get done...and it's kinda something important to a lot of ponies. Including me."

"...As a healer, I can appreciate that."

"Gotcha...So you like being able to heal ponies?"

"Of course."

"And you'd want healing hooves whether you had them or not?"

"Yes…?"

"It's what you choose?"

For a moment, Red Heart felt like any fog in her brain was lifted. For one moment, she felt a sense of complete clarity and freedom. "Yes, I would."

The pegasus gave a tired grin. "Good...do what you choose to do...now if you excuse me, I gotta jet...places to be."

Red Heart blinked, seeing the Pegasus dash out. "I hope he'll be alright...I think he was beginning to show signs of mana drain."

+

"Hey Button!"

"Hey Phobia, thanks for that Alpha Gold Banished Or Alive. I told other ponies about how a good game story always has a chance for the heroes to win."

"You're welcome. And thank you Button. But I think you hurry on home to your mother now."

"But I can't just ditch class."

"I'm sorry Button. You're a good kid. But you really should go home to your mom right now."

"But I really should go home to my mom right now." The colt stuck his game back in his bag and ran out of the room.

"I'm sorry Button." The broken-winged pegasus trotted out as well, unnoticed by all.

+

Ruby Search of Sunny Town in the Everfree, felt it, something in the very air had changed. In her thousand years as a ghost, trying to bring her family back from their madness that had turned them into murdering monsters, she'd only felt something like this once before: when The Chaos Bringer was up and about. But this was worse, chaos was SOMETHING, this felt like, NOTHING masking it's scent as something! The very magic of Everfree itself shuddered.

And her neighbors and friends, thanks to Miss Fluttershy and others hard work, had begun to recognize their sins, they felt it too. Something in the very magic of Everfree itself had shuddered at a wrongness in the world.

It was as if the world itself was rejecting something, and failing.

+

Inside the school basement, Shady Daze and Featherweight looked at each other in stun faced horror. They looked at the stories that had been sent out to the readers this morning...

"Did you takes these pictures?"

Featherweight shook his head. A feeling of dread went through his mind when it occurred to him that he'd not LENT his camera to anypony either.

"And I know I didn't do the layout for these stories!"

"GOOD MORNING EVERYPONY!" Tootsie Flute trotted in, looking like it was the most bright and happy day in history.

"Tootsie!" Shady Daze said, "Did you see what got sent out this morning?! It's horrible! Somepony used the Gabby Gum alias and printed stories that...I don't even GET half of them!" The young colt said, his innocence gratefully shielding him from the truly worst of the worst pieces. "They're awful!"

Feather Weight took a pencil in his mouth and wrote a question.

'Do you know who the new Gabby Gum is?'

"Yeah! This new colt or filly isn't just nasty, I think they're crazy! The first Gabby Gums wasn't this mean!"

"Colt or filly?" Alula laughed as the pegasus filly trotted in behind the unicorn filly, sharing the unicorn's gleeful expression that made the scene all the more surreal. "Don't be silly Shady Daze, everypony knows Gabby Gums is THREE ponies!"

"A unicorn!" Tootsie said still smiling.

"A pegasus." Alula said.

Shady didn't believe what he was hearing. "Alula, you...you . .. YOU WROTE THESE with Tootsie?! How could you? You're...you're not a bad pony! Neither of you! We've been FRIENDS ever since you came on board! Was it all an act? Don't you know Miss Cheerilee is gonna suspend you for a year when she sees this?! And you remember how the town reacted last time! WHY Alula? Why Tootsie?"

"We ARE friends." Tootsie giggled. "We're just taking the Foal Free Press to it's ultimate greatness!" She struck a pose.

"And they've done so very well. Very well indeed." Umbra Breeze trotted in, looking like a pegasus through the eyes of Featherweight.

"You! We're gonna tell Miss Cheerilee on you!" Shady Daze declared. "You can't think what they printed is good! Alula! Tootsie! Whatever you think you wrote wasn't what got printed! You two would never write stuff this mean!"

Umbra Breeze said nothing, only looking at the foals without a trace of empathy, looking down on them like they were not even people, like they were animals. His shadow began to spread through the room, the feathers lengthening and twisting like tentacles.

"Buried deep in every ponies are nasty little things they WANT to do," Alula said, "But the rules say they can't. But if everypony agrees to do those nasty little things, are they nasty anymore? Or just fun things the stiff rules wouldn't let them do before? The Foal Free Press is gonna help ponies see they don't need to hide or lock away those little things they all want to do!"

"Alula! Are you even listening to yourself!?" Shady Daze said, there wasn't any anger in his voice at all. It was dismay, dread, and a trace of empathy. "That's all nonsense!"

"Please, call me Princess Animatia Erroria."

Shady and Featherweight's jaws dropped.

"Don't worry, Shady," Tootsie said, "I didn't get it either at first. But our new Editor, Alula, and Mr. Umbra Breeze explained everything. Everyponies believes what they want to believe. And giving ponies what they want is a good thing, that's what it means to be a pony. But we've got lots and lots of work left to do!"

"I'm telling Miss Cheerilee right now!"

"You'll have to wait a little bit." Alula said, "There's somepony VERY IMPORTANT that I need to introduce you to first."

No one noticed Featherweight trot back with ninja like silence to one of the windows, that only his skinny frame could really fit through. He hated leaving Shady Daze...but a feeling of dread and fear in the back of his mind told him if he didn't escape, what needed telling wouldn't either.

"Who?" Shady Daze heard himself ask.

"Shady, remember?" Tootsie said, "Gabby Gum is THREE ponies. A pegasus, a unicorn, and an Earth Pony. Well, part Earth Pony!"

"It's a time to celebrate!" Alula said as she, Tootsie, and Umbra Breeze all politely stood aside as a third filly entered the room possessing both horn and wings. "Because our true editor-in-chief has returned."

+

"Okay, crazy and rotten stuff happened to us, so why are we the ones who got sent out of class?" I asked my feathers ruffled.

"I wanted out of there," Sweetie Belle said. "I couldn't stand looking at that paper OR Button Mash! It was like whoever wrote it just wrote the most horrible things they could think of!"

"Yah mean like we did?" Apple Bloom asked, pinning her ears.

"But...we weren't THAT bad!" Sweetie Belle whimpered.

"Okay, look," I said. "We're not Gabby Gums this time, and something REALLY weird is going on...and considering we just got back from saving the world from shapeshifting bug ponies, that's saying something."

"Please don't call them bugs."

"Not now, Sweetie," I pleaded.

"What you choose to call them is meaningless, they are, what they are, what names you label upon them will not change what something is. A rock will always be a rock." Whoa! Did it just get chilly? Hey.

"Miss Void?" Sweetie Belle said, looking at the old mare, her hood still up, she wasn't even looking at us, she was looking at the ultra-foggy sky. I mean, everything was foggy, burr! We should have worn scarfs today! Makes me wish Sweetie still had hers! I had to flap my wings just to keep from walking into the stuff!

"That is the name you call me by," she said, her voice was more chilly than the fog, but at least it felt like it BELONGED.

"Where's Phobia?" Sweetie asked.

"Doing whatever he wants, like the brat always does, no matter how I try to discipline him."

"You sure he'll be okay? With...you know, those wings?" I asked, trying to be respectful. I was a pegasus. If there was ONE thing in the world I know was a touchy subject, that was it.

"You shouldn't worry about him. Listen to me and understand, and know what I say is truth." And just like that, everything she was saying was being stamped into my brain like facts! "The world is about to be undergo a terrible unnatural change. You have already seen the forerunners:

"Things you know not to be true, are now reality, and all others remember only as things are now. Be brave, when you see again those you know and love, they will not be who you know and love. They will be monsters. Remember their words and actions are not their own, they do only as rumors dictate to them. They are only puppets on strings, and none suffer more than they.

"This is not the will of creation nor this world's chosen path. This world would end before its time. Entering a flux from which no true world can be born. This is intolerable.

"This flux was never intended in fate's paths, it is an infection. Rumors have become like a virus, distorting everything they touch. You will learn more as you require it."

"WE GOTTA TELL APPLEJACK! ZEOCRA! AND TWILIGHT! AND PINKIE PIE! AND RAINBOW DASH! AND FLUTTERSHY! AND RARITY! THE PRINCESSES!" Applebloom screamed. We all agreed.

"They were infected first, before the forerunners even appeared. If you went to them now, their twisting would only come faster."

"NO!" Sweetie Belle screamed. I was struck dumb. Applebloom didn't argue, her entire body was shaking.

"NOT AGAIN! IT'S NOT FAIR!!!" I...I can't remember which of us shouted it.

"And you would be twisted to silence you..." We literally couldn't ague. "If this infection could be stopped now it would be, but it would be the silencing of this world. Only after being brought to a head can it be undone."

I wasn't crying. I wasn't crying. I wasn't crying. I wasn't crying! I wasn't crying!

"SILVER SPOON! WE"VE GOT TO-!"

"She is already infected," she told me. "You can not help her, yet."

"W-wait!" Apple Bloom cried out. "Ya have ta tell us! H-how do we fix things when it's all messed up?! Why us?!"

Now she DID look right at Apple Bloom, I actually stepped closer to Apple Bloom, if the lady did something nasty to her, she'd zap me instead. "You can't know where to properly set a broken leg until it is broken, as for why you...only those of ability and unrealized potential may alter fate, even a fate most unnatural."

"...Why can't we just be foals again?" Sweetie Belle asked, whimpering. "We just got back from having to save the world."

Miss Void looked at us. "Your foalhood innocence should not have ended so early, but it is a necessary evil. A normal foal could not withstand what you are about to experience. And a foal is necessary... The moment you lose all hope, is the moment any hope for this world dies. Believe that you can clean away the grim darkness. You need to."

= 'The Conception' Megami Tensei Nocturne =

There was a rumbling worse than any the I had ever heard, this was no earthquake. The whole world felt like it was shaking apart.

Faces formed in the fog as it twisted around us, coiled around everything and everypony, and it was like only the we noticed.

Like a field of flower blooming in reverse, fog creeped up and gulped up Sugar Cube Corner, Golden Oaks Library, one reached up and gulped up . . . mine and Dash's house, Carousel Boutique, Sweet Apple Acres, Canterlot, portions of Everfree, Fluttershy's cabin, many others, trapped like snow globes in their own balls of fog, other buildings and houses seemed to just dissolve. Some balls of fog expanding, some shrinking, all beginning to move and float like there was no more ground as they vanished, blending from view in the fog.

I KNEW there was no way we should have been able to see all of this from where we stood, but we were, like the ground was no longer the shape it used to be.

Then our school was engulfed in a reverse white flower of fog. The sky became almost visible as it faded to a sickly pink.

There was a sense of wrongness to all this. Like the world itself was unraveling and being knitted into a nightmarish quilt.

This wasn't like . . . when the world got remade before . . . I remember spending the entire time inside playing with Sweetie Belle . . . there was never this horrible feeling.

We hugged each other, wishing beyond wishing this was just a nightmare. Miss Void knelt down to us.

A tidal wave of what could only be called distortion rippled out from somewhere in Ponyville, I didn't know where.

Moments before it hit, Miss Void took off her cloak and put it around us. I suddenly felt slightly detached from the world, calm, serene, like a frozen ocean. The shock wave hit Miss Void, she cried out hurting. For a moment it was like the shock wave was tearing her apart. Next it like a weaver having to turn a damaged piece into something else. Her broken horn dissolved. Her blue fur faded to gray, her white mane turning a grayish violet, the black whirl pool of her cutie mark becoming a black diamond, she fell on her side, blue eyes gazing at us.

The wave passed over the us and weren't hurt I think thanks to the dark cloak, I mercifully passed out.

Rainbow Dash (And Friends) Totally Awesome Radical Ponyville Adventure

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Rainbow Dash (And Friends) Totally Awesome Radical Ponyville Adventure
By Alex Warlorn
Edited By Louis Badalament

I'm hanging at totally awesome amusement park with a starry sky above and rockin' music playing.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders are hitting the video arcade. Rarity and Pinkie Pie are checking out the house of mirrors. AJ is bobbing for apples.

Me and Fluttershy check out the haunted house, and I did not run out scared while she walked out unimpressed. Maybe she said something about all the time treating hurt animals makes fake blood and stuff look too fake.

Hey! Twilight! Been looking everywhere for ya! What kept ya? Nice smile, but say something already. Well if ya wanna shake, that's fine by me! I-!... She turns to sand the moment I touch her, the moment the sand hit the ground, everything but me turns to sand. It all falls down and makes a desert. I'm...I'm all alone.

I don't jump out of bed or scream, I just blink my eyes open. Geeze. What a dream. Okay, really a nightmare, but that was just weird.

Whatever, it's time to greet the day!

Oooooh yeeeeeahhh! Iiiit's me! Rainbow Dash!

Get ready! Because this is gonna be the most totally awesome of my adventures! I tell a lie, all my adventures are the most totally awesome!

Okay, let's do this!

So there I was, taking a nice morning dip in the clouds getting ready for the day, I was just finishing when suddenly! there was a huge roar over Ponyville!

It's a huge red dragon, towering over the houses, his wings spread out and blotting out the sky! On his hind legs he beats his chest and roars again!

"Ponies of Ponyville! Surrender your gems to me! Or be destroyed!"

"Not my sweet jewels!" Rarity cried out, "We have to do something!"

"Oh my, that IS a big and scary dragon," Fluttershy said.

"We'll win. Because we're friends!" Twilight smiled and nodded.

"Ya betcha, Sugercube." Applejack pulled down on her hat.

"Well, let's get this party started!" Pinkie Pie cheered.

"That's fine by me!" I zoomed in front of the others!

Twilight Sparkle trotted forward, looking up at the huge dragon.

"How about we stop and discuss things, Mr. Dragon? So we can be friends!" Twilight smiled and nodded. The dragon would have stepped on her if AJ hadn't grabbed her with her rope and pulled her back. "Maybe we can be friends later?"

AJ threw her lasso around the dragon's toes trying to trip him over; he just stretched his toes and broke her lasso in two.

Pinkie Pie pulled a big stack of packages out of nowhere. "Hey! How about some presents?! They're a lot more fun than a bunch of jewels!"

"I'll take both!" The dragon scooped up the presents.

"Hey! That's no fair!" Pinkie Pie pulled out her party cannon and aimed and fired, but the dragon stuck his finger in it and the cannon blew up instead. Pinkie Pie's blackened mane stood on ends. "Ah, phooey."

"I say, that was most uncalled for! You should be ashamed of yourself! You apologize right now! That was not proper at all!" Rarity scolded. The dragon breathed smoked at her that she was able to dodge, saving her mane. "My word! I have half a mind to write that dragon's mom a long letter!" Rarity grumbled.

"I don't think he has a mom," Pinkie Pie said.

"That's so sad," Fluttershy said.

"You know just for fun, I think I'll spare all the foals at the orphanage the pain of not having a mom while I'm here! Bwa ha ha ha!" laughed the dragon.

"No! What are we going to do?" Fluttershy cried out covering her head.

"Don't worry everypony! I've got this!" I zoomed up and kicked 'im in the face! Ka-pow! The big jerk roared but I wasn't scared one bit of his dental work! He snapped his jaws trying to catch me, but I kicked him again in the snout knocking jaw closed, biting his tongue.

He reached out with his claws, trying to slash but I slip around them, no prob!

"What's the matter, slowpoke? Can't catch one little old horsefly?"

The dragon breathed smoke at me again, but I generated a whirlwind and send them back the way they came down his throat. The big jerk begins coughing and gagging and give him a good Heimlich to the gut! "RAINBOOOOW PUNCH!"

I flew up and double kicked him in the chest, and then gave him a buncha punches, one after the other! Powpowpowpow! The dragon fell back from my totally intense onslaught!

The big loser tried to swat me away with his tail, but was just too slow! "RAINBOW-KICK!" I gave him one more big bang in the throat and he fell over backwards!

"Oh my! What violence!" Fluttershy said.

The dragon fell neatly between the buildings on Ponyville's main street, not hitting anypony.

"Alright, time to finish you off!" I said grinning.

"Now girls! Formation!" Twilight cheered and clapped.

Rarity helpfully hoofed me my thunder axe.

The others got behind me, and I plugged my thunder axe into a nearby thunder cloud.

Then I began to shred 'im!

The others called behind yours truly!
"Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!"

"First you see me riding on a sonic rainboom
Got my friends shreddin' up my latest tune
There is nothin' you can do to beat me
I'm so good that you can't defeat me!"

Storm clouds began to form above us as I rocked out. The dragon squirming before me.

"Yeah, I'm awesome, take caution
Watch out for me, I'm more awesome than you can be!"

Lightning struck around the dragon making him quiver under my total awesomeness!

The dragon whimpered and he began shrinking.

Ponies cheered as I played!

"Step aside now, you're just gettin' in my way
I got cool moves you could never hope to stay
When it comes to makin' thunder, I'm the ruler
You wish you could be twenty percent cooler"

The others clapped along as the storm turned in a huge swirl above us.

"There's nothing you can hope to bear,
I'm your worst nightmare!!"

Rainbow-colored lightning struck behind me in seven colors. The dragon kept shrinking.

"Yeah I'm awesome, take caution
Watch out for me, I'm awesome as I wanna be!"

I struck the last cord, and the dragon freaked out of his head at the sheer badflankitude that is Rainbow Danger Dash!

I scared 'em right down to the size of a little mouse! Ha! I bet the dumb dragon didn't know the whole 'dragon size is based on how they feel' could be used against 'em! I'm just a little bit too smart for em! Okay, WAY too smart for 'em!

"DON'T HURT ME!" cowered the dragon as I grinned down at 'em. The ponies cheered at me beating the big nasty!

"Hurting others isn't nice, so course we won't do that," Twilight smiled and nodded.

AJ didn't say anything.

"Ooooooh! He's soooo cute!" Pinkie Pie grinned. "In a little, tiny, tinny fire breathing dragon sort of way!"

"Don't worry, I'll take care of him." Fluttershy said as she scooped up the dragon and placed in a jar while poking hole in the top. "Now you don't have to worry about anything. Rarity, can I have a jewel?"

"Of course, dear."

Fluttershy took the gem and fed to the tiny dragon, who began gnawing on it.

"7th Saga - 18 - Great Achievement"

So afterwards, Ponyville was having a parade in my, our honor. Yeah! Of course for me and my friends, of course they helped too.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders, Mayor Mare, Lyra and Bon Bon, everypony is cheering for us!

"Help!" Cheerilee screamed; some creep in a ski mask just stole her saddlebag!

I flew into action! "Don't worry! Your friendly neighborhood Rainbow Dash is-"

Then some jerk in a cheap hat and cape dives in and grab the guy before I can finish my line!

The crowd knows bad form when they see it and boo the jerk for stealing my heroics!

The jerk didn't expect that and looks around confused as he holds the thief in one hoof.

I flew down and unmask the jerk and the thief. The two are identical-looking.

"Okay, you losers! What's the deal?"

"We're sorry! We just thought if my brother did the stealing and I did the stopping we could get on your gravy train!" said the one without the mustache.

"Psh! Yeah, right! I'm Ponyville's number one hero and don't you forget it!"

The two losers ran away as fast as their hooves could carry them, dropping Cheerilee's purse.

The crowd cheers and my friends clap as I fly after and give the losers a good scare for trying to steal my thunder. Then Mayor Mare has the guards take them away. Okay! Back to the parade for me and my friends!

Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara tried to drop a hornet's nest on drop of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but they slipped and it fell on them instead. We all had a good laugh at the two brats getting their just desserts. Where were we? Oh yeah!

Even after the parade, we all continued celebrating my rescue of the town. The Cakes smiled and handed out pastries for free as Rarity snipped some steaming hot tea.

"Could be a little warmer," she remarked. I never understood other mares and their tea.

"Hey, Twili," AJ asked, "How RD's music cause that dang darn dragon to shrink, anyhow?"

"Oh I can answer that!" Fluttershy waved a hoof. "How a big a dragon is, is based on their feelings. They're really big when they FEEL really big! Rainbow Dash's music made him small because she made him feel small!"

"That's right, friend!" Twilight smiled and nodded.

Applejack stared, looked like she wanted to say more, but as soon as she opened her mouth she grabbed a bottle of hard cider and began chugging it. Can't blame her, can you?

Yeah. We were all having a good time!

The Cutie Mark Crusaders were there too celebrating seeing how awesome I'd been, and their latest Cutie Mark Crusaders We Won't Get Our Cutie Marks For It But We'll Try Really Hard Anyway project.

They're blockheads for not realizing their special talents already, but they're so cute trying everything. It's actually hard to imagine 'em not doing everything they can think of for those marks. Look at 'em cutely chatting away for their next big thing, stealing glances at yours truly, heh. They know a role model when they see one. And here comes Sweetie Belle, that an autograph book? No? Then what I do I care? Books are for eggheads.

"Excuse me, Miss Twilight?"

"Hello, Sweetie Belle," Twilight smiled and nodded.

"Bright Night asked me to return this book to you."

"Return it?" Twilight smiled and nodded.

"She borrowed it for a school project she said."

"Oh yes. Tell her, 'thank you for returning the book, that is what you should do with books, that's what friends do.'" Twilight smiled and nodded.

Twilight, being Twilight took the book and began reading it.

Sweetie Belle stood there for a bit waiting for egghead to say 'thank you'. Not getting one, she went back to her friends. Rarity smiled at her as she trotted past.

"Twilight you should say thank you," Rarity scolded. Twilight didn't respond. Typical egghead, she was like a statue as she read that stupid book, smiling and starring, not moving a muscle, whatever. Let's party! Punch! Cake! Music! Dancing! Oh yeah!

"Twilight, you should enjoy the party," Fluttershy said. Egghead didn't respond. "Twilight Sparkle," Fluttershy tapped her, "Please enjoy the party?"

The egghead still prefers books to friends, typical. Poor Fluttershy, bless her soul, blinks confused. After too long Twilight finally blinks and looks at her.

"You're right Fluttershy, I should, it's been way too long since I celebrated with friends." She nodded and smiled.

She put the book under her foreleg and trotted up to me and Pinkie and held out her hoof.

"Pinkie Pie… Rainbow Dash… would you please dance with me?" She asked like she was worried we'd vanish in a tick.

"Like, duh! Of course!" Pinkie grinned and pulled her into a Pinkie Pie original.

I joined in and provided air support!

Twilight twirled on one hoof, and high-hoofed Pinkie.

"See? Isn't this fun, Twilight?" Pinkie asked.

"Yes yes yes, it is." Twilight said and made an weird wistful chuckle.

So yeah, me, Twilight and Pinkie did some slick moves! I think Twilight was enjoying it the most. Rarity was dancing together with Sweetie, and the Apple sisters were doing the same.

Hm? The pegasus Crusader?

Huh? Oh! She was talking with Fluttershy! 'Shy was nicely asking where she lived, what she liked and didn't like, what her hobbies were, what she thought of me, heh. Shy, on the other hoof, was being asked how the stare worked, how far away it work, if it worked in different kinds of weather, heh, somepony's got a fan.

The party wound down, and it was about time for some sleep for me after a hard day of saving the day! Ha!

I was outside when Twilight tapped me on the shoulder.

"Rainbow Dash, you did a wonderful job today, and I think you deserve a little reward." Twilight smiled, shifting from her right to left hooves. She lowered her head, hiding her eyes behind her mane. I stared at what she held up in her hoof.

"Wow! Is that-is that?"

"An official jeweled Wonderbolt Pin. You want one, don't you? I happened to find it laying around in some abandoned junk, and thought you could use it most."

'Around in junk?' Yeah, right! These things were collector's items! Ha!

"Thanks, Twilight! You're the best!" I put it on over my heart.

"Rainbow Dash," Twilight whispered in my ear, "I was wondering, could you take me up a bit, so I can do a little stargazing? Please?"

"Well, don't let it be said that Dash turned down a friend." So I flew Twilight on my back up, up, and away for a perfect view of the night sky.

And I had a perfect view of Ponyville. I wonder what happened to that freaky studio Pinkie Pie used to have. I can't remember what we did in there, but it was fun.

It was a beautiful sight, even at night, now I get why Princess Luna threw a tantrum when ponies never looked at it, the lands beyond Ponyville were like a pretty painting.

"So Rainbow Dash, you were awesome taking care of the dragon today."

"Of course I was." I grinned.

"It was even more fun than the first time."

"First time?"

"Remember? When all that black smoke covered Equestria? And the Princess sent us to deal with it? You attacked the dragon head-on, and it cowered before you."

"Yeah, it sure did!"

"You certainly didn't run away, did you?"

"No way."

"He was too slow for you."

"Jerk didn't even touch me."

"Too bad the rest of us couldn't help."

"Hey. Not every situation calls for the talents everypony has."

"And you felt proud of Fluttershy facing her fear of dragons to use the Stare on a full grown adult DRAGON to save you, me, and the others?"

"Heh, yeah, it was nice seeing her grow a spine for...huh?"

"Something wrong, Rainbow Dash? You certainly did a lot better this time than your first time fighting an adult dragon."

"I...Uuuugh! I just… yeah, that was my first time facing a dragon! And we had to travel all that way to fight 'im!"

"Yes. We did. And Fluttershy after facing her fears once, couldn't do it again to keep a big fight from happening because...?"

"She can't control when the stare happens! Everypony knows that! And a dragon popping up right in the middle of Ponyville! It clearly got her scared!"

"...I guess that makes sense. Sorry, Rainbow Dash. I didn't mean to tease. You're coolest pony there is."

"Apology accepted."

"So Rainbow Dash, your birthday is next month, right?"

"Huh? Oh right! Yes it is! It's also the day I moved to Ponyville! Cool, huh?"

"Yes, it is. So how many years has it been since you moved to Ponyville, Rainbow Dash?"

"What? Well, it's been a long time."

"Sorry. Let's make this an easier question, how many years has it been since I moved to Ponyville?"

"I..."I held my head. "I...what does it matter? You're here now."

"So how OLD are you going to be on you birthday? Certainly you can tell me that." Twilight said politely.

"I'm...I'm gonna be...I'm gonna be…"

"How many Hearth Warming Eve Plays have we done together? How many times have you raced and won with Applejack at the Running of the Leaves? There's no way you'd lose count of that last one."

I gritted my teeth. Suddenly, these questions were too intrusive, and I hated what she was saying. Because it was right! There WAS NO way I'd ever forget that! So why couldn't I remember it?! And why did I feel like something bad was going to happen if I did?!

"Sorry," Twilight said sadly, giving me a nuzzle. "I didn't mean to upset you Rainbow Dash, no no no. Let's try something else. Have you sent in your application to the Wonderbolt Academy yet?"

"What?"

"The Wonderbolt Academy, so you could train to-"

"I know what it is!"

"Well, have you? Are you waiting for the reply? Are you still filling out the paperwork?"

Passing the class in Wonderbolt Academy was one of the first steps to becoming a Wonderbolt. How the heck could I have forgotten about it?! Why hadn't I thought of it in...in I can't remember?

"I...I don't remember."

"Maybe you're...you're just distracted." Twilight said sounding reluctant. "Maybe you should...go play a video game or read a comic?...When did you last get any new ones?"

I felt relief wash over me. "Just last week."

"So...they were new releases? When did the latest issues of your favorite comic or new copy of your favorite game come out?"

"They're...delayed."

"All of them? For how long?"

"I..." I felt my head about to crack open, and even a bit of anger at Twilight for her endless stream of questions.

I heard Twilight sigh sadly. "My mistake. I'm so sorry, Rainbow Dash. I don't like seeing any of you unhappy."

"Twilight, what are you-"

Twilight hopped off my back and landed on the street, still holding her book, well, she had to return it the library. She looked up at me. "I'm sorry, Rainbow. Maybe you should sleep on it. It doesn't do any good to think about things when you're tired."

"No way, you asked ME to fly you up, and you're the one who just...just...I don't know what! You don't do that to somepony and then tell them to sleep on it!"

"You aren't going to find any answers with me, Rainbow Dash, only questions. I never said I had the answers."

"Then who does?!"

"That's something else you're going to have to figure out. All I can say is that the one you're looking for is somepony close and important to you. And you ARE going to need all the strength you can get to handle those answers. I'm sorry."

"Enough with the mythical mumbo jumbo!"

"I'm sorry for upsetting you, Rainbow Dash."

"If you're really sorry, then tell me what's going on!"

"You've realized something is wrong, but the only pony can figure out WHAT is wrong is you and you alone, Rainbow Dash. You're the one everything hinges on. Think about it. That's all I have to tell you, I'm sorry."

She sighed, breathed in a shudder, did she get mist on her face? She grinned at me. "Oh, I see, so you're saying Rainbow Dash can't find the answers on her own? Well, I guess that's too bad. I guess you're just not smart enough."

A minute ago, it was a billion sorrys, now she was called me stupid?

"Hey! I'm plenty smart!"

"Prove it." She sneered.

I growled, she wanted to be a jerk? Fine! "Fine! I will! I-" I yawned. Celestia I really was tired. "First thing in the morning."

I considered tossing the pin, but no, it was an Official Wonderbolts Pin, and it had been a gift from Twilight, even if she was being a complete jerk right now!

I retreated back to my cloud castle, not a living thing home except for me. That suited me just fine right now I...I need to lie down, I needed sleep.

I dreamed that I was making dresses, and Rarity was a filly playing around on roller skates. This annoying group of teenage mares came in. A pudgy mare wanting a dress to show off her curves. A spoiled girl demanding something with lots of sequins for her battle of the bands. The one with her nose in a book said anything practical would do. The one with the heart cutie mark didn't want one that would show too much fur. The tomboy wanted to know if I had anything in 'pirate.' The unconfident one asked in a low voice for a breezie winged ballerina dress. The last one looked real familiar, like I'd seen her before recently. She wanted a dress in pink and black? Blech. Who says the customer is always right?

"Don't worry, Rainbow Dash," Twilight Sparkle said putting a welcome hoof on my shoulder. "We can work it all out when we're all together."

Then a huge mouth opened, wrapped its tongue around her, and pulled her inside, I flew in after her, and its teeth closed down on us.

I woke up with a gasp. Ugh.

Nope. Yesterday wasn't just a dream. My comics, my games, why didn't I notice it before? My comics and games are the newest there are, but there haven't BEEN any new ones for sale...I can't remember when they stopped selling new ones.

Sigh. I remembered what Twilight said, somepony close and important to me huh?

I flew to what counted as Ponyville's local weather office, and told them I'd be taking the day off.

Raindrops narrowed her eyes. "Great, that is just-" then she shook her head. "That's just fine Rainbow Dash, I'm happy to know you trust in us to get the job done."

"You can count on me!" Thunderlane saluted.

"We'll make sure Derpy isn't let near any thunder clouds," Cloud Kicker joked. Dumb one Derpy wasn't even on the weather team officially.

Cloudchaser and Flitter puts hooves around each other's shoulders, "You can count on us too."

"Whatever you say, captain."

Well that was easy. Almost too easy. Since when has anything been 'too easy' for the Dash? I'm so good I make everything look easy. Ugh! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Okay guys...thanks." I flew off.

Somepony close to me had the answers. Alright. No pony is closer than my friends.

My first stop was Applejack's.

Granny Smith was in her rocking chair, Apple Bloom would be at school, and Big Mac just silently bucked apples and carrying them to the barn. As for AJ, she's doing what she's always doing, bucking apples.

"Hey AJ!"

"Hey RD!"

"Can I ask ya something?"

"Ya just did. And sure ya can."

"Well..." Okay how do I put this? Wish I could skip this part. "Have you gotten the feeling of things being, ya know, in a rut? I mean like, things always being the same?"

"That's pretty much a farmer's life, Rainbow, every day is hard work, every day is long work, but there's a satisfaction to it Ah don't get anywhere else."

"Yeah right...I gotcha, but...I mean like…" I groaned. "Like not being able to remember how many times you've done something, even when it's super-important."

"Ya know Ah'm not into numbers RD, I work in the here and now."

"AJ I'm having trouble remembering things, important things."

"Ya serious?" AJ stopped and looked at me. She put down the buckets and looked me in the face. "Maybe ya outta see a doctor, Rainbow. That's darn serious."

"Applejack, I'm not brain-damaged!"

"Rainbow!" AJ said, worry all over her face. "Ah KNOW ya hate admittin' somethin's wrong, but this ain't time for yer ego."

"Applejack it's MORE than that! It's like, it's like, I don't know what! It's all crazy! Things aren't adding up!"

"Rainbow, listen to yerself. If ya go on like this, somepony IS gonna think yer crazy. What gotcha so revved up about this? Ya were fine last night. What happened?"

"I...that is...I was resting on some clouds by myself, after the party, thinking some, and suddenly I was able to put it all together? It was like lightning struck my brain."

I realized I'd just lied to the Element of Honesty. Applejack narrowed her eyes at me, I felt like they were beginning to bore into me, and suddenly she grabbed a bottle of hard cider that had been to the side and chugged it all down. She let go of the empty bottle, getting drunk a lot faster than I ever thought Miss Earth Pony Second Place Iron Mare could.

"If ya say so, Rainbow Dash. Sure, that makes sense. Uh, what were we talkin' 'bout again?" AJ asked wavering on her hooves, Big Mac ignoring us and just kept up the applebucking.

AJ tried to buck a tree and missed by a mile. "Uh, nothing AJ." I took AJ inside before she hurt herself and laid her on the couch.

Next stop: Sugarcube Corner.

"Hey, Dashie!" Pinkie Pie said, the Cakes baking in the back.

"Hello, Pinkie Pie."

"Whatcha doin'?"

"I'm...I'm just goin' around town, checking things out. How about you?"

"Oh! I'm getting ready for the Cutie Mark Crusaders Anniversary party! It's gonna be great! But it'll be even greater if you're there too, Dashie! Can ya come? Can ya? Can ya?"

"Uh, sure, Pinkie Pie," I said awkwardly.

"Great to hear, Dashie! Do you think you could do some 'too cool' moves for them? You know how everypony loves yours moves! You gotta, ahem, show 'em yer moves!"

At least Pinkie Pie was still acting normal. "Sure Pinkie."

"Awesome!" Pinkie Pie declared hopping up and down.

A sack of flour tittered off the top shelf, I didn't warn Pinkie Pie out of habit with her. It hit her dead center, her head spun and she shook the flour off. "Sorry about that Dashie, didn't put it away as well as I thought I did."

My eyes widened in disbelief at what I just saw. Something had fallen on Pinkie Pie?! "Pinkie...what happened your Pinkie Sense?!"

"It's funny you should mention my Pinkie Pie sense, I haven't had a twitch in...well a long while. . . even when I should have one." Mrs. Cake came out with a tray of rainbow colored cupcakes, the swinging door smacked Pinkie Pie's behind. "Owie!...Dashie I'm scared, wait, no I'm not, I'm happy! I've got a big party to plan for! It's the Cutie Mark Crusaders' Anniversary! Yay!" She grinned at me as Mrs. Cake went back in the kitchen without missing a beat.

My heart was racing. Pinkie's pushing her grinning face in mine.

"Uh, Pinkie Pie I gotta go!"

"Okie Dokie, Lokie!"

I flew out of there as fast as my wings could take me. What the buck was wrong with me?

Was I the one going crazy after all? Ugh! Don't think that way! You're the Dash! Whatever's wrong it isn't you!

Without even thinking about it, before I even knew it, I was knocking on Fluttershy's door.

"OH! Uh… hello Rainbow Dash." She peaked out behind her mane, opening the door for me a crack.

"Fluttershy," I breathed in and out. "Can I come in?"

"Of course you can, Rainbow! Come right in!" She smiled and opened the door wide. We sat on the couch, drinking tea, yes, everything was fine.

"So Rainbow Dash, please tell me what's on your mind." Fluttershy asked. Fluttershy's herbal tea made things easier.

"What's in this tea?"

"Just some light chamomile. It should help you relax."

"Oh, okay." I smiled and nodded. I saw Fluttershy was glancing out the windows.

"Fluttershy, is everything okay with you?"

"It's just..." She lowered her head. "When you're worried like this, Rainbow Dash...it makes me worried. If you're worrying, the it must be something bad. And I don't know if I'll be even able to help."

I patted her on the shoulder. "It's okay, Fluttershy, of course you'll be able to help. You're part of the team, remember? And you're my oldest friend since Junior Speedsters."

"Thank you, Rainbow Dash." She nuzzled me. "Now tell me please what's wrong."

"Well...I kinda been stuck waiting forever for the next issue of my comics AND for the newest video games, not to mention the movies now that I think about it." UGH! Those...those same movies had been playing at the theater forever. And I couldn't remember WHEN they started playing. I held my head.

"Rainbow, are you hurt?" Fluttershy wrapped a wing around me.

"I'm, I'm fine, Fluttershy. It's just...Pinkie Pie's Pinkie Sense is on the fritz, AJ can't hold her cider and-- and I'm just worried about them."

"Oh! Oh my! That is serious! I'm sorry, Rainbow! I had no idea! I'm sorry! They're my friends too! I should have noticed too!"

"Don't beat yourself up Shy, I didn't spot it either remember? Well, it's more like...I didn't notice it before. So we know something's wrong."

Fluttershy meekly nodded.

The Dash is never scared. "What am I supposed to do Fluttershy?"

"Rainbow Dash, please don't be scared. We're all together, and that means everything will turn out alright." Fluttershy smiled, stroking my mane. "After all, we have you, our hero."

I nodded.

"Pinkie Pie and Applejack are going to be alright, but I need you to believe that too Rainbow Dash, if you can't, how will anypony else?"

I nodded.

"Good." She hugged me. "If something bad is happening to the others, we better send a letter to the Princesses."

"Eh?" That...made sense. But we hadn't really done something like that before. But, it made sense, right?

"If something bad has happened to them, something bad might happen to us. So we better tell the Princesses."

I nodded.

She put her hoof on mine. "I'll send the letter. In the meantime, we better not do anything out of the ordinary. Nothing suspicious. Nothing disruptive. Just act like everything is normal. And everything will be fixed up in no time, isn't that right?" She smiled at me warmly, not taking her eyes off me. "Want a cookie?" She suddenly held up a plate.

"Uh...maybe just one! Or two!" I grabbed them and stuff them in my mouth. "Uh bettah goh!"

"Bye-bye, Dash, have a nice day!"

I waved and flew off. What. Had that been about?

Applejack. Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy.

Was it pod ponies? Like that one sci-fi flick I saw with dad, way back when…

No creativity, no new games, movies or comics. Stealing memories so I don't remember stuff. Ponies acting weird, because the invaders didn't get all the details right. Did it all really fit? Was I really dealing with aliens?!

Calm down Dash! Calm down!

Pod ponies wouldn't have Applejack hitting the hard cider. And pod ponies wouldn't have Twilight dare me into finding out what was going on. Plus Twilight was enjoying herself dancing at the party way too much to be a pod pony, everypony knows that behind their perfect mimicry of ponies, that Pod ponies are emotionless.

...Unless that dance had been part of the mimicry...

Sigh. So somepony close to me has the key to figuring stuff out huh? Next friend on my list… Oh boy.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

"Welcome to the Carousel Boutique where-oh hello Rainbow Dash!" She practically teleported next to me. "Are you here for a new dress at last? I knew you'd come to your senses sooner or later. You remember the dress I made you for the Gala, yes? There is nothing 'uncool' with looking beautiful, Rainbow Dash. Now I'm certain I still have your measurements, but if you think you've grown some-"

"RARITY! I'm not here for a dress!"

"Oh..." Her ears wilted and she lowered her head looking up at me. "I'm terrible sorry! I don't know what came over me! A good business mare never forces her customers, or friends like that. I was just, happy to see you."

"Rarity you see me all the time."

"Yes yes, but, not here at the boutique. I love Sweetie Belle with all my heart, but she's been my only company for a while here. I...Seeing you got me excited. And, I assumed you were here for a new dress....I..." Her eyes widened. "It's been a while since I had a walk-in customer."

"Huh? Business is bad?"

"No...not really, I'm still getting plenty of orders from out of town, but it's been forever since I had a pony come in personally. And, it's nice to meet with friends one on one once in a while."

I tilted my head. "What about your weekly spa get-togethers with Fluttershy?"

"My...I...I haven't...done that in, a long time." Rarity held her head, sitting on a nearby couch. "I don't know why. We didn't break them off... we just... stopped."

I didn't know what to say. What was I supposed to say?

"Rarity, when did the customers stop coming in? When did you and Fluttershy stop see each other?"

Yeah, I should have asked more questions with the others too, but I got freaked-out. Was that really loyal? Moonsent.

"I..." Rarity eyes widened. "I can't remember. I can't remember when I last...Oh Celestia!" Rarity rushed to a desk and pulled out some drawers with a bunch of fancy drawings and numbers on them. "It can't be."

"Rarity? What is it?" I don't speak dress designs.

"My customers...they've been asking for the same style and design since...well, I'm not sure. But this doesn't make sense."

"Yeah. Who needs that many dresses?"

"You don't understand, Rainbow Dash! Tastes and what's 'in' and 'out' in fashion changes constantly! My designs are brilliant, of course, and beautiful, and lovely, but the point is, that even they shouldn't have been able to stay 'in' for as long as...well, however long it's been. Why didn't I think of this before?"

"Join the club." I sighed. I told her about today. Applejack. Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy. The weather team. The video games, movies and comics.

"That makes no sense at all," Rarity said, "The entertainment business could never stay afloat if it didn't release anything new. And...I GO to the theater, I've...been watching the same show every week?" Rarity looked dizzy. "Uuugh. Rainbow Dash, what is wrong with everything? Have things been repeating for you too?"

"I...I can't really say they have. There's always a new adventure we have. A new baddie to beat up. A new quest we have to go on. A new chance for everypony to see how awesome I can be. A new way to show off how radical I am."

"And Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Fluttershy, you say they were ...acting odd?"

"They sure seemed that way to me. Weird that I didn't NOTICE before."

"We had to go tell Twilight!"

"Twilight? Why Twilight?"

"Why? She's Celestia's student after all. She's the most powerful unicorn in Equestria. She brought us all together. She-"

"Yeah, yeah, I know her resume as well as you do! I just… Twilight doesn't seem to've..."

"...She indeed doesn't seem to have done much lately has she? That...isn't like her. At all."

"Well, her magic and brains aren't the solution every time. It's not like Little Miss Perfect is gonna save the day EVERY time."

"But...aren't YOU saving the day every time now?"

"I...I didn't really think about that." But now that I was, it seemed I'd gotten to be the hero so many times in Ponyville, I'd lost track. I flapped down to the floor and slumped down.

"You really need to learn when to act and when to think dear. You can't live your life constantly in action. But we really should go see Twilight, if anypony is going to have answers. It's her."

There was no way I was going back to seeing Twilight, just so she could ask me, 'Have you got the answers yet?' And have to tell her no. She told me to prove I could find the answers, and I was gonna and knock her off her high egghead pedestal! But I couldn't tell Rarity that.

"That's just it," I said, "She hasn't done anything magical or big since we can last remember, right? You said that isn't like Twilight. She's like the others then. She'll likely go zombie."

"But wouldn't it prudent to least check up on her? To check her books for answers if nothing else? She's still, I dare say, the smartest pony in Equestria. She might be able to figure out what's going on."

Stupid logic, think! "Well if she's under whatever's going on, what if there's some kinda failsafe or something if we push to hard? And next thing you know she's pointing at us and giving some weird alien scream or something to attract the baddie?"

"...You've seen Invasion of the Pony Snatchers, haven't you?"

"I'm more surprised you have."

Rarity blushed. "I'll admit, thinking about it, poor Twilight has been acting... odd. Minimalist. Never objecting to anything. Never asserting herself at all. She hasn't been requesting sleepovers, no book club readings, no gushing over Starswirl The Bearded, no launching into lectures, And I can't remember the last time she wrote a friendship report… and one other thing, too."

"Yes?"

"I can't remember the last time she looked WORRIED for any of us, or anyone. She just smiles. Like it's all a game to her."

That was NOT how Twilight had acted last night, but every night before that? Had Twilight replaced a pod pony who had replaced her? This was making my head hurt.

I nodded. "So uh...how about we send a letter to the Princess? In case Fluttershy didn't?"

"I have a better idea. We're going to go SEE HER!" Rarity stomped a hoof.

"What about sending a letter? Won't it be faster?"

"Yes. It would be-- But with all due respect dear, if there IS a conspiracy, then the letter could be intercepted. I'd rather we SPEAK with Princess Celestia face to face!"

Rarity, being Rarity, dressed for the occasion, then quickly stopped by Sparkler's place to tell her to look after Sweetie Belle if our trip ran long, and then we were off on the next train to Canterlot!

We sat in our seats, watching the landscape go by. Dang, this was super-boring.

"That's odd," Rarity said. "We're the only ones on the train."

I looked around. She was right. "Weird."

"It's not weird. It's wrong," Rarity said narrowing her eyes. "This is a high class train. There should be waiters, cooks, cleaners. We haven't even seen the conductor since we got on board."

"Are we in a trap?" I tensed my wings.

The train stopped without anything happening.

"That's wrong too," Rarity said, "The trip should have taken longer."

We stepped out of the train, ready for an ambush, except...

"Ponyville? How did we end up back in Ponyville?" Rarity exclaimed.

"Did we get turned around?"

"Trains don't work that way!" she growled.

I grabbed Rarity. "Hold onto your accessories! We're taking the Rainbow Dash express this time!"

"Rainbow DaaAAAAAAassh!"

I flew full tilt towards Canterlot. Eyes on the prize. They weren't keeping us from the Princess this time!

Blech! Where did this fog come from? It's like swimming through soup for a pegasus! Past it! Hey! How are we flying towards Ponyville? I trust my internal compass and it says we haven't turned around!

Rarity looked as confused as me.

"Not giving up that easy!" I snapped and turned and flew again! More fog? Not this time! I use my wings to create a TUNNEL through the stuff, this time there's way I'm getting turned around, a perfect straight line to...PONYVILLE?!

"This doesn't make sense!" Rarity cried out.

"This doesn't just make sense, THIS IS WRONG!" I said. "I was flying UP before at an angle, then suddenly I'm flying flat to the ground?" The worst part was, I couldn't notice when my sense of gravity had changed. "I am NOT giving up!" I shouted.

Rarity held on for dear life. I held onto her for HER dear life too, because next I did a Sonic Rainboom to shatter any fog that came our way and...we...we flying...towards Ponyville? Huh? Did...I see, Ponyville the way we came? Two Ponyvilles? Huh? What?

Panting, I landed on in the middle of town...I heard the ponies around me cheering for doing a Sonic Rainboom with a passenger.

"Well, maybe at least local business at my shop will pick up now?" Rarity remarked. "But seriously, what is keeping us from Canterlot?"

I thought of what I saw. "Us. From Canterlot?" I parroted.

"Yes dear, whatever that fog was, it's keep us from going to Canterlot and getting help."

A sickening feeling filled my stomach. I flew off. Leaving a shouting Rarity behind me.

I didn't care what direction I went in except away from Ponyville. I flew as fast I could, past the lake, past the fields, and...I saw Ponyville below me, and Rarity looking the direction I'd just gone. I landed behind her. And vomited into the public fountain beside us.

"Rainbow! Are you alright? Did you fly around Ponyville? What did you see? Rainbow Dash, speak to me!" She looked me in the eyes.

"I didn't fly AROUND Ponyville," I groaned, still feeling sick. "I flew AWAY from Ponyville."

Rarity looked sick now too. She fell to her knees. "Sweet Celestia...Save us. Deliver us to Elysium, and protect us from the shadow of evil."

I breath in shuddering breaths. I wonder if this is what a fish in a glass bowl feels like.

I look around, all these ponies, oblivious to what's going on. Hasn't anypony else tried to leave Ponyville? Button Mash is playing his Game Colt, and nearly gets trampled by June Bug who just happily trots over him. His mom pulls him away just in time.

"Hey! That was my son you nearly stepped on!" She shouts at June Bug doesn't react to her. "Never mind. Accidents happen." His mom suddenly says peacefully and goes back to her day. The buck?

What is wrong with Ponyville?

I pick up my friend. "Come on, Rarity. We're not done yet. I have an idea."

I race off, for once sticking low to the ground, Rarity following. Smiling ponies waving as we past them.

"The Everfree is as wild and weird as they come. Maybe whatever magic is trapping us in Ponyville won't work the same there." I explain.

"My, Rainbow Dash," Rarity smirked, "That's actually very clever of you."

"Don't push it."

Rarity watched me fly silently for a bit.

" . . . Rainbow, you and Applejack both push yourselves. But she pushes herself to her limits for others. You push yourself to your limits for yourself. Why?"

"What's wrong with that? I'm gonna be the best, so I have to become the best. Don't you?"

"The beauty in others Rainbow Dash, matters more to them than my own, and how I can help others find that beauty, me being beautiful is meant to inspire them. And is how I express my self respect. You still want recognition and respect from others. While Applejack couldn't care less about that."

"Hey, she works hard for those she cares about. I respect her for that. I train hard to be like the Wonderbolts, because I wanna be like them."

"Like them, huh?"

"Yeah. A pony who never lets her friends down. What could be better?"

The sun was setting, but we were right at the edge of Everfree. A shrill cackling pierced our eardrums.

"Bwahaha! Now that I've risen fro my bog!
I shall turn every filly, into a frog!"

We looked up to see a ugly old zebra in a brown robe and a pointy black hat floating in the air with a broom.

"Your friend best say bye to Apple Bloom!
Every little foal in Ponyville is doomed!" She laughed at us again.

"I'll mix up an evil brew,
And they will be my tasty stew!"

"I'm gonna turn that witch into warted pulp!" I declared revving up.

"Rainbow! Don't! That witch! It's Zecora!" Rarity screamed.

"How can you tell?"

"I have an eye for detail. I would be a very poor Rarity if I didn't. And last I checked, being Rarity is a rarity!"

"Cower before me and quake!
I shall turn you into a chocolate shake!"

"And I doubt there are many rhyming witches in Equestria," Rarity finished.

"Hmmm." I rubbed my chin. "She's acting like all her worst traits have been pushed to the surface, she has emotional baggage she's never really faced about ponies rejecting her and treating her like something she isn't, she dabbles in odd sorts of magic that could cause a freak transformation...she's obviously possessed by a dark alien parasite!"

"Of course she's possessed by a dark alien parasite! That should go without saying!" Rarity said fluffing her mane.

"I'll turn you into a bag,
You old hag!"

"O-O-O-OLD HAG?!" Rarity almost breathed fire.

"To Ponyville I'm off to snatch!
Me you shall never catch!"

"OH NO YOU'RE NOT! You're getting saved right here and now!" I zoomed after her as she flies towards Ponyville the way we came, but somehow she's faster!

With patented Rainbow Dash multi-task supervision, I can see in Ponyville, lots of foals innocently looking out their windows to see what's up. I have to fly faster! I have to save them all! But the Witch is just slow enough that I can barely keep up with her!

Then a streak of silver flashes by, over of the head of the witch. She stops for a moment, her head goes limp for a bit as the jerks of her movements before jerky.

I look behind.

Rarity! She had thrown one of her big leg-long sewing needles thingies from her saddle bag like a javelin! I don't know what they're called! I'm not into sewing! She was holding another one in her hooves like a lance.

"YOU ARE NOT TOUCHING SWEETIE BELLE!" She hissed.

"You are not supposed to interfere!" The witch snarled and black threads shot out of her sleeves right at Rarity, wrapping around her tight. I gasp when Rarity proves to be stronger than she looks when she pulls on the witch's threads and begins pulling her down.

Now was my chance to save Zecora! I fly right at her and begin beating the horsefeathers out of her! Everypony knows you can depossess somepony just by punch them hard enough times! That's just common sense!

"Stop! Stop! You'll hurt her!" The parasite controlling Zecora shouted, I'm way too clever for that! Everypony knows Zecora rhymes!

Ha! Just as I thought! The old ugliness and witch get-up break away from Zecora, uh oh she's falling! Get Zecora safe to the ground. Check! Then Sonic Rainboom the ugliness and witches clothes! Get lost dark alien parasite!

I hold out for applauds...but there isn't any? I mean, it's the in middle of the night, but all those foals...they gone back to bed? Huh? Except Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom from their windows, and they look more confused than anything.

Ugh! Right! Check on Zecora!

She seems fine. For having been possessed by a dark alien parasite.

Zecora bowed.

"You've saved me from being made one of evil's ranks,
If it was bits, a hundred banks could not hold my thanks!"

"Zecora what in Celestia's name happened to you?" Rarity asked.

"There is not much to be said,
I was about to rest in bed.

"Then a voice made me its little muppet.
It said, 'You now shall be my puppet.'

I was stabbed in my hooves and neck,
It hurt like heck.

I do not know what it could be,
Its form I never did see."

There was something wrong with seeing ever calm Zecora hug herself with a shiver.

"Being made so horribly rotten,
It was like a nightmare long forgotten.

I felt like my true self would be annihilated,
I can not remember feeling so violated."

"So some evil alien space parasite turned you into a witch. Got it." I nodded.

Rarity gave her a hug. "There there dear, it's all over now. You're safe and with friends." Then she said in a different tone. "Well, that was intense, dears. Ick. Just look at me. I'll go home and wash now, thank you."

"Gee, guess we know why I'm Loyalty and not you Rarity."

Rarity blinked and held her head like she had a headache. "Only joking Rainbow Dash! Promise!" Rarity chuckled embarrassed. "I'm sorry, that was in poor taste. But how about we all come to my house and wash? We could use it."

"We can wash up LATER! You forget why we came out here?"

"This sad friction let me douse,
Please wash up at my house.

You saved me from making witch's brew,
It is the least I can do."

At Zecora's place, she made us what she called some 'extra special' tea as a thank you gift for saving her. I don't care much for tea though.

And I almost felt odd...no cheering crowds? No parade? Then I remembered it was the middle of the night in Everfree but… all the same, it just felt off...like...like I'd done something out of sequence.

Rarity explained to Zecora why we had been headed for freakin' Everfree at nightfall.

"Now that you have said these things,
I think I'm not the only whose been on strings.

"I have traveled deep into Everfree,
But every time I instead find my house tree."

She lowered her head some.

"The real big pow,
Is that I haven't questions this before now."

Rarity and me looked at each other. We had to try it for themselves. Zecora wished us luck, and answers.

I carried Rarity ABOVE Everfree so we wouldn't get lost. We flew away in Ponyville in a straight line. No way we were getting lost!

And then we were flying towards Ponyville. Wait! What?! That doesn't make sense! Not even fog this time?! WHAT?! I zoomed again, this time with Rarity watching the way we came. Same result! What the buck?

"It was like Ponyville just vanished over the horizon," Rarity said.

This mare does not like being in a fish bowl. Is the entire town trapped? When did this happen?

I didn't feel like sleeping in my cloud castle tonight, I asked Zecora if I could crash at her place. When did Everfree become less creepy than Ponyville?

"If it's here you wish to rest,
Then by all means, be my guest."

"Rainbow Dash," Rarity said haltingly, "Are you...going to be fine sleeping here with Zecora? After, after what happened?"

"She's depossessed, Rarity, nothing bad will happen after. That's how these things work."

"Forgive me for disrupting your beat,
But from you I stand only five feet."

"Sorry," We said together. Oy!

"Rainbow it's just...I don't want to leave you out here by yourself, but...I simply told Sparkler to be there when Sweetie Belle got home and...I don't want to leave Sweetie all alone."

"Won't she just go to her parents' place?"

"Yes but...with everything that is happening in Ponyville...I don't want to not be there for her."

"Rarity, I'm an ADULT, I can look after myself, and I've got Everfree and Zecora between whatever is causing trouble and here."

"That didn't stop it from harming Zecora."

"Uh. Do you want to stay here, or go back for Sweetie Belle?"

"I don't want to leave Sweetie Belle unprotected. And I don't want to leave you without anypony to watch your back."

"Your faith in me is touching,
This is sarcasm I am clutching."

I grunted. "Okay. That's it. Be right back."

Step 1, fly to Rarity's shop/house.
Step 2, give Sweetie Belle free frequent flier miles.
Step 3, watch Rarity have an awkward moment with her little sister with Sweetie dressed in Sweetie's pajamas, with Sweetie's teddy bear and tooth brush.

Rarity put on a fake grin. "Heh. Guess what Sweetie Belle? We're having a sleepover at Zecora's!"

"Can my friends sleep over too?"

"That would be quite the boom,
Sadly, there is no room." Zecora said quickly.

"Okay."

Zecora slept with a dream catcher around her neck with a staff in her hooves and praying to her ancestors for any protection they could give her.

She added some weird circles of salt around where we were sleeping and said prayers in a language I didn't know. Rarity clutched Sweetie Belle like somepony was gonna swipe her as soon as she closed her eyes. Geeze.

I dream... I dream of... I dream of...

"Somepony, everypony is wrong."

View Online

"Welcome to the weather factory kids!" I greet them in my white coat and hardhat. All the little foals dressed up the same. "I'll be your guide for the day! Rainbow Dash!"

The foals all cheered. One little filly cheering louder than the other.

"Now just follow me. Right here is where we make the spectra! Right through these doors. Come on no need to be shy, get closer, and close, and gotcha! Ha! That why I ask ya to put on the sunglasses earlier! Quite a sight isn't it? Dozens of pegasi concentrating the sunlight, and once it's the right consistency, it's then separated into its seven pieces. If we did it before hoof, we'd have to gather up the seven colors separately."

The foals all oohed and aahed. One filly got too close to the rail, but I caught 'er.

"Look out, kiddo, don't want you falling in."

"Would I get a mane like yours?"

"Naw! This mane is 100% natural thank you very much!" I grinned.

Then entire factory shook, a giant dragon tore its way through the cloud walls. I saved my favorite guest from falling in a second time. The dragon dunked its head in and began gulping down the rainbows.

"Everypony that can fly, help those who can't and get out!" I ordered. I then shouted at the foals. "Follow me, don't stop and don't look back!"

With my favorite filly on my back we raced back the way we came. Then I suddenly felt a bit lighter. I turned to see she was now in the claws of the dragon.

"LET HER GO!" I roared forgetting the other foals who screamed for help.

"Which one?"

I gasped when I saw the dragon had in its other claw, Twilight!

"I feel like Kazakh cuisine. But I'm on a diet. So which one should I got with? Or maybe to heck with dieting and I should have both. What do you think? Please hurry, you look busy." It pointed behind me.

A fog container had broken open and was pushing the foals away from the exit faster than they swim through it, and would crash into the smashed machinery like rocks in rapids.

"So what's it gonna be?
A weighty choice is yours to make.
The right selection or a big mistake.
If a wrong choice you choose to pursue, those you love will perish without you."

I screamed and dove right into the dragon's gut! No! I knocked her and Twilight out of his claws, they're falling to fast, I can't build up speed in time! No! Please! Please!

I gasp awake, panting, and drenched in sweat. My wings were spread out behind me.

These nightmares, how long have I been having them? Uuuuuuuuuugh.

Ugh, this is like when I saw that side of Gilda I never knew existed, or wanted to know.

Huh? Gilda. Where was Gilda? I hadn't thought of her since, whenever. No. I didn't just not think of her, I didn't REMEMBER her! What the buck!? Sure she turned out to have turned into a jerk (or maybe I just stopped being a jerk and she stayed one), but she was still my real friend once!

I'm sick of this. I'm sick of stuff I don't know. I'm sick of my friends not acting like my friends. I'm sick of stuff I can't change. I'm sick being made to jump through hoops.

The others aren't awake yet. I trot outside without them.

I wandered out of the Everfree without running into any trouble. It was dawn. I looked up see Cloudsdale, the same as it always was. No dragon flying about, no pegasi falling from it, no pegasi... no pegasi.

I growled. "I've. Had. ENOUGH!"

= "Ichigo Pushes Aizen" - Bleach =

I do a cold start and zoom up to Cloudsdale, creating a shockwave on the ground.

I cut through the air like a knife.

I don't bother trying for a graceful landing, I pierce the foundations like a bullet, leaving a hole behind and creating a ring of clouds around me as I land, creating an impression in the clouds as I do.

I look around. Not a pegasus in sight. Nopony walking, opening their shops, fling around, it's like a ghost town. I snort air and stomp my hooves.

"Okay! How the buck is this supposed to make sense? Where's Cloudsdale delivery teams? The guards? The shops should be opening! The streets are never deserted!"

Suddenly I hear a bunch of noise behind and turn around. There are pegasi crowding the streets, the store opened and shouting for potential customers. Guards standing at attention. Pegasi taking off and landing every which way.

They had not been there a second before!

I growled.

"Hey! Dash! What's got your feathers in a knot? You okay?" I turned and snorted to see Spitfire. There in her flight suit.

I flew in her face. "Spitfire! What are you doing here right now?"

"Uh, being awake? Not much else. It's morning, Dash, I haven't even done my morning practices yet."

"No! I what were you doing right here? Right now? WHY did you come right here to this place? It wasn't to talk to me, you couldn't have known I was here before!"

"No, I didn't, I just came..."

"Trick question! I made a big entrance! I poked a hole in Cloudsdale! You didn't see that?"

"You what?!"

"And you didn't see or notice?!"

"I... I didn't."

"So. What. Were. You. Doing. Before?!"

"I... " Spitfire eyes widened. "I don't remember, at... at all... I can't... it's like... it's like I woke up right here. But I wasn't sleepwalking! It's like I went to bed right after you last visited... ugh, when did you last visit? What is going on here?"

All of the pegasi just continued to happily trot on by. Not noticing a Wonderbolt and the Maker of the Sonic Rainboom in plain view.

"Why are you wearing your full flight suit when you told me you were going to be just practicing?"

"I... I was just... wearing it? Me and Soarin' wore them for the grand Galloping Gala remember?"

"That was a public event! I know you don't wear them just flying around Cloudsdale! Like you're doing right now. So why?"

Spitfire shook her head, her eyes doing the thousand yard stare. "I... don't know." Spitfire began shaking. "Rainbow Dash, what is going on?" She repeated.

What could I say? What did I dare say? Sure I told Rarity, but Rarity wasn't surrounded by ponies who were... I don't know what.

"I can't say."

"Dash! You saved my life, and Soarin', and Misty Fly's! Let me help you! You're my friend."

"... I save your life and two of your friends, we hang out for one afternoon as part of the prize for me winning Best Young Flier. Then at the Grand Galloping, 'we' spent most of the time with you being pulled away every three seconds for photos. That makes us friends?"

Spitfire stomped her hoof. "You think I enjoyed that evening anymore than you did? I was going to have more fun hanging with you than having pictures taken for the hundredth time that night! But Soarin' and me were the highest ranking Wonderbolts there! We had responsibilities! I'm sorry, but this isn't the time to be a jerk about it! This isn't like you!"

"How well do you even know me?"

"I know you well enough to know you do not look well! I WANT to help, and so would my teammates! But I can't help unless you tell me what's wrong!" she pleaded.

I snorted sarcastically. "If you wanna help, make me a Wonderbolt."

"Rainbow! I'm surprised at you! If that's really what you want, I guess we can have you measured for a fight suit."

I clutched her by her shoulders hard. "THERE! Does that make sense you'd say that?!"

I narrowed my eyes as Spitfire's eyes widened.

"Of course it makes sense, it's what you...it's what you want?" Spitfire began shaking. She gritted her teeth. "No, it doesn't!"

"How do I know you're Spitfire?"

"...How do I know you're Rainbow Dash?" She whispered. I saw a snarling blue mare reflected in her eyes.

"I know who I am!"

Spitfire cried out as my as my grip tightened. "You're hurting me!"

Nopony around us reacted.

I push her back as I let go.

Spitfire rubbed the spots I grabbed her. She looked around, I think she realized none of the pegasi were noticing us.

"Dash, you're scaring me." She said looking at me, she looked more worried than scared. "Please. Calm down. Breath. I don't know what's going on. But I get the feeling you don't either. Or you wouldn't be this strung up. Please. Maybe we can figure out what's going on together."

I'd trusted Rarity.

"Follow me Dash." Spitfire said, as she lead me straight to the Wonderbolt stadium. "It's funny, I just remembered, Fleetfoot has a cold, and the others are all booked up, maybe after we solve this, maybe you'd like to be a Wonderbolt for a day? It's a charity performance for Ponyville orphans so maybe-"

And I saw them. All those Wonderbolts. Waiting obediently. Standing in a row, like action figures. No interest in seeing me. No surprise. Nothing but blank looks. Spitfire didn't seem to notice.

And it all made sense. I should have known better. I wasn't about to follow this Judas Goat.

"Go back to sleep, Spitfire," I snorted and dived back down the hole I came from.

"Dash!"

I glanced back, I was surprised that I wasn't surprised when I don't spot any pegasi from a distance again.

I fly above Ponyville. Taking in everything in like I always do. Heh. I don't think any of my friends realize how much I notice while flying. Trying to spot ponies acting unusual.

Nope. Everything is normal. The Cakes are opening their shop right on time. Sea Swirl looks in the fountain and smiles this morning right on time. There's Daisy, opening the flower shop like she does every Thursday a minute after the cakes do right on time. June Bug opens her window and greets the day.

Raven being greeted by Mayor Mare's husband and daughter Fair Ruling, right on time.

The twins opening their doors.

And here comes, "What a beautiful day."

"And we're ready to make anypony more beautiful if they care to! Would you like to, Rose?" She asked as the redhead came by.

"Not today, thanks."

Right on time.

Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon grin evilly and whisper to each other just around the corner plotting their next doomed scheme to humiliate the CMC.

Everything sure seems normal. Everything happening right on time.

Right...on...time.

Like the fight with the dragon day before yesterday never happened.

Ponyville always snapped back no matter the disaster, be it stampede or parasprites, you either toughed it out or moved.

Sure, me and my friends got our scraps and bruises but...when was the last me and my friends got so much as a paper cut on ANY of our adventures?!

I remember all the bruises I've gotten from training, it was just par the course. So many of our, my adventures lately. And not so much as a scratch?

"Here, Miss Rainbow Dash." I looked and saw a pink pegasus with a cupcake cutie mark. "Some cupcakes for Ponyville's hero!" She smiled, flapping her wings. Doesn't she live in Cloudsdale?

"No thanks. Give'em to the orphanage."

"But...but they're for...they're for you." She sounded confused and worried.

"And I want you to give'em to the orphanage instead."

"But...but nopony ever-"

I ignore her and land on the ground.

I look around. These things liked order so much? Heheh. Well. How about some chaos into the mix? Heheh. I spot Lyra and Bon Bon sharing some morning tea.

I struck the tea cup out of Bob Bon's grip and onto the ground.

"Hey!" Lyra stood up.

Bon Bon snapped, "What do you think you're-oh my Celestia!"

She stared at the broken tea cup. I looked down. The tea turned a sickly green color.

"Poison?!" Lyra gasped. "You...you saved Bon Bon...thank you." She whispered, stunned.

"BWAAHAH!" An ugly unicorn stood up on the next table over to us, and twirled his mustache. "You may have foiled my evil scheme to get Bon Bon's candy store! But you'll never catch me!" He ran away at full galloping. I stood there.

"Aren't you going to do something?! He tried to killed Bon Bon!"

"Why, aren't you?" I asked evenly. "Bon Bon's your best friend in the world right?"

Bon Bon blushed.

Lyra opened her mouth, and suddenly looked like she had a headache.

"BLAST!" An identical ugly pony stood up at yet another table. "You may have seen through my illusion decoy! But you'll still never catch me!" Lyra grabbed him with her magic, he didn't even try fighting back.

"So that's what you were doing? You're the greatest! Thank you!" Lyra said.

I didn't answer. I trotted over to an open window at Sugar Cube Corner's kitchen, reached in a grabbed a pie piece and stuffed my face.

"Oh! How nice! I was making that pie just for you!" Mrs. Cake smiled and nodded.

I threw the rest of pie right at her face.

She lowered her head at the last second, "Let me get you a napkin."

It hit Pinkie Pie who was right behind her square in the face. Pinkie Pie used her freaky big tongue of her to wipe it off her face. "Haha! Classic gag, Dashie! Let me cook up some more later and we'll have a real pie fight after the party!!"

I trot straight to Big Mac's apple stand, and grab and eat an apple without paying. Then I notice a sign that says. 'Free Sample Today.' I grunt and eat another one. 'Extra For Heroes.' And another. 'Extra Extra For Elements of Harmony.'

Agh!

"Enjoy." Big Mac smiled and nodded.

I spot Granny Smith. I grab a vine off of the flower shop wall, and zoom up behind her, and making a hissing sound as wave it right behind her.

"Agh! A rattler! Run for the hills!" Then she smiled and said. "Haha! Good one, youngster!" She smiled and nodded.

I fluttered back. This...this wasn't about everything being nice... this wasn't everything being orderly...

I spotted Derpy, I zoomed over to her mail bag, and pulled out a letter and ripped it in half.

"Thank goodness! I totally regret writing that letter to my sister! Thank you!" Cheerilee called spotting the torn letter picking it up.

Cheerilee has a sister?

"Wow! That was nice of you, Rainbow Dash! You're a hero!" Derpy cheered, clapping with her wings, and fell on her butt as a result of the sudden lack of lift. "Ow! My bad!"

"Sorry, I didn't catch you there."

"It's okay, I fell cause I'm such a big dummy."

"...What did you say?"

"I fell cause I'm a big dummy. I'm sorry."

"You were't a dummy when you aced me on that test in grade school."

"Oh I cheated. Because I was jealous of you totally radical awesomeness that could never compare to yours because I was a total dweeb."

HA! I knew-...I started that rumor. I felt sick again for the second time in so many days. I trotted away drunkenly. The world shifting under my hooves.

I staggered into Sugarcube Corner, I didn't bump into anything, in fact, I just happened to fall on some nice comfy pillows.

My head was spinning. I look around. Foals playing games that didn't go anywhere. A generic din that I couldn't even make out.

I don't know how long I sat there, until Pinkie Pie gave me a piece of cake, I didn't care anymore, I ate it.

"You okay, Dashie?" Pinkie Pie rubbed my mane.

"No. Not at all."

"Wanna talk about it?"

"It's about what I want?"

"Sure. You're feeling down."

"Shouldn't it be more about your friends feeling happy Pinkie Pie?"

"You mean in the general sense? ...I...ugh . .. sorry, Dashie, my head feels funny." Pinkie Pie wandered off like she was drunk now too.

I look around some more. There's a big banner hanging,
Happy Anniversary, Cutie Mark Crusaders!

There was no number for how many years they'd been together.

Cakes. Sodas. Games. Everything a foal would want for a party is here. The guests of honor are, of course, the center of attention.

Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon laugh evilly and put hot sauce in three punch cups. Pinkie Pie comes along and drinks all three and hops away. Then Diamond Tiara hits the table angrily, and the hot sauce is launched up and spills on both of them getting in their eyes. They run away crying and everypony laughs and points at them, then get right back to partying without missing a beat.

Sweetie Belle took the karaoke machine by storm. She didn't look any worse for spending the night at Zecora's. Where was Rarity? Was she alright? Could she be alright? Had Sweetie snuck off here? Or had Rarity let her go cause it'd be improper or whatever for Sweetie to miss a party? I should have asked. I could have asked. I didn't.

Apple Bloom drinking some orange soda.

"Apple Bloom, are you okay?" Pinkie Pie asked. "You're drinking ORANGE soda instead of cider?"

Apple Bloom looked up and down at her drink and Pinkie Pie. "Pinkie Pie, just cuz mah family loves apples doesn't mean Ah only like apples. Half mah family tree is Oranges. Sheesh."

Dinky was now having her mane styled. Ponyville's number one pegasus filly sat behind her smiling.

"Wow! You're really good at this, Bright Night!" Dinky said looking in a mirror.

"Thanks. I learned a lot from my mom," said the blank flank pink pegasus. She looked right at me and waved. "Would you like me to braid your hair next, Rainbow Dash?"

My heart stopped beating. Orange filly. Skate board. Always scooting along. Never giving up. Little wings buzzing like a changeling's. Huh? What, what are changelings?

Heart started again with a shock wave threatening to burst my blood vessels.

Pink filly? Books and combs? Always reading and playing hair dresser? Loving to help solve problems? Teacher's pet? Wings flapping like a dove's?...No.

No. No. No. NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

I stood up. Everything coming into focus. I felt my head clear. I felt calm. Like a north wind washing over me.

I trotted over. I put a smile on my face. "Wow, Bright Night. It's sure been a long time since you joined the Cutie Mark Crusaders, huh?"

"Feels like a really short time to me," Bright Night said.

"Ah that's sweet of ya ta say, Bright Night!" Apple Bloom hugged her, Bright Night hugged her back. Then Sweetie hugged them both. I resisted the urge to retch. "Feels like only yesterday ta me!"

"Not quite yesterday." Bright Night blushed.

"Who cares? Us becoming friends was the best thing to ever happen!" Sweetie Belle cheered.

"Yeah." Bright Night nuzzled them. "Being friends with you has been wonderful. You girls are the greatest. It's been ages since I made new friends before I met you, and I've loved every minutes I get to spend with you. You're the bravest, most wonderful little fillies I've know!"

Sweetie blushed bright red. "Heh, heh, thanks! Thanks for the help with my homework yesterday by the way."

"My pleasure. And thanks for letting me and Apple Bloom listen to you sing..."

Sweetie somehow blushed more. "J-just practicing for the next talent show."

"You'll do great."

"We'll do great!" Apple Bloom gave Bright Night a little noggie. The fillies all laughed.

I coughed and said in a perfectly nice and even voice. "Bright Night, I'd love to have my mane styled. but mind if we do it outside first?"

Bright Night nodded. "Okay. Apple Bloom, Sweetie, see you later."

"Be back while there's still cake," Dinky said.

Pinkie Pie patted me on the shoulder. "Heh, remember, Dashie, if you give her a free ride, you gotta give the rest of the Cutie Mark Crusaders a ride too!"

"Don't worry Pinkie, I'll never forget. Come along Bright Night," I said the last part teasingly, biting into the back of her neck.

"Ow!"

"Sorry!" I said, my smiling becoming a grin as I tossed her onto my back like a sack of potatoes.

"Oof!"

"Now hold on!" I said not giving her a chance to, zooming out of Sugar Cube Corner, lifting up my tail and knocking the wind out of her from the impact.

I flew up, just making sure enough that the small pony didn't go splat or get away.

"Daaaash!" The small pony yelled. I ignored her.

I landed on a patch of clouds over Ponyville. Did the whether plan even call for them today? I don't care. I throw the weight off my back onto the bank front of me. I grab her in my rear legs before she can get her wits together, and dangle her over the side, swinging my legs back and forth, making sure she gets a good look at the ground.

"Who are you? What are you? Why are you doing all of this?!" I said darkly.

"Dash...Dash what are you doing?!"

"I asked you a question! Or maybe you'd like a do or die flying lesson!"

"You know my name is Bright Night! I'm a pony! Doing WHAT?"

I let her go for one millisecond and re-catch her. "No games! No run around! I asked why you're doing all of this!"

"I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN!"

I tightened my grip. "Ponyville's been screwed up. We've all been turned into fish in a bowl! Nopony is even noticing how screwed up it is! You've got the entire town under mind control! What's the point of all this?! And how does it help your scheme making everypony be nice to me!? That scared of me?!"

"You've got nearly everything wrong! I'm not the enemy!"

I growled. "Don't lie to me! If you're not the bad guy then why did you replace ...replace...replace did you replace...HOW COULD YOU STEAL WHOEVER-IT-WAS' PLACE?! Did you want us as your private show?! What right did you have?! You made us your puppets! YOU STOLE MY MEMORIES OF THAT FILLY!"

"I can't steal what was abandoned. You never even realized what you had until you lost it. Same as everyone."

"Enough with the stupid, stupid riddle-speak! What magic did you use?! How do I break the curse?! How do I save my friends and end your stupid game?!" I laid on the pressure for a little bit so she knew this game was over.

"C-can't breath! It's not my-"

A streamer wrapped itself around my waist like a snake and pulled me away from the edge along with Bright Night, we tumbled on the cloud. She landed on the opposite side from me.

I saw Pinkie Pie, huffing and puffing on the cloud. She was holding the other end of the streamer impossibly with one hoof. Parked next to her was her crazy flying machine.

"I didn't want to interrupt until I got the whole story. But Rainbow Dash, have you gone crazy?!"

"Pinkie Pie what are you even doing here?!" I looked around but not seeing anypony else.

"You were acting pretty dang weird! First you were all, well, like me after I thought you were done being my friends, then you were acting too much like me. First I told myself that you just didn't want other ponies to see your mane getting styled! But I told myself back you were playing WAY too rough with Bright Night when you left! And I also told me back that Dashie is never that rough with foals that they start getting hurt! And your 'sorry' didn't really sound like a sorry. And Dashie is never not sorry for hurting somepony. But me said you liked scare foals and ponies a lot, but I said hurting and scaring aren't the same thing and-"

"Pinkie Pie! She's...she's not supposed to be here! Some… somepony else is! She stole their place! Somehow! She's cursed Ponyville! She's messed with our memories! She has you all under mind control!"

"...An evil filly witch? I guess that fits. But I don't feel brainwashed, I mean, I don't mean I feel like I know I'm brainwashed. I mean, the last time I was brainwashed, I felt hatred for everypony, I...I was angry at everything...I, I thought the whole world was the bad guy..." Pinkie Pie's eyes widened. "And you didn't care about anypony."

My eyes widened too. "She's doing it right now!" I kicked the monster in disguise in the air, and Sonic Rainboomed her into next lifetime, after all, that always breaks the curse.

Instead, Pinkie Pie grabbed her out of the way before I could blast off, Pinkie's hooves reaching further than she logically should have been able to when I took my eyes off Pinkie.

Now the little witch had Pinkie Pie as a shield.

Pinkie Pie bleated. "Dash...please stop. This isn't you."

"No! It's all of you who aren't yourselves! And that means it's my job to knock you all back to normal! And if knocking that little creature to Tartarus is the way to save all of you, then fine!"

"Dash. Even if she's done all that...you can't just, Dashie, that's wrong!"

"If it saves you, everypony, Ponyville, and all of Equestria, then it couldn't be more right!"

"Dashie." Pinkie Pie's eyes misted over.

I tensed, ready to strike.

"Bright Night..." Pinkie Pie whispered, "Go get help...I'll… I'll keep Dashie busy."

The monster pretending to be a pony nodded.

"If it's to save you and everypony, I'll fight you."

"And...to stop YOU from becoming a monster, I'll...me too."

I took a step forward.

"GO!" Pinkie threw the intruder into her flying machine, and kicked one of the controls, sending her gizmo flying, not falling, towards the ground.

I charged to Rainboom the impostor and apologize to Pinkie for ruining her toy later when I was staring down the barrel of her party cannon!

I dove out of the way as it fired. I then dived after the thief but got snapped back to Pinkie Pie. DANGIT! I forgot about the streamer she tied around me! I rip it off.

UGH! Pinkie Pie shoot herself with her party cannon right in my stomach, head-first!

Off the clouds we go, in the opposite direction of the invader.

We both crash tumbling heads over hooves into Sweet Apple Acres.

I pushed her away from me, and she lifted up a rock and reached under it.

"Sorry, Dashie! Good thing I keep boxing gloves stored around Ponyville! in case of emergencies! HUH?" There was nothing under the rock. "But that's impossible!"

I zigzag towards Pinkie Pie and use Taekwondo to knock her out fast with a hoof kick. But she uses Zui Quan to avoid my initial strike leaving me open!

Shoulda known Pinkie Pie knows drunken boxing!

Pinkie Pie hesitates, that's fine by me, I smack her in the face, and she falls over, but she bounces right back up, hooves first! Agh!

"Give up, Pinkie! You can't match me in speed!"

I fly towards her spinning like a drill!

"I still got better endurance!"

She kicks a boulder in my path that I'm forced to tunnel through.

"An' yer not used to fighting without ESP!"

I stop drilling and fly up and over the boulder and land four hooves down on her.

Somehow, I didn't really feel like announcing myself for this fight.

Pinkie Pie hits me in the face with a pie at close range, ugh!

"Not even a flavor I like?!"

"Sorry Dashie."

I vibrate the mess off me. I clear my eyes just in time to see Pinkie Pie to breath in so much air she puffs like a balloon, and blows into a little bugle that unleashes a flood of party balloons. I zoom straight up out of the way. The tree behind isn't so lucky and is now done up like it's at the circus.

I kick a nearby cloud and turn it into a thunder cloud, breaking it into pieces, sending one lightning bolt into it that zaps into two of the others, that zap into four of the others, eight, until I have a miniature lightning storm reign down on Pinkie Pie.

Pinkie Pie dives under trees that take the lightning instead.

I generate enough electricity to shape into a lightning crossbow and Pinkie Pie aims her party cannon again. We both cringe away as our shots fired. Our projectiles knock each other off course.

Funny, I didn't feel shouting out fancy names for my moves, no, not funny at all.

Instead of coming straight towards her I zoomed straight, the did a set of sharp turns leaving a half-square of rainbow light behind me, and double kicked Pinkie Pie, sending her into a tree that shattered from the impact. Pinkie Pie bounced back up and curled herself up like she was doing a cannon ball, bouncing around the trees like a insane super ball, striking me from random angles. OW!

I electrified my entire body, Pinkie Pie's poofy mane got even more wild from the shock, and fell over twitching.

I landed outside the range of her hooves so she couldn’t try to sucker-punch me, instead she licked me right in the face that freaky long tongue of hers! BLECH!

I grabbed her tongue and swung her into another tree, the moment she was behind it she slammed into me suddenly from behind, making me let go, and suddenly she was she was BESIDES me hit me in the face with a big rubber chicken.

Both our skulls were too thick for a simple knockout strike. On the plus side we didn't need to worry about brain damage.

I form lightning around one wing, augmenting a wing sword technique and cut her absurd weapon in two. Pinkie then pulled out a huge carnival hammer that I had to avoid being squashed flat by. The moment I turned away to get some distance she was suddenly in front of me and hit me so hard I went into the boulder and it shattered into dust and rubble.

I shot up high again and Pinkie Pie jumped onto the treetops. I condensed the water in air around me into hail stones and stone them forward. Pinkie released a slew of party poppers with the punch of one-shot pistols. Our shots continuing to deflect off each other, shooting off limbs of trees and impeding themselves in their bark.

Pinkie Pie dropped out of sight. I kicked behind me, feeling myself get her right in the stomach and she popped back onto the treetops like I had kicked her from the ground.

Pinkie blew a whistle and a pinata the size of a parade float of a green pony rose up below Pinkie as it mimicked her motions and tried to bear hug me. I channeled lightning into my forehoof and vibrated it like mad, gripping it with my other forehoof and punched the thing right in the center, making the giant pinata fall apart, candy spilling everywhere.

Pinkie Pie fell from her perch but threw steamers caught me by one legs, I broke it off again but Pinkie used the moment to catch my other leg, then on my tail.

I create a sword lightning construct cut through that one faster than before and I flapped my wings so hard and so fast that it sent a mini-rainbow right at her that sent her flying backwards but she used her streams to catch herself. OW! Not doing that again! My wings feel like I broke them for a sec' but it was just strain and I was flying again before I lost much distance.

Pinkie took the opening to stuff candy in her mouth not even undoing the rappers. I created a lightning spear construct and shot it at her streamers, throwing one after another.

Pinkie Pie threw out a horde of pony size party balloons, hoping and bouncing on each one to keep her airborne, putting out two for every one I popped.

I spun like a tornado to suck them all towards me at once. But it could get part Pinkie Pie set off a fireworks rocket right at me! I had to stop my spin to dodge.

I zoomed at her in chaotic patterns hitting from one side then another, but every time I did I then had to block her as she came out of nowhere just out of my line of sight. I moved faster than her eyes could track almost making it look like I was teleporting, and she moved farther than she could in the space between blinks. We became like pink and blue flashes in the air. She moved like water as I tried to grapple her for an electric melee.

Tapping into more reserves than I thought I had, I sent a sphere of lightning in every direction, Pinkie Pie being forced to retreat.

I threw a couple of my feathers from my wings, lightning arching between them, being sure to keep my eyes fixed on Pinkie Pie, KNOW where she had to be, don't leave ANY doubt, ANY possibility she could be somewhere else, don't let her slip through the cracks!

But Pinkie Pie even without cheating was too nimble and fast to be caged.

Pinkie Pie fired more fireworks at the feathers create the pieces of the cage, destroying them faster than I could make them.

Lightning and hail rained down on her, she fought back with a fireworks factory's worth of rockets, again our attacks colliding in mid air, we lit up the entire sky.

The bangs, smoke, thunder, and bright colors covered the entire orchard, it was a wonder none of the sparks caught the trees below on fire.

There couldn't be a pony in Ponyville who didn't see our light show.

The noise was deafening, the lights were blinding, we just kept going. Lightning arched between the blooming blasts, it was like we tearing the entire sky apart!

We BOTH lost track of each other in the roaring, smoke, and lights, and before we knew it both of us were staring down each other's face inches from each other. We froze.

We could both end the fight right there, it just took which of us moved first, a heavy duty fireworks rocket in her hooves, enough lightning to electrocute an elephant in mine.

Except neither of us wanted to end our best friend in the process at point blank range.

The storm subsided.

Not taking our eyes off each other, both us effectively at knifepoint on the other, we both slowly floated back down towards the ground, landing softly.

Like waking up from a dream, the haze that had fog over both our heads began to clear. I wanted to blame the intruder for this too, but... it didn't feel right. I didn't feel free from some control, I just... felt tired.

Both Pinkie and I realized we were sucking wind and our coats covered in sweat and dust.

"Well," Pinkie Pie puffed, "Looks like fighting didn't solve anything, did it?"

I slowly back away. I dispel my attack and create a small lightning scythe with no reach.

I look at Pinkie Pie sadly and sigh. I let my body go slack. I hold up the little scythe to my own neck with my two forehooves. I close my eyes and grit my teeth. I dump electricity into the construct.

"DASHIE!" I hear her scream and throw away the rocket she was holding.

She rushes close, I flip the scythe around slice off some of my feathers, and release the scythe's form, letting the lightning channel into my feathers as Pinkie flies right into the mess of them. The light cage forms around Pinkie Pie nearly instantly, not even enough space to open her mouth.

"Sorry, Pinkie Pie," I said, not able to look her in the face. "I just hope you can forgive me after you're unbrainwashed." I formed a lightning spear. "I need you not to follow if you break out. I know that isn't going to make this hurt less, but I'm sorry."

I stab her in the leg. Then the pink pinata I'd caught exploded in a MASS of confetti, streamers, and party stickers, slipping through the holes in the cage and wrapping me up tight like a present! NO!

The real Pinkie Pie hops down in front of me as the ribbons wrap themselves around the nearby trees. "I'm sorry too, Dashie," Pinkie Pie said with sincerely that rivaled AJ's. "I can't let you go rampaging after Bright Night."

"Pinkie Pie listen to me! Don't your memories feel messed up!? Like there's big holes! Stuff you should remember but don't, and stuff you know but shouldn't?! Lots of ponies acting all shallow? Haven't you noticed?!"

Pinkie Pie stared blankly at me for several seconds, then blinked, her eyes widened, and she trembled. "No, not again, please not again. Not again! We didn't do anything wrong! It was just to have everypony be happy! Who cares if it doesn't all make sense? Isn't the point that we were all friends and happy?!"

"Pinkie Pie, Bright Night is having us all be zombies, there's no telling what trouble Equestria is in without the six of us to deal with the big nasties!"

"Please please please Luna! Don't hurt Minty!" Pinkie Pie screamed hugging herself.

Huh?

"Starsong! Toola-Roola! Puzzlemint! Thistle Whistle! I miss you so much! Why did the mean mean mean Alicorns and Draconequi have to steal you away?!"

"Pinkie Pie what are you talking about?! Who are those ponies?!"

"They were my friends! They were my friends with you and Rarity! Only you can't remember them!"

"Did Bright Night do that?!" The brat was erasing ponies from our memories? That evil little creature!... Gilda. Is that why I couldn't remember her?

"NO! She didn't do anything! Stop blaming her!"

"Pinkie Pie she's a witch and she has to be stopped!"

"I can't let you go if you're going to hurt a little filly!... I... I have to tell our friends about this. I'll... I'll just leave you wrapped up for a bit, unless you wanna Pinkie Promise you won't hurt Bright Night."

"I can't!"

"No, Pinkie Pie!" A pink pegasus filly with a blond mane and blue eyes zipped past me, dammit the witchling is back and... she cuts me loose? What?

"Bright Night! Get back!"

"No! Rainbow can't afford to get trapped!"

What?!

"Pinkie Pie, I'm sorry, there's a lot you don't know, and we can't be sure if it's safe to tell you or not after, after you lost your home before. I'm sorry it wasn't made better."

WHAT?!

Then from above, Twilight Sparkle landed right in front of me. "I blame myself," she sighed, then flipped through the book she was holding.

There was a bright flash, blinding me. And next thing I knew, Twilight was carrying me as she galloping along out of the orchard and out of Sweet Apple Acres, her book hanging in a bag along side her.

"Don't worry. Bright Night will keep Pinkie Pie from doing anything reckless."

"What is going on here?! Why did the witch free me?! What game is this!? I DON'T GET IT!"

"Bright Night isn't a witch. You're getting hung up on the wrong pony, Rainbow Dash! And taking on a Pinkie Pie at her full abilities and without the weight of a world on her shoulders when you're distracted and unfocused wasn't very bright."

"Hey! I was plenty focused!"

"No, you weren't! Or you wouldn't have turned Applejack's orchard into a war zone."

My heart was in a vice. "… Celestia... I didn't... what am I going to tell Applejack?"

"Applejack began downing cider like it was water in the desert the moment she saw you fighting. She fought through it restrain her brother to keep from continuing to applebuck in the middle of your big pointless fight."

"Is she okay?"

"She stopped feeling compelled to drink the moment your fight stopped."

"I'm… I'm sorry. Hey, how do you even know that?"

"Spotted it on my way over."

"Twilight are you going to quit being a jerk and tell me what's going on already?!" I yelled, fighting off the urge to hit her square in the face. "Pinkie Pie began talking nuts back there!"

"Pinkie Pie has pains you don't know about. Ones that were covered up when this all happened. And I CAN'T tell you! You NEED to figure it out for yourself, I can't spoon feed you the answers. You, nor any of our friends will be able to escape if you rejects the answers, and you WILL unless you figure them on out on your own. I'm SORRY, Rainbow Dash! If I had a better way I'd do it! I HATE seeing you hurt like this! You and Pinkie Pie! And Sweetie Belle and all the rest. I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash... I... apologize. I haven't been a very accepting friend."

"Huh?"

"You've changed Rainbow Dash, you've changed so much from when we first met. But I wanted to pretend that you were still THAT Rainbow Dash, that you'd act like her, that you'd make the choices she would, that you'd figure things out her way... it was selfish for me to think that. And I'm sorry Rainbow Dash, I'm so so sorry. I thought if Pinkie Pie is still Pinkie Pie that I could just pretend that you were still THAT Rainbow Dash. I'm sorry Rainbow."

Was she . . crying?

I... I didn't know how to respond to that. "Twilight it's... it's... " I can't believe I was saying this. "It's... it's okay," I lied.

"Thank you, Rainbow Dash. I can't give the answers or explain all the rules, but I can remind you what I told you. I told you the answer lay with somepony close to you. If Bright Night is standing in for somepony else, then they aren't somepony close to you, are they?"

I meekly nodded.

"But... you were right about one thing... the one you can remember not remembering... is very important to you."

"Hey! How do you know about that?"

"Bright Night told me. And you told her remember?"

"Oh. Oh yeah."

"I'll admit, your theory that Bright Night was a Malignant Insert was reasonable given what you knew."

"What's a Maglinant Insert?" Then I thought about it. “Forget I asked; I think I’ve already figured it out, based on the name. It’s basically kind of like a pod pony, right?”

“Essentially,” Twilight said. “But wasn't there something WRONG with your theory just a little? If she was an Insert who stole another pony's life to be close to you, and made nearly everypony into zombies, and was rewriting your life story to include her instead... wouldn't somepony like that of given themselves a larger role in things? If they did all this like you said because they admired you, why have almost none of your adventures since after your memories become blurry have her in a major role? Why isn't she being saved every other adventure? Why isn't she saving you? Why isn't she there helping you beat the villains nearly every time?... Think about it, Rainbow Dash, when you were a filly and fixated on the Wonderbolts, and you had so many fantasies of being with them... was it as a technician or a flight coordinator? What was it?"

"... I was one of them. Spitfire's PARTNER wingpony of Soarin' or they were both MY wing ponies... "

"Exactly. Someone this fixated wouldn't have just been one of the main characters, they'd have been in the starring role! If this was HER fantasy, she'd right near the action."

"You're saying... whoever is causing this is a lot closer to home."

"See? You'd have never accepted that if I had just told you."

I sighed. "And you can't tell me."

"As I said, you have to figure it out for yourself."

I heard distant thunder. I looked up, the clouds were darkening. "There wasn't rain scheduled for today."

"No, but it fits your mood doesn't it?" Twilight said like we were having just a friendly chat.

I didn't respond. Twilight had slowed down to a simple trot.

"Can you answer a question, Rainbow Dash? What is it about the way this Ponyville is that makes you so upset? Let me be Tirek's Advocate. You're loved by everyone, our friends all have you as the hero. No evil or danger will ever strike that is more than you can handle. You'll always win in the end, because you're the hero. Like you've always wanted."

"And what about THEIR lives? Everypony else's hopes and dreams? Having everypony else just be cardboard cutouts who are only there to smile and nod?"

"Isn't that how you treated them anyway, Element of Loyalty?"

"NO! No I... no I... care about them."

"Because without their cheers you're empty?"

"NO! That's not... " Ugh! "The Dash doesn't need... doesn't need... They're my friends and herdmates. I want them to be awesome the way THEY'RE awesome. I couldn't bear leaving things the way they are, everypony's in a jam, I want to help them, just as I know my friends would help me."

"Doesn't that just make it business? An equal trade of knowing others will protect you if you protect them?"

I felt myself tense up.

"I KNOW most will never pay me back. And I'm fine with that. I know most won't... most won't be building statues in my honor or giving me free stuff. And I know... know most are gonna go back to their own busy lives instead of talking about great I am. But that's not the point. The point is being faithful to those who are smaller than you, the same as you, OR bigger than you."

"There are you are Rainbow Dash." She smiled like I hadn't been here this whole time. "But ... What happens when the small and the big collide?"

"I'd save them both."

"What if you couldn't?"

"I'd have to."

"But what if you had to choose?"

"I'd chose both."

"But what if you could only chose one? Please Rainbow Dash, tell me."

"... I'd... I'd … I think I'd have to be there."

"I wish the world would always give you a black and white choice Rainbow Dash, I truly wish the world really was that kind... Maybe that wouldn't be so bad."

I wasn't listening anymore. I had to figure out everything to save everypony?

Why me? Why did it have to be me? I'm not the thinker! I'm the doer! Twilight's the egghead! Rarity's the pony who notices stuff! Pinkie knows everypony in Ponyville. Fluttershy knows animals.

AJ… AJ is… she's Honesty, you think she'd be the one to help get through this mess. I'm...I'm the LEAST qualified Element of Harmony to do this! This isn't my table leg!

What am I supposed to do? There's nopony to tell me… And there's no pony I can ask. Help. Celestia, Luna, Cadenza, help me.

Why couldn't this be a problem where I just need to punch somepony out? All my adventures here… jerk shows up, I beat up jerk, the end. I've never had to do any thinking.

The filly I remember not remembering is the key… She was important to me. She was close to me! She has to be the one!

Bright Night… she doesn't fit the mold.

The filly I remember not remember is nothing like her.

Bright Night likes soccer, the real filly liked her...her scooter.
Bright Night is a teacher's pet, the real filly's favorite class was recess (like me).
Bright Night is a girlie girl, the real filly is a tomboy (like I always try to be).
Bright Night takes care of her mane and likes doing other's manes. The real filly didn't ccare about her or how others looked.

Bright Night is a good singer, the real filly...she wasn't as good as me, or the average pony.

She was a lot like me, was she my clone? No she...she imitated me, I was… I was her role model. She always wanted to be around me.

Bright Night lives in...the real filly lives...I don't know where either of them live. I… I never questioned it, I never thought about it.

Bright Night's mom is a hairdresser, the real filly… I don't know what her mom does.. Or her dad… I, I never met them.

I never met her parents. Not even once. I never saw them. They never got metioned. I wouldn't think about that normally but.. with all of this..

Was it another hole in my memory? No.. there wasn't an outline like with the orange filly, it just wasn't there.

"Twilight, as my FRIEND, can you tell me where 'Bright Night's' parents live?" I wave my hooves in the air to do little quotations.

"…I've never met them here in Ponyville, let alone seen them, and none of our friends has ever mentioned seeing or meeting either. But, she's just a friend of a little sister of a friend for most of us. Who would stop to think that was odd?" She pulled out the book with her mouth and began flipping through it for me to see. So many pictures of ponies in Ponyville.

"Though Ponyville is so close-knit that everypony knows everypony. She was in Ponyville before me, so it wouldn't make sense for me able to give details about when she arrived, or if her parents were present at Pinkie's obligatory party. Bright Night must have VERY VERY busy parents for no one to ever TALK about them, to never SEE them, or even MENTION them for so long. Then again many ponies see SILVER SPOON'S parents?...but Silver Spoon doesn't have a circle of friends, doesn't hang out a lot with other foals, isn't in many public events, and has little to do with us. But with Bright Night, it wouldn't make any sense if they suddenly appeared with no explanation. In particular with how much time she always spent with you. It would be like they simply never existed before."

My head was swimming.

"Oh. Sorry...that was...pretty long-winded, wasn't it? But I wouldn't be Twilight Sparkle if I didn't would I?"

"Unless you were a pod pony." Part of me almost hoping this was the case. I took a deep breath. "So nopony has seen them? Ever?"

"So it would seem. Doesn't make much sense for a foal who we see so much of does it?"

"So...Bright Night, the filly she's filling in for...her parents...they're, they're like Applejack's?"

"I guess that would make her a ward of the kingdom then wouldn't it? Good thing Ponyville has a good orphanage then."

"I guess so and..." What. The. Buck?

"You know just for fun, I think all spare all the foals at the orphanage the pain of not having a mom while I'm here!"


"It's funny, I just remembered, Fleetfoot has a cold, and the others are all booked up, maybe after we solve this, maybe you'd like to be a Wonderbolt for a day? It's a charity performance for Ponyville orphans so maybe-"


"Here, Miss Rainbow Dash." I looked and saw a pink pegasus with a cupcake cutie mark. "Some cupcakes for Ponyville's hero!" She smiled, flapping her wings. Doesn't she live in Cloudsdale?

"No thanks. Give'em to the orphanage."

"But...but they're for...they're for you." She sounded confused or worried.

"And I want you to give'em to the orphanage instead."

A tiny 'everypony knows everypony else' town like Ponyville? "Since when the buck does Ponyville HAVE an orphanage?!"

"Eh?"

"I don't remember Ponyville having an orphanage before my memories get wonky! But I remember it having one NOW! It didn't exist before!"

"No. It didn't."

"But why would whoever did this add an orphanage!? Just so I can save them? Then why haven't any of my adventure involved them directly? Not even once?!"

"Doesn't make much sense, does it? In any game, or performance, everything serves some function for the adventure or the story. They wouldn't just drop it in there and then forget about it. Unless, of course, it takes more effort to remove it."

"No...whoever is doing this, they aren't perfect. Cloudsdale's ponies were kept in, I don't know what, storage? Until I showed up. They wouldn't add a whole new place they'd have to cover for and keep track of everypony already here. That place...is like Bright Night, it doesn't belong here."

"Assuming of course it even exists."

"Huh?"

"Maybe it's one of those places mentioned but is never shown. Maybe you're getting yourself worked up over nothing. Have you seen it? Do you know where it is?"

"I..." I wracked my brain. I was sure! I had seen it I was sure! Didn't I? I'd flown over every inch of Ponyville! I knew this town like the back of my hoof! There's no way I could miss it! Think! Where was it!

"Was it near the center of Ponyville?"

"No."

"Was it right next to Everfree Forest?"

"No!"

"Was really close to Ponyville Schoolhouse, Golden Oaks, the hospital?"

"No, no...maybe?"

"So it was inside Ponyville?"

"NO! It was...it was outside Ponyville. Near White Tail Forest. Between Ponyville and Canterlot. Besides a river. The only building around. Where...where nopony would have to look at it, where nopony would have to think about it, where everypony could pretend it didn't exist..."

"Everypony, Rainbow Dash? Then how did you know it existed? Oh right, others told you. Why did others mention it if they were the ones pretending it didn't it exist?"

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"I'm sorry, Rainbow, but you really do need to figure it out for yourself," she said, blanching as my wings spread out, sensing my impending exit. "I know I'm sending mixed messages, but I can't let you retreat to answers that are just what you want to be right instead of what you need to know or you'll just keep hiding."

"Hide? I don't hide!"

Suddenly she reared up and I slide off her back. "Ow! Hey!"

"Prove it." This time she didn't say it with any smugness.

I looked around at where Twilight had dropped me off.

Near White Tail Forest. Between Ponyville and Canterlot. Besides a stream. Like I'd said. The ground around us was as flat as a chess board.

What...what was this lump in my throat?

The rain started to fall. Lightning struck in the distance.

There was only one building in sight.

There was a chain-link fence around it with barbed wire, there was a warning that the fence was electrified. The green grass was neatly cut like a carpet.

It was shaped like boxes stacked on top of each other. The whole place looked to me made of some reddish brown wood, it was covered in shadow, no matter what way I looked at it!

I couldn't tell how many floors it had, three, five, two? Ugh. It hurt my head just to look at it. The windows all cast a yellow light from within. They didn't form a face, a face would have been comforting!

I swear I saw in the corner of my eye the trees moving like veins, then being normal when I looked right at 'em.

In big bold letters above the front door and above the front gate were the words:
Chains Of Love Orphanage

Silhouettes of dancing foals were cut out between the words. No they weren't moving, that was just a trick of the light.

The lump in my throat sank down into the pit of my stomach. My wings pressed hard against my body. My hooves were shaking. I clenched my teeth so hard together they ached.

It was like the whole place wanted to lean over and fall on me!

What the buck was I doing here, I had to get away!

I turned to fly away, why is Twilight Sparkle in my way?!

"So you're going to run away again?"

I hold my hooves to my head. "I don't run away!"

"Then what do you think you're doing?!"

My breathing was uneven, my heart was jackhammering. "I..." I creak my head around, every feeling in my gut and thought in my head screaming at me to fly away and not look back.

Don't go in there. You won't like what you find. Get away while you still can. They'll be no escape if you go in. Escape. Fly fly fly.

. . .

It wasn't a monster ready to eat me, it was a black whirl pool ready to pull me under and crush me! I was on the event horizon! What was I still doing here?!

I turned to get the Tartarus out of there before I ran to the glue maker when Twilight made me look into her eyes.

"Rain'… tell me… is this what you want? Or what you think you want?"

"Stop asking me questions!"

"It's so you can get the answers, Rain'!"

Why was her calling me that making my head hurt?!

She kept getting in my way, shouldn't I be faster than this? Why did her calling me that do to me?

Plow through her. Move her aside. Get away. Stay safe!

I can't blow through her, she's my friend!

My body goes limp and I sit down, no way forward, no way back, I'm stuck… that filly I couldn't remember the name of… was she waiting for me to rescue her? Did she need my help? Was she outside Ponyville waiting for me to come back to her? Did she send Bright Night to help and I attacked her friend instead?

This place that wasn't supposed to be here, and a filly who was supposed to be here but wasn't. If she was the key, was this place the lock? Locks held something closed. Did this place hold Ponyville closed?

Why the buck WAS I so scared? It didn't make sense! Freaky building? Weird weather? Kooky trees? This was on my 'Meh!' list!

What, was I, scared of? What did my gut know that I didn't?!

"Twiley, can you tell if there's something terrible in there? Or is it all my head?"

"Rain', I can't because only you can decide whether it's horrible. But I can tell you what will happen if you don't go in there: nothing, ever."

"Huh?"

"You can fly away, go to bed, and forget that place even exists. When you wake up, this'll have been a bad dream. Everypony will be happily cheering you and our friends on as you beat up bad guys. You won't notice anything wrong. No pain, doubts, or fears. And you can just go on having self-contained adventures that could happen in any order, with all your friends frozen as they are, never growing, as you are, forever. Is it, what, you want, Rain'?"

I slowly stood up, "It isn't what I want for our friends! Or their friends! Or their friends' friends! It's my, our responsibility. Like it, or not. We're...we're here for Ponyville...Ponyville isn't here for us."

I forgot all about the horror house behind me as black lightning struck my brain. I felt like vomiting as puzzle pieces slide together.

"Twilight...is..." I choked. "Is the one behind all this one of...one of the Elements of Harmony?" I suddenly cringed waiting for her flaming retort.

"That's… possible."

"What?...No…No, how could I call myself loyal if I suspected my friends? No brow beating of me not trust them?"

"Rainbow Dash, if one of us is doing this, then aren't you doing the most loyal thing you can by STOPPING THEM from doing something horrible. That's what a real friend WOULD do. But still, what brings you to THAT theory?"

"You... You said it yourself. Nopony would go to all this trouble, have it all center around me, and then not be right there with me. Part of the team. And I they'd have to really care about me, or I would be THEIR sidekick in here."

The worst was that would means one of us had thrown away our responsibility to everypony, and making everypony inside this fish bowl our, my personal robot cheer squad. My friends couldn't be that cruel.

Twiley looked at where I think the sun might be if clouds weren't in the way. "It could be one of us, or some one behind the scenes who you've only met via proxy and not face to face. Life's always uncertain, no one can be certain of anything until you grasp the truth with your own hooves. You wanted to be the hero who saved everyone in Ponyville? Now's your chance for real, Rain'."

…I still feel scared. But I don't feel freaked out anymore. I feel a little calm, really.

"So...this is really it."

"If you have the courage to move forward."

I turn around, facing the stupid orphanage that needs somepony to tell it it's got the wrong neighborhood.

"Good luck."

"Thanks, Twi-"

She's gone. I don't feel scared, confused, or freaked like I should. There was this weird acceptance of it. Like when you're in a dream.

I'm sorry to see her gone. That surprised? She was still my friend, and friends are loyalty to each other even if they get on each other's nerves.

The whole dang place didn't seem so scary now!

I fly over the fence, no problem. I skip the grassy yard and land right at the front doors. Locked. I've got your key right here! Ka-pow!

Leaving the doors with my personal autograph of my back hooves, I marched inside without a second thought.

What I saw was impossible.

Pony POV Series Pearls 'Lost Episode'

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Why are ya askin' me ta talk 'bout this? Doesn't everypony already know? It...it might help if Ah talk 'bout it some like Ah did with Applejack? Oh-...-okay.

My name is Applebloom. Ah'm an earth pony filly from Ponyville, and one night Ah almost died. No. That ain't the whole of it. Ah was still a filly when Ah came out of the Everfree ... But Ah part of me that made me a foal was gone.

The Princess said that me bein' innocent meant that truth thingamajiggy wouldn't work on me, but she was wrong… after that night... there ain't nothin' innocent 'bout me no more.

Wanted ta tag along with Miss Twilight after Crusadin', just ta say hello ta Zecora, and it's always an adventure in the Everfree...even after...even after me and my friends nearly got caught by that Cockatrice, we ain't never been scared of the Everfree.

Now Ah almost wish Ah had been.

Zecora's a great friend. Sometimes Ah imagine bein' her apprentice like Miss Twilight is to Princess Celestia, drawing stripes on mahself, wearin' that jewelry she does, becomin' a shaman, er, witch doctor, er, whatever she is. She's fun ta learn from. But when she said we best not stay long in Everfree that night of nights, me and Miss Twilight didn't ask big questions.

Road out of Everfree was blocked by a bunch of fallen trees, don't know how that happened, it was like Everfree itself didn't want ta let us go.

Miss Twilight was busy cleanin' our way out, Ah saw this gray filly with an orange mane and a magnifying glass cutie mark. She ran when Ah spotted her.

Ah wondered what another filly was doin' in the Everfree, Ah followed, Ah didn't think it would be that far.

Sunnytown. Everypony's an Earth Pony. Everypony's blank flanks. Even the big ponies. Right in the middle of Everfree. Nopony has a clue what a cutie mark is.

Gray Hoof. Roneo and Starlet. Gladstone. Threeleaf. They were all so nice.

Ah even helped Roneo find his very-special-somepony gift to Starlet.

Mitta. Crying in her house. Sayin' this had happened over and over.

Ah didn't know what she meant then, but Ah've got a feelin' now.

Ah even helped Roneo find his gift to Starlet.

The gray filly runnin' off again. Ah thought she was leadin' me. Ah was wrong.

House locked. Findin' the key at the bottom of the well. Crank from Mitta's house(that Roneo had been blocking).

Inside.

No sign of 'er. Nothin' in the house at all except...except ...

T-thanks for the ten minute break. Ah, Ah think Ah'm good to go now.

Miss Twilight says there's no such thing as ghosts, no such thing as zombies, no such thing as curses.

At least Ah didn't believe in curses neither. Twilight said they were all just pretend and fake.

There was nothin' pretend nor fake 'bout what Ah saw: an' what Ah keep seein' in mah nightmares. In that house's fireplace.

Ah couldn't even tell what it was at first.

The fireplace...it had...it was the … the skeleton of a foal inside. Just a size bigger than me...

It was her.

It was wrong. It was so wrong.

Even in Everfree...this shouldn't happen...this couldn't happen, it was all wrong!

Ah ran away, out of that cabin, back into the rest of Sunnytown ...

It was ruins. It looked like it had been for centuries.

It was all crazy.

Creepy voices, soundin' like the towns folk. Sayin' 'she' was gonna ruin the party, that 'she' had 'the mark' and she was 'cursed.'

Threeleaf, she, she came out of the ground, blackened bones and glowing red eyes.

They said they were gonna 'protect me'. Ah'd been taught just cause somepony looks strange or nasty, doesn't mean they are nasty. Maybe this was a big misunderstanding?... Ah was so scared, Ah couldn't make heads or tails of nothin'!

Threeleaf just sat there, lookin' at me. She never once tried to grab me or chase me. Ah reached ta touch 'er.

It flashed before mah eyes as clear as if it was right in my face! Me, mah body all black, 'You'll never become like her, now you are protected, forever,' them all whisperin', all the warmth, all the life gone right of me!

Ah pulled my hoof back, and Ah ran and kept runnin', them zombies comin' out of the ground.

Roneo and Starlet...askin' me ta stay. Just...askin'. It was awful. First Seein' em so happy together, and now seein' like this ...

Mitta, not as rotten as the others. Sayin' she could have protected 'her' and didn't...that even dead the others didn't understand...that they all deserved this. Tellin' me...TA RUN FER MAH LIFE!!!

Comin' out of the ground, Ah don't know if they were other victims, the Sunnytown ponies, just skeletons or what but Ah didn't know or care! Ah just had to run run run RUUUUUUUUN!!!!!!

...

...

...

S-sorry fer makin' ya stop again...it...for a while there...Ah was...Ah thought Ah'd ...

Ah found some glowin' hoof marks, it was so dark, they were all Ah could see ...

An' Ah met 'er, the filly from before, Ah met Ruby of Sunnytown...she said she was sorry for accidentally leadin' me ta town...she said she was just curious...Ah didn't blame 'er.

She said she finally understood what her cutie mark meant, that she was good at findin' stuff, and she'd find me a way out of this mess as...as the other Sunnytown ponies...the zombies...all around...all around us...closer...closer...STAY BACK!

Big ball of light from Miss Twilight. Ruby, the zombies, the monsters, all gone. Like they'd never been there.

Twilight didn't know what happened, she only knew she didn't know what was here and it was best not to find out. We ran out of the Everfree.

Ah didn't tell 'er, Ah didn't tell anypony. They'd think Ah imagined it, or that Ah saw somethin' and just thought it was ghosts, zombies, and curses.

Ah didn't tell Applejack what my nightmares were that kept wakin' me up.

Ah tried not ta think about it.

Ah've never asked Zecora how she knew about Sunnytown, or what she knew. Ah didn't talk ta anypony.

There. Scootaloo told ya what happened on...on the day Discord turned me into...into one of them...risin' and fallin' outta the ground, grinnin' even though Ah didn't want ta ...

One part of me sayin' now Ah could be friends with Mitta and Ruby no problem, and the rest of me screamin' ...wantin' ta get away from everypony so Ah wouldn't hurt'em.

...

Trip to Canterlot. Look inta the truth with Applejack. Only a tiny glimpse compared ta what she got.

And Applejack, makin' me tell what happened. Applejack telln' me Ah was a brave pony. What was brave about runnin' away? But she told me that Ah could have just sat there and panicked, but Ah still had brains enough ta run. "That's a different kind of brave." She told me.

Can...can we stop now please? We can? Thank you kindly. That...that was really, really tirin'. Ah really don't like ta think about that.

One last question? Ah'd really... okay...Ah guess.

...

Ah made two new friends that night, and that was the only reason Ah never convinced myself it was all just my imagination.

Ah just wish Mitta and Ruby could be free of that awful place.

Can Ah, can Ah got ta bed now please? Ah...Ah got chores in the mornin' an'...thank ya kindly...just...if ya see Ruby and Mitta tell'em...tell'em that Ah'll always be their friend ...

A Rainbow Learns The Truth

View Online

I-I don't know where to begin! The place was bigger on the inside than it ever should have been than on the outside! The walls ran for what looked like a third of a mile or more, but every time I focused, it seemed to get longer!

No doors, no hallways, no stairs, just one big room, it didn't match the shape of the outside at all!

My blood was turning to ice.

There were simple lamps hanging from the ceiling everywhere turned down low.

There was a faint humming coming from who knows where.

The only major thing here were the bunk beds. Hundreds of them, running across and deep, two beds each stacked on top of each other.

They were nearly identical, all looked fancy and ultra comfy. Not the type you'd expect to find in an orphanage. The mattresses were all clouds.

Carved on the front of the beds were numbers. I randomly looked at
299,980. Then 299,981. I skipped to 300, 201 but that wasn't the end, ugh! Looking at the numbers were making my head hurt more!

Some of the beds were occupied, some weren't. I didn't want to focus on the beds that had somepony in them. N-no! I didn't want to!

I look at the beds aren't being slept in...each of the empty ones has a black rose on the pillow.

Only the bed at the very end with the highest number was both empty and didn't have a black rose.

W-who w-were sleeping in the b-beds? I-I I don't wanna look. I don't wanna!

WHAT AM I AFRAID OF DAMMIT?! Why am I afraid? Why do I keep folding back?

I'm scared of being nothing. I'm scared of not living up to my dreams. I'm scared of not measuring up to those I look up to. I'm scared of letting down my friend. I'm scared of being laughed at.

I'm scared and I don't even know why, and I feel like I don't want to know.

There's the nice pretty door, just run out, fly out, that's all there is to it.

NO!

Whose sleeping here?! Me? Applejack? Dad? Twilight? Celestia? Luna? Gilda? I won't run away! You hear me!

I take my head in my hooves, and force myself to look at the closest bed. Sleeping there peacefully is

Scootaloo

The name comes crashing down in my head. I remember. It's her. It's her! It's Scootaloo! My number one fan! The filly who always saw as me as great as I thought I was! The one...the one I ignored at worst and treated as an ego boost at best... Scoots I'm sorry, I promise as soon as we're out of this mess, I'll make it up to you, I swear.

I check out the other beds.

No.

The beds. All of them. Sleeping.

Scootaloo.

Little Scootaloo.

Over and over and over and over!

Some curled up hugging herself. Others flat on the bed drooling. Some with her legs tucked underneath. Others spread out like they're flying. Some face first in their pillows.

My entire body stiffened as rigid as a rock, my heart beat hammered in my ears, my eyes getting wider and wider. My brain was shutting down.

Scootaloo. Always Scootaloo. Blank flank. Adorable. Peaceful. Dreaming.

Was the entire world something they were just dreaming up?

I sit down on a bed without thinking (numbered 300,010) trying to figure this all out. The bed doesn't try to eat me. That would have been simple, they would have been something I could fight.

Instead I face a lot worse: she wakes up.

The Scootaloo on the bed I just sat down the bed stretches and yawns like a spell's been broken. I don't feel like a handsome prince.

Not knowing what else to do I turn around and kneel next to her as she opens her eyes and looked at me.

"Oh Rainbow Dash! It was just a bad dream!" She hugged me.

"W-What was?" I stammered out.

"N-nothing! It was nothing." She looked at her flank. "Guess that would be a dream too." She looked a little scared. "Dash...I'm not dreaming this right? That was the bad dream before, and this is real right? You're real?"

Dammit. I hugged her. "I promise Scootaloo, I promise, you're not dreaming."

"Thank you Rainbow Dash!"

- 'You Have To Forgive Yourself', Pony POV Series Adaption -

She begin crying. I wrap my tail around her. "There kiddo, it's alright. I'm right here."

She doesn't respond first, she just nuzzles me in the chest.

"Dash, you're the best pony I've ever known! I-I-I-, you're just-I, thank you!" She hugged me tighter. I didn't mind.

I'm reminded of when I'd sleep in bed with my mom to chase away some nasty bad dreams of my own. "Don't worry kiddo, I promise your bad dreams won't be coming back. They'll have to go through me first."

I lean down and nuzzle her.

"Oh, oh my, don't you know little fillies need their rest?"

Both me and Scoots look up, a gentle mare looking at us politely. She was a white mare with yellow eyes and green mane. Most of her body was covered up in a simple brown robe.

"W-Who are you?" I said putting myself between her and Scootaloo.

She bowed. "I'm Posey-Nice, I'm the nanny of Chains-Of-Love Orphanage, I'm sorry, none of our fillies are available to be adopted right now."

"Or-Orphanage?" Scootaloo's eyes suddenly got wide, her body was shaking.

"Now now, that's not anything you need to worry about. Would you kindly get back to sleep?"

"Get back to sleep," Scootaloo echoed and her eyes fluttered closed.

"NO!" I snapped. Startling her back awake. "Scootaloo! Stay awake!"

"D-Dash? I-" Scootaloo looked like she was the one with a headache now.

"Be careful please." Posey-Nice pleaded. "We have 171,015 fillies here at Chains-Of-Love Orphanage! And it wouldn't do at all for you to go waking them up!"

"A hundred-seventy-one-thousand, fifteen fillies?" I echoed back.

She shook her head. "Yes. Sadly we're never able to save everypony, but we save who we can."

I keep my hooves on the squirt. "Why do they all look like Scootaloo?!"

"Look like me?" The kid looked around, like she was still waking up from a dream, finally noticing the crazy place she was in. She was scared. This isn't where she wanted to be. But she said, "Dash, what are you talking about?"

I looked into her huge eyes with mine that can keep track of everything on the ground below while in the air. And I see it reflected, the foals she sees, aren't Scootaloo.

Am I the one under the lie?

No. The way she moves, the way she talks to me, the way she feels, this isn't some parlor trick. She's Scootaloo. And...so are the rest of the fillies here. They don't look like Scootaloo, they are Scootaloo, why else would you have a lie on her so she doesn't notice everypony in here is her?

"Dash, what are you saying?" Scoots persists.

"It's nothing dear, she's just pulling a prank. Don't worry about it, would you kindly?"

"Don't worry about it." Scoots repeated like a tape recorder.

"STOP THAT!" I snarled!

"Please!" Posey-Nice takes a trot back. "You're going to wake them! Just let them sleep! Waking them up wouldn't be good for them at all!"

"Says who-?!"

"Don't you want them to just rest? They've been through so much! Please just let them sleep!"

"S-sleep? I was sleeping too?" Scootaloo asked. "How long was I asleep? Dash how did I get here? Who put me in this place?!"

"I don't know Scootaloo."

"Would you kindly not think about any of that," asked the nanny.

"Not think about any of that."

"I SAID STOP IT, YOU WITCH!" I stomped my hooves and flare my wings. She squeaks and cowers.

"P-pl-please s-stop! It'll be horrible! Please!"

"Dash?"

We all froze then looked up.

The Scootaloo on the top bunk had woken up. Her bed number was 169,998.

"Dash would you keep it down? I was trying to...trying to...Dash? Where am I?"

"Scootaloo, please, just go back to sleep, would you kindly?"

"J-just go back to sleep."

"NO! Stay awake, Scootaloo!" I shouted at her.

"Please! You don't know what you're doing!" Posey-Nice said. "You don't want what'll happen!"

I yelled in her face. "I'll be the judge of that! Why is there more than one Scootaloo?! And who put them all here in this lifeless place!?"

She stared at me, trembling like a deer in headlights.

She whispered. "You did."

And all the world came crashing down.

"Hey! Isn't anypony going to tell me what's going on? Anypony?!"

"Dash, you're here! This place is nuts!"

"This...isn't like the dreams I've been having at all."

"Well, this is super a lot better than my dreams."

"Dash! Is it you?"

"Dash!"

"Whao! OUCH! Why aren't my wings working?!"

"Come on Dash, say something, please!"

All around us, Scootaloo was waking up. She'd blink her eyes open, or maybe she'd yawn, or she'd fall out of bed...And all of them, calling my name, asking for help.

All of them... just... Wanting somepony to acknowledge they existed.

All of them...just... Just wanting to be loved.

"Scootaloo, don't listen to a word that mare says," I mumble out in a slur rolling an eye at Posey-Nice.

"Dash!" "DASH!" "Dash please!"

I didn't answer Scootaloo.

"You know Dash too?" "Of course I do!" "How?" "She's my hero!"

I wandered out of the orphanage drunkenly. I hit myself on the door frame as I stumbled out.

The orphanage sure suddenly didn't look all that abominable now. Just wood and windows.

I push out against the gates of the 'electric fence' with my muzzle, not caring if it was real or not. They swung open with a squeak and fell off their hinges with a crash. Heh, freedom to the fillies.

My head was swimming, no, it was drowning. I heard Scootaloo crying out for me. I wanted to go to her. But I couldn't. I didn't dare. I felt like a flame to her moth.

Why did I know what Posey-Nice said was true?

I hear fillies running out into the rain. I don't turn back, I keep walking in a broken trot. The joints in my legs and wings feel like the screws have been taken out.

I move like a broken doll through the mud and rain, not even trying to fly. No direction in mind.

It feels like the grass and trees make way for me. The rain beats down on my mane. My hair in my eyes becomes a slurry sludge of colors. All you get when you mix all the colors together is mud.

Like a wind-up toy, my body pushes itself forward. The gears in my head grind and groan, like they're pushed in the wrong directions. My whole body feels heavy. Scoots' cries become distant.

The entire world blurs forward with every hoof step I take. Limping like I had a broken leg. Broken. Hurt. Injured.
. . .

I stop.

There was no way Pinkie Pie or me should have been able to shrug off the hits we took while pounding each other.

I look at my wings. How the heck had I flown after losing that many feathers during our fight? Full feathers. None missing. But how?

I look around. I'm back at Sweet Apple Acres. Everything looks good as new. Like the fight hadn't even happened.

My Sonic Rainboom was able to give Twilight a magic surge and split that rock of Rarity's in two from MILES away...but...I haven't even thought about all the damage Pinkie and me had been able to dish out or the tricks we pulled out of nowhere.

No sign of the Apples out in the rain, not even that dog of theirs.

...

Winona. Gummy. Opalescence. Owlowiscious. Angel.

When had I last seen any pets?

...

There's no sign of Daisy Jo and the cows or the sheep, or the pigs either.

Could what was controlling everypony not effect animals and so they were thrown out of Ponyville?...That didn't make a lick of sense. Ponies were animals. Did it only affect self-aware creatures? I think about how smart Owlowiscous and Angel act...that answer made even less sense.

"We can't leave Ponyville. No pets. Town gets repaired when my back is turned. Half the town acting like zombies. A zillion Scootaloos in a orphanage that isn't supposed to be here. Is this all a dream, after all?!" I bite into my own leg, I don't wake up. I feel pain and taste blood while looking down at my own bite marks.

I grow cold as I watch my hide seals up, not even leaving scars.

I howl and rip my own feathers out, the pain shoots through my wings but it's like I've done it a million times before, new feathers grow back without missing a beat.

I scream and create a lightning blade stab my own leg. It heals before my eyes.

I wail and ram my head into a nearby tree, hitting it again and again, the tree breaks in two, I look in a nearby puddle. I don't have a mark on me.

. . . I fly up...and up, then I fold my wings, and dive head first to the ground below at terminal velocity...I leave a crater. I push myself back up. I don't have a scratch. I flew straight out the hole.

My brain's feels like it's gonna split in two, what am trying so hard not to remember?!

I look myself over. Everything looks normal. My mane. My tail. My hooves. My cutie mark . . .

Pinkie Pie. Applejack. Fluttershy. Our cutie marks:

I realize what was wrong this whole time.

"So..." I bump into the one orange tree in Applejack's orchard. "I'm not even Rainbow Dash anymore, am I?" Weight of the world. I'm crawling. "But...but how did..." Lightning strikes as I scream at the heavens: illuminating my cutie mark, a black cloud with a photo negative rainbow bolt. "When did I become a Nightmare?!"

Rainbow Dash And Friends' Totally Awesome Radical Ponyville Adventure

Pony POV Series
Nightmare World: Rainbow Dash
By Alex Warlorn

I'm in a void falling towards my own face. Falling into my own eyes. Drowning in the centers like tar.

'A weighty choice is yours to make,
The right selection or a big mistake.
If the wrong choice you choose to pursue,
The foundations of home will crumble without you?'


"ATTENTION ALL PEGASI! ATTENTION ALL PEGASI!" ~

"I AM DISCORD THE GREAT AND REALLY GREAT LORD OF DISHARMONY AND CONFUSION! BESIDE ME IS RAINBOW DASH! ONE OF THE SIX KEEPERS OF THE ELEMENTS OF HARMONY, IN HER CASE LOYALTY! AND SHE HAS PROVEN HER LOYALTY TO YOU, THE PEOPLE OF CLOUDSDALE..."

~

"BY EXCHANGING YOUR SAFETY WITH DOOMING THE REST OF THE WORLD!"


"NOW WHAT DO YOU FEEL FOR THIS PEGASUS WHO IS YOUR HERO? WHO SAVED YOUR HOMES AND LIVELIHOOD BY DOOMING THE LIVES OF ALL OTHER LIVING THINGS?"


~ "Oh don't worry, they're all about to become too insane to care. ~ That was all for your sake my dear."

~ "BUT YOU SAID-"

"I said the foundations of home would crumble without you ... I never said I wouldn't improve the locals ~!"

"DON'T YOU DARE!" Discord's tail wrapped around me before I could complete my charge at him. Then he produced a small white glove and slapped me in the face a few times.

"Oh my my my. Aren't you a spoiled little pony. First I give you your wings back, I spare your home, I let everyone know you're the reason they were spared so they'd know what a great and loyal hero to your own people you are, and then when they aren't being appreciative, I decide to give you a gift by making them stop being able to care that you betrayed almost all of Equestria. You need some manners."


They stared like zombies for a couple of seconds ... then some fell down to the clouds drooling and soiling themselves as they dragged themselves along on their front hooves babbling random noises. Others broke out laughing, their eyes crossed as they flew in chaotic patterns, crashing into each other and cloud buildings but not showing as if they felt it. Some locked their legs together and began to fly around in rigid square patterns, making sounds like engines. Others fell trying to fly with their hooves and trot with their wings while giggling at everything. One little pink filly I think I knew whose name began with 'C' actually began gnawing at her own wings!


I couldn't bear to look at it any longer. I fled like a coward. Maybe that's what I've been this whole time. Fluttershy's always scared but faces her fears, but when I get scared, I just run~.


~ As I flew back to Ponyville to get back with the others ... I saw at a distance exactly how they were acting ... and what they looked like. Their colors were muted like mine (except Twilight) and they had their wings and horns back.

~
Fluttershy was acting like ten Gildas! Pinkie Pie looked like Pinkamina The Bad Remake! Twilight didn't look too happy either. AJ looked sour. And Rarity was ranting about a boulder she was carrying around that she insisted was a giant diamond named Tom.

I had done all this. I had done it all. Everything was my fault!

I had to get away again, I had to fly away -again-. So I flew away from my now mostly insane friends as fast I could. I didn't even THINK of approaching Twilight who was still sane and asking for her help. Since when do I ever think?

Soon enough I found a nearby cloud, crammed into it like it could make me vanish, and threw-up over the side. ~

And I just stayed there. Feeling sorry for myself and reminding myself what a self-serving backstabber I was.


I watch the world twist and rot around me. I keep wishing to just vanish. To just cease to exist.


"Hello my little pony, I have something I'd like you to do."

"GO AWAY!"

"Oh? I'm so sorry, did you just say 'Please please PLEEEEEEEASSSEEEE find that orange fan filly of mine and made her wings grow so big she's crushed under their weight?'"

"N-NO!"

"Are you SURE? I could have sworn it was what you just said."

"NO!!!"

"Then listen carefully."


"That...that's my Element..."

He points it at my chest where my heart is. "And I'm giving it back to you! Aren't I swell guy? Now hold still! This will hurt a tiny, teeny, itsy little bit for a LITTLE bit!!"

"AAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!" I felt like my soul was being ripped out from the outside in!


"Look at me, Rainbow Dash."

I do. I realize what I just did. "W-wait!"

He drops a giant dictionary on the head of a poor green pony with a yellow mane. I look down.

"Look at me, Rainbow Dash."

I do nothing.

"Look at me, Traitor Dash."

I look up.

"Very good." He pat me on the head like a pet and gives me a dog treat.


~ "I am Traitor Dash, Element of Treachery, I serve Master Discord." ~

"Faker! Rainbow Dash doesn't snivel like a filly!! She'd bite it before rolling over and playing dead!"

Would Master think Gilda made a better Element of Treachery? No! I couldn't, let that, happen, to her!


"Dash..." Scootaloo gasped in horror, "What's, what's happened to you? You're a monster!"

"I know," I answered, my voice dripping with shame.

"SONIC-RAINBOOM!"
"SONIC-DARKBOOM!"


A thousand years as Discord's minion. Forgive me!


"You know. I think I've gotten sick with all of this. Again. Pst. Maybe I should just go into basket weaving or flower arrangement. Still, let's make this interesting my little Dashie. How does that sound?"

"Yes, Master."

"I'll undo everything, with My Parents as my witnesses I will even if I have to unmake myself to do it, and never bother ponies again. All you need to do, is murder the pony you care about the most."


I keep telling themselves, this'll be it. But I can't do it. I'm too cowardly to do what needs to be done for everypony.

In her sleep would be easier. But. . . she's my friend, I can't do it like...like the common murderer I am.

I end up crying every time, every week, this time was no different. Looking at the house plants that are her parents. I can't do it, not in front of her parents. Not when even when Discord twists her so far, she STILL takes care of them after a thousand years!

She doesn't ask questions anymore even after I start crying. Even with her heart turned off, even with her memories of our friendship blocked, she still comforts me when I hurt, how many ponies can you say that of?

"Twilight Tragedy," I call her by the name I've been taught to like a good dog. "Master promised he'd put everything back the way it was before, -everything!- Every detail, every memory: except mine...all," I sob."All I need to do," I hiccuped, is murder the pony I care about the most!" I shudder in her forelegs. "I can't do it Twilight! I want AJ to be honest again! I want Pinkie to laugh again! I want Rarity to be sane again! I want Fluttershy to be FLUTTERSHY again! But…but…I CAN'T DO IT! It's for the sake of everypony, it's for the sake of everything! But I can't kill my best friend…I'm…I've always thought I was strong, ya know, deep down...I'm not…I'm weak...I'm a traitor...I'm a traitor…I'm a traitor..." I look into her eyes. She tries so hard to understand, we've done this dance so many times now, but she hasn't given up. She won't stop. Not now. Not ever. Discord's torn away everything inside her...but she'll still be there for me if I let her, and she'll never go away.

Her heart is gone. Her memory is at the bottom of an ocean. And she still has a saintly soul. Discord MADE HER so the only thing she can IS obey, I'm the one who can't ever make the right choice. And she's in there somewhere, this impossibly noble mare.

Discord promised to fix everything, if...if become the eager and willing killer he's turned Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy into. My hooves are stained with blood. And...I just need to murder a mare who with her heart gone STILL is doing what little she can to help me, who couldn't mean me less harm unless Discord's programming made her to!

I grit my teeth. And a dam breaks. "I'll kill Twilight… when Pony Hell freezes over!"

"Traitor Dash?" Tragedy looks at me confused.

I gently nuzzle her. "No...Not Traitor, not anymore." Let Discord rip the world apart. I'm done dancing for him. I wrap my wings around her. "My name is Rainbow Dash."

"Traitor Dash, I don't understand."

"It's okay Twilight. You don't need to yet. I won't let that bastard Discord ever hurt you again. His nightmare has gone on for too long, we're going to end it and him, all of us together."

She blasted me through walls and out of the castle.

"Twilight!"

"You have threatened master, you must be eliminated."

I've memorized Twilight's powers and fighting styles. Except I wasn't going to kill her. No matter what. I'm DONE killing!

"You only defend. Your strategy doesn't make sense. What are you planning?"

"I'm planning to save you!"

Our fight took us right through Derpy's jog path around the castle.

Twilight zapped with every spell she had, delivering them with machine like precision and efficiency.

Thankfully being so efficient and precise made her more predictable!

Teleporting a mana-bomb into my stomach and teleporting my Element of Chaos out of me and into a mini-black hole would have both finished me off if I hadn't spend a thousand years memorizing her every move.

I think bastard Discord keeps her like this so his chaos kingdom will have contrast.

"I suppose you are only being true to your Element of Treachery."

"NO! I'm doing this because I'm loyal to YOU, Twilight Sparkle!"

"I am Twilight Tragedy. If you are loyal to me, submit to Master's will."

"No! Loyalty is what YOU CHOOSE TO BE LOYAL TO TWILIGHT SPARKLE! It's what you chose to believe in! It's who you chose to protect and stay true to those choices when they get tough! Loyalty isn't about obligation! It's being faithful to those around you even when the going gets rough or you're offered the easy road! And I understand at last!"

A black jewel in my soul, turned right side up, and I felt for a moment like I had two souls. And two voice echoed in my heart for one moment.

'Be faithful to your friends, darling.'

'And if that's being trapped with them, then, skittles, then that how you're finally free!'

And the black jewel in my soul, became a beautiful red ruby.

-Free Will- -Loyalty-

And it was like it was my chains that were gone.

I moved faster, and lighter than ever before, maybe I had finally gone crazy, I'd say I didn't care, but I had too much on the line to not care!

I dived straight for Twilight, too fast for her telekenesis, and I just vibrated my body through her barriers, being immortal helps sometimes.

Twilight braces herself, but she isn't ready for what I do next...I stab myself with her horn, so it touches my Element.

She rolls her eyes at me in shock and confusion.

I'm betting everything on this. That freedom is stronger than slavery. That loyalty is stronger than treachery. That friendship is stronger than tragedy, stronger than dominance. I'm betting it all on one lone prayer.

One random spark of magic is all it takes, and we both scream, black and red lightning dancing around us, cutting through our immortal bodies.

My cutie mark formed as a glowing symbol on each of my wings.

Element of Free Will, give my best friend back her mind, Element of Loyalty, please give her back her heart!

I hear every possible voice in my head telling me to just surrender to the darkness, let the chaos win, be selfish, be apathetic, be indifferent, be self-serving, and that loyalty means nothing. And that's horseapples!!!

Twilight's eyes roll in back of her head, and she stops screaming as she keels over backwards. My body regenerates.

I don't know what's going on in Twilight's heart right now. But I can see the colors slowly returning to her. Flickering, like she wasn't sure what she wanted to be.

I swore. I'd free all my friends' souls. All of their minds, all of their hearts. I wouldn't let them live as monsters anymore. I swore I'd free them of what Discord turned them into, and they've LIVE. I swore it.

"Hey Rainbow...want some help?"

I looked up to see a certain cowpony wearing her signature hat looking out of the hole we'd made in the castle.

After stupidly nearly mangling each other because I thought AJ was still talking backwards and was still Discord's little minion, we both teamed up to help Twilight. Turns out Apple Bloom's ghost had given Applejack the talking to she needed to finally be herself again. Oh and she might have said something about meeting pony-god, but I kinda didn't get those parts.

And Applejack's cutie mark glowing as a symbol around one eye. She said she was now Honesty and Fantasy, and could balance both the way I could Loyalty and Free Will.

We were more surprised when Derpy came with us. And her cutie mark was also appearing as a glowing symbol on her back.

"My Muffin, she wouldn't want me, I think she doesn't want me, to not do anything when I can help you."

We had to deal with a horde of black angry birds. I'd been training to take on Twilight Sparkle herself for a thousand years. I knocked 'em clean away.

Applejack took us to Sweet Rock Acres, should have guessed, it was still her home after all these centuries, these were still her family.

Discord sent Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy all at once to bring us back even if they had to cut out or Elements of Chaos and drag us back to Discord.

And they had the black crows with them as cannon fodder.

The Apples and Pies defended us, as family will...they were willing to die for us, and some did. Twilight woke up halfway through the fight.

With and Twilight working together as a team, oh yeah, and I guess AJ and Derpy covering our flanks, we were able to bring Rarity and Pinkie Pie back to us with a my Elements of Loyalty and Free Will, and Twilight's Friendship and memory-spell.

Courage and Laughter.

Desire and Generosity.

When she used it on Fluttershy...she got her cheap chopped off. We got a look at Fluttercruel's REAL cutie mark, that heart shape made out of curved swords.

Fluttershy...Fluttershy had never even been there. This...horrible creature that Discord had brought into the world by violating Fluttershy.

"So in other words, I don't have to hold back," I said darkly. She was immortal, she'd live. No matter what I did.

But the fight even continued she pulled out her dad's dog whistle. 'Turn on your friends, or Cloudsdale and Sky Ocean DIE!"

I was done killing. But I was also done being Discord's lackey.

For the greater good.

"Screw you. Bring it." To the shock of everypony.

Instead of Sky Ocean or Cloudsdale's end, Fluttercruel threw a tantrum. I was confused. When did Discord not follow through on threats?

She retreated, saying how she was going to tell her dad on us like she was a filly instead of a psycho.

Rarity and Pinkie Pie however, instead of wanting to end the monster's existence, wanted to hopefully just nullify her as a threat. Maybe turn her into a baby foal with age magic that Twilight knew, and raise her as Fluttershy would have wanted her to be raised.

I thought they were nuts. But I was out voted. And Rarity and Pinkie Pie reminded I wasn't the only one who loved Fluttershy and was enraged at Discord's crime.

We all knew who'd have a lot to make up for when this was all over. Our sin weren't going to magically go away just because we stopped Discord. A thousand years of sins didn't go away that easily.

Derpy and I had a LOT to talk about and a LOT to apologize for a thousand years overdue.

We used the Elements to restore Dinky. We made sure the girl stayed safe on the rock farm.

We also used the Elements to turn the crows into peaceful white doves, who were spreading harmony wherever they touched anything. Even restoring Discorded ponies.

It was freaky how AJ and Rarity were sane and free again, but AJ was acting like a lady and Rarity the down to Earth mare giving tips to the rock farmers. But... I accepted it. AJ was still the most dependable of ponies who said she wouldn't mind racing with me again when this was all over.

Rarity resisted taking a bath worse than a five year old, but she still found beauty in the rocks. Including her golems...which it turned out contains the souls of ponies from a thousand years ago and between. That made for some very awkward but happy reunions. Scoots and Gilda weren't in her 'ark'.

After a hot debate, we decided now that they were out of Rarity's fantasy world, and they WERE all dead, it was kinder to let them join their families in the afterlife than keep them trapped here. Applejack warned something BAD happened to ghosts who tried to cheat death not even trying to finish their business. Not all left, Some insisted that helping Rarity beat Discord was their unfinished business.

With me as point mare, the castle's defenses didn't last long...neither did its legs when it tried to run away. We blasted the castle with the Elements, but it seemed Discord and his brain-dead stooges were shielded on the inside. Looked like we couldn't skip this fight.

Our big stumbling block was, surprise surprise, the Valeyard himself. Except he wasn't alone.

He had Spike with him, under remote control. "I have the best toy any foal could hope for and it isn't even my birthday!" flank-hole gloated.

Fighting Spike...that was a fight I wish I could just forget. Fighting a thousand year old dragon? Not easy. Fighting a thousand year old dragon who could teleport stuff into the fight on a whim: nasty. Fighting our friend? Painful.

We were all desperate to avoid Spike's flames, none of us wanted to find out where Spike under the Valeyard's control would teleport us. My bet was volcano.

I don't want to wish what Twilight felt during that fight on anypony. Fighting her last family that was flesh and blood? You have no idea of her pain.

Derpy however...well, I think her Element of Kindness drove the Valeyard crazy! He began screaming and arguing with himself. Which gave Twilight time to use the memory spell on him. And nearly get turned into a replacement Valeyard. When she begged me to destroy her head to save her...it wasn't pleasant.

But our combined efforts sent the Valeyard into a new regeneration, gave us some cryptic words, before falling into his blue box and vanishing.

Twilight trashed the remote control the Valeyard had been using.

Everything would be fine then right?

"Spike...WANT!"

I swear I could hear Discord and Fluttercruel laughing at us all the way from the castle.

And Spike kept getting bigger as the fight went on, his greed running wild. More savage, more feral, more intense, more powerful, with all six of us, it wasn't enough, not against him.

Rarity was the one to save him.

"Spike, I know how you feel."

One heart greed eaten to another. She gave Spike what he wanted more than anything. Herself. What Rarity said to Spike, was more than a little personal. And where Twilight's magic failed, Rarity's didn't.

Spike was still a titan of a dragon. He admitted he still wanted everything, but what he wanted most of all was Rarity's approval, and his friends.

Spike tore an opening in the castle wall for us.

Our Elements restored Twilight's parents, at my request. We weren't going to leave Discord any hostages. Spike would be their protector. We all knew raw strength meant nothing fighting Discord, so we weren't going to try.

Spike asked one thing. "Please, protect Twilight."

I said stepping in front of the others, "Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye, I WILL protect Twiley Spike!"

Twilight blushed.

We restored Derpy's eldest daughter, Sparkler, from a crystal statue, when we went through the gallery, so Discord couldn't use her as surprise pony shield.

Ran into a seapony, confused when zapping her with the Elements didn't do anything, she left with a gold and silver feather.

We restored the Princesses...or tried to...they were fillies. Luna was herself, but Celestia thought 'Dissy' was her coltfriend. Blech. We had Sparkler take them both to the Rock Farm, to look after them and Dinky until we came back.

"Putting all our eggs in one basket is a death sentence," Twilight said.

Not just Futtercruel was guarding Discord's throne room, but Screwball and Mad Tiara too. Discord had brought them out of retirement.

Two against one, should have been easy. Except Discord had given part of his own magic to his family. Even compared to what they'd been able to do before, it was bedlam and a fight for survival.

Never thought Discord would give anything to anypony except misery and corruption.

Then…Scoots came to me. Don't ask me how that makes sense, or why she came then, something about me not accepting answers until that time. I still think my favorite fan picked a dumb time to come back to give me advice as a ghost.

She told me, "Be true to what you promised, don't cross the line again, not even towards him, he's not worth it. And Dash, I forgive you."

With the Elements, we petrified Fluttercruel. Rarity said, "Just until we could get her away from her father's bad influence."

We left Mad Tiara and Screwball depowered and reharmonized. Except they didn't stop. They were still willing to die to protect the devil. If anything, they fought more frantic and desperate.

"They're still victims too," Rarity said.

We left them tied up next to Fluttercruel's statue and entered Discord's throne room. Inside noise makers, confetti, an acid floor and falling spike ceiling were waiting for us, and a wall of ballistics aimed right at us.

Twilight's failsafe spell ended all of that.

Then came the main event. Our fight with Discord.

For a while, I felt like the universe was gonna implode on us. Maybe it did a few times.

In the end, we were having a quick debate on whether to use the Elements on Discord to turn him to stone, or it'd be best just to execute him.

Discord looked eager for the answer, but didn't seem worried about dying.

In the end, I was the 'deciding vote'. Was I tempted? More than you can imagine. Was it what I wanted? Almost more than anything. But then I remembered what Scootaloo's spirit had told me. "I said so already Discord, I'm done killing."

We blasted him to stone.

His last words were, "I knew you had it in you this time, Rainbow Dash. You're your own little pony. You broke the script to the very end, thank you. Please don't falter now."

And a spell scroll that would reset time fell in our laps.

I was all for accepting help from my friends. But I'd learned that there was no such thing as a free meal. And I knew bastard Discord. "Why the heck would he have a spell that undid everypony's misery?!"

"That's easy!" Twilight said, "So if he was beaten, one of his minions could undo his defeat!"

I was about to say that made sense when Pinkie Pie said, "You know what? Let's ask one of them!"

Between cursing us and crying over bastard Discord, they'd said they never even heard of that spell. AJ's truth eyes made sure they weren't lying.

Rarity said it first, "If it was for his minions to undo his defeat… WHY did NONE of US know about it?!"

That made us pause.

I said, "This scroll is a trap."

You could hear a pin drop (Pinkie tested).

"Princess Celestia didn't reset time after beating Discord… and I won't either!" Twilight stamped her hoof. "Thanks 'Rain."

I think we were all disappointed that the scroll was fake. But I was happy I didn't have to give up the new memories I'd made with Twilight and my friends. I'd atone for my sins the old fashioned way.

All that left was using the Elements to heal bastard Discord's damage to everything.

Then Twilight's shadow... grew. It just got bigger, and then it grew wings. It actually rose up like something alive! Then it dove into the floor. Entire pieces of the castle broke away. Like a tumor, pieces of Discord's castle began to clump together, bleeding. They shifted and warped about. Turning into...turning a purple version of Nightmare Moon, but her armor was white, and her mane was fiery instead of nighty. Her cutie mark...it was a color reverse of Twilight's. The worst part was her face, that pretty face, it was shaped like an Alicorn's, but I recognized Twilight's all the same.

What came next, I'd hear hundreds of thousands of times over. Hundreds of thousands of ways. Whenever Twilight Sparkle dared show free will.

After being around as long I'd come to be, I now appreciate that even the tiniest thing can change the world in big big ways, everything and everypony is connected, like links in a chain. Eclipse never wanted to see that, it was a tape recording to her.

Eclipse's soap box speech. Twilight realizing the truth. Infinite loops. Eclipse making it clear she didn't see us as people, ponies, or living things.

Eclipse revealing she had 'gotten rid of' the Doctor. The greatest mind in the universe, beaten by a cheating time looping nag who was anything but his equal.

Me, all of us, begging and pleading for the Twilight Sparkle inside Nightmare Eclipse to see reason. Instead she wanted our Twilight to see 'reason', and not be 'distracted by delusions' of seeing us as people.

In the end, like all before and after us I'd learn, we had as much luck as Princess Celestia reaching the Luna inside Nightmare Moon.

Then as an after thought, she slithered one of her chains around Fluttercruel's petrified neck, then wrapped her chain around Discord's statue, and used him like a sledge hammer, and shattered her.

"COUSIN!" Mad Tiara screamed.

"W-why?! She wasn't a threat anymore!" Rarity stammered out.

"Y-you… you murdered her!" Derpy gasped horrified.

"Oh, silly Derpy." She patted her on the head. "That wasn't alive. It was a statue. It was just some fake personality Discord created using his magic, it wasn't a person. And didn't you see? It was Discord who broke it, weren't you paying attention? And because Discord wouldn’t like me doing it, why not do it? And besides, its role in the game is over."

Oh yeah, that's when negotiations stopped.

I don't remember who cut Mad Tiara and Screwball loose, but I'm happy they did. We needed all the help we could get.

Oh right silly me, heh, I forgot after...after all this time. Back then she wasn't even calling herself Eclipse yet, Back then, it was 'Nightmare Dusk.' I can only guess she kept changing names out of boredom. Whatever name she picked, she was everything Twilight Sparkle was, and everything she shouldn't have been.

Our battle reduced the castle to ruins, but hightlights include:

"Clinging to imaginary friends isn't healthy, Twilight!" Dusk shouted as she reshaped the stones of the castle like it was her own body into a pair of hands that was meant to squash us flat.

AJ instead jumped up between them and gave them both one solid kick, the stone of the palm exploded, the shock wave carrying onto the blocks nearest it setting off a cascade! AJ just smirked at the Nightmare.

"How about I get rid of the one of yours toys that isn't immortal!" Her flaming spear chains struck like serpents at Derpy. A ring of Rarity's golems used their own bodies as shields.

Dusk grunted in agitation and stomped the ground.

The vibration traveled along her chains and shatters Rarity's golems.

"Forgot Earth Pony Magic is a part of me?" she smirked.

Derpy responded by sending lightning BACK THROUGH her chains, electrifying the Nightmare. "Evening Fear lose Postage Feathers have pegasi sparkles as building blocks double?" Derpy asked, smirking.

AJ's illusions kept her off balance while negating any of Dusk's own illusions, while Rarity with Desire and Generosity continue to heal Derpy, Mad Tiara, and Screwball, so they could stay in the fight.

"You contain opposing Elements of Chaos and Harmony in the same souls? You're all monsters! Twilight! Can't you see these things are NOT YOUR FRIENDS?!" Dusk exclaimed.

I dove in straight at her, stabbed her with a lightning weapon, then caused it to branch out inside her, sticking out in places. It was harder than I liked to admit to attack this monster with Twilight's pretty face. She didn't return my sympathy.

"You little forgery!" She gagged as I was suddenly caught in her telekinesis and she began to crush my Element of Chaos into dust. But Mad Tiara and Screwball broad sided her melee style, I guess she didn't consider them even worth considering! I took the chance to bash her in the face unless she unleashed a sphere of raw magic...Rarity simply regenerated the missing legs Screwball and her daughters were now missing, and right back into the fight they sprang. Didn't they know the definition of pain?

Nightmare Dusk flew up in the air, and summoned several salvos of missiles like those two-legged aliens had used, and fired right down at us.

Moving faster than their eyes could track, I kicked and swung them around so they were facing back towards Dusk. The barrage hit the surprised Nightmare dead center, obscuring her in smoke.

Twilight teleported me out of the way before the Ursa sized laser blast that burst from the cloud of smoke could vaporized me.

After she regenerated, the witch stomped the ground, splitting it open and launching pillars of hellfire at us, but Pinkie pulled out a Santa hat and a sack and opened it, firing out a blizzard that put it out.

The Nightmare summoned a rain of flaming swords at us, but Rarity's golems blocked for us, catching the swords and allowing Pinkie Pie to retaliate with a barrage of party cannons.

"Turn to oranges!" She fired the nasty nasty spell at us.

Pinkie Pie took out a giant mirror that reflected the spell right back at her.

A spell within sliced the orange in two, splitting it open reveal a giant and gaudy sized Element of Magic.

And Twilight said those fateful words. "Formation!"

Maybe we should have aimed to free Discord instead, enemy of my enemy after all, but we didn't.

Our Elements awakened, our friendship joined us together, and our combined inner strength formed a rainbow to splash down on the Nightmare.

Her eye appeared like a ghost in front of her vulnerable Element of Magic.

Inside the eye were now tiny hands of a clock. "Time stop." Everything froze.

The hands on the clock began to spin backwards. "You will wander forever."

And we were back after Pinkie Pie just reflected the orange spell. Nightmare Dusk teleported out of the way, to right above us.

"Playtime's over."

Destruction. There was no other way to describe it. It was just mass destruction. More power than even an Alicorn has a right to have. I'd call it cheating, but for her, that was par for the course.

I didn't have an outside view of the world, like I would the other times I'd see it. I didn't see what happened to...to...to everything else...it was...it was horrible!

She didn't have six Nightmare Elements to power herself up. If she couldn't do something one way, Twilight could always use her big brain to figure out another way.

It was...oh Celestia...the sky, the sky was torn to shreds, I don't think the universe was splitting apart, but the blue in the sky was torn apart and leaving the blackness and stars behind like it was becoming night in all the wrong ways.

She...she...with the Nightmare Elements she could turn the world to dust in ten seconds flat. Back then, she, she used piacemeal methods. I'm not a genius, I don't know how she did it.

Later, I’d learn we weren't the first to challenge her script's ending, and oh boy, we wouldn't be the last.

Twilight was an accepting and welcoming mare, so Eclipse accepted all of Twilight Sparkle, she never deemed any of them rejects. "That would be like calling a FRIEND a reject!" She said. Even the ones that rejected everything and anything she stood for, she just dragged them into herself anyway. Is it any wonder she was crazy even for a Nightmare?

The atmosphere fell apart, because so did the planet that was holding it together. Maybe she just drove concept killing rods into the planet's core. Maybe she just borrowed one of those weapons the two legged aliens used. All I knew was that the world torn apart beneath our hooves.

We didn't stand there politely as the world ended.

Neither did the Nightmare. She called them. She didn't bother with calling out names or titles. They didn't bother with introductions or quips. They just attacked.

One from her right, another from her left. Nightmarish Alicorn versions of Applejack and Pinkie Pie. One clad in armor so polished it was like a mirror, and the other one wearing an over the top version of Pinkie Pie's party dress. I'd find out their names later: Nightmare Mirror, and Nightmare Granfalloon. They used their moment of surprise for all it was worth.

Mirror wrapped up Rarity in their reflective wings of hers like a cocoon, I have no idea what she was shown, but when she was let out, she was bug-eyed and drooling.

Granfalloon sprayed Derpy with rubber from a hose, turning Derpy into a living balloon pony. As Derpy was still looking at herself in shock, Granfalloon pulled out her nozzle, deflating her.

The monster clown came up behind me when I blinked and wrap Derpy's rubber body around me. Slapping a 'Don't Open Till Hearth Warming's Eve' stick over my mouth she said, "Be careful, you might rip her!"

Mad Tiara and Screwball double teamed Mirror and struck with enough force to shatter her mirror wings, instead they passed right into them. Mirror moved her wings so they were facing themselves, mom and filly came out of the mirror wings right at each other like two freight trains....Their skeletons shatters on impact, and with both our healers already down.

That left only the Nightmares' counterparts against themselves.

My...my friends...they...they put up a brave struggle...but the world was literally breaking apart around us. My friend tried so hard...they didn't give up...but...not giving up and trying hard, doesn't change the outcome when...when you're fighting a reflection of yourself that exists outside, no, that VIOLATES the rules of what's supposed to be. Fighting something that had more experience than you could ever have, that had fought you hundreds of times, but this was your first time fighting them, using overpowered spells and unbalanced techniques that you'd never seen before, but they'd seen all of your moves until they were boring. It was the most hideous thing I'd ever seen, it made Discord's games look fair!

"It's so adorable you thought you could win!" I hear Granfalloon laugh and clap.

I know what Pony Hell's gonna be, seeing what came next, forever.

"The world is dead. Your friends are dead." Mirror snorted at Dusk's words. "The future is dead. There isn't hope for anypony to save the day. This movie is over. It's time to leave the theater and get back to real life."

"N-no."

"Ooooh." Nightmare Granfalloon laughed. "Maybe maybe maybe she wants to float her all alone for eternity surrounded by the pieces of her home she couldn't save! Naw. That'd be just silly! Tee-hee!"

"Look at it this way, sugar, maybe the next Twilight Sparkle will get lucky where ya didn't," Nightmare Mirror sighed.

"You always did know how to joke, Applejack," That Thing said. "Now come along my little pony, there's nothing left for you here."

I watched the spirits of black magic surround my friend who gave me hope when she didn't remember what a friend was. Wrapping themselves around her. I could see her soul bubble over with darkness. Countless black threads like thin arms getting their claws into her.

And...that THING...as Twilight began twisting into something horrible as she drowned in her own shadow, pulled her into itself, absorbing her.

Derpy, the most determined pony I'd ever known, with a deflated cursed body, managed to pull the sticker off my mouth.

"Dash, I'm sorry." Derpy managed to whisper in her cursed state.

It was over anyway. The Nigtmare's own force field was the only reason there was an atmosphere around us now.

Now I knew despair. I couldn't win. I wouldn't. I never had a way to win. There never was a way to win. I wasn't alive, I wasn't a person, I wasn't a pony, was a recording, a memory, something made to play over and over…

NO!

"YOU'RE WRONG!" I screamed! "I am not what you say I am! Discord knew! He knew I had the power to break your stupid script! If we were as static as you say you wouldn't need to buckin' ex machina us so much! Screw you! We're not as predictable or preset as you say we are! You say yer the goddess of infinite loops? I'm swear I'll become the Alicorn of breaking cycles, just you watch!"

"Delusion and nonsense," fake Twilight said bored. "This movie is over, time to rewind the film."

"If Twiley's really a part of you, you won't! She gave me heart when she didn't have one! Twilight! You don't have to do what she wants! There's more worlds in the universe than ours! We don't have the right to erase them all out there just to give ours another chance!... If Discord was really being forced to be evil, then maybe he can clean up HER mess."

Mirror lowered her head.

Granfalloon yawned. "I'm bored."

"Me too, bye," Fake Twilight said. Her horn glowed and...nothing? "Huh? Why can't I reset this timeline? This doesn't make sense! Oh I see. It's you. Heh. As long as she holds onto the lie that you're a person instead of just a potential person, she refuses to let go of this movie set...A good mare knows when to take away her little sister's toys!"

Twilight, Every time I've stopped and stumbled
in doubt and darkness
I close my eyes and think back to you.

We made a vow, a promise,
To carry onward,
I'll see it through.

We'd all forged a promise when we defeated Nightmare Moon, and we forged a promise when Twilight and I woke each other up. This Rainbow isn't afraid to bear her heart.

When ponies sing, we now the lyrics from each other simply by feeling for each other. Ponies love to sing.

To put a fine or tax on it would be like a tax on hugging.

I didn't get it, but I think the Elements wanted us to win too. Maybe our friends all needed to agree inside I was our last best gamble. Maybe when ponies sing, a miracle can happen, after all, friendship is magic, and magic doesn't care if you get it or not. And this song? It held every drop of my friendship for her!

All I knew was that we weren't done!

A colored light rose from the chest of each of my friends, becoming a swirl of colors.

A rainbow of power came from each of my friends, and poured into me. Even out of fake Twilight herself, I knew it was from our real Twilight.

Derpy was finally pulled free of me, and I spread my wings.

I felt them all: AJ. Rares'. Twiley. Ditzy. Pinkie. Like they were all right besides me, naw, it was like they were a part of me, or maybe I was just the vessel and I was all a part of them. Ah who cared?! What happened next rocked!

I had the most awesome mane ever! My wings were all the colors of the rainbow! And my cutie mark went all the way down my leg! My tail and my entire body screamed 'rainbow lightning!' Unlike the power from my Element of Chaos, all the colors of my body were shining bright! I would have felt like I was going to burst if I wasn't busy feeling like I was a pony shaped container for harmony itself!

I didn't dwell on it or ask questions. I had fake Twilight's flank to kick and get my real Twilight back.

"But… this didn't happened before," fake Twilight whispered.

I sped at Sonic Rainboom speed on the spot right at the black witch.

"When I was young, the sky shone clear and bright and blue,
And I smiled through every day, knowing that all my dreams would come true."

My dreams of being a Wonderbolt flashed before my eyes, of being remembered as the fastest pegasus to ever live.

Dusk freaked and teleported away with her others, but not far enough away, at my my speed!

She tried to crush me with her telekinesis but I just powered on through.

Mirror then flew in front of the others and clapped her hooves together.

"Now that ya've grown, that sky fades dark and disappears
And the future ya once dreamed dissolves
before yers doubts and fears."

Suddenly, I was surrounded by mirrors on all sides, and several layers of reflective glass between me and the Nightmares.

I looked at myself in the surfaces, and I saw every horrible thing I'd done as Discord's pawn and all the selfish things did as a filly and mare. I saw all the short comings of my entire life and that of my friends, every time we all fell short and others suffered for it, and all the times I never learned a thing.

Then all the reflections turned towards me accusingly, and threw knives made out of reflective silver right at me from every angle. I became a blur of after images as I deflected them all back where they came from. Nightmare Mirror creating new mirrors for every one I smashed just by reflecting another mirror's reflection off another.

I let out a flash of light strong enough to block out the reflections, and I zapped passed the mass of mirrors but still had several mirror walls stopping me.

I closed my eyes. And thought of Twilight's hug that night her bedroom when I'd come to kill her.

"Then you came to me,
Took me by the hand,
And the strength you shared helped me to rise and stand.
Let the clocks tick by,
Let the days fade away,
'Cause I've found the path my heart will
walk today."

"Closein' yer eyes to the truth? Typical RD!"

I slammed my wings together to created a Sonic Rainboom. The shockwave went in every direction, shattering the mirrors, and the mirrors behind those mirrors, and so on.

"Mah mirrors!"

Nightmare Mirror herself cracked in spots.

I noticed similar cuts appearing on Twilight's Nightmare's body, she didn't even look at her own injuries.

"Applejack! Get back! You're hurt!"

This AJ, this Pinkie Pie this...this Twilight...they had they had their Rainbow Dash too didn't they? Their Spike, their Apple Bloom. And they were all gone now. Maybe they were the ones giving me the strength to do this too.

"Good luck," Mirror said, looking right at me as she was pulled back inside the body of Twilight's Nightmare, How strange. It was almost like she'd said good luck to me, not Twilight's Nightmare.

Dusk summoned a bajillion shadow monsters, cockatrices, weird wall monsters, (they're called Nurikabe? Thanks!) tentacles thingies I can't describe, and creatures that could have been changelings disguised as red bat ponies, except the harmony inside me screamed these things weren't ponies. Fine by me, just meant I didn't have to play nice!

"When I was young, my friends were always by my side,
If I faltered, they would hold me tight,
push my wor-ries a-side." It was like Twilight, Derpy, and all the rest were there fighting alongside me, even Fluttershy! All the adventures we'd had in Ponyville flew through me.

I created living afterimages, creating different lightning constructs for each other, ripping through the horde. Dusk just kept summoning more. This got worse when Granfalloon began firing a barrage of party cannons into the melee! That she was hitting some of Dusk's summons meant nothing when she could keep summoning more. Dusk sang.

"The years go by and friends faded further
day by day.
Now there's none left you can trust, and all alone
you fall and pray."

I thought of Twilight, my Twilight, this Twilight, all of them, having to go through Discord ripping us away from her one by one until she collapsed inside herself. And me, left alone with no friends as Discord kept me mostly sane as the others twisted more and more into mockeries.

Whatever power I'd been given, something told me it wasn't limitless, and I had a feeling that's what the Nightmares were counting on too. I could feel it burning out.

Granfalloon laughed. "Stop being so serious Dashie, we reset things, and boom, you're just back where your started. No loss! And all those ponies are alive again, big gain!"

"Pinkie Pie! That'll be ANOTHER Rainbow Dash! It won't be me!"

"Heh, stop being a stick in the mud Dashie, it won't kill you to just enjoy everything! This is a comedy!"

"There's nothing funny about this!"

"Now now Dashie, this is Twilight's story she's writing, what she says goes, go write your own story Dashie if you're that upset."

Dammit! This hurt! More so than the army of monsters trying to petrify, block, molest, violate, or dissolve me! That was Pinkie Pie talking, even if she was now a monster. It wasn't like Angry Pie where she was turned upside down from everything she was. Here it was like, she was pressed flat and taken over by a cancer!

Tentacles grabbed me from behind as one of the 'ponies' came at me with an obvious intent in her eyes grinning. I grabbed her by the neck with my back legs and slammed her into the tentacle thing behind me. My after images and constructs were burning out.

If...if Granfalloon was still Pinkie Pie somewhere inside...what about all the Twilights that made up the big Nightmare?

I look right at Dusk right in the eyes, and I sang, TO HER! To my Twilight still inside her.

"Then your voice resounds,
Shining like a light
And in har-mon-y our song endures the night

Though the mount-ains fall,
Though the world fade to dust,
Still in you I've found a strength that I can trust."

And for a few seconds, her magic sputtered out (also her magic being the only keeping most of her summon alive in the vacuum of space). This made Granfalloon stop her barrage and look at her confused. Bingo. I zoomed at the distraction, and jack hammered my rear legs into her head with enough force to make AJ proud, of course she'd squeak. Dusk also cried out as she felt Granfalloon's pain.

"Can you see me now? I'm racing
Into that blue sky,
Free and faster than ever before!"

I did some business and zoomed back before she threw a pie the size of a house at me. I dodged to find all her party cannons aimed right at me and fired all at once. She didn't notice I had clogged them with Dusk's own summons when her head was spinning.

"Over the walls
and boundaries of this darkness prison
Into the light."

The resulting explosion left Granfalloon's eyes spinning in different directions with her tongue out. I flew at her intending to go THROUGH her, Dusk pulled her back within herself before that happened.

I sang at the Nightmare as she summoned fireballs the size of buildings in the vacuum of space.

"With your help my hope is rising,
it's overflowing
I was nothing, but when I'm with you I fly."

The fireballs flicked out.

"We can make it through this night,
If we con-nect." Dusk sang and covered her mouth. My heart leapt.

"I won't let you erase what Twilight and I have made!"

Dusk created crystals that fired laser beams along with one from her horn and eyes. I dodged, GRABBED THE FREAKIN' LASERS AND BENT THEM BACK TOWARDS HER!

"Lasers and rainbows, are both light beotch!"

Dusk summoned concept killing rods and tried to second-guess me, but I was too fast, too wild, and Twilight was giving her trouble!

She screamed. "Why can't you just give up? You have nothing left to fight for!"

"For my friends!"

"We're one now! You're attacking a friend!"

"Then I'll fight my hardest to stop you from doing something horrible as a friend should!"

Dusk darkly sang back at me.

"Here you stand: a world of ruin,
No path to guide you onward."

I sang right back.

"Still I smile and face the day;
With you I'll find my way."

Even if Twilight's soul was torn to shreds and remolded, I knew she wouldn't forget this song.

Dusk teleported around me, firing flame, lightning (heh), ice, sonics to flay my bones, razor sharp winds, creating an atmosphere just so she could use half of these techniques! Girl forgot that for a pegasus, that gives me more advantage than her! I could dodge them in my sleep.

"Thousand years memorizing your fightin' style, remember Twilight?"

"Several hundred thousand years memorizing yours."

I'd call it a bluff, but she's likely killed me more than times than I can count. But her attacks were getting more wild and off center. She grew to giant size, and forgot that just made her a big target and shrank back down after some good smacks!

"Now my heart's alive, and racing
Towards the future,
There's no doubt that
Could dare hold me back."

She created some dark spiritual double of me, I beat in ten seconds flat. I panted.

"I'm gonna fly on forward into a blue sky, bound-less and bright."

I could tell the Nightmare was trying to teleport again, maybe out of the solar system and make the sun go super nova, it would fit with her style.

But I had a feeling a friend was messing with her.

"I still pray and know
That one day we'll be together
I'll ride onward
And see you again, my friend."

The Nightmare croaked out,

"I won't stop until the end,
I won't give in."

Her horn glowed, a pulsing sphere of red light formed at the tip, aimed straight at me. "BE UNMADE!" She fired a column of red light at me.

I didn't try to plow through it, I flew around it, she expanded it like an umbrella, getting wider, obliterating anything still around us, I was faster through, and zoomed in behind her, she tried to turn around but I was too fast.

She kept firing that spell for way too long, and finally, as I think my reserves of this power were finally giving out, her own reserves gave out first.

And I swear, we both sang.

"To-mor-row's look-ing bright …"

I dove straight towards her, vibrating my hoof to increasing it's mass for a good socking in the face, then I'd use my Element on hers and that should-

"Rain'!" She turned into…

"Twiley."

"Rain'!" She was crying.

And in that one moment, I hesitated.

"Get away!" She screamed. The next, she was driving a summoned sword into my chest...right in my Element.

"Twi-Twilight...w-wh-"

Twilight looked at me heart broken.

The power inside me shuts down.

Suddenly she was Nightmare Dusk again, and Nightmare Granfalloon and Nightmare Mirror reemerged at that exactly moment, grabbing me and holding my limbs like a vice.

"There… that helped break her out of her fantasy should get her to listen to reason," the boss Nightmare said like she had just helped Rarity arrange her dresses.

The sword still in my Element, she put a hoof on her chest and assumed a pose. "Ahem. Dear Princess Celestia, though our friends can trap themselves in illusions and fantasies, we shouldn't let them stay there. As friends. It's our responsibility to drag them out of these lies and help them face reality.
Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle."

Dusk smiled at me like I'd just gotten out of the hospital.

Mirror whispered, "Sorry Sugarcube, ya lose."

We're All Still Here!

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I didn't think anything could surpass the despair Discord gave me, I was so wrong.

- Discord Ponies Rock Intro -

My thoughts, my feelings, my memories, were all going in a million directions at once. Brawling out for space inside as I was smothered underneath!

The maze again! Discord again! Cloudsdale again! Scootaloo again! Gilda again! Best Young Flier again! Shadowbolts again! Dad again! Flight camp! Didn't save Fluttershy! I told myself that we'd be okay, that we'd win, that we always win, that we'd bury Discord in our memories and go back to friendship reports and Pinkie Pie's parties! Thousand years of having my face rubbed in it!

I felt like my insides were on fire, followed by a feeling of dry-ice!

Was afraid for everypony that was going to come next. I lose again.

I was angry at this monster and her buddies for doing this to my friends and everything I've known. I was angry at myself for failing right at the finish line. I hated Discord for making this monster. I hated myself. I'd failed again. I'd fallen for the oldest trick in the book. I screwed up when everypony was depending on me, again. Black tears came down my face. I failed my friend, I failed everypony. The whole universe hated me. I felt like I was all alone in a frozen wasteland.

I'm sorry. Oh what good does SORRY do? What good has sorry EVER done?

I felt blackness bleeding out of me where I was stabbed. There was only one way left to keep my promise.

"Now where were we?"

"Please, take me with you."

"If I start taking souvenirs from movie sets, my home will be filled with clutter."

"PLEASE! You look like you have a spot open for a Rainbow Dash on your team. Please. Let me be with her. Let me come with her and...I'm yours. The rest of the world is gone. I'll be loyal to her more than anything, that'll be my absolute loyalty. Just don't make her be alone."

"She has a point," Mirror said reluctantly. "But she really shouldn't-"

"She sounded so cute when she said that!" Granfalloon pinched my cheek.

This was the only way. It was the only road I had left.

"Let me continue to protect her, if she's really you now, then please, let me protect you then. You saw how I took out AJ and Pinkie Pie, I'd say I'm overqualified for the job."

This was the only chance I had left to save her.

I'd rescue her from the inside. I'd save her from the inside. And all the other Twilight Sparkles inside her. I'd save them all. I'd beat this monster. I'd save Twilight Sparkle. I'd pull my Twilight out of this monster Discord made.

"Come'on Twilight, you know you want me with you," I grinned.

Nightmare Dusk blinked then grinned.

"Rainbow Dash? Is that you? The real you? Oooh I've been looking for you everywhere!" She nuzzled me, I resisted not to flinched.

Nightmare Granfalloon hugged me like a plush toy. "Welcome back, Dashie! I MISSED YOU SO MUCH!"

Nightmare Mirror hugged me gently and nuzzled me. "Oh sugarcube, ya have no idea how big a mistake ya've made."

Twilight's Nightmare twisted the sword still inside me. I felt my Element break in half. I wrenched my head back and howled.

- 'Birth Of Demon Homura' - Madoka Rebellion -

"B-but-" Had she been playing me?

"Now now, don't be scared Rainbow Dash. I certainly I can't kill you if you're not alive. But you'll be a person soon, just like me, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack."

Her chains reached into me like they were, or I was a ghost! They pulled out a piece of my Element.

I screamed. It was a pain that I still can't describe. It went deeper than PHYSICAL pain. It was like what she did hurt my very BEING.

She grimaced like holding it hurt even with her chains hurt. "Element of Free Will? More like Element of Not-Being-Reliable-To-Your-Friends. Don't worry, Dash, I've freed you of this horrible evil fake Element!" She tossed it over her shoulder like it was junk.

"N-no!" I tried to reach for it.

"This is my world, my choice. You don't get a say in the matter. How could you? You're not a person, yet. But you'll be soon, don't worry. That fake evil Element was holding back your ascension into a goddess."

"Yer gonna be TOTALLY COOL, Dashie!"

"Ah'm sorry, Dash," Mirror whispered. "Yer doomed."

A huge gusher of darkness leapt out of me from my own Element. Nightmare Dusk pulled the sword out of me, and the others let me go.

I croaked out my last words as Rainbow Dash, "Twilight, help me."

"I am helping, you Dash, because you're my friend," She smiled happily. "Friends help friends to not do bad things. And trying to stop the golden world from existing is very bad indeed. Be loyal to us, Nightmare of Loyalty."

The darkness became long arms with hands, and they wrapped themselves around me like a mummy. I couldn't move. I couldn't breath. I couldn't think. All I could do was feel myself devoured from the inside out by my own Element of Loyalty.

Nightmare Dusk...Twilight Sparkle, she's my Twilight too, she's doing this to me. My friend...Her chains whip out and wrap themselves around me even as the darkness does.

I manage to cry one last tear as Rainbow Dash, and for one moment, I wished there was just a way to make it fair.

I see my Element inside my soul burn away everything that wasn't connected to my loyalty, the regalia taking on a completely new design with more jagged angles, and the jewel without a casing.

The darkness explodes in a twisting maelstrom of black threads, shadowy mist, and gray lightning bolts. A horn punctures my head. My strength increases as I become aware of the life around me, and all the death. My wings turn black like storm clouds. My mane and tail become jagged and crackle with red and gray lightning. My legs become longer and thinner. My muzzle elongates. I keep growing.

I feel Twilight's chain spears pierce my skull. I scream louder than before.

"Now now, you just have some nasty defects in your brain, I wouldn't be a good friend if I didn't fix you. Be happy, you'll be well very soon."

"Load of horseapples from beginin' to end."

"Oh Applejack, you're such a kidder!"

Applejack and Pinkie Pie, they just. . . watch. I feel like a part of my soul's being lobotomized.

"And you'll make sure all our friends stay stay loyal to each other right? We're going to make a golden world. And we're gonna need loyal friends."

I grunted back. Y-yes. Friends need to be loyal to each other. Y-yes.

My new horn glowed.

Armor formed around me vaguely like the barding of ancient pegasi warriors. Black armor with rainbow highlights. Plates of metal connected at the corners to each other by chains. A champron with an extra large visor above my eyes.

My cutie mark...white becomes black, and the rainbow colors, like my own mane, become like a photo negative.

"Welcome back, Rainbow Dash," Twilight smiled. "Tell us your new name. Who are you? What are you?"

"I...I am Nightmare Manacle...The All-Consuming Loyalty." I grunt out.

"Wonderful! You've been uplifted from a simple mass of temporal possibility to a real person! Congratulations!"

I grunted back. Bowing my head.

"Now, let's reset the stage, and get you comfortable in our house, don't worry, you get to make your room exactly the way you want it."

"I'll get the popcorn!" Pinkie Pie cheered.

"It ain't a show," AJ said, everypony ignored her.

I grunted and bowed to my friend, as she tore creation apart one moment at a time in reverse order. And I just stood there like a good friend, as she destroyed the entire universe.

Endless cycles.

Endless cycles.

In order she collected us.

Cruelest of Truths.
The Endless Laughter.
All-Consuming Loyalty.

Fluttershy was next.

Pinkie and me, both tried to bring her into the fold, as a loyal friend would, it was better than being erased into nothing right? We failed. It was Applejack and her cruel truths that made Fluttershy become the Kindest Of Lies. She introduced us all to her loving and caring daughter after she 'fixed her' from Discord's 'bad influence.'

Applejack naturally told us what she did was nothing to cheer her for. I could relate. Me and her never stopped hating ourselves.

And finally she claimed The Beautiful Fury Of the Generous Green Flames.

Rarity, no matter what Eclipse did, no matter how she rigged the game, no matter what changes she made to the script, Rarity refused to become Nightmare Charity, The Fairest Of Gifts.

Even dying, no Rarity accepted what Twilight was selling. Spike on the other hoof...to save her? Well...what's Twilight Sparkle without her number one assistant? The Nightdrake, Nightmare Banneret. Too bad Rarity hadn't wanted Spike to become a monster just for her.

Our little stable existed in what you could call the space between world-lines. It was latched onto this world-line like a tumor. I fell asleep through Twilight's lecture, but basically it was able to exist in and out of time and space at the same time thanks to her Element of Magic, being nowhere and everywhere at once. Being OUR private, separate universes, like the 'other' concepts had. Which meant the concepts would have to FORCE their way inside and play by our rules if they wanted to come inside. Oh, they tried. But the point is that we could do our business and exploring without leaving us vulnerable where the rules of interaction weren't in play. We also ultimately had our own cute little gatekeeper.

I remember the first time. That very time. As we watched the world be torn to shreds over and over going backwards through time.

Deep down...no, it wasn't deep. I never hid it anymore than Applejack did. I HATED myself for every moment of that. Hatred that made my self loathing as traitor Dash look like child's play. And that was only the first loop. Even with what had been done to me, I knew this was all my fault. Each loop, a part of me wondered if that Rainbow Dash would succeed where I failed and save both our Twilights...that was deep down, I couldn't dare admit it out loud.

I remember Scootaloo.

The way the world was ripped apart atom by atom, moment by moment, starting with Discord's statue and spreading out from there, all the way back to the day Discord was freed. Spreading faster the bigger it go, until the last half of the universe is torn to lights and shadows in less than a instant.

I remember Scootaloo.

For the poor ponies at the start, it wasn't a black sphere or white void, or a gray fog. It was like they were looking at the sensation of being blind marching towards them, consuming everything.

Maybe I couldn't pretend I wasn't Rainbow Dash after all, maybe seeing it all be destroyed, all the murder of moments, up to that point was the straw that broke the Nightmare's back. Maybe I was still hanging onto the idea I could save one pony that meant something to me.

My former self's body was torn away into nothing, the same as everything. The universe I belonged to was dying before my eyes.

But...with everything being torn to pieces, the walls were coming down the same as everything, along with the rules of before and after.

At that last possible moment, as Scootaloo watched the Royal Garden, Canterlot, and Ponyville dissolve, I moved.

I dived in, breaking through what little remained of whatever barriers could have stopped me. And I took Scootaloo from our world.

Twilight...she...she...she said how I shouldn't . . .

I told her she was just memorabilia, like my collection of Wonderbolts merchandise. Mirror said I did it on instinct.

Twilight, she patted me on the head and told me not to make a habit out of it, and that she'd 'throw out' my 'junk' if it proved to be trouble 'for my own good.'

The next time, my first time fighting on HER side...she was watching too closely for me to save Scootaloo. I had be careful, I had to pick my battles, I had to sneak Scootaloo past Applejack and Twilight each time.

Until...until Applejack recruited Fluttershy…Nightmare Whisper helped me save Scootaloo almost every time, but even she couldn't perfectly run interference every time. She even helped me to save other ponies from Ponyville, I was able to tell Twilight about those, saying how I just wanted a complete collection. She believed me.

My room...in our domain...I made it into a copy of Ponyville and Cloudsdale. First Scootaloo and I were the only real ponies there, using just wooden dummies animated by Fluttershy's magic. But I slowly replaced them with real ponies from countless times.

Made to be like from before the day of chaos. Twilight once said it reminded her of a universe where Discord created a fake Ponyville and populated it with constructs he had the gall to think were alive.

She'd ask why I always seemed to be sadly sitting in my cloud castle whenever she visited my room.

"You could make any pocket dimension they wanted, why did you make something that only seemed to make you sad?" She kept asking. But I refused to answer.

Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy only told her that it was personal and I'd tell her when I was ready. Eclipse accepted that as friends should. I hope she never noticed the orphanage.

Scootaloo, I kept her asleep the whole time. I went out to where the Asylum was supposed to be, and set up a crude orphanage. And in there, I kept every Scootaloo, sleeping in dreams where they never had to think about the bad things.

I NEVER spoke to them. Never interacted with them. I didn't deserve to be called Rainbow Dash by them anymore.

My plan was to integrate them all into one Scootaloo once the golden world was created. I also cherry picked ponies from various different loops to populate my imitation Ponyville and Cloudsdale that I turned my private room into.

I was an idiot. Each Scootaloo was a complete soul. Even if their futures were erased, they weren't clones of each other. It was like some residue of the timelines they were from carried over with them, and they dreamed of the futures they had chosen for themselves in Discord's dungheap of a world. They were all Scootaloo, but they were all unique.

As for the rest of my 'collection', they lived each day being simply 'The Day, The Week, The Month, The Year', dates were meaningless, they just lived each day oblivious to any desire to leave town, or that Scootaloo wasn't there, they didn't remember her.

My magic rewrote their memories, keep them happy, and let them be a Ponyville and Cloudsdale I could pretend was real. They had no idea who Discord even was. Or that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna never visited.

Bright Night...she was right, she'd been completely right. She couldn't steal something that was already lost, something that hadn't been there to begin with. I'd almost killed her over nothing. My own selfishness to have Scoots close by, but never having to face her.

Endless cycles, bury the guilt and the shame, create a little pocket world for ponies from the cycles, can't fit that many, Eclipse doesn't want me growing attached to 'stage props.' Save Scoots, try to always save Scoots, when the world resets, snatch her in the moment as the timeline is reduced to ether and everypony in it, sometimes on the day of chaos, sometimes a day before...Keep them safe, keep them happy, don't let them interact with a Rainbow Dash who betrayed them.

Create a golden world, where monsters like us could never come into being.

I remember my sins.

Doing NOTHING while Twilight led one Twilight after another to becoming a Nightmare.

Those who resisted, were absorbed kicking and screaming.

I remember helping her break Twilight and her friends when they refused to bow to the script. I became trivial after the first few hundred times. They weren't fights. They were routines. Their struggle was futile and meaningless.

Twilight sometimes let us add in our own personal torments to Discord for what he had done to the world.

My favorite moment was when I blew up Discord right after he was free of his statue self with a bunch of grenades around him, but then again all that changed was that the Draconequus possessed one of the guards that would have gone with Cadence on her tour. I, the Nightmare of Loyalty didn’t bother to remember the names of the hosts.

NO! I...I hated Discord! I didn't think the ponies were worthless! No please!

I'd never abandoned Fluttershy, even if she thinks Discord has suffered enough after endlessly watching his daughter, her daughter, their daughter, die.

Stop it, please! I never meant to not realize how it hurt her too all that time!

Or that Discord remained loyal to his daughter to the bitter end in that final loop, caring more about her than he did about himself as Twilight used 'stock footage' from previous timelines she had 'recorded' to keep him 'in character.' Like when she made him murder Apple Pie.

"Ya KNOW that Twili' been copyin' and pastin' parts from earlier loops ta keep Discord on track right?"

"Yeah so?"

"So, that means sugar that whenever RD is forced ta kill Scootaloo, that means it's Twili' now whose makin' it happen. Not Discord."

"Yes."

"An'?"

"And what?"

"And whaddya think?"

"If Discord is going to pretend that he's changed so he think we'll somehow forget all the horrible things he's done, I need to make sure our complete selves don't forget or are fooled." Eclipse said, matter-of-fact spreading her wings grandly.

"I think AJ, that I'm loyal to you guys, and nothing is ever ever ever EVER going to change that! I'll never abandon any of you ever again even if every entire universe becomes our enemy! Scootaloo won't have to remember any of that when we make the Golden World. Twilight promised. Was she lying?"

"… No."

"And I think that's a buckass question to ask in the first place AJ!" I finished.

"Yes it wasn't very kind to say all!"

"I don't really really really get the joke either."

"Oh don't worry girls. She's just being true to herself. You can't expect her to be more than that can you?" Eclipse asked, the smile only slightly shrinking.

I looked at Eclipse, then at Mirror, and then put a chain-barding hoof on her mirror shined barded shoulder, "It'll be both our redemptions, we'll pay back in interest. Scootaloo will have a Golden World to live her life in instead of the cruddy one she was living even before bastard-Discord." I turned to Eclipse. "Speaking of which Twilight, isn't it time to help Twilight Version One Point Oh, down the path of leveling up to totally awesome super-mare?"

STOP IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PLEAS-EASE-EASE! I DON'T WANT TO REMEMBER ANYMORE! STO-O-O-O-OP!!!

I wanted...I wanted Scootaloo to have a better life!

Scootaloo's one drop in a very deep bucket of blood.

Back in the orchard, back in what may or may not have been reality, I held my hooves to my head as I rolled back and forth on the ground wailing.

Scootaloo's one drop in a very deep bucket of blood.

I sat up in bed waving Eclipse off, "Hey! Calm down Twilight, you'll pop a blood vessel. We'll make Rarity our Nightmare Charity," Manacle maniacally grinned as she brought her hooves into a crushing motion, "Even if we have to grind her spirit into paste and rebuild her from the ground up to do it!"

Please...stop...please...I...I lost track of myself...of what I wanted, of what I hoped for...I . . .

Scootaloo's one drop in a very deep bucket of blood.

Eclipse looked at the transparent glass sphere containing a mobius loop shape of stairs sitting on the table. "Last time I let you, you shook it like a snow globe to watch the stars settle."

"I just destroyed a few galaxies," I said.

"Yes, but you could have damaged something important. I'll just give a quick little debugging before resting."

Scootaloo's one drop in a very deep bucket of blood.

Estimated death count: 6,432,132,341,255,ERROR

What did any of that have to do with absolute all consuming loyalty?

Scootaloo's one drop in a very deep bucket of blood.

Red isn't my favorite color anymore.

Serve without question, full herd of Nightmares, except Rarity.

Scootaloo's one drop in a very deep bucket of blood.

I hated myself.

I never stopped hating myself.

So I buried myself.

Then things go off the rails, new relative of Discord...things go crazy...another intervention...things really go off the rails, they actually BEAT the five of us and make us retreat back into Eclipse. . .We pull the rug out from under them when it seemed they won...no, they PLAYED us... six Elements groups against us? A stab from Rancor? Twilight's parents extra grow thanks to a Minty's magic sword? Torrent of Rainbow Colors, tearing us away from her...and then...

Back in the orchard. Back in the present. I rolled on my back, looking up at the sky, the rain slapping me in the face like reality.

"What good am I?" I ask, nopony answers.

-'English Cover 'Rain'' - Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood-

I cried, letting them mix with the rain. All my sins laid bare. My sins were beyond counting. And I was sorry. For whatever good it did. Guys, I'm sorry. Scootaloo, my Scootaloo, I'm sorry. All of you, whatever remains of you in Nothingness, I'm sorry. Who am I kidding? There aren't enough 'I'm sorries' in the world. Not for what I did. Not for what any of us did. My sins as Discord's favorite toy were nothing compared to what I stood by and let happen as Nightmare Eclipse's little buddy.

I'd say 'dammit', but that's kinda given right now. I'd get to see Fluttershy and Spike turned into monsters as well, and one Twilight after another consumed by Nightmare Eclipse as the rest of the world died.

And Eclipse dangling her perfect, impossible golden world in front of me like a carrot, promising everything would be alright if I continued to be a good friend to her and continued to destroy universes all for the matters of one tiny planet in one small galaxy in an infinite expanse. So many worlds and super-galaxy clusters out there I now understand, so many that had nothing to do with any of this, and we kept destroying everything for the tiny matters of one planet. We were the definition of selfish. What right did we ever have?

My Twilight had been absorbed into a monster. And my friends that I fought so hard alongside to free from Discord, were simply erased. Their lights of existence recycled while their shadows were tossed into that glorified garbage can that Entropy calls a realm. Everypony I had known and loved no longer even ever existed!

That Rainbow Dash who helped kick our flanks in that final cycle, she'd been more of a Rainbow Dash than I'd ever been.

...And she succeeded where I didn't. She saved her Twilight. She zoomed in as the big hero and rescued her and her friends from us. She did EVERYTHING I should have been able to do...no, if she was able to do it, why couldn't I have? She's proof I could have done it...proof that in the end, the only one I have to blame for me failing is me, myself, and I. She's the real Rainbow Dash now. The better Rainbow Dash.

Me? I was a nightmare left over from a night that was already over. But… there were still ponies suffering for Eclipse's selfish screw-ups. Well, time to clean our mess.

I admitted... maybe eternal punishment wouldn't be so bad . . . if I got to lay eyes on the true Alicorn Twilight Sparkle will have become. Because I know, that all those Twilights over the cycles are her, and that means my Twilight Sparkle, is now a beautiful goddess, just let me lay eyes on her just once. That's all I ask.

I looked at Berrybarble, the one orange tree of the apple orchard, cracked in two by an overzealous buck but then mended back together. From Applejack's orchard in her own private domain. But this...this was my world, I could feel it in my bones.

"But we were all hit by that super rainbow too!" I looked at my flank. "Why am I still a Nightmare?" And now I realized, I felt like I was in a body two sizes too small. "There were six groups of Elements, there were six of us. There should have been enough to go around. We were all hit, TRYING TO PROTECT HER FROM IT! We should have gotten hit by the lion's share!" I stamped my hoof.

I wish I was smarter, Twilight could have figured this out.

Twilight.

I look at the Official Wonderbolts Pin on my breast that Twilight had given me. I REALLY look at it. Sensing the magic around it, and felt something painfully familiar. Like a tiny reflection of myself. It ripples, and faded, turning into, a broke off half of my purified Element of Chaos: Free-Will.

A piece of my soul returned to me, everything considered, I'm still going to have to thank her.

Soul, Twilight.

"We were all astral projecting through her when we got smashed by the six squared Rainbow of Light. So were our spirits hit, but our bodies weren't? Our real bodies were still back in the Nightmare Stable. So...does that mean I'm Rainbow Dash on the inside but Nightmare Manacle on the outside? This makes my head hurt.

Ugh! I really do feel like I'm in a body two sizes too small!

"Hi, Rainbow!"

"Nap time's over!"

"It's time to play with us again, Rainbow Dash."

"We've had such fun times before."

"And we know it'll be fun this time too!"

I'm surrounded by little foals in a perfect circle. All of their coats as white as snow, dressed in black dresses and shirts all different styles and types. They all looked at me with the same smile. I couldn't see their cutie marks or be sure what pony race they were.

"Who, who are you?" I looked at them, they felt familiar. But not sure how.

"You remember us!"

"You just spent all that time remembering us!"

"You've been calling out our names!"

"So it's time to play again!"

"I'm angry!" Huffed a colt with a little red stuffed tie.

"I'm lonely," sighed, a filly in a black poncho with a purple scarf.

"I'm sad," looked down a filly wearing a blue ribbon.

"I'm scared!" Said the filly with a yellow flower in her black sun hat.

"I'm hateful," Icily stated the only other foal in the group, only one without a bit of color.

"I'm greedy," grinned the filly with an orange sash.

"And I'm quite vain." The filly wearing a pink brooch stood proud.

They all stood perfectly still in the rain, and weren't getting wet at all.

"W-What do you want from me?" I asked, taking a step back.

"What do we want? What do you want?"

"What do we want? What do you want?

"What do we want? What do you want?"

And they each repeated those same eight words, one right after the other until they'd all said it. Then they just repeated it over and over the same exact way. Was it like a kid asking a question until they got an answer? Or was it like someone DEMANDING an answer? Or neither? Both? I couldn't tell!

"Why are you here?!" I finally asked, as they all looked at me expectantly? Intrigued? Confused? I just couldn't make heads or tails of it?

"We can lend you power."

"We're here to return the Queen of Chains her crown. But we know we'll have lots of time to play after!" Said the vain filly. "We crowned you at your coronation."

"So now it's time for you to take it back."

"It wasn't nice you ignoring us, after we gave you so many gifts."

"Now it's time-"

"-to take back your crown-"

"-Queen of Chains."

"Hide and seek was fun but-"

"-now we found you and your friends again-"

"-so let's play a new game!"

"So now it's time to anointed the Queen of Chains again-"

"-let your second coronation begin!"

They all looked at me with the same blue eyes and the same smile.

-Clara Dolls - Madoka Rebellion -

Transfixed. I watched they linked together links of chain into something resembling a crown.

Then, they sang.

The Queen of Chains was oh so sad
None as miserable as she.
When ponies turned their backs, she did get so mad,
With her friend she wanted to be.
Why she wanted this is no riddle
For stolen away from her was she.
So to be with your friends do prepare
That's where she'll make you have to be!

Six of them prostrated before me like you would Princess Celestia suddenly flanking me in rows of three, but I didn't see them move.

Lonely was holding the crown in her hooves like she had magnets inside them. Like...like ponies of the world Pinkie'd been born from. Where Rarity and me had each other's hearts.

The rain actually split, and a row of rainbow colored flowers appeared on either side of me like the trim of a carpet.

Lonely knelt before me and held up the crown. I spread my wings. I didn't fight it. I didn't run from it. I didn't deny it. I could only accept my reality.

I lowered my head.

Blackness appeared on me and spread like cancer cells.

"I crown once again ye, the Great and Powerful Nightmare Manacle!"

Sure. Why not? The world already has a Rainbow Dash.

She placed the crown on my head.

I felt the seals on my power and my body shatters. My transformation happened in an explosion of rainbow colored lightning. The storm vanished like a switch was flipped.

I stretched my wings, and let my horn glow as my first act as a Nightmare again was to take a bite out of one of Applejack's apples. Then I looked at myself over in a reflective puddle.

My cutie mark inverted. Horn and wings. The strength of an earth pony within. Thousands of thousands of years of life giving me the figure of an adult Alicorn. My coat darkened a shade, but that was par the course. Slit rose red dragon eyes looked back at me. So much for white-eyed blind loyalty. My mane's colors were inverted like a photo negative, just like my cutie mark, it shimmered ghostly a bit like it was made of light.

My black plates of barding held together by chains in place again covered my body with an old pegasi warrior off the style of something Commander Hurricane would wear if she was into a fashion statement.

"Alright, Nightmare Manacle...one last adventure. Then you can owe up to everything you've done."

I didn't need to look for my friends. Even sealed away, we were connected by the Elements, and could sense their power.

Let's do this.

I flew into AJ's house, I could have teleported or used the door, but I felt like smashing some walls.

AJ looked up at me bug eyed from her couch. "RAINBOW?! THAT YOU?!" Her hoof instantly reached for a cider bottle that wasn't there a moment before. I shattered it with my telekinesis. Before AJ could get another word in edgewise, I pull her up with my magic, and placed my horn against her forehead and cast the memory spell. "Sorry Applejack, this is really going to hurt."

The seals on her broke like cheap glass. The drinking geass placed on her that kept her from using her truth vision dissolved.

What looked like glass crystallized around her, making a reflective silver shell like she was a statue. It shattered open a second later as silver shining light shockwaved in the room, knocking things off their selves and flipping tables and couches upside down and blowing out windows.

Applejack's coat was darker, her cutie mark now green apples with red leafs. Her body type now that of an Alicorn, the oldest of us now. Green dragon eyes stared back at me, that pierced me to my soul, but I was done looking away. Her barding was smooth sleek bright reflective silver with emeralds set in shaped to look like eyes that also armored her wings completely, or maybe her feathers of her wings were silver, the truth was hard to tell. Her mane reminded me of an autumn sky at sunset.

"Ya just had ta wake me up, didn't ya?" She said curtly. Same old Nightmare Mirror.

"Yes I did. I still have the others to do. You comin' or not, AJ?"

"Don't call me AJ! Ah ain't got no right ta that name no more!"

"Yeah, yeah I know."

"And you better not have hurt any of Bloomberg's family transformin'!"

"Don't worry. Vacation's over. I'm gonna go tell the others. You coming?"

"Yeah, Ah'm comin', Ah can't stand this disgustin' lie. And Ah can't stand so many innocent ponies livin' in it!"

"Hey, I built this place."

"Fer ya it was a fantasy. Different thing. So we gonna move or chatter?"

"RACE YA!" I zoomed out the other side of the house.

"HEY NO FAIR!"

"So do you hate me for waking you up?"

"It's the truth. Deal. My motto remember? Nightmare Eclipse was so delusional that every time Ah told'er to her face she was evil and doin' evil she brushed me off!...Stubborn Twilight."

"Oh right, you were with her the longest."

"By the time of that last battle, Manny? Ah HATED what were doing even more than ya! But Ah had nowhere else to go. And figured the golden world was the only way left to make any of it mean anythin'. Oh. And Ah was plannin' ta drag all of us to Pony Hell after."

"WHAT?"

"Honest Mirror, remember? Ya think we don't deserve it? It would be a betrayal? There we go. Without Eclipse 'round, Ah wonder how long we got before we start fightin' each other."

"Not on your life AJ, and I'll call you that. Ya TRIED to do the right thing after you realized your mistake, that's more than I did."

. . . AJ told me...her first cycle, her native world.

She'd protected and saved her Apple Pie, and FOUGHT Eclipse when she tried to end the world...when she realized she wasn't out to avert Discord's reign, but just repeat it over and over so she could torment him. AJ said that if she knew Eclipse was going to ACTUALLY advert his reign by erasing our reality, she said she'd have felt it was a fair trade. Then she found out what would happen to all those souls of all the ponies erased.

In the end, Nightmare Mirror was on the ground, bleeding, her wings and armor shattered, with Eclipse's spears in her body Mirror told me. And Apple Pie, looking up in fear as Eclipse looked at her like she wasn't even a living thing.

AJ always choked up at what happen next. I couldn't get the whole story out of her. She'd say something about saving Apple Pie the only way she could, but wouldn't go into details.

"...Rainbow, one thing yah shouldn't be ashamed of? Yah got closer ta beatin' Eclipse than Ah did, and ya weren't a Nightmare yet…"

"I still didn't win…Upset the AJ that beat her was an Element of Fantasy?"

"Ah'd be upset if a LIARjack did it...It's the corrupt version of that Element Ah take issue with...Ah'm proud that meh managed tah save Apple Pie in a way Ah couldn't."

"That's pretty mature of you."

"No, it's pretty honest of meh."

I wanted to crash right into Sugarcube corner, but Applejack didn't want anypony hurt, and teleported us inside instead. I still put on a great big show.

I scanned the place with my eyes. Sweetie Belle wasn't here. But Apple Bloom was along with most of the foals. Cheerilee was there. I guess she was there to remind them that it was only a half day off from school.

Cheerilee jaw hang out at the sight of us, and like any loyal teacher should, put herself between us and the foals. We were Nightmares after all.

I spotted Pinkie Pie. She was sitting next to Bright Night.

"APPLEJACK!? IS THAT YOU!?" Apple Bloom gasped.

"Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom," Mirror said. "But Ah ain't yer Applejack, and this ain't yer Ponyville."

"W-what?" The poor filly asked completely lost.

"OH! Is it Nightmare Night already?" Pinkie Pie asked. "Oh wait! This is what you were telling me about Bright Night?"

"Yes Pinkie Pie, it is."

"Pinkie Pie?" I asked.

"Bright Night says I forgot an important promise. But I didn't think you'd come back to the party as scary Alicorns with AJ, so are you going to apologize to Bright Night? Or are we gonna have round two?"

I looked at the pink pegasus filly. I sighed. "I'm sorry, Bright Night." Her reason for being here had nothing to do with an evil scheme to take over Scootaloo's life, and I had attacked her for a bogus reason. I'd already caused enough pain and misery without giving a flying feather, I might as well take one tiny little drop out since I had the option.

"Apology accepted."

"Apology for what?" Apple Bloom asked.

"It's not important anymore, Apple Bloom," she said.

Cheerilee was looking left to right trying to figure out what was going on, looking on the verge of a break down. "Bright Night! Get away from them!"

"Don't worry Miss Cheerilee, they're won't hurt us."

"Pinkie can ya please stand still fer a moment?" AJ asked reluctantly.

"Are ya gonna turn me to stone, a brainwashed zombie, a freaky apple-pony hybrid, or revert me to a former life?"

"Yes on the last one."

"Okay! Should be fun."

"Prepare to be disappointed, sugarcube. It ain't a lie that Ah wish Ah was wakin' yah up tah a better sight," AJ touched Pinkie Pie's head with her horn and cast the memory spell.

Pinkie Pie did what looked like a lifetime of Pinkie Sense twitches in under a minute.

Then she stood perfect at attention. She then got down on all fours and shook her head. "Geeze, you weren't kidding about being disappointed. I was hoping for generation three me. Or Surprise. Or a My Little Horsey toy prototype from Hasbro, that would be new."

"Remember? Ya Pinkie Promised, Pinkie Pie," AJ said.

"Yeah I did. Oh well. Apple Bloom, Bright Night, everypony, sorry but the party is over for now. Thanks for coming." She then stood up, and pulled on the back of her body where there was now a zipper, and upside herself like she was a costume. Out came a darker shade of pink Alicorn, with the colors of her balloon cutie mark inverted. Her eyes were blue and like a dragon's. Her wings and horn looked like crayon drawings. Unlike us who wore barding, she was wearing a party dress with candy shaped jewelry (or jewelry shaped candy knowing Pinkie Pie). She wasn't wearing her clown make up. Her mane looked almost like a foal's rendition who had forgotten to color in the lines.

She neatly folded up her, ugh, 'Pinkie Pie costume.'

Cheerilee looked in dismay and horror.

"Don't worry Cheerilee...I'm most ME ME ME instead! I think! Maybe maybe maybe....Dang. Being, more sane really stinks." Nightmare Granfalloon, the eternal laughter, DIDN'T look like laughing! "..." Out of all of us, Granfalloon had been crazy in a way that made Eclipse run for her money. She looked at Applejack.

"Jackie...I...I thought it was all just a game, I didn't mean to laugh AT all those ponies...I didn't...I wouldn't...I didn't think anypony was really... I thought everything just..." She whimpered. "Am I a bad pony?"

"...You WERE a bad pony...we all were...Now?...The honest truth is it's up tah you…"

Pinkie Pie didn't answer.

Pinkie looked in a mirror. Instead of putting on her clown make up however, she put on some buffalo tribe war paint. Only Pinkie Pie, Nightmare or not.

What is there to say? We were ALL crazy as Eclipse's circle of friends, but that first step? Giving into the monster inside? BECOMING the monster inside? That was our own choice.

"Where's Rarity and Sweetie Belle?" I asked.

"If you think I'm going to tell you anything-" Cheerilee began.

"I suggested to her that she should leave the party early when I got back, considering everything that happened yesterday, and that was a good idea to spend as much time with her big sister today as she could. Since there was no telling when they'd meet again."

"Bright Night!"

"It's okay Miss Cheerilee, they aren't the enemy."

"How can you know that though?! And what they just did to Pinkie Pie!" Cheerilee was even more confused that the Cakes were doing nothing more than continue to pony the counter and kitchen.

"I promise I'll explain everything soon." She looked right at us. "But I you really need to hurry!"

"Do we REALLY need to wake up Rarity too? Can't she just be happy?" Pinkie Pie asked, almost pleading.

"Pinkie, whatever put us here brainwashed Nightmares and took over this place. We'll need all the power we can get," I explained...and I admit, I wish we didn't have to either.

"Bye everypony! Thanks for coming! I hope we get to have some fun later! Oh and help yourselves to whatever you want behind the counter! For the rest of the afternoon, everything is free!"

Cheerilee looked confused when the Cakes didn't give so much as a peep. Then dismayed as her students looked ready to spoil their appetites, but not as much as should have.

"Applejack! WAIT! WHADDYA MEAN YER NOT MAH SISTER?! WHADDYA MEAN THIS AIN'T PONYVILLE?!" Apple Bloom was crying.

Applejack tried to hug Apple Bloom with her wings, and grimaced. Mirrors did not make the most warm and comforting of wings. Applejack FORCED her wing eyes closed to avoid accidentally driving her sister catatonic with things ponies were not meant to know. She hugged her with her hooves and nuzzled her. "Ah wish Ah had time to explain. Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom." With more strength than it should have taken, AJ let go of her.

We didn't bother to watch what happened next. And I didn't bother to see if Bright Night tagged along or not, I think if she was needed, she'd be there.

My sensing lead us straight to Carousel Boutique.

Bright Night was right. Whatever was here had eyes and ears everywhere. We didn't have time to waste.

We all teleported inside Rarity's living room. She and Sweetie were sitting on a couch having cookies and tea (more like sweetened water in Sweetie's case).

Rarity did what you'd expect from a big sister. She pulled Sweetie Belle close to her and assumed a hard style-karate pose that looked self taught. "DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HER!"

Sweetie Belle yelled and held onto her big sister for dear life.

Three Nightmares with the forms of her friends had just teleported into her living room after all. She was going to fight to the end to protect Sweetie or for a way to get themselves to safety. Protecting her like a dragon would its treasure.

Ya know, I really hated to do this, I really did. This was a cheap way to win. But against the telekinesis of four Nightmares, she didn't stand a chance. She didn't even try to use hers to counter ours. Instead she told Sweetie to run, but Pinkie Pie picked up the filly with her tail and started tickling her.

"Un-tail her you-" That was when Pinkie Pie touched her forehead, and used the memory spell. Eclipse had taught it to ALL of us.

Rarity let out a gasp, her eyes wide in shock, then confusion, realization, followed by shame, and finally, sadness.

"Please let me and Sweetie Belle go," She said.

We did so.

Sweetie was confused by her big sister's change in behavior, enough to take her mind for the moment off of escaping.

"Sweetie Belle." Rarity hugged her. "I am very proud to be your big sister, you're the best little sister I could ever hope for. It would be a shame for anypony to lose a little sister like you." She kissed Sweetie Belle on the forehead. "There are so many things I want to say to you. But...please just know, I am proud of you, I KNOW you'll find your cutie mark sooner than later, and be sure to share your gift with the world, and remember that getting a cutie mark is only the beginning. And that I love you. And I know you love me. Don't spend your life trying to imitate me. Be your own self. And you have a beautiful voice Sweetie Belle. Please let everyone hear it. Don't let anyone steal that from you."

Sweetie Belle looked understandably confused and scared. I have a feeling she was expecting somepony to come and tell her to get to school already, not to have four monsters pop up, cast a spell on her sister, and then for Rarity to spill her heart out. I didn't have it in me to say this Sweetie might had been a child for hundreds of thousands of years (I'd picked the Crusaders early on) and letting her grow up was something a long time coming.

"R-Rarity!? What happened? What happened to your friends? What did they do to you? Are you going to turn into a Nightmare too now?!"

Rarity cried. She nuzzled Sweetie Belle who eyes were brimming, and their tears mixed together. "I'm sorry Sweetie Belle, it's better you don't know. I love you and you're a good filly. Now, big sister is telling you to get RUNNING! Things are going to be dangerous soon and you need to be near friends!" Rarity said, trying not to sound angry. She didn't want this moment to be an unhappy one. "If you love me! Then please!"

With more heaped on her shoulders than any foal should have, Sweetie Belle meekly nodded and ran out the door.

"Goodbye, Sweetie Belle," Rarity said as her tears hit the floor.

Rarity wiped her tears away. She stood up, not even looking at us.

She trotted on her back legs towards a mirror on the wall. She sighed. Growled. Closed her eyes. And slammed her head right into the mirror.

Her face...cracked. Like it a piece of a porcelain doll, a part of her face fell away, just some hard material, no flesh or bone.

She said, "Goodbye, Rarity."

She held held up a hoof to her face. In the cracked mirror, a slit dragon eye looked back.

She turned around, still holding her face, and trotted past us like seeing us was the most normal thing in the world. Like the calm before a storm.

"R-Rarity?" Pinkie Pie asked.

"I don't want to damage the dresses. Please come outside."

She trotted out the door, still trotted on two legs.

We followed outside.

She looked, making sure Sweetie Belle wasn't hiding nearby, and got on all fours, and slammed her face into the ground on a rock at full force. More of her body cracked. She breathed heavily. A pair of membranous wings broke out of her back.

She stood back on two legs and looked at us without a trace of humor or fear on her face, but a nasty seriousness.

She roared in fury and frustration, breathed fire, and with her own strength, shattered her own body.

The pieces fell apart lifeless, and where the white unicorn had stood, was now a green eyed dragon, with dark purple scales with a dark green underbelly. This form held only a moment as green flames erupted around him, and he grew in an adult dragon that was over a thousand years old.

He landed on all fours, making the entire town shake. He was big enough to squash any of us with one claw, oh right, Alicorns, correction, one hand. His body shape and design reminded me of Tiamat, even if he only had one head.

He was clad in gold armor with sapphires. Many of the jewels were as big as a mortal mare. I never really understood why the Nightdrake of Generosity would go around decked out in bling. My first guess (which would be my second and third too) that it was meant to be a welcome gift for whenever he met that particular Rarity that was willing to become Nightmare Charity. It's less blunt than saying engagement gift.

None of us said it. But we had all guessed.

There had never been a Rarity saved for my room.

The Rarities kept refusing to become Nightmare Charity, and Eclipse kept erasing them.

Nightmare Eclipse never allowed us to save other versions of ourselves. She didn't want 'the fakes' 'corrupting' us.

By the time we visited Rarity, we all noticed Spike was missing. There was only one other Element of Generosity we knew personally.

Granfalloon flew up to him. "Hey Spiky! How ya feelin'?"

Hopefully he didn't eat her. I didn't want to listen Pinkie chat about what the inside of a dragon's stomach looks like. I knew that plenty from all the times I've busted out of a dragon's stomach.

"Angry. Robbed. Violated. Want to destroy something," Spike said in a conversational voice. "Eclipse kept trying to turn Rarity into a monster and I didn't even try to stop her. And sad Sweetie Belle's big sister is never coming back to her."

"Spike," AJ asked in a disarm, pleading lose, "Ah know this ain't the best time ta ask, but ya wouldn't happen to remember ANYTHING from after we got six-rounds-rapid loved-and-friendshipped?"

Nightmare Banneret moved his eyes towards her. "All I remember, was somepony saying I could help Sweetie Belle and all of you be happy, and that I'd be with Rarity forever. I remember agreeing, then my memories and form being violated. Then, I woke up, living Rarity's life, in her body, all my memories tell me I was her," Spike said inscrutably.

"Anypony else think it's weird that we don't have ponies screaming and running at the sight of us and Spike?" Applejack asked off handedly.

"Maybe they turned up the happy juice on the real ponies after Cheerilee?" Pinkie Pie suggested.

"Girls! Things are bad when I'm the one who has to keep us on track!" I shouted. "All four of us are awake and we still need to deal with Fluttershy! There's no way they aren't picking up something is wrong by now!"

"What about Twilight?" Nightmare Banneret asked, every bit as concerned as Spike would be.

"I don't think Twilight needs 'dealing', I think she dealt with herself."

"What are you talking about?" Pinkie asked.

"I'll explain later!"

Spike grabbed and held me up to his face.

"Uh, hi Spike?"

"Zecora and I were worried sick when you left without a word this morning!"

"Oh, right."

"We searched the town and the Everfree for you. Finally, Sweetie Belle used her pout on me and I couldn't tell her no to going to her club's anniversary party and told her everything was fine to not worry her!"

"Sorry, I . . . I wasn't think about you."

"Then we raced to Sweet Apple Acres when we saw your fireworks, but there was nothing there when we arrived! Then it started to rain and against my better judgement, Zecora went home to stock on 'supplies' while I continue my search, and I ran into Sweetie Belle and had to take her home insisted we spend a little time together . . . so tell me Nightmare Manacle, did you just forget about us?"

"I . . . I did." I lowered my head. Yeah, the Nightmare of Loyalty had forgotten my friends. That hurt. A lot.

Not about to risk teleporting we flew towards Fluttershy's. I wasn't thinking clearly. Or maybe I'd have asked the others, or realized we were stirring up the hornet's nest.

"So Spike, uh, what was it like being Rarity?" Pinkie poked.

"Like a dream. I've woken up to a Nightmare. Rarity's gone. And I let Eclipse do it."

Mirror spoke. "You didn't 'let' Eclipse do anything to your Rarity. Rarity made her choice, she was hoping her choice would snap you back to reality."

"I know that, now. And it doesn't change the fact I kept trying to make every Rarity become Nightmare Charity, ignored that I was stealing her from another Spike, and humbly assisted Twilight in destroying the world and her with it over and over," the Nightdrake said in pain. "None of them were static 'recordings' like Eclipse said as she murdered her, every Rarity was real."

"Yep," Mirror answered. "Apple Pie was real, Rarity was real, the Spikes were real, the Twilights were real. Them being fake was just the lie Eclipse used to live with herself."

"At least that last Rarity still has her Spike."

Before Mirror could reply I saw Twilight Sparkle on top of the library, waving at us, her book still under one hoof.

She wasn't scared, confused, or intimidated by us at all.

We landed without a word around her, Spike landed on the ground and leaned his neck down.

"Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Spike, and you too Applejack. It's good to see you." She smiled wistfully. "I only wish I had a way I could have helped you myself. Thank you, Rainbow Dash and…" She bowed her head. "I'm sorry for baiting you so much. I had to play the part of somepony you wanted to prove wrong so it would override your desire to stay in your fantasy, and to wake you up to the clues you were being made to not notice. I'm sorry for acting the way I did. I didn't like it." She bowed lower.

"Stop apologizing so much, it makes you sound like you don't believe what you're saying," I said sincerely.

"Sorry, heh, it just seems like I'm made to play the role of the bad guy whenever somepony needs a challenge to rise to. Nothing like a little competition to bring out a pony's full potential, eh, Rainbow Dash?...And nothing like a game where nopony can lose to keep ponies from improving themselves."

I thought of all the effortless victories I'd had in this place, no real challenge, just empty ego stroking.

"Rainbow Dash what is going on?" Spike asked.

"I think we missed half the story." Pinkie added.

"I think we all agreed we didn't have time for story storytime," AJ reminded us.

"Oh yeah, we gotta wake up Fluttershy next!" Pinkie Pie said.

"That may not be your best move," Twilight said.

"I know," I said.

"Why? OH! They'll have realized what's up and set up a trap with Fluttershy as bait! Those big meanies!" Pinkie Pie declared.

"I'm afraid there is something I do need to apologize for. I don't care if it was necessary or not." Twilight standing up on her rear hooves, putting them v-shape across her stomach and bowed her head. "I'm not lying when I'm your friend, though I know Applejack the least....But I'm afraid Twilight Sparkle was never here, and she isn't standing before you now."

I thought I'd be the only one not to gasp when she said that. AJ didn't flinch either, oh right, eyes of truth. AJ must have known the moment she saw her. Why didn't she say anything? Maybe she'd been waiting for her to say it.

Pinkie Pie and the Nightdrake gasped in shock. I swear I heard their hearts crack a little. Mine and AJ's already had.

"I'm a relative and a dear friend of hers, and I'm here because it's what she'd want. I was sent here to rescue the innocent ponies trapped in this false Ponyville. I came here because you're my friends too." She didn't look ready to defend herself at all.

"Then where is Twilight?!" Spike demanded. Pinkie Pie painted a blue tear on her face.

"I don't know where she is right now, or I'd tell you. Please just know she'd be here to help if she could but...it took so long to find you. It took so long for us just to get inside. And she still loves all of you, and she does apologize for everything she did to you as Nightmare Eclipse and just wanted to make up for it a little."

"I forgive her," Spike said.

"I forgive her too," Pinkie Pie said placing a hoof over her heart. AJ said nothing. "But what about the Twilight who was here before you got here?"

"There was no Twilight here before, it was a puppet, just wood, string, and illusion magic, it was never Twilight," I said.

The others shuddered in pain that wasn't physical.

"Ah'm the one supposed ta give blunt truths remember sugar?"

"So sue me."

"So Rainbow Dash...have you figure out the whole truth yet? Yes, yes, yes?"

"One question, weren't you worried the pin was gonna be swiped and I'd get my memories rewritten again?"

"I actually put a perception filter on the pin so nopony would notice it unless it was pointed out to them, compliments from Time Turner."

Pinkie Pie and Spike blinked. "What pin? Oh, that one."

"For starters, there's no way in Tartarus you're behind this. You've done nothing but keep me on the right track this entire time. No jailer is that crazy, and you don't watch somepony squirm by helping them every step of the way."

"And?"

"And I know whose behind this. Not Heaven, Hell, Nothingness, Limbo, or Purgatory? But something I built myself? The moment I recovered my memories, I knew there could be only one answer. It's-"

"Rainbow Dash!" Our favorite yellow pegasus shouted as she fluttered onto the top of the house tree. "Applejack! Pinkie Pie! Oh! And Spike! It's been forever since I've seen you! How have you been? I hope you've been getting enough rest!"

Pinkie Pie waved her hooves. "Fluttershy, don't be scared. We're still us! And I don't mean evil or brainwashed us'! Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!"

"Don't worry, Pinkie Pie, I know it's you, even if your bodies are twisted by black magic I know it's still you inside." She smiled, not cowering in fear of us, only showing love.

"Okay," Pinkie Pie smiled back, "Spike could you do the honors? I'm really really REALLY sorry about this Fluttershy but Dashie said we need all the help we can get to save everypony from these big meanies who have everypony under mind control! I mean, how cliche can you get right?"

"I'm not scared. Let's touch minds. If it means protecting my friends from hurt, being a Nightmare can't be that bad."

Applejack looked at me. Twilight stayed perfectly silent and still.

I sighed. It was time to end this performance. Part of me wanted it to go on a little longer, but the rest of me was just tired of this.

"Don't bother, please, guys." I sighed again. "I know who did this to us. But I wasn't sure how to confess it. I didn't want to believe it. After everything. I didn't want it to be true. I really didn't....Guys I'm sorry. Since this was my place, I should have known."

Eyes turned towards me.

"Dashie what are you saying?" Pinkie Pie's lip trembled.

I think I also didn't want to hurt you more than you'd already been Pinkie, in case I was wrong. But I wasn't."

I looked down at myself in one of the library's windows. "I knew even before I got my memories back that it had to be one of us." Fluttershy, Pinkie and Spike gasp, AJ and Twilight look down sadly.

I continued. "Only a Nightmare would have done this 'erase memories, trap them in their own world like pets 'for their own good.' I wanted to tell myself it had to be a DIFFERENT Nightmare, maybe a delusional friend, but what friends did we have left?"

Twilight put a hoof over her heart.

I listed off,
"This is all one big lie: it's something Applejack, Nightmare Mirror, would have never done.

"Everything is too focused on me to be Spike since if it was him, it would be a perfect place where everypony had everything they wanted, or at least a paradise for Rarity and Sweetie Belle.

"This place is missing WAY TOO MANY details to ever be run by Twilight Sparkle.

"The adventures we've had just aren't imaginative enough to be Pinkie Pie, and the puppets wouldn't be following such shallow and predictable routines. No show of Pinkie Pie's is PREDICTABLE!"

"It would have Minty too," Pinkie Pie said.

"And Pinkie Pie, wouldn't have fought so hard to STOP me from attacking Bright Night, since everything here has been about me doing whatever I want and it always being right."

"You attacked Bright Night?!" Spike asked stunned.

"I thought she was a pod pony!"

"Was she?"

"No!"

"Oh. Is she-"

"She's fine Spike."

"Good."

"Fluttershy, this was my pocket domain. Who else had the keys?...But then it really hit me. The pony who hates me more than anypony, is me! There's no bucking way I'd create a fantasy world I'm always the hero and everything is great because of me! I built this place to have everypony get along fine and great WITHOUT ME! I was the most insignificant pony in the background alive when I rested in here!"

"You shouldn't do that to yourself, Rainbow Dash," Fluttershy said.

"It's never stopped you Fluttershy. I recognized the magic signature of the drinking geass on Applejack. And there was only one other pony I gave the keys to my room to! AND! I was at your house when we were having tea and I didn't find anything wrong with it. I. Don't. Like. Tea!"

It clicks in everypony's mind present and they all look at Fluttershy, who takes a trot back.

"Yer still 'kidnappin' Philomena,' Fluttershy, please just stop," Mirror said.

"Discord must be doing this to us!"

"Somethin' THIS orderly ain't his style, sorry sugah," AJ said.

"This is just our version of paradise! We must have all died!"

"We wouldn't be in heaven," I said.

"Fluttercruel!"

"This isn't her idea of love, or revenge," the Nightdrake said.

"The Doctor!"

"He wouldn't have done this half-flank a job," I said. I'd captured his TARDIS with my chains enough times.

We all closed in around her.

"Please! We're all happy here! Let me reset your memories and everything can be okay again!" She begged us.

"No!" We all threw back.

Fluttershy's eyes became draconic, and the all-mighty stare was struck down upon us. Be they dragon, changeling, Discord is the only entity I've EVER seen outright immune to Fluttershy's power.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you hurt yourselves."

We were all bad bad fillies. We should be doing what Mama Fluttershy wants. Bad fillies. Bad. Listen to your mother. You-

The Cruelest of Truth resisted the Kindest of Lies just enough to fling a reflective wing in front of herself.

Fluttershy gasps in surprise, not in shock or pain, then Fluttershy turns to fog before our eyes and dissolves.

"Fluttershy?" Pinkie Pie whispered horrified.

"It was one of her constructs! She must have been in the driver's seat this whole time!" Mirror shouted. "Since it wasn't her real body, it couldn't handle the stare being thrown back at it."

"So that wouldn't work on the real Fluttershy?"

"Slow her down, cut her off, but it wouldn't stop her," I said.

"Should've known it would be that easy," Twilight sighed.

"Don't you have 'turn ponies' spines to goo' vision too?" Spike asked.

"...In straight-up eye-to-eye, hers trumps mine."

"...Ah can't beat her with mine. We're meant to TEMPER each other. But when one of us...well, carries so much guilt on her shoulders she figures she deserves Hell and the other is...well, Fluttershy, the Stare has the upperhoof."

"TERRIFIC!" The Nightdrake roared in frustration. This reminded him of an O&O game where he took the sword from fallen ogre and it 'mysterious broke' when he tried to use it himself.

"FLUTTERSHY! LISTEN TO AUNTIE PINKIE PIE! NIGHTMARE TWILIGHT IS GONE! THE ELEMENTS WOULD HAVE MADE HER GOOD AGAIN! LET'S JUST STOP ALL THIS! THEN WE CAN START HELPING PONIES!" Pinkie Pie yelled into a giant megaphone, making several real ponies in the streets below cover their poor ears. "I'LL MAKE CAKE!"

"If she's gone to this much trouble, sugarcube, then a few words like that isn't going to change her mind. When a ponies' beliefs are challenge, they become even more zealous, not less, that goes double for Nightmares."

"We're All Still Here" alternate 1, Louis' Raw Edits

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"I crown ye once again, the Great and Powerful Nightmare Manacle!"



She placed the crown on my head.



I felt the seals on my power and my body shatters. My transformation happened in an explosion of rainbow-colored lightning. The storm vanished like a switch was flipped.



I stretched my wings, and let my horn glow as my first act as a Nightmare again was to take a bite out of one of Applejack's apples. Then I looked at myself over in a reflective puddle.



My cutie mark inverted. Horn and wings. The strength of an earth pony within. Thousands of thousands of years of life giving me the figure of an adult Alicorn. My coated darkened a shade, but that was par the course. Slitted rose-red dragon eyes looked back at me. So much for white eyed blind loyalty. My mane's colors were inverted like a photo negative, just like my cutie mark, it shimmered ghostly a bit like it was made of light.



My black plates of barding held together by chains in place again covered my body with an old pegasi warrior off the style of something Commander Hurricane would wear if she was into a fashion statement.



"Back to the fire,” I tell myself, softly but with brooding, lonely drama. “Back to brimstone. Back to the dark pits where you belong, Nightmare Manacle. And may you never again mock the innumerable graveyards you’ve filled... by aspiring to heroism ever again.”



I didn't need to search for my friends. Even sealed away, we were connected by the Elements, and could sense each other’s power.



Let do this.



I flew into AJ's house, I could have teleported or used the door, but I felt like smashing some walls.



AJ looked up at me, bug-eyed from her couch. "RAINBOW?! THAT YOU?!" Her hoof instantly reached for a cider bottle that wasn't there a moment before. I shattered it with my telekinesis. Before AJ could get another word in edgewise, I pull her up with my magic, and placed my horn against her forehead and cast the memory spell. "Mirror, I know you’ll appreciate my honesty when I tell you this is really gonna hurt."



The seals on her broke like cheap glass. The drinking geass placed on her that kept her from using her truth vision dissolved.



What looked like glass crystallized around her, making a reflective silver shell like she was a statue. It shattered open a second later as silver shining light shockwaved in the room, knocking things off their selves and flipping tables and couches upside down and blowing out windows.



Mirror's coat was darker, her cutie mark now green apples with red leafs. Her body type now that of an Alicorn, the oldest of us now. Green dragon eyes stared back at me, that pierced me to my soul, but I was done looking away. Her barding was smooth sleek bright reflective silver with emeralds set in shaped to look like eyes that also armored her wings completely, or maybe her feathers of her wings were silver, the truth was hard to tell. Her mane reminded me of an autumn sky at sunset.



"Ya just had ta wake me up, didn't ya?" She said curtly. Same old Nightmare Mirror.



"Yes, I did,” I tell her curtly. “Vacation’s over, Mirror.”



"We gettin’ the others?” she asks.



“Of course,” I tell her.



“Good. Ah’m glad. Ah can't stand livin’ this disgustin' lie no more. This desperate fantasyland paradise.



Fair enough. I think to myself, bitterly. Want to know what I can’t stand? Besides myself? You. ALL of you. You’ve seen it for yourself, Mirror, you’ve LIVED it for yourself: in my ‘desperate fantasyland’, none of you Nightmares EVEN EXIST.



So naturally, my next step was to finish reuniting with all the rest of my fellow eldritch abominations. Paradise was no place for monsters such as us.



"RACE YA!" I zoomed out the other side of the house.



"HEY, NO FAIR!"



Ahhhh, high-speed racing. At least THAT still took the edge off.



"So do you hate me for waking you up?" I asked. That slowpoke, Mirror, was having trouble keeping apace with me, and I allowed myself a tiny touch of satisfaction.



"It's the truth. Deal. Mah motto, remember?”



I grinned. Oh yes, I remembered. And I could ‘deal’ with her hating me, no problem. Mirror wasn’t the type of pony one wanted prolonged contact with, anyway.



“Nightmare Eclipse was so delusional that every time Ah told'er to her face she was evil and doin' evil she brushed me off!...Stubborn thing."



"Oh right, you were with her the longest, weren’t you?"



"By the time of that last battle, Manny? Ah HATED what were doing even more than ya!”



“Didn’t stop you, though,” I pointed out, dodging a tree.



“Ah had nowhere else to go. And figured the Golden World was the only way left to make any of it mean anythin'. Oh. And Ah was plannin' ta drag all of us to Pony Hell after."



"Did you?” I inquired, with surprisingly mild interest.



"Honest Mirror, remember? Ya think we don't deserve it?"



With a light laugh, I gave a shrug that indicated agreement. "Are you STILL planning on dragging us to Hell?" If Mirror said ‘yes,’ I wasn’t sure whether I’d fight her or submit peacefully.



"Ain’t decided yet,” said Mirror. She hesitated before looking back over at me. “Rainbow...”



“My name’s MANACLE, Mirror!” I insisted hotly.



She flinched. “...One thing yah shouldn't be ashamed of? Yah got closer ta beatin' Nightmare Eclipse than Ah did, and ya weren't a Nightmare yet…"



Was that a rueful look Mirror was giving me? Was she trying to be uplifting? Consolation and compassion from Nightmare Mirror was always so awkward... a creature like her, with the soul of an icy bludgeon, wasn’t really meant for such things. She meant well enough, but I wasn’t really in the mood. Dwelling on what a better pony I’d been in my pre-Nightmare days, (Traitor Dash, included,) wouldn’t do me any good. It’s what got me into this current mess in the first place.



And besides... Nightmare Eclipse...



Nightmare Eclipse...

Twilight Tragedy...

That insufferable doppelgänger with all her riddles...

Even the original Twilight Sparkle herself...



I still loved Twilight so very deeply. As much as I ever had. But a new and colder emotion was beginning to burgeon alongside that love.



"What about you?” I asked Mirror, with a teasing smirk. “Upset the AJ that beat her was an Element of Fantasy?"



"Ah'd be upset if a LIARjack had done it,” she countered, with a wry smile. “It's the corrupt version of that Element Ah take issue with...Ah'm proud that meh managed tah save Apple Pie in a way Ah couldn't."



"That's pretty mature of you," I complimented.



"No, it's pretty honest of meh."



We were approaching Sugarcube Corner. I wanted to crash straight through it, rhino-style, but Applejack didn't want anypony hurt, and teleported us inside instead.



Sweetie Belle wasn't here. But Apple Bloom was along with most of the foals, and Cheerilee too.



Cheerilee's jaw hang out at the sight of us, and like any loyal teacher should, put herself between us and the foals. No surprise, of course.



Boo! We’re monsters.



I spotted Pinkie Pie sitting next to Bright Night.



"APPLEJACK!? IS THAT YOU!?" Apple Bloom gasped.



"Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom," Mirror said. "But Ah ain't yer Applejack, and this ain't yer Ponyville."



"W-what?" The poor filly asked completely lost.



"OH! Is it Nightmare Night already?" Pinkie Pie asked. "Oh wait! This is what you were telling me about Bright Night?"



"Yes Pinkie Pie, it is."



I frowned curiously at Pinkie Pie, but she was already explaining. "Bright Night says I forgot an important promise. But I didn't think you'd come back to the party as scary Alicorns with AJ, so are you going to apologize to Bright Night? Or are we gonna have round two?"



I looked at the pink pegasus filly. I sighed. "I'm sorry, Bright Night."



"Apology accepted." she bowed humbled.



"Apology for what?" Apple Bloom asked.



"It's not important anymore, Apple Bloom," Bright Night said.



...She was in on this. Little Bright Night was definitely IN on this.



Cheerilee was looking left to right trying to figure out what was going on, looking on the verge of a breakdown. "Bright Night! Get away from them!"



I cast a spell that stole Cheerilee’s voice. It would wear off completely in one hour.



"Pinkie,” asked Mirror, “can ya please stand still fer a moment?"



"Are ya gonna turn me to stone, a brainwashed zombie, a freaky apple-pony hybrid, or revert me to a former life?" Pinkie asked.



"Yes on the last one."



"Okay! Should be fun."



"Prepare tah be disappointed, sugarcube,” Mirror spoke with her usual degree of irrepressible good cheer. “It ain't a lie that Ah wish Ah was wakin' yah up tah a better sight,"



AJ touched Pinkie Pie's head with her horn and cast the memory spell. Pinkie Pie did what looked like a lifetime of Pinkie Sense twitches in under a minute.



Then she stood perfect at attention. She then got down on all fours and shook her head. "Geeze, you weren't kidding about being disappointed. I was hoping to for generation three me. Or Surprise. Or a My Little Horsey toy prototype from Hasbro, that would be new."



"Remember? Ya Pinkie Promised, Granfalloon," Mirror said.



"Yeah I did. Oh well. Apple Bloom, Bright Night, everypony, sorry but the party is over for now. Thanks for coming."



She then stood up, and pulled on the back of her body where there was now a zipper, and upside herself like she was a costume. Out came a darker shade of pink Alicorn, with the colors of her balloon cutie mark inverted. Her eyes were blue and like a dragon's. Her wings and horn looked like crayon drawings. Unlike us who wore barding, she was wearing a party dress with candy shaped jewelry (or jewelry shaped candy knowing Pinkie Pie). She wasn't wearing her clown make up. Her mane looked almost like a foal's rendition who had forgotten to color in the lines.



She neatly folded up her, ugh, 'Pinkie Pie costume.'



Cheerilee looked in dismay and horror, probably wishing she could scream.



"Don't worry, Cheerilee...I'm most ME ME ME instead! I think! Maybe maybe maybe....Dang. Being, more sane really stinks."



Nightmare Granfalloon, the Eternal Laughter, didn’t look like laughing! Out of all of us, Granfalloon had been crazy in a way that made Eclipse run for her money. She looked at Applejack.



"Jackie...I...I thought it was all just a game, I didn't mean to laugh AT all those ponies... or to end their... I didn't...I wouldn't...I didn't think anypony was really... I thought everything..."



“...Was just fun, games, and giggles.” I finished evenly. To be fair, she’d left a lot of them grinning. At least in skull-form, sixty percent of the time. Not that the rest of us hadn’t helped.



She whimpered. "Am I a bad pony?"



"...You WERE a bad pony...” Mirror told Granfalloon. “We all were ...Now?...The honest truth is it's up tah you…"



The hackles rose on my back, crackling with thick flame and eldritch darkness. Uggggghhhh. SPARE me, Guru Mirror! The sooner the band was all back together, and we’d all returned back home, the sooner I could break away from my fellow monsters and shut myself away for a few precious, precious hours of total isolation. If the universe was willing to be so accommodating. Probably wouldn’t.



Granfalloon flashed me an uneasy look, but said nothing. Mirror regarded me dolefully. Cheerilee looked ready to soil herself, as Granfalloon pulled out in a mirror and put on some buffalo tribe war paint.



"Where's Rarity and Sweetie Belle?" I asked, lifting Cheerilee’s silence spell.



"If you think I'm going to tell you anything-" Cheerilee gasped.



"I suggested to her that she should leave the party early when I got back, considering everything that happened yesterday, and that was a good idea to spend as much time with her big sister today as she could. Since there was no telling when they'd meet again,” said Bright Night, smiling at her teacher. "It's okay Miss Cheerilee. These aren't the enemy."



Baring my teeth at the filly, I set the seat of Cheerilee’s chair violently on fire; the flames rose in a hot, high column that almost touched the bakery’s ceiling.



“Well... uh... TWO of ‘em definitely aren’t,” Bright Night amended fearfully. Then, while Granfalloon brought out an extinguisher, she warned, “You’ll want to be careful, though! You’ll want to get a quick move-on! The ones who set this stage are ever-watchful!"



“Ladies!” I barked, turning on Bright Night and Cheerilee. “Let’s get moving.”



But I sensed Granfalloon dithering. “Do we REALLY need to wake up Rarity too? Can't we just leave her be and let her be happy?"



I turned around and gave the Eternal Laughter a rather mean-spirited smile. “Ha ha ha! Hilarious as ever, Granfalloon, that’s what we all love about you! Here, I got a real rib-cracker of my own! Stop me if you’ve heard this already: Couldn’t the universe have just left ME be? Let ME be happy?!



The room went quiet as a tomb. Even Mr. and Mrs. Cake halted in their oblivious baking to look at me.



“Then what makes you think I’d EVER let any OTHER Nightmare enjoy the privilege, instead?!” I hissed.



"Pinkie,” said Mirror, in a much more rational-sounding voice. “Whatever put us here brainwashed Nightmares and took over this place. We'll need all the power we can get.”


00000

"So Spike, uh, what was it like being Rarity? Really?" Pinkie poked.


"Like a dream. Only now I've woken up to the Nightmare. Rarity's gone. And I let Eclipse do it."



Mirror spoke. "You didn't 'let' Eclipse do anything to your Rarity. Rarity made her choice, she was hoping her death would snap yah back to reality."



"I know that, now. But it doesn't change the fact that I... wanted to make Rarity into Nightmare Charity. Every one of them. I ignored that I was stealing these Rarities from other Spikes, and just assisted Twilight in destroying the world, over and over," the Nightdrake said in pain.



"Yer absolutely right," Mirror said evenly. When Granfalloon shot Mirror a dirty look, she didn't even flinch.



"...And every time we murdered her...it wasn't a fake...she was real..."



"Yep.” Cemeteries WISHED they could be as somber as Nightmare Mirror. "Apple Pie was real, Rarity was real, the Spikes were real, the Twilights were real. Them being fake was just the lie Eclipse used to live with herself.”



“She’s the real root of it all,” I spoke without really thinking. “Every wrong thing about us is really because of Twilight Sparkle.”



Mirror turned her accuracy-obsessed gaze on me. “Now, Manacle, ya know that ain’t...”



“Later, Mirror,” I swore. “We WILL discuss this later when...”



But it seemed ‘later’ just might be right now. We spotted ‘Twilight Sparkle’ atop the library’s roof, waving at us, a book still under one hoof. She wasn't scared, confused, or intimidated by us at all.



We landed without a word around her, Spike landed on the ground and leaned his neck down.



"Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Spike, and you to, Applejack. It's good to see you." She smiled wistfully. "I only wish I had a way I could have helped you myself. Thank you, Rainbow Dash and..."



“Nightmare Manacle,” I corrected the purple unicorn. “We are Nightmare Manacle, Nightmare Granfalloon, Nightmare Banneret, and Nightmare Mirror.”



“...I don’t mind being called Pinkie Pie at all,” Granfalloon said softly, briefly transforming herself into her old mortal form.



“Yeah! I’m still cool with ‘Spike,’” said Banneret. Looking over at Mirror, I could see she was in much the same mind, as well.



“Suit yourselves,” I told my cohorts, turning back to the purple unicorn. “As for myself, though, I am Nightmare Manacle and ONLY Nightmare Manacle. At your service.”



The Twilight impostor grimaced slightly, (as did many of my friends,) but she recovered herself, bowing her head respectfully. “Er, yes. I'm sorry for baiting you so much. I had to play the part of somepony you wanted to prove wrong so it would override your desire to stay in your escape, and to wake you up to the clues you were being made not to notice.”



“You did what you had to do.” This wasn’t even any sort of veiled scorn against her. It WAS something that had to be done. I could respect her for at least that.



But the impostor still looked sheepish, saying, “I'm sorry for acting the way I did. I didn't like it."



"Stop apologizing so much,” I told her. “I hated every ‘sorry’ of yours, back when you were refusing to give me any straight answers. And they still set my teeth on edge now. ‘Sorry’ is one of the most pointless words ever made. Shall I tell you all the things that I’M sorry for? For all the fat lot of good it’ll do me and all the ones I’m sorry towards?!”



".S...sorry, heh,” and she bowed lower. “It just seems like I'm made to play the role of the bad guy whenever somepony needs opposition to rise to the challenge. Nothing like a little competition to bring out a pony's full potential, eh, Rainbow Dash?”



This time I struck; sending her crashing straight through the roof of Golden Oaks Library straight to its basement like a purple comic book meteor. Not going to lie: it felt GOOD. Over my companions’ alarmed cries, I raised the Twilight impostor back up to the roof with my telekinesis. Her face was one big beautiful blackened bruise.



“Let’s get one thing clear, please,” I said, pulling a punctured encyclopedia off the impostor’s horn. “Rainbow Dash was a pony who wanted to bury her bad past. Live like her bad old ‘Nightmare’ self never existed. Spend the rest of her days being a noble hero. Then you came. You, with all your smarmy little digs, all your ‘without their cheers, you're empty,’ and your ’they’re just cardboard cutouts to you, you sure DECONSTRUCTED the good pony she was trying to be, didn’t you? The good pony she wished so BADLY she could really be, through all the dark centuries and parallel universes she lived and relived as Traitor Dash AND Nightmare Manacle.”



“Rain... Manacle, put her down,” Nightmare Banneret growled, smoke wafting from his nostrils as he took a warning step forward.



“Not ‘til I’m done talking!” I bellowed, throwing up a light force field around myself and the fake Twilight Sparkle.



“I...”



“Those things you said,” I continued, “You ruined it. You threw acid on Dash’s most noblest dream. Soured it to the point where she turned against her own paradise. Goaded her into digging up the bones of her bad old self, and remember ALL her sins...”



The impostor’s bruise was healing at a supernatural rate. Her eyes stared at me widely.



“...Not that you were wrong to do it,” I continued, in a calmer voice. “For 50 kajillion Scootaloos? I’d’ve done it all too. And after all the genocide, heck, galaxy-cide, I’ve committed, I certainly don’t deserve to be treated with kid’s gloves, do I? All the same, though, let me ask this, lady: when a girl’s pride in herself is pulverized straight into baking soda, when you see fit to deconstruct heroism, itself, what’s left? What else is left?”



“I’m so...” The impostor bit down on her ‘sorry.’



After a long and heavy sigh, I released my telekinesis, setting her down gently on her hooves. “The sad thing is... you could’ve HAD ‘Rainbow Dash.’ She’d’ve been GLAD to help you with... anything. But no one wants Dash the Hero, do they? Not Discord. Not Nightmare Eclipse. And not you either. You all want me to be a monster. So here I am. Nightmare Manacle, at your service.”



I made my force field vanish.



“Don’t ever treat those two names like interchangeable synonyms again, got me?”



The Twilight Sparkle impostor nodded, shuddering with silent tears. I put on a politer smile.



“Now... let’s not let any of that stand in the way of us being civil. Would you care for some tea?” I asked, conjuring up a full tea tray.



Banneret went over nuzzled the shaken purple unicorn with his huge head. Tea splashed out of her cup as she stirred it with trembling telekinesis. I drank some tea myself.



“Now, please tell us, what was it you called us out here for?”



“F-Fluttersh-shy,” the purple unicorn stammered. “Y-you’re trying t-to get her, but t--they set up a trap...”



“A trap?” piped up Granfaloloon. “Those big meanies!"



"There, there, Twilight,” Banneret said gently, “It’s gonna be okay, sshhhh....”



“I-I’m n-n-not Twilight,” she hiccuped. “Twi-i-ilight was n-n-ever here...”



I thought I'd be the only one not to gasp when she said that. Mirror didn't flinch either, oh right, eyes of truth. Mirror must have known the moment she saw her. Why didn't she say anything? Maybe she'd been waiting for her to say it. But Granfalloon and the Nightdrake gasped in shock. I swear I heard their hearts crack a little. Mine and Mirror's already had.



We waited, but the mare did nothing to ‘unmask’ herself. Her form just stayed that of Twilight, struggling to get ahold of herself.



“Who are you?” asked Granfalloon, pulling out a big magician’s stream of rainbow hankies for her to blow her nose.



"I'm a r-relative and a dear friend of Twilight’s.” Her emotions were starting to settle back down. “And I'm here because it's what she'd want. I was sent here to rescue the innocent ponies trapped in this false Ponyville. I came here because you're my friends too."



She bowed her head. "I'm not lying when I say I'm your friend, though I know Applejack the least....”



"Then where is Twilight?!" demanded Banneret. Granfalloon painted a blue tear on her face.



"I don't where she is right now, or I'd tell you.” The impostor looking up pleadingly at my disbelieving scoff . “P-please believe me! Please, please, please! She'd be here to help if she could but...it took so long to find you. It took so for us just to get inside. And she still loves all of you, and she does apologize for everything she did to you as Nightmare Eclipse and just wanted to make up for it a little."



“Did she?” I smiled up at the clouds, as though Twilight, herself, was watching me from up there. “Nightmarish transformations and devious duplicity... we’re off to a rollicking good start, aren’t we? Just like old times, eh, Twilight...?”



“I forgive her,” Banneret said at once. “She kept trying to turn Rarity into a monster and I didn't even try to stop her."



"I forgive her too," Granfalloon said, placing a hoof over her heart. Mirror said nothing. "But what about the Twilight who was here before you... took over?"



"There was no Twilight here before,” said the impostor. “Nothing but a puppet, just wood, string, and illusion magic.”



The others shuddered in pain that wasn't physical. Then the impostor looked over at me. “So, Rainbow Dash...have you figure out the whole truth yet?”



“By which you mean: have I figured out who’s the puppetmaster in all this? The one pulling the strings?”



The impostor nodded. “Yes, yes, yes?"



My head bent down, then back up. "Yeah. I figured it out. It’s not Heaven, Hell, Nothingness, Limbo, or Purgatory...”



“Duh!” interrupted Granfalloon. “It’s you, yourself, D---Manacle!”



Bzzt! Granfalloon glared over at Mirror and the big negatory game show buzzer she’d hit. “Hey! That’s MY schtick, AJ!”



Avoiding Granfalloon’s eyes, Nightmare Mirror whistled innocently with a mischievous smile. Downright surreal.



“Mirror’s right, through: this Ponyville isn’t something I made. The moment I recovered my memories, I knew there could be only one logical culprit. It's-"



"Rainbow Dash!" Our favorite yellow pegasus shouted as she fluttered onto the top of the house tree. "Applejack! Pinkie Pie! Oh! And Spike! It's been forever since I've seen you! How have you been? I hope you've been getting enough rest!"


0000

"Don't bother please, guys." I sighed again. "I know who did this to us. But I wasn't sure how to confess it. I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want it to be true. I really didn't....Guys, I'm sorry."



Eyes turned towards me.



"Manny, what are you saying?" Granfalloon's lip trembled.



Feeling like a detective from a mystery novel, I looked down at my reflection in one of the library's windows. "I knew even before I got my memories back that the culprit had to be one of us. Only a Nightmare would have pulled this 'erase memories, trap them in their own world 'for their own good.'



I wanted to tell myself it had to be some DIFFERENT Nightmare... maybe a delusional friend, but what friends do we have left?"



The Not-Twilight impostor put a hoof over her heart and hung her head.



I listed off my logical deductions.



"This is all one big lie: Nightmare Mirror might’ve been goaded into participating in it, but she’d NEVER have masterminded it.



"Everything is too ‘Rainbow Dash’-centered for it to be Nightmare Banneret. Perhaps if it were Rarity or Twilight Sparkle, or Spike in the limelight... but since it’s not...



Banneret shrugged his agreement.



"This place is missing WAY TOO MANY details to ever be run by Twilight Sparkle.” Everyone nodded.



"The adventures we've had just aren't imaginative enough to be Granfalloon, and the puppets wouldn't be following such shallow and predictable routines. No show of hers is ever PREDICTABLE!"



"Plus, I’d’ve thrown in a lot more in-jokes, and made everypony way more prone to lighthearted one-liners and partying,” added Granfalloon. “And I’d have brought back Minty.”

00000



"This was my pocket domain, of course, so I’m a prime suspect,” I pointed out. “In my Traitor Dash days, there was nothing I wanted more than to turn back the clock and return to Ponyville, as it had been during that brief, glorious year between us beating Nightmare Moon and Discord. Discord was always forcing me to be a murdering, backstabbing villain, why? Because even in my deepest despair I never stopped wanting to be a hero. I never stopped wanting to do good. To help ponies and protect them. How badly I wanted to strong enough to stand up to all the bad guys! To have it so things were great BECAUSE of me for a change!”

“All I really wanted was Rarity. At least to be there for her.” sighed the dragon who’d turned himself into a Nightmare for Rarity’s sake. “Part of me likes to think that if Discord had never entered the picture and... and tinkered with my personality, I might’ve been able to grow out of that puppy crush, eventually, and find a new girl. But that’s neither here nor there. My heart’s stuck on Rarity forever and Rarity will never accept me as I am. Ain’t it funny?”

The interruption had taken me by surprise. Nightmare Banneret turned towards me. “What I’m trying to say is: it’s not just you.” And he patted my head.

“Y-yeah,” I said, swallowing and trying to regain my rhetorical momentum. “But then I recognized the magic signature of the drinking geass on Applejack. And there was only one other pony I gave the keys to my room to! AND! I was at your house we were having tea and I didn't find anything wrong with it. I. Don't. Like. Tea!"

Everyone followed my line-of-sight to Fluttershy, who took a trot back.

"Yer still ‘kidnappin' Philomena,’ Fluttershy. Please just stop," Mirror told her; we all understood the metaphor at once.

"Discord must be doing this to us!"

"Somethin' THIS orderly ain't his style, sorry, sugah," Mirror said.

"This is just our version of paradise! We must have all died!"

"We wouldn't be in heaven," I sighed.

"Fluttercruel!"

"This isn't her idea of love, or revenge," the Nightdrake said.

"The Doctor!"

"He wouldn't have done this half-flank a job," I said. “I'd captured his TARDIS with my chains enough times. Please... you’re just grasping at straws now.”

We all closed in around her.

"Please! We're all happy here! Let me reset your memories and everything can be okay again!" She begged us.

"No!" We all retorted.

Fluttershy's eyes became draconic, and the all-mighty Stare was deployed upon us. Be they dragon, changeling, Discord is the only entity I've EVER seen outright immune to Fluttershy's power.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you hurt yourselves."

We were all bad, bad fillies. We should be doing what Mama Fluttershy wants. Bad fillies. Bad. Listen to your mother. You...

The Cruelest of Truth resisted the Kindest of Lies just enough to fling a reflective wing in front of herself.

Fluttershy gasped in surprise, not in shock or pain, before turning to fog and dissolving.

"Fluttershy?" Granfalloon whispered, horrified.

"It was one of her constructs! She must have been in the driver's seat this whole time!" Mirror shouted. "Since it wasn't her real body, it couldn't handle the stare being thrown back at it."

"So that wouldn't work on the real Fluttershy?"

"Slow her down, cut her off, but it wouldn't stop her," I said.

"Should've known it would be that easy," Not-Twilight sighed.

"Don't you have 'turn ponies' spines to goo' vision too?" Banneret asked.

"...In straight-up eye-to-eye, hers trumps mine."

"...Ah can't beat her with mine. We're meant to TEMPER each other. But when one of us has got...well, a galaxy’s worth of guilt on her shoulders and the other is...well, Fluttershy, the Stare has the upper hoof."

"TERRIFIC!" The Nightdrake roared in frustration. I was reminded of an O&O game, a couple timelines ago, where Banneret took the sword from fallen ogre and it 'mysteriously broke' when his paladin tried to swing it himself.

"FLUTTERSHY! LISTEN TO AUNTIE PINKIE PIE! NIGHTMARE TWILIGHT IS GONE! THE ELEMENTS WOULD HAVE MADE HER GOOD AGAIN! LET'S JUST STOP ALL THIS! THEN WE CAN START HELPING PONIES!" Granfalloon yelled into a giant megaphone, making several real ponies in the streets below cover their poor ears. "I'LL MAKE CAKE!"

"If she's gone to this much trouble, sugarcube, you wouldn’t be able to change her mind with a triple fudge cheesecake the size of an Ursa Major. When a ponies' beliefs are challenged, they become even more zealous, not less, that goes quadruple for Nightmares."

"We're All Still Here" alternate 2, Revised Edits

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"I crown ye once again, the Great and Powerful Nightmare Manacle!"

She placed the crown on my head. Equestria already has a Rainbow Dash.

I felt the seals on my power and my body shatters. My transformation happened in an explosion of rainbow-colored lightning. The storm vanished like a switch was flipped.

I stretched my wings, and let my horn glow as my first act as a Nightmare again was to take a bite out of one of Applejack's apples. Then I looked at myself over in a reflective puddle.

My cutie mark inverted. Horn and wings. The strength of an earth pony within. Thousands of thousands of years of life giving me the figure of an adult Alicorn. My coat had darkened a shade, but that was par the course. Slitted rose-red dragon eyes looked back at me. So much for white eyed blind loyalty. My mane's colors were inverted like a photo negative, just like my cutie mark, it shimmered ghostly a bit like it was made of light.

My black plates of barding held together by chains in place again covered my body with an old pegasi warrior off the style of something Commander Hurricane would wear if she was into a fashion statement.


"Alright, Nightmare Manacle...one last adventure. Then you can owe up to everything you've done."

"Back to the dark," I tell myself, softly but with brooding, lonely drama. "One last adventure. Then you can owe up to everything you've done and off to the dark pits where you belong, Nightmare Manacle. And may you never again mock the innumerable graveyards you've filled."

I didn't need to search for my friends. Even sealed away, we were connected by the Elements, and could sense each other's power.

Let's do this.

I flew into AJ's house, I could have teleported or used the door, but I felt like smashing some walls.

AJ looked up at me, bug-eyed from her couch. "RAINBOW?! THAT YOU?!" Her hoof instantly reached for a cider bottle that wasn't there a moment before. I shattered it with my telekinesis. Before AJ could get another word in edgewise, I pull her up with my magic, and placed my horn against her forehead and cast the memory spell. "Mirror, I know you'll appreciate my honesty when I tell you this is really gonna hurt."

The seals on her broke like cheap glass. The drinking geass placed on her that kept her from using her truth vision dissolved.

What looked like glass crystallized around her, making a reflective silver shell like she was a statue. It shattered open a second later as silver shining light shockwaved in the room, knocking things off their selves and flipping tables and couches upside down and blowing out windows.

Her's coat was darker, her cutie mark now green apples with red leafs. Her body type now that of an Alicorn, the oldest of us now. Green dragon eyes stared back at me, that pierced me to my soul, but I was done looking away. Her barding was smooth sleek bright reflective silver with emeralds set in shaped to look like eyes that also armored her wings completely, or maybe her feathers of her wings were silver, the truth was hard to tell. Her mane reminded me of an autumn sky at sunset.

"Ya just had ta wake me up, didn't ya?" She said curtly. Same old Nightmare Mirror.

"Yes, I did," I tell her curtly. "Vacation's over, Mirror."

"You hurt any of Bloomberg's family transformin'?"

"I promise I didn't."

"We gettin' the others?" she asks.

"Of course," I tell her.

"Good. Ah'm glad. Ah can't stand livin' this disgustin' lie we've trapped innocent ponies in."

Fair enough. I think to myself, bitterly. Want to know what I can't stand? Besides myself? This lot of monsters we let Eclipse turn us into, including you. We've bucking BETRAYED everything we fought for. Why do you think none of us are Nightmares here?

So naturally, my next step was to finish reuniting with all the rest of my fellow eldritch abominations. Paradise was no place for monsters such as us.

"Rainbow Dash-"

"My name is Nightmare Manacle."

"If ya SAY that's your name, then that's yer name. Now Rainbow Dash, now that you don't have Eclipse's spikes in yer brain no more, Ah've got somethin' ta tell ya."

"What?"

Mirror grabbed my face by her hooves and looked me in the eyes. "Yer no coward RD, ya've NEVER been. And that is the truth of Nightmare Mirror."

"WHAT? Are you BLIND? The horseapples Discord made me do, the horseapples we HELPED Eclipse do?"

"What ya acted like was Discord's SICKNESS, get that through yer thick head! Eclipse had to bucking dig out yer Element of Free-Will to make ya the 'friend' she wanted." She wrapped her wings around me and gave me a nuzzle. "Stop hurtin' yerself Rainbow, it doesn't . . . it doesn't do anypony any good."

My eyes bulged as I broke the hug pushing her back with my telekensis. "Since when do YOU, show niceness, Miss Cruelest of Truths?"

"Truth can be warm too RD. That's the truth also. I tell all truths."

"So that's it, poof, all my sins forgiven? Tra la la? Nothing I did was MY fault? Give me a break!"

"Ah said ya beatin' yerself over it ain't gonna do nopony no good, that it ain't so nice and pretty black and white, and HATIN' those around ya ain't gonna help nopony neither!"

"I didn't say I hated anypony."

"Ah cold see it yer eyes RD, Ah'm truth, Ah know how ta read ponies, . . . and Ah don't blame ya, but haven't we been vomiting ENOUGH hate in the last few millions years? And what did ANY of it solve? Eclipse hated Discord, Ah hated lies, ya hated disloyalty, what GOOD came out of any of that hate?"

I narrowed my eyes, snorted air, lowered my head until my horn was level, and tensed up my wings. "Mirror, I've got only one thing to say to that."

"What?"

"RACE YA!" I zoomed out the other side of the house.

"HEY, NO FAIR!"

Ahhhh, high-speed racing. At least THAT still took the edge off.

"So do you hate me for waking you up?" I asked. That slowpoke, Mirror, was having trouble keeping apace with me, and I allowed myself a tiny touch of satisfaction.

"You woke me up to reality, I'm the one who has to deal with it. It's mah motto, remember?"

"NO way!" I snapped as we still raced. "You don't tell me not to be a sore jerk about thing and then get to be one yourself, forget it! I get it! You were happy! So was I! You're right, we do need to deal with this! But we don't have to deal with this alone!"

I admit, a part of me wanted her to retaliate to that. I guess a part of me wanted us to still be hypocritical Nightmares.

"Heh . . . you are loyalty." Mirror smiled at me. "Nightmare Eclipse was so delusional that every time Ah told'er to her face she was evil and doin' evil she brushed me off!...Stubborn thing."

"Oh right, you were with her the longest, weren't you?"

"By the time of that last battle, Manny? Ah HATED what were doing even more than ya!"

"Didn't stop any of us, though," I pointed out, dodging a tree. Nightmares were hypocrites by nature. I betrayed the world, she supported a lie, Granfalloon made people suffer, Whisper was cruel, Bannerette stole the world from ponies over and over again. And Eclipse? She became the thing she was vengeful about. We were all a bunch of hypocrites.

"Ah had nowhere else to go. And figured the Golden World was the only way left to make any of it mean anythin'. Oh. And Ah was plannin' ta drag all of us to Pony Hell after."

"Did you?" I inquired, with surprisingly mild interest.

"Ya think we don't deserve it?"

With a light laugh, I gave a shrug that indicated agreement. I'd probably have lent her my chains. "Are you STILL planning on dragging us to Hell?" If Mirror said 'yes,' I wasn't sure whether I'd fight her or submit peacefully.

"Are you kiddin'? It's not mah place. Ah'm not judge and jury. Ah never was. That's the truth Ah can see now. Ah'm gonna face the concepts and accept their judgement, not mine. And Ah know ya'll do the same. Though without Eclipse 'round, Ah wonder how long we got before we start fightin' each other."

"Not on your life AJ, and I'll call you that. Ya TRIED to do the right thing after you realized your mistake, that's more than I did. "Rainbow..."

"My name's MANACLE, Mirror!" I insisted hotly.

"Heh." Mirror laughed. "If ya say so." Then she got solemn. "…One thing yah shouldn't be ashamed of? Yah got closer ta beatin' Nightmare Eclipse than Ah did, and ya weren't a Nightmare yet…"

Was that a rueful look Mirror was giving me? Was she trying to be uplifting? She meant well enough, but dwelling on what a better pony I'd been in my pre-Nightmare days, (Traitor Dash, included,) wouldn't do me any good. It's what got me into this current mess in the first place.

Then I remembered.

. . . AJ told me...her first cycle, her native world.

She'd protected and saved her Apple Pie, and FOUGHT Eclipse when she tried to end the world...when she realized she wasn't out to avert Discord's reign, but just repeat it over and over so she could torment him. AJ said that if she knew Eclipse was going to ACTUALLY advert his reign by erasing our reality, she said she'd have felt it was a fair trade. Then she found out what would happen to all those souls of all the ponies erased.

In the end, Nightmare Mirror was on the ground, bleeding, her wings and armor shattered, with Eclipse's spears in her body Mirror told me. And Apple Pie, looking up in fear as Eclipse looked at her like she wasn't even a living thing.

AJ always choked up at what happen next. I couldn't get the whole story out of her. She'd say something about saving Apple Pie the only way she could, but wouldn't go into details.

Nightmare Eclipse...

She'd caused Applejack, Discord, everypony, so much pain. I wondered if I was still crazy. I think might have now actually felt sorry for that bastard Discord!

Nightmare Eclipse...

Twilight Tragedy...

That insufferable doppelgänger with all her riddles... that had gotten me this far in the first place . . . whether I liked it or not . . .

I still loved Twilight so very deeply. As much as I ever had. I refused to let that impersonator's tough love games infect that.

. . . If I hadn't been friends with Twilight . . . If I hadn't been an Element . . . I'd have been just another toy for Discord, and he wouldn't have given an extra glance . . . I wouldn't have spent a thousand years as his play thing, and I wouldn't have spent millions of years as Eclipse little friends. And all it would have cost me is the best friends I'd ever had in my life and having somepony else become an Element and get tortured by Discord and twisted by Eclipse in my place. Yeah. No thanks.

This mare doesn't throw other ponies under the chariot to save her own flanks!

"What about you?" I asked Mirror, with a teasing smirk. "Upset the AJ that beat her was an Element of Fantasy?"

"Ah'd be upset if a LIARjack had done it," she countered, with a wry smile. "It's the corrupt version of that Element Ah take issue with...Ah'm proud that meh managed tah save Apple Pie in a way Ah couldn't."

"That's pretty mature of you," I complimented.

"Pretty honest of meh."

We were approaching Sugarcube Corner. I wanted to crash straight through it, rhino-style, but Applejack didn't want anypony hurt, and teleported us inside instead.

Sweetie Belle wasn't here. But Apple Bloom was along with most of the foals, and Cheerilee too I guess to get the foals back to school.

Cheerilee's jaw hang out at the sight of us, and like any loyal teacher should, put herself between us and the foals. No surprise, of course.

I spotted Pinkie Pie sitting next to Bright Night.

"APPLEJACK!? IS THAT YOU!?" Apple Bloom gasped.

"Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom," Mirror said. "But Ah ain't yer Applejack, and this ain't yer Ponyville."

"W-what?" The poor filly asked completely lost.

"OH! Is it Nightmare Night already?" Pinkie Pie asked. "Oh wait! This is what you were telling me about Bright Night?"

"Yes Pinkie Pie, it is."

I frowned curiously at Pinkie Pie, but she was already explaining. "Bright Night says I forgot an important promise. But I didn't think you'd come back to the party as scary Alicorns with AJ, so are you going to apologize to Bright Night? Or are we gonna have round two?"

I looked at the pink pegasus filly. Whatever her angle was, she wasn't on the side of who was trapping us here, it should have been obvious after I woke up. I sighed. "I'm sorry, Bright Night."

"Apology accepted." She bowed humbled.

"Apology for what?" Apple Bloom asked.

"It's not important anymore, Apple Bloom," Bright Night said.

Cheerilee was looking left to right trying to figure out what was going on, looking on the verge of a breakdown. "Bright Night! Get away from them!"

Bright Night trotted over to her and hugged her. "Don't worry Miss Cheerilee, they're not the enemy."

Cheerilee was stunned silent by Bright Night's mature serenity.

"Pinkie," asked Mirror reluctantly, "can ya please stand still fer a moment?"

"Are ya gonna turn me to stone, a brainwashed zombie, a freaky apple-pony hybrid, or revert me to a former life?" Pinkie asked.

"Yes on the last one."

"Okay! Should be fun."

"Sorry Pinkie Pie, ya'll be disappointed," Mirror whispered shamefully. "It ain't a lie that Ah wish Ah was wakin' yah up tah a better sight."

AJ touched Pinkie Pie's head with her horn and cast the memory spell. Pinkie Pie did what looked like a lifetime of Pinkie Sense twitches in under a minute.

Then she stood perfect at attention. She then got down on all fours and shook her head. "Geeze, you weren't kidding about being disappointed. I was hoping to awaken as generation three me. Or Surprise. Or a My Little Horsey toy prototype from Hasbro, that would be new."

"Remember? Ya Pinkie Promised, 'Granfalloon'," Mirror said.

"Yeah I did. Oh well. Apple Bloom, Bright Night, everypony, sorry but the party is over for now. Thanks for coming."

She then stood up, and pulled on the back of her body where there was now a zipper, and upside herself like she was a costume. Out came a darker shade of pink Alicorn, with the colors of her balloon cutie mark inverted. Her eyes were blue and like a dragon's. Her wings and horn looked like crayon drawings. Unlike us who wore barding, she was wearing a party dress with candy shaped jewelry (or jewelry shaped candy knowing Pinkie Pie). She wasn't wearing her clown make up. Her mane looked almost like a foal's rendition who had forgotten to color in the lines.

She neatly folded up her, ugh, 'Pinkie Pie costume.'

Cheerilee had a three second faint, Bright Night kept her on her hooves. The foals were transfixed.

"Don't worry, Cheerilee...I'm more me instead! I think! Maybe....Dang. Being, more sane really stinks."

Nightmare Granfalloon, the Eternal Laughter, didn't look like laughing! Out of all of us, Granfalloon had been crazy in a way that made Eclipse run for her money. She looked at Applejack.

"Jackie...I...I thought it was all just a game, I didn't mean to laugh AT all those ponies... or to end their... I didn't...I wouldn't...I didn't think anypony was really... I thought everything..."

"...Was just fun, games, and giggles." I finished evenly.

She whimpered. "Jackie, am I a bad pony?"

"...You WERE a bad pony..." The Nightmare of Truth spoke to Granfalloon. "We all were ...Now?...The honest truth is it's up tah you…" Mirror hugged her with her forehooves and wings and gave her a nuzzle, her horns touching.

Cheerilee was left astounded by the act of pure friendship by the two Nightmares.

he hackles rose on my back, crackling with thick flame and eldritch darkness. Uggggghhhh. SPARE me, Guru Mirror! How does she think it's that easy? I just want this mess over with." I said under my breath.

A hoof laid on my side.

"Fake memories doesn't change somepony, Rainbow Dash. Volunteer ponies were ashamed of 'their' actions when given somepony else's memories. If you've been loyal, selfless, brave, confident, and CARING about others, it's because that's the real you. Sombra with your memories wouldn't be a hero, and you with his wouldn't be a monster. That's the heart's power." Somepony whispered in my hear.

I looked at Bright Night, for a moment, she looked so old.

Granfalloon flashed me an uneasy look, but said nothing. Mirror regarded me dolefully. Cheerilee looked woozy as Granfalloon pulled out in a mirror and put on some buffalo tribe war paint.

"Cheerilee, where's Rarity and Sweetie Belle?" I asked.

"If you think I'm going to tell you anything-" Cheerilee gasped.

"I suggested to her that she should leave the party early when I got back, considering everything that happened yesterday, and that was a good idea to spend as much time with her big sister today as she could. Since there was no telling when they'd meet again," said Bright Night, smiling at her teacher. "It's okay Miss Cheerilee. They just look scary on the outside. They're still themselves."

Baring my teeth at the filly, I set a chair violently on fire; the flames rose in a hot, high column that almost touched the bakery's ceiling.

Cheerilee startled as Granfalloon put it out with an extinguisher. "Dashie! Don't ruin my furniture!"

"A teacher knows a tough mare when she sees one, if you wanted to hurt somepony, you wouldn't have set fire to a chair."

"Bright Night, how can you know all this?" Cheerilee implored.

"I promise I'll explain everything soon." She looked right at me. "You'll want to be careful, though and get a quick move-on! The ones who set this stage are ever-watchful!"

"Ladies!" I barked, turning from Bright Night and Cheerilee. "Let's get moving."

But I sensed Granfalloon dithering. "Do we REALLY need to wake up Rarity too? Can't we just leave her be and let her be happy?"

I turned around and gave the Eternal Laughter a rather mean-spirited smile. "Ha ha ha! Hilarious as ever, Granfalloon, that's what we all love about you! Here, I got a real rib-cracker of my own! Stop me if you've heard this already: Couldn't the universe have just left ME be? Let ME be happy?!"

Wait a second . . . where those . . . where those tears?

"I-I-I I'm SORRY Dashie!" She blubbered, and knelt before me. "I didn't mean . . . I'm sorry I hurt . . . "

"It's okay sugarcube," said Mirror, in a much more rational-sounding voice, lifting up Granfalloon's chin, looking her in the eyes. "Dashie's just in a lot of pain right now. Like all of us. When somepony is hurt, they can forget other ponies are hurt too. The real her is just makin' up for a few million years worth of crude. Ah'm sorry we can't just let Rarity sleep. But whatever put us here brainwashed Nightmares and took over this place. We need all the help we can get." Granfalloon, the Endless Laughter, sniffling, hugged Mirror.

Any grand retort I had died in throat seeing the Cruelest of Truth show such kindness.

The room went quiet as a tomb. Even Mr. and Mrs. Cake halted in their oblivious baking to look at them.

"Girls," I whispered, "We don't have time."

Granfalloon looked me in the eyes, and silently nodded, stood up, and wiped her tears away.

"Bye for now everypony! Thanks for coming! I hope we get to have some fun later! Oh and help yourselves to whatever you want behind the counter! For the rest of the afternoon, everything is free!"

Cheerilee looked confused when the Cakes didn't give so much as a peep. Then dismayed as her students looked ready to spoil their appetites, but not as much as should have.

Cheerilee looked confused when the Cakes didn't give so much as a peep. Then mildly dismayed as her students looked ready to spoil their appetites, but not as much as should have.

"Applejack! WAIT! WHADDYA MEAN YER NOT MAH SISTER?! WHADDYA MEAN THIS AIN'T PONYVILLE?!" Apple Bloom was crying.

Mirror tried to hug Apple Bloom with her wings, and grimaced. Mirrors did not make the most warm and comforting of wings. Mirror FORCED her wing eyes closed to avoid accidentally driving her sister catatonic with things ponies were not meant to know. She hugged her with her hooves and nuzzled her. "Ah wish Ah had time to explain. Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom." With more strength than it should have taken, AJ let go of her.

We didn't bother to watch what happened next. And I didn't bother to see if Bright Night tagged along or not, I think if she was needed, she'd be there.

My sensing lead us straight to Carousel Boutique.

Bright Night was right. Whatever was here had eyes and ears everywhere. We didn't have time to waste and we wasted too much already.

We all teleported inside Rarity's living room. She and Sweetie were sitting on a couch having cookies and tea (more like sweetened water in Sweetie's case).

Rarity did what you'd expect from a big sister. She pulled Sweetie Belle close to her and assumed a hard style-karate pose that looked self taught. "DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HER!"

Sweetie Belle yelled and held onto her big sister for dear life.

Three Nightmares with the forms of her friends had just teleported into her living room after all. She was going to fight to the end to protect Sweetie or for a way to get themselves to safety. Protecting her like a dragon would its treasure.

Ya know, I really hated to do this, I really did. This was a cheap way to win. But against the telekinesis of four Nightmares, she didn't stand a chance. She didn't even try to use hers to counter ours. Instead she told Sweetie to run, but Pinkie Pie picked up the filly with her tail and started tickling her.

"Un-tail her you-" That was when Pinkie Pie touched her forehead, and used the memory spell. Eclipse had taught it to ALL of us.

Rarity let out a gasp, her eyes wide in shock, then confusion, realization, followed by shame, and finally, sadness.

"Please let me and Sweetie Belle go," She said.

We did so.

Sweetie was confused by her big sister's change in behavior, enough to take her mind for the moment off of escaping.

"Sweetie Belle." Rarity hugged her. "I am very proud to be your big sister, you're the best little sister I could ever hope for. It would be a shame for anypony to lose a little sister like you." She kissed Sweetie Belle on the forehead. "There are so many things I want to say to you. But...please just know, I am proud of you, I KNOW you'll find your cutie mark sooner than later, and be sure to share your gift with the world, and remember that getting a cutie mark is only the beginning. And that I love you. And I know you love me. Don't spend your life trying to imitate me. Be your own self. And you have a beautiful voice Sweetie Belle. Please let everyone hear it. Don't let anyone steal that from you."

Sweetie Belle looked understandably confused and scared. I have a feeling she was expecting somepony to come and tell her to get to school already, not to have four monsters pop up, cast a spell on her sister, and then for Rarity to spill her heart out. I didn't have it in me to say this Sweetie might had been a child for hundreds of thousands of years (I'd picked the Crusaders early on) and letting her grow up was something a long time coming.

"R-Rarity!? What happened? What happened to your friends? What did they do to you? Are you going to turn into a Nightmare too now?!"

Rarity cried. She nuzzled Sweetie Belle who eyes were brimming, and their tears mixed together. "I'm sorry Sweetie Belle, it's better you don't know. I love you and you're a good filly. Now, big sister is telling you to get RUNNING! Things are going to be dangerous soon and you need to be near friends!" Rarity said, trying not to sound angry. She didn't want this moment to be an unhappy one. "If you love me! Then please!"

With more heaped on her shoulders than any foal should have, Sweetie Belle meekly nodded and ran out the door.

"Goodbye, Sweetie Belle," Rarity said as her tears hit the floor.

Rarity wiped her tears away. She stood up, not even looking at us.

She trotted on her back legs towards a mirror on the wall. She sighed. Growled. Closed her eyes. And slammed her head right into the mirror.

Her face...cracked. Like it a piece of a porcelain doll, a part of her face fell away, just some hard material, no flesh or bone.

She said, "Goodbye, Rarity."

She held held up a hoof to her face. In the cracked mirror, a slit dragon eye looked back.

She turned around, still holding her face, and trotted past us like seeing us was the most normal thing in the world. Like the calm before a storm.

"R-Rarity?" Pinkie Pie asked.

"I don't want to damage the dresses. Please come outside."

She trotted out the door, still trotted on two legs.

We followed outside.

She looked, making sure Sweetie Belle wasn't hiding nearby, and got on all fours, and slammed her face into the ground on a rock at full force. More of her body cracked. She breathed heavily. A pair of membranous wings broke out of her back.

She stood back on two legs and looked at us without a trace of humor or fear on her face, but a nasty seriousness.

She roared in fury and frustration, breathed fire, and with her own strength, shattered her own body.

The pieces fell apart lifeless, and where the white unicorn had stood, was now a green eyed dragon, with dark purple scales with a dark green underbelly. This form held only a moment as green flames erupted around him, and he grew in an adult dragon that was over a thousand years old.

He landed on all fours, making the entire town shake. He was big enough to squash any of us with one claw, oh right, Alicorns, correction, one hand. His body shape and design reminded me of Tiamat, even if he only had one head.

He was clad in gold armor with sapphires. Many of the jewels were as big as a mortal mare. I never really understood why the Nightdrake of Generosity would go around decked out in bling. My first guess (which would be my second and third too) that it was meant to be a welcome gift for whenever he met that particular Rarity that was willing to become Nightmare Charity. It's less blunt than saying engagement gift.

None of us said it. But we had all guessed.

There had never been a Rarity saved for my room.

The Rarities kept refusing to become Nightmare Charity, and Eclipse kept erasing them.

Nightmare Eclipse never allowed us to save other versions of ourselves. She didn't want 'the fakes' 'corrupting' us.

By the time we visited Rarity, we all noticed Spike was missing. There was only one other Element of Generosity we knew personally.

Granfalloon flew up to him. "Hey Spiky! How ya feelin'?"

Hopefully he didn't eat her. I didn't want to listen Pinkie chat about what the inside of a dragon's stomach looks like. I knew that plenty from all the times I've busted out of a dragon's stomach.

"Angry. Robbed. Violated. Want to destroy something," Spike said in a conversational voice. "Eclipse kept trying to turn Rarity into a monster and I didn't even try to stop her. And sad Sweetie Belle's big sister is never coming back to her."

"Spike," AJ asked in a disarm, pleading lose, "Ah know this ain't the best time ta ask, but ya wouldn't happen to remember ANYTHING from after we got six-rounds-rapid loved-and-friendshipped?"

Nightmare Banneret moved his eyes towards her. "All I remember, was somepony saying I could help Sweetie Belle and all of you be happy, and that I'd be with Rarity forever. I remember agreeing, then my memories and form being violated. Then, I woke up, living Rarity's life, in her body, all my memories tell me I was her," Spike said inscrutably.

"Anypony else think it's weird that we don't have ponies screaming and running at the sight of us and Spike?" Applejack asked off handedly.

"Maybe they turned up the happy juice on the real ponies after Cheerilee?" Pinkie Pie suggested.

"Girls! Things are bad when I'm the one who has to keep us on track!" I shouted. "All four of us are awake and we still need to deal with Fluttershy! There's no way they aren't picking up something is wrong by now!"

"What about Twilight?" Nightmare Banneret asked, every bit as concerned as Spike would be.

"I don't think Twilight needs 'dealing', I think she dealt with herself."

"What are you talking about?" Pinkie asked.

"I'll explain later!"

Spike grabbed and held me up to his face.

"Uh, hi Spike?"

"Zecora and I were worried sick when you left without a word this morning!"

"Oh, right."

"We searched the town and the Everfree for you. Finally, Sweetie Belle used her pout on me and I couldn't tell her no to going to her club's anniversary party and told her everything was fine to not worry her!"

"Sorry, I . . . I wasn't think about you."

"Then we raced to Sweet Apple Acres when we saw your fireworks, but there was nothing there when we arrived! Then it started to rain and against my better judgement, Zecora went home to stock on 'supplies' while I continue my search, and I ran into Sweetie Belle and had to take her home insisted we spend a little time together . . . so tell me Nightmare Manacle, did you just forget about us?"

"I . . . I did." I lowered my head. Yeah, the Nightmare of Loyalty had forgotten my friends. That hurt. A lot.

Not about to risk teleporting we flew towards Fluttershy's. I wasn't thinking clearly. Or maybe I'd have asked the others, or realized we were stirring up the hornet's nest.

"So Spike, uh, what was it like being Rarity? Really?" Pinkie poked.

"Like a dream. Only now I've woken up to the nightmare. Rarity's gone. And I let Eclipse do it."

Mirror spoke. "You didn't 'let' Eclipse do anything to your Rarity. Rarity made her choice, she was hoping her death break Eclipse's hold on ya."

"I know that, now. But it doesn't change the fact that I... wanted to make Rarity into Nightmare Charity. Every one of them. I ignored that I was stealing these Rarities from other Spikes, and just assisted Twilight in destroying the world, over and over," the Nightdrake said in pain.

"That you can admit that, that you can see that, proves how big ya've grown on the inside Spike," Mirror said rubbing her side against the Nightdrake.

"...And every time we murdered her…she wasn't a fake or got 'reset'…she was real, she died…"

"She's the real root of it all," I spoke without really thinking. "Every wrong thing about us is really because of Twilight Sparkle."

I realized had eyes all on me.

"Correction: Nightmare Eclipse was. Our Twilight Sparkles got EATEN UP by her. But we kept turnin' a blind eye to it. Or when Ah said it. That last Rarity still has her Spike, that's one happy ending," Mirror said.

We spotted 'Twilight Sparkle' atop the library's roof, waving at us, a book still under one hoof. She wasn't scared, confused, or intimidated by us at all.

We landed without a word around her, Spike landed on the ground and leaned his neck down.

"Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Spike, and you to, Applejack. It's good to see you." She smiled wistfully. "I only wish I had a way I could have helped you myself. Thank you, Rainbow Dash and..."

"Nightmare Manacle," I corrected the purple unicorn. "We are Nightmare Manacle, Nightmare Granfalloon, Nightmare Banneret, and Nightmare Mirror."

"I don't mind being called Pinkie Pie at all," Granfalloon said softly, briefly transforming herself into her old mortal form.

"Yeah! I'm still cool with 'Spike,'" said Banneret. Looking over at Mirror, I could see she was in much the same mind, as well.

"Suit yourselves," I told my cohorts, turning back to the purple unicorn. "As for myself, though, I am Nightmare Manacle and ONLY Nightmare Manacle. At your service."

The Twilight impostor sighed sadly, (many of my friends grimaced,) bowing her head respectfully. "I'm sorry for baiting you so much. I had to play the part of somepony you wanted to prove wrong so it would override your desire to stay in your escape, and to wake you up to the clues you were being made not to notice."

"You did what you had to do." This wasn't even any sort of veiled scorn against her. It WAS something that had to be done. I could respect her for at least that.

But the impostor still looked sheepish, saying, "I'm sorry for acting the way I did. I didn't like it."

"Stop apologizing so much," I told her. "I hated every 'sorry' of yours, back when you were refusing to give me any straight answers. And they still set my teeth on edge now. 'Sorry' is one of the most pointless words ever made. Shall I tell you all the things that I'M sorry for? For all the fat lot of good it'll do me and all the ones I'm sorry towards?!"

".S...sorry, heh," and she bowed lower. "It just seems like I'm made to play the role of the bad guy whenever somepony needs opposition to rise to the challenge. Nothing like a little competition to bring out a pony's full potential, eh, Rainbow Dash?"

This time I struck; sending her crashing straight through the roof of the library's next door neighbor, straight into the basement. I admit, it felt GOOD. Of course the house was empty. I WANTED it to be, so it was.

"Let's get one thing clear, please," I said as I lifted her back up, a crack on her face. "Rainbow Dash was a pony who wanted to bury her bad past. Live like her bad old 'Nightmare' self never existed. Spend the rest of her days being a noble hero. Then you came. You, with all your smarmy little digs, all your 'without their cheers, you're empty,' and your 'they're just cardboard cutouts to you, you sure DECONSTRUCTED the good pony she was trying to be, didn't you? The good pony she wished so BADLY she could really be, through all the dark centuries and parallel universes she lived and relived as Traitor Dash AND Nightmare Manacle."

"Put her down, little pony," Nightmare Banneret growled, smoke wafting from his nostrils as he took a warning step forward.

"Not 'til I'm done talking!" I bellowed, throwing up a light force field around myself and the fake Twilight Sparkle. I didn't think how STUPID it was really to talk down to a obvious angry dragon.

"Those things you said," I continued, "You ruined it. You threw acid on Dash's most noblest dream. Soured it to the point where she turned against her own paradise. Goaded her into digging up the bones of her bad old self, and remember ALL her sins..."

Her eyes gazed at me.

"...Not that you were wrong to do it," I continued, in a calmer voice. "For 50 kajillion Scootaloos? I'd've done it all too. And after all the genocide, heck, galaxy-cide, I've committed, I certainly don't deserve to be treated with kid's gloves, do I? All the same, though, let me ask this, lady: when a girl's pride in herself is pulverized straight into baking soda, when you see fit to deconstruct heroism, itself, what's left? What else is left?"

She said nothing, I couldn't read her face at all.

After a long and heavy sigh, I released my telekinesis, setting her down gently on her hooves. "The sad thing is... you could've HAD 'Rainbow Dash.' She'd've been GLAD to help you with... anything. But no one wants Dash the Hero, do they? Not Discord. Not Nightmare Eclipse. And not you either. You all want me to be a monster. So here I am. Nightmare Manacle, at your service."

I made my force field vanish.

Spike back fingered me instantly, he was holding back, it felt more like a angry slap than the blow wrathful blow of a dragon. I saw the look in his eyes, he WANTED to send my head flying over the horizon. Our friendship was only the thing that spared me. If I ever touched her again, I'd be two third of an Alicorn.

Mirror looked at me . . . disappointed. Granfalloon looked at me, sadly?

I turned my eyes to the fake Twilight. "Don't ever treat those two names like interchangeable synonyms again, got me?"

The Twilight imposter nodded. "...They're not interchangeable...I'd be foolish to think they'd be. It would be as cruel as calling Luna Nightmare Moon. But can I ask you one question? Just ONE more?"

"Is it another leading one?"

"No, it's fairly straight forwards...Do you feel any better?"

I blinked. "...I feel less angry..."

She dusted herself off. "...You've been through a lot, you needed that."

"...You know, it kind of defeats the purpose of me attacking you if you're not upset."

"I'm not upset because I know you were wishing you were punching Eclipse, not me." She bowed politely. "Besides, this is a shell, like Rarity's, you'd have to shatter it to actually HURT me. I didn't feel a thing from the strike."

"Ugh...could you BE anymore nice?" I asked. I wasn't mad, she was right. I did enjoy punching Twilight in the face. It was just weird to meet someone who actually lived up to the phrase 'turn the other cheek' after spending eternities following hatred personified.

"We don't have hate where I'm from...that's not a hyperbole, I literally did not know the word hate."

"...I think your world is giving me diabetes, and I've never seen it."

"It was innocent and nice, what more can I say?"

I couldn't argue with that. Not because it wasn't something I COULDN'T argue against, but...well, lived several hundred million years in a place worse than Hell, so her world sounded pretty good...not that I deserved it.

"And you're wrong about one thing...I DID want hero Rainbow Dash, and I GOT her! And this Rainbow Dash, I KNEW you could do it! I'm so proud of you!" Not-Twilight hugged me. "I knew if you HAD a choice that you'd be strong enough to break yourself and everypony else free! Element of Free Will!" She smiled at me. "It's only because of YOU that we've gotten this far! You ARE a hero."

"I'm not a hero, stop acting like I'm a white knight-"

"You're not a white knight...but not all heroes are White Knights, Grey Knights have their place too...And so do Knights that are trying to polish their armor. Heroes don't have to be white as snow, some do grim things for justice, and some are atoners, but that doesn't make them any less heroes."

Great, now she was trying to deconstruct my self-loathing...ugh, only I would be UPSET that someone is trying to make me feel BETTER.

"Can you please pick which part of me you're going to deconstruct?"

"Nothing I did was to 'deconstruct' you. It was proof. That inside, you were RAINBOW DASH, and NOT Nightmare Manacle with Rainbow Dash's memories. Manacle WOULD HAVE seen those ponies are cardboard cuts out, that their cheers were what matters, she WOULD HAVE wanted this world to continue on with shallow adventures at the cost of everyone else. Rainbow Dash on the other hoof, would sacrifice her happiness for others."

"And . . . after all the death we've done . . . only a lunatic wouldn't make sure first," I said. " . . . sorry." For all the good it did.

"I 'really really really really really really really really really disiked' every moment of playing that part, Rainbow." She hugged me. "But I was so happy, to see that it was YOU on the inside. I was worried I had lost you AGAIN."

"Again?"

"I loved you as a friend before you were even born little pony. And it would take much more than that to ever break that friendship, even if you don't remember it right now. I WASN'T treating Nightmare Manacle and Rainbow Dash as interchangeable, I never was. Because the pony on the INSIDE is Rainbow Dash, and that is all that actually matters."

Spike said, "I'm just happy we didn't get into a big one-upmareship cycle with somepony wasting time on personal grudges when we already have enough danger to deal with and Twilight is the one who didn't chose to be self-righteous in RETURN." I saw the look he gave me.

Bastard Discord was on his hands and knees, crying his mismatched eyes out.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry for everything! It was all my fault! I make no excuses! I'm sorry! Everything I did was wrong! There is no way to balance out everything I've done! You were always in the right, I was always in the wrong! I was justified in nothing! I'm not a god, I'm a criminal. I'm sorry!"

I laughed at the bastard brawling like a baby. Apple Pie, with a little crown on her head, was held up by Eclipse on a rope with her manage, the filly struggling to keep from herself being strangled.

"So you're sorry?" Eclipse asked smiling.

"YES!"

"You're really sorry?"

"YES!"

"Uh, you're really really really really really really really really really sorry?" Whisper asked, looking unsure, uncomfortable, and like she was scared of us, her friends!

"A thousand times yes! Punish me forever if that'll make you happy! But please! Don't hurt her! I beg you!"

"So you're sincerely and truly sorry?" Eclipse asked calmly.

"Yes."

Eclipse smiled wider. "Well, that changes-" A sword went through Queen Apple Pie's heart. "-nothing."

Whisper gasped.

I laughed my head off at the look on bastard Discord's STUPID face, and punched that stupid face, and punched him again, and again, and again, and again, and again, laughing all the while! And I didn't stop! It was great!

"Dear Princess Celestia," Nightmare Eclipse said, "The most worthless words ever invented is 'sorry.'"

My eyes became dinner plates, and I ran to the side of the library's look out, and vomited over the side. "Oh Celestia! I was being Nightmare Eclipse! . . . Only . . . "

"Only what Rainbow?" Mirror whispered patting me on the back.

"Only my 'Discord' was different." I said looking at 'Twilight.'

"Sorry lets others know we know we screwed up Rainbow, sorry is us admittin' to ourselves and to others we screwed up. If we don't see that we screwed up, then we're all the more likely to make that screw up again. Sorry is how we mark that screw up as a screw up. It's how we let others know that we feel their pain. . . . Sorry . . . help us grow-up."

The others hugged me, Twilight included. It wasn't a group huge like in the real Ponyville . . . it didn't need to be.

"Now... let's not let any of this stand in the way of us being civil. Would you care for some tea?" 'Twilight' asked, she flipped open her book, turning pages, conjuring up a full tea tray as a result.

Banneret went over nuzzled the purple unicorn with his huge head. She stirred the tea with her hoof. I drank some tea myself that she offered.

"Now, please tell us, what was it you called us out here for?"

"Fluttershy," the purple unicorn spoke. "You're trying to get her, but they set up a trap."

"A trap?" piped up Granfaloloon. "Those big meanies!"

"I'm afraid there is something I do need to apologize for. I don't care if it was necessary or not." Twilight standing up on her rear hooves, putting them v-shape across her stomach and bowed her head. "I'm not lying when I'm your friend, though I know Applejack the least....But I'm afraid Twilight Sparkle was never here, and she isn't stand before you now."

I thought I'd be the only one not to gasp when she said that. Mirror didn't flinch either, oh right, eyes of truth. Mirror must have known the moment she saw her. Why didn't she say anything? Maybe she'd been waiting for her to say it. But Granfalloon and the Nightdrake gasped in shock. I swear I heard their hearts crack a little. Mine and Mirror's already had.

We waited, but the mare did nothing to 'unmask' herself. Her form just stayed that of Twilight, then again, if the puppet masters had eyes and ears everywhere, her revealing herself when she didn't need to would be kinda stupid. And it hit me I might not have been all that bright to take an emotion-pit stop after I'd been yammering at my friends that we needed to keep our flanks in gear.

"Who are you?" asked Granfalloon.

"I'm a relative and a dear friend of Twilight's. And I'm here because it's what she'd want. I was sent here to rescue the innocent ponies trapped in this false Ponyville. I came here because you're my friends too."

"Then where is Twilight?!" demanded Banneret. Granfalloon painted a blue tear on her face.

"I don't know where she is right now, or I'd tell you." The impostor looked up at my disbelieving scoff . "Believe what you want to believe, since pleading is just noise to you. She'd be here to help if she could but...it took so long to find you. It took so for us just to get inside. And she still loves all of you, and she does apologize for everything she did to you as Nightmare Eclipse and just wanted to make up for it a little."

"Did she?" I smiled up at the clouds, as though Twilight, herself, was watching me from up there. "Nightmarish transformations and devious duplicity... we're off to a rollicking good start, aren't we? Just like old times, eh, Twilight?"

"I forgive her," Banneret said at once. "She kept trying to turn Rarity into a monster and I didn't even try to stop her."

"I forgive her too," Granfalloon said, placing a hoof over her heart. Mirror said nothing. "But what about the Twilight who was here before you... took over?"

"There was no Twilight here before," said the impostor. "Nothing but a puppet, just wood, string, and illusion magic."

The others shuddered in pain that wasn't physical. Then the impostor looked over at me. "So, Rainbow Dash...have you figure out the whole truth yet?"

"One question, weren't you worried the pin was gonna be swiped and I'd get my memories rewritten again?"

"I actually put a perception filter on the pin so nopony would notice it unless it was pointed out to them, compliments from Time Turner."

Pinkie Pie and Spike blinked. "What pin? Oh, that one."

"So by 'whole truth', you mean: have I figured out who's the puppetmaster in all this? The one pulling the strings?"

The impostor nodded. "Yes, yes, yes?"

My head bent down, then back up. "Yeah. I figured it out. "For starters, there's no way in Tartarus you're behind this. You've done nothing but keep me on the right track this entire time. No jailer is that crazy, and you don't watch somepony squirm by helping them every step of the way. It's not Heaven, Hell, Nothingness, Limbo, or Purgatory..."

"Duh!" interrupted Granfalloon. "It's you, yourself, Dashie!"

Bzzt! Granfalloon glared over at Mirror and the big negatory game show buzzer she'd hit. "Hey! That's MY schtick, AJ!"

Avoiding Granfalloon's eyes, Nightmare Mirror whistled innocently with a mischievous smile. Downright surreal.

"Mirror's right, through: not any of the afterlives, but the fake Ponyville I made? The moment I recovered my memories, I knew there could be only one logical culprit. It's-"

"Rainbow Dash!" Our favorite yellow pegasus shouted as she fluttered onto the top of the house tree. "Applejack! Pinkie Pie! Oh! And Spike! It's been forever since I've seen you! How have you been? I hope you've been getting enough rest!"

Pinkie Pie waved her hooves. "Fluttershy, don't be scared. We're still us! And I don't mean evil or brainwashed us'! Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!"

"Don't worry, Pinkie Pie, I know it's you, even if your bodies are twisted by black magic I know it's still you inside." She smiled, not cowering in fear of us, only showing love.

"Okay," Pinkie Pie smiled back, "Spike could you do the honors? I'm really really REALLY sorry about this Fluttershy but Dashie said we need all the help we can get to save everypony from these big meanies who have everypony under mind control! I mean, how cliche can you get right?"

"I'm not scared. Let's touch minds. If it means protecting my friends from hurt, being a Nightmare can't be that bad."

Applejack looked at me. Twilight stayed perfectly silent and still.

I sighed. It was time to end this performance. Part of me wanted it to go on a little longer, but the rest of me was just tired of this.

"Don't bother please, guys." I sighed again. "I know who did this to us. But I wasn't sure how to confess it. I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want it to be true. I really didn't....Guys, I'm sorry."

Eyes turned towards me.

"Manny, what are you saying?" Granfalloon's lip trembled.

Feeling like a detective from a mystery novel, I looked down at my reflection in one of the library's windows. "I knew even before I got my memories back that the culprit had to be one of us. Only a Nightmare would have pulled this 'erase memories, trap them in their own world 'for their own good.''

I wanted to tell myself it had to be some DIFFERENT Nightmare... maybe a delusional friend, but what friends do we have left?"

'Twilight' put a hoof over her heart.

I listed off my logical deductions.

"This is all one big lie: Nightmare Mirror might've been goaded into participating in it, but she'd NEVER have masterminded it.

"Everything is too 'Rainbow Dash'-centered for it to be Nightmare Banneret. Perhaps if it were Rarity or Twilight Sparkle, or Spike in the limelight... who am I kidding? It would be a materialistic paradise for EVERYPONY, but since it's not...

Banneret shrugged his agreement.

"This place is missing WAY TOO MANY details to ever be run by Twilight Sparkle." Everyone nodded.

"The adventures we've had just aren't imaginative enough to be Granfalloon, and the puppets wouldn't be following such shallow and predictable routines. No show of hers is ever PREDICTABLE!"

"Plus, I'd've thrown in a lot more in-jokes, and made everypony way more prone to lighthearted one-liners and partying," added Granfalloon. "And I'd have brought back Minty."

"And Pinkie Pie, wouldn't have fought so hard to STOP me from attacking Bright Night, since everything here has been about me doing whatever I want and it always being right. I thought she was a pod pony. Not my best theory. Don't worry Pinkie stopped me from doing anything stupid. Moving on!"

"This was my pocket domain, of course, so I'm a prime suspect," I pointed out. "In my Traitor Dash days, there was nothing I wanted more than to turn back the clock and return to Ponyville, as it had been during that brief, glorious year between us beating Nightmare Moon and Discord. Discord was always forcing me to be a murdering, backstabbing villain, why? Because even in my deepest despair I never stopped wanting to be a hero. I never stopped wanting to do good. To help ponies and protect them. How badly I wanted to strong enough to stand up to all the bad guys! To have it so things were great BECAUSE of me for a change! But then it really hit me. The pony who hates me more than anypony, is me! There's no bucking way I'd create a fantasy world I'm always the hero and everything is great because of me! I built this place to have everypony get along fine and great WITHOUT ME! I was the most insignificant pony in the background alive when I rested in here!"

"All I really wanted was Rarity. At least to be there for her." sighed the dragon who'd turned himself into a Nightmare for Rarity's sake. "Part of me likes to think that if Discord had never entered the picture, things could have worked out between us, we saw she'd become an Alicorn before a Nightmare. But that's neither here nor there. Ain't it funny?"

The interruption had taken me by surprise. Nightmare Banneret turned towards me. "What I'm trying to say is: it's not just you." And he patted my head.

"Y-yeah," I said, swallowing and trying to regain my rhetorical momentum.

"You shouldn't carry such heavy burdens," Fluttershy said.

"Same to you 'Shy. I recognized the magic signature of the drinking geass on Applejack. And there was only one other pony I gave the keys to my room to! AND! I was at your house we were having tea and I didn't find anything wrong with it. I. Don't. Like. Tea!"

Everyone followed my line-of-sight to Fluttershy, who took a trot back.

"Yer still 'kidnappin' Philomena,' Fluttershy. Please just stop," Mirror told her; we all understood the metaphor at once.

"Discord must be doing this to us!"

"Somethin' THIS orderly ain't his style, sorry, sugah," Mirror said.

"This is just our version of paradise! We must have all died!"

"We wouldn't be in heaven," I sighed.

"Fluttercruel!"

"This isn't her idea of love, or revenge," the Nightdrake said.

"The Doctor!"

"He wouldn't have done this half-flank a job," I said. "I'd captured his TARDIS with my chains enough times. Please... you're just grasping at straws now."

We all closed in around her.

"Please! We're all happy here! Let me reset your memories and everything can be okay again!" She begged us.

"No!" We all retorted.

Fluttershy's eyes became draconic, and the all-mighty Stare was deployed upon us. Be they dragon, changeling, Discord is the only entity I've EVER seen outright immune to Fluttershy's power.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you hurt yourselves."

We were all bad, bad fillies. We should be doing what Mama Fluttershy wants. Bad fillies. Bad. Listen to your mother. You-

The Cruelest of Truth resisted the Kindest of Lies just enough to fling a reflective wing in front of herself.

Fluttershy gasped in surprise, not in shock or pain, before turning to fog and dissolving.

"Fluttershy?" Granfalloon whispered, horrified.

"It was one of her constructs! She must have been in the driver's seat this whole time!" Mirror shouted. "Since it wasn't her real body, it couldn't handle the stare being thrown back at it."

"So that wouldn't work on the real Fluttershy?"

"Slow her down, cut her off, but it wouldn't stop her," I said.

"Should've known it would be that easy," Not-Twilight sighed.

"Don't you have 'turn ponies' spines to goo' vision too?" Banneret asked.

"...In straight-up eye-to-eye, hers trumps mine."

"...Ah can't beat her with mine. We're meant to TEMPER each other. But when one of us has got...well, a galaxy's worth of guilt on her shoulders and the other is...well, Fluttershy, the Stare has the upper hoof."

"TERRIFIC!" The Nightdrake roared in frustration. I was reminded of an O&O game, a couple timelines ago, where Banneret took the sword from fallen ogre and it 'mysteriously broke' when his paladin tried to swing it himself.

"FLUTTERSHY! LISTEN TO AUNTIE PINKIE PIE! NIGHTMARE TWILIGHT IS GONE! THE ELEMENTS WOULD HAVE MADE HER GOOD AGAIN! LET'S JUST STOP ALL THIS! THEN WE CAN START HELPING PONIES!" Granfalloon yelled into a giant megaphone, making several real ponies in the streets below cover their poor ears. "I'LL MAKE CAKE!"

"If she's gone to this much trouble, sugarcube, you wouldn't be able to change her mind with a triple fudge cheesecake the size of an Ursa Major. When a ponies' beliefs are challenged, they become even more zealous, not less, that goes quadruple for Nightmares."

Answers and Identies Revealed!!!

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"But wouldn't the Elements have fixed Fluttershy in the head like they did us?" asked Granfalloon, in innocent puzzlement.

Mirror breathed out a long, soft sigh, and I found myself sympathizing with the truth-fanatic. "Yeah." She looked right at me. "But like Princess Luna, I'd say we all got our burdens to bear even after the Elements put our heads back on straight."

Not-Twilight lowered herself into a battle stance. "Everypony, get ready! She won't be using polite pretenses now that things have gone off-script!"

"You'd think she'd do something to Sweetie Belle and the others?" asked Banneret, with Rarity-like concern.

"She wouldn't kill them, she's still Fluttershy," I assured the big guy.

"Not without Nigtmare Eclipse there whisperin' in her ear that it's the kindest thing she could do, and she's sane enough to realize it was all hogwash . . . which might be the reason," Nightmare Mirror said.

It was like a brick to the chest, I felt staggered, even without moving from where I stood.

Mirror lowered her head and breathed in with a shudder. "It's mah fault... Ah'm the one who made 'er that way..."

"Wrong. She made herself that way," Nightmare Mirror snapped her head up at me with such a look of pained shock, it felt like we were both in a role reversal.

"It's true!" I argued. "I mean... just look at Rarity. Rarity's not a Nightmare because she resisted, every bucking time, no matter what kind of pressure we brought down on her. She never finished the transformation. Fluttershy became Nightmare Whisper because she crumbled in a moment of weakness, it was her choice. Like all of us."

To think, out of all of us, it'd be Rarity who'd have THAT kind of inexhaustible, unconquerable willpower. Not something you'd have ever expected, looking at any of her 'Rarigreed' variants.

But my truth-obsessed companion sputtered, "Is that supposed ta make me feel exonerated? Ya can't jest lay all the blame on HER! Ah talked her inta it! Ah was a vulture!"

"We're Nightmares. We're all vultures!"

"Stop it," Granfalloon whispered.

"Fire is hot, ice is cold, oceans are deep, and us Nightmares are destructive monsters that ruin everything we come in contact with."

"And none of us 'destructive monsters' would be here if Eclipse hadn't eaten up our Twiilghts the same way she did yours!" Banneret seethed, pointing a claw at me. "And Fluttershy was the worst victim of us! She resisted longer than any of us!"

"Eclipse may have started this cycle, but we helped her keep it spinning!"

"I don't wanna hurt Fluttershy." Granfalloon whimpered.

"I'm gonna knock sense into her with or without your approval!"

"See?" the voice of Whisper echoed around us all. "This is why I didn't want you to remember! Without Twilight here all we'll do is sqaubble!"

We all drew closer to each other. I couldn't detect which specific direction Nightmare Whisper's voice was emanating from.

"We were FRIENDS AGAIN, and now we're all fighting!" Whisper lamented. "I want to be back with the real Twilight again."

"I want to be back with Twilight too," I agreed, softly. "More than anything I've ever wanted before."

"I don't want us to fight either, Fluttershy!" Granfalloon shouted. "But that's the dark magic talking, not you-uh-oh,"

Whisper's voice had come from a huge fog rising right out of the ground of Ponyville, engulfing everypony below in it. The real ponies and those inside puppet shells wavered, the pupils of their eyes growing larger until they nearly took up their entire eye, smiling to themselves. The ponies who were not real continued their programmed routine for a moment before stopping in their tracks.

"OH NO, YA DON'T!"

Mirror spread her wings to their full expanse, the emerald eyes on her armor glowin'. Shining like Celestia from atop the library roof we were all standing on, Mirror reflected the light off her wings and burned away the fog.

That was only Act One. Next, the lighting reflecting off her wings caused the illusions on the puppets to melt away, clearing the heads of the real ponies present, and making them all too aware of their reality. Their happy faces vanishes as the illusion in their memories burned away next, making them remember they had been playing house with automatons! She didn't get all of them, but she got more than enough to ruffle Whisper's feathers.

Nightmare Mirror... was unmoved by the fear and panic she'd just set off, Applejack on the other hoof, was gritting her teeth at the sight.

"Uh, Jackie, are you sure that was a good idea?" Granfalloon asked. I was coming to notice that out of all of us, she was acting least like her Nightmare self. Like the spirit of the original, sweet-hearted Pinkie Pie had been lodged in an undeservedly monstrous shell.

"It was my only idea."

The mortals were in panic mode, horrified by the puppets that had replaced their family and neighbors. Seeing three Nightmares and a Nightdrake standing right on the roof did nothing to sooth their mood.

Lyra and Bon-Bon hugged each other upon seeing the faceless wooden dummies 'June Bug' and 'Candy' had been all along. Maternity was hugging Button Mash, running inside her house to protect him from us only to find the dummy that had been standing in for her husband blocking the door.

Derpy turned to Doctor Whooves to advice, then screamed pulling her fillies back away from the marionette with the Time Lord's features. I heard Cheerilee's cry of dismay and horror...when she saw the majority of the foals she was herding to city hall for protection, were just glorified dolls. And there was my weather team, flying about like mad, Thunderlane trying to keep heads cool and failing in the face of the completely ugly unreality.

Not-Twilight looked in pain.

"Stop! Mother is protecting everypony from Nothingness and Tartarus, HOW CAN YOU BE SO EVIL?!" Shouted a voice just like Fluttershy's. "Now we're going to have to erase all their memories and hard reset Ponyville, and tidy up, after we're done spanking you," said 'Posey-Nice' floating in the air above us where she hadn't been a minute ago.

Mirror said sadly to the one who had been the most brutal to Discord's daughter whenever she tried to defend her father, the one who had punished Discord's daughter the most viciously for her unrelenting tormenting of innocent ponies. "Howdy to ya, Fluttercruel."

"My name is Flutternice!"

She stamped her hoof in the air and undid the clasp on her cloak. It fluttered off her, the illusionary colors dissolving off. Her real colors showed. Pink mane, blue eyes, yellow fur, brighter than her mother's, almost garish. She also had a griffin claw in place of one foreleg, and a dragon claw in place of one of her rear legs. She also had a yellow bat pony wing, and one pink butterfly wing in place of her pegasus wing.

She was wearing platinum colored barding, with the symbol of the butterfly on the peytral. And her cutie mark was a heart-shape made out of curved swords.

"Auntie Granfalloon and Uncle Banneret and Aunties Mirror and Manacle are all happy to see you're okay, Flutternice, we were all so worried about what happened to you!" Granfalloon grinned with a twitch. "I mean, guarding the front door to our evil lair was really lonely work."

'Lonely, because she butchers everything dumb enough to try.'

"-And we left you all alone without a foalsitter-"

'Pity the sitter who has to get THIS foal under control.'

"-When we were fighting to destroy Equestria for the quad-zillionth time. But let's all calm down and discuss this over cake! And we can find a new home for all these ponies and we can turn ourselves in and-"

"NO!" Flutternice and her mom's voices chorused.

Animals, colored yellow and pink with blue eyes, began to materialize out of a new ring of fog around Ponyville. Whisper's constructs. All marching right towards us.

"I don't like doing this, yes I do, but I don't like liking it!"

I didn't even TRY to decode this head-spinning double negative.

"You're being bad! You need to be spanked! And we need to make sure nopony gets hurt!"

The waving of Flutternice's hooves mirroring the formation and direction of her mom's constructs. At the same time, the puppets opened up like used cocoons. Puppet strings shot out like cobras, wrapping around the real ponies and began pulling them into their dark insides, kicking and screaming.

I saw Soarin' and Spitfire, flying DOWN from Cloudsdale, from empty shells trying to eat them up.

And those in puppet shells, like a pink and a silver filly found their bodies moving on their own, all they could do was look about and scream.

"What are you waiting for, Auntie Mirror? Stop the puppets from helping the ponies sleep." Flutternice smiled as she said this, her eye twitching.

Mirror grunted. "If I stop using my wings, she can just recreate the fog," she warned us all.

"That doesn't stop us!" The Nightdrake snapped and destroyed a puppet of Lilly trying to capture Carrot Top like it was a beetle.

"Uncle Banneret! That's not nice! Stop right now. Or...or I'm going to have to fun! I mean, won't be fun! WON'T be fun!"

There was nothing beautiful about this, there was no justice, and no satisfaction, nothing about it was funny. I had given my 'Fluttercruel' all the hard knocks I could during our battles to liberate Equestria. I remember this mare, reduced to a filly in body she already was in spirit, stabbing herself over and over to punish herself as much as possible for everything she'd done until her mother stopped her.

I remember reading Batmare The Dark Guard Returns 2, how Batmare resisted skipping along and giggling like school filly when the ineffective and government controlled Justice Herd was getting the snot beaten out of them. Back then I thought it was cool. Now I felt SORRY for Flutternice (the name her mom had given her), and I felt a little sick to my stomach. She looked ready to start stabbing herself again on the spot or eat alive the nearest living thing. It almost made me regret waking up to seeing something this wretched and pathetic.

I'd given her as a filly horsey rides. I'd played video games with her, Whisper giving her the foalhood she never had. As a GIFT to me she'd 'punished' other versions of herself while I sat back and watched when her mother wasn't...Now I felt sick realizing that entire time this time that was only half the story and the other half was another victim of us Nightmares.


"Please, 'Nice, you're the last pony any of us wants to hurt," Granfalloon begged.

"Please, just stop, little filly," Not-Twilight also beseeched.

"Huh?!" Flutternice stared at the impostor determinedly wearing Twilight Sparkle's likeness. "How did that puppet just...?"

Banneret crushed the puppets of Rose and Daisy that was trying to capture Berry Punch and Ruby Pinch.

"That's it! I can show you how much I love you all!" Flutternice screamed. her non-pony parts disconnected from her body like they were building blocks, only for replacements to shimmer into being a moment later.

Flutternice's cutie mark blurred in places. She snarled.

The batwing grew into Flutterbat.
The butterfly wing grew into a Flutterpony version of Fluttershy.
The other limbs quickly grew into Flutterdragon and Fluttergriffin.

Familiar-looking black rods that had once impaled Princess Cadence in countless loops appeared in each of their primary limb. They all assumed fighting poses.

"Be modest!"
"Be graceful!"
"Be polite!"
"Be civil!" Her detachments exclaimed nicely in turn.

"Five times the pain for you means five times the love you know I have for you! Nonononono! Mommy said those thoughts are bad bad bad! I need to smile! But be sad when I need to hurt somepony! She said hurting you is bad, but I need to hurt you so you don't hurt yourself! Mommy is right! So that means I can hurt you and you know it's because I love you! Yippie!"

"Ah've said it trillions of times before, and Ah'll say it now: that girl needed therapy." Mirror sighed.

Darkness and negativity... that's what I'd focus on! I was a Nightmare, after all. So darkness was better, and negativity safer! No heroics... never again! Heroism was a jinx for me, nothing but a doomed jinx!

I looked all four of my friends. Each one determined to fight to the bitter end for each other and these ponies we'd dragged into this mess.

I may not know the right choice about the Ponyville ponies. But I can still protect my friends! I couldn't stop my blood form boiling at the idea of a straight up fight to save the innocent. "BRING IT!!!"

"As you wish, Rainbow Dash," Fluttershy's voice echoed from the constructs.

I heard a huge clock tick. It shook the entire world. The puppets and constructs for a moment stopped, even the ponies stopped.

"This is the battle Auntie Manacle wants, 'Nice, and she's going to want a proper opening."

"Yes, mama!" A count down appeared in the sky. "Five-four-three-two-one! Let the show begin!"

And like a fiend from the underworld, she emerged, as big as an Ursa. Several large and beastly yellow constructs pulled at its chains, like it had trouble rising up from however long it had been sleeping.

For a second, it looked like the dragon I'd fought earlier, but then the illusion peeled away, showing what was underneath. The ground trembled as she moved. Town Hall crumbled as her constructs pulled her along, straight through the building, then the building's debris.

Stained dragon claws dragged along the ground, the noise like plows through dirt.

Gossamer wings the size of grand ship sails showed patterns of ponies in fetal positions.

She had a faded and dirty yellow natural coat, on her flanks was a cutie mark of three blue-winged Butterflies with pink bodies. A long pink tail moved behind her, roped together in thick cords that twitched more like muscle than tail hair, small lilies dotted along it.

Lean but dense muscle covered her legs and neck. Her mane was corded and dotted with flowers like her tail, covering one eye. Her torso was still that of a pony, the neck was a fraction longer.

A glowing blue eye looked out from an almost skeletal face. An impressive spiral unicorn horn stuck out from her forehead.

Heavy shackles were sealed around her ankles, with spikes pointed inward into her bleeding flesh. Another inverted spiked shackle was around her neck. The chains pulled along by the construct army. Her sweeping tail and heavy steps left ruin in her wake.

I felt a knife through where my heart oughta have been.

"This is what you want of me," sighed Nightmare Whisper. "This is what you're making me do. I'm sorry. But I know you, Rainbow Dash...you won't go back to sleep and rest easy unless you've tried your hardest to stay awake."

"Auntie Pinkie Pie didn't want this for you," Granfalloon whispered.

"Fluttershy, you were beautiful before," Banneret said, looking sick at the sight of her. "Rarity would be heartbroken."

Mirror hung her head. "Ah did this ta ya in spite of what Nightmare Eclipse did ta me, but ya took it the step further. Dammit."

Not-Twilight cried.

My heart went out to my companions.

"Can we get s-s-started now, mommy?!" Flutternice asked, her hooves shaking. "I...don't feel so good . . ."

That was an understatement. She looked sick to her stomach.

"Just hold on for a little while, dear, they won't last long."

"Ya can tell right?" Mirror whispered. "The way ponies' wanted to 'make safe' ya and Twili'? That's what Fluttershy's done ta her, and now the reins are comin' off."

I shuddered. "Thanks for the warning."

"I'm not sure I like our odds," Granfalloon said.

It wasn't encouraging. Mirror was forced to keep Whisper from using her trump card, and leaving just me, Banneret, Granfalloon and Twilight-Lite. We were being pitted against Flutternice and her detachment armed with concept-killing weapons, an army of puppets with built-in hostages, and a re-spawning army of constructs. Not to mention Whisper herself goin' freakin' Dracozilla meet Ponythulu on the worst day.

It's okay, R....Manacle. I told myself. It's okay! In the end, this is nothing new to you. One of the few things you always can count on, Nightmare Manacle, is being turned on by your friends.

"Rainbow?" Twilight-Lite put a hoof on her withers. "I can't promise you'll find what you want when you escape. But I can promise things aren't as desperate as they look."

"We'll talk later," I promised.

The giant Nightmare stormed ever-closer to us, and Flutternice was pulling at the bit to come at us. The normal ponies looked petrified at the absolute insanity they had been thrown into, understanding less than half of the things were were saying to each other.

"Any chance you happen to have an Element of Magic and a spare Element of Kindness we can borrow?" I asked Twilight-Lite.

"One short, sorry."

"That's enough!" My eyes telescoped on the source.

A little pink filly with a blond mane and blue eyes. On her back was a pair black feather wings. She was holding Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom close to her.

They were surrounded by the puppets that had pretended to be Sweetie Belle's parents and Applejack's brother and grandmother. Poor fillies.

"Apple Bloom. Sweetie Belle. Being friends with you made me very happy. That was real. The friendship we had was different from your friendship with Scootaloo."

"Scootaloo... who?" Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom held their heads like they had a headache.

There was a slashing sound and a circular flash of light, and the four puppets were bisected, falling limply to the ground.

I didn't know whether to feel sorry for the fillies, confused at what I just saw, or relieved.

"I promise I'll be right back." She kissed them both on the forehead and in a flash appeared in front of Mayor Mare, who was being dragged by strings towards the puppets of her husband and child.

"Not the nightmares! Please! I don't want to be a statue!" Mayor Mare yelled.

There was another flash of light and sound of slashing metal, and the puppet strings were cut in twain, then the puppets followed suit.

"Spike! Where's my big sister?!" Sweetie called out to the giant dragon.

"I promise she's safe," Banneret lied. Mirror was too busy to correct him. "Now get to safety! Please Sweetie!"

"B-Bright Night? P-please! What's going on! Where is my family?!" Mayor Mare gasped.

"I'm sorry Mayor Mare." Bright Night looked at her wistfully, "Your family was never in this Ponyville. But we're here to save all of you."

Then her cutie mark sparkled into being, a yellow star surrounded by a set of blue stars. Then her wings grew to the size of an adult's in a flash, and engulfed her, and less than a moment later opened to show a fully grown mare, holding a sword like she had magnets in her hoof.

She was now wearing an adult sized red cape with a gold inside, one clasp was the Cutie Mark Crusaders symbol, and the other was a pony skull.

"My name is Starlight, Starlight Angel, Honorary Thestral!"

WHAT THE BUCKING HECK!?

The spa twin puppets jumped her, but she moved so fast that they just crashed into each other.

Starlight bowed to the two fillies. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you. That's not what friends do. I hope you can forgive me later."

The puppets and the constructs forgot about the Ponyville ponies and suddenly had a personal hate-on for her! Swarming her like bees to honey. Flutternice's detachments were quick to follow.

"YOU'RE NOT WELCOME HERE! GET OUT! WE DON'T WANT YOU! GET OUT! GET OUT!"

"Granfalloon! Watch Mirror!" I dove down.

"Ah can defend mahself, ya know!"

Banneret moved the best he could, but he had an entire town half-full of real, living ponies that he seemed intent on saving.

Part of me was delighted and amazed: they were trying to save others! Sincerely save others! Part of me was alarmed: didn't they have any idea that it wasn't going to work?! Never for a Nightmare?

A third part was spooked and paranoid: what if this were some trick? What if this, too, had been staged, and my heroic-seeming friends were trying to deceive me? Fabrications within fabrications... Meh, even bastard Discord hated those plot twists. Nopony likes a repeat trick.

"So you're going to tell me what's going on?!" I asked, wrapping a chain around the puppet of a garbage can pony and slamming it into the ground.

"In a second!" Starlight promised as she impale a puppet of...blech, one of the puppet foals, Archer's. At least they aren't self-aware!

Fluttergriff grabbed Starlight's cape. "Don't you remember the golden rule? 'No capes!'"

"And I say 'no', to that no," Starlight said firmly. She grabbed her own cape, and then slammed Fluttergriff into the ground forewords 'bam-bam!' style.

"Well." Twilight-Lite smiled. "If Starlight's going to come out to help them it would selfish for me not to do the same!"

-"We're here for you" -Madoka Magica Rebellion-

She held up her spellbook (I finally realized it for what it was) with one hoof like Starlight, and the pages flipped by themselves like crazy.

"Come on out, Twinkle Wish!"

A little yellow star with a cute face flew out. There was a flash of rainbow light. The puppet shell she'd been wearing this whole time blew apart into sparkles.

Where once there had been a perfect replica of Twilight Sparkle, now stood a much weirder-looking mare. Her fur was a shade lighter than Twilight's purple. Her eyes were blue. Her mane and tail were white with steaks of blue and pink in them.

What was weird was her longer muzzle, smaller eyes... her mane was all extra curly, and while her figure wasn't fat, it was like the way her bones were shaped made her body rounder in spots. And she had a turquoise heart on her right hoof, and I swear the twinkle in her eye was shaped like a pink heart. Her cutie mark was a birthday present.

The star flew around her in a staircase pattern, on her forehead and back formed a white swirl pattern where her wings and horn would be if she was a pegasus or unicorn. The star flew into her cutie mark, BECOMING a yellow star behind the present, with the same star appearing on the other side of her flanks.

She moved with a flew flourishes before striking a magical-filly pose.

My eye caught all these details in an instant.

I hadn't seen her before. But a part of me screamed that I knew this mare. And the more I looked at her, the more memories of another part of me came screaming out wanting to be remembered and known. Was this...

"Razzaroo Twinklewish! Candidate Concept!"

"Was that necessary?" Mirror asked.

"I'm from the Age of Dreams, let me live out a few while I have the chance!"

"Do you ever intend to tell me what's going on?!" I shouted.

"Razzaroo!" Granfalloon hugged her at once, completely trusting, wrapping her crayon drawing wings around her body, crying tears of joy and streaking her makeup.

"WHO ARE YOU?!" Flutternice screamed in confusion as Starlight kicked her in the head.

Razzaroo spoke, "In another life, and in another time, I was the big sister to the mare who carried the foundation of the soul that would one day become Twilight Sparkle. In my new life, I was keeper of celebrations and memories for ponies who lived so much for today that tomorrow and yesterday were a fog to them. Now I am a candidate to become the idea that'll introduce the concept of miracles and wishes into the universe. And I'm here to help my friends."

Granfalloon nuzzled her chest. "I never thought I'd see you again. Like...Like Minty...Razz' I'm so sorry! T-T-Time loop stories are played for comedy, COMEDY! They're just crack fics! It . . it isn't serious, it isn't serious, it isn't serious, it...it isn't . . ." She wasn't crying just for joy now. "It isn't supposed to be like what happened to our world. I have a lot Minties to apologize to, don't I?"

Razzaroo hugged her back, gently nuzzling, "And many other ponies, dragons, squid ponies from planet Alpha-C2, two-headed living magma ponies from galaxy 23B-R-"

"Heheh. It's gonna take a while?"

"Don't worry," she sighed happily, "We can take as much time as you want. I'll take as much time as you want."

"Can we have a 'Me And My Friends Aren't Evil Anymore' party after?"

Razzaroo hugged her. "I promise."

Granfalloon wiped away her painted tear.

"I guess, the most beautiful part of any loop, is when it ends. Otherwise, it's no different from a party that never ends...and...the parties stop being parties don't they?"

"I'm so proud of you Pinkie Pie." Razzaroo smiled gently. "Twilight...Minty would be proud. Thank you for being my friend. I was scared I'd never see any of you again."

"Thanks for being my friend. And don't be scared, I'm not going anywhere now." Pinkie Pie silent back kicked a chimera construct through the air that dared tried to interrupt their millions of year overdue reunion hug. Razzaroo blasted a lion sized Angel Bunnie over heels without interrupting the hug.

"Dreams do come true," Pinkie Pie said.

"Yes they really do," Razzaroo sang back.

"So about those answers!" I insisted, electrocuting a giant yellow bear construct.

"With pleasure!" Starlight said, slashing a shield of sword strikes around her two little friends. "Just... help cover me, would you?"

Spike began going sumo with the giant Nightmare only for Flutternice and her Detachments to gang up on him.

This battle was total pandemonium. Flutternice and her pieces were zipping this way and that like ping pong balls, keeping off balance. Granfalloon had to keep Mirror safe while she negated Nightmare Whisper's fog that would put all of us in la-la-land if we let it. Starlight was busy protecting the ponies from the puppets. I was protecting Starlight from Nightmare Whisper's endless supply of constructs. And Banneret was attempting hand-to-hand combat with the giant Nightmare Whisper. But the constructs and Whisper's body parts were dividing Banneret's attention, giving Nightmare Whisper the advantage.

I wish I knew what Razzaroo was up to. After finally breaking her hug with Granfalloon, she seemed to be charging up that spell book of hers with a super-powerful spell or something, while taking pot shots at the baddies with lesser spells.

As for the Ponyville Ponies...their normal lives had gone from a rigid but safely simple existence to a swirling maelstrom of madness in under a minute. These poor ponies couldn't make heads or tails of what was going on. Being protected by monsters against other monsters that were supposed to be their friends and family, and it only got more insane for them from there. I'd be even crazier than I already am to expect any of them to help fight. Discord would've been proud of all this; and only my endless years of experience working for him kept my brain from breaking in two. Blech.

Ever since that fateful day when I abandoned my friends in favor of rescuing Cloudsdale, I haven't been able to manage one single successful attempt at helping other people... with unequivocally happy, beneficial end results for everyone involved. What's with the look? I had a lotta feelings going through my head at the time okay?

"Hey, Rainbow Dash? You wanted answers? Well, kindly listen up, please!" Starlight cooed, while fending off another puppets of Minuette, Twinkleshine, and Lemon Hearts. "For starters, we couldn't just blast this fake Ponyville apart to save everypony. It'd be like smashing a gold fish's bowel in the middle of the desert; everypony inside would die or worse. And every time the concepts tried approaching politely, Nightmare Whisper's security system just shifted the whole place to a new time and space."

"You were set to detect complete concepts and true thestrals, how about candidate concepts and adopted thestrals?" Razzaroo smirked, blasting away a pack of timberwolf wolf constructs.

"Cheater!" Fluttershy's voice echoed.

"What about Twilight? Surely an ex-Nightmare, a girl of HER power could've been able to..."

"…She became a true Alicorn after being hit by the Elements, she woudn't be able squeeze past without triggering a relocation."

"If concepts could squeeze through, Trixie would be here leading an army of black cats and pumpkin ponies in here to save eveypony."

I sincerely smiled. "Heh. So her spirit survived after all."

I remembered that battle, Trixie as an Alicorn, giving Eclipse that parting gift of a scar that never went away.

"And on to top that off," Starlight continued, as we fought back to back. "We couldn't begin evacuating the Ponyville ponies until Nightmare Whisper was force to drop her facade, otherwise we'd be seen as invaders rather than rescuers. And we NEED everypony to trust us to get them out of here."

"You can't evacuate them! They'll all die or be erased!" Whisper's voice screamed.

"You know, Whisper raises a good point," I told Starlight. "Just what IS out there? How's the state of the universe nowadays, beyond this isolated little slice of paradise? Please tell me it's at least not some airless nothing-void, or some post-apocalyptic..."

Starlight smirked. "Have a TINY bit of bloody faith. You think we'd come all this way without a rescue plan?"

"After Eclipse and us were allowed to rampage for millions of years, and Discord was allowed to cause all the misery that brought her into existence in the first place, and none of your bosses doing a thing about it, forgive me if I have that in short supply. Your bosses are blinded by the big picture, I wouldn't trust them with caterpillars, let alone ponies."

Starlight looked at me dumbfounded, I took care of a swarm of humming bird constructs diving down at the back of her neck. She glared at me in a look I imagine the ponies she has to drag to Hell see beforehand. I apparently had said something wrong. "..."

She reached into her cloak and pulled out a list and threw it to me. I looked at it. It was one of those 'weird cosmically infinite' things. No matter how far down the list my eyes went it just kept continuing. I read one of them. "Poison Apple, death, three PM, Chaos Castle. Cause: Murder."

That entry was repeated several hundred thousand times over. Cause and time sometimes differing, but the same name.

The creepiest part was when she recited the same entry from memory.

"That was Poison Apple number 1's death. Number 2 lasted a whole two minutes, thirty one seconds more. Number 3 two minutes twenty two seconds less. Fluttercruel was especially creative with number 5 and took a whole hour, two minutes, and twenty-nine seconds longer to murder her...Imagine having to write that entry over and over and over and over again...and knowing each time it's not an 'NPC' but a living breathing little FILLY breathing her last breath, but not being able to do a thing about it without giving that mass murderer another body to possess and breaking a rule that exists for good reason."

I took a trot back. Starlight stabbed a wolverine constructs that tried leaping on top of me from a roof top and tossed it over her shoulder.

"...My boss doesn't NEED a list and could give more detail than me. Princess Gaia loves ALL life, from dragons to caterpillars! Seeing ALL the pictures I'm pretty sure is part of the job description, or they wouldn't spend time as mortals to begin with! And a lot DID spend time as mortals in Discord's hell trying to help ponies just a little! If they tried to brute force it, just like here, it would have been the permanent death of the world lines."

I stamped a mole construct in the head. "And who are THEY to make that call? What about all the souls who SUFFERED because of it? Don't they get a say?!"

" . . . Celestia's mother is literally all empathy in every universe . . . so every time anypony suffered, She experienced it all WITH them! Do you think somepony like that would just LET suffering continue if there was a better way?"

"...Weren't your a mortal once? Why do you even care what I think about gods?"

"...Because for every last time I've had to see the universe die, I also saw every concept weep for it and everypony in it. The only one that was happy Morning Star, he was always too busy laughing about you all 'proving him right about Free Will'...You know how I got this ring?"

I looked at the ring on her hoof.

She took a moment to bisect a teen dragon Construct that attacked from the side. "...Venus herself holds the wedding of EVERY LAST COUPLE that dies without getting the chance to see their vows...So forgive me if I don't feel the same way about the concepts as you."

"Fine. But I still didn't see them doing anything, until Rancor was sent in a few million years late to jumble up Eclipse's script."

"You were shielded more by Nightmare Eclipse than you know. Only Morning Star and Rancor liked what you were doing. King Leo was there with you when you fought Nightmare Dusk. Queen Cadenza KEPT fighting to save the world from Nightmare Eclipse and Discord even after her body was killed. Anarchy helped Discord distract Nightmare Eclipse. You couldn't SEE THEM, but they were there, fighting."

We turned back to back and began rotating as we cut down a pack of wolverine constructs.

"My senses, my memories, my morals, my friends, all kaput, how can I have faith in anything?"

Starlight back-hoofed a giant sized vampire fruit-bat. "Look around, your friends haven't lost faith in you. What are you fighting for? Huh? Why not just lay down? What great good are you trying to achieve?"

I had to think about it, even as I drop-kicked a puppet tree. "I'm fighting because... because I want ponies to live in a world free of Nightmares."

"You want ponies to live." Starlight repeated, pointedly.

"Well, that's..." I stopped, thinking over what she'd just said. What I'D just said.

"You want ponies to live." Starlight said again. "Have faith in THAT, then. And have faith that, if nothing else, even when you think you're alone Rainbow Dash, somepony somewhere is fighting for you."

By now, my brain was providing rebuttals to myself without Starlight's help.

A minotaur constructs sent Starlight flying upwards and nearly eaten by a dragon construct until I pulled her down, bisecting the construct in the process.

"Thanks Rainbow Dash. Think about what would've happened if 'Twilight Sparkle' hadn't opened your eyes to the truth, Rainbow. Then Fluttershy would've had four Nightmares, plus a demi-draconequus, and herself all fighting on her side. And all of the real ponies would've been her hostages." Razzaroo explained dodging puppet strings.

I tilted my head. "So you think me and all my friends wouldn't have noticed, at some point, we were fighting with superequine might?" I asked in honest curiosity, while defending a puppet of Misty Fly, smashing it open, revealing the real Misty Fly of the Wonderbolts inside, and threw her far from the core of the fighting before she could get a word in.

"Knowing Fluttershy, she'd have done something to alter your perceptions," Razzaroo replied reasonably. "Or, barring that, you'd have suddenly gotten a visit from 'Princess Celestia,' who'd have blessed you with 'super strength.'"

I had to smile. They sure had Whisper pegged.

"But with you awake to the truth, a lot of Whisper's security system's now shut down," Razzaroo continued. "You created this world, after all, even if she's the behind-the-scenes director. Originally, the Twilight of this fake Ponyville was an automation Fluttershy was using as her sock puppet, programmed with only some prerecorded responses. It was the perfect pick for us to hijack."

"Especially since Twilight was supposed to be such a close teammate of mine," I added.

The current wave of enemies were thinning in number, making it easier for us to chat for protracted lengths of time.

"Flutternice ran the backstage operations, whenever 'Fluttershy' was scripted to make an onstage appearance. There was a bit of a 'plot hole' with Scootaloo supposed-to-exist-in-Ponyville, yet too-upsetting-for-you-to-actually-see," said Starlight. "Providing the perfect niche for me to fill as 'Bright Night.' This world KNEW there was supposed to be a pegasus filly as part of the CMC who admired you. So once I slipped in, the system adjusted everypony's memories automatically to account for me, like a restored computer file. That I didn't act like Scootaloo was forced into a mental blind spot. Since this place is still wired to you unconsciously, this mean the Flutters thought I was created automatically as a replacement for Scootaloo as wish fulfillment on your part. With so many puppets being run on automatic, they didn't check to see if I had any strings."

"Which let Bright Night get close to the puppet of Twilight, with the book containing my and Twinkle Wish's existence," added Razzaroo. "letting them slip inside it like a costume and cutting its strings. I just had to make sure to play my role whenever any of Whisper's puppets were nearby. I think Fluttershy just assumed Flutternice had done some upgrading." She spoke like a teacher at the villains. "You two were so focused on external threats you looked over the idea of a mole having entered your pocket world."

Granfalloon gave Flutternice a pie to the face as Nice halted to retort.

"I was keeping everypony happy and safe! I was giving us the time we were most happy! I adjusted things as best as I could!" Whisper's voice screamed. "I'm sorry I couldn't have everypony be equal and happy! But I'm not as good as Twilight, and this is Rainbow Dash's world! I had to make double sure she didn't wake up for the sake of everypony! She's been through so much pain, I just want you to be happy Rainbow!"

I could hear her crying, I thought my emotions had scabbed over by now, but that voice, it couldn't have been more my first friend. I felt my heart crack.

"Fluttershy . . . "

"Please understand, I brought us all in here to PROTECT us all! And all the ponies you saved, Rainbow Dash!"

"I didn't save them for THIS!"

"Fight them," Whisper begged me, the puppets and constructs all looking at Starlight and Razzaroo, "They're the real monsters!"

"No!" I answered. "After all the different ways we've killed ALL these ponies, timeline after timeline, we Nightmares have no right TALKING with mortals, let alone ruling their lives and deciding what's 'best' for them!"

"You've denied a lot of innocent ponies the chance to live their lives! And you denied your friends a chance at redemption or forgiveness!" Starlight snarled as she was dog piled under a horde of puppet royal guards that Banneret had to pull off her.

"Who cares about redemption or forgiveness as long as we're all happy and safe!?" Whisper pleaded.

I cared. I had cared about redemption. I had cared about forgiveness. I was like I was stabbed in the heart again.

"You two-faced, patronizing, string-pulling, kidnapping SNAKE!" I roared. "You're not even SORRY! You lie like Eclipse! You haven't changed at all! You're still the same hypocrite you were working with her! Your show's over and I'm taking you down like I should have her!"

"You're going to kill me, Rainbow?!" Whisper squeaked.

I chuckled. "No... not even I could go that far, old friend. But by now, it couldn't be clearer to me that we Nightmares will never be anything but irredeemable toxic waste. And the only thing to do with toxic waste is stow it away forever in some lonely, far-off place where no one ever goes. THAT'S what I intend to do to you, me, Banneret, Granfalloon, and Mirror!"

"Dude..." Banneret breathed, wide-eyed.

Mirror just rolled her eyes. Granfalloon looked hurt.

"YOU'RE NOT IRREDEEMABLE! YOU WERE ALL KINDA STARK RAVING MAD AT THE TIME!" Razzaroo screamed at me. "I'd bet anything that's what Judicium's gonna rule!"

"Judicium?" Banneret repeated, and both he and I turn around towards Razzaroo. "Sounds to me like this is as much an 'arrest' as a rescue, am I right?"

"Pretty much," said Razzaroo. "I'm pretty sure it'll be less 'eternal damnation' and more 'millions of years of intense therapy!'" Razzaroo said, blocking Dragonshy's staff with her book.

"Well, it's about buckin' time!" said Mirror, with her biggest smile in centuries.

"We'll do the time for all our crimes, and justice will finally be served," smiled Banneret.

"Yippie!" Granfalloon cheered, bouncing up and down, then snuggling up next to me. "Hey, Dashie? There's no pony I'd rather be toxic waste with than you, you know. ALL you guys! This is gonna be SO GREAT!"

They all seemed so happy. So free-spirited. So... together. Smiling between one another and at me. Like the good old days! I grinned back at them all with a lightness in my heart and faced forward. "So, Fluttershy, you ready to come down and own up to what we did like a grown mare? Or do we have to drag you kicking and screaming like a bratty little filly?"

"NO! YOU'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!" The giant Nightmare roared, unleashing a stream of blackness from its mouth, Spike countering with his dragon breath.

"I don't know what evil mind control these dogs of gods have done to you but we'll save you Uncle and Aunties!" Flutternice shouted and her detachments all nodded.

"You're only making this harder on yourself, Fluttershy!" shouted Razzaroo.

"SHOULDN'T YOU BE DEFENDING THIS WORLD, RAZZAROO?!" Whisper's voice bellowed. "DOESN'T IT EVOKE MEMORIES OF YOUR OWN?"

"No. My world was self-contradicting, innocent, naive, but it was never fake like yours. Everypony made their own choices in it. This place is a MOCKERY of everything my world was!!!"

"I SECOND THAT MOTION!" Granfalloon shouted, using a giant noise-maker at point blank range at Flutterbat, leaving the detachment's ears ringing, followed by a giant pie sending the bat pony sailing into a building.

Starlight turned to me. "As you can see, Manacle, we needed you to forsake this fake world because your heart was holding all the keys," she said, sweeping up Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle as they were almost pulled in by a puppet of Trixie, giving the two fillies a ride out of the fighting in the middle of the epic battle.

Razzaroo looked at me wishfully, as constructs began to crowd around her, a burst of sparking stars knocking them back, "I really really REALLY wanted to be the Watson to your Holmes, but Nightmare Whisper's eyes were everything."

"I wish you could've explained all this before," I sighed.

Razzaroo smiled. "I actually did explain it to a few very important fillies while Flutternice was distracted, and they told a few very important fillies, and they told a few very important fillies. And I told them it was their choice what they wanted to do. If they made the brave decision, they should be here right about..." The ground rumbled.

For a moment it looked like sunset. A mass of orange and violet across the horizon.

Then...h-heh...they...h-eh, sorry, I, I think I got something in my eye.

It was...they were all coming...nothing was gonna stop them.

Orange is my new favorite color.

171,015 little heroes.

I know I should have been upset at seeing foals taking a part in a battle, but...out of 171,015 fillies...all of them came to help.

"No, Scootaloos! Go back!" I hear Whisper's daughter shout. None of them listen.

Granfalloon took a photograph. It was easier to count who wasn't slack-jawed. The marionettes and constructs actually stopped as their puppeteers startle.

They moved like a flood, I think some ponies worried they were going to flatten everypony in their path. The lead Scootaloo shouted, and I knew exactly which Scootaloo she was, "Here comes the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome!"

Laughing, Banneret cried, "Rainbow Dash, you have GOT to start teaching those fillies a little thing called 'good taste!'"

A smattering of Scootaloos seemed to know how to take to the air, and directed their swarm's actions. Yeah, they were like a swarm of changelings, fighting as one living creature. Given one of Scoots' parents, I shouldn't be surprised.

They slammed into Ponyville as a whole, swallowing up the constructs and puppets, but passing by the Ponyville ponies and us without touching a hair on our coats. The constructs and puppets reactively defended themselves, but they didn't last for long, they were now the ones outnumbered and outclassed. Even if Scootaloo's brain didn't remember her erased future, apparently their souls did.

"Now that's more like it, wings!" said a Scootaloo as she sent an airborn construct crashing to the ground.

"GO GET 'EM, SQUIRTS! TEAR 'EM TO PIECES!" I hear myself scream at the top of my lungs. "SHOW 'EM WHAT YOU'RE MADE OF!!!"

"Let's find out what they're made of!" Shouted one Scootaloo as she tore one construct apart.

"Good one!" I felt my face turn into the biggest, most genuinely happy smile I could remember feeling in so, so long.

Nightmare Whisper screamed in frustration, and a flood's worth of constructs materialized from her ring of fog; so many at once that they were crowding each other out as they overflowed towards Ponyville.

I watched as the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome moved together to meet them head-on. Orange and violet crashed with yellow and pink, and orange won hooves-down, as the Scootaloos actually tore apart Whisper's constructs FASTER than she could make them!

They weren't just fighting blinding or individually, either. I watched as they supported and covered each other's flanks. I fell on my haunches, it was just too much, my tears hit the ground, as I felt I could fly to heaven. "You get 'em, Scootaloo, you're unbeatable."

I wasn't even shouting anymore. It felt like Princess Celestia has given me a kiss on the head.

"Don't worry!" Said one flying Scootaloo who took Apple Bloom from Starlight, hugging her.

"We'll take care of them from here!" Said another taking hold of Sweetie Belle, and nuzzled her.

The looks in the Cutie Mark Crusaders' eyes, they recognized, they remembered.

"S-Scootaloo?" Apple Bloom breathed out.

"Hey, Apple Bloom, it's been a while. I'm happy you're here with me."

"Me too, Sweetie Belle. I'm happy that you got saved with me."

I look around, and saw it everywhere. One Scootaloo being the personal body guard to Mayor Mare. Another being the guardian angel to Maternity and Button Mash. And another an assistant to Cheerilee. Two fighting alongside Spitfire and Soarin', the pair of Wonderbolts refusing to surrender to the world. Don't ask me how I knew, or how the heck they knew, every Scootaloo that could, they migrated like magnets to the pony who had been saved along with them, and fighting with experience of full grown mares who had grown up fighting a war.

If ANYONE deserved to swoop in and be the hero, I'm glad it was her.

But now . .. I shuddered, but it wasn't from sorrow. But now they were here, alive, together, maybe...please don't... don't let it all backfire. No darkly ironic twists. Just this once.

Please. I've seen the truly horrible worlds that Nyarlathotrot conjures, not all of them are tiny scale stuff with one of us becoming a psychotic killer, others time it's Equestrias so torn apart by wars so hate filled or coldly indifferent the windigos would freeze it solid in a second.

These Scootaloos...what's going to happen to them now?

'Please,' I pray, 'Let them have a future, let them have happiness and long life. And may their world be truly kind.'

And I see the loving looks in ALL their eyes at me. After all that's happened today, especially, there's a part of me that's scared to death of being praised. Not because I don't want it. Pony Heaven knows that I do. But because I'm afraid of it all going boom.

Maybe... if I only smile slightly smugly, instead of grinning ear-to-ear giggling my flank off... like this... and not speak any awful, vainglorious words... maybe if I don't let myself draw excessive enjoyment from the glad thankfulness of Razzaroo's smile...

Starlight gave me a hug. "I know how you feel right now...I've made a huge mistake before too...It can be hard to accept you can do good after doing something horrible...but you'll never be able to enjoy anything if you don't try."

I didn't ask how she knew, since I'd more or less told her the entire time.

"Scootaloo . . ." Razzaroo was crying too. "It's wonderful to see you again...you, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, you're all wonderful ponies. Yes yes yes! All of you! May all your days be bright."

I thought, 'May all your days be bright.'

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"That's enough," Flutternice said sternly.

Flutterbat, Flutterdragon, Fluttergriff, and Flutterfly dove down into the Scootaloo army, and plowed through them, flinging orange fillies through the air right and left.

The Detachments weren't hindered at all by the filly fighters, speeding every possible direction, taking fillies out of the fight by the dozens per-second!

"LEAVE THEM ALONE!" I shouted, chains flying from my body lightning-quick, wrapping up the Detachments who simply BROKE THE CHAINS with their concept killer rods a moment later and continued attacking the Scootaloos.

"Don't be a hypocrite," Flutternice shouted coming straight at me. "They're using violence against us and that's okay, but we can't use violence against them to stop them from hurting themselves with all this fighting?"

Hypocrite? Hypocrite?!

Hearing that voice saying that word had a funny effect on me. It was like standing in an endless echo chamber.

Hypocrite...hypocrite...hypocrite...

I made a small laugh, followed a few sad chuckles, smiling. All while trading blows against Flutternice.

"Auntie Manacle? Why are you laughing? You're making foals be the concepts pawns!" Her voice was like sugar water squeezed through clenched fangs.

"It's just...heh...being with you Niece Nice...I might as well be standing in front of a mirror. Only my reflection's turned inside-out."

In her confusion, Flutternice slowed her attacks slightly. "Auntie... I don't know what you mean," she said.

I stopped laughing. "I mean to say...here I am -- a villain who desperately wishes she was a hero, and here you are...'the hero'...or at least that's what your momma would like to believe...who desperately wishes she was a villain."

Flutternice froze up for a second, like an outed criminal, but she was still able to dodge a kick from me. "M-me? AUNTIE! A villain? That's the LAST thing I want! I PROMISE! I'm being better than my nature! I promise!"

"Come now on Niece Nice. I was the one who TAUGHT YOU to be loyal to us and to betray everypony else! Those nine hundred years your mom spent ruling half the planet until 'Auntie Eclipse' told you we had to 'reset' everything or we wouldn't able to keep good old Discord 'under control?' Those nine hundred years we spent teaching you to hate a father who'd die for you if given the chance? Who WANTED to turn himself in? How his heart shattered when you told him 'Fluttercruel is dead' and stabbed him in the leg, as he begged you to realize you and your mom were being lied to? Guess what? He was telling the truth."

"RAINBOW DASH THAT IS A ENOUGH!!!" Fluttershy's voice boomed like angry thunder, I caught the lightning bolt that struck from above and I smacked Flutternice in the flanks with it like a paddle.

"AUNTIE!!!! YOU'VE GONE MAD! You'd NEVER say bastard Discord lies were true if you were yourself! You're nuts, you...er...you're unwell in the head," she finished in 'kinder,' more 'sensitive' and Fluttershy-approved tones.

"Not anymore! The Elements saw to that! Which means I can APPRECIATE all the garbage I did to innocent ponies after nag Eclipse cut out pieces of my soul!"

"Auntie Manacle! How can you talk about Auntie Eclipse like that?!" Flutternice gasped.

"I have a lot more to say but you and the Scootaloos are present!"

The blow to the head I took from her made my head spin, but she didn't press her attack.

"Did that break the evil mind-control the gods minions have on you Auntie?" She asked.

"We AREN'T brainwashed niece Flutternice," I sighed. "Not anymore. All we did was trade one brainwashing lunatic for another."

"STOP TALKING ABOUT AUNTIE ECLIPSE LIKE THAT!"

"Don't listen to them dear, they're just sick right now. Just forget everything they just told you. The trick Auntie Eclipse showed you whenever Auntie Mirror made you cry, just take a deep breath and toss it out the window and forget you ever heard it."

"O-okay! Thanks mommy!" She grinned. "There! All forgotten! I don't remember a thing!"

I face hoofed.

I lost a tooth and got a black eye for my troubles, I slashed with a lightning scythe at Flutternice who blocked it with the black rod she was using and kicked me, several times, in the stomach before knocking me down.

"That savage beast, still inside you Flutternice? You never tamed it. Only caged it. No wonder it's so savage when you're forced to let it out." I sighed, feeling strangely calm and serene looking up at her flatly as Scootaloos helped me up. Good girls.

"I can't hear you auntie!" Flutternice snapped a loud bloodcurdling snarl.

"All that time we spent help yer mom 'fix' you, saying it was for your own good? I got my revenge on MY Fluttercruel through you since she was in Oblivion. Even when MY Rarity and MY Pinkie Pie WANTED her CURED. Until Nightmare Whisper introduced you to us all as Flutternice, you were just a rag doll I could beat up without an ounce of guilt."

"Those monsters' evil magic is MAKING YOU SAY THAT! You did it all to HELP ME! You'd never hurt me! You've never hurt me!" Flutternice huff, she'd forgotten to keep attacking. "Mom's done so much to rehabilitate me."

"If your mom's rehabilitated you, WHY are you scratching at the bit to hurt somepony? I guess I'm a hypocrite for blaming you for that too, after all, I HELPED her do it."

Flutternice was shaking her head in fierce denial, and yet the beginnings of a guilty smile were creeping up her face. It was like I'd uncorked a champagne bottle right under an alcoholic's nose.

"I KNOW! I KNOW I FAILED! I'M EVIL BORN FROM EVIL! BECAUSE I'M FILTH BORN FROM FILTH! Though mommy tells me I'm not so I'll feel better! I'm a monster who stole my mother's body from her and tortured so many little ponies for my and bastard Discord's sick games! A coward who used empty words when those she couldn't bully fought back to try and make them feel guilty for giving me my due! But mommy loves me even if I'm an ugly wretched piece of sewage! That's what makes her the best mom in the world! And what makes you the WORST mommy in the world for making all the poor innocent Scootaloos I've been looking after fight against their will! They're just foals!"

"Ya wanna know the truth Little Flutter?" Mirror voice boomed with the Royal Canterlot Voice. "THESE 'FILLIES' ARE MORE GROWN UP THAN YA! THEY'RE YER OPPOSITE! THEY'RE HEROES IN THE BODIES OF FOALS! YER STILL A FILLY IN THE BODY OF A MARE! That makes yer ma the hypocrite!"

Pinkie Pie startled...her eyes widened to impossible size, and her eyes became pin pricks. Oh no...don't tell me her Nightmare Granfalloon personality is back! We can't fight two Nightmares at once! It's...she was crying?

She blasted bull horns in all directions to give herself room.

"Fluttershy. I understand why you're doing this. Why you have to do this. Why you're too scared to do anything else...But...Nicey...she isn't...she won't...Oh!

"Pound. Pumpkin. Fuse Box. Bomb Pie. Powder Cake. Fire Cracker. Grenade Pie. Little Hex. Short Fuse. Hatchet and Latchet. Spring Dew. Morning Light. Bubbles. Stormy Night. Apple Sauce.

"Mommy is sorry! Mommy is sorry she made you all hate laughing! Mommy wishes she could go to Nowhere Land and tell you how sorry she is! When she became Nightmare Granfalloon, she couldn't BE sad, she couldn't BE unhappy, it was all just a big game, even you. Mommy is so so sorry! She forgot you as Granfalloon! At least as Angry Pie she loved you. She's sorry. Mommy...mommy wishes she could fix it all and make you all be here and make it all better with a kiss and hug! Mommy really truly wishes!"

"Pinkie Pie..." Mirror sighed. "Ya...ya can't help'em right now. But we've got a lotta foals here do need help."

Pinkie Pie gave Mirror a sad smile and nodded, hitting a giant star-spider construct in a face with a cream pie as she at the same time. "Al-alright." They nuzzled.

Raazaroo whispered sadly, "I think I finally GET why concepts are allowed to feel remorse, but not regret."

Razzaroo and Granfalloon wanted to help me and the Scoots with Flutternice looming over us, but the Detachments were so close to the many fillies that they couldn't fire a shot without risking hurting any of the Scootaloos.

And Spike was still stuck in a stalemate with big Nightmare Whisper. His teleport fire breath countering her despair breath.

Whisper's voice echoed to the fillies as Nice's Detachments continues to knock them down. "Now just stop this fighting, and go back to the orphanage, and go back to bed. And this can all be just a bad dream. We'll have warm milk and cookies,"

But the Scootaloos, bless them all, were having none of it.

"No!"

"UGH-Not-happening-"

"Forget it!"

"Sweetie needs me!"

"Go away!"

"I'm never going back there!!!"

"I'M NOT LEAVING RAINBOW DASH, SO GO BUCK YOUR-!!!"

"Language, little filly!"

"Leave her alone!" It wasn't me this time who'd spoken that time. It was...Mayor Mare? She tried to grapple with Flutterfly when she pinned her Scootaloo down, leaving an impression in the ground. Flutterfly responded by slamming Mayor Mare across the face with her rod, breaking Mayor Mare's glasses and maybe her jaw as she fell down.

"Stop it!"

"You bully!"

Meanwhile, Fluttergriff found Bon Bon and Lyra had decided to stop standing around being scared and take action against her and ganging up on her suddenly and violently respond by clawing them.

Maternity screamed wildly as she kicked Flutterdragon in the gut leaving an imprint, the teenager-sized dragon retorted with fire breath, that her Scootaloo shutted-up with a kick to the jaw even if she was now bleeding.

"S-s-stop! W-what you doing?! STOP! JUST STOP! STOP! My filly is helping stop the fighting! Stop!" Whisper screamed at the Ponyville ponies.

"Don't worry, Rainbow Dash, we're not out of surprises yet," Starlight said, helping me up, oddly pleased as she blocked another hit from Flutternice.

"Now that you've rejected this world, Nightmare Whisper's grip on this pocket reality is loosening. And now everypony is properly awake and ready to accept the truth, just like you!" Razzaroo cheered charging up her spell book for something.

"And because you've unconsciously weakened all the barriers and security measures that Nightmare Whisper doesn't directly control, I can call in extra party guests to help!"

Starlight flew next to Razzaroo, drew her sword, and the pages of Razzaroo's spell book flipped like crazy, covering Starlight's sword in stardust. Then Starlight...flew as fast she could away from the fighting...Huh?

She flew right over Sweet Apple Acres, and dove down. Eyes that were better than a hawk's saw her touch down in front of the Cutie Mark Crusader's clubhouse. She kicked her sword right into the base of the tree, and suddenly I was able to tell there had been a hole in that part of the tree this entire time that went way further inside than it should have.

"Sweetie, 'Bloom, sorry." She twisted her sword.

And the tree and the ground and the surrounding air around them both cracked. Like a hoof pressed upon thin ice, the cracks spread rapidly in an spiderweb pattern.

Then everything that was cracking gave up the ghost and shattered, revealing a twisted slush of colors covered by rusty chains. Then the chains shattered and the slush dissipated like fog, showing a sea of stars.

There was no sudden gravitational pull as everything was blown outside into a vacuum; the exit was simply there, offering itself. But this exit was also an entrance.

"Password time. Ahem. 'Bon-Bon's baking cookies girl, better run on over!'" Starlight shouted.

"The clubhouse wasn't part of any of the puppet's routines from what little were able to glean from the outside," Razzaroo explained, encasing some of the Scootaloos who'd been injured worst in magical bubbles, then floating them over next to Applejack.

She continued explaining to me, while applying healing magic on the wounded Scootaloos, as though determined to make up for all their deception and tight-lipped secrecy in one straight go. No, I knew that look in her eyes. She wasn't doing this out of obligation or just duty, she was doing this, because Scootaloo was her friend! This was loyalty! I actually felt a twinge of guilt.

"We put a perception filter in place to keep real ponies from noticing one of the crannies had a cover over it. We couldn't risk being discovered until Nightmare Whisper lost control, or she'd just beef up security and we'd be out of sane options. So picking the spot we'd sneak in and set up as the exit was a real pain," Starlight added, bisecting a giant falcon construct as she zoomed back to help.

"Are ya girls gonna help, or are ya gonna talk the bad guys to death?" Mirror snarked. "The jibjab's gettin' distractin' from the action!"

"Rainbow Dash wanted a full explanation, didn't you?" Razzaroo asked.

I sighed as I headbutted Flutterdragon. Ouch. Even as a Nighmare, wearing a champron, not bright to headbutt a dragon. "So where's that surprise already?"

But then Flutternice came at Starlight from behind, stabbing at her quick as a machine gun, making Starlight dance as she spoke. "Almost, Applejack. Fluttershy's 'emergency temporal shift' trigger will still pick up concepts and Thestrals, but you can always count on your friends."

- 'Misterioso' Madoka Magica Rebellion -

Four winged mares with the figure of earth ponies came shooting like lightning out of the hole Starlight had made in the fake Ponyville. All of them had sword belts like Starlight's.

An aqua mare with an orange mane and yellow eyes; her cutie mark was a pink note book with a blue pen.

Next was a peach-colored girl, her mane was pink, and her eyes yellow, her cutie mark was a crisscrossed patch of cloth.

Number three was pink, with both blue eyes and mane, her cutie mark was a microphone with music notes and stars around it. The pattern of her wings reminded me sheet music.

The last girl had a purple coat and a pink mane with eyes to match, on her rear was one big and one tiny four leaf clover.

"Bright Eyes, Patch, Melody, Clover!" Starlight greeted each of them, likely for my sake. "Glad you could make it!"

Patch dove four hooves-at-once straight into Flutterdragon knocking her into the sky.

"I hope you don't mind us dropping in." said Clover. She moved with such grace, it was like the battle was a ballet, only tapping Fluttergriff with her sword and avoiding her claw slashes. It was actually adorable.

Melody quipped, "Please don't think we're stealing the spotlight!" She was striking hard and fast with Futterbat, making more noise with her strikes than a rock concert. Banneret's eyes were drawn to her...don't ask me why.

Bright Eyes commented as she kept Flutterfly and the other Detachments from attacking as a group. "But I do believe you're won't mind concentrating on helping my twice-removed-self, rather than calming down her poor foal having a tantrum."

"This is our chance to be awesome too!" Patch cheered.

Whisper's voice exclaimed. "Since when are you all reapers?!"

Melody smirked. "Oh we're not sworn in, more like deputized."

Clover said, "We're just messengers."

More allies. No pony would see me complaining. At least they were being pleasant.

Now with the Detachments off their backs, the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome was back to ripping the constructs apart and smashing open the puppets. And more and more of the Ponyville ponies were fighting back now too.

Starlight, meanwhile, was dueling Flutternice single-hoofedly, while Banneret was grappling against Nightmare Whisper.

"Coming, big guy!"

Energy is energy, and even a Nightmare has limits to theirs, and she was now having to pour more and more of hers into constructs to just keep Scootaloo's army from overwhelming her with sheer numbers and experience!

Watching Starlight and her buddies fight...it was like us, me, Twilight, and the rest of us. These girls weren't just teammates, they were friends. They could trust each other. Could always count on each other.

It lifted my spirits to a high place, just to see it from afar.

"Sing, Ace!" cried Melody, and her sword blade split in two, now resembling a tuning fork. It sent out a wall of sound that had Flutterbat covering her ears and screaming.

"Slay, Buddy!" Heh, Patch's sword changed shape into a dragon-slayer's sword, with a crown at the top, and when it made contact with Flutterdragon's black rod, the concept-killing weapon began to freeze over!

"What?! That's absurd!" Flutterdragon exclaimed attacking with her tail, rear claws, and wings and jaws at the substitute reaper.

"I know! I wanted a flaming sword! But Bright Eyes told me that wasn't good for fighting dragons!" Patch said, falling back, every body part her weapon connected with froze that spot on the Detachment.

"Shine, Slipknot!" Starlight's sword turned into a large white scythe keeping Flutternice at bay way with the distance blade weapon, using her hooves when the demi-draconequus tried to get in close.

Flutterfly cheated and used the Utter Flutter all by herself. "Flutter, Lance!" Bright Eyes' sword turned into a swarm of gold butterflies that blocked the Utter Flutter.

"You won't dare hurt your spiritual great-grandmother!"

Flutterfly halted. "...Granny?"

Shock reveals in the midst of battle, left the enemy more disoriented than a poetry slam from Discord. Too bad it was an old hat for us.

"If you are me then you should know why I'm doing this!" Fluttershy's voice shouted as Longma constructs attacks Bright Eyes from behind and front.

"I do! And that's why I volunteered to help stop you!" Bright Eyes shouted.

Bright Eyes' sword reformed in an eye blink. She slashed; the Longma blocked, Bright Eyes' sword turned to butterflies just as they would have clashed, then reformed into a sword once it was past the Longmas's claws, scoring an impossible strike that cut it in half. She stabbed backwards at a Longma coming at her from behind, only for her sword to turn to butterflies again and reform pointing back into the second Longma. She wielded her blade with skill, thanks to those gripping hooves of hers. I had to learn how to do that with my own hooves. It was way too useful not to.

Flutterfly got over herself and attack again, only for Bright Eyes' butterflies to grab her hooves, and wings. "Bad filly."

"Dance, Dandy!" Oh right. Maybe Clover's sword was...a dancing sword? A fancy segmented whip-sword? Maybe a really, really, really long rapier? Or one of those big thick giant swords?

It changed into a blade on each of her four hooves, looking like weaponized ice skates.

Fluttergriff halted. Stared. Then held a claw to her chest and burst out laughing, pointing at Clover who blushed. "That is so lame! Are you gonna dance me to death?! You have zero reach with those! And why do you keep wasting time shouting out names?"

Clover blushed more. "... Well, it's rude to ask for a friend's help without saying their name first and how you want them to help."

Fluttergriff looked between Clover and her sword with sour incredulity. "...Try LIVING friends, lady. Even back in my bad old days, I didn't name my weapons."

Clover returned the look. "He TOLD ME his name."

Lightning struck each of Clover's blades, but instead of electrocuting her, the lightning crackled INSIDE the blades.

"NOW, CLOVER!" Razzaroo shouted having just cast the spell from the nearby spa's rooftop.

With fury like that of old Angry Pie, Clover, in under a second, cut-apart Fluttergriff eight ways from Sunday.

"T-thank you."

"Anything to help my little sister."

"WHAT?! Meadowlark?! Is that you!? But-"

"I'll explain later, Minty!"

"Wait, did you talk about this before Starlight?" Clover called to her friend.

Out of nowhere a giant Ursa came in roaring, facing Clover with thoughts of dinner in its eyes. A smiley-faced cannonball sent the construct Ursa crashing to the ground.

"Go, Minty! I mean Clover!" Granfalloon cheered spreading her wings wide and her horn glowing from the library roof.

"Pinkie Pie! It is you! You ARE REAL NOW!" Clover called.

"Yes, yes, yes!"

"That's my line!" Razzaroo shouted smiling.

Pinkie's cheer was real. Not-insane, just bubbly and pure. On one hoof, this wasn't the first time that 'Minty' had been mentioned by Pinkie Pie/Angry Pie/Nightmare Granfalloon. I'd gotten the whole story out of Granfalloon. She'd grieved for Minty through time and the tangled knots of worldlines.

I'm not proud to admit: once I knew who Minty was, a part of me felt resentment in the back of my mind whenever my pink friend brought her up. As though Pinkie were a stepsister of mine, lamenting the death of her real sister.

How was I supposed to make things better for Pinkie? How could anypony compete with a fallen friend's memory?

If Pinkie had to choose again who she'd save, we all know it wouldn't be the old me.

But seeing Granfalloon and Minty's other-self's joyful reunion blasted those old resentments to dust. Pinkie had closure at last, that was what mattered.

I know Pinkie will happily look forward to Minty-Clover's visits when this is over and we serve our time.

I might too.

I plan on asking Granfalloon to put in a good word with Clover for me. I...wanna be friends too.

"Scootaloos!" Razzaroo shouted at the army. "Clear a way to the clubhouse! Everypony who's a part of Ponyville! Get to the Cutie Mark Crusaders tree house at Sweet Apple Acres! It's the way out of the fake Ponyville! Those who know the way, help those who don't!"

"Do what she says, Scoots!" I shouted.

Razzaroo then used her spell book to create several glowing arrows in the sky pointing the way towards freedom. I saw Bon Bon help up a bleeding Lyra.

"Rainbow Dash and her friends, me and my friends: we'll all make sure you get out safely!" shouted Clover. "We have friends on the other side waiting for you! You won't be hurt! YOU'RE ALL GETTING OUT OF THIS ALIVE!"

All the while, Razzaroo was zapping any puppets or constructs that got past the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesomeness and conjuring up extra signposts.

And I saw Patch, oy! She was swinging from a rope from nowhere shouting, "Tally ho!" Swinging her sword like an idiot.

Flutterdragon zipped past and cut the rope, Patch did a summersault and spread her wings and blocked each of Flutterdragon's attacks as she tried to hit and run the substitute reaper, probing for weakness in Patch's offense-trumps-defense fighting style. An attack that would have gotten in was blocked by a wall of gold butterflies.

Bright Eyes shouted as they landed on the top of the Sofa and Quill's store. "Less grandstanding, Patch, more focus!"

"No offense Bright Eyes, but I've got WAY more experience than you," Patch said, facing Bright Eyes on her back legs with a hoof on her hip, dueling Flutterdragon with her other forehoof in a flurry of afterimages not moving any other part of her body not even looking!

I don't know if that's nuts or cool.

"If you think you're going to trot out one of your adventure stories again, right in the middle of-"

"No, no, I promise!" Patch waved her hooves defensively, ducking under Flutterdragon as she dived at the opening, and got a face full of angry butterflies from Bright Eyes.

Flutterbat screamed using sonic attacks on AJ's mirrors, but Melody released a counter-wave with her sword and pretty voice.

Flutterbat then dove at the healing Scootaloos, but was caught off-guard when a reflection of Applejack -- pre-Discord Applejack -- punched the batpony in the face. "Don't you know it ain't polite ta pick on those smaller than you? Yer ma's ashamed Ah bet!"

Nightmare Mirror didn't say it, but I knew her well enough to understand that her 'reflection' was still her, which meant if either body was hurt, so would the other. Of course Mirror wasn't so suicidally honest as to go blabbing that when Whisper might've forgotten.

Large bat constructs flew to aid Flutterbat, but Melody chipped in, cutting them apart and brawled with Flutterbat and her concept-killer rod. Mirror fought bare hoofed again her. Melody's movements were hard and fast.

"Yer pretty good! Ah guess Rarity's stronger than she look, no matter her incarnation."

"How did you-"

"Eyes of truth, darlin'!"

AJ's reflection bucked away Flutterbat back into the air.

"Don't go telling Spike, please, Applejack?"

"Wouldn't be right to turn down a friend's request."

I agreed. Spike as a sane dragon wouldn't want Rarity to see him like this.

Melody met the bat pony in the air. Flutterbat was using her tail like a fifth hoof to hold her concept-killer taking relentless stabs at Melody, and countering with a sonic attack of her own if Melody tried to do the same.

Melody flew in a circle around the Detachments, her sword seemed to turn back to normal, but now there were bright metal rods around her. Flutterbat braced herself for the rods to come at her all at once.

Instead, Melody began hitting them, each one giving off a vibration as she did so that only got louder and higher pitched the more she struck.

"W-what?!" Flutterbat screamed. Glowing cracks appeared in her body.

"Everything has a sympathetic harmonize, including you!" Melody said.

"You are so immodest!"

"I'm an entertainer, I can't afford to be modest."

Flutterbat screeched and shattered.

Patch laughed. "Ponies of the Tales, Third, and Fourth generation fighting side-by-side! Too bad Firefly isn't here, or our fans would be wonking out!"

Bright Eyes sniggered. "Heh, who you think is with Wind Whistler ready to lead in an army of Paradise Ponies in case we fail?"

"HEH! Well, too bad for Firefly, cause we're not gonna!"

The first of the ponies were finally making to the way out. But little and not so little yellow and pink star spiders began webbing up the entrance, while the hole was getting smaller as the barrier healed.

"OH NO YOU DON'T!"

Butterflies verses spiders?

Bright Eyes' butterflies flashed, but instead of becoming her butterfly sword again, they turned one big huge gigantic glowing golden butterfly that squished the spiders! I noted it was missing two legs.

"HOW DARE YOU!" The barrier continued to seal up.

"I dare because I care!" And Bright Eyes' giant monster butterfly wedged itself into the hole, and spread its wings, and forced it to stay open, pushing back against Nightmare Whisper's will!

I think 'cause Fluttershy and Bright Eyes had the same soul, the barrier thought that Whisper was giving the command to stay open, while the same time telling it to close up, so the dang thing was stuck in loop! Good for everypony!

"Sweet Heart and Bon-Bon are gonna be sorry they missed this adventure!" Patch cheered.

"They'll do their part for the living once they're outside the barrier! They're counting on us to do ours!" Starlight said.

"Reapers saving lives, will wonders never cease," Bright Eyes whispered to herself.

Lyra and Bon Bon managed to be the first ones through. One of the falcon constructs dove in after them.

"Protect Teddy!" I heard a voice echo on the other side, there was a loud banging noise an the construct went flying out, a shield with a big heart in the middle sticking out of the hole for a bit before going back inside.

I kept zapping and blast the giant Nightmare Whisper, but she kept absorbing anything I threw at her like a dry sponge.

Patch jammed her sword into Flutterdragon's mouth just as she was about to breath fire on the apparently unarmed Bright Eyes. The dragon froze solid, and Patch shattered her.

The dragon's body broke down into chaos magic, a small light flew out of her and back into Fluttercruel.

It was smaller than a normal light of existence, and was yellow instead of white.

"I can still defend myself, Patch." Bright Eyes said, showing she hadn't used all the butterflies at her command while creating a butterfly sword.

"Just helping a friend."

"Everypony! Focus on Flutternice!" Starlight ordered as the others all cornered the filly I'd watched Fluttershy raise for countless thousand year cycles.

"All of you against me? That's not fair!" Flutternice said.

"This is a battle, not a fencing match!" Melody shouted back.

From where she was bound, Flutterfly gave out a gasp and a similar light flew out from her body, which dissolved into raw chaos magic. The butterflies that had been holding her flew off and became an extra leg for the giant butterfly.

"Mama always says if the world isn't fair, THEN MAKE IT FAIR!" Flutternice detached her limbs again, and her Detachments all respawned as her parts grew back. The reapers were stunned.

I don't know if Flutternice's chaos magic recreates new concept killing rods for them or just teleported their old ones to them.

"HEHEHE!" Fluttergriff grinned and chuckled. Flutterbat hissed a laugh, Flutterdragon growled one. Flutterfly chortled.

Melody groaned. "Oh right, can't just cut off the branches need to take down the trunk too!"

"ROUND TWO!" Fluttergriff cried and the reapers and Detachments fought again. The Detachments just a bit more reckless and aggressive.

Starlight went for the root of their problem. Her scythe and Flutternice's own concept-killer gave off sparks as they struck each other.

"You know Discord rubbed it in Eclipse's face that one version of Fluttercruel had escaped her grasp. I guess he never knew you did too."

"I am not Fluttercruel," answered Flutternice. "I was born broken but mother healed me. It was the first thing she did when she became a Nightmare."

"Sorry. So what did it feel like when your mother lovingly destroyed your personality and reprogrammed you like a machine?" asked Starlight.

"SHUT UP! She-she only did it because she loves me!" The Detachments became less focused.

"You mean like how you mutilated how-many innocent ponies because you thought that was your best way to express love?"

"I SAID SHUT UP! Mom made me better!"

"You mean violated your soul like Discord violated her soul?"

In spite of how much Fluttercruel needed a therapy lesson, I couldn't help feeling confused why Starlight seemed intent on casting what Whisper did to her daughter in such negative light.

Then I caught sight of the ring on her hoof...She'd said she got married in Heaven, right? Geez, I guess I'd be clopped off at a mom doing this to her foal if I died before I could get one.

SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP!" Fluttenice said, in tears. The Detachments were now the ones on the defensive as Starlight's two pronged attacked distracted their trunk.

"You know if your mother trusted you to fully learn your chaos magic, I don't know if we'd stand a chance. True, you don't have the power boost that Fluttercruel had when your father chose to give her your grandfather's essence and his own power rather than feed on her to heal himself. And you never underwent the rite to become a complete Nature's Fury, so you're like a big caterpillar that never became a butterfly. Not very natural for a mother who believes in nature."

"AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!" Flutternice screamed, snarling, hissing, growling, and whatever other sounds her animal parts could make.

There wasn't a bloody thing cathartic about it, this wasn't my Fluttercruel, she never been my Fluttercruel, and I wasn't Nightmare Eclipse, and I wasn't going to be!

Starlight was blocking her mad attacks easier now.

"Mother protects me from my taint! My soul is tainted! My cutie mark is tainted! Discord's evil is inside me! Mother makes sure it never wins! She taught me not to use that evil magic unless she says so!"

"I never said your soul was tainted, dear." Whisper's voice spoke. "But it was cruel and wrong for Rota Fortuna to give you such an awful and horrid cutie mark."

"Cruel? Wrong?" Starlight asked as one of Flutternice's attack hit her in the gut, then one on her back sent her smashing to the ground. She got back up, checking her wings for breaks as Flutternice, crying and screaming attacked. "You know my special talent isn't astronomy or navigation. It's a star that guides through the night. Guiding students to a future, guiding friends to peaceful way to settle problems. And if your cutie mark is evil, why isn't there blood on the blades?"

"HUH!?" Flutternice froze like a statue.

"If your swords symbolize hurting others, why aren't they bloody? If it's evil, why is it shaped like a heart? Maybe you have a talent for bladed weapons, but tell me, are you any good at sword dancing? Expressing your feelings through dancing is something only the greatest dancers can do. Maybe your cutie mark isn't evil. Why would Rota Fortuna give you an EVIL cutie mark?"

I remembered the Fluttershys' daughters across the worldlines. Those who became Elements of Loyalty, or Kindness, who decided to save the world FROM their father, ones adopted by Cadence and raised to be a Princess, those who Discord himself raised to be kind and warm mares like their mothers (Eclipse was sure to 'tape over' that), and so many of them with that same cutie mark. And I never realized it.

"A stage pyrotechnic who thinks her cutie mark is for arson," I whispered. We'd been treating it like a drug addiction. No wonder our 'treatments' hadn't completely worked.

The Detachments suddenly stopped fighting back. Melody and Bright Eyes didn't waste the chance, and the four lights flew back into Flutternice.

"I-I-I-" Flutternice's entire body was shaking. Looking like a confused and hurt little filly.

"Don't listen to her, dear. She's trying to trick you. Don't worry. Just listen to mommy and everything will be just fine. Just don't listen. That's the key to resisting evil after all. Just don't listen to any quibbling doublespeak or obfuscating sophistry, and evil can never affect you! Just believe in what mommy's taught you and their silly equivocations can't hurt you!"

Starlight's jaw dropped. I get the feeling that went against everything her own cutie mark embodied.

"And you bad ponies brought this on yourselves," Whisper continued. "Nice, you have mommy's permission to use the special paddle."

"T-t-thank you, mama!"

"FLUTTERNICE, NO! NOT LISTENING IS NEVER THE ANSWER!" Starlight shouted, except Flutternice wasn't listening anymore, like a good daughter.

"I had to at least try," Starlight sighed resigned. "For Bright Eye's sake."

Flutternice tossed aside her rod and took out a paddle. Oh horse apples.

"Pretty please put them to sleep, Iron Will."

'Iron Will' was a double-ended, double edged, buster (horse-killer) sword with each blade the length and with of a pony, made of solid 'iron.'

"That's a concept-killing weapon!" Bright Eyes exclaimed the obvious.

"But there wasn't enough left of Tirek, Luna's chariot to make that!" Melody declared.

"They're called time loops, dearies," Whisper said, pleasantly. "We Nightmares have been making use of them for a long time, now."

"Will's really good at keep away pesky gods who want to burgle Auntie Twilight's house, and annoying angels who wanted to meddle with papa's rehabilitation." One of Flutternice's eyes twitched.

She let out a Draconequi war cry and moved faster and more furious than ever before, like she had been wearing weighty chains the whole time, swinging her weapon like it was made of styrofoam.

She sang.

"Reapers, reapers,

That's what ponies call you. Why?

'Cause they all die."

Flutternice looked like speed was that she could keep up with all five of them. Her magically animated afterimages might have had something to do with it too!

She was knocking away the others, and trying to corner Bright Eyes even to where she took a slash from Starlight's scythe to try and skewer Bright Eyes on her horse-killer.

"Everypony guard Bright Eyes!" Starslight shouted.

"'Nice must figure she's the easiest to knock off!" Patch said.

It was worse than that. Flutternice knew Bright Eyes was the only thing keep the gateway open.

I flew to help them, but turning my back on Nightmare Whisper was a mistake. She grabbed me. I sent enough lightning through her to knock one of Tiamat's head unconscious. She didn't even flinch. Huh? I tried sending electricity through her motor nerves so she'd involuntary let me go. Still nothing? That made no sense! Even as Nightmares, our bodies were still based on the biological rules of flesh and blood creatures!

"With this song, I save their lives.

You act if kidnapping from paradise makes you noble ponies.

That a fact?

Well you're~ big~ dumb~ meanies~!"

"Part of yer Draco name is Gens, it means tribe!

Your mother's advice isn't the only you should subscribe!" Melody sang back.

'Nice spun her weapon like it was fan blades, somehow blocking Melody's attack sound with it. An afterimage of Flutternice kept up the block while the reason one zipped around and attacked Melody. Erasing a flew locks of mane of existence and nearly making Melody be born without a head.

Nice slashed down with full force with her weapon, only for Clover to catch the big thing with her four hoof blades.

"You cannot crack my sword, so go ahead and kick those hooves like you're in the right, it's such a bore. You think you're the heroes? Oh~ Please!~"

Then Nice realized Clover wasn't just blocking, she was holding the horse-killer in place.

Starlight ordered Bright Eyes stay back as Nice was made to dodge several scythe slashes. Then she DISCONNECTED the hilt, using one of the huge swords on its own to overpower Starlight and swinging Clover clear off her weapon.

She reconnected the weapons in a moment. She easily knocked another of Melody sonic attacks.

"The dream shall be eternal.~ Fair thee well to all things external. Gifts of mother to help me. Reapers, I'll~ be~ your~ graves.~"

"The Dream shall be eternal

Exorcism has come, reapers~!"

The girls were being all knocked away from the sheer FORCE of Flutternice's sword swings.

"Minty!" She flew towards the fight. No! Pinkie! Don't abandon-

A sea-serpent construct burst its head out of the library roof and began to wrap around Mirror to break her concentration! The constructs must have burrowed through the basement!

Razzaroo had to abandon being the heavily artillery the Scootaloo Army needed, in order to save Mirror. I could already see the fog beginning to rise, the mortal ponies' actions beginning to slow as the fog began to pull them in.

Razzaroo shot every element in the book at the seapony, but a murder of yellow crows construct flew in and used themselves as a blockade.

Granfalloon about-faced and slammed a giant mouse trap on the construct seapony's head, putting it on a giant crack and pulling it off AJ. She quickly sealed up the hole, but first dropping an anvil down it as a surprise for whatever was coming up next.

AJ began using her mirrors again, and the fog was burned away again.

"Razz!" I shouted. "Stop anything else from below!"

"But-"

"The Scoots will handle the Ponyville ponies!"

Razzaroo didn't argue. "Alright, Rainbow Dash."

That was when Patch's sword shot out a stream of fire.

Nice was flambéed in her surprise. "But you said-"

Patch said, "I lied. Ice and fire magic are both two-thirds heat transference."

Feathers fell off Starlight's wings that quickly regrew, all of them turing into Egyptian scythes swords that flung at high speed at Flutternice, as she tried to block or dodge all of them, Patch kept going for a second course of demi-draconequus Barbecue. Clover was being an indestructible, impassable wall to keep Bright Eyes safe. And Melody was drawing a breath.

"Welcome to the show, this is a number from a friend of mine!" And began a wordless vocal, a sonic attack that double for distracting Flutternice and Nice now having to worry about different style distance attacks from three different ponies.

"You all stop!" Flutternice screamed.

And all around the winged mares, the 2-D forms of floating, familiar looking, staring eyes glared at them from every possible direction.

And in an instant they were all paralyzed. Discord's the only one I've ever seen be immune to the stare, even Inserts who resisted those eyes ended up drooling vegetables.

"This...this is different from how Fluttershy's described the stare!" Starlight said.

"You forced me to use the evil version of mom's power! You, big, dumb, meanies!"

"I've met ponies with your power before, it ISN'T evil! Your ancestor Sir Squire never killed with it! He was a hero!" Patch gasped out.

"You see? When ponies devote themselves to a good cause, believing in themselves, and never ever give up, they can overcome even death itself five times over! Unlike brain-dead stooges like you who blindly follow orders of heartless, incompetent, jerkish, high-and-mighty lazy gods!"

Melody stood and ran towards her enemy.

"You're one to talk about blindly following, dear. We weren't ordered, we VOLUNTEERED!"

But that wasn't-- she had her eyes closed!

"You-but that's cheating!!! There's no way you could have-"

Melody struck the ground with her sword, creating sound waves. Like a radar.

Melody slashed in the general direction of the demi-draconequus. Forcing Flutternice to block, but the Stare held power.

"I watched over my new self! A part of me even fused with her when she became a goddess! Rarity was your mom's best friend! She knows the Stare's telltale signs that even Fluttershy didn't know!"

Flutternice attacked back.

Thankfully, something that big and heavy like Nice's horse killer made a lot of noise, letting Melody dodge just in time.

The Stare crackled and faltered slightly.

Clover's entire body shook, looking ready to rip her own muscles apart trying to move her body.

Then Melody used her sonic attack again, putting so much force behind it that it made Flutternice's ears bleed.

Flutternice slashed in a fury, creating a maze of 'never born' if Melody made one wrong move. Melody flew back then dove down, then flipped on her down back, skidding along the ground, and stabbed Flutternice nice in the leg. Then unleashed her sonic attack inside her.

Flutternice screamed, the stare broke.

"FLUTTERNICE!" screamed Whisper. "YOU MONSTER!!!"

I felt my throat clench as Flutternice grabbed Melody wrist and broke it, stomping one of her foot onto one of Melody's hooves to keep her in place, and reared up her sword to bisect her.

...Flutternice had been so much nicer, so less threatening and pleasanter to deal with, when she'd just been a twitchy-eyed girl kept on a short leash and had good behavior drummed into her by her pacifist mother. How could we have been so stupid as to help Whisper do THIS? All we'd done is cage a beast until it was chomping at the bit to get out!

Then I remembered all the ponies who were counting on us, and refocused myself.

The others flew towards her, they weren't going to make it in time. Then a pouch of a something hit Flutternice, and green smoke burst out, allowing a black and white blur to enter with a flying kick to Flutternice's face, and send her and her oversized sword skidding along the ground.

Zecora landed gracefully on two back hooves.

"Forgive me for presuming who here has good will,

But you, strange Fluttershy, are the one trying to kill."

She helped up Melody.

"Forgive me for being late,

I did not think I had a due date."

Melody opened her eyes and looked at Zecora like she'd seen a ghost.

A strange calm fell over everything. It was like the gears of reality had just been knocked out of place.

I don't think anypony planned for her arrival.

"Sweet mother of mercy,

Everything gone to heresy.

I knew something was strange,

But this is all deranged.

Into town,

I came down,

I came to check on ponies,

But I can't tell this from macaroni."

"Thank you, Miss Hac-, Miss Zecora," Melody breathed. Zecora helped her up.

"If I understand this plight,

"This Ponyville is completely trite?"

"It's a lot more complicated than that."

Zecora looked at the Scootaloo Army that was still protecting the escaping Ponyville ponies, there were more than I remembered who had been sealed inside puppets.

"That I can see,

But you're here to set us free?"

"Yes, I promise that's the case," Melody said.

"We all promise," Starlight said flying next to Zecora. "We all came all this way to help you. You're all equine-beings. And...and a lot of you are dear to us in ways you can't imagine." Starlight looked like she wanted to hug Zecora then and there.

The other winged mares looked ready to bow to Zecora. Geeze, I'm missing a big part of the story, again, aren't I?

Flutternice exploded out of the fake blue shed of Doctor Whooves she had crashed into. "CHEATER!!!!!"

She sounded like a clopped-off five year old foal, and trust me; there is nothing more cruel than a foal.

Starlight looked at the infuriated little demi-goddess. "The rest of you go help fight Nightmare Whisper, Zecora and I will take care of Flutternice."

Clover gasped. "Starlight! You can't be serious! There's no way she can-"

Starlight glared at her the way only a leader can. "She'll be enough." She looked at the witch doctor. "That is, if you want to!"

"There's no time for debate,

I'll help carry your weight."

Flutternice was busy having a tempter tantrum while Starlight and Zecora had their heart to heart.

The other four flew towards where I was still feeling the grip of the giant Nightmare Whisper's oh-so-loving vice-like embrace.

"It's nice to be besides you again." Starlight said with a tear.

"Again? What you mean friend?"

"In another life, you were my teacher."

Looks like Pinkie Pie isn't the only one getting a happy reunion today.

"I see. Then let such be."

Flutternice started now that she got a good look at who had sucker-kicked her. "A mortal zebra verses a demi-draconequus? Go home. You'll get hurt!"

Zecora with one swift motion, kicked up a familiar concept killing rod from the debris in front of Zecora. The 'master copy' that Flutternice had tossed aside when she had bought out her big toy. Flutternice hadn't noticed it due to the green smoke from Zecora's first attack still hanging on the ground.

"Oh."

"You won't be wearing my fur,

You fight like an amateur."

"Zecora, that weapon, if you kill somepony with it, it'll be like they were never born."

"Thank for the red flag before I gave this a whack.

I suppose I'll just have to hold back."

Flutternice's jaw dropped. "YOU ARROGANT LITLE ZEBRA! I SQUASH YOU FLAT! THEN YOU KNOW TO BE POLITE!"

"While you appear an adult,

You inner-self is no grown-up.

I am banking,

You need a spanking."

"ZECORA! Don't you dare think you can discipline my foal!"

Fluttershy's voice boomed.

Zecora sighed.

"Your friendship Fluttershy,

I do not wish to say goodbye.

But she is your foal,

Know that she does not seem whole."

"Less verses!

More versus!" Flutternice shouted as she made the first attack.

- 'Got To Win' Sword Arts Online-

You won't believe me when I tell ya, but Starlight and Zecora didn't fight Flutterrnice like a pair of strangers.

In this place where souls remember, they fought alongside each other like old friends who've partnered together for hundreds of missions. Their fighting styles complemented each other perfectly.

I think Melody's attack from the inside damage Flutternice a lot more than you can see with your eyes. She was definitely not at 100% anymore. Her afterimages were a lot more sluggish and clumsy as Zecora and Starlight began cutting them down. She quickly stopped using them when she figured out it was draining her more than helping her!

She flew upwards, right out of Zecora's reach.

"Too bad for you, you're the only one here who can't fly!"

Without missing a beat, Zecora leapt onto the blade of Starlight's scythe and the magic of leverage sent her speeding upwards. Flutternice didn't expect that! She cried out when Zecora grabbed Flutternice's batwing and mane, using her body as leverage dislocated her wing.

"You'll get no breather,

Now you can't fly either!"

Flutternice crashed back to the ground, Zecora on top and rolled off her enemy grabbing the concept killer rod again.

"You are not quite mature,

That is why I call you an amateur."

Flutternice responded with a horizontal slash of her sword, Zecora leapt and landed right on the flat top of the blade. Jabbing Flutternice in the torso with her rod.

"Your weapon is scary to the eyes,

But its double size is where its weakness lies."

Nice twisted the blade, but Zecora impressively merely balanced on the edge too. Then Nice slashed upwards, but Zecora did a back flip landed perfectly and swept Nice's legs with the rod, Nice instinctively spread out her wings to balance herself, and cried out in pain from her dislocated wing. Using both her perfectly functional wings, Starlight did a double buck to Flutternice's stomach, sending her back again.

She came back spinning her weapon like helicopter blades, Starlight responded in kind with her scythe, the blades sending off sparks. Starlight then used reverse rotation and CAUGHT the weapon with her own. Nice began to overpower her, Starlight changed her scythe back into a normal sword, Flutternice's slammed into the ground sending up dust, but I heard Starlight slash into Flutternice's side as Nice cried out holding her side as the dust settled.

"A long range blade weapon in close quarters melee isn't very bright," Starlight admitted. Zecora took the chance to again begin jabbing Flutternice with the rod's end, before backing off as Nice tore her double-ended sword out of the ground.

Zecora and Starlight flanked Nice, who disconnected her weapon into two blades blocking both of them.

Both retreated at once and Starlight took Zecora up to the air.

"Stop cheating!"

"I didn't mean to falsely claim victory,

I'll give an apology to the referee."

HEH! Nice burn, Zecora!

Nice growled and detached Fluttergriff who flew straight at them, weaponless.

"OH. NO. YOU. DON'T!" Starlight shouted.

Zecora introduced her hoof to Fluttergriff's beak, it was a smashing meeting.

Starlight's sword became a scythe again and she bisected the yellow griffin whose light flew back into Nice and the body fell apart into chaos magic.

I'm guessing Nice's running on empty after that last one!

"You might not be having this problem if you hadn't CUT OUT your Element of Chaos!"

"It was evil!"

"An Element only reflects the Bearer."

Another murder yellow of crow constructs crowded around Starlight and Zecora, forcing them back to the ground. Whisper's not a neglectful mother.

"Nice! Retreat! You're getting hurt!"

"No! I'm going to win! I won't give up! Not now! Not ever! I'm going to kick their plots! There's no way I'm gonna lose!"

"Nice! I'm telling you-"

"Believe in me, mom, like I believe in you!" She moved like a freight train at the pair. "I am done with you!"

"Same here, little filly!" Starlight shouted.

Nice flung herself at the pair, the two disconnected swords slashing in a whirlwind trying to delete my...my friends.

Zecora blocked with her rod, only for the impact to send her flying. Nice slashed with both swords together, and broke Starlight's scythe in two.

Starlight backed up, only for a yellow mole to dig out a hole right behind her, making her fall.

Starlight rolled out of the way of the slash, only to stop just as the other sword struck down where she'd have been if she'd kept moving.

"Other pegasi never could leave mom alone!" She looked about to rip Starlight's throat out with her fangs.

"I am an Earth pony!" Starlight with her back to the ground pushed herself up with her forelegs, kicking Flutternice in the stomach. "Of the Age of Wonders!" She rested her entire right foreleg against the side of Flutternice's left sword for a split second. And she lifted it up, like Spider-Pony, the blade sticking to her leg and ripping it out of Flutternice's clumsy fetlock grip.

I'd sparred with AJ enough times to recognized what happened next as Starlight channeled her earth pony magic right through the concept-killer, rising up and attacking in the same motion.

Flutternice counter-attacked without even thinking, the two identical weapons met, force and vibration traveled through them and both shattered!

Flutternice looked in bewilderment as the pieces of her swords scattered, like in slow motion, the two's eyes met, and Starlight's eyes now had the killer instinct.

Flutternice screamed in panic, and tried balancing herself on her back draconequus-style to kangaroo-kick Starlight.

Zecora caught her friend and, in a liquid motion, let her slide onto the ground, and caught Flutternice by the tail with her rod and smacked Flutternice face-first into the ground like the head of a hammer.

Flutternice was up in an instant and charged fangs, claws, hooves, and teeth, all bared, Zecora pulled back on her staff and Flutternice slammed into it. Nice gripped it trying to pull it away from Zecora. The zebra held on, but didn't resist the pull as she used Flutternice's own strength to power her kicks, and slip the weapon out of Nice's momentarily weak grip.

Flutternice used every limb on her body to attack Zecora with, whipping with her claw, stomping with her hooves, goring with her claws, biting with her teeth, everything in turn.

Zecora moved with experience and precision, the end of the black rod hitting Flutternice repeatedly but never in the same place and never with enough force to cause damage as far as I could tell, but also giving her space to retreat and dodge Nice's attack, never trying to simply block them. It was like a dance.

Flutternice thrust with her griffin claw right at Zecora's eyes, as Zecora struck her in one more spot and...she froze like a statue.

"W-what...what kind of magic..."

"That's always my itch,

I am not a witch!

Stabbed your pressure and mana-points with this thing,

I did bring."

Zecora held up the concept killer rod.

"I do not wish to scoff,

But in layponies' terms, your magic and movements, are turned off."

Zecora struck on the side again with the rod, and Flutternice's entire body went limp.

"Now please stay filly,

You're now as weak as a lily."

Nice tried to detach again, but nothing happened. Guess that was tied into her magic as well.

Starlight picked up her broken in two scythe, held the pieces together, and it turned back into a sword with a thin discoloration along the blade.

"Zecora..." Starlight said.

"Yes, child?

You'd look better if you smiled." Zecora told her with a small smile of her own.

"It...it was a honor to fight alongside you. I'm sorry I couldn't meet you in a better time and place...you're a wonderful pony, er, sorry, Zebra, no matter what your name or face are. Oooh! There's so much I never said! There's so much I never got a chance to say! I was never there for you! When you've always been there for me!"

From where I stood, quietly listening to all this had a fun, wry moment imagining Starlight being born into Zecora's tribe of zebras, and sporting one of their mohawks.

Zecora put a hoof on Starlight's shoulder.

"Child, do not fixate on what you could have had.

It shall drive you mad.

You are here now,

that I can avow."

Starlight cried and hugged her. "Thank you!"

Zecora lovingly patted her on the back.

"Forgive me if things are not as they seem,

but I do believe I've seen you in a dream."

Zecora took a moment to throw some sort of powder in the face of a Timberwolf construct coming behind her, making it act like it'd had a run in with a skunk.

"Y-Yeah, maybe..." Starlight cut a construct behind her in half.

"I believe I was a teacher in a school long ago,

many classes I did sow.

In it you were a pupil dear,

who learning did now fear.

To be a teacher you wanted to be,

and to see that I was proud as could be.

Was this just a dream that did not last,

or a memory of life past?"

I normally would say dialogue in the middle of combat wasn't a good idea, but these two could clearly watch their own backs. I watched just in case Fluttershy gave Flutternice a free cheat-code, actually putting her down was next to impossible.

"...I...that...that's one way to put it..."

"Then Starlight do not fear,

I am proud of you my dear."

Starlight started crying at that. "But I..."

"If for something you feel regret,

do not fret.

If guilt for it you do feel,

then I believe that guilt is real.

For as much as I now live,

I do forgive."

They hugged. Good for them, I guess...

"We had better get her to the portal. Demi-goddess or not, she might not be safe here if this place collapses after we subdue Fluttershy," Starlight said.

A nasty looking ring of animal constructs formed around the two friends and they stood back to back.

"You hurt my baby!"

"She was trying to kill us!" Starlight shouted.

"Don't lie to me! You both need to learn some manners!"

Zecora shook her head.

"So yet another parent,

Turns a blind eye to their foal's problems, apparent."

The army of constructs came at them from every direction, Zecora and Starlight weren't exactly fresh with cuts and bruises aplenty. But I had every confidence they'd make it, no way they were going down now!

And I know Fluttershy. Even as a Nightmare she wasn't a killer, and wasn't one after her mind was healed by the Elements.

Meanwhile, back with me...remember me? I'd actually got myself freed soon after the fight between Zecora, Starlight and Flutternice started. It wasn't like the rest of the world froze while they were fighting.

The puppet of Mr. Cake pulled a member of the Scootaloo Army, (loop #30,001 for the record) inside itself with its puppet string, and Scootaloo PUNCHED HER WAY OUT FROM THE INSIDE!

One of them punched a hoof into a puppet and let loose some energy from Element of Loyalty INSIDE it. Yeah, a few had Elements of Loyalty, what did you expect? I dare you to find a more loyal filly. And I was proud of her.

Being a Bearer is a tough job? Duh. That SOME version of you out there HAS TO have become a Nightmare? That so?

Let me tell you something. One thing I noticed through the world lines? Those few 'normal and safe' ponies who weren't Element bearers in ANY worldline? They have NO HEART!

To not be an Element in ANY world line you have to be heartless in every worldline! It's proof there's a spark of goodness in you!

I saw Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom being flown to the portal by their Scootaloos.

"But Scootaloo! I wanna help! I don't care what she's sayin'! She's my sister! She's gotta be!" Apple Bloom shouted.

"And I'm not leaving without Rarity!" Sweetie Belle squirmed.

"...Apple Bloom I'm sorry, but you can't help. There are lots of way you can help your sister. There's lots you're good at. But galloping straight into the middle of a fight between demigods ISN'T one of them! You'll just be a target!" Scootaloo pleaded.

"But yer gettin' tah help!...A lotta yah are!"

"I know, but I don't know HOW I know how to fight this well! How WE do...it's like a part of me knows how to fight even if I don't! But it also knows you don't...you're healers not fighters..."

"But you...and you, and you...all of yous, you're... you're all fighting. What makes you different?!"

"...I'm sorry, Apple Bloom, but...my body remembers, my heart remembers, even if my head doesn't want to remember. Remembers fighting...so much fighting."

"Well, maybe Ah just need to remember some fancy stuff too Ah can't remember if yer suddenly a super-battle-pony, maybe Ah-"

The look in Scootaloo's eyes, heh, like Granny Smith, like my own grandparents, somepony who had lived so long, and carried so much, and lost so much. "No Apple Bloom. Not here. Not like this. All I know is if you remember it, you'll be hurt. No. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye, no!"

"Aren't you gonna say something?" Sweetie Belle asked the Scootaloo who was carrying her.

Scootaloo nuzzled her. "I have nothing I can say Sweetie. Because I know Rarity would do the same for you."

"Then let me go!"

"I can't! You're...you're all I have left."

"What do you mean?!?!" Sweetie asked in horror as they dodged the constructs trying to stop them from reaching the portal.

"...Just know I want to keep you safe because you're my friend and I care about you...that's all you need to know right now."

"But Rarity!"

"We're saving EVERYPONY here, Sweetie Belle. If Rarity's here, then she's coming with us! And SHE'D WANT YOU SAFE!!!"

"...Alright." Sweetie Belle said in a little voice.

Sometimes super senses suck.

Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, part of me would've liked to explain this personally, but good fillies like you should stay away from Nightmares:

Know when to fold them.

Know when your loved ones are gone. Know enough to sense when you're in over your head and to bail out instead of going down with the ship. Know when things are beyond your control. Know when it's time to let go. Know how to embrace a new life, a new path, new friends.

Life's too short, even when you're NOT mortal. Sometimes it's healthy to forget. There's a difference between loyalty and chaining yourself.

Huh?

Wanna hear more of the goings on I got through my super senses? Wow. Not trying to be egotistical, but that's kinda taking a detour off of my story.

Well, since you insist.


There was a pair of earth pony mares with wings on the other side of the portal.

One had a rounded figure with a yellow coat and purple mane, and blue eyes. Her cutie mark was a big piece of wrapped candy. She was holding a journal and pen.

The other one had a white coat with a pink mane and purple eyes. Her cutie mark was a big pink heart with a few smaller hearts around it. She was holding the big shield I saw refuse that construct the door before. Oh, and apparently she had a halo. That was odd, I think Apple Bloom's spirit was the only one I'd ever seen have one at all.

Lyra and Bon Bon came through first, the bleeding on the two living mares and life long pair had stopped.

Bon Bon blinked, looking from the yellow mare to herself like she was looking in a mirror. Lyra was looking between them.

"What are your names?" The mare with the yellow coat asked.

Bon Bon and Lyra stiffened a bit and the words came from their mouth unbidden.

"My name is Bon Bon Sweetdrops."

"My name is Lyra Heartstrings."

The yellow mare write down their names in her journal. "Bon Bon Sweetdrops, Lyra Heartstrings, you exist."

And Nothingness had no claim.

Then the white gently touched each of them over the heart. "Bon Bon Sweetdrops, Lyra Heartstring, you're alive." All of Lyra's injuries healed right on the spot.

And Death had no claim.

"My name is Bon-Bon too by the way." The yellow mare said. "It's nice to meet you, Bon Bon."

"Are you me from the distant future?"

"I'm your great ancestor."

"Wow...were you a great warrior or healer or something?"

"No...but I was a model. And I cooked."

"Uh, Bon-Bon, there are lots of ponies behind them," the white pony said like she was Fluttershy.

"Oh. Sorry, Sweetheart. Please wait behind me."

Next was...the puppets of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, with most of the pieces broken off, showing two ponies inside.

Sweetheart gently took off the heads of the puppet shells and the other pieces.

"What are your names, little ponies?"

"Snips Puppeteer." "Snails Mage."

"Snips Puppeteer. Snails Mage. You exist."

"T-thank you." Snips whimpered.

"Don't worry, no pony is going to hurt you now," Sweetheart said as she used the same ritual she used on Bon Bon and Lyra to heal the poor boys.

Next was Nurse Redheart. After Bon-Bon wrote her name down, she looked to Sweetheart.

"You...are you an alien using Saint Sweetheart's image to calm me down so I won't freak out over your tentacled form?"

"Actually, I am Saint Sweetheart." Sweetheart hugged her. "And I'm so proud of my family and you Redheart." Redheart, meanwhile, fainted.

"Uh, oops?"

Bon Bon and Lyra helped move Nurse Redheart past the 'medical' and 'records' spot.

The next I'm told was...a pink pegasus. She had a pair of puppet shell wings.

"What's your name?"

"Cupcakes."

After...Sweetheart gently, like they were bandages, took off Cupcakes' wings.

"W-wait-!"

"It's okay, you're going to be okay now, Cupcakes, you're alive." And in that moment, Cupcakes had her wings back. I'm told she was more happy than you can imagine. And there was a lot of tears of joy.

"D-Do I get to keep them this time? Are they...are they finally real?"

"Yes. They're as real as the ones you were born with."

It took five minutes to get her to stop hugging Sweetheart. I couldn't stop smiling.

The Fighting Is Finished

View Online

So there they were! Starlight's angels, flanking the Nightdrake as he sumo wrestled with the giant Nightmare Whisper.

To think all this had been going on while Starlight and Zecora had been taking on Flutternice together!

I used my chains on the giant Nightmare Whisper, but it just passed through her like she weren't even there. My eyes narrowed as I created a cleaver lightning construct and stabbed it right through Nightmare Whisper's foreleg she was gripping me with. She didn't even flinch or let me go.

I used the weapon then to simply cut off the hoof/claw thingie that was holding me, but vines instantly whipped out and pulled it back into place. Finally, I just vibrated free. Even if I then had to land right near the enemy, vulnerable, waiting for my internal organs to put themselves back in the right places.

The back-up reapers who could used distance attacks to get her mind off of me.

"Be careful not to hurt her! She's just confused!" Nightmare Banneret begged.

"I'm trying to help all of you!"

Bright Eyes shouted, being a extra pair of eyes since she was using more of her power to keep the exit open. "We almost have the same soul! How can you trap your friends in this huge lie?!"

Fluttershy spoke from everywhere and nowhere. "Lies are only lies if you get caught. If a foal works on their heart out on a dress… and they ask your opinion, and you think it's the the ugliest thing ever, of course you'll lie to them, and then they make an ever uglier dress and ask what you think, of course you lie again, and again, that is what love is."

Ten or twenty full grown, fully-grown, fully-armored, yellow and pink dragons of the most mighty variety formed, and quickly overpowered Banneret, pushing back the little angels. Then the three yellow-and-pink draconzillas showed up, or maybe I was being delirious from shaking my molecules like a cocktail.

"Don't we get a fair fight?!" Patch shouted.

"No."

A giant party cannon exploded out of Sugarcube Corner, extending to the size of the Friendship Express burst out of Sugar Cube.

Oh yeah. That's happening!

Pinkie hopped on top of it now wearing a red French army uniform with gold ropes, white pants and black boots. She was also wearing a mustache. She put on a Neighpoleon hat, drew a sword and pointed at Banneret's faux relatives. "FIRE!!!"

The recoil sent the giant party cannon rolling over backwards, and a pink cannonball painted with Pinkie's cutie mark exploded in the middle of the scaly horde, obliterating it along with a few now-thankfully empty buildings.

The several hundred thousand Scootaloos made one Tartarus of an evac crew.

Clover just stared awe struck.

"Don't look at us, she's your imaginary friend," Patch said. I'm not gonna ask. If anything that made Pinkie Pie make more sense.

"B-but that's not fair!" Whisper's voice stuttered.

None of us threw her words back at her, at this point, it was beyond obvious.

Since Shy didn't just try the same trick again, I'm thinking that things ate up a good deal of Whisper's reserves.

That was when the constructs seemed to become extra-interested in keeping Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom from reaching the exit. And the smaller teenage dragon constructs breathing 'mist' at them, as much as they could before Mirror's mirrors burned it out. I had a mental image of a butterfly-winged 'Bloom and Sweetie in platinum armor attacking poor Mirror.

Ugh! Regenerate faster, you stupid rainbow Nightmare!

"No!" Melody looked even more worried than I felt.

Razzaroo teleported, zoomed in, riding on a shooting star, and began shooting sparkles at Nightmare Whisper that into its body like throwing stars. Okay, at this point I'm sure my head isn't regenerating as fast as it should. Maybe Whisper's slipped me some of her fog.

"I'll cover for you! Sweetie is a friend of mine too!" Razz shouted.

Melody didn't need to be told twice as she flew as fast as Pinkie Pie can carry a tune.

"You're supposed to be watching AJ's back for attacks!" I told her.

"Don't worry, Dashie! I've got it covered!" Granfalloon said, as she she popped out of the front door of the library, then popped out behind Applejack in less time than it took to teleport! Pinkie Pie, I'm happy she's on our side again.

Oh, and Melody flew up and shattered the bunch of constructs with musical notes. That look she had... it was like a mother protecting her kid.

Sweetie Belle blinked at her. "Who are you?"

"Just call me... Great Grandma Melody, okay? Give or take a few hundred greats," she gave Sweetie Belle a nuzzle. "I couldn't help my baby when she needed me, but I can help you." She looked to Scoots. "Keep flying kid, you've got a guardian angel watching you right now!"

If there's one thing Melody taught me is you don't mess with a mother, not even a Multiple Times Great Grandma, when her baby is in harm's way. A LOT of constructs found that out the hard way after Melody started playing guard duty. Razzaroo helped me up.

"Mom! Let me help! I helped The Doctor lots of times! I can help now!" Dinky struggled in her mom's mouth as they fled.

"NOH!" Derpy said. "'ou'll 'et 'urt!"

"Scootaloo's helping!"

"'n' 'm gun'na 've uh l'ng t'lk wif ‘er p'rents wh'n w' git b'ck h'me!"

Sparkler kept any cynical comments to herself, maybe I should be following her example more. The look in her eyes, she's scared, but she's not about to say it.

Three Scootaloos fought to protect them. That family, never knowing they were actually each from a different world, they and one Scootaloo were the only survivors.

I'm not Nightmare Mirror, so I hope they don't find out the truth.

"No! Please! Come back! They're going to do terrible things to you if you leave!" Shy's omnipresent voice shouted.

"She's lyin'! She ain't got a clue! Nopony but the biggest loonies would go ta this much trouble ta save ya all if they just wanted nasty things ta happen to ya!" Mirror was using the Royal Canterlot Voice to make sure she was heard.

"Hehe, it's always good to hear you say a comforting truth, AJ!" Pinkie chimed in.

"Whelp," said Mirror, with a smile, "It's cuz Ah was so honest 'bout all them bad things fer that whole time that ya know mah good news is the real deal, 'stead of jest sweet li'l lies!"

"So our sense of joy can be all the more honest," I noted.

My old friend smiled at me so happily and gratefully, how could I help but smile back?

Meanwhile, Dinky was still trying to escape her mom's protection. "Please let me help, mom! I'm not a baby!"

"'ou're MY 'aby! 'nd I'll 'rotect 'ou!" Derpy kicked a construct in the face and Sparkle sent gems in another one's eyes as they and the Scootaloo trio escort made their way to the exit.

Some Scootaloos were helping other injured individuals to the exit. I grimaced.

"So they're badflank, got it." I said. Little foals having to fight and shoulder huge responsibility... the fate of the world... I wish I could say I'd never seen such things before. Childhood cut short is always a tragedy.

"No...because their hearts wanted to know they were FINALLY truly saving you after being robbed of that chance in their own respective worlds. This is the only way their hearts can accept freedom."

"...Can't say I don't sympathize with that."

After all, wasn't I fighting to save somepony so I could have the freedom that mattered?

Exuberant, dogged, heartfelt loyalty, I could see so much of myself in all of them. The way I was supposed to be.

"They were all inspired by YOU Rainbow Dash, they all rose to protect others and oppose evil because of you! Even when you fell to Discord's sickness, the you they believed in gave them strength!"

"GOT THAT RIGHT!" Scootaloo 99,001 shouted as she did a flying back flip kicking her opponent off their hooves.

It seemed like the more determined I got to feel rotten, everypony around me just got even more determined to help me out.

Razz' helped me get out of Whisper's reach when the Nightmare made a grab for me again like my cut from before was nothing.

"No consequences, infinite loops of just more fun and games where everything is only as serious as you wish it to be! Isn't that paradise?! I've made heaven for all of you!" I can't tell if Whisper was screaming at the escaping ponies or us.

"Hell is better than yer 'paradise,' Fluttershy!" Came the Royal Canterlot Voice of Nightmare Mirror.

Clover said covering us, slicing and dicing the strand of pink mane that tried to grab us from behind using all four of her hooves. "You think this is like Paradise? I've been there. You don't have a clue."

"I don't want my friends to go to Tartarus! Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Spike, Applejack, do you want to go to Hell?!"

"No more lies," I said. "No more 'resets.' We're going to face punishment for our sins, like grown adults!" I shouted.

But then I said to myself. "But...there's something I need to do first. And I can't do that here."

"Rainbow...we can't always get what we want," said Razzaroo, who must've overheard me.

I frowned at her. "There's only one thing left I want."

She looked at me evenly. "And I'd cut out pieces of my soul if I could give that to you."

The puppets were wiped out, and Whisper was sending all her constructs now after either Starlight and Zecora, or trying to breach the defenses of the Scootaloos as they protected the ponies escaping this violated version of Ponyville.

The giant Nightmare Whisper was now facing Spike, Razzaroo, Clover, Patch, and Bright Eyes with no back up, and Spike doing a good job of keeping her one big target. But she kept healing and wasn't even flinching from all the damage.

Not having any distance attack or being a walking Cuisinart like Clover, Bright Eyes looked at her own weapon.

"Seriously, it had to be swords? They're pretty-looking but rifles would have been more practical," Bright Eyes said. Her sword transformed into butterflies again and then into a bucking crossbow.

"Feeling medieval, huh? I suppose this will do too. Thank you, Lance!" She began firing shots at where the vital points of the Nightmare should have been to slow it down or disable it, the shots turning to gold butterflies, who flutter back to Bright Eyes, lightning-quick, effectively giving her unlimited ammo. "I only wish I'd thought of this earlier!"

"Sorry for intruding on your fight," Patch bowed apologetically as she burned and froze at the giant Nightmare.

My insides had fully regenerated. Geeze, that took longer than it should have. I looked at the giant and slowly turned my head upwards to the sun.

I shrugged. "It's okay, you can take of this thing. I'm going after Nightmare Whisper."

"Wait what-" I didn't stick around to explain. I just flew straight up.

This thing was just another fake. She switched one illusion for another. You tried too hard, Fluttershy. The puppets are impossible to tell apart on the outside, but inside is another story. My chains only work on things with free will!

If the Kindest of Lies could project herself through a construct that confused even Mirror's senses, why not a giant puppet when Mirror's already distracted?

Puppet strings aren't connected to nothing.

One problem: 'Shy realized what I was doing anyway, and the sky filled with 'fog.'

I was wrong about 'Shy's reserves. A wall of her animal constructs formed right on top of me.

"You wanna do this the hard way? We'll do this the hard way! Sonic-Rainboom!"

I blew right threw the wall of Nightmare Whisper's toys, only to find another wall of 'em waitin' behind it!

Sonic Rainboom! Sonic Rainboom! Sonic Rainboom!

They're swarming all around me, weighing me down! GET OFF ME!!!

I ripped my way through, clawing and digging, bits of my barding breaking off piece by piece until I'm naked except for part of my champron. My fancy armor sure looks absurd when I'm not wearing the whole set.

More enemies pile down on me like a waterfall the closer I got to the source. Two flaps up and five flaps back! Stop it already, Fluttershy!

Unexpected help from all sides.

Scootaloos?

Yes.

They weren't the surprise.

"I don't know the whole story, but I'll trust you Rainbow Dash," Spitfire said.

"Just promise us a full answer later," Thunderlane added.

The Wonderbolts! Freed of their puppet shells, with Spitfire leading the formation. And Thunderlane and the rest of the Ponyville weather team...all of them. Spitfire. Misty Fly. Fleetfoot. Soarin'. Blaze. Rapidfire. Wave Chill. High Winds. Lady. Surprise (I think it's just a passed-down name). Cloud Kicker. Raindrops. Cloudchaser and Flitter.

All looking at me like they honestly want to be friends with me. What was I? Stupid? They already were.

I was stunned. I was just plain stunned. They were their right minds... they didn't have any sort of brainwashing on them... and they'd all come to help me, of their own choice. My Element of Loyalty and Free-Will glowed bright.

"Spitfire, I-"

"SAVE IT AND DO WHATEVER THE HAY YOU WERE DOING, YOU NINNY!!"

The constructs were confused as heck, because 'Shy was getting her wires crossed from a over a dozen new targets at once. It would take just a tiny bit for 'Shy to get her head back on straight and direct her pawns to properly deal with the new problem.

That tiny bit, was all the Dash needed!!!

Up, up and away!!!!

I can see them this time: the puppet strings snaking down, either for me or my friends, I don't care which; I obliterate them without a second thought.

I fly higher, and higher, and higher, past Cloudsdale, past everything, I could touch the sky.

Instead, I smash right through it like a bullet!

The pieces of the fake sky fell beneath me like glass; I don't mind. I landed on the backside of the 'sky'. The new floor I'm standing on is artistically painted with all the constellations and the moon.

And here was all the background machinery that kept this theme-park Ponyville running. The ceiling was a mind-breaking crisscross of wooden pulleys and ropes stretching as far as the eye could see, the forest of puppet strings around me dangling through the floor like it wasn't even there.

And there she was at the center of it all, pulling countless threads at once in every direction with her telekinesis, with more still tied around her wing-tips, hooves, and tail.

She wasn't the size of a building. She was small for a Nightmare. She didn't have bleeding shackles. Her horn didn't bleed at the base. She didn't have claws instead of hooves. She didn't have a hole in her chest with a glowing orb containing all of Equestria's suffering. She didn't have fangs or pupil-less eyes.

Instead, I saw a beautiful demure mare with a coat one-shade-darker-than-butter yellow. Her cutie mark was a trio of butterflies with blue wings and pink bodies. Blue eyes like those of a dragon. A sleek and shiny horn glowing pink. A pair of delicate pink butterfly wings. Her mane and tail were pink and flowing, flowers seemingly growing from it, even leaving a slight trail as it moved in the ebbs and flows of life around her. She wore platinum barding styled after Princess Celestia's.

Poor girl really looked like she could use some sleep. Next to her was a half-eaten daisy sandwich, a picture of us six back in our happy bygone Element Of Harmony days together in Ponyville, a heart-shaped picture of Flutternice, a foalhood blanket, and a truckload of knitted wool animals, including one of Angel.

This was the real Nightmare Whisper.

"Fluttershy, it's over."

"No!" She cried out fearfully, though not for her own sake. Never for her own sake. Nightmare Whisper had completely grown past fearing for herself long, long ago.

A puppet of me dropped down from the rafters and flew right at me. Capable of everything I'd been capable of as a pegasus; every stunt, every move, every technique, my equal in every way.

I broke it apart and swept it aside with one swift stroke of my telekinesis.


"Don't come any closer, Rainbow Dash!"

"Avoidance was never the solution, Whisper."

She fumes a bit at that. "Stop calling me that! My name is Fluttershy! Stay back! Don't make me...don't make me..."

"...If you really are Fluttershy again...why aren't you acting like it?" I asked, not angry...more sad. "...You're still acting like Nightmare Whisper…"

Element of Harmony stolen! My wings! Into the maze! My cutie mark? Gotta be my element! Discord! Put'em up jerk! Something important to say?

'A weighty choice is yours to make,

The right selection or a big mistake.

If the wrong choice you choose to pursue,

The foundations of home will crumble without you?'

Dang it I hate riddles! Whatever! Come on jerk!

...Cloudsdale.

Fall apart...without me...

Discord said, "That box contains your wings. You can take them and leave the game, or you can carry on aimlessly wandering this maze. Your choice."

"...Keep them. They're yours. I have to find my friends."

Discord is absolutely stunned. "What?! Your home will be destroyed!"

"And I know they wouldn't want me to betray the world just to save them."

"Then you're betraying them!"

"It's not betrayal, if I'm doing it for everything Clouddale stands for and what pegasi believe in!"

I smile elatedly. I have the weirdest sensation that I should've literally said these words eons ago.

"My place is with my friends," I continue. "I am never abandoning Twilight! Or Applejack or Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy or Rarity!"

"Oh? What if I told you THEY were all about to give up my game?"

"Then they need a loyal friend to get their hearts back in the game more than ever! Good thing I'm here!"

I turned around and trotted away.

"You're condemning all the pegasi who won't take off in time to death!"

I turn back on him, sparking a blazing fury. "YOU'RE condemning them!" I snarl. "You're the threat. You're the menace. You're the source of the chaos. And what's scummiest of all... you PLAY DEPRAVED GAMES TO DODGE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT YOU DID!"

I charge at him like a bull seeing red. "Twisted sickos like you..." Discord's face meet my hoof, and it's the greatest physical and emotional thrill I've ever experienced. "...DON'T DESERVE TO CALL THE SHOTS!!!!" I shouted, pounding him in the face again and again.

"Yes... yes... feel his flesh give way underneath your hooves, look at the fear in his eyes, taste his helplessness. Feel him squirm under you. Look at him shrink. Can't fight back. Can't win." A sweet voice breathed in of my ears.

"Yessss..." I hissed.

"He betrayed his kind, he betrayed his duty, he betrayed his family, he betrayed his friends. And betrayed, should be punished." I grinned wider and wider as I didn't let up. ""And best of all... you don't have to feel a shred of for any of it. Because you know he's the villain, and you're the hero. Nothing you can do to him, can ever be over the line... my... Night-mare Man-ac-le..."

"NO!!!!" I screamed, shaking my head, I knew Discord wasn't behind this...not any more. I look behind Discord, seeing translucent flaming chains leading back to a white masked purple Nightmare. I flew forwards and decked Nightmare Eclipse in the face sending her spinning into a garden wall. "I AM NOT YOU! I am never going to be you! You're gone! I'm never becoming you! I'm not a sadist! You hear me! You worthless bully!"

I looked at Discord... with lots bruises, bleeding, and broken bones.

"I'm sorry," I said and meant it, and helped him up.

Discord, the maze, and Nightmare Eclipse shattered. Though Nightmare Whisper now had a big bruise on her face.

"Why... Rainbow Dash, that's what you wanted more than anything! I gave you what you wanted! I GAVE YOU WHAT YOU WANTED!"

"... Twilight Sparkle, MY Twilight Sparkle, she wouldn't want me to run away the consequences of my actions. And I wouldn't be a good role model for Scootaloo would I? This is my loyalty of my own free will!"

"I'm protecting you!"

"Nopony is living here! We're just existing! This place is nothing but a big lie! Everything!" And with my telekinesis, I tore apart the background machinery, pulling it to pieces and watching it fell apart around us.

"Rainbow, stop that right now!" A puppet of my father said as Whisper pulled it up, I telekinetically blew it apart from the inside out.

"Stop it, Dash!" This one of my mother, I dismantled it between eye blinks, the hollow pieces clattering to the floor with the rest of this grand deception.

"Why?! This is your world! Your world, Rainbow Dash!" Nightmare Whisper wept.

"...Yeah, it was my world. MY world. Mine...and they were all trapped in it."

Our fight has entered a lull. We're both catching our breaths, and I'm feeling talky.

"And all of this?...I don't deserve it. I don't deserve a perfect paradise.The truth is that is no world for me anymore! And now I need to face that. I need to finally live up to everything I did!...I'm sorry, Fluttershy, but I'm done dodging responsibility..."

I kick out a hind leg, destroying another segment of scenery. It falls straight on the decapitated head of my puppet-mom, cracking it open. I actually choke up, feeling a hot, salty droplet trickle down my cheek.

"Don't think I don't appreciate what you're trying to do for me," I tell Whisper sadly. "For all us Nightmares. Feels like I'm taking a bulldozer to my own birthday party, only a thousand times worse!

But... 171,015 Scootaloos, Whisper. 171,015. You helped me save half of them!"

"I'm sorry," she murmurs.

I nod. "I embrace the fantasy, and allow mortals to be entrapped. I embrace reality, and I hurt you, my old friend. All those times seeing you lose your body to Fluttercruel... I can't tell you how badly I missed you, Shy."

The Kindest of Lies smiles the smallest bit through her tears.

"Nightmares are as good as tornadoes in pony form," I continue. "Doomed to ruin everything around us, even at our most passive. Including other Nightmares...but we can at least think for ourselves now...we can maybe try to fix some of the mess we made...but how can we do that if we're living in a fog?"

For a second, I see what looks like understanding in Nightmare Whisper's eyes. Then the Kindest of Lies whipped her mane about and vines shot towards me, I responded with my chains, the two wrapped around each other. I broke my chains off from me, they heated up, and exploded, blowing up the vines with themselves. Nightmare Whisper cried out in pain, I take off and flew right for her though the debris.

Our eyes meet.

The Stare!

Must. Stop. Must. Not...Upset. Mommy. Fluttershy. She. Very. Cross...

And we smack into each other's heads. Ouch.

I'll skip the details about our horns, I'm just happy we can regenerate.

"But...but I was Staring you." Nightmare Whisper said in a small confused voice.

"Sorry Fluttershy, but even you can't Stare momentum."

I slide down the front of my champron over my eyes, I didn't think she could still use the stare, not making that mistake again.

I'd rather not go into detail on how I beat up the exhausted and sleep depraved mare I had defended from bullies when we were both fillies, thank you very much!!!

She wouldn't stop, she wouldn't give up, I...I finally just used my chains to hold her down. Not the ideal solution, but it was the best I could do. Then I touched my horn against her core...her half-Element.

She'd broken her Element of Chaos in half to give Flutternice her own body, one half becoming Kindness again, the other half staying an Element of Chaos. But at Flutternice's own request, Nightmare Eclipse helped Flutternice cut the Element of Chaos out of her, forcing Flutternice's seat of consciousness back into her brain...and it was just as painful as doing it the other way around from the screaming.

Using my magic on Fluttershy's core severed her tie to my pocket world, I was revoking her admin privileges! And I completely restored mine.

Dang it. The place in a bad shape. Whisper had really grown desperate at the end, I think she'd been bleeding off magic from the place to fuel her own at the end....Good thing I was done with this dump.

I also chained up all but her most basic magic. Her constructs went poof, and her giant Nightmare puppet fell to pieces, and the fog dissolved into nothing. Flutternice I think got scared I had...I had done something that couldn't be undone to Fluttershy.

"But Rainbow!" Fluttershy begged, sobbing and sniffing. "You WANTED me to do this! You WANTED to escape everything! You wanted us all safe! I did this because WANTED ME to! This was OUR project!"

"Not like this! Never like this! Nightmare Eclipse was the worst teacher possible, so stop following in her footsteps! We're... we're night terrors who need to fade away with the dawn."

"Please stop saying that about yourself, Rainbow, please don't say that about our friends!"

"We betrayed our friends, we all did, for a monster that kidnapped and enslaved our Twilight."

"...We might not be THOSE friends, but we're still FRIENDS." Her voice shook me in the way only Fluttershy's ever could.

"Dangit... you're right about that much Fluttershy...the moment I start thinking we're not...that's when I'd be no better than Nightmare Eclipse."

"Then let's just forget about-"

"You just don't LISTEN to a thing I say, do you?!" I magically lifted her up and put her on my withers. "Come along, Fluttershy, we have friends who want to talk with you."

"But...but it's not fair! I got you! Then I'd have saved everypony!"

"No Fluttershy, you wouldn't. Your puppets are gone. I'd just trashed your strings. Flutternice is out of the fight. You couldn't use the stare on me up and personal and direct a zillion constructs at the same time. I know you're tougher than you look better than anypony. And I know you already didn't have a way to pull out a win from this. Know when to fold'em 'Shy."

"I just need to beat those grim reapers, hold you off, disable Applejack, and get back all those ponies you kidnapped, and everything can be back to how it was!"

"First, you don't have the strength left to beat Princess Luna after we cured her with the Elements. Second, Fluttershy this isn't 'how it was' at all! This is a mockery of what it was before! Stop doing this to our friends, stop doing this to yourself...

"I'm not angry because you kept these ponies in my fake Ponyville so they wouldn't get deleted! If you'd JUST done that, I'd just want us to face our judgement day and leave them be. I'm upset because you did the OPPOSITE: you didn't let them LIVE. You made them PUPPETS…For what? For what you THOUGHT I wanted? If you'd just let them live their LIVES they'd have MADE this real."

"…If you knew I coudn't win anymore, then why you fight so hard?"

"Because I wanted to SAVE YOU so you wouldn't go down with the ship!... I'll protect you bullies 'Shy, and I'll protect you from yourself too."

Forgive me if I start skipping over stuff. Everything was just so tiring. I was so tired. I just wanted to rest now so bad. With the fighting over, the Ponyville ponies got out a-okay. Including the weather team and the Wonderbolts.

Starlight and her four friends were still here, likely cause we were. Zecora was the only ...er, 'regular' native, still here. They were all bruised, battered and worn out as you'd expect. I saw Starlight actually mix them up milkshakes from what supplies were still in Sugar Cube Corner. They had a good view with most of the building gone.

The place was a wreck from the battle. It was a fake Ponyville, always had been, but it was still wasn't fun to see my adopted home ruined again, imitation or not. The pieces of the puppets had been left where they'd been destroyed, made the scene all the more morbid.

The Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome...I think they were all waiting for me. 171,015 fillies I'd saved. Out of billions of ponies I didn't.

They all looked at me. None of them hated me. Some looked at me with pity. Some with admiration. Some with friendship. Some were scared and alone. Some were just lost and didn't know what they were supposed to do now that the 'saving everypony' part was done. Many looked just as tired as I felt. Many had just taken pillows out of the houses to sit down on and lean on each other. It wasn't like anypony was going to be taking them with them.

Whatever relief plan the concepts had for everypony, I doubted they were gonna have use for the imitation junk me and 'Shy had built for 'em.

Granfalloon had ransacked everything in Sugarcube corner and was hoofing out treats to the 'purple heart' Scootaloo troopers.

Banneret was sleeping, wrapped around Carousel Boutique. I let him dream.

Razzaroo was guarding Flutternice, in Golden Oak Library, reading her fairy tales.

Mirror?…Mirror found us.

"Applejack?..." Fluttershy looked up at her big eyed. The stare was one of the things my chains had sealed.

"There's already an Applejack in this worldline sugar cube, and it ain't me...come'on Fluttershy, Ah did this ta ya...maybe Ah can help ya just a tiny bit."

"Y-You, Applejack? I didn't think you approve of what I was-"

"Not what Ah meant! Maybe Ah can help ya come back to yer senses a little!"

Fluttershy shrank back, it wasn't like she could run away now.

"Mirror..." I said.

"Please RD, this is, somethin' Ah gotta do."

Mirror ended up pulling Whisper along with her magic. I didn't have a right NOT to watch. She made her look at Zecora, then the Scootaloos, then she made her stick her head out through the portal.

"Look at 'em, Fluttershy, look at 'em good now. Ya made 'em be the little Non-Player-Characters for yer 'gift' ta us. Remember who treat ponies like that?"

"N-Nightmare Eclipse."

"Callin' 'em NPCs was Eclipse's lie so she could live with herself. Every last pony we erased? It wasn't 'deletin' a save', it was murder... Ca ya say how many?"

" ...How many? I can't remember…"

"Ah can, but Ah can't tell yah."

"...Y-you're actually holding back on a cruel truth?"

"No, Ah can't tell yah cause there ain't a NUMBER high enough for it."

"THAT'S WHY I did this!" Whisper protested. "To protect them! I didn't want the same thing to happen to them! That doesn't make me evil! It...this was my redemption!"

My heart has cracked plenty of times, but there always seemed to be room for one more.

Mirror whispered to her; "...Ah'm sorry, Fluttershy, Ah really am. What yew and RD did? Savin' these ponies? That was good. It's better than if ya didn't. But that doesn't balance out what we all were doin' at the same time! These ponies? Did we save 'em? Yeah, we did. Are they alive because of us? Yes, they are. But does that save our souls and make us white knights? Hell. No. They're a drop of clear water in an ocean of blood."

And Fluttershy cried. No loud sobbing, just, silent tears. "I know that."

"Then why have ya been stoppin' 'em from fixin' the damage?"

"What?"

"Fluttershy. Ya've been keep them, us, yer filly, all frozen, the same way Nightmare Eclipse kept Discord frozen."

"But, they never experienced all those horrible things Discord did to them. Those things never happened, they were erased."

Mirror slapped her once. I, I didn't meddle.

"Their brains might not remember, Fluttershy, but their souls do, souls are timeless! They're not bound by when and where! All ya did? All ya and RD did? Ya BURIED IT, ya painted over it! But take it from me: jest painting over a barn's rot and termite damage? Ya can't see it. But it's still there all the same. Everything Ah showed ya when you, when ya became this was true, and the whole truth, but not the only truth! Here's one! A real Fluttershy should know HIDING from a hurt is no way for a hurt to heal. You've let the thorn fester instead of pulling it out."

Fluttershy said nothing in return.

"Ya know, we managed to get ya before most of the other Fluttershy started wishin' ta die jest to stop Fluttercruel from hurtin' more ponies. Before the war with Cadence. Before the war with Grogar. Before the war with them aliens. She'd already done some horrible things, but it wasn't a shadow of the walkin' house of horrors she'd turn into with Discord tellin' 'er no ta nothin'!...Ah said ya filly needed professional help, but just like Nightmare Eclipse ya ignored me or pretended Ah meant somethin' else. You made her ashamed to be herself! You 'cured' her of eatin' meat. Ya 'cured' her of lovin' her pa. Ya didn't try to help her understand her cutie mark. A CUTIE MARK REFLECTS A PONY'S SOUL! Ya were tellin' her that she was 'wrong!'"

"...We all saw what happened when she was allowed to indulge her every natural impulse, under her father's... care. Maybe not in our line, but in every other one..." Whisper replied, with a deeply sickened expression. "I love her dearly, I really do, but I ask you as a mother: how am I to respect a soul like hers, or the cutie mark it produces? A soul with a instinctive preference for cruelty? A soul whom every form of kindness is unnatural?"

"She ain't truly as bad as yer making her out to be! If that's all there was to her, she'd have never loved you or her father!" Mirror retorted. "Ain't no such thing as an 'evil' cutie mark! AND NO SUCH THING AS A SOUL THAT'S BORN EVIL!"

"I didn't want her to turn out like the other Fluttercruels!" Whisper replied, in a pained voice. "It's not like I ever showed her hatred. Or was it wrong of me to show her any form of strictness and shepherd her away from evil impulses?"

"HECK, no!" said Mirror. "But ya didn't want anypony else touchin' her! Not... not after we done, 'fixing' her of what she was! Ya were the only one allowed ta tell 'er the facts of life and how to live!"

Whisper gave another shudder. "Just a second ago, you said she needed 'professional help.' Please tell me... where should I have sent her to? Which doctor, which magical therapist could I have given her to, that would've done it right and fixed all her mental issues?"

"See, that's a problem in itself!" Mirror countered. "'Sent her to!' 'Given her to!' Like she was some busted clock! Ya shoulda worked WITH a professional, with good teachers! That's what a parent is supposed to do, but like any Nightmare, ya couldn't even hear that maybe ya were doin' somethin' wrong with 'er!"

Fluttershy said nothing.

"And the worst part, Fluttershy?" AJ asked, seriously. "Yah did this AFTER the Elements healed us! The Elements don't do half-plot jobs! Yah don't HAVE the excuse of being a crazy Nightmare! Ya messed up Fluttershy, ya messed up BAD. Ya knew that already. But the way ya were goin' 'bout 'fixin' it' wasn't fixing it at all!"

"...Is it wrong I didn't want my baby to turn out as bad as the others?" Fluttershy asked, tears in her eyes. "Seeing so many Fluttercruels...seeing them all become worse than mine ever was...Is it wrong I was afraid?"

Geeze...When she puts it like that, I almost feel bad...

"...And that makes it right?" Mirror asked. "Anymore than meh tryin' tah protect Apple Pie makes anythin' Ah did worth it?"

Fluttershy looked like she would break down crying.

"...Yah did better than most would. Yah never asked for her, Discord violated you, but that never matter to yah...But that doesn't mean yah've been in the right all this time! Yes, THOSE Fluttercruels turned into cruelty incarnate, YOURS DIDN'T! Stop thinking like Nightmare Eclipse!"

"..."

Fluttershy looked like she didn't know what to say.

"And...Ah'm sorry, Fluttershy," Mirror said unhappily, and now I could feel Whisper flinch at that word too. "But ponies aren't robots! Ya can't just 'fix 'em up' them like machines! Ponies need HELP, not repairs! Ya understood that once Fluttershy! Ah muddied the waters so much that ya forgot that! All Ah'm askin' Fluttershy is, even though there's no way Ah could ever deserve it."

Here, Mirror hung her hat over her heart.

"Jest please forgive me, jest a little."

Whisper peeked out at her through watery eyes.

"And forgive yerself! Ya don't need to take all the weights for the damage we caused by yerself! Please, Fluttershy! Let us help too! And help THE RIGHT WAY, the way that treats the disease, not just the symptoms!"

Applejack hugged her, gently folding her wings over her. Shy was about to pull away, but imagines of Fluttershy's loving animals and all the kindness she'd shown them shinned on Mirror's wings. "Like ya were always good at."

Now Fluttershy did cry, and hugged Applejack back. I hugged them too.

+++

We had been rounding up for destruction the concept-killing weapons that Flutternice and Zecora had used. None of us argued. After seeing so many ponies and worlds retconned out of existence, I was perfectly happy to see weapons that could do that on a whim gone from creation. I'm just happy Starlight using one to destroy another didn't result in a paradox that destroyed the universe.

I think EVERYPONY was trying to figure out what to do next. I think everypony was so focused on 'stop Nightmare Whisper', that NOPONY had figured out what to do once the dust had started settling.

It didn't help much that our rescuers apparently weren't give any detail either by their higher-ups. I don't think they knew I was eavesdropping.

"So what becomes of them?" Bright Eyes gestured. "They aren't technically dead, since that part of their future was destroyed. They aren't shadows of existence, they're whole beings. But most aren't even from the same timeline. But their native timelines have been destroyed. We made sure death and nothingness wouldn't take them the moment they set hoof out of this place. But many have doubles both in the world of the living and the spirit world. In particular, the Scootaloos. Separating their light and shadow, or making them enter death now would be barbaric. They're innocent. So what's to become of them?"

"I do not feel fear,

But need I remind you 'one of them' is right here?"

"OH! I'm sorry Miss H-, I mean Zecora! I'm sorry! I wasn't trying to...That was rude. I apologize."

"It is alright dear,

I sense no heartlessness when any of you are near."

Starlight spoke, "One of my bosses, Rota Fortuna told me that you'd all get unique treatment, Zecora. You've been effectively living the same day over and over this entire count, so it doesn't really count as..." Starlight stopped. "As you having other problems."

"There is much you don't wish to say,

For you fear it'll turn my mind to hay."

"Yes." Starlight said.

Rota...Fortuna...the name Nightmare Eclipse went over again and again. "She has one job! One job! And it's clear she can't even do it right with all the bad decisions ponies end up making! That's one of the first things I'm fixing."

And why the buck hadn't Twilight come? The Elements cure Nightmares like Nightmare Moon. Why didn't she come for us? Why hadn't I gotten so much as a message from her? Why hadn't any of us?!

There was so much I wanted to discuss with her.

+

You won't believe one thing that took up a lot of my time. Then again, maybe you will.

"There ya go Scootaloo," I said to Scootaloo # 99,050.

"Thanks Dash!" She hugged me and trotted away.

Scootaloo # 99,051 trotted up to me, holding a napkin in her mouth.

I dip the quill in one of the countless inkwells we'd ransacked from the library, and wrote out 'Rainbow 'DANGER!' Dash.' I was running out of monikers.

"And there ya are squirt."

"You're the best Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo # 99,051 hugged me and flew over the herd behind her, smiling.

Granfalloon provided me with coffee (with a lot of sugar), Mirror provided me with cider (though given I'm a Nightmare, getting drunk was near impossible). With one nostril of his teleportation breath, Spike kept me stocked up at the little table I'd set up (borrowed from Mayor Mare's office, she wasn't using it right now).

One of the squirts, # 171,012, asked me for my autograph. And well, if ya give a parasprite a cookie.

"So ready to scream, fly away, and hide in a closet yet?"

"Spitfire!" I smiled and hugged her, she hugged back. That I was a big scary Nightmare didn't seem to bother her THAT badly.

"Nice to see you too Rainbow Dash, so, how you holding up?"

I looked at the orange herd. "Just takin' a break squirts! I'll be back to ya in a minute!" Some spouted, some sat down, some fluttered their wings, but all understood.

I whispered to Spitfire. "It's boring, it's worse than cloud pushing duty, and I feel like my horn is gonna fall off." I had stopped using my hooves when they cramped up, and stopped using my mouth after it's gone numb for a while. "But I wouldn't stop, because I can't see how HAPPY it makes all of them!"

"Welcome to my world." Spitfire whispered, giving me a nuzzle.

"And... I promised you to tell you everything," I thought sadly.

"No, Soarin' asked you to promise all of us a full answer. You never did," Spitfire said.

"All the same, you helped me save everypony. You don't deserve to be left in the dark."

"I did my duty, and so did my teammates to protect Equestria and our fellow ponies and our friends. I don't know how we got trapped in this fake Ponyville, or how you guys all got turned into Nightmare Moon cosplayers, or why Fluttershy of all ponies was behind all this... and yeah, that vexes me and the others, a lot."

"Where are they?"

"We got a full bill of heath outside, but we said we wanted to hang out in Clouddale stadium until we could get home. Only chance we'll get to fly wind in Cloudsdale without worrying of smashing something!" Spitfire grinned. "So Dash, can you tell me what's going on?"

"... Spitfire if I told you, you'd go crazy. I did."

"Are we dead?"

"No."

"Are we golems?"

"No."

"Are we clones?"

"No."

"Am I a figment of your imagination?"

"No!"

"Are we dreams of a long lost civilization given solid form in the real world?"

"No, and the hay?"

"Sorry, hanging out around Surprise too much."

"I swear to Celestia, you are Spitfire, flesh and blood, born from your mom, and so are all your teammates."

"Well that's good to know."

"...Just know those girls that helped us beat Fluttershy's army are setting everything up to get you home, that's really all you need to think about."

"Not all...Uh, why are there like a thousand of those little orange fillies?"

My eyes widened. "Uh...there's actually 171,015 of them."

"Oh...Why?"

"Would you believe I rescued them from destroyed universes?"

"...Normally I'd think you were crazy, but that's not the craziest thing I've heard today."

Thank goodness I didn't have to admit I rescued her from a destroyed universe.

"Yeah, it's a long story."

"... Can I have some of that cider?" She asked.

"Be my guest."

"Thanks…That filly, these fillies, must mean a ton to you, huh?"

"Probably one of the most important ponies in the world."

"I think you're hers too...speaking of you, are you okay?"

"...Better than I used to be. That's for sure."

Spitfire chuckled. "Good...I think your crowd is wanting you back...And here's a tip, write in cursive, it's faster."

Before heading back to her teammates, Spitfire did a little show free of charge for the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome along with some flying tips. Can't say I didn't enjoy it too. And unknown to her, her Scootaloo got her autograph too.

+

None of us were being guarded, but none of us really had any intention of running now.

Bright Eyes explained, "Your lights of existence were cured when you were struck by the Elements of Harmony, but since you were projects through Nightmare Eclipse at the time, your shadows of existences weren't effected. You have lights of existence of Alicorns, while having the shadows of Nightmares."

Turns out Whisper had 'pasted in' Mirror's pocket world (which was just Sweet Apple Acres), into my fake Ponyville.

That left Banneret's Horde Of Gifts, Whisper's Everyarn Forest, Twilight's merged version of Golden Oak Library and her tower in Canterlot, and Granfalloon's party room.

Granfalloon's place was never exactly the same twice. Sometimes it was Sugarcube Corner, other times it was a circus, other times a theme party, others the Grand Galloping Gala as she wanted it to be, the only guests were us, her imaginary friends who had gone back inside her after being hit by the Elements, and sometimes ponies from my fake Ponyville acting as a stand-in for Princess Luna in their dreams.

The 'common area' we'd had before got blown to smithereens when the crystal ball that had contained the dark world timeline had gone boom when the combined might of six sets of Elements. Me and AJ let Pinkie Pie, Spike and Fluttershy share a toast of warm milk over our lost video games and save data.

None of us knew what to do with our five little pocket worlds, since none of us were sure what was going to happen to us, the Scootaloos, or the rest of the Ponyville ponies, and a part of me felt scared to ask.

Me? I'd be happy to blow my pocket world up after we were done here.

"Why do you want do that Dashie? I think this is a nice tribute to Ponyville you made."

"It's a mockery of how Ponyville used to be," I said. "Besides, I'm kinda sick of Ponyville, to be honest."

"Sick of it?" she asked.

"Too many memories," I sighed. "I dunno about you, Granfalloon, but from here on out, I don't want to stay in the past. I've been staying here for who knows how long...I don't know if I belong here."

Granfalloon alacrity produced a great red cupcake the size of a basketball, with gorgeous buttercream icing. "I kinda know how you feel...but sometimes the past can be good. Like remembering a favorite recipe..." She seemed genuinely happy saying that. Like whenever a version of Celestia talked about how pretty the day was or Luna about her beautiful night.

"You're a great listener, Granfalloon. I appreciate your lightheartedness and I'm glad that we're friends." The cupcake was sweet and delicious, and Granfalloon smiled when I patted her back.

We were free to move about, it was pretty clear we weren't prisoners. But all of us knew we'd be facing the music sooner than later.

And Twilight Sparkle still didn't come. Why? Did she not want to even look at us? Twilight... were you ashamed of what you did as horribly as I was?

But there was something more immediate I needed to ask to our 'rescue team.' I made sure to have the rest of my herd with me. Even Flutternice.

"What is going to happen to the Ponyville Ponies? What is going to happen to Scootaloo?"

"The Scootaloo herd is...complicated. There's no precedent for them at all. They're being addressed on a case-by-case basis," Starlight informed me.

"And the Ponyville ponies?" I asked, looking towards Zecora.

"Zecora, maybe it's better if you wait outside," Clover said.

"Stay where ya are Zecora! This is yer business," Mirror thundered.

Zecora stayed perfectly calm, a reed in the wind.

"Starlight, tell us upright,

Would this truth be a blessing or a blight?"

"...It might hurt you horribly, it might destroy you, but you'd understand what's going on better."

"I may not like being on the bottom rung,

But would it change what needs to be done?"

"No."

"Then I trust you know what's best,

If you do me but one request."

"Yes?"

"At the end of my road when you come to take my soul,

My understanding of these events you will make whole."

"What makes you think I'm-"

"Do not contradict what I say.

The wings and scythe are a dead give away."

"When you die, I promise I tell you everything, cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."

"Alright my dear,

For now I won't be near."

Zecora hugged her, bowed, and trotted outside to the other side of Sugar Cube Corner.

"We've promised to send them all home," Melody said.

"They don't have a home anymore," Mirror pointed out.

"They will soon enough!" Patch said, smiling. "We got a memo down from the higher-ups! They've got someone to construct an entire full sized universe for them!"

Mirror didn't look happy. "So yer just tradin' em a goldfish bowl for an aquarium?"

"No way!" said Melody.

"It'll become part of the natural cycle and become its own worldline." Starlight said. "This isn't some facsimile, but a true new universe for them. As their living their lives forward, history meanwhile will march backwards for them until it reaches the dawn of time. It's going to be THEIR world. Fauna Luster is also birthing lights of existence to the puppets to make them living ponies instead of automatons."

"Yer gonna need a lot of crickets," AJ said flatly.

"Good one," Patch smirked.

"Ya think this is a joke?"

"Not in the least," Bright Eyes said, standing up for Patch, like facing an angry partial concept was an old hat for her. "Everypony here? They lost everything. The least that can be done is giving them a new home where they can finish their lives freely and have their future backs."

"I know it's not perfect, I know it isn't fair but, it's...better then the alternatives," Clover said meekly.

"Hey, don't sweat it," I said with a chummy, easygoing smile. "Never expected life to be fair. Just do the best you can...To be honest, you're being more fair than we ever were."

"Death is the ultimate fairness," Starlight said with a bit of pride. "We were thinking," Starlight said, hesitantly, "Of using your pocket worlds as part of the constructs, if you'll let us. ...I know what it is to screw up and ruin everything you love too."

My friends and I all looked at each other, we didn't need to say anymore. We all nodded.

"...But what about Scootaloo?" I asked again. "I think somepony's gonna notice 171,015 identical-looking fillies running about."

"And every last one of them has the right to exist simultaneously and be called Scootaloo." Nightmare Mirror stated.

"Like we said, case-by-case basis," Bright Eyes said.

"Can you tell us whose gonna be makin' a whole universe for everypony?! They must be super-powerful, and super-nice to do all of that!" Granfalloon asked.

The angels looked at each other.

"Uh..." Clover blushed.

"Why are you looking at... us?" asked Granfalloon.

Starlight coughed. "Well...our higher-ups would like to offer you the chance to become part of the new universe after everything is settled. As well as the chance to take the trials to complete your changes into concepts, should you so choose. If you do, and if you are interesting in being concepts for this new universe in particular, you'll be offered the chance to merge with the versions of yourselves of this worldline too, though if there are any other options you'd like to ask about-"

"Yes, um, excuse me!" I said, holding up a hoof with a strained smile. "I actually do have a question. A few, in fact."

"By all means, ask," Clover invited.

"Well... hmm... you realize that my associates and I are, in fact, Nightmares."

"That so? I hadn't noticed," Starlight said, smiling.

"Yes. And there's an unfortunate but well-established history of being exceptionally bad caretakers for mortals. As in apocalyptical-level divine-intervention-required BAD."

Bright Eyes clapped her hooves together, grinning. "Completely and utterly correct! We'd have to be utterly insane to accept orders from obviously completely insane superiors to EVER consider having Nightmares be part of building a new universe! We're not that improvident."

Patch actually giggled, I recognized it as the giggle of a good prank. Melody smirked. Clover looked the other way like I was furless.

"They why are you offering to have us in charge of an entire UNIVERSE before any of us have sat down for a single therapy session like you promised?"

"Well, for starters we did say AFTER the dust was settled," Bright Eyes said. "In other words, after -IF- you've chosen to become true concepts, and therefore aren't Nightmares anymore."

"Oh."

"Applejack... " Starlight said, like she would a long lost friend. "Please show her."

Mirror... looked reluctant. "Ah'm not sure she's ready."

"She's never going to be at this rate," Starlight said sadly.

"Alright darlin'."

Mirror opened one of her wings in my face. And I saw...

I saw Rainbow Dash, except with a horn on her head and the build of a earth pony. Her non-ethereal rainbow mane looking frazzled but not awful. Pony (not-draconic) eyes looked back at me. She was wearing Nightmare barding a size or two too big for her. She looked, tired, hurt, but not broken. And her cutie mark, her, her colors were-Hey! Who put that Zinnia flower in my mane?! How do I know what that is?!

"That ya on the inside Rainbow," AJ said.

Starlight looked at me. "Rainbow, you're Nightmares on the outside, I'm not going to pretend you don't need some help, but Nightmares CAN'T say 'I was wrong'. If you were still Nightmare Manacle, you wouldn't be able to ASK that question."

That made me double take...I hadn't thought of that. Ugh...why am I so obsessed with beating myself up.

My friends all gave me a hug, Spike hugging me with his pinkie claw. I smiled, and so did the Rainbow Dash in Mirror's wings until she closed them. I was stunned when Starlights and her buddies gave me hugs too but I didn't resist. It felt nice.

All too soon the group hug broke.

"Now then, Applejack, Razzaroo's volunteered to oversee construction," Starlight said. "She wants to take part in seeing a new world made after seeing her old world vanish, and she's on the verge of becoming an Alicorn."

"Who's doin' the grunt labor?" Mirror asked.

"I am."

"DISCORD?!" We all shouted.

"Hello." Discord waved. He was wearing a black and white stripped prison uniform and hat, around his ankle was a ball and chain. "It's part of my parole, work release, community service, restitution, whatever you'd like to call it. So yeah. I'm building an entire whole universe by myself. With the power I used to have it might have taken me eight days tops, now...er, it'll take me a lot longer."

Big Talk Between Two Friends

View Online

"Hello."

I've watched a few psychological thrillers films in my time. There's this one... I don't know the right word... convention? Plot twist? Whatever it is, I've seen it more than once. It's been pulled off great in every movie I've seen it thankfully.

"It's part of my parole, work release..."

The villain's a truly twisted monster. She'd trapped the hero in her torture chamber and forced him to suffer unspeakable agonies for several days.

"...community service, restitution..."

Suddenly a team of rescuers burst in! They free the hero from the rack he's tied to, maybe kill a few of the evil guards on their way outside, load the hero into a cart...

"...whatever you'd like to call it."

The hero rides in the cart. Catching his breath.

"So yeah."

The cart stops. The rescuers lead the hero out. He gazes up and sees...

"I'm building an entire whole universe by myself."

...The torture room. The very same torture room, again. His ‘rescuers' have driven him in a complete circle. Returning him right where he'd begun. It was all another horrific game... building hope up to crush it. And the villain's standing right in the center of the room, ready to pick up where she'd left off. Delighted by the raw shock on the hero's face.

With the power I used to have it might have taken me eight days tops, now...er...

The problem is shock shouldn't be the look on the villain's face.

"...it'll take me a lot longer."

In my head, it experience the sensation of a well-stretched rubber band stretching apart.

"Would somepony kindly mind telling me what what any of your bosses were thinking, if any of them were thinking, bringing him here?!?!"

"I told you, you should've let me disguise myself as Mare-Lynn Monroad," sighed Discord.

"Rainbow, please calm down," Bright Eyes beseeches me. "He's reformed now. Rehabilitated."

"You think I don't know that already?!!!" I shriek. "You think any of us don't know that already? I was there! Through all of it!"

I start crying while laughing hysterically.

"Then why can't you find it in your heart to forgive him?" asked Clover.

"I AIN'T EVEN FORGIVEN MYSELF YET!" But before they can respond to that, I hold up a hoof. "I, I... I need to be alone. I just need to be alone for a while. Just to process this..."

And I teleport away.

****

I've been sitting upon an asteroid in the depths of outer space. I'd brought several things with me; some food, a mattress and blankets, a deck of playing cards, several crates of hard apple cider and that one bio-dome atmosphere generator gizmo from those aliens we fought, back in the day. Just the size for my needs. I was surprised when that white angel with pink hair actually helped me get my stuff together. "Sometimes we need some time to think...just please don't take forever. You're alive."

None of them even tried to stop me. The pudgy yellow angel with the purple mane at the exit quickly asked me my name, I told her, "Nightmare Manacle!"

She wrote down. "Rainbow 'Danger' Dash, you exist.."

I gave her the hoof and sped off.

"Howdy there."

In my present I turn to see Nightmare Mirror now standing behind me.

"Howdy yourself," I reply. It wouldn't've been easy for her to've found this place, but it wouldn't've been impossible either.

"Mind if Ah sit down, Rainbow Dash?"

"IF I TOLD YOU ONCE, I'VE TOLD YOU A BILLION TIMES, MY NAME IS...!!!!"

My body slumps.

"...Rainbow Dash," The name might as well be ‘Drippy Diapers' for all the enthusiasm I put into it. "So I suppose I ought to be calling you ‘Applejack,' then, huh?"

"Ah call myself Mirror 'cause it helps me move on, callin' yerself Manacle is what's holdin' ya back!" said Applejack, hunkering down right by me. "But ta be honest, it's comforting hearin' yew callin' me that again. It's who we are at heart."

"Part of me was hoping that Twilight would be the one to actually find me," I admit, levitating a bottle of cider from a crate and passing it over.

"Twi... ain't been around." Applejack tells me, twisting the cap off.

"What about Rarity?" I ask. "Seen her any?"

"Can't say Ah have," Applejack says, pursing her lips to drink. "Starlight says she plum became the Alicorn of the whole dang Mortal World! Girl can't come visit us whether she likes it or not!"

"Go figure." We try to make her a Nightmare for so long...then the moment we're gone she becomes a Goddess. I levitate out another cider for myself but don't uncap it yet, waiting for Mirror to chug hers down.

"Of all the places ya could've fled ta... at least yew picked one with a gorgeous view."

She's right. The asteroid we're on floats before a humongous gas giant. It's bright and gives off a heat that's just right to warm the two of us against the absolute zero chill of space. No one color really seems to dominate the planet's atmosphere. It's never been discovered by any mortal astronomer and has no name. I've deliberately left it that way. Though I was tempted to name her Planet Scootaloo.

"Sooo... gotta ask, whatever happened ta us Nightmares being' ‘toxic waste' yew were gonna stow in some ‘lonely, far-off place where no one ever goes?'" Applejack looks over at the gas giant. "That it, over there?"

My shrug lets her know that I no longer care about that in the slightest.

"Y'know, ya coulda jest told them angel ponies, 'No. Ain't interested.'" Applejack was finally getting down to brass tacks. "Yah didn't have ta wig out and jest... VANISH on us completely! Skedaddle without so much as a forwarding address!"

I look towards the gas giant, still not opening my cider bottle. "When I came face-to-face with Discord, I felt... horror. Shame. Fear. Maybe this was even some super-long dream he'd planted in my head one night. And when I wake up... either the next day, or the next century... I'll be Traitor Dash again, Discord leering over me..."

"...But then it turned around...it stopped being that..instead it was Discord being pulled back into a torture chamber with us standing over Discord, being pulled back with a smile painted on his face, Nightmare Eclipse's chains around his arms... And me with the garden shears. And that I'll wake up to find myself still Nightmare Manacle and all of that was some twisted trick by Nightmare Eclipse to break the world again. I think there's a part of me that'll never, ever, ever be COMPLETELY convinced that this," I wave around at myself, her, and outer space. "...ISN'T all a dream. My imagination just refuses to let it go."

"Ah can help you with that," Applejack offers, drawing closer, her horn shining towards my forehead.

"NO!" I yell, and the Cruelest of Truths backs away as I instinctively conjure a crackling ball of magic. "I won't let anypony alter my head with magic! Ya got me?!"

"Crystal clear," Applejack tells me. "But Dash, who do yah think yanked that spike Eclipse put in your head out?"

My memory wasn't that good of that moment, but I did remember Nightmare Eclipse's lobotomy. Razzaroo had given me my Element of Free Will back, I hadn't stopped to think what happened to that thing.

"When the Tartarus did you have a chance to do THAT?!"

"When we were being washed away by the six-fold river of love and tolerance."

"We were for all we knew about to become statues, and you spent your last moments pulling that thing out of my brain?"

"If we were gonna be sealed away or whatever, Ah wanted ya to be yerself. Who knows, maybe if Ah did, the Elements would save you instead of hurting you more...and if not, at least yah'd've went as yourself."

"B-but! How does that make sense? We were astral projecting through Nightmare Eclipse! Those were just our spirits!"

"And she might have physically put it in there, but if it were just in yer brain, yah wouldn't have even been affected by it while we were astral projectin'. Remember? Astral? As in 'we weren't in our bodies anymore'. That spike was in yer brain, but it was in yer spirit at the same time. Otherwise it couldn't have worked at all. Eclipse had ta violate ya THREE TIMES OVER to make ya the monster she wanted for a friend. Ah don't have that excuse. And, Ah had a helper back in our stable Ah Pinkie Promised never to get 'er hooves stained in this horseapples ta get the one physically there too, since it was the end, Ah'm just happy she got back okay."

"Who?"

"Ain't tellin'. Forget it. Sorry. Cross mah heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in mah eye."

Applejack's signature stubbornness looked back at me. And part of me couldn't help thinking that I saw Pinkie somehow in her eye mouthing 'FOREVER!'

"I . . . thank you, and . . . thanks to your friend too, I guess."

"Yer welcome sugarcube."

After I calmed down, I rolled my eyes, seeing my magic ball was still on my horn, and let it dissipate. Then I remembered what I doing out here in the first place.

I continued. "Why him? Why couldn't the pantheon have gotten anypony ELSE? Anarchy, Strife, Rancor... don't tell me ALL of them are out on some super-secret espionage mission for some undisclosed length of time?"

"We did kinda leave a pretty dang gigantic mess fer 'em all tah clean up, RD. What with untangling the big knot we tied time into."

Then, with miserable mirth, I put on a big cracked smile, and in the glib, perky voice of one of those announcers from the game shows Discord would watch on his TV:

"Heeeeee's a sanity-shattering, reality-violating, loophole-exploiting lover of chaos, uber-tyrant, sadistic satirist...turned loving-father, altruistic-wish-granting repentant atoner who a gallery of psychopaths trapped forever in a timeloop of torture! Sheeeeee's a fearless, bad-flank, awesomely cool totally radical Element of Harmony-turned-Element Of Chaos-turned-psychotic-Nightmare who's heartlessly snuffed out whole galaxies of innocents... and if self-loathing were capable of resurrecting the dead, she'd have enough to clear her own rap sheet twenty times over! And all mortal life had been suffering bloody Armageddon like clockwork in her getting revenge like it was going out of style! Weeeeeee've given them a private pocket of reality and assigned them to create a new universe of it together! Can they possibly find it within themselves to finally let bygones be bygones? Tune in, Friday nights at seven!"

I wasn't expecting Applejack to laugh, and she didn't. Pinkie Pie wouldn't've. Tartarus, she couldn't make that funny, and that's saying something.

"They KNEW my past, AJ, and they knew HIS... did they seriously think I WOULDN'T react badly? And my immediate follow-up realization just chilled me: what if they KNEW I was going to react this badly and this was all part of their scheme?! Did they think I'd be as blasé as though Discord were just somepony who bullied me way back in PRESCHOOL . . . who I then I sent to the hospital with four broken legs? Or did they PLAN on me coming here? To this asteroid? For you to come here? DID THEY PLAN FOR BOTH?! Am I free at all?!...I'm surprised he didn't react the same way to seeing me...first I was his victim, then he was OURS..."

Applejack huffed out a breath. "To be fair, we don't know how long we've been stuck in the pretend Ponyville. Maybe they thought that'd been enough for 'em and us."

Usually, interrupting Nightmare Mirror in the middle of a rebuttal is a lost cause, but this time I chanced it.

"Look me in the eye and tell me that yes, AJ, time does heal ALL wounds. Every SINGLE last one. That there aren't ANY psychological scars Discord left on you that'll NEVER stop aching."

The silence was like a frosty wintertime chill brought in from an improperly shut door. "No," admitted Applejack as pain entered her eyes. "Cause Ah don't know the future. And that ain't what Ah said. Dangit Rainbow, YA JUST SAID YERSELF! WE -ALL- HAVE SCARS THAT MAY NEVER HEAL! SAME WITH NIGHTMARE ECLIPSE! But something yah really need to think about? What about the rest of us? We were tense! Shocked! Angry. Scared. Confused. Ashamed!...and you just blew up like there was a ticking bomb in the room and 'ported to find somewhere to sulk, not even thinking how we felt about it or heard us out...Did you wonder how we felt when you did that?...Or do our feelings not count for anythin'?!"

I cringed a bit at that.

"...Ah said maybe they thought enough time had passed for Discord and us, I never said anything about us bein' healed...What Ah meant was maybe they thought in the long run, we were ready to start healing. There is a difference yah know. Yah like talkin' 'bout yer alternate loop selves, but remember that final Rainbow? The one that kicked our flanks? Remember what happened tah her?"

"...She had to be put on suicide watch AFTER she was hit with the memory spell."

"Yeah, but in the end, she healed and was ready tah confront what she'd done and what was happening, time didn't heal all her wounds, but it healed enough she could have a chance tah heal the others."

"I know we deserve to be punished but how can they force this on us?"

"It was an offer they gave you, not an order. An offer you are perfectly free to refuse. And I imagine Discord probably was offered whether or not he wanted to come while we were still around. Maybe this is his way of trying to bury the hatchet."

"...But why would they even CONSIDER that AS an offer? You don't put me and Discord together on the same team, any more than you'd put a lion and hyena in the same zoo cage!"

Applejack glowered at me. "'Discord and me!' Stop it already! What about US!? Or did the rest of us sit on the lair's couch eating just bonbons all day? Ya think that Nightmare asked ANY of us 'hey, wanna help destroy the world over and over?', when we were turned into Nightmares? We were all strung along until it was too late!! Did ya think none of US could possibly understand this pain? Ah'm more drenched in sin than any of ya!"

"Sorry I'm the one of us who does the least thinking and does the most doing!"

"Then act like it instead of sittin' here on yer rump! Ah know this stinks worse than pig swill ta hear, but if after what we did to DISCORD and he's willing to give us a chance, maybe, just maybe we should return the favor!"

"THAT'S THE PROBLEM!" I shouted. "...I...It isn't me that's afraid of him, it's me that's afraid of ME. I'm not even sure if he had changed by MY loop or not...but he did, and we kept torturing him...I...I'm afraid that the part of me that helped Eclipse do that to him is still in there, and if I'm with him, alone, it will force itself back up...or that Nightmare Eclipse left some kind of failsafe in me...a hundred other reasons why this feels like a bad idea."

"...Can't say I don't feel the same way...none of us listened to a good old adage: 'He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.' A part of me feels the same way."

"...Tell me something I don't know..."

"But if Discord himself could change, the...the truth is, we can too...Rainbow," Applejack stood up, holding her hooves out at me in a pleading way. "Come with me. I want to take ya to Discord. So yew can talk with him. Jest a regular, peaceful, sit-down conversation at a table with coffee and cookies. No tricks, no weirdness. It's time yew face yer fears."

"Face my fears?!" I shook my head. "For all these time loops, I have done nothing BUT face my fears! Loop after loop, I kept finally dredging up the courage to face Discord... in arguments, in battle, in mind control attempts of his...And then it turned out that was all part of Eclipse's game. All those loops I was torturing a puppet king with flaming chains as his strings!... I ask you, AJ, when will it truly count for something?"

"Now," Applejack insisted. "Here and now."

I hear her but continue on as if I didn't. "At what point will I earn the right to face AWAY from my fears? Be free to avoid the company I don't want? I am free to choose who I DON'T want to hang around with, right? Or do I have to marry him, have a kid off him, and divorce him, before we can burn our bridges peacefully ...Before I can forgive what I did to HIM every time we beat 'em thinking we were saving the world only for everything I did to mean nothing after all? Why should I think it would even matter if I DID change anymore than anything else?"

"So," Applejack said. "Yer sayin' the reason why yah can't forgive yourself is because ya kept gettin' screwed over at the end of every last loop?"

"More or less..."

Anger flashed in AJ's face. Her hoof-slap echoed in the mini-atmosphere.

"Don't ya DARE say anythin' that selfish ever again!"

"SELFISH!? YOU-"

"It wasn't yew in those others loops facin' yer fears! It never was! It was countless OTHER Rainbow Dashes who were broken and hurt and tortured who rose up and faced their fears! US?! WE SPENT THOSE LOOPS WATCHIN' IT ALL ON OUR LIVING ROOM COUCH! Ya have NO RIGHT to say you were the one being tortured in those loops, in case ya forgot, because Eclipse kept copyin' and pastin' what the piece of sewage Discord USED TO BE did ta a PREVIOUS VERSION OF YOU!

"WE? YOU? ME?! They were OTHER Rainbow Dashes and Applejacks! NOT US!...Each and every single one was a pony of their own...and we slaughtered nearly every last one of 'em...Comparin' us tah them is like comparin' the victims in one of those slasher plays to the killer and sayin' they're the same person, it's nothing but disrespectful."

AJ bowed her head at me. "Ah'm SORRY, Rainbow, and Ah'll BE sorry whether you like it or not for hurtin' ya! But Ah'm not lettin' ya fall into Nightmare Eclipse's way of thinkin'! Nor any of my friends! As . . . as Ah trust the rest of ya would stop me from doin' the same."

"...Just because they aren't me, doesn't mean I can't blame myself," I finally admitted. "Look...I guess...all of this...It's made me think all I can ever do is fail...that every time I try, I can just fail...I feel like...I don't know…"

"Remember when ya told Nightmare Moon's Shadowbolt dummies 'screw you' and chose to help us along even when they were offering yer dream come true on a silver platter? Or when ya saved Rarity and the Wonderbolt's lives and did the Rainboom again? Heck, ya doin' the rainboom is WHY we all got our cutie marks. Those weren't 'little nothings.' Ya changed lives, you saved lives. Discord stacked the deck. Just like we stacked the deck against him and made it so none of those Twilights and her friends could ever lose. But ya choosin' ta be the hero and NEVER hurt Twilight no matter what Discord offered? That was all yew, out of all those Rainbow Dashes, it was only yew, it had nothing to do with any of Nightmare Eclipse's scripts."

" . . . I never knew."

"Ya think Nightmare Eclipse would say that? Or LET ME say that?...The truth about it, Rainbow?...Until the end of it when we lost and Trixie scarrin' Eclipse, ya came the closest tah beatin' her, take pride in that."

For the first time since I've known Nightmare Mirror, the Cruelest of Truths . . . I wasn't sure if she was telling the truth or not.

"Heh, at least I now know why some ponies like those video games where your heroes stay dead. Oh wait, that was true for us too, except we cheated and kept giving the NEW heroes the same names and stats."

"Rainbow, that ain't funny." Applejack tells me, with a sharply raised voice. "Be an adult."

This time I did drink, and the cider burned all the way down. "It's still happening, you know, AJ?"

"...Ah don't follow yew." I knew her puzzlement was sincere.

"Don't you see it yourself?" I ask. "First we're made to attack a friend: Whisp... Fluttershy. Then we're being made to ally ourselves with an enemy: Discord...All that's left is Eclipse showing up and saying 'time to New Game Plus again, Discord,' this feels like something she would set up... 'Friends and foes..."

"...forever in flux..." Applejack recited, guess knew how the old saying went too.

"...Forever fogged," I finished. This was something Twilight Tragedy, MY Twilight Tragedy, had written on a piece of paper once. I'd read it, and it'd stuck in my head. "Can't you see it's just the same vicious cycle, under new management? Only we've been demoted back to puppets."

"Listen to yerself!" shouted Applejack. "This is jest cuckoo conspiracy theory hogwash now! Eclipse is dead and gone! The last Twilight ate her! Discord's a good guy, we saw that. And the Pantheon wouldn't have gone through all this trouble just tah pull the rug out from under us! We ain't pawns in anypony's game anymore!"

"Pawn?!" I hurled my empty cider bottle straight at the heart of the gas giant's planet. It shot through cleanly, like a bullet through mist. "It was great being a pawn! ...A white pawn can proudly serve its bone armored white queen and know none of its fellow white pieces COULD be on the jigsaw-puzzle's black pieces side...They know 'white is my side, black is the other side, nothing else matters'. It's simple. It's...well, black and white. Good and evil. I would love to go back to being pawns, knights, bishops, and so on, under the good White Queen Celestia...we were all happy back then...then it was the White Queen Twilight that I proudly served in my loop... But that was never how it went for THEM, right, Applejack? All those Twilights and all theirs friends? They weren't chess pieces. They were playing cards."

And here, I picked up my own deck of cards.

"Shuffle once, and the queen of hearts MIGHT be properly paired up with her king..."

I passed out seven cards to myself and seven to Applejack; but showed her the hand I'd dealt myself right away.

"But shuffle again..."

Applejack was surprised when I magically grabbed all our cards, hers and mine, and reshuffled them again rapidly.

"...and she might find herself playing AGAINST her king, against face and number in her suit..."

I passed out a new set of seven cards: it definitely wasn't the same hand I'd dealt the first time.

"...with the jack of clubs and the jack of spades and the joker. That was us when we were used to give Discord his defeat. Playing cards, shuffled about! Remember the loops where it was six versions of us teamed together again, loops where a Derpy Hooves fought against Discord, loops where a Derpy was Discord's ruthless right-hand mare, loops where others versions of me stayed the bad guy, loops where other Applejacks stayed the bad guy, AJ. There was even a loop where a version of me teamed up with the Master and the Valeyard, and they were all the GOOD guys..."

"Rainbow Ah remember ALL those loops! Ah watched 'em with ya, remember sugarcube? The two of those time-whimey-ponies together came closer to beatin' us than most of the Twilights. Ya don't know the HALF OF IT when it was just me and Nightmare Eclipse before we recruited Nightmare Granfalloon! And only Nightmare Eclipse knows how long and what butterflies made hurricanes in loops only Discord now know about!

"Ya never paid attention, but in one loop, an Applebloom marries this fencin' colt from Canterlot who was gonna visit Ponyville called Lancer . . . in others, another her marries the son of Octavia Melody, who managed to avoid being turned into an octopony! In another, an Applebloom marries a Lancer and her foal marries Octavia's kid!

"Ah can't say which Applebloom was happier with her husband with if either. But what they fightin' for, what they believed in, didn't change! It was bigger than they were and they knew it! And Apple Pie . . . a her kept popping out no matter how the family tree got tangled, like her spirit was determined to come onto the world . . . no wonder all those Apple Pies' special talent was paradoxes."

"...But...here's the thing AJ...here's the real thing...In loop one, Discord didn't know about how things would go, Eclipse was born that loop...every other loop after, somecreature from the one before it, either Discord or Eclipse, meddled. Changed things...ponies made choices, but things were originally...'Twilight frees herself and leads against a still monstrous Discord'...I guess...it feels like it was so black and white in the beginning, but we made it grey and grey…"

"...Sugar...tah be honest? If that is right, in some cases that ain't a bad thing."

"I don't see how."

"...In that one loop, Trixie became an Alicorn, that couldn't have happened in the first loop. The Master never turned good in loop one, that's clear...grey morality means good guys can be bad guys in disguise...but it also means bad guys can turn inta good guys...doesn't make any of us right, but Ah think it shows what Discord said about Strife sometimes was dead on."

"That she's ruthless?"

"No!...That she believes life will always adapt and survive...Despite how royally we messed up the timeline, all the times either Discord or Eclipse meddled with it somewhere or somewhen, life still found a way tah adapt to it."

"Hehe...yeah...but...despite all of that…"

I threw up ALL the cards into the air, as though for a game of 52-pick up.

"For everything Nightmare Eclipse did wrong, I hafta give that devil-witch one teensy bit of credit. Once she counted you as 'real,' she NEVER betrayed you. She took attacks FOR us! And she never use us as living-shields, whether our damage was linked to her or not. She trusted us. She never sacrificed us for 'new models.' We Nightmares STAYED gallery-mates, at all times. And she never ever, broke her word with us: Even when it cost her everything. Under her, we Nightmares knew who our allies were and who to count as foes...It was kind of comforting that in a world full of grey, we were still black and white."

"If ya ask me, Nightmare Eclipse trusted me as far as her shadow reached, she called it 'lookin' out fer me,' like a true friend should cause Ah 'couldn't help myself.' The honest truth? Ah think deep down she could never get over Discord's game in the hedge maze and was afraid if we had half a chance we'd vanish into thin air. Ah hope ya ain't really yearnin' fer the 'good ol' days' of our endless vendetta. Of the total annihilation we wrought! Her golden world fantasy a buncha hooey! Other Nightmares at least put EFFORT into makin' their 'better world for everypony!'"

"Nope," I said, helping Applejack gather up the cards to put them back in their little cardboard box. "What I am saying is... does loyalty even have any proper place in a world like ours? A world where it's impossible to trust anything?" At AJ's sharp double-take, I said, "Yeah, I've had a lot of time to rethink things, out here on my own."

"Sweet Celestia... it's more serious than Ah thought. RD, ya can't REALLY have no trust at all!"

I glance back towards the gas giant.

"Well, technically, I suppose you're right. But the sort of things I do trust in: rap sheets, never taking anything at face value, what good intentions pave the road to... 'complete mistrust' just says it all in fewer words."

LOTS of lightning cracks across the hemispheres of the gas giant, like strobe lights at a rave. Great bolts that I can see from way out here, that have to be thicker than skyscrapers. Awesome.

"I mean, let's just start with my pretend Ponyville. Yes, the puppetmaster turned out to be Nightmare Whisper... but for a few 'tweaks,' it could just as easily have been Banneret or Granfalloon or myself! Any one of us could have been the villain."

"...What about Scootaloo? All of 'em. Do yah not trust those little gals?"

My words stopped in my throat. "Well...I...I…"

"...Rainbow, can Ah tell you somethin'?" she asked. "...The truth is, yer right, we did make the world grey...we strung up a puppet king who just wanted to stop against heroes who had no idea they were working for the bad guys...but Ah think after several hundred million years of that garbage, it's hard tah think of the world as havin' genuine white and black."

"...Does it?"

"...Was what we did black?"

"As Entropy's realm."

"Was the Scootaloo Army of Awesome helping us save the world white?"

"...If-"

"No 'if the deities are pullin' our strings'. Ah mean 'an army of little heroes comin' tah save everycreature they love.'"

"...Yeah...that was white."

"...Truth is, while what is evil depends on the situation, there is black and white, good and evil, Elsyium and Tartarus...Grey just means 'a side is a mix of black and white,' not 'there's no such thing as black and white'...So yah can trust in your moral compass...yah just need tah get used tah listenin' to it again."

"Alright, I'll admit it, Scootaloo, all of them, I know they can be trusted, but that doesn't make US trustworthy," I maintain. "What's to keep any of us from relapsing! Look at what happened with Fluttershy! She had her head put back on straight and look at the first thing she did!"

"Technically the same thing ya wanted to do at the start, only with innocent ponies caught in the 'toxic waste' drum. Maybe SHE was worried deep down we'd try to resurrect Nightmare Eclipse."

"That's insane!"

"Which we aren't anymore, whether like it or not. Remember Princess Luna? The ORIGINAL Nightmare? Nightmare Moon herself?! Was SHE still insane after she got blasted with the Elements? Did she relapse?! No offense sugarcube, but that sounds like what a lot of paranoid ponies, and Ah hate ta say it, a lot of versions of me too, thought of Princess Luna when she was cured. The Pantheon are offerin' ta turn us inta Concepts, jest like them!" Applejack shot back. "We don't HAVE ta be Nightmares no more, Rainbow! HECK! Maybe all we need to do is politely stand for a nice second rainbow of light shower and BOOM! All the crude comes clean off us!"

"Luna was already an Alicorn, what makes you think it works like that for us?"

"...Do yah think Trixie, the ALICORN, not the mortal, is trust-worthy?"

"I don't get where you're goin-"

"Answer meh.."

"...Considering she kept fighting for her world until she died, yes."

"...That's the difference between a Nightmare and an Alicorn."

"...Still don't get it."

"Twilight Sparkle, the pony who didn't want to show off when we first met Trixie, went Nightmare and turned into a megalomaniac with an ego the size of Equestria."

"I noticed…"

"But Trixie, big 'look at how great and powerful I am!' Trixie, became an Alicorn, and became a wise, humble pony that fought Eclipse until her dyin' breath. And STILL somehow managed to survive her timeline bein' destroyed tah ascend...Ah don't know about you, but if ascendin' all the way can do that fer yah, Ah'm kinda lookin' forward to it."

But I shook my head. "Say we DO become Concepts. So what? That didn't stop Discord or Morning Star from causing misery, and they weren't flesh and blood ponies once upon a time! If I thought Concepts couldn't be monsters, I'd be first in line! But it didn't stop Princess Luna! The higher you're up, the farther you have to fall . . . I don't WANT to fall again Applejack! I'm TERRIFIED of it! I've fallen so low, I don't want to see what's deeper down!"

I'm blanketing my body in my wings, feeling the chill of outer space much stronger.

"I wish those ponies would LISTEN to me, for a change! I wish they'd quit with all the mixed messages!"

"What mixed messages would those be, Rainbow?" asked Applejack.

On the gas giant, the lightning's fading away, now fiery mushrooms are blossoming up, as the lightning comes right back. What fun.

"Here's one good example, AJ. So there I am, Rainbow Dash: Hero of Ponyville. Boy, am I proud of myself for that! Only the Alicorns sends dear old Razzaroo to show me: no, you aren't the heroic Rainbow Dash, you are the monstrous Nightmare Manacle. And it hurts so bad. But I pick myself up. If that was the shape of it then okay. I wasn't proud of it, But I did feel a certain... acceptance. Contentment. Equanimity. I may've been scum, but at least I now know my true self and my proper place in the Scheme of Things."

Applejack was twitching. "RAINBOW! HER WHOLE MOONSENT POINT WAS TO MAKE SURE YEW REALLY WERE RAINBOW DASH ON THE INSIDE! If ya were actually the monstrous Nightmare Manacle on the inside she'd have left ya and the rest of us sealed! Remember?! She never said to ya, you were Nightmare Manacle! She kept calling you Rainbow Dash!" She face hooved. "Ya know! Ah was really really not sure at all that showin' ya yer reflection on the inside was a good idea! Ya said it yerself, after the world got turned upside-down there was so little ya could hold onto as true. Sometimes pullin' a knife out can cause more damage than if ya leave in there! If Ah knew it was THIS BAD Ah'd have given ya the soul x-ray sooner!"

I huff out a breath.

...And to think those phantasmal foals who'd put that crown on my head had sounded so SURE of themselves.. . . maybe it wasn't such a good idea to listen to them. Well, technically they NEVER CALLED ME Nightmare Manacle. They called me the Queen of Chains. They only unsealed me and gave me back my black magic. I was already Nightmare Manacle underneath the seal . . . and UNDERNEATH THAT I was Rainbow Dash after all. Some game.

"Ah make no apologies," Applejack tells me, flashing me that one mirror a second time, so I can see my horned, frazzled Rainbow self in her Nightmare barding once more. Only now she looked downright sullen. "Yew are both Rainbow Dash AND Nightmare Manacle. As much as Princess Luna was Nightmare Moon."

"This another yin-yang thing?" I ask, toying with the idea of changing my name to Nightbow Danacle.

"Eeeyup," says Applejack, stretching her muscles a bit. "Though at this point, Ah'd say yer WAY more 'Rainbow' than 'Manacle.'"

She smiles at me as though this is supposed to comfort me.

"Here's another 'mixed message,' from the Pantheon I don't appreciate," I then say. "My whole experience in my own pretend Ponyville pretty much spelled out that I'm unfit to take care of mortals. Didn't even ONE of those Alicorns lugs hear me when I was saying things like, 'we have no right TALKING to mortals, let alone ruling their lives?' And Ponyville was just a village. Now the concepts wants for me... ALL us Nightmares to build a universe."

I slump to the ground.

"I'm a pretty flexible girl. Damnation... atonement... isolating myself from everypony else to just eke out a quiet existence alone... I'm cool with any of that. But this whole business of setting me up to repeat my old crimes on a grander scale... like a horrible parent being put in charge of an orphanage..."

Applejack tilted her head. "Ah'm sorry RD, Ah really am, but Ah just don't get that one."

"What? What is there to get? Us and mortal ponies is like giving kittens to-"

I noticed her flare her wing on instinct...same one she'd shown me little healed Rainbow Dash in actually.

"Ya sayin' 'we ain't fit to be around no mortals' is supposed to prove ya ain't fit to be around no mortals?! Rainbow it doesn't work that way! Ya let ponies live their lives in yer pretend Ponyville however they wanted, the way they wanted when they wanted! And ya wanted'em to be FREE once ya had a place for 'em...this was Fluttershy's doin', not yers, you had a completely different plan in mind and she hijacked it...Not to bucking mention, YOU PUT THEIR GOOD FORTUNE OVER YOUR OWN!!! The whole dang time, ya said you were fightin' fer them! Remember? Ya never let one pony get hurt from any of yer 'collateral' damage! Now get it through that thick head of yers, would Nightmare Manacle of done that? EVER? Now you can MAKE that new place for 'em the right way!"

She looked me in the eyes with her actual eyes. And strangely I didn't feel my soul burn. "...Are yah right we've done a lot of bad? Yes. We have...these ponies we saved are some clear water in an ocean of blood...but we put a lot more clear water in it by savin' 'em. And we can put a lot more in it by helpin' build a new universe. Realizin' yah done bad can go two ways, Rainbow: either yah say 'Ah'm a monster, Ah can only be a monster' or you say 'Ah'm a monster but Ah don't WANT tah be.' Doin' good things now isn't 'sparin' somepony tah live with ourselves'...it's atonement."

I felt that truth. I mean like how she'd used to force somepony to see bad truths to break 'em but...not...

"...Was...that using your eyes to see a kind truth?"

Applejack herself blinked in confusion. "Ah...Ah think it was somewhere in the middle...A little cruel, a little kind...Ah...didn't know Ah could do that...Ah just did."

"And they're going to trust us to make a universe," I admit, after seeing her show me more than just a cruel truth, I had to force some of that sarcasm. Nightmare Mirror wasn't supposed to be ABLE to do that!

"They ain't askin' us ta do it TOMORROW!" Applejack reminded me in slow-spoken words. "We'd be gettin' lots and lots of therapy first, before we get the first miracle rolling! Inside the womb of all souls if we take the concept route."

"Heaven knows we need it," I sigh, rising to a sit. "You know... even though I'm no shrink myself... let me try diagnosing myself. I'd say that I'm highly paranoid, antisocial, with a persecution complex, severe depression, anger management issues, prone to violent outbursts, deep-seated mistrust of all authority figures, post-traumatic stress disorder, a thin grip on reality, huge issues with guilt and self-esteem..."

"...Darlin'...you knew that all that stuff was wrong with yah this whole time, didn't yah?"

"...Yeah...I admit...I think you pulled a cork and a lot of gunk came pourin' out of meh…"

Her wing lifted again, same one as little healed Rainbow kept popping up in. I don't think she even knew she was doing it. "...Keepin' all that bottled up wasn't healthy…guess it's better yah let it out now..."

"...Since when are you a shrink?"

"...Ah don't know...kinda feels almost like Ah've spent a long time with one front leg and somepony finally gives meh the other one and tells meh Ah was always supposed tah have it...Well since Ah'm apparently a shrink now, tell meh what else is buggin' yah."

I thought again about the universe they wanted me to help make.

"...What's more, I'm terrified of mortal ponies. No, I'm terrified FOR them! When I'm around them, I'm not even a bull in a china shop; I'm a bull in a china WORLD. The idea that I'll help creating whole PLANETS of them... they'll be looking to me as one of their creator gods, to give them moral guidance, praying to me to right spiritual wrongs... and I'll be afraid to move out of fear of shattering them...in particular three of them . . . "

Shakily, I uncapped another bottle of cider and downed it in record time.

"No offense Rainbow, but ya were always focused on the action. Me? I saw and listened ta other things. Including one old loop where Princess Celestia and Luna's statues were rescued from Discord's castle. Princess Celestia? Here's a surprise I picked up spying on her once when it was just me, Nightmare Eclipse and Nightmare Granfalloon. Princess Celestia feels the exact same way you do. All the time. She feels she's an inferno in a world made of kindling. It's part of the whole reason she calls herself Princess instead of Queen. The truth? If she wanted to she could probably have incinerated the Hooviet Empire with one solar flare when it was a threat, but pulling that kinda trigger...Ah think she's afraid of how hard it'd be to STOP pulling it if she did it once. What ya just said kinda proves ya UNDERSTAND what a big deal it is . . . and . . . fragile they all are to bulls like us."

"...That doesn't make much LESS paranoid of my fellow immortals. If Fluttershy could do what she did for centuries after being hit by the Rainbow of Light... how can I trust myself or any of you, any of my friends any of us, to stay sane?..."

"...Ah was savin' this fer Fluttershy when she had head enough to listen, but she was willin' to go up against us and the Alicorns for what she thought was protectin' all of Ponyville from death or oblivion! She thought we were the only ones who WOULD protect all of the ponies rather than just them sink into Entropy's black ocean! That is truth! Fer all her talk about not carin' 'bout it, Ah think she was tryin' for her own redemption.

"From what ya told me, she was goin' without sleep!!! Keepin' that whole place running by herself and Flutternice looking after the Scootaloos! For who knows how long! And Nightmares or not, we still need to shut our eyes! We might not need sleep for our bodies, but we definitely need it for our minds! Ah think . . . she wasn't just addled by the guilt, Ah think the lack of shut-eye was makin' things worse, and her usin' her magic? Constantly since yers was sealed away? Ah think we saved her from keelin' over! Or becomin' a braindead shell that could only power the place! Ya didn't beat 'er Rainbow Dash! YOU SAVED HER Rainbow Dash!"

" . . . thanks fer telling me that one AJ, I think that one actually does make me feel a tiny tinny bit better maybe."

I saw AJ's face brighten just a little.

"But how can I trust that just the right amount of stress of creating a whole moonsent universe like the ones I've helped destroyed a bajillion times won't make me do something 'good' but very very stupid? Especially when my own," AJ gave me the stink eye. "I mean, OUR victim is right next to us?"

"Ta think" Applejack interrupted, in a downcast way, "Yew were startin' ta do so well, and all it took fer yew ta unravel was one quick look at his face..."

"I know!" I agreed, miserably. "I mean, suppose at some point, Discord says one little thing wrong, one tiny little thing wrong...and I snap like a twig..."

"Here's a thought!" said Applejack, with a strained smile. "What if... jest WHAT IF... the bunch of us simply conducted ourselves with perfect professionalism and respect fer one another the whole way through?"

I thought about it.

"Is that your prescription, 'doc'?" I asked, joking a little.

"Given the fact your hatin' yerself for what yah did tah Discord, knowin' if he forgave yah or not might help ease it...great, now Ah really am soundin' like a shrink!"

"AJ . . . after Discord, after Nightmare Eclipse, after the pretend Ponyville? A part of me is always going to be waiting for somepony, or for something to snap. Or until it builds up to be too much, and I snap instead."

"And ya really think that the rest of us haven't gone through those exact same things? Spike can't trust his own memories anymore. Not after livin' as Rarity. What other memories might he have that are lies? He can't even known if he him carin' about Sweetie Belle is just brainwashin' or him really feelin' for her like family! And think about this: ya said yerself in yer loop, even Twilight without a heart still cared about yew and Spike, and so did yer Applejack even when she was a liar! The pretend Ponyville? It got along fine without Spike! Like if he up and vanished, nopony would notice! YA THINK THAT DIDN'T HURT 'EM!? We're a herd! We're supposed to shoulder each other's pain!...Maybe yah and Spike coulda helped shoulder each others… That's why you're Loyalty."

For a moment this made me wonder, how much pain was the Cruelest of Truths hiding behind her own mirrors?

Well, she asked for what was bothering me...so I'd better hurry up.

"You're not gonna want to hear this AJ. No offense to Winona, but you know what's also not all that bright, easily mentally overpowered, relentless, a hard worker, utterly faithful and loyal? A dog. A dumb mutt."

I looked at myself in one of Applejack's mirrors. The angle let me see . . . let see Applejack a little in them too, was that a viola flower in her barding? . . . something about her eyes were blurry. I continued.

"For all Eclipse's talk about NPCs, do you know what Rainbow was, AJ? Nothing but the long opening cutscene. So gullible, vulnerable, and weak-willed that every version of her effectively railroaded herself into making the EXACT SAME BAD DECISION in that hedge maze EACH and EVERY time. Nag Eclipse might have been copying and pasting Discord, but what about the rest of us? What's our excuse that every version of us that fate churned out kept falling for Discord's games like all the versions of us before them? With all the changes that popped up in every loop?

"Never even felt like the 'game' handed me proper 'control' of my own life, until at least a thousand years into being Traitor Dash...Of course we both know why, Eclipse needed us to fall for it...I didn't have a chance to even try to pick something different, did I? Ain't that sad? All of that lowly pegasus' puffed-up vanity, that weathermare's need for adoration, that wannabe's idiotic pie-in-the-sky ambitions, what an absolute...!"

Nightmare Mirror was a veritable queen of stoics. Tombstones wished they could be as somber as her. She could unveil the most soul-shattering truths about yourself in the flattest, most disaffected monotone. You could beg her to shut up. You could scream at her in a furious rage. You could attack her with any weapon you pleased. And she'd just keep telling you everything about yourself you never wanted to learn.

Now she was sobbing wildly. As though she were the sole survivor of a wholesale massacre... at her own wedding.

"Ya AIN'T a dog, Rainbow Dash!" she blubbered, quivery and high-pitched. "Ya ain't dumb! Ya ain't weak! And ya don't need ta be this way! Ah... Ah... Ah ain't cried this bad even when my Big Mac died! How'd ya even DO that, Dash?!"

I didn't know. What could I say? This was a thousand times stranger than when the original Applejack had been turned into Liarjack. Applejack suppressed her tears, Liarjack pretended nothing bad was happening at all.

At last, I went over and tried just hugging her. She hugged back fierce as could be... as though we were mortal again, and I'd nearly dropped to the bottom of the ocean. I nestled my head against hers. It took a long while for her to get her sobbing under control. Even then, she was still weeping but it was under control.

"...Yah never forgave yerself for the maze, did yah?"

"...Not as much as I wish I had... Fluttershy . . . she showed me how I could have won . . . She was better than all of us . . . she was the only one who Discord had to cheat to corrupt. If only . . . if only ONE Rainbow Dash out that entire infinite had thought of it! Maybe Discord's second daughter may have gone Princess Aura Borealis on his Ming Vase The Merciless' tail."

"...All them times Ah told ya honest truths about yerself, Rainbow... Ah can see Ah accentuated the negative way too often, and yew took it all straight ta heart. So lemme tell yew some GOOD things 'bout yerself."

Applejack pulled away, looking at me in the eye. There goes that one wing up again.

"Yer honorable, Dashie. Ya got a big heart, and ya really do care about protectin' the lives of mortals. Ya have a sense of fun. Ya've always, always, always ALWAYS done yer best ta be a good friend ta us. Even when we weren't in right mind ta appreciate it, and all yew got back from us was loneliness and abuse. Sometimes, it's very, very helpful the way ya jump inta action, fearlessly leading the charge. The mortals in yer pretend Ponyville REALLY DO admire yew, because ya REALLY put yer heart inta savin' them! In Twilight's absence, ya've been a great leader: focused, effective, and driven. Ah've been proud ta stand behind ya! So've the rest of us Nightmares!"

She could almost have been just a simple cousin of mine, rather than some terrible force of nature.

"And it KILLS me, seein' yew loathe yerself so completely that yer out ta strangle everythin' good inside ya! Ah don't want ya bein' so petrified of taking risks! Ah don't want ya shunnin' everypony else in existence! We ain't all weasels, rats, demons and delicate li'l china dolls! Some of us actually ARE friendly folk, worth gettin' ta know! Give people the benefit of the doubt! We Nightmares CARE very, very deeply about yew, Rainbow: yer one of us! One of our dearest, oldest, friends! We're NOT out ta cut yer throat the moment ya turn yer back on us. Quit finding reasons ta be wretched because yer terrified that smiles and happiness are super-unlucky! This world's NOT gonna be snatched away from yew! Ya ain't dreamin' and ya ain't under any spell! There won't be any more resets! Relax! Laugh more! There's STILL incredible beauty in yer soul! Ya shouldn't live yer life like the whole dang universe is one big minefield! Go ahead, Rainbow Dash: let yer spirit of adventure fly free again!"

"...I always, always wanted to be an adventure hero," I say softly. "But that's impossible. Life in this universe is no adventure. It's a giant cosmic horror story..and we made it this way."

Applejack looks me square in the eye. "We really are finally on the threshold of escapin' this vicious cycle we've been trapped in forever! Don't be stuck in the past! There's a future ahead of us! Rancor, Twilight, and six sets of Elements burned Eclipse's cosmic horror story to ashes then those ashes into atoms! It's gone and from the sound of it, Rarity's outline is a good old high fantasy! And it ain't the sorta future ya wanna turn yer back on, or watch on the sidelines for. This future is for star player GET-UP-'N'-GO-GETTERS, GIRL!"

I swallow. "Tell me one good thing I can put absolute faith in. One happy nice thing that not even a god can ever take away.

Applejack thinks. And thinks. And then she thinks some more.

"Dash? Got a thought."

"Let's hear it."

"For all the rotten, awful misery Ah've heard spillin' out yer trap, one thing's fer certain. Yew've been really HONEST with me... 'bout everything, since reawakening as 'Nightmare Manacle.' All yer thoughts. What's in yer heart. All cards face-up on the table. So fer that... and especially fer all the loyalty yew've shown others, perhaps it's time somepony pledged some loyalty back to yew."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

Applejack places a hoof over her heart. "Ah swear with mah soul that no matter what, Ah'm gonna be the truest friend to ya Ah can be. Ah swear to always be upfront and honest with yew, and never lead yew astray. Ah'll never seek ta beat ya in a battle of any sort. No third party will ever be able to set me against ya. Even if we are far apart, Ah'll ALWAYS remain on yer side."

There wasn't any flash of magical light. Applejack's voice did not reverberate with mystical power. She simply lowered her hoof back to the ground.

"Now, yew remember me talkin' with Fluttershy, 'bout how souls are timeless? Because this promise was sworn WITH mah soul... it'll still be valid and binding fer me, even if yer fears are right, and things ARE reset. So no matter what, you CAN absolutely depend on at least ONE true friend. One friend who will always be there to pull yah back outta the dark if yah fall inta it again. Even if Ah don't rightly remember this moment in mah brain... it'll all come instinctively, from in here." She tapped her heart.

I was utterly stunned. "You'd do that for me?"

"Sure! Cross mah heart, hope ta..."

Her hoof starts to move over her heart, but I stop it. "No. No, I don't even need that. This is all you, you wonderful, wonderful stubborn stick-in-the-mud, you. Your word is twenty million percent better than any Pinkie Promise."

"HEY!"

Said a voice hiding behind a nearby floating pink asteroid.

"Sorry Pinkie Pie," We echoed. Then laughed.

"OKAY!"

Applejack did NOT lie. Her ability to lie stunk like dragon's breath. Her strength lay in truth!

When she swore something with her soul, on her soul that thing was sworn.

One friend. One friend I could depend completely on. One bedrock in an ocean of chaos and inconsistency...

...The greatest treasure anypony had ever given me. This was the true magic of friendship.

On their own, we'd been broken by our own Elements...but it turned out the virtues were still virtues after all. We Nightmares had got it all wrong: the Elements were never meant to work in isolation from each other. And AJ could see the understanding on my face.

"And Rainbow? Ah know somethin' else yah can have faith in...Well, Ah should say 171,015 little orange somethings," she said, giving me a smile.

I was struck dumb for a moment, then hugged her tighter than I could remember. "You're right! There are! And I'm going bloody try my best to make sure they...they can have faith in me!"

"Ready to go back?" asks AJ. "Ya don't need ta be part of the universe-makin', if yew'd rather not. It's a big responsibility and a lot could go wrong."

"No," I tell AJ. "We're all in this together. Race ya back!"

And off we flew. Discord and our fellow Nightmares, and Scootaloo, and all our friends, awaited.

Professional Help

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Another mare who'd been in Applejack's situation might've held herself back. Might've gone only SO fast as we rocketed for light years past comets and nebulae and quasars... not simply to take it easy on her aching body. But to make sure that her super-depressed buddy could enjoy a good uplifting win. Or just avoid it by teleporting both of us home.

Not only was Applejack too honest for any of that, she knew me too well.

She beat me fair and square. Dang it, that breaks our competition tie, doesn't it?!

"Next time, ya don't wanna go drinkin' all that hard cider right before startin' a race!" AJ told me, with a proud, boastful smile on her face, as we both lay panting on the beautiful floor.

Even the grandstanding brought an easy smile to my face, as I gasped out. "We'll… have to do... a rematch... later…"

Finally, I'd rested enough. I get back to a stand, and we open the door directly ahead of us, re-entering the very room I'd flipped out in and teleported out from.

As it turned out, time HADN'T stood still while I had been off feeling sorry for myself.

The only one there was Gran…no, Pinkie Pie. Covered in a blanket, mane frazzled surrounded by cups of hot coco. No, I'm not sure how a mane made of energy can get frazzled either.

"You came back!" She rushed up and hugged me.

Startled, I hugged her back. "Pinkie Pie!"

Applejack said, "Pinkie Pie, Ah know ya already knew RD got out of her funk! Pinkie Promise detection?"

"But I didn't know you'd come back!" Pinkie Pie cried hugging me. "I thought you'd go on this big epic journey to find yourself and draw things out even more! Or get into a big fight with aliens or something and we'd have to come save you! I'm so happy you're back!"

"It's...it's good to be back," I said not breaking her hug.

Let me break narrative here for a bit. Before we get to what happened next for me.

After everything, my big plan was to get actual factual professional help instead of any fancy smancy vision quest or pixie dust to make my troubles go away that these lot would offer me.

I had all these BIG PLANS! I'd visit different eras, live different lives, earn my own money like any other pony, I'd PAY actual factual psychologists to help me through my horseapples, I'd even spend time as a companion with Doctor Hooves, I'd invite AJ on visits which Miss 'Ah canna tell a lie' would mess up and I'd start a new life. I'd live as just a pony again throughout history.

Spike would pass himself off either a pony or a pony-sized young dragon, He'd be such a hit with the ladies. I got a peak of a worldline like that.

Pnkie Pie would join me with alias' like Perky Pep or Peachy Puff (she actually told me she'd pick those), and be just Pinkie Pie again!

I'd invite the psychologist to my world after spilling the beans. The ones who thought I was crazy or called the guards only finding a door that led to a empty shack or the little filly's room if they tried.

I had all these super cool alias' I'd use and all these jobs I'd learn how to do and get a taste of the real world again. Instead of demigods popping up every five minutes.

River Dew, Red Dynamite, Risky Dice, Radiant Dawn, Ritzy Diva, Razor Dart, Raw Dharma, Rhapsody Drive, Rumba Drum, Rogue Dynamo, Rapid Downdraft...

I had all these ideas...until I remembered that without Nightmare Eclipse I had no clue or ability to travel through time, let alone visit different universes. Yeah, you think Eclipse would let anypony know her trump card? Twilight had to trick it out of her. Dang it! Stupid laws of physics...

And...the more I visited the mortal world, the more I felt like somepony was watching over my shoulder, like I was a big beacon to somepony. Rarity, Rarity was sensing me. Guess that made sense, considering now walking anywhere was like walking on her skin.

Whatever happy world Rarity was making for her Rainbow Dash, her Applejack, and her Spike, I wasn't about to intrude. I didn't belong there. That and I was afraid of making anypony think Eclipse wasn't gone for good. If I was going to meet that Rarity and her friends, it'd be AFTER I'd paid my debt to creation. Strangely, I never sensed Twilight.

I'd have asked Doctor Whooves for help with time travel to before Rarity became an Alicorn, if I knew where he was (yeah yeah, I know it doesn't work that way), I asked Razzaroo if she could pass it along.

"I'd be happy to, if I knew where he was!" Razzaroo said, "You try keeping him pinned down."

I'd done it, it was not easy. The Doctor was the one pony Eclipse had never been able to beat the same way twice.

I'd have used the magic that let this pocket world random jump through creation...if I hadn't burned that out myself earlier to make sure Fluttershy didn't try to make us run again. And SHE had made it from cannibalizing the remains of the 'living room' that connected all our personal pocket world. So yeah, it felt like Nightmare Eclipse was laughing at me from beyond purification.

"Rainbow Dash, I know you don't think so, but I know how you feel."

"You're right, I don't."

"Seeing your home, your universe obliterated, your history wiped away, like your home never existed. All by beings more powerful than you, and not able to do a thing about it. Seeing your friends twisted into not themselves to where you can't even recognize them.

"Being told again and again and again, and again how 'it's the only way', 'it's for the greater good' 'we're sorry but we're doing this anyway.' Being a lone survivor, the only one who remembers your world. All you loved ones simply gone. Some of your friends being made 'never were', LESS than those not-themselves the others were twisted into.

Having to bear it for so long, so terribly long. The weight being so heavy it's nearly unbearable. Then, as things finally begin to look up, it's won't give you back what you lost, but maybe you can find peace, you're thrown reversals again, and told 'it's better this way.' Like your blood, sweat, and tears meant nothing. And you're left just having to get away from it all. And even when your friend isn't twisted or evil, you can't stop thinking about what they've been made into, instead of who they've chosen to be."

She was crying. She shakily help up her forehoof and gently touched my cheek like I'd turn to sand. "Looking at them, and can't stop seeing a corpse. And are ashamed for that selfish feeling. Taking forever to finally accept they're themselves even if they're not the ponies you knew. But none of that makes the pain go away. And these all powerful forces, the same ones who couldn't save your world, the same ones you loathe and detest for sitting on their haunches until it was too late, ask you to help somepony, help make things a tiny bit more right, and make you work alongside those who ruined your world and you're expected to just forgive and forget and grin and bear it..."

My body acted before my brain even registered it. I hugged her. "Razzaroo I'm so sorry darling."

Her eyes brightened a bit.

It was, it was me who said that, and I MEANT to say that, but...it was just something that felt NATURAL to say to her. I wonder if this is how Pinkie felt meeting Clover.

I kissed her where I'd hurt her before.

"Maybe we can be friends again?" I asked.

"Again." She hugged me too.

+++

Remember how I said time hadn't politely decided to stop ticking while I went off and had my pity party?

Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Spike had all vastly improved in their mental well being since I'd been gone. It turns out, that the entire 'plans to remake the universe' had been put on hold on favor of giving my friends healing while I'd been off by myself.

But I still insisted on doing everything the hard way, even Applejack was rolling her eyes at this point. But I didn't want anypony touching my brain no matter how much I trusted them. Yeah yeah, it's a bit paranoid, but don't forget I've spent several hundred million years with a soul lobotomy.

I also repaired my nightmare armor while I had been on that asteroid to kill time, this time going for guard armor that was a more post-three-tribes style, ugh, sound like Rarity. Eh, better than being a supervillain.

I was sulking in my cloudhouse due to the fall out of my leaving all of a sudden (I'll get to that in a minute), when I got a surprise visitor.

It was the yellow pudgy mare who had been outside the portal writing down pony's names standing at my front door. "Hi Rainbow Dash. I'm Bon Bon, remember?"

"I remember. You're our Bon-Bon's ancestor, right?"

“Yep.”

Who knew Bon Bon had a bloodline that old?

"Razzaroo said how out of straight you are after seeing Fluttershy, and Razzaroo wants Sweetheart and me to help you."

"Sweetheart?"

"She IS a doctor you know, pretty much the patron saint of 'em. And that makes you all her responsibility. But after a chat, I realized I had the power to help you a little through things."

"I'm not interested in any mumbo-jumbo."

Bon Bon's face flushed. "Don't know it till you try it. You still believe in the magic of friendship don't you?"

I nodded.

Then the white mare with pink hair, Sweetheart flew to my front door. That halo behind her head glowing like a night light. "Sorry I'm late, I was helping Fluttershy." I said I'd explain in a bit. Sorry, this stuff got jumbled after some of the 'discussions' I had with the others. "Rainbow Dash...Bon Bon and I want to help you. We've helped the other ponies, we've helped your friends. And now we want to help you."

"Sure, it's your duty," I said.

"'Duty' nothing," Bon Bon said, her eyes flat.

"We ASKED to come along to help Starlight AND to help all of you. We aren't even really reapers, once this is done we'll lose our wings and we can go back to our families waiting for us in Elysium."

That actually gave me a tiny bit of pause. They fought against Flutternice's concept-killing horse-killer, instead of staying safe in the afterlife, because they WANTED to help?

"Look, I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I don't want any magic messing around with or in my head. Trust is hard enough for me right now."

Sweetheart said, "I promise. This isn't mind control, and we won't go inside your soul. And what happen is completely private. I promise."

I rolled my eyes. "Fine, what is it?"

Bon Bon took out her sword. "Put to paper, Cookie Spinner!" And it turned into,

"A pen?! Your sword turns into a pen?"

"Haven't you heard? The pen is mightier than the sword."

"Are you going to 'rewrite' my personality with that thing?!"

"It squirts ink. And I don't need to refill it, that's its power."

"Oh."

"Seriously, with all the focus the Elders put on free will, why would they entrust a 'rewrite ponies personalities' weapon to a temporary helper?"

"...Point taken."

"All we want Rainbow Dash, is for you to let Bon Bon listen, that's all. And to let me share with you. You're not the first pony I've helped who's seen their entire world destroyed and carries horrible mistakes on their back. Hopefully you'll be the last of the former though."

If Razzaroo had taught me anything, it wasn't to assume that ponies were blowing hot air when they said they had a taste of what it was like in my horseshoes. What? I might be stubborn sometimes, but I'm not THAT stubborn.

"Come on in...there's a couple chairs." I sat down on the couch. Bon Bon took out a blue book with rainbow stripes with a lock on it, and gave the key to me. I saw there was a pink, green and purple, orange and yellow, and other books in the saddle back she had with her.

"Rainbow Dash, just talk to me. Whatever comes to your mind. You won't be judged or put-down for anything."

I took in a deep breath, and slowly let out it. And I started.

Now...let's talk about Fluttershy, her daughter, and Discord.

While I had been gone...Fluttershy had shuttered herself in. Completely and utterly.

Remember the way she'd been as the secret puppet-master of her own Ponyville? Now she'd gone the opposite extreme. I'd seen ghosts demonstrate stronger participation with their the external world.

You'd go to visit her at the cottage she lived in with her daughter, and knock on her door.

"Oh," you'd hear her tell you through the door. "You can come in. If you want. Or don't. If you want."

When you stepped into her house, you might see Fluttershy more or less drifting in and out of rooms, careful as could be never to disrupt a single mote of dust, let alone touch an object. Not do anything.

Flutternice did all the cleaning. Not because her mother made her clean. But because their home would otherwise get utterly filthy. You might be tempted to think that Fluttershy had suddenly become the laziest slob ever to vegetate upon a couch. You'd be wrong. And wish you were right.

"The dust falls where it chooses to fall," Fluttershy would proclaim. "And the dirt clings to what it will. The ants and mosquitos wander in, because such is their wont. Who am I to tyrannize them all, by forcefully imposing my narrow view of who and what belongs where?"

I assure you; she wasn't being even remotely sarcastic. We were all alarmed by how serious she was. AJ had to triple check her eyes.

And when Flutternice would clean her mother and her mother's surroundings, 'Shy wouldn't object, after all, she'd done so much to 'control' her daughter already.

The only input Shy would give on a discussion was.

"Why burden others with my judgmental viewpoints?"

She didn't want to go ANYWHERE! Least she disrupt things.

There was a bit of mandatory reading in Cloudsdale grade school.

One of the books was called 'The Chocolate Battle.' In it a colt had in his locker a poster with a pony before a perfectly still beach and ocean, with the words below it 'Do I Dare Disturb The World?'

Fluttershy had become the utter embodiment of that. No, not the utter embodiment, the utter extreme of it. There's a difference. I think even Entropy would have thought this was too much doing nothing.

Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Spike, Starlight and her friends, Zecora, the Scootaloo from Fluttershy's cycle, Razzaroo, Flutternice, Discord, all took turns helping her eat.

The worst part was how she didn't so much as hug or kiss Flutternice. She hadn't gone heartless, she was scared whatever she said or did next would damage her MORE somehow. That whatever choice she made would be the wrong one, that any choice she made WOULD be the wrong one. I can't say I didn't know how that felt given all the angsting I'd been doing.

Apparently Flutternice smashed some furniture like any filly looking for attention, and Fluttershy just said, "It seems like you're rediscovering your true self! Your knives are in their usual drawer. I'll be in my bedroom."

Flutternice ran out crying, Pinkie Pie had been cuddling and hugging her the rest of that 'night'. 'Under mind control' or not, we were the only pillars left for her in a world that had been completely destroyed. It was the emotional dependence we'd wired into her for eons.

When Applejack had come to me, I had freely bared my damaged, tormented, wrongheaded soul open for her.

With the Flutters, though... the moment they felt the subject being broached, they hid themselves behind impassible, impenetrable, impermeable politeness.

For the mother, it was like she was tossing her words down an endless black hole that puffed back empty niceties:

"Oh, you really sound like you know just what you're talking about, Applejack."

"I'm so glad that method has worked out for you so well, Applejack."

"It's so nice that you're willing to take time to talk to me like this, Applejack."

"Applejack, that truly is a thought-provoking statement you just said."

"If I said anything was worthy of administering another beating to me, please do not hesitate beat me up."

The affliction Fluttershy had was just the same as my own, even if she'd shut herself in her house instead of flying off to an asteroid.

No faith in herself. No trust in others. Pussy-hoofing around every single thing. No sense of self-worth. Belief that she was poison to everything she interacted with, and that the universe would bring its hammer upon her at the slightest misstep. And the automatic assumption that every belief she might have and every action she took was villainous. That she was some virus that infected everything it touched.

She'd withdrawn from the universe as a whole. Exactly as I had withdrawn. Apparently, she had taken my leave as inspiration. "If Rainbow believes she should cut herself off from the world, I should too."

I remember a song about a big brother who didn't realize his little brother wanted to be him. We weren't related and I don't think I was her brother figure, but I felt like I'd ended up in that situation.

Flutternice meanwhile kept trying 'every single possible thing' to 'break' their 'mind control'. From hitting us over the head with frying pans. To reminding us of the 'good times' to showings us pictures of loved ones, including some of our 'righteous quest' involving Discord (ugh, why do we even HAVE those pictures anymore?). To putting herself in 'danger.'

She didn't believe, couldn't believe, for one nanosecond we could have done any of this of our own free will, not her loving aunts. The love of a child to her family is harder to break than you can imagine.

Discord was trying to visit her time and again, but was always stopped by Flutternice, to 'protect' her mother from him.

Discord and Fluttershy had come to an arrangement which resembled that of divorced parents. Discord would come over to Fluttershy's cottage at an appointed time, and she'd give her daughter over to his care so they could bond, and he'd bring her places.

Did I think Discord would try to corrupt her? He'd been trying his bloody hardest to subvert his corruption with his previous daughters that Nightmare Eclipse kept editing in for a very VERY long time before we got hit by the six-barrel-love-and-tolerance-death-ray. Not to mention he'd spent this entire thing since her loop thinking he'd lost her.

I'd have to have forgotten everything that happened in those eons to even remotely think that, now that my Nightmare insanity and Eclipse's 'fixes' were gone.

And it didn't matter. Discord could do no right with her Pinkie Pie informed me.

Compliment her on looking pretty? "I don't need your validation on my appearance."

Bring her to a restaurant at the end of the universe? "Nothing on this menu can compare to Mama's cooking."

Bring her to a interreality shopping mall? "Money and materialism are the root of all evil, but of course YOU'D know that!"

Take her on nature walks? "So tell me, how many beautiful forests and oceans did you destroy again?!"

Bring her to an intergalactic amusement park? "I hate the music, I hate the lines, I hate the rides..."

Perform a whimsical magic trick for her? "How disorderly! Stop that this instant, you chaotic freak!"

Whenever she stood in her father's presence, I don't think there was so much as a secret, guilty longing to perform physical violence. Because that would go against her all her mother's teachings, and when Discord was around, she was dead-set on being the supreme exemplification of everything Fluttershy had once stood for.

Instead, pure passive-aggression had become her weapon of choice, and she wielded it with soul-crushing efficiency. ...In a weird way, I'm thankful to Flutternice that she reacted this way. Why? Because before, the relationship I had with Discord amounted to:

You're just as much a victim of him as he is of you, Rainbow Dash. You tormented him as he tormented you. You have no moral superiority to him whatsoever. Otherwise, you're an unfair hypocrite.

Okay then. Fine and dandy: that's the way it was. But relationships with that as their foundation are just brutal on your heart for even short stints of time, wouldn't you say? So much emptiness, pain and guilt, just staring into their eyes. Simply unbearable. Tears yourself apart from the inside out.

But watching Discord's dejection build and build throughout all the moments he spent in the company of his once-adoring daughter who'd he'd thought had been deader than dead for millions of years... his sorrow intensify each moment Flutternice had slammed her mother's cottage door in his face...

...It was the very first time in our long, awful history that I felt a heartfelt urge to reach out to Discord. Console him. Bond with him.

And yet I didn't. Couldn't bring myself to approach him directly. Horrible of me, I know, but I still wasn't ready for that step when I arrived. Maybe a part of me felt having been the one who helped indoctrinate her in the first place wouldn't help at all.

Spike was the one who filled me in on the part with Discord, and he told me.

"The worst part is Rainbow...is the satisfaction I feel when she slams the door in his face. And it's a horrible feeling."

And that was when it hit me. The hatred I felt for Discord all those years wasn't a shadow of the hate Spike had felt for him. Dragons don't believe in eye for an eye. If something is stolen from them, they'll take back ten times that. Theft is the one surefire way to trigger a dragon's lust to burn what lay before them and claim the treasure among the ashes. And Spike had lost his six closest friends, lost Twilight, lost Cadence, lost Rarity, his family.

And Spike had kept it all in check, he had proven stronger than that, again and again, while I was the one who had run away.

And that brought me back to sulking at my cloudhouse and Bon Bon and Sweetheart getting me to open up my heart.

I swear...it's like I know them from somewhere, but I can't say where. Not mind control or anything, just...like we'd been friends before.

Sorry for giving you the round-about like that, the notes got scrambled when we were trying to put it all together because it took so long.

Sweetheart and Bon Bon as it turned out by the way, were very good at what they promised. Bon Bon just listened. And Sweetheart, she didn't judge once. It really was like she'd done this for countless ponies before. She reminded me of what Fluttershy had once been like.

But most ponies never realize it, but Fluttershy is as hard a worker as Applejack is at her field, Twilight at her studying, Pinkie at her parties, or Rarity at her sewing machines. Angel had always been there to keep her from working herself to death. Now he wasn't. And now Fluttershy was going to work as hard as possible to 'nothing' herself to death.

Sweetheart and Bon Bon said it was time to bring in the big guns. Apparently this required special permission from their higher ups.

Who did they bring in?

You wouldn't believe me if I told you.

Imagine somecreature like a canine, and not exactly part of the Diamond Dog tribe. Short, about Spike's size when he was a baby dragon. Bipedal. Not a human. And goes by his species name. But patient, and very very very good at listening. To the point where he can draw out words from a pony. Even able to endure silence. He actually coaxed words OUT of that fortress of manners and niceties.

He also had that same halo that Sweetheart had.

He had apparently made many friends (and one enemy in one of Discord's cousins), and was called in when nothing else worked.

Fluttershy would never, ever refuse him entry (the first time mainly due to not being able to defy her base 'adorable animal' instinct). And the therapist would talk to Fluttershy and listen to her words.

A tongue lashing would serve no purpose I realized, because that was what Fluttershy wanted more than anything. She WANTED horrible words thrown at her, she'd EAT UP at emotional blows thrown at her. I swear she'd grin if I'd punched her in the face. What was needed was kindness and limitless patience, which this therapist had.

It was a slow healing process. They knew just the right way to listen. They knew the right questions to slip in. The right observations to point out at just the right time.

So that's what I figured at least. Melody used her sword to create a sound proof barrier around the cottage so we couldn't eavesdrop. Private session.

Gradually, very gradually, Fluttershy started eating her own food. Cleaning her own house. Stating opinions decisively. Trusting that she had as much right to live and participate in the universe around her as any of us.

Then...she finally walked out of her cottage. And she began crying.

"Fluttershy?" I asked. My friends and Starlight's gathered around.

"I didn't want to do anything, not feel sad, not feel angry, not be anything...it's all...it's all coming now...I...I knew this for so long but...now I'm crying..."

I gently hugged her. So did the others. So did Bright Eyes, none of us stopped her.

"Crying for what dear?" Bright Eyes gently.

"I was wrong. My friends, everypony. I thought how you'd send them to Tartarus even though the Elements healed us because we still looked like Nightmares. That you throw all the ponies we saved into nothingness because their worlds were gone."

"We know sugar cube, we know," Applejack said.

"I promise Fluttershy, on everypony I've ever loved, none of us would have helped if that was their plan," Bright Eyes said. "We had a choice."

"Fluttershy, I'd have helped you if that was the case," Melody said crossing her hooves.

Patch nodded.

"I know all that...now." Fluttershy sobbed. Getting all her pent up tears out. "But I was so tired at the end, so tired. I, know I said some things that didn't make sense. It...it wasn't about making up for things I'd done, but was able to do the best I could for those I'd hurt."

"You were scared Sugarcube, don't worry about it, we're past it now. We're done with that nonsense," AJ said kindly.

Fluttershy nuzzled her. "Thank you."

"Fluttershy," I said. "I said some horrible things to you, and...I didn't realize you needed saving as much as everypony else until near the end." I think this whole mess that she'd gotten herself into was proof of that.

"It's okay, Rainbow Dash, we're still friends, and that's what counts."

Slowly the hug broke and Fluttershy stood up and spread her wings and flashed her horn.

"I was so obsessed with doing nothing, that I didn't do what I should do, and that includes giving so much as an apology or so much as SEEING a friend after I used her after I tried to hurt her."

"Zecora," Spike said.

And yeah, that's when I realized I still owed Zecora an apology too.

Fluttershy nodded. "And others, Flutternice hurt the ponies and the Scootaloos because I told her to, as her mother, it's my responsibility."

"Fluttershy, most of the ponies are asleep, waiting to come home," Sweetheart said.

"It's okay, even if it's only in their sleep, I'll give them my apology. Every last one of them deserves it."

"It'll just be a drop in the bucket," I said. The others glared at me.

"Maybe, but it's better than doing nothing." Fluttershy said, and none of us could argue that.

"I know, I just wanted to make sure that didn't matter to you," I said with a smile.

So yeah, Fluttershy apologized to the Ponyville ponies sleeping for tomorrow to come, to the Wonderbolts, to all 171,015 Scootaloos.

And of course, Zecora.

We both met her in her hut, that she chose to stay in, even if she knew it was just a replica of her home. It was actually eerie not having to worry about monsters in the imitation Everfree.

We both came before her, Alicorns, both decked out in our custom barding, and knelt before her, our horns touching the floor.

"I'm so sorry Zecora, I used you as a puppet to try and keep Rainbow Dash from learning the truth. I made you into what you've been trying to prove to everyone you weren't: a witch. I told myself it was for the best, and that is no excuse. I so sorry. Please forgive me."

"And Zecora, even before I found out the truth, I still flew off to Cloudsdale and forgot about you and Rarity. I went off on my own without even a note and didn't once check on you. AFTER you'd just been possessed by some kind of monster. That isn't what loyal friends do when we had only each other to rely on. I apologize."

She looked at me.

"What you did was thoughtless,
And not the least bit cautious."

And Fluttershy.

"It is not to embellish,
To call what you did selfish."

She look back at me.

"But at least you prove your hearts are not stone,
For your tireless efforts to atone.

"While I truly feel anger,
Nursing grudges is no answer.

Our friendship I will not disown,
and give you a chance to atone."

She finished sternly.

Fluttershy sure did. She made sure Zecora lived like a Zebrafrican princess in the mean time. Letting the space around her house tree be the biggest exotic flower garden imaginable. Not sure if Zecora enjoyed it, or just felt it'd be too impolite to refuse.

And me? There wasn't much I could really offer a mare like Zecora. I could only promise I'd always have her back from now on. That's all I could do for her for now.

And there was something else I realized during all this.

Minty. I was such a maroon.

I'd SEEN Minty, or at least Minty Pie, ANOTHER incarnation of Minty, during the final battle of the dark world.

A Minty with three rock candies as her cutie mark armed with that magic sword. She'd CHATTED with Nightmare Granfalloon during the fight! Heck, the one who'd been the KEYSTONE of the entire spell that Twilight used to defeat us! But I was too centered on my own misery to think about it.

This didn't just bloody mean an incarnation of Minty got a chance to speak with Pinkie Pie with Clover, it was on FRIENDLY TERMS, after she'd fought to the death against another version of her.

That was what that moment together actually meant . . .

And the way Razzaroo spoke, that she'd been sisters with one of Clover's former selves who was a part of Twilight she said (or something like that). This incarnation reality stuff made things way way way too complicated. And...Twilight was an incarnation of Minty she told me...So in other words...Pinkie Pie lost her best friend TWICE.

Oy. Applejack was right. I'd been so fixated on my own miseries I didn't stop to think how unique and painful my friends' were.

++

With Fluttershy finally ready to join the world again, it was time to finally pick up where we left off before I blew my top and stalked off somewhere.

So finally after everything, we were back at Sugar Cube Corner, this time Pinkie Pie had magicked up several cupcakes with extra sprinkles, and a cake with frosting that spelled out, 'Can we all please get along?'

Ex-Nightmares, angels, demi-goddesses, all ready for another go.

Bon Bon sat silently writing it all down.

Razzaroo wasn't to be seen (somepony had to look after the Scootaloos).

"So there are no more surprises. The ponies will be skipped forwards in time to when you're finished so they won't have to wait on you," Bright Eyes said looking over a checklist. "Razzaroo will be looking over your work, and Rancor will be keeping you on track. Do you object to any of this?"

We all shook our heads.

Starlight, trying her hardest to be a peace-maker, spoke next.

"Look," Starlight started, standing up, and looking around at all us Nightmares and Flutternice. "I'll admit. It was wrong of me to spring Discord as a surprise on you girls. I should've been more upfront and warned you all that in advance that the concepts had agreed to the option of teaming you up with Discord first. I won't say my intentions were good, because my 'good intentions' ruined more lives than I could count once."

"I swear, they weren't trying to make fun of you!" Clover said. "This wasn't about that!"

"And if you don't want to work with Discord, I understand, and so will my bosses," Starlight Angel said sighing.

"Thank you all for that," I tell them. "And I'd like to apologize for my earlier outburst. Sorry to you all for that. But now that I've had a chance to talk things out with a very wise friend..."

Applejack and I turn a warm look upon each other.

"...I've decided that yes, I do want to help out with this new universe."

"Are you sure?" asked Starlight. "This isn't about obligation, there are other ways you can find redemption if you want....trust me."

I gave them all my strongest look. "I insist. Just one question. Why DIDN'T any of you think about how I'd react to Discord?"

"Don't blame them, Rainbow, this was MY idea," Discord whispered.

"What? But-"

"Because my world of chaos? It wasn't worth losing several hundred thousand loved ones in a way I can never get them back...now I know what you, every version of you, felt like and all the other ponies who suffered so I could have what I wanted...I know what my mortal mother and my friends at Paradise Estate felt like when I suddenly became a horrid stranger and destroyed what they'd spent untold lifetimes trying to build....and I'm sorry. Nightmare Eclipse would have never existed if not for me. Now that I've paid for my evil, I want to try making up for some of hers."

I never noticed before. But Bright Eyes and Clover did NOT look anymore happy to be around Discord than we did. I...I'd simply never bothered to NOTICE before.

Discord gave a sad sigh. "Let me explain one thing. One thing very very important. It was before your time... Fluttercruel had taught me, no, reminded me how to care about someequus else again, no, even that's wrong. I was taught how it felt to lose someequus you love just for the entertainment and satisfaction of someequs more powerful than you. I had to play parts just so Nightmare Paradoxy wouldn't torture others worse to hurt me. And there was Tirek, before, again before your time... I tried to team up with him... several times... each time he'd betray me and eat my magic, and the world would be destroyed in the battle between him and Nightmare Paradoxy. I was able to tell him the truth a few times with the Valeyard's help...every version of him betrayed me anyway."

I remembered Nightmare Eclipse's stories of that. Apparently Tirek had been the one being that Eclipse had NEVER been able to neatly defeat once in any loop. It was always ended in the world broken. I'd almost think she was scared of him.

"So now I know what it was like to be the ants instead of the kid with the magnifying glass," Discord explained. He then gave a chuckle. "...You know the funny thing?"

"What?"

"...In the first loop, I was left dumbfounded that a little pony had beaten me...now I was cheering when ponies proved themselves better than the one that beat me and saying 'I knew you could do it.' funny how things work out, huh?"

I admit it, that got a smile out of me.

"Yeah, is kind of a hoot, huh?...So what name do you make people call you these days?" I asked him.

He wasn't expecting that question. "...Sorry?"

"What name do you make people call you these days?" I repeated, with patient calm. "I ask because recently, I've been on something of a 'kick' where I've forced everyone else to call me Nightmare Manacle. Names are very important, and a lot's happened since the last time we were face-to-face like this. So, one more time, what name do you make people call you these days?"

As the draconequus' lips tighten together for the next few seconds, I think back on all the many, many, many cutesy monikers. Both those he made up for himself, and the ones he compelled us Elements of Chaos to invent on the spot...

...Grand Penholder. Supreme Horseradish. The One True Mixologist. Puddle Jumper. Investigator Fifty-Nine Point Seven Repeating Decimal. The Everlasting Gongoozle. Destroyer Of Sense. Conquistador of Tchotchkes. The Busiest Vacuum. The Inescapable Glitch. Moo-Moo-Alulu. The Umpteenth Swizzlestick. Mr. Tastes Great Even In Milk. Ed Wynn Reborn. Many, many others...I think ponies considered it an 'unwritten rule' that you never called him the same name twice in a row.

"Discord," said Discord. "Discord is my name. Though the title has changed: I'm now Spirit of Chaos and Diversity. Has a better ring to it, don't you think?"

"Hello, Discord," I greeted him. "My name is Rainbow Dash. How have you been?"

"Oh, I'm doing splendid now. Still can't visit my youngest child without permission but that's how it goes. Experienced the death of every creature I've ever harmed. Wrote apology letters to all of them. I'm actually quite famous now: there are villains in the Ninth Circle of Dad's gizzard who say they're relieved to have Pops as a fair and balanced eternal tormentor after they caught wind of what you did to me. Not to say I didn't deserve every moment of it...up until I was on my claws and knees begging for Queen Apple Pie's soul in front of you crying like a foal. You know, for a filly she made a pretty good absolute monarch of a world of chaos! I certainly never thought to challenge Queen Tiamat to a game of Parcheesi. BUT! I realized I had missed something important. I missed some ponies on my list."

Discord got down on his knees and claws and bowed his head.

"I am sorry for everything I did to all of you. Applejack. Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash. Spike. Fluttershy... Fluttercruel, I mean, Flutternice."

I swear to Celestia, he was crying. Applejack trotted forward.

"I think everypony just wants to move on with their lives instead of holdin' onto grudges, Discord."

Discord flinched from her. We'd been his tormentors for millions of years, what did you expect, hugs and kisses?

"What ya did to ponies was wrong. What ya did to my family and my friends and their families was wrong. But what we did to ya and yer family was wrong too, and two wrongs don't make a right. We've all been monsters, so now let's all be reformed monsters. Ah apologize, and Ah forgive ya."

One after the other, Spike, Pinkie Pie...we all traded forgiveness and apologizes to Discord.

When it came to be my turn, I felt so many mixed feelings churning in my gut, staring Discord down. Mixed like everything else.

And they were all as still as an ocean. With everything done and over with...I was done with the paranoia on Discord, the thousand years he tortured me in exchange for the millions of years I helped torture him. The 'eye for an eye' makes the whole world blind. A million and one opinions on revenge, justice, and everything in between.

I was sick of hating. I was sick of not trusting. I was sick of paranoia. And I was sick sick sick of GRUDGES. I was done.

I let Discord know he had my forgiveness as well. Discord smiled wanly and gave me his own.

His last apology was for Flutternice. She replied,

"You evil monster! Go away and never come back!"

...Poof! Off he went, with a sad, sad sigh. And Flutternice gave a great sniff of satisfaction.

Fluttershy stamped her hooves. "DISCORD APOPHIS TYPHON! You get yourself back into existence this instant!"

And poof he came back. "Yes mam," he said meekly.

"HEY! That wasn't supposed to happen!" Flutternice snapped.

"It's happening now Flutternice," Fluttershy said sternly to her child. "Now BOTH OF YOU stay where you are!"

Discord froze like a picture. Literally, I heard the camera and everything. Reformed or not, he's still Discord.

"There's something I need to say about your father Flutternice."

"Y-yes, mother?"

"...Your father WAS a bad draconequus. The worst. He did awful things, and he made you love to do awful things whether he meant to or not. And he made my friends love to do awful things. He deserved to be punished. And he has been punished. And he's done, and is continuing to do everything and anything he came to make up for it! He hasn't been that bad draconequus for a very long time...your mother wanted to STOP him from being hurt more, because she saw he was truly sorry. Because she knows he's changed."

I flinched. And I had been one of the ones to tell her she was 'forgiven' for thinking it.

"And…and your mother needs to apologize to you too, Flutternice,"

Nice flinched. "P-please, mama, no more apologizing. You didn't do anything wrong!"

"Yes I did. I didn't even try to help you learn how to understand your Element, your cutie mark, or the way you were born. All I did was forgive you for things that weren't your fault to begin with, and ignore the things that were you fault. The magic of Nature's Fury isn't evil. And your cutie mark isn't evil. And your Element of Chaos wasn't evil either. And it was wrong for me to tell you they were. It was the way you were using them that was evil, and I didn't even try to see that. I didn't try to show you the light to that darkness. I apologize, Flutternice. Mommy is sorry. She is VERY SORRY she never realized the truth until just now."

And without another word, she placed her horn on Flutternice's head, I recognized the spells she was casting . . .

One to shatter the taint of a discorded heart, and the other to have a long talk in the span of a few seconds in the minds if you didn't mind a headache that made you hate your brain in the morning.

When the spell ended an instant later, Flutternice looked at both her parents and herself in shock in shock, tearful and confused, with no idea what she was supposed to be feeling, and dove her face into 'Shy's chest.

"Maybe it'll just take some time dear," 'Shy said to Discord. "I think my therapist might need to make a few slots in his schedule as well...I think I'll need some help."

"And those were the last I had on my list to apologize to."

"Not quite," I said. "Discord. I think there's one creature left in creation, out of all the ponies you screwed over and ruined the lives of, that you have left to apologize to and you need the forgiveness of."

As Discord drew a resigned breath, I turned to Applejack. "AJ? Can I borrow a mirror?"

Applejack removed one of her mirrors, which I passed over to Discord. "Well, Discord?"

Discord looked at his reflection. "Discord, Dissy,...I-I apologize. And...I...I forgive you."

He slumped. My heart leapt in my throat when Fluttershy patted him on the shoulder. "You're done hurting others, dear, and I know you've been hurt enough. It's time to move on."

Crying again, the god of chaos meekly looked at her, "Thank you, Fluttershy."

"And build an entire universe for all the ponies here."

"Don't worry. I remember. Also, I do have a bit of an announcement," Discord continued. "My daughter, the last Fluttercruel, has also seen the error of her ways and is on the road to redemption as well...I just thought perhaps you may be happy to hear that Fluttershy...Even if she isn't from the same time loop as you, I know you of all ponies doesn't care about that now that you're in your right mind."

Flutternice just looked more confused, forget that, mortified. "But...but that's just a potential 'me'! She's not real. I'm real! I'm me! How...how can you drag down what it means to be a person by calling something that isn't even alive real?"

We all looked mortified. Hearing Nightmare Eclipse's words out of her mouth. How much we'd TRULY corrupted her.

"Flutternice..." Fluttershy said. "...That...that's the wrong way to look at it...She's not you. Just like all those Scootaloos aren't the same pony...That Fluttercruel is your...half-sister. Discord is her dad just like he's yours, even if it's a different me who's your mom. Does that make sense?"

Flutternice just groaned, shaking her head.

"But...they're all just recordings, she's just a recording of me replaying over and over until Auntie Eclipse makes them real. Like you and Auntie Manacle taking the Scootaloos out of the loop is what made them real instead of just recordings. Mama, why must you test me?"

"I'm sorry, Nice," sighed Fluttershy. "I have been testing you for a very long time, haven't I? But Auntie Eclipse was wrong...Auntie Eclipse wasn't a good pony. That was just a lie she told to make herself feel better...like how I told all these ponies nice little lies to make the happy...but that doesn't make it good...It's never good to lie to yourself to make you feel okay to hurt ponies."

"A l-l-lie?" Flutternice did not look well. "B-but, NO! They weren't real! They aren't real! They're just props! Robots! They don't become ponies until later! They're just potential ponies! Nopony was hurt because they weren't alive! So it wasn't a lie!"

Discord looked down. I think seeing her act like this brought up bad memories. Pinkie Pie looked about ready to cry.

"...Nice...They were real...they weren't props...What Auntie Eclipse and the rest of us did...it was wrong...it was bad...it was why I...I trapped us all in here...because I thought we'd finally have to face up to what we did...You have nothing in that to be guilty of...it's all my fault..."

Okay. Now Flutternice looked scared. "You said we were protecting all the ponies because the mean old concepts would erase all of them because the mean old concepts didn't WANT THEM to be real! That they were gonna punish all of you because you were gonna make a better world than them, and the concepts were all jealous and selfish! You were punishing evil Discord! You were setting up to make a golden world where everypony would be happy! THAT CAN'T BE EVIL! NOTHING YOU DID WAS WRONG!!!"

"...That...that was the lie I used to live with myself, Nice...it wasn't the Concepts who didn't want them to be real...it was Eclipse...we had to work very hard to keep this place remaining...she was the selfish one...we all were..."

"...We thought what we wanted was worth anythin'," Applejack said. "But...even when Ah said that we'd create a golden world? Ah knew it would be a paradise built on worse than corpses, and that we'd all go to Tartarus for it. Not because the concepts were brats who couldn't stand seein' something done better than them. But because we're worse than murderers. We erased entire universes, again and again, just for the sake of one golden planet. Tell me, Flutternice, have ya ever known Auntie Mirror to lie?"

"And now, all this time...it turns out the Concepts just wanted to give these ponies their own universe to exist...I was wrong...Mama's sorry she lied...she was a bad pony...a very bad pony..."

The daughter looked at the mother as if she were saying that squares had actually been round shapes all along.

"Stop saying that! You're not bad! You all did what you had to do! For everypony! What he turned you into! It's his fault! It's all Discord's fault! All Discord does is bad!" Flutternice cried stomping her hoof.

"One problem with that, kid," AJ said. "Discord? He created YOU."

"Evil fathers force themselves on helpless mothers ALL THE TIME, don't they?" hissed Flutternice.

"They do," said Discord. "They do indeed. I cannot deny it."

"But yer ma?" Applejack continued. "Ah turned her inta Nightmare Whisper! So if yah wanna blame somepony fer your ma bein' a bad guy, blame meh cause Ah made her a Nightmare!"

"DISCORD MADE ME EVIL WHEN HE VIOLATED MY MOTHER! YOU MADE HER REAL!"

"...Flutternice..." said Discord finally speaking. "...You're right, I made you cruel by violating your mother. And that was wrong...but that logic you're using right now? That was my logic for every wrong, evil thing I've ever done: that I was somehow the only 'real' thing in the world and everything else was just a little playset for me to goof around in. 'They're not real, so it doesn't matter if I hurt them.' Look where that got me."

"...In the end, Nice?" I said, thinking about what Discord just said. "...Eclipse became just Discord 2.0. She became everything about him she hated times ten...and so did all of us...and...I'm sorry, I really am, we've, ALL of us, not just your mom, have passed that down to you. I think deep down, I knew that, and I didn't want the Scootaloo twisted either. And that's why I wanted them to sleep all that time."

I noticed Applejack give a nod I felt wasn't for me.

"P-p-plea-ease-ease stop stop saying all this!" Flutternice held her forelimbs to her head.

"Nicey," Pinkie Pie said, "I thought this was all a game. I thought this was a comedy. I was wrong. It wasn't. And lots of ponies were hurt because I was too crazy to tell the difference."

Nice turned a heartbroken look on her mother. "You taught me what was right and what was wrong after all the lies evil Discord told me! You taught me hurting ponies was wrong! You taught me being nice was right! WAS ALL THAT A LIE TOO?! You're not like Discord! You're not! You're not! You're not!!!"

Pinkie Pie sighed. "Those things weren't lies, Nicey…but…"

"Your ma was right tah tell yah hurting ponies was wrong. That being nice is right...but that's just it, Nice, we HURT ponies. BAD. VERY BAD...Ugh...Ah wish these buckin' wings wouldn't break you in two if Ah tried ta show you that truth."

Starlight stepped forwards. "Flutternice...I know you probably don't trust me..."

"Anypony would have ta be dumber than rocks to trust YOU, you triple-ton lying liar!" sneered Flutternice.

Patch wordlessly put down her sword on the table, and touch her shoulder, making her wings vanished. She trotted up to Flutternice before any of us realized what she was doing and slapped her.

I don't know if that was shrewd to do in front of a girls' parents who are a ex-Nightmare and the god of chaos, or just plain stupid. But I could tell Patch and me had one thing in common: seeing our loved ones be put down lit a fire under us.

"Don't you EVER call Starlight that again you brat! Starlight is one of the most annoying honest girls I know! She keeps secrets! Same as everypony! But I've never once heard her lie! So shut up and LISTEN!"

"You think you can bully me into-"

"You wanna take me on again, go right ahead and-"

"PATCH! STOP!" Sweetheart shouted. "That's enough."

Patch snorted and sat back down, and began munch on a cupcake.

Sweetheart bowed to Discord and Fluttershy. And said in the most humble, non-aggressive voice this side of Fluttershy. "I deeply apologize for my friend. She's...very protective of Starlight. Starlight, please continue."

"I'm sorry for Patch, Flutternice…But one time I tried to do a really really good thing," Starlight continued, after a hurt little wince. "I tried to make a golden world too…like your Auntie Eclipse. I tried to make a world where no pony ever hurt and everypony's wishes came true...but it went wrong...and instead I hurt a lot of ponies..."

"We..." Bright Eyes replied. "We, it was my idea first..."

"...Your aunt Pinkie's world DIED because of our failures Nice. That was our fault, our mistake…and we had the best intentions possible."

"You destroyed a beautiful world?" Flutternice said, suddenly flat-eyed and flat-voiced with sarcasm, thick and black as tar. "No way. Not YOU guys. Color me absolutely, absolutely SHOCKED."

"It was WHY I became an angel of Death," Starlight said straight faced. "In the worldline your auntie Pinkie Pie came from, the universe had to be rolled back to keep it from imploding and taking every worldline connected to it. Much like what your Aunt Eclipse did. In the 'fixed' worldline, your uncle Destruction had to trigger an explosion out of our work. Not because 'the gods are bad' but because they'd already sent so many to Entropy's realm fixing the mistake the only way they could and didn't want to roll back time one DAY further and condemn even more to that fate. It was either several billion or more go to oblivion, or several go to Elysium and Tartarus. It was a HORRIBLE choice to have to make, but because of ME it had to be made. I became an angel of death to help guide every single pony who died because I couldn't see the contradictions in the spell we were making."

Our eyes widened. Most of us were stunned silent.

"Stop trying to shoulder it all on yourself Starlight. It never help," Bright Eyes sighed.

"Agreed," AJ said.

"Having seen what I've seen of your 'good intentions,' destroying all of mom's hard work, I think Heaven is entirely the wrong place for you."

"THAT'S IT! You're gonna-" This time Clover and Melody held down Patch before she could start a super-brawl between a deputy Angel of death and a demi-draconequus.

Was I this stubborn, when Applejack came to see me, out on that asteroid? Did I fight her like that? I think I did.

"I actually agreed with you at my trial by the concepts. But I wouldn't know, I've never been there, only my friends have. My husband is waiting for me."

Flutternice was thrown for a loop.

I jumped in. "…When I accepted Eclipse's deal...I had good intentions too...by the end I was every bit as twisted as her...I didn't think through everything...I'm sure there's something else I could have done...and I'm sure somewhere in creation there's a world where I did...but here? My good intentions helped give Nothingness a population boom. You have to work hard to make your good intentions STAY good."

"Uncle Banneret? Say something! Please! Don't tell me you...don't tell me you...please. Say that everything is alright! I want you to! Say that we were doing good! Say it! Be generous Unckie and say it! PLEASE!"

Spike looked down. "...I...I'm sorry, Nice...but...I loved Rarity...but now? several hundred THOUSAND Rarities' shadows are floating in Oblivion because of me helping Nightmare Eclipse…and my claws are soaked in HER blood...and that's just part of it...the truth is, I haven't been doing what anypony wanted but Nightmare Eclipse this entire time...I haven't been generous...I've been another kind of selfish."

"That's nonsense! You made me such wonderful gifts! You made such wonderful gifts for all of us! And you had such wonderful gifts set aside for Auntie Rarity for when she comes!"

"Exactly. I didn't care which Rarity. I just wanted a Rarity to become Nightmare Charity. Like they were all a bunch of interchangable little dolls and I could just keep throwing away the broken ones until I got one that worked for me! I didn't care about how that Rarity became Nightmare Charity. I just wanted her. How can that be anything but selfish?"

"But. . . all your gifts to me, to us...The stuffed animals that hug back for Auntie Manacle, the family album for Auntie Mirror. You can't say those were selfish!"

"...I can't say it was exactly generous either," Spike said. "...I was only generous to my friends, not Apple Bloom, not Sweetie Belle, not ANYONE but my friends."

"And how is that bad?"

"Because I hurt OTHERS without a second thought! I hurt RARITY because Eclipse told me to! Again and again! THAT is selfish: when I give ONLY to my friends and say 'to Tartarus with everycreature else!'...Generosity SHOULDN'T be generosity just to your friends."

"D-Discord must have you all under mind control!"

"Flutternice, enough," I said, "Since when has Discord ever been able to control the likes of us?"

"Well...y-you're weaker now since Auntie Eclipse is gone!"

Discord held out a notice signed by all FOUR Elders forbidding him to even THINK about brainwashing innocent ponies ever again as one of his parole requirements. I know that because just looking at it resulted in the knowledge that that's what it was, was being embedded in my brain for eternity. Also, Havoc had drawn the O in his name as an actual mouth that seemed to be trying to eat Discord's fingers. "Couldn't even if I wanted to anymore."

Flutternice opened her mouth again, but this time no words came out as she paused.

"I-I'm dreaming! This is all one big illusion!"

"Flutternice, that is enough," 'Shy said. "Please don't go down my road. You won't find anything happy at the end."

Flutternice didn't explode into a giant draconequus and promised to destroy the confusing universe. She didn't call us impostors and try to kill us in an epic super battle. She didn't destroy herself in some horrible single moment of despair.

"What's real?!" Flutternice sobbed, burrying her face in her hooves. "What's even really REAL anymore?! NOTHING!"

"I love you sweetie, that's real, I promise," Fluttershy said nuzzling her.

"So do I. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye," Pinkie Pie said.

She just pouted and cried like any little filly would. Fluttershy hugged her filly. "It's okay dear, just let it all over."

Spike gently patted her on the back with one claw.

Patch sighed and turned her head.

Sweetheart tenderly wiped Nice's tears.

I saw the look on Discord's face, what he wanted more than anything was to reach and hug Flutternice too, but he held himself back, poor guy.

As Fluttershy had said: it would take time.

Not Much To Scoot About

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Oh, and one more thing happened I think I should note…

"Nice?" asked Fluttershy's Scootaloo, sneaky little filly had been listening in the whole time. Which was actually pretty impressive, considering the number of ponies she'd had to fool.

"What?"

She gave her a big hug. "...I know we never met during our loop and if we did…but I'd still like to be your friend…"

"But I...we were…"

Her Scoots took a nasty bump during that fight. "...I don't care. If every other Scoots want to help the ponies from their loop, then why shouldn't I?"

So yeah, turned out Nice had more ponies that cared about her than she thought..

The big fat sense of 'so now what do we do?' only mostly vanished.

I mean, I was gonna become a goddess along with my friends of a new universe we were gonna build with our own hooves. I finally buried the hatchet with Discord once and for all. You think that would be a pretty sweet deal. But...

I'd... I'd never become a member of the Wonderbolts. Kinda dumb I know to think about that now, but- okay, let me explain this.

I was busy saving the world last time I was Rainbow Dash, then Rainbow Dash having cookie-cutter adventures... now I was Rainbow Dash that could stop and think and it hit me. That dream, that vision I'd put so much into before Discord ruined the world, poof.

I spent so long in Fluttershy's fantasy thinking how'd I'd be the greatest Wonderbolt ever, and here I was again, that dream would never come true. I didn't even get to have a fantasy of being one.

No, it was worse than that….that vision and all my effort? It technically never happened...and it was all my fault. Don't talk me out of this one. I was the one who gave up my timeline by taking Eclipse's deal...my entire life and only me and Scootaloo #1 are the only survivors...now I know how Pinkie felt.

I wasn't about to rush to Spitfire and demand she make me an honorary Wonderbolt, I'm not that pathetic. That and where would it go from there? I couldn't exactly have a career now. It'd be just an empty title. It was just another sad reminder of things I wouldn't be getting back. At least I can call Spitfire my friend now.

And there was a dark feeling in the pit of my gut that wouldn't go away whenever I thought of Twilight. And I was just thinking of Twilight often.

"Butterflies in your stomach?" Sweetheart had asked as she and Bon Bon did their regular visit. "You… you can ask any time you know."

"Nah," I told her. "Just... I dunno. It'd been so long since I've seen her, y'know? Maybe I just want the dust to settle once and for all before kicking up a new storm."

Between therapy sessions, none of us knew what we were supposed to be doing with ourselves.

Zecora refused to leave the fake Ponyville and sleep like the others, insisting she'd stay until our initial business there was done (when we'd take the step to become concepts).

The Scootaloos, meanwhile, were all judged on a case-by-case basis. I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all. There was no easy solution here. And there wasn't a perfect one either. 171,015 fillies, and deep down, my only regret for them is that I wasn't able to save more.

Fluttershy, hearing what the angels were planning, dug up her old puppets and began reconfiguring them so they could hold lights of existence. Discord's magic would then turn them into flesh and blood ponies.

It was cheating, I knew. Every light of existence was meant to experience the world from the ground up, and here they were being used like batteries for custom ponies to replace those who no longer even existed.

Bright Eyes explained, "Their pasts are still going to be their own choices." Then she went into a 'time double reverse forward' thingie, time-space magic had been Nightmare Eclipse's thing, not mine. Otherwise I'd be explaining all this to a mortal psychologist somewhere.

Razzaroo had a different take on it. "You were my Rainbow Dash's light...was your life any less valid because you had her Light of Existence? Or that you have Firefly's Shadow?"

I guess that made it hard to argue. And yes, it was a bit shocking to learn half of me was bucking General Firefly the First.

The Scootaloos had been with Razzaroo at the schoolhouse when we had our meeting with Starlight's herd. I guess they chose that spot out of nostalgia. That and Cheerilee's Scoots wanted to make sure the place would be clean for her to come back to.

"You ever feel distressed or uncomfortable looking at all of them?" Sweetheart asked.

"No. Because I didn't see the same filly 171,015 times over, I saw an individual filly in each face."

However, we'd forgotten one thing. 171,015 Scootaloos were 171,015 fillies, and they had the energy to match. So they got bored really quick.

And apparently Scootaloo #171,000 (who'd ended up with the Wonderbolts in her loop (I convinced Nightmare Eclipse to let me arrange them to be purified in some loops) and was from the same line as Soarin') decided to organize a race.

Pinkie and Razzaroo suggested they turn it into a triathlon party or something. I wonder if any of them knew why they enjoyed it so much.

While they were all the same pony from different iterations of the same universe, they'd still differed from each other enough that different ones won different events. No pony minded, they were just happy to have something to do.

Yeah, I'd call all those Scootaloos awesome. Though coming up with that many events was not easy I tell you that.

Then Sweetheart asked Melody to hold a solo concert for the swarm.

"But I don't have my bandmates, or an electric guitar!"

Sweetheart gave her that Fluttershy like look. "I'm sure you can manage."

Melody used her sword's power to amplify her voice for the crowd. Her singing voice was if Rarity had been into rock and roll. The fillies loved it.

For the last bit of it, she 'invited' me to play guitar (and by invite, I mean 'showed me the Scootaloos giving me puppydog eyes'). What? You though I didn't really know how?

Melody was exhausted by the end, but smiling.

...ugh, and now to the dark stuff. Seriously, I wish this whole thing had been sunshine and rainbows.

What was REALLY creepy was my imitation Ponyville and Cloudsdale, so many ponies no longer in it, it was hollow husk. And we were gonna use it to build a real home for refugees. It wasn't our home anymore.

I'll admit, I spent most of my time resting in my cloudhouse between sessions. Letting it drifts where it would over the fake Ponyville.

Didn't stop Pinkie Pie from visiting, or Applejack, or Fluttershy, or Spike, or Razzaroo, or any of them really.

My dreams were a lot more mundane and weird now... almost 'mortal,' if you will. I never once ran into Princess Luna. Yes, I did have a few nightmares, but not as many as I expected.

At least I knew the Scootaloos weren't going to be just shipped off to the afterlife. And... after what Patch did, I realized there was no way Starlight and her friends would have done that anyway.

"What you do mean dear?" Sweetheart task.

"After seeing how Patch reacted to Flutternice's bad mouthing... it hit me. You're ponies. You're not some aloof creatures from beyond. You have hearts. You're friends."

Sweetheart had nuzzled me. "Thank you for seeing that."

So yeah, after the bomb got dropped on Flutternice, her family and her Scootaloo took her home, along with most of my friends and Starlight's.

Both of us stayed behind.

"So... " I asked awkwardly. "Because you made one mistake, your entire world paid for it?"

We sat down at one of the dusty Sugar Cube corner tables, munching on leftover cake and cider. Yes, hard cider, but considering one of us was an angel and the other was a Nightmare, we didn't have to worry about getting drunk unless we drank a cider store.

She nodded. "It wasn't just my world. It was Pinkie Pie's world. During my trial, the defense argued that Bright Eyes and the others involved in the project didn't spot it either. But the prosecution said that just because others fell short it was no excuse that I did too."

"You meant the absolute best of intentions," I said, "You were gonna fix the world. You were gonna save everypony. But at the big moment, it all went boom. And a million years later, it STILL hasn't magically gone away."

"It never does," She replied. "They tell you to move on. But you keep clutching to it, because you don't want to be dismissive of those who suffered because of you."

"But because you have friends who won't give up on you, no matter how hard you try, you realize sitting on your flank whining about it all day is only making your friends more miserable."

"Even if the pain won't ever really go away-"

"-you have to live with it."

"Or be with it in our case."

"But you still have friends that won't ever abandon you. That are true to you. That love you. That are shouldering their own pain, but are still willing to help you through yours."

"And you can shout and accuse all you want at the world for it letting it go that far-"

"-but you're responsible for your own life."

"So you do the best you can with what you got-"

"-even if it's just a few drops in a bucket of blood."

"The point isn't to 'balance' it all out like a checkbook. You... just want to help."

"Even if you're worried you'll just hurt others again?"

"You gotta try anyway, or you might as well just sit down and stop existing."

"And then there's your friends. As long as they're around, you won't give up for anything."

"Even if all the world becomes your enemy, calls you a monster, they'll still stand up for you."

"And loyalty like that should BE repaid."

We sat in silence, just letting our thoughts run through our minds a bit.

Then something occurred to me. "...Hey...do you know...you know, who I was in your world? Before I became the original Rainbow Dash?"

"I do, but ... do you think it matters?"

I blinked. "Huh?"

"...You weren't some big hotshot. You weren't one of my friends...Even if that you was a no pony, would you still want to know?"

I stopped for a minute and let me really think that little bit of trivia over. "...Saying somepony was a no pony was Nightmare Eclipse's excuse. And the last thing I ever want to be is another Nightmare Eclipse."

Starlight smiled. "That's the answer I was looking for."

I'll save you the long winded story. Like Starlight said, I wasn't anypony big or important, in fact I probably couldn't tell you one of my descendents...I wasn't like Sweetheart and remembered as a saint. I got left out of the folklore and history books: a dear member of my family made it though. But Starlight remembered, the concepts remembered...and now so did I. And that was better than them just being a 'prop.'

After that, we just sat there, thinking about everything we'd talked about, Starlight thinking about her side of it until she said.

"Pinkie Pie sure makes really good cakes doesn't she?"

"Always has."

Oh, and I asked her for that list of deaths she'd showed me earlier...I realized that even Discord had taken the time to memorize his victims since he saw the error of his ways, so it was the least I could do to do the same.

Oh, and one little thing. Patch also invited me to play a few video games. Of course I didn't say no.

"Just one question," I asked, breaking the sacred rule of playing video games with somepony. "Why?"

"Sweetheart told me I should get to know you girls better after I gave Flutter-Not-So-Nice that smacking and told me to start with you. And you don't seem like the dancercise kind of girl, and there's nowhere to really dangerous explore around here. And pranks don't seem the way to go in a place like this. So, video games."

I suddenly saw Patch a tiny bit more as a fellow. "I don't really mind pranks myself. But given our limited pool of targets, I'd rather not accidentally declare a prank war against 171,015 fillies legendary for infinitely creative ways of causing trouble."

"And I'd rather not declare prank war against five Nightmares with magic powers. And I have a Sis-Tail Promise with my friends not to prank them ever again. Video games it is then."

She brought her own system and games, I had never heard of the system or the titles (or the TV she used, those hadn't even been INVENTED before Discord's take over), but I recognized the genres and the controls weren't that hard to figure out. It was kinda stunning seeing those 'sticky hooves' in action playing video games, I had to use telekinesis to press the buttons they were so close together.

Of course, since she knew all the combos and had this video game for who knows how long, she kept kicking my flank. "If this was one of my video games I'd be kicking YOUR flank," I said.

"But this is neither here nor there." She grinned.

"Oooh! I remember this! Can I play?"

"Pinkie Pie?!"

"I don't really feel comfortable playing with an imaginary friend," Patch said.

"Now who sounds scared of having their flank kicked?" I grinned.

"Uh, it's only two player."

"No it isn't! It's up to eight player! See? There in the corner."

"I didn't bring any extra controllers!"

"Good thing I keep extra controllers around town of every possible console ever made, and some that were purely hypothetical in subspace pockets in case of emergencies."

I grinned ear to ear. It lasted until Pinkie Pie began kicking my flank as hard as she was kicking Patch's.

Also, some of the Scootaloos were drawn in to the sound of video games, and wanted to jump in and play too, on rotation. Since we had eight players possible Pinkie Pie said yes to them before we could stop her which lead to (besides being VERY tired and taking game advice from my Wonderbolts action figures near the end)…

"Hey...did you notice something?" Scootaloo #1992 asked.

"What?"

"We both have orange fur and similar colored manes, and are both tom colts…"

Patch stared at her for a moment. "...I hadn't noticed that...and my husband did have blue hair so mix our colors and...Does weird stuff follow you around like a plague?"

"I'm a Cutie Mark Crusader, we ran into a giant squid in a lake and got mixed into rainbow colored taffy! And that's actually kind of tame...oh, and there are over 100,000 of me running around so...yeah."

"...I think I need to check with Bon Bon's records..."

+

Spike, AJ, and the others would eventually join in, and we had a video game tournament of sorts... it was one of the few times which, without mind control involved, we were able to forget our situation and just be friends hanging out again.

But for now let back to something that I REALLY should have mentioned before.

"Rainbow Dash," Razzaroo came to me. Normally she was hanging out at the imitation Golden Oaks. She looked sad.

This actually took place a bit BEFORE she told me how alike we really were.

I told you our notes got scrambled. This is what happens when it takes you so long to get anything together and then you go back and realize you missed some big parts.

It's also what happens when you say 'mount this, I'm outta here' and go sit on an asteroid for however how long. The world doesn't stop for you. The story just goes on.

Starlight Angel and her friends and Zecora had set up shop at Applejack's farm house while I'd been gone to 'review' the Scootaloos' and how to handle each one. The Scootaloo Alliance Army of Awesome was hanging out in the orchard, eating apples, chatting with each other, none of them having exactly the same expression. Applejack wasn't objecting. The Scootaloo army coming in and out of the barn and the clubhouse one at a time.

"I was going to tell the moment your meeting with Starlight and her friends was over but . . . you just hid yourself away before I could. I felt you'd want to hear this before you found out on your own."

"You're not going to make me find out on my own?" I almost said, then stopped.

"While at the schoolhouse... the Scootaloos all told me to make them remember in their minds what their souls already remembered."

My heart shook.

"You did it didn't you?"

"And I don't like myself one bit for it," she said sternly, her eyes narrow.

"You could have said 'no' to them."

"Could you have said 'no to them?"

"... No I couldn't." I sighed.

"I asked them to wait until the meeting was over so you'd be there for them but... "

"But I flipped out at seeing Discord, and left without even a good-bye to them." I sighed.

"At that point they thought I was making excuses and demanded I do it on the spot. It was to make sure they made an informed decision knowing everything it entails during their talks with Starlight's herd. I Swear Rainbow Dash, this wasn't a conspiracy."

"If it was, you wouldn't have told me," I said.

"I was scared, when they remembered, that they'd hate you. That you'd want to spend one last day with them. That you'd lose your chance to say goodbye to the innocent Scootaloos."

"But... they don't hate me," I pointed out. "They ALL must've known who I was.... WHAT I was already in their souls. Scootaloo is like me. She trusts her feelings. And she'd have not helped me if that what she'd truly felt. They still all fought for me... with me... All of them."

Yes I had been the one to say that this time. I'm stubborn, but I wasn't that thick headed.

"I'm sorry Rainbow Dash, I really am. I didn't mean to doubt you. I was scared. Scootaloo is my friend too! Whether she remembers or not. I never even got the chance to say goodbye to her when my world ended! I didn't want that to happen to you too. All I want is for her to be happy and alive and for each of them to not have to endure remembering that horrible world... I guess I was just being over cautious."

"You always intend well," I stated, filling up a glass with apple juice. "It's a shame you don't just make a whole separate universe for each one of them."

"Say, that's a super-swell idea, Rainbow Dash!" Razzaroo told me with a bright smile. "And we'll put you personally in charge of all of them!"

She'd timed it perfectly for me to do a spit-take.

"Joking aside," she continued, as I choked on apple juice. "I asked that before. And we're bending the rules as it is. We're making a single new universe for all the ponies in your Ponyville because they've bonded in the time they've been here. And...creating so many new universes for just one foal? It's disrespectful to the inhabitants of that universe."

"And it isn't to the ones of the new universe you're going to be making?" I asked, after clearing my throat properly.

"We don't have a perfect solution. When a pony is erased, only their shadow goes to Oblivion, their light returns to Fauna Luster and is sent back into the universe as a new life. We'd be DESTROYING souls if we tried to remake the universes all these ponies individually came from."

"I thought there wasn't a 'law of conservation of souls' or something like that? Wasn't that how the last Twilight Sparkle kicked Nightmare Eclipse's flank?"

"I was the first one to ask about that. Just THIS many Scootaloos all born from the same Light of Existence is already stretching that law really thin."

"How does that work?"

She looked like somepony trying to explain the color blue to a blind pony.

"Sorry, I'm not a concept, or an angel, neither is Twinkle Wish, it's hard to explain when even I don't understand it completely yet. But...You remember how the last cycle's Twilight Sparkle and Minty Pie nearly fused together?"

"Yeah..."

"That was a pony that was born from the Light of a pony meeting the one born from their Shadow. For lack of a better term, that was the universe's 'base code' being confused. That's a gross oversimplification but if anypony understands how complicated this can be it's you. That was a glitch in the fabric of reality more or less, that wasn't supposed to happen and doesn't happen every time. Or Bright Eyes would currently be fusing with Fluttershy and Sweet Heart with Applejack."

"I think I get it...wait, what?!"

"Long story! In that case, actually, Rota made sure it wouldn't be fixed because...well, in some lines it would be vital to defeating Nightmare Eclipse. Now, when a timeline splits, the lights are subtly different, like...remolds of the same doll, so to speak...that wouldn't be the case with this. If we tried making multiple universes all with exact replicas of their Lights of Existence, and ponies with the same Lights as the ones in this world...their UNIVERSES would try to do what Minty and Twilight almost did. The fabric of reality is already 'overheating' so to speak, trying to keep the Scootaloos from all merging together into some giant...Scootaloo...Legion...thing."

"Oh boy," I gulped. Nightmare Eclipse had shared notes with us on Nightmare Legion, the big THING that Entropy had forged from Her Shadows for the war with the alicorns, so I had some idea what that would be like...it took a lot of willpower not to have a panic attack imagining one made entirely of Scoots.

"If I kept saving Scootaloos?"

"They were OUTSIDE of time in your domain, they were in no danger. 'Mass' isn't the true issue, think of it how some ponies use the word 'many' for anything higher than a number they know. Reality feels there are 'many' Scootaloos."

"We aren't forcing the ponies of this Ponyville to consciously remember what their souls already do because we have the power to let them go on with their lives from when you 'collected' them as...as the thing that was a mockery of my little sister was destroying the universe each time. Scootaloo, all of her, each of her: I...could you erase her memories of taking part in battle with Nightmare Whisper? Of proving to creation that yes, she is real, she is alive, her choices matter?"

"...No, I couldn't."

"Each Scootaloo is going to be free to choose what she wants to become of herself, and they're free to discuss it among themselves. And like you said, they all still love you. They all forgive you. 171,015 worldlines, and out all of that, they all chose to love you and forgive you of their own free will. Think about that."

"...Thank you, Razzaroo. If their heart already remembered, what made you think their heads remembering was going to make a difference?"

"You have a point," she smiled.

I really should've paid attention to those discussions Nightmare Eclipse had about Pinkie Pie's old universe (we were together for millions of years, you think Pinkie Pie wouldn't share what she knew? Which wasn't everything.).

"Rainbow Dash!" One of Starlight's friends flew right in. The one who was Minty's previous incarnation, and Twilight's.

"Hey Clover."

"The Scootaloos from their friends worlds. They...they all said they were going to..." She panted. She then told me we had a special guest to do a special service for 'Scootaloo from Sweetie Belle's world' and 'Scootaloo from Apple Bloom's'.

"Razzaroo..." I started.

"I SWEAR I had no clue about this!" Razzaroo growled, grabbed me, and teleported all three of us straight to Sweet Apple Acres, she'd been studying.

The Scootaloos who had been mostly watching their clubhouse somberly or looking the other way gasped a huge collective gasp when we teleported in.

I zoomed straight into the Clubhouse.

I saw the mare speaking with the two orange fillies.

Nightmare Eclipse had us all read long and boring profiles on the Alicorns and Draconequi from what she had learned from her trips through the worldlines. Pinkie Pie called them 'spoiler-tastic.'

Naturally, Nightmare Eclipse being Nightmare Eclipse, those profile has a lot of biased content, but also being Twilight Sparkle, she presented all the cold hard facts before going into her 'conclusions.'

I'd never seen the Alicorn speaking to them in person before but I knew this was Venus: the concept of love. I admit...while at the time I was distracted by being worried, I felt...warm just being near her. Eew! No, not THAT kind of warm. I mean like when your mom hugs you or when a friend hugs you or...well, anyone you care about does. She just felt like that feeling.

And she wasn't standing over the two Scootaloos like a god, she was laying down so she was on their level, like a mother would when she's talking to a kid.

A third Scootaloo stood behind them, but didn't seem directly involved. Cheerilee's Scootaloo.

"My Little Ponies, You do realize the three of you are going to give up something to the other for this, correct?" Venus asked. "...That all of you forfeit something to others?"

The three nodded.

"You all know exactly what you're giving up?"

They nodded.

"And this cannot be undone once done?"

They nodded again.

"Scootaloo!" I completely ignored the goddess in the room. In retrospect, considering Venus was the Goddess of the power sources behind several of Equestria's 'do not under any circumstances buck with this' magical objects, I probably should've been a tad more careful, but she seemed to take it well.

"Oh." "Hi, Dash." "Nice cosmic weather we're having, huh?"

"Why didn't you tell me?!"

"I hoped...you wouldn't notice us missing." "I didn't, I didn't want you have to watch." "I just wanted it over with."

"I don't...do you have any idea…"

Apple Bloom's Scootaloo spoke, I could tell Scootaloo's entire herd apart as easily from night from day. "I'm giving up my wings and...and being your apprentice...to be Cheerilee's little sister."

"...How can you do that and still be okay with this?"

"...Because I still want to be a Crusader."

"And so do I," said the Sweetie's.

"You can both be without...without one of you…" I shuddered. She...she was talking about giving up her wings...she was… "Mutilating yourself!"

"Being an Earth Pony is that awful?" Cheerilee's Scootaloo asked.

"That's not what I meant Squirt!"

"I can be a another Sweetie Belle's Scootaloo," Sweetie's Scootaloo said.

"And I can be another Applebloom's Scootaloo," Applebloom's.

"But we can't both be ours," they both said.

I took a trot back.

"We took a vote Dash, all 171,015 of us. This is what we want. We want Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle both to be with their Scootaloo."

"But...why like this?"

"Because we were Cheerilee's sister, Rainbow," said Applebloom's Scootaloo. "In Pinkie's world...in the world that wasn't...this way...we're still ourselves we're just…" she looked like she was trying to find the right words. "We're just importing an old save from the previous game."

"Y-you can be identical twins! You don't have to do this!"

"...Yes we do Dash...I'm Scootaloo." "And I'm Scootaloo." Said Applebloom's and Sweetie's.

"How are we supposed to decide which of us is Scootaloo and the other the 'twin sister?' Flip a coin? In the order we were taken?"

I tried to think but nothing came out of my mouth.

"...There's only one way we can both be Scootaloo in this world, Rainbow Dash," said Applebloom's. "If we're twins, we have to pick which one of us is the original Scootaloo and which is getting a completely different life...but if we started out as strangers…"

"Then it's just a coincidence we have the same name," Sweetie's finished. "We're both Scootaloo, we're both somepony our souls and theirs remember as Scootaloo...and we can both be the Cutie Mark Crusaders, we'll just have four members instead of three."

I swear I could hear Fate grinding her teeth at that last part. And Ponyville's insurance premiums taking a jump.

"But...one of you...why can't she have a pegasus sister?" I grasped at straws.

"Because Cheerilee's family has no pegasi in it," Venus of all ponies said. "And to force one into it? It'd either be an act of lust, or a forced love solely for the sake of allowing Scootaloo to be a pegasus. And neither of those acts am I permitting...I care about these ponies as greatly as you do, Rainbow Dash, but I have my rules, rules I will not break."

"But-"

Venus shot me a glare that made my heart skip a beat. "Do you desire for one of Cheerilee's family to be violated? Or for one of them to experience a marriage that can only bring them suffering and part two ponies who might actually live long happy marriages? I do not."

"...No…" I finally admitted. "...But...Scootaloo...I…"

Cheerilee's Scootaloo looked at me. "...You think I don't want that spot too, Rainbow Dash?"

I blinked, looking at the little pegasus. "...Scootaloo…"

"I...that's my Cheerilee," she said. "...I'd give up these wings in a heartbeat to be her sister...but…" she looked to the other two. "...Cheerilee getting a sister is an open slot, only one of us can fill it. We all agreed ahead of time we wouldn't be overcrowding Equestria with identical sisters.

"And if I took it, that'd just be to make me happy, right? If she takes it, it's to make Applebloom happy...And a Scootaloo is always loyal to her friends and puts them before herself, right?"

Couldn't argue with that logic. In fact I was proud of it.

"...Scootaloo...are you sure you're okay never flying again?" I asked Applebloom's.

"I'm okay with being with my Applebloom. And that's more important to me than my wings."

"...Are you okay with...with…" I started crying. "With...not being...not being my…"

It wasn't that I was worried for her...I was worried for me.

Applebloom's Scootaloo hugged me instead. "...I'll always be your friend, we were friends when you dressed with style, we'll be friends when I don't have wings...we might not be AS good of friends, but...I'm sure Scootaloo will still start a fanclub, and I'll be lining up for my rainbow wig."

"You got that right Scootaloo!" said Sweetie Belle's.

I admit, I smiled at that. "...Well then, Darlings, I won't stop you…" I don't care how weird that sounds.

Group hug followed.

"Alright then," said Venus, stepping forwards. "...As an act of your love...from this moment forth, you, Scootaloo will be Scootaloo Punch, youngest sister of Cheerilee and Berry Punch. And you, Scootaloo shall be the friend of the Crusaders and apprentice to Rainbow Dash. Let your love make it so."

She touched her horn to Applebloom's Scootaloo's head and she transformed. Her wings...I forced myself to watch. They didn't just get lopped off in a gory display, they didn't shrivel up into dust. They simply glowed white and receded into her. Her body type changed a little bit, becoming less lightly built and more muscular, like an Earth Pony. Her mane style changed, becoming a ponytail.

Razzaroo had come up behind me overheard, and after giving me another hug, Scootaloo Punch came over to her. Since she 'reverted to a previous save' so to speak, I think she thought what came next made sense: namely hugging Razz and telling her she wished they'd gotten to say goodbye.

Razaroo broke down in tears hugging her.

You can imagine Pinkie's reaction when she found out.

Cheerilee's Scootaloo told her that she needed to promise her she would be the best little sister ever for Cheerilee, for her sake. I don't think anyone doubted that's exactly what would happen.

Me?...Well, let's just say seeing Scootaloo do that...it made me realize one thing: if they were willing to do this for their friends...I should be willing to sacrifice a little for them to make sure they're happy.

"So long to the flight and omni-elemental powers, and welcome back to the super-strength and life-sense club Scootaloo. . ." Pinkie Pie had said later, but for once didn't offer to throw a party.

Oh, and Pinkie was also the one to point out that Ruby Pinch now had an aunt her own age, Scoots was happy about that...I was kinda scared since that meant the Crusaders might pick up a fifth member. On the bright side, Melody pointed out that Berry Punch having a baby sister that looked up to her on top of a daughter might help her overcome a certain habit.

Outside, 171,012 little fillies were waiting to give the earth pony filly a hug too. And a 'congratulations' to the crowned 'Scootaloo' who'd take the throne of being Scoots in the new world and have Scootaloo's original life.

Then a congratulations for the other Scootaloo that would be Cheerilee's sister. What? Like Applebloom's Scootaloo said, neither was any less a Scootaloo than the other.

Venus looked to me. "...I know how painful that must have been," she told me... sounding a lot like Celestia would to ponies. "But know this: Cheerilee's bond of love with her will be strong, both of them will be happy...that much I can feel. And Scootaloo, both of them, will have a new bond of friendship."

"...Why do you care? You've done your job."

"I am Love. Mother may be the Perfect Empathy...but I'm still everypony's love."

"Including that Pegasus you killed?...Uh...sorry." Nightmare Eclipse's exposition had that marked in red.

She didn't snap, she didn't bring down the thunder and lightning, she didn't get into a tirade about judgement, she just, sighed sadly.

"…That filly had no love in her heart, literally. She murdered my son without regret, and would have done the same to me. She was shown the damage she caused, and felt no repentance. ...Rancor told a half truth when she destroyed that Spear, we'd actually been planning to destroy it from the moment that we got it...because in that moment when my son died, so did more relationships than you can imagine."

"I can imagine quite high."

"And with them, so many ponies went to oblivion...second only to the number this tragedy has caused..."

"More than Pinkie Pie's world?"

"Yes. Because Star Catcher was the only child born in that world, the population hadn't changed other than a few accidental deaths. When Cupid and his concept was erased...all those who were alive because of it and him were erased with him, past, present, and future."

She didn't explain it like she was defending deleting Pinkie's world, if anything the look on her face made me want to hug her.

"...When I struck her down, I acted not just in rage at my son's death...but in rage for all those she carelessly slaughtered, and to stop her from causing greater harm, and unlike you...she had no desire to repent for that ocean of blood. You still love."

Instead of a thundering commanding voice, she said that last part encouragingly. "Thanks. I'm going to try my best."

Venus nodded in approval. "Not just your best, but your successes! Because you love your friends, they love you, and you love Ponyville, its ponies, and Equestria. And love isn't cruel.

"That's the secret of love: it never holds a grudge. It never lacks confidence in others. I have faith in you, Rainbow Dash." she said, I swear channeling Scootaloo for a moment...oh, right, she's Scoots' love for me too.

"...Also, I feel I owe you this: Rainbow Dash, I forgive you. For helping manipulate hearts and tearing apart friends as part of the Nightmare Gallery. For every crime against my concept you've committed." She hugged me. "You've done NOTHING since you were purified but prove your love for your friends and fellow ponies."

"Rarity and Zecora?"

"You're not perfect. But you're trying and you aren't making excuses for yourself and you realize your mistakes and you're trying your hardest to learn from them. They love you as their dear friend."

How did she know? She's love. I could feel one less weight on me.

"...Also...one more thing?"

"Yeah?"

"The soul always remembers. Know this: no matter how any of these Scootaloos change...in the end their soul's bond to you never will."

I remembered Pinkie Pie and Clover. "Hehe...Yeah...thanks."

She knew what she needed to say...love always does. Okay it's mushy, but I think we're all overdue for some mush at this point.

171,013 Scootaloos left to make their choice.

And as it turned out, more than one Scootaloo would be willingly giving up her wings. And I'm totally proud of every last one of them!

Scootaloos, Trixie, Clover, Twilight Sparkle

View Online

Celestia's sister left after her job was done. She wasn't interested in making a grand show, and I wasn't interested in telling the others about what happened. Well, except for Bon Bon and Sweet Heart in our routine visits. Don't ask how Pinkie reacted to see Cheerilee's new sister.

I hate to admit, I mean really hate to admit it, but they've done me and my friends a lot of good.

I wonder how much Zecora had figured out. She was a mare Twilight admired for her insight. 171,015 Scootaloos running around was going to raise flags in her head as much as it had Spitfire's.

Not to mention, Fluttershy as a bad guy, us as NICE Nightmares, a monster version of Fluttershy claiming to be her foal on top of Starlight's herd.

But Zecora never asks any new questions, she's either waiting for Starlight's answers or have figured it out for herself, or is just going with the flow with all the nonsense she'd been swept up in.

The 'sun' and 'moon' were still rising and setting, in spite of the hole in the sky.

It's funny, I keep calling this imitation fake, but once ponies begin living here, it'll be real.

Discord stuck around, getting a feel for things before we got started.

"No moon and sun I could make will hold to Celly and Lulu's work, but they'll do until they can do it themselves."

That made me wonder. Were my friends going to be the only concepts for this new universe? Or were we gonna be doing diaper duty too looking after a herd of new born concepts as their 'big sisters'?

How long did it take concepts to grow up? If I was gonna be changing diapers for a million years, I can't say we aren't gonna be EARNING our redemption. Discord agreed with us on that one, but also said he had plenty of baby supplies from cleaning out a bunch of baby stuff His Parents put in his realm for Rancor and we could use it just in case.

Discord, also made a rather odd request OF US.

"...I know you didn't take any sea ponies to populate here, but eventually the universe will catch up and new souls will fill roles...do you think I can make a Sky Ocean here? As a natural part of creation?...It's the only truly beautiful thing I've ever made I permitted to stay beautiful...the only thing I ever did I think added to the world."

None of us objected to it, and neither did Razzaroo. Though she said it would have to be 'discovered' by Ponykind or otherwise it would be too big an addition to what the Ponyville ponies already knew was and was not. Discord was fine with that.

"It was about the one thing I liked about Discord's kingdom too," Melody said.

"Why?" Flutternice asked. "Because you weren't forced to take ponies away from their families?"

Melody laughed. "Kiddo, I told you I'm just a substitute angel of death, my normal volunteer work is as an angel of music, and even then I'm just part time. I have too many friends and family in the afterlife I want to make up with to do this full time!"

Pinkie talks to Razzaroo and Twinkle Wish about the Age Of Dreams. She's been treating Starlight a bit like royalty whenever she chats with the reaper. So does Razz now that I think about it, but more subdued.

Meanwhile Starlight treats Zecora like Twilight did Princess Celestia.

Razzaroo and her pet star were giving the fillies free magic shows. Pst. I thought that was supposed to be demeaning for the big top magic users. Then again, Princess Celestia had had Chuckle-Lot, that one night a year she played the clown for her subjects. It was fun to watch, but I never got why Celestia did it. I can't see Rarity doing it.

As for me, I'm looking over the Scootaloos, as they go in one by one to chat with the reapers.

Don't ever try to keep an eye on 171,015 fillies, you'll just go wall-eyed.

'My' Scootaloo, Scootaloo #1, along with a dozen or so her sisters are talking with Razzaroo. The others are from worldlines where the Cutie Mark Crusaders managed to come back together as trio, though it didn't stop them from dying of old age. I've stopped trying to tune into every chat I hear.

I'm sick of finding out my best friend is this other mare's second incarnation big sister's imaginary friend fused with two other ponies twice removed from another timeline or some horseapples like that. My life is convoluted enough as is!

If I ever get to make my own universe, I'm sweeping out most of this crud.

And, as though reading my thoughts, this ever-disobliging universe I'm currently occupying decided it had only begun being convoluted.

"Excuse me." Clover gently trotted up to me, not from behind, open and honest. She'd also 'taken off' her wings and didn't have her sword with her. She was just a teenage filly.

"Yes?"

"I...I just wan to say...that...well..." She said. "I never became Minty, that was another Clover who did that, but that Minty did become Twilight Sparkle and...well. I don't want you to think I was keeping anything from you! You're all friends of my family and most of my friends are related to all of you and...I don't want us to finish things on bad terms! Even if we're 2000 years apart, we're still family and family should support each other! So please, can we be friends?"

And there she was, not high and mighty angel, not a manipulator, all I saw was an awkward mare trying to bridge a gap.

I just stared. I tried to think of some way this mare had offended me, maybe besides the fact a version of her had become Minty and that I didn't like Pinkie Pie having a place in her heart reserved for a long gone friend I could never go.

But...if she really branched off before she even became Minty...before Minty became Twilight. She was her own person. I wasn't going to string her together with who she could have been.

We were ponies. I'll admit the unknown scared us like Zecora, came from being a herd species. But once it became known, we'd make friends with just about anything and were proud of it. Even under Discord's chaos ponies we ponies stayed kind and helpful instead of beng survivalist thugs.

"Thanks. Maybe we can be. More the merrier as Pinkie says. But related to all of us? Heh. Though I think you're hard pressed to find a way you're related to Spike." I grinned.

"He's an adopted member of my family," she said.

"...Say what?"

"Twilight Sparkle's family is part of mine. You heard of Clover the Clever?"

"Who hasn't heard of her?"

"Even my namesake is more remembered than me." She said offhanded in a way that reminded me of Trixie being overshadowed by her family. "I checked, she's an ancestor of Twilight Sparkle. -"

I wasn't that surprised, 2000 years, and you're bound to have a hero in your family tree, I had Commander Hurricane genes in me somewhere. But the way she said it, she didn't WANT anything. It was like Fluttershy, she was offering.

"- And she's my descendant. And if she was willing to help me if we were a thousand years apart, I had no excuse not to help Spike. I'm going to be speaking to him, but Sweetheart said you needed friends too right now."

"Wait wait wait, how did Clover the Clever, help YOU if you were born a thousand years apart?"

"I met her when she used a time travel spell. What's important is what she told me. My special talent is luck, but some horrible things had happened to those I loved. So I was ready to give up on my special talent, on myself. She came to me just when I needed her. She said, 'Things will get better! Not all once, in fact they will get worse at first and not to my knowledge as they once were but they will get better! Not just for your family but for all ponies of all tribes, so don't lose hope!' And the one time I did, after I died, I almost made a horrible mistake. Don't lose hope Rainbow Dash. Ever. I've seen the end of my world too. Despair, and not believing in others or yourself, doesn't do anypony any good. And I believe in you."

She hugged me. After a few seconds. I hugged her back.

I later saw her flying overhead with Spike, the two SMILING in a way only family can...maybe all these convolution links weren't all contrived headaches.

The Scootaloos had been set loose shortly before I restored the others, and had been going around while we were preparing to and fighting with Whisper. Maybe they'd talked to ponies, maybe it was just from when I took Rarity with me to stay with Zecora. But...they'd noticed Rarity had disappeared. And not appeared with the rest of us. They probably noticed Twilight was gone too.

"I hope she comes back..." said Redheart's Scootaloo.

"Yeah, for Sweetie Belle's sake..." Sweetie's Scootaloo, crowned as the Scootaloo for the new world said.

"Uh...my Applejack said praying is a good thing to do when you want to make sure something works out..." said Scoots from the same universe as Cheerilee.

Oh yeah, a few Applejacks became religious and that one was freed by Cadence a lot earlier (do you have any idea how many different variations happened? A LOT. Not all of them had the six of us be freed at the same time). I think Sweet Heart said the current one had even become a priest, or was given the authority of one or something...I don't know, just that she enjoyed her new job. I'm just glad those ponies don't have to worry about their happy ending being revoked by us ever again. And considering it was partly thanks to Rancor interfering that we lost, I guess she has a point.

Naturally, the Scoots looked to me for my opinion.

"Well...it can't hurt..." I told them. What? You think I want to tell them 'sorry, Spike was Rarity the whole time so no Rarity will be there for her best friend? I don't. At all. I wish their prayers would be answered too.

And well...they prayed. Most to Queen Cadence. Some prayed to the Princesses. I think some didn't care which cosmic force they prayed to, but a good chunk of them did.

That's when I noticed Razzaroo was standing nearby with her book open. The markings all over her were glowing and distorting a bit. I don't know what they mean, but I could tell something was happening with her.

Spike flew overhead and I think was curious what was going on, landed and listened. I don't think he had the heart to tell either, and I think he wants it more than anypony else. Heck, I think he'd gladly go back in the suit if he could. Then Razzaroo trotted up to him and started talking to him, again, I don't listen in.

Spike and Razzaroo flew back to Carousel Boutique, I stay with my flock and flew up onto a higher cloud for a better view.

Razzaroo used her magic sparkles or whatever on Spike, and Spike roared his head off.

I zoomed across town straight for her, I didn't notice that everypony, I mean everypony did the exact same thing.

Only Razzaroo and Spike were both blushing and waving their forelimbs panicky shouting things like, "Sorry! I didn't mean to shout that much!" and "Wait! Wait! This isn't what it looks like!"

Yeah yeah, I'll skip the stupid 'whole misunderstanding that almost leads to pointless violence' horseapples!

When I said everypony I wasn't exaggerating, behind me the entire Scootaloo army came bearing down on them on top of everypony else.

I'll skip the bit between Razz convincing me she didn't have some weird twisted high and mighty agenda so I didn't make an ass out of myself and attack another pony who didn't mean harm.

Zecora and the rest left politely after they were told it was a false alarm.

Convincing the ever loyal Scootaloo army to 'stand down' and 'get back to their post' wasn't quite as easy as everypony else. In particular the Scoots who was from the same world as Spike...I think that touched Spike more than he dared tell her.

Then Razz finally explained what was going on.

"...What did I tell you I'm becoming Concept of?"

"Uh...Wishes and Miracles...right?"

"Yes...And I needed Spike to do one."

"And why did that involve him screaming?"

"Well..." Spike admitted. "It...required a sacrifice on my part to make happen..."

"I thought Miracles-"

"Sometimes Miracles require faith and willingness to move forward despite what's needed not making sense. And Wishes sometimes have twists to them, even if they're granted by the most benevolent person," Razzaroo explained in that 'this is a law of nature' way. "That and...this...I asked Spike what'd he do to make it possible, he said there's nothing he wouldn't do, I made it clear what it'd mean, and he still accepted."

"What did you do?" I demanded, tired of beating around the bush.

Razzaroo...held out what looked like a light of existence. No, it was more than that, it, she had a shadow of existence as well, she was a whole soul. "Remember how there's no Law of Conservation of Souls? What Spike had to give to grant his wish...and a Miracle to grant the prayers of many...and to give a needy child what she wanted more than anything. Was to 'donate' part of his own soul to give life to somepony who needs it."

My eyes widened. "You...you can't mean..."

Razzaroo nodded. "A soul for the Rarity puppet...to answer his wish for Sweetie to have a Rarity and Scootaloo's prayers for the same."

"...If this is some buckin' miracle, why did you need a piece of his soul?!" I shouted. "And this'd better be a buckin' good answer. I don't like 'because it had to happen' explanations for my friends being hurt."

Having Eclipse give my soul a lobotomy hadn't exactly left me fond of soul surgery.

"Because his soul has the memories of being THIS Sweetie Belle's sister. The ones Sweetie's heart and mind remember. Even if she doesn't know she's not the Rarity from her own world. Spike has been her sister all this time, so a piece of his soul being converted into the new Rarity's soul means their bond will live on and it will be much more 'natural' than it would be if a soul from Fauna Luster took its place."

"And it means a part of me will be with her like she and me both want," Spike answered, dead seriously. "...I know I'm not Rarity, Rainbow...but...I loved Sweetie Belle like my own sister...and she loved me...I think you of anypony can understand why I want this, can't you?"

"...Yeah...I can...So how exactly does this work?"

"Think of a liver transplant, the donor's liver is cut in two and the original's regenerates and so does the donated half...normally this wouldn't work, but THAT'S the miracle: a piece of his soul becoming a whole thing without anything else. That was my contribution."

"If you're not even a concept yet, how did you even do it?"

"Twinkle Wish and I are the last, unfiltered, unchanged remnants of a world where 'sometimes you find your heart's desire, just by wishing it' was the core law of life."

"Sounds nice."

"It was."

"So...if you become a Concept, what will that do?"

"...It won't make every wish and prayer be answered. That is what spelled the end of my world. But miracles like the one that defeated Eclipse will be possible. It will introduce the very concept of Miracles and Wishes into the universe again..."

"So...if a villain forces a loyal hero to make an impossible choice?"

"If it will help more than hurt, there's a chance a miracle will give them a third option to take."

"A chance?"

"If the choice is truly impossible. And if they refuse to quit. When things become impossible to do on their own, so long as they have faith good can win, I'll have a chance to help them. And I'm going to be working with Abbatissa to help provide Gods more options to help answer mortals prayers."

"...I remember how Concepts work, I remember that much from Eclipse's lectures, if you become a concept, then you'll have always been around. You might be the reason that miracle happened at all."

"Maybe."

"If so...thanks."

"Welcome..."

"...So...Alicorns are creators, you got any ideas?" What? I can't be curious?

"Well, I was talking with Pandora about making a race based off of Twinkle Wish..."

+

What else is there to say? A whole bloody lot unfortunately. Let's start with the Scootaloos, who now had to decide where they belonged. 171,015. Yeah. That's a lot of choices.

"Dash." Scootaloo said. 'Mine.' The Scootaloo that I saved against all odds and started all this. It still feels like a daydream.

"Scoots?"

"I thought...I thought I should tell you, I told the grim reapers what I wanted to do. I want to become a Concept."

"What?!"

"I don't care how long it takes me. I want to."

"Scootaloo, believe me, becoming a concept isn't being accepted into royalty! You're giving up paradise for a job with no retirement!" Razzaroo and Starlight explained this after we accepted to help build a new universe.

"They told me the same thing. But Dash, you're going to finish becoming a goddess right?"

"I...I haven't thought about it."

"If you're going to...I want to be there for you. You were there for me."

"I wasn't there for everypony else."

"But you were for me!" Scootaloo insisted. "Even after you were turned into a monster, you still had enough of your heart left to save me! I can't ever repay that! None of us can! Dash...you could have not fought it at all. You could have just been a monster, period, you have just let me worse than die. Loyal to the bigger monster and nopony else...but Dash...you still held onto a tiny bit of the real you through all of that. I want to be at your side to help you, to help others too. And...I have no pony waiting for me in Paradise...but you're right here. I want to walk the road alongside you, and look out for other ponies who just want to be the best they can be."

"The others already tried to talk you out of it didn't they?"

"One of them called me crazy for wanting it."

"I don't blame them."

"Dash...I know we both don't like the ending, but all those years I spent helping ponies? That battle where I helped rescue the ponies from Ponyville? I LIKED IT. I ENJOY helping ponies...I want to keep helping ponies."

"There won't be a 'happy ending' at all for you Scoots, eventually you'll lose everything that makes you a pony. Don't be fooled by them looking like ponies! You'll be just a law of nature."

"Applejack already told me all of that. That isn't stopping you, is it?"

Me, huh? Always gotta follow in my hoofprints, that one.

"I haven't decided yet. if...if Twilight has...then so will I. It's the only loyal thing I can do."

Scootaloo stood straight, spread her wings, and put her hoof over her heart.

"I hereby do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm to the Swarm of Avalon that I will faithfully discharge the responsibilities of a protector of the Hive and the innocents who seek refuge there. I choose to place myself in harm's way so that those who cannot defend themselves are defended. Though service is a heavy cost, for the ponies of the Hive, I pay it gladly."

"You died following through with that promise. And you don't see every guard pony becoming a concept."

"Maybe not, but it's what I'm choosing to do. And Rainbow? The current Scootaloo? Starlight told me...she's still protecting Equestria. It's a long story. She died just like me. But she's still a protector through and through."

"WHAT?! She became an angel too?"

"No...uh...after ...after the world got saved...uh...let's just say that Death felt a lot of ponies got cheated..."

"But...one life...Nightmare...the monster, said that was one of the things she was going to fix."

"Apparently it was a wedding gift . . after the current Rarity became a goddess and married Spike."

I was surprised by my lack of surprise. I was less surprised at my surprise when I heard Rarity became a goddess, she'd always been the social climber.

"It was a one time thing, since...you know, Discord isn't a part of the world normally...but...yeah...that Rainbow has her Scootaloo back, and her Gilda too."

"...Fluttershy? Pinkie?"

"No...but they're happy where they are...apparently, like I said, second hand, but you know how Pinkie was with her foals."

Those foals...the only ones Angry Pie didn't care whether they laughed or not...Well...two out of four wasn't bad...Congrats, real Rainbow...

I give a start. Real Rainbow? I mentally self-corrected that thought at once. No, no, no, the Rainbow Dash who was part of that unique victory wasn't the ‘real' Rainbow Dash over all the other Rainbow Dashes any more than this Scootaloo in front of me was the ‘real' Scootaloo, over all the other Scootaloos.

I'd had quite an intense argument about my Rainbow Dash-ness among the angels and on that asteroid, after all.

"But...that Scootaloo went back to being a protector when she came back...I'm the same way, I want to help ponies until the end of this universe, then into the next one."

She was as stubborn and determined as me. I hugged her. "Alright Scoots, lots of luck."

Wasn't sure what her concept was, but I'm sure she'll be a great one.

171,012 choices more.

Of course there were gonna be some repeats. I wasn't happy with all the choices they all made. But...it was their choices. What can I say?

+

I confess, I pressed my ear against the wall of the barn, Melody had forgotten to put up a soundproof barrier this time. I couldn't tell who was speaking.

"All right, thank you everypony. First of all, we can't possibly fit 11,000 extra dragons in the new world. I'm sorry, yes, I know...some of you will have to make other selections. Griffons, yes, we can do griffons! Breezies, no problem...Wolves? Really? We'll have to run it by Rota Fortuna first, but sure, why not? ...Because she moonlights as the Queen of the Dire Wolves. Moonlights, get it? But they might not be the kind of 'wolves' you're thinking of. Ahem. Oh, and one other important detail...only one percent of you expressed any interest in becoming colts. Can we get some more volunteers? It would help so much, thank you..."

I pulled away, blushing.

+

17 more also were determined to become goddesses. Like I probably would have, they decided to race for it and the others would become the 'winner's' angels. Hehe...good sports.

1709 decided to just accepted they'd died already even if Eclipse erased it and move onto the afterlife.

2 decided they wanted to become companions for this timeline's Doctor Whooves (great, NOW he showed up!). Yeah, I thought he was with Derpy too...and he was with a grown up mare I'd never seen before named Sapphire Hooves. All he told me was 'Strange I know, but time is a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff...'

70 specifically asked to be part of the Apple family. Another 70 wanted to be party of Sweetie Belle's family. Even if both cases it meant changing pony type (Venus was still serious about that).

30 each of Fluttershy's family, and Pinkie's, and Twilight's over generations.

And yet another 80 part of mine.

69 became a buncha different alien ponies with pointy ears, antenna, you name it, they wanted a completely new life away from Equestria and this world.

12154 decided they wanted to be born as Scootaloo again at another time and place, either as her own descendants, or namesakes who happened to look alike. Spitfire's, Soain's, Nurse Redheart's and Mayor Mare's Scootaloo among the ones who chose this, wanting to be their daughters and a namesake of Scootaloo's. Fate nudged the numbers to allow this.

7 jumped to be Saddle Arabian Princesses. 4 into the Neighpon royal family.

60 became 20 chimera (never wanting to be alone again).

1698 chose to enter Oblivion willing, to be with the shadows of those from their own world. Entropy accepted them into her domain, on the condition they'd respect and obey her laws. Why'd they do such a thing? Many for the chance to rejoin the shadows of lost loved ones with those in the existing. And they were allowed to keep their lights of existence.

900, would be various subtypes of crystal ponies.

1007 became dragons, just not the city destroying kind. They wanted to bring the 'civilized' style of dragon-hood from the Dark World to the New World. They were disappointed to learn 'Tiamat' was a unique being, and not a species and not all Ryujin had multiple heads anyway. Another 368 as pony-dragon hybrids.

812 became griffins chicks, having fond memories of their Gilda. I fact one of them decided to be a few of them decided to be members of her family. 75 became Hippogriffs.

503 became this species of pony Pinkie Pie had been shelling that I'd never heard of called 'Breezies.' Apparently they were small 'cousins' to the extinct Flutterponies or something.

Another 499 wanted to become Bat Ponies like Princess Luna's guard and let them be their own Tribe.

332 chose to become changelings in the new reality.

489 became zebra or Virgasi of Zebrafrica.

4 donkey/pegasi mules (don't ask).

8 Mintaur calfs.

10017...chose to enter Tartarus, being imps by Havoc as both tormentors and jailers. They actually looked cute in red pajamas and bat wings, armed with the little pitchforks. Oh, and many wanted in on helping souls from Heaven save their loved ones. Yes, Havoc has those on his 'payroll.' Didn't know that. Or that a certain part of the Doctor's past was one of their co-workers.

28026...took up the offer from Rota Fortuna to travel along her world lines, and meet Scootaloos who had died at vital moments, to either give their lives for theirs, or to take over in their place as that world's Scootaloo. They'd given their lives once for Equestria, they were ready to give them again.

531 allowed themselves to be made into...well, guess you'd call 'em watch dogs like the Wolf. Wanting to protect reality from those who'd abuse it like Nightmare Eclipse, or those unspeakable nasties out there who'd invade it. Even if it meant giving up being ponies in every sense of the word, and being chained and remade by purpose like the Wolf. I admit, it was kind of funny watching them wreck a contingent of Daleks that tried to jump to our universe in ten seconds flat. Okay, more like rip the armor open and eat them alive. Did I mention they're still 'puppies'?

999 became Angels without dying (much like Razz as a candidate concept), becoming protectors of orphans and other foals with nopony, not being connected to one concept. They still got nice bigger feathery wings.

35 requested to be reborn as those who would help Razzaroo bring miracles to the world. I thought they looked weird but they were happy.

11 chose to become 'junior' grim reapers (or whatever the others were) underneath Starlight. She had to explain to 60 others that her friends were just 'deputy' grim reapers and couldn't take on apprentices.

1 requested for reality to be fudged so she was a Virgasus and the Zecora of the new reality's daughter or little sister. Discord was very happy to oblige, after all what was the point of making a new reality from the ground up if it was identical to the old one? Venus allowed it because apparently Zecora's bloodline did have a pegasi in it thanks to how chaotic Zebrafrica once was.

7 became yokai under Anarchy.

4 chose to become yokai under Rancor.

12 choose to request to become angels under some nature Alicorn I hadn't heard the name of before until they were ready to move on. 'Gai-ah' or something.

The Scootaloo from Fluttershy's loop vowed to become her angel if she became a concept. And until then, she'd just be Flutternice's friend and companion.

26910 chose they would be living angels of the Scootaloos (if any) who became Alicorns, failing that, they'd go to one of the other groups.

101 elected to be mereponies (different from seaponies they insisted, though both were called Hippocampus).

3 chose they would be seaponies in Sky Ocean of the new reality on the condition they would be triplets. When Discord asked why, one said she just liked singing, another said she'd befriended the other two and wanted to stay with them...and the last said 'because my Sweetie Belle can't sing anymore, I want to do it for her.' Oddly enough that Scootaloo chose to be called Starsong. And that made Pinkie and Razzaroo cry tears of joy.

1 said she wanted to wait and see if Spike would become a Ryujin and would trade her hooves in for scales to act as his messenger. Spike was surprised by that one.

1 chose to be an angel for Trixie, or 'Princess Anasi'. Yeah, I was surprised Eclipse hadn't undone her Alicornification either. Hehe, guess she tricked Eclipse better than she thought. They were from the same loop, she didn't want Trixie to spend eternity alone.

10, to everypony's shock, chose to be Discord's yokai on the condition they'd jump ship if he ever went bad again. They said they wanted to help ponies, and who needed help more than a redeemed soul trying his hardest to become good? I think that was the first time in creation Discord had to ask for time to think, poor guy didn't have a 'work form' selected for his yokai yet.

100 wanted to become Angels of Princess Cadence, to serve her in the afterlife as much as they did their world's Cadence.

And the rest, 84217 (completely composed of ones who hadn't had anyone besides themselves from their own world)...promised to become my Angels if I became an concept. Yeah. Wasn't sure how to feel about that one. But they were all determined and stalwart.

+

Fluttershy insisted she bring Scooaloo from Trixie's timeline to her herself. 'Shy had a big role in...Trixie's world being erased. She felt Trixie being alone was largely her fault.

"Fluttershy, we ALL did that to Trixie except Spike," Applejack reminded her.

"Yes...but I was the one who kept her separated from Scootaloo LONGER."

I wasn't there, but Fluttershy told me everything. Nightmare Whisper having illusion magic helped with that...

Fluttershy had to do a lot of pleading and puppy dog eyes to get this one.

Why did we think it was so important? Well...

"Trixie?" Fluttershy asked, entering Trixie's realm. What was it like? Well, surprisingly there weren't pictures of herself everywhere. Oh, it was probably the single hammiest place in creation I'd ever seen. Trixie IS the 'Patron Goddess' of Storytellers and Drama, what did you expect?

Oh, and you could hear every actor or actress in creation performing at the same time and it SOMEHOW sounded like the most epic story ever. Trixie's a Concept, Concept's realms are bucking hard to understand when you're not one. Heck, they're probably bucking confusing to any Concept except the one who was it (no I didn't misspeak, they ARE their realms).

Oh and...well, there was a graveyard there, a big one. One with no bodies, just statues and plaques with the most detailed life stories Trixie could remember and written as finely as the Concept of Storytelling could manage.

Trixie turned from a crystal ball. "Hello, Fluttershy. Welcome to the Grand Domain of Princess Anasi!..Or if you prefer, the humble abode of Trixie Midsummer."

"H-Hi...I...I..."

'Shy being 'Shy, doesn't have the best composure in the world. She was crying by the time she got to the door/portal/hole in the fabric of time/space/reality. You can guess what happened next now that she was looking into Trixie's eyes for the first time since she died.

"Trixie...I..." Fluttershy sobbed. "I'm so sorry!...I...Flutternice...we..."

Trixie merely trotted over and put a hoof on Fluttershy's shoulder. "Fluttershy, I gave up my pettiness when I ascended. If I'd hated you all, I wouldn't have JUST scarred her."

No, we STILL don't know how Trixie managed to do that. I think she knew Nightmare Eclipse NEVER knowing how it happened would cut deeper than the wound.

And no, I don't know if she was bluffing or not about scarring us too. The girl managed to scar Nightmare Eclipse so badly erasing the moment from existence didn't heal it.

Fluttershy lowered her head, looking down. "But...we destroyed your world...everypony you knew is gone."

Trixie's ears pinned. "Yes...yes you did. And Trixie would be lying if she said she hasn't spent eons cursing the Nightmare for it, or that she didn't literally sing 'Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead' when she was finally defeated...but that was her doing, not yours."

"And I helped her."

"And you got a six way rainbow blast in the face for it."

"But she's is gone...If she doesn't apologize, nopony CAN..."

"Twilight Sparkle already DID, Fluttershy, and Trixie forgave her."

Fluttershy looked up at her. "How can you forgive us?...I...I CAN'T forgive myself."

Trixie hugged Fluttershy. "...Because I used to be a bad guy too. True, Trixie never did anything as evil as her...but she wasn't always the best person...We reformed baddies have to stick together, right?"

That smile of Fluttershy's was more beautiful to me thank you can imagine. Remember, I saw this whole thing through an illusion replica of it.

"...T-Thank you, Trixie...but...I have a present for you...That's why I came here."

"Yes?"

Fluttershy stepped aside to reveal Trixie's Scootaloo.

Trixie gasped. No, she didn't ask 'is that...' because Trixie IS trickery, she'd KNOW if it was a trick or fake, ESPECIALLY in her own Realm.

"You're not alone anymore."

Yes, Trixie cried and hugged Scootaloo. No, they never met when their world existed, but how would YOU react if you met the only other survivor of your ENTIRE universe and they were a good guy who WANTED to be with you? Like you wouldn't bawl your eyes out like a baby.

Trixie happily removed Scootaloo's grave from her graveyard that day.

Other one? You noticed. I'm proud. Yeah, it did seem kinda odd we only saved Scootaloo from that world, didn't it?

While I was busy saving the Scoots of Trixie's world, Shy was saving somepony else.

Did you know Equestria was full of changelings who just wanted to live in peace? You did? Cool! Well, some would copy a pony they saw, change the species around, and move somewhere else. So I didn't think much of the 'winged Lyra' Fluttershy saved. She made the puppets, not me.

But this girl's home was outside the pocket world's boundaries.

I was so wrapped up in my own problems I never bothered to check on EVERYPONY we saved.

Even I'd never been able to see through 'Shy's illusion magic.

And it seems Nightmare Eclipse hadn't that time either.

And no, when 'Shy kept something from me, I TRUSTED her to have a good REASON for not telling me. No deceit induced volcanic rage eruption here. She'd EARNED that from me. Yeah, even AFTER this whole mess, I'll trust her. She learned her lesson.

She was worried Nightmare Eclipse would 'healthily' take her rage at Trixie humiliating her out on a 'non-person', from that 'recording.' I don't blame her.

Yeah, I had water in eyes too when I saw her for the first time. That at least one of her had survived. When I saw her, sleeping so peacefully, in contrast to her big attitude, Gilda.

Fluttershy had owed somegriff in that line for being one of the few beings in any cycle to reach out to a Fluttercruel, and since she couldn't save him, she'd saved his grandmother...Trixie was happy to remove another grave from her graveyard.

+

"Dash of Rainbow, but the same anymore though. Though the future is a haze. It seems this is where we part ways."

We nuzzled.

"Sweet dreams." Fluttershy whispered.

"We might see each other again sugar, cube, maybe. But don't bet money on it," AJ said.

"Forgive my ramble, but I'll take that gamble. And Spike, when you meet with Rarity, I consider her a true dear friend, I say this with sincerity."

"Thank you Zecora," the Nightdrake said.

"From the dragon's tooth, so that is the truth," Zecora said calmly. "Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Fluttershy and child, know I do not part with feelings mild. Regardless of what strife, may we met again in the next life."

Zecora gave Starlight a final hug, before taking a sleeping orange and white striped Virgasus in her arms and stepping through the gate which would 'jump her' to when the new reality was ready.

And that was that. The Scootaloos had all made their choice. Spitfire and her friends had gone to sleep.

And we were now officially in the middle of a construction zone I had signed the land off to the powers-that-be for redevelopment. The fact Discord chose to wear a pink hardhat the entire time only reinforced that metaphor.

"Don't we get clamped in irons now as a chain-gang?" I asked. "We DO have over a hundred thousand universes' souls we sent to Nothingness."

Starlight shook her head. "I told you already. You were all insane being led by an even more insane mad mare. Who more or less puppeteered everything that drove you insane."

"Horseapples," AJ said. "Ah'm the one who drove Fluttershy insane remember?"

"Applejack we've been through this!" I hissed.

"And yer the only one allowed to be stubborn as yer sins?"

"Applejack it was my choice to give in."

"And it was my choice to show ya such cruel truths to begin with! Ah coulda just told Nightmare 'Witch-Face' screw you!"

"And you've been stubborn about this sin for the last several hundred million years over it, Applejack," Sweet Heart told her. "Now you can finally DO something about it remember? Like we talked about."

AJ sighed. "Sorry. A just like to take responsibility for what Ah've done. Ah was the least insane of us, Ah knew we were doin' wrong, that makes me worse."

"And you ARE taking responsibility now." Sweetheart said, "You're doing, not just saying."

"...Do you want to ask Alicorn Father if he thinks you deserve Tartarus? He and Havoc are the final say," Starlight said simply.

Applejack stood up straight and proper. "Ah'll accept whatever judgement Ah'm given."

Starlight nodded, "You're also free to take anything from here you wish, these are your worlds after all. And will be again if you chose to become concepts of this reality. You're also free...to make any arrangements you want before facing judgement...none of you are actually dead, so we can't force you to go anywhere with us 'technically'."

+

Surprisingly, we were allowed to do a lot on our own. Or they had invisible eyes watching us. Berrybarble, the one orange tree from AJ's orchard, that one that got crack and healed was given to her family. She didn't bother with a reality distortion, just left Berrybarble in a giant baby basket with a note asking the Pies and Apples to take care of him. Don't ask me why it didn't trigger the universe's immune system now that Eclipse was no longer suppressing it. I think Rarity noticed but didn't mind.

AJ trusted Apple Bloom of the new reality with the rest of the orchard.

+

"Apple Bloom still considers you her big sister same as Sweetie Belle considered 'Spike' her Rarity," Razzaroo told Applejack after the delivery was done, the little miracle added to creation. Applejack knew instantly what she was asking.

"Ah am NOT her Applejack! Gosh dangit ta heck! Ah erased her Applejack! Ah worse than murdered her big sister! And woulda done the same to her if Rainbow hadn't saved her! Ah deserve the least ta be her big sister, or even a piece of me to be her big sister! Ah don't deserve it, and she doesn't deserve it! If ya gotta use an Applejack, use the Applejack that saved the world from me! She's earned to have a part of her guide and protect another Apple Bloom who's lost her big sister!"

"That won't work, Applejack. Your soul has the memories of the sister she remembers. Just like Spike's contained the memories that Sweetie remembered. Any other Applejack's soul would be...less real to her than yours. The puppets help with other Lights of Existence being introduced, but in yours and Rarity's case there was already a light filling that role. You're the only soul I can properly take memories from to create Apple Bloom the Applejack she remembers and properly answer her prayers and wishes...and those of many of the Scootaloos as well."

"Ah KNOW ya ain't doin' this fer Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash."

"Because...Rainbow Dash has been granted permission to serve her one mortal life as the Rainbow Dash of the new world since her old life never technically happened."

Heheh, yeah, did I knda sorta forget to mention that? Yeah. No it wasn't a bribe. I learned from Eclipse how the whole thing worked, and when/if I chose to become a goddess myself, I asked if I could fill in for THAT Rainbow Dash's new life...it took a LOT of asking on my part. NO! It WASN'T about reliving those days! Sorry! Nuh-uh! FORGET IT! Hey hey! Sorry! I didn't mean to scare you like that! I promise I didn't! Sorry!...Please.

Look, it wasn't about me, I swear. I...that Scootaloo? Who'd be that world's Scoots? I wanted to be there for her too. I wanted to be there as flesh and blood Rainbow Dash to help her along, not just as a spirit.

And...I asked Scoots if she'd be okay with it...she was. She wanted that too. So that's all I needed to hear about that.

Thanks for the hug.

Right, right, back to the story.

Razzaroo went on with.

"Fluttershy doesn't have any direct sapient bonds in this world because of how she operated, and the Cakes were both puppets...I'm sorry Pinkie Pie..."

"...No, I'M sorry Razzy...I'm the big meanie that helped delete them..." Pinkie cried.

"Pinkie Pie! Don't sneak up on me like that!" AJ said.

"Sorry." I didn't question where she came from, she's Pinkie Pie in the body of a Nightmare. Nuff said. She naturally got a hug though.

Razzaroo looked back to Applejack "The reason I'm doing this for Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle is because without you two there will be a void in their hearts that a new Light of Existence taking that role can't fill properly...and I don't want that..."

"Then just buckin' take the memories out of my head and give'em to THAT Applejack. Ah'm not havin' mah taint of bein' a sinner and an abomination against creation on Apple Bloom's big sister."

"Spike holds sins, you think the new world's Rarity when she's born will be tainted?"

"Rarity as she was in the pocket Ponyville was innocent."

"Um..." Sweetheart spoke up, having come along for emotional support. "Applejack...you...uh...in a way you're me. We have the same Light."

"Ah know that...Truth vision and all...And Ah'm sayin' given 'em to the AJ that wasn't a WORSE monster than when she was Discord's minion, and was literally a saint when she was!"

"...Razzaroo, can you take a part of my soul along with hers?" Sweetheart asked.

Applejack looked stunned for a moment. "What?!"

"I'm a Saint. Literally...You think you're a 'Sinner'...so mix us and maybe my light will burn away the darkness and leave only your light...then Apple Bloom can have a pure good sister...The new Applejack have traits from both our souls. Would that be okay?"

AJ grumbled. "FINE! Ah just hope she does a good job lookin' after 'Bloom."

"I know she will!" Sweetheart hugged Applejack. "I...I'm sorry I seemed so forceful...You and Apple Bloom are part of my family's, mine and the first Applejack's...I love you Applejack."

"Let's do this," Applejack said in an even voice. "But one big condition: she ain't gonna be called Applejack the Fifth of the Fifth line. Ah don't care how yah bend reality to make it happen, she's gonna be Applejack the SIXTH of the Fifth Line...she ain't me, if she's really gonna be a mix of yer spirit and mine. She's a new Applejack. Applejacks are honest, so let that truth be part of her, okay?"

"You're asking a lot of a miracle that isn't even a concept yet...alright, I'll do my best."

"Ah know this ain't easy, Ah'm the truth, Ah can see that much...just it's important to me. Before Ah become a goddess, Ah wanna leave some good part of me behind."

"...you're a loving mother no matter the worldline Applejack."

And so it happened. Applejack didn't scream as loud as Spike did. Sweet Heart on the other hoof screamed her ghostly lungs out. She still never asked for Razzaroo to stop or seem to regret it.

"So...Redheart's family and mine? Related?" AJ said casually as they lay on the ground recovering from the agony of having pieces of their souls ripped out.

"Nurse Redheart is my direct descendant. The Apples married into my cousin's line. Oh, and my husband invented Apple Bucking."

+

Yeah. I took a look at the Rainbow Dash who was saved the day with her friends, and who now had her Scootaloo and Gilda back, and had her sins forgiven and her redemption reached. She helped save the world. She also abandoned her post, and still came out a winner.

Oh, and she revived the Wonderbolts too as their new captain, with all the blessings of Spitfire sent with Scootaloo back to the world of the living. And earned back Cloudsdale's trust. If I didn't know for a fact she'd earned every last bit of it, I'd be jealous.

Looking at her, I knew I didn't belong here. And she didn't deserve to burden her soul with my sins by 'joining' with her or some junk. She saved her friends, I didn't. She was bucking happy. While I...?

...Well, let's just say that it's taken me oodles of therapy to get where I am today, and leave it at that.

That victorious Rainbow Dash saved her friends and her world PROPERLY. there can only be one Rainbow Dash in this world, and she deserves it a lot more than me. She got her happily ever after, and I hope she enjoys every moment of it.

While visiting this place as effectively a ghost, I also picked up a trick I'd put to use a lot later. Filly or not, Princess Luna was still Princess of The Night and the guardian of dreams.

Razzaroo and I approached Luna during her dream walks, asking special permission for me to have a quick visit in somepony's dreams. First, the Moon Princess beat me up doing the rational and reasonable thing you WOULD DO when seeing a Nightmare that was the baddie last time. Then she showed me basic dreamwalking. Then Luna explicitly threatened to throw me into the Nightmare Realm if I ever abused any of it in her presence.

I didn't even know there was a Nightmare Realm.

I showed up in Rainbow Dash's dreams disguised as the me I was supposed to be instead of the me I became. We were in our Cloudsdale house. To my surprise, she wasn't dreaming of the old Ponyville like I'd spent the last who knows how many eons doing, but of the life she had now. She looked me up and down.

First she instinctively breaks out into a big, flattered grin. Then she asks, "So...what kind of dream is this? We gonna fight?"

"I'd like to avoid that," I tell her.

"We're not gonna make out with each other, are we?"

Smiling wryly, I shook my head. "This ain't gonna be that kinda dream." Then I came right out and admitted to her, "You don't know what I would've given to be you. Part of it was incredible luck on your part, but another part was very good choices. You've avoided centuries of pain."

"MORE pain?" my other self exclaims. "What kind of pain?"

"All possible kinds. Not so much suffering pain yourself, as inflicting it on others."

"I-inflicting?!" Then my other self sighed despondently, thinking upon how much pain she'd already inflicted as ‘Traitor Dash.'

"Trust me," I tell her, "It would've gotten EVEN WORSE."

Then my victorious other self looked at me with wary suspicion. "Are you...planning on replacing me?"

To think what my response might've been even two months ago! But today, I tell her. "No. In spite of all the similarities between us, I'm no doppelgänger, and I'm not out to steal your life or your identity. I've got my own. My own responsibilities."

"Then what are you here for?" My other self asks. "To tell me how awesome I am?"

"Well..." Then I think about this, and I grin again. "Actually...yeah, that IS one thing worth bringing up. You ARE awesome, Rainbow Dash. You've helped saved the whole universe. You have lots of terrific personality traits...it's especially important you don't forget what makes ‘Rainbow Dash' such a wonderful pony!"

...Like I did... I almost say, but stop myself.

And as my other self whose dream I've entered puffs her chest out in hesitant pride, I tell her, "But another reason, I guess...to say goodbye to the me I always wished I were. The me you get to be. To the me you earned the right to be. So I can move on with my new life."

Yeah, I'd talked to the Concepts about living a mortal life as the new Rainbow Dash...but there was never a Nightmare Eclipse and her endless wheel in that world. Discord's 1000 years of Tartarus never happened. So the Rainbow Dash I'm going to be...will be a fresh slate, NOT a 'do over' of my old life where I can 'set right what once went wrong' and fix my mistakes...so it still stood that she's the better 'cycle' Rainbow Dash.

"I don't really understand, but..." and I feel my other self pat me. "Since this is a dream, anyway, I'm just gonna say, ‘there, there,' and ‘It's okay,' and leave it at that."

"Pretty good plan," I tell her. "Another thing: never forget how important Scootaloo was and to never forget your responsibility to her for screwing up the first time."

I recognizing the building look of despair all too well. Before it can threaten to take any sort of root, I add, "But remember that you have a responsibility now to stay alive for Applejack and Rarity's sake."

"She's called Queen Libra these days," my other self mutters.

"Multiple names are just how things are for us immortals," I said in my best take-it-from-somepony-who-knows voice.

"Always thought ‘Queen Libra' was a bit lofty," my other self snickers. "Wouldn't be Rarity if it wasn't."

I shifted to my true form just long enough for her to almost recognize me, then turned to go.

"Hey!" says my other self. "Before you go...wanna race?"

I couldn't resist. And I'm glad I didn't. I ended up winning that one.

So that was my big goodbye for this place. It was a pretty paradise Rarity was making, but I had my own universe to be in charge of. New things to look forward to.

Spike apparently had the same idea while we were there. Oh, and apparently Rarity's expecting, congrats I guess. Hope they have healthy...weird...dragon Alicorn hybrid things...

Applejack...she didn't feel like she deserved to be within a dimensional inch of the former Liarjack or the Apple Pies. She may have visited Apple Pie herself, but she refused to mention anything. Though I'll admit, she did look like she might have had one less burden on her shoulders afterwards.

Pinkie Pie? Fluttershy? Pinkie MIGHT HAVE visited the Apple Pies, not sure. Given she was Pinkie Pie, she might have visited those alien ponies Razzaroo told her she should apologize to. If Fluttershy visited Rarity in her dreams, she didn't tell me, and I didn't ask. I don't know if she decided to visit 'Odyne' either, but I think she took Flutternice with her somewhere one time.

And. In all that time. I didn't see Twilight. Not their Twilight. Not mine. Be she Alicorn or Nightmare, or Unicorn. I saw neither hide nor horn of her anywhere. Not once. She was talked about, but always in past tense. I didn't see any grave for her. But there was no room or place for her was ever set for any table or any room either. She was talked about as somepony who had simply...gone away.

Even Trixie spoke that way. And yes, of course we reconciled over everything. Though I did give her a high hoof for giving Nightmare Eclipse that scar and beating Oblivion itself. And yes, her Scootaloo looked adorable with wings made of illusion magic and what I thought was a ninja's outfit but actually some sorta theatre convention. I did find out one thing.

"Do you know why doing this meant so much to me? Why I gave Nightmare Eclipse that scar and did my absolute best to make sure the last leg of my life was the biggest pain in her flanks I could?" Trixie asked me.

"Because you had nothing to lose?"

"No, that was how I did it...Making her pay for what she was going to do my world? It'd be a lie to say that wasn't A reason, but the real reason is this: if Nightmare Eclipse couldn't forget my loop...then my loop still lived on in some way...It didn't save my friends, but it meant whether she liked it or not, Nightmare Eclipse would have to remember them..."

Trixie was as loyal to her world as I was to Scootaloo. And I respected her for that.

But where WAS Twilight? Was she a statue? Was she cured? Did she split into a bajillion Twilight Sparkles that had made up Nightmare Eclipse and were now free? Had she taken a trip in the Doctor's TARDIS and was trapped in some triple-antimatter bizarro dimension?

Unfortunately, there wasn't exactly time for me to conduct a missing persons investigation. You see, the angels decided now was finally the time to make good on that promise they made in Pocket Ponyville to put us on trial.

"We held off until we were sure you'd had proper therapy," explained Starlight, "But now, we're confident that all of you are psychologically stable enough to be brought to court."

Believe it or not, we were given a choice.

"You can either face judgement by the ponies of Equestria for what we had done. Or we could bring you before Judicium, as originally promised."

First, we Nightmares all agreed amongst ourselves unanimously, to all stand together. Whatever happened to one of us, would happen to all of us. No if, ands, or buts.

We voted. I was all for being judged by the ponies of Dark World for the number of times we'd screw them over. I was outvoted. We'd be judged by those who could truly appreciate what we had done over and over and the condition we'd been in when we did it.

I'd argued that if Rarity was now a concept, we should have been judged by her, it was her world now after all we'd been destroying. Spike was with me on that one, but I know for different reasons. Yeah I know what I said before, but that was on a 'make friends' deal meeting her.

"We've done too much damage to be judged by a 'local court,' RD," AJ argued. Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie voted with Applejack.

And that was that. Judicium The Fair would judge us.

But before that happened, now that all accounts were settled, I needed to know.

We were escorted to the Equilibrium, that place that was both a place and an idea at the same time, where Nature's Fury and Nature's Law were on equal terms with each other.

We were again given as much time as we needed short of eternity (almost) to get anything we wished in order before facing the Judgement and Justice Alicorns along with the Elders.

I asked to speak to the two concepts I wanted to hear the answer from more than any. I asked to see Cadence and Trixie.

"Where is Twilight Sparkle?" I began, once we were all in the same room. "My Twilight Sparkle. The Twilight Sparkle who became a part of Eclipse then got hit by Rainbows and Harmony six ways from Sunday?"

Applejack was with me, and she kept her eyes focused on them the whole time.

"I'm not moving a muscle until I get the real answer." I'd waited long enough!

While Cadence seemed a bit nervous, Trixie didn't budge or sweat. In fact she turned into a log and then we suddenly found the real Trixie was standing a few feet behind it, Applejack's jaw dropped.

"Applejack, I'm Concept of Trickery and Illusions. You are an incomplete Concept, I am whole. Me and your Alicorn Self are, or rather could be, counterpoints. We'd be even, except you're still an incomplete concept, so my powers trump yours."

"...Ah shoot..."

Darn it, I didn't think that through well. Well, Trixie, I guess you truly got your wish: there's now something you really are the best in all creation at...

"Be that as it may...you deserve answers, so you shall have them, but I'm disappointed in you for trying to resort to force on a friend."

"Sorry Trix." AJ said politely.

"Answers. Now." I didn't care who I was speaking to.

"...First things first, Rainbow...Twilight believed you were all destroyed by the six sets of Elements, and for some time so did we because of how well hidden your pocket universe was. After all, it's not every day a group of Nightmares collected from a myriad of time loops are blasted by the combined might of six sets of Elements gathered from across time and space, so forgive us if we honestly had no clue what happened to you five. And yes, she did mourn you...she's sorry for what she did to you all."

Twilight thought we were gone? Deader than dead? All of us? I knew the Elements would bring her back to her senses but...Twilight, I never blamed you for any of that. I never thought of you and Nightmare Eclipse as the same...did I? I can't remember anymore...

"BUT WE'RE ALL BETTER AGAIN! Party time!"

"Pinkie Pie!" I groaned, as confetti geysered upward from the floor. There was nowhere she could be barred.

"...Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, there's much you have missed," Cadence admitted. "...Twilight did become an Alicorn. She became Amicitia, Concept of Magic and Happy Endings...Do you mind showing them, sister?"

Trixie nodded at Cadence. Her horn glowed and she some how made a picture perfect illusionary spell of what looked like the entire universe.

"What's this? The universe?"

"No, those 'galaxies' are actually universes."

A closer look showed me what I thought were stars and solar systems were galaxies. "But...how..."

"Concept of Illusions. Now..."

The illusion showed a lot of black universes. "These black universes were once those held firmly by Nytholotrot, The Sower of Tragedies. The Concept of All Grim And Dark-"

"Enough theatrics, Anasi..." Cadence sighed. "He's another of Discord's cousins and was also one of the few beings in creation still on friendly speaking terms with him."

"Like Ponythulu," Pinkie Pie said.

"Yes...but for completely different reasons and stinks at cooking. Nytholotrot's twin Fillimon, The-" Trixie got a glare from Cadence. "I'm Storytelling! It's in my nature...Fillimon is his antithesis and worked towards opposite goals...Twilights, tended to lean more towards Fillimon, so when Twilight ascended-"

I watched in awe as a good chunk of the black universes, turned bright. "Twilight did this?"

"-and tricked Nythy into losing a baking contest to a Princess Celestia, though he can still cause new tragedies elsewhere...he was robbed him of the right to meddle in universes that have already had their happy endings."

Naturally, Pinkie Pie laughed at that. "Classic!"

"The funny part is he tried cheating and still lost!" Trixie laughed.

I wish I could've enjoyed this as well as I should have.

"Look! That all sounds super cool and everything! And props to her for beating Ponythulu's super-jerk brother! But where is she now?! Why was there no Twilight Sparkle in Equestria? She wasn't erased, but everypony talked about her like she was dead! But I couldn't find a gravestone or nothing!"

Cadence sighed. "When the Elements purified Nightmare Eclipse, she had twisted herself into the heart of a paradox, the result was not only that every Nightmare Eclipse in every timeline was now destine to be defeated and cured. But it also left All Things twisted in knots...she had to become one with all her light of existence's previous selves ...including the Twilight Sparkle of the Equestria that exists now."

I opened my mouth.

"But...but that's not fair!" Pinkie Pie cried out.

"...Pinkie, what's the point of even saying such a thing?" I said, oh boy, when I look back on saying that...

Trixie looked saddened. "You're right, it is unfair...but it was sadly the only way."

I hated those words so much.

"Couldn't she have just split into the Twilight Sparkle who BECAME Nightmare Eclipse and who started the mess, while ALLLLL the Twilights who she gobbled up got freed from her?! That's not fair at all!" Pinkie Pie was crying.

"Some did," said Cadence. "Sort of..."

Trixie changed her spell again. "In a manner of speaking. In some timelines, Eclipse didn't fuse with the current Twilight Sparkle, and Amicitia was born as a separate entity. In others all six of you were purified at the same time. In still others the Sirens returned and...well, you get the point. There are many contributing factors..."

"Then why did it happen to ours?" I asked. The Sirens, oh yeah, the one time I ever saw the devil-witch PANIC.

"I'm afraid that was the consequence of her own choices."

Trixie created another illusion.

"Please, Twilight! Please! Forget about Discord! We can turn the world back the way it's supposed to be!" The gray pony begged. "Ponyville, friendship reports, our friends!"

"...In some universes, Eclipse's defeated self, purified of insanity, was willing to move forwards and change. To become Amicita on her own and leave the present Twilight be...but not ours...she still hung onto her core insanity: had Twilight not fused with and destroyed her original persona, it's very likely Eclipse may have tried to reset time again..."

Cadence signed. "It's unfortunately easy to see why...ours was the Prime Eclipse."

"Prime?" I asked.

"...The Alpha, the Original," Trixie explained. "Our Eclipse was the FIRST Eclipse. The eldest possible Eclipse. So it is only natural her mania and insanity was ingrained in her so deeply even when healed she clung to it."

"She wanted her life back! She wanted everypony to have their life back. How is that 'still insane?!'" I asked.

"Oh, of course not...But the problem lies in her methods: she was STILL willing to destroy the world one last time just to reset the world to the one she once knew. The same Armageddon that she'd committed endless times before...and that is the best case scenario."

Applejack sighed. "...She's right, Rainbow. If Twilight hadn't destroyed Eclipse Prime's persona...she'd have jumped right back down the rabbit hole again. Twilight had to absorb her to stop her for good...you know what Nightmare Eclipse was like."

"But Twilight-"

"...Let me make one thing clear, Rainbow," Trixie said. "The DOMINANT persona of Nightmare Paradox was the first Nightmare Purgatory. So consumed by her hunger for vengeance that she willingly went Nightmare...and found revenge so addictive it became an endless obsession. Your Twilight Sparkle was in there, but you saw yourself: she was broken and suppressed by that Nightmare Eclipse...the Nightmare Eclipse the final Twilight had to suppress wasn't your Twilight...If anything, she finally saved her from that torment."

"...how did you even know I meant my Twilight Sparkle?" My eyes narrowed.

"...Because my Twilight was in there too..."

I ordered my body not to take a trot back, I kept my face from showing any major emotion.

Cadence placed a wing on Trixie's shoulder.

"So was mine, Dash. And Pinkie Pie's, and Fluttershy's, and Spike's, so was Mayor Mare's, Apple Bloom's, Lyra's-"

"You made yer point," I said, keeping myself from growling. "So are they just gone now? Like Pinkie Pie's friends from her own world you Alicorns and Draconequus erased?"

"...No. They became a part of Amicitia. But in a different way that with Eclipse...think of Eclipse as a parasite, controlling all the other Twilight Sparkles she forcibly merged with, or bonding with the ones who agreed with her completely. Amicitia is more of a symbiote. The Twilights became a collective whole."

"They should have become their own ponies! Didn't Nightmare Eclipse hurt them enough?!"

"Ah'm with RD on this one," AJ said.

"...You think I didn't want that too, Rainbow?" Trixie answered, the same anger on her face I felt. "It wasn't our choice. In the moment Twilight merged with and destroyed Eclipse Prime's persona, I could only observe, not DO anything. For lack of a better term, that moment was 'Twilights only', it was in their merging soul. A part of this was the sheer amount of magic their cocoon had from Amicita practically being the fifth most powerful concept thanks to all of Twilights who joined together."

Outside I kept my pose, inside, I flinched. She fought to death for her world, did I really think she'd sit on her flanks not to help her Twilight?

"Okay then. Gotcha. She thought we were deader than dead, she fought Old Black Storm himself, so why isn't she in Equestria NOW? Why hasn't she come to see ANY of us? Why haven't you told her we're alive?!"

"Maybe she's just been really really busy?" Pinkie Pie suggested.

I kept my eyes focused on the two Nature's Law in the room. Admittedly closer on Cadence because she wasn't Trickery or been screwed as badly as we had.

"Well? Has she?" AJ asked. "Or did she get kidnapped by Pain-Eaters so powerful that if we tried to rescue her ourselves it would be suicide?"

"...Remember how you said there's nothing wrong with wanting everypony's lives back to how they were, Rainbow Dash? Amicitia...Twilight, she discovered a way to accomplish that without destroying what is..." Trixie explained. "...A way to create a parallel timeline to our Equestria where Discord was defeated on the Day of Chaos and the Second Reign of Chaos lasted but a day. Accomplishing this was no easy feat...You'd need to ask Cadence specifics, I know only so much. Twilight was fairly close to me, but naturally far closer to her."

"Wait!" Pinkie Pie gasped. "Twilight...Twilight did it?! She found a way to save everypony!? After...after everything? She...she did it? She really did save everypony?!"

Cadence nodded.

Rainbow Dash's Reaction

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"Twilight did save everypony," Cadence said. "It's a whole new universe. It's outside our domain to set hoof in, but she did create a new timeline. Discord was defeated, put back in stone by the Elements, and all his horrible tortures and twistings of hearts and souls, INCLUDING YOURS was undone. Nopony died. You were all saved. You were yourselves again, you were friends again. And because Discord's reign was over as soon as it began, Nightmare Eclipse never existed."

"Just cause Shy can't ask herself-"

"Fluttercruel still exists, but from what we saw, Fluttershy managed to subdue her," Trixie explained then gave a smirk. "And is currently raising her properly as her own daughter. In a much more accepting and nurturing environment. Our connection to that world faded in a day. It was its own timeline after all. Only Rota Fortuna knows all the details. But that much we did see."

I felt a shudder go through my entire body. A lightness, a true freedom. Twilight, she...really did it. She saved the world from hell. She saved the world from worse than hell. She truly and honestly did beat both Discord and Nightmare Eclipse. All of us...getting to go on with our lives with hell on Equestria adverted. It was enough to make me fall apart into pieces on the floor just from the idea of it smiling. Freedom. Total and true freedom. It had been millions of years since I tasted it. And Twilight had given it all back to that version of Equestria without another mass genocide. She truly was a goddess. Hey ponies! Get building churches and temples to her already! Or at least a library! She's buckin' earned you giving her a 'thank you!'

"How did she do it?" I asked.

Cadence's attitude changed. She did not look comfortable at all. She looked heartbroken.

"Rainbow Dash...Twilight tried every other way."

I almost didn't need to hear the rest of what Cadence had to say after a start like that.

"She completed her duties as goddess of magic and happy endings across time and space, a near impossible task to truly accomplish...she looked for every other possible solution. She had the rest of us look for every other possible solution. She didn't want to make the choice she did, but she knew it was for ...for the greater good. It wasn't something we forced on her, or even would consider asking of her, it was all her choice...and because of it both worlds co-exist, one were Discord's reign ended a thousand years later, and another where it ended in a day-"

"...Answer the question..."

"She tried to use the methods she used on countless other timelines to alter the world line, to let the ponies forge a better tomorrow by themselves by her just showing them they had a better choice-"

"Stop dodging the-"

"But it just wasn't working! It didn't work no matter how many times she tried! Over and over and over and over and OVER! She likely tried as many times as there were loops in our timeline and it just wasn't possible. And she couldn't overwrite her own actions after she tried to nudge something. She tried to get you all to awaken from the one side of the picture and outright lies Discord implanted in your heads. But Discord is a master of his horrid craft, he learned from the master after all-"

"What does Doctor Whooves arch-enemy have to do with-"

"Not him! MORNING STAR!" The two said together.

"-No matter what she tried, your hearts were buried in darkness. She realized that she needed to introduced something NEW to the timeline in order for it to change and create a split. But...all realities have an immune system. They reject any direct meddling and erase any foreign bodies that try to effect things. Here it is unbound. Then she realized the answer. It had to be something, somepony, a person, with no past or future yet, who could then be dropped into the pond and create ripples running forwards and backwards, altering fate. But it also had to be somepony who had traits that could be made TO direct events in the right direction....A light from Mother would not do, a shadow from oblivion would not do. They were ...for lack of a better word, too...independent...there was no way she could be sure they'd have the result she wanted, and if she kept dropping new ponies into events, it would spiral things further and further out of control and ultimately damage the timeline instead!"

"TELL ME ALREADY!!!"

"...She couldn't bear to have any other pony in existence to make this sacrifice. She needed a soul she could completely customize and have the traits she needed when and where she needed it, to completely alter the world line. Once inserted, they'd be assimilated by the timeline since they had no past or future, and the one moment they were created for would be cemented in fate."

"So did she make some puppet she could-"

"APPLEJACK!" we ALL yelled.

I was angry at the suggestion that purified non-evil Twilight would do something like that.

"No. Only that one moment and the traits she desired were hers to control. Every moment of their lives other than that one we all their choice, every part of their self besides those specifics theirs to grow and develop. But always destined to lead to and from that one moment...you could say in exchange for the moment they gave her, they were given the rest of their lives."

"What. Did. She. Do?" If they didn't answer straight, I might open their heads find the answer.

"Oh I know! She just did what Razzaroo did!" Pinkie Pie waved her hoof. "She just cut out a piece of her soul, and gave it the traits she wanted, and sent it into the world. Twilight's a mommy now! And I'm an auntie all over again! This is cool! I know raising a foal takes lots of work! So we all forgive her, right girls? So how about we meet her and her foal already? She must be so proud to be a mama of a foal who saved the world!"

"...Pinkie...that's partly right...but...Razzaroo is Miracles and Wishes...she's the only potential Concept that could do what she did with only a bit of your souls. And programming wouldn't be as simple."

"Oh. So she asked Razzaroo to do it. I wish Razzy had mentioned it when we chatted." Pinkie Pie kept smiling.

Cadence said, "Razzaroo...she had just began her journey to become Concept of Miracles and Wishes. She didn't yet have the experience or power to do that yet...Even after all the time Amicitia completed her duties...in a way, Amicitia's choice is what inspired Razzaroo to realize what what concept she was TRULY becoming and REACH the level TO be able to do what she has for Applejack and Spike. And...you've been in that pocket dimension for far longer than you seem to think..."

"What?" I tilted my head. "Scootaloo and Gilda in Equestria looked fine to me. They didn't look old at all. And I know the were brought back soon after Nightmare Eclipse was beaten and Rarity married Spike. We couldn't have been gone that long."

Trixie looked genuinely sad and said. "Fluttershy kept moving your prison to a different time and space remember?"

My heart sunk straight out of my body, leaving a gaping hole in my chest.

"And time and space flows differently outside of the mortal plain...in a way it's outside the flow...combine these two facts...and I'm afraid that Amicitia performed her choice eons ago relative to us..."

"What?" I lost my voice. I lost my thoughts. I lost my senses. I lost my feelings. I lost everything.

Cadence started crying. "...Amicitia...Twilight Sparkle...I was the last one to speak with her...she...sent one last message to Celestia."

Trixie played back Twilight's voice, Trixie was crying too. "Dear Princess Celestia, this will be my atonement. Look upon this moment my wonderful teacher. This shall be what lights darkness, a chance for everypony to be happy. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle."

Cadence said. "She quadrisected her own soul, Rainbow Dash. It was the only option she had left. She loved Equestria, she loved all of you that much. One pony who'd be the messenger to alter that one moment...and the other three, who'd help it along as it grew up. They have her memories, each one holds traits of her...but her own Persona, her own Ego, were destroyed."

"B-But why? Why...why four? Why not one and the rest of herself?"

"...Because the new universe would see her as an invader...while her daughters, for lack of a better term, have 'duel citizenship'. The Blank Wolf is wary of them, but doesn't see them as invaders as it would her," Trixie lamented.

That was when the camouflage illusion around Fluttershy vanished, and all of us turned in surprise to see the tears on the Kindest of Lies' face. A moment later her illusion over Spike vanished as well. He was crying too.

"Trixie!" Cadence stuttered in surprise.

"Please don't blame her for not seeing me," Fluttershy said. "I've had...millions of years of practice."

"Sorry, Fluttershy, I did sense your illusion. I AM illusions." Trixie admitted. "I stayed silent ...Because you had the same right to know as Rainbow and Applejack."

Applejack looked dizzy. She told me later that she'd not even had the slightest idea that Trixie was hiding that she knew, neither had I.

"So...what makes them up? Which souls?" I heard myself ask.

"...they were not made into groups, Rainbow Dash...they were divided equally, like when red and blue dye are mixed into a glass, and then you pour it out into two more glasses, the result isn't red and blue, but two smaller purple glasses."

"I...I see."

"Couldn't she have done it another way?!" Pinkie Pie cried, her make up running.

"If she could have...she would have." AJ said, crying. "This is one cruel truth Ah wish they were lyin' about..."

"Twilight..." Spike sobbed. There was something horribly wrong in seeing a full grown dragon cry. "First Rarity, now you? Why...why does everypony leave me?"

"Rainbow...Applejack...Spike...Pinkie Pie...I'm so sorry." Fluttershy whispered, hiding her face behind her mane and butterfly wings. "If...If I hadn't kept us trapped for so long..."

"Maybe...maybe if I had been there...I'd have done it instead! She wouldn't have had to ask me!" Spike and me looked at each other. We had both said that.

"...I offered, she wouldn't allow anypony else," Trixie and Cadence both said.

I keep my true emotion off my face. What was the point of demonstrating my feelings? I felt worse than when I had gone Nightmare. I felt worse than when Discord had broken me in two. I felt worse than when I learned I hadn't even noticed Fluttershy falling to her doom during the Flight Camp race for her honor. It was all those moments and more.

Sorry if anything I say after this is brief and I skip some stuff. There's some things I was too distracted to memorized and other stuff I'd rather not share. It got...sorry, some parts get a little too much.

AJ asked bowing her head some, looking Cadence right in the eyes, opening her wings. "Queen Cadence...was this really the only way Twilight had to make a better world?"

"To create a completely new timeline without having to sacrifice ours? I'm sorry. Yes."

"Alright then."

Cadence wasn't lying. It had been the only way. Suddenly, instead of angry, I felt a little empty.

All of us hugged together. The five of us, Trixie, Cadence, we were all huddled together with our hooves around each other, our tears mixing. We were the same.

Cadence whispered. "I... I know it doesn't change our loss but...they're happy."

"Who?" Spike asked.

"The keystone pony born from Amicitia, Twilight's soul. They're brave, honorable, confident, likes hoofball, Oubliettes & Ogres, handsome-"

"Handsome?" AJ asked. It was a weird word to describe a girl.

"Oh...their name is Shining Armor Sparkle, they're...they're Twilight Sparkles' big brother now in that universe, he became the one variable that changed the course of everything."

Shining Armor...something about that name...Eclipse had us Pinkie Pie Promise not to so much as THINK hard about the cycle where she got her scar.

Pinkie Pie blinked. "A dude was born from Twilight's soul? ... Did little Twilight have issues she didn't tell us about?"

Cadence blushed. "No Pinkie Pie, Shining Armor is...he was born from the part of Twilight's protective instinct, protecting her family, protecting her friends. He's made the Twilight Sparkle of that timeline very happy. Don't worry, he was slipped in without disrupting your lives in Ponyville. He was born for the explicit purpose of giving Twilight the inner strength to resist Discord for just a little bit longer, and that little bit longer was long enough for fate to take a completely different course. He saved everything, and won't ever know it."

"...Don't tempt fate," Applejack pragmatically warned. "We learned the hard way she don't like-."

"Please, no arguing, not right now," Fluttershy whispered, giving AJ a nuzzle. "I'm just happy to hear that Twilight got her friends back, and has a big brother to watch out for her."

"You're not the only one," Trixie whispered.

"You said Twilight divided herself into four pieces," I said became Twilight wasn't here to say it. "Does that mean that Twilight has four brothers, sisters, siblings?"

"No," Cadence said, "Only Shining Armor because a concrete part of the world. The other three became her as a filly of her Earth Pony aspect, her as a mare of her pegasus self," My heart skipped a beat at that one. "And herself as an old mare and a unicorn. Half-Light Dawn, Noon, and Dusk." We all startled at those names. "I know I said they had 'dual citizenship' but that's a poor description. They don't have a past or future in our world, or the new reality. They were created between realities, in a way, they're strangers wherever they go. They're like Amicitia was as a conscience, they're the voice when you ask yourself or speak to yourself. They're collectively a new tarot, Aeon. Happy beginnings, happy journeys, happy conclusions."

"So if Shining Armor is the part of her who looked after her friends, do those three just don't care?" AJ asked.

"No. Shining Armor just embodies that trait the strongest, they're, no offense, no Nightmares."

"None taken," we all said.

"So, if they're not missing parts, if they came back together-"

"Spike. They're not like aspects or avatars, they're separate beings. They're Amicitia's children not split personalities."

Spike lowered his head.

"I see," I said. I saw everything clearly. "Will they ever come back here?"

"Only they know that for certain. They wanted to help as many ponies recover from Discord's Day of Chaos as possible, they wanted to make sure Twilight's sacrifice wasn't in vain due to a random twist of fate. We aren't meant to normally speak between timelines."

"Then why could Twilight save other worlds?" I asked.

"...That's...complicated...Each timeline is meant to be its own. Sister, Auntie Celestia physically interacted with another timeline once as Princess of Equestria that didn't trigger the Wolf and it bred disaster. This is getting into details you can only understand as a Concept. That your brain needs rewired to be ABLE to comprehend.

"When Amicitia, Anarchy, Pandora, and others, have interacted in other worldlines not native to them, they could exist only as a voice on the shoulder, they couldn't enact any authority there. There's a gray area if their concept is still growing there or they're given a native sponsor, Amicitia once helped an alternate Anarchy dismantle a Rainbow Factory for example. But if a version of their Concept already exists there, things can become dangerous in a way even Discord wouldn't have wanted. You can't have two definitions of the same natural law in one universe. Sister Auntie Celestia found out what happens."

Pinkie Pie and me were really not listening. I bucking asked if the Half-Light would come back here. I didn't ask for a metaphysics lecture! Is this where Twilight got it from? Twilight! Not even the chance to say goodbye! She died thinking we were all gone!

AJ looked like she had a headache. And Fluttershy just politely smiled and nodded. And Spike, oy, makes sense after being Twilight's scribe he'd be able to follow that rambling.

I felt angry now. I broke the hug. "You just told us Twilight's never coming back and you're blabbing about the finer points of how concepts can nudge outside their workloads!?"

Queen Cadence shrank back a bit from me.

"She was your bucking best friend! I saw it over and over! You loved her like family! She was like a little sister to you! I saw it thousands of times! So many versions of you, but none of you truly gave up on Twilight no matter how Discord wrapped her! The last time we saw her she was a monster, you tell us she's gone, and she died thinking we were annihilated, and you give us a lesson on between Worldline manners?! WHAT THE HAY IS WRONG WITH YOU!? DID YOU LOSE YOUR HEART WHEN YOU DIED?!"

I didn't give a buck how powerful or important these two were. I didn't give a flying feather at all.

Trixie stood in front of her. "Rainbow Dash! I know you're furious but this happened eons ago for us! Feeling regret is the one emotion being concepts means we CAN'T feel! We can feel sadness, but we can't think about going back and redoing our choices. We'd rip apart creation with our self corrections if-"

"NO MORE LECTURES! I DON'T CARE ABOUT HOW THE FANCY BACKGROUND MACHINERY OF CREATION WORKS! I'VE NEVER CARED! What I cared about was my family! My friends! My herd! Those who counted on me! Those who looked up to me! Those who trusted me! Those I had a responsibility towards! I don't CARE how you quantify all this! I JUST FOUND OUT I'VE LOST MY BUCKING BEST FRIEND WHO'S GONE! I don't care about hierarchies, ground rules, or cosmic regulations! You give us a hug and then bury us with technical details?! You are something-"

Two giant sets of claws that could have crushed me between two of his fingers gently wrapped themselves around. Breath that could melt rock kindly whispered in my ear. "Calm down Rainbow. I'm just as angry as you. More angry than you. Twilight was my mother, big-sister, best-friend, and everything in between. Even without her heart she still cared for me. What I want, more than anything right now, is to rip this place apart until the universe coughs her up."

I didn't raise my voice to him at all. "Then why aren't you?"

"Because I know that won't accomplish anything. You can't change the rules by being angry and macho. That's what we didn't get as Nightmares. We can't brute force things into fairness. That never works out. Discord never corrupted me, I was sane seeing you all as monsters. I was his slave for so long, it didn't matter what I felt towards him. Other dragons hated my guts or wanted to mercy kill me for letting Discord destroy my dragon dignity. I couldn't save any of my friends. Then I generously served their killer. Eclipse thought she could change the rules because she was badflank. What is you blowing up actually changing?"

Cadence looked me in the eyes through own tears. "Rainbow Dash, and Spike, and all of you've been through so much pain, but don't you dare think I didn't mourn Twilight! I knew her since she was just a little filly! I was one of the last few to speak with her, a part of me died with her!" I quivered. "But I moved on! I never said I'd forgotten her..." And I shut my mouth.


Spike spoke, "I never said I was angry at you Cadence... I never could be."

"You're angry at all this?" Cadence asked.

"Yes."

"I understand Spike," she nuzzled the giant dragon. He wrapped a wing tip around her.

Fluttershy, stood up and trotted towards the pair. "Cadence...what Rainbow Dash said to you was cruel. And we can all see you've been through so much pain too. But please understand, you've gone through your grieving . . . we've...we've just found out . . ." Fluttershy began crying.

"I...I'm sorry Rainbow Dash," Cadence said looking me in the eyes again. "I wasn't being callous. It's...it's that when I was Queen...One of the worst things I was always asked was, 'why can't you do more?' Why couldn't I help MORE to stop Discord instead of just contain him? Why couldn't I just go defeat him myself? I was the Temperance wasn't I? I could turn him to stone. Why couldn't I do more? So many ponies, dragons, griffins, they all asked me: 'why can't you do more?' I defeated an Avatar of Discord's father once. Why couldn't I save the world by myself? Why couldn't I save Twilight's soul and those of her friends?...But in the end, I never beat him, and all I could do was buy an escape for my people with my own life...Rainbow tell me the truth...Did Eclipse make sure I lost there?"

I blinked, taking a step back in surprise. "...No...Eclipse didn't care about who beat Discord or when, so long as he lost, and Fluttercruel died...Trixie's the only one she ever actively tried not to let beat him and...well, that was less to do with Discord losing and more to do with her humiliation. And Trixie's Element of Magic still helped Twilight in that last cycle."

Trixie smiled a bit proudly there. Can't say I blame her, she'd been waiting eons to help screw Eclipse over and avenge her worldline.

"Eclipse didn't care if ya were the one to beat Discord or not...but once it got to that point, she tended to copy in ya dyin' to give Twilight an 'object lesson' about how rotten Discord was," Mirror filled in, not really caring I was trying to actually hide that fact from Cadence. What? Bitter or not would you like to tell them the closest thing they had to a little sister murdered them over and over? "...Ah reckon that shows how twisted her heart was by then, seein' as in Trixie's loop...But even then, that didn't stop her."

Cadence let a few tears fall there, but didn't break down crying. I think she'd already known that. "And then there was the Shadows of Oblivion...I know they're only shells of their former selves, but whenever I visited them? And yes, I did, they were my subjects, Rainbow Dash. Every Changeling after I rejoined with Chrysalis? They were as dear to me as my children...and their shadows kept asking me that question, except now about Eclipse. 'Why couldn't you do more?'...I tried, I really did...Why do you think we rescued Fluttershy every loop we could the moment we were back in the Spirit World and could? Eclipse can't copy and paste events outside of time, can she?"

I shook my head. "No, she couldn't...And...I'm...I'm sorry for exploding like that...I'm just sick of being given the run around and told, 'it has to be' without saying 'why.' Why did this have to happen? Why did it take so long for GODS to realize we were still alive?"

Trixie gave a sigh. "...Because you were so well hidden, because you were astral projecting at the time, and we assumed if anypony would know you were still alive, it'd have been Twilight herself...We couldn't find you in the wreckage of the destroyed Nightmare Stable, nor any sign of Flutternice. We assumed she erased herself after you were destroyed when we couldn't sense her. We didn't notice your 'rooms' were missing because...well..."

"We thought they'd self destructed WITH you. Only Twilight telling us even let us know they existed," Cadence explained.

We'd seen the wreckage ourselves. The place had been completely destroyed. Which made sense, considering it was Eclipse's and for all intents and purposes, Eclipse was deader than dead after Twilight ate her and ascended, on top of the magic backlash blowing up the world viewing orb thing with the six fold Harmony cannon...So yeah, I'm surprised there was even a stable LEFT after what happened, so can't say I fault their logic.

I thought about how Twilight Sparkle, Amicitia had split herself into four beings, and I'd never see her again.

"Why didn't you think Twilight would defend all of you Fluttershy? You're her friends. That much was real about her, even as a Nightmare." There was no attack or accusation in her voice.

"I...I thought you destroyed her...We...We couldn't sense anything without her help...so I thought, after all the bad things she'd done, you'd just...make her go away."

Trixie sighed. "I'm sorry. Considering I did hold a grudge on Eclipse till Twilight destroyed her persona, that's an understandable belief."

"I still have a grudge on ECLIPSE," I said. "It's Twilight I'm upset about."

"...Agreed...but that's just it, Rainbow, Fluttershy...Eclipse was gone...there was no reason for us to harm the one who'd done her in," Trixie explained.

"It ain't a sin tah hate that which is evil," Mirror recited truthfully. "It only becomes one when that evil ain't evil no more but yah still hate it just as much. When ya BECOME the evil."

"Well spoken, Applejack..."

"...I did this..." Whisper muttered, whimpering. "Twilight...I..." she started crying. "You just wanted to see us but...I..."

And in that moment, my world became a cold picture of rage. I realized who was the single being to blame that we never got a chance to see her or even say goodbye. There was only one mare whose choices were the end result. I don't care what horseapples she thinks I wanted.

I teleported out of Spike's grasp.

I, Nightmare Manacle, slowly turned towards Nightmare Whisper. My chains animated like they were Nightmare Purgatory's, my shadow looked over her and Nightmare Whisper didn't even try to run, she didn't even shake, she stood her ground, she didn't try to defend herself. She spread out her wings and body so my chains had a clearer shot at her.

Within me was a fury to make Tiamat pause.

I'd be sure to fully 'reward' Fluttershy for making us all miss our chance to say goodbye to Twilight.

Trixie teleported in front of her. "If you want somepony to hate then hate me! It's an old hat for Trixie! I'm the goddess of Trickery who didn't find an illusion crafted by an incomplete concept in a little corner of creation sooner! Who didn't even notice realize what it was until after it was too late! Didn't even recognize it in time! Hate me! Punish me! I failed!"

I startled. Great and Powerful Trixie, putting herself in harm's way for somepony who helped destroy her world?

"I could give a scar to a the ultimate Nightmare she could never be rid of that you think I was 'awesome for' but I couldn't even sense an adaptive illusion barrier around one pocket reality! Go ahead! Futtershy was scared, afraid, irrational with grief, what is MY excuse?! Tell me! Or 'reward' me for my failure. But do it with a clear mind Rainbow Dash! You've lived with ENOUGH HATRED!"

"I . . ." I gritted my teeth. I stood there for a moment, looking at the one responsible for me missing Twilight...and the girl who was standing up for her despite how easy it'd be to hate her...like a friend should. "I KNEW I could never have my life back! Not the life I had! Even that New Equestria we're making is gonna have a million things different! It's NOT the life I had! Not my Ponyville! Not my weather team! Not my Cloudsdale! Not my Wonderbolts! Not my Pinkie Pie or Applejack! BEFORE Discord! BEFORE Nightmare Eclipse! I knew that was never coming back! But I thought at least I could have all my new friends back!!!" I looked at them. "We WERE monsters! But Cadence is right! Our friendship at least was real! We made it real! You're not REPLACEMENTS! You're not copies! You're my friends! And I wanted all my friends back together."

"Rainbow Dash." Applejack said and spread her wings, reflecting us weak and small Alicorns on the inside. "Do you think any of us prefer being the worst murderers in history with no universes to call our own, with only an insanity plea between us and better-not-think-about...over being plain old pony friends in Ponyville? And I know the truth that can't happen. We'll never get back those days. We wanted to be back together too. Be the six of us again."

Pinkie Pie was crying too. As was Spike now.

I looked at Trixie. "Trixie...you've...you've been hurt enough. No being ever deserves to be hurt as bad as you were...to be as alone as we made you...you don't need to be asking to be hurt more. I'm not judge and jury. And if I was...to be honest, even if you'd done that on purpose, I'd understand why one hundred percent. And you don't need to be LOOKING to be punished just...just for the sake of being punished."

I didn't really care if Trixie had actually been asking to be hurt more or was putting that Concept of hers to good use to snap me out of it. Either way, what she said and I said were things somepony in that place needed to hear.

I looked at Fluttershy. "'Shy..." I swallowed.

"You don't have to force yourself to forgive me," she said solemnly. She looked at our friends. "Any of you."

"Forgiving takes time," I said.

"I'll wait."

"Because that's what friends do." We nuzzled.

Trixie nodded. "...And thanks for in a way showing ME that, Rainbow Dash."

I blinked, looking to her. "Huh?"

"...Scootaloo forgave me for not being able to defeat Eclipse...I admit...that made me feel better than that scar I gave Eclipse ever did...thank you for that...friends forgive...thank you."

"You're welcome," I said breathlessly.

I slid down to the floor on my rump.

We hugged again. This time we didn't let word destroy the moment, and listened to each other's heartbeats.

+

Cadence took us into her reality. No details mattered except one. It was like Trixie's graveyard in miniature. It was a monumental statue to Twilight Sparkle the Alicorn.

Heh. Yeah, I'm crying a bit.

All those book stacks around her, egghead Twilight. That's her.

We each trotted up in turn and did a little nuzzle with the statue.

Spike breathed his teleport flames on the books. Now all the books were rearranged.

"That's the way she liked it."

"Thank you Spike," Cadence said smiling.

I looked at the likeness of her. Her warm-heartedness, her love to learn, her quirky OCD, her big brain, her love for all of us.

It clicked. I know what I have to do.

+

There's one little story I need to tell you about, sadly I can't really give any details, since Spike choked up every time he'd talk about it to me and others told me it wasn't their place to tell.

Spike visited Oblivion.

Spike got all 'not so cryptic' when he said, "I need to apologize to all of her." I guess this was his way of letting go. I hope. We all asked him to give our apologizes to our loved ones while he was there if he WANTED to...Generousity, what do you think he did?

Cadence said that her family had to pull strings and call in favors just to get him able to visit. He wasn't a concept yet after all, and Oblivion didn't exactly have visiting hours, mainly because going in unprotected normally resulted in the Shadows trying to steal your Light to replace theirs (the Scootaloos were registered as part of the world). With the oblivion Scoots acts as his chaperons. "To make sure he didn't get eaten by a Tatzlwurm."

I don't know how long Spike stayed in there, the Kingdom of Nada follows its own rules even more so than other realities. Could have been minutes, could have been eons and I wouldn't know the difference.

What? What I've been saying about Discord's family and stuff comes out as gobbly gook? Guess it's stuff you couldn't logically know, sorry. Hey don't look at me! I'd hoof pamphlet if I could! I WANT to help you.

Point is, Spike went in there by himself...and came out with frozen hoof marks all over his body, and with a tiny (for him) frost spot shape like a kiss on his face. "At least...at least that one forgave me."

He also gave Pinkie Pie a message from someshadow named 'Puzzlemint'. She cried when she got it.

+

Before we got started, Applejack made one final visit to where all the ponies were sleeping to be 'taken home'. Messing with these ponies was the one taboo even Discord was never nuts enough to think he could get away with. I came along only after I asked Applejack more than once Pinkie Promised not to talk about it with the others. No, don't worry, you're fine.

Looking back on it, it was all kinds of stupid ironic, after everything, we were gonna make a new world after all.

And yeah, the survivor from Spike's loop was there too. No, it wasn't anypony important to Nightmare Banneret. He was the The Beautiful Fury Of the Generous Green Flames remember?

She wasn't anypony 'important' to the history books or battling gods. She was Twilight Sparkle's favorite writer. Jade Singer. Yeah. A one-shot wonder author. Spike gave me a copy, it's not bad I guess, just not my style.

Spike gave her the body of a super model, made her twice as smart and creative then she was before, gave an Alicorn long lifespan, gave her a 'horde note' equal to the size of a standard dragon horde, and then turned her into the statue in the Ponyville fountain square for safe keeping until the Golden World was ready. We got her out of there, still asleep, in the happy dreams she was given to dream. Spike let her just continue dreaming and asked Pandora if maybe she'd give her some good inspiration. She'd be a there to give this world's Twilight Sparkle inspiration.

The other survivor from Fluttershy's loop? You've met her already. Nightmare Eclipse intended to erase Flutternice with the rest of the worldline until Nightmare Whisper saved her. That was one of the few times Whisper stood up to Eclipse enough to make her back down (on the condition Discord never know about Flutternice's survival). And that's when Nightmare Whisper became my partner in crime. I don't know if we never told Flutternice because it wouldn't make a difference, or we couldn't break her heart THAT much.

Applejack opened her wings, a light shined, and a yellow filly with a green mane gently rolled out. Her cutie mark was an apple slice and an orange slice.

Using her telekenesis, AJ tenderly put her next to the others.

"There ya go little filly. Ah-Ah promised ya a new world. Here ya go. And it's even better than the one we were gonna make yah...Auntie Applejack loves you."

She kissed the sleeping filly on the forehead. I whispered a thank you to the one who'd helped Mirror finally fix Eclipse's soul/brain surgery on me...To think, after all this, she never stopped believing life was worth living or gone nuts like Flutternice.

She looked at me. "Alright, let's do this." And we left Apple Pie with the others waiting for the new universe to be made. The Gods promised us they'd find a good place for her.
+

"Alicorn of Judgement," I said, "Before we get started. We have one request. Whatever judgement is given to one of us, happens to all of us. We're all innocent, or we're all guilty." My friends and I all stood together and nodded.

Flutternice was judged to have the mind of a child, and too emotionally and mentally damaged to be judged with us. Who she'd be put under the watch of, depended on how things went with us. But long story short, she was judged not guilty by virtue of insanity as Judgment himself said. And before you think he was just let his potential niece off on a bias, he judged the other surviving Fluttercruel guilty.

The Alicorn Judicium looked down at us. "... As you wish ... The Court asks of you, do you each intend to complete your journey to become Concepts?"

We looked at each other, then we said together: "Yes."

I'd vowed I'd become the goddess of breaking loops, of breaking cycles. And I'd stay true to that promise. I realized that was what I wanted. There were too many worlds trapped in endless loops and stalemates, time to add a new clause to the rule book.

It was the only privilege that came with being a god that wasn't a curse in disguise if you ask me. You got to add a new line to creation's codex.

"To become a concept you give up paradise, never to be reunited with your departed loved ones, you will carry the burden forever: you will become the mantle. And THAT is if you even succeed."

Not me or my friends budged.

"Then so be it...The court judges, that should you succeed the trials to prove worthy of becoming a law of nature, then your labor in creating a new reality for the lost ponies, and everything it entails, bound to it forever, will be deemed your reconciliation. Should you fail, our punishment will be to experience every unhappy fate you inflicted on your counterparts in each loop you destroyed, and every other sapient being. All of their fear, pain, despair, and agony. Afterwhich you may request to have your lights of existence absorbed by your final cycle counterparts to end the pain, or simply to share the punishment Eclipse suffered, as per your request to all experience the same fate."

That wasn't said in an angry 'do what I say or I will smite you!' voice, it was said in a complete fair, completely unbias tone. Not uncaring, just completely and utterly fair.

I'm proud none of whimpered.

"Yes, yer honor," we all said together. Yes, I'm pretty sure we were all doing a mental tally of how many worlds we individually had helpped destroy. Applejack had the most, Spike the least.

+

You've heard about Fauna Luster a lot before now. How she's infinite, how she's everything around you in the Alicorn's world, how she's indescribable: they're right. She lived in what was the afterlife, but she was the most alive force in the universe.

Lights of existence, they're always coming out of her, from before the moment a single cell begins to divide in a mother's womb, they flow out of her, gaining knowledge and wisdom, self-reliance, sense of self, gaining a shadow, making their own choices, right and wrong, and She couldn't be happier for them.

I was also aware of the fact trying to hurt one of those lights in this moment was a taboo that even Eclipse had never broken. Oh, it wasn't that She didn't care about them after they left, it was that hurting those little lights in Her presence was one of the few things in creation that could clop Fauna Luster off. And just ask the Pain Monsters what happens when you manage to genuinely clop Fauna Luster off.

I"m not ashamed to admit. I'm broke down crying when I saw her. She was the world's everything. She was every world's everything. She was where I came from, where Twilight came from, where Hoops and Score came from, where my dad came from. She was the source of all of us. Us ponies, we're creatures of Harmony, not this crude flesh and bone. The brain in your head? That's not you. That's just a processor the real you uses to interact with the physical world. Just looking at Her, I couldn't deny this was where what let us BE us was born to begin with.

Yeah She's beautiful, like a sunrise.

Funny thing about Fauna Luster. The Alicorn domain is her. So you're inside Her, looking at Her, about to go inside Her. Go figure. Yes, Pinkie Pie made the obligatory joke. Fauna Luster didn't mind, in fact She laughed and told Pinkie Pie she was going to be a great Concept of Joy.

Razzaroo was there. Apparently she was now 'ripe' for becoming the concept of miracles and wishes along with her star-with-a-face sidekick. But my trial was to be first.

"I want you all to be among the Alicorns who welcome the new me into creation," she said smiling.

I think Discord's family wasn't allowed in Fauna Luster's inner chamber. Well, she might be about to give birth.

Starlight and her buddies were there as 'security' but acted more like honor guard, after all, we hadn't caused any trouble since we left the imitation Ponyville.

Discord met us on the way and told us he was proud of us for how we changed and apologized that he wouldn't be there. Apparently because an Alicorn's birth would 'hurt worse than My Dad to any pure draconequus in the room.' AJ kept her mouth shut while Fluttershy said, "We're happy to see how you've changed too Discord." Well, at least we know the new universe will be in good hands with him making it. Better than what our worldline was like with us running it.

I was decked out in my full barding along with the others, it felt fitting.

Big starry sky Father Of Alicorns 'Sane Reality', Pony Heaven, wasn't in sight, not sure what that was about. Maybe He was meant to show up when we were remade or not? Might explain why the place wasn't packed with every single Alicorn in existence too. But oh there were plenty there.

Like good old Alicorns of Justice and Judgement.

I asked to go first saying it was to show the others it was okay, I was loyalty, it was my job to go first I reasoned.

My friends were there with me. Flutternice? Fluttershy said she was being foalsat by the Alicorn she trusted most to look after her.

"RAINBOW DASH," Fauna Luster Spoke, "DURING YOUR TIME IN THE POCKET WORLD. YOU UNDERWENT MANY CHALLENGES AND ORDEALS. AND THE PONIES YOU SAVED. DO YOU CONSIDER THAT TEST ENOUGH FOR YOU TO BECOME A TRUE ALICORN?"

"No way! Just because I did the Sonic Rainboom, save Equestria, makes friends with them at the Gala, and saved the Wonderbolts and my friends didn't give me the right to be a Wonderbolt! I'd want to go to the Academy, and take the examines same as any other pony! I'd want to EARN it the way I'm supposed to!" I meant every word.

"WELL SPOKEN. AS PER MY SON'S JUDGEMENT. ENTER ME, AND YOUR TEST OF YOUR OWN HEART'S DESIGN WILL BEGIN."

Was I scared about doing this? You bet I was scared. And I'm mare enough to admit it. So much rode on this.

But I had to do this. It was my responsibility, as a friend. Who was I kidding? This was my choice and only my choice. But this was for my friends, wasn't much of a choice to begin with. I've decided what I'll be loyal to.

= "Overfly" - Swords Arts Online =

Cadence was nearby. We'd traded hugs.

Of course Abbatissa was here, she always close to one of her Parents, she was the Alicorn of Prayer after all.

Rota Fortuna was here, watching all of us, as still as a statue, no expression on her face, her feathery and clockwork wing both spread.

I told the Scootaloo Army that had wanted to stay with me after I had helped destroy their worlds that they should wait until my judgement was over, wouldn't do good for them to swear themselves to a goddess who was a criminal. I also told Cadence and any other God that they'd become Angels or Yokai for to not let them be there. I didn't want them to see this.

My friends stood by, tense, watching me about to enter the fires of friendship: I think that's Her real form, as close as 'real' gets with a fundamental law, with one of the four Biggest Pillars. She isn't a pony, not even close, She's not even an Alicorn, she only created them with Her other half. She was a fire that was Her own fuel that could never truly go out. Or that's how I saw Her.

Wait, did that mean every light of existence was a tiny fire of friendship? That explained everything.

Applejack looked like she had a headache looking at her. I guess when you're still a mortal in mind, having truth vision looking at something beyond comprehension probably isn't fun. She told me later what confused her most was there was no cruel truth to be found in Her. "Ah'm the Cruelest Truth...She's the Kindest Truth...Ah...Ah don't know what tah make of that..."

I was on the threshold, and I remembered, She didn't have any cruelty in Her, but if she was the fires of friendship...fires couldn't be tamed.

I could back out now, and forget this whole mess, and...I'd wonder forever if I really done everything I could for my friends.

I took the dice and rolled.

Alea iacta est.

I enter Fauna Luster Herself.

Like a virus.

= Fall Of Homura Akemi - Madoka Rebellion -

I felt the fires of burn away at me, burning away at my Nightmare outer-self like Elements of Harmony would. I release the feeling inside me.

It wasn't anger, it wasn't hate, it wasn't greed, and it wasn't the good old self-pity I've kept with me like a security blanket.

Roughly four thousand years ago or more, the fires of friendship, so tiny compared to everything, caused Discord's Mom to feel pain. And that snowballed into the Alicorn-Draconequus war.

Paranoid. All the ponies alive channeling the fires of friendship couldn't have ended The End...then again, one mortal had already killed Cupid, maybe she was worried for more of Her family than just her? She didn't like anypony deciding 'this life ends' other than Her for anything.

I think of Twilight Sparkle. I don't hate her. I never could. Discord was to blame for what happened to us, not her. I fought so hard to see her again. To be reunited with the friend who gave me the inspiration to break free of Discord. And I wouldn't ever. I let the empty waters of that one dream impossible to fulfill on the fire of friendship herself. One drop in the heart of an inferno.

Pinkie Pie cried out in shock at the sight.

Outside, Rota Fortuna said calmly, "So that's the road you chose. What do you hope to find at the end of it?"

"A friend," Fluttershy said. "I'm very very very sorry, and I'm sure Rainbow Dash is too."

"This, this isn't hatred, anger, greed, fear, or despair!" Abbatissa manages to gasp out in stark confusion.

"It's part of what ya made us ponies for," AJ said. "It's what ya made us ponies naturally wired for...it's friendship."

Spike had to use himself as a shield for me against a very angry Justitia AND Venus (a child's love for her mother is powerful too). He'd last less than an eye-blink. Fluttershy unleashed her fog, it would last less than a moment. I would milk that split moment for all it was worth inside the core of every heart that is, was, or will be. I felt the moment wasn't ending by the will of a new presence.

But we had something on our side, what I did, sent a shockwave through her domain, every Alicorn everywhere felt what she felt in that one moment. ...Rarity...Trixie...I'm sorry, but I have to do this.

I didn't do it to be queen over anything, not to remake the world, not out of any grudge or spite. This wasn't out of not being able to let go. It was to repay a friend.

I'm more sorry for that, than I've been sorry for everything else I've ever done. Please...please don't look at me that way. Look, I KNOW how this looks! I promise I...I promise I'm not being...I know what I did was...Please don't hate me: I couldn't bear that again.

I just wanted a chance to find her!

I knew my flank was toast for this. But I'd do all this for a friend. We all would.

I'd unleashed from my heart a hole that couldn't be filled by anything, because friends couldn't be replaced.

And as Fauna Luster's fires burned around me, there came understanding.

If Entropy felt pain by Fauna Luster's touch, then the opposite happened.

And I'd called up Her, just like the fires of friendship were Princess Celestia's mom's, this was Her.

She was a concept, her concept was Her, and she was Her concept, I didn't call on her power or essence, and I'd called Her.

Dragon Spooker? I don't think I read that manega.

She didn't look like a draconequus. She was a gray earth pony with an emotionless face.

"You're beautiful, like a sunset." I covered my mouth, too late. I was still here? What the hay? Wasn't she supposed to erase anypony said a statement about her?

Maybe the queen of the spiritual junkyard liked compliments after all? Naw. This Avatar maybe just wasn't into smiting.

It was WEIRD, meeting an all powerful concept among concepts for the first time, and I didn't anything. Guess for Her that's a compliment.

"Only My Husband has ever called me that before," she said not as the thunder serpent rising from the ocean of chaos, but the gray earth pony mare. She gestured around us. "Look for where you wish to go with your heart."

"Wait, how the heck do you know what I'm after?"

Her face remained lifeless. "You called me up, all your heart is as exposed to me as it is to Her. Find your goal, and you'll have safe passage there. But on one condition."

"Let's hear it."

"You'll oppose my son and my children's mistakes when the opportunity presents itself. Their plans would cause many endings before their time...while at the same time cause suffering without end. That is unacceptable."

"I'd have done that anyway."

"I know. Interesting. Even a small piece of me is all of me, my little light in the dark. Here, in the heart of my...there is no word in your language...but...heh...I can feel Her true feelings. How strange it is this thing you call feeling. Like She can feel yours. She carries no grudge. She knows her pain you didn't intend and forgives you. I don't know of Her Husband. She is Empathy...she once wished to know my pain that drove me to have our children fight."

"Why?"

"To be my friend."

We ponies really are Their creations. Wait.

"Are you saying I'm still following some cosmic scheme?"

"All concepts are dynamic, tis what separates Us from Nightmares my little light in the dark."

"...You happy I gave Fauna Luster a taste of what happened to you?" I sure didn't.

"Nothingness has no grudges. I believe in lasting solutions. If prove in error of this gift of mine, I will have one for you."

"I'll remember I'm a criminal. Whether I meant to cause Her pain or not is besides the point, I knew I came here with less than honest intent."

"That is more honest than some of my own children, or Fauna's have been. If you turned back, the Alicorns will forgive, but if you carry through, they shall not forgive you so easily."

"I'll accept that when we come back. This was my scheme, nopony else's. I just want to experience one thing before I'm punished."

"You intend to come back."

"I never lied about accepting the consequences of my actions."

"This your end of you as a Nightmare and your beginning as a Devil."

My Element floated before us, no longer that dark, giant mishapened mess, but my old red lightning bolt. I guess this place was connected to my soul. It was cracking apart.

"Devil?"

My Element shattered to pieces.

"Or Demi-Fiend if you like. A Fallen Alicorn. The third to ever exist. As Fallen Draconequi are Demons. But you are a first: never has a Nightmare become a Devil."

My Element began reassembling itself into a new shape. One I didn't recognize.

"I think I'll go with Demi-Fiend thank you very much."

"I suggest you start looking before this moment ends." She gestured with a hoof at the endless realities suddenly around us. "You have all infinitely to look through after all. And if your moment of opportunity ends, you are unlikely to have another."

And I did look. Fauna Luster, Mother of everything, please forgive me.

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that part to happen. But...I have to see her again. She's my friend!

Across creation I look.

-

Harmony Queen Rainbow Dash look at Scootaloo, no rebellion or resentment in her eyes, no matter what. She gasped for a moment like she felt somepony else sitting where she was sitting, pushing against her. Where are you Twilight?

-

Rainbow Dash sat on her crystal throne among the council of friendship, happily chatting about what a great view the castle had after they had saved the world from Tirek. She gasped as she thought. Where are you Twilight?

-
What...what is this?...It's me...Super-Rainbow Dash fighting Nightmare Eclipse...hugging her even after she just stabbed me with the sword, a thousand lights inside her...beating back the Nightmare trapping them inside...breaking out . . .hijacking Eclipse's time magic while inside her to... summon other Elements... Excuse me! I've got something in my eyes! It's...My Element was gonna crack if I kept looking at them, all so happy.

-

There was that universe where Discord decided to 'upgrade' us rather than just keep as us minions. I infect that loser of a Draconequus of Apathy that used to be a Rainbow Dash with shards of my Element of Loyalty and Element of Free Will, maybe it'll give the idiot a wake up call. I did promise Entropy that I'd oppose her son however I can.

-

In the Rainbow Factory, Rainbow Dash looked at the captured Scootaloo with murderous intent. I give her the worst headache I can, making her relive every memory of the time she'd spent with Scoots, and making her remember that this place would have murdered Fluttershy if it had been given the chance.

-

Another Rainbow Dash cries out as Princess Celestia wraps a wing around her faithful rainbow maned apprentice.

-

And another one a lot like the last, only here, this Rainbow Dash has a horn in her head, and Celestia is concerned for the daughter she could only recently acknowledged due to tribalism not being as dead here as other Equestrias.

-

"It's so adorable ya think you're more awesome than us!" A Rainbow Dash says. Once upon a time, I thought those words the epitome of coolness. Now I see arrogance. Here ya go buddy! The worst headache in the history of Equestria, all gift wrapped with a pretty bow!

"AGGGHHHHHHH!!!"

Welcome!

-

A Rainbow Dash strapped down with an insane Pinkie Pie. Okay, buck this. Just a prank, as shown after Rainbow Dash tells her off for her completely Un-Pinkie Pie level puns and jokes. End! And yes, it did give me bucking satifaction that it was something Twilight had been doing in endless other universes!

-

A Rainbow Dash who's a complete loser and loyal only to Fluttershy or some horseapples, the rest of us are pretty much the same way, all our faults played up and our virtues swept under the rug. While Trixie proves herself the hero she could always be if shown some love early enough while Raindrops shows she could have been a hero too if given the chance.

-

A neighboring universe were Trixie is Element of Laughter...and Rainbow Dash is...actually a lot like me. I'm just friends with Blossemforth who...is Loyalty there? Weird, but...considering I hurt Anasi, good to see a verse where we're on decent terms...

-

Pinkie Pie and her adopted foals sitting on a couch playing a video game, they hide behind the furniture as I watch. Just pretend I didn't see you.

-

A Rainbow Dash with a buttefly cutie mark loyally caring for her beloved animals who couldn't care for themselves. Grateful to a kind hearted Fluttershy with a balloon cutie mark who cheered her up after Rainbow had lost the pegasus race to save her life.

She was also grateful to Twilight who had restored their cutie mark after this Rainbow Dash nearly electrocuted herself trying to do Rarity's job. Nice but not what I'm looking for.

-

A human Rainbow Dash playing her guitar with her friends, wondering about how to introduce themselves to the science nerd human Twilight Sparkle of THIS world, when I shove in. Where is Twilight? Wait. A little bit over.

-

"Hey guys, am I still banished? It's cold out here," asked a Rainbow Dash to her fellow gang of no-face loser trouble-makers in good King Sombra's Equestria. Too far.

-

Rainbow Dash couldn't believe that stallion she had fallen in love with turned out to be a changeling! Ugh. And she really thought he loved her back! And now Discord was bent out of shape because Fluttershy had been sleeping with Bulk Biceps. Sure he was 'reformed' now, but that didn't mean he couldn't throw a temper tantrum that would level the town.

Just a bit more this time.

-

Dressing in style and making dresses for my pony friends and Ponyville's number one fashionista. If only Princess Rarity would stop being such a tomboy.

-

"Now you just listen to Auntie Pinkie Pie," Pinkie said in a strangely motherly tone I thought only Fluttershy could manage. "I'm going to tell you a bedtime story. And I want you to listen really good understand?"

I nodded numbly.

"Once upon a time, there was a donkey in a barn with two piles of hay. The donkey was the same distance from the two piles, and the two piles were exactly the same size, the tasted just as good, and they were just as nice. The donkey was hungry and wanted to eat them. Except he couldn't decide on which one to start with because they were exactly the same. So the donkey tried to figure out which one to eat first, but couldn't figure out which one it was supposed to eat first, unable to choose between them, so it starved."

"Then donkey never realized that by not making the decision of which piles of hay to eat first, it was failing to make the choice to eat at all. So it was making the choice to starve. So it ended up not having either. By not making a choice...you're still making a choice NOT to make it. And it cost the donkey by not making a choice. The donkey was too stubborn and proud to realize that. And what a silly donkey it was wasn't it?"

"Yeah." For the first time in my life, I longer felt ashamed to cry. "WHAT A STUPID STUBBORN JACKASS!" I turned and hugged Pinkie Pie with tears in my eyes, and I LAUGHED! Pinkie Pie began laughing too. Followed by Fluttershy. Rarity and Twilight just politely chuckled while AJ sniggered.

I FEEL IT! THIS IS THE ONE!

-

I pointed. "THIS ONE!"

"May fate and chance be kind to you, Rainbow Dash."

I can see myself, my wings aren't black totally anymore, they have a silver lining, like storm clouds. My eyes are no longer draconic, my cutie mark returns to its original colors. My cutie mark remained its old shape, I'm guessing because my 'trial' isn't done.

Devils, or Demi-Fiends aren't that much different from Alicorns, I kept my old barding, I guess again because the 'trial' is still going on, whatever that'll be.

"You are not a whole concept. But you are no longer a Nightmare. You haven't finished the trial. You are indeed a Fallen Alicorn. Welcome to the world, breaker of cycles. Tarot Of The Ace Of Swords."

My Element reformed itself. It's shape was not a Lightning Bolt like before. It was one of those snakes Eclipse loved to use as a symbol, only broken in two straight down the middle. I held it in my hooves and absorbed it back into my heart.

"Entropy."

"Yes?"

"Would you tell the others, that I was the one who pulled my friends into this? I'll shoulder all blame."

"It will be done,their punishment should come to an end at it's proper time.. I suggest you go, my little light in the dark."

"I accept whatever punishment is waiting for me when this is over."

Fluttershy's illusion around the chains I had wrapped around each of my friends and myself vanished as they grew taut, and pulled them along with me as flew where laid the path between realities for us.

"Please tell Flutternice I'll be back soon!" Fluttershy called.

"I'll be sure to make all of you an Apology Cake later!" Pinkie Pie tried meekly. "...Razzaroo! Please don't delay your big coronation party because of us, okay?! don't delay making ponies happy because of me!"

"Ah'm STILL doin' stupid horseapples cause Ah think the pay off is worth it," AJ said to Cadence. "Reset me when Ah get back, pass or not. I want this idea out of my head!"

"Can I raise you back into an adult Jackie?"

"Uh, Ah'd rather it was somepony else Pinkie Pie."

"Tell my ancestors I apologize," Spike shouted.

They entered Fauna Luster, and we exited Fauna Luster. Except, it's not in the same timeline we entered from. The Dawn of time was if you wanted access to EVERY timeline, this was for more single port flights.

It's funny...nopony tried to stop us on the way out.

The world mirrors were one thing, they assimilated whatever passed through them into the universe they were coming into and still had side effects. We weren't so lucky. We were barely ghosts.

I'd roped all my friends into this. I'd done something truly wrong just wanting to help my friend. I had to see this through to the end.

Yeow...You had a right to shout at me like that. OW! And a right to do that too.

Well, now that's the cat's out of the bag, I guess I can share what lead up to this crazy scheme of mine. I'm sorry for telling you this part before. Please forgive me?...I'll face the consequences of what I did later, there are some things I just have to do first.

Yeah yeah, I guess I was trying to make things a bit more exciting for you.

Ahem.

"Why are we having this meeting in the void between universes again?" Spike asked. Being immortal had it's advantages. A simple force field to protect you from explosive decompression, and okay okay a zillion other 'simple' little spells Nightmare Eclipse had taught us over a million years to keep us from dying every blink.

"Uh, I have to agree with Spike, I really don't like this place all that much," Fluttershy whispered.

"Yeah! There are so many things in the infinite yet zero-dimension state between worldlines that can't even comprehend 'smile' or 'party!' And just want to eat our names, drink our outlines, or want us to play every possible game of Go in existence."

"Ib Shut Ren Ka Ba Ha Akh! Ib Shut Ren Ka Ba Ha Akh! Ib Shut Ren Ka Ba Ha Akh!" A feminine thing in Ponygypt wear made up of a lion, a hippo, and a crocodile raise up behind behind Pinkie Pie, jaws opened wide. Pinkie Pie fired a party cannon shot into it's mouth, and sending it fall over backwards.

"And cause and effect is so liquid you end up hearing discussions of yourself that you never have," Spike added.

"This place has no truth, it doesn't have anything!" AJ declared. "Which is exactly why we're here. Besides, it's impossible to get 'lost' since the distance is infinite and zero at the same time so that's one less thing to worry about."

"Enough exposition, girls. I get it. This place is basically the shorelines of Entropy's home turf. But we can speak 'privately' here. Sort of."

"Oh I remember!" Pinkie said. "Since it's outside of reality, it's nowhere, so it's not anywhere, so it's not part of 'everywhere', so ponies who are 'everywhere' aren't here."

Which also meant there was no death if something killed us...that place always gave everything the creeps.

"Right," I said. "Personally I wonder if the Elders are just being polite and pretend they can't sense what goes on here, but here goes, this is what we're going to do."

So yeah, Fluttershy created her illusions to hide the chains outside of reality, which made Trixie confused since that meant that part of herself was disconnected from the rest of her. And the thing is, nothing I intended or planned was false, it just wasn't all. The idea was that we didn't want to be separated again since we were friends, but it was awkward to have chains visible like that which wasn't a lie. We also had Flutternice play with Trixie and her foal sitter, kept safe. And Fluttershy had no idea that distracting Trixie was why she was asking for that (at the time), so she did it completely honestly...and even that was a big oversimplification. You know those Objective Impossible movies where they spend half the movie planning the big heist? Imagine that times one hundred fifty bajillion, and you got how bucking hard it was to pull this off. There were so many cogs in that machine it'd take me an eon to explain the whole plan, and several eons to come up with it.

I bet we're the only beings besides old Tirek himself to ever pull a 'great escape' on the Pantheon and the Elders...I'm relieved I can say I'm not proud of that.

"...I just...thought we'd see Twilight again once it was all over. She was the one thing I was looking forwards to...and she was gone before I started. She gave up EVERYTHING, and nearly all of her were INNOCENT Twilight Sparkles enslaved by a monster! Why should they have had to 'be redeemed by sacrificing themselves' when they were just victims too? It's not fair!"

"I agree." Fluttershy sighed.

"Me too," Spike said.

"Me three," Pinkie Pie added.

"Ah'd be blind to say it was fair," AJ finished.

Then I said those foalish words we Nightmare, former, or otherwise, are known for far and wide, "We'll make it fair."

Looking back on it now. I think I finally get complete Alicorns.

Nightmares will always answer them the same: 'I'll make it fair.' I think deep down, those are the true words that trigger a Nightmare being born. Alicorns...they...I understand now...they can say 'But that's the way it is,' too. They know how to add to the world without tearing everything else down in the process.

I saw it while looking over the worldlines. AJ's Alicorn? Tries to make a world where all truths come out...but in their own time. Fluttershy's wants to make the world kind by ripple effect, an act of random kindness spurs another. And so on...Mine? She's made herself a steadfast pillar of loyalty (even if being truly loyal meant saving somepony from themselves) to inspire others to be just as loyal, instead of making them unable to betray their friends.

All Alicorns want the same end as their Nightmare...but they do it without bullying. Adding to what is and showing their virtue to inspire others, not replacing it with their own personal 'utopia'. A Nightmare makes the world 'fair', an Alicorn inspires ponies to want it to be. Just like Celestia and Cadence inspired Equestria to be as kind and loving as it always should be. And the Wonderbolts inspired me, I saw a world where Spitfire was an Alicorn and just didn't want the fame and power.

So where does that leave me, a Demi-Fiend?...Honestly, not even I know... I just want to see a friend again.

How We Came To Be Here

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Sorry if you can't hear everything I say from here on out, no stuff isn't being erased from existence, we're almost out of time, and I think my messages are being filtered. But we're almost done. Hold on.

The Half-Lights? They've done nothing but be loyal to what Twilight would want, like any daughter. I can't hate them.

Shining Armor, he's done nothing but protect Cadence and help Twilight be a stronger pony. He cares more about them than he does himself...I could never be angry at him.

After I got a chance to check them out...I knew they were like Twiley, all wonderful ponies.

But...but...I just want Twilight back! So she can be in this future WITH us!

Don't ask me how, but I managed to get an interview with Rota Fortuna before I pulled the stupidest stunt in the history of stupid stunts I just told ya about.

She was really the first Alicorn that made it clear really, when you're speaking with a concept, you're talking with a terminal, a concept is everywhere their concept is.

Seriously...while entering her reality, I saw a version of her walking down an infinite road with stones made out choices and events, with a new version of her coming into being every time the road split, laying down the bricks in the road. A pretty infinite grassy field as far as the eye could see for the road to be laid down on. Where she was coming from was Celestia's Mom's dawn, and all the roads were being slowly built towards Discord's Mom's domain of dusk. If I squinted really hard, I could see another dawn beyond that, and instinctively knew another dusk was behind that.

Then my perceptions changed and there was a giant version of her surrounded by gears, cogs, piano strings and wires, many hooked up directly to her mechanical wing, and others wrapped around her tail and hooves...like she was a prisoner of her own realm. Standing on a big cog shaped platform surrounded in an infinite machine of clockwork pieces ticking away ponies choices as time moved forward.

Then I was in a bronze and gold observatory, with tall windows, swirl gray and and black polished marble floor, and a beautiful star scape outside. A beautiful brass model of the universe, no, of worldlines turning forever above our heads hanging from the ceiling.

I explained what I was doing there and what I was hoping she could help me find.

"You're chasing a dream."

"But there has to be some possible future somewhere where it happens!"

"You're that determined?"

"Yes."

Rota Fortuna looked through a telescope and several magnifying glasses at once, pointing them down at a big crystal ball ornamentally raised in one corner of the octagon, hexagon, whatever-gon room.

An eye that would have made Tiamat's look tiny stared down at me from one of the skylights. I gave out a yelp. The eye moved away as soon as Rota pulled her eyes away from the telescope.

"I can't say there are no worldlines where it doesn't happen. But worldlines where it has to happen aren't pleasant."

"Are you saying me seeing my best friend again isn't pleasant?"

"What you desire is selfish Rainbow Dash...each of your friends lost their Twilight Sparkle to Nightmare Eclipse. The friends of the final Twilight who brought Eclipse's ruin lost their Twilight. I lost a sister. But it is your Twilight Sparkle you most think of."

"I never said it wasn't," I said, my Element feeling heavy. Hey! Hey! Please stop with the stink eye! I'm...still kinda only mortal. "But you create every possible road for ponies to choose from. You've got to be able to create a road where it can happen without something awful happening!"

"Those worldlines tend to be forced, convoluted, and often drive away those-who-watch, and without those-who-watch, a world line before it has a chance to mature will wither away and die. Often they are created by inserts who are naught but empty vessels for the will of immature those-who-make."

"That's dumb! You're saying something awful HAS TO happen for something good to happen?"

"Not at all. I am saying everything has consequences. Every good choice, every bad choice, every grey choice. Both positive and negative."

"But...if there is no conservation for the existence of souls, it should be possible right?"

"Except Amicitia divided herself up into something new. There is a difference."

"I'm just asking...Is what I'm after completely impossible?"

"...not completely impossible. But this isn't just the price you and your friends would pay."

"I see."

"You have a chance to be part of a new universe that will need protectors and guides...you can...not balance out...but atone for your part as Nightmare Eclipse's coconspirators. You and your friends will be as loved and worshipped as any concept."

"And my best friend won't be there to enjoy it with me."

"You do have a filly, several in fact, who DO wish to enjoy it with you. Not counting your friends. I won't say you shouldn't risk what you have for something more. But think about how your choices will effect others who only desire to be your family. A choice is a rock thrown into a pond."

"...If I want something that will only cause me pain, why not just stop me here?"

"...Because I am Free Will. The ability to take away a being's right to self determination is something I simply do not have. Be glad I don't. Eclipse robbed herself of that right. It is VERY precious Rainbow Dash! Not all of us have that privilege!" She spread out her mechanical wing, and in the metal's shine I saw what I was made to know was true and understood.

I saw it in her clockwork wing...so many worldlines...and in all of them, the one constant I did see...Rota Fortuna loses one of her beautiful feathered wings. It's not even always the same way! Sometimes it's fighting the Invading Pain Fiends, or Morning Star, an almost miss of the Elements of Chaos that turns one wing gold, sacrificed protecting...Clover? Or some pony like her? But her beautiful wings would never stay a pair. And from that severed wing was born The Wolf.

Maybe I should have listened more, maybe I shouldn't have, all I know is...is that I thought I could make things right for my friends.

Applejack...was the one who convinced Fluttershy to leave Flutternice behind. To wait for us to come back.

"If she stays with us, ya'll only drag her into trouble with us. She doesn't need to be messed up in our schemes again."

So Fluttershy left Flutternice with 'Princess Gaia' ('Shy had corrected me on how to say her name). Don't ask why Fluttershy trusted her so