Pony POV Series
Dark World Part 29 "Give A Reason"
By Alex Warlorn
"…She's…me… my… Nightmare."
"A nightmare? When yer awake? Heh-eh. Kinda funny," Apple Pie said while shivering.
"She feels like you, when… when you almost… Pinkie Pie." AJ couldn't say the full sentence. "Like…Nightmare Mirror did tah meh…"
For a moment, Spike felt like a baby dragon again. Derpy looked at Twilight and the Alicorn at the same time with her wall eyes, trying to super impose them over each other mentally, it was far too easy.
"So you've finally shown yourself."
Twilight looked at Rarity, "You knew?"
"Not in the least. All I knew was that I felt something traveling along with us. Some nameless passenger. Something so familiar it was painful, but I couldn't figure out what…Well, now I guess we know what the Sea Pony meant by the Alicorn witch."
*Everypony! Be on guard!*
"Your statement is of course, as always, correct Twilight, Sparkle. I am you, and you are me. A nightmare born from the flames of vengeance. Vengeance against the one who's taken away everything that matters to me again, and again, and again. All Discord's done is feed these fires that are rightfully yours to wield. But you've stupidly snuffed them. I am quite upset with myself," she said calmly.
"I'd say more you're the part of Twilight who always refused to accept the difference between what ya can change and what ya can't." The Nightmare looked right at Spike. "I'MSORRYTWILIGHTI'MSORRY!"
"SPIKE!" Twilight shouted, "Snap out of it!"
AJ touched Spike, her Element of Kindness glowed. Spike recovered his wits and slowly shook his gigantic head. "S-sorry, Twilight, I… I'm fine, now, I think."
*I'll tell a story about an arrogant little pony who thought she was superior to fate. That she could command, allow, and deny the forces that guide all ponies as she saw fit!*
'I'll deal with you later,' The Nightmare thought. "So how much do you understand Twilight Sparkle? Oh right! I understand everything!" She said proudly at her self-self, "But what do you know about us Twilight Sparkle?"
"I understand that you helped us win half our fights. That you tried to make me kill Pinkie Pie and...and...and you led me to meet Apple Pie. Thank you for that."
"Everypony. I saw Discord's memories. And some of mine. This...this isn't the first time we've been here. This isn't the first time we've beaten Discord. Or even the second. Apple Pie...the first time I met you wasn't the first time."
"That there's a contradiction."
"No, Apple Pie. It's WORSE than a contradiction: it's a paradox! Everything that's happened, has happened before! There's been variations, great and small, but this whole world... we're all in a loop, aren't we?!"
"Not... quite. That sister of Discord's, Rancor... she was the first truly new being to come along. She inserted herself into this iteration."
Twilight consulted what she remembered of Discord's past. Yes... Rancor HADN'T been present in any other time loops, save this one. No wonder she'd been so quick to bail. "How many times HAS this loop happened?"
"Several, several, several times. Even I don't remember what it was like when we started anymore, other than the way Discord ruined our lives and everypony else's. I remember wondering if these were the lessons Celestia had intended for us to learn-"
"-and wondered why our coat was turning gray," Twilight breathed out.
Spike finally was the one who said it, "What do you MEAN she's 'your nightmare?' She's some dream spirit or something?!"
"No Spike, my Nightmare, capital 'N.' Like Nightmare Moon was to Princess Luna. My dark side."
"What a prejudiced thing to say. 'Dark side?' Is that how you speak about your past and future self? I am your ultimate evolution. We've cut away the excesses, purified ourselves, stripped away the dead weight, we've FREED OURSELVES. You'll free yourself! You'll realize we've given Princess Celestia a teacher's greatest joy, by surpassing her!"
Three ponies and one dragon gasped at the blasphemy.
"Not like this, not like this!" Twilight voice sounding pleading. Small. Ashamed.
*I am ashamed -for you!-*
The Nightmare laughed. Twilight recognized it as the friendly, playful short laugh she made when one of her classmates made silly assumptions. Or...Twilight had always thought it was friendly. "It's alright. You're still just a unicorn, don't worry, it'll all make sense once you break from fate's chains and take your destiny into your own hooves and show your free will."
"Hold on Twili', did Ah hear ya right? This ain't our first time doing all of this?"
"THINK Applejack! Everything Discord said, everything he did? The way he began acting? And what he said when Rancor stabbed him, 'Will this finally end it?' WHY would he say that? Discord is Discord, but we've learned his TYPES of nonsense and that isn't one of them! Discord isn't the type to admit when he's wrong, but he is the type to just drop something if it's boring him! If he wanted out of this game, he could have just teleported to Pluto unless something, or somepony was stopping him! Does he seem like the type who CARED about his toys enough to not just abandon them?"
"No...not at first, but the seaponies."
"Exactly! Something was very wrong with Discord, right form the start. There are a hundred explanations, but if I'm to hazard a guess, and from the memories I saw, I'd say we've all been, stuck in an endless loop haven't we?" Twilight looked at the Nightmare.
"It wasn't easy. Actually it just took the right knowledge and the right research. When we awoke to our true power, I realized Discord's punishment hadn't been in equal proportion to all the misery he's caused across eternity. And if nopony else was going to punish him, it fell to me."
"Six thousand nine hundred and thirty-four," Discord said in the most relaxed tone in all time and space before screaming his lungs out as he was electrocuted. He turned the page of his magazine.
"Six thousand nine hundred and thirty-five," he said in the same tone, this time he was dipped in lava, screamed, and turned the page of his magazine again.
"Bro, can you please pretend you're suffering here at least?" Anarchy pleaded.
"Sorry, after all the 'fun' I had with dear Nightmare Twilight, it's all kinda a drop in the bucket. It's more of an escape than anything. Six thousand nine hundred and thirty-six." Absolute zero and shattered. Turn the page of the magazine. "Did I tell you I was sorry for stealing your video game that one time? And breaking it? Then blaming it on Pandora?"
"Yeah, you did."
"Just making sure. Six thousand nine hundred and thirty-seven." Hit with anti-matter bomb. Turn the page. "How many more to go again?"
"Oh well. That's what's eternity is for. Six thousand nine hundred and thirty-eight." Incineration. Meh. Turn the page.
"Bro, you forgot to scream in agony that time."
"Did I? Sorry, seeing my daughter die more times than even the gods can count kinda numbed me to all other kinds of pain. Immolation by hellfire was Nightmare Eclipse's method of choice whenever she had to deal with me herself."
"Remind me to ask Pandora to help me write an apology letter to send to Venus for mocking how she took her boy's death when we're done, will yah?"
"I'm just glad Fluttercruel's out of that mess. Should I scream now?"
"Naw, not the same."
"Okay. Just making sure. Six thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine." Swarm of draconequus-eating beetles. "Did you send those flowers and apology cards to Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie?"
"Yeah, gave 'em to Strife, Strife gave 'em to Mortis, Mortis gave 'em to them, don't worry."
Discord did the crossword puzzle in pen. He had to thank Pandora for giving him every fantasy magazine ever written to pass the time. "Thanks. Six thousand nine hundred and forty."
When the soapbox appeared underneath the Nightmare, any doubts about this being Twilight's evil future self was laid to rest.
"When we became what we will become and have become, I did some exploring up and down the time-steam and the various branches that reality can take. I needed a way to truly punish Discord, not merely hurt him, a way to completely crush him.
"I learned. I discovered many things. When Discord was born to this world, he pushed forward the birth of the filly that mare would have given birth to otherwise over a thousand years. Since he made his mother 'immortal' with a seventh Element of Chaos, the Element of Despair. He was not a perfect substitute for his 'sister' in fate, but the filly's actions happened anyway when they did originally. This was an inconsistency in causality. That contradiction in time created a snarl in Fate that I was able to exploit. Shady The Second's delayed birth by a different father yet remaining the same created an even larger paradox.
"This would have resulted in Shady II's erasure as an impossibility, or being shoehorned in and backtracked by Rota Fortuna. But instead it left a distortion around Discord, as a being who was never meant to be born forcing himself into the world. And yet his actions were the reason for countless others. So he had to have existed. Same as his half-sister. Rota Fortuna, the Alicorn of Fate, (yes, we are many, Twilight Sparkle, same as the Draconequui) installed a crumble zone around those events so time and history could naturally heal and adjust.
"This never amounted to much, that is until I came along. You see, time distortions tend to...compound, so to speak. So when time is altered, that fact allows me to be a little...creative as to time's flow, and where it flows to. This provided me the tools. But not the knowledge. Eventually, I stumbled upon an astounding discovery! I was left in awe.
"A timeline where history as most ponies knew it went 'backwards.' I'm not saying ponies walked and talked in reverse, or rose from the dead then went inside their mothers. Oh no. It was something far more grander and fantastic from a temporal perspective.
"The Preclassical era, the three tribes, Discord, and Canterlot in that reality came first, then the innocent dream world of the forgotten 'Third Age', then that of the 'Golden Age' or 'Second Age' ponies, and finally the age of Myths with the Rainbow of Light, all happened in THAT order rather than the order we're used to. This timeline was perfect. I researched it forwards and backwards, or is that backwards and forwards? Tee-hee! Sorry. I also did some fun experiments!"
She sounded exactly like Twilight when she was happily explaining a new magic report or some new great scientific discovery that she just had to share with her friends whether they got it or not. She was practically rambling now, not caring if her audience was listening.
Spike, Rarity, and Applejack were having Ponyville flashbacks.
"My hooves were on fire (more so than usual) as I raced up and down it taking in every tiny detail! In that universe, AJ, you ended up immortal, but the rest of us didn't, and you had to watch all of us die of old age except Spike, oh, and Spike stayed a cute baby dragon. Forever."
"By copying its wiring, making several improvements and modifications of course, I was able to create an endless loop, history and events, and Discord trapped in an endless cycle. Of losing everything and watching the only person he cared about besides him die!" The cheerful 'science project' tone never left. That caused the heroes to shudder more than anything.
Then she tilted her head as if in an afterthought.
"Well, sometimes I only sent him back a few centuries, other times I skipped his consciousness forward to the middle. You know, I still get a kick out of making him experience his last few seconds of being hit by the Elements for centuries by sending him back just a little bit until his mind goes numb. Or the last breath escaping Fluttercruel's lungs. Isn't it great, girls?!" She repeatedly clapped her front hooves.
The ponies all stared at her open mouthed and eyes wide in disbelief.
"Oh come on! It's Discord! You know it's nothing more than he deserves! Over and over and over! And just think! With all my research! I'll soon have the entire system cracked! Then I'll be able to create an entire WORLD, naw, A UNIVERSE, free of fate! Isn't it totally radical?"
Rarity cringed at the misuse of Rainbow-Dashese. She answered in a deadpan tone. "Well, if you want my honest opinion, Nightmare...what do we call you?"
"Oh! I've had several names Rarity! My proto-form when I first awoke was 'Nightmare Purgatory, the Most Vengeful Friend.' But I evolved past that! I really liked the way 'Nightmare Dusk' sounded but ultimately I decided that 'dusk' implies an ending and Discord's suffering will never end. So I figured, since I've eclipsed Princess Celestia and Princess Luna and Discord, and the entire world with how much I've learned, why not just call me Nightmare Eclipse? The All Knowing Tragedy! I mean Triumph!" The Nightmare smiled awkwardly.
"Ah'd go with Nightmare 'Paradox' mahself," Apple Pie suggested. "The-Query-Most-Contrary!"
"Well, no one asked you," Nightmare Paradox huffed.
"Anyway, regarding your 'world free of fate,'" Rarity continued, "Sounds more to me like 'a world of no consequences.' Rather Discordian, when you get right down to..." Twilight created a shield, Spike shielded Rarity with his body, Derpy created a short wind gust. A vaporization spell from Rarity destroyed the flaming, spiked chains that had erupted from the ground like snakes trying to ravage at her.
"DON'T YOU EVER COMPARE ME WITH THAT DEVIL! NEVER-EVER-EVER. YOUR BRAIN SHALL SHRINK TWO SIZES EVERY TIME YOU---...ahem, that was very very very very very very rude Rarity."
"And trying to maim somepony you're talking to isn't?"
"Oh, you'll forgive me that, though, won't you girls?" Nightmare Paradox cooed, so unctuous and syrupy that it immediately set all their teeth on edge. "Of course you do! What else WOULD you do? I could vivisect your body, brain, and soul reconstitute you, and repeat, for an entire epoch... and when that epoch was done, I'd only need a few tears, a flash of the sad-puppy eyes, maybe a few lines of sympathetic backstory, and poof! Hatchets buried. Smiles all around. No apology necessary! That's the kind of wonderful friends you girls are!"
They all glared at her: incredulous and insulted.
"Huh? What's with those looks? It's not like you have a purpose anymore anyway." The Nightmare shrugged. "With Discord gone, this world has no purpose. Time to reset! Commendable work, all of you, but now it's over. Thank you for helping."
She spoke like it was the end of a school play.
"Just as soon as my
"Meaning what?" Twilight asked.
"Meaning we're reseting the world for the next go-round, to help along creating a truly flawless world." The Nightmare smiled friendlily at the purple unicorn.
"You and Discord are both wrong," Twilight said.
"Huh-?!" The Nightmare's voice echoed like a record out of sync.
"A sincere apology means a bucking lot! It can show you're willing to change! It can show that you recognize your own faults! So you can grow better than them! And an apology was necessary for my friends to move on! It freed them! And I think it freed Discord in a way your tortures could never take away!"
Rarity said, "Punishments are needed yes! But they certainly aren't done in the name of the personal satisfaction of the wronged! They're done to prevent those wrongs from ever being repeated!"
"HOLD ON!" Derpy flew over the group and facing the Nightmare directly. "Me and the Doctor faced paradoxes all the time! He said they were bad things that he helped fix! He'd have fixed this!"
"Oh, he did!" The Nightmare nodded, smiling. "Or at least... he TRIED to, bless him."
Nightmare Paradox ruffled Derpy's mane with a smile. "Derpy, you'll be pleased to learn that The Doctor completely overcame that awful Valeyard persona. He's was back to his old galaxy-wandering, world-rescuing self."
"He is? Yay!" Derpy gave a happy little twirl.
"His immediate plan of action, was to go back in time to stop me, because, well, you know The Doctor, he thinks all Alicorns who so as much think about actually asserting their authority should be stripped of all power and banished to the void between realities for eternity. Didn't work out though."
Derpy's smile vanished.
"The Doctor might well have succeeded... except he first decided to make a pit stop to pick up some companions. Didn't want to go making the same 'lone wolf' mistake he'd made as The Valeyard, after all! But he forgot, we ALREADY beat him once, in his Valeyard form, and remember we listened to you Derpy, list every single one of his weaknesses, shortcomings, blind spots, not to mention some of the extra defects in the TARDIS!"
Derpy's face went blank. She felt sick.
"I just needed to whip up a Dalek Empire TARDIS defense shield disruptor, invent a sonic-screwdriver nullifier, memorize every galactic and temporal law book in existence, and buy several cartloads of pears! Oh, and rent a Dahaka. Those poor companions of his. But he still put up quite a fight when he caught up with us! Thank goodness I've read more books on Hoof-Wresting than him."
Tears pooled in Derpy's eyes.
"Awww... what's with the weepy face, Derpy? Cheer up! I let em go with a scuff on the ear and a pat on the head, after I made him write a letter of apology and him promising never to do it again and a good spanking. Then we turned him into a little foal with a special fob-watch in a basket sucking his own hoof. And left him on the doorstep of a warmhearted infertile couple who wanted a baby. Now he gets the normal life he always wanted!" The Nightmare cheered happily.
"Normal life?" Derpy repeated.
"Yes! Don't get me wrong, I mean, I have every respect for the stallion's tireless efforts to preserve the integrity of the space-time continuum and fight evil... but all that TRAVEL! Learn to stop and smell the roses every now and then! It might do your sanity some good! Took forever for my friends to teach me that lesson."
Derpy Hooves felt dizzy, her legs didn't seem to want to work right, she began to waddle drunkenly, Applejack caught her. "It's okay Derpy, it's okay."
"We saved 'im from bein' the Valeyard, that's what counts. And it doesn't sound like she put 'im in anything he can't get out of later. Maybe it's best he sit this one out, with a loving pair of parents."
"Oh, oh okay…yeah, you're right."
"Nightmare Eclipse, Paradox, whatever! If you're really Twilight, how can you really be, really be, really be behind..." Spike couldn't put it into words. "All this?"
"Oh, Spike! That's easy! Because Discord needs to be punished, and punished, and punished, and punished." She spoke the last part with a dark echo.
Applejack said, "Twilight! If that's really ya! Makin' us go through Discord again and again?! Don't ya see yer hurtin' every pony in Equestria?"
"Don't be silly Applejack! Discord hurts them." The Nightmare nodded sagely, "And I punish him for hurting them. Simple as that," she said proud of having summed it up so perfectly.
AJ shed tears.
"I have nothing to say to you, since there is only way this exchange can conclude," Rarity said simply.
"Indeed! With myself growing up and becoming me!" That warm smile was getting scary.
Twilight stayed silent for several seconds then spoke. "How long has Discord been enduring this?"
"It's genuinely hard to say now. I suppose if you were to lay the iterations end-to-end... it'd total a few hundred million years."
Hearts skipped a beat.
"But mostly I keep his optimized actions in place and skip him to parts that involve his punishment, or push him back to earlier parts, or later part, or have him repeat them, make him feel as helpless and unable to make a right choice like he does everypony else."
"Does he really love Fluttercruel?"
"In all fairness, I'd have to say that she's one of his last remaining reasons for not completely withdrawing emotionally. Sleepwalking through life. Becoming the evil overlord version of Twilight Tragedy. Discor-gedy. Hee hee hee!!! He has this crazy notion that he's somehow going to outfox me, one of these iterations, so that she'll survive even if he dies. Like I'd let his nearest and dearest survive, when he's killed everypony else's loved ones!"
"Is it really true that Rancor didn't exist in any of the previous loops?" Spike asked.
"Yes, that's true."
"So the spirit world exists separately from this world?" Twilight asked.
"Relatively separate. Time doesn't exist, at least by the unicorn definition of the word, in the spiritual reality."
"Assuming things DO reset... will she appear in later loops?"
"Maybe, myself. I don't have enough information. My data suggests about a 60% plus chance. Normally traveling along a timeline changes nothing, since you're traveling to your own past, so that future is in fact your actual present you came from, and the present you are in is your actual past, which can not be changed since you cannot change your own past."
"BUT if something NEW is introduced to a timeline, from the outside, it DOES create ripples and it DOES alter the timeline. But once it enters, it becomes a PART of that timeline, and cannot enact FURTHER changes."
"She knows me from the future, though." Twilight whispered. "Apparently, I'm to give her a ribbon. Does that mean you fail, Nightmare? I have a hard time seeing such a vindictive girl like you handing out ribbons."
Nightmare Paradox created the ribbon out of thin air. "Stop thinking of me as the 'bad guy' already! It's embarrassing." She let out a breath. "Fine, I'll spoil the surprise: after you evolve, you DO give Rancor this ribbon for shattering Fluttercruel's image of family, thus causing her pain. And if that doesn't satisfy you..."
"Consider this: one of her concepts is REVENGE little me, which I've been dishing out to Discord as a full course banquet! Yes, she's an impulsive disrespectful idiot. But so was Rainbow Dash, and that didn't stop us from making friends with her!"
*She's right, Twilight. Rancor's ribbon won't prove anything about how this... discussion... will resolve itself.*
"Why did Discord stare at a test pattern on his TV for ten years?"
"I sent him forward in time and tried a new 'split-screen' effect where he got to experience his daughter dying and being hit by the Elements at the same time even though they happened hours apart. After a couple hundred years of experiencing those few seconds he stopped responding at all, even his neurons stopped firing, so I dumped him there to recover...a few times." The Nightmare gave a socially awkward look, "Erm, you're all not starting to feel SORRY for Discord now are you?"
They shook their heads. AJ politely lied. Nobody noticed Rarity didn't nod or shake her head.
"Good! Just checking! I mean, those stories where someone does horrible things, then someone comes along and does WORSE THINGS to them and then others suddenly go 'Aw, Poor Wrongdoer?' Pst. You throw a 'Getting Their Just Desserts Party' as Pinkie Pie would say!"
They all nodded politely. Applejack and Rarity both felt sick to their stomachs.
"Discord said he was trapped 'in bounds', what about when he visited the Emperor of those monkey aliens?" AJ asked.
"That was left over from the first cycle. I let that happen, because it caused him SUCH SWEET MISERY EVERY TIME he got so confused over doing something nice!"
Twilight asked, "And forty-nine years ago, at Hearth Warming's Eve, when he made himself and us all foals for one year, with Pinkie Pie and Fluttercruel back further into diapers. We were, all of us, all FRIENDS for that one year. How many cycles ago did that 'first' occur?"
"Oh that? I've been meaning to tape over that part. But he's been trying so many of his fake 'good deeds' I've been busy. I've had to hold his hand and assume direct control of him to keep him on track. I hated doing that."
Twilight didn't want to hear that. Applejack's eyes widened. Derpy let out a growl. Apple Pie gasped. Spike's face fell.
"You do realize technically, darling, that suffering for suffering has no value?" Rarity asked cautiously.
"Why do you think I let him have his family outing with Fluttercruel? It's only with the greatest joy, like being a parent, can one experience the truest of suffering! Why this one cycle I let everything go his way till the very, VERY end when I swooped in and took everything from him at the last possible second! The look on his face was priceless!" She grinned, teeth becoming sharp and sadistic glee crossing her face before going back to an expression that would have looked right at home on the face of Ponyville's last librarian of Golden Oaks.
"So we're clear," Rarity said keeping her voice calm and restrained, "The last thousand years, has been a patchwork of previous timelines, so Discord continued to play the role of villain you assigned him, and Twilight reached the ending you choose for her?"
"And all of you continue to properly play your parts of course. Can't have you coming to your senses too early Rarigreed."
"Ah've gotta question fer ya Miss Paradox," Apple Pie spoke.
"It's 'Miss Eclipse,' and yes?"
"Please...how many times did ya just let Poison Apple die?"
"Yah…yah don't even know?"
"Silly pony, I don't pay attention to the unimportant NPCs. That's what notebooks are for! He was your coltfriend right?"
Apple Pie's jaw hung open.
"I've got a better question," Twilight said firmly, "Since Apple Pie is more of a 'major character' to you, you should be able to answer this: how many times did you allow Apple Pie to be murdered, you fat-headed nag?!"
"...As many times as it took," was the emotionless answer.
"How can you do that to ponies?!! To my, no, to OUR friends?!"
"These things are not our friends. They're not people. They're mistakes and distortions caused by Discord. Specifically, our failure to beat him in the hedge maze, way back when. I'm bringing balance to the universe. You know? Harmony? Discord make countless ponies suffer unspeakably, so I'm just making him suffer unspeakably countless times. Tick for tock."
Rarity spoke, six pastel lights glowing from within. "Balance is not a universal force. It is not the final say in all things. Balance between work and play, dreaming and doing, is not the same as the balance between, war and peace, ponies who are murdered and those who aren't. These things do NOT have a 'balance' to them.
"It is no more a universal law than, say...free will. That is the cruel truth of the magic of shaping your own life and reaching for what you desire, even though it angers us to hear it. There is no 'right to choose to murder somepony.' No 'right to choose to rob somepony.' These are not choices, these are wrongs! What's more: monsters do not need to exist for there to be saints... life is... life is enough of a struggle, enough of a heroic endeavor, with or without villains!
"To say something is about 'balance' is no more a free-ticket than saying it's about 'choice' 'free will' or 'nature's intention!' Otherwise, we risk loosing sight of what it is we're actually struggling for! Like you."
"Rarity," Twilight said slowly like a foal poking a dragon.
"I'm sorry Twilight."
"Myself, it's time for you to become a butterfly."
"Discord's been punished enough! Protecting the good is more important than punishing the wicked!" Twilight shouted.
"I'm doing both! I think I need to get you away from some corruptive influences. I'll save you from these illusions Twilight Sparkle."
There was a flash of light from Nightmare Paradox's horn. And everything changed.
=Necron's theme FFIX=
Everything was red. Twilight was alone before her Nightmare. They were in a blast landscape, like at ground zero of a Mana-Source-Crystal-Shatter Bomb. The sky was simply red clouds, like crimson cloth floating in dark soup. The land was a vague bowl shape. At the edge of the crater, draconequus skulls and pegasus bones were arranged in precise and organized patterns. Nothing grew. No structures. No buildings. Even the dust was minimal and fell in an orderly mechanical fashion.
Twilight was feeling hotter and hotter by the moment. The air itself was beginning to choke her. Then why was the ground she stood on feel so frigidly cold?
"There. Away from those fake versions of our friends who were confusing you and leading you astray. Once we're one, you'll get to have a say in this place, just like our real friends do. You have to realize nothing in this world is real, except for us, and Discord. There's nopony else here, only we're real.
"You becoming Nightmare Eclipse is perfectly natural. It's not something to be scared of. Just let it happen. Remember how sincerely you hate Discord. How he's less than dirt. He's a disease, not a being. An infection.
"And you've got to realize. These ponies aren't our friends. They act nothing like our friends. Therefore, they are not our friends. Simple logic and reason.
"THINK about it, Twilight. Those companions of yours are unfit distortions of the true Elements of Harmony. Mannequins. Not real. Movie props. Even after curing their hearts of Discord's filth, they didn't ACT like their old selves. Isn't that proof enough? It's just ourselves, now, Twilight. Nothing to corrupt your thinking."
Twilight stared back at Nightmare Paradox.
"Even so... even if I, alone, am real... there's still one thing preventing me from unifying with you. A simple virtue you've clearly forgotten. And I'm so ashamed of the fact. I only hope Celestia can forgive us both."
"What virtue is that?"
"The one thing I'd say you hate more than anything in the world, Nightmare Paradox: forgiveness."
The Nightmare rolled her eyes. "Hate it?' HA! That's like saying I hate rolling around in my own filth!"
She suddenly let out a frustrated scream and took several deep breaths. "'Better living through forgiveness!' Who believes such meaningless tripe?! Do you have ANY IDEA what it's been LIKE for me this whole while? Having to be tethered to all you insipid, softhearted, jejune, dewy-eyed, holier-than-thou apologists? Let me ask, Twilight: what WON'T you forgive?! Judges pass life sentences on criminals for a REASON, you know!"
"And there's a bucking reason Princess Celestia outlawed torture as punishment!"
"Just how outrageously evil must a sinner be for your compassion to finally run out?!"
"Forgiveness isn't about making excuses for what others have done! YES THERE'S EVIL IN THE WORLD! Discord made mountains of it! But Punishment has no intrinsic value. If it doesn't reform or discourage criminals, or remove them as a threat to others, then it's doesn't solve anything! And it doesn't make the hurt pony feel better, because that hate doesn't go away if you DO AS IT SAYS! You have to let it go!" Twilight snarled. She stood proud on her soap box.
"I'm beginning to think our quest might as well have been led by APPLE PIE, since she can't even see the real world!"
The world shattered to the sound of breaking glass like six canon balls had been fired through it. Gone were the red clouds, gone was the empty landscape of death. They were still on top of the castle. The normal world was back. The world she and her friends had sacrificed and fought so hard to make it this far. The world she knew wasn't beyond hope.
"GOT THROUGH!" Rarity's voice shouted.
Rarity glowed with six pastel colors and symbols from within, her face cycling through anger, viciousness, avarice, gentleness, resolve, and understanding.
AJ and Spike caught her as her back legs gave out. They were still on top of the castle. They had ALL been right by her side the entire time. "Six Chaos Elements Trump Nightmare Pocket Universe!"
Derpy zoomed in and brought Twilight back close to her friends away from the Nightmare.
The Nightmare roared, echoing. "This was supposed to be between us alone! A symbolic match of the minds between the deluded shadow and the enlightened self!"
"Whose life have ya been livin'? We're a herd. We don't do solo," AJ told her.
Apple Pie yelled at the top of her lungs, "YOU! AH'M NOT LETTING YA MURDER MAGICA AND POISON APPLE -TWICE!-"
"You can't murder something that isn't alive, and you, child, will suck it up and take it with a smile, just like your rock farming family taught you to!"
"So the automatic forgiveness dispenser finally declares the 'final villain' a monster huh? How cliche."
Apple Pie took several deep breaths to calm down. "Yeah, yer a monster, but Ah never said bein' a monster and bein' irredeemable were the same thing! If yer really Half-Light, then Ah know there's gotta be REAL good, inside ya!"
"Of course there's good inside of me! I'm real! There's nothing inside you. ANY of you!" The Nightmare looked at Twilight eye to eye.
"Myself, you've fooled yourself into being attached to these fakes. These distortions and robots whose every action is scripted for the sole purpose to bring maximum humiliation and misery to Discord. Nothing else.
"Applejack is a coarse, rough and tumble apple farmer. She has the world's worst poker face and breaks down even from a lie of omission. She isn't afraid to get her hooves dirty in any sense of the word. She doesn't have a 'refined lady' on the inside she tries to hide! She's the Element of Honesty, not Kindness! And CERTAINLY not the Element of Deceit!
"Rarity is allergic to mud, unless it's imported. She's a dressmaker, a business mare, a socialite. She puts as much effort into her appearance as we do into organizing our books! She loves diamonds and beauty and is phobic of anything disgusting! She doesn't roll around in the dirt with rocks! She doesn't think cleaning up between brawls is a waste of time! She is Generous! NOT shamelessly GREEDY! She knows manners are about saying one thing and meaning another, she doesn't embrace cruel truths!
"Spike is supposed to be a BABY dragon! HE DOES NOT HAVE AN ELEMENT OF HARMONY! He certainly isn't -Generosity-! He's a -dragon!- Greed is in his blood that he constantly struggles to keep a lid on! He's supposed to be 'Yes, Twilight,' 'Of course, Twilight,' no matter how much he grumbles behind our backs he obeys like a good number one assistant! And he's supposed to be a pony in dragon skin, NOT PROUD TO BE A DRAGON! And though he has a crush on her, Rarity and Spike ARE NOT TOGETHER!! Wake up!
"Derpy Hooves isn't supposed to be a teammate! She isn't an Element of Harmony! Let alone Loyalty! She's a background pony! She doesn't fight, she delivers mail ineptly! She isn't supposed to have any meaningful effect on your life or those of your friends! She isn't supposed to be sad or serious! Your not even supposed to have her as a close friend. She doesn't HAVE a personality beyond her love of muffins, having freaky eyes and her foals that probably aren't even hers!"
"And there IS NO pony named Apple Pie! There's certainly no prepubescent filly who carries the Element of Laughter! Let alone one whose from the Apple and Pie families together! And have you noticed how she doesn't get on anypony's nerves except the bad guys? Isn't that 'too perfect?' SHE DOESN'T EXIST!!! How can she?! Now look at them each Twilight! And see them for the cheap automatons they are! We control this funhouse we've trapped Discord in. These are just the props."
Twilight looked into the faces of each of her friends and said simply. "You're right."
"Half-Light!" Apple Pie said like someone just stabbed her in the heart.
"They are different! Because they've become different! Just like us! I've ACCEPTED that my old friends aren't the same. If I hadn't, then the Elements wouldn't work! I've grown to love them for it! And I've got new friends on top of it!"
"And Apple Pie?"
"On a quest this black, we need as much lightheartedness as we can muster!
Of ALL ponies a version of me should be the LAST pony accusing a pony of being 'too perfect.' I remember thinking about that in the maze, the same as you do. But you know what? I'm not and neither is Apple Pie! Would a 'perfect' pony have fallen for the Valeyard's trick? Or BELIEVED him in the first place? If Apple Pie were perfect, she'd have either burned the comic on sight or just blew it off. She wouldn't have NEEDED Derpy to pull her out of the depression it put her in! If she were 'perfect' would Rancor have been able to ambush her and slice her flank open?
"I'm sorry to say, but she's naive, she takes everything at face value, she sometimes overestimates her own abilities, she thought the heroes always win. That's helped us, but I'd be blind to say they hadn't hurt her too!"
Apple Pie lowered her head.
"She's got flaws...And you know what? I don EXPECT her to be a picture perfect pony! I love her as my friend despite, in spite of them! LIKE ALL MY FRIENDS! And like they're MY friends in spite of my flaws!"
Twilight hugged her happily. Apple Pie felt surprised and hugged Twilight back happily, the two looked boldly at the nightmare together.
"And I'm proud to say she's grown past some of them! She knows she can't write a check her legs can't cash anymore, she wants to MAKE her happy ending happen instead of just expecting it. Like our friends have always helped us with our flaws." Twilight gave her a smile and got a smile then back at her Nightmare, "You and I... we really are stubborn and narrow-minded."
"I'm not narrow-minded! I'm realistic!"
"It's realistic to refuse to accept any outcome except the one YOU want? Let me ask you one thing, if my friends were robots, if that's all they are, How did Derpy become the Element of Loyalty? That completely took you off-guard! If they were just robots, how are they DEFYING YOU?! Robots would lay down and die when you said 'lay down and die!' And why am I not wanting to throw everything away for revenge? Face it, even with you scheduling and check-listing the lives of everypony like they were inventory, you still don't know as much as you think you do!"
"Surprises happen! You're just lost in the fog, you'll come to your senses in a minute when you become me."
"Become you? I didn't kill Rainbow Dash! Fluttershy's soul is safe. And I didn't murder Pinkie Pie! Celestia and Luna are alive. I have more important things to do with my life than spend all eternity making Discord miserable!"
"Like what?!" Nightmare Paradox sneered.
"Lots of things! Date! Develop new friendships! Be with Celestia! Marry and start a family, maybe. Explore new hobbies! Read! Research! Conduct experiments! Watch movies! Discover a few new elements on the periodic table and name them after myself! Help our parents! The world is my oyster! You've grown so narrow-minded, you've forgotten lessons! Like Pinkie's Pinkie Sense!"
A cross shaped vein bulged on the side of the Nightmare's head. "You…you…you did NOT JUST GO THERE!" Her flaming mane flared.
"So being different equals being fake? Alright, let's look at it YOUR way. Twilight Sparkle is supposed to be a stubborn, somewhat antisocial bookworm unicorn who loves her friends more than ANYTHING and would do anything FOR them…and has a mild case of OCD. She is NOT a vengeance crazed mass murderer who cares more about punishing a villain who's ALREADY BEATEN than spending time with her friends and who would MURDER those friends several million times over to do it. By your own logic, YOU aren't real."
"…You REALLY shouldn't be," Rarity couldn't help muttering under her breath at the Nightmare.
"I never said I was perfect, I have some flaws. It's like you said, that doesn't automatically make me the bad guy, does it? I've learned to live for each cycle, living each moment to its fullest! Not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past! And deleting NPCs is not murder, you need professional help myself. And I spend plenty of time with my friends. But you're having to let go of imaginary friends so they'll forgive you for that one. But you'll be all better soon. So I'm not mad. I know we have a bit of a temper, but it's nothing to be ashamed about, so don't beat yourself up over it," The Nightmare said in a helpful 'we can do this team' tone.
Twilight felt the urge to pound her head against the floor. She couldn't tell if Paradox was mocking her…or worse, they were just THAT similar.
"Let us help ya! Remember Nightmare Moon?! She was crazy too! If ya can't see it can't ya trust yerself and yer friends to know you're not well!?" AJ pleaded.
"YOU'RE THE ONE WHOSE LOST HER MIND Twilight! Everything in this world is nothing but shadows of a lie of a fantasy. You're not being rational! Spike! Restrain her!"
"Spike, I'm warning you!"
"I'll have you know I am NOT a robot, or a distortion, or any of those other things. And I need to be loyal to the real Twilight."
The Nightmare's eyes became pinpricks.
Minty looked up at the ceiling as the entire castle shook. "Bad baby dragon!"
"No way, Twilight, then everything I saw in that silver pool really was..." Minty wiped away tears. "Twilight, I'm coming! I won't run away!"