It all happened very fast.
Princess Luna—or Nightmare Moon, rather—rose on her hindlegs, stared Twilight down with her pitch-black eyes, and then slammed her hooves on the floor, a pulse of magic discharging from her whole form.
“Princess Luna!” Twilight begged to no avail. “Please!”
Her pleas went unheard as the magic swallowed her, brusquely ejecting her from the dream and back to reality.
She opened her eyes with a start and found herself back in the workshop. The entire place was eerily quiet, and for a moment, she wondered if she’d been dreaming. If maybe it had all been some sort of nightmare.
But it hadn’t been.
Somewhere out there, Princess Luna had just gone mad with grief, and pain, and chaos magic.
Panic flooded her.
She ran towards the door, stopping when a thundering explosion boomed in the distance, followed by an earthquake toppling her down to the floor. The bookcases, the desk, tables, anything that wasn’t nailed down swayed back and forth, objects falling and shattering.
Rarity burst into the room moments later, followed in short order by Pinkie and Incantation as the quaking slowed to a stop.
“Are you all right?!” Rarity asked, rushing to help Twilight up and looking her over.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Twilight reassured, similarly inspecting Rarity for harm. “Are you all right?”
Before Rarity could reply, Pinkie rushed to Twilight and grabbed her by the shoulders.
“What about Princess Luna? Is Princess Luna fine? Princess Twilight?!” she asked, shaking Twilight like a maraca. “Princess Twilight, is she fine? Is she? Princess Twilight—!”
“Pinkie, please!” Twilight yelped.
Contrite, the mare immediately backed away. “…Sorry.”
“Thanks, I’m fine, too,” Ink said, and at Rarity’s frown, she cleared her throat. “Also, uhm, what was that all about?”
Twilight took a moment to compose herself before replying.
“It’s Princess Luna,” she said, gravely. “The chaos magic got to her, and now—”
A loud beating sound interrupted her, seemingly coming from all over and then turning into a distant hum. It was followed in short order by navy-blue—almost black—magic flooding the room, enveloping everything and everyone one in it.
“What’s happening now?” Rarity asked, practically glued to Twilight, all four petrified by fear as they waited for the magic surrounding them to do something.
“I-I don’t know,” Twilight said, helplessly.
“What do we do?” Pinkie asked.
“No one move!” Twilight ordered. “Just wait.”
They waited and waited, and then, just as fast as it had come, the magic abruptly vanished and everything remained as it was, the distant humming disappearing as well. They stayed fixed in place, waiting a moment before Pinkie broke the silence.
“What did it do?” Pinkie whispered, loudly.
Twilight frowned. “…Nothing? I think?”
She hesitantly waved her hoof in the air, and when this triggered nothing, she relaxed.
“I think it’s safe to move,” she declared, and then headed out of the room, anxious to see if any other part of the Dreamland had changed. “Come on!”
“But Twilight! What happened?! What was that earthquake?!” Rarity asked, rushing after her.
Pinkie followed after them, Ink on her trail. “What happened with Princess Luna?!”
“I told you!” Twilight stopped at the lobby and turned back towards Rarity. “She found out about everything, and then I told her she’s probably powering the chaos magic, and… You were right, Rarity. She wasn’t ready to deal with it, and then the chaos magic inside wherever she was got to her, and then she completely lost it.”
“What’d you mean she completely lost it?” Incantation asked.
Pinkie’s eyes widened. “She went bad? Like you did?”
Twilight let out a breath. “Yes. I think so.”
“But—! But, Twilight, that means she’s isolated herself!” Rarity exclaimed, flabbergasted. “How are we going to find her?! It was already a needle in a haystack when we could only talk to her in dreams, now it’ll be practically impossible! Stars knows where she is!”
Twilight shook her head. “No! No, don’t you remember? Isolating myself wasn’t the chaos magic’s choice, it was mine. And Princess Luna has felt overlooked her entire life.” She gestured all over. “This. The earthquake, the sound, the magic everywhere. This isn’t somepony trying to hide herself away. Whatever she does, she’ll make sure we see it.”
Frantic knocks at the door interrupted her, and they turned around to find Rainbow Dash standing outside the crystal doors.
“Hey! Open up!” she called, slamming her hoof on the glass repeatedly. “Come ON!”
Rarity frowned, walking to the door. “Rainbow Dash, stop that! You’ll break it!” she scolded, opening the door with her magic and yelping when Rainbow pushed past her. “Rainbow!”
The pegasus went straight for Twilight, grabbing her and practically dragging her towards the door.
“Come on, come on! We have to go!”
“Go where? Wait, Rainbow!” Twilight protested, trying to stop her. Eventually, she used her magic and forcibly floated her off. “Stop! Go where?!”
“Outside!” Rainbow exclaimed, gesturing towards the door. “Spike is stuck on the other side of the barrier, and I can’t bust it open!”
“Spike is trapped?” Twilight asked, her sudden panic similarly shared by Rarity.
“On the other side of ‘the barrier’? What barrier?”
Rainbow rushed forward and pulled on Twilight again. “Come on! Just go look for yourself!”
“Okay, okay!” Twilight turned to Rarity, Ink, and Pinkie. “Stay here, in case anypony else comes.”
“Wait, darling!” Rarity grabbed Twilight, for the briefest of moments, and then immediately let go. “…Please be careful.” She placed a hoof over her necklace. “Call me if you need me.”
Twilight nodded. “I will. I promise.”
She followed Rainbow Dash outside, and the first thing she saw was nothing at all.
She was used to the forest town being somewhat dark, considering it was a forest town, but this was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. It was like she’d stepped out of the Dreamland and into a cave, only able to see the distant lights of houses and torches.
“Princess, come on!”
With the help of an illumination spell, Twilight saw Rainbow hovering several feet above her. She quickly took flight and followed Rainbow up past the trees and above the forest. Her dread soon turned into full-blown alarm, however, at the sight of a massive, dome-like magic barrier completely encasing Hollow Shades and the surrounding forest, light barely filtering in.
“Oh no, no, no, no.”
She flew past Dash and made a beeline towards the barrier, increasing her illumination spell in the process. The dome crackled with life before her very eyes, bursting with alicorn and chaos magic combined, creating a barrier that she was unfortunately intimately familiar with.
Just like she had hundreds of times in the past thousand years, Twilight reached out to the barrier with her hoof and quickly flew back with a wince when it repelled her.
This was bad. This was really, really bad, and it wasn’t just because this was dredging up really bad memories, but because she was trapped.
“See?!” Rainbow flew up to her, giving Twilight something to focus on as she did some breathing exercises to calm her nerves. “Spike and I were chilling by Foal Mountain, and then there was this huge sound, and then this earthquake came out of nowhere! Spike was like, ‘what was that?!’ and I was like, ‘I’ll go see!’ and so I flew ahead, and then this—” She banged on the barrier. “—thing appeared out of freaking nowhere!”
“It didn’t appear out of nowhere,” Twilight said, managing to compose herself long enough to examine the barrier again. “Princess Luna made this.”
Rainbow frowned. “Princess Luna? What? Because of the thing with that foal? Did she go crazy and get all possessed like you did and mess things up?”
Twilight’s face burned. “Something like that.”
“…But that’s good, right? Not the Princess Luna going crazy part,” Rainbow clarified at Twilight’s pointed stare. “But, like, you already went through this, Princess! You got rid of the barrier in the library, so you can totally get rid of this one! Right?!”
Twilight shook her head, turning back to the barrier. “No, Dash. The only reason I could remove mine is because it was my magic powering it, but this is Luna’s. If Princess Luna doesn’t stop it herself, then…”
She looked at Rainbow, somber.
“…We’re trapped here. All of us.”
“Trapped here?! Are you serious?!” Rainbow slammed herself against the barrier, trying to break it. “No! We can’t be trapped here! I’m not staying here, what, two years?! Three?! Princess, we can’t do that!”
“We won’t,” Twilight said before flying off towards the forest below. “Come on. Let’s go back to the Dreamland. I don’t want to worry Rarity and the others.”
Despite the oppressive darkness, Luna’s Dreamland stood out in the distance. Light filtered out from every window, but none cut the dark as strongly as the one coming from the upper tower, shining out of the stained-glass window depicting Princess Luna. In a sad sort of way, some form of Princess Luna was quite literally guiding them home.
When they approached, she saw Rarity and the others had ventured outside.
“Twilight!” Rarity called, flagging her down. When they landed, she rushed to them. “Oh, thank goodness, you’re all right. You took so long! What happened?”
Twilight briefly explained the situation to her friends, and when she was done answering their shocked questions, which was hard considering she didn’t know much herself, she asked a question of her own.
“Why are you all outside? We don’t know if it’s safe.”
Rarity looked taken aback. “We heard the yelling, so we came to see what it was. We thought it was you two!”
Twilight and Rainbow looked at each other, confused.
Pinkie nodded. “Yeah! Didn’t you hear it? We were waiting for you girls, and then we heard somepony yelling outside, so we came out to see!” She gestured towards the distant houses. “Over there!”
Twilight looked back towards the darkness, her stomach twisting. “I…. I didn’t hear any yelling… Did you, Rainbow?”
“No, I didn’t hear anything, either.”
“Something’s wrong,” Rarity said, intensifying her hornlight. She stepped forward and called out. “Hello?! Is somepony there?!”
“Rarity!” Twilight yelped. “You don’t know if it’s safe!”
“And you don’t know if somepony’s in danger,” she replied, stern. “We have you. They have nopony.” When Twilight backed down, she called out again. “Hello?!”
Silence replied, all five staring out into the darkness until finally something changed. A faint cluster of lights appeared in the distance, slowly moving towards them.
Rainbow flew up, trying to get a better vantage. “What is that?”
“Everypony!” Twilight commanded, her horn crackling with magic and her wings extending as she stepped forward. “Stay behind me!”
The cluster continued to slowly move forward, Twilight ready to jump into action if needed. It moved and moved until finally it began to have a defined shape and revealed itself not to be a single moving thing, but several smaller ones.
Several small foals, to be exact, huddled around three older unicorn foals, their horns providing a meager guiding light.
“My stars! It’s the foals!” Rarity gasped, pushing past Twilight, instantly alarmed. “Children?!”
“What the heck are they doing outside?” Rainbow looked around, trying to find more ponies. “Where are their parents?”
As soon as she called back again, their gasps filled the air and they stampeded towards them, the younger ones launching themselves at the adults and breaking into full-blown distraught sobs.
“Sundust!” one of the older fillies said, turning to a unicorn colt. “Get the others! Tell them Princess Twilight and all the adults at the Dreamland are awake!”
“Awake? Why wouldn’t we be awake?” Rainbow asked, carrying a crying filly in her forelegs. “Who could even sleep through that earthquake?”
Rarity was practically lying on the floor, three fillies huddled against her. “Darlings, darlings, you’re safe.”
“Kids, what happened?” Twilight asked. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s our parents,” the older filly said, her voice cracking. “And—And my big brother and my big sister, and the adults…”
“They’re having nightmares!” a colt exclaimed, clutching onto Pinkie. “And I tried waking mommy up, but she won’t, and she was crying, and it’s so dark outside, and—and—” He dissolved into hysterics that were muffled when Pinkie picked him up.
“But you’re fine!” the older filly exclaimed, hopeful. “You can help them, right…?” And then, much like the rest, she dissolved into tears as well, crying for her mom as Incantation scooped her up.
Twilight’s heart constricted itself in her chest. She turned to Rarity, at a loss.
“…What are we going to do?”
Rarity took a deep breath, getting up and cradling one of the foals. “I suppose we shall have to do as I told you, darling. We’ll have to survive this, too.”
“Hnng… No… Please! Stay away from me! Please…”
Inside a fully-lit room, a sleeping Feather Blade tossed and turned in her bed, painfully murmuring and pleading, suffering while everypony watched. Gathered around her bed, Applejack and a decidedly uncomfortable Twilight stared as the professor waved a device over the mare, trying to discern whatever he could.
Maybe, Twilight thought, she’d feel less uncomfortable if they hadn’t been forced to break into Feather’s house to do this.
“Are y’all sure about this?”
Twilight looked to the other side of the bed, where Applejack in turn frowned at the professor. He stuffed the device in his bag and pushed up his glasses.
“It’s not a method I’d encourage, but she does need a shock.”
Applejack snorted. “This’ll be mighty more than a shock, I reckon’.”
The door slammed open and in came Rainbow Dash, balancing a bucket of ice-cold water on her back.
Twilight levitated the bucket up and floated it towards the bed right up until it was above the mare. Wincing, and internally apologizing, she tipped it over and—
Everypony jumped away as the water fell onto the mare, soaked her and her bed entirely, and then… and then nothing. The mare didn’t so much as react, she just continued to thrash about.
Professor Awe frowned. “Hrm.”
“Yo, wake up!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed with frustration, jumping onto the bed, grabbing the mare from under her forelegs and literally lifting her into the air. She wiggled her around, a dozing marionette. “Wake up!”
“No… I’m sorry…. Please…”
The same thing awaited them in the next house, and then the next, and the next. With each non-responsive family, the crew’s frustration rose palpably, as made obvious by an increasingly agitated Rainbow Dash.
“Ugh! Come on!”
Rainbow let go of her latest non-responsive passenger, the stallion nearly falling face-first onto the bed until Twilight quickly caught him in her magic and gently laid him down.
“Rainbow,” she said, frustrated, “I thought we established shaking them isn’t working.”
“Nothing is working, Princess!”
“Well, regardless, that’s another pony off the list,” the professor declared, grabbing a notepad from a nearby desk and checking off the stallion’s name. “Tundra Snow, her husband, and their elder son next door are up next.”
“We’re wasting our time!” Rainbow protested. “We’ve already gone through a bunch of them, and none of them have woken up! We don’t have to go through the entire freaking town!”
“Miss Dash, if you’d rather try your luck giving yourself a concussion against the barrier, you are welcome to do so.”
“No! No. Sorry.” Rainbow let out a frustrated sigh. “Sorry, it’s just… Let’s just hurry up to the next one.”
“You comin’, Princess?” Applejack asked as the others got their things together.
Twilight shook her head. “No, I need to get back to the Dreamland. I told Rarity and the others I’d help them with the kids.”
“Are you going to see Princess Luna?” Rainbow asked next, putting down her bucket. “Can I go?! My hoof has some choice words for her flank.”
As enticing as it sounded to have Rainbow Dash with her to deal with… whatever Princess Luna now was, Twilight shook her head. “No, Rainbow. I told you. We need you and Applejack to stay awake in case… in case something happens. Or…” She swallowed. “He comes.”
The professor snorted. “That would suit what I’ve learned about him, at the very least. Making a grand appearance when everything’s already gone to Tartarus.”
“Let’s just hope he doesn’t,” Twilight said, taking her things and trotting out, gathering her mental bearings for what had so far been a long, long night.
She made her way out of the house and stepped out into this forest where no wind blew through the trees, where no birds chirped from their nests, where sunlight no longer reached. She sat down on her haunches and breathed in one, two, three times. As she did so, she looked up towards the black sky and reviewed her list of known facts:
First, the entire town was encased in an impenetrable black barrier that allowed nothing to come in or come out.
Second, the Dreamland was currently housing dozens of hysterical sleep-deprived foals who were being forced to stay awake.
Third, somewhere inside the dream realm, Twilight was ninety-five percent sure Princess Luna had lost her mind to chaos magic.
And four, well… save for the Dreamland adults, the Ponyvillians, Rainbow Dash, and Professor Awe, anypony from Hollow Shades over the age of ten was asleep. Each and every single one, confined to bed, thrashing and sweating, consumed by neverending nightmares.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Twilight had made a fifth entry detailing how long they could last inside the barrier without food and water from the outside, as well as a sixth entry figuring out how long the adults could be trapped inside a nightmare without eating and drinking.
She tried not to think of those two entries. They were a little stressing. And depressing. And mostly stressing, especially after she’d told Rarity the answers and Rarity told her that she knew “misery loves company, but my stars, I didn’t need to know that, darling.”
The point was she tried really really hard to ignore them except for when she’d joked to herself that, hey, being displaced in time had been somewhat useful! Can’t die of starvation when you’re already dead. Displaced. Anyway.
Too bad she couldn’t temporarily time-displace an entire town.
Twilight got up, watching as Fluttershy rushed towards her, a lantern hanging from her neck.
“Fluttershy! Did you find any other foals?”
“No,” the pegasus replied, joining Twilight in the darkness. “They’re all at the Dreamland now. “
“And Dusk Star?”
Fluttershy sighed. “Oh… He’s asleep, too. But he seems peaceful!” she quickly added at Twilight’s crestfallen expression. “He didn’t seem to be having a nightmare, at least.”
“Interesting. Maybe it’s because he’s only a recent convert?” She looked back up at the sky. It was so dark. She was almost afraid to ask, but… “What time is it? The sun should be out soon and we might get some sort of light.”
Fluttershy fidgeted uncomfortably, looking at the little pocket-watch hanging from her saddlebag. “Uhm… It’s a quarter to noon…”
“…Nevermind that, then!” Twilight cheerfully exclaimed, again pushing down the nagging voice that reminded her of the fifth and sixth facts regarding their survival inside the dome. “Anyway,” she continued, “I’m heading towards the Dreamland. Are you done with everything you needed to do? We should probably get going soon.”
“…Is it time?”
“I don’t think we can put it off any longer.” She lifted a hoof and placed it on the mare’s shoulder. “Are you sure you want to do this? You don’t have to. Honestly, I don’t know that any of you should be doing this.”
Despite her squeaky voice saying otherwise, Fluttershy shook her head. “I… I want to. We want to, all of us.” She smiled kindly. “You don’t have to do it alone, even if you can.”
Twilight returned the smile sincerely. “Thank you, Fluttershy. I appreciate that.”
Just as Fluttershy had said, the Dreamland was overrun with the entirety of Hollow Shades’ ten and under population. All things considered, the foals were taking the situation as well as one could expect, which wasn’t well at all. They were tired and scared, and any attempt to sleep was immediately thwarted by the exhausted changeling running around.
“You’ll sleep soon,” Incantation sympathetically told a filly, dabbing the filly’s eyes with a handkerchief. She grabbed a cold chocolate milk sippy cup from her saddlebag and hoofed it over. “Here, drink this.”
“But I wanna sleep now,” the filly complained, barely able to stifle a sniffle.
“I know.” Ink fell onto her haunches and exhaled, rubbing the bags under her eyes she wasn’t bothering to hide. “I want to sleep, too.” She forced herself to get up and flagged down one of the older foals. “Gust! Can you go with Illumination and help her wash her face with cold water, please?”
“I’ll do it,” Twilight interrupted, stepping into the theatre with Fluttershy in tow. She levitated the filly and cradled her in a foreleg. She then noticed a colt dozing off near the corner of the room and gestured it to Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, can you—”
“I’ll go!” two separate voices chimed in, and the mares watched as two separate older foals rushed over, teddy bears strapped to their backs.
That was the other thing keeping the Dreamland afloat.
The group of a little over a dozen foals who’d participated in the Seeking Night event, every single one carrying their teddy bear on their back as they took charge and helped the adults in whatever way they could.
She turned around and saw Rhinestone and a few other foals rushing towards her, each carrying their teddy bear.
“Hi, everypony,” Twilight said, continuing on her path towards the washroom.
“Princess Twilight,” Rhinestone continued, hurrying up to match Twilight’s pace. “When are we helping Princess Luna?!”
“Is she okay?!” an older colt asked.
“…She’s managing,” Twilight lied, opening the washroom door and stepping in, the filly in her foreleg yawning loudly. She soaked a nearby face towel and dabbed it on the filly’s face. “How are you all holding up?”
“We want to help!” Gust added, having joined them as well.
“You are helping!” Twilight exclaimed, putting the filly down and watching as she sleepily stumbled off. She turned to the foals, all still eagerly surrounding her. “Maybe Rarity needs you?… Where is Rarity, actually? And Pinkie?”
“No, Princess!” Rhinestone said. “We want to help Princess Luna!”
Another filly spoke up. “She’s helping our parents, isn’t she? Well, uhm—” She gestured to Rhinestone, Gust and the others. “We were talking with the others, and we decided we’re gunna fall asleep so we can—”
“Fall aslee—No!” Twilight blurted out. “No. No. No falling asleep.”
“But we promised Princess Luna we’d help her!” Rhinestone insisted.
“Those are our parents!”
Twilight ears folded back.
“I know, but…” She knelt down, trying to reason with them. “Kids. These aren’t… This isn’t normal. These nightmares aren’t like the others you’ve had. These are bad. Actually bad. It’s not something you can just wake up from or beat on your own. We don’t even know if you can wake up if you fall asleep. What if you can’t? You’ll be trapped there alone.”
“But we’re not alone!” they exclaimed, reaching up to grab their teddy bears. “We have our guardians!”
Twilight nearly laughed. If only teddy bears actually could save them from this mess!
“Look. We’ll talk about this later, okay?” she said, leaving the bathroom and giving them a final decisive look. “But right now, it’s not a good idea. Nopony is helping Princess Luna until I’ve tried first, okay?” At their silence, she narrowed her eyes. “Okay?”
“…If you say so, Princess Twilight.”
“Good.” She ushered them away. “Now, please go and help Incantation with whatever she needs.”
Once they trotted off, Twilight made her way through the rest of the Dreamland, hoping to find Rarity and Pinkie. It was her nose that led her to them, guiding her inside the bakery kitchen where she found Rarity keeping Pinkie company as the latter cooked up an absolute storm of foal’s meals.
“Oh, Twilight,” Rarity exclaimed when the alicorn stepped in. “You’re back! Any good news?” When Twilight shook her head, she sighed. “…Ah.” She glanced at Pinkie briefly when the mare turned on a mixer and then back to Twilight. “How are you managing?”
Twilight tried to speak over the sound of the mixer. “I’m tired, but I could be worse. You?”
“Very much the same.” She offered a sad smile. “Failing rather miserably not to think of all the things I could have done to prevent this.”
Twilight frowned. “Rarity…” She had half a mind to protest the implications in that statement, but her attention was drawn to the pink mare mixing away. “How is Pinkie doing?”
“She’s coping in her own way. Waiting for you to come back so we could go see Princess Luna was driving her a bit mad, I fear,” Rarity explained, sympathetic. She raised her voice and waved at the mare. “Pinkie! Twilight is here!”
Pinkie looked up and immediately her eyes sparkled. “Princess!” she gasped, turning off the mixer. “You’re back! Are we seeing Princess Luna now?! How did it go with the adults?!” At Twilight’s expression, she deflated briefly. “Oh… Well! It’s okay! Once we go into the dreams, we’ll help her! And then she’ll get out! Right?!”
“Yes,” Twilight said, decisively. “Fluttershy and I are ready to start if you are.”
“Me too! I even have her cupcake ready!” Pinkie continued, walking towards the oven and peering in.
Twilight frowned. “Her cupcake?” she whispered to Rarity.
“I’ll explain later,” Rarity whispered back before turning to Pinkie. “Darling, finish up and then go fetch Fluttershy, won’t you? I need to go prepare the room.”
Twilight watched as Rarity left the kitchen, and though she could have stayed with Pinkie, she followed her heart and trailed after Rarity towards the workshop. The entire place had been cleared out to make space for the large throw pillows and blankets Rarity was placing around on the floor.
“Any idea what we should expect?” Rarity asked, now busying herself with getting smaller pillows out of a closet.
“No. Maybe. Nightmares. Lots and lots of nightmares.” She swallowed. “Are you sure you want to do this? You can stay here with Incantation if you want.”
“I can do it.” Rarity fluffed a pillow for a moment and then abruptly stopped, her eyes set on the floor. “What about Discord? You said he can’t enter the dream world?”
“Not under normal circumstances, no…”
Rarity looked at her.
“…but? There is a ‘but’, is there not?”
Twilight let out a deep breath. “The last thing I saw was chaos magic taking over Princess Luna in the dream realm. So. Chaos magic couldn’t enter the dream realm before, but now… I don’t know. Maybe it can through her.”
Rarity paled. “Stars above… Even Discord?”
“Maybe. There’s a chance he can, yes,” Twilight confessed, quickly trying to backtrack at Rarity’s horrified expression. “But—! But it’s fine. Even if Discord does enter the dream realm, you’ll be fine. The you inside there is just a projection of your mind. He can’t physically or mentally hurt you.”
“What about you?” Rarity asked immediately, seemingly not caring for her own well-being. “You’re not dreaming, you’re dream-walking. What does that mean for you? Can he hurt you?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?!” Rarity yelped, immediately afterward lowering her voice and trying to steady herself. “Twilight. How can you not know? Didn’t Princess Luna tell you, or—?”
“No. Why would she? I don’t think Princess Luna has ever even considered the idea we could get attacked inside the dream realm.”
“What do you think?”
“Well… when you dream-walk, your consciousness actually goes into the dream realm. It’s not a projection. Following that fact, I guess he could trap me inside my mind, or he could wipe my consciousness, for example.”
Rarity rubbed a hoof against her eyes. “Oh, my stars, stars, stars.”
“Rarity.” Twilight moved forward and nuzzled her. “I’ll be fine.” She felt Rarity press her face against the crook of her neck, and when the unicorn whined pitifully, Twilight wrapped a foreleg around her. “I will be. Okay? Besides, what’s the worst he could do?”
Rarity immediately pulled away.
“Twilight, you say that as if the horrific scenarios you just described weren’t the worst he could do.”
Twilight hummed. “I mean, that’s just surface things. The actual worst thing he could do to me is—mmph!”
Rarity immediately placed a hoof on Twilight’s mouth, shutting her up. “No! Do not! Do not tempt fate!”
Twilight tilted her head. “Mm-mmm-mmph.”
“I don’t care what you’re sayi—Twilight!” She yelped with disgust, taking back the hoof Twilight’d just licked. She shook her hoof and regarded her marefriend with horror. “What IS your problem?!”
“You’ve done that to me!”
“That is entirely beside the point!” She shook her head and grabbed the pillow from the floor, launching it at a nearby blanket. “‘What’s the worst he could do?’ I can’t believe you actually said that. It’s as though you’ve never read a book in your life, Princess Booky.”
Twilight sat down and watched, endeared, as Rarity finished setting up the room. She would never actually put the thought out there for fear of destiny actually interfering, but she felt oddly calm if only because the worst thing Discord could do to her was hurt Rarity.
And he couldn’t—at least, not in dreams. So long as Rarity was dreaming and her consciousness was safe, then Twilight didn’t have too much to be afraid of beyond, well, dealing with Princess Luna. If Discord decided to attack them all while they were sleeping, that was another matter entirely but—!
But that would be a bridge to cross only if it had to be crossed.
“You know, the foals wanted to go help Princess Luna,” Twilight mentioned, a casual fun fact to keep the conversation going. “As in fall asleep and help her wake up their parents.”
“I’m not surprised they want to help.” Rarity said, already nearly done prepping the room. “Which ones asked?”
“The older ones. With the teddy bears? Rhinestone and her friends.”
“Mmm. What did you tell them?”
Twilight frowned. “That they couldn’t,” she said, as if it were obvious because it was.
Rarity turned to her. “And what did they say?”
“‘If you say so, Princess Twilight’.”
“What?” Twilight asked when she noticed Rarity frowning slightly. “…You don’t think they’re going to try anyway, do you?”
Rarity mulled it over for a moment before going back to her task.
“I’m certainly not an expert on foals, but if running the Dreamland has taught me anything, it’s that foals often follow their hearts, not their sensible caretakers. However, I don’t think we should be too worried. Just remind me to ask Incantation to keep an eye on them before we go to sleep. ”
Twilight smiled, teasing. “I’m sure at this point you are an expert at taking care of foals.”
A question occurred to her suddenly.
“Actually,” she continued, genuinely curious, “do you want to have foals?”
Rarity mulled it over for a moment, her gaze set on a pillow she was fluffing again. “I used to, yes. It was a thought I entertained as a filly, and then again when—” She turned to Twilight and offered a half-grin. ”I used to visit you in your library and fantasize about my fairytale romance where I rescued you and we were in love and had foals like every fairytale couple is supposed to do.”
Twilight’s heart fluttered despite herself. In truth, she’d never even considered the idea of foals at all, but even so, she liked the idea Rarity thought about it—not about having foals specifically, but just the fact that Rarity thought about their future. That there was something to look forward to.
“Wait. You used to? You don’t want them anymore? What happened?”
Rarity didn’t reply initially. She merely stared at Twilight, as if contemplating whether to reply at all.
“Rarity?” Twilight prompted, and Rarity’s expression shifted, a choice having been made.
She batted her eyelashes.
“Well, you can’t exactly have a future with somepony you think you’re never going to see again, now can you?” she asked playfully, and yet every word slammed against Twilight like a freight train.
But it was fine.
It was fine because:
“I’m here now, though,” Twilight said, and she meant it, and when she smiled lovingly, she meant that, too.
For a split-second, Rarity’s expression changed. It softened, the teasing facade evaporated, and for a split-second, something torn and wounded flashed through her eyes. But she pushed it away, and the smile she returned was not exactly loving, no, but vulnerable, and that was enough.
“That you are, your Highness,” she repeated softly. “That you are.”
Knocking at the door interrupted them, followed in short order by Incantation peering into the room.
Rarity waved her in. “Oh, Ink! Good timing. I was just about to—” She stopped when Incantation threw her a… not a pained look, but a… concerned one. “Darling, what’s wrong?”
Immediately after, Pinkie peered in, looking just as harried.
“Hi! Are you busy?! We need to talk. Can you talk? It’s important!” She looked towards someone out in the hallway. “They’re not doing anything. Tell them it’s important!”
Fluttershy peered in next, speaking politely. “Very important.”
“What’s wrong?” Twilight repeated, her and Rarity standing up in alarm.
Ink cleared her throat. “Uh. Well.”
The door swung open and revealed a fourth pony who, with a gentle encouraging nudge from Fluttershy, stepped forward.
“Hello…” said Dusk Star, the one and only, looking terribly chastized as he clutched his teddy bear.
“Dusk Star?!” Rarity gasped, her shock matched by Twilight.
“What are you doing here?!” she blurted out. Dusk Star was there? How? What did this mean? Had Rainbow and the others woken up the adults, or—?
Unfortunately, her genuine shock came out differently to the foal. His eyes quickly watered and he bowed his head down.
“I’m sorry,” he sniffled. “I can go…”
“Princess Twilight!” Fluttershy scolded, frowning and shaking her head.
“No, no, that’s not what she meant,” Rarity blurted out before Twilight could. “She’s just—We’re just—We’re surprised to see you! We thought…”
“We thought you were asleep,” Twilight filled in, her eyes darting to Fluttershy. “Wasn’t he?”
Fluttershy nodded. “He was,” she insisted. “I saw him sleeping!”
“No,” Dusk interrupted, and it seemed as though his shame grew triplefold, his ears folding back. “I was pretending… I stayed in bed after the earthquake woke me up…”
Twilight’s eyes grew wide. “Woke you up?”
The earthquake woke him up? Just like all the other foals? But why? How? He was completely overridden with chaos magic, just like the adults, and yet—!
And yet there he was.
“But why didn’t you come with Rhinestone?” Rarity asked.
Dusk held his teddy bear tighter. “…’Cause I thought you were mad at me, because I was angry, and I shouted… and…” His eyes watered anew and his words came out in cracked chunks. “And now everypony’s ha-having nightmares because I up-upset Princess Luna.” He bowed his head. “I’m sorry…”
“Oh, darling…” Rarity softened, walking towards him. “Darling, you—Wait. Wait. Come again?”
Dusk blinked at her. “H-Huh?”
“‘You upset Princess Luna’?” Twilight repeated, carefully. “Dusk.” She stepped forward. “Dusk, you said Princess Luna isn’t real yesterday. Does this mean you… you believe us?” Her wings extended. “You see my wings properly now?”
“…No…” He squinted and then gestured to the spot where her wing met her body. “They look like robot wings…”
Twilight deflated. “Oh…”
“But… But wait!” Rarity interrupted. “How is he here, then? Why didn’t he stay asleep? If he sees mechanical wings, he should still be asleep! Right?”
“I don’t know,” Twilight confessed. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Dusk frowned. “What do you mean? They don’t have teddy bears,” he said plainly, and when the adults blinked at him, he clarified. “I’m awake ‘cos Princess Luna gave me a teddy bear, and she didn’t give any to them.”
“Hold up,” Ink said, “you think you’re awake because of the teddy bears?”
He nodded his head. “And Princess Luna wouldn’t be able to do that if she wasn’t real!”
Twilight bit down on her lip. That didn’t make sense, but she didn’t know how to tell him or if she should. Dusk Star went to bed believing Princess Luna was a lie, so logically he should have still been asleep like the rest of the adults. His belief couldn’t actually protect him unless, well, he believed.
“What?” he asked, having noticed her silence. He swallowed, hugging his teddy bear. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No, I—” Twilight took a moment and continued. “Dusk, you didn’t believe in Luna when you went to bed, right? Last night, you thought we’d been lying to you about the legend being real, right?”
“…No,” he confessed. “I did, at first! And when I went home, I was really upset you lied, but… but it didn’t make sense.”
“What didn’t make sense, darling?” Rarity asked.
“I remembered Princess Twilight’s wings being real before! But now they weren’t! But I remember them being real, because she yelled when Scribble Heart twisted them last week, and then I remembered I had a photo we took from Seeking Night with Princess Twilight where her wings were all—” He sat down and extended his forelegs to the side. ”—woosh! And big, and stuff! So I went to look at the picture, and now the wings were all roboty! Which doesn’t make sense ‘cos pictures can’t change!”
“They can’t!” Pinkie exclaimed. She turned to Fluttershy. “Right?”
“Oh, I don’t think so, no.”
“I wanted Princess Luna to be real,” Dusk continued. “And I wanted to keep having fun with you, and Miss Rarity and everypony else in the Dreamland, and with Princess Luna in my dreams!” He picked up his teddy bear again, emotional. “I don’t want that to go away so even if it doesn’t feel real, I’m still gonna believe it is!”
Silence filled the room until it was broken by a sniffle.
“Well,” Rarity said, wiping her eyes, “I think that’s wonderful, Dusk.”
Twilight smiled, starting to feel emotional herself. It had worked. Somehow, maybe not how they expected, but somehow, someway, to some minor extent, the plan worked. Rarity and the others hadn’t wasted two years.
Obviously, it didn’t matter anymore, but… it was nice to know.
“Yeah!” Pinkie exclaimed, Dusk yelping when she picked him up. “You did it! You’re fighting the bad magic! You’re not letting it win!”
“Mister Beary helped too!” he exclaimed, waving his teddy bear. He looked to Twilight, excited. “And if we get Princess Luna to give my parents and everypony else teddy bears, they’ll wake up, too! Can you ask her?!”
Twilight swallowed. “I can try,” she said, which wasn’t exactly a lie. She could absolutely suggest this to Princess Luna, but getting her to agree if she was possessed was another thing entirely.
“Come on, then!” Pinkie blurted out, having contained herself for most of the conversation. She pushed past the foals, and then past Rarity and Twilight, and threw herself onto one of the larger pillows on the floor. “I’m going to help Princess Luna!”
No sooner said than done, her snoring filled the room.
Twilight cleared her throat.
“This is it, then.” She exchanged glances with Rarity and Fluttershy. “Time to go to sleep.”
“Let’s go!” Dusk exclaimed, rushing into the room, all ready to fall asleep until raspberry magic caught him in the middle of his jump towards a pillow. “Huh?”
Twilight levitated the colt directly in front of her.
“I think this should be something for the adults.”
“Yes, Princess Twilight…” he mumbled, just as his sister earlier had, pouting when Twilight deposited her outside the room.
As Fluttershy stepped in, Rarity addressed Incantation and gestured to Dusk and the couple of foals who’d slowly crept up the stairs to find out the gossip.
“Keep an eye on them, won’t you? In fact, transform yourself into something with eyes on the back of your head,” she instructed, smiling ever so slightly when Dusk and the foals outside scrunched their faces in disapproval.
“Yes, ma’am!” Ink exclaimed, saluting briefly before ushering the foals further into the hallway. She grabbed the doorknob and gave the mares a final look. “Good luck!”
Once the door clicked shut, Rarity and Fluttershy made their way towards some of the pillows.
“Goodness, I hope I can fall asleep quickly,” Fluttershy said, covering herself with a blanket. “I feel awfully awake.”
“Don’t worry about that. I have a spell that will help you fall asleep,” Twilight said, dimming the lights with her magic. “Remember, once you’re in there, there’s a high chance you’ll have some sort of nightmare. I’ll try to find you as soon as I can and help you, but as you fall asleep, keeping in mind the mission might help it carry over into your dreamstate.” She alternated looking between both mares. “Understood?”
Rarity didn’t much react, staring at Twilight but seemingly lost in her own world, sitting up straight on a pillow. Fluttershy, on the other hand, nodded vigorously and then closed her eyes.
“Remember the mission,” the pegasus repeated to herself. “Go into the dreams, find the ponies, and… “ Her eyes peered open, and she looked to Twilight for help.
“And keep them safe while I deal with Princess Luna,” she completed. She watched as Fluttershy nodded and closed her eyes again. When the pegasus lost herself in repeating the mission over and over, Twilight turned to Rarity and found the unicorn still sitting up straight on the pillow and still staring at her.
Twilight smiled playfully.
“Are you planning on going to sleep sitting up?”
“What? No! Obviously not,” Rarity quickly said, lying down on the pillow. “Don’t be silly.”
Twilight levitated a blanket and draped it over Rarity. She moved to her, intending on tucking her in properly, but stopped when Rarity directed an intense stare her way.
“What is it?” she whispered.
Rarity fidgeted for a moment before replying.
“Please. I’m not trying to coddle you, I’m not, I give you my word,” she said carefully, “but you will be careful there, won’t you? You’ll get out at the first sign of something going wrong?”
“To be clear, what do you define as ‘something going wrong’?”
Rarity frowned. “Twilight.”
Twilight dropped the teasing attitude and sobered up. “I’ll be careful. I promise,” she said, genuinely. “As long as you’re careful, too. If you ever feel like you want to stop, or you don’t feel safe, I’ll wake you up immediately. If I can. All right?”
Finally, Rarity loosened up and sighed dramatically.
“I suppose I shall try,” she declared as Twilight tucked her in. She looked to the side and laughed, drawing Twilight’s attention to the sleeping pegasus. “Well, well. No need for a spell, hm?”
Twilight turned to her. “You should follow her example before we’re here all night.”
“Afternoon. Isn’t it half-past one?” She closed her eyes. “Regardless! Goodnight. Or good afternoon, actually.” And then she opened her eyes before Twilight could even so much as reply. “I love you.”
Twilight smiled affectionately. “I love you, too.” She leaned down and nuzzled her briefly. “Goodnight.”
Rarity closed her eyes when Twilight pulled away and then opened them again just as Twilight was walking off.
“You will be careful, right?”
“Yes. Goodnight, Rarity.”
Rarity closed her eyes. “Good afternoon.” She opened them again, and whatever she had to say died at Twilight’s pointed stare. She closed them again. “All right, all right! Just use your spell before we’re here all night!… Afternoon. Midday? Or would it be early… after…noon…”
Less than a second later, Rarity dozed off, Twilight’s sleeping spell draping her and then fading away. A soft groan caught her attention, and she turned around to find Pinkie fidgeting in her sleep. A pronounced frown marred the mare’s face, quickly reminding Twilight that nopony here was actually going to have a pleasant afternoon nap.
All right, she thought. Here we go.
She made her way to the center of the room and sat down on her usual pillow. She took one last look around, one last deep breath, then closed her eyes and cast the spell. Everything faded away, and when she felt herself in a different place, she took another breath and opened her eyes to find…
She stood up, finding herself not inside the dream realm’s hallway of doors, or even inside the Dreamland, but inside—outside, rather—a Hollow Shades back-alley. In fact, she might have wondered if she’d accidentally teleported herself if only for the fact that this was not the Hollow Shades she’d left behind.
There was no sunlight, no, but the entire place was lit, not shrouded in complete darkness. Illuminated despite lacking any source of light.
I don’t understand…
Why was she there? This was the first time she’d actually… teleported directly into a dream instead of the hallway of dream doors. But whose dream is this?
She stepped forward, calling out.
“Rarity?! Fluttershy?! Pinkie?!”
But no one replied.
She moved further into the alley and towards the exit, and it wasn’t until she stepped out into a plaza that she realized where she was.
Flashing, black dream doors scattered all over the plaza, every single one swinging off its hinges, chaos magic seeping in and out of them and covering the entire dream realm.
The chaos magic got in! she thought urgently. It had happened. It had been let in, finally, and she wondered if this was possibly Discord’s end-game with Princess Luna. Could he come in here? He shouldn’t be able to, but… If he could…
Cursing under her breath, she ran to a nearby door and crossed it, just to be led back into this distorted Hollow Shades that now revealed itself for what it was: a single, massive shared nightmare with a chaosed Princess Luna at its center.
This was beyond what Twilight could handle.
She’d not been trained for this.
But, as she walked further into the nightmare, she remembered what Rarity told her.
She would just have to survive this, too.