~ Act II ~ 21 ~ The Valiant Never Taste of Death but Once ~Monochromatic
Twilight Sparkle had faced nightmare versions of herself before.
It was, however, one thing to face a Twilight she’d created. It was another thing entirely to face one Rarity designed. If she’d had the time to think, to pause everything and reflect upon it, she’d have felt rather horrible at seeing how that one sunforsaken mistake two years ago still haunted her significant other.
But there was no time to sit and feel awful because the nightmare Twilight didn’t much care for any of that.
The nightmare stalked forward.
“Get out,” she murmured, as Twilight herself had long ago, and when Twilight faltered, the chaos alicorn became enraged. “I SAID GET OUT!”
It attacked faster than Twilight could think, assaulting her with a blast of magic strong enough to fling her back, her body slamming against the wall.
Pain rushed through Twilight, forcing tears from her eyes. She groaned, her thoughts a dazed cloudy haze that, much like the pain, shifted into muted panic upon realizing that, well. That had hurt. That hurt, and stung, and her head throbbed with pain, and that wasn’t supposed to happen.
The chaos magic had made her mind physically vulnerable.
She was in danger. Real danger.
Her thoughts whirred inside her at a thousand miles per hour. She needed to get out. She needed to leave the dream realm, just as Rarity had said. But doing so meant leaving everypony alone, and who else was going to save them? Clearly not Nightmare Moon.
This meant she couldn’t leave them. And even if she could…
“Get out!” the chaos Twilight roared again, and now Twilight was fast enough to react, teleporting outside the room just in time for her to avoid the second blast.
“What’s happening?!” Fluttershy asked, her and the others watching as Twilight slammed the bedroom door shut and then barricaded it with whatever furniture she could reach. “Princess?!”
“You need to leave! Now!” she commanded, adding her body to the objects barricading the door. If she was to fight, she couldn’t risk anypony while doing it. She gestured to the frightened couple. “Take them, find anypony who’s downstairs, and then go!”
Her two friends faltered.
“But what about you?”
A blast of magic from within the bedroom shook the door and nearly toppled a small desk onto Twilight.
“Go!” she pleaded, and then hoped she wasn’t lying when she said, “I’ll be fine! I promise! Just get out!”
Relenting, Incantation and Fluttershy beckoned the couple to go first before following them, throwing Twilight one last glance before they disappeared below. When the nightmare blasted the door again and wood splintered from the impact, Twilight teleported to the other side of the room and faced the barricaded door.
In real life, she didn’t know how to properly execute the protection spell Celestia had cast upon all her books.
But this wasn’t real life.
As quickly as she could, she cast the spell on the door, and when the nightmare blasted it again, it did not splinter.
“Yes!” Twilight exclaimed, excited by her small victory.
A victory that, unfortunately, was quickly dashed away when the nightmare stepped out through the barricade, her body now slightly transparent.
Twilight let out a deep breath. “Of course.”
As soon as it was out in the lobby, the chaos magic surrounding the nightmare flashed, and its body became tangible again. It gritted its teeth, eyes burning into Twilight’s as the latter pulled up a magic shield.
“So! I’m guessing we can’t settle this with some kind of intellectual sparring match, right?” she ventured.
When the nightmare began to assault the shield with one magical attack after the other, Twilight smiled thinly. “Well. That answers that.”
Her hopes for a fascinating intellectual duel dashed, she refocused her efforts on her barrier. In real life, what she wanted to do would require a much more advanced knowledge of magic, and some special rune magic as well, but in dreams…
Her horn flashed once, and so did her translucent shield flash as well. With every beam that hit it, the barrier changed in color, absorbing the magic until it was solidly pink, chaos magic bursting from within.
Twilight grinned. “My turn.”
She slammed her hoof down and the shield discharged an explosive burst of magic that sent the other Twilight flying straight against the wall. It fell to the floor, knocked out, and gave Twilight enough time to focus on the real solution.
‘Rarity?!” she called out, looking around. “You need to come out!”
“Ra…ri…ty..” The nightmare groaned out the name, pained and angered. With a great heaving groan, it pulled itself up, and then slamming its hoof on the floor, roared out, “RARITY!”
“Wait, wait! Don’t come out!” Twilight quickly amended.
After narrowly avoiding another blast of magic, she teleported herself down to the floor below. With a big breath, she tried to take a moment to actually think, only to decide that thinking could come later when the nightmare let out a frustrated yell from upstairs.
She pushed open the doors to the Dreamland and poked her head out. Fluttershy, Ink, and the couple were there, along with a few other ponies who’d presumably been hiding out inside the Dreamland.
Fluttershy and Ink shook their heads.
“Get OUT!” the nightmare Twilight bellowed behind her.
“I’ll be right back,” Twilight politely informed the ponies, stepping back into the building. She poked her head out. “Oh! Uh. Don’t come in here.”
That said, she slammed the door shut and turned towards the nightmare, who was already preparing another attack.
Its cry died out when an exasperated Twilight silenced her with a blasting spell, throwing the nightmare back against the wall and mostly knocking it out like earlier. She walked towards her nightmare self, strangely not entirely horrified by what she’d done. Maybe before, but now, all she really had in mind was—
“Get out?” she asked, annoyed. “Is that all Rarity thinks I could say while under chaos magic influence? I could say other things!”
The nightmare Twilight groaned softly. “It’s my fau—mmph!”
“Alright,” Twilight said, quickly silencing her other-self. “I should have seen that coming.”
Without giving the other alicorn time to react Twilight picked it up in her magic, opened up the bakery’s mess hall and flung it inside, the nightmare colliding against a table. As soon as she did so, the other alicorn stirred, painfully attempting and failing to lift itself.
I need to trap it, she thought. But how? Rarity made this! How am I supposed to know what will keep it trapped?…Unless…
She moved back from the bakery, opening the double doors wide and staring into the room, focusing on its decor and then willing it to change: the walls and floors of the bakery expanded, becoming a massive foyer; the bright pink colors of the plastic tables faded out, allowing them to transform into worn-out wooden desks; the assorted pastries and treats distorted and morphed into books, the racks and cupboards they were in becoming bookcases to hold them.
She watched, steel-faced, as the bakery became the only place in the world that had ever trapped her.
Inside the library, the nightmare managed to stand up, now more enraged than ever. No longer bothering with magic spells, the nightmare rushed forward, headed straight towards the door, and then promptly smashed itself against thebarrier that appeared.
The nightmare Twilight stumbled back, blinking incredulously at the barrier and at Twilight standing on the other side.
She grinned at it.
“Now you get out.”
And try to get out it did, getting up and smashing itself against the barrier again and again, which in truth quickly did away with the small amount of levity Twilight brought to the situation. This was just a nightmare, sure, but… it quickly became uncomfortable to watch, well, essentially herself doing the very same thing Twilight had done not so long ago.
She moved away from the barrier and made her way up the stairs, finally able to focus on finding Rarity.
“Rarity?” she called out, galloping into the first-floor lobby. “Rarity, where are—argh!”
Without warning, a magic of some sort took hold of her entire body and slammed her against a wall, her head thunking against it. Pain tore through her body, nearly making her instinctively try to leave the dreamscape. She managed to hold on, however, but not without falling to the floor and lying there in a dazed haze.
“I have her!”
Despite the pain, the voice forced Twilight’s eyes open and she felt immense relief at the sight of her attacker. A clearly scared but unscathed Rarity stared her down, her horn glowing and ready to act.
“Ra…ri…ty.” Twilight groaned, wanting to say more but instead burying her throbbing headache in her hooves, only half-watching the unicorn.
Rarity flinched at Twilight’s call, but whatever hesitation she felt immediately died out, replaced instead with fierce determination. “Now, everypony! Run! Get outside!” she commanded, her eyes fixed on Twilight as half a dozen ponies rushed out of her workshop and made a beeline downstairs.
A stallion lingered behind, whom Twilight recognized as the father of one of the kids. “What about you?” he asked, eyeing Twilight. “We can’t just leave you here!”
“I appreciate that, Hawk,” Rarity said, kindly but firmly, her eyes never leaving Twilight. “But I’m not leaving her to bear this alone again. Besides,” she added, “I think I’ve subdued her.”
“Dear Denza,” he said, staring at Twilight in horror. “What a nightmare.”
Rarity laughed bitterly. “Isn’t it just.”
“It is,” Twilight groaned, and then yelped in pain when Hawk yelled at hearing her voice and a panicked Rarity reacted to his yell by slamming Twilight against the wall again.
“Wait,” Rarity said, immediately afterward. “What did she say?”
“It is?” Hawk repeated.
Rarity turned her attention to the alicorn, and though her horn glowed with magic, she did not attack. “It is?” she asked, slowly. And just as slowly, her eyes roamed Twilight’s body and landed on something that made her spin around towards the stallion. “Hawk!” she exclaimed, nearly startling the stallion out of his skin. “Quickly! How did we get here?!”
Hawk blinked, startled. “What?”
Rarity continued, urgent. “How did we get here? How did we get to the Dreamland?”
“I—! Well— I—” Hawk faltered, helpless. “I don’t know. I can’t for the life of me remember! How did we get here?”
At that, Rarity gasped in horror. “Oh, stars. This is a nightmare! But where’s Princess Luna?! Wait.” Her horror doubled. “Wait. Princess Luna—! And all the adults fell asleep—!And Dusk Star—! And Twilight, and— Twilight!” She turned towards the alicorn, and in an almost comically terrified fashion, tentatively said, “You’re the real Twilight, aren’t you.”
“That depends,” Twilight murmured, smiling at Rarity as she held her aching head, “will it make you feel better for slamming me against a wall twice if I say I’m not?”
“Darling!” Almost instantly, a mortified Rarity rushed to Twilight, practically lifting her as she checked her all over. “Are you all right?!”
“I’m fine,” Twilight promised, doing her best to act as if it were true. The last thing she needed was for Rarity to prematurely find out that it was possible to get hurt in the dreamscape. Instead, she moved forward to nuzzle her, relief washing over her at having her there. “I’m fine.”
“Wait, hold on a minute!” the stallion interrupted. “What’d you mean this is a nightmare?”
Twilight detached herself from Rarity and stepped towards him. “I can explain later. We need to get going.” She glanced at Rarity. “Fluttershy and Incantation are waiting outside.”
Rarity frowned. “What? But—? Incantation? I thought Incantation couldn’t come here, Twilight. You said only ponies can enter the dreamrealm.”
Twilight smiled awkwardly. “That’s not entirely true, anymore.”
Rarity blinked, incredulous. “What do you mean that’s not entirely true anymore? Twilight? Are you going to tell me this means Discord can come in here now?” When Twilight faltered, she paled. “Oh, my stars. Oh, my blessed stars.”
“What else, Twilight?” Rarity continued, not angered but almost. “What else isn’t entirely true anymore?”
“Later,” Twilight pleaded, already going to the stairs and gesturing for the stallion to follow. “I promise we’ll talk about it later. But we need to go now. Please.”
The stallion went down first, followed by Rarity and then Twilight taking the rear. To her surprise, the lobby wasn’t empty as she’d expected it to be. All the ponies hiding upstairs were gathered there, apparently never having left the building at all.
“What? Why are you all here?!” Rarity asked.
The ponies, Twilight noticed, were all staring at the same thing with various degrees of horror, and it wasn’t until she followed their gaze towards the bakery that she realized what they were staring at.
“Wait!” she blurted out, grabbing Rarity before she could advance. “Wait, wait!”
A slam and the crackle of magic sounded out, and Rarity, Twilight, and everyone else nearly jumped out of their skins when an enraged snarl sounded out.
“Rarity?!” it called out, and the unicorn ignored Twilight’s pleas to wait and rushed into the crowd, towards the bakery.
“Rarity?!” Twilight called out, echoing her other self’s cry, before similarly pushing her way through the gaping crowd, a series of expletives leaving her mouth. “Rarity, wait, stop!”
When she finally found Rarity, her stomach fell at the sight of her nightmare self slamming her body against the barrier again and again and again while Rarity—shaking, transfixed, front and center—stared.
Twilight rushed forward, jumping in between Rarity and the barrier.
“Did I do this?” Rarity asked, stricken but unfocused. Distant.
“No,” Twilight said, immediately and she rushed forward to grab Rarity and pull her away. “Look at— Look at me,” she demanded when Rarity tried to again look towards the barrier. “This is a nightmare, Rarity.”
“I know that, Twilight!” Rarity said with difficulty. “But I… I… I created her. I—If it wasn’t for me, then—”
“It’s okay,” Twilight reassured her, earnest. “It’s okay! It’s just a nightmare!”
She glanced towards the barrier again, eyes fixing on the nightmare’s relentless assault, each time ringing with a painful-sounding thud.
“Rarity!” it snarled, drawing tears out of the unicorn’s eyes.
“I did that, Rarity,” Twilight insisted, physically grabbing her chin with her magic and forcing Rarity to maintain eye-contact. She was begging, at this point. “I trapped her there, not you.”
Rarity’s expression shifted suddenly. Like something triggered inside her.
“I know,” she whispered, and when Twilight reached out with a foreleg, Rarity moved forward. She buried her face in the crook of Twilight’s neck, holding tightly onto the alicorn. “I know. I know, I know. Please, just… make it go away.”
And that was all Twilight needed.
Still holding Rarity, she turned and conjured a powerful blinding blast, directing it straight at the nightmare. To her immense relief, the nightmare did not resist anymore and faded away, the bakery returning to normal.
“Thank Celestia,” she murmured, sitting down on her haunches with Rarity following suit, still clinging to the alicorn. Twilight then realized everypony was still there staring at them, and she flung the front doors open with her magic. “Everypony! Get outside! It’s not safe here!”
Not a single one of them had to be told twice, and no sooner said than done, they filed out where the others were waiting, leaving Rarity and Twilight alone in the foyer. Twilight nuzzled her, trying to come up with something to say.
“Is that what it was like?”
Twilight paused, taking in the question.
Rarity was still pressed against her, her voice coming out muffled and contrite.
“Is this what you did? For two years? Just slam yourself against a barrier over and over?”
Twilight swallowed. “No. I’ve told you before. I didn’t really… do anything. I just shut off. I don’t know. But that’s in the past,” she finished, hoping to move on to comforting her marefriend. “Are you all right?”
“Am I all right?!” Rarity exclaimed, pulling back to reveal her teary eyes and folded ears. “Are you all right?”
“I am,” Twilight reassured her, ignoring her throbbing headache. She forced a smile. “Really. I am. It’s fine.”
“Fine? None of this is fine! This is the opposite of fine, Twilight! Did you not see what just happened? That was terrible!”
“Was it? I don’t agree.”
“No. I think it was great. That you were great,” Twilight said, and then allowed some excitement to bubble up inside her. “I can’t believe you don’t recognize how incredible that was! Well… Not the part with the library, but the rest was! You recognized it was a nightmare! You even remembered my exercises for figuring out if you’re dreaming!”
Rarity looked baffled. “Twilight, I slammed you against a wall! Twice!”
“Yes! And that was amazing, too! You stood up to what you thought was a chaos alicorn just so you could protect others and help them escape! That was really brave of you!” She leaned forward, pressing her forehead against Rarity’s. “I’m very impressed.”
Finally, Rarity laughed softly, pressing her hoof against Twilight’s chest. “I suppose sometimes I’m quite brilliant, yes.” She let out a long breath and moved in to nuzzle Twilight. “Stars. Thank Denza you’re here.” She pulled back slightly, and half-teasingly asked, “This is the real you, isn’t it?”
“Yes, silly,” Twilight said, and then immediately squealed in excitement. “And that’s another thing you did! You even figured out I was the real one! Was it because of the eyes?”
“No. I don’t really know,” Rarity replied evasively, her eyes settling on the pink necklace on Twilight’s chest. “I suppose I just knew.” She finally smiled, lifting a hoof and brushing back Twilight’s bangs. “Call it intuition.”
“…Right,” Twilight said, though she did not press further. Instead, she leaned in for a brief kiss, a slight victory she awarded herself.
Just in time, too, because the doors pushed open and Fluttershy and Incantation peered in.
“Rarity!” Fluttershy exclaimed, relieved. “You’re all right!”
Rarity pulled away from Twilight.
“Fluttershy! Incantation!” she exclaimed, overjoyed and running to them as Twilight followed behind.
“Oh, Rarity, thank goodness you’re all right,” Fluttershy said, gratefully accepting Rarity’s hug. “We were so worried!”
“You were the last one missing,” Twilight elaborated. “Pinkie is waiting back at the plaza with the others.”
“I see. Well, haha! You know me, always fashionably late!” Rarity exclaimed, humorously. She moved away from Fluttershy and towards Incantation, extending her foreleg for a hug. “Incantation! I’m so happy you’re saf— Wait.” She spun towards Twilight, suddenly severe. “Alright, princess! Tell me now! What’s happening?! How can she be here?!” She turned to Incantation. “Not that you’re not a sight for sore eyes, darling, but—!” She turned back to Twilight. “Explain.”
Twilight smiled nervously. “Right. About that… Well, my working theory is that when Princess Luna became possessed by chaos magic, it allowed the chaos magic to infiltrate the dreamrealm. Which, in turn, set a precedent for other species to access it as well.”
“So Princess Luna really did get possessed?”
“Influenced, actually, in her case. And I guess in my case, too, but the chaos magic only suppressed me, whereas it seems to be intensifying and augmenting Princess Luna’s worst instincts and thoughts. But! But I do have good news!” She smiled tentatively. “We haven’t seen Discord yet.”
“Yet?! Oh, my stars,” Rarity whined. “What’s next? Are you going to tell me the foals are here too?”
Ink matched Twilight’s nervous grin. “Haha! So. Funny story. Please don’t fire me. But. So. Uhm.” At Rarity’s blanched expression, she quickly shut up. “Anyway! Should we go? We should go! I’m gonna go!”
She promptly opened the door and marched out, presumably before Rarity could fire her.
“…I’ll wait outside,” Fluttershy added, following the changeling. “Don’t take too long.”
When she left, Twilight turned to Rarity and found the unicorn looking more than distressed.
“Rarity, don’t worry. I promise it’ll be fine,” Twilight insisted, sincerely.
“And you can’t get hurt, at least? Even if he comes here, he can’t hurt you, can he? Can he?”
Twilight took a breath and braced herself as she said, “…I think he can. Because of the chaos magic.”
“Twilight!” Rarity gasped, aghast. “You said you’d leave if you could get hurt. You said you would leave!”
“And then what?” Twilight replied, calm but firm. “Do you know anypony else that can dreamwalk? Or handle Princess Luna?”
“No! No, of course not, but—” She cut herself off, letting out a despairing whine.
“Rarity. Princess Luna trained me for this. She made sure I was ready. I trust her teachings. Don’t you?”
Rarity looked away, laughing dryly. “You say that as though I have a choice.”
“You don’t have to be here for this,” Twilight said, lifting Rarity’s chin with her magic and looking into her eyes. “Do you want me to wake you up? I’m sure Rainbow Dash and the others need help with the foals.”
“No,” Rarity said after a moment. “I said I’d do it, so I will. Just…” She leaned in and pressed her hoof against Twilight’s necklace. “Promise me you’ll take care of yourself. Promise me you’ll be the first thing I see when I wake up. Promise me you’ll be there.”
Twilight nodded dutifully. “I promise,” she said, and to really bring it home, crossed her chest with a forehoof and recited an oath she’d learned from her book of idioms. “Cross my heart and hope to die.” Half a second passed. “Wait.”
“That’s how the saying goes!” Twilight exclaimed, apologetically, giggling when Rarity finally lightened up.
“Hope to die? Why would anypony even come up with that!” she whined, half-giggling when Twilight pulled her in for a comforting hug. “Why not, I don’t know, ‘cross my heart and hope to live on a luxury island with my marefriend and nopony has to die’? Does that not sound better? I think it sounds better!” She pulled back from Twilight. “In fact, I’m writing to the publishing house and suggesting it immediately!”
“Sure you are,” Twilight said, and then her grin faded. “I meant it, though.”
“I hope you’re not referring to the dying part,” Rarity said, and then giggled when Twilight rolled her eyes.
“No, silly. The part about being there.” She smiled affectionately and placed a hoof over Rarity’s glowing necklace. “As long as we have these, I’ll always be there when you need me, alright?”
“Darling. Those don’t work here,” Rarity playfully pointed out.
“Maybe they do! We’re in a dream!” Twilight said, opening the door for Rarity to step out. “Technically speaking, anything can happen if you believe it can happen.”
“Well, true as that may be, I’d rather we not find ourselves in a situation where we have to put that to the test, hm?”
Once outside, and once all the ponies gathered were assured that Twilight was fine and healthy and wouldn’t attack any of them, really, they went on their way.
“And where exactly are we going?” Rarity asked, leading the charge alongside Twilight while Fluttershy and Ink took the rear. “Back to the plaza with Pinkie, you mentioned?”
“Right. She must be waiting already with the kids and any other ponies, and I’d rather get to them first before Nightmare Moon does.”
Rarity furrowed her brow. “Nightmare Moon?”
“I told you, remember? That’s what Princess Luna is calling herself now.”
She looked around, at the warped buildings, at the unhinged dream doors, at this truly unsettling place with an aptly named ruler.
“Ah…” There was a pregnant pause afterward, the two of them walking in silence until Rarity finally continued. “…And have you seen her already?”
“And? How was she?”
Twilight grimaced. “Not good. She’s, er, really putting her knowledge of everypony’s nightmares to good use.”
“And Pinkie?” Rarity immediately asked next. “Was she there when you found Princess Luna? How is she? Is she all right?”
Twilight faltered. “Hrm. It’s… complicated? She seemed fine after we got Nightmare Moon to leave. She told everypony that wasn’t Princess Luna who’d just attacked them, and said the real princess was busy trying to fix things.”
“And they believed her?”
Twilight laughed. “Honestly, I think with how crazy things are right now, they’ll believe anything we tell them. And it’s not like they have a choice until I figure out a way to get them out of here.” Her levity died immediately. “Somehow.”
“…Well, perhaps Princess Luna can help you.”
Twilight turned and saw Rarity had stopped. She stopped as well.
“What? Princess Luna can help me?” She raised an eyebrow. “You want me to go and try to get help from Nightmare Moon? I thought you wanted me to be smart about this!”
“Twilight, I didn’t say Nightmare Moon,” Rarity carefully replied, and then pointed her hoof at something in the distance. “I said Princess Luna, who is standing right over there.”
Twilight blinked. “What?”
She immediately looked around. Sure enough, there in the distance, surrounded by adults, foals, and Pinkie Pie was Princess Luna herself.
“Oh, hey! It’s the Chief!” Incantation exclaimed, joining them. She gasped and stretched out her wings. “And is that Princess Luna?! I get to meet her?!”
Fluttershy walked over, and Twilight felt some measure of relief when the pegasus looked just as shocked as she felt. “Princess Luna?” she gasped, immediately turning to Twilight for some explanation.
Which she couldn’t give.
“That… That can’t be her!” she whispered urgently to Rarity and the others. “We saw Nightmare Moon! And it was Princess Luna!”
“…Could she be a fabrication?” Rarity asked.
“She has to be!”
“Princess…” Fluttershy glanced towards the distance where Pinkie was talking with Luna. “Pinkie said Nightmare Moon wasn’t Princess Luna. And she looked awfully sure of herself…”
“She did, but— But that can’t be— How could there be a Nightmare Moon and a Princess Luna?”
Twilight looked back towards the princess. They’d seen Nightmare Moon, but Fluttershy was right. Pinkie had seemed almost a hundred percent positive in her statements. Could… Could that actually be Princess Luna? Had she somehow separated herself from Nightmare Moon? They were in the dreamrealm, so technically speaking anything could happen, right?
An inkling of hope spread throughout her.
If that was genuinely Princess Luna, then she wouldn’t be alone anymore in saving the dreamrealm! Surely Princess Luna would know how to wake everypony up.
They quickly made their way towards the gathered ponies, Twilight’s heart skipping a beat when Pinkie and Princess Luna turned to them.
“Princess Twilight!” Pinkie exclaimed, overjoyed. “You found other ponies! And Rarity, too! Rarity!”
Rarity and Pinkie tumbled to the floor, the latter practically crawled all over Rarity.
“You’re safe, you’re safe! And Fluttershy is here, too! And Incantation!…Waitaminute!” She stopped to look at the changeling, wide-eyed. “Inky? You’re here, too?! Ohmigosh!” She pulled her in for a hug, similarly toppling her to the ground as she hugged both Rarity and Ink tight. “The Dream Team is all together! And Princess Luna too!”
When Pinkie gestured to her, Princess Luna smiled softly and bowed her head.
“I was delayed, but I’m here now,” she explained, her wings rustling at her side. She looked at Twilight when the younger alicorn stepped up. “Ah. Princess Twilight. Are you well?”
“I am! I am,” Twilight said, smiling as she tried to figure out what exactly was going on. “Are you well? I thought you…” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “You were upset after our last meeting?”
“What was that, Princess Twilight?” Pinkie immediately asked, craning her neck.
“Nothing!” Twilight exclaimed, smiling awkwardly. She took a glance around and then continued, “What about, er, Nightmare Moon?” She couldn’t help a glance towards Princess Luna. “Have you seen her again?”
“No, we haven’t,” Princess Luna said.
“Wait, wait!” one of the mares from the Dreamland interrupted. She stepped forward towards the princess. “Are you actually Princess Luna? You’re real?”
“I am, Dewdrop,” Princess Luna replied, smiling kindly. “You and Pinkie used to play together atop mountains of ice cream I created for you.”
Dewdrop faltered. “I… I don’t remember that at all…”
“We did, though!” Pinkie exclaimed, getting up and jumping up and down excitedly. “But the chaos magic made you forget!”
“And you can save us from these nightmares?” a stallion asked, stepping forward as well. “That’s what you do, isn’t it? My… My daughter says you help her with her nightmares.” He frowned, wary. “If you’re the real Princess Luna, you’d know what they are, wouldn’t you?”
“That depends. Which daughter are you talking about? The one who’s afraid of getting bad grades, or the one who’s afraid of the spaghetti monster?” she asked teasingly, and Twilight watched as the stallion’s eyes grew wide.
He was surprised she knew, Twilight hoped, because if he was, then this was even more proof for the adults that Princess Luna was real.
“That spaghetti monster is super scary!” Pinkie exclaimed, shivering and covering her eyes. “I was helping Princess Luna when she was helping Silver Bow, and even I was afraid!”
The princess laughed softly at that, before looking around and settling her eyes on Rarity. Her smile increased.
“Rarity! It is good to see you. We were worried. Are you well?”
“Oh, I am!” Rarity quickly exclaimed, clearing her throat. “And I’m glad everypony else is safe and sound too, though… is this all of you?” She turned to Twilight. “I gathered there were more? And where are the kids?”
“The kids?!” gasped one of the stallions. “Our children are here?!”
“Yes, but it’s okay, they’re safe! They’re with the teddy bears!” Pinkie quickly exclaimed. “We should be close to the plaza where they are!”
“Everypony,” Princess Luna announced, her wings extending as she turned around and began to walk, the parents eagerly following behind. “Stay close to me!”
Though still unsure, Twilight couldn’t help but be relieved they were no longer dealing with nightmares. This was much better than what happened in the Dreamland.
And it got even better when Rarity spoke up.
“Pardon me? The teddy bears?” she asked as they walked off.
Twilight stopped. “The teddybears?” She blinked once, twice, thrice, and then her smile turned absolutely sinful. “Oh. Right.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “Oh dear. I know that smile.”
“You’re going to love this,” Twilight said, resuming her trot with a spring in her step.
“Love this? Love what? Tell me!” Rarity insisted, and when Twilight regaled her with a grin and not an answer, Rarity turned to Fluttershy. “Fluttershy? What did Pinkie mean ‘the teddy bears’?”
Fluttershy giggled. “You’ll see.”
“Fluttershy!” Rarity whined, as they turned around the corner and Twilight stopped just so she could bask in what followed as Rarity bumped into her. She frowned at the alicorn. “Oof! Twilight, don’t just stop in the middle of the way like that! We’ll fall be… hind….?”
Twilight didn’t rightly know what made her grin the most: Rarity’s jaw falling half-open when her eyes landed on the foals and the numerous massive teddy bears loitering around, or when Rarity’s forehoof slammed against the alicorn’s chest.
“Those are the teddy bears.”
“Yes, they are!”
“The teddy bears we made for the foals.”
“During the Seeking Night event you organized, yes.”
“And they’re huge.”
“Ten feet tall, more or less.”
“And one just moved.”
Twilight giggled. “How else are they supposed to protect the foals if they can’t move?” She gasped with glee and pointed to the tutu-sporting bear. “Did you know that one over there knows ballet?”
Incantation flew up into the air, delighted. “It worked! The plan worked! We did it, boss!”
And just as they had when Dusk revealed himself to be awake, Rarity’s eyes watered. “Ah… So we did,” she whispered, laughing softly when an excited Twilight nuzzled her. “Not as I had expected, but…”
“This works?” Twilight ventured with a grin.
Rarity flashed her an emotional smile. “Yes. This works.”
“Come on, everypony!” Pinkie called out, further out and waving to them. “Hurry!”
“Princess Luna!” the foals exclaimed, delighted at the sight of the Princess. They rushed to her and crowded around her. “You’re here! You’re here!”
“Hello,” she said, delighted. “I am sorry I am late. I had much to do.” She then looked towards the adults peering at her, wide-eyed, and bowed her head. “Hello again.”
“Princess Luna! We fought off the nightmares!” one of the foals exclaimed, pulling on her foreleg. “We did it!”
The princess smiled brightly. “As I knew you would.”
“I’ll be,” Elder Moonshine said, stepping forward and peering at Princess Luna. “The infamous Moonlight Lullaby herself.”
Princess Luna smiled. “Elder Moonshine. It is nice to see you again.”
“Seeeeee!” Pinkie exclaimed, climbing up on Luna and sticking her tongue out at the Elder. “Told you she was real!”
“So she is.” After a glance at Twilight, she then readdressed Princess Luna. “You’re not this Nightmare Moon pony, then?”
The princess shook her head. “No, I am not.”
Twilight bit down on her lip. But… She had seen Princess Luna be overtaken by chaos magic.
“You look just like her, though,” a mare said, stepping to the princess.
“And yet, here I stand before you,” Princess Luna replied. “And so long as I do, you will always be safe. I will always be here when you need me.”
Dusk had approached them, looking terribly contrite as he pawed at the ground. “I’m… I’m sorry I said I didn’t believe in you.”
Princess Luna leaned down. “Do you believe in me now?”
“Yes!” he exclaimed and giggled when she leaned in to nuzzle him.
“Then I am real,” she said with finality. “But, for now, we should move on. Rarity.” She turned to the unicorn. “Do you have a plan?”
Rarity balked. “A plan? Me?” she stammered, taken by surprise. “I—Er… Well… I suppose we ought to seek shelter? Somewhere?”
“That sounds like a great idea!” Pinkie exclaimed. She looked around and pointed off to the distance. “How about inside there?!”
Out of thin air, a massive mountain appeared right in the middle of Hollow Shades, a large cave waiting at its bottom. Though the foals cheered and the adults seemed impressed, Elder Moonshine clearly had reservations.
“There? Inside that cave?”
Princess Luna nodded. “Don’t be afraid. I promise you will be super safe.”
Twilight frowned. “…Wait. Say that again?”
The princess acquiesced. “Don’t be afraid, Twilight.”
“No, no!” Rarity interrupted. “The other part?”
“You will be super safe.”
Twilight and Rarity’s eyes met and then simultaneously traveled to Pinkie Pie, her bright smile now seeming more nervous than bright.
“I see,” Rarity said, at length, before clearing her throat and sighing theatrically. “Well! I’m glad you’re here, Princess! I would trust no one but you with my safety. Not even Twilight.”
“Hey!” Twilight protested playfully. Afterward, she also turned to what she now knew was a construct and smiled warmly at it. A warmth that was directed both at Luna and Pinkie, now that it was clear what she was doing. “Though Rarity’s right, Princess. I trust you completely, too.”
The construct returned the smile. “Thank you, Princess Twilight,” she said, distracting ponies’ attention from Pinkie’s visible relief. The construct then gestured to the cave. “Follow me, little ponies!”
The trip to the cave was short but busy with all sorts of activities: Rarity scolding all the foals; the foals apologizing to Incantation for tricking her; the changeling making up excuses for them; Rarity scolding her for making up excuses for them; and the construct guiding them all, every single adult surprised and delighted by how much she knew about them.
“All her life they’ve mocked her,” Rarity murmured as they approached the cave, she and Twilight trailing behind the group. “And look how much she knows about them. All the positive things she’s having Princess Luna say about them.”
Twilight sighed. “I know. I wish the real Princess Luna were here to see this. Wherever she is.”
“What are we going to do about her? It’s not safe having the foals or the adults be there when we… find her. She could be dangerous.” She swallowed. “You were certainly nothing to sneeze at.”
“I know,” Twilight replied. “But…”
She furrowed her brow, taking in the sights until her eyes focused on the teddy bears and the foals that had breathed life into them.
“…I have a plan.”
As the rest of the group filed inside the cave, she trotted ahead and stood by the entrance.
“Listen to me, everypony! My friends and I are going to go and confront Nightmare Moon. You’re all going to stay here and wait until we’ve stopped her.” She gave the foals a pointed stare before they could try and speak. “All of you.”
“But—! You’re leaving us here?!” a stallion gasped.
“Alone?!” a mare blurted out.
Twilight shook her head. “No. Not alone.” With a smile, she gestured to the construct. “Princess Luna will stay here with you.” She then turned to the construct and after making sure Pinkie was listening, continued. “Princess, can you create a barrier over the entrance of the cave? Something to make sure nothing and nopony can get in.”
The construct nodded and immediately did so, a barrier appearing and protecting the entrance. That done, Twilight looked back towards the adults.
“Princess Luna is going to stay here and power this barrier, but you need to listen to me carefully! Dreams are powered by our beliefs. In order for all of you to stay safe, for Princess Luna to be able to protect you, you need to help her by believing she can. As long as you believe nothing can get past this barrier, nothing will get past this barrier. Do you understand?”
She waited for them to nod in understanding, then gestured to Luna.
“While we’re away, Princess Luna is going to sit here and power the barrier, but she needs to concentrate.” Her expression turned severe. “Please. Please, don’t interrupt her. She won’t be able to speak back. Just trust her and know she’s keeping you absolutely safe. Believe it.”
No sooner said than done, Princess Luna turned around and sat down on her hindlegs, her horn flashing and emitting a constant beam of power towards the barrier.
Once that was done, and once she instructed Incantation to distract everypony, she rushed to Pinkie.
“Pinkie,” she whispered. “Stop the construct.”
“Stop it?! But—! I’m the one keeping her here!”
“I know, Pinkie. But trust me. Make her leave.”
With great reluctance, Pinkie took a deep breath and closed her eyes. After a moment, she opened them, looked around and gasped at the sight of the construct still sitting in place, powering the barrier.
“Wait! I’m not doing that! Princess, I’m not doing that!”
“Exactly. She’s part of their dream, which means that now…” Her smile vanished, as her friends turned to her, she swallowed any fear before it could arise. “Now, we go find Nightmare Moon.”
She walked back to where Incantation was and gathered the attention of the others.
“We have to leave now, so until we’re back, please. Don’t lose faith in the princess. And in each other. And no matter what happens, no matter what you hear or see, don’t pay attention to the nightmares.” She waited until they all nodded before glancing at the foals and their teddy bears. “Kids. I’m counting on you to keep everypony safe.”
“Yes, Princess Twilight!” they exclaimed, standing tall and proud.
Elder Moonshine stepped forward, her gaze traveling from Fluttershy, to Pinkie, to Twilight, and then at last to Rarity.
“Good luck, children,” she said. “May you end this terrible nightmare. And Pinkie…”
She glanced towards Luna, and then turned back to Pinkie, smiling.
“Bring Moonlight Lullaby home.”
Pinkie blinked once, twice, thrice, and then broke into a tearful grin. “I will, Elder! I will!”
To cheers and fanfare, the four mares strode out of the barrier and back into the distorted Hollow Shades. To their surprise, when they turned around, the barrier changed and took the shape of the mountainside, hiding the foals and adults from view. Chaos magic crackled to life around it, the haze surrounding the barrier only to be instantly repelled.
“What now?” Rarity asked. “Are we supposed to just find Princess Luna? Where could she be?”
“The last we saw of her was when she made a retreat back at the plaza, so she might still be around that area.”
That said, they set off into town, the haze of chaos magic trailing behind them, stalking their every move.
“That was really clever of you, Pinkie,” Twilight said. “Using a construct.”
“O-Oh! Thank you, Princess Twilight,” Pinkie said with a smile that faded a bit too quickly. Her gaze turned towards Rarity. “How are you doing, Rarity?”
“I’m managing alright, I suppose. I could have done without the ghastly nightmare Twilight had to save me from, but c’est la vie. How about yourself? Did you have a nightmare plaguing you?”
Twilight frowned. “No? Interesting. So far everypony I’ve met has had some kind of nightmare chasing after them. If I had to guess why you’re not being affected, it might be because you’ve been exposed to Princess Luna and lucid dreaming your entire life. A nightmare can’t affect you if you know it’s a nightmare.”
Pinkie’s ears folded back, and she turned her gaze towards the road.
“No, that’s not it. It’s more that nothing is scarier than Princess Luna being a bad pony. So! I guess I do have a nightmare after all!” she exclaimed, and then immediately deflated. “Ha ha.”
Twilight placed a wing on Pinkie’s back.
“We’ll free her, Pinkie. You’ll see.”
They kept going after that, finally finding their way towards the main plaza only to find it completely changed. It was barren of objects, like benches and fountains and other such things. They had disappeared, and it was because of their disappearance that a single new object was highlighted. One that Twilight had completely forgotten about.
There, in the middle of the plaza was the statue of Princess Luna.
To Twilight’s surprise, the statue remained unchanged from its real-life counterpart, still depicting the princess looking into the distance, her ears pressed against her head, and her eyes still sad and dejected.
“What do we do now?” Fluttershy asked.
Twilight pursed her lips together.
“Er. I don’t know.” She scanned the area and found no trace of the other alicorn, so she jokingly added, “Call her name?”
“Princess Luna!” Pinkie hollered out, startling Rarity next to her. “Priiiiincess Luuuuuuuuna!”
“Pinkie! She didn’t mean that!” Rarity turned to Twilight. “Did you?”
“…I don’t have any other ideas. I could try and trace her down with my magic, but considering she seems to love the attention…” She turned towards the plaza and placed a hoof next to her mouth. “Princess Luna! Nightmare Moon!”
She called out a few more times before turning her attention back to the statue, as though she could somehow glean information out of it. Her eyes roamed the granite and finally landed on the cutiemark only barely hidden by a cloak: a full moon.
“Hilarious, isn’t it?” a voice said next to her. “I’m not even remembered properly.”
With a surprised yelp, Twilight jumped aside and found Nightmare Moon herself next to her, leisurely laying on top of a floating stormcloud.
“Twilight!” Rarity called, immediately rushing to her, ready to attack only for her bravado to vanish and turn into shock at the sight of the totally transformed alicorn, possessed by chaos magic. “My stars.”
“Why are you surprised?” asked Nightmare Moon, her smile displaying her fangs as the stormcloud flew high above into the air. “Weren’t you the ones seeking me out?”
“Princess Luna!” Pinkie Pie called, looking up at the alicorn. “What’s wrong?! Why are you doing this?!”
“Nightmare Moon,” the alicorn corrected curtly before leaning down from her cloud. “And what do you mean, foal? Why am I what? Having more fun than I have in ages?”
Twilight flew up into the air.
“Nightmare Moon!” she corrected again, faintly annoyed as she lifted a hoof and suddenly Twilight was launched towards the ground. She flew her cloud down to where she’d landed. “Really. Try to keep up. It’s not that difficult.”
“Stop this!” Twilight demanded, painfully getting up. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?!”
Nightmare Moon tilted her head to the side. “Helping ponies face their fears?”
Pinkie Pie stamped her hoof on the ground. “No! No, you’re not! This isn’t helping anypony, Princess Luna!”
Nightmare Moon raised an eyebrow. “Ahhh… Again with your little ‘Princess Luna’. You really are thick, aren’t you. I really don’t want to repeat myself again.”
“I’m not calling you that ‘cause that’s not who you are!” Pinkie protested. “You’re Princess Luna! You help ponies with their fears by explaining them and guiding them through them, not by making them even more afraid!”
Nightmare Moon’s cloud flew to Pinkie Pie, the latter stumbling down in surprise.
“I am doing what I should have done centuries ago,” she hissed. Her stormcloud then flew back up into the air and she yelled out for all to hear. “I, Nightmare Moon, am no longer taking care of ponies who have never cared for me! And so it shall be evermore!”
“I told you, you fool! I’m Night—”
“No, you’re not!” Pinkie begged, looking up at Nightmare Moon on her stormcloud. Tears filled her eyes. “This isn’t who you are, Princess Luna!”
“Princess Luna? Princess Luna?!” howled Nightmare Moon, no longer bothering to keep up her aloof façade. Thunder crashed down from the stormcloud in front of Pinkie, and just as Twilight jumped in to protect her, so did Nightmare Moon emerge from the blast, enraged.
“Stay back!” Twilight ordered, forcing the combative Pinkie a few steps back to where Fluttershy and Rarity were—the former terrified, and the latter muted with shock.
Twilight turned back to the princess, wings flared, her tone threatening. “Princess Luna.”
“Princess Luna is GONE!” the mare snarled, the chaos magic coursing over the ground and her body flaring to life. She stepped forward as Twilight and the others stepped back, every word she said next edged like a dagger. “And I have taken her place! They did not believe in her, but they’ll believe in me!”
“That’s not true!” Pinkie protested, pushing past Twilight only for the alicorn to grab her with a foreleg and hold her back. “Let me go, Princess Twilight! Let me go!”
“Pinkie, please—!” Twilight begged, not wanting to use magical force.
“But that’s not true!” Pinkie protested, struggling against her. “Tons of ponies believe in Princess Luna! The foals believe in her!”
“The foals?! Don’t make me laugh!” Nightmare Moon shrieked derisively. “The very same foals that are so quick to forget me? To become another adult that laughs at the mere notion that I’m not a story for foals? Those foals?!”
Pinkie exploded at that.
“Not me! I didn’t!”
Her will finally overpowered Twilight’s strength, pushing her to the ground as she rushed to Nightmare Moon, planting herself in front of her and placing a hoof against her chest.
“I’ve always believed in you! Always!” Her ears folded back, and she all but pleaded. “Doesn’t that count for something?”
Nightmare Moon laughed. She laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
Her laughter died. Quickly.
She leaned down, eyes narrowing to slits.
Pinkie didn’t reply again this time. No valiant ‘yes, me’ that Twilight could see and be inspired by. No shining ray of hope. Twilight saw none of this in Pinkie Pie, oh no, but what she saw in Luna… The bitterness, the anger, and most of all, the resentment.
That she recognized.
She knew what came next.
And, it seemed, so did Rarity.
“Stop her,” Rarity gasped, jolted to life, her voice strangled. “Stop her, Twilight!”
But Nightmare Moon was faster, her horn lighting with magic. She slammed Twilight against the ground, and as Rarity rushed to help her, Nightmare Moon regaled Pinkie with her full attention.
“You think your silly belief counts for something?!” Nightmare Moon demanded, everyone paralyzed save for the little pink pony standing her ground despite flinching at every word. “Don’t make me laugh! You think you’re better than them! But are you? After what you’ve done?! You made me believe I could leave. You made me feel I could leave. You gave me hope.”
Her eyes filled with angry tears.
“Ponies have forgotten me, derided me, for hundreds of years! All of them, making a mockery out of my name, out of my role, out of everything I am, and yet you, Pinkie Pie. What you have done to me. You—”
“Stop! Stop it, Princess Luna!” Twilight begged, wrapped in Rarity’s embrace.
“You’re worse than all of them combined.”
Twilight wasn’t altogether sure what came first: her own gasp, her heart constricting in her chest; Pinkie falling to her hindlegs, her widening eyes puffy with tears; Fluttershy rushing to Pinkie Pie and hugging her close, her brow knitting with outrage; or…
Or Nightmare Moon’s look of surprise when an enraged Rarity spoke, still holding Twilight in her forelegs.
“How dare you.”
Twilight froze in Rarity’s grip, though only emotionally. Her body, on the other hand, was shaking because Rarity herself was shaking, completely overtaken by fury.
“How dare you speak to her like that. How dare you after everything she’s done for you!” she seethed, her words directed at Nightmare Moon but slashing Twilight Sparkle. “After everything she’s endured for you?!”
“No, no, Rarity!” Pinkie stammered, her cracking voice only just above sobs. She clumsily stood up to her hooves, standing defensively in front of Nightmare Moon, a hoof raised in the air. “Please! Don’t be mad at her! It’s fine!”
“It’s fine?! Pinkie Pie, in what world is this fine?!”
“It is! She didn’t mean it! She’s just hurting! The spirit hurt her!”
“I don’t care!” Rarity yelled, indignation bleeding through her words, her hooves subconsciously digging into Twilight. A gesture painful for the alicorn in more ways than physical. “I don’t give a bloody damn if she’s hurting, or wounded, or in pain, or if Discord hurt her, or Hollow Shades forgot her, or anything! I don’t care how badly she’s hurting, none of that means she’s allowed to treat us like that!”
Her eyes filled with tears as hot as the shame that burned through Twilight, terrible memories rising to the surface.
“To treat us as though we’re somehow worse than anything Discord’s ever done to her! To—! To even say it!”
Rarity turned her sights back to Nightmare Moon.
“How dare you, Princess Luna.”
Nightmare Moon stepped back, surprised but not entirely thrown off her balance. “Well, well.”
Twilight, still clinging to Rarity, tried in vain to say something, to catch Rarity’s attention, but was unable to when Rarity continued, relentless.
“Apologize, Princess Luna,” she demanded. “Now.”
The two words clung in Twilight’s throat, her muzzle pressed against Rarity. Even though the apology was not expected of her, she wanted to say it. But she couldn’t. She was gripped by the anxiety of waiting for Nightmare Moon—for Princess Luna—to say them, hoping she would in some shape or form absolve them both by doing what Twilight hadn’t.
But she didn’t.
In Pinkie’s eyes, Twilight saw a broken heart.
She had to act.
“Princess Luna!” she demanded, Rarity backing off as she stood up. “Think about what you’re doing!”
“How could you!” Fluttershy exclaimed, and now it was she who was angered. She turned to them all—to Twilight, to Nightmare Moon, to Rarity—and continued. “This is no way to treat each other!” She directed her fury at Nightmare Moon. “And you—! Pinkie Pie believes in you!”
“No,” Pinkie replied.
Fluttershy looked at her. “What?”
All eyes were on Pinkie. And then on Nightmare Moon when she spoke.
“No?” she asked, and there was no derision here. No sarcastic tone readying a witty remark. This was confusion. Surprise. She stepped forward, her ears alert. “What do you mean no?”
Suddenly, Pinkie stood up, almost but not quite pushing Fluttershy away.
“No!” she yelled. “I believe in Princess Luna! Princess Luna always takes care of others!” She stepped forward, and Nightmare Moon stepped back. “Princess Luna always tries to make sure you’re a better pony!” She stepped forward again, and her voice cracked. “But… But you’re not Princess Luna, anymore. And if… If…”
She choked on her words, strangled bits and pieces that she struggled to push out. But push them out she did, for the filly who believed…
Believed no more.
“And if this is who I’m gonna see every time I go to sleep,” she continued, “then I’d rather never sleep again!”
And with a poof, Pinkie Pie disappeared.
Just like that, leaving a stunned silence in her wake.
“My stars,” Rarity whispered, a much more polite variation of the expletive that crossed Twilight’s mind.
“Where did she go?” Nightmare Moon asked, and at Twilight’s silence, her tone rose. “Foolish child! No one can leave!” A burst of magic shot out of her horn, and when a second passed and nothing changed, she did it again. Again, and again, until three times went by, and Twilight nearly jumped out of her skin when Nightmare Moon materialized before her, furious. “Where is she?!”
“I-I don’t know!” Twilight blurted out. “She woke up!”
“Then bring her back!” Nightmare Moon demanded, and as her eyes found the light, it was no longer Nightmare Moon who spoke. She magically grabbed Twilight by the scruff of her neck and shook her back and forth. “Bring her back, Twilight Sparkle!”
“I can’t! She left!” Twilight protested, trying to break free of the princess’ grip. “You made her leave!”
She yelped in pain when Princess Luna dropped her suddenly, the alicorn stepping back several paces. Her wings lowered, her ears folded back, and she looked towards the spot where Pinkie had been, distraught.
“I… I did this.”
Twilight’s eyes widened, fear gripping her. A voice had just whispered in between her and Luna, and it wasn’t any voice that she recognized.
But before she could question it, a surge of chaos magic flared to life from the ground and launched itself at Princess Luna, swallowing her whole. When it dispersed after a moment, the darkness had returned to the Princess’s eyes, along with a dark aura much larger than before.
“No, I didn’t,” hissed Nightmare Moon. “They did this to me! She did! She was holding me back! But now that she’s gone…” She looked at Twilight, and her smile turned predatory as the chaos magic around them rose into the air, a mist that soon became a whirlwind with them at the center.
“The nightmares shall last forever!”
Twilight only had enough time to react, the harsh winds pelting against her, threatening to whisk her away. She turned to Rarity and Fluttershy, the two of them standing a few feet away and seemingly faring no better against the dusky winds, now slowly dampening her visibility as well.
If they got carried away and separated…
“Hurry!” she barked, reaching out to them, yelling over the sound of the wind and Nightmare Moon’s howling laughter. “Grab on to me! Hurry!”
“I can’t see!” Fluttershy called.
But the sound of Rarity’s voice was soon drowned out by the wind and the darkness. The whirlwind finally became insurmountable, and she yelped in surprise when it carried her off, a dizzyingly terrifying ride that seemed to go on for hours and hours until it ended with a…
In the midst of total darkness, pain rushed through her body as she crashed against a wall with a thud, and again when she slid down to the ground. This was followed shortly after by several heavy stray objects tumbling down from the sky, forcing her to cover her head under her forelegs.
To her immense relief, the ‘attack’ did not last long, if it even was an attack at all. Her eyes fluttered open and she peered into the darkness, trying to figure out where she was. Or where the others were.
“Hello?! Is anypony there?!” she called out, pressing her hoof on an indent on the wall as she rose to her hooves. “Hello?!”
She took a step forward, intending on lighting the room with her magic, but shrieked and stumbled back when taking a step forward resulted in a loud ripping sound, like a page being torn in half. She waited, paralyzed, for something to happen, and when nothing did, it occurred to her that that sounded exactly like a page ripped apart.
Wait a minute…
Her horn burst with magic, illuminating not only the page she’d now torn clean off a book, but the bookcase she’d become intimately acquainted with, holes in the shelves once filled by the books now scattered on the floor.
And, in truth, she couldn’t help a laugh. A genuine, actually amused chuckle.
Fitting, wasn’t it. Of course she’d be hurled against a bookcase.
Unfortunately, bookcases weren’t usually by their lonesome, now were they? And especially not this one, she knew, that was familiar, and old, just like the many other bookcases she saw when she turned around.
And, in truth, she couldn’t help a laugh. Because it was funny.
Of bloody course.
It made sense! Nightmare Moon had promised them nightmares, hadn’t she, and she delivered! She wished she were surprised but she wasn’t. Wasn’t this great? Wasn’t this wonderful?
Wasn’t this absolutely fab-u-lous?
Of course it would be the library.
When her calls again fell on deaf ears, she decided she had no choice but to press on, apprehension gripping her heart. The sooner she found the exit to the library, the better.
It would certainly help if she could see, too.
Moving forward into the somber hallways, she looked up at the sky and bit down on her lips. Well, if this was a dream, and this was the library, then… “Star? Light, please!”
Clanking noises sounded off in the distance, and she watched with relief as a small candelabra floated up from the middle of the room. And yet, her relief was short-lived. One of its branches, she noticed, had been almost torn clean off, swinging about by the thin piece of metal still keeping it affixed to its trunk.
It did not fare any better when it transformed into a chandelier, either. It illuminated the room, certainly, but many of its branches had been twisted and nearly torn off, their flickering lights clinging to life, somehow shining despite the chaos magic engulfing the chandelier.
It was awful to see. It unsettled her to her very core, but perhaps not quite so much as the distinct impression she was being watched. Which in fact she was, she realized, when she turned towards the end of the hallway and nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw somepony standing in the distance.
Her scream echoed throughout the library, the poor dear levitating a book and hurling it at the distant pony. Unfortunately for her, the book hit its mark, and she yelped again when the sound of shattering glass rang out.
She looked back towards the end of the hallway and found the pony still there, gawking at her from the other side of a full-length mirror. Despite the piles of shards scattered on the floor around it, and despite what had absolutely been the sound of glass shattering, the mirror was complete. Not intact, no—it had cracks scattered throughout it—but it was complete.
She was immediately drawn to it, her thoughts of her friends dimming out as she traveled the length of the hallway and came to a stop in front of her reflection in the mirror. The cracks disjointed her image, somehow heightened her every terrible feature: emphasized eyes that once sparkled and now constantly felt tired; highlighted lips that once dazzled and now struggled to smile; framed a glowing pink necklace that, much like Star’s light, flickered with a pink dimness, clinging to life.
And now, she didn’t mean to be theatric, but she was who she was, dramatic, darling, ‘till the very end. And as she stared at her warped, jagged reflection, Rarity the unicorn felt like she’d never before seen herself more clearly.
Once upon a time, there was a mare who did not believe in fairytales.
Did not believe in alicorns fighting spirits of chaos, or all-powerful elements scattered throughout the land, and certainly less in princesses trapped under trees, waiting to be found.
And then she found herself one such princess! And she was a beautiful one, at that—silly, and smart, and hurt, and brave. Stars, she was brave. And so the mare fell in love, and fancied herself on a rescue mission. She was dashing and heroic, going off on grand adventures to save her beloved! Fighting dragons and demons! Breaking curses! Getting battle scars, too!
A heroine through and through.
Rarity fell to her hindlegs, her eyes fixed on her reflection, sad and tired because, you see, this brave mare, well…
She lost her princess. Lost her to an enemy she could not vanquish. And what happened when she got her back? Did she go back to being a daring adventurer?
No, not exactly.
She became paranoid. Terrified. Obsessive. Coddled her princess. And most of all, she became a coward. And then…
“And then,” Rarity said, lifting a hoof and stroking her reflection’s cheek, “she wasn’t much of a hero anymore, was she?”
A wave of exhaustion befell her, and she moved to sit against a bookcase, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.
Then she remembered Princess Luna, having gone mad. Insane. And how she reacted, too! She hadn’t been able to help herself. To see Princess Luna treat Pinkie in such a way had awoken visceral memories in her, things she had thought she’d put to rest.
How much had Twilight heard of what she’d said? Likely all of it. How was she handling it? Was she okay?
She’s fine, she thought to herself, forceful. Twilight is fine.
A mantra she’d been repeating to herself over and over for what felt like forever, and even more so after their fight a few days ago. The only thing she cared about, and which perhaps had blinded her from asking a very different question:
Was she herself fine?
Perhaps that’s why she’d focused on Twilight so much. Why she’d coddled her, why she’d poured herself into burying her feelings all for Twilight’s sake. Focusing on Twilight meant she didn’t have to think about herself.
Didn’t have to think about a question whose answer frightened her, even though it was now so overwhelming, seeping out of her very own subconscious like it had that damned night with that damned dream.
She wasn’t fine. Obviously, she wasn’t fine. Everypony and their aunt could tell she wasn’t fine.
She knew that. What she didn’t want to confront was the solution to fixing that.
Her eyes flew open at the sound of Twilight’s distant voice, and tears wet her eyes. Her trembling mouth tried to speak, but the alicorn’s name caught in her throat.
I can’t, she thought, and how horrible that this both relieved her and distressed her. How awful that she wanted to call out Twilight’s name, but she wanted her to stay away at the same time.
“Rarity?! Are you here?!”
For a moment, Rarity debated not answering. She debated sitting there, looking like a complete and utter wreck so Twilight would find her and see how she felt. Rarity, frankly, wanted to cry. She wanted to be held, and to cry and cry and wail and wail and have Twilight hold her and comfort her, and then maybe gorge herself on ice cream—if ice cream was even served in this sunforsaken place.
But crying wasn’t going to save Princess Luna, now was it?
So she did what she did best: get up to her hooves, wipe away her tears but not her makeup, and then on with the show.
“Twilight?!” she called out, doing her best to steady her voice. “Where are you?!”
“Near the entrance! Where are you?!”
“Stay there! I’ll come to you!”
Leaving the cracked mirror behind, she rushed into the labyrinth, following the sound of Twilight’s voice until she emerged in the library’s lobby where she saw the alicorn lingering by the entrance.
The first thing she felt was relief. A crashing, overwhelming sense of relief at the sight of Twilight, shaken but unharmed and real. Unlike the Twilight who’d haunted her in the Dreamland, the necklace hanging from this Twilight’s neck was vivid and shining and glowing with life.
Twilight rushed over and pressed a hoof against Rarity’s shoulder, concern etched on her face. “I’m so glad I found you! Are you okay? Why are you crying?”
“I’m fine! I’m fine, I am!” Rarity said, wiping at her eyes again. “I’m just… shaken. What happened with Princess Luna, and Pinkie and…” Her eyes grew wide, and she looked around. “Wait. Where’s Fluttershy?”
“I don’t know. I thought she’d be with you?” At Rarity’s expression, her ears folded back. “Oh. Oh. Ohhhhhh no.” She buried her face in her hooves, breathing rather heavily. “Okay. Princess Luna’s gone mad, Fluttershy is who knows where, Pinkie is gone. Everything is fine, just fine, finefinefinefine.”
And then, just as Rarity was about to try to calm her down, the alicorn stopped her heavy breathing and looked up.
“Everything is fine,” she said, suddenly confident.
“…It is? I mean, it is! Of course it is! Is it because you have a plan?”
“No,” Twilight replied with a smile. “It’s because we’re together. Right?”
Rarity offered a smile of her own, placing a hoof over her necklace. “Of course.”
Twilight nodded and made a move towards the exit tunnel. “Come on, we should go. The sooner we find Fluttershy, the better.”
Rarity quickly followed after. “Where do you think she could be?”
“I don’t know,” Twilight said, about to rush into the tunnel. “We might have luck finding her—”
Crackling and hissing, a raspberry barrier came to life before the princess, blocking her exit and sending her tumbling back onto the floor.
“Twilight!” Rarity exclaimed, rushing to her and helping her up. She then looked at the familiar barrier, horrified as it flickered and then disappeared. “The barrier?! Why is it here?!”
“I don’t know!” Twilight stammered, as shocked as Rarity was. She lifted her hoof towards the tunnel, only for Rarity to yank it back with magic.
“Don’t touch it again, for goodness’ sake!”
Twilight frowned. “…Because it’s going to trap me even more?”
“Touché.” She looked back to the tunnel. “But why is it here?! Is it because we’re in nightmares?”
Twilight hummed. “That would make sense. Try and see if you can go through it.”
Swallowing down her trepidation, she carefully lifted her hoof and tried to cross it through, only for the barrier to promptly repel her. It seemed as though she was trapped as well.
She admittedly felt some strange sort of relief by the fact.
“Can’t you make it disappear?” she asked next, keeping a calm demeanor mostly because she could think of worse things than being trapped in a room with Twilight. “This is a dream, isn’t it? Surely you can use your dreamwalking magic to get rid of it, can’t you?”
“I can try…”
After taking a step back, Twilight’s horn lit up with magic and a spell shot out, aimed straight for the barrier. The barrier flickered, but much to their dismay, did not disappear or seem otherwise damaged by the spell.
“Right. That didn’t work.” She turned to Rarity. “Any ideas?”
Rarity looked to the exit, and then to the library around them. “Hrm…”
Truthfully, she had one idea, but didn’t exactly feel keen on speaking it out loud. If this was her nightmare, then didn’t it stand to reason she could dispel the barrier? But expressing that out loud meant revealing to Twilight that her nightmares were about her imprisonment.
“Let me try,” she ventured instead and was grateful when Twilight didn’t question it. She waited until the alicorn stepped back and then, much as Twilight had, alighted her horn with magic and blasted the barrier with a spell.
It didn’t go away.
“What? Why isn’t it leaving?” she complained, and again blasted another spell at it. And then another, and another, until she turned to Twilight and whined. “Twilight, why isn’t it working?”
“How am I supposed to know, Rarity?” Twilight asked, just as bewildered as she was. “Unless…”
Her expression darkened.
“Unless what?” Rarity asked, and a terrible thought crossed her mind as she looked to the barrier. “Unless I didn’t make it?”
The two mares squealed in surprise at the voice and looked around for its source, only to find absolutely nopony.
“Who said that?!” Twilight demanded, back to back with Rarity, her horn lighting up. “Show yourself!”
“It’s him!” Rarity gasped, grabbing Twilight with her hoof. “It’s him! He’s here! Discord!”
Twilight blanched, her magic fizzling for a moment. “Discord?”
“Discord? Really?!” the voice said, greatly annoyed. “Discord, Discord, Discord! What am I? Chopped liver?!”
To the sound of a sinister laugh, the chaos magic littered on the floor and walls moved and converged on the same spot, until Rarity watched with horror as it clumped together and took the form of the spirit of chaos.
With a great big grin, he extended his arms to the side and struck a pose.
“It is Discord!” Rarity exclaimed, horrified.
“What? No! I’m not him! I’m—” He stopped and tapped a finger against his chin. “Actually, I suppose I am him. A part of him! The best part! The one who’s been living here for a thousand years! The one who made all those idiotic little ponies believe Princess Moony isn’t real! Not Discord, but the…” He excitedly encouraged them with a gesture, waving his paw in a forward circle. “The…”
“The chaos magic?” Rarity exclaimed. “You’re the chaos magic?”
“Bingo again!” He clapped his hands with delight. “I’m the chaos magic!” He bowed reverently. “Hello, ladies!” And then his neck stretched out all the way until his face was nearly pressed against theirs, and then his eyes turned to slits. “Haven’t you been a pain in the neck?”
“But—! But how are you doing this?!” Rarity demanded.
“You can talk?” Twilight asked next.
“But the chaos puppet from the library! It couldn’t speak!”
“Oh, please,” he said, his neck snapping back to normal length as he crossed his arms and harrumphed. “Don’t compare me to the library’s magic. A fraction of me could have kept little miss it’s-all-my-fault over here trapped in that forest. But to keep an entire town controlled, he had to leave much more of me! And now that Moony gave me access to the dreamrealm, I can do so much more! Even talk!” He narrowed his eyes again. “And do you know how long I’ve—”
“Twilight!” Rarity cut off, turning to the alicorn and grabbing her by the shoulders. “Leave! Leave, Twilight! Now!”
The chaos magic blinked. “Excuse me? I was talking.”
“The dreamrealm, Twilight! You need to wake up!” Rarity continued, gripped with panic as she shook the poor alicorn. If something happened to Twilight, if she… “Wake up!“
The chaos magic leaned down, tilting his head to the side. “Wake up?” He grinned. “She can’t.”
“Shut up! Just shut up, you infernal beast!“ Rarity snarled to him, her panic increased tenfold. She turned back to Twilight and implored her. “Twilight, please!”
“Come now, Princess Twilight!” he exclaimed, floating onto his belly and resting his chin on his hands, eyelashes fluttering. “Wake up!”
Overwhelmed, Twilight did as instructed, her horn lighting up. She closed her eyes and cast a spell, the magic aura enveloping her for a moment before disappearing and leaving her behind in the dreamrealm.
She opened her eyes, and for the first time, Rarity saw her terror reflected back at her.
“I can’t,” Twilight whispered, pale like a ghost. “I can’t leave.”
And Rarity’s entire spinning world came to a violent stop.
“What do you mean you can’t?” she asked quietly, and then her quietness became an unholy screech as she grabbed Twilight, her hooves digging into the alicorn’s shoulder. “What do you mean you can’t?! Try again!”
“Try again, Twilight!”
The chaos magic laughed with unrestrained glee. “I told you! She can’t! She’s trapped here with you!” He floated upright and blinked at her. “I would’ve thought this was what you wanted! Isn’t this better than last time? Now you’re both trapped in the library!”
Twilight’s eyes filled with tears. “I… I…”
And so did Rarity’s, as she stepped back, a forehoof rising to her mouth. “No. No.”
No. This was over. This was supposed to be over. Twilight was supposed to be safe now, wasn’t she? She was supposed to be safe!
She was supposed to be safe.
“But this is wrong, isn’t it?” the chaos magic continued, his brows knitting together. “It’s missing something. That little detail to make our story interesting. But what?” He hummed loudly, his eyes roaming the library, until finally they settled on Twilight. He grinned maliciously. “It’s missing a ghost.”
Before either mare could react, the chaos magic snapped its fingers and a jolt of chaos magic hurled Twilight into the air, immobilizing her as though it had her in a chokehold.
“No!” shrieked Rarity, but the chaos magic shrugged it off, snapping his fingers again only for more chaos magic to rise from the floor and restrain Rarity. “No! Let her go!”
He ignored her, instead levitating towards Twilight, the panicked alicorn gasping and struggling in his magical grip.
“So, Princess Twilight, what will it be?” he asked, pensively. He lifted a claw, placed it on Twilight’s forehead, and as her eyes grew wide with fear, magic pulsed out from his claw and into her body. “Another thousand years?”
“No! Stop!” Rarity begged, fighting against the magic with every fiber of her being. Watching, sick to her soul, as she began to see the outline of bookcases and walls through Twilight’s body.
Twilight was beginning to lose corporeality.
“Please! Haven’t you done enough to her?!”
“No!” Twilight gasped. “Let me go!”
“Princess! I really can’t have you messing up my plans in Hollow Shades anymore!” it chastised, and Rarity could bear it no longer.
“It’s not her!” she exclaimed, desperate. “She’s not the one messing up your plans! It was me! The Dreamland was my idea! The Seeking Night event was my idea! I asked her to dreamwalk! All of it was me! Please!”
She made her choice.
Now that made the chaos magic stop. He looked away from Twilight and towards the unicorn staring him down from the floor.
“Yes,” Rarity replied at once. “Let her leave. Please. And you can have me.”
He blinked at her, almost genuinely surprised. “You would take her place?”
The chaos magic contemplated her offer a moment before snapping his fingers. The magical grip holding Twilight in the air disappeared, and the princess fell to the floor with a thud, her body regaining its physicality. She coughed violently, gasping for air.
When the magic restraining her vanished, Rarity rushed to Twilight and scooped her up in her forelegs, holding her close as the tearful alicorn trembled in her embrace, shaken to her very core. She grabbed on to Rarity, burying herself against her.
“I… I couldn’t breathe, I— I couldn’t feel, and— and—”
“It’s alright, my darling,” Raritywhispered to her life entire, struggling to talk over her tears. She nuzzled her close, because she could touch her, and feel her, and no one would ever take that from Twilight ever again. “It’ll be fine. I’ll stay behind.”
“But—” Twilight gasped, clutching her. “But, Rarity—”
“Please, Twilight. Please, don’t argue. Not now.” She forced the best smile she could, and then lifted Twilight’s chin, brushing back her bangs like she’d done dozens of times, like she now feared she’d never do again. But it was fine.
“Once he lets you go,” she continued, “find the others and rescue Princess Luna, and then get out of here. You’re smart enough to figure out how. Promise me, Twilight.” When Twilight nodded, she leaned down and pressed their foreheads together, her heart bleeding. “Stars. I love you.”
“Well, isn’t this disgustingly sweet!”
The chaos magic snapped its fingers and Rarity yelped when he propelled her into the air, restraining her in a magic chokehold as he’d earlier done with Twilight. He floated all the way to her, his face once again inches away from hers.
“My, my. How romantic! In exchange for her freedom, you’d give up yours. What a dashing gesture from our dashing heroine! But are you sure about it, Ra-ri-ty? How about we give you a little taste, darling.”
Despite herself, Rarity couldn’t help a terrified scream, muffling it by biting down on her lip as the chaos magic lifted his claw and then pressed it right against her heart, magic pulsing out.
To say it was awful would be to put what Rarity felt kindly. It was unlike anything she’d ever experienced before, agonizing but not in a way where there is a pain you can feel. Not a sharp pang, or a burning sensation. It felt like she was asphyxiating, but not because she couldn’t breathe, but because the air was being sucked out of her body.
It was like her very consciousness, her very soul, was seeping out, leaving her numb, numb, numb until she couldn’t feel at all.
When it stopped, her first reaction was to try and breathe, to gasp out, but she couldn’t. Her very body panicked at the fact that no matter how much she breathed in, no air came in. She felt absolutely nothing.
“Stop!” she gasped despite herself, because when one was being willingly murdered, your body cared little for your heart’s resolve. Out of sheer instinct, she reached towards his claw, tried to swat it away, only for her hoof to go through his hand.
It was enough to make her body stop, to make her survival instincts halt and wait.
Wait as she lifted her hoof again, slowly now, terrified and slowly, and then waved it in front of her face, her hoof going through the chaos magic’s arm every single time. If her heart was beating, which it wasn’t any longer, it would have slowed to a stop, no doubt.
She was a mirage. No different than an illusion, or a projection.
“This, my dear,” he said, “is what will happen to you.”
He leaned in again, every word a sharpened whisper.
“So. Let me ask again, Rarity. You would take her place?”
And despite it all.
Despite what it meant, despite how it felt, despite the horror she’d seen the displacement inflict upon Twilight, Rarity stared into his eyes and kept her choice.
“Yes, I would.”
There was no hesitation here. No fear, no second-guessing, nothing of the sort. If it meant Twilight was safe, then she’d do what had to be done.
“Rarity. Rarity. Ra-ri-ty. You really are something, I’ll give you that,” he said, lifting her chin with two fingers. “For centuries and centuries, I had this abysmal town under my control! I made so many ponies believe Moony was a sham, she bought into it herself! It was wonderful!” Little clay figurines of Princess Luna and assorted ponies materialized in the air, dancing around Rarity. “All I had to do was cut their access to the dreamrealm for a few centuries, and next thing you know, she was doing it herself! It was wonderful!”
“Pinkie…” Rarity hissed. “Pinkie… still… won…”
He frowned. “Ah. Yes. The pink menace. I don’t actually know how she managed that. But it doesn’t matter!” A single pink figurine appeared, its expression one of sadness as the other figurines began to dance around her. “Isn’t it delightful! How they mocked, and mocked, and mocked her! You know, ponies are absolute idiots, but they do have delightful insults!” He giggled. “Tall Tales Pinkie is my favorite!”
He sighed wistfully before turning to her, his magic grip loosening around her neck. Just enough so she could speak. “What’s your favorite insult? You’ve lived here for two years now! Surely you have a favorite.”
“Free her,” Rarity hissed. “Now.”
The chaos magic rolled his eyes. “One-track mind, aren’t you?” He sighed, looking down at Twilight, still shaking on the floor.
His smile turned predatory.
“Silly Rarity. So very full of yourself.”
“ What makes you think I’d trade a full-blown alicorn for you?”
He flung Rarity away like a rag-doll, her body regaining its corporealness just in time for her to crash against a table. Disregarding her, he turned his sights back to Twilight and levitated her back into the air.
“No! Stop!” she demanded, wrestling with a magic that neither she nor Rarity could stop, the latter painfully struggling to get up. “Let me go!”
“You know, I’m starting to think a thousand years is too generous. How about ten thousand this time? He glanced over at Rarity, and glasses appeared on the bridge of his nose. “What do you think, Rarity? Too much? Too little?”
“I’ll free her,” Rarity promised, rising to her hooves and glowering at him. “No matter where you trap her, no matter what you do to her, I will find her and I will bring her back.”
“Will you? You’ll ‘bring her back’?” he asked, pondering Twilight, the alicorn still struggling to break free. “Why, Rarity, I think you just hit the mark! That’s where He went wrong, isn’t it? Because He still cared. He made it something you could fix.”
His neck stretched out to Twilight, bringing his face close to hers.
“But I don’t have to do that, do I?”
Rarity’s eyes grew wide. “No. No!” she gasped, but chaos magic erupted from the floor and slammed her down, restraining her. “Please, don’t!”
“Poooooor little Princess Twilight! Such a stickler for details! All those pesky, little ponies who kept saying you were dead!” His face transformed into hers, and he spoke in mimic, pushing up the glasses still perched on his nose. “I’m not dead! I’m displaced in time, bla bla bla blabbity bla!”His face turned back to his own self. “How annoying, isn’t it! But don’t worry, Princess!”
His entire body materialized in front of her, his hand shooting out and grabbing her by the muzzle.
“I’ll make sure they’re never wrong again.”
A hissing pulse of magic traveled down the length of his arm and poured straight into Twilight, her cries muffled by his hand as the magic engulfed her completely, her body thrashing about. Rarity watched in horror, flinging books, quills, whatever she could, trying to get him to stop.
And he did.
As did Twilight.
Her body went absolutely limp, like a puppet, lifelessly dangling from a string, and then when he snapped his fingers, she fell to the ground.
The first thing Rarity saw were Twilight’s eyes.
They were not bitterly black, as they were in most of Rarity’s nightmares. No, these eyes that looked back were big, and beautiful, and deeply violet.
And they were dead.
Below these dead, violet eyes, lying on the floor was a crystal pink necklace that flickered once, twice, thrice and then its magic died out.
No, she couldn’t be dead. No.
Rarity didn’t even register the chaos magic disappearing around her, allowing her to get up and rush to Twilight. Didn’t even register the chaos magic laughing and talking as she cradled Twilight’s… Twilight’s corpse.
“Twilight?” Rarity said, sobbed out, almost, shaking her lightly because Twilight couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t. She wasn’t. “Twilight? Twilight!”
Any moment now, she’d wake up and make a remark on this not being nearly as painful as when Rarity slammed her against a wall, and Rarity would cry with relief, and everything would be fine.
“Twilight, darling, wake up!” she pleaded, lifting her hoof and brushing back Twilight’s bangs. “Wake up, please, stars, you can’t—” Her voice cracked. “You—You need to wake up.”
But Twilight did no such thing, her head limply bobbing with every shake, her eyes dimmed of all light.
“Oh, Rarity,” said the chaos magic, the beast sounding almost sympathetic. “Poor little unic—Eep!”
For once surprised, the startled chaos magic gawked at the bookcase he’d avoided with the skin of his teeth before looking towards Rarity, the unicorn standing over the body, her eyes glazed over with a veil of intoxicating hatred.
She was going to kill him.
“Rarity! How unlad—Eek! Will you stop?!”
Again, he narrowly avoided yet another bookcase, and then another and another as Rarity levitated them into the air and hurled them at him, screaming in rage with every throw. She couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate, driven forward by a blind fury that increased with every hit he avoided, with every voice that yelled in her head that Twilight couldn’t be dead, she couldn’t, she couldn’t.
“Bring her back!” she demanded, because if she killed him, if she threatened him, surely he would. “Bring her back!”
“From the dead?!” he asked, almost with glee.
And she hated him. She hated it. And she had enough. Using every ounce of strength the dream realm provided her with, she levitated every single bookcase in the room and launched them at him.
That, he wasn’t able to avoid, and soon enough, he was buried under the bookcases, his detestable voice silenced at last, either because he was knocked out, or dead, or who bloody cared.
She waited, her chest heaving with every heavy breath, until nearly a minute went by and there was no sound. No retort. No nothing.
Her mind still a daze, she stepped back several paces away from the mound of bookcases, and waited to see if he did something. If he even tried. She kept walking backward, her attention only distracted when she stepped on something, turned back and realized she’d bumped into Twilight’s body.
And as Rarity stared at it, as her concerns and care for the chaos magic faded away, so did the haze shrouding her mind disappear. Her eyes filled with tears, the alicorn’s name got caught in her throat, and as she fell to her hindlegs, Rarity realized that Twilight wasn’t going to wake up.
A single thought crossed her mind.
A single sentence, ripping through the core of her very soul with the same intensity as the excruciating numbing pain this had wrought. A suffocating agony she’d felt only once before, standing on the other side of an impenetrable black barrier.
She couldn’t live through this again.
She would die if she had to. She would die, just like Twilight had died, and as she buried her face in Twilight’s coat, she began to cry. To want, with all of what was left of her heart, for that nightmare to be over.
“Twilight,” she cried, distraught, angered, abandoned. She lifted her hoof and clutched her necklace. “You promised me. You promised me you’d be here.”
“I’ll admit this has been fun, but I really should get going now. I still need to deal with your little friends and that barrier they’ve made for themselves.”
She jerked away from the body and turned around, miserable to see the chaos magic rise through the bookcases, yawning rather loudly and looking completely and wholly unharmed. Her anger immediately flared up again, aghast to see that monster still alive.
And yet, before she could even so much as think or do or say something, a burst of chaos magic shot up from the floor and restrained her.
“But first, I’ll deal with you.” He lifted his paw and conjured a floating, crackling chaos magic sphere. “I really don’t want you ruining my plans again.”
“You monster! You—! You—!”
She choked on her words, still wracked with grief, unable to speak, glaring at him as he tossed the sphere up and down in the air.
“Any last words?”
“Do it,” Rarity hissed. “Just get it over with.”
“Oh?” He quirked an eyebrow. “Giving up so soon?”
“I’m not afraid of you anymore. Whatever you intend, I’ll either wake up, or I’ll die. And either is preferable to this.”
“Hmph.” He smirked. “Very well, then, Rarity.”
Bracing herself, Rarity closed her eyes and held the necklace. Twilight had said that as long as Rarity had it, Twilight would be there.
And so the unicorn wished and wished, with every fiber of her being, that this would hold true.
That no matter what came next, she would at least get to see Twilight again.
“Let me thank you for your help.”
She heard him hurl the sizzling sphere at her, and she could do naught but wait for it to hit her, kill her, wake her, whatever had to happen, but when she heard a loud explosive sound, it was not followed by pain.
It was followed by a voice.
“Like hell you will.”
Time slowed to a crawl as Rarity’s eyes fluttered open, gripped with the realization she was afraid to look. Afraid that her grief was so much, so intense, her mind was playing tricks on her to cope.
But she had to look, and so she did, turning around only for tears to fill her eyes when who did she see standing over her—wings flared, horn ablaze, a shield pulled up—but Princess Twilight Sparkle herself.
The real one, of course, burning with the rage of a thousand years.
And alive, unlike the construct-Twilight lying on the floor next to the unicorn.
Rarity turned away from Twilight and towards the distant spot where Fluttershy emerged through the newly-appeared dreamdoor bearing a triple diamond cutie mark. The pegasus rushed to her, looking absolutely horrified as she embraced the unicorn who was barely cognizant of the fact.
She was barely cognizant of Fluttershy talking, of the pegasus’ embrace, having such a hard time grappling with the whiplash of it all that her mind decided it’d rather deal with it by going completely numb.
“Princess Twilight!” the chaos magic exclaimed. “How nice of you to join us!”
“Discord?!” Fluttershy gasped. “What’s he doing here?!”
“That’s not Discord,” Twilight said, still holding up the shield, her glower set on the chaos magic creature. “It has the same magical signature as my library’s maze. If anything, this thing is just a second-rate copy of a draconequus. It’s nothing but scraps.”
“This thing? Second-rate?! Scraps?!” he gasped, indignant. He snapped its fingers, and several dozen sizzling chaos magic spheres appeared around him.”Let’s see if this is second-rate!”
The spheres hurtled towards the three mares right up until Twilight’s horn glowed and they all came to a complete stop mid-air. Her magic seized them, fused them, and formed a massive ball of energy which then launched itself at the chaos magic creature and slammed him against the mounds of bookcases, a cloud of dust erupting in its wake.
When the dust dissipated, Rarity was shocked to see him laying on the bookcases, hurt.
“You—You—” he coughed out, confused. “You hurt me?! But there’s nothing more powerful than me!”
“There’s me,” she snarled. “And if you can hurt me in the dreamrealm, I can hurt your physical form.”
“H-How?! That doesn’t make sense!”
“Dreams are not supposed to make sense, you third-rate mumbo-jumbo! Now, shut up!” she snapped, before looking back towards Rarity, her anger melting into concern. She immediately freed Rarity from the chaos magic restraint with a burst of magic. “Rarity? Are you okay? Did he do something to you?!”
Rarity stumbled on her words, watching as this Twilight spoke to her and then turning to the other one, lying dead on the floor.
“Princess!” Fluttershy yelped, only just having noticed the body. “Look!”
If Twilight was shocked, she only showed it for a moment. Her eyes widened ever so slightly until they darted back and forth between Rarity and the body, and then her eyes narrowed and her teeth gritted together.
A terrible panic gripped the unicorn, bringing her back from her daze.
“I’m—I’m sorry!” she blurted out, horrified at subjecting Twilight to such a terrible sight. She tried to reach forward to the alicorn, to hold her hindleg in a pleading motion, but instead stumbled forward onto the ground, overwhelmed with shame and exhaustion from it all.“I’m— I’m sorry, I—”
“Rarity!” Fluttershy exclaimed, scooping her up and holding her close. She looked at the princess, helpless. “Princess…”
Twilight spun back towards the creature, the latter floating back up into the air after having recovered.
“What did you do?!” she demanded. “What did you do to her?!”
“Meeeeee?” he exclaimed, placing a paw against his chest in mock surprise. “Why are you angry at me?! I’m just an actor! This is her nightmare! Her script! She orchestrated all of this! Isn’t that right, Rarity? Tell her! Tell Twilight Sparkle what’s going on! You know why!”
“I—I—” Rarity stumbled on her words, clutching onto Fluttershy, because he was right, and she knew it, she knew it, she knew it.
“I know why.” He suddenly materialized right in front of Twilight’s shield and slammed his paws against it, forcing all three mares to flinch back as he stabbed his vicious glare right into Rarity’s eyes and hissed.
“Because some nightmares don’t end when you wake up, do they, Rarity?”
“Enough!” Twilight exclaimed, pulling down her shield just in time for her horn to let out a blinding spell that shot straight at the chaos magic creature. “Leave her alone!”
The spell blasted the creature squarely in the chest, and the last thing Rarity saw were his eyes, piercing hers before it exploded in a burst of light and chaos magic shot out all over, fading into the walls and ground.
“Where is it? Is it gone?” Fluttershy asked, still holding onto Rarity, the latter deathly quiet. “Did you get rid of it?”
“Temporarily. Only Princess Luna can get rid of it completely,” Twilight said, aggravation suffusing her words. She stepped forward and looked around, scoping the area. “But we should be safe for now. I don’t think it’ll try attacking us again yet.”
“Rarity?” Fluttershy said, standing up and tugging on the mare’s forehoof. She smiled kindly. “Let’s get up.”
But Rarity didn’t, or if she did, it was because Fluttershy almost forced her up and not because she tried to get up. She was too busy thinking of what the chaos creature had said, its last words burned into her mind.
Her eyes drifted towards Twilight, and she saw the alicorn’s disposition completely changed. Gone was the anger, the irritation, replaced instead with earnest concern as she walked over, ears folded back.
But if before, back in the nightmare Dreamland, Rarity’s first instinct was to seek out Twilight’s comfort, now…
“It’s fine, Rarity.”
Now it was different.
Now, when Twilight approached and raised a forehoof, beckoning her as she earlier had, when said hoof so much as touched Rarity’s coat, she jerked away with such force that it surprised all three of them.
“Don’t,” she said, the words tumbling out. Not because she was trying to be rude, or ungrateful, but because emotions warred inside her, pulling at the threads she now realized she’d clumsily sewn her heart together with.
Nightmares don’t end when you wake up.
“Rarity?” Twilight asked again, and how guilty Rarity felt when Twilight’s ears lowered, when the shadow of hurt flashed through her eyes, when she pushed it away in favor of a loving smile that hurt the unicorn. “It’s okay. What’s wrong?”
What’s wrong? Rarity thought, and she tried to answer, she wanted to, really, but all she could do was look away from Twilight and stare instead at the one still lying on the floor, her dead eyes still staring off into the distance.
She heard Twilight curse out loud, rushing forward to the body and stepping in front of it, only half blocking it from Rarity’s view.
“Stop. Don’t look at it,” she pleaded the unicorn, before spinning in place and looking down at herself.
“Princess, why is that still there?” asked a perturbed Fluttershy, similarly trying to block the body from Rarity’s view.
Twilight frowned. “I don’t know, I—”
“You were gone.”
Rarity didn’t even register she’d spoken out loud until both Twilight and Fluttershy slowly looked over their shoulders at her.
Fluttershy spoke first, and her voice was soft, and delicate, and pained with understanding. “Oh, Rarity.”
But Twilight’s was different. She thought she understood. “Rarity… I wasn’t gone. That was a nightmare. It wasn’t real.” She spoke kindly, gently, like an adult trying to explain to a child. “I’m fine. And as for this thing.” She turned to the body, her horn lighting up. “This thing can go.”
She blasted it with her magic, and her frown deepened when the body remained.
“I said it can go!” she exclaimed, and another blast of magic produced the same damn result. “Why—” Another blast. “—isn’t—” Another. “—it—” Another. “—leaving?!” She turned to Rarity, helpless and pleading. “Rarity? It’s okay. It’s over!”
“You… You…” Rarity’s voice cracked, the words spilling out from her heart, not her mind. “You were gone, Twilight.”
Twilight stepped forward, gentle but firm. “I’m right here, Rarity.”
Fluttershy spoke up, matching Twilight’s tone. Gentle, kind, and in this case, brutally direct.
“You weren’t two years ago.”
There it was, every word stabbing into Rarity like a well-placed dagger, later twisted when Twilight finally understood, her expression losing its gentleness, losing its well-meaning frustration, losing its confidence.
“Rarity,” she said, the tremor in her voice matching the one in Rarity’s heart, as she asked again the question she’d been asking since the very moment she escaped the library. “What’s wrong?”
A question that Rarity could no longer avoid answering, and even less so as her mind went back to her memories, the ones that haunted her at night, the ones she’d tried to forget, the ones that overwhelmed her so completely that the dream began to change.
The library vanished in a whirl and now darkness surrounded them, all save for the glowing barrier in front of which an illusion Rarity yelled at the illusion Fluttershy that’d come to fetch her, who insisted that please, Rarity, you can’t keep coming every day and what about your commissions.
“And I waited for you.”
The dream changed again, and now it became Carousel Boutique, Sweetie Belle crying in frustration because again Rarity had declined a trip with her in favor of staying in Ponyville, because again Rarity had missed a recital in order to go be at the library, because she missed Princess Twilight too, but she missed her big sister more.
“Stop,” Twilight said, the distress evident in her voice. “Rarity, stop this. Stop, please.”
Rarity blinked at her. And remembered. And the dream changed again.
“I don’t give three hoots if you don’t like it, Rarity, but this has to stop.”
And now Sweetie Belle and Rarity weren’t alone anymore. They were surrounded by others–by Pinkie, by Applejack, by Rainbow and even the Professor—all of them standing on one side of the room while Rarity stood on the other, infuriated.
“I don’t need to leave Ponyville! What is wrong with all of you?!”
“Rarity,” Applejack said, stepping forward. “We’re just saying that we think you need some change in your life. It’ll do you some good, sugarcube. Why, Fluttershy here was just telling me about this fashion thingamajigger in Trottingham and—”
“What? The Winterfest? Are you even listening to yourself?! You want me to go parade around a bloody event while Twilight is trapped inside the library, being tortured by chaos magic?! Or worse?! Have you gone insane?!”
Rainbow Dash stomped her hoof. “That isn’t what she meant, Rares, and you know it!”
“How about Hollow Shades?” Pinkie said, trying to sound bright despite her obvious nerves. “You can help me with Princess Luna! We can try freeing her! That’s important, too!”
“Twilight is here! In Ponyville!” She grabbed her necklace. “And she needs me!”
“Princess Twilight is gone, Rarity!” Applejack exclaimed, and for once, the unicorn recoiled. “And we don’t know when she’s comin’ back! For all we know, she ain’t comin’ back!”
“Don’t— Don’t say that,” the illusion Rarity said, her voice cracking. “Don’t you ever dare say that to me ever again!”
Applejack softened. “I’m sorry, sugarcube, I am, but as much as we all want her back, she’s gone.”
Rarity looked away from her sobbing other-self on the floor and turned towards Twilight, the real one, her eyes welled with tears. And then Rarity’s eyes landed on Twilight’s necklace, her necklace hanging on her neck, weighing her down as it had before.
And the dream changed again, Carousel Boutique vanishing, now replaced with Pinkie Pie’s room in Hollow Shades, moonlight filtering in as the door slammed open and Rarity marched in, waking Pinkie up.
“Rarity? It’s three in the morning, silly! Our meeting with Elder Moonshine isn’t until—” She fell silent at the sight of Rarity’s necklace floating in front of her. “Huh?”
“Take it,” Rarity pleaded, her voice trembling. “Please.”
“Your… Your necklace?”
“I can’t… I can’t sleep, I can’t… I can’t stop staring at it, and I— Please, Pinkie. Just… Let me know if it rings, but I can’t… I can’t do this anymore.”
And then Twilight could take it no longer.
“Stop!” she demanded, and a blinding burst of magic shot out from her horn and killed the memories until they were back in the library where it all began. She breathed heavily, blinking through the tears. “Please. Stop.”
But Rarity couldn’t.
Not because she wanted to be mean, not because she wanted to hurt Twilight, but because she had to.
“You were dead.”
The three words came out in a whisper.
“You… You died, Twilight,” she continued, and the more she spoke, the more her entire being seemed to fracture, the floodgates tearing open. She stumbled on her words, months of denial, of trying and failing to get better, of trying not to hurt Twilight, of deluding herself into thinking she was fine, all of that going up in flames before her.
“I-I waited for you, but I didn’t know if you’d ever come back, and I… I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t live, and I had to tell myself you’d died, and I… I thought I’d die from the pain. I… I had to tell myself you were dead.”
She stumbled on her own words, burying her face in her hooves, because she was incapable of finishing her sentence, and even less so when Twilight rushed forward to hold her.
“It’s okay,” Twilight said, and she was so warm, and so gentle, nuzzling Rarity through her tears, because she loved Rarity so much and that was the worst thing of them all. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was gone, but I—I’m here now. It’s okay.”
“No,” Rarity whispered, shaking her head against Twilight, because it wasn’t. Because Twilight Sparkle had died, yes, and that had been terrible, yes, but what this nightmare had done was shown Rarity that it wasn’t Twilight dying currently ripping her apart, but something else entirely.
“I can’t,” she whispered, her tears burning hot, because Twilight Sparkle loved her, and she loved Twilight Sparkle, and that damned them all the more. “I can’t…”
“You can’t what, Rarity?” Twilight asked, still holding her close, realizing that something was wrong. “Rarity? You can’t what? It’s fine! I’m here! Is that what’s wrong?” When Rarity shook her head, when she apologized for things she’d yet said, the princess tried again, a slight fear tinging her voice. “Then what is it? Rarity?”
And now it was Twilight’s turn to pull away.
“What’s wrong? Please, you need to tell me what’s wrong,” she insisted as fear-laced anger took over her voice, because: “I can’t—! I can’t fix this if you don’t tell me what’s wrong! What’s wron—?!”
“You died! You were everything I had, and then I lost you!” Rarity exclaimed, falling to her hindlegs, burying her face in her hooves. “I mourned you. And then I moved on, and I… I never thought I’d experience something as horrific as losing you ever again, but then… but then…”
Her voice fell to a harrowed whisper.
“But then you came back.”
jiminy CRICKET i feel like i was just put through a wash with an extra rinse cycle, wrung out aggressively, and hung out to dry. i am FEELING SOME EMOTIONS. i was like la di dah time to defeat the dreamscape and go full dream mode on nightmare moon like the tantabus episode! i thought i knew what this chapter had in store and BOY HOWDY WAS I EVER WRONG.
first, twilight trapping construct twilight in the library? completely genius and also, ouch. what the hell. i really love (as i KNOW i’ve mentioned before but fuck me i’m mentioning it again i can’t help it) how you write dream logic and write scenes in dreams and dreamscapes that feel really like…right. ah how do i phrase this. they feel like dreams, but not to the point where they’re distracting from the progression of the plot. they’re completely necessary to the narrative and i like that. quite a lot.
second, pinkie with the construct luna and then how they transferred her to become the others’ dream? PHENOMENAL. ties back to re: I Love How You Write Dreams but it’s just so fun and entertaining. You have these brilliant plot points that make complete sense but only work because they’re in dreams but that doesn’t detract from the logic at all….if that makes sense? i feel like it doesn’t it’s almost one in the morning what can i say. i love it.
FUCK nightmare moon for making pinkie cry and also for making ME cry that was uncalled for and so mean. rarity telling her off is a complete power move and i love the layering going on, how everything she’s saying goes right back to twilight so everything has double meanings and like, well yeah DUH because she’s so defensive about this because of twilight but it’s just! so good! it’s this moment where you as the reader step back and go oh yeah wow she’s got issues huh. and then. okay i loved the rest of the chapter and i’ll GET to that but i personally think pinkie waking up is the most powerful moment of this entire chapter. holy shit. my jaw dropped.
as for the rest! i am glad i was right about construct twilight like the minute she showed up in the library i went “tHAtS nOt tWiLiGHt” and i was ! correct. i’m a god, a genius, a clown for thinking that would make it hurt any less! really love how you characterize discord and the chaos magic (as always, deeply in character and so delightfully bouncy i can’t get over it) and the worldbuilding that applies TO the chaos magic. just. everything you write about i swear there’s so much attention to detail and it’s amazing??? even if it’s unconscious attention to detail like damn it’s so good everything is so fluid and i loveeee it. also fuck you i cried <3
and again i'll say i LOVE how layered and complex twilight and rarity's relationship has become over the course of this series. you aren't afraid to follow through with terrible plot points and you don't back down from addressing the resulting trauma and struggles and it just feels so real, so human, so gut-wrenching. sometimes you're just like god, can they come back from this? will they be okay? and they will! they will i know, but the fact that even with the general knowledge that things will be okay, i can still find myself questioning how things can work out when we hit the low points in their relationship, that i can become so immersed in that story—i think it speaks to the depth of your writing really.
loved this one! will now be CRYING IN THE CORNER!