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Dreams… what are dreams? Do they provide equines with a means to live out their most prized fantasies, or to realize their worst nightmares? Are dreams simply disjointed nonsense conjured up by the brain to keep a pony from waking? King Sombra…never really cared much about the question, nor the entire subject for that matter as it pertained to magic. At least not in the past; not when he had such a large repertoire of powerful dark magic spells to decisively subjugate his foes with. That was all before Sombra’s consecutive string of defeats at the hooves of Equestria’s royal alicorns. Each loss, each time the Evil King was banished or destroyed, the stallion’s ability to wield his preferred spells waned. Reduced to hiding somewhere in the Outlands, there was little Sombra could do as he endured and slowly waited for his magic strength to rebuild; a process that could potentially take years. Yet by some unknown means, certain abilities that Sombra learned millennia ago (in his quest to learn all the secrets of dark magic) but never bothered to use on a regular basis remained open to him. And one such ability was to infiltrate the dreams of other equines; one ability that precious few achieved. King Sombra wasn’t even sure if anypony alive in this modern era knew how to enter and leave dreamscapes anymore, save perhaps for Princess Luna. While Sombra in his current state couldn’t hope to achieve his revenge on the princesses through physical force, the conniving stallion could at least use this power to spy on his foes. To corrupt their fantasies, to magnify their fears, and perhaps bend the minds of suitable individuals to the Dark King’s will. Sombra’s first target: a promising Kastrotian mage by the name of Daedalus. Unlike so many weak-willed equines who claimed to be practitioners of magic, Daedalus actually had the courage to learn the dark arts. Of course, by Sombra’s own reckoning, this young stallion could never hope to become a Great Master like the Shadow King of old. Still, the boy could potentially be useful to Sombra as an acolyte. Now, if only there was a way to subconsciously instill Daedalus of his inadequacy… maybe he could be further convinced to seek out the greatest dark magician who ever lived; perhaps even swear loyalty to him. For the last few nights, King Sombra through the dreamscape kept a watch on Daedalus, but never interfered with his dreams. But tonight, as he once again entered the dreams of his prized target, the King planned on beginning his plan of corrupting the mage in earnest.....
((riverhippo playing WoE Princess Luna)) ((SteelEagle playing WoE Princess Twilight Sparkle)) Princess Luna sat in her chair in her dream study room. The room was simple, composed of a few comfort-bringing items to help one to relax. But all other useful materials and instruments were left for the decoration in other rooms. One decoration, Luna might have brought on this evening, was a heavy book. It’s one of many that told the same story; Celestia's old council members' accounts for the events of the past. Very few accurate accounts were supplied in any of Canterlot's libraries that described Luna's haunting past, fewer still that could describe it in full. In this one, she could see the non-fiction work suggesting Princess Luna's torment was a creation of the turbulence in the dreamscape itself, and how dangerous dreams could be. Luna maturely read it quietly while scoffing at it underneath her flat expression. The nightmare wasn’t the product of the dreamscape alone, but it’s the emotion and deprivation of personality in the waking world that helps corrupt and diminish the quality of sweet dreams. The night princess could even lecture about the risk of falling asleep while overdosed on sugar. But that would not make an interesting timeless non-fiction classic that would survive hundreds of years of catalog, she supposed. She closed the book and sighed. Having dealt with the regrets of the past, she could never forget the way she felt while the dreamscape served as the arena for Luna's enemy. As she sipped her sleep-aide drink, she meditated on how fortunate she is to have a sister that forgives her, and a nation of ponies that welcomes the night as equals with the day. Maybe tonight, she can share that peace and serenity with a pony who is caught in a dream storm. Twilight was prepared for anything. Years and years of tutelage under Celestia had transitioned into a growth with her friends that sublimely reinforced almost every message she had ever been sent by her teacher about the importance of friendship and harmony. She became a Princess because of this. The Princess of Friendship. It had seemed a somewhat lesser title at first but it only grew as the complexities of the topic revealed themselves. Only then did she start to realize that she was being groomed for something bigger than she had ever imagined. She was not a mechanic that aided the system, she was the system- the system that ran Equestria in a truer way than any title. She was the embodiment of Harmony and, in a sense, Equestria. So it made sense why she was given control when Celestia and Luna abruptly left to search the stars some twenty years ago. Just shy of her own two-hundredth, and here she was. Large and in charge. Things were going well at first. She was beloved and had everything under control. But...over time, this slowly grew to be untrue. She had always collected and studied dark magical artifacts and in her arrogance had forgotten to properly seal one. It contained the aetheral abomination Ascheral, the Consumer. It didn't come out immediately, but it boded its time. It was her first mistake. A mistake borne not out of arrogance or incompetence, but ignorance. The second mistake was not taking the small ripples in the aether seriously. In fact, she was excited. That often meant a powerful unicorn had been born and the family would soon be notified. Oddly enough, she didn't find a powerful foal. But still, the aether was her domain and she knew it well. Well enough to not consider a small ripple a problem. Of course, by then the Consumer had escaped into the Aetheral plane and was slowly growing stronger. A mistake borne not out of arrogance or incompetence, but ignorance. She didn't have to make a third before it appeared. A few nights later, Ascheral materialized in the castle. It took the form of a seeming black hole in the aether, sucking everything within reach inside of itself. She should know- she was looking at it. She could feel it silence the aether around her. Twilight tried to speak as her bedchambers were being torn and pulled asunder. She tried to speak but heard nothing. She fired a blast at it- nothing, absorbed. She felt the pull, felt the tug, and fought her way out only at the most extreme of her efforts. That brought her to now. She was hovering over the remains of that wing of the castle, which was little. The Consumer below, content at that moment to digest all which it had devoured. Only then did she realize what had happened- what she had allowed not through stupidity or ignorance, arrogance or incompetence, but thoughtlessness. But no- she would not be defeated. Not now. “Evacuate all of Canterlot! I will send word when I have put this down,” Twilight ordered her guards, who reacted hesitantly. Why? Why hesitantly? “Are you sure you can handle it, Your Highness?” “Yes! I can do this! Please, get safe!” They knew their histories, didn't they? She had done so much! Of course she could beat this. Their hearts swelled proudly. “Yes, Your Highness. We will await your word,” they said before flying off. Twilight turned towards her foe, her mind running down the endless list of possible methods of defeating this creature. Because of course she could. She had the most knowledge and was the most capable pony of all time. The only thing that could defeat her, was her... The rifts of the dreamscape opened the moment Luna arrived. What typically appears as dream hallway was more active and hyperactive that what is normal. As if the dreamscape itself were trying to bring Luna to the attention of a wake of nightmares, a door rushed to her, and opened. Upon walking through this door Luna could feel the warm embrace of Twilight's Castle in Ponyville. But it had aged a little. The magical aura was stronger as well, the walls of harmony continuing to sing its song. That is of course, until the wall was knocked down. Luna peered through the mess of castle damage, a force that seemed to come from within, imploding the concourses of the friendship chapel. The debris from loosened rocks and gems, still glistening, floated around as it succumbed to the random natures and physics of this custom developed dream. Pegasus pony guards were fleeing the castle, taking emergency routes, and not taking any attack stances. Luna looked around, almost entertained by the creative value of such a wild environment. Speculation began to run through her mind, wondering who might be making such a mess of a landmark. Ponyville was often a peaceful town, and the only nightmares Luna usually encountered involved the peer pressure and stress of not getting one's cutie mark. But so far, she could find no evidence of the dreamer. Her library. The answer was always in the library. After all, why wouldn't it? It represented the collected wisdom of her years. Everything she had learned and mastered was there. Twilight teleported into the main foyer of the castle, where a wall had recently been knocked down as the creatures started to move. Guards were running- chaos everywhere. Her fault. Her blame. An imperfect Princess making terrible decisions whose imperfect response was not helping matters. She had wanted to teleport into the library itself, but the aether was absolutely wild. She could not control it. She could not manipulate it. She- “Princess!” A guard. “You need to get out!” Another. A fierce rebuttal. “Evacuate the town! Stop panicking- I've got this!” Twilight bellowed as the beast grow. The black hole of a mass extended, her throne being torn apart. Paintings vanished. Ponies started to get pulled in. Twilight grabbed them telekinecally and tried to pull them out, but they stayed there. More effort. The consumer expanded. Expansion, more effort, not moving, Twilight hovers, the Consumer expands, Twilight has to fly to avoid being sucked in herself. But no- she couldn't fly away from it, even with her power. Too close. Twilight must teleport all of them, herself included, to the wing. She summoned it all up but at the last moment, something out of the corner of her eye- Luna?- and she was thrown off. Twilight popped back into existence at the library, sans those she had been trying to save... The castle of friendship began to look like the remains of the palace of the two sisters. Walls crumbled. Ceiling caved in. Torn tapestries. And to top it all off, a throne split in two. It was all too familiar. But why in a dream? Who could possibly be dreaming of such failure at this castle? Unless... Luna jumped through the falling rubble, trying to catch the identity of the characters in the dream. It was hard to see, but could this possible be Princess Twilight's manifestation? The dream did seem powerful enough to be composed by a pony of that much magical capability. But it would seem as though it was not of her intention. Luna knew Twilight enough to know randomly falling rocks within the castle was not necessarily in tandem with the friendship model's knack for keeping things in line. Luna felt the presence of a void, a leech of magic within the dream. It felt real, but it couldn't possibly be real, could it? When Luna jumped around the corner, she could see Princess Twilight and nameless pony guards dealing a troublesome black hole of magic. It tried to capture any pony within its pull. And as she watched Twilight attempt to pull all the ponies out, she could see Twilight see her back. In that instance, Twilight teleported away. Was she afraid of something? The guards fell into the void, not even their painful screams could be heard. But they could be seen. This was a nightmare. And Twilight was dealing with much of an intimidation from this force. But what was this force? Princess Luna was tempted to call for Twilight and gain some answers, but even though she knew Twilight well, she knew that to best discover what it was that was causing Twilight to lose her dreamscape's peace she would have to remain unseen and observe her emotion in the dream unaltered. She just hoped Twilight didn't wake up to soon. The library. Safe from the monster. Her failure. Refuge of knowledge, of power, of rectifications aplenty for the sins of failure. Alone but not without hope- Twilight Sparkle looked for the answer to her question. Book after book discarded with nary a second thought, a mind so familiar with the contents therein that she didn't need to spend more than a forethought on the the actuality of possibility within each book. Searching searching searching- one after another. The castle around her- shaking to the foundations, but not just physically. The aether was buckling and straining, charging a reaction. But it wouldn't do something. This was a disease upon the aether that welcomed the immune system's response. It would suck it in and become stronger. And it was already becoming stronger with every morsel it devoured, material and immaterial alike. The library started to shake. The statues of her friends which kept her company here started to tilt, her magic keeping them upright a few moments longer. She found the answer- yes, the answer! The answer was there, though the swirling mass of chaotic energy that swirled around her started to tear the pages. A sealing spell. Lost but found by Twilight. Translated by Twilight. Stored and kept safe by Twilight. Now to be used by Twilight. There was nopony else to thank or blame other than Twilight, and that was the worst threat of all. In a flash, a burst, an angry scream of existence, the walls of the library broke open. The aether around her friends' statues stopped responding and they fell, shattering on the floor before being sucked into the mass-like void. The Consumer. Twilight jetted up into the sky as the consumer overtook the library in one swift motion, feeling the contents being devoured. It was expanding ever quicker. If she didn't stop it now, it would consume Ponyville within an hour and then Equestria within minutes. As the bonds of reality started to tear asunder, the aether responding with a snap that soon rebounded on itself and caused bright tears that threatened to dear dimensions, Twilight started her spell. She cast it in a momentous purple burst- -the void. The aether. It all ended at once. The Consumer was sealed but she felt something- the aether. It had snapped and rebounded and turned, and now it was gone. She felt her horn give a mighty sigh and her wings a groan and she fell, slamming into the ground. Across her field of vision, the guards that had been devoured by the void came spitting out, but their horns and wings had the same dull glow. The same was true of the earth ponies. Twilight tried to speak- she tried to speak- no words, just a neigh. And then slowly, her thoughts. The last thing she could put together is that she had mistranslated the spell, and ended magic itself- including that which gave life sapience. “GAHH!” Twilight woke, her head snapping up. The book in front of her flipped its pages inside the old, decadent library. Outside, the storm continued without stopping, her castle within the aether forever alone. The pages stopped flipping, followed by the book slamming shut. The title: “Failures of the Damned Princess” written by none other than herself, with a full three hundred pages off apologies. She slotted it into another slot in the book case, covered on all flanks by more volumes of failure. Not that she needed them. All she had to do was look outside or try to use the staircases- they led nowhere anymore. Because there was nothing else other than this small part of her castle, floating aimlessly and timelessly throughout aether. She had made the smallest mistake when combating Aegon, the Destroyer. In trying to transport Equestria away from him, she had instead scattered it on an atomical level across the multiverse and condemned herself to the center of all aether. Forever. No hunger, never tired, just huddled with the reminders of all the mistakes she had made in her three thousand years of rule alongside those she had once been proud to stand beside. But if they could see her now? Simply ashamed. She had failed everything that was or could be. It was a mistake not born of maliciousness or avarice. Only after did she realize what had happened- what she had allowed not through stupidity or ignorance, arrogance or incompetence, but thoughtlessness. And so she looked out the window, letting time take its course... A moon, much like the moon of Equestria, sank into view of Twilight's window. Its crescent only shared a part of its reflection, but it was enough to illuminate the small details of the castle remains. Beyond the castle there was only space. No stars showed to help one gain sense of their surroundings. Luna had gotten here a short time after Twilight, after it had seemed that the aether she was battling found a way to ruin the life the dreamer after its destruction. Princess Luna walked towards Twilight, her hoofsteps making no sound or echo in the arranged ruins of the castle of harmony. She stood next to Twilight, looking out the window with her. "I bet it's lonely up there, on the moon." Luna spoke ironically, but with no smile, as usual. "The thoughts a pony would have for a thousand years in such a lonely environment would drive them mad. Remembrance is part of every life. But numerous regrets would become the art of passing time." Luna rested a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. She was not sure if Twilight was in a state of mind that would allow her to immediately recognize that this is a dream, or if she would continue her own torment, conversing with Luna as if she was a projection of her continued failure. Either way, Luna wanted to help end her suffering as she could see the emotion Twilight was projecting to be self-inflicting. The aether was an endless void. Nothing flickered. Nothing spoke. And now, thanks to her, nothing called upon it. It was as useless as bale of hay was to a seapony. There was simply nothing, and then more of it. The blank space was maddening. But upon this endless void came the most unusual element of all: Something. Anything. The crescent of a moon. Twilight could scarcely remember what that had looked like. She stared at it, fixated by something being where nothing had been. So fixated in fact that she didn't hear the hoofsteps until a voice pierced her consciousness. She was still for a second before recoiling. “Gahh! Luna! It's been...one thousand, seven hundred, and two hundred and nine days plus fifteen hours, twenty minutes, and fifty four seconds since I last saw you. Is- is this real? Are you real? Am I dreaming or am I mad? I must be mad. Only madness could drive this image before me, just as it drove me to this!” she said, beckoning out towards the void. "You are certainly not mad." Luna responded with a small smile. But her pensive frown returned to the displeasure of seeing Twilight this uncomfortable. Luna knew Twilight was good at record-keeping, but even Luna could not record the theoretical passing of time in a nightmare. "And it's hasn't been that long. It's been only a couple weeks." Luna recalled the princess summit that had recently occurred. "How long have you been in this world? What has happened?" Luna was afraid of information she may have missed upon entering the dreamscape. Twilight could have been nightmaring for several hours before Luna even entered through its door. Twilight took a few hurried breaths. A few weeks? No. No. It had been seventeen hundred years since anything but her and this small section of a ruined castle existed. Unless- was this a nightmare? Not the normal kind. She had plenty of nightmares. She had woken from one just then. But maybe all of this was a nightmare- hopefully. Maybe. “Is...this a dream?” Luna: Luna didn't particularly enjoy riddles, even if it was more fun to give them. But she felt it was sometimes necessary to ask questions and help bring the dreamer's owns senses to help themselves. If Luna told her everything up front, she might not know how to cope with it. "I'll give you a hint. There is only one thing in this dream that is real, and it's not the castle ruins." Luna checked Twilight's grimace, checking for signs of her acknowledgement, like a doctor checks a patient for injury. "You had a frightening experience. Are you hurt? Are you alright?" Twilight had to take it in for a moment. So nothing here was real? Technically that meant little. She had, after all, destroyed reality. But her nonchalance- okay. She was real. Which meant nothing else was, including Twilight. Which meant this was a dream. A nightmare. “...OH THANK YOU!” Twilight hugged the Princess of the Night. She felt the weight of the worlds lift off of her shoulders, literally. The landscape around the castle started to crack and she hovered away from Luna. “I feel like this has lasted forever...but I guess maybe only a few hours? I can't tell. But this isn't new. Well, maybe this one is, but the nightmares are all the same.” Luna pried off Twilight away from her. It could have suggested she was not in the mood for hugs, but it was really Luna's sense that something was still wrong here. "You've had multiple? I've seen nightmares happen, they come in all shapes and sizes, but your was truly troubling. And it's reoccurring? I don't understand. Why are you dreaming of something like this? What kind of stress do you suppose is triggering it?" Luna's wings opened as the floor beneath them vanished. "I'm worried about this." Twilight sighed, her hooves at her eyes as she tried to not think of her worries for the first time in a century it seemed, even if it had only been a night. What would Luna think of her? Of all ponies... “Yes. Reoccuring,” she said, hovering along with Luna as the floor fell into nothing. Soon, it was just them in the void, floating for what seemed like an eternity in a second. “Never the same, but I haven't had a good night's sleep in months. I've always done a good job of keeping it bottled up, but I suppose my defenses have been pushed down finally. It was bound to happen. It all is. My failures. The more important my role, the bigger the responsibility, the more dire the consequences of failing. But the thing is Luna, I know I can do anything. So my failures are never because I am lazy or because I'm stupid, incompetent or malicious. It isn't a flaw I can correct, it is a mistake. A simple mistake every team. A mistake I feel doomed to make.” "You... always feel like this?" Luna proposed a tone of surprise. But the fact of the matter was, she had been here before, and far more recently than she would openly admit to ponies not on the princess round table. "When did this start?" “Always? No. It has been more recently. If I had to pinpoint it...well, I can't say it was just one thing. But I've realized how close I've came to failing all of Equestria, and that was with me at my absolute best. If I give anything less than that, I'll fail and my failures mean so much more now. I'm not a filly with a passion for learning, I'm a Princess with a passion for learning and so much power and responsibility that...” Twilight sighs, hoof to her face in gashtly exasperation, “uuuuuggghhh! Why am I so worried about this? It seems so simple...I feel like such a fool.” Luna used her alicorn magic and teleported both Twilight and herself into a realm of memory. They were in a large collegiate classroom, standing in the top back. Below them they could see the events unfold when Twilight nearly failed her entrance exam into CSGU. "You have always been afraid to fail Twilight." Luna expresses as she observes the past and present, seemingly simultaneously. "To your credit, all ponies are afraid to fail. But you have had more occurrences of this feeling than most, and it's because of how gifted you were at such a young age. I want to make you feel better, but I also want to figure out with you as to why you are crushing your own self esteem, in your dreams no less, with these thoughts of imminent failure." Luna kept watching a little Twilight struggle to get a dragon egg open. "Perhaps Starswirl the Bearded was always doomed to fail in many of his experiments and unfinished work. Does this mean he was the label for all magical ponies who fail?" This was a wonderful display of Luna's power. The academic in Twilight wanted to study the way that the aether was being manipulated in such a delicate yet overwhelming manner, allowing for the Night to pierce the veil of memory's sensation of time and space to produce such a vivid memory, and one she herself could feel as real as ever. Her examination. Could she have failed here? She worried about it, of course. But looking back, it seemed like her passing was a foregone conclusion. Her focus was there. It was just a matter of time. “I've always worried about failure, yes. But that has changed. I used to worry that I wasn't good enough...now I know I am. And as I've realized that, my responsibility has grown tremendously. I know I'm capable of anything. If I fail, it isn't like I worried I would here,” Twilight said as she watched herself start to glow with untapped power, “where if I failed, it was because I wasn't good enough. There are so many things I must keep a hold of now. And if I don't, everypony pays the price and it would be because of...laziness, rather than incompetence. And that is far worse than just not being good enough. How do you manage to keep track of everything and not cause such a catastrophe?” Luna said plainly. "It's simple. I don't." Luna made her own glow again, teleporting the two through the recordings of space and time, just in time for little Twilight's out of control magic to reach the imaginary observers. They stopped at a location in which was not owned in memory by Twilight, but rather an all-too familiar place for Luna herself. They were in the palace of the two sisters. The walls had no shown ruin yet, and Luna was on a pedestal, transforming into a wicked mare of darkness in front of her disappointed sister Celestia. "I think you forget too easily the path that others have had to take in order to get the place they are today, and you remember far too well, the times in which you have either failed, or almost failed." No matter how terrible Twilight imagined her future failings could be, only here in the realm of nightmares could she possibly hope to eclipse Luna's failings. Hers had cast the nation into its most tumultuous period, one of the few times where pony fought pony en masse. If Twilight was ever being reasonable, she would understand that nothing she could do could possibly eclipse that personal failing. But that tick, that worry, was not reasonable. And here in the dreamscape, Twilight was as honest as the very best of friends. “You know, I've studied this a lot. From a psychological standpoint. Feelings of betrayal. Jealousy. Toiling away for what is believed to be an ungrateful populace. Hidden from the light by a shadow you cannot control, the greatness of a sister overshadowing what you do. You know, for about a century afterwards the Equestrian Psychological Association classified a unique concurrence of symptoms as Luna's Syndrome, but Celestia eventually forbade it. It stayed around for a few more decades but it fell out of common usage. I'll admit, when I first read the stories, I thought this was as simple as one sister being jealous and the other doing what she had to. Now I see it differently. I see a pony who was too proud to seek help when she needed it. Your failing wasn't jealousy or anything similar, but pride- too proud to seek help. You remind me of Applejack in that regard when I look back. Tell me, when you and Celestia wielded the Elements, what Elements did you wield?”