The smaller animals called them the walking mountains. They called themselves the two bears.
Since winter’s advent, they slumbered under the mountain. Now spring was here, but they could sleep a little longer.
A voice came to the younger.
“Are you the walking mountains?”
“Yes,” it said, half-asleep.
“I bring a warning. The small ones, the village-builders, do you know of them?”
“There is a new one among them, a hunter. Soon, you will awake, and he will pose a dread threat to you and your mother. He stands tall on two legs, and throws fire and smoke. Beware him.”
“He will not best me. I am Young Bear, undefeated among the forest’s creatures.”
“I do not doubt you are best in the wood. But the hunter is from beyond both the wood and the village, and he is dangerous.”
“I will watch for him. But right now, I’m trying to sleep. Goodbye.”
The voice departed.
“Yes, I believe I said that already.”
“Where are we? And who are you?”
“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? We’re in an abstract representation of your mind, also called the blank void, the manifestation of the subconscious, etcedera. And as for who I am, I’d say that’s a rather philosophical question, eh?”
“I’m you, genius. Sort of.”
Archer stammered. The red Equestrian parroted his stammering back to him in a mocking tone.
“‘Uh, uh, uhhhh.’ Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of a journey into the mind before. Oh wait! You must have, because I know what that is, and I’m you.”
“I’m not convinced. You act nothing like me.”
“That’s because I’m a different version of you.”
“You just said-”
“Alright, look.” The Equestrian Archer slouched back in his chair, at a table that they both were suddenly sitting at, for no reason. Dream logic, he supposed. “I’m a dream messenger. Luna sent me into your brain to tell you something very important, and I have to adopt your personality until I’m permitted to leave because, powerful as I am, I just don't have any of my own. Get it?”
“Uh... I think so.”
“Exactly. You think. You are the waking mind. The id. You’re what people talk to when they address ’Archer.’”
“Okay, I understand.”
“Shut up. I mean, I know what’s going on now, and who everyone is, but... why are we here? What purpose does this serve?”
“Well, it’s quite simple,” said the Equestrian, as he pulled a blackboard into view in a decidedly Pinkie-Pie-like fashion. “Princess Luna, the Duchess of Dreams-” He sketched a crude drawing of said princess on the board. “-has instructed me-” He drew himself, with a small arrow pointing to him labelled awesome, “-to tell you-” A drawing of Archer, wearing a dunce cap. “-what I’ve known for years and what you’ve suspected ever since Fluttershy saved you from a near-terminal case of gluttony.” He added a beer belly to Archer’s depiction.
“That you habitually treat innocent Fae people like dirt because you heard a few unfounded horror stories.”
“Oh, that’s hardly news.”
“Yeah, but you’ve never considered how much of a jackanape it makes you.”
Archer threw his hands up. “Like I care what Fae people think?”
“You should. Fae people are feeding you, sheltering you, and right now, covering for you in front of a protege to the goddess of the daytime sky.”
“BEHOLD! The waking world!”
With a flourish, the Equestrian, who Archer really needed to name at some point, swiveled the blackboard to its opposite side, revealing a window to somewhere very dim.
“That’s the waking world?”
“Well, we’re not awake. That complicates things.”
“Then how are you-”
“Good evening, Twilight Sparkle. What brings you here at this hour?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
Between the princess and her two subjects, the clearing was empty, save for the two slumbering figures off to the side.
“Princess, what happened here?”
“Oh...” Luna gave an amused glance to the two would-be escapees. “...A couple of misguided souls lost their way. I put them back on the right path.”
“Was that the explosion we saw earlier?”
She cringed. “That may have had something to do with it.”
By now, Pinkie Pie was at the napping duo, poking and prodding as she was wont to do.
“What I wanna know is how they slept through something like that! I mean, didja see it? It was all - FWOOSH - and then the noise was like - BOOOOM - and then...”
“She never stops, does she?”
“I don’t think she even knows what stopping is.”
“Twilight, could I impose on you to take these two back to Ponyville?”
“Alright, but... if it’s okay to ask, princess, what were they really doing all the way out here?”
“Oh, you know. Royal business. Very hush-hush.” She winked.
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Oh. Ohhhh. I see.” She winked back. “My lips are sealed, Your Highness.”
The blackboard flipped again, and the viewport into the real world was gone.
“Why’d she do that? I shot her!”
“You shot at her. Big difference.”
“Why is she being so nice to me? Why is anyone being so nice to me?! This is a Fae realm, they’re supposed to be cooking me up for stew by now!”
“See, that’s our problem. You’re being a massive racist.”
“We prefer ’ponies’.”
“I don’t give a good got-dang what they prefer!”
“Their ruler just stuck out her neck for you, which you really didn’t deserve. It wouldn’t kill you to show a little decorum.”
“I know,” Archer sighed. “I’d just like to be told why anyone around here is giving me the time of day at all.”
The Equestrian-dream-him-thing, who still needed a name, huffed. “Maybe it’s because they’re decent people? You know, unlike you? You, who took all of their generosity and kindness and took a massive dump all over it with two consecutive escape attempts, insults, all-around rudeness, and probably worst of all, atrocious table manners?”
During the tirade, the pony-Archer leaned on the table with his two front hooves, bending ever closer to human-Archer until they were nose-to-nose.
”Umm, not to interrupt, or anything, but... Are you sure you’re not just Pinkie Pie with a dye job?”
The equine leaned back, chuckling.
“You’re a lot more like her than you’d like to admit. Let’s see, you’re both smart, funny, awesome tinkers, not prone to having your ego stroked in the slightest...”
“If my subconscious has started showering praise on a pink fairy horse, just shoot me now.”
“I’m just saying, she’s a good friend. A much better one than you’ve been, if tonight is any indication.”
“Ouch,” Archer muttered.
“I wouldn’t be saying it if some part of you didn’t believe it,” said the Equestrian him, who he still needed to- Argh.
“Look, man, this is going to drive me crazy. Do you have a name?”
“Can we find you one?”
“I’d rather you not, but fine.”
“No! And shut up.”
“Fine. But only because I know that’s the best you can come up with.”
“You know, you’d think talking to yourself would go a lot smoother than this.”
“You are not me.”
“Yeah, probably not.”
“What do you think the princess was doing that ended with a giant explosion and Archer and Inkwell falling asleep?”
“She said it was a secret, Pinkie.”
“Yeah, but don’t you wonder? I mean, there’s bound to be intrigue and mystery behind why she wouldn’t tell anyone what-”
“It was magic.”
“Oh, pfft. Never mind then.”
“Look, just try,” Arrowhead said. “That’s all I’m asking. Just try for once in your life not to be a complete monster.”
“Yes, you are. If only because no one but a complete monster would act like you have.”
“I’m on the king’s orders!”
“Oh, right. The king. The one a million miles away, who’s done nothing but send you vague letters and a bottle of turn-pony-crazy potion. A true hero, and an inspiration to us all,” he finished, his voice thick like sarcastic marmite.
There was a twanging sound, like a ball bearing hitting a piano string. It was the sound of a nerve being struck.
“Take that back.”
“I said take it back! The king is a great man! His line has protected Vorlan for hundreds of years-”
“Just as well as the Mercaniad line did for a thousand years before it, right up until they were expunged from existence by Jove the First.”
“You’re fast approaching blasphemy, horse man.”
“Am I now? You’re getting mad at me bad-mouthing your king?” Archer nodded. “Well, take heart, my boy. At least I’m not shooting him in the face.”
This threw Archer for a loop.
“Well, that’s what you did, essentially. No, wait, that’s exactly what you did. You shot the Equestrians’ queen in the face. You should be dead. But you’re not. Instead, you get a nice nap and a sit-down with yours truly.”
“So now I’m under torture only horrible enough to make me wish I was dead.”
“Har har. I could actually do just that.”
“Torture you. Drive you crazy. But I’m not doing that, because I’m the nice one, and you... well, to be perfectly frank, you stand to gain nothing from it. It’d be fun, sure. But there’s no point.”
“Are you some kind of sociopath? Weighing the pros and cons of forcing me into a mental breakdown, like it’s some kind of investment scheme?”
“No worse than you planning hours in advance how you were going to blow Pinkie up with a hand grenade.”
Plonk went another nerve being struck in the distance.
“Tell me, Arrowhead. Are you intentionally trying to go down in legend as an expert ruffler of feathers, or does it just come naturally?”
“A little of both.”
Archer’s body hit the floor of the library with a THUD. Inkwell THUDded right beside him a second later.
“What do you think we should do with ‘em, Twilight?”
“Tired. Going to bed. Good night.”
“What about Archer and Inkwell?”
“Let ‘em sleep there tonight. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment in the morning.”
Pinkie looked at the two napping on the floor, then up to the balcony with the guest bed.
The bed was only built to hold one pony. But Archer was in no way a pony. He was a human, and was in no way restricted by pony-per-bed limits. So, it only made sense (Pinkie sense) that one human and one pony could fit in a one-pony bed.
“...And really, using her as a packmule was a low blow,” Arrowhead groused.
“She agreed to it! And she did the thing with the fire arrow, too. You saw it! That was neat!”
“Yes, it was. So, we can agree that Fae aren’t terrible by default.”
“No, she gets a pass because she’s different. She’s lived with humans, by the sounds of things, and that nerve potion woke her up from whatever haze she’s been living in for lord knows how long.”
“Mkay, first off. That ‘haze’ is what’s known as the standard pony mindset. She was happy. Then you showed up, and now she’s a dissident, malcontent firebrand who makes incredibly bad decisions such as joining a criminal on a forest hike. Not to mention she'll probably continue to do so. So who’s worse?”
“Them, for brainwashing her in the first place.”
“Have you considered that, maybe, it was her idea? Maybe she saw or did something she wanted to forget, and it backfired because she ended up wanting to find out again?”
There was a long pause as a sneaking suspicion sneaked suspiciously into Archer’s mind.
“Arrowhead... do you know something I don’t?”
“WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO KNOW!”
Arrowhead began cackling madly, tipping backwards in his chair.
“You know, you’re a part of my head now. I’m pretty sure I can just, you know, mentally throttle you and steal whatever you’re hiding.”
If anything, this made Arrowhead laugh even harder.
“Boy, I’ve existed in some form or another for a few thousand years. You’ve been around for, what? Thirty? If that? I am much better at that sort of thing than you’ll ever be.”
“I seem to recall you saying you were essentially me, earlier.”
“I lied. Or maybe I just told a half-truth. Hard to tell. This is a dream, you know. Inconsistency is part and parcel.”
“So’s waking up, but we sadly never got around to that.”
“Oh, you want to wake up?”
“Really and truly?”
“Yes,” Archer grumbled.
“Are you suuuure?”
“Quit it, Arrowhead.”
“Fine! But just be sure you’re ready to face whatever’s waiting for you on the other side...”
As Arrowhead slowly sauntered away, Archer digested his departing statement.
“Like...?” he asked, cautiously.
“Oh...” Arrowhead turned around and smiled at him. “...Take a wild guess. The answer, I think you’ll find, is staring you in the face.”
For every minute it took Archer to puzzle out the latest whopper from Arrowhead’s mouth, the bigger the infernal pony’s grin seemed to get.
Then it clicked.
“Yeeeesss,” Arrowhead said, doing his best impression of a dastardly top-hatted villain.
“She may have! I don’t know, what are we talking about!?”
“We’re talking about the possibility of Luna having turned me into you!”
“What?” Arrowhead’s manic kinetic energy petered out suddenly. “No! Man, that’s exactly what I’m trying to stop from happening!”
“Okay, now it’s my turn to be confused.”
“Look, just wake up. Alright? Wake up. I’ll explain everything later.”
“Alright, how do you propose I do that?”
Arrowhead punched him in the face.
He woke up.
It was dawn. Probably. The sun was already at its eternal noontime position, which made guessing the hour pointless.
For some reason, he was in bed. And for some other reason, that bed was unusually warm.
He looked to his left. Someone had crammed him into the library's guest bed alongside Inkwell, who put out quite a few more degrees in body heat than he was used to.
“Oh, my. Breaking news, everypony! Stop the presses!”
“‘Man Sleeps Next To Horse, Authorities Baffled.’ That sounds about right.”
Archer brought himself upright. Sitting at the foot of the bed was a bright red pony who, until now, he was sure didn’t exist. Arrowhead waved.
Archer sprang out of the bed, screaming like a snake had bitten him on the hindquarters. He landed heavily on the floor, before scrambling into a vaguely upright position and running full-tilt away from the demon who plagued his dreams.
The fact that running full-tilt away from Arrowhead meant diving into and through the balcony window wasn’t exactly a major point of concern at the moment.
The supposedly imaginary pony watched as Archer crashed through the glass and plummeted out of sight.
“And he calls me crazy? Sheesh.”