A four-year-old Pipe Dream watched as Heebie tied a strange circular object with strings and feathers to the wooden rack by his bed. Heebie, Pipe Dream's mother, had a periwinkle colored mane, a terra cotta coat, and light purple eyes. Heebie's personality could be characterized as superstition alone - just about everything she did had something to do with good luck here or preventing bad luck there; not to mention her belief of something haunting the family attic. For as long as Pipe Dream knew, it was that the attic was haunted, and that no pony should ever go up there. Whatever was in the attic seemed to be the most active in the summer, at least, and since it was winter, it was fairly quiet up in the attic. But with winter, the cabin would become colder with the icy weather outside. It was another chilly night in his room in the cabin out in the mountains, with only the furnace to keep the house warm.
After watching Heebie for a moment, Pipe Dream finally asked, “What’s that, momma?”
“Why it’s a dream catcher.” Heebie replied.
“What does it do?” Pipe Dream asked.
“It takes the bad dreams away,” Heebie replied, “you’ve been havin’ nightmares lately, an’ this should help.”
Pipe Dream trotted closer to the dream catcher. “How does it do that, momma?”
“Well Pipe Dream, it takes the bad dreams an’ sends them away, an’ at the same time it catches those good dreams, an’ brings them to ya instead.”
Heebie spun the dream catcher in its place to make sure it was well secured to the rack. While the dream catcher spun, Pipe Dream watched the mysterious object turn and turn. He was mesmerized by that dream catcher; what a strange looking device.
“I wish I could be a dream catcher,” Pipe Dream remarked, “then I could take away bad dreams.”
Heebie smiled, then crouched to Pipe Dream’s level and said, “but you can be a dream catcher, Pipe Dream.”
Pipe Dream felt confused. “Really, momma?”
“Yes,” Heebie answered, “in fact, the best dream catchers are the ponies who take the bad dreams away from the world.”
-Five Years Later-
"Pipe Dream, Pipe Dream."
Pipe Dream opened his eyes. He was standing in his room, but everything was dark. No, not everything, the ground was still light. Pipe Dream looked around until the room came into focus. The room wasn't dark - there were shadows oozing from the corners of the ceiling.
"What is this?" Pipe Dream asked, disturbed by what he was seeing.
That voice. Pipe Dream knew that voice was his brother Loose Cannon's voice.
"Loose Cannon, where are you?"
"Pipe Dream, I'm over here."
Pipe Dream heard Loose Cannon's voice coming from the attic. There was no way Pipe Dream was going in the attic, not with it being haunted and all. Pipe Dream lazily glanced at the ceiling, feeling a little foggy. As he did so, he noticed some strange shadow-like ooze coming down from the corners of the ceiling. The more he looked at it, the more frightening it became to him. If that slime was coming down from the ceiling, pony heaven knows what else was up in that attic. Above everything in Equestria, the last thing Pipe Dream wanted to do was find out what was in the attic, and where all this shadow stuff was coming from.
"No," Pipe Dream decided, "If he wants me, he's gonna come down here, 'cause I ain't goin' up there."
"Loose Cannon, if you want me, you're gonna hafta come down here. There ain't no way I'm goin' up in that cursed attic!"
"Pipe Dream, I can't come down. I need you, and you need to save me."
Loose Cannon's calm voice disturbed Pipe Dream even more. How could Loose Cannon be so calm about this? Nothing was making sense. Pipe Dream's mouth went dry as he helplessly watched the shadow ooze collect at the bottom of the walls, draping the sides of the room in an eerie darkness.
"Pipe Dream, I need you."
Pipe Dream panicked as he saw the shadow ooze slowly spread out on the floor. In response, Pipe Dream stood with his hooves close together so that he wouldn't touch whatever in equestria that glop was.
"No! I can't save you! There's black stuff everywhere!"
Pipe Dream almost came to tears seeing the black ooze collect on the ground and grow higher and higher until it was practically as tall as tall as he was. What was happening? What was this stuff?
"Pipe Dream, you need to save me."
"No!" Pipe Dream's voice began to shake, "find your own way out!"
The shadow ooze suddenly stopped moving, as if it was offended by something. Then, it started moving again, but this time, in Pipe Dream's direction.
"No, stay back! Get away from me!"
Even from being a distance away, Pipe Dream felt a cold draft radiating from the shadow ooze. The stuff was translucent, and everything it touched seemed to be darkened and warped into bizarre shapes by its power. The floorboards began to twist and turn when it came in contact with the ooze, turning dark and pale shades of brown. Pipe Dream cringed out of terror as he stood helplessly watching the ooze get closer and closer to him. At the last minute, the ooze picked up speed and engulfed Pipe Dream in an instant. Pipe Dream cried out in horror as the stuff swept over him, giving him an icy and sickly sensation, as everything Pipe Dream saw became dark and distorted.
Pipe Dream sat up in bed in an instant, panting heavily, with sweat on his forehead. It was a nightmare, just a nightmare. Pipe Dream laid back in bed slowly, trying to relax. After several minutes, Pipe Dream finally relaxed, and started breathing normally.
Pipe Dream stopped moving. Somepony called his name again, and right beside him. Pipe Dream slowly turned to see who it was.
It was his younger sibling Battie.
"Pipe Dream, are you ok? You've we're shoutin' in yer sleep."
Pipe Dream didn't answer for a moment, then said "Yeah, I'm ok Bats."
Pipe Dream looked over and saw his other younger sibling Belfry trot in. Battie - or Bats was what we usually called her - and her sister Belfry were both twins, and both fillies. Both of them had blue eyes, a dark brown coat, and a burgandy mane. Bats and Belfry were real hoof-fulls, getting into trouble all the time. When something unlucky crossed their path at school, one of them was always handy with a bag of salt which would inevitably be tossed over one of their shoulders and would appear all over the ground. Just because of them, Ms. Cheerilee would be at her wits end on account of having a "clean working space for bright young minds ruined by superstitious tomfoolery"; of course, one could say that they were adding some much needed flavor to the school environment. Being superstitious himself, Pipe Dream couldn't blame his younger sisters. In fact, it probably did them and the family some good, whether or not Ms. Cheerilee actually took any notice to it at all.
Belfry trotted up to Bats cautiously. "Bats, you know we're not supposed to be here like this. If he wakes up with a nightmare, then that nightmare could latch on to us too - you know what momma says, dreams are tangible things an' shouldn't be messed around with."
"That's right Bats," Pipe Dream confirmed, "I don't want you to get this dream either. It wouldn't be good for you."
Bats looked like she was about to say something, but then stopped and trotted out of the room with Belfry close beside her.
As Bats and Belfry left the room, Pipe Dream laid back in his bed and stared out the window. Countless stars decorated the peaceful night sky. Pipe Dream allowed his mind to go blank as he sat watching the sky for a little while. That must have been one powerful nightmare to get past that dream catcher - it must mean something, then. But what? That dream was as mysterious as it was terrifying.
Pipe Dream tried to think about something else. He would be going to a colt scout meet soon after daybreak, and it would be the first time he would visit.
"Maybe if I can get out more, this can all just stop."
Heebie finished the pancakes, and proceeded to set them on the table. As she did so, she couldn't help but think that Pipe Dream was going to have a good chance at making some friends today, since today was the first time that he would be attending a colt scout meet. This would be the first time Pipe Dream would ever visit ponyville. In the past, she and Jeebies, Pipe Dream's father, had only allowed Pipe Dream and Loose Cannon only so far from their cabin so that nothing bad may happen to them. It was only recently that they had relaxed their fears a little towards that rule and now they allowed Pipe Dream and Loose Cannon to roam freely wherever they wanted - as long as it was near home or at ponyville. They even allowed Bats and Belfry to go to school at the ponyville schoolhouse.
Heebie turned and began to gingerly clean the cookware she had just used for making breakfast. Just when she got started cleaning one of the spatulas, Bats and Belfry both ran into the kitchen.
Belfry hopped to her spot at the table and asked excitedly, "Ooh, what's for breakfast?"
"Mmm, pancakes!" Bats answered.
As Bats and Belfry had their fill of the pancakes, Jeebies entered the kitchen and sat himself at the table. Jeebies had a periwinkle mane like Heebie, but had a charcoal shaded coat and green eyes.
"Pancakes for breakfast I see, an' they sure smell delicious Heebie." Jeebies commented.
Heebie smiled and responded, "Thank ya Jeebies.
"An' where's that Loose Cannon at, Heebie? Is he sleepin' in like usual?"
"Yep, he sure is."
"Well, at least he's gettin' sleep," Jeebies remarked, "it's Pipe Dream that I'm worried about. I heard some muffled shoutin' comin' from his room last night. I didn't see it fer myself cause the shoutin' could've been from one o' those wailer spirits."
Bats spoke up, "He had one o' those nightmares again, daddy."
"An' how do you know he had a nightmare, Bats?"
"I asked him, an' he said he had a nightmare, an' he didn't want us to catch it."
"Is that so now?" Heebie commented, "I'd best get that dream catcher of his checked."
"It looked fine to me when I was there," Belfry added.
"What if the nightmare was too powerful for the dream catcher - what if it means somethin'?" Bats suggested.
"Oh come now, dearest, nothin's too powerful fer a dream catcher." Heebie said.
"But what if it was?"
Heebie looked slightly concerned, then looked as if she was about to say something. "You know what, this conversation is just silly, so lets talk about somethin' else."
After a brief moment, Heebie continued.
"Pipe Dream will be goin' to his first colt scout meet today, Jeebies."
"Oh really now?" Jeebies said, "that's good fer him. Maybe he can learn some good survival skills so he can keep himself safe in the wilderness."
"That's the idea, but even more so is the fact that he can go and see other colts like him, and that'd be good for him, don't ya think?"
"Yeah, I'm thinkin' so, but those survival skills are the real reason why I'm supportin' it. If ya can't survive, ya can't live in this world."
Suddenly, Pipe Dream walked into the room. Everyone was able to recognize Pipe Dream - he had a dark grey coat, a dark purple mane, and silvery eyes. He looked tired, walking into the room with bed-mane and dark rings under his eyes. Pipe Dream slowly trotted over to his place at the table and started having some bites of his pancakes. Heebies worriedly glanced at Jeebies, then spoke up.
"Did ya sleep well, Pipe Dream?"
Pipe Dream nodded, but unconvincingly.
"What's the matter, Pipe Dream?" Heebies asked.
Pipe Dream sighed, "Had a bad dream last night, couldn't sleep."
"Well let's hope it doesn't come back again," Heebies replied, "I don't want to see you shoutin' at night like you did some years ago."
Pipe Dream tried to absorb what Heebies had said, and seriously hoped that his nightmares would not return. About five years ago, Pipe Dream had nightmares just about every night. It seemed like nothing would stop them until Heebies had first obtained the things necessary to create a dream catcher to prevent his nightmares from coming back. Ever since, Pipe Dream had been without a nightmare until now.
"I sure hope they won't come back either, Ma," Pipe Dream responded, before eating some more of his pancakes.
"Maybe after I go to my first colt scout meet today, I'll feel better" Pipe Dream thought.
Looking outside the window of the kitchen, Pipe Dream could see that it was going to be a sunny day in ponyville, with an occasional cloud in the sky. After a short conversation with his family, Pipe Dream finished his pancakes and proceeded to get ready for his first colt scout meet.
As Pipe Dream continued to trot up one of the last foothills in the mountains, he saw Ponyville appear just on the other side of the hill, along with the signature Ponyville schoolhouse. The colt scouts were scheduled to meet today at the Ponyville schoolhouse for orientation and a story about one of Equestria's notable stallions.
Pipe Dream continued to trot along the path to the schoolhouse, taking in the scenery of being out of the mountains; being a country pony, being out in Ponyville was going to be a completely new experience. There were countless buildings out in Ponyville all scattered about, with light brown walls and wooden frames. It was nothing like the cabin Pipe Dream lived in back home, where the house was made up of tree logs all stacked together.
Pipe Dream got closer and closer to Ponyville until he finally reached the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was fairly quaint, having light red walls and a red roof, with a chic white trim along the borders of the roofs. A smaller, seperate roof leaned out over the front of the schoolhouse just above the door of the building as well. When Pipe Dream got closer, he could see various patterns on the building, including heart shapes. Pipe Dream began to wonder if hearts were trendy in Ponyville as he continued to see more of them on the small building. Outside the schoolhouse, a sign reading "Ponyville Schoolhouse" stood by a small white fence running along the perimeter the property.
Pipe Dream stopped and took a deep breath. He'd never been more than fifty feet away from his family's cabin for his entire life, and it was only today that he was not only allowed to go to Ponyville, but to actually have the courage to leave for Ponyville as well. Pipe Dream began to feel uneasy; his stomach turning a little from the thought of where he was. Not only where he was, but how far he was from home - he had been trotting for a mile or so to get here.
Pipe Dream noticed that he was now breathing faster than he was before.
Not only that, but he didn't know what to do. Go inside the schoolhouse? What if no one liked him? What if he passed out and had another nightmare? If he passed out, Pipe was sure he'd have another nightmare since he left his dream catcher a home. Pipe couldn't help thinking about how much he wished his brother Loose Cannon could be here.
"Hello?" sang a cheerful voice, from right behind him.
Pipe Dream didn't move. Someone just said "Hello" to him. He'd have to get into a conversation with somepony - but what if he said something stupid? What if this pony would hate him?
Pipe Dream just stood there, muttering "H-h-hello," in a small, nervous voice, not turning to look.
The other pony - or mare - trotted up alongside Pipe Dream. She had a purple coat and periwinkle mane, along with a cutie mark of three smiling flowers. This is really all that Pipe Dream noticed until he had the courage to look up at her face, which was one of concern. "Oh no, she hates me already!" Pipe Dream thought, distraught by the apparent look of disapproval on the mare's face.
"Are you all right?" The mare asked.
"Y-yes ma'am, sorry ma'am, I-I'm new ma'am," Pipe stammered.
The mare gave him a slightly worried look now.
"You don't need to be sorry for anything. Now are you sure you're alright?"
"Y-yes ma'am," Pipe quickly said, still distraught.
The mare continued to eye him for a brief moment with a look of compassion in her eyes.
"Why, you must be here for the colt scout meet, aren't you?"
Pipe Dream quickly nodded, still feeling a little clammy.
"Well, I was just coming up to the schoolhouse to get some of my things together. Would you mind if I walked you inside? That's where the colt scouts are meeting..."
Not wanting to hurt the mare's feelings, and liking the idea of having an adult walk him inside the house, Pipe Dream nodded yes, without speaking.
The mare smiled and began to slowly trot forward as Pipe Dream managed to take some steps forward himself.
"So what's your name? You can call me Miss Cheerilee."
Pipe Dream took another breath. "I-I'm P-Pipe Dream," he managed to say.
"Pipe Dream, that's a nice name," Cheerilee responded, "I haven't met a Pipe Dream before."
Then it happened. As Pipe Dream and Cheerilee began to walk up the path leading to the schoolhouse, weird things, happened. The path began to twist and warp like a snake - Pipe Dream could have sworn he heard it hissing too. All the blades of grass suddenly stood erect, then quickly pointing in Pipe Dreams direction. Strangely, Cheerilee didn't seem to notice any of this, continuing on in her cheerful conversation with Pipe Dream.
"...I've always loved this schoolhouse." She said, eying the building with some nostalgia.
But Pipe Dream did not love the schoolhouse after he gave it another glance. What was once a normal schoolhouse was a strange building which seemed to be breathing - through the doorway. A shadowy ooze seemed to sweat out of the pores and cracks of the wood on the building's sides and roof. Something gave Pipe Dream the feeling that the ooze was the same stuff he had seen from his nightmare.
"...Pipe Dream, is something wrong?" asked Cheerilee, sounding more concerned than before.
Pipe Dream had stopped trotting, Cheerilee having only noticed a couple steps ahead of him. As he looked up at the bell tower of the schoolhouse, he began to see that same shadow ooze emerging from the hidden depths of whatever was underneath that bell. Looking up even more, the sky began to change colors from bright blue to a hideous combination of dark indigo and blood red.
"Pipe Dream," Cheerilee said, sounding urgent, "are you alright?"
Pipe Dream took some steps backwards, not paying any attention to Cheerilee anymore. Holding a speechless gape at the schoolhouse, he could see other colts slowly emerging from the belltower - lifeless, grotesque - and spilling over the sides to the beat of some kind of heart-like pulse.
Unable to look at the schoolhouse any longer, Pipe Dream looked back, then finding himself staring face-to-face with the source of the hissing sound he had been hearing. It was the path, but somehow it had reared up and stood in his face with a snakelike profile, but with that shadow ooze slowly running out of its eyes and nose, and dripping from its mouth like saliva.
"You belong to me, Pipe Dream," the snake-thing gurgled.
"No, no I don't!" Pipe Dream shouted, panicking.
The snake-thing didn't speak, it just mouthed the same words back at Pipe, "You belong to me, Pipe Dream."
"Pipe Dream?" a very concerned voice shouted from behind Pipe, but he didn't care. The snake-thing slowly opened its mouth, shadow ooze pouring down onto the path before Pipe Dream. Pipe watched, eyes glued to the ooze with horror and disgust, as it began to transfigure and warp the ground into indiscernible forms.
"No, please, don't do this to me!" Pipe pleaded the snake-thing, but only fruitlessly as the ooze began to slowly slide towards Pipe Dream once more, just like it had in his dream.
"Pipe Dream!" shouted Cheerilee.
Cheerilee, of course! Pipe Dream was sure that she could make this stop if she was a grown-up. Turning to run towards Cheerilee in relief, Pipe Dream stopped in horror. Cheerilee was smothered in the shadow ooze, and her eyes were gleaming in hellish colors. The ooze dripped down from her mane and coat, along with her very self appearing to melt into the ground.
"Pipe Dream, what's wrong?" cried the new Cheerilee, in a sarcastically-sounding gurgle.
Pipe Dream stood paralized, gaping at Cheerilee, at the schoolhouse, at the lifeless bodies of other colts slowly sliding down from the bell tower.
Suddenly, a sickly, cold fluid began to grasp Pipe Dream's hooves. Pipe Dream managed to look down to see what it was; and it was the shadow ooze. Suddenly, he saw his hooves twist in unrecognizeable shapes, then, as the ooze crept higher and higher, it began to twist his legs. What was nice before is that he didn't actually have to see this process take place, but now that he did, not only did Pipe Dream see his own legs bending and morphing, but he also felt it. It was the kind of pain you feel from pressure - that's what it felt like. That pushing, twisting, bending pain which at best feels extremely uncomfortable, and at worst, can feel like your joints are leaving their sockets.
Pipe Dream cried out in pain, cried out in terror, cried out for somepony to please make it stop... Then he blacked out.
Phoebe felt the strength of Pipe Dream coursing through her now, feeling the energy from his fear.
It had been too long. After Celestia banned creatures like her long ago in the battle against she and Princess Luna on account of their taking Luna's side, they had been forced to rely on their... less than ethical ways in order to obtain sustenance. At least, if they wanted to stay in Ponyville. Otherwise, they'd have to leave to the country where the changeling empire rules - and no self respecting thing would want to live in that horrible place.
Most of her kind chose to leave out of respect for the Princess. However, Phoebe, along with maybe one or two more of her kind, preferred to stay in ponyville. Under disguise. Hidden from pony eyes. Of course, they couldn't go invisible or anything, they just had to find a hiding place. For Phoebe, that meant staying in the attic of some shack full of superstitious nutcases.
Well, the attic of a cabin is always better than living as a nomad in the changeling's country.
"Miss Cheerilee, can you explain to me what Pipe Dream was doing at the time you were with him?"
Cheerilee paused for a moment, recollecting her thoughts.
"I was trotting along, to the schoolhouse, to grade some of the homework assignments which had been turned in to me the day before, when I saw Pipe Dream. He looked... uneasy, to say the least. He was just standing there, looking away from me, as if it was from some horror tale. I said "Hello," to him, but he didn't answer, he just kept looking off into the distance."
"Did anything else happen?"
"Well, yes, and that's what I was getting to. After speaking with him for a moment, I told him I'd walk him up to the schoolhouse. Something about him seemed different; disturbed, even, which is why I had even offered to walk him to the schoolhouse to begin with. Anyway, as I was trotting with him up to the schoolhouse, trying to engage him in a conversation, until he had this... expression, on his face. It was probably the most disturbing thing about him at the time. He... was looking at the schoolhouse with this look of terror and revulsion on his face. I tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't respond. He just kept looking higher and higher at the schoolhouse - which looked fine to me - with this increasingly intense expression of terror and revulsion, until he finally shook his head, eyes plastered to the schoolhouse, with horror all over his face."
"Was there anything else?"
"Yes, and it was worse. As I kept trying to get his attention, he simply jerked around - as if he was trying to get away from the schoolhouse - only to stop dead in his tracks in front of... something. At least, I didn't see anything, but apparently he did, because he was looking ahead of himself as if he was looking something in the eyes. Then he had this new expression - not an expression of revulsion, but instead of terror, despair. It was as if he was so terrified, he couldn't feel the fear anymore, just despair. Then he yelled, "No, no I'm not!". That's when I had enough, and I shouted his name to get his attention. Thankfully, it sounded like he heard me, and he turned around as if he was going to run towards me, but then he stopped and looked at me the same way he had looked at the schoolhouse. Then he shook his head, as if he had lost all hope, then he yelped, looking down at his hooves. I don't know if he realized it, but he was hyperventilating at the time, even sobbing, as he was looking down at his hooves - then he cried out in pain, and then... he passed out."
"Is that all?"
"That's all. Then I brought him into the schoolhouse and told a mare inside the schoolhouse to get help, and-"
"Then she came to me and brought me here to see if Pipe Dream was alright?"
There was a brief silence in the room as both Cheerilee and the psychiatrist gazed at the now sleeping Pipe Dream, who was snoring lightly while laying down on the floorboards.
Pipe Dream groaned from fatigue.
Pipe Dream slowly began to wake up, his eyes still closed; all he could see was black.
"Pipe Dream, are you alright?" came that voice again, "I think he's coming to."
That voice... Was it Miss Cheerilee? What if there was something still wrong with her? What if she became some kind of hellish looking zombie-pony? "I just want to go home," Pipe Dream thought wearily, panicking a little that Miss Cheerilee sounded so close.
"No, stay back... There's something wrong... With Miss Cheerilee..." Pipe Dream managed to mumble.
"Nothing is wrong with Miss Cheerilee," spoke another voice, from a stallion.
"...Make it go away... Is it gone?" Pipe Dream managed to say.
"Whatever you saw is gone. You can open your eyes now." spoke the same stallion.
Slowly, Pipe Dream opened his eyes into slits, seeing two blurred figures - a purple mare, and a brown stallion who appeared to be wearing a white coat. As Pipe's vision slowly came into focus, he realized that the purple mare was Miss Cheerilee - completely normal, and not scary. Looking to the side, Pipe could see that the brown stallion had an orange mane and tail, and was wearing a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck.
"How do you feel?" spoke the stallion in an optimistic tone - in a way which sounded a little far off to Pipe Dream.
After a couple moments, Pipe Dream answered, "...Fine, just... Tired."
"Good," the stallion responded. Turning to Miss Cheerilee, he continued, "For now, I would diagnose this as a case of hypnagogia. He should be fine."
"Hypnagogia?" Cheerilee responded, "only hypnogogia?"
The stallion looked back at Pipe Dream with a slightly puzzled look on his face before turning back to Cheerilee.
"From what I know, the best medical conclusion I can make from this is that Pipe Dream had been sleep deprived to the point of exhaustion, and had fallen into a state of hypnagogia before passing out... Besides that,I've never had a case like this one before." the stallion finally stated.
Miss Cheerilee seemed unsatisfied with the stallion's answer, looking back at Pipe Dream for a brief moment, before finally saying, "He was wide awake when I trotted up to him - if he was sleep deprived, I would have known - and trust me, I've seen sleep deprived colts and fillies in my classroom before."
"Hypna... what?" Pipe Dream finally asked, beginning to perk up a little.
Cheerilee and the stallion looked back at Pipe Dream after his remark, then the stallion sighed and looked back at Cheerilee.
"Like I had said before, I have never seen a case like this, never in my life at work." the stallion finally said.
Miss Cheerilee continued to look back at Pipe Dream with an agitated look on her face; as she did so, the stallion began to pack up his things before leaving the room with an optimistic goodbye to everyone.
"What's hypna... What he said?" asked Pipe Dream.
Uttering a sigh of frustration, Cheerilee responded, "It basically means you're fine."
Not feeling very comforted by the meaning of Cheerilee's reply, Pipe Dream looked off to the side of where he was lying down. Pipe Dream saw that he was lying down on the floor, close to the wall. on the other side of the room, desks were stacked on top of each other - probably to make space for the colt scout meet. Then Pipe Dream remembered.
"The colt scout meet!" said Pipe Dream. Then, more hesitantly, he added, "Did... Did I... Did I miss it?"
"No, you didn't miss it," replied Cheerilee, "you came a little early, actually. The other colts should be coming soon."
Miss Cheerilee almost turned away, but looked back at Pipe Dream instead.
"Will you be alright, Pipe Dream?"
"I... Should be f-fine..." replied Pipe Dream, still feeling a little nervous around Cheerilee.
Cheerilee gave Pipe Dream a little smile before trotting to her desk at the end of the room.
After watching Cheerilee trot away, Pipe Dream slowly got back onto his feet, knowing something was wrong. He couldn't help thinking about how he had fallen into a nightmare - while he was awake. How is that possible? How can that even happen? Nothing made sense. Finally, Pipe Dream decided to think that it must've been because he was away from his dream catcher, and since he was farther away from it, it was making him even more susceptible to nightmares. Yeah, that must've been it... It had to have been it... It had to...
After comforting himself with his own explanation for what happened, Pipe Dream glanced at the door. Was everything... normal... out there too? Pipe Dream nervously crept beside the door, unsure if he should look outside.
"I just gotta get over this - it's all normal, I know it is." Pipe Dream said to himself.
Pipe Dream tried to slowly move his head around the corner. It would be easy, right? Just real slow, no need to rush, just, just slowly move his head around the door, and everything would turn out to be fine.
No, that wasn't working. No matter how many times Pipe Dream began to try, he kept resisting from getting his head out the door. Pipe Dream changed his mind - if he was going to look around the corner, he was going to have to do it fast and get it over with. After swallowing hard, and breaths moving faster, Pipe Dream closed his eyes. He was ready to look outside.
After shoving his head out the door, Pipe Dream quickly forced his eyes open - only to be looking face to face with two large eyes, red in the middle.
Pipe Dream stumble backwards after his cry of terror, only to see that he just stuck his face into the face of another colt just like him. In response, the other colt flinched, then burst out laughing.
"Really? I hope I'm not that scary!" said the colt, who turned out to be a pegasus, with a light green coat and a blue mane and tail.
"Of course you are! You scare everyone!" said a black-coated filly with a flame-like mane and tail behind him.
The colt just ignored her, then said "Miss Cheerilee! Don't grade my homework yet!" before galloping inside the schoolhouse to attempt to plead Cheerilee about something concerning his homework. The filly then trotted in behind him, then looked down at Pipe Dream with a smile on her face. "You alright?"
"Yeah, I'm ok." responded Pipe Dream. Realizing that how he just reacted to the colt earlier, he suddenly felt self-conscious about himself. "Darnnit Pipe Dream, why are you so bad at first 'mpressions?" he thought to himself, before saying, "oh, and I'm sorry, I'm not... not usually like th-this, I-I'm just far from home and-"
"Trust me," replied the filly, "I know."
Pipe Dream felt a little comforted by the filly's remark, before responding "hey, what's y-yer name?"
The filly stopped, then looked thoughtful, before replying "I'll tell you later."
Pipe Dream thought nothing of it, before some more colts trotted in, one of them trotting up to Pipe Dream in a rush.
"You alright there? You just fell over."
"Ahm ok," Pipe Dream responded, feeling a little more confident now. Getting back up on his hooves, Pipe Dream continued, "thanks fer asking, th-though."
"Name's Clean Slate," continued the other colt, holding out one hoof.
Pipe Dream looked confusedly at Clean Slate's hoof.
"You hit your hoof on it," said Clean Slate, "didn't you know that?"
"Oh, oh yeah," said Pipe Dream, before hitting his hoof on Clean Slate's hoof. Pipe Dream saw Belfry and Bats hit their hooves together before, but Pipe Dream never really understood up until now.
"Alright colts, everypony sit in a half-circle by the wall." spoke the voice of a stallion who was just entering the room, who had both a brown coat and a forest green mane. Another stallion, probably an assistant, followed him into the schoolhouse.
"C'mon, come sit by me." said Clean Slate, motioning Pipe Dream to follow. Before turning to follow Clean Slate, Pipe Dream glanced back outside. Everything outside was normal, just the way he saw it the first time. Pipe Dream then proceeded to trot with Clean Slate with the other colts.
Sitting down in a half circle, Pipe Dream looked around him, seeing a turnout of about twenty colts in the room, if not a little more. Each colt was either a pegasus, unicorn, or an earth pony. Pipe Dream also took note that there were no fillies in the group. He decided that it only made sense, since it was a colt scout meet after all.
Standing in the center of the half circle, the stallion cleared his throat before speaking.
"Alright colts, you can call me Captain Green, since I will be your scout leader for the year. Today is our first colt scout meet of the year, and as with every beginning of the year, it's tradition to start with telling one of our stories about great stallions, stallions we all should see as role models."
Pipe Dream heard some whispering amongst the colts in the group as the stallion stopped speaking for a moment. Then, the assistant stallion came and whispered something into Captain Green's ear, before Captain Green spoke again.
"Unfortunately, our story teller is a little under the weather today, so he couldn't make it." continued Captain Green.
Captain Green looked over in Cheerilee's direction, before continuing, "However... Miss Cheerilee, would you mind telling the colts any stories you might know? They've already heard everything from me and Helping Hand, here.
Cheerilee looked up from her homework assignments, looking a little flustered. "Stories? For a colt scout meet?"
"Only if you'd like, of course." responded Captain Green.
"I don't know..." Cheerilee responded.
"Please?" pleaded some of the colts.
Cheerilee mulled over the idea of telling a story in a colt scout meet before answering.
"Well, I only know one story, but it's only a legend." continued Cheerilee
"Even a legend is fine." replied Captain Green.
"Alright, if you insist. I have plenty of time to finish grading these assignments anyway." chimed Cheerilee before setting her things aside and trotting up to Captain Green.
"Alright, I remember reading one story back at the university I had attended. It has been documented as a legend, although some archaeologists insist on its being a true story. It goes like this, and it is called, "the Legend of Olympus."
There was once a unicorn stallion known as "Olympus." He was known as the most clever and powerful stallion of his days, days before the days of Starswirl the Bearded. It was during the days of Olympus that the nations of pony-kind were divided into nations three - the unicorns, the pegasi, and the earth ponies. These nations held a fierce prejudice with one another, seeing the unicorns as spoiled and rich, the pegasi as manipulative and malicious, and the earth ponies as selfish and without mercy. One day, in order to bring about a sense of kindness between the nations, an alicorn - the rarest of the breeds - had made a declaration for all the nations:
A decree by one of the few alicorns of Equestria,
Pragmatist Law, upon making his decree, had intended that the competition would show which two of the nations were the most developed. And, in theory, it should be the two most well developed nations who would be able to make diplomatic negotiations the most effectively.
Of course, the implications of the declaration had infuriated the unicorn nation. How, in an athletics tournament, could the unicorn nation prove its state of development? Clearly, the pegasi and the earth pony nations would win the tournament, and as a result, the unicorn nation would be forced to leave the lands of Equestria, forever. The odds were against them, and the unicorn nation felt betrayed by the alicorn Pragmatist Law.
The athletic competition sparked heated controversy. While the unicorn nation complained over the unfairness of the competition, the earth pony and pegasi nations pushed that the competition was indeed fair and that the unicorn nation was "whining over mere foal's play."
Alicorns, being seen as a sign of mediation between the nations, were given total authority over diplomacy, and Pragmatist Law made it clear that the competition of athletics would in fact commence on the fortieth day after the solstice. And, having full authority over the diplomacy of the nations, Pragmatist Law declared that, regardless of any complaints from any of the three parties involved, the competition would go on, in rain or shine, and would not, under any circumstances, fair or unfair, be canceled.
This was the final blow to the unicorn nation. The athletics competition would go on, and would not be canceled or changed in any way on account of the way the competition was set. Weeks of despair plagued the unicorn nation, as families and leaders tried to decide on what to do about the situation at hand.
Finally, one unicorn stallion, who had heard the grieving of his neighbors, made a brave decision. Stepping out of his house, this stallion trotted up to the unicorn council's tower, and knocked at the door, pride for his nation in his heart. He knew what he felt he needed to do, and that was to think of a clever way to solve the problem. This stallion, as told in stories from generations and generations to come, has always been known to be called "Olympus."
Upon being granted entrance to the unicorn council's tower, Olympus pleaded his case. The unicorn nation appeared to be doomed in the face of an athletics competition, unless they could acquire what Olympus had described as the Bands of Strength. These Bands of Strength, as they were called, only worked in the presence of unicorns, and when used, it would multiply the physical capabilities of a unicorn tremendously. The members of the council replied with condemning words, saying that the Bands of Strength were mere legend, and nothing more, and that a unicorn's physical abilities could not be multiplied by any magic artifact. Unshaken, Olympus pressed on, pleading the council to tell him where amongst the hills of Equestria may he possibly find the artifact, in case it did exist. Upon warning Olympus that these bands were mere legend, the council replied, saying that if by some miracle, they would exist atop the Mountain of the Moon.
The Mountain of the Moon, explained the council, was the tallest of all the mountains in Equestria, and existed in the center of the land, pointing up into the skies, straight at the moon. The Mountain of the Moon was a distant symbol of harmony, of a connectedness to the universe and the world, a connection between openness and solidness, a unity between differences. It was also within The Mountain of the Moon that we had re-established the harmony with each other, but that is another story.
The council also warned Olympus of the dangers of The Mountain of the Moon. Recluses - known as the night ponies, in honor of the moon - lived there apart from the three nations of the ponies, on account of the fact that the three nations of the ponies had forsaken harmony. As such, the night ponies who lived on The Mountain of the Moon would in turn be hostile to any newcomers from any of the neighboring nations. The council warned Olympus that these ponies must be feared and respected, because of it being told that they had the power to feel emotion, control thoughts, and even drive ponies insane.
But Olympus was braver than to be discouraged from what he knew he had to do on account of fear. Accepting the consequences that may possibly lie ahead of him, Olympus made a vow to the council that he would indeed travel up The Mountain of the Moon in search of the Bands of Strength, regardless of the dangers that may face him. Olympus would, in the face of all fears and dangers, retrieve the Bands of Strength and return them to the unicorn nation, so that the unicorns may live on in Equestria for the rest of their days.
The council sent Olympus away, to go out on his journey if he so willed it. As Olympus left the unicorn nation for The Mountain of Olympus, many a unicorn wept, because the thought of Olympus inevitably failing his journey was more than the unicorns could bear. Things seemed even more hopeless for the unicorns of the unicorn nation - but not for Olympus. Olympus set his goal in mind, and that was to retrieve the Bands of Strength, and Olympus refused to fail.
Upon three month's time, Olympus finally journeyed to The Mountain of the Moon. Looking up, Olympus saw the mountain stand like a pillar in the night's sky, pointing directly toward the moon, in a forsaken whisper of harmony far forgone.
Without hesitation, Olympus set his first hoof on the mount, then the other, as he began to venture to the highest heights of the mountain in search of the Bands of Strength. As he continued to climb, the air grew colder. As he continued to climb, the world appeared smaller. It was when he found himself halfway up the mountain that he dared look behind him, seeing the three nations off in the distance.
Looking back to the trail which he ventured upon, he happened to look into the eyes of another pony who had only just seemed to appear before him.
"I have been watching you for some time." spoke the pony, finally.
This pony was unlike any kinds of ponies Olympus had ever seen. It was a pony with a black coat, and a mane and tail which appeared to him like fire. This pony, Olympus ventured, must be a night pony.
"I hope I have not disturbed you," replied Olympus, attempting to begin the conversation with diplomacy.
"You have." spoke the night pony again, monotone. "No other ponies but the night ponies are allowed upon the Mount of the Moon."
The night pony turned around and began walking away from Olympus, and at this point, Olympus heard a voice within his thoughts, telling him to follow; and so, he followed the night pony.
The night pony continued up the trail for some time, before turning in to a cave with torch lights decorating the cave walls. Obediently, Olympus followed, not wishing to cause any further offense, until he followed the night pony into an open catacomb lit with more torches than the cave he had trotted through previously. The catacomb felt warm and inviting to Olympus, although Olympus knew the ominous reality. He had been captured, and was sure to be brought to the council of the night ponies.
And sure enough, he was right. Before him, a pillar stood, where a taller night pony stood. Around Olympus stood other night ponies, appearing to be agitated by his presence.
After a moment of silence, the taller night pony spoke.
"I, Phoebe, leader of the night ponies, have been told that you have trespassed upon our sacred mountain. Now, I ask, is why you have transgressed our laws that we have set for ponies of your kind."
Olympus, beginning with diplomacy, replied, "The unicorns of the unicorn nation are under circumstances which may end in banishment of us from Equestria on account of a competition of athletics which will take place upon the fortieth day after the solstice. As such, I have come here in search of the Bands of Strength, in order that the unicorns of my nation may have a fair advantage in the competition, so that me might not be excommunicated from our home"
After a moment, the Phoebe responded, "And why, do you imagine, we would be interested in helping your nation? Have you not already disgraced pony-kind with bickering and disharmony?"
With thought, Olympus replied, "If the unicorn nation is banished from Equestria, then it would be impossible to reunite the three nations in harmony once again, which is why I have come to obtain the Bands of Strength."
With a look of amusement on her face, Phoebe replied, "Do you not realize that the Bands of Strength could easily be used as a weapon for the unicorn nation? What can you do to prove to me that your actions are directed towards the reuniting of the nations, rather than to shatter them even more?"
Olympus thought, and replied, "Let there be a test of your choosing, which you could make me prove that my desires are pure."
Phoebe stood upon the pillar, considering Olympus' words. "Very well, a test you will have. A test of bravery, that is. For you see, anger grows where fear is present, therefore, if you are strong in your wits, then you must be pure of heart."
It was at this time that Olympus was caught off-guard, feeling the world around him changing, as the night ponies who stood around him blurred, then disappeared from his vision. Briefly, Olympus lost his bearings, but he regained his composure and stood confidently all the same. Then, a small table appeared about several pony-lengths before Olympus, with four bands laying upon it.
"If you want to take the Bands of Strength," spoke the voice Phoebe, "then take them."
Olympus trotted forward, slowly and steadily, expecting something to happen - but nothing happened. Everything seemed peaceful and fine, besides the appearance of his entire world being composed of a milky-white vastness all around him. Stepping up to the table, Olympus carefully absorbed the sight before him - four bands, with equal distance from each other, in a square shape. Feeling confident, Olympus attempted to lift the bands with care - but failed.
"You're forgetting something, Unicorn," spoke the Phoebe once more.
The bands immediately lifted on their own, levitating in the air before Olympus. It was at this moment that Olympus felt a sense of discomfort. Defying all reasoning, the bands then converted into a fluid which reminded Olympus of a shadow - but this time, in the form of a liquid.
"When a night pony - or, perhaps in this case, a night mare - makes you a dream, it is its dream, rather than your own."
From that moment forward, there is no document for what happened afterwards, as it had been told that Phoebe showed compassion for Olympus and his bravery, that she did her best to cause him to lose his memory of whatever he had experienced in the moments proceeding the floating bands. However, it is known that on account of his bravery, Phoebe gifted Olympus with the Bands of Strength in order to continue the struggle to preserve whatever harmony was left in the three nations. However, she also sent him away with a warning to never return, lest they be obliged to shatter his mind forever.
With the Bands of Strength equipped to his person, Olympus found that his physical abilities were indeed multiplied. What had taken him months to travel now took days, and it was under a quarter-month that Olympus finally returned to the unicorn nation with the Bands of Strength shining proudly upon his hooves. With hope restored to the unicorn nation, the unicorn council appointed Olympus to be the unicorn who would represent the unicorn nation in the test of athletics.
Upon the fortieth day thereafter the solstice, the competition began. On that day, Gaia represented the earth ponies, Boreas represented the pegasus ponies, and Olympus represented the unicorn ponies. The athletics competition involved three parts - the race, the hay bale throw, and archery, to test speed, strength, and dexterity alike. With the Bands of Strength equipped, Olympus succeeded in the two former competitions with tremendous success, but made carefully sure that he would falter in the third test to distract any suspicions against him. In the end, the earth and unicorn nations turned out to win in the first and second places overall, with the pegasi nation falling behind.
Of course, the pegasi were known for their cleverness and stubbornness in their day of disharmony, and in protest to banishment, they established their new city - a city in the sky made of clouds - which neither unicorn nor earth pony could tread on. While hovering above Equestria, the pegasi insisted that they had in fact honored their deal in the competition by not setting hoof on the Equestrian land, and that they were in fact not breaking the rules, as the pegasus icon Boreas had construed. Nevertheless, each of the nations lived in their own personal happiness from that day forward, but sadly not altogether moved for the better in the direction of harmony.
As Cheerilee finished her story, the colts gave her a little round of applause. Pipe Dream clapped as well, having enjoyed the story she had to tell. Of course, he knew he could never be brave like Olympus, but he still enjoyed being able to hear the story and look up to him, even if he was just a legend.
To Pipe Dream's surprise, a hoof tapped him on the shoulder. Looking to see who tapped his shoulder, Pipe Dream found himself looking face to face with the same filly he saw when the other colts were entering the schoolhouse.
"I like that story," she said, "always have."
"You..." responded Pipe Dream, "I saw you earlier-"
"Nah ah ah," she interrupted, "don't talk to me." Then she leaned in to whisper in Pipe Dream's ear, "ponies will think you're crazy!"
"What do you-"
"Shhh!" she interrupted again, "just look at Captain Green while I talk to you, and nopony will suspect anything."
Pipe Dream looked confused, but turned to look at Captain Green anyway, who was currently giving thanks to Cheerilee for telling a story to the colt scouts.
Cheerilee turned and gave a final word about the story to the colts, "...this story was used many times in the past to applaud perseverance, heroism, and most of all, bravery, in the past..."
"You asked me what my name was earlier," continued the filly, "but I didn't tell you what it was."
"Why didn't you tell-"
"Shhh! Didn't I tell you not to say anything?"
"Hey Pipe," said Clean Slate, turning to face him, "did you say something?"
Pipe Dream was about to respond, when the filly cut in, "Tell him no, you didn't say anything."
"No, I didn't say anything," responded Pipe Dream.
Appearing confused, Clean Slate turned and looked back at Captain Green, who was now talking about the different events the colt scouts would be holding throughout the year.
"See what I mean? If you say anything, ponies will think you're crazy!"
Pipe Dream was about to ask why, but then kept his mouth shut.
"You'll understand everything after I explain," continued the filly, "you see, the other ponies can't see me."
Pipe Dream blinked, trying to comprehend what the filly was saying.
"The reason why, is because I'm up here," she said innocently, as she tapped Pipe Dream on his forehead.
"On my head?" Pipe Dream said in a low whisper.
The filly looked annoyed that Pipe Dream had responded to her, but didn't condone him for it.
"No, silly. I'm in your mind."
Pipe Dream felt a shiver run down his spine.
"Hahaha, you look a little scared, Pipe," the filly continued, "but don't worry, I'm not trying to hurt you, although I might, by accident or if I go to far." The filly continued to speak innocently, as if nothing was wrong.
"Who... wh-who are you?" Pipe Dream stammered, in a low whisper.
"Guess." she replied, playfully.
"H-how?" Pipe Dream answered.
The other filly sighed, "You're making everything so difficult, Pipe Dream. You know what I look like, don't you?"
Pipe Dream nodded, trying to collect his thoughts.
"Then guess." she stated, " and here's a hint - think about the story Cheerilee just told you."
Pipe Dream began to have a feeling of what the answer was, but he didn't want to say it - didn't want to believe it.
"Fire-like mane, black coat, set apart from other ponies by sensing emotion and controlling thoughts... Or consciousness, if you want to be specific." she said, giving him hints to make him say it.
"So y-your a... Night pony?"
"Bingo!" she replied, sounding satisfied, "but not just a night pony, a night mare. Get it? The pun? Ahaha... Ha... Ha..." she trailed off, noticing that Pipe Dream was not laughing.
"Aww, c'mon Pipe Dream, If we're gonna know each other... forever... then you should at least try to get to know me." the filly pleaded.
"Forever?" Pipe Dream thought, feeling a little cold now.
"Forever!" replied the filly, happily.
"Did... Did she just read my mind?" Pipe Dream thought, feeling clammy.
"Of course I can, silly! I'm a night pony, remember?" the filly said, still sounding innocent.
"Pipe Dream, are you okay? You look a little sick," said Clean Slate, who had apparently just looked back at Pipe Dream.
"Oh? O-oh y-y-yeah, I'm f-fine, r-real... r-reall-ly..." Pipe Dream studdered. Pipe Dream felt even more afraid at the feeling that he couldn't talk right, all over again.
Clean Slate looked at Pipe Dream curiously. "Y'know, my mom always makes me hay noodle soup when I'm not feeling good. I'm sure she might make some for you if you want."
"N-no, I'm f-f-fine, thanks," replied Pipe Dream.
"Mmmm, mmm, nothing beats a strong emotion!" chimed the filly, as if she'd just eaten something delicious.
"P-please, just g-go away," pleaded Pipe Dream, once again in a low whisper.
"I can't do that, Pipe Dream, I know you so well! Why would I leave you?" the filly responded.
"Are you sure you're okay, Pipe Dream? You're sweating bad," said Clean Slate.
"Y-yeah, of c-c-course I'm okay," said Pipe Dream, his mouth starting to feel a little more dry than usual.
"Y'know, I'm getting tired of just talking at you. I know, maybe this will work!" said the filly gleefully.
All of a sudden, time seemed to stop. Cheerilee, Clean Slate, Captain Green and his assistant, as well as all the other colts, stood still. It was as if Pipe Dream was sitting inside of a picture - nopony was moving. At that moment, the filly hopped up on top of the head of the colt sitting in front of Pipe Dream, before turning and facing him again.
"See? Much better! Now we can really talk!" continued the filly.
"Just go away, j-just p-please go away..." Pipe Dream stammered, still speaking in a low whisper.
"Oh, you don't have to worry about anypony hearing you anymore, not while I'm keeping them in control too." the filly stated informatively.
Pipe Dream looked around once again at the dismal scene the filly seemed to create. Colts were stopped mid-sentence in their conversations, colts were looking up thoughtfully at Cheerilee or Captain Green, and other colts were just dazing off - nopony was moving at all, as if Pipe Dream were sitting some hall of pony mannequins.
"See? Now nopony can pay attention to us! Isn't that great? I know what you're thinking, but no. I can't control time, just conciousness. So everypony here? I'm controlling each of their realities right now in a way that they'll all think everything happened in one way, when in reality, you and I were talking to each other the whole time. Cool, right?"
Pipe Dream swallowed as he looked back at Clean Slate, a paralyzed version of his friend, who could wind up simply staring at him silently for a lifetime if this filly wanted him to.
"Anyway like I was saying a little bit ago, since we're going to know each other forever, I thought it would be great if we got to know each other. I already know plenty about you, since I've known you for the majority of your lifetime. That's why I told you how I knew you weren't always so clumsy earlier. You know, when you saw me trotting into the school house and you fell over because one of the colts caught you off-guard scaring you half to death! Jeez, I wasn't even trying to give you any nightmares and you still freaked out. Crazy, huh?"
The filly raised a hoof in front of her face, eyeing it proudly, "aaaand that's why you only saw colts in the colt scout meet earlier - because I never entered the schoolhouse to begin with. In fact, I'm not even here right now! Although, you've probably already figured that out, really. See, I'm actually somewhere else while I'm controlling your thoughts like this. Neat-o, right?" The filly then proceeded to take several bows, saying "hold your applause, hold your applause, aww, you're too kind."
Pipe Dream simply looked up at the filly, not saying a word; as he did so, the filly hopped down from the colt in front of him, continuing to look at Pipe Dream in the process.
"I just thought, since we know a lot about each other, we can be playmates! Wouldn't that be fun?"
Pipe Dream gazed back at the filly, feeling tired.
"What's wrong, don't you like playing? You play with Belfry and Bats all the time!"
Pipe Dream continued to gaze back at the filly, sweat and tears dampening his face, as the filly gaze back at him innocently, with some distant hint of mania.
"Soo... whatcha thinkin'?"
Pipe Dream only looked back at the filly, feeling like nothing mattered anymore.
"You know what, I'm just going to get something started here, because it looks like you're all out of ideas. Actually, I have an idea. Nopony can really get to playing anything without some fun toys, wouldn't you say?"
At that moment, two jack-in-the-boxes appeared beside the filly, one on each side of her.
"This game is my favorite," she said, as everything in the room turned pitch black, disappearing, leaving only the two jack-in-the-boxes in sight.
"I call this game 'chance'. There's so much suspense, it kills me! Anyway, see that monster?" said the filly, although she was nowhere to be seen
Pipe Dream looked ahead of him, only just noticing a hellish beast wrapped in chains. It appeared to be a big, slimy worm, with a round mouth lined with countless teeth, and a mucus-like substance emerging from the back of its throat, drooling onto the pitch black floor. It roared, then growled, thrashing at its chains, sending mucus flying across the room. Pipe Dream felt a glob of it hit his forehead, splattering across his face and back. He could feel the mucus slowly ooze downward further and further, until it began to hang and drip from his horn and muzzle.
"Oooh, that thing looks hungry." the filly commented.
Pipe Dream simply sobbed, taking steps back, the mucus on face intermixing with the downpour of tears from his eyes. "P-p-please, just leave me alone..." he managed to say, voice wavering with every word.
"Here's how the game is played. See those two jack-in-the-boxes? One of them will make the monster go away; but the other - and this is the best part - will set it loose. Then you get to play tag with that monster, and it will be 'it' until it catches you! Oh, and you only get one life in this game, so you'd better not screw it up."
The monster thrashed again, creating a repulsive, gargling roar. Pipe Dream could feel the ground quake beneath his hooves from the mere power the monster was using in an attempt to break the chains.
"Of course, you could just sit and do nothing, but be warned, because those chains will break eventually, and that monster won't be happy when he's finally set loose.
"I don't w-wanna p-play," sobbed Pipe Dream, taking several more steps backwards.
"Aww, you're not being any fun." the filly pouted, "killjoy."
Pipe Dream was paralyzed, mouth hanging slightly, as he stared at the monster in a vain attempt to make sure it wouldn't break free. Its muscles pulsed and rippled, smashing the ground with every violent jerk. It's teeth began to wriggle back and forth, as if it was trying to pull back on the air around it in an attempt to help it break free.
"Well, you never know if you like a game 'till you give it a try, Pipe. Didn't your mom Heebies teach you that about food, that you don't know if you don't like it, unless you actually try it?"
Pipe Dream thought about his mom. He wanted to be back home with her, never to leave his home again. He wanted to be back in his bed, clutching his dream catcher his mom made for him, singing a lullaby to himself.
Pipe Dream was little colt, who was trotting around his mother Heebie's garden. Smelling the breeze in the air, he was happy. He felt protected, and safe. His mother was always protective, always cautioning him of what he should be afraid of and what was safe. She made sure everything was safe, for him.
"Look, Pipe Dream, it's a worm." Heebie chimed, directing his attention to something which was moving on the surface of her garden.
Pipe Dream looked down to see a small, squirming creature on the ground, its long shape pulsing, moving it forward.
"Is it safe?" Pipe Dream asked, being hesitant to touching it.
"Yes, they're safe. Oh, but they are slimy, so watch out for that."
Pipe Dream lifted the worm with his magic, and playfully placed the worm on the tip of his horn, watching it squirm in midair.
"Aaah!" Pipe Dream exclaimed, dropping the worm. The wriggling from the worm shocked him, and he wasn't prepared for it.
"Don't worry, Pipe Dream, it's harmless. Worm's aren't monsters, see?" Heebie responded, nudging the creature with her muzzle, safely.
Building up the courage, Pipe Dream tried lifting the worm again. Cringing at its writhing movements, Pipe Dream simply held it out in front of him with his magic. After some minutes passed, Pipe Dream slowly lifted the worm up further and placed it on the tip of his horn.
"Look, mom, it's on my horn!" a younger Pipe Dream squealed, laughing. Heebie laughed with him too. Those were good times.
"I j-just want to go back h-home," Pipe Dream sobbed.
"You're just being a fraidy cat, fraidy cat," the filly responded, "all you need is just a little motivation."
With that, all of the chains holding the monster broke free, save for one flimsy-looking tether. The monster roared in depraved fury, mucus flying everywhere from its mouth.
"Now you'd better choose quick, Pipe Dream. That monster does not look happy."
Pipe Dream sniffled, then choked, finally forcing himself to trot up to the two jack-in-the-boxes. They both seemed to stare back him expectantly, maybe even judgmentally. Pipe Dream sniffled again, hyperventilating. Mouth open from despair, he could feel the mucus trailing down over his muzzle and into his mouth, with the taste of rotten meat.
Trying, and failing, to focus, Pipe Dream tried to decide which jack-in-the-box he should use. The one of the left was red, and the one on the right was blue. "How creative," Pipe Dream thought to himself, trying to use comedy to calm himself down. "I don't know, that tether seems to be holding that thing back just fine on its own-"
As Pipe Dream thought this, several of the metal coils on the tether snapped, making the tether even more frail than before. The monster howled with rage, slamming itself at and away from the tether. That settled it - Pipe Dream had to decide which jack-in-the-box to choose, and he had to choose now.
Pipe Dream looked at the two jack-in-the-boxes, and made his decision. There was no way that the red jack-in-the-box would be the right jack-in-the-box because it was - well - red; and red always had to do with dangerous stuff. Therefore, the blue jack-in-the-box had to be the right box. Going for the blue jack-in-the-box, Pipe Dream stopped himself. This night mare thought he was a fraidy cat. If she wanted to use him, then she was going to try and manipulate his fears. If this was the case, then the red jack-in-the-box would be the right jack-in-the-box, because this night mare would have thought that he'd go for the blue jack-in-the-box, which would only be a trap, and it would set the monster free, causing him to have even more fear, making the night mare feel even more satisfied. It was a longshot, but feeling hysterical, Pipe Dream was willing to take any chance he had.
Pulling his hoof back, Pipe Dream close his eyes and turned the crank on the red jack-in-the-box. As he did so, the jack-in-the-box began to crank itself while playing this dark jingle:
another half of failure,
that's the way the game is played,
pop, goes the tether!"
Pipe Dream felt the strength leave his body as the tether to the monster broke. In a final roar, the monster squirmed and writhed at a great speed in Pipe Dream's direction, spraying mucus everywhere as he did so.
"Well that was a bad idea!" chirped the filly, as the monster was almost upon him.
Pipe Dream stared up at the monster which was now rearing to devour him whole, the creature's mucus and saliva drizzling from its mouth like a small waterfall, before the creature slowly began to fade away. It was gone.
"Just kidding! Oh I am such a kidder. No no no, the tether broke on its own just as you were cranking the jack-in-the-box, which luckily for you, was the right jack-in-the-box! I just like making ponies think they lost before I tell them they actually got it right."
Pipe Dream began to nervously laugh to himself as the fear began to leave him, his hooves still quaking and shivering from the stress of the moment.
"See? You're laughing! Wasn't that fun?"
Pipe Dream was catatonic, still staring at where the monster had just been not one minute ago.
"Oh, how rude of me, I forgot to tell you my name this whole time. Can you believe it? Why didn't you remind me?"
Pipe Dream's nervous laughter changed to sobs again, as he continued to calm down from what had just happened.
"My name's Phoebe! I just know we can be playmates forever, Pipe. You just need to loosen up is all, then you and I can really have some fun!"
"No, please! Leave me alone, I don't w-wanna p-playmate!" Pipe Dream sobbed, screaming the words at the top of his lungs before burying his head in the ground, folding his hooves over his head to block out everything else. "Just p-please, go away! Go away! G-get away from m-me and l-leave me alone!" he shouted, not caring about anything else any more, just wanting all of this to stop. "P-please, just s-somewhere else, just go away! I don't want any of this!" Pipe Dream continued to sob, face soaking in the tears which were pooling on the ground, eyes red from his crying.
"I didn't ask for a playmate,
I didn't ask for a playmate,
I didn't ask for a playmate..."
Pipe Dream continued to sob, drowning out all of the sounds which were around him, until he felt a hoof touch his shoulder.
Oh no, not more. Not any more. Not from Phoebe, not anymore.
"No! No! Leave me alone! Go away, Phoebe, go away!"
In a fit of desperation, Pipe Dream lashed out at the source of the hoof, flailing violently, screaming in the process. He landed a hit, then another.
That oughtta show Phoebe, maybe now she'd leave him alone. Maybe now he could be safe. He imagined himself back at home with his mother, trotting around and playing in her garden. The sun shining. Everything happy, everything safe.
The first thing Cheerilee noticed was the screaming.
Hoping it wasn't who it thought it was from, she searched the crowd of staring and shocked colts until she finally found the right one. It was Pipe Dream, again.
"Not in front of the other colts, not on his first day," Cheerilee thought to herself sadly.
Captain Green noticed the situation immediately, then spoke, "Alright, I'll need everypony leave the schoolhouse until me and Miss Cheerilee sort things out." After giving his command, Captain Green turned and faced his assistant, "Helping Hand, I'm going to need you to keep an eye on the colts while they're outside." "Yes, Captain." Helping Hand replied.
Maneuvering past the other colts as Helping Hand led them outside, Cheerilee proceeded to approach Pipe Dream to try and calm him down. "How could I tell the story of Olympus in front of Pipe Dream?" Cheerilee thought, blaming herself for the outbreak.
Finally standing beside Pipe Dream, she could see that his face was aimed down at the floor, his eyes tightly shut, as he muttered, "I didn't ask for a playmate, I didn't ask for a playmate, I didn't ask for a playmate." Cheerilee then placed a hoof on his shoulder to try and calm him down.
"No! No! Go away, Phoebe, go away!" Pipe Dream shouted. He sounded as if he had just been through a violent trauma, although he had only been inside the calm environment of the schoolhouse since his last outbreak.
Phoebe. Of course. Now Cheerilee felt it really was her fault. Cheerilee responded, "Pipe Dream-"
"No!" Pipe Dream cried.
Pipe Dream thrashed out, hitting Cheerilee square in the face. Cheerilee flinched from surpise punch, as the next punch landed on her side. Crying out from the attack, Cheerilee took her hoof away from Pipe Dream's shoulder, then got out of the way of Pipe Dream's flailing. Cheerilee felt a little blood trickle down from her nostril from the impact of Pipe Dream's punch, and she wasn't sure whether to be shocked at Pipe Dream's reaction, or to feel sorry for his reaction. She was a mix of emotions, and especially, guilt.
Then, for a brief moment, Pipe Dream stopped moving, and started taking deep breaths; it sounded as if he was about to pass out from the gasping noises he was making from breathing. Then he stopped breathing, holding his breath, as if he was trying to gain control of himself, before gasping once more and taking loud, uneasy breaths. He sniffed, then had a coughing fit. Cheerilee noticed that he was slowly beginning to open his eyes - then he opened them all the way, seeing he was in the schoolhouse. He sobbed again, this time as if he felt relieved, like something horrible was finally over.
Pipe Dream turned and saw Cheerilee standing a couple pony-lengths away from him. Throwing out his hooves, he cried out "Miss Cheerilee!" as he tightly hugged her, coughing several times again, before sobbing again, burying his muzzle in her fur like a foal who hadn't seen his mother for days.
Cheerilee returned his embrace to comfort him. "It's alright," she said, "It's alright."
Having watched all that had been going on, Captain green spoke up,"Do you know who his parents are?"
Cheerilee shook her head no.
Captain Green looked back to Pipe Dream, who was still sobbing and out of shape. "Well... When he... Feels better, then we should probably ask him where his parents are. If he can tell us, it would probably be best to take him home to them."
Pipe Dream trotted out of the schoolhouse, Cheerilee trotting close beside him. Looking to the side, Pipe could see the other colts from the colt scout meet. There was Clean Slate, looking more disconcerted around him than ever. There were the other colts, just watching him. Maybe not all of them were watching him, but it certainly felt like it - the warm, uncomfortable feeling of stares drilled into him without mercy; Pipe Dream never knew what it was like to be stared at for being 'weird'. Now he did.
Trotting away from the schoolhouse, Pipe Dream overheard one of the colts say "Why did he do that?" with an answer from one of the other colts being "Because Pipe gets high, that's why." Pipe Dream could only hear snickers coming from those colts now. He didn't even know what the phrase "Pipe gets high" had meant, it still hurt. Pipe Dream could hear Helping Hand scolding the colts for that kind of talk until he couldn't hear anything from the school yard anymore.
"Don't listen to them," Cheerilee said, "they don't know who they're talking about."
Pipe Dream managed to make a small smile from what Cheerilee had said, but he didn't feel much better. Not after his first day away from home was ruined.
When Pipe Dream had finally calmed down earlier, Cheerilee asked him where his parents were. He said that they lived back at home in the mountains. In response, Cheerilee had told him that she was going to take him back to his family, and that she needed to know how to take him home. After telling Cheerilee that he could lead the way, they had left the schoolhouse to use the mountain trail that Pipe Dream had taken to get to the schoolhouse.
This time, it felt like a long trot back to his home, longer than it had taken for him to trot to the schoolhouse. The mountain trail seemed to keep swerving around trees and hills, as if it would go on forever. Fortunately, it finally ended, with a familiar cabin appearing in the clearing which Pipe Dream had always remembered since foalhood.
When he had those nightmares at the schoolhouse, he thought he'd never see his home again. It was a symbol of safety, a place that was secluded from the dangers of the world. Nothing could hurt him here, he thought.
Heebie was working in her garden, as always. Pipe Dream loved that garden more than ever now, galloping away from Cheerilee to dive into that garden. He wondered if there were any worms there. Safe worms.
Heebies stood up the instant that Pipe Dream dove into her garden. Then she noticed Cheerilee not far away. Heebie immediately knew something was wrong, trotting up to Cheerilee to ask her if anything happened to Pipe Dream. As Cheerilee explained, Heebie began to cry, feeling like a failure in keeping her child safe, that he had been forced to endure being so afraid away from home.
"Thank you, thank you so much." Heebie said to Cheerilee, feeling as if she might lose her composure. Cheerilee noticed how Heebie was feeling, and responded, "It's not your fault."
That was all Pipe Dream had heard which was said in their conversation together. Pipe Dream was too busy regressing in the garden, lying down on the ground, sighing with a couple tears of relief rolling down his cheeks. He stroked the dirt on the ground, happy. Safe. Everything was going to be okay.
"She said that Captain Green was going to find a psychiatrist... who will ask Pipe Dream a few questions tomorrow... to see if there is something wrong with him."
Jeebies, who was sitting at the kitchen table, looked back at Heebie as she spoke those words. She was looking away from him, leaning on the counter.
"I'm sure it'll be fine. We've known Pipe Dream ever since he was a foal, and we know nothing like this has happened before."
Heebie only half listened to Jeebies, thoughtlessly running her right hoof in circles on the counter.
"If he is suffering from what they think he's suffering from... would they take him away? Would they take him to the psychiatric ward?"
"Now Heebie," Jeebies intervened, "you and I both know Pipe Dream. He was just a little scared going away from home on his own. It was his first time."
"I know, but... what if he really does have..."
Heebie stopped talking for a moment, then began to cry. Jeebies got up from the table to go and put his foreleg around Heebie's shoulder. Even though he was trying to be brave by comforting Heebie, he too feared the worst for Pipe Dream.
"He keeps saying his dream catcher isn't working... and I don't know what to do..." Heebie sobbed, finally loosing her composure and falling into Jeebies' embrace. Jeebies patted her on the back, feeling badly for Heebie, and concerned for Pipe Dream.
"Everything will be alright," Jeebies said - to comfort Heebie, and to comfort himself.
"Schizophrenia." Pipe Dream stated, "that's what mom said I might have. Or at least, what everypony else thinks I have."
Sitting on the side of the bed, Pipe Dream and Loose Cannon gazed out at the starry night sky. Pipe Dream always thought of Loose Cannon as the older brother. He was always there to council him when he had problems, always there to support him, always there to cheer him on. He had a dark orange coat, and a brick red mane, which made him easy to pick out from a crowd.
Continuing to think about the problems he had that day, Pipe Dream thought about Phoebe. He thought back to when Phoebe told him not to talk to her, or ponies would think he was crazy. Now that he wasn't to afraid to think, he finally understood what she meant, because now everypony really did think he was crazy. "Wonderful timing," he thought.
"I wouldn't worry 'bout it," remarked Loose Cannon, "I've known you for a good while, and you never looked like the schizophrenic type."
"I know," Pipe Dream responded, "but that's not what I'm worried about."
Loose cannon gazed at Pipe Dream curiously. "Then what are you worried about?"
Pipe Dream looked down at the floor, feeling angry. "Now everypony thinks I'm crazy, that's what. And it's all because of-" Pipe Dream stopped himself. Remembering what Phoebe said, he realized that not only could he not talk to her in public, but he couldn't talk about her either. Not here, not anywhere, not to anypony."-and all because I freaked out at the colt scouts meet." Pipe Dream finished.
"Everypony gits scared, Pipe. Don't get down on yerself for it."
"I just can't understand why I have to be afraid of things. Why can't I just be normal like everypony else?" Pipe Dream thought back to the story of Olympus. Why couldn't he be brave? Why couldn't he be better?
"Bein' afraid of things is just a part of who you are, Pipe," responded Loose Cannon, "it's somethin' you've gotta accept. Even I get afraid of things like you do, Pipe, and I'm not too bad off."
Pipe Dream grunted, discontented with himself.
Loose Cannon lightly shoved Pipe Dream in the shoulder. "It could've been worse, Pipe. I mean, its not like you faced a life or death situation today."
Pipe Dream responded with a sarcastic chuckle. "Yeah, right."
"C'mon, Pipe, it'll all blow over soon."
"Really?" Pipe Dream responded, "did you even see me at colt scouts today? I freaked out so bad that I wound up punching Miss Cheerilee - two times!"
"Oh, now that is serious," replied Loose Cannon, "first day out and you're already choosin' the thug life."
"Ha ha, very funny," Pipe Dream replied. If anything was the case, there was no way this was all going to blow over soon, unless a miracle happened which suddenly caused him to walk into colt scouts next week with a cutie mark and a pair of shades. Cool, brave, and tough. Only then would he maybe, maybe, be able to let all of this blow over.
"I'm just tryin' to cheer you up, Pipe. You didn't have any control over what was goin' on, so it ain't your fault."
"Of course it was my fault. If only I was a little braver, then maybe this wouldn't of happened."
After a moment of neither of them talking, Loose Cannon spoke up, "you are who you are Pipe. It ain't somethin' that can be changed. Fate just works that way sometimes."
Pipe Dream looked away. For the first time in his life, he was humiliated for being afraid. He'd probably be humiliated for being superstitious, too - Belfry and Bats were always made fun of for that. He hated being afraid - hated being superstitious.
"What if there is no fate?" Pipe Dream finally asked, "what if I really could change myself for the better - change everything for the better. What if everypony could like me."
"I don't rightly know what to say to that, Pipe. Me, ma and pops, and Belfry and Bats all believe in fate. If you don't, that may be alright, but you may be lookin' for hurt in the future."
"Well, maybe the hurt would be worth it." Pipe Dream mumbled, before looking back out into the night sky.
Pipe Dream stared up at the ceiling as he was lying in his bed. He didn't want to sleep, because after everything that happened today, he was afraid that he might have another nightmare. "Afraid," he thought to himself. He hated that word now. He hated being afraid. If he wanted to stop being afraid, then how was he supposed to stop himself from being afraid? Being afraid just happened, he couldn't control it. It just... happened.
Pipe Dream let out a discouraged sigh as he looked at the different curves and cracks in the cabin ceiling, trying to distract himself from sleeping. Even now he was afraid. He didn't want any more nightmares, he just wanted to be normal like everypony else.
"Phoebe." he thought, feeling angry again. This was all Phoebe's fault. If it wasn't for her, he'd be normal. If it wasn't for her, than he wouldn't have been waking up screaming from graphic night terrors five years ago. Feelings of hate welled up inside him, as he started to realize that he was being used. He remembered her feeling satisfied with his "strong emotion," aka "fear" as if she'd just eaten a pie or something. Pipe Dream began to hate Phoebe more with the thought, hoping that he could just know where she really was, then he could show her what for.
That is, if he wasn't afraid.
The longer Pipe Dream stared at the ceiling, the sleepier he became. Minutes passed in what seemed like hours, as sleep finally began to overpower Pipe Dream, causing him to nod off into a silent slumber.
- - -
Pipe Dream woke up in an instant, sure that he heard a noise up above him.
After listening intently for moment, he heard the sound of scuffling... in the attic.
Pipe Dream pulled his covers closer to him, fearing another nightmare, as he closed his eyes tightly. After several moments went by, nothing happened. Just quiet, and an indistinct shuffling in the attic.
Slowly opening his eyes, Pipe Dream continued to hug the covers to himself, hoping nothing would happen. To his relief, nothing happened. It was still just quiet, but this time, he couldn't hear any more shuffling.
Pipe Dream started to wonder that might not actually be a ghost after all, like he had been taught all his life. Heck, it could just be a wild animal or something.
"Nope, it's a ghost, definitely a ghost," Pipe Dream thought again.
But this time after the thud, Pipe Dream didn't hug the covers any more closely to him. He simply allowed his hooves to lie limply on top of them.
"I'm afraid," Pipe Dream thought.
Pipe Dream began to hug his covers to himself tightly again, but this time out of feeling angry. "I hate being afraid," Pipe Dream thought at last.
In fact, he hated it so much, he said it out loud to himself, "I hate being afraid, I hate being afraid, I hate being afraid."
Pipe Dream began to feel different, as if something had changed in him. For the first time in his life, his strong fear of everything was being challenged by his strong anger of being afraid to begin with. His emotions were at a stalemate, and he didn't ultimately feel motivated to act on either his fear nor his anger.
Having had enough, Pipe Dream slowly stood up on his bed, letting his covers fall back around him.
Looking up at the ceiling, Pipe Dream quietly ordered, "get out of the cabin, ghost."
He said it quietly, so quietly that even he could barely hear it, but it still made him feel better somehow. He felt like he was taking control by telling the ghost what to do.
Pipe Dream shuddered at the noise, backing up into his bed, before forcing himself to stop. He didn't want to be afraid. Not anymore.
Forcing himself to stand up in his bed again, limbs shaking from a mixture of anger and fear, Pipe Dream forced himself to say, "I told you to go away."
More scuffling, but this time Pipe Dream wasn't so afraid. He was forcing himself to not be afraid, forcing himself to stop being such a 'fraidy cat'. Standing confidently, Pipe Dream continued to stare up at the ceiling, finally saying "I'm not afraid of you."
That made him feel good to say, so he said it again, "I'm not afraid of you, I'm not afraid of you, I'm not afraid of you."
As he continued to say those words, his fear really did begin to melt away, being replaced by his anger for ever being afraid to begin with. Each time he said those words, he said it again a little louder, and a little more confidently, until he was saying those words as if he was saying them in an everyday conversation. Then, he stopped saying them. Not because he was afraid, but because he was content. He didn't feel afraid. For the first time in his life, he didn't feel afraid.
Something in the attic made a creaking sound, but this time, Pipe Dream prevented himself from backing down. He simply stared at the ceiling, unwavering. Then, he realized something - that ghost wasn't obeying him. He told that ghost to leave, but it didn't leave. Did it think it could just stay up there? Did it think it could just make Pipe Dream feel afraid whenever it wanted to? Pipe Dream didn't think so. Not anymore.
Hopping out of bed, Pipe Dream decided to do something nopony else in the family had done, or would ever do. He was going to go up to the attic, and tell that ghost to get out of the cabin, and if it didn't listen, he'd make it leave the house; because Pipe Dream was fed up with being afraid, and he refused to feel afraid again.
Pipe Dream trotted through the house to a narrow door in the kitchen. This was the door which led to the attic. From this vantage point, Pipe Dream could hear movement up in the attic. Time to show that ghost what he was really made of.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Pipe Dream opened the door. As he did so, he noticed a warm, orange glow being emitted by something up in the attic, a glow which was bathing the old, dusty attic stairs like a campfire illuminating snow. Refusing to feel daunted, Pipe Dream slowly tread up the stairs, feeling nervous. Very nervous. Nopony in his family had ever done this before. Feeling empowered that he was doing something nopony else had tried, Pipe Dream continued to trot up the stairs, quietly but diligently, until he finally reached the top.
The attic appeared to be a large living room, but it was filled with large wooden crates which blocked a lot from view. Unlike other living rooms, however, the ceiling was angled upwards in a way which made it so that it was leaning on one long log at the top and two walls on either side of the room. Finally, that unnatural orange glow continued to haunt the ceiling, both beckoning Pipe Dream to come closer, and warning him to stay away.
Refusing to be afraid, Pipe Dream began by setting one hoof in front of the other, making himself maneuver through the hallways created by the wooden crates, in order to find the source of the orange glow. Suddenly, he heard that movement again, but this time it was much clearer, sounding like rocks being tapped on the floor.
Rounding a corner of the crates, Pipe Dream saw that at the next turn, he'd see the source of that glow. Suddenly, he felt weak, and began to have second thoughts. He didn't want any trouble, anyway, and it wasn't a problem if there was a ghost in the attic who... made him feel afraid when it wanted to.
No. He was going to get rid of this ghost. Pipe Dream didn't want to feel afraid. Not anymore. Although he still wanted to feel a little confidence, all the same.
Glancing away from the orange glow, Pipe Dream noticed four decorative rings which were scattered next to each other on the floor. That gave him an idea. Pipe Dream could pretend to be Olympus by putting on those rings, as if they were the Bands of Strength. He could be like Olympus in the catacombs of the night ponies.
Feeling good about himself now, Pipe Dream lifted the rings with his magic and placed them on each of his four hooves. Satisfied, Pipe Dream took a deep breath, and stood at the corner of the crates, about to face that ghost head on with his "Bands of Strength".
"Here goes nothin'." Thought Pipe Dream.
Pipe Dream jumped out from the corner of the crates, turning himself to face that ghost head on, to tell it what for, to...
Pipe Dream's jaw hung limply, as he slowly backed away, staring at exactly at what that ghost was; because it was no ghost. Pipe Dream wished he didn't do this. he wished he never went into the attic. He wished he wouldn't have been so stupid. He swallowed, mouth feeling dry, as he found himself cornered by the crates positioned just behind him.
That orange glow? It wasn't a ghost. It was a mane. A broad, glowing mane, which contrasted with the shiny black coat of a the mare. The night mare. She was tall - taller than Cheerilee or Captain Green, with an essence which spoke of royalty. Corrupted royalty, that is, because she glanced back at Pipe Dream with a fiery glow in her eyes which could have competed with the eyes of hades.
She only glared at him, with an expression which reminded him of those stories told of ponies who kept watch over other ponies in the depths of Tartarus. She bowed her head with an annoyed grimace on her face, as a voice spoke in Pipe Dream's head.
"Why don't you get back downstairs, and never speak of this again." the voice hissed, with an ethereal sound to it.
No. It couldn't be real. It had to be another nightmare, just like all the last ones. Pipe Dream didn't want to be afraid anymore. Pipe Dream took an unstable step forward - telling himself it wasn't real, because it couldn't be real - until he was able to force himself to look the night mare in the eyes.
"I-I'm not g-going anywhere." Pipe Dream stammered, forcing himself to hold her gaze.
The night mare threw her head back, soundlessly opening her mouth. Pipe Dream knew she was laughing, though - he heard it in his mind. She brought her head back down again, looking more annoyed than before.
"Hah. Hah. Hah..." the voice said in Pipe Dream's head, "Do you know who I am, my little pony?"
Pipe Dream swallowed, unable to answer.
"Hah. Hah. Hah..." the ethereal voice continued, "I am known as Phoebe, rightful heir of the night ponies."
Something didn't seem right with the night mare's answer. When Pipe Dream had last seen Phoebe, she was just a filly. How could that be possible? How could this be who she was?
The answer was simple. This had to be another one of Phoebe's tricks in order to scare him away. "Not this time, Phoebe," Pipe Dream thought.
"I-I'm... not... afraid... of y-you," Pipe Dream stammered quietly.
"I'm n-not... afraid of y-you."
Phoebe looked back at Pipe Dream with a wicked, sarcastic look on her face.
"...You know you are afraid..." she replied.
"Besides, y-you're just a filly, Phoebe... St-stop playing g-games with me." Pipe Dream managed to say, taking another step forward.
"...Excuse me?" the voice responded angrily, "watch your mouth, unicorn."
Pipe Dream took a deep break, then responded, "Get out of our c-c-cabin."
"...Nopony in Equestria would dare to command me to..." the voice continued, before the night mare looked down at Pipe Dream's hooves with the same sarcastic grimace. Then, the expression on her face quickly turned to aggrivation.
"...What are those..." the voice said.
Pipe Dream looked back at his hooves to see the decorative rings which he had placed on them. He knew that they were just decorative rings he found in the corner, but maybe Phoebe didn't know that.
"Phoebe, I have the Bands of Strength," Pipe Dream stated, looking back at the night mare confidently.
She stared back at him, with a shocked look on her face. Suddenly, she stomped on the floor in anger, suddenly shouting in Pipe Dream's head.
"How did you get those? They were mine!"
Pipe Dream simply stared back her.
"...Well, I am not leaving this attic, you little colt, so go back whence you came before I give you something to really be afraid of, and this time, it will hurt, you pathetic little-"
Before she could finish, Pipe Dream had enough. He hated being afraid for all of his life, and now he finally exploded with all the anger which he had stored inside of himself for his entire life. Without warning, while illuminating his horn with magic, Pipe Dream charged at Phoebe with unnatural strength. Taken off guard, Phoebe took the hit to her chest, letting out a surprised cry, as she was shot out of the attic window, flailing helplessly as she broke through countless trees in the forest, until Pipe Dream couldn't see her, or her orange glow, anymore.
Pipe Dream stood at the window, staring outside at what he had just done, as a smile slowly began to spread across his face. He beat Phoebe. He just knocked her out of the attic window, and sent her flying through the forest. And he wasn't afraid.
But... how was that possible? Even an earth pony couldn't do that...
Looking down at his hooves, he saw the decorative rings on his hooves...
And they were glowing.
When Phoebe's eyes opened, she found herself staring into a mess of branches and leaves - along with some burnt leaves which had come in contact with her mane and tail.
She groaned angrily, trying to get back onto her hooves; but even as she did so, her legs were still wobbly from the bruises and cuts which she had gotten on them, making standing upright a real challenge.
"How did he know how to use those braces? He's never seen them before in his life!" She hissed to herself, "besides, he was supposed to be the coward - the easy target!"
Finally working up the strength to stand upright, Phoebe gazed up at the stars. Being alive and well in Equestria for over a thousand years, she could tell that it was about three in the morning. Seeing this, she knew that she must've been unconscious for about four hours since that Pipe Dream... No, that unicorn... had worked up the courage to challenge her. Neither earth, pegasus, nor unicorn ponies ever deserved to even have a name, for the way they betrayed themselves by embracing conflict and hatred over harmony. They deserved to be treated like the brutish animals that they were. Including that coward unicorn colt from the cabin. Once she felt stable, she began to trot in the direction of the Mountain of the Moon to recuperate.
"No matter," Phoebe decided, after carefully pondering her situation, "he's a fool, anyway. Being the animal that he is, he'll misuse those braces soon enough - I'm sure he will; and when he does, I'll see him again in prison, when he won't have those braces again."
"Then we can have some real fun!" shouted a conjured filly look-alike of herself, beaming back up at the real Phoebe.
"That's right, Phoebe," Phoebe responded to herself, looking down at the filly version of her, "Nopony will ever know what we did to him - they'll say he went insane in his prison cell, and nothing more."
The filly Phoebe wrinkled her nose, then replied, "But what about Princess Luna? Won't she remember what we're capable of doing together? Y'know, when she came to us as Nightmare Moon promising punishment for all of the brutish ponies of Equestria?"
"Don't worry, we night ponies can control consciousness, remember?" replied Phoebe, "Luna will never know."
"And what about that new unicorn?" filly Phoebe responded, "she's the only one besides Princess Celestia who knew about Nightmare Moon's return..."
Phoebe chuckled in a dark tone, "Another unicorn? Please, Phoebe, she will not get in the way. She doesn't even know who this unicorn is!"
Filly Phoebe looked away, then continued, "I'm sorry, I'm just bringing up all of the animals that could get in your way..."
"And that's exactly the reason why I conjured you, Phoebe," Phoebe replied, "to tell me what could get in my way."
Filly Phoebe looked back up at Phoebe hopefully, "Well, it's nice knowing I have a purpose."
"As long as I want you to have a purpose, you will always have a purpose, my little pony." Phoebe replied gently.
Filly Phoebe smiled at Phoebe. Phoebe returned the smile warmly, like a mother to her child. After several moments, the filly Phoebe look-alike slowly faded away until there was nothing in her place.
Phoebe looked away, suddenly frowning. That unicorn had stolen her precious Bands of Strength. Now was the time to think of a way to get him in jail, make him wish he never challenged her, then take the Bands of Strength back for herself once more.
How was she going to do it? She gave that idea some thought, then she finally decided. Twist the minds of those closest to him - antagonize him until he can't take it anymore. Nopony else in Equestria was aware that she was here, nor did any of those animals... save for that purple apprentice of Princess Celestia... would ever consider that it was her; and even then, the thought that they would firmly believe it was her, when she finally drove that animal which stole her Bands of Strength to a point of desperation where everypony around him would think he was out of his mind.
Of course, she would have to find ways to keep her new victims silent. Oh, how easy those ways were, too. A terrifying experience can be quite the motivator at times, couldn't it? Mmhmm...
Phoebe looked away from the path she was taking, and focused on the small crater formed by the impact she had when she had hit the ground. Her hatred for that coward animal began to rekindle itself in her heart.
Time to make that disgusting animal pay.
Now that she was at the Mountain of the Moon, it was time to develop her plan even further. First, she would need to find Pipe Dream's location. Since it was the next day, he could be at his cabin, in Ponyville (which was unlikely), or even more likely, at the psychiatric ward.
Phoebe was one for hoarding relics. Besides the Bands of Strength, there was one other relic which she had obtained over her lifetime, and it was the Window of Existance. All she needed to do was say a name, and the window would confirm for her where the pony she was looking for was in the world at that exact moment.
"Pipe Dream." She hissed at the window.
"Pipe Dream!" She hissed again.
Either something was wrong with the relic, or Pipe Dream did not exist. Only one problem - the window could not be harmed.
"Impossible..." Phoebe spoke under her breath. How could that... disgusting unicorn... not exist? That thing had just used the Bands of Strength to impale her with his horn, sending her flying across the forest, just last night, and yet it could not find a single pony?
"What's wrong, Phoebe?" A filly Phoebe pleaded sadly.
Phoebe's scowl slowly softened to a smile, and she looked back at the filly Phoebe whom she had conjured.
"Nothing, dear. I am only having trouble using the Window of Existance."
"Is it not working?" filly Phoebe asked.
"Well, yes and no." Phoebe replied. "It is working because the window cannot be harmed, but it is not working because it is not finding Pipe Dream for me."
"Well, what if he changed his name?"
"Change his name? How in the world would he know that I had the Window of Existance, and that the only way for him to escape me was by changing his name? That's impossible!"
The filly Phoebe looked at the ground, "I'm sorry, I'm just giving bad advice again..."
"Don't you be hard on yourself, Phoebe," Phoebe replied, "I've conjured you to give me advice. Any advice is good advice, Phoebe. Don't ever be afraid to give it."
Phoebe looked back at the window, "If the window cannot show me where Pipe Dream is, then I have another plan. I am going to use the same tactic which I had used a long, long, long time ago."
"What tactic is that?" the filly Phoebe asked innocently.
"Interrogation," Phoebe replied, "now run along - you'd best get your rest this morning, because you'll be going to school today."
The filly Phoebe smiled and galloped away, slowly fading into nothingness.
Applebloom knocked softly on the library door.
Hearing the knock, Twilight set down the books she had been organizing and trotted to the door, proceeding to open it to see who was behind it.
Applebloom looked up at Twilight, and Twilight looked back down at Applebloom; but by the way Applebloom looked, she could tell that something was... wrong. Very wrong.
"Applebloom, why are you here? Shouldn't you be in school?"
"Yah I should be in school, but Miss Cheerilee's been actin' a bit funny this mornin'." she replied, sounding a little frightened.
"What do you mean?" Twilight responded, "Is she sick?"
"Ah don' know, Twilight, an' neither do any of us other colts and fillies." Applebloom replied, "they all went to tell their familiy, but I came here thinkin' you might know what's goin' on."
"...Well, what has she been doing this morning? Could you tell me?"
"I can try," Applebloom replied, voice a little shaky.
"Me, Sweetie Bell, and Scootoloo where goin' to school like any other day. The sun was up, there was a bright blue sky, and the clouds were all white 'n cottony.
"Then we trotted up to the schoolhouse. Miss Cheerilee usually keeps tha front door open for us to just trot in, sayin' "an open door is the first step to learnin'," but this tahm, tha door was closed. We could hear Miss Cheerilee's voice coming from inside the schoolhouse, so we thought we were late to school...
"But... But we were actually the first ponies to school, because nopony was inside the schoolhouse 'cept fer Miss Cheerilee; but she..."
"It's okay, Applebloom, you can tell me anything." Twilight encouraged.
"Okay, sorry Twilight, it was just... We didn't know what to make of it, cause... Miss Cheerilee wasn't talkin' to nopony."
"...That doesn't seem too strange. I haven't been talking to anypony myself for the last couple of hours-"
"But you don't understand, Twilight!" Applebloom interrupted, sounding a little desperate, "Miss Cheerilee wasn't just talkin' to nopony! She was talkin' - to nopony! Nopony was in the schoolhouse, but she was actin' like we were all in there! She was talkin' to me and Scootoloo, tellin' us not to pass notes durin' class! Then she got back to teachin' fancy mathematics, and she was talkin' about how to long divide - even though she'd already taught us that last semester! It was the same lesson, Twilight, I swear! And she was actin' like we were all in there, like it was normal!"
Applebloom stopped ranting, looking disturbed. Twilight started to feel a chill go down her spine at the sound of the news.
"Applebloom... Was there... Was there anything else?"
"...Yes, there was." Applebloom choked, "Miss Cheerilee was introducin' us to a new filly."
"Applebloom, what was the filly's name?" Twilight asked, sounding serious.
"Alright, everypony, I want to introduce you all to our newest student!" Miss Cheerilee chimed happily.
Her class stared back at her looking tired, bored, and as if the very environment of the schoolhouse was sucking the life out of them.
"Her name is Phoebe, and I want for all of you to treat her nicely - maybe even get to meet her. I'm sure she is a very nice filly."
"Thanks, Miss Cheerilee," Phoebe responded happily, looking up at her with her innocent eyes.
"It's alright, Phoebe," Cheerilee replied, "Now if you just take your seat over there in the front, then we can get started.
"Ok!" Phoebe replied, skipping happily over to her new desk.
For a moment, Cheerilee felt confused. She thought for sure that that desk was Applebloom's desk... Well, it said it was Phoebe's desk on her seating arrangement chart... Where was Applebloom, anyway?
Cheerilee scanned the room, first from Phoebe, who looked like she suddenly remembered something, to a sudden pop of yellow and orange in the back corner of the room. It was Applebloom and Scootoloo, and they were... Passing notes?
"Applebloom," Cheerilee derided, "are you passing notes in my classroom?"
Applebloom suddenly stopped dead in her tracks as she held a small piece of white paper in her mouth. She looked like she was about to say something, but instead, she simply shook her head, speechless.
"Then you'd better put that piece of paper away before I read it to the class." Cheerilee said.
Without a sound, Applebloom put away the piece of paper. It was strange that Applebloom wasn't saying anything in response - she was usually pretty vocal when she was caught red handed breaking class rules.
"Now," Cheerilee continued, "I'd like all of you to practice the four long division problems on the board - then we can start with our next lesson."
Cheerilee heard cliche groans coming from all of her classmates. Those ponies just didn't know what was good for them, did they? Maybe someday they'd understand why math is important - in fact, maybe they'd like it.
Twilight forgot about sorting her books - now was no time for that. She'd remembered reading something about ponies talking to nothing, but that only happened about a thousand years ago. She couldn't remember why, either. It couldn't be schizophrenia - Miss Cheerilee didn't have any past signs of it, nor did anything happen to her recently which could have caused her to have it. It was definitely something else - something even more serious.
"Is Miss Cheerilee gonna be ok, Twilight?" Applebloom asked.
"...Applebloom," Twilight answered, "I'm going to need you to get Applejack, ok? And I'm going to need her to get Rainbow, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity as well."
"But is Miss Cheerilee gonna be ok?" Applebloom asked again.
"...Yes, if you do what I'm telling you."
Applebloom hesitated, then galloped out of the room. Twilight continued to search her books.
"Ah, here it is," Twilight said to herself, levitating a book about Equestrian medical history in front of her.
Flipping through the pages, she hoped that it wouldn't be...
No, it couldn't...
They were banished years ago...
Twilight continued to read the passage, feeling her blood run cold as she read the description. Next to it was a reference to the story of Olympus, which was mistakenly thought of as a legend. But no, it was only a myth. Not because it wasn't true, but only because it was not completely true. In reality, Olympus' mind was bent, toyed with, and shocked, the point of insanity. One of the ponies who did it to him controlled consciousness in order to make other ponies believe that she was Olympus, and not a... not one of the...
Twilight shut the book.
"Spike." she said sternly.
Spike yawned, dragged himself out of bed, and walked over to the balcony to look down at Twilight.
"Twilight, what's wro-"
"Take a letter, Spike."
After several minutes passed, Cheerilee decided that enough time had passed for her class to finish the practice problems on the board. Looking up from her desk, she could see that all of her students were looking back up at her with bored, glazed looks in their eyes. All except Phoebe, who was still suffering over her homework.
Feeling bad for Phoebe, since she was new to the class, Cheerliee decided to give her a little help with her long division problems before continuing the class. Trotting over to her, Cheerilee bowed her head to Phoebe's level.
"Would you like any help, Phoebe? I know you're new to the class and you haven't learned this yet..." Cheerilee asked quietly.
Phoebe looked back at Cheerilee with bloodshot eyes.
Wow, she must have been thinking really... really hard... Thought Cheerilee.
"Oh, no, that's okay..." Phoebe replied, "It's just math gives me such a headache. You know, the kinds of headaches where it feels like a screw is driving into your head..."
As she said those words, a screw appeared in front of her face, and suddenly buried itself halfway into Phoebe's forehead, slowly turning, blood gushing from the wound and soaking her muzzle, as her eyes slowly started to cross out of agony.
"Phoebe!" Cheerilee shouted, as she went to take out the screw with her mouth. As she clenched down on the screw - or at least, tried to - her teeth simply bit down on themselves. Looking again, Cheerilee could see that Phoebe was gone.
"Don't worry, Miss Cheerilee, I'm fine." Phoebe said casually.
Cheerilee looked around. Her class had disappeared, and the lights in the room were put out. Everything was gone, except for a book which suddenly appeared on Phoebe's desk.
"Don't you just love books?" Phoebe's voice echoed, "So do I. Well, some of them, at least."
The book was left open, the pages inside exposed to Cheerilee. Looking at the top of the right page, she could read the title of the book: "The Mare-Eating Book"
Suddenly, the pages flipped to the side, until they stopped at chapter 1. Cheerilee found herself reading the first page.
"But Miss Cheerilee, this reading assignment is killing me!"
"Now Diamond Tiara, a little reading never hurt anyone."
"But what if it does?"
Diamond Tiara slumped back in her chair, discouraged, before sighing and continuing to read her book. It was a punishment, because Diamond Tiara had been causing trouble in class during the day, and now Miss Cheerilee was having her read the first ten chapters of Muthering Weights
Feeling bored, Cheerilee thought about how much she liked reading. Deciding to do something to pass the time, she opened a drawer in her desk, and pulled out her favorite book - The Mare-Eating Book - and began to read chapter 1, which went like this:
Cheerilee began teaching her class about long division, like any other day. But this day, however, was not the same. Because today was the day that Cheerilee had introduced Phoebe to her class.
After sending Phoebe to her assigned seat, Cheerilee went back to her test to prepare for the day's lesson. After several minutes, Cheerilee looked up and saw that everyone in the room was finished, except Phoebe.
Cheerlie, BeiNg a FOOLISH, DISGUSTING, NON-NIGHTPONY, DEcidid to TrY and aCt out her futiLe ComPassiOn for Phoebe, by aSKing Her if SHe needed help. Cheerilee had some nerve asking a night pony if she needed help with her mathmatics. And mucH Bravery.
MISS CHEERILEE WAS ALWAYS KNOWN FOR HER KEEN NEED TO HELP PONIES WHO DON'T NEED HELP - HELP PONIES BETTER THAN HER
But today, Phoebe was merciful. Phoebe was GraCioUs. Because PhoebE wanted to know something
WHERE. IS. PIPE. DREAM.
Cheerilee gaped at what she was reading, speechless, feeling weak in her forelegs.
"Miss Cheerilee, are you okay?"
Cheerilee nearly jumped out of her skin as she jerked to see the source of the voice. It was Phoebe.
"...Did you... Did you write this, Phoebe?" Cheerilee said, voice shaking with fear and anger.
Phoebe's eyes started to water, tears running down her cheeks. "I... I... I'm sorry, Miss Cheerilee!"
Phoebe began to whimper. "Nopony loves me, and I just... I don't know what I was doing, and-"
"Well you should be ashamed of yourself, Phoebe." Cheerilee stated angrily, feeling more confident, "You do not call anypony any of the things you wrote in this boo-"
The snap sound was so loud, so violent, that Cheerilee jumped away from it in surprise. It was the book - both sides of it had snapped up, causing the book to be standing on its binding. It's covers slowly began to separate, revealing countless, sharp, jagged teeth lining the edges of the covers. Where there were pages, there was a deep throat that seemed to stretch on endlessly, dripping with sickly looking black ooze, which appeared to be some kind of digestive bile. The book began to reek of stomach fluids, like vomit in a trash bag. Cheerilee watched in speechless horror as a long, wide, muscular forked tongue slowly slid out of the book's throat.
Cheerilee screamed, backpedaling into her chalkboard, and collapsing onto the ground. After making some moans of horror and dispair, Cheerilee began to scream again as the book began to levitate off of the desk, slowly tilting towards her direction, before burping and causing a thick fluid - which appeared to be a mixture of digested foods and meats - to pour onto the floorboards. The reek from the book's throat wafted past Cheerilee with its gluttonous burp, with a thick humidity which felt like the thickness of water vapor in a sauna.
Phoebe began to casually walk towards Cheerilee, with an innocent, childlike look on her face.
"Miss Cheerilee, don't you remember when you asked the class what a metaphor was and nopony answered? Well, I thought that I could impress you by showing you that at least I know what a metaphor is. Not only that, but I decided to use your phrase as inspiration. "A good book can really gobble you up", you said. When you said that, I thought of a book with a mouth eating me alive. Funny, right?"
Cheerilee screamed again, eyes glued to the monster that was levitating not ten feet in front of her.
"Aw, don't be like that, Miss Cheerilee," Phoebe cooed.
The muscles in the book's tongue began to ripple, saliva trailing down it and oozing onto the floor.
"Look, I just wanted to ask you if you knew where Pipe Dream was, and now here you are, a screaming mess on the floor. I mean, no offense Miss Cheerilee, but I'd only asked a question. So if you'd excuse me, there's a colt I have a date with, and I need to know where he is."
Cheerilee's thoughts went to Pipe Dream for a split second. If she told this Phoebe where he was, then he'd have to deal with whatever Phoebe was torturing her with. She swallowed, refusing to let that happen to Pipe Dream.
"I... W-won't... Tell you..." Cheerilee stammered, feeling clammy all over.
"...Oh, well, maybe we just don't know each other well enough... I know!" Phoebe shouted, "We can do one of those ice breaker thingies! Wanna try?"
Cheerilee stared back at the filly with the charcoal coat and glowing, fire-like mane, non-responsive.
"Ponies can always get to know each other by being able to relate to each other with stuff, so why don't we sing 'Allouette, Gentile Allouette," huh? I know it's one of your favorite nursery rhymes to teach to your class. Except, just for fun so that we can include each other, I've changed the lyrics..."
Suddenly, the book's forked tongue lashed out and wrapped around Cheerilee's hind legs. Screaming in terror, Cheerilee bucked and thrashed in an attempt to escape, but it was too late. The book began to drag her towards itself, slowly but surely, before it began to lift her in midair just in front of its mouth. A fresh smell of meat wafted from the endless throat which expanded before Cheerilee. The book's breath was so humid now, so fresh, so concentrated, that its warm, sticky breath began to condensate on on Cheerilee's muzzle, face, and mane.
"PUT ME DOWN!" Cheerilee screamed, thrashing back and forth, helplessly demanding a freedom that would never come.
"Now, here's how it goes," continued Phoebe, "I thought that, y'know, since you don't really know me very well, that we could sing my version of "Allouette, Gentile Allouette", until you can finally open up and we can talk. Then we'll know each other even better, and talking won't be awkward anymore!"
The book slowly began to lift Cheerilee higher up until she was hanging directly over the book's mouth, it's throat stretching downward into a never-ending abyss, where she would momentarily be digested - forever.
"So here's my little twist on the song," Phoebe announced, "The original version of the song is about plucking feathers from the different body parts that a bird has, starting from its head, to each of its other body parts. That way, ponies can learn the different body parts of a bird! But in my version, it's about being able to name the different body parts of a pony as they're fully engulfed by a ravenously carnivorous book, starring you!" Phoebe threw her hooves up into the air excitedly, "It's an anatomy lesson!"
"NOOOO!" Cheerile shrieked, thrashing even more in the book's vicegrip.
"Oh, c'mon Miss Cheerilee, I know anatomy can make some ponies squeamish, but not that squeamish! Welp, the best way to break your fears is to face them head on - and that's exactly what you're going to do!" Phoebe said, taking a deep breath and opening her mouth wide to sing.
First the book will eat her head, first the book will eat her head. Eat her head, eat her head,
Cheerilee, Cheerilee, Oh Oh Oh Oh
Oh, Miss Cheerilee, gentle Miss Cheerilee. Oh, Miss Cheerilee, this book will eat you alive!
"He seemed fine to me, Mrs. Heebies. No signs of schizophrenia to be seen."
"Thank you, Professor Silver Tongue." Heebies sighed, feeling a wash of relief flow over her.
"Anytime," Silver Tongue replied, packing papers into some folders he had brought with him, "If anything happens again, feel free to let me know."
"Of course," Heebies responded.
"Welp, I guess I'll just be heading out then. I hope all goes well with Pipe Dream!"
Silver Tongue trotted out the door and across the clearing until he disappeared in the forest. Sighing out of relief once more, Heebies collapsed onto a futon which she had been standing next to, feeling exhausted from the worrying she had been doing over Pipe Dream.
Meanwhile, Pipe Dream was standing in his room alone after Silver Tongue's visit. Since he was gone, Pipe quickly jumped off of his bed (which he had been sitting on comfortably when Silver Tongue had been asking him a series of questions) and trotted to a desk which was sitting on the other side of the room. Taking a deep breath, Pipe Dream opened the top drawer and lifted the four rings which he had worn the night before when he had confronted Phoebe. After glancing at their shiny and nearly translucent appearance, Pipe Dream set them on top of the desk in front of them.
Were they? Impossible. There was no way that in all the place of Equestria, the one place that the Bands of Strength had been the entire time, was in his own family attic.
But then... he felt so powerful when he was wearing them... It felt like nothing could stop him.
Pipe Dream had been thinking about something else too. If the taller Phoebe wasn't the real Phoebe, then why was he able to hit her? Of course, Phoebe was able to make him feel like he was touching something, but... She felt so real, that it was nothing like the hallucinations she had given him in the past... In fact, what if that was the real Phoebe? What if that was the Phoebe from Miss Cheerilee's story?
No, it couldn't be. It was impossible. Even if it was, there were so many questions that were left unanswered. Why was the princess of the nightponies inhabiting his family attic? Why not somepony else's attic? In fact, why wasn't she at the mountain of the moon?
Pipe Dream looked back at the rings on the desk in front of him. And if these were really the Bands of Strength... Why did she have them with her? It all just seemed so random. What were the chances?
After looking at the rings on the desk for about ten minutes, a thought came to Pipe Dream. What if he tried them on again, just to see if they really were the Bands of Strength? If they were, then he could have super strength and super speed.
To test his theory, Pipe Dream trotted over to his bed. Taking a deep breath, he placed his hooves under his bed and attempted to pull it up.
Nope, too heavy. Perfect. Time to test the strength theory.
Pipe Dream turned around and faced his desk, levitating the rings to his position, and sliding them on to each of his hooves. Turning back to his bed, he tried to pull up the bed a second time.
...Nope, still too heavy.
Feeling dejected, Pipe sat down and looked at the rings on his hooves. How could he have had the strength to knock Phoebe out of the attic window and across the forest with his own strength, if he couldn't even pull up his own bed?
Pipe looked back at his bed again with a thought. When he was charging Phoebe, he was angry. His two little sisters Bats and Belfry always made fun of him when he was angry, because his horn would light up with magic. What if he needed to charge his horn with magic, without using that magic?
Pipe Dream got up on all fours again and stared at this bed, feeling anticipation welling up inside him. Concentrating on his horn, Pipe Dream began to charge his magic energy. Soon, his horn began to glow with unused magic. Seeing the light from his horn, Pipe Dream looked down at the rings on this hooves - which seemed to be emanating a small flame with a similar color that the magic on his horn had. It was almost like the fiery hooves that Phoebe had, but instead of red and burning, it was indigo and cool.
Pipe Dream looked back at his bed again. Taking a deep breath, Pipe Dream put his hooves under his bed, closed his eyes, and lifted.
Without opening his eyes, Pipe knew he had failed. No matter how hard he could pull up, he didn't feel any difference in the amount of weight on his hooves.
Pipe Dream let out a sigh and opened his eyes, allowing his hooves to slide out from under the bed. But before he did, he stopped.
He was holding up the side of the bed facing him, right in front of him, and he didn't feel any change in weight.
Pipe Dream dropped the bed, hearing a loud thud on the ground from the weight it had. That bed was made of Everfree oak, the toughest and heaviest wood in Equestria, and he was holding it up like it was nothing.
Pipe Dream suddenly had a realization - not only was he not afraid of things anymore, but he didn't have to be afraid of anything anymore either, because here he was, with arguably the most powerful relics in his hooves.
"I need a new name..." Pipe Dream thought. It was a funny thought, a thought that some ponies might say was childish or silly, but Pipe Dream wanted one. He wanted something different from his current name, something that spoke of bravery. He wanted a new alias - he didn't want to see himself as the old and afraid Pipe Dream.
After thinking for a moment, Pipe Dream thought he couldn't think of anything to call himself, until he remembered a memory from years ago, when his mother Heebies had said, "In fact, the best dream catchers are the ponies who take the bad dreams away from the world."
The best dream catchers. The dream catchers...
Pipe Dream said the name a couple times over to himself so that he could hear it for himself.
"Dream Catcher. Dream Catcher. Dream Catcher."
It had a nice ring to it. Not only that, but it had meaning to him. Pipe Dream looked back at the dream catcher which Heebies had hung next to his bed.
"I don't need it anymore." Pipe Dream thought.
Trotting over to the dream catcher, Pipe Dream levitated the dream catcher off of where it was hanging from and placed it in the drawer of his desk. He didn't need the dream catcher anymore, because from now on, he would be the dream catcher.
Although it feels a little silly that I actually did that, It gave me a sense of closure. I wanted to be free of fear for so long, that now that it was out of my life, I felt so free, and so happy (Who am I? You guessed it, my name is Dream Catcher).
After putting the dream catcher away, I noticed that in the far back of the drawer was a pair of black sunglasses. I instantly remembered that my mother had gave them to me on one hot summer because she was afraid that the sun would melt my eyes. Deciding to move along with my new alias, with having nopony recognize me as Pipe Dream, I put them on, feeling more confident than I had before. I turned and faced the window in my room. I used to be so afraid that there was a monster on the other side that would eat me if I so much as stuck a hoof out of it. Now, it was just another part of the world. After being so afraid of things for my entire life, I refused to be afraid ever again.
Without a moment's notice, I jumped out of the room, and ran faster than I ever thought I could.
Princess Celestia finished reading Twilight's letter, feeling a sense of nostalgia, and an intense bitterness. Twilight was writing to her that night ponies were harassing Cheerilee, but she knew it wasn't just any night ponies. Out of respect for her, the night ponies had accepted their banishment. Not only that, but they were not evil by nature - they simply fed off of each other's emotions. It was because of this that they were known for their jubilant celebrations and sense of mutuality. However, when one of them strays from their family of nightponies, out of anger, pride, or both, they change - because the only way they can survive is by emotions, and the strongest emotion which a hateful nightpony can bring, is fear.
This wasn't just anypony - this was Phoebe's work. Phoebe, who proudly believed that Nightmare Moon would help her punish the pegasus, unicorn, and earth ponies by reigning all of Equestria in total night, forcing them to see the mountain of the moon, forcing them to look down on themselves forever. After Nightmare Moon had been defeated, Phoebe refused to believe that her ally had been sent to the moon, and in her pride, she vowed that she would never leave Equestria.
And now, she had finally revealed herself by foolishly showing off her consciousness-controlling abilities on Cheerilee.
Of course, this was not a job for her to resolve.
"Send for Princess Luna." Princess Celestia commanded.
"Yes, your highness." replied one of her guards, before galloping out of the hall.
Only Luna knew how to control consciousness like the nightponies, because she had learned that technique from them when she was Nightmare Moon. Now she would need to put those skills to the test, routing any affected ponies from their sleep by entering their dreams and saving them before they were turned over to insanity.
I was galloping so fast,the trees began to whip past me in a way that I almost thought I'd hit one. I started to slow myself down, taking in my surroundings.
Then I wanted to do something. I wanted to go to the schoolhouse. I could imagine the looks on all of those schoolponies' faces when they saw me, Dream Catcher, being the cool colt with all of my awesome skills. All of a sudden, instead of being the freak I used to be as Pipe Dream, I could be cool, inspirational, and loved. Deciding to do it, I turned and galloped back home, reaching it in record time. Galloping around the perimeter of the cabin, I found the forest trail that would lead me to ponyville, raced down it so fast that the trees looked like paint being smudged by the wind.
In a few seconds time I was back at the schoolhouse. Oh good, the doors were closed and the lights were on - that meant that school was in today. I couldn't wait to show off to all the schoolponies - especially my two little sisters Bats and Belfry. I wondered how Cheerilee was doing today.
"NOOOO!" Cheerilee shouted from inside the schoolhouse.
I stopped, not sure what to think. Knowing her, she was probably angry at one of her students for some reason. Really angry.
"I wonder what's eatin' her..." I thought to myself.
Trotting closer to the schoolhouse, I heard it again.
"NOOOOO! SOMEPONY, PLEASE HELP ME! NOOOO!"
Now I knew something really was wrong. I was about to backpedal out of habit, but then I remembered - I'm not Pipe Dream anymore, I'm Dream Catcher, and I'm not afraid.
Instead of backpedaling, I galloped to the door and tried to open it. Locked.
I began to hear muffled gurgling sounds from inside.
I wasn't waitin' for any locksmiths today. Instead, I turned, and bucked that door so hard that it flew to the other side of the schoolhouse and smashed to smithereens.
Miss Cheerilee! I shouted, galloping into the room. I instantly stopped - Miss Cheerilee was wrestling with a math book on top of one of the school desks, making gurgling noises and screaming for help. Besides that, there was nothing else in the room.
I galloped up to her and shouted her name in her ear as loud as I could to get her attention, but she still didn't respond. I shook her and kept screaming out her name, but still nothing.
"Allow me," said an elegant voice from behind me.
I turned and saw an alicorn which I had never seen before - she was tall, like Phoebe, but had a dark purple coat and a mane that reminded me of when I'd gaze at the stars at night. She closed her eyes, and magic illuminated her horn. I looked back at Cheerilee and noticed that her eyes began to have a slight blue glow to them, before they went back to normal, and Cheerilee suddenly relaxed, allowing the math book to fall onto the floor.
"Now wake her," said the alicorn again.
"Miss Cheerilee," I said, hoping that this would be the time that she would wake up.
Cheerilee slowly opened her eyes, and looked back at me.
"Pipe Dream?" She groaned wearily.
I didn't answer, I just continued to look at her to see if she was alright.
"Oh, no, you're not Pipe Dream... Pipe Dream... didn't have his cutie mark yet..."
My eyes went wide with excitement at what she was implying, but I forced myself not to look at my flank in order to keep myself from appearing surprised. Later I'd look, but not now. I couldn't now.
"Young colt, what is your name?" the alicorn asked.
"My name?" I responded, feeling a little dazed from the mixture of seriousness and excitement from the moment.
"Yes, your name."
"My name..." I replied,"...is Dream Catcher."
"This is ridiculous, Phoebe, ridiculous!" shouted Phoebe.
The filly version of Phoebe stared at the ground, tears welling up in her eyes.
"If Luna had intervened in the interrogation of that... that repulsive excuse for a school teacher, then that means she is going to be involved in our plans! And if Luna is involved in our plans, then so will Celestia!"
"I... I'm sorry, Phoebe, I... I tried my hardest..." the filly Phoebe responded, voice cracking from sadness.
"It's nothing you did, Phoebe, it's everything I did. I just needed somepony to shout at..." Phoebe replied, trying to collect her thoughts. "If the princesses are involved, then we'll need to expedite our plans as quickly as possible in order to take back the Bands of Strength, and find a new place to hide."
"But what if Celestia finds the window here? Couldn't she just use that to track us?"
"She won't, because after we get the Bands of Strength back again, we'll hide the Window where Celestia will never find it." Phoebe replied. "That, or we'll take the Window with us, along with the Bands of Strength. Yes, we'll do that - we'll take the Window with us. It belongs to me anyway..."
"...So what're we gonna do now?" the filly Phoebe asked.
"Do?" Phoebe responded, before looking out into the horizon to see the sun setting once more. "We get serious, that's what we will do. If Pipe Dream won't show himself, we'll have to make him show himself."
"How are we gonna do that?"
"...With bait." Phoebe replied, after several passing moments. "And he'll take the bait, don't you worry about that. He'll take it hook, line, and sinker. We'll reel him out of Equestria, and be satisfied by the glassy, soulless fish eyes that he'll have once I'm done with him - I'll make everything I've ever done before look like mere parlor tricks..."
Phoebe continued to look outside, seeing the first stars begin to glimmer faintly in the sky.
"This is going to be a long night..." Phoebe muttered darkly.
Loose Cannon woke up after feeling as if he was jolted by a cold shock of lightning down his spine. He quickly got up and looked down at his bed, to see that it was completely normal.
After a moment of shock, Loose Cannon began to feel his back, which felt just like it had ever felt.
"Oh good, you're awake."
Loose Cannon turned to face the source of that voice, expecting it to be Bats or Belfry... but instead, it was a dark, charcoal-colored filly with a mane and tail which glowed like embers, who happened to be standing on a stool while gazing outside despairingly.
"I've been trying to get your attention for the past couple of hours, but you wouldn't listen!" the filly sobbed.
"Why? What's the matter?" Loose Cannon asked, both tired and perplexed.
"Haven't you heard of the shadow ooze, Loose Cannon?"
Loose Cannon looked wearily at the filly, trying to see if he could recognize her at all. She obviously seemed to recognize him somehow if she already knew his name.
"Yes, shadow ooze! It's been sleeping for centuries, but now it's come back!" the filly sobbed, "it changes everything - twists everything. Twists reality!"
"Alright now, calm down. I've lived knowin' about superstitions and things, but I've never been taught anything 'bout any 'shadow ooze'."
"That's because it hibernates for centuries until fate has been broken - and once fate's been broken, it starts an entire apocalypse!"
Concerned, Loose Cannon dragged himself out of bed and trotted up to the filly at the window.
"Now how do you know about this shadow ooze, little filly?"
"How do I know about it? Just look outside!"
Turning his head, Loose Cannon peered outside. The sky was a mixture of blood red and hellish black swirls. The trees were soaked in a strange, black molasses which seemed to cause the branches to bend and twist in unnatural shapes while creating a sickening creaking sound. The grass turned into a pale grey, with bloody dirt and mud which drowned any last bit of life and vegetation growing from the ground.
Loose Cannon gaped at first, then slowly shook his head at the sight before him.
"No, it's... it's impossible..." he said quietly, feeling a sense of despair wash over him.
"This is why I've been trying to get your attention, Loose Cannon!" shouted the filly, now pointing at the scene outside, "I couldn't find anypony else in ponyville, or anywhere, except for just you in this room!"
"...You mean everypony's gone?" Loose Cannon replied, horrified.
"Yes! Well, not really, but... You don't wanna know what happens when anypony touches that shadowy ooze stuff! It makes 'em all helllish lookin' and they try to kill you!"
A night like this was never seen for years,
A night wrought with terrifying and mortal fears,
Fears of our ancestors and greater fears to come,
Fears to quiet the old ones - history undone.
Go to sleep and let darkness take you,
The blindfold of reason.
Don't open your eyes while you try to slumber.
Don't worry - the nightmares will only come for a season.
And as the shadows slide over eyes,
It will harshly creep over your skin.
It will rout even your deepest chagrin.
For nopony cares what anypony thinks,
When their deepest care was to be
When free from nightmare's rule.
- An old poem cautioning the pegasi from trespassing on the Mount of the Moon; author unknown.
Trotting out of the Ponyville schoolhouse, I looked up at the sky - it was twilight now, with the sun setting in the horizon, and a black, starless void beginning to dominate the sky.
Cheerilee was still recovering in the schoolhouse with that Alicorn. As for me, I was disgusted. I knew this was Phoebe's doing - and it only made me feel a deep anger burning inside me. So now that Phoebe couldn't do anything about me, she was just going to start toying with the ponies I love the most. It was sick. And I knew that this wouldn't be the end of it. Phoebe toyed with me for as long as I know, and only now have I ever felt the victory... no, the freedom of being sane, and at peace, for even one day.
I. Hate. Phoebe.
Phoebe knew about Cheerilee - Phoebe knew that it was Cheerilee who had comforted me after that nasty nightmare I was given by yours truly. Phoebe knew that she could get to me if she did anything to Miss Cheerilee. She wants something from me. But what?
Then I thought of it. She wants to take control of me again.
Hatred coursed through my body like a wave, my fur prickling with fury. That's how it is, isn't it, Phoebe? You want me back again to be your little toy for life; and you're going to screw with each and every one of those closest to me until you get what you want, aren't you?
I should've known. I'm not free yet. The banished princess of the night ponies would never give up her pride over a mistake in an attic. She wanted me back. Phoebe, the one who thought she could mess with me, wants me back.
Well I don't think so.
And... If she... If she does anything to anypony else, or... or to Belfry or Bats.. I am going to find her. And I'm going to kill her.
No. I won't even giver her that chance. She doesn't deserve it.
In a flash, I galloped as fast as the Bands would take me, my vision blurring past me until I finally stopped back at my cabin and began to look for the tool shed. Finding it, I dashed inside, glanced at the tools. Shovels, rakes, and other objects were there, including an axe. I didn't notice that the pickaxe was missing, nor did I care. I lifted the large, heavy axe from the collection. I brought the midsection of the axe's handle into my mouth, and bit down hard. Today, a night mare dies.
This newfound bravery and strength that I was cultivating was beginning to change me, and I knew it; for better or for worse, I wasn't sure... All I knew was that it felt good. Never to be afraid again - to have the power enough to change anything that I wanted in an instant. I wasn't that pathetic "Pipe Dream" anymore.
I imagined myself as Pipe Dream - a blank flank, with big watery eyes, hiding in the corner of my room when I heard the slightest noise. A coward. Begging my nightmares to go away.
I imagined myself now - wearing four darkly-colored cuffs, one on each leg. Pitch black shades hiding my eyes. And now, a cutie mark.
Remembering this, I turned my head to see my flank. It was a black circle with an X in it.
Darkly colored cuffs, pitch black shades, a black circle with an X for a cutie mark, and now an axe being gripped tightly in my mouth. Ready to kill.
"Phoebe... if not today, then soon... you will die... I will slit your throat and watch you choke under my right hoof, and I will laugh."
I trotted outside slowly, finding pleasure in dragging the head of the axe along the ground as I did. It made a satisfying raking sound as it ran along the gravelly earth beneath me - like an execution was about to take place, and I was the executioner. The arbitrator of judgement.
I took one last glance at the family cabin, and it looked peaceful as always. Not a sound coming from it at all. A corpse. Like Phoebe by morning.
Luna gazed back at Cheerilee somberly.
"Yes. It is I."
"What... What happened?"
Luna considered, for a moment, then replied, "I cannot tell you - but do not worry. It will not happen again."
By "it will not happen again", Luna had meant "it will not happen to you again". After giving her a protection spell from night pony magic, Cheerilee would be safe for about three days time. And by then, Luna expected to have Phoebe captured and questioned for her crime. However, she knew that Phoebe must have been hiding away in Ponyville for a time, wracking the brain of a host - another pony.
There was a good chance, in Luna's opinion, that nopony in Ponyville would suspect that a night pony was infesting somepony's mind with fear. Luna would need to ask the locals of Ponyville if they knew anypony who seemed to be suffering from some sort of dementia or schizophrenia. Second, if Phoebe was only beginning to use Cheerilee as a host, then there must be a good reason why she would risk getting caught by not using her previous, and allegedly "insane", host to begin with.
She would need a very good reason indeed.
"Pipe... Dream..." moaned Cheerilee.
Luna turned to look back at Cheerilee.
"Who is this Pipe Dream that you speak of?" Luna responded.
"He... was a colt from the colt scouts meet yesterday... that thing wanted Pipe Dream... I think he's in trouble."
Luna nodded, and proceeded to leave the schoolhouse, assigning a couple of guards to look after Cheerilee in the meantime. Having her first lead, and knowing the ponies of Equestria by having been in their dreams in the past, Luna knew exactly where to look.
Applebloom looked outside her window worryingly. The sun had set hours ago, and now it was dark in Ponyville - darker than she had ever remembered - the moon couldn't be seen, and not a single star in the sky could be seen either; it was pitch black. Not only that, but everything was eerily silent - as if all of Equestria was asleep. Dreaming.
It didn't make her feel any better about the strange way Ms. Cheerilee had been acting earlier. She hoped Cheerilee would be ok.
Suddenly, a filly version of Phoebe is being written
about to you. She clears her throat in a cute and innocent way,
before procuring a piece of paper. Phoebe begins to read.
"A night like this was never seen for years,
a night wrought with terrifying and mortal fears,
Fears of our ancestors and greater fears to come,
Fears to quiet the old ones - history undone."
After reading, Phoebe looks back up at you and smiles.
"I love this poem. Don't you? Oh, I know, maybe we can
be playmates tonight!"
Loose Cannon galloped through the forest, gripping his pickaxe tightly, as he was hearing that maniacal laughter everywhere from that freakish filly which was driving him insane. There was that shadowy ooze dripping off of the trees everywhere, and steaming once it hit the ground. The sky continued to be a mix of red and black swirls, adding to the sheer terror of the night.
"Pipe Dream! Bats! Belfry! Heebies! Jeebies!" he shouted, trying to find his family members, but it was all useless. He hoped they were ok - but he feared... no, felt dismayed... that they were dead. And if they weren't dead, they could be zombie ponies, like that freakish filly said.
"Hey Loose! I'm over here!"
Loose Cannon jerked his head around, his eyes wide with horror, as he tried to see who was calling him. He knew it was a filly - it sounded just like one. Sounded just like that freakish filly.
"Get away from me or I'll stab you with this pickaxe!" he shouted violently, taking position to face whoever was hidden by the shadow ooze and twisted branches.
"But... But I'm scared..."
"Now, I don't care if you're scared 'er not! If you take another step closer, I'll gut you faster than an upset ursa major!"
The voice sobbed, but Loose Cannon didn't care. He began to take some steps backwards, looking behind him to make sure it was safe, and then jerking his head forward again to make sure the source of that mysterious voice was not coming any closer.
"L-loose Cannon... Y-you're mah big brother..."
Loose Cannon tried to register the voice he was hearing, before realizing it was Bats.
"Bats? Is that you?"
"Yes! Ahm Bats!"
"Bats!" shouted Loose Cannon, as he galloped towards the sound of Bats' voice, "keep talkin' to me bats! Ahm followin' the sound of your voice!"
"I'm over here!" shouted Bats.
Very quickly, Loose Cannon approached the small, frightened filly... who looked relatively calm in response to the shadow ooze that was flooding the area.
"Bats? What are you doing out here? And where's Belfry, and Heebies and Jeebies?"
"Wha, they're back at the cabin, Loose... I was followin' ya because you looked like you were in for a mighty fright, and you were runnin' away from tha cabin' into tha forest... I wanted to know what you were up to, so I tried to follow ya, but I got lost, and it was dark, so I got scared."
Loose Cannon didn't reply for a moment.
"Scared? Scared? Have you taken one look at the trees?"
Bats looked up at Loose Cannon with a blank look on her face.
"The shadow ooze! It's everywhere! Can't you see it with yer own eyes?"
Bats began to take some steps backwards, appearing to be shocked at Loose Cannon.
"It's everywhere, Bats, everywhere. It's twistin' the trees, turnin' the grass grey, makin' the sky a swirl of red and black. Red and black, Bats, red and black! And the horrible creakin' sound comin' from the twistin' trees, it's... it's... Bats, are you even listenin' to me? Are you!"
Bats' eyes began to well up with tears, as she began to turn to run - but Loose Cannon swung his pickaxe down over her, trapping her beneath it and the ground.
"You're not goin' anywhere, Bats - you're comin' with me, where it's safe, and there ain't no shadow ooze."
"Let go of me! Let go!" Bats screamed, thrashing as much as she could under the pickaxe.
"Bats, I'm your big brother and I know what's best for ya and you're gonna come with me where its safe - for all we know, the others could be zombie ponies by now."
"Let go! Please!" Bats shouted
Another voice interrupted, "Well, it looks like you're having a good time trying to run away with your little sister, Loose Cannon."
Loose Cannon looked up, and saw a tall mare - the size of an alicorn - standing in front of him. Her coat a pitch black charcoal color, and her mane glowing like fiery embers.
"You stay away." Loose Cannon said weakly.
"Hm hm hm..." she chuckled.
"Loose Cannon, who're you talkin' to!" Bats shouted, yelling it more than she was asking it, tears flooding down her eyes.
"What do you want?" Loose Cannon said.
"I'm just here to give you a little advice before the shadow ooze takes you and her as its next victim..." the mare replied.
"And what advice is that?" Loose Cannon responded.
"Loose Cannon! Wake up!" Bats shouted, but to Loose Cannon, her voice was becoming softer, and quieter... like an innocent whisper.
"She's obviously not listening to you Loose Cannon - she is so shocked by what is happening around her, that she is refusing to believe that it is real. If you take the pickaxe off of her, she will only run away and be swept up in the ooze."
"...What do I need to do?"
"You need to knock her unconscious, and carry her with you. It is the only way."
Then the mare disappeared, leaving Loose Cannon with Bats.
"Loose... please... let me go..." Bats sobbed.
"I can't do that, Bats. Now, I'm gonna need tah knock you out."
"Phoebe, what will we do with that disgusting earth pony next?"
A filly version of Phoebe stood some feet away from Phoebe, who was standing by a rock in the forest.
"Well, he's already knocked his own little sister unconscious. We may as well make him a psychopathic killer who thinks the world is coming to an end." the filly Phoebe suggested, shrugging in the process.
"My thoughts exactly." Phoebe responded, continuing to look out in the distance where Loose Cannon was now dragging a limp filly along the ground, with that pickaxe in his mouth again. She thought it was cute, almost funny in a way, how he would look in all directions, as if there was actually "shadow ooze" everywhere. More like night pony saliva from feeding off of the strong emotions of others, actually - but how effective it was in scaring her victims.
"That's exactly what we will do, young one." Phoebe continued, confidently. "We - or, I - will make him believe that the ponies of ponyville are actually zombie ponies, and that he must kill them all in order to survive. It will be my vengeance against those disgusting ponies, and it will also draw that repulsive unicorn right where I want it, so that I can turn it into the gurgling fish that it deserves to be."
With a flick of her mane, Loose Cannon jumped to the left of himself, gaping at some non-existing thing to his right. In response, he began to run away with Bats in tow - right towards Ponyville.
"The night ponies will always win, and will always claim their vengeance for the harmony which those disgusting ponies refused to embrace years ago." Phoebe said to herself, as the filly version of herself began to fade away.
"Even Celestia can't stop me now."
I continued to drag my axe along the ground as I trotted through the forest, looking intently for any signs of Phoebe. I was tired, with dark rings under my eyes, from the number of hours I had been spending hiking through the forest in search of that night mare freak.
I'm sure I wasn't a very pleasant sight to behold. Cuts, bruises, and scrapes decorated my fore and hind legs, not to mention the brambles which were sticking to my fur. In the dark forest, I would have looked like a demon - a dark figure dragging an axe behind him, a deathly raking sound adding to my ambiance.
Finally, I had enough.
I dropped the axe and held it in the grip of my magic. I took a deep breath, and shouted:
"Phoebe! Still wanna be playmates, do ya? Why don't you come out, and I'll show you my new toy!"
Shouting that out made me feel a little better - it was almost therapeutic, being able to talk down to her, wherever she was. I hope she heard me, though. I hope she heard the last words she would ever hear.
I felt the fury flare up in me again, like a volcano on the verge of an eruption. This time, there was no holding back. I wanted her to hear me. I wanted her to hear death.
"Oh, Phoebe! You scaredy cat! I thought you liked playing games! Phoebe! Phoebe! Come out and play!"
Loose Cannon continued to drag the lifeless Bats behind him at full gallop. After knocking her out with a well-aimed buck, he didn't pay attention to whether she was still alive or not - not to mention that all this dragging on the ground at high speeds couldn't be very comfortable for her either. Comfort wasn't an issue, however - all that mattered was getting him, and her, to safety. To where there was no shadow ooze.
Looking ahead, Loose Cannon could see a clearing, with lights in a town ahead. It was clearly Ponyville.
This was it. They were getting out of the forest. Getting away from this revolting slime which was hanging, dripping, and oozing from the tree branches.
"Ahm home free! Home free at last!" Loose Cannon shouted gleefully, as he finally broke through the treeline and into the clear, jumping into the air at full gallop to celebrate his victory, with Bats limply flying up into the air and crashing into the ground after Loose Cannon landed the jump.
"Bats, we're safe at last!" Loose Cannon shouted.
Bats didn't answer.
In euphoria, Loose Cannon decided that Bats must either be in too much shock to realize that they were safe, or she just decided to take a nap so that she wouldn't have to experience that nightmare anymore. He completely understood.
Loose Cannon continued to gallop for Ponyville as fast as his hooves could carry him. Soon, he was galloping over the bridge. Then, the hard, unforgiving cobblestone pavement of the town. That cobblestone pavement brought memories to Loose Cannon that he never thought would have been happy in contrast to what he was experiencing - he remembered horror stories of gangs hazing helpless ponies by tying them up, or holding them in their mouths, while dragging them at full gallop across the cobblestone. It was illegal, of course, and the ponies responsible always faced harsh penalties. He knew he would never do that to anypony, but just thinking about agony apart from the nightmare he had experienced in the forest seemed like paradise to him.
Galloping still, Loose Cannon made his headway for the library. If there was anywhere that he could find a way to get the princess involved with the horrors of the forest, then he knew things would be ok, and everything would work out just-
"Hey, you! Stop!"
Loose Cannon stopped, and looked around. Someone in Ponyville? At night? Someone who could help?
"Where are you? I need your help!" Loose Cannon replied, searching for the source of the voice.
"I'm not helping you with any of that hazing business! You're under arrest!"
Loose Cannon couldn't think. Looking around again, he finally found the source of the voice. It was the town sheriff.
"Sheriff, sir! There's shadow ooze all over the fore..."
The sheriff didn't look normal. He was missing an eye, and his tongue was hanging out of a hole on the opposite side of his face. He was holding some kind of tendons knotted in the shape of a wire with one large loop at the end of it.
"I'll just be tying you up, and taking you to the big house. That filly is coming with me."
"NO!" Loose Cannon shouted.
Letting go of Bats, and getting a firm grip on his pickaxe, Loose Cannon raised his weapon high and heaved it downward. The sheriff jumped back in surprise of Loose Cannon's strength, and cracks formed in the pavement after the pickaxe had dug itself practically one foot into the ground.
Loose Cannon tore the pickaxe out of the ground effortlessly with his brute earth pony strength, and swung it to the side in a clearing sweep, nailing the sheriff in the head and sending him several feet to the side - out cold, and with blood emerging from the position of the impact of the pickaxe.
"He - He killed the sheriff!"
Loose Cannon jerked his head around to the source of the next voice - a mare. Half of her skull was eaten away by some kind of corrosive, and the rest of her body was pale and sore-ridden.
Forgetting about Bats, Loose Cannon took up his pickaxe again, and charged the mare full on.
"YOU. STAY. AWAY!"
Feeling fatigued, I finally stopped trotting through the forest.
I dropped the axe beside me and sat down. The sun had set about five hours ago, and still, no signs of Phoebe. Wherever she was, she was up to something.
Suddenly, everything went black.
I stood up immediately, picking up the axe with my magic.
"About time you showed up, Phoebe!"
Nothing, just silence, in a black void.
"You think you can scare me with nothing, then you're wrong! Come out and face me now!"
Suddenly, a silhouette appeared several meters in front of me. It was dark, and about the height of an alicorn.
"Why don't you come closer, so I can finish what I started back at my attic." I proclaimed, holding my axe at the ready.
Suddenly, the silhouette came into focus. It was a mare, with a deep blue and purple coat, with a mane which was decorated with tiny stars.
"Finish what? Taking Phoebe's life? You have always led the life of a coward, Pipe Dream."
I stood there, looking at this alicorn and suddenly feeling a welling up of anger.
"Me? A coward?" I said bitterly, "Do you know who I am?"
"Do you know who I am?" the alicorn responded.
Bewildered, and caught off guard, I thought for a minute. Then, my anger returned.
"You're an illusion." I said finally, "Is this the best you've got, Phoebe!"
"You fool!" shouted the alicorn, "I am Princess Luna, Princess of the Night! For now, Phoebe is not here. This illusion is my doing and my doing alone - and I suggest you understand that."
I didn't say anything in response. I only looked back at this "Princess Luna" with bitterness churning inside of me.
"You spoke of your desire to defeat Phoebe, but you do not understand the gravity of what you want to achieve. You cannot defeat Phoebe - nopony ever has."
"But what about Olympus? He was able to overcome her mind games!"
"No, he was not - a night pony disguised himself as Olympus and returned to the unicorn ponies to win the competition himself-"
"-and I had already defeated her when I had sent her flying out of my family attic, and into the forest!"
"That was not victory, that was luck, Pipe Dream."
"And stop calling me Pipe Dream! I'm not the coward I used to be!"
"But you are, Pipe Dream."
"Oh yeah? Then prove it!"
"You've already proven it." Luna replied.
I didn't say anything. I simply challenged her to explain herself by staring right back at her.
"To be a coward, means that you allow your fears to control you. Have you not heard that rage is fueled by fear? Here you are, Pipe Dream, acting on your fears - fears that Phoebe will hurt those close to you; fears that others can control your emotions and anxieties; and most importantly, a fear of yourself - fear that if you do not affirm your new found 'bravery', then you will lose it. See how you are holding that axe beside you, ready to fight me? You are no different than a cornered viper, rearing to strike, and to kill. You are still a coward."
The words stung, and I didn't know how to respond. I slowly lowered the axe to the ground, trying to stay strong in the face of the accusations of this "Luna", and trying to hold back the tears. A moment or two passed, before I allowed the axe to topple onto the ground - a heart-wrenching clamor echoing from its impact with the floor beneath me.
"Do you know what the cutie mark on your flank means?" she asked finally.
"...No..." I mumbled.
"It is a dream catcher." Luna replied, "your special purpose is to remove the things which are tormenting others. You did what you needed to obtain it by waking Ms. Cheerilee from her sleep, but you have not earned it."
I turned my eyes to the ground, feeling defeated.
"You have not earned it. Yet." Luna added.
"...What do you mean?"
"You need to stop being Pipe Dream." Luna replied, "Stop being a coward. Be brave by not letting your fears control your actions.
You are afraid that Phoebe will hurt those you love - instead, take initiative, clear your mind, and do what needs to be done; but not out of fear, or irrationality.
You are afraid that others can control your emotions and fears - instead, accept yourself. Embrace your power to disagree with others. You do not need to prove your worth to others in order for your worth to be real.
You are afraid that if you do not affirm your new found bravery, then you will lose it - instead, choose to let your actions speak for themselves."
Luna was silent for a moment, before continuing.
"...If you are to defeat Phoebe, you will need to prevent your fears from controlling you."
"But, you said I couldn't defeat Phoebe!"
"I said you couldn't, because of the state you were in. If you choose to prevent your fears from controlling you, then not only can you defeat Phoebe and rescue the ones you love, but you will also fulfill your cutie mark, and your special purpose in life. Nopony has ever defeated Phoebe, because none of them have had your cutie mark. It is rare and unique - use it."
Luna turned to leave, but stopped, considered, and turned to face me again.
"Meet me in Ponyville when your senses come back to you."
Then, she vanished, and the dark void gradually began to fade.
Once again, I was in the forest.
I galloped as fast as I could to Ponyville, the trees blurring past me. I needed to find Luna - needed to find Phoebe.
It wasn't about killing Phoebe - I realize that now. Luna made me realize that I can't hide in a corner when I'm afraid - neither can I rear up and kill the monster when I'm afraid either. I have to remain calm and do what needs to be done, rather than let my fears decide for me.
And now, I was truly ready for Phoebe.
Taking Luna's advice to heart, I had left the axe where I had met Luna - deciding now that killing Phoebe was not what I needed to do. Now, I have the bands of strength to take me to Ponyville, and decide on my own what I was going to do - what I needed to do.
And now, I made it.
Breaking through the treeline, I galloped right into the town, and stopped. Several meters in front of me lay a small, dark mass. A filly, motionless on the ground.
It was Bats, I knew it was her - but she didn't look like the Bats I knew. A severe welt on her forehead could plainly be seen, along with deep cuts and bruises scattered all over her small body, which was covered with dirt, leaves, and blood.
"Bats!" I shouted, running up to her and holding her in my embrace. Out of desperation, I tried to hear if she was breathing - tried to see if her pulse was still there. I was so confused - and my eyes began to flood with tears more than I ever had in my life. Celestia damn it - she was so battered I couldn't even tell if she was alive. What monster could have done this to her?
"YOU STAY AWAY FROM HER!"
I looked up, and saw Loose Cannon. In his mouth he held the pickaxe which was missing from the shed back at home - it was soaking with blood. Beyond him I could see the sheriff lying stone cold on the cobblestone, and beyond that, horrors which I cannot describe.
"Loose Cannon! It's me! Pipe Dream!"
"YOU'RE NOT ANY BROTHER O' MINE, YOU MONSTER!"
He galloped towards me at full speed, swinging his pickaxe up in the air, before hammering it back down again - right where I would have been if I had not jumped back a ways. He ripped the pickaxe out of the pavement, before bringing it around, and swinging it in my direction - barely missing my muzzle by grazing my forehead.
I can't be afraid -I need to think straight. I need to do, what I need to do.
Using the Bands of Strength to my advantage, I tackled Loose Cannon and effortlessly pinned him to the ground. He squirmed and writhed beneath my hooves in turmoil, but no amount of his fighting could resist the force I was exerting on him.
This had to be Phoebe's work - and if that were the case, there was nothing more I could do than to pin Loose Cannon to the ground until Luna arrived.
Suddenly, Loose Cannon's eyes began to glow a soft blue, before he slipped into a deep sleep.
"I am sure you were wondering if I would show up." spoke a familiar voice.
Looking up, I could see it was Luna.
"...Bats..." I choked, before trying to return to the broken filly on the ground...
...Who was not there.
Instead, a filly with a pitch black, charcoal coat with a burning red mane and tail was standing in her place, mocking her very existence before my very eyes.
I didn't feel rage. No. This was anger. This was a desire for justice.
Feeling nothing, I trotted right up to that filly, and stared her in the eyes.
"I know who you are, Phoebe. Do your worst. I'm not afraid."
The filly stared back up at me, as if she was pouting for a toy in a toy store.
"All I wanted was to have fun with you, and you just had to ruin everything. Oh well - that doesn't mean I can't have fun with you myself, though!"
"Don't even try that on me." I said flatly, "If you're the real brave one, you wouldn't hide behind your fake filly puppet while taking advantage of defenseless ponies for your own selfishness. Why don't you show your real self and prove how mighty you really are, you pathetic, materialistic, soulless, parasitic changeling."
The filly glared at me harshly, before disappearing.
"Careful what you wish for, unicorn."
I looked towards the sound of that voice, to see Phoebe once again in all of her glory.
"Now that you have so foolishly made me angry, I will reduce you to a sniveling pulp, and you will beg me for mercy while being fed scraps of food which I wouldn't even provide to dogs."
"Not true, Phoebe," spoke another voice, "now that you have revealed where you really are, you will now have to face the penalty of your crimes."
Both me and Phoebe turned to see that the new voice came from none other than Twilight Sparkle, standing in front of five other ponies - Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie - who was wearing a Ghost Busters costume for some reason.
As if on queue, the sun began to rise behind the six ponies as morning returned to Equestria, marking the end of the night. As if to complement the sunrise were the golden necklaces being donned by each of them - all except Twilight, who was wearing a golden tiara.
"Phoebe," Twilight proclaimed, "you lose."
Author's Note: And now the story finally comes to a close, to be finished with Pipe Dream's new future in the epilogue - the next and final chapter of the story. If you've read this far, then you get a free batch of muffins from Derpy, because she stopped reading at some point and ran out of the studio horrified, and had left these muffins here in the process. I mean, someone has to eat them eventually, right? C'mon, please? I'm on a diet!
I stood outside the Ponyville funeral home, looking off to the distance. For once in my life, I felt at peace.
When those six ponies had used their "Elements of Harmony" on Phoebe, it trapped her in something, until the day came when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna decided the time was right to try and "reform" her. I couldn't remember what it was at the time, but it didn't matter - I was just glad she was gone.
I sighed with contentment, taking in the cool morning air and the gentle breeze. After an hour of me sitting there, I heard some hoofsteps coming towards me. I turned my head to see who it was; it was Luna.
She stood beside me for a moment, looking at me thoughtfully.
"I am sorry for your loss." she said finally.
I nodded, trying not to think about it much. It was already too painful to believe.
After a moment of silence, Luna changed the subject.
"I see that you have kept the Bands of Strength that you had found in Phoebe's possession."
In response to what she said, I looked down at the cuff-like bands on my fore and hind legs, which gleamed a deep indigo hue in the sunlight.
"Yeah, I guess I do still have them."
"That's alright - as long as you are responsible with them, and you do with them what your purpose drives you to - you may keep them... I also see that you have taken what I had told you to heart; you are no longer the coward you used to be. You are brave, and I want you to know that."
"...Thanks." I said somberly.
"Your cutie mark," she said, "you have earned it, young one."
Luna then caused a spark to appear in the air, and a form appeared. She handed it to me.
"This is for you - I think you have deserved it."
I took the form with my magic. It was made up of two pieces of paper stapled together, with a bold, black title, stating "Equestrian Census Wing".
"Go ahead," Luna continued, "read it."
I began to read. It was long, and filled with many boring formalities... but something at the end caught my attention.
The Equestrian Census Wing recognizes ______PIPE DREAM_____'s wishes to change [HIS] name to ______DREAM CATCHER______, and accepts this change where applicable [EQUESTRIA]. These changes may be made only by ______PIPE DREAM______'s signature.
Authorized by: __________PRINCESS LUNA__________.
"If you would like, you really can be Dream Catcher now, Pipe Dream." Luna declared.
I didn't know what else to do - I beamed; and she beamed back.
A little while after the funeral, I went to the schoolhouse where I was going to be interviewed with some visiting newscasters about being a local "hero". I really don't know how the name applies, but still, I thought I'd give the interview a try so that I could clear my name from my past.
When I finally made it there, I saw the same six ponies who had trapped Phoebe standing there as well, laughing and conversing with each other. I didn't want to interrupt them, being the introvert that I was, so I just sneaked to the side of the schoolhouse opposite of them. They didn't seem to notice, I don't think.
I adjusted my shades to be balanced atop my forehead, rather than hiding my eyes. I didn't really need to have them with me, anywa-
"Hiya! What's your name!"
I nearly jumped out of my fur because of that pink mare.
"Oh, um... I'm Pi... Dream Catcher. My name is Dream Catcher."
"You really helped us out back there, Dream." said another mare, who was blue, with a rainbow mane and tail, "we really couldn't have done it without you."
"...What do you mean?"
"Well, gee! If that Phoebe meanie pants didn't show herself, we wouldn't-a been able to stop her!" responded the pink pony.
"She was only willing to show herself to you and the ones you loved, because she wanted to manipulate you. She would have never shown herself to us, because she would have - and should have - known that we would stop her with the Elements." explained the purple mare, who just entered the conversation, "if you didn't stand up to her and tell her off, then she wouldn't have been furious enough to reveal her true self, thereby ruining her plans completely."
I thought about what this mare was telling me for a moment, and it slowly began to make some sense.
"Well, ok, ah guess that makes sense then." I replied. "Hey, I know this is is off subject, but... why are you all talking to me all of a sudden?"
The pink pony instantly responded, "Well I noticed that I've never seen you in Ponyville before and... *GAASP*... I've never seen you in Ponyville before! I have to show you my welcome wagon!"
"Oh, no, not that," the blue pegasus groaned.
"So, Dream Catcher is your name, right?"
"I'll just be starting off this interview pretty quickly now. This is the most eventful thing that's happened in Ponyville since... well, since Discord returned."
"Oh, you know, he's... Oh... Right, you weren't here for that. Don't worry about it. So, the first question is... is that... is that cake batter on you? I don't mean to be rude, but-"
"Oh, yeah, that. Ah got treated to one of Pinkie Pie's 'welcome wagon'."
"Ooh, ok. Anyway, that wasn't really the first question so I'm just going to start over. Alright, so where do you come from?"
"The mountain range nearby, actually. Ah was raised in a pretty simple childhood."
"Oh, so you're from the mountain range. Living out there, you must have had some fairly hardy family members."
"...Well, not exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"My family is actually pretty superstitious. To a fault, even."
"Oh. Huh. Well, what made you decide to 'break the mold' so to speak?"
"Well, there were a lot of things. Ah felt angry at myself and at the way I was treated for being afraid of things. I also had a lot of - nightmares, when I was growing up - which made me feel even more angst because of how weak I felt. So one night, I broke my fears."
"How did you do that?"
"Well, it turned out - by some dumb luck - that Phoebe was actually living in our family attic preying on my fear. When I decided to break my fears of there being a supposed 'ghost' in our attic, ah went up there to try and get that ghost to leave. Turned out it was Phoebe. Luckily, I had actually put these braces on my hooves, which later turned out to be the Bands of Strength. Long story short, they made me incredibly strong, and when I charged Phoebe in a fit of rage, I actually wound up hitting her and causing her to be shot across the forest canopy some miles away."
"Heh, that's what I thought at the time."
"So, I see you're still wearing those braces now?"
"Yeah, ah guess. Ah feel like they're a part of me now - they're what set me apart from the old me, and the new me."
"Huh, that's a little inspiring, actually. Oh, I'm sorry, I've been getting ahead of myself with these questions here so I'm just going to skip to the last one here. We're almost out of time, actually. So, Dream Catcher, many ponies in Ponyville see you as a hero - how do you feel about that?"
"Well, I don't really know... Ah mean, ah've never actually saved anypony, although that's kindof what my cutie mark says my special talent is, in a way... So, right now, ah'll let history speak for itself. If Equestria thinks I'm a hero, then so be it."
"Do you have anything else you want to say before this interview is over?'
"Well, heh, ah guess this is when ah say something inspirational as if ah am a hero, right? Ah don't really feel like one right now, really, even after all of this. Lemme say this - if the opportunity comes up, and there's other 'nightmares' so tah speak, goin' around the place, ah'll be there to do my best and put a stop to it."
There's one more thing which really stood out to me that evening, something I think I really need to share.
I started trotting up the path leading to the family cabin. The sun was setting, and everything was peaceful again. I can't express how liberated I had felt at that moment - free from Phoebe, forever. As long as the Princesses had her taken care of, there was nothing else to fear.
It was when I was thinking that when Bats galloped up to me.
"Hey, big brother! Wait up!"
I looked back at her, astonished.
"Bats, how are you here - now?"
"The doctor said ah could go, as long as ah didn't push mahself too much."
I looked at her. She was covered in bandages and casts now, but she still managed to hobble around in them.
"Well, don't push yourself too much then. Come on, let's go home."
"It's too bad the Ponyville sheriff had to die..." she mumbled, several moments later.
I remembered the funeral I went to earlier when she said that. I was there because it was only right to try and redeem my family name by at least showing compassion for his death. Some royal guards had appeared had gingerly forced my brother Loose Cannon into solitary confinement until they could decide how to deal with him after all which had happened.
"Ah'm just happy that you're ok, Bats."
She beamed through the bandages on her face.
We continued to trot for a while, without saying a word.
Then I heard a magical sound coming from behind me.
I turned and looked, to see the famed Princess Celestia herself.
"Good evening, Dream Catcher," she said, "do you mind if I have a word with you?"
Bats looked from the princess to me, then responded, "It's okay, big brother, ah'll just go home on my own and let you two talk."
"You're sure?" I replied.
"Ah'm sure." she said.
Bats continued to hobble towards the cabin, which was only about a ten minute's trot from where we were then. When she finally left, the Princess trotted towards me.
"I am sure you know that Phoebe is locked away now." she said at last.
"She was locked away?" I asked, surprised, "wasn't she destroyed?"
"Oh, no, she was not destroyed," Celestia answered, "when Twilight and her friends used the elements of harmony, it trapped her in something forever."
"Trapped?" I replied, "trapped in what?"
Celestia seemed to be considering the way she would construct her words, before she replied.
"She is trapped in a story, Dream Catcher. There, she will forever be forced to relive her greatest failure. However, if..."
Celestia stopped speaking for a moment, then continued once again.
"What is important is that this story is locked away. Somewhere where nopony in Equestria may ever access it. Because if anypony ever were to read the story she was trapped in, it would set her loose."
"Well, where is the story? Are you sure it's safe?"
"Safe? Well, from all of ponydom, it is safe. However, there are... other beings, sentient just like we are, who could access it. Of course, even then her power would be greatly diminished, even if the story were to be read. She would not be able to scourge their world - only manipulate them one at a time, or to appear supernaturally where she does not belong. But do not worry, Dream - you, and nopony in all of ponydom, have anything to fear."
"Hello, again. It's been fun toying with you all. It will be even more fun toying with you in the future. Ha. Ha. Ha. I hope you're happy that you read this story - because I know I am. Very. Happy. I know that you love it when the characters just 'jump' right off the pages, don't you? Whenever you see my name again, you'll know. Oh, you'll know. Just how much I love making that pun. If you don't know what I'm getting at, then you should try using your human imagination...
"I hope we get to meet again real soon, too. It sure does get boring being stuck in a story.
"...Oh, I have an idea! We should be playmates! Then I can be with you instead forever - won't THAT be fun!"