“Ugh, this sucks!”
And it did.
Rainbow Dash trudged pitifully, a scowl on her face, as she tried her best to keep from looking at the sky. She could never forget it existed, but at least if she didn’t look at it, she could avoid her wings’ instinctual tremors that ran through them every time she caught a glimpse of the clear air. Normally all this wouldn’t be a problem, as she’d simply shoot into the sky to roll, flip, and float through the cool night air, but that wouldn’t be an option at the moment.
Rainbow Dash glared accusingly at her left wing, which was bandaged to her side with a cast to keep her from moving it. “Roll for three seconds then open, wing -- three seconds. Not two, three. You just had to jump the line on that one though, huh? And now look ‘atcha.”
Being a world-class athlete that was known for living the dangerous and extreme, Rainbow Dash was no stranger to injuries from botched stunts, or her hot head. Only the healing magic of unicorn medical professionals had kept her from becoming grounded for life -- and this was far from the first time -- but even magic took time to do its job. Rainbow Dash had plenty of experience with having to wait for an injury to heal, so that she could take to the skies -- her skies -- once more, to live the life she was born to. Yes, it was bad now, but she knew her temporary grounding wasn’t permanent. Still, she had to wait for it, and she hated waiting.
Besides all that, she couldn’t even get to her home now, as it required flying to get there. Fluttershy had been kind enough to offer her a place to stay until she was healed enough to get home on her own, but Rainbow Dash had trouble sleeping anywhere that wasn’t her own bed...which was the very reason she was currently out in the middle of the night, walking through the sleeping town. It had already been three days since her injury, and after reading every Daring Do book currently available, Rainbow Dash was out of things to entertain her. Fluttershy, bless her, tried her best to keep Rainbow Dash occupied so that the time on the ground wouldn’t seem as long, but, as a pegasus that only flew if she had to, Fluttershy just didn’t understand the plight of a pegasus who couldn’t fly.
And so, the grounded pegasus found herself walking outside, well after the normal time she would be asleep, trying to burn off some of the extra energy so that she could sleep.
Glancing at the position of the moon, Rainbow Dash estimated it was just a bit after midnight, which only served to aggravate her further. She still didn’t feel tired enough to fall asleep, which meant she would probably be out for another few hours yet. ‘At least it’s a nice night,’ she thought, trying her best to look at the bright side of things.
As she crested a hill in the large, open field in front of Sweet Apple Acres that she often used to practice her stunts, she noticed a figure off in the distance, bathing in the light of the moon. It was obviously a pony, but it took getting closer for Rainbow Dash to figure out just who was out this time of night. At first, she thought it was Twilight, as her alicorn friend was known for being a night owl with an astronomy hobby, but as she approached closer, Rainbow Dash noticed the pony was much too large to be her bookish friend, and the coat was the wrong color as well.
“Rainbow Dash.” greeted the pony, still facing away from her and gazing at the moon.
Glancing down at the flank of the pony, a familiar shadowed crescent moon greeted Rainbow Dash’s eyes, which surprised her more than anything else. Reacting purely on reflex, she dropped to her knee and-
“Stop.” the princess ordered, freezing Rainbow Dash in her half-bow. The dark pony stood and turned, walking over to her visitor and placing a hoof under her chin. “Please rise, Rainbow Dash.” Rainbow Dash did as she was told and stood, looking into the confused eyes of the pony before her. “Are we not friends, Rainbow Dash? I had thought we were past this by now.”
Rainbow Dash offered a sheepish grin to the princess. “E-heh, habit I guess. Sorry, Princess.”
Princess Luna nodded gently to the pegasus before tossing her head to the spot she had previously been sitting. “Come, join me.”
Rainbow Dash was a little confused by the invitation, but wasn’t going to turn down royalty simply because of that. So, she followed the princess back to the bottom of the hill and took a seat, shifting a bit to get comfortable on the cool grass.
After they had both taken their spots, Princess Luna glanced to her company and repeated, “Are we not friends, Rainbow Dash?”
The younger pony looked to the princess and quirked an eyebrow at her. “Well yeah, sure we are. I mean, I don’t know you like Twi does, but we’re still friends.”
“Then why is there so much distance between us?” Princess Luna countered, motioning to the large empty space between them. “I feel that if you were any further away, I may need to shout just for you to hear me.”
Chuckling despite the jab, Rainbow Dash scooted closer until they were only a foot apart. The alicorn nodded in approval to her before the two of them settled in and looked up at the night sky. For a long time, there was silence between them, but despite the quiet and stillness, Rainbow Dash found herself relaxing just by the presence of the pony next to her, on a nice night like it was at the moment.
“What is royalty?”
The question caught Rainbow Dash off guard, and she was only able to muster a confused, “Um, what?”
“What is royalty?” Princess Luna repeated, her glittering cyan eyes focused on her companion. “You clearly show reverence for my sister and I, so I want to know: what does ‘royalty’ mean to Rainbow Dash? What is it that makes a princess so different from the common pony?”
Rainbow Dash wasn't a brainiac, but she knew a test question when she heard one, so she actually took some time to think of an answer. The obvious answer would simply be that being an alicorn made one royalty, but Rainbow Dash knew the princess wouldn't be asking if it were an easy question. However, the only other reason she could think of was that they were older, so they had learned a lot more than anypony else, but that didn't seem right either.
Eventually she settled with, “I dunno.”
To her surprise, the princess smiled at her and offered a pleasant nod. “Thank you.”
“For not knowing?”
Princess Luna shook her head just slightly. “For giving an honest answer.” She again turned her eyes back to the sky, her gentle smile still showing. “So often when I ask a similar question, I am fed lines detailing that I rule because of my great wisdom or my great strength -- useless platitudes and nothing more.” Glancing at Rainbow Dash out of the corner of her eye she clarified, “The honest absence of an answer is far more valuable than meaningless honeyed words. As the former bearer of Honesty, I prefer your response to most others I am offered.”
“Oh...well, you're welcome, I guess.” Rainbow Dash offered, though it was clear she was confused.
Princess Luna nodded to her before leaning until she fell onto her back, legs stretching to the sky before curling close to her body. Rainbow Dash stared at the princess for a moment before mentally shrugging and doing the same. Rainbow Dash used the position to rub away an itch she had between her wings, then settled with a relaxed sigh.
“While I am pleased you enjoy my night, I admit I am curious as to why you do not sleep like the rest of the town.” the princess inquired.
Rainbow Dash gestured with a hoof to her bandaged wing. “A little stunt gone wrong. Can't sleep too well in another bed besides mine, and I can't fly up to my place, so I thought a late-night walk might help me fall asleep. It is pretty nice out,” she then glanced to the princess and added, “and the company’s not too bad either.”
Rainbow Dash was pleased to see the the elder pony smile shyly as a bit of lighter color began to congregate in her cheeks. It was true that she still felt a little odd around the princesses -- not so much she was nervous, but rather she simply wasn’t sure how to act -- but Rainbow Dash thought it was funny when they lost their composure, however briefly.
The two turned back to the sky and enjoyed the cool night air, relaxing against the soft grass in the moonlight.
“Twilight writes quite a bit about you and the others, you know.” the princess commented after a few minutes of silence between the two.
Rainbow Dash didn’t turn to look at her, but still smiled. “Nothing bad, I hope.”
“Nothing too troubling.” Princess Luna assured with an implied smirk. “I do not believe it to be a secret between all of you that I feel quite displaced in time, so I rely on the reports she sends Sister to help me acclimate myself to the modern world.”
Rainbow Dash nodded as she closed her eyes. “Yeah. I noticed you don’t talk that ye-olde-style way anymore; that have something to do with it?”
“Y-yes.” Princess Luna replied nervously, clearing her throat. “I know that with time, ponies would readily accept the Old Tongue once more, but it would not be fair to expect ponies of the modern world to simply ‘deal with’ the princess of the night’s eccentricities simply because I am one of the ruling class.” She sighed and looked back to the sky. “Equestria has changed in my absence, and I must adapt, as my sister has.”
Much as she tried not to, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but think the nervous princess looked cute when she was embarrassed. “Cute” wasn't a word thought of often by Rainbow Dash -- and never said aloud -- but she could admit that the word fit certain things, and a certain shy pegasus was one of the few; it appeared a flustered night princess was another of them. It was times like this that Rainbow Dash had to remind herself that, even with their sometimes-immature mannerisms, the princesses were at least a few thousand years old, since sometimes the age and behavior just didn’t fit.
It prevented Rainbow Dash from teasing the diarch until she was reduced to a blushing mess only capable of adorable little squeaks, since that’s what she would do to at least two of her other friends.
“Not that I’m against you being here,” Rainbow Dash suddenly began, glancing at the princess, “but why are you here? Don’t you have court or something?”
Princess Luna’s expression soured at the question, and she could not completely stop the frown that crossed her features. “...the Night Court is not as popular as it once was. Instead of open court, Night Court is based on appointments, as there are simply not enough visitors to merit having an open court.” Her frown continued, even as she shook her head gently. “It is simply how things are, in this age. With a thousand years of only the princess of the day ruling, Equestria as a whole has become a diurnal society. I do not fault the ponies for it, but neither will I sit in a lonely throne room, waiting with bated breath for somepony to bring their concerns to me.” While it didn’t quite reach her eyes, a soft smile replaced the frown as she said, “I would rather spend my time doing things that make me happy, and dreamwalking while enjoying the night in a quiet village just happens to be one of my great pleasures.”
Rainbow Dash had to fight hard to keep herself from frowning at the thought of Night Court being empty, instead asking, “How does dreamwalking work? I mean, Twi tried to tell me a little about it, but she used all kinds of science-y words that don’t make any sense to me.”
Much to Rainbow Dash’s surprise, the princess seemed genuinely excited to talk about the subject as she rolled toward the smaller pony with a wide grin on her face. “You truly wish to know about my realm of power?”
Rainbow Dash thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. I mean, I might not understand everything, but the thought that you watch over and protect ponies when they sleep is kinda cool. Scootaloo says you really helped her, and I’m sure she’s not the only one that feels that way, so yeah, I think it’d be cool to hear about what you do.”
Princess Luna’s face was an expression of pure shock, but it soon changed to a warm smile. “I would love to show you what I do.”
Rainbow Dash rolled over to her stomach, confused. “What do you mean sh-”
Rainbow Dash glanced around at their new surroundings, which resembled the night sky, only it was all around her. Millions of stars must have been visible, in differing colors and brightness, but instead of floating -- which would have made sense, or at least, as much sense as being in a starfield could make -- she could still feel ground beneath her hooves and stomach. Rainbow Dash pushed herself to stand, and swiveled her head around to take in the sheer enormity of the place she now found herself.
“This is the shared dreamscape.” Princess Luna’s voice explained softly, the pony herself appearing beside Rainbow Dash a moment later. She swept a hoof across the array of stars, and they seemed to twinkle a bit more at the sound of her voice. “It is from here that I am able to shepherd the dreams of any creature capable of dreaming, and I am privileged to watch them grow throughout their lives.” The princess reached out to a nearby star, and as they watched, it seemed to expand like a bubble, showing a reflection on its surface of a familiar gray-feathered young gryphon.
Rainbow Dash pointed wildly with a loud, “Th-that’s Gabbie! I know her!” At the princess’ giggle, she could only answer with an embarrassed, “...sh-shut up…”
“That was precious.” Princess Luna teased with a wolfish grin, enjoying the way Rainbow Dash’s cheeks lit up with a bright blush in record time. She sauntered over to the pegasus and tickled her cheek with a wingtip as she passed. “I was unaware Equestria’s fastest pegasus could be so adorkably cute.”
The foalish pout and crossed arms didn’t do much to argue the accusation, so Rainbow Dash could only grumble a quiet, “...’m not cute…” After a moment or two of pouting without a response from the princess, Rainbow Dash regretfully stood and followed after the longer-legged pony, grumbling, “Gimme a break, this is the first time I’ve seen something like this. I didn’t know what to expect when you told me you were going to ‘show’ me what you do. I thought maybe a whole lot of words and magicky things, but not...well, this. This is the kinda thing I’d read in a Daring Do book.”
Princess Luna glanced over her shoulder and smiled understandingly. “Which is why I thought it better to show rather than simply explain with words alone. Though, truthfully, verbal explanation alone does not do the dreamscape justice. Had I only told you it is a starscape where every star is a living creature, your mind would still be unable to process the vastness of this place.” She looked ahead once again and continued trotting, until coming across a star that was sparking erratically and held a dim glow. She stopped, and pointed to the star, “This is a nightmare. You can see that the light itself seems to be under duress, which makes these particular dreams easy to find.”
Rainbow Dash watched curiously as the point of light expanded into a bubble, and the princess began to watch the dream of a preteen filly that appeared to be running from something in the dark. After a quiet minute, she queried, “Aren’t you gonna stop it?”
“Not every bad dream is meant to be stopped, Rainbow Dash.” the princess idly replied, her gaze with the dream unwavering. “Some dreams are lessons to be learned, and more damage can be wrought by sparing the pony from the dream, rather than letting them live through it. Imagine a gluttonous pony dreaming of gorging herself until she explodes violently: it is frightening, but it can teach the pony the value of moderation.” She then tapped a hoof on the surface of the bubble, causing it to ripple slightly. “This particular dream, however, is a common occurrence with this poor soul. There is naught more to be learned from being wary of the darkness; this filly is being tortured by her dreams for no good reason, and I cannot have that.” She glanced back at her companion, smiling gently. “Watch.”
Rainbow Dash did as she was told, and observed as the princess dissolved into a glittery dust that flowed into the bubble itself. From the surface of it, she could see as the darkness was banished by the glowing horn of Princess Luna, who swooped down from the sky and landed in front of the filly. While she couldn’t hear the exchange, Rainbow Dash could only assume that the princess was being assailed with grateful words as she wrapped the little pony in her wings, as if to shield her from the world. With a lurch, the dream seemed to reset, and the dreary night was replaced with a sunlit day. Rainbow Dash watched as the little pony was no longer sprinting away from a monster, but prancing happily next to a slightly taller pony who had a strong resemblance to her. It was clear this was a good dream now, and only a moment later, the glittering dust exited the bubble and reformed into Princess Luna.
The princess reached out and touched the bubble, stroking it as a mother would a beloved child, before walking away and beckoning the pegasus with a wave of her wing. It took a few moments, but eventually she muttered, “Unfortunately, I do not have the power to return that which has been lost by this pony. The dream will be happy, if bittersweet, but it is the best I am able to provide to her.”
Rainbow Dash glanced back at the dream bubble, which shrunk back to a bright point of light that now seemingly twinkled with happiness. “Who was she?”
“I cannot reveal that, Rainbow Dash. A pony’s dreamscape is their private sanctum, and I will not betray the trust vested in me.” she regretfully replied, smiling sadly to the pegasus now at her side. “Know only that she has lost a loved one, and she dreams about the night it happened at least once a week for the past year, now. Unfortunately,” again, she waved her hoof around to the innumerable lights around them, “her specific situation is but one of many. I...I understand if this is too much for you to bear.”
“No!” Rainbow Dash blurted, then shrunk back as the taller pony’s eyes fell upon her, “I-I mean no, it’s cool. I know it’s not all blue skies and rainbows, but what you do is really cool. You do a good thing for the world, and that’s something I can get behind.” Her head then shot up as a thought came to mind. “Have you ever helped me? I mean, I don’t get a lot of bad dreams, but I’ve had a few over the years. I don’t remember hardly any of ‘em, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t there.”
Again Princess Luna glanced at Rainbow Dash, her eyebrow raised. “If I were present, would you want to know that somepony was capable of viewing your dreams?”
Rainbow Dash tried to tell herself there was some subtle hint in the princess’ words and not her own mind that brought up the memory of a few really good dreams she’d had (which had also forced her to change her sheets), but the thought was there. She realized why anonymity was important, then, because she wouldn’t want somepony to see those things if they didn’t have to.
Horseapples, she hoped the princess hadn’t seen those.
“...I guess not.” Rainbow Dash lamely answered, futilely fighting down a blush that rose to the tips of her ears. Still, she thought it was important to add, “...but if you have helped me in the past, then...thanks.”
The princess smiled gently with a brief nod. “I have had the privilege of offering my assistance to you on a few occasions, and you are most welcome. It does my heart good to know that, beyond simply doing the right thing, my work is actually appreciated.”
“It is,” Rainbow Dash answered immediately, “and I’m not the only pony that thinks so, either. I know your job isn’t really as up-front as Princess Celestia’s, but there are lots of ponies out there that would thank you too, if they really thought about it. It sucks, but for most ponies, what you do isn’t really noticeable unless you were to stop doing it. I promise though,” here, she trotted up to the princess and stopped her with a hoof to her forearm, “there are lots of ponies that wake up feeling bright-eyed with a smile because you let them get a good rest. So, no matter what anypony else says, I think what you do for all of us is really cool, and important.”
Rainbow Dash could tell she was holding back, but Princess Luna’s smile was still as bright as the full moon on a cloudless night. She was sure that, had the princess been alone, she would be giggling to herself and prancing in place like an excited filly. Rainbow Dash had to admit that the imaginary sight of that was adorable, and she promised herself to get the princess to do it for real, at some point. For now, though, she followed silently behind the long-legged pony, content to experience what Princess Luna did every night.
Rainbow Dash jolted to her hooves, feeling as though she’d literally fallen back into her body, only to find she and Luna were still at the bottom of the grassy knoll in Ponyville. She swiveled her head around, just to be sure everything was as it should be, before glancing to the princess with a curious look.
“How did you send us right back here? Twilight’s, like, the teleportation master, and even she isn’t this on-point.” Rainbow Dash glanced around, and was able to easily pick out the flattened areas of grass where they had lain. “Wait...we were still here, weren’t we?”
Princess Luna nodded as she shook out her starry mane, standing with a languid stretch of her back, reminiscent of a housecat. “Very observant, Rainbow Dash. The dreamscape is visited with the mind and heart, not the body.” As she came out of a particularly long stretch, she tapped a hoof on the side of her head. “Even as we speak, my subconscious is shepherding the dreams of thousands across the world.” Preempting the obvious questions, she added, “The mind of an alicorn is several magnitudes more complex than that of even the most studious pony. In time, even Twilight Sparkle will grow into her own, in that respect.”
Rainbow Dash could only answer with an awed, “Whoa…” She rolled her hoof around in the air nondescriptly. “So, even though you’re here, you’re also dreamscape-ing at the same time?”
Princess Luna nodded, pleased that the pegasus was as quick in mind as she was in the air. “Yes. The creatures of our world sleep at all times of the day, after all -- while it is night here, it is day across other lands. So, you see, my ‘job’ is never finished.”
Just thinking about that made Rainbow Dash want to take a nap. “Don’t you get tired?”
The princess smiled mysteriously at her companion. “Not in the same way other ponies do, nor even in the way that my elder sister does. Even as I sleep, my subconscious is shepherding dreamers. I do not feel physical exhaustion from this...however, the mind does tire, which is why I work to ensure those in my domain rest well. My acuity and mental ‘sustenance’, if you will, comes from the wellbeing of others’ subconscious. It is why I place such importance on my duty, for it serves a purpose far more paramount than simply a nice thing for a princess to do for her people. So you see, I need the dreamscape as much as it needs me.”
“Do you dream?”
Princess Luna looked down at the smaller pony, and hesitated for a few moments before shaking her head. “No, Rainbow Dash, I do not. That is another reason why the dreamscape is so important to me: through it, I can live in a world of fantasy and endless possibilities that my own mind cannot create, yet normal ponies take for granted every night. I am privileged to shepherd the dreamscape, but I am unable to dream within it.” She then sighed in a bittersweet, wistful way, looking up at the starry sky. “When my court was at the height of its influence, I was regularly invited into the dreams of others, to live those dreams with them. Ponies considered it a great honor to be visited by ‘the Mistress of Dreams’, and their dreamworlds were open to me.” The princess winked at her companion as she glanced at her from the corner of one eye. “The dreams of foals were always my favorite, and sometimes We could spend hours just playing in the fantastical worlds their young minds created. ‘Twas a joy and a privilege for Us to join the young generations as they dreamt only of simple happiness, or to valiantly chase away the fears that hounded them. We were a great heroine to those in need, and We were loved for Our efforts.” After a moment of silence, Princess Luna let out a soft, fragile giggle. “I apologize for slipping back into my ancient linguistics. The nostalgia of days long passed tends to bring it out, I fear.”
Rainbow Dash only shrugged. “Eh, it never bothered me in the first place. Twilight got me into The Nine Knights of Evermore, which is an adventure series based around pre-unification Equestria. Lotta the language is in ye-olde-Equish, so it just makes you sound like one of them...which, I guess, you kinda are.”
At the mention of the series, the princess’ ears pricked in interest. Ancient memories ran through her head before she quietly concluded, “...I think I may have to look into that series.” She then glanced up to the moon again before sighing. “Regrettably, it appears our time together must come to an end. I must return to Canterlot, and you must rest.” A small spark formed at the tip of the princess’ horn, before darting toward Rainbow Dash and popping in front of her face, dousing the pegasus in a tickling, hazy blue cloud that dissipated quickly. The princess nodded to her companion. “That should allow you to rest more easily; I would recommend a vigorous run,” she then stopped, remembering who she was speaking to, “or three, before evening, to settle your body and mind, from now on.”
Even as the mist faded, Rainbow Dash’s nose scrunched up and she sneezed, but nodded regardless. She rubbed her nose with the back of her hoof and smiled at Princess Luna. “Well thanks, and I’ll give it a try tomorrow. Thanks for hangin’ with me tonight, Princess. It was cool.”
Princess Luna bowed her head shallowly, smiling the whole time. “It was a pleasure, Rainbow Dash. Goodnight.”
Rainbow Dash watched as the larger pony spread her wings to launch in the air, only to blurt out, “Y’know, it would be pretty cool if we could do this again sometime.” She inwardly cringed at what she felt were needy words, but she recovered with a nonchalant tilt of her head. “I mean, y’know, it’d be fun to hang out more often than once every six months.” And, she thought, I would be all right if it were just the two of us, again.
The princess, by her token, was fighting to not lose composure and prance giddily at the offer, opting to instead nod carefully, and smile in a slightly-less-restrained manner that betrayed her true emotions. “I would be privileged to spend more time with a friend.” She walked toward the pegasus again and lit her horn, this time causing a sizable stick of wax to materialize in her magical grasp. She offered it to Rainbow Dash as she explained, “Young Spike’s dragonfire will route any letter marked with this to me, and we will be able to keep in touch more easily that way. Suffice to say that nights like tonight -- nights where I have nothing particularly important to do -- are not, in actuality, very common, so message by dragonfire will be the best way to stay in contact.” Dipping her head again, she subtly urged, “I look forward to hearing from you, Rainbow Dash.”
While Rainbow Dash wasn't normally the letter-writing type, “...for a cool pony like you, I think I can do that.” She tucked the wax under her good wing and held out her hoof. After a few seconds of the princess staring at her, she commented, “You can't tell me you've never seen a hoof bump before.”
“As Twilight Sparkle explained it, the gesture is something done between friends or close acquaintances.” Princess Luna answered robotically, even as she gingerly touched her hoof to the pony in front of her.
“We are friends.” Rainbow Dash answered without hesitation. “I don't know you like I do my other friends, but I think it's time we change that.” Stepping away, she jerked her head to the sky. “Safe flying, Princess. Talk to ya soon.”
The princess nodded once more before taking to the air, and it took only a few flaps of her strong wings to make her just a retreating dot in the night sky. Rainbow Dash glanced at the wing that held the wax before taking off on a brisk canter toward Fluttershy’s cottage.
Contrary to what many thought of her, Rainbow Dash was actually quite stealthy when she wanted to be. She had to be, after all, to be an effective prank-master. It was because of this skill that she was able to sneak inside the cottage and take a seat at the small wooden writing desk, all without waking Fluttershy...or that Tartarus-spawn of a rabbit she kept as a pet. The reason she was doing all this? She had a very important letter to write, and she wanted to get it down on paper before she forgot.
Taking the writing quill out of the desk drawer and dipping it in the inkpot, she had to stop for a minute to think about just what she wanted to put on the parchment. It took a few minutes, but finally she came up with an idea that she thought her audience would get a kick out of.
“Dear Princess Luna,
Today, I got to know a little bit about a new friend. She’s kinda odd, but in a good way, and she has this really cool thing she can do that nopony else can: she protects ponies when they sleep, without them even knowing most of the time. I hope one day she believes it when I tell her that what she does in really important, and I hope that someday, the rest of the world gets to see it too…”