The Road Home
By Pen Stroke
Preread, Edited, and Reviewed By
Illustrious Q, BronyWriter, SaturnStar14, Applejack-fan
One Step Back
The sun was Nyx’s favorite way to wake up. The warm rays would filter through the window, falling upon her and her little bed. Her black coat would soak up the heat, and like a gentle embrace it would lift her from her dreams and back to the waking world. Sometimes it would happen too slow, and she’d be almost sweating by the time she actually woke up. Sometimes it would be something else, like Spike or Twilight moving about this room.
This morning, however, the sun was perfect. Her eyes slid open as her body felt warm and cozy. She always did like things better when they were warm and soft, and she snuggled into her pillow a moment before sitting up. She stretched and yawned, feeling just... wonderful. There really was no other word for it. She had some lingering images of a dream, thoughts that escaped whenever she tried to grasp them. But it was just a dream. It didn’t really matter that much. What mattered was reality. The library around her, with the warm woods and curving bookshelves, and the family she shared it with.
Twilight’s melodious words danced up the stairs, and Nyx felt a rumble in her gut. Again, it was a common occurrence of an average day. On the weekends Twilight would make breakfast for her and Spike. He was probably already downstairs eating a gem sprinkled pancake or something. When Nyx rose out of bed, the sensation of the fabric of the bed and the wood of the floor all felt right. Yet there was an itch, a scratch in the back of her mind. Why had she woken up in such a panic? Had it been a bad dream? Why did she feel like the library was not where she was supposed to be?
Heading downstairs, delectable smells began tickling at her nose and drawing her closer to the kitchen. It was breakfast, perhaps one of the best Twilight had ever made. Waffles with a side of apples and milk to drink. The waffles looked as fluffy as clouds and brown to perfection. The fruit was Sweet Apple Acre’s quality, a perfect shade of red and sliced cleanly. The milk was cold, bits of condensation clinging to the exterior of the glass. It was a perfect breakfast, and Twilight was just settling down to her seat at the table with two plates, one for herself and another for where Nyx normally sat.
“There you are, sleepy head. Come eat before it gets cold,” Twilight said as she began to apply butter and syrup to her waffles. Spike was already chowing down. His waffles weren’t just gem sprinkled. They were true gem pancakes, with dozens of tiny, blueberry sized gems dotting the interior and exterior. Everyone was happy, and Nyx felt like being happy too, but the itch remained.
Moving around the table, Nyx sat at her usual place. The waffles greeted her with a smile formed from two slices of warmed butter for eyes and a whip cream smile. Her own waffles were chocolate chip, a concoction she had first tried thanks to Pinkie Pie. Twilight normally didn’t think breakfast was the best time to be having candy, but today she had put the chocolate chips into the waffles herself. That was unusual. Nyx normally had to ask a dozen times to get Twilight even to consider it, or with Spike’s help sneak the chocolate chips in at the last second. “What’s the occasion?”
“What do you mean?” Twilight asked between bites of her breakfast.
Nyx began to spread the butter across her waffles. Her magic was easy today, responsive. She’d normally still be having a little trouble managing the knife, but today it was like it was dancing to her every whim. Her smile grew a little more, and the itch in the back of her mind disappeared a little. Maybe she had just had a weird dream. “Well, you never make chocolate chip waffles unless it’s a special occasion.”
“Maybe the occasion is just that I love my family so much and thought they deserved a little treat,” Twilight said, her words warm and true. She called them a family, something often said but right now it felt like it meant so much more. Nyx felt warm and content, and the sweet smell of the food wasn’t making things any worse either. She finished with the butter, added a bit of syrup, and got a chunk of the waffle on her fork. It was practically perfect, a morning that couldn’t be any better. The itch in her mind was almost a bygone memory. There was nothing wrong here. Everything was perfect.
Nyx looked up from her plate to help pilot the levitated fork and its cargo of delectable, chocolate-dotted goodness into her mouth. Her eyes wandered to the window across from where she sat at the table. The day looked beautiful. Ponies were out smiling and laughing like it was a national holiday. Her smile was growing as she pondered just what great and wonderful things could happen on such a beautiful day. It was the beginning of something...
She flicked her gaze and closed her mouth, letting the bite of waffle return to her plate as she stared out the window. Something was wrong. Something was missing. The horizon line of the rolling hills beyond Ponyville looked so similar, but they were missing something. It was something... she didn’t like looking at in the mornings. She never said anything to Twilight. It was silly, but there was something that didn’t always make her enjoy looking out the window at breakfast. Her mind grasped and wrestled with the thought as the itch in the back of her mind returned. Then it dawned on her, a moment of realization that made her stand up and point a hoof at the window.
“Where’s the castle?”
“What are you talking about, Nyx?” Spike asked through a full mouth of gem waffle.
“Night Stone Castle. It should be right there,” Nyx said again, pointing her hoof to the spot on the horizon where the fortress of her short-lived rule should have stood. Her mind was racing. Something was wrong. Something was really, really wrong, but Spike and Twilight didn’t act like it. They were smiling. They were chuckling, like she was telling some wild story of an adventure she had with an imaginary friend.
“There’s never been a castle there, Nyx,” Twilight said with a giggle of her own. “Now go back to your breakfast.”
“Never a... you wrote a report on the castle.” Nyx stepped away from the table, heading into the main room of the library. “You spent a whole week studying it as an example of equine architecture with diamond dog influences.” She reached Twilight’s writing desk, opening one of the drawers and searching through the folders for the report. The folders, however, weren’t labeled. The little white squares were nothing but black squiggles. She took out one at random, opened it, and looked to the contents inside. The actual reports and notes, things she knew Twilight had written, were like the labels. There wasn’t a single discernible word on the page. It was all scribbles.
“Nyx, are you okay?” Twilight asked as she and Spike stood in the kitchen door. They were just so calm and collected, it was making her panic even more. Their smiles, which had been so inviting a moment before, were now wide, forced, and the definition of creepy. They began moving towards her. “Come back to breakfast. You must be hungry, and we have a big day planned today. We were going to have a big party with your friends.”
The words, spoken so sweetly, were unbearably sour in Nyx’s ears. What had happened? Had Twilight and Spike been taken over by changelings? Was this the effect of some dark spell? She didn’t know, but as her family loomed closer, she didn’t have time to figure it out. She bolted, sprinting for the door. She had to get away from them. She’d go to Rarity or Applejack or Rainbow Dash. She’d tell them something was wrong, then they’d be able to help and fix it. She just had to get out of this place.
Nyx reached with her magic for the door’s handle, trying to open the door so she could escape. Something was wrong, though. The door was heavy, it was taking more magic to open than it ever had before. This was a trap. Twilight and Spike had been taken and she was next. She had to get out. She had to escape. She had to get away.
The door finally opened under another tug of magic, and Nyx leapt through. The bright light on the other side blinded her for a moment. At first she thought it was the sun, but then she realized she wasn’t standing on anything. She spread her wings instinctively to stop her forward momentum, and looked back to try and understand. The door to the library was behind her, and she could see Twilight and Spike standing on the other side. But the door was not attached to the tree like it should have been. It was instead attached to an orb of light, one that dangled and bobbed on a tiny string of light in an expanse of otherwise utter blackness.
The itch in the back of Nyx’s mind disappeared, and the memories of what had happened previously soon followed. They had been eaten by a gigantic, rainbow-scaled, two-headed snake. Twilight had called it an ouroboros. Nyx hadn’t ever heard of the creature before, but she knew they had been eaten. But then where was she now? Though she didn’t have first hoof experience, Nyx didn’t think the inside of a snake’s stomach looked like an empty abyss with balloons of light.
Approaching one of the other balloons, Nyx put her hoof on it gently. It was smooth, warm, and she couldn’t help but smile. It was weird to think that the balloons were something good, not after what she experienced escaping the one she had been inside. Though hers was looking a little more jagged and rough, like a lumpy orange compared to the perfectly smooth exteriors of the others. What were these things, and why did they seem so familiar?
Nyx called on her magic, trying to probe the sphere. She wanted to know what was inside, and like that her magic seemed to find something. There was a seam in the sphere, and as she looked upon the sphere now, she saw the seam belonged to a door. She didn’t know how or where the door had come from, but its existence was undeniable. Nyx was able to reach out and touch it. When she tried to grasp the handle with her magic, she could feel its weight. It was like the library door, very heavy, but with strains and grunts she was able to get it to crack open.
“Oh honey, it’s absolutely perfect. A mare couldn’t ask for a better diamond.”
“It is a fine stone, but it can’t compare to your beauty.”
A shiver crawled down Nyx’s spine, like she had just stepped out of the warm library into a brisk, winter day. Where was she? The empty expanse had just vanished, gone in a blink of an eye, and replaced with glass display cabinets filled with numerous combinations of gold and jewels. It was a jewelry store, and it wasn’t just Ponyville's nice quiet shop either. This store was filled almost to capacity with couples, each looking for a special something amongst the display cases.
“Hey little one, you look to be a little lost.”
Nyx turned, looking into the kindly face of the stallion that was approaching her. He was probably the most approachable stallion she had ever seen. His face bore a few wrinkles, likely caused by the smile that found a home on his face. He had a short, bushy mustache, much like the one worn by Sweetie Belle’s father. On top of it all he was dressed in a blue uniform. The hat and the shirt both bore a false gold badge, on which was emblazoned an image of a shining city and the letters MPD.
“Uh... yeah, I am,” Nyx said.
“Well don’t you worry, I’ll be happy to help you get back home, little one. You can always trust the Maretropolis Police Department.”
After staring blankly at the officer for a few moments, Nyx bolted for the door and ran into the street. Everywhere she looked, no matter how unbelievable it was, she could see the evidence. The jewelry store was called Maretropolis Gems. A pony, waiting for a bus, was reading the Wild Word Daily. Even the skyline, though she had never seen it in person, looked so familiar. It simply couldn’t be true, but she had no way to deny it.
She was standing in Maretropolis, the city from Spike’s comic books.
The glass of the jewelry store’s front window shattered, and the cackling laughter of a stallion filled the air as several figures leapt to the sidewalk outside the jewelry store. The ponies within were in a panic, and Nyx had to scramble off the sidewalk not to be swept away with the fleeing crowd. The figures were spooky, ponies wrapped entirely in bandages. They were mummies, and they were all crowded around a single stallion who looked like had been lifted straight from a hieroglyphic illustration. His grayish coat was decorated with a gold and blue headdress that matched his anklets, his tail braid, and a jeweled false beard.
“Pharaoh Phetlock?” Nyx stumbled back until she was standing behind the base of a street lamp. There was no mistaking it. This was one of the villains from Spike’s comic books. They had been reading about him the day before she, Spike, and everyone else got on the train for the Crystal Empire. The Pharaoh, at least in the comic books, had managed to secure a sacred scarab. The Power Ponies had managed to stop his plan to turn Maretropolis into his own personal empire, but the Pharaoh himself had managed to escape. But all that was simply a story. It was illustrations on a page in very short book held together by a pair of staples. She couldn’t really be in Maretropolis. What was going on?
“The Moon’s Eye, the last piece I need for my tomb’s new mural,” Pharaoh Phetlock said with a manic grin as he inspected a diamond studded necklace. The core of the extravagant piece of jewelry was a pale blue diamond. Round and smooth like the lens from a telescope, the jewel had a discoloration in its core where the crystal grew darker. All together, it truly looked like someone had plucked Nightmare Moon’s eye and turned it into a rare gemstone. Nyx had to lift a hoof to her own face, if only to be sure both of her eyes were still present.
“I’m afraid the only eye you’ll be getting tonight, Phetlock, is a black one.” With a sharp snap, several of Phetlock’s mummy minions were flattened against the sidewalk by a large flyswatter, one comprised solely of magical energy. The minions were left dazed, and Phetlock was looking across the street to the source of the attack. With a confident stride and a toss of her mane, a mare floated down to the sidewalk, carried there gently by a magically constructed flying carpet.
It was Radiance, financier of the Power Ponies and wielder of the rare magical bracelets that were the source of her many magical constructs. Yet, at the same time, something wasn’t right. Nyx knew it had to be her. The super power and the costume were a perfect match for the Radiance she had come to know from Spike’s comic books. The mare’s base colors, however, were wrong. The true Radiance had a yellowish base coat and a mane that was a darker shade of blue, like the base color of the costume. Yet, the superhero Nyx saw before her, about to face off against Phetlock, had a white coat and purple mane. That and her voice, it rang in Nyx’s ears with undeniable familiarity.
It was like the mare behind the mask was Rarity.
“Gems as precious as those don’t deserve to gather dust in your dusty old basement, Phetlock. They deserve to be on display in a museum, or around the neck of a beautiful mare,” Radiance said, smiling and swooning a little. “Oh, could you imagine how beautiful I would be with the Moon’s Eye and the right dress? Something long and mysterious, with a little slit up the leg.”
“Yeah, that’s Rarity,” Nyx said quietly to herself. She watched as Phetlock’s mummy minions began to encircle Rarity, the old sounds coming from their throats being moans and groans. Nyx was also noticing she was the only pony that had lingered behind. Everyone else that had been in the jewelry store or on the street had fled. At least, she thought that was what happened, but at the same time she could not remember seeing them actually run away. It was another inconsistency, as if that part of reality had simply been skipped over because it wasn’t important.
Phetlock slipped the Moon’s Eye into a velvet bag around his neck, simply smiling as he glared down Radiance. “You’ve bested me in the past, but I think you’ll find yourself lacking your usual luster, Radiance. Get her, my minions.” At the Pharaoh’s command, the mummies lunged at Radiance, their moans uniting into an aggressive chorus. Radiance, however, didn’t even flinch. Her bracelets glowed, and around her a pillow fort magical construct took shape. The minions fell into the magic, and were quickly thrown back like they had been launched by springboards.
“Your tactics are as old and dusty as your basement.” Radiance formed a new construct, covering the street in fine, Saddle Arabian rugs. There was one beneath every mummy, and with a tug Radiance pulled at each one. The minions were sent tumbling, their hooves pulled out from under them in a single, swift strike. Radiance flashed a confident smile at her fallen foes. “What’s the matter colts, did I pull the rug out from under you?”
As Radiance mocked the hired hooves, the master had closed in. Phetlock was inches away from Rarity when he drew out a hoof-full of powder. One firm puff from his lungs, and the glitter like substance covered Radiance on one side. She felt the intrusion of the tiny particles, and quickly leapt away from Phetlock. Radiance then began to toss, shake, and brush at the glitter, trying to get it off. “Are you insane!? This glitter could contaminate my whole wardrobe.”
“It’s not glitter,” Phetlock said, an amused grin on his face. Radiance lifted her hoof, trying to summon a construct, yet nothing formed. She tried again, her brow furrowing, and her bracelets flickered with life for a moment. Yet, once more, none of her constructs succeeded in manifesting. “That’s the fun thing about magical artifacts. You never know what will make them stop working.”
“How?” Radiance shook her hoof, as if her bracelets simply needed a jiggle. She tried stomping. She tried jumping. She tried anything she could think off to jostle the magic out of the gems, turning into a spectacle in front of her opponents.
Phetlock laughed as his mummy minions began to climb back to their hooves. “Sorry, old family recipe, but don’t worry. I have another recipe for you: mummified super hero. You start with one freshly weakened mare, and well... you’re about to learn the rest of the steps first hoof.”
“Get back you ruffians!” Radiance spat. She brought up her hind legs, and managed to buck one of the mummies away. Yet, in defending herself against one, Radiance had allowed two others to move in close. They grabbed her by the neck and forehoof, restraining her movements as the others drew in. She fought and struggled, and Nyx felt her own heart thumping as she was forced to watch the scene from the sidelines. Radiance needed help, but who did a super hero call when they needed saving? Where were the police? There had been an officer in the jewelry store. He had introduced himself to Nyx. Why wasn’t he here? Why weren’t the other Power Ponies here? Who was going to save Radiance?
Radiance’s shout was followed swiftly by the firm crack of a punch connecting with a jaw. One of the mummies clinging was thrown into a half dozen of the others, causing a whole side of the mummy swarm to just collapse to the ground. The other mummies quickly backed away, moans and growls escaping their lips as they glared down the latest intruder in their robbery. Radiance had been rescued by a fellow hero of the city, but it was not Fili-second or Matter-Horn. It wasn’t even a pony.
No, the super hero Nyx had just watched swoop in was a dragon, one that stood over twice as tall as any of the mummies. He was broad shouldered with purplish scales and green spines. He wore a bright red cape with a blue, gold-buckled belt. There was a thin strip of black over his eyes and the bridge of his nose, a minimalistic sort of mask that Nyx knew came from only one of the Power Ponies. The mask and costume belonged to Hum Drum. And, though he was far more mature and muscular looking than she had ever seen, Nyx recognized the dragon underneath.
“Don’t you know, you never try and harm something a dragon treasures,” Hum Drum said as he stood with Radiance against the mummies. “Sorry I wasn’t here sooner.”
Radiance wore a little smile as she stood back to back with Hum Drum. “Well, I suppose I can forgive you for being fashionably late after that entrance, but only if you agree to dance with me. I’m afraid all the other prospective partners this evening are either wearing dusty old rags or garbed in a gaudy amount of gold.”
“This headdress is authentic and in no way gaudy!” Phetlock snapped.
Hum Drum chuckled, formed a fist, and punched it into his other palm. “I’d never turn down an invitation to dance with you, Radiance.”
What Nyx witnessed after was a fight torn straight from the pages of a comic book. The mummies charged, and the two super heroes met them in glorious combat. Hum Drum threw punches and knocked thugs out like a force of nature. Radiance was more tactical, but was holding her own despite her currently disabled powers. Nyx had to close her eyes and wince at the sights and sounds of the fistfight, but she couldn’t deny the grin on her face either. She still didn’t know what was going on, but she couldn’t deny her excitement from being able to witness such a comic book spectacle first hoof.
Soon, Pharaoh Phetlock was down for the count, wrapped up like a present like many of his mummy mininos. Police sirens were beginning to blare in the distance, the cavalry arriving too late to be able to do anything except take the criminals to jail. Radiance and Hum Drum bore a few bumps and bruises, but were smiling over their triumph as they waited for the authorities to arrive.
“Well, you certainly know how to show a mare a good time.” Radiance took a hoof to her mane, trying to smooth out a few hairs that had been knocked out of place.
Hum Drum smiled, drawing close to Radiance. In a moment the two spun together, Hum Drum holding Radiance in a deep bow as they looked into one another's eyes. “It was my pleasure, my lady,” Hum Drum said, like a knight speaking to a princess. They leaned in together. Nyx closed her eyes, blushed, and turned away. She knew exactly what the pair were doing. It was the kind of kiss the comic books only ever showed as a pair of silhouettes against the twirling lights of the police. It was a private moment, and she would not intrude. Nyx waited, counting in her head a good several seconds before daring to look back.
The pair were still kissing, and her awkwardness of intruding on such a private moment was continuing. She began backing up, trying to put some distance between herself and the intimate moment. Yet, her hoof caught on an uneven slab of sidewalk. She tumbled, and a yelp escaped her lips before she could catch it. She wasn’t hurt by her fall, but she quickly slapped a hoof over her mouth.
It was a hopeless attempt to recapture the shout that had escaped her voice, a shout that had not gone unnoticed.
The voice, one she knew so well, made Nyx look back at Radiance and Hum Drum. They had broken their kiss, though they were still bowed deep like a pair of dancers. Hum Drum was blushing, his cheeks a burning red. Nyx forced a laugh, and waved her hoof at the two super heroes as a blush began to redden her cheeks as well.
Nyx gaped in awe as she, Spike, and Radiance entered a place more magnificent than it was ever depicted in the comics: the headquarters of the Power Ponies. Grand mystical devices, heirlooms of past victories against their foes, and everything else the super heroes could need and want in a secret base. It surely put the little fort she had assembled in the backyard of her grandparents’ house in Canterlot to shame.
At the center of it all was the round table, a call back to a legend of Unicornia where great knights and their lord, King Augeron, sat as equals around a circular table. The table was clean reflective steel with a dozen seats, enough for the Power Ponies and any extra guests that might be brought to the base, surrounding it.
“And you’re sure you heard someone shout ouroboros before we were eaten?” Spike asked, pressing for a few more details after Nyx explained what she remembered and how she arrived to witness such a personal moment. He took a seat at the table as did Radiance. They had not seen any of the other Power Ponies, though Radiance had assured they were around the city.
Nyx nodded as she took a seat at the table herself. Her eyes barely met the top of the immaculate table, but she then felt herself levitating. Radiance had picked her up before manifesting a pillow on the seat. It gave Nyx the little bit of added height she needed to have her chin higher than the table. “Yeah, that’s what Twilight called it.”
“The ouroboros is a species of snake that eats dreams.” Spike gave the table a little knock, causing a little console to appear. Pressing on the buttons inside, a floating hologram of the two-headed serpent appeared hovering over the table in front of them. “They’re household pests normally. They get into a pony's bed at night, gently bite down on their ears, and then siphon away the energy from their dreams as they sleep. You usually only see them in older houses, where there are crevices big enough for them to get through, and near forests. They also like young dragons when they're taking their first long nap. The dragon is usually small enough the snakes can reach both sides of the head during that first nap. Twilight was supposed to study them as part of a class assignment, but I ended up doing most of the field work for that one.”
“Why?” Nyx asked.
“Twilight doesn't like snakes, and part of the assignment involved going to the Canterlot zoo and seeing the ouroboros.” Spike grinned as a memory floated into his head. “Twilight tried, she really did, and she made the funniest faces while we were standing outside the reptile house. She eventually bailed, promised to buy me something from the gift shop, and had me go inside to do that part of the project. It was really cool, and the raw gemstones Twilight got me from the gift shop were delicious.”
“But you said this snake normally nibbles on a pony’s ears.” Radiance’s ears twitched at the thought of having such a thing attaching itself to her in her sleep. “How in the world were you two consumed by such a thing?”
“That’s what I don’t get,” Spike said. “The one that attacked us was monstrous, as big as a train. It was able to gobble just about everyone except... uh oh.”
“What’s wrong?” Nyx asked.
Spike pressed on the buttons on the little console again, causing a few arrows to show up with the hologram. “Each mouth of the ouroboros eats different kinds of dreams. One eats good dreams, and the other eats bad dreams. When both mouths latch onto a pony's ears, the sleeping pony has their regular dreams and the good and bad portions are eaten by each respective mouth. If, however, only one of the mouths becomes attached while the pony is sleeping, only that part of their dreams will get eaten.”
Nyx stared at the hologram for a few moments, the little cogs in her brain spinning before she looked back at Spike. “So are we dreaming?”
Spike shrugged as he shut the hidden console on the table, causing the hologram to dissipate. “Maybe. Twilight and I never came across any reports of what happens if a pony’s eaten whole by an ouroboros while doing her class project. They’re just not supposed to get this big. I think the largest one recorded was maybe as long as a teenage pony.”
“Perhaps a better question to ask is how little Nyx got here,” Radiance said as she turned to look at Spike. “I may not understand dream logic that much, but if what you’re saying is true, then all of this is a dream, including me. She did appear out of nowhere, so it begs the question: is she a part of your dream as well, making you remember what happened, or did she escape her own dream and somehow find her way into yours?”
“I remember escaping my own dream,” Nyx said.
Radiance nodded. “I’m not saying you don’t, darling, but those memories could also be part of Spike’s dream. Do you understand?”
“No, not really.”
“Instead of trying to figure out if Nyx had a dream within my dream, why don’t we just try something. This is my dream. I should be able to change it.” Spike looked over at Radiance, furrowing his brow a moment. At first nothing happened, but then Radiance’s colors began to shift. She changed back into her true, comic book colors, and didn’t seem to notice or feel the change. Spike tilted his head to one side when the transformation was complete.
“Eh, I like you the other way better.” At those words, Radiance popped back to sharing Rarity’s white and purple color scheme. This made Spike smile, but then he turned his eyes on Nyx. He stared at her, long and intently, like he was trying to read her mind or shoot laser beams from his eyes. Nyx looked herself over, trying to see if she was suddenly changing red, blue, green, or aquamarine. Nothing, however, was changing.
“I don’t feel anything,” Nyx said. “I don’t see anything.”
“That’s because nothing’s happening.” Spike stopped concentrating, shaking his head as if to break a trance. “I was trying to give you the sudden urge to tap dance.”
“Why didn’t you just try to change my coat color?”
Spike shrugged. “Because I thought it’d be funny if you suddenly started tap dancing.”
“Well, I’m not dancing,” Nyx said as she gestured to herself. “My memories must be true. I got out of my dream and managed to get into yours. But how did I do that?”
“Luna has the ability to go between dreams, and your magic is probably nearly identical to hers,” Spike said, leaning back a bit in his seat as he put one of his beefy claws to his equally impressive, super heroic chin. “It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that you’d have her ability to enter dreams or, in this case, escape them.”
“It is a mystery, but perhaps it’s one that’s to your benefit.” Radiance stood up, absent-mindedly using a constructed brush to smooth out the few wrinkles in her tail she got from sitting. “Nyx escaping her dream and coming to you has made you both aware of the situation. Perhaps now you two can figure out a way to free everyone you care about.”
Spike stood up to follow Radiance, reaching out a claw but not getting close enough to actually touch her. “But Radiance, what about you?”
“I am just a dream, and a super hero. If it will save your family and friends, I’ll gladly lay down my existence. Besides, you have real friends and a real life to get back to. One cannot simply live forever in their dreams.” Rarity turned, walking past Spike to return to the table, and as she did she flicked her tail up so it gently brushed the underside of his chin. “Also, I’m your dream. You can always bring me back. And maybe this time, we won’t get... interrupted.”
Spike blushed, quickly looking away from Radiance to focus on Nyx. That, however, only made his blush worsen as she was staring at him with an arched eyebrow. Nyx was a bit lost, she wouldn’t deny. Radiance had a funny look on her face, like she was half asleep, and was speaking real slow. Nyx felt like she maybe knew about this once, maybe when she was an adult, but the facts were escaping her at the moment. Perhaps an effect of Luna’s spell that turned her back into a filly.
“S-she’s right... about us... about us escaping,” Spike finally stuttered out, steering the conversation to another topic. He coughed into his fist, and forced the uncertainty from his voice. “Now that we know where we really are, we should be able to get out.”
“Great, how do we do that?” Nyx asked.
Spike opened his mouth to answer, but then deflated a little. “I don’t know. I don’t remember reading anything that said how someone is supposed to wake up from an ouroboros dream. Twilight would probably know, we’d just have to find her...” Spike went quiet, the corners of his mouth dropping into a frown. “Oh no.”
Nyx stood up from her seat, almost climbing up onto the table. “What is it?”
“Twilight was helping Shining, they were both on top of the barrier spell. The rest of us got eaten by one mouth, and if this dream is any indication, we got eaten by the head that eats bad dreams. But when we were getting gobbled, Shining and Twilight were being scooped up by the other head. They were eaten by the mouth that feeds on good dreams. That means...”
“I believe you two need to get to them as quickly as you can,” Radiance said. “Sometimes, our worst nightmares are more horrible than anything that could ever happen in reality.”
Spike stood up from the table, looking across the table straight at Nyx. “We better try and get as much help as we can first. Knowing Twilight, she’s come up with a doozy of a nightmare. She’s very good at imagining the worse possible situation.
“And today, we would like to honor the Flim Flam Brothers for their multitude of achievements in the advancement of magic and science in Equestria for modern, practical uses.”
The twin brothers beamed as they looked across the crowd, puffing out their chests and making mares swoon with their smiles. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna approached them, regally bestowing upon each a medal and a kiss on the cheek. All around Canterlot had been transformed. Gilded in metal and humming with their patented technologies, it was a city transformed into a beacon of the future. Mail whizzed through pipes and tubes at near supersonic speeds. The streets kept themselves clean, and the weather was guided through strategically placed billows and windmills. Even the sun and moon had been brought under the control of mechanical accuracy, leaving the Princesses of Equestria with more time to rule as well as have a little fun.
“Now you better hurry along,” Princess Celestia said to the two brothers. “You have an airship to the Crystal Empire to catch. The march of progress can’t stop here.”
“You’ve got that right, Princess.”
Luna flashed a smile at the two, like the smile shared by dear friends who had possibly gotten into some crazy trouble that was being kept under wraps for national security reasons. “Please, for you two, it’s just Celestia and Luna.”
Flim and Flam smiled and bowed, giving one another little eyebrow waggle before abruptly turning and heading up a wooden ramp to a large airship that had been parked right next to the royal announcement balcony of Canterlot Castle. There they were greeted by beautiful stewardesses, who whisked them away to lounge chairs right on the bow of the ship. They had finely crafted Apple Wine to sip and gladly toasted one another as the airship lifted off for their next conquest.
“Wow, you two sure don’t dream small.”
Flim and Flam had just about settled into their deck chairs when they heard the familiar voice. They both turned around, and Flam expected to see the pint sized dragon that had been one of their biggest disbelievers. Wouldn’t that just be the thing, to have him there to introduce them to the Crystal Empire. He did have a lot of sway for being such a small little guy. Except, the dragon standing behind them was not small in any definition of the word. He was tall, broad shouldered, and was dressed in a ridiculous outfit and mask. There was no way some tiny piece of black would hide his identity from anyone.
“Spike, you’ve certainly shot up like a weed, though I can’t say your sense of tastes matured as robustly.” Flim turned his head back to the front of the ship and took the first sip of his wine. “Probably because we saved you from schlepping all those books around. I trust Princess Twilight Sparkle is still enjoying her automated book sorter and shelver. It has been about two weeks since we got her last thank you letter.”
“Yeah, no, that isn’t it,” Spike said as he came up behind the pair.
“Then it must have been our patented Dragon Hoard Homeguard and Hopper. That is one of our most popular dragon based inventions.” Flam stretched, taking his hat off and passing it to a stewardess that had rushed to his side. She took the hat, and whisked it away to rest on top of a statue bust of Flam's head. “Maintains and controls the size of a dragon’s hoard leading to a controlled and well adjusted maturation. Leads to less cranky dragons who can enjoy smaller but more diverse treasure troves.”
“Or maybe it’s our new, one hundred percent effective miracle elixir,” Flim said as he held his wine up to the sun. “Really, getting those golden apples were the key ingredient. Just the right amount of magic mojo and a perfect tart flavor. Makes old feel young, makes the young feel strong, and for a young dragon... well, I think the results speak for themselves.”
“You really think golden apples would do this?” Spike flexed a little, smiling at his muscles and looking a bit dreamy eyed. He then firmly shook his head and gently slapped his cheeks before looking back at the brothers. “Hate to break it to you guys, but you’re dreaming.”
“Pffft.” Flam waved his hoof before standing up from his seat. “The only dream is the one of modern society and conveniences that we’ve brought to all of Equestria. Isn’t that right, brother?”
“That and we’ve got more bits than we could ever dream of spending in a lifetime,” Flim said, clinking his glass against Flam’s once more before taking another drink of cider.
“Do you even remember half the things you supposedly invented?” Spike asked.
“That’s looking into the past, Spike. We only look to the future, and it is bright.”
Spike rolled his eyes at Flam’s words, and took a step closer to the pair. Without any warning, he grabbed each brother up in one arm, carrying them like bags of flour. Their wine glasses spilt, and the pair shouted their protests as the stewardesses tried to rush to help them. But it was all too late. A few more steps, and Spike leapt from the side of the ship and the trio were in freefall towards the ground.
“What are you doing!? You’ll kill us all!” Flim kicked himself free of Spike, but soon regretted it as he spun and tumbled through the air. He wasn’t able to regain control of himself until Spike reached out and grabbed one of his legs, but then Flim immediately kicked himself free of the dragon’s grip a second time. This in turn gave Flam a chance to escape as well, though at least now all three of them were falling straight. The two were panicking, shouting, and trying to conjure magic to slow their fall.
“We’re dead! We’re going to be smears on the ground!” The brothers said in unision.
Spike remained entirely relaxed and pointed downward with his claw. “Yeah, you might want to double check that.” Both Flim and Flam looked down almost immediately, but there was no ground. They had barely lifted off from Canterlot, but now there was nothing but blue skies for miles and miles in all directions. “This is a good dream, and you never hit the ground in a good dream.”
Flim and Flam glanced to each other, then back down where the ground was supposed to be, then up at Spike. “Okay, dragon, start talking.”
“I’ll give you all the details once I get your word on something. You have to promise to help us reach Twilight.”
Flim managed to turn himself around in the air, facing his back to Spike and taking a sitting position. “I think my brother and I have more than helped enough. You’ll need to bring something better to the table than that, dragon. Especially after you pulled us out of our airship into this... magical fall trap.”
“Brother of mine, you took the words right out of my mouth,” Flam said. “Besides, if you wanted to reach Twilight, you shouldn’t have gotten on our airship in the first place. We were off to see Princess Cadance, not your Princess Twilight. Besides, we were just with Princess Twilight when we were on that train.”
“What train would that be?” Spike asked.
“Why, that would be the train we were on right before... we...” Flam looked over at Flim, the pair sharing a similar expression of panic.
Spike was now lounging in the air, smiling smugly. “Let me guess, you two just remembered you were eaten by a giant snake with two heads.”
Flam flicked his gaze back to Spike, glaring down the dragon who was so full of himself he might burst, at least in Flam’s personal opinion. “I think you’ve proven your point. All this isn’t real, and the last real thing was us getting eaten. What does that have to do with finding Twilight? Didn’t we just find her?”
“We did, but we have to find her again. She might be the only one that can get the ouroboros to puke us up. But, to get to her, we’ll have to get through her nightmare, and it won’t be pretty.”
“Sounds like work for those guards,” Flim said with a huff.
“We’re going to try and get the guards to help too, but Nyx is already getting tired. She opened a door to Cadance’s dream and barely managed to get this one open. If she pushes herself much farther, she won’t be able to get us into Twilight’s nightmare. I thought we should get the guards too, but Nyx seemed to think we’d need a pair of inventive unicorns instead.
“So are you in?” Spike asked. “Because if you’re not, I could just leave you here falling forever. Maybe we’ll get to Twilight without you, but maybe not, but at least you’ll have a great view while you wait to find out.”
“I think we’re in a corner here, brother,” Flam said as he looked over at Flim. “And it’s not like we’re going to be able to turn a profit ever again if what Spike says is true.”
“I can’t believe how complicated a simple trip into the mountains became.” Flim glanced back and forth between his brother and Spike a moment before throwing his forehooves up, and nearly sending himself into a spin at the same time. He had to flail his legs a moment to stabilize again before being able to answer. “Okay, we’ll help, but can you now explain what all this talk about dreams is?”
Nyx should have been greeted by the smooth, glistening streets of the Crystal Empire. She should have stepped into Cadance’s dream and landed in the Crystal Palace, or even someplace nearby. She was the princess of the empire, successor to the power of the Crystal Heart. She was a mare soon to be a mother, with a stallion that loved her. Nyx expected Cadance’s dream to be a bit like her own: only a slight variation on reality.
The truth, Cadance’s dream was more like Spike’s. It was a flight of fantasy far removed from the norms, and Nyx was starting to wonder why her own dream had been so dull. Rather, she would have been thinking about that if she had been able to take her eyes off the rough and tumble spectacle that was rolling in circular laps before her.
“Last jam of the second period and the Everfree Wolves managed to pull ahead in the last jam. The Sombra Shadows’ jammer is going to need to lap the opposing team not just once but twice if her team is going to have any hope of claiming victory, and that’s if the opposing jammer doesn’t score a single point. Who is the coach going to send in? We’ve got fifteen seconds until the last jam and... stallions and mares... it looks like the hammer is about to fall.”
The roller derby teams were lining up in place, and Nyx’s eyes focused on one in particular. She now wore a helmet marked by two stars, and was the hammer the announcer spoke off. Signs were raised depicting a crystal hammer swinging and smashing some indiscernible object and the crowd roared. The cheers only seemed to fuel the determined look in the jammer’s eye.
The mare in question was the Shining Hammer, a star player of the Sombra Shadows roller derby team. She was lean, mean, and had been skating up a storm in the few “jams” Nyx had been able to watch. She was the star player. When she was on the rink, the Sombra Shadows came out ahead in points. Yet for every gain the Shadows' got, the Everfree Wolve’s seemed to manage to squeak out a little more when the Shining Hammer wasn’t on the field. That was what lead to the current point situation. Yet, Nyx’s curiosity was not in who was going to win the rough and tumble clash of the teams.
The big question in Nyx’s mind was why Cadance would be skating under the name Shining Hammer.
The referee tweeted his whistle, the skaters were off. The crowd winced and cheered as the blockers of the Shadows smashed hard into the Wolves’ jammer. At the same time, Cadance veered forward, skating around the others like they were all moving in slow motion. Nyx might have compared it to the grace of a butterfly, but Cadance was slamming into any jammers that tried to get in her way. Perhaps the more accurate comparison was watching lightning fall from the sky. Cadance juked and dodged, but she also struck past any obstacle.
The crowd exploded with fresh cheers as Cadance broke out from the pack. The arena’s powerful speakers struggled to match the volume, but still the announcer’s voice managed to cut through the roar. “The Shining Hammer has smashed through the pack while the Wolves’ jammer is still stuck at the back of the pack. The Shadows are now in a position to begin scoring, but with thirty seconds already gone in the jam does the Shining Hammer have time to pull off a miracle?”
Cadance was around the track in another fifteen seconds. The Wolves’ jammer was still struggling in the pack, the blockers' jostling with one another. Shoulders were slammed, curses were shouted, and Nyx was fairly certain she saw one of the mares now had a bloody nose. Still, the competition of rollerblade wearing gladiators continued. Cadance went tight, riding the inner edge of the track. She got past the back line of the jammers, shooting by unscathed as the Wolves’ jammers were too focused on trying to help their own struggling teammate.
“Shining Hammer closes the gap. The Shadows are just three points behind the Wolves. If Snowpain can’t break away from the pack and start scoring some points, The Hammer may just bring this one back from the edge! Wait, I may have spoken too soon. Snowpain has gotten free!”
With a charge to the outer edge of the track, the ice colored and themed skater finally got out of the pack and was now hot on Cadance’s hooves. The pair rounded the track, and were once more at the back of the pack with only forty five seconds left on the clock. Nyx had gained enough of an understanding of the game to know forty five seconds was not long enough for Cadance to make another lap. If Snowpain passed the jammer, the chances of the Shadows winning was out the window. It would at best end in a tie, and that was if Snowpain didn’t manage to gain anything more than a single point.
Then Nyx felt what she could only describe as a ripple. A puff of air, a rumble of sound, and a tingle down her spine: the ripple was all of these things yet none of them at the same time. Nyx looked over her shoulder, trying to find the source of the disturbance, but could see nothing but the roaring crowd. She then looked back at the roller rink, and something had changed. One of the jammers on Cadance’s team had morphed into somepony else.
Cadance made a sharp whistle by biting her lip, and the recently transformed mare glanced back. The name on the uniform was “The Buck,” but the orange coat, blonde mane, and freckles made it clear just who had been substituted into the dream to ensure a victory. Applejack gave Cadance a nod, hard shouldering one of the jammers for the Wolves team. Cadance surged through the freshly made opening, and Applejack closed it right back up to ensure Snowpain could not follow.
“Twenty five seconds left in this final jam folks, and it’s down to the wire. Snowpain jostles with The Buck. She’s trying to find an angle, but The Buck is brick walling the back of the pack. The Wolves’ jammers are falling back to try and force The Buck out of the way, but the rest of the Shadows are following. Hammer scores a point as the Wolves focus on a single goal, to help Snowpain score just one point. That just leaves one blocker to try and stop Hammer from scoring the last point.”
Another ripple in the dream, and the last blocker Cadance had to pass shifted to a black coated mare with a green mane. It was a color scheme Nyx found familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Her attention was now truly focused on the last seconds of the game. Perhaps it was the excitement of the dream crowd or seeing her aunt performing so spectacularly, but she was now rooting for the Sombra Shadows.
“Fifteen seconds left! Snowpain still trying to find a hole. The Hammer is coming up on Black Dragon. Can she make the final push? The Hammer jukes, but Black Dragon moves to block. But... wait! Black Dragon went too wide. She lost speed! The Hammer falls, she passes Black Dragon. The Shadows are one point ahead with seven seconds left on the clock. But wait! Black Dragon is falling back. Can the full force of the Everfree Wolves open up a hole for their jammer? Can Snowpain make the two points she needs to reassure victory for her team? She may have an opening. The Wolves are brute forcing the core of the pack to the outer edge of the track. Three seconds, and Snowpain may have her opening!”
Nyx eyes were locked on Snowpain. She was going for the inside edge of the track. Two seconds, and she was at the edge of the hole. One second, and she was trying to charge forward, but then the opening was closed. Cadance, after passing the Black Dragon, had fallen back to join the jammers. Cadance flashed a smile back over her shoulder just as the clock hit zero and a buzzer filled the air. The crowd’s cheers rose like a wave while some unicorns in the crowd shot out miniture firework spells. The announcer was screaming into his microphone just to be heard.
“The Sombra Shadows win! The Shining Hammer pulled another match out of the fire! The Sombra Shadows win!”
“Woo! Hammer rocks!” Nyx shouted right along with the crowd. She stomped her hooves and raised her voice as loud as she could. It was a good dream. Perhaps there was never really any chance Cadance’s team wouldn’t win, but the excitement of the moment had pulled Nyx in.
“Hard to believe this is all a dream cooked up by some worm,” Cadance said as she and Nyx were standing on the street outside the arena. She was bandaged in a few places, but otherwise Cadance was smiling from her hard won victory.
“I don’t think the worm really makes the dreams,” Nyx said as she watched the last parts of the audience filter out of the arena and into the streets of the Crystal Empire. “This mouth just eats certain parts, and I guess that encourages your mind to fill in the gaps with new things, normally better things. This is still your dream.”
Cadance chuckled a little. “Probably not the dream you were expecting when you came in here.”
“Well... I was kind of right about it being in the Crystal Empire,” Nyx said as she looked to the distance and saw the Crystal Palace. It was glowing subtly, the ambient light from the Crystal Heart and the aurora borealis created by the palace and the heart. “I’m surprised you know so much about stuff like this.”
“It’s funny how it started. Rarity told Twilight she saw some mare that looked like me at a derby in Manehatten. Twilight told Shining, and Shining told me. He and I then looked into it, and there is a real Shining Hammer. She gets her mane dyed like mine as part of her gimmick, and I guess I’ve been thinking about it a bit recently because of the pregnancy.”
“Aren’t you happy to be having a foal?”
Cadance quickly looked down at Nyx. “Of course I am. It’s like a dream come true. I have Shining as my prince, we rule the Crystal Empire, and now we’re going to have a family of our own. For some ponies, it’s practically a happily ever after end to my story. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, and honestly, it’s leaving me a little stir crazy. Sure, I was never an adventurer like Daring Do, but I did love to rollerblade once. When I became a princess though, all my tutors and advisors told me it was unbecoming of Equestrian royalty to roll anywhere like that.
“I’d never give up what I have with Shining, but I won’t deny having a dream like this is nice.” Cadance laughed a little and pushed a bit of her mane out of her face. “Though, it looks like the adventure isn’t quite over yet. We have to get to Twilight, and maybe I can actually lend a hoof this time.”
“That’s what I’m hoping. Still, this dream orb was bigger than any of the other ones I saw. Is there anyone else in here with you?”
“You know... I think there are. I saw them before my match started. That diamond dog, Biscuit, was placing a bet at the arena. It was all spiffed up in a fancy suit with a diamond top cane, diamond cufflinks, a diamond pocket watch, and I think he had a few diamond teeth as well. I also saw that changeling before that, S43. I saw her at a cafe outside the arena. She was wearing glasses and was talking with a few other ponies. They had a mountain of books next to them, and they were discussing something on papers. It’s almost something I’d expect to see Twilight doing.”
“Then we should go get them,” Nyx said, looking across the street to hopefully spot the cafe. “I don’t think I can get anyone else out of their dreams. We have to get everyone we can help from this dream and the one Spike went into, and then try to reach Twilight’s dream. She’s our only hope of escaping from the ouroboros.”
“Good thing she’s always been such a good student. If our rescue depended on me remembering my paper on Unicornia History I did back in school, we’d be in deep trouble. The only thing I can remember is the title.” Cadance raised her hoof up in the air, sweeping it from left to right. “Unicornia and its Undeniably Unsettling Underbelly.”
Nyx couldn’t help but snicker a little. “That’s a lot of U’s.”
“Yeah, but it got me an A.”