In the collective dreamscape, the Tantabus was already looking at another door before Twilight and Luna had gotten their hooves under them. It reached out for one door, but the moment it touched the knob, it looked at Luna and said, “You wanted me to start with a bad dream, right? So you could see how I make it go from bad to good? Because this one doesn’t feel bad enough.”
“Yes, that would be ideal,” said Luna. “Creating a good dream better is all well and good, but turning a bad dream good is much better. Do you require help finding one, or…?”
“Nah, not yet.” Quick as a whistle, the Tantabus flitted from door to door. It pressed its hoof against a plain brown half door that looked vaguely familiar to Twilight, and its face lit up. “Ooo. This one’s good. I mean bad. I mean good for being bad. I mean do you two want to go in first so you can see what the dream’s like before I change it?”
“Not a bad idea,” said Twilight. “Wait here about… twenty seconds?”
The Tantabus nodded. “Twenty seconds.”
Twilight looked at Luna, who nodded, and the two of them flew through the door.
Something roared. Deep, blood-curdling, throaty, vicious, layered. A predatory roar. Far away, but loud nonetheless. A big roar. A big, big roar.
Boom. Everything shook.
Another roar. Closer.
They were in Fluttershy’s cottage. She was racing back and forth, shuffling small animals through a trapdoor in the floor. Small rumbles, steadily getting larger, shook the house every few seconds. Twilight raced to the window and looked out. A large dragon was slowly advancing on the cottage, practically slavering at the mouth, and it looked angry.
Gazing through the window from behind her, Luna said flatly, “Yes, I think this might possibly be a proper nightmare.”
Twilight gulped. “Yeah. Maybe.”
“Told you,” said the Tantabus.
Twilight twitched at its sudden arrival, but Luna’s only reaction was to whisper, “I hope you can end this nightmare quickly. It might not end well for our friend if you do, and while being caught in a dream when it collapses is never dangerous, in and of itself, it is never pleasant.”
The Tantabus looked at the dragon outside, at Fluttershy, and nodded. “Actually, yeah. I think I can.” It dissolved into smoke and raced under the door.
Fluttershy put the last of the animals in the space beneath the trapdoor; there wasn’t any room for her. “Now, I know you don’t like it in here,” she said, lowering down one last rabbit, “but you’ll be safe in here, okay? No dragon’s going to eat you. I’ll come get you when it’s safe.”
Several of the animals made anxious chittering noises and tried to climb out, but Fluttershy lightly nudged them back in. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be okay.” And she slammed the trapdoor, hiding the crawlspace. “No, I won’t,” she whispered.
Even though it was a dream, seeing Fluttershy like this made Twilight start slowly shifting her weight from one hoof to another and flicking her tail. Even Luna seemed to be chewing her lip nervously. She wanted to reach out to Fluttershy, to tell that it’d all be okay. But that would be interfering, and it was always bad to interfere with experiments. This was the Tantabus’s job, now, and Twilight could only hope it did its job well.
Fluttershy took a few deep breaths. “Okay, think, Fluttershy,” she squeaked to herself. “How do you stop a dragon? You don’t. They’re too strong. Too big. Too everything.” She swallowed.
Abruptly, the Tantabus slid back into the room beneath the door, and flew right into one of Fluttershy’s ears and out the other. It reformed next to Twilight and Luna.
“What did you just do to her?” whispered Twilight.
“Nothing major, just planted an idea,” the Tantabus whispered back. “Watch.”
“But those scales have to be flexible, right?” continued Fluttershy. “Or else it wouldn’t be able to move. So maybe I can hit it with something. Right in the throat. That can stun it.” She giggled nervously. “Oh, listen to me. Trying to stop a dragon? I don’t sound like myself.”
Twilight glanced sidelong at the Tantabus, who shrugged helplessly. “Hey,” it muttered, “I’m still new to this, okay? I have to work with what I can.”
The dragon roared again, and the windows rattled, almost cracking. Fluttershy looked like she’d enjoy nothing more than flying away as fast as she could, but she braced her hooves over the trapdoor. “Okay,” she whispered, “stand tall. Your friends are counting on you.”
A gigantic, razor-sharp claw ripped through the front wall and tore it away. The dragon jammed its head through the gap; rage was in its eyes and smoke was pouring from its nostrils. Its breath was hot, sticky and reeked heavily of unmentionable things. Any one of its teeth, its yellowy and stained-red teeth, was as long as a pony’s legs. In spite of the unreality of the situation, Twilight wanted to run, and she kept flexing her wings in preparation for flying away as fast as she could.
Shaking, Fluttershy drew herself up very small, but stayed where she was. She tried smiling. “Um, hello, Mr. Dragon. D-do you think you could leave the little critters alone? Please? Pretty please?”
The dragon responded by roaring in her face.
Fluttershy gulped. “I-if that’s the way you feel… I’m so sorry about this.” She darted forward, rolling under the dragon’s head, and gave it a good, solid kick in the middle of the throat. Which, considering this was Fluttershy, was the equivalent of Twilight bucking her whole castle clear across the horizon.
The dragon’s roaring stopped and became closer to retching. After a moment, it coughed up a large, spiky hunk of some dark purple metal. Then, in the poshest of posh accents a dragon could muster, it said, “I say, thank you for that, old bird.” It pulled its head out of the cottage and hacked up several clouds of smoke to one side. It might’ve just been Twilight, but from the few brief glimpses she got, the dragon’s teeth suddenly looked a lot whiter and less dirty. “I must say, I am dreadfully sorry about all this, but having a blasted hunk of metal lodged in one’s larynx is not only quite painful, it rather inhibits the ability to speak properly and request help.”
Twilight and Luna both turned to the Tantabus, who was grinning proudly. Twilight was holding back a little smile herself.
“Um… sorry?” asked Fluttershy. She was still drawing herself up very small, but she wasn’t shaking anymore. “I thought you were trying to eat my animal friends.”
The dragon chuckled softly, which in its case meant it felt like a small earthquake. “Oh, heavens, no. Nothing that severe.” It nudged the metal gently towards Fluttershy so she could get a better look at it. “Just a few hours ago, I was enjoying a rather spiffing meal of gemstones donated by a colleague of mine. Unfortunately, they’d come from his private horde of treasure in general and he hadn’t quite sorted out all the non-gems from the gems, That meant that this blighter-” It tapped the hunk of metal again. “-was still in there, and in the middle of lunch, I suddenly had the most unfortunate occurrence of getting it jammed quite tightly in my throat.”
It shuddered. “Very painful, as you might well imagine, and just large enough to keep me from speaking properly. Knowing of your expertise with animals, I came down here to seek your help, which you just provided, and for that I am forever grateful.” The dragon bowed deeply.
Fluttershy perked up almost immediately. “You know how good I am with animals?”
“Oh, yes, quite, yes indeed,” said the dragon, nodding. “You are, shall we say, quite famous throughout the animal kingdom for your positively sublime skills. Most every creature across Equestria has heard about you.”
“It’s just what I do,” said Fluttershy, smiling and looking to one side to hide her blushing. “I didn’t think I was famous.”
“Oh, don’t speak down about yourself, luv,” said the dragon. “What you do is rather smashing.” It looked around at the surrounding landscape. “And I must say, I feel the need to repay you for your assistance. I can’t just leave you and your home in a bend like this.”
“Well, um, why don’t you get started with cleaning up the debris? I need to get the animals out from their shelter.”
The Tantabus was bouncing on the tips of its hooves. “Well? What do you think?”
“You touched nothing before we arrived?”
The Tantabus rolled its eyes. “Mom, I already told you, I can’t do anything unless I actually enter the dream, and you went in before me. So the rampaging dragon was already there, and originally, it was going to eat her.”
“In that case, I have to praise you for your improvisational skills, considering how little time you had before you changed things. And the Trottingham accent was a decent way to defuse the situation, but you may have gone a bit too far with it. I’m amazed you didn’t throw in a ‘by jove, wot wot, toodle pip’ somewhere.”
“I wanted to make it as nonthreatening as possible. Can you see a bad guy with that accent?”
The Tantabus blinked and looked away, its ears back. “Well, she can’t,” it muttered.
Luna turned to Twilight. “You know Fluttershy better than I do. What do you think she thought of this dream?”
Twilight groaned a little. “No offense, Your Highness, but how come you always ask me about this? You should talk to Fluttershy about it.”
“Talk to me about what?”
Everyone twitched; Fluttershy had somehow inserted herself into their circle. She was looking around at them with big, curious eyes and was in the middle of calming a jackalope down with repeated head-rubs. The animals she’d just let out of the crawlspace were swarming around her legs, a few clinging to her tail or mane.
Before anyone could respond, Fluttershy said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m interrupting, aren’t I?” She backed up a little and turned her head away from them. “I heard my name, and I noticed you, and so I thought-”
“No! No, you’re fine,” said Twilight. She cleared her throat. “Fluttershy, you remember the Tantabus, right?” The Tantabus smiled and waved.
Fluttershy shuddered. “Oh, yes. That thing that caused nightmares? It was simply dreadful.” She looked the Tantabus up and down. “But this one looks different, and you don’t seem too worried about it-” (Luna looked away and coughed.) “-so I’m guessing there’s something different about it.”
“I created this one to end nightmares rather than cause them,” said Luna. “We are currently testing its capabilities and behavior, and we were wondering what you thought of this particular dream.”
Fluttershy suddenly looked nervous (moreso than usual, anyway) and began running her hooves through her mane. “W-well, um,” she whispered, “I, I suppose that… it wasn’t that b-”
“The angry dragon wasn’t my fault!” said the Tantabus. “That was totally there before I got here. I got rid of its aggression by making it spit out that metal, thankyouverymuch. Just talk about the stuff after that.”
“Oh!” said Fluttershy brightly. “In that case, I think you did a great job. I like dragons a lot more when they’re not trying to eat you.”
“Don’t we all?” asked Twilight.
“And he’s so polite,” continued Fluttershy. “Aside from Spike, most of the dragons I’ve met have been gruff and aggressive and nasty… Not at all like this.”
“Begging your pardon, old gel,” piped up the dragon from outside, “but where do you want me to put the, ah, the whole entire front wall of your lovely little home?” It sheepishly held up said wall, which looked rather intact for being messily ripped off by its claws. “It seems such a shame to just abandon it all and let it go to waste.”
“Just put it right next to the cottage, will you please?” asked Fluttershy. “I should, um…” She glanced at Twilight, Luna and the Tantabus. Twilight could see her thoughts: this was a dream, it didn’t really matter. “…should be able to get it fixed soon. Oh, and do you think you could clean up the ground a little, please? You’re a big dragon, and you left a lot of big piles of dirt everywhere. I don’t think a pony could clean it all up.”
Gently setting the wall aside, the dragon adjusted its monocle. (When did it get a monocle?) “Yes, indeed so, most indeededly. I was just about to get on that, actually. Well, as the old saying goes, great minds think alike and all that.”
As the dragon started smoothing out the ground, Fluttershy said, “I know he’s hardly a dragon-y dragon, but a dragon-y dragon isn’t always the nicest dragon. And that-” She pointed outside. “-is a very nice dragon. So, um, yes. I think you made my nightmare into a very nice dream. Thank you.”
The Tantabus made a face at Luna that was somewhere between a grin and a smug smirk. “Seeeeeee? I told you I could work with nightmares. Why did you ever doubt me?”
“I never doubted you,” said Luna. “I just wanted to be completely sure of your abilities. And now I am.”
“Thank you. You know, Mom, I don’t know why you’re so wo-”
“I, um, hate to interrupt,” interrupted Fluttershy, “but, um, do you need me anymore?”
“I don’t think so, no,” said Twilight. “Thanks for your help, Fluttershy.”
“…But I barely did anything…”
Before Twilight could respond, the dream popped like a multitude of bubbles and the group, sans Fluttershy, was back outside of the latter’s dream.
“As I was saying, I don’t know why you’re so worried, Mom,” said the Tantabus. “You made me exactly for this, and you worked with me a lot so that you could be sure of it, but I start talking to you and you immediately get all nervous about it?”
Luna shrugged. “I do not know, either. By all rights, I should have faith in your abilities, but for some reason, I want to be sure.”
“But now you’re sure, right? I can make good dreams better and turn nightmares happy, so are you gonna let me go?”
“Not quite. I still have one more test.”
The Tantabus groaned. “Oh, come on, Mom, what else is there? I don’t want you looking over my shoulder my whole life!”
“And I have no desire to have to do that.” Luna crouched down in front of the Tantabus and looked up at it. “The more I see what you do, the more I trust you. But on the slim chance I am mistaken, if you do not want to just spread good dreams-”
“But I do!”
“-if I am mistaken,” continued Luna, “the results would be catastrophic. I do not want you to run wild, creating dreams as you see fit and inflicting pain on ponies just because you can.”
The Tantabus blinked. “But I… I’d never… Mom, do… do you really think that… that I’d do that?” it asked quietly.
“I am ninety-nine percent certain you would not. I am merely attempting to add the remaining one percent to that. I am deeply sorry if it feels like I have no trust in you, but this is not about just you; this is about all of Equestria. And with that many ponies involved, I cannot afford to take risks. Not even with you.” Luna’s voice dropped a little. “I’m sorry.”
The Tantabus stared at the ground, lightly kicking at it. Eventually, it muttered, “Okay.” It looked up and said, “So what’s your last test?”
Luna stood back up. “Creating dreams from scratch. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot find a way to turn a dream good, you ought to be able make a new, more pleasant dream without any reliance on what came before.”
The Tantabus rolled its eyes. “Oh, that’s it? Pfft. I could do that in my sleep.”
“Wah wah waaaaaaaah,” whispered Twilight.
“No pun intended. Now, eeny meenie miney moe…” It stepped up to a random door and pulled it open. “If you would.”
Luna and Twilight vanished through the door.