It all started with Spike. No, not Spike. Not my Spike. A Spike. An imposter. He brought me some tea. It burned, and not just from the heat. I coughed and choked. As my vision faded,green flames engulfed Spike, leaving something dark and insectile in his place. I coughed up something—not sure exactly what it was. Blood, I think. It felt like a lot, but my vision was gone by that point. There was a childish laugh as I collapsed, and then... then I was here.
But I didn't know where here was. A vast, but empty grassland lay in front of me. At first glance it seemed fine, but it felt wrong. The smell was the first detail I noticed—or rather, it was the lack of a smell. I couldn't smell the grass, any flowers, or anything at all in the air. Along that line of thought, the air was still. Too still. No wind, and I couldn’t feel the air as I moved. The grass wasn't grass. It was a bit too rigid, and didn’t make any rustling sound. It was a prop. A cheap imitation of living grass. And the absolute silence was deafening.
I tried to look out unto the horizon. My vision grew blurry as my eyes strained. Like staring into a sun, it hurt, and I was forced to look down at my hooves, unable to get a good view of what's ahead of me.
This world wasn't real, of that I was sure. It wasn’t exactly fake either, but it certainly wasn't the real Equestria. Perhaps a magical construct. Which begged the question of how I could have gotten here. Why would I end up in some magical stage after... after whatever it was that happened to me?
I trekked forward for who knows how long. Despite there being enough light to see, there was no sun.There didn’t seem to be any obvious thing giving off the light, since nothing had a shadow. There wasn't anything around to help me keep track of time. My legs weren't sore, so it couldn't have been for that long. Then again, since I didn't know how this world works I may have been using faulty logic.
Either way, I wasn't making any headway with just walking. Flying in a place that could operate under different rules was a risk, but there weren't many choices. I stretched out my wings, and with a quick flap I was air bound. The higher I went the worse the horizon became. I couldn't keep my eyes open for more than a second when facing straight forward; the sharp, stabbing pain was too much. In a weird way, I welcomed it. Pain meant I might still be alive.
Despite the handicap of not being able to look ahead, flying did offer one advantage: I could look down and scan a far wider area. After an unknown amount of time, I found something. A single, solitary tree in the vast sea of grass; under which sat a dark blue alicorn. With that the final shoe dropped, and this place made some sense.
I quickly swooped down and landed behind her. A silent landing, of course, as the grass still didn't give any noise. Relief washed over me. I opened my mouth and–
“Hello, Twilight Sparkle. I was just about to go get you.” I shouldn't be surprised that she felt my presence. Dreams were her domain, after all. “Follow me.”
Odd as it was that she didn't just explain things to me, I obeyed. She walked ahead, and I stayed behind her. “Luna, you have no idea how happy I am to see you. For a moment I actually thought I was in purgatory or something. Good to know it's just a messed up dream.”
“A dream?” she asked. She sounded amused by my conclusion, even adding in a small laugh under the breath. “Twilight, you're better than this. You should know not to jump to the easy conclusions without any critical thought.” She stopped, and I stumbled, just barely avoiding her hind legs. “Did you not feel pain when you tried to look too far ahead? When is the last time you felt that in a dream?”
“I...” A dream was the only explanation that truly made sense, but perhaps she was right. If I felt pain, then I had to be awake, and hopefully alive. “An illusion, perhaps? Or some type of magical construct?”
“You are along the right track, Twilight. This place is a pocket universe, an enclosed realm that can only be entered with the proper key. Celestia and I come here to discuss matters in absolute privacy, away from ponykind.”
A reality independent of our universe created by magic was theoretically possible. Clover the Clever even wrote a thesis on how one would go about creating such a thing, but the magic required would be immense, even for one as simple as this. Wait, a magical key? Then shouldn't I remember doing something to come here? “If that's true, how did I get here?”
“Close your eyes, count to three, and then open them again.”
Well, that wasn't strange or anything. Though I wasn't really in a position to argue. I sighed and did as told. One. Two. Three. My eyes cracked open, and what was that? It seemed to be a cocoon of some kind laying in the grass, but it was larger than me. A stretchy brown casing had been pulled over something, like a bag barely big enough to contain what was inside. It bulged as the thing inside stirred, but I couldn't make out what it actually was.
The middle of the casing sucked in my attention, and knocked the wind right out of me. It couldn't be real, I tried telling myself as I started to tremble. Etched into it was five small stars circling a single large one. This had to be a mistake, or some sick joke.
Luna must have gotten behind me when I had my eyes closed. I only remembered her presence when she spoke. “That is how you got here,” she whispered into my ear. There was no warmth from her mouth, or any stirring in the air. “You can feel it, can't you? It's right on the tip of your tongue. Tell me, what—or rather who—is inside it?”
It couldn't be. I refused believe it. I need... I needed air. Too tight. I needed out!
“Calm yourself, Twilight. We don't want you waking up early. It would make the process that much harder.”
I spun around to face Luna. Her eyes, they weren't eyes. Not physical eyes. They were the cosmos itself. Endless voids broken up by the smallest specks of light. What was that I felt? Fear? Awe? I could't say. This creature before me was Luna, but not as I had ever seen her before. The space around her shimmered in a magical aura unlike any that I've felt in Equestria.
Oddly enough, under those eyes was an almost playful smile. “You always were such a great student, weren't you, Twilight Sparkle?” She looked behind me at the cocoon and then back to me. “How can someone be in two places at once? There is a way.”
“I... I...” I tightly shut my eyes. No words would escape my throat when I stared into her eyes. With a few calming breaths, I tried again. “It is possible to create magical constructs. A level beyond illusions. They would look and feel real. For all intents and purposes, they would be solid matter. They can be controlled through the mind, like a puppet. And then you could use a form of extra sensory projection to link your senses with the puppet.” I swallowed hard. I knew exactly why she was asking this question, because I had asked it myself when I saw my own cutie mark stamped on the cocoon. . “You would taste, see, feel, and hear everything the puppet did.” Please, just let this stop.
As if answering my wish the ground below violently shook. I could hear the world being ripped apart. “It would seem my sister is displeased that I showed you this, but I couldn't resist this opportunity,” said Luna, her voice remaining calm through the earthquake.
Slowly I opened my eyes to see what had happened. Pillars of light had erupted from of the ground all around us. They pulsed with a familiar magic. The ground continued to shake as though the world was being torn apart. Luna had said ‘Sister’? Was this really Celestia? “Why?” It was the only thing I could think to say.
“I wanted to give you my own test before you really become one of us. A small peek at the truth to see how you handle it. You'll get the full story when you wake up.” She turned to the cocoon again. “When you truly wake up.”
A tendril of light reached out from one of the pillars and wrapped itself around my leg. I didn't fight it. The magic felt warm, inviting. I... I wanted to be enveloped by it. My body relaxed, and it dragged me to the pillar. My last sight was of Luna turning in another direction, staring at something beyond my vision. Then it was all lost to the light—the warm, comforting light.
I think I screamed when I woke up. I was in too much of a daze to say for sure. The world from before was gone, replaced by Equestria once more. Specifically, I was back in my old tower in Canterlot's royal palace. Erratic breathing and a bit of trembling aside, I appeared to be fine.
Luna. I had to go speak with Luna. I slid off the bed and stumbled. My muscles ached, and even getting full breaths wasn't that easy. My old bed was practically calling for me to return, but I refused. Through a series of sluggish, weak steps I managed to go down the spiral staircase to the tower's door. I took a moment to catch my breath. Thoughts were foggy, hard to pin down. But I knew I couldn't stop for long. Not until I had reached Luna. My magic reached for the door, only for it to be opened by someone else. It had found me again, that warm light.
“Twilight! Didn't I tell you to wait for me in bed?” asked Princess Celestia. “You look even worse than you did last night.” She leaned forward, touching her forehead to mine. “Your fever has gone up. Come on, back to bed.” The light raised me into the air, and carried me back up the stairs as my limbs dangled below me. “Stay put this time.” I was gently lowered back onto my bed. Celestia pulled a tray off her back with a mixing bowl and a pitcher of some type of juice. I couldn't tell at that moment. She levitated the bowl over to me. “Straight from the royal alchemist. Drink it.” Her words had force, but they didn't feel like an order. More like a concerned mother.
I nodded, and when the bowl reached my lips, I drank. Well, I coughed a bit first. “Spike wasn't kidding when he said you tried to cough it back up last night. I know it tastes horrible, but you need to drink it all this time. It'll lower your fever.” Spike? Right. Spike gave me something, and then I coughed. I did my best to take it all in this time. “Alright, and now something to take the taste away.” She pulled away the nasty potion, and in a moment a glass full of whatever was in the pitcher was pressed to my lips. Apparently it was a mix of grapes and apples. “Try to get a couple sips in you. The rest can be saved for later.” I took a few sips before turning my head, enough to drown out that awful taste. “I'll have a team of servants checking you every half hour. They'll make sure you have plenty to drink, and will bring you anything else you need. But you must stay in bed. Understand?” I nodded, not finding enough energy to speak. “The flu hit you hard, but it's nothing that won't go away with enough rest and a bit of medicine. I'll see you around lunch time.” She nuzzled me before walking off.
My mind returned to that other world, to that cocoon, and to those endless eyes. I felt the tightness around me once more. I struggled fruitlessly against the casing. I wanted to get out.
No! It wasn't real. That made up world was the delusion of a fever addled mind. It was just a dream.
It was just a dream.