"Good evening, Twilight Sparkle."
"Hello, Princess Luna," Twilight replied, her eyes tracing the elegant curves of the palace.
"This is a lovely dream."
"Yes, it's a favorite of mine. It's just like the first time I ever saw Canterlot from a pegasus chariot at night." Twilight's smile widened for a moment, then dropped away. She stepped back from the edge of the clouds. "But sometimes, if I'm under a lot of stress before I go to sleep, I fall off the clouds and it turns into one of those awful falling nightmares that--"
Twilight froze. "Wait. How did I know this is just a dream?" She whirled around. "Ohmygosh, Princess Luna! I didn't mean to be so rude!" The unicorn dropped into a deep bow.
Luna chuckled and shook her head. "No, Twilight Sparkle, please rise. The fault is mine. I wished to enter your dream as gently as possible, but I may have entered it too gently."
Twilight stood slowly and asked, "So gently I didn't even realize you were there?"
Princess Luna smiled. "Precisely." The alicorn dipped her head and closed her eyes. "I must apologize for barging into your dream uninvited, but I assure you I would never have done so without quite the excuse. Please forgive the intrusion."
Twilight rapidly waved a hoof at the air, eyes wide. "No-no-no, Princess, it's all right! No need to apologize!" She dropped her hoof and tilted her head. "But, why are you here? Why now? Is there something I can help you with?"
Luna shook her head softly. "On the contrary, it is I who is here to provide you assistance. Or, at least, Pinkie Pie."
Twilight's breath stuck in her throat as she sat abruptly, tiny tufts of cloud spinning off from the impact. "Pinkie's okay?" was the first thing she managed to say, and even that was in a rather small voice.
"She is merely sleeping."
"I didn't... I mean..." Twilight took a deep breath and shuddered, looking down at the cloud between her forelegs. "I didn't even realize until now that there was a tiny part of me that thought maybe..." Her voice dropped even quieter. "Maybe she was gone forever."
Twilight leapt to her hooves. "But she's okay!" The purple pony hopped forward, smiling up into Luna's face. "And you know where she is?!"
The alicorn reached out to rest a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "No." The younger mare's mouth opened, but Luna didn't let her start. "But, I can bring you to her."
Twilight blinked, then shook her head slightly. "I don't get it."
Luna turned and stepped away as she spoke, looking out to the horizon. "She is out there somewhere, dreaming and calling out for her friends. Any of you, all of you. And for the first time in my life, I am unable to enter a dream uninvited."
Twilight gulped, remaining silent.
"There is a shell around her that seems impenetrable, but the power of an invitation is great here." Luna looked over her shoulder at Twilight. "I believe that with my guidance and your natural talent you will be able to enter."
"And then I can find out where she is and bring her back safe!" Twilight danced from hoof to hoof.
Luna smiled and stepped back toward her sister's pupil. "And perhaps once you have recovered the gem, you will carefully bring it to Canterlot for study?"
Twilight stopped her dance and chuckled sheepishly. "Oh, you heard about that?"
Luna's smile didn't drop from her face. "One of the Elements of Harmony goes missing with a curious magical artifact and the entire village of Ponyville is mobilized to find her? These sorts of things do tend to reach the royal guard eventually."
Twilight scuffed a hoof at the cloud surface beneath it. "Heh, right. Sorry."
Princess Luna placed her hoof on Twilight's shoulder again. "No worries, Twilight Sparkle. Now close your eyes tightly and do not open them again until we've arrived."
The unicorn clenched her eyes shut. "Yes, Princess."
"And don't forget, you can just call me Luna."
Twilight gasped, or would have if she had a body. The very concept of keeping her eyes closed suddenly seemed alien, considering she no longer had eyes or or eyelids to close them with.
'But I promised!' Twilight told herself, 'So I won't look!'
She could hear, though, and she thought she heard... pink. She didn't know how she could hear a color, but she heard it just the same, a tiny but piercing dot of pink in the distance straight ahead. Just like she could feel the warm blue-blackness of Princess Luna guiding her. And if that feeling was Luna, then logically the pinkness... Twilight thought Luna said something, but there were no words, no sounds, just the knowledge of Luna's delight at Twilight picking up on things so quickly.
There was no sense of motion, but as the pinkness grew at an accelerating rate made Twilight got the impression she was rushing through the... what was it? She tried to reach out to her sense of touch, but without a body it seemed like all she could feel was very, very light.
Luna's blue-blackness suddenly became rigid and Twilight knew what she had to do: push. The gifted unicorn reached out to activate her magic and despite the lack of a horn she realized it was still the same process. She summoned her magical will into focus and concentrated.
Suddenly she could feel something, a magical pattern that Luna was sharing, a something-she-should-do-with-her-magic feeling that made her giddy. 'If only all magic could be taught like this!'. Twilight focused her magic through the pattern, paying close attention to how her magical power flowed. She would have been breathless with excitement at casting such a complex spell without fully researching it, if only she had lungs.
The pinkness was huge, looming like a mountain overhead. And then there was a new smell, rigid and gray and yellow. It was paper-thin, but kept Luna and Twilight from getting any closer to the pink sphere ahead.
'Push,' Twilight repeated. 'Push. Push! PUSH!' The spell coursed through Twilight's being, surging with force that increased with rhythmic throbs. The yellow and gray wall dimpled, then became a concave dome, thinning to a hair's breadth.
A pinhole of pink shone through and then Luna's presence was stripped away as the very essence of Twilight Sparkle tumbled helplessly on a crash course with Pinkie Pie's dream.
Twilight did gasp this time, though ironically it was because she suddenly had a body. She lifted a hoof and dropped it back down to the hard surface beneath her, sending out a sharp "tock" that echoed away. That was enough for the unicorn to decide she'd "arrived," as Luna had put it, and she opened her eyes.
Perfectly flat dull grayness spread out before Twilight, the "sky" overhead only identifiable by its slightly lighter shade of gray. Looking straight up only showed more of the same, an unchanging soft gray light covering everything but without any obvious source.
"Pinkie?" Twilight asked, her voice echoing again. She shouted, "Pinkie Pie!" and cringed as her voice came back to her many times over.
Twilight squinted as she looked for the horizon, but it didn't really seem that there was one, just a point where her eyes couldn't tell where the ground stopped and the not-ground began. She turned in place, eyes focused on that point straight ahead of her as she rotated. Twilight muttered, "I really, really, really, don't like gray anymore."
Something not-gray in the corner of her eye caught Twilight's attention and she whipped her head to look. Pink! She broke into a headlong gallop, unaware that she was suddenly grinning and there were tears forming in the corner of her eyes.
"Pinkie!" she yelled again, wincing at the echo but not slowing down; she did yell a little more quietly, though. "I'm here to help! You'll be back home safe in no time!"
Pinkie Pie was sitting down facing Twilight, but she didn't move, not even to raise a hoof and wave. "Pinkie?" Twilight shouted, but then her gallop dropped to a canter as she approached.
Pinkie's head was angled down to look at the ground. Her face was mostly hidden behind her dull, completely straight mane, her equally lifeless tail flat on the ground behind her.
Twilight trotted up to stop before the earth pony, her grin long gone. "Pinkie? Are you... are you okay?"
"Oh, hi Twilight," Pinkie said, her tone quiet and hollow. "I'm fine. Just fi--" Her voice cracked, and she paused for a long moment. "... Just fine."
Small tears started to form in Twilight's eyes again and she swallowed hard. Her own voice dropped lower, strained. "Pinkie? What's wrong?"
The purple unicorn approached, but as she reached out Pinkie flinched away, one front hoof curled up against her chest protectively. She looked away from Twilight and into the distance.
"Not again," Pinkie said, voice trembling. "I know you're just a silly itsy-bitsy little figment of my imagination and you're going to go poof as soon as I touch you, so please... not again?" Pinkie's voice nearly cracked again on the last two words.
Twilight shook her head. "But I'm not a figment of your imagination!"
"That's what they all say," Pinkie sighed, gently setting her hoof back down.
"Well, I can prove it!" Twilight set her jaw and tensed her hind legs, leaping toward Pinkie. The earth pony gasped and ducked, hooves covering her head, a gesture that reminded Twilight of Fluttershy... until she crashed into the "ground" past Pinkie and looked back at her upside-down, legs pointed straight up in the air. Pinkie finally risked a glance at Twilight out of the corner of her eye, and then she looked away with a little snort.
Twilight's own eyes widened, and then she grinned. "Pinkie Pie?"
"What?" Pinkie asked, just the smallest fleck of interest in her voice.
"Watch this!" Twilight rolled sideways several times, picking up speed, and then jumped up to land on her back hooves, her front legs up in the air over her head. "Tada!" she yelled, before falling flat onto her back, legs pointed in random directions, her tail straight up in the air.
Pinkie blinked, then snorted again. "And what was that?"
Twilight lifted her head to grin at Pinkie. "Slapstick! I think. I read about it once. Is it working?"
"I--" The earth pony met Twilight's eye, then looked away quickly.
Twilight got back to her hooves and walked in a straight line past Pinkie, raising a hoof to wave. "Hey there, Pinkie Pie! Nice weather we're having today, h--" Suddenly a banana peel appeared beneath Twilight's hoof and she stepped on it hard. "Huuuuh!" she yelped as she slid a few pony-lengths on the peel, then flipped once in the air to land hard on her stomach, legs sprawled out beneath her. The echos of her yell rebounded around the pair.
Pinkie blinked, then something resembling a very small giggle bubbled up from her throat. "Wait," she said, pointing at the banana peel. "Where'd that come from?"
"No idea!" Twilight admitted. "I just thought I needed it." She started to get up to her hooves, then "accidentally" stepped back onto the peel, legs kicking and flailing as if she was on ice before she fell flat again. She crossed her eyes, tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth.
Pinkie giggled again, almost smirking. "But, Imaginary Twilight, real Twilight doesn't think that kind of stuff is funny at all."
"But that makes it funnier, right?" Twilight got back to her hooves. "It's the juxtaposition of stuffy ol' Twilight Sparkle with the goofiness of slapstick comedy!"
"Juxtaposition?" Pinkie asked.
Twilight quickly replied, "Gesundheit."
Pinkie giggled again, but cut herself short. Her small smile disappeared and she looked away. "Not again... You're just going to go poof and leave me all alone again and I... I don't--" The pink pony's voice cracked again.
Twilight cleared her throat and proclaimed, "I, Twilight Sparkle, solemnly Pinkie Swear that I will not disappear when you touch me."
When Pinkie looked Twilight was sitting with one hoof raised, a very serious look on her face. That hoof moved down to cross her chest as Twilight continued, "Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
Pinkie looked into Twilight's one uncovered eye for a good few seconds, her mouth just barely hanging open. "None of the others Pinkie Promised," she admitted in a near-whisper.
Twilight uncovered her eye and reached the hoof out, leaving it hanging there in the air. "Please?" she asked, smiling warmly. "Trust me?"
Pinkie bit her lower lip and stepped forward, just out of range to reach the hoof with her own. Twilight nodded slowly, smiling a little wider. Her hoof bobbed, beckoning. Pinkie took another step, starting to reach out. She stopped inches short, looking into Twilight's eyes.
Pinkie tore her eyes away, her hoof pulling partially back, then froze. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes tight, and reached out the rest of the way.
A quiet "tock" of impact echoed around the ponies. Pinkie opened her eyes slowly, staring at her hoof, and Twilight gave a gentle nudge forward so there was no mistaking it; they had made contact. "See?" the unicorn said. Their eyes met again, but then there was a sudden pink blur.
Twilight found herself pushed back into a sitting position with Pinkie hugging tightly to her, face buried into her neck and shoulder, a now-puffy pink mane filling half of the unicorn's vision. Twilight returned the hug and closed her eyes.
"You're real! You're really really real!" Pinkie managed to giggle and sob at the same time, squeezing Twilight tightly and not letting go. "Thankyou-thankyou-thankyou for not poofing!"
Twilight squeezed in return and rubbed Pinkie's back, tears coming to her eyes as well. "Oh Pinkie," Twilight whispered.