• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 9,298 Views, 663 Comments

Moonlight - JasonTheHuman

"Everypony has fears, Scootaloo. Everypony must face them in their own way."

  • ...

Snowed In

Scootaloo found herself standing with her hooves buried in a thick blanket of snow, though they didn’t feel cold in the slightest.

Ahead of her, a towering castle rose up, with multiple spires so high above her that she had to crane her neck to see the peaks. There was something strangely familiar about the icy cliffs surrounding the base, and the sheer white walls, but she was pretty sure she’d never been anywhere like this when she was awake.

There was no sun or moon in the pink sky, not even a single cloud. Even so, it was perfectly bright, and light glinted off the sides of the castle, shining from nowhere at all.

Glancing back over her shoulder, there were no other landmarks visible. A featureless white plain stretched out in all directions until it met the horizon.

Despite the odd landscape, it wasn’t nearly as bad as anything Scootaloo had expected, considering Luna had said this was a nightmare and all. She looked down at her hooves, which remained firmly planted in the snow, and forced herself to take the first step forward.

She was walking around in another pony’s dream. The thought of that was strange, but other than the fact that no place like this could possibly exist in the real world, everything felt so real.

“Is… is anypony here?” Scootaloo called out.

There was no response. She trotted at a brisk pace towards the castle, kicking up snow as she went, as she passed between the cliffs until she reached the entrance.

Once she was close to it, she noticed it wasn’t really white at all. It was some kind of thick glass, or maybe ice. It didn’t feel cold to the touch, but neither did the snow she’d been running through. She pressed her face up against the wall, and found she could see some hazy, indistinct shapes through it.

Pacing around the side, she found a tall archway set into the face, and a pair of double doors of the same material as the rest of the structure. Scootaloo gave one door a gentle push, and it swung open effortlessly.

“Hello?” Her voice echoed off of everything—the walls, the ceiling. It was all chiseled out of the same smooth material. A sparkling chandelier hung over a staircase winding upwards into the rest of the tower. Even the benches and end tables against the walls appeared to be solid ice. Those couldn’t be very comfortable.

Scootaloo eyed the door behind her as she took a step inside. She almost expected it to slam shut, trapping her here, but it didn’t move.

“Guess the only way to go is up, then,” she muttered.

The stairs wound up in a spiral, higher into the tower, lined by perfectly smooth walls the whole way. The light from outside refracted through the wall in shades of blue and pink.

As she reached the landing at the top of the stairs, she stopped. It was a round, empty chamber, with open archways leading out to a balcony overlooking the snowfield. But somepony was standing just a few steps away from her, in the center of the room—a filly about her age, in a long frilly pink dress that trailed behind her on the floor. Despite the outfit, Scootaloo would have recognized her anywhere.

“Sweetie Belle?” she said, a smile forming on her lips. She ran up to meet her.

“Ah, Scootaloo! It’s so kind of you to visit,” Sweetie Belle said, turning around. Scootaloo had heard that tone of voice before. It was the same one Sweetie Belle would use when she was imitating Rarity. The fancy dress and tiara definitely looked like something Rarity would come up with.

Scootaloo stopped dead in her tracks and stared at her. “What... the hay?” she muttered.

“Is everything alright?” Sweetie Belle tilted her head.

“No, I’m fine. I sure am glad to see you,” Scootaloo said. “But… what is this place?” She stared up at high walls, curving into an arched ceiling. Then she looked back at Sweetie. “And what are you wearing?”

“Why, this is the traditional dress of the Princess of the Crystal Empire, of course,” Sweetie Belle said, still using that same fake accent. She gave a strange laugh. “Why would you ask such a silly question? You must be tired from your long trip.”

“The Crystal Empire?” Scootaloo glanced around the room. “I guess that explains why everything’s so… crystally.”

“It is such a long train ride from Ponyville. How have you been? You’ll have to tell me all about what’s been going on back home.”

Scootaloo stared at her blankly. “What are you talking about? We were just at school together today. This is all just…” Her voice trailed off when she noticed the look of confusion on Sweetie Belle’s face. Maybe it would be best to play along for now. She quickly faked a grin, and nodded enthusiastically. “I mean, it sure was a long trip! All the way out here to the Crystal Empire!”

Sweetie appeared to be satisfied by the answer. She was acting so weird, but that was probably just because she didn’t realize she was asleep. As long as nothing really bad was happening, Scootaloo saw no problem with letting her enjoy her dream. And it totally made sense that Sweetie Belle would dream about all this super-girly princessy stuff.

“I’ve got it!” Sweetie Belle clapped her front hooves excitedly. “Since you came all the way out here, why don’t you stay for a tea party?”

“A… tea party,” Scootaloo said. She sighed. The way Princess Luna had been talking, she had been expecting to face a hydra, or a horde of zombie ponies, or dozens of other unimaginably horrifying creatures. Instead, she was being invited to a tea party.

Whatever. This was Sweetie Belle’s dream, and nopony had to know that Scootaloo had actually agreed to some namby-pamby tea party. Especially not Rainbow Dash.

“Sure. A tea party. Why not?”

Sweetie Belle led her over to a small table in the center of the room, which Scootaloo could’ve sworn was empty just a moment ago. A teapot and two cups were already set out and waiting for them.

Taking a seat across from Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo hesitantly picked up one of the teacups. A small tendril of steam swirled up, and she could actually feel the heat radiating from it.

“So what brings you to the Crystal Empire on this fine day?” Sweetie Belle asked her.

“Well, uh…” Scootaloo took her first sip. It tasted surprisingly sweet—actually, she was surprised just to taste anything at all in a dream, though she wasn’t even sure that this was tea. “Actually, Princess Luna told me she was worried about you. She said that I should come check on how you’re doing.”

“Princess Luna?” Sweetie Belle cocked her head. For a moment Scootaloo was worried she had said something wrong, but then Sweetie nodded. The suggestion appeared to fit in with Sweetie Belle’s current state of mind. “Tell her I appreciate her concern, but I am quite alright.”

“Sure looks like it,” Scootaloo muttered.

She glanced over at an open archway, which led out to a balcony overlooking the barren snowfields. This was some empire that Sweetie Belle was princess of, wasn’t it?

Across the table, Sweetie Belle sat contently sipping her tea. Scootaloo shifted around restlessly. If this was what the whole dream was going to be, she wasn’t sure how she’d make it through the night.

“How about after this we take a look around?” Scootaloo said. “This is my first time in the Crystal Empire, after all.”

“Of course!” Sweetie Belle said. “You’ve hardly even seen the castle yet.”

“The castle’s cool and all, but I meant the Crystal Empire.” Scootaloo tried to think. Maybe if she put the ideas into Sweetie’s mind, they would appear, just like this tea table. “I mean, even I’ve heard Rarity go on about how much she loves the crystal ponies.”

Sweetie’s voice dropped low. “Crystal… ponies?”

“And, uh… Rainbow Dash told me about the stadium where they’re going to have the Equestria Games. Where is that?”

“M-Maybe you’d like to see the grand ballroom, or the… the dining hall, or something…” Sweetie’s accent was faltering.

“Come on, I mean, you’re the princess! You can do whatever you want here. What’s wrong with going out to—whoa!” Scootaloo’s hooves suddenly went out from under her, and she collapsed onto the floor.

Sweetie Belle didn’t react. She sat there, fidgeting nervously, eyes darting over the tea table in front of her.

“I’m… not sure what that just was, but let’s go,” Scootaloo said, pulling herself back up. “You lead the way.”

Then it came again—the whole castle shook. Scootaloo was thrown to the floor again, and couldn’t get her footing until the tremors stopped. Snow began to blow inside from the windows. Sweetie Belle watched her, her face unreadable.

“I really think we should just stay in the castle. There’s a lot to do in here!” Sweetie said. Her eyes darted around. “Come on, let’s go upstairs!”

Scootaloo braced herself against the table, ready for another shock. “Maybe we really should get outside. Are these earthquakes? I don’t remember hearing anything about the Crystal Empire getting earthquakes.”

“I could show you my dressing room. I’ve got a whole lot more dresses and outfits in there. Want to see?” Sweetie Belle said.

“Don’t tell me you’re not feeling these—“ Scootaloo couldn’t finish the sentence before she was thrown to the side again, sliding towards the open balcony until she grabbed onto the leg of the table.

Sweetie Belle did nothing. As Scootaloo hung onto the table, feeling herself being pulled down towards the window, she noticed the teacup still sitting on its saucer. Not even a single drop had spilled.

Outside, the snow was swirling upwards, around in circles, rising towards the sky. The blizzard was getting violent. A brief thought flashed through Scootaloo’s mind—it’s falling up?

“Sweetie Belle, I think something’s really going wrong. We need to get out of—”

This time Scootaloo felt the entire tower move. Desperately she reached for something to grab onto, but she was sliding too fast, the floor had gone completely vertical and she was falling, out towards the balcony and the raging snowstorm.

Scootaloo sat straight up in bed, breathing heavily. Her front hooves flew out to the sides, touching the mattress, her pillow, the walls. Everything seemed to have settled down. She was safe at home again.

Once the sensation had faded, her head fell back onto the pillow and she stared up at the ceiling.

She put her hooves up to her face. “What the hay was that all about?” she asked, as if Luna would reappear to answer her.

No response came.

Scootaloo was feeling exhausted as she rode to school the next morning. She supposed she had gotten her rest the night before, although going to the Crystal Empire and getting thrown out a window in some kind of gravity-defying earthquake was hardly a good night’s sleep.

It was so hard to make sense of it all. Princess Luna had told her she’d be visiting somepony’s nightmares, but Sweetie Belle had been having a perfectly nice dream up until Scootaloo had shown up. It must have been something Scootaloo had said that upset her.

She had mentioned leaving the castle to see the Empire, but the castle had been the only thing in the dream. Maybe Sweetie Belle just got confused, and couldn’t dream up the rest of the Crystal Empire on such short notice.

Throwing Scootaloo out the window had been a bit of a harsh reaction, though.

And now she couldn’t help but wonder what Sweetie Belle would say to her at school today. Would she know that Scootaloo had actually been there in her dream last night?

As Scootaloo shuffled into the classroom, she glanced at Sweetie Belle’s desk, but it was empty. She took her seat near the door, and continued watching her classmates filing through, dreading the moment when Sweetie Belle would show up.

The morning bell nearly made her jump out of her seat.

“Good morning, class!” Cheerilee said. She trotted over to the podium, looking impossibly full of energy for this early in the morning. “Everyone settle down so that we can take attendance. Apple Bloom?”

Apple Bloom’s hoof shot up in the air.

Cheerilee continued down the list. “Button Mash? Diamond Tiara?”

Scootaloo shifted around in her chair, waiting for the end of the list when her name would be called. And once Miss Cheerilee got to the letter S, she’d also be calling…

“Scootaloo?” Her head perked up at the sound of her name, and she raised her hoof automatically. “Silver Spoon… Snips… Snails…” Each of them responded, and Cheerilee read the final name. “Sweetie Belle?” Cheerilee looked over at the empty desk in the middle of the room. “Oh. It looks like she’s absent today.”

Absent? Scootaloo shrank down in her seat.

Cheerilee made a mark on the attendance sheet, then stood in front of the blackboard. “We’ll be continuing our work on multiplication tables today. Everypony get out your notebooks.”

Scootaloo reached into her saddlebag to get out her books, but her gaze drifted over to Sweetie Belle’s empty desk. Her stomach felt like it was tying itself in knots.

Sweetie Belle hadn’t exactly been normal last night—she’d been convinced she was Princess of the Crystal Empire, after all. But it was only a dream. There was no way something like that would keep her from coming to school.

But it couldn’t just be a coincidence, either.

She could hear Miss Cheerilee rattling off numbers and equations up front. The words all blended together into a meaningless jumble of sound. With a sigh, Scootaloo let her head fall forward onto her desk.

“I hope you’re not planning on taking a nap, Scootaloo,” Cheerilee said.

Scootaloo sat straight up. “Uh, no, ma’am.” She fought to keep her eyes open. Really, going back to sleep was the last thing she wanted to do right now. She forced herself to stare at the blackboard, even as the numbers blurred together.

She flew out of her seat the moment the bell rung. The classroom had been starting to feel claustrophobic, and her legs were stiff after what felt like ages spent sitting down listening to Miss Cheerilee’s lectures. She dashed out the door into the afternoon sunlight.

“Hey, Scootaloo! Guess the two of us are on our own today,” Apple Bloom said, catching up to her. “You’re not meeting Rainbow Dash again, are you?”

“Nah, she’s probably busy today,” Scootaloo said. “But I was thinking we should go over to Sweetie Belle’s and make sure she’s alright.”

Apple Bloom tilted her head. “I dunno. She seemed fine yesterday. Maybe she just got a cold or somethin’.”

“Maybe, but…” Scootaloo bit her lip. She couldn’t exactly tell Apple Bloom what had happened last night. It sounded crazy. Plus, there was the possibility that it was her own fault that Sweetie Belle wasn’t here today... “I’ve just got a bad feeling, is all. And aren’t you at least curious what’s going on?”

“It’s not the first time any of us has missed school, ya know,” Apple Bloom said. “But I guess she’d prob’ly be happy to see us. It’s no fun bein’ stuck at home alone when you’re sick.”

“Exactly!” Scootaloo hopped on her scooter and took off down the road.

Apple Bloom ran after her. “Hey! Slow down a sec, will ya?”

Scootaloo rolled along on her scooter at a snail's pace. It was taking ages to get to Sweetie Belle's house, and each moment she could be... Well, to be honest, Scootaloo didn't even know what was happening to her, but it couldn't be anything good.

“So what’d you guys do yesterday?” Scootaloo said.

“We hung out at the clubhouse for a while. We played a couple board games, read some books…” Apple Bloom said. “Usually you’re the one who comes up with all the crazy stunts, so we didn’t do too much.”

“Did she seem okay to you?”

“Sure, I guess.” Apple Bloom gave a shrug. “Just wait. We’ll go see 'er and she’ll be just fine.”

Scootaloo noticed the windmill up ahead at the end of the road. She recognized it immediately; Sweetie Belle’s house was right next door to it. She put forth a burst of speed, leaving Apple Bloom in a cloud of dust.

The front door swung open, and Rarity stepped out, talking to a stallion in a straw hat who followed behind her. “She looked positively awful! Are you sure there’s nothing else we can do for her?”

“The doctor said he’d be here any minute,” the stallion said, scratching his head. “I sure as hay can’t figure out what happened.”

“I would stay with her all day if I could, but I have so many orders at the shop today,” Rarity said. “But please tell me the very moment she wakes up. I shan’t be able to rest until I know she’s alright.”

She turned and trotted away quickly, her brow creased with worry. She glanced at Scootaloo briefly as she passed, but didn’t say a word.

The stallion stared into space for a moment before he noticed the fillies. A friendly smile came across his face. “Hiya, girls!”

“Oh, howdy, Mr. Magnum!” Apple Bloom said, running to catch up with Scootaloo.

He gave a tip of his hat to them, but then frowned. “You girls aren’t here to see Sweetie Belle, are ya?”

Scootaloo hopped off her scooter. “Is she okay? We were just really worried when she didn’t show up to class.”

“Well, it’s the darndest thing. She was doin’ fine yesterday, but this morning... Well, uh, she wouldn’t get outta bed. Thought she might’ve just been feelin’ lazy, but… I haven’t been able to get her up all day.”

“So she’s just got a cold... right?” Apple Bloom asked.

Magnum shook his head. “No fever or nothin’. The doctor’s supposed to come by later this afternoon to give her a look,” he said. “You girls better be on your way. Don’t know if this thing might be catching.”

Apple Bloom glanced back at Scootaloo. “Huh. Well, guess we’d better—“

“Um, it’s really important that we go see her,” Scootaloo cut in.

“No, I think she needs some time to rest up and get better,” Magnum said. “Don’t worry, girls. We’re doin’ everything we can.”

“Well, uh…” Scootaloo tapped her chin with a hoof. “Homework!”

“What?” Apple Bloom stared at her.

“We came by to drop off some homework. There’s a big project coming up soon, and we wanted to make sure that Sweetie Belle knows all about it so she’s ready when she comes back to class,” Scootaloo said. “We’ll just go up to her room and drop off all the stuff.”

He raised one bushy eyebrow. “They’re really giving you kids big homework assignments like that at your age?”

Apple Bloom shook her head slowly. “No, Miss Cheerilee never—”

“Yeah, it's a huge assignment. Don’t want her falling behind!” Scootaloo grabbed her and pulled her over towards the door. “We’ll just be a minute!” She pushed it open and dragged Apple Bloom in after her.

“Now what was that all about?” Apple Bloom said once the door was closed. “We don’t have any homework today.”

“I had to come up with something. He wasn’t going to let us in.”

“He told us Sweetie Belle wasn’t feelin’ good.”

Scootaloo shook her head as she galloped towards the stairs. “Didn’t you hear what he said? She didn’t even wake up this morning. That’s definitely not normal.”

“You ain’t actin’ too normal yourself. Are ya sure you ain’t sick?”

“I’ve… just had a bad feeling about her, that’s all,” Scootaloo said.

They had been over to Sweetie Belle’s house enough times to find their way around. Sweetie Belle’s room was on the left, across from her parent’s. The door was shut tight. Exchanging a nervous glance with Apple Bloom, Scootaloo gently pushed the door open.

A beam of light from the hallway spread across the darkened room, casting light across the rug, the posters on the wall, the bed. The curtains were drawn closed.

Scootaloo grinned nervously as they crept inside. “Hey, Sweetie Belle! We came to visit you!”

In the dim light, they make out Sweetie Belle’s tiny shape on the bed. Her head was turned towards the far wall. It sounded like she mumbled something, but it was too quiet to hear. The blanket rose and fell slowly with her breathing, but otherwise she was completely motionless.

“Her dad wasn’t kiddin’,” Apple Bloom said. “She looks plum tuckered. I really think we should just leave her alone.”

“Come on! Rise and shine! Up and at ‘em!” Scootaloo said, trotting over to the curtains and spreading them open, flooding the room with sunlight. Apple Bloom raised a hoof to shield her eyes.

The covers on the bed twitched, and they heard a soft groan. Apple Bloom cautiously approached the bed, but Sweetie Belle hadn’t woken up.

“I don’t think that’s workin’,” Apple Bloom said.

Scootaloo gritted her teeth. “It’s worse than I thought…”

It didn’t make sense. Princess Luna hadn’t mentioned anything about this happening. And it had only been a dream, hadn’t it?

“Guess you were right to be worried about her.” Apple Bloom stared at the bed, frowning. “Ain’t much we can do about it, though. I really think we should get out of here.”

“Yeah…” Scootaloo nodded slowly. “We should just… let her be.”

On the way out, Apple Bloom stopped next to the dresser. “Oh, hey! Wonder when she got that.”

“What is it?” Scootaloo trotted over to her.

“I guess Rarity did end up gettin’ her one of those snowglobes. Remember the ones Sweetie Belle was talkin’ about? From the Crystal Empire?”

The words “Crystal Empire” made Scootaloo freeze. Slowly, she approached the dresser to get a better look.

It was a small glass globe, with tiny snowflakes floating around a very familiar-looking tower. She remembered now—Sweetie Belle had been looking at it that time they’d been at the train station, the only time they’d actually visited the Crystal Empire.

At least, the only time in real life.

“Y-yeah. Pretty cool,” Scootaloo said.

Scootaloo lay awake in bed that night. She felt completely drained, but she couldn’t get to sleep even if she wanted to. And she really didn’t want to.

Nopony else knew what Sweetie Belle was going through. All they saw was a tired little filly asleep in bed. But really, she was still trapped in her castle in the Crystal Empire… Or was it that she just didn’t want to leave?

Whatever it was, Scootaloo knew she had something to do with it. This whole thing was her fault. She wasn’t cut out for this whole dream-visiting thing, and now Sweetie Belle was suffering the consequences. Maybe she could convince Luna to find somepony else.

She tossed and turned, the sheets wrapping themselves around her, but she couldn’t stay awake forever.

Before she knew it, her eyelids began to droop, and her bedroom began to fade away and transform...