• Published 22nd Sep 2014
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The Star Guard - Car Cloth

The newly formed Star Guard has been given an impossible task: purge the world of the Nightmare Forces once and for all. Can Captain Pipsqueak, an earth pony not gifted in magic, fight against the darkness? Only time will tell.

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The Vast Dreamscape

Chapter 2
The Vast Dreamscape

Pip closed his eyes.

“Now hold the fragment close and allow its power to take hold,” Luna said.

Although the instructions were cryptic, Pip attempted to do exactly what he was told. The power he felt beating in the fragment soon began to whisk him away into a dream-like state. It was as if he were daydreaming, losing himself in his thoughts. Pip could no longer feel the couch.

He opened his eyes and realized that he was suddenly far above Canterlot, looking down on it as if it were a toy set. Everything in the dreamscape was shadowy and a pulse of wind ran through the area, catching the tips of buildings and mountains, corroding them into sand but never really diminishing their mass. It somehow retained an aura of whimsy and terror at the same time…

Luna was standing with him, over the dreamscape, staring down at Canterlot below. Pip could see pockets of bright lights, some colorful, some… not so colorful. The lights had a comforting feeling about them, and Pip realized they were tucked away in the buildings. Were these lights… actually dreams?

“Follow me,” Luna said with a playful laugh. “I know the perfect place to start.” She danced through the air, flying down toward a bright light. Pip followed after her, only needing to will himself to move for it to actually happen. When they neared it, the light washed over them, altering everything until Pip realized they were now beneath a vast lake.

Swimming through the water, without needing to breathe, Pip took in the pristine surface above and the glittering light filtering down to the depths. Much to Pip’s surprise, seashells below him where harmoniously humming and dancing. Fish swam around like a whirlwind, shimmering and sparkling in the light.

“Normally I would conceal myself,” Luna said to Pip, bubbles exiting her mouth. “But I doubt Pinkie Pie would mind if we shared her dreaming to experiment.”

“Come back! I won’t hurt you! I just wanna be friends!”

Pip turned and saw the Element of Laughter herself, Pinkie Pie. She was chasing after a pack of gold otters, swimming at supernatural speeds and laughing the whole time despite the water.

Pinkie Pie stopped chasing the otters the instant she spotted Luna and Pip. Swimming over with a smile, she happily remarked, “Hey! More ponies! Are you both here to meet the gold otters as well? I heard they grant wishes but they’ve been too shy to talk to me yet!”

“What should we do?” Pip asked Luna. “Are there nightmares to be found here? How do we root them out?”

“I’ve already dedicated time to purging the darkness from the dreams of the other princesses and element bearers,” Luna informed him. “No, I brought you here simply to test the limits of your dream abilities.”

“Hey!” Pinkie interjected. “This all seems very familiar… We’re all ponies under the sea… I know there’s a name for that. What’s that called?”

“Sea ponies?” Pip asked with a shrug, kicking his legs to swim simply because he felt his subconscious needed to do so.

“Pfft.” Pinkie rolled her eyes. “No. That sounds absurd. I meant mermares! We’re all mermares!”

Pip frowned. “I’m not a mare-”

“Shoo-be-doo! Shoo-shoo-be-doo!” Pinkie sang, cutting him off. When the otters swam by, her eyes widened with delight. She quickly chased after them, singing the whole way.

Luna laughed as Pinkie swam away, delighted by her exuberance. She turned back to Pip and smiled. “You can alter the contents of a dream, just as I do when I walk the dreams of my subjects. The quality and strength of your alteration is determined by your imagination. You must see it, and want it, and then it will be.”

With a swish of her horn, Luna summoned a playful pod of dolphins. They swam around Pip before joining the swirling fish. Pip had altered his own dreams before, when he realized he was lucid dreaming, but altering the dreams of others…

Pip tried to think of something that would be underwater. Maybe a… salmon?

A single pink salmon suddenly coalesced into existence before him. It had been simple, just like in his own dreams. Pip smiled to himself. He had been afraid of failing, especially in front of Luna.

The salmon acted and moved just as Pip would expect, never surprising him. He suspected that, since it was a creation of his own thoughts, it couldn’t surprise him.

“When I must hide myself…” Luna continued. She moved toward the school of fish and suddenly became fish herself, blending into the dream as though she had never been there to begin with.

“Like this,” her disembodied voice stated. “You must think of yourself shrouded and covered by the magic.”

Pip couldn’t feel the magic, but he tried to do as Luna said regardless. He swam into the fish and imagined himself as a part of the dream. The happy energy of the environment seemed to have seeped into his very being, and Pip couldn’t help but smile. He liked this dream, even though he’d never had a fascination with swimming. Pirates, on the other hoof…

“Huzzah, Pip! You are a natural!”

“I’ve had practice with you in my dreams,” he sheepishly admitted. “I think I have an unfair advantage.”

Luna reappeared and motioned with her head for him to follow. Pip nodded, swimming after her. They swam for some distance until they reached the end of the dream and came across a light. Luna trotted through the light and stepped into another dream. Pip attempted to follow, but when he got close, he suddenly felt weak.

Squinting at the light, Pip was forced to turn back and return to Pinkie’s dream. “Luna?” Pip called out. “I can’t seem to follow you.”

Princess Luna trotted back into Pinkie’s dream and gave Pip a questioning look. “Why didn’t you follow me, Pip?”

“I… I can’t seem to. I don’t know how to describe it. I just felt like… it was a strain. I couldn’t.”

“You are certain?” Luna glanced over her shoulder and motioned in another direction. “This way.”

Pip followed Luna to another edge of the dream. Just like before, Luna exited into another dreamscape and Pip attempted to follow. Again, he felt himself becoming weak and unable to go forward. Pip withdrew back into Pinkie’s dream.

Luna came back moments later, distressed. “I don’t understand,” she muttered. Quickly glancing around, she motioned to another edge and quickly swam through the dream. Pip followed her, not entirely sure what was happening. Luna disappeared through another veil of light and Pip tried his hoof at going through as well.

This time, it worked.

Pip could feel the light wash over him, and suddenly he was in a surreal dream version of Canterlot Castle. He recognized the entrance hall and saw that some sort of party was in progress. At the center of the party, speaking to a group of upper-class ponies, was Prince Blueblood.

“Pip,” Luna said. “You made it.”

“Yeah, this time. What was going on?”

Luna furrowed her brow. “I knew that the magic I gave you would be weak, but I hadn’t anticipated this. Pip, I think you can only enter the dreams of those who are nearby. I tried to take us to the dreams of ponies in Ponyville, but to no avail. However, you could enter Pinkie Pie’s and Prince Blueblood’s… both of whom are in Canterlot, just like you.”

“Really?” Pip asked. “But… how am I going to search for the Nightmare Forces if I can’t even reach most of the dreams?”

The ponies in the dream all began stomping their hooves on the ground and laughing. Luna turned to watch as Prince Blueblood held his head high. “Yes, I was there! I saw everything,” the prince told them smugly. “I practically defeated one all by myself.”

“First, Pip, let us deal with the darkness here,” Luna whispered. Pip nodded and turned his attention back to the dream. It was so… dull… that he hadn’t bothered to take note of anything out of the ordinary. As far as Pip was concerned, this could be an average, everyday occurrence at Canterlot Castle.

“But, did you hear, Prince Blueblood?” one of the party-going ponies suddenly said. “Did you hear about the death of Princess Celestia at the claws of the monsters?”

“W-what?” Prince Blueblood gasped, obviously taken aback. “I… I didn’t know. A-are you sure?”

“Very sure, Prince! What are you going to do now that you’re responsible for all of Equestria?”

The crowd of ponies began crowding around the prince, all staring at him expectantly. Prince Blueblood took a few steps away, backing up against the wall. “I… Well, there are other princesses that will… know what to do…”

“Didn’t you hear, Prince?” the dream pony asked in a dismal voice. “They’re all gone. It’s just you! What are we going to do, Prince? What’re we going to do?”

Pip turned to Luna and whispered, “What should we do to find the darkness?”

“The Nightmare Forces are tricky and devious, Pip. They will use whatever tactics are necessary to cloud the judgment of the dreamer. Sometimes they will promise things, sometimes they will lie… but nothing is more effective than when they whispering truths that usher in despair. You must first wait for the darkness to appear in the dream, and then you must deal with it, either subtly or overtly.”

Prince Blueblood shook his head and forced a laugh. “Please, ponies… Surely there is a… seneschal, or, er, somepony else that could handle the pressures and responsibilities of the e-entire kingdom!”

“But,” one of the ponies in the crowd spoke up darkly, “if you won’t care for the kingdom… why are you even here? If somepony is going to rule Equestria, shouldn’t they be the real prince? Why don’t we remove you and usher in a new reign?”

“Yes,” another pony in the crowd responded, equally as dark. “We should remove him from power. Remove him from the castle and place another unicorn here in his place.”

“Remove him! Remove him!” some ponies began chanting.

“Throw him out! Throw him out!”

Prince Blueblood shook his head. “W-wait! I can’t be thrown out! I’m royalty! I… I…”

A gloriously beautiful white unicorn mare stepped out from the crowd and gently wrapped a foreleg around Prince Blueblood. She smiled, her gold eyes sparkling. “It’s alright, Prince. Surely you have some skill as a unicorn you can fall back on. Some skill you could use to earn a living.”

“I…” Prince Blueblood shook with inner turmoil. “I thought… I thought I could live here forever… I didn’t think I needed a skill…”

The white unicorn tossed her golden mane and frowned. “No skill? Why… you might have to live a life close to poverty. Could you imagine? You? In poverty?”

Prince Blueblood closed his eyes and suddenly the dream began to crumble. Cracks in the walls and floor… Pip took a step closer to Luna and shuddered. What was going on? Shouldn’t they be doing something? What was Luna waiting for?

“Don’t worry,” the beautiful unicorn mare purred. “I can give you a skill. A skill that will keep you in wealth and power forever.”

“The Nightmare Forces feed on fear, bitterness, hate, doubt… all kinds of negative emotions,” Luna explained, watching the scene intently. “And when they think they are powerful enough, they will attempt to offer a deal to the pony. A deal to make all their dreams come true, if they give in to the darkness.”

“What kind of skill?” Prince Blueblood asked, oblivious to the dream around him slowly shaking and crumbling. The upper-class ponies began sinking into the ground, turning to dust. The lights dimmed, and a cold breeze blew over the area.

Luna took a step forward, but still, she waited. “You have to make sure you rout the Nightmare Forces completely, Pip. Wait till they show themselves and then expel them. Keep in mind, though… you won’t be able to alter any dreams containing the Nightmare Forces. Not while the dreamer still fears what is happening.”

The beautiful mare leaned in closer and whispered, “The best kind of skill. One that is easy.”

The castle twisted and warped, but the most important change was the unicorn mare. Although still beautiful, it became sinister, its body becoming elongated, wild. Its eyes were focused on Prince Blueblood, while its teeth became sharp and jagged.

“Prince Blueblood,” Luna said in a loud booming voice, drawing the unicorn’s attention. “You have a skill, don’t you remember? Your cutie mark didn’t appear without a reason.”

The nightmare unicorn turned to Luna with an annoyed expression. Prince Blueblood slowly nodded. “My cutie mark?” He glanced at his flank and stared at the gold four-pointed star over a blue four-point star. “That’s right… I can make things dazzling with my magic… I’m sure many high-class ponies would like that!”

“Don’t listen to them,” the nightmare unicorn whispered. “Aren’t you afraid of losing everything you have here? Don’t you want it to be secure? What if both the sisters became nightmares themselves? You would be removed for sure.”

Pip snorted. “That’s a pretty big what if. I guarantee that it isn’t a big stretch to think of what Celestia would do if you were giving into dark magic, Prince Blueblood.”

The princes slowly nodded, realization shining in his eyes. “You’re right… Celestia would never stand for that.”

The nightmare creature, infuriated, turned to Luna and Pip with a snarl. Without warning, it galloped forward, its mouth opening and splitting all the way to the middle of the neck, like a deformed, twisted alligator.

With a blast of her magic, Luna defeated the creature, shattering it into a million tiny black pieces. The moment it was gone, the dream began to mend itself back together. The cracks in the walls stitched themselves back together and the party guests returned, smiles upon their faces.

Pip turned to Luna. “Does that mean he’ll never have nightmares again?”

“No,” Luna breathed. “Defeating the Nightmare Forces doesn’t eliminate fear itself. It just means that we won’t have to deal with the tyranny of Nightmare Blood next time.”

Pip laughed to himself. That was a pretty ominous sounding name for somepony he didn’t consider ominous in the least bit. “How did you know the Nightmare Forces were going to strike here? Or was it just a coincidence that we got here in time?”

Luna shook her head and began trotting back to the wall of light at the edge of the dream. “No, Pip. If you concentrate, you can feel the movement of the dark magic. Those other two dreams are suffering now as well. I must go to them. Some ponies have the strength to repel the darkness themselves, but I can’t take that chance. Practice with your magic here and I will contemplate what to do about your limited range.” Before Pip could answer, she trotted away, leaving him to the dream.

With a sigh, Pip sat down on the pristine floor. Prince Blueblood had been easily swayed by the darkness, but just as easily swayed back. He was subject to peer pressure, and thus, prone to such sway. Pip could only imagine what it would be like to try and convince a pony who was stubborn or strong of will.

The music of the dream party was starting up all around him, and Pip moved over to a pillar in order to escape most of the noise. He found this dream so boring and dull… nothing like what he experienced with Luna when they shared dreams. Focusing on his magic, Pip made a tiny moon appear, floating before him. With another thought, he made seven tiny stars swirl around it. Like a mobile over a crib, they swirled in circles, and Pip laughed to himself.

But… helping so many ponies would be a difficult task, he knew. What if he couldn’t convince them that the darkness was not the correct path? Sure, it was easier to see the problem looking from the outside in, but that didn’t mean he had all the answers. I guess that’s why I have the others, he thought. Maybe what I don’t see, they will.

Pip hadn’t even realized the music had stopped. He got up and looked out from behind the pillar. There was nopony here. He was all alone. “Prince Blueblood?” Pip asked aloud.

Nothing. Silence.

“Luna?” he whispered in a lighter voice.

No answer.

Pip tried to use the magic within the Fragment of the First Night, but… he couldn’t. Even his moon and stars had disappeared.

“Hm… I had not expected to see you again so soon, child.”

The dark and uncaring voice caused Pip’s coat to stand on end. He recognized it… the voice that spoke to him in the nightmare, the oblivion that tried, and almost succeeded, in convincing him to sleep within the dreamscape.

“What’s this? You’re a dream stalker now? Your princess has sacrificed a piece of her own power to allow you to walk through dreams? How very… foolish. I will not fail to capitalize on her mistake.”

“How are you talking to me?” Pip asked, wildly glancing about. He didn’t see any darkness. He was standing all alone in the dream version of Canterlot Castle. “I banished you away.”

The dark voice laughed, seemingly from all around him. “Banished me? You will never be rid of me.”

“W-well, it doesn’t matter. I found my inner strength and I won’t be shaken by your words. I have the stars, and I know I can withstand whatever you have to say.”

“You fancy yourself a star, do you? Then you should know that even stars fall, and you will not be the first star I force to plummet from grace.”

Pip took a deep breath and narrowed his eyes. “You don’t frighten me.”

The voice laughed again, this time closer. Pip could practically feel a hot breath on his ears. “Do you know what happens to a star when it falls, child?”

Pip took a hesitant step back.

“It burns,” the malevolent voice whispered.

Pip suddenly jerked awake. He was sitting on the couch in his room within Canterlot Castle, half-on and half-off, as if he had rolled around during his time within the dreams. He glanced out the window and saw it was midday. Covered in his own sweat, Pip got up and quickly exited his room, still haunted by the sound of the voice in his ears.