• Published 14th Jan 2015
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Machinations in the Dark - BaryonBrony



There is a secret held in the dungeons below Canterlot, deeper than the crystal caverns into the roots of the mountain. This secret is a creature imprisoned by the Princesses. It is a source of great knowledge, but may ultimately be a great enemy.

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Chapter 3 - Just Conversations

Author's Note:

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"What a day," Midnight grumbled as he flipped his head forward and launched his helmet onto the cot. "I have seen Princess Celestia go in there twice before, and not once including this time has she never come back out looking happy. In fact, she actually looked mad this time round. Bugger must have been snippier than usual."

"Why does the Princess even go in there? You've said that talking with the prisoner is bad. Yet she apparently does it enough that you've seen it three times in a five month span." As he unclasped his shoulder-plates, Ion Cloud let them drop beside his own bunk. The night guard were bedding down, having completing their shift only after the Princess had departed. Every single one of their number was exhausted, some already asleep in their armor.

"To be honest, I don't know and I don't ask," Midnight responded. "If I had to guess it's because he knows things he shouldn't. He's--I don't know--clever or something. Too smart, too wily for his own damn good if you ask me. Knew things about me just by looking at me, or reading my mind. Something like that."

"And that is the issue? He could perhaps learn too much?"

"Oh that danger is long since passed. He knows way, way too much."

"Then what's the point?" Ion Cloud sounded more confused now than curious.

"Look, I don't know. I don't think the Captain knows. Heck, I would be surprised if the Royal Commander knows--what with how grumpy he always looks when Princess Celestia comes down here. Do you know what that tells me?"

Ion Cloud shook his head.

"That tells me, 'don't ask questions that can get a pony noticed.' We're here to do a job, not to ask why or to gripe about what we're doing. We have rules for a reason. Don't ask questions, and don't talk to the prisoner. Simple as that."

"If he already knows so much, what's the harm in talking to him?"

"There you go asking questions again. Look, it's dangerous, okay?" Midnight patted a hoof against his head as he spoke, "He can get in your head just by looking at you, and that isn't the worst of it." Dumping his chest plate onto his pillow, Midnight grunted and worked at a boot as he continued his rant. "I remember the guard that was in charge of my orientation. Her name was Nebula Storm, and she was hardcore. I mean, Princess Luna's personal bodyguard for a while before she was assigned here, that kind of hardcore. She trained half the current Night Guard herself. This one time the gate messed up, the chain link got caught up in the gears and we had to fix it before it would open. She was stuck in there by herself. She was only stuck in there for forty-five minutes. Granted, that's stuck in there all alone with only the Sapien watching, or, more likely, running his yapper." Chucking his last boot onto the cot, Midnight Harvest took a haphazard seat on its edge and rubbed his eyes with a foreleg. "It just wasn't her anymore when we finally got her out. I mean--she was always snappy with this tough-gal, 24/7 soldier mode image, right? Sure, she opened up like a total of twice the entire time I worked under her command. But that might have been just to show she wasn't totally a machine. Buddy, she was a sobbing mess when we finally got that door open. Muttered something about it was all her fault, couldn't make out much past that. She had to be taken out. I hear she even had to retire. Last time I got word was about two months ago. She's in a hospital, and hasn't spoken a single word since she got there."

Ion Cloud was silent for a few moments as he tried to process the story. When he finally spoke his words were low. "Just from being trapped for forty-five minutes? Does it have some kind of magic that can do that?"

"Maybe. All those spells in there are supposed to make sure he can't use magic of any kind. I mean, the bugger can't even touch the bars, they'll cook him--seriously, barbecue. Still, he got in her head and turned her all inside out. Worst part was, when we got in there to pull her out the Sapien was whistling this tune. I don't know what it was, but I swear it is still stuck in my head. There's no doubt about it, he's one bad egg inside that cage."

"I wonder if he was always that way," Ion Cloud mused.

"Whoa now, hold those thoughts and keep them to yourself. Thinking like that can be dangerous. We don't pity, we just make sure whatever we're guarding stays put. Follow orders, don't make waves." Midnight Harvest made a wavy gesture with his foreleg. "Remember that little speech about not asking questions. Shush up, and do as you're told. Keep him in there, and we can go home sane."

"From what you're telling me, it sounds like we won't be a whole lot of good if he decides he wants to go on a little holiday," Ion Cloud commented begrudgingly.

"Yeah well, we have precautions for that. Equipment, procedures, the whole drill."

"Then that's what the weird fork-swords are for? That's our 'equipment?'" The weapon moved slightly as its user emphasized it with a shake.

"Two-prongs we call them, and yes. They shoot lightning if aimed at the prisoner." Midnight observed Ion's scowl in response. "Oh don't give me that face, I'm serious. That Sapien guy actually got out of his cage a couple hundred years back. Electricity is one of the only things that they found out hurts him. So, from then on all guards were equipped with these lightning blades just in case. That's why we don't train against each other with them. They spark like mad when they touch each other and can actually start fires."

"You think that would be in a manual or something," Ion Cloud muttered with an ungrateful tone as he hopped into his cot.

"Psh, yeah--like we ever have time to read manuals. Have you seen the logbook? Catch some sleep, we have shift in six hours." Unceremoniously shoving his gear over into a pile beside his bunk, Midnight Harvest climbed into bed and was snoring softly within minutes.

The new guard on the other hand could only stare up at the gloomy ceiling of the small alcove he now called home. Suddenly six whole months felt like an eternity. He was there to guard some kind of bizarre monster that could twist a mind just by speaking. The whole situation felt bad, and there was a nagging in the back of his mind. He remembered that same feeling from when he was a lot younger. He and his twin brother both crying out for their father to come scare the monsters away. Now he felt the same sensation as he had just before their dad had came in and made everything better, the feeling that something in the dark was watching.

Ion let out a long sigh. He felt silly. He shouldn't be so easily frightened. He was big for his tribe, a pony practically carved out of wood and built for the rigors of military service. His brother might have gotten more of the brains, but brawn was all Ion Cloud's territory. He was always the one to stand up to the scary things. He was the one who made the bullies at his school think twice before talking themselves into a scuffle. Now, here he was in his bunk actually fighting the urge to pull covers over his head and wait out the monsters. He felt silly and terrified all at once. If this was the effect of real darkness, there was no shortage of dislike in Ion Cloud's heart for it. It was a departure from the freedom and acceptance of the night that he had always felt. Safe under a moon guarded by the matron of his tribe. There was no moon here, no sun either. Just that inky fog to one side and eerie green to the other, held back by two enormous iron doors. He felt like a mouse in a trap.

As his eyes drifted shut, the new guard felt a shiver run down his spine. Barely noticeable, but just enough to make him turn over. Eventually sleep came, though fitful.

He groaned when he felt someone nudging him. Blearily trying to focus on who was pushing him, Ion tried to rise but found himself dizzy and off center.

"Hey, shift is coming up. Best get ready."

"Wait--what? I," Ion Cloud mumbled, trying to make sense of what was going on. "I just closed my eyes."

"About five hours ago, yeah." Midnight sounded as exhausted as Ion felt.

"I don't remember-"

"Your dreams? Yeah, we don't have those down here." Midnight Harvest, for the first time, sounded solemn as he delivered the news like a blow to the face.

Ion Cloud fell back against his pillow, angrily looking up at the glow-light fitted into his alcove's ceiling. "I hate this place."

"Yep. Boots on, helmet fitted, up 'n' at 'em." The night guard were ready quickly, though none looked exactly pleased. Only Midnight was any source of actual optimism, however dull. At least their breakfast was good, hot grain meal with corn and junipers, and even hot coffee to get a jump.

When they all assembled again Midnight held up a piece of paper as he spoke. "Alright teams, let's split up the roster. Bolster, you guys will be on gate one. Penum and her merry band on gate two. Word from the top is we have to have a walking patrol in the cell-block at all times from now on."

A groan came from all but Ion Cloud as he looked about, still getting his bearings among his new comrades.

"Yep, it sucks. That's why I'm taking it, and only volunteers. Everypony else gets choice between armory and ledgers." Putting the piece of paper into his book, Midnight shoved it into a saddlebag and waited. "Well, don't let me keep you all from jumping at once."

"Count me in, boss," one of the guards said almost immediately after. Ion Cloud hadn't learned his name yet.

"I will as well." Ion Cloud made himself heard with a nod to confirm his choice.

"New guy has guts," one pony said from behind that was followed by some affirming murmurs.

"Alright, get yourself situated and we're golden. Ion Cloud is our new face, and is going deep end first. See you all at end of shift." The Night Ponies all bowed their heads before quickly dispersing.

It was all rather a blur, maybe because of the remnants of fatigue still lingering. Ion Cloud forced himself to stay alert as he passed through the great iron gate. He sucked in his gut as he walked back into the gloom and green of the cell-block cavern. The octagon of pillars and spider-webbed chains was still an unnerving sight that hadn't changed at all. It probably never would. As the door closed behind them, the trio let out a collective sigh at the task before them.

"Well--just so long as nothing horrific happens, this should be a cakewalk."

The third pony rolled his eyes and quipped, "Love the vote of confidence, boss."

He glared for a moment at the pony then a spark of realization crossed Midnight's face as he looked back and forth between his two comrades. "Oh right, intro. Ion Cloud, Pleiades. Pleiades, Ion Cloud."

"'Sup," Pleiades said with a wave.

Ion Cloud only nodded in return.

"Good, we're all besties. Cell-block patrol is just roaming the walls, your logbook has the details if you aren't sure. We split up to make certain we have as many eyes from as many angles as possible to be sure nothing freaky is going on with the prisoner. If it does, we report it. Not much to see from the other side of that door, so this is more preemptive work. We usually keep this up until whatever higher rank stops being spooked. If you guys see anything just shout it to the gate guards. Oh, and do make an effort not to be chatty with the prisoner. He's creepy. Ion, just remember our little chat."

Turning his gaze slightly, Ion Cloud stared past his superior toward the center of the cavern. He looked past the chains and right into the cage where the prisoner was standing, watching them. Their eyes met, and the creature waved to him. With a flinch, he returned his focus to Midnight Harvest. There wasn't much left to be said, so the three gave each other a nod and split up for their patrols. Occasionally they met, sometimes exchanged short words, but otherwise the area was quiet. Something about the room dulled the desire to converse. Even Midnight seemed considerably less chatty when he and Ion paused to speak an hour or so into the detail. After they parted Ion Cloud felt freakishly isolated.

Hours seemed to pass before he again caught sight of even a hint of his comrades emerging from the murk. The sheer size of the cell-block made him feel like he was getting vertigo. The only thing his eyes could focus on was the cavern's green center. Everything else was being consumed by that black foggy darkness he had first seen outside the facility. Whatever it was, it was bringing back the feeling he'd had in his cot hours before, that twinge on the back of the neck that told him something was staring at him. It twisted his stomach in knots and flooded his veins with ice.

He heard something odd, and his ears perked up. He followed the sound with his eyes back to the cell. The prisoner was doing something with its hands. They were a bit like a monkey's hands now that Ion Cloud actually paid attention, but more delicate and obviously greater in dexterity. In fact, this Sapien creature reminded him a lot of a monkey. Notwithstanding the fact that monkeys didn't really cause feelings of dread and terror. Drawing himself a little closer, Ion Cloud squinted through the green light as he watched the prisoner turn and bend parts of its hands in ways that looked as if it would hurt. Though, it never looked to be in any pain. It would bend them, they would make a popping sound, then everything would go back to normal. It was as disturbing as it was fascinating.

"Keep staring and you might just get a headache from not blinking."

The prisoner had spoken, and it didn't sound far away. Ion Cloud blinked, flinched, then gave his surroundings a panicky look as he found himself only two paces away from the cell.

"You aren't the first that's gotten all hypnotized. Don't let it ruin your lunch," it said rather dully.

Without a word Ion Cloud whirled around and was about to escape through the chained web. He had to get away, especially with the creature talking.

"I didn't mean to hurt her, you know. The lady your buddy was talking about, I mean."

A sudden curiosity overwhelmed Ion Cloud's panic to escape. He turned and gave the Sapien an over-the-shoulder stare, trying to gauge whether he should follow his instinct of fear or curiosity.

The prisoner spoke before he could come to a decision, "She was nice, the lady I talked about. Nebula Storm, I think that was her name. She got locked in here, door got stuck. So she just walked over, started talking with me. So I talked with her. I can go years in here without any conversation, but it's nice when I get a chance to have a heart-to-heart. The door got fixed, and it startled her." It waved a hand across the bars as he emphasized the story. "She touched the bars of my little slice of home--you know the rest. I'm not a bad guy, not like you think I am."

"How do you know what I think?"

"I know more than you think I do. I know you were scared last night, worse than you have been in years. I know you wanted your dad to come and make everything better. You wanted your twin brother to spout some long chemistry rant even though it confuses you. When he does that you can focus on it, his voice drowns out the world. You even dreamed about your little sister, even if you can't remember it. You do still dream by the way, but your mind loses touch with it between being asleep and being awake. That would be because of me, sorry about that. Magic is a funny thing." The tone of the prisoner's voice went up and down at odd times, but never once did he sound more than somewhat bored.

"I was told not to talk with you." Ion Cloud's voice stuck to a low, almost monotone level to match the prisoner's.

"Yet you walked right over here."

"You said that you hypnotized me."

"I said you weren't the first to have that happen," it said, waving a finger in Ion Cloud's direction. "I don't do it intentionally, it just sorta occurs when ponies are around me. Stuff happens that isn't my fault, that's why I told you my little story. Figured I would before you bolted."

Ion Cloud couldn't bring himself to respond, but neither did he leave. He simply kept his eye on the prisoner. The Sapien stared back, but never wavered from his placid expression. The moments continued to stretch without a sound.

The prisoner broke the silence again, "Are we having a staring contest?"

Something popped into Ion Cloud's mind. He'd been thinking about it a little, but now that he had the chance the question burned hot. He asked it before he could check himself, "What did you say to the Princess that worried her so much?"

"Whoa," the prisoner said, obviously surprised and a little startled by the abrupt question.

"She's the guardian of the day, nothing phases her, yet she looked disturbed when she left you. What did you say to her?"

The prisoner crossed its arms and huffed, "Well aren't we getting a little nosy. Not really your business what goes on between her and me."

"I'm your jailer now; your every action is my business." Ion Cloud turned to face the prisoner, eyes forward and his glare as intimidating as he was capable of making it.

"You," it paused as it stabbed a finger at Ion Cloud, "Are bad at having conversations."

"Answer the question." This time Ion's voice was barely more than a growl.

"Why should I?" The Sapien's tone still sounded bored, if a little annoyed. "Gonna zap me if I don't?"

"You said sit in here for years without a single word from anyone. The first real conversation you had ended with you looking even more like a monster. You say you're not the bad guy, so tell me the truth. You want a conversation so badly, there you go."

"This is an interrogation, you nit. I hate being interrogated. Celestia takes some kind of perverse pleasure grilling me for every ounce of info she can get. I've resorted to being vague just to get my kicks. It always flusters you ponies."

"Consider me flustered. Answer me or I'm leaving." Ion Cloud noted under his breath, "I'm already in enough trouble as it is, probably."

"Oh you are NO fun."

"I'm a member of the Equestrian Royal Guard; they don't issue us a sense of humor."

There was silence for a moment, then the prisoner burst out laughing. It lasted only a few moments, but it was genuine. The Sapien sat on the floor, crossed its legs, and sighed contentedly.

"That was terrible, but my god it was funny. Guess my mind has slipped far enough to fall for cliché. I like you, Ion Cloud."

"Are you going to answer my question?" Taking a seat, Ion Cloud let himself relax a little. He kept his expression a stoic mask, but he let out the tense breath he didn't even know he had been holding.

The Sapien just chuckled, running a hand through his unruly hair. "Aheh--hmm. Celestia comes here sometimes because I can figure things before they happen. Not visions or premonitions or anything like that, so don't ask if I can see the future or something bogus. I can see what is going on, the flow of events, decisions being made all in real-time. Don't ask me how, I stopped questioning it. The fact is, all I do is put two and two together." It drilled two fingers into the sides of its head as it continued. "General cause and effect from what I see to what I have seen as applied to what may be. It's not premonition, it's science and magic working together with a little creative application, or so someone smarter than me put it. As for what made Celestia so upset--I told her she'll likely be having to deal with an exceptionally powerful opponent, and soon. She didn't take it well," it muttered with a slight sneer.

"I did get issued a sense of when someone is lying. The Princess wouldn't act like that over something as common as a threat. This is Equestria, that's an average weekend for us."

"Oh great. A clever guard, just what I need," the Sapien murmured loudly enough to be heard. "I thought we were going to have some fun talking about science."

"That's my brother. You got me."

"Your brother sounds delightful."

"He's neurotic and flighty."

"What family doesn't have one of those?"

"You're stalling."

"Yah, why do you care? I answered your dumb question. Not my problem if you didn't like it."

"I am in this pit to make sure you keep to yourself. I don't exactly have anything better to do, despite being warned to steer clear of you. Besides, I asked what you did to the Princess, and no threat would make her leave with that look on her face. Not Princess Celestia. What did you do?"

"I just asked for a kiss," it said with a grin.

Ion Cloud's brow furrowed.

"Ah, let the gears turn in your mind. What a rogue am I," it pressed a hand against its forehead dramatically. "That I would ask such disrespect upon royal countenance?" It shifted abruptly from its melodramatic tone, "Oops, waxing poetic. Not like she said yes. Hell, she never keeps her word at all. Might as well have some fun with it, not much else to do down here as you might have guessed. Wish I could have seen her face, though. Sounds like she had a doozy on her way out."

"You're despicable."

"I know! I've been locked up for fifteen-hundred years, give or take a century. You'd be despicable too; or crazy with your gaggle of imaginary friends and a whole heaping load of hallucinations. Strange that I'm not, actually," it trailed off as if realizing something. The Sapien stood as its voice began to lower, taking on a faraway tone. "I don't think I can go crazy." It's eyes drifted, something taking its mind far away. After a moment its head moved quickly back to Ion Cloud and stared intently. "You know what that makes me? That makes me maddeningly sane."

"That was not my first impression. You talk like you aren't all there. If you are so set on wanting conversation, why act like a psychopath?"

"I haven't had a conversation this long in months. Whether an argument, a debate, what the friggin weather is, I don't care! Fifteen-hundred years! Locked in a cage!" It ranted, throwing its arms into the air in frustration as it began to pace. "I break my fingers for laughs! I take what I can get. Even if that was an imaginary friend. Heck, the very fact that you pushed as hard as you did interested me, and so I stalled to keep that going."

"That was annoying."

"I am aware, but it kept you talking to me, didn't it?"

"So are we done with this back and forth? Why in the name of heaven would you ask for that? A kiss? You know how that sounds, don't you?"

"I've asked for a lot of things from Celestia in return for a myriad of tips and bits of info. I am a the sort of 'adviser' who you don't have to worry will call in sick. She's made plenty of offers in return for my services, and always found excuses to go back on her word."

"Princess Celestia would not break her word," Ion Cloud said in an offended tone. It angered him to hear slander against his ruler.

"She does when it serves her own purposes. There are quite a lot of things she does that you doe-eyed ponies see as benevolent that are actually utterly self-serving. She's a Princess, of course she's spoiled."

Ion Cloud began to protest but was interrupted before he could say a word.

The prisoner continued, his voice sounding angrier as he went, "It was actually that conceit she tries to bury deep down that drove her own sister to some kind of weird darkness mutation. Apparently, ignore a problem long enough and it becomes unforgettable, and grows sharp teeth."

"Too far," growled Ion Cloud.

"I'm not the one that made a holiday about her not being around anymore. How more 'unforgettable' can somebody get. And while I'm on the subject--with how much I have given, I feel I've atoned one hundred fold for my crime. For every agreement I've made, I have only ever received more and more time in this cage. Kinda makes you think that maybe a particular royal brat is making excuses to keep me here so I can be her little canary? I don't deserve this."

"What did you do?"

This question seemed to take the prisoner off guard. He had expected another outburst, but that had sounded calm. "Wait--you are here to keep me inside this hole, and they don't even tell you why?"

"We aren't supposed to ask why." The prisoner was on his feet. It startled Ion Cloud, he hadn't seen him move. Had he teleported? There was no sign of magic, and the cage was designed to prevent magical use. The only other explanation was this Sapien was simply faster than his eyes could follow. That was not encouraging.

"Not supposed to ask why? Are you serious? How in the hell do you figure your world out without asking why? Not asking why, not questioning the status quo is how some of the worst atrocities came to pass on my own world. You keep living without the why and sooner or later you will be wondering when you sacrificed more than you thought you were willing to--all too late."

"Was there no trust on your world?"

"None."

"That is sad to hear. I can see how that has colored your opinions."

"Well, aren't you're opinions a little colored? I've spent a long time here, a really long time. It's about what's around you, not where you're from. My opinions are colored by my environment. Very green, with a few touches of death metal black." The prisoner pointed at the floor. "Before you lecture me on trust, remember that I have not left this cell for longer than your bloodline has existed. I was around before there were any Night Ponies, or Thestrals, or whatever you call yourselves now. You're a product of Nightmare Moon, you know--well, her magic at least. I'm getting off-track. Look, a huge majority of my time here has been in this cell. I am told so often that I am dangerous and evil that I honestly feel like I believe it. So much for trust."

"Why are you even in this cell to begin with?"

"Got ripped from my world to this one. Pulled screaming from my life and family and thrown into the dirt of Equestria--literally. I was scared, hurting, confused--so I lashed out. Your whole world just--it hurts being here, okay? So I lashed out, and two ponies died. I've been here ever since."

"You were ripped? What do you mean?"

"Summoned, really."

"Summoned--against your will?"

"Yes, I went from making dinner for my sister to thrashing and swinging on a stone floor. I had zero choice in the matter. There was no magic at all in the world I come from. Go from that to a place where the air itself is magical, and everything else included. It's excruciating. Overwhelming." The prisoner ran his hands through his hair. "My life sucks, and now I get my kicks by occasionally injuring myself. Oh, and I mess with people's heads unintentionally, or something. Throw in some arguments with the royal blowhard and you got me in a nutshell." A silence fell over the two of them.

Ion Cloud didn't know what to say, and the prisoner didn't have anything more to add. The silence was odd, the fact that the two of them had been conversing so spastically and rapidly; now that there was nothing it was almost unnerving.


Moving slowly, the Sapien moped to the other end of the cage. With back turned to the guard, he let out a sigh. He didn't move at the impossible speed he had before, trying to shake off the uncomfortable sensation of his guard's eyes following him. He could look in those eyes and see a whole life flash before him. There were so few secrets ponies could hold from him, as much as he wished otherwise. He just stared out into the gloom, knowing full well it was his presence there that made it so dark. He didn't even have to try, it just happened. Like warm breath on a cold winter day, it was an effect of his existence on his environment. And like that warm breath, there was nothing he could do to stop it from fogging the glass.

Checking over his shoulder, the prisoner saw his conversation partner had backed up and was speaking with the leader, Midnight Harvest. He could hear what they were saying if he wished to, but he chose to ignore them. He'd rather not know the subject of their whispering since it was likely a rebuke for their conversation. He could be wrong; Midnight Harvest seemed like a fair leader. He was the only guard the prisoner had ever had that referred to him as a "he" and not an "it." He absolutely hated being called "it." That degraded him from a living, thinking thing into a piece of furniture. A sofa was an "it." He might have royalty walking all over him, but last time he checked no one was using him for a nap. The thought actually made him chuckle to himself. The fact that a fleeting thought like could amuse him immediately sobered the feeling. "Gonna start liking puns at this rate."

He felt the temptation to escape to the outside again, flee his body and view the whole world at once. The trip to Equestria had changed him, giving him that power. Now he could close his eyes and be everywhere, see everything. It had been unnerving once, now it was nothing more than an aspect of his existence. To a younger self it would have seemed like a gift, but it was all hollow. He remembered a similar feeling when he watched television so many lifetimes ago, it had the same feeling of emptiness. He watched the world, able to see but not interact.

He could hardly stand it anymore. That had been his lot in life for a thousand years. After the first few centuries he had begrudgingly accepted it. Now, he had trouble imagining anything else. He wished he would go mad sometimes, insanity would take away the weight and stress of his whole being. It never happened. His awareness was never consumed by voices or hallucinations. He was unaffected by age, by disease, and apparently even his mind was immune to change. He couldn't go crazy even if he tried. For how many times he had tried, it had gradually become obvious how fruitless his attempts were. As he had shown the Princess even today he could regenerate from any injury. Everything about him was frozen just the way it had been when he first arrived.

He let his awareness drift back to the present moment, and to the guards behind him. They had finished whispering. He could feel Ion Cloud's eyes on his back. If he closed his own eyes, he could see himself through them. It was too unnerving to continue, so he stopped as soon as he did. He heard Ion Cloud's voice and realized he was talking to him.

"We have been talking my whole shift; it's time for us to go."

"Only feels like a few minutes, doesn't it?"

"Yes--so you can upset time as well?"

"Maybe. I guess it's all in how you interpret it," he said, not turning around. "I'll try to do what I can about your dreams, no promises. Say hello to Luna for me if it works. Tell her I will try to be nicer from now on, just as she asked. I have enough reason to now."

Ion Cloud sounded curious as he asked, "So you do control whether we can dream?"

"No, not exactly. I guess control just isn't the right word, but I'll see what I can do You should go now. I'll see you again if I'm awake, I hope." He let himself fall, collapsing onto the floor in a heap. There wasn't even an attempt to catch himself. He could usually just flip a switch in his mind and the void of sleep would be on him, but he didn't. Not this time. He stared up towards the emptiness of the ceiling above and listened.

He could hear Ion Cloud dragging his hooves on the floor as he joined the other guards to leave.

Pleiades was the first to break the silence as they walked. "Well, you don't look completely insane. Guess the thing left your brain in your skull. What did you two talk about?"

They didn't know he could hear them, but it still made him frown.

"I asked him what he said to Princess Celestia. He asked her to kiss him."

"A kiss? No wonder she left so flustered. That's weird. Like--gangly monster wants kisses weird. Which is what it is."

"He also said he isn't here by choice," Ion Cloud's voice lowered as he spoke.

"Well, it is not like he is in there because of career options."

"I mean Equestria. He isn't here in Equestria by choice."

"So he's an alien? Weirder and weirder."

The voices were getting more distant, then the big door boomed and ground as it opened. He sat up to watch as the guards left. He saw Midnight Harvest staring at him, and he stared back. The moment went on and on, the two locked eye to eye. When the other two guards had passed through the door, Midnight gave a very short nod and was gone.

The door was closing again. There was really no point in staying awake now. Humming to himself softly, he flipped the switch and felt the void of sleep coming quickly. In moments he collapsed, and was silent.