• Published 17th Feb 2016
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Tantabus, Mk. II - Rambling Writer



An attempt by Luna to update the Tantabus to spread good dreams has a few unexpected results. Self-aware ones.

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Error is Reproducible

The moment Twilight entered the dream, even before she got anything more than a brief impression, she knew something was wrong. Smoke clogged the sky and the entire place stank of dark magic and smog.

“My word,” Luna said quietly.

Twilight got a good look around, and was inclined to agree. They were hovering over the Crystal Empire, but it wasn’t Cadance’s Empire; this was Sombra’s Empire. All of the bright colors and smooth surfaces had been replaced with dark ones and jagged spikes, much like the ones she’d seen in the last minutes before Spike and Cadance retrieved the Crystal Heart. Standing in the square below the Crystal Palace was row upon row upon row of Crystal Ponies, each and every one of them wearing the same helmets she’d heard about in the first alternate timeline when chasing down Starlight. They stood with an unnatural stillness and moved with an unnatural synchronicity.

And on the balcony of the Palace, standing tall and arrogant, was King Sombra himself. His mane, tail, mustache, and cape were flapping dramatically in the wind as his crown glinted from the few rays of sunlight that managed to break through the clouds. Flanking him on either side were Celestia and Luna, helmets suckered on their heads, acting as bodyguards. With a cold, borderline serpentine eye, Sombra looked over the assem-

Wait. Sombra had a mustache?

Twilight looked again. It wasn’t just a mustache, it was the handlebar mustache to end all handlebar mustaches, beyond compare of any before or any to come. It was impeccably groomed, with not a hair out of place, a glossy sheen coating it, and ends that turned up in just the right ways. Quite possibly one of the biggest, curliest, most fabulous mustaches Twilight had ever seen, it seemed purpose-built for twirling while cackling villainously.

And twirl it while cackling villainously Sombra did. “Yeeeeeesssssss,” he said, rubbing his hooves in between twirling his mustache. “With this unstoppable army at my command, with even the Princesses themselves under my hoof, all of Equestria shall be mine! Mwa ha ha ha haaaaaa!” He wasn’t even properly cackling, Twilight realized; he was clearly enunciating “mwa ha ha”.

Twilight gave a sidelong glance at Luna. “I’m… not sure this is quite as dire as it seems.”

Luna stared at Sombra slightly slack-jawed. Or, to be more precise, at Sombra’s spectacular mustache. “…No. Perhaps not.”

“Popcorn?”

Twilight twitched and turned around. The Tantabus was hovering next to her, holding forth a bag of said popcorn. The kernels were thoroughly drenched in butter, enough to make Twilight nauseous. The Tantabus was chewing loudly.

Luna leaned around Twilight and scowled at the Tantabus. “Do not chew with your mouth open.”

“But Mooooom-”

“And do not speak with your mouth full! Honestly, did I forget to teach you manners in between enabling your control of dreams?”

The Tantabus scowled, swallowed, and licked its lips. “But the popcorn?” It shoved the bag in Twilight’s face again.

Twilight lightly nudged the bag and its butter-sodden contents away. “Eh, no thank you.”

The Tantabus shrugged. “Suit yourself.” It turned back to the scene and continued devouring popcorn.

Twilight pulled Luna aside. “So what now? Do we try to take the Tantabus out of here or see what happens?”

Luna rubbed her head, muttering nothings under her breath. “I do not know,” she whispered. “On the one hoof, the situation looks horrific, like it could be anypony’s nightmare. On the other, we cannot be sure it is the Tantabus’s doing, and… Sombra. He’s… that… overacting… thing.”

Twilight nodded and looked back at Sombra. “He’s beyond cliche. He’s not just comic-booky, he’s all melodramatic and Silver-Agey.”

Luna blinked. “You know of the Silver Age of Comic Books?”

“Yeah, Spike likes comics, and he was talking about it one day, so I- Wait, you know about the Silver Age?”

Twilight and Luna stared blankly at each other for a moment. Then Twilight coughed and said, “So, um, as we were saying, Sombra’s an over-the-top pantomime villain. With a mustache.”

“Well, duh,” the Tantabus interjected through a mouthful of popcorn. “If you’re gonna go with a cheesy villain, they gotta have a twirlable mustache.”

Do not speak with your mouth full!

The Tantabus swallowed and pouted. “You know, for someone who doesn’t seem to want to admit she’s my mom, you sure act like my mom.”

“I think it suits you,” Twilight said. “Have you tried using the Royal Canterlot Voice?”

“That would… not… be…” Luna’s voice trailed off as she considered. “That would be rather enjoyable,” she admitted. She began drifting off into deep thought.

“So the mustache is your fault?” Twilight asked the Tantabus. She’d tried to find a better word than “fault”, that implied she didn’t like it, but she couldn’t find one.

The Tantabus nodded. “And the brainwashed Princesses.”

Luna didn’t say anything, but she looked quite peeved.

“Sorry, Mom,” said the Tantabus, shrugging, “but it’s the kind of thing this dreamer would want. If you don’t like it, you can go and make good dreams.”

Twilight looked around the Crystal Empire. “And how much of the rest did you make?”

“Not all of it. A lot, like the basic idea, was already here. I mostly just amped it up a bit. Like the mustache. He was going OTT anyway, so I figured a mustache wouldn’t hurt.”

“But you couldn’t make the whole dream a little better?”

“No! Not for the kind of dream this pony wanted.”

“They wanted a hellish landscape where the Crystal Empire is doomed?” asked Luna.

“And Sombra being hammy enough to require a mustache, don’t forget that.” The Tantabus nodded sagely.

“…True.” Luna looked around the Crystal Empire, at all the brainwashed ponies. “But perhaps this is not the best place to see what sorts of ‘good’ dreams you can make. We ought to try another dream. One where a happy dream involves less enslavement.”

It was amazing how, in spite of barely having normal eyes, the Tantabus could still make a sad puppy-dog face. “But we’ll miss the best part! This is the bit where everything turns around for the good guys and the bad guy gets beat up. I set it up myself. Please? Pretty please? With sugar on top? Everything before is just backdrop.”

“Not everypony’s idea of a good dream is yours,” Twilight said to Luna. “We should stay a little longer, just to see what this turns into.”

Luna rubbed her forehead. “Very well. Five or ten minutes.”

The Tantabus grinned and bounced on the air a little. “Yay!”

“And once Equestria falls,” said Sombra (either his speech had paused as the trio talked or he was ludicrously long-winded), “the world shall be mine! Mwa ha ha ha ha! Nothing can stop me now!”

“Aaaaand…” whispered the Tantabus.

A rainbow-colored missile cannoned through the clouds, blasting them aside and letting the sun shine through. It smashed into the square in front of the Crystal Palace; a rainbow shockwave radiated and bowled over the Crystal Ponies assembled there. In the middle of the space stood Rainbow Dash, staring up at Sombra. A purple cape flapped around her neck, and her hooves were encased in boots of some sparkly violet metal. The boots left behind trails in the air where they passed, like some kind of afterimage. She looked a bit larger than usual, about the size of Cadance, but didn’t have a horn.

The Tantabus preened. “Like the costume? The cape was her idea, but the trails are all me.”

“You talked to her?” gasped Luna.

“Well, no. I just get impressions of what she likes and shape it that way. And she likes capes.” The Tantabus ate some more popcorn and, after a brief glare from Luna, swallowed before talking again. “But honestly, before I came in, she wasn’t wearing anything, and that’s boooooring.”

Sombra!” Rainbow Dash yelled, her voice booming and echoing through the entire dreamscape. “King of Shadows and Tyrant of the Crystal Empire!”

Rainbow Dash!” hissed Sombra. “Elite Celestial Knight and Awesome Badass!”

“Sombra!” bellowed Rainbow Dash.

“Rainbow Dash!” screeched Sombra.

“Sooooombraaaaa!”

“Raaaaaaiiiiiinboooooow Daaaaaash!”

Twilight had to stuff her hoof in her mouth to suppress the giggles. This was Silver-Agey, all right.

Rainbow Dash began hovering just above the ground and pointed at Sombra. “Your reign ends today, by my powers of awesomeness!”

“Not so! You may have survived my last attack, but you cannot stop my master plan! Today, you are going down!” The Princesses flanking Sombra stepped up to the balcony, their wings spread, ready to take off.

“No! It is you who are going down, chump!” Dash was off in flash, sonic-rainbooming circles around the Empire. She kept slowing down and speeding up again, rainbooming repeatedly and sending more and more rainbows cascading through the Empire.

Even by dream logic, Twilight was confused — what would multiple rainbows do? — but then she saw what happened when the rainbows hit the Crystal Ponies: their helmets glowed for a second, then shattered in a cascade of multicolored sparks, freeing the pony inside. As Rainbow Dash kept circling the Empire, the amount of soldiers still under Sombra’s control quickly dropped to nothing.

“No!” yelled Sombra. “No! Noooooooooooo! My helmets! My soldiers! It’s no use! She’s too awesome!”

On either side of him, Celestia and the copy of Luna shuddered as their helmets exploded, then collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. Sombra turned tail and tried to run back into the Crystal Palace, but Rainbow Dash dropped on him from above like a heat-seeking ton of bricks, smashing them both through the balcony. Rainbow Dash opened her wings, stopping her fall halfway, but Sombra dropped all the way down and left a crater. He was just staggering over the rim when Rainbow Dash tackled him into the still-empty square, every single pony in the Crystal Empire watching them.

“Who’s the mare?” Rainbow Dash yelled in his face. “Whoooo’s theeee maaaare?

“Y- you are,” blubbered Sombra.

Rainbow Dash smirked. “Damn straight.” She gripped Sombra by the tail and, with a single mighty heave, flung him into the stratosphere, where he vanished with a visible, audible twinkle. Ting.

There was half a second of silence, then the crowd exploded into cheers. Confetti and streamers began falling from nowhere, and as the crowd began chanting “Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!”, a band somewhere began playing triumphant music.

Rainbow Dash, of course, lapped it all up. She didn’t say anything, but she grinned widely and began to hover above the square, making motions like she was some kind of rock star, trying to get the crowd to chant louder. Twilight could hear some nearby stallions swooning. “She’s so awesome…”

“Yeah,” Twilight said to Luna, “this is definitely the sort of dream Rainbow Dash would want. Beating up bad guys and getting showered with praise? She’s in heaven.”

Celestia and the copy of Luna flew down from the balcony and fell at Rainbow Dash’s feet. (Real Luna looked somewhat put out.) “Thank you, for saving our lives, O great and noble Rainbow Dash,” said Celestia. “Is there anything we can do to repay you?”

“You don’t need to do that,” said Rainbow Dash. “I’m just happy to help. I don’t need any thanks.” She turned to the crowd, waved, and got another roar.

The Princesses crawled forward and wrapped their forelegs around Rainbow Dash’s legs. (Real Luna looked a bit miffed.) “But please,” said dream Luna, “there must be something, anything!”

Rainbow Dash turned her head towards the sky and tapped her chin. “Well…”

The dream blurred for half an instant, and there was a parade through the square. It was big, elaborate, one of those parades where everypony goes all-out. Bands played, dancers danced, singers sang, firebreathers firebreathed, and at the center of it all was a float carrying Rainbow Dash, still in her regalia and still with Celestia and dream Luna grasping her legs. (Real Luna looked rather incensed.) The crowd was cheering louder than ever.

As Rainbow Dash waved, she greeted the surrounding ponies by name. “Hi, Ivory! Hi, Bright Smile! Hi, Rose Quartz! Hi, Twilight! Hi, Luna! Hi, Crystal Arrow! Hi-”

Rainbow Dash did a double take. She looked at the Luna next to Twilight, then down at the Luna clinging to one of her legs, and her face turned bright red. She chuckled nervously as she tried to shake the second Luna off. “Heh heh. Um, this… totally wasn’t my idea, Your Highness.”

“It was mine!” the Tantabus said brightly. “You wanted to save some ponies. And what better ponies than the Princesses?”

“Well-” grunted Rainbow Dash, still trying to get rid of the dream Luna, “the least- you could do- is not- do it- when- there’s- an actual- princess- here!” She finally managed pulled herself out of the dream Luna’s grip, who slunk into the crowd and vanished. Rainbow Dash glanced down at Celestia, who was staring up at her with big eyes. After a moment, she began shaking her off, too. “Who are you, anyw-”

Then she got a good look at the Tantabus. She tried to back away, pushing against the float with her hooves and beating her wings, but Celestia was too heavy. “Tantabus!” she yelled.

“Calm down, Rainbow,” said Twilight, flying to her side. “It’s not the same one we fought. Luna made this one to make bad dreams good.”

“I gave Sombra the mustache!” the Tantabus said proudly.

Rainbow Dash finally pulled herself from Celestia’s grip, but she didn’t fly away. Instead, she looked at the Tantabus for a few seconds, tilting her head this way and that, then said, “I don’t think you needed to. Sombra looked so evil that a mustache like that would make his evilness less obvious.”

The Tantabus pouted. “I like villain mustaches.”

“I apologize for interrupting,” said Luna, “but would you say that this was a good dream for you? Just to be sure.”

Rainbow Dash smiled and jumped into the air. “Heck, yeah! I got to beat the stuffing out of Sombra, save a bunch of ponies, and have a parade! Why wouldn’t it be great?”

“See?” said the Tantabus proudly. “I can do good dreams.”

“True,” said Luna. “But you said you simply amped things up here, which implies that this dream was already going to be good. We should start within a nightmare and see what you can do then.”

“Mom, I-”

Mom?!” said Rainbow Dash. She chuckled. “Okay, wow. I gotta hear the story behind this.”

“As Twilight said,” said Luna, “I created this one to turn bad dreams good. It removes some of the stress from me if I am not required to patrol the dreams of all of ponykind every night. Then one night, it suddenly started calling me ‘Mom’, and… Well, I want to be sure it’s safe and behaves correctly.”

“I’m right here,” mumbled the Tantabus.

“The original Tantabus attempted to escape dreams and turn Equestria into a living nightmare. Forgive me if I am a tad anxious over the prospect of that happening again and want to avoid it.”

Rainbow Dash grinned. “I think it’s great. There’s nothing like a little rump-kicking bad guys to make me happy. You’re all right, Tantabus.”

“For this dream. But what about others?” said Luna. “There are many other types of dreams, and we have only examined one. We need to cover our bases if I say the Tantabus is safe.”

“Yeah,” added Twilight. “We need to get a little more data before we can say anything. One might be a fluke. I don’t think so, but we need to be sure.” She turned to Rainbow Dash. “It was nice to see you, Rainbow, but we have to-”

“Wait!” yelled Rainbow Dash. “Hey, Tantabus, if you’re going to go, any chance you could change my dream? I mean…” Rainbow Dash swept a hoof over the Crystal Empire. “This is great, don’t get me wrong, but I’d like something different now.”

“Sure.” The Tantabus’s form collapsed into smoke and puffed up immensely, obscuring Twilight’s vision for a moment. When it reformed, the Crystal Empire had been replaced by a sunlit field of happy flowers singing a song. We are such happy flowers, we will now sing for hours…

Rainbow Dash screamed. “What’re you doing?! This isn’t a good dream! This is a nightmare! This-”

And then she noticed the flamethrower nozzle strapped to her hoof.

The cackle she released as she ignited it would’ve rivaled the Mane-iac’s.

The Tantabus opened a door out of the air. “Let’s leave her to it.” And it was gone.

As Twilight left the dream, the last thing she heard was Rainbow Dash yelling, “Burn, you stupid flowers! Buuuuuuuuurn!

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