• Published 1st Jan 2020
  • 13,010 Views, 179 Comments

Time & a Half, What a Nightmare - Carmine Craft



After a semi-productive day of job hunting and FIM watching, our protagonist takes a nap on their couch. They find themselves in a wonderful dream in the land of Equestira, and it all seems so real! Except, your not supposed to feel pain in dreams...

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Chapter 3: A Dream Can Feel This Realistic, Right?

Princess Luna was restless in her sleep. After staying up all morning to finish up some of the paperwork that overflowed from night court that had, for once, been busy, she had a relaxing talk with her sister and was looking forward to spending the evening catching up on sleep.

She was having a nightmare.

She never stopped her own nightmares, seeing them as punishment for what she did when carrying the name, but today, she wanted to. It had been close to three years, and she still plagued her dreams. Tonight's dream was slightly different. Instead of being forced to watch as the Nightmare, possessing her once again, destroyed everything she held dear, Luna was in chains, separate. The Nightmare had no further need of her, she was free, free to watch, begging from within cage as the thing defeated each of the Elements of Harmony, one by one.

She was forced to watch, bound to the throne, as the Nightmare and her dear sister did battle in the skies above Canterlot castle.

The Nightmare cackled as it ripped the sun from the sky, and put up its twisted mockery of Luna's moon.

Princess Luna woke with a shout, cold sweat clinging to her frame. It had been a while since she had, had a nightmare that, intense. She decided that she could go without sleep for the rest of the cycle, it was time to go to the Royal kitchens and get a mug of coffee, maybe go and have another chat with her sister, day court was supposed to end at about this time.

▪=//=▪

"I'm so boned," Nightmare said for the thirtieth time. She was frantically emptying the armory, searching for her book on glamor spells. "Where did I put the damn thing? Why didn't I find somewhere else to clean up? Why didn't I just find a spell for it? How long till the main six come busting through my front door? I am so boned!"

She kicked a rock in her frustration, creating a sizeable dent in the cave wall. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she began to pace.

"Okay, calm down, calm down,” she said to herself. “Everything is fine, you've been nothing but nice to ponies since you showed up, maybe they'll just want to talk?" She looked towards the pony mannequin, hoping for support. "Not looking like this, if bunnies panic them… Where the hell did I put that book? I need a good disguise if I'm gonna make it out of this." She threw open the doors to her bedroom, slamming them into the walls, and tore into her pile of blankets in search of the book. All of the effort was to no avail, as it was as though the book simply vanished.

"But it can’t be gone, because it's not in storage! It was here before I went to try my wings. What was I doing before that?" She tapped a hoof to her temple to help jog her memory. "Eye colour changes… Coat colour alterations… Aura colour changes…" her ears flicked at the words, so she focused harder on remembering that passage in the book. "MLS, what did that stand for… Magical Light Spectrum? That sounds right, now why is it important?" She flared her horn, dragging her mirror over to rest before her. She fixed her eyes on the reflected magic, and, after a moment to remember how, shifted her aura from blue to orange.

"Yeah, I remember that much, and then going for a test flight… what happened in between?" She flashed her horn and put away the mirror, then propped herself up on the cold raised stone of her bed. She tapped her back hoof impatiently as she ran through theories on where her missing book had gone.

"Well, I at least have the changeling script translator, right?" She flared her horn to bring out the object in question. It popped into existence and dropped onto the stone in front of her, no worse for wear. "Well, that's good, at least. What about the one on wardings and magical shields?" Her horn flared once more, but the desired book failed to appear. "Fuck! I know I had that thing! I know I put it away, do things stop existing if I go over some unspecified limit? No, that can't be it, can it?" She withdrew the book she had gotten the spell from in the first place, skimming through the pages three times. "No, it is proportional to my magic pool, it doesn't say anything about excess items being lost, just that you start to feel strained if your exceeding your limit, so where…"

Another book popped into existence, this one a school textbook, referencing magical frequency and tracking. She scanned through the pages, looking for relevant spells. "'Starswirl's Arcane Perception,' that sounds right." Light trailed up the fluting of her horn, and her vision blurred. She blinked rapidly to clear the spots from her vision. When the room came back into focus, tiny wisps of colour flirted around the room. The majority of the Magical remnants were blue, but if she could just make out a thin trail of orange leading to the wall, right where the mirror once stood. She followed it backwards, finding a larger ball of orange tinted blue just in front of her. A thin trail of colour flowed from the spot to her.

She looked back over her shoulder, and had to squint at the brightness of her magic. Her entire body glowed a dark blue, but nestled right above the small of her back, was a glowing ball of swirling magic, what the book stated was an active spell if she was reading it correctly. Looking closer she could just make out traces of other colours, tinier orbs of magic orbiting around and passing through the main one. "That, would be my hammerspace pocket, I think? Weird, what're the tiny ones then? Wait…" her horn changed colour, tinting to a forest green, as she looked into her files once more. This time, only one item was found, she summoned it with a pop. The book of glamor spells.

"So then, different colour spells are separate from each other, even if the caster and the spell are the same? That's interesting, mildly aggravating, but might have its purposes." Her horn flared brightly, casting the room in rainbow hues as she emptied and collapsed her redundant storage spells, then piled them all into her main pocket again.

"I suppose I could use that to sort my things, keeping my library separate from my wallet, maybe I--" She looked toward the doors of the room and had to squeeze her eyes shut, lest she go blind. She let a bit of power go from the spell so she could see again. Blinking away the spots from her eyes, she cautiously looked back to the entrance. A massive glowing ball, that was still uncomfortable to look at, of magic blazed like a star come to earth. "Fucking hell, is that the gym? What the fuck!?" She swore as a realization came to her, and she pulled out the book on stealth magic once more. "Gotta clean this up before people see the giant neon sign pointing at me."

Three books later, she found the spell she was looking for in a book on magical fallout and safe casting procedures.

"Large amounts of magic left to sit for extended periods of time can turn wild, lashing out dangerously and even make the weather unpredictable. To avoid such catastrophes, all high concentrations of magic should be cleaned up within accordance to the Royal Proclamation 336. 'See magical safety laws, by HRH, Princess Celestia.'

"There are two main ways of clearing up magical fallout; the clean dispersal of magic, or concentration."

Nightmare decided to skip to the second method.

"...Concentrating The Magic is the recommended option when the fallout is within a high population area, so that it might be safely dealt with elsewhere, but that is not it's only purpose. The reclaimed magic can be used to power long lasting enchantments."

"Sold." She skimmed through the listed concentration spells, and gathered the necessary items from her storage space. Once she was sure she had committed the spell to memory, she snapped the book shut and went over to the dripping-with-magic gym.

Using careful applications of TK and a precise cutting spell, she removed a thin slab of stone from the chamber floor, and carved a hole in its center. She placed a glass jar in the two inch depression, then set about carefully carving runes into the tablet. She cut off the excess stone and placed it carefully on the open jar. She pushed a trickle of magic into the setup to get it running. The runes of the stone ring thrummed to life, and a steady glow of lighter blue gathered in the center. Concentrated liquid magic began to drip into the open jar. It was lighter than her natural colour.

She carefully applied the magic sight spell, at the minimum power, and looked about the room, so far the glow of the room hadn't changed much, but then again, there was a lot of magic in the air. "This is gonna take a minute, hopefully I'm removed from the visible spectrum before Twilight or any unicorn decide to glance my way." Nightmare paused on her way out of the gym, pondering over her words. "Visible spectrum, I wonder…"

▪=//=▪

The Nightmare sat in the main chamber, staring down at her unfortunate test book, Thirteen Signs Your Crush Likes You Back.' She lit up her horn and pulled up the image of a colour wheel in her mind's eye, and discarded it. Instead, she searched through her memories of ninth grade physics class, a fuzzy picture forming in her mind. "Wavelengths in the range of… zero point O' one to ten-ish nanometers, Frequency should be about thirty petahertz, I think…" She watched as the glow of her horn faded down to nothing.

"Now then, here's hoping magic works similar to the Electromagnetic Spectrum, and not just the visible spectrum." Pushing more magic into her horn, she focused her energies on the book on the floor. She squinted, and stuck her tongue out as she concentrated. Shakily, the book floated up off the floor, seemingly of its own accord. "It works, yes! Now then to test the other part of this…"

Splitting her concentration, her horn glowed blue around the base, her eyes swam for a second before clearing. Positioning herself facing firmly away from her magic-rich gym, she put more power into the spell, looking intently at the still floating book. Her brow began to collect sweat as she continued to ramp up the power, but the only magic traces she saw were the notes of blue that were drifting off her horn, that were dragged away behind her to be filtered into the collection jar.

She let both spells go with a gasp of air. Her posture sagged as she landed lightly, the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "That two of two. It really works...." After a moment, she powered up her horn again, filing the frequency once more into the x-ray part of the spectrum, and brought her vision into focus on magic again. It wasn't quite visible, more of a feeling, but she could perceive the traces of something unseen.

She wore a toothy grin as she focused on her subspace pocket, the colour draining from the spell ‘till she couldn't see it anymore, but she could still see it, in the invisible spectrum. A book fell into existence, and flipped open before her, snapping open to the section on perception blocking spells. Her horn flared with unseen light, and a massive dome surrounded her home, hiding it from prying enchanted eyes.

Not that she really needed it, since she wanted to meet the ponies at some point, but- just in case.

▪=//=▪

Princess Luna entered the Royal dining room with a mug of her favourite brew in her aura. "Fair evening, sister," she greeted, upon seeing Princess Celestia at the table. As was usual with the Solar Diarch, she had brought her work with her to her meals. She always had just a few too many papers to sign, reports to go over, laws that needed review.

That was one part of her princessly duties that she was thankful not to have taken back yet; talking with her sister was already difficult enough with one looking over papers.

Today was a little different, though, as this scroll bore the gilded seal that always accompanied a letter from her sister's student. "A missive from Twilight! Is the week over already? We could have sworn she sent in her last report but a few days past."

"You're slipping, Luna." Celestia teased, taking her eyes off the letter for but a moment. "No, this one would appear to be of a less formal design. She was inquiring about you, actually."

Luna was glad she wasn't taking a sip from her coffee in that moment, as she would have done a perfect spit take. "T-Twilight was asking about me? Pray tell, what did she want to know?"

Celestia let the matter drop, adopting a more thoughtful expression. "She wanted to know if you were around Ponyville this morning."

"Sister, you and I both know that I haven't left the castle today." The lunar princess raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Hmm, that is most troubling, then. A group of fillies were lost in the Everfree earlier today, but were escorted back to town by a pony with a starry mane, I only know one who would fit that description, so if it wasn't you, then wh-"

The mug that had been calmly flouting beside Luna began to boil, before shattering under the strength of her grip.

▪=//=▪

Twilight and her friends stood at the edge of the Everfree forest. They bore looks of determination, and poorly masked fear, with even Pinkie being serious.

"Alright girls, remember the plan. Applejack will be watching our backs for an ambush, Rainbow will be up above in lookout, Fluttershy is going to take us to where Nightmare was last sighted."

"What do we do if we find her?" Rarity asked, adjusting her bright pink camouflage hat.

"We kick her flank, that's what!" Rainbow Dash buffed a hoof on her chest.

"But isn't she like, suuuper duper strong?" Pinkie Pie inquired, checking the payload in her party cannon.

"I thought of that, spike should be here in a second with a solution." As she spoke, the baby dragon came running up the hill with a decorative box in tow.

"Sorry it took so long, these things didn't want to send over dragon fire. I had to run them over myself," he explained as he fiddled with the latch on the front. He flipped the lid off, resting inside on a bed of velvet, were five jewels necklaces and one crown.

Apple Jack picked up her necklace and gave it a skeptically raised brow. "No offence Twi', but the Elements didn't exactly stop her last time, if she's here now."

"I think that was because the Elements were more focused on freeing Luna than destroying the Nightmare. This time, she doesn't have a host to hide behind, so she'll either be turned to stone, like Discord, or beaten once and for all." Twilight levitated her crown in place, having grown used to the weight of the artifact from repeated use.

The remaining Elements were donned by their Bearers, and they shared a look before marching into the forest.

Just in case. After all, if Nightmare had been genuine in helping the Crusaders, then they wouldn’t be needed.

▪=//=▪

Nightmare was standing at the entrance to her home, right behind the illusory barrier. Her eyes were alight with magic as she examined every facet of the spell dividing the natural cave from the rest of the caved-out space. Beside her floated the changeling script cypher, a book on illusion spells, and a piece of parchment. She finished examining the spell, and write down her findings, then went to the book on illusions. She struggled with the grammar of the foreign script, but eventually had enough of the passage translated to attempt a cast.

"Now, if I'm reading this right, this is the Changeling equivalent of a false wall spell, and unlike the standard version, it's got a bit of suggestion magic mixed in, passively telling an observer's brain that 'yes, this is indeed a solid wall, no need to test it.' The only flaw is that it shows up faintly on magic vision." Nightmare's horn glowed briefly before fading to nothing. "Now then, let's see if invisible magic can still make viable illusions."

She pierced the core of the spell, unravelling the old illusion. Then, sparks of dark blue flitted around the edges of the hole, before the energy filled the empty space. She poked her head through, glancing back at the wall her neck phased through. "Success! Now I'll just go ahead and add a one way noise filter just to be safe...."

▪=//=▪

"S-sister, I'm afraid I might be able to offer some insight on this matter." Princess Luna held a hoof to her chest as she measured her breath, keeping her voice as even as she could.

Princess Celestia was out of her seat in a second, wrapping a comforting wing over her sisters back. "What do you mean, Sister, you're shaking. Is everything alright?"

"I am afraid not," She paused for breath. "I have reason to believe that my shadow has returned. The timing of Twilight's letter pertaining to a mare bearing my resemblance, and what I have seen in my last dream- nay, vision, a vision of what she will do, should we fail to act."

A blank scroll and quill were brought into the room with a pulse of golden light. "Tell me everything, Lulu."

Luna leaned into her sister, then began to recount her experience, hoping that the letter would reach the bearers in time.

▪=//=▪

To the outside observer, one might think Twilight Sparkle was staring at the ground. They would be partly correct, but she was actually staring at something floating just above the ground, which she could only see because of the spell tinting her vision. Just beyond the bank of the river, hidden poorly by some trees, was the arcane residue of a heavy casting session. From what she could tell, somepony had used just about every spell in the book-- literally.

The false trail spells, the signature dampener, trail scatterer, they were all an exact copy from 'Swift Silence's book of Sneaky Silent Spells,' component for component, as if they were reading straight from the text with no thought to calibrate any of the spells to be even marginally convincing.

Twilight, being Twilight, had read the book cover to cover when she was twelve, and had made no less than eight different work-arounds to track a pony using any combination of those spells, but in this case, she almost didn't even need to. The spells were so unoriginal, she could simply follow the broken mana trail by mathematical prediction alone.

Still, somepony was trying their hardest to hide something; they just weren’t doing a very good job of it.

Applejack was right next to her, following a different trail left by the same pony. "Well, the hoofprints ain't deep, probably because of one of those fancy spells ya mentioned, but who ever came runnin' through here weren't tryin ta be real careful. There's broken branches and trampled flowers all along here," the tracker of the group explained. She pointed at a broken tree limb overhead. "And only two types of ponies could hit somethin’ that high up and still leave a trail on the ground, a Clydesdalian or an Alicorn." Considering the letter that Spike had received, right when he was leaving, there was only one pony whom it could be.

The two shared a look and filled the trail at a trot, Twilight with a spell ready, and Applejack prepared to whip around and show any would be attacker why you don't mess with somepony who bucks trees for a living.

Just up the path, Fluttershy was speaking to a family of squirrels, who were kind enough to point in the direction they saw the crazy black Alicorn run.

▪=//=▪

Nightmare was in the once-barren library, now adapted into somewhat of a strategy room. She had come up with a simple plan to try and throw the ponies that were undoubtedly seeking her off the trail. Now all she had to do was find out if it was possible.

She had been tinkering with Starswirl's Arcane Perception spell, and through a bit of trial and error, and no small amount of brute forcing, she had managed to expand the range of the spell without intensifying the light levels of the magic. It took some doing, and many references to other perception spells, but she had managed to cut the spell's dependency on her eyes, moving it to a new sense all its own. That was only step one in her plan.

She grit her teeth in concentration, her eyes closed as she watched the flow of magic around her. In her grasp she held a hammer, the object held above ground as if by an invisible thread, this was not what she wanted. In her mind she placed a filter on the hammer, a translator, it's purpose was to scale the frequency back up into the visible spectrum, without the trail, and her horn, following suit.

From what she could tell, she had managed to tune it down to UV light, but beyond that, the spell took more and more energy than it should have. She cracked open an eye to check her progress. The hammerhead held perfectly steady in what appeared to be a weak and flickering violet, the cheapest viable shade she could manage. "This is getting nowhere fast. I'll just have to deal with the losses. My total mana pool will barely notice the extra drain anyway, I think."

She gently placed the hammer back on the desk, and pushed more power into her perception enchantment. In her mind, she got an overhead view of the surrounding forest, she could see the traces of magic running through the everfree, almost like a topographical map. The forests natural magic was a sickly brown, with hints of green. She pushed the spell further, and saw a bright spot on the map, a deep pink aura that stood out on the backdrop of the forest. If she focused more she could just make out a smaller light blue aura, and twinkling orange, yellow, pink, and one prismatic light surrounding it. "Well, that's probably the main six, and from the looks of it, their heading my way. I thought I was hidden? Nevermind, let's see if I can do this remote casting plan."

In her brow knit together in concentration, she brought up the form of a spell, a simple shield dome. She laced an invisible anti tampering charm into the weave, then drew up a copy of the spell, this one with multiple stealth charms added in to hide it from plain view, but it would still be visible in one's magic sense, if they knew how to look for it.

"And judging by the fact that I'm dealing with Twilight Sparkle, magical prodigy, she knows."

Nightmare frowned as a thought struck her. "Does Twilight know how to look for actually-invisible magic?" She drew up another copy of the spell, this one without the conversion filter. All that was left to do was cast the spells and hope for the best. She felt a headache coming on as she pushed the spells to the edges of her reach, her horn was starting to become uncomfortable as well. Channeling four spells, with three of them at the very limits of your influence was apparently no easy feat, even for an alicorn.

She took in a sharp breath, and let the spells activate.

▪=//=▪

Rainbow Dash was hovering just above the forest canopy, a hoof held over her brow to block out the sun as she peered around the forest looking for any trace of Nightmare Moon. As she glanced back the way the group jade come, something beneath the canopy lit up brilliantly, and a dark blue dome shield slammed down on a chunk of the forest. "TWILIGHT!! She's behind us!" Rainbow Dash called, pointing with a hoof before taking off in the direction in a streak of her namesake.

Four of the remaining group galloped off after the brash mare, but Twilight hesitated. "C'mon Sugarcube, we can't let her get away with whatever her plan is!"

"Wait! It's too obvious, the Nightmare we fought was clever, employing dirty tricks and playing to our weaknesses. She wouldn't just drop a barrier in the middle of the forest for no reason." Twilight tapped her chin in thought, then powered up her magic vision spell once more, adding certain elements to filter out the noise the everfree naturally put out, and to look for smaller thaumic traces. She slowly scanned the underbrush, looking for the tiniest flicker of magic. A snippet of blue flicked in the corner of her vision. "There! To the left! Applejack, get the girls, I'll head her off!"

"Be careful!"

▪=//=▪

Nightmare sighed in relief as the brightest light peeled off from the rest of the group and went after the bait. "Ooh, so they are able to track spells with concealment, but not ones outside of the visible spectrum! Good to know." Nightmare watched as the brightest light peeled off from the rest of the group and went after the bait. "With my little remote casting trick, I could lead them around the forest for hours! Ah but, it is dangerous out here, I don't want them splitting up and getting hurt." The rainbow light suddenly grew a bit brighter, and sped off towards Twilight's signature. "Oh, nevermind, they seem smart enough not to thin out their numbers too much."

Nightmare's eyes flung open as she remembered something. "Speaking of bright lights and 'too much'." Nightmare stepped away from her desk, storing away papers as she went to check on the condensation of magical residue.

She wouldn’t want this game to stop, after all. Heck, it was better than anything he’d bought from Steam within the past year. Better yet, it was free, provided right by her subconscious!

Still, it was a Friendship is Magic game, so she should probably be keeping the ‘make friends’ avenue open. Just make sure that the mares didn’t hurt her, first- she did look like Nightmare Moon, after all, and a winning smile may not do the trick. Especially since Discord also had a winning smile. She’d hate to be woken up by an orbital friendship beam, after all.

Though that seemed increasingly unlikely. She’d been asleep for quite a while now….

Something to ponder another time. Hopefully, she wouldn't wake up anytime soon.

▪=//=▪

Author's Note:

Hey! So it turns out I had about four chapters planned, who knew?

Give Alias_The_J them a thank you if you see them!