• Published 10th Dec 2020
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No Longer Alone - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving shipping! Postage paid! The gruff captain put a certain pegasus professor to the test and learned that she just couldn’t quit. Now come the hard parts: an actual relationship and maybe a villain or two.

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Chapter 13 - A Dream Unresolved

“There’s a big difference between at and with.” The titters of Amora’s laughter echoed throughout a massive illuminated void, and each reverberating beat drastically increased the probability that the ruffled Tail would crack.

Strangely, the saturation of their surroundings matched the lighting of her Canterlot lab, but the distortion in her friend’s voice planted seeds of doubt that joined the pangs of annoyance in the race throughout Tail’s subconscious. “Can it, Ams!” she shot her response when another rising wake grazed her ears.

Tail tossed a scowling glance over her shoulder to confront her roommate, and her brow quivered. There was no one there to receive the brunt of her pouting rebuttal. The rocky depths beneath Canterlot castle did not greet her laser-beam stare either. Tail was nowhere near her lab. There was simply nothing beyond an endless expanse of softly glowing mist.

The pegasus twirled around, her head leading her body’s rotation as she searched for any sign of one mischievous roommate. “I know I heard you, you little tease!”

Fluffy lavender ears shifted and swiveled in search of a ping. Legs stretched as Tail lowered her center of mass and leaned forward. She shushed, opting to remain in silent wait for Amora to finally drop the act, but the physicist found that the familiar tones of her childhood friend no longer lingered in the winds.

Instead, there was something else—a sensation that she hadn’t experienced since she was a little filly. Droning smears of sound dribbled in from the hazy edges of the space. The chorus of strangers set her coat on edge, and she instinctively bent her hind legs as though they were spring launchers. Her wings, for their part, snapped outward, and the front edges of the feathery limbs curled in preparation to scoop the air aside.

Through the fog, ghastly shapes congregated, forming what looked like darkened clouds to the crouching Tail. The veil eventually thinned before the pressure of the meandering march, transforming the amorphous blobs until solidified legs reached over the ill-defined border. Black fluid dripped from the barely visible appendages, and like ink, it peppered the illuminated floor in splotches that made the pegasus snarl.

Tail’s pulse raced to the sight of this invasion. Her heart punched out jagged beats, and her pupils dilated to allow every detail to rush in. This is my territory! Her voice exploded throughout the cavern in a reverberating echo—despite the fact that her mouth had never even moved. I know what this is! I know exactly where I am. This is my realm, and I refuse to accept this!

The pegasus lifted one of her forelegs before delivering an authoritative stomp. The gesture produced a clang that sounded an awful lot like metal colliding with stone, but the unexpected noise did not shift Tail’s unrelenting focus from her pursuers. In the span of a blink, Sally’s golden contours wrapped around the mare. Determined embers licked the thin slivers of her irides, and the now-armored physicist bared her teeth as hellish faces tore into her domain.

Wisps of vapor snaked around muzzles that looked tattered, marred, and ragged. Empty sockets cast chilling stares, and more ink poured from the hollow voids and gaping jaws as though the fluid was the creatures’ life’s blood.

With sloppy, staggering steps, the beasts revealed more of their figures. Equine in shape, but definitely not pony, their bodies were covered in incomplete patches of black fur, and their hides, oozing the same onyx puss, had a better resemblance to crumbling timberwolf bark than pony flesh.

A cupric stench bit Tail’s nostrils as she turned her head to take in the full swath of the encroaching line. Her limbs quivered once the scent added its data to the cacophony of wails and the eerily disjointed crawl. Night terrors… she pondered as the barbs of youthful fear tugged at her planted foreleg.

Tail popped her jaw and flicked an ear. I’m not young anymore. I’m a lot stronger than I was, and I’m sure as shit not leaving this job unfinished. A hefty weight swiftly replaced the tingling sensation that had raced along that pesky limb, and a new band of light snagged Tail’s attention when she levelled her leg.

A vibrant chevron of white glimmered off the angled stainless-steel rail that sat between her knee and fetlock joints. Two wide bracelets held the mass to her appendage, and a crescent-shaped loop emerged from the far end of the fixture and curled under her hoof.

In that moment, time’s presence took a back seat, and Tail’s sights scanned this newfound tool with unbridled scientific scrutiny. Her lips curled into a smile as though she had just come across an old friend, and when the pieces started falling into place—the barrel, the supports, the augurite-laced mesh, the revolving ammunition housing, and the trigger waiting to be pushed—she discovered an equally uplifting sensation.

“This is my design,” she mumbled. “This is exactly what it should be!” Tiny bolts of electricity cut channels through her coat before they raced into the mesh. On cue, Tail could sense a round seated in the cylinder. Luna’s presence spoke through the small exchange, and Tail immediately adjusted how often she pushed her own weather magic into the rail.

She inhaled, drawing a large gulp of air into her lungs as she pushed herself from the crouching position to stand tall. She pressed her hoof against the smooth loop that just grazed her fetlock, and her gaze narrowed on the swarm of hobbling, groaning messes that crawled ever closer. “You need to get the fuck out of my dream!”

No sound. No enemies. No haze. With the snap of the trigger, all of those things had vanished. There was no trace of her taking the shot either, though Tail was sure such an abrupt change had to have come through her use of Luna’s magic. Regardless, she couldn’t feel the presence of the shell anymore. She couldn’t feel the presence of anything, really. She was alo—

“Hehe! You did it! You did it!” Multiple teleporting pops darted around Tail before a chirpy filly’s voice came from directly beneath the still lifted foreleg. “What’s this? What’s it do? Did Moonie’s muffins help? I’m sure they helped!”

Tail tilted her head and threw a quizzical glance at the latest intruder. The chatelle-colored unicorn foal, with her brown and burgundy locks, was definitely somepony the physicist had recently met. “Peebles?” she asked, her voice drifting to a higher pitch than normal.

“Mmhmm,” the youngster answered through a rapidly bobbing nod. “It’s Platinum Blaze. Peebles is what my daddy says because I pbbt when I’m up. I think it’s easier to talk here, but Mommy wants me to try more. But then I can’t talk to Moonie because she doesn’t talk while up too. I like having sleepovers. Then we can talk all the time! Just like how we’re talking now.”

Tail’s ears splayed as she absorbed the rambling of the utterly rambunctious foal. “I’m actually talking to her. This is… You’re actually here, aren’t you? Like I’m not imagining all of this. Though, maybe I could imagine this. I guess anything is possible.”

A giggle bubbled up from the filly before she wiggled with excitement. “I’m here! Your dream got scary when the unfish… unfinsh…”—Peebles puffed her cheeks and tried again—“unfinished came. That’s what Uncle Wing calls them. He’s a nice pony. You’re a nice pony too! You bought Moonie’s muffins! So I came to help, but you made them poof!”

“And you are in big big trouble, Miss Platinum Roya Blaze.”

The gruff, masculine tenor that came from behind Tail made both mare and foal twitch. Tail turned at a snail’s pace to take in Trigger’s visage, and Peebles gingerly poked her face out from behind Tail’s body.

“You look bigger,” Tail idly commented as she took in the barkeep’s looming form. His trademarked Coltston was nowhere to be seen, and his long horn appeared unimpeded by the stallion’s usual methods. “And why does everypony I know suddenly dreamwalk?”

Trigger snorted. He held a firm, parental stare on Peebles for a few more seconds before a more relaxed expression forged a proper greeting. “Not everyone dreamwalks, but my daughter picked up some tricks. And she should know better than trying to enter another pony’s dreamshell over such a long distance. Or at all when permission wasn’t given.”

“But Daddy!” Peebles protested through a forming pout. “She had the scaries, and they were shouting and being mean. And I didn’t hop in her dreamshell from home! I popped to her first, so there! I was safe.”

The black-coated mage huffed, and his hoof quickly ascended to press against his forehead. Tail nearly chortled at the whole affair, but she promptly clamped her jaw shut once she watched Trigger squint in response to his daughter’s adorable ferociousness.

“Filly,” he grumbled as strangely argent waves of magic coated his horn. “If I find that ya did what I think ya did”—he hesitated as his aura began to reach for Peebles at an agonizingly sluggish pace—“we are going to have a serious chat. Ya teleported to her home in the middle of the night. By yourself.”

“Mmhmm!” The foal still carried some stubborn enthusiasm in the reply. “I am the best night guard! And Auntie Ams is really snuggly. Did you know they live in the same house!? She made sure I was warm and said that I”—her voice momentarily transformed into a perfect mimic of the medic—“have your resolve, Daddy.”

The stallion groaned. “Once my cadet, always my cadet. I swear that mare is the biggest enabler in Equestria. Fine, I’m gonna make my way over. At the very least, I know where I can help with Ms. Tail’s trainin’.” He shot the pegasus a teasing glance. “If a kid teleporting into your home doesn’t wake ya up, then ya clearly need more instruction.”

Trigger’s words hadn’t reached Tail’s ears. She had zoned out to the echoes of that perfect impression as they splashed around her mind. One word, in particular, stood out over all the noise, and it coaxed a memory that another dream had etched upon her subconscious.

A mare’s voice boomed over the barren dreamscape in a tone reminiscent of the Royal Canterlot variety. “Resolve. One day, your resolve will change...”

Confusion shaped the mare’s scrunched brow and pursed lips. Her body shivered to the hefty tones as each word had prodded an autonomous response. Cheerful laughter added another layer of complexity after Platinum Blaze started gleefully shouting that her nana had been there. The physicist could only give her attention to Trigger in the hope that he would have an answer.

His pinprick stare told her everything she needed to know.

Grogginess fogged Tail’s senses as she idly stared at the darkened ceiling of her bedroom. Colors had been washed out by the greyscale of night, and for several seconds, that blissful state of total unawareness hovered over her thoughts.

“Pbbbbt!” At least until that...

The noise made Tail’s legs instinctively jerk. The illusion ended, and an accompanying wave of chills rolled down her spine. It was one that had been spurred on by the torrent of memories that had crossed from the realm of dream into the world of the woken. She had been visited by a host of creatures—friend and foe—yet none of them should have been there.

“Your dad is not going to be happy when he gets here, Peebles,” Amora spoke with a gentle tone that crept to Tail’s ears from the opened doorway. “Props for being a loyal friend, but you’re way too young to teleport and dive without your dad keeping tabs.”

Another sound of protest emerged from the foal, and Tail lifted her head in time to see Platinum Blaze emphatically squirming in the dual grip of Amora’s magic and foreleg.

“Don’t pbbt me. I gave you credit where it was due, but I know your dad well enough to know that he’ll be worried sick. I am your favorite aunt, after all. I have experience in all matters pertaining to sneaky fillies and rambunctious roommates, and don’t doubt that one bit.”

Tail retorted with a snort. The claim, on top of the filly’s relentless squirming and noisemaking, produced a melody that the pegasus could not contain. “That really happened then,” she commented through sputtering giggles. “It was way too vivid. Those things were real, and she was there. Just incredible.”

Amora briefly gazed at the ceiling and groaned. “Oh geeze, now the other one’s awake. I’m not going to foalsit the both of you. One should be in bed, and the other hasn’t given her roommate enough caffeine to put up with a questioning crusade.”

Propping herself up with her forelegs, Tail pressed her back against her headboard. The blanket that had covered her body tumbled from her chest, revealing a fluffy coat that reflected what little light darted about the room. “Two ponies entered my dream. We don’t need caffeine to question that! I mean, Trigger, I don’t really have to question. He’s got experience and a reputation to match, but his filly? She’s carrying around a princess caliber skill! That’s nuts—”

The medic sighed and dramatically rolled her shoulders. “Hunny, I know what you’re about to do. Just don’t. This one goes straight to need-to-know on Celestia’s order, so don’t get your brain all riled up for nothing.”

Tail rocked forward. Her ears twitched, and rebellious strands of her mane jostled about. “But you clearly know something,” she complained, allowing her back to hit the headboard again with a deep, padded thump.

“I know something because Trigger was my D.I., and the circumstances were very, very different. Even so, rules are rules, and I ain’t breaking this one. You’re just going to have to leave it be. Keep obsessing over Barrier or something. I’m sure he’s got plenty of stories to satisfy your curiosity.”

Amora’s volume faded to silence. The medic’s coat stood on end in the seconds that followed, prompting Tail’s brow to rise before a jet-black aura rapidly engulfed the home and answered the unspoken question. In that instant, Tail’s room was drenched in pure darkness. The illuminated hallway was seemingly snatched away into a dimensionless void, and even the light of Amora’s magic evaporated. In its wake, streams of an amber field blossomed and cradled Platinum Blaze.

Coalescing grains of dust and debris swirled in the space between Tail’s hindboard and the invisible door. The rattling of papers filled the air in spite of the fact that nopony present could actually see them, and from that unusual nighttime tempest, Trigger’s body formed.

“Sorry for the delay, Major,” Trigger spoke as he levitated his daughter to eye level. “I take it she wasn’t too much trouble on this outrageous visit to her aunt…”

Tail’s breath hitched. The hoarseness of Trigger’s voice, the enveloping darkness, and the unfamiliar teleport produced an imagined weight that barreled down upon her chest. Like Amora, her fur was bristling—stirred up by the powerful presence that had infiltrated their abode—but unlike Amora, Tail’s heart was racing. She tried to kick her hind legs as though she were still a little foal locked in a nightmare. Just keep moving! Just keep moving! You’ll wake up and escape.

Trigger huffed, Tail blinked, and the pressure upon her body vanished as quickly as it had come. The light from the hallway resumed its march to battle the greyscale that otherwise held dominion over the mare’s room. Tail’s usual clutter had indeed been scattered about by the unicorn’s intrusion, but the minor annoyance didn’t make a bit of headway against the relief that sat upon Tail’s relaxed countenance.

“Dread, anxiety, confusion. Ms. Tail just felt those, Peebles, which is exactly why we don’t recklessly use dreamshell magic. I know why ya did it. It was a brave move, Squirt, but ya don’t have to be brave alone yet. Come get me right off the bat if ya sense something weird. Alright?”

Father and filly stared each other down for quite a while before Platinum Blaze smiled, hummed, and settled into the embrace of Trigger’s spell. The stallion clearly took the gesture as a sign of agreement because he immediately snapped his attention towards Tail.

“Uhh, hi?” the mattress-perching pegasus squeaked as she fell victim to his sparkling amber glare. Her snout scrunched as she watched a conniving grin spread across his muzzle, and the chuckle that followed did nothing to keep the mare from flicking her namesake.

“Well, it’s good to know that ya can sense some amount of magic when it’s right on top of ya, Flicker. Of course, that teleport was the equivalent to punting your door off its hinges—along with every door between my place and here. I bet every unicorn on your block felt me comin’, but what’s a guy to do? At least I have a baseline for my contribution to your training. By the time I’m through with ya, you’ll be reading teleport chains like an open book. I can’t wait to see the look on Shiny’s face when he jumps into the bottom of your hoof. As for right now though, I gotta clear the air.”

Feathers splayed to a timbre shift that overtook Trigger’s voice. A playful quippiness had punctuated the early parts of his tiny lecture regarding her magic-related inabilities, which made Tail all the more cognizant of the edge that bit into the stallion’s transitional sentence.

“What I’m about to say doesn’t leave this house. I’m not jokin’ when I say my family’s well-being is on the line here, so don’t buckin’ test me. Given tonight, it’s obvious that my mom has taken an interest in your life, which means you’ll probably piece it together on your own soon enough with that damn genius of yours. I’m not one to play pointless games. Since ya got the trust of a bunch of folks that I trust, I’ll extend it and save the hassle. To put it bluntly—and I swear ya’d better not go full Twilight Sparkle on me—ya can’t really call me a pony.”

Author's Note:

And so it begins, friends! Another Thursday, another chapter, and another thank you for continuing to read, comment, and message. For the last few months, we've sat pretty solidly in a domain of chapters that I have often defined to Sober as: these are the fluffy make-ups for making people wait four years for a sequel.

Not to say that there won't be further fluff in the future. There is a lot of fluff, but this chapter marks something else. Hello, Aislynn Caliber, it has been quite a while. :3c

See you all next week for Chapter 14, But Pawns.

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