• Published 1st Sep 2021
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Glimpses 2 - Pen Stroke



The power of "what if" tempts once again, but are the little ponies really ready for the answers?

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Variance 3 - Dreams

What if Nyx didn’t recover from the Ponyville monster attack?


Night Watch examined himself in the mirror, primping, and tweaking as he prepared. His first day on the job. He had to make the best impression he could. White-collar with the Luna blue tie tied in a proper full Windsor knot. The collar was specially made as well, having two small, square gem studs in a silver setting on both the left and right sides. The final touch was currently resting on his forehead: an official, government-issued eye mask.

Flashing one final smile at his reflection in the mirror, Night Watch departed his bathroom and stepped into his cozy little apartment. It was a studio, with all the basic amenities within the single room. The only exception was the small, separate bathroom. Still, for a new hire like him, it was practically perfect. But now he really needed to be getting to work.

Night Watch moved to the front door of his apartment and placed his hoof on the doorknob. Yet, instead of opening it, he just gave it a jiggle. He confirmed it was locked, and then with a smile, he turned around and stepped away. He moved across the space, going to the far corner of his room, to his bed. He looked at the sheets, fluffing and straightening the top layer blanket to make it look as presentable as possible.

He then gingerly laid down, trying to do his best to get into a comfortable position without disturbing the bed itself. He glanced at his bedside clock, seeing it click over to nine o’clock on the dot. Squirming with excitement, he reached up and used his hooves to pull the eye mask down over his eyes. He then laid there, listening to the click of the clock. Any moment now… any moment now…

Knock Knock Knock

Night Watch opened his eyes and found that his eye mask was missing. This alone made a huge smile spring onto his face because that meant everything was working as intended. He immediately sprang from his bed, which seemed to resist being wrinkled by his exuberant maneuver. He then jogged to his front door. He undid the lock and swung it open.

“Mr. Watch?”

Night Watch quickly brought his hoof up in salute. “Ma’am, yes Ma’am. Private Night Watch reporting for Dream Guard duty, Ma’am.”

Despite trying to maintain a stiff and proper salute, Night Watch couldn’t help but lean a little to the side. The mare in front of him was dressed like him. She was a pegasus, light gray tone with teal mane, but she wore the same collar, tie, and collar studs. “Welcome, Private Night Watch, I’m Sergeant Fluffy Cloud and I’m going to be your training supervisor. Now come along, we don’t have all night.”

“Ma’am, yes Ma’am.”

Fluffy Cloud stepped to the side, allowing Night Watch to walk out of his door. Yet, he was not in the narrow, somewhat grungy hallway that was normally outside his apartment. No, instead he stepped onto a Luna blue carpet that floated in an endless expanse. The carpet was soft to the touch, like fresh green grass in a spring field. The air carried a subtle smell of lavender and lilac. It was like there was a whole meadow of flowering plants just out of sight. And all around the carpet were orbs, little spheres of light. They floated and shifted in the empty expanse like an endless school of bioluminescent jellyfish in the depths of some great ocean.

The painting he had on the wall of his home, meant to depict this place, did not do it justice.

Night Watch brought his eyes back to ground level, his head turning left and right as he tried to drink it all in. He, Fluffy Cloud, and so many others walked along the Luna blue carpet that floated, without support, in the void. As they walked the carpet, different doors were appearing and disappearing from the edge of the path. Similarly dressed creatures stepped out of those doors and joined the growing crowd.

Ahead of them was what Night Watch could only describe as a regal yet modern castle, with smooth lines and curves compared to the normal rigid brick that made up places like Canterlot Castle. Truly, no modern construction technique could accomplish such a fanciful and sleek structure, but then that was the point, wasn’t it?

This was the Dream Guard Headquarters, the Dream Edge Castle!

Fluffy Cloud continued to lead the way down the carpet, Night Watch following dutifully even as he tried to look at every little detail. They reached the end of the floating carpet and passed beneath a large archway. The arch was guarded on either side by actual dragons, but even the dragons wore the same uniform as every creature else.

After passing through the front gate, Night Watch and Fluffy Cloud were in the protected courtyard. Around them, the smooth, light blue walls formed a barrier between the castle and the many floating orbs outside. In the center of the circular space stood a single grand tower, a monolithic structure that made the whole dream castle reminiscent of a sundial.

Floating around that central spire were clouds. They were dark blue, almost stormy looking, but at the same time, they looked more inviting than any bed. The other ponies coming through the entrance arches, one in each cardinal direction, were quickly getting swept up and carried upward by those clouds, circling the central tower lazily as the creatures on the clouds set about their work.

Yet Night Watch and Fluffy Cloud continued forward, reaching the base of the central spire. There they found a mare working behind a desk, the perhaps least fanciful of any of the structures around. The mare, a unicorn, had a black coat and purple mane, cut short but gently styled.

“Madam Secretary,” Fluffy Cloud said. She came to a stop in front of the desk.

The secretary glanced up from the papers she had been reading through, looking first to Fluffy Cloud and then to Night Watch. “Right, new recruit day. The new moon always sneaks up on me.” The secretary used her magic to pull open a drawer from beneath the desk. She hooved through the files for a few moments before drawing out one of the folders and cracking it open.

“Private Night Watch.”

“Yes Ma’am!” He snapped himself into a stiff salute. Surely if his superior referred to this mare with only a title, then he had to respect her as well.

“Welcome to the Dream Guard,” the secretary said, being cordial but keeping things strictly business. “I can see here you scored very highly on your aptitude tests. We’re always eager to get talented new recruits.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“Though said recruits should also try to relax a little. We’re not as rank and file as the Royal Guard.”

Night Watch flinched and lowered the hoof he had been holding in salute this entire time. “Sorry, Ma’am… just so excited. I’ve grown up wanting to be part of the Dream Guard since I was a colt.”

The secretary’s gaze went into a mile-long stare for a moment, but she snapped back and forced a chuckle. “I guess it really has been that long since we started this program, long enough for someone to grow up with it.”

“We’ve been guarding the dreams of Equestria and beyond for over two decades now, Madam Secretary,” Fluffy Cloud said.

“Right right, yes… of course. Sorry, I just sometimes forget how long it’s been. Anyway, Private Night Watch, for the first few months of your service you’ll be apprenticing under Sergeant Fluffy Cloud. She’ll show you the ropes of how we guard the dreams of Equestria without invading the privacy of creatures more than necessary.”

The secretary clapped her hooves, and Night Watch felt his hooves gently rising off the ground. He looked down and saw that one of the dark blue clouds was gently holding him above the ground. “This cloud is your desk and your transport. Please try to treat it well.”

Night Watch smiled, moving his hooves around in the cloud before focusing on it. He then smiled as the cloud reacted to his thoughts, gently carrying him a little higher off the ground as some different shapes began to bubble up from it. The billowy structure of the cloud formed into a bed that was accompanied by an end table that had a flower-filled vase on it.

“Fluffy Cloud will show you where you’ll be floating and will begin your training once you’ve settled in. And again, welcome to the Dream Guard.”

“Thank you, Ma’am!” Night Watch saluted again, out of instinct, and then quickly looked to Fluffy Cloud. The sergeant rolled her eyes but gently tapped one of her forehooves. From the sky above them, another cloud descended. Fluffy quickly stepped onto this cloud. She then gently gestured with her head before flying off into the sky.

Night Watch nodded, quickly urging his cloud to follow and feeling the thrill as he did. He was flying, and he’d be doing so much more. The Dream Guard were guardians of dreams. They helped fight nightmares but also tended to the mental health of the nation. It was one of the most prestigious posts you could get as part of the Equestrian military, but as cool as it was, it was an important duty as well.

After all, with Princess Luna retired, someone had to guard the dream realm, and now Night Watch was part of that team.

This was the best day, or rather night, ever!

~~~

Several hours later, dawn was cracking in the real world. The crowd of creatures that had arrived so promptly hours ago now filtered out of Dream Edge Castle. Even the dragon guards at the gates began to shuffle off, walking down the Luna blue carpets that extended into the void to slip away through their own dream doors. The castle grew quiet, silent even, as every soul left except for two.

One of the souls was a new arrival, her dream door opening just outside the castle. Princess Twilight Sparkle stepped out onto the carpet, taking a moment to get her bearings before starting to walk towards the castle. She breathed deep, the relaxing aroma that permeated this place was always something she looked forward to in the morning. In the years since her coronation, she had just grown taller and taller until she was of the same impressive stature as Princess Celestia. Even her mane had taken on a magical quality that seemed to be an homage to the now-retired princess of the sun.

Twilight quickly spotted the one other soul still at the castle, the secretary who was dutifully filing away a few final papers at this desk. As Twilight approached, the mare tapped a few final pages against the desk, getting the stack nice and neat before slipping them into a folder. The folder was fitted into a filing cabinet, and then both the filing cabinet and the entire desk began to sink into the floor. Twilight arrived at the desk just as it entirely vanished from existence, leaving her and the secretary.

“Good morning, Nyx,” Twilight said.

“Good morning.” Nyx lowered her head and shook her whole body. To Twilight, it always reminded her of seeing a dog shake its fur after getting soaked in water. Still, instead of shaking off the wet, Nyx was shaking off what was her work uniform. With each shake, she was growing in stature. As Nyx grew, her wings popped into existence. They started as tiny little stubs and grew out to match the rest of Nyx’s form. They flopped around like underinflated balloons with each shake.

The final touch was Nyx’s eyes, which stretched and contracted to their true slitted shape. Truthfully, anymore Nyx was one of the few ponies Twilight could look in the eye without stooping down. Though, Twilight also couldn’t help but notice that Nyx’s full alicorn form was thin, dare she say frail. It was like a stiff breeze might be able to blow Nyx over.

“Did you sleep well?” Nyx asked once she had finished.

“I think if I didn’t, you’d be the first to know,” Twilight said. She and Nyx began to walk, quickly stepping out from beneath the castle’s gate. The moment they were gone, the Dream Edge castle began to unweave itself. The threads of magic that manifested the castle spiraled and faded into the void of dreams. Soon, it was just the pair of them walking shoulder to shoulder along the blue floating carpet.

Yet, no sooner had the castle finished unmaking itself did something else began to form. Ahead of them on the path, at the end of the blue carpet, a treasured memory, shared by both of them, was sprouting into existence.

It began with a rounded hill of grass on a familiar Ponyville street. On that hill was a sapling, but it was growing with each step. Its leaves stretched to the sky as its trunk thickened and twisted. Yet, even as the impressive tree took shape, other things began to pop into view.

From the folds of the bark, doors and windows began to bubble up and slide into place. The door was a rich red. It bore the image of a lit candle in a candle holder. The little painted on flame seemed to wave as if eagerly greeting the two mares.

Across the windows and from some of the higher branches, wrought iron grew like a symbiotic vine, curling and twisting into smooth, enticing shapes. From one window a long pole of iron grew. From that pole, a lantern grew like a ripe fruit. Balconies and rooftops of soft grass followed suit.

The final touch was a few red sticks that sprouted from the ground and quickly grew into thick pieces of lumber. They grew together and eventually formed into the shape of a cute little red sign. The image of an open book was on that sign, a single and simple picture that called out the purpose of the place.

As Nyx and Twilight stepped up the front step, the Golden Oaks Library had taken full form in front of them, the door opening on its own to welcome them in.

“No Spike this morning?” Nyx asked.

Twilight crossed the threshold first, feeling her body shift. Gone was her regal, princessly form. Now she was as she once was, a newly ascended alicorn that had grown only an inch or two at most. One who didn’t have nearly as much trouble with doors meant for regular ponies. Looking back, Twilight watched as Nyx entered and took on a similar, more normal-sized adult form. Yet, despite her diminished size, she still looked thin and underweight.

“He’s tending to some of his own royal advisor duties, which is his code phrase for setting up his monthly O&O game with Discord and Big Mac,” Twilight said as the pair moved into the kitchen. Twilight began using her magic to prepare a meal, cracking and whisking eggs in a bowl as she got out flour, sugar, milk, and some other basic ingredients.

“It’s about time for your monthly meeting with my aunts too, isn’t it? How is everyone? I got to see Rarity the other night. She was having a nightmare about another wrinkle,” Nyx said. “She may claim she’s aging the most gracefully of all my aunts, but that doesn’t stop her from being the most overdramatic whenever she finds some new wrinkle or gray hair. ”

“She wouldn’t be Rarity if she wasn’t a little overdramatic.” Twilight began heating a pan and some butter over the stove. “Applejack is bringing some zap apple jam up. How does that sound as part of breakfast this morning?”

Behind her, Twilight could hear the delicate sounds of glasses, forks, and knives finding their place on the table. Her good girl, as usual, was setting the table. “Sounds good. Oh, I got to meet Little Cheese the other night. It was her first nightmare, something about losing Pinkie Pie’s party cannon. She’s such a sweet little filly.”

Twilight laughed and glanced over her shoulder at Nyx. Nyx had just set out the last of the silverware and now flopped down into her favored sitting cushion at the table. She sat in the chair like a mare who had just walked ten miles despite how brief of a stroll it had been from the castle. “That must have been around the time Pinkie Pie actually lost her favorite party cannon. She wrote to me asking if I would be her investigative assistant as she looked for clues. I’ll admit, I was tempted, but I never heard anything else about it. I imagine I’ll hear the whole story today, and I bet it’s going to be thanks to you that things got resolved the way they did.”

“Well, you know me, just trying to do my part.” At that point, Nyx turned and coughed, covering her mouth with a hoof. Twilight took a step to move away from the stove, but Nyx used her other hoof to wave her hoof. “It’s okay. I’m fine. It was the new moon last night, and so it was new recruit day. You know how new recruit day tends to take it out of me.”

“Well then, it’s a good thing we’re going to have pancakes.” Twilight went back to the stove, pouring the batter into the hot, buttered griddle. Immediately the space inside the kitchen began to fill with sweet smells.

“If there was one thing Celestia was specifically going to teach you, I’m glad it was her pancake recipe.”

“What’s crazy is I got a letter from her, and she’s started taking cooking classes now. She says she’s planning to come up with an even better pancake recipe and wants to share it with us once it's done.” Twilight used her magic, forming a spatula in the air from her mystic energies and using it to flip the pancake in the pan. “Can you imagine her pancakes being even better? They’d be so good, I might have to outlaw them.”

“And how is Princess Luna?”

“She’s doing good.” Twilight flipped the first finished pancake out of the pan and began making the next. From thin air, a few more pans faded into existence, and Twilight began using each to speed up her pancake-making. “She’s started to join Celestia in a few of her more adventurous things. They’re apparently planning an excursion deep into a particular jungle. Hopefully, they don’t end up starting a bitter rivalry with Ahuizotl like Daring Do did.”

“It’s good to hear she’s feeling more adventurous after not guarding dreams for so long.”

“You know, she offered to let you take a vacation again, if you want.” Twilight flipped the pancakes in the many pans, the sweet sizzling sound and bubbling batter looking positively tantalizing.

“That’s very sweet of her, but we just don’t do things the way she used to. It’s taken a lot of time for me to have the endurance to dream link so many ponies for the entire night. I think if I were to take a night off, I’d have to make sure every creature in the Dream Guard had the time off too.”

“Which isn’t out of the question. Business mandated time off for all employees is 100% a thing,” Twilight said as she flipped all the pancakes out of the pans, landing each one perfectly on one of two plates. She then turned off the stove and turned, carrying the plates of pancakes to the table with her magic.

“Maybe sometime soon,” Nyx said as she used her magic to pick up a fork and knife. She smiled at the stack of pancakes, which smiled back at her with sliced zap apple eyes and a zap apple jam smile. “Just… you know me, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without the Dream Guard.”

Twilight took a seat with her own plate, picking up a knife and fork as she began to cut and divide her pancakes. “I know, but we can’t let ourselves become workaholics like Celestia and Luna. Not unless we want to suddenly retire in a thousand years when another new alicorn happens to appear.”

Nyx chuckled as she slipped a bite of pancake into her mouth.

~~~

Twilight teleported into existence a short while later, the sun properly up and moving across the sky. She rolled her neck and stretched her wings. It was always a little strange to use a spell to get herself back to sleep after waking up to raise the sun, but truly, she didn’t have many other options.

She had teleported herself to the bottom floor of a particular tower. The bottom floor was rather unremarkable, really just a small foyer. Still, Twilight quickly climbed a pair of steps, ascending into a place so familiar to her. It was a private library and study, one with a giant hourglass at its center. Sweeping windows showed a clear view of much of Canterlot, all while remaining cool blue colors on the interior.

This space was once hers. It had been her private study, the one she had been given to use as Princess Celestia's faithful student.

That was a long time ago now, and the library part of this space was little more than decoration at this point. No one came in here to read books anymore. Even though she had a personal student of her own now, Luster Dawn, this space remained reserved for something else.

Twilight moved to one side of the room, where magical and scientific equipment meant for advanced studies had been replaced with medical apparatuses and a hospital bed. In some ways, this space had become among the most medically advanced in all of Equestria. The equipment of various shapes and sizes all had wires and tubes reaching towards the bed where a single figure lay.

Laying on the bed was Nyx, the otherwise pristine black coat marked with garish scars. Even her head was scarred. Those healed wounds were readily visible as Nyx's scalp was kept shaved for the doctors’ convenience. The distinctive patterns, the claw and teeth marks, had been left on Nyx by the Lupis Major, the final opponent she faced in defending Ponyville. The opponent she had managed to beat, but only by the narrowest of margins.

Twilight’s magic reached for the medical chart. Though she was the Princess of Friendship and an expert on magic, over the past few decades she had worked to become well versed in medicine as well. She read the bottom few lines of the chart, her face falling as she read the results from their latest tests.

Nyx still didn’t respond.

Nyx was alive, but something broke that day. Her body was in a coma while her mind remained trapped, or linked at least, to the dream realm. No matter what spell or medicine they tried, they hadn’t been able to coax Nyx back to the waking world. Worse still, it seemed even an alicorn's body could not survive being comatose forever.

Twilight felt her worst fears swimming. She hung the chart back in its place and moved it over to the side of the bed. Next to her and Nyx was an end table. On that table was a stack of letters and crayon drawings from that fateful day. Along with it was a plush of Twilight, one that wore a cute little nurse's hat. Though no one else knew it, that doll was enchanted so the real Twilight would be able to know the moment Nyx awoke. Though it seemed the doll was due for a small wash. It was looking a little dusty.

That only caused the knots in Twilight's stomach to tighten. She had seen it in the dream realm. Nyx’s mental form, looking so malnourished, was but a manifestation of her body. Things were deteriorating. Eventually, they would need to wake Nyx up or risk losing her forever.

Or maybe... a single thought clawed at the back of Twilight's mind, the darkest of thoughts. The one that refused to go away, no matter how hard Twilight tried. The thought that... maybe... she had really lost Nyx the day of the attack, and all this was just prolonging the inevitable.