• Published 15th Oct 2012
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The Masterpiece - McPoodle

Twilight must step in to prevent Pinkie Pie's mental disintegration

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Chapter 4: Genre-Savvy

The Masterpiece

Chapter 4: Genre-Savvy

Twilight poured tea for Luna, who had settled into a comfortable position beside the kitchen table in the Library tree. The two were being extra quiet—from the faint sound of snores upstairs, it appeared that Spike actually had managed to fall asleep early. A long day of assisting Twilight prepare for this meeting had sort of ensured that.

“I haven’t had a chance to get a good look at your library before, Twilight,” said the Princess.

“And what do you think?” the unicorn asked demurely.

“It’s very well organized, but I suppose I should have expected nothing less from my sister’s student.”

Twilight blushed at the compliment.

“I’ve seen more than my share of books over the past year as I’ve strived to catch up with a millennium of progress,” confided Luna. “There seems to be an imbalance here, however.”

“What do you mean?” asked Twilight.

“The vast majority of your collection is non-fiction,” Luna told her. “The only story books are in that little shelf near the entrance.”

“Ah, well I inherited those from the former librarian, Canna Table,” Twilight explained with a sigh. “They are the most-frequently borrowed books in the library by far. I have been trying my best to encourage a love of non-fiction in Ponyville’s reading set, but so far I have had little success.”

The Princess was surprised. “Do you have some sort of bias against stories?” she asked. “I learned a lot about modern attitudes by reading contemporary fiction.”

“Oh, some stories are quite interesting,” said Twilight. “The Daring Do series, for example. But I find most of them to be too similar. The same plots, with the same recycled characters and the same unlikely plot elements. I’ve had many interesting conversations with Pinkie Pie on the subject, although she approaches the subject as a fan rather than a detractor. She has a colorful term for these elements of narrative: ‘umbers’, or maybe it was ‘wenges’? In any case, I am a mare of facts, and I try to keep stories at leg’s length.”

“That would be a mistake,” Luna warned her. “Stories are very important to us ponies, whether we like it or not. We have an inner need to make sense of our lives, to weave the random moments of existence into a coherent whole, and that whole we create is always in the form of a familiar story. I remember, back after Celestia and I had defeated Discord, how we were embraced by the populace, and made into the central part of their lives. We were incorporated into the personal stories of thousands of ponies, and their expectations began to subtly affect our actions and thoughts, first in public and then in private. Celestia was more popular than me, because her role in Discord’s defeat was more visible, and because she controlled the sun. I had my followers as well, but all I could see, all anypony could see, was that she was the winner and I was the loser.

“That narrative grew to take over my every waking thought,” Luna continued, her eyes focusing off into the distance. “I sought out stories of rivalries, and reveled in their tales of ingenious revenge. It was in that way that I laid myself open to the honeyed words of the Nightmare. And the results of that became the subject of the greatest cautionary fable in Equestria’s history.”

Twilight walked around the table to reach up and put a hoof on her foreleg. “But it was also by those story conventions that Nightmare Moon was defeated and you were freed.”

“Was it?” Luna asked with an arched brow. “I have my own suspicions on that count. Let me hear yours.”

“Well first of all, Nightmare Moon had the power to kill us at any time,” Twilight told her.

“And that’s exactly what she tried to do with her trials,” replied the Princess.

Twilight nodded. “And if we were not worthy of the Elements of Harmony, those trials would have killed us. But the point is, the trials pulled us together, and brought out our best qualities. You see, Nightmare Moon had no choice, because she had bound herself to a fairytale story. It had given her the strength to take you over, but it also gave her a weakness: she had to provide an opening for the Elements to be reborn.”

“So you do understand the power of stories,” said Luna.

“Well yes, but...taupe!” Twilight realized that her voice had crept up a bit too much in volume, and looked nervously up at her bedroom. After a few seconds, she was relieved to hear Spike’s faint snores resume.

“Taupe?” asked Luna in confusion.

“I finally remembered,” Twilight told her. “That word that Pinkie uses to discuss common elements in fiction—it’s ‘taupe’.”

Luna smiled. “Somehow I suspect the color of a mole’s coat is not the word she was using,” she said. “Now you were saying...”

“I was saying that stories do have a powerful influence, but far too often, that power is for ill instead of good. When my friend Zecora first came to town, she was suspected of being an evil enchantress, because in her cloak she reminded the inhabitants of Ponyville of a very-well known horror story about such a being, who would creep up to their victims cloaked by the night, until suddenly zomponifying them.”

“Hmm,” pondered Luna. “I’m beginning to suspect that my chosen ensemble for Nightmare Night was less than ideal for endearing myself with the locals...”

“And it works on a much subtler level,” continued Twilight. “For instance Rarity, in any of dozens of stories on the fiction shelf, would just be a shallow self-obsessed drama queen, and Rainbow Dash would be a dumb jock. There are so few distinct characters in those books, and everypony that reads them finds themselves drawn to match themselves to the closest character they can find: the humble but determined heroine, the arrogant genius villainess, the comic relief...I think the reason Pinkie Pie might like reading those stories so much is that she pretty much is the stereotypical comic relief character already, and those types always turn out fine.”

“And who are you in this cast of stock characters?” Luna asked.

“Well, will you look at the time!” exclaimed Twilight, before walking back around the table and refilling their cups. “I’m sure you didn’t come here just to discuss taupes. Your letter mentioned that you would like to learn more about pony psychology.”

Luna noted the transparent attempt to change the subject, and left herself a mental note to try to continue on their interrupted conversation at a later time. “That is correct,” she said. “For this first session, I thought it best to lay down the groundwork, to tell you what I hope to get out of our conversations, so you can be properly prepared for our future meetings.”

“That sounds like an excellent plan,” said Twilight.

“Let me start with a confession: I spend a portion of my nights visiting the dreams of other ponies. Does that bother you?”

Twilight lowered her cup and thought. “Not particularly,” she answered. “I think I have detected your presence at least twice in my own dreams.”

“That is impressive,” said Luna. “Few are the ponies subtle enough to do that.” She then raised an eyebrow in puzzlement. Celestia had told her that ponies did not like having their dreams spied upon, but Twilight Sparkle was taking this news very calmly. But then she realized that Twilight was no ordinary pony. She had spent the greater part of her life around Princess Celestia, an alicorn that had to consciously prevent herself from overhearing the thoughts of every pony around her. A pony raised under these circumstances could have no expectation of privacy. This fact also served to make her Luna’s perfect ambassador to the other ponies.

“What’s it like, visiting other pony’s dreams?” Twilight asked, interrupting her reveries. “Is it a type of magic you can teach other ponies, or is it unique to you?”

“It is ordinary pony magic,” Luna replied, “but at a level of complexity that not even you are ready for yet. But I can bring other ponies into dreams with me.” She smiled at the opportunity to show off. “Would you like to see?” she asked, holding out a hoof.

Twilight looked around her. “This early?” she asked. “Is anypony even asleep yet? Other than Spike, I mean. Ooo, can we try going into one of Spike’s dreams? I’ve always wondered what they’re like.”

Luna smiled. “Perhaps another time. For your first time, I’m not proposing taking you into an actual dream, just a memory of one. A memory of one of your dreams, in fact. That way I know it will be safe.”

Twilight stood up, practically shaking all over in her excitement. “What do I have to do?” she asked.

“Lie back down,” Luna instructed with a smirk.

Twilight pouted, but then did what she was told.

Luna walked over to her, and then settled down so that their heads were next to each other. “Just relax,” she said, “and remember above all that you are in a dream. Now follow where your spirit is pulling you...” She lowered her horn to touch Twilight’s forehead, as the unicorn closed her eyes...

The midnight sea stretched endlessly in all directions but up and down, illuminated by thousands of sparkling bubbles. Far, far above was the mirror-like surface of the water, and a short distance below was the sandy floor, covered with scattered lumps of coral in colors of red, indigo, green and orange. Schools of silver fish darted by in amorphous formations.

Twilight’s first impulse was to panic, for there was no way she could be breathing. But she fought that panic down, and held onto Luna’s advice. She was in a dream, and dreams didn’t need to breathe. Besides, she remembered this dream, and it was a good one.

She looked around her, puzzled. She wasn’t where she remembered being in this dream. In fact, she didn’t seem to exist in this dream at all. “Where am I?” she asked. She was grateful she at least retained the ability to express herself.

“It is safest to put as little of yourself in a dream as possible,” the voice of Princess Luna instructed her. “Right now, you are little more than pure thought. By staying over here, far from the interesting part of the dream, we guarantee that we aren’t noticed by the dreamer. Of course, this is a memory, so it will not change regardless of our actions, but this is supposed to count as training, so we’ll pretend it’s more dangerous than it actually is.”

“Understood,” said Twilight, and she saluted. Well, that was interesting, she noted. When she had thought about the gesture, her disembodied hoof had come into a sort of phantom existence, just long enough to move up to where her head would have been.

“You must discipline your thoughts in a dream,” Luna instructed her. “Any random thought could be brought to life, no matter how impossible they may be in the waking world.”

Floating towards them from the distance came a dark shape, undulating with the current.

Twilight eagerly watched its approach. “So what happens if we are noticed by the dreamer?” she asked.

“Dreams are pretty robust things,” Luna replied. “If there’s any possible way that you can be incorporated into the dream without forcing the dreamer to wake up, then you will be. The more noticeable you are, however, the more you will be forced into the dream, and the more important you become in the dream, the less control you have over your own actions. If you are not careful, you could become the dreamer’s puppet, forced to do whatever her sleeping mind invents, until such time as she wakes up.”

The approaching shape resolved itself into a deep sea octopus, seven or eight times as big as a pony. It was a deep purple in color. In a matter of seconds it had propelled itself past the invisible observers.

The Princess let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “I had forgotten how beautiful that was,” she said.

“It looks pretty incredible from the outside,” replied Twilight. “But being the octopus...I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.”

Twilight opened her eyes to see the Princess looking warmly down at her. “You handled that a good deal better than I had expected,” she said.

Twilight nodded. “I had that dream right after visiting the Equestrian Seaquarium for the first time. I don’t know how many times I tried to dream it again, but it never happened—I’m never able to get enough control over my dreams to be and do what I want in them. But you’ve got virtually free rein. Is it true that you can do anything in a dream?”

Luna’s smile turned into a frown. “Yes, but that’s not the point,” she lectured Twilight. “In a dream, you are dealing with a pony at their most vulnerable. All of their secrets are painfully exposed, and they are at the whim of impulses they can successfully control by day. In their dreams you are in a position to cause tremendous harm if you are not careful. That is why I strive always for a light touch, to see only the outermost layer of a dreamer’s mind, and to never affect a dream in any way.” Her look turned wistful as she continued. “Well...that is what I have been doing so far, since I returned to my senses last year. I am hoping that I can transition to something new, with your help.”

Princess Luna explained to Twilight her intention to use her dream powers to assist troubled ponies. “There is one pony in particular that I have been observing for more than a week, a pony that is suffering from quite-severe nightmares. These nightmares, in turn, are caused by the impending collapse of a lie that dates all the way back to cutification. And that lie is tied into the growing conflict between the two voices in this pony’s head.”

“A pony with Dissociative Identity Disorder?” asked Twilight. “I don’t know anypony with that particular problem, and I would have noticed, because I am a very good observer of my fellow ponies...” And then she stopped herself and looked with growing panic at the Princess.

“I did not say that you knew this particular pony,” Luna said, not noticing Twilight’s reaction. “I need to find the best way to approach them. They are keeping the matter of the second personality a secret, so I believe they will be naturally distrustful.”

“U...understandable,” said Twilight. “Is this other personality growing stronger over time?”

“It appears to have more influence in times of stress, I’ve observed.”

“Well if the Nightmare is the source of the personality...I mean if the personality is the source of the nightmares...”

“Twilight Sparkle,” Luna interrupted with a frown. “The pony in question is not me.”

Twilight blushed in embarrassment at her false accusation. “It’s not?”

“No. I am completely free of the Nightmare, Twilight. If I had the slightest suspicion that this were not the case, then I would have informed my sister, and all of the Elements of Harmony. I would not have acted in this furtive manner.”

“No, I suppose not. Still, I wonder who this pony is?”

“That is not your business,” the Princess said curtly. “I merely ask for approaches I may use in convincing this pony that I can help.”

“Yes, of course,” said Twilight. “Well, this pony is keeping the other personality very well hidden I would say. Also, they would react badly, I would think, if you baldly revealed that you knew the secret. It would help if we knew the reason for the concealment. What do they think would happen if the truth ever got out?”

“That subject is what most of the nightmares are about,” said Princess Luna grimly. “The fear is of abandonment. That all of the pony’s friends would leave.”

“That...that would be awful,” said Twilight. “I couldn’t imagine losing the friends I’ve made in Ponyville.” This was a lie. She could imagine it, and it was the source of her own nightmares. Twilight pondered her next course of action for a few seconds. “Alright,” she concluded, “I’ll spend tomorrow researching this condition and drawing up a list of potential ways you can get past that distrust and convince this pony that you have her or his best interests at heart.”

“That is what I wished to hear,” Luna said warmly as she rose to her hooves. “I will return to my nightly duties now, but I’d like to return here two hours before sundown tomorrow. That way, we can get more done without having too much of an impact on your sleeping hours. Is that agreeable with you?”

“Yes, that sounds fine, Princess,” replied Twilight. “Let me show you to the door.”

As soon as Luna had flown out of sight, Twilight got to work drawing up a list of ponies she suspected of having the slightest chance of suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder and/or lying about their cutie mark story.