Enterprise flashed a wide grin as she put on her helmet. “How would I be sure when we haven't tested it yet, silly? But yeah, I think it should work alright.”
“You… think,” Moon Dream repeated cautiously. She watched her friend run around the strange vehicle, fussing with last-minute details. “But what if it doesn't?”
Enterprise peeked out from behind a large metal wing, giving Moon Dream a flat look. Moon Dream felt a tingling sensation wrap around the ends of her wings, a green glow gently unfolding them.
“You'll be fine,” the yellow unicorn stated, letting the glow vanish from her horn.
Moon Dream liked flying almost as much as any other pegasus, even if her slightly bent wings made it difficult for her, but there was a big difference between flying by your own power and trusting a large hunk of metal to stay airborne. Besides…
“What if I can't get out? Or a piece comes loose and knocks one or both of us unconscious? Or--” Before Moon Dream knew it, Enterprise was gently covering her mouth with a hoof.
“That's not going to happen, Moon Dream,” Enterprise said in a calm, reassuring voice, her enthusiasm making way for kindness. “We'll be fine. You'll be fine. But you know, if you don't want to do this with me, that's okay. I can ask Cherry Berry to come instead.”
Moon Dream took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “...no, it's okay. I'm okay. Let's do this thing.”
Enterprise’s excitement resurfaced as abruptly as it had gone. She quickly finished her last-minute adjustments - at least, Moon Dream hoped she finished - before telekinetically lifted herself into the vehicle’s pilot seat.
The vehicle itself, Moon Dream knew, was a wide metal tube, about fifteen feet long, mounted on wheels from a pair of old shopping carts. Attached on either side of the tube were two large “wings” - plates of metal shaped vaguely like pegasus feathers. She had helped Enterprise recruit pegasi that would let her study their wings, and the determined unicorn had done everything she could to make the vehicle’s wings match theirs.
At the back of the vehicle, Enterprise had attached a part that looked like the bottom of a firework, but much bigger. Moon Dream didn't know where Enterprise had managed to scavenge that from. Did she make it from scratch, maybe?
Moon Dream flew the short distance up to the tube’s top and sat down in the hole Enterprise had called a passenger seat, fastening the makeshift seatbelt.
“Don't forget your helmet!” Enterprise said cheerfully.
“Right,” Moon Dream replied, obliging.
She had barely fastened the helmet before she noticed the vehicle moving forwards, slowly… not so slowly… not slowly at all… very much not slowly! If they kept going like this they were going to crash into the trees where the field they were on met the forest!
“Enterprise!” she shouted, the volume as much out of panic as out of concern that Enterprise wouldn't hear her over the noise of the firework device.
Enterprise didn't turn her head, but Moon Dream could tell she was grinning. “What?!”
“You need to stop!!”
“But we're just getting to the fun part!” Enterprise flicked a lever in front of her. To Moon Dream’s horror, it was not the “stop” lever. Instead, the vehicle's large metal wings began to move upwards. Then they came back down. It's flapping, she realized. How did she build that?
And then they rose.
“WOO-HOO!” Enterprise exclaimed as they flew over the treetops.
“AAAHHHHH!!!” was Moon Dream’s eloquent reply.
~ * ~
Flying like this was a completely different experience from flying by her own power, Moon Dream found. Once she got over the initial panic, it was actually somewhat relaxing, soaring through the sky at such high speeds without wearing out her wings or having to constantly adjust her balance.
The relief didn't last, though. Since this was the first flight test of the prototype, Enterprise had planned for the trip to only cover a short distance. Moon Dream felt a tinge of disappointment when she spotted their destination, the road outside a local rock farm.
“Hey, Moon Dream?!” came a calm shout from the front as the vehicle went in for a landing.
“There might be a teensy issue!”
Moon Dream’s heart dropped into her stomach. “What?!”
“We kinda sorta lost our front wheels in the treetops back there!”
“We did WHAT?!”
~ * ~
A few minutes and some bruises later, Enterprise and Moon Dream were walking along the road, pulling a borrowed cart loaded with scrap metal.
“Well, that was fun,” Enterprise said. “Shame about the prototype, though.”
Moon Dream didn't answer. For Celestia’s sake, she could've said something before we were landing!
Her friend continued, “But hey, it was a success! Although the landing could use a little work.”
Right then, Moon Dream really wanted to be angry at the unicorn, but then Enterprise did the unforgivable: She giggled.
And before they knew it, the two friends were laughing up a storm as they walked towards home.
Sky Spinner’s heart leaped for joy. He had been waiting nearly a year to hear those words leave the nurse’s mouth, and now that the big moment was here, it took much self-control for the pegasus to stop himself from taking off and flying in circles inside the maternity ward.
Probably for the best that he did. Nopony wanted a tornado indoors, especially not here.
His wife, he knew, would never be tempted to do something that wild even if she could get out of the bed right then, but from the bright smile that shone through the exhaustion on Canopy’s face, he knew she was just as ecstatic as he was. Oh, that smile, how he loved it. He hoped, not for the first time, that his daughter would be blessed with her mother's smile.
Sky Spinner tried to pull his mind back together, just in time for it to break to pieces once again as the realization finally struck: I have a daughter. It hit him harder than the ground did whenever he got thrown out of an overzealous tornado, but there was no pain this time, only joy.
He galloped to his wife’s bedside as the nurse passed the towel-wrapped filly to her mother.
“She's beautiful,” Canopy said, softly.
Sky Spinner could only nod, not taking his eyes off the filly. She was yellow, like her mother, but she had his light blue and… well, lighter blue mane colors. Her tiny mane had three stripes like his, the lighter blue sitting between the darker blues, but it was more rounded at the tips, like her mother's. It curled around her little yellow horn. She looked almost too peaceful to have just come into the world.
“We… we made this,” he stated.
Canopy nodded, smiling that beautiful smile of hers again. “Our little enterprise.”
“That might be a good name for her. Our little En--” Sky Spinner stopped in his tracks, made himself back up a little in his mind. Her little yellow… horn? “--wait, is our daughter a unicorn?”
The question finally came one night, while Canopy was tucking Enterprise into bed. “When will I grow wings like all the other foals, mom?”
Canopy hesitated. She had been dreading this question, dreading the day she or Sky Spinner would have to explain to their little yellow filly that she was different. She had hoped it would be Sky Spinner who would have to answer it, even if he could be a bit… disoriented at times.
“You see, Enterprise,” she began, “There are three types of ponies. Some have wings, like dad and I. That's what makes us pegasi. But some don't have them.”
“Oh.” Enterprise frowned, looking at her back.
“But only some of those ponies have one of these,” Canopy added, lightly touching the horn in the middle of her daughter’s forehead. “Those ponies, the kind of pony you are, are called unicorns.”
“Unicorns…” Enterprise said the word softly, testingly, as though saying it just to see how it felt on her tongue. “But what good is that? I want to fly!”
“Oh, honey… I’m so sorry…”
Enterprise’s eyes began to water.
Canopy had to turn this around. “But you know what? A horn can be great too! Unicorns can't usually fly, but you know what they get to do? Magic.”
“Magic?” Enterprise looked at Canopy with eyes filled with wonder.
Much better that than water, Canopy thought. “Yes! Unicorns can do amazing things just using their horns.”
“Like… well, all unicorns get to move things without touching them, and then they get a few things only they can do. I know one unicorn who can make plants grow, and one who can make things pretty--”
“Can't I have wings and a horn?” Enterprise interrupted.
“That… would make you an alicorn. Only Princess Celestia and Princess Cadence have both wings and horns.” Canopy had told Enterprise about the princesses before, but back then, she had left out the detail that they weren't pegasi.
“Then I want to be a princess too, so I can fly and do magic!”
Canopy frowned. This wasn't going as well as she'd hoped. But she couldn't bear to break Enterprise’s hopes again, so she smiled reassuringly and nuzzled her daughter. “Oh, sweetie... You'll always be my little princess.”
Enterprise fell silent for a moment, not returning the nuzzle. Then she spoke, quietly, “The other pegasi,” she caught herself, “The pegasus foals tease me. For not being able to fly.”
The words stung. “They do?”
“What's a ‘chicken’, mom?”
Canopy didn't answer immediately. She would have to talk to the teacher about this. “...a chicken is a bird that can't fly very far, so it stays on the ground most of the time. But next time the other foals call you a chicken, you know what you do?”
“You ask them, ‘So what? What's wrong with being a chicken?’. And if they talk about flying, maybe you can tell them what I told you about unicorns and magic.”
“...I guess,” Enterprise said half-heartedly.
“Now let's get you all wrapped up,” Canopy said, throwing the blanket over Enterprise, “so you can have nice dreams and not worry about wings or mean pegasus foals.”
“Yeah…” There was still a tinge of sadness in the voice.
Canopy kissed Enterprise’s cheek. She had learned not to try to kiss the forehead early, when she almost poked her eye out on Enterprise's horn. “Good night, my little princess. I love you.”
“I love you too, mom. Good night.”
Canopy turned, blew out the lights, and left the room. But just before the door closed behind her, she heard one last murmur from the general direction of the bed. It was quiet enough that Canopy didn't think Enterprise had meant for her to hear it.
“I almost killed the princess, but it flies like a charm.”
Enterprise beamed as Cherry Berry gently landed the Pedal-Powered Propeller Pitcher - the P4 for short - next to her. The P4 was inspired by a contraption Pinkie Pie had mentioned in passing about a year ago (she had been forced to interrogate Pinkie's friend Rainbow Dash for further details, which had been… frustrating), but while the idea might not be entirely original, Enterprise had optimized the design. Seeing her work come into fruition like this made Enterprise feel almost as alive as flying herself did.
“It looked very stable from the ground, too, during the bits I could see,” she said. “How were the pedals?”
“Pedal-y,” Cherry replied, deadpan. When Enterprise raised an eyebrow, she continued, “They were alright. Not too heavy, but not light either.”
Enterprise telekinetically lifted her notepad and quill, writing down Cherry’s findings.
Pedals can be made lighter.
Enterprise didn't doubt that they could. If a unicorn and an earth pony could fly in heavy hunks of metal, anything could be done if somepony just put their mind to it. The real question was whether she was good enough at what she did to make it happen.
“Balance?” she prompted.
“It veered a little to the left, but nothing you can't fix with a few adjustments to the steering wheel.”
Adjust steering wheel. “Lift?”
“Went up and down smoothly.”
Enterprise nodded; she had been able to see that from the outside. “Forward drive?”
“A little slow, maybe.”
“Oats and--” Finally, Cherry’s detached composure broke into a look of confusion. “...diet?”
Enterprise snickered, then put away the notepad and pulled her goggles down over her eyes. “Alright, my turn!”
“Why didn't you just add multiple seats?” Cherry asked while climbing down.
“Balance. I thought it might fly differently with and without a passenger, and take more treading to get lift. I should look into that, though.”
Once Cherry was out of the way, Enterprise lifted herself telekinetically into the single seat of the P4.
Not many unicorns could lift themselves like that, Enterprise knew. Normally you had to be either a baby - meaning you were light and prone to magical surges - or an incredibly powerful, magically gifted unicorn. Enterprise was neither. But what she did have was a helpful cutie mark. Most unicorns’ magic was based on their special talent, and hers was flight and the creation of ways to fly. And so she was able to fly short distances using her flight-based magic.
It was a perverse point of pride for Enterprise. As far as she knew, even the pretty purple princess, with her cutie mark in magic and enough power to lift an ursa minor with her telekinesis, hadn't been powerful enough to do that before she got her wings. Even with alicorn magic, she might still not be powerful enough, but it was harder to tell when she had wings to use instead. Enterprise hoped she was right. It would be one thing the princess didn't have.
Enterprise didn't know what Pinkie Pie saw in Twilight Sparkle. The mare was an insufferable, privileged know-it-all with a talent for doing whatever she wanted with magic and no effort, and that's the pony Princess Celestia chose to be the fourth alicorn princess? That's who got wings out of nowhere?
Suddenly Enterprise realized she was already high up in the sky. Thinking about the princess had irritated her, made her almost gallop on the pedals. She took a moment to collect herself, and lowered the P4 to a more reasonable altitude.
Which was still pretty high up. Enterprise looked down, and even the weather pegasi looked like ants below her. The sight helped Enterprise calm down. This was where she was meant to be.
~ * ~
Enterprise landed the Pedal-Powered Propeller Pitcher right where she had started. Cherry Berry sat there, the notepad and quill lying in front of her on the ground.
“What was that all about?” Cherry asked. “I was prepared to take notes on the ascent, but you just shot up there, and then I didn't even see you again until you came in for the landing!”
“I just got a little carried away,” Enterprise replied, smiling.
“So,” Enterprise began, her smile turning wry, “what's this about almost killing the princess?”
“Really? Like what?” Enterprise inquired. She had just been telling her friend, Moon Dream, about a weird dream she had had the previous night. The two blank flanks were sitting together in miss Windy Wisdom’s classroom.
All their pegasus classmates were out playing during recess. Enterprise wished she could join them, but she could barely step outside the front door without plummeting through the clouds that formed the school's playground, let alone fly. Moon Dream could, even if she wasn't good at the latter, but she had chosen to stay indoors to keep her unicorn friend company. Miss Windy Wisdom was the only other pony in the room, preparing for the next lesson.
“Like how you're feeling really deep down, or even about the future,” Moon Dream explained.
“That's how I got my name, she says. She had a dream about the moon falling down a while before I born, and she thinks it was a sign,” Moon Dream touched her pale gray mane to illustrate her point.
It was shaped like a crescent, like how the moon was sometimes drawn in storybooks, and had spots of slightly darker gray in it. It didn't have the dark imprint of a unicorn head in it like the real moon did (Enterprise had spent many sad nights looking up at that imprint, the closest thing she had to someone truly like her in Cloudsdale), but Enterprise could see the resemblance. With her moon mane and blueish purple coat, Moon Dream looked much like the night sky.
“Do you think she's right? About it being a sign?”
Enterprise lifted her eyebrows in surprise. “Really?”
“The way she described the rest of the dream… It doesn't seem right. I don't want it to be right.” Moon Dream stopped, reluctant.
“Go on,” Enterprise urged, “what's wrong about the rest of the dream?”
Moon Dream hesitated. “She… She said the moon rose back up to the sky again, but the Mare in the Moon was gone. As if the imprint had never been there. And then the sun tried to come up, but the moon… wouldn't let it. It forced the sun down and cast the world into darkness.”
“What's so bad about that?” Enterprise asked.
“Don't you see it?” Moon Dream said, a growing desperation entering her voice, “If that's about me, it obviously means I'm going to become an evil tyrant who takes over Equestria someday! I don't want to be an evil tyrant, Enterprise!”
“Woah, woah, relax!” Enterprise put her hooves on Moon Dream’s shoulders. “Who said that dream meant anything like that? It just sounds like a regular weird dream to me. You're probably putting too much stock in your mom's superstitions.”
“Oh, no, I'm certain that's what the dream means.” Moon Dream said it so matter-of-factly that it was hard to believe it came from the same pony who had just been so desperate. But the touch of that worry was still there when Moon Dream softly added, “I just don't want it to be about me.”
Why is she so sure?
Enterprise tried to reassure her friend. “Hey, hey, I'm sure it's not like that. You're the last pony I'd expect to become an evil tyrant. Miss Windy Wisdom would become an evil tyrant before you did!” The bumbling old teacher looked up from her textbook and notes, clearly startled by the mention of her name.
“I hope you're right,” Moon Dream sighed. She wasn't smiling yet, but the worry seemed to be fading.
Enterprise decided to distract Moon Dream from her mom’s dream, but she didn't fully change the subject. “So… If all dreams mean something, what do you think my dream means?”
“Oh,” Moon Dream began, visibly relieved, “that one's easy. The part with the flying chickens means you want to fly.”
“Obviously.” Enterprise had dreams about flying often.
“The unicorn farmpony who lassoed the chickens back to the ground and plucked their wings off is everything that holds you back from flying. The fact that you yourself are a unicorn and don't have wings, that kind of thing.”
“That makes sense, but what about the pogo sticks?”
“You said the chickens put the pogo sticks together with their beaks, right?”
“Yeah, and then they attacked the farmpony, stole her hat and pogoed off into the sunset. I think one of the chickens went on to become a rock star or something, still sitting on the pogo stick... It was weird.”
“That's still pretty obvious,” Moon Dream said, sounding more certain than Enterprise had ever heard her, “it's saying you’ll need to make your own way of flying.”
“Ohhh!” Enterprise said. It was an idea that hadn't quite clicked for her before. That was what she needed to do! “You're really good at this.”
“Thanks,” Moon Dream said, “but really, I'm just saying what seems obvious to me. It just feels right!”
A thought occurred to Enterprise, “Like it's what you're supposed to do?”
Moon Dream gave her a puzzled look for a moment, then beamed. “...yes!”
Then she literally beamed. Moon Dream was lifted from her seat as a brilliant light shone from her flank.
Enterprise felt an irrational sting of irritation. Great.She's born with wings and now she gets to levitate without even using them? But the irritation faded as Moon Dream gently landed back in her seat and Enterprise saw that her hunch had been right.
Sure enough, on each of Moon Dream’s flanks was a crescent moon wearing a blue nightcap.
Moon Dream was staring at the image too. “MY CUTIE MARK!” she squeaked loudly. “I GOT MY CUTIE MARK!”
“Congratulations, Moon Dream,” said miss Windy Wisdom, walking over to the pair. No sooner had she said it before a herd of pegasus foals crashed through the school's front door.
“Did somepony say ‘cutie mark’?” said one, a dark blue colt named Shadow Rider.
“Cutie mark?” echoed a few others in the back.
“I GOT MY CUTIE MARK!” Moon Dream repeated.
And through all the commotion, as their classmates demanded to hear the details and Moon Dream excitedly obliged, it was Enterprise who found herself wrapped in a tight, never-ending hug.
~ * ~
That night, Enterprise had a lovely dream about a flock of chickens crossing a rainbow bridge from the sun to a blank moon, mounted on pogo sticks.
Enterprise watched the moon rise through her window, frowning. Her friend was the only thing lighting up the bedroom, her mom having blown out the lights an hour ago.
“How has your day been?” She knew the moon wouldn't answer - she never did - but she asked the question anyway. She always did.
She even gave the moon a pause, some time to say something. Anything. But the dark unicorn’s head imprinted on the pale gray disc stayed as tight-lipped as ever.
Still, Enterprise eventually nodded, as though the moon had answered her, and went on, “Mine wasn't great.”
No reaction. The moon only continued her steady climb towards its place in the sky. Enterprise hadn't expected anything else.
“Shadow Rider and Thunder Crack were picking on me all day,” she elaborated. “They called me names, like they usually do. Chicken. Freak. Dodo. That's a new one - miss Windy Wisdom says it's another bird that doesn't fly, like chickens. Stickhead. Don't-er-flies.” With each awful nickname she listed, the knot in her chest grew tighter. She could feel her eyes getting wet, not for the first time that day.
“And then… then they said that pegasi,” she forced herself to say the words, “have pegasus kids, said my mom and dad… th-that they probably a-aren't even m-my real mom and d-dad.”
Even faced with an openly weeping filly, the moon said nothing. But she was a great listener.
“Th-they s-s-said,” she sniffed, “that n-no pegasus parents c-could…”
Enterprise broke down. The moon watched her sob, watched her as she let all of her emotions flow out onto the bedroom floor.
It took several minutes to finish crying. When she did, Enterprise finally looked back up, looked back up at the moon, and finished, quietly: “...that they couldn't love a daughter with no wings.”
Enterprise wiped her eyes with her hooves, then gave the moon a soft smile. “Thank you for listening,” she said.
The moon didn't smile back at her. She never did.
“You're the only one here who truly understands,” Enterprise said, touching a hoof to her horn, “the only one who is like me.”
Enterprise turned away from the window and walked over to her bed. As she tucked herself in, she muttered: “Good night, moon.”
The moon didn't wish her good night in return. She never did. But Enterprise knew her friend meant it.
~ * ~
19 years later
A manticore sat patiently in the middle of an empty Manehattan street, dressed in a fancy vest. The unicorn next to him seemed content, working on sewing matching manticore leggings.
Luna had long been vaguely curious about how exactly a manticore would wear leggings, but what happened here wouldn't answer anything. Besides, she had more important matters to attend to.
She put the orb displaying the manticore to the side and moved on to the next dream.
It belonged to a pegasus Luna recognized from a description. She had a purple coat, a mane gray like Luna’s moon, and wings that were slightly bent. Luna had been meaning to talk to the mare, but it could wait.
Besides, judging by what the orb was showing of her dream, she was currently a little… preoccupied. Luna blushed, very briefly, and moved on to the next orb. Even after more than a century of tending the dreams of her subjects (and a millennium of twisting them into nightmares, to her endless shame), she had never quite gotten used to those dreams.
After looking through a few more orbs, Luna found what she was looking for: A nightmare.
The orb showed a strange vehicle gliding through the air like an enormous pegasus, piloted by a yellow unicorn. It didn't take long before the vehicle's wings fell off its core.
The vehicle crashed down onto a stage, then turned into a pile of pogo sticks surrounding the pilot, who was left sitting on the stage with her back to an audience consisting of blurry faces on shadowed bodies. Neither the stage nor the pilot were hurt by the impact. Such things were par for the course in the realm of dreams, but it did suggest to Luna that the fears fueling this dream were not about being physically hurt by a crash.
Luna watched as the pilot turned around to face the crowd. Before she had finished the movement, her pilot helmet had been replaced by a full-body chicken costume, which turned from pure white to a stained red as the crowd pelted the unmoving unicorn with tomatoes.
Luna had seen enough. She touched her horn to the orb, and it grew, expanding along two axes into a circular portal. She began to flap her wings softly before she had even entered.
The shift from the abstract dreamscape to the world of a particular dream was always jarring. It felt like the atmosphere… no, the entire fabric of reality changed as she stepped through the portal, and no two ponies’ dreams had the exact same feeling to them. This dream felt as though a turbulent storm were tugging at her, cold wind in every direction, even as the air Luna was gently floating down through was still and warm.
When the unicorn noticed her, Luna was taken aback. Typically, Luna’s interference in a nightmare was met with either confusion (from those who did not realize why she was there), relief (from those who thought her a welcome rescue from the nightmare’s horrors) or, since her return from the moon, fear. And there was always a lingering hint of the fear or despair the nightmare had caused.
But this was different. The mare, still dressed in a chicken costume that was getting more and more red-tinted, met Luna’s gaze before Luna had even landed, seemingly ignoring the crowd. Her eyes were wet with both tears and tomato juice, but above all, they were cold. It was one of the coldest, most disgusted stares Luna had ever received.
Luna put up a magical barrier between the shadow constructs and the unicorn to ward off the tomatoes. The unicorn might be able to ignore the crowd, but Luna wanted to talk to her without either of them being pelted. It was also meant as a gesture of goodwill.
“What is it that burdens you, my loyal subject?” Luna asked, as much about the unicorn’s cold stare as about the nightmare.
The unicorn turned away from her without a word, looking to the pile of pogo sticks. The red chicken costume vanished in favor of an engineer’s hard hat and tool-fillet jacket. She pulled a wrench from a pocket using her magic, but seemed at a loss for how to apply it to the pogo sticks.
Luna took a step forward, only to collide into an invisible barrier. Had the other mare placed it there? “I promise you, I only mean to h--”
“I'm. Fine,” the mare interrupted her icily, stressing each word. She picked up another pogo stick with her horn.
Luna looked behind herself. The crowd of shadows was still there, still pelting the barrier with unreal tomatoes. “But your nightmare,” she protested, “it has not ended!”
“Go away,” was all the unicorn said, still refusing to look at Luna. The voice was still cold as ice, but Luna could detect a tinge of something else in it. What was that?
“GO! AWAY!” the unicorn snapped, finally turning her head back towards Luna. Her face was filled with anger, but her eyes were filled with tears, even more so than before. Then the unicorn seemed to realize she was showing Luna more than she wanted, prompting her to turn away again.
Luna found herself pleading, “Please… Have I done something to offend you?”
“Offend me?” the unicorn repeated in a low voice. She sounded somewhat choked up, but the rage was gone. “No. No, I suppose not.”
“Then what is the problem?”
“Hi, moon,” the unicorn began flatly, still not looking at Luna, “how has your day been?” There was something about the way she said it that made it sound like she was quoting something.
“Mine wasn't great. Shadow Rider and Thunder Crack were picking on me all day. They called me names, like they always do. Chicken. Freak. Dodo. That's a new one. Stickhead. Don't-er-flies.”
Luna stared at the unicorn’s back. Was she insane? Luna had never visited an insane pony’s dreams before, that she knew of.
“And then they said that pegasi have pegasus kids, said my mom and dad… that they probably aren't even my real mom and dad.”
A unicorn born to pegasi? Luna knew it was possible, but very rare. By what little Luna could put together here, it sounded like the unicorn had been bullied for not being able to fly. But what did that have to do with the hostile reception the unicorn had given her?
“They said that no pegasus parents could love a daughter without wings.”
Luna winced in sympathy at that. Children could be very cruel sometimes.
“Thank you for listening. You're the only one here who truly understands.” The unicorn touched a hoof gently to her horn. “You're the only one who is like me.”
Luna tried to reach forward a hoof to put on the unicorn’s shoulder, but the invisible barrier was still there. She quickly withdrew her hoof as the unicorn whirled around, rage, sorrow and desperation working to twist her face into an expression Luna was sure could create new nightmares by itself.
“But you weren't! You never understood! You were never like me! You were always there to comfort me, to remind me that I wasn't alone, but IT WAS ALL A LIE!” The unicorn suddenly charged towards Luna.
Luna tried to back off quickly and take off, but the charge had taken her by surprise, so she didn't get very far before the unicorn tackled her to the stage floor. Except it wasn't a stage floor anymore; it was a hard-cloud floor in a little filly’s bedroom. A window faced out towards the moon in a beautiful night sky.
The moon in this dream world still had the imprint of Nightmare Moon’s head on it. That wasn't unusual - many ponies were still not used enough to the moon being blank that their dreams reflected it - yet in this dream, it felt like an important detail.
And just like the stage floor wasn't a stage floor anymore, neither was the tackle really a tackle. It took Luna a moment to realize that the unicorn was hugging her tightly, crying into her chest fur.
Unsure of what else she could do, Luna wrapped her wings around the unicorn and held her close. She was still very confused about what was going on, but it seemed like this was what the unicorn needed.
“It was all a lie,” the unicorn muttered between sobs.
And so they sat there, dreaming of warmth and compassion.
Moon Dream watched as Princess Luna descended gracefully towards her from the moon. She was surprised to see the princess - she had heard from some of her customers that the newly returned princess apparently visited ponies’ dreams, but she had thought the princess only visited nightmares.
The dream they were in now had not been a nightmare. Sure, it wasn't as good (or as embarrassing to think about) as the one she'd had the previous night, but it hadn't been a nightmare.
It had been a perfectly pleasant dream where Enterprise had been the judge of a race between Moon Dream and Cherry Berry. They hadn't been racing with Enterprise's flying contraptions, though - they had been pogoing towards the goal, where Enterprise was waiting. Moon Dream had won, but only barely.
It was always harder to interpret her own dreams, especially while she was still in them, but she didn't think this one meant much.
She had attained lucidity shortly after she won the race and the dream shifted to her and Enterprise having a picnic on a hilltop, which Cherry seemed to have trouble climbing. Moon Dream wasn't always lucid in her dreams, but it seemed to happen much more frequently for her than for most of her customers, and apparently at random. She was glad it had happened before Princess Luna began to descend from the moon.
“Greetings, Moon Dream,” spoke the dark-furred alicorn.
Moon Dream allowed the false reflections of Enterprise and Cherry to fade as the princess landed in front of her. She bowed respectfully.
“Your highness,” she began formally. How were you supposed to act when royalty entered your dream world? She fumbled for the right words, “I, uh, humbly welcome your highness to my dream world.”
“Oh,” the princess said, softly, almost as though talking to herself, “you are already lucid. That is helpful.”
“Yes, your highness.”
“You may drop the formalities. Please, call me Luna.”
Moon Dream let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding. Maybe she hadn't. Lucid or not, this was still a dream, and her body wasn't quite real.
“Thank you, your-- Luna.”
Luna smiled. It was a gentle smile, warm and reassuring but clearly controlled.
It helped Moon Dream feel confident enough to ask, “What brings you to my dream? I thought you only visited nightmares.”
Luna looked mildly surprised to hear that. “Has word spread of my visits already?”
“In my line of work, I talk to a lot of ponies about their dreams every day. You've visited some of them.”
“Right,” the princess said, “that is why I am here.”
A tinge of trepidation took physical form as a bunny that scampered into hiding from behind Moon Dream’s back. Moon Dream ignored the frightened rabbit. Does she want me to stop?
“I have heard of you,” Princess Luna continued in her grave voice, “and of your intimate understanding of dreams. I hear you have helped many ponies to understand themselves, and even the future.”
She's going to tell me to leave it all to her. She's going to ask me to not do what I've dedicated my life to do. She's going to take away everything.
The picnic spot was gone, Moon Dream realized, replaced by a bank’s interiors. An impressively tough vault door was embedded in the wall behind her, and Moon Dream had the distinct sense that the vault held everything she held dear.
Luna hesitated. She looked around, raising her eyebrows at the scene change. If she could tell why it had happened, however, she didn’t say anything about it.
Instead, she continued, in that same grave voice, “What you do is impressive. Few ponies have ever been capable of telling the future, yet you apparently do it regularly.”
She thinks I'm messing with forces I shouldn't. She wants me to stop.
“I don't tell the future,” Moon Dream said. An ornate shield bearing a crescent moon had appeared in her hoof. “Everypony’s dreams do. I just interpret what they're saying.”
“It is still impressive. Even my sister and I know very little of what the future holds. I do not say this lightly, but I believe you understand dreams better than I do.”
That gave Moon Dream pause. The shield faded away. “But… isn't this your realm?”
Luna smiled. “I may be the protector of the world of dreams, and I do understand it better than most, however my talent lies in entering and navigating it. Yours, I hear, lies in understanding it. Yet we are similar, for we both use our talents for the same purpose: To aid other ponies in understanding themselves.”
Any moment now she'll tell me to stop getting in her way. A mountainside was forming inside the bank, behind the princess. Several boulders were balancing precariously at the top, ready to come crashing down on them. Moon Dream knew they would miraculously miss Princess Luna.
“Which is why I believe we should work together.”
The mountainside vanished abruptly, and Moon Dream couldn't hide her immense relief as she said, “Together?” The bank faded into a grassy field, the moon once again shining down on the two of them.
“In a sense,” the princess elaborated. I help ponies understand their dreams from the inside. You aid them from the outside. I can see dreams, and you can tell what they mean. I can also bring you into the dream worlds of other ponies. If we keep in contact with each other, it may be beneficial for both of us, as well as for the ponies we seek to aid.”
She could be brought into other ponies’ dreams? If she could see somepony’s dream herself, she wouldn't have to rely on descriptions. A false Enterprise appeared briefly a short distance away, then vanished. Moon Dream hoped Luna hadn't noticed her.
Moon Dream didn't hesitate long. “Yes! That sounds like a great idea. I would be honored to work with you.”
Luna smiled - still gently, but slightly more widely than before. It looked more natural to Moon Dream. “Then it is decided,” Luna said in a pleased tone.
Moon Dream beamed. “It is decided,” she echoed.
Luna’s smile faded as she looked pensively at the spot where Enterprise had flickered in and out of existence. So she had noticed.
“May I ask you one favor before I leave?” Luna asked, the graveness having returned to her voice.
Moon Dream was surprised the princess felt the need to ask permission to ask a favor from her, but said nothing. She nodded.
“Please do not tell your marefriend of our meeting tonight, at least for the time being. It could be a sore subject.”
“Marefriend?” Moon Dream asked, before the realization struck her. She could feel her face turning bright red. The sky seemed to take on a tint to match. “Oh! Oh, oh, oh no-- no, it's-- it's not like-- we're, we're just--”
Luna blushed slightly herself, pulling back. “Oh! I apologize. I should not have assumed--”
Moon Dream hadn't thought she could possibly blush harder - perhaps she couldn't, but this was a dream - but Luna's slight blush caused Moon Dream to connect some dots, and soon she found herself wondering whether or not the sun was bright enough to match her own blush. Her dream was flickering through different locations, her bedroom appearing far too often for her liking.
“Oh my-- you saw-- last night-- didn't you--” Moon Dream was surprised her question was even that coherent. No, there's no way the sun is brighter.
Luna didn't say anything, but her blush grew stronger as well. That was answer enough.
Moon Dream dreamed up a cardboard box to hide under in shame.
“I…” Luna’s voice came from outside the box, hesitant, “Perhaps I should leave. I did not mean to embarrass you. But trust me, Moon Dream. Such dreams are normal.”
Moon Dream had assumed that. Ponies didn't often tell her about dreams like the one she'd had last night, but that didn't mean they didn't have them.
“I see them fairly often, though I may never be used to it. There is no wrong way to dream. And I do suggest you tell her how you feel… Perhaps not tomorrow - especially not if you wish to mention me and my advice - but some day, before it is too late.”
The idea tugged at Moon Dream’s heart. She just wasn't sure which direction it was tugging.
“Perhaps,” Luna continued, cautiously, “you may even find that your dream could become a reality.”
Cartwheels. Her heart was doing cartwheels. She could hear the rumbling of literal cartwheels passing by outside the box, too.
“But what do I know,” a lightness entered Luna’s voice, an odd tinge on her normally grave voice. “After all, you are the one who can tell what dreams say about the future.”
“Thank you,” Moon Dream whispered to the alicorn outside the box.
“I shall talk to you again soon, Moon Dream. Until then, take care.”
Moon Dream could hear the light flap of wings as the Princess of the Night took to the sky, leaving Moon Dream behind to blush furiously underneath a cardboard box in a field of roses.
The first thing Enterprise tried was kites. Unfortunately, it turned out kites couldn't get lift the usual way when weighed down by a little unicorn filly. And when she tried attaching the corners of a pair of kites to her back using tape and using her weak telekinesis to flap them like wings, all it did was rip out some of her back fur as the tape came off.
Moon Dream had told her about hot air balloons, one of the ways earth ponies and unicorns got to her old hometown, Las Pegasus, but she hadn't known how they worked. Based on Moon Dream's description and the limited resources Enterprise had been able to gather in Cloudsdale, she created a large sack attached to a small basket. But when she tried to figure out where the heater - a lighter “borrowed” from the school’s science lab - was supposed to go, the project went up in smoke.
Next up were actual balloons. Enterprise had held a grudge against helium balloons, for the way they insolently went against gravity without wings or anything else to lift them. They had been taunting her, so they deserved her scorn. But, inspired by the failed hot air balloon, she realized they might be useful.
Enterprise tied five helium balloons to a basket, then jumped in. But the balloons stubbornly refused to lift her more than her hoof’s width above the flat hardcloud roof of her house before the basket landed again. Frustrated, she wiggled the basket, which only caused three of her knots to fall apart. She cursed the treacherous balloons as they flew towards the sky without her.
The remaining two balloons had not been so lucky as to escape. Enterprise personally showed them one of the less magical uses of a unicorn horn.
Moon Dream helped calm her down in times like those. When the world was against Enterprise and everything was frustrating, Moon Dream was there to keep her hopes up, to pull her up from the dumps and convince her to give it another try. And while Enterprise sometimes grew skeptical of the certainty, it did help to have a friend who insisted that Enterprise’s dreams meant she would definitely fly someday, and who had the cutie mark to back up that claim.
That wasn't the only way Moon Dream helped. She wholeheartedly joined in whenever Enterprise needed help to gather resources, or to put together her hopefully flying contraptions, and she always wanted to be there when Enterprise tried to lift off. Enterprise wasn't too familiar with friendship besides what she had with Moon Dream and what she'd heard from others, but she sometimes thought Moon Dream's willingness to help seemed to go beyond what she'd expect even from her closest friend.
Enterprise’s parents were less helpful. They were too concerned with safety, she thought. Her dad was one to talk, what with how often he spun out of tornadoes and hit his head. He was remarkably thick-skulled, but it still seemed hypocritical to Enterprise.
And then there was her mom. No one besides Moon Dream knew better than Enterprise's mom how much flying mattered to her, yet she still tried to stop Enterprise from trying to lift off! She had been grounded (though why it wasn't called “being clouded” when you didn't live on the ground was beyond her) on multiple occasions for her efforts. Enterprise thought she could see a tinge of guilt in her mom’s stern yet kind eyes sometimes, but that really didn't help.
It all left her so peeved. Of course, the one time she said as much, she was grounded for an additional day for swearing at her parents.
Whatever her parents said, though, Enterprise was determined to keep trying. She would fly, no matter what.
~ * ~
“There's no way this is safe.”
Enterprise frowned at her friend. “Relax, Moon Dream, you sound like my mom.”
“Well, your mom has a point sometimes.”
Enterprise looked at her latest creation. It was little more than a chair attached to a whole lot of fireworks. Enterprise had carefully opened up the fireworks one by one and telekinetically removed what she thought had to be the explody parts.
At least she hoped they were the explody parts.
“Maybe it is a little dangerous,” she admitted, “but I have to try.” She sat upright on the chair, letting her hind legs dangle off the front, and fastened the safety belt she'd installed. “You've got the lighter, right?”
Moon Dream hesitated, looking down at the fuses that laid sprawled out on the hardcloud roof, twining together at the ends so Moon Dream would be able to light them all at once. She didn't activate the lighter in her hoof. “I can't do this, Enterprise. You're going to get hurt!”
“Only if I lose control,” Enterprise said, defensively. Or if those weren't the explody parts.
“Lose control?” Moon Dream asked incredulously, “Do you really think you're going to have any control to lose with that thing?”
“Well, uh,” Enterprise looked over the riggings around her body again, “I… If I use my telekinesis to tilt the rockets like this…” She wiggled one of the rockets uncertainly
“Enterprise, you know I've got your flank on these things, but this? This is crazy!”
Enterprise sighed and sagged in the chair, as much as the safety belt would allow. “You're right.” She moved to decouple the belt.
Huh? “Hey, can you help me out here a little? The belt won't come off.”
Visibly relieved, Moon Dream began to step closer. That was when the trapdoor from the attic opened abruptly.
“Enterprise, you'd better not be up here aga--” Enterprise’s mom cut her sentence off as she took in the scene in front of her. A startled Moon Dream had dropped the lighter.
And it had lit the fuse.
~ * ~
“Enterprise, you'd better not be up here aga--” Canopy cut her sentence off as she took in the scene in front of her.
Her daughter was sitting on a chair the same way Canopy’s pen pal Harp Strings had told her his daughter sometimes did. That part was fine.
What was not fine were the fifteen or so firework rockets attached to the seat. What was not fine was the belt Enterprise was trying frantically to decouple. What was very much not fine was the fuse that was burning down all too quickly towards the rockets.
“ENTERPRISE!” Canopy screamed, a raw sound that couldn't possibly hold the terror she felt inside. She flew as fast as she could across the roof, but she had never been the fastest flier in her family.
“AAAAAAAHHH!!!” Enterprise’s own scream rang in Canopy’s ears as the rocket-powered chair took to the skies, almost as though this wasn't what she had been trying to accomplish. Perhaps it wasn't.
Moon Dream, meanwhile, was running around the rooftop, looking almost as frantic as Canopy felt. She was babbling about having tried to stop Enterprise, but Canopy couldn't stop to listen. She could only try follow the chair as fast as possible.
For what little it was worth, the chair didn't explode. Enterprise seemed to have made the fireworks non-explosive. That, however, didn't mean they would last forever - it wasn't long before the chair, now tumbling wildly in the air, stopped ascending and started falling.
Ponies below were pointing and staring, but Canopy ignored them. She sped towards where the chair would be a few seconds later. She had to catch her filly!
The chair and the screaming filly on it tumbled right through a cloudy street. At least she didn't hit a hardcloud. It bought Canopy some time.
“HELP!” she shouted at the nearby pegasi, “My filly is falling!”
A few of the stallions immediately leapt up and flew down towards the falling chair with the screaming filly. They were faster than Canopy was.
Canopy’s heart was in her throat as she watched. The two fastest of the pegasi caught up to Enterprise. The spinning chair almost knocked one of them unconscious as they tried to get grips, but he narrowly avoided getting hit. Together, the two of them began pulling up against gravity. They managed to slow the chair down just enough to come to a gentle landing on a hill.
A shaking Enterprise finally managed to decouple the belt and leapt out of the chair as her mother landed on the hillside.
She was okay. She was alive. Canopy thought she was going to cry. She wasn't sure that she wasn't already crying.
“Did you see that, mom? I flew,” the filly said as she galloped over to give Canopy a hug, as though she hadn't spent more than half the “flight” screaming at the top of her lungs.
Canopy returned the hug wholeheartedly, but then she sat up straight and said, sternly, “You are so grounded, young lady.”
~ * ~
As they flew back home, Enterprise tightly held between her front hooves, Canopy found herself wondering if the filly had even noticed the winged silver star that was now emblazoned on her flanks.
Starlight barely avoided walking into a stack of books more than twice her own height as she walked into the Castle of Friendship’s throne room.
The entire room was filled with similar stacks, she noted as she looked around. Her mentor, Princess Twilight Sparkle, was zipping around, looking at one book after another.
“What's going on?” Starlight asked.
“Map!” Twilight answered succinctly, a note of excitement in her voice. “Summoned! Friendship problem!”
Starlight looked at the large, magical map of Equestria in the middle of the room. Sure enough, two cutie marks were hovering near the center. “You and Pinkie Pie are being summoned to… Cloudsdale?”
As though on command, Pinkie Pie popped out from within a stack of books. “Hiya!”
Twilight appeared as startled by her appearance as Starlight was. Had Pinkie not already been in the room?
It's Pinkie Pie, Starlight thought, don't question it. She had learned that the hard way.
“So if you've been called by the map,” Starlight asked, gesturing to the stacks of books, “what's all this?”
“Preparations!” Twilight said, sounding almost out of breath, “I've only been called by the map once before, not counting that time we were all called to deal with… well, you.”
“Right,” Starlight said flatly.
“So I have to make sure I'm ready!”
“Seems a little excessive if you ask me.”
Pinkie Pie was the one to answer. “Oh, you have no idea! Fluttershy told me she was even more kooky last time, except of course she didn't say ‘kooky’ because she's Fluttershy, but I'm sure that's what she meant--”
“I was not kooky!” Twilight interrupted, indignantly.
Starlight decided not to challenge Pinkie Pie on the hypocrisy of her calling somepony ‘kooky’, instead focusing on the map. “Cloudsdale, huh… How are you going to get up there? It's too far to teleport, isn't it? I mean, you can fly, Twilight, but Pinkie…”
“I've scheduled a hot air balloon ride,” Twilight said, “and then I'm going to use some magic to let Pinkie walk on clouds. It's an easy spell.”
“Have you tried it?” Pinkie asked, looking at Starlight.
“The spell? I haven't really needed to--”
“No, silly! Flying in a hot air balloon! It's really fun! But of course hot air balloons have nothing on helium balloons, because come on, helium balloons are just the best thing ever. They float and they come in all sorts of colors and they're great for parties and if you breathe in the helium like this--”
Pinkie pulled a balloon out of her mane - how had that fit in there? - quickly untied the knot at the bottom and put the air hole to her mouth. Her voice having taken on an even higher pitch than usual, she continued: “--your voice goes all squeaky like this, isn't that great?” She giggled. “Although I do have a friend who says she doesn't like them for some reason, I wonder why... Oh well, at least she likes hot air balloons.”
Starlight wasn't sure what to say to that.
Suddenly Twilight perked up from her latest book. “What's the time? We have to go! We can't miss the balloon ride! Come on, Pinkie, no time to lose!”
And then Twilight and Pinkie Pie were gone in a flash of magic, leaving Starlight behind in the cluttered throne room, with only the pair of cutie marks hovering lazily above the map for company.
~ * ~
Twilight had expected to spend the balloon ride discussing what the friendship problem might be with Pinkie. But Pinkie seemed more interested in catching up with Cherry Berry, the earth pony in charge of the balloon.
As much as Pinkie claimed to be friends with everypony in Ponyville, Twilight would've found the excitable party pony’s friendship with the laconic pilot odd, had she not already met Pinkie's sister Maud. Cherry said maybe five words for every forty of Pinkie's, yet they seemed to have a genuine connection.
Pinkie's focus on Cherry Berry didn't mean she wanted to keep Twilight out of the conversation. Every so often, she would turn to Twilight and provide some brief (for Pinkie, anyway) context about something one of them had said. Of course, her judgment of which things needed that context was questionable at best. Pinkie explained that “Enterprise” was a mutual friend of theirs who lived in Ponyville - which Twilight had already guessed - but didn't say a word about what a “P4” or a “flapmobile” was.
Maybe Twilight would've figured it out if she had actually been listening with more than half an ear. In lieu of discussing the friendship problem with Pinkie Pie, she had taken to looking through the tome she had made in preparation for her previous friendship mission.
What was left of it, anyway. Back then, she had stupidly torn out each solution that hadn't worked to end the feud. Twilight wanted to go back in time and knock some sense into herself, but she knew better than most how bad that idea would be.
The reading wasn't helping. She didn't feel much more prepared than when the ride had started, and she hadn't felt very prepared then. She was about to close the tome and put it back in her saddlebags when she was startled by an excited Pinkie.
“Twilight, Twilight! Did you hear that?” Pinkie grabbed Twilight's shoulders and shook her, “I think we found the problem!”
“Huh? Already? But we're not even in Cloudsdale yet!”
“Cherry Berry was just telling me about last time she, Enterprise and Moon Dream hung out--”
Cherry interrupted her, presumably knowing it would take Pinkie a while to get to the point, “They seemed terse with each other.”
“And they're usually good friends?” Twilight asked.
“Best friends since childhood. Moon Dream’s sometimes chilly towards me, but this is new.”
“But Pinkie,” Twilight asked, confused, “didn't you say Enterprise lives in Ponyville? If this is the problem, why are we going to Cloudsdale?”
“She's visiting her parents,” Pinkie said, “and Moon Dream lives there! She has this whole professional setup where ponies can come to have their dreams interpreted!”
Parents in Cloudsdale? Twilight thought she had heard Pinkie say something about Enterprise using magic earlier. I must have misheard, she thought.
“Do you know why they were being terse?”
“I didn't ask,” Cherry said with a shrug.
“Well,” Twilight said, “we'll have to find out. Can you land us by Enterprise's parents’ house when we get there?”
~ * ~
Twilight cast her cloud-walking spell on both Pinkie and Cherry Berry as the balloon gently landed in front of a small cloudominium. The building was stocky, almost as wide as it was tall, with a flat roof. Neatly trimmed potted plants sat on hardcloud window sills near the neat little door in the front.
The strangest thing Twilight noticed about the place, however, was not part of the building itself, but rather the vehicle parked outside. It was a pod, large enough to fit one or two ponies inside, sat on of a ski-like frame. At the top of the pod, a complex-looking rod stuck out, holding four large blades that pointed horizontally in each cardinal direction.
Twilight had seen the vehicle before. In fact, she had almost collided with it in mid-air. What was it doing here?
“What is that?” Twilight asked Cherry Berry, pointing.
“Oh, that? That's the Pedal-Powered Propeller Pitcher.”
“The P4!” Pinkie interjected with a grin.
“It's an old model.” That was apparently all Cherry Berry had to say on the matter, because she hopped out of the balloon and began tying it to a fence. Twilight found herself wondering why a cloud in a city full of flying ponies would have a fence. Maybe it's decorative?
She pushed the thought away and jumped out of the balloon after Cherry and Pinkie. As an alicorn, she could walk on normal clouds without the cloud-walking spell she'd used for Pinkie and Cherry, but she still noticed that the surface beneath her was harder than most clouds. These ponies had hardcloud covering outside the house?
Cherry Berry knocked on the door.
While they waited, Pinkie said, “Ooh, Twilight, this is so exciting! I just know you and Enterprise are going to get along great!”
“Let's hope so,” Twilight said.
…what was that look Cherry Berry was giving her?
Twilight didn't get time to ponder before a greenish teal pegasus mare with her lush green mane tied up in the back opened the door. She wasn't an old mare, but she was old enough that Twilight doubted she was this Enterprise. Probably her mother.
“Hello?” the mare said. She looked at Cherry Berry, “Oh! Cherry Berry!” She turned her head towards a nearby staircase and shouted, “Enterprise! Cherry’s here!”
“Coming!” came a voice from upstairs.
With a quick look at Twilight and Pinkie Pie, Enterprise's mother added, “She's brought friends, too!”
Enterprise’s voice turned hesitant, “Is it Moon Dream?”
“No!” The mother turned back to the guests. “Oh, I'm so sorry, where are my manners. Come in! My name is Canopy. I'm Enterprise's mom.”
“Thank you, Canopy,” Twilight spoke as the three of them entered the cloudominium. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and this is Pinkie Pie.”
“Hiya!” Pinkie Pie said.
“Twilight Spa--” Canopy’s eyes suddenly went wide. They flicked up and then down, to Twilight's horn and wings. “As in Princess Twilight Sparkle? ...here?”
“Yes, ma'am,” Twilight confirmed. “We're here because we've been summoned to solve a friendship problem and we believe it might involve your daughter.”
“A princess in my living room…” Canopy looked a bit dazed by the idea.
“I know, right?” Pinkie said, “She's a pretty big deal!”
“Pinkie!” Twilight chided. The last thing she wanted was for these ponies to think she was self-important.
“Hey, Cherry,” Enterprise's voice came from behind them, “Who are these friends mom said--”
Twilight turned her head around and was surprised by what she saw. A yellow unicorn with a striped blue mane had come downstairs. A unicorn, here?
But what really took Twilight aback was the way the unicorn’s expression shifted from surprise to a steady stare at Twilight. Her stare, unlike her mother's, didn't speak of astonishment that a princess was in their living room.
It spoke of stone cold hatred.
“Hi, Enterprise!” Pinkie beamed.
“Hey,” Cherry stated.
Enterprise suddenly smiled towards the rest of the group and spoke, “Hey, Cherry, Pinkie!” Her voice was smooth and cheerful, with no trace of whatever emotion seeing Twilight had seemed to cause.
Did I imagine it?
Enterprise went on, “What brings you two here?”
Two? Twilight cleared her throat. “Hi. My name is Twilight Sparkle. We're here to…” She trailed off. Enterprise wasn't looking at her.
Pinkie Pie started talking, “So you know how I told you about that biiiiiig map Twilight has at the castle? The magical one that sends us on quests to fix friendship problems all over Equestria?”
“Yeah?” Enterprise said.
“Well, today I was baking some cupcakes when I realized my cutie mark was glowing, so I asked Gummy if he knew what that meant and he said he totally did and…”
Twilight remained silent as Pinkie went through all the events that had led them to this point, in far too much detail. She watched as Enterprise engaged with Pinkie from time to time, asked questions to grease the wheels of the monologue, and looked around at Pinkie, Cherry and Canopy… But she never so much as glanced at Twilight.
Canopy seemed to notice as well, glancing worriedly between her daughter and Twilight. Twilight gave her a questioning look, but she seemed almost as bewildered as Twilight felt.
Enterprise's expression darkened after it became clear that the group thought she and this Moon Dream might be the ponies with the friendship problem.
“Now, honey,” Canopy said, “I don't know what's going on between you and Moon Dream, but if Pinkie Pie and the princess have been sent to help--”
“The princess…” Enterprise interrupted in a low voice, “What princess?” As though to drive home the fact that Twilight wasn't actually invisible, Enterprise turned her head, finally looking - no, staring - into her eyes. “I don't see a princess here.”
“Huhhh?” came a confused sound from Pinkie Pie. “Twilight's a princess, silly! See?” Pinkie prodded at Twilight's horn and wings.
“No, I- I mean,” Enterprise stuttered, not seeming sure what she meant. But Twilight understood, and it stung.
“It's okay, Enterprise,” Twilight spoke dimly, “I'll leave you alone.” She got up. “That's what you really want, isn't it.”
She closed the door behind her softly as she left, leaving behind three confused gazes and one stone cold stare.
She sat down on the hardcloud front yard facing away from the house, head low.
It didn't take long before she heard the door open behind her. Twilight turned her head and saw Pinkie Pie and Cherry Berry.
“What was that all about?” Pinkie asked seriously. “First you leave, and then Enterprise gallops upstairs without a word...”
“Couldn't you tell?” Twilight said, “She hates me. I don't know why, but that pony despises my very existence.”
“That can't be right…” Pinkie said.
“No, Pinkie,” Cherry said, “she's right. I'm sorry, princess. I should have said something.”
“You knew?” Twilight asked, keeping her voice level to avoid sounding accusatory.
“I knew she didn't like you. Never thought it was this bad.”
Pinkie looked as though she was having trouble processing the very idea of one of her friends not liking one of her other friends.
“But… why? I don't even know her!”
She was spared from having to come up with an answer by another voice cutting in from above. It was quiet enough that Twilight could only barely hear it. “That's just it, isn't it? You don't know me.”
Twilight looked up to see Enterprise sitting at the edge of the flat roof. The mare was looking away from the group, so Twilight couldn't see her face.
“You didn't even know about me. Well, guess what, that's not mutual. I live in Ponyville. I know your story.”
“Did I… do something to you?” Twilight asked.
Enterprise went on, as though Twilight hadn't said anything, “Well, here's my story. I was born here, in Cloudsdale. A unicorn born to pegasus parents, in a city not meant to hold my kind. Librarians and tornado assistants don't get paid very well, and they're jobs that require you to live locally, so mom and dad couldn't scrape up the bits to move to the ground. They tried to ask Celestia for help, but they couldn't even get an audience. So they had to raise me here.”
“That sounds rough,” Twilight said. She looked at Pinkie and Cherry Berry. They both looked as though they had heard all of this before. They probably had.
“It was rough. I could barely walk on my home city, let alone move from cloud to cloud without being carried. I was bullied, I was teased, I could barely even play with other foals. Moon Dream was the only pony around me who understood.”
“I don't want your pity!” Enterprise snapped, finally looking at the group below, then continued in the same low tone as before. “I wanted to become a princess when I was a little filly, you know? Because then I could have wings like everypony else.”
Twilight glanced at her own wings.
“There was nothing I wanted more. But I learned to fly without them. Flying machines, that's my special talent, that's what I love to create. That's who I am. Someone who has fought through life and come out soaring, through hard work and many tearful failures.”
“That is very respectable--”
“And who are you, Twilight Sparkle, princess of friendship?” Enterprise asked, raising her voice. She filled the word ‘princess’ to the brim with scorn.
“You were born in Canterlot to successful parents.”
That much was true. “Yes--”
“Who enrolled you in the fanciest school around, where you were personally pampered by Princess Celestia herself!”
“Pampered?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.
“Your cutie mark lets you do whatever the hay you want without giving a flying feather about whether it's possible or not!” Enterprise was getting worked up.
“You probably haven't had to put in effort and hard work even once in your life!”
“What?!” That wasn't true at all!
“Enterprise,” Cherry began.
Enterprise ignored her. “Ponies like me are out here, suffering from the circumstances we were born into, Twilight! And you're the pony Celestia takes under her wing? You're the kind of pony she turns into a princess?! You arethe kind of pony who gets…” Enterprise trailed off. Was she struggling to find her words?
Twilight didn't say anything. She won't listen to me until she's finished her monologue, she thought. She looked around instead. Pinkie looked stunned. Cherry looked worried, sharing the expression with Canopy, who had joined the group at some point without Twilight noticing. They all kept quiet.
When Enterprise spoke again, the fervor was gone, her voice barely more audible than a whisper. It was hard to tell with the distance up to the roof’s edge, but Twilight thought she could see a tear trickling down Enterprise's cheek.
“You're the kind of pony who gets to be everything I wanted to be.”
Silence reigned for a few long moments.
“Enterprise,” Twilight finally spoke. She flew up to the roof and landed a few feet from Enterprise. “You're right. I don't know you. But you don't know me as well as you think, either.”
Enterprise gave Twilight a forlorn look. For the first time since Twilight had arrived, hatred was nowhere to be seen in the gaze. Instead, Enterprise looked like a filly looking for comfort. Twilight resisted the urge to move closer.
“I'm lucky, yes. I'm a Canterlot elite who was personally mentored by Princess Celestia herself. And as it turns out, that path led to these.” Twilight twitched her wings a little. “But that's not all I am. I am a pony who gets way too excited about a good book. I am a pony who has bad days and good. I am a pony who loves oatburgers, a pony who makes checklists three times longer than I am, a pony who can't deal with not having a plan.”
Enterprise lowered her gaze, frowning down at the rest of the group.
Twilight continued, “I spent many hours studying hard to perform the simplest of spells. And I didn't know the first thing about friendship until Princess Celestia sent me to Ponyville to study it. I worked hard to understand the ins and outs of friendship before I was given my wings. Which, by the way, I never asked for.”
Enterprise closed her eyes.
“I'm neurotic and overconfident. I'm afraid of quesadillas and ladybugs. I once accidentally made half the population of Ponyville fight over a ragged old doll because I was afraid of disappointing Princess Celestia.”
“I heard about that,” Enterprise muttered.
“My point is, there's more to me than being a spoiled princess, just like I'm sure there's more to you than wanting to fly. If you can see past that, see past me having the things you wanted back when you were a filly, I think we could even be friends.”
“Moon Dream was right, wasn't she?” Enterprise said, opening her eyes to look at Twilight. “A few days ago, she found out how I felt about you. She doesn't know you any better than I do, but she took issue with it anyway. She said I shouldn't judge anypony without getting to know them first. That I'm letting my past cloud my view of other ponies too much.”
So that's what happened between them. “...she may have had a point there, yes.”
“It got heated. We both said things we didn't mean - at least I hope she didn't mean them - and we barely talked to each other when we met with Cherry the next day, like Cherry told you ponies. I haven't talked to her since then.”
“Do you want to go talk to her now?” Twilight asked.
Enterprise hesitated. “...yes, I think I'd like that.” She paused. “Princess Twilight?” There was no scorn in the title this time.
“I'm so sorry. For everything.” Enterprise held out a hoof. “Friends?”
Twilight smiled softly and took the hoof in her own. “Friends.”
~ * ~
The mare who opened the door was a purple pegasus with a pale gray crescent mane. She was wearing a blue nightcap, despite it being past noon. She looked like she had been crying.
That must be Moon Dream, Twilight thought. She and Pinkie Pie were hiding behind a smaller cloud shaped like a bush, some distance away from the front door to the small cloud building. They had agreed to stay out of sight, at least for the time being - this was Enterprise's visit, first and foremost.
“Hey, Moon Dream… We need to talk,” Enterprise said.
“Y-yeah,” Moon Dream answered, “Come in. Please.”
“Do you think they're making out?” Pinkie asked after a while.
“Making out?” Twilight echoed, “What?”
“Making up!” Pinkie blushed, “I totally meant making up! No secrets to keep here!” Her eyes darted back and forth above a grin that was too wide even for Pinkie Pie.
Twilight couldn't suppress a much more real grin creeping into her own face. She tried to imitate Pinkie Pie's voice as she said, as dramatically as she could, “FOOOREVVVEEERRRRR!”
Pinkie Pie blushed harder. Then the two ponies both burst into laughter.
Suddenly Pinkie Pie covered Twilight's muzzle with a hoof. “Shh! You're going to give us away!”
I'm going to give us away? Twilight thought, recalling how much louder Pinkie Pie's laughter had been than hers.
She didn't have time to voice the thought before the door opened. Enterprise and Moon Dream stepped out, both looking much happier than when they had entered.
Enterprise pointed a hoof towards the bush cloud. “They're over there,” she said. “Hey, Princess Twilight, Pinkie, you can come out now.” She had barely finished the sentence before Pinkie bounced over the bush. Twilight settled for stepping around it.
Moon Dream bowed to Twilight. “It's an honor to meet you, your highness.”
“Please, just call me Twilight,” Twilight said, “It's nice to meet you as well, Moon Dream.”
Pinkie Pie bounced around the group. “Everypony is getting along! Woohoo!” She stopped moving in mid-air, looking down at her flank. Sure enough, her cutie mark was pulsating.
Twilight could feel that hers was doing the same thing. It was an odd sensation. “This means we've done what we came for,” she explained to Enterprise and Moon Dream, who were looking at her cutie mark with puzzled expressions.
Pinkie landed gently straight down on the cloud, then pulled everypony together with hooves that seemed to reach longer than they should. “GROUP HUG!”
~ * ~
After Twilight and Pinkie had jumped out of the balloon in Ponyville and said goodbye to Cherry Berry, and Pinkie had left in the direction of Sugarcube Corner, Twilight found herself pondering Enterprise's words.
Ponies like Enterprise are out there, suffering from the circumstances they were born into. And I'm the kind of pony Celestia takes under her wing.
Starlight and Spike met her at the castle door, welcoming her home.
What kind of ponies do I take under my wing? Do I help ponies like Enterprise enough?
As the three of them walked together, talking about the friendship mission and some sort of rare hoofball card Spike had collected while they were gone, Twilight was only half paying attention to the conversation. Even after all this time and all the changes her friends had made to make it feel like home, the large hallways of the castle still felt vaguely threatening some days. It felt like she didn't quite belong there and the walls knew it. Twilight caught her reflection in a particularly shiny part of the crystal walls and frowned.
The story covered every front page at the newsstand.
Sure, they each focused on different things. But it was always the same story, whether it was a 'SUMMER SUN CELEBRATION INTERRUPTED BY VILLAIN' here, an 'ETERNAL NIGHT THWARTED' there, a 'SIX BRAVE PONIES SAVE THE DAY' from the Pegasus Press, or a 'CELESTIA'S SISTER RETURNS FROM MOON' from the Equestria Daily.
Even the Cloudsdale Klutz, which normally didn't report on anything that was actually useful to know and couldn't be trusted about most of the rest, had a headline about the events that had unfolded at the Celebration over the weekend: 'PRINCESS LUNA HAS LARGE PIMPLE, THANKFUL MOON DID NOT DEPICT IT'.
…well, it was about the events of the Summer Sun Celebration, if you squinted.
In the ten minutes that had passed since she had made her purchase and seated herself on a nearby table-bench to read her copy of the Canterlot Chronicler ('BANISHED PRINCESS REFORMED'), the normally peaceful newsstand had grown busy as everypony wanted to know what the big scoop was about. Pegasi flittered to and from the stand constantly, and chattered about what they read. Some even bumped into each other, flying with their muzzles in the papers.
Moon Dream paid them no mind. She was busy trying not to cry.
Last night, the moon had been blank. Some had said the imprint of a unicorn's head on its surface had disappeared just before yesterday's slightly belated dawn, but most everypony had doubted it until it once again rose to show off its polished white surface. Many had been concerned about the change, of course, but Moon Dream… She wasn't proud to admit she had huddled in a corner of her living room until sleep took her, and woken up halfway through the night, both looking and feeling like a hot mess.
She had never wanted to be evil, when her conscious mind had a say in the matter. She didn't think she wanted it subconsciously either, judging by what little she could interpret of her own dreams, but her subconscious was remarkably skilled at devising the methods for it. She shivered at the thought of the things her dream self had done to Enterprise, to her parents, to everypony she cared about.
Not wanting to go back to that usually oh so comforting world of dreams, she had chosen to wait out the night. But all the caffeine she had had since then had only made matters worse. She had only succeeded in setting her mind in high gear with nothing to do but think about things she'd rather not think about.
Her mother's dream had been coming true, and there had been nothing she could do to stop it.
Looking down at the paper, Moon Dream realized she had failed. The article she had been gazing at without truly reading for the past… what, five minutes? ten? an hour? ...however long it had been, was growing increasingly mottled. She touched a hoof lightly to her cheek and felt tears she hadn't noticed were there. A lot of tears.
Then the dam burst open. She let her face fall, wrapped her hooves around her head and sobbed openly into the open paper. A stray thought that the paper was going to be completely unreadable crossed her mind, but Moon Dream couldn't bring herself to care.
"Miss? Miss, are you alright?" It took Moon Dream several seconds - minutes? hours? - to realize the stallion was talking to her.
Her tears had stopped at some point, probably because she didn't have any left. She wiped her sore eyes with her hooves and looked up at the cream-colored pegasus stallion next to her. He looked down at her with a concerned expression.
"I…" Moon Dream began, then sniffled. "I'm alright. Thank you," she managed.
The stallion hesitated. "...are you sure? If there's anything I can do to help…"
"It's okay. Really." Moon Dream smiled, and to her surprise, she didn't even have to force it. "It's… better than okay, actually."
The stallion raised a skeptical eyebrow. It looked odd alongside the concern filling the rest of his face.
Moon Dream let her smile grow wide. "This," she said truthfully, "is the best day of my life."
As she flew slowly through her namesake, Moon Dream felt the fabric of unreality change around her. Through her. Everything was different in the blue mist on the other side.
The realm between dreams was comforting, but it felt… neutral. Aggressively so. Moon Dream's dreamscape was also comforting, because it felt like home, but in this realm, it came from a sense of profoundly natural neutrality. It was a place devoid of identity, she thought, on a fundamental level.
Well, it did have its ownidentity, in a way – it had its own distinct look and feel. But that feel seemed to be one of absence, of a disconnect from the identities that defined the dreamscapes of individual ponies. Even the waking world wasn't this fundamentally neutral to the whims of ponies' dreams.
For a world with such a pervasive atmosphere of indistinction, it was amazing how quickly these impressions came to mind within seconds – or what seemed like seconds to her – of entering the realm between dreams for the first time. She wondered, not for the first time, how visiting somepony else's dream was going to feel.
The Princess of the Night followed behind her and landed on… something. It hadn't even occurred to Moon Dream that there might be something solid in this realm. Even the floating white orbs, which were the only things she could see around them in the blue mist, seemed like they might poof if she touched them.
As the portal behind Princess Luna shrank into a white orb just like the rest, Moon Dream realized what they were.
"...they're dreams," she whispered as she gently landed on the invisible floor, staring in sudden awe at the multitude of orbs. Despite the mist that swirled around her in every direction, she could see hundreds, maybe thousands of them, dotting the blue void like stars on the night sky.
"Yes," Princess Luna spoke. "Welcome to the realm between dreams, Moon Dream."
Something about hearing those words from the princess' mouth made the reality of the situation hit Moon Dream all at once. She was actually about to visit somepony's dream in person!
"Thank you, your– Luna." Moon Dream's respect and admiration made her want to address the ancient alicorn as "your highness", but the princess had made it absolutely clear that she preferred that Moon Dream called her Luna.
Princess Luna nodded in response. "Let us not dawdle. I– we have work to do."
As she sat down and held up her front hooves, the closest dream orb slowly floated into her grasp. It didn't poof. She watched the orb as its white surface turned colorful, seemingly displaying an image of what was happening in the dream.
Moon Dream stepped closer so she could see, and Princess Luna shifted to let her. The orb displayed an orange stallion in Manehattan police officer garb receiving a medal. The meaning of such a dream was very blatant, speaking of deep-seated feelings of being underappreciated by his peers. That, or a desire to become a police officer if he wasn't one already.
"Ordinarily I would not enter this dream, as it is not a nightmare," Princess Luna said, "but if you are to join me in visiting ponies' dreams, it may be best that we start simple. Nightmares can be tumultuous. It will be better if you understand what entering a normal dream is like first."
"I understand," Moon Dream said. It made sense.
Princess Luna's horn lit up and the dream orb started expanding along two axes. It didn't look any less solid than before, but Moon Dream knew that if she were to touch it now, even while it was expanding, her hoof would go straight through.
Princess Luna began flapping her wings before she passed through the fully expanded portal. Moon Dream followed her example. She was glad she did when she realized they had entered the stallion's dream the same way they had left hers – through the moon.
Once again, the atmosphere changed. No, the world changed. Where her own dreams felt like home to her, and the realm between dreams felt like… nothing (but in a way that was distinct from not feeling like anything), this stallion's dream carried a pervasive feeling of confidence and contagious happiness. Being here felt good on a fundamental level.
Princess Luna seemed to be affected by it as well. A slight, confident smile had taken over her typically grim features.
The two of them flew down to the medal ceremony and found seats in the back of a crowd consisting mostly of faceless earth ponies in muted colors. It seemed the ceremony was happening indoors, judging by the floor and furnishings of the hall, but the building didn't have a roof or walls. On a stage in the front, the orange stallion stood – now that they were actually in the dream, Moon Dream could see that his orange coat had white markings and his cutie mark was a traffic cone – beaming at the crowd's cheering, clearly grateful for the medal that had been placed on the chest of his police uniform.
"You should know that not every dreamscape feels this good to be in," Princess Luna said. "Your dreamscape is soft and caring, and this stallion's is confident and jovial. But there are those whose dreamscapes are hostile or… turbulent, whose minds tear at your very being when you enter them."
"You mean nightmares?" Moon Dream asked.
"No. Nightmares twist the positives and accentuate the negatives, but these are fundamental parts of a pony's psyche. If I were to enter your nightmare, it would still feel soft and caring, but it would be in a twisted, wrong way. Similarly, if a nightmare feels like a storm, there is a good chance the same pony's normal dreams feel windy. That, of course, has nothing to do with the weather in the dream."
"That makes sense," Moon Dream said, a little surprised to find that she meant it.
They sat in silence for a while, observing the dream around them.
It was a very straightforward dream. The police stallion on the stage continued receiving praises from both the faceless ponies, the more vibrant and detailed ponies in the front row – the stallion's friends, family and fellow officers, Moon Dream suspected – and the short blue stallion who had given him the medal. The specific words of the praise were mostly impossible to make out, but the tone was unmistakable.
Moon Dream thought the blue stallion might be a police captain or sergeant or something. She wasn't good at naming police ranks, having never lived in a city with police. Cloudsdale didn't have anything like that, and in Las Pegasus, they were known as street guards.
A particularly beautiful and detailed green unicorn mare appeared at the side of the stage. She was wearing a similar police uniform as the stallions on the stage, but with her in it, the uniform seemed as stunning as a ball gown.
Moon Dream saw that the mare hadn't disappeared from the crowd, so there were now two of her in the dream. Nopony else seemed to notice. Of course, the only other ponies that were actually here were Princess Luna and the police stallion. The crowd wouldn't take notice unless he did, and most ponies wouldn't realize that things didn't make sense until they woke.
Like everything about other ponies' dreams, she had never seen it in person before, but she knew what it meant that the unicorn mare was so beautiful despite her relatively plain appearance. There was no mistaking it, especially when she was also more vivid than anypony else in the crowd other than the two ponies who had to be the stallion's parents.
"He loves her," Moon Dream said. It was barely more than a whisper, but Princess Luna caught it.
"You think so?" she asked.
"No, I know. It's clear as–" She caught herself. Maybe that particular idiom wasn't the best thing to say to the Princess of the Night. "–as the moon."
Princess Luna laughed. It was a short, soft laugh. "Perhaps you are right. I cannot say I would have noticed it myself."
The unicorn mare approached the stallion and spoke the clearest praise yet. "Oh, Traffic Pattern, you're my hero!"
Moon Dream glanced at Princess Luna. Any moment now, the princess would see how right she had been.
Traffic Pattern faced the mare. He bent his forelegs so he was leaning forwards with one knee touching the stage floor, producing a horn ring from nowhere.
There it was.
"Yard Stepper, will you marry me?" Traffic Pattern asked, his tone as confident and happy as the world felt.
Then the stage became quicksand under his feet.
Yard Stepper, unaffected by the quicksand stage, laughed in Traffic Pattern's face as he sank into the wood. The captain joined in, laughing at the stallion until he sank completely into the floor. Then the stage disappeared and everything shifted. Faceless ponies, no longer in a neat crowd, now surrounded him, all pointing and laughing cruelly.
The world was arrogantly confident and mockingly jovial. It was a sickening combination.
One by one, the faceless ponies changed into copies of the ponies Traffic Pattern cared about, most frequently Yard Stepper. It was odd, seeing a scene like that from the outside of the circle.
Princess Luna was in the air. "It is becoming a nightmare! I must interfere."
Her horn lit up and a magical barrier popped into existence around Traffic Pattern, shielding him from the crowd around him. Moon Dream wasn't sure how much help that was going to be – she didn't think the crowd had wanted to harm him anyway, and he would still be able to see and hear their incessant jeering through the barrier.
Traffic Pattern looked scared, humiliated and confused, all in one expression. Moon Dream liked to dabble in drawing scenes from ponies' dreams in her off-time, but she didn't think she would be able to recreate such a complex expression on paper – maybe it was only possible to make it in a dream.
Princess Luna flapped gently as she passed through the magical barrier and landed next to Traffic Pattern.
"P-princess Luna?" he said, clearly surprised by her presence.
"Yes, it is I," she answered regally. "I have come to help you through your nightmare."
"Nightmare… this is just a dream?"
"There is no such thing as 'just' a dream, Traffic Pattern, but yes. This is a dream."
"Oh thank Ce– I mean, uh, thank you, your highness."
Moon Dream couldn't suppress a light chuckle at that, but thankfully she didn't think Princess Luna could hear it over the crowd, even in a dream.
"So you are afraid of miss Yard Stepper rejecting you, is that so?" Princess Luna asked.
Traffic Pattern nodded solemnly. "A mare like her could do so much better than a dumb sap like me."
Moon Dream looked at the various copies of Yard Stepper in the crowd. Even with Traffic Pattern's perception of her making her seem more beautiful than she should naturally be, Moon Dream could tell she was rather plain in appearance – she wasn't ugly, but she was also not the kind of mare who would be considered "out of his league".
"I will not claim to know either of you," Princess Luna said, "but nevertheless you appear to be a standup stallion. I am sure Yard Stepper will see that if you let her."
"Maybe." Traffic Pattern looked thoughtful, but unconvinced.
Something was off about this whole exchange. But what?
Moon Dream took flight and glided over the crowd, then hovered next to the magical barrier. She didn't know whether or not she could fly through it like the princess had, but she didn't need to. She just needed Princess Luna to hear her.
"You're on the wrong track, Princess Luna," she said, speaking up to be sure she'd be heard.
"What?" Princess Luna said, looking up at Moon Dream.
"Who are you?" Traffic Pattern asked, looking confused at the presence of a second, less regal foreign element in his dream.
Moon Dream ignored the question. She had more important priorities than introductions. "Yard Stepper rejecting him isn't the core of the nightmare. He's worried about not deserving the recognition he wants. Isn't that right, Traffic Pattern?"
"I… yes…" Traffic Pattern took a moment to find his words. "I… kind of feel like everypony just sees me as the carefree optimist who doesn't really contribute anything to the squad, even though I do everything I can, you know? So I'd like to prove that I'm not useless. But sometimes I start wondering if… if maybe I really am useless…" Traffic Pattern stared at the ground. It was all dirt now, the wooden floor having disappeared at some point.
Princess Luna took that as her cue. "Nopony is useless. You just said it yourself – you do everything you can to contribute, and if everything you can is not enough for some ponies, then that is their problem."
The crowd surrounding them stopped laughing and lowered their hooves. They simply stood there, idle.
"And do not discount the value of optimism. Every team needs a healthy dose of optimism to keep its spirits up. A team which cynically believes it will fail will fail, because it no longer sees reason to try. If you share your optimism with your teammates, you may be a significant factor in your collective success. Do you see, Traffic Pattern? Regardless of your performance of the job itself, you are a valuable addition to the team, and in time, you may get the recognition you truly do deserve for it."
The crowd started laughing again, but it was a very different kind of laughter. It was joyful, not spiteful. Collective, not targeted.
The fabric of unreality was slowly losing its arrogant, mocking edge.
Traffic Pattern looked up at the two visitors, with a slight smile. "Thank you, your highness. And, uh," he gestured to Moon Dream, "you. That means a lot to hear. More than you know."
Princess Luna simply gave him a warm smile in return.
"You handled that very well, Moon Dream," Princess Luna said as they left the confidence and joviality of Traffic Pattern's dreamscape behind for the aggressive neutrality of the realm between dreams.
"I handled it? But you did all the important things! I don't think I could ever talk somepony down from a nightmare like that."
"You should not discount understanding, any more than you should optimism. Resolving that nightmare would have been much more difficult had you not recognized what its true cause was and immediately informed me the way you did. This is exactly why I suggested our partnership."
Moon Dream thought about it. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course I am," Princess Luna said in a playful tone. "I am, after all, the Princess of Being Right." She could be playful?
"That's a terrible joke!" Moon Dream said, but her laughter betrayed her.
"Oh no," Princess Luna said, "I assure you it is no joke." She was clearly holding back a chuckle of her own. "All the ancient historians simply had a dreadful habit of getting it wrong."
"So we have the Princess of the Day, the Princess of Love and the Princess of Being Right. Truly a magnificent trio of rulers."
"Of course not."
"Celestia is the Princess of the Gay. Why do you think there are so many ways to make rainbows in our world? My sister's work, all of them."
Moon Dream gave up on containing her laughter as she followed Luna through the portal back to her own dreams, into a world that felt like home.