In her dreams, Moondancer is a unicorn.
She looks at herself in a mirror, in her dream. She looks different, but she recognizes herself. Her body is a light, pale yellow, covered in a coat of hair, but she doesn’t mind. She stands on four legs, on hard hooves instead of feet, but it feels natural. She has a tail, the same red colour as the hair that is her mane, and they both have purple stripes in them. It seems right. Her eyes seem bigger, brighter, but still framed behind those thick glasses she’s always had.
She looks at the mirror and sees herself. The pony in the mirror, she has a smile on her face.
That’s the most unfamiliar thing of all.
In her dreams, she lives in the land of Equestria. It’s a magical land, full of happiness and laughter and friendship. A land where any problem can be overcome by working together, where no one stays lonely for long. Even the colours are brighter, richer, more real.
There’s another unicorn with her, in her dream. Her coat is a warm amber, as warm to look at as it feels against Moondancer’s own. Her mane is like fire, beautiful curls of crimson and yellow. Her eyes are an icy blue, a spot of cool in her radiant blaze of her beauty.
She presses up closer against Moondancer, nuzzling her cheek. She smiles, confidence and warmth present in equal measure. Then, she leans in. Her lips meet Moondancer’s own. They kiss, a passionate embrace that ignites Moondancer’s very soul.
In her dreams, Moondancer has a girlfriend. Her name is Sunset Shimmer, and she’s the most wonderful pony in the world.
And, in her dreams, Moondancer is happy.
Moondancer’s room is dark.
Her blackout curtains are pulled, like always, with only a thin crack near the floor, through which the faintest sliver of the light of the outside world invades. The only other light comes from the glow of her monitors, or her phone, or her reading light.
That’s all the light she needs.
She lies on her bed. Her blankets are a mess, half draped on the floor, but she doesn’t care. She stares up at her ceiling fan, eternally spinning on the lowest setting. A sigh escapes her lips; long and forlorn, accompanied by the sensation of sinking.
She closes her eyes, then opens them again. Nothing changes.
She rolls over, fumbling on her side table for her phone to check the time. 2:32 PM. She drops it screen-down on her bed, sighing again. A good enough time to wake up as any.
She reaches for her glasses, and as she puts them on the world gains more focus. It’s still dark, but her eyes are used to it. With one last sigh, she pushes herself up and off her bed.
The floor of her room is cluttered, covered in discarded clothes and piles of books. She ignores the mess, as always, her stumbling steps moving almost on instinct. Her room is her world, and she knows every inch.
Her room has two doors. One leads to her bathroom.
She ignores the other.
She staggers into her bathroom, pulling the door open, then closed. In here, she flicks the light switch, and squeezes her eyes shut at the harsh brightness. In her room, it’s always dark, but in her bathroom, she makes sure it’s always bright.
She opens her eyes slowly, acclimating to the light. She takes a step forward, and catches a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror.
Red hair, messy and unkempt. Worn, ill fitting pyjamas, an old black sweater pulled over them. Pale skin that hasn’t seen sunlight in years. Behind her glasses, tired eyes, dark bags underneath that never seem to fade.
She stops and looks at herself for a while. She looks at her eyebrows, thick and bushy. She’s always hated them, but fixing them would take too much effort.
She pulls her sweater off, tossing it carelessly towards her bathroom stool. Her pyjama top quickly follows, then the bottoms, then finally her panties, forming a haphazard pile. Her top slides off the stool and onto the tiled floor, but she doesn’t bother to pick it up.
She looks in the mirror again, examining her body. Her eyes glaze past her breasts, down her stomach. Her legs could use a shave, but she could put it off for a few more days yet. It’s not like anyone would see them.
She knows, objectively, she’s not that bad looking. She knows, objectively, her physical features are attractive enough, plain but passible. Even her face, ugly eyebrows and all, is passable. But she still hates it. She hates her eyebrows, hairy slugs on her face. She hates her breasts, too big and too small at the same time. She hates every single little thing about her body, about herself.
She averts her eyes, turning away to pull the shower tap. She doesn’t want to look any more.
She stands under the hot water, arms limp against her side. She stares straight ahead, not wanting to look down at herself.
The water flows down across her body, but it can’t wash away at her heart.
Moondancer stands in Sunset’s tower, at Sunset’s side. She watches her, notes floating around her held in her magical aura, scratching numbers onto a chalkboard. She has her tongue stuck out a little, her eyes narrowed in concentration. It’s adorable, and Moondancer’s heart melts a little.
In Equestria, everypony has magic of their very own. The earth ponies have magic of the land, speaking to the earth and the plants with their hearts and hooves. The pegasi have the magic of the sky, soaring through the air and bending weather to their will. And the unicorns have the magic of the aether, weaving spells and sorcery with their horns, and their very souls.
Of all the unicorns in Equestria, Sunset Shimmer is the most talented, the most skilled, the most powerful. So magical is Sunset that she became the personal student of the ruler of Equestria: Princess Celestia, an alicorn with the powers of all three tribes, whose magic is so great she can move the very sun itself.
Sunset says that before she met Moondancer, she wasn’t very nice. That she was rude and arrogant, and that she and the Princess often fought. That being with Moondancer had made her a better pony, a nicer, more understanding pony. Moondancer never knows what to say to that. To her, Sunset has always been perfect; like her own personal sun, bringing warmth and light into her life.
Sunset stalls, squinting at her chalkboard. It’s covered in complicated calculations, for a spell Moondancer couldn’t even begin to comprehend, let alone cast. But that doesn’t mean she can’t understand what’s written there; math is math, after all.
“Did you remember to factor how volume changes in four dimensions?” she asks.
Sunset freezes, and then smacks her forehead with a hoof. “Of course, it’s so obvious!” She erases vast swabs of her writing, replacing it with newer, more correct calculations. “What would I ever do without you, Moony?”
Moondancer smiles sheepishly. “I’m sure you’d manage. It’s a pretty simple mistake to make.”
Sunset gives a smile of her own, a small smirk hiding a hint of amusement. “One of these days, Moony, I’m going to teach you how to take a compliment. You’re brilliant, and I’ll hear no arguments to the contrary.”
Moondancer blushes. “So are you.”
“Course I am.” She flips her hair, numbers flowing from her chalk. “And, ergo, I’d want someone just as smart, and as beautiful, as I am to be my girlfriend. And, oh look, there you are!” She writes one last number, and takes a step back to look at her chalkboard in full. “So, what do you think?”
“Uh…” Moondancer looks at the chalkboard, so full of calculations that there’s barely a spot of black left. “All the math checks out. But I’m not exactly sure what it does.”
“Well, in theory, it’s the basis for a spell that can temporarily create a pocket of four dimensional space,” Sunset explains. “Any three dimensional object that enters the pocket can then move along the w axis, disappearing from three dimensional perception, and potentially travelling great distances.”
“Ah, that makes sense.” Moondancer nods. “And even though mass would stay consistent, the change from 3-D space to 4-D space would affect volume…”
“And that would be unpleasant.” Sunset finishes. “I don’t want to even imagine what would happen to a pony without the correct safety measures…”
“Well…” Moondancer puts a hoof to her chin. “Without any changes, you’d be flat along one axis, but with them, your mass would…” She shakes her head. “My brain hurts just thinking about it. Ponies aren’t supposed to be able to comprehend four spatial dimensions.”
“Yeah, but we try anyway.” Sunset leans over and gives Moondancer a quick kiss. “Because we’re brilliant. Both of us. I don’t even think I know anypony else who could read any of this.”
“Is that why you keep me around then?” Moondancer jokes. “To proofread your math?”
“Well, that…” Sunset gives a cheeky smile. “And also because you’re cute, you’re funny, you understand more about my ramblings than anypony else I know, I like listening to your ramblings, you’re cute, do you want me to go on?”
"Okay, okay!” Moondancer raises her hooves, her face burning scarlet in total embarrassment. “I get it, I get it!”
“Oh?” Sunset raises an eyebrow, giving Moondancer a saucy lidded stare. “I’m not sure that you do… maybe I need to demonstrate…”
“Eep!” Moondancer squeaks, a second before Sunset pounces on her, wrapping her hooves around her and locking their lips together. The two tumble to the floor, tangled together, kissing each other over and over, laughing and moaning in pleasure.
And Moondancer is happy.
Moondancer stares at her monitors, light reflecting off her glasses. She adjusts herself on her chair, pulling her knees to her chest in a crouching position. No matter how many times she shifts, she never feels comfortable.
Her eyes glaze over as she looks at her three screens. One displays an empty tab, a dozen others running across the top. Another holds a chat client, and the other simply shows her desktop, a wallpaper of some anime she’s never seen. They rotate; she never could find one she liked enough to keep.
She sighs, eyes running across her open tabs. A few videos, a couple of webcomics, a deep dive on four dimensional physics… nothing draws her interest today. Maybe tomorrow. She keeps them open. Just in case.
She turns to the chat client. The few groups she’s a part of are her only point of social interaction. She clicks on one, a fan group for a game series she used to love. She hasn’t played the most recent instalment. She hasn’t played any video games for a while; she used to enjoy them, but nowadays they just seem like work, an obligation to play what she owns.
The chat moves down at a reasonable pace, slow enough for Moondancer to easily follow. People are talking about some other game, one she has no interest in. She chooses not to say anything.
She likes that about online chat groups like this. Being able to lurk, to only come out and say something when she feels comfortable, and then slinking back into the shadows. Nobody judges her for it. She can just sit and wait for something she wants to talk about. It’s the only form of social interaction she can stand.
Nobody ever asks why they haven’t seen her in a while. Nobody asks how her day’s been. Nobody tells her she looks tired, that her hair is a mess, that she should smile more. She’s just another line of text behind an avatar, one in a sea of many. Distinct enough to be told apart, but not distinct enough to be missed.
She clicks through a few more. One for a book series she read as a kid, one for web fiction… she makes a few posts there. Makes a note of how disappointed she was with a recent chapter. Someone disagrees, and she ducks out, letting someone else with the same opinion take over what easily could become an argument.
A group of people are using voice chat in another group. She ignores it. She never joins those; she doesn’t even have a microphone. Not that she would use it. Her voice is scratchy and hoarse, atrophied from lack of use. She never liked it anyway. It’s so much easier to talk with text. Gives her more time to change her mind, to not say anything at all.
She checks her final group. They’re discussing an upcoming convention, planning a meetup. People are excited, talking about events, about rooming together, about all the fun they’re going to have.
Moondancer lives in the same city where it’s being held. She could take a bus to the convention centre, be there within an hour. Nobody else in the group knows this, of course. But as people talk about flying across the country, she knows she could very easily attend, to meet up with the closest thing she has to friends in this world.
She’s not going. She never even considered the possibility.
She spins her chair around, away from her monitors. She staggers to her feet, taking the few steps required to collapse face down onto her bed. She curls up, pulling the loosely spread blankets tightly towards herself into a cocoon.
Canterlot is the capital of Equestria, and it sits on the side of a mountain. It seems to hang off the edge, supported by massive platforms built into the rock. From the highest point, the top of Canterlot Castle, one can see for miles and miles. From there, Princess Celestia moves the sun and the moon, turning day to night and night to day.
Moondancer is not at the top of Canterlot Castle. She’s beside it, on a hill in the Royal Gardens. From it, she can see over the walls around the platform; not fully, but enough to watch the sunset. Sunsets in Equestria are gorgeous; the sky painted a tapestry of yellows, oranges and pinks.
For Moondancer though, no sunset could compare to the Sunset sitting next to her.
They sit together on a picnic blanket, watching the horizon. Moondancer steals a glance at her girlfriend; bathed in the sun’s waning glow, a half eaten apple held in her magic. Her heart skips a beat, and she finds herself unable to turn away.
Sunset notices, turning her head slightly. Moondancer blushes, quickly turning away and fixing her gaze on the sky intently.
Sunset laughs. “It’s okay, Moony. You’re allowed to stare.” She flips her hair. “Though, I don’t think I’m quite the sunset we came out here to see…”
Moondancer blushes harder, embarrassed mumbles the only words she can form. Sunset laughs again, and the joy in her voice reverberates into Moondancer’s heart.
The sun continues its descent below the horizon. The sky’s light fades, turning darker shades of blue and violet, the brightest of twinkling stars making their presence known. Sunset and Moondancer sit in silence, watching. It’s a perfect evening, the capstone of a perfect date.
Moondancer turns to Sunset again, and hesitates, breath hitching in her throat. “Sunset…” she asks, voice unsure. “Why… why do you stay with me?”
“Hmm?” Sunset turns, confusion on her face. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just…” Moondancer sighs. “You’re so talented, and pretty, and perfect, and you’re the Princess’ student… you could have any mare you wanted, so… why do you stay with me?”
“Moony…” Sunset’s expression softens, a soft, tender smile gracing her lips. “I stay with you because I want to. It’s really as simple as that.”
“But nothing.” Sunset shakes her head. “I’m not interested in anypony else.”
“But why?” Moondancer pushes. “There are plenty of prettier ponies than me, smarter ones, more magically talented ones… what’s so special about me?”
“Oh, Moony…” There’s a sadness in Sunset’s eyes, but only for a second. “What’s special about you is that I love you. Not anypony else: You. I could meet a… I don’t know, a billionaire supermodel archmage tomorrow, but that wouldn’t matter because I want to be with you.”
Sunset sighs, looking up at the stars. “I… I used to want power. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t want it anymore. I want to be an alicorn, an equal to the Princess… It was the one thing I wanted most of all. But then… I met you.”
“The Princess always says that ‘friendship is a magic all its own’, but I don’t think I really understood what she meant until then. I don’t think it even can be put into words, as frustrating as that is. All I know is that somehow, my ambitions became a second priority when compared to being with you.”
“Sunset…” Moondancer doesn’t know what to say.
“Love isn’t something easily explained.” Sunset chuckles. “I suppose that’s why so many ponies try. But… I have many talents, but poetry isn’t one of them. All I can say is…”
Sunset turns to Moondancer, and their eyes meet. There’s an indescribable mix of emotions on Sunset’s face, an unflinching resolve mixed with adoration, with a hint of something sader. “I love you, Moondancer. I’ll stay with you, no matter what. So, please… stay with me.”
Moondancer’s mind goes numb, and she freezes for a second. But, as she processes the words, she knows in her heart there’s only one answer she could ever give.”
“Of course I will.”
Sunset reached out, wrapping a foreleg around Moondancer. The two of them lay on their blanket, watching the stars.
And Moondancer is happy.
She sits on the floor, slumped against the side of her bed. Beside her is a small desk lamp, producing just enough light to allow her to read the book she holds in her hands. The light is like a tiny island in the sea of darkness that is her room. An island she takes refuge on only temporarily.
She has her earbuds in, phone resting next to her. Her playlist is an eclectic mix; soundtracks from video games, classical orchestra pieces, anime openings, 80s pop… to someone else, the shifts would be jarring, but Moondancer has long since adapted to it. In fact, she’s heard each of the songs so many times that they’ve started to become stale. But finding new music, making a new playlist, is more stress and effort than it would be worth.
Her eyes skim down the pages, barely taking in the words. It’s a novel from a series she’d loved as a kid, one she’s read countless times. The plot is etched into her brain, so much she could almost recite it from memory. When she was younger, reading it was just as exciting every time, but now, she feels almost nothing. Like her music, it’s stale, the familiarity all that ties her to it.
She looks up at her bookshelf, against the far wall. In the darkness, she can barely make out the titles printed on the spines, but she knows all the books there. She knows she’s read them all, most multiple times.
One song ends, and there’s a brief moment before the next one begins. She squeezes her eyes shut, trying to block out sound through force of will until the music resumes. Without it, she can almost hear beyond her world.
The next track starts. It’s a soft piece, a relaxing piano melody. She likes it, enough not to skip it, but it’s not loud enough. It’s not loud enough to entirely block out the sound of a distant door opening and shutting.
It’s not enough to block out the muffled sounds of voices, of a tired yet cheerful greeting. She can’t make out the words, thank goodness, but it’s enough. It’s enough to remind her of the outside world. Of her sister, home from her work.
A barista, last time Moondancer heard. How long ago that was, she wasn’t sure. It may have changed since then, but it barely mattered. No matter what her occupation was, she had one. She was out there, working, earning, engaging with the world.
It was a reminder that only made Moondancer feel worse.
Her sister used to check on her, to say hello after she got home. She stopped some time ago. Moondancer appreciated it. The less she saw of the outside world, the less she was reminded of it, the easier it was to ignore it. To pretend it didn’t matter, that it didn’t exist.
The piano is joined by a voice, a woman singing a lyricless aria. It’s enough to drown out the voices, to shrink her world yet again. But it’s too late. Her mind has already been reminded, regurgitating the dark truths she tries so hard to forget.
She remembers the words of her parents, both those directed at her and those she overheard. To her face, they feigned compassion, empathy, understanding. To each other, they revealed the truth, what they really cared about. It wasn’t her, it never was; it was only what she was supposed to achieve. That her ‘talents’ were worth more to them than her happiness.
Not that those ‘talents’ were much to begin with. Good test scores? What did that matter, in the end? Sure, she had been smart, gifted even, but that had been as a child. Everyone had expected her to maintain that status, but they had been wrong. Maybe, perhaps, if she gave herself the most possible credit, she could be considered intelligent. But that was it. An above average aptitude at math and science couldn’t make up for all her failings.
She remembers that her tiny sea of darkness won’t last forever. That, sooner or later, her parents will run out of patience. That they’ll demand she pull her weight, and then, when she fails to, kick her out. She’s not sure what she’ll do then.
Find a hole to curl up in and rot, probably.
She’s considered speeding up that process before. But she can never bring herself to do it. She isn’t sure why. Fear, perhaps? Futile hope? Maybe something as small and simple as not wanting to miss the next page of a webcomic, or to wait for the next instalment of a game or book series.
Maybe it’s something else altogether.
She flicks her reading light off. Dropping her book, she lightly kicks it across the floor, sliding into a pile of clothes. She climbs up off the floor, reaching for a drawer in her bedside table. From within, she pulls a bottle of sleeping pills, and pops a pair into her mouth.
She falls face first onto her pillow. She grabs her phone, stuffing it under her pillow. The aria continues, enveloping her gentle noise. She grumbles, annoyed at how long it takes for her to fall asleep. She wants to leave the world behind, to escape into unconsciousness.
To escape into her dreams, where she can pretend she’s happy.
Moondancer isn’t sure where she is.
She feels like she’s floating, but not in water, or in the air. The world around her feels… blurry, somehow, a feeling that she knows no words to describe. It looks blurry, too, but she can at least understand that. It’s some kind of void, an endless sky of blues and purples full of floating white lights.
Her mind feels strange, her perception off. It feels like a dream, but she has a sense of awareness that seems so real. Her memories of both dream and reality are sharper, her experiences in Equestria seeming just as real as those in the real world.
Her body is weird, too. She can’t really feel it; she knows it’s there, but it seems formless, without a shape. She tries to look down, and she gasps. Instead of an arm, or a foreleg, she has both. Not a fusion between the two, or both separately, or one overlapping the other, but fully a foreleg and fully an arm at the same time. As if her body as a human and her body as a pony existed in the same space, both equally real.
“...ony…” A voice echoes through the unreal space. It’s distant, muffled, but it’s a voice Moondancer could never fail to recognize.
Sunset’s form fades into existence in front of her, clear and defined against the blurry world. She stands on nothing, taking a step forward despite nothing for her hoof to land on. “Moony, you’re here… I didn’t think it’d be so soon!”
Moondancer frowns. Sunset’s face is full of worry, panic that seems so out of place. “Sunset? What’s wrong? W-where is this place?”
“It’s…” Sunset falters, for a second. “I’m sorry.” She says, and her eyes are full of guilt. “I… it’s all my fault. I– I can’t explain it all right now, but…” She swallows, shaking her head. “This place, it’s the space between worlds. Between your world and mine.”
“Your world?” Moondancer gapes. “But you’re…” A sadness fills her heart, as she remembers. “You’re only a dream…”
“No.” Sunset shakes her head again, defiantly. “I’m not. Equestria… it’s not a dream. It’s real, just as real as your waking world. Maybe… maybe even more so.”
“Real…” Moondancer should be shocked by that, but all she can feel is relief. Despite the absurdity of it all, it feels so obvious. “You’re… real…”
“Of course I am.” Sunset smiles, and then her face falls. “I thought… I hoped this wouldn’t happen just yet. That I would have more time, time to explain everything, but…” She looks at Moondancer, taking a deep breath to compose herself. “Now you have to choose.”
“Choose?” Moondancer cocks her head, a strange feeling with her two bodies. “Choose what?”
“Between your waking world… and mine. Equestria. Me.” Sunset smiles again, but there’s sadness in her eyes. “Now that the superposition is collapsing, you can’t have both. You have to pick one.”
“Su-superposition? Like quantum physics?” That was a topic way over Moondancer’s head.
Sunset shakes her head again. “Not really? It’s just the closest analogy I can think of… It’s hard to explain. You’re in both Equestria and your waking world at the same time, but only while you’re unaware of the discrepancy. Once you awaken to that realisation, both selves come here. You can only go back to one. And if you don’t…”
“If I don’t… then what?”
Sunset’s expression turned grim. “You’ll be lost to the space between… forever.”
That definitely should have caused her to panic. Even so, somehow, a part of her didn’t even seem to mind. The floating sensation was so peaceful. If Sunset wasn’t there, she could easily imagine herself fading into it, her consciousness being swallowed by the void…
“I… I don’t… how did this even happen to me?”
“It’s…” Sunset swallows again, taking another deep breath. “It’s all my fault. I made a mistake, I just wanted to… I just wanted someone…” She begins to choke up, hanging her head as tears form in her eyes. “I just…”
She looks up at Moondancer, eyes watering. “I wanted to be with you!” she cries. “I was arrogant, I was a fool, I wanted you–” she cuts herself off, eyes going wide. “There’s not much time.”
Moondancer feels it too. Her form starts to blur, and her mind feels fuzzy. Sunset reaches out a foreleg. “Please, Moony. I… I want to be with you. I love you.”
Moondancer looks at her girlfriend’s outstretched leg. She feels herself slipping, and she knows. She knows the real– the waking world– is a place she can’t return to. It’s not a place where she can ever be happy. Her connection to it isn’t strong enough to return.
Her choice is between Sunset and oblivion.
If it had been between the waking world and oblivion, she knows she would have chosen the later.
But here, the choice is obvious.
She reaches out, and it’s a foreleg that wraps around Sunset’s.
“I love you too.”
Sunset smiles, tears of sadness turning to tears of joy. Moondancer smiles too, and she floats into her girlfriend’s embrace, leaving the fading image of her human shell behind.
The two ponies are engulfed by a bright, warm light.
In the magical land of Equestria, there live two unicorns.
One of them is a mage of the highest calibre, a fiery mare of amber hue whose magic is beyond compare, an apprentice of the Sun Princess herself.
The other is a student of science, a quiet, parchment colored mare with a passion for learning and knowledge almost otherworldly.
Their names are Sunset Shimmer and Moondancer, and their love is true.
And, now and forever, they are happy.