by Zephyrus Scary

Chapter 1: Like a fly...


Zephyrus Scary

It is just beginning to be nice to be the Princess of the Night again. Most now call me Princess Luna once more, though still there are those times I am mistaken for the monster that had taken me, but more than that—more important—is the trust and admiration I am beginning to gain as I once more take up position as The Dreamwalker.

I may have been cleansed, but fragments of the Nightmare remain, attempting to wiggle their ways into the psyche of ponies by their weaknesses in same the way they had done to me when they were one and whole. Most see my work in their dreams as the simple alleviation of fears, and for most that still is the case, and for the public that is the story, and once the hunt is done, that is what it will be for all that is left.

As for today- tonight, the hunt continues. My sister and I separate to our rooms after our mutual breakfast/dinner, she to so see to the letters from fillies and colts she accumulates over the week and I to my bedroom to see to the Dreamworld. We part without “Good night” or “Sweet dreams”, for though I’ve heard such phrases have become a common courtesy, they are not needed for us. Not any more, but I do not fault the citizens saying such things.

Once alone inside my room, I relax upon the bed, for I Dreamwalk hours on end, and do not wish to return to an aching body. The spell comes to me as easily as raising the Moon. As I rise out of my body, I momentarily see the Dreamworld superimposed upon the Wakingworld, but soon enough the latter disappears.

It would be difficult to describe to a mortal the place in which I am now: A place of a magic with which even my sister is unfamiliar. Most of the Dreamworld, especially now, so early in the night, is blank, but in the spaces where dreams exist are tiny “bubbles” representing each dream, which even occasionally overlap—most ponies are unaware that dreams close by can influence each other, and of those ponies, even fewer understand how “close by” does not always refer to physical distance.

Stepping into the Dreamworld, I leave a magical trail, as all who step into the Dreamworld outside of the dreams do; this is how I will, hopefully, find those fragments. The only reason I have not found them all yet is because of how the Dreamworld operates by its own logic—even now I cannot tell if the dream closest to me is of my nephew Blueblood’s or of some unknown dragon’s on the other side of the world, nor if the second closest is the other’s. A thousand years ago I would have welcomed this unchained world, content in helping those in distress I come across, but now, in these more sinister times, I find my once relaxing Dreamwalking more like work with rare and very little payoff.

I cannot reminisce on such thoughts, so I set off. Though what I hunt is more serious, I do not shirk my other duty, stepping into the occasional nightmare to help focus the ponies’ thoughts on their true troubles. One thing for which I am currently thankful is the movement of time here, which helps me address more nightmares than I would have if the Dreamworld was bound to the Wakingworld’s time. However, an hour has just as much a chance of turning into a day as it has of turning into a second, so still I do not linger or loiter.

There. It seems tonight will not be without action. A faint trail of purple dust, weaving between dreams: a sure sign. Occasionally the trail is obscured by dreams that have appeared after the Nightmare fragment passed, but they are not enough to throw my persistence off its tail. Never.

A sense of wrongness grows as the trail gets stronger, signaling I’m getting closer. I can only suppose the ignorant fragment is taking its sweet time, wandering around dreams, searching for the perfect host. Such little sport this one will offer, I suspect. For a second, I contemplate the individuality each fragment appears to have, but only for a (relative) second; they only have “individuality” as much as a timberwolf has individuality from a Changeling; they are both simple, but dangerous creatures that must be eliminated for the good of my subjects, but at the same time they do not deserve pain for their nature… I will not allow my personal experiences with the Nightmare to tell me otherwise, for then I would only be worse, would I not?

This wrongness. It feels like watching a mistletoe suck the life out of a tree, but worse. At least mistletoe has ecological functions, but this-… this is like an invasive species. Now that’s a thought I’d never bothered to think before… “an invasive species”, hmm? From where? I had never sensed such a creature in the Dreamworld before it inhabited my body—my thoughts. Had I, perhaps, unconsciously created it, or had it been some other sort of evil that only managed to enter the Dreamworld through my powers? If there was only a way to contain a fragment safely, but the Dreamworld, as always and above all, is a place of absolute and pure freedom. To think of “containing” in any way or form is-!

“Hwah!?” What is this?! Something preventing me from moving?! How?! Admittedly, I had fallen into contemplativeness, not truly paying attention as I allow my subconscious to track the fragment into this dream, but here I am stopped at the edge of entering, like an invisible barrier in a doorway! How? This fragment could be more crafty than I thought… or could it be the host’s own unconscious defenses? Something like an abscess wall containing an infectious agent?… Curious.

I turn to pull back to reevaluate the situation, but I am prevented from even that first step, held quite still. In that moment I try to move, the dream before me—which I had not the thought to examine, so I know not its contents—disappears; it does not fade as a dream should when the dreamer is waking. I blink from shock, but cannot tell, surrounded by the blankness of the Dreamworld, and that’s when I realize I’m not in the Dreamworld; I can’t be, for I see no other dreams, and surely not all had awakened in that same moment! Nor can this be between the worlds, for then I would see both blending together… Impossible!

What can this be, to entrap me so in some place that cannot exist! No simple fragment of any creature, even the Nightmare, could have such powers, never mind could it know of or create such a place!

This place… It is less empty than I thought. Not by much, but at least now I can see by what, if not how or why, I am entrapped. A web, as of a spider’s, made of some magic. Had I been mistaken? Could this be the trap of some other creature, not a fragment, but something that might instead predate upon the fragments? What else, indeed, is there to eat in this world except… me?


Stay calm.

Should I remain still, hoping my sister discovers my predicament and saves me before this “Dream spider” finds its meal, or should I struggle, hoping to escape on my own, but almost certainly alerting the creature to my presence in its web? There is no set approach to such a situation! Since when, even, had these things inhabited the Dreamworld? Had I, instead, merely been blind to their existence and lucky in avoiding them before? Then my “encounter” with the Nightmare had pulled the veil from my eyes? Impossible to know.

Vaguely, I feel as if I should be panicking. There is no knowing whatever cast this web would be friendly or hostile to me, and it might come upon my frozen form years (relatively) before Celestia realizes I’m in danger. On the other hoof, however, it still remains fact the Dreamworld is an unfettered world in which the very places that compose it are not anchored—one could search this place for an infinite number of eternities and never chance upon me… Something both good and bad, in that it may come to be that neither the web-caster nor my sister ever find me.

I suppose such a thought should terrify me, but after a thousand years of imprisonment, never sure all Nightmare Moon’s work would truly lead to her escape nor, if that happened, that I would also be freed from her… I slip into old habits easily, at least, and can distract myself from the reality of my situation. Unhealthy, some might say, but if one is strictly completely unable to help oneself, then wouldn’t the “unhealthiness” be reversed? Would it not be unhealthy for a pegasus to be so fixated on wishing she’s a unicorn instead? It’s simply realistic.

Bah. Psychology. Now I know I’ve worn through every other possible subject in the last thousand years! … Hmm, except… come to think upon it, I’ve “worn though” so much that most of my previous conclusions to all the various problems that I’ve contemplated are now mostly forgotten! I suppose most of them are either now obsolete or already discovered my mortal ponies… or mad. Unhealthy defeatist mindset or not, I still suffered a thousand years of isolation and possession by a omnicidal spirit.

If I ever get out of here, maybe I should see a psychologist… if I can remember by the time I get out. “Possession”? Why did the Nightmare possess me? It was, before that, merely an entity of the Dreamworld; the first creature besides myself that I had known of to be capable of traveling the spaces between dreams. That proved to be the vital point in my descent. Anything outside the Dreamworld had become nothing to me, so instead I saw a potential friend in the only thing that, then, mattered to me: dreams. It was the only—even potential—companion in this world I ruled over because it was mine the way the dragons inhabit volcanoes: Not only was I capable of slipping into it so easily, but only I could, and can, so it was left to me without argument—no other creature could or wanted to lay claim.

So similar to the Moon—or, as some insist on calling it, “my” Moon… So barren. Inhospitable. I, the walker of two worlds none of my subjects would, or can, visit.


That’s the kind of thinking that only helped the Nightmare wiggle itself into me. It’s probably also what lured it to me in the first place! Lured… This place doesn’t operate like the Wakingworld, so a creature of the Dreamworld might be capable of somehow sensing thoughts, and certain intents felt in those thoughts would conceivably attract such a being that possesses such senses… Also, given such a case, it would seem probable that the same creature could be driven away with other intents.

So, if this web-caster operates similarly to the Nightmare—in that it has this intent-sense—as inducted by it occupying the same world, and the creatures of the Wakingworld tend to have the same senses in some form, then… I should be able to save myself if I can figure out what “intent” by which the web-caster is repulsed, for I could then take as long as I need to work myself out of the web!

… No… I’m missing something…

… Something about this web… is-

It’s around a dream! How could I have forgotten!? My life is not the only one in danger here! Except… Why cast the web around the dream? I can’t really say that for certain; this is only where I got stuck—it could be in the dream as well! What could this mean? Why would a web need to be cast at all if the creature already found a dreamer to… do whatever it needs? Perhaps instead it is a… defensive measure? -to protect itself inside the dream? From what, though? Me? The fragments of-?

-The fragments of Nightmare! The trail I had followed… Nothing about it caused me to question if it was, indeed, from a fragment. So, am I stuck here with a fragment? I can’t even move my neck an inch to check… As long as it, too, is stuck, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Neither of my hypotheses would be toppled or more supported than the other by neither presence nor absence.

It seems I’ve reach the end of the line on that train of thought, and I don’t know how to answer the question it leaves me: Should I struggle, trying to exude some intent to repel the web-caster, or remain and wait for my sister, as I could possibly only bring about my death faster by struggling if I cannot repel or fight the web-caster? Is my very confusion and uncertainty a beacon—a dinner bell, even—to the web-caster?

Very well… Struggle it is!

I’m not fool enough to struggle like a fly in a spider’s web, of course! No; mine is a calculated, magical struggle. A struggle to determine the form and structure of the web and dismantle it before the web-caster determines what I’m doing by some unknown method that is no less likely to exist by my uncertainty in its form—I’m quite certain the web-caster also cast some spell to know the state of its own web.

Incidentally, if there is a fragment here, it would also almost certainly be freed, and might even be able to flee from me if the spells I’m working now and will work soon leave me too exhausted. No matter; the hunt for all the fragments will takes years at any rate; one escape will hardly matter.

The first touch of my magic sends the threads of the web shivering; as I know by being shaken myself, caught in the threads of magic as I am. It leaves me momentarily disoriented, but I also smile. That touch created a fairly strong resonance, so the maintaining magic must operate on a frequency within a narrow range! What luck, to get so close on the first try! I would prefer to continue, hoping to get a more accurate measurement, but I worry that I have already attracted the web-caster’s attention.

Without wasting time, I begin to probe the web’s structure more daringly, the “shape” of a Key spell forming in my mind Without being sure of the frequency, the end result will require a bit of extra power (like forcing a rusted lock), but such is nothing to cause me concern, the second most magically powerful pony in all existence. Nay, but what my magic can affect is another matter: The Dreamworld is, as always, a place of its own whims that are powerful enough to carry me helplessly along—this web-caster could be immune to any number of my spells, from none… to all.

Hence my speed at trying to Key into this web!

The first thing I begin to realize is that the structure is not foreign, only novel. In fact… if I didn’t know any better, I could easily mistake this for a unicorn’s spell! Of course, I do not know the web-caster, but that it simply cannot be a pony is obvious, is it not?… Nay, for it is not, for the simple fact that a pony does not need to be at a place to cast a spell that affects that place. Generally, this would be applicable only to the Wakingworld, but-…

“-but” what? How could a pony possibly gain knowledge enough of the Dreamworld to cast a spell in it from the Wakingworld. -or! Perhaps my assumptions had all been wrong: the web-caster is- could be a unicorn in the Dreamworld, specifically, in a dream. That is, this dreamer could have cast this web unconsciously in the dream. -or subconsciously, in that it could have been some defensive reflex against the fragment I tracked here! If that is the case, then all my worrying and struggling will be for naught, and we—that is, I and the fragment—will be released upon the pony’s waking anyway.

No matter what turns out to be true, then, I’ll need to stay near this dream to see which is true; only then can I act.

I realize my mind had been wandering off the spell—slowing my casting—too late. A “shove”, as if sitting in a carriage that accelerates too quickly, breaks me away from the web. I try to turn, attempting to find the web, and perhaps the fragment, whether it had been freed alongside me or still stuck, but instead I find myself alone in utter nothingness, as if the web had never existed. Is this the pony waking, freeing me from the web as I had just hypothesized, or instead some manner of malicious spell?

I try to stop my movement, but with nothing against which to exert friction, I cannot help but be pulled along by the invisible force in this “Nothingworld”. Before I can analyze the situation any further, it stops as suddenly as it had started with a solid thunk, leaving me sprawled upon a surface. Solid? Not only, but… made of wood? Yes. The smell of pine now reaches my nostrils, and the faint warmth of a newly risen Sun massages my back. Comforting… I feel as if I could fall asleep here, even with the sunlight streaming in, and especially because of the ordeal just now, but I know I cannot because of that selfsame ordeal.

Not only that, but… pine? There is no pine in my chambers, never mind a floor made of it! I must have been teleported somewhere! -but how? It should be quite impossible, considering the enchantments not only on my own chambers, but also around the castle itself. Then-

“G-hmm!” A pony grunts, but apparently while holding something in its mouth. Accompanying the grunt of effort is the crack of bone and the unique squelch of flesh giving way. At the obvious sounds of a struggle, I force my eyes open, finding an Earth pony stallion facing away from me and standing over a prone fragment, a knife handle emerging from where an eye had been a second ago.

The stallion shifts the knife around a bit, loosening it from the bone, pulling it free, and turning to face me, murderous intent in his eyes for only a second before he drops the knife, nearly cutting himself. “Pr-Princess! Princess Luna! Where-? How-? What-!?” is all he manages to get out before his tongue fails him and all he can do is open and close his jaw while making quiet croaking sounds. I grimace at the ice-like, near-transparent not-quite-blood of the fragment staining his lips, and opt to close my eyes while pulling myself to my hooves. Such a crude way to dispatch of it, but… still effective, I can’t help but admit.

Sighing once fully erect, I once again open my eyes to see the pony had gathered at least enough of his wits to stop mouthing wordlessly and bow… and the former is only a maybe, as I can no longer see his face, so exaggerated is his posture. I take a moment of the quiet to look over this pony. He has a coat the color of pine bark and short, spiked hair the color of pine needles. Suddenly, I can’t determine whether the smell might be coming from the floor or this pony; I shake the pointless question off. “Rise, subject,” I order, then sigh to myself at the realization there is no delicate way to phrase what I must ask next, “and… tell us where we are and who thou be.”

He scrambles to his hooves at my first order, looking up, and I register as well the light, almost-gold of his eyes—like pine wood. Then, the inevitable next moment, and he tilts his head, needing to work at comprehending my requests. “Princess… we are in the Manegrove Woods, a ways out of Manehattan. My name is Dreamcatcher, and I’m-… I don’t know what you call what I do, since I’ve never heard of anypony doing something like this before, and I have researched… extensively.” He gestures unnecessarily behind himself to the fragment’s corpse, then, seemingly realizing how he must appear, wipes at the fluid on his muzzle to little effect.

“Indeed,” is all I say to this with naught but a raised brow before stepping around him to examine the aftermath. Yes. Quite dead. Still, is he a slayer of all monsters, or somepony more specialized? Another look over his body gives me the answer: He does not look at all the type to be stalking dangerous creatures for days on end—his slight pudge is evident of a too sedentary life for something of such a nature… if the general lack of heavy musculature is not enough evidence.

His Cutie Mark, though of something I’ve never seen, does not appear to be that of a hunter’s. It appears to be a spider web, but composed of threads of red, built inside a branch bent into a rough circle, with inexplicable feathers hanging below. A Cutie Mark of a bird-catching spider? I know that’s not quite right… His name is Dreamcatcher, and I’ve lived too long not to learn that names and Cutie Marks tend to have mysterious links. A spider that catches dreams, then? It seems there is nothing for it but to ask. “Hmm… and how is it you do… ‘what you do’?” I also have no choice but to repeat his phrasing, as even I have only one clue: the body of a fragment…

He grins and chuckles, shaking his head at the question. “I’m not entirely sure of that, Princess Luna, as I’ve not studied much of magical theory; No, not even on the most rudimentary facts concerning Earth pony magic.” I give a small sniff at that, barely discernable as impressed, for in spite of what he had just admitted, his words certainly display no lack of intelligence… only a lack of drive, it seems, but something else—something strong—is still behind this pony. How else would he be able to kill a fragment, to say nothing of purposefully hunting them?

He pauses, seeming to think I’m going to say something more, but even after realizing this, I remain silent, also knowing the daring which I know he possesses will eventually break through his nervousness. “Ah… I do have… the ‘object’ through which I do my work. Perhaps you could look at it and tell me something instead?” I raise my brows for a fraction of a second, encouraging him to go with that hint of interest. “There, above the bed, then.” He waves a hoof toward the simple construction, looking barely more comfortable than a sleeping bag placed unknowingly on a rock.

-but, just as he said, it’s what’s above that is interesting. From a distance, I might mistake it for Dreamcatcher’s Cutie Mark, but the real thing is far larger and more elaborate. As the painter of the night sky, I have always preferred aesthetic disarray such as that displayed by the web that is the obvious focus of… the object. Just as the symbol on the stallion’s flank, the strands, which appear to be of silk, are dyed red, but unlike the Cutie Mark, there are also strands of beads scattered with the feathers hanging from the bottom of the branch bent into a ring.

Stepping closer slowly, almost hesitant, I admit, perhaps subconsciously at the knowledge this is what I must have been caught by in the Dreamworld, I squint at the, for lack of a better word, “device”. It’s composition creates a subtle feeling—a hint—that makes me think of herbalism, but it is obviously no potion or poultice… It’s design is like a charm, but that would require spellcasting. The aura of magic around it is unusual yet undeniably powerful, so powerful that the magic even now being drained from Dreamcatcher should render him perpetually lethargic, but even now, so early in the morn, he is plainly lucid.

Trying to fit all those facts together only leaves me with a struck chord of annoyance echoing, only slowly dwindling; I feel, in a way, cheated, as if I had been trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that half the pieces had been replaced with the pieces of another version of the same puzzle, only with the pieces cut into different shapes. How it all is suppose to fit together still escapes me, but the image that is the end result I can, at least, guess at confidently.

“It is your Earth pony magic, which is… manifesting itself unusually. Every Earth pony I know of has magic that affects the earth or things closely related to it in some way, but you-.” I shake my head, turning back around to the stallion. “Your magic destroys all known theories that Earth pony magic is tied to the earth, and instead presents the possibility that Earth pony magic is tied to… environments. Though not physical, the Dreamworld is as much an environment as any place in the Wakingworld. Since you cannot Dreamwalk, your magic manifests itself there by using this… ‘focus’-”—I grimace at the nontechnical term, but there’s truly nothing by which to call the unprecedented device—“-to create a miniscule hole between the worlds.”

“Oh.” He blinks, and I wait, allowing all I’d said to sink in. He, in turn, scrutinizes the device, tapping the side of his muzzle and tilting his head. “That makes-.” He stops himself with a shake of his head. “I’m sure that would make sense to somepony who actually knows what you’re talking about, Princess. What I’m worried about, though, is what you said about, hm, ‘destroying all known theories’… I’m not going to be dragged off to Canterlot where a bunch of scientist unicorns are going to be poking me with their horns all day for some ‘indeterminate period of time’, am I?” The end of the question is an obvious attempt to make a joke of the supposed “indeterminate time”, but it cannot hide his real, and heavy, concern, which I must defuse immediately.

“No, certainly!” I emphasize with a graceful, authoritative shake of my head. “No, you will not be ‘dragged off’ anywhere.” The way he slumps in relief makes me almost chuckle, but I suppress it. A second later, I ask myself why I would, but the moment is gone: He’s standing straight once again, expectant, sensing I have more to say. “-but you will be ‘invited’.” I pause dramatically, watching an answer in the negative forming on his face. “I ask you, Dreamcatcher, if you would like to be my student. I could teach you much about the Dreamworld your magic is connected to, and, once we know more about the working of your magic, I should be able to help you hone your unique skills, which I believe could be of great aid to Equestria once fully realized.”

I grin in self-satisfaction at the absolute paralysis in which my words leave him. The only reason my sister has come to be thought of as a trickster is because I’ve been gone for a thousand years! Once I’ve had my fill, I shrug and say, “I wouldn’t think of forcing you to answer right this moment.” That drains most of his shock, letting him move his mouth, but he still can’t seem to speak. “I suggest you forget it for now. Instead, sleep on it. I’ve been wondering, though, if you have a name for this?” I wave at the device, suspecting his answer.

“Ah… Uh… No. I… kind’a never needed a name, Princess.” Regaining control of his body now, he sits and scratches at his temple.

I purse my lips and nod at his answer, then grin—the sudden switching of expressions setting Dreamcatcher on edge, judging by his slightly widened eyes. “Well, then… why not name it after yourself?”

“A-After… myself, Princess?” He looks down between his forehooves. “Named after myself?” He repeats, more to himself before looking up with a quirked brow and uncertainly waving forehoof. “Isn’t that a bit… you know, self-centered?”

Finally, I laugh openly, shaking my head as I allow the merriment to wear itself away. “Dreamcatcher, you just got asked by myself, Princess Luna, ruling Diarch of Equestria, to be my personal student to study magics that even experts seldom ponder. If you accept, the nobles will be expecting at least a little narcissism!” I laugh again, and this time he joins in.

Dreamcatcher… maybe I won’t have to be so alone anymore.

Author's Notes:

The original concept for this story was a silly "Luna freaks out for no reason" plot, but when I actually got to that part, I realized that's not how Luna would react--at least not with the character I imagine her to have.

Well, that, or I just can't write comedy to save my life...

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