by Blueshift

Chapter 1: Arcadia

Once upon a time, long ago in an impossible dream of history, there was a land called Arcadia. It was a beautiful green and pastoral land where the sky was always blue and the sun always shone. A golden age, of the type that never existed except in dreams and fairytales but yet somehow was more real than either.

One day, a group of shepherds went for a walk. They laughed and joked as they strolled down fields and walked through forests and streams, as their life was joyful and free of hardships. That was how it had always been and how it would always be.

And then they stopped. For in their path lay an object that none of them had ever seen before. That they had not even conceived of. That in their idyll they could not have conceived of.

A tomb.

And the shepherds approached it, and understanding now the end of all things, they fell to their knees. One began to trace his fingers in terror at the letters inscribed on the stone, letters that brought mortality into that immortal world:


And the shadow of the shepherd fell across the tomb, and it was the cold shadow that was the discovery of mortality, and his companion too reached out.

And he…

But that was long ago and far away. Something that never happened, yet is completely true.

Long ago, in an impossible dream of history.


The shadow bobbed in front of Lyra in a teasing manner. She gritted her teeth, furrowed her brow and kept very still to lure it into a false sense of security. In an instant, she lunged forwards and the shadow danced away, causing her pen to skitter uselessly on the sheet of paper she had laid out on the floor of her living room.

“Oh, come on!” she hissed in frustration, crumpling up the sheet and tossing it into the corner of the room, where it lay amongst several other balls of unloved and discarded paper balls.

“Are you still… serious?” Bon-Bon stepped briefly out of the kitchen, shaking her head slowly. “Lyra, have you really been doing that all morning? Is this actually a thing?”

Lyra snapped her head round, eyes bulging wide as if caught with her hooves in the sweetie jar. Again. “No, I… I mean yes! It’s art, Bon-Bon! I’ve gotta have a job! Drawing shapes is a job!” She carefully laid out another sheet of paper and positioned herself so that the bright summer sun shone through the window behind her, casting a pristine shadow of her outline onto the paper. Then she stabbed forwards with the pen, and again the shadow dashed out of the way.

“Again! Did you see that, Bon-Bon!” Lyra waved a hoof at the sheet of paper in disgust. “It keeps doing that!”

“Well, yes.” Bon-Bon rolled her eyes. “Lyra, if your little project is ‘trying to defy the laws of physics,’ it probably will keep doing that.”

“Stupid physics.” Lyra growled at the now ruined sheet of paper, crunching it into another ball. “You’ve gotta dream, Bon-Bon! There are more things in heaven and Earth, blah blah and so on. And speaking of dreams…” She stifled a yawn and stretched her hooves in the air. “It’s been a heck of a day, I’m ready for some major shut-eye.”

“It’s the middle of the day!” Bon-Bon sighed deeply, turning to head back to the kitchen. “You’ll sleep your life away if you’re not careful, Lyra! Don’t forget there’s the Ponyville Ice-Cream Fete today!”

“Yeah yeah…” Lyra hopped onto her sofa, snuggled down upon the nice comfy cushions and let the sunlight play across her heavy eyelids. “Mine’s a raspberry ripple. A nice one though, not one off Lickety-Split! Jus’ pour it into my mouth if I’m still asleep. You’re a good friend, Bon-Bon. You an’ me, ‘til the end of the world…” Her heavy eyelids slowly shut…

…And flew open. Lyra sat bolt upright on the sofa, blinking in slight panic at the blackness all around in case she had gone blind, before realising that it was night outside. She licked her lips experimentally. No raspberry ripple taste. “Ugh, Bon-Bon!” she groused, getting to her hooves and flicking on the nearest lamp. “I did sleep the day away. Huh.”

“Bon-Bon?” she called upstairs, quiet enough so not to wake her friend. “I’m just going to borrow some sweets from your cupboard, let me know if that’s a problem. No? Good!” That bit of due diligence done, she crept into the kitchen, and quietly helped herself to a small selection of delicious sugary delights. And then a few more, just to be on the safe side.

“Now, where was I…” Lyra quickly patted back her sleep-ruffled mane and laid out a fresh sheet of paper on the floor. Staring carefully at the shadow that now fell across it, she picked up a pen, and very stealthily leaned forwards to trace around her outline.

“It worked!” Lyra gave a wry grin as she scooted the pen all around the paper until she was met by a perfect outline. “Silly Bon-Bon, what does she know. I bet it’s cos the sun’s now in, that’s why the shadow didn’t try to run away.”

Her stomach rumbled in reply. Lyra gave it a little pat. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t worry, I think I heard Bon-Bon say I could have some more sweets, so…” She moved back into the kitchen and opened up the secret compartment in the back of the bread bin that Bon-Bon didn’t know she knew about. “Bon-Bon,” she whispered half-heartedly in the direction of the stairs. “I can have your secret stash, right? You’re such a good fr-”

There was a noise from the front room, as if someone had trodden on a sheet of paper. Lyra guiltily dropped the sweet she was about to eat and whirled around. “O-oh, Bon-Bon, sorry, I – ”

She stopped. The room was empty.

“Hello?” Lyra peered her head nervously around the kitchen door, looking back and forth, straining to see into each corner by the dim lamp light. Was it a burglar? Was Bon-Bon hiding? “Bon-Bon, is that you?”

There was another sound as if a sheet of paper was being scrunched into a ball. With a mounting feeling of dread, Lyra looked down at her hooves, and then instantly leapt backwards. The paper was lifting gently in the air, as if wafted by a breeze. But it wasn’t being lifted, it was being pulled up. The pen outline was rising off the page and turning towards her in the way that two-dimensional images tend not to.

“Et,” it hissed in a voice that sounded like the scratchings of a pen, slowly placing one black-lined hoof on the ground, and then another, stepping towards Lyra and fixing her with non-existent eyes. “Et in Arcadia ego.”

Lyra backed more fully into the kitchen, at first with a horrible detached steady pace as she could not tear her eyes off the apparition, and then survival instincts kicked in and she slammed the door shut. “What the heck?” she shouted as loud as she could. “Bon-Bon! Bon-Bon! There’s a thing!”

“Et in Arcadia ego,” hissed the voice through the kitchen door. It started to bang on the wood, Lyra leaning as hard as she could against it, hearing that strange, almost insistent voice echoing through the door. “Et in Arcadia ego!”

“I don’t know what you mean!” Lyra looked about for something – anything – that she could use to defend herself. There was nothing she could easily grab, Bon-Bon had just been too good at putting everything away in the kitchen. At the far end of the room she could see her personal cookie cutter, but no. That would be ridiculous.

The banging on the door became louder and louder, shaking Lyra through her very bones. She stared across the kitchen in case there was anything she had missed, but it was tidy and the room was dark, and suddenly the kitchen started to darken even further and a familiar burning smell wafted across her nostrils.

“Oh no,” Lyra whispered with a croak, swallowing hard as she realised what was happening, but finding it hard to swallow as if she was starting to choke. The burning smell got more pungent, and the corridor of the kitchen started to stretch into infinity. It was a dream. But it was this dream. This dream again. It had come back. It always came back.

The figure strode out of the darkness as it always did. A speck in the distance as it walked down the never-ending black corridor that the kitchen had become. A tall, armoured two-legged apparition relentlessly marching, one gauntleted appendage stretched out towards her, its face invisible due to the helmet resting on its mighty shoulders.

“Lyra!” it boomed from the shadows as it came nearer, never slowing. “Lyra!” It never slowed down. At the end of its appendage was… it was a glove. A hand. Reaching out towards her, to grab her. “Lyra!”

Lyra wrinkled her nose hard at the smell, swallowing down despite the pressure on her throat. “Go away! I don’t believe in you! Go away!” she screamed at the apparition. “Leave me alone!”

It was closer. Every time she dreamed of it, it got closer. When she was younger, when it had first appeared, it was just a speck in the distance. For the past few years she had been able to see it more clearly. The details on its armour, the reflection of her own terror in its face. Its name that it wore proudly across its chest.

“Go away! Go away!” The figure did not respond. It kept marching onwards. About ten metres away now. Maybe less. That terrible hand, reaching for her, eternally reaching. The banging on the door behind her did not abate, the whispering of the creature still ringing in her ears.

Lyra closed her eyes as if it would make it all go away. “Please!” she shouted. “Princess Luna, help me! Please! Princess Luna!”

She opened her eyes again. No, the creature was still there. Closer still, a ragged breathing noise, a hiss of bellows rising like distant thunder. How many times now had she begged the Princess of Dreams for help with her nightmare? Begged for help that never came. “Please, help me!”

The glove stretched towards her, heavy fingertips almost brushing her face. Lyra turned her head away and screamed as loud as she could as the door behind her started to splinter and the figure almost made it to her and there was nowhere for her to run and –

And Lyra sat bolt upright on the sofa. She blinked the bright sunlight out of her eyes, gasping for air as her heart raced at a thousand miles an hour. “I don’t… Oh.” She clutched her head, getting her bearing back. The room was as she had left it, dappled in lazy midday sunlight. There was still a pile of unused sheets of paper on the floor, devoid of any traitorous two-dimensional scribblings. On the bright side this meant that Bon-Bon’s secret stash of sweets was still available, but even so.

She got to her hooves woozily. The creature had got even closer this time. Every time she had dreamed that same terrible dream, she kept on waking up later and later. What happened when it finally caught up with her? She stifled an involuntary shudder. It was not something she wanted to find out.

She could hear voices coming from the front door. It was Bon-Bon. Bon-Bon would know what to do, or at least have a comforting word! Lyra licked her lips nervously, taking a final look at the pile of unused sheets of paper in case they decided to spring to life, and went to join her friend.

“…So I thought, yeah, there’s more to life than this, you know? Gotta live the dream, can’t let go, no matter the cost!” It was Lickety-Split, standing on the doorstep with her famous cart of slightly soggy frozen desserts. She had clearly attempted to entice Bon-Bon into another sales pitch, which given Bon-Bon’s polite, slightly too eager nodding, was going about as well as could be expected.

“Oh, hi, Lickety!” Lyra peered around Bon-Bon at the new arrival. “Bon-Bon, can I, uh… have a word?”

“Lyra! A word, yes!” Bon-Bon brightened slightly at her friend’s arrival before turning back to Lickety-Split. “Sorry, I’d better deal with this!”

“No problem!” Lickety-Split gave a smile. “I hope I can expect to see you at Ponyville’s Ice-Cream Fete today! I’m doing all the catering!” She swept a hoof proudly at her cart.

Lyra nodded as firmly as she dared. “Sure, I…” She trailed off as she saw what was on offer on the cart. Lots of delicious ice cream. Suspiciously nice ice cream, all tastefully displayed with neat, artistic little swirls on top as opposed to the melty doom that Lickety-Split usually served up. “Nice ice-cream.”

“Thanks!” Lickety-Split beamed proudly. “I’ve been practising!”

“And uh…” Lyra stared at Lickety-Split. “Nice labcoat.”

Lickety-Split proudly puffed out her chest, which was currently the owner of a form-fitting one piece white jacket. “It was, uh, on offer!”

“And nice…” Lyra’s eyes drifted upwards. “Nice mad scientist goggles.”

Lickety-Split adjusted the large steampunk goggles that rested on her forehead. “It helps with the ice cream mixing!” she replied, a little too quickly. “Right, uh, lots to do! See you soon!”

Lyra and Bon-Bon waved politely and slowly but firmly closed the door.

“It’s a trap,” they chorused together, turning to each other once the coast was clear.

“We’re still going though?” Lyra nodded her head towards the closed door. “I mean, yeah, it’s clearly really really dodgy, but that ice-cream did look nice.”

Bon-Bon gave a smile and a shrug. “Of course! Everyone else’ll be there, and besides, nothing ever bad happens in Ponyville.”

Lyra laughed, her problems forgotten for a moment. And then it all came flooding back. “Bon-Bon,” she whispered, as if speaking about it in a louder voice would somehow make it more true. “Bon-Bon, it… it happened again. The dream. I dreamed about the human.” She looked about nervously, but the house was still safe. She swallowed. She could swallow now. “It got closer again, Bon-Bon. I’m scared.”

“Oh… Lyra.” Bon-Bon’s face fell and she turned to give her friend a gently hug. “It’s not real, you know that, right? It’s just a dream. There’s no such thing as a human, and even if there was, there’s nothing they can do to you in a dream. Besides, Princess Luna protects all ponies from nightmares.”

Bon-Bon smiled that warm smile that said ‘there, now everything is better, let’s go and get some shady ice-cream.’

It wasn’t better though. She didn’t understand – couldn’t understand. “I know, but…” Lyra didn’t want to push it too much. Bon-Bon cared, but she wasn’t afraid to be combative if she thought Lyra was being too delusional and this wasn’t a road Lyra felt up to going down today. “There was something else this time. One of my drawings came to life and it started saying stuff.” She scrunched her brow up, trying her best to remember the strange words. “E-et in Arcadia ego. Yeah. What is that? A spell?”

Bon-Bon just laughed. “It’s Latin, Lyra. ‘Even in Arcadia, there am I’. Your dreams are more cultured than you are!” She shook her head as if privy to some private joke. “Now, come on, the Ice-Cream Fete is starting soon, we don’t want to miss out on whatever unlikely event is going down!”

“Yeah…” Lyra mumbled, but internally she was rolling what Bon-Bon had said around in her mind. She knew that. It was familiar. She had seen that somewhere before.

Suddenly, it clicked and she sprang up the stairs in an explosion of motion. “Stay there, Bon-Bon!” she shouted down as she bounded into her bedroom.

Lyra pushed aside the mountain of clothes that had accumulated on the floor and scooted under her bed, emerging triumphantly with a small shoebox. This was where she kept her memories, her most treasured possessions in all the world. She carefully opened the box and sifted through it until she found what she was looking for.

“Bon-Bon, look! Look!” Lyra cried, thundering down the stairs again, and almost colliding with Bon-Bon who had started to try and clear away all the paper that was littering the front room. She waved her prize in the air proudly. “I knew I remembered that before! Look!”

Bon-Bon rolled her eyes. “Yes, Lyra, that’s how dreams work. We’ve had this discussion before, they’re just stuff you…” She stifled a groan. “Oh no, it’s the human book again.”

Lyra placed the book on the coffee table. It was a small, square book, carefully printed on laminated stock and featuring faded watercolour illustrations. Lyra had owned it for as long as she had remembered, and according to Bon-Bon it was the explanation to all of her bad dreams.

Lyra knew differently though. There was nothing in the book that looked like the thing did in her dream, and yet she knew in her heart of hearts that it was a human as well. Instead, the humans in the book wore normal clothes like ponies did, and had happy smiling faces. The cover of the book showed a little human standing next to a big human who had a big bushy beard on its face, the title “A HOLIDAY IN FRANCE” boldly written in black ink across the top.

“Look, Bon-Bon. Look!” Lyra started to turn the pages to find the place she remembered. She had to be careful with the book, as it was the only copy in existence. As an adult she had spent a great deal of time trying to find out more about the publishers, if perhaps there were more books in the range. Oddly enough though, despite being clearly printed rather than hoof-written, she could find no evidence of any other copies existing in Equestria. Not even Twilight Sparkle had heard of it, and she knew everything about books that was worth knowing.

‘THEY WENT TO THE BEACH. IT HAD ROCKS ON IT BUT SHE STILL LIKED IT AS SHE WAS WITH HER DAD’, the page said. ‘THEN THEY ATE CHIPS. THE FRENCH CALLED THEM FRITES. THERE WAS LOTS OF SALT. IT WAS NICE.’ The illustration showed the two humans from the front cover hunched over chairs in some sort of café, sharing a steaming plate of chips.

“Okay…” Bon-Bon turned away. “Look, the Ice-Cream Fete is soon, and…”

“No, no, it’s here somewhere!” Lyra turned a few more age-worn pages. “Here!”

The illustration showed the small human in an art gallery, pointing inquisitively towards a painting. There wasn’t enough detail to show exactly what the painting was of, but from the splodges of colour, it looked like a group of figures in a forest clustered around something grey.




“See!” Lyra looked up at Bon-Bon and turned the page. “See, I knew I remembered it! It was from the human book!”



The illustration showed the small human running, eyes streaked with tears as if trying to escape the page. Lyra turned over, but the story had moved on to a visit to an old house. “See!” She nodded at Bon-Bon. “It proves it! It proves it’s real!”

“No…” Bon-Bon spoke slowly as if talking to a small filly. “It proves the opposite, Lyra. Dreams are just things you half-remember, jumbled up in your head. Now, please don’t worry, lets get ready to go out.”

Lyra wasn’t listening though. She was staring over Bon-Bon’s shoulder. Despite the sunlight that was streaming in through the windows, the end of the room had become cast into pitch-blackness, stretching into infinity.

“No…” she whispered, a tightness welling up in her throat and that familiar scent of burning. “Bon-Bon! Bon-Bon!” She took a step backwards, wild-eyed and shook her friend. “It’s not a dream! It’s real! It’s actually happening! Bon-Bon!”

As if a reply, from across the void came a soft voice calling out. “Lyra!” it echoed into the room. The human was there, in its armour again, marching forwards with one hand outstretched, coming for her. “Lyra!”

Lyra backward away. Bon-Bon wasn’t turning around. She wasn’t doing anything! She was just standing there as the figure marched forwards. Beads of sweat pricked out on Lyra’s forehead as the figure strode past Bon-Bon, ignoring her entirely, its featureless helmeted visage fixed solidly on Lyra as it reached out to her with that hand and –

“Lyra, snap out of it!”

Lyra came to with a start as Bon-Bon’s hoof slapped her around the cheek. She gasped for air with some degree of shock and blinked, to be met not with the terrible face of doom but with Bon-Bon. “Did you see it, Bon-Bon,” she croaked weakly. “See, I’m not losing it, it’s real!”

Bon-Bon simply shook her head. “No, Lyra, you just… fazed out. You were daydreaming, and it’s all this book’s fault!” She slammed the book shut and pushed it towards Lyra. “Now, stop messing about and let’s get ready to go. If you kept proper sleeping times like normal ponies, this wouldn’t happen!”

“Yeah, I guess…” Lyra mumbled, but a shiver went down her spine. It was so real this time, so real. And had she imagined it, but had the figure got even closer to her? She patted the cover of the book as if to tell it no hard feelings for Bon-Bon mistreating it. “Look, I feel like…” Her eyes shot open as an idea came into her mind. “Wait, I’ve got it! I know who can help me! Only the best, most clever pony in all of Ponyville!”

“Right.” Bon-Bon adjusted a hat in the mirror. “Don’t be too long though, or you’ll miss the Ice-Cream Fete. It’s going to be great. Or at least mildly terrifying.”

“I won’t!” Lyra almost bounded out of the door. Why hadn’t she thought of this sooner? If living in Ponyville had taught her anything it was that sharing problems always solved them. “She’ll be able to help me!”


“Sorry, Lyra, I can’t help you!” Twilight Sparkle fussed about her library, pulling books off the shelves almost at random. She turned to flash a quick but reassuring grin at Lyra. “I mean, yeah, it sounds like an interesting problem, but at the end of the day it’s just a dream, and dreams can’t hurt you.”

“But this one can!” Lyra tried to scoot around and place herself directly in Twilight’s field of view so she couldn’t be ignored. Instead she got a magically propelled book in the back of the head for her trouble. “Ow! Sorry! I mean… It’s just that, I know something terrible will happen if it gets me. End of the world terrible! And there’s the stuff my picture said about death, and uh…” She wrinkled her brow. “I’m sort of actually scared.”

“Oh, Lyra.” Twilight put down the book she was pouring over for a moment to give Lyra a gentle pat on the back. “This is Ponyville, nothing bad ever happens here. And besides, if it is a dream problem, it’s not anything I can help with. That’s Princess Luna’s department. She’s Princess of the Night, and Dreams with a capital ‘D’. Now, if it was a book related problem – ”

“Bon-Bon thinks it’s a book related problem!” Lyra helpfully interrupted.

“Oh.” Twilight frowned. “Do you think it’s a book related problem?”

Lyra shook her head. “No, I think that’s a stupid idea, it’s clearly a dream related problem.”

“Well then.” Twilight turned to get back to her work. Now, Lyra, seriously, I’ve got to get back to work on an actual book related problem. Lickety-Split has gone and obtained a cursed cookery book from a soon to be demoted library assistant –” she stole dark glance at a rather crestfallen Spike who was sitting in the ‘naughty corner’ “ – and she’s released some sort of evil frost fiend and sold out Ponyville for culinary conquests. And you know what that means!”

“Y-yeah…” Lyra frowned. She shook her head. “No, what does that mean?”

“It means…” Twilight threw another book to the floor. “It means that it’s Saturday again, so I only have twenty-two and a half minutes to solve this one, and that’s including any songs that might spring up. So if you don’t mind…”

“Oh. Right. Gotcha.” Lyra gave as polite a nod as she could manage and left Twilight in peace. She was no closer to solving this mystery, but at least if there was a song that might cheer her up.

Lyra stepped back into the midday sun of Ponyville. All around her everyone was happily bustling, and banners and streamers had started to go up for the Ice-Cream Fete. She absent-mindedly waved to her friends as she passed them in the streets, her thoughts more concerned with what Twilight had said.

Princess Luna. It was Princess Luna that was supposed to be looking after dreams and keeping ponies safe from nightmares. So why hadn’t the Princess saved her from this one? Perhaps it was Luna who was waking Lyra up, but… no. Every time, the figure was getting closer and closer and it showed no signs of going away. Just the opposite in fact. So why didn’t the Princess seem to want to help…

Her thoughts were interrupted as she collided with a pony walking in the opposite direction.

“Oh! Sorry!” Lickety-Split smiled a bit too nervously , straightening out her ice-cream cart and checking nothing had broken. “I wasn’t watching where I was going! I hope you’re still coming to the Ice-Cream Fete soon! Here, have a free tub of ice-cream!”

Lickety-Split held out a rather delicious looking bowl of raspberry ripple. Lyra stared at it suspiciously. It was cold and looked like it was actually made from raspberries, two signs that something wasn’t right with Lickety-Split.

“It… it uh…” Lyra tilted her head, frantically thinking for the most polite response. “It’s not uh, cursed or anything, is it?”

Lickety-Split looked like a rabbit caught in front of a runaway cart with the owner’s prize carrot in its possession. “Um…” The hoof holding out the bowl quivered. “Maybe?” she finally offered as a response. Making deals with evil frost fiends from the dawn of time was one thing, but lying was quite another!

Thankfully, Lyra was saved from the awkward social situation of having to refuse an (albeit cursed) friendly bowl of ice-cream by the intervention of Twilight Sparkle, who bounded across the street towards the pair with a scream of “GET HER!” and waving some sort of spatula.

Lickety-Split didn’t hang about, and bolted away from Lyra with her own cry of “HELP ME, EVIL BOOK THAT I TRUST FOR SOME REASON!”, pulling out a frosty, glowing book from within the confines of her lab coat.

Lyra turned to go home. Yeah, it was Saturday again, all right. Probably a song to look forward to, maybe even a reprise if she was lucky. She could hang out with Bon-Bon and eat ice cream, maybe see what June Bug had been up to lately, she could finally even build up the courage to try some of Pinkie Pie’s famed ‘sugar cereal’ (she was sure it was just sugar and milk, but you never knew!).

She gave a grimace as the thoughts of that terrible dream rose again, unbidden. It was coming for her, she knew it. More and more, it wouldn’t stop until it got her and ended the world. She had to sort this out.

She had to see Princess Luna.


“Lo, for one of us lies, and one of us tells the truth and you must guess which is which in order to enter the Princess’s chambers!”

Lyra rolled her eyes at the two guards that stood on either side of the doorway, pikes crossed and blocking the way. “Ugh. Seriously? Are you serious? Really?” It was annoying enough having to walk all the way to Canterlot, but once she’d actually got into the castle, she’d thought that the most she’d have to contend with would be a sleepy princess. If indeed Princess Luna did sleep during the day. Or at all.

Normally, Luna held the Night Court where she would accept all comers to put forward requests and ask boons. Lyra had never gone herself, but had heard tales that all sorts of creatures turned up, strange beings of mist, of light, species that never existed in Equestria and never would. She didn’t want to have to wait for the night though, not if she was in danger of falling asleep again. Princesses were public servants, they were supposed to be accessible in emergencies.

“No, we’re serious! That’s our job!” the guard on the right spoke up again, wiggling his shoulders proudly to show off his shiny black armour. “One of us lies and one of us tells the truth, that’s how it works. You have to ask us one question to work out which is which. That’s our thing.”

“Come in!” came a faint voice from inside the room.

The guards looked at each other shiftily.

“Okay, can I…?” Lyra gave her most winning smile. “I mean, that was the Princess, wasn’t it?”

“I…” The guard on the right looked shifty. “I mean, sure, it could have been, but I’d feel better about doing the whole truth/lie thing first, it’s sort of traditional…”

“Right, fine.” Lyra knocked the guard’s pikes out of the way. They let them drop half-heartedly. “You on the right, you’re the one that tells the truth as you introduced the whole truth/lie thing. If you were the liar then it wouldn’t be true and I could just enter, so let me in.”

The guard swore under his breath. “I told you!” he hissed to his comrade. “I told you we should have got a sign or something!”

“Or maybe said, ‘starting from now!’ when we started!” the guard on the left added. “Then that’s fair and I wouldn’t have to lie all the time!” He twisted his head towards the doorways. “Uh, not that I do, of course. I tell the truth, me.”

Lyra pushed open the door with a huff and marched into Luna’s chambers. Almost instantly she regretted treating the domain of a princess with such disdain and shuffled to a stop, ending in a half-bow, half stumble. “P-Princess Luna, my name is Lyra, and…”

The room was beautiful, as you would imagine the room of any princess to be. The walls were adorned with artwork and drapes, black and blues and silvers. There were cabinets and shelves full of ornaments and globes, none of which Lyra could recognise, but despite all that, there was never the sense of clutter. Or if it was clutter, it was stylish clutter.

Luna herself, the Princess of the Night, stood at a high arched window at the far end of the room, staring out of a telescope that was pointed horizontally across Equestria rather than up at the sky. “I know,” she said with a smile, turning around and letting her impossibly star-speckled mane flow behind her. “I know all of my children, Lyra. I tend the dreams and I protect you as you sleep.”

“Well, yeah…” Lyra scratched the back of her head nervously. She had spent a lot of time on her way here working out exactly how the meeting would go. Most versions had revolved around her self-righteously storming into the room and demanding Luna sort out her nightmares, and Luna apologising immediately and fixing everything so Lyra could go home before she missed out on the day’s song. “It’s just that… it doesn’t feel like that’s been happening. I have this bad dream that keeps happening and…”

Lyra trailed off with a mumble under Luna’s gaze. She wasn’t sure if it was a piercing gaze or a kindly one, and didn’t particularly want to find out. “I mean, I could come back later and…”

“You are loved, Lyra. More so than you know.” Luna gave a smile, and it was the most beautiful thing Lyra had ever seen. “I cannot tell you what you must do, only you can know that, but if you call me, I will be there.” She turned back to the telescope.

‘Yeah, because you’ve done such a swell job of that so far!’ Lyra wanted to scream that thought at Luna, but instead gave a quiet “thanks.”

“Oh.” Luna turned back to Lyra. “You missed the song, by the way. Do not get too caught up in what might happen that you forget about what is happening.” She peered down the view scope. “And at the moment, it seems like there’s some sort of giant monster made out of ice-cream terrorising Ponyville.”

“Right. Well.” Lyra frowned. “It is a Saturday. Are you going to… do anything about it?”

Luna shook her head, engrossed in what she was watching. “You see, Lyra, Lickety-Split dreamed of a better life, and now she has everything she wanted. Success in the kitchen at the cost of friendship and self-respect. A technical victory.”

“It’ll be fine though, right?” Some self-doubt crept into Lyra’s voice. Of course it would be fine. Everything was always fine in Ponyville. But there were the words that drawing had said…

Luna squinted into the eyepiece. “Anyone who could have stood against her has been frozen. The frost fiend is about to flavour itself with the Cutie Marks of the captured ponies, I don’t see what Lickety-Split can…” She fell silent and then burst out laughing. “Oh! Oh, that is clever. Yes, ha! In retrospect, I can see all along where the solution was!” She stood and straightened, shaking her head. “Everything in Ponyville is fine, Lyra. If you hurry back, you might catch the reprise of the song.”

“Oh. That’s good then.” Lyra brightened slightly, but with the sinking feeling that she was being thrown out. She took one last look at the sumptuous surroundings, and froze.

On the wall was a sheet of paper, decorated with a thick black pen-drawn silhouette of a pony. Of her.

“Wait!” she exclaimed, turning to Luna. “Princess, I… I never did that! Not really!”

Luna just smiled again, the stars in her mane drifting lazily across her brow. “I decorate my room with things I find in dreams, Lyra. The shadow sketch is an important thing. There is a story, the oldest story perhaps.” She fixed her attention fully on the impossible sheet of paper. “Once upon a time, long ago in an impossible dream of history, there was a land called Arcadia.” She paused, and shook her head. “No, maybe another time. That tale can wait.”

“But… but…” The words babbled out of Lyra’s lips as a pang of betrayal shot through her. “That means you were there! You did see my dream and you didn’t do anything! Please!” She was almost prepared to throw herself at the Princess’s hooves and beg. “Please! If that human gets me, something terrible will happen, I know it!”

“Lyra.” Luna lowered herself to Lyra’s levels, and stared into her eyes, her big, warm, impossibly infinite pupils gazing at Lyra. “I told you. I am always there for my children. When you need me, I will be there, I promise. You will always sleep soundly in the arms of Morpheus. Now, I have work to do.” She straightened and turned back to the window. “For my realm is vast, and it is always night somewhere.”

Lyra nodded slowly, processing what the Princess had said. “Fine…” she croaked, turning to go. But uh. Hooves.”

“What?” Luna raised a brow.

“Hooves,” Lyra repeated. “You said arms.”

“Ah yes. It is an expression. Now, go and be at peace,” Luna said softly. “Live your life, Lyra.”

Lyra left without another word. Inside her head though, she was screaming. She passed the guards at the door and found a quiet corner of the castle to get her head in order. What Luna had said. The name.

The name she had seen every night she had that terrible dream.

The name emblazoned across the armour of the human that was coming relentlessly to get her.


“What is it?” Lyra muttered, feeling the familiar pangs of panic well up within her. “What isn’t she telling me?”


“So there’s this dream I keep having about someone called Morpheus, and he’s a human even though those don’t exist, and he’s coming to get me, and if he gets me something terrible will happen, and Princess Luna knows but isn’t doing anything about it which isn’t filling me with confidence.” Lyra took a breath and gave her best smile.

Saddle Stitch, the chief librarian of the Canterlot Royal Archive, simply stared at her over a pair of half-moon spectacles. “Psychiatry is over there.” He swept a hoof in the vague direction of a faraway aisle and went back to his reading.

“No. No!” Lyra shook her head firmly. She had been sure that the answers might lie in books, and while in Canterlot, what better place to look than in the biggest collection of books there was. If she couldn’t find what she wanted here, she wouldn’t find it anywhere. Also pretty much every moral lesson tended to revolve around learning being awesome. “Morpheus. He’s some sort of evil human; there must be a book about it somewhere!”

Saddle Stitch rose to his hooves with a huff. “Ugh. Mythology. Follow me, please don’t touch anything, some of the books in that section are very valuable and not really for…” He looked Lyra up and down dismissively. “…Casuals.”

“Well, if it’s casual for saving the world, call me casual!” Lyra snapped back, not quite understanding the reference herself, but hoping it was sort of a compliment. She followed the pony down labyrinth corridors of shelves until they came to a large section full of dusty, faded tomes. At a large table nearby, a green unicorn was diligently scribbling in an old volume.

As Saddle Stitch muttered and huffed and searched the shelves, Lyra gave a nod to the unicorn. “Hey, uh, are you supposed to be writing in that? It looks old.”

“Yeah,” the unicorn nodded. “It’s the history of Equestria. Say…” He sucked on the end of his pen. “What’s a good name for a giant cloud?”

Lyra frowned. “Uh… Puff? No!” She thought about this for a moment. “Nimbo Doomulous! Get it!”

“Yeah. Nimbo Doomulous. Good one!” The unicorn grinned and started to furiously scratch more lines onto the blank pages. “I thought there should be some sort of evil cloud attacking Equestria in the past.”

“Wait. But I just made that up, you can’t put stories that didn’t happen into a history book!” Lyra almost echoed Saddle Stitch’s earlier indignation. “That’s not true!”

The unicorn put the pen down slowly and turned to face Lyra. “Stories can be made up and still be absolutely true, Lyra.” He held out a hoof. “Dusty Shelves. Royal histographer – slash – storyteller.”

Lyra held out her hoof too and then faltered. “Lyra… but… oh. I guess you know that?” She gave a start as a heavy volume thumped down onto the table in front of her.

“There,” Saddle Stitch grunted, carefully opening the book, which creaked and spewed forth a plume of dust in Lyra’s face. “Very old. Very valuable. Sadly there are no reprints, so please be careful with it. Use this to turn the page.” He placed a small stick in front of Lyra. “If I see any hoofprints on the pages… well, let’s not even go there.”

Lyra looked down at the book with trepidation. She automatically reached out to turn the page, and then just in time realised her mistake. Under the slightly more approving gaze of Saddle Stitch, she used the stick to turn the page. “Is… is there an index?”

Saddle Stitch rolled his eyes and turned the pages until he came to one with a striking illustration scratched with ancient ink into the paper. It was of some sort of creature, two armed and two legged. It wasn’t like the thing in Lyra’s dream though. This figure had long flowing hair and stars instead of eyes. “Morpheus,” he announced in a slightly bored tone, tracing his eyes over the ornate writing. “Also known as the Sandman or Dream or the Prince of Stories. Older than history, he is a very, very old god. Lives in his castle of dreams. Born when the first idea came into the world, guardian of art and protector of… am I boring you, Lyra?”

Lyra stared at the picture and them back at Saddle Stitch. “It’s wrong!” she said, almost accusingly. “That’s not what he looks like! He’s got armour, and a helmet, and…”

Saddle Stitch tutted as if addressing a particularly obstinate filly. “If you’d let me continue. As the master of dreams he can shapeshift into any form, but his natural form is a winged beast.” He placed extra emphasis on the last part, rising from the book and focussing instead on Lyra. “You see?”

“I see what?” Lyra blinked.

With a sigh, Saddle Stitch continued. “The Morpheus legend only appears in very early fables. It is clearly a distortion of actual events, for we all know Princess Luna is guardian of the realm of dreams, and her form is…” He mouthed the word ‘winged’ at Lyra.

“She’s a… yeah… look, I know.” Lyra wrinkled her nose in annoyance. “It’s not Luna though. It’s not the Princess. She knows about Morpheus and she won’t stop him! He’s gonna come for me, and this doesn’t help me at all!” She thumped her head down on the table in despair, the book being saved only from a quick reaction from Saddle Stitch.

“I’m sorry,” Lyra mumbled sulking. “I just…” She stopped talking and gazed past Saddle Stitch. Down the corridor of lonely library shelves, the lights were going off, one by one, the darkness creeping closer. “Oh no…” she whispered, getting to her hooves and moving around the table as if it would protect her. The darkness swirled into pitch black infinity before her. “I’m daydreaming again.”

“Lyra!” The voice, that same voice, echoed from the inky night. Through the void and into the library stalked the figure again, one hand outstretched, face impassive and invisible beneath the helmet. That terrible, terrible gloved hand, moving closer and closer. “Lyra!”

“Wake up! Wake up!” Lyra slapped her face frantically. “Princess Luna! Princess Luna! You said you’d come! You promised!”

Saddle Stitch and Dusty Shelves both paled as they turned to follow Lyra’s gaze. “No, Lyra,” Saddle Stitch said softly, all hint of the previous resentment gone. “No, you’re not dreaming.”

Into the real world the figure stalked, drawing impassively closer, never stopping its stride. It was close enough now that Lyra could read the words on its chest. ‘MORPHEUS’.

The smell was back. That burning smell, and the lump in her throat, and she could hear the rasping breathing and the panic welled up inside her and she… “RUN!” Lyra screamed at the top of her voice, turning tail and scrambling down the winding library corridors as fast as she could.

She didn’t look back. Of course she couldn’t, because Morpheus would be right behind her. But Saddle Stitch and Dusty Shelves would be okay, wouldn’t they. Nothing bad ever happened in Equestria. They’d sort it out. She just had to escape. Nothing bad would happen.

But the words bobbed back to the surface in her mind.

Et in Arcadia ego.


She was back in Ponyville. The sun was still shining as if the blackness of infinity hadn’t broken through into the Canterlot Royal Library, and everyone was laughing and joking and generally being happy.

Lyra just huddled down in a corner of the street and gently wept. She should have gone back for them. No, it was her that Morpheus was after, not them. They’d have been fine. They would probably have fetched the guards and the princesses and sorted out the whole mess, and if she had stayed they’d all be laughing about this right now and it was important that she got out of there to lead Morpheus away and she wasn’t just a big baby coward and…

“Lyra?” A strong pair of hooves wrapped around her shoulders and gave them a big squeeze.

Lyra looked up into the face of her best friend in the whole world and wiped her eyes as if she hadn’t been crying at all, just like a big girl. “I’m sorry,” she wobbled, her bottom lip trembling treacherously. “Bon-Bon, I uh… I’m scared an’ something’s coming for me and I don’t want to… to die and…”

“Oh, don’t be silly, Lyra.” Bon-Bon gave her another comforting hug. “This is Ponyville, nothing bad ever happens here. Look.” She gestured towards the town square which still held a few tattered banners from the earlier Ice- Cream Fete. “We survived the ice-cream apocalypse, after all! You missed the song, but we’ve not done the reprise yet! There’s Lickety-Split, see! She’s a hero now, even though she sold us all out to that frost fiend, because she realised the power of true friendship!”

Lyra stared across the square at Lickety-Split, who had a small crowd gathered around her and was rather awkwardly laughing in that way that you do when you’ve just sold everyone out to an evil from the dawn of time but then somehow made it all come good anyway. “How did she, uh…”

“Oh, it was very clever,” Bon-Bon nodded thoughtfully. “The frost fiend had made himself a new body out of plain ice-cream, and wanted to flavour himself by stealing all the Cutie Mark powers. He was going to start with Twilight as she is the most powerful pony, but at the last minute, Lickety-split realised what was really important and jumped in front and it took her powers instead.”

Lyra frowned. “But all Lickety-Split does is make ice-cream. Really, really badly.”

“Yeah! That’s why it’s clever!” Bon-Bon smiled. “See, the frost fiend was made of ice-cream, and he gained the power of only being able to make terrible melty ice-cream, so he melted and everything was restored to normal. Then we sang a song. It was really exciting, but…” She trailed off and gently swiped away the last remaining tear on Lyra’s cheek. “I’m sure what you did was exciting too.”

“No.” Lyra shook her head. “But… I dunno. Thanks Bon-Bon.” She gave her friend a weak smile. “I’m just gonna go talk to Lickety-Split for a bit.”

Bon-Bon brightened up in return. “Yeah, you do that, Lyra! Then maybe we can go home and I can cook some sweets and pretend I don’t know where they all went the next day!”

“Thanks, Bon-Bon. You’re the best!” Lyra gave a little wave to her friend and trotted over to Lickety-Split. “Hey, uh, Lickety. So you came good in the end?”

“Oh, hi there!” Lickety-Split looked up from her small gathering and gave a nervous ruffle of her ice-cream soaked mane. “Yeah, I mean, I feel terrible about it all, but everyone’s being so nice. I guess…” she shrugged. “Ice-cream is an art, it should make ponies feel better, not bring about the apocalypse. I got everything I wanted but ended up hurting everyone and just realised I needed to let go. I mean, I guess there’s a moral in there somewhere. Don’t borrow library books or something. I’ll work it out before the song reprise, don’t worry.”

“Yeah, but…” Lyra scratched a hoof nervously into the ground. Something was coming. Something dark and terrible. Even in Arcadia. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “What if you’d died, Lickety? What if you tried to save the day and you just died instead.

Lickety-Split stared at Lyra in horror. “What? No. No, don’t say that, Lyra. No.” She shook her head firmly. “This is Ponyville, Lyra. Nothing bad ever happens here, not really.”

“I know.” Lyra sunk to her haunches. “It’s just…”

Above her, the clock tower struck out a loud, resounding note.


Lyra’s head snapped up in alarm. She sniffed. There it was again, that burning smell.


“Bon-Bon!” Lyra gave a panicked warble in the direction of her departing friend. “Bon-Bon! It’s happening again! But I’m awake! I’m awake!”


Bon-Bon rushed back to Lyra’s side, a look of confusion and concern etched onto her face. “Lyra, what’s wrong?”


“Listen!” Lyra cried out. She tried to swallow hard, only she couldn’t. In the distance, where Canterlot should just be a fuzzy faraway fairy-tale castle, there was only blackness. Blackness in the afternoon sun.


“Don’t be silly, Lyra!” Bon-Bon exclaimed. It’s only chiming out five. At…” She looked up at the clock face. “At three o’clock.”


The blackness rushed in from the distance like an ebony ocean crashing down a corridor. It swept through the streets of Ponyville and along the alleyways until it reached Lyra’s hooves.


All heads turned towards the centre of that infinite void. A voice rang out.




It was here. He was here. Morpheus. In the real world. Striding forwards, one gloved hand outstretched, face impossible to see.


“Oh my…” Bon-Bon shrank back besides Lyra. “It’s real!” she gasped out. “I’m sorry, Lyra. It… it’s all real!”


“He’s coming for me!” Lyra looked this way and that, more sweat dribbling down her forehead. She shook Bon-Bon in a frenzy of panic. “W-what do I do? Bon-Bon, I don’t wanna die! What do I do?”


He was coming. Closer now. Walking slowly and yet impossibly fast. He was on the outskirts of Ponyville. The side streets. Marching through the void, never dropping that terrible gloved hand.




“Princess Luna! Please!” Tears started to run down Lyra’s cheeks. There was nowhere she could run. “Help me! Please! You promised!” She stared around the town. Everyone but her and Bon-Bon were rooted to the spot, transfixed on the figure. “Help me!”


A gloved hand reached out towards her cheek. She trembled. She squeezed her eyes shut.

The clock tower fell silent.

Equestria fell silent.

Glove against skin.


Lyra froze, the only sound the thumping of her terrified heart deep in her chest. And then there was another sound. An unexpected one.

Morpheus was crying.

She hesitantly opened her eyes and looked up at the figure that had terrified her for as long as she could remember.

He knelt down and embraced her, one powerful gloved hand wrapped around her mane and holding her tight. “Oh, Lyra, my Lyra. My little baby. Look at you.”

Lyra actively recoiled, pulling away from the embrace and moving to Bon-Bon’s side for protection. “What…” the question rose on her lips and then faded. All around her Ponyville was still, swathed in inky blackness. No-one was moving. No-one but her, Bon-Bon and Morpheus.

“I don’t understand. Lyra, what…” Bon-Bon backed up in confusion, and then came to a thudding halt as she ran into something. Something that hadn’t’ been there a moment before. She turned and stifled a scream as Morpheus stood behind her.

Lyra looked at Morpheus as he knelt before he, one arm outstretched again. “Please, Lyra,” his voice boomed from the helmet. “It’s me.”

She turned to see Morpheus again as he stood behind Bon-Bon. A second Morpheus. Identical to the first: the same armour, the same helmet, the same name emblazoned on his chest. Lyra gulped, she swallowed as hard as she could even though she suddenly found it very, very hard to swallow again. “What’s going on? Don’t hurt us!”

The standing figure motioned to its fellow, and reached its hands up to its helmet, releasing some sort of catch. There was a hissing of air and the helmet slowly lifted off to reveal a pale, bespectacled human face, the sort she had seen many times in her storybook. It muttered words to its fellow that Lyra didn’t understand. “It’s stable now, it’s safe.”

Ignoring Bon-Bon, the helmetless figure pushed forwards to Lyra, crouching down with a nervous smile across its strange features. “Hi, Lyra,” it said, keeping a slight distance and showing the palms of its gloves. “Look, I know this is probably very scary for you, but I promise, it’s going to be okay. It’s me, Doctor Kyle. Do you remember me, Lyra?”

Lyra took a back step, looking plaintively in Bon-Bon’s direction. “Bon-Bon!” she called. “Help! I don’t…”

The other figure slowly released the catches on its helmet too, revealing a roughly bearded, careworn face. Lyra’s words caught in her throat. That face. She recognised that face. How could she not. It was from that book. No longer a smudge of watercolours but something real and here and in front of her.

“Lyra…” he pleaded, eyes trembling gently with tears. “It’s me. It’s your dad.” He glanced across to the other figure. “Why can’t she remember?”

Bon-Bon scooted across to Lyra’s side, protectively. “Look!” she snapped. “I don’t know who you are or what you – ”

The other figure – the one calling himself Doctor Kyle, cut across Bon-Bon’s words, speaking calmly and slowly. “Lyra. I’m sorry if we scared you. You’re going to be confused, and that’s normal, don’t worry about it. You’re not very well, Lyra. You’ve not been very well for a while and we had to put you into what’s called a medically induced coma. Because it was for quite some time, we used a machine called MORPHEUS to stop any nightmares and make sure you had good dreams.” He patted his suit. “That’s how we got in here. These suits let us project ourselves into your dreams.”

“You mean… no.” Lyra screwed her eyes shut momentarily to block out this madness, but opened them again, looking between the two for any signs of duplicity. “It’s… it’s not real?”

“It’s My Little Pony.” The one claiming to be her father gave a little laugh. “You love that, Lyra. I used to read you the books when you were little. They said they could make a world just like the stories, so you’d be safe and protected and nothing bad could happen, not really. All those fun stories, you remember? Twilight Sparkle and her friends? Ponyville? The two Pony Princess sisters, Celestia and Cadance? Canterlot Castle?”

“But…” Lyra sunk back down to the floor. “No, Morpheus is some old god, and what about L – ”

“There’s no such thing as gods,” Doctor Kyle said gently. “It’s a machine, Lyra. Look about you. We’ve paused it.”

A terrible thought crept into Lyra’s head, one she didn’t even want to speak aloud. But she knew she had to. “What… what about Bon-Bon?”

“Yeah, what about me?” Bon-Bon exclaimed, eyes wide in panic. “I’m real too, aren’t I? I mean, I feel real! Of course I’m real!”

“Bon-Bon is real. Sort of. You remember her, right, Lyra?” The one that called himself her father reached into a sealed pocket of his suit, and pulled out a soft lump of fabric. He offered it to Lyra. “I thought… maybe if I took the memory of this in, it might help you remember. It’s Bon-Bon, your best friend.”

Lyra looked down at what she now held in her hooves. A small, tatty yellow felt pony, stuffed with cotton wool. She had never seen it before in her life. And yet she had. “I…”

“No, I’m real!” Bon-Bon lunged for Lyra, shaking her frantically. “Lyra, I’m real! Tell them I’m real!”

Lyra’s mouth dropped open as something stirred deep inside her, the toy clutched in her hooves. She looked into the eyes of her best friend in the entire world. “Course you’re real, Bon-Bon. You and me, together, to the end of the world. You’re always real to me.”

Bon-Bon stopped shaking Lyra and smiled. She smiled as she faded away into nothingness.

And then Lyra and the two figures were alone. Alone at the end of the world.

“Sorry,” Doctor Kyle gave a weak smile. “I had to turn her off. This is important, Lyra.”

“No! No, this is important!” Lyra turned to the bearded figure. “I mean.” She shook her head. “I’m so confused, I don’t even…” She paused. Something deep inside her came rushing back. “We went on holiday,” she whispered. “To France. They called chips ‘frites’ there.” She could almost taste the salt on her lips. “Why can I remember that?”

She trembled. There was more. More of it, bubbling to the surface and once it started it didn’t want to stop, and none of it wanted to come in any real order. She had a key ring shaped like a red car. She got in trouble once for playing marbles in class. She ate a whole cheesecake and everyone got very angry. Her mum died. There was bad news and everyone was sad.

Her eyes snapped back to the bearded figure and she tried to control her breathing but it was so hard to breath. “D-dad?”

“Lyra! Oh, my Lyra!” He dived forwards, hugging her so tightly. “Oh my Lyra, my Lyra! You’re all I’ve got left, I’ll never let you go, I promise!”

“Look, this is important.” It was Doctor Kyle again, slightly more insistent this time. “Sometimes, Lyra, sometimes you can’t just wake up. Sometimes you go a bit too deep and you’ve got to be brought out. That’s why we’ve had to come in ourselves, but you need to want to wake up. There’s a procedure we need to do, and you need to be awake for it, and we can’t just bring you out of this coma, as the shock could…” He fumbled with his hands awkwardly.

Doctor Kyle. Yes. Lyra started to remember. Doctor Kyle was clever. Everyone said how good he was. They said that with him treating her, there was nothing to worry about. “I get it, I need to wake up properly or I’ll die, right. I’m an adult, I get it. But…” She frowned. “I first saw you when I was what… ten? And I’m twenty now. Why did it take you so long?” She gave a little start. “Oh god, how long have I been in the coma? Am I… old?”

Her dad started to speak, but the words died in his throat. Doctor Kyle gave her a kindly look. “Lyra, look… we’ve been trying to get you out for the past week. You’ve been in the coma for three weeks.”

“Three… weeks?” Lyra shook her head. “No. No, come on, I’d know! I remember the last twenty years! Well, not the first bit, but…”

“Lyra,” her dad said firmly. “Lyra, please listen to me. You’re eleven. Time’s funny in dreams, you know that. You’re my little girl.” He reached forwards and hugged her again.

“Oh come on, no!” Lyra felt panic rising in her chest. “No, I’m a grown-up! I mean, I have my own cookie cutter! And I have a job drawing shapes and I… oh.” The realisation hit her. She couldn’t process it, not now. “But I remember it all and… oh. Drawing shapes isn’t a job.”

Her dad smiled at her, though it was a smile twinged with a slight quiver at the edge of his lips. “You need to wake up, Lyra. Please. Today. They need to do the operation now or you’ll die today.”

Lyra nodded, running a hoof through her mane. She probably didn’t even have a mane in real life. She shook that thought out of her head. Of course she didn’t have a mane in real life. “Okay.” She gulped as well as she could. “Of course, I mean, you’re here to save me. I want to get better, of course, I do! Why do you even need to ask?”

There was no reply. They both stood there in silence. Lyra looked between them with concern. “You’re not replying. Why aren’t you replying?”

“Lyra, look.” Doctor Kyle spoke again in his soft, calm voice. “You’re ill, you’re very, very ill. You’ll die today if we don’t operate, but if we do, you could have one, two weeks more.”

“What?” Lyra turned to see her father, eyes burning in betrayal. “I’m still gonna die? Why – why did you wake me up in the first place? I was having a good life! I don’t…” her voice crept to a whisper. “I don’t wanna die.”

“I know, sweetheart.” Her dad was crying. Dad’s weren’t supposed to cry, that isn’t what they did. “They’ve tried everything, I promise. And you’ll have time with me, back in the real world. That’s what matters, more time. We’ll do everything we can for you, I promise. Everything. No matter what.”

“Okay.” Lyra’s voice was barely a croak. “Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s wake up.”

“Good.” Doctor Kyle moved forwards placing a hand gently on her shoulder. “Now, don’t panic, Lyra. We’re going to slowly turn off the machine. Once that happens, this place will be wiped from its memory banks, so you should say goodbye. Then you’ll wake up, and I can’t… I can’t promise it won’t hurt. You’ll be in a lot of pain, I’m sorry. But you’ll be alive and with your family.”

He smiled.

Her dad smiled.

Lyra tried to smile. She nearly succeeded.

The two humans put back on their helmets. They held tightly onto her.

All around her, Ponyville was dark, and fading further into the inky blackness. “Goodbye, Twilight!” she called at one of the rapidly vanishing figures. Goodbye Pinkie Pie, and Lickity Split. Goodbye Canterlot Castle. And goodbye Bon-Bon, You’ll always be my best friend in the whole world. You were always real to me, and that’s what matters.”

Everything went back. And then almost like a tear in a strip of acetate film, the world was rent asunder as they tumbled out of the blackness and into a white void that stretched forever.

“Keep calm, Lyra!” Doctor Kyle shouted through his helmet, his voice odd and muffled. “It’s important you keep calm! This is the bit where you wake up! Kee – ”

There was the hissing of a mechanical pump as it rose and fell. A burning smell in her nose. Her vision was blurry and everything was a white haze which slowly fell into focus in one eye, but not the other.

Lyra was awake. She was awake. She was lying down on a bed, and there was a ceiling and humans – people – all around her. She could feel tubes snaking into her arms and she tried to breathe but there was something in her throat and it hurt and she started to panic and –

“No, Lyra, please!” It was her dad. He was still wearing the suit, but starting to pull off the gloves, pushing a white-clad nurse out of the way. He loomed into her vision, a friendly but nervous smile across her face.” The tube helps you breathe, Lyra. Just… please, calm down.”

Lyra whimpered. She couldn’t move, not properly. She wanted to swallow but she couldn’t. She was in the real world and it was just a room and out of the corner of her eye she could see someone wheeling a large boxy machine away from her bedside and she knew that Equestria was gone forever, and she could never go back and she wanted to cry and –

“Lyra, calm down.” Doctor Kyle was there too. He nodded at a nurse who adjusted some dials. Immediately Lyra felt a calming wave pass over her. “Don’t worry, Lyra.” He patted the side of her bed. “We’re pumping you full of stimulants and painkillers so you don’t fall asleep again. The operation will be painless, I promise, but uh…”

Lyra frantically twisted her eyes this way and that. She tried to raise a hand to pull at one of the tubes going into her, but it felt so, so frail.

Doctor Kyle gently placed her hand back at her side. “I’m sorry, Lyra. I know it hurts, but that’s what’s keeping you alive. This is it.”

“But you’ll have more time now.” Her dad squeezed her other hand tight. “I promise, we’ll do everything we can. Everything. You’d be dead today if we didn’t. I’ll be here the whole time, and I’ll never let you go, I promise.” He squeezed her hand again.

Lyra squeezed back. Hard. As hard as she could. It hurt. It hurt more and more as she woke up. It hurt in her arms and her chest but mostly in her head. She wanted to cry and scream out but she couldn’t, she wanted to flail and run but she was trapped, she wanted –

“Doctor, she’s in pain, can you…” Her dad urgently barked across the bedside.

She wanted –

Doctor Kyle shook his head. “Sorry, we’ve given her the maximum safe dose of both.”

She wanted –

“You’ve gotta be brave.” Her dad squeeze her hand again. He was crying. Dad’s shouldn’t cry. “Please, be brave. You can do this.”

She wanted to go back home.

They fussed about her, the nurses and doctors and they tried to help her but they were only making it worse.

But there was a promise. And promises were special.

‘Please.’ She couldn’t speak, so she thought. She thought as hard as she could until she thought she might scream. ‘Please, Princess Luna. Please. You promised. I want to go home. Not home, but… back. Home. You promised!’

There was no reply. Of course there was no reply. Around her everyone looked busy, and there was the constant thrumming of the machines and the ice-sharp stabbings of pain and only her dad was there, squeezing her hand as they tried to extend her life as much as they could.

And a nurse. One of the nurses. Lyra could see her out of the corner of her blurry vision. She had hair, beautiful blue hair and eyes that were stars.

Her vision faded again. She could hear panicked shouting. Someone was saying that it was impossible for her to sleep, that she had been given so many stimulants. Doctor Kyle was shouting at someone. Her dad was gripping her hand tight, begging her to hold on. And the voices faded along with her vision and she –

And she slipped back. Lyra took a long hard gulp. She could feel the pain, but it was slowly ebbing away. She was back in the white void. It stretched around her into infinity.

More importantly, she was herself again. Four legs. A swishy tale. The void rumbled like thunder, there was a shattering of glass. She stumbled back and forth as the invisible ground beneath her began to break.

“Lyra!” A voice echoed across the whiteness. It was her father, suited up again and bounding towards her. Driven by instinct, Lyra bolted, running away from him.

“Lyra, please!” It was Doctor Kyle. He was trailing after her father but soon catching up. “Please, you’ve got to wake up! We need to do this operation or you’ll die today!”

“No!” Lyra shouted, running as fast as she could. “I want to go back! I’m going back!”

“Lyra, listen to us!” It was her dad again. He was getting close. “The MORPHEUS machine has been turned off, you can’t go back, even if you wanted to! Even if we wanted you do! That world’s gone, you’ve got to come back to the real world!”

“Look at this!” Doctor Kyle frantically gestured all around him. “The machine was making everything calm! It was controlling your dreams! Anything could happen, nightmares, anything! Please, wake up and let us help you!”

“No!” Lyra skidded to a halt, turning round. It felt like the right thing to do. A edge of determination crept into her voice. “What about what I want? I know the truth now – thanks – but I get to choose! And I choose going back!”

“You can’t.” Her father stopped before her and took a step forwards, holding up his hands. “Listen to us, Lyra. I love you so much, I can’t let you slip away. And you can’t go back, it’s impossible.”

Lyra shook her head. “No. It’s not impossible. I was promised. Princess Luna promised me.”

This took her dad by surprise, and a frown crossed his features. “Princess Luna? Who’s –”

“She is the Princess of Dreams,” Lyra began. The rumbling of thunder grew closer. “She lives in a magic castle and she protects all her children, and I think she is a very, very old god.”

There was an almighty crash as the skies of the white void burst open, flapping like a piece of ripped film. High above her head she could see colours and light.

“I…” Doctor Kyle looked up, mouth agape. “I don’t know what this is, Lyra, some sort of fever dream. I promise you, you can’t go back. That’s not how dreams work, trust me, I’m a doctor.”

If only she had wings. You were supposed to be able to fly in dreams. Lyra saw the rent in the sky above her, so close and yet so far away.


Voices called down to her.


Shapes were dropping out of the crack, one after another, small pastel blobs that held onto each other in a wildly swinging chain that reached down into the void. They were all there, all of them, all here to rescue her. Lyra ran towards it as it reached the ground. There was Pinkie Pie clutching onto Twilight who was clutching onto Lickety-Split, and more, so many more. And at the bottom, there was Bon-Bon, wonderful Bon-Bon, her best friend in the whole entire world.

“Lyra!” Bon-Bon cried, holding out her hooves. “Grab on!”

Lyra leapt as high as she could, hooves reaching out… and she fell headfirst onto the ground. “No!” The panic welled up inside her again, stabbing at her chest. “No!” She strained, reached up as high as she could, but it just wasn’t enough. Bon-Bon swung above her at the end of a precarious line of her friends who were risking everything to save her and it just wasn’t enough.

As she strained and cried out in frustration, two large pairs of gloved hands grabbed her and pulled her back. “I’ve got you, Lyra!” her dad cried out, voice cracking. “We can go home. Please. Lyra, please. You’ll die today if you don’t!”

Lyra yelped out helplessly, trying to wriggle out of his grasp but failing. “Please!” she begged. “Please! Today like this or next week like that? Please dad! We’re all dying anyway, all of us! It’s how we live that’s the important thing! Please, let go!”

He didn’t reply. He held her for what seemed like forever. And then a pair of strong hands lifted her into the air. Her hooves touched Bon-Bon’s.

They brought her home.


Lyra woke with a start, sitting bolt-upright, grass clinging to her back. She was in a field just outside Ponyville. Above her the sky was pure blue, and the sounds of the aftermath of a rather disastrous Ice-Cream Fete rang in her ears.

Had it been a dream?

She shook her head. No, this was the dream. But like all good stories, it was at the same time, absolutely true. She slowly climbed to her hooves and found that she was not alone.

“I don’t believe it.” Doctor Kyle was there. He had taken off his helmet and was staring around himself, rubbing his eyes in a slightly woozy manner. “This shouldn’t be possible. The MORPHEUS machine isn’t even here, you shouldn’t be able to – “

Lyra smiled to herself. Somewhere there was a castle that had probably not existed in the original stories this land was based on, and yet was there all the same. Someone who watched over all of the dreams. Maybe. “I had help.”

On her other side, her father stood, his face a mixture of… she wasn’t sure. “I’m sorry,” he just said with a soft smile. “Please, Lyra, I only wanted what’s best for you, I don’t want you to…”

“It’s fine, dad.” She nuzzled against him. “I know the truth now, and that’s good. And I might have a day, or however long that is in dreams, but sometimes what’s best is to let go before you just hurt everyone.” She gave him a friendly pat on the side. “Now, do you want to go into Ponyville and meet all my friends? We might be in time for the song's reprise. You and me, together?”

Her dad smiled back. “You and me. ‘Til the end of the world.”


...And so the shadow of the shepherd fell across the tomb, and it was the cold shadow that was the discovery of mortality, and his companion too reached out.

He saw the shadow of the first shepherd and recognised the lines that it made. He traced in wonderment the silhouette of his fellow man, and so in that moment, painting was discovered, the first image in the history of art and ideas. For the discovery of art was borne from the discovery of mortality and whilst death may lurk even in Arcadia, it is the creative impulse that challenges and fights against it and makes us better than we are. From that one fateful day it has been the duty of art to console, to inspire, and to make simple existence into life.

Of course, that was just a story. A story that never happened, yet is completely true.

Long ago, in an impossible dream of history.

Author's Notes:

Thanks to Arcanium for reading this with his human eyes.

For those keeping score, major references here are Ovid (no, not DC comics, the actual mythology) and the painting "The Arcadian Shepherds" by Poussin. It's a famous one, you've seen it. Trust me.

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