Tantabus Communication Protocol

by Rambling Writer

Chapter 1: reporter.convince();

Coranto was a slim unicorn with a deep blue coat, a curly gray mane and tail, an undeveloped photograph for a cutie mark, and a love for wallowing in trash and dirty laundry.

The informative kind, not the physical kind.

As a pop-cultural investigative reporter and photographer (she avoided terms like “tabloid journalist” and “paparazza”; they were simply loaded), Coranto fancied herself a finder of the truth, a digger-up of muck. She would do whatever it took to get to the bottom of things. She would find the actual story, the heart of the matter, whether she had to wait behind that bush for hours in preparation for the perfect shot, or climb up that trellis to get to that window, or even literally muck about in literal excrement for evidence (that hadn’t been a pleasant day).

Or pester Luna during Night Court again. Again. Castle gossip said Luna had had a baby, and that meant she’d definitely had a baby, and she was not going to get off scot-free with the patently absurd story of a sapient, artificially constructed, self-aware entity that patrolled dreams. The very idea was ridiculous, and yet Luna would not budge from it.

“Princess!” bellowed Coranto, pushing her way to front of the crowd in the throne room, waving her quill and notepad with her magic. “For the third time, I-”

From her place on the throne, Luna sighed and planted her face in her hoof. “You again? Don’t you have anything better to do besides faffing about here?”

“Not at all, Princess! Not! At! All!” A promising sign, Coranto thought. She might be budging. You could always wear down a brick wall if you hit it for long enough. Oh, it’d be painful and bloody and you’d probably get somepony complaining about you attacking their wall and trying to break in, but it was a skill Coranto had perfected over the years, and it was almost always worth it. Fortunately, another skill she’d perfected was telling whether or not it was worth it. And this? This was most definitely worth it. “So, tell me-”

Luna rolled her eyes and groaned. “I swear to me… You’re never gonna let go of this, are you?”

“Of course not!” snapped Coranto. Keep pressing, Coranto had learned. Never give up. As long as you never gave up, you’d always have a chance that they’d cave. “Princess, I’ll admit you’re powerful and can control dreams. But the concept of you creating a- a thing to do so, especially one that can only exist in dreams, is outside the realm of possibility!”

“And the idea that the servant heard a rumor that mutated into something that totally isn’t the truth is also impossible?”

“I know my sources!” Coranto wiggled her quill at Luna. “And this one is reliable!” Indeed, that particular servant hadn’t yet steered Coranto wrong, and she doubted this would be a first. Aside from the whole dream pony thing. “You had a baby, and I will not be deterred until you give me the father’s name!”

Luna rolled her eyes again. “Uuuuugh. Fiiiiiiiiiiine.” She inhaled. “Trenderhoof.”

The quill snapped in Coranto’s magical grip. “Trenderhoof?” she gasped. Of all the stallions in the world, he was Luna’s secret lover?

Luna nodded. “Trenderhoof.”

“Trenderhoof!” yelled the crowd.

Trenderhoof?!” bellowed a familiar voice, thick with that alluring Trottingham accent. The crowd shifted, and Fancy Pants leapt from the gap and into the spotlight. He whipped up his searing, monocled gaze to Luna and began approaching the throne, his strutting hoofsteps in time with the trumpets. Coranto quickly shuffled aside to give him room.

My lady,” warbled Fancy Pants, tossing his head and mane (so sexy!), “I do believe you told me, your brand new little pony, she was miiiiiine!” (“She was mine!” echoed the chorus.)

Another spotlight highlighted Luna as she swept down the throne’s steps, her stare locked with Fancy Pants’s and her graceful sashaying synched with the strings. “My servant-” (Luna had a spectacular singing voice, Coranto thought.) “I thought that you deserved it: an absolutely perfect little liiiiiie!” (“Little lie!” echoed the chorus.)

Fancy Pants and Luna began circling each other. “And yet whyyyy in the woooorld would you lie- to- me?” answered Fancy Pants, his hoofwork impeccable. “Oh, have IIII displeased yoooou, oh your ma-jes-ty?

Rest assuuuured, you were noooot, good sir Fan-cy- Pants,” responded Luna. “You were meeeerely a viiiictim of cir-cum-stance!

“Ha! Gold,” Coranto whispered to herself as she scribbled shorthoof down on a notepad. “Luna having an affair with Trenderhoof and Fancy Pants? This’ll make front page news across the nation! For weeks!” Lots of entertainment for the crowds, lots of money for her. Bliss.

“That’s nothing,” said the alicorn next to her. “Wait ‘til you see the chorus line.”

“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Coranto, still scribbling. “Quiet, I gotta-”


She turned to look. Standing right next to her was an alicorn. Not one she recognized — she’d remember that starry coat — and she couldn’t tell whether they were a stallion or a mare, not even from the voice. They were staring Coranto in the face as if she were a vaguely interesting painting and slurping some soda from a straw and paper cup. Something at the back of Coranto’s mind kept saying that there was something a touch unusual about the alicorn, with their softly glowing eyes and their constantly fluctuating night-sky coat and their constantly fluctuating different-night-sky mane and their general negative-space appearance, but whenever she was getting somewhere, the alicorn would take an obnoxiously long, obnoxiously loud drink of soda and derail her train of thought. Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp.

The alicorn raised an eyebrow. “What?” Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp.

Coranto huffed, flicked her tail, and rolled her eyes. “Nothing,” she said. Why’d she forgotten to not get distracted by watchers? When on the job, the subjects of her articles were the only ones that mattered. She went back to jotting down notes an-

She looked down at her quill. Hadn’t she broken it?

Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp. The alicorn snickered. “You should take a look at your face. It’s hilarious.” Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp.

Coranto glared at the alicorn. Some ponies just didn’t get the importance of proper note-taking in journalism. “Shut up,” she hissed. “I can barely think over the drums, and if you keep in-”

Trumpets? Strings? Drums? And hadn’t the alicorn mentioned a chorus line?

Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp. “Almost there…” Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp.

And then, finally, Coranto remembered that, no matter how much she liked to think otherwise, famous members of high society did not spontaneously break out into grandiose, show-stopping, Bridleway-style song and dance routines like this. It was the commoners that did that.

Coranto sighed as she watched the elaborate Bucksby Berkeley-style dance number in the suspended overhead mirror. “A dream,” she muttered, tossing the notepad and quill over her shoulder. “This is all a dream.” Such a shame. A Luna-Fancy-Trenderhoof triangle would’ve been sublime times infinity.

“Well, duh,” said the alicorn. Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp. “I can only really exist in dreams, y’know.” They chucked the cup somewhere into the crowd. It never seemed to hit the ground. “And it took you long enough. I mean, really. I was making Mom say stuff like ‘totally’ and ‘faffing’ and you didn’t get it?”

“It was a dream,” Coranto said with a scowl. “You don’t notice things like that in dreams.”

“Just like the way you haven’t noticed the way my coat keeps shifting?” the alicorn asked with a smirk. “Or the way I’ve been referring to Luna as ‘Mom’? Or the way you’re suddenly dreaming lucidly now that you’ve met me?”

“Well, that’s…” Coranto blinked and surveyed the crowd. Although they continued on with their song, they all seemed to be background, now, unimportant. The alicorn, on the other hoof, felt… vital, somehow. And she was lucid dreaming, something she’d never done before. But that implied- No. Impossible. “So… you’re saying… you’re… the…” She wracked her head for the name of the thing that absolutely wasn’t standing in front of her. “…the Tantabus?”

The alicorn — the Tantabus? — grinned broadly. Holding their — its? — head high, it flared its wings and said, “The one and only! Co-sandmare of Equestria, oneironaut extraordinaire, and quite possibly the greatest tulpa in history! And not just ‘cause I’m one of the only tulpas in history.” Without skipping a beat, it continued, “Speaking of terrible segues, you know what’s way cooler than it sounds? Etymology. Follow the rules, and you can create all sorts of nifty, linguistically correct words and nopony can stop you! Like, ‘oneironaut’ is based on Thessalian, where oneiros means-”

Coranto blinked and snorted. “Very funny, Princess. Veeeeery funny. Ha ha. You can stop pretending now.” She was kind of flattered, though. Luna going to all this trouble just for her?

“You still think I’m not real?” said the Tantabus, rolling its eyes. “Listen. Stop bugging Mom about this. I’m the real deal. Totes magotes.”

“…You did not just say that.

“I totes did, for cray cray realsies,” the Tantabus said gravely.

“…Considering Luna would not be caught dead saying things like that…” Coranto rubbed her forehead. Although Luna was the only rational explanation for this — the mockery of her profession, the sudden lucidity without waking up — it didn’t feel like Luna. She wasn’t so blithely flighty. But then that meant… “But you… No, you can’t be alive. You’re… You’re energy. Make-believe energy.”

“Said the blob of fat on a stick.” The Tantabus smirked. “I’m made of hopes, wishes, desires, the collective unconscious, all that jazz. Stuff that can’t exist without intelligence. You-” It tapped Coranto on the chest, and it definitely felt real enough. “-are made of meat and water. Both’re disgusting. Meat? Griffons digest it. Water? Fish make love in it.” It laughed. “Honestly, I’m probably more alive than you are.”

“More- More alive?!” yelled Coranto. “D-don’t be stupid! That doesn’t make any sense!”

The Tantabus ignored her and looked at the chorus line, right in the middle of doing a fabulous can-can, with Fancy Pants front and center. “So why’s he named Fancy Pants? He doesn’t wear them. We should call him Fancy Jacket.”

“And how- how can you only exist in dreams?” Coranto had actually done some research on dreams, just to find out precisely how absurd the Tantabus was. Supposed to be. “Dreams are- They’re the product of- of the subconscious mind wh-”

The Tantabus chuckled. “Look. There’s a loooooooot you don’t get about the world. Stop pretending you know what you’re talking about.” It flitted up next to her without actually moving. “For ex-am-play, if dreams are just something from your subconscious, how come you don’t question how Mom can enter them without doing brain surgery?”

Which had always been a sticking point in Coranto’s research, she had to admit. She’d find all this stuff about how dreams related to the brain, and then Equestria’s best scientists would be puzzled on how Luna, an external being, could jump into and out of them so easily, magic or not. “Fine,” she snorted. “But even if you do only exist in dreams, the idea that you can control them is-”

“You wanna go skydiving?” asked the Tantabus. “Let’s go skydiving.”

“I most certainly do not want to go skydiving!” yelled Coranto, backing away from it. She loathed heights, loathed them with a passion; dreams that involved her being a pegasus generally involved her spying on celebrities from above and not very high up.

“Too bad! We’re going skydiving!” The Tantabus immediately grabbed Coranto around the trunk, suplexed her into the floor, and suddenly the ground was much much much much much too far away.

Panic made Coranto forget she was dreaming. Her pupils shrank, her eyes bulged, and she began flailing her hooves. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-

Next to her, the Tantabus had its front legs crossed behind its head and lounged on air as if it was an invisible couch, even as the wind whipped its mane and tail around. “C’mon, dude. Chillax. Haven’t you ever had a falling dream before?” In spite of the winds, its voice was loud and clear.


“You never hit the ground. You always wake up before you do. It’s like a law of nature or something.”


“And even if you did hit the ground, it’s not like you’d die. I can’t affect the physical world. I’m many things, but a ripoff of Freddy Crowhop I ain’t. I can’t even make you sleepwalk.”


“Besides, Mom would never let me hear the end of it. And I don’t want you to die, anyway.”


“So, yeah. You’re totally safe and in good hooves.”




“Come on, mare. Relax. You’re in zero G and can’t die! Most ponies would give their left hooves to have such a reckless disregard for gravity like this. Well, non-pegasi, anyway.”




“Dude. Seriously. Your panicked screams of hysteria have long since ceased to be entertaining.”


“Oi!” The Tantabus walked over to Coranto and smacked her across the face, sending her spinning for a few seconds. “Calm down, you ninny!”

The smack knocked Coranto’s brain out of her infinite loop, and she hyperventilated as it restarted. Once the bootup cycle was complete and rationality had logged back in, her breathing slowed and she managed to take stock of her situation. The ground was far below her. She had no way of slowing her fall. And her only company was a dream-mare (dream-stallion? She still couldn’t tell) that shouldn’t exist, standing next to her and consta- “What are you standing on?”

“Fairy dust and rainbow dreams.” The Tantabus leaned in close to Coranto and wrapped a foreleg around her neck. “Keep quiet, okay?” it stage-whispered. “It’s illegal to combine them in Equestria. Too much can cause fluttery hearts, spontaneous bouts of contentment with the world, unrestrained appreciation for your fellow mare, and prolific bleeding from your-”

“But… but you’re still falling…”

The Tantabus groaned and smacked its head. “Dude! Dream! Honestly, how long is it going to take you to get this?”

Coranto tried to glare at the Tantabus, but it was hard to glare at a stock-still dream-pony-monster-thing while you were in freefall. “Well, sooooooorryyyyyyyyyy, but it’s a bit difficult to think clearly when you’re plunging towards the ground at a hundred twenty miles an hour!”

“Have you tried standing up?”

“…Standing up. In mid-air.” It was a dream, but that didn’t make it sound any less weird.

“Yeah. Like me.” The Tantabus bounced on the air a few times. “It’s easy! Try it!” Its grin was walking the line between cluelessly happy and insufferably smug.

Coranto squinted through the wind to look down at the air beneath her (that ground was still coming up awfully fast). Dream, she told herself. Dream. She tried flailing her hooves beneath her, but she hit nothing. She looked up at the Tantabus and raised an eyebrow.

“Hmph. Fine, then. I guess you don’t want my help.” The Tantabus turned its back on Coranto, flicked its tail at her, and walked away, nose in the air.

“Hey!” Coranto bolted after the Tantabus. “Don’t you-”

Her sprint slowed to a trot slowed to a walk slowed to a stop. She looked down at the air beneath her hooves. She kneaded it. It both felt solid and felt like there was nothing there to be solid. It made her brain hurt.

The Tantabus looked over its shoulder. This time, its grin was definitely insufferably smug. “Mmmyeeesss?”

Coranto glared at the Tantabus, barely able to think of anything to say. This thing really knew how to push her buttons.

“Ain’t gonna say I told you so…” Suddenly, the Tantabus was right up in her face, still grinning. “…but I told you so!”

Her mouth pressed tight shut, Coranto took several loud breaths into and out of her nose. “I,” she hissed as she pushed the Tantabus away, “am quite peeved right now.” It was all she could come up with.

The Tantabus wagged a hoof in her face. “Ah bah bah! According to the rumors, I’m only a few months old. You shouldn’t ----ing swear around me.”

Coranto twitched at the high-pitched bleep. “You… you just-”

“Okay, I ----ing swore,” the Tantabus said, shrugging as it effortlessly pronounced a row of dashes. “But really, it’s not hurting anypony, is it? —--- ---- ----ity ---- ---- ----ing ----!”

Coranto smacked her head a few times to get the echoes of the bleeps out of her head and ears. “Your mouth is pixelating!”

“Congratulations, Captain Obvious! You’ve been promoted to Major Obvious!” The Tantabus plonked a cap on Coranto’s head amid a shower of confetti. “Or should that be Majorly Obvious?”

Coranto screamed and threw the cap away. “Can we please have a quiet second?! Just for a mom-”

And before she’d finished her thought, she was sitting at the bar of the kind of über-classy nightclub all the famous ponies attended and she usually got thrown out of, with wood paneling and dark mood lighting and crystal chandeliers and lots of dark, warm colors. She was wearing the swanky embroidered dress she usually wore to those clubs and got thrown out in. Ponies of varying degrees of generic prettiness milled about in their suits and dresses, paying her no attention and talking indistinctly, even when she strained her ear. Off to the side was a band playing smooth jazz. It was so abrupt, and the setting felt so genuine, that there was only one thing to convince Coranto she wasn’t woozy and waking up from some alcohol-induced hallucination.

That one thing was the continued presence of the Tantabus. It was directly across from Coranto on the other side of the bar, smartly dressed in a bartender uniform and looking at her with an expression of polite readiness. It slid a glass of something that looked like beer to her. “Try this,” it said. Its voice was a bit lower and smoother, and definitely slower.

Coranto blinked dully at the glass, then up at the Tantabus. “This isn’t gonna make me explode, is it?”

The Tantabus smirked in a way that was somehow aggressive, friendly, and self-deprecating all at once. “Nah. Nothing like that. It’s basically just cheap get-you-drunk-quick beer, only it doesn’t taste like utter crap.”

“Just what I need,” Coranto muttered. She snatched the glass in her magic and began chugging. Somehow, the beer was generic-beer-flavored. But she didn’t care, and she chugged and chugged and chugged and realized she was neither running out of beer nor needing to breathe and didn’t care and chugged and chugged and chugged. Dream or not, she really needed a drink.

Once she stopped feeling like she was on a bad trip, Coranto slammed the glass back on the bar. It was still full to the brim, and yet she didn’t spill a drop. It finally sank in that the… the entity across from her had complete and utter control over her current reality. It could do literally whatever it wanted with her. And considering how it’d treated her so far, priority number one meant appeasing the fickle dream god, which meant apologizing for her insults earlier (which now looked incredibly silly). She swallowed her pride and the beer still in her mouth. “Um, l-look,” she whispered, staring at her glass, “I… earlier, I, I didn’t mean when I said that, that you weren’t alive a-”

“Yeah, you did.”

The bottom fell out of Coranto’s stomach as she looked up at the Tantabus, who was ignoring her and polishing a cup. If she couldn’t convince this thing that she’d been mistaken, who knew what it’d do? “N-no, really, I-”

“You totally meant it,” the Tantabus said calmly. It flicked the cup with a hoof, producing a loud ringing noise. “But you were just misinformed. Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to appease me. Besides, when it comes to insults, intended or otherwise, I find myself quite constipated.”

Coranto frowned up at the Tantabus.

“I can’t bring myself to give a crap.”

Coranto couldn’t help it. She cracked a grin.

But then she looked back down at her cup. For all she knew, it could be stringing her along, drawing her out to make her more hopeful before crushing her. And she had no way out this time.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the Tantabus talking again. “I didn’t do all that ‘cause you insulted me,” it said, putting its thoroughly polished cup in the backbar. “I just needed to make an impression on you. Besides, Mom told me to make good dreams, and if I kept tormenting you like that, she’d come after me and… I dunno, ground me or something.” (A reality warper getting grounded struck Coranto as rather incongruous.) “She’d figure out how. So I’ll keep it like this unless you say otherwise.” It drew an X on its chest. “Cross my heart.”

Coranto looked around. Nothing seemed to be out of place, not including the fact that she couldn’t eavesdrop on anypony. And it was a rather calming setting, especially after freefalling without a parachute. She shivered at the memory and took another drink. Still beer-flavored. Bland, but it would do.

“Want something different?” the Tantabus asked. Its voice, far from being mocking or taunting, was more like that of a waiter asking you your choices for the night: polite, patient, and professional. “Stronger? Weaker? Wine? Whiskey? Non-alcoholic? I just kinda… whipped that up on the spot. Sorry it’s not much.”

“W-well,” mumbled Coranto, not wanting to push her luck, “there was this… this century-old Shetland I had once…”

By the time the last word had left her mouth, the beer glass had been swapped out for a crystal flute filled with a sparkling white wine, in spite of the Tantabus never moving an inch. Coranto blinked at the wine, blinked at the Tantabus, then shrugged an-

“Don’t chug it,” interjected the Tantabus. “It’s strong, remember?”

Some dim part of Coranto’s brain realized that the Tantabus had to do quite a bit of rustling around in her mind to find out what was and wasn’t a good dream for her and to bring up the memory of this wine. And she hadn’t felt anything out of place in her own head; it could dig into her brain with utter impunity. That dim part found it incredibly disturbing for something — someone? — to so casually access her memories, fears, and desires, particularly without Coranto herself being remotely aware of it. The rest of her brain told her to drink the stupid wine. She drank the stupid wine (slowly) and smothered the dim part underneath a torrent of alcohol.

Much to her surprise, the wine tasted exactly like she’d remembered it. She wasn’t a wine connoisseur, so she couldn’t describe it beyond “crazy good wine”, but this was definitely crazy good wine, and that particular brand of crazy good wine. So crazy good that her worries began slipping away. If the Tantabus wanted to scare her any more, it definitely wouldn’t do so with wine like this.

She laid the still-full flute back on the bar, but the Tantabus spoke before she could. “So, look, I’m sorry about what I did before, but I needed to get it into your head that I really am really real, so, um…” It licked its lips as it paused. “Could you please stop pestering Mom about this? I mean, it’s really irritating her, an-”

“So Luna really did create you to make good dreams?” Not that there were any other options, but experience had taught Coranto to always be sure. Unsourced facts were terrible, repugnant, the root of all evil. (Tweaking the source to produce the facts she wanted, now that was another matter entirely.)

The Tantabus shot a flat Look at Coranto. “Well, duh. Who else do you think did? Braeburn?”


“Nothing. You wouldn’t know him.” The Tantabus cleared its throat. Coranto wondered why it was going through all the physical-pony motions. “Anyway, Mom’s getting pretty peeved about all this, and…” It leaned in close to Coranto. She tried to move away, but none of her muscles were working, and the Tantabus seemed to grow in size. “I don’t like seeing Mom peeved,” it rumbled.

“Noted,” squeaked Coranto.

Everything went back to normal as the Tantabus dropped back. “So if you can just lay off her, that’d be great. M’kay? M’kay.”

“M’kay,” agreed Coranto. And now she felt silly. Luna was a borderline dream goddess, of course she could do something like this to help her with her duties. In fact, now, the question was why she hadn’t done it sooner. If Coranto could whistle up something like this to help her track down her celebrities, she’d do it in a heartbeat. And she could treat it like family, easy. She already treated Neighkon like family, and that camera didn’t even return her affections.

“And remember, if you start up again…” It flashed a sharklike grin at Coranto, pointy teeth and everything. “I’ll be right here.”

“Noted,” Coranto squeaked again. Not that she would have in any case.

“Anyway, I gotta get going,” said the Tantabus, “lotta dreams to get to and spice up, y’know, so-”

Coranto’s journalism instincts kicked into high gear again. “Wait! Any chance I can get an interview?”

“Oh, heck no.” The Tantabus let out a barking laugh. “Not even if I had the time. Not until Mom cools off, and maybe not even then. You were assuming she was lying for no real reason and kept ragging on her, and I can’t just let that slide. Good dream? Sure. Interview? Nooooooooo. You’ll have to read that from somepony else.” It saluted. “Adios, amiga.” The pony-shaped hole in space collapsed, leaving behind a generic bartender who looked utterly oblivious to who he’d been a few seconds ago.

Coranto blinked at the bartender, then took another sip of wine. Well, this was going to be awkward to explain to her editors. Um, yeeeaaah, so the Tantathing I’ve been campaigning against? It really does exist, and it personally talked to me last night, and I couldn’t get an interview out of it. Should I just show myself out? And it’d require a complete restructuring of her plans for the next few days, now that she wasn’t going to be getting into the last few minutes of the Night Court to grill Luna again.

But at least the Tantabus itself seemed… nice enough, in its own way. All she had to do now was not bug Luna, and it’d leave her alone, right? It was a shame she hadn’t thought to ask it about making her a goo-

“Excuse me?”

A jolt ran down her spine as she recognized that voice, and she swiveled to one side. Right next to her was the dreamboat known as Fancy Pants, with that smexy monocle and that shnazzy waistcoat. He had his own wine in front of him and his captivating gaze was turned in her direction. It was a dream, she knew it was, but she still felt her heart race.

“I beg your pardon, ma’am,” Fancy Pants said in that fetching Trottingham accent, “but I don’t believe I’ve seen you before.” He sipped his wine. “Do you come here often?”

Okay, so maybe this was a good dream.

“I believe you already know who I am, but permit me to introduce myself personally. I am Fancy Jacket.”

…In its own way.

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