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How the Tantabus Parses Sleep

by Rambling Writer

Chapter 1: Nightmares and the Deletion Thereof

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You need not chase down nocnice, Mom had said. You are, as yet, too young and inexperienced, Mom had said. Leave such parasites to myself and focus on creating pleasant dreams for the time being, Mom had said.

Yeah, right. The Tantabus knew it had been created to make good dreams, not defeat the nightmare-causing beasties known as nocnice. But then, it had also been created to be a mindless arcane automaton, and that… hadn’t turned out the way Mom had planned it. What was the harm in trying to layeth down the smacketh upon nocnice?

So the second the Tantabus had spotted the vaguely equinoid shadow of a particularly tiny nocnica flitting out of a pony’s dream, it promptly gave as stealthy a chase it could muster (after setting right the damage the nocnica had done, obviously). It had to start dismantling nocnice eventually, and this one looked particularly pathetic, a good starting-off point. It probably didn’t even have enough dream energy yet for the complexity needed for proper inter-intelligence speechifying. The nocnica wasn’t far. Specifically, it was-

firstNocnica.updateStatus();

-half a brainstorm, a few ideas, and one stray thought ahead of the Tantabus and didn’t seem to have noticed its pursuer. It kept moving towards certain dreams, then drawing away as if repulsed by them, the same way responsibility repulsed Blueblood or zest and gourmands repulsed Zesty Gourmand.

“Where are you going, buddy?” the Tantabus whispered. “Where are you going?” Nocnice were attracted to the most potent sources of dream energy, those undergoing emotional turmoil. They’d stick those emotions in a metaphysical blender, purée them, and feast on the smoothie of confusion and despair that resulted. (The Tantabus preferred happiness, warm feelings, and giddiness, itself. Sadness and fear were lumpy and altogether much too chilly.)

Suddenly, the nocnica halted at one dream, paused, and plunged straight in. The Tantabus grinned to itself. “Gotcha. Good thing you’re hungry, ’cause you’re getting served.” This was going to be easy. The Tantabus briefly gave itself a set of fingers so it could crack its knuckles and dove in after the nocnica.

self.setLocation("adwl://dreamer.uncns/surface?hexID=526172697479&lucid=n");

getDreamer();return:-- dreamer[name]: "Rarity"-- dreamer[desc]: SPECIES.Unicorn, SEX.Mare, COAT_COLOR.Light_Gray, [...]-- dreamer[interests]: "style", "fashion", "glamor", [...]-- [...]

Sitting unnoticed at an empty table in the corner, the Tantabus nudged up the brim of its wide straw hat and scanned the room. The establishment it found itself in was a western saloon about as stereotypical as one could imagine, but with an extra dose of fabulosity. Rather than drab earthen tones, every plank of wood a different bright color, every patron wearing a different magnificent outfit. Even better, it was all coordinated and immaculately crafted, rather than looking like a liquid changeling orgy had exploded in the room (“Liquid Changeling Orgy” would be a superb punk rock band name, the Tantabus thought). Ponies milled about, chatting indistinguishably. The piano player delicately plunked away at a smooth, flowing song in spite of the dramatic dress that probably ought to trip her up. The atmosphere was laid-back, the kind of place to kill a few hours in (but not ponies, as wasn’t uncommon for saloons).

But that all meant it was a place ripe for corruption by nocnice, such as the one hovering just behind the bartender. Ponies wouldn’t notice it even if they were lucid; they were on the wrong wavelength, or so Mom said. Being weak, the nocnica was only vaguely recognizable now, nothing more than a dark cloud of despair and angst. The Tantabus wanted to walk right up to it and drag it out of the dream, but Mom had said nocnice were reactionary. You had to wait for them to make the first move. Why that precluded walking right up to it and dragging it out of the dream, the Tantabus wasn’t sure, but Mom knew best.

At some strange behest of the dreamer’s subconscious, a waiter in an impressive wool poncho strode over to the Tantabus, grinning broadly. “Hello!” he said. “Would you like something to drink?”

“No thanks,” said the Tantabus. “You and I are just figments of somepony else’s imagination.” In spite of all appearances, dream constructs like that weren’t self-aware in the slightest and technically didn’t even exist. Controlling their behavior was second-nature to the Tantabus. So, for fun-

ndc.feedLines(defaultLine);

The waiter sighed. “Dangit, not again. Time to rethink my weltanschauung.” He hurled himself through a window as the Tantabus kept its eyes on the nocnica. It reviewed the best ways to take nocnica down, trying to- Hold up…

ndc.undo();self.setRubberDuck(ndc);

The waiter hurtled back through the window, landing neatly in the chair opposite the Tantabus. “Alright, you’re my sounding board,” said the Tantabus. “I’m going to explain things to you to be sure I have them in order.”

“But I was existentially crisising out!” protested the waiter. “And what kind of method has you explaining things to someone who doesn’t exist?”

“My cousin-in-law calls it ‘rubber ducking’,” said the Tantabus. “When she’s got a problem troubleshooting a spell, she explains it step by step to a rubber duck, which somehow makes her smarter and lets her understand it.” It winked at the waiter. “At least you can talk back. You need a name. I stink at names, so how about ‘Placeholder’?”

“My name is not Placeholder!” bristled Placeholder.

“Shut up, Placeholder. Now, first, we wait, ’cause that little wuss over there-” A blinking neon sign appeared over the nocnica. “-needs to mess up the dream before I can fix it.”

Luckily for the Tantabus, nocnice weren’t slow. The first move was made in seconds; the nocnica tweaked the fabric of the dream, making the Tantabus cringe at how crude it was. Immediately, thunder boomed, leaving behind a dead silence in the saloon, with only the piano player plinking away and holding her head high (although she nervously fluffed her curls). A stallion staggered in from outside, raindrops of bleach (that worst of all fashion-related liquids) turning his clothes white. “He’s coming,” whispered the messenger. “He of Polyester and Nylon, the Plaid One.”

The entire room gasped as one. Waitresses swooned. Patrons shrieked. Babies wailed. Milk curdled. Beer soured. Paint peeled. Fabric paled. Placeholder snorted. “Overblown, isn’t this?”

“Hardly,” said the Tantabus. “This is normal. You need to get out more. But now that that loser’s done something…” It grinned, flexed its wings, and rubbed its hooves together. “Now, I need to get this dream to be awesome again, which, since it’s just a generic ‘baddie shows up and is mean’ dream, is super easy. No nightmares, no food for the nocnica, and then it’ll crawl away to die.”

“Nocnice are spirits,” said Placeholder. “They can’t die.”

“Mouthy little ducky, aren’t you? Yeah, okay, sure, but it sounds way better than ‘crawl away to subsist until it grabs enough stray dream energy to become sapient again’. Anyway, this is easy. I just need to give the dreamer some inspiration. Liiiike…” The Tantabus glanced to the piano player and slipped a little idea into her mind.

dreamer.inspire(DEFAULT);

“Fear not!” yelled the player. She whirled around and, against all odds and her extravagant dress, strutted into the center of the room, where she Posed. At once, a lightness filled the room, a sense that all would be right in the world, for who could deny the power within that Pose, or the unfettered astoundingness of the mare who performed it? To say her coat was pristine was to falsely imply it could ever be less than perfect. She knew her fashion not merely forward, backward, sideways, inside, and out, but in every possible dimension predicted by string theory and then some. Princess Celestia herself asked her for shampooing tips. Her name was a perfect descriptor, for she was… Rarity.

“Ooh, that’s good,” whispered Placeholder.

“Puh-lease. I’ve barely started yet.”

sp = new Spotlight();sp.aim(dreamer);

The Tantabus reached out and molded part of the dream on the upper balcony into a searchlight, directing it to aim at Rarity. She tossed her mane, nailing the absolutely perfect arc for sensuousness and desirability. The Tantabus helped her along by giving several stallions love-induced heart attacks; they collapsed with smiles on their faces.

Even the nocnica couldn’t miss tweaks to the dreamscape like that. It glared at the Tantabus, eyes narrowing to slits, hissing, only not at all because it didn’t have eyes or a mouth or much of a head at all. But it noticed the Tantabus and certainly disliked its turf being intruded upon, so if it had been able to, it definitely would’ve done those things. The Tantabus just smiled and waved. “It’s maaaaaaad,” the Tantabus whispered at Placeholder, who was nodding slowly. “Let’s keep going.”

“Good fashionistas and fashonistos of this fabulous city of Roja Muerta Moda!” said Rarity. “Do not let the tales of that… miserable miscreant, that devious dastard, that colorblind colt, that horrible hoodlum, that felonious fiend be a cause for dismay! For our sensibility is just! Our weave is strong! And our hats are very, very large.” And with that inarguable point, she Posed again. Somewhere, a baby giggled for the first time. “We shall weather the storm in our superb sarapes and peppy ponchos, and — most importantly of all — we shall look absolutely magnificent whi-”

A supporting column broke and the balcony collapsed, sending the Tantabus’s spotlight crashing down. Ponies yelped and Rarity’s monologue was cut short. The Tantabus hurriedly pushed some ideas into Rarity’s head to keep her talking. “Well,” she tutted, “really, I said we needed to get that fixed, didn’t I? Now, where was I? Ah! We shall look-”

“I think you done ----ed up,” whispered Placeholder. He stopped and blinked. “Wait, why the ---- can’t I say-”

But the Tantabus wasn’t listening anymore. That hadn’t been just a random action spat out by a brain in REM sleep. It’d felt the dream twitch; the nocnica had done something. Even though it shouldn’t have been able to know how to disrupt the dream. The Tantabus glared at the nocnica, still drifting aimlessly behind the bar. “I’m watching you,” it said, completely ignoring the fact that the nocnica wasn’t sapient enough yet to recognize the threat.

Right?

Suddenly, the nocnica streaked through the cracks in the walls. Half a ponderance later, somepony outside banged on the door, louder than nobles’ complaints in tax season. “¡Abre esta puerta!” the pony yelled. “¡Soy un tipo mal! ¡Y no tengo ni idea de lo que estoy haciendo!”

Ponies ran from the door, screaming, “The Plaid One!” Rarity Posed in front of the door and yelled, “Begone, blaggard! Or I shall give you the most magnificent mêlée you could ever imagine! I have knitting needles and I know how to use them!”

Placeholder chewed at his tongue and glanced back and forth between the door and the Tantabus. Realizing a way to seize control of the situation again, the Tantabus couldn’t hold back a grin. “This is where you need to get clever,” it whispered to Placeholder. “Kinda. Sorta. The nocnica’s probably got some terrible monster coming. Buuuuuut since whatever’s outside hasn’t been seen by Ms. Rarity yet, it hasn’t been set in stone…”

villain.set(bestPony);

The door was kicked in, ponies scattering like flies. When the dust settled, a large, powerful stallion was standing in the doorway, his face concealed by the low, wide brim of a nylon-trimmed hot pink hat. Around his body was wrapped a poncho of horrific design: plaid lime green and dark orange, all made up in the cheapest polyester imaginable. Good taste died in his wake, cotton shrank at his passing. “Hola, mis amigos,” said the pony. He raised his head, revealing a flowing ethereal black mane, crimson slit-pupiled eyes, and a most spectacular walrus mustache. “Yo soy Rey Sombrero.” He clapped his front hooves twice. “O.” Lightning cracked and thunder roared.

“You,” Placeholder said flatly, “are weird.”

The Tantabus scoffed. “Obvi. I work with dreams and normalcy’s way overrated.”

“Gasp!” gasped Rarity as everypony else managed to hide behind the bar at once. “Sombrero! The bandito of bad taste!”

Sombrero twirled his mustache most villainously. “Sí,” he said with a smirk, “tengo un papel que desempeñar en este sueño.”

“So, what?” asked Placeholder. “Aren’t you going to help this dream keep-”

“I wish,” muttered the Tantabus. It propped its chair back on two legs. “When you get down to the nitty-gritty, I’ve technically got less control over a dream’s climax than a writer does with their editor. If I just went and hijacked all this and took over the dreamer and everything, it’d be a bad dream, which…” It shivered and flexed its wings. “Now, all I can do is let the dreamer’s unconscious take over and plow through nightmares like a hot freight train through butter.”

“You may think your style impeccable,” declared Rarity, “but I assure you, you ruffian, that it shall be pecked most severely!” And then she Posed, Posed most gloriously. Generational blood feuds ended and extinct species returned to life. A herd of angels couldn’t have done it better.

Nothing happened to Sombrero, though.

“Pretty strong butter,” said Placeholder, smirking.

The Tantabus blinked. “W-well, uh…” If it could sweat, it would have. Something should’ve happened. If nothing did, the nocnica could feed. Maybe the dream needed some help. The Tantabus wove its magic into the fabric of the dream-

--Error; ObjectOutOfBoundsException e

-and flinched, shivering from horn to hoof, as the fabric refused to budge. Something was blocking its control, something that felt like- Uh-oh.

Sombrero villainously arched an eyebrow. “¿Qué estás haciendo?” he questioned. “No traduzcas esto. ¡Lee el cuento!”

“Ehm…” Rarity held her Pose, which meant it became nothing more than a pose. “This, ah, was supposed to work.”

Placeholder yawned. “Am I still helping? Shouldn’t you be explaining what to do to me?”

“Shutup shutup shutup,” hissed the Tantabus. Okay, it- it could do this. So- maybe the nocnica had locked down the dream. Somehow. Mom had never said anything about them being able to do that. So… what now?

Sombrero reached beneath his poncho, chuckling. “Sólo un obsesivo escondería tantos huevos de pascua,” he said. “Deja de animarlo.” Thunder boomed as he pulled out a tie, checkerboarded in dull gray and hot pink.

A wave of despair swamped the saloon. Rarity collapsed to the floor, futilely holding up a hoof. “No! No! Even you wouldn’t dare! Noooooooooo-oooo-oooo-ooooo…

Take over the dream. Lesser of two evils at this point. The Tantabus hopped off its chair, walked up to Sombrero, and jabbed him in the shoulder. “Hey,” it said. “Hey. Dude. You’re going off-script.”

“Risas maldavo,” laughed Sombrero, waving the Tantabus away. “Tienes demasiado tiempo sobra tus pezuñas.” He ran the tie around his neck and tied it; Rarity writhed as if she’d been shot.

“No, seriously, you- Screw it.”

dream.delete(villain);--Error; ObjectOutOfBoundsException e

A current of bad vibes and chilling thoughts rushed through the Tantabus, hitting so hard it staggered back from the fight, yet Sombrero didn’t budge. No no no… This wasn’t happening. How could tweaking dreams be this hard? Its only rival was a stupid little nocnica going after an easy target, which shouldn’t’ve been able to-

--Error; InterruptedThoughtException e

Wait a second…

The Tantabus walked back to Placeholder, rubbing a hoof through its mane as pieces started clicking into place. “Nocnice go after the most powerful sources of dreams,” it muttered. “I’m pretty much a pile of dream energy, so only bigger source of dreams is Mom. Maybe Aunt Celly, but she’s got like zero power in here, so I don’t think she counts. Dreams are my reality, and a nightmare is just a dream with a special label.”

It looked up at Placeholder. “So I’m not only in somepony else’s nightmare, I’m also in mine. Meta.”

A low voice rolled out of the dark corners of the dream, grating like claws on a chalkboard. “And here I was, thinking you might prove a remotely worthy foe. It would seem not.” Placeholder’s coat flaked off, revealing the nocnica underneath. Having enough energy to be fully sapient, it had taken on the form of a dark mirror of the Tantabus, as nocnice were wont to do. It critically examined the Tantabus with eyes that might as well have been black holes.

Well, booger. Not at all what the Tantabus had had in mind. But maybe it could scrounge some success out of this, now that it knew what it was up against. Maybe. The Tantabus looked the nocnica up and down and said, “You might be an emotion-eating sadist and have a schadenfreude streak two and a half miles wide, but at least you have fantastic taste in dreamers. You look good.”

And rather than the nocnica being even remotely rattled, it preened and said, “Of course I have fantastic taste. I can easily spot the most vulnerable targets.”

“Uh-huh, sure,” the Tantabus said. But dread was already settling in whatever passed for its stomach. “You do know who I am, yeah?” The nocnica had played its emotions like a fiddle. “Apprentice of Princess Luna, who’s probably already beaten you like a dozen times?” A well-maintained fiddle, too, with all the ease of oiled strings. “And I’ve been learning under her literally my entire life, chump.”

“You have, have you?” The nocnica chuckled. “I am ashamed her standards have slipped so low. You couldn’t even properly assess my power. You had to call in the assistance of a pony’s subconscious for review. How can you hope to combat me?” It glanced at Sombrero, who was attempting to strangle Rarity with his tie. “I have already won this pony’s emotions. You have failed. She shall soon wake up and I shall move to the next pony, stronger than before, while you shall still be as helpless as ever.”

“Helpless?” the Tantabus attempted to scoff. “I’m as helpless as a- fish in a- river.” And it promptly mentally smacked itself for making one of the worst, most on-the-nose metaphors in history. Scrambling for words wasn’t a good thing when claiming you weren’t helpless.

The nocnica shook its head. “I refuse to even dignify that with a response. Accept it,” it whispered in the Tantabus’s ear, “you know a few cantrips, adequate for creating short-lived fluff, nothing more. Your shallowness is such that it makes evaporated puddles seem oceanic. Do you have any option, any at all, beyond shaming yourself by running to Mommy Moon?”

protest();

“S-sure I do!” blurted the Tantabus. “I can- I…” Its wings twitched. “I just need…”

--Error; NullPointerException e

But nothing came. Something in the nocnica’s argument had to be wrong. The Tantabus had to have something it could do. Yet nothing came. What was it thinking, chasing down a nocnica with zero preparation? Nothing it had done had helped.

“You are as aggravating as dirt and not nearly as useful,” sneered the nocnica. “You know nothing beyond which you have been told. You shall always be nothing more than the moon’s dog, heeding her every whim. And when she is done with you, she shall-”

“Wait, wait, hang on,” said the Tantabus. “Could you, um, repeat that?” It tried to sound nonchalant, but this was really nothing more than a desperate attempt to derail the nocnica’s train of thought. Mom had said something about non-sequiturs making nightmares less frightening. Maybe.

The nocnica paused, but soon shook it off. “You shall always be the moon’s dog, heeding her-”

“Yeah, that. Moondog. Sounds pretty cool.” Thank goodness something was pretty cool in this situation.

“You… enjoy bei-”

“The words themselves, I mean. Say it!” The Tantabus flared its wings wide. “Moondog. Got a lotta oomph in it, dontcha think? It’s a nice trochee.” Now that it was actually talking, the words came easier.

“…What? You-”

“A trocheeeeeeeee. A poetic meter consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, ob-vi-ous-ly. Opposite of an iamb. Did you know that ‘trochee’ is trochaic and ‘iamb’ is iambic?” The Tantabus sighed. “But they’re the only ones that follow that rule. I mean, ‘amphibrach’ is dactylic, for crying out loud!”

The nocnica simply stared at the Tantabus, as if its psychological deconstruction getting interrupted by a ramble on poetic meter was something strange and unusual. The entire saloon brightened a few shades and Sombrero’s tie snapped as the nocnica’s control slipped.

And then the Tantabus knew what to do.

“But really,” the Tantabus continued, “trochees sound awesome. Like Batmare. Princess Luna. Pony. Nightmare. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“…You th-”

notify(self.getThoughts(), new Idea());

“Oh! And Spider Sinew and Liquid Changeling Orgy!” Rarity suplexed Sombrero through a table — and, more importantly, unwove the atrocity that was his tie.

“I fail to see how this matters.”

“It doesn’t, not really,” the Tantabus said with a shrug. “But it’s the simple things like that that make life worth living even in the face of an absolute disaster, you know? Thanks for reminding me!” It smiled, making sure light glinted off its teeth with a ting.

The nocnica had a terrific poker face, but a terrible poker storm; the tempest outside vanished in an instant. “This… This is irrelevant!” it spat. “You are rambling, attempting to cover up your own inadequacies with pointless trivia!”

The Tantabus chuckled. “You’re just jealous because I, unlike you, am really, really, really ridiculously good-looking. I mean, you look like me, not the other way around.”

self.setStatus(SMUG.Very);

“You judge me by appearance?” snapped the nocnica as Sombrero’s polyester began melting in the radiance of Rarity’s latest mighty Pose. “To say one of us is greater or lesser than the other based on how we look is absurd.”

“Oh, sure. In the real world. But this ain’t the real world, is it?” The Tantabus looked up at the ceiling and exaggeratedly tapped its chin. “I mean, it’s not like, unbound by physical laws, we can completely reshape our OH WAIT. But all that existence available, and you’re copying me. What kind of wimpy nightmare spirit are you?”

Deprived of fear, its source of sustenance gone, the nocnica was shrinking slowly. When it spoke, its voice sounded like it was coming out of a tin cup. “I do not need such capabilities!” it protested. “Ponies themselves provide me with their own fears, the tools for their own despair! I twist their perceptions so thoroughly they barely recognize themselves!”

“And that’s all you ever do. Yeah, maybe I am shallow. Yeah, maybe I am terrible at confronting nocnice. Yeah, maybe I do need to call for Mommy. But you know what? I’m learning. Come back in a year. By then, kicking nocnice’s butts and taking names will be so boring and banal for me that I won’t even recognize you as my first failure. And you?” The Tantabus flexed its wings and smirked. “You’ll be the same pathetic parasitic peripatetic pansy you’ve always been.”

self.isOnARoll();return: TRUE

By now, the nocnica was visibly decohering, but it still had some small scrap of smarts. It clawed at the Tantabus, forcing itself into its face. “You shall never be free of me. No matter how many times you kill me, I’ll be waiting at the sidelines, prepared for you to slip up, and when you do, I’ll-”

firstNocnica.shutDown();

“Yeah? Then I will never stop killing you. If I catch a whiff of you, I’ll burn you so hard you could be served up at a five-star griffon restaurant! I’ll pound you so hard your remains will be finer than glitter! I’ll censor you so hard, you’ll never even be thought of again!” The Tantabus shoved a hoof in what remained of the nocnica’s face and easily pushed it away. “Now make like a fruit hater and diss a pear.”

The nocnica keened — the limit of its remaining abilities — and vanished at the same time Rarity dropkicked Sombrero out of the saloon. “And could you come back tomorrow, dearie?” Rarity asked. “We have some poor, underprivileged designers who still need to own you!”

The Tantabus assumed that, ordinarily, this part would involve mopping up the damage the nocnica had done. Whether because this had all taken place in its own “dream” or because Rarity herself had done a fine mopping-up job, there wasn’t anything to do. The Tantabus pushed the backdrop of the saloon away, returning to the collective unconscious. Giddy as a goose and not caring that the comparison made no sense, the Tantabus reared and yelled, “Ha! Take that, nocnica! Take that, Mom’s disbelief in me!”

Mom. She’d want to know about this. Well, considering how she’d reacted to the Tantabus saying it wanted to take on nocnice, probably not. Then she ought to know, so she had a clear idea of what the Tantabus could do. How much to actually tell her, though? Particularly, the Tantabus wondered how she’d react to it being called “the moon’s dog”. That was probably a bit much. It’d leave that part out.

Although, Moondog actually was a pretty good name…

self.setName("Moondog");

Moseying through the dreamscape in Mom’s general direction, Moondog whistled a light and bouncy tune.


Back when Mom was creating Moondog and it was just supposed to be a oneiroturgic machine, she’d put a tracking spell in it, so she’d always know where to find it, in case things got out of hoof. After it had gained self-awareness, Moondog had poked the spell, fiddled with it, and made a reversed duplicate of it, ensuring that it could always find Mom. At least until Mom had explained that poorly-done tracking spells could draw the attention of the one being tracked, which was probably why she’d had a migraine for the past few nights while in the dream realm. She’d removed Moondog’s shoddy copy and patiently explained to it how to work the spell properly. She’d said Moondog’s skills lay in dream manipulation, not straight-up magic, and you shouldn’t expect to get a spell like that on the first try anyway, so stop looking so forlorn and quit whining, young tulpa.

Anyway, the point was that Moondog knew precisely where Mom was, which dream she was in, at all times. Distance not truly existing in the mindscape, Moondog found its way to the relevant dream in seconds. As it approached the dream door, Moondog worked on what it’d say to Mom to dispel her objections. She was always overcautious, acting like Moondog wasn’t even a year old. Which, okay, it technically wasn’t, but it was totally mature mentally. At least, that was what it told itself.

brainstorm();

“‘Hey, Mom? I’d like to mount the head of this nocnica on the wall, so I’ll need-’ Too complicated. Really wished walls stayed existing out here. And I don’t have its head, anyway. ‘Mom, remember how you said I should avoid nocnice? Well, one thing led to another, and-’ No, no, you’re proud of this. Don’t make it sound like an accident. ‘You know, Mom, assessing my nocnica-fighting skills is like determining the growing sapience of an arcane machine, in that you suck at it.’ Oh, sheesh, that’s terrible. ‘Just so you know, Mom, I-’ Don’t make it sound too casual. She knows when you’re making junk up.”

Getting formed from the thoughts and mind of a physical pony meant Moondog had inherited a lot of physical-pony habits and mannerisms, so it flexed its wings to work out nonexistent crinks in nonexistent joints and psych itself up as it looked the dream door up and down. Finally, it decided to just rip the metaphorical band-aid off and yanked the door open. “Hey, Mom!” yelled Moondog. “Guess what!”

And then it froze.

Mom was standing next to a nervous colt in a distorted school hallway, whispering words of encouragement into his ear and nudging him forward. At the other end of the hallway, a crowd of ponies, not much older than the colt, was assembled. They were hazy and indistinct, more ideas than dream entities. Although their voices didn’t say any distinguishable words, it was impossible to miss their mocking tone.

But it was the… stuff behind the crowd that attracted Moondog’s attention. Much like nocnice, it was just out of phase with the rest of the dream and nearly unnoticeable to regular ponies. It was a colorless (not black, colorless) mass of thoughtstuff larger than a dozen mental blocks or a childhood of suppressed memories. Its tendrils were entwined with the bodies of the ponies in the crowd, distorting them, rending their voices, making them twitch spasmodically. Moondog knew what it was; something of a cross between a nocnica and an arcane chemical reaction, it was mindless and yet corrupted dreams into nightmares simply by existing within them, growing through fear all the while. Formally, Mom called it Nonsapient Oneirophagic Parasitic Essence.

Moondog just called it what it was: NOPE. And that dream had so much NOPE.

self.setStatus(NOPE.Nope);self.activatePanicMode();exit(1);

“Nope,” it said, and slammed the door shut. “Nope nope nope.” It pressed itself against the door to hold it closed, even though that didn’t actually mean anything. “Nope nope nope nope nope.”

And yet Mom hadn’t looked the least bit concerned. Every now and then, Moondog received a rather intense wakeup call that, no matter how good it was at manipulating dreams (very), Mom was better. Much better.

while (self.isScared()) {    self.hide();    wrestle(self.getEmotionalState());}self.deactivatePanicMode();

After five long seconds of panic-moding out (or maybe five short hours; time was always fluid in dreams), Moondog managed to calm its racing thaumic circulator, or at least force it to a slower cycle. Okay. No pressure. It wasn’t like there was something on the other side of the door capable of draining the very essence that made up its life, consciousness, existence, and sapience. Nope. No NOPE. Moondog just had to go in there, nudge Mom on the shoulder, and-

Mom coalesced out of the space in front of Moondog, eyebrows slightly raised. “I thought I heard you,” she said. “Is everything fine?”

“Hi!” squeaked Moondog. “I wanted to talk, but I thought you’d longer. Be linger. Be longer! That was an awful lot of NOPE, wasn’t it?”

“The simplest of obstacles are often the cause of the greatest of anxieties when one is young, and oneirophagic essences are drawn to those anxieties. Dispelling it was a simple matter of convincing the young one to confront his fears directly — a lack of friends at a new school, in this instance — and see that they were not as great as he thought them to be.”

understand(momSpeech);return: FALSE

The psychology flew over Moondog’s head with a whoosh. “Um. Okay.”

Mom eyed Moondog the same way a teacher would eye a student who, though intelligent, was prone to stuffing crayons up her nose because it was funny. “You have great skill at sculpting dreams, but thus far, most of your achievements have been surface-level. As you grow older, you must confront the apprehension behind boogeymares in addition to the boogeymares themselves.”

“Right. Yeah. I’ll try that.” Whoosh.

Mom still disapproved, but abandoned the matter. “Now, then. You had something you wished to tell me?”

Moondog thought about the little nocnica it’d vanquished. About the huge amount of NOPE Mom had vanquished. Little nocnica. Lots of NOPE. Little nocnica. Lots of NOPE.

Yeah, no way that was impressing Mom.

self.setStatus(SHEEPISH.Kinda);

Moondog forced a smile. “I, uh, chose a name.”

Next Chapter: Robbery, He Dreamed Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 14 Minutes
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