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Great Expectations · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Who Will Guard The Dreamers
“Murderer.” I could not withstand the fury that filled my heart, and I gave quiet voice to another of the red tongues of fire that threatened to consume my soul. “Traitor. Thief. Betrayer of our trust.”

All around us, the soft clatter and murmur of voices continued as the rest of the diners in the restaurant ignored the murderous beast, sitting in a tall chair by the side of its deceived ‘parents.’ The creature ignored my rage, happily putting a hoof into its bowl of mashed peas and laughing at the mess that resulted while the two bleary-eyed pegasi to its sides made busy with napkin and burp rag in a futile attempt to stem the tide of pulped vegetables that spilled out over the edge of the high chair and onto the restaurant floor.

“Dreamy? Please calm down. Others are staring.” My husband of more than twenty years gently patted me on the hoof before I yanked it back, fuming in silence at his betrayal.

“Calm down?” I lowered my voice to a hiss as the surrounding diners flickered little looks of irritation at me and whispered behind their wings. “How can you expect me to calm down with that… thing sitting over there.”

I wanted to gesture, to stand and point an accusatory hoof at the monster before leading a mob with torches and cloudforks to burn its taint away from the city of my birth. To my growing fury, the creature ignored me and continued its innocent destruction of the high chair tray, smearing mashed peas into interesting swirls and adding a squirt of juice from its sippy cup.

“It’s a pony, just like everypony els—”

“It is not a pony!” I hissed, fighting to keep my voice down. “It is a beast created by the monster who fought Luna. It killed our daughter. It stole Luna away from us.”

My husband, the stallion who had pledged to defend the Royal Sisters to his dying breath in his youth, the same husband who had held my hoof as Princess Luna blessed our union, my beloved stallion of more than twenty years of marriage, looked away. The windows of the restaurant were open to the night air, revealing the disfigured moon that hung listlessly in Luna’s sky, and Eclipse watched it as he talked in a low voice, wracked with pain.

“Our daughter is gone, Dreamy. You have to accept that, even if I can’t. I can still hear her voice, and at any moment, I expect to turn around and find her there. I’ve lost her, and I don’t want to lose you too.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and rubbed one hoof around his neck where the armor of a royal guard once rested before his retirement. “You know what Princess Celestia said. Princess Luna turned into Nightmare Moon and and was—”

“She would never betray us!” I snapped, rising to my hooves. “Princess Luna was betrayed by her sister and locked away in the moon with that monster! No nightmare could have ever defeated her alone! Those beasts are proof of her alliance with the dark forces that Princess Luna fought! She will return, and you’ll see! She’s coming back! Luna will return! Our daughter…”

Dead silence filled the restaurant, with every accusatory eye fixed upon me, except the golden eyes of the tiny little beast, looking at me with its little fanged mouth fixed in an ‘o’ of fascination. It smiled with a flutter of small, ineffective bat-wings and reached out with one hoof, calling out in a tiny squeak of a voice.

“L’na! L’na!”

I fled.

My husband found me hours later as I lay despondent on a small patch of melting snow on the slopes of the Canterhorn, my dark coat a muddy mess and my tears nearly spent. He alighted a few paces away and simply stood there, a pale greyish blob against the bland night sky. It was an expression of patience that I had always appreciated, and I knew that no matter how long it took for me to gather myself together, he would still be there, patiently waiting.

Unlike my daughter. Our daughter.

Twenty years worth of love. Twenty years worth of care. Gone in a single night. Despite the weeks of time that had passed, the memory was still as clear as if it had happened a few moments ago. Luna had called, and all of her followers had responded. Almost all. Alone in the hospital by my husband’s side, I had been torn between my princess and my marriage. I wanted so much to go with her and build the city she had promised, but Eclipse needed me more, and by the time the fever had broken, it was all over. The night. The tearing sensation of looking up at the moon and seeing that hideous monster imprisoned inside. The solemn royal guard who had come to the hospital room, swaying on his hooves with fatigue and with so many more families to visit with the same crushing words.

We regret to inform you that…

There was no body at the funeral. No corpse to bury in the ground and cover with flowers. No physical trace of a pegasi’s final fall from the sky. Just an empty hole in our hearts where a young and eager Night Guard had once lived, loved, and grown. Despair had driven me to the air, to a long and arduous flight over the blackened destruction where guards were picking through the wreckage in a futile search for survivors. Many others joined us in a silent circling of the charred spot in the Everfree Forest where their own children and grandchildren had met their end. The families were still recognizable on the streets from the grey expressions that encompassed their entire bodies, as if all that they had in life had been drained from them and left only the skin and bones.

“I wanted to see the city,” I mumbled, extending a forehoof and feeling the warm form of my husband slide under it and to my side. “Luna said she was going to build a city so beautiful that no eye could capture its glory. We all were going to live there in eternal joy and happiness. There would be no sorrow, no loss, no death. No mother would ever have to grieve over the loss of their daughter.”

“I know,” whispered Eclipse.

“We were going to be there.” I shifted closer to the warm form of my husband. “If you hadn’t gotten sick, we would have been there. We could have done something. We could have helped Luna fight the creature.”

The still form of my husband spoke the words that he was unable to say, so I said them for him. “You believe her, don’t you? You believe that foolish story from Celestia about how Luna was corrupted by the Nightmare and had to be banished.”

“Princess Luna was… different for the last few weeks,” he said. “Colder. She hardly spoke a word to Princess Celestia. All of the guards were worried. I should have said something.” He snuggled closer and trembled. “Maybe she’s right.”

“She’s wrong,” I snapped. “I wish I could just fly away to the moon and set Luna free. She would be able to tell you how she was betrayed by Celestia. I can’t even walk the Dreaming to reach her anymore, not since Celestia set her wards.” With one damp wingtip stretched out to the sky, I reached for the feathery touches of the Dreamlands and felt them stir just out of reach.

“She dared to touch the sky/And bring back the fire of the gods,” murmured my husband with a long stroke of one hoof through my muddy mane. “Whatever you decide, I shall be with you. Through fire and through ice, my path is at your side.”

“It shall not be easy.” I raised my eyes to the corrupted moon in the lackluster sky.

“That which is important never is,” he replied.

I settled down on the gentle touch of a fresh cloud, brought into our bedroom by my husband as I prepared for my journey. The Dreaming is a difficult place to reach on even the best of times, and as I slipped into my pajamas, I tried to keep my mind focused on my goal. The scent of anger and fear would only bring nightmares to hound my steps, hobble my path, and attack those whom I was pledged to protect. The path of the Dreamer is not trod by many hooves, and since the imprisonment of Princess Luna, it is likely that I was the only one left to guard the dreams of the vulnerable and the weak.

Still, I was determined not to fail, even at the cost of my own life. Princess Luna was depending on me. I would prevail. My husband added one final addition to my preparations, a small stuffed bear embroidered with the motto of the Dreamers: Quis custodiet somniator.

It belonged to Shadow and guarded her dreams for many years as she grew up in our home. I grasped it to my chest and breathed in the last memories I held of my slain daughter.

And I dreamed.

Each Dreamer perceives the Dreamscape in their own fashion, from an earth pony who might see endless fields of growing crops to a unicorn who trots through a library filled with books. To me, the Dreaming has always been the sky, and I rose up into the night above Canterlot on wings of darkness. The wards that Celestia had set upon Luna’s domain were crude, but powerful. They stretched across my sight like glowing iron bars, strong enough to repel even giants, but I slipped and darted through the sky in search of a flaw.

It was a clumsy hole that Luna would never have tolerated, and I passed through it with space to spare, spreading my wings and ascending into the night as a shadow in the shadows. Light spread out below me as the Sun Princess attempted to peer into the darkness for any who would oppose her rule, but where the light did not touch, the darkness concealed my form as I rose beyond her reach.

Never had I ascended to this dizzying height, in the real world or the Dreaming, but it was not the carefree beauty of Luna’s night any more. Stars whispered to each other in terror over what they had seen and dampened their glory as if in fear that they would be plucked from the sky and dashed to the ground at Celestia’s displeasure. Even the darkness between them was filtered with a grey nothingness, as if the glory of Princess Luna was no longer reflected in the sky. The moon grew before me as I flew, but even it had not been spared from Celestia’s touch. Chains and wards surrounded it, huge creations that dwarfed me as a mosquito alongside a pony. Power beyond my imagination was wrapped around Luna’s celestial orb, runes of such complexity and arcane might to restrain a goddess in her wrath as she fought to return to her rightful place.

They were silent now, but I could see the charred marks and blackened links where the beast fought back against its imprisonment and feel the long, slow pulse of breathing as it slept to regain its power for another attempt at freedom. I slipped down through the massive structures, untouched by their bonds, far too insignificant to even draw a response. I was a fly to their power, and I moved with a grace enforced by the reminder that even a fly could be casually swatted with a mere twitch of a tail.

When I started my journey, I was confident of my goals. If the beast were vulnerable while bound in its chains, I would do to it what Princess Luna was unable, and slay it to free her, even though that act of deadly violence went against all which the Dreamers stood for. Now, as I slipped through the last of the massive bonds, that goal seemed as far from me as my own soft bed.

The beast lay sprawled across a vast area, a mangled and twisted melange of every possible creature that could be imagined as it had changed its own form in an attempt to escape its mystic bonds. Tentacles and claws lay intermixed with bony protrusions, battered and broken from being thrust against their cage but oozing slowly back together for an eventual next attempt. The worst I could do against it would be to make a small blemish upon its least limb, an attack that would not even trigger a scratch in response.

With a flick of my wings, I drifted along above the twisted leviathan, a Nightmare in form far beyond any which I had ever fought in the Dreamscape. There was no sign of Luna anywhere, just the dark entwinings of the beast lit by the dim glow of the runic bonds keeping it restrained. Time holds no meaning in the Dreaming, but as I flew, the feeling of awakening began to rise. Soon, the Nightmare would again fling itself against the chains, and if I were to remain, I would be crushed into nothingness.

I had just made up my mind to leave when a faint cry carried through the air, a sobbing wail of despair that sunk a hook into my heart and dragged me through the warped and twisted sky in pursuit. I darted and swooped under arches of exposed bones and monstrous claws, following the faint noise until it lead into a darkened tunnel, and beyond the tunnel, a simple wooden door, barred and locked as if the cell door to a terrible monster. Behind the door, a voice rough from crying endlessly repeated the same phrase.

...Murderer. Killed them all. Murderer. Killed them all…

“Princess Luna?” My clumsy hooves slid back the bar across the door and fumbled with the latch. “Hold on, Princess. I’ll get you out of there.”

“NO!” The stunning explosion of sound echoed through the dark tunnel and out into the surrounding darkness, making the vast bulk of the creature seem to shift in return. I froze, unable to move as the faint noises of vast body parts in motion in the distance ever so slowly subsided. “No,” the voice repeated in a rough whisper. “Begone, foul temptress.”

“I’ve come to rescue you, Princess,” I whispered back, still unwilling to make a move towards opening the door for fear of triggering the same reaction as before.

“There is naught to be rescued,” she responded. “Begone.”

I could not help but try to open the door again and slide the latch as quietly as possible in that sepulchral silence which pressed down upon my back like a smothering blanket, but the door fought against my touch with a faint glow of Luna’s dark magic. “Princess,” I hissed into the narrow crack of the doorway, “Come with me. We need you.”

“I am not needed, nor wanted.” Her voice cracked in the darkness with a rough cough of agony. “Fly away, Dreamweaver. Fly back to your husband and grieve for your daughter. Leave me to the ghosts that will ever plague my memories until I die. Leave the murderer of your child to her fate.”

“No. No, Princess Luna. I can’t leave you here.” I placed my shoulder to the door and pushed, but I might as well have been pressing against the granite of Mount Canter for as much as it moved. “You didn’t kill my daughter. That beast did. Let me get you out of here. We can escape, and you can—”

“I killed your daughter.” Her voice was dark and terrifying, and for a moment, I stepped back from the door in abject terror of what lay beyond. “I killed them all. They followed me to the Winter Castle at my command, and allowed themselves to be subjected to my magic. They rejoiced at my corrupted touch, they praised my name for their new bodies, they danced in joy through the night as I damned them all to oblivion. No longer was I Princess Luna, but the name which I had forged for myself sprang from their lips. Nightmare Moon.”

“No,” I gasped. “Nightmare Moon attacked you. She killed your guards. Her monsters killed all who followed you.”

“Monsters?” The voice in the darkness seemed curious, even whimsical for a moment. “Is that what you would call your own child? Those who followed my foolish words begged for my magic to transform them into a new form, new ponies who would appreciate my beloved night. I held the power of the cosmos, and my only thought was to create beings who would praise my creations in turn. We did not care that the whole world would burn, if my own bloated ego would be fed in the process.”

I recoiled from the door and what lay beyond as if it had attempted to consume me. “Those… things. They really were your followers? My daughter?”

“My power knew no boundaries, neither constrained by compassion or reason. I extended it to the utmost to transform my… children.” The voice dropped to near inaudibility. “And I killed them all, to the last one, when I withdrew my power to smite my sister.”

The dull blanket of silence surrounded me as I considered my own child, transformed into one of those batwinged beasts, and then destroyed in order to attack Princess Celestia. I wanted nothing more than to flee that horrible deep voice, fly through the wards and chains that bound it to the moon, and weep into the chest of my husband.

“Go.” The voice was barely audible, but my hooves turned to leave at their command. It was the voice of Princess Luna, and I had pledged to obey its every wish. Still, I stopped before spreading my wings and fleeing that horrible place. I had lost a child. Luna had lost far more.

“I forgive you, Princess Luna.” The words hurt as I squeezed them though my narrowing throat, barbed and thorned syllables that fought desperately to stay in my grieving heart.

“There is no Luna. There is only Nightmare Moon.” The door creaked as it opened, and a wan light spilled over the inhabitant of the small cell beyond. What had once been a royal alicorn of immense beauty now seemed melted as if in some incredibly hot crucible, her limbs flowing down and merging against the dark substance of the floor until it was impossible to see where the pony stopped and the floor began. One wing lay crumpled beneath her weight, shifting in shape as long strands of darkness bound it to the wall like cables made of blackened steel, but the face was the worst. The noble horn that crowned her ruined face was warped and twisted, and her once-beautiful features reshaped in a fashion that even a young foal would look away from in disgust.

“Behold what was once your Princess of the Night and despair,” it rasped, looking at me with one distorted eye still closed. “What I have created will soon devour me, as it devoured all of my followers. Your forgiveness means nothing. There is no hope for me now. None shall ever call my name again, save as a curse.”

I could not move forward to free my Princess from her imprisonment, and yet I could not leave either. The memory of mashed peas rose up in my mind, and with it, the beatific smile of the tiny dark creature as she gazed at me with loving eyes. The batwinged foal had once been a pony, and still was inside. Small, frightened, and in a strange world where larger ponies would forever blame it for things which were no fault of its own, it still had been somepony’s child, and in some fashion, Luna’s child too.

“You are wrong, Princess Luna. Some of your youngest transformed followers survived, and still remember you with love. As long as they live, you will not be forgotten.”

“They… survived?” The warped and twisted alicorn shifted positions, fighting against the substance which glued her to the floor but making no headway despite her struggles.

“Princess Celestia has been finding homes for them with loving parents who are willing to accept them for who they are. Your children will survive, under the protection of your sister.” I glanced nervously at the tunnel as the ground beneath my hooves shifted with the rhythm of an immense beast awakening from its dreams of conquest and bloodshed. “Hurry, Princess Luna. We need to leave.”

Her struggles ceased, although the dark alicorn still kept one eye closed as she looked back at me. “No, I cannot leave this place. Go and tell my sister of my fate. Guard well my children as thou hast guarded the Dreamscape, and I shall fight the darkness within my heart until the stars permit my return.” The disfigured creature who had once been the Princess of the Night shifted in pain as the distant motions of the immense creature rumbled through the walls. “Thank you for bringing me hope. Now, go! Hurry! I cannot hold her back much longer.”

“Princess Luna, I can’t go back without you!”

In a flicker of motion, the eye which Luna had been keeping closed, opened. A draconic pupil, slit from top to bottom trapped me within its chill gaze as a deep voice thundered through the dark tunnel.

There is no Princess Luna! There is only Nightmare Moon!

The door to the cell slammed shut and broke that baleful gaze, allowing me to sprint for the tunnel. My wings flung me forward as the ground beneath opened up with teeth and limbs reaching for me, clutching at my receding form, and clashing against the massive wards which held the beast. I burst out between the mystic chains surrounding the moon and flung myself forwards, a darting shadow which left the fading howls of rage and vengeance behind. Never had I flown with such speed through the Dreamscape, past the terrified stars, past the wards which Celestia had thrown over the domain, and with one destination as if it had been burned into my mind in letters of fire.

Around the Royal Towers of Canterlot, the nightmares had gathered. In small knots of darkness, they had crept closer and closer to the brilliant light within until they surrounded it, hiding in cracks and crevices wherever the light failed to spread its warmth. Luna was gone, and they had seized their opportunity to wreak havoc on the vulnerable alicorn who remained, but they scattered in terror as I descended into their midst. With tooth and hoof, I drove them away until their screeches of rage faded into the distance.

Celestia would sleep tonight without their foul touch. But there was one more thing that needed done.

As the morning dragged slowly on, there was a tension to our house that we had never experienced before in our decades of marriage. Friends and family were gathered together in the living room to help us and to support our decision, and their presence was a welcome warmth that kept both of us from pacing or going out for a quick morning flight which would allow us to ‘accidently’ forget the time and miss our appointment. Various snack foods covered the tables in a thick array of nutritious support that we had been nibbling on with various degrees of sincerity while waiting the interminably long time before she was to show up.

Finally, the whisper of wings and the clatter of armor sounded from outside, and a pair of royal guards slipped in the doorway to take up positions around the living room. After a brief introduction, they settled into place and awaited the last visitor, who was taking much longer to appear than expected.

“I don’t want to go,” filtered in through the open doorway. “I want to stay with you, Princess.”

“The castle is no place to raise a child,” sounded a second, much deeper voice. “As much as I would love to keep you all, having a loving couple raise you will be much better.”

“Can I come back and visit, so you can tell me more about your sister?” whined the first voice.

“Whenever you want,” assured the second voice. “Now come on, please. They’re waiting.”

With the faintest sound of dragging hooves, a very young bat-winged pony trudged through the doorway of our home, followed by Princess Celestia.

“I’d like you to meet your new foster parents,” said Celestia. “This is Dreamweaver and Eclipse, two very special friends of my sister who have volunteered to watch over you. Dreamweaver. Eclipse. This is Hope.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Hope,” I said, stepping forward and smiling at the little filly.
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