Chapter Eight

Canterlot Castle: The Gardens

Luna closed her eyes and silently counted to ten, willing her heart to slow and breathing to calm. Suddenly a chunk of granite the size of her head landed a few feet from her with a dull thud which sent the garden's loamy soil and grass flying. It took her entire being to keep from bolting into the night then and there.

Stay calm! If you lose your head, you lose everything! Stay quiet, stay down, analyze, and counter! Luna drew a shuddering breath through her nose and let it hiss out between her teeth. I can do this. I can keep it together and figure it out. Just remember back to the war with Discord and use those skills.

Thinking about the mad god forced Luna's eyes open. She could see his prison in her Moon's light from her position under the hedgerow. Discord remained as passive and immobile as ever, locked in stone once more by the Elements of Harmony. The Chaos Lord terrified her, but she had faced him before, and if he was somehow behind Tia's madness, she would personally send him on a one way trip into deep space. The statue regarded the gardens with its startled, disappointed expression and offered her no solace as another large hunk of stone sailed into the hedge several yards from Luna. It smashed a hole through the hedge and came to a stop half buried in the soft ground.

I need to see what's going on. Luna cast her eyes skyward, looking at her Moon. The orbiting body beamed at her like a happy child, appearing bigger and brighter.

It was not the actual source of her power, but she and the Moon were bound in ways far more intimate than even Celestia and her Sun. She could see anything that its silver light fell on as if she were standing there in the flesh. Luna reached inside herself to that goddess power, tapping it to grant herself sight beyond sight. She placed her point of reference about a dozen swift wing beats above the palace and the garden maze. She could see from there most of the Castle lay untouched by the recent violence. There was a huge hole in the wall that opened into the Throne room and a trail of rubble that led from there, across the courtyard and into the private gardens. Luna noticed her sister's form blur from the corner of her mind's eye, the ground where Celestia previously stood now empty. Another section of the castle wall bigger than several apple carts hurtled through the air. Luna barely had time to register it was headed for her physical body before cancelling the spell and tumbling blindly away. The stone hit where she had been sitting and exploded in a shockwave of dirt and debris. Luna blinked at the destruction, eyes wide and gasping for breath. She brushed some dirt from her coat and shakily rose to her hooves.

"Ok… no more goddess powers. Tia—she's tracking me with it! I have to lay low, keep hidden. I can't take her head on… need a plan." Luna gulped more air and started to unsteadily gallop deeper into the maze. She kept to the shadows, trusting in her natural coloring to camouflage her location. As she ran, more stone rained down into the maze, tearing holes through the manicured hedgerows and gouging deep trenches in the soft soil. After a little distance, Luna slowed to a trot and then a quick walk, least the sound of her hoof-falls give her away.

She's starting to move off target… I don't think she can sense me now. I need to keep low and move or I'll eventually just get hit out of dumb luck. Luna wiped her hoof across her brow and slinked over the grass as fast as she could while crouched. I have to gain more distance and figure out what is going on here. My sister—MY SISTER—is hurling boulders at me from the courtyard after trying to buck my head in while I wasn't looking and then hurling ME through a wall. She hasn't said a word and was grinning like a maniac the whole time. Everypony in the Throne room was down, even my guards. They might be dead or wounded… but I think they are alive. The guards' weapons weren't activated. I don't remember seeing any blood, so there probably wasn't a struggle, at least I hope so. They must have all went down at once.

Luna reached the next hedgerow and used the cover to quickly dive behind a retaining wall. She dropped down over the ledge created by the wall to a lower tier of the garden grounds, holding her breath while her hooves hit the ground. She didn't hear anything from the courtyard area that sounded like her sister had noticed her new location, only her own heartbeat in the deep shadow cast by the wall. The night princess looked around for a secure place to hide and noticed the gardener's shed. It was basically a large wooden closet built directly into the side of the hedge maze. It wouldn't stop Celestia any more than a parasprite could deter an Ursa Major, but it should keep her hidden long enough to help Twilight.

Hopefully she won't just blast the whole area. She shuddered at the thought of her sister setting their home ablaze. I just hope I can help Twilight. She can rally the Elements in Ponyville, and together we can stop… whatever is going on, I pray.

Luna gathered herself, licking her lips before sprinting for the shed. Opening the door would bring her into the light for a moment. If Celestia saw it, Luna would have to run or fight, and so far neither option was looking good. She dared a quick glance behind herself and saw her sister was now hovering several hundred hoof spans above the maze. Celestia was looking the other way at the moment, and she took the opportunity to move. Luna pushed open the door with her wing, skidding to a halt just inside. She eased the door closed as quickly as she could manage without slamming it and only released her breath once it was shut.

The inside shed's inside smelled of dirt and mold, rusty tools, and grass clippings. Sheers and small hoofsaws hung from pegs lining the walls and overhead shelves. Bags of plant food, potting soil, and watering cans occupied the majority of floor space. Luna found a seat on what she sincerely hoped was a bag of potting soil and not fertilizer. She focused her breathing as the distress cry from Twilight echoed across her mind again. The princess closed her eyes and reached out to the dream, silently asking whatever may watch over her to keep Celestia busy.

"Please, don't let her notice this," Luna whispered to herself as she focused her attention inward toward the connection with Twilight's dream.

The darkness of the shed faded away, replaced with an infinite void full of potential. Luna visualized the dream forming in front of her, a swirling sphere of color that was dominated by a very familiar shade of purple. As the connection was strengthened, the dream grew in size as though she were descending toward it. It gave her the odd sensation of déjà vu again as it reminded her of the view from her Moon, looking down on the world. She was just beginning to hear muffled, distorted sounds from the dream when Luna was struck by that same feeling she felt just before Celestia's attack. It was almost like the feeling of being watched or at least the feeling that she wasn't alone in the void between the waking world and dreams. Luna wasn't sure what she was doing exactly or how she might be doing it, but somehow she looked over her metaphysical shoulder.

The void was less empty than usual. Much less empty.

Dreams — thousands of them each a swirling sphere of color — were clumped together tightly in a mound the size of a mountain. Each one's colors flowed into the next, creating twisting eddies and whirlpool-like formations of dream realities. As she watched, more spheres sprang into existence and fused with the pile increasing its size. On the top of the mound perched a being of terrific proportions. Luna couldn't make out the details, as it appeared even darker and blacker than the surrounding void. She could only just make out its glowing eyes and hawk-like outline against the bright dreams. It had wings that could easily spread wider than the Castle grounds, its talons were thicker than jousting lances, and its beak looked like it could swallow a dragon whole. But the worst part was its eyes. The orbs glowed with an unhealthy yellow color and burned with the mad fire of dying stars. They were looking for something, moving with a quick jerk then pausing to scan an area. Luna knew it was looking for her. She didn't know how she knew it, but she trusted her gut feeling that if it found her she would be done for. The baleful eye she could see was turning her way with a dream-like slowness. It would see her and end her.

Luna turned back to Twilight's dream, reaching to dive in when a great pillared stone wall suddenly burst into being around her and a ceiling of pure moonstone blocked sight of the monster. Twilight's dream sphere still floated in front of her, but it was small, distant once more. The 'room' she now found herself in was large enough that the light from that small sphere of dreamstuff drowned in dark shadow. A clanking of chains and a gurgling hiss rose from the new darkness.

"What in Tartarus is going on here?!" Luna lowered her head, horn at ready to zap or gore whatever manifested. I'm really pressed for time! Luna clenched her teeth, thinking quickly. This would be incredibly interesting to study, if it were not for being beset with monsters at every turn!

"Time is a mutable thing, youngling, especially here. You are not so pressed as you imagine." The voice came from everywhere at once. "Be calm. I am here to aid you."

Luna's eyes strained at the darkness, but she held her position. She cursed under her breath, trying to will the darkness away. She wasn't used to being blind in the dark and the voice sounded like somepony she half remembered. It was someone important, but she could not put her hoof on it. "If by aid, you mean blocking the sight of… whatever that was, then you have my thanks. I normally would love to stay and chat on matters, but a friend needs me now."

"Normally," the voice became less diffuse and Luna's ears could hear it gathering to a single point just off to her left outside her sight, "You would not wish to speak with me at all, youngling. Last we had communion, you cast me in here with intent to ne'er again release me."

Luna whipped up her head, mouth dropping open. "Wait! No… it cannot be! You are no more!" She looked into the black abyss of the shadows, hearing the sound of chains dragging over stone, though the 'floor' was just more of the nothingness that permeated the void between minds.

Into the wane light cast by Twilight's dream, stepped Luna's emaciated mirror image, bound by chains instead of wearing the royal vestments, with glowing eyes slit like a serpent's and a mane that was limp and stringy. "That was your wish, yes. But I am not so easily to be rid of, Mistress. The Titan of the Sun tied us together tightly so that you could soar as high and as long as she."

The Nightmare smiled playfully, showing off fangs any carnivore would be proud of. "When you reach for your 'goddess powers,' it is I who answers and takes your hoof. I am the one that makes your desires reality. If you want me shackled and put away, then so be it, Mistress. I cannot refuse you, even if I think your choices are poorly made. Thankfully, our interests intersect tonight. You wish to save the Sun's Titan from her own hubris, and I wish to remain free from my previous Master."

Luna blinked at the sight of everything within herself that she hated. She closed her gaping mouth with a snap, her mind struggling with what the Nightmare was saying to her. This makes no sense! What the hay is she — it — talking about?! Titan of the Sun? Tia 'bound' her to me?

Luna shook her head forcibly and frowned at the image. "Look, I don't care about whatever you are trying to mysteriously impart to me. Twilight — my friend — needs me. And I need her to save my sister! So get the buck out of my way! We can talk about this later!"

"As you command, Mistress." The Nightmare bowed to Luna, her chains clanking against the invisible floor. As she did, Twilight's dream swelled and Luna could feel her connection strengthen. "And we will speak again. Sooner than you might foresee."

Luna didn't respond, leaping forward into the dreamscape before her. It expanded exponentially, colors and sounds swirling around her in a chaotic torrent as the reality of this particular dream crystalized around her. The Royal Observatory was as she left it. Her Moon hung overhead, the gas lanterns on the tables still provided a soft, warm light, and the black board and Twilight's notes were just as before. Only difference that was immediately noticeable was Twilight herself. The unicorn was laid out on her back, on the floating pillow below Luna with her mane tossed about, eyes half-lidded, and breathing heavily, almost panting.

"W-why-y… why did y-you stop? I… I'm so close."

Luna raised an eyebrow. "Close to what? Are you ok, Twilight? I came back as soon as I could. Something has happened at the castle, and I need your help! My sister —" Luna paused, smacking her lips together. "Why does my mouth taste funny?"

Canterlot Castle: The Courtyard

Delusion scowled as he stood frozen and static in the rubble-strewn courtyard. Only his eyes moved, quickly flicking about but never focusing on anything for more than a moment. His borrowed hooves rested on a hunk of stone and wood half his current body's size, ready to hurl it should the cowardly princess broadcast her location again.

That was the oddest thing. Delusion pondered as he stretched every sense out around himself. I've never felt that before. I can remember sensing the presence of the other titans when they were close, but this? This is new. It was like a beacon — a star appearing from behind a cloud — only I could feel it.

Several seconds crept by, but the sensation did not return. He frowned and looked down at the white coat of the mare he inhabited and the grey stains the stone and masonry dust were leaving behind. She will come back, but when and with what else? Luna, I could take, even in this form. Delusion smirked. In my normal body, not even Luna and the Elements of Harmony together would pose a threat!

Delusion chuckled to himself and sent the chunk of rubble flying blindly into the hedge maze. His chuckle evolved into a full belly laugh as it crashed down. For the moment he wasn't bothered by the high pitched braying his throat made. As it faded to a strained wheeze, Delusion shook his head and turned back toward the castle. He widened his smile; he could feel more sleeping minds being added to the Dream as he walked.

As interesting as all this is, this pathetic equine form needs to go, I think. I should get started on restoring my body. Then I won't have to worry about any pony or who she brings for backup!

"Hehehehe… Soon enough this body will be just like my old one. Then I can really get some work done terrorizing these little herd beasts!" Delusion felt another cackle rumbling up. "I will be unstoppable! The streets will run red! The screams will echo off the mountainside! These stupid magical multicolored equines will-!"

Delusion paused as he reached the gaping hole in the Throne Room wall. Wait… magical? He closed his eyes and grimaced. How in the Hells does pony magic work? I don't feel anything from this horn. I have Celestia's strength, but where is the fire? Where is the heat of the Sun?

Delusion growled and then took a slow, deep breath. "Do not get ahead of yourself. You've been lucky this far you, old bird. I need to be paranoid about this. I can't let myself be taken out by the tricks these creatures can perform. I need information." He looked up and around the Throne Room, noting the sleeping forms on the floor. "Do you ponies still make pictographs on clay tablets? And if you do, where do you store them?"

Unsurprisingly, none of the sleepers answered, though one enterprising guard in blue armor did start to snore loudly. Delusion sighed and stepped over the nearest pony. No matter. I will just have to harvest the information from their minds.

Twilight Sparkle's Dreamscape

Luna ran her tongue over the front of her teeth, puzzled by the flavor in her mouth. It wasn't unpleasant. It tasted oddly familiar but no food or drink she could think of fit. Whatever caused the taste had been warm and coated her entire palate.

What was Twilight dreaming? Luna raised an eyebrow as she swallowed slowly. Was I eating something? She lowered her eyes back to Twilight who was looking back at her with a furious blush, tears forming at the edges of her eyes. Luna froze as the dots connected in her mind. Oh sweet Heavens, again? I leave her alone for a minute and she starts dreaming about me… about… me doing…

"Gah!" Luna flared her wings and flapped them hard to push her off the floating pillows. Her hooves caught on the material and turned her backward leap into an ungraceful fall that deposited the Princess on her rump on the cool floor tiles. She let out an "Umph!" as the fall knocked the wind from her.

Luna pulled her wings in front of her face, feeling her own blush flare and blocking the sight of Twilight sprawled before her. "Twi — I'm sorry! I-I didn't mean to! Interrupt — that is!"

Wait, Luna furrowed her brow, Why am I apologizing? She's the dreamer here, not me! And it isn't like I can knock before jumping into a dream! She should be apologizing to-!

Luna startled as she heard Twilight let out a sob. Her mouth dropped open as her friend started to cry softly. She was no stranger to tears herself, but Luna could count the times she had heard it from another pony, besides her sister since her banishment, on her hooves and still have a few to stand on. It was the most mournful sound a friend could hear. Being the reason for the tears felt crushing in a way Luna had experienced before in her darker period. She couldn't seem to make her lungs work and made her own quiet choking noises.

She found it both odd and completely natural that she wanted to reach out to Twilight. Luna wanted nothing more at that moment than to hold her and shush her tears, tell her everything was okay. She risked a peek between her wider spanned primary feathers at the unicorn. Twilight was sitting now, facing the chalkboard with her equations and notes, presenting Luna with her profile. Her head hung low and most of her face was blocked by her mane, but Luna could see tears gathering to form large droplets that fell from her chin to splatter upon the moon patterned pillow.

Luna ducked her head, unable to watch. She shuddered and coughed as her lungs remembered how to function. "I'm sorry, Twilight. I rushed back… I thought you were in trouble." Luna swallowed. "I could hear you. Calling me, that is. I-I left the connection open and I… I thought that you needed my help."

Luna blinked, feeling moisture form at the edges of her own eyes. "Don't cry. Please, Twilight. I-I don't know what is going on anymore. Everything is suddenly c-c-crazy, and I'm lost, Twilight. I wanted… I wanted to rescue you. To do right." Luna sniffed as she saw her own tears drip on the floor between her hooves. "To be the good mare for once."

"I'm not… angry at you, Luna." Twilight's voice was whisper quiet and sounded ragged. "It isn't your fault. It… it happened again. You—I mean your dream version, I don't know—came on to me. I didn't want it to happen. I didn't want to be d-distracted… like that again."

Luna heard Twilight choke back a sob. "I couldn't control it. Before I knew it, I was laying back… It felt natural, even though I knew it was w-wrong!" She paused for a moment, and Luna lowered her wings enough to peek over them. Twilight was wiping a hoof across her muzzle. "What's wrong with me, Luna? Why can't I control that part?"

Luna dropped her wings, letting them sag for a moment before she folded them back to her sides. She let out a breath she hadn't noticed that she was holding. "Truthfully, I do not know. I don't know about a lot of things, it seems. Some great goddess of ponidom I've turned out to be. I cannot even protect my one friend from," Luna paused, looking for the correct wording, "from whatever is affecting her dreams. How am I to save Equestria?"

Twilight sniffed loudly and looked up. "What? What does that mean?"

"It means just what I said!" Luna blinked her own tears out of her eyes and leaned forward towards Twilight. "How am I to be the heroine this time, Twilight? You are troubled, my sister has gone mad, and monsters that have no right to exist stalk me in the void between the waking world and dreams! I am a bored Princess with little to no social panache and no practical experience with these things!"

Twilight rocked back from the force of Luna's voice and put up a hoof, her eyes widening. "Wait, Luna, what? What do you mean Princess Celestia has gone mad?! What monsters are you talking-?"

"That, my little vessel, would be me."

Canterlot Castle: Throne Room (The Dreaming)

Princess Celestia gently cleared her throat. The sound was soft with just a hint of insistency. It wasn't a word, or a command, but it held within itself an implied question that demanded to be answered as much as any worded query from the monarchy.

Swift Strike blinked as he realized that the sound was intended for him. He may be a member of the Nightguard to Princess Luna, but no pony refused to answer Princess Celestia. He snapped a quick salute as he turned to face the Princess. The rest of the Court seemed oddly empty, which he felt should bother him more so than it did, as if everypony had left for some perfectly reasonable reason that he couldn't recall. It was just him and the Princess, and she had asked him a question that he couldn't remember either. He felt that should bother him too, but he wasn't about to let Princess Celestia know that. Thankfully his helmet provided an easy excuse.

Swift yanked his helm off and held it to his side, keeping his face as stoic as possible. "Yes, Princess? I'm afraid I didn't hear your question. Helmet, you see."

Celestia smiled gently and inclined her head. "Oh, that's no problem. I was merely inquiring where I could find a store of cuneiform tablets describing the function of ponykind magic. In detail."

Swift Strike tilted his head. "Excuse me?"

"Where do you keep your writings, Warrior?"

Swift Strike's eyebrows knitted together and he blushed a bit. "You want to read my novel? I haven't even finished the first draft, Princess—not that I mind! I just assumed you wouldn't have any interest in my writing!"

Celestia continued to smile sweetly, though one eye twitched slightly. "You misunderstand, Warrior. I desire the writings of your sages and elders on the ways of magic. Surely there is a repository nearby? I must go there and learn."

"Why would you need to learn about magic? If you don't mind my asking, Princess. Haven't you written books on the subject yourself?"

Princess Celestia sighed and shook her head, muttering to herself about abject stupidity. "It doesn't matter why I must do so, only that I have to. Now, answer me where your kind keeps the writings of your wise!"

Swift blinked rapidly and swallowed hard. "Um, do you mean the Royal Archives? In Sparkle's Tower?"

Celestia nodded curtly. "Yes. I suppose I do. Where is it?"

Swift Strike raised a hoof and pointed out the window. "You can see it from here, Your Majesty. Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing is wrong. Now go back to sleep. I have business to attend."

Delusion shook his head as the guard pony collapsed like puppet with its strings cut. I must be getting rusty. At least now I know where to begin. He looked out the window the guard had pointed and allowed a smile to spread on his face.

Twilight Sparkle's Dreamscape

Luna tensed and blinked at Twilight. Twilight's brows knitted together in response. As one, they both turned to look back at the tables that littered the main part of the Royal Observatory's lecture chamber. The gas lanterns that provided a soft light in the chamber flickered and hissed. In that moment of darkness a mare appeared between the two foremost tables. The lights stabilized as she sashayed forward, revealing another mirror image of the Lunar Princess. This one shared the Nightmare's slit pupils, however, where the Nightmare was deathly thin and looked dirty and unkempt; this version of Luna looked hale and hearty to the point of being plump and seemed to glow like the full moon.

Stars above, I wish my flank was actually that full looking! Luna blinked as the apparition winked at her.

"Give it time, Princess. Time and some cake." The newcomer stopped a few strides away from Luna and Twilight and tossed her mane dramatically. "I told you that we would be speaking again sooner than you anticipated."

"Nightmare! It is you that besets Twilight? I don't know what you are up to, but so help me, this time I will banish you for good!"

Luna's copy made a 'tsk' noise and waved a hoof dismissively. "You are free to try, Princess. However, I do not believe you would wish to follow through with such an action. Though we are, in fact, one and the same, here I am the Element of Magic rather than your Nightmare. Banishing me would not be… healthy," she paused, "for my mortal host."

"Wait!" Twilight jumped off the pillow and jabbed a hoof at the Element. "You're the Luna that came on to me after the real one left, aren't you? And just what in the name of Tartarus is going on here!? Are you responsible for all these strange dreams I've been having?"

The Element inclined her head to Twilight. "I am afraid that that is true, my Mistress."

A quiet fell after the Element spoke. Its face remained neutral as the three mares looked at each other.

Twilight frowned and raised an eyebrow. "And?"

"And what, Mistress?"

"And why!" Twilight huffed and stomped her hooves hard enough to crack the floor tiles. "Why did you do that?"

"I believe you have sufficient information to figure that out, Mistress. The means are justified by the end result." The Element smiled at Twilight and blew her a kiss. "Regardless of that, the Titan of the Sun is in danger of being lost to the void unless you and the Princess act soon."

"What." Twilight's eye twitched. She turned and looked back at Luna. "What?"

Luna shrugged. "I'm still piecing it together myself. I think 'Titan of the Sun' refers to my sister. Before I returned, I was waylaid by a similar apparition… though it looked and spoke differently. And there was something else there. It was looking for me, I know that. But what it is and how all this relates to Celestia going insane," Luna sighed, "I do not know."

"Wait, wait, wait… wait." Twilight frowned and rubbed her temple with one hoof. "Let me get this straight: Princess Celestia has gone nuts, there is a dream monster looking for Luna, the Element of Magic has been causing my crazy sex dreams and is also Nightmare Moon, and this dual personality exists as a separate entity from either of us?"

"That would be the gist of it all." The Element of Magic smirked playfully. "However, you are missing an important distinction. The Titan of the Sun has not gone insane. She is possessed by the very thing that is searching for the Princess. I think that it is trying to take her physical form for itself. Most likely it is attempting to destroy her spirit."

"That bird—thing—has my sister? Why didn't you tell me that earlier?" Luna growled and snorted. "I have to save her!" Luna flared her wings, gathering herself to leave the dream. If that monstrosity had harmed her sister's spirit, it would pay dearly. She was about to move when Twilight put a hoof on her shoulder.

"Hold on, Luna. We don't know what we're getting into here. I want to save Princess Celestia too, but we need to learn as much as we can about what we're going up against."

"Twilight, I must protes-!" Luna blinked as the hoof on her shoulder planted itself firmly on her mouth.

"I'm helping with this. We are equals in the dream realm, remember?" Twilight leveled a steady look at Luna for a moment before giving her a small smile. She looked back at the Element of Magic. "If you are who you say, then tell us what we're up against."

"As much as you may wish full disclosure, Mistress, I cannot give it to you at this time. It requires a great deal of focus to simply communicate with you on this level of reality. I cannot… articulate great detail. Further, there are many unknown facets to this situation which I can only offer conjecture on at the moment. My knowledge extends only slightly further than your own." The Element bowed her head. "I will tell you what I can."

Behind the Element, the Royal Observatory dissolved into a chaotic abyss of shifting shadows and flashes of distant lights. "The Titan of the Sun seems cleaved in twain; the physical and spiritual essences of her being are currently separate. Similar to the mortals' body and soul, the two parts cannot survive for long without each other. A malignant spirit strong enough to breach a Titan's defenses did this and submitted itself as a replacement to the original spiritual essence. In short, it has taken over the Titan's body and the loosened spirit of that Titan will quickly wither if not returned to its body or otherwise preserved."

The swirling shades and flashes of light seemed to rush away from the edges of Twilight's dreamscape, resolving into what looked like a mountain of tiny lights surrounded by darkness. At the peak of this edifice perched what could be charitably referred to as a falcon of immense proportions made out of a deeper darkness than its surroundings. It hunched over the lights less like a roost and more like a fresh kill. Even as they watched, it lowered its head and gouged out some of the lights with its beak before throwing its head back to work the mass down its throat.

"This is how it feeds, I believe. Each light you see is a pony's dream form. By doing that, it is consuming their life force, or soul. It would seem logical that it has done the same to the Titan of the Sun. One of those lights is hers, and once it goes dark on its own, or from being destroyed, she will be no more. It is gathering a lot of dream forms to gain strength, probably so that it can convert the physical form of the Sun's Titan into something that more closely resembles the new host spirit." The Element paused and looked at Luna and Twilight expectantly.

Luna shuddered, watching the vision play out in the dream in front of her. "I-I can confirm at least some of that. I saw that… thing before I came here. It was lording over a pile of dreams then. I saw it for only a moment. And… I don't know how I know, but I know it has no care for the lives or souls of ponies or me. It was looking for me, and it wanted me dead. I could feel it." Twilight offered Luna a reassuring smile and leaned into her side.

Luna murmured a quiet thank you and dropped her head some, suddenly very interested in the tile floor again. Aaauugh! I sound so weak! I need to be the strong one here. If Twilight isn't going to let me talk her out coming with me, then I'll have to protect us both. I hope I can.

"How do we beat this thing?" Twilight continued to lean into Luna's side. She sounded remarkably calm.

How does this little mare do it? I'm the goddess here, and I can barely keep myself from going into hysterics! Luna glanced at Twilight without moving her head. Even with the unicorn leaning in to offer support, she somehow managed to look regal and confident. She has saved Equestria from insane gods and shapeshifting bugs and even my darker half. Where does she get the strength?

"As antiquated as it sounds, you must save the Sun's Titan." The Element of Magic grinned mirthlessly and showed fangs that matched her slit pupils. "I do not think that you could stand up against the Titan's possessed physical form. However, the Princess has the ability to travel into the dream forms of mortal ponies, and I believe if you could get into the Titan's dream form, you could rouse her. The three of you combined should then be able to overthrow the possessing spirit."

Luna watched Twilight catch an errant strand of her mane in her mouth and chew gently. The unicorn looked about, focusing on nothing as she thought. After a second, she looked up and met Luna's gaze. Twilight dropped the strand of hair. "Luna, if what she says is true, then we'll need your powers to save Princess Celestia. Can you get us into the dreams of ponies this thing has captured?"

"Truly," Luna turned her head to fully look Twilight in the face, "I do not know. It is something I have never tried. But tonight, I have borne witness to things I would have scoffed at as impossible only yesterday. I suppose I can try."

Twilight gave Luna an encouraging smile. "Good. Do you think we can trust this… whatever it is? The Element of Magic has never spoken to me before or guided my hoof so directly. Knowledge is important, but we must always consider where or who it comes from. That's something your sister taught me long ago. And recently enough with my brother's wedding, to trust my instincts. My instincts tell me she isn't lying, but we aren't getting the whole of the truth either."

Luna raised her eyebrow and glanced quickly back at the Element who stood there with a polite smile waiting for them to finish. "I cannot tell for certain myself, but I think that she is correct about waking my sister. Before I returned, I saw the entire court down. Unconscious, I think. Some magic this thing uses puts ponies to sleep. While I did not succumb, as a mortal pony, you might. If we can get in and awaken Tia, her power should be more than enough to oust the invading spirit. The Nightmare said something odd about—"

"Time becomes short, Mistress" The Element of Magic moved closer and gestured back at the view of glittering mountain of pony dreams. "Even as we speak, the spirit grows closer to destroying the Titan of the Sun and the mortal ponies whose dreamforms it has already gathered. You know what you must do. As you cannot traverse the dream realm yourself, I will aid the Princess in transporting you along with her, so that the spirit may be exorcised."

Twilight looked at Luna expectantly. "Your call, Luna."

Luna swallowed hard and nodded slowly. "We must do this. I'd rather not endanger you, Twilight. If you insist on coming though, I welcome your company and advice." She looked back at the Element. "Do what you must. But should my friend come to harm by your actions, I will find a way to make you and the Nightmare pay."

The Element started to glow, her mane whipping in a wind of her own creation. "Of that I am certain you will, Princess."

Her eyes faded to all white, and the Element lifted off the floor, hovering a few inches above the tiles. She looked directly at Twilight, the smaller pony gasped as she began to float as well. There was a blinding flash followed by a hollow 'pop' noise, and when Luna blinked the afterimages from her eyes, she stood alone in Royal Observatory.

Luna turned and looked into the corners of the dream, finding nothing pony or otherwise. She opened her mouth to speak when she suddenly felt the dream start to unravel. It wasn't the usual way a dream came undone with the waking of the dreamer but more the fade of a shadow as the sun rose.

Hurry! Go now while it is distracted!

"Wha?" Luna startled and shook her head vigorously. That wasn't my thought!

Go!

Luna wasn't sure what she was doing but she raised her head and broke into a swift gallop, charging straight for the opening from Twilight's dreamscape back to the void. She pictured the huge mound of dreams in her mind, willing her magic to search for an opening. Luna spread her wings and jumped as she reached the edge of the rapidly fading Royal Observatory.

I'm coming, Tia! Hold on Twilight, this is going to be a bumpy ride!