Canterlot Castle: Sparkle Tower
The tower the guard pony directed Delusion toward loomed in front of him as he lurched, still unsteady in his borrowed equine body, across the promenade. The whole of the castle's occupants were now under the power of his Dreaming, trapped within their own minds, completely unaware. He could already feel new minds being added as his powers reached into the city just below the sprawling castle grounds.
If I could only remember how far these creatures have spread. These ponies are like rainbow-colored weeds! They get into everything if left unchecked. Note to self: find a map while I'm in the archives. I'd like to know how long it's going to take to blanket all of Equestria in the Dream.
Delusion walked up the wide steps to the tower door and sneered as a borrowed white hoof rose to push it aside. The old wood snapped and the door buckled under his attention, slowing Celestia's stolen form for half a stride. The inner room appeared to be a small antechamber with a large desk covered in stacks of books and scrolls. Behind the desk, a stout yellow stallion lay on his back, hooves in the air, and twitching as he dreamed.
Talons the size of lances and sharp enough to rend spirits from their flesh gently plucked a swirling dreamform from the mound below it. The raptor drew its prize up to beak level and inspected it with critical, alien eyes.
This one will do.
The dreamform swelled in front of the giant bird's eyes, its yellow colored swirls thinning to reveal a large sun-lit room filled with ponies reading books and scrolls. Yes, this one can find the answers I need. I simply need to pull it out screaming into the darkness! I - No! Delusion shook his head. No, be rational. Trick it. Use this damnable 'princess' form. There will be time for terror later, once I am sure no creature can stand against me.
The talon lifted the bloated dreamform higher where he could look at it directly. Wispy trails of inky black smoke from the smoldering, dying coals of his eyes drifted toward the dream. The bright yellow sphere began to darken as it expanded further, looming above him like some wasted and washed out planet. The library at its center turned dark and moon-lit. The extra ponies vanished with a flick of his will until only the dreamer remained.
Dewey Decimal squinted at the book held in his hoof. The dim moonlight made it hard to read the words on the binding. He frowned at the blurry cover and wondered why he hadn't turned on the lights after the sun went down.
Dewey blinked and shook his head. "Wait. When did the sun go down?"
"When I willed it so, pony."
Dewey whipped around, dropping the book he had been holding. He gasped when he recognized Princess Celestia standing a few feet from him. For the life of him, he couldn't remember if there had been a scheduled visit today or not.
"W-why, of course, your m-majesty!" Dewey bowed so that the Princess wouldn't see his surprise. "I was merely thinking out loud! I was just wondering why I had forgotten to turn on some lights…"
The archive custodian's voice faded as golden light permeated the room, the overhead lamps flaring to life with a hiss. He looked up and ran face-to-chest into the Princess. Dewey staggered backwards and swallowed quickly.
"Um… how did-?"
"Do you require more light?" Celestia leaned down and turned her head oddly to look directly into his eyes with one of hers.
Dewey blinked. "Uh...no?"
"Er, how can I help you, Princess?" Dewey smiled weakly. He couldn't put a hoof on it, but something seemed off. The Princess twitched, her face scrunching into a disdainful sneer for a second before returning to some form of interested neutral.
"You will bring me books on your pony magic." Celestia turned her head to fix her other eye on Dewey, her mane falling listlessly over half of her face. "Bring all of them to me."
Delusion frowned as he eyed the neat rows of bookshelves that ran the length of the walls to either side of the great central room at the base of Sparkle's Tower. A second level of shelving laden with metal and leather bound tomes ran above the first with a set of narrow walkways that were accessed by tightly spiraled gothic staircases. Tables in neat rows and covered in even more books filled the large middle space of the enormous room. The far wall was a huge bay of windows that would catch the light of the rising sun, illuminating the huge room and the gigantic hourglass that sat on a small dais in middle of the floor.
At the moment, the wane moon light coated the chamber in dim silvery light. The Royal Archive's single custodian, a stallion clerk, snored loudly from behind the desk where Delusion had found him. Delusion wasn't certain what he would do with this portion of the Castle once he began construction for his new nest. He couldn't read the blocky scribbles these equines claimed as writing but he was forced to admit that the collected information in this archive could prove useful eventually.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the knowledge I gained while being trapped as part of Discord is… incomplete. These pitiful creatures have advanced far beyond what I recall. Delusion sighed. All the more reason I need to establish myself as their greatest fear quickly. Teasing them with false hope may be good for fun and spicing up their flesh but rebels with too much hope for victory could become very annoying.
Celestia's smile seemed a little forced to Dewey as he trotted back towards her with several books held in his magical grip. He opened one of the books and gestured at a blank page proudly. "Here is the information on magic you're searching for, Princess. Is there anything else I can find for you?"
"Thank you… subject." Celestia's mouth twitched again. "Now, please bring me tomes that detail the strength of your military forces and the tactics your kind employ in war."
"Excuse me? I don't understand, Princess." Dewey tilted his head and looked up at Princess Celestia. Perhaps he was just confused, but something still nagged at him that something was off. The reality of the dreamscape behind him wobbled drunkenly.
"Bring me books on war." The Princess dropped her increasingly creepy smile and glared down at Dewey.
"We don't have any books on that subject, your Highness."
If it doesn't bring me what I want, I will eat this idiotic piece of filth! Delusion grumbled under his breath and tried to keep his anger in check. No! I still need this one for the foreseeable future. If I want to learn anything at all about these beasts, I need to remain calm. Everything is under control. I am in control. I will not let this dumb pony get the better of me.
"Um… because we don't. We haven't gone to war since ever, your Highness. There has never been a need to have a military. We have you. Oh! And Princess Luna, of course!" Dewey grinned and hoped it didn't look as awkward as it felt. "But I think we may have some books about the griffon military, maybe. I can get those for you."
"You have no standing military? No warrior class?" Her Highness, Princess Celestia smiled again. It felt like a real smile for the first time since she had arrived. Dewey beamed at her, happy to be of help.
"Of course not, your Highness. We have the royal guard, there are the Wonderbolts – even though they're mostly ceremonial now - but Equestria hasn't needed a standing military force since you united the pony tribes under one banner and dismissed Discord. Every pony that knows a lick of history knows that!"
Celestia's smile widened and she chuckled in that magical way of hers. "That is surprisingly good news, subject. You have pleased me!" Celestia leaned forward, tilting her head to the side to regard him with one large unblinking eye.
Dewey's grin faded a little as she moved closer. He loved the chance to please the Princess personally but the look in her eye didn't really match her smile. "Um…Princess? Is everything alright? Something doesn't feel right."
"Oh," Princess Celestia's eye twitched, "everything is fine. Get some sleep. Your ruler needs to catch up on his reading."
"What?" Dewey wobbled on his hooves and blinked. The air seemed thick and smoky suddenly and he couldn't breathe or keep his eyes open.
Delusion watched the custodian collapse. A moment later the dream followed suit as the mind that gave it form and reason stopped functioning. He grinned to himself and then opened his beak wide to toss the pitiful remnants in to fuel his growing strength.
In the waking world, Delusion's laughter echoed off the walls of the darkened Royal Archive. He looked down at the drooling body of the custodian as it twitched awkwardly, blue eyes open and staring at nothing. It would take a while to digest all the knowledge the mind contained but Delusion didn't feel pressed for haste just yet.
The view of the dark Everfree forest from the narrow cliff ledge vanished as a swirl of teleportation magic washed over Fleur di Lis. When it cleared, she and her mentor Fancypants stood in a wide field of tall, coarse grass that swished quietly in a gentle breeze. Fleur brought the stone claw and the potion out in her pale white magical aura. She started to work the cork loose when Fancypants placed his hoof on her shoulder abruptly.
"Not here. I want to do this somewhere safe." Fancypants reached under the lapel of his jacket and pulled out a small watch. "I want to put a few more teleports between us and that witchdoctor."
Fancypants squinted at the watch. "Ah, good. It should be just after lights out in Hoofendale."
Light flooded their eyes after another wave of magic swept over the two unicorns, the natural darkness of night in the wilds replaced by light poles above a wide thoroughfare in a small town that sat near the base of Canterlot mountain. Fleur could see it looming in the distance by the void it made in the starry sky on the horizon.
There came a nearby cry of alarm from a local pony, a startled stallion that smelled strongly of elderberries crashed into the side of a trash bin in an alley near where they had appeared. Fleur snickered to herself behind her mask. Fancypants offered a smile and a wave to the lush before twisting reality again and leaving behind only hoofprints in the road to mark their passing.
Fleur glared at Fancypants through her enchanted night vision goggles as reality reasserted itself. "Vous auriez pu me prévenir."
Fancypants ignored her, his eyes staring into the distance as he concentrated on teleporting them around the country side, as if they were standing in the middle of some god's giant picture book as the pages were rapidly flipped. "Nous serons bientôt à destination. Je veux simplement m'assurer que nos traces soit des plus difficiles à suivre."
Eventually the constant shifting ceased, and the world snapped to a halt with a feeling of finality in pitch black darkness. Fleur's goggles painted the scene in a bright neon green as she looked around what seemed to be a natural cave with large crystalline growths springing from the walls. The air smelled musty and damp even through her filtered mask. A heavy crypt-like silence hung in the air until a scratch and hiss announced the lighting of a match. Fleur muttered under her breath as a tiny flame appeared and illuminated Fancypants for an instant. He lit a nearby candle without using his magic and shook out the match.
Fancypants switched to Equestrian Common. "Do not use any magic here except for your telekinesis. And limit that as much as you can. The crystals around us absorb and reflect magic." Fancypants lifted the candle holder from a natural stone ledge cut into the wall and onto his back. "I would suggest holding the objects close to you for now. No need to risk a reaction."
Fleur grunted angrily but complied and slipped them into the pocket of her catsuit's slim built-in saddle bags. She pushed her goggles up with a hoof and unzipped her mask. "Why not put them away again into my magical chest?"
"You won't have access to your dimensional holding space here. Too much interference." Fancypants shrugged as if this should be obvious and turned away from Fleur.
Muscle memory, more than the wane candlelight, led him out across a mostly even, rough stone floor under an arching cavern ceiling. Some of the crystals were bigger than a buffalo and picked up the light from the candle and reflected it, amplifying it until the large chamber was dimly lit enough to walk safely. As Fancypants moved the light bounced and flashed oddly from the thousands of refractions around the cavern and caused the shadows to jump and dance. In front of him, not far from where they appeared, a deeper recessed blot of darkness in the crystal-studded wall fought against the encroaching light.
"Where are we?" Fleur followed her teacher. As they drew nearer, the darkness fell away to reveal itself as a recessed, heavy metal door with a large circular crank in the center and no decoration to explain its purpose.
"Where we are isn't important, Fleur. This location is secret to all except me, and I intend to keep it that way." Fancypants shot an amused glance over his shoulder. "Think about it this way: you'll have plausible deniability should you ever be questioned as to the location of my secret laboratory. We can conduct our business here safely."
Fleur hmphed and frowned as Fancypants set about opening the door. It was unlikely that she would ever be questioned about any of this. Once the authorities figured out their deception and theft - assuming they ever found out and he wasn't successful at harnessing the powers of chaos - then she would likely already be beyond Equestrian borders and living a new life with a new name. The only ones that would even bother to question her would be the other Rogues. They would certainly kill her too, eventually. But not before prying out every scrap of knowledge in Fleur's mind. There were a few in the so-called Inner Circle that might even question her after death, dredging her very soul for information.
Thankfully, Fleur knew precious little about the Inner Circle members, and Fancypants meant it to remain that way. He dropped a few whispered half-truths here and there when she tried to eavesdrop on his conversations but she had no independent proof of any of it. All Fleur did know was what Fancypants felt comfortable revealing.
Fancypants pulled the door open with a strained grunt. It swung open in ominous silence despite its obvious mass and the corrosion on its hinges, revealing a small chamber with another unornamented metal door on the other side.
"Step inside my parlor." Fancypants smiled and bowed shallowly to Fleur, gesturing her forward.
"Arrêtez d'être enfantin." Fleur shot a glare at the tall stallion and slipped inside the small chamber.
"Here," Fancypants passed the candlestick to Fleur, "Don't let it go out. I'd rather not have to keep relighting it." He followed Fleur into the space and reared up to grip the heavy iron door with both front hooves, hauling it closed behind them. As he turned the crank in the center to lock it, Fancypants could feel the pressure change in his eardrums.
The stallion nodded to himself when he heard the door's lock thud into place. "From here on out, touch nothing unless I instruct it. Is that clear?"
"It will be as soon as you explain why." Fleur kept her voice low and even as she shifted her stance, her eyes watching Fancypants' every move. "I've learned it is in my best interest to have all the information I can get. You've hammered that wisdom into my head often enough with your training these past years."
"True." Fancypants chuckled to himself and stepped over to the inner of the two doors and started to turn the crank slowly. It moved with a great deal less effort than the first one. "This is the lab where I have performed more... dangerous experiments in the past. Some of my longer studies are still in progress. As you might suspect, these things are delicate. Interference could set me back by years."
Fancypants paused as the lock clicked and the door swung open slightly. Fleur stepped up next to him as he pushed the door fully open to reveal a long, narrow passage that burrowed through solid stone as straight as an arrow. "You might also unleash something with a grudge to settle with any pony it can get its claws on."
"Good to know." Fleur nervously ran her tongue over her lips as she stared into the hallway, the meager light from the candle that flickered from the holder balanced on her back barely illuminated the featureless walls just past the threshold. She fell silent for a moment as both unicorns regarded what lay before them. "Après vous."
Fancypants nodded and took the candle holder in his teeth from her back before starting down the hallway at a steady pace. Fleur fell in pace behind him, her tense shoulders at odds with her calm face. After a few yards she could feel a slight slant to the smooth floor and the pale colored stone that surrounded her started to take on a green tint. The quiet was deafening. Fleur had raided her share of tombs and ruins in the past. She knew spirits were real - though blessedly rare - but she could feel with every step that they were approaching something that was not happy about their presence.
The downward slant in the floor became more pronounced as they trekked further away from the natural caves, the material around them becoming increasingly green and smooth with fewer and fewer strata of crystal and granite. Fleur blanched at the thought of the back-breaking work that would've gone into creating the tunnel if the magic-absorbing properties of the crystals were as strong as her benefactor implied. She couldn't imagine him doing all this on his own, and he employed no servants or slaves that she was aware of that could accomplish the task either. The heavy - and, she suspected, cold iron - doors aside, Fleur didn't believe for a moment that this was a natural formation.
Fleur trusted her instincts. More times than she could count, that vague feeling in her core had saved her life and hide. They told her something was wrong before her conscious mind could identify any problems. They were rarely wrong, and as she followed Fancypants deeper, that feeling grew louder. Her instincts wanted her out of this deep underground hallway and as far from whatever was at the end of the hall as possible. The fine hairs that ran along her spine would be standing on end if it weren't for her tight leather outfit. Her tools and the prizes of their two most recent thefts weighed heavily on her sides.
Fleur frowned when her mentor failed to show any signs of rising unease as the slant became a true descent and the two of them had to proceed carefully with staggered steps down the slope. She almost blurted out her desire to turn around when Fancypants came to a stop in front of yet another metal door with a circular crank in its center.
"Mind your mane."
"What?" Fleur cocked her head to the side as she attempted to look around Fancypant's bulk at the door. She saw him give the crank a half turn, then everything went dark as the candle blew out in the sudden hurricane force wind that sprang into existence and threatened to pull her off her hooves and yanked her braided mane around into her face. A part of her mind knew that the gale in the tunnel lasted only a moment, but if felt like forever until the pressure equalized and she heard the inner door far behind them slam shut with an echoing 'bong'.
The last thing Twilight remembered was the Element of Magic floating above the observatory floor and glowing in her dream with Luna. Twilight didn't remember how she had ended up reclining on top of what looked like a baby grand piano. Nor did she remember putting on a slinky, sequined red dress that felt like it was split up her hip past her cutie mark. Twilight pushed herself up and carefully slipped off the piano, her hooves hitting the floor almost silently as she squinted her eyes against the bright spotlight aimed at her.
"Luna?" Twilight raised a hoof to shade her eyes but she couldn't make out anything beyond the glare other than vague shapes. Why does my mane feel funny? Where are my bangs?
Twilight looked up in an attempt to see her own hair. She could feel that her mane was still there, but it felt like it had been put into some sort of complicated up-do or bun. How does that work? Was somepony dreaming of me in a dress with my hair styled? How does their dream creation interact with my own self-visualization when visiting the dream of another pony?
Twilight blinked. She was in the dreamscape of another pony. A pony she didn't know, who was dreaming of her in a slinky gown draped over a piano in what she could only assume was a provocative pose. Twilight swallowed hard and thought back on the conversation she'd had with Luna earlier about dream manipulation. She might need to defend herself and find out where and who the owner of this dream was.
Elsewhere in the Dreaming
Luna blinked as reality and consciousness - as far as she understood it - returned with a vertigo-inducing whip-crack. She groaned and scrunched her eyes closed as bright light bombarded the back of her retinas.
It's a good thing I'm already laying down. Luna groaned again and prodded gently at her temple with the edge of her hoof. Wait. Where am I?
Luna cracked open one eye, grimacing at the pain the light caused her. Her head felt thick and full of cotton. She hadn't felt that particular sensation since... she couldn't remember when. Her pupil contracted slowly, her vision clearing after several moments. For an instant, Luna wondered if she'd somehow missed the passing of the night into day and been transported to some opulent mansion grounds of one of the Canterlot nobles.
In front of her a marble path encircled a giant swimming pool that was reflecting sunshine into her face. Several lounge chairs sat around the pool with perhaps a half-dozen ponies laying in them, soaking up the sun's rays. Luna lifted her head off her own such chair and looked behind her. Past the marble path, the ground turned to manicured grass, but it only stretched about a hoofspan beyond; past that the grass lost definition and faded into a green colored non-material that stretched into a grey distance.
Now that she looked back at the other ponies lounging around her, Luna could see that they lacked details such as unique manes and cutie marks. They were all roughly the same shade of dull yellow and had the same build to them. Besides herself, only one stood out from the others: a tan colored mare with a short brown, curly mane.
Where do I know her from? I thought I'd memorized all the nobles. Luna pushed herself into a seated position, working her other eye open against the glare coming off the pool. Her entire body felt achy and heavy, as if she were some sick filly.
"Oh, Princess, are you thirsty?" The tan mare turned and raised her dark sunglasses to reveal pale blue eyes. "I'll have the servants bring something cool to drink."
The fourth floor scullery maid? Luna blinked again as her memory served her. Before she could voice a reply however, a pony in butler's dress appeared with a platter covered with tall glasses filled with ice water. Luna's throat burned with the need to swallow and she smiled gratefully as one was offered.
Well, I am certainly still in a dream. But is this dream a part of that pile we saw? Luna sipped at her water and frowned as it failed to neither soothe her sore throat nor quench her thirst. The maid must have been dreaming of me as a guest here, I suppose. However, we still don't know where my sister's spirit… is that even the correct term, Twilight?
Luna waited for a reply. She was certain that the voice in her head she had heard just before leaving Twilight's dreamspace belonged to the unicorn herself. Luna flushed at the memory. After the sort of dreams Twilight had apparently been having about her, the thought of having the pony in her mind was mildly scary.
Twilight? Luna downed the remaining water in her glass and crunched an ice cube between her teeth. This dream is sorely lacking in realization, wouldn't you agree? This ice barely feels cold or wet. By the Moon, my throat is killing me! I'm glad I don't have to speak out loud to you.
Besides the echo of her own inner monologue, silence reigned in Luna's mind.
Twilight? Can you hear me? Just where did the Element of Magic put you inside my mind? Luna shook her head, trying to cut her imagination off before it started supplying her with thoughts she'd rather Twilight not see. Twilight? Yooowhoo?
No pony other than herself answered Luna's thoughts. The dreaming maid stretched and rolled over onto her front so her back would be warmed by whatever passed for the sun in the dream.
"Twi...Twilight?" Luna coughed and grimaced again. Her voice sounded gravely and puny to her ears. "Element?"
I would almost settle for that thrice damned Nightmare to answer me at this moment.
Luna struggled to her hooves. She wasn't sure if her muscles simply felt weak or if it was a function of the dream or the perception of the scullery maid that weighed her down. I cannot stay here! I need to find Celestia. Dear Faust, why aren't you answering me Twilight?
Luna wobbled as she stood and flared her wings for balance. She could feel her stomach turn sickeningly and she held still for a moment to let it settle. She hadn't vomited in centuries and she would be damned if she was going to start again now. "Faust… what is wrong with me? Why do I feel so sick?"
Luna coughed and took a trembling step forward. It sent jolts of pain through her joints and she felt faint. Luna stopped and took a shuddering breath. No! I will not let this stop me! I am Luna the Sacred Night, and I refuse to let this get the best of me! Luna grit her teeth and squared her shoulders, facing the gray horizon and took another step.
The ground came up at her fast. Her trapezius muscle, between her neck and shoulder and wing on her left side buckled and sent Luna tumbling. The ground itself lacked the definition and detail of true reality but it still had all the same solidity. The shock of the impact made Luna's vision swim and fade as she rolled on her side at the edge where the grass and marbled path met. Her energy spent, Luna wheezed into the grass and lay there while the dream world spun around her.
"You cannot pass into unconsciousness here, Mistress. This is the realm of the mind, and the best one can hope for here is a state of catatonia. If you were curious."
Luna tried to reply with a proper sounding 'what?' but it came out as a cough mixed with an unhealthy groan. She recognized her own voice, even with the odd hiss and gurgle that accompanied it. It took far too much effort to turn her head and look up. Barely a wingspan away, the emaciated, chain-wrapped and wracked form of the Nightmare stood and gazed back at her with half-lidded serpentine eyes.
The Nightmare looked even worse than before. Her skin gripped her frame loosely along her legs and neck where the black chains wrapped around her. She looked dirtier and her wings were ratty and disproportionately large. They hung low on her sides, the primary feathers long enough to drag on the ground.
The Nightmare looked away and sighed. "Being so close to the source brings back old memories. You must be cautious, young Mistress."
"Where i-is Twilight? Why won't she an-answer me?" Luna scrunched her eyes closed. Her left shoulder felt like it was on fire. "What is wrong with me?"
"Just as you may only enter a dream where you are being dreamed of," the Nightmare stepped closer and offered her hoof, "So too is it with my other host. She is nearby, I think. But you must hurry and reunite with her, Mistress."
Luna opened her eyes at the sound of the Nightmare's clinking chains. She looked at the offered hoof and then up at the apparition's face. "Why are you helping me?"
"Because, as you say, it is time to 'Goddess up.'"
Luna blinked at the ragged hoof for a moment before wrapping her own around it with a pained grunt. The Nightmare pulled Luna upright without any obvious effort and turned to face the grey nothingness that stretched beyond the bounds of the scullery maid's dream while Luna wobbled uncertainly. She raised her hoof and pointed vaguely off to the left of eternity.
"You should find Twilight Sparkle in that direction."
"You don't sound certain of that." Luna swallowed hard again, fighting nausea as her stance stabilized. Her muscles were still on fire and her head felt thick and hot with fever like she hadn't known in all her time as an alicorn.
"Direction and distance are uncertain things in dreams, young Mistress."
"I know th-that!" Luna sputtered, her tone harsh. "Dreaming magic is my specialty." Luna jerked her head towards her cutie mark and immediately regretted it as her vision swam and her recently regained balance disappeared. The only thing that kept her from toppling back into the grass was a large wing that landed firmly across her shoulders.
"You must focus!" The Nightmare's reptilian eyes locked with Luna's. "If you wish to save the Titan of the Sun, yourself, and all Equestria, then you have to focus and move! The spirit that possesses the Titan's body and gathered these dreams pollutes them somehow. You are not as much a master of the dream world as you like to think. It creates falsehoods and feeds off of it. That is why you feel sick!"
Luna squinted at the Nightmare. Her breath stank and being so close to her, her coat and exposed skin looked even worse. Her face was especially gaunt with sunken cheeks and the ridges of bone around her eyes prominent with large - almost bruised - dark circles directly under them. Luna grit her teeth and leaned away from the sick mockery of her own face. "I...I don't want to be like you."
The Nightmare grinned fiercely at that, showing Luna her sharp fangs and filthy, serrated teeth. A few were missing. "We'll see yet about that, youngling. Now... run. Run as fast as your legs will carry you and find Twilight Sparkle. She is key to your success."
"What does that mean?"
"STOP STALLING!" The force of the Nightmare's shout would have thrown Luna to the ground if her wing had not moved its grip to scoop Luna up and literally throw her out into the grey void. Luna hit something - there wasn't anything there that could be identified as the ground - running, her heart pounding in her chest as the Nightmare and the scullery maid's pool party faded swiftly behind her.
Luna's panicked gallop slowed to a trot as she lost all bearing on direction. Now that she was beyond the dreamscape, her body felt almost normal. Her muscles felt strong and ready, her stomach was at ease, and the fever that had threatened to consume her was completely absent. Luna slowed herself to a steady walk and looked about to see if she could make out anything that might pass for a landmark.
"Where in Tartarus am I?" Her voice sounded slightly muffled, much like it did when flying through a thick cloud bank. Ok, Luna, figure this out. Dream magic is your specialty.
Luna sighed. First thing's first. Let's see if I can at least detect or sense Twilight's location. Luna stopped walking and looked around herself.
The featureless space she had been thrown into was not the void she was familiar with. That place was dark and held all the minds of the world: the thoughts, emotions and memories of every living thing on Equus. But those things made up that realm's very essence. They were the building blocks, much like air, water, and earth were the building blocks of the waking world. This place felt different. It felt the same as a dream, fully formed except there was no dreamscape and no dreamer.
Luna squinted and willed her eyes to look beyond the surface, to the swirling natural magic that allowed all creatures to dream and her own magic could manipulate. As she focused, curling smoke-like structures swirled around her like the web of some colossal mad spider. In most dreams the structures were stable as the dream played out, changing only as the sleeping mind directed it to do so. With just her gentle probing, the web stabilized around her, and Luna could feel the structures take notice of her. It felt odd; the magic seemed to almost want to be commanded, to be shaped into something, anything. The sensation wasn't unpleasant, but it made her think of some kind of pet that was missing its master.
What could have created this place? How does a dream form without a mind to give it shape? Luna frowned. Dream magic was her specialty. She'd played with these forces since she had been a filly and none of this made any sense to her. Whatever the spirit was that had attacked them and possessed her sister had to be behind it all somehow.
Luna shook her head and looked around again, trying to glean where Twilight might be. The swirling natural magic quivered under her gaze but offered her no solutions. After a moment of fruitless search, Luna pulled her legs up under herself comfortably and closed her eyes. She drew in a deep, calming breath before letting it out slowly. There has to be a way to find Twilight. Perhaps I could trace the connection I formed with my dream searching spell earlier? It did stay open, even through the attack.
Behind her eyelids, Luna visualized her spellwork, the tendrils she reached out to dreaming minds which shimmered as they drifted in an ethereal breeze around her in a giant twisting network. The thin threads bunched near her and faded away as they stretched into the distance. Find Twilight's thread. Look for the active connection. The rest of this can't go too far.
She tried to refine her visualization, eliminating large swaths of strands that ended within her range to sense and expanded the rest into wide colorful ribbons of magic that twisted around each other and wove themselves into a patchwork rainbow.
This is going to be impossible! Luna bit her lip as she spun the visualization around again. There are still too many vectors! Is this play playing havoc with my magic too?
She frowned, her brow knitting as she concentrated. No. Not too many. Find Twilight. Look for magic and math. Look for stars. Look for beautiful amethyst eyes. She couldn't eliminate any more of the threads or the delicate pattern would collapse in on itself. She spread the threads out around her, twisting the spell matrix in circles to look at it from different angles.
This will take forever! How can I...wait, what's that? Luna turned and grinned as she pulled a far off tendril toward herself. It flashed a familiar shade of purple as it moved like an enormous ribbon in a gentle breeze. This has to be it.
Luna giggled to herself and danced in place in the emptiness between the coalesced dreams. Now I just need to follow this to Twilight, Luna chuckled and reached out to touch the tendril with her hoof, and things will start looking up aga-!
As her hoof touched the ribbon of magic that connected her to Twilight, Luna felt a sudden pulling sensation, as if she was being yanked across some great distance. With the featureless gray nothingness around her, it was hard to tell how far she might be going or how fast. The sensation ended a moment later as a carpeted hallway materialized itself, and her perceived momentum sent Luna tumbling into a wood paneled wall with enough force to crack it from floor to ceiling and knock the breath from her lungs.
Luna coughed into the carpet, her ears rang from the impact, and her eyes refused to focus on anything for a long moment. The dream continued to materialize around her, the hallway growing longer with doors appearing every dozen or so of steps. Luna shook the spots from her vision and struggled back to a standing position, one wing bracing against the wall as she hauled her hooves underneath herself.
Once the world stopped spinning, Luna ran a hoof through her mane and squinted at the dreamstuff forming around her. It felt like centuries since the last time she had seen a dream form with her in it. It was more than a little frightening to be reminded of how little experience she had with the naturally forming variety of dream magic.
By Faust, I am out of practice! This shouldn't be this hard.
Dark, turbulent eddies of dream realities swirled around Luna, twisting the straight panels and skewing the geometric lines of the hall slightly which gave it a sick sense of wrongness. Two distinct dreams collided with each other overhead like angry storm clouds. It was almost like watching two tornadoes do battle, with misty half-formed dream realities meeting violently as they twisted themselves beyond recognition. I always feel there should be thunder of some sort when that happens, Luna thought as she righted herself, I've never seen this happen like this from the inside before. Everything is wrong.
Luna scratched her head with one hoof as ill-formed memories nagged at her. Ancient memories stirred and rattled around her skull in a most annoyingly vague way, always eluding her grasp just when she thought them pinned down. For the life of her, Luna couldn't recall when or where she would have seen dreams collide before. She was sure such an event would require powerful and dark magics but couldn't even begin to think where to even start with crafting such a spell. Or why somepony would need or use something like that.
Luna paled as she considered the possibility that everything she thought she knew about dreams, the sleeping mind, and the magics that affected them was potentially incorrect. Or very incomplete. She swallowed hard and stepped forward just as the nearest door burst open from being shoulder-checked by a galloping Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight's entry into the hallway ended similarly to Luna's as she crashed at full speed into the wall. Twilight, however, did not fall to the ground after her impact and instead kicked the door closed behind her before throwing herself back to brace up against it. The door shuddered as something large hit it from the other side nearly tossing Twilight off her hooves.
"Twilight?" Luna gawked as the unicorn grunted and dug her hooves deeper into the carpet. "Is that you?" Luna rushed forward and planted her shoulder against the door as whatever it was on the other side slammed into it again hard enough for the wood to splinter and crack. "What in the name of Celestia is going on? I thought I'd lost you!"
"Hold that thought." Twilight sounded oddly calm as she turned around and backed up against the opposite wall to face Luna and the door. "Open it."
Luna blinked at twilight. "Why?"
Twilight's horn started to glow a deep magenta. "So I don't miss."
Luna narrowed her eyes at the bright light coming off Twilight's horn and pulled the door open with herself tucked safely behind it. The door's bulk blocked her sight but Luna caught a brief glimpse of a large beast paw reaching through the doorway. Twilight's spell erupted and wooden planks shattered into a hail of splinters that shot through the door and presumably into the face of whatever was on the other side. Whatever it was let out a feral scream loud enough that Luna thought her eardrums might burst.
She slammed the door shut as soon as the spell finished and the noise subsided. Luna twisted the dream to form a huge padlock over the handle to hopefully keep it closed. She shuddered and released a breath she'd didn't know she was holding. Her heart was racing as she looked back at Twilight.
The purple mare slumped to the floor as smoke drifted from her horn. Twilight breathed deeply and exhaled slowly through her nose. She looked back at Luna. "Where have you been? I'm pretty sure this is the third dream I've been through looking for you. I'm glad I finally found you, Luna."
She's already been through three? How long was I out? Luna looked at Twilight incredulously. "I've been looking for you too. What was that thing?"
"Oh, that was just somepony that couldn't take constructive criticism on the realism of their Ursa Minor." Twilight sighed. "That…that isn't important now. I found you, and we can finally get started on tracking down Princess Celestia."
Luna stared at Twilight, her mouth hanging open slightly. Who is this mare? How can she be so calm and focused in the face of this ridiculous situation? How does she do it? Luna shut her jaw with a snap and held out her hoof to help Twilight back on to her hooves. Twilight felt light in her grip, like a feather. She looked tired and winded yet seemed like she was ready to tackle whatever stood between them and Celestia.
And on top of it all, Iwas cheated out of rescuing Twilight! The universe is laughing at me and dismissing everything I thought I knew about dream magic! I can't be a heroine like this mare! I couldn't save her, and at this rate I won't even be able to impress her! Luna wanted to kick herself. She had been the one to rush off to save her sister, and with Twilight here, what purpose did her own presence serve?
Twilight groaned as she brushed her coat off and plucked a few large splinters out of her mane. She looked up expectantly at Luna and tilted her head slightly, her mouth opened to speak, when the door rattled violently again. Something heavy and angry slammed into it but it remained shut.
Luna glanced at the door and recalled why she had put a lock on it just a moment before. "Yes, I think it would be best to keep moving. I'd rather limit the number of monsters we have to deal with."
The two ponies trotted quickly down the seemingly endless hallway, passing several sets of doors. Twilight frowned and squinted, searching for clues as they passed the eighth set of doors. There continued to be no detectable visual changes to the hall itself, only the doors marked that they had moved at all. The wrinkled carpeting and off-set wooden panels seemed to reach endlessly into the grey-black distance until it became too far to see any details.
Twilight glanced at Luna. "So…who is dreaming this hallway? I'm pretty sure I left that last dream with the Ursa Minor behind and now we're somewhere else… Right?"
Luna slowed her trot to a walking pace and bit her lip in thought. "To be honest, Twilight, I don't know. I keep looking at the background magic that's holding all of these dreams together. It makes no sense at all. I passed through a blank void before I came here. It too was like a dream without a dreamer. The hallway just materialized while I was looking for you. It appeared just before you burst through that door. How did you find this place?"
Twilight shrugged. "I'm not sure. I was running to escape from the Ursa Minor through a forest of very unconvincing looking bamboo when I noticed what looked like a building and a door. I wanted to find safety and it felt right, so I dived right in."
"It is very fortuitous that we found each other again. The spell that connected me to your dreaming mind must have been pulling us back together. It certainly would fit with my own experience arriving here." Luna frowned and paused to stamp a wrinkle in the carpet flat. "Perhaps I had some part in rescuing you after all."
Twilight raised an eyebrow and started to open her mouth before Luna continued on in a hushed tone.
"Ever since I've regained consciousness here – whatever you want to call it - it seems that my hard-won knowledge of dream magic has been put into question. It does not help that I am so out of practice I cannot seem to remember all of it. One might imagine that it's not my special talent at all."
"What?" Twilight turned to face Luna head on. "What do you mean by it being your 'special talent'?"
Luan leaned back away from Twilight, her eyes refusing to return Twilight's unflinching stare. "I do not know what to say, it is just what my cutie mark is telling me." Luna ducked her chin and started forward again, slipping past Twilight. She paused at the next set of doors and looked at the one on her left. "Does that seem strange to you?"
"Well," Twilight started. She paused as the door to Luna's right made a click sound and swung open slowly into the hall. Twilight shared a glance with Luna for a moment before she moved to peek around the edge.
Beyond the doorway lay a brightly lit pasture with a few short trees growing in a cluster near the horizon. A light breeze rustled the grass near the door, bringing with it the smell of hay and water and sunshine. Besides the swish of the grass and whisper of wind, it was eerily silent. In the middle distance, on a gentle incline, was a blot of red amid all the green.
Luna licked her lips nervously and stepped closer to the open door. "Is that somepony there?"
Twilight squinted, leaning forward slightly. "Maybe? I can't really tell from this far. Do you think we should go in…er, out?"
"Let me check the surrounding magics first, these dreams shouldn't be connected like this. The Nightmare told me earlier that the creature doing this is polluting the natural order of things here. It's infuriating that I haven't been able to make sense of what I'm seeing."
Twilight nodded. "Ok."
Luna smiled and moved to the threshold, her eyes already looking past the surface layer of the dreams. It's about time I took the lead. None of this makes any sense but I will be damned if I let the opportunity to do some studying pass me by. I know Twilight wouldn't.
Twilight watched Luna's horn light up. She tried to pay attention to what the princess was doing. Twilight felt the small hairs along her spine stand on end but when she looked down the hall it remained empty and endless as always. A quick glance behind her confirmed it was equally empty as the other direction. Still, the hair stayed on end and itched.
Twilight rolled her shoulders to shake off the sensation and looked back out the door to the wind swept plain. The tiny red patch remained still as a stone, its details obscured by distance and the tall grass. Twilight could easily imagine that it was some pony relaxing in the sunny dreamscape. A few lazy clouds drifted by in that perfect periwinkle sky, followed slowly by their shadows on the grass.
"This strata – this layering isn't natural. It looks…hmm, why does this look familiar?" Luna muttered to herself, her attention focused on the delicate underpinning of natural magic. "I don't think there should be any danger, I just don't know if this gets us any closer to finding my sister."
Twilight opened her mouth to speak when she heard a soft click of a door opening. She whipped her head around and saw one of the doors further down the hallway was already open. She was certain it was closed when she had looked a moment ago. Now, a Celestia-sized, full figured version of Luna stood in the hall looking back over her shoulder at Twilight. She winked back at Twilight as she stepped through the door and out of the hallway.
Well, that's surreal. Twilight blinked and tapped Luna on the back. "Hey, I just saw the Element of Magic go through a door!"
"What? Where?" Luna snapped her head around to look down the hallway. "The Element of Magic was in here?"
"Yeah, she just went through that door!"
Twilight pointed but when she looked back toward Luna, her face drained of color and her eyes became pinpricks and her voice took on a hollow tone. "Sweet Faust…"
Luna pursed her lips and blinked, unsure of her own expression. A shift in the light drew Luna's attention back toward the open door at her side. She turned her head with what seemed like a glacial slowness and caught sight of an impossibly huge shape as it descended like a missile into the middle of the breeze-swept pasture out of the corner of her eye . A talon of titanic proportions and pure darkness slammed into the ground directly on top of the splash of red they had spotted. The impact sent chunks of earth and plants sailing in all directions.
The huge talon closed just as fast as it hit. It moved with impossible speed for something so big. It yanked the dreamer with it back into the sky. As it pulled away, the dream itself started to collapse and break apart. The fluffy clouds, the grass, and little trees followed the claw, pulled by the gravity of the captured dreamer, their very color separating from them like wet ink. The web of natural magics that held everything together twisted into a torturous form, then the talon and all the matter in the dreamscape vanished, leaving a familiar grey void behind.
Luna stared, wide eyed into the new abyss as the strands of magic righted themselves into something approaching 'normal.' The warm breeze that had swept through the dream turned cold as it too succumbed to the sudden entropy in the wake of the dreaming mind's departure. She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat as she realized what the void she had traveled through earlier must have once been.
"I-I'm glad we didn't g-go that way." Twilight took an unsteady step away from the void beyond the door frame. Her voice shuddered as she sank down to her haunches. "What in all creation are we up against, Luna?"
Luna worked her mouth but her lungs refused to lend her a voice.
After a long moment, Luna reached out and pushed the door closed. She couldn't bear to look at the empty space any longer. She turned and held her hoof out to Twilight as she blinked tears from her eyes. "I have no idea, Twilight. Everything…everything I have witnessed tonight is impossible. It cannot be. All that I know of dreamwalking and the natural flow of magic that makes dreaming what it is tells me this!"
Luna shook her head, the fear in her eyes faded as her mouth set itself in an angry line. "I have years of experience with this. I am not some foal come lately! Some…thing has my sister and now it takes even this from me?"
Luna's nostrils flared as she stamped a hoof hard against the hallway floor. "I will not stand for it! I am Luna, Princess of the Night! And no pony or spirit shall best me in my own demesne!"
Twilight looked at the floor for a moment, her eyes flicking back and forth as she thought. She bit her lip and looked up. "Can you beat it though? Is your magic strong enough to win against something that can…that can dothat?"
Luna growled with her teeth bared for a moment and then looked down at Twilight. Her regal, beautiful eyes were hard. "With your help, I think we can defeat this monstrosity." Luna held out her hoof. "Are you still with me, Twilight Sparkle?"
Twilight grinned fiercely. "Yes, Princess, I'm with you. But I think you might need to teach me some advanced dream spells. Quickly."
Canterlot Castle: Main Courtyard Promanade
Delusion chuckled to himself. This is going better than I ever could have expected. These imbecilic equines have almost no defenses beyond some air reserves, the guards, their Princesses, and the Elements. It's almosttoo easy!
He smiled to himself as he strolled with a spring in his step up the promenade toward the main body of the Castle. Delusion could feel the dreaming expanding out into the city proper; hundreds of sleeping minds were being gathered with every passing moment. Canterlot would be his within the hour and not a hoof or horn would be raised to stop him.
So what if I don't have Celestia's magic? With all the minds I've gathered I should be able to begin the transformation almost immediately.
Delusion paused below the ancient willow trees that lined the promenade and craned his head upward to look at the blooms. Perhaps I will call upon my bastard children after this. The gryphons would be good help, at least at first, with rounding up all these ponies. We'll enjoy a grand feast, and then I will teach them the meaning of fear the same as I have done with these pitiful creatures. One by one, the mortal races will run screaming before my shadow just like in the good ol' days!
Within the dreaming, Delusion's giant talon lifted another pony mind from the gathered dreams. He lifted it to his beak, opening wide to swallow it whole. The tasty morsel vanished down his gullet with a satisfying finality. Delusion could feel the spirit within him dissolving, losing its consistency, and adding all it was to his power. The life energy of the mind nourished him; the fear of its last moments as he plucked it from some idyllic landscape added spice to it. The false hope and sense of safety the mind enjoyed before being ripped out of its dreamspace gave it weight and filled him.
Already Delusion could feel his power growing. Soon the Titan's spirit would be no more and he could fully change this pitiful horse body into something befitting his greatness. Soon his wings would darken the sky and his talons would once again bend the world as he saw fit!
Delusion looked up at the moon overhead. It loomed over him, high and bright in the clear sky. Luna was still unaccounted for. As far as he could tell none of the Elements were present at the Castle. I cannot afford to be overconfident. I have to move faster! I must consume more! I must complete my transformation before that damnable Princess can organize an effective resistance.
He frowned and turned back towards the main castle building. There were guardsponies asleep inside. If he neutralized them first then any resistance that they brought against him would lack the aid of trained soldiers. Once he had consumed them, the process could start. It would only be a matter of time before he had enough accumulated pony spirits to complete the transformation.
Then no resistance, no matter what their forces, could stand against him.
Equestria: Presumably Underground
It seemed like it took forever for light to penetrate the darkness and illuminate Fleur's form in the hall. Fancypants stepped forward into the lab proper and looked over the state of his on-going experiments. It had been a long series of weeks since his last visit and he was curious about the results that had been generated.
The lightstones he had installed gave off a cool white light from the low ceiling and gave the large room a hospital like feel. Several cloth partitions broke the space up into semi-enclosed sections that held different supplies and experiments. Low lying counters lined the walls, interspaced with racks of metallic shelves and locked cabinets. Hoses and rubber piping ran along the floor and more than a few hung from rungs set into the stone along the walls and roof. It smelled of dust and formaldehyde. Besides Fancypants' own hoofsteps, the only sound was a rhythmic hiss from behind one of the partition sheets.
Fancypants walked down the clear center aisle of the room until the path intersected with another. He glanced back at Fleur where she lingered by the door. "Shut the door behind you. It will lock on its own. This area is safe to use your magic, but do not try to teleport out. The crystals that surround the room will intercept it, and let's just say you would not like the results."
Fleur frowned at him but reached out to pull the door as he turned and headed deeper into the chamber. Past the intersection, Fancypants stopped and pulled back a sheet to look in on his last experiment. The small 'room' held several machines that were enchanted or otherwise powered to keep air and fluids moving in and out through the emaciated body of a changeling that was strapped to a bed. Fancypants nodded as he looked at the readouts.
His charge caught up with him a moment later. He could hear her sharp intake of breath from the walkpath. She came up beside him and looked down at the still technically breathing, unconscious creature, tracing the lines of tubing with her eyes as it wove through both natural and artificial holes in its chitinous exoskeleton. One of the air bladders chose that moment to compress and caused the limp form to jerk as oxygen was forcibly fed into the body.
Fleur jumped back a half step, her eyes wide in animalistic fright. "What in the name of Faust is that doing here?"
Fancypants smirked and nodded at the sedated changeling. "You like? I picked it up cheap after the wedding last month."
Fleur scowled at Fanctpants. "You know what I mean."
He grinned and looked back at the bed and its occupant. "I'm studying it, obviously. Natural shape changing would be useful, no? Additionally, I am studying its feeding and survival mechanisms. It's all very interesting, wouldn't you agree? Oh, by-the-by, try not to love me too much, my dear. I'd hate for it to wake up again."
Fleur's brow knit tighter as she tossed her mane. "In your dreams, you old horse. I still fail to see why you would keep a changeling here. Dissect it and be done with it. Or perhaps you want its queen to burst in here and take it back?"
"It isn't a concern, dear Fleur. The crystals here block everything. Even if they didn't, this chamber is sealed and buried so deep no pony or bug could hope to penetrate it, even if they knew where it was." Fancypants slipped his monocle into the breast pocket of his jacket. "Besides, wouldn't a changeling's powers of shapeshifting and telepathic empathy be useful if we could harness it? I should imagine that you can see how it would make your jobs so much easier to accomplish."
Fancypants' horn lit up as he levitated a clipboard to himself along with an attached pencil. He flipped the sheets of paper until he came to a clear section at the back and jotted down the readings from his machines. "I want freedom, Fleur, real and true freedom. Money cannot buy it but power can. Knowledge is power, as the old adage goes."
Fleur eyed the changeling for a moment. Fancypants could see the wheels turning behind her eyes as anger gave way to curiosity. She licked her lips nervously. "What have you learned?"
Fancypants tossed the clipboard back on the low table he'd pulled it from. "So far? Only that I'll have to revise my estimates. It really should have died of malnourishment by now."
Fancypants spared the creature not a glance as her stepped back out onto the walk path. "Shall we get started? The night is still young and I want to get this experiment started. 'Glory be to those who dare,' and all that. If this goes well, perhaps we'll both taste true freedom by the morning light."
He led the way toward the back wall of the laboratory, where a raised section of floor ran the length of the room. The lightstones placed here threw the equipment and cabinetry into stark relief and cast deep shadows. Burners, vials, tubes, mortars and pestles, and various tools for measuring, mixing, separating, and recording results sat in neat, orderly rows on the long table there.
Fancypants approached a set of cabinets with thicker, reinforced doors and clear panels set into its sides. A touch of his telekinesis opened the doors and he gestured grandly at it. "Place the potion and the stone inside. It should keep things contained if it turns…explosive."
Fleur lifted the items out of her pocket and examined them for a moment. They seemed so harmless and innocuous. The bottle could not hold more than a few ounces of liquid. It was plain to the point of boring, covered in slip of straw and twine and topped with a clear glass stopper. It didn't even slosh as she moved it. The stone, on the other hoof, at least looked interesting. It was obviously a piece of statuary with the smooth feel of worked marble while it looked more like granite. She knew it was a talon from the statue of Discord in the castle gardens, but even without that knowledge she could have told in a glance it was some avian claw.
She set both items inside the cabinet and stepped back as Fancypants closed it with the hiss of an airtight seal. His horn started to glow as he moved the claw and potion around remotely. Fleur watched him for a moment before letting her gaze wander over the countertop and its myriad tools and jars. She didn't have the mind for the deeper forms of science or magical theorem. Fleur fancied herself more a practical applicationist. Other ponies could figure out the hows and whys of things, she was a doer, a taker.
One of the jars piqued her interest in particular. It was simple glass dome over a stand, but inside it held a sparkling strand of gemstone that was impossibly thin and curled about on itself in a most un-gem-like manner. Fleur leaned in closer and starred at the odd filament. It was the color of topaz and glittered under the lightstones. The more she looked at it, the more Fleur was certain what she was looking at was actually blonde mane hair.
"Wherever did this come from?" She tapped the glass dome gently.
Fancypants spared her a glance before turning back to whatever he was doing as he positioned instruments around himself. "It's crystal pony hair."
"Excuse me? Did you say 'crystal pony?'" Fleur giggled. "I didn't know you believed in faery tales. I suppose next you'll say it comes from the Crystal Empire itself?"
"Of course not. I acquired it from a traveling mare some months ago. She came looking for information on the fabled Alicorn Amulet." Fancypants adjusted some sort of sensor, turning the large dials on it to some configuration whose purpose eluded Fleur. "She was willing to trade for it. I like to think I got the better end of the bargin."
"So you traded her information on one mythical object for another?" Fleur shook her head and her tone dripped with sarcasm. "Such a shrewd business stallion. At least this bauble is pretty."
"It's also worth your weight in diamonds. If this little diversion doesn't pan out, I was thinking about doing some serious research into Emperor Sombra's lost castle. How's that strike you?"
Fleur shrugged. "If it will get me out of this muggy Equestrian summer for a little while, why not? It's been too long since I last went skiing."
"Good. Now, be quiet." Fancypants turned his attention back to the potion and the stone in the shielded cabinet. The glass stopper wiggled in his horngrip for a moment before coming loose with a muffled 'pop.' A faint green mist started to gently seep out of the opening and drifted to the cabinet's floor. "I'd rather not be distracted while I tinker with powerful artifacts."