This could be the longest night in recorded history
And as for sleep, you might as well just cross it off the list of possibilities
Now I'm as brave as the next mare
I won't turn and run from a fight
And I could last a thousand years
If I just get through this night
"You see, Nightmare Moon, when those elements are ignited by the… the spark, that resides in the heart of us all, it creates the sixth element: the element of magic!" Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes, and a brilliant white light burst forth directly above her. Its radiance forced her five friends to squeeze their eyes shut as well. Then the light erupted in a brilliant flash.
As magic surged through the ancient ruins, all six ponies were lifted into the air. The crystal shards from the broken elements swirled around them and coalesced around each one, forming into a jeweled, golden collar around each of the five friends, plus a diadem upon the head of Twilight Sparkle herself. Then the light burst upward, changing from white to all the colors of the rainbow. It formed two multi-colored ribbons that twined around each other, then came together into a single rainbow of light that surged downward — directly toward the dais where Nightmare Moon stood.
"NOOOOO!!" the Nightmare howled. Rearing up on her hind legs, eyes wide with fear, she screamed again as the rainbow of light surrounded her, spinning faster and faster until she was lost in a tornado-like vortex of brilliant color. For Nightmare Moon the rainbow was excruciating; it felt as though it was burning and ripping her apart.
Then the light grew brighter, until it flooded out all vision, all thoughts, all consciousness…
When the light cleared, stunned ponies were scattered about the room. Rainbow Dash was the first to rise from the floor. "Ohhh, my head!" she exclaimed.
Applejack roused and asked, "Everypony okay?"
Meanwhile, Nightmare Moon clambered to her hooves. The rainbow was gone, the pain faded away. Shaken, she muttered, "I… I thought that was the end, for a moment." She glanced around the chamber somewhat alarmed by how quickly the other ponies were recovering — and yet, they seemed to be ignoring her.
There was one additional. Confused and unsteady, Nightmare Moon walked closer to the midnight blue winged unicorn curled up on the floor next to the dais. Laying nearby were what appeared to be broken and smoldering remnants of Nightmare Moon's own armor. She blinked and looked down at herself, but found that she was still wearing her armor. She glanced at the smaller alicorn again, looking to the crescent moon on her flank. "But… that's my mark. That's me. How is that possible?"
"It's not exactly you," said an unfamiliar voice from behind her. "It's the real Princess Luna, stripped of the dark powers that enabled her to become Nightmare Moon."
Nightmare Moon turned to look at the newcomer. The pegasus mare she saw was as elegantly proportioned as herself, or as Sola for that matter, though not as large. She was utterly monochromatic: her coat was white — not the slightly pink-tinted white of Sola, but more of an ashen, extremely pale gray. Her mane and tail — and surprisingly, her large wings — were as black as a raven. Even her eyes were deep charcoal gray, thickly outlined with black. Nightmare's gaze drifted to the strange pony's flank and saw a cutie mark resembling a sort of cross, with the top opened up to form a loop. It was an unfamiliar symbol, and yet Nightmare Moon felt she should know… "Who are you?" she demanded.
The strange pony shook her head and asked gently, "Don't you recognize me?"
"You… You're…" Then Nightmare Moon's eyes went wide, her nostrils flared with fear, and she recoiled. "No! Please no… not yet!"
The pegasus said, firmly, yet with a tone of compassion as well, "I come for all, in the fullness of time."
Nightmare Moon looked to Luna. "I can't be dead! I'm right there. My body is breathing, it's alive."
Death nodded and said, "Yeah, that's something I don't see too often. Maybe only a part of Luna died. The part of her soul that turned her into a nightmare was killed, destroyed in the magical blast. It's an unusual sort of demise, but that's okay. I come for all kinds."
Nightmare Moon hung her head, her wings drooped, all the fight gone out of her.
The sun broke over the horizon, spilling the light of a new dawn into the castle ruins. Twilight Sparkle's voice chimed up, "Princess Celestia!"
Nightmare Moon looked up, her gaze settling on the radiant form of her sister, Sola, whose sun-loving little ponies now called her Celestia. The old anger began to simmer once again. Apparently Sola wasn't content to rule the day, but had declared herself owner of the entire celestial sphere during her sister's absence. Nightmare began to step forward, but a black wing interposed to stop her.
"Don't bother!" advised Death. "They can't see or hear you. And besides, the affairs of the living no longer concern you. It's time to leave all that behind."
Nightmare Moon said nothing but merely glared as her still-living counterpart, the much-reduced form of Princess Luna, ran to Sola and nuzzled her affectionately. After a few moments of this display, Nightmare could watch no more. She turned her attention to Death again and asked, "So… What happens now?"
Death smiled softly and said, "Oh, different things to different ponies. It depends who you are. And you never get to learn what happens to anyone else. But you? Well, you're kind of a special case, anyway."
"How do you mean?"
"Well… My brother has taken an interest in you. He wants to meet you. He asked me to bring you to his castle."
"Y-you have a brother?"
"You'll see him soon. Come…"
Then Nightmare Moon was wrapped in darkness, and she heard the sound of mighty wings.
There is a wind that blows between the worlds — a cold wind. It screams silently through the empty places, the nothing wind, traveling from nowhere to nowhere in the uncreated wastes. Nightmare Moon had never felt so cold. This was not a place, after all. It was between places. This was nowhere.
After what might have been hours or might have been mere moments, the wind began dying back, signaling the transition from nowhere to where. The mists swirled and parted, and Nightmare Moon's hooves touched ground. She found herself standing alongside Death in front of her brother's castle, gasping and shivering, wondering if she would ever feel warm again.
The castle was high upon a rocky spire, an impossible pinnacle of twisted and weather-eaten rock with nothing but open air and sky all around. Its form was constructed from towers and minarets reaching upwards towards a murky, undefined sky.
The doorway was enormous, towering over them with stone abutments forming platforms on either side. Upon one of the platforms sat a gigantic griffin — easily the size of a house. Upon the other platform stood an equally gigantic white pegasus stallion with outsized wings and a muscular build like a draft horse. Up above the door, in front of some columns, was another platform upon which rested an even bigger red dragon. All of them looked menacing as they turned their eyes upon the comparatively tiny new arrivals below.
Nightmare Moon's eye was drawn to the pegasus stallion. What a magnificent specimen, she thought to herself. He likewise gazed down at her from his perch with undisguised curiosity.
Death reared and waved cheerfully to the griffin with a wing and called to him, "Hey Griff! I've brought Nightmare Moon. My brother said he wanted to see her. Could you let us in, please?"
The giant griffin glared down at them, but then it bowed and rumbled, "Of course, lady. Enter, and my lord will greet you shortly." Then the huge door swung open, silently.
Death and Nightmare Moon ascended the steps, their hooves clattering on the cold stones. They entered the great hall, and waited. Nightmare took advantage of these moments to look at her surroundings.
Long ago, before she'd rebelled and even before adopting her new persona as Nightmare Moon, Luna had whiled away many hours imagining and planning her new castle, the one she'd intended to have constructed after seizing the reins of power from her overweening sister. The new castle would be somber, with a dark dignity befitting the ruler of the Endless Night. Now, as she examined the elaborate gothic carvings and tapestries, shadowy alcoves, and the ceiling fresco where whimsically fleshed-out constellations cavorted in a night sky, she had an eerie feeling of déjà vu, as so many details reminded her of those long-ago and nearly-forgotten plans. This castle seemed to have everything she'd dreamed of.
Thus distracted, she didn't notice when the castle's lord entered the hall. His voice startled her as he said, "Welcome, my sister! It is good to see you again."
"Likewise, Bro," Death answered with a smile. "And look who I brought, it's the pony you asked about. This is Nightmare Moon. Nightmare, this is my brother, Morpheus — also known as Lord of the Dreamworld, Prince of Stories, Monarch of the Sleeping Marches, His Darkness Dream of the Endless, Sultan of Sleep, and oh-so-many other stuffy titles and names, I don't even try to keep track of them all."
Nightmare Moon eyed the dream lord curiously. The family resemblance of this unicorn stallion to his pegasus sister was readily apparent. He stood tall and rake-thin, his coat the color of falling snow and and bone-white horn protruding through a disheveled mane of coal-black hair. His eyes seemed not like proper eyes at all, but mere pools of inky black shadows with a solitary sparkle of starlight glinting deep within each. A furtive glance at his cutie mark caused Nightmare to gasp softly. It was a crescent moon and a solitary star, black against his pale flank, almost like a negative image of Nightmare's own mark.
Despite her confusion, Nightmare Moon's royal upbringing asserted itself, and she knelt and said, "Lord Morpheus, I am honored to appear before you."
"Indeed," he said coolly. He began to circle her slowly, deliberately, examining her from all sides while she fidgeted nervously. After a few moments he stopped and pointed his horn at her and nodded, motioning for her to rise, which she did.
"Well then, you're a mystery, aren't you?" he finally said.
Nightmare Moon quirked an eyebrow. "I am?"
He explained, "It seems as though you have some of my essence in you. You have become a vessel for a fraction of my soul."
Nightmare blinked her confusion. Death seemed almost as startled and asked, "How could that happen?"
"I am not sure," admitted Morpheus, "but it has happened at least once before. Not too long ago Odin, All-Father of the Aesir, offered me the possession of a similar creature that he had discovered. Unfortunately, circumstances did not allow me to accept his offer, and I never had the opportunity to investigate the phenomenon further — until now."
Nightmare Moon felt uncomfortable at being referred to as a phenomenon to be studied, particularly by such a mysterious and, she assumed, puissant being. "What… will you do with me?" she asked trepidly.
He looked at her and said, "You shall reside in my realm until I have determined your nature and decide your ultimate fate." He considered for a moment and then said, "Nightmare Moon, I find your name suggestive. To begin with, you shall serve as one of my nightmares. As I observe how you perform this role, then perhaps your true nature shall be revealed."
Nightmare glanced uncertainly towards Death. The pegasus shook her head and said, "Sorry, kiddo, but you don't have a lot of options here. And I've got to admit, I'm curious about how you got a splinter of my brother lodged in you. You'd better stay with him and do as he says." Then she flexed her wings and looked to her brother and said, "It looks like I've done my bit here. I should get back to my duties."
Morpheus nodded distractedly and said, "Of course, Sister. Thank you, and fare well!" Death smiled and gave her head a toss, and then with a few flaps of her wings was gone.
Then he turned to consider Nightmare Moon again. They gazed at one another for a few moments, then Morpheus looked aside and called, "Lucien?"
Silently a giant owl, brown-feathered and golden-eyed with tufted ears and a pair of round-lensed glasses, flitted out of the shadows and alighted next to them. Standing upright it towered over both ponies. It spoke, "Yes, lord?"
He said, "Lucien, this is Nightmare Moon, formerly a ruling princess of Equestria. I bid you find her accommodation in the castle, for now, and help her settle into her new environs, as she is new to the Dreaming."
Lucien nodded. "It shall be done, Lord." Then to Nightmare Moon he said, "Would my lady prefer a brief tour of the castle before retiring to her quarters?"
Nightmare hesitated. "I had hoped to ask more questions of Lord Morpheus, if it would not be too great an imposition."
Morpheus shook his head. "Later, perhaps. Lucien is knowledgeable in all matters pertaining to the castle, and much else besides. I am sure he can answer many of your questions."
Nightmare Moon bowed again and said, "Thank you, Great Lord." Then she followed Lucien as he led her through the great hall and then to a smaller corridor that diverged from it.
Lucien pondered. "Let me think now, where to begin… Let us go down the checklist, shall we?" Somehow, from somewhere, he produced a long scroll and a large, white, feather quill, which he held, somehow, with his wings. He squinted at the scroll through his glasses and said, "The castle is neither finite nor infinite, ever-changing and impossible to fully explore, but there are certain facilities and members of the staff that you should be aware of. The dining hall and kitchens, for example." He gestured with a wing, inviting Nightmare Moon to precede him though an open portal.
She looked around the dining area, once again experiencing a sense of déjà vu. Everywhere she looked were elements that seemed to have been pulled from her past plans, from the castle she'd once dreamt of building and ruling from. She could see a few scattered beings of various types, not all of them ponies, eating or conversing at the tables.
She turned to Lucien and asked, "Do I even need to eat? I did die, after all."
Lucien hmmed. "You retain the semblance of life. If you do not eat, you may not perish a second time, but I suspect you would become very hungry indeed. Most of us retain the habit of eating. Food is not only a means to sustain the body, after all. Furthermore, our kitchens can supply any sort of food or drink that is dreamt of, and it would be rather a shame not to partake." He noticed a unicorn pony approaching, and gestured with his wing. "Ah, and here is Taramis, the head of our kitchen staff! Taramis, this is the lady Nightmare Moon."
"I am at your service, ma'am!" said Taramis as he bowed before her. Nightmare Moon blinked and looked him over. His head seemed freakishly large even before considering the poofy white turban upon it. His draconic, slit-pupil eyes were much like her own, except that his were pink instead of cyan. A pair of sharp and very un-pony-like fangs protruded from his mouth, and a long, skinny, handlebar mustache gave him a comically sinister appearance, while a red waiter's jacket only added to the surreality. His cutie mark, she noted, was an absinthe spoon and glass. There was an awkward pause while she made these observations, a void which Taramis filled by asking, "What may I bring out to you?"
"Err… Nothing just now, thank you! Lucien was merely acquainting me with the castle environs. I will surely return soon to sample your victuals, though."
"Very good, ma'am." He nodded with a somewhat creepy smile before returning to the kitchen. Particularly disturbing, Nightmare thought, was the way he seemed to slide or glide silently without moving his legs.
"Oily devil, isn't he?" she commented to Lucien.
The owl only chuckled softly, but his head swiveled, his eyes focused elsewhere. He said, "Over there is another we should speak to." She followed his gaze to a table where an unfamiliar creature sat, picking listlessly at its food — a large wooden bowl of flowers — with nimble forepaws. Her curiosity aroused, Nightmare Moon followed Lucien as he approached it. The sound of hooves caused the creature to look up for an instant, then it yeeped softly and turned its eyes toward the bowl again.
Lucian said, "Nuala, we have a guest. This is Nightmare Moon, formerly a Princess of Equestria."
Upon hearing the word princess Nuala scrambled to her feet and then curtseyed low before Nightmare. "Your Royal Highness! I am at your service," she said, with an anxious quaver in her voice. Nightmare Moon took the opportunity to examine Nuala more closely, still trying to figure out what exactly she was. Despite the unfamiliarity of her species, she gave a most definite impression of youth and femininity. She was small, bipedal, flat-faced, her pale skin mostly bare, although a disheveled brown mane topped her head and pointy ears poked outward from it. She wore only a tatty pink shift-dress and a simple jewel pendant.
Nightmare lowered her muzzle and sniffed at Nuala — who trembled slightly. Then Nightmare said, "Nuala… We have not seen a being such as thyself before. What art thou, pray tell?" Speaking to an obviously subservient creature, she'd thoughtlessly slipped back into her archaic mode of speech — forgetting for a moment that this being, however humble, wasn't her subject.
Without looking up, Nuala muttered something too softly to be understood.
Nightmare narrowed her eyes and commanded, "Speak up!"
Nuala cringed and spoke, although still quite softly, saying, "I'm a fairy." There was silence for a moment until she glanced up and saw Nightmare Moon's dragon eyes still glaring at her, waiting for further explanation. She hurried to add, "An elf, yah? A pixie, a sprite, a puck…"
Nightmare Moon's eyes widened as she made the connection. "An elf?" Her thoughts whirled back to faded memories of misty moons ago — bedtime stories she'd heard in a more innocent age, when she was a small filly. Her mother had told stories about the ponies of Dream Valley and the many fantastic creatures they encountered during their adventures: sea ponies, bush woolies, troggles, stratodons, humans, witches and elves.
After a few awkward moments of silence, Nightmare Moon blinked away her reverie and finally said, "We have heard of thy kind in ancient tales, but never lent them any credence."
"Oh." Nuala looked down at her hands for a moment. Then she looked up again with a hint of curiosity on her face and asked, "But what about Lucien? He's an elf… sort of. Partly, I think."
Nightmare glanced at Lucien and snorted, softly. "We do not see the resemblance. He is an owl. We have owls back in Equestria, although none of them are quite so large." Then she blinked as she heard Nuala giggling. "What?"
Nuala stifled her mirth and said, "I'm sorry, but… an owl? He doesn't look like an owl to me. He looks like a really tall man with pointy ears."
Nightmare blinked and looked to Lucien again. "Man?"
Lucien cleared his throat and said, "Perhaps I can resolve your confusion. Visitors to the Dreaming often see things differently. This is a realm of symbolic meaning, and everything you perceive is filtered through your own experience. You perceive me as an owl because an owl is a creature you know and, to your unconscious mind, seems an appropriate symbol for my role or personality."
Nightmare Moon frowned for a moment as she pondered the implications. "And Lord Morpheus?"
Lucien said, "I presume you saw him as one of your own kind?"
Nightmare nodded, which prompted a giggle from Nuala. "Lord Dream as a horse!" she exclaimed. "I wish I could see that."
"A HORSE?" Nightmare Moon's face contorted with rage as she turned on the elf. "How dare thee! Insolent foal, dost thou take us for a filthy, brute beast?" She raised a metal-shod hoof as if to strike at Nuala, who cowered whimpering in abject fear.
Lucien intervened, stretching a wing in front of Nightmare Moon. "Please, please calm yourself!" he begged. "She meant no insult. There are no ponies like you in the world she came from. She knew no other word for you."
Nightmare held back the blow, and then lowered her hoof to the floor again as she realized her mistake. Still looking at Nuala she said, "Of course. Thou dost see me as a creature from thine own experience, just as we perceive Lucien to be an owl. But… If that is true, then why do we not perceive thy form as one familiar to us from Equestria?"
"I… I'm not sure," Nuala admitted.
"If I might offer an explanation," Lucien interjected. "Nuala here, like yourself, is not native to the Dreaming. She was not created from dreamstuff by Lord Morpheus, but rather is a recent immigrant from the Seelie Court of Elphame. Her identity as a fairy remains intact, and that is how we all perceive her."
"How interesting," Nightmare commented drily. "In that case, Nuala, why didst thou call us a horse? What do we look like to thee?"
"I'm sorry!" Nuala said again, fidgeting. "You don't really look like a horse; you look like a sort of… um… well, you've got a horn like a unicorn, and wings like a pegasus, and big serpent's eyes, and your mane is all, um… like a dark cloud with stars in it, and I've never seen anything like you before, and I didn't know what else to call you."
"So… We do appear to others as a pony after all. That is a relief, we… err, I suppose. This is all more complicated than I expected. It seems I have much to learn," Nightmare admitted. She tossed her head and said, "Shall we continue the tour?"
Lucien said, "In a moment, if you please. The reason I introduced you to Nuala is because I presume you will want a maid to attend you during your stay in the castle. Nuala is, I believe, presently unencumbered by other duties."
Nuala curtseyed before Nightmare Moon again and said, "If it pleases you, ma'am!"
"Very well, Nuala. We… I shall send for you when I settle into my room."
"Oh!" exclaimed Nuala. "I can set about preparing it while you continue the tour."
Nightmare Moon nodded assent, and Lucien added, "An excellent idea." The elf grabbed a handful of flowers from the table and scurried out of the dining hall and out of sight. Nightmare and Lucien followed at a more leisurely pace. As they walked, Lucien moved closer to Nightmare Moon's ear and said, softly, "A word of advice, Lady. Nuala is much liked around the castle. I do not believe Lord Morpheus would take kindly if she were abused in any way — nor, frankly, would I."
Nightmare Moon gritted her teeth and said only, "Your advice is noted."
Lucien marked the dining hall off his checklist and then led Nightmare Moon into another wing of the castle, into a room with racks of clothes. There were mirrors and a number of doors leading into dressing rooms. "Here we have the wardrobe department. Or perhaps I should say costume department. The Dreaming is as much theater as anything else, you know. The vast majority of inhabitants are, for lack of a better word, actors, and actors must have costumes."
A feminine voice called out, "Lucien, who is this visitor you've brought to see me? Do introduce us, darling!" The one who had spoken stepped out from the racks of clothing and approached them. It appeared to be a sky blue pony with a choppy, rainbow-streaked mane and tail.
Before Lucien could speak, Nightmare Moon did a double-take, blinking confusedly at the blue pony. "Rainbow Dash??" she blurted.
The blue pony blinked back at her. "Beg pardon? My dear, I am the Mad Goth Witch — or as some in the castle insist upon calling me, the Fashion Thing."
Nightmare Moon looked closer and saw that the Fashion Thing differed from Rainbow Dash in several ways. This pony was much older, skin sagging and wrinkled, colorful coat and mane streaked with gray. She had no visible wings, and she wore a patch covering her right eye, and a black witch's hat upon her head. Much of her body, including her cutie mark (if, indeed, she had one) was concealed by a stark black dress, and black fishnet stockings extended to all four legs, and her neck bore an elaborate pewter necklace. Nightmare peered and then said, coolly, "It would appear that I was mistaken."
"Oh, it's quite all right, darling!" said the Fashion Thing. "You are new to the Dreaming, yes? It can certainly play its little tricks on the minds of the unwary. You'll let used to it soon enough, I've no doubt."
Lucien said, "Quite so. In any event… Maddie, this is Nightmare Moon, formerly a ruling princess of Equestria."
The Fashion Thing gasped, her one visible eye going wide. "A princess! Oh, it's not often I have the chance to fit royalty! Lord Morpheus is a dear, but you know, he's almost painfully indifferent to my efforts. Darling, you simply must let me prepare you an entire wardrobe! And I'm sure I could do something with that old armor…"
Nightmare scowled and said, "I'm rather attached to this old armor, just as it is."
The Fashion Thing tapped her chin with a hoof for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, then perked up. "Ideeeea!!" she sang out. "I know just the thing. Wait right here! I'll be back in a flash, Darling!" Then she darted off into the aisles of clothing.
Nightmare Moon asked Lucien, "Is she always like that?"
"I'm afraid so," he said. "She has her little enthusiasms. She's been the Mad Mod Witch, the Mad Punk Witch, the Mad Madonna Witch, even the Mad Yuppie Witch. Which is why we finally gave up and started simply calling her the Fashion Thing."
They listened to the sounds of her rummaging around and cursing under her breath as she searched for who-knows-what article of clothing. Nightmare Moon said, "I have no desire to linger here and be harried by that harridan. Let us continue the tour!"
"Hmm, yes. I suppose you're right. Come along then!" Lucien led her out of the wardrobe department and on down the hallway.
As they walked together Nightmare Moon said, "When Sola's foalish little minions used the Elements of Harmony on me, I thought I would be destroyed completely."
Lucien said, "Perhaps you were. The dream realm is one of unreality, filled with myths, fictional characters, impossibilities and all manner of things that do not exist. Perhaps you would have found your way here even if our lord had not asked his sister to guide you to him."
"What am I, then? A ghost?"
"If even that… But there will always be a place for you here, as long as someone, somewhere, still dreams of Nightmare Moon — as long as the idea of Nightmare Moon has a grip on the hearts of the living." He paused and pondered for a moment, then said, "Did you know that Celestia made a holiday devoted to you? It's called Nightmare Night. There is considerable lore about you in the library."
She blinked, then peered doubtfully at Lucien. "Did she? That seems rather unlikely."
"Oh yes. According to the tales, you return to Equestria once a year to hunt down and devour young fillies and colts. They are expected to disguise themselves and make offerings of candy to placate you."
Nightmare Moon gawped, her jaw hanging open for a moment. Then she scowled and said, "That's horrible! I knew Sola hated me, but I never imagined she would paint me as such a monster." She went silent as she pondered the implications of Equestria suffering under such misrule for a thousand years — and perhaps thousands more to come. She fumed, "This is intolerable. I must find a way to return to Equestria."
A shadow passed across Lucien's face, and he said, "It is not meet for the dead to walk in the land of the living. And besides, the only ways out of the dreaming are through the two gates controlled by Lord Morpheus."
Nightmare Moon frowned and said, "I didn't come through any gate to get here."
"Lady Death brought you, and she travels where she will. Dreamers likewise find their own way into the Dreaming and then back to their scattered bodies when they awaken. But you are an inhabitant of the Dreaming now. The gates are the only way out for you."
"I see," said Nightmare Moon. However, as Lucien turned to lead her down the corridor again, she muttered under her breath, "…but I just might know another way."
"Ah, here we are!", said Lucien as he tucked his checklist and quill away somewhere in his feathers. "The library. My library, I'm proud to say." They had come to a pair of wooden doors, one of which had a parchment tacked up that read:
The Library of Dreams
The management cannot be held responsible for anything lost or found within.
He pulled a key out from, seemingly, behind his ear, and unlocked the wooden double doors, and commented, "Alas, I must keep the library locked when it's unattended, lest any of the books get loose." He gestured for her to enter, then followed her inside.
Nightmare Moon looked about with undisguised wonder. Bookshelves seemed to extend in all directions, including towards the sky. "So many books… How big is this library?"
The owl answered proudly, "It's the largest library that never was. Here we have every book that an author dreamed of writing but, for whatever reason, never actually got around to. We also have a wing full of books that never existed, but were described or referred to in works of fiction. And then of course, we also have a section full of lost works."
A puzzled frown crossed Nightmare Moon's face, and she asked, "Lucien, how do you have time to manage this? Are you not majordomo for Lord Morpheus?"
Lucien removed his glasses for a moment to clean the lenses with the feathers of his wing. As he squinted at them he replied, "Of late, yes. My responsibilities have greatly expanded over the last few years. We are desperately short-staffed here in the castle, and most of the staff have to fulfill multiple duties. But the library is still mine, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Oh yes! Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement, but a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas, and without ideas, well, where are we?"
"I see… So, if I am to understand, you have books here that don't exist. What about ones that do exist in the real world?"
"Well of course, any book that is dreamed of can be found here, but one cannot always guarantee that the text is accurate in its conformance to the editions of the waking world — dreams being the shifty things that they are, you know."
Nightmare gazed up at the towering stacks and then smiled slyly and asked, "You said there was lore about me?"
"Oh yes! I'm quite sure there is. We also have some volumes you thought about writing, during the course of your mortal life. Let's see… Over here, I think. He strode a short way down the aisle, then with his beak plucked out a volume with a thick black jacket. Holding it (somehow) with his wing he gazed at the cover and nodded. "The Story of the Beautiful and Powerful Black Alicorn who Always Wins and is Loved By All, as related by Princess Luna. Hmm. Well, I'm sure you would have come up with a catchier title if you'd stuck with it."
Nightmare's horn glowed as she floated the book out of Lucien's grasp and opened it. She blinked and peered more closely. "What's this? I can't read anything in this book, the words are all a jumble."
"Oh my! Oh gracious! I forgot about that. For a long time now Lord Morpheus has decreed that dreamers are unable to read in the Dreaming. Something about too much information making it back to the waking world, things they weren't meant to know and all that. Anything more than a couple of words turns into a meaningless mess when they try to read it. All the staff here in the castle are exempt from that effect, of course. And so should you be. Just a moment…"
He went over to a desk and picked up a bookmark with a cord looped in one end, then took a quill pen in wing (somehow) and scribbled on the bookmark. He said, "This library pass should do the trick." Then he reached up and hung the cord over the end of Nightmare Moon's horn.
Her eyes focused on the bookmark dangling from her horn. "You've got to be kidding."
"It's no joke," he said. He reached with his wing and gave the card a push, causing it to slide down her horn — and then vanish into her forehead. "Now you should be able to read anything. Try the book again!"
She shot him a skeptical glance, then floated the book in front of her eyes again. After a moment she nodded. "Yes… Yes, I can read it now. How interesting." She was quiet for several long moments as her eyes skimmed back and forth across the page, while Lucien waited patiently. Then she flipped forward a few pages and read some more. "It does read like something I might have written when I was a filly." She continued reading for a minute longer and then admitted, "It really is rubbish, isn't it?"
"I wasn't going to say so," Lucian answered. He glanced at the shelves and then said, "We have several stories about Nightmare Night here as well."
She floated the tome back to him and said, "Yes. I would rather like to review those."