It was inelegant, that first body they made.
I could see through its “eyes”, I could control its limbs, but it was… not me. Magitech, the code, was… not mine. It was like controlling a puppet.
And yet, I persisted.
Some part of me believed that with enough effort, and practice, this vessel could become the thing I used to lead my ponies to the future they deserved. In place of a heart was the most powerful soul crystal the fleet had; in place of a brain was a mass of hot silicon. And yet, I was still bound to the network. A bundle of wires nearly as thick as a foreleg snaked out at the back of the neck; more wires snaked out at the withers, at the ribcage.
They shackled me to the walls of the little room, there in the bowels of the capital ship.
“Princess, you don’t have to do this.”
“So thou hast said,” I replied with some irritation. “I hath asked you to cease.”
“I… believe your time is better spent on other matters.”
“Thou art a tenacious pony when it comes to ignoring thy sovereign’s wishes, Circuit Charm.”
“Not ignoring.” The doctor shook his head in the back of my mind’s eye. “I continue to listen in the hope that you will enlighten me as to your aim.”
“I aim,” I said, “to control my magic as I once did. As a Princess of Equestria. I may be bound to the spirit network but I know if I just try…”
And, as I concentrated, I once again felt my magic channeling. Channeling through the artificial horn of the robotic alicorn. Yes. Every day, it gets just a little bit easier. Slowly, wobblingly, the ball bearing on the floor before ‘me’ rose into the air.
Then, it fell. If I had lungs, I would have gasped. Even the simple levitation… it was draining.
“Ponies have tried and tried, your highness,” Circuit said to me with an almost pleading tone. “The crystals that house our selves in the network… they hold our font, our soul. Our minds are bound in silicon. Without a body made by Harmony, our magic is not—”
“Remember,” I said, letting a dangerous tone slip into my voice, “that thou speakest to the pony who designed the network in the first place.”
He dipped his head in a theatrical sigh. “Of course.”
“All this technology. It gets in the way. It stops you from connecting with Harmony as ponies are supposed to.”
“Do you know why I want you to stop,” Circuit asked suddenly.
“Because you think I cannot succeed.”
“No, your highness,” he said. “I fear that you will not succeed. I—” He stops, shakes his head again.
Something in me softened, then. I could sense his distress. The pony who, in the weeks I had known him, had displayed the most unbreakable composure of anyone save my own sister… he was breaking. Breaking due to me.
“Circuit,” I said gently, letting the robotic body go limp. I pulled myself more wholly into the darkness of wirespace. I walked up to the stallion as he shook his head again, looking down.
“Your highness, I’m sorry. I’ll leave you now.” I sensed Circuit preparing to pull himself out, into his own virtual space.
“No.” Without even thinking, I put a hoof on his shoulder. I had learned how to integrate sensation into my existence in wirespace, by then. My touch stayed him. “Tell me what truly bothers you, my little pony.”
He still didn’t look at me. “I am a practical pony.” He paused. “I always try to find the best solution. And I fear that this… this isn’t the course of action best for you, or for the resistance.” Finally he looked up at me. “As aspects, we can control the magitech better than the other ponies. You can use that to reign. The only definite thing afforded to us by this robotic-body course of action is hope. And hope… is not enough.” Another pause. “I fear that you’re grasping at the impossible. I fear that it will destroy you.”
I could only shake my head. “Hope,” I said, “is never in vain.” I smiled softly. “How could you know what it was like, in the old days? Magic was used in ways you wouldn’t believe… ways that Nightmare uses it, now. If you wish for proof that it is possible, look to her.”
That seemed to get his attention, but uncertainty still ruled Circuit’s countenance. “How can it be possible,” he said, “if nopony has done it for thousands of years?”
“I am a Princess of Equestria,” I said again gently. “How do you think Celestia fights Nightmare without magic? My sister and I… we can accomplish more than you would believe, with the support of our loyal subjects.” I paused then.
How could I have been so foolish?
“And the support of our friends,” I added, in what was almost a whisper. Circuit simply looked at me with a mildly quizzical expression. “You know I consider you a friend, don’t you, Circuit Charm?”
His stoic, blank expression returned. “I… appreciate that, your highness.”
I gave an annoyed huff, but smiled. “No, Circuit. I speak to you not as a sovereign, but a friend. You helped me when I was confused and angry. And you stick by me even as I take what you see as a foolish course of action.”
“It’s my job,” he tried to insist.
“No. It is who you are.” I closed my eyes and pushed myself back into the robotic alicorn. My eyes opened in the real world and I looked down at the stubborn ball bearing once more. “Now, I need you to know who I am.”
My magic took hold of the little piece of metal. Now that my purpose was clear, it was easier. I knew Circuit was watching, from the little camera on the other side of the room, and I knew this moment was important. “You must believe in who I am. You are the first and, so far, only true friend of my existence here in the future.”
I levitated the bearing to eye level, and watched it hover there. I could hold it. I could hold it as long as I needed to, and more. “I believe in you, Circuit. I believe that you can help convince the fleet, because you are a friend to all. Everypony trusts you. You’re a practical pony.” Drawing on all my fortitude, I imagined taking a deep breath, and—
I pushed the magic into the world—
I ran through the most effective heating spell I knew, concentrating with all my might in my silicon brain—
And I felt my magical font respond. I felt the power flowing through the robot’s horn, flowing into the little ball: I sensed the spell working. For a moment nothing apparently happened.
Then, its shine was dulled. After a mere few seconds, he dullness got darker. I pushed harder, and would have gasped if I could. The ball began to glow, not with my magic, but with heat. The dull redness was beautiful to my artificial eyes.
I looked up into the camera, wordlessly showing Circuit Charm my determination. And pushed even harder. The horn glowed all the brighter, brighter; the little ball went from red to orange to bright, bright yellow—
As I let my spell end, at last, with a little flash, it fell to the ground.
The glowing remains of the ball bearing sizzled against the metal floor as I exhaustedly retreated back into wirespace. The robotic alicorn fell limp. Things, for a moment, went fuzzy. I became aware of Circuit Charm, there before me, his hoof planted on my chest with a stunned look on his face. I smiled at him and touched his shoulder with my own hoof. “Thank you.”
He stepped back. “I… I’m sorry I doubted you, your highness.”
“I insist, Circuit, that you call me Luna.”
He dipped his head. “Luna. I’m sorry. I should have believed in you from the—”
“No,” I interrupted. “I am to blame. I did not give you, or anypony else, good reason to follow me apart from duty and blind hope. And that is no way to treat subjects, nor friends.” I reached out mentally and pulled forth the data I wanted, the camera’s recording of the last few minutes in the robot’s room.
Before Circuit and I, a representation of the footage appeared. I made a display of transforming it into a data disk of the sort they used here in the future, to move and store data in the real world. I levitated it over to Circuit, who takes it in a hoof. “Show this to those who still have doubt,” I told him. “And let them show anypony they know who has doubt. And I will earn their trust, and their hope.”
“I daresay,” Circuit replied after a pause, “you will.”
“Once I have more to offer than cheap tricks, I will address the ponies of the fleet myself. Once I can do so with a proper body, and proper magic.”
“I look forward to it,” my friend said with true hope in his voice.
Weeks pass, and the recording of the robotic alicorn spreads among tens of thousands of inhabitants of the Great Spacefleet like wildfire.
They wait anxiously for their princess to appear before them, triumphant, wielding the magic of the old world and the promise of victory over the nightmare.
The Princess doesn’t get a chance to make her appearance on her own terms.
Fate, and the nightmare, have other plans.
When I awoke—into blackness, into numbness, into fear—I could not remember where I was. I could only feel a creeping coldness, and the horrible sense that I was in the midst of something of paramount importance, but could not remember what it was.
I did not let the panic take me. I centred myself. I did not try to take a breath; I knew, somehow, it had no meaning. After a few moments of casting my awareness into the void, I felt something. Something I could grasp. Something I could wrap my consciousness around—
I would have staggered. The memories all rushed in at once, and struck my mind utterly blank for more than a few moments. As I recovered, I tried to put together the basic facts as far as I could place them.
I am Luna.
I am a thing called an aspect. I am contained within a network of my own design made of wires and crystals and silicon databanks.
I am in the capital ship of the Great Spacefleet, called Dawn of Magic. We are here in flight of the Nightmare. Celestia wars with her far below on Eqqus.
Over forty thousand subjects rely on me.
A number of friends rely on me also.
I opened my eyes.
Before me, a little room with metal walls. And in the middle of the room, facing the little alcove where I watched from my robotic body, was a twisted, evil thing. It mirrored me, in a way; it had the basic form of a pony, with a horn of what looked like pure obsidian. Its eyes were empty, but a point of harsh blue light shone from within.
I knew what it was. A drone of Nightmare’s.
It smiled at me.
“Gò̴͉͒o̵̗̊̒d̵̻̊ to ̷̣̀ś̸͙͜ē̷̡͊e yoú̵̜͝ aga̴̯̋i̸̢̮̒ñ̶̞̞, Lunȧ̷̻̙͝. I wa̸̩͇͒̃s̸̞͖̈́̚ so s̶̫̀͊ad whe̴͓̍̈́n̵̼̓̚ you we̸̯̊nt aw̷̨̱̍å̸̢͆y. F̷̗́̈led to̵̪̕ the bla̴̻̔̉c̴͌ͅk̷̜̲̇͒ness.”
I tried to remember anything before now. Was this real? Or an apparition? The last concrete memories I had were of… hours or days before, it felt. I had been speaking to Circuit Charm. My friend. Thoughts of him brought me to my hooves.
“Ah, ̵̹̚a̶̠͕͗h! Sta̶̪͕̚y dow̶͇͘͠n̸͔̾!” And I felt a pain, a pain in my mind, at the back of my mind, something screaming—
But I did not fall, or sink. I steeled myself and pushed back. Tried to take myself into wirespace instead of inhabiting the body exclusively… but I could not. Something was wrong. Part of me, part of my self… it was already in wirespace. No wonder I was inhabiting the body more than I ever had before. I didn’t know how, but she was inhibiting me.
The virus must have spread to the ship.
When had the attack begun? How long had it been? There was no way to know.
I glared at Nightmare. “I will not submit to you, demon,” I spat. “Never again.”
“I d̷̗͛̒ȯ̵̦̙̆n’t nee̴̼͝d̸̩̩̎̇ you t̴̼̺͝o sub̴͎̙̆m̸̗̕i̷̖̐́t, Lun̸̦̓a,” she said with a mad, warped giggle. “I’m i̷̜̖̎n̵̩͉͛͠s̴̫̬̍̉ide alrȇ̴̗̔a̴̙̯͗dy. I’m in c̴͛ͅǒ̶̦ņ̴̣̂̇t̷͙̫̿̓rol. Righ̵̛͉̒t nǒ̵̭͝w̸̬̥̽ I’m ov̶̚͜e̶̮͒͆r̷̩͓͝runnḯ̴̺̤̆ng your̶͙͂ littl̷̪̈́e fleshy̸̡̪͐ ponie̵̬͙̋̆s and b̶̲̉̓r̵͈̝̋ḙ̸̓aking down ṱ̶̤̂͂h̴̤̪̉e walls̵̭͖̃̆ the aspec̵̼̮̆ts cō̶͙w̷̛̱͎er be̷͍͖͝h̴̼͑̚ind. I’m v̴̫̻̒ery goȏ̶͖d at breaǩ̷͎i̴̞̒ng down th̸̖̿͒e walḻ̴̞̄͘s. But yỏ̵͚u̵̙͑̉ knoẁ̵̫̇ tha̸̻͍͒t̴̜̤̀̊ alreå̵͈dy—”
I tried to step forward, horn igniting with what was almost ease, but the wires held me back, reminding me that I was still just as shackled as before. Nightmare grinned wider.
“Ha̵̛͓̳͌! Hahȁ̵̡̀h̵̠͆͗ă̸̢ha! Whaẗ̷̜̥ ̸̪͗ͅare yoù̷̩̙̒ now, L̴̻̉ú̵̹na? Not mų̶̖̀͐ch of a p̶̱͂r̴̼̓i̷͍͆͜nces̷̓̈́͜s. Just a ĺ̶̥̞o̶͚̱͋̊st soul in̷̢̗͐̽ a met̷͖͝ȃ̵̠͛l sh̶̯͠ę̶̤̀̉ll. Likĕ̸̛̯ all tḫ̶̈́̆e oṯ̵̊h̷̺̼̍̓ers.”
“I AM MORE THAN YOU ARE!” I released the power built up in my horn, forced it out in a raw blast of blue-white energy at the gloating robotic horror. Its own magic, a sickly green-tinged blue shadow, blocked my attack with apparent ease and the smiling demon was left untouched.
But I saw it take a full step back as it did so. “Pä̶̻̲́t̴̘̥̚h̵̊ͅȩ̷̠̐͝tic,” Nightmare said with venom, “bṷ̴̒ẗ̸͈́ yo̴̤͛u we̵̛͇̤̚r̷̪͊e alwą̴̫̍y̵̭̞̿s̶̘͔̒̎ wea̶̯̍k. Aĺ̷̰̜̓w̷̝̌̍ays aĺ̵̨o̵̺̞͛n̷͔̘̐e.”
In that moment I felt a rush of fury. I was not alone. I had thousands of ponies at my back, there in the crystals and silicon databanks, and in flesh and blood across the fleet. Fighting for me even now. Among them, friends. Ponies who had sacrificed things for me. And for whom I was prepared to make sacrifices, as well.
I grasped my magical font, concentrated, pushed with all my might past whatever Nightmare had done to trap me here. I let some raw power seep out, used it to push my mind beyond what felt possible—
I saw the drone’s grin drop for a split second—
And suddenly I was there, in wirespace, and in my robotic body, and in pain. All at once.
Pain. It was a novel thing, now. I hadn’t felt it, truly, in so long. A detached part of me wondered how she was doing it.
Y̸̩̮͋O̶̹̅U C̶͕͇̓̈́A̷̛̦NN̴̨̩͗̒Ö̴̭͠T RES̷̙̋Į̶̲͊̉S̵͉͕̿͛Ṯ̵̄̆,̴̘͆ YOU CAN̶͎̼̓N̷̯̓͆O̶̠̒T ES̷̲̎C̵̺̓A̶͕̫̔P̸̳̊̇ͅE. I W̷̭̓͐AS̵̢͕̈́̊ ALW̵̛͙͎̌A̴̗̗̿Ȳ̴̩̈́͜S STRǑ̸͔̓N̶̨̜̓̓Ǵ̶͈̈́ER.
You were never stronger. I defeated myself.
The pain intensified.
Y̵̱͙͒Ò̷͔Ǘ̶̪ WILL̶̻̮̎̈́ ̸͊͆͜SUBṂ̵̌I̶̤̿T̵̬̮̓
I will not.
Y̶̞͐Ŏ̴̹UR PR̶̛̠̬E̸̥͖͂͛CIOUS̶͍̒ PONȈ̷̡̤E̴̥̅S̸̖͒ ̴̣̮̇WI̵̙͆͘L̸̤̀L ̸̛̦͕̊Ḓ̴͘I̴͖͆͑E AND̶̯̲̐͐ I WI̷͇̐̋L̵͉̏L̷͉̇̔ LĄ̵̔͐Ư̵̳̔G̷̗̰͂Ḩ̸̻̓
Indeed, I heard her laughter, there in the blackness. But reminding me of my friends was a mistake. Despite the pain, and the confusion, and the cold grasp of that accursed demon, I found my centre.
And within that centre, love for my friends. Love for the ponies who believed in me, who knew I was stronger than the nightmare virus.
Within that centre, power.
The fight goes poorly.
There had been measures in place in the event of a breach, of course. Magical weapons, blast doors, ponies trained to fight. It is not enough to keep the nightmare virus from overrunning the ponies of the Dawn of Magic. The other ships, as of yet, are unincurred. It seems Nightmare wishes to take control of Luna’s flagship before moving on to the ponies of lesser importance.
The other ships can do nothing. The virus is in the system, and systems are disabled. The only things that hold are the blast doors and life support; the separate subsystems cut off by design in case of just such an eventuality.
The capital ship’s blast doors are mostly blasted open. The nightmare drones possess power, frightening power. They kill with glee.
Those ponies they have not yet killed are backed into the enormous, open bridge of the starship. The room is the size of a small cathedral. At the command centre at the head of the room, a single drone stands tall and smirking above the defiant ponies below. They are surrounded.
The Nightmare closes in with her puppets. They advance slowly, grinning all the while. They don’t need weapons. Every part of them is sharp.
Then, suddenly, they stop. The drones say nothing, and the ponies are not stupid enough to attack with what little weapons they still possess.
They try not to look at the bodies.
“Ľ̵̗Ù̶̡̬NA IS̸̟͔̔ IǸ̶͎͑͜ OU̸̝̝̎̎R ̵̢̣͂͝G̸̠̭͘RAS̴͇̽ͅP,” the drones say in unison. “S̸̥̈́Ö̷̦̣́́O̸̼̾N, Y̷̟̒OU̵̪͊ AL̷̡̔L ̷̼͆Ȁ̸̠̳RE ̴̦͝M̸̺̱̓́IN̸̰͘E.”
The ponies look at one another, steely-eyed. The thought of their princess, captured and helpless again, is an unpleasant one. Yet, somehow, Nightmare’s words seem hollow. Even among the death and the horrors, there is hope.
“She’ll beat you,” a mare calls out simply.
“Ơ̸̗͆h, ̸̳̘̒r̵͖̆̾eally̸̛̪̎?̵͛̆͜ She̵̠̗͒’s ̶̨̑̃d̶̘̿̄o̶̯͒͝ne wȩ̴̳̕ll so̶̧͓͛ ̸͙̜̏f̶̜̫̔͗ar̷̗̓. H̵̉̔õ̷̟͈w̴̱̝̓ ma̸̢̳͠ṇ̴̀̆y dead̵͚́?̸̥̻̐ An̷̹͚̕d̸̮̎ yó̵̫̫u̴͉͘ soȍ̸͈n̷̤̈́ to ̶̢͕̀f̵͚̽o̵̪̹͗͝lloẃ̵̜.” The single drone looks down on them with contempt.
“Why soon?” a stallion shoots back.
The drone smiles madly. “Ȉ̷̊͜ ̶̧̃̅w̶͎̼̎̑ant he̷̞̿̀r ̸̭͙͂t̵̼̄o w̷̝̉̐atc̶̲̙͋̀h̸̩̅,” says Nightmare.
The drones all start laughing. It’s a twisting, cracking, screeching noise—
But it stops, suddenly.
The drones suddenly look blank.
Before the ponies know what’s happening, a blinding flash engulfs the room. The drone at the command centre is sent flying, and crashes against a wall with a wrenching screech. The other drones are engulfed in a blue glow, frozen, held there where they stand with murder in their hollow eyes.
The ponies behold their princess, Princess Luna, in the form of a metal alicorn, floating in midair with steel wings outstretched and horn and eyes glowing with the light of a full moon. A floating, ethereal, translucent mane and tail made of pure magic sweep around her, blown by invisible winds. Severed wires trail down from her neck, from her withers.
She glares down at the frozen horrors, sees her subjects, and smiles. “I am Luna, Princess of the Night, and thou art safe now, my ponies.” Her gaze alights on the bodies strewn around the room, the blood covering the twisted drones, and all the fury returns to her countenance. Her eyes glow brighter. “The nightmare virus is being expunged.” She roughly yanks up the fallen drone and pulls it up before her, allowing it some movement. It twists and snarls. “First, I have a message for you, Nightmare.”
Nightmare laughs. The sound isn’t as frightening, now. Its defiance seems pointless and weak. But the hatred in the drone’s gaze bores into Luna all the same.
“I̶͙̜̾̄’m imp̸̰̏r̶͉͐̈́ess̷̬͛e̷͉͝͝d, lȉ̶̛͔̘t̴͖̿t̵͖̊͛le ̶̝̅͌L̶̜̈́͑ṷ̷͉͝na,” it says viciously. “Y̶̝̋̔o̷̰̚͠u m̴̨̹͛͝igḩ̷̋t ac̷͓̽͠tù̵̖̞̿ally ̴̯͊̒g̴̡̩͐i̴͚͘ve me ̵͕̃a̸͚͠ fig̸͖̋ht.”
“You cannot hope to win.” Luna speaks simply and cooly. “I can protect this fleet from your pathetic incursions. Soon we will join Celestia, and you will lose any hope of taking Eqqus. You’ve lost. Without using my own power against me, you are nothing. Nothing.”
Nightmare tries to reply, but chokes on her laugh as Luna grasps the drone tightly, freezing it in her magic. “We will give you a fight, and more. We will give you everything you deserve.”
Then, though the assembled ponies could scarcely believe it possible, her horn glows even brighter. The awed faces turn away, wincing, and they feel a tension in the air, a whine—
And with a sound felt more than heard, an explosion of magic sweeps through the ship, passing through the ponies with a sharp breeze but nothing more. The drones, though, are ravaged as if by a magical storm: they explode, disintegrate, are reduced to hot slag on the floor.
The consoles at the stations around the bridge, and at the command centre, flicker back to life. The virus has been expunged from the fleet’s systems.
There is silence. Then a stallion gives a throaty cheer.
Suddenly the dozens of ponies in the room are all crying, cheering, hugging. Princess Luna slowly descends to the floor, horn unlit and eyes returned to their gentle blue. The wispy magic of her mane and tail, though, remains.
Once more, the alicorn princess stands tall above her subjects, and smiles.
The story began when I was snatched from Death.
Or, it didn’t. There are many ways to look at it. Did my story begin with the birth of my vessel, all those millenia ago? Or with my summoning, at the darkest hour, when Chaos was rampant upon the land, and I became the one they called Luna? Or at the crux of our reign, the great rebirth, when the souls of my sister and I were cast into the heartless, bloodless vessels upon which our little ponies are now so reliant?
Did it begin long before any of it? Was the pattern of my self, even then in the cold and blackness before magic was bound in Harmony, written in the matter that would contain my being?
Or am I just another iteration of a senseless pattern in the void?
No—that is not the truth. I will not believe it. Here at the dawn of my rebellion, the beginning of yet another story, I commit my thoughts to relative permanence within these silicon databanks. Those who come later deserve to know that their beloved Princess is flawed, baffled, mortal… at least for now.
They tell me that with time I will become more than what I am today.
Of course, this is true of every pony. Or so I try to believe.
The war will be hard. I have no illusions as to that. But I am not afraid. My subjects, my friends, will fight for me as I fight for them. We will join my sister, and she will fight for us as we fight for her. And we will destroy the aberration that has torn apart my kingdom far too many times.
Those who died will not be forgotten. Whisper Star, Focus Array, Admiral Black, and all the others who fell protecting the Dawn of Magic. A fitting name for the flagship. We will use it to take the fight to Nightmare and eradicate her from Eqqus in their name.
And there is no time to waste. It is time for our little rebellion of souls and silicon to rise up.
I am ready.