A World Without Shadows

by MiriOhki

Chapter 1 - Shadowy Illumination

Argent Blade didn't recognize the creature she saw in the mirror for what seemed to be an eternity. Whether it was the fact that nobody in the sprawl sees horses except in TriDs or in stories, or her brain just didn't want to process what she saw, she just could not identify the image before her.

At first, the only thing that processed was blue, a blue so dark it would have been mistaken as black in any darker light. The color covered the image in the mirror almost completely, save for storm-gray eyes and a sapphire mane. The eyes were filled with a confused horror as they wandered toward the near-ebony spire that projected from between and above her eyes. It was a sharp spiral cone, about five times longer than it was wide at the base and not as sharp as her cyberspurs, but definitely not something one would want to be on the receiving end of.

Luna's voice was soft, but apologetic. “You're a unicorn, Argent Blade,” she explained hesitantly. “I am sorry I had to change you, but it was all we could do to save your life. Your old body was... destroyed, for lack of a better word.” The princess shuddered as she remembered the horrible thing she saw, the last moments of the old life of the filly before her.

Argent hesitantly raised a silvery hoof up toward her horn, before squeaking as she saw what replaced her hand. She stared at the metal hoof, flexing her arm carefully, confirming that it was part of her with each movement. The shocks took her a moment to work through, as she finally noticed even more changes. Her old cyberarms were not top of the line, yet they were dextrous and effective. They did have, however, a hint of the uncanny valley about them, as they never moved as smoothly as flesh and bone. The silvery limb mounted to her body moved even more naturally than organic, or even the highest end cyberware she had ever seen. She might have thought it beautiful if she was able to concentrate on her movements through the shock. After a pause, she gave a particular mental command, and with mixed emotions, an edged spike extruded from the center of her hoof. Not a retractable spike like her old cyberspur, but something akin to that old sci-fi two-d movie she remembered seeing with the robot made of liquid metal. She experienced the relief of not being unarmed, blended with the confusion at seeing things not matching up as she remembered.

Luna blinked a bit as she watched the spike emerge from her hoof, and then melt back into the limb. “Fascinating,” she murmured to herself, then looked back at Argent's face, assessing the shocked confusion in the patient's expression. “Are you alright?” She asked the filly softly.

Argent blinked as she looked up from the shining limb. “I'm not really sure,” she admitted, pausing as her mind took in her surroundings. “This doesn't look like anywhere I've been in the sprawl.”

“Sprawl?” Luna asked.

Argent gave the princess an odd, somewhat sceptical look. “Um, we're not in FDC anymore?”

Luna shook her head. “No... you're in my chamber, in Canterlot Palace.”

“Canter... lot... Palace...” Argent said, sounding even more sceptical. “Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore,” she muttered sotto voce.

Luna did not respond to the witticism, as she explained, "your body was ruined. Your world does not have enough magic flow to sustain the kind of effects it would have taken to rebuild your body. Ergo, a colleague and I were forced to bring you here, where the magic is much stronger."

Argent flinched again and she heard that word pounding over and over again in her head. “Stop, I don't want to hear that enough with the magical crap, okay? I've had it up to here with magic,” she said, raising her hoof to her head.

Luna blinked. She had heard of thaumophobia, mostly among some outlying earth pony groups, or unicorns who had experienced horrible accidents, but she had never met anyone who had experienced it before. She rested a gentle hoof on her shoulder. “What's wrong?” She asked Argent carefully.

Argent looked away, eyes closed tight. “I... I was seven. They said I was going to go far, to learn how to be a mage, a good one. I was already learning. And then some drunk sideswiped our car. My mother died. And some hack butcher with delusions of arrogance took my legs, my arm and my magic. The insurance covered the cyberlimbs and that was it. And the company decided since I couldn’t use magic, I wasn’t worth their time anymore. So I ended up on the streets. So you can see why I don’t give a damn about magic. It’s brought me nothing but grief.” She struggled to pull the blanket over herself a few times before finally concealing her head.

Luna looked at her and sighed softly, shaking her head but trying to stifle her pity and anger. The filly had justification, true, but denying magic would be exceedingly difficult, considering her new nature. Ignoring her magic would be like ignoring her nose. She moved to sit down next to her, resting her wing over her. “I can understand you’d be hurt. But you have your gift… no, your birthright back.” Argent’s head turned away from her underneath the sheet.

The princess looked at her, then said softly, “Do you really want the hack butcher to win?”

The room was silent for several minutes, before a whisper emerged from underneath the sheet. “It hurts. To think about it,” Argent said hesitantly, with a tone that Luna could tell held tears.

Luna gently lifted the sheet away from Argent’s head. “I know, Argent Blade,” she said softly. “But you’re recovering and you’re a strong young mare. You’re better than the fools who hurt you.”

Argent rubbed her face against the pillow, clearing her tears, looking at Luna for a long moment. “I’ll have to think it over,” She whispers quietly.

The princess nodded softly and stood. “I’ll let you rest.” She replied softly. Argent nodded and rested her head on the pillow.

Luna came in to visit several times over the following week, but most of the time, Argent was either undergoing physical therapy, trying to become accustomed to her new body, or asleep in exhaustion. It was shortly after Luna lowered the moon eight days later, that she was finally able to have another conversation with Argent.

“You’ve been watching me,” Argent said as she struggled through some exercises, lowering and raising her body.

“Yes, I have,” Luna replied as she moved to sit down on a couch. “You’ve been doing very well.”

Argent didn’t speak for several moments, until she dragged herself onto her bed, panting softly. “I always hated them. Wagemages burning themselves out for an uncaring company. Street shamans babbling about spirits while shaking their sticks and body parts at people. Sanctimonious wannabe Gandalfs thinking they’re better than everyone else because they could create a few sparks within some arcane gibberish.” Her eyes looked up awkwardly at the projection between them. “And now I’ve got this thing. And I can do everything that those idiots do, supposedly. From what I’ve seen around me, better than they ever could.” She raised a hoof, almost as if to swat at the horn.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Luna advised. “It hurts.”

Argent blushed a bit as she said, “I know.” She lowered her hoof, looking embarrassed, having found that out the hard way. “I feel like a hypocrite for even considering it,” she muttered as she looked down at the ground.

“Why should you?” Luna asked. “Just because you disliked them, doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of your birthright. You’re not crippled by their mistakes anymore. You may not be what you were. But you can be what you are.”

“Yeah. A horse with a horn,” Argent said dryly. “Yes, it’s better than being dead. Spending about sixteen years being bipedal and then being stuck on all fours, particularly fours I didn’t have a fortnight ago, is a bit tough to get used to.”

“Unicorn,” Luna corrected, eliciting rolled eyes from Argent. “And it was longer than that. You were in a coma for almost a month after your body was created.”

Argent blinked, then nodded slowly. “That’s understandable I guess,” She said hesitantly, resting her head on the pillow. “A lot of paradigms just went out the window. Two legs don’t exist, four legs do. Magic is my birthright not something waved in my face not pulled away. I think I’m taking it better than I should be.”

Luna nodded softly. “Yes, I don’t think anyone could cope any better than you have.”

“On the other hand,” Argent said, a hint of wry humor entering her tone. “I’m enjoying real food instead of synthetic garbage pretending to be synthetic garbage, I get a neat light show and a bunch of flying bug-like ponies hurtling past my window once a week. All in all, an entertaining week for an invalid. I can’t wait to see what healthy ponies see.”

Luna barely stifled a chuckle as she nodded. “Yes, we did have a nice little incident this week. A wedding, actually.”

Argent blinked and laughed. “A wedding? If you celebrate by having bug-ponies explore new vectors in gravity, I think I’ll stay a confirmed bachelorette, thank you very much.”

Luna couldn’t help but laugh, shaking her head. “Most weddings are a lot more sedate,” the princess said.

“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Argent said and rested her head on her hooves. “I still don’t know what to think about magic, but I’m stuck with it. Otherwise I’m just cutting off my nose to spite my face.”

Luna nodded. “Apt phrase,” she remarked.

“Old saying,” Argent explained. “I’ll do it.”

Eight months passed as Argent’s tutors worked to bring her up to speed. Argent picked up the skills rather easily, but putting the power behind it was another story. She was being out-muscled by students a third of her age in output. One tutor suggested to the princess that some kind of mental block might have been behind it, though was pleasantly astonished by her creativity, improvising workarounds. Another, more traditional tutor was annoyed by her taking shortcuts, and gave up on her after three months. It wasn’t a wise move, as his attitude got out via rumors. Considering the discussion that spawned the rumors occurred after a particularly abusive tirade Argent suffered after a bad session, and some believe the rumor was started by one of Luna’s hoofmaidens, and it wasn’t hard to draw the line. Once his reputation got out, the tutor was never able to find another teaching job.

Some of the older servants at Canterlot started to see a pattern between the blue-black and silver mare, and a lavender unicorn from years ago. The two were as different as night and day, but than again, so were their patronesses. Luna never said anything of the kind about Argent, unlike Celestia’s obvious pride in her own protege. Yet there were similar assessments, similar approving glances, and the same protectiveness.

Argent adapted to her new body rather well, walking as smoothly as everyone else after about four months. The doctors were pleased at her efforts, though were a little shocked at her pushing herself further than the vast majority of their patients. They didn’t know what drove her, but wished more of their patients had her kind of enthusiasm. But she did not stop there, pushing herself harder, becoming more flexible, more agile.

Indeed, the only real issue the majority of her tutors found was her magic use. To practically every other unicorn, magic was as natural as breathing. With Argent, however, getting her to use magic for anything other than lessons, practice or the very rare task was akin to pulling teeth with a hoof. But it wasn’t until one of her tutors came directly to Luna to ask if her pupil had been magically abused that things came to a head.

Luna walked into the gymnasium at the Royal Guards’ barracks, watching Argent blazing her way through an obstacle course. The guards watched the mare’s actions as she slipped from obstacle to obstacle with the grace of an acrobat. The princess smiled softly from the shadows as she assessed the filly. Argent finished the last obstacle, then turned toward the shadows. “Hello, princess.”

A guard stared at her, then looked toward the shadows, before bawling out for his fellows to come to attention. Luna smiled and nodded softly. “At ease.” She made her way toward Argent. “Very beautiful,” she commented.

Argent smiled. “Thank you, your highness,” she replied, her breathing coming down smoothly. “What brings you by?”

Luna gestured toward the mares’ locker room, making her way there as Argent followed along. “Your tutors have been very impressed with you, Argent Blade.”

Argent blushed a little and smiled. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“The only concerns they have have to do with your magic,” Luna explained.

Argent froze up a little, nodding hesitantly. “Yes?”

Luna sat down on her bench. “There are two threads they mention. The one I can understand is your lack of power.”

Argent nodded a bit sadly. “I don’t know what it is. If I go lightly and carefully, I can just slip right through it. But if I try to muscle through it, it resists. It’s like something I remember seeing in my school when I was a kid. A ‘non-newtonian fluid’, I think they called it. You put your hand through it, it’s fine. If you punch it, it’s like punching a moss-covered rock.”

Luna blinked. “That’s fascinating,” She murmured, then smiled a bit. “We’ll have to talk about that some time. But back on topic, I can see why that is an issue. I don’t know exactly why, but there couple be a couple of reasons. The other thing is a bit more curious. They mentioned how you don’t seem to use your magic all that often.”

The young mare closed her eyes. “Yeah, I saw that one coming.” She rolled her neck a bit then said, “I guess it’s just… where I came from, mages never use their magic except for when they need it for whatever they need to get done. I end up feeling… I don’t know. Self-conscious, I guess.”

Luna tapped her chin thoughtfully with a hoof. “More theories I suppose, but where you came from, the magic was much weaker. That might be why nobody did much with it. Here, magic’s plentiful.”

Argent sighed softly. “That sounds about right. As for the magic, that sounds right too.”

Luna gently draped a wing over her. “It’s just like the whole clothing thing, dear.” Argent blushed as that was brought up. Yet another cultural issue that Argent had to deal with. It was more embarrassing, but she was eventually able to conquer it for the most part. “Practice it on little things. It may even be the answer to your other problem, dear. After all, most unicorns use their magic constantly. They build up their magic like a muscle. You just need to do the same.”

Argent nodded hesitantly and relaxed against Luna. “I’ll try. It’s not easy.”

Luna nodded softly. “It probably won’t be. But it’ll be worth it. I promise.”