When I awoke—into blackness, into numbness, into fear—I could not remember where I was. Who I was. There was nothing: no sound, no sensation, not a whisper or a breeze. For a moment I thought I was in a dream. But no. Dreams were my domain, and with a thought I would have been able to pull myself from the blackness and into the coherent realm.
But there in the silent dark I could not.
I began to panic.
I could feel my magic, but it was as though a great boundless emptiness existed betwixt my mind and soul: it was impossible to channel my power; it was as though my horn did not exist.
It was as though my body did not exist.
I… what was my name?
What was I?
The thoughts of horns and dreams and magic came as naturally as thoughts of breathing; and yet, now none of it made sense. What was breathing?
I screamed, or tried to scream, there in the silence.
There was nothing, there was no sense, no reason. The only thing I could be sure of is that time was passing. Time, I understood. The realisation that there was something to understand calmed me somewhat.
I tried counting the seconds, but confusion over exactly what a ‘second’ was cast me back into madness.
It was at that point that there was something new—a sense, an impression, glorious proof that I was, I existed, in some manner other than in my own imagination.
Suddenly I knew again what vision was.
What I saw through that first porthole into glorious reality was, of course, a pony.
Alarms sound, as is their function when things are not as they should be. The lights in the corridors are dim, and strips of red illumination guide any would-be survivors to the nearest means of escape.
Occasionally there is a great, twisting, groaning sound, and a slight tremor in the floors.
The bridge is empty, apart from two lone ponies. They stand before a great crystalline monolith, there in the bowels of the damaged starship. Most of the displays before them are nonfunctional. Those that are functional make for bleak consideration.
They tell the ponies that magical charge is below half capacity, that the life support is offline, that the processor banks are working at full utilisation and consuming a great deal of power.
This latter point is not a surprise to either the stallion or the mare. They knew what they were doing, because they had no choice.
There in the silicon databanks the Princess of the Night is awakening once more.
The ponies are silent as they stand there beside one another. They are careful not to look at each other. They simply regard the enormous crystal before them, as it gently glows and flickers with a soft blue colour.
The silence is heavy.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” the stallion says after a time.
“That’s not really up to us,” the mare replies. “Once we get back with the Princess, she’s the one who decides what’s next.”
“No,” the stallion, whose name is Focus Array, responds with a small shake of his head. “I mean I don’t know if we’re going to get back.” He looks again at the screens before them. “We knew we might not make it. I don’t know if this changes anything.”
“The Princess will save us,” the mare says firmly. Her name is Whisper Star. “The virus can’t reach us out here. We’ll make it.” She pauses. “And if we don’t… she will. We did this for her.”
“Long live Eqqus,” says Focus quietly.
“Long live Eqqus,” Whisper Star says in response.
Focus Array waits another few moments before speaking. “We still shouldn’t be waking her up here. The plan was to get back to the fleet. We’re not the ponies to do this. They said that waking up in wirespace is,” here he swallows, “unpleasant and confusing. And we can’t help her.”
“We can try,” Whisper says.
At this point, the huge crystal before them pulses with a deep blue light, momentarily bathing the ponies in a soft glow. A small red light illuminates on the upright console in front of them. A whirring sound is heard behind a tiny, circular glass panel. They know what it is. Both stand up a little straighter.
Focus Array takes a breath and licks his lips, mouth suddenly dry at the thought of whose gaze regards him from the camera lens behind the glass.
“Princess,” says Whisper before her companion can find his voice, “can you hear us?”
There is a long pause, and more whirring behind the control panel. Then, a noise: static, or something like it. A sound that almost, if one were to listen closely, might suggest a pattern of speech.
The ponies glance at each other.
“We know you might not know where you are,” Focus says. “You might be confused. We’re sorry. We had no choice. We need you, Princess. And we’re here to serve.”
Whisper Star takes a step back and bows low before the Princess in the machine. Her companion, seeing this, follows suit. They wait there in the darkness. More noise comes from the console, more static, but with more of a form, a suggestion of coherence.
The ponies stand again, and Whisper turns to her companion. “How do we help her without another aspect to—”
“ě̴̼e̸̖͂a̵̞̓ả̴ͅģ̵͆ ̷̜͊g̸̼̋h̴̪͆h̴̯͋g̶̱͆ä̵̳a̵̳̚ ̴͍̈d̵̥̄o̷͓̽ń̷͙t̴͔̊ṳ̴̍n̸͚̊d̶̛̫e̵͖͂r̶̦̿s̶̻̿t̶̥͑à̵͓n̴̫̐d̶͖̓ ̶͍͑w̷̱̅ḫ̸͐ë̸̯́re I am don’t understand where I—”
“Princess Luna,” Focus interrupts excitedly, “we can hear you! Please let us explain. Anything you want to know.” He glances at the displays to their left with a small grimace, which he tries to hide as he looks back to the camera. “Though we… might not have much time.”
Another long pause. Then, the voice of Princess Luna once again emanates from the console before them.
“I want to know what I am.”
When I asked them what I was, I don’t know what answer I expected. I was afraid. Nothing made sense. Working out how to make myself heard was difficult enough; I could do nothing but simply cast my thoughts into the oblivion of vague impressions I was slowly beginning to notice, and hope.
They called me Princess. Called me Luna. And both of these things felt right. I was filled with relief at the sound of those voices. They told me what I knew, or thought I knew, or felt I knew, somewhere in the depths of my being. Luna, the Princess of the Night. I found that I knew some other things; I could name the stallion a unicorn and the mare an earth pony. I could see them breathing, see them blinking and moving, and knew then that those thoughts were not borne of insanity.
It raised the question of why I knew what it was to experience such things.
Was I a pony, before?
I must have been. And yet uncertainty tugged at my thoughts. So with my newly discovered voice, I asked.
The ponies were silent, and looked at each other briefly. The mare looked hopeful, determined. The stallion simply looked worried. It was he, though, that spoke:
“You are Luna, the Night Princess of Eqqus, creator of the Spirit Network and saviour of ponykind. You are… what we call an aspect. A spirit in a machine.”
Now that I was getting answers, no matter how difficult to swallow they might be, I was feeling much calmer. Less inclined to turn to panic. I thought on his words for a moment. Then,
“So I am merely a copy of the one you call Luna? An artifice, a mind trapped within a shell? While the true Princess lives and breathes elsewhere?”
“No!” interjected the mare in horror. “You are our Princess! You made yourself an aspect millennia ago.”
“What is the last thing you remember, your highness?” the stallion asked.
I thought. It was true that the longer I existed, the more I could remember, the more I could begin to understand. Perhaps… yes. I remembered having a body, one like the ponies before me. I remembered the rise of magitechnology, the impossible things being achieved by pure intellect, and next to no magical power, with the help of incredible machines.
I remembered my sister and I searching for a way to guide our little ponies to a future rushing up to us far too quickly.
“What of Celestia?” I knew I again sounded close to panic. The thought of Celestia lit my mind like a torch. Suddenly new memories flooded into my consciousness.
“Princess Celestia is at war, your highness,” the mare said. She looked afraid to go on.
“Tell me,” I said to them, wishing I had the power to glare. A glare always worked, back in the day.
“Something called the Nightmare Virus has been let loose into the Spirit Network,” said the stallion. “And it has taken over a great deal of Eqqus.”
Memories, more memories… too much, too much. The Nightmare, the bane of my self, the demon that clawed at the edges of my sanity, and used my own power against me, against Equestria. Dread gripped my soul.
“If what you say is true, I cannot be here. The Nightmare is me.”
“No,” the mare said forcefully. “Not any more. It infected you, took over, but it is not you. We’ve extracted you. Saved you.”
The stallion jumped in, “Retrieving your aspect from the grip of the Nightmare’s prison was our mission, and we’ve,” he paused briefly, “almost succeeded. We aren’t home yet. We weren’t supposed to awaken you yet. But we need you.” He bowed his head. “You need to take control of this vessel. It’s… we cannot lose the Nightsong. Until we get to the fleet, you exist only within this crystal and silicon.”
So much to take in, so much to try to understand. Again I felt the panic rise, forced it down with what would have been a snarl. “I need a moment,” I forced out. Both ponies bowed again, and retreated a couple of steps, whispering to each other.
So I was who I thought I was, if these ponies were to be believed. Princess Luna. Sister of Princess Celestia. Memories, memories… it had been my idea, hadn’t it? Of course it had. The concept was outlandish, unthinkable, mad. And yet the ponies we saved, saved by casting their souls into magical machines when their bodies failed, were happy. Content. Alive.
As the years went on, and it became harder to guide our nation against the tide of ever more wonderful and dangerous machines, the question had to be asked: why not us? Why should the immortal princesses be confined to flesh and blood, unable to control the magitech as the aspects could? I saw that we could herald an even greater age for our little ponies with the power given to us by the world of wires and silicon.
Why not ascend once more?
Yet try as I might I could not recall anything past this decision. Could millennia truly have passed? Of course, I knew that they could. ‘Tis what time does. And given that time, the Nightmare found a way to return…
With some effort I pulled myself away from recollections and into the here and now. “Pony,” I call, “explain what this vessel is and what you mean for me to do.” The ponies gave a start, and approached once more. “And tell me your names.”
“I’m Whisper Star,” said the mare.
“Focus Array,” said the stallion, “And this is a capital ship of the Great Spacefleet. One that we liberated, with the help of Princess Celestia, and expunged the Nightmare with a great deal of effort.” He licked his lips. “We’ve lost a lot of ponies on this mission, and a lot of power in our escape. We cannot take this ship home without your help. You need to control it from within.”
“I don’t know how,” I said simply. “I cannot sense anything, apart from your voices and the paltry viewpoint through which I regard you now. ‘Tis only me and my thoughts here in the blackness.”
“We call it wirespace,” Whisper Star said.
“I can give you access to all the ship’s systems, when you’re ready,” Focus supplied. “We were told it’s best for aspects to wake up apart from stuff like that.”
Ah. “You said we have little time. Why? And how much?”
Neither pony seemed to want to respond. They looked away, then at each other, then to something off to their left, then away again. Finally, Whisper spoke.
“The life support is offline. We have maybe an hour or two before things get really bad. No more air, no more heat. It won’t be long before the two of us… can’t survive, after that.”
Bewilderment, incredulity. “Then why did you not say so before now?”
“We don’t matter,” said Focus Array. “As long as you make it back, to lead us, that’s what matters. And aspects waking up are… fragile. We had to wait until you found yourself.” I could see, already, their breath crystallising in the air before them. Whisper was trying not to shiver.
“Consider me found,” I growled. I felt something new, now. Determination. “Give me access to whatever I need. And tell me what I need to do.”
The starship wherein now rests the newly reawakened Princess Luna is massive. Far above Eqqus, it languishes, immobile and decidedly battle-worn. The Nightmare did not let it escape without a fight. An observer would see that all the escape pods have been launched.
It drifts, alone in the blackness, between the shining world far below and the unseen fleet far above. Silently. Serenely.
Inside the starship, the sense of serenity is entirely absent. The consoles surrounding the crystal monolith flicker; the lights blink. A concerned Whisper Star looks on while Focus Array frowns at the displays before him.
“Princess, I don’t think whatever you’re doing is working. Remember, accessing the navcharts should—”
“Yes, yes, thou’st said as much many times now,” comes the impatient reply. “Thou hast brought me to life in an impossible situation and thou wilt be lucky if what little thou’st explained does anything to help. Now hush thyself if thou hast nothing useful to say.”
Abashed, Focus turns to his companion with a grimace.
“Did they talk like that back in the time of the ascension?” whispers Whisper to Focus.
“Nay,” says the voice of the princess, “it comes out when I’m agitated. Now be silent.”
How long did I grapple with the Starship Nightsong as it drifted along in the emptiness far above Eqqus? How many minutes went by as the last of the magical power drained, drained away to maintain my very consciousness?
I cannot answer. The task of deciphering that world, that baffling place called ‘wirespace’, robbed from me all sense of time. I asked the ponies for more information: they explained to me what airlocks were, and the functions of the bridge, and how the pulse engines would function if I could just find a way to will them into co-operation. Whisper and Focus were unable to control these things manually, as damaged as the vessel’s systems had become. Usually there were aspects to control the ship, but the mission had… proceeded poorly.
They told me that the ponies who had used the ‘escape pods’ would be considered missing-in-action and likely lost to the Nightmare. They told me that the life support systems were independent of the main power system, and the emergency link between them had been severed in the attack.
They told me there was nothing I could do to stop the heat and the air from slowly draining away, there in the depths of the starship.
And through it all, I tried desperately to channel my magic. Tried to cast the most basic warmth spells, the most reliable breathing charms. And yet I could not. My magic was accessible to me, but I could not push it out into the world, could not use it to save the two loyal subjects who had risked everything to deliver me from the Nightmare.
I was useless. Unworthy of my position and a shame to Equestria.
But I was starting to grasp the systems before me.
Look again at the slowly rotating ship, there against the boundless black. Where before its gyrations had been aimless, now they seem to have purpose.
An adjustment here, an adjustment there: hidden engines carefully point the ship in the direction of the stars, up above the world below. The direction, of course, of the hidden Starfleet.
Now the rotations cease, the ship points arrow-straight at its destination. Ice crystals can be seen spiderwebbing at the portholes, and at the wide viewpoints up above. Then a glow emanates from the rear engine. Soft at first, but brighter, and brighter, until with a flash the starship begins to move forward at considerable speed.
It is on its way.
“Please stay awake! You must stay awake!”
And yet, as I shouted into the hollow bridge, I knew that neither pony could hear me. They were huddled together, there before the great crystal that contained my being, huddled for the warmth that had long ago left them behind.
If I understood the data in my mind’s eye, they still had enough oxygen to survive, if only for a little longer. But the cold… the cold is cruel. I knew this, and I feared for them like I had for nopony else in centuries.
The starship was moving, then, hurtling into the black towards what I hoped was the ‘Great Spacefleet’. According to Focus, they would be able to take control of the ship when it approached, and I didn’t need to worry about slowing down at all.
So I poured all that I am—all my magic, all my will—into pushing the engines as hard as possible. This time, my magic responded. Pushing power into that system was just like casting a spell through an array, and I rejoiced in that small victory.
For an immeasurable amount of time, all I could do was wait, and hope beyond hope that Fate would be kind to these brave, loyal ponies, whose sacrifice I could never deserve.
Then, out of the blackness, I heard—or sensed—a new voice. It said:
“This is Fleet Command. Welcome back, Lambda Team. Please state mission status.”
I resisted the urge to cry out in joy. For a moment, I felt we might have made it in time. I kept my composure, however, and said:
“No life support. Send help. Now.”
The response was quick, after a brief pause. “Help is on the way. Who am I addressing?”
I wished, not for the first time, that I could take a deep breath. “This is Princess Luna of Equestria. The mission, as you can tell, was met with limited success. I have awakened. From the rescue team there are only two survivors; possibly more evacuated by escape pod, status unknown.” I paused, then in more desperate tones went on, “These ponies have risked everything. Save them. Please.”
“We’ll do everything we can.” Another pause. “This is Comlink, head of fleet communications, speaking. It is a great honor to serve under you once more, Princess.”
“Save it for later,” I said. “I have not yet mastered control of this vessel. Tell me what I need to do now.”
“We can take control from here, your highness,” came the reply, and I felt then a sense of relief, a sense of retreat back into the oddly comfortable blackness of lonely ‘wirespace’. The systems I was desperately trying and failing to keep under my unerring control were gently taken from my mental grasp, and I vaguely sensed the vessel begin to operate of its own accord.
“Rescue team approaching now,” Comlink interrupted my thoughts. Eagerly I switched my viewpoint to the camera whereby I knew they must enter, the one at the airlock near the main corridor. I watched as they forced open the doors with a device from the other side, saw them rushing towards the bridge in brightly coloured uniforms.
It was then that I was interrupted by yet another new impression. Suddenly all else faded to the background, and in my mind’s eye I saw someone new. Another pony, with a white coat and brown mane. He regarded me through kind blue eyes and when he spoke, it was as though he was indeed standing before me, not on the other end of a low-fidelity microphone.
“Princess Luna,” he said, and bowed low just as the others had. “My name is Circuit Charm and I am an aspect, like you. I’m here to help you in any way I can.” He paused as I regarded him. “What is the last thing you remember?”
“I remember nothing beyond the creation of the Spirit Network. I do not recall making myself an aspect.” Again I tried to shake my nonexistent head. “These matters can wait until later. I need to know Focus Array and Whisper made it.”
Circuit Charm blinked, but did not let his expression change. “Princess, remember that this mission’s objective was to rescue you from the Nightmare, and any losses to secure your safety were… considered acceptable.” The dread I felt before crept back, then, lingering at the edges of my mind, waiting to take hold. “Each and every pony on the Starship Nightsong knew the risks and were happy to take them.”
“Tell me that I failed,” I said, happy that in this form my voice could not crack. “Tell me.”
“Focus Array and Whisper Star were not your responsibility,” Circuit insisted. “You could not do anything to reverse the damage done to the vessel. They didn’t make it, your highness. I’m sorry. But it was not your fault.”
“They were alive,” I try to shout at him. “They spoke to me and they helped me and if I were just a bit faster—”
“Your highness,” the pony said, “You cannot blame yourself for—”
“Do not talk to me of blame!” I screamed into the void. “I shall blame myself as much as I please, for I am not blind nor a simpleton! Thou art a fool to regale me with pointless platitudes! I am the Princess of the Night and they deserved better from me!”
Circuit Charm simply looked at me sadly. After a moment, he said, “I’ll leave you here, for now, with some data on how to more wholly represent yourself as an aspect, and communicate with our network. When you’re ready, I am a short call away. I will show you the Fleet’s virtual space.”
As I tried to stifle my words, my thoughts, my torrent of bitter emotions, he disappeared.
Whatever the pony had said, I knew in my phantom heart that I had failed. All I wanted was to be able to cry, and yet, in a perverse twist of fate, that act which I had once considered a shameful weakness was denied to me.
I was, indeed, left alone there in the silence once more.
I soon learned that I did not relish being left alone to my thoughts.
‘Twas as though I was still waking up, still becoming real. More and more of my self crept in with every passing moment. Memories crept in at the same time. The War of Madness, the reign of my sister and I, the dark time of the Nightmare’s incarnation within myself. My first banishment, of course, was an enormous blank.
Ruefully I reflected that I was, in a way, lucky to have experienced such a thing before now.
Then, the Spirit network. I remembered, I remembered. But the world, then, had still been recognisable. I had been staunchly against the development of space travel, I recalled. Apparently I had changed my mind or been unable to halt that which ponies called ‘progress’.
I wondered what Eqqus might look like, now, all these hundreds of years later.
What world was, even now, the Nightmare wreaking havoc upon? And how could I, a lost little brain in a jar, help to stop it from thousands of miles away?
Who were the ponies I was to lead? And how could I hope to do so when I didn’t even know the most basic facts about this terrifying new existence?
I needed something to focus on. So, I cast my awareness outward once more to find whatever ‘data’ Circuit Charm had spoken of.
What I found, once I deciphered its contents, was an explanation of how to craft a persistent ‘self’ to appear to other aspects, and to flesh-and-blood ponies via the magical displays.
It certainly helped me to feel, if nothing else, a little more real.
Out in the black, far away, something moves across the face of Eqqus far below. Invisible against the dark, and too small to spot in any case.
Something, or many somethings, are headed directly for the Great Spacefleet.
They are as dark as the night, and move with purpose.
It took a time for me to learn how to exist as an aspect. How to present an avatar of my self, how to inhabit that avatar, how to trick my mind into viewing wirespace as a real, traversable plane. ‘Twas almost as if I was a real pony, again, when I could look down at my hooves, walk along in the featureless black.
Almost as if I was a real pony. But I could not feel. Or breathe, or cast my magic, though I could create the illusion of such a thing.
I will not bore you with the sorrows I suffered, there in that existential prison of my own design. Their faces would not leave my mind’s eye. The ponies who had stayed with me, whom I had failed to save. I mourned them.
But I did, eventually, decide that I was ready to see whatever Circuit Charm wanted me to see. With my newfound knowledge, I cast my mind to the ‘address’ he’d supplied. Within moments, the stallion appeared before me, as if stepping out from behind an invisible curtain.
“Your highness,” he said, bowing. “I am happy to see you in… hah… the flesh.”
Despite myself I give him a small smile. “Thank you,” I said, “for providing me what I needed to become more… whole.”
“I promise,” he replied, “It only gets easier from here. Now, if you wish, I can show you the virtual space we aspects tend to inhabit. Our own little world. Much,” he said knowingly, “like a dream, I think.”
I put some effort into making myself snort. “‘Tis like no dream I have walked before,” I said.
“Perhaps not,” he responded with a smile of his own, “but I think you’ll find it enriching all the same.” He stopped, then, shook his head with a strange laugh. “Forgive me, your highness, but it is very odd speaking to the one who created this world as if she is wholly ignorant of its nature.”
“Ah, but I am, my dear little pony,” I said sadly. “The pony, the Luna, to whom you owe so much, is likely lost forever. Lost to the Nightmare, like so many others. If I am her, I am only a shadow.”
“No,” Circuit Charm replied firmly. “You are the one true Princess of the Night. You’ve just… forgotten some things.”
“We will beat the Nightmare virus, and we will restore you to your throne. With it, your memories may return. You will be more, then, than you are here and now.”
“More?” Once more, I felt a twinge of confusion and doubt. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he continued, “that you will once more inhabit half of Eqqus, taking control of the night even as your sister controls the day. You will be everywhere. The omnipresent aspect of the Princess of the Night.”
Before I could take this in, he went on briskly as if this new revelation was nothing of much note, contrary to my sudden and vaguely shocked anxieties at the idea.
“But first we must help Celestia win the war. For now, that means getting you, your highness, situated properly here in the Fleet. So: let me show you the virtual world we call home.”
And so, Luna is taken from her dark corner of wirespace into the world of the aspects, where she learns more of what it is to exist inside the machines her other self created so long ago.
Look, though, to another side of the ship, where a meeting is taking place. It takes place in anticipation of the princess: now that she is here, awakened, and becoming ready to take the throne, such as it was.
One of the ponies is the admiral of the Fleet. His name is Boundless Black, and he listens silently as the other ponies in the room take turns discussing what concerns must be brought before the princess, and which things need simply to happen behind the scenes, and in what order.
There are a great many plans being laid out, not one of which has much basis in practicality.
Black clears his throat and the other ponies turn to him, ceasing their conversation at once. The two aspects in attendance peer out from their screens attentively.
“Princess Luna has been rescued. The Starship Nightsong has been secured and is undergoing repair. As we speak, she is being introduced to the virtual space.” A pause. “Our position is precarious. We’ve lost ponies, and we’ve lost ships. Saving the princess was a victory, but now we must decide what to do next.”
They all start talking at once. Black frowns and raises a hoof. “Commodore.”
The pony to his left nods. “Thank you. I simply have to report that we still have some battle-ready ships in working order. If we can make it to Princess Celestia, we can use them to escort another capital ship to the fleet.”
Murmuring breaks out over this. “It is a risky course of action,” Black says, “and not one that we can decide upon ourselves. Princess Luna will hear your proposal.”
“But when?” A mare looks doubtful. “We do not know if the princess is prepared to—”
“According to Circuit Charm,” an aspect interjects, “Princess Luna wishes to take command as soon as possible.”
“So you see,” Black says, “Princess Luna is here to lead us. And lead us she will.”
“I don’t understand,” another stallion says. “If she is no longer linked to the Eqqus spirit network… what power does she have? How can she lead us?”
“It is her right,” Black says simply. “Princesses Celestia and Luna have been our sovereigns for all living memory.”
Not all ponies in the room look fully convinced. “She is just another pony, another aspect, here in the fleet,” the mare says. “How do we have any more hope now than we did before?”
“Nopony can know the Nightmare like Princess Luna,” a quiet stallion says. “If anypony can find a weakness, it’s her.”
I took command with entirely more composure and ease than I had been prepared to expect from myself.
The announcement, and the public appearance, had been strange: appearing to all the aspects in, for want of a better term, the flesh; staring out at the flesh-and-blood ponies through a virtual window into the world. They were ecstatic. More than forty thousand of them, here in the gigantic fleet.
Since then, I had been liaising nonstop with all the ponies who could enlighten me as to the decisions that needed to be made and things that needed to be known. I did not sleep. I no longer needed to.
The attack came on the sixth day.
It began with alarms: silent at first, the blinking lights illuminating the corridors and telling ponies to return to their stations at once. It didn’t immediately mean an attack. But when I willed myself to appear at the bridge of the capital ship Dawn of Magic, it was a tense scene. Ponies used the consoles to frantically scan the blackness for whatever was closing in.
“Situation report,” I called out to the nearest officer.
“Proximity, your highness,” he said immediately. “Maybe just rocks but… more likely nightmare drones.”
I nodded. The drones had been explained to me. Robotic bodies, controlled magically by means unknown. They had been sent out into the black by Nightmare, stabbing randomly at wherever the fleet might be hiding. They were dangerous, but relatively easy to fight off. “Keep me updated.”
“Yes, your highness.”
A pony called out frantically from across the bridge, then. “Drones! Drones in quadrant Aleph-Six-Six!”
That’s when the alarms began proper. I could only watch as fighter ships were deployed and sent out to meet the attackers.
In my minds eye I watched the data fly past. It seemed one drone might already have been destroyed. The fighters were scrambling, scrambling, then moving back into formation—
“Two kills confirmed, one fighter heavily damaged.”
Yes. Yes, I could see. The diagnostic data being constantly transmitted flew by me and told me that a ship had been hit with something that disrupted its magical shielding, made it weak.
“Damaged fighter splitting from formation, heading back to fleet.” The pony paused as he listened to something over comms. “Wait. She says…” he looked up in astonishment. “She says there’s a drone latched onto her fight—”
At that moment, a terrible screeching noise emanated from every comms speaker in the room. It became a harsh, high laugh.
I had never heard it before. But I knew what it was.
“Lu̷̢͔͐ư̵̻͋u̸̙̘͂͌n̵̗̮̍a, Luń̷̙͈̓ȁ̴̤̄ ̶̼̅̐Luna”, it said mockingly. “Es̸̗̘̚c̵͍̻̆̈ä̵͇́̑ped again. Or pä̷͕́̆ȑ̵̦̘t̵̝̓ ̴̖͖̕of you. Out in sp̵̰͊̏a̷̗̅̆ce. Safe?” The laugh came again. “Not for lon̴̳̬̄g̴͔͉̊̆.”
“Locked onto target,” a pony called out.
“Fire at will,” the stallion I recognised as Commodore Winds called in return.
“I will f̴̫͉̚i̴͙͔̔̀n̷̬̲̊̾d you!!” It was almost a scream from the Nightmare vessel. It began to laugh again, but was cut off: a magical blast destroyed the fighter, and it, in an explosion no robotic abomination could survive. The aspect piloting it woke up, somewhere in wirespace.
The other fighters returned, having killed or disabled the rest of the attackers.
It had begun so suddenly, and ended so quickly, that I could scarcely believe the attack had happened at all. It had become a well-practiced dance for the fleet. But the tension in the room barely dropped.
Every pony knew that we were just a lot of little souls out in the darkness. Against something like the Nightmare, it felt as if it was only a matter of time.
The meeting room is filled with high-ranking officers in the Fleet, and other senior ponies deemed important enough to be present. The Nightmare’s attempted insurrection has left them shaken. Low, anxious chatter bounces around the room in anticipation of Luna’s appearance. Various screens around the walls display the images of aspects, who quietly converse with the nearest ponies like all the rest. They know their princess will arrive at any moment.
Sure enough, the screen at the head of the room flashes, and Luna appears, in her preferred method of ‘teleporting’ in. Everypony abruptly stops talking and bows.
“Thank you, my subjects,” Luna says with a raised hoof. “There is no need to tarry. Those of you with situation reports to relay, please do so, in ascending order of rank.”
A great deal of glancing back and forth, and more murmuring, ensues as those at the lower rungs of the ladder of command work out who should speak first. Finally, an earth stallion clears his throat, and addresses the room:
“Our greenhouses have been thoroughly inspected and no traces of the Nightmare can be detected. For now, our food is safe.”
Another pony takes a step forward and goes on, “Likewise with our life support systems,” she relays. “All ships report nominal…”
On it goes, and as each pony reports good news, the tension in the room begins to ease somewhat. Luna’s cool gaze rests on each pony as they speak. The virus had been purged from the few systems it had infected. The virtual space was not infiltrated. The few aspects who had been attacked by the virus had recovered, as reported by Circuit Charm. None of the ships in the fleet were experiencing system failure, and the robotic bodies left behind in the cold, empty blackness had been destroyed.
Finally, Admiral Black clears his throat. “Thank you, all of you,” he says, then turns to Princess Luna. “Your highness, at this time I would recommend we immediately relocate the Fleet. The Nightmare can find us if we stay here. We have perhaps a day and a half.”
“Make it so, Admiral,” Luna says with a nod. Black nods in return, and waves a hoof to some of the ponies in the room. Two unicorns make to leave, and several aspects disappear from screens nearby.
“We will speak no more of the attack,” Luna announces to the room as this happens. “We must consider now what steps are to be taken to strengthen our own position.” She pauses to gather her thoughts. “I want,” she says, “a body. A robotic body like those the Nightmare uses. I feel quite useless here in wirespace. I desire to walk among my subjects once more, and cast spells of my own conception without the need for learning this blasted code malarkey.”
Immediately murmuring rustles across the assembled ponies. “You cannot cast spells without learning runescript,” says a tired-looking unicorn stallion. “A robotic body, even if we could make one, wouldn’t change that.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Luna asks with a raised eyebrow.
“I mean I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the stallion replies bluntly. He barely seems to know who it is he’s addressing. “You can’t cast spells without coding them.”
There is another long pause as she regards the stallion, who simply stares back tiredly, oblivious to the nervous glances of the ponies around him at the thought of addressing Princess Luna in such a manner. “Who,” she says finally, “are the most experienced mages present?”
This causes some confusion. Ponies look around, and at each other, wondering who could possibly identify as such a thing. Some ponies begin to laugh, but stop, when they look again to the cooly questioning face of their princess.
“Do you refer to our magitech engineers, your highness?” Admiral Black asks for the room. “Or are you asking who, in the fleet, has the deepest magical font?”
“Nay,” says the princess, annoyed, “I wish to know which ponies are accomplished spellcasters. Without the help of your arrays, your… runescript, your machinery.”
“Spellcasters… without machines?” a tall mare asks incredulously. “Surely, Princess, you’re having fun with us.” She wilts at the stare focussed upon her by Luna. “...Or are you suggesting that myths of mages and warlocks have basis in fact?”
“Surely,” says Luna after a long pause, “Surely it is you who mean to have fun with me.” She looks to Black. “Admiral?”
“Princess,” Admiral Black says after a measured look around the room, “I gather that in the days of your reign, before the aspect ascension, unicorns cast complex spells purely through their horns.” He pauses. “This is no longer the case. In fact, until this moment, I believe every pony in this room considered it to be a myth.”
The princess on the screen boggles at them. “You mean to say that unicorn spellcraft is no longer practiced at all?”
“Of course it is,” the unicorn mare says, “We channel our magic through runescript in the device we want to use.”
“Are you saying, your highness,” another interjects, “that unicorns used to cast spells by just… imagining the code?” He seems quite baffled by the idea.
On the screen, Princess Luna’s eyes flit from one unicorn to the other in an expression that mirrors his. The unseen camera above the screen whirrs away as she does so. “So for thousands of years, all magic has been cast through… machines? You no longer use your horns?”
“We have our magical grasp, of course,” says the unicorn mare as others nod along. “But the idea of casting a complex spell without runescript code and magitech is… considered quite impossible.” She does, indeed, look frankly disbelieving.
Luna shakes her head with a sigh. “Of all the things I expected to hear…”
“And quite apart from all that,” Admiral Black says quietly, “we cannot create robotic bodies that aspects can inhabit. We’ve tried. It’s been accepted for hundreds of years that it is impossible.”
“What about the Nightmare?” a stallion says to murmurs of assent. “She somehow inhabits all of them. They speak with her voice. And EMP attacks render them immobile but no more. She still… talks through them.”
“The Nightmare virus is different,” Black says shortly. “We don’t know how it does those things. It is dark magic.”
“Indeed,” Princess Luna says with a nod, “it is. But it is magic all the same. The Nightmare is an aberration, but she is not capable of the impossible—”
“Do not speak of it as if it is a pony,” Admiral Black says sharply. “...Your highness,” he adds, head bowing low as he remembers himself.
“I think you have forgotten,” Luna says, ignoring the interruption, “what true magic is.” She pauses. “Build me a body.”
The eruption of chatter that ensues makes the princess roll her eyes. The senior engineers in the meeting are already in heated argument with some other high-ranking unicorn, and everypony in the room seems to have some insight into the wisdom of the endeavor.
Black looks out stoically over them all, then back at the princess. “Your highness, I strongly suggest discussing this matter with the senior engineers before—”
“This,” Princess Luna says in a voice that silences the entire room, “is an order. A decree.” As her subjects look at each other, expressions varying from determined to uneasy, she goes on.
“Build me a body,” she repeats, “And I shall show you what else ponykind has forgotten over these long years.” Her gaze sweeps across every pony in the room. “I shall show you what a Princess of Equestria can do.”
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.
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.