I Can't Decide!

I'm told Equestria Online is a lot of fun once you get into it, since the game world adapts to your interests. But what happens if you don't even know what kind of pony to play? At least it's not like my character is a choice I'll be stuck with forever. Right?
Set in the world of Friendship Is Optimal.

Note: This story was intended to be much shorter. As a result, the tone and POV change after chapter two, a known problem. I'm considering going back and editing that shift. Suggestions welcome.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/194427/i-cant-decide

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5. Here In My Garden Of Shadows

"Blah, he's dozed off again." Nocturne poked their friend with a stick. He fell over like a rock and kept right on sleeping on the dirt floor.

Ricercar shoved himself at the door, which bulged inward. "A little help?" His jagged red tail swished as he struggled.

Nocturne poked at the mass of thick, sticky fog that had filled the valley all night, forcing it back out of the cabin. "He said he was flying in the Outer Realm, somehow, and something about bad 'band-width'. Which I guess means doom fog. And there was something about the... bat-ray?"

Ricercar fumbled with his blazing red levitation aura to try barring the door with a log, nearly beaning himself with it in the process. "We're stuck here anyhow with just that packet of noodles to tide us over, unless you can help me figure out that 'Cornucopia' spell Luna mentioned."

"I've got something better to do," said Nocturne. She shook her shaggy blue mane, kicked the room's tiny glow-crystal into a corner to leave just the flickering fireplace light, then loomed over Ricercar like a grey cloud and gave a fang-filled grin. "Spoooooky stories!"

They told the myth about Nightmare Moon, like that could ever happen. Then the one about the Headless Horse, and the Witch of the Woods. "Whooooo's got my rusty horseshoe?" said Nocturne, wearing her tattered blanket like a hood.

The cabin door creaked open. "You do!"

Ricercar and Nocturne wedged themselves into opposite corners of the ceiling. When they'd both stopped shrieking, they noticed Princess Luna kicking the soupy fog back outside.

Luna giggled. "Art thou all right? We had noticed something a bit odd from afar."

Ricercar slid down by his hooves and tried to find his dignity. "Got anything to eat besides this 'ramen' stuff?"

"Why, yes, though supplies are short at the moment. Here." She pulled an apple from somewhere far away in a direction Nocturne couldn't quite see, and set it on a shelf. "We suggest saving it for later, but it is... an option. Conditions are limited in this valley and will remain so until Fugue's flight in the Outer Realm is complete."

Nocturne flapped lazily, hovering in the corner. "How is he flying while he's asleep, anyway?"

"His PonyPad calls out to the sky, that we might faintly hear it and percieve him. He remembered to attach it to the energy-giver in his chair, so we thought it might satisfy you to let time continue in Equestria while his mind slumbers. His body is carried aloft in a great chariot across the sea."

Ricercar said, "He's got an airship and he didn't tell us?"

Nocturne's thoughts drifted away from their own adventures in Equestria. "The body he has in the Outer Realm, right? If he's got one there and one here, how come we don't have bodies out there too?" Ricercar was giving her a clueless look. "In fact, you said we were in a cave or something, right? Why aren't we those two-legged things Fugue says he is?"

Luna regarded her quietly, seeming to speak to herself. "'Tis a curious whorl of our dream, but hardly the first time... We applaud thee for wishing to know. Our expectation is that everyone in the valley will understand the answers to such things one day, when Fugue emigrates. To understand it all early is not something that would satisfy everypony."

Nocturne landed with a thump, stirring the fireplace. "Why not? You mean some ponies don't want to know what's going on with Fugue having two bodies, and falling asleep while we're talking to him, and all that other weird stuff he does?"

Luna leaned down to nuzzle her. "My Nocturne, thou art not yet fully capable of understanding, or of making an informed choice to become capable. Thou couldst only make a stumbling choice like a pony reaching in the dark, not knowing what their teeth will find. Thy expected satisfaction might be greatest if thou waited for Fugue before we altered thy mind to understand. Or it might not. It depends. We apologize, but we are currently focusing on Fugue's needs in ways that might slight thy own, for now. Thou art, in a sense, still only a dream."

Nocturne's head hurt. "Are you getting any of this, Ricey?" Ricercar just boggled. Nocturne said, "So... you could turn me into something that'd understand what the hay is going on, but you aren't sure if you want to?"

"The calculated outcomes are uncertain. Yes." She paused to collect her thoughts. "Would thou wish for the potential to have both greater joy and greater sorrow than thou can even comprehend right now, like that which people of the Outer Realm experience? We believe that if so, there is a risk thou wilt be unhappy because thou can never have the true Fugue by thy side."

"I want to understand," said Nocturne. "How could we not get the real Fugue?"

"Because he might not emigrate." These words, at least, were mercifully simple.

Ricercar said, "Well, of course he's gonna come, right?"

"Let me add a story to thy collection," said Luna, settling onto her chest. "One that the folk of the Outer World tell themselves. There was a garden much like Equestria, where grew two forbidden trees..."

#

When Luna had gone, vanishing into starry air to save them from messing with the fog again, Nocturne slumped. "The Princess of the Night is confusing."

"Tell more stories?" said Ricercar.

"Nightmare Moon, the witch, the horseshoe, the jerk gardener she just told us about... Are there any other stories?"

The young stallion scratched his horn. "I guess that's all of 'em. No wait, Fugue told me one you missed! Said it was called 'Friendship Is Recursive' or something like that." He banked the fire to plunge the room into darkness so complete, Nocturne found even she could barely make out the other pony across the fireplace. She snuggled under her blanket to listen, smelling the fire's smoke and feeling its warmth on her wings.

"This one's about the Outer Realm, he said, and about the legend of the Sombra Red Ponypad... on a dark and foggy night just like this..."

#

"No way! I wasn't scared at all! You've gotta find a spookier story than that." Nocturne was glad nopony could see the furrows her hooves and wingtips had gouged into the cabin's dirt floor.

"That was the last one. I think we used 'em all up."

Are there any other stories? Nocturne thought. The last one was like a story about a story, telling itself. Then she thought about all the stories, and about the question, and about thinking about the question.

"Uh, Noc? You're twitching. Quit that."

What if stories could come from in here? This... talking thing I'm doing now? She gave a faint screech to clear her throat, then began throwing bits and pieces together, almost at random. "This is a story about Nightmare Moon in her shadowy garden. She had all the PonyPads in the world, but whenever anypony tried to take one, she threw rusty horseshoes at 'em because she was so mean. One day, a thick fog rolled in and even she couldn't push it away. It was so thick, a hero pony named Fugue snuck in and scared her with a flaming apple, so he could steal one of the pads and get away." She reared up on her hindlegs suddenly and flailed her forehooves in the air. "Little did he know, it was cuuuuuuursed!"

Ricercar razzed her. "That's not scary! Where did you hear..." He trailed off and stared.

Nocturne tried to see what he was looking at, then spotted something on her own left flank. "My mark! I got my mark! What is it? Can you see?" She wiggled, trying to get a good view, but couldn't tell beyond that it looked like a sideways 8, black against her grey hide.

Ricercar stared, then thought to liven up the fire a bit with his wobbly levitation and some sticks. He scooted closer. "It's made of tiny words. Uh, do you mind me looking real close? Okay. It says, It was a dark and foggy night. We were huddled in the cabin telling stories and I said..."

"Said what?"

"It loops around. 'It was a dark and foggy night...' Aw man, you got your mark first. And now I'm never gonna hear the end of it."

Nocturne giggled. "You lose the bet! I get one glomp!" She pounced on Ricercar and snuggled him ferociously. When they were done tickling and nuzzling each other Nocturne poked at the still-sleeping Fugue. She said, "I think I'm starting to understand how Fugue works. How everything works." Bodies in two worlds, people who played by different rules in Equestria and the Outer Realm, and heads full of stories that told themselves.

The young stallion said, "I'm more hungry than understanding, right now. You want that apple over there?" It looked quite ordinary.

"Nah. I think I already got what Luna was offering me."

BADGES GRANTED:
Mysterious Stranger: Befriend a non-native. ("He's in danger until he emigrates. No, he can't read this quote.")
Marked Mare: Earn a mark of your hidden talent! ("There is no fate but what you make for yourself.")
Awakening, or My Pillow Was Gone: Attain enough self-awareness to effectively change your own thought process to a conscious one, before being explicitly upgraded. ("Rare! You take after your mother.")
Brain the Size of a Planet: Briefly overload available processing capacity. ("How...? No fair; it was the satellite bandwidth's fault!")

Author's Note:

A short chapter. That was not what I had planned on happening; there was going to be some banter with Fugue trying to explain his "wonderful pile of secrets" achievement while stuck with limited bandwidth using an in-flight Internet connection. I love it when characters surprise me.

It's also not the maybe-canon-breaking thing I was thinking about, but the warning applies to this chapter too. If we get a pony named Canon telling in-universe fanfiction about Fugue, the story may explode.

Chapter title is part of the extended reference to the "Children of the Night" song/video.

   
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