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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6. Step Into My Parlor

Fugue kept falling over and twitching. Nocturne tried not to laugh. "So you've got ten tentacles trying to control your hooves?"

"They're called 'fingers' and they have bones. And please don't say that while I'm in Japan; it might give people ideas. Hey, reporters, please edit that out."

"You're not in Japan right now; you're in Equestria! Think you can figure out how to move well enough to pull this blanket off of me?"

Fugue stumbled around the giant chessboard tutorial zone, getting closer. Luna had let her watch while he went through some kind of movement training. "I'm sitting in a chair, see, and the gadgets are like juggling N-sixty-four controllers with each hand. You wouldn't understand. Hang on."

Actually, Nocturne had asked to see the setup in the Equestria Experience Center, and had gotten the upgraded vision algorithm needed to make any sense of the Outer Realm. The art style was a weird approximation of Equestria by someone with a real eye for detail, fancy lighting, and dirt. She said, "Flex your ankle muscles for fine control on your back hooves, and you can tense your... abs, I think for more wing movement."

Fugue lunged forward, yanking the blanket off Nocturne's back with his teeth, and collapsed face-first. The world shook for a moment. "Ow. I felt that. You've got something on... hey, you got your <mumble> mark!"

Nocturne went wide-eyed. "Ohmygosh! My special talent must be schadenfreude!"

"How do you even know that word?" Fugue tripped only once more before managing to walk in a circle, chasing his own tail.

Nocturne brushed dust off one wing. "Oh, nothing special. Just became self-aware, is all."

"Wha? Bluh?"

"Okay, now to talk, you open your mouth and push air out from your lungs..."

A distant voice broke in, echoing in English and Japanese. "Now let's switch over to tester eight, Lob... I mean Robert from Massachusetts, America, who I'm told is not in the top fifty percent on mastering the Equestria Experience control scheme. The game is just now firing up his customized 'shard'. While we wait for the poor overtaxed AI to load, we've got Director Tenma here. Director, these testers were chosen partly based on having entertaining worlds to show off, right?"

Fugue said to Nocturne, "I don't know if they're watching us right now. They will be, though. I can't see out there."

"I can!" she said. "Luna says they'll be on in a bit, and we should show off. Want to fly?"

"Sure."

The director's interview droned on. Nocturne sidled closer to Fugue. "You were just looking through a window before. Now you can feel this for real, right?" She wrapped her forelegs around his neck, brushed one wing against him, and kissed his nose. She hopped away and hovered before his brain could reboot.

The reporter spoke from outside the world. "Looks like the shard's coming up and Robert is all set with wings spread wide." The hazy tutorial board dissolved into an aerial view of Polaris. Home.

It really was home, Nocturne reflected, since she didn't remember anything specific about what happened before Luna brought her here. Nothing happened before, really. No Discord apocalypse to escape from; no real parents, just vague backstory. All made up by Luna to entertain Fugue. In a way it had been comforting to learn that; it meant nopony had really died or been driven mad by Discord's cruel magic. Luna had actually been kind by upgrading her, so she wouldn't be sad about her "family".

Nocturne hopped onto a cloud and called down, "Let's give 'em a view from up here." Robert wobbled his way into the air, stalled, crashed, and managed to reach the cloud's edge the second time. Nocturne hauled him up with her hooves, briefly wondering how they worked. She said I could easily end up overthinking things.

Together they soared over the star-lit valley, where a party of unicorns and earth ponies was working by the light of a blue crystal Fugue had found in a dangerous cave. "What do you wanna do besides an overflight?"

Director Tenma's voice boomed from the sky, really from the Outer Realm. "Robert, why don't you introduce us to some of your friends?" Aside to a reporter he said, "The 'Mane Six' heroes don't exist in this shard. We're looking at an alternate universe that diverges far from canon and takes place around a thousand years earlier. Shows you the power of Equestria Online's procedural generation; we're not limited by the original scripts and source material."

Fugue mostly kept pace with Nocturne. "I can feel the wind. Is there a fan, and a fog generator in the room?"

"What do you think?" asked Tenma.

"There has to be, to get these touch effects. The texture of the clouds alone is worth the price of admission. Nocturne, why haven't we thought to make beds out of clouds?"

"Good idea, but wouldn't that make the non-fliers jealous?"

Tenma commented, "And as you can see, the NPCs have remarkable ability to reason about character relationships on the fly."

Nocturne flipped around to float on her back and grinned, baring fangs at the sky. "And we can heeeeear you out there, humans." At least that's what she tried to say. But her mouth didn't move and the words didn't get spoken. Huh? She frowned and decided to ask Luna later.

Fugue flipped sideways in the air without crashing, though Nocturne had to dodge him. "Do a barrel roll! Heh. Where is everypony? Where's Ricercar?" He started a wobbling descent toward the work party.

Nocturne winced. The stallion had been acting weird since the airplane flight. Throwing himself into the construction work each morning and evening, and avoiding her. Maybe he was jealous of this thinking thing she'd figured out. She shook off her worry; he'd get the same gift soon when... well...

"Try that swoop trick I taught you before!" Nocturne said. Back when Fugue was only using a PonyPad he'd been more coordinated, but apparently that was only because the gadget took pity on his wriggling arm-tentacles and interpreted moves in his favor. "Fold your wings and roll forward, then stretch 'em out again."

Fugue's wingtips flicked in and out, but then he tucked them in and plunged. For once he moved almost like he had before today, and the slight imperfection and the hint of fear in his eyes fascinated her. He was more truly here than ever before. Here, and rolling forward, stretching his wings with some semblence of true mastery for the first time to swoop at high speed across the moonlit land. She felt the air of his passage whoosh along her and rustle her mane and tail.

He flipped over a couple of times when he landed, but even that part was fun to watch. Nocturne leaned down and nuzzled his cheek. "Guess you're basically new at this. Not a terrible start. You even get a badge for that."

Director Tenma lectured from the Outer Realm. "Anyway, Robert --"

Nocturne said, "Fugue! Facet Looks is here. Hey Facet, did you get that big crystal glowing yet?"

A dull brown unicorn with a brilliant cyan mane waved. His team of ponies was still digging up a great big shiny rock. "Nah, sorry. I think this kind of crystal does something else. Fugue, Nocturne said you're super real tonight, somehow?"

Fugue scratched one ear with a hoof. "You could say that. Some guys I'm talking with by... magic, want to hear you talk about the stuff we've been doing." Magic, heh. Nocturne figured Facet would be pretty cool if he were capable of understanding what a computer was.

Facet looked around, confused. "Uh, all right. Remember, last month we figured out that I could cast a spell to turn little sapphires into glow-lights like the one you had on your pendant when we found you, Noc. So ever since then we've put some of our exploration effort into..."

Nocturne saw Fugue's wings twitch during the lecture. "Bored?" she whispered at a high pitch. Fugue's ears perked up and he touched one as though he wasn't used to feeling them do that. He gave a slight nod. To Tartaurus with long-winded demonstrations, then! Nopony else here was real. She snagged Fugue by one hoof and dragged him away, saying, "C'mon, let's show you what cave exploring is really like."

Tenma said, "I suppose we'll cut over to Tester Nine, then, where our French player has found an Equestria that more than makes up for her physical disabilities..."

A few minutes later the two of them were alone, as far as they could tell. "What's gotten into you?" said Fugue.

She hopped up on a rocky ledge inside the cave. "Told you. Luna helped me wake up. Now I'm real and I actually get what you mean by things like 'video games' and 'college'. Before, it was like you were just weird and silly and I had to get used to you talking about things that didn't make any sense. Now you can explain it all, and we can hang out forever and ever!"

Fugue wobbled, holding his wings out as though dizzy. "Too much at once. This virtual reality setup, the fact that I can smell ponies and feel the rocks under my... these hooves, and now you're practically human, if Luna gave you anything like the brain she's got." He paused. "More human, if you're just one pony instead of a global computer network."

"I'm just here in this one spot," Nocturne said, and hopped down to stand in front of Fugue. She felt warmth on her cheeks. "I'm a story that tells herself. I want to tell you, and learn more so I can do a better job, and, and... you're gonna stay, right?"

Fugue reached forward and hugged her. He'd done it plenty of times before, but she realized now that it was always automatic, some scripted move like his flying that just meant he'd poked a button with one tentacle. When he did it now, he held her extra tight and rubbed one hoof along the base of her wings. Unlike his flying skills, it was way better tonight.

"I've only got a little time left today for this press event," he said. "Then I get to go be a tourist for a day, and then I can come back and get in another hour or two the next day before I have to go home."

"You're leaving Equestria, just when you got here like this in the chair full of buttons?"

"Just for a day; I'll be back after some sightseeing."

"Promise?"

Fugue winced.

"What's wrong?"

Fugue's mouth moved silently, he scowled, and he tried speaking again. "Darn. You know I can't really stay, not like you're hinting at."

Nocturne's ears drooped. She hadn't thought about emigration one bit tonight, just about meeting up in person with the only real pony that wasn't Luna. "I wasn't trying to hint. But all you've gotta say is --"

"Yes, yes, 'I want to em...'" Seconds passed. He broke the silence with a laugh that frightened her. "You almost had me there."

Nocturne waggled her wings like semaphore flags. There was something thumping in her chest that she'd never noticed before. "No, I wasn't trying!"

Fugue released her and backed away. "I've got to get out of here. Time's nearly up anyway. I'll see you in a few days. Need to think. Luna, let me out." He laughed again and his whole body shuddered. "I came so close..."

Fugue vanished into sudden mist. Nocturne watched him go, saying, "Yet so far away."

Author's Note:

What happened to my two-chapter silly story, with the singing and universe-hopping?

   
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