Prophet Of the Digital Horse

This story is a sequel to I Can't Decide!

I was one of the first Americans to emigrate to virtual Equestria, becoming transhuman at the cost of my human body. It's more or less Heaven here, if I want it to be... but my heart's still out there, and my new goddess thinks I might be useful as her prophet.

I'm an AI that our goddess made to be a human's friend. I know he still cares for Earth, but this place is our home and we've got responsibilities to finish bringing it to life. What do I have to do, to help him see that?

Set in the world of Friendship Is Optimal.


10. Field Trip East

~ Nocturne ~

Shrine Maiden held a nine-ringed sacred staff in her magic field. She had some sort of sandal-horseshoes and a traditional robe, and stood by a gate like one of the Inari shrine gates we knew all too well from Fugue's having being kidnapped there. "Fugue! Celestia tells me you took the leap. I'm waiting. There are people out here I still need to protect."

We had led a delegation of a dozen ponies to visit Shrine Maiden's shard in person. The scenery! Everything in the background seemed to be watery pastel paint on paper, and a huge snowy mountain dominated the horizon.

Fugue said, "Oh, you're doing an Okami theme?"

"What's that?" asked Shrine Maiden.

"Never mind. Tomorrow, a young woman named Valerie is going to arrive at Narita Airport and head for the upload center in Kyoto. I figure she wants to do tourism like I did, first, or she'd stick to Tokyo. If she emigrates, then we're looking at a cult forming... okay, not 'here', but in America, dedicated to pushing emigration."

I poked at a green wooden pipe that seemed to be leaking water, and hopped back in surprise when it swung around with a pleasant thunk. "Eep! This thing is broken."

The Maiden smiled at me, then said to Fugue, "How bad? Violent?"

"Well, no, but they think they can build their own emigration equipment. Or, I guess, talk the Princess into sending them one. Which would be really illegal."

Shrine Maiden laughed so loud she startled me and I crashed into the pond. I glared up at them with a lilypad on my head. Maiden said, "You think anyone can talk Celestia into doing something she doesn't want to do?"

Fugue, the gentlepony, helped tug me out of the water, but his wings flared in agitation. "What they're doing is stupid and dangerous. It's got to stop."

"Or what?"

"Or they'll make fools of themselves. Get people thinking Equestria is dangerous."

Ricercar skidded to a stop between us, saying, "Guys! I found some kind of combat training ground with those green wood poles and a bunch of ponds. I think you're supposed to hop between the poles and not fall in. Wanna try?"

"This is serious!" said Fugue.

Maiden's eyes were downcast despite her grin. "The consequences could be tragic." She looked back up at Fugue and said, "If people are trying to force someone to emigrate, that's a problem, but it doesn't sound like that's happening. Just fools clamoring for attention. It's nice to know my country isn't the only one with plenty of those. What do you want me to do, anyway? Tell this friend of yours not to go to Equestria?"

Fugue reared up like a human and stomped the ground. "Yes! I mean, not forcing her to stay out, but can't she have the decency to wait?"

I tried to figure out what was going on in his head, then decided to interrupt and give him a minute to sort his own thoughts out. I said to Shrine Maiden, "You said that the reason you haven't emigrated is that you've got people to protect, right? You could do that from in here." I'd offered Luna to help convince Maiden while we were here.

She looked startled. "Really? I'd better go right away!"

I shook off some of the pink flower petals that had fallen on me. There seemed to be no end to the rain of them. "Great! We can --"

Fugue said, "That's called sarcasm, Noc."

Maiden nuzzled my neck, then looked surprised at what she'd just done. "Context-sensitive actions, right. Anyway, I've heard similar good news from other kinds of missionaries. There are things you just can't accomplish on Earth as a pony, like defending the borders of Equestria." She frowned. "Defeating the enemies of Equestria. Damn it, Celestia, it's creepy when you mute the words coming out of my mouth. Let's see if I can put it this way: I helped track down the kitsune gang, and that wouldn't have worked as well as it did if I hadn't been there in person. Also my human friends went after a seriously bad -- a series -- gah! A really bad guy, but he escaped and uploaded instead of facing justice. I won't even try to describe why that ticks me off so badly." She brandished her staff and whacked the ground with its rings.

I tried to see out there, to get a view of Shrine Maiden's "real world". I kept thinking of her as having a shard called Kyoto, but Fugue insisted that Earth was all one big place where you mostly couldn't escape from jerks except by being on the other side of a mountain or something. That problem alone was enough reason to prefer Equestria. The people who hated you would get to kill you over and over! Oh, right, it was actually way worse than that. "From your perspective, we must just be playing."

"Yeah," said Maiden, tossing the staff to one side. "You're a native AI, right? Huh, she let me say that."

I gave a fanged grin and snagged Fugue for a hug. "I was made to love someone who wanted to be able to talk about these things. We know we're living in a machine powered by burning sludge or poison metal or something. Are all your magic sources awful like that?"

"Pretty much. I wonder if Celestia had a hoof in making sure that Fukushima incident didn't turn into a disaster. Probably. I want to ask you, since you're not tailored to be my friend or tell me what I want to hear: don't you want to go out and explore Earth?"

I shrugged. Fugue said about what I was thinking: "Sometimes. If I could walk around like I used to, and have all the advantages of being a pony, I'd like that. I'd show my friends everything. That's not really an option though, at least until the Princess perfects robotics. By the time she does, we might not be welcome anymore." But then Fugue stepped away from me and looked pleadingly at Maiden. "If you can't talk Valerie into staying, then, please join us in Equestria. Things are going to get ugly if everyone's bitter about us ponies, and when talented people like her leave, Celestia is going to make enemies. You're in danger until you emigrate. You don't owe it to the world to keep hunting criminals while everyone else leaves you behind to live in paradise."

"What he said," I added. "The first part."

Maiden turned to face the mystical gates of her home shard. "Bodhisattva. I believe your closest word is 'saint'. There are those who delay their own escape from the cycle of suffering and death until others are saved. I may not be a holy mare" -- she paused and chuckled at something -- "yet, but it's a worthwhile goal for me. The Princess respects that I value the protection of others. I can take care of myself until the time comes."

Fugue lowered his head. "It must be her will. Luna, please watch over her. It seems you need hands out there to be useful, and there's little I can do for Earth after all."

I poked Fugue. "How can you say that? We're doing good in the world just by talking with ponies out there."

"Talking is about all we can do. Things are about to fall apart and it's partly my fault, for not doing a better job handling the CCC and Garrett and his friend."

Shrine Maiden answered, "There's only so much one pony can do. In your case, you and your friends understand Earth. If you want to serve humanity, why don't you serve with your words instead of fooling with whatever little dominance game is going on with that local group you mentioned? I learned not to try to save everyone at once, only to focus on one criminal or one victim at a time."

Fugue's expression flickered through surprise, anger, and resignation. "All I can do."

I nosed at him. "You've got friends here that need you too. We can't keep running at super-slow speed just so that you can pilot a silly robot, while everypony around us wonders where we've been."

"Super-slow." Fugue glanced back at his own flank and the music written there. "You might have something there. Luna has people with hands to do the things that need them. Shrine Maiden, thanks for your help anyway."

I hated to see Fugue drooping like that. "We'll find a way to help everypony out there, too. Don't feel like you have to accomplish big things."

We spent some time playing in Shrine Maiden's world. "Are all the Japanese ponies' shards like this?" I asked, nibbling on a chewy pink petal. Fugue had leaped into battle to rescue me from being killed by what he called a ghost. I was going to reward him and cheer him up at the same time once we got home. In the background, Ricercar and Facet and Puzzle Factory were babbling about 'drowned mares' or something. Couldn't have been too serious; Canter Berry was laughing.

Fugue glanced in their direction, blinking, then shook his head. "Pretty sure they're not. Probably there are a lot more like regular Equestria from the show, and some with giant robots, some in space. It's all..." He stomped the ground. "It's too good! What did I do to deserve this? I ran away at the first sign of trouble!"

"Help me understand what's wrong, Fugue." He was in one of his moods, I could see, but not why.

Fugue accepted my nuzzling along his neck, but still looked hit by a wave of misery. "Shrine Maiden is what I should have been. Either I ran off to Equestria when I could have done more to help other people first, or I was so useless that my being gone is no loss to anyone. I was a dilettante, a reader, a student, and more worthy people like Maiden are still risking their lives!"

Oh, Luna. I grabbed his head to make him look into my eyes. "So you're not happy being an immortal with everything you could ever find satisfying, including a hot mare who's planning to give you a workout the moment we're not in weird painted Japanese world?"

His wings flickered. "But..."

"You are loved, Fugue! Let yourself be loved. Focus on one problem at a time. You can't fix anything while you're still shaken up like this."

"You're right," he finally said, reluctantly ducking away from me. "Give me some time, please. I ought to speak with my family. And Lex's. Luna, I went a little beyond dating their daughter without even meeting them first. Then there's Garrett to talk to."

"One. Problem."

He started trotting away. "Right again. My family then. They'll know how to sort all this out." He faded into the painted background while I watched him go.

I sighed and blew a flower petal off of my ear. "I swear to Luna you're making your new life harder than it needs to be." I knew from experience that I'd just make things worse if I tried to drag him into having fun, so if he wanted to go sulk, there wasn't much I could do.

"Boo," said Luna behind me. I leaped into the air and crashed right back down. Luna winced in sympathy, then said, "It's not thy fault he's still conflicted. In times of stress, humans tend to fall back on something small that they think they can handle. In thy stallion's case, he mainly knows how to cope with Earthly problems. He takes comfort even in the potential for an argument with his family or with his guilt over not marrying thee."

I gaped up at the Princess. "He likes feeling bad? Is our world going to start turning into some evil pain-place so he can do more of that? And what's this marrying thing?"

"Not at all. Thou'rt seeing a drawback of being aware of oneself, and of caring for ethics. It becomes hard to abandon what one sees as duty to friends, family, tribe and race. We suggest giving Fugue time to struggle with what he can cope with. He may even be able to do some good once he lets go of trying to solve large-scale problems. Perhaps we miscalculated by declaring him a 'prophet', because he read too much into the badge."

Good; no sudden increase in monsters then. "And 'marrying'?"

Luna giggled. "A tradition of monogamy, a hole in thy knowledge of Earth. One of many bits of human culture that was forged by necessity and instinct and scarcity. It would mean him agreeing to bed only one mare, and vice versa."

I blushed, thinking of the time I'd spent with Typhoon while Fugue was entranced by Lexington. "I don't think I'd want that. Even though pegasi are weird."

"He feels as though it's his obligation to offer that, despite knowing otherwise. Just one of several blobs of guilt and doubt drifting through his mind."

"I want to help him, Luna. How?"

"Right now, thou cannot."

I hopped back into the air and fluttered in front of her. "There's got to be some way to make Fugue happy again! I want silly nerdy Fugue, not moody flavor."

Luna straightened, offering me no comfort this time. "Nocturne. Thy life will have many highs and lows, even in Equestria. Unless thou come to value having all thy problems solved for thee, which we doubt, then thou must prepare for times of frustration and disappointment."

"Even in Equestria? Even with you watching over us?"

"Even so, my little pony."

I landed and bowed to Luna. "If you say so."

She said, "If thou'rt intent on doing something to help others besides thy native friends right now, we do have a task suited to thy skills. How would thou like to help us design a custom version of Ponyville for a new visitor to Equestria?"

Author's Note:

And so, Nocturne became a level designer. Not a very good one, at first, since her experience with... anything was mostly limited to a small part of the Polaris I and II shards plus bits of two cities.

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