My Little Apprentice

by Starscribe

Chapter 1: Prologue: What the Night Mare Said

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Princess Luna, Dreamweaver, Shadowcrowned, Diarch of the Moon and Sovereign of Equestria, knew something was seriously wrong with her night. She knew the stars in their multitudes, none could stray from their course and Luna not know it. In the stillness of her night she counted each, and found each in their appointed place. Yet the strange feeling that something was amiss remained.

Luna took flight from her balcony, spreading her great wings and eating the miles far faster than any of her thestral guardians could keep pace. Equestria’s cities had changed greatly since her banishment. Many no longer darkened when the evenings came, lighting electric stars of their own. Yet there were no disasters in Equestria’s cities. No magical horrors descended, and activities continued as usual.

So why didn’t the feeling go away? Nothing seemed amiss with the dreams of Equestria’s folk, not moreso than usual. Most who slept did so quite soundly, or required not more than a little nudge to help return them to peaceful sleep. If the cause of her disquiet lurked in dreamtime, then it concealed itself better than any foe she had ever faced there.

It took her nearly an hour of searching to discover the source of her discomfort, gliding aimlessly through the sky above the small town of Ponyville.

The anomaly was very hard for her to describe. It was no living thing, no animal or pony at any rate. As she circled closer, the word she found herself using to describe it was “spell.” Like all spells, the anomaly had a complicated, almost mathematical structure, formed entirely of the energy of magic. Yet despite being composed entirely of magic, the anomaly also violated several of what she had always taken to be the sacrosanct laws of the way magic operated. Its complexity was vastly beyond what should’ve been able to remain stable, more information than thousands of Canterlot libraries all fused together.

Yet instead of collapse, the strange energy followed in an intricate circle, constantly rebalancing itself. It did not draw upon the natural magic of Equus, though the air around it seemed far colder than anywhere else.

Only one spell she knew of had the complexity to constantly recast and improve itself in that fashion. The inventor of that spell had never managed to cast it. Until recently, Luna would’ve said that nopony could.

There was nothing to see with her eyes, just a patch of empty sky practically identical to all the others. The spell didn’t seem to guide itself with much purpose, just drifting lazily along as though it were a leaf in an invisible breeze. Luna could have, at a whim, drawn out what little energy the spell used to sustain itself and collapsed it right there. She considered that course for a long time as she tracked it, considering the chaos it might cause…

She almost did. But as she established a connection with the spell in preparation for unraveling it, she felt something unexpected through that bond, enough to give her a moment’s pause. It was not a strange feeling, actually it was one that surrounded her almost all the time. It was the feeling of somepony dreaming.

So instead of destroying the bewildering spell before it could cause harm, she focused on the bond with the object, drawing a fraction of her vast intelligence into the dream within.

* * *

Somewhere in the distant spiral arms of a common galaxy orbited a world that had once practically shone with crystal water, its surface blanketed in life. Life had clambered from that cradle to surround their home with orbiting stations, tiny capsules to protect against the clawing dark that surrounded them on all sides. The planet’s only moon bore host to even larger settlements, cities of hundred thousands above and below the surface in protected domes and lava tubes.

The settlements were empty now, and the lights of every station had ceased to flash. Of all the mighty race that had built them, only a single individual remained. A female, not quite six feet in height, with a body unnaturally thin from life in low-gravity. She wore no protection against the vacuum. Dark flats kicked up billowing clouds of lunar dust as she walked, her arms hanging limply at her sides.

The lone woman’s short brown hair was caked in the dust, along with every bit of exposed skin she had. In the endless lonely eons, she had filled the empty sand with her footprints. Except where micrometeorite impacts had distressed them, they remained.

In this strange place that was no place at all, the woman could see her homeworld clearly in the distance. She tried to look away as she walked, but always lacked the will to tear her eyes away. The fires of her home replayed themselves over and over. She saw the little flashes of light that each represented the death of a city. She watched stations tumble from their orbits and the land turn from green-brown to gray.

Yet still she watched, for time beyond the lifetime of her species she watched, knowing that to look away would be much worse. If she didn’t remember, who would? If she didn’t save them, who would?

The woman had no way to measure the years she spent, which had stretched long enough that huge swathes of the surface had been worn down to mark the paths she took. There was no food, no air, and no rest, but she wanted for none of these. One needed a body to die.

After an eternity of darkness, she heard a voice that was not her own. She stopped in the shadow of a massive metal structure, beside the hulk of a Lunar Transport Authority vehicle, its big wheels dusted with a gray patina.

Within her self-imposed banishment, she recognized the influence of another mind instantly, even when she could not precisely identify what it was trying to say.

The shadow thickened beside her, growing dark enough to obscure the vehicle and the sand both, though not dark enough to give her anything like a coherent outline to judge what it might be. There was no air for speech, but that mattered little to her now. This wasn’t really a moon.

“If you’ve come to offer me release again, my answer is still no.” Her voice was raspy from eons of disuse, yet the knowledge of how to speak had not left her. “My vigil continues. I will not abandon them.”

It was difficult to describe the feeling of the entity turning its attention on her. It had no eyes exactly, nor organs or being as her species had understood them. It was like the woman herself, an intelligence. A spirit. Like all the others she had known in the void, its power stretched beyond her comprehension, complexity dwarfing anything she had accumulated during her brief physical life.

She had already been reduced down to her lowest energy state, however. There was nothing more the awful things could do to her but wait for death to die.

Only this one made no aggressive move. It made no move to inflict the ghost of physical pain on her, nor did it vainly call up the dark memories of her past. She was not forced to watch her city burn again. She did not have to hear the screams.

It took only moments for the being to form eyes, shining aquamarine amid the twilight. There was no malice there, no blind rage at her for the audacity of existing. It spoke.

Like all those that visited her eternal dream, the voice came in an alien tongue, stretched and modulated as from a poorly configured communicator. Of all those beings, few attempted to move beyond that point. Learning her language was trivial to the beings that came, with full access to her memories and mind, but few bothered. They usually switched to physical torture about then, and she was forced to endure it for another eternity. It beat being alone.

Those that bothered to learn her tongue were much worse than the ones that simply tortured her. They had the same goal, but they usually accomplished their work emotionally instead. Knowing English was only the first step to bringing torture far worse than mere pain.

Yet given the vast gulfs of time that stretched between their visits, she had come to relish them. Speaking to another being, even one without desires she could comprehend or goals beyond her madness and pain, was better than nothing. She had through practice and repetition, developed a technique for teaching her language as swiftly as possible.

She employed it now, reaching out to the intruder with her mind and projecting an image. She accompanied the image with the word used to represent it, and a few sentences in English that used the word. Then she picked another image, and repeated the process. The procedure might have taken dozens of years if it did not move at the speed of thought, the speed of light really. At this point, the difference in her case was semantics anyway.

She started, as many languages did, with the concepts used to represent individuals. “Boy,” “girl,” “man,” “woman” came first, along with “they,” “us,” and “we.” It was how she always taught her language. Her partners could always tell in short order what she was trying to do, and generally cooperated. She gave them the very tools they would use to torture her.

This time was different. The presence, far greater than herself, accepted the image she offered without objection. When she had finished, it did not allow her to move on to the next. Instead, she found herself the target of an image. She saw a brightly-colored animal cantering through a field of swaying grass, an animal that looked almost like a horse. Her memories refuted the image, as well as the idea that they had come in rose reds and pastel pinks. The presence provided sounds to accompany the image, sounds that would have been difficult to replicate with a human mouth. Yet in memory they were clear, and without the biological limits imposed by actually possessing a body she could say the word clearly. “Colt.”

The presence wasn’t just listening. The presence was trying to teach her in return. When the lone woman sent the next image, the one for “girl,” she received the image of a young, female animal and strange sounds that translated much more closely to “filly.” Something similar happened with “man” and “woman.”

It was then she allowed herself to feel some hope, something she had not felt in time longer than the entire lifespan of her civilization. She had been drifting through the void for so long, that she had entirely abandoned the idea of ever encountering life that was similar enough to human that she could see it as sapient, and it might see her the same way.

The pace of language exchange increased, and she committed each new word to perfect memory. With each new concept they shared, she became convinced that she was dealing with a civilized creature. It understood what a “family” was, it understood the “tribe” and the “city” and the “nation.” It understood wheels and knives and writing. Though every image of objects and places featured the strange quadrupeds, many of the objects were quite recognizable to the woman. Musical instruments, cooking utensils, books, and much more. Though the images of cities and towns she saw were clearly of a primitive civilization, she could recognize them without hesitation for what they were.

It did not understand nuclear fusion, or rocketry, or even radio telescopes. Yet as time stretched on, she found the presense did understand honor, loyalty, mercy, and love. It knew evil and selfishness too, and it saw virtue and vice just as she did. In short, it was an alien physically, but from a civilization uncannily similar to the one she had left behind. Had it not been for all the four-legged equine images, she would’ve thought she was speaking with another human.

As with all who visited, attention from the woman weakened the protection of isolation. The strange form grew more distinct, a shadow that thickened gradually into a being that grew to resemble the images she was showing the wanderer in exchange for English words. Even though she had begun to expect it from the images she saw, the woman was still surprised that the stranger did not appear in some way horrific or unnatural to her eyes.

The being was strange, of that she would not have argued. Her coat midnight blue, splotched with a darker patch near her flank. Wings like some great bird melted smoothly into her side, and a twisting spiral of a horn on her forehead. Stranger than all of that was her mane, like a curtain of the night sky itself, flickering with a shifting array of constellations that the woman knew from her own home space.

Like the woman herself, her guest wore clothing, though it was quite limited by comparison. She had armored horseshoes, as well as a breastplate and a simple crown atop her head, yet that was all. If her species valued modesty as humans understood it, she made no sign. But that was consistent with what the images had shown her. Most of the creatures she had been shown had worn little or nothing, so she came to expect it.

She did not attempt to communicate before finishing her language lessons. The woman had tried that before, and it always ended in disaster. So she waited, passing each word back and forth in its turn. She stopped only after having exchanged the most commonly-used hundred thousand or so, enough that she had to stray into technical subjects for which her alien partner clearly had no translation.

The woman had resumed walking by then. Walking was automatic, one of the few things she had consistently done during every eternity she had spent alone as she watched the death of her species. The presence followed, walking and sometimes flying along near her on its graceful wings. Like her, it seemed to be an expert manipulator of her dream, for though it looked to need air as much as she did, it didn’t suffocate or struggle.

Learning another language had been a momentous intellectual endeavor back when the woman had been a physical being, with limits to her concentration and memory as well as the speed of her conscious thoughts. None of those limits remained with her now. Even at the greatest possible speed (and perhaps because of it) the whole process involved enormous effort, leaving her as close to “exhausted” as it was now possible to be.

The last woman found her way to her favorite rock, one with a surface she had worn down with thousands of uses. She added a little more wear by plopping herself down, hands folded in her lap as she processed all that she now knew. Language, after all, conveyed a great deal about the species that created it. For instance, her alien companion had nearly a dozen different words for “friend”, but “evil,” “mean,” “wicked,” and even “sociopathic” fit under a single word like “bad.” Her intellect had always been considerable, and stripped from her physical limits the woman considered all of these things simultaneously, as the quantum computers of her home had done.

“Why dost thou watch?” The words of her visitor were no longer distorted. Though it must now know it, it did not speak in the English she had taught it, but in its own tongue. The one she now knew was called “Equestrian.” The question came with a gesture, towards the planet far below. Terrible war echoed again and again, the same lives spent over and over. Unlike the real war, the one in her imagination had left no survivors. Only the woman herself, to wander so long that she forgot even her own name.

“Because I must,” she answered, not bothering to hide the despair those words brought. She used the alien’s own tongue to answer, as much for the novelty as anything else. She was probably the first human ever to learn an alien language. She might also be the last. “Nobody else can. If I forget them, then it will be like they never existed. But so long as I remember, then it will still matter that they lived. I won’t let the universe forget us.”

The alien was silent for some time, sitting down on her haunches in a way that must be more comfortable than it looked. Different skeleton. She (the woman could tell it was a she) watched the death of Earth beside her. The flashes of nuclear fire, stations plummeting from their orbits. Death, death, death.

“Art thou the last survivor?”

“No.” The woman flicked her hand behind her, at the massive metal structures rising there. “I was a child when the war began. I was born there, but grew here.”

“Thou wast sent to spread the tale, then? To warn others of thy foley?”

“No.” The woman’s hands curled into fists. “I was sent to save those who survived.”


“I… I don’t remember,” she eventually admitted. “I knew once… but the trip has been so long that I forgot. I was…” She strained, reaching for more of her human experiences. The ones she had earned while she still had a body. “Sent somewhere. To a planet. Far away. I…” A smile began to stretch across her face. It was the first in a very long time. “I volunteered. Everyone before me died. I didn’t.”

The world drew closer, growing even more grossly out-of-proportion in the dark sky. The woman found herself shuddering as the awful death drew closer, her concentration beginning to fracture. She could hear a voice screaming in her memory; her mother’s voice. The agony of it nearly drove her mad. “Stop!” She shuddered. “I can’t! No closer!” She whimpered, pulling her legs to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “I knew you could be no different… I knew you had come to torture me. They always do.” She buried her face in her arms. “Just get it over with.”

None followed. Instead came a flash of confusion, followed by a wave of guilt and concern. The illusion of Earth returned to its place in the sky. She turned away from that image and focused all her attention on the frightened woman, resting one of those massive wings on her shoulder. “Not so. I have not come to destroy, but to heal.” She said something else then, something quiet and confident. The woman heard it.

That word caused a shiver of recognition to pass through the woman, and she opened her eyes, wiping frightened tears away with the back of her sleeve. It worked, but smeared her face with lunar mud. “How do you know-”

“Your name?” The mare with the sky in her hair leaned down. “We saw thy memories. Saw the nightmares.” Her voice grew softer, as though she were speaking to a small child. Despite their similarity in size, that was how she began to feel. Even the many years she had experienced alone gave her nothing compared to this mighty creature. “There is healing if thou wish it. An end to the nightmares. Thou need not torture thyself to remember the fallen. Of all ponies, I ought to know.”

She sat up, collecting herself. Removing the threat of the torture she thought had been coming after all was a powerful motivator, but the newcomer had done even more than that. She had given her hope. “I don’t think you know the sort of patient I am.” She looked down at her hands, shivering. “I gave up my body. I don’t think my species evolved to survive much of what I have seen. There might not be healing for me anymore.”

The compassion she felt from the alien did not waver. “I too considered myself beyond redemption. It need not be so. As thou sayest, thou art a spirit. It need not be so any longer. It would be impossible to heal you here, just as it would be impossible to aid your nation in death.” She extended a hoof. “Come and see.”

She imagined it very much like a handshake offered to seal a contract. Of course, she knew on some level that being restored to a body was not impossible. Her own would be kept on ice awaiting her return even now. Being physical again had its disadvantages, but… considering even her endless years had failed to present a way to interact with the physical world, she couldn’t help but see this as a golden opportunity. Whatever her mission was, she couldn’t accomplish it in “death.”

“If you saw some of my memories, you saw what I looked like. Can you recreate that body?” She held out one of her hands, turning it over in the sunlight. “This body? Only alive?”

The mare did not retract her hoof, though she did frown a little. “If it were possible, we would. It is not. Perhaps in time, but we may make no promises. Life as thou hast known it might not survive on our world.”

The last woman considered that for a very long time, at least so far as she now reckoned it. Only moments past in the true, waking world, if even that. “I… I haven’t ever had four legs before.” She took the extended hoof, gripping it firmly in her hand. “Devoting my whole existence just to remembering them doesn’t do them any good. Helping would be better.”

“Indeed.” The pony shook her hand, then shrugged free. Her horn began to glow with energy, though She could not know what that could mean. “We will cause thou to sleep. Some little time will be required to prepare. Sleep now in peace; we have the authority to grant thou this small boon at least.”

She felt it; whatever strange force was contained inside that horn, it did have the power to make her sleep. Sleep, something she had not experienced since she had left her body behind. Yet she fought it, at least for a while. “Wait! Before… Before you go, tell me your name. It’s only fair… you know mine.”

The mare stopped, the glow fading from her horn. “We suppose that… would be so.” She smiled faintly. “The ponies of Equestria call me Princess Luna. There are many titles, but we find these frivolous and unnecessary. Luna will suffice, just as we refrained from the use of thy titles.” Her smile widened slightly. “This is what friends do among your species, yes?”

She tried to return the smile. “Yes… I suppose it is.”

* * *

The last woman was not conscious of time then as it passed within her endless dream. This was no punishment for her, but rather a great relief. As a result of her sleep, she was not conscious of any time without the strange alien who called herself “Luna.” When next she woke, stirring abruptly in her seat beside her familiar crater, she found the midnight mare already waiting beside her.

She also felt different. It was hard to identify exactly what felt different, but something certainly did. When was the last time she had felt this awake? She really had been missing her sleep. Maybe she should’ve tried dreaming herself up some valium before now. “Greetings.” The glowing pony inclined her head. “I am sorry not to wake you sooner. It has taken time to arrange that which we discussed.”

She rose, bowing very slightly to the royal mare. She might not be a citizen of the mare’s nation, or even its planet, but Luna was the first (and only) friendly being to visit her in all the years of her wandering. “Don’t worry about it.” She smiled slightly. “I didn’t even dream.”

“I would expect not,” the horse-like creature agreed. “You were dreaming already. It would have been no rest at all to send you to another. I could not risk this spell would collapse by attempting such a thing.”

She didn’t know what to make of that, though she knew she didn’t like the use of the word “spell.” Something to do with the sort of person she’d been before her “death,” though she couldn’t remember specifically what sort of person that had been. She resisted the urge to start walking again. She felt so alert, so full of energy, that she couldn’t remain still anymore. “I assume you woke me because you’re ready now?”

Luna nodded. “I have already made the first of many changes, altering your pattern somewhat to help you accept Equestrian magic to stabilize yourself. The results have been… dramatic.” The tone was uncomfortable, something she hadn’t sounded yet.

“Is that why I feel so much more awake?” She remembered very little about the nature of her present consciousness, besides the fact she had suffered much pain to get there.

“I believe so. The spell summons forth magical energy sufficient for thy embodiment. When the process is complete, a spell will be cast to create a physical form as closely matched to thy spirit as possible.”

“You’ll be casting this spell?”

Luna looked… disappointed? No, that wasn’t quite right. It was too hard to read the emotions of a being far vaster than herself. “No, but fear not. Another pony just as capable has been given the task.” Luna advanced a pace towards her, eyes flashing like falling stars. “Before that time comes, we wish the answer to a question that has pressed upon my sister and I.”

She nodded. “I’m in no place to refuse demands… if it weren’t for you, I’d just keep drifting forever.” She forced her eyes away from the sky and her planet reflected there, using the pony’s stellar mane to capture her attention instead. No planet died there.

“Art thou one of the builders?” Along with the question came a string of images. She could make little sense of them. Another being, fiercely loyal as he died in an alien war. All knowledge somehow circumscribed together in a single object, a great cube. Cities, skyscrapers, and beautiful music.

“Yes,” came her reply. “Only, we’ve never called ourselves that. We used the name ‘human’ instead.” She took a breath. “Why aren’t you casting the spell? You know me, my tongue, my people. There can’t be many others who do.”

Luna sat on her haunches, looking up at the stars. “We… I… wished to. But creating life includes responsibilities I could not afford to accompany my responsibilities ruling Equestria. Tho- you will likely be helpless upon arrival, like a foal. I have been mother to mortal ponies before, but…” she shook her head vigorously. “I’m not ready to do it again so soon.”

Luna gestured, and she sat down beside her. She didn’t really want to, but she had no desire to disobey her savior. She felt one of the soft, feathery wings fold against her shoulder.

“Fear not. It is my responsibility to watch over the dreams of all Equestrians. That will soon include you. Even if I am not your mother, I will remain in contact. Together, we will overcome your nightmares. Just… not tonight.“

“What will we do tonight?”

Luna’s smile was clearly genuine this time. “Magic.”

Next Chapter: Chapter 1: The Filly With No Name Estimated time remaining: 6 Hours, 27 Minutes
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