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Under the Sun · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
And Not Pick One
1.

Celestia always has wings in her dreams.

It's not always a flying thing. (There was the time she gave a report to the school board in the nude, and she spent the whole dream trying to cover herself with them.) And she's not always the only one. (That one vivid dream with her little sister.) But it's the sole constant of her inner life. She always has wings in her dreams—radiant, unblemished white—and when she spreads them she feels a wind nobody else seems to sense, and when she folds them warm feathers tickle her hips like a kiss of light.

Then the alarm clock bleats, and her fingers fumble for the snooze button, and she stares out toward the rising sun, and she showers dresses cooks eats, drives parks opens greets, loves chides warns guides keeps it bottled up inside

They need a principal, after all. They don't need a dreamer.




And then one day, one of her top students causes tens of thousands of dollars of property damage to the school.

That's not how anyone else on the scene would describe it. It's not even how she sees it. (Less abstract finance and more "six horse-eared girls blasting a bat-winged demon out of the air with beams of rainbow light.") It's magical. A dream come to life.

But even as the impossible unfolds in front of her eyes—even as a lifetime of self-denial warps and buckles, and her phantom wings quiver at the edge of physicality, screaming to be unfolded—even as her perception brushes the contours of that ethereal wind and plucks at its flow, as her hair begin to involuntarily billow out in the hot humid stillness—even as she knows, like she knows her name, that she could spread her arms and rise from the ground and have the world behold her in her benevolent glory—the instincts that kick in are the ones that brought her to that moment to begin with.

She sees her students.

She sees hundreds of innocent children whose first exposure to magic isn't playing the hero and defeating the villain, but rather waking up amid a scene of chaos and devastation. Children staring at a new life defined by forces out of their control—a life where they don't matter. Children whose normal has just been brutally ripped away, with no guarantee they'll ever find it again.

So she clenches her back muscles, forcing the feeling down. She strolls out into the courtyard and hands Twilight Sparkle the crown for the Fall Formal. Behind her, Luna—who plays along, bless her heart—assigns Sunset Shimmer detention.

That, the children understand. The ups and downs of a school year. And it's that that they cheer.

She instantly knows she did the right thing.




She's afraid to sleep that night. She lies sprawled on her back on top of the covers, staring at the ceiling, willing herself to burst into tears. The tears don't come.

If she goes to sleep, she'll dream. If she dreams…

Now that she's seen winged girls with her own eyes, she's not sure if she's more afraid that her dream-self won't have wings any more, or that her dream-self will.

The sun rises, after an approximate eternity. She sits up stiffly and stumbles to the mirror. She's a mess. She showers and dresses and cooks and eats and somehow manages to avoid two separate car accidents on the way to school and mechanically staggers into her office and puts her head in her hands and finally, finally, breaks down sobbing.

She realizes it's Saturday.

She goes home.






2.

As a child, Celestia believed she was an angel.

That was her only context for the wings, back then. Memories of Sunday school and church iconography (so vague, so distant; it all feels lifetimes away), and dreams that didn't match her body.

At first, her parents thought she wanted to be an angel when she grew up, which they found adorable. Then they realized what she actually meant, and thus began the increasingly stern talks with their pastor.

She went through a phase, sort of, where she thought she was a bird magically transformed into a human. She never really believed it—it was spirituality by compromise, not obvious inner truth—but being an angel was upsetting her parents, and she was still struggling to find a way to understand the wings.

She tried to tell them about it. She thought they'd be proud she was putting "the angel thing" behind her. That led to several sessions with an expensive upstate psychiatrist.

She never talked about her wings after that.




When the crash happened, Celestia had just turned 18.

There was a huge mess with the living trust (she remembers: vaguely, distantly, lifetimes away). He'd kept an old copy of their parents' will, and sold some things that weren't supposed to be sold, and arranged big donations he wasn't supposed to make, and Celestia had to hire a lawyer to try to straighten it all out. Then Luna sided with the trustee, and the big fight started. She turned 18, and hired a lawyer of her own, and suddenly the whole matter was court dates and depositions and accusations, and the knives came out on every little thing. It broke Celestia's heart to fight family, but she had to honor what her parents wanted, and if Luna was stupid enough to fall for the trustee's lies about his last conversation with them…

Ultimately, Luna's resolve broke and they met for an out-of-court settlement. Luna got the fixer-upper second home in Dream Valley and her old college fund. Celestia got the rest—close to three million dollars cash, even after the lawyers' cuts.

That day, they exchanged a grand total of six words which weren't about the money.

It was their last conversation for a decade.




She still thinks about that dream every day.

Luna stands on tiptoe on the edge of a cliff on the world's tallest mountain. Fierce grey stormclouds smother everything, and icy wind whips at their bare skin. Celestia's never been here before, and yet her heart aches at the beauty the storm obscures: beneath them, she knows, the land rolls away, pristine emerald green out to the shimmering sapphires of distant seas.

"I got my wings!" Luna announces (somehow audible over the howls of the storm). She spreads them, and they are immense and magnificent, like a midnight-blue shadow looming over her thin and pale arms.

A gust of wind buffets Celestia. She staggers sideways, but recovers. Thunder rolls ominously below.

Fear grips her heart. She has to protect her younger sister.

"Luna, no!" Celestia sprints forward toward her serene, unmoving sibling in the tar-pit manner of nightmares, flailing and straining and making little progress. "Close them!"

Luna's face curls, indignant. "You should be proud of me," she accuses. "I thought you wanted me to fly!"

"Not now!" The wind is tearing at her words, stealing breath from her lungs.

"Then when?"

"When it's safe!"

Luna frowns. The wind howls and bites, numbing Celestia's fingers. She's running out of time. So she does the only thing she can to save Luna: reaches out to rip the wings from her shoulders.

Luna flinches back, shocked and wounded. Celestia's fingers miss by inches. The wind screams like a wounded dragon, blasting Celestia back.

There's a frozen moment where they lock eyes. The storm goes silent, and Celestia is pinned only by the withering weight of her sister's outrage.

Then Luna whirls and dives into the maelstrom.

She vanishes almost instantly.

Celestia screams, and flings herself over the edge. The clouds grow fangs, and—




After the settlement, Celestia flew overseas to Europa (a vaguely distant place: a few thousand miles and a few lifetimes away). Her goal: To spend her way out of a broken heart.

The continental crowd's parties were spectacular, and for years, she was on top of the world. Then the money ran out, and the parties weren't quite as spectacular any more, until some fifth son in the Bittish royal family fell head over heels for her and they had a whirlwind royal wedding. Then the marriage chilled once the shine of Blueblood's conquest wore off, and there was that ill-thought fling of hers in Costa del Sol, and a quiet and ignominious divorce.

So it was that she found herself wandering the streets of Roam one day, broke and broken and friendless and aimless. As she rounded the corner to the Piazza di Grazia, It occurred to her to ask what she was doing with her life.

She looked up. And her answer was a statue of an angel reaching up to the sky, its wings outstretched as if in flight.

She stared, dumbfounded. And a long-smoldering ember stirred and lit.

"Bullshit!" she shouted, in a roar that shook the heavens. As punctuation, she flung her half-full bottle of campari to the cobblestones, where it shattered anticlimactically within its paper bag. She stomped off with an incoherent scream, punched some stupid ancient Roamin building that had the gall to get in her way, and sank down sobbing in a nearby alleyway.

Angels weren't real. (Not here, where they could be touched, the pastor explained—but that was a fine distinction for a girl that young, and when Santa Claus turned out to also not be real, she did some mental addition.) For all that people talked about angels, people didn't believe they existed. That lack of reality freed humans to do the most terrible possible thing they could do to angels: put them on a pedestal.

Angels weren't messy, flesh-and-blood things. Angels didn't have problems and fights and drinking habits and estranged family and failed marriages. That, a small whisper said in her old pastor's voice, is why you're not an angel.

And now the world was saying: Look. This is an angel, flawless and unyielding and cold and unapproachable.

It was an outrage.

They were wrong in every possible way.




When the recorded voice says "La tua chiamata è stata accettata," Celestia almost loses her nerve and hangs up.

(This happens shortly after the statue moment—long before the property damage, but no longer lifetimes away. The memory of it is clear and tangible. It is her, not Celestia-who-was.)

When Luna's sleep-muffled voice says "Hello?", she almost drops the phone.

She manages: "It's me."

There's a long silence.

"I'm sorry," she says. "For everything."

There's a choked sob from the other end of the call.

"They told me I couldn't be an angel when I was young," Celestia says, desperate to blurt it all out before the line goes dead. "Maybe they're right. But I'm not going to let that stop me from trying, and that means making things right, Lu. You were more important than the money, and I wish I'd figured that out at the time, and I was the world's biggest idiot, and I'm so sorry. If that means I have to find a job and earn three million dollars so I can trade it back for you, then damn it, that's what I'm going to do."

Luna's openly crying now.

"I don't want the money," Luna says between sobs. "Come home."

She does.




Celestia spends half a decade stretching her metaphorical wings.

She's learning how to be an angel, now. "Flawless and rigid and cold and unapproachable" are her anti-checklist, and she takes a sledgehammer to them one by one. Flawless—well, that one's already shattered. She destroys Rigid by pounding her life into an entirely different shape: going to college, earning a degree, moving in with Luna, doing the shopping and cooking and chores that servants used to do for her in the Buckingham Palace days. Cracking the ice of Cold is no problem at all; the blazing personality that attracted Blueblood to her rekindles in an instant, once she isn't spending her nights staring at the ceiling and wondering how her life ever got so screwed up.

Unapproachable…well, that stumps her for a while. She was always in charge of everything. It all had to be her way. (Like the sundial they gave to Camp Everfree.) She doesn't know how to break that. Fortunately, she works up the humility to ask Luna.

Luna doesn't know either. Her sister's been a recluse since she got her degree—working a quiet back-office job at a local high school, and heading home the instant the school day ends. But, she says, maybe they can try to figure it out together.

Celestia shadows Luna for a few days, and falls in love with the campus immediately. She bluffs her way into a job as a guidance counselor and starts taking night classes in psychology. And she quickly realizes what she knew all along: that most important part of angel-hood is caring, no more and no less. She made things right with Luna when she cared about her—and now she's got an entire campus of children, young and malleable and fragile, who can learn from her mistakes if she just cares enough.

If she just makes some friends.

Principal Sombra isn't a fan of the hands-on approach. Canterlot High's reputation for academic rigor doesn't allow time for friends—it requires a certain low-grade perpetual terror to keep the children chained to the books. So she solves that by making the right friends—a razor-thin majority of the school board.

A year later, she's running the place.




She starts dreaming again.

She doesn't find out what happened to shadow-winged Luna, but that's okay. She knows.

The storm never touched Luna in the first place—she dove unharmed through the clouds and out into brilliant clear sky. Celestia took a while to catch up—battered, humbled, and shedding a few feathers.




She doesn't learn quite how many until Twilight Sparkle stops for a few minutes to say goodbye.

"I've got to get back to my friends," Twilight says after all her thank-yous and apologies and stammered half-explanations limp to a halt. "The real ones. Um, I mean. My world's versions. Not that this world's Applejack and Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash and Rarity aren't amazing pon—, people, but the ones that made me who I am miss me."

"I see. Is there another me back home?" Celestia asks. She forces a casual, jocular tone into her voice, but her heart is hammering. She's remembering rainbows and seeing angels, and it would be so nice to think that there's a world in which she doesn't have to dream about wings.

"Oh! Um. Yeah." Twilight gives a self-deprecating laugh. "I guess you figured out that was how I knew your name, huh? She's pretty amazing." Twilight's face flushes. "I'm, um, kind of her personal student."

"Your Celestia's a teacher?" Pure curiosity, there. That's a career path she'd never really considered for herself, but she can see it.

"Not really," Twilight says, "she's—"




Floored.

Numb, maybe? Thinking, certainly. Mind outracing the Wondercolts track team. But as the days since the property damage drag on, she finds herself no closer to knowing how to feel about the fact that the other her is immortal.

She does come to one firm conclusion.

Principal Celestia is the lesser of her two selves, mortal and fragile and imperfect. She makes mistakes that Alicorn Princess Celestia simply cannot be capable of.

Alicorn Princess Celestia—so Twilight says, and she believes it—literally raises the sun every day for an entire world, ponies and other. She's not just an angel—she's a goddess. She can't be flawed, not the way Principal Celestia is, or that flaw would be magnified a million-fold.

With that sort of power, if Princess Celestia had done anything as horrible as sundering her family for a decade, their world would be a smoldering cinder.

Principal Celestia starts to wonder what Princess Celestia's biggest regret is.






3.

That question overtops its dam a few days after the property damage.

Sunset Shimmer is fidgeting in Celestia's office. She no longer looks like a winged flame demon, which many would say (and some do say, in stage whispers in the halls) is an improvement, but both people in the room are feeling the lack of magic like an ache inside their bone-marrow.

"Sunset," Principal Celestia says out of nowhere, "did you know Princess Celestia well?"

There's a silence that's uncomfortable on both sides, Sunset's apparently more so than hers.

Then all the tension goes out of Sunset, who lets out a long breath and bows her head. "Yeah. You could say that."

Celestia's thrown by the sudden shift. Her mouth goes dry. "If," she stammers, "ah, you don't want to talk about it…"

"It's okay," Sunset says. "You've been giving me a heck of a second chance. You deserve the truth." The teen laughs bitterly. "I guess I'd just expected you to laugh off my story, the way everyone else here has. I hoped you would, really. I've been coasting on the truth being unbelievable for so long that I never thought I'd have to face what it actually meant. I mean, I used it as a punchline! 'Yeah, sure,' I'd say when Snips or Snails tried to lie to my face about some plan or another going south, 'and I'm a magical talking unicorn from another dimension.'"

Celestia's gotten good at recognizing when a student needs to get something off their chest—and at shutting up when she needs to listen instead of talk. This is clearly one of those times. But that's not why she holds her tongue.

"I didn't understand why you kept quiet," Sunset continues. "I thought by now I'd be in a jail cell dealing with swarms of media. Scientists. Government agents. I mean, your world needs to know what you saw, right? And who I am. What I did to your school…if someone else leaks that, all this comes right down on you. So there has to be a big reason you're covering for me."

…Maybe Sunset Shimmer isn't the most unbiased source on Celestia's pony counterpart, anyway. From the tidbits Celestia fished out of Twilight's friends, Sunset and the princess apparently had something of a falling out.

Trying to ask her was a mistake, Celestia decides. She should just let the conversation drift away to where it needs to go.

"You think I should go back," Sunset says heavily. "Don't you?"

Celestia starts. "What?"

"You're protecting me because you think I belong back home." Sunset stands and paces over to the window. "Or maybe it really just is that it'd be easier to explain everything with me gone. But if you're like her, you're thinking about me."

"No! No," Celestia says, before realizing she's three sentences behind. "I mean. Sunset…do you want to stay?"

Sunset falls silent. Celestia mentally catches up.

"Yes," Sunset says quietly. "And…I wish I could tell you that's not selfish. But I can't promise you that."

This, she can handle. "Why?"

"Staying would give me the chance to try making it up to the students I hurt. But I also hurt ponies…hurt the Princess…when I left, and they deserve justice too." Sunset sighs. "The girls here might be my first friends ever. I want to argue they're central to my rehabilitation, but the truth is, I'm terrified to lose them, even though Twilight could help me make more friends back home. It's like that with every argument I come up with. There are so many reasons why staying feels like the right decision, but every single one also feels like a hollow justification to paper over my fears."

The instincts that have brought Celestia to this moment kick in. And she understands.

There is a fear at Sunset Shimmer's core, a fear bigger than anything else she's ever faced or going to face. She fears she's gone too far. She fears she can't be forgiven.

And if Principal Celestia decides that's true—that Sunset Shimmer, a known problem, is Somebody Else's Problem—then, well, by definition that is the sort of decision that Celestia makes. And when Sunset Shimmer crawls back through the portal to face the other Celestia…

Principal Celestia is the lesser of her two selves, mortal and fragile and imperfect. She knows she makes mistakes that Alicorn Princess Celestia isn't capable of. But right now, she needs to know—more than anything in the world—that Immortal Princess Her is not capable of destroying her student, full stop.

So she can't send Sunset home. She can't trust a better her to succeed where she failed. Every possible Celestia has to be better than that.

"You're staying," she says firmly, and just like that, they are.




In front of the mirror the next morning, she spends a long time staring at her wingless form, and then she sighs and pulls out the hair dye she uses to touch up her graying roots.

She thinks about Immortal Her while she's dying.

Out front of the school, in the still and silent morning, she reaches out to the base of the horse statue. Hesitates. Turns away. Hustles uncomfortably toward the front doors.

Sunset Shimmer is laying bricks there, already working off the day's detention. There's no possible way, Celestia thinks, that Sunset could have missed her moment.

Their eyes meet. They pause.

Sunset silently returns to her work.




What disturbs her most about living in a world of magic is the little things.

On twelve hours' notice, the school board "invites" her to a breakfast meeting about The Property Damage. It means getting up well before sunrise. A few hours past midnight, she finishes prepping her presentation, and sets three alarm clocks as she collapses into bed.

Five minutes before any of them go off, she slowly becomes aware of a tapping at the window. It's quiet, barely at the edge of her consciousness amid the haze of sleep. Then she realizes there's a pattern to it—clusters of threes with little pauses between them—and her brain engages.

She rolls over and sits up, instantly awake. There's nothing there. The sound immediately stops.

Nothing like it has ever happened before. Nothing like it ever happens again. And, sure, maybe it's coincidence that it woke her up clean and alert and caffeine-free right before the most important meeting of her life. But she doesn't believe that, not really. And yet it makes so little sense she's not sure what to believe.




There's a quiet click as her office door closes, which makes her look up from her paperwork. Sunset sits down, hands in lap.

"What did the school board say?" Sunset asks without preamble.

"Oh, exactly what you'd expect," she says. "They were very interested to hear exactly how my valedictorian procured enough street-legal fireworks to blow an eight-foot crater in the school grounds as part of an ill-advised Fall Formal prank. Whether we had notified parents that their students were briefly exposed to hallucinogenic chemicals generated by the blast. Whether our liability insurance has sufficient coverage if any parents file lawsuits. What that will do to our premiums. And whether I was aware of a student effort on social media to spread potentially libelous rumors of magical flying demons, and the potential for you to sue us in response."

Sunset laughs bitterly. "Wow."

"You'd be proud of me. When Dr. Scholtz asked me if I really expected them to believe that street fireworks destroyed a stone building facade, I rolled my eyes and said, 'No, I expect you to believe my valedictorian is a unicorn from another dimension who enslaved the school and was blasted through the wall by six teenaged superheroes' friendship beam.' Then I brought up my slide of citations and started discussing Hynek's research on the Michigan 1966 biogas event."

They share a laugh—genuine this time. The tension melts out of Sunset's shoulders, and Celestia tells herself that she can't be doing too badly if she's managing some sort of reconciliation by proxy with Immortal Her's former protege.

Sunset's smile wavers. "So I…um. Thank you."

She nods and waits.

Sunset swallows and looks away, not meeting her eyes. "I. Um. I've got a magical journal that lets me talk with Twilight Sparkle. I thought you should know."

At first, Celestia's confused and flattered to be the recipient of a secret, however pointless. Then the context clicks in, and her eyes widen. Can Sunset talk to the other world?

"So if you wanted to know more about Equestria," Sunset says, removing all doubt, "she can answer any questions I can't. Or if you wanted to pass on messages to anyone on the other side." Sunset fidgets. "I owe you that. And for you, I know Twilight wouldn't mind."

Celestia stands up and walks over to Sunset Shimmer, clasping the girl's hands. "Thank you," she says softly, intently. Then she walks over to the window, and lies: "I'll think about it."




She does think about it, though. And hates that she can't stop the thoughts.

She's not going to take Sunset Shimmer up on the offer. That much is clear. And yet…and yet. She thinks about it a lot, over and over, and her thoughts keep rolling back to a single, razor-edged question.

What do you say…




"…to the you who is better than you in every way?" Luna asks.

They're sitting together on that cliffside atop Canter Peak. Celestia's legs dangle over the edge, and she stares out at the brilliant clear day past her bare feet. Beneath them, the land rolls away, pristine emerald green out to the shimmering sapphires of distant seas.

Celestia twirls a finger nervously through her hair. "I was hoping you'd know," she admits. "I could have handled it if she was the angel I always tried to be. But she's so much more."

"It is a knife straight to the gut," Luna says absently. "When you discover that there is a you who didn't make your greatest mistake."

"Exactly!" Celestia says, and then the guilt floods in. "But don't talk like that. You never did anything wrong."

Luna's response is hesitant and subdued. "I know. You said."

"I wasn't paying attention to you. I was chasing what I thought was important, and I was wrong, and you were the one who suffered for it."

"No! Sister—" Luna says, then pauses, and sighs. "We agreed not to fight over guilt."

Celestia winces. "I'm sorry. You're right."

"I am sorry. I should not have brought it up."

They stare out at the horizon together. Celestia unfolds a wing and drapes it over Luna's back. Something tickles faintly at the back of her mind.

"It is only that I wanted some advice," Luna says. "Or perhaps reassurance. I have not been able to stop comparing myself unfavorably to the other me—not since learning that on the far side of the portal, our positions in our fight were reversed."

Celestia blinks. "The other us fought?"

"Yes…and it was I who welcomed you back from your exile."

"Wait," Celestia says, "what?"

She turns to look at Luna, really look, for the first time. Luna's head swivels to meet hers. Cyan eyes stare back at Celestia from a midnight-blue equine muzzle, amid a mane like a halo of stars ripped from the night sky—






4.

She takes a day off from work when Twilight (through Sunset) fills in the tiny missing details of goddess-her's big fight.

Luna—her Luna—calls to ask what's wrong. She lets it go to voicemail. (Luna doesn't call again, which she takes to mean that Luna asked Sunset Shimmer for context.)

Celestia spends hours and hours wanting to vomit. Finally, she calls on her old dusty party skills and induces dry-heaving. It doesn't help.

How could she?

A thousand years.

How could she?




Her emotions boil over in the middle of the night, and she drives to Sunset Shimmer's and knocks on the door. "Take a letter," she says. "To Princess Luna."

Then she kills time for half an hour (which involves an awkward apology, a call to a 24-hour pizza place, and a lot of pencil-chewing over a half-filled crossword puzzle) as her missive winds its way between dimensions, through dragonfire, across a palace, and vice versa.

Sunset's journal finally vibrates.

There was never any question I would forgive her. I was the one who erred, the letter says (when stripped of its Twilight padding, and a frantic apology for being a middlemare for what sounds like deeply personal business).

I would ask you the same, but your answer will be identical. (It is.) So instead I will address our original question:

What we would say to our better selves is the conversation we have already had with our sisters, for exactly the same reason, and with exactly the same result.

Their heart breaks at our clinging to guilt.

They love us.

I hope you can believe that more readily than I.

Sunset Shimmer hugs her. She numbly accepts—then feels tears dampen her shoulder, and remembers she's not the only one who needs some permission to forgive herself.




They hold each other, flawed and bent and hot and caring.

Celestia doesn't have wings to wrap around her fellow angel, and it doesn't matter one bit.
Pics
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#1 · 1
· · >>horizon
I'll come back to this one with a decent review in good time, but let it be known that there's beauty here.
#2 ·
· · >>horizon
Sorry, author. I can’t review this properly now either, but I have to give you a preliminary thumbs up so you aren’t kept waiting.
#3 · 1
· · >>Rao >>horizon
I was so ready to declare this one of the greatest Writeoff fics I've ever read. There's a few tiny typos and errors, but nothing major. The story is engaging. The prose and narrative voice are both beautiful. For the first time in a long while, I stopped what I was doing just so I could read a ponyfic.

Then the ending came. And now I don't know what to feel.

If I'm reading this correctly, this is an AU where Celestia was locked away for 1000 years, not Luna. Unless I'm totally misunderstanding the ending. That is Princess Luna who sent the letter back, right? If I'm correct, then I think that's a really disappointing ending and that it weakens the piece.

Also: cut out the last two paragraphs. They're superfluous, a bit melodramatic, and your third-to-last paragraph is a much more powerful ending.

(also thanks for using my picture by the way!)
#4 · 1
· · >>horizon
There's some confusion in the conversation that Celestia and Luna have up on the peak. Given how it plays out, and the location, I feel like we jumped to the Princess sisters having this chat. Then there's the bit with Celestia running a finger through her hair, which could either mean they're conversing in dream, or there was a slip up during writing.

Building off >>Dubs_Rewatcher's comment, I don't feel like there's a Pony AU thing going on. Would have been awfully hard for Sunny or Twi to be Princess Celestia's student if she was AWOL. I think Princess Luna is referring to human Celestia's overseas romp as a form of largely self-imposed exile. Which is a delightful historical parallel to their royal selves, and I love everything about that idea. But, a little more clarity if we're actually jumping perspectives would be nice.

Or I'm reading it wrong. Always possible. Regardless, a damned fine piece and a top contender.
#5 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue >>horizon
So this is a pretty high level entry. I expect we'll be seeing it past the cut for sure, and quite possibly top 3. I'm going to do something a bit unorthodox here that I would not do for most other stories, and give the bulk of my thoughts here in an unusual form.

The good ol' unedited chatlog, starring yours truly and AndrewRogue.

Mostly due to time and effort constraints. The quick takeaways:

- Very pretty, well written prose, lots of artistic flourishes.

- That scene at the end of part 3 flops, as other commentors noted. Not sure what the author was going for there, AU or suddenly shifting to pony sisters, or what, but whatever it was, it's confusing and doesn't work. (But it's also tangential, and its failure doesn't harm the piece as a whole much.)

- The first scene's resolution (Celestia deciding to be a principal instead of a dreamer and shield her poor muggle students) plays poorly, both in the general sense of telling the audience what to think, and the specific sense of "isn't that the exact opposite of the conclusions she comes to in the rest of the story?" Seems most likely to be a case of drift, where that section was written first and not revised when characterization went in a different direction later on.

- The whole story is Celestia angsting about her life... but her life is absurdly good by any reasonable standard, to the point of pushing believability when examined. Makes it hard to buy the emotional arc presented.

- It is really pretty, though.

Room for improvements: Keep a careful eye on storyboarding and the arc presented in character-driven work. Make sure the things the story wants to be true actually are true in the scenes presented. Think about the impact of flourishes: what does, for example, the numbered, sectional formatting add to the writing?

It is really pretty, though.

Thanks for writing!
#6 · 1
· · >>horizon
Well, I don't think you'll get a more accurate view of my takeaway than the chat log >>Ranmilia posted, but for the tl;dr version:

Very pretty prose, but I feel like the story drifted at some point, causing the emotional arc to not quite line up. Basically, I don't feel like the Celestia we are presented with at the story's open is the same Celestia that had the reuniting with Luna and the decision to get into the school and all that. Clean that up and you have a killer story, though.

Beyond that, at a personal level, I feel this treads into somewhat melodramatic territory (particularly given I'm not quite sure I buy how much Celestia feels she has to be ashamed of), btu YMMV.
#7 · 1
· · >>horizon
I've been reviewing in a play-by-play way for other stories and just realized I should probably explain that... comments roughly in-sequence as I read for most of this.

Damn strong opening! Doubly so by the time I reached the "it's Saturday" line.

Car crash bit is weird and confusing.

Europa bit is weirder.

Angel iconography is in a weird opposition to the "ponified" place-names and other non-earth terms used. That is, the religion references are realistic but the rest of the world is equestrified, which feel at odds with each other.

Collect call is beautifully realistic.

Sunset's confession... dammit, it's just raining, right?

"Somebody Else's Problem" (SEP Field, subtle!)

"Every possible Celestia has to be better..." *grin*

"She thinks about Immortal Her while she's dying. [her hair]" I feel you, author (yes, I'm looking at you!) may have worked far too long to set up that perfect double entendre.

Fireworks explanation. *another grin*

Ending missive... Well damnit! I just lost this writeoff for sure, and I will duel singly or in pairs any who disagree!


Seriously... holy cow! THAT is how you do it! That's how you write an EqG fanfic! You captured the heart and SOUL of this/your version of Principal Celestia, wrapped it up in bi-universal consistency, and sold me on an idea of redemption I didn't even know I needed. Seriously, "Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter!"

Please don't ever try to start a religion. :-P
#8 · 1
· · >>horizon
Aw. That was nice.

In front of the mirror the next morning, she spends a long time staring at her wingless form, and then she sighs and pulls out the hair dye she uses to touch up her graying roots.

She thinks about Immortal Her while she's dying.


Favorite part. Raises a lot of questions about the whole EqG universe.
#9 ·
·
Hmm, I'm not probably going to get back to this with a decent review before finals. Oh well. Pretty sure it's going to make finals. ^^ People have mentioned the one weird transition. It's still in my number one spot.
#10 · 3
· · >>horizon
We covered this in Radio Writeoff! If you're interested in my thoughts, there's a link to the recording here.

It's in the second part.

Also, Quill desperately wants you to post this on FimFic so he can write a many, many word essay about how awesome it is.

(He liked it a lot.)
#11 · 2
· · >>horizon
Then the alarm clock bleats, and her fingers fumble for the snooze button, and she stares out toward the rising sun, and she showers dresses cooks eats, drives parks opens greets, loves chides warns guides


BREAKS ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE, BREAKS ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE

Snark aside, this is gorgeous. A thorough, exhaustive, incredibly moving portrait of a character who I don't think I've ever seen get quite this much development or attention. I have some issues with elements of its premise (the cross-dimensional conversation that Human!Celestia and Equestria!Luna have doesn't add up, imo, and I find it questionable that Celestia has zero notoriety, despite her past as literal not!English royalty), but the elegant prose and character work drown out my complaints.
#12 · 2
· · >>Not_A_Hat >>Xepher
Congratulations to CiG and Xepher for their medals, and thank you all for reading and enjoying!

I'm mildly surprised that nobody called out the title; just copying and pasting it into Google would have led you right to the source:

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

--Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Afternoon on a Hill"


And I do like the poem, both as a piece and as a sort of tonal contrast to this. Honestly, though, the title was the result of last-second quote-mining on my part looking for something I could use, because I was drawing a complete blank and had about five minutes before the deadline. :( It sounded vaguely litfic-ish and I thought, "Great, that'll set expectations appropriately, let's go with that."

As such I agree with >>AndrewRogue that it's plodding, and not even entirely representative of the story's themes. I would dearly love suggestions, because two weeks later I'm still drawing a blank.




The rest of this is gonna be too random for a retrospective, but I've been saving up commentary to share:

- The numbered sections are going to turn into FIMFiction chapters. I wanted a bigger division than a simple [hr] would allow, especially since (2.) is the turning point from present into past tense, and in Writeoff-land it becomes very difficult to signal that you're doing that intentionally without ginormous outsized bold flashing signposts.

>>Dubs_Rewatcher >>Rao et.al.
* If you're confused by the final scene of part 3, go click the link in >>Not_A_Hat. Quill Scratch explains it exactly. (tl;dr: Principal Celestia has a dream in which she's talking with Luna, and belatedly discovers she's dream-talking with Princess Luna.) Any lack of clarity in that scene is a casualty of the time limit and I am doing my utmost to signpost it better.

>>AndrewRogue >>Ranmilia
Re the chat log: If I hadn't written this piece I would have been a little worried about the unfiltered opinions on display. For me though, I've been doing this long enough that I was able to gloss over the sharp edges and grateful for the deeper analysis. Thanks for taking the chance on that -- it seems like it involved a judgment that the author of the story you read would have the experience to take it in the right spirit, and I think that judgment worked.

I appreciate the critique wrt the drifting emotional arc. I agree that's also a failing and I'm trying to smooth that out with some motivation changes to add coherence.

There are a couple of complaints I'm not sure I can effectively address. Frex, I totally get the class/first-world-problems thing -- and it's a critique I've leveled at other stories before, myself -- but I think the only way to fix that is to improve the rest of the story so that it's possible to empathize with her despite her unbelievable fortune. I'm going for a compare-and-contrast with Princess Celestia, and the more parallels I draw the more inevitable that critique becomes. Heck, maybe it's just inherently an unfixable thing in the context of a show about groomed-by-royalty,-sister-to-a-prince,-chosen-one-Marey-Sue Twilight Sparkle? MLP has some blatant bourgeoisie overtones and I'm embracing them because of the story I want to tell.

"Dictating ethics": Hm. I kind of figured I was signposting Celestia as something of an unreliable narrator when it came to her opinions of her own actions. Well, that should be fixable by making a few sentences about that Part 1 conclusion less definitive/more subjective.

>>Xepher
"Europa" was a failed (semi)ponification, just trying to make EqGverse feel a little more parallel-but-not-identical-to-Earth. Eh. I use the word a grand total of once; easy enough to remove.

The car crash: Implied but never stated was that Celestia and Luna's parents died. Given multiple complaints about confusion there I can just make that explicit.

Well damnit! I just lost this writeoff for sure, and I will duel singly or in pairs any who disagree!


I'd like a two-man duel, please! I choose the silver medalist as my second. ;)

>>Posh
stars damn it you earworming bastard >..<

Finally, I'd like to give a non-explanation explanation for the meaning of that scene about getting woken up by the window tapping:

That's in the story because it literally happened to me on Writeoff weekend.

I had a Search & Rescue mock search to attend early Saturday morning, and I was up until super late Friday night trying to wrap up my non-Writeoff obligations (and type out the first scene or two). I set three alarm clocks for 7 am and the tapping as described woke me up five minutes before the first one, bright and fresh and alert. (Actually, it was slightly weirder than the story version: the tapping was on my bedside dresser.)

I'm not certain when exactly I fell into the Grant Morrison school of writing, but it's certainly an interesting ride.

cc: >>CoffeeMinion >>GroaningGreyAgony >>Cold in Gardez
#13 · 2
·
>>horizon

Three - I think - residences ago, I woke up several times to the sound of someone knocking on my bedroom door, only to find there was no-one there.

It wasn't as convenient as yours, because it never woke me up when I needed to get up. :P I figure it was a water-hammer in the plumbing my sleep-addled mind bent into rapping on a door, but who knows? Maybe the place was haunted.
#14 ·
·
>>horizon
First off, seriously? Heheh... the one story where I said clearly and definitively it was better than my own... that's the one I just edge out. :-P I love this fandom!

But in all honestly, I really did mean it when I said this deserved to beat my own entry. Not that I'm not smirkingly happy that I took silver, mind you. But this was a great story, and was definitely the top of my own slate, though strangely enough, I had pegged CiG for this one, and you for his story, since to me it was a bit more "ephemeral" than this one.

As to "Europa" I didn't mean that word itself was a failed ponification, but rather, the events there, with the parties and the marriage, felt out of place to the rest of the story. It was the focus on angels (and general judeo-christian religious motifs that go with them) that felt at odds with the otherwise "ponified" world. Not bad, mind you (again, top of slate) but odd, in a way that should either be reinforced as intention, or removed for simplification.


In any case... congratulations! I think this was the best story of the round, and am glad it placed!