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Here at the End of all Things. · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Twilight Sparkle at the Gate of Heavenly Peace
Compass Call set the ancient vase on the table, in view of the other conspirators.

The amphora had been an antique even before the Crystal Empire vanished for a thousand years. It stood on a base so narrow that Compass half-expected it to tip over and shatter under the mere weight of their breath. Broad handles, designed for an earth pony’s hooves or teeth, supported the plump vessel, above which rose a neck as slender as a crane’s. The porcelain was so thin that even the faint light of the cellar lanterns shone through it, illuminating the prosaic images adornings its sides and giving them the illusion of movement and life.

“It’s safe to touch, right?” Peridot asked. She shied away from the vase as soon as Compass Call set it down.

“Touch, yes,” he said. “As long as you don’t drink from it, it’s perfectly safe.”

Fever Dream stepped boldly up to the vase. Her eyes were wide, as always, wild and full of spiteful energy. She sniffed at the handles and gave them a nibble, ignoring Peridot’s quiet inhaled gasp. She reared up on her hind legs to peer down into the mouth of the vase, then stuck the tip of her muzzle into it and drew in a deep breath. She held it for a moment, then exhaled.

“I don’t smell anything,” she said. She dismounted the table and fixed Compass Call with a stare. “How do you even know it’s in there?”

“It has no scent,” he said. Every conversation with Fever Dream was an argument, and he could already feel the temperature in the underground room rising. “It wouldn’t be much use if it did, would it? You want to get caught before we even begin?”

Fever marched up to him, shoving her muzzle up against his. Although significantly shorter than Compass Call, she had an energy and presence that filled the room, drawing every eye and holding it captive. She snorted, and he could smell the apples and hay that had been her breakfast.

“Maybe,” she said. “Or maybe you’ve had second thoughts about all this? Going soft? You wouldn’t mind if we missed this opportunity, huh, and had to wait another year while you found yet more excuses to—”

“Enough,” a quiet voice cut through Fever’s rant. “Fever Dream, Compass Call, you know what I’ve said about your quarreling.”

They broke apart and turned toward the voice. Lazulite ignored them, her eyes on the vase. She walked a slow circle around the table, sending Peridot skittering out of her way.

Compass Call ducked his head and muttered a quiet apology. Fever Dream just scowled.

“Remember, we’re all comrades here,” Lazulite continued. She stared at the vase, her eyes darting across its painted forms – crystal pony phalanxes aligned against windigoes, elaborately dressed courtiers presenting gifts to a monarch, a pale mare nursing a foal beneath a crystalberry tree; all typical motifs of the early Spring and Autumn Empire. She reached up a hoof to gently brush the porcelain skin, then turned to Peridot. “Go fetch one of your pets.”

Peridot started at the sudden attention, then nodded. She vanished up the stairs so quickly that Compass Call wondered, not for the first time, if she had some pegasus blood in her veins.

The three of them waited in silence. Above, he heard the quiet ring of Peridot’s shoes on the crystal floors as she ran around the spacious halls of her family’s manor. He focused on the sounds, his ears rotating to track them. It gave him an excuse to ignore Fever, who slowly simmered at his side, too angry to speak but too proud to walk away. Lazulite had eyes only for the vase, and she studied it quietly until Peridot returned, panting with effort, bearing an offering in her hooves.

Peridot set the heirloom rabbit on the polished floor and nuzzled its side with her nose, cooing quietly. The product of centuries of breeding by Crystal Empire aristocrats, the rabbit bore as much resemblance to its wild kin as a cocker spaniel to a wolf. Golden fur, polished to a gleaming shine, filled the cellar with a warm glow. Ears and tail several sizes too large for its body dragged on the crystal as it hopped between Peridot’s legs.

Compass Call picked up a decanter from the side bar and took a swig. It was filled with snowmelt, and chilled his throat as he swallowed. The rest of it he poured into the antique vase and then, very carefully, he grasped the vase by its handle and tipped it over, forming a little puddle on the floor.

Peridot gave her rabbit a little nudge. It peered up at her, black eyes and nose glittering like gems, then bent down to lap at the water with its tongue. It shivered, fell over, and lay still.

“Satisfied?” Compass asked. He set the vase back on the table.

Fever just snorted again. Lazulite peered at the dead rabbit for long seconds, then nodded.

“It is excellent,” she said. She turned around and walked to the far wall. A huge map of Crystal City, the capital of their ancient empire, stretched from one end of the room to the other. Little flags and symbols were pinned to it here and there, annotating the various puzzle pieces of their conspiracy. Lazulite approached the center of the wall and stopped.

She reached out a hoof, slow, reverent, and rested it against a wide open space on the map. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, the massive square that guarded the approach to the crystal palace, where so much of their empire’s history had started and ended. It was the square where the crystal ponies first set down their kingdom. It was the square where their honored ancestors stood against the windigoes, scattering them forever. It was the square where centuries of kings and queens had ruled, their empire slowly decaying from within as corruption and decadence took hold.

It was the square where Lord Sombra had dispatched the last of the ancient, rotting monarchs, bringing order and purpose to their empire. It was where he had started a new, glorious age for their kind, burning away the dross of the old. It was where their empire vanished, cast out of time, only to be reborn, and for them to watch in horror as their lord was destroyed by the monsters and demons of the Equestrian kingdom.

“Here,” Lazulite whispered. “All our effort, all our work, it’s led us here. Soon, comrades, we’ll have our revenge. Twilight Sparkle will be dead.”

Like most crystal ponies, Compass Call sometimes had trouble remembering the past.

There was a clear demarcation drawn in his memory, like a curtain pulled across the room of his mind. On one side, this side, the events since the return of the Crystal Empire from its banishment were clear and full of life. On the far side, memories of the time before were dim and gauzy, shadows on the wall. When he thought back just a few years, it was as though his thoughts belong to someone else, and he was just a witness to them. Sometimes, he wondered if Lord Sombra’s spell had somehow mixed up his subjects’ bodies and minds, like a box of toys upended by a foal and hastily tossed back together.

Such thoughts were blasphemous, and he kept them to himself. Fever would flay him if she heard him even whisper such doubts about their lord, though sometimes, when they were alone in one of the empty rooms of Peridot’s mansion, talking about events long ago, he would see a shadow of confusion flicker across her face, and he knew that she felt the same sense of disconnection from her own past as he.

Time was not a plaything. Even a god should let the river flow on its natural course.

The rapid ring of metal shoes on crystal floors woke Compass Call from a deep slumber.

He lifted his head from the pillow just as Peridot burst into the room. Beside him, Fever Dream shifted, groaning quietly, more reluctant to join the waking world. The sharp report of the door slamming against the wall startled her upright, sending the sheets floating through the still air to pool on the floor beside the bed.

Peridot skidded to a stop, her shoes screeching as they left ugly gouges on the crystal. She panted, her eyes wild, mane askew, her lungs about to collapse or explode.

“They know,” she gasped. “They’re coming.”

Shit! Compass jumped from the bed. They knew this might happen, they had bolt plans, 30-second drills they’d practiced at Lazulite’s insistence. He’d thought them silly at the time, but now, frozen, panicked, all those carefully memorized orders fled from his mind. There was only the sudden cold fear of capture and death.

Fever Dream rescued them. She dashed to the closet and grabbed a set of saddlebags, sliding them across the floor toward him. “Compass, get the vase. Peridot, wake Lazulite and—”

“I tried! She’s not in her room!”

“Then just go!” Fever shoved a final set of saddlebags onto Peridot’s back and gave her a rough shove toward the door. “Both of you, go!”

That worked. Peridot spun, her emerald tail vanishing out the door. Fever, a red shadow in the darkness, followed a few steps behind. Compass Call stared at them, lost, until a shout from outside the window caught his ear. He turned to see a row of lights marching down the street toward the manor – lanterns, held aloft by a squadron of the guard. He stared at them for a moment, his hooves frozen to the floor, before another shout shattered his fear and set him running into the depths of the dark house.

Get the vase. Get the vase. He tore down the stairs, taking entire flights in a single bound. The crystal panes cracked beneath his racing hooves. Outside, there came more shouts. Lights filled the ground-floor windows.

Above, in the bedrooms, he heard a series of crashes, followed by a sudden glow. Fever Dream starting fires. Her part of the plan. The plan was working. That gave him a moment of hope as he reached the cellar stairs. Behind him came another crash near the front door and the rattle of armored figures running through the halls.

The amphora was where they’d left it, resting on a stand in the center of the room. It looked as fragile as a dry leaf, and it would shatter the moment he touched it, and all their plans would be for naught. He slowed to a stop and gently grasped the handle in his teeth. It rattled as he shook. He turned toward the wall where—


He spun toward the stairs. A guard was already halfway down it, a short spear held in the crook of his foreleg. A visored helm covered his mane, but his face was exposed, showing his bared teeth. He looked young, younger than Compass Call, and his eyes were filled with as much fear as Compass felt, as though he were the one holding the vase, and not the one with armor and a razor-sharp spear. Compass edged back until his rump hit the wall.

“Halt!” the guard shouted again. “Turn around and—”

He never finished. A red blur flew down the stairs, crashing into the guard with a deafening rattle of armor and crystal. They tumbled to the landing at the base of the stairs, the guard on the bottom, Fever Dream atop him. She reared up, drew her hoof back, and brought it down in a savage blow into the guard’s jaw. Something cracked, his helmet rang against the floor, and his body went limp. The spear rolled away and came to a stop.

Fever gasped for breath. She was bleeding from a cut above her brow. The blood was invisible against her coat, but drops trickled down her muzzle to paint little flowers on the floor. She sat for a moment on the guard, then pushed herself up. Above, at the top of the stairs, Compass heard more hooves.

That got her moving. Fever staggered to her hooves and stumbled toward Compass, snagging a lantern from the table on the way. She whipped her head around and let it fly to shatter against the maps covering the far wall, and liquid fire began to roll across them. Smoke rose and filled the room as she reached his side.

“Peridot?” she asked.

He shook his head. Across the room, armored hooves appeared on the highest steps.

Fever trembled, then shook her head. “We can’t wait.” She leaned against the wall, pushing her entire weight against it, and a seam appeared in the crystal. A hidden recessed door, just barely wide and tall enough for a pony to crawl through, swung open. They squeezed through it into the tunnel beyond.

He dared a glance back. The cellar swarmed with guards, battling the flames and dragging their fallen brother back toward the stairs. If any noticed the hidden door as it swung shut in the chaos, they didn’t attempt to follow.

Compass Call and Fever Dream fled into the darkness beneath Crystal City.

They emerged from a storm drain two blocks down from Peridot’s mansion. A small stream flowed through a culvert beneath the road, and they splashed through it, stumbling, their hooves skidding across smooth river rocks in the darkness, until they managed to find the bank and shelter beneath winter-bare bushes. None of the streetlights reached them here, and they were safe from casual observation.

Of course, being actively pursued by guards was a different matter. “We can’t stay here,” Compass whispered. He winced at the noise, quiet as it was. In the still night it was like shouting.

“Stick to the shadows,” Fever whispered back. She pressed against his side, offering a touch of warmth and comfort, then darted forward along the river bank.

Behind them, an orange glow began to fill the night. Smoke rose up into the chill air, lit from beneath by the fires of Peridot’s home. Shouts rang out in the streets, and bells joined the cacophony. Alarms. Panic. It was suitably distracting, and they reached their next stop unaccosted by guards or strangers.

The safe house was a step down from Peridot’s mansion. A ramshackle single-story apartment squeezed into a block with dozens of others. It had been a slum in the days of the old kings, before Lord Sombra’s coronation. After that it was repurposed into special housing for migrant workers, ponies who were deliriously happy to be offered shelter and sustenance by their lord. All were grateful to the great leader.

The key was supposed to be under a false rock in a small garden beneath the rear window. It was missing when Fever checked, and they were about to turn and flee when the back door opened. Peridot’s slender face peeked out from the crack.

“Come on!” she hissed.

They slipped inside, and Peridot eased the door shut behind them. A single lantern, its shrouds pulled almost fully down, cast a dim flickering light across the room. It was largely bare, with only a table, a few chairs, and some bedding laid out along the walls. One of the other rooms held a pantry with enough food for several days, Compass knew. Hopefully they wouldn’t need it for long.

Peridot nearly tackled him with a hug. The amphora rattled in his teeth, and he almost dropped it. A panicked catch saved it from shattering, and he carefully set it on the table before turning his attention to the mare.

Peridot wasn’t crying anymore, but the trails left by tears on her cheeks still shone in the lamplight. She shivered against his side. “I thought, I thought—”

“It’s fine,” he said. “Deep breaths, okay? We made it.”

“What about Lazulite?” Fever said. She pulled her saddlebags off and rooted through them, eventually finding the first-aid kit each of them carried. She fished out a pad of gauze and held it against the wound on her brow.

“I went to get her first. She wasn’t in her room.” Peridot took the lantern from the table and carried it over to Fever. Normally she avoided getting too near the fiery mare for fear of getting snapped at, but alone among the four of them she had some medical training, and Fever held still as she took the gauze and gently dabbed at the blood crusted around the wound.

Compass turned away. It wasn’t that he couldn’t stand the sight of blood, but somepony had to keep a watch out the window. He pressed his muzzle against the crystal panes and watched the thin trail of smoke rising in the distance.

“She may have been out,” he said. Lazulite kept odd hours, always off on some secretive errand. Working with other cells, perhaps. Other ponies who kept Lord Sombra’s flame alive in their hearts.

The other option, that she hadn’t been out, was too grim to consider. He turned away from the window and slumped against the wall. Everything they’d worked for, all their plans, lay in ruins. He felt the cold night seep into his limbs, still wet from the stream, and the terror of the past hour finally overwhelmed the fading adrenaline in his blood. He started to shake.

“Stop that,” Fever said. She sat beside him, trailed by Peridot. “We still have the vase, and we still have our plan. We knew this might happen, which is why we kept bags and a safehouse ready…”

Fever trailed off as a faint sound caught their ears. Stones crunching beneath hooves outside. They rose unsteadily to their hooves as the sound drew nearer. Fever reached into her saddlebag with a hoof, and something sharp flashed in her grip. She stepped toward the door just as it opened.

Lazulite stepped in. She saw Fever, froze for a moment at the sight of the knife, then carefully closed the door behind her.

“I’m glad you all made it,” she said. “You can put that away, Fever.”

Peridot bounded forward. She didn’t try to hug Lazulite – nopony tried to hug Lazulite – but she couldn’t conceal her relief. “Thank the maker, you made it! I–I thought I missed you in the house, and, and the fires, and…”

“Shh.” Lazulite gently stroked Peridot’s mane. “I appreciate your concern, child. It speaks well of your priorities that you are so concerned for your comrades, even as your home burns.”

Peridot shook her head. “A house is nothing. Possessions mean nothing. All belong to Lord Sombra.”

“All belong to Lord Sombra,” Compass mumbled reflexively. Fever did the same, though the benediction rattled in her throat. Every word she uttered was tinted with the same simmering anger.

“You retrieved the vase?” Lazulite asked.

He nodded. “On the table. It’s fine.”

She grasped the lantern and went to check. She tilted the vase in her hooves, inspecting it for cracks, and when she was done she set it back and went over to Fever, briefly examining the cut on her head. Fever bristled at the contact, but she didn’t pull away.

They had some time, it seemed. They could relax. Compass Call cleared his throat for their attention.

“What happened back there?” he asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Fever scowled at him. “The guard must’ve gotten wind of our plan. Probably something you screwed up when you got the vase.”

“Nopony saw me,” he shot back. “The replacement was perfect. They still don’t know it’s missing. Maybe they tracked you down, huh? Only one of us has a criminal record, and—”

“Quiet, both of you,” Lazulite broke in. She took a slow breath, sounding more rattled than Compass Call could ever remember. “It’s obvious what happened. We’ve been betrayed.”

They all froze. Eyes skipped from pony to pony. Compass Call shifted his hooves, finding a more balanced stance, to fight or flee. Fever Dream casually reached up with a hoof toward her saddlebag.

“What?” Peridot broke the silence. She stared up at Lazulite, incomprehension written on her face. “What? No, that’s… that can’t be.”

“That was a full squadron of guard,” Lazulite said. She pulled off her saddlebags and took a seat on the bedding, away from the cold crystal floor. “They wouldn’t send that many after a simple thief or firebrand. They must’ve known about our plan.”

The cold fear returned. Every sound outside the silence in the apartment seemed magnified. Was that a hoofstep, drawing closer to their door? The rattle of armored guards, marching down the street? Were those sparks from the distant fire outside the window, or lanterns? He glanced toward the door, wondering how many steps it would take to reach.

“Somepony talked,” Fever said. A snarl twisted her face, peeling back her lips to expose her bared teeth. “Somepony talked, dammit! Who? Who was it?”

“We don’t know that,” Peridot said, hastily. “Maybe we just got sloppy? The guard are smart, and they could have—”

“How did you know they were coming?” Compass asked.

Silence again. Peridot shrank from their eyes.

“I, I thought I heard something outside,” she stammered. “It woke me – you know I don’t sleep well, Lazulite! – and when I looked out the window I saw them marching across the west bridge. I didn’t know for sure they were coming to the house but you said we had to be extra careful and assume every movement was a raid and and...” She ran out of breath and stopped, panting.

“Shh, shh…” Lazulite said. “I believe you, Peridot. Few have given as much to our lord’s cause as you. Few have made so many sacrifices, and now your home too.”

Peridot sniffed and nodded vigorously, then shot an angry look at Compass Call. “See?”

“Right.” Fever Dream frowned. “Where were you, Lazulite? Peridot said you weren’t in your room.”

“I was out meeting with contacts,” Lazulite said. The words came easily to her. “Are we so far gone that you suspect me, now? The mare who orchestrated this entire plot, who found all of you, who dragged you out of the gutter Fever Dream, do you think it was all so I could turn around and betray us at the last moment? Just days away from our vengeance? If you believe that you may as well kill me now and take over our little circle. If you think you can see our plan through, that is.”

Compass had no idea how Fever might respond to such a challenge, and he didn’t want to find out. He set a gentle, restraining hoof on her shoulder. “Let’s not argue,” he said. “Lazulite, nopony believes you betrayed us. I… I don’t think anypony here could do that. We’ve all given so much for our lord.”

“You mean that?” Peridot said. She glanced at Fever. “You trust everypony here?”

Fever stepped forward and snarled. “I’ll—”

Compass shoved his way between the mares. “I trust all of you,” he said. “Fever was with me last night. She was taken by surprise just as much as me.”

“With.” Peridot snorted. She muttered something else too quiet for Compass to hear. Beside him, Fever bristled and pushed forward.

“Enough!” Lazulite shouted. After holding their voices down for so long, the sudden cry pierced through the night. The crystal walls echoed the call back for seconds. “I swear, it’s like I’m dealing with foals. We all need to calm down and think.”

“Calm down?” Fever shoved past Compass and marched up to their leader. “Calm down? Now? How are we supposed to do that when all our plans lie in ruins? Years of work, gone in an hour!”

“Our work isn’t gone,” Lazulite said. “We have the vase, still. The mere fact that the guard aren’t here, right now, suggests that they don’t know everything about our plan. Our secrets are still secret, and we have a weapon that nopony in the guard can match. Not even the filthy foreign princess or her slave consort can match.”

“The vase?” Compass glanced at it. It wasn’t so much a weapon as a tool of assassination, and if he were being honest, it was easily matched by a spear or a spell. The vase’s genius was in its subterfuge, not in any inherent power.

“No, the vase is just a piece of the plan. Our weapon, comrades, is each other. We four ponies are willing to die for our cause, for the glory of our lord.” Lazulite’s voice took on a fiery energy as she spoke. “How can any of them match that? The cowards we fight are afraid of death, because they are fighting on behalf of a weak and rotting carcass. Only those, those like us, who fight for a true cause can face death unafraid. That is our greatest weapons, comrades. We must have faith in each other, and pledge our lives to the glory of Lord Sombra.”

“For the glory of Lord Sombra,” they all echoed, unthinking.

But in the back of his mind, a seed of doubt slowly took root.

In the harsh light of morning, bereft of last night’s adrenaline rush and exhausted by too few hours of sleep, it was clear their plans needed to change.

Peridot’s cover was blown, that much was certain. Even if the usurpers didn’t suspect her role in the plot, there was no way anypony whose house was raided by the guard and burned down – even the scion of an aristocratic family like Peridot – could get anywhere near visiting royalty. It would take a long time, and a lot of exculpatory evidence, before anypony in the new government trusted her again.

They had two days until Twilight Sparkle arrived for the anniversary of Lord Sombra’s defeat. Even thinking about the reason for the celebration was enough to put Compass Call in a foul mood. More than anger, more than hatred, he felt disbelief whenever he walked the streets of the capital; disbelief that so many of his fellow subjects could possibly celebrate their lord’s downfall. Disbelief that so many ponies could fail to understand the greatness Lord Sombra had brought to the empire, the unifying power of his rule, the strength with which he swept away the corruption and rot of the old regime.

Sometimes, in idle fantasies, Compass Call imagined that everypony around him, the shopkeepers and bankers and street sweepers and students, were all part of the same plot as he. That the entire nation was simply putting on a display of loyalty for their usurper princess, and at the decisive moment they would all throw off their masks and fall upon her with knives, and the Crystal Empire would rise anew in Lord Sombra’s name, if not under his actual leadership.

But then, whenever he thought such foolish things, Compass saw the unguarded happiness of ponies in the street, smiling and laughing whenever they talked about the new regime. The undisguised fear that tinged their voices when they spoke about Lord Sombra.

No, he was alone. The only ponies he could rely on were Fever Dream, Peridot and Lazulite. And, lately, perhaps not even them.

Somepony must’ve talked. Perhaps they’d made a mistake, or perhaps it was a real betrayal. Either way, they were in too deep now. They had to carry out the plan or die.

Across the small room, Fever Dream roused from her bedroll. They hadn’t slept together last night, in deference to the cramped quarters and lack of privacy. Her mane was a mess of orange and yellow, all tangled together, and she shook it roughly.

He tore a hunk of rye bread from the loaf and passed it over to her. She accepted it with a grumbled thanks, and they lapsed into silence. It made for a poor breakfast, compared with Peridot’s usual table.

“So, what now?” Fever mumbled around a mouthful of bread.

“We move forward,” he said. He glanced at the vase on the table beside them. It seemed so harmless, just a fancy pot with some painted images. Nopony would suspect the magic that lurked inside until it was too late. The ancient Crystal kings who’d created it must have been careful students in the arts of death.

“The guard saw you,” she said. “You were our inside stallion, the one who could get close to the ceremony. That might be ruined, now.”

He let out a long breath. “Maybe. It was dark in the cellar, remember, and you hit him pretty hard. It’s possible he didn’t get a good look at me, or he won’t remember it.” Or, he added silently, it was possible the guard was dead. He’d never seen a pony strike another pony as hard as Fever hit that guard.

“What about…” Fever’s eyes flicked toward the empty bedrolls, then to the door leading to the apartment’s sole other room. From it they could hear Peridot and Lazulite quietly having their own breakfast. “What about the leak?”

“We don’t know there’s a leak,” he said. “And if there is, we can’t do anything about it. But no one can go off alone anymore. We have to stick together, watch each other. Got it?”

The clatter of hooves interrupted them. He turned to see Lazulite and Peridot walk into the room. They had their saddlebags on, and Peridot wore a thick winter cloak. She’d cut her mane into a new style, short and spiky, and if he squinted he could almost imagine she was a younger, more coltish teenage mare.

 “Really? That’s your disguise?” Fever snorted.

“It’s all we have the materials for here,” Lazulite said, stepping smoothly between them before Peridot could fire back. “We’ll split up and move to the other stashes. Fever, you’ll take Peridot to the Maple Street safe house. Compass Call and I will take the vase to the Gate of Heavenly Peace. We’ll start positioning there for the ceremony.”

Fever frowned. “Why can’t I go with Compass? He needs muscle, not… leadership, or whatever.”

“Maybe we think you two’ve gotten too close,” Peridot said. “Maybe we need to be a bit more careful with who we trust.”

Those were words that started fights. Fever pushed away from the table, snarling. Peridot, for once in her life, refused to back down and even took a small step forward. She reached for something under her cloak.

“It’s not about trust,” Lazulite said. They all froze and turned to her. “It’s about being careful. Like Compass said, we have to watch each other. Suspicion will destroy us faster than the guards.”

“We’re comrades,” Compass said. “Our love for each other is only surpassed by our love for Lord Sombra. We can’t forget that.”

No one argued that point. But they all watched each other carefully as they prepared for their various tasks.

Stepping out of the apartment, the vase carefully bundled on his back in unassuming burlap, was the most terrifying thing Compass Call had ever done in his life.

If Lazulite felt the same fear, she kept it well hidden. She strode out the door, down the steps, and stopped on the sidewalk. “Well?”

He swallowed. Though the streets were mostly empty, it felt like everypony stopped to stare at them. Which ones were guards in disguise? Had they brought in unicorns from Equestria, to scry at them with spells? Were pegasi circling overhead to watch them? He squinted up at the cloudy sky, but saw nothing.


“Sorry.” He shook himself and marched quickly down the steps, joining Lazulite. He shifted the burden on his back, and they began to walk together toward the heart of the city.

“It’s fine to be fearful,” she said under her breath. They passed a vendor on the street selling bread, and held their tongues until the crowd was behind them. “I’m often terrified, you know.”

“It doesn’t show.”

“I’m older. I have more practice.” She turned her head casually as she spoke, smiling, her eyes darting from the street corners to the alleys. “And as long as you remember why we’re doing this, fear has no power over you.”

“The love of our lord conquers all fears,” he recited. “His shadow chases away all others.”

“You’ve been studying.”

He shook his head. “Just a good memory.”

“Really?” She peered up at the crystal spires of the palace in the distance. “I wish my memory was so strong. Sometimes, I… sometimes it all seems like a dream, everything from before. Do you ever feel that way?”

He swallowed. “No.”

“Hm.” She looked down at her shoes. “Perhaps it’s just me, then.”

They walked in silence again. Around them, the streets slowly filled as they drew nearer to the center of the city. The trickle of ponies turned into a steady flow, and they swam with the current like fish in the sea.

He pressed closer to Lazulite’s side. “Do you really… do you really think one of us talked? Betrayed us?”

“I don’t know.” She was careful not to look in his direction as she spoke. “It’s one possibility.”


“I know it’s not me, obviously,” she said. “I don’t think Peridot would have sacrificed her house simply to betray us. And Fever… Fever has blood on her hooves, Compass. It’s too late for her to go back.”

They reached Amethyst Avenue, the broad north-south street leading to the palace in the center of the city. They turned onto it, joining the surge of ponies.

“And me?” Compass was impressed with how calm he sounded.

“I don’t know about you. That’s why we’re together.”

Oh. “I trust me.”

She smirked. “That’s good, Compass. One has to start somewhere.”

It was another mile to the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Hoof traffic actually thinned out as they approached it, leaving the merchant ring of the city behind and entering the governance ring, whose offices wouldn’t open for another hour. Sleepy ponies rushed by, bobbling their breakfasts in their hooves or chasing down foals for school.

Lazulite missed a step and stumbled. He glanced over and started to move to help her.

“Keep moving,” she whispered. “Don’t look at me. We’re being followed. No! Don’t run!”

He forced his hooves to obey. His legs shook, and cold sweat chilled his coat. “What do we do?”

“Keep your head down. At the alley, turn left.”

The alley turned out to be more of a minor street, complete with storefronts just starting to open for the morning. Lazulite ducked around a small line of ponies and picked up her pace, heading for the cross-street at the end of the block. Compass hurried to catch her.

“There’s a guard following us,” Lazulite said. “At least one. Don’t look.”

That was the hardest order Compass Call had ever followed. He schooled his gaze forward. “What do we do?”

Lazulite let out a shaking breath. She was trembling. Lazulite, their rock, was terrified. Her fear began to bleed into him, penetrating his bones and crawling up his spine. A wash of cold terror coated him like ice.

“Can I trust you?” she asked.

“What?” They hopped over a gutter running across the street. Behind them, he thought he heard hooves.

“Are you faithful? Really faithful?”

“What? Yes!” he hissed. What was this about? Asking about faith now, of all times?

“Okay.” She took a breath, much calmer. “Keep moving. Don’t stop, don’t turn around. Carry out the mission.”

Huh? He started to turn, to demand clarification, but Lazulite was already moving. She spun, her cloak billowing out around her, and from some hidden scabbard she produced a glittering crystal blade as long as his foreleg. It shone like a star in the dim morning light.

“For Lord Sombra!” she shouted. She lashed out at the nearest pony, an unfortunate stallion holding a basket of bread in his teeth. Her blade caught his shoulder. A red spray filled the street.

Ponies began to scream. Panicked hooves stampeded away. Guards shouted, and Lazulite shouted back.

Keep moving. Keep moving. Compass ran, joining the frantic stream. The vase bounced on his back, but he’d secured it carefully. It would not fall.

He heard more shouts behind him as he rounded the corner. The last things he heard was Lazulite’s voice, filled with pain, crying out their lord’s name.

Peridot and Fever Dream were waiting at his apartment when he arrived.

His day job – his cover – was running errands around the palace for the new nobility. It didn’t give him access to the royal family, but that wasn’t needed for their plan. And, best of all in his opinion, it came with government-furnished quarters in the palace district, on the edge of the Gate of Heavenly Peace. From his bedroom window he could look across the wide square to the crystal palace rising in the center of the city.

The mares were both sitting at his kitchen table. An untouched plate of fruit sat between them. They both looked up sharply as he entered, and Fever stood.

“Where’s Lazulite?”

He shook his head. “Guards. She… she distracted them, so I could escape.”

Peridot stumbled out of her chair. “You… what?! We’re caught, then! We have to get out!”

“If we were caught they’d be here already,” Fever said. “They’d round us all up. They haven’t, so clearly they don’t know everything. We have to move forward with the plan.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little suspicious?” Peridot backed away from them both, edging toward the other room. “Compass and Lazulite go out, and only one comes back?”

Silence. Fever glanced between them.

No. “Fever, it’s me,” he said. “You know me.”

She muttered something under her breath, then spoke, louder. “It doesn’t matter. The entire plan revolves around Compass, now. We have to trust him.”

Well, that wasn’t a ringing vote of confidence. But it would have to do. Even Peridot seemed to agree, and they sat back at the table for the world’s most depressing lunch.

He slept with Fever Dream that night, while Peridot took the couch. He didn’t even care if she heard.

None of their hurt feelings would matter after tomorrow.

The final part of the plan was his alone.

He entered the palace as usual. Security was tight, and he thought his heart would explode when the guards checked him. Either they had his name and knew he was part of the plot, or they didn’t.

“Careful with that,” he said as they examined the vase. “It’s for the ceremony. Very fragile.”

A teal guard peered inside, sniffing at the opening. He motioned to another mare, a Equestrian unicorn, who trotted over. Her horn glowed, and the vase lifted into the air.

She set it back down on its padded cradle. “It’s clean,” she said. The guards waved him through.

Poison was not a common tool in either the Crystal Empire or Equestria, but it wasn’t unknown. The kitchens were carefully monitored and guards checked anything the royals ate or drank. For the ceremony, Twilight Sparkle and her filthy kin would be drinking a single cup of pure, unadulterated crystalberry wine.

The wine was perfectly clean. The vase was empty, and completely inert to any magical scans. But anything poured out of the amphora was lethally poisoned. That was its magic. He wondered what mind had devised such a thing.

The center of the square was organized chaos. It was the easiest thing in the world for him to approach the ceremony preparation, where mares were laying out wreaths of flowers. The crystalberry wine set was already laid out, guarded by a single, bored-looking butler.

The trick to most subterfuge, Compass knew, was simply to look like you knew what you were doing. The butler didn’t even object as Compass removed the decanter from the set, replaced it with the amphora, and helpfully filled it with wine.

He set it, very carefully, back on its stand. It wouldn’t do to spill a single drop.

Compass had nothing to do for the next several hours. He tucked the stolen decanter in a closet, straightened his uniform, and found an unoccupied spot on a high balcony to observe the ceremony below.

He had hours to wait. There were still things that could go wrong, of course – some fool might steal a drink from the vase, to see what it tasted like, and that would ruin the plan. But he had to assume the rigid, iron discipline instilled by Lord Sombra in his subjects would keep them from such idiocy, even if they had abandoned Lord Sombra in their hearts.

The crowds began to assemble an hour before twilight. It filled his heart with fury, seeing so many citizens come out to celebrate their lord’s downfall. Clearly, they had planned this wrong; rather than poison they should have created a bomb, something to destroy the entire square and all the traitors within. They all needed to be punished.

But perhaps it was better this way, another part of his mind reasoned. The crowds, filled with joy, would see their saviors collapse and die at the very moment of their celebration. Perhaps that was a better revenge.

Finally, it was time. Horns sounded below, and the crowd parted, forming a wide aisle. The Equestrian delegation, led by the ugly, gangly purple alicorn, approached the stand. The usurper prince and princess greeted them, and the speeches began. Only a faint drone reached Compass’s balcony, unintelligible. But they sounded happy.

He heard hoofsteps behind him. He turned, curious, and froze.

It was Fever Dream. She walked up to the balcony and took a seat beside him, staring down at the proceedings.

Everything suddenly felt far away. It wasn’t his own voice that spoke, though it emerged from his mouth, as though at a great distance. “You can’t be here. You don’t have access to the palace.”

She shrugged.

“Where… where’s Peridot?”

“In jail, I assume. The guards arrived right as I left, and she doesn’t seem like the type to put up a fight.”

Oh. “And… how did—”

“Shh.” She pointed over the railing. “They’re starting.”

He turned to follow her hoof. Indeed, the royal family and their friends all held tiny glasses with their magic. They raised them, clinked them together, and each took a sip, some longer than others. The crowd cheered.

He waited.

Nothing. He leaned forward. His heart hammered in his chest. Any moment now, it would start, they would fall over like—

“It’s not going to happen,” Fever said. “I switched the vase the first night, while you were asleep. That’s… just wine. Perfectly safe.”

He closed his eyes. “Why?”

“Because…” She sighed. “Everything from before, everything we did… it all seems so far away, when I remember it. Like it happened to another pony. And I think, maybe it was another pony, and my memories got mixed up with somepony else’s, and Lord Sombra’s spell is a chance for us to start over. To become somepony new. Somepony who didn’t make all those mistakes, somepony who didn’t hurt all those ponies. I could just forget it all, and do something good for once.”

“You’re the leaker,” he said. “You told the guard about us.”

“Yes. I couldn’t let, well...” She gestured out over the balcony at the scene below.

“We… we trusted you!” He shoved away from the balcony, rounding on her. His chest tightened, and he gasped for breath. “I trusted you! I… I lo...” his throat choked on the words. The world blurred, and he blinked away hot tears.

She nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry?! Sorry won’t bring back Lazulite! Sorry won’t avenge our lord!”

“Our lord.” Her mouth twisted as she spoke. “Is that all you care about? He’s dead.”

“We owe him everything!” he shouted, not caring who heard. “You’d still be in prison, and I’d still be a beggar if he hadn’t rescued us! He broke the old order and raised us up!”

“And yet, he’s still dead, and here we are.”

He slumped against the rail. “Why… Why did you let us get so far? You could’ve turned us in at the safehouse… you didn’t have to rescue me that first night.”

“Because I’m weak. Because I didn’t want Lazulite to die, or Peridot to go to jail. I didn’t want you to be caught and tried for treason. There… there always had to be another chance.”

He tried to laugh. It came out as a weak cough. “Am I out of chances, then? Are you here to arrest me? Are your guard friends out in the hallway?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. We could escape, if we wanted. Forget all this. Try to become somepony new. I think… I wonder if Lord Sombra meant for his spell to cloud our minds, so the old world would end with him. The old empire, the old kings, our old selves, even him, we can forget them all, start anew. Why can’t we do that, Compass?”

“We made an oath. We swore to serve him, and now…” He gestured helplessly at her.

She looked away. “Yeah.”

He could see it happen. The ceremony would last another hour. The guards wouldn’t care if they left early. They could walk out into the city, hop onto the line leading south, where nopony knew them and they would just be two more migrants from the Crystal Empire. They could find their new lives, and forget the oaths sworn by their shadow-selves, a thousand years past.

They could be happy together. He closed his eyes and remembered the warmth of her body against his. That could be his, every night, without fear, forever.

“No.” He stood. “I’m sorry, Fever. I… no.”

She nodded. She stood as well, and pulled a knife out from beneath her cloak. “I thought you would say that. I can’t let you go. This needs to end.”

He fumbled beneath his cloak. There was a hidden catch under there, never used, but he managed to pry it open, and out from it he drew his own dagger. It was shorter than hers, and he’d never held it in anger. It shook in his hoof.

Fever moved first. She darted forward, the knife a flashing line. He flinched away, and she slashed again. The motion left her chest open, careless, undefended.

He charged forward. They crashed together gracelessly. The knife fell from her hoof, its crystal blade shattering on the floor with a ring like a bell. She slumped against him and coughed.

He stepped back, staring at her. His dagger was lodged up to the hilt in her ribs. The blood was barely visible against her red coat, but it left a warm smear across his chest and pooled on the floor.

Numb. Everything was numb. “Why?” he asked.

She smiled. She opened her mouth, and her lips moved, but nothing emerged. Her face relaxed, and her eyes closed.

Compass Call sat down beside Fever Dream and gathered her in his embrace. He clutched her to his chest, jealous for every last bit of warmth leaking from her body.

She had just started to cool when the guards finally pulled him away.
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#1 · 2
· · >>Zaid Val'Roa
Very nice:

I have two suggestions, of course. :) I'll put them under a "spoiler", though, since we're so early in the process.

At some point, when things start going south, I'd like it to come out that there aren't any other conspirators. Lazulite doesn't seem like the type who would admit such a thing, so maybe when she and Compass are walking to the palace and discussing who could've betrayed them, Compass can ask about the other cells Lazulite's been setting up. Lazulite's eye can twitch and she doesn't reply, and Compass can realize that it's just the four of them in the whole Empire who are still loyal to Sombra's memory. It ratchet up the tension in the next scene by making Compass know that it's one of the mares in the room with him who's the traitor.

Also at the end, when Fever talks about forgetting the old empire and the old kings, I'd like a little something that addresses her feelings about the Equestrians and this new Empress Cadance. Does she think they deserve a chance, or do they not enter into her thinking at all? Maybe Compass can even confront her on these foreigners taking over, and we can get some sort of response from her about that.

Those are just suggestions, though. This thing's solid from beginning to end.

#2 · 1
I did not expect to come across a thriller, yet here we are. Not that I complain, this was a great read.

Not a single moment passed when I didn't feel engaged, kudos for that. Regarding criticism, I'll mostly echo >>Baal Bunny in that getting to know a bit more about the conspiracy would help the reader get more invested, if not in their success, but perhaps in the conspirators themselves.

This leads into my second issue, the characters themselves. You did a good job in fleshing them out, but I wish we could have gotten to know more of their motivations, how Lazulite swayed each of the to ther cause, what they're putting in the line and what they hope to achieve in the future.

Still, this was one of the most enjoyable stories so far, and I can't wait to see it polished and maybe expanded.
#3 · 1
Well, this is shooting right up to the top of my slate.

I grumbled a bit on (The Flesh Is) Weak that it didn't really seem tragic to me. This is a better example. It really sucks for the conspirators (great word to end your first sentence with, by the way, immediately hooks the reader) that they chose the wrong person to be loyal to, but they made that choice and stuck with it too long, and it got two of them killed and the other two arrested (or possibly one and three, depending on what actually happened to Lazulite).

There's a nice bit of doublethink from Compass regarding Shining and Cadance — he thinks of them as the "usurper prince and princess", perhaps forgetting that Sombra was a usurper himself (at least, going by the snippets of history presented here).

I'm with the other commenters in feeling that getting to know the characters a bit more might have been good, but I can see how you might not have been able to fit it into this draft, you're up against the wordcount limit as is. Something to expand for later, maybe.
Post by Icenrose deleted
#5 · 2
Before I begin, I’m going to spoiler tag my spoiler tags: this is a spectacular story, and I’m going to spoil the shit out of it with my feedback below. Please, if you haven’t read this story yet, don’t read any further.



(I screwed up the tags the first time around, apologies ^^;)

First, let me say how impressively constructed this heist/assassination attempt thriller is. I initially had some misgivings about who the eventual traitor wound up being, but when I reread this story specifically to see if there was ever any hint as to Fever Dream’s true motives, I found you had sprinkled several hints throughout the narrative. From her projecting her own insecurities on Compass in the opening scene to her trying to deflect the continuance of the assassination plot at the safe house the morning after, there are several flags for her being the true traitor. I like how much subtler they are than the cues for Lazulite and Peridot, in contrast to Fever Dreams bombastic outward presence.

My main complaint is it’s her cowardice that winds up saving the royal family, yet nowhere else in the story do we ever see her shy away from conflict. She is always up front, in character’s faces, bullying them into acknowledging either herself or her views. Her relationship with Compass is portrayed as mostly physical up until the end, too, and I think just a touch more affection between the two of them would go a long way towards helping justify the emotional tension at the climax.

Also, during the scene when everyone is showing up at the safehouse, Fever is inconsistent:

“Stop that,” Fever said. She sat beside him, trailed by Peridot. “We still have the vase, and we still have our plan. We knew this might happen, which is why we kept bags and a safehouse ready…”

Compare this to what she says just a few paragraphs later:

“Calm down?” Fever shoved past Compass and marched up to their leader. “Calm down? Now? How are we supposed to do that when all our plans lie in ruins? Years of work, gone in an hour!”

This is easily fixed by having Peridot say a version of the second set of lines, instead of Fever.

In addition to the title, I appreciated the multiple allusions you make to Communist China - having the conspirators refer to each other as “comrades,” for example, or how Sombra’s ascent to and justification of power mirrors that of Mao Zedong. I particularly liked the repurposing a slum as special housing for migrant workers - a slum with a fresh coat of propagandic paint.

Minor point - does the Crystal Empire have seasons? I was somehow under the impression that the Crystal Heart maintained nice weather all year round, and the winter signposts (bare bushes, chilly air) threw me off on the second read through.

Most of these critiques are minor points though, Writer, and none of them come close to diminishing how much I enjoyed reading. This was a thoroughly excellent ride, and I hope you decide to publish this later on.

Final Thought: Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?
#6 · 1
· · >>Cassius
My synopsis:

The Crystal Empire is under the control of a terrible presence, but Compass Call and his companions have a plan to help free it.

Overall thoughts:

Really, outstandingly good. Probably the most-objectively best thing I've read here so far.
A proper original story, with real characters, a kind-of point, and an interesting use of the setting.

After a while, I stopped looking for things wrong and just let the story take me.


I wish everything I read could be this good.

The goal, as far as I'm concerned, of a story is to entertain me. To do that, you first have to tell it to me. But I don't actually like being tangled in writing. A well written story has writing that's nearly invisible to me. After the first scene, I decided I could just trust you to tell me the story. No weird tense shifts. No awkward phrases. No weird changes of tone. I put down my notepad and just read the story.

And lo, there was a story! You filled my time and I have no complaints about how you did it.

It made sense. It was interesting. Engaging. There was action. Intrigue. Pathos. How the fuck did you write all this in three days?

You don't need me reviewing this. You know what you're doing far better than I.

I suspected Lazulite, by the way. You sold me that Fever was just too angry to consider. Well played.

You do have one erroneous leading space I noticed, before: "Really?".
#7 ·
· · >>Cassius
This is great, but I don't think you need as much death to tell the tale. You could be equally dramatic without abandoning the spirit of Friendship from the series, and I don't see enough tie-ins to those concepts here. There were places you almost hinted at it.

I really think you should capitalize Lord everywhere except when Fever says it at the end.
#8 ·
Hmmm, hmmm hmmmm. I wonder who wrote this.

There are many good things in this story, and its construction is quite solid—an exceptional draft. There are points at which the story hiccuped for a few seconds, either through poor decisions in scene direction or just ineffective and inefficient explanations of the situation and setting, but never did I feel the story lost the plot or tossed me out completely. I haven't had this much of an issue finding things to bitch about in quite a while, so consider that in that of itself a compliment.

I am honestly impressed.

As with everything, there are a number of problems, however. Like another story I could mention, this story was also cut down to fit the word-count requirement, and it shows. I can't help but feel that this piece is missing a few key scenes in regards to the relationship between Fever Dream (a name I am still not really sold on) and Compass. Part of this is due to the sugar and ice relationship the two share, making it somewhat difficult to effectively communicate the how exactly they feel about what another, but there is another equally important shortcoming in properly setting up for the intensity of those emotions that require the conclusion to properly function.

Writing a convincing relationship and conveying that depth of feeling is a very difficult thing to do, and I don't expect you you know who you are to be able to get that on your first or second, third, etc. go. You're getting better, though. However, you are pinning the success of your conclusion mainly on the plausibility of that relationship being genuine, and the amount of setting up you do for such an important component is quite bare bones. I am speculating about your motivations, but if you wanted that element to be a reveal, please dissuade yourself of that notion.

But anyways. You were not able to throw me as you did >>ToXikyogHurt with the identity of the traitor, and reading the other reviews, I think that the traitor is ultimately too immediate and obvious based on how she is characterized in relation to the protagonist, and the other two suspects are too easily cleared within the narrative, both because the reader: 1. has every reason to suspect the traitor and 2. they aren't given enough characterization in relation to the others, and in reading the work in a meta sense, it becomes obvious that the character given the most attention other than the protagonist will end up being the traitor . Not to say you failed on this front or anything, just that it needs some refinement. Perhaps some minor alterations to the character's backstories, some small changes in the level of certainty characters use, etc.

The conclusion itself I'm not sold on. I'm sort in the same boat as >>Trick_Question is that, at least how the scene is portrayed, the death isn't entirely necessary for the drama to be felt, and to me, I found the way in which it resolved itself to be a bit played out. The two characters in question aren't properly primed for such a grisly end, and it seems to me that given how reluctant Compass is throughout the entire story, it is odd that it is at that point he decides to be so resolute. It is strange that you establish this component of Compass' character and then never quite use it in any meaningful manner throughout the story. There needed to be a scene where the questioning and uncertain Compass becomes more hardened and dedicated to fulfilling his mission for the the conclusion to function, thus alienating Fever Dream, who feels compelled out of obligation to put him down . To be frank, I don't find there is a compelling enough reason for each of the characters as written to want to kill each other, and the conflict could have been resolved without it.

Naturally, I suspect you'll want to keep that tragic death end and disregard a solution that involves some contrivance to avoid it. So here is my suggestion: back build it a bit more. Show the death of Compass' moral compass, as tragedy and setbacks, that voice in his head that makes him question what he is doing is just simply dies out. He becomes more angry, a monster of revenge, to even the point where his comrades are a bit shocked by his brazen nature. Don't have Fever Dream kill the guard (this actually makes her character less comprehensible in the grand scheme of the story anyways), give that to Compass. And in the final scene, have Compass be the one who lets himself get killed, instead of how it plays out. Or simply nix the implication that the traitor allows herself to be killed. One of the two.

While I found the obvious referencing to communist dictatorships to be worth incorporating, I found they were a bit overblown in the sense that they were simply pounded into the reader's skull over and over again. After a while I found myself absentmindedly whispering "Okay I get it." The reliance on the coopting of these turns of phrase serves to disguise another shortcoming of the story, which is the fact that none of the character's motivations are established outside of some vague sense of displeasure with their previous life before joining the cell. The usage of that specific verbiage conveys that these people are basically brainwashed loyalists seeking to overthrow the established order, but the story itself doesn't dive into much more depth of why they think that, despite how commonly the effects of that belief are brought up. There are some lines implying magical brainwashing, but it's not fully fleshed out.

Setting the scene for this sort of story is a complicated thing, and I personally would have a great deal of difficulty conveying all the necessary information to get this sort of plot off the ground. The story itself does an adequate if sometimes inefficient and circuitous job of explaining things, but sometimes there are lapses in communication either in regards to what the reality of the characters are (i.e. what are their plans, motivations, backgrounds, how they're doing things, etc.) or what is happening in the scene. I wouldn't say it is necessary a pacing or even an exposition issue, but more a failure to impart adequate emphasis and information key to understanding the significance of events or how they're occurring. In particular, the guard's raid scene strikes me as distinctly choppy.

Get rid of the the two line scene. It really comes across as an afterthought as opposed to an intentional decision, which, knowing you, I know you did knowingly, but nonetheless, you should know that I know that you know better than to try and pull something like that. Know.

Peridot and Lazulite conjure up images of Steven Universe, which I'm not sure if you're doing intentionally, but if you are, cut that out.

As everyone else has already said, fleshing out the characters more would give you a lot more latitude in accepting the story's proceedings and ultimately make the story more interesting. I'm only repeating that advice because it's good advice.

Your description is good, and there are lot of nice little phrases that communicate character. That being said, the narrative still needs to be tightened a bit, and your penchant for long-winded, elaborate turns of phrase occasionally bite you in the ass. Sometimes information is presented unintuitively for the purpose of the scene (immediately I think of how the vase and its functions are introduced or simply out of order, so be sure to look that over on redraft. Your vocabulary at points comes across as a bit purple and overly obtuse, but I don't think it is a glaring issue.

Anyways, this was a good read. Quite solid. Probably would be a slate topper if I were voting.
#9 ·
Holy MacGuffin, Batman! Chekov's vase ahoy!

A little confusion here early on, as it's not clear how many ponies are in the seen, so Fever Dream sounds like a misnomered Peridot just by the back-and-forth of paragraphs. [EDIT: This actually happens throughout the story, with action/speech attribution getting confusing.]

Peridot and Lazulite? Cue the music: "We... are the crystal gems ponies!"

Some extra description of the setting earlier on could help as well. It's quite a way down before we even see we're in the crystal empire and a crystal manor at that.

Minor issues with punctuation in some of the longer sentences. Some commas should probably be parenteheticals or em-dash interjections for clarity.

Okay, end of first section, and a pretty decent hook so far. Poison grail and a gunpowder plot to kill royalty. Let's see how this goes!

Hmm... all this bit in the safe house really slows down the pacing, as we only get more vague hints about "the plan" without really learning anything new.

The dialog between Compass and Lazulite as they leave the safe house is good. "I trust me," "That's good... one has to start somewhere." Heh.

Okay, a long read, but it went pretty quickly, save the safe house. I'll also note that it's nice to see another traditional story, rather than something experimental and exotic. There's a very comfortable beginning, middle, and end here, and I enjoyed the read.

This story's biggest problem is, at least for me, the lack of empathy for the characters. We're presented with four OCs all at once, and immediately shown that they are pro-sombra terrorists. Trying to make the reader empathize with and care about these character is an uphill battle. That one of them is a traitor to their own cause as well makes that even more difficult, and I don't think it ever quite succeeded. I just barely felt anything at the end reveal, as the two characters never felt quite "real" to me.

What would improve that is to do more to show Fever's internal conflict, especially as it relates to the old memories feeling like they belong to someone else. We need to see that internal conflict more, both to make us care about the character, and to set up the eventual reveal a bit more strongly.

Also, having only four conspirators makes the "who's the betrayer" game a bit narrow. The charcters all talk about it constantly, yet end up basically trusting each other anyway because they have no choice. It kind of makes the debates about "who squealed?" feel superfluous.

Still though, a pleasant read overall, but could be genuine top tier material with some stronger character connections for the reader.
#10 · 2
My top five, now that Regidar and Baal Bunny's entries are no longer in the running (sadly):

Heat Death
Beyond Deity
The one I'm commenting on.

Initially I had Cold in Gardez's entry above Beyond Deity, but I had to knock it down a notch after more introspection—however, it's still the best-written story of them all, as usual.

I will say that Cold in Gardez definitely wrote a pony story this time around. It wasn't a pony story because of the ponies or the references to Twilight Sparkle, though. It was a pony story because it was clearly inspired by Sombra's return and the mindset of the abused and forgetful crystal ponies.

CiG has a hard time being able to tell whether or not he wrote a pony story, so maybe this is helpful. (Maybe it isn't.) But what constitutes 'pony' to me is something that was clearly inspired by show elements. It doesn't need to be the characters, though reliance upon an established character is the easiest approach. This story would be less effective without FiM because of the framework of the mental status of former slaves with missing memories that it rests upon, and that's the best way to write fanfiction: use the source as an essential prompt to the underlying ideas you're sharing.

The most common element I find that works with pony is the nature of Friendship as a supernatural force. It's an upbeat aspect that can shine through in even the darkest of fiction. But there are countless others. I often rely upon the magical aspects such as Twilight's OP abilities (specific things she's done in the show) and the Elements.
#11 · 2
Plot's solid, writing's solid. Unfortunately it was a character piece, and there was very little done to differentiate the characters, give them unique voices or make them stand out from each other or be interesting.

Not nothing, I mean. Just not nearly enough to make this story engaging or make a lot of what happens clear or significant. I found it really hard to care a lot of the time when things happened to these people. The plot was a very archetypal, staid structure which is fine; That's not a criticism, that means you executed a solid framework to hang things off. The criticism is that by itself it's skeletal, when it needs more meat and flesh on the bones to be engaging.

At this point, I couldn't actually tell you any of the character's unique traits or characteristics. I'm sure I noticed them while I was reading, but I've forgotten them over the course of writing this comment.

The amphora was a very interesting Macguffin to center around though. It's a very strong concept to toy with, and I did like the concept of this.