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Has That Always Been There? · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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A Nightmare in Love
“Guess who’s here with my sweetheart’s favorite thing in the whole world!”

“Huh?” Cadance snapped her eyes open, and she sat up straight in bed. She looked over to see Shining Armor pushing open the bedroom door, a large sack carried in his teeth. “I thought Sunburst had the baby for another fifteen minutes.”

Shining Armor blinked, and stared at her blankly for several moments before shaking his head and spitting the sack onto the floor. “Oh, right. No baby, not yet. Sorry, I meant favorite sarcastically.”

“Ah. My bad. I was just taking a quick nap.” With a yawn, Cadance climbed down off of the bed, then leaned forward and arched her back for a good stretch. She sauntered over and gave her husband a quick nuzzle and peck on the cheek. “I guess it’s that time of year again, huh?”

“I think it’s even bigger than last year’s haul.” Shining Armor’s horn lit up, and the sack turned over and emptied itself onto the floor. Hundreds of letters fluttered out, most of them done up on fancy stationery, adorned with elaborate doodles, or colored in various shades of pink and red. “You know, a lesser stallion might be jealous that his wife gets so many love letters on Hearts and Hooves Day.”

Cadance rolled her eyes. “You are jealous. Jealous that you aren’t getting any letters yourself.”

Shining Armor chuckled. “Ouch.”

“Well, we might as well get to it. I am the Princess of Love, after all. It’s my duty to at least read them.” Cadance grabbed the nearest letter and tore it open. “Dear Princess Cadance. U R Hot. And then there’s a little drawing of a penis, see?”

“Looks like we’re starting off on a classy note today.” Shining Armor grabbed another one. “Dear Princess Cadance. I don’t know if this is possible, but you know all kinds of weird magic right? I really want to have your children. I won’t tell anyone it's yours. Although I guess if the baby is an alicorn it’d be really obvious?”

A dozen letters floated around Cadance, and she tore them all open quickly. “Let’s see… ‘I love you… bear my children… I wanna tap that… I love your eyes,’ aww, that one's kind of sweet. And this one is from a filly asking for advice on how to ask out a crush. So adorable!” She quickly floated that particular note into a pile to be saved for later. “And let's see, here we’ve got… Oh-ho. Well well, you stud, you. Looks like you finally got some fan mail after all.”

Shining Armor brightened and leapt to his hooves. “Seriously? Yes! In your face!” He snatched the letter out of her magic and held it up. The envelope was a rather utilitarian blue with straight, blocky letters spelling out his name. “Twenty bits says it’s naughty pictures.”

“Uh-huh.” Cadance crouched down and folded her hooves in front of her before resting her chin on them. “Well, go on then, Mister Popular. Don’t keep us in suspense.”

“Drumroll please.” Magic sparked from his horn, and ethereal drums rang throughout the room. Shining Armor carefully tore open the envelope, then unfolded the letter inside. “Dear Shining Armor. Writing this is more painful than you can imagine. But I cannot stay silent any longer. The heart demands that it express itself, even if there is no point. I love you. I have loved you for a long time, from afar. Before you were the ruler of a nation, before you were the captain of the guard. We went to school together, though I know you don’t remember me. I know we can never be together. You are deeply in love with your wonderful wife. I am no match for her, nor would I ever even wish for such a beautiful marriage to be stolen from this world. Yet still my heart burns with passion unending. Know that someone out there cares for you deeply. And I will always keep you in my dreams, my sweet prince. Love, your secret admirer.”

Silence hung in the room, marred only by the crackling pops of the fireplace.

Shining Armor coughed. “Woah. Uh, okay then. That’s… actually pretty sad.”

Cadance stood up, and moved to throw her arms around her husband’s neck. “Sorry. Sometimes love is going to involve heartbreak, and there’s nothing that you can do about it. It’s easy to feel guilty about their feelings, but it’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, but, all the way back in school?” Shining Armor squeezed back, then sighed. “That’s some pretty intense stuff. I don’t remember anyone like that. Except for you of course.” He gave a half-hearted grin before it faded away. “Still, I wish there was something we could do.”

“Like what? Track down this mysterious admirer and invite them into our bed for a threesome?” Cadance playfully nipped at his ear. “While I’m sure that might be fun, with a letter like that, their aching heart won’t be soothed by physical lust. I’m sure it would make things even more painful.”

“Why do you always have to be so reasonable?” Shining Armor pulled out of the hug, and glanced down at the remaining pile of letters. “Kind of spoiled the mood though.”

“I still plan to read through mine, though you’re right. The heart isn’t something to be taken lightly.”

A soft knock sounded on the bedroom door, followed by the giggling of an infant. “I have Flurry Heart here for you. The Crystal Heart session went pretty well,” Sunburst’s voice called out.

“Come on in!”

Sunburst pushed open the door, Flurry Heart on his back. She immediately squealed and squirmed at the sight of her parents.

“Oh, come here sweetie!” Cadance levitated Flurry Heart over and held her close to her breast. “Mommy missed you so much for that hour you were gone!”

“Hey there, kiddo.” Shining Armor ruffled her mane with a hoof. “Did you have fun playing with the Crystal Heart today?”

Sunburst cleared his throat. “Flurry Heart’s attunement to the energies of the Crystal Heart is going well. Their connection grows stronger every day.”

“Ooh, do you want to help Mommy read all of her love letters? Let's do it together!”

Shining Armor clapped Sunburst on the back. “Great job. We really appreciate all of your effort, you know. This whole ruling an ancient kingdom thing is a lot of work, and it doesn’t exactly come with an instruction manual. All these rituals and attunements and whatever just seem to pop up out of nowhere.” After a brief pause, he leaned in and whispered, “Plus, we really appreciate the time to ourselves every once in awhile.”

“Of course.” Sunburst chuckled, and flashed a toothy grin. “Honestly, Flurry Heart is a delight. Spending time with her is one of the highlights of my day.”

“You should see her when she’s screaming her head off at three in the morning,” Shining Armor grumbled.

“I’ll stick to the easy parts.” Sunburst glanced between the two of them. “Do you need me for anything else?”

Shining Armor shrugged. “Not unless you want to help me and my wife sort through all of her love letters.”

“Look, Flurry Heart! This one says they want to be your second momma! Isn’t that kind of them?”

Sunburst bit his lip. “There’s… an awful lot of those, huh?”

“I’m sure there will be even more next year.” Shining Armor yawned. “The way I see it, it’s kind of like the postal equivalent of shouting at your favorite athlete during a sporting event, or something. Loud and silly, but ultimately empty and meaningless.” With a sigh, he spared a glance for the letter that had been meant for him. “Barring a few… intense exceptions.”

“I see. Love is the province of our kingdom, after all. That being said, I’ll have to pass.” Sunburst leaned town, and touched his horn to Flurry Heart’s. A spark jumped between them, prompting a giggle. “I’ll leave you two to it, then. Same time tomorrow. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Will do!”

Heartbeats thrummed all around her.

Cadance took a step forward, and a ripple spread out from her step, emitting a soft chime and a spark of green light that briefly lit the darkness.

She could hear something, just faintly, almost muffled by the constant thudding. A baby’s cry. Her baby.

“Flurry Heart?” She called out. Her voice felt hollow, like it had no weight to it, no real purchase in reality. Another step forward, another ripple of green spreading across what appeared to be a faintly lit pool of water, extending into the void.

Her baby’s cry grew a little louder. And there was… another voice? Masculine. Maybe Shining Armor’s, but it was so hard to tell. She took a step forward, then another, and soon her sluggish body was galloping forward, towards her daughter.

Each hoofprint left behind green fire, and she felt heat licking at her hooves. She glanced over her shoulder, and saw that her trail of fire was roiling, bubbling, burning, surging towards her, as if to devour her whole.

She ran faster and faster, each step causing the monster chasing her to grow stronger. Her daughter couldn’t be far now! Fire surged forward on either side of her, galloping apparitions of flame that matched her pace. The demons glanced at her and snarled before diving in, biting and slashing at her flanks with fangs and claws of fire.

She screamed. It hurt, a deep kind of ache that felt like her soul rending apart. And she could feel something in her pursuer. Hatred. Complete, personal, and all consuming loathing.

Whatever it was, it wanted Princess Mi Amore Cadenza dead.

She could see a red light ahead, a soft red. Full of warmth and love and safety. Shadows cast silhouettes against that light. Her daughter. Her husband. And… somepony else?

The ground crumbled away beneath her, and she fell. Her wings caught no air, and a great maw of fire loomed below.

The jaws snapped shut, and Cadance succumbed to pain, hatred, and envy.

Cadance woke up in a cold sweat.

A chill wind blew in from the open shutters, and Flurry Heart wailed in her crib. She felt Shining Armor in the bed beside her, tossing and turning.

It had only been a nightmare. Deep breaths. She was in her room, safe and sound, and the ponies she loved most in the world were only a few feet away. First things first.

Cadance nearly crumpled when she climbed out of bed. Her whole body ached and burned as if she had just run a dozen marathons.With a grunt, she levitated Flurry Heart over from the crib. “There there. It’s okay. Mommy’s here. What’s the matter, sweetie? Did you have a bad dream?”

The shutters rattled and banged from the wind. Cadance looked outside. Morning sunlight should have been streaming inside, but a dark storm brewed on the horizon.

Shining Armor whimpered in his sleep, caught in the throes of his own nightmare.
Cadance grit her teeth and continued rocking Flurry Heart back and forth. “Honey? Wake up, I think we’ve got a long day ahead of us.

No response. She rolled her eyes, then made her way over and started shaking him with her hoof. “Hey, come on, wake up. It’s just a dream, and we’re both here.”

“... Shiny?”

It wasn’t just Shining Armor.

Every maid, every butler, every gardener, every chef. The entire palace staff. And, judging by the lack of ponies Cadance could see from the palace balcony, likely the entirety of the Crystal Empire was affected as well.

They were all still asleep. Trapped in some sort of some nightmare they couldn’t wake from, with no response to prodding, screaming, or magic of any sort.

Cadance paced circles in her throne room, her tail twitching back and forth. Every few seconds she glanced up at the clock on the wall, then back down to her daughter, who played with blocks in the corner, oblivious to anything wrong.

A dark shadow fell over the room, accompanied by the heavy flap of wings, the rush of wind, and the thrum of magic.

Cadance let out a sigh of relief. “Took you long enough, Auntie.”

Luna stepped from from the shadows. “I am sorry for the delay. Are you alright? Is the baby?”

“She’s fine. I’m fine. Aside from the emotional distress, of course, but I’ll have plenty of time to deal with that when I’m not in Princess Mode.” Cadance threw her arms around Luna’s neck and took in a deep, shuddering breath. “Thanks for coming. Now please, tell me what in tartarus is going on with my country.”

“That will be a difficult question to answer fully.” Luna pulled out of the hug, then levitated Flurry Heart up to greet her, much to the filly’s delight. “The dreamscape of your subjects is inaccessible to me. A darkness has fallen over them like a blanket covering the land. I suspect you and your daughter have only been spared this fate because of your unique alicorn natures.”

Cadance glanced out the window at the dark stormclouds. “I can see that much already. So what is it this time? Sombra? Chrysalis again? Who are we dealing with, and how do we stop them? Do we need to send for Twilight and the girls?”

Luna shook her head. “It is hard to be certain, but I do not think this is a manifestation of foes past. No, this is a nightmare that comes from within. It is intrinsically linked to the hearts and minds of your subjects, through an ancient and powerful magic, one that links all of them together.

“You mean…” The both glanced towards the center of the castle, where the Crystal Heart was kept. Cadance smacked her face with a hoof. “Ugh, I hate that stupid thing. Some days I just want to pack up this country, and move everyone somewhere that doesn’t require a finicky and fragile artifact just to exist. And also somewhere that has beaches.”

“Sadly, we do not always choose the tasks we are given.” Luna rested Flurry Heart on her back and together they headed towards the inner sanctum. “It is Hearts and Hooves Day, yes? The holiday is still somewhat new to me, but as I understand, it is a time for the expression of love and adoration, romantic or otherwise.”

“That’s certainly one way to put it.” Cadance rubbed at her chin. “So, the Crystal Heart is linked to the hearts and minds of its people, and it both absorbs and emits their emotions. Under normal circumstances, the Crystal Empire should be a love paradise right about now. Experts were already expecting a slew of new babies eleven months from now. But then, I don’t know, somebody sneezed too loudly near the Crystal Heart, and now it’s a love nightmare instead?”

Luna rolled her eyes. “As one who watches dreams, there are many other emotions that accompany this holiday. Eagerness. Anticipation. Fear. Heartbreak. Loneliness.” She paused, then pushed open the door to the inner sanctum. A soft green light pulsed from the Crystal Heart, making the whole room look sickly and malformed. “Jealousy.”

Cadance shivered. The color reminded her far too clearly of her recent dream. “Really? I mean, sure, plenty of of ponies get jealous this time of year, but for it to be the dominant emotion, enough to overload the Crystal Heart seems like a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it?”

“Normally, you would be right.” Luna’s horn lit up, and dark smoke began to flow forth from it, swirling around the Crystal Heart in an intricate pattern. “You’ve proven time and time again that love can trump hate. But were the Crystal Heart exposed to a particularly severe jealousy, something all consuming, especially by a pony who worked closely with it, then such a disaster could easily occur. Can you think of anypony who fits that description?”

“What? There’s nopony like that. Hardly anyone even goes near the heart other than Flurry Heart, and she’s too young to feel anything like this. Well, I guess her and…” Cadance’s eyes grew wide.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Ah, crap.”

Both Princesses stared down at the sleeping form of Sunburst. Unlike all of the previous victims of the nightmare, he seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

“I must confess, I knew of his feelings already.” Luna raised a hoof and gently touched his forehead. “It is the province of a dreamwalker to know strong hearts, but we must also keep their secrets. I have even personally counseled him on how better to manage his feelings. It seemed to be helping.”

“Well apparently it didn’t help all that much.” Cadance sighed, and flexed her wings. “He’s really just been, what, madly in love with my husband for years? It’s kind of creepy.”

Luna clicked her tongue. “He is a gentle and sweet boy with a sensitive heart. We’ve just hit a perfect storm with such an intersection of strong emotions and powerful magic.”

Cadance stomped a hoof on the ground. “Well, his sweetness and sensitivity has my husband trapped in a nightmare, along with everypony else. How do we get them out?”

“With your help, I can force open the portal to the dreamscape. It’s his dream they all share, after all. Then you must enter and rescue Shining Armor. Likely, that alone will cause the dream to collapse, but you may have to deal with Sunburst somehow as well.”

“Let me guess. It’ll be dangerous, and I have to do it alone?” Cadance stretched, her bones popping audibly. “Ugh, I hate having to play the heroine. Twilight is so much better at it.”

Luna smiled and put a hoof onto Cadance’s shoulder. “I am sure you will do just fine. It is your husband, after all.”

“The big oaf.” Cadance smiled, then made her way over to the basket where Flurry Heart was currently curled up and sleeping peacefully. She leaned in close and nuzzled her. “Hey honey. Mommy’s going to go get Daddy back, okay?”

With a wave of Luna’s horn, a tear opened in reality, forming a seething, writhing black portal right above Sunburst.

Cadance took a deep breath. “Keep her safe.”

Cadance touched down in the same dark, featureless pool she’d seen in her earlier nightmare.

“Alright then,” she said to herself, “where do I start?” If nothing else, this time around she was blessed with the gift of lucidity, rather than the addled confusion of a dream.

She took a step forward, and was met with the sound of a bell ringing out and the sight of that same ripple of green light spreading through the water. This time, everything seemed to shake, and something rose up out of the water, it seemed to be a stage of some kind.

The heavy click of a spotlight echoed across the water, and up above she could see pony sized paper cutouts, attached to large sticks, moving about like a foal’s diorama.

It was hard to tell due to the crude stylization of the figures, but one of them seemed to pretty clearly be Sunburst, albeit a younger version of him. Other ponies, faceless shadows, ganged up on him and pushed him around. Speech bubbles called him all sorts of disparaging names regarding his sexuality.

Cadance already knew what was coming next. The spotlights all swiveled to focus on the arrival of a new pony: a unicorn with a brilliant blue mane and a burning sense of justice.

During her own school days, she’d watched Shining Armor play the hero in half-a-dozen similar incidents. He always stuck up for the little guy. It was a large part of why she’d been attracted to him in the first place.

The lights dimmed and Cadance sighed. Twin sets of lights, each placed a meter apart formed a path leading into the distance. As she walked onwards, more dioramas rose up from the depths. On the left, they were cast in black and white. A young colt, burdened by his confusion over his sexuality, barely managed to even stammer out a thank you, and could only watch silently from afar.

The right side of the path painted a different picture. Cast in bright and blurry lights, Sunburst gathered his courage, talked to Shining Armor, and they became fast friends.

Two lives played on in parallel. On the left, reality, where Sunburst’s reclusion led to his loneliness, and his hero worship. When he stumbled into the position of crystaller, it tore him up inside, knowing he could finally be so close to his secret crush, but also suffering all the pain that that involved. On the right, the fantasy played out. Friends quickly became something more, a secret love blossomed into something deeper, something wonderful.

It would have been a good story, if it wasn’t about her husband.

The path ended at a house. A simple one. Big yard, a dog chained out front. White picket fence. The dog barked at her approach. She could see inside the kitchen window. Sunburst and Shining Armor were both inside, wearing aprons. Baking cookies. She watched as Shining Armor licked a bit of stray batter off of Sunburst’s nose.

Deep breaths. She needed to be calm and collected before she burst in there.

Plus, she needed to think of a good one liner.

“Playtime’s over, boys!” Cadance crashed in through the window, wings flared and magic blazing.

The peaceful illusion shattered in an instant, and bits of the walls started to flake away into nothingness. Sunburst took a few steps back, his eyes wide. “You… what are you doing here? You can’t be here!”

“Do you have any idea what I had to go through to actually marry this hunk right here? Sorry, but I won’t give that up for anyone.” She leaned in and kissed Shining Armor on the cheek, “It’s okay, sweetie. You just need to wake up.” She touched her horn to his, and cast the spell Luna had taught her that would send him out of the dream.

“I… huh? What’s going on? Cadance? I—” With a flash of light, Shining Armor vanished, and only Sunburst remained.

“No!” Sunburst stomped a hoof, his eyes full of tears. “This is my dream! What goes in my heart belongs to me, and me alone! I understand that reality is reality, but here, at least, let me have him!”

Cadance took a step forward. “It’s not just your dream, anymore. You’ve forced it on everypony else. Unintentionally, I assume. Weird Crystal Heart stuff. Sorry, it does that, apparently. But you need to wake up, and you need to give this up for good.”

Sunburst growled. His horn flared with emerald magic. “You’re lying! I have to put up with you enough in real life. I won’t let you hurt me in here, too!” Green fire licked across his coat, and he grew, expanding. The house shattered into nothingness, and Cadance stood before a giant beast of green fire.

“Ah, crap.”

It swung a massive claw down at her. Cadance leapt into the air, her wings carrying her up. The heat singed her flanks, but left her otherwise unharmed.

Just what could she actually do in a dream battle that would actually make a difference, anyway? She gathered her magic and fired it in a lancing beam down at the beast. It parted the fire that covered him, and the beast roared in pain. But she couldn’t tell if it actually had had any effect.

With a scream that made Cadance cover her ears, the beast slammed its claws into the ground. They sunk in deep, stone bubbling away from their touch.

A few moments later, spiraling jets of emerald magma burst from the ground, spraying liquid death in every direction.

Cadance conjured a protective shield over herself, and each little splash made a searing impact on her mind. She couldn’t keep it up for long under this kind of pressure. She flew higher and higher, until she was out of range of the jets entirely.

This was stupid. She was the Princess of Love, not of asskicking. She needed to figure out another way to reach him.

“Sunburst, please! You mean a lot to me, and to Shining Armor. Flurry Heart adores you. You’re practically a part of the family! I know love hurts sometimes. Sometimes, it feels like it’s too much to bear, and the weight of it holds you to the ground. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Please, stop this!”

A flash of light came from above, followed by an incoherent roar. The beast had teleported above her, and seemed even bigger than before. Its bulk encompassed her, and she plummeted to the ground with it.

A last-minute shield saved her, and when they hit the ground, she shot out sideways, bouncing along the ground like a beach ball. The shield shattered when she slammed into a rock at incredibly unsafe speeds, and she crumpled into a pile of pain.

Cadance tried to flex her wings, and only got agony in response. “It’s just a dream, she muttered. My real body is safe and sound.”

Ominous stomps of thunder shook the earth as the beast moved closer and closer. It leaned over her, breath searing and rancid, magma dripping from its fangs like drool. “You know nothing of love, Princess.”

The beast lunged forward, its fangs snapping and ready to end her life.

“That’s enough!”

The beast froze in its tracks, death waiting inches away from Cadance. Out of the corner her eye, she could see Shining Armor, standing proud, ever the hero.

“Let her go, Sunburst.”

The beast flinched backwards, and began to shrink, the fire melting away until only Sunburst stood there again. “I… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

Cadance let out a long sigh of relief.

Shining Armor shook his head, and stepped closer to Sunburst, who kept scrambling backwards until he hit a wall. “I’m sorry, man. I totally forgot about you that day. So much so that I didn’t recognize you all these years later. That’s on me.”

Sunburst shook his head, his eyes filled with tears. “I never expected you to remember. I’m not a very memorable guy.”

“That’s not true, and you know it.” Shining Armor put a hoof on Sunburst’s shoulder. “You’re a pretty awesome dude in your own right. I’m sure that with just a little push, we could have been great friends. Even now, I consider you one. But your feelings, of something more? I’m sorry, but I can’t return them.”

“I know.” Sunburst muttered, before bursting into inelegant sobs.

Cadance couldn’t help but smile. Her husband really was a sweetheart.

“So, uh, all's well that ends well, right?” Shining Armor asked.

They all sat together around the Crystal Heart, Luna included. Sunburst kept his eyes glued to the floor the entire time.

“I’m so, so, sorry,” Sunburst said for the thousandth time. “My feelings were supposed to be private secrets. I never meant for them to become a burden on anyone.”

“That’s just the risk you take when your country relies on powerful empathic artifacts.” Cadance shared a snide glance for Shining Armor. “Have I mentioned there’s a great deal on beachside real estate down by Los Pegasus?”

Shining Armor rolled his eyes. “For the last time, we are not moving the entire Crystal Empire.”

Cadance stuck her tongue out at him, then winced. Her whole body ached, even if she had no real lasting effects from her fight in the dreamscape.

Luna snickered, though she didn’t have much to add to the conversation, currently preoccupying herself with entertaining the baby.

Sunburst took a deep breath. “Whatever else, it's clear that I need to go.”

Shining Armor blinked. “Now, when you say go…”

“I mean leave. The Crystal Empire is no place for me anymore. Not after what I’ve done.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic.” Cadance blew her bangs out of her eyes. “Okay, yeah, it was kind of bad. But we’ve forgiven plenty of others for far worse. Besides. What about Flurry Heart?”

Sunburst winced. “I’ll miss her more than anything else. But this isn’t just about forgiveness. I… I can’t handle it anymore. I need to take time to get over myself, get over my feelings. To get away from you. It’s not healthy, and I don’t trust myself anymore. Consider this my official resignation.”

Shining Armor rubbed at the back of his head. “I’m sorry to hear that, but I respect your reasoning. We’ll miss you. And know that you’re always welcome back anytime.”

“Thank you. For everything. Even with all the pain, this has been one of the best years of my life.” Sunburst gave a weak smile.

Cadance grinned. “Tell us where you’re going, and I can write ahead. I’ve got friends in all sorts of places. I might just be able to find a hot, single stud to show you around the place.”

Sunburst turned a bright scarlet, and everyone laughed.

“Mmm, that’s perfect, dear. A little harder.” Cadance lay stretched out on her bed, all of the tender and sore spots on her back slowly being massaged away by her husband. “You see, this is how I was hoping to spend Hearts and Hooves Day.”

A knock sounded on the door. “Excuse me, miss? There’s more letters here for you,” one of the maids called out.

Shining Armor sighed. “I’ll get it.”

Cadance pouted, but waited patiently for her husband to return. “So, what does my adoring public have to say about me today?”

“Uh…” Dozens of letters floated around the room. “You know how the entire empire just spent a bunch of time suffering the residual nightmare of a guy who was in love with me and super jealous of you?”


“I think these are all addressed to me.”
« Prev   4   Next »
#1 ·
· · >>Morning Sun >>Oroboro
This was great. I mean it, you delivered an engaging quest in a relatively short wordspan that had me hooked all the way through.

Now for the shortcomings.

I wonder if you couldn't flesh this part a bit more due to time constraints, but Cadence's stroll through the Museum of Efficient Exposition felt a bit too convenient. If you decide to expand this story, maybe have Cadence witness those events as they unfold in the dream, and she starts gathering clues about Sunburst's feelings that she can later use when she confronts him.

Also, the resolution came by a bit too fast. Just as Sunburst and Cadence start exchanging blows, Shining Armor returns and clears things up. While it makes sense that he should be the one to reach Sunburst's heart, it sort of downplays Cadence's involvment. You should aim for a balance, Cadance softening him as she tries to reason with him and then Shining coming for the final blow.

It's just a suggestion, but I think that could make the story all the more interesting. Still, this is going at the top of my slate out of the stories I've read so far.
#2 ·
· · >>Oroboro
I liked most all of this except the ending. I mean, I get his logic in needing to be far away, but at the same time it adds a bit of melancholy there. Understandable, and the final joke certainly helped dissipate it, but still a flash awkward.

Other than that >>Zaid Val'Roa covers much of it quite well!
#3 ·
· · >>Oroboro
This was very lovely, and the bits of comic relief sprinkled about helped cushion the blow of an otherwise tragic story.
#4 · 1
· · >>Morning Sun >>Oroboro
Critiques appear in decreasing order of importance.

I can appreciate the issues with Sunburst's sexuality in his youth, but you need to intro that factor before the dream thing. I strongly suggest having Cadance or Shining comment on, in response to a same-sex letter, how despite being 1,000 years behind the times crystal ponies are more progressive about sexuality than Equestria used to be in the recent past. That kind of foreshadowing is necessary because the letters directly contradict the diorama, and the diorama already doesn't align with reader expectations about Equestria.

I don't buy Cadance's anger. She would have more sympathy than this, regardless of the outside circumstances. You've portrayed her as uncharacteristically mean-spirited. It would be much better if you could have her try to reason in an unrealistic manner, using cold logic, then realize she needs a softer approach. Attacking the situation from anger isn't something Cadance would do: it's antithetical to her character, even here.

The identification part of the premise is obvious early on, which is a little unfortunate even though the secret fortunately does not dominate the story. If you added an introduction with more characters and activity (maids delivering letters or breakfast or such and suspiciously eyeing Shining Armor, even just one), that would make the beginning of the story much more interesting to me.

I don't understand why they didn't simply wake Sunburst up. You need to explain that.

I can't believe that Cadance's citizens, especially when she's married, would send her dick pics en masse. It's very funny, but not believable—even for the Princess of Love. It just doesn't make any sense, but it's really funny, so there's an easy solution: you need Shining or Cadance in dialogue to mention that Cadance's love magic is so strong, her presence around the Crystal Heart forces everypony to feel amorous toward her. That would also provide you with an excellent way to foreshadow the importance of the Crystal Heart later.

The ending seems unresolved. You-know-who is left in a bad situation, and we don't have confidence they will be okay. It leaves me feeling sad, which isn't what you seem to be aiming for.

I wasn't immediately sure which pony said, "I'm afraid so.", because it makes more sense for that to come from Cadance given that Luna likely doesn't know that much about Cadance's daily life. Plus, Luna would likely say, "I am afraid so.", instead. Either way, it's odd for Luna to respond with that, and it needs slight clarity. Maybe, "you don't think" by Cadance, then Luna nodding, or something like that.

I don't think "snickering" is the right description of what Luna would do. She might giggle.

A massage doesn't work well on a bed, and the palace certainly has massage tables.

I love the horse gestation reference. /)^3^(\
#5 ·
· · >>Trick_Question
I might have missed a line, but I thought the mailbag was from all over Equestria, not just the Crystal Empire, so dick picks could come from Manehattan.
#6 ·
· · >>Syeekoh >>Morning Sun
>>Morning Sun
That makes even less sense. Who sends love letters to a head of state in another country!?

I think the Crystal Heart needs to play a role in the mail, because that would solidly explain the dick pics. It would also add foreshadowing for the role of the Heart later in the story.
#7 · 3
· · >>Trick_Question >>Oroboro
Are you implying is isn't normal to send dick pics to your representatives?

...That would explain the restraining orders.
#8 ·
· · >>Syeekoh
Your representatives are in another country?! :rainbowhuh:
#9 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
I'll have you know that I consider myself a world citizen, thank you very much.
#10 · 3
That makes a lot of sense. I've never known you to respect boundaries.

#11 ·
· · >>Trick_Question
I would argue the Empire isn't its own country since the Princesses keep collectively being called 'The Princesses of Equestria'. I mean it's certainly a fair headcanon but the show hasn't gone ahead and ever outlined 'Yes, it is its own fully independent nation'; it seems more to be part of a closely knit commonwealth akin to say, Canada & the UK prior to Canadian full independence.
#12 ·
· · >>Morning Sun
>>Morning Sun
Canonically, the Crystal Empire is not within the bounds of Equestria. I'm 85% certain, and I'm not exaggerating so that's very certain.
#13 ·
There's no lines on the map shown in the map of Equestria where the Empire appears. There's evidence it is part of Equestria - like that Twilight's Kingdom begins with all 4 princesses hosting a summit in the Empire, and that we routinely see Cadance popping down to help out; plus, Cadance is a Princess of Equestria prior to that. She may hold dual citizenship, yes, but I can't recall anything firmly establishing it is independent in the way that Yakyakistan is.

If you can cite otherwise go for it, but I'm seeing it as 'You can go either way'.
#14 ·
· · >>Oroboro
I liked this one. It was kinda funny.
#15 · 1
· · >>Oroboro
“Well, we might as well get to it. I am the Princess of Love, after all. It’s my duty to at least read them.” Cadance grabbed the nearest letter and tore it open. “Dear Princess Cadance. U R Hot. And then there’s a little drawing of a penis, see?”

Aww, she got my letter! How sweet.

“Like what? Track down this mysterious admirer and invite them into our bed for a threesome?” Cadance playfully nipped at his ear. “While I’m sure that might be fun, with a letter like that, their aching heart won’t be soothed by physical lust. I’m sure it would make things even more painful.”

...Cadance, you're the one who brought that up, not him. I'm not sure that suggestion was entirely made in jest; it sounds as though she's trying to talk herself out of it, actually.

Makes more sense for her to be a sexual dynamo than Blueblood, though.

“Ooh, do you want to help Mommy read all of her love letters? Let's do it together!”

"Here, you can start with this one that Mommy opened earlier. See this little doodle right here? Someday, someone's gonna use that to make little eenie-weenie baby Flurries! Even eenie-weenier than you!"

"Cadance, you promised you'd stop exposing our daughter to phallic imagery."

“Look, Flurry Heart! This one says they want to be your second momma! Isn’t that kind of them?”

Alright, that one's actually funnier than mine.

Every maid, every butler, every gardener, every chef. The entire palace staff. And, judging by the lack of ponies Cadance could see from the palace balcony, likely the entirety of the Crystal Empire was affected as well.

They were all still asleep. Trapped in some sort of some nightmare they couldn’t wake from, with no response to prodding, screaming, or magic of any sort.

Oh, I know this one!

They're all in Science Heaven!

This was stupid. She was the Princess of Love, not of asskicking. She needed to figure out another way to reach him.

I have an issue with this story, and it's summed up quite neatly by this line. Cadance does not behave like the Princess of Love in confronting Sunburst. I get that it's her husband under attack here, and she's naturally protective of him, but she also realizes that Sunburst isn't doing this consciously. Yet she treats him with a remarkable lack of sensitivity or understanding.

The fact that this is her second course of action after trying out the action hero shtick makes zero sense, considering who she's supposed to be.

Okay, that was a lot quotier and snarkier than I usually make these reviews. Make no mistake, I liked it, but I share my esteemed fellows' thoughts about its shortcomings. The puppet show thing was a cute and clever, and appropriately dreamlike, way to approach Sunburst's backstory, but it breezes by too quickly. Another victim of the word limit, I'll bet. In a revision, you could always play that part up. Maybe have Sunburst imitating the voices of all the different players, or whatever.

Also, personal note, but I really don't care for the headcanon that Equestria has some sort of widespread homophobia, when Lyra and Bon-Bon are constantly horse-scissoring in background scenes and Big Mac can wander around in a dress and high-heels and no one judges him for it.

And the story does just wrap up a little too quickly and neatly.

Overall, a good and valiant effort, and one that made me smile. But one with some noticeable narrative and structural flaws, to be sure. Not that that's necessarily a judgment; I don't think any story submitted for this round has been perfect, except, obviously, for mine. 8/10, my friend. You've earned it.
#16 ·
· · >>Oroboro
Unrequited love in the wrong place imperils the Crystal Kingdom.

The problems here are in the little things. Why didn't these problems start sooner? How does the Heart have anything to do with dreams? Where are nightmares more important and frightening than impending arctic apocalypse? Why did he react so intensely when challenged, especially given the earlier nonchalance? Wasn't that resolution really quick? Because pony!

These misgivings, aside, the story carries its weight. Love causes a problem and understanding fixes it, with the necessary hiccups in between. The teasing dynamic between Cadance and Shining are convincing and fun as well.

TAILS (sum of 20 points)
Technical (Correctness) : 5
Abstract (Clarity) : 3
Impact (Consequence) : 4
Language (Congruence) : 4
Structure (Composition) : 4
Gestalt (Considered) : Acceptable
#17 ·
· · >>Oroboro
This feels like a tonal misfire to me. The idea behind it is solid (for all that, like Posh, I'm not a huge fan of the homophobia in Equestria headcanons either) and I think it makes for an interesting premise, but the actual execution...

It feels a little too mean spirited. This particular take on Cadence is sort of obnoxious (it takes her snark just a little too far), which then, when put against the fairly sympathetic (and hard to really see in the wrong here) Sunburst, really makes her come off as an ass. Like, her approach to situation is stupidly aggressive, ham-fisted, and rather unsympathetic. I get that this could be character flaw (overly aggressive husband protection), but the fact that she comes out so cleanly is... unsatisfying. It really feels like she's the character in need of an arc in this story, but, instead, she's somehow our unchanging hero.

Ultimately, I think the story just needs to find a better balance between cheekiness and emotional core.

That said, the second momma line made me laugh way harder than expected.
#18 · 2
· · >>Oroboro
This is an impressive adventure to weave in so few words; kudos for that.

I keep my complaints brief, since most of them have been covered by others already:

The character voices could use some touching up, which I say without reservation even though Cadence et all rarely appear on the show. Her saying "my bad" is perhaps the strongest example.

Her pleasant wittiness makes me question the story's tone. The actual conflict is so wonderfully dark and sinister, but it's buried in this web of jokes (funny ones to boot) and one-liners that make the overall story seem so unnaturally lighthearted.

The ending doesn't carry the emotional weight it needs to. This isn't a 'happy' ending, really. It's perhaps the healthiest option possible, but the characters aren't showing the inherent sadness in it. Maybe this could be rectified by showing the immediate aftermath when Sunburst wakes up in the presence of everyone else.
#19 · 1
· · >>Oroboro
The only problem:

I really had was Cadance's "action princess" moment. You could set it up, author, by having her think about how she needs to be calm and collected. Then she actually sees Shining Armor in the kitchen with Sunburst and is overcome with an uncontrollable jealous rage that surprises even her with its depth. That way, she gets to learn something about herself, too.

Post by CoffeeMinion , deleted
#21 · 2
· · >>Posh >>Oroboro
Okay let's try that again!

Genre: Could go a few different ways

Thoughts: I was pleased overall with this story. I think it has a very strong emotional core, and depending on where the author wants to take this, it might be the top entry in this Writeoff that I'd like to see tweaked and expanded for FimFiction. I was sufficiently touched by it that I've ended up rambling at length. Hopefully more than zero is useful.

As I read it, the story hinges on a clever and poignant subversion of our expectation that Cadance would be the more longed-for member of the royal couple (other than by Chrysalis, evidently), due to Shining possessing any number of positive qualities that make him attractive in his own right (including to Cadance herself). The story goes to great lengths to establish Cadance's desirability, notably via the "dick pics"--but here I feel it overplays its hand, because this makes the early section end up coming off as a comedy first, and with only comparatively minor grounding in seriousness. Even Shining's letter can be read somewhat humorously if the audience is primed to see it that way--which I contend it currently does. And so the tonal whiplash after that first scene is profound. It took several lines for me to shake the urge to interpret what I was reading through some kind of distended comedy-lens, because... well, it was so obviously a comedy before that, right?

The story has brief dips into comedy after that. For the most part, I thought they worked better, because they were more ephemeral. I think Cadance was generally on point through the middle section; people have objected to her action-princess moment, or for going after Sunburst too forcefully, but those are both things where I thought the text itself provided a reasonable explanation (she specifically asked if others could go instead, then agreed to do it even though she stated it wasn't her preference and others would be better at it; should we be surprised that her efforts didn't quite hit the mark?).

But then we get to the heart of things. The earlier silly comedy feels completely at odds with the tragedy that Sunburst presents to us. Sunburst comes across as an honorable person who has made difficult and selfless choices, and the fact that the story's conflict primarily comes from a supernatural empowerment of his inmost feelings is both tragic and deeply unfair to him. Now, I'm not proposing you change that; much of the story's impact comes by virtue of Sunburst remaining honorable by making still more difficult choices later on. And critically, he acts not entirely out of despair, but through the realization of his emotional limits in staying close to the royal family, and the desire to seek something healthier. His journey isn't over, and there's no guarantee he will find happiness, and so he emerges as a sad and noble figure.

That right there is what makes this story so powerful. But it's too easy to lose sight of that amid the comedy at the beginning and end… which to some extent echoes the themes of the central conflict, but which currently comes close to drowning it out through the difference in tone. I think especially in the opener, it would work better to de-emphasize the comedy and amp-up the drama, perhaps by moving it away from a cozy bedroom setting to Cadance’s study, and by having Sunburst himself deliver the mail--and hesitate, and add his own letter to the pile as a, “oops this one fell out” sort of thing. That would also let the revelation of the letter’s contents happen later in the scene, which would help that linger as the bigger influence on the tone of the scene. Now if you still want to end on something of a comedic note, I wonder if you could get away with moving Cadance’s joke about a threesome to the conclusion… though you’d want to follow it with a sufficiently bittersweet and poignant response from Shining, which could even be an opportunity to explore his character a little more.

I’m overlooking the question of whether the school kids would tease Sunburst or not. Frankly, having been a kid who was more than a little unusual (lol if only I could go back and tell myself I’d someday be a My Little Pony obsessionist), and having kids now who are similarly offbeat… my starting viewpoint is that a lot of kids are bastards, and that they will gleefully poke at any irregular aspect of anyone they can get away with doing it to. So I dunno, that wasn’t a stretch for me.

...so I guess I should wrap this ramble up and put this story in a tier. I see a big, painful, poignant heart to this story; I felt touched by it more than by just about anything else in this Writeoff. I also see issues with the current draft that keep it from being its best. And yet, I think it gets way more right than not.

Tier: Strong
#22 · 1
>>CoffeeMinion Today I learned that CoffeeMinion is a dad.

Also this:

I think especially in the opener, it would work better to de-emphasize the comedy and amp-up the drama, perhaps by moving it away from a cozy bedroom setting to Cadance’s study, and by having Sunburst himself deliver the mail--and hesitate, and add his own letter to the pile as a, “oops this one fell out” sort of thing.

is brilliant. Good job for thinking of something brilliant, CoffeeDad.
#23 ·
· · >>Oroboro
Clever concepts, but seemed really narrate-y to me. Might want to re-work the pacing a touch.

Definitely worth reading, though.
#24 · 2
>>Zaid Val'Roa >>Morning Sun >>Feris >>Trick_Question >>Syeekoh >>bloons3 >>Posh >>KwirkyJ >>AndrewRogue >>BlazzingInferno >>Baal Bunny >>CoffeeMinion >>Not_A_Hat

A Nightmare In Love

Thanks for reading, everyone! I really appreciate your feedback.

This story is the third in my series of writeoff fics vaguely inspired by one of the plot arcs from the anime Bakemonogatari.

I already have a pretty solid idea of what I need to do for revisions. Expand the ending, expand the dream sequence. Twist the dial on Cadance more towards Empathetic and away from Snarky. Adjust the tone of the opener a bit.

The implications of societal discrimination against homosexuality was actually somewhat unintentional. I was mostly going for what CoffeeMinion said, where kids are dicks and will zero in on anything different about someone, especially someone who is insecure about that something. I'll probably just change it to them making fun of him for being scrawny and a shitty wizard to boot.

Thanks again. Expect to see this story up on fimfiction in the next week or two.