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Rising From the Ashes · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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A Spark of Hope
"So, this is it?" I asked with far less enthusiasm than the situation warranted. Maybe a lifetime in Ponyville had desensitized me to insanity more than I realized.

"What's left of Celestia, Luna, and Twilight," Sunset Shimmer replied. "The best I can figure, their very essence is slowly bleeding out of them. Killing them."

"You mean they're still alive, like this?" Scootaloo asked, pointing to the crackling, but otherwise perfectly still, ponies on the level below us.

"Kind of," Applebloom answered. "Their bodies are here, trying to keep the world going as best they can, but they don't respond to any sort of external stimuli. They're just stuck here, burning and bleeding magic out into the world."

"That's why the sun didn't go out right away," I said. "And the moon still shines a bit, and... what happens if Twilight dies?"

Sunset and Applebloom shared a quick glance. Sunset sighed, then said, "Twilight is the Element of Magic, and the Princess of Friendship. Both of these things existed before her, obviously. But so did the sun and moon before Celestia and Luna. Our best guess is that her ascension to an alicorn made her the avatar of one, or both. So, just like with Celestia and Luna, if Twilight goes, magic goes with her. And without magic, or friendship—"

"No weather, no seasons, no farming. War, maybe, and then the return of the Windegoes. Eventually, when the sun goes cold, even the Windegoes will freeze, if they don't starve first." Applebloom took a long breath. "Basically, it's the end of the world."

I looked down at the three ash-covered figures standing in a circle and burning below us. "What's with the ash and soot everywhere," I asked. "I get that they're on fire, but the whole place is covered in the stuff."

Applebloom looked at Sunset, then hung her head. "You tell 'em. I can't stomach the story twice."

"Not long after I came back to Equestria and started moving the sun, a group of desperate, crazed ponies broke into the throne room and threw themselves at the princesses. Every single one of them turned to ash as soon as they touched one of the princesses. I only managed to stop one of them. When we interrogated him he said, 'a dying fire needs more fuel. It's as simple as that.'"

"Where is he now?" I asked.

Sunset pointed down to the pile of ash. "He escaped confinement after a few days and threw himself at Celestia's feet. The guards tried to stop him, but they weren't fast enough."

"Why are we here, Applebloom?" Scootaloo asked. "You could have told us all this back in Ponyville. It would have sounded crazy, but we probably would have believed you. What's the deal?"

"The zealots weren't wrong, unfortunately," Sunset started before Applebloom had a chance to answer. "I brought some equipment with me from my old home that measures solar radiation. Sure enough, the sun burned just a little brighter for almost three days."

"Four dozen ponies died to teach us that we had to feed a fire," Applebloom said. "But it ain't enough kindle a bonfire if you don't stop the logs from rolling out."

"So, what? You want us to kill ourselves to make the weekend a little brighter? Applebloom, I think you've spent too much time with your head in the algae pools."

Applebloom grabbed Scootaloo and shook her. "Of course Ah'm not sayin' we should die for a sunny picnic. I'm desperate, not stupid. Ah—consarn it—I think the three of us can fix the leak in the princesses."

Scootaloo pulled away from Applebloom's grasp and fell shaking into mine. "Why do you think we'll do anything different than the others who tried?" Applebloom's a smart pony, and Sunset's no dull needle, but I was having a hard time buying into this whole thing.

Applebloom pointed at her cutie mark, then to Scootaloo's, then to mine. "I reckon we might be just the right fit to fill what's missin'. Probably won't bring them back, but stopping things from getting any worse would save a lot of lives."

Sunset walked in closer and put a hoof on Applebloom's shoulder. "Alicorns are exemplars of the three pony tribes' traits. The form and magic of three made into one. You have the magic of one spread across three, in a sense. Your shared cutie marks are unique in all of recorded Equine history. I don't think it's a coincidence that you also represent each tribe."

"Hold on a second," Scootaloo said, shaking her head. "Are you telling us we're, what proto-alicorns or something?"

"Or failed alicorns," I add.

"It's more like you're the concave to their convex. Maybe a parallel brach off the same magical evolutionary tree. There's so much..." Sunset shook her head, grunted, then leaned against the wall. "There's just so much we don't know. It's wrong to bring you here and hit you with all this, I do know that. But we're not sure what else to do. If the sun dies, we die. If the moon dies, the monsters of the night run rampant, we die, and then they die. If magic dies, we die."

"We get the picture." Scootaloo looked over to me. She seemed more tired than angry or shocked now. "How long do we have, if we don't do anything?"

Applebloom and Sunset looked at each other again. They both sighed. "A decade, at best," Sunset said.

"And that's with the work I've been doing the last few years. The shelters, the geothermal heating, the food substitutes; it all ain't gonna last long."

"I'll do it." The words fell out of my mouth before I even realized it, but I knew I meant it. "If it doesn't work we're all screwed pretty soon anyway, right? May as well try to be a hero."

"Runs in the families, doesn't it?" Scootaloo stood up and flared out her wings. "Feather it all to Tartarus, I'm in, too. If Rainbow Dash saved the world half a dozen times, then I can do it at least once."

"It was my idea, so obviously I'm in. Looks like we're all good here, Sunset. Heh. I almost can't believe it. Pretty soon I can finally... rest..." Applebloom fell asleep on her hooves. Sunset grabbed her with her magic before she fell over.

"She's been running herself into the ground for years now," Sunset said. "I think anypony other than an Apple would have ended up in the hospital long before now. I... I'd like to wait a few days to actually do this thing. It would give Applebloom some time to recover, Starlight will want to see you, I'm sure, plus..."

"The Summer Sun Celebration," I finished for her. "I get it. If it works, starting off the new cycle on a historical high note would be great for public morale. It's a clever theatrical choice."

"Yeah. I feel so selfish calculating pony's lives like this, but I have to think about what's good for the nation."

"Calculate Applebloom into a bed, then find me a route to the nearest bar. If I'm going down, I'm taking as much of this town with me as I can."

"South side of town, near the cliff. Only building with a green roof. Can't miss it from the sky."

"Awesome." Scootaloo hopped into the air and hovered for a second. "Sweetie?"

"I'll meet you there after we put Applebloom to bed. See if they can set up some Karaoke?"

Scootaloo saluted, then flew out the door.

Sunset and I walked a while in silence with Applebloom hovering behind us, still asleep. The castle was deserted, except for the guards keeping watch over the single entryway which hadn't been sealed shut.

"Is there anything you need to take care of back in Ponyville before the, well, before?" Sunset asked. "I'm no princess, but I could arrange an air chariot to get you there and back."

I shook my head. "Not really, nope. Just, do something useful with the Boutique. Maybe something beautiful, if you can manage that, too."

"Isn't your sister living there still?"

"Rarity passed a few days before we left." I started crying. I didn't at the time, really. Too much to do making the arrangements. But now, the swell of Applebloom showing up, traveling to Canterlot, and this whole dying business had slowed down, I could finally feel the grief hitting me. "The three of us only have each other now." I kept walking as I cried, until I noticed I was walking alone. I looked back to see Sunset on the ground, covered in tears herself.

"I'm so sorry, Sweetie," she said. "She was one of my closest friends. Sort of. Oh hell, it's complicated." She stood up and wiped her face clean. "As long as Ponyville stands, so will the Carousel Boutique. Starlight and I will make sure of it."

"Thank you," I said as a fresh round of tears began to roll.

Scootaloo made sure the three of us milked the last few days we had for all they were worth. I think she was trying to cover up how scared she was. She thinks I'm projecting. "Saving the world will make us heroes," she said, over and over. "But doing whatever feather-brained thing I'm thinking of right now will make us legends!"

She wasn't wrong. By the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration most the town knew the names of the three crazy mares who showed up in town one day and brought the party with them. The bartenders said it's the most fun they've seen anypony have in years, and, yeah. That feels pretty good, too. Have to keep the world worth saving, after all.

We took the last night slow, though. Just the three of us hanging out like we used to. Talking as the sun went down, laughing as the moon came up and swam across the sky. The only way it could have been more "us" is if we were sitting in a tiny clubhouse out in an apple orchard.

As it started down to the horizon, somepony knocked on our door.

"Come in," I said.

Sunset and Starlight walked in, sober as a funeral. Well, sober as some other pony's funerals. Ours had been a blast.

"They say time flies when you're having fun," Applebloom said.

"It's about time, girls," Starlight said.

"Are you ready?" Sunset asked. I could tell they'd both been crying, but Sunset didn't hide it as well.

"Just one more thing before we go." Applebloom pulled a bag out from under her bed. "A little style for the road I dug up while we were back in Ponyville." She turned the bag upside down and out fell three red, filly-sized capes, each with a blue insignia in one corner. "I lengthened up the neckties a bit. They should fit alright."

Scootaloo started crying first, the big chicken that she is. Applebloom and I started right after. It didn't take long for Sunset and Starlight to join in the waterworks. But, between the sobs, we managed to get our old capes on. We looked at each other and smiled. "Now we're ready," I said.

We stood on our rear legs in a circle beneath the burning princesses. Easier to reach this way. The plan is simple enough: make sure we're touching each other, then, just before sunrise, we each touch one of the princesses. Sunset should know right away if it works, since she'll be handling the sun at the time.

"Scoots, Sweetie," Applebloom said as we wrapped one arm over each other's backs. "Whatever happens, I'm thankful you believed in me. Ah love ya both so much."

The barest sliver of light started to creep in through the lower windows. We reached out with our other forelegs toward the princesses. "We love you too, Applebloom," Scootaloo and I said.

"On the count of three," Scootaloo said. "One,"

"Two," I counted

"Three," Applebloom finished.

Together, one last time, as we touched our charred sovereigns, we yelled, "Cutie Mark Crusader Legendary Heroes!"
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#1 ·
· · >>Rao
Author nooooooo! You've cliff-hung us for all eternity! :raritydespair:

Seriously though. Unless the point of your conflict is for it not to be answered, like if it's an abstract or philosophical question type thing, leaving the story without a resolution feels... I don't want to say "cheap" but that's probably the closest way to describe how it feels. You built this issue up for the whole story almost, and then just didn't resolve it. Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather this have had a concrete ending.

Aside from that, this story has a fascinating concept. I think it'd have been nice to know why or how the princesses are the way they are, but that wasn't the focus as much as the Crusaders dealing with the after-effects so I don't think it's a problem with the story to not explain that. I do wish we spent more time with the Crusaders, like if the partying was actually described. It'd be cool to see how they've developed over the years between this fic and the current show.
#2 · 2
· · >>CoffeeMinion >>Posh >>Rao
Hrm, I wasn't expecting the CMC drawing to turn into such a gloomy story. It's kind of a Dark Souls inspired theme (probably from the picture's title), about a magical world struggling against the threat of entropy. Don't worry readers, there's no references at all to the videogame, so maybe it's just my imagination that it's even related to DS.

I do like the idea here, having the CMC inherit the world-savior roles; the princesses are indisposed because they are themselves the problem. But the story itself feels rather abstract, since they mostly just talk about what's happening and what to do. It took me a while to even figure out that the first-person narrator was Sweetie Belle. I guessed that from process of elimination, but couldn't confirm it until much later in the scene.

The bartenders said it's the most fun they've seen anypony have in years, and, yeah. That feels pretty good, too. Have to keep the world worth saving, after all.

I'd say that's the problem here. I don't know if this world is worth saving! I know about the crisis, but I don't get to know much about the world itself. neither for the CMC here -- I assume there's been a timeskip, and their lives have progressed, but I can't really tell. They could just as easily be the same fillies as they currently are on the show. Apple Bloom collapses from exhaustion, and I'm not sure why? What has she been doing for years? Instead of tension I feel a little bored, because I don't feel connected to this changed world. I'm vaguely aware it's different from status-quo Equestria, but I couldn't say how.

That's my only real problem. I'm ok with the plot, and I think the ending is fine too. I just wish I wasn't left blind to the stage scenery.
#3 ·
· · >>Rao
Well, this was... frankly depressing. Bah. I hate depressing. Even when it's a pretty good story.

But I'm still confused as to what's going on. There's no talk of theories as to what happened. Why it's happening. Could Discord get involved? Where's Cadance in all of this? Who's handling the Moon? Why can Sunset handle the Sun? You mentioned that Rarity passed away. Did that happen out of grief? Or is this years and years down the road... and if that's the case, what's up with Sunset and Starlight? There are too many questions and potential other solutions to let it lie here.

I'm mixed on the ending. On one hand, I feel cheated for not finding out if their sacrifice actually meant anything. On the other hand, you can't have a first-person perspective consistently without not knowing the ending, at least not without changing to another perspective.

Now, I need to go read something happy.
#4 ·
· · >>Rao
Genre: Cliffhang---

Thoughts: >>Haze said it best:

the story itself feels rather abstract, since they mostly just talk about what's happening and what to do. It took me a while to even figure out that the first-person narrator was Sweetie Belle.

This is, to me, an example of the dreaded Show Versus Tell: we as readers are told by the narrator that stuff is happening, but the narrator isn't describing those things for the most part. That means we don't get much of a visceral experience of that stuff happening because the narrator isn't serving as a vehicle through which we would get to experience the story's events.

But with that said, the story builds interest by presenting pieces of a scenario that begs to be fleshed out. The thing with the zealots and Sunset's measurements was really cool and vivid; that was an example of how to do a visceral connection through characters talking. The fact that Sunset has been summoned back to help is cool too, and it would be cool to see how she and Starlight get along. The hints about the CMCs' marks representing partial/failed alicornhood and/or representing the three tribes also represents fertile ground.

If I may be forgiven for rambling/waxing philosophical for a moment here: To address the issue of figuring out who the protagonist is and helping build a connection to them, my general rule of thumb for writing shorts is that the first words of the story should ideally be the perspective character's name; and if they're not, we should get to that name as soon as possible. (But then I've pretty much scoured everything but third person limited perspective out of my writing process because I find it makes for a clear writing and reading experience all around, so YMMV for a first person situation.) Either way, the first paragraph should show the character doing something as part of their pursuit of a goal. That drops us into the story "in media res," tells us who our "hero" is, and gives some clues about what the plot might be. Now there are all sorts of other narrative approaches to consider, but I feel like that kind of a quick way of establishing the parameters of the story would help a great deal here.

Tier: Needs Work


OTOH, you killed Rarity, so: 0/10 - IGN.com :-p
#5 ·
· · >>Rao
Hrm, I wasn't expecting the CMC drawing to turn into such a gloomy story. It's kind of a Dark Souls inspired theme (probably from the picture's title), about a magical world struggling against the threat of entropy. Don't worry readers, there's no references at all to the videogame, so maybe it's just my imagination that it's even related to DS.

There's no explicit reference, but the themes and the motifs (flames and ashes, heat and cold) are all very Dark Souls, so I think it's safe to call this, if nothing else, a soft-crossover. A softover.

Of course, having just finished The Ringed City, the last piece of Dark Souls content ever (hopefully, but knowing the game industry, they'll probably milk a Dark Souls 4 out of it somehow), I happen to be in a Soulsy mood, so this story speaks to me.

The other commenters have done an effective job of detailing issues with the protagonist and narration. But IMO, there's no real reason for Sweetie Belle to be the narrator, because her perspective doesn't illuminate anything particularly interesting, nor does she provide any insight into the events or the world that couldn't just as easily have come from Scootaloo or Apple Bloom. Apple Bloom may have been a better choice, come to think of it, since she's implied to have spent more time studying the phenomenon, or working in Equestria, or... something. What's Apple Bloom been doing again?

Also, how old, specifically, are Starlight and Sunset? I ask because the CMC are clearly adults, but Rarity being dead calls into question both their ages, and the ages of Sunny and Glim-Glam, as well as the whereabouts of the rest of the Mane Six. Did she die of old age, or of illness? Are the CMC middle-aged at this point? Are Sunset and Starlight of an age with Rarity, and if so, shouldn't that be reflected in their appearances or their dialogue? Are they under the influence of the Undead Curse, trapped in a state of eternal youth?

In a nutshell, I think there's a good set-up for a story here, a good backstory, but the actual story told within that framework is lacking.
#6 ·
· · >>Posh >>Rao
I have many questions with this one. Why is this happening? What happened to the Main 6? How old are the CMCs? How are Sunset and Starlight handling the sun and moon?

And most importantly... what actually happens in the end? This question really needs answering, as this story does not work well with the open ending it has.
#7 ·
· · >>MLPmatthewl419
And most importantly... what actually happens in the end? This question really needs answering, as this story does not work well with the open ending it has.

One assumes they get lit on fire...
#8 ·
· · >>Posh
Does one? I can see four endings to it.
1) They burn up and everything turns good.
2) They burn and nothing happens.
3) They don't burn and everything turns good.
4) They don't burn and nothing happens.

Using these, I would like to believe option #3. You can, however, choose whatever ending you wish.
#9 · 2
>>MLPmatthewl419 Or they reject the Linking of the Fire and usher in the age of pone, as urged by Darktrotter Klaapth.
#10 ·
· · >>Rao
We don't actually get any confirmation of who the narrator is until pretty deep in the story, which is a bit of an obnoxious thing. You can assume from the missing presence that the narrator is Sweetie pretty early, but the introduction of Sunset into the scene does diminish the effectiveness of that a bit since it means the three aren't necessarily all together.

And overall, I think that's kinda the core problem. This story leans a little too much on implication for scene setting information. For example, I'm still unsure how old the CMC are in this story. I eventually am pretty sure it isn't kids anymore, but aside from that? Nada.

Looking up, the other commentators seem to touch on this a decent amount, so yeah, I'd advise making sure you take into consideration what they say on it.

Ending is also unsatisfying because the core narrative of the story is "preserve the Age of Fire Friendship", so that's what we want resolved. Had the core narrative been the CMC struggling to decide to do this? THEN you could do the totally ambiguous ending because the core thing there is whether or not they do it, no whether it works.

And yeah. This is really, really, really, really Dark Souls. Using the phrase "kindle a bonfire" ripped me straight out of the story. Like it's fine if you want to homage/base/crossover, but in this case you're kinda walking an ambiguous line, and thematically running that close and then dropping the pretty straight line is fairly distracting.

Solid atmosphere, though.
#11 · 4
As >>CoffeeMinion noted, I slipped pretty hard on the mortal sin of a banana peel that is telling instead of showing. This was my third draft from a third perspective for a second slice of time in the world as I saw it. It took two days to really solidify a concept and most of the last one to figure out what wasn't working, so by the time I made it this far I had to cut some corners. Since I'm working from a limit narrator perspective I couldn't get too detailed on the resolution without breaking character.

Coffee, your philosophical waxing is much appreciated, and I will certainly remember your advice going forward.

Furthering >>Haze's comment, the timeline is also vague, but that's not at all intentional. I screwed up pulling in the foundations from the first draft, which I wrote from Apple Bloom's perspective, into the submitted work. I am, however, glad to see everyone fine with seeing the Crusaders as primary protagonists.

As above, raw failure to pull together my multiple disparate drafts into a single cohesive submission. Most of your questions have answers either there, or in my brain. Which is useless here, I know. I'd really like to work this into a clean, full-length piece. I don't think we've seen a lot of Souls-esque softovers (thanks for the word, Posh!) in the fandom.

Sunset and Starlight's ages are canonically a bit ambiguous, as best as I recall. We know Sunset's a little older than Twilight at least, and I always imagine Starlight as being a few years older than what Sunset would be. I imagine the Crusaders being in the rough equivalent of their mid to late-20s for this, which would put Rarity et. al. somewhere in the 40 range, and Sunset and Starlight a bit above that. You're quite right in that I didn't adjust everyone's dialogue to reflect the aging properly. That's something I'll keep a keen eye on when I touch on this again.

It's embarrassing that I didn't catch on to how obvious the bonfire line would be when I wrote it, but I was honestly thinking of the art piece at the time rather than the direct pull from the game. The title of the art piece being a direct lift from the game makes missing it all the worse for me :\

I leaned way too heavily on the ambiguity trait from Souls and botched setting up the proper narrator introductions in a timely manner, along with a host of other things. I have learned that I am no Miyazaki, that's for sure.

Thanks to everyone for reading along and all the detailed comments. I'm a bit proud to be the only Souls-type entry this round (and ever, as far as I've seen, though I doubt I'm the first to do it), even if it didn't come out all that well. Good luck to the finalists!