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In Over Your Head · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Show rules for this event
Become nothing.

We must feel nothing.

“The nest is nearby. Take out the sentries so the main force can break their line,” The captain calmly and quietly orders. It’s barely a murmur, yet in the forest’s silence the command is as clear as a cathedral’s bell. He motions for us to proceed. Clad in silver armor and carrying black spears, we silently wade through the Everfree.

“Bugs ahead,” the young private at point whispers to the rest of the formation. “Captain, what do we do?”

Idiot. Don’t doubt. Doubt leads to-

“Get. Down.” the captain hisses. He’s straining to keep his anger in check. We drop to our bellies and cling to the forest floor like corpses.

Through the thick grass, I see their legs. Black, slimy stumps ridden with holes. Their insectile wings buzz and hum as they walk past us, the light of the moon dimly reflecting off their onyx armor.

“No emotions. Don’t think, ” the captain says. “Any emotion- fear, anger, love, anything. They can sense it. Become nothing, and do only what I say”.

I do my best to clear my head. I look at my brothers in arms. The mare to my right’s eyes are closed, blocking out any and all thoughts. I look to the left, and my gut begins to knot up. The young private is shivering.

Fear? The thought makes me want to flinch. If he’s scared, they know we’re here. If they know we’re here, they will kill us. If they kill us… I won’t be coming home. No… an imposter would come home, ready to put a knife in those I love. 

The captain’s hoof comes down, I feel his gauntlet pressing down on my helmet and my mind freezes.

“Don’t think, become nothing” He whispers. He’s doing the same to the young private, putting his hoof to his forehead, like a priest or monk. “You are merely a spear.” His shivering subsides a bit, but his eyes are still wide. This poor bastard only joined up for college bits, he never expected to deal with warfare outside of war games.    

It’s no good. He’s cracking. We’re going to die and it’s all this pissant’s- 

“There’s nothing here, fall back!” The changeling commander barks.

Thank Celestia.

Their dark armor clanks loudly as they begin to march back the way they came. The sounds grow fainter and their buzzing ceases.

“I guess they didn’t want to die…” the mare to my right mutters.

“Not their call,” the captain replies. “Get up, they’re not leaving here alive.”

We stalk the bugs through the forest until they come to a clearing.

There were five armored changelings carrying halberds. In the middle, decked in a golden armor was their commander. The changeling soldiers stood as still and silent statues as their golden commander read his map. Valuable intelligence for us to collect upon finishing these vermin.

I smile to myself as we follow the captain and emerge from the brush to claim our prey.

This was easy.

On the captain’s signal, we lunge, our spears coming down to skewer the enemy.

Almost too- 

Our spears drive home penetrating the changelings. They break apart into dust. My comrades are confused, and I begin to feel the fear spreading out from my chest. It’s cold, it freezes me in my tracks.

It was a trap.

First, I hear the buzz. It’s louder and closer than I’ve ever heard before.

It’s them.

Blue lights appear from the darkness, the moonlight reflecting off their vile eyes.

All of them.

We turn to retreat, only to find luminous green horns barring any path of escape.

The buzzing is drowned out by a ravenous hiss. Every hair on my hide stands on end. I knew what was about to come.

Fear overtakes me, and I become nothing.
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#1 ·
An interesting concept. One I’ve seen before, but still interesting. Sadly, it’s undercut but the obvious anxiety and fear on display. You actually did too good a job of getting us into the narrator’s mind. Still, there’s definitely a strong base here. Build on it, emphasize the unfeelingness so alien to ponykind, and you’ll have something great.
#2 ·
· · >>horizon
It's an interesting concept. Got some punctuation problems, though, especially in the dialog. It also seems strange the way the captain is explaining this to them only once they're out in the field. It's convenient for the story but seems odd in-world. Did they not expect to run into changelings? The third paragraph seems to indicate that they did.

Are they barely-trained draft soldiers? The comment about college bits seems to indicate at least some of them signed up for this. Is the war so desperate that they had to start pulling soldiers mid-training?

It seems kind of odd, the way the viewpoint character seems to break into his comrades head to talk about how he only signed up for college bits. Did he hear that from him, or what?
#3 ·
I don't think I can recommend anything that would improve this piece. It seemed a little strange when the Captain was talking to his troops; if they're all lying flat how would he stealthily press on their helmets from above? Nonetheless, I bought it.
#4 ·
I really like the symmetry between the first and last lines.

I don't have much else to say though. I think the story is pretty good, but not quite to my tastes. But that's on me, not you, author.
#5 · 2
Genre: War... war never changes...

Thoughts: Excellent use of the prompt. A great callback to the Season 5 finale. A strong finish to my slate.

I love how the viewpoint character is ostensibly as stoic as he suggests he should be, but upon further reflection, he's as full of emotions as anyone.

This is brought down a little by a few grammar issues, but I like the ideas and execution for the most part.

Tier: Top contender
#6 · 1
Huh, well this was different! One or two grammar issues, but on the whole a strongly written piece, and carrying a nice undercurrent of tension. Despite reference to changelings, this almost didn't feel like a pony fic, but you came down on the right side of the line.

Not bad. Not bad at all. Thanks for sharing!
#7 · 2
· · >>TitaniumDragon
I had the same reaction as >>spigo, in that I think your look inside the soldiers' struggle to empty their heads of emotions was a little too effective: given the apparent familiarity of everyone with the concepts involved, the sort of strike team that would be assembled for this sort of elite mission isn't the sort that would still be struggling with the basics of emotional camouflage. Without some lampshading as to why they're sending a completely unprepared team for such a critical mission, I feel like I'm watching the author push the characters around because it's supposed to end in tragedy.

That is a fairly major issue for me, but that's the only real critique I have. You've got a solid and unique concept here, and I feel like the story capitalizes on it, with good use of space and a good balance of exposition and immediacy. The bookending works, and this makes great use of both MLP and the prompt. Please work on making the soldiers feel competent-but-outmatched rather than utterly unprepared; but regardless, this is wandering up toward the top of my slate-plus-one.

Tier: Top Contender
#8 ·
· · >>horizon
I think my big issue here is, like - why is the military conducting a random Changeling hunt? This story feels at odds with the main ponyverse, and doesn't set up why/how this divergence comes into play, which makes me unable to quite accept the premise/resolution as-is.
#9 ·
>>Morning Sun
I assumed it was from the changeling-ruled AU from the S5 time wibbles, although in hindsight I don't know how much the army structure and equipment squares with that.
#10 ·
I’m basically with >>horizon here – it felt a little weird that these guys who weren’t that good at what they were doing were being sent out on a stealth mission.

That said, I did like the story, and I thought it worked well. The bookends of the piece worked very well, and the scene was compact and did what it was trying to do.
#11 ·
There's a good amount of tension here, and the guy's emotions and doubts are clearly depicted. The end maybe is less punchy that it could've been.

I have no real further comments: it's both well written and effective. I'm just not a sucker for changeling war stories, which, I think, are a bit tired, so while this will end up fairly high on my slate because it's solid, I won't place it right atop it.
#12 ·
Apparently I'm the only one who wasn't totally a fan of this, huh.

Admittedly I'm kind of biased against war stories, but even so, the descriptions in this weren't wowing me. The pacing was kind of flat, too – it felt kind of like there were three different scenes with no transitions between them, and only the last one actually ended.

I think the most interesting thing you have here is our point of view character having their emotions on full display, while claiming they're not having any and and chastising everyone else. I'm assuming that was intentional. I would absolutely focus on that aspect in a rework. Other than that, I don't really care about what's going on here – kind of an inherent problem of trying to write characters attempting to be bland and emotionless.
#13 · 3
Re: other comments saying "Why are these clearly unprepared guards on such an important mission?"

Really, guys, considering the professionalism, intelligence, and fighting skill the average Royal Guards display in-canon, the soldiers in this story must all be legendary heroes of Equestria, every one.
#14 · 1
Stoic — A — You go to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had. A group of unprepared soldiers meets the changeling host. Very good job pulling us into the POV character, written right up against his skin. Darnit, this is another example of why the second phase of judging is far harder than the first. They’re all good, making it difficult to figure out better from best.
#15 · 1
This is one of the strongest fics of the prompt for me. The tension, the delivery, the characterizations...they're all so brief, but they do so much to build this world up. It actually made me quite sad when they were bushwhacked, something not many other stories are able to do in such limited word-space. The cyclic nature of how the soldier "feels nothing" at both the beginning and ending is a brutally dark reprise, yet still feels like it fits within the terms of the story. Not the happiest story of this bunch, but still one of the best.
#16 ·
Hmmm.. I like the idea, but as is this just isn't working for me. I can't quite see ponies being trained to suppress their feelings like this... And I can't see them being stupid enough to believe it would work. You do an excellent job of getting into the soldier's heads... But that just makes it more obvious that this method could never possibly work.

Now, if you had framed it as soldiers who have been given a potion, or a magical artifact, or some other items which (mostly) suppresses their emotions... with some inevitable side effects and a less than 100% success rate, I would have found it more believable..