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It's Your Funeral · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
The Patience of Stones
Daring Do froze as soon as she heard the stone click.

Traps were an occupational hazard for treasure hunters, and over the years she’d encountered every trap imaginable by pony, zebra or griffon mind. Spike pits, blow darts, crushing blocks, ceiling crocodiles – some were devious, some were simple, and all were deadly.

And when you encountered a trap, the first rule, the only rule, was not to panic.

“Don’t move,” she whispered. Behind her, she heard a sudden inrush of breath from her assistant, Pumpernickel. “If it was going to kill us, it would have already.”

They stood like statues for several long minutes, still as the ancient tunnel around them. She tested each of her hooves, but the stones beneath her were solid and unmoving. There were no tripwires she could see.

So, it probably wasn’t her. She turned with exaggerated slowness to face her assistant, who stood frozen a few steps behind her. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple and splashed onto the dusty flagstones.

“What happened?” she asked.

“The stone beneath my left leg moved.” He swallowed audibly. “A trap?”

Daring Do frowned and leaned forward for a closer look. The stone beneath his hoof had sunk almost imperceptibly, no more than the width of a hair. Beneath it, she already knew, a complex assembly of levers and springs and gears had transferred Pumpernickel’s weight into tension, and as soon as he moved again that tension would be released.

And that is how they would die, unless she could figure a way out. She licked her suddenly dry lips.

“I told you to follow my hoofsteps,” she said.

“I thought I did.” His voice shook, and his scarlet coat glistened with sweat. “I’m sorry. I must have missed one.”

“It’s fine.” It wasn’t fine, actually – it was anything but fine – but she needed him to stay calm. “Don’t move.”

She reached out with her wing and lightly touched the flagstone with a long primary feather. Gently at first, as though she were brushing away snowflakes, and then with more pressure, she pushed down on the stone until she felt the faintest hint of vibration from within.

The tunnel rumbled around them. The stone blocks in the ceiling shifted, and dust fell like rain on their backs. It filled the tunnel with the scent of millennia past, and she desperately fought back the urge to sneeze.

“Okay,” she said, when the dust finally settled. “It’s a springplate. Any significant change in pressure will set it off.”

His eyes darted up at the ceiling, then back to her. “What d-do we do?”

“You stay put. I’m going to fly back out and fill a bag with sand, and we’ll use it to fool the trap.”

Daring gave him a little pat on the shoulder, then started back up the long passage to the surface. She’d barely made it ten steps when the tunnel grumbled again.

“Daring!” he cried. “You’re, you’re… you’re coming back, right?”

He was trembling, she saw. His whole body shook, and with each tremor the flagstone beneath his hoof sank a bit deeper. The stone blocks above his head bled streams of dust.

She walked back carefully, ignoring the dust and sand. Pumpernickel calmed as she drew closer, until she could press her shoulder against him. Carefully, gently, she put her hoof on the flagstone next to his.

“Lift your hoof very slowly,” she said.

He did, and as he took the weight off his hoof, she pressed down. The flagstone shivered beneath her, complaining, on the edge of activating, but it held.

She let out a long breath, careful not to shift her weight. Pumpernickel stumbled away and slumped against the wall.

“Okay, okay. We’re fine.” She closed her eyes and collected her thoughts. “Pumpernickel, listen to me. I need you to go back to the surface, fill a bag with about forty pounds of sand, and return. Can you do that?”

He stood, his eyes wide and shining in the lantern light. He stared at her, then up at the stone blocks hanging just above their heads, and then back at her.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He edged away carefully, and soon she heard the rapid beat of his hooves on the stone, running.

He’s a good stallion. Have faith. Daring Do willed her heartbeat to slow, her breathing to ease. She could be patient.

Of course, she knew, traps could be patient, too.
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#1 ·
· · >>TitaniumDragon
This is a nice vignette, but I think it needs just a hair's breadth more at the end. I'm left not knowing what the message of the story is. Are you certain you know what you're trying to say to the reader?

Stories are a form of communication. Use this one to convey an idea. There's a lot of great potential here, and it feels unfinished.
#2 ·
I liked it. Maybe not as pulpy adventure as I like my Daring Do stories, but that wouldn't fit the prompt. We're left with an interesting conundrum and an ambiguous ending, which I thought was fun. I'm an optimist, so of course I'm going to go with my own conclusion about the ending :)
#3 ·
· · >>Cold in Gardez
Daring Do’s assistant sets off a trap. Daring Do has to help him disarm it, or else they’ll both die.

I thought this was a nice little vignette, but as >>Trick_Question noted, the ending felt significant, but we’re left without understanding what the significance is. Is she stuck now, or is her assistant going to come back with that sand?
#4 ·
I liked this, and it's well-written, but in the end it does lack focus on what it wants to say: we already know that Daring is brave, and a good pony, so her doing this for another leaves me with a good feeling but it isn't a revelation about her character. That last line is good, and ties it all pretty solidly to the prompt, but that's also not enough.

Some minor irks:

the only rule, was not to panic

Technically, it should be "to not panic."

no more than the width of a hair

On a smooth, milled surface I could probably see a 1/100" difference (max) in good light, possibly even smaller, but I am skeptical that anyone could see down to that degree of size under the conditions they were in. I know you were using "hair's width" for dramatic effect, but it irked me and brought me out of the story. With sensitive enough touch and an abrupt enough edge, though, you could probably feel it - like with a pegasus' feather?

#5 ·
This is fantastic. I love it.

great descriptive lines:
It filled the tunnel with the scent of millennia past, and she desperately fought back the urge to sneeze.

The stone blocks above his head bled streams of dust.

Unlike the others, I think I like the story just fine without a conclusion. It's solid enough as it is, and feels complete. As I read it, this fic was oddly synched to my wavelength. as I wondered, "is Daring truthfully going to come back?" the story brought up the same point. then asking Pumpernickel to do the same, though his "I'm sorry" could be meant either as reassurance or a betrayal. I'm not sure how he meant that, and Daring doesn't seem entirely confident about it either. the story already knows how I'm reacting to it, and it never let my attention wander elsewhere.

and cutting off like that... a grim hint at the inevitable outcome? or maybe showing how when you're left alone and powerless, all that's left is your patience, however long it may last. maybe this story won't work for everyone. it doesn't supply many answers, but it subtly asks some powerful questions.
#6 ·
In which Pumpernickel goes from doofus to potential betrayer in an instant. Or does he eventually come back? Who knows?

I like the questions the author left for the reader, but this really needs a higher word count to better establish Pumpernickel's motivations and attitudes. (and Daring's to a lesser degree) As-is, it tears the reader between assuming he'll come back and pinning him as an idiot who left his boss to die.
#7 ·
A good scene, but it feels excised from the middle of a larger story. (And I can’t help but wonder who maintains these millennia-old traps. Stone crumbles. Metal rusts. Wood rots. Why does entropy always seem to give the mechanisms in ancient ruins a pass even as it ruins the rest?) I’d love to see this expanded, but for now, it left me unsatisfied.
#8 ·
This fic grabbed me from line one and did not let go until after it was finished. I was wholly invested in the characters and their plight for the whole ride. Elements like Daring Do's flashes of insight based on years of experience and the gorgeous scenery painting with the sound and scent cues serve the narrative well.

For a brief moment (“You’re, you’re… you’re coming back, right?”), I thought Daring was going to go in an unexpected direction and add a dark note to her (eventual?) assertions in the show proper of "I work alone". This proved premature, but it raised my heart rate a bit all the same.

The uncertainty of the ending still leaves the door open for reader interpretation, which I thoroughly enjoy when properly executed (which I think you did here, Writer, so no worries). Cynic that I am, I maintain that this is an excellent explanation for Daring's unwillingness to have a sidekick later on in life, but I can certainly see the alternative as an equally viable option.

This is some of the best writing I've read yet this competition, Writer. Very well done indeed.

Final Thought: I Would Happily Read the Book this is an Excerpt From
#9 ·
· · >>Trick_Question >>Not_A_Hat
The uncertainty of the ending still leaves the door open for reader interpretation, which I thoroughly enjoy when properly executed

Reading through this and other fics on my slate, and the reader reactions to them, it's clear that there's a pretty big gulf in how some readers respond to uncertainty and ambiguity. If I had to summarize the difference, it would be that some readers like to be asked questions, while other readers prefer to be told answers.
#10 ·
· · >>Southpaw
>>Cold in Gardez
This is an interesting insight, but I think it's more complex than this.

In my case, I don't mind open-ended stories, or even ambiguity. I just didn't feel like the ending was quite sufficient to tell a complete story. The story ended at its climax with no indication of what we were supposed to learn or expect.

In this case it was very, very close to feeling "complete" to me, hence my use of the words "hair's breadth". Even a touch more insight into Daring's thoughts would have done it, I think. But it wasn't the fact that the ending left us hanging. It was that I wasn't certain I knew what the author was trying to communicate at the conclusion.
#11 ·
>>Trick_Question This perfectly encapsulates how felt about the story, but I'll also add:

"Will Pumpernickel return? Will Daring be crushed by the terrible trap? Tune in next week to find out!"

Apologies if that sounds snarky. I mean that without a bit more development, the questions left open seem weak, leaving me feel about them almost how I might while listening to an old radio thriiler show. There's some tension and possible anticipation, but not enough to fully engage me.
#12 ·
· · >>Haze
EDIT: I haven't read the story, and this post is not intended to reflect on it's content. I simply felt like discussing CiG's post, and I don't think there's a way to reply without it being linked to this story.

>>Cold in Gardez Eh, I think there's a bit more to some of these reactions than that.

I mean, I don't mind being asked questions, and I don't mind being given answers, as long as it's done engagingly? But there's a difference between 'being asked questions' and simply 'having questions'. "The Lady and the Tiger" asks a question. Admittedly, not a question much worth thinking about, IMHO, but it asks a question.

Some stories, however, don't ask questions like that. They just leave bits of the story out, and expect the reader to fill in the gaps. This can be good, but it's something that needs to be tuned to the audience, as well; I have a small amount of tolerance for this, and if it's taken past my threshold of interest, it rapidly alienates me from the story. This is obviously different for different people, since apparently some people genuinely enjoy "Ulysses".

I think it comes down to how much work the reader is willing to do for the author. I'm a moderately lazy reader; at a certain point, I'm simply going to stop bothering with the work of an author who asks me to put in too much mental energy into filling in the gaps in their story without supplying a commensurate return in emotional impact or neat ideas.

Ask me a question? Alright. Want me to work for you? There'd better be a pretty compelling reason. I want to be intrigued, not alienated. Personally, I'd draw the demarcation as 'people who want to be engaged by questions' against 'people who find questions intriguing in and of themselves'. In stories, I seem to fall more in the first camp.
#13 ·
Wherein the reviewer sidesteps the ongoing philosophical discussion and leaves a dubiously satisfying review-- :trollestia:

Without a bit more to the ending, it's hard to say what the story means. And I guess part of the issue there is that this seems to have aimed at being a tense scene from a lengthier adventure story, but it almost manages to feel like a standalone story. It's just that it fades to black right after setting up for a big payoff.

For what it's worth, I tried to do something similar with my entry into the previous Writeoff, right down to the involvement of Daring Do. I think this is more successful at getting a scene to stand on its own than I was. But again, it needs like one or two more lines to wrap things up.

It could even stay ambiguous... it just doesn't feel like the ending is as strong as the rest of it.
#14 ·
· · >>Not_A_Hat
You make me sound all snooty just because I liked this.
#15 ·
>>Haze I'm just an unabashed lowbrow. :P Aaaand... I haven't even read the story. I just wanted to add some discussion to CiG's point. It's probably a very good story. If I read it later, I'll expound more then.
#16 ·
· · >>CoffeeMinion >>wYvern
This is the most fascinating writeoff story I've seen in quite a while, and I'm still not entirely sure how to explain why it works so well for me, while the majority find the ending unsatisfying. I feel like I ought to try, though I may not be able to express it correctly, and it probably won't change any opinions.

"The Lady or the Tiger" was mentioned as a comparison, but I feel like it's not that kind of story at all. Personally I dislike that one, I think it's just bait for endless moot discussions. It's about a princess, and she gets to make a choice on someone else's life. In this one, it's Pumpernickel's choice, but the story isn't about him at all. I feel like it almost doesn't matter what he does, because we already got the full story.

It's all out of Daring Do's hooves. She knew, 100%, that Pumpernickel would die if she left him there. He was already trembling; he wouldn't have the patience (or the faith) to last long enough. She takes responsibility, even though it's his fault. And now it's a waiting game. Even if the assistant does come back with the weight, she could die if she's not patient enough. She accepted whatever consequences it brings. Maybe she's being foolish, or too sentimental to let this kid die for his mistake. But we do see what kind of pony she is for choosing this. Prompt drop, even though it's never actually said.

It is such a strange note to end on. Her vs the stone trap, itself treated like a living creature. Breathing and bleeding sand and shaking with life throughout the fic. and maybe she'll be patient for hours, without knowing if it's futile or not. what a situation to put herself into. somehow she couldn't bring herself to solve it the easy way. and it's not merely a mystery of "why?" but instead being put into her experience, staring an uncertain fate in the eyes.

like I said earlier, the story is a question. but maybe it's a question without any answer at all, like a zen riddle. there's some elusive, abstract soul to this, even though the writing itself is so carefully non-abstract.

maybe I'm full of shit, and none of this post makes any sense. but we gotta like or dislike this one according to our instincts.
#17 ·
It just occurred to me that this should get an honorable mention for inserting an OC who manages to establish themselves and feel real and unobtrusive in the short time they're on screen.

I think you are not full of it; these are good points.

Hmm. Might have to move this up a spot or two.
#18 ·
Oh wow, this was remarkable. The writing is top-notch and the conflict as well as the choices Daring has to face are engaging.

I would like to second what you said about the story being complete: Daring has made her choice, and whether she lives or dies is inconsequential to the question I think this story tries to ask. Or even inconsequential to the question: was it the right choice or not? It certainly was the noble choice, seeing as she knew her assistant wouldn't last.

There's also a definite answer here: noble choices put you at the mercy of others.

Aaand to the top of my ballot it goes.
#19 ·
· · >>Trick_Question >>horizon >>horizon

I think wYvern says it well. The question isn't whether Pumpernickel comes back or Daring survives -- that's ultimately irrelevant. The climax of the story is when she makes the decision to put her life in his hands hooves. The rest is the resolution, and it has all the elements of a complete story. It is, however, open-ended, which I think some people don't like. They want to know what happens to Daring, which I think is a fairly human desire.

I'll defer on this question to horizon (assuming he didn't write this one himself). He has a better understanding of the elements of a story than I.

#20 ·
>>Cold in Gardez
Not to beat this horse to death with the same response to you repeatedly, but I agree with what you're saying. My problem with the ending was more that we don't get much of an insight into Daring's mindset. What does "Of course, she knew, traps could be patient, too." mean about how she feels? Does that mean she's resigned to die wordswordswords already? I expect Daring to take chances, and at the end of this piece I'm not convinced she still has that part of her personality.
#21 ·
· · >>CoffeeMinion >>Cold in Gardez
>>Cold in Gardez
I'm just going to pretend my name was mentioned twice more so my ghost can show up in the mirror and join this discussion.

My off-the-cuff analysis here is that there's actually two separate narrative/character arcs in this, which is ambitious for a story this short. Daring Do has an arc -- she's confronted with a conflict and makes a decision that shows character (though it does leave her with a bigger problem whose denouement is not shown). Similarly, Pumpernickel has an arc, but I don't read that one as closed. He's characterized as ... I don't know if "cowardly" is fair, but certainly with insufficient bravery for the situation he's in (or at least that's Daring's judgment, because that drives her decision). That conflict is set up, but the trigger isn't pulled: we don't get to see his decision.

It is arguably a complete story on Daring's side, but I think the existence of the other unresolved conflict is what makes it feel incomplete. One possible interpretation would be to Lady Or The Tiger? this and make that ambiguity the point, but we're given so little information about Pumpernickel that that rings kinda hollow to me; that particular sort of deliberate ambiguity would imply that we're intended to make a judgment on his character based on what we know, but there's so little to extrapolate from.All we see is his shaking legs, Daring's inner reassurance of his character, and Daring's action (which tells us that she feels he wouldn't have survived had she left). I think this was probably hampered by the word count -- with an extra 250 words it could have had a scene to give a fuller picture of Pumpernickel, via e.g. non-trap-related conversation -- picture Daring trying to calm him down by talking about his family, for instance -- and then building up to his departure would have felt more like a puzzle, trying to figure out along with Daring what the ultimate outcome would be, in a way we can't really do with the text as written.

Nevertheless, what's here is compelling, and I think this would sidle into TC territory if it stuck the landing on both arcs.

Tier: Solid

(assuming he didn't write this one himself)

Don't be silly, I wouldn't break my Writeoff silence on a round I promised not to enter because I had an idea for an ambitious and densely layered fic that I couldn't get out of my head!

... Wait, no, that's exactly the sort of stupid stunt I'd pull. :V I wish I *had* written this instead of my entry.
#22 ·
Eeyup, I think you nailed what the ending needed to feel more satisfying.
#23 ·
· · >>horizon

Two separate narrative arcs in a minific? That's a higher bar than I hope I'm ever confronted with.
#24 ·
I liked it, as I often do with Daring Do stories.
I had a minor heart attack when Pumpernickel first asked if she was really coming back.
That one line turned the entire story on its head.
He's nervous, and she can see it. The story goes out of its way to tell us that she can see it. He won't last long enough for her to get the weight and come back. There were many ways for this story to play out, and Daring makes the noble choice.
Though I fear the worst. "Pumpernickel" doesn't exactly sound like an adventurer's name, after all.
Anyway, this was great. Vivid imagery and solid use of language made this an emotional roller coaster, and I'm glad I got to take a ride.
Also, I loved the shout-out to the ceiling-crocodiles.
Thank you for writing.
#25 ·
>>Cold in Gardez
I'll defer on this question to horizon (assuming he didn't write this one himself).

>>Cold in Gardez
Two separate narrative arcs in a minific? That's a higher bar than I hope I'm ever confronted with.

Oh, you. :V

Congratulations on the win! (And on solidly cementing your first-place status on both sides of the scoreboard. At least some of why I entered this round was in an effort to make you work for it; I hope that adds to the sweetness.) Congratulations also to "Pie to Pie"s author and to billymorph for their medals, and to everyone who entered for another good round!