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Nightmare After Nightmare Night · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Pumpkin Spice Season
“Why do we teach this in the Spring again?” Starlight Glimmer asked.

She gazed out the window of her office as she spoke. The cold bluster of March had given way to April’s hints of the wakening world. The bare trees of the Whitetail Woods were tinted green with buds counting down the days until they unfurled and were born.

The birds had returned, too. A courting pair of Uncommon Cisticolas hopped about on the windowsill just a few feet away, their dull wings beating against the glass as they danced around each other. Further out, hawks turned in slow loops over the fields, effortlessly riding the morning thermals high into the sky on still wings. Above them the larger shapes of pegasi cavorted amongst the clouds, kicking up bits of mist or simply spreading their wings to catch the late morning sun.

“Just tradition, I guess,” Twilight Sparkle said. She wasn’t looking out the window. She was staring at the book laid out before her while she scribbled notes on a lined folio. Dozens of loose-leaf pages floated around her, darting around in time with her attention. They filled the office with a quiet rustle. “I mean, it’s as good a time as any other, right?”

“Seems kind of inappropriate, though.” Starlight frowned. “Incongruous.”

“Would you rather teach it in the winter, when the students are cooped up with nothing to do?” Twilight fixed her with a pointed glance, then returned to the notebook. “Don’t think of it as special. It’s just part of the curriculum.”

“Yeah.” Starlight turned away from the window to her own notes. They were laid out haphazardly on the desk, and she shuffled them into a semblance of order before Twilight could do it for her. “Still feels weird, though. I mean, we’re supposed to teach all this, then just go on afterward like it was nothing? And why can’t their parents just teach them? Mine did. I bet yours did, too.”

Twilight’s quill froze, and her gaze took on a distant aspect. Then she blushed.

Still, she soldiered on: “Celestia feels it’s important for all foals to receive a thorough, modern education in the subject. Too many ponies, especially of the, er, older generation have some outdated beliefs that could end up being harmful to foals as they mature. And where better to do it but in schools?”

“So, make their teachers uncomfortable and awkward instead?”

“Do you not want to do this, Starlight?” Twilight closed her book and moved around the table, draping a wing over Starlight’s shoulders. “You don’t have to, you know. I just figured that, well, you have the most experience, so who better to teach the kids?”

“No, it’s fine.” Though, after days of research and note-taking and putting together lesson plans, she was starting to regret her earlier bout of volunteerism.

Besides, agreeing to teach the course had put a smile on Twilight’s face. How could she undo that?

“Just nervous, I guess,” she continued.

“Don’t be. You’ll do fine, just like always.” Twilight scooped up her notes, the pages aloft in the air zipping down to neatly sort themselves in her folio book. “Thank you for the hot cocoa, too. What do I owe you?”

“Nothing.” Starlight waved a hoof. “I got it free from the new Starbucks. They were handing out boxes at the opening.”

“The one across from the town hall?”

“No, that’s the old-new one. The new-new one is behind the Hayburger.”

Twilight’s ears perked up. “Ooh! I’ll have to check it out the next time I go there. Anyway, do you think you’ll have a finished syllabus ready next week?”

Starlight glanced down at her notes. She wasn’t much of a by-the-syllabus teacher, preferring to just adlib and feel her way through classes, but that wasn’t Twilight’s style and this wasn’t a subject that lent itself to casual experimentation. It had to be rigorous. And she could do rigorous just as well as anypony. Even Twilight!

She huffed and nodded. “I will. It’ll be the best class you’ve ever seen!”

“I’m sure the foals will appreciate it, Starlight. Even if they may be uncomfortable at first. And remember, you can always come to me if you need any help.” Twilight smiled, and the room lit up like the sun had emerged from the clouds.

No, wait, that was an actual cloud. They squinted against the sudden flood of light as the pegasi outside finally got to work clearing the sky. Twilight gave her a little wave, and Starlight held her own smile until she was out the door. Only then did she slump in her chair.

“Right, no pressure then.” She lifted her notes and tapped their edges on the desk, aligning them perfectly. Then she set them down, stared at them, and shoved them off the desk onto the floor.

Dark Magic Education was going to make things awkward around the Friendship Academy for a while.




“I don’t like this,” Pinkie said. Her muzzled wrinkled as she spoke, as though the words and their sentiment tasted sour in her mouth.

“What, the weather?” Rarity peered out the rain-dotted window. It had been drizzling all afternoon. Out in the fields, beyond the houses and storefronts of Ponyville, dozens of farmers were mucking through through the rows, churning the mud with their hooves and having a great time of it.

At least, Starlight imagined they were. They were earth ponies, after all. How could they not enjoy it? And hadn’t she done the same as a filly? Her mother had certainly scolded her for it enough times, tracking half the moors around Sire’s Hollow into their house after her adventures with Sunburst.

“No, this place,” Pinkie said. She hunched over as she spoke, her voice low. Not that anypony could hear them over the chatter of the crowd.

This place was the new-new Starbucks, still festooned with Grand Opening signs and trays filled with free samples. Little cups of steaming java and quartered croissants impaled on toothpicks. Half the town was packed into the spacious lobby and seating area, a pastel jumble of familiar sounds and scents that soothed Starlight’s mind. Though she could never really appreciate the pampering of the spa like Rarity could, Starlight imagined that this was how it made her feel – comforted, accepted and warm. Dozens of ponies sat just feet away, none of them staring at her, or walking around her on the tips of her hooves, afraid she might turn in their direction. Here she wasn’t an ex-world-ending-villain or recovering megalomaniac. No, here she was just another pony.

It was nice.

So she said, “It’s nice.”

“That’s the problem,” Pinkie grumped. Most ponies couldn’t speak with their mouths making that shape, a sort of wrinkled frown, but Pinkie managed. “A place ponies can go to get pastries and coffee? It’s ridiculous! And look at these drinks! They’re all made up!”

“What? Posh.” Rarity took a sip from her latte. A bit of foamed milk stuck to her upper lip, and her tongue flashed out to wash it away. “Lattes and espressos and mochas are all accepted species of coffee.”

“The latte, maaaaybe,” Pinkie said. She swept a hoof at the tasteful menu board behind the counter. “But look at some of these! Chai tea? Chai is tea! It’s a tea, with tea in it! And a toffee nut latte? Toffee is candy, Rarity! It’s candy! You can’t put candy in coffee! This is madness!”

“Chai is a specialized blend of aromatic spices. It’s just a way of letting their customers know the tea has a bit more kick to it.” Rarity took another sip, then turned to Starlight. “Are you alright, Starlight? You’ve been awful quiet this morning.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Starlight gave her head a little shake to bring herself back into the present. “A little stressed, I guess. I’m working on a syllabus for a new course at the Academy.”

“Oh?” Rarity set her cup down and leaned forward. “What are we teaching?”

“Not we, me. Twilight wants me to teach it because of my, ah, experience in the subject. An Introduction to Dark Magic Education, its Dangers, Precautions and Warning Signs.”

Pinkied gawped at her. “You’re teaching the foals dark magic?!”

“No, I’m teaching them dark magic education. Education, not training.”

“What’s the difference?” Rarity asked.

“Well, it’s the difference between sex education and sex training, I would imagine.”

The others were silent for a moment. Pinkie let out a quiet grunt.

“Leaving that image aside for a moment,” Rarity said, “why teach the course at all? I’m not sure I would want Sweetie learning such things from school instead of from our parents, like I did.”

“Yeah, but, didn’t you have that incident? Before I got here. Something about a book?”

Rarity coughed. She lifted her latte and took a long sip, hiding behind it. Finally, when she ran out of drink or breath, she set it down and cleared her throat. “That was a minor episode of carelessness on my part. There was no permanent damage. Nopony was hurt.

Pinkie leaned in. “She turned half the town into—”

“What matters is that nopony was hurt,” Rarity leaned in further. Their little tabletop was running out of space for ponies. “And that’s all we need ever say on the subject, thank you very much.”

“Right.” Starlight pulled her empathy mocha out of range of their muzzles. “So, surely you used the experience to teach Sweetie about the danger of dark magic?”

There was another moment of silence. Rarity shrank back into her seat.

Finally: “Perhaps not directly, no. But I’m sure she absorbed that lesson.”

“She absorbed the lesson? Sweetie Belle. Little white unicorn filly who likes to sing? She absorbed the lesson and learned to be responsible with dark magic all by herself?”

“Well.” Rarity tapped her front hooves together. “You make it sound silly when you say it like that.”

“It’s nothing against her, Rarity,” Starlight said. She reached out to squeeze Rarity’s hoof. “But we all know she adores you and tries to emulate you. Without a proper understanding of dark magic she could find herself in the same situation you did. Do you want that?”

“Of course not.” Rarity huffed. “And Twilight approves of this?”

Starlight nodded. “She’s the one who asked me to design the course. And, if we’re being honest, I know more about how dangerous dark magic can be than most ponies, right? Who better to teach it?”

“That’s… vaguely reassuring. What do you think, Pinkie?”

Pinkie shrugged. “It’s all unicorn to me.” She turned back to her perusal of the menu. “Hey, what do you think pumpkin spice is?”




It was bright and early on Monday when Twilight stuck her head into Starlight’s office. “Knock knock!” she called. “You finish that syllabus?”

No. No she hadn’t. Not by a country mile. But it was Monday morning and Twilight was expecting a syllabus and even though Starlight knew, absolutely knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that Twilight Sparkle would not be disappointed in her if she said it wasn’t done, that she would give her all the time she needed and help her step-by-step the entire way, there was simply no way she could tell her mentor and best friend that the thing she’d asked for, the thing she had showed up to receive early in the morning with a smile on her face, wasn’t ready. So she said what she had to.

“Yup! All done!” She pushed the folder across the desk. It was still rough in spots, marked through with pencil and red ink, but the gist was there. The compiled expertise of dozens of eminent scholars, the best minds in modern education, and of course her own cautionary experiences, all condensed into a dozen pages describing a week-long comprehensive dark magic education course.

Twilight took a seat opposite and picked up the folder. If anything, her smile widened as she opened it and began to read. Her eyes flicked across the lines with amazing speed.

She tilted her head.

The smile faded, giving way to something else. A slight frown, a tightening of the lips. A hollow feeling began to grow in Starlight’s gut.

Finally, Twilight reached the last page. She read it, then turned back to the first. Nopony spoke.

Outside her window, the courting Uncommon Cisticolas tapped at the glass. Starlight barely heard it over the sound of her heart.

“You, ah… you don’t like it?” It emerged as a squeak.

“What? No, of course not.” Twilight forced a smile. “It, uh… I can see you put so much effort into it!”

Oh no. No. That was the worst. Twilight was trying to let her down gently. Starlight’s heart hiccuped in her breast. She leaned forward, hooves clattering at the desk, trying to grab the folder back out of Twilight’s grasp.

“It’s just a draft!” she said. “It’s, it’s, it’s not done yet! There’s so, sooo much more I can still add! More lessons! And citations! And the exam! Twilight, you haven’t seen the exam yet! You like exams, right? You, you can help me write the exam! It’ll be fun!”

“Starlight, stop. Relax. Breathe.” She set the folder on the desk. “It’s not the quality I’m concerned about. It’s the, uh… the direction, I guess. This seems very… hooves-on. Like, you actually plan to teach, you know… how to do dark magic?”

Starlight blinked at her. “Er… yes?”

“That’s…” Twilight paused. “Why?”

“Why… I’m not sure what you mean. It’s a comprehensive course on safe dark magic. That’s what you asked for.”

“Oh. Oh. No.” Twilight shook her head. “No, that’s… no. Starlight, this is supposed to be an abstinence-based dark magic course. The only safe dark magic is no dark magic.”

“What?” Starlight sat up straight. Her earlier shame at having let down her mentor began to melt away, replaced by something else. Something firmer. “Twilight, abstinence-based education doesn’t work. Foals are going to experiment with dark magic whether we want them to or not. We need to make sure they have the tools and information to do so safely. That’s, like, accepted wisdom in education circles. I did the research!”

Twilight shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. That’s not how I was raised, it’s not what Celestia taught me, and it’s not what I’m going to teach in my school. Dark magic should only be practiced between a pony and their arch-nemesis, not just casually whenever you want!”

“No, see? That’s exactly what this course addresses!” Starlight snatched the folder back with her magic and held it open. “See? The first lesson is about the dangers of irresponsible dark magic and all the harm it can cause! Then, starting on Day 2, we get into the safe use of wards and boundary spells. It’s not until the end of Day 4 that we even address how to appropriately reach into the void to commune with the dark lords that dwell within. And all along the lessons emphasize safety and moral certainty! Look, look, here’s a segment on Casting When Angry, and an easy acronym to recite when deciding if the benefit of blood magic really outweighs its costs!”

Twilight squinted. “B-C-Y-T-R-F-Q-L-Y? That’s an easy acronym?”

“Well, I mean.” Starlight fumbled with the folder. “It’s a work in progress, okay? What matters is that every lessons introduces its subject with a careful review of the risks and the precautions that must be taken before dipping your hooves into dark magic. It’s based on the same protocols they use in university Thaumaturgy departments.”

Twilight shook her head again. “No. This is all... I’m sorry, Starlight, but no. I want you to start over and develop a dark magic course that emphasizes its dangers and teaches foals to never use it. Take out all the stuff about precautions and safety. That will just encourage them to try it at home.”

Starlight gawked at her. She looked down at her folder. Then she looked back at Twilight. She frowned, and the squishy firmness in her breast hardened even further. It solidified, straightening her backbone, forming a solid core around which she could rally.

“No.”

Twilight blinked. “What?”

“I said no. I will not redo it. Foals need to learn this, Twilight! Foals will experiment whether we want them to or not. You want them to end up like us? Or like Rarity?”

“What do you mean? We ended up fine! And Rarity just… it was just one little incident.”

“Fine?” Starlight pointed at hoof at herself. “I started a cult based on magically erasing ponies’ identities and stealing their cutie marks. Rarity twisted half the town into some crazed fashionista Tartarus. And don’t think I never heard about your Want-It, Need-It spell. Ponies don’t forget that sort of thing, Twilight.”

“That just proves my point! Do you want everypony to know how to do those things?”

Starlight crossed her forelegs. “We can’t stop them from learning. All we can do is show them how to do the right thing with it.”

Twilight took a breath. Then another. She held up a foreleg and pushed it out slowly as she exhaled. When she spoke, her voice had calmed, bit it lost none of its steel. “This is my Academy, Starlight. I value your input as a guidance counsellor and most importantly as a friend, but I have to take responsibility for the curriculum. Develop an abstinence-based dark magic plan, and then we’ll talk.”

Starlight shook her head. “I can’t, Twilight. It’s your Academy, but this is too important. This is the course I’m teaching.”

“I could dismiss you.”

“You could.”

“I could find another unicorn to teach it.”

“I’m sure you could. Rarity? Trixie? You want them teaching foals about dark magic? Don’t you find it odd that almost every unicorn you know has gotten in trouble with dark magic at some point?”

That scored. Twilight’s eyes widened, and Starlight could practically see the thoughts racing through her mind. Reviewing all the powerful unicorns they knew, going through their history, trying to find one who hadn’t stepped onto the wrong side of dark magic at some point.

But she couldn’t, of course. Every unicorn did it. It was just part of growing up. Starlight waited for Twilight to reach the same conclusion.

Eventually she did. Twilight glowered. “Fine. Fine! You teach your course, but you know what? I am going to find another unicorn! Myself! I’ll teach my own course, and it’ll be based on abstinence, and it’ll keep foals from using dark magic until they find their one true special nemesis!”

“Fine, you do that.”

“Fine, I will!”

“Fine.” Starlight closed the folder and leaned back in her chair. “My class starts tomorrow.”

“Fi— wait, I’m supposed to meet Celestia in Canterlot tomorrow. Can we start Wednesday?”

“Time waits for no mare, Twilight.” Starlight kicked her rear hooves up onto the desk and leaned back. “Tomorrow at first bell.”

Silence. Twilight narrowed her eyes.

Finally, “Fine.” A pause. “Are we still on for coffee this afternoon?”

“Of course. The new place?”

“The new place it is.” Twilight stood and gave her wings a little shake. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of preparation to do! If you change your mind or feel like, I don’t know, apologizing or something, just come by my office. I’ll be there. Planning. Writing plans! Just stop by any time!”

“Don’t think so.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.” Starlight waved. “Bye.”

“Bye!” The princess turned and stomped off. Her hooves echoed down the hallway until they were lost in the general clatter of students arriving for first lessons.

Starlight let out a long breath. Her hooves started to shake, and she pressed them to the desk.

“Awkward indeed,” she mumbled.




One full day of school later, Starlight found herself at the new-new Starbucks’ outdoor patio. A decaf empathy mocha slowly cooled in its ceramic mug in front of her. The barista had drawn the image of a blooming flower in the milk foam floating on the surface. She’d also somehow signed her name in it. Not, perhaps, the best use of a barista’s time, especially when the line was out the door. But then, who knew how to be a barista better than the barista herself?

It was crowded, of course. That went without saying. A gaggle of seatless ponies idled in the spaces between the tables, shuffling along, waiting for a spot to open. A few glared at her for occupying a four-seat table all by herself.

Rarity arrived before anypony worked up the courage to evict her. The unicorn waved from the entrance, started to walk over, then apparently decided to get in line instead. A few minutes after Fluttershy arrived, and Rarity dragged her alongside, ignoring Fluttershy’s squawk and the indignant glares of ponies behind them. In time, in the manner of molasses flowing through a straw in January, they made it through the line and collected their drinks.

“Well, next time remind me to leave earlier,” Rarity said. She sat and floated her saddlebags to the side. “Don’t they realize how many more customers they could serve if they sped things up a little bit? I swear, that mare spent five minutes just decorating the foam on this latte.”

Starlight leaned over. Sure enough, the surface of Rarity’s latte bore a finely rendered landscape picture of the sun setting behind Canterlot mountain with Celstia’s castle in the foreground. Each of the minarets and spires bore tiny banners that seemed to sway as the liquid settled.

“Um, I think it’s nice,” Fluttershy said. “It gives me time to think about what I want to order then practice it in my head a few times before I reach the register.”

“What’d you get?” Starlight asked. Fluttershy’s drink was in a covered to-go cup, and she couldn’t smell anything from it.

“Just water. Coffee makes me a little dizzy.”

“You get used to it eventually.” Rarity took a sip from her latte, tearing apart the carefully sculpted mountains. “Anyway, where are my manners? How are you today, Starlight?”

“I’m good.” It was mostly true. Her heart still hadn’t slowed from the morning’s confrontation with Twilight, but the resolute conviction that inspired her defiance hadn’t wavered either. She felt like a mare on the eve of battle, ready to fight with her last ounce of strength. To win or die.

Well, hopefully not die. She spent a moment dialing things back in her head. Better to just lose gracefully.

The others were looking at her, and she realized she was staring off into space. She shook herself and continued. “Have you seen Twilight and Pinkie? They were supposed to join us.”

“Hm, not since lunch.” Rarity took another sip. “Did you tell them to meet us here?”

“I said the new Starbucks, yes.”

“Oh, that’s your problem. The new Starbucks is attached to Barnyard Bargains. It’s just down the road there.” Rarity pointed down the street, where sure enough the green-and-white seapony sign of the Starbucks franchise hung over a new attachment to the Barnyard Bargains store.

Starlight blinked. “I thought this was the new one?”

“No, this is the old-new-new one. The new-new-new one opened this weekend. See? They have the little grand opening flags still up.”

“You think they went there?”

“I do. In fact…” Rarity stood up, bracing her forelegs on the table. “Yes, I can see them, actually. Yoohoo, Twilight! Twilight! Over here! No, look left! Left! Down the street! Yes! Look, I’m waving at… Okay, good, she sees us now. Here they come.”

It was a short walk between the outdoor patios, and a few seconds later the three ponies became five. Starlight scooched over so Twilight could squeeze in beside her. They all spent a moment adjusting legs and hooves and drinks until everypony had some space.

“Sorry, Twilight,” Starlight said. “I thought this was still the new Starbucks.”

“It’s fine. We probably need better names for them. Especially if they keep opening new locations.”

“I don’t get that,” Pinkie said. She alone among them had no drink, preferring to glare at the menu board instead. “There’s four of these places now! That’s too many for a town like Ponyville!”

“Yes, but nopony goes to the original one anymore,” Rarity said. “The lines are too long. So really there’s just three.”

“That’s still too many! And I hear they’re getting ready to open another near the castle!”

Twilight perked up. “Really? My castle? Like, right outside it?”

“Yes! They’re going ruin that Prench word Rarity keeps using even though there’s a perfectly good Equestrian word that means the same thing.”

Rarity squinted at her. “Ambiance?”

“Ambience?” Starlight asked.

“The first one,” Pinkie said.

“Darling, it’s a giant purple crystal castle shaped like a tree with an enormous star on top of it and random flags and banners jutting out at all angles. There’s no ambiance to ruin.”

“I wouldn’t mind a Starbucks outside my castle,” Twilight said. “I could get danishes there in the morning.”

Pinkie gripped her by the shoulders. “You get your danishes from Sugarcube Corner!”

Twilight gently disentangled herself. “I could still do that. I could, you know, get danishes from both places. Or maybe alternate days?”

“And that’s not all!” Pinkie leaned forward over the table. Her voice dropped to a whisper, and the others had to lean in to hear, their muzzles just inches apart. Starlight could smell the mix of cocoa and milk and coffee in their breaths. “I’ve been doing some research into this place, and I’ve found some disturbing secrets!”

Twilight gasped. “You’ve been doing research?”

“Yes! And it turns out that pumpkin spice has no pumpkin in it!”

There was a long pause as they digested Pinkie’s revelation. Glances were exchanged. Eyes darted toward the menu board over the counter, which prominently featured no fewer than three pumpkin spice beverages.

Finally, Starlight spoke for the group. “So?”

“So? So?!” Pinkie slammed her hooves on the table with a sharp report. The buzz of conversation around them died instantly as dozens of ponies turned in their direction. Fluttershy vanished beneath the table. “They call it pumpkin spice, but there’s no pumpkin in it! It’s false advertising!”

“I’m not sure that’s a true statement,” Rarity said. “But, leaving that aside for a moment, what do you think pumpkin spice is?”

“I don’t know yet.” Pinkie frowned. “Everytime I ask they say customers aren’t allowed behind the counter. Or the supply room. But I’ll figure it out eventually. Oh, and another thing! Why put pumpkins on the menu in spring? Pumpkins are for Nightmare Night. They won’t even sprout until summer!”

“Well, keep us apprised of your progress,” Twilight said. She leaned back in her seat, her wings brushing against Starlight’s side. “So, how is everypony? Fluttershy, are you okay down there?”

“Um, yes. It’s nice here. Are ponies still staring at us?”

“No, you can come out.”

“Okay.” There was a shuffle, the table jumped as something kicked one of the legs, and Fluttershy emerged. “How are you?”

“Busy.” Twilight sniffed. “I had to cancel my trip to Canterlot tomorrow, in fact.”

“You didn’t have to,” Starlight said. “You elected to. That was your choice.”

“A choice forced upon me by somepony. And circumstances. But mostly somepony.”

Rarity sat still, her mug held just in front of her muzzle. Her eyes darted above it between Starlight and Twilight. “Is everything alright, darlings?”

“We’re fine.”

“Fine.”

“We’re both fine.”

“Just fine.”

“Never happier.”

“I see.” Rarity set the cup down without taking a drink. “I must be imagining things. Anyway, Starlight, your new class starts tomorrow, doesn’t it? You must be excited.”

She smiled. “I am!”

“I am too!” Twilight said. “Because I am also teaching a new class tomorrow. It will be just like Starlight’s class, in fact.” A pause. “Except better.”

“By ‘better’ she means ‘irrelevant to the needs of modern foals’,” Starlight said. “Also counterproductive.”

Rarity’s ears folded back. “I’m… not sure I understand.”

Twilight spoke before Starlight could get a word in. “Starlight believes that foals should be taught the fundamentals of dark magic in the apparent belief that when they inevitably use dark magic themselves, at least they’ll have read the warning label. I will be teaching a traditional course on the dangers of dark magic and why it should only be used under special conditions that most of these foals won’t meet for many, many years.”

“She means abstinence,” Starlight said. “You know, ‘The only safe dark magic is no dark magic!’ Like our parents taught. And about as useful. Useless.”

“It’s not useless. It’s age appropriate.”

“So, are foals going to both classes?” Fluttershy asked. “That might be confusing.”

Starlight shook her head. “We’ll leave it to the students. Or their parents, if they’re around.”

“I see.” Rarity took a sip. “I have another question.”

“What’s that?” Twilight asked.

“Would you mind adding Sweetie Belle to your class? I love my parents, of course, but I’m not sure they’d be the best teachers of something this delicate. And as for me, well… I don’t quite trust myself with this subject.”

“Oh, Rarity.” Twilight stepped around the table to Rarity’s side and draped a wing over her shoulder. “You know we don’t feel that way about you, right? We’ve all made mistakes. You, me, Starlight, Pinkie, Starlight, Fluttershy, Starlight… Mistakes are what help us learn and become better ponies. That’s why Starlight’s probably the best one of us!”

“Ahem. Rarity, I’m sure we would both love to have Sweetie Belle in our class,” Starlight said. “Which of us would you prefer?”




“Good morning, students!” Starlight called to the crowded lecture hall. “It’s good to see so many of you today! And we have some new ponies with us for this very special class. Hello, Sweetie Belle.”

“I’m learning magic!”

“That’s right. We’re all learning about magic today. Specifically, we’re learning about a very special, very delicate type of magic known as Dark Magic.”

The room exploded. The assembled students gasped, they laughed. Many blushed and ducked beneath their hooves. A chatter grew among them as they repeated what she said, growing louder as it passed in waves from one end of the room to the other. Starlight stood at the base of the auditorium and let it play out.

It was all a little overwrought. They all knew what the class was. They’d volunteered for it. But apparently it was one thing to sign up for a course in a paper catalogue, and entirely different to show up in auditorium and hear one of their teachers blithely discuss dark magic, of all things.

Finally, minutes later, the last of the giggles subsided, and the students turned their attention back to her. She waited another moment, letting the silence stretch out until all eyes fixed on her, then spoke.

“Get used to saying it, fillies and colts. Dark magic. It’s all we’re going to talk about this week. I know you’ve all heard about it before. Maybe you saw it in a movie, or read about it in a book. Maybe your friends told you about it when no grown-ups were around. Maybe a few of you have even tried it yourself, or know somepony who has. And all of those things are fine. I’m not here to judge you. No teacher in this Academy will judge you for honest mistakes.”

She turned back to the board, where a list of rules was written in bold strokes. “But I also need you all to understand how serious Dark Magic can be. If you are careless, if you are inattentive, of even if you make a simple mistake, you can be badly hurt. But worse, Dark Magic can hurt other ponies. So before we learn anything about Dark Magic itself, we need to learn a few rules.”

Every eye in the room was on her as she spoke. Never, in her months as a teacher and guidance counselor at the Friendship Academy, had she commanded such uncontested attention. The earlier giggles were all forgotten. She could’ve heard a pin drop.

Not a bad start. She allowed herself a small smiles as she continued. “Now, the first rule of Dark Magic is…”




“I want to start by thanking everypony for coming,” Twilight Sparkle said to the lecture hall.

It wasn’t entirely empty. She was in it, for one. Also Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. And Snails. They occupied three seats out of the Academy’s Luna Auditorium, which on other days could comfortably seat over a hundred students.

So, there was space to work with. That was good. She focused on that part.

The rest of the Academy’s student body was not in the Luna Auditorium. They were in the Celestia Auditorium, where Starlight’s course on Dark Magic was underway. She regretted, for a moment, making the selection between their courses voluntary, rather than establishing a quota. After all, one could hardly expect foals to willingly take the more responsible class when a more exciting course was on the menu. She might’ve even done the same as a filly.

“Now, then. Who knows why we’re here?” she asked.

The three foals looked at each other, then down at their empty notebooks. Finally, Snails raised his hand. “Isn’t Starlight going to teach us about safe dark magic?”

“No, that’s in the Celestia Auditorium. I’m teaching how to not use dark magic. There’s nothing safe about it.”

“Oh. Okay.” Snails stood, gathered his notebook, and walked out.

Apple Bloom started to rise. “Should we—”

“No. Stay right there.” She let out a quiet huff as the door closed behind Snails. “He just doesn’t know what he’s missing. Believe me, you two are in for a treat! A safe, responsible treat, like, uh, eating all your alfalfa! Not like the candy that Starlight Glimmer’s class is getting. Metaphorical candy, I mean. I don’t think she brought real candy. If she did that’s cheating.”

Scootaloo started to stand. Both fillies glanced at the door.

Twilight latched it shut with her magic. “Ahem. Starting over. Today, we’re learning about the dangers and risks of Dark Magic. Not safe dark magic! Because that doesn’t exist. In fact, repeat after me: There Is No Safe Dark Magic.”

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo mumbled the refrain together. “There is no safe dark magic.”

“Right. Perfect.” She smiled at them. “Before we go any further though, let’s review the types of magic you’re familiar with. I’m a… er, I was a unicorn, and unicorns cast magic with their horns! They can levitate objects and cast other spells. Pegasus ponies use the magic in their wings and hooves to fly around and shape the weather. And earth ponies can, uh… Well, they can… hm...”

Apple Bloom looked up at her expectantly.

“Anyway, there’s another kind of magic called dark magic. It’s called dark magic because it’s bad and using it is wrong except under very special circumstances. The first known users of dark magic was—oh, yes Scootaloo?”

The filly lowered her hoof. “You said we can use it under special circum-somethings?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to get into that until the final day, but I guess we can briefly address it now.” Twilight stepped closer and sat between the fillies’ desks, draping a wing over each of them and pulling them closer. “Someday, when you’re both grown ponies setting out to start your lives as independent mares, you may meet somepony very special. They may start out as a stranger or even as a friend, but eventually they’ll turn into a rival, then an enemy, and finally into your one true arch-nemesis. And when that day comes, when you finally know who your special somenemesis is, then you’ll know that it’s time to use dark magic. And it won’t matter how much training you’ve had or how much you actually know about casting dark spells, because it will come naturally to you, like a beautiful flower blooming for the first time.”

The fillies looked at Twilight. They looked at each other. They looked again at the door.

Twilight tightened her wings around them. “Now, we’ll start by learning the Seven Warning Signs of Dark Magic. Get your quills ready, girls! You’ll want to take a lot of notes here! Now, the first warning sign is…”




“So,” Rarity said. She blew on her latte to help it cool, then took a sip. “How are the lessons going?”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

“Really fine.”

“Better than fine,” Twilight said. “Great, in fact. Classroom engagement is off the charts! I expect all my students will pass the end-of-course exam.”

“Both of them, you mean,” Starlight said.

“All of them, yes.”

“Which is both of them.”

“It doesn’t matter how many there are. What matters is that they are receiving a quality, responsible education in the hazards of dark magic.” Twilight sniffed, then took a long sip from her pumpkin spice latte. When she finally spoke her tone had cooled. “Ooh, that is good. Anyway, Starlight, how is your class going? No maimings yet, I hope?”

“Nothing so dramatic.” Starlight trid to sip her bubble tea, but the beverage didn’t lend itself to sipping. Instead she took a puzzled mouthful, let it squish around, then swallowed. Tasty, but it would take some getting used to. “Today was all about the importance of protection and safe dark magic. Boundaries, wardings, that sort of thing. We won’t get into the actual mechanics for a few more days.”

“I’ll sleep tight tonight, then.”

“You know, it occurs to me that a collaborative effort might yield more fruit, as it were,” Rarity said. “You two clearly have very different perspectives on how to make sure foals stay safe around dark magic. Surely you could develop a joint curriculum that takes both attitudes into account?”

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t think so, Rarity. The only safe dark magic is no dark magic. Once you start telling foals that some dark magic is okay, what’s to stop them from using it everywhere? Where do you draw the line?”

“The same place you draw the line for anything,” Starlight said. “When it starts to hurt ponies. We have to trust foals to make the right choices at some point.”

“They’re too young for that, Starlight. Maybe when they’ve grown up, but I just can’t let foals play with fire like that.” She eyed Starlight’s glass. “How’s the tea, by the way? It looks… unusual.”

“It’s rich, but it takes some getting used to. Probably like the first time you eat tapioca, you know? It’s good, but it’s still tapioca. How’s the pumpkin spice?”

“Really good. Want a taste?”

“Sure.” She accepted the cup and took a cautious sip. “Hm. Not bad. I think Pinkie’s right, though. There’s no pumpkin in it. More like… nutmeg and cinnamon.”

“Very much a fall-flavored drink. I can’t imagine why they sell it in April.” Twilight floated the drink back. “Where is Pinkie, anyway?”

The three of them looked around the new-new-new Starbucks, but the mare was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, Starlight reasoned, she’d found a coffee shop more to her liking.




Starlight was dead to the world, lost in some muffling dream that consumed all her senses, when the door to her room crashed open with a tremendous report. The sudden sound shocked her upright, still delirious, uncomprehending. Half-dreaming, half-waking, all confused. She stared around the dark room in shock.

“Starlight!” somepony shouted with a vaguely familiar voice. Feminine, high and burning. The intruder leaped onto the bed and grasped Starlight’s shoulders, shaking her roughly. “Wake up! I figured it out! I figured it all out!”

“Wha… what? Pinkie?” Starlight blinked the last fragments of the dream away. Something with a poofy pink mane and the scent of cotton candy assaulted her. She tried to free herself from the covers. “What’s going on!?”

“It’s the pumpkin spice, Starlight!” the pink thing shouted. Pinkie Pie. Definitely Pinkie Pie. And for some reason she was wearing a Starbucks-brand green apron and hat, like all the baristas wore. “The secret is the spice, Starlight! It’s how they’re controlling us!”

“...what?”

A blinding flare lit the room. Incandescent light poured in through her window like the sun had just risen outside. The sudden brilliance washed out everything, and they both turned away.

“Pinkie Pie!” A loud, amplified voice shook the castle. “We know you’re in there! Come out with your hooves up!”

“Cheese it, it’s the coppers!” Pinkie hissed. She jumped off the bed and broke for the door, where she paused and turned. From out of the apron’s big front pouch she pulled a slender notebook and tossed it onto the bed. “Everything’s in there! The dossiers, the formula, the decoder ring! You have to tell everypony, Starlight! Tell them about the spice!”

“...what?”

“The pumpkin spice! Remember? I told you it didn’t have any pumpkins in it, and you were all like ‘Oh Pinkie you’re so random,’ and I was like ‘Nooo you have to listen to me it’s super important this time,’ and then Twilight said—Hey, hey! Get off me! No! Leggo! Starlight, you have to tell them! Tell the world the truth! Tell them the truuuutthhhhhh…”

Pinkie’s voice faded into the distance as the police ponies dragged her off to the paddywagon. After a few more seconds, the spotlight shining in her window snapped off with an audible clang, and the room was once more plunged into silence and darkness. Starlight sat on her bed, blind again, blinking away tears.

“...what?”




“So, wait. Let me get this straight.” Twilight ticked off the points on her hooves. “Pinkie impersonated a Starbucks employee, stole their secret pumpkin spice recipe, reverse-engineered it in the Sugarcube Corner bakery and determined that it was actually the product of dark magic alchemy created by the witch Europtera the Many-Fanged who secretly controls Starbucks to brainwash ponies into buying so many of their drinks that they take over market share and expand endlessly, thus spreading her malign influence throughout Equestria. Then she broke into your room last night to tell you all this before getting dragged off to jail.”

“As best I understand it, yes.” Starlight took a sip of her pumpkin spice latte. “I really wish she’d just waited until morning to tell me.”

“Well, that all sounds rather insidious,” Rarity said. “It does explain the number of stores, though.”

They were in the new-new-new-new Starbucks, conveniently located just outside Twilight’s castle. From the patio they could see the construction ponies working on the sixth and seventh Ponyville Starbucks locations down the street. Ponies were already queuing in line for the unopened stores.

“Doesn’t it seem a little… I don’t know, far-fetched?” Twilight said. She took a sip from her own latte. “I mean, this is Pinkie we’re talking about. Isn’t it possible she just imagined it?”

“She sounded pretty serious,” Starlight said. “And why else would they sell pumpkin-themed drinks in the spring? They really should just be selling it in October and November. What do you think, Fluttershy?”

“Oh!” Fluttershy ducked at their sudden attention. “Well, Pinkie is our friend so I think we should support her. And if she’s right, we should probably defeat this witch and shutdown all the Starbucks stores.”

“Whoa, whoa, hang on,” Starlight said. “That seems a little hasty.”

“We should consider our other options first,” Rarity said.

“Exactly,” Twilight said. “Like, that’s one option. Shutting down all the Starbucks stores forever. But another option, and I’m just tossing this out there for discussion, is, uh… we don’t do that.”

Silence. The four of them looked around the store, then at each other.

Starlight nodded vigorously. “Yup.”

“Sounds like a plan, darling.”

“Good, good. Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy sighed. “Fine. But I’m sticking with water.”

“Great. We’re agreed,” Twilight smiled. “That’s the power of harmony right there. And friendship, or something.”

“What about Pinkie?” Rarity asked. “We should probably go bail her out of jail.”

“I’ll head there before classes start,” Starlight said. She set her empty cup down and stretched. “Want to come with?”

“Sure. Been a while since I’ve visited the jail.” Twilight pushed her empty cup away and stood. “You know, really ought to incorporate this into our lesson plans somehow.”

“I was thinking the same thing. It really emphasizes the need for foals to understand all aspects of dark magic and how it can affect them.”

“And how dangerous it is, and why it shouldn’t be practiced.”

“And… like, it could be an example, you know? We could take field trips. To show the foals how to safely deal with dark magic. Through careful drink selection.”

Twilight tilted her head. “Hm. Yes. I could get behind that. It’s for safety!”

“Yeah, safety!”

At last, something they could agree on. Starlight fell into step beside her friend, a smile on her face, as they went to bail Pinkie out of jail again.
« Prev   7   Next »
#1 · 1
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Hmm, I was expecting Spike to appear at some point, but now I suspect the title may be a typo.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read, although I feel it ended rather abruptly. Like, it's still 500 words below the word limit, but I feel the story of Dark Magic lessons and the ever-escalating pumpkin spice latte arc could definitely go on for longer, towards some more satisfying ending.
#2 · 4
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Title changed from "Pumpkin Spike Season" to "Pumpkin Spice Season" at author's request.
#3 · 1
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The "old-new-new" joke nearly made me lose my composure at work today. Overall, this just reads really easily, and the jokes fly in at a good pace. Nice job!

If I had to level some criticism, I'd say that the opening did feel a little slow to me, since it took until the middle of the 2nd scene to actually introduce all of the plot threads. But I suspect this is an artifact of the Writeoff format. Published on Fimfic with a summary and cover art, the reader's going to feel a lot less blind going in.

Nitpick: I also thought that the two main storylines could have intersected in more meaningful ways. But then again, I know that this isn't so important as long as the jokes keep rolling in nicely (which they do!).

So yeah, I had a great time reading this, and I'm reasonably certain that a lot of folks will feel the same. Great stuff!
#4 ·
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This had:

A lot of funny moments, author, but that's kind of all it had. Maybe that's all it needs, but for a guy like me who longs for closure, the way the story stops rather than coming to an actual ending that resolves the various conflicts and stuff like that, well, it made me sigh sadly and shake my head. Still, much abundant fun, as they used to say.

Mike
#5 · 2
· · >>Posh
Alright, I'm gonna say it: the sex education allegory came off terribly ham-fisted for me.

I'm also not seeing how this fits this round's prompt? That's not super important to many a reader but I thought I'd point it out.

I was excited at the beginning of this story, contrary to the criticisms that it's slow, because the idea of Starlight and Twilight deciding that the former should teach dark magic, even though she may not be comfortable with it, and the latter becoming very upset when it becomes clear that the course will involve hooves-on education—it's a great premise, Author. Simple and effective, and I only thought it was slow because this is a little more SoL than other stories. The premise arrived early enough, and I was happy to continue.

I enjoyed the little hints here and there that this was going to be similar to sex education, when Twilight starts to argue that no dark magic is the safest option. Because even at that point, it still makes sense in-world. But then Twilight decides she's going to have her own course with blackjack and hook just blackjack, and she starts using the term "abstinence-only" dark magic, which is excruciatingly on-the-nose. And the idea that you could only use dark magic when you meet that "super special nemesis"? I just couldn't at that point. I felt like I was staring you and your intentions right in the face when I read that, except it wasn't like I'd peeked behind the curtain—it was more like you had thrown it wide open and shouted, "GET IT?!"

Because the comparison is just not on, at that point. Sex isn't a crime. Sex isn't a danger to society and substantial amounts of citizens like dark magic is portrayed in Equestria. And dark magic isn't a normal part of every unicorn's lives. It just felt very forced.

What do you want this story to be, Author? Is it a comedic look at what dark magic education would be like in Equestria, and a conversation about whether or not the hooves-on approach is viable? Or is it comedic social commentary against abstinence-only sex education? This is getting very much into "this isn't your story, asshole" territory, but if you'll allow me to be an asshole for a second: I think the first route is much stronger. Because the second route needs that allegory to hold up, and it just doesn't.

If you do want to stick with the allegory, might I suggest using drugs instead of sex? Like dark magic, there's a chance any given student could encounter it, and unlike sex, drugs aren't a normal and healthy part of adulthood.

I find it weird that people are saying that the two plotlines aren't intersecting well, but even weirder is the fact that I agree! Because on surface level it seems like it should work, but it still feels out of nowhere at the end. Perhaps it's that pesky allegory again. If you're going that route, then it all should fit, and yet here's dark magic being portrayed as an addictive substance being spiked into people's drinks, hmmmmm…

It could also be that the connection comes in so late. The Starbuck's plotline feels kind of like a distraction throughout most of the story, with a lot of dedication given to it as opposed to it just biding its time and waiting to be the twist. But that's just an idea.

These are all just ideas.

Oh well. Despite all this, the writing style was essentially flawless, with only a few typos here and there that I could complain about. It all flowed extremely well and was, as has been pointed out, fun. And because of all that this will probably end up high on my slate. It's just the taste that's in my mouth now… Not super into it, you know?

But thanks for writing, and best of luck to you!
#6 ·
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Okay. I've just read down to the first rule line. Don't know what how the rest will turn out, but I will give you a gold star for one of the best leading mysteries I've read in months, maybe years. I guess my mind was in the gutter, but like a deft mystery writer, you gave us plenty of clues and I should have deduced the mystery but failed. Then I got to that last line...

Bam!

Nicely done.
#7 ·
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Well, I liked your story. It had a mess of typos, but I'll ignore that considering that everyone had to rush to finish their stories and it's the easiest thing to fix in revision.

As I did in my previous comment, I'll complement further here. You did a great job of leading the reader through the story, making the reader want to read on to figure out what will happen next. I liked how you portrayed Starlight, your protagonist. I think you got the aspects of her reformed self, especially when she first reports to Twilight, down pat. You handled her evil past convincingly, and what she learned from it. Starlight is a character I written about extensively, and you've given me insights I missed. Nice.

I really liked how you played up the first act revelation that was not sex-ed, but dark-magic-ed, into the remaining of the story with aplomb. In the first act, I was sure Twilight was suggesting a sex-ed class and I could believe that Starlight might be uh-hem experienced from all those years as alpha mare in Our Town. You took that sex-ed tension and comedy, packaged it, and utilized it commandingly through the rest of the story.

This is a message piece. Having a message in mind while writing a story is a great way to power yourself through the writing process. I've written about that here if you're interested. I think you wanted to make points about teaching children what they will probably learn unsupervised anyway, and you did that splendidly. Your message was blindingly obvious, but in this case ponies and dark magic worked as a great metaphor. Subtly was unneeded. Lesson taught. Lesson learned. So very MLP.

Two things struck me that I feel could use a little more polish.

The running joke of Starbucks in Equestria entertained me immensely. I really want a mocha. At no time did it distract from your story, rather it acted as a nice little vehicle to demonstrate the strains in the bonds for Twilight and Starlight's relationship. It served also to task Rarity for her dark magic experience, and introduced the MacGuffin of Sweetie Belle and her friends to further grind at Twilight's theories. It seems also that Pinkie ran into dark magic, too. While I get that, it feels... it's not tight enough. Her revelation just seems a bit out of left field. Foreshadowing anypony? Take it from one reader's perspective, it wasn't enough.

Starlight is your protagonist. Whilst the story is written in third person, it is really a first person story written in third person. Every part of the story focuses on Starlight's inner dialogue about how to teach sex dark-magic education. Well, not every part. When Twilight teaches her class, you change POV to Twilight. This badly breaks the tone, continuity, and pacing of your story. I recommend cutting the scene completely. There is enough follow up at the new-new-new-new Starbucks to fill in what happened. But, wait, there's another possibility! May I humbly suggest that as Starlight leaves her classroom after her first dark-magic lesson that she encounters Scoots and Bloom talking to Sweetie Belle about how lame Twilight's class was? It maintains POV and Apple Bloom's one to be able to quote chapter and verse, so you can get Twilight's best line to-boot.

I guess I should say it. The bedroom scene with Pinkie waking Starlight is a really weak tie-in with the Nightmare after Nightmare Night prompt... if you take the strictly. But, dagnabit, I don't care! With the Pumpkin Spice added, the mention of Nightmare Night in the story, and Pinkie getting tied into knots about it, it's plenty to me. A prompt is something to spark an idea to write, not a blueprint. Asked to vote on it, I say you pass.

Looking forward to the publication of the revised version.
#8 ·
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It's 3:13 in the morning and I'm kind of reeling having just finished this. I'm still smiling though, so that's a high note. I think, of the two somewhat absurd how-do-these-threads-relate-style stories so far, this one nails the feeling. Though, there is one tiny thing that the story never brings up that really isn't important in the grand scheme but...

Twiggles has messed with the dank stuff before. More than once in just that episode. Also "Alicorn magic" is the same color effect and that's weird but I digress.

I laughed, I cried, my friend is a barista so I laughed again.
#9 · 1
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Okay, this is funny. It's really funny. I'm gonna get that out of the way now.

It's also not working as a story.

The sex ed metaphor that the esteemed and honorable >>Miller Minus pointed out as ham-fisted isn't the problem. It's supposed to be. The story doesn't take that part of its subject matter seriously in the slightest, and that is okay! The problem is that the story ultimately isn't about that.

The larger problem is that the story isn't about anything.

You have two competing plotlines (not an A-plot and a B-plot, but two A-plots) that fail to intersect in any meaningful way, and as a result, your story doesn't develop either of them meaningfully. The comedic elements are nice; I readily admit that characters describing eldritch horrors in so matter-of-fact a manner is one of my favorite comic tropes. But what are they ultimately driving toward?

It's funny, but it doesn't signify anything.

Why is there Starbucks in Equestria?

The three foals looked at each other, then down at their empty notebooks. Finally, Snails raised his hand


he raised his whAT
#10 · 1
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Bottom slate for making me think too hard about Starbucks. I mean, it is okay and enjoyable sometimes (even as someone who is not fond of coffee), but this is just too much.

So I tried to avoid reading other comments before reviewing stories this round, but I was having a bit of trouble with this one so I broke that rule and I think it helped a bit. The story is a cute and amusing read that honestly kinda breezes by given its actual word count which is always a solid testament to having managed to engage. Where I think the problem comes from (and why some people bounced off the way they did) is that the story fails to actually establish tonally what it is until shockingly late.

See, while the story is definitely lighthearted and a bit jokey from the get-go, I think it is still very possible (and even probable) to take it as just the lighter side of "serious" (that is to say something effectively in tone-ish with a standard episode of pone) until about here...

“Oh. Oh. No.” Twilight shook her head. “No, that’s… no. Starlight, this is supposed to be an abstinence-based dark magic course. The only safe dark magic is no dark magic.”


...and you only have absolute 100% confirmation here...

Twilight shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. That’s not how I was raised, it’s not what Celestia taught me, and it’s not what I’m going to teach in my school. Dark magic should only be practiced between a pony and their arch-nemesis, not just casually whenever you want!”


...that this is actually a full-blown zany comedy and not just you being a bit tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing. And given this is like, 1/3 of the way into your story, that's a bit too late for the reader to realize "oh, I'm not supposed to be taking this seriously." In retrospect you do attempt to do some marking, but I think its all too soft a touch. You need to hit the level "between a pony and their arch-nemesis" positioning clearly and early so that the reader is keyed into the fact that this is a pure comedy and they can better adjust their expectations.

Because I think this speaks to the issue that a lot of people seemed to have with the ending. I see why you're using that as the ending, but the problem, as I see it, is that due to both the issues with early tone setting AND the length of the fic, people are expecting a stronger resolution to the Twilight/Starlight conflict than "Oh, well, dark magic is cool in coffee." Structurally that SHOULD work, but yeah, I think there's just too much build-up and set-up for the conflict (with it being a lot of words and presented somewhat seriously) for it to be satisfying as presnted. You need to streamline what came before it and probably punch it up a bit on your end.

So yeah, I think that really covers it. Again, it is quite amusing (though I do wonder about the core Starbucks joke - I was amused but I feel like the Starbucks are everywhere thing died a while ago), I just think it is very important to properly signpost at the beginning of a story to make sure expectations are established and carried throughout. You don't want to jar the reader unless that is specifically your intent.

Thanks for writing!