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Forbidden Knowledge · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Starlight Glimmer and Sunset Shimmer Are Dead

Sunset launched the coin into the air with a spark of magic from her horn, and as it fell she positioned herself and caught it perfectly on the tip of her snout. Squinting her eyes, she could see the embossed gold face of Celestia staring back at her.

“And this is Sugar Cube Corner. It’s probably a bit different than the one you’re familiar with,” Starlight Glimmer said, gesturing towards the vague outline of a building, shrouded in the fog that currently blanketed Ponyville.

It was a fiendishly difficult trick to perform. The kind of thing young unicorns could spend idle hours practicing and never getting it quite right. She spun the coin and caught it perfectly once more. Heads.

Starlight stopped, and Sunset nearly ran into her. “I’m not sure this tour is such a great idea.” Starlight rubbed at the back of her head with a hoof and sighed. “There’s clearly nothing to see in all this fog. I know Princess Twilight wants us to get to know each other and become friends, but I barely know Ponyville myself. Maybe we should just hit up a bar or something.”

Sunset flipped the coin again. Heads. “Hey, Starlight, do you know anything about probability?”

“What?” Starlight cocked her head to the side, giving Sunset an odd look before shaking her head. “I’ve got a decent background in mathematics, though I haven’t made any particular efforts to study probability itself. Why?”

“Do you know what the odds are for a coin flip to land heads or tails?”

Starlight bit her lip. “Is that a trick question? It’s fifty/fifty, right? I suppose there could be some incredibly small deviations based on the shape of the coin, how it’s flipped, and the odd chance of it landing on its side, but any general trend will still round to fifty percent.”

“Good answer.” She flipped the coin. Heads. “Do you know what the odds are of a coin coming up heads a hundred times in a row?”

With a grunt, Starlight began scratching equations in the dirt, trying to do the math, but she gave up after a few seconds and shook her head. “I could puzzle it out, but I suspect you’re not actually looking for the exact number. Either way, it’s exceedingly small. What’re you getting at, anyway?”

How many coin flips had it been now. Seventy? Eighty-five? She was losing count. “Do you ever feel like something’s wrong?”

Starlight laughed bitterly and rolled her eyes. “Do I ever feel like something’s wrong? Come on, Sunset. Look at us. We’re two magical prodigies with similar names who got a taste of power and used it to control and hurt other ponies. And yet we were both forgiven, only to be granted the chance to bask in the tutelage of the ever present and looming shadow of our magnificent Princess Twilight Sparkle. I feel like something is wrong every single day. I can never tell if it’s a dream or a nightmare, but I know someday I’m going to wake up.”

Sunset blinked and cocked her head to the side. The coin slipped off her nose and fell into the dirt. Still heads. “I meant like, right now, our current situation. Not life in general.”

“Oh.” Starlight’s cheeks colored, and she pawed at the ground with a hoof. “Well, I don’t know. Is something wrong? I’ve been focused on this whole tour thing.”

Sunset gestured around them; shadowed buildings in the mist served as the only markers in what would otherwise be a featureless void. “Well, when was the last time you saw another pony?”

“The weather is awful. Everypony’s probably inside.”

“And this coin, it—”

“Come on,” Starlight said, affecting a warm smile and tugging on Sunset’s mane lightly with magic. “Let’s find that bar. I’m sure the mist is just making you gloomy.”

Sunset thought about protesting further, but decided against it and shrugged, falling back into step behind Starlight. She turned her attention once more back to the coin. Heads.

A few minutes later they pushed open the door to the bar. Warm air washed over them, carrying the heady smell of of alcohol and old wood, but the establishment was otherwise empty.

Starlight bit her lip, twisting her head about as her hoofsteps echoed on the hardwood floor. “Hello? Is anypony here?”

Sunset shrugged, made her way behind the bar, grabbed a pair of bottles and glasses, and spread them out on the counter.

“Sunset!” Starlight hissed, her eyes bugging out as she looked frantically about the room. “What are you doing? The bartender is probably just in the little fillies room or something!”

Sunset checked the icebox and found some orange juice, which was perfect, as it allowed her to mix her favorite drink; the Vodka Sunset. “Bartending. If someone complains, I’ll just apologize and pay them. What do you want to drink?”

“Yeah, but…” Starlight continued to glance back and forth, but she finally let out a sigh, and slumped over the bar. “Whatever. Just give me a hard apple cider.”

It felt good to mix drinks with magic instead of hands. Or do anything with magic, really. She tossed Starlight her requested bottle, then set about carefully mixing her own drink. It came out the most perfect shade of reddish orange. An odd thought occurred to her, and she levitated the coin into the air, holding it at the tip of her horn. Glancing up at the rafters of the building, she gauged the angles for a time, before finally focusing her power and shooting the coin towards the ceiling with a burst of force. It ricocheted, bouncing from rafter to rafter until it plopped straight into her drink as if it were a garnish.


“I don’t think that’s very hygienic,” Starlight mumbled as Sunset downed the whole thing in one gulp.

She twisted the coin around on her tongue, nibbling at it gently with her teeth. It felt normal enough. She was hardly an expert, but for all intents and purposes, it seemed to be a normal coin. There weren’t any latent enchantments on it either.

“Hey, Starlight, how did we get here?”

“Well, if you mean this bar, through the door. If you mean to our current position in life, a series of increasingly poor decisions. If you mean in general, well, when a mommy pony and a daddy pony love each other very much…”

Sunset snorted. “Why we’re out here taking this dumb tour in the first place.”

Starlight tapped her hoof on the bar, her face creased in a frown, then took a swig of her cider. “To learn about the magic of friendship, one disgraced unicorn to another.”

“Yeah, but…” Something was off. It was hard to place a hoof on it, but her memory seemed as hazy as the fog still visible through the bar windows. She could remember getting everything ready to cross through the portal, having planned to spend some time with Princess Twilight and to get to know Starlight Glimmer. But after that? Well, sending them out to tour Ponyville certainly sounded like something Twilight would suggest, but…

The door to the bar slammed open, and both unicorns jumped.

“I’m so sorry, we didn’t mean to, we were just—Please don’t tell Twilight!” Starlight stammered, proselytizing herself on the floor.

Sunset found herself levitating up an empty glass and rubbing at it with a damp cloth. “Welcome. What can I get for you?” she said to the green unicorn who shuffled inside and sat at the bar. It took Sunset a few moments, but she recognized the hairstyle. This must be Lyra’s pony counterpart.

“Whiskey Sour,” Lyra mumbled, not glancing up as she slumped over the bar in a heap of dejected misery.

Starlight’s face softened and put a hoof on Lyra’s shoulder. “Hey, are you alright?”

Lyra grunted, but otherwise ignored her.

Sunset mixed up the drink and slid it in front of Lyra. “Best medicine in Ponyville right there.”

“No kidding.” Lyra sipped at the drink and made a face. Then she sighed. “What’s a mare supposed to do when she’s in love, barkeep?”

“Whatever it takes to hold onto it, of course,” Sunset said. She resumed polishing her glass, then collected the bits that Lyra laid out for her. All heads. “Pining over a handsome fellow, eh?”

Starlight blinked, then looked between the two of them. “Handsome fellow?” she mouthed at Sunset.

Lyra shook her head. “‘Tis not a handsome fellow that melts my heart, but the candy of the sweetest Bon Bon’s. Or as her family would have her known, Sweetie Drops. Our love burns far brighter than the eternal union between sun and moon. But our wicked families have long despised one another, and they work tirelessly to keep us apart and block our hearts at every turn. I know not what is left for me to do.”

“What.” Starlight said flatly.

Sunset pondered the question for a moment, rubbing at her chin with a hoof, then made to snap her fingers, only to find she didn’t have any, so the gesture turned out rather awkward. “Too often the jaded and cynical think little of the brightly burning flame that is young love. You must show them the strength and conviction of your determination. The only thing more absolute than love is death.”

“That’s…” Lyra pursed her lips, scrunching her brow up as she thought through Sunset’s advice. “I hear your words, barkeep, and will take them into consideration. Something drastic may be necessary after all. Thank you.”

With a bow, Lyra got up and left, leaving the two of them alone once more.

Starlight’s jaw was hanging open. “What in the name of Tartarus was that?”

Sunset shrugged. “I have absolutely no idea. It all just kind of came out.”

“Did you just suggest that she kill herself to make a point?”

“I think so.” Sunset channeled her magic, straining a little as she lifted all of the bottles of booze into the air at once, walking out from behind the bar and letting them swirl around her. “Have you ever read a novel where the protagonist gets helpful advice from some nameless bartender?”

Starlight worked her jaw, trying to finder her words before she sighed and shook her head. “I’m not a big reader of fiction, but isn’t that a bit of a cliche?”

“Pretty much. Something so generic has fallen out of favor a bit in modern literature, but it was a pretty common trope in older works.”

“What’s your point?”

“Starlight, the last thing I can remember before we were touring Ponyville was stepping through the portal. Nothing in-between.” She idly opened one of the larger bottles of booze, dropped the coin in and closed it again.

Starlight raised a hoof as if to offer an objection, but faltered. “I… That’s right. We were waiting for you to come through, but you were late, and then Twilight stepped out for a little bit, and I was curious, just a quick hop to the human world couldn’t hurt anything, right?”


“Sunset, what’s going on?”

Flaring her energy, Sunset fired every bottle of alcohol in a random direction, an explosion of broken glass and booze showering the room. Not bothering to explain herself, she lit a quick spark, and the room was immediately engulfed in a blazing inferno.

Starlight was too horrified to react properly, and Sunset dragged her out the door with magic and shut it behind them.

“Are you insane?” Starlight finally shouted, snapping out of her stupor.

“Maybe. Just testing something.”

“What, the flammability of booze? Spoilers—It’s very freaking flammable!”

Sunset rolled her eyes, then pushed the door to the bar back open. There was no fire, and all the booze was back on the shelf. The whole thing was exactly as it had looked when they first came in.

Except for the coin lying on the floor, face up.

“That’s impossible,” Starlight muttered. She rubbed at the bridge of her nose with her hoof. “Wait, were you just using illusion magic? Nice trick.”

“Afraid not. I’m decent at illusions, but you felt the heat. I couldn’t do one that good. Something’s wrong, Starlight. Very, very wrong.”

Sunset retrieved her coin. closed the door, then turned around and started walking through the mists.

Starlight hurried to catch up with her. “Okay, I’ll accept your hypothesis. Something is wrong, but what?”

“I don’t know. Everything feels off. The world feels like it’s not responding the way it’s supposed to. And I feel like I don’t matter. Not in the general self-deprecation of living in Princess Twilight’s shadow. Like the bartender in a novel. He doesn’t matter. He gets three lines, to inspire the hero, but he doesn’t have a name, a backstory, thoughts or desires of his own. He’s just a cardboard cutout, a caricature of a real pony. Back in the bar with Lyra, it was like that. Like I was just a prop in somepony else’s story.”

“That’s…” Starlight shook her head. “Come on, Sunset. I know I don’t know you all that well, but I know your story, and you know mine. We’re our own mares. We made our mistakes on our own, for our own reasons. It’s not like we exist just for Twilight to stop us or anything. Everypony is the protagonist of their own story.”

Sunset cracked her neck. “Maybe that’s true most of the time. But whatever’s going on right now…”

Starlight put a hoof on her shoulder. “The last thing we remember is stepping through the portal, right? Perhaps we ended up in some sort of alternate-alternate dimension.”

“Maybe.” Sunset crossed a wooden bridge, then stopped to look over the side into the river flowing below. Her reflection was blurry and indistinct. “I have this odd thought, though, maybe an irrational fear, that it’s something worse than that. That this isn’t real. That we’re not real. Maybe we passed through at the same time, causing the portal to glitch and leave an imprint of us behind. We’re not really Sunset Shimmer and Starlight Glimmer, we’re just the idea of them, fragments of a story drifting through the void.”

Starlight looked afraid for a moment, but as she thought the implications through she just snorted and shook her head. “Come on, Sunset. Really? That’s some really deep freshman level philosophy. Are we all just somepony else's dream? Who cares. Even if it’s true, there’s no way to prove it, and all we can do is act out our parts regardless. It’s pointless navel gazing.”

Sunset laughed. “Maybe you’re right. Say, when you’re dreaming and you achieve lucidity, what do you try to do?”

“Well…” Starlight suddenly turned scarlet, and she coughed. “I uh, guess that depends on who else is in the dream with me.”

“My my,” Sunset said, grinning. “Well, that’s pretty standard, I guess. When you find yourself in a world where you can act with no consequences, things often take a turn for the sexy. Or maybe as a chance to act out your darker frustrations.”

Starlight sighed, a wistful look in her eyes. “Shame they’re so hard to remember.”

Sunset nodded. “Well, I think we might just be in such a situation. A world where we’re insignificant, and nothing we do will matter. Seems like a free reign to do anything to me. After all, I always wanted to try being an arsonist, and look what happened.”

“Anything, huh?” With a grin, Starlight levitated a bunch of water out of the river and dumped it onto Sunset’s head.

“Hey!” Sunset shouted. She shivered, and shook herself off. “I’ll get you for that,” she growled, lighting up her own horn.”

Starlight giggled. “No consequences whatsoever, huh?”

Sunset laughed. “Okay, you got me there. Whatever else is going on here, the two of us are still distinct. Still, given free reign, isn’t there anything you’d want to accomplish?”

“Well, there is one thing,” Starlight mumbled, rubbing at the back of her head with a hoof. “I know everything I did was wrong and misguided. An idiotic obsession with cutie marks born of foolish childhood jealousy... but I still can’t help but think I was onto something. Society could be reformed, be made better. I just needed a different approach. One a little less despotic.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about!” Sunset said, stomping a hoof in excitement. “I assume you’ve got ideas? We could do it together.”

Starlight’s cheeks colored, but she smiled. “You’d really help me with this? It’s generally impossible to do large scale social experiments like that without hurting somepony, but if this world is what you think it is…”

“Heck yeah. I’m curious too, let’s do it” Sunset floated the coin in front of her face, staring into the relief of Princess Celestia. She tossed the coin into the water, letting it sink down to the bottom, and she didn’t check the result.

“Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna stared down at them, eyes burning with anger and not a shred of mercy. “Sunset Shimmer and Starlight Glimmer. For the crimes of high treason, inciting open rebellion, causing general mayhem, arson, and stealing candy from foals, you are hereby sentenced to death.”

Sunset glanced over at Starlight, trying to look sheepish and apologetic

Starlight glowered at her, and she mouthed, “I hate you.

A roar of jeers and boos rose up around them, the crowd whipped up to a frenzy. Rotten fruit flew through the air. Something bounced off of Sunset’s horn, rolled down her face and came to a stop on the tip of her nose. It was a familiar looking coin.

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#1 · 3
· · >>Monokeras
This was entertainingly absurdist for much of it, and for a long time gave off a very Twilight-zone vibe. Up until the very end I was greatly enjoying everything; I'd figured they crossed the mirror together, collided, and somehow exploded and were in their own isolated Purgatory.

Clearly, this is not the case, given the ending. I don't quite think it works; the 'I hate you' is good, the last coin flip is good, but the circumstances don't quite jive with the rest. In particular, the bar makes no sense in light of 'This was reality all along', unless you're going for something wherein we're seeing quantum uncertainty at play, and if so, that should be rendered clearer.
#2 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
I'd like to express my dissatisfaction with the ending, as well.

While I loved the tone the story had, I wished you had pursued the storyline of Sunset and Starlight being imprints of themselves left behind when they crossed the mirror.

On an entirely personal note, if you still wanted their hijinks to have real world effect, you could have had them cause so much havoc in their pocket universe that it bled out into reality. It's only a suggestion, and would probably generate more issues, but I just want you to consider other possibilites, because right now, the ending is the weakest part of your story.
#3 · 2
· · >>Monokeras

The movie version of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one of my all-time favorite things ever put on film. Here, though, I'd like to see the ending come back around to the scene they performed in the bar--maybe Sunset and Starlight have indeed committed high crimes and misdemeanors while on their own, but the only thing that should matter is what they did when they were "on screen."

Of course, what I'd really like to see now that you've put the idea in my head, author, is a full Pony version of R&G: Sunset and Starlight wandering around in the background of an episode unsure what's happening even when they get swept into their scenes interacting with the Mane 6.

What's here, though, is pretty much fun.

#4 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
Unlike most pieces in the write-off so far, I think that this story is a bit shorter than it should to be and could be served well by giving it more room to expand on the concepts of its premise. People before me have mentioned the ending in particular, which I think works well theoretically, but needs more development in order to be properly executed so that people unfamiliar with the source material will understand the mechanics of the story and its abruptness doesn't seem unnatural to the reader. There needs to be a consistent method in which you convey the idea of "being on-stage" versus "being-off stage" to the reader without being too obtrusive (if I am indeed reading this story correctly and that their actions only are relevant when "on-stage" as part of a story).

I think an easy way to do this (and in a way that would set uniquely apart from its source material) is to omit the dialogues that the characters have "on-stage" and only show their reactions while being "off-stage." For example, in the Lyra scene, shifting the perspective over to Starlight observing Sunset say her "lines" while not being able to hear them and trying in vain to communicate with Sunset while being "off-stage" would effectively communicate the notion that there is a clear disconnect from what is being done in the narrative and what is occurring "on-stage" without giving too much away all at once. Also the strange, what I assume to be Romeo and Juliet homage, strikes me as a bit out of place anyways.

I believe there should be a bit more space for scenes with SS and SG to play around with the "rules" of the world they inhabit, both to better set up what gets them killed, but also to more firmly establish how the universe works around them. Additionally, this allows for you, the author, to experiment more with what you intend the overall tone of your story to be. RC and GS are Dead is an existentialist, absurdist piece, that explores those concepts, and I would enjoy it you played around more with your overall thesis, because as it stands, the story is a bit of a flat-line in terms of what I'm supposed to get out of it. It trends towards mildly amusing, especially with the smash-cut ending , and the quip about Freshman-level Philosophy, but doesn't fully commit to being absurd, and overall the story seems rather contained considering what happened off-screen in the ending. Put some more meat on these bones, is what I'm saying. This would also give more moments for SS and SG to work off of each other and give each other some characterization.

The whole set-up with the coin appearing out of no-where after sinking to the bottom of a lake seems unnecessarily contrived for the scene it's supposed to convey: essentially they've walked "on-stage" without realizing it and their actions suddenly have consequences again. The same mistake could essentially be made without having the lake bit, and the reader wouldn't wonder where how the coin (if it is the same coin, I suppose) ended up in the next scene without explanation. It would be better to have several scenes of SS and SG checking out the coin after each "scene" to make sure they're still off-stage and fall into a sense of complacency after several successful and wacky antics. It would seem more natural and fun that way, I think.

Additionally, as I always do, I think the baiting with the sex and the darker frustrations and whatnot takes away from the piece if it's not going to be followed up on in any significant way, especially since it seems that our villains are more "redeemed" or at least, trying for redemption. I think the worst scene in the story starts with this line right here:

Sunset laughed. “Maybe you’re right. Say, when you’re dreaming and you achieve lucidity, what do you try to do?”

Because SS and SG set up a bunch of fun hypothetical ideas to do, but the only thing they end up doing is throwing water around, which is fairly mundane, and sets up for something that never actually pays off (other than being implied to have happened off-screen) which causes the ending to seem very abrupt and out of nowhere.An interesting thing to try, perhaps, would be the the more antics they try off-screen, the more they revert back to being villainous, and once they've made the transition, they come back "on-stage." Just spit-balling some ideas here.

There's some problematic and awkward phrasing here. Examples include:

"Sunset floated the coin in front of her face, staring into the relief of Princess Celestia."

"She tossed the coin into the water, letting it sink down to the bottom, and she didn’t check the result."

"Starlight was too horrified to react properly, and Sunset dragged her out the door with magic and shut it behind them."

"Sunset channeled her magic, straining a little as she lifted all of the bottles of booze into the air at once, walking out from behind the bar and letting them swirl around her."

Typically these awkward phrasing come from having an action, tacking on a participle phrase, and then tacking on an additional conjunction which causes the sentence to be jam-packed with actions or otherwise adds actions that could be their own sentence unnecessarily. This is particularly offensive is when one of Starlight's reactions is tacked on to Sunset's actions when the two obviously happen independent of each other.

I found this story amusing, but also wanting more: more antics, more focus, a more complete vision. I enjoyed its ideas, but as a story, I feel it is incomplete and needs to be fleshed out more.

Things to Consider:
-Writing more scenes, at least one more scene being "on-stage" and as many as you see fit "off"
-Developing the concept of your world and its rules more fully, and demonstrating those rules to the reader
-Rewriting the penultimate scene entirely; the ending works, but the build up to it does not
-More antics more absurd! Have fun with this concept!
-Idea about the gradual decline into villainy and coming back "on screen."
-Injecting more humor if that's what you want to go for
#5 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
This one's not on my slate, but I recognized the title instantly and I wanted to read it. So, author, instead of a full review you just get a few thoughts.

Overall, I liked it!

- The writing was nice, though Cassius points out a few weak spots. It wasn't distracting to me, but it didn't really stand out, either.

- SS and SG's characters seemed rather generic. In fact, nothing about their characters really came through in this, particularly for SG (granted, she wasn't the POV character). But all I really got from SS was skepticism and fatalism.

- The creeping sense that something is wrong is wonderfully setup with the coin, and the coin's recurring motif really keeps the story rolling.

- As Cassius mentions another 'stage' scene would be nice. Maybe give SG something to do?

- I'm going to have to agree with other readers that the ending was the most disappointing part. You could've played it straight, as it were, with them truly being lost in some metaphysical representation of another person's story. You chose to subvert it, but the type of subversion you went with – comedic but not redemptive – wasn't very appealing to me. Now, nothing says you have to try and appeal to your readers, but I think you'll find they grade your stories higher if you do so.

Anyway, this story would be at the top of my ballot, if it were on my slate. Hopefully it will be in the finals and I'll get to judge it there.
#6 ·
>>Baal Bunny
>>Morning Sun
>>Cold in Gardez
I’ve nothing meaningful to add after all that has already been mentioned by the former outstanding people, whose art and sharpness way outstrip mine, so I will spare you my babbling.

1. of of alcohol;
2. Proselytising herself????
3. trying to finder: don't let your love of MacOS seep into your fictions! :P
4. I know I don’t know you all that well, but I know your story, and you know mine. That's many “know” for a single short sentence.

And now good luck for the finals! :)
#7 ·
I just want to point out my favorite part of this entry: when Lyra enters the bar and Sunset Shimmer simply carries on being the barkeeper, as if she owns the place. It may be she fell into her role as the helpful-but-unimportant barkeeper, but I like to think that comes after she serves the drink. Up until then, she was just tending the bar like it was her day job.
A nice and amusing entry, overall.