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And at the End, You Shall Remain Alone · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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For Mother
The white earth pony patted the pockets of her smock, checking that their contents were still present. Satisfied, she donned her nurse’s cap, the red emblem almost identical to the cutie mark on her flanks. A tray with a covered dish lay on a table, which she took in her mouth and laid across her back. After a few measured breaths, she confidently strode around the corner.

Step by step, she trod down the ward towards a door at the end. Flanking the door were a pair of Royal Guard, each clad in their resplendent armor. As she approached, they rose to a more attentive position, looking at her appraisingly.

“Hi,” she muttered meekly as she stopped in front of the duo, visibly wilting under their combined gazes. “Doctor l'Anémie sent me with the patient’s meal. It’s steamed hay until his choler improves.”

The unicorn of the pair, a fetching white stallion lit his horn, lifting the lid off of the singular dish and prodding the contents. Satisfied, he nodded to his partner. “He’s down at the end, but I should warn you that yesterday he was very aggressive.

His partner opened the door, keeping it open with a wing. “He’s been restrained, but if you feel threatened or he tries to something, we’re right here.”

“Thank you sir,” she replied, nosing into the room.

As the door swung shut, the expression of apprehension slid from her face, replaced with a singular flat look. Looking around, the ward was empty save for a single bed near the end, the curtains drawn.

She walked the length of the room, announcing her presence by clomping on the linoleum. Pausing at the curtain, she nosed through.

A starkly peach pegasus stallion lay strapped into the hospital bed. His eyes flicked toward the sudden intrusion before they flicked back to stare into space. Most of his body was hidden under the sheet, but what remained visible told the story of a badly injured pony.

There was a distinct emptiness under the sheet on his left side, and she could see the distinctive signs of compulsive preening, from the multitude of damaged feathers visible, or from the way every few moments the stallion would lean slightly forward against his restraints before pulling back, lips trembling in a half remembered pattern.

The skin on the left of his face laid oddly, as if a sculptor had grown impatient with a study and thrown it against the ground. There was no fur, only a scarred smooth surface pockmarked by weeping burns.

The scent of wet feathers mixed with the haze of sterility in the room and the harsh lye of the sheets brought back a memory unbidden, during her childhood when a broken bird had been found. It never recovered, and hadn’t lasted long after discovery, nor was it expected to.

The nurse nuzzled a rolling table closer, setting the dish down upon it before pulling a chair close and taking a seat.

“I heard it was terrible,” she ventured, smiling as he turned to look at her. “The fire, I mean. Such a dreadful business that was.”

“No one could’ve expected Princess Celestia to have shown up,” she continued. ”Never expected her to play hero.” she muttered.

“But yet she did,” the stallion replied.

“It was fortuitous that the fire was already out of control by that time. Most the evidence had burned by the time she had finally dispatched a certain group of ponies.”

The stallion chuckled, wincing as cracked lips split. “It was only my duty.”

“Still though, your performance was in excess of expected potential. I am happy to report that your Basis was selected for advancement.”

“Unfortunately,” the mare continued, retrieving a syringe with a thick needle from her inner pocket. “Your Basis was lost in the fire. I was sent to retrieve a viable sample.”

“Then I’m to be..?” The stallion’s eyes, suddenly apprehensive, cast towards the door.

“I’m afraid so. With the attention of Celestia herself, options were limited.”

The stallion grimaced as the nurse jabbed the needle into the bone of his foreleg, filling the syringe with rich colored fluid. “I’ve been marked then?”

“Yes,” the mare stated plainly, snapping the needle off and dropping the syringe down into the tubular leg of the table. “In a way, you’re the lucky one. You get to pass painlessly in your sleep after suffering a massive stroke. Meanwhile, I am to be struck down by a cart this evening.”
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#1 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian >>WritingSpirit

So this feels less like a story in and of itself, and more like a scene from a larger narrative. "Nurse is actually there to euthanize secret agent" is something that requires some degree of investment on the reader's behalf to actually be effective, or shocking. Nothing really happens - the reader is just informed of the status quo. There was a near-botched criminal act in which Celestia intervened. The survivors are to die.

Some of the description is really nice, but there's a lot of it - take the opening paragraph, for example

The white earth pony patted the pockets of her smock, checking that their contents were still present. Satisfied, she donned her nurse’s cap, the red emblem almost identical to the cutie mark on her flanks. A tray with a covered dish lay on a table, which she took in her mouth and laid across her back. After a few measured breaths, she confidently strode around the corner.

Step by step, she trod down the ward towards a door at the end. Flanking the door were a pair of Royal Guard, each clad in their resplendent armor. As she approached, they rose to a more attentive position, looking at her appraisingly.

There's just a lot of [adjective noun]. And whilst setting a scene is all well and good, I don't feel this piece ever rises above that. We get told a setting, and then the piece ends.

Tier: Needs Work
#2 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian >>WritingSpirit
You were too clever here by half.

I think I've figured out what actually happened, but the problem is, I'm pretty sure this is going to bounce off 99% of the audience.

So much as I love changeling fics (which after reading it twice, was made "clear" only by the title), I think you put in too many layers, to the point where critical parts were lost.

What I *think* happened:

1) The changelings burned down a building, either containing a bunch of ponies that the changelings were copying, or records that would reveal that the changelings were infiltrators and not real ponies/had taken the place of other ponies.

2) Said building contained the "Basis" for a number of changelings - this is either the ponies the changelings are copying, but it could also be that the changelings are clones of various lines, and all the other clones died. It could be that the fire was done deliberately to try and spirit away a bunch of ponies without anyone noticing, for whatever nefarious purpose the changelings have, but it isn't clear.

3) The sole surviving changeling of a particular batch was posing as a royal guard, and was sent in to rescue ponies or something by Princess Celestia.

4) The nurse is also a changeling, and is extracting the "Basis" from the fake royal guard, as well as killing him, and then is going to either die or "die" herself.

So while I do love stories that try to tell their stories slantways, this story I think tells it so slantways that even after I read it several times, I'm still not entirely sure what happened, and I only figured out important chunks on rereading it.

And while that isn't the end of the world in a very short story like this - it is okay for a very short story to have layers like this - I think you didn't put in enough clues to even have it tell a complete story. I feel like I'm lacking context to the imporatance of this scene - how does it relate to anything else? - as well as not even being entirely certain of what *did* happen.
#3 ·
· · >>WritingSpirit
I had the same interpretation as >>TitaniumDragon, and I actually disagree with him about this story being too difficult to understand. I do think you've struck a good balance between keeping a sense of intrigue while giving enough away to be comprehensible.I actually kinda went "Oh! Huh!" and sat up in my chair about two or three lines into the nurse's convo with the patient.

What my biggest complaint would be, is that I think there's actually not quite enough meat and gristle here to really make this piece feel satisfying. I think a lot of it is this odd combination of this being a "dealing-with-the-aftermath" kind of story, while also having its main characters be curt and mostly emotionless. In more ways than one, it makes us feel like we're being told a story, rather than experiencing one. Like >>Foehn says, there's just not an awful lot of investment on the reader's part.

I would suggest raising the stakes, somehow. Maybe make the patient confrontational about his euthanization? Or make this even more of a failed mission, and make the agents seem desperate to control the damage/fallout. Right now, the clinical way the two character speak to each other just diffuses a lot of tension. I really think that one or both of them need to sound like they care about what's going on.
#4 ·
Your Story's Theme Song: Ceephax - Memory Lake

The first time I read through this story, I was left bemused more than anything.

Now, part of the reason I felt that way was because I didn't really sit myself down properly and instead skimmed it on a whim. I generally do that with every story on this list, so it's not a prerogative reserved only for your entry, unfortunately. I did, however, make a note to come back to this one after some time had passed and read this with fresher eyes. I could pick this apart on my first go, but honestly, 6 a.m. me flying high on my insomnia is more prone to churning out rants than writing reviews.

So I waited. Then I came back and read this properly. About two to five more times, as I would with every other story.

And sure enough, when it comes to this story, I quickly found myself in an interesting dilemma.

First off, I should mention that without >>TitaniumDragon's interpretation of the story, I don't think I would've grasped fully at the narrative the story's trying to tell, and in turn, everything else that was structured around it, so kudos to him for figuring some semblance of it out. Personally, I'm with >>Bachiavellian on the opinion that it showed enough for the story to make sense without losing its mystery. The story was delivered with an admirable dash of restraint on the writer's part, to which I salute you.

With that knowledge in mind, I took a step back and look at the plot in its simplest form: a nurse who is actually a secret agent comes in to dispatch her colleague. Honestly, looking at that alone, I can safely say that this is something I'd look forward to reading and expect to enjoy.

But I didn't. Like with >>Bachiavellian and >>Foehn before him, the story didn't deliver anything to me the emotions I thought I would feel. There's no emotional progression throughout, none of the intrigue, none of the amazement, nothing. To me, it's all a flatline.

On that note, I sighed, walked away to make myself another cup of coffee, sat back down and read through it again, hoping to invest myself in this story, to no avail.

And then it clicked.

Now, I should mention firsthand that I'm a person that can find enjoyment in the everyday monotony. When it comes to entertainment, I can live my life on the barest of things, be it listening to Bonobo, Moderat, Hammock, and other similar artists, or watching the movies made by the likes of Roy Andersson and Yorgos Lanthimos.

I won't comment on whether I'm flaunting my hipster prowess here; I'm just saying that when it comes down to it, I'm very easy to please, so my opinion here might not be shared by everyone. I'm also not discounting the possibility that you weren't aware of what you were doing, and that you yourself may be thinking that this story doesn't live up to your own expectations. I would say, though, I have an inkling that you know what you've set out to do when you wrote this, but if not, then feel free to laugh at my dissertation and burn this comment as a pagan offering to Santa Claus.

Now, I've mentioned earlier that the story was delivered with restraint with regards to divulging the little bits and pieces from the full picture. I think the same reasoning can be said for the story's emotional progression, or apparent lack thereof, as well.

The story tells of the aftermath. The calm after the storm. There's a sense of dread, though that only pales in comparison to the apathy permeating throughout. Our two agents here are on the cusp of death. They realize it, and they realize it well. They're not fighting it; they've accepted it. Whether they come to that conclusion separately or not, they knew, after everything that happened, that this moment would come.

The story, in turn, reflects that train of thought, not only in their interaction but in the descriptions leading up to that scene. Everything was set up and portrayed with a cold detachment, the description of the patient's body being a great example of that— nothing visceral yet no injury held back. The picture I got, in the end, was painted eloquently. Not perfectly, as there are a few missteps here and there in my opinion, but it did enough to capture my attention.

>>Foehn does have a point in that this feels like something cut out from a larger narrative, but if I'm being honest, I believe this scene would only look weaker when it's placed within a larger narrative. I also do think >>Bachiavellian's suggestion about raising the stakes isn't needed, mostly because I don't think this scene was supposed to carry any tension nor do the characters actually care about their fates beyond this. After all, the title does imply that whatever that was done, it was done 'For Mother', and not them. They served their purpose, and that's it. That's all we need to know about them.

Not discounting the opinions of my fellow writers, of course, because in the end, what I'm stating here is just another opinion, after all.

This story wasn't written to cater to us emotionally. It wasn't told to give its readers any emotional catharsis. While I'm usually apprehensive, if not aggressive, when it comes to stunts of this vein, this one just works for me. If I'm being honest, it's so far one of the only narrative-based stories I've read on this site that did it well. Where many stories fail, this story succeeds in tying the narrative together with the atmosphere, having them build upon each other to push through the theme at its core. It's cohesive as it is compact, and when I read the story with everything I've said in mind, I find myself enjoying this entry wholeheartedly.

Now, I'd nitpick, but they're mostly just word choices and some such to polish it up. I do want to mention one little nitpick I have, and that's regarding the title: I think it'll be a lot nicer if you'd only capitalize 'Mother' instead and leave 'For' uncapitalized. I feel like it brings a lot more emphasis to the latter word of the pair and, at the same time, fits together with the prompt rather neatly.

I'm pretty sure this story isn't going to gel with everyone as it did with me. Nevertheless, even if it doesn't make it past the finals, I just want to let you know that I like this story a lot, and really appreciate that you spent your time writing this.

Thanks for writing! Hope to see this in the finals!
#5 ·
This one suffers for too long a lead-in, at least to me. It plays so coy as to what's going on, but it also takes a lot of word count before it starts to build up tension, so I'm just waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Hm, a few editing misses here, too. Were people rushed? Some repetitive language, too.

Watch that you're consistent about what you're describing. The nurse notices that it looks like there's an emptiness under the sheet, but then she can see his feathers directly.

By the end, you've confused me a lot. Some ponies died in the fire, and it's a good thing? What's a Basis? If feels like there's not enough context to define all this. There's some kind of experimental stuff going on that they don't want Celestia to be aware of, but then what was the fire? Something seen as accidental or routine from Celestia's viewpoint, I'd have to think. Not a battle, anyway. And why would the nurse have to die? She knows as much now as she did before, so what changed? The guards aren't being disposed of.

This story was clearly plotted with the ending in mind, which is fine, but it doesn't give enough context to have much meaning behind it. I don't really buy the changeling angle, and here's why: the patient sure doesn't react as if he's against the greater plan, so he wouldn't be a pony captive. And if he's a changeling, why would he have done the preening thing?

And man, this author never met a participle he didn't like.