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Under the Sun · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Tales from Another Time: A Cantata Mezza Voce
The full moon hung high over the sky of Canterlot, illuminating Equestria’s eternal night with a brilliance that dwarfed the faint memories of the sun’s anemic light.

As Captain-Commander Vinyl Scratch of the Lunar Guard trotted down the city’s main thoroughfare – the crowd parting before her, like she were a timberwolf hunting its next meal – she stared up at it, the unrivalled shine of the orb causing her eyes to ache even through her shaded glasses. It was weird. It had only been a hoofful of years ago, but she could barely remember what life had been like in the age of the sun, when Princess Celestia had ruled over them.

The triumphant return of Princess Moon had ushered in a new era and a new way of life so completely that the time before her conquest of Equestria might as well not have existed. Much like her past life, the sun was nothing but a faint and distant memory.

She turned off the main street, ducking down an alley. After a few steps, she wrinkled her nose to fight back against the stench of unclean ponies and filthy streets. Cleaning the filth from the backstreets of Canterlot wasn’t her job, so she ignored it and simply stepped around the pony sleeping under the heaped trash that he no doubt considered home.

While unpleasant, Canterlot’s alleyways were a boon to seasoned trotters, the narrow and shadowed spaces between the city’s towering buildings spreading all through the city like a star spider’s web. If you knew them well, you could reach anywhere in the city without ever touching a named street, and it was faster than hailing a taxi.

Provided you were willing to brave the danger, of course.

Tucked away as they were, many of the alleys never saw a sliver of moonlight, creating those dark places where the city’s undesirables made their home and hunt those who entertained their domain. The places where even the city guard dared not set hoof.

“This ain’t a place you should be walking, guard,” a voice said from somewhere up ahead, the light of a firefly lantern suddenly coming to life.

But for her? They held no terror.

“’ey. Moon dog. I’m talking to you.”

Vinyl stopped, looking at the short, stocky mare blocking her path and shook her head. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see the other two ponies lurking in what they no doubt thought were deep, concealing shadows. Her horn glowed for a moment, carving cerise words into the air. WHAT?

The mare chuckled. “Oh, you’re a quiet one, eh?”

LEAVE.

“Pushy, too.” Something glinted in the lantern light as the mare shifted, no doubt a hoofblade. “How about you drop whatever coins you’re carrying and that fancy collar too and you’ll get to limp away from here in one piece?”

The word in the air in front of Vinyl blazed brighter.

“Have it your—”

Vinyl didn’t even let the words finish, her magic wrapping around the mare’s leg and yanking it out from under her, while another surge of magic propelled her head into the ground with a sharp crack. NEITHER OF YOU MOVE.

The one on her right didn’t listen, spreading his wings as he lunged.

Her horn glowed and he faltered, his ears flattening as he let out a shriek of pain, the cacophony sound she’d conjured directly into his ears no doubt bursting the drums. He lost his footing and hit the ground, skidding for the short moment before Vinyl’s magic drew the thick blade hung near her shoulder and brought it down.

The last would-be-mugger shrank back as she turned on him, her red eyes shining over the top of her glasses, a deep red that shined out in the dark far brighter than the fallen lantern should have allowed.

“Horse feathers,” he breathed, bowing his head low, practically kissing the cobblestones. “Y-you’re one of of Princess Moon’s chosen. P-please, don’t kill me. Please. Please!” The stallion shook as he cowered, his eyes squeezed tight.

Vinyl sighed, sheathing the blade as she walked towards him. When he didn’t move, she nudged the side of his face with a hoof.

His eyes opened a crack.

GO.

He pushed himself back and away, his eyes never leaving hers, his head remaining as bowed to the ground as possible. Who wouldn’t, when confronted with one of Princess Moon’s demon soldiers, who sold their souls for power and whose crimson eyes could pierce the veil of the blackest darkness.

She looked at the bodies of the other two ponies and shook her head. She’d have to let the locals know. She hadn’t even started her first shift yet.




The Pale Moon bar was filled to bursting whenever the shifts changed, the guards on duty dropping in to relieve themselves after a hard day on canterlot’s streets, while those from the previous shift were still being rolled out, the hardest drinkers managing to keep on their hooves right to the very end.

Sometimes Vinyl was one of them.

DEALT WITH THE MUGGERS. Vinyl wrote with her magic.

Captain Night Glider snorted and shook her head. “How many bodybags will I need to tell the cleanup crew to bring?”

Vinyl took a long drink of cider, enjoying the sour taste of night apple. TWO.

The pegasus laughed and shook her head. “That all? Just a couple of idiots looking for a fight, or the mob turn tail once they realized who they were messing with?”

She shrugged, her eyes focused on the dark liquid in her mug, striving with every fiber of her being to convey that the last thing she wanted to do was have a conversation.

“Geeze, Captain-Commander. Never expected some battle-hardened vet to be so dour about cleaning a bit of street trash.” Night glider punched her shoulder. “Come on, you were assigned here to inspire us to raise ourselves up to the standards of the Lunar Guard, weren’t you? Start inspiring!”

TOMORROW.

Night Glider threw her hooves up and gestured for another set of mugs to be delivered to their table. “Really kinda figured somepony like you’d be a bit more… I dunno. Vivacious. Outgoing.” When Vinyl didn’t react, she tried again, “Fun?”

NOPE.

Night Glider dropped her voice a bit. “The campaigns that bad? You were in both Saddle Arabia and Yakyakistan, right?”

Vinyl shrugged, then nodded. The truth was she hardly thought about them anymore.

“I’ve blocked out some time for you to give a… uh… speech to everyone when you first come on. If you want, of course.” The pleading tone was obvious. “Three days, right?”

No matter how much she wanted to duck it, she knew she couldn’t. What sort of Captain-Commander wouldn’t give a rousing speech to her new charges? Let them know how wonderful a life serving Princess Moon was, and teach them about all the incredible rewards the awaited them. Fame. Fortune. Power.

She forced a smile and nodded.

A little tension seemed to leave Night Glider’s body. “Great.” A flicker of worry crossed her face. “I hope I haven’t been too forward with you, Captain-Commander. The truth is we’re just all really looking forward to working with you. Like, you’ve only just arrived and you’re already taking care of problems.” She beamed. “We’ll get this city cleaned up in no time with you leading the charge.”

Vinyl nodded, then jerked her head at the door.

“Huh? Oh, you wanna head out already?”

Another nod. Sharp and curt, this time.

Night Glider finally took the hint. “Looking forward to working with you, Captain-Commander.”




Vinyl stuck to the main streets, her head buzzing as she wandered and stared vacantly at the sky. Going back to her flat was the last thing she wanted to do, next to staying out here and dealing with other ponies or hitting up another bar to drink alone.

Which left precious little for her to do.

She wandered aimlessly, letting her thoughts drift as she crossed the city, her hooves carrying her wherever they wanted, the peytral emblazoned with the symbol of Princess Moon insuring that, here on the streets, she was unquestionably obeyed and ordered. Had she walked into somepony in her distraction, there was no doubt that they would have bowed and scraped their way away, begging her pardon.

She sighed, letting that thought join the dozens of others that flitted about for a moment, just becoming another part of the noisome bustling city that passed all around her.

Her ears twitched as she passed by a half-open doorway, the faint sound of music piercing the haze. She stopped short, glancing back towards the door. A string instrument played with fervor and the quiet ambiance of a crowd not there for a show, but listening anyway.

The place lacked a sign, but she pushed the door open anyway, stepping into what might as well have been her past. The small, ratty bar. The ponies piled in. The scent of stale beer and cider and sweat. And, above it all, the sound of music filling the room.

Vinyl made her way in, ignoring the slight ripple that her presence caused, making her way to the least crowded corner she could find.

The pony on stage sawed away at her instrument, her eyes clenched tight as she worked the strings. The performance was rough and raw, played not for precision and perfection, but to sear raw emotion in the hearts and minds of her listeners. No, Vinyl recognized the expression carved into her sharp and thin features. Right now, not even the crowd mattered. It was just her and her music.

The minutes faded away as Vinyl watched in rapt attention, her own world melting away as the notes and melodies danced around her, bringing her back a place she’d last been a lifetime ago.

She levitated her glasses off her snout and wiped at her eyes as the music finally drew to a close.

There were a lot less ponies in the room than when she’d come in, and even fewer anywhere near her. That realization brought about a brief pang of guilt, but she pushed it away.

The mare on stage panted, her thin frame shaking from the exertion of her performance and, Vinyl had no doubt, too few meals.

The transition hadn’t been easy on those who had not offered their service directly to Princess Moon, and even now… well. Ponies with value to Princess Moon and the Lunar Republic rose, and those without fell. It was just how things were.

A look of fear momentarily crossed the mare’s face as she caught sight of Vinyl, but she suppressed it quickly.

Vinyl smiled, levitating a few coins out of her pouch and depositing them on the jar that sat on the stage edge. The tension in the air was palpable as ponies tried to lean away from her without moving.

The moment she stepped outside, the sound inside rose once more.




Vinyl returned to that little hole-in-the wall on the next third shift, this time without the peytral in the hopes that she might be able to blend in a little better. It worked well enough, though her glasses earned her a few odd looks. Still, better that than knowing what lurked behind them.

It was a strange and unfamiliar sensation as the ponies jostled and crowded around her. For the first time in a long time she felt naked. Without that emblem, without her crimson eyes, she wasn’t Captain-Commander Vinyl Scratch of the Lunar Guard.

So who was she?

It didn’t really matter. Right now, she was just part of the audience.

She sat quietly after the performance ended and the grey mare once more descended from the stage, taking a seat among her fellows and chatting. And, as Vinyl watched in the dim light of the bar, snatching a pouch of coins that wasn’t well attended, a fact that only went unnoticed for a few moments.

“What the buck? Where’re my bits?” the stallion snarled. He had good instincts, turning immediately on the grey mare. “Did you take ‘em?”

“What?” she asked, feigning surprise.

Vinyl crossed the space quickly, her horn glowing as she gently lifted the pouch, pulling it between the ponys’ legs and to herself.

“Don’t you lie to me!” He raised his hoof and slammed it on on the bar.

“Whoah,” the grey mare said, backing up, “Whoah, whoah!”

They both started as Vinyl’s magic wrapped around them and opened the distance between them forcefully. The grey mare’s horrified recognition was instant, but the stallion…

“Who do you think you are?” he growled. “You better butt—”

Vinyl lifted her shades, letting her crimson eyes shine in the dim light of the bar, all conversation suddenly dying. Even the stallion, so full of bravado just a second ago, turned contrite the instant her eyes turned on him. The grey mare actually trembled.

“I… uh… I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

The rest of the bar slowly seemed to move away from the three of them without obviously trying to retreat from Vinyl. After all, running from her might well just draw her attention.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? The words shone brightly, taking them both by surprise.

The stallion recovered first, speaking quickly, “This pony over here stole my bits. I’m sure of it. Stuff’s been disappearing ever since she started playing here. And lookit her tip jar: she sure ain’t making money with her music.”

The grey mare shook her head, but couldn’t seem to find the words to protest.

Vinyl lifted the pouch into the air. THESE?

To the grey mare’s credit, her eyes barely moved.

“Uh… yeah. Where’d you find those?”

THE FLOOR. She let them drop onto the bar, releasing her magical hold on both of them. BE MORE CAREFUL.

“O-of course.” He cleared his throat. “S-sorry for causing you trouble.”

Ignoring him, Vinyl shifted her gaze to the grey mare. COME WITH ME.

She swallowed and nodded weakly. “I… need to get my things, if that’s okay, of course.”

Vinyl nodded.

A few moments later, they were walking down a nearby alley, the mare looking ready to bolt even with the heavy instrument case across her back. “Why?” she asked, her voice soft and barely audible.

?

“Why... “ she hesitated. “Why am I following you, Miss... Miss...?”

Vinyl snorted. VINYL. YOU?

Again she looked ready to run, but she held her ground. “Octavia, Miss Vinyl.”

DON’T DO THAT AGAIN.

Octavia stopped, but she was smart enough to not try and deny what Vinyl obviously already knew. Instead, she sat down. “It was that or sleeping in a park tonight.” She laughed. “Though I guess I don’t have a choice now, do I?”

COME.

“Where—”

The word burned brighter.




The two ponies stood in front of Vinyl’s flat.

HOME. Vinyl offered, before her magic operated the lock on the door. Not that she needed to worry in this part of town.

“And what am I supposed to—”

STAY HERE TONIGHT.

Octavia stared at her, her eyes open wide. Her mouth opened to say something, then she shut it. She repeated the gesture a few times before one question won out. “Why?”

BEATS THE PARK?

“I’m serious.” Despite the situation, annoyance started to creep into Octavia’s voice. “You… you do what you did in the bar, and now you’re bringing me back to your place? You… what are you playing at? Are you planning something sick here, or is that just some misguided pity for a poor pony like me?”

Vinyl shrugged. YOU PLAY WELL.

That took Octavia by surprise.

STAY OR DON’T. Vinyl pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Octavia started to follow, but froze at the threshold.

WHAT?

“It’s bloody pitch black in there. I’m going to trip over something if I try.”

Vinyl stared at her, taking a moment to realize that, to a normal pony, it would be pitch black. Concentrating, she summoned up a pale globe of light the same color as the moon and set it to drift lazily throughout the space that made up her main room.

The light wasn’t much, but it was enough, particularly because there wasn’t really anything to trip over. The whole of Vinyl’s belongings were still packed in a couple boxes and stuck in the corner. Even her armor, the thing that should have been her pride and joy, was heaped on top of it like so much junk, with the peytral flung on top to cap it off. The only things she’d bothered with were the couch and, back in her bedroom, the bed.

“Spacious,” Octavia offered.

Vinyl snorted again, then flung herself onto the couch. BED ->

“You’re really serious, aren’t you?”

YES.

A dull thud told her that Octavia had, at least, set her instrument down. After a long moment, it was followed by, “Thank you.”




Vinyl left partway through first shift, while Octavia was still asleep. She’d left a note, telling the musician to do what she wanted. Honestly, she half-expected to come to find all her stuff had been stolen and pawned off. Even if that would be a rather suicidal path for Octavia.

So it came as a welcome surprise that, when she returned, the grey mare was playing in the main room. She looked to stop, but Vinyl shook her head and took a seat, closing her eyes as let the music dance around her, just like it had in the bar.

When the song finished, Octavia spoke up. “Miss Vinyl?” She froze for a long moment, looking at the floor. “Since you invited me in already, would it be… would it…” she trailed off, shaking her head. “Can I stay another night?”

YES.
Pics
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#1 · 2
· · >>Fenton >>AndrewRogue
Hm.

This one ended up making a much better impression on me than I expected. The first scene was a little much, and I feel obligated to point out that your prose drifts into purple territory as soon as the first paragraph. The setting – a background character is actually a battle-hardened veteran of the Lunar Republic – isn't exactly fresh, either.

But still, there's a lot of uniqueness at play here. Vinyl's muteness and her way of communicating. The inversion of the normal poor-DJ, rich-cellist trope. Vinyl's indecision after the first night in the bar.

After that first meeting in the bar, though, things go a bit wobbly. The scene with Vinyl rescuing Octavia from her own theft felt a bit forced: what an amazing coincidence that Octavia just happened to nick that poor stallion's coin purse just as Vinyl showed up. The penultimate scene felt good, but the final scene, with Octavia asking to stay and Vinyl just saying yes, felt a little weak.

Overall, though, the originality on display here is intriguing. This is the kind of story I'd actually be interested in reading a longer version of, which is very rare in the Writeoffs. I'm pleased this was the first story on my slate.
#2 · 2
· · >>Rao >>AndrewRogue
Of course, someone smarter than me had to arrive before me. Curse you, >>Cold in Gardez! Now I have to just say "I agree".

Well in fact, I'll voice a point louder. This feels like a good start but it ends before we have something interesting happening between this best greatest awesome nice pair. We immediately understand who is the pony once you mentionned "the grey pony" and even if you take time before having the two of them interact, I think the pace fits and add thrills to our expectation. Unfortunately, it seems you really run out of time, relying on fast and cheap tricks to get Vinyl and Octavia in Vinyl's home. We don't spend enough time inside Vinyl's head to fully understand how much music means to her and thus, her decision to bring Octavia home feels a bit out of place. And, like I said, they barely start interacting that it's already over.

Last but not least, I don't really get the point to settle this story in a sci-fi, modern, technological environment. It is mentionned at the beginning but it doesn't play a big role, either in the story itself or just for describing things and setting an atmosphere.

Despite what I've said, this beginning is pretty good. Expand it and I'll be more than happy to read it. (OctaScratch is OTP, either romantic or just friends)
#3 · 2
· · >>AndrewRogue
Mirror Vinyl and aivatcO meet in a bar, and Vinyl invites aivatcO home to live at her place because she gave Vinyl feels.

...'s cute, actually. I dig this.

That said... the prose here never really crosses over into garish, purple territory, but it does feel pretty grape-flavored. And while most of the exposition and world-building is handled elegantly, I noticed one part that stood out as ham-handed:

“Come on, you were assigned here to inspire us to raise ourselves up to the standards of the Lunar Guard, weren’t you? Start inspiring!”


All it's missing is an "as you know."

And the decision at the end to let aivatcO stay indefinitely at Vinyl Hut feels unmotivated. Could use a little more from Vinyl's end to effectively justify it. And it would have been nice to see her open up to aivatcO, even just a little bit.
#4 · 1
· · >>Rao >>AndrewRogue
Disclaimer: Review-as-reaction for most of this.

Vinyl as a guard under an AU Princess Moon empire. Okay, "Show me what you got!"

Skywriting as a mute: Interesting. Vinyl Scratch as a mute: Less interesting and even tired cliche.

Night Glider, night apple, night (lunar) guard... There are hints, then there are themes, then there is this thing called "anvilicious." This is getting dangerously close to that last one.

"Captain-Commander" feels a needlessly long title.

"A string instrument played with fervor" ...and it's a Tavi/Scratch shipfic, right? If so, please make it worth my while.

Vinyl's red eyes, as a mark of Princess Moon, seem an interesting explanation. But... "without her crimson eyes, she wasn't Captain-Commander" what? Are the eyes permanent or not. I'm confused.

"Vinyl lifted her shades, letting her crimson eyes shine in the dim light of the bar" so they ARE permanent? I'm going to consider the previous one a mistake or typo. Red eyes have to be consistent or this just doesn't work, but error is a major distraction.

"The word burned brighter." Perfect!

And the ending... it works.

Okay, so, lots of nitpicks above as I went, but you've got a really solid core going here. An AU where Luna won, but... I really like that you made that only background to a more-or-less noir story of commoners in a highly stratified empire. Vinyl/Tavi shipfics run rampant, but... this is a new angle to me, and I have to applaud that as well. It's rather predictable though, and that's a pretty big weak point for a such an obvious ship. Still, I see a fair bit of originality, and while it won't hit the top of my slate, it's still in the upper tier.
#5 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue
The triumphant return of Princess Moon had ushered in a new era and a new way of life so completely that the time before her conquest of Equestria might as well not have existed. Much like her past life, the sun was nothing but a faint and distant memory.


The transition hadn’t been easy on those who had not offered their service directly to Princess Moon, and even now… well. Ponies with value to Princess Moon and the Lunar Republic rose, and those without fell. It was just how things were.


Show, don't tell. Or rather, for the latter example, don't tell in the middle of your showing.

Stock TaviScratch with some gimmicks. The gimmicks are stylish, but ultimately underexplored and don't wind up relevant. Pretty much everything here is flavor text, while the meat of the story is a paint-by-numbers character hookup that might as well not even be MLP.

... Well, that's the harsh sounding way of putting it, along with everything the previous comments said. I can see what was going on here pretty well, though. The piece is specifically aiming for the flavor text, using a stock plot, and the author ran out of time for the end. The result is more of a pitch chapter than a story... but I think that was the goal in the first place, so on the whole this can be seen as a successful writing exercise. Flavor text, but good flavor text that draws interest. So thanks for writing!
#6 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue
Echoing the above, because that's what one does when a good story has already been commented on thoroughly: Inverting the typical tropes/roles for Vinyl and Octavia here works really well, especially given the inverted nature of the world/society they're living in now. I'd definitely read more of this, especially if we get some exposition on how Vinyl and Octavia ended up in their current positions during/after the power transition.

Detracting from the above: I'm not sure what >>Fenton means by "sci-fi" setting. I got pretty standard Equestrian vibes, though obviously dark. And opposite of >>Xepher, I got what you were going for with the bit about "without her eyes." They're an instantly identifiable mark of her rank and station, so hiding them lets her move about like a normal pony for a while. But, I get the impression all she does is work, drink, and sleep, so she's at a loss as to who she is anymore without her job. It's a nice question that, unfortunately, doesn't really get expanded on much.

Definitely a high ranking story here, I'd say.
#7 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue
This feels like worldbuilding/character exercise. It's neat and fun to read, but it doesn't have the sort of 'overcoming conflict' sort of things that I like in a really good story, nor is it focused enough a specific mood or feeling to carry through as a thematic piece in a specific way. (Horror, romance, etc.)

I mean, it's far from bad, but I'd like to see some change, some growth, some powerful conclusion. As-is, it seems more like a still-life than a drama or adventure.
#8 ·
· · >>AndrewRogue
I'm stuck in loops where I say the same thing for like, three reviews in a row. Music pones are, unsurprisingly, up my alley.

So, this one has a pretty large and obvious issue, and that is that it isn't really a story. If I squint really, really hard there is sort of an arc of grumpy Vinyl acquires a roommate and maybe we see something coming from that? But that's not really a very satisfactory arc. Even in slice of life, you really do need to let things happen.

Cut back on the description/atmosphere stuff early on and get us some meat a little quicker. Not only will it stop things from being overwrought (atmosphere is good, too much atmosphere suffocates), but it'll also let you start introducing your story hooks (rather than setting and character hooks) a bit earlier. You've got the latter. You need the former.
#9 · 4
·
Can you read the kanji on the board?
Can you read the shape of her heart?
Who stained that heart black?
Hey! Who was it? Who was it!?

Blar. Short version is, despite working on this ostensibly for three days, I just never really came to grips with it or got a good flow going, meaning I ran out of time with precious little to show for it.

As most of you surmised, this is an AU story where Nightmare Moon was not stopped by the Mane 6 and conquered Equestria. In other words, it's roughly based on one of the alternate timelines presented back in the Season 5 finale. I decided to do some alternate timeline shipping because I'm a monster and I like trying different takes on Vinyl and Octavia. Rich Vinyl, poor Octavia isn't new to me per se, but serious Vinyl, less serious Octavia is... thus here we are. Plus, I think, it made a more intriguing concept to play with a Vinyl who gave up music and her passion for the life of a military "hero" and an Octavia who has clung to it, but been forced to debase herself as a thief and the like to keep getting by.

The other big thing I wanted to do here was present both an AU and an "evil" empire where it is really only the backdrop to the characters. Nightmare Moon rules. It is a fact of life. She doesn't run a strictly evil empire, just one that went through a very tough period of adjustment that has resulted in heavily stratified classes of haves and have nots. There is a bit of imperialism and conquest (which I have retrospective debated dropping for campaigns against the Crystal Empire led by Sombra and the Changelings to further set up the ambiguity), but, on the whole, it is just a kingdom of eternal night where the Princess expects love and worship, but is otherwise not like enslaving ponies or anything. Just led to some rough times as the world adjusted to eternal night.

So what was the story intended to be here? Well, roughly speaking, (and this was the reason I cited the tarot image), the idea was taken off the ol' Persona 5 teaser from way back when ("You are a slave. Want emancipation?") and, really, Persona 5's themes on the whole. Vinyl and Octavia have both found themselves trapped in their current lives, and have no idea how to escape. Neither is happy, but it is how they know to get by.

By hanging out together and facing whatever trials I would have come up with, they would slowly realize they have the power to change their lives and, together, they would make the decision to run far from Canterlot and start over somewhere else.

Of course, I didn't really get there, so instead I was forced to hope what I did could vaguely constitute an ending even thought it really wasn't. :p

All told, based on the reception, sounds like it miiiight be worth actually pursuing this idea?

And, since I was bullshitting about titles this round (I'll try and get back with Ran and get the post reading summary of titles done sometime soon), the title this round was... pretty straightforward. The first half was meant to make it extra clear this was an AU (and heavily imply the Starlight modded worlds), and clearly set it up for Tales from Another Time to be a series of shorts if desired. The second half was me being cheeky. Music terms get thrown around a lot with TaviScratch, and Cantata Mezza Voce (a song sung at half voice, if my butchering of terminology is semi-accurate) both spells out the ship AND Vinyl's muteness.

It's a dumb title.

Anyhow, thank you all and here's some direct responses!

>>Cold in Gardez
"Liked it better than I expected" seems to be the watchword of all the reviews here! :p Yeah, that was another thing I was trying to do this round: experiment a bit more with writing atmosphere and environment. If you check anything else I've read, I don't really do a lot of it. So yeah, definitely went overboard in spots.

But yeah, as you correctly ascertain, I fail to deliver an actual story.

>>Fenton
See the above, though I am curious where you got sci-fi, modern tech out of this one.

>>Posh
Yeah. I really wanted them to actually converse the night Vinyl brought aivatcO back, but my energy was flagging and I was already screwed.

That said, surprised that line set off the exposition alarm. I'll have to hit it with the axe of editing.

>>Xepher
Real fact, I honestly feel a bit weird that I hadn't tried mute Vinyl before this given the arguable canonicity of it. So yeah, tread by writers, but since I haven't personally done it, wanted to mess with it. But yeah, that's a big part of why it is just an element, rather than a focus. I don't really have anything new to add to it excpet maybe it being another element by which Vinyl is somewhat isolated from her peers

re: the night triplicate: Hah. I never noticed that and that was actually 100% unintentional. When I need a filler pegasus who is a professional, I just like to use Night Glider. It actually wasn't at all intended to tie in and I totally blanked on that. I'll adjust that. Night apple was actually intended as a bit of world building to imply that some new crops have come into existence since the rise of Nightmare Moon since, well, moonlight sucks for growth.

Rao nailed the red eye thing, but considering she wears the shades generally, it is a bit confusing. It was mostly the idea that fully divesting/concealing her military identity basically removed everything she thought of herself anymore.

>>Ranmilia
Good flavor text, eh?

"Sorry I burned down your village. Here's some gold."

>>Rao
See the above. Well, above the above, at least. :p

>>Not_A_Hat
I would've liked to see those things too!

>>AndrewRogue
You suck, buddy. Learn to finish (or even start) your stories. You had 72 hours.