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Forbidden Knowledge · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Not On the Outside
“My apologies,” said Clover as she tried to rub the tiredness out of her eyes, “but I’m going to have you ask you to repeat what you just said to me.”

Clover levitated Star Swirl’s teapot to pour herself another cup of the liquid abomination held inside. It was probably half caffeine by weight, barely holding any ghost of the leaves that were murdered to make it. And it was exactly what she needed.

“Why’s that?” asked Star Swirl, distractedly. The wizard was hard at work at this early hour, scribbling notes while carefully observing a gemstone suspended in a flask full of water.

“Because we’ve stayed up all night working on whatever that is.” Clover waved a hoof at Star Swirl’s experiment.

As she spoke, the floating gemstone began to move, tapping against the inside of the glass. Star Swirl’s eyes widened, and his note-taking speed doubled.

“Yes, we have,” he said. “What of it?”

Clover used her magic to pinch the bridge of her nose as she took another sip from her teacup. It tasted like distilled hatred.

“The point is, that I’ve been perpetually five minutes away from passing out for the last six hours. So there’s a good chance that I misheard you when I thought you said that you wanted me to take sparring lessons.”

“You didn’t,” said Star Swirl, simply. He never took his eyes away from the gem, which had taken up a magical glow. Tendrils of light snaked out from it, exploring the glass prison that encased it.

“B-but why?” she sputtered. “What use could I possibly have for fighting?”

“Many uses,” said Star Swirl. His notetaking had reached a legendary speed, devouring once-empty pages in a matter of seconds. “Our trip to the badlands would have gone much smoother if you had subdued the stray timberwolf more swiftly.”

“Cookie said that she had it covered!” Clover threw her hooves up in frustration. “Besides, everything turned out fine! I got it… Eventually.”

The gem’s magical tendrils began to strike against the inside of the glass. Tap, tap tap.

“By god, it’s gained sentience…” Star Swirl muttered under his breath.

“Hey!” hissed Clover. “Don’t change the subject!”

“Oh, yes, of course,” mumbled Star Swirl as he opened a fresh notebook. “I was saying, that I think you’d benefit greatly from having a bit more finesse in the martial arts.”

release me

… Star Swirl’s notetaking paused as he afforded a sidelong glance to the gem in the flask.

“Eyes back here!” Clover snapped. “And, I think I did a fine job handling the situation!”

“Clover, my dear,” said Star Swirl. There was a hint of a smile around his lips. “Every time we are met with conflict of the combative variety, you cannot just keep flinging raw magical force at the problem while hoping for the situation to resolve itself. Now please, hold this flask for me. I want to see if I can dispel our little creation, here.”

“Of all your outrageous demands, this is by far the most intolerable.” Clover took the flask in her magical grasp. “I’m a scholar, not some sort of barbarian!”

“Well, if you don’t want to do it, I can’t force you.” Star Swirl as he readied a magic-removal spell. He aimed his horn at the flask. “But it would mean the end of our arrangement.”

“Seriously?” Clover deadpanned. “You’re playing that card?”

Star Swirl’s spell discharged, but in the split second before it struck, the gem’s magical aura lit up, shielding the entire flask from the spell.

no, said the gem.

It promptly proceeded to wrest control of the flask from Clover.

“It’s become spell-resistant! How fascinating!” Star Swirl watched as gem and flask flew circles in the air above their heads. “But yes, I am playing that card.”

“Are you kidding me?” asked Clover as she levitated up a broom to try to catch the flying experiment. “Even after all these years we’ve spent together?”

“Yes,” said Star Swirl. He joined the chase with a butterfly net. “Our arrangement still holds. You are my apprentice, but if there is anything I demand of you that you’d rather not do, you are free to end our partnership at any time.”

“Which is really just another way of saying, ‘Do what I want, or I’ll evict you.’” Clover blew a raspberry as she landed a solid hit on the flask, which sent it wobbling off to the side.

stop fool

“Unfortunately room and board in the guest chambers is only for active research assistants.” Star Swirl nodded. With a flick of his horn, he deftly caught the gem in the net. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to let you go if you choose to reject my offer.”

“You’re impossible sometimes, you know that, you old geezer?”

“I do. Platinum never fails to remind me in all her letters.” Star Swirl pulled the flask to the ground and immediately jumped on top of it, pinning it to the ground. “Clover, dear, would you please hand me my book of banishment rites?”

i am alive

“Ugh.” Clover fetched the tome in question. “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll take the goddess-darned fighting classes.”

“Wonderful!” said the wizard as he frantically flipped through the pages and pages of scrawled notes. “Because I’ve already got you scheduled for a lesson today at 10. Your instructor will meet you at the castle training grounds!”

i know what hate is

“An hour and a half from now.” Clover dragged her hoof down her face. “How thoughtful of you.”

“You’re welcome.” Star Swirl lit his horn. The flask beneath him disappeared in a flash, and he tumbled the short distance to the floor left by its absence. “Whew, it’s good to have that taken care of!”

“Easy for you to say.” Clover rubbed her eyes for the umpteenth time that morning. “Who’s to be my instructor, anyway?”

“Fear not, dear, I’ve been ever so fastidious in selecting a teacher for you,” said Star Swirl. “Her name is Glowing Dawn. She hails from house Sparkle, and she has many years of experience.”

“House Sparkle?” Clover’s eyes widened. “How much are you paying her?”

“Nothing, actually! It all worked out so conveniently.” Star Swirl blew on his notes to dry the ink before closing his notebook and putting it away. “From what I hear, she was honorably discharged from the Guard against her will several months ago. The boredom has been killing her! Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Honorably discharged against her will?” Clover’s brow scrunched. “What circumstances warrant something like that?

“Ah, you know the Guard, they like to retire their veterans at their earliest inconvenience.” Star Swirl shrugged. “But she’s seen a fair bit of combat, so she’ll be an excellent teacher.”

“I suppose.” Clover sighed. “Anyways, where’d you send it?”

“Hm? Send what, dear?”

“The, umm…” Clover vaguely gesticulated with her hoof. “The experiment. The living gem.”

“Oh! Yes, that!” The bells in Star Swirl’s hat jingled as he motioned in a vague direction. “I sent it to Morning Breeze’s bedchambers.”

Clover blinked.

“You banished a minor eldritch monstrosity to your ex’s house?”

“Yes, of course!” Star Swirl nodded. “Why do you think I made it in the first place?”

Clover said nothing. Instead, she threw back another bitter swallow of lukewarm tea. Her heart gave a little fibrillation in complaint, but she ignored it.

“Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and leave for training. That way I’ll have a decent alibi,” she finally said as she made her way for the door.

“Good thinking!” Star Swirl hung up his hat and stretched. “I think I’m going to get a nap, myself. It’s difficult business staying up all night, you know.”

“Yes, I do. Goodbye, Star Swirl.”

“Ta-ta, Clover!”

The door latch clicked shut behind her.

Castle Ever Free’s training grounds were entirely empty save for the occasional groups of out-of-uniform guards who were clearly making their way to somewhere more important. Which made the unicorn mare that Clover assumed was Glowing Dawn stick out like the minotaur in the room.

She was the only pony there who seemed to have any sort of purpose being at the grounds, sitting on the grass near the center, sweeping her gaze across the grounds like an eagle perched on a cliff. Her mane was a pale violet only a shade or two darker than her coat, which was mostly covered up by a set of padded sparing armor. A second set was wrapped up in a bundle by her feet.

There must have been something about Clover that screamed “not-a-soldier”, because the moment the former guardsmare spotted her, her eyes locked on with an almost palpable intensity.

As Clover neared, Glowing Dawn opened her mouth.

“You must be Clover.” Her voice was hoarser and scratchier than Clover expected.

“And you must be Glowing.”

“Dawn,” the older mare corrected.

Clover took a moment to really study the pony in front of her. Her figure was trimmed and sleek, with a compact strength that wouldn’t have looked out of place for a young pony in their prime. But wrinkles creased around her eyes and mouth gave away hints about her true age.

“You look horrible,” said Dawn. She must have been studying Clover right back.

“I know,” Clover replied. “I feel horrible too.”

“Good. That means you’ll remember today well.” She stood up and tossed Clover the other set of sparing equipment. “Put it on.”

“Sure. Sure, sure.”

Clover awkwardly pawed at the bundle for a moment before lifting in a cloud of magic and undoing the strings that held it together. Immediately, the well-packed mass fell apart, and all the pieces of padded equipment fell to the grass.

Dawn, noticeably, didn’t lift a hoof to help.

Sighing, Clover plopped the padded helmet—the most recognizable piece of the bunch—on top of her head. It was only when she started to struggle with getting the chestguard on that Dawn offered any sort of assistance.

“You’ve got it on backwards,” she said. “Straps go around your belly. Long one in front, short one at the back.”

A minute or two later, Clover figured it out. And then it was on to the next piece.

“That’s a shoulder guard. Put your foreleg through it.”

And the next.

“Back left shin guard. Pointy end goes down.”

When it was finally all done, Dawn gave Clover a quick top-to-bottom inspection. Clover, meanwhile, did her best to just breathe. It was tight, hot and heavy. She could already feel herself breaking out into a sweat, even in the chilly fall air.

“Looks good,” said Dawn. “From now on, show up in gear. We’ll start off each morning with a run.”

“A run?” Clover’s eyes widened. “Like this? Right now?”

“Yes,” said Dawn. “Right now.”

A little part of Clover died.

If training had been hard, then the walk home was agonizing. Clover was drenched horn to hoof in sweat, which the late September cold had taken full advantage of to leave her a shivering, aching mess by the time she pushed open the door to Star Swirl’s cottage.

Inside, a pair of ponies looked up to greet the new arrival. Star Swirl was sitting at the little tea table, with Pansy at the other end. They seemed to have been in the middle of a pleasant conversation over a pot of tea.

Clover hated them both just a little at that moment.

“Is that tea still hot?” she asked as soon as she shut the door behind her.

When Pansy nodded, Clover levitated the teapot and poured it out into empty air. Another burst from her horn caught the spilled tea mid-air in a bubble of magic, which she brought to her lips immediately.

The steaming liquid burned a raw spot into her tongue, but as soon as it was down her throat it worked miracles for her. The warmth seemed to trickle through her veins to every part of her body, down to her hooves. She didn’t move a muscle until all of it was gone.

“Star Swirl told me you were out doing PT,” said Pansy. “Honestly, I almost didn’t believe him until ten seconds ago.”

“Pansy, dear sweet Pansy,” said Clover as she collapsed onto the couch next to the pegasus warrior. “I don’t know how you do this every day. I feel like my eyes could spill out of their sockets right now.”

Pansy giggled and ran her hoof through Clover’s mane. Instantly, Clover’s universe was a much happier place.

“That’s how everypony feels the first time they actually use their muscles,” said Pansy.

“You’re making me feel like a filly.”

“Well, I’m still very proud of you.” Pansy leant over and placed a kiss on Clover’s cheek.

Star Swirl coughed. It was a conspicuous cough. It was a nervous cough.

Clover rolled her eyes.

“We’d better cut it out,” she told Pansy. “You know how the old grump is with affectionate displays of the public kind.”

“I find them somewhat distasteful,” huffed Star Swirl. “Especially within my own house.”

Pansy shrugged. “He’s got a point. Sit up, now.”

Groaning, Clover complied.

“What are you doing here, anyways?” she asked as she forced her tired muscles to prop her up against the back of the sofa.

Pansy took a sip of her tea and put down the cup before pointing to Star Swirl. “Well, technically I’m supposed to be arresting him.”

Clover looked the two over.

“Oh,” she said. “Morning Breeze?”

“Countess Breeze was very… insistent that Star Swirl be brought to court for sending some sort of magical demon to her bedroom.”

“Perhaps I did, and perhaps I didn’t,” said Star Swirl. “The banishment spell I used had a significant chance of simply sending the creature to a parallel universe. In that case, the living gem that Countess Breeze’s guards destroyed would have simply been a coincidental arrival from another parallel universe. And if you could convict ponies for the crimes of their parallel selves, we’d have Morning Breeze executed by nightfall! Trust me, I’ve seen some of the things that she hasn’t done!”

Clover sighed. “We’ve been through this song and dance before; just give her your apology and pay for the damages before this becomes another big thing.”

Star Swirl huffed. “Very well. It was a poorly thought-out joke, I’ll admit. I can do far better next time.” The wizard got up out of his chair and towards the stairs. “Let me go fetch my cloak and my apology goggles. Hopefully, we can get this whole thing out of the way by lunchtime.”

As he turned the corner out of sight, Pansy looked at Clover.

“I’m betting that you don’t want to come with.”

“Ugh.” Clover rubbed her eyes. “I haven’t slept in almost twenty-one hours. So no, I think I’ll pass.”

“Okay,” said Pansy. She stroked Clover’s mane again. “Take a nap. We’ll be back before too long.”

“Oh, wait wait!” Clover sat upright as she remembered something. “I need to ask you a question before I forget.”


“Star Swirl said that my new training instructor was ‘honorably discharged against her will’ from the guard.” Clover scrunched her muzzle. “When in the heck does something like that ever happen?”

Pansy’s smile faded a bit. “Well, mandatory honorable discharge is actually not that uncommon. It’s usually for injuries and the like.”

“Well, let me tell you,” said Clover, oblivious to Pansy’s shift in mood, “I’m pretty sure my teacher wasn’t, like, maimed or anything. She worked me like a broom!”

“Not all scars are on the outside, Clover,” said Pansy.

Her voice was almost never this quiet anymore. Clover’s ear flicked.

“Oh.” Clover felt pretty stupid at that moment.

“I don’t want to make any assumptions, though,” said Pansy, fidgeting. “There are political and bureaucratic reasons for being discharged, too.”

“I see,” said Clover. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to say something so stupid.”

“No harm done,” said Pansy, right as Star Swirl’s approaching steps clip-clopped through the hall.

“Sergeant Pansy!” he called out. “Are you prepared to escort me to the lair of the witch?”

“Yes. Let’s go.” Pansy got off the chair and blew Clover a kiss. “We’ll be back soon.”

“Wake me up, okay? I don’t want to miss lunch.”

“Sure thing,” said Pansy.

Soldier and wizard walked out the door.

After two months of training, Clover had fooled herself into thinking she was improving. Being flung full-force onto her back promptly dispelled that notion.

“Again,” said Dawn. Her breath fogged up the cold air. “Your guard was too low. Shoulders forward, bend the knees. Don’t lock up.”

Clover staggered to her feet and did her best to improve her stance. Fifteen seconds later, the exact same tackle from Dawn landed her in the ground again.

“What did I say about those shoulders, Clover? If they’re too far back, you can’t put your weight into countering mine.”

“Sorry,” said Clover as she stumbled back up. “But it’s freezing! I can barely feel half my coat right now.”

“Then a run should warm you back up.” Dawn smiled slyly. “Two laps around the yard,” she said as she led with a brisk pace. “If I lap you, you’re doing another one.”

Groaning, Clover did her best to follow. By the first lap, Dawn had accumulated a sizable lead, while Clover only grew lagged farther behind. When they pulled around to the final stretch, Clover was struggling just to keep moving. Finally, she made it to Dawn, who was running in place waiting for her.

“Warm yet?” Dawn said with a lopsided grin.

“Honestly?” Clover gasped out. “Not really.”

“Well, at least you’re limber now.” Dawn lowered herself into an attacking stance. “Guard up, again.”

Clover shakily got into position and waited for Dawn’s assault.

A movement in the corner of her vision caught her attention. Her eyes focused just in time to catch a glimpse of a tiny white speck floating in the breeze before it landed on her nose. It melted and nipped her with a bite of cold.

Then Dawn slammed into her.

As soon as she caught her breath again, Clover was laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Dawn asked, with an intrigued confusion in her voice.

“It’s actually snowing,” Clover snorted. “That’s how cold it is right now!”

“No it isn’t!” said Dawn.

“Yeah, it is,” Clover pointed.

Another snowflake glided on a breeze and landed on Glowing Dawn’s chest. She stiffened and brushed it off.

“It isn’t supposed to snow today. I checked the weather schedule,” Dawn hissed.

“Well, things happen you know.”

“They aren’t supposed to just happen!” Dawn snapped. She turned towards the nearest barracks. “Let’s go. We need to talk to whoever’s in charge.”

Clover blinked. Dawn had never interrupted their training mid-session before, and honestly a little part of her was relieved at the thought of a break. Scrambling onto her feet, she followed Dawn as the snowfall began to grow heavier.

As soon as they were inside, Dawn shook herself off and patted away the snow on her shoulder guards almost desperately. A pegasus guard happened to walk by at that moment, and Dawn almost leapt at him.

“You!” she barked. “Why in Tartarus is it snowing right now?”

Clover nearly jumped at the volume of Dawn’s voice.

“I’m not on weather duty, ma’am.” The guard’s voice was clipped and even. “But honestly, with the humidity being what it is, I wouldn’t expect a couple of flurries to—”

“That’s not the point!” Dawn stomped the ground in frustration. “Today was scheduled as precipitation-free. It’s your job to keep it that way! How am I supposed to train when it’s snowing?”

“Hey!” said Clover. “Let’s take it easy, okay? The guy said he’s not a weather pony.”

Clover reached out and put a hoof on Dawn’s shoulder. Immediately, the older mare recoiled with a sharp intake of breath. Clover leapt back in surprise.

Dawn’s eyes snapped shut as she fought to regain control of her breathing. When they opened again several moments later, they locked on to the pegasus.

“Where can I find the weather ponies?” she asked. “They need to clean this up right now. Right now.

“Some of them on today’s shift should be in the third barracks,” he said, “but that’s really all I know, ma’am.”

Immediately, Dawn made a beeline for the door.

“Hey, hold on a second!” Clover was still winded from their run, but she prepared to give chase. Only to find Dawn frozen at the edge of the door. Outside, the snow was really starting to come down, much more.

Dawn’s breathing hissed in short burst between her teeth, sending little plumes of fog into the frigid air.

She stood there, eyes screwed shut and unmoving, for a long minute.

“Hey,” said Clover. “I’ll go. I’ll tell the weather ponies to clear this up right away, okay?”

“No!” Dawn cried. It wasn’t a yell or even a shout—it was much closer to a scream. “You can’t!”

Dawn grabbed her head, as if she had been struck, and fell onto the floor. A moment later, she was in tears. A desperate, quiet wail left her mouth as if her breath had been physically squeezed out of her chest.

Several guardsponies in the barracks had begun to congregate around the commotion. Clover shot a couple of them dirty looks and elected to ignore the rest. She knelt down to put her arms around Dawn. Every muscle in her toned body was rock-solid with tension.

“That’s how they do it,” Dawn croaked out between the sobs. “They hide and they wait and get you separated. And they wait for you to leave for help. They wait for you to try to find your friends. That’s how they get you!”

“The windigos are gone, Dawn. They’re gone for good.”

Dawn shook her head.

“They’re waiting. They’re always waiting.” Her wide, tear-filled eyes met Clover’s. “You can’t go out there again. They’ll take you again.”

Clover squeezed Dawn’s hoof.

“Dawn, it’s me. It’s Clover,” she reminded her. “You know who I am, right? We got rid of the windigos, me, Pansy, and Cookie. You know that they’re gone, don’t you?”

A light of recognition passed across Dawn’s eyes.

“I know. I know,” she said. The tension drained out of her body, and her sobbing renewed. “I know, I know, I know…”

She tried to get back on her feet, and Clover helped her up. Gently, she guided Dawn away from the door and towards the barracks’ fireplace. Somepony silently handed them a blanket, and Clover thanked them. She draped it over Dawn’s shoulders as they both sat next to the crackling fire.

“I’m sorry,” Dawn said. Her voice was even croakier than usual.

“It’s okay, Dawn.”

“No, it isn’t.”

Dawn pulled the blanket tighter around her. A long moment of silence stretched on, and one by one the ponies that had gathered around them broke off and busied themselves somewhere else in the barracks.

When had been alone for a while Dawn swallowed and spoke.

“Do you have a special somepony?”

Clover was caught off-guard.

“Y-yeah, I do.”

Another minute-long silence passed.

“How do you know that you deserve them?” asked Dawn.

“I—I don’t really know.” Clover ran a hoof through her mane. “I’m sorry.”

A much longer silence than before lingered before Dawn opened her mouth again.

“I’m a grandmare,” she said. “My Stella had two foals four months ago. Twins.”

“That’s wonderful,” Clover said, and she tried to put some heart into it.

Dawn shook her head.

“I don’t know what to do with them,” she said. “I know I love my Stella. And I think I love them, but I don’t like looking at them. I don’t like the sounds they make, and I don’t like thinking about them.”

Clover didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t understand anything at all anymore,” said Dawn. “I don’t know what’s going to happen anymore. And I’m so tired.”

“My special somepony used to have bad days too, a lot,” said Clover. “Sometimes things are still really hard.”

Dawn was quiet. Clover continued.

“I’ve learned that with her, sometimes you shouldn’t let yourself think about the future,” said Clover. “It sucked her in, sometimes, and she couldn’t even get out of bed. She’d miss training, and she’d feel even worse.

“Sometimes, you just have to take life one day at a time. She says that anypony can survive one bad day; you just gotta take care of this one before you think about the next one.”

“One day at a time,” echoed Dawn.

“Yeah,” said Clover. “Just one at a time isn’t as bad, is it?”

“No, it isn’t.”

Dawn pulled the blanket tighter around herself and sat back. The two of them watched the fire burn until all the wood had turned into white, crumbly ash.

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#1 · 3
Okay, that is a good Star Swirl. Like dang.

Dawn's issues are unclear and they leave me emotionally unconnected. But this at the same time, possibly unintentionally, leaves me in the same spot as Clover. Trying to deal with a problem that she doesn't fully comprehend.

Earned or accidental you get points for realism in your story about magical brightly coloured equines.
#2 · 2
To reiterate, that Star Swril was awesome. I would totally like to have him as a grandpa.

I feel you could have explored Gleaming Dawn's PTSD a bit more, if only so the reader could get a better grasp on her inner troubles.

Still, it was an enjoyable read. Kudos.
#3 · 1
· · >>horizon
Whoa! Military! Touching on quite a subject there huh? What can I say. It's a story. We're joined with Star Swirl, the Legendary, along with his apprentice, Clover. The story follows Clover's perspective throughout her training. What we get is a simple glance at the difficulties that surround her training under the best of the best. We get to see a couple of things with her life from relationship status to even new things that play out during her training. This is where we see the struggle of the story. Clover's new instructor happens to be a renown soldier that had just recently retired. Charged with teaching this wizard student how to physically fight something, I really don't know why in the stars she would need it, Glowing dawn is Clover's next big obstacle to overcome towards being a master wizard.

Who the hell is Clover?! What mane style does she have what color is her coat? What is she doing with her life? Where are the details that point out that she is the main character for this story? Other than the story following her there is almost nothing about her. These are things that a reader may want to see when they're foreshadowing a character through their journey. Overall, I loved Clover as a character. She was unique and well done as an OC. There was a lot to explore but it really didn't seem to do any justice in terms of how well each of your characters had played out. Believe me when I say your characters will be very much remembered through this round. Each attitude and behavior just drew out your story more and made it feel like it really was a war going on or probably a preparation for one. Either way it was heavily military and I adored that. I really don't have much to say for negatives but if I needed to say one thing was that each one should have been played out more. You had a good hand but refused to play it. Why is that? Take that idea and let it shine out more. If you still want to keep it minimal try only one or two characters being complex or to stand out more. You had a lot of detail to play with. From Pansy and Clover reminiscing to Star Swirl's past relationship. Even more so on the endings climactic scene. Adding more to Dawn's part would have made my day even better if she ever gets pass her problem. From what I've read. I know that Clover is training to be a wizard pony and that she's a lesbian who hates physical strenuous activities. (Celestia help Pansy.) Can we get more please, sir? Her behavior makes her one of a kind but it's missing details.

I felt as though there was a lack of feeling. It might be due to a lack of experience to such situations, but I seem to not actually connect well with whatever the characters were going through. Their actions seem to be on script and it's not really detailed as to how they feel inside. I thought the story could use more in depth material to show how each character feels. Even if we don't need to see the side characters' feelings it's Clover's that need to be on point then. What was she feeling when she gave all that advice to Dawn? Was she out of words. Confused and befuddled at the lack of experience in such a battle. Maybe she never seen a pony frightened that badly before. Why did it feel like she didn't care? Point out how they feel which will give us more reason to care about the character and their situations. Make me see that soul and fire in your heart. Even the ending. I just didn't feel sad for dawn. I wanted to but couldn't. I think it should have been extended more so to relieve the tension and call it a good ending. Rather than giving us what felt to be like no bait on the hook at all. Yeah, as fish we're interested in the floating metallic thing there but we have no reason to bite on.

-Attention to Detail
Pony story, yet the word "feet" is used. Several times. Don't forget what you're writing here. This enough was proof that you had the right mind for a scene and plotline but forgot that there were certain things to keep in mind. it's rather challenging to suddenly change certain common vocabulary associated with writing but in the end it keeps are minds sharp while we do such an art. Which again can point out skillwise. I for one just think you were having trouble with time on this one. Which is why there was a lack of proofreading it in.

Loved the setting these characters interacted in. I can see the middle of the entire castle grounds being used as training ground for this supposed military group. You can feel how there's a sense of order in the things these characters do, due to the fact that they're being watched by peers they work with. It was the type of aura they each held, because they knew what kind of work they were doing and where they were at the time. In castle grounds training to become better soldiers or wizards. The fact that there were three barracks there meant it could well be a military establishment. Nothing else says otherwise unless it's Star Swirl's company. I doubt it could be his place of study as having so many troops around mean more of a hassle to deal with the obvious chaos that comes within the military. What really shined through was that it was a much older setting. The time that this all takes place shows that the land has need of strong wizard ponies to tend to things. To keep things in order. That the military must have a hand in society because most of the magic and technology the show uses wasn't always there. It gave the story the impression of being unique without having to handle characters that we already know of. This is a very useful strategy that avoids using character that have already had their own outlines shaped for them. My only problem is the location didn't seem to make much sense. Doubt that the castle that use to belong to the two princesses was so um... soldier oriented. Perhaps showing more civilian ponies would have lightened the mood so the speak. We only get to see what remains of just an outpost of some kind and your story seems to reflect on it highly.

-Side Characters
Dear god! The author is really good with interaction. Which shows in how well he interprets each individual relationship that Clover has in her current life. From love interest to mentor to challenges. It was done beautifully and really made it entertaining. I can point out character, but Star Swirl himself isn't exactly a story trait to be talking about. I just loved how you made each one your own. None of them fell out of line with their own styles and they didn't seem to mesh together as some authors would do when they haven't hashed out their character entirely. There was a lot of thought placed into each one and how they would affect Clover and it was just so much fun reading about the next. I would love to read more about Clover's life. Meeting Morning Breeze seeing Pansy court Clover even more. Though again. More detail. I know who Star Swirl is but who is this Pansy? The only pony ever described in the story ends up being Dawn. While not the strongest character in the story she gets to have a good intro rather than the hilarious Star Swirl? I really wanted to peek into your head and see what you intend to make these characters out to be. Sadly this piece doesn't give me much access to your thoughts.

This piece was good. It was a pleasant read that was perfect to sit down by my bed and just read through. Sadly there are elements that make this a one time read. Though I would quickly shoot someone for a copy of the next installment. I'm sure with more time this author would have made such a wonderful story. There were a lot of things left unwritten, that I believe will make this an excellent series for the writer's followers to enjoy. While I may be negative. I cannot lie and say this wasn't a total bad entry. It had so much potential and Author you have shown your strengths in elements of a story that is usually hard for others to follow on. I'm sure that if you had more time you could blow right through this contest.
#4 · 3
· · >>Remedyfortheheart >>Bachiavellian
Just FYI, Clover's not an OC. "Clover the Clever" is one of the historical figures from the pageant in "Hearth's Warming Eve" (the one played by Twilight Sparkle), and is canonically a unicorn mage who made great advances in friendship studies and has a wing of the Royal Canterlot Library named after him/her. Private Pansy (the one played by Fluttershy) was the pegasus friend who, along with Smart Cookie the earth pony, helped Clover ignite the fires of friendship and drive off the windigoes. (Though the characters are virtually undefined by show standards. We don't even know what gender they are from the expanded-universe stuff — The Journal Of The Two Sisters refers to Clover as female and Princess Celestia and the Summer of Royal Waves refers to Clover as male.) I think Dawn is an OC, unless she's from the comics.

And since this comment is going to inflate the story's review count, I might as well read and review it.

Overall, this was an enjoyable story, though the quality felt quite uneven. There are moments of brilliant prose:
…she took another sip from her teacup. It tasted like distilled hatred.

But that first scene is also dragged down by clumsy "As You Know, Bob" exposition:
“Why’s that?” asked Star Swirl, distractedly. …

“Because we’ve stayed up all night working on whatever that is.” Clover waved a hoof at Star Swirl’s experiment.

And the actual hook — the "sparring lessons" part — is buried six paragraphs deep by the banter and the tea jokes and the experiment.

The character work and the interactions here all feel individually strong (though I wasn't as much a fan of the character-destruction comedy of the manipulative, petty-vengeance Star Swirl — in particular, the ultimatum that sends Clover into training rubbed me the wrong way). Clover and Star Swirl's adversarial friendship is vivid, and Clover and Dawn play off each other well, and the bit parts pop off the page. My big hesitation is that this doesn't feel like it has decided whose story it's actually telling — and when you switch focus, the borderline-slapstick comedy of banishing eldritch abominations to ex-wives creates a jarring contrast to the serious portrayal of PTSD.

That's not to say you can't change mood within a story. See: my Writeoff winner The 18th Brewmare of Bluey Napoleon, which takes a lurching gear-shift from comedy into a deconstruction of Blueblood's family history of failure. But you should know the overall tone and theme you are trying to communicate, and any departure from that should reflect upon your core theme in some way. Brewmare focused on Blueblood, and drew a great deal of its comedy from his petty ego and his quixotic selfishness; when it took its turn into pathos, it was to examine exactly the psychology which drove him, and to provide a character moment both for him and for the fellow monarchs trying to coax him toward making something of himself. It remained his story, and returned to the core comedy once it had picked itself up and dusted itself off.

Here, the only character that stays a constant is Clover, but at no point does this feel like her story. She's got remarkably little agency — she wouldn't even be in training if it weren't for the ultimatum, and is basically along for the ride when Dawn flips out. As noted by previous reviewers, Star Swirl is a very colorful character whose don't-take-this-seriously comedy (e.g. casually murdering/banishing sentient spirits) carries the early story, and then the climax of your story is the discovery of Dawn's emotional issues. So whose story is this? Should we not think too hard about the characters and laugh at their spirit-murdering antics from a distance, or should we get emotionally invested in them and choke up at the sober d'aww of the ending?

Basically, both of the stories you're telling are good, but this would be much better if you weren't telling both at once. Take my tier as a signal of "Top Contender with significant flaws"; maybe I should rename "Solid" to "Strong" to better reflect the dual way in which I use it?

Tier: Solid
#5 ·
I didn't know that! Thanks for the fyi! Even then. Weren't they hardly even defined as individuals since it was a Hearts Warming play focused on a history lesson? Like seriously Mayor Fudge up this bizz! MY fault for not noticing it. It wasn't my favorite episode so to speak. So that info was more white noise than anything. We should do a silliness or a "Clown About" contest and see the reactions.
#6 · 1
Not On the Outside - A - Nice hook and very good work dragging me into the story with the two-tier conversation. Good characterization for all of the characters involved, from Star Swirl to the sparring teacher. The transition from silly/serious to just serious was well-handled, but probably weakened the story slightly by switching tempos in the middle. Still, a good solid A and in the top tier.
#7 ·
This made me giggle in a lot of places. Starswirl in this is a jerk, but a sort of enjoyable jerk. Far too many just make him an unlikeable hardass. This one is more...Discworld-ey, in a good way.

Everything else works quite well other than the sudden PTSD whiplash. Story could have benefited a lot, I think, from a hint or two of 'snow = bad bad bad' before the sudden scene, so that the meltdown is a little more signaled. Yea, we know she's got probable mental scarring, but we have no idea WHY until it pops up super fast.
#8 ·
I'm with horizon on this one. Your grasp of comedy is strong in the early bits (the jar's sentience amd dialogue was particularly hilarious), and your writing itself is one to admire, but the balancing act of comedy amd serious could have been handled better. I particularly felt distanced from Dawn's problem because it was too vague what happened. I gathered that she lost her family to the wendigoes when they went looking for other lost family members, but the follow through was incomplete. You took a valiant risk leaving implication to so few words, but I think it would have done better had her ptsd been drawn out and more of a conclusion to it given. I don't have ptsd, so I don't know how true to life this presentation of it is, but take that as a statement that it isnt a clear picture of it, I guess.
#9 · 1
Another nice one:

But it stops rather than ends. When I'm writing something, I have this five-act structure that I always use--Aristotle first wrote about it back in 300 BC or so, but the ancient Greek playwrights had been using it for at least a hundred years before that. You can look up the details in any writing book or website, but for me, this story as currently written ends at the conclusion of Act 3. This is the climax, the point where Clover comes to understand Dawn and decides she has to help her. We then need an Act 4, an Act 5, and maybe even an epilogue to wrap things up.

What's here is terrific. But this is barely three-fifths of the story.

#10 ·
I quite liked this one. It started as a comedy, and then slowly transitions to a drama that deals with PTSD. That sort of change could easily be off-putting, but the story handles it organically and there's no one point where it suddenly switches tone, which could cause issues. It's still kind of unusual to switch like that, but in this case I don't think unusual is the same thing as bad.

The characters were fun too. The Hearth's Warming play characters are kind of tricky, since if they're too different from the characters that play them it feels off, but if they're too similar then it feels like you're just reusing the Mane 6. This story hit a nice balance between those. And as previously noted by others, Starswirl was awesome.

If I have one complaint, it's that it feels like the story drifts a little, particularly with the tonal shift. But to me it came off as a slice of life more than a comedy, and I don't mind as much when slice of life stories meander and don't have a clear end. A very pleasant read.
#11 · 2
Retrospective: Not On the Outside

First off, congrats to CiG billymorph for their wins and everyone else for participating!

Secondly, regarding my own entry, I'm going to have to open up with a bit of an apology. I know we have some military folk here, and I noticed in chat that at least a couple of you guys didn't appreciate the way I handled the subject. For that, I'm really sorry. For what it's worth, I'm also not quite pleased with the story.

What's there is basically only half of what I originally outlined, but on Sunday I lost several hours of writing time, unexpectedly. A lot of people seemed to notice that the story feels oddly paced, and they're totally on point about that. There was supposed to be at least one more scene of character development with Dawn before her breakdown, and then at least two more afterwards to connect her arc with Star Swirl's and bring things to a close. I really tried to include as much as I could, and I ended up staying up till 3 on a workday night before I threw in the towel.

Anyways, the main inspiration behind this one was that I wanted to do a double-subversion of the prompt. I was pretty certain that "Forbidden Knowledge" was going to draw in a ton of dark/sad stories, so I thought I'd write something of a comedy instead, with a character learning something she didn't want to. Then I thought it might be interested if the story ended up being about a serious topic in the end, anyway. I originally played with Twilight, Celestia, and Luna as the MC's, but I really couldn't think of a way to showcase character interaction between the three of them that didn't use every cliche in the book (NMM, millennial regret, etc.). IN the end I went with the Hearth's Warming Eve characters since they were more of a blank slate.

As for the results, a lot of readers seemed to like Star Swirl, which makes me glad! The inspiration for him was equal parts Robin Williams from Flubber and the Doctor, with a sprinkle of Mordin Solus from Mass Effect. >>horizon (horizon) does make a pretty good point, though, that he comes across as a bit more of a jerk than I originally hoped. The idea is that the combat training is something that Clover really needs, and that Star Swirl really does care about her well-being, but he's too socially awkward to tell her up front (at least, initially).

For now, I'm going to be thinking very hard about whether or not I want to edit this one and publish it. I want to be sure that I can approach the subject matter with all the respect it deserves.

Regardless of what I decide, thank you so much, everyone, for reading, reviewing, and rating this story! I really appreciate all the feedback I've gotten, and I'm very flattered by the bronze medal. Thanks for another fun event, guys!