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The Other Side · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Coffee at Three

Somebody knocked on the study door, and the sound of it was loud enough to make Sunset’s heart skip a beat in surprise.

The door began to open with a long, whining creak, which made Princess Twilight—still slouched over a pile of scrolls in her seat next to Sunset—mutter something in her sleep.

“Shhh!” Sunset turned to face the noisemaker and reflexively tried to bring a finger to her lips in a shushing gesture. It was too late before she realized she was in Equestria.

Spike slipped into the room through the partly-opened door just in time to see Sunset mash her hoof into her mouth and sputter wetly into it.

Sunset removed her hoof from her face as gracefully as she could, ignoring the expression of hopeless confusion on the little dragon’s face.

“You’ll wake Twilight,” she whispered, as she turned a page on the tome in front of her, nonchalantly.

Spike regarded the slumbering alicorn with an unimpressed look.

“Don’t worry about her,” he said, not bothering to lower his voice from conversational volume. “When she’s out like this, she’s freaking out. She’s been pushing herself all week getting ready for your research session together.”

“Oh,” said Sunset. Just a little twinge of guilt compelled her to dart her eyes back to Twilight. The slumbering Princess’s mane was pretty frazzled, and there were dark, baggy spots below her eyes.

“You think she’ll be alright?”, asked Sunset. She stopped whispering, but was still afraid to speak at full volume.

“Don’t worry about her.” Spike rolled his eyes. “I’m pretty sure that bi-weekly crashes are a part of her natural sleep cycle by now.”

Spike stretched one of his little arms up behind his head as he spoke. For some reason, Sunset had to stifle a chuckle. The pose he struck was a bit funny-looking, kind of like when he was a little furry do—

Ugh! Darn! Sunset squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head at herself. She really hated the fact that her first impression of Spike was seeing him as a talking puppy. He was really such a charming little gentledrake, but every now and then Sunset would still catch herself thinking of him as a pet or an oddity.

“Hey, uhh…” said Spike, breaking the micro-silence. “It’s getting late, and I bet you could use a break. Wanna grab a hot chocolate with me? I know a place near the palace that’s open pretty late.”

There might have been something a little funny with how he voiced the question, but Sunset put it out of her mind. She really could use a pick-me-up, and this would be a good chance to get to know the little guy better. In fact, this conversation right now might be the first time the two of them talked to each other without Princess Twilight.

“Sure, that sounds good to me,” she said. “I could use some fresh air, too. Been stuck in this room forever.”

As she got up, Sunset put a bookmark in her place in the tome, and carefully levitated some priceless scrolls out of the way of Twilight’s sleep-drool. Spike held the door open for her, and the two of them set out.

“So, how are things at Canterlot High?” Spike asked idly, as they walked through the castle.

“It goes on,” said Sunset, smiling. “The girls and I start senior year this fall. Lots of talk about college and ACT scores.”

“Ugh, tests!” said Spike. He stuck out his forked tongue and gagged. “Those guys in the mirror world really like their tests, don’t they? I’ve never heard the phrase ‘pop quiz’ used more times than when I was there.”

Sunset laughed. “Yeah, that’s one thing I like about Equestria. Among many others.”

“Huh,” said Spike, tapping a claw against his chin. “So what’s, like, your favorite thing about Equestria?”

“Well, it’s got to be magic, of course,” said Sunset, tapping her horn.

“Pshh! That was an easy answer,” said Spike, waving his hand dismissively. “Well maybe this’ll be harder—what’s your favorite thing about being over there?

“I’ll tell you one thing; it’s definitely not the cafeteria food.”

The two of them shared both a chuckle and a grimace in a way that only shared suffering could afford. Stepping past the two night guards by the palace gates, they made their way to the streets. Sunset’s hooves clipped and clopped satisfyingly on the well-worn cobblestone.

“For real, though,” said Sunset, “it’s probably the freedom.”

“What do you mean?” Spike said, raising a… brow scale?

“Well, everypony in Equestria has a place,” said Sunset, “and there’s a place for everypony. You can really feel the Harmony here.”

“Sounds like a great thing to me.” Spike shrugged.

“It is! Don’t get me wrong. But it’s… um...” Sunset scrunched her muzzle as she searched for words, and it still felt a little odd that as a pony, she could see the wrinkles on her nose when she did it. “It’s stifling, sometimes. Like I never get to be me, you know? At Canterlot High, I might be making things up as I go, but I’m the one deciding where to go. Maybe I’ll drive myself into a brick wall, but that’d be me, right? Does that make sense?”

Spike pondered the words for a while.

“Sorry Sunny,” he finally said, shaking his head a bit. “I think I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think I’d want something like that. No offense at all, you know.”

“None taken,” said Sunset. “I know that the life I lead isn’t for everypony. But it makes me happy.”

Spike really was a great conversationalist. Sunset was so wrapped up in their idle chit-chat that she was almost surprised when Spike walked up to a very familiar storefront and opened the door.

“Hey Joe,” he called out, walking in and holding the door open for Sunset. “Got another late-night study session. Do you have any cocoa on the stove?”

“Not at the moment, big guy,” said the stallion at the counter, “but I can have a pot ready in a shake of a—oh, Sunset Shimmer! It’s been an age!”

“Hey, Joe,” Sunset smiled, bashfully. “It has been, hasn’t it?”

“You and Joe know each other?” said Spike, surprised.

“I think everyone who’s studied at Celestia’s School knows Joe. Best place for a coffee at two in the morning.” said Sunset. “But I am surprised he remembers me.”

“I have trouble forgetting names,” said Joe, grinning, “especially when that name scorched a spot into one of my tables with a spell she was trying to get the hang of. Still there, you know.”

“Oh my stars,” Sunset felt heat rising into her cheeks. She snatched her bundle of bits from her saddlebags. “I never paid for that, did I?”

“It’s nothin’ at all. ‘Sides, it’s a good conversation starter, you know?” said Joe, waving down the bag of money. “Now I know that the big guy is gonna want his cocoa and a bearclaw. What about you, Sunset? Your usual, black coffee with lots of sugar?”

“Y-yes,” said Sunset. She realized that she was still holding her bit bag in the air, so she counted out the cost of the order and put the rest away. “Thank you, Joe.”

“Nothin’ at all,” he said with a wink as he turned back to his stovetop.

When the drinks and Spike’s doughnut were ready, the two of them took their seats at a booth. Out of the corner of her eye, Sunset regarded the hoof-sized black splotch that marred one table’s corners. She had really gotten much better at her entropic transference spells, honestly.

As Spike tore into his paper-wrapped pastry, Sunset sipped the dark and aromatic beverage in her mug, and it was exactly how she remembered it.

“Wow,” she said. “Some things don’t change, do they?”

“No kidding. Joe’s always the best,” said Spike. “Thanks for picking up the bill, by the way.”

“It’s nothin’ at all,” she said, imitating Joe’s speech.

The two of them shared a chuckle.

“Hey Sunset,” said Spike, “I’ve… actually been meaning to have a chat with you before you left.”

“Oh?” Sunset saw her own nose scrunch up again. “What’s up, Spike?”

“Well, I, uh… need some advice.”

The little drake wrung his hands in trepidation. Sunset supposed that it would be odd for a pony to know what that gesture meant, but Twilight—her Twilight, not the Princess—did it enough to make it familiar to Sunset.

“It’s about… you know… relationships. And love and stuff.” Spike sipped his hot chocolate quickly.

“Oh, well…” said Sunset, gathering her thoughts. “Honestly, I don’t consider myself an expert on that subject.”

“But you have experience, don’t you?” asked Spike.

“If by ‘experience’ you mean Flash, then yeah, I’d know what not to do,” Sunset said. “And I am seeing someone now, but I still feel like I’m working it out as I go.” She shook her head. “I’m just not the pony for this, Spike. Have you tried talking to the other girls?”

Spike rolled his eyes.

“Okay,” he said, gesturing with his hands. “We all love Pinkie Pie. And we all love Rainbow Dash. They’re both absolutely great friends. But those mares are not ready to talk about candlelit dinners.”

Sunset chuckled as she thought about her own Dash and Pinkie.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But what about Applejack?”

“I already know what she’s gonna say.” Spike groaned. “Something about how relationships are hard work, and that love is like an appleseed growing up into an orchard.”

“Which is good advice!” Sunset pointed out.

“Not what I need, though. I think I already know what to do when you’re in a relationship. I want to know what to do to… Ugh.” Spike rubbed his face.

“Then Twilight.” Sunset was stalling at this point and she knew it. “Twilight knows just about everything. She’ll know what you need.”

“Dude. Sunset.” Spike deadpanned at her. “Twilight is basically my big sister. Who the heck goes to their siblings for romance advice? That’s just… awkward!”

“Rarity, then?”

Spike’s expression twisted.

“Well… she… you see, she’s kind of the one… Ugh!”

He let his face hit the tabletop, and he groaned a mighty groan.

“Oh,” said Sunset. “I do see.”

An awkward silence built up, interrupted only when Spike briefly separated his face from the table’s burn mark for the sole purpose of pouring more liquid chocolate into it.

“Well,” said Sunset finally. “The people on the other side treat romance… just a little differently. For one thing, we’d probably be in a bar if you were human. And old enough.”

“I’m old enough to drink, Sunset,” said Spike. His voice was low, and a little defeated.

“Wait, really?” Sunset blinked rapidly in surprise. “Because I know that there’s no legal age here, but—”

“I’ve gone wine tasting with Celestia before. Twilight’s parents are technically nobles, so learning table etiquette was kind of required for us. Gotta know your rieslings from your chardonnays.”

“Well, drinking at bars is… kinda different?”

“How?” snapped Spike. The intensity in his voice surprised Sunset, but then he softened immediately.

“Sorry!” he said. “It’s just that… that’s the problem, you know? Ponies assume I’m too young. They don’t think I’d take love seriously.”

“I think I understand.” Sunset finished off her coffee and brought the mug down on the table with a clatter. “I’ll… try to give you the same advice I’d give anyone else… not that I can guarantee that it’d be worth anything.”

“Thanks, Sunset. That’s really all I need.”

For the first time, Sunset noticed how tired he looked, and she wondered what time Pony Joe’s would close.

“So, what’s your question?” said Sunset. “I’ll do the best I can.”

“I want to know,” said Spike, squeezing one hand into a small fist, “how you can tell love is real?”

Sunset thought for a moment.

“I… guess… it depends?”

Spike looked at her with eyes that could curdle milk.

“Okay,” said Sunset, laughing at herself. “Sorry, that was a dumb answer.”

Spike huffed a little laugh too.

Somehow, this made it a little easier for Sunset to talk.

“What I’m trying to say is…” She trailed off, and then had to reorganize her thoughts. “Well, Spike, do you believe in true love?”

Spike shrugged.

“You mean like, the whole ‘destined to be together’ sort of deal? Yeah, I guess, a little at least.”

“Well, in the human world, it’s different,” said Sunset. “Here with Harmony and all, it’s… let’s call it fifty-fifty on whether or not true love for everypony exists or not. Ponies will debate it. But over there, there is no such thing. Or at least, nobody really believes that there’s any such thing.”

Spike thought about her words for a long minute.

“Okay,” he said. “Go on.”

“It changes the way people think about relationships.” Sunset rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Like here, we take the phrase ‘special somepony’ pretty seriously. But to humans, it’s kind of only something that kids would say.

“I mean, still, relationships are basically the same, I guess. But the difference is… subtle, but important.” Sunset continued. “Most people go into a relationship to… try things out. See if they think they can make it work. And if they can’t, well, there’s that one phrase with the sea and the fish inside of it.”

“That’s… really cold,” said Spike.

“No, no,” said Sunset. “I must be saying things wrong. It’s not bad, like that.”

She idly lifted her mug, only to find it much heavier than when she last left it. Her eyes darted downwards and confirmed that it was, indeed, full again. Joe must have slipped in and refilled it without her noticing. She sipped the steaming coffee.

“I mean,” she said, “breakups are still awful. People still go to bars to drown their sorrows and whatnot. If anything else, it happens more, since nobody really expects to find that perfect person anyway.”

“But how is any of this… good?” asked Spike.

“That’s my point,” said Sunset. “It really isn’t. Love over there is a fair bit more complicated than it is here. But it does teach you a couple of things. For example, it shows you that you really are responsible for the health of your relationships.”

“I think I see,” said Spike. “It’s all up to you to make it work.”

“Yep,” said Sunset. “Equestria is a world where things tend to… work out. You know, your cutie mark will tell you where to go in life. Doughnut store owners remember your name even after three years. And your heart is the the right place, you're pretty much guaranteed to find somepony you can spend your life with. It's not the same, in the other world. So it’s also up to you to decide: is this relationship worth it? You have to judge if it really makes you happy, or if you would be happier someplace else.”

“Okay,” said Spike. His eyes were focused tightly on a point in the middle of the table. Sunset could almost see the gears in his head spinning.

“Remember when I was talking about the freedom in the other world? It’s the reason why I choose to stay there,” she said. “I get to choose who I am, who I’ll become, and who I’m with. And I think even here, you have to make that choice. You have to decide for yourself if this is what really makes you happy.”

A long quiet passed while Spike stared at his cocoa, as if he were counting the little marshmallows in it.

Eventually, he spoke.

“Falling in love… is easy,” he said.

Spike breathed fire over his mug. The cocoa bubbled, and the marshmallows melted.

“Falling out of love is harder, I think.”

Spike’s eyes met Sunset’s, and they had in them an understanding that went far beyond his years. For a moment, she could really see what an amazing little guy he was.

She smiled, and so did he.

“Thanks, Sunset.” said Spike. “I think… that was some really good advice.”

“I’m glad it helped. I was just worried that I'd get things wrong. Since I, well, don't know you as well as some of your other friends might.”

"I think a little distance is what I needed," he said. "If you can't see the forest for the trees, you need to back up and get perspective."

Sunset chuckled. "I like that. I might steal it."

Spike hopped off his seat, and started walking to the Joe’s counter.

“Let me grab something for Twilight for when she wakes up,” said Spike, “and then we can start heading back. It’s getting stupidly late, and I think even Joe is going to close up shop soon.”

“Okay, sounds good!” she said.

Sunset looked at her half-empty mug, and she wondered how in the world she was going to get any sleep tonight with a mug and a half of coffee in her.

She shrugged.

Whatever. Might as well make it two.

She tipped her mug upside-down over her lips, finishing off the rest, before slamming it down and following Spike out the door.

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#1 ·
· · >>Bachiavellian
I want to like this story, I really do. The message lands for me, somewhat, but it doesn't really move me in any way. If I could point to a reason why, I would think maybe that it's too abstract. First, there seems to be a previously answered notion about how love differs in both of these worlds, but how love works in Equestria doesn't really come up too often in the show, so who's to say it's really all that different from our world? And second, the idea that's presented of love from our world is hugely oversimplified. Love is crazy and weird and beautiful and ugly, and sometimes it involves many partners and other times only one and sometimes a second one that won't stop reminding you of the first one, and some people experience at bars and parties and other people experience it at the library. It can't be pinned down so easily.

I suppose that's the crux of it. It feels oversimplified. The lessons are on-point, but it would have been easier to relate to if Sunset were speaking about her own experience, as opposed to having her play the hermit who knows everything about how it works here.

But structure! Structure is good, and it's an enjoyable read. It feels like it meanders a little, though, with some words used on stuff that isn't important. I found this especially in the ending. Was the final point of the story about Pony Joe's closing time, grabbing something for Twilight, or about whether or not Sunset would drink another cup of coffee? Just a step too far, it feels.

So yes, that's all I have to say. If the lesson were based on an example, and the storytelling a little tighter, I would have enjoyed this a lot more. But still, it will probably be about mid-slate.
#2 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
OK, first comment from me.

Good Stuff: I really liked the comparison between humans and ponies here, where the latter pretty much have it easy and laid out for them whereas the former have to work for their happiness. Spike's reactions and Sunset's explanations sell it, because as much as they're from different sides, they still treat each other with chummy respect. I also like the little touch of Sunset's burn mark on Joe's table. Little moments like that simultaneously humanize the characters with history and add a little comedic levity to lighten the tone.

Bad Stuff: It's really not doing very much beyond the talk. I came away feeling like I'd picked up one or two neat little titbits, not a juicy meal. It's a nice talk, granted, but apart from a vague hint as to what Spike's going to do with Sunset's advice, it's underdeveloped. Bit too telly at times, too. For example, don't say Spike is a great conversationalist. We can guess as much from what's happening.

Verdict: Mid Tier. It's a pleasant scene with good ideas, but rickety construction and a lack of development rob it of much substance. It needs to go the extra mile to make it stick in the reader's mind.
#3 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
Today's Jaeger: COFFEE, BLACK

There's a clever attention to small details in here like I really liked. Sunset jamming her foot in her mouth and Pony Joe being basically the campus study spot are cute and make perfect sense. Sunset having to actually remind herself that Equestria side's Spike isn't a magic talking dog in dragon form is also a good touch, and tickles a much... not necessarily darker, but more ethically concerning, narrative aspect of the canon that I haven't seen too many people hit. So good eye.

Now, everything here is competent and well put together for a slice-of-life style story: voice is on point, Spike has a little vinegar to him, good stuff. That said, I don't feel like Sunset was utilized to her full potential to impact Spike's view on things here. She makes some great comparisons about Destiny being in your own hands on the Human side of the mirror and how that's so different from Equestria, but Spike's takeaway seems very non-sequitur to the conversation he's having with Sunset.

I'm always willing to say I missed something, but from my first take I'd say some more words dedicated to tying the threads of conversation and conclusion together would not be misplaced.
#4 · 1
There are definitely things here that I like. The splashes of humor, the EQG headcanon, and most of the dialog does feel good. But as a whole, I think this could use a bit of elbow grease before it works the way it was probably intended.

For such a dialogue-heavy piece, you need to be really careful to maintain a sense of forward flow. Unfortunately, there are places where it drags, such as when Sunset tries to list out the members of the Mane 6 as ponies Spike can talk to instead. I've given this advice before, but I think you can really benefit from trimming the fat, here. Moments like this really slow things down and makes it hard for the reader to focus on the primary conflict.

Speaking of, the main focus of the story is awfully hard to parse. I think the lesson that Spike learns is too vague, and it doesn't payoff satisfyingly.

Now, there's a chance that since I'm not really a fan of EQG, my judgement might be a bit clouded. I admit that I have trouble understanding what makes Sunset tick. But in the end, I really feel that the thematic vagueness and the wandering dialogue need to be reined in before this story can really shine.
#5 ·
· · >>Bachiavellian
This is a cozy little story. You had them go out and get coffee and donuts, and it worked decently enough as an excuse for them to talk about stuff and give them something to do, as well as tied it into the whole "ponyland works out a lot more neatly than the messy human world" thing, which you also managed to tie into the complexity of romance.

I think that was a very clever angle.

This felt like one of those "Table for Two" stories that KitsuneRisu (and a bunch of other people) wrote.

And I have to admit, I didn't like those.

My biggest complain about those stories was how flat they tended to feel, and this had that same thing going for it. Most of the story was pretty tepid, and it was only at the end, when Sunset is trying to awkwardly explain the difference between the human world and Equestria in terms of romantic complexity and choosing, that it really felt like it had anything that really snagged my attention. I liked that, and I thought that was a clever angle on the whole - you did a good job of tying together three different things in the ending, and I always like to see that, as the pieces came together.

But at the same time, I was just left feeling kind of lukewarm, and the first half of this story didn't particularly snag my attention.

This isn't really my kind of story, though, so I'm not sure if I'm the best point of feedback on what you want to do with it. If you're targeting the same audience as KitsuneRisu was, then that's not me.
#6 · 2
Congrats to our winners! I have to admit, I was very curious to see how the medalists would line up considering how much universal praise they all got. The scoreboard does place them head and shoulders above the crowd, so excellent work all around!

Retrospective: Coffee at Three

So I wrote this in about 4 or 5 hours on the last night of the writing period, and honestly, I didn't really like the idea, but it was all I had. I don't read an awful lot of EQG fics and I'm pretty lukewarm about the movies, so Sunset really is a bit of a mystery to me. I think I understand what makes her appealing to a lot of people, but its still a bit nebulous, which translated pretty obviously to how I wrote her.

And that's not even getting into the serious case of Talking Heads that this story contracted.

Needless to say, I was very surprised that I made it to the finals with this. I did not have very strong feelings while writing this, so I think it's safe to say that it ended up being inoffensively bland and more than a little forgettable.

>>Miller Minus
Yeah, I dropped the ball with Sunset's little speech. I only really had a vague idea of where I wanted it to go, and I'm sure it shows. As for the ending, I've learned to accept that I simply suck at writing endings. :P Still, I'm glad that you found parts of it enjoyable! As for Sunset speaking from experience, it's actually supposed to be implied that she's dating Sci-Twi. But I don't think anyone picked up on it, so I definitely wasn't clear enough with that.

Totally understandable that it didn't feel substantial to you. I did not have an awfully well-developed idea, so I knew this story would be skirting the minimum word count. Usually, I try to be careful about telly-ess, but yeah, I dropped the ball there. I think it has to do a lot with how I'm not really sure how Sunset's inner dialogue would flow, so I ended up making it feel stilted. Thank you for your thoughts!

Totally agree that Sunset is underused. I know Spike better than I know Sunset, so it makes sense that I did a better job with him. And I'm sure you didn't miss anything at all. That's just all there is. :P

You know, it's funny, because I don't really like those kinds of stories either. Which of course begs the question why I wrote one in the first place. Especially with a main character I hardly understand. patrickstar.webm. Agree that the story could have used a bit more life. It's a shame that I wasn't feeling a bit more inspired when I wrote it. Thank you for your review!