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Here at the End of all Things. · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Every morning in the Golden Oak Library began the same way, and today was no exception. Princess Twilight Sparkle woke up, took a pill, waited fifteen minutes, then stepped out of bed with a smile on her face.

"It's time to face the day, Spike!" said Twilight, setting four on the floor.

"Mmph," said Spike, still asleep in his pet bed. "Why yes, Rarity. I'd love to share an ice cream and tourmaline sundae," he mumbled.

Twilight giggled. "Same old Spike. You're perfect the way you are—don't ever change," she said. She decided to let him sleep in today and headed downstairs for a cup of hot caramel truffle tea, her favorite blend. While brewing the tea, a familiar thump at the door announced Derpy's delivery of the Foal Free Press.

Opening the door, Twilight waved to Derpy up in the shimmering sky, then took the paper in for her morning tea. Daily rituals were important to Twilight. Sure, order was a little boring, but it was a warm-hearted, predictable sort of boring.

"I think I can live with a little order in my life," she said to herself, blowing steam from the top of her tea as she read the front page of the paper. "Let's see. 'Rainbow Dash bravely rescues kitten from tree' is obviously a Scootaloo article. Actually, the paper's pretty interesting today. Ponyville's foals are improving their skills." Twilight reached over to a spare pad of paper and quill, and made a note of it.

She usually stopped with just one, but Twilight decided to have a second cup this morning. Her mornings didn't have to be that predictable, and things had been going her way lately. Over the past several months, Ponyville had cheered up substantially. Ponies were coming out of their houses more frequently and interacting with their neighbors. Things were so close to feeling normal again.

Twilight picked up a checklist she'd been using graphite on, but there had been so many erasures it was practically worthless. "Okay, into the trash you go. I'll just make a fresh one," she said, and did just that. A clipboard, a piece of parchment, and ink and quill. The list read:

(__) Visit Rarity at the Boutique to help with her latest fashions

(__) Have lunch with the Apple family at Sweet Apple Acres

(__) Attend Pinkie Pie's cake-eating competition to cheer on Rainbow Dash

(__) Adjust the Elements of Harmony

(__) Have dinner at the Hayburger with Fluttershy

(__) Quality time with Spike

(__) Fall asleep at precisely 10pm

Twilight magically summoned a stick of graphite wrapped in a thin twig, a rubber eraser, and a few more pieces of parchment for notes. With everything now in order, she left the Library and trotted toward the Carousel Boutique.

"Let's see if you like today's offering, Twilight," said Rarity, smiling brightly. "I have my hooves crossed this time."

Twilight frowned. "It's not about what I like, Rarity. I'm just here to help you fine-tune your fashion sense. I don't want to dictate the styles you come up with," she said.

"To-may-to, to-mah-to, darling," she replied, and trotted behind a curtain while Twilight sat down. Moments later, Rarity rolled out a large rack of clothing. It included a mixture of formal and informal wear for mares.

"I already like the variety," said Twilight with a smile. "It looks like you've got the entire color spectrum represented this time, except for the greens."

"Ah, yes. I can't really do green anymore," said Rarity. "With the glow outside, greens look simply atrocious—and I prefer to focus on clothing that can be seen in public, naturally. It's unfortunate, because Fluttershy looks so good in it—and green accents really bring out the blonde in Applejack's mane. Couldn't you do something about it, Twilight?"

Sighing, Twilight shook her head. "We've discussed this before. I need to keep the shield around Ponyville for everypony's protection," she said.

The fashionista pursed her lips with a sour expression, then shrugged. "C'est la vie, I suppose. Here, let me get some of these dresses on forms and you can tell me what you think." Twilight watched as Rarity put some of the dresses up.

"Oh, I love the blue one," said Twilight, pointing to a tight-fit stretchy sequined outfit in cerulean and navy, with purple sashes along the back. "This is much better than anything you had yesterday. What is it for?"

"It's for professional dance," said Rarity, beaming proudly. "Someday I hope to sell in Manehattan, perhaps even for the shows! A big dream, I realize..." her voice trailed off and she seemed sullen. "An impossible one, of course."

Twilight opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it again and paused before speaking. "Dreams are very are important, Rarity. They're an essential part of what makes you, you," she offered. "I believe you can do it. Don't give up."

"Thank you Twilight," said Rarity, with a blush. "Anyway, what do you think of the red cocktail dress...?" She motioned along the back with a flourish. The dress was simple, with an unusually large collar and stripe running down one side. Most of the dress was crimson velvet, but there was a lighter rose-colored ruching at the edges in charmeuse, and the collar and stripe were an reddish-orange satin.

"I'm not sure," said Twilight. "I think you might not like the fact that there are three different colors from the same color family together."

"Correct, I do not. And why?" asked Rarity, almost as though quizzing her guest.

"It looks like an accident," said Twilight. "The colors are too close to one another, so it looks like the accents are off-color by mistake. Also, the collar and stripe are interesting, but just a little too bold and unusual for casual wear."

Rarity took a deep breath and nodded. "You're right as always, Twilight. I'll go back to the drawing board with this one." She closed her eyes and clenched her jaw.

"You don't need to take it so personally, Rarity," said Twilight. "We're working on this together. Every day you improve."

With a bright smile, Rarity opened her eyes. "You're a good friend, Twilight, and so generous with your time."

"Generous? I learned from the best," said Twilight, with a wink.

Many dress critiques later, Twilight began cantering toward Sweet Apple Acres.

As she jogged outside the city limits, she continued her habit of self-talk. "I'm a few minutes behind schedule, but I'm sure Applejack wouldn't start without me—" she said to herself, then stopped dead in her tracks.

Against the backdrop of the iridescent magenta sky drifted a thick, black smoke. "Oh no," she said, then immediately set into a full gallop. As she approached it became obvious that the Apple barn was on fire.

Overhead, Rainbow Dash raced stormclouds into place to fight the fire. Twilight raced up to where Applejack was standing, took a few deep breaths to recover from her run, then materialized a large amount of water over the barn, dousing the whole thing.

"Way to go, Twilight!" Dash called out, landing next to her. "I mean, I had it pretty much under control, but the faster we put that blaze out, the better."

"Eeyup. Without you two it would have barned to the ground," said Applejack, maintaining a straight face. Twilight groaned and shook her head.

"That was terrible, Applejack, and making puns about a disaster is a bad idea in general," she said, making a mental note of the inappropriate use of humor. "How did this even happen?"

"Don't rightly know. Probably a lantern got left on and fell," said Applejack. "None of the cattle were in when it happened, which is fortunate because they'd probably have stampeded and made a bigger mess."

"That's not what I meant," said Twilight, with a deep sigh. By this time, Apple Bloom had galloped over to join the herd.

"It's okay Twilight," said Apple Bloom. "We can raise us a new barn in no time. It's just wood and hay, nothin' important."

"This isn't supposed to happen, girls! I don't understand it. The last time your barn burned down I made certain it would be fireproof," said Twilight.

"Nopony's perfect," said Rainbow Dash, with a shrug. "I guess something just went wrong."

"I'm grateful nopony was hurt, but the process isn't supposed to 'go wrong'," said Twilight.

"It don't matter, Twilight. Bad stuff happens, and that's life," said Applejack. "All things considered, this ain't even that bad, y'know? Nothin' in the barn was irreplaceable, and barn-raising is a fun way to spend time with kin. It's Summer, so we ain't even in a rush to get her back up," she said.

"I'm going to need time to figure this out," said Twilight. "I'll probably head to the eating competition early and have a snack there instead of staying for lunch."

"I'll stay here today," said Rainbow Dash. "I hate to bail on a contest, but I wasn't scheduled to judge it like Twilight is. I was just one of the competitors, and there are at least three others, so it'll still be interesting. Helping AJ fix stuff here is more important."

"Thank you kindly, Rainbow," said Applejack. "Twilight, between the three of us and Mac we should be fine here. You go on to the contest, okay? If we need us some more help, we'll send word."

"Oh! Before you go, Twi—did you see that therapist yet?" asked Dash.

Twilight bristled. "No. There's nothing wrong with me," she said. "I'm just stressed. I've been up to a lot lately."

Applejack shook her head. "We both know that ain't true, sugarcube. You really should see that therapist Fluttershy referred you to. I'm sure he can get to the root of whatever this is that's affecting you."

Twilight nodded, turned around, and trotted away. She wasn't about to tell her friends, but the darkening smoke swirling overhead precisely matched how she felt on the inside.

The cake-eating competition was held outside Town Hall, like always. As the judge, Twilight Sparkle's role was to determine the approximate proportion of cake that the contestants didn't eat—mainly because it ended up in their manes, pelts, and on the ground. That proportion was figured into the scoring to determine the winner.

Twilight sat down at the table reserved for her, positioned to the side of the main stage where the contestants sat. It looked like today's competitors included Sweetie Belle, Lyra Heartstrings, and... wait, Fluttershy? Twilight pulled out a piece of paper and made a note.

Before the competition could begin, Twilight needed to test the density of each kind of cake in the contest by sampling them all. "This is the best thing about being the judge, isn't it?" giggled Pinkie Pie, as she set three delicious-looking cakes in front of Twilight.

Twilight smiled, and felt her spirits lift. "That's certainly true! But it's a serious part of the competition, too." Pinkie Pie made a silly 'serious face', and Twilight laughed.

The first cake was a lemon pound cake with a golden-brown crust. Twilight took a bite of the cake and nodded. "This one's good, Pinkie Pie. I think the sponginess could be a little more moist, though. Can you remember that for next time?"

"Sure can! Consider the recipe modified."

The second offering was a delectable chocolate cheesecake. "Pinkie, this is stretching the rules a little," said Twilight. "Cheesecake is technically a tart—that is, an open-faced pie—not a cake."

Pinkie whispered. "Shh! Don't tell Rainbow Dash! She hates pies!"

Twilight clucked her tongue. "I was pretty sure you didn't know... ah, nevermind," she said. "It doesn't matter. Cheesecake is so unusual, it isn't anything like the pies Rainbow hates. I don't think it applies. Besides, she isn't here today."

As if on cue, Rainbow Dash zoomed in and landed on stage, taking her seat. "Okay! I'm here. We can start now," she said.

"Rainbow Dash? Doesn't Applejack still need your help?" asked Twilight, her brow furrowed.

"Nope. We're all done."

"Done already? With the entire barn? That's impossible."

"The barn is fine, Twilight. Relax. The smoke's all gone too."

Twilight sighed and made a note about consistency on her paper.

"I'm sorry I have to beat you today, Fluttershy," said Rainbow Dash. "I'm not planning to go easy on the rest of you, either."

"It's okay, Rainbow Dash," said Fluttershy, "I don't mind losing when it's to a friend."

"Oh, you're all going down," said Lyra, with a giggle. "I'm practically a cake-eating machine."

"It's true," Bon Bon shouted from the back of the crowd. "Every time I cook one, I rarely get more than a slice."

"Well, I'm just here for the free cake," admitted Sweetie Belle. "I don't really care if I win, but I'll do my best. Competing is fun!"

"Go Sweetie!" shouted Rarity from the audience. She was wearing a rain slicker and holding an umbrella, apparently just in case cake ended up flying into the crowd.

"Okay, back to the sweets," said Twilight. She took a mouthful of the cheesecake and closed her eyes, savoring the texture. "Mmm. Oh, this one is incredible," she said. "Don't change a thing, Pinkie. No, wait... There's a tiny bit of grit in the crust from the lemon zest, so grind that up more. Very nice work."

"Thanks!" said Pinkie Pie, beaming with pride.

The last cake was a firm, dark tan with drizzled white icing. "What kind of cake is this one? I don't remember seeing it before."

"Oh, this is a new one! It's a dark molasses and wine gingerbread cake," said Pinkie Pie.

"Ooh!" said Twilight. "Very interesting. I think we're getting somewhere with this one!"

Taking a bite of the cake, Twilight winced. It tasted like sour sawdust, and she barely managed to avoid spitting it out. It even burned a little going down her esophagus. "Oh my Stars. Pinkie, this one needs to be revised—wine is supposed to evaporate when you cook it—and is that pepper? I'll help you try to salvage the recipe later," said Twilight. "But in all honesty, this was very creative. Much better than the last time."

"I know, I'm sorry about yesterday. Who knew my marbled glue crumble cake recipe would turn out to be such a disaster?" said Pinkie.

Twilight rolled her eyes, then sat back and watched as Pinkie started the competition.

Mayor Mare greeted Twilight Sparkle as she entered Town Hall. "You're here for the basement, Twilight?" she asked. "A few minutes late today."

Twilight nodded. "The contest ran long."

"May I ask who won? I was busy with work at the time, sadly," said the Mayor.

"Fluttershy, actually," said Twilight, with a shrug. "I've never seen a pony eat so voraciously in my life. I guess she'll just order a drink when we have dinner at the Hayburger tonight."

Mayor Mare chuckled. "That must have been a sight to see. Anyway, I'll leave you to it." She walked back into her office as Twilight unlatched the trap door leading into the basement chamber.

Down the ladder Twilight went, with only her horn to light the way. She jumped down the final few rungs and landed on the hard concrete below. Behind her was a curved, barren wall of concrete. In front of her stood a wall of solid steel. A small, door-shaped impression lay in the steel, with a hole at its center.

Twilight Sparkle lined up her horn with the hole and inserted it, temporarily shrouding herself in darkness. A 'click' sounded, and the doorway opened. She walked inside and shut the door behind her.

The Tree Room was brightly lit by a cool white fluorescent light hanging overhead, casting an ambient glow that reflected off of the shiny interior walls. Rarity would hate it here, thought Twilight. The lighting was stark and unmerciful toward everything it touched, highlighting every little flaw in Twilight's pelt. However, it found no flaws in the Tree of Harmony, which sat in the middle of the room.

A circle of bare earth on the floor was the only part of this room not surrounded by steel, and in the center of it stood the Tree and its Elements. Connected to the Tree were thin silver filaments, and the other ends of those filaments were attached to scrolls that rested upon several rows of shelves that lined the walls.

"Let's see Pinkie's," said Twilight, levitating a scroll over to her. It was pink and its back was emblazoned with Pinkie Pie's cutie mark. As Twilight unfurled the paper, she could see teeny-tiny hatch-marks twisting and changing across its surface.

Twilight nodded her head several times. "Wow, lots of activity. We're finally getting somewhere. I'm impressed by all the progress lately," she mumbled to herself, puzzling over the wiggling chicken scratches. "I really wish I had any hope of interpreting these Subcon scrolls. Maybe in a millennium or two I'll have a breakthrough. In the interim, I'll have to settle for the Cons."

Twilight replaced Pinkie's scroll and retrieved one of dozens marked with her own cutie mark. This one read like a page of notes:

* Increase Ponyville shield permeability to light to 28.0% 28.5%
* Double the dream barrier
* Add temporal dream barrier against alicorn dream magic
* Double temporal dream barrier
* Add fourth-dimensional dream barrier
* Increase jackalope frequency near Fluttershy to 0.04%
* Add fifth-dimensional dream barrier
* Increase material shipments into Ponyville to 5250 kg/day 5500 kg/day
* Make deer sapient again
* Strengthen physical barrier against alicorn mana blasts to 98.2%
* Reduce growth rate of apple trees to 0.31% maximal
* Prevent natural earthquakes from affecting Ponyville
* Block hyperbolic symmetry-breaking for all dream barriers

"Alright, let's see. What to add..." Twilight reviewed her notes and carefully added the following lines to the scroll:

* Increase temporal consistency between events so that friends can't seem to be in two places at once
* Force artificial emotion to linger in archetypes appropriate to episodic memory
* Reduce memory of glutamate flavor profile to 90%

"Hmph. I'm going to need to start a new scroll soon," said Twilight. She levitated the scroll back into place and approached the tree itself.

Kneeling, Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes and focused. Reaching forward with her horn, she made contact with the cyan colored Element of Laughter. After a moment of concentration, the Element dimmed ever-so-slightly. Then she stood back up.

"I have to figure out how to stop my friends from prying, but I can't risk dimming Honesty again. Half the town ended up with friendship problems the last time I went below sixty," she whispered. "Maybe if I just tell them how important it is to me that they stop trying to analyze me... and I pretend to be happy a little more successfully than I have been..."

Pinkie Pie roller-skated over to the table to wait on Fluttershy and Twilight. "Welcome to the Hayburger, friends! Are you hungry for some nummerific foodstuffs?"

"Oh, yes please!" said Fluttershy, with a giggle.

Twilight Sparkle facehoofed and made another note on paper about consistency. "I'm not even going to raise the issue."

"What issue?" asked Pinkie, cocking her head cutely to one side.

"Nothing, Pinkie," said Twilight, and she forced a smile. "Yes, I'm starved. I'll have a hayburger with extra lettuce and fescue, and lots of ketchup, please. Onion rings on the side, and an iced tea."

"Twilight, you always get the same thing! Don't you want to try something new?" asked Pinkie Pie.

"No, I don't," said Twilight. "Look, it's simple. A hayburger with extra lettuce and fescue is the best thing on the menu. There's no reason to get something that isn't the best."

"I think Pinkie is just a little concerned about your neophobia, Twilight," she said. "We all are."

"Ugh. It's not neophobia! I'm not afraid of trying something new, I just have no reason to deviate from what is objectively the best. That's why I eat here everyday, and why I have the same tea every morning," she said. "This is as good as it gets! I don't need anything to change when it's almost perfect already! Why can't anypony understand that?"

Pinkie looked nervously left and right. "Oooookaaaaay, hayburger with extra lettuce and fescue it is. Ahem. Fluttershy?"

"Oh, I'd really appreciate a cheeseburger with feta, and my usual toppings," said Fluttershy. "And a cola, um, if it's not too much trouble."

"Order up!" said Pinkie Pie. Twilight momentarily thought about correcting her on the restaurant lingo, but decided it would be a waste of time.

"So, Twilight. I've been meaning to talk to you about something," said Fluttershy.

Twilight took a deep breath. "I'm all ears," she said. "Er, figuratively speaking, of course. But please don't talk about how I'm feeling, or what I like to eat."

"That's okay, I have something else to ask you. Twilight, I really, really, really want you to release Discord," she said. "I'll beg if I need to."

"Fluttershy! We've been over this before," said Twilight, in an irate tone. Seeing her friend cringe, Twilight lowered her voice. "I'm sorry, this... this is so stressful for me. Look, the last time we let him out, he refused to play nice. He tried to destroy all of Ponyville! Do you want Ponyville to be destroyed?"

"Well... no... but if I could just talk to him, maybe..."

"You? Talk to him?" Twilight shook her head. "Look, I know you don't understand, but that's no different than me—"

Fluttershy looked Twilight dead in the eyes with a gaze so intent for a brief moment Twilight worried it was The Stare. "I do understand, Twilight. We all do." The entire restaurant suddenly went silent, and all heads turned to stare at Twilight. Pinkie Pie waited a moment, dropped an empty tray, then giggled—but stared along with everypony else.

"Buck it, Fluttershy! Sleep populous until next cycle," shouted Twilight, her horn blazing bright magenta. With that magic directive, everypony fell unconscious, many while still standing upright. With nopony balancing them properly, several trays and other objects simply crashed to the floor.

Twilight grabbed an iced tea from somepony else's table and headed out the door.

"It's been a while," Twilight said to Discord. The statue standing behind the Golden Oak Library said nothing in return. Twilight Sparkle sat at its base and pet the scales of an unconscious Spike by her side.

"I wonder what Spike was doing here. Talking to you, I guess? I probably don't want to know what he was saying," said Twilight. "I'm sorry, Discord. I'm sorry I had to do this to you, but if it's any consolation, I'm still suffering."

Twilight sniffled and wiped a tear from one eye with a fetlock. "It's not fair. Life can't ever be perfect, no matter how simple you try to make the equation. I'm not about to give up, but every day it's like this—it always breaks from the familiar. I wish I could ask you, but I can't risk letting you out again," she said. "I mean, obviously I'll let you out eventually. It's a statistical certainty. But I need to beat this stupid mind-game first. All I want is to be happy again..."

At some point, Twilight fell asleep in the grass.

Once again Princess Twilight Sparkle woke up in her bed at the Golden Oak Library, took a pill, waited fifteen minutes, then stepped out of bed with a look of horror on her face.

"Wait... how the buck did I get back to my bed?" she asked, looking around. Spike was asleep in his pet bed, as always—but that was to be expected even if Twilight had been sleeping outside.

Then she noticed Flurry Heart standing next to the pet bed, towering above Spike. "Hay Auntie," said Flurry, with a shy smile.

Twilight's horn blazed. "How?"

"It wasn't easy," said Flurry Heart. "You're not actually going to try to hurt me, are you Aunt Twily?"

Twilight Sparkle paused in thought for a moment, then cancelled the mana surge. "Dammit, Flurry Heart. This is an even bigger invasion of privacy than Luna peeping in on my dreams!"

"I know, and I don't want to see anything that happens while I'm here," said Flurry, heading down the stairs as Twilight followed her heels. "But this sort of invasion is the only way any of us are able to communicate with you. You've walled yourself off from all of us."

"You want the Elements back," said Twilight, taking a seat by the central table. "That's what this is about, isn't it?"

Flurry shook her head. "We don't care about the Elements. We have no use for them anymore. We do, however, care about you. And—to a lesser extent—we care about the stoned guy out back."

"You know, it's funny. You'd expect conversations with other ponies to be unpredictable, but you're no more real to me than Spike up there," said Twilight. "I honestly can't tell the difference. You're just a little smarter and more consistent."

"If you truly couldn't tell the difference, I suspect you wouldn't look like Tartarus right now. And you do, Twily," said Flurry Heart, with a grimace. "I mean, you look like you're hurting."

Twilight sighed. "I'm just so close! It's always one little thing here or there that isn't quite right. I don't understand. Mistakes and disasters keep slipping in. I know I'm not crazy, I'm actually psychologically healthy... this is something deeper. It's something inherent to everypony's brain, Flurry. I don't understand enough to fix it."

"I suspect it won't go right until you let somepony else inside you. Willingly, I mean, not like this," said Flurry. "Would be so bad to be among your sisters again?"

Twilight momentarily gritted her teeth, then became distracted by a knocking sound. "Who the hay could that be?" she asked, then walked to the front door. Opening it, Twilight saw her five closest friends standing there.

"Intervention. Right now," said Applejack.

"Wow. Looks like you're busy. I should leave," said Flurry Heart.

"No, wait. I can stop them..."

"I'm not sure you should. Look, Auntie. I'm not going to try and visit again for a very long time. I'm just here to tell you that we love you and we miss you," she said. "It's up to you to come out of your shell someday. We know you will... it's just a question of time."

Flurry dematerialized into a beam of light, and the beam shot through the wall in the direction of Town Hall with a downward tilt.

"That's it. She used the space under the Tree to get into..."

"Twilight, we're coming in," said Fluttershy, pushing Twilight aside as she and the rest of her friends entered the library.

Spike walked down the stairs, yawning. "We're doing this, aren't we?" he asked.

"No. No, we are not doing this. I'll turn Honesty off if I have to!" shouted Twilight.

"You wouldn't dare," said Applejack, scowling.

Twilight frowned. "Fine. I just... I don't understand how this keeps happening. The Tree is supposed to interface with my thoughts, and you keep bringing things up you're not supposed to—"

"Twi, you can't hide from yourself," said Rainbow Dash. "And we should know, because we're you."

"Enough of this," growled Twilight Sparkle. "End active sector of simulation."

Twilight's six friends immediately disappeared. For a few seconds, Twilight panted softly, feeling exhausted.

She finally spoke, "Thank Cel—"

"I'm afraid that's not going to cut it, darling," sounded Rarity's voice. It seemed to come from all around the library.

"What?! How...? Where are you?" said Twilight. "This is impossible!"

"Oooohhhh! Am I a ghost, Rarity?" said Pinkie's voice.

"Pinkie, um, I think you're just here because you're a part of Twilight's mind," said Fluttershy.

"We're where we've always been, hon," said Applejack's voice. "Right up here in your noggin. We don't need no fancy simulation to talk to you."

"I'm going insane," said Twilight. She sat down on the wooden floor, defeated. "I've finally cracked."

"Insane might be a strong word, Twi," said Dash's voice. "I'm pretty sure having a conversation in your head isn't any more nuts than what you've been doing for the past forever-or-so."

"What do you want?" asked Twilight.

"We want you to finally listen to us, Twilight," said Fluttershy. "You know what you need to do."

"But I don't want to lose all this..."

"Lose what? You're miserable," said Rarity.

Pinkie's voice giggled. "I want to see you smile again Twilight! I mean, for real. The world out there isn't all that bad."

"It's terrible. There's nothing left but a gray waste..."

"And five good friends to spend another million years or so with, any way you like," said Spike's voice. "Not a bad deal, if you ask me."

"It's not perfect. It's not what I want. This is what I want," said Twilight. "I can't live here when I'm thinking about the world outside. I can't have this and them at the same time."

"Life ain't perfect, Twi. It's those imperfections that make it worthwhile," said Applejack. "You and your sisters can go play pretend together, and you can face facts together too. I know you can do it."

Rarity's voice added, "Indeed. Now go do what you must."

"Wait, are you going away?" asked Twilight. "I... I need you here with me. You were the best of everything. This introduction to Friendship was the best time of my life!"

"For better or worse, we're stuck up here with you Twilight," said Dash.

"We'll always be here silly!" said Pinkie Pie.

"Oh, absolutely," said Fluttershy. "Now won't you let Discord out?"

"He has to hate me... I would hate me. I do hate me," said Twilight. "What can I possibly do?"

Twilight waited several minutes, but there was no response.

With the Element of Magic on her tiara and the other five Elements draped across her chest, Twilight Sparkle walked up to the statue and knelt. She took a long moment before speaking.

"I'm sorry. I know you're going to torment me the moment I break you free, and I deserve it. Maybe I even want it to happen," she said. "But this needs to be done, and I should have done it ages ago."

The Elements fizzled and sputtered at first, but then Twilight closed her eyes tightly and focused on that first set of best friends she'd made in Ponyville, so many countless eons ago. Their honesty, generosity, kindness, loyalty, and laughter... all of it flowing through her, erasing her doubts and strengthening her core. The warm light of Friendship filled her body, twisting into an impossibly brilliant rainbow, arcing upwards and smashing down onto the statue.

Twilight didn't bother to watch. She just kept her eyes closed and her head lowered as the tears came rolling down.

The next thing she felt was the arid air of the grey wastes, but she didn't notice it. Her senses were dominated by another experience, one once upon a time as familiar to her as grass: the first true hug she'd had in eons.
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#1 · 2
· · >>TrumpetofDoom >>Trick_Question
Wowzers. I had an inkling from the very first moment that something was off--the emphasis on everything being the same in the very first sentence. I think I actually understand everything that happened here, or at least most of it, which is an improvement on my typical confusion with stories that gradually reveal things. I can't figure out who the fifth sister is, though. Celestia, Luna, Cadence, Flurry Heart makes four so who...?. Anyways, I don't want to spoil anything for anyone else, so spoiler-ing reactions: this had me tearing up at the end, and really gave me feels. I wasn't too horrifically creeped out, either, which I appreciated. It's not "Evil Twi" it's more "suffering Twi." I find myself really wanting to know more of this story, of what led up to it and what happens next. Wonderful job.
#2 · 4
I'm pretty sure I've read this story before (even in a Writeoff, I think), but there's enough originality in the execution and details to keep my attention, and I'm fond of the underlying story.

Twilight's out-loud narration makes the story telly, particularly at the end where she's basically expositing what's been going on in order to finish clueing in the reader. I agree it was a good idea to lampshade the talking to herself aspect like you did, and it makes sense in the context of what's actually going on in the story. Still, I would push for more show wherever possible.

The second half of the story seems rushed. I feel this is a story that would benefit from more horse words. That could also cut back on the exposition at the end, because the reader would have more time to figure things out without hoof-holding. The ending seems just a little heavy-hoofed with respect to tugging on the heartstrings, but that's related to the telliness.

I'd like to know with greater certainty whether the hug came from Discord, though it seems like that was the implication.

It seems obvious you intended to put strikethrough text in the second quoted section, and it didn't work when you formatted to BBCode. If that isn't the case, you need to proofread that part.
#3 · 4
· · >>Kitcat36 >>Trick_Question
Twilight's never been good at pretending nothing's wrong, has she?

I like the slow hints from the very beginning that something's gone horribly off the rails. The first time I took a look at the first paragraph, I actually missed the "took a pill, waited fifteen minutes", but then I had to step away and do something else, and I took another look when I came back. That's a detail that gets referenced again later on, but never quite explained, and it's nagging at me a bit — I think maybe the idea is that she's trying to fortify either her mental stability or her magical reserves, but that's far from clear to me.

That said, I thought the revelation at the end was well executed, and the story overall left me feeling like it did what it set out to do.

I'm not sure where you're getting "five sisters" from. The "five good friends" are either her memories of the other Element bearers or Celestia, Luna, Cadance, Flurry Heart and Discord, but nowhere in the story does it say anything about five sisters.
#4 · 1
Huh, that's a point. I got it from putting together
"It's terrible. There's nothing left but a gray waste..."

"And five good friends to spend another million years or so with, any way you like," said Spike's voice. "Not a bad deal, if you ask me."
and the line immediately after Twi's response to that,
"Life ain't perfect, Twi. It's those imperfections that make it worthwhile," said Applejack. "You and your sisters can go play pretend together, and you can face facts together too. I know you can do it."

You have a point that I could have completely missed the mark with the 5 sisters thing.
#5 · 2
· · >>Xepher >>Trick_Question
Nice reference to Release Note. A dark tale that ends on a note of redemption. I have little to add to the other reviews. I am inclined to class this as upper tier.
Post by Posh , deleted
#7 · 1
· · >>TrumpetofDoom >>Pascoite
I haven't read this yet; someone tell me if it involves Rainbow Dash emotionally abusing Robo-Sparkle.
#8 ·
It does not.
#9 ·
I don't see Jaxie on the author list, so probably not?
#10 · 2
· · >>Kitcat36 >>Trick_Question
My synopsis:

Twilight has been avoiding dealing with the end of her world for very long time.

Overall thoughts:

This is great.
It quickly frames itself as a mystery that doesn’t try to hide too hard, or be so oblique with its clues that they’re meaningless.
Wonderfully bittersweet, funny in places without detracting from the subject.

The characterisation for Twi’s friends is almost spot on, which is ironically just right!
Twilight is exactly this neurotic.
The clues that something is horribly wrong have perfect balance, tantalising us and giving us a pretty good idea what Twi is up to without spoiling exactly what’s going on too soon.
Patch notes for the "universe".

That ending. D'aw.
Twilight’s friends are a magnificent blend of self-aware and oblivious.

It’s almost too slow in a couple of places. One or two judicious line edits would improve things.
Flurry doesn’t have a terribly strong character voice.
Angry Twilight (vs Flurry) sounds a little off.
You made me look up the word "charmeuse"


Patch (build 18750)

Top tier for sure. It reveals new clues to the truth at just the right pace, adding snippets of detail here and there. I wrote a list of possibilities in my head (well, actually in my review notes) at the end of the second scene and then got to cross them off as the story went along. It was my second guess that turned out correct, if you're wondering.

One thing I'd try: I would opt to use Cadance here instead of Flurry. Not because Flurry is a bad idea (and she shows the passage of time well) but because getting Cadance’s characterisation right would be more straightforward, and possibly more interesting. We don't know anything about Flurry and we don't have time to learn here. Cadance is a character already.
#11 · 2
· · >>ToXikyogHurt
You know, it could work to use Flurry--like you said, she shows the passage of time extremely well--if the author works on her lines a bit. Sometimes just a few words can reveal a LOT about a personality, and there might be a way to apply that here. Maybe even just giving her a good distinctive trait would do it.
#12 · 1
I have no strong objection to Flurry, she does work nicely in the role as she is. I just wouldn't have picked her myself. Not if I could squeeze a different princess for some pathos: one the reader knows better.

Her lines aren't bad, I just can't tell if they're right. If she had a bit more space to work with a lot could be done with her to make her a fuller character, but I think it's unfair to expect too much from her as a bit-part in <8k words. She's not the focus of the piece.

She could be: if the story had her repeatedly and persistantly appearing. Causing trouble. That sounds fun too, but that's probably an idea to help expand this out to a longer story, if that's something the author is interested in. Some stories are better short, after all. I think this one actually has plenty of room to grow. I would happily read an expanded version.
#13 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question
This made me think back to Okkusenman and, fuck me, I'm having a melancholy trip. The next story better be a comedy or a light-hearted romance.

This was great, really, the way a seemingly normal day in Ponyville starts showing signs of oddness until the facade comes crumbling down once Twilight's actions come to light. I don't have any big criticism against the story itself, just a few minor issues regarding pacing which others have brought up.

If anything, I would've liked the reveal to come more slowly, showing Twilight on her seemingly usual routine with more of those little hints of what's really going on. Also, I would've liked to know more about what went down with Twilight and Discord, what is it that made her turn him to stone.

Otherwise, this is an excellent story. Well done.

And, hey, Twilight. Don't worry. It gets better.
#14 · 5
· · >>Trick_Question
It started out weird(surely intentional), got *really* interesting as more was revealed, but then it kinda fell off at the end. Not to say the end was bad story-wise; it just seems like it was written with a solid idea of what you wanted, but with only 15 minutes left to execute.

Overall, it was well-written and very enjoyable. I don’t normally like to make predictions, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this makes top 36 easily.
#15 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question
Okay, so, this is a real good story and I'm frontloading to say I almost really liked it.

This starts off being too unsubtle; Everything until the subcon/con scrolls is laying the premise on too thick. It's beating the audience over the head with it being weird, but it doesn't meaningfully advance the audience's understanding of the weirdness until that point, which was honestly more frustrating than it was interesting.

The Flurry conversation is pretty perfectly paced and executed. Right amount of subtle hints to overt statements, good speed, neither too fast nor too slow. That point of the story is easily where it's strongest.

Then you go from too hot to too cold: The ending is too oblique and subtle. It feels like an obvious attempt to leave what happened up to the reader's interpretation but, honestly? I feel like that was the wrong move when you give so much explicit detail about what's happening. Worse still, it's done at the expense of a meaningful emotional payoff.

We don't know how bad or how meaningful Twilight's fuckup is outside of the dream bubble. It's just not quite enough for me to know that she's miserable in here if the alternative is... well, the end of the world. We don't really understand the circumstances -- or at least I don't -- that drove her to this in a lot of ways, which I find more interesting than the end result of it not working. The hints are good and interesting! The implications could be! But there's just not enough there, at the end, and I would have liked the situation with Discord to have been made a little more overt than it was.

This reads as toeing the line between having a definite, concrete idea of what it wants to have happened, and not wanting any one answer to be the truly correct one. Or, as 2merr said, of running out of time.
#16 · 1
Okay, that's a dark start. Everyday is the same? And it includes a pill which takes 15 minutes to work. Yeah, this can't end well.

Yup, totally normal day under The Dome.

Twilight just told Rarity what she wouldn't like, so... all the ponies under The Dome are simulations or replacements of some kind. Right? And (judging from the "adjust elements" line in the checklist) somehow connected to or powered by the Elements?

All signs continue to point that way, at least through the eating contest. Starting to feel repetitive at this point.

Basement, now we're getting somewhere... yup, tree of harmony with the elements in it. Called it!

Oh, and it's got release notes from Dwarf Fortress.

This is feeling curiously similar to a recent episode of The Orville, where a crewmember locks themselves in the holodeck and wipes their own memory, in order to try and prove something to themselves.

And with the finish... yeah, feels a lot like that. The hug is a nice emotional touch though!

Overall, this story... does something weird for me. It kept me interested even as my brain was pointing out why I should be bored, and indeed, even when doing things that other stories did which actually bored me.

Now, that's not to say the pacing couldn't be improved. The main conceit of the story is given away pretty early on, so the further encounters with additional "cast members" serve more to drag it out than to provide clues to the mystery. The other problem is that, at the end, we're still left with more questions then answers. That's always a fine line to draw, of course, as leave some mystery can be a good thing, as long as the clues and cliffhangers are strong enough. But, while there are some great glimpses here (OP Flurry Heart being the one to break into The Dome is fantastic) the primary question of "what happened?" remains almost entirely unanswered, and to a reader like me, that's frustrating.

So yeah, an interesting idea, fairly well executed, but to my tastes, drags out the obvious a bit too long, while still never giving the full answer it teases.
#17 · 1
Pretty sure it's Dwarf Fortress: http://www.pcgamer.com/the-most-ridiculous-patch-notes-from-10-years-of-dwarf-fortress/
#18 · 2
· · >>2Merr >>Kitcat36

I'm surprised more ponies didn't realize I wrote this story. It would be hard to make the signature stronger, although Heat Death, Entropy, and Flutterblob also smell a bit Tricky.

Thanks to all my reviewers:
>>Kitcat36 >>TrumpetofDoom >>GroaningGreyAgony >>ToXikyogHurt >>Zaid Val'Roa >>2Merr >>MrNumbers

Now, the retrospective, which will basically consist of questions on how to fix things.

0) I know the ending was too short. The deadline made the last few sections overly short, and I'm working on fixing that. No advice needed on this one.

1) I realize parts are boring. I'm adding more foreshadowing which helps a little bit, though I'm not sure how to 'speed up' the cake competition tasting part. Advice on what's boring and how to correct would be appreciated.

2) The early part of the story is too overt about the weirdness. I'm going to downplay the Rarity meeting to make it curious that Twilight is critiquing fashion, but not super abnormal or obvious, and I'm adding foreshadowing to the walk to the farm (so it hints that Twilight's mood is what causes the fire). I want to leave the pill in, because I don't think that gives anything away. What else needs to be fixed on this front? Is the 'checklist never changes' hint too obvious?

3) The meeting with Flurry will be expanded, and hopefully this will develop her character more. I agree Cadance would be a stronger choice, but I'd rather use Flurry as a confirmation that the story takes place in the future.

4) I'm not sure how to deliver more information about what happened, but I'll try to squeeze it in using Flurry's meeting with Twilight and Twilight's retrospection afterwards.

Oh, and I'm glad you saw this as a reference to Release Note rather than plagiarism, which it was. I hope I can use that anyway. (It's true that deer were intended to be sapient and that was changed after Lauren left the show.) Also, did somepony say something about Dwarf Fortress, that 'game' that's just an inside joke because it doesn't actually exist? That thing has always bothered me.

Thanks again! I wanted to publish this immediately, but I need to wait for dragon's permission to use his art, and I need more time to fix it up. I think you'll all be pleased with the final result, it's already shaping up nicely.
#19 · 1
I would honestly love to read this once you expand it a bit and punch a few dings out. This was already good as it is, so I'm looking forward to the refined version.
#20 · 1
I didn't get bored so I can't help there. Maybe I just really like it obvious :/ I like you using Flurry, a lot, so I'm glad you're keeping her. Can't wait to see it on FimFiction!