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Forbidden Knowledge · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Might Make Right
I lowered my quill. "What. Did. You. Say."

Spike froze, pinned by the intensity of my voice.


He swallowed and gave me a smile that I'm sure was intended as disarming. "You, uh, seem awfully upset for something that you and Rarity giggled at at the time."

"At the time I thought it was a royal command, Spike. One that Garble followed out of respect for your station. But now you're telling me that you literally mind-controlled him?!"

Spike shuffled his claws in a way that made his answer unmistakeable. "Well, technically, it was the scepter—"


A grimace flashed across his muzzle. "Look, it's not like he didn't deserve it! And maybe hugging other dragons will force him to understand what friendship is about! You know, that thing that we spend our whole lives spreading?"

"Not with mind control," I said. "Never with mind control. Do you remember Sombra's doorway?"

Spike flinched as if I'd slapped him, and then his posture sagged and his gaze drooped to the ground. "…Yeah."

"Yeah. There are some things that nopony deserves, no matter how bad they might have been."

"You're right." His voice was very small, and I saw his eyes start to fill up with tears. "I'm sorry, Twilight. I…" He started sobbing. "No, no, no. I was like Sombra. He must hate me. You must hate me."

The weight of guilt pressed in on me as I realized just how hard I'd come down on Spike, and I tried to fend it off by telling myself that there were some lines that just couldn't be crossed…but that wasn't true, was it? Not for Starlight, not for Discord, not for Luna, and especially not for my best friend. I stepped in, crooking a leg around Spike's shoulders, and pulled him into a gentle hug as he bawled into my fur. "Whoah, whoah, you are not Sombra," I said softly. "I love you, Spike, and that's never going to change. What you did with the scepter wasn't right, but everypony makes mistakes."

I felt Spike nod into my fur, and he held me for a minute as his breathing came back under control. "I have to make this right," he finally said—and though his voice trembled, it had a core of iron resolve. "We have to stop the spell."

"You're right, Spike," I said. "We should…wait, what?"

"Huh?" He looked up at me blankly.

"The spell on Garble is still active? The way you phrased the order, it should only have lasted until he returned home."

Spike tapped his claws together. "I know, but…I'm the one who ordered him, and I can tell, somewhere in my gut, it's not finished yet. I don't know how or why."

I grinned and lit my horn. "Well, if you can still feel that link, I can scan your thaumic inflows to locate Garble! Then we can find him, and you can cancel the order and set him free."

"I'm not sure that will work," Spike said. "I'm not the Dragon Lord any more."

I chewed my lip and thought for a moment, then grinned down at him. "That's alright—this is magic, and if there's anyone that knows magic, it's me! With a little bit of research, I should be able to isolate that link and find a way to neutralize it, so we can cancel that mental compulsion no matter who the Dragon Lord is."

There were noises at the mouth of the cave. I closed my eyes, trying not to whimper, and huddled in my alcove a little tighter.

"Hello?" an oddly familiar, high-pitched voice called, and I froze. Some talking being…had they seen my clawprints? Maybe if I stayed still and silent, they would go away. Or maybe I'd be able to conceal myself until they left.

"Garble?" the voice continued, and my heart stopped. Someone knew I was here? How? HOW?

Then a second voice cut in—also familiar—and panic flooded in.

"Are you sure he's here?" Spike said.


No. Oh no. No no no—(hug)

"That's what the spell says," the first (hug) voice said—one of the annoying ponies that had shown up (hug) in the Gauntlet of Fire. The one with (hug) wings? And they had (hug) tracked me here? This couldn't be happening. It (hug) must be a nightmare—

Blinding light shone (hug) in my eyes. I raised a gaunt claw and (hug) squinted, and off to one side was an all-too-familiar pint-sized silhouette—

(hug) (hug) (hug) (HUG)

My body jerked upright (HUG) and I staggered forward, (HUG) mentally screaming, arms outstretched. Spike's eyes (HUG) widened, and he flinched back. (HUG) Underneath the light, I saw the pony's (HUG) eyes widen too, and a (HUG) hoof flew up to her open muzzle. (HUG)

Spike scrambled backward (HUG), but I was faster, (HUG) lunging forward and clamping (HUG) my arms around him—


—and then, as my thoughts became my own again, shifting my grip to the freak's scrawny neck and shaking him as hard as I could. "I'll KILL you!" I roared. "You jerk! Look at what you did to me!"

As Spike flailed, his claw glanced off my arm, and I flinched in pain as the weak blow hit one of my bruises. My claw twitched and spasmed, and he tumbled out of my grip. I lunged for him again, but he rolled out of the way, and I landed heavily on the cavern floor. Pain flared in my ribs, and everything went fuzzy.

But I totally didn't cry. All the sobbing was Spike. Or the pony. I'm sure of it.

I know for a fact I heard Spike crying, in between saying "Sorry" over and over again. "Who did this?" the pony said. "Who did this to you?" They weren't going away, no matter how much I told them to, and my arm was getting wet where I was shielding my eyes, so I answered her question just to shut her annoying voice up. "Other dragons, okay?" I roared. "Turns out not everyone likes being hugged without explanations! Who'd have thought!"

"I'm so sorry!" Spike kept repeating, along with some crap about Some Bro or something, as I hauled myself half-upright against the cave wall and tried to catch my breath. And then something that did catch my attention: "We're here to fix you!"

"Pfft," I snorted. "Right. Because you care about me SO much, and because Ember's just gonna back down on her deal and agree to lift it."

"We do care…" the pony started, and cocked her head at me as she trailed off. "Deal?" Her voice dropped and turned cold. "What deal? She's using your mind control as leverage?!"

I rolled my eyes. "Welcome to Understanding Dragons-land, population: everyone but you."

"But Ember said that mind-control was 'not gonna be her thing'!" Spike blurted out, and the shock on her face was just so perfect.

I laughed, of course, which quickly turned into a cough that wracked my chest, and then lay there for a while catching my breath as blackness receded from the corners of my vision. "Seriously? What did you think that meant, that she wasn't gonna use it at all? Especially right on the tail of you demonstrating how useful it was? Shows how useful 'friends' are, if you're the last to know."

The pony stepped up to me and leaned in to my face, and I would have punched her right in the mouth if the fire in her eyes hadn't reminded me for a second of a dragon's. "Garble…listen," she said. "We do care. Spike never meant for his order to go this far, and nobody deserves to be mind-controlled. Nobody. We're going to help you, I promise. With or without Ember—because I've got a spell to break the scepter's power that'll work on anyone."

I wiped my nose. "Really," I said. "Reeeeeeaaaaallly."

"Really," the pony said solemnly.

I poked a claw into her muzzle, kind of, as best I could without my arm hurting. "Don't think this means I forgive Spike," I snarled. "Don't think this means I'm going to like ponies. And especially don't think that this makes us friends."

"Even if you don't," Spike said quietly, "it's the right thing to do."

The scepter on my back finally pulsed on my third pass—not as I winged over the enormous crystal castle, but over the pony town beyond. From my cruising altitude—where the air was far too thin for pegasi—the market scene far below looked like someone had kicked a candy-coated anthill, with bright pastel dots scrambling and scurrying every which way. But I squinted as I circled downward, eyes searching and finally locking in on a pair of differently purple blobs. The scepter pulsed again as I stared at the lighter of the two, and so I tucked my wings in and plummeted.

A pony might have flared her wings on the approach, gradually slowing her dive to touch down gently. But—as weak as I might be by dragon standards—I was not nearly that fragile. I merely angled myself toward a patch of open ground and flipped my flight magic into an inertia channel, starting to glow as I gathered momentum into the charging spell. Some pony on the rapidly approaching ground pointed upward and shouted. Chaos erupted as ponies fled for cover, and Princess Twilight's horn flared to life.

Then, at the last moment, I flipped myself upright and plowed into the ground at terminal velocity.

The spell that had been accumulating around me like a comet's streaking tail lashed out at the moment of contact, transferring my momentum straight into the ground. A wave of earth erupted around me in a circle, bucking dozens of ponies into screaming somersaults and smashing against Princess Twilight's shield. A boom of thunder echoed around the town, rolling and fading as I flared my wings outward and rose from my three-point crouch. I glared through the eye-slits of my helmet at the pony and the dragon flinching inside the small purple bubble, and extended a claw at Spike, the noonday sun glinting off of my golden armor.

"You," I snarled, tail lashing, mentally reaching into the magic of the scepter to amplify my words with the Royal Voice. "Dragon lands. Now."

Princess Twilight dropped her shield, stepped forward, and extended a wing between me and Spike. He peeked around it, wide-eyed. "Dragon Lord Ember," Twilight said, raising one forehoof, her voice as ominous in its calmness as mine was in its fury. "Did you get my letter?"

I ripped my helmet off and stalked forward to tower over her, teeth clenched. "Yes," I hissed, leaning down to stare at her nose to nose. "I got your letter, Princess. I put my life on the line to get dragons to consider establishing relations with ponykind, and this is the thanks that I get?" I whirled around and stomped a wide circle around my landing crater, trying to channel my emotion into motion to keep my body from shaking. I wanted nothing more than to rend her limb from limb, but considering her raw magical ability and her ability to neutralize the scepter, it was blindingly obvious that any actual confrontation wouldn't end in my favor.

She frowned, and the frown almost looked pained. "As I said, I'm grateful for your intentions, but mind control is banned magic for a reason. Its victims aren't the only ones who are twisted by its use. As your friend, Ember, I need to stop you before you walk any further down that road." Her voice softened. "Please."

"I. Am. Not. Talking. To. You, pony," I growled, baring teeth. "I wouldn't even be here except that, if I'd summoned Spike, someone would have simply neutralized it. Now, step aside so I can save both our worthless nations."

Princess Twilight's frown deepened. "With mind control?"

I gaped my jaw, flattened my spines, and hissed. The princess flinched.

"Ember, please," she said, drawing herself back up to her deceptively unimpressive full height and staring me in the eye. Her horn began to glow. My gut flipped, and I tried to glance around for something to use as a distraction without tipping her off to my plan—

—and then Spike placed a hand on her hip, and Twilight blinked and glanced back, and her hornglow sputtered out.

"I'll go," he said quietly.

"Spike," Twilight said. "No. You don't even know what she plans to do."

"It doesn't matter. This is my fault."

Twilight shook her head. "This is bigger than you."

"Big enough to fight her instead of trusting your friends?" Spike said, and Twilight winced and looked the other way. He glanced up at me earnestly. "I'm sorry, Ember. She's right, mind control can't be the answer—but I'll come with you, and if you trust me I promise that together we'll find a way."

I didn't see that I had much of a choice.

A minute later, the two of us were winging back up into the skies, Spike clinging to my back. Several times, he tried to ask what the situation in the Dragon Lands was, but I kept my jaw clamped shut, and the trip lapsed into uneasy silence.

I landed in a small cave near the top of Announcement Rock and gestured for him to get off. He hopped to the ground. I unholstered the scepter and sat down with a clank of armor in an angular rock I'd carved into a me-sized throne.

Spike swallowed. "Please, Ember. I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on."

"What's going on," I snapped, keeping my voice controlled, "is that Garble told me another dragon took over his home, keeping him from fulfilling his order's conditions, and begged me to remove it. I told him I was disinclined to overrule the will of a previous Dragon Lord, but that I would do it in exchange for him accepting an order to peacefully learn more about ponies. I thought I could use him as a test subject to see how much power friendship has to win over its enemies…but he refused, saying he'd rather die than debase himself that way. Now, however, he's shown up at Announcement Rock with a following of dragons who have listened to his crazy story about a pony who cast a spell to nullify the Dragon Lord's orders. He says if they invade Equestria now, they can steal that spell, along with ponykind's riches, and then not have to live under anyone's rule ever again."

Spike's eyes widened. "What? That's crazy."

"Not when he can prove it by passing dragons without hugging them."

"No…I mean his plan. You can't steal spells. He'd have to, like, take Twilight prisoner."

"I'm sure he'd die trying. But he's building enough support to start a war. It would ruin Equestria…and then, when your country counterattacked, ruin us too. I know what your princesses are capable of, now." I crossed my arms and leaned down toward him. "So what's your big plan? Friendship? Do you really think Garble will listen to you, of all dragons?"

Spike winced and looked down. "No. Not now, he wouldn't." He took a breath and looked back up into my eyes. "But there's got to be another way, without using the scepter."

I laughed bitterly. "Oh, sure. I could challenge him in single combat for defying my rule, the way that Dragon Lords used to do before Dad stole the scepter and made it a thing. I could probably even beat Garble, as wounded as he is. But then I would have to be big and strong enough to defeat every single wandering punk who issued a challenge, once I established that precedent. And it wouldn't take an hour before there was a new Dragon Lord willing to embrace the invasion plan." I held the scepter up and studied the bloodstone gem. "Using this to put a leash on the big and stupid is exactly what you signed up for when we teamed up, Spike. Where in Tartarus did this insane change of heart come from?"

His ear-flaps drooped. "I've been mind-controlled, Ember. Nobody deserves that."

"Does the world deserve a race of rapacious marauders who obey no laws other than raw strength?"

He stood up straight. "We've rehabilitated worse! Like Discord! He's the spirit of Chaos itself, and now he's living with Fluttershy and making friends."

I raised an eyeridge. Princess Twilight hadn't mentioned that one in her letters. "And how exactly did you do that?"

"Well, my friends cleansed him with…the Elements of Harmony…" Spike blinked a few times, then grimaced.


He put a claw to his chin. "We beat Sombra without…wait, he's dead. And we didn't use the Elements on the changelings…well, they're probably dead too." His expression began to twitch. "Tirek…except he wasn't really rehabilitated, just imprisoned again."


His face brightened and he held up a claw. "Starlight Glimmer! We rehabilitated her with friendship alone!"

That one had been in Twilight's letters. "Plus several now-destroyed time-travel spells, and leveraging her regrets over her childhood friend. Neither of which are going to work for Garble."

Spike gritted his teeth and stomped a hindclaw. "Well, I'm not going to sit here while you mind-control every single dragon!"

"As elegant a solution as that would be," I said, turning the scepter over in my claws, "it doesn't have the power for that…even if Princess Twilight would allow it. Aside from the summoning, all I could do is affect every dragon for only a few moments, or only a few dragons for much longer time periods." I stood up and walked over to him, crouching down and placing a claw on his shoulder. "Fortunately, there's a much easier way…which brings me to why I needed you."

I was bucking apples in the south forty when I heard a throat clear from over near the cart.

I glanced back over my shoulder to see a little dragon who looked a plum sight. "Howdy, Spike," I said, pausing my work for a moment to lift my hat and wipe under the sweatband. "What can I do you for?"

Spike shuffled forward, then leaned against my tree and sunk slowly toward the ground. "Applejack," he said, voice faint, "I need your help."

"Of course, sugarcube. I gotta ask, though, why me?"

"I lied," he said, tears brimming in his eyes. "It was a big lie. Twilight is gonna flip."

I blinked.

"Well," I said, sitting down next to him and putting a comforting hoof on his shoulder, "it ain't never too late for the truth."

He turned his head to stare into my eyes, and there was so much raw anguish in them that it stopped me cold. "The truth's the one thing that would make it worse," he whispered. "There's a bad truth that someone found out who doesn't want to be our friend, and if anyone believed him, it would have made things really bad."

"I reckon you'd better tell me the whole story," I said slowly.

So he did. "…And then Ember told me to go up to Announcement Rock with her, and tell all the other dragons that I was actually the one who had broken Garble's order, because I was the one who had issued the order," he finished, tears finally falling. "That would discredit him, and once the other dragons turned on him, she could deal with the other biggest troublemakers individually. I-it was the hope of getting free of the rules which was making the others listen, she said. A-and I just, I j-just didn't see any other way."

I sat speechless.

Spike whimpered and hugged himself. "There was another way. There had to be. Right? I ruined Garble's life. I let Ember use more mind control. I screwed up again."

I swallowed. "…Spike? What ya said about the Elements of Harmony?"

"That's not true. Is it? It couldn't be. She lied to me, right?"

"Sugarcube," I whispered, leaning in to hold him a comforting hug, "all I can tell ya is that you tried your best, and there ain't no easy answer to this one, and there's somepony else who needs to hear these questions."

Twilight sat quietly throughout Spike's story as I stood protectively alongside him.

Her face incrementally grew paler.

When Spike finally stumbled through the last of his recounting, there was silence for a long, long time. Then she cleared her throat. Then she glanced down to the journal she'd been writing in, flipped through it without appearing to look for anything, fiddled with her quill for even longer, and stared down at her hooves until it looked like Spike was almost ready to burst.

"I think," she said, "I…might have overreacted."

I cleared my throat.

Twilight glanced up, and her eyes fixed in on the squirming form of her number-one assistant. Guilt flooded her features, and she sprang from her seat to give him a hug. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and Spike clung to Twilight, sagging against her body.

"Did…did I screw up again?" Spike whispered back.

"I don't know," Twilight said. "I think we all have a lot to think about."

I joined the hug. "To be honest," I ventured, "maybe sometimes there ain't no good answer. And maybe sometimes all ya can do is find the least bad one. Those times're gonna hurt a lot no matter what. An' maybe you did screw up, an' maybe you really did do the best anypony could've, but all you can do is keep on movin' forward, and own what you did, an' hope that next time the answer comes easier."

"Maybe so." Twilight laughed humorlessly into my shoulder. "At least we'll get a heck of a friendship lesson out of this one, right?"

A tendril of smoke uncoiled through the sky to coalesce in front of my muzzle, and nostalgia tickled the back of my nostrils. Normally, that would have been the point at which my face lit up like my sun, my horn glowed to match, and I would catch the perfectly coiled scroll as it fell out of thin air. Twilight Sparkle's friendship letters, however, did not normally interrupt the Jackal Caliph mid-sentence, sending him diving under the table with a high-pitched yelp as a trail of smoke snaked past his ear.

Three jackal himayats dove on top of the Caliph, and half a dozen more leapt onto the banquet table, sending olives and sweetbreads and a small mountain of documents flying as scimitars flashed out from their scabbards. Across the room, two okapi pronklancers grabbed the Prelate's chair, yanking him backward, and the rest sprang into a tight phalanx on the other side of the table, crouching as they leveled their spears. My own guards—having seen dragonfire delivery before, and more importantly, having seen me in action before—drew their own weapons and crouched at the ready, but didn't attempt to rescue me. Thankfully so, because that would have made it somewhat more difficult to concentrate on my own reaction.

The jackals charged. The okapis sprang. Both slammed face-first into solid walls of air in the middle of the table, falling into uneven, yowling, bleating heaps just inches from my tea service.

I quickly nullified a specific axis of my spell, sending the two sections of solid air cascading outward to surround the soldiers' bodies, entrapping them in rigid bonds of wind. Then I mentally danced through the thaumic calculus to set up a second spell-weave on top of the first. As that matrix drew together, a field coalesced around my teacup and lifted it to my lips for a calm and measured sip. The jackal shaman—whose claws were halfway through some intricate ritual of his own—stopped midspell to stare at me with hanging jaw, and the okapi magus—eyes wide as the plate of horse d'ouvres that now lay shattered and trampled by his hooves—visibly swallowed and extinguished the crackling aura dancing in between his two stumpy horns.

To drive the point home, I twisted the spell-matrix yet again as I sipped my tea, closing my eyes for a moment in concentration. I transferred the active levitation control to the scroll that had dropped to the floor in the chaos, and applied a simple identity function that kept the teacup hovering in place while I lifted Twilight's letter. Technically that was cheating—it was only two and a half active spell effects, rather than the three that the world's mortal wizards thought impossible; and the feedback of the overloaded spell matrix was exerting enough pressure behind my sinuses to make me feel like my brain was boiling—but the point of a show of power wasn't subtlety.

"I humbly beg your apologies," I said in gentle, enunciated Equestrian, pausing for a moment to allow the cringing translators to return to their positions and begin speaking. "This is…" I hesitated for a fraction of a second, and realized that my best chance for smoothing ruffled fur was a white lie—"an important diplomatic communication on an issue relating to our own national security. I had not anticipated that my duties to my Equestria would impact my suitability as host of this summit, and I hope that my failure of foresight will not detract from the progress made tonight on the issues that stand in the way of your cease-fire."

Without waiting for an answer, I cracked the seal on the letter and unrolled it, then switched the two levitation effects and set my teacup down while I read, feeling the migraine recede as I released the third spell. I frowned as my eyes flicked over the scroll—Spike's normally slanted and scrawling script was measured and upright, which meant that Twilight was agonizing over her wording enough to speak slowly, and Spike was equally frightened of getting anything wrong.

Dear Princess Celestia,

Today I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend—and fellow ruler—is to allow them to make their own mistakes.…

My blood froze, and I suddenly became very aware of the tension around me like an unbucked thundercloud. The feuding rulers that I had dragged kicking and screaming into peace negotiations slowly picked themselves up off the floor as the translators finished. There were several rapid-fire exchanges between the rulers and their visibly shaken mages in their native languages.

The Caliph shifted, loosing a guttural growl somewhere halfway in between warning and insult. The Prelate snorted, spat on the floor, and stared at the Caliph through cold eyes. The Caliph stared back with equal chill. The soldiers twitched in their air-bonds. I turned my head, nodded casually at my Captain of the Guard, and forced my eyes back to the scroll as my pegasi sheathed their short-spears.

It was just a friendship letter. Did Twilight even know about these negotiations? The timing—for once in my life—had to be coincidence.


Admittedly, friendship has some strange intersections with diplomacy, and diplomacy is not my forte, but…

I lowered the letter, trying to keep my grip from trembling, and deliberately re-rolled it to keep myself from crumpling it into a tight little ball.

Oh, I thought, my heart squeezing to a stop as my muzzle drifted into a plaster smile. Oh dear.
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#1 · 3
· · >>horizon >>horizon
I can see what you was trying to do, it's not terrible. It has potential.

Of course, with Garble, you went in hard, pushed drama out of the way and threw yourself into the waiting arms of super drama.

Also this is Equestria. Mind control is both cheap and readily available without a prescription. And one of Twilight's most valued tricks.
#2 ·
· · >>horizon
I feel several parts were a bit rushed. Some plot points were resolved rather quickly, just as new ones were introduced.

That, plus the shifting first person perspective made it a bit hard to follow at some points, though that may just be my own experience with it.

Not bad, I managed to get a good laugh at the end, but it was a reasonably enjoyable fic.
#3 · 2
· · >>Everyday >>horizon
This was interesting. You took a side clause in the recent episode, turned its silliness into a serious matter, and then ran with it. I love the idea of doing this sort of thing, but part of me wants to hold back and share some criticism.

First, it feels rushed. Granted, that's a Write-off thing, usually, but it needs to be pointed out anyway. Most specifically, the first scene is what's most notably rushed. Perhaps starting closer to the beginning of that conversation you opened with would help.

The whole "(hug)" thing was a little obscure. Yes, it's clear he can't stop hugging dragons, but who is he hugging in those first dozen or so parenthesis? Also, not sure I feel the transition enough from silly to serious with those (hugs). It's a hard boundary to cross, sight-gags like this, in written media, but yeah.

The meeting between the ambassadors seemed unsure if it wanted to be funny or serious. From our perspective, they overreacted to a silly friendship report. But at the same time, the way it's presented leaves wiggle room for 'I'm actually trying to be serious,' because the soldiers' reactions really were believable. That said, we're talking about a friendship report sparking the scene's actions in what is effectively a cartoon show, so more effort could have been put into clarifying the intent of comedy or srs bsns.

I do have to say, though, I loved the detail you put into Celestia's thoughts and whatnot regarding her magic. Really nice touch.
#4 ·
Wow. Speaking of "changing mood within a story" and "whose story is this?" … this story's a beautiful wreck, but it does something interesting I might not have noticed if I hadn't been primed by writing my last review. Despite all the headache-inducing viewpoint-hopping, we see Twilight Sparkle and Spike in every scene (at least by proxy, if that friendship letter counts). So "Whose story is this?" has a straightforward answer — even though there's five different viewpoints, this is a story about the two of them wrestling with the morality of mind control.

… Actually, no, I don't think that's quite right. There are two half-scenes (set off by soft breaks) without Twilight — Spike and Ember, and Spike and AJ. So Spike is in every scene, except the ending, in which the letter he sends leads to an implied implosion of the peace negotiations. Is this set up around seeing Spike screw up in each scene? Except he doesn't — his big action in Ember's scene is to keep her and Twilight from fighting, which is good; and the screw-up of his lie is central to the Applejack scene, so as far as I can tell he doesn't do anything wrong in Ember's scenes. Augh! That's so close to some sort of unified theme, I feel like there's something I must be missing.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more sense that makes as a central theme, maybe with that Ember scene as a Writeoff goof. Spike being your central character would also explain why we start out with Twilight Sparkle narrating — it sort of sets up a pattern where we never see through his eyes, but we see him through the eyes of all the people who his mistake screwed up. That's actually a really cool idea, even if I'm not thrilled by the execution of it. But Twilight really muddies the waters there, because she is his co-protagonist throughout so much of the story (and she's responsible for the existence of the spell, and for the ultimatum to Ember, and the letter to Celestia). Plus starting the story in her narrative POV makes it feel more like we're reading about her. If you were going for Spike as a central character, you're really going to have to work to disentangle this from Twilight — they split the blame for all the screw-ups here, and a lot more of Twilight's agency needs to be piled on Spike's head to make that theme coherent. Or maybe you could take that the other way, and make this about Twilight and Spike like it first seems, but then if you want to narratively circle around them like sharks smelling blood in the water, that first scene's narration has to go to someone else.

Anyway. I could nitpick the noble but failed experiment of the structure all day, but the rest of the story … mmm. I kind of agree with >>Obscure, there's just so much potential here that doesn't quite gel. The drama of Spike's decisions and the big emotional moments feel awfully hurried; one of the big downsides of that "circle around the protagonists" storytelling you're doing is that the big emotional moments are all seen at a remove. (I wonder if that was intentional? I felt more sorry for Garble with his unreliable-narration not-crying than I did seeing Spike burst into tears several times, and that seemed deliberate. If so, an odd decision that didn't land for me — given Garble's continued villainy, and especially that we cut completely away from him, making him totally off-screen when Spike ruins his life again.) Honestly, this story's at its best when it lets itself breathe and steps away from the drama into the more languid descriptive sections, with moments of awesome like Ember's dramatic entrance and Celestia's no-sell of …

… oh hell. The title just clicked.

(BIG SPOILER) If I'm reading this right — and if I'm not, author, then you should rewrite this post-haste to frame it this way — mind control is a red herring. This is about the ways that rulers use power. It alternates narration from the Princesses/Dragon Lords casually exerting authority, with narration from regular people affected by them. Spike's mind control drives the story, but there's a parallel in the last section with "the feuding rulers that [Celestia] had dragged kicking and screaming into peace negotiations", and Ember talks Spike into a decision that literally ruins Garble the same way that mind control did. Applejack's scene is the weak link here — I guess it was going for the Elements of Harmony mind-control angle?, but that seemed really underplayed compared to the rest of this.

Okay, author, that by itself is bumping this up to a Solid. But that theme is way too hidden, and the perspective switch is as disorienting as it is necessary — I have no idea how to fix that and keep the thing in the last spoiler. Probably the first thing you should do in editing here is resolve that Spike/Spike+Twilight protagonist ambiguity — getting that crystal clear might illuminate a way to draw the rest of this out less incomprehensibly.

And yeah, I think it's time to officially change my "Solid" tier to "Strong". This is not even a little bit "Solid" as in "well polished", but it's a hell of a story regardless.

Tier: Solid Strong
#5 · 3
· · >>horizon
A three-day drought of reviews for this story? We should fix that.
This was an interesting little trip. Shifting between perspective characters so much was a little... disorientating, perhaps? I can say it messed with my immersion, at least. I wouldn't necessarily call it a bad thing, though. It's a stylistic choice, meant to have an effect on the reader.
This story poses some classic moral dilemmas, and I enjoyed seeing how each character responded. I quite liked your use of Garble. Like a quality bad guy, he thinks he is in the right and that he will be vindicated.
A minor note: I wasn't a fan of the way you described magic. Honestly, it seems pretentious to me, because what does it really add to the story? That's just my opinion, though, and you are absolutely free to ignore it.
Overall, I liked it. While the stylistic choice was a bit unconventional, the writing itself was solid and engaging. Nice work.

I believe the "(hugs)" were intrusive thoughts that were compelling him to hug Spike, not individual actions.
#6 · 1
· · >>horizon
Hmmmm.. On the technical side, using lines to split between perspectives and blank lines to denote a passage of time in the same perspective is a bit.. clunky. I'm not sure what to recommend as an alternative, but that was one minor quibble.

I liked the way you turned some throwaway bit of an episode into something a bit darker that reveals something unpleasant about the world... "Oh, we never use mind control!" doesn't necessarily mesh with "Rainbow of Reformation to the Face!" And the epiphany that sometimes there is not right answer was nice. These are the sorts of lessons that rulers and other in positions of power inevitably learn. And the saying that power corrupts is there for a reason...

Having said that, I'm a bit puzzled by the ending. Perhaps I'm missing something... Celestia is in the middle of some delicate negotiations, getting two hostile powers to agree to a cease fire. Though it seem that "Getting" could be replaced with "Forcing." But I'm not sure why Twilight's letter shakes her so... If anything, I would expect her to be please that Twilight is finally grasping the nuances and necessities of ruler ship...

Anyway, I still thought it was pretty good! Thumbs up! :)
#7 ·
· · >>horizon
This story is scattered. The core idea was good, but it doesn’t quite feel coherent – instead, it feels like a lot of the scenes are almost incomplete, jumping from one to the next without full follow-through.

Knowing what I do about this story, I suspect it is a symptom of it being incomplete, and ultimately, no one’s emotional arc – not Ember’s, not Spike’s, not Twilight’s, not even Applejack or Celestia’s – got really followed through on. As a result, it never really touched me, as it was constantly jerking away and failing to actually deliver on any of the arcs or messages it seemed to promise.

Not sure how much you want me to beat the horse on reviewing this one, as I’m pretty sure you know that.
#8 · 2
· · >>Corejo >>TheCyanRecluse
Might Make Right - Retrospective


Well, I can't say I'm not disappointed. Bottom 50% (15 finalists, 31 entries) is a new low for me. On the heels of Harmony Needs Heroes' similar exile from finals, it's hard not to feel like I suck now, but there's a much simpler explanation: I just haven't had time to write at my usual quality level. My three most recent short-story entries were all written in less than a day, and as I've repeatedly mentioned, this was literally written during a single frenzied all-nighter at the tail end of a convention, with the first word typed at 9 p.m. Sunday night.

So this is a useful data point, and one I hope other authors here can take to heart. If you speedwrite an entry, it doesn't reflect the quality you're capable of. The magnitude of the effect is pretty startling: My medalist record with short stories I've spent three days on is 72% [8/11], and my finalist record with short stories I've spent less than 24 hours on is 33%!

The way to win Writeoffs is to act like you're here to win them: set aside the three writing days, carefully draft a cool idea, and give it the time it deserves.

Which I didn't. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But there was another major problem here too, on which pretty much everyone commented: the perspective shifting was a noble but failed experiment. My fake review noted what it was going for -- a sort of narrative circling-around of the central character Spike -- but the story wasn't really Spike-focused enough to carry his character arc through, and nobody else (except Twilight, kinda) has a fully developed arc. The story was thematically deep, I think, but that's not nearly enough to carry a story -- and thematic depth can have its own problems anyhow. This ended up too layered -- I'm pretty sure nobody who's not a mind-reader would have looked past all the surface mind-control stuff to pull the meditation on power out from the depths of this thing.

"it's not terrible. It has potential" was hard to read, but totally fair. It's about how I feel about this. Though honestly, I'm probably going to end up abandoning this, because I could write something better in the time it would take to edit this into where it needs to be.

>>TitaniumDragon >>ZaidValRoa
Yeah, the plot fragmentation wasn't doing this any favors. I'd considered originally writing this in Spike's perspective the whole way through, which would have given this a lot more closure with his arc, but I didn't feel like I could get myself into his head well enough to write a proper Spike story in eight hours, so I took the choice that felt "safer" -- and ironically the much more experimental one -- leaping viewpoints to keep him "in frame" as it were. Turns out closing plot points and character arcs is hard, and even harder when you're leaping back and forth like that.

The Celestia scene, which is the most complete and the one I'm probably proudest of here, was written first, and so impacted by the deadline the least. This is not a coincidence.

As Everyday said, the "(hug)" thing was the scepter overtaking Garble's thoughts, reflecting compulsion rather than action. Glad you found things to appreciate.

Same: glad you found things to appreciate. Ironic that you and Corejo disagreed so hard on the magic descriptions. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

On the technical side, using lines to split between perspectives and blank lines to denote a passage of time in the same perspective is a bit.. clunky.

That choice was forced by official Writeoff style, which dictates [hr]s for major scene breaks and blank paragraphs for "soft" scene breaks. If this makes it to FIMFiction, individual perspectives will definitely be given their own chapters.

The ending really only makes sense in terms of the deeper theme my fake review explained: that this isn't about mind control, it's about the use of power. Celestia is definitely forcing peace here; it's not invading the other leader's brains here, but her little display is supposed to make it clear that she's running the show here. Very realpolitik. She reacts that way to Twilight's letter out of guilt, which probably could have used some more establishing -- because she reads it as Twilight calling her out on her "mistake" of using force to fix other people's problems. Which is kind of what the entire story is a meditation on.

Good luck in finals, all.

EDIT: Oh, and as to the title. It was a play on words between the phrase "Might Makes Right" and the sentence fragment using "might" in the "maybe" sense, trying to capture the ambiguity of the piece and its discussion of power.
#9 · 2
The devil's in the details, as they say. The magic bits added a touch of flavor to Celestia's character, both in bringing her down from an invincible all-powerful being and in raising her to that status. That might sound contradictory, but its great to see that you were able to establish a precedent for what's considered "master-level multitasking" when it comes to magic; give her the ability to do that master level stuff, because she is the sort that should be able to; but then reign her back in on the power meter by saying that even she struggles to a degree with it, via the migraine.

That's why I loved it: Teensie bit of worldbuilding and character building all in one tasty fruit rollup.
#10 · 2
Ahhhh.. I now see the underlying meaning of that last scene... Any why it was totally lost on me. Because I didn't really see a linkage between Celestia's actions, and Ember's.

Celestia is using her power (physical, cultural, magical, etc) to force two individuals/groups to behave in a manner she approved of. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, in my opinion. Everyone uses their power, their ability, to influence the world around them.

Ember, on the other hand, is mind controlling individuals. Which, in my mind, is a whole different ball of wax. As mentioned above, everyone uses their power and abilities to influence the world around them, trying to alter it to their liking... But we have rules and ethics to channel that desire into positive directions. (Though individuals, cultures, and nations may disagree on the specifics of those rules.) Applying power with no ethical constraints is generally (in my opinion) a very bad idea.

And personally, one of my major constraints is that you don't mess with other people's minds. Theft is bad, and theft of free will is by and large the worst.

So a comparison between Spike and Ember using mind control on individuals, and Celestia influencing groups by demonstrating her power and ability just totally fell through for me. What Celestia was doing was, in my mind, an understandable, reasonable, and largely acceptable action. Unlike Ember's use of mind control.

The rest of the story held together fine for me, as a demonstration of how power can corrupt and that sometimes there really is no good choice, just two evils you must pick between.

And hey, if it makes you feel any better, you were ranked third on my ballot. And I really had trouble deciding on the ranking of the top few stories on my ballot. :)