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Returned From Sabbatical · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Wreck
One afternoon when it was damp and raining, Zecora decided that she needed time away from the forest around her hut. She thought to travel to visit the school of the Steeronists. She had heard about them from the milk vendor, who said that they lived on mountain cliffs, and there dedicated themselves to the cultivation of a certain kind of philosophic skepticism. It was told that those who matriculated from there could not descend the slopes without fear of the hollow earth giving out from under their hooves with each step.

This sounded exciting to Zecora, who loved to see different places in the world. She settled her affairs and hired a guide. They crossed the narrows of Bucksor, onto the steppes of Alhippo and Musel, then along the twin rivers of Deer Dar’ya and Emu Dar’ya all the way to the great city of Ramarkand. From there she took a rickshaw up some switches in the Himaneighas, where she was received at the monastery by monks in fustian habits.

She remained with them a year, then on another rainy day, she decided it was time to return to her hut in Ponyville. She contemplated the road for many days, when, arriving at the outskirts of town, she felt as a stranger in the old place. As she reflected on this, she noticed a carriage broken down on her way going back to the woods where she lived. It had a shattered wheel, and the drivers were arguing with one another, in a strange accent:

“The spokes are old, the rim no good. It splintered like I said it would!” said Trixie, pointing to a wreck of cider barrels which were spilling over where the road dropped off.

Starlight Glimmer glowered at her. “It’s not for luck, nor want of taste. The trailer buckled in your haste! You bought the trove to store for long, and cunningly outwit the throng. I came to help—reluctantly—and now you pass the blame to me!”

“As puckering as a pickle drizzle, your grousing makes my ear tips sizzle! My thinking was to pay some grunts, and bypass all these self-help stunts!” said Trixie.

The railed cart had, evidently, been overloaded with cider; and Applejack, spying them whilst on an errand of her own, stopped to take an interest in the matter.

“Lookie at this mess, dagnabit. Quit your fussin’, stop, and grab it! Stand them up to save what’s left. Mind, now where the side is cleft. Everypony makes mistakes, but I can’t bear such cider lakes! With ponies thirstin’, that’s some gall—enough for seven families, ya’ll! You’re barred from buyin’, not a cup, and that’s my final word, eeyup!”

By now the crowd had begun to come in. Bystanders, curious travelers—even the mayor, all arguing with one another in a sonorous racket. Zecora saw that she would not be able to get a word in, anyhow, and left the ponies to resolve their own quarrel.

When she got home, she was welcomed with a croak by her pet bullfrog, Maya, who had thick, iridescent skin and a pretty crown of sorrel flowers. Maya billowed her big vocal sack, and asked Zecora about the school; whereupon Zecora, with her thought still captured by what she had just seen, recounted the mishap on the dirt road.

(Was it something you learned on the rocks… that made them sound so strange?)

Zecora replied, “There is a change.”

(Go back and tell them… that none of their accounts are trustworthy. Each see their own story, only, and history is after all a haze.)

“Empires disappear with time,” Zecora answered, “but it is not that at which I gaze.”

(Then go and ask, what is a cart? The wheels, the chassis? Which part? For nothing can be known—not even that Celestia’s sun will rise tomorrow, if it rose a thousand times before. Say to them that debts and fights are twaddling… over insecurity.)

“That’s the scheme for you,” Zecora said, “but not for me.”

The frog, impatiently:

(What then… did you learn, at all, in cloisters far away?)

Zecora smiled. “We never interrupted one another, I’d say—we paused before we spoke, a year, through meals, and pain, and weather gray. And now I hear ponies in a different way.”
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#1 · 1
· · >>Heavy_Mole
It’s been a long time since I last read a pony fic, and I’m afraid I’m not really up to snuff any more. It took me a bit of time to remember who Zecora was, and the context surrounding her.

That being said, I don’t really see the point of the story. I get the references to Asia (Aral Sea and its affluents, Samarkand, etc.) and to Nepalese/Tibetan monastery, but then I don’t see how that connects with the incident and the end of the story. It’s probably my being obtuse or out of touch with the show. Apologies for that.
#2 · 1
· · >>Rao >>Heavy_Mole
I'm a sucker for philosophical odes dressed up as pony minifics, of which there are a surprising amount. And while this isn't my favorite of the genre, I'm a fan!

That said, I'm finding it difficult to articulate exactly what I'm a fan of... I like the premise, and I think that Zecora's takeaway at the end (valuing listening over responding lets you see the world in a different way) is pretty beautiful.

As I see it, there are two thematic conflicts presented in this story: That people listen to respond instead of listening to understand (Zecora's lesson), and that people become too blinded by their emotions to see situations logically (Maya's argument). The former conflict is much more interesting to me, but unfortunately I think that the Trixie/Starlight/Applejack conversation relates much more to the latter. So while I understand where Zecora is coming from, Maya's grousing about other ponies being stupid weakens Zecora's storyline.

Credit to you for writing so much rhyming dialogue! But you definitely need to work on the meter -- the rhyme always arrives eventually, but it often takes far too long.

(Additionally, the characters are a bit ruder to each other than they probably would be in canon... If you picked some other ponies, or just made them less vindictive, that won't be such an issue.)

The way I see it, you've got a great idea, and a fantastic kicker. But this story would benefit from a stronger thematic thruline and some cleaned up poetry.
#3 · 1
· · >>Heavy_Mole
Excellent work on the geography names. I don't always grasp their real world counterparts immediately as world geography was never my strong point, but well grafted portmanteaus make my noggin' tingle all the same. My only question is about "Emu Dar’ya." It's the only one named after a bird rather than any other ungulate animal. It doesn't take me out of the story at all, but it did stand out as an oddity among other finely crafted names.

The rhyming is all quite good, even if Maya stretches poetic credulity a little thin. But good golly, Applejack! I like to think I have a pretty decent handle on her voice most of the time, but I've never even thought how to do her in Zecora rhyme! And you nailed it without losing an ounce of her personality. Cider lakes! Love this for us.

Though one unintentionally funny bit:
not even that Celestia’s sun will rise tomorrow, if it rose a thousand times before.

With how often she's lost control of it, this isn't the reliable meter it would be in real life. Sure, it's only been like three times (Discord, Storm King, and when Twilight had her magic during the Tirek problem) but it's still weird that it happened that often. No 'Tia, you don't get credit for the 1,000 years of clockwork regularity prior to that!

As I see it, there are two thematic conflicts presented in this story: That people listen to respond instead of listening to understand (Zecora's lesson), and that people become too blinded by their emotions to see situations logically (Maya's argument).

Incidentally, Maya's argument here was gone over in s6e22, "Pony Point of View." Which, depending on when this is set, AJ should, hopefully, remember. Though in fairness, when cider is on the line, all bets are off.
#4 · 1
· · >>Heavy_Mole
This is definitely one of my favorites this round. The message feels good for the length of a minific, and the high-level stylized narration is evocative and makes the world-building feel important. Overall, I really like the mood this one, which I think is the biggest success of the story.

Now, I do have to admit that it took me several re-reads to feel like I grasped what was going on. This is a story that demands fair bit of effort and attention from its reader, between the poetry-dialogue and the elusive, metaphor-laden ending.I have to say after my first read, I was more or less entirely convinced that I had missed the point of the story entirely. Upon re-reads, I've become fairly confident that I didn't actually miss that much at all on my first read, but that impression still lingered for some time.

I think this may have to do a little with the way you've structured the piece as a whole. We start with a high-level, slow-burn narrative that spans at least a year. Then we immediately dive into a heated argument, which kind of made me feel like this would be the climax or central conflict of the story, Then we leave this argument and enter into a slow, mysterious conversation that does not feel like it's the direct or natural consequence of the events of the prior two scenes.

This definitely bucks the typical structure of a short story, and while I think this was probably the right move, I did still get a bit of a hang-up at each scene transition. Maybe this would be something that a larger wordcount would fix—I'm not sure.

Anyways, I'm being really nitpicky and long-winded precisely because I like this piece so much and I really enjoy getting into how and why it ticks. Like I mentioned earlier, this is one of my favorite stories this round, and I'm scoring it highly on my slate.

Thank you for writing!
#5 · 2
Thanks for your input everyone. And thanks to GroaningGrey for the story art! Congrats, Rao.

I wanted to write a funny story where Zecora was somehow annoyed that everyone was speaking in rhyme, but I couldn't figure out how to make it work. So then I had the idea of incorporating the rhymes as a sort of magical real or symbolic element, and this is what came out.

I also didn't intend for it to be "poem-like". The rhyming by the cider cart is modeled after the way Zecora speaks in the show; the rhymes that occur between Maya and Zecora have a different mood. In part, I wanted Zecora to "rhyme", but not in the same way the ponies with "strange accents" were just doing.

The idea is: Zecora goes to a distant philosophical school which pushes the outer limits of reasoned argumentation, and comes home and sees a parallel in her neighbors who are having an argument over cider. Her pet frog makes the case for the futility of civilized order--the titular 'wreck'--using what she might have learned at the school. But she found something in the practice there, rather than the words themselves that might have been used there.