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And at the End, You Shall Remain Alone · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The maid was trembling. The tips of her ears shook in time with her pulse. She stared down at the floor and the mess there as though it were her life shattered into pieces, rather than a simple teacup.

“I’m so sorry, Princess.” Her voice came out as a choked squeak. She edged toward the door, her head so low her chin brushed on the tile. “I’ll turn my apron into the Housekeeper and have another maid sent to clean–”

“I don’t think there’s any need for that,” Celestia said. She put on her warmest smile for the young mare, who couldn’t have been more than 15, on the cusp between a filly and an adult and clumsy as all such growing creatures were. “If we released every maid who broke a teacup we’d have neither maids nor teacups left in this castle.”

It was not, technically speaking, just a teacup. It was a four-hundred-year-old antique, one of the last surviving creations of the master ceramist Nacre Glaze, a thing of fluted porcelain perfection rarely seen in the world today. But that was not what this terrified maid needed to hear.

Celestia found an enormous fluffy towel in the bath and brought it over. The laundry staff would have a fit – the bath towels, spun from the softest Zebrican cotton, were meant only for her perfect coat, not to clean up spills. But in Celestia’s experience towels never complained regardless of the use they were put too, and this one did just as well at soaking up tea as it did drying her mane.

The filly jolted at the sight. Something about the princess cleaning a mess by herself set off a rebellion in her heart, and she darted forward to snatch up the towel. She folded it and blotted with it and scooped up the broken teacup shards, and before Celestia could blink she was halfway to the door with the entire affair.

“Wait!” Celestia said, before the maid could make her escape. “What’s your name?”

She froze at the door. “Um, G-gold Leaf, if it pleases your highness.”

“Well, that’s a lovely name, Miss Leaf, and it’s your name regardless of whether or not it pleases me.” She crossed the distance between them and sat beside her. “Is this your first day here?”

Gold Leaf nodded. “Y-yes. I finished the training last week and I did so well the Housekeeper said I could serve you tea today and I was trying to be careful but the cup slipped and I splashed a bit of water on my hoof and that’s why I dropped it and now the Housekeeper will be furious and…” She ran out of breath, hiccuped, and started to shake again.

Celestia lowered her head to whisper. “We’ll make sure the Housekeeper never finds out then. Now, since it’s your first day here, would you like to watch me raise the sun?”

Would she? Gold Leaf’s expression was the answer. She stared up at Celestia, her eyes wide, her mouth falling open in a little ‘o’ of wonder. She stumbled alongside as Celestia walked to the balcony for the morning ritual.

Celestia smiled. This had all the makings of a good day.

It turned out to be an average day. After the emotional high of helping her maid through an emotional crisis, the business of running a nation attacked with a vengeance. She had barely finished breakfast when the chamberlain dragged her off to meet with her ministers and cabinet. Something about the budget, followed by an emergency council on water rights apportionments with the buffalo tribes, then an awards presentation to the winners of the annual Canterlot Science Fair. All before lunch.

As they always did, the meetings and appearances and events bled together. She’d done them all before and would do them again. For not the first time, Celestia wished Equestria had more princesses. Somepony to share the load.

By the time the sun set and Celestia was ensconced in her bath, she could barely remember the little accident with the teacup. But then the door opened and a gold-coated mare, barely more than a filly, appeared amidst the steam, a pile of towels upon her back.

Celestia floated one over and wrapped it around her mane. “Thank you, Gold Leaf.”

The maid froze. “I’m sorry, Princess?”

Ah. Celestia shook the foggy memories aside. “I’m sorry. Thank you, Golden Bough. You remind me of your mother, sometimes.”
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#1 · 2
This kind of snuck the themes of an immortal angst story in under the radar, yet I didn't detect an ounce of angst until the final section of this heartwarming little piece. Even now, it doesn't feel completely fair to call this an immortal angst story. More like the sweetness of age told from the perspective of a pony who has learned how to distinguish the important moments in her life from the many, many others.

Overall, I liked this story quite a bit. It was tender, and after reading the last sentence in context with the title, it became washed in a new tone of melancholy. No complaints here. Thank you for writing, and good luck!
#2 ·
... This is going on my top slate. I predict it’s going to be first.

If it’s not Raisin will eat my shoes.

Edit: For Matthew, he says the ending drags it down. On the contrary, I think the ending really lifted the piece for me. It exemplifies just how tiny a pony’s life is to a being like her.
#3 ·
Well, the title of this is certainly appropriate considering the subject matter. Obviously, it didn't end up ruining poor Gold Leaf's career.

While the others reacted to this very strongly, my reaction was honestly pretty muted - it is an idea I've seen before, and while it was overall competent, and I liked the descriptions in the first half, particularly the priceless teacup and overexpensive towel, I was not left feeling a whole lot by the end. Celestia's characterization was on point, but there wasn't much novelty here.
#4 ·
Hm, that title seems familiar... not sure where else I've seen it as a title, though.

Basically, the first half was great. The descriptions of the teacup and the towel were just enough to get us a deeper feel for Celestia's character, but not so much as to be boring. Gold Leaf was great. Celestia was absolutely on point. Just... everything here was great.

Then the second half, which ended up falling a little flat. Maybe it's just me not liking the sudden "immortal pony memory" thing in what would otherwise have been a wonderful character piece. The ending did kinda just spoil it for me.
#5 · 1
This was somethin' else. Most of its punch rests on the twist, 3/4ths of the way through, and it lands pretty effectively.

If I'm gonna criticize... I dunno, I'm not sure Gold Leaf is characterized especially strongly? Besides being a clumsy, terrified servant, I mean. She's effective for the purposes of the story, but she feels more like a vehicle for Celestia to express something about herself (her lack of pomp and pretention), rather than a unique character. More like an archetype, you feel me?

Which would explain why she mistakes her and her daughter so readily. :P

Nevertheless, I'm giving this a pretty high rating. It manages to say something unique about Celestia while grazing (but never indulging in) the old immortality blues cliche. Well done.
#6 ·
I already like both these characterizations, but you need to decide who the story's about. Especially in a story this short, jumping back and forth between perspectives is going to result in it feeling unfocused. You keep hopping back and forth between their viewpoints.

A few editing issues, but mostly clean.

I really like the twist at the end. It was a clever way of showing from Celestia's perspective how time flies for her.

I kind of want a little more from it, though. We never learn that much about Gold Leaf, and we learn absolutely nothing about Golden Bough. I'd like to be able to see the similarities myself instead of having to take Celestia's word for it. Now that I look back on it, I can't define either one's personality. Gold Leaf had first-day jitters, but I have no idea what her mannerisms or interests are, so I have even less chance to spot those same things in Golden Bough when she gets a couple of very ordinary actions and one line of dialogue.

One way to alleviate that might be to actually cut back on what we see of Gold Leaf. She gets a lot of screen time, only to remain so nebulously defined. If you make her appearance as brief as Golden Bough's, then they're both flashes in the pan, and coupled with the title, even more emphasizes how ephemeral they are to Celestia. Except that makes her seem very impassive toward them, which probably isn't the point you wanted to make. So I think developing them more is the better course, and you could have traded off some of the unimportant details of Gold Leaf dropping the cup in order to gain some space to delve into their characters a little more.
#7 · 1
“Um, G-gold Leaf, if it pleases your highness.”
I think it should be "G-Gold Leaf"

I liked this, a hiccup in perpetuity for one grand lady, a generational continuity for those of lesser life.