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True Colors · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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For The Moon, The Night
When the dark alicorn introduced herself to the Imperial Academy by making a rude hoof gesture at the entire class, Drying Paint knew it was love at first sight.

He leaned over to Cracked Pot while Professor Professor was shouting at the newcomers—the dark one defiantly glaring at nothing in particular, the white one cringing and waving at the class with an apologetic smile. "I want to ask her out," Paint whispered.

Both of Pot's eyebrows shot up. "You're crazy," he whispered back, the expression on his clay-colored muzzle dubious. "And that's me saying that."

Paint glanced down at his magical theory text, white cheeks flushing red, as the dark purple alicorn's withering gaze swept the room. "Probably," Paint whispered, and returned to staring as Professor Professor shouted something about detention and the dark newcomer whirled and stomped toward the door. "But I'm serious."

"She's out of your league—" Pot hissed, then abruptly shut up and flipped a page in his textbook as the professor turned back around. The white alicorn sighed, running her hoof through her vibrant pink mane, and trudged past them to sit down.

Pot's eyes followed her down the aisle. Paint's didn't. He stared at the classroom door and listened to the sounds of stomping recede down the hall, a vision lingering of muscles taut in dark hips as the alicorn bucked the door shut.

"For one," Pot said as they walked home through the Crystal Empire's gleaming streets, "maybe you somehow failed all day long to notice the wings and horn, but she's an alicorn. For two, maybe you also failed to notice the bearded stallion who walked them in, or how Professor Professor bowed to him as if it was Princess Amore coming into the room—"

"Star Swirl the Bearded, yes, I know," Paint said distantly. He'd been wondering all day why the Equestrian regent had brought the fillies all the way to the Crystal Empire. Probably wanted them to get some magical education in a place where they might fit in, he'd thought at first, but one glance around the gleaming gemstone hides of three-quarters of the class had immediately called that into question. Never mind the wings.

"Yeah," Pot said. "Out of your league." He snorted. "Not to mention that five minutes after she sat down, she was already whispering back and forth with the hoofball captain and giggling—"

Paint blinked. "Wait, what? She was in detention all day."

Pot paused, and then his eyebrows shot up even higher. "You want to ask out Luna?"

"What, you thought I meant Little Miss Popular? Give me some credit, CP."

Pot's mouth opened and closed repeatedly. "Okay. Sure, okay. So not only is she out of your league, but she's also a psycho juvenile delinquent. By the Heart, why?!"

A flush reddened Paint's cheeks. He thought back to the fire in her eyes as she flipped a frog to the class. Her iron self-assurance as the students' titters and the professor's shouts had washed over her. Her unbowed pride as she had stalked away. The unassailable strength he'd never had in the face of bullies.

(And the sway of her hinds. Oh, stars, those hinds.)

Paint swallowed and licked suddenly-dry lips. "You know what they say. 'When the heart speaks, the Empire listens.' So are you gonna help me, or not?"

Pot snorted. "They also say, 'It's called a crush because that's what happens when you free it from your heart's cage.' You don't need my help to get your heart flattened into paste."

His heart was a knot in his chest. His hooves were shaking. His head was swimming, and sweat was beading at his brow. Paint had known it was going to be bad, but not this bad.

Luna took a half-step forward, eyes locked to his like a snake's to a rabbit's. The sky-blue of her mane was smooth and silky, almost ethereal, yet had managed to impossibly bunch and mat where it pooled over her whipcord withers. One of her wings was still scuffed, feathers lopsided, from where she'd clocked a mouthy classmate with the elbow while Professor Professor's back was turned. Her Academy uniform still smelled faintly of starch and dye, and its fabric was rack-stiff, yet in less than 24 hours it had developed two different rips.

He'd scripted this. Rehearsed it dozens of times. The words were seared into his brain like a brand, and yet they refused to make the leap to his muzzle. Hello, Luna. My name is Drying Paint, in third-year with you. I'm sorry to bother you, but it looks like you haven't had a great introduction to the Academy yet, and I thought you might want someone to show you around…

She snorted, close enough that he could feel the warmth of her exhalation. Paint flinched, but held his ground. "Stop blocking the hall," she growled.

A deeper panic strangled the panic choking the life out of Paint, easing the pressure for a moment. I'm losing my chance! he thought, and frantically forced words through a numb muzzle: "H-h-hello, i-i, i-i'm—s-sorry to b-bother, ac-cademmhnh. Hhhh." He swallowed and tried again. "Th-thought y-you w-want, s-someone, a-around—"

Luna snorted again. Paint's throat locked up. She took another step forward, and with a casual shoulder-nudge sent him staggering sideways into the wall. He hit with a skull-rattling thump, air wheezing from his lungs, and as she stalked past him, some corner of his brain marveled at the restraint with which she must have applied her greater-than-earth-pony strength.

"Hah!" a jeering voice brayed from the far side of the hallway as Paint gasped for breath—and an entirely new panic flooded in. Gilt Edge—the Academy's cruelest bully.

"What have we here?" the fifth-year said as he strutted up to Paint, a cruel smile on his muzzle. "Was the loser making a move on the psycho—"

Without turning around, without even breaking stride. Luna's horn lit. Gilt's eyes widened as a blue field encircled him, and he yelped, hooves flailing, as he was wrenched from the floor. Off to one side, a refuse bin's lid shot off as if flicked by a dragon's claw, and Gilt sailed into the bin face-first with a wet squelch. The momentum of the impact sent him somersaulting down the hallway, garbage flinging everywhere.

It was all too much. Paint bolted.

Paint lay awake most of the night, thoughts whirling as he stared at the ceiling. (He was good at that, he mused bitterly.) His mind kept chasing its tail in smaller and smaller spirals, until finally he arrived at the center with a mute sort of resignation: Cracked Pot was right. She is out of my league.

It hurt, but it was a good sort of hurt. Instead of his heart leaping into his throat when he thought about the alicorn, there was just an achey sort of distance. And, he realized from that new calm remove, he owed her a thank-you for saving him from Gilt. It felt like it would be good closure to give that to her and then let her swing out into her distant, delinquent orbit.

When Paint shuffled out of first class after Luna the next morning, that eerie calm hadn't left him. He fell into pace beside her, ignoring her icy glare, feeling little more than an unsettled gut despite his lack of memorized words.

"Hey," Paint said.

Luna ignored him entirely.

"I… um." Despite his mind going blank, it was marvelous how much easier the words flowed when he wasn't terrified of getting it wrong. "Do you remember me from yesterday? We talked in the hall?"

At that, Luna snorted. "Yeah, I do," she said, with a touch of venom at the edge of her tone. "And if you think you can sweet-talk me into introducing you to my sister, throw yourself in the trash now and save me the trouble."

Paint recoiled, visions dancing in his head of Celestia breezily joking with the hoofball players and the noble colts and all the other cliques that made his day-to-day life so miserable. "What? Ew! Are you kidding?"

At that, Luna turned her head. The sharp doubt on her muzzle softened with one look at Paint's features, and curved into a brief… smile? No, smirk… before slowly resettling into a milder and more neutral distrust. "Hmmh," she grunted, refocusing on the hallway as they walked.

"I—I just…" Paint faltered as thoughts intruded: Why am I doing this? He steadied himself, banishing that voice to the back of his head, and pressed on: "Wanted to thank you for saving me from Gilt yesterday."

"Whatever," Luna said neutrally.

Paint rubbed the back of his head with a hoof, as if to massage out his doubts. "It was… um. Pretty awesome, actually. To see that. You were pretty awesome."

Luna said nothing. But for the first time since she'd arrived at the Imperial Academy, she smiled. Paint's heart leapt, and fluttered, and the adrenaline began to tickle at his throat again. She smiled. It was faint, and guarded, but unmistakeable.

Then it vanished like noonday dew, and her iron wall clamped back in.

"It's all anyone here deserves," Luna snarled. "Buck off."

Her tone lacked its earlier venom. Regardless, Paint did.

Another gust of icy night wind blasted Paint in the face, and he wrapped his cloak a little tighter around his shoulders. They'd crossed the official border of the Crystal Empire several minutes ago, and were trotting down an old stone road whose heat-enchantments were barely sufficient to keep the cobbles from getting buried under drifts of fresh snowfall.

"Alright, CP," Paint grumbled. "When are you going to tell me what this is about?"

Pot grinned knowingly. "Just a little farther, my friend, and all shall be revealed."

"… I can't feel my hooves. I'm going home."

Paint turned around into Pot's outstretched hoof.

"Whoah, hoss. You'll want to see this." Pot waggled his eyebrows. "I found out where your special somepony hangs out when she vanishes on the weekends."

Paint sighed. "Okay, first of all, she's not my special somepony."

Pot grinned and elbowed him in the chest. "Not with that attitude, she isn't."

"I mean, I gave up. You were right." Paint forced down his doubts, trying to ignore the weird little heart-flutter that was unfolding with the conversation. "She's out of my league. And anyway, I thought you said you weren't gonna help me."

"I wasn't. But I thought about it, and this is exactly the sort of crazy that's in my wheelhouse." Cracked Pot smirked. "At first I thought you were just doing something stupid, but then I realized that this is impossibly stupid, and you know how I feel about impossible." He swatted the cloak over his broken-Klein-bottle Mark. "I'm never gonna get a better chance to put my talent to work."

Drying Paint snorted. "Don't bother. Even if Luna didn't hate the entire universe, she hobnobs with Equestrian royalty, and my talent is being the most boring pony alive."

"One, that's not true. Your talent is patience, and tenacity—enduring everything, as long as you've got a goal to wait for—and I see a friend whose opportunity has just fallen into his saddlebags. And two, even if what you say were true, it just makes my job more interesting." Pot adjusted his cloak and started walking into the darkness again. "Now, come on. Let's figure out how to get you that date."

Paint sighed. This was madness. On the other hoof, it was his friend's special sort of madness, one he'd seen unfold into impossible beauty before. On the third hoof, he knew he had no chance at all with Luna… no matter what that smile might have meant. On the fourth hoof… if even friendship with the sullen young alicorn was such an impossibility, what did he have to lose when Pot's plan went wrong?

Might as well humor him, Paint thought. At least until he comes to his senses.

"Let's do it," he said.

Paint stopped dead in the doorway, unable to believe his eyes.

They had turned off the road at a small, nondescript stone building half-buried by snow. "THE LOVELESS," a faded sign read over the door, and when Pot knocked, they were quickly ushered in by a surly gryphon bundled up in several layers against the shack's unheated air. Then the doorgryph had pulled up on a trapdoor, and a blast of merely cool air had thawed them out, and they had stumbled down a dark staircase into a different world.

Black. So much black, like he'd walked into a yawning hungry light-eating chasm. Flickering blue-white magelights burned around the edges of the room, highlighting glaring-white skulls of a dozen different races hanging on the walls, casting shadows he could barely make out against the charcoal paint. There were glimpses of pastel here and there—ponies, even gem ponies—but they were all swaddled in clothes whose shades ran the range from onyx to ebony. Both the ponies and a smorgasbord of other races (all of whom dressed similarly) shuffled around the room or reclined in black pillows, murmuring to each other in low tones and drinking sickly tinted cocktails.

Paint adjusted his collar and shrank back into his deep-brown cloak, seeing the room's eerie light illuminate his leg like a shining white beacon, feeling hilariously out of place.

The room curled like a morbid croissant around a low stage at the far end. Two earth ponies, one shiny black… bug pony?… thing and one two-legged scaly dragonhorse thing stood on the stage playing instruments, and their music somehow managed to beat the decor in sheer creep factor. The bugpony had his jaws open, and from it, an ominous bass drone lurched around the scale in a way that would have given Paint's foalhood clavichord tutor a heart attack. One of the ponies scraped a bow across a fiddle's strings, drawing forth a chord that sounded like the caterwaul of dying beasts; the other was whacking his hooves to a set of drums to produce an irregular heartbeat-like rhythm. The dragon-thing, meanwhile, was speaking… singing?… in a sub-bass growling register that sounded more like an earthquake than any equinely possible noise, except that once in a while his muzzle would contort and he would enunciate something clearly enough for Paint to catch a word of Ancient Imperial.

"Drinks?" a quiet mare's voice said to Paint's side. He glanced over automatically, and nearly leapt out of his skin when his eyes met those of a hovering equine skull.

Infinite relief flooded his paralyzed body a moment later when the skull blinked. Paint realized that it was another one of those insect-ponies. The surface of her body was a dully gleaming dark chitin rather than the matte bristle of a pelt, and was nearly invisible against the room's dark background—except for her head, which she'd bleached a shocking, unnatural white which gleamed in the magelight like bone. She'd caked an additional layer of shadow-dark makeup around her eyes, ears, and lower jaw to complete the effect.

The bug-mare twitched an ear-membrane at him, eyes curious. Paint remembered to breathe.

"Y-you… um… you don't want our IDs?" he blurted out as his brain was unlocking.

The bug-mare laughed. "You trotted out of the Empire, miles into the wasteland, here, just to have us check your papers? You're crazier than most."

Paint's muzzle reddened. "No! I mean… um. We're just looking for a friend—"

Pot shouldered him, clearing his throat and speaking in an artificially deepened voice. "Two ice-wines, on the rocks." He gave the bug-mare a wink.

She stared at him silently for a few seconds, then shook her head and sighed. "Life's too short to make drink choices that bad, kid. I'll be back with some amasynth on the house. Drink it or don't."

"What was that about?" Paint whispered as the bug-mare meandered toward the discreet bar in one corner of the room.

"Don't blow our cover!" Pot hissed. "Don't tell anyone about Luna. Do you want her knowing you're here before you figure out how to make a good impression? This is reconnaissance—let's stay in the shadows while we watch."

"I'm pretty sure that's, um, anywhere," Paint whispered, head craning around. He froze at a flash of white from the dance floor in front of the stage, then nudged Pot and pointed with a tilt of his muzzle. "Wait. There she is."

And there she was—unmistakeably so. A lithe deep-purple alicorn, wings half-spread, was rocking back and forth amid a group of swaying ponies at the edge of the stage, staring reverently up at the band. Luna was one of the only figures in the room not wholly wreathed in black, using it instead as an accent to her already midnight-dark pelt. She had on a saddle and peytral of black leather (leather!), with her mane and feathertips all dyed to match—the latter of which revealed hypnotic patterns of color and shadow as her wings swayed back and forth. She was wearing leggings that looked as if she'd murdered a fishing net dipped in octopus-ink, but somehow the diamond pattern just accented the sway of her hips and the muscles of her hinds and the pale glow of her moon Mark. She turned her head for a moment to talk to one of her fellow dancers, and Paint saw that she'd thickly outlined her eyes in black mascara, with streaks underneath that made it look as if she was weeping.

But, for only the second time since she'd walked into Paint's life, she was smiling.

A prod at his side from the bug-pony broke him out of his reverie, and Paint blinked what he belatedly realized was several minutes of dancing out of his eyes. "Where'd your friend go, kid?" the bug-pony said.

"I… um?" Paint glanced around, searching his memory. Ah: Pot had sidled off while saying something about scoping out the place and telling him not to go anywhere. "Around. Sorry. He's no trouble, I promise."

A glowing slime-green aura hovered an equally slime-green mouthful of thin liquid in a scratched shotglass over to Paint. "I'm not worried—if he was looking to start trouble, I'd have known it when he walked in. Here's a half-shot of amasynth—see what you think; the average pony finds it an acquired taste." The bug-pony smiled. "Not what you expected when he dragged you out here, hm?"

"No, ma'am," Paint said, taking the glass in his own field and giving it a sniff. His nose crinkled. It was a touch sweet, along with a sharper undertone he guessed was alcohol, but mostly smelled of something approaching liquorice.

"None of that, kid. I'm not your professor. I'm Loveless." Her muzzle curled back, exposing gleaming fangs in a gesture that Paint expected to find more threatening than he actually did. "Or Loveless, to my friends."

"… Drying Paint."

"Hm." Loveless looked up and down his body in a way that made Paint feel uncomfortably like a jewel under a loupe, then nodded. "You are a sweet little thing, aren't you? Welcome to my club."

Paint nodded and experimentally sipped, and the drink floated down his throat, leaving a gentle tingling heat along the way. "Hmh," he said, and gulped the rest down. "That's really good."

"See what you think in a few minutes when it really kicks in."

Paint stared into Loveless' eyes, sudden unease gnawing at his gut, but there was no malice in her gaze. "So," he said, trying to shed his discomfort, "what's with this place?"

"It's the home of the lost. The misunderstood." Loveless settled in on some cushions alongside Paint, and before he quite knew it he was sitting down alongside her. She casually draped a chitinous leg around his withers, and it was at once wholly comfortable and disturbingly devoid of the warmth of equine skin. "In this age, with peace between the Tribes, most ponies live in the light and think that's all there is to life. But we know that's an illusion. The individuals who come here realize life is about stumbling through the shadows, and embracing that lets us fully savor the brief and bittersweet joys when they come."

Paint bit his lip. "That's. Um."


"… Yes."

Loveless chuckled drily. "And?" But her amusement receded at the look flitting across Paint's muzzle, and her tone softened. "Listen, sweet-thing… my club is about casting off your shackles to embrace everything about who you really are, the light and the dark alike. To have the freedom to remake yourself, and seize what you need to survive in the shadows. The average pony finds that horrifying, and I don't blame them. If that's how you feel, listen to the music until your friend comes back, and you two can leave and forget we exist, and I wish you both a long and happy life. But if you want someone to walk with you into the darkness—" her hoof swept around the room—"this is where you'll find them."

Paint's eyes strayed back to where Luna was swaying along with the music.

He felt Loveless shift beside him, and saw her work her jaw out of the corner of his eye. She lifted a long, smooth leg to the corner of her mouth, dabbing something away with a black handkerchief.

"You love her," Loveless said.

"I guess," Paint said, lowering his eyes to his hooves.

Abruptly, Loveless stood. "That wasn't a question, sweet-thing." She snatched the empty shotglass back from Paint, made a noise deep in her throat, and spat a mouthful of thin slime-green saliva into it. Paint blinked several times, then felt his own bile rise as it clicked. He scrambled back frantically, hinds slamming into the wall behind him.

Loveless whirled to face him, and he froze. Her eyes pinned him like a spear as she leaned in muzzle-to-muzzle, close enough for him to taste the liquorice on her breath.

"Calm, sweet-thing, and mark my words," she whispered, and his heart hammered to the erratic rhythm of the drummer, and the droning of the bug-singer itched and squirmed in the deep darkness of his brain. "You are in possession of a love innocent and intense and entire. It is not a thing to be squandered or sampled or diluted, and I will not sully it, nor you, by savoring it in any less than its full glory, all at once. And so you shall not see me when next you return here, nor any of my daughters, nor shall we feed upon you in the world of snows. This I swear upon the shadows of the heartless throne." She pressed a hard hoof to Paint's chest, squeezing his lungs in and focusing his entire attention on the way her gleaming fangs shaped her words. "But should you ever decide to be rid of that love… speak my name three times, and I shall be released from my oath, and your burden shall be lifted, wholly and irrevocably."

Paint stared helplessly into Loveless' eyes. His blood pulsed in his ears. The stage-dragon growled. The skulls on the wall leered at him. The dying fiddle wails mingled with the laughter and murmurs of the crowd.

Then Loveless kissed him on the nose, and the room swam, and

—the next thing he knew, he was stumbling down a dark and icy stone road, leaning heavily on Cracked Pot's shoulder, his heart still beating to the song of the shadows.

"What do you mean, you want to go back?" Pot shouted over the howl of the midnight snowstorm.

"That's where I can do it," Paint heard himself shout back, and a thrill rippled through his blood. "Embrace myself. Impress her with me."

Part of him wondered who in Tartarus this pony was who spoke through his lips. Another part knew, with glorious certainty, that it was simply the Paint who always should have been.

"No," Pot shouted. "I do crazy, not stupid. We've had this talk. Now that we've figured out more about her, we'll find a way to impress her at the Academy."

"It won't work," Paint said with softer certainty. "She doesn't live there." The image of Luna's smiling muzzle under mascara-streaked cheeks ghosted behind his eyelids.

"… I don't understand."

"I do," Paint said. "I understand her now, CP." The way his pulse quickened at the thought of returning to the club she frequented—the excitement he vibrated with at the thought of meeting her there—was proof enough of that. "Look, it's simple. I want to make her happy, and she's never smiled anywhere else."

Pot looked dubious, then shook his head. "If you say so."

"I do."

"But I can't—" Pot winced as the wind screamed and nearly took the cloaks from their shoulders—"can't go back there with you. That place is wrong, Paint."

The wind vanished mid-step as they stepped through the barrier of the Crystal Empire. Pot staggered several steps before catching his balance. Paint squinted against the soft glow of the streetlights, lifting a leg to shield his eyes while they readjusted.

"No," he said, his ears still ringing with the storm outside. "Just different."

Luna shuffled through the scrolls she'd brought with her to The Loveless, trying to restrain her fidgeting as she waited her turn. In the world's most ridiculous irony, Sun-days were now her favorite night of the week—partially because her stupid older sister was always too busy to keep track of her, but mostly because it was Open Stage Night at the club, and some of the regulars had even complimented her a time or two on her poetry.

There was a smattering of tepid hoofbeats and claw-snaps as the Diamond Dog before her finished the mournful, howling ballad celebrating some stupid lover lost in some meaningless war or something. Luna tried not to judge. Everyone had their own darkness; that was this place's point. But, well, some darknesses were pettier than others.

The Diamond Dog spread her arms, soaking up the last of the applause, and then loped off the stage. Luna smiled—some butterflies making an exploratory journey through her innards—and selected one of the scrolls almost at random. The club quieted as she stepped onto the comparatively harsh glow of center stage and cleared her throat.

"They say we be sisters," she read, in the Equestrian-accented Old Imperial she'd had drilled into her head with numbing hours of Classics. When your heart carried silent burdens you couldn't speak, nothing freed your tongue quite like using a dead language which only lurked in the shadows of academia.

Then she took a breath to steady herself, and her face contorted:

"They say we be sisters.
Bonded by blood,
The thickest chain."

(She narrowed her eyes, pointing out accusingly into the darkness of the audience, her face a feral snarl.)

"Whose blood?"

"Whose blood?" (She'd only written the line once, but she repeated it for emphasis.)

Luna stamped her hoof, then jabbed it into her chest, wings flaring out.

"Mine own," she growled, and her voice dropped to a whisper.

"Thou think'st thy friends cut me not,
With their whispers and false smiles?
But when you drag me to their parties—" (She nearly spat the word.)

"Whose blood is the chain that binds me to thee?
[i]Thine,[i] sister?
I say thee NAY!"

She let the sudden scream echo around the silent room for a moment.

"Thou wilt never, in a thousand years,
Feel the life leak from thee,
To bind thee to the sister thou loves—
If even thou lovest me
In the way I love thee,
To bleed for thee, and bleed, and bleed."

Luna swung her head from one end of the room to the other, staring out into the scattered figures huddled in the embracing darkness.

"And I hope," she finished in a barely audible whisper, "thou never wilt."

There was polite, scattered applause. Luna basked in the few stamps and snaps. Sure, they might have been tepid by some objective measure (some annoying part of her brain said mockingly), but more importantly, it meant she'd been heard, and that was enough to soften the ache.

She relinquished the stage—already thinking about which poem she'd read next time her turn came around—and a young stallion, with jet-black legs under a nondescript off-black cloak, stood up from the pillows a few rows behind hers . Huh, she thought as he stepped past her. He looks kind of familiar. But I know I'd remember if I'd seen him before—that's an awfully distinctive coat color for the North.

The pony leapt up onto the stage, deliberated for a moment, then grabbed his cloak in his teeth and jerked it off with a single motion, sending it fluttering to one side of the stage. He was a unicorn, maybe Luna's age, with a body on the thin side (maybe cute in a coltish sort of way, she decided)—and he'd just doubled down on the black thing. His pelt was barely distinguishable from the charcoal-black leg-wraps and shirt that clung to his form. On top of those was a black leather chestplate and pastern-guards that, judging from their stiffness, had probably started the morning at a gryphon armorer's. The only hint of color anywhere in the silhouette of his form was his piercing red eyes.

(She made a mental note to suggest metal accents to him if they talked—his aesthetic seemed to be dull, giant swaths of a single color, and while virtually anything would work to break that up, iron might enhance the quasi-martial look he wasn't quite pulling off. And maybe an accessory to match the eyes? Yes, more red, for certain.)

The colt drew in a breath, legs trembling a bit. He looked down at him, then in her direction, and their eyes met for a moment. Then he closed his eyes and breathed out, and his posture straightened.

"There is a love in my heart," he said, projecting his voice in a firm and artificially deep tone like the professors kept trying to teach her to do in the Academy's ritual magic classes. His eyes swept over the audience, and his gaze fixed on Luna for another lingering moment before he returned his stare to the empty wall at the back of the room.

"A love in my heart," (he repeated,)
"Innocent and intense and entire,
A love that drives me
Through storms and fear,
And I don't know why."

An odd flutter squeezed at Luna's heart. He understands! she thought wildly, and straightened up, her full attention on the stage.

Then Luna realized he had no notes, and her breath caught. Is he composing this on the fly?!

"She doesn't know," (the colt said,)
"What I've done
For her and her alone.
How can I make her understand
What burns in my heart,
What binds us together?"

Luna listened, rapt, an old and familiar ache flaring to life and burning for once with somepony else's flame.

"So I turn to the shadows.
This is my sacrifice,
To walk this dark road.
To endure any change, any truth,
For the sake of my love.
And thereby set things right."

Luna whooped, stomping enthusiastically—not caring a whit for the glares the other clubbers gave her as they went through the formality of their own applause—as the colt began backing off the stage. She circled around toward the mysterious colt, wingtips quivering, and zeroed in on him as he took a moment for himself after the performance.

"That was amazing!" Luna whispered, doing a very un-dark-and-gloomy hooftip dance. "That really spoke to me!" The colt visibly started, and some part of Luna noted that he'd been staring blankly at the wall, legs trembling, breath coming in shallow gasps. Stage fright hits all of us, I guess.

The colt stared at her, frozen, and some sensible inner voice told Luna to tune it down. She coughed into her hoof, refolded her wings, and put the mask back on—the detached, worldly persona she had immediately come to admire about everyone in The Loveless. "But I'm sure you figured that out from my own poem," she said. "I haven't seen you around before, though."

"U-unh, n-no," the colt said, and Luna embarrassedly took that as her cue to dial it back even more. Enthusiasm was one of the few sins of the shadows, and hers had been a doozy.

She drew in a deep breath, stood a little straighter, and self-consciously ran a hoof through the mane she had blackened with an alteration spell (even with alicorn levels of magic, it took constant vigilance to keep the effect going). "They call me Queen Nightmare here," she said detachedly. "And you are?"

"P-pain—" he stammered, then froze, mouth snapping shut.

Luna wasn't quite sure what to make of that. "Pardon?" she said neutrally.

The colt's eyes darted around for a moment, then settled on his hooves. He took a long breath, closing his eyes—and then, when he opened them back up again, he stood a little straighter, brushing a wrinkle out of his black shirt.

"Pain," he said, slipping back into his deep stage voice (which, Luna realized, got her heart fluttering anew). "There is pain in names, is there not? History. Within this place, we cast off the shackles of history to embrace who we really are. We are freed to remake ourselves, that we may seize what we need to survive in the shadows."

Luna suppressed an inner squeal, nodding thoughtfully. He was not only on her wavelength, he was so profound.

"And so if we are to share names," the colt intoned, "let mine be…" There was a moment of what Luna thought might have been hesitation, but decided was more like a pause for emphasis. "Let it come from the shadows in which we find solace. Sombra. Sombra Darkshade."

Luna felt the moment entirely overcome her. "Sombra," she said, rolling the flavor of the name on her tongue, and then lunged in and clamped her lips to his.

"Mmmf!" he snorted, staggering back as her weight pressed him to the wall, and for a terrifying moment she wondered if she'd gone too far. Then he inhaled through his nose, hooves fumbling for her barrel as his breathing restarted, and soon they'd sank to the floor and their tongues were wrestling with the same urgency as their bodies.

(Right up until the doorgryph roughly kicked them, and motioned toward the stairs with a scowl.)

The ink wouldn't wash out.

Paint, crouched over the sink, stared at his legs with slowly growing horror. Sure, he'd asked that seedy old pegasus for something that wouldn't bleed out of his pelt while he was making his move at the club, but he hadn't expected it to be permanent. And yet, four different soaps and two bleaches and three hours of scrubbing later, his once-white coat refused to lighten beyond a deep muddy grey. And classes were about to start.

He took a breath. Slowly lowered the shampoo he had been about to retry. Looked at the pony in his mirror. Really looked.

Grey, he thought. Caught between darkness and light.

He stared into the red of his eyes, his mind replaying the shadows and secrets he and Luna had shared.

"Well," he said, lowering his voice into the stage intonation that had helped liberate his tongue, "I did want a change."

He shouldered his saddlebags, quickly brushed his still-black mane (none of that dye had lightened), and stared back into the mirror again. "Sombra," he said experimentally, then rolled it the same way Luna had. "Sombra."

Paint smirked, then wheeled around and trotted to school, darkened head held high.

The whispers started when he walked into class. Professor Professor, eyebrows raised, watched in silence as Paint took his seat. Paint casually set his textbook down, handed his homework in, and began taking notes from the blackboard as if nothing had changed. The professor opened his mouth, thought about it for a moment, then shook his head and began his lecture.

Paint ignored the whispers and the giggles and the stares. He was above that, now. He did allow himself two glances over the course of the class: one to Pot (who nodded back with a shocked sort of respect), and one to Luna (who was staring at him when he glanced her way, but quickly averted her eyes with an inscrutable expression).

It felt so strange seeing Luna in purples and blues. Like she was naked, kind of. But more that it was like looking at her with her skin stripped away.

Paint was entirely unsurprised when a mocking voice carried down the hall in between classes. "Well, [i]well,[i]" Gilt Edge purred, backed up by a wave of snickers rippling through the hallway. "Look who decided to go for that promotion from loser to freak."

Paint slowed to a stop. Carefully closed the textbook in his hoof and stowed it in his saddlebag.

He heard hoofsteps close in behind him, and a note of menace shaded into the bully's voice. "You think that makes you too good to talk to your old friend Gilt, huh?"

Paint closed his eyes for a moment.

[i]Sombra[i] slowly turned around.

"Well, you—" Gilt started, breaking off as their eyes met.

Sombra lit his horn without a word. A nearby rubbish bin rattled. Then its lid shot off as if flicked by a dragon's claw, spanging off the ceiling and flipping crazily between them before noisily settling to a halt a few body-lengths away.

The hallway went dead silent.

Sombra took a single step forward. Lit his horn. Smiled.

Gilt Edge—and half the crowd—yelped and bolted.

Luna was waiting outside the door to second class when Paint walked up. She was leaning against the wall, one wing half-lifted to brace herself at a comfortable angle, casually inspecting the frog of one forehoof. Without so much as looking in Paint's direction, she nodded at him, gave him a little jerk of her head, and started walking down the hallway. Without so much as breaking stride, Paint swerved away from the classroom and followed her.

The two of them walked side-by-side to the building exit, and then Paint followed a still-silent Luna to the edge of the school grounds, feeling the tension gradually thicken. She squirmed through a hole in the fence around the hoofball field, trotted into the shadow of the bleachers, and hopped up onto the squat stone structure of a campus leystation, settling in on her stomach with her forehooves dangling over the edge.

Paint hoisted himself up, grunting a bit, and settled in alongside her, a respectable few hoofwidths away. Despite his new facade, his heart was beginning to hammer in his chest, and he felt heat rise to his muzzle as the memories of the previous night began to surge anew.

"Hey, you," Luna finally said, eyes fixed on the ground.

"… Hey," Paint said, emotions swirling in a muddled mess.

Her eyes didn't move. "I thought you looked familiar."

Paint chewed his lip for a moment, considering.

"I'm not the stammering colt you met a few weeks ago," he said carefully. "This doesn't change anything."

"It doesn't," Luna agreed, and Paint was opening his mouth to reply when she added: "But I was hoping I wouldn't see you again."

Paint's heart squeezed into a little ball, and kept squeezing.

"W-what?" he managed.

Luna sighed heavily. "Celestia was waiting for me when I went home last night," she said, and for the first time since Paint had met her, the unquenchable fire in her voice was out. "We had a long talk. A really long talk. And I've been wrong about everything."

Paint stared, feeling a floaty numbness spread out from his chest.

"We came north in the first place because… well, I never took to being groomed for nobility the way Celestia did. I'd developed a reputation at nearly every school in Everfree. Behind my back, Celestia begged the Everfree Council to send us out to the edge of pony lands—where everypony treated us as curiosities rather than princesses-to-be, and we had the room to just be ourselves. I… never quite got let in on that plan. And when I saw all our new freedom and interpreted it as Celestia pushing me away except for when she wanted to drag me to her things, I got… well. Even more bitter. About-to-do-something-I'd-regret bitter."

"B-but last night," Paint said helplessly.

Luna touched his shoulder and gave him a pained smile. "Was pretty fun. But Celestia finally realized that I was even more miserable here than I'd been in Everfree—and as much of a butt as she usually is, once she actually realizes I'm hurting, she moves the heavens to fix it. So she got Star Swirl to agree to tutor us personally for a while, and entirely aside from hearing Celestia apologize, that's a dream come true for me." Luna's voice softened. "I figured it would be easier if we just vanished—then you could have some good memories, and wouldn't blame yourself for my departure. Sorry it didn't work out that way. And thank you for being one of the things which made the Empire almost tolerable."

"One" of the things, Paint's mind echoed mockingly. "Almost" tolerable.

"But the club!" Paint said, desperately retreating for solid ground which didn't exist. "Your poem! I heard that emotion! That was real!"

"It was… at the time," Luna said. "But I was wrong about the mare I loved. The mare I'd do anything for. You should understand that better than anypony." She smiled gently. "After all, you've got a sister you love too."

All Paint could muster to that was a deflated kind of squeak.

Luna, apparently oblivious, leaned in to give him a gentle kiss on the nose, then stood up and hopped down to the ground. "Dream well, Sombra," she said as she trotted away. "Hope to see you around sometime, if I ever visit the Empire again."

Paint stood. Reached out toward the mocking sway of her retreating hips. Opened his mouth. But there was nothing to say.

His vision began to blur as the alicorn disappeared in the distance. His legs began to tremble—and not, he slowly realized, with fear. The love that had once gripped his heart whenever Luna walked by was hard and cold now, rattling around in a giant gaping cavity in his chest. And, worse, he could feel it growing spikes, leaving little stabbing pains every time he moved in his ribs and lungs and gut.

"One" of the things. "Almost" tolerable.

"Loveless," Paint hissed through clenched teeth, feeling the first tears cascade down his cheeks. "Loveless. Loveless."

And around him, the whispering shadows gathered.

« Prev   12   Next »
#1 · 1
I did get an inkling of what was happening early on, but I loved the surprise.
It didn't end exactly how I expected, but the ending was a great twist. I definitely was not expecting that to be the cause.

Since I haven't read any other stories yet, this one tops and bottoms my slate, though more tops than bottoms.
#2 ·
*screams of delight*

Well, I can think of no possible way for this to be better. Amazing job, author, simply amazing.
#3 · 1
I saw it coming since Paint left the bar for the first time. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy how it build up to his reinvention, though. I liked it a lot.

This was quite a fun, although I wish we could've seen a bit more of the reactions to Paint's change and the effect this had on his downfall. Nevertheless, this was a solid piece which can only improve with further work.
#4 · 1
You really, really should not use super similar names, especially names that can be merged into a portmanteau themselves. Paint and Pot were hella hard to keep apart at the beginning. Distinct sounds are important.

I will say that I actually did not like this twist. This kinda reduces to Sombra to the most pathetic sort of villain. I'm all for petulant and petty origins for villains, but there are really fine lines in cases where it works and where it is just kinda... laughable, if that makes sense? Not to say that these aren't real emotions and that people don't have these sort of strong reactions, but he ends up looking a lot like a doof, and retroactively pretty pathetic. Basically, unlike someone like... I dunno, Persona 4's Culprit, who ends up evil for sort of similar reason but is charming because he's style of evil is a fittingly petty and pathetic sort, this really strong contrast between an honestly sorta goofy starting point and the end point just make him a loser of the grandest sort.

Crack Pot seems to oscillate randomly to advance or unadvance plot as needed. I don't really have a good feel for what he's actually like.

Beyond that, I was actually kinda onboard for the weird gothic romance I thought this was gonna be. I was on the fence, but you laid it on just hard enough to get it to be appealing and even have me a bit rooting for Paint and GothLuna. The idea of Loveless' place was super cool and you do some great tone setting there. I just didn't end up liking what you did with it in the end.

EDIT: Also, I need characters to fixate on something not pony butts. So much pony butts lately. <<

EDIT 2: Also, just cut the parentheses and go pure free indirect speech. You're basically doing it anyway, and parentheses look weird in most narrative.

On a related note, lead section with POV character. Theoretically if you're doing one POV it is fine, but your second section takes a second to adjust to because we don't know you are doing (mostly) one perspective.

On a related, related note, I think you're better off sticking to the one perspective. Given where this story ultimately goes, I don't think you actually gain much from the Luna perspective that would not be better served from seeing it in the Paint perspective since this ends up being almost entirely about how he feels, changes, and reacts, especially given otherwise this is 100% his perspective.
#5 · 1
Mixed feelings about this one.

Until the resolution, I thought the story was clearling mocking its characters, being moody teenagers, painting themselves in black because they are "dark, and you can't understand the unsufferable pain I'm enduring everyday and that we call life."

But then, the resolution kicks in and I feel like the story was supposed to be serious. The mixed tones kinda clash with one another, and I don't really how to quickly solve it.

As it is, the story is still engaging. Sombra's origin story is interesting enough. Thank you for writing.
#6 · 3
Genre: Goth Rock

Thoughts: I feel both extremes with this one. Let's start with the good, which was mighty fine indeed:

I really, really loved the first half or so... basically everything up to the point where Homeboy blacks out and wakes up with his buddy dragging him home. And a lot of the reason is how it builds to the encounter with Loveless. The Loveless character is brilliant, creative, menacing, seductive... utterly perfect, and deserving of more screen time in some other fanfic somewhere. Seriously, that's the kind of character who could support her own series or something. I adore the worldbuilding around Loveless and her bar and the various races that go there. I thought it was a great and natural progression for Crackpot to think of dragging Homeboy there, too, as it gave us a really clear view of who these two guys are and what they're willing to do either for each other or for their goals. TBH their names hadn't seemed all that compelling up to that point, but in that scene we saw a great set of reasons why they should be what they are.

The second half didn't move me nearly as much. I almost felt like Homeboy became a different character after his blackout. Now I get it that he changes, and that's a key moment in his arc where he's supposed to change, but I didn't feel like the story gave me any kind of transition through his change--he just suddenly was Homeboy The Red-And-Black Destroyer Of Worlds, where a few paragraphs before he was an underage kid scamming drinks and getting in waaaay over his head. That feeling of sudden change was reinforced by Crackpot's absence from the second half as well (granted, he might appear once or something, but his presence doesn't really feel like it matters from that point on). Then, honestly, I felt even further disconnected by the jump out of his perspective and into Luna's. It's not that it wasn't well written; it's just that I felt like it reversed the dynamic of us following Homeboy's growth as he learns about Luna (which, granted, may have been the very thing that the Author was going for at that point).

I guess what I'm saying is that the story starts out with an exploration of some OCs interacting with some canon characters, and it's just when the OCs are starting to come into their own as fully-fleshed characters that the rug gets pulled out from under them. I feel like this is loaded with potential for further development of those characters, but right now I don't feel like this coheres into a strong set of character arcs as it stands.

Seriously though, Loveless is one of the coolest things I've yet seen in the fandom. We need more Loveless, people!

Tier: Keep Developing
#7 · 1
I feel like there's a lot of meta in this story; I read it as being heavy on meta-commentary. Can't help but feel like "Drying Paint" is a criticism of Sombra's staying power as a villain. And Luna's goth-bitch persona, which I think is (or was, at least) a common fanon portrayal of her, being entirely affected, feels like commentary on the way the character's frequently handled in fanfic. So, I enjoy it on that level. And I enjoy it as a straight-up teen romance, too.

You lose me towards the end, though. The plot of this story was Drying Paint trying to win the affections of Luna; he gets them, for like, the end of a single scene, but neither they, nor we, the readers, get time to savor it. Whatever secrets they exchanged, and whatever they did together, goes completely undepicted and implied.

Now, I'm not necessarily complaining that we didn't get a scene of bony, gangly, sweaty, awkward, adolescent, heavy-pony-petting. But the payoff to this multi-thousand word love quest is a moment of tongue-kissing on the floor of a goth club, and an awkward morning-after conversation where Luna dumps him and sets up his villain arc for the show proper. And that's just insufficient, to me, from a narrative standpoint.

On that note, Luna's explanation at the end of the story seems... suspect. So, okay, I can buy that her goth-bitch persona is an affectation, but if her issues with Celestia were so easy to work out that a simple heart-to-heart was enough to unravel them, then one wonders why Nightmare Moon ever came to pass in the first place. Once again, it's an essential character moment that goes undepicted, one which solves her personal conflict offscreen, and winds up torpedoing the resolution to the love story that drove the plot in the first 3/4s or so of the story.

And I'm like, if it's that important... why didn't we see it happen? Especially in light of the perspective shift to Luna toward the end of the story. We should have remained squarely in Sombra's perspective for the entirety of the story; I think that would have justified keeping Luna's thing with her sister away from the reader's attention.

IMO, anyway.
#8 ·
This was a lot of fun to read, but it felt kinda... whiplashy to me?

Some of that was maybe conservation of detail stuff; when Paint and Pot are introduced in the same line as Professor (which is a great name by the way) I for some reason figured they were all teachers, especially since the introduction is to 'the Academy' not to a class.

Then I missed Gilt's name, because it was hanging out at the end of a paragraph, and wondered if you'd misspelled 'guilt'.

Then he addressed Loveless as 'ma'am', when I didn't see any clues as to why, and I wondered what that was about.

But even besides that... A lot of the shifts in here came really suddenly. Alright, the crush you can get away with. But things like Loveless going from being just a server to being someone wise and powerful, how he buys into this subculture so fast, the way he acts with his new facade, how Luna just goes home; I was originally also convinced that this was a caricature, set up to mock angsty teens, because the whole thing just felt kinda... farcial to me. The story is constructed like a comical lovestory kinda sorta, and then it just swerves into basically tragedy at the end.

I dunno. And what's even the point of Pot? Does he just drop his scheme? Did he help with the paint? Or did he just drop the whole thing after finding the club? Is he just a plot device in the end?

That being said, there is a lot to like here. Your characters are endearing, and the scenes are clearly described. Despite feeling like the pacing is a bit odd, I was never lost or confused as to what's going on. The ideas here are interesting and original. There's a lot of good stuff here! I just didn't quite clinch it for me, for some reason.
#9 · 2
Dear god I love this so much.

The story came in like a bull with his nuts in a vice. It crashed into me with energy, style, and pizzazz. I instantly got a picture of each of the characters, even if they turned out somewhat different then I expected I didn't have to think about it, and their reactions felt real too! It did dial back the energy after the first scene and more towards the end but it still kept up a good clip. I will say that the Loveless scene screamed of Chekhov's Gun, and I was kinda curious how you were gonna make that work, but the payoff was so good that I 'aint even mad!

I kept trying to figure out if this was an AU or not, right up until the Sombra reveal, and you played it so straight that it didn't even feel like a twist. I loved it. I will say that his personality shift was sudden (possibly an effect of the dye?) but excusable. Luna's shift was a little more jarring, although I'm not sure how you could have handled it any better.

Finally, seeing him with the new outlook on life and then being entirely loveless it totally makes sense to me the events that follow the story.

Honestly, I feel like Luna after his poem. Bravo.
#10 · 2
Fuck me sideways, what a surprise I didn't even see coming a little bit. But, I loved the blindside. Coupled with Luna being oblivious as to Paint's intentions, there's a recipe for good-bad feelings. Not only that, you tied in the Changelings to the older lore, which is a really neat trick. Seeing some pre-Thorax (by millennia) Changelings getting along fairly well with normal creatures was also a pleasant touch.
#11 · 2
My only problem here:

Is structural. Right now, this is a story about Paint's reaction to Luna, how he misinterprets everything, and how it goes horribly wrong for the entire world. But that one scene from Luna's POV hits me as a massive sidetrack, flinging the whole story off center and quite literally wrenching us out of Paint's head right when we should be most firmly attached to him.

It's a gorgeous scene, though, so I'd suggest changing the story's aim to make it be about both Paint and Luna: put in a couple more scenes from Luna's POV. I'd even go so far as to suggest that you make those scenes from Luna's POV show us her real feelings long before Paint learns them so we can get a "dramatic irony" thing going on. We the readers will know more about the situation than the characters do, so we can get that gut clench as we watch Paint misinterpreting things. I think that'll make it even more of a two by four to the head when he introduces himself to Luna as Sombra: we'll think, "Oh, she's just gonna shoot him down 'cause he doesn't know what's really going on with her," but the reality of who he becomes because of all this is so much more wrenching than that...

Anyway, another good story!

#12 · 2
Personally, it’s always hard for me to write stories that involve a different origin for a character than what’s already established (unless said canon origin is terrible, of course). Even though I know a lot of people don’t follow the IDW canon much, the Sombra origin is one of my favorite issues in the series. It showed the tragedy in his creation and showed just how messed up we can become through our life circumstances that we can’t control. In that way, this story had to really work to make me accept its portrayals of the characters.

But the thing is…it did work (for the most part).

One of the reasons why is that it doesn’t even make it a Sombra story until the very end. For most of the story, Drying Paint is the hero, and it’s only toward the end that we get a taste of the evil to come. It’s a clever misdirection, and it definitely worked at making me care about these characters more than I would have in a straight Sombra story. Luna was similarly a lot of fun to watch, being the epitome of every edgy teenager ever. But there’s enough of a softness to her that I enjoyed watching her act out without getting too annoyed. I also enjoyed the setting of the Loveless, which embodied those places that seem to be filled with people that don’t have a lot of goodness in their lives. It definitely seems like a place where your life can change in dark ways.

There were a few peeves I had with the story, however. For one, I don’t really buy Luna suddenly being A-O.K. with Celestia after one talk. If she had that much disdain for her, I think it would take more than a few days to get over those feelings. On top of that, she’s still going to become Nightmare Moon, so the story acting like the hostility is gone forever takes a bit too much artistic license for my taste, and makes Sombra’s creation feel a bit too contrived. Drying Paint also seems a bit too bland for my taste. I get he’s supposed to be an average joe, but even average people have character traits. Frankly, I felt Pot had more characterization, being a snarky smart-aleck who had some drive to help his friend. Finally, the stuff about the fur and mane dye being permanent just felt a bit too goofy. A story that was fairly grounded suddenly having a wacky dye emergency wasn’t comic relief, it was a distraction. Besides, if he’s gaining dark powers at the end from Changelings, couldn’t he just simply have gotten a color change from their magic?

In the end, though, this was an interesting experiment in characterization. This isn’t quite as good as the IDW comic, but it did enough of its own thing to satisfy me. A strong story that just needs a few touch-ups in some places.
#13 · 1
Hee hee. I saw the twist coming... as soon as I read that this story had a twist. Nevertheless, it still put a grin on my face.

Also, Luna geeking out over slam poetry? I'm all in.

The ending—the last line in particular—doesn't sit well with me. It seems like too much of a tone shift away from the rest of the fic.
#14 · 1
· · >>Baal Bunny
Hmm, okay, yes, Familiar in first place, not surprised. Weather Week a medalist, naturally. And also —


How did this medal. How did this medal. It's literally the story of how gothic clubbing destroyed the Crystal Empire. One of its major emotional beats is Alice Cooper Eyeliner Luna screaming at an audience about how being dragged to her sister's parties makes her feel like she's bleeding. It veers from borderline mockery of its main characters to a straight-faced tragic ending. It deliberately mutes the climax of its main character arc. If it hadn't been mine, I would have put it 12th out of 16 on my prelims slate.

I was actually kinda onboard for the weird gothic romance ... I just didn't end up liking what you did with it

Mixed feelings about this one.

I feel both extremes with this one ... I don't feel like this coheres ... Tier: Keep Developing

You lose me towards the end

There's a lot of good stuff here! It just didn't quite clinch it for me

these are not things that reviewers say about medalists

And yes, I'm selectively quoting the poorer reviews — but 3/4 of the praise for this came after the prelims, by which point I was pretty convinced that it had scraped by at 9th place and was going to stay there; the later positivity just made me revise my "bottom of finalist tier" prior to "might creep to middle-finalist-pack". I'm pretty much just speechless right now. Made a confident declaration that it would wash out in prelims in Radio Writeoff chat; gonna have to find some crow to eat.

... Anyway.

So yeah. There are things I did love about this, flawed as it was. Agreed that Loveless is one of the major high points here — she kind of snuck into the story around the edges and then demanded a central role, and it was sort of a surprise in hindsight how easily the old-school fae aesthetic meshed with her role (and the gothic tone).

Speaking of Loveless, I can finally reveal the 14 words I was despairing about not including in >>horizon:

"You mentioned a friend," Loveless said. "If you want someone to walk through the darkness with you —" her hoof swept around the room —"this is your best chance to find them."

Paint's eyes strayed back to where Luna was swaying along with the music.

"Just be warned," Loveless added almost casually. "Everyone walks into the darkness alone."

And then changing the final dialogue as they return to the Crystal Empire:

"But I can't —" Pot winced as the wind screamed and nearly took the cloaks from their shoulders —"can't go back there with you. That place is wrong, Paint."

The wind vanished mid-step as they stepped through the barrier of the Crystal Empire. Pot staggered several steps before catching his balance. Paint squinted against the soft glow of the streetlights, lifting a leg to shield his eyes while they readjusted.

"Well," he said quietly, his ears still ringing with the storm outside. "Everyone walks into the darkness alone."

That arrogant misunderstanding of the sacrifices required, plus a steadier transition of Paint accepting his new path (rather than flipping the switch all at once after he gets blackout love-drunk), really helps the story hammer in the currently-incoherent pathos, I think.

And you'll be seeing this one on FIMFiction soon, because I want to enter the final draft in the Lunbra competition. I'll have to figure out how to beat this into shape based on the wide-ranging and very divergent critique above. I'm still not certain how I'll fix the problems many reviewers rightly pointed out, but I'll take a stab at it and hope it doesn't sink whatever's currently working.


Congratulations to GaPJaxie for gold — and for, as far as I know, being the first author ever to complete the FIM medal hat-trick (gold, silver, and bronze) without scoring a single ribbon. Holy smokes! There's an achievement for you! Congratulations also to Cold in Gardez for finally completing his set, and becoming only the second author ever to have one of each medal on both OF and pony scoreboards!

Congratulations also to CoffeeMinion for a well-deserved mortarboard, and to everyone for a hard-fought round filled with quality writing. A large part of my medal-less certainty was due to the widespread writing quality, reading fic after fic and saying "this one's better-constructed than the best I could do with a full weekend of work". I was perfectly prepared to say that there's no shame in losing to this competition, which just makes the win all the more meaningful.
#15 ·
But seriously, the vote was clearly rigged. 🤔

I ended up with silver despite Cold's silver-medal curse, and Cold ended up with bronze despite my bronze-medal curse. :-p
#16 · 1

I have no idea:

How to read the information Roger supplies to us on the results page, but it occurs to me that, if I'd listened to the little voice in my head that kept telling me Jaxie's story wasn't "Pony enough"--the little voice that I ignored even though it may well have been picking up on the dark and dismal "author's intent" stuff >>GaPJaxie talks about--if I'd paid attention, in other words, I would never have put "Familiar" at the top of my ballot the way I did. Which might've been enough of a change to switch the two stories' placements...