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Ot · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
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Her eyes squeeze, closed the whole time

“Wh-where are you? This isn’t a normal part of your old dream, right? You can’t just go out….

“Look, get up here! Whoever you are, whoever’s holding Cobalt back: get out! I demand that you leave or I’ll make you leave!”

Her head turns, eyes still closed.

“Is that…? No. No, it can’t possibly be. H-how d-did you see this? The history books, yes, but… not to this level of accuracy, faithfulness… the books, the shelves, the wood, the tree’s all….”

Hooves pedal in mid-air.

“H-hello? Is there… anyone there? Any pony out here?”

A craning neck. Mouth mutates into a frown as her head shakes. Turns backward, trots backwards, staying in place.

“No, no! I… I c-can’t go there! Not just yet… they n-need me. You… you understand, right?”

Illumination: her long spiraled horn lights up her gnashing teeth.

“I knew it! I should’ve known. You can’t use your illusions on me, you anathema! Can’t use my friends’ likenesses however you want! Now—“

Lips open. Croak from the throat, head jerking forward. Eyes pressed, still closed.

“Get out of me! Get out! Wh-what are you doing?!… C-Celestia? I-is that… n-no, don’t do that, beast, don’t—!”

Wind picks up: wings flap, but they do not lift her. Blood pumps faster, galloping in a betting race: adrenaline, fear, but keep standing here.

“I didn’t do this to you! It’s u-using me to strengthen itself! No… don’t die again, Celestia! Luna!” A gasp—hoof to the mouth, almost. “Did it... take your souls? Take you away from Elysium? No… th-that c-can’t be! That c-can’t be!”

The doors slam open. His hooves fly him to the princess with those shut eyes. Feels her hooves: pulse racing. The cheeks: damp, tear-crusted.

“Please, no! Why… no! That’s not you! They wouldn’t bash me like that! They... would be understanding: would help me, teach me, bring me up… no, you’re all illusions! Those seers sent you to torment me!“

He checks the screens amid her screams. Readings dip down, beeping like crazy.

Goes off to the wires. All plugs, pulled.

The apparatus loses its grip. Twilight falls past the magic dome. Wires strapped to her hooves: they fall apart. Beeping accelerates to a flatline: no heartbeat can come from nothing.

Scrambled and wide, purple eyes take in her room. Light lines decorate floor and walls, lighting black and purple and blue: laser-powered regality. Error messages flash red on the screens, screeching for user input.

“Sorry about that.”

Summer Wheat’s young physique reflects like the subject of a dark oil painting. His gray yellow coat and his white mane, a mix of milk and honey: his cutie mark of grain complete the old-looking work of art.

“Got to wake you up from that one.” Sounds out of breath. “And, to tell you: the results don’t look good.”

This world still swirls in the princess’s vision: seeing stars, the light still smiting her eyes as she tries to stand up, ethereal mane lighting up their own stars as it waves in non-existent winds.

“Wh-what doesn’t look good?” she asks. “What, other than that it’s been the worst case of the Night Terror since Luna passed on?”

A hurried shrug is the reply. “Maybe, maybe not.” A scan of the error messages and their opaque explanations later: “What you’ve just experienced is a dream in a dream. Catch is, one was somepony else’s dream; the other was yours that got shafted in when the first dream got cut off.”

An alarmed gasp brushes past her teeth. The mane stars twinkle: a minuscule supernova close to her cheek. “Which means… it tried to delay me from returning here. I should’ve woken up, but the Terror forced me to sleep in the wake!”

His hoof taps. The beeps still flatline: monotonous background shrill. “I’m afraid so. Yet, I’ve come here not to save you but to report to you of troubling developments.” A sigh of his own joins hers. “Also, the reporters need a statement or two. There’s one other thing about the errors, but—”

“A statement for a third time in a row? That is never a good sign. They need soothing.”

She follows him as he walks away. Her magic turns off the dreamwalking equipment for the rest of the night. Detecting her absence, the room turns off all its lights, plunging it into eternal darkness.

“… even the chrysoberyls are beginning to fade too?”

“Their magical signatures, yes, Your Highness.”

Overground passageways join up the castle’s sectors. One-way windows expose Canterlot in Princess Twilight’s seventy thousandth year: angular buildings soaked in metal and neon lights, two or three overpowering the mountain a couple stone’s throws away. Sleek material streets disappear in lurching citizen throngs, herded down by police to the underground shelters. Advertisements in better times, hologram billboards bleed red to the tone and words of emergency PSAs.

“It’s finished shutting down Ponyville’s magic. Riots are already escalating to anarchy. Radicals could be incoming, although the Royal Entourage is blockading all possible points of entry.”

Past the cozy prison of a passageway, the moon does not smile upon Twilight: its face, hard as flint. “I take that that’s not all, is it?”

“Sadly, yes, Your Highness. It’s—“

“A seer in Ponyville?”

The responding hiss: like a frustrated viper. “Please don’t do that. You’re making yourself uncanny again.”

“I have more experience about this than you’d ever know. Forgive me for using analytical models to predict the contents of my next batch of bad news.”

A roll of his eyes, but the local architecture calms him if only a little. “Anyway, a seer’s leading the path, stirring every pony up and proclaiming… you know.”

“My mistakes, hm?”

Silence hangs between the two. His yes, implied.

“As much as I acknowledge my imperfections, I also know that this is the farthest a disaster has gone in breaking Equestria apart. Magic is breaking down, but neither Cozy Glow nor her allies have been out of that stone prison at all. We’re no closer to finding the culprit.

“And that’s without the strain on my own magic.” The horn glows in confidence, but, like a tempered dashboard too old, a crack could come at any moment.

The clip-clop of hooves strike robotic on the polished floor. “Not much use worrying about it, Highness.”

They keep walking.

Below, panicking ponies stampede over barricades and roadblocks. The police unicorns find their magic auras flickering.

“… and you do recognize that the Everfree Forest has mostly stabilized because of magic’s vanishing?”

To that, Twilight nods.

Upgrades have graced the throne room through the millennia. Surfaces, fortified with unmeltable titanium. Screens, littered everywhere and displaying a variety of paintings and hologram art of royalty. Artifacts and trophies of magitechnological achievement, held high on pedestals and within glass boxes despite their current worthlessness thanks to magic’s ongoing disappearing act.

Newsponies gather around her throne. Not too close: a chasm of steps marks the safe distance between monarch and subjects.

“Yes, I do recognize that. I also know much of your fears without you telling me.”

“Do you?” The one with the beehive mane: stubborn. “What about the news in Trottingham?”

“Fallen into anarchy just half an hour ago,” she reports nonchalantly.

The unimpressed journalist does not faze the princess: “I’ve observed how dire the circumstances are. Do not worry: I’ve got my top researchers and mages working on the clock for the silver bullet. True, some of them may have skirted the boundaries of ethics, but rest assured—”

Microphone is shoved onto her muzzle. “Are ponies being sacrificed in your labs?”


She floats the microphone away: enough to distract them from her withers’ hair standing up. “There are lines we shall never cross even in the darkest hour—and let us remember that the dawn rises right after that.

“Equestria has been saved numerous times at the last minute. That is, naturally, not ideal, even back in the old days, but I would like to remind you that it has been saved before. It will be saved again.”

“You keep saying that,” shoehorns in another, cocky with his ancient pencil behind the ear. “Do you have anything more specific? Something tangible we can rest in?”

Nothing to do but groan; keep it moving. “It has taken months for the magic to completely drain from Ponyville. As long as we maintain our current measures, we will be fine for two weeks: enough time for our breakthroughs to prototype and come out for every pony… and, no, we will not reveal those prototypes early because we’ve already had enough malcontents storming labs to kill me.”

“Your Highness, what about the words they’re saying about you and—“

“I adjourn the Night Court.”

With that, the guards escort the seeking reporters away, the latter becoming a grumbling and inquiring mass shooting furtive glances at their dear leader.

Yet, a gale, a whirlwind’s rumble: a vortex manifests. Out of the black hole, that rip in reality’s fabric, trots a stallion robed in sackcloth. Hood hangs back: the head is bald to a fault.

“You ponies of the press must know the truth behind this vile supplanter!”—loud but never amplified in this spacious hall. “This princess is not fit to rule anymore! See how she hoards all the power and magic in Canterlot with herself!”

Blood boils in the royal veins. She releases the scathing statement: “Guards, take him out!”

They charge, he fights back. Short-lived is the scuffle: horn suppressor and nylon rope around the barrel do the trick. Can never be too sure if they can sprout wings at will. Arrested, they strain him in chains before turning him out of the throne room. The doors shut on him, barred forever from her presence.

“As you can see,” she continues, hoof stretched out to where the vortex appeared, “they themselves possess unusual amounts of magic. Who’s to say that they aren’t just wizards gone mad and power-hungry, either misleading or themselves misled?”

She stands up from her throne, tall and sovereign: stability’s symbol. “These seers divide ponykind when we must unite. We cannot let petty matters such as tribalism and barbaric future-seeking falsely-accusing pretenders spurn us away from a real solution. Together, we must fight and keep our heads above the water… for I am with you in your struggle too.”

No applause.

The reporters pass by watchful soldiers, returning outside with an officer leading them out.

Summer Wheat is that officer.

Before the doors shut, she espies a confused glance on his face.

Endless falling.

If the elevator had a soul, it would take a morbid pleasure in taking its two passengers down forever. Nothing but shiny walls and screens indicating temperature, wind speed, and other indicators of things on the surface. Each tenth floor rings a chime, the number shown on the overhead display beside how many hooves below the earth they are.

“I know you weren’t at your best. Nightmare in a nightmare: I truly can’t sympathize with you—I’m sorry. However, tonight, you sounded... stale. Like you were ready to throw in the towel.”

Twilight’s head aims true toward the doors, never deviating. “There’s only so many ways to encourage ponies without sounding like a broken record.”

“What about the mages? You said they would be making breakthroughs soon.”

“Hasn’t been that way for weeks, won’t be that way for weeks. Only the headquarters in Canterlot is left. Rest of the branches have lost their protection since last week.”

Wheat blinks. A grunt, then a syllable: one dismayed non-word. “That’s… wait, how? How come you didn’t tell me this? You said they were just operating under quarantine!”

“That’s one thing you must learn about royalty.” A quick right turn to see Wheat, then back to the doors. “Celestia wore an iron mask during her short tenure, keeping ponies’ hopes up while she worked tirelessly to realize said hopes.”

“That’s the third time you said that this month.”

Just look at the doors.

The numbers ascend as the elevator mines the depths. The constant whirring, itself an illusion: like a shepherd’s tone, never resolving, going down but only looping, never going anywhere different.

“You… you don’t trust me, do you, Highness?”

“I do. You’re still here. You haven’t been dumped. None of your predecessors have either.”

“Doesn’t seem to be working with you these days.” Takes a step forward: now in her face. Get through him to see the doors. “Let’s be real here: 538 isn’t a boring number to end this on.”

“I do not plan to end the companionship system even if I have 538 more companions to look forward to.”

The stallion’s tilted head begs for a question: “Isn’t that the point? And you call it a system. I’m supposed to be your friend: listening to your jokes, being there so you can cry on my shoulders when it’s too much… I’m not just another pony you see and utter standard royal-speak to. I’m—“

“Here to ground me to reality, to keep me equine. We’ve had this discussion before.”

A thud under his strong hoof. “No, we haven’t! But now we have to talk about this because, apparently, it just isn’t working for you!”

And a loud chime. No argument: they look up.

The numbers continue rising. The whirring continues descending. The doors continue closed.

“Aren’t we supposed to stop?”

Twilight makes no motion, avoiding eye contact. Anything to say would escalate the situation.

“This is another one of those things you didn’t tell me at all, isn’t it? The actual last floor to this… in my fourteen years of being with you, you lied to me about this too?”

She speaks no answer.

At absolute rock bottom, they experience ceaseless tunnels. Gates and doors, locked with no life but that of machines and computer systems. Identity of the princess required constantly.

Past the last gate, end of the path. Wall of unadulterated rock. A marked circle lies on the ground.

They step into the circle and, with Twilight lighting the lines with her magic, the world around them winding down. Solid shapes liquefy, diffusing into particles, only to re-arrange, darken back to shape—

Bookcases. Infinite bookcases, infinite shelves. Or their outlines: green mist permeates the place. Ancient stone unsmooth under their hooves.

Wonderful dread builds up in his heart. “Wh-what is this?”

“The Occult Spring.” No eye contact. “A secret’s secret. Writings and artifacts unknown to and withheld from all but a select few.”

“More like just you.” All he could to not yank Twilight by the neck, make her spill every single bean in the world. “You didn’t tell me about this!”

“Ponies had to install the locks and gates.”

“Before you gave them amnestics.”

“We’ve got more pertinent matters to deal with, Wheat.” A look down the spaces between the shelves: a vast path to exhaust. “Follow me.”

They walk past the cramped and misty bookshelves. He catches glimpses of unreadable titles: written in Old Ponish, runes, or what should have been gibberish—all as she drones on about their stashed contents: alternate histories, secret reality-altering spells, full disclosure of various incidents concealed from the public….

“Ah! Here it is.”

A scroll, sandwiched between two pungent tomes, becomes surrounded in her magic. It floats: thick as her head. She unfurls its bunched-up parchment, excess dropping to the floor. Dust never picks up; not a single fragment falls apart.

His vision distinguishes its words: inscrutable. A different alphabet? Not even then. The letters form pictures: shifting pictures: always moving, never settling.

“Twilight, are you sure about this? Wh-what can it do?… what even is it?”

In her magic, the scroll rotates his way: mobile glyphs dance for him and her. Faint light reflects from her pulsating horn, illumining the letters clearer. “It is a spell I’ve discovered… ironically, by spying on the seers.”

“You’re dodging the question.” Enough to make Twilight look up from scroll analysis. “Tell me what it is. Is it some kind of magic rejuvenating spell? Transportation to another dimension where we can interact with magic better like a control panel? Or…?”

A royal skim through later—no words said—the scroll snaking on the floor as she reads.

“I am not fully sure of its full nature myself,” Twilight begins, “but, if you want, I can do a quick rescan after this.”

Something stops the scroll. It stretches in her attempt to read more.

A yellow hoof jams the scroll to the ground.

Her heart beats fast: could burst any moment. “Careful! You’re damaging the spell!”

Wheat huffs, sight of the princess clouded. “I know you mean well—“

“I’ve always meant well.”

“But you know what they say: The path to Tartarus—“

“Is paved with good intentions, I know—“ complete with a groan. “However, evil has paved many more ways to Tartarus. I wish I sealed them the moment they came up.”

Not good enough. He paces in a circle despite the narrow path. “Don’t you think you should wait it out a few more days? You know how forbidden and secret spells like this can go terribly wrong.”

“I have heard of the stories, but I’m the Princess of Equestria. My magic is more than sufficient for this.”

“If that’s the case, why don’t I read of Celestia and Luna dabbling in forbidden magic?”

A tiny wince escapes her. “That was then, this is now. The times have changed. These sorts of spells are necessary in these times.”

Wheat does not try contacting her eyes anymore. A shaking head, down toward the floor. “I just… I just don’t know if this is….”

“You always worry, don’t you know?” Her horn glows brighter; the letters glow too. “But, what is it all for? It could be for nothing, and you know what they say: without a vision, the creatures perish.”

As a bandage to a missing limb. “Well, I guess—“


A hurricane: wind flying books away, their mane flapping. Pouring from the bedrock ceiling comes mumbling smoke. Distinct figures coalesce into shadowy living smoke creatures.

“The Terror!”

A flash of his horn and a magic dome defends them. Shadowy creatures smack against the shield, but cracks materialize with each strike.

The flapping of wings, and he looks: the princess is flying out of the dome.

“Twilight, what are you—?!“

“Defeating the Terror once and for all!”

Scroll uplifted, horn bright enough to be its own sun: the letters shine like combusting moons.

Smoke surrounds her, attacks her, confounds her: seeing veiled. Could hear Wheat screaming, calling out for her.

The chanting does not stop. She keeps chanting. Forcing themselves into her mind, the letters make her say the words in arcane languages, trying to keep away the feeling of falling, falling—

The smoke solidifies against her chest. A tip. Something sharp.

The final few words are yelped out by the piercing of her skin.

Princess Twilight sits down on her throne to continue Night Court after a small break for tea.

The establishment’s small windows give way to cavernous depths and canyon ridges. Weaving around the rocks, moonlight pierces through, its elegant touch meeting a ragged red carpet.

Armored guards stand by: a pony in glasses, levitating a couple blueprints, comes up. “Your Royal Highness, I’m pleased to report that New Canterlot construction is still on schedule. The town hall’s almost complete; so is the housing: all while conserving resources like you’ve asked.”

A weak smile is the royal response. The trip she took in the sunset earlier: ponies fashioned structures from wood, stone—brick if there is enough mortar. Has been this way for decades; a far cry from millennia within millennia ago. She draws from her mind’s deep wells: they tell her that ancient history had a similar start. Nothing out of the ordinary within the big picture.

“And that should be all, right?” she asks.

“Why, yes.” A humiliating bow accompanies the answer, deep enough to smack his face on the floor.

Out with the architect, in with the next subject: comes complete with escort.

“Ah, yes, Miss.” Knows the name—Smart Alec—but she’s appeared too many times to care about finer formalities. “Any update on the Dreden?”

No update yet: instead, a cough. Dark smoke seeps through her teeth. Her security watch her, but she waves them off.

“Much of what remains is breaking apart at a breakneck speed,” she reports. Smoke slithers in the air, dissipating. “Ponyville... it’s either broken apart or sunken underground. It’s all inconclusive.”

“Any survivors?”

Her eyes fog with smoke—shuts them tight, tries to squeeze it away. “It’s the usual: almost every pony comes back wrong. The augurs, though… as bad as they are, they’re the ones who made the last stands in Ponyville. I saw it myself: they said a quake would happen, that we should flee... no pony but I fled, and it happened.”

A queenly brow lowers, skeptical. “Are you insinuating that they might be good? It was only when the augurs came up that the Dreden and its ilk came to be. They’re showing off their capacity for evil.”

“More like showing off how it’s growing and what we can do to stop it!” Desperation lurks in her voice: smoke hardens as it splashes out of her mouth. “Please, Your Royal Highness, Your Majesty—“

“The augurs divided what’s left of this fair country, both figuratively and literally. The pre-Hearth’s Warming windigos fed on the hatred and division of ponies—so do these monsters and their dark magic today. We must not let the augurs cut us any further and stay united.”

The crest of Alec falls, smoke falling like water around her teeth. “But—“

“Leave this place, miss. We are glad that you have come back from the dead, but the augurs have converted you beyond belief.” A long foreleg rises: a signal to the guards to lead the miscreant out.

“But what if they’re right?!”

Royal magic opens the door, and security gags her in the mouth, smoke splashing back into her body as the incomplete pony departs in smoke-stained tears.

“It is sad,” she says once the doors close, the guards her only audience. “Sad, our Head of Royal Magic and Research coming apart like this. She’s a warning to us: the augurs never meant well. We must not allow their signs and wonders to convince us.”

At that, the doors swing open, introducing a stallion who strides in with a solemn gait. His yellow coat shines like the sun under the lunar rays. A bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee is his cutie mark: a breakfast pony, his parents joked during his colthood.

“Ah, Helios Cereal!” No weak smile to tarnish her mutterings. Most of her teeth twinkle under the moonlight. “He always has good news to say: just like cold water for a pony stuck in the desert.”

“Twilight!” The proud declaration stops him at a distance; pause for dramatic effect as is tradition between him and her. “I’ve got some bad news!”

Her ears perk. Bad news: either a proxy would send it or some other pony would say it. Never him right here in the flesh.

That stately head leans forward. “What is it? And why do I have a bad feeling about this?”

Cereal clears his throat which clangs against the throne room’s attempted fanciness. “I and my escorts came across a griffon lying sick within Equestria proper. I nursed her with my potions, but when she recovered, she induced me to sleep… and dream with her.”

The stately head leans ever more forward: curiosity beckons her with its enticing talons.

“Long story short: there is somepony out there eating Equestrians’ dreams.”

Only a blink: no gasp necessary. “That would explain why I cannot dreamwalk as much these days. Still, how do you know that’s true? It could just be a fever dream or an impassioned hallucination or even mind control.”

“I thought so too. That is, until I woke up.”

Leaning would have made her fall over. She scoots forward, never leaving the throne.

“I found myself back to reality, but she didn’t wake up. Instead, I saw….”

Wheezing through the throat. Poor lungs. A faint weakening pulse in her horn: one astute eye sees a faint puff out of his lips.

“A figure… a smoky figure just like what the comeback ponies usually turn into, but worse… like, solid steam and smoke. It came out of the griffon just like that.”

“I knew it!” A turn to the side as if an adviser were there. “Perhaps this is the Dreden’s true form. Do I not recall the augurs exhorting the ‘evildoers’ that a perpetual sleep would befall them, that they would never wake up?”

Her full weight rests on her throne, her back leaning on the soft backrest. “They are desperate but effective. To summon or even form such abominations on their own—”

“She also speaks.”

The comfort of the throne leaves her. “It speaks back? Did it… say anything?”

Finding it hard to maintain eye contact with her: “See… that’s the funny thing about it. What do you think it does?”

The gears in her brain, always on all cylinders, add one more. “My intuition tells me this: it would go out and bring ponies to sleep, sucking their life force while they’re unconscious, either rendering them catatonic when they wake up or trapping them in the dream world until they die of natural causes.”

“Exactly. And you know what her name—“

She stands up for the first time this Night Court. “I propose that we should fortify the dreamscape. I have enough machines to have oneiric sentries work in shifts. Of course, they’ll have to follow the guidelines I’ll put up over the next week or so—“

“Twilight, you’re doing it again.”

Such an improper attitude! During Night Court, even! But serene is she as the princess looks down with one word: “What?”

“You’re ignoring me.”

Those eyes bore into her: he is right. Yet—

“I must apologize, Cereal, but I have to let every pony know what the standards shall be when I let them into the dream world. Nothing like this has been done before.”

But he shakes his head: a teacher disappointed in his wrong-answer student for too long. “You’re missing the point here, Twilight.”

She raises her ears: none of the royal address in his speech. “And what point would that be?”

Eye contact now maintained, now sustained—how somepony would shake a hoof for too long. “Her name, Twilight.”

She leans back on her throne again: rest from the stress. “We’ve had so many monsters naming themselves: it’s all self-descriptive. What is so special about this one?”

She… and it’s not just she.””

Bushy eyebrows furrow, dig into his forehead. Soldiers on those trenches, firearms directed at the crown. Magic and appendage at the trigger.

“It says your name.”

That registers a blink in her train of thought. “So?”

Another step forward for Cereal, past wary guards with weapons close at hoof. The sky whistles quietly: something falling.

“It told me your true nature, Twilight. Not just that: my true nature as well.”

“Your true nature?” Unmistakable now: a string of smoke bleeding through his teeth. “Look! If that is the augur’s creation… you are falling right into their hooves!”

The grin on him: nothing real about this joy.“I don’t think so. It showed me who I used to be.”

“Past lives, I presume. You know I don’t believe in reincarnation—“

“Does Summer Wheat ring a bell?”

Recognition forces her eyes wide open. The name, that name—everything else escapes her. The spot the sun would give when one looks at it: focus on it, it never centers.

“Back when we had to deal with the Terror, when we faced the seers and I was there in the Occult Spring—“

Breaks the mare’s back with that straw.

She springs forward from her throne. “The Occult Spring?! Y-you aren’t supposed to know that!... but the Terror? I don’t… I don’t remember… no, you must be crazy—“

“Or when I was Solar Field and we had to deal with the land dissolving into lava while fire rained from the skies, all while prophets tell us to turn or burn?”

The name, that name, this name everything else took refuge in—nothing to be familiar of but the name. Tip of the tongue, tip of the tongue’s iceberg—cannot dive into the answer, hidden in the depths of non-existence.

“What about Lumen Kernel? Or Daylight Spring? Or Light Seed? Atom Speck? Or even—”

“I apologize, but your sanity must be leaving you.” A fact, unlike everything this Cereal has proposed. “The events you speak of have never happened. In addition, I have encountered similar names but never the ones you’ve mentioned.“

“You’re dodging the question.” No eye roll from Twilight this time. “Let me make this easier for you to understand.”

A teleport later: there, manifesting at the hoof of the throne. Guards fly at him, stopping inches short of poking him with their spears. One wrong move from Cereal….

“I know your true nature, Twilight. The constant déjà vu, how you seem to dive into dreamwalking too much to test things out, me being too familiar with you, all of these monsters always converging on Canterlot, always saving you for last….

His eyes close: confident, smug.

“There’s a reset spell in the Occult Spring, isn’t there?”

Too much a need to gasp. “That is completely classified information!”

The chuckle reeks of rancor, smoke hissing out of his mouth. “Makes sense for you… never trusting your companions. The one before all of us in this line—my spiritual forefather, if you will—came to you, to help you cope with the deaths of your once royal mentor. This… all of this meant a pony who trusts in you, could be with you, could just hang out with you and have fun as ordinary ponies.”

The smoke lashes out of his ears as whips. “Yet, you yourself do not trust even me.”

“You’re certainly not helping your case right now!” The darkening smoke coming out of him proves it: maybe the augurs finally caught him in a moment of weakness.

But his smirk: he believes in his strength. “You’ve failed… you’ve failed your companions. You did not tell us….” A gesture at the stained glass windows on the walls. They were not there before. “How much of this history is real, anyway?”

“How are you doing that? You’re not supposed to do that!”

“A mistake, hm? Or a glitch, ah?” A flicker in the moonlight? “Maybe I wasn’t supposed to remember. Maybe I’ve become an echo of other ponies in past resets… or maybe I was literally just born five minutes ago with false memories, and that is just too short a time to fit thousands of years in.

“But here’s what I want to know: why don’t you tell us? Why don’t you trust us?”

Her jaw locks. Thoughts build up into a mass, never forming into words. Would spill into a mess, a bile of insults or excuses.

“Your Royal Highness!” screeches a guard. “The sky!”

All eyes turn to witness: darkness takes over the horizon against the tranquil night’s blue and purple—blot out the stars. It hangs over the moon: it becomes red; its glimmer is crimson.

Bells ring. Clarions and gongs in cacophony. Thunder zaps—already, dots, black shadows against the red, panicking. From the top, rumbling: rocks fall off the ridges, the ridges themselves breaking.

Horn bright one more time, she removes all the windows, thrusting all into the dark. “Stay here! I will take care of this once and for all!”

“No, Twilight!” Wheat’s smoke surrounds him, energizes him with glowing power. “You’re not—!“

She zaps him: he falls to the ground, his horn broken into pieces in the thick of his shrieks.

Twilight zaps herself and disappears. In her place, there is fire.

Her vision shifts, blurry but they begin focusing. A filter of green.

Bookshelves. Bookcases. Some mist. A spell to recite. So her mind’s connections tell her.

Coming together: outlines of shelves. Numerous shelves with their books, scrolls, tomes, artifacts— bursting out of them, some already glowing, streetlights in the dark.

“B-but… wha?”

Twilight feels the shelves. Almost drunken: the hooves are clumsy. The books tumble; their pages crumble into dust.

Shining down yonder: a beam of light against a silhouette. Something important. The connections click, make electricity: a place of importance, an answer, the salve.

The Occult Spring.

Weary legs stumble toward the light and its silhouette. Tossed to the floor: an earthquake sends books falling onto the floor, onto her—attacking her. Takes all to not trip on some errant scroll or magic item; they all glow, they all light her path forward.

Each step: the tiles welcome the returning guest. Her mind, muddled. The mist obscures ever further but for the straight path. To her relief, the light and its shadow come nearer.

The mist parts, and there she is. The light and its silhouetted mystery revealed:

A scroll on a pedestal. A can of long, glittering paper. No letters: nothing but lines and curves shooting everywhere. Television static but with the entire color spectrum.

A summoning of her magic: teleport, poof her way closer without the intoxicated stupor and its missteps. Catch it in her grip magical—

The earth shakes, throwing her off balance—legs buckle. The scroll leaves in the unfocus, plummeting to the ground. Iron determination instilled, she leans down, eye on the scroll: it is still there, now in her grip again, trying to levitate it back to the light. Hopes: please understand the babble, the indecipherable static. It smells of honey, but her stomach churns.

Another poof. She does not remember doing magic now. To the source of the poof: notebooks, standing on the pedestal. Haven’t been there before, this pile of notebooks.

One gets caught in her magic, levitating into a better angle. Under the light and on the cover: her cutie mark. A look at them: her cutie mark on all of the notebooks. Teleports the chosen notebook, pries it open.

A greeting. Words from Twilight Sparkle, though does not remember these words. Something about being taught how to dreamwalk thanks to Luna not long after the ascension. A record of secrets: some dreams, some nightmares, some of her best friends pre-mortem, some experiments in the dreams where nobody can get harmed.

At the last page: a danger. Something befalling Equestria again. Never says what it is: just the disaster. Hegemonic conquest, civil war, mass starvation, plain death with a dash of pestilence—magic failing, fires burning: all hypothetical, yet all speaking to her. Written at the last:

I will sleep on this. Will dream of a solution somehow. Inspiration strikes at a moment’s notice, after all, even when one is not awake. Hopefully.

The notebook drops from her magic.

The rest: mostly the same. Longer or smaller, pages taken out or forced in. All detailing: devolving from a dream journal mixed with warnings and safety plans for Equestria.

Did you know of these things? Did I know of these things? Why do you tell me of things I don’t know? Or maybe half know? Or is this some kind of illusion?

It must be the reset spell failing!

“It’s not.”

The heart pounds at the new—or, truly, old—voice. Slowly, turn around.

Standing in the mist, only his silhouette could be seen. Long, narrow, lanky form. A mishmash of someone meant to stay still forever.

“I thought you’d never leave Fluttershy’s side,” she says, her accent quaking. “If she were alive, she would be mad that you left her stony self.”

The figure rubs his appendages vigorously. “Maybe the Discord of this world is like that, but I’m not of this world.”

No need to squint to confirm his identity. “You must be from a previous reset, then.”

His head tilts, the mist obscuring a grin or a frown. “Yes and no. I am from a previous thing.”

A stick into the gears of this lightning-shot crystal mind: her brain brakes. No answers of her own?

“What are you saying?” Her head frenzies. “What is the nature of this reset? The resets must be failing, right? Did I do it imperfectly? I… I shouldn’t be able to remember the previous resets. I-it should cause a pile-up and the world would be destroyed before it even began!”

An accusing hoof aimed at the draconequus. “If you can get in, then what about the disasters of previous worlds? Argh!

She stomps a hoof and the pain stabs her leg. No buckling: complete decay, joint pain beyond medication. No scream, but, in a whimper: “I’m not even supposed to remember….”

“Oh, but you are remembering.” Another curious tilt of his head: the lavender smell disappears. “Or, so you should think. As an immortal, I find memory and remembering very beneficial in the long run. Helps bring about reflection and change—and you know how much I like change.”

He lowers himself, honing in on her from behind. Unseen, he grabs her ear, and whispers close:

“But you’re not an immortal.”

“Of course, Discord.” Keep a straight face despite the scorching pain. “I just live long.”

“So says the mare who’s lived longer than the old princesses combined. You are… what, 107,134 years old? Enough to burn your birthday cake, enough to make Celie and Lulu jealous—if they cared for that sort of thing.”

He hovers back into the mist’s obscurity. He rubs his claw and talon together again.

Something clicks in her.

“Discord, you’re… different today.”

His dark laugh says the yes. “Expecting some flair from your old pal, weren’t you? Extravagance all the time would make me predictable and boring. But, more importantly, it would make me funny, and this is no time to be funny, considering the circumstances topside.”

“… topside?”

Discord taps on his wrist. A wrist watch counts down, milliseconds falling fast.

“You should be back in a microsecond thanks to somepony slapping your face. With how deep you’ve gone, though… heh. There’ll be a lot for you to deal with when you come home. I’ll spare you the details, as is tradition.”

“You’re not making sense!” Runs over the bags under her eyes. “A full second’s already past and nothing’s happened!”

A single laugh from his irregularly toothed mouth. “Oh, Twilight, you are so dense—in more ways than one. If the death of your friends didn’t crack your thick skull, surely Celestia and Luna passing on would have done the trick and knocked some sense into you… but I guess not.”

The talons on his claw curl. For the first time in too long, the mare’s ears flatten. A snap is to come.

Another rumble: already fallen, her vision blurs, Discord doubling—multiplying—in her sight.

“You can’t run away forever, Twilight.” The talons uncurl: no snap. “They’ll be happy to see you at last. That’s the last favor I shall ask of you if you can: say hi to them for me.”

The draconequus disappears. No fade, no suddenly existing door: just pop out.

The world grumbles.

Dust and pebbles slip from the dying bedrock ceiling. Broken boulders smash bookshelves; like dominoes, they fall on each other, their ancient contents diminishing to dust. Dust fills the air. The mist comes to dust too.

Tries to stand up in the tremor, but her limp legs stagger her back down. Try to flap, hover: wings do not respond, flint hard, never unfolding. Force the head, force the horn to commit to one last spell: only sparkles. It numbs.

Bookshelves die away in the distance, die into the mist. Cracks in her vision, on the islands of floor—floating away from her as if from a leper: red shift up close. Farther stretched, spaghettified—

All that is left: her atoll of pedestal, books, herself, scroll. Her numb, inanimate self.

Cold, scathing wind clutches the scroll in its hands and takes it away from her. The freeze flings itself upon her shivering state in the falling nothingness.

Too many blinks. Split-second images of fire, red, orange, death, screams.

Next is nothing, the blackness of closed eyes.

Feel herself: the cold of her hooves;cannot move. Rest of her body, the same way. Wings, under pressure. Horn?

Half’s not there.

Tries to scream, but muffles come out. Gagged, taped, bound with rope. Rough itchy fibers hug her in death grips.

More blinking. Finally, the strength to keep those eyes open.

“She’s awake. Good.” That’s a whisper, low.

The scent of mint behind her, something rough scraping her back. Gravity does not feel right. Bodily senses wake up: ropes around her barrel, and then her legs.

Something at stake: a stake. At a stake, tied to a stake, condemned to the stake. The stake faces up: so does she.

The night sky. Its stars twinkle, blink back at her while they die down in the cool breeze. A brightening pink conquers the expanse, although sunrise’s yellow threatens an overthrow from below.

The flicking of her ears register the noises: mumbling, an exodus of many hoofsteps. Whimpers, insults, crying, admonitions to keep quiet—

“Hey, the bedlam’s awake!”

The ruckus grows from there.Thrown objects or bone-breaking indignities are not its weapons: it is the rise of murmur, of questions for her. Nothing sensible: they mash into something incoherent. In one ear, lost by the other.

“We’re finally here! Set it down!”

All jerk to a halt. Her vision interrupted: dizzy now. Vomit onto the dusty ground as the stake re-orients. Somepony shouts at her to clean up after herself; be like the princess she used to be.

The stake falls into place: so do the traveling audience staring at her dumb-founded. Their mouths, politely open in shock. Beyond lays the horizon of nothing but wasteland. Hints of villages crop up far away.

Ponies in plain robes trot forward from the spectators’ semi-circle. Their leaders, most likely. Small crowd. The scribe writes furiously on a scroll for posterity.

The robed figure in the center takes out his own scroll from his clothes, levitating it before his eyes: prosecutor.

“Before we go through the charges, Twilight Sparkle, do you remember what brought you here?”

A stupid answer: on a stake by you guys.

Her chambers of memory fill with gross fog. Just woke up; the brain must wash itself of the sleep’s grime, the cobwebs that mire in the mechanism after long disuse: in the cabinet to collect dust until the universe dies.

“You have been found hoarding dreamwalk magic and technology at a time when Equestria needed you the most. The notes found in your possession say that it was to give yourself time, yet you never woke up when we had to storm the castle. Not even on the way here either.”

Please disbelieve him! But the gag allows her nothing. Angry and blank faces stare at her, ask her more questions without words.

“Further investigation of your testing facilities reveal literal skeletons in the closet. Autopsies showed that they have been exhausted via necromancy magic. Needless to say, the evidence points to you as the perpetrator, all for the reason of immorally extending your life.”

Within reason! I needed more time! Ponies would need me! They need somepony to guide them, they—

“You’ve stated in your private journals—which we have discovered just yesterday—that it is all to ensure Equestria’s safety… at the expense of preventing somepony new, somepony more with the times and its ponies, to look after it. That you provided for no succession plan says a lot.

“Not to mention that you constantly not listened to us, most recently telling us that not even the mayors know anything but that only you hold wisdom to lead ponykind. And let us not talk about the ‘unfortunate accidents’ on your advisers and council members, which have increased within the last few years of your reign….”

It’s the only way! How else can I solve a failing world? There are too many variables when I let someone else take the throne, and I—

“In short: you trust no one.”

Silent night.

The stony gaze of the accuser, the judge, the jury—executioner too, given the stake: it cuts her across, stops her heart for a morsel of time. Heartburn: blood boiling, blood rising, but the silent night cools her blood to the ice of lamentation.

“You trust no one to lead for you. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Remembrances of best friends: search long and hard for them, for they are long dead: corpses reduced to dust were it not for the balms, the spices, the spells. Nopony like them before, nopony like them after. Twilight tried searching for such, but nothing came up.

When the guilty sentence is pronounced, she does not notice or she has stopped caring. Surrounded by many to die alone. They talk about the unicorns raising and lowering the celestial bodies again—“until we find Harmony’s next chosen: preferably an alicorn just like Celestia or Luna, somepony who can trust and be trusted to the end and beyond… unlike you, you who have faltered at the end.”

Inferior to Celestia.

Her mentor’s spirit would be chastising the ex-princess forever by now.

Firewood is hauled over to the base of the stake. They would’ve enjoyed the fire: at the fireplace, warming up over the winter, when they were still alive, when she was undoubtedly there with them, friends and all that.

The logs pile up, each thunk resounding into ripples. Why blame them? They’re decent ponies: just desperate, just angry at her. Rightly so: they taught her a lesson, that same lesson: please live in the moment, stop Sparkling or whatever the term was for worrying too much, anxious too much.

The onlookers merely watch the greatest show of death: the demise of a princess, live. This is no entertaining horror show: only the sickly fascination and the consoling solace of watching justice meted out.

No insults. Just questions: Why? Why did you do this to us? Why did you leave us like this? Were we not your faithful citizens, your little ponies? Were we not worthy of your trust?

The torch lights up, illuminating everything in dim orange. The flame catches her in its allure like fire against moths. Caught in the magic of somepony, it is bestowed upon the firewood.

So the crackle starts.

The heat crawls up to her hind hooves.

Seconds twist into agonizing minutes.

Already, she would scream at the flames turning her over to death—but, drained: the voice, gone—would have been lost to the gag.

A sea of fiery needles floods her body, scaling her, searing her. Tartarus: the place below, the eternal darkness, the screaming, the lack of rest. Immortal worms, torturing the dead in their second death from which there is no rest.

To think that she was an angel.

Fire catches her heart, her eyes, her brain.

The many minutes unravel into agonizing seconds at the threshold of life.

Look up. Over there.

Blue skies, pristine and fluffy clouds. Past them, fields of green and gold, rainbows all around. Milk and honey flow in eternal rivers of life.

At the edge, five ponies too familiar. No waving, no smiling—the yellow pegasus covers her mouth, turns her eyes away from the descending sight.

Twilight keeps falling.

The last thing they hear before the unbridgeable chasm closes is one last cry.
« Prev   6   Next »
#1 · 2
· · >>Chris >>Comma Typer
This left me cold, ironically enough. After the first trip down to Twilight's Cave of Wonders, the narrative goes so dreamlike that it edges on incomprehensibility and mostly stays there. Plus, I've never liked the central premise of the story. She's the Princess of Friendship. I'd like to think she'd be able to make other friends. I admit, a lot of this comes down to personal bias, but I still came out of this one unsatisfied.

Plus, I'm not even sure how it fits the prompt. Overtime, perhaps?
#2 · 1
· · >>Comma Typer
Conceptually, I like this a lot. Execution-wise, it's a little weaker, but it still has a lot going for it.

First off: while the beginning is a little jarring, it feels purposeful, a way to throw the reader in the deep-end of this particular version of the MLP universe. There are some odd choices in vocabulary (I find it weird that the 107,134 year old alicorn uses words like 'bash' when for most of the time she speaks in highly formalised and almost technical language).

The middle, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess. Again, I think it's supposed to be at least somewhat confusing, but there are parts that I still don't understand, and events that don't seem to connect to anything else. For example, what happened when Twilight got stabbed by that weird spear? Was that part of the reset spell? Something else? All in all, I found myself wanting a bit more there.


The ending? Magnificent. The section with Discord cleared up enough for me to mostly understand what was going on, and everything after Twilight woke up was so damn good I could feel my jaw dropping. Seriously, the burning scene was just absolutely riveting writing, and Twilight's fall gave me honest-to-goodness goosebumps.

This is unpolished, but you've got something good here if you work on it a little.
#3 · 3
· · >>Comma Typer
This one is just brimming with ideas and fascinating concepts, so much so that 8000 words doesn't feel like it does it justice. There's a lot of food for thought here, and I'm glad that I went through multiple readings to try to unpackage it all.

Now, I will have to mention that this piece feels every bit as dense as it is. This story took me the longest by far to read my first time, and that's not just because it's near the word max. You've made a very bold choice to go for a super detached narrative style, but unfortunately it may have been a bit too much for me. Many non-dialogue sentences are high-level and passive, and there's also a lot of insertion of hard-to-parse sentences in dialogue paragraphs. The dialogue itself is also extremely formal. It all made it hard to me to get into the flow of the story and feel invested.

Whenever you go for an evocative style like this, I like to think of it as offloading a lot of the 'processing' work to the reader's side of things. You're asking a lot from your reader, to work to obtain a lot of meaning in the sentence-to-sentence level. It can be exhausting, and it personally did exceed my own limit more than once. I ended up taking about three or four breaks while reading this the first time, which is definitely not something you want happening in a short story type of situation.

As for the narrative itself, I will have to note that I was a little disappointing by the ending. This isn't quite a "it all happened in a dream" scenario, but it does come close. I couldn't help but feel that a lot of the work that I did to comprehend and analyze the dense information up until the reveal was rendered moot by the twist.

So in the end, I think there's unfortunately quite a few distractions that make it hard to fully appreciate the ideas at play here. The piece as a whole kind of struggles with setting reader expectations, which is especially important in the Writeoffs since we're going in blind without tags, cover art, or story descriptions/summaries. So I think my primary advice would be to give the readers a greater sense of anchoring and expectations early on, and then try to link those expectations with the kind of payoff they're receiving both in the sentence-to-sentence level and in the sense of the overall message.

Thank you for submitting!
#4 · 2
· · >>Comma Typer
I think, in the end, that most of what I could/would say about this story has already been said (especial hat tip to >>FanOfMostEverything, who fit more good advice in that first paragraph of his than I can into three). I was along for the ride at first, but the narrative just stays dreamlike, to the point where I found it incredibly difficult not to start skimming--doubly so because I found my enjoyment actually increased when I was skimming, and just taking in the general tone and major events rather than trying to suss out anything more. There's nothing wrong with writing skim-worthy material, of course... but I very much get the impression that that wasn't what you were going for.

There are some things here, especially once we get to Discord and stakes and that whole area of the fic, that could make for powerful moments, if they didn't feel like just another hazy event in a line of hazy events. Honestly, you've already got a lot of good advice from the previous commenters, so I'm just going to point upthread, and tell you that there's some great suggestions there for how to take this from "evocative but ephemeral" to "arresting and thought-provoking." You're on the right track; keep going!
#5 · 2
· · >>Comma Typer
I've tried:

Three times to read this, and the farthest I've managed to get is "Princess Twilight sits down on her throne to continue Night Court after a small break for tea." So I'm done. Sorry, author, but this is too opaque and lugubrious for me.

#6 ·
In which Nebuchadnezzar would be a more fitting Old Testament name than Belshazzar.

This is a case where the writing is too rich, punching at a level where it isn't supposed to be. Lots of fragments, broken sentences via em dash, and a gluttony of poetic imagery. This is supposed to be a serviceable story, not a platform for you to tell me how well you can string multiple metaphors and similes and other rhetoric devices together. In a word, you've put too much rhetorical spice on the narrative meat and since it now tastes too strong, I have a hard time stomaching it.

Speaking of imagery, I believe that, with the imagery and the title and the other numerous references to the Old Testament, you were going for a theme-heavy story, which is good and all. However, you've leaned on it too much that it's become a gimmick; more than some of the too-rich writing comes off as a haphazard attempt to capture Old Testament wording (which is dangerous because most of the Old Testament is not written like a typical modern-day short story). You could've gone better with a broad strokes approach: dial down the references and distill the theme to what's essential (judging from the title, it would have to be having a kingdom or one's self fall from greatness—so cut down on the flowery politics, companionship thing, and so on). This could've been better as a 4,000-word or less piece even if you just remove sections with minimal editing: that way, the pace is tighter and the reveal would be much more impactful.

On the bright side, you did nail the theme right. Maybe having Princess Twilight be the target isn't the best option, but the royal(?) fall from grace/greatness is there and isn't too hackneyed.

Overall, it's written well enough to be in the middle but only barely. Even then, it's only because the author shows they can pull off some nice wordplay that's great in isolation but dragging when strung together.
#7 · 2
>>Baal Bunny

I thank you all for your constructive feedback and criticism for this piece! I do not have much to say about such feedback because, in hindsight, I feel that it deserves the place it's gotten in the end. It is a shame that it seems like a potentially arresting ending and probably great revelations were marred by everything else, and I do apologize for disappointing you here. I hope I can learn and be better next the time.

On a greater level, I think that there's a common error that runs through all my three entries in the Writeoff so far: being gimmicky, too much focus on a theme or a device that it detracts from the story. In my haste, I was enraptured by the movie Inception and this talk of dreams, and I wanted to incorporate a dream-like tone. Couple that with taking Ot as the Old Testament and bringing along themes relating to Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar (because dreams for Nebuchadnezzar), and I ended up with a dreamy and too metaphorical tone that I now see as a bothersome weight to carry. I have also realized that I might be bogging things down with unnecessary worldbuilding details when this isn't supposed to be some kind of history book.

If there is a key thing that I can take away from this story, it's restraint. I've indulged myself too much with much wordplay and imagery to an almost narcissistic level, to the detriment of the poor reader who needs to get hooked to something and, afterwards, must have a smooth experience through the rest of the story; the hooks are too few and far between, the distance increased by said dreamlike tone. In short, I've tried being "the cool guy" to a very bad extent that I end up losing sight of the fact that a story is not exclusively poetry, that it's supposed to take into consideration the reader and not just the writer—something that stories with "simpler" writing tones don't miss in this contest.

On the bright side, I'm glad to have the highest number of shiny icons beside a story and to also have one of the two stories that became the subject of a pic submission.

In the end, it's a much-needed learning experience and also a fun way to get the juices flowing and to interact with other writers and readers! Thank you for this event, thank you all, and see you soon!