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And at the End, You Shall Remain Alone · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Tireless
Applejack opened the front door to a blast of cold air and a very concerned friend.

Fluttershy stood in her doorway for minutes upon minutes, letting in all the cold as she informed her that Twilight’s fancy new pet bird had ran away. Flown away, actually.

“So it just--” Applejack motioned with her hooves. “No provokatin’ or anything?”

“Right out the front door,” Fluttershy replied. “Twilight was inconsolable. She had just fed it.”

Applejack nodded slowly. The way the muscles in her neck creaked and complained, it seemed she would be doing everything slowly for the foreseeable future. “Sure, I can help. What do you need?”

“You and I--well, I was just thinking we’d be the best at search-partying, so I volunteered us. We could start looking along the edge of your orchard. If it’s not there, we could work our way back into town. There’s so many places it could have gone, but if we get started now--”

“No need to check the orchards,” Applejack said, tossing a scarf over her neck dismissively. She knew she was coming across as surly, but even the modicum of effort it took to be polite seemed out of reach this morning. “Do you want some coffee?” she asked hopefully.

“No thank you. We should get going.”

See? No hope. Applejack threw on her coat, which did nothing to alleviate the draft. “I suppose we should,” she said, and together they started off towards town.

It was a long, slow walk to the section of houses across from the castle. “Remind me again why Twi got that thing?” Applejack asked once she had acclimated to the dry air.

Fluttershy replied over her shoulder, “I think she was lonely.”

“She got friends, don’t she? She got us.”

“Yes, well, I was thinking about that too when she first got the bird.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And watching the bird fly around, and watching us all go about our days--I think we’re more flighty than that bird was. Sometimes.”

“But it flew away.”

Fluttershy nodded. “So do we, from time to time.”

“Ah‘m not a bird,” Applejack muttered. “You’re a bird.”

Fluttershy pretended not to notice. When they reached the main street leading to the princess’s castle, Applejack picked up her pace and set her eyes on the small groves of dormant trees sticking out between buildings.

It took hardly ten minutes of searching and circling before she found the noticed a splash of color in an otherwise empty tree a few blocks away from the castle. The bird was stone dead and frozen to a branch, dangling upside down like a ridiculously-colored icicle. Its feathers looked recently and professionally groomed. If a little bird could look sharp, this one would be the benchmark. She could see why Twilight would want it around.

Applejack had a short staring contest with the bird. Its eyes were frozen over, its body curled slightly. It looked like nothing to her. “How’s Twilight?” she asked. “Anyone keepin’ her company?”

“The rest of the girls are taking care of her.”

“Good.” Applejack turned towards town. “We should, too.”

Fluttershy held up her hoof. “We should get to burying it. Don’t you think we should?”

“Maybe,” AJ replies. “If I’m bein’ honest, something’ll come along and take care care of it before long. Winter’s starvin’ time. No sense lettin’ it go to waste.”

Fluttershy took her arm. Her eyes were pleading--something Applejack didn’t have the energy to counter. Cold earth was one thing. Cold eyes, hers especially, were another.

“How long have you been at this?” Applejack asked. “You must be freezing.”

“Just a little while. It’s nothing.”

Applejack couldn’t help but admire how hard that little pegasus worked just to keep herself warm. When the hours were long and the cold was biting and death was dangling in the tree like that dumb bird, she sometimes thought of Fluttershy. It brought life to her days.

Applejack said, “I’ll get a shovel.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Get two.”
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#1 · 1
· · >>TitaniumDragon
This is, first and foremost, a character piece — which is why I'm a little annoyed at myself that my primary takeaway from the story was "What is going on with the cold that defines the setting?" But it was a question I thought the story was building up to answering, even if only around the edges, and it left me hanging badly enough to distract me.

The story says it's winter, but let's be honest, birds flash-freezing into icicles isn't a normal winter thing. We don't see Celestia or Luna, but this isn't a case of eternal night or lonely Twilight having loss of solar control: at least not if "this morning" is anything to go by. If there's windigos, or lack of friendship lowering the temperature, or some weird Flurry-Heart-destroys-the-Crystal-Heart AU thing going on, there's no textual clue of it, and I don't even feel like I have anything to speculate with other than Something Is Unusual.

And a big part of the reason that mystery bugged me so much is that I feel like it's tied into the central mystery of what's going on with the characters, which felt like it had a similar lack of either closure or explanation. Why is Twilight lonely enough to want a bird when her friends are taking care of her? Why wasn't Applejack there? What happened to her to require being taken care of, and when did things shift from friendly flightiness to the implied convalescence? Without any context for any of that, all I get is a scene of Applejack being disgruntled amid a deadly and isolating winter, which admittedly is pretty thematically on point but isn't making a statement about anything.

To use an analogy, the house here seems solid but the foundation isn't doing its work, which for me is causing otherwise beautifully written prose to collapse. Fortunately, revision should be easy: tell us what's going on, even if it's just a sentence or two of exposition near the beginning. If I hadn't been sucked into the mystery of why things were as they were -- if you'd signposted that it was just a background thing, it wasn't important -- I could have focused on the characters' reactions to the situation rather than trying to tease the latter out of the former.

Thanks for writing!
#2 ·
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>>horizon said exactly what I was thinking here.

At first, I was expecting the bird to be a phoenix. A bird that lives forever seems like a natural companion to an immortal creature, which is part of why Philomena is the perfect pet for Celestia.

The fact that it died, however, points against that, which makes me wonder - why a bird? What's the point here? Heck, Twilight already *has* a pet bird.

This story seems too nebulous to me; it feels like it has some sort of message, but whatever it is is garbled to the point where I don't recognize it. Is Applejack old, or just being creaky because it's early in the morning? The text doesn't tell me.

There's all these things in here that seem like they should be pointing towards some greater whole, but I don't know what it *is*.
#3 ·
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There are a lot of moving parts in play in this one, underneath the deceptively simple surface. I like the cold edge you've given Applejack's characterization—it's refreshing to see a (for lack of a better term) edgier take on a character that we're all probably super familiar with, instead of the same old easy and safe stuff. The dialogue also really have a complexity that hints at a deeper meaning.

My main issue, here is that the meaning is just not apparent enough, at least to me. This kind of applies on all levels the machine, from the nuts and bolts (how was Applejack sure that the bird wasn't in the orchards?) all to the big picture design (why winter, and why the pacing emphasis on the "starving time" line?).

I'm really hoping for somebody to figure this out and let me know what I'm missing. Because as of right now, I really want to enjoy this story, but I end up feeling dumb because I can't figure it out.
#4 ·
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A few small-ish editing things.

I'm getting confused by the character moods. AJ complains Fluttershy is being slow, but when AJ suggests coffee, which would delay them, she's annoyed that Fluttershy doesn't want any. Then Fluttershy, who seemed in a rush to get on the case, is content to walk slowly to town.

Ultimately, I don't know what the point was. Something about Twilight feeling like she was short on companionship, but more about AJ getting a new appreciation for Fluttershy. That doesn't really hit home though. It's so understated as to be easy to miss. It's not going to take two ponies to bury something as small as a bird, but the point about them doing it together is well-taken. However, there's an interesting bit of characterization for Fluttershy that I've seen turn up in a few stories, and one I've used myself. This story has the perfect setup for it, too. AJ mentions how something will come along to eat the bird, and as an animal lover, wouldn't Fluttershy want that, in these times of scarce food? Some starving wolf or fox or whatever could really use the meal. Of course, they should consult Twilight first, but then why aren't they waiting for her before they bury it?

Cute story, and I like the character interactions, but it's a little unfocused in character attitudes, perspective, and message.

And yay, managed to review everything in one night! Now it's 4 in the morning, and I'm going to bed, dammit.