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On Thin Ice · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Walking on Air
The light shone through the floor, the ice sheet that formed the base of her world, and streamed up into the darkness. Overhead, through the occasional beams that struck through the dark blue-green haze of the water, she could see towering reefs, blooming with coral flowers, upside-down fish adapted for the deep dark cold, and far away the object of her search, the ghostly outline of a ship, the ancient vessel Ariantha, lying on the sea-floor overhead.

Lorechaser, Earth-pony archaeologist and now budding ocean explorer, strode alone along the ice sheet, protected from cold and suffocation by warmth spells cast by her unicorn associates, and a charm of untiring nourishment, which provided air to her that flowed from her nostrils and left puddles under the ice to mark her trail as if she were leaving hoofprints. It took her an hour of slow walking to close with the Ariantha, and thence its slender masts and castellated stern looked like a fairy palace that had fallen into liquid darkness directly above.

She opened her pack and took out a coil of rope attached to a sturdy weighted hook. Keeping firm hold of the coil, she released the weight and paid it out with controlled releases until the hook reached the wreck far overhead. She lifted it and recast it several times to make firm contact with the sodden wooden hull, then attached a small wheeled device to the rope. Turning a crank on it with her forehooves, she was drawn through the water to the sea floor and the Ariantha’s final resting place.

A half hour later, she’d reached the deck. The water was a deep green almost as dark as ink and she pulled a small cylinder from her pack and bit it. The mixture within it started to glow a pale blue. By its light she swam through the water near the ship’s afterdeck, tattered remnants of sails drifting slowly in the water like death shrouds.

Lorechaser found the doors and went belowdecks, feeling her way along the tight stairways into deeper darkness. Her light did not shine far and she had to use her memory of the ship’s building plans, 570 years old, that were still preserved at the Canterlot archives. With several misturns, she felt her way through the black maze to the Captain’s quarters. And there, within an ancient sea desk, she found the main goal of her search--the small golden strongbox of the legendary Captain Basan.

Following the faint shine of her trailing air bubbles, she found her way to the deck again, and there she opened another package. As she fiddled with the clasps, she saw pairs of pale green eyes start to appear in a circle around her. The ponies of the deep sea had found her.

Lorechaser punched her way into the package and burst a bladder within. The canvas ripped apart and a balloon inflated with a great hiss of bubbles, rising rapidly towards the sea ice overhead. The pale green eyes and odd equine silhouettes closed around her to give chase as she rose upward!

She knocked the spears they threw away from her balloon, but one of them cast a sizzling spell at her, too diffuse to block. It burst around her and undid all the magic spells that protected her. She held what little breath she had left as she rose to the surface and the cold bite of the water stole the life and warmth from her skin.

She reached the ice overhead spellless and desperate for air, but her innate abilities could not be taken from her. She cast off the balloon and her broad splayed hooves struck back hard against the ice sheet, and struck again, and now there were lines in the ice like the lightning forms in breaking glass.

Once more Lorechaser struck, and the ice shattered around her and she fell up, propelled by the buoyancy of the water, up into the sky, beyond the reach of sea creatures. With the inversion of the world came a flood of bright sunshine and fresh crisp air, and she struggled her way to firmer ground even as her expedition mates spotted her and ran towards her over the frozen sea ice to aid her…

An hour later, wrapped in a blanket with a mug of hot coffee at her side, Lorechaser sat with her friends ashore, pleased to have done her duty and given her colleagues a new treasure from the past to study.
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#1 ·
Solid entry, but doesn't really stand out to me. I liked the ponies of the deep, but their appearance felt brief, delayed (in terms of narrative introduction to the concept), and unthreatening. The directional inversion (lying on the sea-floor overhead) was a bit confusing and I never quite understood it on first read. The concept and prose otherwise worked well for me.
#2 ·
I really like the sense of style and imagery here. The whole upside-down ice trekking thing was a really cool mental shapshot, and the little details like seeing air pool "below" Lorechaser's hooves were nice touches.

Now, this is a really impactful decision to take the approach of really high-level narration with no dialogue and mostly descriptive sentences. There are definitely pros and cons to this choice. While it definitely condenses your prose and lets you pack in a lot of informative detail in the minific framework, it does cost you some sense of immediacy. The writing itself is solid (I never got the sense that I was reading a list of things that happened, which is a common pitfall), but when we're dealing with the kind of text that casually skips a couple of hours between paragraphs, it's hard to switch gears and tune in to the action when it happens. Which makes the bit with the monsters feel like the weakest part of your story, when it should be your climax.

My other concern is more of a personal thing, but I tend to have trouble connecting to OCs unless I'm given very strong character traits to latch on to. Lorechaser's name is a pretty good signal for the kind of pony she is, but outside of that (and the very last sentence) we don't get much about her as a person. So was a little hard to transplant her satisfaction at the story's end and make it my own.

I kind of end up wishing this were a 2-3K word piece, because while there is already a lot here, there's definitely a lot more that can be fleshed out to make it really impactful. And what is already here maybe could use a little more breathing room to help us switch gears from high-level narration to the moment-to-moment work. Fitting big ideas into minifics is hard, and you're definitely owed kudos for what you were able to manage.

Thanks for entering!
#3 ·
For my part:

I found the set-up very confusing. I had to read the opening paragraphs three or four times before I could unscramble what was going on. And once I did get it, I found myself wondering why? Why couldn't they just walk across the top of the frozen lake? What conditions prevailed here that made the whole rigamarole described here the only way to reach the wreck?

I'll suggest starting the story a scene or two earlier while the explorers are in camp trying to argue Lorechaser out of doing things this way while she's convinced no other approach will work. That'll give us a chance to get to know her, too, so we'll care more about her when the dangerous stuff starts happening.

#4 · 1

Something I liked:

Okay, so when I say anything positive or negative about this entry, I'm doing it with the mindset that this entry will eventually be expanded. So when I say that I like what the author is going for, and that it's very ambitious, I say so on the assumption that we'll get more of this. Now, there are several things to appreciate here, not the least of them being the usage of the word "spellless," which tells me the author has some brass gonads. Another is that this story focuses on an OC who touches on lore, but then her name is Lorechaser, so... And I like how unorthodox this expedition is, impractical as it may be.

Something I didn't like:

Writing a minific without dialogue is a very risky move, and usually it doesn't pay off. The biggest reason is that lack of dialogue prevents the reader from getting to know the main character to a certain degree, and that's the case here. I don't know anything about Lorechaser aside from her occupation and that apparently she's not the most conventional of explorers. We don't get to know anything about her crew or the sea ponies(?) who get maybe a paragraph each. It's honestly hard to follow what's happening on a first reading because so much action is crammed in and we get to digest very little of it.

Verdict: Expand pls k thnx bye.