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And at the End, You Shall Remain Alone · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Escape
The air in Tartarus stank, as always, of roses.

It was different for everypony who visited. The ancient sages had held that one could divine a pony’s true nature by how Tartarus reflected them, that its innumerable horrors were not some cosmic zoo but simply a pony’s own mind, turned inside out. It was a depthless ocean for ponies who had committed murder at sea; a field of razor-edged grain for lords who glutted themselves while their vassals starved.

Celestia no longer believed such things. She just liked roses, and Tartarus knew that, and so it twisted her favor into something detestable. The stench of them sat heavy on the back of her tongue, gagging her. It was the same every time, and it would be years before she could wear rosewater perfume.

But years were something she had in plenty. In time, she would defeat Tartarus. She would love roses again.

Tartarus was a featureless moonscape this time. Endless fields of dull regolith stretched out beyond sight. A starless night sky met it at the razor-sharp horizon. One prison, imitating another. Some day, she imagined, when Luna’s banishment no longer troubled her, Tartarus would have to find something else to be.

All directions were the same here. She spun in a circle three times and began to walk.




Ghosts attended her path.

They were silent partners, as befitted them. They seemed more curious than anything; the dead, wondering who this intruder might be. Celestia knew better than to engage with them – they were, after all, only figments of her own mind. Guilty threads plucked out of the tangled mass by Tartarus and spun into mocking imitations of those she loved and those she had failed. A few whispered her name before evaporating.

There was Evening Star, the student she had cast out for necromancy and died a year later, victim of her own experiments. There was loyal Masterstroke, the general who led the doomed expedition to tame the wild gryphon tribes. He walked alongside Viridian, the first changeling Celestia had ever loved. They vanished when she looked too closely, dispersing into a cloud of moondust that drifted into the past.




Celestia knew she had reached her destination when she could advance no further.

Mountains had grown around her. The vast plain constricted, becoming a valley, then a canyon, then finally this: a narrow trail between high rock walls that ended in a little pit not much larger than the bed of a wagon. If she bothered to measure it, she guessed it would be the exact dimensions of the dungeon cells beneath her castle, so mercifully unused in these civilized times.

She tried to move forward. Something prevented her.

“Mine,” a weak, rasping voice whispered. “Mine, not yours.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to trespass. May I enter?”

“Of course not.” His form came into view. A centar, frail and diminished, huddled atop a basalt slab. All around him the pit flowed with fire. Flames licked at the bare rock, questing for him. “All the world is yours, Celestia, but this is mine.”

She studied the pit. It didn’t take long. “How proud you must be.”

“You mock me, but this is no little thing. All throughout Creation mighty Celestia may go as she pleases, but not here. I forbid it.”

“And what if I offered you more?”

Silence. Tirek studied her for what felt like hours. “More?”

“Freedom. Parole from this prison.”

He snorted. “In return for supplication, I presume?”

“No. Just your word that you will not harm anypony. Live as you please, but make slaves of no thinking beings. That is all I ask.”

“A type of slavery for myself, then.” He reached out a bone-thin arm. The flames caressed it, blackening it. “No. I will stay here and grow. Tartarus purifies those who who embrace it. In this purgatory I will find the strength to challenge you again. And here, I am the master. You must come to me to beg for an audience. And I say to you, no. Begone.”

Celestia took a long, slow breath. It stank of roses and fire. When it was clear Tirek had nothing more to say, she she turned and left.

In the pit, unseen, Tirek reclined on the rock slab. He sank again into the flames, bathing in the fires that refined him.
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#1 ·
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This had a setup which drew me right in. Your description of Tartarus was very tangible while still building around Celestia's character. You made me want to keep reading to learn what had brought her here, why she'd bother subsuming herself in her past sins. I like the sense of mystery and atmosphere you build into the intro. Major props!

Then, the last section happens, and I'm afraid I felt myself suddenly high and dry. We don't learn why Celestia came here, nor does she seem that desperate to fulfill her goal. I wouldn't mind that so much if the introduction hadn't already hyped me up to learn more, but what we learn leaves me disappointed. Ultimately, all the subtle intrigue built in the introduction had me hoping for a better payoff. Then again, maybe I missed the point of the story.

Though I left this story with a bad taste in my mouth, the highly competent writing made the ending an easier pill to swallow. I'd still rate this upper-mid tier. Thanks for writing!
#2 · 1
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I absolutely loved the descriptions here; they were vivid, and this presentation of Tartarus is really perfect.

Unfortunately, while it had a lot to say about Celestia, it had very little to say about the actual "story" here; Celestia fails in her little quest and leaves, but nothing really happened.

As such, the story lacks any sort of really meaningful arc. It just kind of ends.

I love the imagery and prose here, I really do. But I can't love the story, because there isn't much there. Celestia is who she is, Tirek is petty and evil and likes hurting people, and nothing changed.
#3 ·
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Most short stories have some sort of narrative arc to them. What's the point, after all, in reading one if nothing actually happens?

This piece didn't have one, but worked in spite of that. The imagery and descriptions were beautiful, and rendered the story less of a narrative and more of a poignant portrait of two people. It succeeds largely on the strength of its prose and insight.

Thanks for the entry, author.
#4 ·
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Very nice:

But the POV switch at the end didn't work for me in the slightest.

One of the writing principles that I've lately become a big fan of is ending a story very firmly in the POV of the character the story's actually about. Give the last word to the main character, as it were. So a switch like this at the very end makes me think that, even though we've been following Celestia throughout, the story's actually been about Tirek the whole time.

But it isn't, as near as I can tell. It's much more about Celestia, and I'd suggest it needs to be even more about her. Make it so that she comes to offer Tirek parole on the 50th or 100th anniversary of her exiling Luna or something. Make it so that her journey here isn't about Tirek at all but is all about Celestia feeling that she didn't do enough to help Luna back then. Celestia can't break the timelock on Luna's exile--that thousand year thing is inviolable--but she can try to assuage her guilt by extending her offer to Tirek. She knows he'll refuse, and she can leave feeling better about herself.

Or something like that, anyway. Make the story be about Celestia. Put the last line in her POV, and make this visit to Tirek mean something to her. That'll give it the arc folks are looking for.

Mike
#5 ·
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This is incredibly familiar. I swear we've seen a "Celestia visits Tartarus, and offers Tirek a second chance" minfic in the writeoff, at least a year or so back.

At least, I think that's what this story was about. I'm not all that sure what its focus is supposed to be, whether that's Celestia's ghosts, or Tirek himself, or... I don't know, is Celestia trying to make herself feel better by offering Tirek a second chance?

I just feel like the themes that the story's trying to work in there don't coalesce into a very effective whole. Lovely prose, haunting imagery, but the message here feels confused.
#6 · 1
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This was beautifully written. Unfortunately, I don't have the foggiest idea what it means.

For those in the "a minific doesn't have to tell a complete story arc" school, this would be an easy ballot-topper. But I'm left wondering what the point was. We start out with Tartarus torturing Celestia with subverting her love of roses and images of her sister's prison. Sister angst, which is an obvious interpretation of the prompt, and which I haven't seen yet, even as I approach the last few stories. I was looking forward to it in this case, since Tartarus screwing with her would be an interesting angle on it. But then that just gets dropped.

That confused me at first. I thought the scene break there meant the rest of the story happened at a later time, but now I believe it's that she was going into Tartarus anyway to speak to Tirek, and the roses/moon stuff was just what happened when she first got there. So it's weird to go into all that and then abandon it entirely. In a longer story, yeah, that's nice atmosphere, but then it's just begging to be revisited as thematic. Here, you'd benefit from greater focus, and the word count could be used to develop the second scene. Assuming my interpretation is right, I'd drop the scene break.

So, on to that. What's Celestia's aim here? She's just going to offer him parole out of the goodness of her heart? I have no idea what she's trying to accomplish or how she arrived at this decision. Thus I don't understand the stakes, so it elicits little more than a shrug from me when he refuses her.

Beautifully written, but it feels like two very loosely connected stories, neither of which comes to any sort of conclusion.