Off in the distance, jazz music echoes through a rainy night. The clubs on the corners let out melodies like gasps from entwined lovers. Johnny is making eggs, two over-easy and a scramble. Steam rises from a half-empty cup of coffee sitting on a table older than its occupants. Scattered among the grease and grime sit the discarded remains of unfinished ideas, monuments to a capacity for higher thought but an inability to utilize it. Johnny arrives, two eggs, over-hard.
He studies his full cup, swearing to his deity of the month that he should kick the stuff. She stares, pleads with her eyes. He can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if he had just said no, if he had just walked away when he had the chance. An empty cup stares back at him, uncaring. Two lovers laugh and stumble in, drenched to the bone in hopeless confusion. They don’t mind.
He swore that moment stretched on longer than the Intercontinental Expressway, and with just as many construction projects. She slapped him. Hard. He didn’t react, but he wished the mark on his face would stay permanently burned into his skin, a reminder that he was alive, a reminder that there was more to this than simply showing up. She throws the book at him. He starts to write.
“Shouldn’t we, ya know...”
Stripes throws down a twenty. His lady can only stare at the full page in front of her. Cold eggs and an empty cup face her, framing the void where he once was. She leaves the notes behind.
Someone decided it would be a brilliant idea to put the new guy in charge of the new new guys. Now I have to be in charge of people! Help me...
Most war fics end up either being about a super soldier destroying everything in his path or entirely comprised of blood and guts. Sometimes even both. And I guess those have some appeal, but there’s more to war than super soldiers and blood and guts. So let’s take a look at what RedSquirrel did differently.
The entire story takes place in the middle of a siege. And that’s where things go differently than most stories. Instead of focusing on the assault of the city, RedSquirrel uses a lull in the battle to tell his story. The battering ram has reached the gates, and the mostly minotaur army is waiting to burst into the city. During this downtime, two friends converse and discuss what led them here. And by the time the gates are down, the story is over.
It’s such a short span of time, yet RedSquirrel crafted a wide world and created two excellent characters. In that one conversation, he’s created a rich backstory for minotaur culture, from holy cities and rebellions against oppressive rulers to a coalition army of griffons, ponies, and minotaurs fighting for that rebellion. And all of this worked because those two friends, the minotaur war-hero and his unicorn friend, were well-executed characters. Their differences, their contrast, made the conversation very interesting. I felt like I was reading the conclusion to a long, well-crafted story, yet it was a 3k one-shot.
Yep. This is a 3k one-shot. It’s a nice, quick read with excellent world-building and wonderfully crafted characters. If that’s not a good enough reason to give this a read, I don’t know what is.
I like to think that world building is a sort of pet mechanic of mine, one that I stress to peers and friends and one that I shamelessly relish in for its inherent detail. It is then with caveats that I recommend The Long Haul. This story is, for all intents and purposes, a dense and extremely pure shot of world building straight to your literary brain. It is the briefest of windows into an entire universe of backstory, complexity, and history, smack dab in the middle of a siege clearly centuries in the making and with the political implications innumerable. All of this immediately apparent and sitting perfectly steady without the broader context one might like to enjoy before reaching this pivotal scene.
For a fan of rich and detailed worlds, this is a double shot of espresso, with all of the rich, subtle and intricately woven flavors transporting you momentarily elsewhere, and depositing your now amped up self back into reality far sooner than you'd like.
More importantly, however, and the real genius of this extreme short, is that the world building is actually the backdrop. The real heart of the story is its characters, and the clearly ongoing moral and philosophical conversation they have. The nature of war, the role of friendship, the moral implications of means to ends, each touched upon, and each clearly a small drop in an ocean of a debate. Rearranging the metaphor, The Long Haul is a cup of world-building black coffee with a double shot of rich-character espresso.
Like coffee, though, enjoying this is a bit of an acquired taste, especially to really appreciate the subtlety. Readers expecting the glory of war time, or the expansion of fanon, will come away sorely disappointed that neither realm is even touched. The story is quite literally contextless as its focus remains on Epaulette and Grim, the two protagonists. Those expecting something related to the show will also find themselves wondering how to react; I would go so far as to say that aside from Equestria's species relations being juxtaposed, there is no real reason to even set Long Haul in the My Little Pony world. The theme of friendship contrasted with a depraved setting is not something unique to, even if inspired by, the show. This is, however, a testament to the strength of the story’s own merits.
Oh sweet baby Jesus, people actually trust me to do this?
I need more scotch...
Okay, where to begin with this story...
It’s pretty damn good.
I actually read this story some time ago, as it was entered in a writing competition which I judge for (a competition it subsequently won). The premise is simple: During a lull in a battlefield, two friends discuss what brought them here, what keeps them fighting, and the nature of the world. And to my surprise, it does all of these quite tactfully.
I'll admit, when I first heard of the premise, I was afraid it would be an absolute gore-fest. We all know the sort; the ones where the plot gets replaced by ropes of intestines, ruptured arteries and severed limbs. Don't get me wrong, gore does certainly have its place, but that place shouldn't be the heart of a story. This one, however, surprised me. It's grim and gritty, as you'd expect any battlefield to be, but RedSquirrel manages to dance around the more disturbing parts of war, deciding to focus on the characters instead.
One thing worth noting is the author really understands how to build a world. We get a glimpse at a place where minotaurs have risen up from oppression, where an alliance was formed between the noble races from across nations, and how friendships formed from such alliances, forged in the heart of battle, against the anvil that is this stronghold's walls. Contrasting and conflicting outlooks on life are brought alongside one another thanks to such bonds, and The Long Haul shows us how varied and different the world can be, while remaining the same on the inside.
The best part is he manages to do this while keeping the word-count just under 3k. It's short and sweet, and I really can't think of a reason why you wouldn't want to read this story, unless you don't like minotaur soldiers or something. And in that case, you have my permission to go tell them that face-to-face.
This story did two things for me: It reminded me how a proper horror story is meant to be told and just how important the description is.
Most people writing horror stories try and invent some terribly frightening evil creature. They try to make it as dark and spooky as possible, giving the reader all sorts of descriptions about just how scary this thing is. And then they write scenes to match this level of description. They explain in great detail just how terrified the characters are.
Good Intentions did none of that. The story starts out as a light-hearted slice of life, introducing two seemingly-innocent friends to Ponyville. They learn their way around town, then settle down, one setting up a carpenter’s shop and the other a beauty salon. Yet everything seemed... off. And that’s where the importance of descriptions comes in. The description mentioned there’s a dark, evil creature that hunts ponies running loose in Equestria. So each time something seems just a little bit off, that description comes to mind. Every time Twilight finds something possibly related to that creature, the contrast with the rest of the story is incredible. The combination of those small hints with the description creates something quite terrifying. The opening chapters seem so innocent, yet that contrast creates a sense of terror within the reader. Oh, and we haven’t even come close to seeing the creature yet.
But like the opening of chapter two says, “The problem with the unknown was that it left your imagination to run wild, and imagination could lead you anywhere if you let it,” not knowing what the creature is does wonders on the imagination. And this is all only about a third of the way through the story. As it continues on, the reasoning behind the title starts to become clear, more hints at the underlying darker story pop up, and a very well-executed dark story is told.
Sure, it’s over 90k words, but it’s one of the, if not the, best dark stories I’ve read on this site. From start to finish, I could not put this down.
I read Good Intentions a fair bit of time ago. It caught my attention after showing up in the new stories (or perhaps updated stories, I will not profess to have seen it before it was cool if I cannot produce the evidence required for such hipsterish activities) section at a time I was sort of tired of OC-based fan fiction. I would also preface by saying that I am a sucker for psychological horror. The best way to build tension, suspense, is to key your audience in early to the truth, but maintain your character’s ignorance in a realistic way. This sort of curtain reveal forces empathy into your reader, while at the same time evoking the sort of shock and screeching horror that could only be effectively produced by one’s own cocktail of neurochemistry.
Good Intentions is predicated on this very idea. It is a classic scenario wherein two OCs come to town and interact with the mane 6, but it is shrouded very quickly in a mystery and evil that is brilliant in its ability to strike fear into both the characters and the reader. Intentions layers a somewhat standard plot line into a different somewhat standard plot line, but ends up with a deep moral question regarding trust. The whole concept of friendship is put to the test in a way that frustrates the reader but refuses to let them be frustrated.
Moreover, the horror one feels comes from a very organic place. Though the original characters don’t stand out at first, one finds themselves able to identify with their archetypes quickly. They are written almost as a proxy for the reader to truly feel the terror that slowly threads itself through Ponyville, unable to put on the brakes as the world slowly, but increasingly, becomes both a dangerous and unforgiving place. In that vein, the story does a succinct job of keeping the reactions of each character believable, casting the citizens of Ponyville somewhat as antagonists but without sacrificing their inherent good nature, nor betraying the reader’s expectations of their goodwill. The meat of the story, and the true horror, comes from the realization that irrational actions are bred from a logical thought process; how else is one to react to an untraceable and readily apparent life-ending evil? The real turmoil is not the external threat to society, but the internal threat of society.
There are a few semantic nitpicks I have, especially with the author’s insistence on using the alternate “hallo” as opposed to “hello” in dialogue. The protagonists, though proxies, are still somewhat forgettable, and though it is extremely effective, the literal monster (as opposed the metaphorical one brought on through fear) feels really convenient and somewhat contrived.
Through it all, the story is still able to maintain a somewhat light heart, though perceptions are forever changed, there is no lingering resentment from the reader. Intentions is the standard those looking to write suspense/horror should abide by.
Alrighty, let's start this one of by saying this author really understands how to write horror scenes. And by that I mean there are barely any of them, with most of the story being relatively light-hearted in tone. The contrast between the slice-of-life Ponyville and the dark, tense will-she-or-won't-she-die-horribly terror scenes just amplifies the suspense, bringing you out in a cold sweat. And the descriptions of the perpetrator—or the lack thereof—means the reader's imagination runs rampant as to what could possibly behind these mysterious disappearances.
The story goes that a series of mysterious thefts begins as soon as two new ponies trot into town. This, on its own, isn't too worrying, as it would usually be the sign of particularly incompetent petty thieves. However, the pattern—or more accurately, lack of a pattern—to the thefts matches the calling card of a series of mass-disappearances. So, naturally, this is mildly worrying, so the mane 6 try to stop that sort of thing. You know, being heroes and all. Kinda their job.
Also worthy of note is this story's fondness of the word "Hallo". Reminds me uncomfortably of the time Rammstein visited my hometown.
The rest of this story, however, I'd describe as merely "good". There's a shipping subplot in there, but I don't really see it adding much to the story that couldn't have been obtained elsewhere, and I was astounded when two of the most boringly designed OCs I've ever heard of actually turned out to have decent characterisation. I mean, when an author introduces not one, but two new characters with grey coats and black manes, you can be forgiven for likening them to members of the Neutral Planet and expecting personalities to match.
And while the story has horror scenes that know their places in the world, the story itself wasn't anything to write home about, and the ending left me feeling slightly disappointed, as I'd imagined much more interesting baddies in my head.
But, yes, overall I liked this story. Suspense so thick you could try to cut it, but the knife would just get stuck instead is always a plus for me. It also asks one of the most important questions of our age:
"What DO you call a zebra with wings?"
See? This is what happens when people put me in charge of things. Two stories from the World-Building Alliance yet again! Not that I’m complaining!
As is expected from the group, this story does a lot of world-building, and it does it really well. The primary focus of the story is on griffon culture and how it appears to be on the cusp of great reform, or perhaps even revolution. It’s introduced a clan-based society that focuses quite a bit on status and tradition. This culture gives off a very Roman feel with how it’s set up politically. However, this isn’t all the story does. So far, it’s hinted at some very interesting bits of headcanon regarding technology and the history of Equestria. All in all, this story does some excellent culture-building, and once it’s finished, should prove to be quite the tale.
World-building aside, this story is as entertaining as it is because of the characters and how they interact with each other. The two introduced in the first chapter, Tor and Gareth, are executed wonderfully. The first, Tor, shows all the signs of being the typical idealistic noble who sets in motion a radical political motion while the second, Gareth, looks to be the typical snobbish noble convinced of his own importance. Yet for all these differences, the two appear to be friends. Given the way the story is headed, this looks to be leading to some interesting drama and conflict. I, for one, cannot wait to see how that relationship gets tested in the coming chapters.
There is something... missing. A sparsity, perhaps. I hesitate to fully give a recommendation here one way or the other. The simple truth is that I do not think there is enough happening here to merit one. The facts are these: sometime between the banishment of Nightmare Moon, but before her return, two well-to-do gryphons participate in a cultural event. The younger of the two proceeds to break caste to the chagrin of his elder, but lower stationed compatriot. The air is thick with societal pressure, heavy politicking, alcoholics, sliding doors, trams, and a penchant for the bourgeoisie and the world bordello.
The protagonist, Tor—a proverbial knight in shining tail feathers—lives out his life in the gryphon capitol a nobleman and senator, benevolent but aggravated. His motivations remain unclear, though it is crystal that he takes pleasure in being a poster child for democratic governance. It is a shame, then, that he seems able to maneuver through society so fluidly without raising the types of moral questions he seems prone to ask, and regularly asks of others. Tor has no problem making sly jabs at Equestrian monarchy and censorship, or challenging his own society’s notion of nobility, yet seems to fully take advantage of his station while remaining blissfully unaware of his own inherent hypocrisy. In a single motion he professes to dissuade the use of his own title, but fully utilizes it to get his way. It is a deep character flaw that remains unaddressed by the narrative, a shame considering how it is the perfect sort of internal conflict that can drive the somewhat stalling plot.
Granted, the story is but three chapters into what is setting up to be something much grander than a simple world-building tour. The descriptions of scenery and the city are wonderful, there is a palpable sense of theme and metaphor through architecture, in one case literal tiers of the city serving as hubs of activity for their relative social classes. The sense of history, too, is immense. Various hints are dropped regarding the past, and Celestia’s dealings in diplomacy, without hijacking the still character driven plot at the front of the story. Skill and care have been applied tactfully to convey an immensity to the reader without overwhelming them. The complex government of the gryphons is explained simply without sacrificing its intricacies, foreshadow is placed in believable conversation, long-standing agreements are mentioned in passing not as convenient explanations, but as natural, fleeting moments, and so on.
That in mind, I still find myself missing pieces and bits. Time skips are dealt with poorly, scene changes go from being fluid to jagged with no warning and no sense of tone or pacing. Expert world-building is butted up against far too many assumptions and superfluous information. Characters, especially at the start, are met partway through their conversations, but with no footholds for the reader to latch onto in order to quickly gain enough context to follow along. Simply, things often feel forced.
Despite these drawbacks, however, I must admit that I am piqued at the potential of this one. The weaving-in-progress of the tapestry-like backdrop has me keenly interested in the somewhat blasé story that is unfolding in the foreground. That, and the complexity (finally) offered to gryphon culture is a big draw.
Whether or not you want to read Fire on the Mountainside can be answered with a simple question:
Do you like Game of Thrones?
If yes; read this, as you'll enjoy it.
If no; stop lying, put down your season two box-set, and read this.
Low-born nobles battling with high-born sycophants, broken traditions and colossal secrets make for an interesting conflict, all set in the period before Nightmare Moon's return gives this story a distinctly George R. R. Martin feel. Thankfully, the living spoiler hasn't shown up yet to die before we get halfway through.
Oh, and did I mention it's all about Gryphons?
Interesting characters set the stage for what's shaping up to be a nationwide battle of wits that could change how the entire world is run. Tor, this tale's protagonist, is a true gentle man gryphon. While he himself is high up society's ladder, his actions show a great sympathy for those less fortunate, and is not afraid to smack a fool stop other gryphons from kicking the grips of those on lower rungs.
If I had to criticise it (and I do) I seem to remember the first chapter or so suffering from a bit of Lavender Unicorn Syndrome, leading to confusion over who was doing what, but it's definitely ironed out after that. Good job, you crazy Mongol.
An important thing to note to anyone looking to read this story is that it's nowhere near finished. At all. If one were to compare it to a gryphon, it wouldn't so much be a cub as an egg (do gryphons lay eggs? I've never thought about that before...)
This story has a long way to go, and it's only just taking its first steps. But I'm happy to watch it as it grows
Jesus Christ that sounds creepy
Now, go forth and read.
So sayeth the Plum