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Today's story delves into Secrets Ponies Weren't Meant To Know.
[Adventure] [Crossover] [Dark] • 40,699 words
North of bountiful Equestria and beyond the Crystal Empire lies an icy land of cryptic mystery. Its inner reaches have never been explored, but a Canterlot University expedition is set to change this. The plan is simple: penetrate the unknown depths of the Uncharted North and discover its most hidden secrets.
It's a noble undertaking, but a dark cloud looms on the horizon. Princess Luna's dreams have revealed a great but shadowy threat. To minimise the danger, Princess Celestia requests that her most loyal student, Twilight Sparkle, join the expedition and keep everypony safe. With the aid of her number one assistant, Spike, and mailmare Derpy Hooves, Twilight will attempt to do exactly that.
FROM THE CURATORS: "Somehow, Lovecraft crossovers seem to become a small but integral part of every fandom," Chris said when introducing this story to us. "I never was particularly enamored of Lovecraft's writing ... this, however, is very nice." It didn't take long for us to agree. "I was pretty much sold on this one by the end of the first chapter," Horizon said. "Strong worldbuilding is so crucial to an adventure that shows us the world beyond Equestria, and this has that in spades — not just in translating Lovecraft to Equestria, but in all the original material that reconciles and expands the two."
That was best exemplified by this story's attention to detail, Horizon said: "'The Stormwalds.' 'Svalbarding.' 'Aeolipyle' as the airship name — it was the word used to describe the Greek world's first steam engine, and Aeolus was the god of the wind. Oh, man, so much care has gone into this." But it wasn't just the mythology that drew us in. "Even beyond that, it's the hints of essential Equestrianity," Chris said, "from big stuff like the use of magic to tiny asides like 'feathers sounded against coat, that uniquely pegasus sound that spoke to their dual natures' to everything about Derpy in this story." And while the Lovecraftian prose was a challenge for some of us, AugieDog thought it fit the story well: "It's got a great narrative voice, the way it mixes the Twilight we know from the show with those hapless first-person narrators who inhabit most of Lovecraft's stuff."
That mixing, in fact, was what we unanimously agreed to be the biggest strength. "This shines when it expands beyond its inspiration, and makes itself its own," Chris said. "This is no mere ponification, and the way this story uses the Elder Ones, and how it reveals more about them and their creations, is deliciously enticing." Horizon agreed: "Its commentary on the relationship between ponies and Elder Ones is really remarkable — and it does some fascinating things as a fusion of two messages about the nature of reality that by all rights should be incompatible." In summary, as AugieDog put it, that fusion was exemplary: "That the author manages to combine Lovecraft and Pony without either completely destroying the other is just this side of sorcery."
Read on for our author interview, in which Glimmervoid discusses occult computers, Roman sacrifices, and the flowing rivers of fandom.Read More
Dig into a famous archaeologist's past with today's story.
[Adventure] • 13,637 words
Cranky Doodle Donkey has spent years searching Equestria for that special jenny he lost at the Grand Galloping Gala. He's been to cities far and wide, and searched from the peaks of the tallest mountains to the floors of the lowest valleys. He's seen it all, or so he claims. The roads are his and his alone, and the solitude is something he's simply grown used to.
Until one night, he discovers a filly hiding in a snowy hollow, scared, alone, and freezing to death ...
FROM THE CURATORS: In some ways, this story is exactly what it appears to be: a world-spanning, decades-long adventure about two restless wanderers drawn together by fate. But Daring Doodle Donkey is both simpler than that, and much deeper than that. "This is almost less a story than an explanation — a look at how to assemble a particularly unlikely but not implausible bit of headcanon," Chris said. "Stories like that are usually awful because they exist for no other purpose than to justify whatever 'clever' idea they've dreamed up. But this fic exceeds its fellows by not only explaining its premise, but by actually investing in it."
That gentler, more reflective approach was something we all appreciated. "The 24th Pegasus isn't afraid to dive into low-key, low-stakes scenes, despite the Adventure tag this fic carries, and the result is a story in which Cranky and Daring exist as more than just tools to push forward an author's agenda," Chris said, and Present Perfect agreed: "For all that this has the trappings of a world-spanning adventure, it's really just a story about an adoptive family, how they grow apart and together again over a long span of time. Really remarkable stuff." AugieDog, too, was impressed by that more personal focus. "I've always had a soft spot for stories that show how characters who are unlikely to even meet on the show could interact," he said. "This is very much a character piece focused on the influence the two have on each other and how they each fit into the other's lives, and on that level, it works quite well. A fun story all around."
That combined with strong prose to seal this story's feature. "The descriptions in this are both vivid and economical," Horizon said, "both in the sense of place they inspire and in the passage of time." Present Perfect was also caught by the story's imagery — "in particular, that early scene where Cranky nearly falls to his death and has to take a few moments to process still being alive," he said. "The writing in this story is top-notch, and one of the main draws."
Read on for our author interview, in which The 24th Pegasus discusses unexplored ruins, sunscreen boops, and marshmallow death lasers.Read More
Today's story will leave its mark on you.
[Comedy] [Random] • 35,789 words
'Unseen and unheard: They must never know'.
That's the motto of the CMAA, the Cutie Mark Allocation Agency. Nopony knows who they are or what they do, but they're vital to the workings of Equestrian society.
This is the story of two of these unsung heroes of the pony world, who selflessly sacrifice their time and energy for those blasted mysterious cutie marks that the ponies seem to like so much.
FROM THE CURATORS: In the hands of many authors, this story's core idea — that a band of snipers targets foals and fillies with Cutie Mark guns — would have become a brief and forgettable one-shot, but it doesn't take long for this story to transcend its roots. "There's nothing I love so much as watching an author take a crackfic idea seriously, plant the seed, and then have something beautiful blossom from that," Horizon said, and as soon as we're introduced to the gnome Glummwriggle and his employer and coworkers, that beauty is apparent. "The cast is probably best described as 'David the Gnome meets Office Space' (a thoroughly intuitive pairing, I think you'll agree)," Chris said, "and Hoopy's knack for observational comedy and asides in general shines in that setting."
There were plenty of other things to appreciate, as Present Perfect noted. "This story is a lot of fun," he said. "It's quirky, it's whimsical, it's charming, and I really enjoyed reading it. The stakes are always clear, the pacing is quick and smooth, and the idea behind it is so goofy, yet plays out in a perfectly serious way." Horizon similarly appreciated the crispness of the storytelling — "the pacing here was dynamic; I never felt that nothing was going on" — while Chris was enchanted by the comedic twists of the prose: "My notes on the story are pretty much just a bunch of funny lines that I highlighted."
Even the bit parts contributed to the story with outsized flair and memorability. "Shadeswell is a perfect example of everything this story gets right, a smart blend of ridiculous, serious, and self-subversive," Horizon said, and AugieDog offered an insightful suggestion as to why: "What I liked most about this story was its deft use of so many cliches. Too many authors use them as shortcuts to avoid doing any creative thinking. So when an author actually uses cliches in a creative fashion, it always gets a grin out of me. Knowing when to undercut a cliche is important — such as with Shadeswell — but it's also important to let some cliches play out, and the author does both to good comedic effect throughout."
Read on for our author interview, in which Hoopy McGee discusses Shyamalan subversions, Tirek tea parties, and garden gag gifts.Read More
The Royal Guard—This Is (Not Really) Halloween Edition
Every few weeks, we recommend six high-quality stories from a variety of authors and popular genres. From action/adventure to slice of life, from drama to comedy, from stories about ponies kissing to stories involving pink hairless apes, we feature a wide variety of stories so that every post has something for everyone.Read More
I'm stuck inside today's story, trying to find a way out. (Please send help.)
[Comedy] [Crossover] [Random] • 3,837 words
Two magical prodigies cast in Twilight's shadow stumble about in somepony else's story and try to find meaning in their lives.
An affectionate parody of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Which is in itself an absurdist and existentialist parody of Hamlet.
FROM THE CURATORS: With many of our featured authors, we face a difficult choice of which of their RCL-quality stories to spotlight — and in this case, we decided that good things come in small packages. "I've been trying for months now to work up a pitch for either of Oroboro's 100,000+ word epics, The Heart of an Author or Fractured Sunlight, but this story displays all the author's positives without making anyone take a week off to read it," AugieDog said.
Chief among those positives was Oroboro's way with words. "My favorite part of this is how the dialogue changes when it stops being 'their story'," Present Perfect said. "Everyone talks like an overblown stage actor; it's quirky and marvelous and just a fascinating way to show what's going on." That deft touch extended from the small touches to some larger ones. "This story certainly chooses its fourth-wall breaks well, and every one of them got a grin out of me," Horizon said. "The narrator judging the story with 'Then she galloped off to save her marefriend or whatever' was a great blend of subtle and satirical. And I love that it effortlessly shifts back and forth from that sort of hilarity to sober discussions of stories and our role in them."
Our biggest debate was over how authentic this was to the source that it drew from. "This does just enough to distinguish itself from R&GAD to be a fresh take on the subject," Chris said, "but I don't think this makes any cogent statement about secondary realities or fictional existence the same way the source material does." To AugieDog, however, that was a positive: "This takes the idea of the existential metadrama and makes it absolutely Pony," he said. "Yes, Starlight and Sunset come to realize that the story they're in isn't about them at all, but their reactions to this state of affairs are nicely free of angst, and the ending gives the two more leeway than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get in the last scene of their play." And Horizon thought this was best evaluated as its own story rather than as a statement on Stoppard's play: "Whether or not this is meaningful in the meta, it's profound in the small and does make a statement in the large. Like any good crossover, it stakes out ground of its own in between its two sources."
Read on for our author interview, in which Oroboro discusses normal speaking voices, great lunches, and Japanese-accented orcs.Read More