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WednesdayWhoa! Everything's Different! (UPDATED)10 comments · 98 views
Whoa! It's like coming back to your house after a vacation and finding that someone has reorganized the reading room. Not the living room or the kitchen so much, but mostly the reading room.
Of course, I'll probably find the same once I get back home officially. Right now I'm back from the fishing trip but not back from Alaska yet. In fact, yesterday was the last day of post-trip boat work. Also, the swelling in my my hands has yet to go down all the way yet, which is how I gauge my "this is done" meter. Don't worry if you're curious, this year I took a picture of my hands in their swollen state. They're about three-quarters of the way back to normal at the moment (making typing this a bit like flexing a, tight, sore muscle after a workout, like stretching a stiff, cold, rubber-band), but once they've reached normal size and feel normal again I'll take a second picture and put up a comparison.
Also, there probably won't be a writers guide post this Monday. I'm not 100% sure on that, however. It sort of depends on how my trip back goes, how much immediate work I have to do upon returning before I get back to work, and what my mental state is when I do return. Getting back into the swing of things after a month of not writing and working 18 hours a day always takes a day or two.
Like I said, we'll see. I don't want to put it off any longer than necessary, but I want it to be useful.
So, that said, how about this FimFiction update!? I think it's great. At least, the mobile side of it. Mobile functionality is now a real thing, so I don't have to resort to OS tricks to get functions of the page to work anymore. And I've liked the idea of the bookshelf system since I first heard of it. I'm not sure how this will change up my usual habit of thanking everyone who faves my works? More to think about. Plus, now I need to organize my own system. Still, nice to see the mass flood of Dusk Guard stories onto shelves labeled "10/10" or "Must Reads of FImFiction."
Okay, okay, okay, so writing news. I promised brainstorming while I was gone, and you guys are getting it. First up, some news some of you may not welcome. Colony probably won't release this year. I know, I'm disappointed myself, in myself. There will be a longer post on what's gone wrong with it, but the truth is that it's going to need some draft work. More than usual.
And I know why. I tried a few new things with Colony, and unfortunately, some of them didn't work. I've learned a few lessons from it as a result (and that'll be a writing post, I guarantee it), lessons I won't forget easy.
Don't read this wrong, Colony isn't getting scrapped, like the first draft of The Phoenix. It's simply going to take some work. I'll send it out to some Alpha Readers as soon as it's done and start collecting feedback on where it falls flat and where it works.
While that happens, I move my next writing project into full attention. "The Dusk Guard: Beyond the Borderlands" is getting my full attention as soon as Colony's first draft is out. And, thankfully, it has not suffered the experimentation I did with Colony. My goal is to get the whole thing done in a month. 4-5K words a day, 5-6 days a week. Month and a half maybe? We'll see. But I'm excited to finally, finally get the next bit of the Dusk Guard out and ready. Then I can start sweating on "Hunter/Hunted."
And while I'm working on "Beyond," I'll spend a day or two getting Hunter and Dawn's side stories published on FimFic at last. I promise. Look for those very soon. They're both done, they just need editing work and covers.
Anyway, and past "Beyond?" I've got my next project.
My next book will be titled Shadow of an Empire, and I'm excited to start work on it. A western fantasy—by which I mean Wild West, with outlaws and guns, not Western World—set in a shattered world where The Empire reigns supreme. Those who choose to live in the next to lawless outskirts of its territory are fast with a gun and quick with their magic, but always mindful that no matter how far away it may seem, the Empire's shadow has a long reach. Magic, six shooters, good, and evil; they're all going to collide! I'm still working out a few details (wait until you see THIS magic system, it's RAD!) but I can tell you this for certain: this one is going to be a blast. Plus, like "Rise" and "Beyond," I'm not trying anything new as far as writing techniques go, so it should be a straight start to straight finish project.
Anyway, it's good to be back on land and on the grid!
UPDATE: Oh, and next week is Halloween! And I've got something coming for that! Keep an eye on this space!
3w, 3dOff the Grid I Go!5 comments · 73 views
All right guys, this is it! I've been able to log in with my phone whilst away in Alaska to keep somewhat up to date, but today, I board the mighty fishing vessel I'm currently beholden to and head for the fishing grounds! Which means, sadly, that I will be off the grid for at least two to three weeks.
But that's okay! It's a good off the grid. Because while I'll be away, I'm going to be doing a lot of grunt work, which means I've got plenty of time to think. And think. And plot, and pace...
In other words, when I get back I'll have a wealth of new story content to offer. Hunter's side story and Dawn's (at long last) to start, but Colony is almost done with its first draft, and once that's off to the alpha readers, the staggered work I've done on "Beyond the Borderlands" can go to full-time project in earnest. I'm still hoping for a near-Christmas release, but no promises. That means it could be sooner but it could be later. I'm cutting no corners with this.
Anyway, the original point of this was that I'll be back soon, and with lots of brainstorming done for the next few things coming after "Borderlands" and Colony. Like "Hunter/Hunted." Or Shadow of an Empire and The Phoenix. And, of course, lots of blog post topics!
All right, I need to go grab my gear and get underway to board our mighty vessel. It's time to face the fierce fall elements of Alaska, and catch those shrimp!
3 comments · 171 views
Welcome back for today's Being a Better Writer post. Hopefully it's a good one, because it's going to be the last one for a little while. Starting this Wednesday, I'll be off to Alaska for work, and shall effectively (and sadly) become a bit of an internet recluse, since it'll be both tricky to get online (I won't be able to at all during the season, and beforehand I'll be working quite a bit.
Today's post is a bit more nebulous topic, and so I'm going to try and approach it in a bit more relaxed manner. Rather than moving from point to point, or even prepping more than the initial idea beforehand, I'm just going to talk about it and see where things go. Partially because I feel like being a bit more relaxed today, partially because I want to see how well this works, and lastly because the topic itself can be a little nebulous.
So, what does make a memorable scene? And here's where we run into a few differences, right with the first answer. Because to me, what makes a scene memorable is something important happening. But that might not be the same answer that others give. In fact, others might give a completely different assessment of what makes a scene memorable. Perhaps it has to do with the main characters. Perhaps it's the final battle, the most energetic portion of the story. Even upon thinking about it, my own answer that it is something important doesn't exactly hold a sum total, because there's a secondary element to consider, in that it be interesting. For me, these are two things that I put into my mind when I'm writing: What's important about this scene? And is it interesting?
But that probably isn't what's going through other writers or readers heads when they do their own scenes. They might be going for clever dialogue. Or maybe even a funny joke.
So why when I'm asked what makes a memorable scene, do I think of importance and interest? I think part of it comes from what I'm looking at as a writer. The last thing that I want my reader to do is be forced to slog through things that aren't important. Look, let's be honest, anyone with half a decent talent for prose can sit down and write a lovely several thousand word piece on a character's experience of cleaning a kitchen. Sliding the washrag across the counter, doing the dishes, cleaning the windows, putting things away ... this can be done pretty easily.
But what does it mean? What reason does the reader have to read about such an event? Let's face it, we've all had our characters do tiny little things like take a drink from a glass, and those little bits of flavor add to the story, but they're like bacon bits. Tasty, but short-lived and not that good on their own. And if you make a whole chunk of a story about someone cleaning their kitchen, unless it serves a purpose, unless it's important to the story somehow, well then it's little more than a whole bowl of bacon bits. The writing is good, yes, but there isn't anything important going on.
Clearly context has a bit to do with this. A story about action, adventure, and high-daring escapes really drags when a character spends their day in a kitchen doing nothing relevant to the story. You see this problem in a lot of places, both on FimFiction and in published books from lesser-known authors. They've put the character in a situation, and then they write about it without stopping to consider whether or not there would be any reason to do so.
Importance. Spending five-thousand words of prose on a scene that contains nothing of importance might still lead to a well-written scene, but the reader isn't going to find it memorable. You have to consider how important it is to the story. What will it convey? What will it do for the reader? Is it moving the plot ahead (aside from just burning time)? Is it delivering the reader interesting elements and anecdotes?
For me, usually considering the importance of the scene, combined with the characters I then turn loose in it, tends to make the scene memorable enough. Because if I combine anything of importance with characters that are going to bounce off and around it, I can usually trust on those characters to make the scene memorable in various ways. For example, Steel Song in a kitchen is going to be pretty utilitarian—and by extension, not interesting—unless he's interacting with Cappy or his niece and nephew. But even by taking those characters out of the equation, having Steel ruminate on their absence can be a way to keep the scene interesting as well (though it should also be important in some way). Likewise, writing a chapter about Ditzy Doo cleaning up her kitchen could be really boring and not at all memorable if simply approached in a very flat manner, but if the author uses it to show the meaning about Dtizy through her thoughts and actions, such as thinking about the rapid-cooking that led to unwashed dishes she did so that she and her daughter wouldn't be late to a play while doing them, or about the fun she and Dinky had making a desert that led to the mess she's cleaning up.
Man, this is such a tricky question. Let's see, what about a scene that doesn't really seem that exciting, but is important? After all, plenty of foreshadowing in books often happens during what most of us would consider day to day activities. How do we get our readers to remember some important detail from a scene that's less than exciting or doesn't seem important (and how do you keep them from getting bored)?
A lot of that goes back to one of my earlier posts on misdirection. Basically, you can conceal information that is important by hiding in with other interesting things. For example, Harry Potter pulled double duty with this in one book by having what would have only been a marginally important scene (a dinner party) serve as foreshadowing for the room of requirement. But to keep it from being dull (and to make it memorable for the reader), Rowling used Dumbledore as the vehicle for the foreshadowing as they group discussed unusual stories of their experiences at Hogwarts. The audience gets a plethora of funny events (which keeps them interested), topped by Dumbledore's special mention of a "magic bathroom" that serves as the capstone story to the scene. The reader laughs, remembers that last story (which becomes relevant later) and enjoys what would otherwise have been a bunch of characters sitting around talking.
Earlier I mentioned context, and I think I should get back to that. Context means a lot for your story. An action scene can be memorable. A character breaking character for a big reason can be memorable. A well-timed joke (like Dumbledore's funny story) can cement the scene in the reader's mind. A clever finish to a scene, something unexpected.
Each of these are things that can in one case make a scene memorable, but in another, can break it (or worse, make it memorable for all the wrong reasons). A lot of it comes down to what story you want to write, what story you want to tell, and what elements you've put into your work. A true horror story, for example, isn't likely to try and make it's scenes memorable with constant pop-culture references and fourth-wall winks. It's going to try and make scenes that are tense. Terrifying. Nightmarish. Or perhaps shocking. In Monster Hunter Alpha, one of the most memorable scenes in the entire book is one in which the main character takes an industrial-strength snowblower—the kind that can eat small trees—up against a horde of zombie werewolves. The end result is one of the bloodiest things in the entire series, to a point of near absurdity that even the characters comment on. It's memorable precisely because it's so absurd ... but also because it is a great solution for the problem, and fits right into the series blend of ridiculous over-the-top action and dark humor.
It's not something you'd see in Harry Potter, although that does make an amusing thought ("Harry Potter, tonight you—arrgh!"). My point is, keep your context in mind when thinking about what will make your scene important and interesting.
Another thing to keep in mind is what sort of readers you're appealing to with your story. A reader who likes nothing but straight hollywood action, for example, isn't at all going to find a slice-of-life story interesting. Putting a single chapter of it into a story for that kind of reader is pushing it. Likewise, a reader who lives for complex, spiderweb plots and stories where there are wheels within wheels is probably not going to enjoy a very straightforward, simple mystery where everything is just as it appears. And versa-vice with a switch of the situation.
We tend to acknowledge this (at least, usually) when considering what we or others like to read, but as writers, we can't forget that the same rules apply. Context of what kind of story you're telling and for who can change quite a bit about making a scene memorable or interesting.
One more thought—at least at this moment—concerning having a memorable scene, and even more importantly, and ending. No matter what the scene is like, the best way to make sure that your reader remembers it is to make it relevant. A reader who understands that he can drift through the story without paying close attention isn't going to bother remembering details of scene or story. If you make scenes relevant, give them weight, where what happens and what is said has recurring effects on the story as a whole, it becomes memorable, because your reader quickly learns that they need to remember why a scene is important.
As a side note, this is one more reason I despise flashbacks 90% of the time. Because writers use them not to present new information to their reader, but to re-explain and retread information that was already discussed, taking the decision away from the reader as to whether or not to remember information and scenes (and therefore making them less memorable). Even more grievous, I'm pretty certain that this feeds back to the writer as well and lulls them into a false state where they themselves stop considering the importance of what they present. After all, for both parties, why bother remembering or picking out anything important when it'll be handed to them in a silver platter later?
Anyway, getting back to where that side note took off, the more events of the story mean, the more weight they have, the more a reader will remember them and the more important each scene will feel in relation to the core of the story and the end. To use an earlier example from Rowling, the Dumbledore toilet story still probably wasn't memorable to some readers. However, once Harry has found the room of requirement and he as a character makes the single-line connection between the two, the reader's attention is drawn back to it and the scene is given greater importance in the dialog as a whole.
Hmm ... come to think of it, retroactive memorability (?) is something to consider as well. Not as a core point, because if an entire scene's worth of material only become relevant and interesting later, than it was probably boring at start, and we don't want that. But you can, through later elements of the story that come back to something in an earlier scene, make that scene more memorable (especially on a reread). For instance, the first time a reader reaches the scene in "Rise" where Steel plays with his niece and nephew only to find himself completely snared by a well-placed (and well-tied) jump-rope, the scene is cute and mostly serves to illustrate what Steel is like when he let's himself relax, as well as to counterpoint the relative loneliness and lack of family the rest of his life has. But only in the finale, when Steel uses the same snare concept on Radiant's gigantic golem, does the scene take on a new level of importance, and therefore, memorability to the reader. It was a foreshadowing, not that the reader knew it at the time. But when the result pays off at the end of the book, the reader is tied back. Even if they forgot it, on another read-through the scene will take on a whole new significance.
All right, I think I'm starting to reach the end of my thoughts in this, at least for the moment. Which means it's probably a wise idea to summarize things. So, when making a scene memorable, remember that you need to give your reader a reason to remember it. So it'd better be important to the story somehow. It should also be interesting. Funny, unique, cool ... there should be something going on that makes your reader interested in what's happening. Keep in mind context of both the characters and scene, but also of the story overall.
So, I think that's it for this post, which regrettably is the last one you'll see for a while. But before I go, what did you think? Not just on the subject (and I welcome all comments in that vein, but about the style? Was the "stream of consciousness" approach more helpful? Less helpful? Interesting?
As usual, thanks for reading, and I look forward to doing this again ASAP!
Edit: Tag's fixed, guys! My bad! Running a bit late today, so I didn't proof beforehand!
6w, 3hOn True Beauty4 comments · 93 views
This is actually a repost from my facebook, but I felt that it was worth sharing here. It has little to do with writing, so if the topic does not interest you, I will not be bothered by this. But it's something that I felt I wanted to share.
Hold on, because this is going to be a long post. Also, I'm going to save it as a note so it's not lost anytime soon (addendum: and repost on FimFic). But this is my belated, public response to a question a friend asked me some time ago. The question that prompted this, if I remember correctly, was: What is beauty to you?
Now, what I'm going to say is probably going to shock some people. The question is a hotly debated one online, with people sharing photos of what they say beauty is, debates over where we should look for it, etc. Personally, I don't quite agree with any of them. This is why.
Beauty is not one thing. To me, there are two components to what makes someone beautiful.
The first (and some will dislike me for saying this) is the physical, outer component. Physical, outer beauty. Yes, it's real, and yes, we should admire it. Stop pretending it's bad. It's what we're going to see first. Be it long legs, short hair, rippling abs, green eyes ... Whatever it is that physically attracts us to the person that's held in the physical realm. This is outer beauty, and it's a thing that's different for everyone. I like certain attributes of a physical quality and find them beautiful which another person will not. This is part of who we are.
Now there's no "perfect" physical quality list that's the sum of perfection. There's just what each person looks like, and what each person finds physically attractive. But it's a real thing, and we need to look for it when we're looking for a relationship. We NEED to be physically attracted on some level. It's not wrong that someone single glances at someone else who is single and thinks "Great googa mooga, WOW!" before going slightly catatonic. Or even "Wow, that person is good looking!" before embarrassing themselves by trying to strike up a conversation while mentally stunned. This is the way we were made. There isn't anything wrong with the physical beauty.
But there's a second, more powerful beauty, one that's hidden at first. The inner beauty, the one that you see in their eyes, in who they are and what they do. And you can't simply see this at first. That's why we need the physical beauty, to act as a bridge and then a foundation.
As someone spends time with someone, as they start to see this inner beauty, the outer beauty to them, is affected. It's like an exponential polish—it can make all the most beautiful parts and and places known ... or it can draw the eye to all the flaws, either way showing you a persons true, ultimate beauty.
The inner beauty is the more powerful, but slower, of the two. Inner beauty improves and builds upon outer beauty, making it more and more beautiful every day. A couple who love each other for the inner beauty don't see the flaws. They don't see that she's overweight now and he's incapable of benching his own weight anymore. In their own eyes, they ARE, because the inner beauty has polished that outer beauty to the point where the flaws aren't even seen by the couple, or important. Every bit of outer beauty is magnified by the inner beauty that they've taken the time to see. No matter what others say of the outer beauty, the FULL beauty is available to the one who sees both.
Likewise, poor inner beauty has the same exponential effect. Poor inner beauty begins to draw attention to the flaws, lowers the outer beauty. An individual with poor, lackluster inner beauty, though they may have the most amazing physical qualities ever, will never have true beauty. No matter how they try, the more those around them see the lack of inner beauty, the less attractive that persons outer beauty will appear.
In summation, you must have both, in some amount. Outer beauty is the foundation, the framework. But the inner beauty builds upon that, shapes it over time, and makes adds the polish that makes the outer beauty shine like the sun.
Now, about us. As people today. I think part of the reason we're having so much trouble these days, finding so many problems and battling on public forums over beauty standards and what to look for is because both sides are partially right, and both sides are partially wrong. It takes both. Outer beauty AND inner beauty.
Worse, we've forgotten what each one entails. Outer beauty is quick to see, heavily based on personal impressions and cultural upbringings. Inner beauty is individualized, subtle, and takes time to see. We've forgotten this. So many relationships go sour because people have mixed these two up, misinterpreted one for the other. People give up on someone after one date because they're forgetting that the inner beauty takes time to identify and see. They're impatient, unwilling to take the time. Or they want outer beauty, confusing it for the more powerful of the two.
The truth is that we need to have both. We need to open our minds and remember that both exist. This does not mean that because you have great inner beauty you'll get the person you want. Inner beauty expands the outer beauty, not changes or covers it. If there is not outer attraction at all, then all the inner beauty will do is make you shine.
Accept this. It's just the way we are. I KNOW there are women who do not find me attractive in the least. They want a whipcord/rail thin man. I am not that. I'm stocky, tank-like. All the inner beauty in the world that I can show them will not matter, because there is no foundation for it to build on.
This is okay. I wouldn't want to force someone to find something that wasn't there. Someday, I'll find a woman who IS okay with a guy who's built like a concrete wall and has spastic view on life, who finds that attractive. And then, if she finds the inner beauty to her liking, and I likewise to both of her beauties, something amazing will happen.
We need both. Don't rely on the outer as your sole means. You cannot strut your perfect figure and expect it to be everything. It will fade. It will age. Or you might be incredibly proud of a certain feature, only to find that the one who likes you (and you them) is attracted to something else entirely. In other words, you cannot rely on outer alone. It will never succeed.
Likewise, you cannot simply rely on the inner beauty (And please, don't demand that people acknowledge you for inner beauty right away. That's saying more about your true inner beauty than you think, and it's not a positive message. Be patient there.). You must lay the foundation in some way. You don't need to be perfect. But you need to make your foundation there. Be proud of what you do have. And even if you don't feel beautiful now, wait for the one who starts to see the inner beauty.
Because we need both. And whatever outer flaws you think you have, if you're inner beauty is great, it will sweep over all the outer flaws and decrease them in importance. This is why we have to give others the chance. Don't turn that person down if they're just "average" in your book. Wait. Get to know the inner beauty. If it isn't there, no harm. If it is, you'll find that what was there will grow all the more attractive and beautiful to you.
And one last thing before I summarize. This is why friendships are so important. Not fake friendships (which are part of the controversial friend-zone), but REAL friendships. Friendships that involve trust. Camaraderie. Laughter. Sad times. Understanding. It's been said that the greatest relationships grow out of true friendship, and this is why. Because we learn to see the inner beauty, learn to see who someone truly is. False friendship, a temporary limited contact or respite, where one party or the other isn't putting forth their effort or limits the trust, cannot do this. So be friends. Men and women, amazingly enough, CAN be friends. Pop culture has driven this horrible, wrong idea that such things cannot happen without a relationship. Pop culture is wrong. We can be friends, great ones, and not ever be attracted to someone. And we should be. Even if we don't find love, let's be honest, we need true friends. We should stop being scared of them.
And who knows, maybe we'll find our best friend in the process.
But if we do, it'll be because we looked at both beauties. The outer, and the inner.
So in your own day to day search for that other who will be the most important person in your life, don't forget either of these two. Don't discount them. Let them BOTH work. Figure out what attracts you about the outer beauty, what catches your eye, but then give the time for the inner beauty, the extension, the polish to truly shine. You might just surprise yourself with what you find.
If you disagree with or where deeply, properly offended by any of this, well, I'm sorry (if only offended because you want to be offended, no apology. I don't care much in that case). If you like it, and want to share, feel free too share it with whomever you like.
Who knows, maybe it'll help those of us out there who've forgotten what we really need to be looking for, what we really mean when we talk about beauty. Maybe it'll help add some context to what we really mean when we say "You're beautiful."
This has been what beauty is to me. Thank you for your time.
3 comments · 81 views
All right everyone, I'm throwing up my schedule so you guys know what to expect and about when. Here's the big news:
Starting next week, I will be in Alaska getting ready for the shrimp season. I will only have guest access on what basically amounts to a library computer. So next weeks blog guide will be the last one for a while. Possibly four weeks. Shrimp season is somewhat malleable, so I can't give a solid time on when I'll be back. I'd expect before the end of October, which is usually when I'm free. Regardless, this is the schedule I'm going to try to stick to:
Next Monday: The last "Being a Better Writer" guide until I get back.
End of October: Return. start posting "Remembrance." Also, the Dusk Guard Group Banner Contest ends! Be sure to get your entry in before then!
Finish Colony. Once Colony's first draft is done, "Beyond the Borderlands," the sequel to "The Dusk Guard: Rise, "becomes my full time project. I can't say how long it will take me to finish it, but I'd guess about 2 months. During this time, the last side story (Dawn's) will go up as well.
Finish "Beyond the Borderlands" and start posting it to FimFic. Watch it take FimFiction by storm, start working on next novel, also on another side-story and "Hunter/Hunted."
These are my plans through the end of the year. With luck, we'll see "Beyond the Borderlands" start releasing sometime in December, maybe even around Christmas! And Colony probably around the end of this year/beginning of next year. Kind of depends on the editor.
Anyway, just updating all you guys so you know what's coming. Sorry I didn't get "Remembrance" done before leaving, but I wanted to give it the time it needed to be released and I STILL need to get a cover commissioned for it. After the shrimp season I can give it the attention it deserves.
You guys are awesome, hope the slight delay isn't driving you all nuts!
And yeah, the idea of a December release for "Beyond the Borderlands" is probably pretty good news.
Hammer Hoof stood at attention. His back was straight as he could make it, his head up with ears erect, his eyes forward. Not a sound escaped his lips. His body was so still he was certain that his old academy sergeant would have been able to build one of those ridiculous block structures he'd enjoyed creating right across his back without a single piece falling out of place.
Behind him stood one of the most secure doors in the entire kingdom, at least at the moment. It didn’t look like much, but he knew from experience that a pony couldn't always take things at face value in Equestria. Like the statue of Discord that had turned out to actually be the infamous draconequus. Or worse, the creature that had been impersonating Captain Armor’s now-wife at the wedding just two weeks earlier. He suppressed a shudder at the memory, his body still locked. That day had been a dark one for the Guard, even if things had turned out all right in the end.
It had also been a bit of an embarrassment, at least in hindsight. Despite being on high alert in preparation for the nameless threat, the changeling army’s invasion had caught them all by surprise. The Royal Guard had been hamstrung in the frantic opening minutes of the invasion by a series of crippling precision strikes. Amid the chaos at the time Hammer had assumed—like many—that the swarm had been attacking at random, simply seeking out large concentrations of ponies and subduing them. It wasn’t until later that he’d learned the attacks hadn’t been random at all, but carefully executed strikes specifically targeting lead or elite members of the Guard.
Like his old partner. Hammer’s eyes slid over to the pony currently standing at his side and then snapped back forward. It was still a bit odd to be serving with Cloudburst. The white pegasus was a lot quieter than Show Stopper had been. Although it was commonplace—and expected—that Guard serve and work with a variety of partners, he and Show Stopper had been working together for so long that it seemed strange to work next to anyone else.
Much like getting used to the Night Guard, Hammer thought as his eyes slid to the other side of the doorway. Two large, bat-winged pegasi stood there, still as statues. He still was in the dark along with most of the Guard about whether or not the strange new additions to the Night Guard were simply complex enchantments or a permanent change altogether. Star Shot probably knew, as she was the Captain of the Night Guard. But nopony had been able to get a straight answer from her regarding Princess Luna’s personal sentinels yet. Maybe they never would.
There was movement from down the hall, and he snapped his eyes to it, his body tensing as a servant approached and not relaxing again until she had passed them by. He almost hated how suspicious he was of the castle's staff while on duty; but since the events of the wedding, seeing ponies that he’d thought were comrades revealing themselves as black-carapaced impostors right in front of him ... This time his shoulders did quiver slightly. It was hard not to be suspicious of anypony after an event like that. He still had nightmares some nights.
His eyes slid towards one of the nearby hourglasses Luna had installed when she’d taken over this wing of the castle, searching for a distraction from his thoughts. Unless he’d missed one of the servants coming by and flipping it, it would be time for moon-rise soon, which meant that his shift was nearly over. He turned his eyes back towards the front, a worrying tingle of pain flaring in his stomach. Maybe Green Glade was right: this job, especially with what had happened in the last few weeks, was finally starting to get to him. Maybe he could use some of that vacation time he had stored up. Go on a trip with her and the kids. Maybe talk out his stress with a therapist.
Then again, he did love his job, recent narcosis aside. It wasn’t anypony in Equestria who had the honor of protecting Princess Celestia herself. The tingle in his stomach began to fade as his mind began to wander. What was going on behind those doors, inside Princess Luna’s study? Whatever it was, it had to be important. He’d felt the telltale tingle in his horn from multiple spells being cast as the Princess had entered the room; several sealed scrolls at her side. Not a sound had escaped since the door had been shut, a surefire sign that one of the spells had been a privacy ward.
He shifted his hooves, blood rushing back into his legs with faint pins and needles. Whatever it was that the Princesses deemed so important, he was there to protect it. And come Tartarus breaking free across Equestria, it was his duty to do so. No matter what, that fact would always make him proud.
Although ... sometimes he couldn’t help but wonder exactly what it was the Princesses were discussing behind such heavily warded doors.
“So then,” Celestia said, her grin barely contained, “she comes rushing to me to show me that she’s done it.”
“And you were in—”
“Holding the Day Court, yes,” Celestia said, smiling. “So Twilight rushes in, joyfully yelling that she’d 'done it' over and over and over again and completely derailing the little speech about his own birthday that Blueblood was giving.” The grin broke free as her sister let out a small snort.
“Oh, Tia, he must have been most furious!” Luna said, holding a hoof to her mouth.
“Wait, dear sister,” Celestia said, leaning forward. “It gets better. Twilight, being Twilight, didn’t even notice that she’d cut him off, nor that he was calling for her to remove her 'un-noble flank' from the court.” Luna’s face contorted in a brief exaggerated scowl, and Celestia laughed. “No, sister, he has not changed much over the years. Despite my many attempts.”
“The vain braggart,” Luna said, shaking her head in disgust. “I trust that this story includes some sort of comeuppance for our self-centered nephew?”
“Well,” Celestia said, ignoring her sister's question for the moment, “Twilight decides it’s not just enough to let me know that she’d finally succeeded at teleporting an inanimate object. She needs to show me...” She couldn't conceal her own reaction as her sister's eyes grew wide.
“She didn’t...” Luna breathed, jaw slightly agape. “Did she?”
Celestia nodded. “She decided to try and teleport the first thing that she saw. Which was—of course—the horribly tacky blue-and-pink monstrosity of a cake that Blueblood had brought in honor of his birthday. And prodigy or not, the predictable happened.”
“It exploded?” Luna asked in hope, the corners of her mouth turning upward.
“Ker-splat!” Celestia said, throwing her front hooves up. “All over Blueblood and his entire noble entourage!” Her voice shook as she fought to speak through her giggles. “And the rest of the court! Even I had some pink icing on me.”
“What—what did you do?” Luna asked between titters.
“Well,” Celestia said,“it was quiet enough that you could almost hear Blueblood’s self-control breaking. Here it is, his fifteenth birthday and he’s absolutely plastered in pink-and-blue icing—” Luna began giggling again, “—along with most of his friends. So, very carefully, I get Twilight’s attention, because she’s still staring at the remains of the cake with her jaw open—partially I think because she was almost as covered in it as Blueblood was.” Luna was rolling on her back now, her front legs kicking at the air, her wings knocking over the unopened rolls of parchment they'd brought in with them.
“So I get Twilight’s attention,” Celestia said, trying to keep her sister’s fun from breaking her flow, “and she starts to follow me out of the court with this wide-eyed look of panic on her face.” Celestia stopped, letting out her own snicker before continuing. “I had almost made it out of the hall when one of the nobles broke.”
Luna stopped laughing, looking up at her with the expression of a foal who’d just been told she could eat all her Nightmare Night candy. “You didn’t?” Her eyes grew even wider as Celestia nodded, squeezing her eyes shut as her grin grew out of control. “You did?” It was apparently too much to take for Luna, as she threw herself back on her study floor, howling with laughter and beating one hoof against the thick blue carpet. “You did!”
“I couldn’t help it!” Celestia said, her cheeks red. “One giggle from the nobles and it all came out! I broke down laughing right then and there! The perfect picture of a Princess: laughing so hard at Blueblood’s cake encrusted mane I couldn’t stand! And—and then—As soon as I lost it the entire hall started laughing, and ... Poor Twilight, she didn’t know whether she should be laughing or crying so she’s—she’s—” Celestia did her best impression of her student's panicked expression, Luna laughing harder as her sister flailed her limbs around, her eyes wide in mock terror.
“And of course—of course Blueblood saw the entire thing as a joke at his expense,” Celestia said. “The look of horror on his face as all the nobles broke down laughing—he just couldn’t take it!” For a moment she felt a pang of sadness for her stubborn “nephew,” souring her mirth somewhat. “Even wearing his own birthday cake like one of those gaudy suits, he couldn't see the humor in the situation,” she said, her voice tone mellowing slightly.
“We cannot change everyone, Tia,” Luna said, sitting up, her mirth abated somewhat. “Maybe our wayward relation simply needs more time. Until then however,” she said with a mischievous grin, “I at the very least shall enjoy the mental image of our uptight and obstinate young relation covered head-to-hoof in pink-and-blue frosting.” The midnight blue alicorn began laughing once more, Celestia joining in at the thought of Prince Blueblood’s crushed expression.
The two sisters continued for a few minutes, occasionally slowing, looking at one another, and bursting into laughter. Finally, after what had been so long that Celestia could feel her sides aching, the two began to quiet down. At some point they had both fallen to the floor, and Celestia rolled herself onto her side, looking over at her sister.
“Anyway,” she said, a smirk on her face. “That is why Prince Blueblood is afraid of cake—” Luna snorted once more, “—and why that story about the Galloping Gala keeps going around.” Luna nodded in understanding, a knowing look on her face.
Celestia smiled as she took another look around her sister's study, a warm feeling sinking into her heart. After a thousand years, to have her sister back—there was nothing greater. It was a lesson she’d tried to teach all her little ponies, the importance of friend and family. Something that she wanted each and every last one of them to learn. Some took more encouragement than others. And some, she reflected sadly, never did.
“Tia?” Luna asked, her voice shaking Celestia from her reverie. “What is it?”
“Oh, nothing much, Luna,” Celestia said, still running her eyes across her sister’s study, taking in the art on the walls and the open balcony at one end. The stars were just peeking out of the darkening western sky, the sun having made its leisurely descent past the horizon under her guidance just a short time ago. “I’m just so glad to have you back.”
Luna smiled back at her, pushing herself across the carpet and moving to nuzzle her. There was a sharp snap as a small spark of static electricity shot between them and they both pulled back, Luna letting out a little yelp of surprise. Celestia looked at her for a moment, and they both burst out laughing anew.
“And here I thought I was supposed to be the trickster of the two of us,” Celestia said, winking.
“Perhaps most would think so," Luna said with a smirk. "But only because like the sun, your tricks are flashy and apparent for all. Mine are like unto the night, silent and swift!” She tossed her head back with an exaggerated grin, throwing her starry mane into a flurry of motion.
“Oh, Luna,” Celestia said, inching forward and embracing her younger sister in a hug, her forelegs and wings wrapping around her. “I’m so glad we can have these moments together. To just be sisters and not to have to worry as much, for a brief moment, about the ponies under our care.”
Luna nodded, pushing into her embrace. “I’m—” she said, her voice faltering. “I’m glad I’m able to—”
“Shhh,” Celestia said, holding her sister tighter. “What’s done is done, no need to remember old regrets.” They stayed pressed together for a few moments longer, their bodies rocking back and forth as they held one another. Finally, after a few minutes of silence, the two pulled apart.
“Thank you, Tia,” Luna said, blinking a few tears from her eyes. “And for the—” she let out a faint laugh, a smile coming back to her face as well. “And for the story as well.” She shook her head. “I shall have to send Blueblood a blue-and-pink cake the next time his birthday arises.”
Celestia smirked, wondering if she should comment on her sister's plan or ignore it. “Thank you, Luna. It’s nice to relax with you after a long and trying day.”
Luna looked over at her. “So I hear. Another dispute among the nobles?”
Celestia ruffled her wings in distaste. “If only it was just that. Not only are Raspberry and Upper Crust at it again, each trying to outdo the other and dragging the Day Court down, but the new trade negotiations with the Griffins have reached a standstill for the time being. The Griffins want a higher tariff on the goods, and Canterlot Cloudrunners insist that it cannot be done without cutting expenses in other areas. And then there’s that group from the ERS board, still wasting everypony's time arguing against the rail line to the north...” She let out an exhausted sigh. "And we both know that we cannot let that be delayed. It could be too late as it is."
“You could refer some of them to the Night Court,” Luna suggested, giving her a thoughtful look. “I can shoulder some of your more bothersome burdens, as I should. Besides, I need to talk to the ERS board members about some strange theft reports.”
“I have suggested so, Luna,” Celestia said, smiling at her younger sister. “In fact, I’m considering making it a formal order, at least for those ponies from the ERS. The nobles I may just invite to settle things out of court.” She gave her head an exhausted shake, her multihued mane rolling around her.
She looked up at her sister, putting a soft smile on her face. “So thank you, Luna, for even this small amount of time together to not always be a Princess.” Then she frowned. “And what thefts?”
Luna shook her head. “Nothing important that you need to worry about, but ... Sister," she said, her voice brightening, "you could just take another day off. Go spend some time in Ponyville with your student, or better yet, relaxing somewhere. I can keep a close eye on things here.”
“I wish I could, Luna,” Celestia said, tilting her head to one side and giving it a small shake. “And I will, but not now. Right now there’s still too much to do in the wake of the changelings.” Luna nodded in understanding. Canterlot was still returning to normal, and they both knew it. It would be some time more before the city could erase the scars of the invasion.
“Even my own Guard have been jumpier than usual,” Celestia said, tipping her eyes towards the door. "Hammer in particular might need therapy."
“Mine have ... had some upsets,” Luna said, nodding. “Many of them are still ashamed that a simple soundproofing ward allowed so many of them to be caught asleep and unawares.” She paused for a moment, her eyes looking straight at Celestia’s, and she could see the coming question in her eyes. “Tia,” Luna began, “About that idea I had—”
Celestia smiled. “I looked over your proposal this morning, Luna, and I find it sound.”
Luna smiled. “You mean—”
“I think you should go forward with it,” Celestia said, rising to her hooves. It would be time for her sister to raise the moon soon. The last vestiges of dusk were giving away to night through the balcony doors, the sun now well past the horizon. “I’ve considered such a course of action before but never for more than a passing moment.” She gave her sister a warm smile. “You always were the one to see what I couldn’t.”
“And the member choices? What do you think?”
“Better and more thorough than anypony else, including myself, would have managed.” Celestia leaned forward, lowering her voice as if exchanging foalhood secrets. “And how did you ever manage to learn so much about Steel Song?”
Luna smiled. “One of my Night Guard is distantly related to him through his sister's marriage and speaks of him often, always highly. That, and I may have done a little sleuthing on my own,” she said with a mischievous grin.
“You—?” Celestia said, her eyes widening at her sisters expression. “You did! Is that why you were so tired last week?” Luna nodded, and Celestia narrowed her eyes, giving her sister a suspicious look. “Unicorn or pegasus?”
Luna snorted. “A pegasus of course, dear Tia. I could never give up my wings!” Celestia laughed as her sister snapped her deep blue wings out, looking at them with an enraptured gaze.
“Just as I could never go without my horn, dear Woona.” Celestia said, giggling as her sister rolled her eyes at the use of her old nickname. “Did you speak to him directly?” Celestia asked, jumping back on topic.
“Only a few times,” Luna said, shaking her head. “And not for long. Mostly I just spoke to his neighbors. They had nothing but respect for him and his deeds.”
Celestia smiled as she remembered the eager young Guard cadet from so many years ago. “And what of him?”
“He’s—” Luna paused for a moment, as if searching for the words, and then looked up at her. “He’s exactly who we need. And he needs it as well. Far more than he realizes, I think.”
“Very well then, Luna,” Celestia said. A knock rang through the room as one of the Guard reminded them of the soon-to-be-due moon-rise. “You’ve put a great deal of thought into this, and I agree with you. I approve of your idea, and give my own accordance to move forward.” It was an old law that required both of them to agree on something before certain actions could be taken, but it was one she had enjoyed applying to every ruling she had made since her sister had returned.
“Thank you, Tia,” Luna said, her muzzle pressing against Celestia’s in a warm nuzzle.
“No, Luna, thank you,” Celestia said, fighting back a yawn. “And may I say I'm most interested to see this all come together.” She smiled at her sister as they headed for door. “It’s been decades since I last saw Steel Song. It will be most interesting to see how he—” She paused for a moment, Luna at her side, one hoof on the study door. “What are you going to call this new division anyway?”
Luna shrugged. “I don’t really know, Tia,” she admitted as she opened the door, her Guard snapping to attention. “They’ll think of something, I’m sure.”
“If I might suggest,” Celestia said, pointing one hoof towards the twilight sky outside her sister's balcony. “What about the Dusk Guard?”
Luna stood for a minute, a thoughtful look on her face. “The Dusk Guard,” she said, smiling. “I like it. An excellent choice, dear sister. Dusk.” She turned back to the hall, walking away with a serene and yet powerful presence, her two Guard trailing behind her. “Good night, Tia!” she called.
“Good night, sister,” Celestia said, taking one last look out the balcony. “And good luck.” She could still hear her sister's hoofsteps, along with the unspoken word running through her sister’s mind.