A story about two alicorn sisters who love each other, and the worst decision they never made.
(Featured in the Everfree NW 2012 conbook • Featured on EqD)
Now with FIMFic-exclusive bonus material!
Cover image is by AokiBengal, used under Creative Commons license.
Thanks go out to Silver Quill for editing; Electric Keet for assistance with the conbook-published version; and my prereaders.
EDIT: Please note, comments below CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS. The story is pretty short. I really recommend you give it a shot before scrolling further.
There are certain points in time which can not be changed. Certain events which MUST happen. And though we may rail against them with all the power we possess, though we may know where every pitfall lies and plot for ourselves a course to dance safely past each one, fate is inescapable. Even for ones as long-lived as they.
I'm a little confused over the last few lines. What's the "machine"?
Anyway that doesn't take from it. Faved like a mofo. I love AU and I love stories that deal with inevitability and fate, and this is both! Perfect combination.
A strange story but it does raise the old philosophical question: when is it that the bad choice is also the right choice?
That was the idea, though I didn't bother looking up the quote. It seemed fitting.
>>11229851122985 Glad you liked it! As to your question, the "machine" refers directly back to the story Celestia told in the previous section. It's worth control+F searching the page for "machine" to find the relevant explanation, because what Celestia believes about their situation is central to her actions in the final scene. (Forgive me for being vague here, but I want to minimize the premature spoilers for folks who might skim the comments before reading. I can lay it out via PM if I'm not being helpful enough.)
>>11227971122797 Although I think this story would have suffered from a gratuitous Doctor Whooves cameo, he'll definitely get a chance to meet Celestia and Luna later on. I'm working on a longer story (okay, a crack crossover) that digs into the alicorns' origins, and he definitely plays a part.
>>11231111123111 It's also an odd variation on that theme, in that the reader has knowledge that Celestia and Aurora don't, and interpreting the grey areas relies on that.
Thanks, all, for responding and appreciating!
Well, that was a mind screw.
(From my very limited understanding, Celestia enters a time machine in our timeline. Luna, realizing something is wrong, follows her. This [somehow] creates a parallel timeline where Celestia was successful in negotiating with Luna/Nightmare Moon and doesn't banish her. Eventually, our Twilight is able to contact alternate!Celestia and tell her of the temporal shenanigans; which have apparently caused our Celestia and Luna to become gravelly ill. Alternate!Luna is pissed off about this for some reason and forbids alternate!Celestia from communicating with our Twilight. Alternate!Celestia continues communications with Twilight and eventually confronts alternate!Luna with the intention of setting right that which went wrong and restoring the original timeline to it's non-shenaniganed self.) (Inb4 I'm totally wrong.)
I've read it again. I was extremely tired before and I think I must have forgotten half of that scene right after reading it.
Sign of a good writer is that their writing can pull a story through even when the reader is too dense to realise they skipped a page.
[SPOILERS. DO NOT READ THIS COMMENT BEFORE YOU READ THE STORY.]
[SERIOUSLY, DON'T. SCROLL UP AND READ IT. THE COMMENTS WILL STILL BE HERE.]
I quite liked this. You do a great job creating drama with the two sisters, and the first scene in particular fits a lot of emotion into a small space. There's a sense throughout the whole thing that something is subtly wrong, and that keeps the tension going during the quieter parts of the second act. I stopped a couple of times to wonder if this was supposed to be before Luna's banishment or after because the clues seemed to be pointing in both directions, and it was cool to see that the answer was "both."
Still, I have to say that the ending didn't live up to the rest of the story. It's mostly an introspective meditation on love and jealousy, but as soon as Twilight shows up we're dealing with time machines and alternate realities and the whole thing gets a bit silly. It wasn't enough to derail the story entirely, but it didn't seem to fit with the rest of what you were doing. You built some wonderful personal conflicts here, and I was hoping to see a more personal resolution.
I don't think it was a TIME machine per se. More like....
(Highlight to read... used code color=white).
A machine that showed you your life without your biggest regret.
Definitely Interesting though I found the time confusion in the beginning to slow me down, but I quickly got over that as it became kind of a driving force to figure out when this is taking place. I even like the hint that the time spent in there for the Alicorns is drastically different than normal ponies. Minutes for a mortal is nothing to the princesses. I'm always interested in the concept of time to immortals.
Well, I have to admit, this seems pretty interesting. Intriguing setup, and the whole 'what-if' thing and the explorations of causality is cool, and very well written,
Won't be reading more of it, though, now that I know that Dr. Hooves fancharacter is going to get involved. Sorry, but I just have an immense, frothing dislike for the fancharacter (and the series he's based on. I also dislike crossovers in general). Shame, because I was looking forward to it, but putting him in is a deal-breaker for me and fics.
I hope the people who like it love it, though. Seems like you know what you're doing. Hooves is just an instant no-sell for me, is all. Good work, though.
Oh I think I get it, I think I get it now!!!
The whole event of Luna becoming the spirit of sun right after her first transformation as nightmare moon had made her give up on her hatred, but everything she did, it was given to her, because Celestia explained, that while they pretended to be normal sisters at a carnival, they came by an unicorn inventor that could do something I believe would be a pocket dimension of "what if" and the consequences of the "what ifs", telling Luna this, made Luna realise that everything that made her happy, were nothing, but a dream world, caused by Celestia's reckless magic to manipulate the machine to keep Luna's happy life going. Luna also fear Twilight because Twilight are trying to undo Celestia's magic to keep the pocket universe going and free both Luna and Celestia from Celestia's reckless kindness.
And the grey text, are hints of Luna's true memories. That she had spent a 1000 years on the moon.
Suffering from being alone.
It is currently marked as complete, yet from what the author says he has further plans.
How exactly is that going to look like?
So.... timey-wimey, alternate history, messages from Twi in the future, despite alternate history there are events that are fixed and the alicorn sisters' positions are switched?
Pleaaase can someone clear this up for me? I'm so confused
Regardless, thumbs up, faved, and watching you Will your longer story involving Doctor Whooves be linked to this one?
Well if Back to the Future and Red Alert have taught us anything, it's that time travel is too dangerous and you have to accept the past and move on.
>>11625701162570 >>11630311163031 >>11629351162935 Sorry -- I was being unclear. "No Regrets" is complete and self-contained. I have another, unrelated, story planned that deals with Luna and Celestia's origins; and Doctor Whooves will have a minor role in that one. (If you hate Whooves, you can skip it.)
I'll get to the other comments/questions in a bit.
Pardon the spoilers but if i undestand this
There is no time travel, Luna and Celestia are stuck in a dream machine forcing them to live through their lives with out Celestia's greatest regret, the machine having been designed for short lived ponies has left them unconscious for some time as it churns through centuries of memories and creates a thousand year long alternate history. The final battle scene is Celestia attempting to recreate the regrettable event that she tried to erase so that she and her sister can get out of the machine with out having to live through another 750 years of alternate and rather painful history.
Tell me if i'm wrong horizon.
That was good. Liked, fav'd, and followed.
Had to read that twice.
That was fantastic. Love the concept, the diction, the conclusion. One of the most haunting fimfics, done without verbiage or gore.
For those still confused: Celestia tries a "Regret Eradicator" at a carnival. The machine shows what could have happened if Celestia had given Luna the sun. But it was not designed for immortal beings. To break the "complex, ambitious, and sloppy enchantment", Luna enters herself and becomes Nightmare Moon, as she once did.
>>11338101133810 >>11556531155653 >>11581151158115 >>11629191162919 >>11630311163031 >>11666641166664
Several of your explanations are basically correct, but the best summary of the (greytext version) of the story's events is by >>11642481164248 . Nicely spotted, I_S. Of possible interest: I'll be posting some bonus material that provides an alternate look at the story's events from the "outside" POV.
>>11556531155653 That's a fair cop, and this might explain it: I started with the, for lack of a better term, external framing concept, and then realized that the story I could tell within it was the truly compelling one. Several prereaders (and comments ... including yours) said that the greytext mystery is a crucial element in driving the story, so I didn't want to ditch the frame entirely. I had hoped to transition from the introspective meditation to the outer frame more gracefully, but the story was stripped down to its bones to fit in the EFNW conbook. (I tried re-expanding it after printed publication, but it kept losing the sparseness that gave it its punch.) I appreciate the feedback, though.
>>11666641166664 Thanks for the high praise! I do have to credit my RP forum's Luna for help with the distinctive, stilted yet natural diction. She's a master.
Daaaang! That really... just... dang.
I DD some math, and I figure that if the spell ends when they reach the present then they would be in the machine for approximately 16 hours.
However if it ends with the ponies death then it is indefinite or untilled the operator dies or the machine fully breaks down.
Also never trust Flim and Flam.
Lastly, what is real and what is recall?
had to do it.
Oh also this is the first time I ever read a story twice in a row.
Wasn't even thinking about the possibility of a Lotus-Eater Machine. Stupid Wrong Genre Savvy.
>>11675911167591 Math sounds right, thanks for the compliment, and bonus points for being the first commenter to catch the cameo. (1/2 EASTER EGGS FOUND)
First, A solo EQD feature and less then 80 thumbs? Madness!
Also, this was fantastic, I read through it quickly the first time on break today and read it again at home just now and I must say now that it makes sense it is great.
The whole repentance and kind of selfishness that Celestia portrays is new and compelling. I mean she knows the entire time that all of this is not real and starts it for herself but is willing to grin and bare to let Luna have a small slice of happiness even if it is not real.
The grey text at first was confusing but on the second read through it actually has the opposite effect and is what makes it all come together.
I will say that at least from my take on it all the ending is a bit short and a tad confusing. I think one or two more lines from either sister could round things out in a way that would make it feel more complete.
Lastly, Was Flim Flam supposed to be an Easter Egg? You say two unicorns and a crazy contraption I assume that is where we all go automatically.
Oh and if I am wrong or missing something I would love to be on the "Here dummy, let me explain it to you" PM list
Was strange but interesting, I approve.
Ok this was an interesting story. I can only imagine how much Celestia would regret banishing the one pony she could truly relate (hehehe they're sisters) to for 1000 years. I'm surprised she wasn't driven into a deep depression. Then again she might have been how much early Equestrian history do we know, none that's canon. I can totally see Celestia doing this.
I didn't get it. Thanks to I_S for explaining.
>>11722841172284 Thanks for the kind words! It's low on upthumbs, but despite being a one-shot, complete story, it's got almost as many favorites as it does votes -- so clearly the folks who like it really like it. I suspect your experience is common: because of the two layers of story, it truly clicks on the second readthrough.
I'll take a look at the ending. Can you PM me with what you think would have added to it?
Flim and Flam was supposed to be an easter egg, yes -- just not a well-hidden one. There's another callout in the story that's much deeper in the metaphorical weeds, but woven in as a recurring theme.
>>11761661176166 As far as I'm concerned, the Celestial War is the biggest story that canon will never tell.
Yes I would imagining that it would be *puts on punglasses* too dark.
Well, it took me reading the comments and a PM to the author to unravel the plot (I can be really thick sometimes), but after sorting everything out I re-read the story and I must say, it's extremely well-done. It's one of those stories that I suspect will stick with me for a long time. I definitely felt for Celly and Luna, and I desperately wanted to be happy for them but there was this constant reminder that this is not the way things are supposed to be. There were creepy undertones throughout the story, such as Luna and Celestia's appearances changing, and the borders of Equestria expanding through conflict.
I got the Flim and Flam thing right away; I didn't even realize it was supposed to be an easter egg.
>>12006421200642 Dang, thanks. Comment made my night.
As for that last bit: Fortunately, I'm better at writing than I am at easter eggs.
Dammit, I really wanted a conclusion.
The ambiguity contributes a lot to how hard the story hits you, though.
Yikes, what a great follow up. Not as provoking as the piece it is a companion to (It only took one read!) but the level of tension throughout the whole thing is a good replacement.
It was fun to read the two side by side seeing where in Celestia's world the letters would be and filling in a few of the bottom lines.
All around a great addition to an already great story!
I think the conclusion lies in the last letter not being sent. I assume the final one is crumpled on the ground because they managed to free themselves before it was finished.
<Please don't banish me. At least, not until we've gotten you out.>
Well, that is...
Well for some reason this ending is even more ominous.
Now it all makes sense now.
An interesting read, but I kept cringing since it's chock-full of what is quite possibly my most hated trope. It's a personal thing, though, so I won't hold it against the author.
Spike writing down literally everything Twilight said was pretty funny, and I burst out laughing when Rairty had to take over for a letter. You totally nailed Twilight's character.
This was really cool to read, and helped to give me another excellent perspective of the same story.
But if there is one thing I could request, it would be... Can I get a real conclusion? Do they get out, and will everything be alright once they do?
To steal from a more clever writer than myself: "The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you." This is a story about decisions, not consequences.
That having been said, we as readers know things that the characters don't, and if we trust that meta-knowledge, there are details that point toward a conclusion. In the original story, given only Celestia's flimsy tale and a bizarre scroll, why do we immediately believe that there's another world beyond Aurora's? Because we know who Twilight Sparkle is and what her relationship with Celestia is. Because we know what the world of Equestria is "supposed" to look like.
Choose to trust that, or choose to question it: that's your decision. If this is a story about the "real" Equestria, then of course everything turns out okay. (For one thing, Twilight's brother is in for a big promotion. We've seen him as Captain of the Guard, and royal sisters in harmony.) But if it isn't ...
... okay, okay. Here, have an ending: There never was any machine. Aurora's world is real, and it really was just Discord trolling Celestia with scrolls that played on her ego. Nightmare Moon attacks Aurora and they fight. Aurora banishes NMM to the moon and takes over the whole sky. In her grief, she renames herself Celestia in honor of her sister. A thousand years later, the lunar goddess, who has come to identify herself with her prison, escapes, and Celestia's student and five friends, the Elements of Harmony, stop her ...
>>12223471222347 Thank you -- you give great feedback and it's great to hear such thoughtful responses. (And yes, that's a good observation on the final letter.)
>>12262911226291 I think the magibabble was going to be unavoidable from this POV, so thanks for giving me the waiver. (Hopefully the blah de blah did exactly what the trope was designed to do: show characters exchanging knowledge in a topic with which they are deeply familiar but we, the audience, are not.) I wasn't expecting Rarity's takeover to be a funny moment exactly, but I do agree, the "write down everything" letter was immensely fun to write and reread.
There never was any machine. Aurora's world is real, and it really was just Discord trolling Celestia with scrolls that played on her ego. Nightmare Moon attacks Aurora and they fight. Aurora banishes NMM to the moon and takes over the whole sky. In her grief, she renames herself Celestia in honor of her sister. A thousand years later, the lunar goddess, who has come to identify herself with her prison, escapes, and Celestia's student and five friends, the Elements of Harmony, stop her ...
I have no words...
Also, Rarity's letter was hilarious precisely because it lacked any direct, blatant homour. It was just Rarity being Rarity and Twilight being Twilight and it fit just so incredibly perfectly. In my mind's eye I can picture Twilight in total breakdown while Rarity dictates the letter with that Rarity-ish veneer of high-class calm and composure. And it's fantastic.
You, sir, are trolling for fish. This is deliciously ambiguous in the same way that a good doughnut is.
Well - written, and begging for something set in that time period in the "real" world. (Either of them)
Chiming in to say that I found the reverse engineering magi-babble very well (realistically?) done, and enjoyed it.
And the story too, but personally the description of reversing a hacked-together magical system to a tight deadline was a nice touch.
Also your rationalization of how the "good" (?) ending fits into the canon is awesome.
Okay, I'm late to the party, but this is incredibly well done. It does away with Tyrant Celestia and all of those tiresome things, and goes right to what I see as the heart of Celestia's character - love and duty.
I don't think the ending is ambiguous at all (even before I read the letters), because as you noted, the meta-knowledge, but up until the first appearance of Twilight the context is. What I find interesting is that even though they switched, in this alternate continuity, Luna still ended up slipping down the slope of authoritarian power. Admittedly it's a Lotus-Eater machine so it can't be trusted, but you have to wonder (I addressed that issue a little in my fic, and I find it heartening(?) that a great vignette like this shares a lot of the same conclusions I drew about them).
Also, I'm kind of sad this doesn't have more views/comments. Short fiction, when done well, packs a heck of a lot more punch than long fic, and this is one of those.
>>12342271234227 Deliciously ambiguous in the same manner as your comment, as well. Though from context I think a "thank you" is appropriate.
You'll be happy to know that I'm finishing my editing on the first 6,000 words of a longer historical adventure and should start posting chapters in the next week or two. It's not in No Regrets' continuity, but it's definitely set in the pre-War days.
>>13767221376722 Thanks for the kind words! I'm a sucker for Luna, so I've had Apotheosis bookmarked for a while, but I'll have to bump it up on the reading list knowing that you explore some of the same themes.
Tyrant Celestia is a cute meme, but if you look at the fact that she has singlehornedly maintained a utopia for generations upon generations, I don't think you can really come to any conclusion other than a deep and enduring love for ponykind. (The Darjeeling reference in the bonus chapter is a subtle nod to Skywriter, who manages to capture that powerfully — in a comedy, no less). Luna ... is a fascinating study, because Celestia's desire to restore her to co-rulership implies she's possessed of a similar love, but she's demonstrably imperfect in a way Celestia is never directly portrayed. There's a universe of stories exploring that fact alone, and I'm happy mine's a good contribution!
When I write pony again, I want to somehow convey that Celestia's love is genuinely terrifying because it's so powerful and so deep. It's just something beyond real mortal ken.
(I could talk about Celestia for days. Writing Luna was fun; but writing Celestia is a challenge I don't know that I'm up for.)
Interesting concept, with a nice, tight execution. Good job.
Well, I'm glad I got around to this one. Every so often, I find a story that breaks all the rules and gets away with it. The rule-breaking seems self-indulgent at first, but by the end, we realize why this story is written the way it is. As I always tell people I tutor, mastering the rules means you know how to bend or break them. Yes, this is one of the better stories-for-smart-people I've seen in this fandom.
I'll tell you what, though: I didn't think I'd see dragons written as enemies here. Who are you, and what did you do with the real Baxil?
>>18080841808084 I'd go so far as to say that the primary skill of writing comes from learning which rules to break when. There are no actual laws of language (the same way that there are laws of physics); there are only conventions, and any rule can be broken (up to and including the shape of letters and meaning of words). The trick is in knowing when breaking a rule -- an act which draws attention to itself -- aids the story you are trying to tell.
¡uʍop ǝpısdn ǝʇıɹʍ uɐɔ I 'ʞoo˥ That's a silly thing to do in prose, because all it does is slow the reader down and make communication difficult. And yet I chose to break that rule (very very briefly) in Princess Luna Picks Up Hitchhikers. To whatever extent it works, it's still just a shadow of, say, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, which takes entire sections of the book and weaves pure unforgettable magic out of playing with textual formatting.
I'm curious which particular rules you think I'm breaking to good effect here. And thank you for the praise. :) (What are the other stories-for-smart people you've enjoyed? I ought to go read them.)
> I didn't think I'd see dragons written as enemies here. Who are you, and what did you do with the real Baxil?
Dragons are creatures of wisdom, honor, and benevolence. The key is is learning which rules to break when.
(But seriously, headcanon: There was an entire dragon civilization before the Celestial War, wise and peaceful. The War shattered their race -- essentially nuked all of their cities -- and the few scattered survivors descended into a barbarism from which they haven't recovered. Possibly due to magical curse, or to all the best and brightest having fought and died in the War. ... and yes, I'm writing a story about this why do you ask.)
So this is an amazing and really mind-bending story. Just one thing that confuses me.
Does Celestia succeed? Do they escape the machine?
Thanks for reading it, and I'm glad you enjoyed it! I think the best way to answer your question is to point to >>12313071231307 .
I liked it, however I want an ending. I guess both stories ended with [Spoilers] Celestia succumbing to the Nightmare in order to unwind the machine [/Spoilers], and if this was a one shot movie then it would be great and I'd love it, however I feel I need some kind of closure. What's up? It was good though.
Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! You are correct, that is the action Celestia takes and that is the belief that drives her to do it.
Regarding closure, I don't know that I've got much of a better answer than >>12313071231307 . Is it just an answer to the question "does she succeed?" that you're looking for, or is there something deeper? I won't rule out further writing or a sequel if I feel like there's something interesting I still have to say, but right now it's not as high on my priority list as publishing the other kajillion stories that are already written and in the throes of editing.
>>20398342039834 Well, after reading that... My first PM to you still stands.
Beautiful. Sorry I never got around to reading your stories until now. Now it's midnight, and I probably can't read a second one until next week.
>>11227971122797 There are certain points in time which can not be changed. Certain events which MUST happen. And though we may rail against them with all the power we possess, though we may know where every pitfall lies and plot for ourselves a course to dance safely past each one, fate is inescapable. Even for ones as long-lived as they.
I hope that's not the theme. I regard that view as evil. Historically, claims that some particular event MUST happen, and in general all claims that some things are fated, have always been efforts to oppress people, force them to do something they didn't want to do, or prevent them from trying to better themselves.
>>11556531155653 Yes, I agree with that. The regret-machine framing sucked the spirit out of the story at the end.
It was a paraphrase of a Doctor Who quote, which spent the entire time I was reading this story running around in my brain.
And remember that the Doctor spends a good deal of time either participating in history, or stopping some force that is trying to change it. But then you get to something like the Mars Base, a "fixed point" in history. As hard as he tries to make it better, to protect people who have done nothing to deserve their fate other than simply being there, in the end all he can do is watch as events unfold exactly as they would without his intervention. That was the feels-punch I took from this story.
>>20559722055972 Hey, I'm flattered it's worth the time going through my back catalogue when there are so many great new stories being written all the time. Glad you liked it! There's a lot more where this came from.
Re the regret-framing machine, I stand by >>11674031167403 — I don't think this story could exist in anything like its present form without the framing device, but it definitely does swing in late and heavy in a way that I'm dissatisfied with. Your criticism is well-taken. (Fortunately for my writing quality, >>11556531155653 has been keeping me honest as a prereader ever since this story introduced us. And I do really appreciate your speaking up, even just as an analysis in hindsight; readers willing to step back and evaluate a story's overall flow are rare and precious and worth listening to.)
I don't think I was aiming for that specific sense of inevitability here, so much as Mark Twain's observation that "history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Twilight's letters cause Celestia to conclude that the existence of Nightmare Moon was the regret she herself wished to erase, and Celestia independently decides that turning things back to that dark and tragic path will be for the ultimate good of those she cares about. The story's central question is whether she was right in that decision … and that's why it was important to leave it hanging.
Well, heck. For some reason, I never got a notification that you had responded. By now, I no longer remember which rules I was referring to. I suppose I'll have to read this one again, and try to remember. Regarding your ideas on constructive rule-breaking, it's certainly food for thought. But one of my bigger mistakes while learning to write well, was to try to run before I could walk, if that makes sense. I got better when I stopped trying to do fancy things. For me, a sign of an advanced writer is the ability to pull off these things well.
As for other good "head" stories: I think everyone knows this one, and all I can seem to come up with at this hour are this and this. If you like, I can link others if I find them.
As for the bit about the dragons, that makes a lot more sense. I'm kind of looking forward to that story now...
There's something weird going on with notifications, for sure. :\ I've missed several other responses that way on other authors' stories. I think it has something to do with where the response is written: you have to respond while in the same chapter view as the original comment in order for the notification to trigger.
Your recommendations are interesting. I'd already read White Box, actually, and its gimmick is handled well enough, but it didn't really stick with me beyond that. I would recommend a certain author's Savage Way over White Box in a heartbeat.
We'll see where that dragon story (codename: Finding Solus) goes.
Well, I guess I had better write another, hadn't I.
She's living in the past
So you won't last
Without the proper care
With a royal Farewell
And an Animate spell
You won't have long to Prepare
New headcanon: Nightmare Night is the anniversary of the evening the Celestial War started. The Summer Sun Celebration was the date of NMM's return because she had to wait for a stellar conjunction, not because it was 1k years on the nose.