We know that our eyes can seem strange,
but please bear with us through this change,
we gather that which you require,
Poison Joke and Heart's Desire
--Little Sister Rhyme, Final Draft
Though our appearance is concerning, please do not be unnerved,
For through such noble sacrifice, our city is preserved,
We keep the wheels of Vision turning, that its citizens may live,
With the help, of angel's kind, who have no more to give.
--Little Sister Rhyme, First Draft
Hey there everyone! I know I said I'd update IFIWT there week but, uh... ninjas. Ninjas stole the update. Yeah, that's it. In the meanwhile, I'll be posting weekly behind-the-scenes content for Vision, along with character analysis, breakdown of my process, etc. A lot of good stuff got left on the cutting room floor during the writing, and hopefully, you'll think it's interesting! And hold off from lynching me. So, let's get started.
The most extensive rewrites in Vision occurred early on. Siren Song, Green Apple, and Golden Palm were each rewritten from scratch several times as Siren's voice changed and as I refined my understanding of the characters. I'd originally intended to just go in order from the start, but apparently I didn't save a copy of the old versions of chapters one and two. I will be talking about the changes to Siren's voice in my post about discussing her as a character, but it'll have to be qualitative. In the meanwhile, you can see a lot of those changes in the old version of chapter three. You can find it below, broken down by scene, along with my commentary on each bit.
As a word of warning, a good part of this content was cut simply because it was bad. If you're interested in seeing the good stuff that didn't make it to the final release, scroll down to scenes five and six. Those are the two I really wish I could have kept.
Deleted Scene: Siren and Green's Apartment, Draft 1
Chapter 3, Scene 1
Reason Cut: Milquetoast, Character Personalities Poorly Established
Badinerie is playing. If you asked me, I’d say it wasn’t one of my favorites. It’s too fast for a classical piece; it doesn't give enough time to appreciate the notes. It’s happy though, and light, and so for all I would insist I don’t like it, I seem to end up listening to it a lot. In fact, I listen to it just about every time I screw up, so I suppose if you’re measuring by what I chose to play, that does make it one of my favorites.
The music starts to wind down, but I just turn the crank and move the needle, and it starts all over again with the woodwinds and violins. It’s quick and playful, and it always makes me picture a mischievous little foal, light on her hooves as she skips through the palace halls. It’s not me, though. I’m sitting on my flank, letting my head rest on the end table with the record player. My eyes are shut, and with the music playing right into my ear, I can’t hear the beat of the lights or the drip of the walls. It’s like I’m not even here. Cut off from this horrible place, I could believe it doesn't exist; that I’m just in the palace basement, and when I open my eyes, I’ll be home.
I don’t open my eyes, though.
This place isn’t like a nightmare, not really. Nightmares don’t make sense. They’re just frightening images, held together by enough of a chain of reason to seem real. This place though, it has an awful internal consistency to it: a hundred little details a nightmare would never include. Green was the mare on the tail-shine bottle down in Serpents Wharf. That must have been the low point of her career, when she needed the money just to eat. One of the bottles in her supply cabinet was Sparkle Enchantments Automata Restorative, for the wiredoll in her apartment. The bottle looked old and was still mostly full, probably because of how small the doll is.
The sun doesn't shine here. Celestia can’t help you now. Pathologically peaceful. I should have caught it. It was all right in front of my eyes. I had all the pieces to figure out that this city had some kind of violent falling out with Celestia and Equestria; that the ponies here turned their backs on the Princess and harmony. I heard the pride in Trixie’s voice when she said it, the contempt that monster had for the idea I’d ask her for help, and still I walked right into the trap. Under the circumstances, I guess I’m lucky that all I got was a slap.
Worse, I let it get to me—let my emotions get the better of me. Celestia told me I can’t let other ponies push me around like that. If Green wants to hold a grudge against Celestia, she can. If she wants to think I’m a stuck up foal, she can. I think she’s a sore loser—a sad shell of a pony bitter about her ruined career, her wasted life, and that she’s squatting in a ruined city while Celestia is the beloved and kind ruler of Equestria. All the extra cutie marks fit her, really. If she’d just accepted herself and her talents like Celestia teaches, she’d have found what made her happy in life. Instead, she’s trying to drown her problems in magic potions, because she can’t admit she was wrong.
Well, I’m done letting a bitter freak and a spiteful witch get the best of me. If I have to play hostage for Trixie and Green, I will. Celestia will fix them both once I’m out of here. For now, I just need to keep it together, think things through, and not get blindsided like that again. I can do this.
I realize that I’ve lost the thread of the music. I was so taken up in my thoughts that I didn’t even notice when it ended, and now the record player is making only occasional squeaks and pops. I open my eyes to find the needle again, but when I do, Green nudges my shoulder with a hoof. She’s standing next to me, looking down at me with a soft frown. I’m not sure how long she’s been there, but she must have been waiting for the music to end. Her horn is glowing, and there’s something levitating by her side. It looks a bit like one of Celestia’s hoof boots, save that it’s made of steel.
“It’s time to go.” She gestures to the door with a jerk of her head. “If we wait any longer, we’ll miss the tram.”
I nod, rising to my hooves. I don’t rush a response; she’s not expecting me to answer right away, and a bit to think will help. I’ll need to tread carefully. She doesn't look angry anymore, but that frown doesn't suggest she’s overjoyed either.
“Before we go, I made you something.” She floats the steel boot over to me, and I raise my right foreleg in expectation. It’s a good fit, sliding snugly around my hoof, making that leg feel ever so slightly heavier than the others. It’s an odd little accessory: a sweeping, angular hoof boot with an inner and outer layer, five hexagonal slots between them. The purpose of it becomes clear when Green levitates five of those little blue crystals out of her saddlebags, placing one in each slot. “Now, this will tingle a little,” she warns me, a narrow red beam shooting from her horn to strike the boot. A little electric rush shoots up my leg, and I shiver involuntarily. The crystals glow as well, and with five little flashes of red light, my cutie mark appears on the end of each one.
“There.” Green awkwardly smiles at me, pulling out two of the crystals with my notes and star on them. She replaces them with another two, one that has Trixie’s wand and pixie dust, and another that has her three apple slices. “Now other ponies can wire you, and you have a little holder for them. See?”
I see perfectly. She’s guilty she hit me. First, the basics: fold ears back, nod gently, look down at the floor, and add the slightest trace of a stutter. “T-thank you. It’s nice.” Next, take advantage of what I know. She’s vain and bitter, and quick to project good or bad traits on those who flatter or irk her. “I’m sorry I...” I add a touch of a sniffle. “You were just so kind to me. I didn’t know that Celestia had done anything to hurt you. I...”
She reaches out to shush me, touching my shoulder with a hoof. “It’s okay, Sweetheart.” I am good. “I shouldn't have gone off on you like that. We do things differently down here, but you were just doing what you were told was right. Your only crime was being deceived, and Celestia’s pulled the wool over the eyes of plenty of ponies.” I don’t let her off that easy, trembling faintly until she takes the cue and gives me a hug. “Just hang in there. You’ll get outta this.”
Absolving her this soon would be throwing away a perfectly good advantage, plus, I don’t feel like being that nice to her after what she said about Celestia. I should give her something for her effort though, and so I lean back, putting on a forced smile and nodding. “I’ll get through this,” I repeat, with just enough strain that it doesn't seem like I believe it. “Thank you.”
“That’s the spirit. Now let’s go. You have a tram to catch, and once your tests come back, it’s right down to the docks.” She levitates her saddlebags over and around her, doing up the strap before starting into the collection of locks on her door. “You’ll like Berry Punch. She listens to a lot of music too.”
A slight tremor runs through me when I hear the clatter of all those deadbolts opening. “Shouldn't we be armed?” Green seems confident enough, but I’m not completely sure. I look around for something I can use as a weapon, quickly remembering the bottles under the counter.
“I’m more dangerous than I look, Sweetheart, and I pay protection.” She pauses before opening the last lock, tapping the spot next to her with a hoof. The invitation to stick close is clear, and I trot up to her side. “Just don’t let anypony spook you. This is a rough part of town, but it isn’t Serpent’s Wharf.” She pulls the door open, and we step outside.
Ah jeeze, this scene...
This was probably the hardest scene to cut of the lot, but in a way, it's the worst. It doesn't really do anything wrong, but it also doesn't do anything right. Siren has enough inflection to sound like Siren, but she doesn't really stand out. The right traits are there for Green, but they come across muted, evened out behind a layer of politeness. Two characters who should come across as commanding, larger than life figures are just kind of... there. In short, this scene commits the greatest possible sin in writing—it's bland.
In editing, it was very easy to try to rationalize this away. Green gets a lot more establishment later in the chapter—as you'll see—and I thought that this scene was just something of a speedbump. I just had to get Siren out of the apartment as quickly as possible to get to the interesting stuff. Needless to say, that is a terrible approach to writing, and this chapter is where I decided there would be no placeholder scenes in Vision. If a scene is not interesting on its own merits, it should be cut.
Deleted Scene: The Dying Stallion in the Slums
Chapter 3, Scene 2
Reason Cut: Blunt, Poor Character Establishment
It takes me a second to recognize what I’m seeing. Green’s “apartment” is made from a public bathroom and kitchen—so it makes sense that the door would open into a communal housing area—but the conditions here are so squalid that at first I don’t realize it’s a living space at all. The wood of the floor and ceiling is twisted and shattered, revealing the stone beneath it. The walls drip constantly, and the smell of mold is omnipresent, rising out of the mattresses. I see rusted bed frames, dirty sinks, upturned trunks and suitcases, but worst of all, I see ponies. Ponies are still living here, sleeping in the filthy beds and murmuring to each other in little groups.
Not all of the blame rests on the water either. Even when this place was new, it wasn’t good. The bunk beds are packed so close together there’s barely room to maneuver between them. The lighting is bright and shines directly down into the sleeping area. Even the orphanage wasn’t this bad. Whomever built this space clearly just wanted to pack as many ponies into the building as they could, without regard for living conditions or comfort. Green makes no comment on it though, locking the door behind us and then leading me through the grid of beds.
The ponies here are filthy and flea-ridden; they stink of sweat and improper hygiene, and many of them show minor injuries. I look down at one as we pass—a pegasus stallion sleeping in one of the mouldy beds. His tan coat is speckled with brown, and his once-golden mane is so choked with dirt and detritus that it’s now a muddy red. His wings aren't in much better condition, and the muscles around them seem atrophied. From lack of use, I suppose. My eyes go to his flank, and I can see that his original cutie mark is a chisel and mallet. He has two others though: a lightning bolt and a wrench. We move on before I can inspect him closely, but I do see a deep scratch down his side. The skin around it is an angry red, the injury visible through his coat.
“That pony, there.” I try to get Green’s attention, as she picks her way towards the exit—a set of double doors on the far side of the room. “I think that cut down his side is getting infected. He needs a doctor.”
“Probably,” Green agrees. “The conditions here aren't very sanitary.” She diverts her course from the exit, picking towards a group of ponies playing cards near the door. Two blue unicorn mares and a green earth pony stallion. I give them a glance, but don’t stop to look them over in detail.
“I know it’s just a little scratch, but it could be really serious. I don’t think he’s treating it.” I try to press the point, as Green trots up to the little group. “You’re a doctor.”
She gives the little group a cursory hello, and they greet her by name in turn, not paying much attention. The stallion checks out her flank, but she pays him no mind either. They’re all ugly creatures, and one of the mares is sporting more than eight cutie marks. Her flesh is warped, her skin bulging in places like something was trying to escape. My stomach turns, and I look back to Green before the mare can see my disgust. Green has opened her saddlebags, and she levitates out a stack of six bits, tossing them to the floor in the middle of the group. “Watch my apartment while I’m away?”
“Sure thing, Green,” the stallion answers, flicking two of the bits to each of the ponies in the group. That seems to be the extent of the conversation, and Green turns back to the exit, obviously intent on leaving.
“Green, he could die.” I try to press the point, reaching out to her shoulder to stop her from leaving. She does stop, and turns to face me, and I realize I’ve made a mistake. Not a bad one—she isn’t angry, but she isn’t sympathetic either. Her lips are pursed, and if I had to put a word on her expression, it would be ‘annoyed’. She sweeps a hoof back to gesture at the room.
“The sinks here still work. You’re free to wake him up and explain the importance of washing that cut regularly.” I wait for the follow up, the kicker, the point she’s trying to make, but it never comes. She just puts her hoof back on the ground and looks at me. It throws me off my game a little, but I keep my expression neutral.
“Washing it won’t be enough if it’s infected. He needs antibiotics.” I should drop this and just follow her outside, but I can’t just leave a pony like that. It’s like Green isn’t even hearing me, her expression flat and indifferent. I try to emphasize my point. “You still had some extra under the sink.”
“Drugs won’t do any good if he doesn't keep it clean. It’ll just get infected again,” she retorts without missing a beat. “So, I repeat. You’re free to wake him up if you like.” She leans in close to me, putting a hard edge behind her words. She’s not mad, not exactly, but I can tell I’m touching a very sensitive nerve. I don’t know what she expects of me, so I freeze, looking back at him, and then up at her. After a few seconds, she takes silence as my answer, and straightens up.
“It’s okay, Sweetheart, I’m not angry.” She drops to a reassuring tone, and it comforts me, but not for the reason she thinks. It’s good to know I still have some points with her. “You mean well, but you don’t know what you’re doing. You just wanted to help somepony. You didn’t think that you were about to give away my drugs, my time, and my effort, for something you wanted. That’s what Celestia teaches you. She makes what ponies need more important than what they earned, until you feel justified stealing from others to give to others.”
I don’t know what to say to that. It’s like a parody of a real argument. It’s like when I was learning classical debate, and the teacher would give me an absurd position to defend to test my technique. Morally justify leaving another pony to die in one hundred words or less, go. The worst part is that she not only does she believe in every disgusting word she just uttered, she believes in them so much, she honestly thinks she’s doing me a kindness. I was a foal to think she’d actually help another pony; I forgot who she is, what she is.
I don’t know what to say to that, but I do know what to say to her. “B-but you’d help me. Right?” A hint of fear, and wide eyes, looking up to her like she was my protector. It plays her ego like a harp, and she pulls me in close.
“Of course, Sweetheart,” she lies. She’d abandon me in a second if I weren't worth my weight in bits. She doesn't even consider going back for him; she just takes that as the end of the conversation and steps out the door.
Holy heavy-handed metaphors batman! The only way that scene could have gotten more blunt is if Green stopped to explain that she represents lower-class workers who embrace free-market ideals contrary to their own self-interest out of a desire to legitimately obtain higher social status. And then gave Siren a test on the impact of health care reform by income level.
Perhaps more significantly, this also established Siren the wrong way. If I were to rewrite this scene now, Siren would notice the injured stallion and worry about him, but would be socially savvy enough not to bother asking Green. This scene was meant to establish that Siren isn't totally soulless and does have concern for other ponies, but that she lacks the courage to stand up for those ideals, foreshadowing the Daring Do arc. At that, I think it was moderately successful, but it also totally neglected Siren's other traits. She's socially perceptive, she's manipulative, and when she wants to get something, she is able to argue her way into it. The Siren we see in this scene is naive, and that was the wrong direction for her.
Deleted Scene: Siren and Artemis Suites, Draft 1
Chapter 3, Scene 3
Reason Cut: Your pacing is bad and you should feel bad!
The door takes us into the building’s main atrium. The design is more ornate than I expected. From the conditions of the room behind us, I would have thought the main staircase of this building would be something cramped and unremarkable, but this space is almost airy. Five flights of indoor balconies rise above us, and stone garden boxes hold flowers and trees. At first, I think that the ceiling is glass—until I remember the windows here are just holes in the stone, and hear the forcefield’s steady pounding. Forcefield or no though, it drips, rivers of salt water running down the walls. There are no wood coverings here; the white stone is exposed, and it seems to glitter where the ceiling has left it wet.
It’s a mess, of course. The salt has long since choked out all the plants, the floor is covered in trash, and the walls are painted with some of the most obscene graffiti I’ve ever seen. There’s only one exit on this floor—a large set of double doors—but they’re locked, and Green obviously isn’t headed for them. She turns to a nearby stairwell instead, one that looks like it circles up through the floors above us. “Come along, now. There used to be a tram station just outside that door, but it hasn’t worked in years. We’ll have to head up to the top and then walk a few blocks to Spitfire Station.”
“How did things get this bad?” I ask, sticking close to her side. We pass a few other ponies as we make our way up and around the atrium. Not all of them are markers, but none of them look friendly. “Earlier, you said it wasn’t just Poison Joke and Heart’s Desire.”
“No, it was a lot of things.” Green gives that little reminiscent sigh again. “Too long a story to tell now, but if you’re asking how this building got the way it is, we were smack-dab in the middle of the revolution.” She glances back at me, making sure I’m still there as we round a corner and find another set of stairs. “When things started getting rough, a few ponies lost their nerve. They said we’d made a mistake, and wanted to go crawling back to beg Celestia’s forgiveness. The Council wouldn't have it though. If Celestia found out where we were, the whole city could be endangered.”
I remember the signs I found when I arrive, and I suppress a little shudder at the thought of all of those ponies trying to escape, just like I am. “They didn’t take no for an answer,” I speculate.
“It was just protests at first, but things got worse quickly. They appealed to anypony who had a grudge against the Council: criminals, washups, drifters, losers, markers who needed a fix. It went from a few ponies making a fuss to all of the parasites banding together to try and make the city their own.” She lets out a sharp snort. “They did a lot of damage to the trams and the docks. Serpents Wharf got the worst of it, and it never recovered. It should never have gotten that bad, but those cowards in security didn’t get off their lazy flanks until half the city was on fire.”
“But that’s over now,” I point out, my eyes following a particularly ugly piece of graffiti as we pass. It graphically depicts two ponies being intimate, and I curl my lip in disgust. The writing under it is no better, coarse language suggesting that the mare involved is easy. “And you said that didn’t happen until after things started getting bad. What kicked this all off?”
“We all get what we deserve, Sweetheart.” Her tone is tired, but she holds her head high, like she had something to be proud of. “We made mistakes. We built the city wrong, and it started to leak. We discovered mantles, and got addicted. We used our silver and steel to build dolls and toys, while city infrastructure decayed. We had nopony else to blame, but that’s not what made it get bad. It got bad when the ponies here forgot the principles the city was founded on. They wanted somepony to bail them out of their mistakes. They were tired,” she spits the word with contempt, “and they didn’t have the strength to fight for themselves anymore.”
I fall silent, as we round another corner and find another set of stairs. I’m getting a tad winded, but I try not to show it, keeping up with her as we near the top. The first reply that springs to mind is what she did to deserve living in a slum, but I bite that down. Besides the fact that it would anger her and accomplish nothing, she seems to be in a talkative mood. I should take this chance to get a clear answer to some of the questions I didn’t have a chance to ask before. “When did Sine Rider found the city? You must have left Equestria over a decade ago.”
It seems like a reasonable question, but she stops when I ask it, turning to look back at me. “He didn’t.” She holds that surprised expression for a moment, before she starts walking again, turning her head forward. “He died years before we came here, in the riots.”
“I don’t understand.” I pick up my pace to keep up with her, trying to look at her face. It’s stern, flat, and we’re moving too quickly at an awkward angle for me to get a better read on her.
“Sine was a farmer, in Ponyville, and friends with the Elements of Harmony.” Her voice is flat, but I don’t know why. Was it because I messed up, and revealed how little I knew, or is it just a painful subject? “About nineteen years ago, there was food shortage—a parasprite infestation that wasn’t caught in time. For the good of Equestria, Celestia decreed what farmers could sell, what they could sell it for, and what they had to grow.” She picks up her pace as we reach the last set of stairs, and I have to struggle to keep up.
“Sine wouldn't have it. He said that if Celestia wanted to run his farm, she could till the soil herself, and he walked away.” She draws a breath, and holds it for a moment. Her eyes are glassy—whatever she’s looking at isn’t in front of her. “A lot of farmers felt the same way. We were all tired of working day and night for whatever bits Celestia threw at us, so we walked away too. All of us.”
“Celestia didn’t like that.” We’re nearing the top of the last stairwell now, and she slows her pace. There’s another one of those steel security doors ahead of us, and I guess she wants to finish her story before we get to it. “She had her pegasi drag Sine off to the palace, and played real nice. She said that the kingdom was starving. That for the good of others, he had to tell everypony to go back to work. She offered to buy his produce for ten times what she was paying everypony else. She flattered him and told him he was a great leader, and just needed to tell his followers to play along for one more year. He spat in her face. She liked that even less.”
Green comes to a halt, looking back at me. “So she killed him.”
I come up short when I recognize her expression, the glint in her eyes, the tremble in her words. She’s not mad at me, or suspicious—she’s hurt. Hurt is dangerous. Hurt can turn into anything at the drop of hat, particularly anger, and she already has a reason to see me as a target. It doesn't matter that it’s ridiculous—Celestia isn’t capable of killing anypony—Green needs to believe her story is true to prop up her delusions, and if I contradict her, she’ll just take it all out on me.
“Just...” Shame. I need to show shame. I look down, hiding my eyes, like I somehow inherited Celestia’s imaginary crimes. My voice tremors faintly. “Just because she was angry?”
“Or because she thought it would end the matter, but if she did, she was wrong. When word got out, Equestria exploded into riots, and the Elements of Harmony saw the truth. Behind all that glamor and those kind words, Celestia’s just a tyrant.” Green needs a second to collect herself, and she draws regular breaths. I don’t mind the pause, it gives me time to work on my sad face for when I have to look back up. “The Bearers of the Elements founded the city. Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy.”
I shouldn't pick at that, but the omission is too obvious for me to let it slide. Gently, I scrape at the ground with a hoof, looking up the barest few degrees, then back down. “Aren't...” I let the word hang for a moment, like I was afraid to finish. “Aren't there six elements?”
There’s a pause before she answers, and when she speaks, her tone is curt. “Yes. Rarity was the sixth. She was there too.” She shakes her head sharply, and I take that as a cue to look up. I don’t have a specific form in mind—I’m playing this one by ear—but guilty and sad go well together, and I can tell it landed. “Well, c'mon, it’s just a few blocks from here. We’ll need to be quiet though. The streets aren't as safe as the building; conversation will draw the bad kind of attention. We trot quickly, and don’t stop until we reach the tram station. Security is there, nopony will follow us in. Got it?” I got it.
“Door, open,” she commands. “Password: A Hop, Skip and a Jump.” Just as before, the gem in the door glows and the lock mechanism opens, letting the door slide up and away. She starts off at a quick trot and I move to keep up with her, looking around as we step out into the hall.
I come to a halt. My breath siezes in my lungs
There’s no ceiling. There’s no walls. There’s no lights. Just the stone road, and an invisible bubble of force around us. It’s like the ocean is on my shoulders. I tense to support the weight. At every window so far, the ocean has just been blackness, but not here. Here I can see the water; I can see the ocean floor and the teeming life upon it. The surface isn’t the start of the water, it’s the end of the sky—the vault over the city that marks the edge of the world. Oh Celestia, the city.
It’s a forest of white stone. Towers of all kinds rise up towards the sky, walkways and rail lines their branches. The buildings give me vertigo—impossibly tall and angled, casting pure light out into the ocean through every window. This hallway doesn't need any lights; it basks in the twilight from the radiance around it. Canterlot could live in this city’s shadow. It’s more than size though. Canterlot is just buildings, but this place screams. Every structure is decorated with statues, images of ponies, brilliantly lit signs and banners. Every tower proclaims its greatness to the world, competing for attention with all the others. Taller works blot out and obscure lesser buildings, all trending upwards to the city center.
My eyes refuse to see it as a building. Buildings can’t get that big. All the lights from its windows run together, until they form a glittering carpet of white. It reaches up from the stone of the ocean floor, all the way up to the surface. There are no banners, no statues, no decorations. This building doesn't need to proclaim its greatness. It simply is great. It bears only a single sign, written in purple light: “Sparkle Enchantments.”
At some point, my jaw fell open. It doesn't matter that I can see air bubbles escaping. It doesn't matter that some of the buildings are dark. All the lights, all the fields, pulse together. The city has a heartbeat. This place is—
Green is pulling me away.
“This is not a safe place to gawk, Sweetheart.” At first, it’s a gentle push, but when I don’t move, she shoves with more force, making me stumble down the hall. “It had the same effect on me too. Welcome to Vision, but we gotta go.” I can’t look away, and the third time she shoves me, it’s hard enough that it hurts. I almost fall, but the pain snaps me back to reality, and I give a hard shake of my head.
“Right.” I force myself to look at the road in front of us. “Right.”
The hallway is brief, and after another door, it deposits us in what used to be an open market. The inside seems cramped and squalid now. After that beautiful twilight, the lights are bright and harsh. I can see what Green meant about this being a dangerous place though. It’s not underwater like Serpents Wharf, but it’s just as decayed, and I can see ponies lurking in the shadows. We pick up the pace, darting into a long corridor of white stone.
As far as I can tell, these tunnels connect a network of old apartment buildings and market squares. As we move further through them, their condition improves somewhat. I see one store that’s still open—a pharmacy—and sometimes we pass through chambers whose floors are clear of debris. The trend doesn't last though.
Hi there! I'm the exposition fairy! With my beautiful gossamer wings, I fly across the countryside, dropping walls of text on readers across Equestria! I make writing quick and efficient, and avoid all that need for pacing and proper buildup. Also, I'm a pony which means I'm adorable!
I swear, the way this scene was written involved my getting halfway through it, and then going: "Oh, wait, I was supposed to show the city this chapter and start foreshadowing Rarity and Green's arc. Mmm, well, we've got some dialogue, let's see if I can't fit it in there..."
Needless to say, the result is a failure on every level. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural, it jumps from point to point without real coherence or much internal process from Siren, and it turns the introduction of Vision—one of the pivotal moments of the story—into an aside. The content here was mostly right, and some parts like Green's foreshadowing did get reused later, but the pacing was just awful and the entire scene had to go.
Deleted Scene: Siren Meets the Big Brother, Draft 1
Chapter 3, Scene 4
Reason Cut: Poorly Contextualized, Poorly Framed, Too Soon in the Story
We’ve just passed a sign that reads “Coming Soon, Artemis North!” when Green slows her pace, motioning for me to do the same. We trot through a wide doorway, into a building identical in layout to Green’s own apartment building. This building was obviously never finished though—the boxes are free of dirt or plants, and many of the walkways are rusted metal frames. It’s not obvious why Green has slowed down, but just to be safe, I stop and listen.
I can hear a sound, very quiet, but distinctive. It’s a wet slicing noise, and there’s something else too. The sound of breathing, very heavy and deep. Green motions for silence, slowly and carefully walking around to the base of the stairwell. I tiphoof after her, looking where she does.
There’s a foal on the stairs—a little unicorn with a sky-blue coat and eyes that are red through and through. She’s clothed in a little pink dress, covered in bloodstains that match the dull glow of her eyes. Her horn is the wrong color for the rest of her; it’s bleached white, as well as being far too long, and coming to a grooved point. She’s standing next to an earth pony’s corpse, humming an off-key tune. As I watch, she lowers her head.
I stumble back, my stomach churning as I struggle not to vomit. She whistles cheerfully as her horn glows, and when nothing happens, she draws it out and stabs it down into the corpse somewhere else. “We know that our eyes can seem strange, but please bear with us, through this change.” She gives words to her tuneless little song. “We gather that which you require, Poison Joke and Heart’s Desire!” I hear bones crack, when she stabs her horn down into his spine, and she gives a merry little clap of her hooves to the stone. “There it is!” Blood flows through the grooves of her horn. I can’t look anymore.
“The little one will finish soon enough, Sweetheart. Let it out if you have too.” Green tries to comfort me, taking me by the shoulder. “There’s nothing to do but wait; if we try to shoulder past her, her protector will take offense. Don’t worry though, the tram station is just past the top of this building.”
“Oh Celestia.” I can hear the sickly squelch of tearing flesh. “That poor foal. What did you do to her?” She wasn’t the same foal who saved me, I’m sure of it, but that doesn't matter. One of these things saved my life. They’re just innocent creatures and somepony forced them to drink whatever magical poison turned them into those things.
“Don’t raise your voice!” Green hisses, like I was somehow the unreasonable one in this monster-filled hole.
“What did you do to her!?” I snap, an image flashing into my head—that poor foal strapped a table, crying as some brute covered in cutie marks forces her to drink the vile contents of some bottle. Her eyes change, her horn lengthens—
Green grabs me and shoves me away from the foal so hard I’m knocked clear off my hooves. Mercifully, I go down on the side without stitches, but I can still feel the stone scratch over my coat. My head cracks onto the floor, and my vision swims, but I’m coherent enough to realize that Green is backing away as well. There’s something on the stairs, a monster, roaring down at us. “We don’t want any trouble, big guy.” Green is speaking in a slow, steady voice, like you would to a dog. “See? She’s there, and we’re way over here. No trouble.”
My eyes refocus. For a moment, I don’t understand. I can see a pony in a diving suit, but where’s the monster that was roaring at us? Then, it snarls, an animal sound rumbling out of the brass around it. It’s a giant, all wrapped up in armor and cloth, that window-studded bubble helmet utterly hiding its face—if there’s even a pony left under there. Thick red fabric forms the joints of its suit, its tail all bound up in cloth and brass bindings. On its left side, it carries a lance in the shape of a screw, bigger than I am. No, not a lance, a drill. On the other side, a basket is mounted like a saddlebag, currently empty. The little filly is cowering between his forelegs, looking out as he threatens to charge us. I freeze to the spot, not moving, not even breathing. For once, that’s the right thing to do.
“I’m ready to be go now, big brother!” the little filly squeaks, tilting her head away from us, even as her eyes turn to follow us. Slowly, the giant sinks to his knees, twisting his shoulders around so that the basket sinks to ground level. She turns, crawling inside it, and he rises back to his hooves. The basket’s motion makes her tumble, but she manages to right herself, and he starts down the ramp towards us. He doesn't walk, not exactly. He lumbers, like he could barely support his own weight; his hoofsteps so heavy the stone tremors under him. He’s careful to keep the side with the basket turned away from us, but he doesn't seem to pay us any mind otherwise. He just walks past us, out the door we came through.
Eventually, his hooffalls fade out of hearing, and I can move again. Green slumps with relief, and we both let out the breaths we were holding.
She moves to help me up. She’s saying something about the foal and Heart’s Desire and mantles, but I’m not listening. I just nod whenever she pauses, and we start up the stairs. I’m thinking about the foal, about what must be under that suit. Ponies can’t make those sounds. They just can’t. I thought he was an earth pony, because of how big he was, but that doesn't seem so certain anymore. Could that helmet hide some twisted, over-muscled unicorn? A pegasi whose wings have long since atrophied away? The drill was about at wing-height, and some horrible part of my mind suddenly wonders if he operates it with the bone-spurs left from where his wing used to be.
Is that horrible? Is it wrong to imagine those twisted things, when they might be true? I think of the beautiful city, and the Wharf, and Green. Are they all the same? Green is beautiful. If I pried open her soul, would I find it full of blood and seawater? Is that all the city is? A hypnosis trick designed to make me fall in love with something awful? I should be thinking about the foal, about how to get out of here, not this, but I can’t get it out of my head. I’m not thinking about much, I guess. Just images.
I try to think about something happy: Canterlot, the palace, Celestia, my friends. I can’t though. Canterlot is waterlogged. The palace smells like salt. Celestia isn’t a real pony, is she? She’s bits of other ponies all put together. Wings and a horn and hooves. Every little detail of her body suddenly comes into stark relief. Is she one of these creatures, made with potions and magic? Is that why her horn is so sharp? My friends are corpses, degenerates. Cirrus Cloud wants to play, but I don’t like her smile, and she has these razor blades on her hooves.
Again, something that should have been a pivotal moment in the story gets crammed in between more important scenes. While a lot of good things were established here—Siren's feeling of revulsion at the Little Sisters and Big Brothers, the amount of mental strain she's under, etc—it's done far, far too bluntly and without much buildup. Worse than that, it's too early in Siren's arc for this. She'll crack up, but not yet. This aspect was moved to the end of Chapter 4, when Berry Punch becomes concerned about Siren's mental stability. Moving it there not only made it more subtle, but more effective.
Another thing that had to be toned down is Siren's tendency to go off into la-la land when under stress. She was intended to just have a very good imagination, and so pictures strange or even disturbing things when bothered—such as when she imagined the thug pawing at her in Serpent's Wharf. I realized though, that if I used that too much, it would start to seem like Siren suffered from hallucinations, which was definitely not a direction I wanted to go. For the reason, Siren's twisted version of Canterlot had to be cut completely.
Deleted Scene: Siren and the Station Advertisements
Chapter 3, Scene 5
Reason Cut: Cut for length to make room for better Golden Palm/Big Brother scenes.
“Siren!” Green snaps, firmly smacking my cheek. She’s holding me with both hooves, staring into my eyes, a deep frown on her face. “You okay, Sweetheart?”
It takes me a second to realize we’re somewhere else; somewhere where the stone is clean, and there’s other ponies around us. I look around, and I see things: a high ceiling, a board with numbers on it, some bright posters on the wall. Something is wrong with my eyes. They take no notice of the details. “I’m fine.” I manage to answer her. “Just zoned out a little.”
“You need to sit down for a bit.” She looks up at something behind me. “I need to get our tickets. We don’t have a lot of time, but c’mon, lets get you a glass of water first.”
She’s leading me somewhere. I can hear the sounds of a crowd around us, and there’s stone under my hooves. The hoofboot she gave me makes a loud clink with every step I make. Maybe it just seems loud. The walls are white, but they seem bright, things hanging on them. I hear voices too, echoing voices. Somepony is giving a speech, and it carries well. I almost walk into the wall before she catches me. It’s right in front of my head, but there’s a table to my left. I guess I’m supposed to sit down.
Green is telling me to do something, and pushing a bottle at me. I nod, and drink. It’s cold water. Then, she’s gone.
There’s a table in front of me. It’s a good table. Not great, but good. Circular, about the size of a pony, supported by one strong beam in the center that splits into four legs on the floor. There are little gaps in the table, slats between the boards, barely as wide as a hoof tip. They’re far too thin for any glass or plate to fall through, but I bet spills run right out onto the floor. It probably makes the table lighter too. That’s clever. It’s a clever table. It’s also kind of beat up though; I think it’s been here awhile.
“Hey there, Cloud Kicker, how was your date?” There’s a stallion giving a speech. His voice seems to come from all around me, bouncing off the walls and into my ears. Something is wrong with him though. His voice is flatter and scratchier than it should be, in sharp contrast to his forced, saccharine tone. I can imagine him saying it with wide, eager eyes, staring far too intently as he asks the question.
“Awful,” a mare grumps into my other ear. This one is trying to sound sad, and is no better an actor than the stallion was. She draws out every syllable, aww-full, and gives a little sigh just in case we didn’t get it. “He said I looked like a unicorn.”
“Hey now! What’s wrong with looking like a unicorn?” the stallion asks me. There’s nothing wrong with looking like a unicorn. I am a unicorn. I’m just a little burned right now, that’s all. I wish he’d go away. He must be close, for his voice to be right in my ear, but I can’t see who he’s talking too. I’m looking at the table.
“Nothing for you; you are a unicorn! But I’m a pegasus. Stallions expect me to be athletic, tough, you know, sleek.” I’m sleek. Stallions think I’m cute. I can hear that little sneer on her face: no no, that look is fine for you—I need to look good. “Up on the surface, I was hot stuff, but down here, I never get a chance to exercise.” Her tone quickly swings down. I can hear her lower her head, fold her ears back. It’s so fake. Nopony can possibly think this is real. It’s not real.
“You know, Cloud Kicker, the problem isn’t you!” The stallion has that too-intent look again. Staring right at me as he speaks into my ear. “Lots of pegasi in Vision find that they can’t keep up the appearances they want, but with Dash-brand Athletic Tonic, you can look like the fastest pegasi in Vision without breaking a sweat.” His tone is so rigid, so artificial. It’s like he’s a windup toy left running next to me. Maybe if I pretend I can’t hear him he’ll leave me alone.
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I’ll go buy some Dash Athletic Tonic right now!” I hear the sound of somepony greedily gulping at a bottle. Something cracking. Just a little crack. Maybe it’s one of her bones, or the feathers in her wings, or her flesh splitting and breaking with everything that’s trying to escape from under it.
“Wow, you do look good!” the stallion insists. His voice is rough. Her voice is rough. How many times have they done this act? How many ponies have they stood next too and made her drink whatever is in that bottle? If I look up, is she right there? Is there a pegasus with mutated wings staring at me, trying to get me to drink whatever killed her? I’m ignoring them; I’m looking at the table. Why won’t they do go away?
“You know, Rainbow Dash and I went out once.” The mare’s voice is disintegrating; falling apart like a scratched record. I can barely understand her. She’s falling apart right next to me and she’s going to get blood and bits of her feathers all over me and one of those little foals is going to come and stab me to get them back. “She may be the fastest flyer, but she—”
“Too much information, Cloud Kicker!” The stallion snorts, and they both give a stilted laugh. Just laughing and laughing and laughing.
“Go away!” I clap my hooves over my ears and bury my face in the table. My horn bumps the glass, and it falls over. The glass actually bounces without breaking. I hear the distinctive ring of glass being struck, water splashing out over the table as drops hit my face. Then the glass hits the table again, and this time, it shatters into a thousand pieces. My eyes reflexively squeeze shut as the pieces slide around me, bits of glass poking into my cheek. The water is running through the slats the table; I can hear it dripping onto the stone. A steady splash, leaving the city just a little more flooded. There’s water around my hooves.
I hear a loud crackle. Right in my ear.
“Hi there, everypony!” The two from before must have stepped away, because there’s a new speaker now. Another mare, this one with a high, saccharine voice, yelling right at me. “Pinkie Pie here.” Her voice is just as scratchy as the other two; just as off-beat and ruined. “I just got a tail twitch, then an ear flop, then a stomach rumble, and you know what that means—somewhere, somepony isn’t doing their part to patch leaks! We all know that the city has more holes in it then a piece of Swiss cheese that’s also at the bottom of the ocean, but uh... where was I going with that?” I hear that crackle again. “Oh, right. But that doesn't mean we can give up! In Vision, every leak is a bad leak. Report unexplained pools of water.”
“Just leave!” I can’t look up. I’m looking at the table. If I look up I’ll see them. The other two left; maybe she’ll do the same. I squeeze my eyes tighter and pull my hooves around my head. “Just leave me alone!”
She ignores me, going on in that upbeat voice, like I couldn’t hear her jaw popping every time she opens it. “The tower that patches the most leaks wins a party with all the awesome ponies down here in maintenance! We’re going to have cake and pop, and pin the tail on the pony, and-and-and-and-and-and-and-and-and-and—” There’s a loud crackle, and a pop.
The phonograph cuts out, leaving only the quiet scratching made by the floating needle as the record spins under it untouched.
“It was a record player.” I imagine what a scene I must have made, curled up at a table screaming at a recording. I just have to laugh. I just start laughing and I can’t stop. I can hear the ponies around me, whispering. They’re pointing at me. I just know it. The ponies who live in a sinking underwater city full of giant windup dolls, bloodsucking fillies, mutant freak ponies and diving bell monsters are pointing at me, and they’re saying I’m weird.
“No.” I take a deep breath. A few giggles escape me, but I force them down. “No, Siren Song, listen to me.” I’m not listening, but that’s no surprise, because I’m not using my authoritative voice. “Listen to me.” That’s better. “You’re not going to crack up. You’ve nearly been killed by monsters three times in the last day. A little psychological strain is normal, but you can’t go all to pieces on me.” I get my breathing under control.
“You know what Celestia would say if she were here?” She’d tell me I was going to get through this. “She’d tell you you’re going to get through this.” She’d tell me I have the strength to deal with this. “She’d tell you you’re stronger than you think you are.” She’d tell me that it’s hard, but it’s time to rise to the occasion. “She’d tell you to sit up, open your eyes, and deal with the reality in front of you!”
I sit up. I draw a breath. I’m going to open my eyes, and no matter what horrible things are in front of me, I’m going to deal with them. “Right.”
I open my eyes.
It’s a tram station. That’s good to notice right away. My analytical side is going to want to have fun with the details later, but right now something much more instinctual in me needs to orient itself. I can see tram rails to my left, there’s a big platform and a board with arrivals times on it in front of me, and to my right there’s a bunch of stores and shops and posters and stuff. I’m sitting outside a cafe. A lot of the stores are boarded up, and there’s weird things on the walls, but I understand this space. I can locate myself inside it.
Okay, that’s enough for right now. I shut my eyes again and take a few breaths while that percolates. Shutting my eyes gives me a chance to make a plan. I’m going to open them again. I’m going to look to my right and examine the posters and shops, and then I’m going to look up at the main room. “Right.”
The first poster is mundane, safe, even a little cute. It shows some poor pegasus stallion trying to balance six bowls of hot soup: two on his back, one on each wing, one on his head, and one on his tail. A bright white strip across the top of the poster reads “EAT AT,” while flowing red text at the posters bottom reads “Happy Noodle.” This is just the right poster for me to look at. It’s something I understand, but at the same time, it’s not like a poster in Equestria; the construction is too angular, the lines too sharp, and the text has the selfsame construction as the signs down at the docks.
To a lesser artist, those would seem like minor details, but they aren't. The creator of this poster was nopony special. He just wanted to blend in, and to do that, he made a poster of hard lines and sharp angles; full of motion and an implied hive of activity. There’s nothing in this poster I couldn't have figured out from other sources, but it gives me some insight into the city beyond a ruin filled with monsters. This is a place that values machines more than trees, energy more than elegance, and outcome more than process. On the other hoof, they’re aware of it, and obviously aren't entirely humorless.
The next few posters confirm my conclusions. They’re all advertisements for little things: a dentist, a locksmith, and cat-food. They all have that selfsame text, sharp angles and some sort of attention-grabbing image in the center. Even the one’s that don’t imply motion—like the drawing of a pony nursing a toothache—imply the need for motion. Some unfulfilled desire waiting for action. I don’t have a good word for it, but the closest term I can think of is ‘restless.’ These posters are restless. That realization puts me in an analytical mood, and I can feel my heartbeat slowing back to something like normal.
My analytical side is all that stops me from having another stressful moment when I turn to the fourth poster. Even then, I jump a little before I remember that it’s just a poster, and that I’m going to deal with it rationally. The setup is the same as the others—a dynamic image with sharp text around it—but this time, the image is a unicorn mare with a fireball cutie mark next to her eye; a blazing column of fire shooting from her horn. Flowing text in an arch around her head reads “Unicorns!”, while letters painted to seem like they’re made of fire proclaim, “Don’t wait! Incinerate!”
Her coat is blue. I’m not sure if that means anything. I can’t remember the coat color of the monster from the wharf, the one one who threw fireballs at me, but I think she might have been blue. The poster looks old—faded—it could have been here for years. I can feel my stomach turn, but I force those feelings down. It’s just a poster; Celestia would expect better of me.
She was never pretty. Not really. Her snout is a little square, her jaw set and narrow. It’s good for letting her dramatically glare down a column of fire, but it also makes her look a bit like a stallion. Some pegasi can pull that off, but I can tell from how her mane is cut that the effect wasn’t intentional. She wanted to look like a proper unicorn mare. I doubt she was a model. She was probably just somepony who thought she could feel pretty for a day and make a few bits. She had the poster in her room, showed it off to all her friends, and was proud of how badflank it made her look. She cut her mane a few weeks later, to make her look more tomboyish, but grew it out again after that. In my mind, her friends are two unicorns and an earth pony, and I can see them sitting around the table, just chatting with each other.
“I’m sorry I hurt you.” This isn’t a productive avenue of thought, and my time would be better spent on other things, but it makes me feel better. “You were trying to kill me; I didn’t have a choice, but if it matters, I hope you’re okay.” I turn away to the left, before the poster can bother me any more.
Of all the scenes that got cut out of Vision, this is probably the one I most wish I could keep. I loved the stilted dialogue, Siren's imagination running away with her as she hears the advertisements, and her little touching moment with the poster. This established Siren's imagination, her poor ability to deal with stress, and that she has a more sentimental side. This was a good moment, and one that I really wanted to keep. Sadly, with the chapter being rewritten to allow for Golden Palm's introduction and the later, better version of the Big Brother scene, this just didn't fit. I tried a few times to get it in, but it always made the chapter feel a bit too long, and eventually I decided to cut it. Still, you'll notice there's still a lot of references to this scene in the published version of Vision though, ranging from Dash Athletic Tonic to Pegasus Confinement Stress Disorder.
One other thing here that got toned back is Siren referring to facets of her personality as though they were distinct individuals. Analytical Siren, Artistic Siren, etc. It's one of her distinguishing traits, but I was told that doing that *and* talking to herself in the same scene gave the impression of split personality disorder, which again, was not where I wanted to go with her. For the rest of the story, I was careful to keep that to a more moderate level.
Deleted Scene: Siren and Golden Palm, Draft 1
Chapter 3, Scene 6
Reason Cut: Golden Palm's Story Role Changed
There’s a pony there.
After all the heart-racing panic, stomach-turning disgust and other extreme emotions of the last few days, a simple flush of embarrassment should feel almost tepid. It doesn't of course, and when I realize he’s been standing there listening the whole time, it feels like my life has at long last been ruined. He’s a tan pegasus stallion with a tousled brown mane, and from the tray balanced on his right wing and the cloth thrown over his flank, I assume he’s a waiter. My eyes go to the table, and my breath starts to come more quickly. I broke the glass. He’s here because I broke the glass and then screamed like a madmare at recordings and talked to posters and he thinks I’m insane.
I hear his other wing unfold. He takes a step towards the table and stretches it out, using his primary feathers to sweep the broken pieces of glass towards the edge of the table and onto his tray. The bottom of the glass is heavy and takes a bit of nudging, but finally, the table is clear. Something heavy thumps on the wood, and I hear water flowing. There’s a ripple of light at the edge of my vision, and I tilt my eyes up.
He gave me a new glass of water.
“Thank you,” I murmur. I should be thinking about my body language, but my mind won’t focus. I can’t even look up at him.
“Yeah.” I didn’t realize how young he was until he spoke. He looks more like a stallion than a colt, but I can still hear the faintest squeaks of puberty’s touch in his voice. A few years younger than me, by the sound of it. “Listen, we get section eight markers here all the time, but you look clean. Do you need help getting home, or something?”
That makes me giggle. I don’t really know why. “Why would you offer to help me?” I obviously don’t have any bits, and unless he’s into burn-ward mares, I doubt he’s offering to escort me home for personal reasons. He doesn't answer, but I hear his wings shift, the glass on the tray rolling around. He shrugged.
“Yes, I need help getting home, but I have somepony here with me; I’m just waiting while she gets tickets.” I can raise my head now, and I look up at him. In a few ways, he looks like the classical paragon of the pegasus race: sleek, fast, rough and tumbled without being messy. His mane is rich, and while he’s frowning now, I can tell he has a bright smile. He doesn't quite complete the image though. His torso looks deformed—compressed—and after a moment, I realize that’s because his wing muscles are emaciated; he’s probably never used them for more than lifting a tray. His hooves aren't smooth and bright from a life in the clouds, but worn and cracked like an earth pony’s, and he smells of sweat and oil. He nods, and turns to go. I catch a flash of his side—only one cutie mark.
“Wait.” I’m not sure why I said it, but he stops. I need to think of something to say, and so I just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. “What’s your name?”
“Golden Palm.” His eyes are agitated, his view jumping over me in the search for some body language he can understand. His own body is tense, and his face is tight. It’s only after a tense pause that he asks, “You?”
“Siren Song.” It’s not fair of me to put him through this stress—making him stand close to a mare he fears might snap at any second. That thought seems to clear my mind a little, all the lessons and techniques that were previously clouded returning to focus. I let my body relax slowly enough to be believable, but just fast enough that he can see it. “Do you prefer Gold or Palm?”
“Golden Palm,” he replies, with a tense little smile that has no humor in it. Still, I am nothing if not a great master of the craft, and already his awkwardness has shifted from a fear of violence to simple social uncertainty. “But, Palm, if you insist on being terse.”
“I don’t. Golden Palm is a good name. You can just call me Siren, though.” I sit up a bit, and when I stop to collect myself, it’s not entirely feigned. I shut my eyes and stretch—letting out a stiff sigh—and when I open them again, I feel better. “Thank you for talking to me. You don’t know how terrible a day I’ve had.”
“I could hazard a guess.” He’s trying to be funny, and while it doesn't work, his fumbling attempts do make me smile a little bit. “It looks like you got stitched up okay, though.”
“Yeah.” I glance up at him, meeting his eyes. They’re blue. “Can I ask you something?” He nods. “You seem like a nice pony. Why do you live in this awful place?”
“Spitfire Station?” He shrugs again. I never took the time to really look at a pegasus’s wings before; all the little bones and joints work together so the tray stays level even as his shoulders move. “My boss lets me sleep in the back, and he’s all paid up with security so it’s pretty safe. He lets me get food between rushes too.”
“But you’re not paid.” I’m starting to understand this place well enough to see the dark little twists coming.
“Sometimes the customers tip. I get to keep some of it.” His gaze goes down, and his forehooves slide slightly closer together. I’m embarrassing him. A soft laugh fixes that, and I levitate the tray off his wing, leaving it on the table. He looks better with his wings folded like that.
“You were born here, right? In Vision, I mean.” He nods again, and after a moment, sits across from me at the table. “Do you ever think about the surface?”
“Not really.” He shakes his head, leaning forward slightly to look at me more closely. “My parents were always talking about it though: the open sky, the sun, grass. You know, all that stuff. They spent a small fortune to enroll me and my sister in Cloudchaser’s Flight Academy. You know, the one with the big dome and the lamps on tracks and all that?” I nod, just to keep things going. “I hated it. The sun was too bright, I couldn't get the hang of walking on clouds, and the first time I tried to fly, my wings cramped and I threw up.”
The mental image of a little tan foal looking miserably up at the clouds makes me giggle, and he grins back. I was right; he does have a bright smile. “So, you don’t yearn for the open sky then.”
“Yeah, I’m an earth pony with wings.” He claps his forehooves together, and while I don’t recognize the gesture, his relaxed posture and softer gaze tell me what I need to know. “You’re from the surface, then? You must have just been a foal.”
“I remember a lot.” Admitting who I am would be a terrible idea, but I don’t feel okay lying to him. An omission isn’t exactly lying though, and the faintest of wistful sighs paired with a slump of the shoulders perfectly sells it as foalhood nostalgia. “This city is horrible—the markers, the creatures, the madponies. How do you deal with it all?”
“I don’t know; I suppose I grew up with it. Ponies from the surface always seemed weird to me. They get upset by normal things, and pine after stuff I don’t understand. It’s like all those PCSD commercials telling me I’m going to go crazy because I can’t fly. I’ve never been able to fly, and I guess... you know.” He glances down to the table for a moment, not exactly embarrassed, but not exactly confidant either.
“You’re okay with that.” I finish the sentence for him. He nods. “You don’t miss the sun either, then?”
“I can’t miss something I’ve never seen. I’ve seen a big clusters of yellow lights on a ceiling track, but it just hurt my eyes.” His eyes scan over my face, and for a moment, he hesitates. I don’t interrupt though, letting him speak after the stiffness leaves him. “Does the city seem dark to you? The lights are paler, I suppose.”
“Darker isn’t exactly the right word, but... bleached. White lights on white stone.” I didn’t notice before how much it was hurting my eyes, but they suddenly seem sore, and I reach up to rub at my temples. “The surface is messy; it’s full of living things, natural obstructions, dirt and dust. The buildings up there are different too. A pony can’t stick two pieces of wood together without painting a heart or a star or a pattern on them. It makes things seem jumbled and disorganized, but really friendly as well. Every building is special. Here, the architecture is so sterile and commanding...” I need a second to reach for the words. It makes you feel small, and insignificant, and frightened, but there’s more too it than that. “Dirty. It makes me feel dirty. The stone is perfect, and that makes me feel flawed.” The more I talk, the more he smiles, and I let a faint blush rise to my cheeks. “I guess I’m not making myself sound less crazy.”
“Not really,” he agrees, his tone light and amused. He pauses again though, with that same nervous stiffness. Again, I give him the time he needs to get over it and speak. “Is there some reason you’re afraid to look at the station?”
I’m not afraid. I just don’t want to see what’s there.
“I mean—you keep looking down, or right at something, and you keep blocking your vision with a hoof.” I put my hoof back on the ground. I was just holding my temples. That’s normal. “Is something wrong?” I need a second to think of an answer.
He comes over to my side of the table. He’s right next to me. I can’t think of what to say. “It’s okay, Siren. There’s nothing bad there. It’s just the tram station.” He’s going to make me look up. He’s going to tell me that it’s all okay and insist I look up because he thinks that’s helping me. I can see it in his body language. If I don’t stop him, he’s going to make me look up. “Here, why don’t you—”
I lean over, tilt my head just so, and kiss him.
You had to do something, Siren, and while that was something, you probably should not have done it.
He’s surprised; for a moment, it’s just me kissing him. It doesn't take long for him to pick up his end of things though. He leans in faintly, until we meet in the middle. His foreleg goes around my shoulders, and I shut my eyes. I can hear his wings flutter, less than a hoof apart from his body. My unburnt side is facing the table—out of his reach—but he runs his hoof down my spine, and all the little hairs of my coat go stiff. I smell sweat and grease and oil. He desperately needs a shower. I don’t care.
Green clears her throat.
We could ignore her. His hoof is still on my back, my lips are still on his. We’ve frozen to the spot, but I can still feel his breath washing over my face. I don’t open my eyes.
“We should be on the platform now, Siren,” Green speaks more forcefully. She’s just behind him and to the side, waiting for us. He slides his leg off me, putting his hoof back on the ground. We pull away at the same time. I open my eyes. Green is just where I thought she was. She taps a hoof impatiently, and jerks her head to indicate the space behind her.
“Well, um. Goodbye, I guess,” I rise back to my hooves, and he does the same. We don’t look at each other, each of us tiling our gaze to the ground. I look to the left, he looks to the right.
“Yeah. Good luck.” For a moment, neither of us moves. Then, he turns away, sweeping his tray back onto his wing, my glass with it. He trots deeper into the station, and I step after Green.
Green and I don’t say anything on our walk to the platform. I know she’s angry with me. I guess it’s because she’s disappointed. She should be disapointed. That was beneath me for so many reasons. I’m a great mare, a rising star of artistic talent, the foalhood prodigy who drew the eye of Princess Celestia herself; I do not seek comfort in the first stallion to come along, much less a crippled waiter.
At some point, Green holds out a hoof to stop me, and I belatedly spot that I’m standing at the edge of a short drop down onto some tracks. She doesn't say anything, and I don’t say anything, and eventually, I hear the tram coming. I don’t hear the sound of the engine car or the ponies pulling it, but the clatter of wheels on rails is distinctive. It pulls into the slot in front us, and slows down. I can see the bottom of the door. It’s made of copper, and when it slides open, Green gives me a shove to get me moving inside. She guides me to a bench, and I sit down, listening to the other ponies board.
“Rainbow Tram, Train 456, direct service from Spitfire Station to Tiara Tower!” The conductor calls, a stallion with a deep voice. “That’s train four, five, six! One after the other. If you do not have a ticket for train four-five-six, get off now!” I can hear his hooffalls near us. Green levitates something, and he moves on, repeating his call.
“I’m sorry, Green.” My voice cracks a little when I say it. She doesn't answer. I feel my eyes getting wet, I’m starting to tear up and I don’t know why. It’s stupid. “I didn’t... I just—”
She puts a hoof on my shoulder. “You’re rattled, Sweetheart.” Her tone is kind, but she’s not as good an actor as I am. I can hear that faint brittleness in her words that marks her kindness as false—like the difference between gold and painted tin. Inside, she’s fuming; she’s seething. All my work, all the points I earned with her, gone and then some. She doesn't know I can see through her, and she misunderstands why I shrink away from her hoof. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. Now c’mon, stop staring at your hooves and look out the window a bit. You’ll feel better.”
I look out the window. The station is a bit like the Serpents Wharf promenade, just smaller. The wall opposite the track is a series of arches, stacked on top of each other, stretching from floor to ceiling. The walls at either end are pure, washed stone, unbroken and unyielding. The ceiling is a force field, showing the towers above. Two massive statues of rearing pegasi stand at each end of the station, their legs apart and wings crossed between them. The forcefield cuts through and around the statues at shoulder height, so that their wings and splayed feathers seem to be holding back the weight of the water above. The posters that adorn the walls seem like little more than a colorful mould that has grown upon such grandeur, the stores and cafes inside the archways like dark rat holes dug amongst the pristine brilliance. The steady beat of the forcefield and the light strips make my eyes hurt, and I squint until they focus again.
There’s things hanging from the walls. They look like dismembered wiredolls; ponies made from steel and copper, but whose limbs and heads are detached from their bodies, connected by long lengths of steel cable. There’s probably a reason they’re there, but I don’t feel like asking about it right now.
It takes me a little while, but peering across the station, I manage to find the table where I was sitting; I recognize the posters, and there’s a shelf just above it for the phonograph. It’s outside a one of the archways, a sign above it that reads, “Steelheart’s Trackside Cafe.” I don’t see Golden Palm though.
The tram leaves the station.
Woo! Cut content and plenty of it. Where to begin?
First, Golden Palm. I loved writing him. He was originally slated to be Siren's love interest of all things. The plan was that she would keep bumping into him from time to time, with him none the wiser as to any of her adventures, and for reasons she didn't fully understand, she'd intentionally keep it from him. Explosions, action, drama, and then a little chat with the cute pegasus from the cafe, and maybe they make out. He was supposed to represent normalcy, and Siren's desperate need for it, where she flirts with him as a way of feeling in-control of her circumstances. Ultimately, he gets noticed by security, and they hang him for aiding and abetting a known criminal.
This idea got cut as his character evolved, but man, I loved him in every incarnation. He may even get a blog post all to himself for character analysis, but you can really see how he changed between versions. He got a lot more down to earth, less cute and more dirty, and in a way, he ended up a lot sharper. In his initial conception, he was just "a nice guy," who Siren took advantage of for her own personal comfort, but who was otherwise somewhat unremarkable. In later versions, he actually had a certain heroic edge and a willingness to take risks to help others, but at the same time, he was very much a creature of the city—willing to take advantage of Siren's stress to get close to her, and dull to its violence and horrors.
Second, the station itself. You can read my architecture post on this for the full details, but that got epic'ed up. From a fairly tepid rail station to a beautiful suspended platform designed to knock Siren's emotions around like nothing else. That change mostly came as a result of my dissatisfaction with how this station felt. I thought I could get away with it when Siren is this disoriented, but when she's coherent, this station is just boring.
Third, Siren cracking up. As I said, this wasn't so much cut as delayed, and made a bit more subtle, spread out over Berry Punch's chapters to make it feel more natural. I did still use this as a reference though, and I do think that under other circumstances, Siren might have reached out to another for comfort.
Finally, the wiredolls. Minor world-building point here, but in the original concept, the limbs and torso of security dolls were actually held together by cables like a puppet, allowing them to be pinned to the wall detached, only to reel themselves together. It fit with their original concept, in which they could detach their limbs or hurl lengths of entangling cable, leading to the name "wire-doll." Eventually, the dolls were rewritten to be more solid and just have cable-winches in their legs, primarily because Siren may pilot one at some point, and I wanted the controls to be easy for the reader to understand.
And, that's Chapter 3! I hope you enjoyed. As always, props to my editors for helping me turn this pile of horseapples into a real story. I'll be answering questions in the comments, and if there's any scenes, chapters, or characters, you'd like me to talk about, go ahead and leave a comment and I'll get to it next week. Thanks for reading!