Retrospective: Sky · 2:47am
You know, sometimes it’s fun just to throw caution to the wind and just smash through your enemies like the fist of an angry god. Or in this case… the hoof of an angry princess.
Considering what Sunny just pulled off... I think I'd rather face off against an angry god.
Welcome to the Retrospective on And a Sky Full of Stars.
You know, originally I had really meant this to be out by the end of the day this story launched. Well, obviously that didn’t happen. I finally reached my capacity. Well, I’m finally admitting I reached capacity. I reach capacity all the freaking time. I just usually push past it.
(And then, you know, a day or two after I wrote that, everything goes straight to hell. Fun times!)
So before we get to the story, let’s talk about capacity, eh?
The first thing I should mention about And a Sky Full of Stars is that it was due forty-eight hours after the second-to-last chapter of SunLight Sliders was due. And considering that Ebon was working on his own entry to FanofMostEverything’s Imposing Sovereigns Contest, that really threw my timetable out of whack.
I’m pretty sure I wrote this thing in less than a week. Yes. I did. I remember finishing it after having to call out sick on that Monday. Still… I edited the hell out of this thing. It actually originally ended at 12,000 words. After final edits, then ended with 15,500 words. Since I’m a discovery writer, there were a ton of gaps. I also end up writing very, very fast when I do action scenes.
So like I had massive sections where words were missing left and right. So many words. So many missing words. Seriously, Painted Heart found maybe 50-60 missing words.
As for this delay? It was partly because of wrapping up SunLight Sliders, trying to remember how to take breaks (seriously, it takes a conscious effort for me to play a game these days). And also just getting wrecked from going into full editing mode for this story. And… other things.
Okay. Back to the story. We’re doing a story thing, right?
ADHD is a thing. Really is.
So, how’d this get started?
Well, I had finished my first draft of A Study in Chaos Theory, which occurs about two months after the events in The Applications Trilogy. My original plan was to rewrite the ending of Tchernobog’s Just A Couple of Ponies. However, I very quickly remembered something about editing: it’s an entirely different skillset than writing. It’s freaking hard too. Especially when working with someone else’s world. And style. And characters. And story. And… everything.
I went from 2,000 words a day to 200. That annoyed me a great deal. But that’s okay, because I decided on a whim to do this contest the next day. I hadn’t been expecting to do an Encore Round for SunLight Sliders though. That came out of nowhere for me (even if people had basically been warning me for a couple weeks, I think ). Well, I wasn’t ready to do one at least!
This is more nonsensical than usual, isn’t it?
Eh. I’m okay with it.
Let’s get down to how the concept for this story got developed.
First of all, I loved writing the action scenes in The Cycle of Flame. In fact, lot of people said those were some of their favorite parts. Now, I have to give credit where credit is due and say probably a huge reason why I can do action scenes is because of Brandon Sanderson. He has tons of action scenes in his novels. The main thing I took away is that you should be able to see it in your head. It needs to be crisp, clear and direct. No ambiguity. Short, sharp and to the point. The reader should be basically dragged through the words, desperate to find out what happens next.
The Cycle of Flame had some pretty good action scenes in it.
Then I took off the kid gloves.
At first, all I had was “Warrior Princess Sunset Shimmer” (and for some reason, didn’t go immediately to Xena, believe it or not). Then I knew I wanted something else… but I needed some other element. Some inspiration. So, I went to my favorite series of all time: Babylon 5.
Babylon 5 has some simply epic episode titles. JMS really knew how to ignite the imagination with just a few words. And his episode titles always meant something too. They were layered in meaning, often hiding events that would happen for another season or two!
I started with Season 1 and came across “And a Sky Full of Stars” ( I just realized the episode name is actually And The Sky Full of Stars. Oh well).
“And The Sky Full of Stars” is a seriously pivotal episode for Season 1. It goes into a missing twenty-four hour period in Commander Jeffrey Sinclair’s life at the end of the Earth-Minbari War. The episode name is actually a reference to a line from the series pilot “The Gathering.”
It’s Sinclair, talking to his girlfriend at the time, about the Battle of the Line. “The sky was full of stars… and every star an exploding ship." Basically, how Earth’s forces were being obliterated… wait, this isn’t a retrospective on B5, is it?
See? ADHD. It’s a thing.
Anyway, I just really freaking like that line.
As soon as I came across that line, a brand new world came into existence before me. What if the stars shone both day and night? And what if the stars were the true source of magic on this world?
And then I started writing. I discovery-wrote almost the entire thing from scratch. I just let the story take me where it wanted. I started with Sunset walking out at dusk on a balcony over a city. Didn’t even know if it was going to be Canterlot. Or what Canterlot. Wasn’t expecting it to be some high-tech magic hybrid Canterlot. Wasn’t expecting the monsters to be gargoyles.
Those Flareblades? Went through about five different names. I did a search on styles too. I couldn’t find anything close to what I was looking for in custom blades, but in case you’re curious what I generally had in mind, it would be one-handed versions of Shalyamane (a fusion of the elven blades Shall’tor and Ellemayne) the sword of King Varian Wrynn in World of Warcraft.
Two Handed Version (2013 Varian Wrynn Artwork)
One Handed Version (From WoW Loading Screen)
Raven? Didn’t know she was going to be there until I reached that point. But the moment I put here there, I knew she would be an immortal. Yes, I’m borrowing Raven from—appropriately—Raven by SaintChoc. Sunset and Twilight would need a friend other than themselves. Somepony else who can be the constant rock when they need her. And in case you’re wondering, I have no idea why I keep coming back to that particular version of Raven.
I didn’t even know where Twilight had been taken until I got to the scene. Philomena and Faerana? Came out of freaking nowhere. So if it feels a little like Deus Ex Machina… it’s because originally, it was. They just appeared out of nowhere. And Faerana?
Truth be told, Faerana was developed straight out of World of Warcraft. For at least a year or two now, I’ve had my in-game phoenix hatchling named Sunset Shimmer and my “Dark Phoenix Hatchling” named Twilight Sparkle (yes, I have the entire Mane 6, Celestia, Luna and the Fallout: Equestria 5 as pets in WoW).
So, I thought it only fair if Sunset gets Philomena (because seriously, those two were made for one another), Twi deserves another immortal companion. And so… the Phoenix of the Moon appears!
Now, what she probably looks like is the full-sized mount Dark Phoenix…
But what I imagine her as is the pet phoenix.
(Isn’t she adorable?)
Why? Because it was cool. And I wanted to.
And by the way, yes. I imagined Philomena in this example as the following as well.
I didn’t even know who the bad guy was until they stepped out of the shadows. Originally, it was going to be Scorpan, Tirek’s brother, but that idea just didn’t feel right to me. I played with it being Tirek himself or another known villain, but I knew it called for something different.
I didn’t know it was going to be a Twilight until the last possible moment. And as I started to spin her tale… it was a little rough. Okay, it was a lot rough.
Since January 1, 2017, twenty-five authors have been working on the SunLight Sliders project, creating this vast and crazy story about a Sunset and Twilight who end up using Sci-Twi’s amulet to jump between worlds, trying to get back home. During that, they encounter some pretty nasty things. Now, I don’t want to give away the ending if you haven’t read it (and if you haven’t read it, what’s wrong with you?!), but eventually, there is a serious throwdown.
We eventually discover there isn’t only one Twi and Sunny sliding between worlds. There’s a lot of them. I came upon the idea of yet another Twilight. Not one from SunLight Sliders. Not one from any universe you’ve seen… somepony different.
What would happen if the monster you chased forced you to become the monster yourself, directly after seeing the one you loved drained of magic and life until they were nothing more than a stone statue?
I don’t know about you… but it’s not a question I want to dwell on for very long. I think it’s fair to say that it would break a lot of people. It would probably break me.
After that… nothing else mattered but revenge. No matter the cost. Even if worlds had to die because of it, the pony once called Twilight Sparkle would put an end to that monster.
That’s what Sunset ended up facing. A creature with the power to drain magic from others. A creature that grew to impossible levels of magical might. She stole enough power to become a full alicorn. Dark Twilight was more powerful than both Princess Sunset and Princess Twilight combined. She drained the magic of an entire city before Sunset even knew of it. She stole the magic of the stars and even ripped the light from the moon itself. She could create demonic constructs by the thousands that could use balefire. She could even create self-aware constructs of herself with the ability to conjure weapons out of nothing!
All to avenge a single life.
A similar--though simpler--theme occurred in The Alchemy of Chemistry. How far will you go for revenge? And who eventually pays the price for your hatred? In both these stories… you saw the answer.
But even more important is what is used to defeat that hatred: nothing less than friendship and love.
It was that love that drove Sunset to push her body to the absolute limits. To drain herself of every iota of magic to destroy the thing that threatened her wife and her world. Princess Sunset Shimmer is a general, a leader and a hero a thousand times over. She did all of it with a very special pony at her side.
We’ve all heard the stories of mothers lifting cars to save trapped children. The power of love is an incredible force. It can save a life. It can save a soul.
In the end, it’s what saved the unicorn Twilight’s soul. Writing Twilight in the Epilogue was truly painful. I had to paint a picture of a pony who had completely given up on life. Not only because she lost the one she loved… but because of what she became in her maddened grief. It’s one thing to suffer the pain externally… but it’s a completely different kind of pain to see just what we can become when we’re stripped of all of our self-illusions.
It’s a toss-up as to which is worse. I know that sounds strange. It should be obvious which is worse. But… it’s not that simple. They are two very different types of pain.
For the record, I liked that Sci-Twi had to spend most of Legend of Everfree both fearing herself and blaming herself for the monster she became. I’ve said it before though… I don’t think “Midnight Sparkle” was a true sentient creature. I think Midnight Sparkle was the personification of her fear of losing control and becoming that monster again. It’s also why I happen to ship Sunny and Sci-Twi just as hard as Sunny and Princess Twi. Because honestly? Sunny has saved Sci-Twi twice now. Once in the the light of Harmony where Sci-Twi took her hand (I cry at that part every freaking time because I’m a sap) and twice when she was the first to stand in Sci-Twi’s mental landscape to denounce Midnight Sparkle’s control over Sci-Twi.
However, not everyone gets the gift of getting magically healed from such horrific experiences. I wonder if the shadow of Midnight Sparkle would continue to haunt Sci-Twi’s nightmares for years to come. But then again… I wonder what Sunny had to deal with after her defeat. I like to think that Princess Twilight was pretty instrumental in helping her deal with her inner demon. It wasn’t just the Mane 5. I also like to think that the moment she “ponied-up” was the real turning point in her life. That’s when her demons finally were banished to the deepest recesses of her mind. They’re still there… but they’re quiet.
When you see yourself without the blinders… I don’t think you can ever close that particular Pandora’s box ever again.
This is something the unicorn Twilight in Sky had to deal with. Something that both Princesses knew.
Twilight would have laid down there with that statue for eternity if the two Princesses hadn’t stepped in to save them both.
Now, as I said earlier, the first version of the ending was going to be a direct result/viewing of the final battle with the big baddie in SunLight Sliders. They were originally going to see it through another dimensional portal. However, it ended up with three major problems.
1. It disconnected us from the story we were experiencing right then. It ended up making us depend on another story’s finale to really get what happened the first time.
2. Dark Twilight had stolen all the magic in a world that ran off magic. If skychariots were powered by magic and that magic was ripped away… they would fall right out of the sky. Hospital systems would run out. Machinery would fail. Ponies--creatures of all kinds--would definitely die in the ensuing chaos.
3. It brought out another big baddie at the last second after we defeated Dark Twilight, even if our heroines didn’t fight him.
I got this feedback 36 hours before the story was due. I was less than happy about it. But after taking a couple hours away from the story, I finally went back in and decided to rewrite it mostly from scratch. The opening was expanded to talk more about the built-in safeguards in the arcanotech (and it was planted earlier in the story as well) and I shifted it from having Sunset’s restoration coming from an external source to having it come from the two Princesses (and Unicorn Twilight) and then I limited what we got to see on the other side of the portal.
My favorite part though… was the restoration. The two Princesses speak… and we know that while Sunset might not have mercy, Twilight certainly would. And she is right. It’s her call in the end. So they call upon the ancient powers of this unique world and restore her to life. While it wasn’t fully intentional, they even ask Twilight after they have already started the spell if she was willing to help.
Though I didn’t show it, Twilight literally threw her entire life into that spell. She released everything she had. Gave it all up in that instant. If the Princesses hadn’t controlled it, her act could have killed her. But Princess Sunset and Princess Twilight have been around for a very long time. They were ready for it… and they saved them both.
Finally, a shockwave passes through the multiverse. While that is never directly explained, that is a direct result of the ending of SunLight Sliders. To quote another character, a “friendship flare” pulsed through all of reality in that moment. I won’t give away what exactly that was… but they all felt it. And that moment, combined with events that had happened a few seconds before… allowed them to go home.
With a price tag: the reborn Sunset Shimmer was to look after Twilight Sparkle and vice versa.
It’s almost a Celestian punishment, isn’t it?
No, to be honest, even now, reading over that, I still tear up. I’m pretty proud that I can pull those emotions even out of myself and I wrote the damn thing.
But wait! There’s a little bit more. As I mentioned earlier, Sanderson was a huge influence on my action scenes, but I wanted this to feel very much like a Mistborn novel. It’s why during the start of combat with the second set of gargoyles in “Dawnbreak at the Abyss,” Sunset actually chucks one of the Flareblades through a gargoyle and then pulls it back through another only to catch it as it falls by. Come on, that is totally something Vin would do. And you know it! That little move where she sends them scything through the mass of monsters? How about that little trick with the chaos engine only to have the Flareblade slice it in two? Wow… I cannot tell you how freaking great it was to work with that kind of thing.
However… the catch was… I knew Sunset was going to run out of magic. And at the last second, I wrote a scene that I can picture almost perfectly in my head. Two Dark Twilights, coming up on Sunset, ready to finally kill her. Princess Twilight, finally freed from her curse from the explosion of the Solstice Rainmet, comes rushing out of the darkness and beheads one of them.
The last one turns and fires a bolt of balefire right at Princess Twilight’s horn… which explodes. (In case you were wondering, her magic was still just strong enough to prevent it from killing her outright, though she would have bled out very quickly if the surge hadn’t happened).
The last intact Flareblade falls. Sunset realizes Twilight is about to die unless she acts right bucking now. With strength born of love, she lunges forward, catches the hilt in her teeth and rams it through Dark Twilight’s chest.
Phew, I’m tired just reliving that.
The catch? They’re both dying. The magic has still been stolen… all absorbed into one body that was never meant to handle such power.
Even Princess Sunset couldn’t survive all the stolen magic in the world unleashed only a few feet away. And so, friendship and love saves her once again in the form of that damn smartass firebird. I have to say, that’s probably one of my favorite scenes… Philomena just teasing Sunset as she turns to ash. We know that she’ll come back, but she’s still willing to take it for her friend. After all, I’m assuming shielding somepony from a supernova isn’t the most pleasant of experiences.
And then… the stars are restored and only the ending remains.
More than anything, I got comments about how different this was. And yes, this was meant to be very different than anything I’ve written before. I wanted pure action. Pure adventure. Nail-biting tension. Desperate acts. Imminent demise.
I can only hope I pulled it off… and I think I did.
One final interesting fact. This story went up when the rest of FanofMostEverything's Imposing Soverigns contest entries went up including from individuals such as Titanium Dragon, MrNumbers and much more. Despite all of that, And a Sky Full of Stars not only stayed on the Featured Box for at least 2-3 days, but it actually came back after getting knocked off the list... twice! That's never happened before! I swear, I'll never understand that Featured Box (and don't remind me that the system has flaws in it already, I already know... stupid Pokemon story I could never overtake... ).
Well, I think that’s it for Sky’s Retrospective. I’m sorry it took so long to get it to you, but as I said… this has been a difficult last couple weeks. But this is done and that’s what’s important. I’m glad to finally get this off to you guys and I hope you enjoyed it.
Until next time, this has been Novel Idea. Have fun!