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"Burninating the countryside... burninating the peasants... burninating all the peoples... and their thatched-roof COTTAGES! THATCHED-ROOF COTTAGES!! And the Trogdor comes in the NIIIIGHT!!!"

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    Echoes in the Well, pt.3

    I know. "Again? Who cares! It's cut stuff from an old fic!"

    I've realized something, though, as I've been gathering this up: I'm doing this for me. I'm laying something to rest. I'm letting go of a lingering sense of what might-have-been, which in its own way is a part of the story of what ended-up-being.

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Echoes in the Well, pt.3 · 3:43pm February 29th

I know. "Again? Who cares! It's cut stuff from an old fic!"

I've realized something, though, as I've been gathering this up: I'm doing this for me. I'm laying something to rest. I'm letting go of a lingering sense of what might-have-been, which in its own way is a part of the story of what ended-up-being.

Maybe it's even the last part of the story.

Rarity, of course, looks fabulous regardless [source]

Part 1 of this series covered some cut content from To Serve In Hell that very nearly made it in. Part 2 covered two initial attempts at writing plot-critical moments, and highlighted what I learned through the process of analyzing and refining those.

Part 3 is a little from column A, and a little from column B. It's also very much the end of this series. Digging too much deeper into the archives starts unearthing grotesque things that aren't fit for human consumption. But digging just this far reveals some formative pieces that had to be cut to keep the plot developing smoothly, while representing positive developments toward getting the characters right.

In a way, it's this part that explains the title of this series: Echoes in the Well. Here you start to see where I was figuring out pieces of character voice that could've worked, even as I separated those characters' decisions between what worked for the plot and what didn't.

It's also (probably) shorter than the last two parts, which always helps. :raritywink:

I'd like to start with a couple of riffs on Cheese Sandwich's personality. Writing him as a ponified Joker brought loads of challenges around how far I should push his schtick at any given moment. He was vicious and cruel, but he needed to be charming and funny by turns--which sometimes led to him being viciously dark in his delivery of something serious that was nonetheless framed as a joke.

Readers with strong memories might recognize some of the dialogue and themes in this short bit from near the end. This was a first cut of Rarity trying to persuade Cheese to join the cause (and him throwing that back in her face) following his near-death experience in the tower collapse. I think it was the right decision to cut this exchange and let the same themes play out through Rarity's introspection, but this laid bare the heart of what Rarity would ultimately go through by virtue of making her decisions.

Rarity furrowed her brows.  “It doesn’t have to be that way, though.  When I think of all I’ve lost… and all the eyes and faces of the ponies who I couldn’t help… I sometimes wonder if it’s truly right that I live on, and they do not.  And I think to myself of how all I can do is hold on to their memories, and try to let those inspire me, rather than being a burden…”

She paused, noting a change in Cheese’s breathing.

“What is it?”

He was chuckling.

“Do you hear yourself?”  He barked a laugh, then winced.  “Do you actually hear the words coming out of your muzzle?  You, of all ponies, are trying to tell me it gets better?”  His shoulders shook as his laughter built.  “After all the torment that you’ve put yourself through… oh, and let’s not forget that nice, fresh trauma of losing your stallion friend.”  He tittered, then gave way to full-throated laughter. “Oh, and just imagine how my face will haunt you when this whole thing’s over!  But no… don’t worry, it’ll be an inspiration, not a burden!  Ha ha… now that’s funny!”

Similarly, this initial take on one of Cheese & Rarity's earlier face-to-face meetings showed him dropping his facade in a way that would've been disastrous to the plot at that point, but that helped me nail down the extent to which (and the premeditation with which) Cheese was deceiving her. I did end up using one bit of this in Chapter 33: The Cage, when Cheese finally revealed his deception. But there was a "purity" in this first cut of it that has stayed with me.

“Whatever you think of me, the Nightmare… she did this to us.  Destroyed everything. Left the whole thing broken, and everything dead.  Who knows what kind of a sense of humor that frigid bitch might have?”  His breathing quickened as his voice built in loudness. “I pride myself on a sense of humor… and making ponies laugh when I can… and just generally trying to spread a sense of cheer in this messed up world!  ...Okay, so it might be the specific kind of cheer that comes at saying things like, ‘is my face red?’ after getting blood all over myself, but I try, you know?  But she… she just took everything away!  That isn’t funny, Rarity!  It isn’t funny! Nothing... but destroyed,” he mumbled to himself, rocking slowly.  “Just... death and ruin and blackness all the way down.”

“I… excuse me?  May I…”

His eyes snapped back into focus on her.  Then they hardened, and she took another step back.

Then he burst out laughing.

“Oh, you’re too easy!” he bellowed, stomping the floor.  “Come on, hasn’t anypony ever given you the whole pony-on-the-edge routine before?”

“It’s simply… hard to know how you really feel, when you seem able to shift your behavior so quickly.”

His laughter subsided, and he shrugged.

Last but not least, there was a brief gag that I ripped-off from an ancient SNL skit, which got cut for being a bit too random. But I held onto it because I felt it helped me map-out some of the unfunny spaces in Cheese's sense of humor. He gets a kick out of it, but everyone else is just unnerved--which is exactly how I wanted him at times.

“Plus, I’ve got an edge most ponies don’t have.”

There was a pause.  He leaned a little closer, maintaining a tight grin, clearly waiting for her to say: “What would that—”

“I can dance!

The stallion hopped up and began a merry jig that wouldn’t be out of place at a wedding reception.  Light shone on his green eyes as he raised each hoof in turn, and his giggling built all the while. He spun and whirled, all while working within the confines of the small room, and while successfully managing to avoid the body at his hooves besides.

All at once he stopped, fixing a one-eyed glance on Rarity.  “Okay, okay, I’ll stay on-task. I’m sorry; it’s just rare that I have someone to do this for anymore.”

Book 4 opened with Rarity having left the Underground Sun on fairly good terms. I didn't spend much time explaining how she got out and got back to Filthy's compound; I just hand-waved it on the strength of her newly-forged ties with Limestone.

Originally, though, Rarity's departure involved less trust and a greater premium on preserving secrecy. This led to a moment where she was all alone, bereft of her cutie mark, and forced to sit doing absolutely nothing while she was transported out of the complex and all the way back to Filthy's. That seemed like a perfect moment to drill-in and explore her headspace.

In the end, there were a lot of little reasons why this moment got cut. One of the bigger ones came from my desire to wring as much pain as possible out of Filthy's death. Up until the final edit, Rarity and Filthy's relationship was fairly tense and difficult; their positions on opposite sides of Nightmare Moon's regime had left deep rifts between them. I ended up changing that so their relationship would instead be one of the few genuine bright spots in Rarity's life, despite their differences. As such, what this scene did to help prepare Rarity for a tough conversation with Filthy about shifting loyalties stopped being necessary. Yet it's stayed with me because of the rawness and nakedness of Rarity's emotions that were echoed in the moment where she physically takes off her uniform.

Rarity’s mind drifted as she sat in the small, cramped, featureless world of the large crate that she was confined to for travel.  She’d been presented with no options about whether she was going to leave the Underground Sun cavern in a box, but she at least got to decide if she would do so awake or unconscious; and by extension, if the box would be standing up or laying down.  She’d chosen the former to allow herself more time to think and reflect on all that had happened, and to plan her moves including and beyond just talking to Filthy Rich.

The journey felt long and monotonous, though, as there was nothing for her to see but the omnipresent purple glow of the non-detection spell coating the inner surface of the crate, and little else to feel than the bumping and jerking of the cart she was on against the road.  In truth, it was claustrophobic, and close to the limit of what she could bear in that regard. Don’t worry, Twilight’s voice replayed in her head, the spell won’t let anything but air through, but it will do that at least.  It’s also completely tied-off and should last for at least a couple hours. I hope I get to see you again!

Rarity wasn’t sure how she felt about the unicorn, especially given that she was evidently some kind of alternate version of the Alicorn she’d seen at the castle. It was peculiar to think about the possibility that there even could be other versions of the ponies she knew and loved.  Even myself, she pondered.  But that means…

Her eyes went wide.  “But that means… Sweetie Belle and my family might still be alive, somewhere out there,” she spoke aloud.  Tears sprang to her eyes as she pondered the possibility. “How… could it be possible for me to… see them again?”

Her lips quivered as her tears asserted themselves more strongly.  “Would they even know me as their own, or… would they see me as… am I not their Rarity?”

Rarity curled up against the side of the faintly glowing crate, holding her hind knees in her forelegs, and let her tears flow freely.  The solitude of her circumstances found an echo in how very alone she truly felt at that possibility.

Rarity had long since given up trying to keep track of time when her small, cramped world rocked, then decelerated.  She rose from her rump to her hooves, lit her horn, conjured a small reflecting spell, and assessed the task that would be involved to put herself back in order.

“Oh, sweet Celestia,” she cursed, looking at her ruined uniform and horribly unkempt bun.  Staying put-together had clearly taken a very strong back seat to mere survival in the recent past.  At first she pondered trying to make herself more presentable for the sake of whomever she might make contact with, but as she continued to stare, it struck her as less and less likely that that was going to be possible.

Very well, perhaps let’s go the opposite direction…

Rarity turned her magic on the tie still struggling to keep her mane in its bun.  It slipped off effortlessly, letting her voluminous hair cascade down her neck. Despite its long confinement in the bun, she smiled a bit at the sight of it retaining and reasserting some of its natural curl and bounce.  She brushed a hoof through it, trying to plump and shape its curves into something like she might’ve seen in the mirror prior to the Longest Night beginning.

Small rocking movements from the crate suggested that it was being loaded somewhere, or perhaps unloaded from the cart.  Then the jerking stopped, but then there were small, sharp feelings of striking and prying at the side of the crate.

She felt her pulse quicken at the prospect of being seen still in the ruined uniform.  With a focused series of tugs from her magic, the straps holding the uniform tight were loosened, and she simply shrugged her way out of it.  Her eyes caught a glimpse of the painted-on rendition of her cutie mark of three blue diamonds, and she shivered at the knowledge of the grey equals sign that lay beneath it.  In response to the great unease it gave her, she plopped down on the floor and held her forelegs a bit closer to her sides than she might otherwise do when sitting, at least letting them serve as a bit of cover.

There was one last great jerk as the side of the crate was pulled away, then a sudden burst of darkness replaced by torchlight from the outside as the non-detection spell was dispelled.

And that's it. This time I mean it: that's "The Ending of the End," as it were.

You've been great; I've been CoffeeMinion.

The book of Hell is closed.

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