• Member Since 12th Dec, 2011
  • offline last seen Yesterday

Impossible Numbers


"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying, And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying."

E

Ambergris is a pony of few pleasures, and being called out for meaningless social events is not one of them. When he bows to duty and attends, however, he barely reaches the home of his host before he is faced with something worse than tedious conversation. Something far worse.

The dreaded cockatrice, a creature capable of turning others to stone with a simple glance, has just entered the home of his host. Now a mere nuisance of an evening has become a monstrous nightmare, but as Ambergris struggles to save the occupants of the house, he must also struggle against the pressures mounting in his own mind.

Chapters (1)
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Comments ( 28 )

This is really remarkable.

7812506

:raritystarry: Wow! Coming from a veteran like yourself, this is an honour indeed. Thank you, Skywriter! :pinkiehappy:

7812689
You're welcome. More details on my user blog.

Good stuff. Goddamn. The story really kept up suspense well, and the ending was perfect.

Really nice story. The details were great like the notes on race relations and architecture, really made this world feel real. Very dark, I enjoyed it.

The two things that struck me were how much of Ambergris's character is revealed with only in his narration, and the contrast in tone from the beginning (tea party with scones) to the middle (the tension while running from the cockatrice) to the end (rage, paranoia, and an Ahab-like mixture of fatalism and vengeance-thirst). Really enjoyable!

7812692

I've seen it, and I refer you to my previous reply, with added emphasis on the "wow": 7812689 .

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These are the comments I like best. The build-up, the worldbuilding details, the character's progress through the story: it's always interesting to see what stands out for other people, or what's considered especially good. Thank you so much for the wonderful feedback. :yay:

7813538

Ooh, quite lovely. :)

I'm glad you think so. Thank you for the appreciative (and appreciated!) comment. :twilightsmile:

Oh, this was good. The cockatrice comes off as such a goofy monster when faced with 'Shy, it's impressive how horrifying you made it here.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

My only question is, how close in time to the founding of Equestria is this? I got hints that the time period is old, and certainly these are ponies living outside Equestria, but I was never quite sure.

7814844

Oh, the horror potential was there in the episode, albeit toned down for the sensitive kids. Besides, it's a creature that renders one of our primary means of perception not only useless, but downright lethal. I'm surprised no one seems to have used that potential in a fic before me (that I know of).

Also, thanks for the comment! :scootangel:


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I'm surprised you place it that far back. While I had no particular period of time in mind, if you twisted my arm I would have pegged it as modern day. The idea is that the tribal arrangement of ponies outside Equestria is radically different to the "all tribes living in harmony" model within its borders. It does have a certain "land that time forgot" quality to it, but I didn't particularly consider the time period before you mentioned it in your comment.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

7829330
Okay. I hadn't considered that there might be extra-Equestrian ponies in the modern times, though it's not an idea I haven't seen previously. Thanks. :)

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I also assumed this was set some time in history. Not just from being set outside of Equestria, but from the tone and the hints about the society. The narrator feels like gentry: a lower level aristocrat more concerned with social position than with survival or doing anything useful. In my mind, the architecture, styles and clothing resembled Regency (ie Jane Austin style), and if it were to get an audio reading that's the tone I'd like to hear it.

Whether it was or not, this was impressive writing.

7851965

The narrator feels like gentry: a lower level aristocrat more concerned with social position than with survival or doing anything useful.

I saw him more as a civil servant or administrator stereotype, since he's more comfortable with paperwork than with social events and is downright unhappy to be dragged away from his desk by the Colonel. Not that there isn't a class difference contributing here, given his social blunder in mentioning how he doesn't get monsters in "his district", but it was mainly to set him up as too sheltered and unprepared for any kind of life-or-death crisis.

I guess it could work either way; unless I'm misremembering that episode, Smart Cookie was a secretary to Chancellor Puddinghead in the pageant, so positions like that could have an ancient provenance and long be associated with higher rank among earth ponies.

In my mind, the architecture, styles and clothing resembled Regency (ie Jane Austin style),

Now that the subject of historicity has been brought up, I am thinking it could be set during the Equestrian equivalent of the Gothic literary movement in our world. That overlaps with the Regency period, at least, though it's much broader. But like I said, in truth I had no set time in my mind when I wrote it, so this is more an after-the-fact "that could really work" kind of thing.

and if it were to get an audio reading

I wish. That would be icing on the cake if someone did that. :raritystarry:

Whether it was or not, this was impressive writing.

Thank you for the compliment! :twilightsmile:

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If I had the talent, hardware or time, I'd gladly do an audio reading. Also if I hadn't caught everything this winter.

I think my only complaint is that I don't see how they could forget they had a foal/colt in the house when evacuating. Aside from that, excellent work! I particularly enjoyed the ending sequence where you can clearly see the trauma inflicted upon Ambergris through his anger and paranoia.

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:fluttershysad: Yeah, cards on the table, that was a narrative contrivance from the first draft (though hopefully a minor one in the grand scheme of things). I didn't want to get too bogged down in exposition, and I suppose I could excuse it by saying the Colonel was distracted by the emergency and/or had memory issues in old age, but in truth it was mainly to set up the dilemma.

Seriously, thanks for the feedback. I'll admit I'm reluctant to touch the fic now it's gone this far, but at the very least I'll have to iron out contrivances like that in future stories. Had you not pointed it out, I would have assumed it was at least generally passable. It's helpful to have someone actually point these things out and say "yeah, could've done better here".

Glad you liked the fic either way. :scootangel:

Absolutely delicious, incredibly well executed horror. No wonder Skywriter recommended it!

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Aw, shucks. Now this is a good thing to see first thing in the morning over here in Blighty. :twilightsmile: Thank you for the nice comment! :pinkiesmile:

Told you I'd be back! Full review here, but in brief: satisfyingly tense and claustrophobic, and an excellent extension of cockatrice lore. Interesting world-building, though I'm undecided whether I can really go for the unicorn thing. A shame about... actually, I see Sypher below makes the same point for the same reason. That's the only real quibble, though. Very nice ending, too. Great stuff! :pinkiehappy:

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Told you I'd be back!

Wow, that was quick. Considering you said a few weeks, I wasn't expecting anything earlier than March, to be frank.

Interesting world-building, though I'm undecided whether I can really go for the unicorn thing.

Not that I'm impartial, but I think it makes a lot of sense in light of Season Two: whereas the earth ponies and the pegasi kept their original world-managing functions, the unicorns seemed to have lost theirs entirely. Since agriculture and weather-managing are big aspects of their respective pony tribes, it seems to me logical that one possible consequence of Celestia and Luna ascending to sole managers of the diurnal cycle is a feeling of loss of purpose among the unicorn tribe. Ambergris' country simply represents what happened when they never really recovered from the loss, whereas Equestria represents what happened when they found new ways to be socially useful.

A shame about... actually, I see Sypher below makes the same point for the same reason.

:twilightblush:

That's the only real quibble, though. Very nice ending, too. Great stuff!

I really wish I had something smarter or more interesting to reply with, but I guess I'll just have to settle for: thanks! :pinkiehappy: Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for another neat review! :scootangel:

7935619

Wow, that was quick. Considering you said a few weeks, I wasn't expecting anything earlier than March, to be frank.

I was vague about the timing because I wasn't sure at the time when I'd be doing the RCL edition. It was definitely going to be before PR 150, but it could still easily have been well into March.

Not that I'm impartial, but I think it makes a lot of sense in light of Season Two:

Ooh, that's food for thought. I think what made me iffy about it was that the Princesses are known in Ambergris-land, and S1E1 explicitly mentions their "unicorn powers". So possibly my feeling was that this gave unicorns a sort of status-by-association. But that's only a very vague thought in my head, probably easily pickable full of holes!

And I have to ask: is "statue of the cockatrice" a NetHack reference? My mind went there instantly, but even if it's a coincidence, it's a nice one. :raritywink:

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To be fair, my hypothetical relies on unicorns not being particularly powerful outside of the day-night trick, which granted is a bit of a logical leap not strongly supported by canon, especially when their skills allow them to physically handle things much more easily than hooves and teeth can manage (and ignoring cartoon logic). Besides, they are the mages of this world. On the other hand, the likes of powerful unicorns such as Star Swirl and Twilight Sparkle are few and far between, and it's interesting that at the end of Season Four, Tirek went after the unicorns first to build up power; Celestia makes it clear he's progressing through the ranks to alicorns and, eventually, Discord. That suggests that they might, for all their magic and status, actually be very low down on the totem pole of power. This is pretty gappy reasoning on my part, though, so it could go either way.

As for the reference: Sorry, but I ain't smart enough to dream that one up. :rainbowlaugh: I didn't know what NetHack even was until you mentioned it in your blog's review and I had to look it up.

7935816 This is absolutely intriguing me now. After all, most unicorns don't seem to be able to do anything beyond levitation and telekinesis. Rarity's gem-finding spell goes a little beyond "average unicorn" power, but that level of ability doesn't seem at all common. So we seem to have a very few very powerful unicorns (what is Starlight's true origin?), and a large mass able to use only basic magic -- but not much in between. Why? I wonder if canon will ever tell us, or if it'll be left an open space in which fanficcers can frolic!

7936001

Rarity's a complicating factor. On the one hand, "Boast Busters" gives the impression that normal unicorns don't master more than one or two spells because their magic is geared towards their special talent, and Twilight's ability is basically a way of exploiting that loophole. You could also give Trixie a little leniency because her cutie mark suggests she has a weaker version of Twilight's loophole; I'm thinking in particular her ability to manipulate rainbows and lightning clouds, something normally exclusive to pegasi. And I guess, though it's only a guess, that with a bit of twisty interpretation, Star Swirl and (presumably) Starlight and Sunset belong to the same loophole club.

So Rarity's presumably meant to be a regular unicorn, yet she demonstrates some pretty impressive telekinesis and illusion-like magic during "Suited for Success", and as you point out can master gem-finding spells and (in "Cutie Mark Chronicles") find herself attracted over extremely long distances to gemstones hidden in a geode. Based on that, I'd guess unicorns can achieve amazing levels of power within their specialist field, but that, for whatever reason, we rarely see most of them do so. The Flim Flam brothers are another case of unicorns pulling off more interesting spells than bog-standard telekinesis when it's relevant to their cutie marks.

Or else Rarity's exceptionally skilled too. It's hard to say without seeing many other unicorns tested, since their cutie marks aren't that different from the likes of Twilight and Sunset - just look at the background unicorns, for example, many of which have star-shaped or sun-shaped cutie marks - so it could just as easily be that most unicorns are magically dull. It's inconclusive, and probably a bit too inconsistent.

Lovely atmosphere, gripping story, not a moment feeling wasted.

7936087
I'd go with "Magic for Unicorns is like music for humans"
That is, most of them can do a little, but to become a pro, you have to work at it
(which takes more time & effort than most folks are willing to put into it) PLUS have the raw ability
You could sing opera, but you'll probably never be Pavaratti

& so it is for Unicorns & magic. Twilight, Starlight, & a few others are like the Lady Gaga & Taylor Swift of the magic world

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