• Member Since 28th Aug, 2011
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Cold in Gardez

Stories about ponies are stories about people.


Leave it to Twilight Sparkle to create the greatest spell of the past century – and then want to destroy it.

It's too dangerous to use, she says. It's too tempting. It can't help you the way you think it can.

Well, Starlight Glimmer knows a thing or three about temptation. She'll prove to Twilight that this spell – this magnificent book – is too important to destroy. That it can help ponies.

She just has to survive using it, first.

Second place in the May 2018 WriteOff.

Cover art is "Reformed" by Okaces.

Chapters (1)
Comments ( 217 )

I don't think I'd be able to resist the temptation. I know I've made terrible mistakes. I know I've been incredibly lucky. This was a sobering story indeed. Thank you for it.

Yep. As long as you remember it's not real, it's still worth knowing because it reveals not just your potential, but the potential of others.

Every time you release a new story, a tingle of joy travels down my spine.

Just as amazing as always!

badninja #4 · Jun 5th, 2018 · · 1 ·

I am scared of a book like this because it offers nothing but empty promises. What is done is done and I do not want to know what could have been. It is sad to say, but Sunburst not leaving would have been the best thing for Starlight but what about him?

Excellent work. You set up your scenario, played through, and gave us a satisfying conclusion. Added to my favorites.


...I have a side project in the works with a similar starting premise to your whole story.

All aboard the feel train!!

Wanderer D

Wouldn't there still be a lesson in the end? That life is the choices we make and what-ifs and what-coulds won't change that?

TMH #9 · Jun 5th, 2018 · · ·

Pretty neat concept. I think the main problem is that the experiences are way too personal and emotional, especially because Starlight asked such monumental questions immediately. It's hard to learn much when you're being subjected hard emotion and regret.

So I'd say I would use the book, but I'd start off with simple questions: What if I woke up five minutes earlier? What if I missed the bus last Tuesday?
Plus, you could always ask about other people!

So yeah, definitely destroy the book Twilight. That, or hide it deep in your castle so someone can stumble upon it in like a thousand years and getting totally screwed up, but add a camera to it if you're going to do that, the faces will be priceless! :pinkiecrazy:

I saw this and my mind immediately leaped to how to break it. Could a user use it to spontaneously generate knowledge? "Twilight has just finished solving/discovering <X>". As soon as you wake, immediately try to write down as much info about it as possible.

Also, for its intended purpose, wouldn't getting Celestia/Luna to use it work? Though that's definitely more along the lines of the regret generator that was shown...

Temptation is a very strong force. I definitely wouldn't be able to resist reading it, and I know that everyone has spent countless hours fantasizing what could have been but, then again, I'm sure those alternate versions of ourselves would be thinking the same thing, and would feel just as substantial of regret as we would. The grass isn't always greener.

I tackled a small amount of this in a story mine way back... It was single but left an opener for later use. I would loke to think stories like these don't need sequels. They are fine as is.

I think I would. Not because I think it's a good idea, but the temptation... that would be immense.

I obsess over "might have been"s enough already without a book.

Would you use the book?

I... I probably would, yes. I've always been too curious for my own good.

“You lie!” she screamed. The images paraded through her mind. She remembered flashes of things the book had never told her: her marriage to Sunburst; the surprise when her daughter was born a pegasus; her mother showing her the best way to nurse the little ball of feathers. A thousand things that had never never never happened.

My daughter my daughter my Cinnamon where are you I just touched you I just held you where have you gone—

Wow.... That hurt. I feel so bad for her!


Given that canon Sunburst flunked out of college and had to live in some small hut in the distant north, this is the best for him, too.

Though I honestly wonder what good Twilight could have thought might come from this. Even if you see how things could've gone, doesn't change the fact that they didn't. That's not what you chose. That's not what you have to live with. What good can from this?

eh, if its completely harmless, though I suppose dying and or seeing ones die or never exist at all might be too much after a while. One could easily get detached from reality

If that encounter with Double Diamond really happened, why is the book showing her what she's already seen rather than the results of the different decision she wrote? It seems like that part is just there for the audience, and it breaks the established pattern.
Or is that encounter the result of her saying yes to him at some other time? Either way, something important is missing there.

horizon #20 · Jun 5th, 2018 · · 1 ·

Yes, I would, without hesitation. Test the outcome of risky decisions I was too afraid to make.

If the might-have-beens went well, it would give me more courage to take chances in the future. If they went poorly, they'd ease my regrets over my caution.

Though I would have to calibrate the book first by trying to test it as much as possible against outside objectively measurable sources. Pick a few company names out of a hat, write "I invested my life savings into X", and later check my financial outcome against its market value. Write "I married X" into the book, give the book to X, and see if they observed the same relationship and same outcomes. Write in "I sampled drug X last week" for a psychoactive drug you haven't taken, and then look up its effects online (and/or take it) for comparison purposes. It's possible it's only telling you what you want to hear based on your brain making shit up out of whole cloth, in which case I'd be a lot less sanguine about its utility.

Neat :moustache:

8968609 I dislike touchscreens

Would you use the book?

No. I've made my decisions. I'll live with them.

I feel you should make a sequel and have the rest of the mane six and spike use it. And Luna and Celestia too.

Label violence, sex, death, and dark!

Great story!

Would I use it? I certainly would. At worst I would see a note scribbled in my slightly shaky handwriting saying "DO NOT MESS WITH TIME THE BOOK". It's always worth a try.

It depends on sensory input. If you can feel the things the book shows you I would use it to go on awesome vacations, by writing say "what if I blew my life savings on a trip to Vegas". If it's more like a movie I'd use it less but it's probably more productive than YouTube...

...I've never been one to believe that virtual content isn't real. So yes, I would use it.

Also, and maybe this is a shot in the dark, but is the title a reference to The Fable of the Swan, by Jenna Katerin Moran? Because if so, you have great taste in literature! :raritystarry:

Fantastic. I love this story.

And I wouldn't use the book at all. I already feel I wasted so much potential, so anything good would only make that worse. Anything bad, well I already know what we're all capable of, and I'd rather not live through an alternate history that would prove me right and hurt me in the process. Or prove me wrong and encourage me to be something I hate, now.

There are too many variables to find an answer that won't change the current you, and not necessarily for the better.

It's like having one wish: you'd better cover all the infinite possibilities, or that wish will turn back and destroy you.


This isn't horror but the thought of the depths of my own possible idiocy are plenty scary as it is. A "result" without bad things might be scarier though.
Conclusion of the day: Self reflection is good, what ifs not so much.

Would I use the book? Ah, a question for the ages. A better one, yet. Who would not, eventually, if it sat on the shelf long enough? I think we all would. The book is not evil. The book is not good. The book does what the book was created to do. To show what might be. What might have been. It can be used as.... a lesson. You ask it something, it shows you a terrible past, present, future version of yourself. You take what steps you can to make sure you don't wind up like that. If it shows you something wonderful, you rejoice in the possibility, and set out to make your own life reflect even a fraction of that wonderfulness.

Perhaps the best question, however, is: "Twilight? Can you re-calibrate the book? Can you make it show not what might have been, but what will be if the writer does such-and-such a thing?" If that answer is yes, then, well. Twilight has made the most detailed precognition artifact I've ever seen.

Nopenopenope. I know what a monkey's paw looks like.

I have made a point of not engaging in fruitless "what ifs" because that can fall into regret so easily.

I have enough issues of my own to fix, best not dwell on unfixable ones.

“I do! You see, your problem is that you don’t understand what happiness really is.” Starlight paced around the cave, growing excited as she spoke. “Ponies think happiness is a warm, fuzzy feeling that they get whenever something good happens to them. Contentment or euphoria. But that’s wrong, Twilight. That’s just an emotion, just the pleasure centers in your brain activating because they’ve received the correct chemicals. No, true happiness is not an emotion but a state of being. When we do the right thing and act virtuously to bring about a better world. That decision, that action is happiness. Even if you're living in squalor and poverty you can still be happy if you do the right thing. And it’s what you will feel soon! When you join our town and become a part of our great project, bringing about a new, egalitarian dawn for all of Equestria, then you will be happy, Twilight!”

I have to agree with Glimsies here. I don't can't do happiness.
And you know what? I'm fine.

And if need be, there's a pill or a food for that particular need Vice.

“I don’t care about the town! The town was never the point!” She stalked in a circle, stomping her hoof for emphasis. “The point was to build a new society based on equality and freedom! Never again would ponies be slaves to their cutie marks or forced into destinies they didn’t want. We could have escaped from fate and forged our own paths! No more being shackled to some idle whim from our childhood. The point was to make a world where ponies could be free! The town was just a… just a byproduct. A, a side-effect. A way to make the dream come true. And now that dream is gone.”

Again, Glim is right. If I had a cutie mark, I don't know what it'd be.
I'm simply skill and talentless, no joys aside from sleep and escape.
Even my writing isn't a hobby, it's a coping mechanism for stress.
There is no joy in my life, and that's fine, I can serve to make the world better if only for an instant.

And I'm pretty sure my cutie mark, if I had one, would be a target with a ball and chain attached; considering how often bad things happen to me, or I am the designated blame sponge:twilightsmile:

And no. I wouldn't.
What good is there in worrying or caring about what could've happened? Pfeh:rainbowwild: All that matters is what did.

Like that Silverstein poem said "All the should'a, could'a, might'a's were all scared away by one singe did.

Oh, man! What a story! Again!

When I read

My daughter my daughter my Cinnamon where are you I just touched you I just held you where have you gone—

I felt my heart break.

There’s hardly any fate that I can imagine worse than losing a child, and even if I saw it coming it still hit me like a ton of bricks.

Also, I admit that I’ve been very lucky in my childhood and most of my life. Yes I’ve Made Mistakes (some real boners, by the way) but I’m willing to own those fully, no matter the pain they caused me at the time, and I shudder to think what I might have lost if I had done things differently in my past. So, no, I would leave that book alone. All it could give me is pain.

Hell no.

Dwelling on what-ifs and could-I's only ever leads to disaster, always have.

Learn from the past, yes... but focus on the future always.

Would you use the book?

Of course I would use the book. Extensively. It's a tool. Tools are not bad just because they can be used for undesired outcomes. A hammer doesn't particularly care whether you use it to build a house or use it to smash your foot. That's on you. You probably wouldn't refuse to use a hammer just because it can hurt you.

This is a very powerful tool. Its potential for both tragedy and creation are great. It doesn't appear to be a Monkey's Paw. It's not corrupting everything, it's simply showing what is written within it. Instead of using to find out "what might have been," use it to create what might yet be.

The book appear to produce any experience on demand, and is capable of cramming a great deal of subjective time into a very small space. Consider the implications.

For example, start out small: "a dozen fluffy cuddly kittens affectionately nuzzling me" and "a pleasant evening of wine and chocolate tasting" or "an evening of deeply fulfilling but non-addictive fantasy sexual wish fulfillment." This being Starlight, maybe "a path to peace and reconciliation with my past" and "learning how to be a better pony" Eventually move on to "a subjective year spent learning <fill in the blank> from a kind, well-intentioned and extremely competent instructor" and "four years of fun and productive time as the star pupil at Celestia's school for Gifted Unicorns" and "a complete course in advanced battle and healing magic training."

Start small, a few minutes at at time, learn the quirks of the book, and how best to use it without emotionally destroying yourself. Build up to an entire lifetime of magic training and useful experience.

At a very minimum, had she simply be more clever, after one night with that book Starlight could have come out as the next alicorn.

Would you use the book?

Nah. The past in in the past. The only thing that changes from knowing what would happen if you made different choices is regret and suffering. Plus, i like to think i'm in the best possible time line, no matter what happens to me.

L-look at me! Student of the princess. Not some lowly teacher still living in the same small town where she was born. I'm more than that! This is better! I am better!

Well, in comparison to teacher future it wasn't for free: she has paid for her Unlimited Power with metric shit ton of pain, suffering and despair. And, looking from a tiny bit different angle, she got Unlimited Power and kinda happy... not ending but continuation? in return for her metric ton instead of just nothing --- Equestria seems like a very nice and fair place.

But carpets were expensive and Starlight Glimmer knew for sure that cold hooves might be uncomfortable but they didn’t really matter, all that mattered was that everypony’s home was the same.

For some reason this sentence feels sadder then the rest of that piece.

“Bring the unicorn next,” she snarled.

What she's going to do with Rarity?
Starlight kinda has a tendency to attempt to fix (even sometimes not broken) stuff in most radical ways, so she may as well preserve the body magically and go search some way for fixing it. Legend of insane unicorn on a quest around the world dragging dead alicorn body with herself everywhere would be... pretty creepy, especially taking into account that she may succeed eventually :rainbowlaugh:

Sometimes the world ended because I’d changed my path and wasn’t able to stop Nightmare Moon or Sombra. But I never learned anything useful from what it showed me. Only that I’m worse than I could be, or I could be worse than I am. Every single time, no matter what question I asked. And it... it made me angry, Starlight. I worked so hard on this spell. It should be wonderful, shouldn't it?

Well, of course you haven't learned from what it showed you, Twilight: useful information from the book is not in counterfactual past itself, it's in correlation between how you change some decision and where you tend to end up after. And from that you can generalize on your future decisions (assuming that book really shows counterfactual past, not just invents some bad fan-fiction --- that should be thoroughly tested before).


use it to create what might yet be.

That's actually pretty dangerous since something like that could influence your actions in negative ways like a Prophecy. There's no guarantee what you're shown will come to pass and you could end up being too dependent on what it tells you, unwilling to make a choice simply because the book showed you an unfavorable outcome.


That's actually pretty dangerous since something like that could influence your actions in negative ways like a Prophecy. There's no guarantee what you're shown will come to pass and you could end up being too dependent on what it tells you, unwilling to make a choice simply because the book showed you an unfavorable outcome.

No, and that view is entirely contrary to what I was even proposing. That's the point: the book doesn't show "what is/would be/could be/might have been." There's no "prophecy" element at all here. It simply shows...what you write in it.

That's made clear from Starlight's very first writing about the dragon in the wagon. That's not a "might have been" possibility and there's no prophetic element. It's simply what she wrote. Of course don't try to use it to predict the future it doesn't show the future. It delivers as experience whatever you write in it. So write about useful and positive experiences, that if you were to have them, would contribute positively to your life.

“No. It’s… hm.” Twilight tilted her head. “It shows things that might have been true. I wanted to call it Sparkle’s Counterfactual Simulacrum, but that’s not quite alliterative enough. It needs some other title. Anyway, it shows different outcomes. I guess it tried to show you what happened if a dragon really did try to live in a wagon, but since that sounds impossible it must’ve been weird.”

I submit for your consideration: Sparkle's Solipsistic Simulacrum! :twilightsmile:

I'd test it out, learn what happens if I repeatedly do a sentence.

Is it based off its own knowledge, or, since its based off my own, I could say that it's only me who's coming up with these scenarios, and it's more of a view of what I think about myself.

Any regrets that are shown, are what you regret already, but just don't let yourself know...

Diving into your subconscious.

This story sounds like something that has been done in the adult cartoon TV show called Futurama. And I haven't even read the story yet.

I love books, destruction of books is a horrid crime... But for that book I would make a exception, like a book of black mage the only good thing that could come of a book like that would be its destruction.

Would you use the book?

I'd like to say no. I screwed up some opportunities in college, one of which would have changed my life considerably. I still think about it a lot but I have a career and life I'm happy with now, not to mention a fiance I never would have met had I traveled the other path.

I wouldn't change anything, but if that thing was lying around I'd be hard-pressed not to take a peek.

I mean, based from the show, he was a mess until he rekindled his friendship with Starlight.

I won't use the book. Don't want to ride the train to Regrets City

No, I don't think I would. I'm happy with where I am now.
However, I wouldn't stop people from using it themselves.
I would tell them that they would see things that would upset them and that they will have regrets about something they did or did not do.
Good story though.

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