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Open for Art Commissions. I write gay romantic comedies with ponies now. Get off my back, MOM.


Rockhoof is trapped within a time loop trying to save his friends from death.

Teen Rating for intense themes. Death Rating for explicit but non-graphic depictions of character death.

Preread by The Sleepless Beholder, Dewdrops on the Grass, and LuckyChaosHooves

Edited by EileenSaysHi

Written for the Quills and Sofas Speedwriting Among Us Contest with the Imposter prompt "Running Out of Time"

Entry for Bicyclette's Science Fiction Contest 2023

Inspired by the video game The Sexy Brutale

Chapters (7)
Comments ( 33 )

I believe that this is what kids would call, Poggers:moustache:

The writing is detailed and vivid, and the premise is intriguing, with enough details to really grab the interest. We haven’t seen much of the other Pillars yet, and while your depiction of Stygian was a bit different than the more skittish version I’m used to, Rockhoof is well-written and in character.

You have my attention, friend. I look forward to reading more.

Nice character work, and very concise writing

All you need to do to break a time loop is waggle K9's tail.

Tom Baker has ALL the answers! :trollestia:

I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying)." -Albert Camus Absurdist Philosopher. "We must imagine Sisyphus happy." -Albert Camus Absurdist Philosopher.

fuck yeah angsty time loops! can't wait to read more!

Why have I read the title as "Sisyphilis"? :facehoof:


I’m going to be really honest, here. I think the first chapter feels a little too sparse to get me invested in the story as a whole. I get that the intention of the first chapter is to get people hooked, and so you want to present as much mystery as possible. And that’s great! Very good plan.

My issue, though, is that I feel you’ve left too much out. The setting is clearly very important to the story, but you’ve done very little to establish it. It’s referred to as a mansion, but we’re never really grounded in that reality. The various locations Rockhoof visits feel separate from each other, not part of a coherent whole, and they’re barely described. I feel like this was a mistake. I also think you could have done more to hint at what’s going on. Obviously you don’t want to play all your cards straight away, but I think that a little bit more info to whet my appetite would have made me feel a little more invested. Unless you have and I just missed it, which is totally a possibility.

Overall, I think it’s a good start to a story, but I feel like a little more detail could have improved it a lot. The scenario and Rockhoof’s character, though, were great.

Anyway, that’s my thoughts. As a fellow competitor, best of luck in the sci-fi contest!

You are incorrect. The setting is the least important part of this story. The reality of the situation Rockhoof finds himself in being ungrounded is also a key point of the plot. The leaving out of details is both intentional with the setting being solely window dressing to what eventually unfolds. I will freely admit, that this is very experimental compared to what my usual writing is like, but clearly grounding the writing and providing more than what is necessary for explanation would take away from what I am going for on the themes of the story. Thank you for the criticism.

RB_ #12 · Mar 14th, 2023 · · 1 · Poison ·

Fair enough. The story certainly is doing well, so maybe it’s just a personal problem:twilightsheepish:

Not gonna lie, the first chapter was so self-containingly great that I honestly had to wonder if the "Incomplete" tag was accidental. Seeing as it wasn't, I'm looking forward to the rest!

Great start to this. I was worried a story like this might drag, but you're doing an excellent job with the pacing. The foreshadowing with the lights helps immensely too. Looking forward to more!

oh ok so, they need to sort out their emotional problems to escape?

Somnambula cussing with the Plagues is a nice touch! Really looking forward to reading more!

can't wait to see where this goes

Poor Rockhoof

This goes on the priority list for reading!

You've got me checking daily for new chapters. Can't wait to see how this one resolves!

I haven't played the game, but I'm really enjoying this story. Very nice work with these characters.

Much as I like Stygian, I have an issue with the way he's shown in the Legends of Equestria comics as a perfect, misunderstood and unappreciated genius who holds all the Pillars on his back. So seeing him as a flawed character who struggles with jealousy, bitterness, and loneliness was refreshing.

I still hope that they can find a way to get him out of there. I know he's destined to fall to the darkness here, but still. And what about Starswirl?

Looking forward to the next chapter.

A wonderful story. Thank you for it.

Man, that was a powerful story. I'm kicking myself for not realizing where the mansion came from. I appreciate both the tragedy and the hope of this story, and I loved both the character interactions and the way you dug deep into what makes them tick. Amazing work!

Comment posted by BryanAdams777 deleted Apr 24th, 2023

Absolutely wonderful story — the personalities of all the pillars were amazing!

Push the boulder up the hill,

Let it roll back down again

Try to save a single friend,

But leave the other five for dead

Over and over, Rockhoof tries,

But ultimately, all he does is fail.

oh no, anything but the darkly ominous poem that encapsulates the entire story before it even begins :(

The old stallion’s eyes were pools of blackness from which opaque dark tears flowed freely down his face.

ooh that is not good!

“I know not what you mean, but I agree that I do deserve this.” Starswirl smiled bittersweetly. “I can’t keep ruining your lives like this.”

“Of all the— you aren’t! And even if you were, you can make it up to us by not dyin’. For the so-called smartest unicorn of a generation, you can be pretty stupid, Swirl. Now, hold on—”

“I don’t have the will to carry on, Rockhoof.”

honestly, this is just so very Starswirl, somehow. of course he would phrase it in a way to make it sound to others (and himself) that whatever he does is for the greater good of all

“Flash and Swirl are definitely last. Brook, Misty, and Som are somewhere in the middle of dat mess, so that would mean…” He stopped and pivoted to face down one of the corridors. “Styg must be first!”

oof, just the ordering alone gives 6!=720 combinations, not to mention needing to find out what the right actions are in each case…

“Yes, of course, I do.” Stygian rolled his eyes. “I in particular had a rather nasty time with it since I couldn’t— ah, you cannot speak of the reason why or you will burst into flames.”

oof, what a curse to be under! definitely great fodder for narrative tension

A huff of annoyance. “Surely, Spatial Magic can’t be—”

“Absolutely not!”

“Really? What could possibly be so bad as to avoid a theoretical school of magic?”

“You don’t want to know, lad.” A shudder of revulsion passed through Rockhoof.

oof, so many ways that could go horribly…

Racing through an open archway, he found himself in a sitting room with two pipe valves embedded in the walls. He was unsure of the exact order, just that there were ten different valves in the adjoining rooms and only one correct combination.

oof, the combinatorics just gets more and more brutal!

“Really wish it could have been someone else to deal with dis mess. I shouldn’t have been the one chosen for this. I don’t have the brains like Misty, or Styg, or Swirl. Definitely don’t have the gumption that you, Som, and Brook have. Just a mindless brute whose best trait is being able to smash his way through things.

augh, yeah. that insecurity at his core that we see in “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place” would make him feel this way, and also makes him the perfect protagonist out of the seven for this kind of story

Getting off the bed, he leaned down, and kissed Flash on the unwounded part of his face, between the crisscross of red scars that cut into his skin, oozing blood onto the floorboards.

oof, brutal

“I won’t hear you degrade yourself like this. Though you may not be the wisest, nor fastest, nor the most durable, you have the most important trait of any of us: heart. You are what keeps us moving forward, what keeps us grounded in this world that sees fit to destroy us at every turn. Without you, we could never have the strength to do what we must.”

“... I don’t believe you, Swirl.”

“You should.” Starswirl smirked. “I’m considered the smartest unicorn of a generation.”

love how Starswirl finally says something genuine and heartening and follows it up with that, that is just perfect

“You don’t act like it most times.”

“And that’s why I need you to call me out on it.” Starswirl chuckled. “I confess, my dear friend, that in this moment of clarity, I do not know what is happening, but, whatever, may happen—

“I believe in you.”

and oof. “moment of clarity” indeed, really makes you think…

“And I won’t give up until I save everyone.”

He galloped off.

so true he would never give up love him

“Not necessarily. You listen to me and are perfect for any material grinding. Those two aren’t bad, but Mistmane has too delicate a touch for the mortar and pestle, and Stygian has his own ideas about how a potion should be brewed.” Meadowbrook huffed. “I love the goofer, but he can be a bit of a know-it-all at times.”

hehe so true actually. it is Rockhoof’s very qualities that make him a better assistant 

Thankfully, Stygian can take the hit to his pride with grace, unlike another we know of.”
“Flash or Swirl?”
“Yes,” Meadowbrook answered simply.

ooh, burn on Flash and Swirl!

“Why wouldn’t I? You’re trustworthy and, besides that, you’re terrible at lying.” She giggled. “Remember when you tried to hide the reason you kept sneaking out of camp so often?”

“A-aye,” Rockhoof relented, his face burning.

ehehe nice

He charged into the smog as it began to disperse, grabbing onto Meadowbrook, who had collapsed to the floor in a coughing fit. Red scars criss-crossed her body as her fur began to blacken. He held her close, shouting her name as the same effect began to spread along his forehooves.

She smiled up at him, tears in her eyes as her body began to disintegrate along the edges of the scars. His hooves came together suddenly as Meadowbrook became nothing more than dust.

well, that’s horrifying!

“I’ll admit, finding the stallion I had been crushing on in a compromising position with the stallion I hated was… not the best, but I let it go because I didn’t want to lose you from my life.”

oh dang, now that is more complicated than i thought! i hope we get to see more of this

A choked nervous laugh escaped from Rockhoof as Meadowbrook released a peal of infectious giggles. While they continued to speak of days gone by and days yet to come, a single green light lit up in another part of the mansion.

aww, friendship! from this i get the feeling there are some thematic overlaps with some of your earlier works here

“It may also be mocking us, but attributing malice to an inanimate object feels like a path toward madness.”

idk Mistmane, have you seen all the wacky stuff that goes on in Equestria?

“I’m about to drown,” Mistmane remarked dryly, the water having risen to just above her knees. “I believe I’m entitled to a bit of out-of-character spite.”

ehehe nice

“Nothing to apologize for. I’m the old fool that wandered into this trap. You would think with my age, I’d know better,” She jested.

A snort. “You’re younger than I am.”

“And yet so much wiser. Must be the wrinkles.”

aww, she truly was the proto-Rarity!

“I have a favour to ask of you,” Mistmane said.

“Anything,” Rockhoof replied.

“Stay with me until the end?”

In lieu of an answer, Rockhoof pressed his hoof against the glass. Mistmane smiled bittersweetly as the water level rose to her head.

augh love it

“Yes, and for several months after that incident, you and Flash called him ‘Starbaby’ for looking too young without it.”

oh yeah the idea of Starswirl without a beard really is quite something

“I always wanted to be buried in my garden,” she remarked.

augh love it

A sigh. “I’m sorry Rockhoof, but even if I wasn’t going to die here, it wasn’t as if I would have that much time left with the rest of you anyways.”

Rockhoof stopped and turned toward Mistmane. “Misty, what do you…”

oof! guessing this is because her premature aging wasn’t just limited to her appearance?

“Even the mightiest of mountains erodes with time. You and Stygian both suffer from being coddled and belittled by those around you. Flash and Starswirl are becoming more and more reckless as they become entrenched with a need to prove themselves, despite their already significant accomplishments. Meadowbrook bottles up her problems tighter than the potions she brews, and Somnambula buries her grief under layers of false cheer. And I—” She stopped. “Begrudgingly, I agree that we are, as you put it, made of ‘sterner stuff’, but I worry that we are all reaching a breaking point.”

oof! love this breakdown of the group and their dynamics. and if this story is set before they went into Limbo, it may explain why they apparently did not have too many reservations about it…

Starswirl, someone who should know better than to overstep someone’s boundaries, is constantly pushing you to take on more responsibility, when you already do too much as is!

oh dang, so even his heartening speech to Rockhoof was a part of his whole deal…

“It’s just—” Another snort “—Misty, are ya mad that I’m being taken advantage of, or that I’m taking away your role as group parent?”

A gasp of offense. “Excuse you?! How dare you insinuate that I would be so angry about not being the— the— mom!”

ahaha, truly the Applejack and Rarity of the group

“You—” Mistmane chuckled sadly as a stray tear trickled down her face. “When did you become so wise?”

“I learned it from all of you.”

augh, loved this whole sequence. Mistmane’s feelings about her own feelings were so real. i can definitely relate, in my own way

“Frogs and boils!”

love this curse, love Somnambula

“Firstborns and darkness!” Som cursed. “My usual good fortune seems to be running poor in this damnable place.”

augh love that her curses are the literal Biblical ones. this is such good stuff!

“To be fair, they have in a way.” Somnambula smiled. “Though trapped we may be in this place, I am thankful to have you here, habib.”

i adore her

“I don’t think you're a fool.”

“Of course you do! Everyone does! Everyone in the mansion with us! Everyone back home! EVERYONE—!”


Somnambula’s fur bristled as her wings raised themselves into an aggressive position. Her face scrunched up into a look of unbridled rage reserved solely for monsters that dared attack her two beloved stallions, or when said two beloved stallions said something stupid.

i am guessing that the second part was the more common occurrence. also, MMF throuple? Otter you are spoiling me

“My home back in the desert is terrifying. There are dangers everywhere you look, even where you would expect it to be safe, but there is always hope for survival because simply knowing how to handle those situations is enough to save yourself. Here… nothing makes sense. I can’t garner hope when I have no comprehension of what is happening. I’m just trapped, and no amount of logic can assist me.”

and oof, so true. these inexplicable nightmarelike realities truly are good for inducing such feelings

He is, and that’s why he has the most fear. As he’s told me himself, Flash is a soldier. There are a lot of things to be afraid of in that occupation. He told me that courage, real courage, is being able to acknowledge that fear and to overcome in spite of it. Something that I think applies to you, because you don’t just hope for the sake of it, but in spite of how little there is.” He kissed the top of her forehead. “And I think you’re amazing for it.”
“Thank you,” Somnambula said, a soft smile spreading across her face. “I am very glad you are here, habib.”

love them

Rockhoof sat quietly before the second floor hourglass. He breathed out a sigh of contentment, letting himself feel at ease for the first time since the looping had begun.

Though he cared for each of his friends and enjoyed their company, Somnambula knew how best to relax him. They had spent the rest of the last loop just enjoying each other’s company, and it had done wonders to help him recover from the strain of the loops.

He felt really good.

Then he got hit in the back of the head with something and died.

oh Otter, never change

He looked toward the corridor leading to the guest bedrooms and was shocked to see a trail of faded bloody hoofprints leading further into the area. A quick size comparison with his own showed them to be roughly the same size.

This was new. Very new. And concerning. Whoever had made these hoofprints was similar in size to Rockhoof, could act differently within the loop, and was heading toward the next friend on his list. It was unsettling, to say the least.

oh no that is very unsettling actually

“Flash!” Rockhoof exclaimed, flustered. “Ya need to give me more warning if you’re going to do something like that!”

“Sure, sure. Definitely.” Flash waved a wing nonchalantly as he failed to consider anything Rockhoof had said. “So, what are you doing in these parts?”

ahaha so true

I just know I’m this—” He brought two feathers up before his eye demonstrating a small distance between them “—close to catching them.”

love it when pegasi do stuff like this

Rockhoof, knowing that Flash was unaware of Meadowbrook’s early resentment of his relationship with him, replied nervously, “I’m sure she definitely does not hold any possible resentment toward you in any way shape or form that may have to do with your relationship with another.”

Rockhoof is just perfectly very bad at this

Complete silence followed.

“What the f—” Flash started.

yeah that would be my reaction, too! 

“The hoofprints. They aren’t blood. They’re just weird, thick, pulpy juice. I think it’s raspberry or strawberry, but I really don’t want to have to taste-test more floor gunk to confirm.”

somehow this is much more concerning than if it were just regular ol’ blood of the flesh and blood copies of the Pillars

“You can’t remember our anniversary but you can remember that?”

“I’m bad with dates!”

“In both meanings,” Rockhoof retorted.


“That’s— I mean— Look, I’m a soldier okay! They teach us to make love and fight wars, not… think…” Flash trailed off as he became too self conscious of himself.

love this and so true actually

Two wings encompassed him, blocking out his surroundings. Filtered light bathed him in an orange glow. Flash’s face was next to his. A gentle nuzzle and a look of sympathy through empathetic tears.

“Easy there, pragma,” Flash said softly. “You’re spiralling.”

augh, love this! 

“Let it out, pragma.” Flash pressed his head to the side of Rockhoof’s, rubbing affectionately against him. “I’m right here. It’s safe to let go. I’d never let anything happen to you.”

love seeing what it is that makes their relationship work like this. also fascinated by the term “pragma” they are using, since i have never heard it before

Stygian drew himself up to his full height (barely reaching the bottom of Rockhoof’s chest) and affixed a firm scowl to his face. He had the appearance of a toddler about to tell off his worried father.

ahaha so true

“I most certainly have.” Stygian smirked. “If I recall, quite a few of those incidents were caused by a certain earth pony and pegasus that thought they could just barrel through the problem using brute strength and were quickly corrected.”

“We’re the pillars of Strength and Courage, not Caution and Tactics.” Rockhoof chuckled. “It’s why we need you smarter types to keep us in line.”

love that Rockhoof and Flash are this to the Pillars

“That’s just my normal mannerisms, Rockhoof. I always speak with certainty and act with confidence. Otherwise, how else would I be able to stand alongside you all and not seem like some sort of tagalong?”

aww so true

“Well, it was quite short, but very illuminating. It explained the structure and purpose of this place, which I found absolutely fascinating, and I now believe I know what needs to be done to escape from here.”

oh boy, that doesn’t sound good

“You misunderstand.” A single clear tear rolled down Stygian’s cheek. “With this, we shall be preserved.”

“We’ll be dead!” Rockhoof screamed.

“But our legacy shall live on.”

Rockhoof gaped at Stygian as comprehension dawned on him.

“Rest easy, Rockhoof. It will be over in mere moments, but we’ll live for a millenia more.”

oof, definitely feels like a reference to their time in Limbo…

“I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking!” Stygian shouted. “You know humour tends to go over my head and I usually need it explained explicitly to me or I don’t get it!”


“Because we were friends!” Rockhoof insisted. “That we were… that we were akin to family.”

That’s the reason you thought we stuck together?!” Stygian laughed, a harsh, broken sound. “I thought Somnambula was absurdly optimistic and naive, but clearly you’re much worse.”

oh no! poor Rockhoof

“Rockhoof, I-I—” A single eye became clear again, a screech echoed through the chamber. “I didn’t mean anything I said! That was— it was all I wanted too— ahhh!” Stygian screamed as he clutched both sides of his head.

augh, but he sounded just so mean when he said those things! what an awful way to see such wonderful ponies

“Rest easy, Rockhoof.” Stygian smiled. “It will be over in mere moments. And for the record… I kept us together for the same reason you did.

“I love you too.”

aww! so true

The figure drew back their hood to reveal a perfect clone of Rockhoof. Duplihoof (the internal nickname Rockhoof had spontaneously generated for this surprise doppelganger, one which he supposed was as good as any) frowned and tilted his head to one side.

ha, knew it! also, terrible name, which is very fitting for Rockhoof to come up with

This whole situation felt off. The more he thought through the cloud over his mind, the more he just didn’t get it. Why was there a second copy of him? Why did that copy keep killing him and Flash in that one loop? How did he even get into this place in the first place?

all very relevant questions that i am scratching my head about myself

Rockhoof raised his hooves above his head, ready to smash the hourglass and restart the loop. Save his friends. It’s what he did. It was all he was good for. To be the shield that took on all the pain so the others could be safe. It was all that mattered. It was the one thing he could never allow happen, no matter the circumstance.

You just need to want to leave.

ooh, very nice! love how this last piece comes together

“See, that’s the thing, Rockhoof. The me, the us, we are now—” A bittersweet smile “—Can’t save me. And I’m not letting you choose anymore.”

and augh, so this was the real story behind Stygian and the Pony of Shadows all along…

A strange purple unicorn with wings was arguing with Starswirl.

love that strange purple unicorn with wings

Besides, it didn’t really matter. He’d had some measure of hope that maybe they could be more than just strangers and become ponies he could instead rely on, but Stygian’s betrayal made it clear that Rockhoof wasn’t meant to have that kind of bond with others. He was still the pony that everyone hated back at his village, and this excursion had done nothing to change his mind.

painful, but explains why the Pillars go from the tight-knit group we’ve seen in this story to distant enough that Rockhoof wants to be turned to stone again in the modern day…

But first, the Pony of Shadows would have to be defeated, and this time, they wouldn’t banish him, they would destroy him.

He never noticed the trail of tears that fell down his face that mourned the loss of all the time that had been taken from him.

just really love that you are ending it here, leaving the canon to pick up from this point with its Pillars that are closer to Rockhoof’s view of them in this section rather than the family from the rest of this story that they should have been. just a fantastic, fantastic character study as always, Otter. you have written the definitive version of the Pillars here, and i am beyond honored to have it as an entry in this contest

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