Cerulean Voice’s “Essenza di Amore”

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You’ll grow to love today’s story.

Essenza di Amore
[Adventure] [Drama] [Alternate Universe] • 53,665 words

Orphaned as a filly, a young pegasus named Kaviyayu is raised by an adoptive Earth pony family in a secluded, peaceful village. When a strange unicorn drops by the village, Kaviyayu and the other foals are captivated by her tales of the world, as well as her various spells and illusions for their amusement. But there’s something about the way she doesn’t speak of her own family … how she never removes her traveller’s cloak … how she seems to take a very strong interest in Kaviyayu …

Who is this mysterious mare, what does she seek, and just what is so special about that pendant she wears?

This is the tale of how a seemingly ordinary filly rose to become both a princess and a beacon of love to ponies all over Equestria.

FROM THE CURATORS: It’s common to find fanfic that expands on the show, but sometimes if you want to explore the lives of the ponies we know and love, you have to find stories willing to dig deeper.  “I knew G. M. Berrow had established Cadance’s ascension story in one of the chapter books, but I had no idea canon was so scant until I read Essenza di Amore’s author’s notes,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “This story does so much with so little, taking those few lines and turning them into a living, breathing little society.”  That was what first brought it to our attention, but hardly its only praiseworthy element.  “Cerulean Voice did a great work expanding Cadance’s origin story from the G. M. Berrow book here,” Soge said in his nomination, “weaving a touching coming-of-age story, with fascinating elements of worldbuilding, and a cast of likable and dynamic characters.”

In the characterization department, the entire cast was worthy of mention. “Cadance’s heroic feats feel both suitably epic and entirely appropriate for her, and Prismia’s arc feels plucked right from the show,” FanOfMostEverything said, and Soge agreed: “It also features a sympathethic villain whose arc feels distinctively pony.”  In an earlier review, Present Perfect extended that praise more broadly: “The author was able to create a world separate from Equestria at large that still jibes with ‘Crystal Heart Spell’, and that’s no small feat, given that you’ll find names like ‘Kaviyayu’ here. The writing is excellent, multiple characters get first-person scenes with distinct voices, and the plot is overall interesting and exciting.”

On top of that, as Soge said, “the thematic elements are also very well executed, giving the story enough heft to elevate the material.”  That exemplary solidity of theme was at the core of AugieDog’s feature-sealing vote: “What really struck me here was how the whole piece is grounded in the importance of storytelling,” he said. “The whole village gathers around the fire in the evening to exchange stories; Prismia first appears to them disguised as a storyteller; Cadance’s father stands before the village bonfire to tell the story of how Cadance came to them; Celestia tells them stories when she arrives after Cadance’s ascension; the final chapter begins with Cadance telling Twilight the story of how she became a princess. … Even as the characters are becoming enmeshed into this big epic story, they’re telling each other older stories, and the resolution is about turning the page on a story someone’s been telling herself for years. It’s a really nice structural element.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Cerulean Voice discusses pronking skunks, forgotten forests, and equine dietary changes.
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NaiadSagaIotaOar’s “Who We Are in the Dark”

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Today’s story, unlike its protagonist, doesn’t have to cheat to win your heart.

Who We Are in the Dark
[Equestria Girls] [Romance] [Tragedy] • 11,505 words

[Note: This story contains sexual themes.]

Adagio, who everyone knows is an immortal sex goddess, is determined to give her girlfriend a perfect eighteenth birthday. If only she weren’t secretly a virgin, it would be easy.

FROM THE CURATORS: Our inaugural Siren fic is “a doozy,” as Soge put it in his nomination — and the rest of us quickly saw why.  “What follows the simple-yet-intricate setup is a beautiful disaster, like a train crash in slow motion, and yet manages to keep this undercurrent of optimism through the whole thing,” Soge said. “The conclusion is striking, unexpected, and effective, elevating the whole thing far beyond what I would expect of a typical shipfic. It’s a perfect Romantic Tragedy.”  An equally impressed Horizon added: “The prose just pops off the page, and Adagio’s characterization walks a heck of a tightrope between redemption and villainy that serves the character well.”

That wasn’t the only praise the characterization got.  “Who We Are in the Dark shows Adagio in an innovative light, trying to deal with the aftermath of losing her Siren powers, which has the aftereffect of making her unable to actually read people, since she always relied on her magic for that,” Soge explained — and all of us found that unique and striking.  “Adagio’s portrayal is what takes this above and beyond just being another beautifully written fic,” Present Perfect said.  “I connected on a deeply personal level with her struggle to read faces and body language. I suspect more readers will connect with her inability to know what to do in stressful situations, to say nothing of sitting, helpless, while watching your world fall apart.”

That combined with fluid writing and solid structure to make this coast to an easy feature.  “There’s so much care put into setting up the characters’ desires and letting those play out naturally,” Horizon said.  “And that care is seen throughout; the confrontation scene is properly crushing, and it manages to take the situation into full meltdown without ever taking the lazy way out of making someone the villain.”  All in all, as Present Perfect said, it was the sort of story that turns heads and changes minds about a character: “I came into this story with no particular love for Adagio Dazzle. By the end of it, watching her world crumble was absolutely heartbreaking.”

Read on for our author interview, in which NaiadSagaIotaOar discusses fanfiction optimization, hilarious ineptitude, and squip removal.
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Mr V’s “Sweet Little Lovely: A Gothic Romance”

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Today’s story ticks along to a sweetly chilling conclusion.

Sweet Little Lovely: A Gothic Romance
[Romance] [Dark] • 14,993 words

[Note: This story contains scenes of blood and gore.]

Everyone in their sleepy little town knows that Marvelous, the clockmaker, has eyes for only one mare – the beautiful Little Lovely. Despite her mysterious illness and his amusingly obsessive nature, there’s no question that they make a perfect couple.

But when the truth of Little Lovely’s affliction comes to light, Marvelous begins to realize that her true beauty is … on the inside.

FROM THE CURATORS: This week’s feature makes no bones about its heritage; right in the subtitle, it’s clear what you’re going to get. As Soge said in his nomination, it’s “a really lovely romance story, with genuinely touching moments, interesting characters, and an effective, just-florid-enough writing style that is clearly inspired by 1800s Gothic novels.” Horizon agreed: “The voicing in this is a marvelous style imitation, and the Gothic parts are a compelling enough character drama on their own that in several stretches I forgot I was reading a horror story.”

That being said, astute readers might note the lack of a Horror tag on the story itself, and this may not just be because the story predates the Horror tag—whether or not this was actually a horror story was a matter of some debate among the curators. Present Perfect thought it was an excellent one: “This is a great horror story, full stop, just completely unsettling.” AugieDog had a different perspective; he doesn’t read horror stories, because “they’re too scary. This story, though, I didn’t find scary at all.”

Something all the curators could agree on was “Sweet Little Lovely” managing to require a Gore tag and yet remain almost… wholesome. “The one scene that actually earns that Gore tag is so beautiful and fascinating,” Soge said. Horizon reassures anyone with a weak stomach that “it’s quite possibly one of the most beautiful stories with a Gore tag, and even as a somewhat squeamish person I finished the story over lunch.”

Speaking more broadly, FanOfMostEverything appreciated “that this story’s protagonist is a clockmaker, because this is some beautifully and meticulously assembled prose.” A few curators commented that the setting teeters on the edge of believability within the world of Equestria, but as AugieDog put it, “I’d call it a very Pony story. Because friendship is magic even when your friend turns out to be a sort of—” Ah… that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

Read on for our author interview, in which Mr V discusses prose cameras, gummi artisans, and audio adaptations.
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New curator: RBDash47

Astute readers may notice a name in the curator section of this week’s feature which is simultaneously new and old!

Once upon a time, when Benman founded the RCL, its mission statement more or less started out as “Take over where RBDash47‘s legendary Pony Fiction Vault left off.”  Four and a half years later, we’ve come full circle — RBDash47 has volunteered to join the project, and we’re thrilled to bring him on board!  This week marks his first contribution as a curator (though not his first contribution to the Library, as his own feature can be found here).

We’ve updated our About page with the personnel changes, and look forward to continuing our mission with an expanded roster!

Chris’ “Wyrmlysan”

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You’re destined to like tonight’s story.

Wyrmlysan
[Tragedy] • 3,322 words

Prophecy is a dangerous game; meanings which are obvious can become obscure in an instant, and fates are laid bare only in hindsight.

After the fall of Discord but before the rise of Nightmare Moon, a dragon breaks the peace between its race and ponykind, and Princess Luna flies to mete out justice.

FROM THE CURATORS: Longtime RCL curator Chris recently took a step back from pony fanfiction, but he’s built a long legacy — not just of story reviews, but also of quality tales of his own.  While there were no shortage of feature candidates in his catalogue (“Going Up was a wonderful tale of Best Pony at her best,” FanOfMostEverything noted), the sheer ambition of Wyrmlysan gave it a narrow edge.  “This is how you make ‘epic’ happen in a short wordcount,” Present Perfect said. “Every word is steeped in grandiosity, in portentousness.”  FanOfMostEverything elaborated: “At its core, Wyrmlysan is wonderfully mythic in tone, with beings far beyond mortals parlaying over pacts made in the mists of time. Luna is awesome in the original sense of the word, and the way the story foreshadows Nightmare Moon provides a chilling counterpoint to Luna’s actions in service to her ponies.”

And while we found ourselves dancing around the specifics, the tale accumulated unanimous praise for the fine handling of its narrative.  “This is a clever and deceptive story, and saying much about the plot would be doing it a disservice,” Soge said. “Suffice to say that it is very subtle in its presentation, smartly hiding or showing things in order to mislead the reader, but never outright obscuring relevant information.”  AugieDog — whose 2014 Nocturnes contest prompted the story — found that a strength of the author in general: “Chris’ finesse in setting up my expectations and then flipping them sideways is just plain lovely. The flip in ‘Going Up’ when Derpy explains her invention to Carrot Top is as joyful a moment as I’ve had from a story in a long time, while the flip at the end of ‘Wyrmlysan’ is shattering.”

And the story pulled that off while juggling multiple pieces of a richly layered tale.  “This deftly interweaves two solid stories — one about confronting one’s immutable destiny and one about the build-up to Nightmare Moon — in a way that enhances both,” Horizon said.  “It’s telling that the interplay with Luna’s guards feels tenser and more fraught than her fight with the dragon, and the story uses that tension to great effect.”  It all added up, as RBDash47 said, to a piece that not just stood the test of time but transcended it:  “The lore created here is really something incredible, especially considering that it was published a full two years before ‘Gauntlet of Fire’ aired,” he said.  “And far from the usual fanfiction fate of being Jossed by later canon, it’s actually enhanced by it.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Chris discusses brain bugs, hipster glasses, and Golden Harvests.
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Einhander’s “Royals”

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Today’s story is a rarity: a rich romance between an unexpected pair.

Royals
[Romance] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 14,210 words

Rarity always wanted to be Lady Rarity. Over time, it became more clear it was not meant to be. But she’s fine, she’s got a successful business in Ponyville, her fashion line showing in Manehattan and she has her friends, even if most of them are moving on with their lives. A prince sweeping her off her hooves was just not meant to be.

So how in Equestria did she end up on a date with the richest pony in town?

Confusion, feelings and wine mix for a potentially explosive, heartwarming (or rending?) evening, along with a pinch of generosity.

FROM THE CURATORS: Any romance writer can tell you that mashing characters’ lips together is the easy part — and this is a story that makes the hard parts look effortless.  “Royals follows Rarity as she goes on a date with Filthy Rich,” Soge said in his nomination, “and what follows not only is a delightfully well-constructed romance on its own right, but also an amazing exploration of what makes both characters tick, and an exploration of the nature of fame and success and what those mean in the greater scheme of things.” On its way to a rare unanimous approval, that was far from the only praise it accumulated.  “This does a flawless job of selling a ship I’d never even considered,” Horizon said. “Within a scene and a half it had endeared me to both characters AND shown me their chemistry.”  Present Perfect, meanwhile, noted that “excellent romance needs to be built on relationships, characters and dialogue, and this has all three in spades.  This is what romance should always be like.”

Even in the details, we kept finding things that surprised and delighted us.  “I adored the clever touches around the main plot: Diamond Tiara reacting to Rarity, the reason for her name, even just getting to experience a pre-season-five fic [before the show canonically made Spoiled Rich his wife] again,” Present Perfect said.  Horizon added that “the dialogue was never anything less than sharp and stellar,” while FanOfMostEverything was impressed by how casually it made its stars shine.  “The story even celebrates both characters at their best even when they’re not trying to romance each other,” he said, “from Mr. Rich’s drive to save Sweet Apple Acres to Rarity’s Bisonian moment in the last flashback. (‘For you, it was the greatest day of your life. For Rarity, it was Tuesday.’)”

That exemplary character work extended throughout the story, and drew praise from every one of us.  “I’ll just add how well the author draws even the background characters here,” AugieDog said.  “The flashback in chapter two give us a perfectly written Applejack, for instance, and it’s in a scene that’s nothing but dialogue.”  All in all, as Horizon said, that elevated it into a story with broad appeal: “As sweet as the romance was, these two characters could have been watching paint dry and it still would have held my attention.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Einhander discusses belated tinkering, short circuits, and universe sharing.
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brokenimage321’s “Celestia XVII”

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The crowning achievement of today’s story is a look at some royal growing pains.

Celestia XVII
[Drama] [Slice of Life] [Alternate Universe] • 56,413 words

Being seventeen is hard — especially if you happen to be a Princess.

I’m Princess Celestia, but everyone calls me Cece. My life has been crazier than normal lately — my big brother Blueblood is a selfish jerk, my best friend Twilight just moved away to Ponyville, and, oh yeah — Nightmare Moon turned out to be my long-lost somethingth-Great Aunt, Princess Luna. No biggie.

But, no matter how my life is going, I’m still Princess. I’ve gotta keep it together. Somehow. I can make it at least until the Grand Galloping Gala in a month-and-a-half … right?

FROM THE CURATORS: “It’s no secret that I love a good alternate universe, and this is a truly fascinating one,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination.  “It all stems from a simple question: ‘What if alicorns were mortal?’ The resulting dynastic Equestria is at once familiar and strange, especially when seen through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old version of the Celestia we know, forced to take the throne and the wings far too early.”  And that core concept got accolades from every curator.  “Wow, just wow,” Soge quipped, while Horizon said: “This is proof that, seven years in, the fandom is still capable of coming up with unique ideas.”

Not only that, but we found the writing polished enough to show that idea off.  “It is one of those fics that shines in the small details,” Soge said, “like the small changes in Twilight’s and Blueblood’s characterization, the way it subtly restructures character interactions, and how it twists oh-so-subtly the scenes the fic cribs from the show.”  Horizon commented on that too: “I appreciate the author trusting their audience to know canon rather than to recapitulate each beat of the episodes it’s re-envisioning.”  That allowed them to keep their focus tight, Soge said: “More than anything, the execution here was spot-on … it is slow and methodical, plumbing the depths of characterization built through the course of the novel.”

In some ways, the story sold its vision of the setting almost too well.  “Is it weird if I say that this fic is one of the few pony stories I’ve ever read which could work better humanized?” Horizon said.  But, AugieDog noted, that just reinforced how perfectly it captured the true core of show canon.  “For all the ‘bipeds or quadrupeds’ moments, it’s a very Pony story,” he said, “with multiple characters learning multiple lessons and coming to realize how much they need each other. And the AU is simply marvelous — these are simultaneously the characters we know and characters we’re meeting for the first time.”

Read on for our author interview, in which brokenimage321 discusses skill theft, sisterly subtext, and purring cars.
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Metool Bard’s “The Truth Hurts”

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With today’s story, idol hooves are the devil’s workshop.

The Truth Hurts
[Dark] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 4,914 words

Lightning Dust has been in a bit of a rut ever since getting kicked out of the Wonderbolt Academy. Day after day, she’s been sticking to a strict exercise regimen under the guidance of Cloudsdale’s premier personal trainer, Haymaker. Her hope is that she’ll unlock her true potential and show Haymaker how awesome she is, thus prompting him to use his connections to get her back into the Wonderbolts. No matter how many times Haymaker tells her it’s impossible, Lightning simply refuses to listen.

Then one fateful night, Lightning Dust’s training is interrupted by the appearance of her greatest idol, Wind Rider. It turns out he too has difficulty accepting reality, and he has his own, more nefarious schemes to get himself back in the game. Haymaker sees this as his last chance to save Lightning Dust from walking Wind Rider’s path. And if that means rubbing salt in a few wounds and shattering a few dreams, then so be it.

FROM THE CURATORS: Sometimes, a story’s brilliance lies in expressing one of life’s greatest rarities — a truly original idea.  “Lightning Dust is a character I tend to forget was ever on the show,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “Therefore, it’s maybe easy to see why no one ever considered comparing her to dethroned Wonderbolt Wind Rider before.  But it’s so obvious in hindsight.”  Soge agreed, and added: “Having read the story, it really surprises me that this is the only fic tagged with both characters on the site.”

Though there was some curator dissent on the quality of the execution, there was none on what made it exemplary.  “What makes this story work, beyond that excellent premise, is the portrayal of the characters,” Present Perfect said, echoed by Soge: “The concept is strong enough to make it memorable, and it is executed perfectly well, thanks to the snappy dialogue and pitch-perfect characterization.”  And FanOfMostEverything pointed out that it wasn’t just the protagonists done well: “Haymaker really ties it all together, knowing when to offer wisdom and when to just shine a spotlight on bullcrap.”

And ultimately, the story talked about redemption in a way that reflected the core of the show.  “I can’t help but draw parallels between Lightning Dust and Sunset Shimmer here,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “Both prodigies, both arrogant, both humbled by a member of the Mane Six. The difference is that Twilight gave Sunset a support network. Haymaker tries to act as that for Lightning, but she’s not yet seen the error of her ways. Seeing Wind Rider’s true colors is, appropriately enough, her rainbow to the face.”  Soge summed it up: “I got left with the feeling that Lightning Dust has a real shot at redemption here, so long as she is able to change her path radically.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Metool Bard discusses dark mirrors, pegasus partiality, and never-ending hurricanes.
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Phaoray’s “Complex Apartments”

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Today’s story drives home the difficulties of odd roommate choices.

Complex Apartments
[Equestria Girls] [Drama] [Romance] [Sad] • 9,829 words

Choosing an apartment to live in is important and requires good planning. Location, needs, cost, a lot must be taken into account when looking.

One girl looks to her animals and peace, hoping to have a quiet, fun time with her friends as she goes through high school. For her, the apartment is cheap, comfortable, allows pets, and is close to school. Perfect!

The other is looking to take over a high school, enslave everyone inside, and bring war to another dimension all in the name of proving her mentor wrong. A small, cheap apartment near the school to plan in is all she needs.

Fluttershy really should have met the neighbors before signing her lease…

FROM THE CURATORS: While My Little Pony is excellent about showing sympathy and redemption to its villains, one of the ways that fanfic complements the show is in offering the nuance that children’s programming can lack.  “What got me wanting to feature this in the first place is the careful depiction of Sunset as reluctant bully,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “She’s fueled by vengeance, not evil, and as we watch her first tentative steps toward driving CHS into the friendless chaos Twilight found in the first movie, you start to think that maybe being cold, heartless and manipulative doesn’t exactly come easy to a former pony or something.”

That wasn’t the only way that this story aimed high — nor the only way it succeeded.  “With the ‘Changing Seasons’ contest’s stated goal being ‘ship Sunset with someone’, setting the story prior to Equestria Girls was about the hardest thing a writer could do to themselves,” Present Perfect said.  “Well, other than also trying to ship her with Fluttershy. But the odd back-and-forth relationship they stumble into is a highlight of this piece.”  Our broad agreement sent this toward its feature.  “My love for the romantic dynamic in this story honestly surprised me,” Soge said.  “It’s dysfunctional as all hell … and yet it’s the kind of passionate love that, though it may not be eternal, is infinite while it lasts, to paraphrase one of my favourite poems.”  FanOfMostEverything agreed: “I’ve been stewing it over since I read it, especially that beach scene. In the end, though, as Soge said, it is perfect for this horribly dysfunctional relationship. It’s twisted. It’s manipulative. To call it morally questionable would be being generous. Yet Sunset offers Fluttershy a chance at physical intimacy without any prying eyes making her feel self-conscious.”

That balancing act wouldn’t have been possible without exemplary character work.  “It is quintessentially Fluttershy, two legs or not, to spend a night hugging away the tears of someone that constantly abuses her,” Soge said.  And that extended beyond the protagonists into exemplary writing in general, AugieDog said: “The few lines Fluttershy gives us about her parents are absolute models for concise character backstory presentation, too, and they serve really well to show how this Sunset and Fluttershy are both twisted in ways that twine them more closely together.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Phaoray discusses troll hunters, homeless anomalies, and blood ambitions.
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Minds Eye’s “Extra Sprinkles”

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Donut skip today’s story.

Extra Sprinkles
[Slice of Life] • 2,801 words

Mama never said there would be days like this.

Donut Joe, on his first day running his father’s shop by himself, gets hit with a hurricane of tempers and accusations.

A well-connected hurricane of tempers and accusations.

Still, customers are customers, and they deserve the best service he can give.

FROM THE CURATORS: While this feature was being written, Everfree Northwest kicked off its seventh year of festivities — so it’s fitting that this week’s story began as an entry to EFNW’s Scribblefest fanfiction competition.  And like the conventions we attend, its goal is to celebrate the show.  “In story comments I called this one of the best feel-good fics I’ve ever read, and it absolutely is,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “There are no frills, just solid character work and Twilight learning an important lesson.”  Broad agreement such as Horizon’s sent this to a spotlight: “This is a pleasant, comfortable read with its share of cool surprises. It’s a show prequel very much in keeping with the tone and character of the show itself.”

Unusually, all of us agreed on the story’s primary strength.  “The character dynamic is commendable, and the little tidbits of worldbuilding help add some much-needed heft to it,” Soge said.  Horizon agreed: “Characterization is impressive,” he said. “Specifically, it’s impressive that Pony Joe comes across as a sympathetic and positive character despite our introduction to him being his attacking Spike with a broom.  And the story manages to give us hints of character even for the ponies who stay offscreen the whole time.”  For his part, FanOfMostEverything appreciated the character growth both on-screen and off: “I love how we see Joe’s mental gears gradually shift,” he said.  “The outside perspective on Twilight and Spike does a great job of displaying the strange mix of the bizarre and mundane in their relationship, and their characterization shows great work in extrapolating how they’d behave based on how far they’ve come since.”

However, the aforementioned surprises drew their share of praise, too.  “Also, this explains why he’s sometimes Donut Joe and sometimes Pony Joe, and I absolutely love the way that was pulled off,” Present Perfect said, while FanOfMostEverything quipped: “I too appreciate the Pony/Donut Joe explanation, but the toroidal food porn is the glazing on the donut.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Minds Eye discusses shareholder dividends, lightning targets, and Fluttershy: Cloud Assassin.
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