Norm De Plume’s “As Horns and Halos Surround You”

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Give in to the temptation of reading today’s story.

As Horns and Halos Surround You
[Slice of Life] • 4,809 words

Rarity’s little Temptation ends up on pins and needles. Literally.

With her shoulder-devil out of commission, other Temptations pop into her life to pick up the slack from their fallen sister.

FROM THE CURATORS: The recent “Make Rarity Not Garbage” contest produced quality stories up and down the line — such as this fun and imaginative romp, which finished outside the top three but caught our eyes with its creativity regardless.  “The big memorable thing here is obviously the concept,” Soge said in his nomination.  “It’s a fresh take on the idea of autonomous consciences, and one that feels distinctively pony — the kind of effortless worldbuilding that seemed to be more common during earlier seasons.”  Others agreed: “The concept is so wonderful, it pretty much bulldozes all other considerations to the side,” AugieDog said.  “What’s here is great fun, though, and the characters are spot on.”

A large part of that was the way the story used its premise to reflect on canon.  “I love how the little shoulder devils we meet reflect not only the characters but the Equestrian setting,” AugieDog said.  “Yes, Twilight’s Temptation keeps wanting her to make more use of her alicorn powers, but toward benevolent ends — or at least as benevolent as publishing academic papers can be — and Fluttershy’s is still celebrating the way Fluttershy stood up for herself during ‘Fame and Misfortune.'”  AugieDog wasn’t the only one appreciating the way this story looked from a fresh angle at the characters we know and love.  “It is a very comfy kind of fic, but with enough substance to it to keep me interested,” Soge said.  “It explores its theme admirably, and ends up making some really nice considerations about the Mane 6 and their lives.”  And Horizon had similar praise: “The side characters stole the show.  I laughed out loud at the fate of Twilight’s Temptation.”

That entertainment value was one of our most frequent compliments.  “This was fun!” Present Perfect said.  “And it taught me that stories where what’s metaphor for us is common reality for ponies are my favorite kind of ponyfic.”  So it was a bonus pleasure to find the story not just entertaining but educational.  “Googling the story’s subtitle taught me that little good and bad sprites like this are a part of the Islamic tradition,” AugieDog said.  “The things one learns from reading Ponyfic!”

Read on for our author interview, in which Norm De Plume discusses equine homecomings, Canadian musicians, and scimitar-flinging fairies.
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Mitch H’s “A Requiem For Lost Libraries”

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Today’s tale has its roots in an unusual ghost story.

A Requiem For Lost Libraries
[Mystery] • 2,655 words

There is a ghost haunting the corridors of Ponyville’s newest dwelling, the princess’s Castle of Friendship. It is a ghost without voice, or hoof, or spectral limb to cast strange shadows upon crystalline walls.

But it’s not the ghost of a pony. It’s not a person at all.

FROM THE CURATORS: Seven seasons in, it’s a delight to find the fandom still delivering fresh takes on classic ideas — as this story does succinctly and elegantly.  “This examines an angle of #SaveTree that I’ve never before seen covered, and does something quietly lovely with it,” Horizon said in his nomination, and that spurred accolades like Present Perfect’s: “This was fantastic. It elevates the #savetree meme — the catch-all for the fandom’s ability to love even the background of this show, justifying that love and nostalgia for a tree whose story we never really knew.”

The unique angle of the core concept was only one element of our appreciation, though — several of us commented on the delicate touch with which the story balanced its ideas with canon.  “The big thing right felt like the way that this maintained a horror-like sense of tension while also resolving in a satisfying and entirely non-horrific way that felt squarely show-tone,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect had similar comments: “The larger-than-life ghost story aesthetic of the narrative fits the content and only serves the overall tone. I agree with Horizon, there’s something horrific, Twilight Zone-ish, to the final reveal, but it’s a good kind of horror. It fits the show well, save for covering a topic the show never will. I was duly impressed.”  The story’s gentle approach to not only death but the Equestrian approach to it also earned AugieDog’s appreciation: “I quite like how this story makes the pony afterlife an underground thing, too — if I might devolve in punnery — something that isn’t officially acknowledged but not really discouraged.”

We didn’t just appreciate the uniqueness of the story’s ideas, but also its narrative approach.  “I like the way that it slowly shifts tone from the abstract into the personal, and the way that the narrator gradually becomes part of the story,” Horizon said.  “I love the way that this manages to keep a sense of supernatural wonder and inexplicability, despite being set in a world that takes magic for granted.”  And that all added up to a package well worth our attention.  “The dreamlike aspect of the ‘ghost’ is both unsettling and fascinating, and I loved the suggestion of a pony afterlife rooted in nostalgia,” Soge said.  “This is memorable and very well written.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Mitch H discusses haunting hopes, boxcar loads, and peytral burdens.
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Redric Carrun’s “Sleeping Habits”

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If you’re procrastinating on reading today’s story: You snooze, you lose.

Sleeping Habits
[Slice of Life] • 8,504 words

Rainbow Dash has rather a poor reputation when it comes to her workload. Everypony always thinks of her as the pony who takes three naps during daylight hours, and four on weekends, and always seems to be looking for something to do to pass the time. All of this is true, of course. But ponies seem to think this means that she must not ever get very much work done.

Can the weather captain for all of Ponyville really be as lazy as she seems? Is that the only explanation for Rainbow Dash’s free time and constant napping?

The weather is a full-time job. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And the worst weather happens at night.

So weather ponies have strange sleeping habits.

FROM THE CURATORS: We’ve read (and featured) stories with exotic approaches in a wide range of crossovers and AUs, which makes it all the more awesome to find a fic which can impress with nothing more than a low-key look at the day in the life of a weatherpony.  “This story might — as the chapter title says — cover just over twelve hours, but it packs a lot in,” AugieDog said, while Chris’ nomination focused on one of the elements we found immediately endearing: “By cracky, it’s just a pitch-perfect take on the classic ‘job that looks easy from the outside’. I can appreciate Dash and co.’s quiet exasperation over the Mayor making their jobs that extra bit harder for unrelated bureaucratic reasons, or their frustrated-yet-tolerant attitude towards the Apples’ ridiculous list of demands.”

A large part of our appreciation was the life that it breathed into that job.  “Every time it talks about weather, it’s fascinating,” Chris said, and Horizon agreed: “The loving detail the story gives to the weather work is a joy to read, both as stellar worldbuilding and as a way to round out the core characters’ lives.  And all this from a story about her naps. This fills in the gaps in canon so smoothly, you could drive an egg truck through at full speed.”  He wasn’t the only one commenting on the synergy with the show.  “One of the things that struck me while watching the first two episodes all those years ago was the way our heroines had jobs that they enjoyed and that they were good at,” AugieDog said.  “This story gets that aspect of Dash’s character absolutely right. At this point in her life, she has her sights set on becoming a Wonderbolt, sure, but she still has a job to do in Ponyville, and she’s going to do it as awesomely as she knows how.”

We also repeatedly commented on how the strong and memorable cast rounded out the story.  “Raindrops was a definite highlight; it’s rare to see friends or coworkers bantering like this, written so naturally,” Present Perfect said.  Chris appreciated the protagonist work: “It’s a nice character study of pre-show Dash, which shows and tells her mix of cockiness and insecurity without resorting to grand gestures.”  And Horizon liked them all.  “The character work is uniformly stellar,” he said.  “The dialogue is consistently excellent, and grounds Dash’s character nicely, as well as all the ponies around her.  That helps shines a light on Dash from an angle I’ve never quite seen, and does a fantastic job of illuminating her with it.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Redric Carrun discusses neglected Mario, recolor beginnings, and parental praise.
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JoeShogun’s “Nine Days Down”

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Today’s story is a hell of a tale.

Nine Days Down
[Dark] [Adventure] • 136,069 words

Sometimes it’s fun to play the damsel in distress. Princess Celestia knows this better than most. Usually it works out fine. Really, she could have escaped at any time, but Twilight and her friends have been so effective in the past that this time, Celestia may have let things get out of hoof. It was all fun and games until she got unceremoniously tossed into Tartarus. Even then, it wouldn’t have been so bad; she’s a goddess, after all. But alas, Tartarus is not Equestria, and Celestia is not all she could be when trapped there. Even worse, it appears that she didn’t get thrown into The Pit alone. 

Now, a mostly-mortal Celestia and her faithful student must traverse the wilds of Tartarus, the fabled prison of all the things that were deemed too monstrous, too disturbing, too outright dangerous for world they know. Surely an exit will present itself …

FROM THE CURATORS: Stories about the underworld have a lengthy pedigree — and if this one is any indication, it’s easy to see why.  “This is an emotional rollercoaster full of fascinating scenes and characters, and I’m glad Cold in Gardez put up a blogpost praising it,” Chris said in his nomination.  “I made it through the first chapter almost entirely on the strength of CiG’s recommendation. But man, once we get into Twilight’s head, the story really comes into its own. The author does wonderful things with a variety of folklores, and makes Tartarus a complicated, terrifying entity in its own right.”  AugieDog was equally impressed with the mythology: “Taking a bunch of the Greek and Roman ideas about Tartarus — heck, there’s even more than a little of Dante’s Inferno happening here — the author goes all out to fit the Equestria we know from the show into a larger and scarier cosmos that Celestia and Luna have done everything they can to keep at bay.”

It was more than the mythology which turned our heads, though.  “All the characters shine — I’ll even go out on a limb and say that this story contains the Warrior Luna to end all Warrior Lunas,” AugieDog said.  “And I’ll also make special mention of how well the author understands the essence of Twilight Sparkle. I mean, she not only has a perfect moment of epiphany at the story’s climax, but in the chapters following, because she is Twilight Sparkle, she starts rethinking and second-guessing everything about that epiphany.”  Soge, for his part, appreciated the way the story truly dug into those characters: “Even the most gratuitous of the fight scenes feel full of purpose, showing Twilight what being a Princess would entail in this reality, and the ethical imperatives of the decisions that seem to be forced on her. Of course, everything culminates in her epiphany, which is portrayed amazingly well.”

Overall, there was enough here to impress us that it even overcame some of our curators’ natural dislikes.  “If I’m recommending a fic with Twilestia stuff, that should tell you just how much the rest of the fic wowed me,” Chris said.  Soge summed it up: “Setting the Twilestia aside, this fic is a real treat, a tour-de-force of worldbuilding and characterization with an amazing, singular focus — a picture of a legacy which Twilight, as a Goddess, would inherit, and how she managed to embrace it in her own terms.”

Read on for our author interview, in which JoeShogun discusses planetary deities, piled princesses, and an hour of doubt.
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Kkat’s “Origin Story”

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Explore today’s story to find a hidden treasure.

Origin Story
[Adventure] • 24,563 words

In the last months of the great war, Daring Do is called to once again brave the jungles of the Tenochtitlan Basin on a vital mission. While deep in enemy territory, she begins work on a final book: a prequel. A story that will never be completed.

Here are the recovered fragments of that lost, unfinished Daring Do novel.

FROM THE CURATORS: Digging through FIMFic’s classic tales sometimes turns up real gems, like this multi-layered 2015 story.  “This is the kind of Indiana Jones-ish, high-stakes, high-thrills adventure we should be seeing from Daring Do,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “That it’s got so much heart and so many excellent turns only makes it better.”  And just like its heroine, it pulled off an ambitious plan with flair.  “I’m a huge fan of how it leaps seamlessly back and forth between two narratives, three frameworks and three different writing styles without feeling disjointed,” Horizon said, “not to mention how the fragmentary Report 8 plays with the format to even greater effect.”

What we unearthed in our reading was a story that wielded its writing expertly from the details to the broad strokes. “The short, declarative sentences used during the fight in the torturer’s tent make the scene pop,” AugieDog said, while Present Perfect praised the characterization: “Its conception of Daring as a young archaeology student, learning hard lessons during her first world-saving adventure, is spot-on. A. K. Yearling’s appearance as a secondary character is brilliant.”  Chris, meanwhile, praised how it tackled both theme and pacing: “The way that the geopolitical situation at the time of Daring’s mission adds bite to her observations about ponydom’s sense of cultural superiority makes this enjoyable writing, and the swashbuckling mix of action, sudden twists, and general pulpiness make the story entertaining on its own merits.”

We did debate the story’s general accessibility, given the outside framing story’s explicit reliance on Fallout: Equestria.  “That’s the one thing I’ll disagree with Present Perfect about — I think that not having any familiarity with that universe would have a negative impact on one’s reading experience,” Chris said.  But the vote that sent this to a feature came from Horizon, who hadn’t read that series: “I certainly feel like there was outside context I was missing, but after adjusting to the cold start in the first chapter or two, the story did an exemplary job of holding together on its own merits.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Kkat discusses dot connecting, villain reforming, and triple framing.
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DwarvishPony’s “Tracks in the Sand”

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Today’s story examines a young woman hoping that someday her prints will come.

Tracks in the Sand
[Equestria Girls] [Drama] [Alternate Universe] • 9,590 words

Scavenging isn’t just a hobby, it’s a means of survival in the ruins of the old world. When you go scavenging, though, you’ll never know what you’ll find.

Pinkie Pie is about to find more than she bargained for.

FROM THE CURATORS: Like all good AU fics, this stood out with a combination of the comfortable and the unusual.  “I love the setting here — the sandy ruins are practically a character, they’re described so well — and Pinkie, while being very much the character we’ve come to know over the past few years, is also someone who’s lived her life on the fringes of a society that’s barely hanging on to the concept of civilization,” AugieDog said in his nomination.  And while those two elements accumulated most of our praise, Present Perfect found even more to like.  “This has the two things you need to really get me into a story: a post-apocalyptic wasteland and friendship,” he said. “Girls kissing each other doesn’t hurt. Neither does an unreliable narrator.”

But there was a great deal of emotional depth to the story, as well.  “As the depths of Pinkie’s loneliness and delusions come to light, I was struck by the tragedy,” Present Perfect said, and Chris agreed: “I really enjoyed the tragedy here; Pinkie’s seeing the world she wants to see, and yet, her world is so terrible that the best she can summon up is ‘everything’s still awful, but at least I have a friend, sorta.’ Her delusions are a macrocosm of Gummy: a grand idea, but feeble and helpless underneath that.”

And it was that fine balancing act between the bleakness of the world and the authenticity of the protagonist that solidified our appreciation of the story.  “Everything about the story was showing us how much Pinkie needs companionship, how much she needs hope in this world that’s utterly inimical to her personality … and then, twice, taking it away from her,” Chris said.  And that worked both ways, Soge said: “I enjoyed Pinkie’s characterization.  You get the sense she’s a stone’s throw away from a breakdown, which helps sell the post-apocalyptic setting.”

Read on for our author interview, in which DwarvishPony discusses space creation, compensatory delusions, and Hobbit mounts.
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Monochromatic’s “The Choices We Make”

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You won’t regret choosing today’s story.

The Choices We Make
[Equestria Girls] • 5,146 words

Every Friday, from five in the afternoon to eleven at night, Pinkie Pie does volunteer work. She doesn’t have to do it, the world won’t stop if she doesn’t, but she chooses to do it anyway. Even if it’s doing seemingly insignificant little things.

After all, the best ways to help aren’t always with grand gestures, but with the little things in life.

FROM THE CURATORS: When Horizon first nominated Monochromatic’s The Enchanted Library for consideration by his fellow curators, he realized that adding 343,000 words to our already-overflowing list of stories might not work out in the timeliest of manners. The rest of us reluctantly agreed — as AugieDog put it, “our unrelenting schedule demands that it be fed.”

So Horizon nominated this lovely story as well. “This didn’t repeatedly reduce me to tears the way The Enchanted Library did,” he said, “but it’s an equally worthy feature as a bite-sized package overflowing with heart.” And this time, the rest of us enthusiastically agreed. “Safe to say,” Present Perfect wrote, “this punched me in the gut more than once,” while AugieDog found himself “hard-pressed to think of a better piece of Equestria Girls fanfiction.”

“The character writing,” AugieDog went on, “just shines from the easy rapport of Pinkie, Rarity, and Rainbow to the OCs we meet at the call center,” and Present Perfect added, “I can’t remember the last time I read a story about supporting supporters, and I am floored by the amount of sympathy this story has for literally everyone in it.” Horizon praised the story’s “amazing verisimilitude as it examines the ‘behind the scenes’ of the job” and pointed out “an author’s note about the research they did to get the details right.”

So read on for our author interview, in which Monochromatic discusses RariTwi, Barney the Dinosaur’s act of passion, the undying drive to create, and just a little more RariTwi.
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Ringcaat’s “The Pony Who Lived Upstairs”

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Today’s story brings a little magic home.

The Pony Who Lived Upstairs
[Drama] [Slice of Life] [Human] • 184,740 words

[Note: This story contains sexual themes.]

What would you do if a pony moved into the apartment upstairs? Would you make an effort to meet her? What would you talk about? And what kind of pony leaves Equestria for Earth in the first place?

This is a series of slice-of-life episodes about a young man who meets a pony in New Jersey. Equestria has made contact with Earth; creations and creators have been sorting things out for a couple of years, and a smattering of ponies are gradually starting to move to Earth. Told though human eyes, here’s the story of one of them.

FROM THE CURATORS: While it’s great to have loud and energetic friends, when it comes to neighbors the best ones are often the most quietly reliable.  That was our experience of this story, too — and one that endeared it to us a great deal.  “I read it slowly over the course of a month, and it was a comfortable read that consistently left me in an agreeable mood,” Soge said, while in his nomination AugieDog praised it for its quiet depth: “It’s a very ‘slice of life’ story, but the arcs that Ron and Peach travel provide a definite and nicely complicated through-line.”  That depth consistently accumulated praise in our commentary.  “I love the effortless way that this works through various implications of the two worlds colliding, and the endless surprises that result,” Horizon said.  “Peach’s reaction to visiting a ranch stands out in my mind. It felt not only well-researched, but also diligent in the details.”

And while we all found different details to like, we agreed it added up to a solid overall package.  “I found it nothing short of astonishing how well the author made the ponies-on-Earth conceit work, and while the philosophizing that goes on during the course of the story sometimes got a little thick for me, the characters carried me through it all quite handily,” AugieDog said. “The humans are very human, and the ponies are equally ponies with a subtly alien outlook that the author conveys really well.”  Horizon disagreed on the philosophizing — “for me, that’s what carried the early sections” — while Soge praised both aspects equally: “The characters love partaking in philosophical discussions of the type I tend to despise in fics, which tend to quickly turn into an author soapbox where they keep tilting at strawmen. Instead, not only were the discussions nuanced, they were perfectly in character, and a significant part of the story itself that gave me plenty of food for thought.”

Soge went on to cite that as an example of one of the story’s biggest strengths: its enormously unique approach.  “If there is one big thing right to be taken from this fic, it’s how well it manages to make certain despicable tropes work, to the point it seems like the author set a challenge to turn certain things on their heads,” Soge said.  “Every time it seems to go for something trite, it manages to turn the concept on its head in clever and inventive ways.”  He cited a further scene which executed an easy-to-fail trope unexpectedly well, a scene which Horizon also praised: “I need to single out the chapter after their visit to Radio City Music Hall in particular,” he said.  “The way that it handles the multiple levels of conflicting emotions is not only a triumph of unreliable narration, but also walks an ethical tightrope whose navigation is very much to this story’s credit.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Ringcaat discusses forgotten passwords, melodic advancement, and undiscovered secrets.
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Thornquill’s “Carousel”

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Today’s story will haunt you.

Carousel
[Dark] [Drama] [Horror] • 69,824 words

The Millennial Summer Sun Celebration is only a few years away, but Rarity’s fashion career seems to be ending before she can begin it. Now, she has one last chance to find a place for her talent.

But as she works to create the boutique of her dreams, a forgotten piece of Ponyville’s past is waking up. Secret memories lie forgotten in dusty basements, unrighted wrongs scratch at locked doors, and Rarity finds herself caught up in a history that may be doomed to repeat itself.

For although she is the first to set hoof in the Old Town Hall in thirty years, she can’t help but feel that something inside was waiting for her.

FROM THE CURATORS: The sort of story that can inspire top scores from our curators is almost certainly going to accumulate superlatives along the way, but even so, there were some head-turning compliments in our discussion.  “This is a fic that works on so many levels that it has to be read, and is certainly one of the best stories produced by the fandom,” Soge said, while Present Perfect had superlatives of his own: “The horror bits are always effective; chapter 8 in particular is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever read.”

Much of our commentary centered on the story’s original approach to its horror elements.  “This is a pre-show mix of slice of life and drama woven through with a consistently unsettling gothic horror,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “It feeds on fear of not just the unknown, but the known, daring to cross that old standby of ‘don’t show the monster’ and still make it work.”  You wouldn’t think a horror tale could work so well as a prequel for canon, either, but it got repeated praise for squaring that circle.  “This is a very Pony horror story, because if friendship is magic, well, it stands to reason that there ought to be an opposite sort of magic when friendship curdles and goes sour,” AugieDog said, while Soge praised it more broadly: “The horror elements are genuinely unsettling, benefiting from a sufficiently original monster, great atmosphere, and most importantly, the ability to merge its most gruesome elements seamlessly with pony world. Were that all this fic did, it would still be worthy of a recommendation.”

But it went beyond that with exemplary character work, illustrated by Present Perfect’s praise: “Rarity’s characterization is fantastic, as she matures ever so haltingly from a stuck-up would-be fashionista into more of the generous, caring pony we know.  The original characters are also memorable and fit into the setting effortlessly.”  AugieDog added: “The picture the story paints of several of Our Heroines in the years before the show starts is just about perfect as well.”  That was, as Soge said, just part of the magic at work here: “The way Thornquill weaves characterization, world building, and pre-show history together works flawlessly, so that even its most out-there elements — like Pinkie being a real estate agent  work in the story’s favor without ever feeling forced.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Thornquill discusses biting bugs, dead approximations, and reflective escape engines.
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Happy holidays!

Sometimes, as Hearth’s Warming rolls through and Auld Lang Syne looms, it’s worth taking a moment to stop and reflect on the year we’ve had.

Pony-wise, despite all the early episodes and big leaks, the fandom is still going strong.  We’re honored to remain a part of that!  Thank you, featured authors and readers alike, for being a part of this crazy equine fanfiction train.

We’ve got a full handful of features pending once the authors complete their interviews — and more in the pipeline as we get through our reading.  The holidays, however, seem to be an exhausting time for an awful lot of us.  So for this week we’re just going to spend some time with friends and family, and hope you get to do the same.

If you’d like to temper that with some reading, though, we’ve got four years of wonderful features to catch up on (as well as a number of equally solid suggestions in our story recommendation thread).

Either way, enjoy the rest of your year!