Everfree Northwest & MythrilMoth

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The RCL is taking a break today, as we often do on the weekend of a major pony con, and Everfree Northwest is in full swing in Seattle, WA! If you happen to be in the area, please report any sightings of FanOfMostEverything, who managed to escape the RCL reading dungeon room long enough to experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. We’d really like to get him back.

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bats’ “The Thinkin’ Spot”

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It’s easy to spot why we think today’s story is great.

The Thinkin’ Spot
[Slice of Life] • 5,282 words

Twilight’s first Winter Wrap Up in Ponyville had a rocky start. Things took a turn for the better when she assumed control over the planning and organization, but after a stressful morning and with an all-nighter in front of her, she was afraid it might all be for naught. Luckily Applejack was there and knew Twilight needed a chance to take a break and recharge.

She needed a visit to the Thinkin’ Spot.

FROM THE CURATORS: There’s something magical about a story that can inspire you to the level of reflection that we see in its characters.  “The thing about nostalgia is, sometimes we forget that there’s a reason we have it,” Present Perfect mused as we discussed The Thinkin’ Spot. “It’s not all wishful reminiscence; sometimes, nostalgia is just there to remind us about the things we once loved and can no longer grasp.”

Several factors combined to make the story so inspirational — nostalgia included.  “This is an excellently crafted nostalgia rush,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “This is Twilight’s very first Winter Wrap-Up in Ponyville, and it shows.  It’s also a fantastic meditative piece, and a wonderful bit of character exploration for both Twilight and Applejack, finding and embracing every inch of their common ground.”  The story also had “a thoughtful theme reinforced by a thoughtful tone, and a pace that swirls in eddies but keeps moving on downriver,” RBDash47 said in his nomination.  “Solid character work for each of them, with a lot of reflection on their places in Ponyville and what they mean to each other and the rest of their friends.”  The fic accumulated several more compliments on the strength of its construction.  “This is calm and quiet in exactly the right ways,” Present Perfect said, “and the fact that it continues integrating the Thinkin’ Spot into Twilight’s life, instead of just introducing it to her and leaving it at that, is what really gives this lasting power.”

Along the way, the fic offered some solid lessons in the spirit of the show.  “Applejack’s in her element when it comes to insightful, honest reassurances to Twilight (which should speak to anyone with anxiety issues or worries that they don’t fit in), but she also demonstrates that you don’t have to be the Element of Generosity to give your friend something valuable,” RBDash47 said.  And the quotable prose was a bonus, FanOfMostEverything added: “The story may deserve recognition for the line ‘Love ‘n about three sticks of butter’ alone.”  But ultimately, what sold us on the story was the exemplary friendshipping.  “It’s easy for us fanfiction writers to get caught up in the romance part of the shipping spectrum and forget the friendship part that gives the show its title,” AugieDog said.  “The show itself did a whole episode last season specifically to ask, ‘Why are Rainbow Dash and Rarity friends again?’ Looking at Twilight And Applejack, one could easily ask the same question: urban vs. rural, introvert vs. extrovert, cerebral vs. physical, et cetera. This story shows us why, and does it really, really well.”

Read on for our author interview, in which bats discusses drunken pegasi, wing transplants, and Fluttershy kicking a puppy.
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Jay Bear v2’s “We’re Eggspecting!”

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Today’s story will crack open your heart.

We’re Eggspecting!
[Romance] [Slice of Life] • 4,874 words

Silverstream and her husband Gallus are going to be parents! Everyone is so excited about their egg.

Well…almost everyone.

FROM THE CURATORS: Sometimes our search for quality fanfic leads us to the most un-egg-spected of places — in this case, a story everyone was surprised to find themselves enjoying.  “Look through my voting record, and it will be very clear that I don’t like shipping,” Soge said in his nomination.  “I am also not a fan of the ‘Student 6′. And yet, it seems like putting both together may be a recipe for success.”  Present Perfect had a similar reaction: “Having no particular love of the Student Six, I had actually passed this up a couple of times. I was a fool.”  Not even unfamiliarity was a barrier, we discovered: “I haven’t kept up with the show since mid-season 7,” RBDash47 said.  “I was pleasantly surprised to find this perfectly accessible and enjoyable without any real context.”

Part of that was the exemplary first impression the story made.  “It took four, maybe five paragraphs for this story to win me over completely,” AugieDog said. “Before Gallus has even woken up, just the simple act of showing him and their egg through Silverstream’s eyes gives me everything I need to know to enter the story with as firm a footing as I could want.”  That led into a tale that worked on many levels, Soge said: “Their relationship is the centerpiece of the story, and it sells the reader on it very well. But beyond that, it also explores many interesting topics, including the future of the rest of the students, the lack of privacy of royal life, the idea of egg-laying sapient species (the way Silver describes the egg in many different scenes is fantastic), the issues with Griffons as a species, and so much more.”  He wasn’t the only one commenting on the fic’s vivid descriptions.  “Apart from being well-structured, the author does a fantastic job of painting a picture: the multisensory imagery surrounding the egg itself is beautiful, which really helps us see it through its mother’s eyes,” RBDash47 said.  “Their nest sounds so inviting I’d like to curl up in it myself.”

And while that vividness was our most common compliment, it was far from the only one.  “The character work is just as impeccable as the gorgeous descriptions — I could hear the voices from the show in every line of dialogue,” AugieDog said.  “And I will freely admit that the whole exchange between Gallus and Slipstream about the book he got her on the history of stairs made me giggle.”  Present Perfect agreed: “This doesn’t just give us the domestic life of young, expectant parents, but of these two characters specifically,” he said. “This story could not work without them. And it very carefully crafts conflict from what little we knew about them after season 8, too.”  Ultimately, that chemistry was one of the factors elevating the core shipping, FanOfMostEverything said.  “The interaction between the two sells the relationship fantastically, and the background details and other characters’ involvement keep the story from the ‘only two people in the universe’ feel some shipfics can have,” he said.  “The emotional and narrative pacing are also top notch, letting dread about Gallus gradually build for the reader until it pierces even Silverstream’s happy eggnant* glow. (* You can all blame the Splatoon fandom for that one.)”

Read on for our author interview, in which Jay Bear v2 discusses unfinished Austen, subtitle curses, and feathered fishes out of water.
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The Seer’s “After I Looked Up, The Stars Had Gone Away”

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You won’t find today’s story vanishing from your memory.

After I Looked Up, The Stars Had Gone Away
[Horror] • 6,738 words

There is no such thing as a gut feeling, not really. If you suddenly start to feel afraid for no apparent reason, it’s very unlikely to be anything serious. But it doesn’t make it feel any better does it?

Twilight is up burning the midnight oil again, when suddenly every sense she has tells her that something is terribly wrong. There can’t be anything really wrong though, not in reality.

Can there?

FROM THE CURATORS: “Gentlemen, I give you one of the best horror stories on this website,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  Soge quickly assigned it a top score and responded, “That is not hyperbole.  When a horror story makes me feel uneasy after just reading the description, I know there is something special here — and somehow, the story delivers on that promise and more.  I am glad I read this during the day, as I had to go walk outside for a bit. It is that effective.”

The premise behind that acclaim was simple — and it was that simplicity which first turned our heads. “This is a horror story about what it’s like to feel fear, and that’s really all you need for one,”  Present Perfect said.  But there was nothing simple about the careful construction which sold that tension.  “The thick atmosphere; Twilight’s thought process; the subtle changes that never let you feel comfortable; the feeling of utter isolation that permeates the whole story,” Soge said.  “It is not a single thing that makes this fic work this well, it is all those combined and more.”  Horizon agreed, adding, “This walks a masterful tightrope between the fantastic and the mundane.  It’s a heck of a balancing act keeping the reader so consistently off-balance.”

Several of us thought it was that exemplary execution which sealed the deal.  “It needs an editing pass — however, it does enough right that I don’t have any reservations about a feature,” RBDash47 said. “The author does an excellent job of slowly building tension as Twilight’s anxiety sends her spinning in mental circles, and the tension is built on something completely relatable.  Even better, they didn’t fumble their beautiful setup — the story ended exactly where it should have. The author stuck to their guns and didn’t give us the barest hint of catharsis.”  That combined with powerful framing and character work to make this memorable beyond its short length.  “The great thing about this is that, taking place in Twilight’s mind, we’re given a full analysis of the spectrum of feelings she’s experiencing at any given time,” Present Perfect said. “And that includes the highly rational conclusion that none of this is happening, despite the fact that she’s terrified. The reader is thus left to ponder whether any of this is real, despite having all evidence to the contrary, and that tiny bit of doubt is all that’s necessary for a pulse-pounding thriller.”

Read on for our author interview, in which The Seer discusses dip-pen rips, catastrophic bois, and two-sentence horror.
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Lets Do This’ “Friendmaker”

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Today’s story looks in a mirror, darkly.

Friendmaker
[Drama] • 8,589 words

“I am Friendmaker!”

Twilight Sparkle is concerned that she may one day go insanely evil, as with Nightmare Moon or Daybreaker. So, knowing Twilight, do you really think for one moment she’s just going to wait for it to happen?

FROM THE CURATORS: A popular trope in science fiction involves main characters getting a chance to face an “evil” version of themselves, whether through a jaunt to a parallel universe as in Star Trek or a visit to a simulated reality as in TRON Legacy or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Today’s feature uses the magic of My Little Pony to take that conceit to a powerful extreme: rather than coming face-to-face with a vile copy of herself, Twilight deliberately corrupts herself and we get a first-row look at the experience.

“We’re treated to an interesting analysis of what it means to be good, and what could drive people to be the worst that they can be,” said Soge in his nomination, “all through the medium of Twilight discussing that topic with some of the show’s reformed villains.” Horizon was “more than happy to back the nomination up,” and felt that “when Twilight started talking to the friends she’d redeemed, it really fired up.”

“Characterization is the name of the game here, and all involved are written and used very well,” according to Soge, and the other curators agreed. “Discord in particular was quite well done, and his explanation for why he chose friendship was a lovely bonus,” said Horizon. Present Perfect was “impressed by the part-by-part analysis of villainy. Some of the short character pieces, Sunset’s in particular, went in surprising directions.”

Horizon called the story a slow burn, and everyone enjoyed the build to a strong finish. “It all dovetails perfectly into a smart moral, and a real moment of character growth for Twilight,” Soge said, and Present Perfect applauded “the tense standoff at the end” because it “reinforces the theme of how anyone can come to power.” Horizon appreciated its thoughtfulness “in how it presents the Alicorn Amulet’s temptations. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, indeed.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Lets Do This discusses the draw of Derpy, the power of online publishing, and the staying power of pony.

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Cloudy Skies’ “To Perytonia”

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Today’s story is worth the journey.

To Perytonia
[Romance] [Adventure] • 554,079 words

By royal request, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Rarity travel to far-off Perytonia to establish ties between Equestria and a strange new people.

Plunged deep into an alien culture with its own history, understanding the native peryton is only part of the challenge. As Rainbow Dash discovers, navigating her own relationship with her oldest friend may be harder still.

FROM THE CURATORS: The pressures of weekly deadlines can make us struggle to find the time to commit to longer pieces.  So when we spotlight something the size of Tolstoy’s War and Peace — and longer than the sum of every other story we’ve featured this year — it’s a sign that you can look forward to something unique and compelling.

“You want world-building?” AugieDog asked in his nomination. “This creates an entire land and culture from the ground up several cultures, in fact, since perytons turn out not to be as like-minded as ponies. You want romance? It uses its length to good advantage to nurture its Flutterdash through a fairly slow build, a couple of crashes, and a final reconciliation scene that simply can’t be beat. You want adventure? This has hair-breadth escapes, seemingly haunted ruins, mysterious people and creatures, and lots of walking through forests. Maybe a little too much walking through forests.”  All of us commented on the journey’s startling level of detail — and it won Horizon over.  “It’s on such a slow burn for such a long time that the few high-energy scenes stand out in much the same way that combat does to a soldier (cue the adage about war being 99% waiting and 1% terror),” he said.  “But for all that its pace feels as glacial as Perytonia’s summers feel hot, this story feels alive in a way that stories rarely capture. In making the decision to not gloss over a moment of the journey showing us the grueling slog of travel it feels less designed to entertain and more true to life, and it scores points for coming out ahead in that tradeoff.”

Part of that was the way the fic used the lengthy trip as backdrop for breathtaking character work.  “The author writes the best Rainbow Dash I’ve seen in a long time, and even at this length, the narrative seldom hits a wrong note,” AugieDog said to unanimous agreement.  “I don’t think it’s possible to write Rainbow Dash more true to herself, nuanced, or all-around good as this story does,” Present Perfect said. “Dash’s character is a grand-slam home run, far and away the biggest success To Perytonia has to offer.”  And it wasn’t just the narrator.  “Characterization in general was fantastic,” Present Perfect added.  “Fluttershy’s struggle with Dash pushing her when she needs it; Rarity failing again and again, feeling useless on the road; and let’s not forget how every single Peryton city had at least one unforgettable character for the ponies to interact with. Characters like Mirossa and Neisos jump right off the page; Phoreni is strong and memorable.”  Horizon agreed: “All of their peryton contacts are immediately likeable, in their own ways, and I want to see everyone succeed.  Ephydoera is worth singling out for positive mention. The Brush Games were a fantastic chapter, full stop.”

And while we each found the story’s slow unfolding (and heavy foreshadowing) simultaneously gripping and frustrating, we also all agreed that what it built up to was worth the effort.  “It resolves with some of the absolute best relationship drama I have ever read,” Present Perfect said.  “The private jousting scene absolutely made up for all the long stretches of travel, the will-they-won’t-they, the repetition of concerns from the three main characters.”  It wasn’t just the romance.  “Part of me feels like the ponies have been carrying an idiot ball about peryton culture all story, and most of me is willing to accept that as the price of the ride, because what it does with that single core misunderstanding is pretty amazing,” Horizon said.  “The worldbuilding here is nothing short of fantastic. The cultural clash rings as very authentic the perytons are being endlessly hospitable by their standards, and the ponies are being endlessly friendly by theirs, and every problem comes from the disconnect between their mutual ways of thinking.”

Which perhaps makes it less surprising that after 550,000 words, our biggest struggle was coming to terms with what the story left untold.  “At the halfway point, when they were reaching Vauhorn and preparing to head for Cotronna, I was beginning to wonder how the hell this was going to stretch out for another 250K words,” Horizon said. “Then the twist hit, and now I’m a few chapters past where they met Odasthan, and I have no idea what magic Cloudy Skies is going to work to finish this in the 125K they’ve got left!”  In hindsight, AugieDog even ended up appreciating those gaps: “This doesn’t give me all the answers, something that usually drives me to gnashing my teeth when it comes to fiction. But the scope of Perytonia makes me not mind the mysteries so much. A world as big and complex as we see here will have questions that just plain linger, and it’ll have murky, partial answers that still feel very, very right.”

Which ultimately was also how we felt about the story itself.  “To Perytonia is Cloudy Skies’ magnum opus, and from reading the journals they wrote about it, it came out pretty much the way they wanted it to,” Present Perfect said.  “The things they set out to do with the story, they did well, some of them exceedingly well. Half a million words of deep characterization and world-building is no small achievement.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Cloudy Skies discusses stolen soapboxes, advice recursion, and lovely in-betweens.
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The Cloptimist’s “Dragon Lord Ember Skips Work for an Hour”

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Don’t skip out on today’s story.

Dragon Lord Ember Skips Work for an Hour
[Romance] [Slice of Life] • 3,060 words

The mighty Dragon Lord Ember slips away for an hour, to meet up with her secret mate.

Contains: two newly-installed world leaders who don’t really know what they’re doing, and some wistful escapist cuddling.

FROM THE CURATORS: If there’s anything this story shows, it’s the power of being able to rely on your friends — a lesson we ourselves took to heart.  “I freely admit that I am going to be blind to this fic’s faults because Embrax is the universe’s best ship, so I’m trusting you guys to add the objectivity I lack,” Horizon said in his nomination.  “But this was good even by Embrax standards.  I clicked through as a guilty pleasure, only to find it far exceeding my expectations.”  He wasn’t the only one.  “I’ve never read any Embrax before, so this served as my introduction; I think I’m sold!” RBDash47 said.  “The author does a great job convincing me that Ember and Thorax are a natural fit. We understand what exactly they see in each other and the challenges they face in their budding relationship.”

The strength of that shipping not only won it an Honorable Mention in CategoricalGrant’s Cuddlefic Contest, but also came in for repeated curator compliments.  “What really sold me is how convincingly it gives us both sides of a romantic relationship even though we’re only in one character’s point of view throughout,” AugieDog said.  “Even though we’re only getting Ember’s direct take on the situation, the author manages to show us Thorax’s view and what Ember means to him in an entirely indirect fashion.”  Horizon had similar praise: “This really centers the contrast in character which makes the ship so dynamic — as well as the ways that the pair makes each other better. It’s rich in detail throughout, and every detail pulls together into a greater whole.”

But even more than the stellar interpersonal work, what we found exemplary was the thoughtful look inside both protagonists.  “This is a really remarkable piece of character work,” Present Perfect said.  “I don’t know that I’ve read any Ember-centric stories before now, and what the author does with her is exceptional.”  Soge agreed: “I like the characterization work, where it takes Ember, and the subtle way it worldbuilds about her position in the world.”  RBDash47 noted that as well: “For a bonus, we get a great exploration of how life for the dragons has changed since Ember took the throne. I love how the author found a way, via the pocketwatch, to make Ember’s small stature and relative delicateness an asset when it comes to ruling her people.”  All in all, as Horizon said, “there’s so much more going on here than just the shipping.”

Read on for our author interview, in which The Cloptimist discusses daisy necklaces, stolen scenes, and life-saving songs.
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Wallflower Blush’s “How To Dominate Your Neighbor’s Lawn”

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Today’s story will grow on you.

How To Dominate Your Neighbor’s Lawn
[Comedy] [Random] • 2,241 words

Even when faced with the rise of Tirek and the loss of her own cutie mark, Roseluck never fails to tend her lawn.

FROM THE CURATORS: The wordplay flew like grass clippings as we discussed this tale.  (For example, AugieDog quipped, “Monomania is often a rich and fragrant source of humor, and this one’s got that in spades.”)  But even though the fic started out as an entry to the Comedy (Is Serious Business) contest, it turned our head with some serious writing skills.  “What strikes me about the excellent writing is the strong character voicing,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “Roseluck is not exactly a normal pony, but she’s very sure about what it is she wants in life.”  RBDash47 agreed: “I think it’s a great example of how someone can take a background character with no real established characterization and run with it. It was a short fic but I feel like I have a perfect understanding of who Roseluck is and what she stands for.”

We found that drawing us into the story.  “I love that this is told in the first person,” AugieDog said.  “My favorite sort of craziness is the kind that’s presented as not just an everyday occurrence but as an integral part of a narrator’s life. By throwing us into it headfirst, the author just envelops us in the crunchy green madness.”  And that led to a satisfying payoff.  “This was definitely a lot of fun, especially Roseluck’s comeuppance, which is either a fantastic coincidence or laser-guided karma,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “The fact that life goes on Ponyville in the midst of Tirek’s rampage says a lot about the town and its citizens, and the interplay between Roseluck and Lyra establishes the characters both thoroughly and efficiently.”

Some of the story’s technology provoked conversation, too.  “I was impressed at how gas-powered lawnmowers are eased into Equestria by virtue of them being eldritch sources of dark power,” Present Perfect said, while RBDash47 countered: “I don’t know that I love gas-powered lawnmowers existing in Equestria, but otherwise I am pleasantly surprised.”  That caused FanOfMostEverything to note: “You feed it the rendered blood of monstrosities long past and it then eviscerates anything that crosses its path. I’m pretty sure a gas-powered lawnmower qualifies as an eldritch artifact in our universe.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Wallflower Blush discusses eating candy, inflated guts, and satiated hunger.
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Fallowsthorn’s “Time”

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You’ll find yourself making time for today’s story.

Time
[Equestria Girls] [Slice of Life] • 6,635 words

The whole school saw Sunset Shimmer’s demonic form get hit by the Elements of Harmony, and half a second later she was in a smoking crater in the ground, sobbing and repentant. From Sunset’s perspective, her change of heart took a bit more time.

FROM THE CURATORS: Often, what keeps us coming back to fanfiction is finding new angles from which to explore the depths of the show.  “I clicked through to this from the Featurebox on a whim, only to find it filling in a gap in canon that for eight years I’ve never realized I needed a fixfic for — how the Elements of Harmony work to redeem their targets,” Horizon said in his nomination.  “I’m sold.”  Its speedy approval showed that he wasn’t the only one impressed.  “I love that this isn’t the author saying, ‘Equestria Girls did something wrong, but here’s how I can fix it’,” AugieDog said.  “It’s more the author working with the movie — in harmony, if you will — to take an already-moving scene and lift it to another level. It takes tropes at least as old as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and shows how some deft thought and handling can keep them absolutely fresh.”

That fresh take was shored up by exemplary character work on multiple levels.  “This is a fantastic examination not just of Sunset’s mindset at the end of the first EqG movie, but also of what each of the Elements means,” FanOfMostEverything said.  Present Perfect agreed: “There’s so much depth, such a perfect and thorough exploration of Sunset’s character and what could convince her to change. Not just that, but this delves into the concept of each Element of Harmony, to wring out what it really means in an everyday, practical kind of way. The discussion about Generosity, for instance, was superb.”  Horizon had his own favorite: “Fluttershy’s appearance in particular is breathtaking. In the span of three words she blows the whole thing open.”

So it’s no wonder that we all found ourselves sharing superlatives, despite finding different things to appreciate. “Every part of this was fantastic,” Present Perfect said.  “‘Why would she abandon me if I didn’t deserve to be abandoned?’  That’s the kind of line that elevates something way beyond ‘just fanfiction’.”  Horizon, too, called it “utterly fantastic.  Also notable is how convincing the argument feels to me as a reader. I’m truly sold that this is a line of reasoning which is capable of the dramatic turnaround we see.”  And FanOfMostEverything noted: “Fantastic stuff. The psychological vivisection is as merciless as it is insightful, and it certainly justifies Sunset’s tears. The fact that the story also justifies Vice Principal Luna falling for literal cut-and-paste photomanipulation is icing on the cake.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Fallowsthorn discusses omniscient parents, boxed seeds, and French villas.
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AstralMouse’s “Twenty-eight Boulders”

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There are any number of reasons to read today’s story.

Twenty-eight Boulders
[Dark] [Drama] [Sad] • 2,038 words

Queen Chrysalis has spent years in hiding. She has been very careful to avoid being caught, but her time spent alone and in constant fear has worn away her sanity.

FROM THE CURATORS: One of the strengths of pony fanfic is the opportunity to read about characters far removed from ordinary life — so stories focusing on unusual viewpoints can be a treat to find.  And this tight, focused look at the far side of sanity hit all the right notes.  “I’m a sucker for a nicely done unreliable narrator, and this one pulled me right in with its harrowing, intense voice,” AugieDog said in his nomination.  “We’re locked with Chrysalis inside her head, and it’s a place even she doesn’t much want to be.”

And indeed, that was our most common compliment about the story.  “The voicing is very, very good — I am completely sold on Chrysalis slowly going crazy in her self-imposed isolation,” RBDash47 said.  “The author mentions that they went through a lot of editing and rewriting to get the tone, and I think they nailed it.”  Horizon, too, found that compelling: “I think the big thing right here is the portrayal of her descent into insanity. Schizophrenic people work by an internal logic which, while disconnected from reality, makes a strangely elegant almost-sense on its own terms.” And FanOfMostEverything added, “I have to agree on how well the story conveys that. It all makes sense to her; otherwise she wouldn’t do any of it.”

We also found meat on the bones of the exemplary presentation.  “The real joy of an unreliable narrator is piecing together the reality they’re denying,” Present Perfect noted, while Horizon spent some time puzzling it over: “The question of whether she’s going back to the same lair over and over again or moving around is a fascinating one, with plenty of evidence to sift through.”  Meanwhile, AugieDog praised the economical storytelling: “It’s just the right length for this sort of character study, too.”  All those factors came together to heighten the core tragedy of the piece.  “The paranoid, vengeful, negative-sum strategy that barely kept her hive fed culminates in her being unable to so much as comprehend mercy on the part of her former subjects,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “It’s an excellent capstone for the tragedy of Chrysalis, and an excellent study of karmic justice in action.”

Read on for our author interview, in which AstralMouse discusses weapon padding, imagined chitin, and black as the new black.
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