Today’s story will shake things up… perhaps even more than it intended.
[Adventure] • 64,552 words
A recurring nightmare convinces Luna that, since her return, she has never regained her sister’s complete trust. And at the forthcoming Festival of the Eclipse, she decides to make amends with a bold gesture.
But Luna’s solution causes consequences she never anticipated. Consequences the whole world will feel. Now, Celestia and Luna must set forth on an adventure that will take them even into Tartarus itself, and set everything right before it’s too late.
And if they’re lucky, they’ll rediscover the trust they once had a thousand years ago.
FROM THE CURATORS: Often, there’s one particular aspect of a story which catches the eye of all the RCL curators. Unusually, all of us seemed to find something different to love about Eclipse. Chris highlighted the worldbuilding that went into the story, saying it “offers an excellently conceived picture of Tartarus which draws upon both Greek mythology and modern theology, and does some simply excellent stuff with dragons, including race relations and general worldview.” John Perry agreed that the worldbuilding was good, but went on to add, “But more important is the handling of the plot, and that is where this story shines.” Present Perfect went a third direction, focusing on the characters: “Everything about the dragons was handled superbly,” he said, “from their society to their individual viewpoints, and Valkyrie’s character arc ended up being well wrought.”
But even though we all had different “favorite” story elements, one thing we agreed on was that they all came together beautifully. “This guy may be one of those writers who’s equally good at everything, as adept at writing Pinkie and comedy as he is action and adventure,” mused Present Perfect, and he wasn’t alone in the sentiment. “Every chapter left me wanting more,” as John Perry put it. At one point while reading, Present Perfect even paused to declare, “this is one of the greatest scenes I have ever had the honor and pleasure to read.”
Read on for our author interview, in which 8686 discusses royal readers, the difference between cruelty and indifference, and Alpha and Beta scenes.
Give us the standard biography.
Just a normal guy from the English side of the pond who happened, against my better judgement, to get captivated by a group of colourful talking horses being nice to each other. I typically write mid-length, ‘E’ rated feely stories with happy endings starring the primary and secondary characters from the show.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Very little thought went into it, I’m afraid. When I started I thought I had one mediocre story in me, and I created a name just to get this one idea I had out of my system. I wanted something short and forgettable, that the eye would just skip right over. The theory was that people would read the story, judge it for what it was rather than who wrote it, and move right on to something better. I never expected to be ‘recognised.’ I can’t even tell you how to pronounce it, but again, originally that was kind of the point. The author’s not important. The story is.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I like all of the cast, but Applejack is my favourite. For me, she’s been Best Pony ever since she was the first one to trust and stick up for Twilight in ‘Friendship is Magic’, and the first pony to give up her ticket in ‘Ticket Master.’ I really like her friendly attitude and her common sense, no-frills approach to life, work, and getting things done.
What’s your favorite episode?
I can’t pick one. There are so many standouts, but my favourites are usually the ones where the characters interact and bond. I live for the ‘little moments’ the show does so well. Episodes like, ‘Testing, Testing, 1,2,3’, ‘Sisterhooves Social’, ‘Sleepless in Ponyville,’ and ‘Look Before You Sleep’, give you an idea of what I like. I’m a big fan of ‘Spike at Your Service,’ too, though for some reason that one gets a heck of a panning just because the little guy’s having an off day.
What do you get from the show?
A whole lot. It makes me laugh out loud. Then five minutes later it’ll make me cry. Then five minutes after that it’ll hit me with an awesome song I’ll be singing for weeks. And it leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling you rarely get nowadays. I can’t think of another show on television that can do all of that and do it consistently. It’s genuinely funny, excellently written, meticulously scored, refreshingly self-aware… in fact seriously, why doesn’t everybody watch this? If I were in charge of TV, I would put this on right after The Simpsons and be done with it.
What do you want from life?
I’d really like it if people could just be nice to each other, rather than the alternative. Other than that, I’d like to live a long time with the people I care about and to be happy. Though, a million pounds wouldn’t go amiss either.
Why do you write?
It’s just a hobby that I found myself really enjoying, and I like that fact that maybe it makes other people happy. As I said above, when I first started I figured I’d just do one story, just to get this idea I had out of my head. Turns out the opposite happened, because then I had another idea so I had to write that one down too. Then I was hooked. It really helps that a lot of nice people tend to say a lot of positive things about stuff I write. It encourages me to keep doing it. (I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing. The amount of thought and effort I put into this really can’t be healthy. )
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Advice?! Well, there’s the blind leading the blind. I’m very much an amateur, and have no experience with creative writing beyond this hobby. I don’t feel qualified to give advice, but since I’ve been asked here are my thoughts:
I’d always say that the reader is paramount. They are the most important person in your story by a long way. Treat them like kings and you, the author, as their humble servant. The reader wants to know they are in safe hands with your story, and it’s a relationship you have to build. Give them basic things like good grammar, spelling, and believable characters. These things go a long way to building trust between the reader and yourself, and once you have that, they’ll follow you surprisingly far. But never forget that, perhaps counter-intuitively, what you’re writing is their story, not yours. You’re just keeping it warm for them until they can read and experience it. Also bear in mind that no matter how perfect your writing is, not every reader will like your story. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing. It speaks to the fact that we live in a rich and diverse world with an infinite number of tastes and opinions. Life would be boring otherwise.
The only other thing I can say is (and this is purely selfish) for the love of goodness, give it a happy ending.
When writing a chaptered piece, what should a writer do to keep the reader wanting the next chapter?
That’s a tough one for me to answer. When I write a story I come up with two or three ‘Alpha’ scenes, that I really want to see, (usually the first, last, and a couple of important scenes or concepts.) Then I think up the ‘Beta’ scenes that aren’t as fully fleshed out, but complete the arc between the Alphas. Then I write it all down with narrative and transition (read: filler) linking the Alpha and Beta scenes until I reach the end. Only after I’m done do I decide where the chapter breaks will appear, and it’s usually fairly obvious. I would say that I think around five thousand words is a good length for a chapter – the reader needs something to get stuck into, but doesn’t want to be exhausted. But really, you need to know where your story is going and be confident in your ending. Readers are very good at spotting when an author is playing for time or stalling to keep back some big revelation so try not to do it. Build trust with them instead. Keep things moving towards a definite outcome and they’ll keep reading.
What went into building Celestia and Luna’s trust for one another?
The climactic scene in ‘Friendship is Magic part 2’ really surprised me. I can still remember thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if…?’, but I was braced instead for the classic, two-dimensional good-beats-evil resolution straight from the eighties. I was honestly expecting Nightmare Moon to be banished or destroyed, and for Celestia to appear and praise Twilight for defeating her wicked, evil sister. And instead… wow. We got that. Even in that short scene you can tell they really love each other, and you can infer a whole lot about about their relationship and what it was like for them to be separated. I really wanted to explore that, and Luna’s lingering guilt that we’ve seen a couple of times since. The starting point was always that this wasn’t a story about Celestia mistrusting Luna, this was a story about Luna’s belief that she does, and the lengths she will go to to earn that trust back. As the narrative goes on, it’s her journey and time spent with Celestia herself that start to convince her that maybe she was wrong, leading up to the scenes on the moon which are the crux of the whole story. I deliberately wrote Celestia very straight. Throughout the piece she never once says anything to her sister that is untrue, or does anything that could be considered duplicitous. She has no secret backup plan ‘just in case,’ and even defends Luna in the face of (misguided) suspicion. She trusts her sister, and I think that to demonstrate complete trust and love, and to in turn be rewarded with it in kind, is a theme that sits well with the tone of the show.
Your vision of Tartarus draws on a number of different real-world traditions. How did you go about choosing elements to combine to make the pony underworld come to life?
Tartarus was hard to write. The idea was that it was supposed to be like a gigantic, infinite plug-hole, where forgotten, banished or destroyed bits and pieces – things like cities, countries, creatures and even the skies – from various dimensions (including ours – those were our dinosaurs they saw down there) are, basically, sent to hades and mashed together. I wanted to create an otherworldly place that doesn’t quite exist within Equestria, and one that was chaotic with overtones of hostility. Coming up with challenges and obstacles for the sisters to overcome was surprisingly difficult, though I knew I wanted them to fight together at one point. Since it was Tartarus, the primary reference was Greek Mythology, with (occasionally vague) references to: Charon and the Styx, Sirens (as a nod to the way the Styx lures travellers to their deaths with the promise of redemption), Cerberus, Cyclops’, Charybdis, Harpies, Atlantis, Scylla and Mt Olympus. The scene on the Styx with Charon’s first appearance is pretty much a direct lift from the original ‘Clash of the Titans’ (1981) film. Other references included Stephen King’s, ‘The Langoliers’ for the idea that places don’t just ‘disappear’ when Time is done with them, and ‘Labyrinth.’ (Yes, there is a subtle Labyrinth reference in there, but the idea of Tartarus altering distance, and playing unfairly as a concept came from there too.)
The dragons are a major standout in this piece. Tell us a little about what went into the creation of their culture, and of King Ragnarok as a character.
If Tartarus is Greek Mythology, then the dragons are the Vikings and Norse legend. Fierce in reputation, though not necessarily in actuality. We’ve seen dragons a few times in the show and one thing that’s surprised me is that they’re not the aggressive antagonists you might expect. They eat rocks, not creatures; they’re motivated by (mostly harmless) greed, not overt cruelty; they even fly quite happily over pony villages without laying waste to everything in their path. In fact the greatest threat to Equestria posed by a dragon was never due to malice, but instead due to the fact that one was too lazy to wake up! They seem to approach ponies with an air of apathy and arrogant indifference (unless provoked), and the fact that they’re not cruel, automatic enemies interested me. In terms of their culture, most of it was inference. They seem to be nomadic, independent and isolated, but capable of coming together as a large social group for important occasions. The way the young dragons dismissed Princess Celestia’s letter in ‘Dragon Quest’ gave me the idea that, perhaps newer generations aren’t aware of the vital role ponies play in the running of the world, and what the consequences of that ignorance might be. It also spawned idea that, maybe dragons have friends when they are younger, but naturally drift towards isolation as they get older. I figured the dragons had a very loose societal network and probably no real government, save for one head honcho who generally keeps them in line but otherwise lets them do what they want. Which led me to Ragnarok.
Ragnarok and his history kind of came into my head as a fully formed Alpha scene. I thought he would be a nice surprise for the reader, and a neat way to subvert the usual, ‘heroes get captured by the villains and must escape,’ cliche. I figured, given what we know about dragons, there’s no reason that their leader would actually want ponies harmed or detained. At best they add no value, at worst they’d be a nuisance. I also thought that, given the presumed lengthy lifespan of dragons, a dragon king would have to have some relationship with, or at least knowledge of, Celestia and her power. How would they come by that knowledge? While not mortal enemies, I supposed dragons and ponies may have at least butted heads in the past, possibly due to the greed of one and the perceived weakness of the other, and I decided that any fight would probably end in the ponies’ favour. (As Ragnarok implies, with the right preparation, pony armed forces, through magic, weather manipulation or what have you, could literally command almost every aspect of a battlefield engagement even down to the time of day. They would have a monumental advantage even before any fighting began.) So, ponies win, but what would Celestia do to a defeated opponent to ensure it doesn’t happen again? An opponent whose motivations are rooted in indifferent greed and a sense of duty rather than outright cruelty? Kill him? No. I thought she would talk. She would try and redeem him. And Ragnarok listens, because like most dragons, he’s not actually cruel. In fact if you look very deep indeed you would find he genuinely cares not only about his people, but the world in which he lives. That conversation with Celestia changed him quite a bit. It allowed him to reconcile what he was with what he wanted. He has to save face though. He’s still a dragon and a new king, and being seen to want to protect ponies would lead to awkward questions. (Like, “Why?”) So he smartly does it under the guise of not angering the sun-god, which is a pretense he decides to keep up even after his reputation cements itself. His relationship – his friendship – with Celestia can be imagined from there… but that sense of secretly caring about something that you’re not ‘supposed’ to is something that I think most readers would relate to.
As a final aside, though it was never intended to be developed, and it’s never explicitly stated in the story, Ragnarok’s relationship with Valkyrie is slightly more complicated than a simple King / Subject dynamic. They aren’t blood relatives, (Valkyrie isn’t Ragnarok’s son) but Ragnarok did have a hand in raising him when he was young. He may have grown up to be disappointingly cocky and bull-headed, but Ragnarok knows him and trusts that he will learn better, which is why he believes he will (and, really, wants him to) eventually succeed him, and why he therefore wants him to build trust with Equestria.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you read this piece, or any of my others for that matter, then thank you. I don’t promote my stories, I just post them. Everyone who reads my scribbles does so because they either took a chance on it, or someone told them about it. Readers’ time is valuable, and the fact the some folks take the time to send others my way is amazing to me. I still don’t know what I’m doing right but if you enjoyed this… if I made you happy… then I consider my time writing it well spent. Best wishes and warm regards to you all.
Stay safe, and have fun.
– The Author.