Today’s story is a fandom classic about a journey of discovery — both of the mind and of the heart.
[Romance] [Adventure] • 46,300 words
When Twilight is sent with Luna on a diplomatic mission to Draconia, they quickly find themselves somewhere that doesn’t appear on any map, and Luna is lost in more than one way…
FROM THE CURATORS: Although Apotheosis — which is a sequel to the Pony Fiction Vault-featured Off The Edge Of The Map, but features different characters and a standalone plotline — was written in the early days of the fandom, it quickly became clear that it had stood the test of time. “This one had been on my read later list for ages, and I finally plowed through it the past couple of days. And I gotta say… wow,” JohnPerry said.
While we had some hot debate over the story’s handling of its central romance, there was one issue on which we were unanimous. “You can’t swing a hoof in this story without hitting some truly sublime worldbuilding,” Horizon said. Chris agreed — “It’s got some of the best, most evocative worldbuilding of any fic I’ve read” — and JohnPerry piled on further superlatives: “These are some of the most vividly described and original settings I’ve ever seen in a fanfic.”
The exemplary construction of the world and its characters — “the basilisk and ouroboros especially,” Present Perfect pointed out — solidly earned this one its feature, but there was a great deal to like beyond that. “The final chapter is epic as hell,” Present Perfect said. Horizon praised “the great thematic contrast between Twilight and Luna, reinforcing the long road to redemption Luna has to walk,” and Chris said that “Daetrin’s language use is excellent. … This isn’t just scenery porn. This fic was a pleasure to read, through and through.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Daetrin discusses silent demons, dancing angels, and seasons of madness.
Give us the standard biography.
Well, I’m a thirty-year-old programmer with a background in Materials Science and Engineering. Who writes ponies and original fiction too! I have a fantasy novel out, and I’m working on a sci-fi one (though admittedly, Cartography has slowed my progress on it).
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I saw the dualistic cover of C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season and thought it was awesome so I stole the name. And now I’ve been using it for over a decade so I’m really unlikely to change.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Proooooobably Celestia at this point. It’s wandered as I’ve done writing though. The very first time I was exposed to MLP it was RD, slid over to Fluttershy, flopped over and stuck on Twilight, vacillated toward Luna, and then latched onto Celestia as I considered Triptych.
What’s your favorite episode?
Hard to say, but “Cutie Mark Chronicles” remains very watchable for me.
What do you get from the show?
Mostly I really enjoy a narrative with an optimistic outlook that isn’t portrayed as hopelessly naive. Too much fiction these days is the dull slog of cynicism masquerading as maturity, lacking any wonder at all.
What do you want from life?
Ask the hard questions, why don’t you? To be happy and make others happy, I think.
Why do you write?
See above. Partly because I enjoy telling various kinds of stories, and partly because I think other people enjoy reading the stories I write.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read. Read some more. Keep going. I’ll tell you when to stop (hint: never). Seriously, the most useful education I got for writing was doing analysis in STEM, not anything in any literature or writing course. Most of my concepts of how writing worked came from digesting some very talented authors (Roger Zelazny, Lois McMaster Bujold, CJ Cherryh, to name a few). And writing. Compare how terrible my early works are to my later ones. I get less terrible as I go!
Where there any specific inspirations for the key characters or setpieces of the story — the Hungry Wind, the basilisk, or the rest?
The hungry wind was — although some people may not believe this — not inspired by Dr. Who’s “Silence in the Library” or Machiin Shin from Wheel of Time. It was more inspired by classic folklore, as you can see when Luna talks about it, saying “brothers of the biting wind and the scouring wind.” I started with “Wind as an enemy” and it went from there.
Tozomuc is a character who actually is recycled from a prior incarnation, though only in the most vague terms. I mentioned Zelazny before — his thing is the flawed superhuman. Not in the sense of a comic book superhero, but in the more Nietzschean ubermensch kind of way. I liked that so much I started thinking about those lines and ended up with a few themes that play out more in Triptych and Cartography but are visible in Apotheosis. One is gods, but the other is of defeated villains. What happens to them after the “the end.” So, Tozomuc.
Since the story was mostly a character study of Luna, pretty much everything I came up with was related in some way to her, though it was part of the continuity of the world I’d been building, like the ouroboros god for the dragons, or the horrible thing that happened in the Everfree Forest that day.
The entire Equestrian Dreamtime is, of course, inspired by the Australian Aboriginal namesake which is so incredibly fascinating I cannot do it justice. I also took a little bit of inspiration from Aztec mythology, so far as feel goes.
How do you balance continuity with accessibility while writing a sequel? How do you think this story would be different if it weren’t a sequel?
I’ve done it different for different stories. For Apotheosis, very little was required — Scar is, more or less, the only point of continuity and that takes two paragraphs of explanation. So I didn’t much worry about the entry cost. Triptych directly follows from Apotheosis, so Apotheosis is required reading. But I feel so long as your world is consistent, even if you enter partway through a series, you can pick up on the assumptions made even if you don’t know the details of the backstory.
A lot of our discussion of this fic centered around Twilight and Luna’s relationship — whether it was healthy or not, and what the two characters’ motives were for their relationship. How do you think each of them thinks about their relationship as the fic progresses?
Ahhh yeah, the romance was not as well done as I would have liked. Ah well, that’s the cost of not knowing everything when you write.
I’ll start by saying no relationship is equal. Reciprocal yes, equal no. If I wanted to condense my view of the TwiLuna relationship down to a pithy quote it would be this: Luna needs someone to silence her demons, and Twilight needs someone to dance with her angels.
If you keep the characters…well, in-character, Twilight is sufficient unto herself. Yes, she has friends, but she isn’t incomplete without them. Luna, on the other hand, does seem to be lacking. This has been somewhat ameliorated by later episodes, but not that much. Keep in mind Apotheosis was written almost in its entirety (all but the last chapter and epilogue I think) before the Nightmare Night episode.
So Luna, ultimately, needs someone to prop her up. Twilight, though, doesn’t. What she would most benefit from is someone who can keep up with her and even challenge her. She’s extraordinarily bright and incredibly powerful, fast-tracked for alicornhood and all-around prodigy. Luna, by courtesy of immortality and alicornhood, should be able to match wits with her in, if not the jargon angle of things, philosophy and decision-making.
So really, for Luna, it’s recognizing that there’s someone whom she can trust and depend on, and from there Twilight’s virtues are self-evident.
For Twilight, I tried to show the bits that would mesh with Twilight’s proclivities. Deep knowledge, deep understanding, flashes of humor.
Which is why I ended up making it a “I’ll give this a shot” relationship rather than a “one true wuv!” one at the end of Apotheosis. Luna was in love, Twilight just had a healthy respect for her and liked her. There’s also the fact that there was, in fact, shipping all throughout the story, though far more subtle than most people noticed I think. Perhaps I should have made that more obvious, but, hindsight.
So I think it’s defensible, though I understand people who feel it’s rather jagged-edged. I do try to smooth it out in Triptych, but that’s a different story altogether so perhaps that’s somewhat of a cheat.
Do you feel like Celestia’s gambit was justified? Or rather: without being certain of the ultimate outcome, do you think she did “the right thing?”
Well, that’s actually the entire point of Triptych.
Okay, not the entire point but ties into one of the main themes that drives it.
No, it wasn’t justified. It was base manipulation. Did she do the right thing? I think she did a right thing. It’s a complicated situation (especially as you learn more about the gods in Triptych) to which there are no easy answers.
Do you have any advice on how to write compelling settings and locations?
A few. One is, don’t be afraid to raise questions you don’t answer. I’ve had some (good-natured) flak for doing this in OTEOTM, but if you just say “This is the forest where you can never mention your name or else it gets eaten and you no longer have a name” and be satisfied with that, that’s a compelling location. It raises a lot of questions just with its existence that you don’t have to answer.
Another is to take a close look at reality. Reality has a lot of exotic locations and exotic cultures that you can completely steal for fiction, or at worst only mildly alter them.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Zelazny wrote an essay called “The Parts That Are Only Glimpsed: Three Reflexes.” It’s short, and I recommend it. It had significant impact on me both for what it suggests and how it suggests it (i.e., not as immutable rules but ways of thinking about things).
And if you enjoyed OTEOTM and Apotheosis and Triptych, do try Cartography of War. I recognize that it’s OCs and thus not half as compelling, but I’m trying to write something with the adventure smoothness of OTEOTM with the thematic focus of Apotheosis (on gryphon and pony culture rather than a person, though), and it will tie in eventually to that continuity.