Today’s story will be there for you in the dark times.
Her Soldiers, We
[Adventure] [Drama] • 42,716 words
Vesperquines — batponies — have faithfully guarded Equestria’s night for a thousand years. Apart from Celestia, they alone have kept the memory of Princess Luna alive in their hearts. And they alone know of their failure, of how they were not the friends she needed when jealousy and despair gnawed at her.
They pray for a second chance. They vow to do better.
And then, one night, miraculously, she returns.
But the princess whose memory they cherish is still lost to her mad fury. And for a young recruit of the Night Guard, the nightmare has just begun.
FROM THE CURATORS: Depending on where you read this, it’s getting posted either before Christmas or Auld Lang Syne, so it’s fitting that this week’s feature touches on the redemptive power of tradition and loyalty. “This is a story about what the batponies — ‘vesperquines,’ which I thought was a good name for them — were up to during Nightmare Moon’s return,” Chris said. “Tigerhorse paints the dilemma of the two protagonists — how must they hew to their duty to Princess Luna, when she won’t even acknowledge that name? — in a pleasingly grey light.” Bleak circumstances which highlight all the more their dedication, as Present Perfect noted: “The strength here is Nebula’s unwavering faith in her princess, her belief that friendship will push Nightmare Moon to do the right thing and stop the assault on Equestria.”
It was the powerful treatment of that central theme that garnered the most praise. “I think that it hit some great emotional notes, and the concept itself is genius,” Soge said. “It’s a non-cynical take on the fix-fic, patching over some of Nightmare Moon’s inconsistencies, while establishing some interesting worldbuilding.” Chris concurred: “It’s a great example of how to write a serious story based on a children’s show. Heck, it even works Pinklestia in in a heartwrenchingly dramatic manner, which is not a phrase I thought I’d ever type.” That surprising breadth garnered a number of other compliments, such as Horizon’s comment: “That this expands the story of Nightmare Moon from Ponyville to Equestria is sweet, sweet cake. That it offers a plausible and heartwarming explanation for Shining Armor’s promotion to Captain of the Guard is the icing on top.”
Those elements won us over despite several curators’ concerns about length and pacing. “This could have stood to be about half the size, but it did an excellent job of thoughtfully stitching together a lot of apparently unrelated canon,” Horizon said. “It offered a behind-the-scenes take of a story which a great many authors have covered, and managed to keep it feeling fresh.” In the end, we thought, it did too much right to ignore. “Could it be better? Undoubtedly,” Present Perfect said. “But what’s here is one of the best batpony fics I’ve ever read, and believe you me, I’ve read a lot.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Tigerhorse discusses pink snow, holes in the sky, and edgy fruit bats.
Give us the standard biography.
Well, I live in Michigan, grew up around Arabian horses, and am a raging bibliomaniac with the luck (or maybe not, for my paycheck’s sake) of working in a used book shop. I’m an old enough guy to have seen the original run of G1 ponies on TV after school, although I’m afraid they didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I like zebras. Their stripes are cool and stylish — let no one tell you otherwise! So I have a few zebra-related usernames across the internet. Tigerhorse derives from a National Geographic special on zebras called “Horse Tigers.”
Who’s your favorite pony?
Oh man, (Trixie) what a harsh question! Who can (it’s Trixie) decide on just one? Luna has all these wonderfully complicated issues going on in her history, (Trixie, tho) and Twilight is a great book-nerd. And then there’s Rarity, who would rank high no matter what from the sheer joy Tabitha St. Germain so clearly takes in voicing her. (But Trixie.)
What’s your favorite episode?
Before Season 5, this question would have left me weighing the merits of “Lesson Zero” vs. “Green Isn’t Your Color” vs. “The Return of Harmony.” But that was before “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep,” an episode which not only breaks my heart with how Luna feels she needs to punish herself, but also becomes epic with that incredible awe-full awful moment of Tantibus tearing open the sky. I mean, just … wow.
What do you get from the show?
Well, ponies are adorably cute of course (which is no small thing given how often Western animation seems to favor grotesquerie in character design … but I rant). What I love is that the show arrived with its own mythology. Right out of the gate we were presented with a character who is responsible for controlling the sun, and with events of a thousand years past that have consequences in the here and now. The world of the ponies is large, and full of tantalizing hints about what’s just over the borders. It’s evocative in a way a lot of other entertainment isn’t.
What do you want from life?
Single-malt scotch and more Nightmare Moon toys.
Why do you write?
For the fun of putting together a good sentence, or the flash of insight when you realize how some throwaway bit you wrote earlier can fold back into the story later and create a beautiful moment. Of course, much of the time it’s also a struggle. To a certain extent, I’m just amusing myself by spending more time with these characters outside the boundaries of an episode. But it’s also a way of sharing thoughts and ideas about the setting. Actually, that’s probably the prime reason.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
People are going to critique your work, and sometimes that critique won’t be “You’re awesome!” And that’s not fun. But keep in mind that your story is not you, and if someone is saying the story sucks, it does not mean that you as a creative individual suck. So take a deep breath and try to step back — if only for a moment — and take a look at what they’re saying. Good critiques are precious — they can teach you things about writing you may not have realized, or point out problems in your style you maybe haven’t seen. (Of course, not every critique is valuable, but it can be tricky to judge whether what you are being told is nonsense or just something you don’t want to hear.)
What influenced your views on batponies?
I was on a forum with some other folks kicking around ideas about batponies — are they just magical costumes pegasi wear for night duty? Are they an ancient race that holds itself aloof from pony society? And the idea came to me that they were an artificial race (I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with that) spitefully created by Nightmare Moon out of her/Luna’s pegasus guards (who, being diurnal, never much cared for the job). But rather than making them resentful as they’d have every right to be, I thought it would be interesting to turn it around and let them claim Luna as their own, and take on the guilt of having failed her and the determination to cherish her memory and hope for a chance to do better by her.
I tried to steer clear of reading other people’s takes on them, so as not to be overly influenced. I didn’t want them to be just featherless pegasi, so I decided that while pegasi were faster, batponies would be more maneuverable. Since they were spliced together with bats (fruit bats, although of course NMM, being edgy and all, is sure she used vampire bats) I thought about if they could use echolocation, and how they would experience that — essentially hearing shapes. I wasn’t opposed to adopting a fanon term for the species, but the problem is a lot of writers have settled on the term “thestral” and that’s a word coined by J. K. Rowling, so to use it is to evoke Harry Potter whether one wants to or not — that’s why I came up with my own term, “vesperquine.” (If others like it they’re free to use it, by the way.)
What can you tell us about constructing an action scene?
I tend to think of an action sequence as a story in its own right, with rising action, reversals, character epiphanies, and a resolution of some sort. So I like to keep the narrative focused in tightly on one character at a time, and filter the events through that character’s perceptions and interpretation — what are they hoping to do at any given moment, how do they react if it fails, what sort of tensions are they feeling? Action is physical, so physically what is going on with them? Are they injured, are they tired, are they jittery with excitement or sick with fear? Get inside their head and filter the reader’s experience through the character’s experience.
Visualize your action. What are the characters actually doing, and what is the environment they’re doing it in? Is it plausible, or have you put a dozen ponies having a knock-down drag-out fight into a 10′ by 10′ bedroom? It’s surprisingly easy to find you haven’t gone through the details as much as you assumed you had. On the flip side, you don’t want the reader’s eyes to glaze over with excessive descriptions of complex choreography. You may have worked out every move of Scootaloo’s Wing Chikun Kung Fu, but the more complicated the action, the more likely the reader will have a hard time following it.
Why all the references to the toys?
Well, I remember the excitement about the Celestia toy coming out, and how it became horror at how the Celestia toy turned out to be a lazy embodiment of everything Lauren Faust was trying to make the show repudiate. So the initial impulse was to ignore it. Anyway, later on I was thinking about that line where Celestia says she was no longer connected to the Elements of Harmony. What was that like, what does it look like for a Bearer to lose her connection to the Elements? It can’t have been pleasant. And I had a flash of insight — it looks like a pony saying vapid phrases like “Let’s all fly to the castle,” and OMG, she means the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters! Pinklestia as a mentally traumatized Celestia came together like that. As for the gory detail of her pinkness, it goes back to me being in second grade and one winter on the playground I critically failed a chinup on the monkey bars and bit through my tongue. For some reason it seemed a good idea to counteract the bleeding with a mouthful of snow, which I then spat back out and discovered how pink and un-bloodlike blood is when it soaks into snow.
Anyway, having come up with this head-canon, I didn’t quite know what to do with it until I realized it would fit in perfectly to explain why Celestia didn’t just undo Nightmare Moon’s creation of the first generation of vesperquines. After that, also working in a few lines from the Nightmare Moon toy became a fun little challenge to myself, especially if I could use some of the silliest ones and twist them into something sinister.
If I can succeed in turning the Pinklestia toy into an object of existential horror, I feel I will have, in some small way, justified my existence. Or something.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for noticing my story, and I hope people enjoy it.