Old soldiers never die, they just feature in today’s story.
This Isn’t War
[Alternate Universe] [Slice of Life] • 1,548 words
Rainbow Dash was the Iron Wing. She was a war hero, the Slayer of Shadows, the Liberator of the Crystal Empire, the Wrath of Celestia. And depending on who you ask, she still is.
But the war is over. There’s little need for a pony like her in peacetime. So she keeps telling herself that she needs to adjust, that she needs to find a new role to fill in the world that she saved. But Equestria seems content to let her remain what she has become, even though they have no need of a warrior.
“This isn’t how it’s supposed to be”, is something she keeps telling herself. But every time she says it, the only thing she can reply is, “so what should it be?”
One whole year after the close of the war, and Rainbow Dash still doesn’t have the answer.
FROM THE CURATORS: When the Season 5 finale offered us glimpses of its broken Equestrias, it spurred quite a bit of compelling writing from the fandom — including this fic. “This is a short, punchy piece about the Rainbow Dash from the King Sombra timeline dealing with life after the war’s over,” Present Perfect said in his nomination, and we found a lot to appreciate in its short length. “I very much liked the voice here, both the way that echoes of the Rainbow Dash we know keep bubbling up throughout and the way that she’s such an unreliable narrator,” AugieDog said. “It gave me the impression of a character trying to express her feelings without really knowing how to do it.”
Another element singled out for praise was its treatment of its core concept. “It’s a war story which is respectful of its topic,” Chris said, “which neither glorifies brutality nor sinks to edgy posturing nor resorts to cheap melodrama to try and hammer home the psychological toll.” Other curators agreed. “I’m not really qualified to evaluate this piece in terms of what war veterans have to deal with, but as a somber look at post-war trauma and readjustment to civilian life, it’s believable and powerful,” Present Perfect said. And Chris seconded the story’s believability: “I know two friends, at least, for whom Dash’s financial arc is basically accurate.”
Interestingly, while we found this an effective tale, we disagreed on what part of the story contributed most to its strength. “I was entirely sold on this story for most of its (short) length, but I don’t care for the ending,” Chris said, and Horizon disagreed: “I thought that the ending was the best part of this, grounding the story firmly in the Rainbow Dash we know to emphasize the contrast in her character.” And while AugieDog found the ending a matter of interpretation, he ultimately praised it: “The more upbeat interpretation of the ending — which I’ll take every time, thank you very much — gives her a full character arc and sends her sailing on into a brighter future.”
Read on for our author interview, in which KingMoriarty discusses societal breadcrumbs, dragon dismemberment, and pre-holiday hydration.
Give us the standard biography.
I was betrayed, my suffering at the hand of a cruel hunter bought for pocket change and continued in a vicious cycle of madness and despair for many a year. By the time I thought to ask my tormentor why, it had been so long that he had forgotten, the blood money long since spent. His pursuit had driven me to such acts of desperation as throwing a chair across a crowded room with the intent of breaking a man’s skull, coming within inches of stabbing a kindergartener in the leg with a pair of scissors, and gnawing on my own arm in the name of precious sanity.
But enough about my time in elementary school.
I’m twenty years old, and I enjoy what I tend to think of as a fairly normal, sedate life in Canada. I’ve stood three feet above water in the Bermuda Triangle on All Hallows’ Eve at midnight during a full moon. The correct form of address is ‘milord’, but I try not to be a stickler about it because I’m so rarely wearing anything lordly. I’d sooner fill my head with dragons and princesses and epic sagas of fictional history than do just about anything, up to and including writing said epic sagas.
Also, I’m not a veteran. Seriously.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I had very recently been introduced to BBC’s Sherlock when I was making my account. Watching the episodes over and over again, I kept coming back to this absolutely brilliant scene where Jim Moriarty breaks into three of the most secure locations in London in the space of a few minutes. When the police catch up to him, he’s sitting in the Tower of London, wearing the Crown Jewels and listening to his tunes. The scene just really defined what a cool villain was to me. I took a screenshot of Moriarty wearing the crown, called myself king, and never looked back.
Who’s your favorite pony?
See, that’s an amazingly difficult question. With My Little Pony, you basically get two characters for the price of one: there’s the pony strictly as portrayed in the show, and there’s the pony that the fandom created. I utterly love the fandom’s goofy surfer-dude Shining Armor, but find the show’s version to be rather bland and forgettable. On the opposite end, I have a base revulsion to the one-dimensional homophile that the fandom made Lyra into, but I found her subdued quirkiness in Episode 100 to be quite charming. The worst part is that most people make no distinction where canon ends and fanon begins, so it’s basically impossible to actually have this conversation without having to rebut the same incredibly stupid statement seventeen times.
On balance, I guess I’d have to say … Rarity. She’s got style, she’s got artistic integrity, and she casually threatens to dismember dragons for being rude to children.
What’s your favorite episode?
Rarity Investigates. It’s got an actual mystery with proper clues, Fashion Horse being Attractive Mystery Horse, and Sherlock cameos. That, and it gave us Spitfire’s mother and Wind Rider. Always nice to see wrinkles getting some representation in pony.
What do you get from the show?
Probably the most fascinating and complex world-building exercise that any author could hope for. The show provides a beautifully elaborate framework of firmly established fact, then peppers itself with various background details and subtle mannerisms that are never fully explained, but can be heavily inferred. Everything from the local architecture to a single use of an innocuous phrase that nevertheless is perfectly in line with consistently shown attitudes can serve as breadcrumbs that spiral out to form a more complete picture of Equestrian society.
And then of course there’s the effect that new episodes have on all of this. While most of the fandom will gladly drown itself in shed tears over the destruction of their beloved headcanon, I applaud and exult the revelation of new information. For every door the show closes, it opens five more. I am one that delights in the tinkering of headcanon, the pondering and mulling over of questions, even the bittersweet deliberating over whether to mark an old fic as AU or simply let its date of publication speak for it.
What do you want from life?
I want to be able to stand at the end of life’s great road, and not be afraid of turning to look at where I have come from. I want tomorrow, not because I tire of today but because I do not consider it an option to simply exist without advancing in some way. I believe in the green light, “the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther …” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Why do you write?
You may as well ask why birds fly, or why fish swim. I write. To conjure an image of a sun-swept desert with no more ink than that found in the common pen is its own glorious reward, and all the accolades of all the self-important reviewing cliques in the world can’t equal the overwhelming thunder of the drums in my heart if I can read something I wrote the other day and say to myself that it is good.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read, constantly. Read as many different styles as you can, different genres, and (as far as you can tolerate) different levels of quality. Even if the only lesson you take away from reading something is “a paragraph shouldn’t be so horrendously structured that I can actually smell how bad it is”, you’ve still learned something. It’s the same reason why you should rewatch things you think you know, because more often than not you’ll find that there was something there that you didn’t see the first time, or that you’ve come to appreciate more with time.
Listen, incessantly. If people praise one aspect of your story, then that probably means you’re good at it. If a load of people are pointing out something that they think went massively wrong, you might want to check if they’re right. Yes, they won’t always be helpful, and they definitely won’t always be nice about it, but never take that as an excuse to stop listening. I speak from experience, one can often find a kernel of helpful advice in even the most scathing, personally biased hate-comment.
Write, passionately. If you write the most world-changing, genre-defying brilliant story of all time, but your heart isn’t in it, then you may as well have spent the last year of your life doodling in the sand for all the worth that that experience has to you. There should be drive, there should be desire, there should be motivation to write whatever you’re writing, to inflict it upon the unsuspecting populace. In short, when you write, you should feel something.
What inspired “This Isn’t War”?
I was in the kitchen getting a drink of water when I noticed that the next day was November 11. I decided to commemorate the occasion. As it was the first Veteran’s Day since the Season 5 finale, and my previous two stories with those characters had been reasonably successful, I elected to write about how Rainbow Dash might choose to spend a day set aside to remember the loss of war.
Seven hours later, I pressed Submit and passed out. I think I cried into my pillow at least a little bit.
You’ve written several stories about the Rainbow Dash from the alternate “Crystal War” timeline. What draws you to that setting and that character?
The setting of the Crystal War is honestly what I’d point to as one of the finest moments for the show’s creative team. It not only perfectly captures and translates the horror and transformative nature of war for a younger audience, but it also captures the logistics of war. Things like Sweet Apple Acres becoming an applesauce cannery, the mass production of serviceable clothing, even the very harsh truth that putting an alicorn on the front lines isn’t going to solve the war overnight, paint a more complete and real picture of this aborted timeline than six seasons have done for the main world. That, and it has this one shot that basically confirms Equestria had child soldiers.
As for what draws me to the Rainbow Dash of that timeline, that’s a little more complex. You see, I’m not normally a massive fan of RD, and I’ve never really understood why the fandom saw her as the go-to vehicle for any awesome badass stunts. She’s also fairly under-utilized in the show, mostly being used for a token show of ‘Problem X Cannot Be Punched’. Before this episode, the most interesting thing about her was that one time it turned out she has an eidetic memory while flying.
All of that changed when I watched The Cutie Re-Mark the first time. During that war scene, every second of build-up is used masterfully. You might just be able to spot a metal wing among the heavily armored pegasi as they do their first fly-by, then there’s these three shots of a pony with a metal wing kicking flank and taking names, and your eye doesn’t follow the tail because it’s too busy on the wing, and trying to process if you’ve ever seen prosthetics in the show before. She comes to a stop, one of Sombra’s thralls leaps onto her back, and then she throws off her helmet and your brain explodes.
For me, Rainbow Dash of the Crystal War is pure, unadulterated awesomeness. Without saying a single word, she shows you just how different she is in this timeline, and makes you really grasp just how personal the stakes are in this conflict.
That, and she just feels like a spiteful response to all those wing-angst fics. “You think cutting off my wing is going to stop me? BEHOLD THE WONDERS OF SUPERIOR EQUESTRIAN TECHNOLOGY!”
Do you prefer planning a story before you begin writing or having it take shape during the writing process?
The latter, definitely. Every time I’ve ever planned a story, it ended up going wrong. The characters would go left instead of right, ask questions instead of just shooting the guy, and on at least one occasion come to a complete halt in the middle of outer space and wonder aloud about how long their oxygen supplies could last, and if they’d suffocate before the impending apocalypse.
For me, it’s not really a question of preference. It’s a question of if I really want to wrestle uber-powerful mages and terrifying werewolves into following a very narrow path laid out in front of them, or if I’d prefer to let them sort out their own lives while I sit on the sidelines and transcribe their awesomeness.
Why go with the ambiguous ending to the story?
A happy accident, for a given value of happy. There are certain limitations to a first-person perspective, particularly in a timeline where certain events didn’t happen and so no frame of reference exists for them. Also, if I had continued past the point where the story ends, it would have been massively tonally inconsistent and wouldn’t really contribute anything to the main themes of the story.
Ambiguity was not my intent. It was, however, incredibly funny to watch all those sad little monkeys weeping over an entirely imagined tragedy in the comments.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?