There is much Love in the craft of today’s story.
The Rise and Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash
[Dark] [Adventure] [Crossover] • 116,239 words
Wanted: Porter, assistant, jack-of-all-trades, minion. Applicants should be strong, loyal, pain tolerant, cold tolerant, unambitious. Must be capable of following simple instructions. Ideal applicant should be of low to average intelligence and mildly deformed, but exceptions will be made for extraordinary candidates, with extraordinariness to be determined by employer. Must be willing to begin work immediately.
Remuneration will be in the form of room, board, and insight into the true nature of the cosmos. Extremely generous bonuses up to and including subcontinents may be awarded if merited and if circumstances permit. Interviews for the position to be conducted at 108 Haybale Lane at 10:00 AM sharp on 4/7. Applicants are expected to be punctual.
—The Dark Lord Sassaflash
FROM THE CURATORS: “This story does just about everything right,” AugieDog said, “but I want to feature this just for the opportunity to write ‘Nyarlathotep is Best Pony.'” And while the Outer God was a memorable character in a work jam-packed with them, our reactions more closely mirrored Augie’s first statement. “A truly fantastic read,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination, and Horizon echoed that sentiment upon assigning this a top score: “Oh my yes. One of the best things I’ve read in recent memory. This is the sort of story that makes me happy I read fanfic.”
At the heart of those glowing reviews was an unusual yet sublime fusion of ideas. “What the author’s Mendacity does for fae folklore, this does for the Cthulhu Mythos, seamlessly integrating it into Equestria and making you wonder how we never noticed it until now,” FanOfMostEverything said. And it did so with a remarkable adherence to pony themes. “We’ve already featured At The Mountains of Discord, which was an excellent Lovecraft tale that happens to be about ponies, and I think this is near the other end of the spectrum: this is a fantastic pony story that happens to be about Lovecraft,” Horizon said. “It’s fundamentally hopeful and redemptive in a way that keeps MLP firmly at its core.” That caused AugieDog to note: “The story also made me realize just how Lovecraftian some of the canon bits of Equestria are: the crawling chaos of Discord; the parasprites as sort of ‘rats in the walls’; just the Everfree forest in general, really, or the way a dragon can show up to take a nap and doom the entire realm. And, well, Swamp Fever, anyone?”
Magnificent character work was one of the factors bringing those ideas to life. “Sassaflash and the Mule are perfect together, and I love how Sassaflash pretty much speaks the way Lovecraft writes,” AugieDog said. “The world-building is wonderful throughout — I was especially impressed by the way the author made the not-yet-reappeared Crystal Empire so vital to the story.” FanOfMostEverything agreed: “Sassaflash makes for a fascinating protagonist, utterly driven by her quest but not immune to the magic of friendship even at her most obsessed.” And the story around them was consistently exemplary, Horizon said: “This just kept surprising and delighting me around every corner. Even the screaming left turn of the story’s final arc, which in the hands of most authors would have faceplanted into confusion and plot holes, is seamless and brilliant.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Dromicosuchus discusses dream Jives, Marx sprays, and Skyrim inspirations.
Give us the standard biography.
At present I’m muddling along in Colorado, but I was born (nearly thirty years ago, now! My hourglass, it drains too swiftly) and raised in east Tennessee, with mountains on the horizon, trees overhead, and moss underfoot. Although I wasn’t really raised within the Appalachian culture, per se (my mother hails from an odd little college town atop a mountain in middle Tennessee, and my father is from Kansas), I was certainly exposed to a fair bit of it just from growing up in the area — particularly some of the old songs of the area, passed down over the centuries and preserved within isolated little mountain communities as the rest of the world flowed on outside. I spent most of my time reading stories and science books, climbing trees and looking under rocks, and playing games of pretend with my friends or just by myself. That, I suppose, was my first foray into storytelling: spinning worlds, characters, and conflicts into existence, and chronicling, one afternoon after another, the adventures of the stuffed animals, Legos, and plastic dinosaurs that populated the realms that my friends and I created.
Those early stories notwithstanding, I didn’t actually make any serious attempts at constructing full narratives until college, when I took a few creative writing classes and wrote my first bit of fanfiction (an unfinished Metroid fanfic written from the perspective of the recurring series villain, Ridley). Before that, although I definitely spent a great deal of time imagining and creating, I mostly occupied myself with worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding, with very little in the way of narrative structure to hold the characters and worlds I created together. That high school worldbuilding was, in turn, just a recasting and reimagining of the games of pretend I played when I was very young — so much so, in fact, that some of my oldest characters have been with me so long that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know them. They’re there even in my earliest memories.
Anyway. It was only in my sophomore year of college, I believe, that I typed up a few pages — little more than a vignette, really — about a manic little alien monarch called the Epic Jive (the name, and the character, literally came to me in a dream. I have no idea what, if anything, it means) and his long-suffering foil, an elderly dignitary in his realm named Grombin. From there, I went on to write a great many more short stories, almost all of which were set in the same universe as that inhabited by the Epic Jive and Grombin but which featured an ever-expanding cast of characters, many drawn from my worldbuilding in high school and none of which were human. I could never really get humans to work, on paper; they always seemed to come out stilted and awkward, like cardboard cutouts. For whatever reason, only my nonhumans ever feel authentic to me.
Those were, though, as noted, all short stories, except for the unfinished Metroid fanfic. It was only after graduating, in the first and only year of a disastrous and abortive attempt at graduate school, that I began to write Mendacity, the first story I had ever written set in the world of MLP:FiM — and discovered, to my very great surprise, that I was actually able to keep the words flowing. Sometimes piecemeal, true, and sometimes only with great effort, but nonetheless the story did progress, and I kept on writing more. Not too long after finishing that tale, I took up The Rise and Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash, and … well, here we are.
Sadly I’ve not written much since completing Rise and Fall, but although I don’t know what the future holds, I would be very much surprised if I never took pen to paper — or finger to keyboard — again.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Ah! That’s connected to the worldbuilding I mentioned earlier. The closest thing to a main character that I have in my original stories, based on my high school worldbuilding and my childhood games of pretend, is a scholarly and inquisitive lizard-like sorcerer who goes by the singularly undignified name of Spot. Sometime during college, when I was trying to work out some sort of plausible evolutionary explanation for how the various unearthly creatures in my stories came to so closely resemble actual earthly organisms, I hit on the idea that these various lineages of animals were descended from individual founders, drawn from more or less random points during Earth’s history. Because little Spot was a particularly important character, I decided that the sorcerer should be, rather than a “normal” reptile (that is, a lepidosaur or testudine, for those keeping track), an archosaur, kin to crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds. That meant that I had to pick a particular founding species that could have eventually evolved into Spot, which sparked a Wiki dive that eventually recovered the Triassic sphenosuchian, Dromicosuchus grallator. Dromicosuchus was cemented into the canon of my stories as the ancestor of the character who was, at least in the very earliest games of pretend, basically my self-insert character, and when it came time to pick a new pen name for my online meanderings, that genus presented itself as the obvious choice.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Ooh … tough choice, as I imagine it would be for most folks. From the main cast, I enjoyed Dash in the first season, but from season 2 onward, Fluttershy won me over and has never yet been dethroned. Some of my favorite stories involve earnestly, painfully good protagonists, meek and kind, who are maybe just a little (or a lot) broken, and kindness for kindness’ sake is something that I personally hold to be an immensely valuable virtue to aspire to and cultivate, so Fluttershy obviously appeals deeply to me.
Outside of the main cast, it gets much more difficult. In terms of canon personalities, Fluttershy probably still wins out, with Celestia, Twilight, Starlight Glimmer, Discord, and Thorax also being notable contenders. In terms of fanon, though … well, I can’t help but be influenced by my own stories, here, but probably Bon Bon. Part of what prompted me to write Mendacity, in fact, was because in the Lyra and Bon Bon pairing, it seemed like Lyra always got all the attention and all the love from writers and artists, and I wanted to get inside the head of the reasonable, long-suffering foil to Lyra’s antics and see what was going on under those sensibly-coiffed curls. Quite a lot, as it turned out. Other than Bon Bon, I’ve always been deeply fond of the fanon that has developed around Derpy, and am firmly convinced that all of it is true: she’s a muffin-loving mailmare, yes, but she’s also a devoted single mother raising Dinky and Amethyst Star, and between raising a school-age filly and a exasperated teenager, she occasionally finds the time to go on wild, cosmos-spanning adventures with the Doctor.
What’s your favorite episode?
For a long time it was Secret of My Excess, which quite apart from bringing in the idea of draconic greed and exploring how it would affect a sympathetic and basically good character, also managed to have Rarity address Spike’s crush on her in a beautiful, tasteful, wholesome, and absolutely heartwrenching way. That one moment when Rarity smiles and puts her hoof on Spike’s mouth as he’s confessing to her — perfect. Hats off to M.A. Larson.
In the time since that episode aired, though, there have been so many beautiful, touching, funny episodes that at this point I’d really have trouble picking one. Amending Fences was masterful; Princess Twilight Sparkle and Twilight’s Kingdom were the premiere and finale to whose exalted heights, in my mind, all others strive in vain; Slice of Life left me grinning and ecstatic for weeks afterwards; The Perfect Pear was the flawless fulfilment of a promise seven seasons in the making; 28 Pranks Later somehow managed to pull off a story about zombies in My Little Pony; Rarity Investigates was deliciously noir; The Return of Harmony introduced Discord … and if I keep on at this pace I’ll just end up naming half the episodes in the show, so I’d probably better bring this to a halt.
What do you get from the show?
It’s kind, sincere, intelligent, and earnest — and more than that, it communicates that it’s possible to be kind, sincere, intelligent, and earnest. That, even if the world is often otherwise, those virtues exist as a goal towards which one can strive. For me, that’s a wonderful idea, and I enjoy being reminded of it.
Also I get tired of humanoid characters. There are far too many stories with humans or humanoids. Are we really so shallow, as a culture, that we not only need our fictional characters to think like us, but they even have to look like us? A hominoid bauplan was good enough for your grandfather, but who wants to marry your grandfather? Nobody. Not even your grandmother. Please excuse me, I don’t know how that Marx Brothers quote got in there; I thought I’d sprayed for them.
What do you want from life?
To cause no harm, through action or inaction, intentionally or unintentionally, and to always be learning more about how the cosmos works and how to be an intelligent being within it. More nonhuman characters in stories would also be nice. I would also like to have a pet cat, and photophores and chromatophores would be nice, but if we get into a list of demands we’ll be here all day.
Why do you write?
The reasons vary with each story, but I suppose what always gets the writing going in the first place is that I just want to see an interesting idea explored, and to the best of my knowledge no one else is out exploring it. Whether that interesting idea is profound, silly, or just some odd concept or inconsistency that was bouncing around in my head and wouldn’t leave until I slapped it down on paper doesn’t much matter; as with my worldbuilding, it’s all about investigating the ways in which a concept can be, and then fleshing that out as fully as possible.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Keep writing! Don’t do what I’ve done the past year or so, and sit around not writing! That’s bad! I’ve got stories sitting in my head and going stale, just marinating in their own juices and developing unnecessary subplots and weirdly detailed backgrounds and all sorts of awkward complications that I just know will have to be mercilessly pruned when I finally get them down on to paper (or screen, as the case may be). Don’t let your stories stagnate; let them flow, let them live!
What inspired “The Rise and Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash”?
A great number of things, some of which are very obvious: my fondness for Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and its sometimes-hilarious grimdarkness; my desire to explore more of Equestria’s deep past; my interest in exploring the rather dark implications of what were, let’s face it, racial slurs cast by otherwise sympathetic characters at the long-suffering Mule; and so forth. What honestly got the ball rolling, though, was simply this: I wanted to write a necromancer. Probably heroic, or at least not evil-aligned, but definitely a necromancer. That, in turn, was inspired by Skyrim, of all things. The necromancers in that game are … well, kind of adorable. They’re just so hilariously, painfully incompetent. As I played through the game, it almost seemed to me to become a running gag to encounter a lone necromancer or a group of necromancers, and then end up having them be killed off or otherwise horribly maimed by the very things they were summoning while my saxhleel dragonborn stood idly by, watching with polite interest. Part of this was probably glitches — I am reasonably certain that the developers did not intend for the resurrection of the Wolf Queen to culminate in the spontaneous deaths of every single necromancer involved — but regardless, it made an impression on me. I wanted a story with a necromancer who was (A.) acting with the very best of intentions and (B.) absolutely, steadfastly determined not to be one of those necromancers. She might be blinkered by greater delusions or misconceptions, but darn it, she would absolutely be competent at what she did, even if her reasons for doing what she did weren’t quite as sound as she thought they were.
As for “Why Sassaflash?”, I can only say that she has an utterly fantastic name that is very, very fun to say. Sassaflash. Sassaflash. Try it.
Did you have the arc of Sassaflash and the Mule’s relationship already in mind when you began the story, or did it grow during the writing?
Originally, actually, their relationship was going to be much closer — in fact, at first the Mule had no wife, there was no Dreamlands connection, and there was actually going to be a budding romance between the Mule and Sassaflash, that would have developed over the course of the story. I had scrapped that idea by the time I started writing the first chapter, though, and even before then the basic idea of the Mule serving as an anchor for Sassaflash — to ground and root her in the good, mundane, worthy world that she had become almost wholly separated from, while simultaneously having his own horizons expanded by his growing relationship with the necromantic madmare — was already firmly in place.
What role do Celestia and Luna play in the story’s Lovecraftian cosmos?
Ah, now there’s an interesting question. The Rise and Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash, despite the two stories’ very different mythologies, does take place in the same canon as my first MLP fanfic, Mendacity. In that story, it’s established that Celestia and Luna are essentially the same order of being as Discord; if they wanted to, they could exercise truly terrible power, warping reality on the same scale that he does. A key element of both stories, though, is that reality does not like being warped, and that although it will tolerate small offenses, like normal unicorn magic, grand magics irk the cosmos to such an extent that it swats down the offender by cursing them with unluck in all that they do and attempt (hence, for example, Discord’s tendency to get petrified in stone when he acts up, Luna’s imprisonment when she attempted to wield her full power to overthrow Celestia, Sombra’s destruction, etc. Celestia only endured because she chooses, by and large, not to use her power, thus keeping the cosmos’ attitude towards her limited to a sort of mild irritation).
That’s the background. In the context of the Lovecraftian cosmology itself, though … well, here we get into extremely headcanon-y territory. In The Rise and Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash, when Tsathoggua is killed Celestia instantly senses that something very, very big just happened. She performs a quick mental scan of the world, checking up on all the Great Old Ones she’s aware of (in this case, Cthulhu, Yig, Nug, Yeb, and Tsathoggua) in order to try to pinpoint the disturbance. Those, however, are not the only such ancient, deific beings out there, either in the background of Rise and Fall or in Cthulhu Mythos stories in general. Anyone who spends any time at all reading such stories soon discovers that Great Old Ones are, apparently, a dime a dozen. Even in Lovecraft’s own stories, aside from the deities already mentioned, and omitting cosmic beings like Nyarlathotep and Yog-Sothoth, there are a number of other named entities: Rhan-Tegoth, Ghatanothoa, Nodens, Dagon, Hydra … and there are hundreds more that were either added by other authors writing contemporaneously with Lovecraft, or after his death. Obviously, though, these entities can’t be particularly Great Old Ones with a capital G if there are thousands of them hanging out there, and yet the world, by and large, seems to be able to merrily shrug off their existence as no big deal, in the long run.
So, to resolve the paradox and make the bookkeeping simpler, within the cosmos of Rise and Fall I decided that, below the cosmic and all-powerful Outer Gods, there were only five Great Old Ones, and innumerable lesser Old Ones. In this ranking, the Outer Gods (Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, Azathoth, etc.) don’t have to worry about breaking the rules when it comes to manipulating reality, because they’re the ones who made the rules in the first place. Great Old Ones like Tsathoggua and Cthulhu do technically need to worry about breaking the rules, but they’re also powerful enough that they are able to essentially deform reality around them to such an extent that, at least on their scale, the rules no longer apply. As long as their local pocket of unreality is maintained, they can do whatever they want with no fear of repercussion from Yog-Sothoth (this was, of course, how Sassaflash killed Tsathoggua; by artificially destroying its little pocket universe using the Bugul Noz’s powers, and then using Discord to drain it of magic before it was able to reassert its protective bubble, she left it vulnerable to the hammer of Yog-Sothoth). Finally, there are entities like Rhan-Tegoth, Discord, Ghatanothoa, and Celestia, mere Old Ones (vs. Great Old Ones) who are capable of wielding power similar to that of the Great Old Ones, but unlike them are not quite strong enough to create their own pocket realities to protect them from the wrath of the universe/Yog-Sothoth; if they step too far out of line, they will be punished, to a lesser or greater degree.
Now, as for the question of where all these entities came from … for the Outer Gods, they’ve always been, and always will be. Great Old Ones, in general, are ascended Old Ones, and the Old Ones themselves are typically ascended mortals of some stripe or another, who have risen to greatness by a great variety of means and reasons during the long history of the universe. For most of them, this resulted in such drastic changes to who and what they were that they became, effectively, aliens, regardless of whether they had originated on Equus or came from Outside, but there are exceptions to every rule, and Luna and Celestia (and Discord, to a much lesser degree) are examples of such exceptions. Where they originally came from, and what their original names were, none know but themselves — and maybe even they’ve forgotten. It has, after all, been a very, very long time.
As a final note, within the canon of both Mendacity and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash, neither Luna nor Celestia originally looked like ponies — nor did they necessarily look like Discord and the Bugul Noz. The shapes they currently possess were adopted by them out of admiration, respect, and love for the ponies they had chosen to look after and protect.
What elements would you call vital to a good piece of crossover fiction?
Honestly, the same elements that are vital to any piece of good fiction. One must portray the characters honestly and genuinely, write meaning into their actions and their world, have a care for your plotting, and revise and rewrite until your eyes bubble and you’re hearing flavors. For crossovers specifically, I suppose all I can add is that one must have a great appreciation for both (or more, if, heaven help you, you’re writing a triple/quadruple/n-tuple crossover) canons that one is combining, and close and careful attention to how the two different worlds complement and affect one another.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just my thanks, as always, to everyone who has shown an interest in my stories, and given me the honor of their thoughts, opinions, critiques, complaints, and praises. I’m immensely grateful to all of you, and deeply honored, too, to have my story remembered even now, long after a necromancer and her minion closed the door to a curious, shadowed little Ponyville cottage and set out, once more, to kill a God.
You can read The Rise and Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.