Don’t lose out on today’s story.
Nothing Left to Lose
[Drama] [Sad] • 6,367 words
Some things can’t be changed.
Starlight believes otherwise.
FROM THE CURATORS: One might be forgiven for thinking that after nine years of MLP (and fanfic), there’s nothing left to explore on such well-trodden ground as changeling redemption — but there are still stories on the topic which are worthy of turning heads. “Though the show seems to have moved past it as a possibility, the question of whether and how Queen Chrysalis could be reformed alongside the other changelings still lingers in the fandom’s consciousness,” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “In comes Freglz, with a solidly reasoned story that combines the finales of seasons 5 and 6 and isn’t afraid to let the question hang.”
And while the slow burn of the story caused some debate, ultimately this won us over with its quality. “It could be streamlined a bit, but all in all I was impressed with the prose,” RBDash47 said. “It flowed well with decent rhythm, and I enjoyed the imagery.” Even that languid writing had its defenders: “I actually appreciated the deliberate pacing,” FanOfMostEverything said. “This is as much a therapy session as a diplomatic negotiation.” And beyond that we found quality throughout the fic. “There’s a lot to love here, such as the characterization and the subtle hints of world building, and the overall theme resonated well with me,” Soge said.
Indeed, the deft character work was our most common praise. “Good character work swims this story to victory,” Present Perfect said, while RBDash47 added: “Where it really shines is the back-and-forth between the two speaking characters, the reformed and the yet-to-be. There’s real tension there, and I could really feel for Starlight.” Ultimately, it was that delicate maneuvering which we found most exemplary about the story. “Starlight’s walking a razor’s edge between Chrysalis lashing out and fleeing forever, and her need to pay it forward works fantastically as a motivation,” FanOfMostEverything said. “Chrysalis is a highlight as well. The tension between her self-image of the sole provider to her children and the reality of her pride driving her from everything she’s ever known is what’s keeping Starlight’s tightrope taut. And the open ending is the best way it could have gone; a being as set in her ways as Chrysalis will need some time to mull this over.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Freglz discusses rotten acorns, spoiled broth, and murderous fungus.
Give us the standard biography.
Nothing fancy. I’m twenty-two years old, living in Western Australia, studying at what Americans might call a “community college” to be a library clerk/technician after I failed the last two units of my university degree, and realised that even if I did pass, I’d be getting a certificate that says I’m way more qualified than I actually am.
I discovered the show about mid-2017, where I happened upon the tail end of Slice of Life while surfing through channels while bored out of my mind one late afternoon. Seemed interesting enough, so I thought I’d give another episode a shot if I could be bothered in the future. Cut to some time later, and I happen across an explosion, followed by something hurtling through the air in a smoking trail to crash into a mountain. Zoom in, it’s Twilight Sparkle, quickly followed by a giant, horned monster of some sort who literally headbutts her through to the other side.
Needless to say, I was pretty speechless, and sat in awe and watched the rest of the episode. This was followed by the Season 5 premiere (in Australia, reruns are common, so I probably wasn’t seeing this at the same time it was rolling out in the US), and that was followed by the next episode and the next, and I was hooked before I knew it.
It’s worth mentioning that before this point, I tended to avoid anything and everything pony-related. I didn’t hate it, or the people who claimed to be bronies, pegasisters or otherwise fans of the show outside the target demographic, I just didn’t care for it and didn’t want it on my radar. Of course, considering how far I’ve come since then, I have to wonder what all the fuss on my end was about: the show and fans are pretty rad. For the most part.
Let’s just say there are some bad eggs, and I was one of them not too long ago. I don’t believe I’m one anymore, and I hope to never be one again, but that doesn’t change the fact I’ve done things I’m not proud of, and betrayed the trust of others.
But that’s enough of that. I don’t know how I got into the fanfiction-reading side of things on YouTube, but I got into actually reading the stories from there. And after blitzing through a surprising amount of them until the end of the year, I thought that maybe I could have a crack at my own.
During the 2017 Christmas break, while I, my mother and brother went over to Melbourne, Hobart and then Launceston to stay with my uncle, I smashed out a decent chunk of an adventure, which I posted soon after I made my account on Fimfiction. I’ve since taken it down after realising just how poorly it was planned, written and promoted, but I’ve never been able to reach the same level of output. I guess that’s the price of getting better at writing.
Speaking of which, writing didn’t come out of nowhere. I enjoyed writing stories as far back as primary; won second place in a local council’s contest about some silly Paul Jennings/Andy Griffiths-inspired comedy involving chocolate milk coming to life. There was another phase I went through in high school, where I couldn’t get enough of dinosaurs, and wrote a bunch of short stories about them and that we might never know how intelligent they were because all the evidence is destroyed or fossilised.
They might be pretty terrible in retrospect, and I’m not brave enough to check.
So, I’ve gone through phases before. MLP might be one of them — and Mum is not thrilled about that at all — but I’m doubtful. I think it’s here to stay. I hope so, actually, because I basically just got here, and I refuse to believe the fandom will die just because the show and Bronycon have ended.
Oh, yeah, I was there for the last Bronycon too. It was my first time travelling international, and let me tell you, a road trip from the west coast to east might be worth it if you weren’t on a time limit. I met people I’d always wanted to meet, met others I didn’t know I needed to meet, and overall had a blast, even though I ended up impulse-buying way more than I should’ve on such a tight budget. Seriously, I don’t even like Fallout: Equestria that much, so why the hell did I get the extremely limited leatherback edition priced at $175 USD?
I have my regrets from that visit too, for all the good I had. I have trouble letting go of guilt. It sticks with me for a long, long time. Maybe it never goes away. I don’t know. I’m planning to meet a psychologist soon to help me process things, because I’ve been getting plenty of mood swings lately and I’ve been stuck at a baseline state of dejection for the past three months. And it isn’t because of social distancing, I know that much.
Is that everything? I think that’s everything. I’m a weird, directionless, sometimes optimistic, mostly pessimistic, incessantly apologetic individual with a decent sense of humour if you catch me in the right mood. And writing stories about ponies is a hobby that means a lot to me, and I hope my enthusiasm for it never goes away.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Applejack is the best of the Main 6.
Applejack has freckles.
Freckles = Freglz.
I’ll be here all week.
Who’s your favorite pony?
That’s a difficult question to answer, honestly, although I tout Applejack being the best. There’s a case to be made for just about all of them with a clearly defined personality, which I suppose eliminates a huge amount of the background cast. That includes Fleetfoot, unfortunately, as much as I loved writing her character in another story of mine.
I say that Applejack is the best, but that’s in the sense that she has the least amount of flaws; there’s a reason why she’s jokingly counted among the background ponies, because there’s nothing much going on with her in the show. But that’s the point in my eyes: I’ve always seen her as the big sister of the group, spitting straight facts with more tact than Rainbow seems she can ever manage, even if she’s a bit stubborn. And stubbornness is already a fairly common trait among the main cast.
Speaking of Rainbow, she’s one of the more interesting characters, since there’s a lot about her character to unpack and dissect, and a lot of flaws to work through. From a writer’s perspective, she’s ripe with possibilities.
Side note: super glad AppleDash is canon now, or at least as canon as LyraBon was until they officially got married. I could go on and on about how they work as a couple and how it might have started, but that’s a rabbit hole we’d want to stay out of.
But then there’s Fluttershy, who I’m sure just about everyone can’t help but love in some way, and Rarity and Twilight and the occasionally a bit too “lol random” Pinkie, and Luna and Celestia, Spitfire, Big Mac, Sunburst, Starlight, Maud, Marble, Limestone, Lyra, Roseluck, Coco, Autumn Blaze (non-ponies count, right?), the spectacularly overlooked and unfortunately missed opportunity that was Zecora, and a whole heap of others. DON’T MAKE ME DECIDE!
Maybe I’ll just play it safe and go with Derpy.
What’s your favorite episode?
Off the top of my head, it’s a three-way tie, for different reasons.
If we’re counting two-parters as a single episode, the first I can think of would be the first episode I ever properly watched, and immediately made me interested in the show: the Season 4 finale, Twilight’s Kingdom. Although it isn’t my absolute bestest, most favouritest episode of MLP in existence, it’s the one that I first watched, and subsequently what ensnared me into watching more.
I needed to know what happened next after such a massive battle — such a huge reversal of what I thought this show would pull off. I needed to know what led up to this conflict, and whether it had been foreshadowed at all (to my disappointment, it really wasn’t, but still, VIOLENCE). I needed to process what I had just seen, and came to the conclusion that I had to see it again. It’s one I’d happily watch anytime because it kickstarted my sharp descent into the wonderful pool of degeneracy that is this fandom.
The second, The Perfect Pear. I like a refreshing and authentic-feeling take in romance as much as the next person — part of the reason why I wrote a romance of my own is because it was hard to find a story that would scratch that particular itch — but sometimes, adorable whimsy is just as good. And although we’ll never know what actually happened to them in the end, learning the story of how Pear Butter and Bright met was, dare I say, heartwarming. If only they knew how tall their children would grow.
The third has to be Slice of Life. Now, am I aware that it’s just an episode completely dedicated to fan service? Yes, of course, and I love it for that, but I also appreciate it because, for once, the main cast aren’t the central focus of the story. Don’t get me wrong, I like who we’re familiar with, but it’s refreshing when the same characters we’ve watched develop for almost nine years aren’t what the world revolves around.
What do you get from the show?
Joy. Most often a genuine laugh. Twenty-minute examples on what works and doesn’t work in terms of comedy and general life and friendship lessons. Despair over lost opportunities and lore we’ll never see fully fleshed out. The constant, shameful challenge of not looking at a single butt in literally every episode ever.
And the unquenchable desire to write about it all.
The show, that is. The butts are a matter of continual internal debate and mixed feelings.
What do you want from life?
To be better. To be successful. To be happy with myself.
I’m working on all three. I don’t know how well they’re coming along.
Why do you write?
Because original fiction is hard, and I like horses a bit too much.
Joking aside, if we’re talking about why I write in general, it’s because I feel that writing is a legitimate way of entertaining people, and that stories can convey important messages if we want them to. I wish I could write original fiction, and I have ideas for stories that stand on their own, but the MLP universe, specifically FiM, is too fascinating for me not to write about it. It has the board and pieces, as well as plenty of guidelines, yet you can make the rules and determine how the games play out.
Writing is fun. Writing is frustrating. Writing is a waste of my time that could be better spent on other, more earthly concerns, and I should get my head out of the clouds and focus on the real world more. But I can’t. I owe it to myself and anyone who’s interested to think of plots the show might never have considered. To explore lands and cultures that never saw enough development besides their unsatisfying first appearance. To flesh out characters and extrapolate on their flaws in a world where prophecy is a certainty and magic shapes the course of nature.
Or maybe you just like the idea of sapient equines rutting each other silly, sometimes with the aid of another species. Who am I to judge? I’m just as guilty.
But there are aspects of this universe I wish the show had expanded upon. That being said, it might’ve lost its original whimsy in the process, and I’m sure that’s something no one would’ve liked. That’s what fanfiction is for: to share these ideas you have with the same audience, if they’re willing to read it.
The sense of pride and accomplishment you get from a finished product is also nice, and the praise from others is icing on the cake. One mistake I’ve made is letting that icing become the cake itself, and I’ve let down people because of it. I’m glad that I’ve learned my lesson, but I should’ve known better in the first place, and I’m not happy that learning my lesson has come at such a steep cost.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I’ve been told by a few people that I’m still an amateur, and sometimes I took it poorly because I’d asked for their help, which left me questioning my worth as a writer. But the more I’ve written, and the more writers I’ve interacted with and whose works I’ve read, I feel that I’ve come to an understanding of sorts:
You’re never perfect.
You might think you are, that you’re the pinnacle of your writing talent, but you never will be. We slip and slide between what we think works, and we might suddenly decide that we don’t like we’ve been doing for ages up to this point.
Perhaps you’re improving, perhaps you’re sinking into a comfortable pit of mediocrity, but you’re always, always changing, because every step you take is a step in one direction or another. You decide what that direction is.
Take everyone’s opinion as an opinion, not a fact, even if they’re generally well-respected. Spelling and grammar have rules, but writing doesn’t, though some methods work more than others. If someone deconstructs your work more than they offer constructive advice, take what they say with a handful of salt, not just a grain. And as a rule of thumb, feel completely free to ignore someone who says that your story must be this way or that. Nobody is an absolute authority on anything.
Improving the narrative you want to tell is good. Imposing a different one on it is bad.
If you want to write a story with a message behind it, sit down and plot that sucker out.
Never neglect character and thematic depth in favour of “coolness”. For example, I think that those who are into Warhammer Fantasy and 40k (of which I’m not, but screw Age of Sigmar) can agree the aesthetic may be neat, and the game may be fun, but barely anyone collects and paints the miniatures because the heroes have personable and relatable backstories and internal conflicts. Heck, the entire extent of any Greenskin hero’s lore is “this murderous mass of bipedal fungus eviscerated a hundred odd gits in a cool way”.
It works for Warhammer because it’s a physical medium by and large, but you don’t have miniatures to lure people in with. What you need, as a writer, is a promise. Tempt the reader with what they can expect — if it’s a cute, fluffy cuddlefic where the sole purpose is meant to make them feel warm and cared for, that should be obvious — and then keep them hooked by writing in a way that compels them to read more. To know these characters better. To find the next piece in the puzzle.
I don’t know if I’ve gotten to that point yet. I’d like to think so, but I often skim over my own work when reading it again because I’m bored with it by the time I finish. But there are stories and chapters of my own that I reread from time to time, out of what I suppose counts counts for self-respect and enjoyment, so perhaps I’m closer than I give myself credit for. Not that getting Nothing Left to Lose into the Royal Canterlot Library means anything.
What drew you to the piece of Plainoasis’s artwork that inspired “Nothing Left to Lose”?
Do you ever see an image that makes you stop and wonder what the story behind it is?
That’s what drew me to it. And when I enquired some lore buffs about the canonical origin of the changelings, I learned that the comics show that Chrysalis and her brood were spawned from a tree growing in a pond of toxic substances that sprouted from a rotten acorn, or something. Just goes to show how much I care for lore, huh?
Anyway, without consulting Plain, there was no way I could guarantee that what they drew was Starlight and Chrysalis standing by the actual tree from which the latter was born, but I knew that they were talking, and I had to ask myself what they were talking about. What brought them together. Why they aren’t fighting like I’m sure Chrysalis would’ve loved to after the Season 7 finale. What the tone of their conversation would be, and how it relates to the image.
I’m not not normally inspired by works of art to write a story based on them, but this was a special case, and all I’ll say about a potential sequel is that its inspiration comes from plenty of sources — some art, some fiction — and would feature the vengeance as a villain’s downfall, but not as we might be used to.
What was it about the story that kept it “on the backburner” for “close to a few months”?
I lied. Checking the dates, it was way more than a few months: it was eight, give or take a day or two. I got the idea for it as I was finishing an unrelated one-shot, but as the overarching plot for the prequel to that one-shot started taking shape, I found myself prioritising that over something I didn’t have too much enthusiasm for.
In short, Nothing Left to Lose wasn’t where all my time and effort went, nor was it the most exciting for me to write. I promised myself that I’d write a chapter per week for the other story, which I was enjoying the heck out of, and that came at the cost of all my other creative works. It cut into my university studies too, which was irresponsible of me, but I quietly chipped away at Nothing until it was finished, and then I had to wait for everyone whom I asked to read it… to read it.
If someone expresses willingness, I don’t want to cut them loose. I cast my net wide, they said yes at different times, so I wound up reeling in five. Too many cooks spoil the broth, but none of them were all that uppity about the direction of the piece, or how it was written, so I’m thankful for their input and respect. The unfortunate reality, however, is that I felt obliged to wait until all of them finished going through it before posting. That was the last hurdle. But it got there in the end, and it surprised me by reaching high in the feature box, both SFW and NSFW.
Do you agree with Starlight that her motives here are selfish?
I like that you’ve made a distinction between me as a writer and the character I’m writing.
I believe they’re selfish to an extent. At this point in the story, Chrysalis is currently the last remaining at-large villain in the world, who happens to be the one major obstacle Starlight overcame, but never properly dealt with one way or another. It isn’t selfish to want the best for someone, but it is selfish to want them to become a better version of themselves so that you can feel a burden lifted.
The redemption of Chrysalis would be for the good of Equestria, and so the needs of the many outweigh the needs (and desires) of the few, but Starlight is still trying to convince/coerce her into changing her nature. Most people don’t like having to have that kind of conversation, and I think Starlight, particularly in this context, would be one of them. She’s gotten better at feeling more confident in herself and less guilty over her past, which are lessons I’m struggling with, but I thought she’d still view her actions in a careful and introspective light.
From what I’ve read, it’s rare to find characters who understand themselves, yet have trouble coming to terms with it. I like a lot of character types, but those are some of the most human to me. That’s a term I’m not keen to use when discussing a universe full of non-humans, but I hope you understand what I mean.
Would you have preferred for the show to have made more of an attempt at reforming Chrysalis?
I think it’s important to distinguish between my Chrysalis and the show’s.
The show’s Chrysalis, at least by the end, never seemed to care too much for her children’s opinion of her, only that they were no longer loyal. She didn’t seem too sad because of that, just angry, which likely means that she saw them more as tools she could manipulate than actual people. Of course, there are parents in the world that are like that, but it doesn’t make her character very dynamic. That’s perfectly fine, and if you want to have a villain that will never reform, that’s the kind of character you may as well petrify.
My Chrysalis puts a “what if” spin on that, where she actually does care about her kids, and she’s hurt that they seem to have betrayed her, but acts tough to hide how deep and painful that wound still is. A character that feels genuine remorse would seek an end to it, and that’s where redemption becomes a legitimate option for her. That’s what she’s left to decide at the end of Nothing Left to Lose.
Do I prefer one over the other? I honestly don’t know. I feel that there are some things the show could’ve done better, including a lot of arcs, plots and characters besides Chrysalis (massively disappointed in Starlight’s sudden redemption, and that Cozy and Tirek didn’t have an actual mentor-student relationship, bordering father-daughter), but I’m not unhappy that the show’s interpretation of her was counted among the irredeemable villains.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Two things. First, the title and chapter title for the story were both taken directly from the Alan Parsons Project’s “Nothing Left to Lose”, and although the exact tone of the song doesn’t fit the one I aimed to create in the story, the lyrics are what got to me, from start to finish. That’s why I linked it at the end, if anyone was curious.
And the second… is a more personal note, to those who might want a little snippet of wisdom. Or what counts for wisdom, coming from me.
The greatest teacher in the world is experience. Failure is easy. Success is not. But you should never measure your worth by what others think of you. Take it from somebody who’s let his own ego and the desire for attention and recognition get the better of him time and time again. Who convinced himself for a time that he was poison — that sooner or later, every interaction I have with someone inevitably builds into a toxic relationship.
Retrospect is one hell of a thing. Be glad that you can learn from it, but don’t let the guilt consume you. Even now, I’m not entirely convinced my story deserves to be shelved in the Royal Canterlot Library. But deep down, I know I don’t believe that; that’s just the doubt talking. Healthy scepticism turned unhealthy.
Be good to others. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s rarely as bad as we think it is.