Almanac: Confucius

I really wish that people would stop mythologizing other human beings. Just because you respect someone, and just because they were wise, does not mean they are infallible. This is true of anyone; from Jesus to Gandhi to Confucius. In fact, I think that holding our heroes up as paragons of humanity is THE single best way to fall short of their (as well as our own) ideals.

The point of my preamble is this: I have a very, very deep respect for Confucius. However, I am not a Confucian, in that I do not venerate him as a religious figure. However, I do find his philosophy and reasoning to be sound enough to study him, so you could call me a Confucian in that I consider myself a student of his. By the same token you can call me a Christian or a Buddhist, since I am a believer and studier of many of Jesus and Buddha’s philosophies, as well.

I hope that people reading my writings will receive some of the messages I’ve imbued in them. One of the central themes of all of my works is that everyone’s knowledge will always be incomplete. Omniscience is impossible, but it is still an ideal worth striving towards. I think that learning can be a wonderful thing, so I don’t find it tragic in the slightest that we’ll always have something new to discover. After all, to quote Confucius, “Isn’t it a pleasure to learn, and put to practice what is learnt?”

Most of Confucius’s teachings are attributed to him by the Analects, a collection of of his dialogues and other orations. In the Analects, Confucius weaves an ancient form of humanistic philosophy. He, of course, spoke the Golden Rule: “Do not do unto others that which you would not have done unto yourself.” He believed, as I do, that sincerity, education, and patience were some of the greatest keys to living a meaningful life. Of course, he believed in the Chinese folk religion of the time, but as I mentioned before I don’t believe this holds much relevance. So long as you have a basic understanding of human nature, I couldn’t care less what you believe. I also happen to think that no matter how intelligent or wise you are, if you grow up in a religious community, you will tend to be converted (at least initially) into that religion.

One thing I find fascinating about Confucius is that he was considered a “troublemaker” during his own time. His contemporaries believed that he was corrupting the minds of the youth, which closely mirrors the opinions of Socrates’ and Jesus’ contemporaries. Confucius was sent away from a royal court for counseling the monarch against living a hedonistic life, then he proceeded to teach what knowledge he had gathered.

People have always complained about the youth and their new ideas, and have been distrustful of change. That is the way it has always been; there are no “good old days.” Hedonism and backlash against painful truths are things that have always been with humanity. I believe that philosophers of the past are worth studying, not because we should go back to what their times were like, but because they gave examples of how one might find happiness and fulfillment even in such counterproductive circumstances. I am of the belief that mankind has always had the capacity to do the right thing- and that mankind’s nature is to search for another way, because the only way to do the right thing is very difficult.

I doubt that there’s a “secret” to happiness in the traditional sense; the “secret” people are searching for is nothing more than a way to cut corners and move more quickly in a process that is, and can only be, very slow and gradual. This is why I believe patience is such a tremendous virtue; happiness is a journey, not a destination. It is something you must work for at all times in order to maintain it. It might sound trite, or cliched, but that’s because it’s true, as well as something that we humans have always known.

More important than patience, I think, is honesty. Since Confucius’ time, the cultures based on his teachings- Japan and China, notably- have elevated nearly to the point of godhood, and as such have lost sight of his teachings. Or rather, they never had sight of them to begin with, and now that Confucius is dead they can wring any meaning from his words without being corrected by him.

I don’t believe they’re alone in this, however; the Christians of the US are guilty of these sins, as well. Despite the fact that Jesus was more critical of the cruel, hypocritical, and exploitative than anything else, those who purport to follow him often preach hate and intolerance in his name. Greed is all too common among religious leaders, and hypocrisy is par for the course. I wish to say to fire-and-brimstone preachers, “If you want to see depraved, evil men; if you want to see someone who’s going directly to hell; if you want to see someone who is doing the Devil’s work, look no further than your nearest mirror. You are more of an asset to Satan than the vast majority of Satanists are. You spread cruelty and injustice in this world. You make lives worse and create needless suffering here on this earth. If the God you preach of is real, he is the SINGLE evilest thing to ever exist, and you are nothing more than a pawn for his malice.”

Humility is another virtue that Confucius taught. Be humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything, and don’t pretend that you speak on behalf of God. God doesn’t need you to speak for him. God doesn’t need anyone to speak for him. We have the tools necessary to discover the secrets of the universe ourselves; in our hands, eyes, ears, and minds. I am countercultural because cultures are based on dogma; we humans should abandon our cultures and simply search for what the truth is, welcome change, and be willing to admit it when we are wrong.

I deeply respect Confucius and Gandhi and Jesus; not because they are venerable, but because they knew how to achieve happiness. I know because I’m happy, even though my childhood wasn’t. Dogma and fighting over details distracts from the spirit of the ultimate truth: that we are all brothers, and that kindness, wisdom, and patience are the one and only path to happiness and fulfillment.

Here’s to Confucius; a man who, like many other men, uncovered the secret of happiness.

Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

A Link to the Past cover

The time has come to review my personal nomination for the title of “Greatest Video Game of All Time.”

I love The Legend of Zelda with every fiber of my being. Surprise, surprise. As many other gamers have likewise said before me, I believe that this series has all but distilled and perfected the medium of interactive media. Among us Zelda fans, there are usually two titles that are championed as the absolute apotheosis of the franchise: Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past. Make no mistake; except for the CDI games and Skyward Sword, I adore each iteration of the Zelda series (I’ll discuss my lack of affection for Skyward Sword when I review it), and I too believe that Ocarina is a masterpiece, but I don’t think it holds a candle to even the 3d games that came after it, let alone A Link to the Past.

I feel a similar way when people say that the Nintendo Entertainment System is the greatest game console of all time. I will concede this: it is the most important console ever made; after all, it saved the game market from utter destruction in the ’80s, and there are several timeless classics in its library (most notably Super Mario Bros. 3 and Castlevania), but the fact still remains that the NES had many constraints that prevented its games from reaching their true potential.

I argue that it is the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that is, in fact, the greatest console of all time. It was made during the forth generation of home consoles, the era of that sweet spot in gaming’s history where the machines weren’t yet powerful enough to render significant amounts of 3d graphics, but were powerful enough to allow you to do pretty much anything you wanted in 2d. In my opinion, you should only make a game in 3d if you have a very good reason to; for instance, for accommodating puzzles that take place in 3d space (such as in Portal or Assassin’s Creed), and if you don’t you should just make the game in 2d (I have a similar sentiment towards traditional vs. computer-generated animation). The Zelda series is my main example of this idea in motion; honestly, how much of Twilight Princess or Wind Waker would have changed very much if they were 2d games? They both have a handful of 3-dimensional puzzles, but otherwise have very little gameplay that couldn’t be reproduced 2-dimensionally. I argue that A Link to the Past is the bar Nintendo has to surpass before they can have a case for making 3d Zelda games, as it is better-tuned and designed than any of the other titles.

The genius of A Link to the Past is its simplicity. You begin the game with nothing; all you can do is move around with the d-pad and open doors and pick things immediately in front of you up with the A button. Once you get your sword and shield, the game demonstrates what is, in my opinion, the most elegant and perfect combat system in the world: you press B to swing the sword in the direction you’re facing, hold B for a few seconds to charge your sword and release it to spin it in a highly-damaging arc, and your shield will automatically block all physical (and later optical) projectiles it is facing. To use any other items, you simply press START to open up your menu, move your cursor over the item you want, press START to close your inventory again, then press Y to use the item in the direction you’re facing. That’s it.That’s the entire combat system. And it is the most fun you’ll ever have fighting things in a game.

Another great thing about the game is that it has a very good, but simple story set in a vibrant world; the most complex things about it are that it has an alternate dimension and that it has a villain who disguises himself as his own servant, but otherwise it’s very straightforward: you have to get three necklaces from monsters in dungeons to get a sword that can kill the villain, then you have to collect seven crystals with girls in them from more monsters in dungeons to actually get to him (I said that it’s simple, not that it’s not weird; this is a Japanese game, after all), and after you kill him you take three dragonball-like triangles from him that you use to wish everything back to the way it was.

Everything about this game is just brilliant; the dungeons are fantastic, the puzzles are just the right amount of frustrating, and pretty much every one of its bosses could make it into a top-ten list of the greatest bosses ever made (a strong contender for the #1 position on my personal list is Helmasaur King, the boss from the first dungeon of the game’s second act). My biggest criticism, which is honestly just a nitpick, is that it can sometimes get a little tedious or overly frustrating; without a walkthrough, you’re going to find yourself floundering about, not knowing where to go in places, and every time you die in a dungeon you’re sent right back to the beginning, which will (likely) cause more than a few rageful moments. However, like any great difficult game, the frustration these bring is just enough to give you an enormous sense of satisfaction when you finally, at long last, reach the end and complete it.

This game is a masterpiece that I adore.

Chapter Two: Avalon

The train gently rumbled over the tracks as trees and cliffsides rushed past its windows. The luxury car’s interior walls were a pleasant yellow with a deep maroon ceiling. An intricate, long Shangri-lan carpet was rolled down its hall, and branching off from the hall were several windowed, polished oaken doors opening onto private booths with cushioned leather seats flanking square stone tables. Each booth also had a wide window for gazing at the lush landscapes the train rushed through.

Twilight and Spike pulled their bags and suitcases down the hall until they found an unoccupied booth. They pushed their suitcases under the seats and hoisted their bags up onto the overhead compartments before sitting on opposite sides of the table.

“So, you wanna play some chess?” Spike asked.

Twilight answered with a nod. “Yes, that would be nice.”

As Spike pulled down one of their bags and produced a folded wooden chess board from it, a conductor rapped on their window. Twilight opened the door, allowing a bespectacled Elf sporting a tufty mustache to enter their booth. “Tickets, please,” he said, and Twilight pulled the two tickets Celestia had provided her from her pocket and handed them to him. The conductor tore both in half and handed two of the halves back to her. “Thank you, Miss,” he said before moving on to the next booth.

An aproned Human stewardess entered immediately after the conductor’s exit, and with a polite smile asked them, “Would you like any beverages this morning?”

“Spiced tea would be lovely,” Twilight said.

“Just regular tea for me. Two spoons of sugar, please,” Spike said.

The stewardess bowed. “I’ll bring them in a few minutes,” she said, and she too moved to the next booth the conductor had visited.

As Spike and Twilight were arranging their pieces on their fine maple board, the stewardess soon returned and gave them their tea, as well as a small plate of snickerdoodle cookies. They thanked her, then began playing their game.

As they took turns moving their pieces between the checkered squares, Spike began to notice that during his moves Twilight would gaze concernedly out of the window. Shortly after they had begun the mid-game, he said, “You alright, Twilight?”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah. I just wonder- what if someone really does try to release Nightmare Moon?”

“Celestia doesn’t seem to think it’ll happen, so you should relax,” Spike replied. He lifted his hand to move one of his knights. “Maybe you should try to make some friends in Avalon to take your mind off things when we’re not monitoring it.”

Twilight groaned. Already Celestia had bothered her about making friends, as she often did; Twilight did not need Spike putting his nose in her business, too. “I’m just going to quietly read in my room or their library,” she said. “You can make some friends if you like.”

“Friendship is one of the six Elements of Harmony, you know,” Spike pointed out. “It’ll bring you greater peace, strengthening your soul and granting you more Chi.”

Twilight frowned at Spike. “I already have Cadance, Shining, and you,” she said. “I don’t need any more friends.” She moved one of her bishops into a square that placed Spike’s king in check.

Spike sighed and advanced one of his pawns, defending his king.

Though Twilight was already a very powerful sorceress, she was always inquiring how to unlock more of her potential. Her family, her close friends Spike and Cadance, and Celestia all insisted that the best way for her to deepen her spirituality was to spend more time around others, but Twilight stubbornly held to her position that her emotional needs were perfectly fulfilled and that expanding her knowledge of Magic was simply a question of finding the right book. Books had never failed her before, and she was growing stronger even without looking beyond them. Making new friends couldn’t be anything more than a frivolous waste of time at best. Twilight had lied to Celestia that she was going to try to make friends to appease her, and she was determined to spend the week studying and doing other useful things instead.

Twilight won four of the six games she played against Spike in the few hours they were on the train. They were given a small lunch of cucumber sandwiches with more tea halfway through the trip, and Spike didn’t bring the subject of friend making up again. When they approached close to Avalon they packed up their game and pulled their bags down, preparing to move back off of the car.

Twilight said to Spike, “Here’s our basic schedule: we’re going to go to the inn, then we’re going to put our bags in our rooms. We’re going to ask our guide to show us around the town and help us look for anything suspicious. When we get back we’re going to unpack, and then we can do whatever we want for the rest of the day. We’re going to check around the town every morning and spend the remaining time however we like until the Celebration, and when that’s over we’re going to pack back up and then go home.”

Spike nodded. “Alright. How are we gonna monitor the town?”

“I don’t know yet,” Twilight replied. “Celestia gave me a letter to read when we’re settled in that should give us instructions.”

In a few minutes the train shuddered to a stop, and the conductors began shouting, “All off for Avalon! All off for Avalon!”

Twilight and Spike stacked their bags on top of their suitcases and rolled them down the hall. It was a little crowded and took some time for them to disembark from the car, but soon enough they were stepping out into the station.

The Avalon train station was rather small, but still clean and quite nice; it was built of deep red bricks and was covered by a domed glass ceiling, allowing the sun to brightly light the tiled ground beneath them. Only two trains, one facing east and the other west, could be stationed there at any given time. The conductors at the stopped trains always shouted the same calls, depending on the direction they were facing; the conductors on the eastward trains always called, “All aboard for Olympus!” while those facing west cried, “All aboard for Dragonscale!” There were two tall clocks installed in the station floor, informing the many Beings moving past them that the time was now one twenty-two.

“Where do you think we go?” Spike asked Twilight.

Before Twilight could answer, she heard a girl’s voice, clear enough to be heard even over the great bustle of the station, shrilly crying, “OLYMPIAN AMBASSADORS!! OLYMPIAN AMBASSADORS!!”

Twilight gazed slightly nervously in the direction of the voice for a moment. “I think that’s us,” she said, and she and Spike began rolling their suitcases towards the voice.

Soon they found the shouts’ source; it was a Human girl in her early teens holding a large card sign over her head between her hands. She was lightly tanned, with bright pink hair kept in two pigtails that swirled in ringlets. She was wearing white sneakers with pink soles and laces, a white t-shirt spotted with polka dots of every size and shape, and a short ruffled skirt that showed off the mark on her thighs, which was a yellow balloon over a pair of baby blue balloons. She was jumping in place while waving the sign, which read, “Olympian Ambassadors,” with an enormous grin as she continued to shout with deafening loudness, “OLYMPIAN AMBASSADORS!! WHERE ARE YOU?!”

Twilight hesitated, staring at the energetic girl for a moment, before she nervously cleared her throat, smiled, and called, “Um, hello?”

The girl turned to them, gasped, and cried, “Are you two the Olympian ambassadors?!”

“Yep, that’s us,” Spike replied.

To Spike and Twilight’s great shock, the girl immediately rushed forward and caught them both in a rib-cracking embrace. “Welcome to Avalon!” she cheerfully yelled before releasing them. They gaspingly, astonishedly stared at the girl as she said, “You must be Twilight and Spike, right? I’m Pinkie Pie! It’s nice to meet you!”

She flashed them an enormous grin before fluttering her blue eyes at them, rocking back and forth between her heels and toes.

Twilight caught her breath in stunned silence for a moment, then tried to smile politely. “Are you our guide?” she asked.

Pinkie nodded vigorously. “Yep! I’m gonna take you to where you’re gonna be staying, and show you around town!”

She rushed forward, picking up some of their bags. “Here, let me help you!” she said as she did so. “Your carriage is this way!” she said, walking towards the station’s south exit. Twilight and Spike glanced concernedly at each other, both wondering where she had put down her sign to pick up their bags, before following after her.

As they were pushing past the huge, rotating glass doors, Pinkie asked, “Have either of you visited Avalon before?”

“No, this is our first time here,” Spike said.

Pinkie gasped. “You’ve never been to Avalon before?! Oh, you’re going to love it here! It’s not very big, but it’s really pretty and fun and everyone here’s really nice!”

As they stepped outside, Twilight saw that Pinkie was correct about at least one thing: Avalon was quite pretty. They were on a street lined with brick town houses and shops, and all of the windows were decorated with colored lanterns and flowers. Nearly all of the houses had well-tended front gardens guarded by wrought iron fences, and the wide windows of the shops displayed everything from shoes to toys to vinyl records of pop stars and the world’s finest classical musicians.

The stone roads were busy with Angels, Elves, and Humans (with Humans being the slightly most numerous) out and enjoying the beautiful day as young children played jacks and hopscotch or hitched rides on the backs of carriages. Twilight could see that just down the street was a large, wooded park where more children were swinging across monkey bars or having picnics with their fathers and mothers (Twilight noticed that some of the parents were quite young; one or two were even in their mid teens).

Pinkie walked to a small, stopped carriage, which stood beside a black street lamp and was pulled by a white, brown-spotted workhorse and was driven by a rather elderly Human man. As Pinkie pulled her guests’ bags onto the top of it, the old man asked, “These the ambassadors, Miss Pinkie?”

“They sure are, Jack!” Pinkie replied.

“So, where to?” Jack said.

“Take us to town square!” Pinkie answered excitedly.

Jack the coachman nodded, and once Spike and Twilight had helped Pinkie fasten the rest of their luggage to the roof of the carriage they stepped inside and sat down as Jack urged the horse forward.

As they rode, Pinkie spoke much and with great speed. “…and you two are gonna be staying at the inn I work at! I didn’t have anyplace to stay when I first moved here, so my employers let me stay in one of their rooms! You’re gonna love your rooms! The beds are so warm and soft and they have great views of town square! Town square is so amazing during the Summer Sun Celebration! I’m the head planner of the festivities, and this year is gonna be the best Celebration EVER!!”

“Do you think you could lower your voice a little?” Twilight said, holding her head with one hand and wincing a little as her ears lightly rang.

“Oops! I’m sorry!” Pinkie said. “It’s just that, I get so excited whenever there’s a party, and the Celebration’s the biggest party of the year, and there’s dancing and music and games and oceans of pink lemonade (pink lemonade is my favorite kind of lemonade, but come on, whose favorite lemonade isn’t pink lemonade?) and my friend Dashie puts on an amazing stunt show and Rarity makes us these adorable party dresses and Applejack gives all of us jugs of apple cider and some of the best caramel apples you’ve ever tasted-”

But at that moment the coach stopped and Jack called down, “We’ve arrived, Miss Pinkie.”

“Oh, great!” Pinkie cried, squealing excitedly. “Yay! Come on, we’re here!”

They all exited, and Pinkie skipped to the back of the carriage to pull down their bags. Twilight saw that they were at a huge cross-section of road before a tall, circular tower, which was surrounded by four large fountains with stone statues spitting water into shallow, glittering basins down beneath them. There was a busy shop at each corner; one, which was clearly a pub, had a sign over its door with a frothing mug painted on it; another had a sign with a steaming ceramic coffee mug; another had a sign with a platter bearing a browned turkey and buttered peas. The one that Pinkie led them towards, however, was easily the most eye-catching of the group; it looked like a large, pink cake, with its brown shingles arranged to resemble frosting. It was capped with a cupcake-like turret that had a small yellow flag on a striped pole sticking from the top of it like a lit candle. “This is the Sugar Shack and Inn!” Pinkie exclaimed, and indeed Twilight saw written over the door in elegant gold letters, “Sugar Shack and Inn” with the subtitle beneath them, “bakery, confectioner’s, and overnight accommodations.” Twilight saw that in the windows were lovingly frosted birthday and wedding cakes that were so large and delicious-looking that she felt her mouth watering at the sight of them.

When Pinkie pushed open the door, a bell heralded their arrival and Twilight heard a man call, “Oh, hi, Pinkie! I see you have our guests!”

Twilight looked around the shop. It was cheerfully colored and decorated, with cream wallpaper and pillars with swirling stripes of hot pink and white. She could smell the temptingly sweet scent of baking cakes and melting chocolate, which she could tell was coming from a kitchen closed behind swinging doors. One corner of the shop was surrounded by a long glass counter, in which Twilight could see row upon row of small chocolates, dipped fruits, and cupcakes of every size and flavor. Standing behind the counter, attending to a young helmeted Angel girl with small orange feathered wings and short, boyish hot pink hair, was a rather plump but lovely Human woman with swirling, frosting-like pink hair and who looked to Twilight as though she were in the early stages of pregnancy. With her was a teen Human girl in a blue t-shirt and short shorts with curled blue and pink hair that was preparing new chocolates on small, square pieces of wax paper and had three wrapped candies on each of her thighs. The man that had greeted them was carrying a crate of flour into the kitchen; he was a tall and rather wiry Human with an angular face, orange hair, a face full of freckles, and a red-and-white striped bowtie around his neck. All three were wearing brown aprons and were smiling warmly at Spike and Twilight.

“These,” said Pinkie, indicating at the elder man and woman, “are my employers Mr. and Mrs. Cake.” She pointed at the confectioner girl and continued, “That’s my coworker Sweetie Drops, but everyone calls her Bon-Bon.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” all three said together, and the women bowed while Mr. Cake nodded at them.

As the young Angel ran out of the shop to her scooter parked outside with a poppy seed muffin, Mrs. Cake said, “So, We’re told you two are here to oversee the Celebration?”

“That’s right,” Twilight said.

With slight concern, Mr. Cake asked, “Is there something wrong? Does the Princess think something dangerous might happen?”

“We doubt it,” Twilight replied. “We can’t tell you much, just that you probably don’t need to worry but we’re here just to be safe.”

“Okay. Come on, I’ll show you your rooms!” Pinkie said.

Twilight gazed anxiously at Pinkie for a moment, then said, “Just a second.” She turned to Mr. Cake. “Do you have any drinks?”

Mr. Cake smiled. “Certainly! We have sodas, iced tea, cider-”

“I’ll have some cider, please. And a glass, if you don’t mind,” Twilight replied.

Mr. Cake nodded. He said to his wife, “Honey, could you get those for her?”

“Of course, dear,” Mrs. Cake replied, and she walked into the kitchen. In a few moments she returned and gave Twilight a glass bottle filled with cold golden liquid and a small glass cup.

“Thanks,” Twilight said, taking them. “How much?”

“Oh, you can have it, dear,” said Mrs. Cake. “Consider it a welcome gift on us.”

“Thank you very much,” Twilight said, and she placed her glass on the counter and then held her hand up in the air. Her marks glowed with violet light, and purple Ether began to materialize in her palm and transmute into a spiraling screw of aluminum.

Twilight used this screw to remove the cork as Pinkie continued, “I have so much to show you guys! That tower outside is the Town Hall, and that’s where we’re gonna see Princess Celestia! We’re gonna set up goals in the park to play football, and we… um…”

Pinkie had nervously come to a slow stop, as while she was speaking Twilight had poured herself and downed a glass of her cider. However, as Pinkie was continuing to rapidly describe her plans for their tour around the town, Twilight had stared with annoyed weariness at her for a moment before lifting the bottle directly to her lips and chugging it until every last drop had rolled down her throat. As Twilight made a small gasp upon finishing it off, Pinkie continued with less enthusiasm and sounding a little hurt, “Um… so we’re, uh… gonna have lots of fun today.” She made another smile that seemed slightly forced.

Twilight smiled back. “That’s nice.”

After a moment of tense silence, Pinkie said, “So, um… I’ll just, uh… help you bring your bags up.” She did so, and soon Twilight and Spike had moved their luggage into their rooms. Pinkie then said to them, “My room’s right next to yours, so we’re gonna be neighbors while you’re here for the week! Whenever you’re ready, just tell me, and I’ll show you around town! If you need anything else, just ask, and I’ll be happy to help!”

Her cheerfulness was back, and Twilight took a deep breath and said with as much genuine appreciation as she could muster, “Thanks, Pinkie. I will.”

Twilight pulled Celestia’s letter out from her pocket, and after gazing at it said, “Give us about fifteen minutes, and then we’ll be ready.”

“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie said, and with an energetic wave and an enormous grin she skipped back down the stairs to the shop.

Twilight sighed relievedly. “Finally, some quiet,” she muttered.

“I like her a lot,” Spike said, smiling. “She’s really nice.”

“Good for you,” Twilight said, walking to her bed. It was quilted, with an oak nightstand bearing a square, wooden alarm clock beside it. Spike followed her, and both sat at the bed’s foot. “Let’s see what Celestia’s instructions are,” Twilight said, ripping open the envelope. She read it aloud:

My dearest, most faithful student Twilight,

I hope you enjoy your time at Avalon. Regarding your mission, I recommend that you monitor the town by regularly asking its citizens about any unusual or suspicious activity that’s occured recently. Please send me a written report daily of anything you’ve found, and I’ll reply with any further necessary instructions. You can send your reports directly to my chambers via burning. Remember: only Spike may know of your task, unless in the case of dire emergency.

I have also enclosed a check which should provide you enough funds to provide essential provisions for your stay. I wish you the best of luck.

Hoping you’re well,

High Princess Celestia.

Twilight reached back into the envelope and produced a check that read, “For a withdrawal of seventy silver pieces from the Royal Equestrian treasury, by the order of and signed by High Princess Celestia.” Seventy silver pieces; enough to eat comfortably throughout the entire week, and then some.

Twilight placed the check and the letter back into her pocket and said to Spike, “Alright, let’s do this. We just need to ask some people if anything strange has happened, then we can come back here and unpack. We’ll go over your spell casting material a little, then you can go do whatever you want.”

“Sweet,” Spike said.

Twilight led Spike back downstairs, where Pinkie was patiently waiting for them while eating a white cupcake. “So, we’re ready for that tour now,” Twilight said, wearing a polite smile.

Pinkie jumped up, beaming. “Okie dokie lokie! Let’s go!”

“Just one thing- while we’re out, do you think you know anyone who would know what’s going on around town?”

Pinkie nodded. “Yep! My best friends can help you; they’re just the girls you’re looking for!”

“Do you think you could take us to them?” Twilight asked.

“Sure thing! That’ll be perfect; I can introduce you to them while I’m showing you around town!” And with that Pinkie hummed a cheerful tune as she led them out the door.

Pinkie brought them westward, skipping and singing to herself. She pointed out shops to them as they went along, to which Twilight politely nodded and acknowledged them while Spike listened with more genuine attentiveness. In a few minutes they began approaching a massive farm; it was surrounded by a wooden fence, and at its center was a tall red barn beside a small orange farmhouse. There were pastures and pens filled with sheep, pigs, cows, and chickens in close proximity to the barn, and Twilight could also see horses and ponies galloping across a nearby ranch. But the most prevalent feature of the farm was the staggeringly vast apple orchard that surrounded it all- it was almost large enough to be a small forest, and indeed only the fence around it prevented it from merging with the wild Everfree Forest beside it.

The farm was abuzz with activity; Twilight saw a huge number of Humans of all ages there walking, playing, or riding the horses on the ranch. They were clearly all related; they all had hair that varied between red, yellow, or green, and many of them were freckled. “This is Sweet Apple Acres!” Pinkie said excitedly. “My friend Applejack and her family live here. She’s my cousin!”

Twilight nodded. In her studies she’d learned more than a little about the major families of Equestria; she knew that this was the main farm of the Apples, a large but somewhat new clan of Human farmers that was the world’s largest producer of apple cider. The clan had begun in this farm, and the head of the family continued to reside there. “I know,” Twilight said. “Aren’t the Apples a splinter clan of the Pie family?”

Pinkie flinched. “Yeah…” she said, somewhat uncomfortably.

Twilight raised a brow in confusion, but before she could inquire further Pinkie quickly said, “Come on, let’s go meet her!”

With that Pinkie took Twilight’s hand and began running to the front gate. “H-hey!” Twilight protested, but Pinkie only grinned manically as she pulled the gate’s latch open and pushed past it. Spike ran to catch up with them, and they soon came up to another teenaged girl. She was blonde, with green eyes and a spray of freckles across her nose. Her hair was long and kept in a loose ponytail, and she was rather muscular and well-tanned. She wore a brown cowgirl hat as well as a pair of brown leather boots, denim short shorts, and an autumn-colored shirt with its sleeves rolled and its bottom tied, revealing her belly. On her thighs were three red apples, which didn’t surprise Twilight at all. She was busy leaning against the barn, talking to a slightly older boy who looked remarkably like her; he also had long blonde hair and green eyes, and like Applejack he was also wearing blue denim trousers, leather boots, a buttoned shirt, and a brown cowboy hat.

“Hey, Applejack!” Pinkie cried, releasing Twilight’s hand to wave at her.

Applejack turned to them. “Hey, Pinkie!” she said with a southern Arcadian drawl. “These here the Olympian ambassadors?” she asked, smiling at Twilight and Spike.

Twilight sighed, stepping forward. “Yes. Good afternoon. My name is Twilight Sparkle.”

Without warning, Applejack suddenly rushed forward and gripped Twilights hand in both of hers, shaking it with great vigor. “Well, howdy do, Miss Twilight Sparkle? A pleasure makin’ your acquaintance. Ah’m Applejack. We here at Sweet Apple Acres sure do like makin’ new friends!”

When Applejack released Twilight’s hand, Twilight winced and began gently messaging it while Spike suppressed a snicker.

“Let me introduce you to the family,” Applejack said.

“Actually, I-” Twilight began, but Applejack indicated at the boy she’d been talking to and said over her, “This here’s my favorite cousin Braeburn.”

Braeburn tipped his hat with a, “Howdy, Miss Twilight. Spike, sir.”

Applejack then walked towards a cluster of her other relatives, forcing Twilight and Spike to follow her. She pointed at a large, freckle-faced, heavily muscled young man with strawberry blonde hair who was leaning against a tree with a blade of grass sticking out of his mouth. “That’s my big brother, Big Macintosh,” Applejack said, before moving towards the ranch. Once they reached it, she indicated at a young girl with peach eyes and cherry-red hair kept up in a ponytail with a large, pink bow who was riding one of the ponies. “That there’s my sister Apple Bloom,” she said, before turning towards the house. Upon stepping onto the porch, Applejack pointed at a tiny, scrawny, ancient old woman with white hair kept in a tight bun and wearing a long, green cotton dress, who was sleeping with soft snores on a wooden rocking chair. “And this is my grandma, Granny Smith,” she said, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb her.

Applejack turned back to Twilight. “Ah think that’s enough to go on for now. So, what can Ah do you for?”

“Well,” Twilight said, smiling politely, “My apprentice Spike and I are here to oversee the Summer Sun Celebration. Were here to ensure that nothing causes any disruptions to the festival. You clearly have a large family; have you or any of your relatives seen any strange or unusual things or activities around the town?”

Applejack scratched her head, looking up and humming. “Uh, nope. Nothin’ springs to mind.”

Twilight nodded. “Alright. Well, thank you. That’s all we needed to know. It’s nice to meet you, Applejack.”

“Nice to meet ya’ll too,” Applejack said, cheerfully tipping her hat.

Spike waved at her. “We’ll see you later!” he said.

As Pinkie led Twilight and Spike back out of the farm, Applejack called after them, “Don’t be strangers, ya’ll hear?! Come back on the festival; my clan and Ah are havin’ quite the jamboree, and they’re only stayin’ here this week for the millennial Celebration!”

Spike left in quite a cheerful mood, but Twilight was quite tired. She hoped that Pinkie’s other friends wouldn’t be quite so exhausting to talk to. Nonetheless, Applejack was far less bothersome than Pinkie. That was a start, at least.

As they were walking back down the roads, Twilight saw that Pinkie was staring up at the clouds. “Um, what are you doing?” Twilight asked.

“I’m looking for my friend Dashie!” Pinkie replied. “Her house should be somewhere around here today.”

“She lives in a cloud house?” Twilight said.

“Mm-hmm!”

“Why doesn’t she just live on the ground? Or in Asgard or another Angel city?”

“She moved here with our friend Fluttershy from Asgard a couple years ago because they were bullied there and people are nicer here. But Dashie still loves being in the sky, and her dad is rich, so he had a house built over Avalon for her.”

This made Twilight grow curious, so she continued to follow Pinkie and began to look up at the clouds as well. After a few minutes, Pinkie abruptly shouted, “Aha! There she is!” while pointing at a small cluster of low-hanging clouds at the edge of Twilight’s vision.

The clouds bore a shining white sky marble house that was elegantly built with classical roofs, pillars, and friezes. Twilight was impressed; the small mansion would indeed have taken no small amount of gold to have constructed. Near the house was a smaller cloud, upon which Twilight could distantly see a figure lying across it.

Pinkie ran down the road to get closer, then shouted up in a piercingly loud scream, “HEY, RAINBOW DASH!!”

Twilight and Spike jogged to Pinkie as the girl poked her head over the cloud’s edge. “Hey, Pinkie!” Twilight heard her call to them with a raspy voice. She jumped off of the cloud and hovered to the ground.

The Angel Rainbow Dash was rather small and skinny but well-toned and athletic. Her slightly narrow magenta eyes, straight, messy, rainbow-colored hair, and soft brown skin tone suggested to Twilight that she was of Dragon Imperial descent. Her feathered, sky-blue wings were large and powerfully-built, which along with the multicolored lightning bolts flashing from clouds on each of her shoulders caused Twilight to also conclude that her special talent was great speed in flight. She was wearing a basketball jersey, shoes, and shorts, which were all electric blue with hot pink lining, and her jersey also had her mark emblazoned prominently on its front and her name over the number twenty displayed on the back.

“What’s up, Pinkie?” she said. “Are these the Elves from Olympus?”

“Yep!” Pinkie said. “This is Twilight and Spike!”

“So,” Twilight said, “You’re Rainbow Dash?”

Rainbow smirked, striking a pose and pointing her thumb at her chest. “The one and only. Why, you heard of me?”

“You wouldn’t happen to be related to Rainbow Blaze, the former captain of the Wonderbolts?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, he’s my dad!” Rainbow said proudly.

Before Twilight could reply, however, she heard a low hum come from Rainbow’s pocket. The Angel sighed and pulled the source of the sound out: it was a plastic card, which was vibrating and magically glowing as it displayed some text. Rainbow sighed. “Hold on, give me just a sec,” she said, and she placed the card back into her pocket and darted into the air with astonishing swiftness. Twilight and Spike stared open-mouthed after her as she flew over the buildings until she dived down out of sight. In less than a minute, Twilight saw her soar over their heads again while carrying a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and twine. She flew a fair distance and then dived down somewhere else, and in seconds she flew back into the air and dived back down to the road where Pinkie, Twilight, and Spike stood.

Rainbow slowed herself down, but she was still going frighteningly fast. Twilight yelped in fright as Rainbow suddenly fell headfirst towards the ground before her. To Twilight’s surprise, however, Rainbow expertly rolled across the ground and came to a stop meters away from her on one knee.

As Rainbow stood up, she dusted herself off and said, “Sorry about that. I had to deliver a stupid package.”

Spike and Twilight continued to gape at Rainbow. “Oh my gosh! That was unbelievably fast!” Spike said.

Rainbow smirked arrogantly. “Yeah, I’m one of the fastest fliers in the world, if not the fastest.”

Twilight continued to silently stare open-mouthed at Rainbow for a moment, causing Rainbow to snicker. “You should see your face, Twilight. You’re a laugh.”

Rainbow smirked, narrowing her eyes at Twilight. “You’re pretty cute, too.”

Twilight blushed, and Rainbow chuckled. Twilight understood now; she had begun wondering why Rainbow had faced bullying in Asgard, despite being such an incredible flier. Now it was clear: Rainbow was an aggressively flirtatious lesbian, which would easily cause her great tensions with her hierarchical, judgmental fellow Angels.

Twilight cleared her throat. “Well, I wanted to ask you if you’ve seen or heard about anything strange or suspicious.”

Rainbow raised a brow. “Why? Is there something going on?”

“We can’t tell you,” Twilight replied. “I’m sorry. Have you seen anything, though?”

Rainbow shook her head. “Nah. Everything’s been pretty smooth.”

“Alright. Well, thanks anyway.”

“Anytime. Well, I gotta go train. Catch you later, Twi.” With another flirtatious smirk, she added, “I can’t wait to hang out some more.”

She took to the sky, and Twilight found herself blushing a little again. “She’s amazing,” Spike said, and Twilight turned to see that he was grinning broadly at her. “I can’t wait for us to hang out some more with her, either.”

Twilight frowned. “Why, so you can see her hit on me some more?”

“To be honest, I actually hope I get to see you two make out,” Spike replied, grinning.

“Not happening,” Twilight said flatly. As Spike groaned in mock disappointment, she testily began walking again. “Take us to your next friend,” she said to Pinkie.

Pinkie nodded. “Okay!”

Pinkie took them nearly back to town square, then turned right so they were going southward. They soon came to a shop with a small, silvery carousel turning over its door. Inside its windows were mannequins displaying lavish, brightly-colored summer dresses, some of which were encrusted with precious jewels. Twilight looked up, and saw a sign over the door that read in golden, lavish letters, “Carousel Boutique.”

“Let’s go in!” Pinkie said, opening the door. A bell rang, then Twilight and Spike followed Pinkie inside.

Everything but the dresses in the shop was some shade of purple, pink, or gold. There were body-length mirrors in two of the corners, as well as a pair of folding screens for customers to change behind. In the far right corner was a drafting desk piled with fabrics and scissors and surrounded by partially-dressed mannequins, and to its left was a carpeted set of spiraling stairs that led up to the second floor. In the center of the boutique was a raised platform, upon which stood a mannequin bearing a dress being worked on by a young Elvish woman.

She was a little older than Twilight, as well as several centimeters taller. She had long, luscious violet hair that curled at the end of her back and bangs. She was wearing a loose, sleeveless blouse, a tight miniskirt, soft, brown leather high heeled boots, and a pair of golden hoop earrings. As she stitched the dress, her sapphire-blue eyes inspected her work through a pair of red cat-eyed spectacles. Her eyes were matched by the three blue diamonds on each of her hands. She was stunningly gorgeous; Spike found himself blushing intensely as his eyes ran down her voluptuous hourglass figure and long, shapely legs. Her pale face was just as lovely, with long black eyelashes, light pink blush on her cheeks, and full lips painted a passionate crimson.

“Hi, Rarity!” Pinkie called, waving to her.

Rarity looked up, then smiled. “Oh, hello, Pinkie!” she said. Twilight immediately identified her high class-sounding accent as Athenian.

Rarity levitated her needle to her desk as she removed and folded her glasses. “You must be the ambassadors from the city of Olympus,” she said.

Twilight smiled. “We are,” she replied.

Rarity made a low curtsy to them. “It’s an honor.”

She stepped forward, towards Spike. “Is this your apprentice, dear?” she said, to which Spike nervously looked away.

“Mm-hmm,” Twilight replied. “His name is Spike.”

“Oh, you’re such a darling little gent!” Rarity cooed. “Are you studying under her remedially?”

At this, Spike stopped blushing and frowned irritatedly at Rarity. He always hated being mistaken for being younger than he was. “No. I’m almost twelve,” he said.

Rarity covered her mouth, flushing. “Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry!” she said.

Spike shrugged. “It’s alright. Happens all the time.”

Rarity smiled apologetically. “Well, I’m mentoring my own sister remedially. Here, I’ll introduce you.”

As Rarity called up the stairs, “Sweetie Belle! Come down, please!” Pinkie turned to Spike and said, “You’re almost twelve? When’s your birthday?”

Spike made a pleased smile as he replied, “June twenty-first.”

Pinkie gasped. “That’s the day of the Celebration!”

“Yep,” said Spike.

“Oh, we’re gonna have to throw you a birthday party! Please let me plan it; I’m reeealy good at planning parties; it’s my talent, you know!”

Spike nodded. “Sure, you can plan my party!”

As Twilight heard someone coming down the stairs, Pinkie said, “Can I throw it the night before the festival? I mean, it’d be a little hard to have them both at the same time…”

“Sure, I don’t mind,” Spike replied.

An Elf girl about Apple Bloom’s age stepped before them. She was in a white sundress, and had light green eyes framed by soft pink and lavender curled hair. There was no mark yet on her hands, explaining to Spike and Twilight why she was already apprenticed to her older sister. “Hi!” she greeted them cheerfully. “I’m Sweetie Belle!”

Twilight smiled at her. “It’s lovely to meet you. I’m Twilight Sparkle, and this is my apprentice Spike.”

Rarity gasped dramatically. “You’re Twilight Sparkle?! As in Duchess Twilight Sparkle, daughter of Duke Night Light and Duchess Twilight Velvet, the Royal Astronomer and the Royal Librarian to Princess Celestia?!” She continued with mounting excitement, “As in the sister of Shining Armor, Captain of the Olympian Royal Guard and lover to the Goddess of Love Princess Cadance?! As in Twilight Sparkle, apprentice of High Princess Celestia herself, who is studying to become Her Highness’s Royal Court Magician?!”

Twilight sighed. “Yes, that’s me.”

Rarity squealed delightedly and danced in place. “Oh, this is simply fabulous! Twilight Sparkle, one of the most important noblewomen in the entire world, here in my boutique! Oh, you simply must tell me all about life in the Royal court and that stunning castle Camelot! Oh, the intrigue, the glamour, the romance!”

She embraced Twilight, rubbing their cheeks together. “We’re going to be the best of friends, you and I!”

Twilight nervously chuckled, gently pushing Rarity away. “Ooo-kay, well, I, um…”

Twilight cleared her throat. “We were just wondering, have you seen anything suspicious or unusual recently?”

Rarity clapped her hands together. “Why yes, darling, I have!”

Twilight’s eyes widened surprisedly. “R-really? What is it?”

“I’ll tell you all about it while I’m fitting you,” Rarity replied. She turned and said to her sister, “Sweetie Belle, would you mind getting my measuring tape?”

“Sure, sis!” Sweetie Belle replied enthusiastically before running to one of Rarity’s cupboards.

“F-fitting me?” Twilight said. “For what?”

“Why, for your party dress, darling,” Rarity replied as Sweetie returned with the tape.

“Thanks, but I don’t-”

“Oh, don’t worry, dear. Consider it a gift; I make all of my friends dresses for the festival!”

Twilight sighed wearily. “Fine.” As Rarity began to wrap the tape around her form, Twilight added, “Just so long as you tell me what suspicious activity you’ve seen.”

Rarity laughed. “Of course, of course! Well, just yesterday, I saw a Human girl named Daisy out having breakfast with an Angel I know isn’t her boyfriend…”

Suddenly realizing what she was actually about to hear, Twilight made a small groan.

As Rarity continued to gossip away to Twilight as she measured her, Sweetie Belle walked up to Spike, gazing at the backs of his hands. “Are you a pyromancer?” she asked wondrously.

Spike grinned. “Yep,” he said, holding up his hand.

“That’s so cool!” Sweetie said. “Can you show me?”

Spike chuckled. “Not in here. I might burn the shop down.”

“I wish I had my Mark,” Sweetie muttered enviously. “Almost everyone else in my class does.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“My friends Scootaloo and Apple Bloom. We’ve started a club to get our marks together.”

“What do you call yourselves?”

“The Cutie Mark Crusaders!” Sweetie cried, holding her fist in the air in a victorious pose.

Spike nodded, smiling. Cutie’s right, he thought; he thought Sweetie was almost as pretty as her sister. Spike was having a very good day; already he’d met a lot of really cute girls, all of whom were very friendly, fun, and likable. They also all seemed delighted to become friends with him and Twilight, so he was enormously looking forward to spending a long summer week with them all. He only wished that Twilight would join along with them, as well.

Rarity concluded, “… and I said, ‘Oh, that beast! I hope a cockatrice petrifies him!'” Rarity rolled her tape up as she said, “There, you’re done.”

Twilight sighed relievedly. “Thanks,” she said. “Well, we’d best be on our way.”

“Bye!” Spike said, and he and Pinkie exited the shop with Twilight as Rarity called back, “Au revoir, darlings!”

Pinkie led them westwards. Twilight was very tired and in a very foul mood. She’d been walking all day, and all of her guide’s friends had been bothersome and absolutely exhausting to talk to. “Is this next one your last friend?” she asked Pinkie as politely as she could.

“Yep!” said Pinkie.

They were silent for a while after that. However, as they drew close to a cottage on the edge of the Everfree Forest, Spike suddenly gasped and pressed his face against a shop window. “Oh my gosh!” he cried. “It’s a limited edition Platinum Clock Dragon Steam figurine! And it’s on sale for twenty silver pieces!”

He turned to Twilight and Pinkie. “Can I hurry in and buy that?” he asked.

Pinkie nodded. “Sure! We’re just going to that cottage over there. Meet us in front of it when you’re done!”

“Okay!” Spike said, and he rushed into the door.

Twilight sighed as she and Pinkie closed the remaining distance to the cottage.

The little house was yellow, and had a very lovely little garden with several birdhouses and fruit trees bearing beehives all around it. Crouching before the house and feeding some birds was an Angel of almost godlike beauty; she was slender and willowy, with sweet blue eyes and pink hair that was so long that it nearly reached the ground while she crouched. She wore leather sandals and a soft, pink miniskirt. Her feathered wings were the color of custard, matching her t-shirt that had small, flared sleeves that showed off the marks of pink butterflies on her shoulders. Like Rainbow, she looked as though she were Dragon Imperial. Twilight deduced that she was Fluttershy, the girl who had moved to Avalon from Asgard with Rainbow.

Fluttershy was gently singing as she scattered seeds, and while hearing it Twilight felt her breath stop; it was so sweet it was heartbreaking.

“Hey, Fluttershy!” Pinkie shouted, and Fluttershy yelped as the birds around her scattered into the air.

“Pinkie!” Fluttershy said, her voice quiet and soft. “Please don’t scare the birds!”

Pinkie covered her mouth. “I’m sorry!” she said.

Fluttershy closed her eyes and smiled. “It’s okay. Just be more careful next time, please.”

“Okay!” Pinkie replied, flashing her a grin. “Anyway, this is my new friend Twilight!”

Fluttershy looked at Twilight, then blushed and looked away, hiding behind her long bangs. “Umm, hello,” she whispered.

Twilight made a pained smile, then said. “Umm, hi, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy only made a quiet squeak in reply.

“So, uh…” Twilight continued, “have you seen anything strange or unusual recently?”

Fluttershy silently shook her head.

“Ooo-kay,” Twilight said. “Well, I’ll be on my way then. Nice to meet you.”

“Hey, Twilight!” Spike shouted, coming in behind her. Fluttershy looked at him, then suddenly gasped. “Is this your apprentice?” she cried elatedly.

Twilight sighed. “Yes,” she said. “This is Spike.”

Fluttershy ran forward, coming to a stop just before Spike, who was carrying a bulging brown paper bag. “Oh, he’s sooo cute!” she gushed, eliciting a self-satisfied smirk from Spike.

With a glance at Twilight, Spike said, “Well, well, well!” and folded his arms, closing his eyes.

“Hi, Spike! I’m Fluttershy! It’s so wonderful to meet you!” After glancing at his hands, Fluttershy asked, “Are you a pyromancer?”

“Why, yes, I-”

But at that moment Twilight grabbed Spike’s ear and began dragging him away. “We’d better get going,” she said. “It’s getting late, and we’ll need to get settled in at the inn and get some rest.”

Fluttershy blushed again. “Oh. O-okay,” she said, nervously touching her forefingers together.

“Goodbye,” Twilight said, and Pinkie and Spike waved at Fluttershy as they followed her back to the inn.

Once they were back in their rooms, Twilight and Spike unpacked their bags. They reviewed Spike’s spell casting for about fifteen minutes in Twilight’s room, then Twilight dismissed Spike to do whatever he pleased until six o’clock, when he agreed to come back so that they could go and get dinner.

Spike left the inn to visit Applejack at Sweet Apple Acres. When he was gone, Twilight picked up her copy of the first Daring Do volume, Daring Do and the Philosopher’s Stone, and laid across her bed and began to read it. She was determined to enjoy a relaxing, quiet week in this room alone with her books.

< Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter >

Almanac: My Unhappy Love Affair With Horror

The Raven Illustration

I have an intense, bizarre love/hate relationship with the horror genre. As you might already know, I absolutely adore speculative fiction, which encapsulates science fiction and fantasy. But it also includes horror, which can overlap with either, both, or neither of its sister genres.

What is horror, exactly? As it turns out, this seems to be a rather difficult question to answer. Horror’s just anything that’s designed to frighten us, right? Well, not necessarily. The film Halloween is a horror film, no doubt, but is The Wizard of Oz, which has the murderous, frightening Wicked Witch for its antagonist? Why isn’t Plants vs. Zombies horror, even though it has zombies in it? Why isn’t Black Swan considered horror, even though its goal is clearly to unnerve its audience?

I would argue that horror, like science fiction and fantasy, is a more malleable and inclusive genre than one might think. I propose that horror is defined not by what is designed to unnerve, but rather what could unnerve. I do not find the novel Dracula to be frightening, for example, but its atmosphere is undoubtedly moody and oppressive, befitting the danger that befalls its characters. I would classify The Nightmare Before Christmas as horror, even though it’s not designed to frighten its viewers, because it has a similarly moody atmosphere and similarly brings great mortal danger to its characters. In short, I argue that horror is defined not by what frightens the viewers, but what frightens the characters within it.

Of course, many horror films aim to shock and frighten its viewers while it causes mortal peril to its characters. However, I would argue that most horror films are grievously misused; they lose a great opportunity when attempting to give their audiences a great thrill. If that adrenaline rush is in and of itself the main goal of the piece, I argue it has its priorities in the wrong places. After all, what exactly do you gain in the long-term by getting that thrill and rush of adrenaline? What does the film (or book or game, etc.) have to offer you that you couldn’t get bungee jumping or riding an intense roller coaster?

As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I have very little patience for works that pander directly to their audience. It is for that reason I hate fourth-wall humor, winking pop cultural references, gratuitous fan service, and jump scares. In my opinion, these elements date works and make them less likely to last throughout the ages, because they can only resonate with the audience of here and now (if even that). Only a specific audience with a specific mindset has anything to gain from it, and even then they gain nothing but cheap thrills and pleasures. Even if fan service or gratuitous pop cultural references resonate with me, I think, “Keep it out of my entertainment,” because I want to be bettered and challenged by what I watch, play, or read.

When a work brings up fear or sexuality, it has a fantastic opportunity: it can use it to explore one of the two most primal and basic (and therefore deep) aspects of our humanity. Unfortunately (especially with horror) when the two are used they are usually merely there to titillate or excite the audience (specifically, the usually heterosexual male audience).  I want to weep every time I’ve seen this happen, because other works have used the same things to be deep and meaningful (a notable example of this is the Silent Hill games) while the works that stoop to cheap pandering loose all profoundness they might have had.

I want to see more things like Tengen Toppa Gurren LagannHarry Potter, or American McGee’s Alice, that use the terror within them to explore the characters and ask questions about the mysteries of life. Notice that those three works have little to no jump scares; they rely on you to actually think about them to bring out the terror that lies within.

Here’s to horror; actually meaningful horror. We need more works that are.

Flagship My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Fic Announcement

MLP Header Art

I wish to change the world with my art.

My ambitions as an artist are quite lofty; my ultimate ambition is to produce such wisdom in my works that I become a sage of similar influence to Gandhi, Jesus, or Confucius. I wish for my pen to bring people happiness and to lift some of the despair from the world. I am a storyteller because I love stories above all things, and I love stories above all things because I have learned more from them than anything else. History’s greatest teachers were master storytellers because stories are the most powerful of all teaching methods.

My sister Aiden and I’s flagship My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfic, titled MLP, was created because I believe that My Little Pony has the power to shake the world to its core. The enormous periphery demographic it has grown is testament to its brilliance; its characters are so fantastic and fully realized that it has drawn many talented writers to craft stories worthy of them. Close friendships and the beginnings of great, positive social changes have come about because of this show, and for that I am eternally grateful to it.

However, there are still some who do not see what I and its other fans see in it. This causes me no small amount of anger, as people dismiss it without even learning about it purely because it’s a young girls’ show, and yet are willfully blind to the richness and depth it has to offer.

In addition, though I do love the show dearly, I consider it to be a flawed masterpiece; though its characters are indeed some of the best fiction has ever seen, it suffers from a great multitude of shortcomings. These include inconsistencies in the rules of the world, an almost complete lack of story arcs (My Little Pony isn’t a sitcom, and I therefore believe it needs them), and the limits Hasbro places on what it can do, both artistically and thematically.

Of course, it is for these exact reasons that I believe it got its intensely vibrant fan work community; the characters are so good we desperately want them to have adventures more sufficiently awesome than the ones Hasbro has provided. I wouldn’t change this for the world, but I still nonetheless find myself constantly unsatisfied because I desperately want to see these characters get a story told about them as grand and epic as they deserve. It is for this reason that I’ve begun MLP.

MLP is going to be an alternate universe/adventure/high fantasy/fix/dark/deconstruction fic of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that will also act as a reimagining and annotative commentary on the original show. Much of the story is going to closely reflect the original show, though I will alter it in places either to refine it or to bring the implications and subtexts of the original show to the forefront (for more information on what I’m talking about, read my posts analyzing MLP:FiM‘s darker themes and my theories on the characters’ sexualities). However, much of the story of MLP will also be completely original, and I am also going to draw from other fans’ works in crafting it (one of the most obvious nods to the fandom is that Lyra and Bon-Bon will explicitly be a couple in it). I will do this to showcase the best this culture has to offer.

I have high hopes for this fic. My sister and I have spent a year designing it alone, and I am carefully crafting every chapter to be as pristine as possible. I aim for it to be nothing less than the greatest thing to ever happen to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I work for this story to help chip away at the animation, sci-fi, and girl show ghettos and finally bridge the gap between Bronies and the not-yet-understanding outside world.

However, though I am designing this story to compliment and supplement the original show, I am also designing it to be stand-alone in and of itself. I have created for it a complex, detailed world, and I have designed the protagonists’ quest to be a self-contained sprawling epic. However, the thing that I am perhaps most excited about is the magic system I’ve made for it. I think we can all agree that magic in MLP: FiM, like power levels in Dragon Ball Z, is bullshit;

Power Levels are Bullshit

and so for MLP I’ve designed a really cool internally consistent magic system drawing from Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, Magic: the Gathering, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Wheel of Time, and other great fantasy stories that I’m very proud of. Though I’m writing this story as a statement in and of itself, I think the more literary-minded will also enjoy the complexity and depth of the ideas its narrative will have.

But most importantly: I am planning on making MLP a manga, an anime, and a video game, as well. I absolutely guarantee that unless I die before I should complete it I will make it a manga and a JRPG. If you doubt me, know that I am a professional author who has been working on his magnum opus for half his lifetime, and is still determined as he ever was to complete it. I am literally studying Japanese and art in college so that I can write manga in Japan.

So I all of my fellow Bronies: please read this story, and if you see potential in it please share it with your friends- perhaps including those who don’t like the show. Hey, they can’t complain that it’s about ponies anymore (the title MLP is a meaningless artifact that was chosen to show reverence to its original source). The more support I can get, the more likely I’ll be able to make a My Little Pony anime (I’m still squealing in delight at the thought). If you must resort to it, tell them that there’ll be awesome fight scenes and that hot girls make out in it (and some hot guys, too).

You can read MLP on my FimFiction, fanfiction.net, or my personal website. You will also get future updates on it by following me on my FimFiction and my site. I will post a new chapter every Friday on all three platforms, on FimFiction first, until it’s completed (which should take over two years).

It also wouldn’t hurt for you guys to check out my original works when I release them. All iterations of MLP will be free, and if I could I would freely give away all of my projects, but we artists still gotta eat. Think of it as an investment in getting an epic My Little Pony anime.

I hope you guys all enjoy MLP as much as I am!

Chapter One: Twilight Sparkle

Reclining on her favorite armchair in the castle library, Twilight Sparkle was absorbedly rereading The Elements of Harmony. It was the first book every parent read to their children, introducing them to the world’s history, the universally-dreaded God of Chaos Discord, and the Elements of Harmony, the traditional teachings of Princess Celestia for achieving inner peace.

When Twilight was a child, her parents had read the book to her and her older brother Shining Armor every Summer Sun Celebration. Twilight loved the tradition so much that she continued to read the book at the beginning of every summer, even now that she was an independent teenager. The young Elf girl was especially excited for this year’s Summer Sun Celebration; it would be the thousandth one held since Celestia’s defeat of Nightmare Moon, and the millennial festival to come in a week promised to be the most spectacular Celebration the world had ever seen.

It was a bright, sunny day outside, with warm late-spring sunlight pouring in through the enormous windows in the library’s outer walls. The chamber was circular and tall, as it was the interior of a high tower, with many floors and lustrous crystal stairs winding up between them. Ancient scrolls and thick tomes filled the fine oaken shelves that lined the walls behind smooth, polished marble pillars.

Twilight, the library’s sole occupant, was curled up on a plush leather armchair, resting the open picture book on the chair’s right arm. She was of average height and build, with dark brown skin that betrayed her father’s Shangri-Lan heritage. She was wearing purple sneakers, loose blue jeans, a short pleated skirt, and a lavender t-shirt bearing an intricate, delicate tree design. Her violet, pink-streaked hair was tucked behind her pointed ears too keep it from obstructing her purple eyes, which were set on the illustrations of the ancient tapestries of the master weaver Tale Spin and the words of her distant ancestor and hero, the Royal Court Magician Star Swirl the Bearded. On the back of her hands was her Mark of a purple, six-pointed star superimposed over and surrounded by smaller, white stars.

As Twilight turned to the last page of the book, she heard someone pantingly run into the library. She looked up to see who it was. It was Spike, her apprentice.

Spike was a head shorter than Twilight, with light skin and electric-green hair and eyes. His hair was rather long for a boy and was tousled into a small faux hawk, which along with a pair of fangs gave him an endearingly youthful appearance. Like Twilight, he was dressed in sneakers, loose jeans, and a t-shirt. On his shirt was a dragon, and over it was an unzipped purple hoodie. He too was an Elf, and therefore like Twilight had pointed ears and his Mark on the back of his hands: a green flame.

“Hey, Twilight,” Spike said breathlessly.

Twilight smiled. “Hi, Spike.”

After taking a few moments to catch his breath, Spike pointed out of the door and said, “Celestia wants to see you.”

Twilight immediately jumped to her feet. “She does? What for?”

Spike shrugged. “No idea. She said it was important, though.”

Twilight nodded. “Alright. Thanks, Spike,” she said, then she ran past him and out the door into the courtyard.

As Twilight rushed through the castle’s fragrant gardens of fruit trees and flowers, she felt the crisp, cold wind of the mountaintop bite at her face. The view from Camelot was spectacular; from the peak of Mount Olympus, the highest point of the Olympian range, the sky was always clear and so you could freely see for kilometers in every direction. Gazing down the mountainside gave you a perfect sight of the city of Olympus and its streets, lamps, and buildings of crystal, stone, and glass situated on the mountain’s face. Floating just over these precarious structures were great, vast clouds, upon which were founded magnificent buildings of sky marble that drifted slowly through the air like hovering glaciers. Beyond the mountain’s base were the vistas of the vast Everfree Forest and the rushing rivers that cut through its trees and the plains beside it. In the westward distance, you could see situated just next to the edge of the forest was the small farm town of Avalon, connected to the city of Olympus by a long steel train track that winded through the plains and zigzagged up the mountain.

Olympus was abuzz with activity; Twilight saw Elves telekinetically stringing colored paper lanterns between the street lamps and Humans carrying crates of food and other supplies through the streets as Angels darted over their heads between the clouds, all decorating and preparing for the festival.

Twilight had to dodge the castle’s servants as she approached the throne room, as they were preparing the shining marble castle of Camelot for the coming Celebration, as well. However, she was stopped by three of the teenaged servant girls. “Hey, Twilight!” one of the girls, whose name was Molly, said. She was Human, as evidenced by her rounded ears and the cocktail glass Marks on her thighs. She continued, “We’re gonna be having a dance at the Plasma Orb tonight. You wanna come?”

Twilight smiled apologetically. “Sorry, not now,” she said. “I have to see Princess Celestia.”

Twilight pushed past them and continued running. She heard one of them huff indignantly behind her. “My gosh, Twilight, can’t you learn to have a little fun?” she shouted, though Twilight ignored her.

Twilight approached the castle’s central structure’s entrance, which was flanked by two guards. They would have stopped her if she were nearly anyone else, but they barely glanced at Twilight as she sprinted past them, up the stairs, and into the great front doors.

Twilight had only to ascend the stairs of the grand hall to reach the doors to the throne room. Pushing past them, she was greeted by the sight of a long, columned hall lined at both side walls by tall, colorful stained glass windows depicting the most critical events of the world’s history. A red carpet stretched between the doors and the golden throne, behind which was a massive, round, clear window that overlooked the east horizon. Princess Celestia was standing before it, gazing out into the blue sky.

Twilight walked past several guards stationed at the columns and came to a stop a few meters away from Celestia. She then fell to her knee, bowing to Celestia with her right hand over her heart. “You summoned me, Your Highness?” she said deferentially.

Celestia turned to her student, smiling cheerfully. “Hello, Twilight.”

The Gods were agreed by all to be the most beautiful Beings in the world, and Celestia was widely considered to be the most beautiful of the Goddesses, rivaled even remotely only by her niece the young Goddess Cadance. She was tall, even for a Goddess, with a perfectly-sculpted figure and a flawless, fair complexion. Her large eyes were a soft violet, and were as hypnotic as her smile was enchanting. Her white, feathered wings were so enormous she could envelop her whole body within them. Her hair was so long it nearly reached the ground and flowed through the air like a liquid, seeming to hold a starry night sky of blue, green, and pink nebulae. Her green bangs obscured her left eye, and the rest of her hair was kept out of her other eye behind her pointed right ear. Her Mark consisted of a golden sun on her thighs, shoulders, and the backs of her hands, between which were intricate weaves of auroras the same colors as her hair. She was dressed casually in a white tank top, denim short shorts, and leather sandals that wrapped up around her calves. Twilight found herself blushing slightly, as Celestia’s outfit showed off the intoxicating shape of her body quite nicely.

“Is there something you require, Your Highness?” Twilight asked, still bowing.

“Rise, my faithful student,” Celestia said. Twilight stood, then Celestia commanded the guards, “Leave us, please.”

The guards all bowed. “As you wish, Your Highness,” they chorused in unison, then they marched out of the throne room, telekinetically closing the doors behind them.

“We must speak in privacy,” Celestia explained, stepping before Twilight.

“Is something wrong, Your Highness?” Twilight asked worriedly.

“No, dear Twilight. At least, not yet,” Celestia replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Twilight,” Celestia said, turning her head to gaze at a window depicting Star Swirl the Bearded. “Do you remember how a Ritual is performed?”

Twilight grinned confidently. “Of course! A Ritual Circle is laid down, then the Sorceress uses its designs to aid her channel and fashion her Chi into a specific substance or energy.”

“Very good,” Celestia said proudly. “And where can the Circle be placed, and with what can it be drawn?”

Twilight recited, “A Ritual Circle can be placed anywhere, so long as it is stable. It can be drawn on a floor, wall, or ceiling, and it is even possible to suspend a Circle in midair. A Ritual Circle can be drawn with anything, so long as it is visible and stable for the duration of the desired spell.”

Celestia nodded. “That’s right, Twilight. A Ritual Circle can be drawn with anything.”
Celestia walked to her throne, then sat. “A Ritual can even be performed if the Circle wasn’t drawn, but appeared naturally, so long as the Circle’s shapes fit the desired design.”

Celestia gazed somberly at her apprentice. “That is the reason I called you here, Twilight. On the eve before the Summer Sun Celebration, the stars will be in a unique position to act as a Circle to aid in the performance of a specific Ritual. If a God or a powerful Elf were to use the stars’ alignment that night to perform this Ritual, it would grant them access to an enormous pool of Mana- enough to power the release of one of the Sealed Gods.”

Twilight flinched, and felt her body fill with dread. “Release… one of the Sealed Gods? Which one?”

“Nightmare Moon,” Celestia replied gravely.

Twilight began to feel panic overcome her. Of the Sealed Gods, Nightmare Moon was by far the most powerful, second only to Discord. Her release would be a sign of catastrophe; that the world would soon feel the wrath of the moon’s power wrought upon it. “Do… do you think it might happen?” Twilight asked worriedly. “That someone would try to unseal her?”

Celestia smiled comfortingly. “I doubt it, and even if someone tried there would be little chance that they would succeed. The Seal upon my sister is strong, and even with the Mana this Ritual would provide only a God or an exceptionally powerful Elf could succeed in breaking it. In addition, few know of even the existence of the Ritual, or of the other Rituals necessary to channel the energy to release her, so it is quite unlikely that such an attempt would be successful.”

Celestia’s expression became serious again. “Nonetheless, we cannot allow anyone to even attempt it. For that reason, the other Gods and I have stationed a trusted servant in each of our kingdoms’ settlements to oversee the festival and ensure the Ritual is not attempted or succeeded. Twilight, your diligence is unequaled and I trust you completely. Will you take up this task, as well?”

Twilight nodded determinedly. “Yes, Your Highness.”

“Only your apprentice Spike may know of and aid you in your mission, and you might face danger while performing it. You must be prepared for the possibility of great peril, and to defend your own life and especially the life of your student should it occur. Do you still accept this mission?”

Twilight nodded again. “I do, Princess.”

Celestia nodded, smiling. “Very well. You will oversee the festival in the town of Avalon, and I will dispatch you there tomorrow morning. Your task is to oversee the townspeople, their preparations, and the Celebration, and report to me any suspicious activity and ensure any attempts at releasing Nightmare Moon are stopped before they can be completed. Tell Spike and your family of your mission, then prepare for your journey. I will arrange for your accommodations and for the town to send someone to collect and guide you.”

Twilight bowed to Celestia once more. “As you wish, Your Highness,” she said.

As Twilight stood, Celestia said, “Farewell, my faithful student.”

Twilight began to walk away, but stopped when Celestia called, “Oh, and Twilight?”

Twilight turned back to Celestia. “Yes, Princess?” she asked.

“Try to make some friends while you’re there,” Celestia said with a concerned smile. “It will do you good.”

Twilight groaned internally, resisting the urge to roll her eyes at Celestia, but instead she replied, “I will, Your Highness,” and walked out of the throne room.

Twilight returned to Camelot’s library, where she found Spike sitting in one of the chairs reading a Steam manga volume. “Hi, Spike,” Twilight said.

Spike looked up. “What did Celestia want?” he asked.

“She asked us to go to Avalon to oversee their Summer Sun Celebration,” Twilight replied. “We’re leaving tomorrow. Come on, we need to pack.”

Spike stood, gaping indignantly at Twilight. “What?! But my birthday’s then!”

“I’m sorry, Spike,” Twilight said with genuine sympathy. She smiled reassuringly as she added, “We’ll celebrate your birthday when you get back.”

Spike closed his book, sighing with great disappointment. “Damn it. We were gonna have a Steam party night with my friends.”

“We can play with them when we get back,” Twilight replied. “Let’s go.”

“Alright…” Spike said, then he shelved the book and he went with Twilight to pack for their trip.

Twilight and Spike’s bedrooms were next door to each other in the servants’ hall, connected by a bathroom that the two of them shared. The rooms’ layouts perfectly mirrored each other, with a desk, chair, and a bed, as well as several bookshelves and a wardrobe lining each of their walls. Each also had a tall stained glass window that could be unlatched and swung open to reveal the east skyline, which were the only permanent contrasts of the room; Twilight’s window depicted a colorful field of flowers while Spike’s held the likeness of a bowl of fruit.

However, the occupants themselves could not have kept their rooms in more different conditions; Spike’s was chaotic, with a bed that looked like a nest of blankets, and all around it were piles of carelessly-stacked books and discarded clothing. Twilight’s room, on the other hand, was tidy and organized, with her bed always made and her floor always clear.

As Twilight was taking a pair of folded pajama bottoms from her wardrobe and laying them in a trunk, she heard knuckles sharply rap on the door. “So, Celestia asked you too, huh?” she heard a young man’s voice say behind her.

Twilight grinned, then turned to face her older brother. “Hi, Shining!” she said.

Shining Armor was leaning against the doorframe, his arm draped around his girlfriend, Princess Cadance. He was the stunningly handsome Elvish Captain of the Olympian Royal Guard, with brown skin the same shade as Twilight’s and stylishly messy hair that was several shades of blue, matching his eyes. He was wearing his military uniform: white trousers tucked into high, brown boots; a white jacket with a standing collar fastened with golden frogs; a blue sash; dress gloves; and a white beret decorated by an embroidered Royal Shield bearing a phoenix. The beauty of Shining, however, paled next to the surpassing loveliness of the bare-footed Goddess of Love Cadance, who looked like a younger version of Celestia. The only differences between Celestia and Twilight’s former mentor were that Cadance was more youthful and small (but still larger than most mortal girls); her skin was caramel; her wings were a violet-tinged pink; and her hair was still, didn’t obscure her eyes, and had three stripes of purple, pink, and cream that curled at the end. Her Mark was a sapphire heart flanked by gold flourishes, and like Celestia she had auroras up her sides and down her arms. She was wearing a peach sundress, leaving the Marks on her hands, arms, and shoulders uncovered.

Shining and Cadance were almost inseparable; they were together any moment Shining was off-duty and Cadance wasn’t studying under Celestia. It was to the point that Camelot’s servants wondered why Shining still had his own bedroom, since he slept with Cadance in her chambers every night. Beings all over the world envied him, though they resentfully admitted that only a God would look better with her.

“My aunt asked you to watch over a festival, as well?” Cadance asked, stepping into Twilight’s room.

“Mm-hmm,” Twilight replied. “She asked me to go to Avalon.”

“Avalon, huh?” said Shining. “Doesn’t sound too dangerous. Mom and dad are going to help me and the Guard keep an eye on Olympus. Is Spike going with you?”

“Yep!” said Spike, who was standing behind them. He entered Twilight’s room as well.

“But isn’t your birthday on the same day as the Celebration?” Cadance asked.

Spike leaned against a wall. “Yeah. We can celebrate it when I get back, though.”

“I’m sorry, Spike,” Shining said sympathetically.

Spike shrugged. “Eh, it’s alright.”

“Is there any way we can make it up to you?” asked Cadance.

“Now that you mention it,” said Spike, grinning at her, “I’d really love to have a nighttime pool party when I get back.”

Cadance laughed. “Alright, Spike.”

Shining interjected, “We should probably let you two finish packing. Hey, Twily, do you want us to bring mom and dad to the station to see you off tomorrow?”

Twilight smiled gratefully. “Yes, thank you, Shining.”

“Alright. See you, Twily,” Shining said, waving once at her.

Shining took Cadance’s hand, and Cadance said, “Bye!” as she left with Shining back down the hall.

Spike turned to Twilight. “So, you finished packing yet?”

“Just about,” Twilight replied, walking to one of her bookshelves. She took down some of her favorite light reads, placed them in one of her suitcases, then zipped it shut. “There.”

“Well, I’m not quite done yet,” Spike said, turning and walking out of the room. Twilight followed him to his significantly-less-clean room, and found that his clothes were stacked carelessly in haphazard piles in his suitcases. She groaned, “Spike, you need to fold them and stack them neatly.”

Spike sighed, pulling his clothes back out and morosely beginning to fold them. Twilight stood next to him. “Here, I’ll help you,” she said, picking up one of his shirts.
Spike smiled at her and said, “Thanks, Twilight.”

As they were folding, Twilight asked, “Did you pack your soroban and textbooks?”

Spike groaned with great irritation through his teeth. “Come on, Twilight! It’s summer!”

“Spike,” Twilight said patiently, “if you don’t review what you’ve learned, you’re going to forget it and have to re-learn it next year. You don’t have to do very much; you just have to go over the material once in a while and keep it fresh in your mind. I promise, you’ll have less work than if you don’t.”

Spike sighed wearily. “Well…”

Twilight draped her arms around his shoulders. “Please,” she said, pouting. “For me?”

Spike blushed, looking away. “Um… o-okay. I will.”

Twilight beamed. “Thanks, Spike,” she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. As they returned to packing his supplies, Spike continued to blush with a small smile. He was glad he chose Twilight to be his mentor; there was nothing that was was more motivating to him than pleasing such a brilliant, cute girl.

After they had completed packing Spike’s things, Twilight said to him, “Come on, let’s get some donuts and eat out tonight.” She winked. “My treat.”

Spike grinned. “Alright! Thanks, Twilight!”

Twilight and Spike exited Camelot together into the streets of Olympus. Unlike other cities, the magnificent Olympian streets consisted not only of shining stone roads, but also wide, long staircases that connected these roads as streets in and of themselves. It was necessitated by the steep upward incline of the mountain, and so carriages and trains were forced to gradually move upward by weaving back and forth across the roads on Mount Olympus’s face. While some complained of the strenuous labor of scaling the steps, new Olympian residents quickly found that the effort soon granted them great endurance as well as some of the longest lifespans in the world.

Twilight and Spike, having climbed Olympus’s millions of stairs their entire lives, expertly and swiftly scaled them and crossed the roads and bridges over the rivers until they came to Donut Joe’s shop on an upper platform in the market district. Joe, being a good friend of Twilight’s parents, gave them a heavy discount for six cream cheese donuts sprinkled with crushed rock candy (Spike’s favorite kind). Spike and Twilight then went to a nearby soup kitchen where they bought two bowls of spiced potato soup. For beverages, Spike got iced peach tea and Twilight got a daiquiri, then they sat on stone benches at a small marble table in a nearby plaza to eat.

As they were dipping bread sticks sprinkled with parmesan into their soup, Spike asked Twilight, “So, why are we monitoring the festival in Avalon?”

Twilight lowered her voice to a whisper as she gazed with deep gravity at Spike. “Celestia wants us to ensure that a potential Ritual to release Nightmare Moon from Tartarus is not performed the night before.”

Spike’s eyes widened with fear. He stammered, “T-Twilight, I know that you don’t make jokes very often, but that’s really not funny.”

“I’m not kidding,” Twilight said. “The stars will align to make the Ritual possible the night before the festival. Celestia and the other Gods are sending their servants throughout their kingdoms to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Spike trembled. “So… Nightmare Moon could really be released?”

Twilight nodded. “Yes. But you can’t tell anyone else.”

Spike leaned back in his chair, folding his arms. “Are Shining and your parents watching the Celebration here, then?”

“Yes.”

“Does Celestia think that anyone’s really going to try to unseal Nightmare Moon?”

“No. She doesn’t even think that anyone but the Gods knows how to do it, let alone has the power to. But we still need to be prepared in case someone does.”

Spike sighed relievedly. “Alright. So that’s all we have to do? Go to Avalon and make sure no one tries to unseal Nightmare Moon the night before the festival?”

“Yes.”

Spike smiled. “Doesn’t sound too bad. This might be fun.”

Twilight frowned. “Spike, this is serious. We can’t take this mission lightly. We have to make sure we do a good job.”

Spike shrugged. “Alright. Sounds like we don’t need to worry too much, though.”

A nearby clock tower began chiming, and Twilight and Spike turned to it. It was nine o’clock.

“We’d better go home,” Twilight said. “We need to get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow.”
“Alright,” Spike said, and they finished their soup and walked back to the castle. They both brushed, took turns bathing and putting on their pajamas, then retired to their beds for the night.

* * *

Twilight was awakened the next morning by a knock on her door. As she yawned and sat up, her family’s butler Frederic opened her door. “Good morning, Miss Twilight,” he said. He was carrying a tray bearing Twilight’s covered breakfast, a sealed envelope, and two train tickets. “Princess Celestia regrets to inform you that she will be unable to accompany you to the train station this morning, as she is busy overseeing preparations for the festival. However, she bids you a safe journey and has sent you your tickets and a letter to be read when you’re settled in at the inn.”

“Thanks, Frederic,” Twilight said, taking the tray from him.

Frederic continued, “I will be here in half an hour to assist you in bringing your bags to the carriage. The train is scheduled to leave at eight o’clock,” and with a bow he exited her room.

Twilight ate her breakfast (which today was a cheese sandwich with tomato soup) and got dressed. After combing her hair and brushing her teeth, she went to Spike’s room to see how he was doing. He was ready, as well, and so in a few minutes Frederic came back with a couple more servants to help them carry their luggage to the black horse-drawn coach that was waiting outside.

When Twilight opened the door, she saw that Shining, Cadance, and her parents Twilight Velvet and Night Light were sitting inside. She smiled. “Hi, mom! Hi, dad!” she cried, running forward to embrace them.

Like his son, Night Light had blue hair and dark brown skin. His wife, however, had the fair complexion of an Athenian, with purple-and-white-striped hair, but was aside from that a spitting image of their daughter. They were both dressed in fine formal suits, as Velvet was Camelot’s head librarian and Night Light was the Royal Astronomist, leaving Twilight the only member of her family not yet in Celestia’s court.

Twilight stood back and sat next to Cadance while Spike sat next to Night Light. Once the door was closed, the driver urged the horse on and the carriage began driving to the station.

“Our daughter,” Night Light said, “to Avalon on a mission from Princess Celestia herself. We’re so proud of you.”

“Not as proud as I am,” Shining said, reaching across Cadance’s shoulders and rubbing Twilight’s head.

“Cut it out!” Twilight laughed, swatting his hand away.

“Be careful, though, Twilight,” Velvet said. “It could get very dangerous out there.”

“I’ll be fine, mom,” Twilight insisted.

“Besides,” Spike interjected, pointing at himself, “she’ll have me!”

Shining laughed. “Yeah. I’d hate to be the one who messed with Twilight with you around.”

“Oh! I almost forgot-” Velvet said, reaching under her seat. She produced a colorfully-wrapped parcel, which she presented to Spike. “Here is your present from Night Light and me. Just don’t open it until your birthday!”

Shining slapped his forehead. “Shit! Cadance and I forgot our present!”

“Watch your mouth, Shining!” his father chided.

Cadance took Shining’s hand in hers. “Don’t worry; we’ll mail it to Twilight when we get back home,” she said.

Twilight blushed and chuckled nervously. “Um… do you think you could send my present too, Shining?”

Spike scoffed, rolling his eyes. “My gosh, did everyone forget my presents?”

We didn’t,” Velvet said, sniffing indignantly.

“Oh,” Spike said. “Right. Sorry. Thanks, Mrs. Velvet.”

In about fifteen minutes they arrived at the Olympian train station. Shining and his parents helped Twilight and Spike pull their luggage off of the carriage and roll it to platform nine, the number listed on Twilight’s tickets. They came to a black luxury steam train that Beings were filing into as its conductors cried over the clamor, “All aboard for Avalon! All aboard for Avalon!”

Twilight turned to her parents. “Well, see you all in a week.”

She embraced them again.

“We love you, Twilight,” her father said.

“Love you too,” Twilight said, giving her parents each a kiss on the cheek.

Twilight gave Shining a hug, as well, before she turned smilingly to Cadance. They both danced in place, covered their eyes, then peeked through their fingers, singing, “Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake.” They then played patty cake and than turned and shook their hips at each other, concluding, “Clap your hands and do a little shake!

They laughed and embraced, and Twilight said, “I’ll see you next week.”

“Bye, Twilight,” Cadance replied, releasing her.

Spike rolled his eyes, then accompanied Twilight onto the train. As the whistle blew and the engine lurched forward, Twilight stood on the stairs and enthusiastically waved at her family. “Goodbye!” she called.

Twilight’s family waved and called farewells back to her as they moved further and further away until they disappeared into the distance.

< Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter >

Prologue

There were four races of Beings:

Angels, a dauntless, militant race of winged Beings who could walk upon clouds and take to the skies in flight;

Humans, a hardy, stubborn race of Beings gifted with great strength and a deep bond with nature;

Elves, a scholarly, mystical race of Beings who could practice Sorcery through the manipulation of their Chi;

And Gods, the immortal personifications of primal forces who ruled over the mortal Beings as paragons of wisdom, strength, beauty, and power.

The oldest and most powerful of the Gods was Discord, the God of Chaos. The age of his rule over the world was one of tyranny, mayhem, and despair.

However, one Goddess saw the suffering of the mortals and took pity on them: Celestia, the Goddess of the Sun. She united the other Gods and led them into battle against Discord, the cruel Lord of the Gods. Their battle was great, hard, and devastating, and though Discord vastly outmatched the other Gods they were able to narrowly escape the jaws of defeat and claim victory against him. The Gods prepared for him Tartarus, the great prison of Hells, and sealed him in stone in its deepest Hell.

Following Discord’s downfall, the Gods waged another great war amongst themselves for his now-empty throne. Celestia emerged victorious, and sealed five more dark Gods in five more Hells of Tartarus: in the second Hell she sealed Tirek, the God of War; in the third Hell she sealed Chrysalis, the Goddess of Lust; in the fourth Hell she sealed Sombra, the God of Darkness; in the fifth Hell she sealed Sonata, the Goddess of Music; and in the sixth Hell she sealed Scorpan, the God of Storms.

Celestia then divided the world’s lands amongst the remaining Gods, ruling over them as High Princess. What followed was a more civilized and peaceful age, though the mortal races were still divided in resentment and hatred.

Celestia ruled in the city of Olympus over the land of Equestria along with her younger sister Luna, the Goddess of the Moon. However, Luna began to grow envious of her sister, for their subjects adored and honored Celestia as they did the day while they feared and shunned Luna as they did the night. Though Celestia cautioned her sister against denying the mortals their freedom, Luna demanded their adoration and honor on pain of divine retribution. When Celestia stood against her, Luna renamed herself High Princess Nightmare Moon and declared war against her sister for the throne.

The Gods all took sides between the sisters, and so there was a third great and catastrophic war of the Gods. Celestia rallied the mortal races to unite against Nightmare Moon, and together they were able to defeat her. Though it caused her unspeakable sorrow, Celestia sealed her sister in the seventh Hell of Tartarus.

The Gods all returned to ruling over their lands, and the mortals all celebrated Nightmare Moon’s defeat. Thus began an age of unification, when all of the mortal races coexisted in harmony. From that day forward, the festival of the Summer Sun Celebration was celebrated on the first day of each summer to commemorate Celestia’s victory against Nightmare Moon and the beginning of the friendship between the mortal races.

Next Chapter >

Review: Extra Credits

Extra Credits Title Card

Being a far-left pretentious snobbish hipster, I have a very deep personal investment in some very hippie-esque things, such as free education. I am a very firm believer in the idea that all knowledge should be free and available to all, which is why I’m such a fierce advocate for the public domain and universal access to informational resources.

One thing that intensely frustrates me is the general lack of quality, open resources for learning things such as computer programming or 3d modeling. In general, within the tech world, if you want to get into a career you have to fork over a pretty penny for training. I consider this to be nothing short of ridiculous, as it costs nothing to download everything you need to do either of those things; rather, you instead have to pay a stupidly huge amount of money to simply learn how to do those things.

It is for that reason that I weep with joy every time I see low-to-no-cost, quality, entertaining, effective resources for learning new skills. One example of such a resource is how-to-draw books, which contributed a great deal to my development as an artist.

Of course, there are many, many skills that don’t get remotely enough coverage by such accessible learning tools. As I’ve said in my reviews introduction, the purpose of my reviews is to either discuss or recommend works. It is for this reason that I plan on reviewing accessible, quality educational resources; whenever I find such a resource for a little-covered subject, I consider it to be my duty to give it as much attention as possible so that other aspiring artists might also receive the same wise guidance that I did.

For an introduction to science, I recommend Bill Nye the Science Guy. For beginning a pursuit of drawing comics, I recommend Making Comics by Scott McCloud. And finally, for an invaluable, free course in game design, I recommend Extra Credits.

This show began as a college project for Daniel Floyd, who would go on to be an animator for Pixar. HIs very first video was on women in video games (and incidentally, my own researching of the subject is what caused me to discover this show in the first place). When he formally launched the first “official” episode, Bad Writing, his team consisted of himself as the narrator, esteemed games designer James Portnow as his writer, and artist Allison Theus to create the visuals. Its style is casual yet intellectual; it is drawn in a pleasantly cartoonish art style, with frequent sight gags and explanatory visual aids to illustrate what Daniel says. Though there is an expected literacy in games from the audience, the creators generally attempt to make it accessible through explaining and highlighting the specific relevent aspects of the games they discuss. In their pursuit of the teaching of game design theory, they also discuss the achievements and techniques of other media and how to apply it to the betterment of the media of games. For instance, in their antiheroes episode they discuss the works of Lord Byron (a major codifier of the archetype) and the antiheroes therein. They compare the Byronic heroes to mainstream antiheroes in video games, highlighting a perceived lack of true depth in video game antihero protagonists and proposing how that might be remedied.

This show is extremely entertaining. Not only is it very funny, but its great optimism and enthusiasm for its subject matter result in clearly heartfelt performances. If you’re like me and love (some kinds of) horror and cyberpunk, you’ll be especially pleased; they cover such topics frequently.

Their advice is very solid, too. I’ve played and made games with their observations and advice in mind, and as it turns out they’re largely correct about most of what they talk about; by and large, when games are in accordance with their advice, I find them to be better constructed and more entertaining than when they don’t.

Of course, there are things that I disagree with them about, most notably their position on the place of the story in the game making process. Personally, I believe that it’s a perfectly valid practice to begin with a story first before designing gameplay around it (after all, for games such as RPGs, the story is the entire point, and thus should be the first concern). Of course, this might be nothing more than an artistic difference.

I cannot stress how good this series is. It was one of the main inspirations for the style of this blog, and I wish the world had far more things like it. If you want to begin getting into the show, I recommend you start with Video Game Music, since it’s a very accessible yet informative and entertaining episode that’s a great way to ease yourself into it.

Once you’ve seasoned yourself a bit and have watched several episodes, I recommend you watch Call of Juarez: The Cartel, which in my opinion is their best episode. However, it is also one of their heaviest; it’s about the potential danger that laziness in game design can pose to our ideological clarity and understanding. It is a call for game creators to take their craft seriously, and I sincerely wish that everyone in any way involved or interested in games would watch it.

If you want to ease your mind a bit after that somber experience, I recommend you watch their Games You Might Not Have Tried series; it is my favorite collection of episodes, and many of those games are now in my steam library and I wholeheartedly recommend the rest of you to play many of them as well.

This show is, overall, a masterpiece that I adore.

The Sexualities of MLP: FiM’s Characters

I have just completed Break Your Heart, my first My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfic. As I will do with all of my works, I will do a review of it so that I can discuss discuss it, my writing process for it, and its meaning in depth. Before I can do that, however, I have to discuss my personal theories on the show’s protagonists’ sexualities, as it’ll take long enough that it warrants an article of its own.

One of the characteristics of the body of my MLP:FiM fan works is that they have an ENORMOUS amount of thought put into them. They aren’t merely things that I think would be interesting to see; they are based almost entirely upon my actual, sincere theories on the show and its characters. For instance, in Break Your Heart, I interpret the characters thusly: Twilight and Pinkie are bisexual, Rarity and Applejack are heterosexual, and Rainbow and Fluttershy are homosexual. I didn’t designate them as such haphazardly; those are the sexualities I actually think they are. Without any further ado, here’s my explanation for why:

Let’s start with Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack, as I think they’re the easiest ones to categorize. Of the Mane Six, Rarity is easily the most boy-crazy. She spends a significant amount of time in Season One fantasizing over her encounter with Prince Blueblood, and in Simple Ways she is similarly obsessive over Trenderhoof, another famously handsome Stallion. She’s quite the drama queen, and yet hasn’t shown such an over-the-top obsession with a Mare. Of course, there is the possibility that she’s simply very closeted about it, so I leave open the possibility of bisexuality but at the moment err towards the simpler explanation and assume she’s heterosexual.

I believe that Twilight is attracted to Stallions for the same reason: she has demonstrated canonical attraction to one: Flash Sentry (oh, hush). However, I would argue there is a very good reason to believe that she’s attracted to Mares, as well: her relationship with the Princesses.

If you watch the show, you might notice that Twilight has an enormous, sometimes extreme obsession with Princess Celestia. Celestia was the very reason Twilight began studying magic (her special talent) in the first place; she admired and was awed by Celestia so greatly that she decided to imitate her amazing magical ability. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, in the episode Lesson Zero Twilight is so terrified at the prospect of being late on an assignment and disappointing Celestia that she descends into madness and attempts to create a problem to solve. She literally tells her friends that it’s the “most horrific trouble [she’s] ever been in,” and this is the same girl who’s encountered a genocidally insane Goddess of the night and an omnipotent, sadistic Eldritch Abomination.

Furthermore, at the end of the first half of A Canterlot Wedding, Twilight’s friends all abandon her for her (perceived) false accusation of evil against (the fake) Cadence. It’s not her friends leaving her, nor her brother leaving her and also telling her to not come to his wedding that she was formerly going to be his Best Mare for, but Celestia’s abandonment that finally drives Twilight to tears.

Along with Twilight’s enormous devotion to Celestia, she also seems to have a crush on Cadence. Of course, she might not have meant anything by it, but I find it interesting that Twilight specifically listed “beautiful” among her descriptions of her former foal sitter. So with Twilight, I think it would be a rather safe wager that her affections extend to both genders.

Applejack is a little trickier, since she never really shows attraction towards anyone in the show. However, I would argue that this is due to deep repression; notice that in Tanks for the Memories, Pinkie says that Applejack only cries “on the inside.” For this reason, I think it’s certainly possible that she’s attracted to Mares or no one at all. On the other hand, she’s the Element of Honesty, so I imagine it’d be rather hard for her to hide an alternate sexuality. Therefore, I assume that she’s heterosexual.

With regards to Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow, I shall discuss the three of them together, as my theories regarding them are all interconnected; the key to it all is Rainbow.

For those familiar with Break Your Heart, you’ll notice that I raise several questions about Rainbow; why did she move out of Cloudsdale, despite the fact that she’s deeply loyal to it? Why was she bullied, despite the fact that she’s an athletic, attractive, outgoing girl? Her bullies berate her for getting kicked out of Flight Camp, yet she denies that she was, suggesting that she voluntarily left. Why would she, despite loving flying above all things? But above all: why did she become friends with the wildly different Fluttershy, and why did she move to the same Earth pony town Fluttershy did?

Of course, I theorize that she’s gay, Fluttershy is too, and that they were pushed together and out of Cloudsdale by their fellow Pegasi, who due to their competitive and hierarchical nature are extremely homophobic. Rainbow has (in my opinion) displayed attraction to her female friends, as well; in Over a Barrel, her wings extend (a sign of excitement) at the sight of Pinkie in a showgirl outfit. This wasn’t an animation error; a subsequent shot from a different angle shows that her wings are still extended. In Super Cider Squeezy 6000, Rainbow tears Fluttershy’s blanket away from her then stares at her exposed underside for a few moments, causing Fluttershy to cover herself and blush.

As I said before, I think Fluttershy is gay because of her close friendship with Rainbow. Think about it: no two ponies could be more different, and by all accounts Rainbow shouldn’t have become friends with Fluttershy. Fluttershy is deathly afraid of heights, which Rainbow has scarcely any tolerance for. Rainbow is tremendously demanding, but is preferentially gentle with Fluttershy. She was fiercely defensive of Fluttershy when she was being bullied, despite being about as far from “coolness” as someone can possibly be. There must be something they have in common that gives them such a strong bond, and such commonality being shunned homosexuality makes a great deal of sense.

And finally, Pinkie. I am absolutely, utterly convinced that Pinkie is completely in love with Rainbow. To begin, Pinkie is every bit as obsessed with Rainbow as Twilight is with Celestia. In Griffon the Brush-Off, Pinkie follows Rainbow around relentlessly and is determined to spend as much time with her as she can. When Pinkie throws Rainbow a birthday party, she goes tremendous distances to make it amazing that she doesn’t go with their other friends. Another thing I’ve noticed is that when it comes to Pinkie, Rainbow is shown with hearts rather frequently; her face framed by a heart-shaped hole in a wood in Party of One, or the hearts on Rainbow’s birthday banner (which other birthday banners don’t have). Pinkie loves Rainbow Dash; therefore she likes girls (or at least that particular girl).

I actually have rather little evidence for an attraction to males in Pinkie, but I consider it to still be substantial; Pinkie flirtatiously calls a statue of a Griffon king a “charmer.” I also would think that it… well, fits her personality. It’s a close call, but I lay my bets on “bi.”

Oddly enough, Rainbow doesn’t seem to only have caught the interest in Pinkie; Gilda behaves jealously toward Pinkie when she vies for Dash’s attention, and Scootaloo (another Pegasus living in Ponyville rather than a Pegasus city) has an obsession with Rainbow very reminiscent of Twilight’s obsession with her mentor Celestia.

A final note: the only characters whose sexualities I assigned arbitrarily in Break Your Heart are the two other Cutie Mark Crusaders, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, who are straight and bi, respectively. I ultimately decided on assigning them their sexualities for two reasons: number one, I wanted the Crusaders to be “balanced” the same way the Mane Six were (a completely even ratio of all three sexualities). Secondly, I ultimately decided which would be straight and which would be bi because I thought that it would be more interesting for Apple Bloom to be bi, since her family seems to be extremely traditionalist (see the complete lack of Pegasi or Unicorns in the Apple family?).

Here’s to My Little Pony; I cannot commend you enough for being the pioneers of progress in your industry.