I've been reading some more fanfic; there were quite a few good pieces, but there's two stories that stood out even among these as excellent reads.
I was a bit reluctant to read this story, seeing as how it is tagged as both "Sad" and "Dark"; I imagined that it would focus on Chrysalis's trial, sentencing and (implied) execution, with ample space devoted to her inner journey and her thoughts on her final march to the inevitable scaffold, with several flashbacks, and with a strong dilation of (narrated vs. narration) time. It would've been interesting; but it wasn't that kind of story.
Instead, while the story started with Chrysalis being taken to Canterlot in chains like a barbarian leader to Rome, and with her trial and sentencing, this was only the beginning. Chrysalis was not sentenced to death; instead, she was sentenced by Celestia to becoming a pony, so that she might learn friendship and live in a society based on mutual support, respect and assistance instead of the Darwinian hell her birth had condemned her to.
Even when transformed into the earth pony mare Silver Skip, Chrysalis remained proud, fiercely independent and very, very vulnerable underneath her shell, but she managed to secure a job in a bakery, and befriend and ultimately get romantically involved with a stallion. Yet the story wasn't entirely straightforward: the author introduced the first changeling queen, Lilith, as an antagonist trying to lead Chrysalis from the path carved out for her by Celestia, first by tempting her, then by threatening her, and finally by attempting to possess her. In that, however, she caused Chrysalis to swallow the last bit of her pride: with her love, Mortar Brick, lying comatose after a horrible accident that Lilith had indirectly contributed to, Chrysalis called out to Celestia for help rather than let the changeling queen use her for ripping out her loved one's heart and returning to her former power.
Celestia came, and in the end, things worked out, of course. At the end of the story, Chrysalis also met Twilight, who was understandably suspicious but eventually accepted what had happened and trusted the princesses' judgement and wisdom.
So, some thoughts:
I liked the story because Celestia, Luna and Twilight Sparkle were written very much in accordance with their canon (or widely-accepted fanon) personalities. I also liked the idea of Celestia being much more powerful still than she is shown to be on the show; she would've been able to easily overcome Chrysalis on her own, but chose not to, for certain reasons. Shining Armor was perhaps the only character not quite as well-written: his unremitting hatred was believable, but his sudden change of mind when admonished by Celestia was too instantaneous and too complete. That said, he was a minor character, so this is hardly a complaint.
Lilith was an interesting character, and the other OCs, like Rye Bread, Mortar Brick etc. were all well-written as well, with depth and distinct personalities.
I very much appreciated Celestia's merciful sentence. I've never thought of Chrysalis as truly evil; although her methods were questionable at best, her ultimate goal was to provide sustenance for her people — her children, in a very real sense. The story expounded on that, relating the raging hunger that Chrysalis felt from the moment she was born, the love that she found in Canterlot, and how she got carried away by its taste; and it also observed that Chrysalis could easily have killed e.g. Cadance and Twilight, but chose not to, merely imprisoning them in the crystal caves underneath Canterlot instead.
Although Mortar Brick's accident and injuries were not described in detail, there were some dark undertones in the story. In particular, it was mentioned that every single last changeling had died in the aftermath of the attack on Canterlot; with Chrysalis transformed into a pony, the changeling race was no more, and even though they were initially conceived by black magic, corrupted in much the same way that orcs were created from elves by Morgoth in Tolkien's mythology, I felt sorry for them. Like their queen Chrysalis, the changelings of the present were not evil per se; they were merely trying to live their lives to the best of their ability, and take care of their needs. The author did not explicitely comment on this, but then I felt that by merely stating their extinction and letting the reader draw their own conclusions, the message only became stronger.
Chrysalis's trial could've been a BIT longer; only a few lines were exchanged, and it could barely have taken more than a few minutes. Chrysalis's sentence being carried out on the spot also seemed a little odd, doubly so since Chrysalis herself believed that she was being put to death until she actually woke up again. If they executed her (by burning her alive, no less), would they do it right in the middle of the throne room?
Chrysalis's characterization was great, though, and I liked the slow and gradual development she underwent as Silver Skip: barely noticeable as it was going on, yet very much evident in retrospect. She came a long way, and I dare say she found happiness, perhaps being the first changeling ever to do so. Where Lilith had transgressed when the changeling race arose, Chrysalis was redeemed when it ended.
And I liked that Chrysalis nonetheless stayed herself: proud and independent, headstrong and passionate, intense and easily offended, and still vulnerable behind her façade. I'm seeing quite a bit of myself in that; perhaps that's another reason why I found the story so relatable.
The story also featured an art section after its conclusion, which I appreciated very much.
Second, there's Tigerhorse's Fiddlesticks!. It's no secret that Fiddlesticks is one of my favorite characters on the show, so I couldn't skip this one, right?
The way the story unfolded was unexpected, but always fun. I'm hesitant to call it "alternate universe", as there is pretty much no canon material regarding Fiddlesticks; technically, even her existence as an individual character is not assured, and that's exactly what this story revolves around.
The story is actually about Vinyl Scratch and Octavia, who're somewhere between friends and lovers here, but writing a decent summary is difficult. The entire story is told in two intertwined strands, focussed on the present and Octavia's recollections; Octavia is playing violin in addition to the
cello bass, and has been a fiddler ever since she was sent to the Apple Farm for the holidays as a filly. She picked up the art (and joy!) of fiddling from Applejack's father, and now she's trying to attend the Apple Family Reunion and play the fiddle without Vinyl finding out and no doubt teasing her mercilessly about it.
So she remembers the Nightmare Night costume she used in Luna Eclipsed, buys a hat, blackmails one of the Apples into giving her his shirt, and has Rarity recolor her coat and mane; meanwhile, thanks to the CMC, Vinyl has caught wind of a mysterious fiddler attending the Reunion.
Octavia decides to test her disguise by attending one of Vinyl's own raves in costume. Everything seems to work, although she almost lets her true identity slip; the Reunion goes over well as well, but later on, on the train to Canterlot, Vinyl and Octavia bump into each other again. Vinyl reveals she saw through Octavia's disguise almost right away, and the two end up having a conversation about their relationship, the way they treat each other, why Octavia was going out of her way to avoid Vinyl.
As mentioned, I really liked this story a lot. Octavia's obsession with avoiding Vinyl seemed a bit over the top at first, but became more understandable as their relationship, the way they interacted and the way it had left Octavia feeling was clarified; the story started out more as Comedy and slid towards Slice-of-Life, but all in all it struck a happy medium between the two.
The conversation that the two had in the end was perhaps one of the strongest parts of the story, lending it depth and realism. As much fun and silliness as Octavia's dressing up was, it had a serious background, and this was not lost on Vinyl. They needed to figure out what they were – friends? lovers? dating? –, and when she realized what Octavia'd been doing, Vinyl must've known that she had to act to avoid losing her as both a lover AND a friend.
I also loved the flashbacks; those were the second highlight of the story. Applejack's parents (who, as you will know, are dead, and only obliquely hinted at in the show) were great, and I loved AJ's dad's love for music, the song they played about Buttercoat Bluie (the Pozark fiddler of tall tales and folk legends; not quite incidentally also the inspiration for Octavia's Nightmare Night costume), and the joy that fiddling gave Octavia in the end. It almost made me want to pick up the fiddle myself.
And BTW, the name "Fiddlesticks" is neatly explained in the story as well, with Octavia uttering it as a minced oath that has the CMC (especially Babs) in stitches.
So, all in all? Check 'em both out, they're great!