FimFiction Link - Short ID: 490136/20-paces
Published: Dec '21
'20 paces' is a two thousand and three hundred-word oneshot. Blueblood and Shining Armor engage in a duel. As they walk their paces, both of them recount how they ended up in this situation. We see Blueblood's tragic foalhood and Shining's hotheaded insistence on the duel. By the end, both of them regret agreeing to do it, but neither of them are willing to back out.
As I've been reading this story, the first thing that came to my mind was 'Onegin.' While the circumstances differ, the duel is just as futile and driven by societal norms; and, while the author doesn't do much in terms of world-building and basically just borrows the noble-culture of the 19th and early-20th century, I still think it's a surprisingly fitting setting, just one that could've been explored and differentiated from its IRL counterpart more.
The story only really explores Blueblood's character and I can describe it basically in the same way as the setting itself: His harsh upbringing is a strong background for drama, but the author leans too heavily into telling instead of showing. For instance, the story tells us that his father beat him throughout his youth, but since this is only mentioned in one-off sentences, the tragedy of it isn't properly conveyed. Shining similarly has vague points of his past mentioned, like beating down a revolt and his regrets over killing other ponies, but little else is done to broaden his character. So when it eventually comes to the duel and they both die, I didn't really feel for them. The needlessness of their death was of course tragic, but if the author explored them in more detail, it would have had felt like way more of a loss. I'm not sure how consciously he made them, but I really like the author's choices of where the bullets hit. Since Shining in this story is a veteran, it makes sense that his aim is extremely precise and that he would target the head. Meanwhile Blueblood, a less experienced combatant, aimed for the torso as it's a far bigger target. Subtle characterization like this can go a long way and I really appreciate it in stories.
The ending, however, was probably the weakest part of the story. For one, Fancy Pants suddenly going "Path we were supposed to get married" was super awkward. My problem isn't that he's gay, rather that it comes so out of left field that it almost becomes comical in a way. The story made no mention, nor even any implications that the two might have had romantic feelings until the very end, where the whole thing is dealt with in three sentences or so. But what's even worse is the arrival of Celestia and Luna. If I had to guess, the author wanted to give a strong outro, but it ends up weird as the two alicorns just suddenly appear and Luna, quite literally, says "why" and then the story just ends.
Overall: 5/10 A strong narrative core, stunted by flawed execution. I recommend it, if lack of character depth isn't a deal-breaker to you.