Tuesday, May 28, 2019

An origin myth from a world of talking ungulates

So, the good news is that I wrote a thing.  The bad news is that it's going to require some explanation.  (And isn't terribly interesting even if you do understand everything.)  It's incredibly rough, but --on the plus side-- it actually exists.

The setting is a deer kingdom that borders pony lands in a world where both of those things have human-level intelligence and can talk.  Also other things (hooved animals, basically), but those are the key players in this bit.  Also mentioned is a ponycorn princess who's a unicorn (pony) supremacist.

The one relating the story is a starving ponycorn.  The one she's telling it to is the king of the deer kingdom.  Since I haven't figured out his name yet, he's "[king]' right now.  The deer aren't starving because they can eat things that horses cannot.

All of that is only related to this bit in that it explains why the ponycorn has so very little energy that it's a struggle for her to even hold a conversation.

Lastly, important bit of horse terminology: "feathering" and "feathers" refer to the long hair on the lower legs of some types of horses.  The Clydesdale breed probably offers the most recognizable examples of feathered horses.

Ok, story time.

“Have you ever heard the legend of the deer with one horn?” Ametrine asked.

“I can’t say that I have,” [king] said.

“I’m not surprised,” Ametrine said.  “The story was known to ponies, but it’s not the sort of story . . . it’s not actively suppressed, per se, but it’s the sort of thing everyone knows they’re not meant to talk about or believe.

“My mother told it to my sister and I in secret.  She made sure we knew that we should only share it with people we trusted.”  Ametrine paused and closed her eyes for a moment. She was so tired, all the time.  “She wanted us to share it, though. She didn’t want the legend to die.”

[king] nodded solemnly, then said, “I would be honored to hear this tale, and see that it is not forgotten.”

“It happened long ago,” Ametrine said.  “So long that many details are lost, and any proof of its veracity is quite impossible.

“There was only one kind of pony in those days --the gift of the sky gods had not yet been bestowed upon Pegasuses-- and they were not far removed from the horses of the north.  Thick manes, shaggy fur, and lots of feathering at the hooves. The plains had yet to see repopulation.”

“That is long ago indeed,” [king] said.

“There was a cataclysm,” Ametrine, “fertile lands turned to dust and ash, it wasn’t a famine, but only because there were places to run.”

“This is a tale of the Death of Magic,” [king] said.

“It is,” Ametrine said.  “As the dead lands grew . . .” She had to pause again.  So tired. “As the dead lands grew, people came to realize that the disaster threatened to end all life.  When the reason why was determined, it somehow managed to seem worse.”

Ametrine’s head dropped and she almost fell asleep.  “Sorry,” she said when she recovered.

“You have nothing to apologize for, little one,” [king] said.  “You have done more than could ever be expected of you, with far less than you should have.”

“Thanks,” Ametrine said.  “I . . . I want to tell you this, though.”  She slowly inhaled, then continued. “Many were able to determine what was necessary to fix things, but none were able to do it.

“The only way to stop the Death of Magic was to repair and revive the failed magic at its core, that would halt the collapse and . . .” Ametrine’s head bobbed.  “And . . .”

“And with the collapse stopped,” [king] said, “the rest of the magic in the land would heal naturally.”

Amertine nodded.  “Yeah, that.” She gestured, but no words came.

“None could perform this feat, because it required an immense amount of magic to be channeled through a single being, as only a truly unified will could complete the necessary, seemingly impossible, task of repairing such damage.”

Amertine nodded.  “Uh huh.”

“Attempts to blend the minds of multiple beings --so that a group might have unified thought, mind, and will-- all failed," [king] continued.  "While such failures produced heartbreak, they were not so tragic as what happened when noble creatures attempted to channel such magic through themselves alone.”

Ametrine nodded again.

“That is where my knowledge of the story ends,” [king] said.  “The stories of my people do not record how the problem was ultimately solved.  It is a mystery to us.”

“Well . . .” Ametrine said.  “Well,” she paused a beat, then pushed on, “there were doubtless many groups who attempted to create a new form of being capable of . . . of channeling-- safely channeling that much magic.  At least one such group succeeded.

“They uh . . . they weren’t sure if it was . . . moral, to create a living thing for a set purpose, or . . .” Ametrine’s head collapsed onto the bed.  “Whoa,” she said.

“You don’t have to tell me this now,” [king] said.  “I will make time to listen whenever you ask me to.”

“No,” Ametrine said.  “Want to.” Apparently she and grammar had parted ways.  Still, she summoned all the effort she could muster, and returned to the story, “They knew that . . . expecting this of a child was wrong, so they created an adult, but though it was less bad than the alternative didn’t make them . . .”

Ametrine silently cursed herself for needing to stop.  It had been a pretty decent run. She’d almost made it to the end of the sentence.

“It didn’t make them feel better about . . . about creating a someone who would never have . . . a childhood,” she said.  “Still, it was the only thing they could think to do.

“So they crafted spells and found ways to make sure this new creature would have language, common knowledge, and the ability to . . .” She closed her eyes and lay her head back on her bed.  “I’m gonna take a second.”

She knew that there was probably some prohibition about making a king wait while one was his guest, but she was so tired and so weak right now.  So she took a break. While she didn’t know how long she took, she did know it was definitely longer than the second she had announced.

This time Ametrine didn’t bother opening her eyes, and left her head laying on the bed.  She said, “It . . . she was willed into being as an adult with all the knowledge and skill necessary to perform the magical feat.

“It’s said that she was beautiful,” Ametrine said.  “A creature of white and gray.” Ametrine took a long pause.  “She had a little bit of each species that had been involved. The beard of a goat, the feathers of a horse around her cloven hooves, the tail of a bison.”  Another pause. “But, mostly, she was a deer. Her overall shape, her posture, her bone structure, all of it was . . . deer. Even her spots . . . spots on an adult is a pony thing, but their pattern was pure deer.”

Ametrine considered opening her eyes, but decided against it.

“On her head was a single horn, which looked as though it had been created by twisting two horns or antlers together.  It was permanent, like a goat or bison horn, but colored like an antler.”

“A unicorn horn,” [king] said.  Ametrine nodded, and [king] continued, “I did wonder.”

Ametrine opened her eyes, looked at [king] again, and said, “The first unicorn horn, on the first unicorn.

“Her creators hadn’t told the magic how she should be shaped; she had just come out that way.  They also,” Ametrine took a moment to gather her energy, “hadn’t given any thought to reproduction.  My mother liked to think that she was surprised one most surprised of all --in a truly joyous way, mind you-- when she became pregnant, but that’s . . . speculation, not part of the story.

“When the Death of Magic was averted, and the land slowly began to heal, she took a pony as her mate.  Or maybe took ponies as her mates.”  Ametrine closed her eyes, took a breath, composed herself, opened her eyes, and continued, “Either way, her choice to make a life with ponies is probably why her story isn’t known among your people.

“Most of her features faded away over so very many generations, but my mother believed it was important to remember where we came from,” Ametrine said.  “It’s why she made sure my sister and I knew the story.”

“I understand why Princess Filigree wouldn’t approve of that story,” [king] said.

Ametrine snorted.  “That’s putting it lightly.  I’m not sure which part she would hate more, that unicorns aren’t completely pony, or that . . . that everything ‘pony’ about us originally came from ponies of the earth and stone.”

“My guess would be that she wouldn’t bother to choose,” [king] said.

“Sounds about right,” Ametrine said.  “Gonna sleep now; thank you for listening.”  She lay down her head and closed her eyes.

“I shall have ‘The Deer with One Horn as told by Ametrine daughter of Almandine Garnet of the line of Queens’ added to our historical corpus,” [king] said.

Ametrine smiled.  “I appreciate that.”

“I am honored you saw fit to share it with me, Storyteller,” [king] said.  “Now you should rest.”

Ametrine nodded.  She knew that she should express gratitude at being dubbed ‘Storyteller’ --it was a high honor for, and from, deer-- but right now she had no energy.  It was a miracle she’d managed to tell the story at all.

As she let the darkness of sleep take her, Ametrine decided that, if she lived long enough and could find one, she would have to cut a gem for [king] in thanks.

⁂   ⁂

This setting, which happens to be quite dark, was first described about a week shy of two months ago in an open thread at Ana's:
Since Sunday I've been constructing a story in my head about a unicorn and a Pegasus navigating a hellscape of ethnic cleansing and prolonged famine after all of the adults in their lives have been murdered.

It is in no way a good story. I have not been trying to create it. It's just happening. It's happening because I read a truly terrible My Little Pony fanfic and my mind rebelled.
Accidentally reading pro-Confederate BS in fanfic form can, apparently, be inspiring.  Anyway, at that point it hewed very closely to the source material (the terrible fanfic, not actual My Little Pony.)  It doesn't anymore.

The setting includes ponies with horns, ponies with wings, and ponies with neither, and all of them have a civilization or two, but that's pretty much where the similarities end.  In fact, the only reason they are ponies instead of larger horses is that I wanted them to be smaller than white tailed deer, which puts them firmly in "pony" territory.

I'm not entirely sure where this particular bit came from.  The features of the original unicorn in the above story, apart from the spots and horn being antler colored, are taken straight from those of traditional unicorns.  Granted, traditional unicorns have the tail of a lion, but bison are hoof-havers with the same general tail structure.

I think that a part of what went into this might be the fact that I'm never completely comfortable calling a ponycorn a unicorn.

Unicorns have cloven hooves.

The question "Can an animal with cloven hooves have a single, centrally placed, horn?" was a huge part of the debate on whether unicorns were even possible in reality.  The answer, by the way, is, "Yes.  Yes, they can."  (See: that deer that made the news that one time.)  Whether or not they can have it as a species-universal trait remains to be seen.

And I might be out of things to say.


  1. Seed of Bismuth says...
    Well your wrong I did find this interesting :)

    what was the FiM fiction that "inspired" this? For I too am a glutton for pain sometimes.

    This has rekindled my thoughts on what I'd change with Friendship is Magic as a setting. and like you I'd have changed the ponycorns except to keep their sized I'd change them to goats; magic powerhouse one-horned rainbow colored goats. The Pegasus would be replaced by winged pigs and Earth Pony would instead be normal sized Horses. So the Divine Queen Helena & King Selios would be look like a combination of all three Races

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