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Fanfic / The Writing on the Wall

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The Writing on the Wall is a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic by Horse Voice. Daring Do is asked to help in the excavation of the most ancient tomb known to ponykind - tens of thousands of years older than the oldest known masonry, with incredible craft and skill going into the construction of the impressive edifice. Ancient text in a number of languages, all of them long since lost, is carved into every surface in one of the rooms of the structure nearest to the surface, likely some kind of curse meant to warn away would-be looters. Workers work to breach the walls below, to find the secrets of this ancient place, but perhaps they should have heeded the writing on the wall.

The story can be found here. It's also available in the print-on-demand anthology Nightmare Nights.


Due to the nature of this story, even the names of many of the tropes involved in the story constitute major spoilers, and large sections of the text would need to be spoiled. As a result, do not open the below folder until you have read the entire story unless you want to be spoiled.

     This work provides examples of: 
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Daring Do and Dark Horizon are both these. Daring Do is specifically an Indiana Jones expy.
  • After the End: Humanity is long gone, but their nuclear waste remains.
  • Ancient Tomb: One of these figures heavily into the story. It's the oldest building discovered by ponies, so it definitely fits the "ancient" part. The "tomb" part, however, not so much...
  • Artistic License Nuclear Physics: Even after some 70,000 years, the radiation from the nuclear waste could kill within hours of exposure. The most energetic (and thus most deadly) isotopes should have decayed away by that point, though longer-lived isotopes would still be hanging around.
  • Body Horror: The death of Dark Horizon due to the "curse". Death by radiation poisoning is very, very ugly.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • The titular writing on the wall. Everyone thinks it's just there to freak out potential grave robbers. Nobody considers the option that it's deadly serious about the dangers in the structure until it's too late.
    • Local folklore about the tomb boils down to "it's a bad place, stay away from it." The explorers dismiss this as superstition, but it turns out those stories had the right idea.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The writing on the wall and the sick workers.
  • Curse: The eponymous undeciphered writing on the wall is believed to be one of these. But it isn't — it's a warning.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The tomb's curse. Nobody takes it seriously until it starts affecting explorers. However, the reveal is that the structure isn't a tomb, is not magical, and is not cursed — it's highly radioactive.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: The titular writing on the wall, which warns that to open the tomb is to die a horrible death. Daring immediately assumes that it's either superstitious nonsense or a bluff meant to scare off potential grave robbers. Nope, it's completely truthful and accurate.
  • Downer Ending: Everyone that visited the site may already be doomed to die from radiation sickness. One of the last lines of the story is Daring Do coughing blood.
  • Dramatic Irony: The Reveal that everyone just got radiation sickness from opening the "tomb", and they've unknowingly done every single thing they should not do to treat it; everyone at the excavation is staying in place for quarantine when instead they should leave the area immediately to prevent further exposure as radiation is not contagious, and burning irradiated corpses will just release the radiation into the air.
  • Earth All Along: Modern humanity existed tens of thousands of years earlier, created the "tomb" to store radioactive waste, and tried to warn future adventurers away.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: It is only in the final scene, when the eponymous writing on the wall is fully deciphered, that the true nature of the threat is revealed. The building is revealed to be not a tomb, but a nuclear waste storage facility built by humans. Daring Do and the sick workers are suffering not from any sort of pathogenic illness, but from radiation sickness.
  • Entertainingly Wrong:
    • Daring Do's speculation about the writing on the wall, and everyone about the structure. Her invocation of Ozymandias and the Curse of Tutankhamen may also be a hint that some human literature has survived even 70,000 years into the future.
    • A very dramatic example once you realize what the "curse" is. When most of the expedition falls sick, they do everything right to contain a disease; They quarantine themselves, and burn the corpses to prevent spread. Radiation sickness is not contagious, and staying in the area is the worst thing you can do. Radiation is also not alive, and burning it will simply spread it in the wind.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Speculated on by the characters. Being ignorant of the nature of radiation, they are left uncertain if they are all going to die from their exposure. Several of the workers, as well as Daring Do herself, are clearly suffering from severe radiation sickness. Taking into account that the drums of waste have almost certainly burst and flooded the cavern, it is likely that everyone standing near the cave's mouth for any length of time is going to get cancer very soon. The doctor who examined her friend's corpse will probably be dead in under a month.
  • Expy: Daring Do is an Indiana Jones expy, and all the characters are vaguely reminiscent of those from the Indiana Jones movies.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Daring Do and her rival Dark Horizon.
  • Foreshadowing: The description of the tomb and its contents make the ending quite obvious, but it's unlikely that most of the audience would recognize it. Unless they're familiar with proposed solutions to nuclear waste.
  • Genre Shift: From an adventure story to a horror story. A science fiction horror story.
  • Historical In-Joke: For something which hasn't even happened yet. The structure in the story is a proposed nuclear waste storage facility which hasn't been built yet in real life specifically because they're trying to figure out how to prevent scenarios like this one.
  • History Repeats: The tomb has been forgotten and rediscovered over and over again prior to the events of the story. Every group of explorers has copied their translation of the titular writing onto the provided space on the wall and sealed the tomb behind them when they left. Most never went past the outer chamber, but at least one group also opened the tunnel leading into the inner depths of the tomb, which they likewise resealed before departing. Like this expedition, that unlucky group presumably opened the seal before translating the warning and learned about the danger within the hard way.
  • Humanity's Wake: The tomb wasn't built by ponies, but by humans. And it isn't a tomb, but a nuclear waste storage facility.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The humans counted on this trope and described radiation in very simplistic terms so that a more primitive civilization could understand the danger. Too bad they didn't bother to decipher the warnings before breaching the place.
  • Irony: The archaeologists assume that the ancient structure they're excavating is a tomb. In a way, it is a tomb...but only for anyone foolish enough to ignore the warnings and expose themselves to lethal amounts of radiation by entering it.
  • My Greatest Failure: The titular writing warns that the tomb was built to contain something dangerous. If it has been opened, then the dangerous thing is loose, and the civilization that built the tomb has failed to protect whoever comes after.
  • Neglectful Precursors: Averted. Humanity built the place to be intimidating and left warnings to leave the place undisturbed, stating exactly what the danger was, in the simplest terms possible, in multiple languages, and exactly why it was dangerous. Too bad the ponies didn't bother to read the warning, and decide that all the impressive architecture is meant to scare people away from robbing a tomb of its valuables, instead of scaring them away from making a deadly mistake.
  • No Antagonist: Ahuizotl, Arch-Enemy of Daring Do, only shows up after the halfway mark and only briefly antagonizes the crew before fleeing. The main source of conflict is the Curse of the tomb, which is actually deadly radiation.
  • Not Hyperbole: Turns out, the writing on the wall is not exaggerating dangers in order to spook tomb robbers. It's an accurate, if simplistic, depiction of radiation poisoning.
  • Oh, Crap!: The archaeologists when they learn what exactly the translated message means.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Ahuizotl isn't the real danger, the building itself is. It may not have a curse, but the radioactive material inside can certainly pull off a good impression of one.
  • Plot Twist: As might be expected from a story about an adventurer archaeologist, their nemesis shows up halfway through and captures them. Then there's the other twist about the true nature of the writing on the wall...
  • Portent of Doom: Daring Do speculates that the writing on the wall is your garden-variety scare-em-away-from-the-treasure Portent of Doom, which can do no worse than spook superstitious potential tomb raiders. She's right that it is a portent of doom, but wrong about its purpose. It's actually a deadly serious warning to potential raiders that they're about to enter a building filled with highly radioactive waste.
  • Precursors: Humanity.
  • Race Against the Clock: Inverted. The astronomical calendar inside the tomb ends one hundred thousand years from the time it was built. Dark Horizon jokes about it being a countdown to the end of the world. In fact, the opposite is true: the calendar is meant to indicate when the radiation from the nuclear waste stored inside will finally drop to a nonlethal threshold. Sadly for the explorers, there are still about 30,000 years to go, and the radiation is still at very deadly levels. The fact that previous visitors are implied to have tampered with the stored waste does not help.
  • The Reveal: The translated writing on the wall reveals that the tomb isn't a tomb, it's a nuclear waste storage facility. The curse is radiation poisoning, and the writing is a warning intended to deter future curious explorers from entering and getting poisoned for nothing.
  • Revised Ending: A fanfic by another author reveals The Writing On The Wall to be a Daring Do Dark Fic Twilight wrote for fun.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Daring Do speculates that the titular writing is a warning meant to scare people away from the tomb. She's completely right — but the warning is meant to inform anyone who finds the place of the very real danger lurking within, not just the empty threat she assumed it was.
  • Schmuck Bait: Zig-zagged. The entire structure is obvious schmuck bait, with warnings written in dozens of languages and large, metallic spikes set up around it in the desert to keep away intruders. Such is standard fare for an ancient tomb trying to dissuade tomb robbers, though, and going to such incredible lengths might mean the place won't be despoiled. Too bad they're looking at it the wrong way. One of the concerns about the construction of the facility in the present is exactly this — making it large, imposing, and intimidating might just lead curious people to look inside.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!:
    • When Ahuizotl and his minions see what the "curse" does to people, they pack up and run for it.
    • Implied to have been pulled by previous generations of explorers — while the inner seal is a lot newer than the tomb itself, it's still much older than the outer seal and the copied inscription left behind by the last group to reach the place.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: How radiation is described in the warning.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Daring Do shouts out to the supposed Curse of Tutankhamen and the poem "Ozymandias":
      "'This is the tomb of the great and terrible So-and-So! Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair! Whosoever steals the treasure will face the gods' curse, and the sky will fall on their heads, et cetera'."
    • The whole story is a shout out to an unbuilt nuclear waste storage facility, as given away by the eventual translation of the writing on the wall, which is taken from the suggested warning for the site.
      This is not a place of honor. No great deed is commemorated here. Nothing of value is here.
  • Subverted Trope: Of adventurer archaeologist stories.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The writing on the wall, which says (slightly paraphrased) "There is nothing valuable or interesting here. Entering this place will cause you to die horribly. Go away and never come back." Subverted, the writing is completely truthful.
  • Time Abyss: The "tomb" is by far the oldest structure ever discovered. It is so old that conventional dating methods fail and its age can only be determined accurately thanks to an astronomical calendar helpfully left inside by its builders. Of the many, many languages represented on the eponymous wall, only the newest one is even recognizable to the explorers, and that language is so old they don't have the reference materials they need to translate it on hand.
  • Title Drop: Daring Do, while speculating on what the undeciphered writing meant:
    "Well," Daring said, "looking scary is the first line of defense for a lot of old tombs. Obviously, anyone with wings gets over the thorns easily. So, either there were no intelligent species with wings back then or that's why those thorns are there." On a sudden impulse, she screwed up her courage and decided to try something she'd never done before: needling the professor. "Y'know, with that in mind, if this place is anything like others I've seen, I can pretty much tell you what the writing on the wall says."
  • Twist Ending: It isn't a tomb, it is a nuclear waste storage facility.
  • Warning Mistaken for Threat: The walls of the ancient structure are covered in inscriptions that Daring assumes are merely empty threats meant to scare off tomb robbers. The "tomb" is actually a nuclear waste disposal site, and the inscriptions are warnings that anyone who tries to explore the place will likely die a horrible death due to radiation poisoning.
  • Wham Line: The translation of the message.
    "You should not have come here. This is not a place of honor. No great deed is commemorated here. Nothing of value is here. What is here is dangerous and repulsive. We considered ourselves a powerful culture. We harnessed the hidden fire, and used it for our own purposes. Then we saw the fire could burn within living things, unnoticed until it destroyed them. And we were afraid. We built great tombs to hold the fire for one hundred thousand years, after which it would no longer kill. If this place is opened, the fire will not be isolated from the world, and we will have failed to protect you. Leave this place and never come back."
  • Worst Aid: The archeological party's reactions to the tomb's curse would be the correct reactions to a sickness (remaining in place to quarantine the disease and burning the bodies to destroy pathogens). Unfortunately, they're exactly the wrong things to do in response to radiation poisoning. Radiation isn't contagious, so you want to get out of there to prevent further exposure, and burning the bodies only releases the radioactive particles into the air.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Everyone about the ancient tomb and the titular writing on the wall. They think that they're still in an Adventurer Archaeologist story with a fantasy bent, so the tomb is full of treasure and archaological goodies and the writing is empty threats intended to scare away superstitious would-be tomb raiders. It's actually a sci-fi horror story, the building is a containment facility for something very dangerous (deadly radiation), and the writing on the wall is Not Hyperbole, and accurately describes what would happen to anyone who would attempt to get in.