Need something heartwarming in your life? Look no further! Today's (Monday's, whatever) dose of syrup comes via the wonderful world of hockey, but check it out anyway; we (the Wild) get some depth, his family gets to see him more often... everyone's happy.
Speaking of things that make everyone happy: mini-reviews! Those do make y'all happy, right? Well, you can get a fresh batch of 'em, below the break.
Up There, by Miller Minus
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Princess Luna recalls a time, during her imprisonment on the moon, when she managed to overcome both the influence of the Nightmare and the distance from Equestria to visit a pony's dream.
A few thoughts: This is a powerful story that's let down by its ending and, to a lesser extent, the beginning. The opening feels needlessly histrionic for a simple reminisce, and the ending lingers too long after its most powerful moment for too little payoff, dawdling onto a semi-related ending note rather than keeping the focus on the pony whose dream Luna visited, either by letting the story end closer to the end of the dream or by bringing us all the way to the present (and revealing what, if anything, Luna found out about her afterwords). But the middle 90% is often stunning: the dreambuilding is vivid and evocative, and well thought out; Luna's little insights and asides complement the story's framing perfectly, and Whitewash (the dreamer)'s situation is clouded in just the right amount of dream-metaphor while still being easy to understand and relate to.
Recommendation: If you like good language use (few writers can use "pellucid" in a sentence; fewer still can use it without it feeling like gross thesaurus abuse) and a well-realized concept of how dreams work, this is definitely worth checking out.
Cinder Claws: The Caribou Legend of Kol-Klor, by Xepher
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The High Chieftain of the caribou relates the origins of his race's Hearth's Warming equivalent to the CMC--a tale rather darker than the ponies are used to.
A few thoughts: A few times, I'd come across this, drawn in by the premise only to be scared off again by what came further down the description: this is a sequel/side story (though reading that is unnecessary), and the warning-bell-jingling "Also note, this tale was written in about 5 hours... and has not had the benefit of the usual editors and prereaders."
Anyway, I finally read it, and my fears were mostly unfounded; with the exception of one scene (which can easily be read around), there's nothing here to trip up those unfamiliar with The Three Sisters, and the editing is perfectly adequate. The framing device (the CMC and princesses visiting the Chieftain and his family over the holiday) was an engaging bit of SoL. The legend itself was... fine, but my overwhelming impression was that more could have been done with it. There's a gap between the caribous' view of the world and the ponies', it's clear, but little is done with that disconnect. The result is that the legend, while engaging on its own merits, doesn't really feel like it fits into Equestria--even as a piece of counter(pony)culture.
Recommendation: Still, if you enjoy stories-within-stories, this is a good concept with engaging execution.
A Day in the Life of the First Ponyville Theatre Troupe, by TheColorGreen
Zero-ish spoiler summary: It's the day of the Troupe's latest premier, and there are no costumes, Octavia feels like death warmed over, Derpy still doesn't understand how to do her job, Sea Swirl can't remember his lines, and everypony is trying to make it come together.
A few thoughts: The fandom generally (and I specifically) often use "Slice of Life" as a catchall for low-stakes, character-driven, pastoral stories--like I did in the review above, for example. This story is SoL in the stricter sense of, to quote the most unimpeachable of sources, "the use of mundane realism depicting everyday experiences in art and entertainment." The description I typed, and the one the story uses, suggest conflict; you might expect, say, something to come of Octavia being sick. Instead, this is a story about what a hectic amateur production is like (with some limited exaggeration, mostly Derpy-related) wherein her sickness is used not for drama, but is simply a fact to be imparted. The sheer banality of this fic meant it didn't really engage me, but I feel like criticizing it on that front is almost missing the point; it would be more accurate to say that, while I often enjoy "Slice of Life" stories, I'm not quite up for "Slice of Life" stories.
Recommendation: If a short story that blends an emphasis on realism (as someone who's been in plenty of amateur theatre productions over the years... yeah, most of this rings pretty true) over conflict/resolution with the sensibilities of Ponyville sounds like something you'd be interested in, this is worth checking out. It's probably not for those looking for something with a strong or meaningful narrative, however.
Who Needs to Talk?, by Peter Yellowhammer
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Two Royal Guards stand watch alone at night. One tries to start a conversation, but accidentally says more than he means to.
A few thoughts: Speaking of stories that "aren't for Chris," here's an unapologetic shipfic! I don't remember why this was on my to-read list, but it contains several of my shipping peeves: characters being unknowingly, mutually in love for no good reason, lightning-fast romance, and convenient (and again, previously unknown to the characters) sexuality comparability. Both guards have solid characterization, even though remains silent for most of the fic (and on that note, his backstory/the explanation for the piece of paper he carries around is interesting), but this is ultimately a shipping story, and one's interest in seeing the two guards romantically pair off is going to be the selling point here.
Recommendation: If a guardxguard shipfic interests you inherently, and if you're not averse to what I would consider "common shipping conventions," then this might be worth checking out. I wouldn't recommend it to the more general reader, however.