• Published 12th May 2014
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King Of Queens - ChroniclerOfFantasies



Herds. In a world inhabited by magical ponies, that's really not too surprising of a thing... unless that herd consists of four living, breathing goddesses and yourself.

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Peasants, Royals, and Kings

“Bless me with the
Leaf off of the tree
On it I see
The freedom reign

We are falling
The light is calling
Tears inside me
Calm me down

Midnight calling
Mist of resolving
Crown me, with the
Pure green leaf

Praise to my father
Blessed by the water
Black night, dark sky
The devils cry”

“That’s… that’s a very beautiful song Master Radiance.” Smart Cookie said. I looked at her confused for a moment until I realized I’d been singing. We were walking down the hall and the war room was still a ways away so I guess the boredom must have gotten to me.

“Uh… thank you. And again just call me Rade, okay Cooks?”

“Ah… right. Sorry about that Master Rad… I mean Rade. Anyways about that song. I’ve never heard it before. What’s it about?” I blinked, looking up as I held a hoof on my chin.

“You know Cooks, I have no idea. Strange though… it feels… really important to me somehow.”

“A lullaby maybe? It does have that really old feel, and it seems like one of those songs you can sing over and over again without messing up the tune. Maybe your mother sang it to you?”

“Well if the dreams I’ve been having are anything to go by then the closest thing I have to a mother is a princess who died nearly a thousand years ago. And no… I think it’s a little dark to be a lullaby. Though now that I think about it a lot of lullabies are actually pretty dark, so yeah maybe you’re right.”

“I… thank you…” Smart Cookie looked away awkwardly, staring down at the floor like a puppy that had done something wrong. Strange. From what I’d seen of her she was definitely the quiet scholar type, but she didn’t really seem so… fragile. I mean she was pretty blunt when asking about Candy I’s nonexistent sex life. It takes a lot of guts to ask a princess that. Or a lot of stupid, but given her personality I was pretty sure I could rule that one out.

“Cooks, you okay?” I asked.

“Hm…? Oh! Oh yeah! I’m fine… yeah. Eh hehehe…”

“Cooks.”

“Yes?”

“You’re a terrible liar.” She dropped her head in disappointment.

“Yeah I know.”

“So… you want to tell me what’s wrong? I know we haven’t exactly known each other long so you don’t have to say anything but if you’re not feeling well I want to know why. If you’re not in the right state of mind then you can join the rest of the civilians. Nopony will blame you I promise.”

“It’s… it’s nothing. Really.”

“You sure? It doesn’t look like nothing.”

“I’m sure.”

“Positive? You can go back to Willow’s if-”

“IT’S YOU!” She shouted. Can’t say I’m surprised. I always seem to do SOMETHING wrong don’t I? “My problem is with you…”

“Uh… sorry. Mind if I ask what I did wrong?” She let out a sigh as she shook her head before turning her gaze back to the floor in front of her.

“It’s not what you’ve done wrong, it’s what you’ve done RIGHT.”

“Eh?” We stopped and she looked at me with a face that seemed to be more of frustrated curiosity than the confusion or resentment I was expecting.

“Look, what are you?”

“A unicorn.” She face hoofed.

“No, I mean life wise. What do you do? How do you live day to day? How do you get by?”

“Pull city wide pranks, fail at embarrassing Willow, and mooch off a princess.” Cooks just stared at me before shaking her head and letting out a quick breath.

“I was going to say you were a consort but that works too.”

“Awesome. Still not seeing the point though.”

“That’s just it. Don’t you get it? You’re the number one knucklehead unicorn of the crystal empire! You’re supposed to be a no good prankster that the princess felt sorry for and let into her home! Only to end up becoming infatuated with out of grief and succumb to all of your silly little games!” Thanks Smart Cookie. I never would have guessed. Please tell me more about myself so we can bury it along with the rest of my pride.

“Is that really how the world sees me?” Cooks nodded her head with slight vigor. “Wow… I knew it was bad but I didn’t think it was THAT bad.” Then again it’s not like I cared one way or the other. All of my antics helped to cheer up my friend and in the end that’s all that mattered to me. All that still matters to me.

“Well it is. You should have seen the war room when Cadence demanded for you to be brought in for advising. I thought there was going to be a riot!” I know that bit of enlightening information should have bothered me, but to be honest it actually put a little smile on my face. I mean you have to admit. You know you’ve done some serious stuff when the very mention of your name can turn a political meeting into an all out brawl.

“When Sunburst finally managed to get everypony to quiet down and sent somepony to fetch you, the room was filled with mumbling from every corner. Guards were rolling their eyes, advisors shaking their heads, you could even make out the nobles whispering about how terrible of an influence you’d been on the princess lately. Some were even speculating on how to… ‘deal with you’ because they thought that all of your actions were just a ploy for power.” I was a bit unnerved. Not because she basically just said that there were ponies who wanted to assassinate me, but by the fact that I actually found that somewhat flattering. Somehow the fact that ponies wanted me dead was not a new feeling, nor was it an unpleasant one. In fact the idea that someone could sneak up on me and take me out like that just seemed… silly. I don’t know who I used to be, but I’m starting to think I was one heck of a badass.

Pardon my language Donkeys.

“Ponies want me dead? That’s kind of cool.” I said and she just scrunched up her face before throwing her hooves in the air.

“See?! That! That right there is why everypony was in an uproar! You never take things seriously!” Now hold on a moment.

“I’ve been taking this whole situation we’re in seriously. Well… until now anyways.” She let out a defeated sigh before looking away again.

“I know, and that’s what doesn’t make sense. You’re… you’re supposed to be a useless prankster who can’t or won’t do anything right. But then all of this happens,” she says and twirls her hoof in a circle above her head. “And suddenly you’re all business… and more.” I raised my brow at that.

“And more? What do you mean?”

“Well… when you walked through those doors I expected to see a pony with a ridiculously large grin and maybe even a saddlebag full of joke supplies. There were even a ton of ponies ready to just start yelling at you and ripping you a new one. Yet the minute you walked in… everypony went silent. And it was all because of that… that aura you seemed to push out.” She shuddered.

“It was both mystifying and terrifying at the same time. The way you carried yourself, the look in your eyes, it made me feel so… small. I’ve… always been shy but… that was something else. You seemed to radiate power. No… that’s not quite right. Power was a part of you. Something you naturally seemed to hold onto and distribute to others at your leisure. I’m originally stationed in Canterlot, the town not the palace, so I’ve seen the princesses a few times and it was the exact same as when I was around them.”

“And I mean that in more ways than one. Being around the princesses definitely makes me feel small, but not insignificant. They seemed to give off this gentle feeling, like they’re trying to tell me that I’m just as important and incredible as they are, even though I’m just a lowly rookie. You were the exact same way, making me feel like you were worlds above me yet at the same time we were on equal ground.”

“But the second all of those ponies left the room that feeling went away as you collapsed on the table and all of a sudden I saw the party pony I was expecting to see, albeit you looked absolutely exhausted.” She giggled at that last part and I just rolled my eyes. What she said though gave me pause for thought. I had no idea I held that kind of sway over ponies. It was a little unnerving I could make a room full of ponies feel that way, though it does add to my theory of being a total badass. Again, sorry donkeys.

“That’s very flattering… I think. But please don’t compare me to Celestia and Luna. I don’t know who I was before losing my memory, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree I wasn’t THAT special.” Smart Cookie just shook her head.

“I’m not so sure. Maybe you’re an unannounced royal?”

“A what?”

“An unannounced royal. You know what a royal is right?”

“I’d say yes, but I don’t think we’re thinking of the same definition, so please enlighten me.”

“Alright. Well you’ve seen the representatives of other nations right? Like the ones from Saddle Arabia or Neighpan?”

“Cadence takes me everywhere she goes so I’ve met them once or twice.”

“Remember how they’re all way taller than your average pony? That’s because they’re royals. Ponies chosen by Equus itself, or maybe more specifically the energy that flows through Equus, to lead its people. Each royal is imbued with huge stores of magical power and given the title of prince or princess. Like Princess Twilights ascension to an alicorn, only they don’t end up with the traits of all the different tribes.”

“So a royal is chosen by magic itself? But isn’t magic one of Fausts three gifts?”

“That’s right. The legend says that upon creation, Faust gave the world three gifts. Mortality, so that we had lives we could cherish, respect, and enjoy. Fertility, so that we could bring new life into the world to share in said joys. And Magic, so that we could interact with the world in amazing ways, shaping it so that each generation could enjoy it more than the one before. Magic in particular though, is said to be Fausts very own power, which she has decided to let us borrow though every creature is capable of tapping into different amounts of it in different ways.”

“So… what you’re saying is… royals are leaders… chosen by the Goddess?”

“Yes and no. It’s more like there’s a certain set of requirements that decides who gets to become a royal and who doesn’t and if you meet them then you become a royal, though nopony really knows what those requirements are, just that they exist. After all if they were chosen by the goddess alone then there would never be evil royals like Sombra.”

“Unless Faust is a complete jerk.” I said with more than a little venom. Smart Cookie seemed a little taken aback by that. I wasn’t sure why but the idea of Faust, or anypony for that matter, having that kind of power over ponies destinies… really REALLY irked me, though I had no definite reason why.

“Yes… yes I suppose you’re right. Though I’ve never really considered that…”

“Well don’t go busting up your theological views over something like that. Anyways you think I could be an… unannounced royal? What’s that?”

“It’s a royal who doesn’t take up their position. Basically a pony that ascends and doesn’t tell anypony, either because they think the world doesn’t really need them or because they don’t want the responsibility.”

“Are you calling me lazy?”

“Yes. Are you really going to deny that though?”

“… touché. Wait, so is an alicorn different from a regular royal?”

“Well yes and no. Alicorns are sort of like super beefed up royals. They’re basically royals that are on the verge of becoming Kings or Queens, though aside from diamond dogs ponies are the only species that have that kind of tell tale sign about a possible future ascended royal.”

“Yeah about that. How come there are no kings or queens?” Smart Cookie looked at me with a bit of surprise before turning her head back in front of her.

“Kings and Queens are different from regular royals in that they’re actually a step above them. And there are only a few of them in all of history. The first known king was the king of dragons, Bahamut. The second King was the minotaur king, Minos. The first Queen was a griffon named Quilana. Each one ushered in a new age of technological, magical, and cultural advancements. Every time a new king or queen is born, it has always meant that the world was going to change in ways we couldn’t believe. It’s also said that they’re immensely powerful to a degree that’s supposed to rival a god. I’ve heard tales of Kings and Queens with enough strength to level entire cities in a single blow and not even become winded. And because it can be several centuries and even millenia in between the reign of each monarch for a long time that’s all they were… tales.”

“What do you mean? What happened?” Smart Cookies ears splayed backwards as she let out a sigh.

“Cadence’s wedding, that’s what. When Queen Chrysalis attacked, everypony assumed she called herself Queen either because her species was a race of bugs or because she was arrogant like Sombra and took on a title she didn’t actually deserve. Just like everypony else Celestia challenged her with that mindset…”

“Only to get pimpslapped.” My ability to make ponies face hoof will never cease to amuse me.

“I wouldn’t have chosen that particular wording but yes. She was-”

“Pimpslapped.”

“DEFEATED. When Celestia was thrown to the ground the whole world suddenly realized that Chrysalis wasn’t just talking the talk. She had more than enough power to back up her claim. The only way we could have beaten them was if Luna was there too but she was still returning from a foreign meeting in Phoenicis. The only reason Equestria didn’t fall was because Cadence and Shining Armor managed to work a miracle and both create and use a Rank A spell out of nowhere that just so happened to throw every changeling out of Canterlot.”

“In other words we got lucky.”

“Quite. What’s strange though is that nopony’s heard from Chrysalis since. In all the history of Equestria nopony had ever heard of changelings. Then all of a sudden Chrysalis launches an attack only to be stopped and never heard from again. It’s been almost two years, and nopony has spotted even a single changeling. She’s just… fallen off the face of Equus.”

“Maybe she just wanted her species to be known and their power acknowledged. Kind of like saying ‘Hey we’re here and we can take you at anytime but we’re not going to because we’re nicer than that. If we ever do try to take you though here’s a list of our powers so you can stop us if the next ruler is completely off his rocker.”

“Somehow, I doubt that.”

“Well then what do you believe?”

“Huh?”

“What do you think Chrysalis was doing?”

“Uh… hm… I don’t know. I’ll tell you this though, I don’t think Chrysalis was ever going to take Equestria. Something tells me that if she wanted to she would have with ease. No, I think she had another agenda and whatever it was I’m pretty sure she accomplished it.”

“And that scares you?” I asked, noticing her ears splay backwards at the thought.

“I… yes. It does.” I put on a smile and gave her a pat on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry Cooks. I’m sure that if Chrysalis attacks, we can handle whatever she decides to throw at us. Though first we have to survive this.” I said with a laugh. It wasn’t much of one but she cracked a small smile which I was grateful to see. Things were hard enough as is. Even small fragile smiles were better than nothing at the moment.

As I rounded the last corner I found our destination to be in sight. As we stopped in front of the door I let out a small sigh as I whispered “Well… here we are.”

“Is something the matter?” I frowned.

“Yeah. See no matter what happens, hells going to break loose the second I leave this room.” Smart Cookie flattened her ears in confusion.

“Why’s that?”

“Well if he’s an obvious imposter then not only do I have to deal with him, but with Cadence and Twilight as well.”

“Um Rade… sir… I don’t really like the way you say ‘deal with him’. It makes it sound like you’re going to… execute him or something.”

Silence.

Smart Cookie took a few steps backwards in what I could only assume was fear. “Uh… you’re not… are you?”

“Private Smart Cookie.” I spoke her name with authority this time, keeping my eyes glued to the door all the while. The sound of metal meeting metal told me she was now in a salute.

“Yes sir?”

“Check the status of each of the three groups and report back here. Don’t open the door, just knock and somepony will speak to you. After that wait outside these doors for further orders.” The tone in my voice left little room for argument. With a feeble ‘yes sir’ she galloped off in the direction we came. I looked down at the ground. Yes, if he turned out to be an imposter then that’s the order I would have to give. During my time here in the crystal empire I decided I didn’t want to be a burden, so while I was finding out what I already knew, I was learning other things as well, particularly those that let me help Cadence with her decision making here in the palace. I’d read through several books on different protocols dealing with the government, the guards, and all other aspects of national importance. One of those things stated that given circumstances as dire as the ones I found myself in, any problems that could be deemed hazardous to the well being of the citizenry were to be dealt with swiftly and without prejudice.

In layman’s terms cut off its head before it cuts off yours.

I stood outside the war room as I pulled my nerves together. I fiddled with the small bag around my neck, listening to the tinkling of the three small jars inside. I had an idea on what to do to win this war. It was dangerous, stupid, and would most likely get me killed.

So nothing different than normal for me.

Before I did anything though I had to confirm the identity of the pony behind these doors. I didn’t expect Shining’s interrogation to take long. Not with what I had planned. No, what I expected to take long was what would come after the interrogation. If my gut was right, then this was an imposter and things were about to get very… icky. If not well… some part of me actually hoped that he was an imposter. After all, dealing with the fallout of him being the real deal would be much more difficult than saying ‘Ha! Caught you!’ and ending all my problems there.

I looked to the door and let out a sigh. “Might as well get this over with.” I muttered, before taking in a deep breath and shoving the door open.

I’d like to say that the room was dark with a beaten and barely conscious Shining sitting at a dull gray table, a single light illuminating the room while a bunch of guards dressed in suits and sunglasses lined the walls. After all, that’s what a lot of conspiracy nuts would expect from a situation like this.

Poor conspiracy theorists. If they only knew.

Almost every guard in the room was sitting on their butt exhausted, assuming they weren’t already asleep. The only pony who actually seemed to be taking things seriously was Sunburst. Who sat next to Shining, her spear mounted and held to his throat by one of her wings. Shining himself sat patiently in his seat. His eyes shut and a gentle smile on his face, as though he was resting under a tree on a warm day.

Sunburst noticed me and was quick to get her troops back in order. “AT ATTENTION!” she called, and just like that every pony in the room was up and on their hooves, ready for action.

“At ease.” I said, as I sat in a chair on the other side of Shining. “You can put the spear down lieutenant. We’ve already got an inhibitor ring on him and his hooves are all bound, we don’t need anything else.” And besides, you can get more information from a prisoner whose comfortable than one who’s to scared to remember the difference between red and blue.

With a nod Sunburst lowered her spear before speaking up. “Should we fetch the lantern?”

“Yes. Please.” I kept my emotionless gaze locked onto Shining while he just smiled casually. Had doing this kind of thing not felt so familiar to me that smile may have unnerved me. Given the state I was in now though, all it did was piss me off, though I made sure not to let it show.

A few moments of silence later and two guards walked in with a large glowing green lantern that came up to my knees. It was specially designed for creatures called ‘Changelings’, beings famous for taking on the form of another and then feeding off of the love that pony normally receives. Cadence had dealt with them before at her wedding and while the attack had resulted in no fatalities, for either side so far as she knew, precautions had been taken to deal with this sort of thing ever again. One of them was the lamp now sitting on the table.

Inside was a large crystal straight from the crystal empires crystal mines. It was imbued with several different types of spells that would resonate with a specific magical signature that was found to exist on all changelings given the nature of their magic. This resonance would disrupt the magical flow in the body of any changeling sending a painful shock through them and stopping any spell they were casting.

Basically it’s a bug zapper.

“Turn it on.” Sunburst nodded and with the flick of her head, the two unicorn guards that carried it inside flipped a switch and the green glow began to let out an eerie looking mist. We let the machine run for several minutes, Shining smiling all the while. After a while I accepted the fact that he wasn’t about to turn into a bug any time soon and had the machine turned off. He looked at me and his smile grew.

“So, I take it we can get to proper questions now?” I didn’t bother to answer him. Instead I pulled out my secret weapon for this particular part. Reaching into the bag around my neck I pulled out a vial filled with clear liquid and placed it on the table, motioning for Shining to drink it. He looked at me quizzically for a moment before lifting the glass as best he could with his bound hooves and inspecting its contents. A frown formed on his face when he read the label. “Veritaserum? You’re going to drug me? Do you have any idea how many laws you’re breaking by doing this?”

“Sunburst,” I said without looking away. “Please tell this pony how many bucks I give.”

“Master Radiance gives precisely zero bucks.” I almost let out a little giggle. I honestly didn’t think she’d go along with that but hey, I’m not complaining and the look on Shining’s face was absolutely priceless.

That… and I could never get enough of Sunbursts voice.

“Not only are you making jests during such a situation, you’ve managed to rope the new guards captain into your antics as well? What’s worse you completely disrespect the rule of law! Veritaserum is quite clearly a method of torture, albeit a more friendly version and has been outlawed for good reason! How can you disrespect the law so easily?!” Well he’s certainly got the right is right and wrong is wrong part of his personality down.

My face never changed during Shinings rant. The only motion I made was to move my hooves to my chin in a contemplative gesture. “Tell me, how many ponies live in the crystal empire. Not the empire as a whole, but the capital city itself? The city we’re currently residing in.”

“Over a hundred thousand…”

“And do you know how many have died today?” His eyes widened.

“I… no. No I don’t.”

“Well… that makes two of us. See when the windigos attacked, they were already storming the inside of the palace by the time I arrived and we were still in the middle of investigations and evacuations. I have no way of knowing just how many of my ponies, and yes right now they ARE my ponies, died before I was able to stop Winter. Maybe none of them did, and I sincerely hope that whatever god controls this world, assuming there even is one, is benevolent enough to grant that miracle. But there’s just as much chance of that as there is of me walking out to a city of corpses when all of this is through. That being said let me tell you what I DO know. I know the crystal heart is broken. I know that many of my ponies have already died. I know that there are barely any guards left to protect us. I know that Twilight and Cadence aren’t in the right state of mind to assist us. I know the other elements have been taken out of the picture. I know that there’s no way for reinforcements to arrive. I know that I have a pony sitting in front of me who claims he’s a long dead prince and I know that I’M the one in charge and therefore the one who has to deal with it all. You want to know how I can ignore the law so easily?!” I raised my voice as I let my anger temporarily take over. For just a little bit of added dramatic effect I slammed my hoof down as I said “It’s because right now I AM THE LAW! There’s nopony else who can do my job! The princesses either can’t reach us or are out of their minds, the nobles are either dead or equally incapacitated and there aren’t enough left of the guard to form any sort of martial rule! The only thing keeping these ponies from completely losing it is me and I don’t need YOU screwing up the already unstable peace that I’VE managed to build!”

“So yes, I’m going to use a truth potion! And guess what? If that doesn’t work I’m going to use every other trick under the sun to make you talk! I don’t care who you are or how well you’ve been trained! BY THE TIME I LEAVE THIS ROOM I WILL EITHER KNOW THE TRUTH OR SOMEPONY WILL BE WIPING UP YOUR INNARDS FROM THE FLOOR!” I was on my hind hooves now, leaning over the table as I glared directly into his eyes. My voice had risen to levels that would have made DJ’s around the world proud and I could see the fear in his eyes. I didn’t have time for this pony’s bull, and I made that abundantly clear. I sat down after taking a moment to catch my breath. “Whether you live or die makes no difference to me. Either way it’s one less problem for me to deal with.” The numerous ponies in the room looked at me with shock, but I was too tired to care. I shouldn’t have to deal with this. Why was I dealing with this? Once everything hit the fan I just took over on instinct. I didn’t really think about what I was doing and now here I am ordering around troops like I’ve done it my whole life.

Then again, maybe I had. It’s not like I would know.

The pony claiming to be Shining looked down at his glass and quickly poured the concoction down without another second thought. I waited for a few minutes to let that potion take effect then began the interrogation.

“Basic questions. Name?”

“Shining Armor.”

“Birthday?”

“Twentieth of June.”

“Wife?”

“Cadence.”

“Children?”

“None.”

Our conversation continued like that for half an hour. Question after question he got right all while under the effects of a potion that wouldn’t allow him to lie. From what I could tell he was the real deal. Everything he said matched up with all of his known history and even some of his unknown history, and by that I mean little stories Cadence had told me and nopony else. He even knew the song they used to sing.

Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was not to be trusted.

Still though, there was no evidence to prove that he wasn’t the real Shining, and his story even made sense. Shining had gone missing a long time ago while investigating a magical anomaly in the tundra. He made a wrong step and fell through the ice into a cavern hundreds of feet deep. He had reportedly exhausted nearly all of his magical reserves fighting a group of yetis who had randomly attacked his troops. He was so exhausted that not ten minutes before falling he had to be carried by his squad so there was no way for him to save himself leaving logic to dictate that he had no chance of survival. However according to him there were cloud pillars, soft spikes made of compressed clouds that had fused with crystals under the ground to make them tangible to all ponies not just pegasi, littered throughout the crevice which broke most of his fall on the way down. It still broke most of the bones in his body though and he was forced to live off a very special mineral water that exists in certain caverns here in the crystal empire. Supposedly you could drink it and it would supplement all the nutrients your body needs for weeks, even months at a time. I had them bring in a specialist to check and see if such water would have existed in the location he disappeared in, only to have that pony report that it was indeed quite likely. Once he healed there was nothing left to do but climb up and out and so, here we were.

As unlikely as it seemed, his story more or less checked out. However until I could actually send ponies down into the cavern to confirm his story, I couldn’t allow him to walk freely. Especially given current circumstances. The most I could do was remove the bonds on his hooves. He’d have to keep on the ring and stay in this room until I said otherwise.

Smart Cookie delivered her report during the interrogation and I was happy to find that everypony in the ball room was being fed from the personal kitchens. Evidently the guards stationed there figured that you can’t go wrong with a full stomach, and it looks like everypony in the room agreed. So for now ponies were happy and sated so I didn’t have to worry about any riots breaking out. Still I’d have to address them soon and that was a can of worms I didn’t feel like opening.

“Are you sure I can’t leave? I won’t even leave the guards side! I just want to help protect the empire!” I sighed, rubbing my temples as Shining tried to make a plea for some kind of freedom. Honestly I a part of me wanted to let him go. Shining was strong, no doubt about that, and with things the way they are I really needed that kind of extra strength. But I just couldn’t risk it. Unless…

“Shining… you’re good at making barriers, right?” Shining just smiled at me.

“The best.”

“If that’s the case then I think there IS something you can do to earn my trust…”

***

As I walked out of the war room I gave Smart Cookie a tired smile. One she returned in kind before asking me what I was going to do next. “Right now,” I said. “I’m going to go speak to Cadence and Twilight. It’s time to nip this issue in the bud. I need both of them with their heads on straight and I need them that way NOW. There’s just… there’s just no way I can do this without them.”

With that being said Smart Cookie and I turned down the hallway and made the long trek to Cadences room where the two princesses were waiting for me.

“Do you have any idea what you’re going to say?” Smart Cookie asked me as we stood in front of the door. Honestly I had no idea. My plan was to go in, say hello, and then wing it from there. Hopefully I wouldn’t sustain too many injuries.

“Well, wish me luck Cooks.” I said, and opened the door to what could very well be my own demise.

As the heavy door shut behind me I was greeted to the sight of an exhausted Cadence, a frazzled Twilight, and several royal guards. As luck would have it, the first pony to notice me was Twilight. She tried to muster up a death glare, but quickly stopped, too tired to care apparently. “What are YOU doing here?” she asked.

“Just, you know, stopped by to say hello.” Her head and ears immediately perked up at that.

“Say hello?” Twilight asked indignantly. “You stopped by… to say hello? Don’t you have an empire to run? Don’t think I haven’t caught on to your little game. It’s obvious what you’ve done. Toying with Cadences heart, messing with my head by bringing in a fake version of my brother. It’s obvious you’re working with Winter I just need to find the proof!”

“The only thing you need to do is find a screw driver so you can tighten the screws that have come loose on your head.” Twilight screamed in fury and aggravation before standing up on the bed, ready to pounce on me. All the guards stood at attention then ready to intercept her… until something unexpected happened.

Cadence, who had practically been catatonic this whole time, sat up, looked Twilight in the eye…

And slapped her.

The whole room just stood there quietly staring at the two, Twilights expression shocked and Cadences one of complete indifference. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t Cadence slapping Twilight that was surprising. It was the fact that that was the first thing she had done in so long that took us off guard. According to the guards she hadn’t been reacting to anything since she’d woken up. She just laid there on the bed, staring off into space. Then when she finally stops, the first thing she does is slap a pony. Not what we were expecting.

“Twily…” She spoke, her voice barely more than a whisper. “That’s enough.”

“B-b-but,” Cadence softly placed a hoof on Twilights muzzle before shaking her head side to side.

“Twily, I know you’re upset. I know you’re hurting. I am too. But none of that is Rade’s fault. He’s not here to replace Shining. Until today he never did anything more than just be my friend. But look at us. We’re princesses, rulers of Equestria, yet we’re sitting in this room sulking like a couple of children while he makes sure things don’t fall apart. Now’s not the time for us to indulge in self pity. We need him.” Twilight stole a glance at me, before turning her head away in disgust and lying back down. She didn’t say anything else though, so I guess she was done with her outbursts.

“Rade… how bad is it?” Cadence asked. I looked away. Not really wanting to tell her but knowing I had no choice. I began to recount all the information that we had, summing it up in a few short sentences. Honeslty I could have said ‘we’re bucked’ and still told them the same amount of information.

“And… what about… that pony?” Cadence asked, her voice growing even lower, which I wouldn’t have believed possible had I not been hearing it. I looked straight ahead, not allowing any emotion to cross my face as I responded in the most professional manner possible.

“The pony claiming to be Shining Armor has thus far been cooperative and the evidence points to his claims being true. While final confirmation must still take place in order to let him go, the pony in question is, most likely, Shining Armor.” I could hear suck in a breath. No doubt she had heard it too and was just keeping quiet so as not to dignify me with any sort of response.

“But?” she asked. I didn’t respond choosing instead to look away as I didn’t want to voice my opinion. There was a good chance she had her husband back, I didn’t want to be a jerk and tell her I thought otherwise and that those feelings were based on nothing but a hunch.

Cadence stepped off the bed and walked over to me, leaning her head down and looking up so that I was forced to look her in the eyes. “Rade, I’m not asking for a report. I want your opinion. Is that the real Shining Armor?” I hesitated. I was at war with myself, if I lied her whole world would probably light up, not to mention that it was most likely true. But if I told her how I honestly felt it would probably crush her… and maybe save her sanity if it somehow turns out he’s a fake. After some intense internal debate I decided to tell her how I felt.

“No. No I don’t think that’s him Cadence. But you shouldn’t listen to me. That’s just how I feel. All the evidence points to-” I was cut off by a pink hoof being placed on my mouth. To my surprise Cadence was… smiling. It was a teary fragile smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“It’s alright Rade. Thank you for telling the truth.”

“You’re uh… you’re wel- oof!"

She put a hoof on my shoulder before leaning into me. She didn't hug me, she just kind of... fell on me. Instinctively I moved my arms up to catch her, holding her as she put all of her body weight on top of me. She placed her head right next to mine and her shallow broken breathing caused me to realize just how terrible of a state she was in. Cadence... she was at the end of her rope. Too much more and...

"Rade... I can't keep doing this." She whispered so low I I could barely hear her even though she was so close. "My kingdom is in tatters and the pony I loved can't decide if he's alive or dead. Before you came all I wanted was to be left alone. Left alone to wallow in my misery. Left alone to run away from all the things that hurt."

"And then out of nowhere, you showed up. You didn't judge me, or look down on me for just not wanting to deal with the world. When a noble would come to me and say something he knew would hurt me and all I wanted to do was say 'Buck It' others would always tell me that I was just avoiding my duties and I should suck it up because that's how things are. But you? You'd look me in the eyes, say 'Okay' and proceed to sneak into the hall of legislature, find that nobles chair, and loosen all the screws so the next day the chair would break in front of everypony."

"I don't know what you're talking about. Big Bucks broke his chair because of his big butt. Not me. But hey if you want to credit me for it by all means go ahead." I said with a laugh. I even got a little chuckle out of her too.

"See? Just like that. Every time it hurts you go out of your way to put a smile on my face. To fight off the pain for just a little while longer. And when none of your other methods would work and I was inches away from a breakdown you'd force me to stop everything I was doing. You'd take me by the hoof as I fought to hold in my tears, stroking my mane all the while as you led me to my room. You'd lay me down in bed, and get the maids to bring the biggest tubs of ice cream we had. And I would just sit there and eat and cry while you read me a story or played me a song until I fell asleep. And now... now that's all I want. I just want to go back to that. Not back to having my husband, not back to the easy days of foal sitting Twilight. No, I just want to lay down in bed and throw a temper tantrum until I go to sleep like I have all this passed month because you know what? I don't know if it's the real Shining, and frankly I don't care. Because you're here now. You're real now. And you're taking care of everything he would have and more. I don't need him to run be a knight in shining armor that will save me because you're handling it just fine on your own.

"I know it's selfish to ask this of you after you've done so much for me, but please if you would just do this one thing for me, this one last teeny tiny thing, I would be so, so happy." She shifted her head just a bit so she could look me in the eye. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she made her request. "Do what he couldn't do. Come home safe."

Those words... they hit me hard. For a number of reasons. It felt... it felt like I had heard those words before... and failed to live up to them. Now here I was, being presented with the challenge a second time and in that moment I could feel a fire burn through me like nothing else I'd felt before. I pulled Cadence in close to me, gripping her tightly as a fierce look of determination fell on my face. "I promise Candy." I could hear muffled sobs coming from my chest as she cried. We sat there in silence, wrapped in a warm embrace as I gently pet her mane. I knew the eyes of the guards and the demon pony were watching me, but I honestly didn't care.

All good things must come to and end though, and eventually she managed to compose herself and look at normally.

“So what are we going to do now?” She asked me. “Do you have a plan? Anything to get us out of this mess?” I gave her a slight nod which brought the first complete true smile from her I’d seen all day. I noticed many of the guards ears swiveling in my direction. No doubt they noticed my confirmation.

“It’s risky Cadence. Completely insane actually, and it’s going to require the help of everypony that we have. And some pony feathers… and some fur… and lots of unicorn horn shavings… and the shattered pieces of the Crystal heart which will most likely become unusable after all of this so I really hope somepony knows how to make a new one. Can’t forget about oil, any kind of bags like potato sacks or something, and some random planks of wood! Ooh, and I’ve heard we’ve got a huge storage of fire rubies that have been modified for weapon use. If that’s so I need a lot of those. I also need chalk. Oh and salt! Lots and lots and lots of salt! Ooh! And a Fez! That’s the most crucial ingredient! I think that’s everything. Do you think we can scrounge up that stuff?” Twilight, and every guard in the room looked at me like I was completely insane, a fact that was honestly quite debatable at the moment. Cadence however just smiled, knowing full well that whatever I was cooking up in my mind was twice as insane as the ingredients made it sound and more than effective enough to get what I wanted done.

“We’ll get as much of that stuff as we can Rade.”

“Yes!”

“Except the Fez.”

“DAMNIT!”

Author's Note:

Alright I know how I said there was going to be this huge OMFG WTF WHAT JUST HAPPENED moment in each of the next two chapters. Well there's not. At least not in this one. See the previous chapter, this chapter, and the next one, were in my head short enough to all fit into one big chapter. Once I got typing though, I ended up typing something that was around 20,000 words long and so I had to split it up. Don't worry though, the next chapter is already finished I just have to complete my edits so you'll see it either tomorrow or, if you're lucky, later today.

Also 100 Internets to whoever can name all the references! (25 Total)

OH! One last thing! To celebrate reaching a over 1000 views, I figured I'd do something special. So if you go on my blog you'll find a Q&A where you can ask questions to either Rade, Smart Cookie, Willow, Sunburst or even me if you prefer. If it's popular enough I may even do it more in the future!