• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar



Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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4-4

IV - IV

The Somber Seance

After my day at school and its subsequent dealmaking were done,, I set about finding food for Graargh and for myself. I won’t bore you with what served to, ultimately, be a rather routine evening—and, for that matter, one I have already described back in our second Tale. I made my way to my house at Twenty-Four Ridgeline Road, grinned as the doors opened of their own accord to allow me entry, and proceeded to eat a sloppy meal atop a pristine grand piano until Gale arrived from her own eventful evening. And after our escapade seancing the home’s former owner, the damned soul of Solemn Vow, we ventured back to Hurricane’s villa to make use of mattresses that had not been left to rot for the better part of twenty years.

Without delving too far into unwanted and unwarranted detail, suffice it to say that when a knock came on the doors that Hurricane had offered me in the middle of the night, I was left in the unfortunate position of opening the door on the opposite side of the hallway—that is, the door to Gale’s room—to answer.

Queen Platinum the First did not turn as I rubbed my eyes sleepily, having achieved perhaps half an hour of real sleep before the interruption. Instead, with her back to me, she simply observed “I’m going to pretend you came out of a different door, Mr. Coil, so that I don’t have to have you beheaded.”

“I was looking for the restroom, and Gale seemed like the best pony to ask for directions.”

“Ah.” Obviously not believing me, Platinum nodded. “Well, Coil… I trust my daughter is asleep and not eavesdropping us?”

Despite having ostensibly asked me the question, the Queen-Mother directed her words directly at Gale’s bedroom door. I reclaimed her focus with a slight chuckle. “She’s asleep. She had a tiring day.”

“I will have you killed, Coil.”

“One, who are you imagining can do the deed? Two, of that incredibly small pool, who do you think will? And three, that isn’t what I meant—which, frankly, you ought to know, given you were the one with her for the part she found tiring.” I gestured a hoof down the hall, but couldn’t resist adding. “She finds my company quite relaxing by comparison. Since I’m assuming you’re wanting to keep secrets from Gale, should we step downstairs?”

Platinum answered my question by directly beginning to walk away. “I’ll put on a pot of coffee.”

“Caw-fee?” I asked.

As I followed the aging ex-queen down the stairs of the villa, the silver mare nodded. “A gift from the Pharoahnate of Mahrdina—you’ve met Somnambula, right? One of the pegasi among Star Swirl’s companions. It’s her nation of birth. They’re beans that one grinds in a mill, and the resulting grounds are brewed with boiling water.”

“So it’s some kind of… bean tea?” I asked.

“After a sense,” Platinum agreed. “Not unlike tea, it also helps one to avoid the need for sleep. But its effects are far stronger.”

I swallowed. “Ah, so it’s more akin to Luna’s Bane.”

It was Platinum’s turn to speak up in confusion as we entered the kitchen of the villa. “Luna’s Bane?”

“It’s technically a poison; it keeps the victim from sleeping. With a large enough dose, or repeated smaller doses, it is one of the most useful ways of inducing temporary insanity in another pony without outright killing them. And because it is entirely undetectable in a corpse, it’s an especially useful mechanism for assassinating the elderly, or victims with weak hearts, where a lack of sleep could easily push such poor health over the edge while passing off their passing as natural illness. But when it’s properly diluted, it allows one to maintain consciousness well past their natural limit.”

Platinum used her hooves to place a metal kettle beneath a sort of stone cabinet, and then opened its door to reveal what looked to my eyes like a cloud of mist or steam compressed in a glass case. Pressing on the face of the glass, she squeezed out a steady trickle of steaming water, which bubbled and boiled as it began to fill up the kettle. As her practiced hooves worked, she spoke over her shoulder. “Someday, Coil, we shall have a conversation that does not make me concerned for the health of everypony in your proximity. But once again, it seems tonight is not the time.”

I rolled my eyes. “I doubt it makes you feel any better, but in my defense, I’m nowhere near talented enough at alchemy to brew Luna’s Bane. Wintershimmer just wanted me to be able to diagnose if I were being poisoned before it was too late.”

“Ah,” Platinum chuckled dryly, pouring from the kettle into two porcelain teacups. “Such a delightful, selfless stallion, your late mentor. Teaching you how to take care of yourself like that.” From another pitcher, withdrawn from some sort of cloud-cooled icebox, she poured cream into each of our cups, before sliding it toward me.

I made a point not to look down at my cup and to blindly take a sip of good faith—caught off-guard though I was by the smooth sweetness of this strange new beverage—before I answered the Queen-Mother’s sarcasm. “I didn’t take it quite so kindly when he was the one doing the poisoning.” Then I donned my best impression of the commanding but raspy voice of the old wizard. “Academic knowledge of poisons is of no practical value without the self control to administer the antidote to oneself while one is under pressure. Do hurry, Coil; I’m not young enough to replace you.

“You’re joking,” Platinum whispered.

“Well, it was only six or seven times; he didn’t make me memorize them by taste or smell or anything. And he certainly never used anything immediately deadly like Manticore venom or… what’s the pegasus flesh-eating one called? Grabber-something?”

“Galm’s Elixir,” Platinum corrected. “And it doesn’t so much ‘eat’ flesh as reduce it to a liquid.” When I raised a brow, she chuckled. “My turn to sound like I know too much about poisons? Hurricane had a run-in with the stuff decades ago, had to burn it out of his body with his magic. He blames his bad heartburn on it, though personally, I think he just overspices his cooking.”

I chuckled and took another sip of my drink. “Well, as much as I appreciate the small talk and the… caw-fee, you said?—I’m assuming this is about our agreement, since there’s nothing else you would want me for that you’d be keeping secret from Gale.”

Platinum nodded. “I’d like to request an early seance.”

“I don’t have a clean bill of health until tomorrow morning,” I noted. “I could teach you—”

“No, Coil.” The Queen shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but in this case I have to insist it be you. I’ll need my attention for my late father.” When I raised a brow, she sighed and glanced out the kitchen door the direction Gale would presumably have come from, had she not already been sound asleep when I left her company. “Her recognition by the Stable today went worse than I had feared. And I had considerable fears going in.”

“That explains her mood over dinner.” I sighed, and then cautiously lit my horn. There was a sting to be sure, a sort of dull throb, but compared to the cracks and burns I’d suffered through my youth it was hardly something that troubled me. “Alright. It’s probably fine. But I’ll need candles for a stabilizing glyph.”

“That won’t be a problem—assuming you don’t need some sort of special wizardly candles.”

I shook my head. “House candles will do just fine. I more meant it to warn you that it will make a bit of a mess of the floor.”

“Ah.” Queen Platinum nodded. “We can pull the rug aside in the sitting room.”

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Once we had finished our cups of coffee, the Queen and I retired to her sitting room, where, after a moment’s hesitation, we two unicorns both set about rolling up a rug with our hooves. Once the floor was clear, I invited Platinum to take a seat while I set out the candles she had provided—though she offered to help, mages amongst the readers will sympathize that the geometry of even a simple stabilizing glyph is not something left to a laymare.

“To explain,” I told her as I worked, “What you’re going to see is King Lapis’ soul. It isn’t solid, so you cannot hug him or anything like that. And he likely won’t look the way you remember.”

“He won’t look… rotten, will he?”

I chuckled at the thought. “No, if he did, he’d be perfectly huggable. Not that you’d want to.” My humor died with a shudder from the monarch. “A soul takes the shape of the way that pony pictures themself in life. To put it another way, if you imagine what you look like without checking a mirror for reference, what you imagine is what your soul looks like when it’s seanced. You can tell a bit about a pony’s level of confidence by whether or not they’re more attractive in death, though it’s rarely a major change. For most ponies, that’s a few years younger than their actual age at the time of death, and almost always, it’s without any sign of the wounds or decay that killed them.”

“That’s a pleasant comfort,” Platinum noted idly. “I won’t have to see those wounds again…”

“If the late stallion’s age was impacting his mind or his memory, you’ll also find him more lucid,” I continued just before I took a lit candle and deliberately dribbled out a line of wax on the floorboards of the sitting room, the sixth of my seven pointed star. “However, if you ask him any specific academic-type knowledge—trivia, exact dates, that sort of thing—you may find his recollection sluggish, unless it related to his talent mark or had some sort of emotional meaning to him.”

“Hmm? Why?”

“Some part of who we are and how we think comes from the brain. When we memorize things by rote repetition, it’s the brain holding on to that. And even if I were to go dig his up—which I assume we are in agreement would be an unpleasant thing to do—twenty-whatever years of decay mean we won’t get much out of it. The soul remembers things, and it learns, but it does so a lot differently than the brain does. So if you’re going to ask him about ruling, or how to teach Gale to be more like you as a ruler, he’ll probably be just as sharp as he was in life. But if you provide him with an arithmetic test, I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

Then the last candle was placed, the last line and curve drawn, and I found myself a comfortable seat about a stride away from the border of the septacle. “Now, I’m going to cast the spell, and then I’m going to refrain as best I can from interrupting. I’ll let you know if my horn begins to get sore, so that you can finish up your conversation before I get too worn out and drop the spell—though in all honesty, the odds of me dropping a seance are next to nonexistent.”

“How humble of you,” Platinum quipped.

“It’s how I got my marks,” I answered. “But so that you can feel at ease: the variant of a seance I favor doesn’t risk any damage to the soul even if the spell is interrupted or the glyph on the floor is damaged or anything like that. So even if something does happen, from your father’s perspective, he will simply ‘snap’ back to the Summer Lands, with nothing more than a momentary hint of vertigo.”

“That does offer some comfort, yes. Thank you, Coil.”

“I assume you’ve given some thought to ‘catching up’ with your father like I advised in the carriage?”

Platinum nodded somberly. “I am grateful for the warning, and it was well received, but please, do me the honor of not assuming I am a coward because the enemies I face are not as… shall we say overt as yours?”

“My apologies,” I answered.

“Then before you begin, the only thing I have to say is to remind you of your oath—nothing you are about to hear leaves this room.”

“How could I forget a cold iron vow?” I asked as my horn burst to light with blue magic.

The nearest candle burst to life with a blue flame that was no flame at all, jagged-edged and nearly electric in its abrupt jumping and flickering. The candlewax lines I had drawn on the floor began to glow the blue of my magic as my power spread, forming into a simple but powerful glyph that, like a scaffolding for a mason, would support my work without constant strain on my body. But to the Queen it must have been an impressive showing; violent and potent, the candle wax popped and spat and crackled as the magic traveled, and whenever it reached an upright candle at one of the vertices of the star, that candle flared to life with an almost serpentine hiss.

King Lapis IV’s ghost appeared with a bit more grandiosity than Solemn Vow had, fading into being slowly before our eyes instead of abruptly snapping into being without warning. That was less a requirement of the spell and more a matter of personal preference, lending appropriate weight to the act of raising up a soul from beyond the pale. The stallion who appeared looked to be perhaps forty or so, and I suspect he had been blue in life, though the fact that his ghostly form was wrapped in the glow of my own blue magic made it hard to discern just what shade. He was neither the bulkiest of stallions, nor the tallest—I knew from Wintershimmer’s stories that a rotten horn plagued by the Scourge of Kings had kept him from the battlefield or the mage’s tower, and he had instead dedicated his life to a mastery of diplomacy—but he stood with a regal posture that more than made up for his limited form.

“How dare you?!” the dead king snapped at me, having appeared facing in my direction. “Has Wintershimmer stooped to defiling—”

“Father, please,” Platinum interrupted gently.

King Lapis halted at the sound of his daughter’s voice, and though I’m not certain he recognized its tone, aged some decades beyond when his ears had last heard it, the word ‘Father’ was enough to give him pause. And when he turned to take in a look at his matured daughter, the ghostly figure visibly staggered back.

“Platinum?” he asked in disbelief. “It’s really you?”

“Yes, Father. It’s been some time, hasn’t it?” Platinum smiled; there was a hint of sadness in the corner of her eyes. “That young stallion there is Mortal Coil; I’ve asked for his help to speak to you.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Majesty,” I offered, along with a full formal bow. “And if it’s any consolation, while Wintershimmer was my mentor, he’s dead now.”

Lapis nodded slowly. “I suppose it was bound to happen eventually… Platinum, if you’re that grown, he would be, what, a hundred?”

“Oh, he would have lived forever if I hadn’t killed him,” I interjected, with a hint of a grin. When Lapis looked at me disbelievingly, it evolved into a full smile and a light chuckle. “You don’t have anything to fear from me. In fact, you’re welcome to ignore me; I’m just here to cast the spell, by royal commission.” And, before I took a seat in what I would later learn was Hurricane’s favorite chair (a stout wooden thing with a bit too much bulk to fairly be called a rocking chair, despite its rounded rocking base), I offered a hoof to point to Platinum, passing off the late King’s attention.

“I see.” Lapis turned fully to his daughter then. “Platinum… Goddesses, how long has it been? I’m so happy to see you’ve grown into a fine Queen.”

Platinum answered with a smile. “Thank you, Father. It’s been something like twenty four… perhaps twenty five years now?”

“I hope your rule has treated you well,” Lapis noted. “Though I suspect you wouldn’t have arranged to speak to me like this if there weren't something wrong. And I assume since you’ve lasted this long, it isn’t some cruel comment one of the other noblemares made behind your back.”

At the comment, Platinum let slip a small chuckle. “No, nothing like that. Celestia knows sending me off to find our new land was the best thing you ever did for me, Father.”

Though she’d meant it as a sort of joke, Lapis’ expression fell. “Yes… Thank the goddesses you weren’t there when the pegasi betrayed us.”

“When Cyclone betrayed us,” Platinum corrected. “But yes. I had rather meant that it taught me rather a lot about what it meant to rule, but I suppose that is another point we ought to be grateful for…” The metallic queen let her shoulders rise and fall, and I caught a rare glimpse of a wrinkling on her brow, normally so well hidden behind her makeup. “I suppose I ought to explain what you’ve missed. We’re currently in Everfree City, the capital of our new nation, Equestria.”

“I have heard some stories from the souls that have come to the Summer Lands since I passed,” Lapis noted, nodding and for a moment extending a hoof as if to pat his daughter on the shoulder, before seeing the fact that the limb was transparent. Instead, he settled for adding “I’m so proud of you for what you’ve accomplished here, Platinum. But please, tell me about you. Have you married? Are you happy?”

“Twice, alas,” Platinum answered, “But yes, Father.”

“Twice?”

“My first husband was… you’d remember him as Count Creme, of House Menthe. He was a good stallion, a loyal ally, and a friend, even if our marriage was born first out of securing the support of his family in the Stable. We had a beautiful little filly…” Platinum let out a sigh. “The Scourge took root fast in her. She never saw her third year.”

“I’m sorry,” Lapis told her with a heavy, understanding nod. “Losing a foal so young is hard. Were you able to bear another?”

“I would have, if Creme wasn’t taken from me.” Platinum’s eyes briefly flickered in my direction, though I am nearly certain she was more concerned with my jacket than my face. “We nearly lost Equestria after his murder.”

“He was murdered?” Lapis asked.

Platinum nodded. “An upstart baron thought he could rise in power by driving a wedge between the unicorns and the pegasi. But… forgive me for indulging in a fairytale, but the power of true love saved us?”

“Oh?” the dead king pressed. “Your second husband? Wait… are you implying you married a pegasus?

“Oh, it was just as scandalous as you’re imagining,” Platinum continued, and I got the hint from her voice that she was toying with her father. “But you’d like him.” Then, her grin widening as she took her eyes away from his ghostly visage to inspect her fetlock trimming with faux casual disinterest, she added “In fact, as I recall, you did.”

“I… no. No… You’re joking me, right, Platinum?”

“You disapprove?” Platinum asked.

Lapis’ jaw hung open for a moment, and then he shook his head. “I just can’t believe you would ever tolerate Hurricane, much less marry him. You loathed him, Platinum.”

“Well…” Platinum opened her mouth, and then shut it as she glanced to me. I raised a brow directly at her hesitance—in my mind, I had already sworn her cold iron vow, and there was no point being cagey, but I felt no need to interrupt. So instead, she concluded “Time changes ponies, Father. Especially time spent in five years of committee meetings, building a nation from the broken husks of three completely incompatible governments.”

When Lapis answered with a raised brow, Platinum let her poker face break into an uncharacteristically youthful chuckle. “Alright, fine, I admit it—at first it was a political marriage. But we’ve been married for almost nineteen years now, and I really am happy. He’s an excellent husband—especially now that he’s retired and Typhoon is leading the Legion.”

“Typhoon is alive?” Lapis asked. “I had thought she was killed before the uprising…”

“I imagine you would rather we not dwell on those events,” Platinum interrupted the dreaded memories that accompanied her father’s voice fading. “But yes, she survived—though not unscarred. She’s an able peer, and a good friend now.”

“I see.” Lapis nodded. “Well, it makes me so happy to hear you’ve made a family for yourself, Platinum. I… do you have any foals?” Then Lapis’ eyes widened. “Oh… is that why you wanted to speak to me? You have a pegasus?”

“Thankfully no,” Platinum corrected. “We just have one foal: another unicorn filly. Or rather a young mare now. Queen Platinum the Third.”

“Queen?” Lapis asked.

Platinum nodded. “Yesterday was her eighteenth birthday. I announced her regency. Officially, it was to give her a chance to learn the weight of the crown while I’m still alive to teach her.”

At that last thought, taken aback by the implication, I slipped into speaking up without thinking. “Officially?” When both royals turned to me, I raised my hooves frogs-out placatively. “Apologies.”

“It’s fine,” Platinum muttered. “It was the point I was building to.”

Lapis nodded. “Interruption aside, I share the young wizard’s question. Surely you could have taught her how to rule without… well, if you’ll forgive me the pegasus metaphor, without throwing her off a cloud.”

Platinum chuckled as she shook her head. “Hurricane said almost the same thing.” Then, gently, she lifted her hooves to her horn. And, to my astonishment, when she pulled her hooves away, her horn came with them.

Or rather, the surface did. What she actually removed was something like a fabric cone, and as the fringe pulled away from the flesh of her brow, its edge sparked with traces of magic—illusion I guessed at the moment.

That was little concern, though, compared to the horn beneath. Platinum’s metallic gray horn was cracked and pock-marked, marred and crumbling; in at least a dozen places I could see the soft tissue beneath, including one particularly unsettling crack that reached from the tip nearly to its base where her horn met her skull. Some of the tissue had visibly been trimmed away by a surgeon’s scalpel, likely where it had grown infected or necrotic. A few cracks showed a buildup of some kind of cream-orange mixture of pus and blood.

All in all, even at a simple glance, I knew what it meant. And so did Lapis’s ghost.

“The Scourge of Kings…” I whispered.

Lapis’ question was simpler, more direct. “How long?”

Platinum swallowed. “Star Swirl says at this point, it’s more a matter of luck than time. A bad infection will be the end, whether that comes in months or years. By his best guess, I have two years, so long as I avoid using my magic too much. But one does have to keep up appearances.” Then she glanced my direction. “We—Star Swirl and I—thought I had longer, Coil, before the birthday party. I only learned that very morning how dire the diagnosis was. That’s why I sprung the regency on everypony. I had meant to wait a few months longer.”

“You trust the colt?” Lapis asked.

“He can’t betray me,” Platinum answered. “We made a magical oath. And though we don’t see eye to eye, he’s loyal enough to my daughter that I assume he agrees with my choices now that he knows.” Then she swallowed again and re-covered her horn with its enchanted disguise. “Platinum—my daughter, not me, of course—is in an unusual position. In some ways, her position is more secure than any monarch since King Electrum. Hurricane is beloved by the ponies of Everfree, so to the masses, being our foal comes with considerable popularity among more than just the unicorns. Somehow, half-pegasus blood spared her the Scourge completely. And she has Celestia’s direct support—hard as it’s been to get her to lean into her role as a goddess, even for Gale’s sake.”

“Gale?” Lapis asked.

“Hurricane insisted she have a pegasus name too,” Platinum replied with a frown. “Aura, in Cirran, after his father Thunder Gale. She favors it too much, even when she’s acting as Queen.” The Queen-Regent adjusted her posture and visibly centered herself, bracing her hooves together. “That’s just one of the ways being half-pegasus causes problems. As you can imagine, her parentage has caused some problems in the Stable. At least most ponies were kind enough not to voice their objections aloud, and I suspect her show today will have bought her an end to most open discussion of that question, nevermind its cost…”

I didn’t say anything, but when I couldn’t help cocking my head in surprise, Platinum acknowledged me. “Did she not tell you, Coil? She volunteered your services and proposed that if the Stable didn’t like her, she would have you resurrect my prior daughter.”

Souls cannot choke, but nevertheless judging by noise I heard, Lapis made an admirable attempt. For my part, I placed a hoof on my brow and shook my head. “I’m hoping that was a rhetorical suggestion. I don’t raise ponies, and you can’t actually bring somepony back to life.”

In the interest of purveying accurate information, the correct word is now ‘couldn’t’, but one cannot fault my younger self; it was true at the time.

“Nevermind that, it’s breaking one of the royal vows!” Lapis sucked down an unnecessary breath (which is to say, he made the noise) to calm himself, and then swallowed heavily. “Tell me you aren’t seriously considering helping her by practicing necromancy in public… Coil, was it?”

“Necromancy is the magic you’re worried about? The kind of magic that’s making this conversation possible in the first place?” I admit, a hint of my usual ire at misplaced fear of the pale arts rose up in my voice as I pushed on. “Nevermind that I might solve any number of Gale’s problems by enchanting the minds of her political rivals, you’re afraid of necromancy? Not that I’m going to follow up on Wintershimmer’s medical research?” That last jab I accompanied by gesturing rather harshly toward Platinum’s horn. “Stars know now that Gale chopped his horn off, it would be nothing short of poetic if I saved her life with it.”

In another of Hurricane’s lounge’s chairs, my recurrent hallucination of Wintershimmer faded into view, shaking his head with disappointment. “While you are in both the moral and logical rights, Coil, I would not push this point with Lapis. Even from what little I’ve—”

And then, to my shock and utter astonishment, the seanced soul of Lapis whirled in place and sneered. “Wintershimmer!”

“Father, what are you talking about?” Platinum asked nervously, glancing between the vague direction her father was glancing (obviously not actually seeing the hallucination herself) and upstairs toward where the rest of the house were surely sleeping before Lapis had let out an outright shout. “Coil, is something wrong?”

“That little bastard betrayed us, Platinum! Look, he’s seancing Wintershimmer!”

“It’s not…” I sighed.

“You can see me?” Wintershimmer asked, before looking down at himself briefly, and then letting out a snort of faint amusement. “Well, Coil, the plot thickens.”

“What’s wrong, Morty?” Platinum asked. “Why is Father seeing things?”

“He isn’t,” I explained. “Or rather, I am, and he’s along for the ride. Where do I even begin to explain this?”

Platinum frowned. “Perhaps I misunderstood Star Swirl, then. I had thought when you destroyed Wintershimmer’s soul… what was the word?”

“Dispersed,” I supplied. “And yes, that means he cannot be seanced, or raised, or what have you. This has nothing to do with the real Wintershimmer, I promise.”

“Don’t I?” Wintershimmer asked.

“You’re just a figment of my imagination,” I retorted, mostly saying it aloud so Platinum could follow along—though I took a little bit of joy in the frown it put on Wintershimmer’s face. “It’s likely my own soul took a bit of superficial damage fighting him; I did literally die and go to the Summer Lands, after all.”

“I beg pardon,” said King Lapis, “you what?

“He’s abusing the truth to tell a story, Lapis,” Wintershimmer answered before I could. “I suppose I should be proud. But his soul was out of his body for all of a few seconds.”

You’re undead?” Lapis pressed.

“No, I—look, you’re dead when your soul is outside your body, but that doesn’t mean your body is actually dead…” I sighed. “Saying a pony is alive is a lot different than saying a tree is alive. If your soul is out of your body, you’re dead, but your body is still alive in the same way you’d say your garden rutabagas or your pet dog are alive. Breathing, but not anything we’d call sapient.”

“Decently summarized, Coil. However, though we both know better, I doubt the royals are aware that plants ‘breathe’ in the sense your or I do.”

“You’re either a rotting corpse or a figment of my imagination, master, so either way you don’t breathe either.”

“Hmph.”

“So you’re addressing… some kind of hallucination, Morty?” Queen Platinum frowned, but it was more an expression of worry than disapproval. “Something I can’t see, but evidently Father can?”

“I can certainly see him,” Lapis agreed. “And I’m not certain this isn’t the real Wintershimmer; he speaks too much alike—”

“Lapis, I raised that colt from the age of three. He is, in every conceivable metric, my rightful heir. I assure you, he knows my mannerisms, my nature, my very thoughts better than you ever did. So when he hallucinates me—if, indeed, we accept that is what you’re seeing—his memory of me will be quite accurate.”

“What did he say?” Platinum asked me quietly, walking over to my side.

“I knew Wintershimmer better than your father did,” I summarized, before shaking my head. “I’m sorry; I had no idea this was going to happen, Queen Platinum. Before we have one of these seances again, I’ll have to look into what’s actually going on. For now… Master, I don’t suppose you’d be kind enough to fade away for now?”

“I can oblige you, Coil,” Wintershimmer answered before he vanished.

Lapis glared distrustfully at me as he turned back to face us. “You’re certain Wintershimmer is actually dead, Platinum?”

“Either he is, or this colt has managed to fool Star Swirl and both of the divine sisters.” Platinum chuckled. “His only subterfuge around Wintershimmer’s death is that he went behind our backs to finish the deed himself.”

“It’s… it was my responsibility,” I explained briefly. “It’s a wizard thing. I fought him in the duel, I beat him, I had to finish it.” I quite neglected elaborating on how, even despite his attempts to kill me, I felt like I had owed (and still did owe) my probably unambiguously evil mentor; as he himself had truthfully told Lapis, he may as well have been my father.

Lapis sighed. “Where were we, Platinum?”

“Discussing Gale’s rule, and why I had given her regency when I didn’t think she was fully ready for it. I want to head off any question of her legitimacy by ensuring she’s well entrenched in her title before I pass. I—and I don’t blame you, Father, obviously—I had a terribly hard time adjusting after the uprising, with the entire Diamond Kingdoms looking to me for leadership in the middle of a crisis. I had to make compromises and bargains that I didn’t like just to hold on to enough power to keep the crown stable. And I want to leave my daughter in a better place than that. Keeping the state of my illness secret, at least for now, means ponies aren’t inclined to make desperate grabs for power at my daughter’s expense.”

Lapis sat back and nodded slowly. “It seems like you’ve already thought this out quite well, Platinum. And I think you’ve developed a wise plan. The only thing I have left to ask is why you need to speak to me. Not that I’m unwilling to help, of course, but there’s very little I can do to help you in my…” He chuckled slightly. “...current state.”

“I have no intention of asking you to rise from the grave for a speech, Father. I only ask for your advice. You prepared my older brothers for the throne, may Celestia bless their slumber—”

“You could just ask her,” I noted with a hint of amusement. “Or me, if you like.”

Platinum sighed, resisting the urge to respond to me directly. “And since I never had the chance to meet my grandmother, you were the only pony I could think of to ask for advice on raising a young mare to rule.”

“Ah.” Lapis nodded. “I’m at your service, my daughter.” Then the old king steepled his hooves and closed his eyes in focus. “I assume you gave her a Queen’s education?”

“Everything I was taught and more,” she answered. “I had Gale tutored in pegasus and earth pony law and history as well as our own—naturally less focused in those areas, but since Equestria is a multicultural nation, I knew I could not let her be ignorant of the other tribes. Unfortunately, while I can say I provided her with an education, it would be quite a lie to say she accepted it or took to it willingly. She preferred to spend her days gallivanting off playing at swordplay with Hurricane’s subordinates.”

“In her defense, she is quite talented,” I noted.

Platinum shot me another icy glare, but I noted some amusement on Lapis’ expression as he turned to me. “You’ve seen your Queen wield a blade, young wizard?”

“A few times; she was the one who actually cut off Wintershimmer’s horn when push came to shove.”

Immediately, Lapis winced. “You let the crown princess fight Wintershimmer?”

“In Coil’s defense—and let it be said, Coil, the term ‘Tirek’s advocate’ is at the forefront of my mind at this moment—one does not simply ‘stop’ my daughter from doing anything she gets into her mind.”

“She is quite resolute, isn’t she?” That voice belonged not to any of the three of us, nor the figment of Wintershimmer, but a firmer stallion’s tinged by fatigue. “I’m sorry for interrupting, dear, but I got worried when you didn’t come back to bed. Hello, Lapis. Morty. I hope I’m not intruding.”

“How long have you been listening?” Platinum asked her husband as the stallion in question stepped fully into the room.

“I heard King Lapis shout something and I saw the blue glow through the door, so I was worried Morty was up to something. Apparently, I was right.” Hurricane frowned at me; I expected some chastisement about his apparently dim view of necromancy (something he had scolded me for on more than one occasion in my misadventures dealing with Wintershimmer, but which he had never fully explained); instead, what I got were three surprisingly simple words: “That’s my chair.”

“Oh? Apologies.” I stood up and stepped aside, only for Hurricane to wave away the offering with his one remaining wing.

“Don’t bother. If I stay up long I won’t fall back asleep, and my doctor will be furious with me. Someday you’ll get older and you’ll understand, Morty.”

Forgive me while I step away from writing this to laugh.

King Lapis let out the loudest chuckle at Hurricane’s comment, donning a sad grin. “Goddesses, Hurricane, to think you’d marry Platinum… I still can’t get over it. What happened to your wing?”

“I lost a fight,” Hurricane answered. “And then I got a lot older.”

“I hear you’ve been treating my daughter well,” Lapis observed.

Hurricane was obviously biting back a devious grin as, for a moment, he stood silently contemplating his next words. “Does this mean I get to call you ‘Dad’ now?” It took me a moment of memory and quick arithmetic to remember that in life, Lapis had been ten years Hurricane's elder; death had been far kinder to Lapis' appearance than life had been to Hurricane's.

Lapis let out a chortle of his own, and then sighed. “There’s no need to call me ‘King’ anymore, but I think ‘Lapis’ is just fine, don’t you? Dare I ask what happened to your late first wife? What was her name? Spear something?”

“Swift was killed in the uprising.” A complex mixture of emotions swept over Hurricane’s expression in mere moments.

“I imagine you could find her in the Summer Lands if you wanted to talk,” I offered. “Gale had wanted to—”

No.” Hurricane accompanied the single word by heavily placing one hoof down on the floor, and I suspect there must have been some pegasus magic in the motion by the way the room seemed to grow cold and hot and claustrophobic all at once. “You should not have put this idea into my wife’s head, and you most certainly—”

“This was my idea, Hurricane,” Platinum interrupted her husband with a frown. “I may not be a wizard, but I still understand it enough to ask for it when I need it as a tool. And right now, our daughter needs aid if she is going to succeed as a queen.”

Hurricane’s brow wrinkled in a way I rarely got to see, not so much angry or disapproving as… tired, perhaps? “What do you think is going to change with his advice that you haven’t already tried? Gale has a good heart; the rest will come with experience.”

“And how many ponies get hurt in the meantime, ‘Cane?” Platinum asked, a similar fatigue on her face. “This is bigger than just her. How many ponies grow poor and suffer and die under a bad Queen?”

Hurricane swallowed and with his eyes close, his face curdled. “And at what cost to—” The blue-black stallion shot a fierce glance my way, though I suspect he was not mad at me in that moment so much as he was reminding himself of my presence. “Nevermind.”

“No, Hurricane,” said Lapis. “Platinum assures me the colt is under magical compulsion to keep our secrets; please, speak your mind.”

“I would rather not have this conversation in front of him all the same,” Hurricane said. “Or in front of you, for that matter, Lapis. Morty, let him go back to his rest.”

“You will do no such thing, Coil,” said Platinum. “Hurricane, I take your meaning without you saying it, but the day our little filly was born a unicorn, we agreed she would be my heir and my successor.” The silver mare walked up to her husband and fiercely pressed a hoof into his chest. “And as we agreed, I gave her the chance to turn the crown down. She accepted this burden,” Platinum accentuated the word ‘accepted’ by pulling back her hoof and knocking it into Hurricane’s chest as if she were rapping on a door. “A ‘good heart’ might well be a liability to good rule.”

“It was all either of us had,” Hurricane countered, lowering Platinum’s hoof from his chest with his wing. “And I have no doubt it’s what is right for a young mare of her age. If Equestria can’t survive a naive leader or a few foolish mistakes, that failing is ours, not hers.”

“Perhaps, Hurricane,” said Lapis hesitantly, “you might consider that of the present company, you aren’t the foremost authority on good parenting.”

The room grew some twenty degrees colder in the span of a single heartbeat, and lines of frost traced their way up Hurricane’s side. His eyes seemed to glow just as bright as my own magic and the candles we had lit in the sitting room. Memories of stories about ‘Hurricane the Butcher’ flooded back to me from a youth in the Crystal Union. “Goodbye, Lapis. Coil, this conversation is done.”

I nervously glanced to Queen Platinum, only for Hurricane to shoot his faintly glowing gaze in my direction. I swallowed nervously and turned my attention to the late unicorn king. “Um… you may feel a slight sense of vertigo as you go back to the Summer Lands, Your Majesty; I promise it’s normal. Farewell.”

“Goodbye, colt. Farewell, my daughter.”

“We will speak again soon, Father,” Platinum replied with a nod.

I waited for just a moment, but neither Hurricane nor Lapis spoke up, and it seemed my waiting was only making the situation more awkward, so I let my seance fade. The throbbing of that strange deep pain in the core of my horn pulsated for a few moments as the light in the room settled to merely the glow of the candles once again, and continued to make my brow twitch as I found my mouth suddenly parched.

“Morty,” Hurricane told me, once more fixing me with a deadly serious gaze. “I neither can nor will forbid you from this magic. I’ve warned you; beyond that the choice to continue meddling in the affairs of the dead is your burden to bear. But let me be clear: you will never, never practice that magic under my roof again. Do I make myself clear?”

“A…” I swallowed air in a pitiful attempt to soothe my parched throat. “Absolutely, sir.”

“Good. You of all ponies ought to have enough faith in Gale not to go behind her back like this.” Hurricane then sighed, and turned to his wife. I suspect a great deal went unsaid between their eyes as I watched in the quiet of the sitting room. I could have heard Hurricane’s chest rise and fall as he forced himself to slow his breathing even had I closed my eyes, I’m certain. Platinum was less visibly emotional, but I had to suspect there was some pain, visible in the flecks of candlelight in her eyes like shards of glowing glass. Still, she wore her emotions tightly; her face showed not a wrinkle, her nostrils not the slightest flair. Finally Hurricane broke their silence. “No matter our disagreements, Platinum, I love you. I’m going to go back to bed now. We can speak more tomorrow when we’re rested and calm.”

“I love you too, Hurricane. I won’t be long after you. I just need to clean up.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I offered. “Wouldn’t want you to overuse…”

Platinum cast a quick glance to the room’s main door, then shook her head. “Hurricane knows about my horn, Morty. I doubt I could have kept it secret from him even if I had wanted to. But thank you.”

And with that, though some tension still sat in the air, the room grew calmer, and I was left alone with my candles, late enough in the night that it had become the early morning of the next day: the day history would remember as Queen Platinum’s Folly, and the day I was sentenced to death.

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