• 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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Interlude XIV - The Face of Thy Enemy

Interlude XIV

The Face of Thy Enemy

Soldier On looked down at her split hoof, dripping blood onto the stone floor of the temple, and then swept the room with a quick glance. Tempest Shadow seemed reliable enough with her hooves and the wild blasts from her horn, but she wasn't guardspony trained, which made synchronized tactics virtually impossible. Solo had whatever was left in her bag of tricks and potions, but if she let her spy friend anywhere near the dead pony, she'd be dead in a heartbeat. Whoever this pony had been in life, she was guardspony trained—albeit, On reflected, a weird, archaic sort of guardspony convention. But having served on the Honor Guard before her ignominious dismissal, On was no stranger to unconventional fighting styles.

It was, really, just a sign the dead mare was even more dangerous.

And laying in a crumpled heap at the far side of the room, Sunset Shimmer was transparently dead.

Combine those factors, and the writing was more or less on the wall. Soldier On knew a losing battle when she saw one. So she took a deep breath and spoke up without turning her head. "Solo, number one goal is we don't let her have the bell."

"Yeah, I figured that," quipped the mare with the bag. "Hard to miss the message when you bucked a shoe into my wing. Or should I say 'thanks' because you didn't cut it off?"

"Use the tunnel. Get yourself out."

"I'm not leaving you—"

Apparently, the dead mare didn't like her opponents conspiring in the open, and it wasn't exactly subtle that the big mare intended to sacrifice herself to buy Solo time, so she cut out the conversation entirely by flinging herself—frosted blade still clenched in her fangs—toward Going Solo.

On was too far to stop the attack; the dead mare was going past Tempest. And though Tempest lunged fast enough to stop the attack, she'd probably be left open to a counterstrike from the more nimble, swifter undead.

But the question never came up. A blur of vibrant red and black dropped from the sky, hoof-first into the mask of the dead mare, sending spiderweb cracks across the bone-colored surface.

Though the dead aren't known for staggering from pain—well made undead do not feel the same way as you or I—as we learned from Iron Rain's blow on Summer Celsus, death does not make one immune to physics. Tempest, though surprised at the sudden arrival, stepped up into the opening Ink had created to drive one forehoof into the mare's neck, and then a second in an uppercut into her jaw, hoping to get her to drop her blade. She had no such luck, but she did reestablish the distance between the dead mare and the group. She might have even lunged forward, had two lashes of pure blistering orange flame not flown from over her shoulder in the corpse's direction. The dead mare let out a hiss of pain as her magic came up against the new combatant, and then a very different hiss filled the air as ice met fire and steam began to spread. Seeing the threat a loss of vision posed, Ink grit his teeth, lit his own wings on fire (not so much a deliberate effect as a byproduct of his use of magic) and inhaled heavily through his nostrils. With frightening speed, the steam was sucked into the stout red stallion, revealing the dead mare just as she had gotten to her hooves and hopped back, warily eyeing the new entrants to the melee.

"You!" Going Solo shouted behind her.

"That's a funny way to say 'thank you for saving my life,'" Ink observed dryly. "Do I even know you? Or you just hear of me from your big friend?"

"You don't even remember me?" Solo snapped, before taking a shaky step forward and hurling a fizzing smoking flask of green something at the dead mare. The flask wasn't even close to hitting its mark—too slow, too easily dodged—but the way the splashes of acid inside melted the stone off the walls into a sort of dribbly gray-tan sludge made Ink raise a brow. "Going Solo," the mare muttered. "Equestrian Intelligence."

"S.M.I.L.E. is working with the most wanted mare in Equestria?" Ink asked, daring to briefly glance over his shoulder. In Stalliongradi, he added "I'm not here for you. But if you move for me—"

"I won't. Eyes forward."

"Is Sunset…?" Somnambula asked, landing a moment later near the back of the group, just behind Tempest.

"Morty dropped her from up above," Tempest answered.

"Morty?!" Somnambula flared her wings. "No, he wouldn't—"

"We don't have time to talk about it," Ink interrupted. "We deal with the problem in front of us first." Dropping into Stalliongradi, he added "What do you know about her?"

Soldier On hesitated to answer her rival for a good few seconds, but eventually pragmatism won out. "She's trained; not just hoof-to-hoof combat but magic. You saw the ice. She's fast, even by undead standards. I'd put money on her over Spitfire. That's why the others are still here."

After staring at the dead mare for a few moments, Ink then dared to let out a whistle. "He's got good taste."

"She's dead," said Tempest.

"I'd sooner die again," said the dead mare at the same time, and as she finally stood still, the assembled broken heroes took note of the jagged crack in her mask from where Ink had struck her. A bit even tumbled away, revealing that despite the mask, her eyes did actually have whites around her slitted eyes. And, just above said eye, one could catch a glimpse of her mane, orange and tan and brown. Like autumn. "But you'd go first."

Those present for the length of the battle were shocked at the utterance from the otherwise silent undead; all save Somnambula, who dared to step forward a bit, taking up a place on the other side of Going Solo from Ink. "Typhoon? Is that you?"

"You know her?" asked Going Solo.

The mare in the mask, however, recoiled. "Somnambula… And who forced you to be here?" The dead mare—the last rightful Commander of the Cirran Legions—spat on the ground. "Hell. I'm sorry. I'll try to make this quick."

"We don't have to fight!" Somnambula insisted. "If you think Morty's right, you can—"

"Don't cross your hooves," said Soldier On. "If she's like Luna's undead, she might have a little free will, but she can't disobey what she knows he wants that directly. She has to fight us to get the bell. Best we can do is put her out of her misery."

"Please do," Typhoon replied, and then sarcastically she added "Good luck."

"You're really Typhoon?" Ink asked. "Like, Commander Hurricane's daughter?" Typhoon rolled her eyes, producing an interesting visual effect with one still shrouded in shadow by her mask. The stallion rolled his neck and lit the fires on his wings even higher. "Spy filly, you got a fire extinguisher in your magic bag or something?"


"I have an idea, but—"

Typhoon—never a stupid mare by any stretch (despite the loss of her hoof against the buffalo… though Grogar had been kind enough to grow that back)—realized she had lost the advantage she held over the original group with the arrival of another pegasus with magic so nearly strong and so diametrically opposed to her own. So rather than let them talk, she rushed straight at Ink, Hiems Osculum (for that sword, recovered by Grogar along with her body at Onyx Ridge was, of course, the blade Sunset had passingly recognized) held at the ready.

Ink—not infrequently a stupid stallion by several stretches, especially after a bit of gin (though my Cunning did help)—grinned at the direct approach, flinging a bit of fire in advance of her approach as he got his shod hooves ready to punch a sword. He watched as, two strides away, she flung her wings forward to throw icicles at him, and he focused his fire to at least dull their tips so they were more like small tossed rocks or baseballs instead of spears or needles. The result was a great deal of steam. But rather than inhale it this time, Ink literally (and very much not figuratively) collapsed to his side and then pushed with a wing to roll onto his back, belly up.

This might seem like a not very smart thing to do in a fight, but in this one case, it was. Being the source of capital-C cunning, I can help explain exactly what was going on in Ink's mind. You see, having been introduced to a fight where Typhoon (despite being alone) had already wounded Soldier On, and with Sunset incapacitated or dead, Ink recognized himself as the number one threat in the fight. (Tempest might have been a close second or irrelevant; he lacked the information to tell, and it didn't really matter). If he bluffed having a plan involving the whole team, he could force Typhoon's hoof in making the next move. And as the primary target both for being the biggest fresh and uninjured threat and for having the plan, she would almost certainly come for him first. Then, when their magic met (as it certainly would; his fire forced a response from her ice, if she didn't take the initiative to lead with it, which she had), there'd be a great deal of steam. And given his prior reaction to the lack of vision, it followed she would assume he would be the one to clear it. But if he instead cashed in on the steam for cover, he could get one decisive blow in, and in his experience that was really what mattered.

The problem, which the reader might see but which Ink literally could not have for lack of context, joining the melee so late as he had, was that he was not the priority target despite his correct understanding of the relative threats each member of the haphazard group posed to Typhoon. Grogar's magical hold over Typhoon did not force her to obey his orders in the absence of common sense; she was still more than welcome to admit reality when she was outmatched by such a dramatic numeric imbalance. The magical hold Grogar held—and Luna over the 'standard issue' Night Guard likewise—wasn't one of enforced total literal obedience (with some notable exceptions), but instead one of total enforced loyalty—if one can call it that. Typhoon was smart enough to understand Grogar's objectives, and the order of his priorities, and it was that which bound her will.

Which is a great deal of words explaining a fraction of a second decision inspired by Cunning which was, nevertheless, wrong. Ink waited for one second for Typhoon's momentum to carry her over him, her sword aiming for where his throat should have been. But it never came.

In the very next second, Going Solo screamed, and Ink felt something wet and thick splash his coat from the side. By the time he was on his hooves again, he felt the heavy wind from a flap of wings, and though he flung fire toward the flying figure, it would prove to be in vain.

In the minute and change that followed, the first realization that came to our mismatched heroes was that the dead being who had been Commander Typhoon Stormblade had vanished into the sky under cover of steam and mist—flown far enough, at least, that Ink didn't dare to chase her for a one-on-one fight without the aid of another couple similarly competent military pegasi. In her escape, she'd taken the entire bag Going Solo had been wearing—removed by way of a slash across Solo's chest that had scraped to her ribs. To keep her from bleeding to death, Ink cauterized the wound, leaving her state uncertain but at least probably stable for long enough to get real help.

"Is she going to be okay?" asked Soldier On, in Equiish, walking up to loom over the red stallion.

Ink nodded. "We have an airship, from Celestia. We'll get her to Canterlot. Secret Service will spare no expense for an agent wounded in the line of duty." Ink shook his head, then pushed himself up to glare (up, considerably) at Soldier On.

Somnambula drew in a nervous breath, almost literally lunging between the two to intercept the inevitable confrontation. "What about—?"

"She's dead," Tempest announced bluntly.

"You don't know that! You haven't even checked…" Somnambula's protests trailed off when Soldier On's massive (split) hoof came to rest gently on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry," said the earth pony. "But she's gone. You don't walk off a fall like that."

A very long silence settled among the assembled; Tempest finally broke it. "What now? You two gonna to kill each other?" After a moment of tense silence, she added "If not, for the love of Celestia, get a room."

"If you suggest that again," said Soldier On, quite matter-of-factly given her looming "I will break your neck."

Amusingly, it was Red Ink who broke the ensuing tension. "We'll take this one and… Sunset's remains…both back to Canterlot," said Ink. "Sunset probably already talked to Celestia on her way to the Summer Lands. Either way, this isn't some cute favor anymore. It's a guard problem. I wouldn't be surprised if Celestia puts Armor on the case himself…" Trailing off for a moment, the red stallion glanced down at Solo, and then idly ran a wing through her mane to push it back, as it had been before her headband had come loose. "Is she the one from Baltimare? Armor's pet project?"

"She is," Stoikaja answered with a growl in her voice.

"Fuck," said Ink, then turned to the giant mare and drew in a big breath. Smoke slipped between his feathers as he stood in silence, before finally finding words. "I ought to kill you right now." A heavy, almost painful moment of silence followed before Ink broke it himself. "Are you really working for S.M.I.L.E.?"

Soldier On shook her head. "Not officially. I'm not getting paid anyway. But Secret Service is smart enough to know I'm with her. We crossed paths while she was digging on the Grogar case, and after Baltimare, she trusted me."

Somnambula brightened. "So this 'Grogar' is behind this? Like Daring Do mentioned? Is he controlling Morty too, or something?"

Ink shrugged. "That would be a question for Sunset. But given he came as a package deal with Commander Typhoon raised to be a Night Guard, it's smart money. I'm sure Luna can tell us back in Canterlot."

"What are you doing here, if you don't know about Grogar?" On asked.

Somnambula stepped forward. "Well, Princess Celestia asked us to find Morty and bring him to her. He's, um…" The ancient mare's voice failed her for a moment, and she fought back tears. "He's the body Grogar was using."

"We're here to talk to Caballeron," Ink added "One of the Night Guard stole an amulet from him a few years ago, we think it's connected. Is he around?"

"In the tunnel," On answered. "But I doubt he got far; I broke his leg." Then the big mare turned to Tempest, only it seemed to avoid making a friendly offer to Ink. "I'll carry him, if you can get Solo. Where's your ship?"

"You're joking," said Tempest, nodding toward Ink. "He wants to kill you. I mean, look at him; I'm surprised he hasn't swung at you yet."

"Don't be an idiot," said Ink, before focusing his glare back at On. "I'm not getting in leg's reach of her. I'd stand back and use fire."

"I didn't kill Polnoch," On answered with a sigh.

"I'm not taking your word for it."

"Take his!" On insisted. "He's Third Brother! Luna's got him. Just walk up to that damn cave in the back of the palace—"

"I know."

"You know?! How have you…" The huge mare trailed off, and then hung her head, and then started to chuckle—an ominous, heavy sound; a veritable portent of doom. "Fine. Captain Ink, if that's what you're calling yourself these days. I surrender. Take me back to Canterlot with you." The earth pony finished the thought by popping off her remaining steel shoes and sliding them across the ground to Ink.

"What?" Ink cocked his head. "You know Celestia will let me kill you."

"Maybe," On agreed. "But of the two of us, I come out better. Come on. We can talk more on your ship. I'll carry Caballeron and Solo. One of you should get the… should get Sunset's remains."

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

On the deck of the Constellation, Tempest Shadow frowned when she heard the catamaran's deck door open behind her. "What do you want?"

The voice that answered, at least, wasn't one of the ones most offensive to her. "I, um… sorry. Just wanted somepony to talk to," said Somnambula. "And the other two are… it's hard to be in the same room as them."

"Yeah, I noticed…" Tempest rolled her eyes (head facing away from Somnambula) and then waved her hoof to signal the other mare to approach. "You okay?"

"No." The single syllable was followed by some silence. Tempest watched her ostensible friend stare forward into the oncoming wind, letting her headdress flap and ripple along with her mane. Finally, she found her words again. "I've never lost anypony before."

"You only knew her for, what, a couple weeks? Right?" Tempest received a harsh glare from the pegasus, and shrugged in reply. "I'm not saying it's not sad, but ponies get hurt in this sort of thing. Just didn't think it'd be her, to be honest." Then, after a pause of her own, Tempest looked fully away from the bow to stare at Somnambula. "Weren't you tied up in all that crap from the book way back? You really never had somepony get killed on your watch before?"

Somnambula shook her head. "Never once. When I was really young, going up against the sphinx back home, it was just me. Then when I joined up with Star Swirl and the Pillars… well, being totally honest, there isn't much dangerous to Star Swirl even by himself. Add in Flash with his shield and Rockhoof and Mistmane, and it was pretty rare anypony even got hurt. And when they did, we were dragging the best doctor in Equestria around with us to get you fixed on the spot." She chuckled. "And then the couple times I ran off with Gale and Morty—well, we got a lot closer some of those times, but Morty always came through with some stunt at the last second."

"Huh. Must be nice, not worrying."

"It was," said Somnmabula. "It was."

The two mares stared blankly off at the horizon, as if there was anything in the sky for an airship to hit, or even dodge. Tempest had not one further thought to add, and Somnambula seemed content enough to linger in her thoughts.

The pegasus of the pair didn't speak to break the silence, but instead spread her wings and nodded to Tempest. When Tempest nodded back, Somnambula rushed to the railing of the upper deck and hurled herself into open space.

It was hard work for a pegasus to keep up with an airship; most could, at the aerial equivalent of a sprint, but the thing that made airships attractive even for pegasi was the reliability of their speed. But then, Tempest figured, that was probably the point. Get tired out. Get sore, maybe. Anything to think about something else.

Like so many young unicorns, Tempest dared to wish she had wings—but for hardly the usual reason.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

The entire following conversation was in Stalliongradi; I'll spare your eyes the wall of italics.

"Was she your friend?" Soldier On asked, reaching into the Constellation's galley freezer, where (for want of a better morgue) Sunset Shimmer's body had been laid. She came out holding a bag of frozen corn and peas and chopped carrots. "Or just for the mission?"

"Just the mission, but she seemed nice." Red Ink watched the limping giant carry the bag over the galley and slap it down next to a rice steamer. "You speak Stol'nograski with an accent now?"

"It's been more than ten years, Roscherk."

"Ink," Ink corrected, and then stopped. "I mean…"

Soldier On chuckled, though the noise was obviously not the kind of 'laughter' one regards as the capital-M Mirth of magical friendship. "The blood on your name finally get to you?"

"I could still kill you," Ink shot back.

Soldier On nodded. "You could. You'd burn the whole ship in the process and kill the other unicorn, and your contact in the process. But you could. Wouldn't put it past you."

"What fucking game is this, Stoikaja? You're the most wanted mare in Equestria. Fuck, with your bounty, I could probably buy Canterlot Castle. You know Celestia's going to execute you. She does not fuck around when it comes to Luna, and you tried to kill her. Is dying worth it, just to taunt me on the way?"

Another bitter chuckle. "I had nothing to do with her assassin. I just had a good idea about the poison." With a hiss of steam, Soldier On opened the lid of the rice steamer, and poured the white grains straight into a wide wok, alongside the frozen vegetables and a heaping helping of oil and soy sauce.

"Same thing," Ink muttered. "Especially for an Honor Guard."

"You'd have done it too, if you were in my shoes," said Soldier On. "You mentioned Typhoon being a Night Guard before; how much do you know about them?"

Ink scoffed through his nose, one heavy exhale that rattled his nostrils, dismissive. "Dead evil ponies, on the very cusp of redemption. They serve one hundred years, and then Luna lets them into the Summer Lands."

Soldier On nodded. "So you've heard Luna's sales pitch. But it's a funny word, 'evil', isn't it? You'd call me that, wouldn't you?"

"No," Ink answered. "Too philosophical. I prefer bitch. Traitor. That sort of thing."

"Hm." On focused on her cooking for a moment, kicking the wok back and forth over the tilting galley stove with enough force to make waves in the flying, slightly gold-tinged rice, without actually spilling any. "We're worse than most of them."

"Well, yeah," Ink agreed. "Polnoch, for example."

On flinched, and a few hundred grains of her fried rice spilled from the wok when it jerked suddenly to a stop. "Right. You know." Then she looked down at her hooves holding the wok and, after a moment, went back to cooking, her ears now firmly plastered back against her skull in silent fury.

"Well, yeah. You think I wouldn't recognize my dead brother in the halls?" Ink rolled his eyes. "He came to me in Ponyville, when Celestia first sent me there. I was out of it enough that I didn't recognize him at the time; got hit in the head. But I put it together back in Canterlot. I only just confirmed though; this case gave me a chance to actually talk to them, and when I asked to see him, Eldest Sister damn-near confirmed it was him."

Soldier On just stared, looking to all the world like a larger than life marble statue, perhaps on a plinth labeled 'loathing' or 'utter disbelief'.

"So you wanted Luna dead because you were worried he'd link you to the assassin? What?"

"You idiot," On whispered. "I… I can't believe this."

Ink cocked his head, incandescent rage merging with confusion. "Well, are you gonna keep rubbing yourself raw with that secret under your tail, or you going to tell me why I'm so fucking stupid?"

"I didn't kill Polnoch," On finally answered. "You could have asked him any time."

"And? It's not like he knew who hired Masquerade. That's the point of an assassin, right?"

"He knows I didn't do it."


After another moment of sheer disbelief, Soldier On reached back between her hind legs—Ink only resisted digging further into his grave to expand on his earlier joke, and instead watched as the mare revealed a pouch strapped to her inner thigh with a belt that matched the color of her coat. Out of that pouch came a tiny blue crystal, glowing with inner light.

"Every year, for one night, Luna lets the Night Guard go to the Summer Lands—a break, for their work. The year I was working at Sweet Apple Acres, Polnoch gave me this."

"What is it?"

"His memories of the trip," Stoikaja answered. "Touch it."

"This some kind of trap?"

On rolled her eyes. "You literally watched me touch it, passing it to you."

"Fine," Ink touched the stone, and then winced at the sight it put in his mind—a figment that did not replace his vision, but was more like a waking daydream, seen through a completely separate set of eyes than the real world. Around him, while the galley of the Constellation was still present, he also saw his erstwhile home in Stalliongrad, but not as it had ever actually been. The snow that fell was gentle, more like a Canterlot Hearth's Warming than the winds of a baleful windigo's curse, and the brick buildings lining the streets were well lit, not scarred with the burn marks of dragons and the pocked damage of wars.

Ink held out his blue hooves… no, not his hooves. His little brother's hooves. Polnoch's hooves. They reached for a pair of foals, guiding them together to look up at him (taller than Ink actually was off the ground; 'little' brother only conveyed their relationship by age).

"Now, I've got to go again," said Polnoch's voice in ears that weren't Ink's, but that he heard through nonetheless. "But before I do, I brought a special stone this time. See it here? I'm going to bring this to your mom."

"Really? Why?" asked the little filly of the pair; Ink's soul bled at the sight of her face.

"She misses you," Polnoch's voice answered. "More than anything."

“Don’t be sad, mommy!” said a little colt with a smile.

“We’re always here for you!”added the filly.

Their faces had haunted Ink's nightmares for the better part of his life. "Polnoch took pity on you?"

"Keep watching," On replied.

"Well," said Polnoch's voice. "She'll be very glad to hear that, and to see your faces. You're great kids. Neustannaja. Upornyj. I love you."

"We love you too, daddy—"

The image in his mind vanished when Ink dropped the rock. Soldier On, seeing the stone dropping, flung herself fully over the bar of the galley—badly burning her right hind leg on the lit stove as she dove to narrowly catch her precious message before it struck the airship floor. Fried rice and diced vegetables soared through the air, splattering across the ringed couches and the carpet of the ship.

Through it all, only Red Ink was still. The only motion of his person was a quivering beneath his skin, as his muscles rebelled.

"No," he whispered. "No,"

"I tried to tell you," Soldier On told him, with some satisfaction. "Your precious 'Mentor' tried to tell you. Fuck, I would bet Polnoch tried to tell you."

"You… you were sleeping with him?"

Soldier On's steps hesitated, hitched, and for just a moment it seemed she might kill the stallion anyway. Standing with her wounded hoof not even on the floor, she slowly craned her neck to look back at him over her shoulder. "You say that like it was just… lust."

"Wasn't it?"

On scoffed. "I'm not a beautiful mare."

Ink shrugged. "I mean, maybe you're not traditionally effeminate, but—"

His words were cut off when Soldier On slammed a hoof into his chest, fully picking him up and pinning him like a bug against the ship's cabin wall. "You fucking hypocrite! You disgusting, sickening, useless bastard! You killed my foals!"

"You know I never meant to—"

"Don't you dare say the word accident. They're dead!" Tears formed at the corner of On's eyes, even as she slammed her free forehoof into the wall next to Ink, hard enough to crack the wood paneling. "Then you blamed me for killing my own husband! And now that you know, you have the fucking audacity to try and console me?" Her split hoof smashed, ankle first in a sort of back-hoofed slap across Ink's face, and when a splash of blood decorated the cabin wall, it wasn't clear if it was from her own wound, or the new cut on his lip.

Ink said nothing.

"You wanted to know why I surrendered? Let me spell it out. You feel awful, don't you? Some part of you is weighing whether you want to try and say 'I'm sorry' or whether they'd be wasted words."

Ink winced. "How'd you know?"

"I've been dreaming of this day for fifteen years, Roscherk." When Ink winced at his own name, Soldier On nodded. "I knew it. That's why you corrected me. A new name lets you lie to yourself; tell yourself you've changed."

Ink's eyes ran away, counting the spilled rice on the carpet; anything to avoid meeting On's gaze.

"You're right; there's nothing in the world you can ever do to apologize for what you've done. Not to me. Not to your brother. Not to your own niece and nephew.

"There's only one more thing I need you to understand. Look at me." When Ink hesitated, she lifted him higher on the wall. "Look at me." It wasn't shouted; the demand was hissed. And, not so much intimidated as out of mournful obligation, Ink met her gaze. "I want you to know one more thing. All this. This silence, your denial—look at me, Roscherk—all of it only came out because they happened to be your brother's foals. If it weren't for that, you'd still be telling yourself what you did was… I don't know if you think it was right, or justified, or whatever you told yourself to sleep at night. Whatever it was, you'd still think that. You'd still be chasing me, thinking an innocent mare was behind what happened to Polnoch, and you'd think you were right for all the burnt bodies you left behind chasing me. All the scars. The princess-damn war you started over it." On leaned forward, until Ink could feel the heat of her breath on his face. "I want you to remember that. Forever. You'll never change, Roscherk. You'll never find a way to apologize. You'll never make up for what you did. You're a monster."

Then she took her hoof off his shoulder, letting him collapse in a heap at the base of the wall. "I promised Polnoch I wouldn't kill you. He still sees you as family. But if you even have a scrap of a pony's soul left under all the gin and violence, I suggest you find a good poison, or a cliff, or a noose. It's the only good you'll ever manage."

With that, the broken but satisfied widow and mother walked up the hall and slipped into what had been Sunset Shimmer's cabin.

Red Ink sat and stared at the spilt rice, for a very, very long time.

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