• 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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A Scalding Reception

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

I can only be grateful to whatever higher power may apply (perhaps the 'Artist' of the crystals) that my stomach was already empty when we landed with a lurch that almost threw me from my seat. Ponies of the modern era may be aware of the idea of using springs on the axles of a carriage or chariot to absorb such impact, but that idea had not yet reached the minds of ponykind in my youth.

Outside, there could be heard the murmuring of a crowd, and the sounds of crystal horns and a choir, heralding the arrival of the Equestrian delegation. Still, just because my body didn't have anything to expunge didn't mean it didn't want desperately to relieve itself of queasiness by the feeling of solid ground beneath my hooves. I didn't give any more thought than that before I forced open the door and stepped out.

"Wait!" called Pansy, "They're supposed—"

I didn't think my moment of hunched-over dry heaving deserved an applause, but after a solid beat of confusion (and one notably off note in a performance of the then-Equestrian national anthem, Simul Fortior) applause is just what erupted. More out of confusion than anything, I looked up to take in the main market plaza of Union City. All the usual stalls were still there, but pushed out of the way to make room for a considerable crowd. The Equestrian carriages were lined up in order, slowly queuing to deposit their occupants upon an indigo velvet carpet where no less than Queen Jade and Smart Cookie were greeting the new arrivals personally.

The arrivals at that moment were the occupants of the first and most important carriage: namely, Gale, Typhoon, Puddinghead, the elder Queen Platinum, Frostfall, and an earth pony mare I didn't recognize but who, given she was about my age, was almost certainly Puddinghead's lover-of-the-week in addition to some tacked-on title to justify her presence. Of the assembled, Gale was barely containing her humor at my state, Peanut wasn't even bothering to hide the same emotion, and the elder Platinum was obviously furious that I had, once again, stolen the spotlight from the young queen.

After a moment of chuckling, I pushed myself up on Wintesrhimmer's staff, rolled my neck, and did my damnedest to regain some measure of dignity. I even stepped back toward the carriage, though it was Queen Jade's voice that called out to me, shouting over the crowd "You might as well come over here at this point, Coil."

Smart Cookie whispered something up to his alicorn counterpart, and Jade swiftly corrected "Morty, sorry."

I waved off the concern with a smile and a flicked hoof, marching up the line of carriages to the 'main event' carpet. I recognized more than a few faces amongst the crowd—Side Effect was there, as was Iconoclast, forming a line between us as the envoys and the crystal masses. But the thing that caught my attention wasn't the faces I knew; it was the fact that they were smiling at me. That the applause I mentioned earlier was… genuine?

"There we are," said Jade, once I was close enough that she didn't have to shout. "The stallion of the hour." The monarch of the Crystal Union extended a foreleg, and when I took it for a shake, she pulled me forward and wrapped me in her glittering wing for a rather crushing hug.


"Ah, sorry." Jade chuckled as she released me. "Cookie doesn't mind when I hug strong. But then, I guess you prefer a softer mare." There was exactly zero subtlety in the glance she gave to Gale.

I was keenly aware of Platinum the elder stepping up toward me, as she quietly but pointedly noted "I wasn't aware word of your… friendship… had reached as far as the Crystal Union."

"Platinum, lay off it." Puddinghead, reminding everypony of his considerable earth-pony frame, covered the distance to me with a single stride and then slapped me on the back hard enough that, were it not for my enchanted jacket, I'm sure would have bruised. "They're kids."

"Not helping," I muttered to the seated chancellor of the earth ponies. "Good to see you too, Queen Jade. Smart Cookie."

"Did you have to bring the, uh… walking stick?" Smart Cookie asked, leering nervously up at Wintershimmer's staff.

I nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. In addition to its other uses, it's a bit of a skeleton key." Puddinghead, at least, appreciated the pun, even if I got an incredulous raise of a brow from Gale. "So I should be able to give you back the vaults, with a bit of work."

"Appreciated, Morty," Jade answered. "But don't keep too busy; my Cookie is back thanks to you, and I don't want you to have to miss out on any fun." It was, perhaps, an inelegant solution for a segue; even with a lot of her Wintershimmer-inspired paranoia and solitude resolved, she was still a wartime ruler saddled with peace, and her lack of rhetoric showed when she turned fully away from me and toward the rulers to complete the thought. "We're having feasts all three nights, a proper crystal games, and for the last proper thaw of the year, the running of the pines."

"Well, that all sounds delightful," said Platinum with a nod. "We're all very grateful for a, forgive the pun, thaw in Crystal-Equestrian relations."

"As are we, Your Majesty," said Smart Cookie. "Now, I'm sure the rest of your delegation is maybe not as excited as Mr. Coil to get some fresh air, but I wouldn't want to keep them waiting. We'll have your bags chauffeured up to rooms, but to give you all a tour, I've set aside Commander Typhoon's crystal counterpart."

Gale smiled and let out a chuckle in recollection, and then piped up "As long as we don't have to drop a cathedral bell on her again."

"Oh…" Jade slightly shrunk—only slightly—and coughed once. "Yes, about that." With her one remaining wing (more of a stump was present of its pair than on Hurricane, but only slightly), the green alicorn gestured somepony from the crowd forward. "After, uh, recent events in River Rock… When I realized how close we came to war with Equestria, I realized that no matter what my late advisor felt, somepony so young probably shouldn't be my top military advisor."

"Reasonable," said Platinum.

"Kind, too," said Typhoon. When everypony looked to her with confusion at the comment, she added "Speaking from personal experience, even a legion was too much at that age."

I, however, had context the others lacked. "But you don't have anypony else, do you? Everypony older than us with military experience was with Halite, or one of the little warlords. You can't be telling me you looked past that."

Jade sighed. "Halite died twenty five years ago, Morty. Ponies change. I don't like it, but I'm trying to be pragmatic, which is why—"

The alicorn was cut off by a figure finally approaching through the crowd; she'd been dealing with the guards forming a line for the crowd even as she approached, which is why I hadn't paid much mind before. Still, I fault myself for not recognizing her sapphire (literally) coat and white-from-shock 'diamond' mane. "Mortal!"

I tightened my grip on Wintershimmer's staff, and if I am being completely honest dear reader, I did contemplate whether or not it was worth a year of my life to kill the mare on the spot with the Razor.

You should also know, in the interest of honesty, that it was the risk of a political incident and not personal mercy, which stayed my horn.

"Mother." I massaged my temple with the hoof that was holding Wintershimmer's staff, holding it in my elbow.

"Morty?" Gale asked. "This is your mom?"

"Morty?" With a curious look to Gale, Castigate (I won't bother calling her 'mother' a thousand years later) shrugged, and then explained "Alright. Yes, Morty is my youngest," adding "Your Majesty," with an unsubtly forced tone. "Chancellor. Commander." The latter was spiteful, nakedly. "I'm Castigate, Her Majesty's Warmaster."

Typhoon raised a brow. "Have we met?"

Jade tried her best to interrupt, even stepping forward into the middle of the circle-ish shape we'd formed. "I'm sure it's not a concern—"

"It's alright, my queen." Castigate even dared to put a calming hoof on Jade's shoulder. "I'm not going to cause trouble. It's been twenty years." She glanced to me. "Long enough for my softcoat colt to grow up and kill that rat-bastard Wintershimmer. I honestly can't believe it, Mortal. You were not the foal I expected to make something of himself."

I felt my eye twitch, and judging by the looks of concern I got it was visible. I opened my mouth for the first response I could think of, and then felt the words catch in my throat when Gale of all ponies shook her head in disapproval. Finally, I forced out "Yeah. Thanks."

Castigate raised a brow at me, but refrained from asking questions in front of the crowd. If nothing else, that could perhaps be called a virtue, or at least a skill: she was a survivor. In a time of peace, that meant blending in, playing nice, not rubbing her old scars. "If you'll all follow me," she said, nodding with her head.

"I'll pass on the tour. I still remember where everything is." I glanced to Jade. "The other copy of me in the wagon is a candlecorn; it's under my control, so don't worry about it, but don't expect much small talk. Have somepony bring it to my room."

"Ah, about that…" This time, Jade trailed off not with worry or hesitance, but a smile. "Do you want Wintershimmer's room?"

I pondered the question, and the memories it was sure to raise, until I caught a passing glance at the departing rulers on their tour—and, notably, I'm sorry to say to my high-minded readers, Gale's backside. I call this out not for the sake of lechery (though she was quite beautiful in an orange-red surcoat-dress-thing that was high fashion enough I lacked a proper word for it). That glance put in my mind Solemn Vow's instructions for my behavior in order to empower myself as a suitor. And said thought put in mind a very different benefit of Wintershimmer's quarters: namely, that he had a bed sized for two.

"I think I will," I answered with a nod. "If you do see Silhouette before I do, tell her I'm looking for her."

Jade looked almost concerned. "But… wait, aren't you and the Queen—"

"It's not that serious," I answered back, before adding with a smile "but believe me, I'll tell her she's welcome too." I strode two paces, stopped, and turned around. "Also… I know this isn't likely even before I ask, but do you happen to know my father's name?"

Jade looked at me with a very confused expression, which ultimately melted to a sigh. "I hate admitting Wintershimmer was right, but despite how much effort I put into promoting unity amongst the crystals, I don't actually enjoy spending time with Halite's inner circle. And even if I did, I certainly wouldn't spend my time talking about… conquests. You know I was never—"

"I know," I replied, glancing to Smart Cookie. "There's only one softcoat 'conquest' for you."

Smart Cookie did not seem to appreciate the implication, but I got what had been (before Cookie's resurrection) a rare treat: a sampling of Jade's wry wit. "As the Cirrans would say, Vidi, Vici, Veni."

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

I didn't actually make it through the crowd before I was stopped by a group of various crystal ponies, some of whom I recognized, but none for the same reason. A few were shopkeepers I visited on Wintershimmer's behalf, some were ponies who worked in the Spire, a few were even just random ponies I'd run into in the course of hunting a monster or a spirit, and otherwise knew nothing about. And about half the group were strangers, or at least escaped recollection. I would have started with what they wanted, but at first, I didn't know myself; they were all talking over one another, fighting to get closer to me and to be heard over each other's requests or demands.

It was amusing for about forty-five seconds. Then I lifted Wintershimmer's staff about a hoof off the ground and brought it down with as much force as I could. The smack on the street was something, but the fact that the dragon skull roared was, if I'm being completely honest, the real reason everypony shut up (myself included).

"Are you animate?" I idly asked the staff, but I got no answer. After a moment's awkward silence, I turned to the mass of crystals. "Right, one at a time. Let's see… Ms. Phial, you first."

The aged crystal mare with the thin rectangular spectacles that seemed probably useless in the face of cloudy eyes from cataracts stumbled forward out of the crowd with a smile. "Mortal Coil, it's good to see you around again. I was worried something had happened to you. When is Archmage Wintershimmer going to be treating us again? It's been months—"

"Wintershimmer is dead, old mare," interrupted a gruff young crystal stallion, probably mid-twenties, whom I did not recognize by name. "Archmage Coil, it's my daughter; she's been bleeding from her ears. Nopony's been able to help."

I raised a brow. "Ah. Raise your hoof if you are here because you need medical advice." Fewer hooves rose than I was expecting. After giving a moment's thought, I added "How many of you are here because you want to be seeking some kind of consultancy from Wintershimmer?" That got me every hoof. "Did Archmage Mistmane not sit in residency while she was here?"

Ms. Phial scoffed and then even spit on the street. "She's a nice mare, but a shit doctor. All sympathy, but she wouldn't even give me my medicine. I've been out for six weeks. Tried to tell me it was bad for my body, gave me some piss-awful tea. Then she had to run back to the softcoat south; something about a murder or something."

I couldn't help but chuckle a little bit at Phial's blunt tongue, though it earned me a glare from the irate old mare, thinking it was at her expense. "Well, alright. I'm going to go get the sitting room set up, and in about an hour, you can all come by. If you've got an issue that could result in somepony dying, get in the front of the line; I'm going to try and see you all, but it could take a couple of days, so we're going to have to prioritize." With that, I pushed forward with the dragon staff, and much like the mythical prophet Moseys, I parted the crowd.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Wintershimmer's 'sitting room' was exactly as we had left it before my entire life changed. Two extremely well cushioned foreleg chairs, upholstered with hog leather (ethically deriving from 'pigs have no souls, so it's not meat') and tufted in a diamond pattern with little circular buttons had, for a full decade, flanked a hearth made of stone that wasn't shiny—a rare luxury in the spire. The chairs faced mostly away from the fire, though, across what we would now call a coffee table from a long recessed chaise that I would have called an alienist's couch, if the study of psychic discipline of natural philosophy had existed in those days.

All around the room were cabinets full of dusty medicine jars filled with preserved dried herbs and odd bits and bobs and magical trinkets, each made of fine quartz crystal because in the north it was cheaper than glass, and shelves of finely bound tomes full not of magic, but medical knowledge, alchemical formulae, and all manner of other secrets. The room was extremely tidy—Wintershimmer was a stickler for both hygiene and orderly appearances—but it wasn't actually organized. Instead, every jar's place, every book's resting spot, was memorized through the use of Surely Lock's Mind Palace, a mnemonic spell for memorizing sights and thus producing something like what is described as a photographic memory—only real.

When I entered alone, I first walked over to Wintershimmer's slightly larger chair (even though he was physically slighter than me) and ran my hoof along the leather, enjoying the texture and the smell. I next walked up to the hearth, and lowered the dragon staff's head toward a stack of charred but not yet disintegrated logs. I had always assumed Wintershimmer was quietly using magic, barely igniting his horn, to get the staff to act. I was corrected when, entirely on its own, the skull breathed a tongue of purple and green flame that, after a moment, created an altogether natural fire. The room filled slowly with the sound of crackling and popping, and took on the slight smoky smell of the hearth that brought me back to younger days.
One breath was all I suffered myself, before I walked to the far side of the room with its redwood doors, and pulled them open with my hooves, one then the other.

"Please, come in."

The first pony was the stallion who had pushed his way forward, and he'd brought the filly in question with him. Both were green; he a sort of minty color and she a rich forest tone. Both were earth ponies. And I hardly needed to ask about symptoms; while she wasn't actively bleeding on the carpet, the smears of the blood in her ears hadn't been perfectly wiped from her hard crystalline 'coat'.

"I-is this pony the Arc-mage you told me about, daddy?" asked the... filly? She was five, or so.

The father nodded. "He'll help you, Ivy. Just do whatever he says."

I nodded, hesitantly, a pit already forming in my stomach as I listened to the filly speak. "Um… right. I'm Ma—" I don't know what stopped me, but I shook my head. "My name is Archmage Coil the Immortal. But you can call me Morty, Ivy. It's nice to meet you." I dipped my head, then nodded with my horn to the couch. "Why don't you lay down on the couch? Should be more comfortable than standing. I'm gonna ask you some questions, and I'm going to have to touch your head a little; is that alright?"

Ivy nodded as she climbed up onto the couch. "Thanks, Mister Arcmage Morty."

"Morty?" asked the father, and then blinked for a moment and said "Oh, sorry; I'm Climbing Vine, Archmage."

"'Morty' is what the Queen calls me." After a moment, I thought to clarify "The Queen of Equestria. Better than 'Mortal Coil' by a longshot, so it stuck."

"What's wrong with Moral Coil?" (sic) asked Ivy, finally scrambling her hind legs up and sprawling out on the couch.

"I think he just doesn't like it," said her father.

I didn't take the hint, preoccupied as I was with the filly's ears. Bending down next to her and gently putting a hoof on her temple to tilt her head at a good angle for a peak, I carried on the conversation without thinking about it. "There's a saying, that somepony 'shuffled off the mortal coil'—it means they died." I turned the filly's head the other way, glancing into her other ear, and again observing no cracking or damage to her crystalline coat up until it gave way to softer flesh deeper in the ear canal. I even let out a sigh, though my next words masked it. "Being born a softcoat—uh, don't repeat that, Ivy; it's rude—but because I'm not made of crystal, I was embarrassing to my mom. That's why I got a bad name."

"Ponies still care about that?" asked Vine. "What are you, Halite's kid?"

I laughed for about half a second before I stopped in thought. My mother was one of Halite's inner circle, and there weren't exactly a lot of mares in that particularly unpleasant social club.

Then I finally realized I had gotten too far into my own head about my parentage. Halite was also a crystal earth pony, so the odds of a softcoat unicorn were infinitesimally small. Those weren't the first reasons that came to mind to invalidate the hypothesis, though. Aloud, I foolishly said "I'm eighteen…ish… So unless my mom went to Onyx Ridge, dug up Halite's body five years late, and—"

"Archmage!" snapped Vine, and when I gave him a sour expression at the interruption, he reared up on his hind legs just to gesture with his forelegs at his daughter, still directly in front of me.

"Ahem. Right. Sorry." I shook my head. "Right, Ivy, let's talk. Has anything happened when your ears started bleeding?"

"Like what?" Ivy asked.

"Hearing voices?" I asked. "Levitating off the ground?"


"Floating," I clarified. "Maybe your head spun around, or you saw something that wasn't there, or—"

"No, nothing like that. It just hurts."

"Where? Just your ears? Whole head?" Ivy touched not an ear, but the crown of her brow, with a clinking crystal-on-crystal noise. "Alright. Let me just see here…" I meandered over to Wintershimmer's shelves, and from a wooden rack specifically for its display, I plucked a small silver hammer, its head no wider than the upper third of my horn.

"You're going to crack her coat?!" Vine stepped to put himself between me and his daughter. "What's wrong with her?"

"I'm not going to crack her coat," I cautioned. Well, no first I mumbled those words around the grip of the hammer; then I spit it onto an upraised hoof to talk, and repeated myself. I continued "Crystal coats reverberate audibly, and there's some conditions you can diagnose from the sound. I can't promise this won't hurt, Ivy, but I'm not going to injure you permanently."

"What do you think it is?" asked the father.

"I…" I hesitated, and when I saw Vine's face twist into worry at my hesitation, I jumped to the first answer I could consider: I lied. "I don't really know yet. Just working through a few theories."

I had a diagnosis one swing of the hammer later.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

"Rank cowardice," chastised Wintershimmer's ghost, swirling into being to fill his old chair a few hours later, when I'd sent Vine and Ivy away with the promise to do some reading in the remaining library and try to find an answer. "The filly's going to die."

I huffed. "I know. You know that I know, because you're in my head."

"Do you think you're being kind?" Wintershimmer pressed.

"I think if I can raise myself from the dead, maybe I can—"

"She has crystals growing into her brain," Wintershimmer interrupted forcefully. "You might be able to escape soul death, but unless you intend to stick her into an automaton like Vow, I am quite confident there is not a thing in this world you are capable of doing. Even I couldn't cure Stalagtitis. Spare the father the suffering. Tell the truth. Or better yet, use the Razor."

"What? You want me to murder the kid? She's still got a few months left—"

"Months of headaches, disorientation, confusion, personality change." My mental ghost of Wintershimmer dismissed the grim list of symptoms with a flick of a forehoof. "The father will be happier to remember his filly while she is still herself, instead of tainting her memory with days of crying and screaming, unable to control her body, begging for relief. But I am not interested in debating those ethics with you. If you would rather give the filly some milk of the poppy and prolong her life, that is your prerogative. What matters is that you do not flee from death. Which you are better than. So what is wrong?"

"You know—"

"Aloud, Coil. Stars help me, I don't need to be in your head to know what you're thinking. Clearly, however, that locational advantage isn't enough to overcome your… adolescent hormones." Wintershimmer waited a very long moment and then repeated "Speak, Coil."

"They respect me here," I answered, trying my absolute damnedest not to let emotion sneak into the words and mostly succeeding. Mostly was worth nothing, though, against Wintershimmer—even if he hadn't been in my head. "I don't want to throw that away by failing. If I can beat you, why can't I save Ivy?"

Wintershimmer raised a brow. "You know her condition is a death sentence. You watched me offer a merciful death to its victims before. Why then is this a failure, when it was not for me?"

"Because they value me here! There's no fighting with Platinum or Star Swirl over what I'm allowed to do with my life here. Jade clearly likes having me around, and even these random noponies understand what being an archmage actually means—"

"You are not an archmage yet, Coil."

I winced. "You know what I mean, Master."

"Master?" An amused huff escaped ghostly nostrils, but any sign of amusement was gone by the time I met his gaze. "I am surprised you have the audacity to call yourself a 'hero' when you call the unwashed masses 'noponies' behind closed doors."

"You know—"

"I do not disapprove," Wintershimmer interrupted. "It is practical. I merely thought you would benefit to recognize your own hypocrisy. Perhaps you might gain perspective from it."

"You don't disapprove?"

"Everypony is a hypocrite," Wintershimmer replied flatly. "I was the most feared stallion in the crystal world for half a century, yet these insignificant still knew to come to me when their feeble grasp of medicine and alchemy failed." With a waved withered hoof, the apparition continued "Or perhaps you would reflect that despite my commitment to follow the true purpose of an archmage—to be a magical guardian to the less capable—I killed no small few ponies at Platinum's Landing and… that other town."

"It wasn't as if they were hard to fix," I noted. "Given you used the Razor—"

"Do you sincerely believe I require you to offer a defense of my actions, Coil?" Wintershimmer shook his head. "I suspect these words are futile, but I will indulge desperate hope for want of a better tactic. Look at me, colt, and listen well." Wintershimmer took a very deep breath. "In Equestria, you have a better teacher than I ever was. She has frustrated you here, yes, but I have every inclination to believe her words in her letter. In Equestria, you likewise have challenges and struggles to overcome—struggles which will force you to grow, and to learn how to grow in the absence of a mentor, as I did when I came to this accursed backwater when I was still young. Though it is to my chagrin that you pursue her, your quest for your lover will present you with hardships that will force you to embrace magic unakin to what I gifted you. Here, in the Union, you may be happy, but you will stagnate. Do your duty here, indulge what glory alleviates these feelings you are now afflicted with, if you must. Kill the filly with kindness. Take your inheritance. Whatever it is. Then leave here. And do not return."

I recall staring for a very long time at Wintershimmer even after those words were done—the thought in my mind mostly being surprise that he would call Celestia his better. But the old stallion said nothing to break the ensuing silence. As I wondered in my own mind, his figment simply faded away.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

I didn't kill Ivy. I didn't even call her back. But I did settle the rest of the petitioners. And, when the last one was done, I was a bit surprised when a hand caught the door of Wintershimmer's parlor before it swung fully shut.

Perhaps a claw would also be a fair description, but at least its tips were dull enough not to scratch the wood.

"So, how's 'Her Majesty' in bed?"

I scoffed at the bluntness of the question as an old enemy and more recent… something, slunk into the room. Silhouette, for those who have not read my prior tale or simply want a reminder, was a mare of about my age with a dark-grayish smoky quartz coat and a mane of veined black-and-white marble with a vague tan (blonde?) hue in the stone. A rather harsh scar, or arguably a 'feather' if one is a geologist, ran from the right corner of her lip up and across her petite muzzle and up between her eyes to her maneline. Her most notable trait, though, was the mass of liquid quicksilver that had replaced her right foreleg—a limb which when she stood on it at least had the decency to be mostly leg-shaped, but which had a propensity for growing claws or fingers or other grasping digits.

My first instinct was to insult the mare, and it took me a solid few seconds to remember we weren't actually enemies anymore. So, instead, I settled for "I think I'm politically obligated to tell you I wouldn't know."

Silhouette groaned and muttered "Don't talk to me about politics, Morty," as she stepped into the room—rubbing her temple with 'fingers' as she did so.

"You should be careful with that leg, Silhouette. Quicksilver's poisonous. Don't rub your eye with it." I gestured to what had formerly been my own chair, and then collapsed into what had been Wintershimmer's.

Silhouette ignored my offer, instead splaying herself across the reclining chaise in a patently seductive way—only her tail's practiced placement left anything at all to my imagination. "Come on, tell me a little."

"Are we friends like that?" I asked with a raised brow. "I know we worked together at Platinum's Landing, but—"

"Come on!" Silhouette groaned. "You're still like this? Even after you killed the old stallion? Fine. Forget I came in. Up yours." Silhouette rolled off the couch, and started walking toward the door.

"Wait, wait." Silhouette humored me, at least, stopping mid-stride and turning her ears slightly toward me. "Sorry. You're right. New world. Fresh start. Blank slate." I hesitated a moment, and then shamelessly muttered "Fourth idiom for forgetting the way things used to be."

"Some things never change," Silhouette shook her head, but she wore a grin, and she did wander back to the couch. "Fine. Morty, I'm sorry; I was an ass to you growing up, and I made life harder for you whenever I could get away with it."

"Eh, it's alright," I replied.

Silhouette stared at me for a very long time, as if waiting for something. In my innate genius, after a solid ten seconds of silence, I added "It's not like you really could make things that much harder."

"Wow. I… you know what, I was hoping for too much there, wasn't I?"


"Forget it. Just cough up the spiciest gossip in the world and we're even. What's she like? Does she know her way around a stallion, or is she as virginal as you?"

I rolled my eyes. "She's into magic."

"What, like you wear the jacket in bed?"

I broke into a full laugh, which made Silhouette raise a brow. "No, I think I'll leave that to your imagination for now," I told her. "How're you doing? Having a rough time with my mom?"

"You're mom's an asshole," Silhouette answered. "But no, it hasn't been too hard."

"Did she send you, or Jade?"

The answer earned me a cocked head. "Who says I didn't just come to say hi and hear some tasty gossip? Check up on my old friend who hasn't been around for a couple months?"

"Silhouette, I know I'm the most handsome stallion in the world, but even I can't make a mare come just by saying hi."

Silhouette's jaw dropped. "Sweet Artist… she actually changed you?"

For the reader's benefit: most of the credit for that simultaneously crass and clever comment goes to the late Solemn Vow. But I wasn't about to correct Silhouette. Instead, I grinned, and indulged another of the thoughts he'd put in my head. "In all seriousness, it doesn't matter which one asked. I'd love two favors, if you don't mind lending me a hoof. I'm sure you'll get some joy out of them two. Parents, and romance."

"Parents?" The word was punctuated with an uncharacteristic noise for the ever-confident young mare, at least for most of the time I'd known her. I suspected it was fear, though a part of me wondered why.

Still, I didn't dig. "You wanna spite my mom, right? About the job?"

Whatever it had been on Silhouette's face, it vanished into confidence. "Look, your mom isn't a fight I want to pick myself. But if you're gonna start one… well, I know where I'd put my money."

"Great. I need to know who my dad is. Or was. Almost definitely was. I don't know if I can ask, and put up with listening to the answer, without killing her. And I certainly don't want her to know why. The last thing I want is her getting involved with me and Gale."

"Ah." Silhouette nodded. "Well, I still have ponies I can ask in Jade's guard." I made quiet mental note, but I didn't find a moment to ask about the curious phrasing before she pressed "What's the other favor?"

I pushed myself up from my chair, walked confidently up to where the crystal mare lay, put a hoof on her shoulder, and pulled her into a kiss. I cannot tell you, reader, how much satisfaction I took in her shock at my forwardness, when for so long she had teased me in what little our private vendetta could be called a relationship. At last, though, she indulged back (indulged here coming from the word 'dulge', and archaic synonym for 'duel', to imply two wet, flexible, muscular bodies engaging one another in single combat, and not just the chaste kiss of lips).

"You're gonna cheat on Gale? On the Queen of Equestria?"

Thinking back to her description of the bite I got from Summer on our meeting at the Rains' house, I confidently explained "Gale would say 'hot'. But to answer your question: I have her permission. If I'm obviously going after her, trying to become Crown Prince, it looks like I'm playing politics. But if I chase any tail that swings my way—and most do—well, then I'm just a healthy young stallion."

"What a sick double standard," Silhouette answered, shaking her head.

I nodded "Given what little I know of Chancellor Puddinghead, I'm inclined to agree. But… if it gets us both what we want…?" I shrugged and smiled.

Silhouette raised a brow, and then let out a little huff of amusement, and then dared to smile back. "I'll help you find out about your dad. And I'll be your date for the feast, Morty. We'll see where it goes from there." I smiled, and lifted a foreleg to offer her the usual held hooves of a couple. "But—"


"I need an introduction to Commander Typhoon."

"What?" When Silhouette frowned, I quickly added "I mean, sure, I can give you an introduction. Just wondering why. Seems like the second-in-command of the crystal army could just walk up and say 'hello' on her own."

Silhouette sighed. "When Jade put your mom in charge, I quit. I'm leaving the Union."

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