• Published 14th Feb 2019
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Cadence of the Crystal Empire - Coyote de La Mancha



Two ancient evils from the Age of Chaos. The lost princess they desire. And between them, stands Celestia. Alone.

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1: Too Many Princesses.

It was an old legend, though not a well-known one until recently.

A usurper, with magical powers out of myth, lay siege to an empire out of legend. His enemies fell before his might as his shadow spread throughout the realm, corrupting all before it, destroying anyone and anything that dared defy his will.

Anything, save for the mind of the empire’s princess, and her love for her only foal.

With the palace’s defenses already beginning to falter, and her own powers all but spent, the monarch did the only thing she could think of. She cast a spell upon her young daughter, hurtling her into the future. It was a desperate, daring gambit, hinging upon an absolute faith that the future, whatever it might hold, would be better than the present.

Then, no doubt in final combat against her foe, Princess Radiant Hope fell.

A relatively short time later, the tyrant was faced and slain by the forces of Equestria. Detailed accounts of the battle were unavailable, having been sealed by royal decree. But it was known that King Sombra, in a last act of defiance and cruelty, cursed the entire empire to oblivion as he died. Some said it would return someday, some said it would not.

But of the filly, now a princess by royal blood, there was little doubt. For exactly one thousand years later, Princess Celestia had sent forth a royal proclamation: that anypony who could bring her the young Princess Mi Amore Anastasia Cadenza – or information leading to her safe rescue – would be granted the land, wealth, and title of knighthood, as well as the undying gratitude of the Equestrian throne…


Princess Celestia closed her eyes in a desperate attempt to retain her composure. “Child,” she said, “who put you up to this?”

The little white unicorn before her started. When she had first entered the chamber, the filly had been overcome by the splendor of its carvings. She had marveled at the beauty of its stained glass windows as they let in the morning light, filtered through their vibrant tints and renowned legends. But now, involuntarily, she glanced over her shoulder at the crowd behind her in open court, then looked back at the throne’s dais. “Your Highness, I don’t know what you mean. I—”

“It’s alright,” The princess held up a hoof against her protests. “I’m not angry with you, young one. But neither am I a simpleton. And you are not the princess, Mi Amore Cadenza.”

“But,” the filly’s voice shook, “but I am…”

“Young lady, I met the heir to the Amethyst Throne, centuries ago. I was there for her crystalling,” Celestia said gently. “I was a friend of her mother for years before that. And even if I weren’t, both of them were pegasi. Now, please—”

It was at that moment that the faux princess before her did the last thing that Celestia could have ever expected. Celestia had seen any number of would-be Mi Amores before her over the last few months. Some had remained insistent, even in the face of their obvious fraud, thinking that their stubbornness might save them. Others had begged for clemency. A few had simply shrugged, accepting whatever might follow. One had even laughed, as if it were all some practical joke.

But this one, after staring at the Lady of Day with an expression of pure heartbreak, simply collapsed onto the polished floor, bursting into tears.

After a moment of shock, Celestia began to descend to her. But in an instant, the majordomo was there first.

“There, there,” Abacus said softly as he held the sobbing foal. “No one’s angry at you, dear, you’ve done nothing wrong…”

As she stood on the dais, Celestia detected movement towards the back of the throne room.

“Stop him,” she said distractedly.

There was a sharp crack! from the area before the main doors, and a pegasus stallion was lying on his side, surrounded by frowning guards as he moaned in pain. One of them had struck him across his right legs with the haft of her spear. Apparently, the Princess wasn’t the only one getting tired of con artists and counterfeit royalty.

Meanwhile, at the foot of the throne’s dais, Abacus Plinth gave Princess Celestia the slightest look of askance. She, in return, gave the barest of nods. Which was hardly necessary, as the old unicorn was already in motion again.

“Here now, little one,” he was murmuring. “Everything’s going to be alright. Why don’t you just come with me for a bit?”

Abacus gently gathered the miserable foal onto his back and vanished out a side door.

Once the door had closed behind them, Celestia ascended the throne once more. Sitting, she looked out across the hall.

“Bring him here.”

The stallion, a red-maned orange fellow with a red newscolt cap for a cutie mark, was just starting to regain his composure through the pain. The guards dragged him forward and all but threw him at the princess’ hooves.

“Your Highness,” he groveled, “please, I don’t understand, she seemed so certain, I had to believe her. Please, forgive us for—”

“You have made a grave error in judgement,” the monarch said, cutting him off with a gesture. “If you give a full confession now, including your actual name, all personal information about the young filly you brought here, and how the two of you met, I am inclined to be lenient.”

“Your Highness, I don’t—”

With a roar from all sides, every candle in the throne room flared, becoming a white torch of blinding light.

The assemblage gasped. Several bowed and fled the throne room completely.

Meanwhile, the young stallion cringed, unable to breathe this close to the throne. For the greatest blaze of heat and light came, not from the candles’ flares, but from the figure seated before him, sheathed in a blazing corona of silver flame.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The candles were once again burning serenely in their tapers. Even as the pegasus gasped for breath, the terrible heat was gone. Looking up, he saw the Sun Queen leaning forward slightly, eyes narrowed to slits that burned and flickered as they considered him.

“That’s once,” she said.


“You seem to have acquired a shadow, old friend,” Celestia noted.

She had only just finished setting the sun; the moon was not yet raised. The stars shone brightly, as always.

Now, she was enjoying some tea and cake, while settling in for the evening’s business. Abacus usually gave the day’s last briefings, if any, during this time. But sometimes, just sometimes, it was an opportunity for them to almost relax with one another. To enjoy the formal friendship that had developed between them over the years.

Abacus Plinth glanced behind himself, a smile tickling his white beard. “Well, she’s a very pretty little shadow. And very helpful, too. I know I certainly don’t mind.”

Celestia managed a smile as well. The shadow, meanwhile, ducked behind the old unicorn shyly, with only her ebony mane and tail visible to either side of him.

“And what is your name, little one?” Celestia asked kindly.

The filly peeked out from behind Abacus. “Mi Am—I mean,” she sighed. “Raven, Your Highness.”

“Well, Raven, thank you for helping Abacus today.”

A tentative step forward. “Is Dimitri gonna be in trouble?”

The adults in the room exchanged a glance, and Celestia put down her teacup.

“I won’t lie to you,” she said. “What he’s done is very serious. All the more so because he involved you.”

“He was always nice to me.”

“And that will probably count in his favor.”

The filly took another step forward, stared up at her with huge, heartbroken eyes. “Are you gonna put him in the dungeon?”

The Princess made a sour face. “That… won’t be up to me.”

“How come?”

“Because I’m too angry with him.”

But the child only seemed more confused at that. With a sigh, Celestia rose from her chair and sat on the floor in front of Raven.

“You see, because I’m so angry, I know that if there are reasons he shouldn’t be punished, or shouldn’t be punished as harshly, I won’t be able to see them.” The Princess explained. “So, he’ll need to be judged by somepony else. Somepony who can see what I can’t, and will treat him more fairly.”

The little filly frowned. “I thought being a princess meant you were always right.”

Celestia’s smile was sad. “No, unfortunately it doesn’t. Sometimes, it just means doing your best.”

“Oh.” Raven seemed to consider this, then turned to Abacus. “Can I give her the papers?”

At the old unicorn’s nod, Raven retrieved a sheaf of notes and forms from his satchel with exaggerated care. Celestia looked at him quizzically as she accepted them. “Papers? I admit, I had been hoping we were done for the day.”

“Alas, Your Highness, no. It seems that there is a dispute among the griffons and their pony neighbors regarding the proper disposition of several relics recently discovered, and violence has already begun to break out. Moreover, an unexpected drought in the North Hinterlands is being blamed on the pegasi, who in turn maintain that it was interference from a dragon.”

Frowning, she began shuffling through the papers. “Effects on the crops?”

“None yet, but anticipated to be severe in a month’s time. Additionally…”

She sighed, holding up a tired hoof. “Alright. Let me set the moon in place, and then we can deal with all this properly.”

A slight bow. “Of course.”

It was several hours later by the time they were done, and Raven was curled up asleep in front of the tearoom fireplace.

For her part, Celestia had her elbows on the table, tired eyes staring from between her hooves.

“Is there anything else I need to read or sign before retiring?” she asked. “Kingdom-wide emergencies? Muffin shortages? Please, as you love your ancestors, say no.”

“Only one, Your Highness.”

She glanced at the paper he gave to her. Then re-read it, suddenly more awake. Finally, staring at the old stallion before her.

“You’re adopting her?”

“She has no one else, Your Highness.”

She pinched the bridge of her muzzle. “Abacus, it’s just you and me now. We’re both exhausted. Can we drop the formalities, for just a minute?”

He gave a small bow. “As you wish.”

She picked up the paper and re-read it again.

“You’ve known one another less than a day.”

“Agreed.”

“You met under perhaps the worst possible circumstances for this to be even vaguely well thought-out.”

He nodded. “I am aware of that.”

“She’ll have only started to process what she’s gone through.”

“Of this, also, I am most aware.”

“And you know nothing about raising a filly.”

A slight tilt of the head. “All that is true,” he acknowledged.

She peered at him. “And you think this is… wise?”

He returned her gaze, completely at ease. “I have absolutely no idea.”

Celestia lowered her face onto her desk with a groan, covering her head with both arms. “Abacus, you have served me for over twenty years. Your advice has always been sound, and your assistance invaluable. I’m asking you to tap into that fountain of wisdom now.” She looked at him again from between her forearms. “Is there truly nopony else who would take her in?”

For the first time, Abacus looked uncomfortable. “I suppose there likely is, somewhere. She is a highly intelligent and good-natured young lady, as you’ve seen. I don’t imagine it would take long to find her a family.”

“But…?”

“But, well… Raven and I have already kind of… bonded.” At her look, he continued quickly, “I don’t expect fathering a young filly to be easy, by any means, of course. But well, as you know, I’ve been looking at taking on an apprentice for a while now, and she is about the right age, and I… well…”

He looked down. “And… I like her. And she likes me. She was following me around all evening, asking intelligent questions about what I do, and why, and looking for ways to help. And, well, she doesn’t have anypony else right now, and when I think of what that blackguard did to her, it just makes my blood boil…”

He sighed, looking at the filly asleep by the fire. “And I want to be there for her. When she has those little hurts that foals get. When she finds those joys that one finds while growing up.” He looked at the fine Saddle Arabian rug that covered most of the floor. “And when I brought up the idea that she might stay here with me, she was so happy…”

“Well then,” Celestia shrugged, “I suppose you’d better have this back.”

He looked up, and saw that she was holding out the adoption document, already signed.

“I’ve known you since you were younger than she is now,” she smiled. “And it’s obvious this would make you both happy. So, if you are completely sure, I can’t think of anypony better suited to be a father to young Miss Inkwell than yourself.”

Abacus bowed low in sheer gratitude. “Thank you, Your Highness!”

Celestia sighed and accepted the inevitable shift back to decorum. “You’re welcome.”

After Abacus had secured the form into his jacket pocket, he asked, “One question, though. How is it you say you’ve known me so long? I didn’t come to the palace until I was nearly thirty.”

“True. But there were your class field trips while you were growing up. Not to mention the time we talked at the Sun Festival, after I’d eluded my entourage…”

He frowned in thought for a moment, then stared at her. “That was you? I was… heavens, I think I was ten?”

She nodded. “You had just turned eleven. You were telling me about your pet frog, and why you had named him Roberto.” She gave a mischievous smile. “You were wearing the blue tie your sister’s coltfriend had given you. His name was Steadyhoof.”

Unsteadily, Abacus sat down. After a moment, he shook his head with a rueful smile. “I should have known better than to ask,” he said.

She chuckled. “My point is, you have always been conscientious about everything you have done. So if you have truly considered the matter – which you obviously have – it would be foolish of me to not help however I can.”

“And I will be forever grateful. But, on a more somber note…”

She made a face. “Eeugh.”

He grinned. “Indeed. But, regarding the miscreant Dimitri: pardon my asking, but how will you find an impartial judge?”

“I honestly don’t know.” She walked over towards the balcony. “He didn’t just try to con me, after all. He conned her. He convinced her that she was Mi Amore Cadenza, and that after a lifetime of living on her own she was finally going to get her fairy-tale ending. And even after discovery, he was completely unrepentant, aside from being sorry that he was caught.

“So, I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I just know I can’t be his judge. If you’ll bring me a list of ponies currently serving on the bench tomorrow, I’ll try to select someone as emotionally unimpeachable as possible.”

A slight bow. “Very wise, Your Highness.”

She sighed again. “I hope so.”

She stepped out onto the balcony, allowing the night air to envelop her.

“Abacus, tell me truly,” she said to the wind. “Am I a fool?”

Abacus looked at her cautiously. “Eh, well… how is Your Highness defining ‘folly’ this evening?”

“I mean, am I wasting my time, searching for her?”

He gave a philosophical shrug. “Well, the con artists are revealing themselves in record numbers, Your Highness. I imagine that should count for something…”

The princess favored him with a distinctly indecorous look.

He smiled, and inclined his head. “Forgive me. And no, I don’t think you’re wasting your time. Assuming, of course, you’re certain she has actually arrived.”

“I am.”

He considered her for a moment, then said, “And yet, if you will pardon my playing devil’s advocate for a moment?”

“Of course.”

“You have not sensed her arrival, directly or indirectly. Plus, no one has brought her to you, nor any word of her, in all this time. Is it not possible that she has not yet materialized, or even that she never will?”

“No. It’s not.”

Princess Celestia sat down, allowing the wind to waft through her pale-rainbowed mane before continuing.

“Yes, I can sense some of the patterns that bind events and lives together… but it’s still a sense, as fallible as anypony’s senses of touch and taste.” She shrugged. “I grant you, my not sensing something as important as Mi Amore’s arrival is unusual. But that could also be due to enchantments placed upon her, to protect her from her enemies. Her mother had access to the Crystal Heart, after all, one of the world’s most powerful protective talismans.”

She sighed. “Then again, it might even be due to my own emotional involvement. Radiance was a dear friend to us both, and her murder was especially hard on…”

The Princess’ voice trailed off for a moment.

Then she shook herself and continued, “In any case. It remains, my lack of perception is hardly evidence of the filly’s absence.

“More importantly,” she went on, “the time capsule spell, like so many of the highest-tier spells, has a duration of a thousand years. Mi Amore would have materialized three months ago, give or take a few days.”

“Yet, the outpost at the old Empire’s site has reported nothing, in all this time,” Abacus pointed out.

But the princess only nodded. “Exactly. Therefore, Radiance added a geographical element to the spell. It only makes sense, really. Would you risk having her materialize a thousand years later, in a hall full of enemies?” She looked back to him. “She’s out there somewhere, Abacus. I know she is. We just have to find her.”

Her majordomo gave a slight bow. “Then we are agreed. The search is worthwhile.”

She gave a tired nod. “Yes.”

Abacus went to the desk she had occupied, and began gathering the various documents in preparation for the coming day.

“Still. I’ve always thought it strange that she didn’t just send her daughter directly to you, if you’ll pardon my saying so,” he admitted. “Especially now, hearing you say that she had the option. Surely, she must have known you would want to look after the young princess. Honestly, if it were me I would have simply teleported the girl.”

“King Sombra, in addition to being a master magician, was also an expert liar,” Celestia said. “Everyone in the Crystal Empire thought we had already been overthrown by his magic, including the Royal Family. Radiance using the time capsule spell only shows her faith that we would one day return to power and cast her conqueror down.”

“But, couldn’t she have still arranged for the child to arrive here?”

Celestia frowned. “I suppose. I had always assumed she’d randomized the arrival point to keep… her daughter… from being…” Celestia’s voice trailed away as her face took on a look of sheer horror.

“Highness?”

“Ancestors forgive me,” she whispered. And she vanished in a burst of golden light.