The Prince's New Sweater

by Hail King Sombra

First published

Prince Shining Armor discovers a secret about Cadence's past that is almost as bizarre as why King Sombra lost the Crystal Empire because of Discord, Shining Armor hates his new inlaws & the crystal ponies are laughing hysterically at their new Princ

Mere months after retaking the Crystal Empire from King Sombra, Price Shining Armor discovers a secret about Cadence's past that is almost as bizarre as why King Sombra lost the Crystal Empire because of Discord, Shining Armor hates his new inlaws and the crystal ponies are laughing hysterically at their new Prince.

All is not funny, however as Princess Celestia seems to be in on the cover up. So soon after Queen Chrysalis's attempted takeover of Canterlot, Shining Armor struggles to come to terms with who his new wife is and needs to hurry before it tears their marriage and his trust in her apart.

Thank you so much to Pixel_Spark for her amazing cover art!

1. The Joke’s on Shining

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For Princess Cadence it was just another day in court. It had been enough months after her ascension to the throne of the Crystal Empire that there had been a comfortable routine now to hers and Prince Shining Armor’s royal duties - every morning after breakfast, Shining would go review the Crystal Army and Cadence would spend all morning until lunchtime on her throne, listening to the petitions and problems of her new ponies. So far the task of bringing the Empire into the modern day had been tough work and while the working class of crystal ponies had been willing enough, she and Shining had chosen to cut them a little slack after decades of back-breaking labor under King Sombra’s reign and bring in construction crews from all over Equestria to help and teach the Empire’s citizens how to build and maintain their new infrastructure.

Everything, despite being very hard work on all, was going as smoothly as could be expected until one day after a certain newly reformed villain had been released from his own prison…

“Morning - uh your Highness…*snicker*,” several crystal guard ponies greeted the Prince as he strode back from the barracks.

Prince Shining frowned briefly, but greeted them politely, “Good morning, Blackberry, good morning, Bright Spark. How are things in the city today?”

The two guards looked at each other, swallowing down their mirth but just barely. “Fine - fine - sir!” Blackberry couldn’t help himself and dissolved into strained giggles.

“We’re, yes, fine, everything’s fine, sir,” Bright Spark nodded as they passed the white stallion. “How are you?”

Armor shook his head as they were left behind him. “Fine, very amusing, apparently,” he added, turning towards the castle entrance. Behind him, as soon as they were out of earshot, the two guard ponies fell into several crystal bushes, laughing uncontrollably.

Meanwhile, back at the castle…

“Yes, well, everything looks in order, Quill Pusher,” Cadence said, handing the short stack of papers back to her crystal pony liaison. The two male ponies before her bowed, accepting the paperwork and left.

The next pony to stride up was a colorful character wearing a vest boasting pins, an outrageous brown moustache that curled up ridiculously at the ends and a hat with tiny, blinking lights. “Your Highness,” he greeted, bowing.

“My my, how festive you look!” Cadence couldn’t help but comment, breaking out into a smile. “We don’t have any tourist stores in the Empire yet. You must be back from travelling Equestria.”

“Oh yes, your highness!” Pin Pony beamed, pleased she had noticed his collection. “It’s my new hobby. Beats collecting and drying crystal berries, which was my old hobby. The leaves are crystal too, as you know, and they cut something fierce!” He lifted a hoof for her inspection, showing many old scars.

Cadence’s eyes widened at them. “Yes, I would say so,” she said sympathetically. “So, Pin, what brings you to Us this morning?”

“Well, your Highness, as you noted, we don’t have a tourist store in the Empire yet and I would like to petition for your blessings to open one.”

The Princess looked to her advisor and smiled. “Why, that is a wonderful idea! Would you be selling your pins as well?”

“Oh yes, your majesty,” Pin babbled, happy his new sovereign liked the idea. “Not my personal collection, no, but I do have many that I would like to bring in, as well as a local artisan to craft a special pin out of crystal depicting our Empire. I’m a bit of an historical buff and I have several ideas - “ he trailed off as the large, double doors opened at the end of the throne room, his and Cadence’s eyes going back in their direction.

“Announcing Prince Regent Shining Armor!” one of the guards called out as the white stallion entered. His fellow guard’s eyes widened and he coughed quietly but quickly resumed his stoic facade as his Prince’s eyes swung his way in curiosity.

By now Armor had become more and more irritated at the snickers he had been garnering on his way back from the barracks and training grounds and this poor guard was the last straw. “Something amuses you, guard?” he asked, getting up in his face.

“Uh, no sir, maybe sir,” the crystal pony said, coughing.

Shining shot him a deadly look to which the guard’s face magically lost all emotion and turned to stone.

“I thought so!” Shining snapped, resuming his walk up the carpet towards the throne. Cadence’s eyes widened as behind her husband, crystal pony after crystal pony was having a hard time holding back from snickering or outright laughing. Those whose presence was not immediately needed quickly left the room and could be heard laughing in the hallways before the heavy, soundproof doors closed completely.

“Welcome back, Shining,” the Princess of Love greeted.

Shining mumbled something unintelligible as he approached, his ears at an angle that showed he was less than pleased and a tad bit embarrassed. Pulling her attention back to her subject, Cadence resumed her talk with the touristy-looking crystal stallion before her. “So, Pin, I think it’s a lovely idea and would be happy to grant you permission to establish your store.”

“Oh thank you, thank you!” Pin beamed, watching Shining Armor as he came up to the step leading up to Cadence’s throne.

Shining eyed him suspiciously. “Well, aren’t you going to laugh as well?” he asked Pin, unable to keep the sour tone out of his voice.

“I’m a might tempted, your Highness-sir,” he drawled. “But you look as if you’ve had enough of our ponies giggles already.”

Shining’s bad mood relaxed. “Yes, thank you,” he said grateful. “I just don’t understand why the crystal ponies are finding this so amusing,” he added, looking down at the white and green knit sweater. “I don’t even know who left it for me, but when I came back from exercises, my regular court vest was gone and this was in its place in a wrapped box with a bow.” He raised a hoof absently, scratching at a spot the itchy wool was irritating on his flank’s hide.

“Shining!” Cadence whispered, taken aback by his manners.

“Sorry honey,” he muttered an apology. “This fabric is really itchy, but it was too cold outside to go without wearing something back to the castle.” He forced his leg back down, the itch satisfied for the moment.

“That’s rather peculiar,” the Princess said aloud in thought. “Who would take your uniform and leave a sweater? It is rather - seasonal, but - “ she drifted off.

Pin looked down at the ground, tracing circles in the patterns in the crystal tile, “Well,” he began slowly. “Knowing his Princeliness ain’t exactly a native…” he blushed. “It does seem like…” he gritted his teeth, wishing he had quit before he had said something.

“Yes?” Cadence asked at the same time Shining Armor said, “What?”

The moustached pony looked quickly around. All the day’s petitioners had gone, leaving only the guards at the door and the ones on either side of the throne. The two at the throne were Canterlot guards, the two by the door, crystal ponies. “ seems to me it ain’t…” he sighed, wishing he could get out of saying, his embarrassment clearly evident.

The Princess came down from the throne to stand beside him. “You can tell us, Pin,” she said quietly. “Whatever it is.”

“Yes, please,” Armor added. “As head of the Royal Guard, it doesn’t look very good when my guards are laughing behind my back.”

“Oh, that’d just be the crystal guards, Shining Armor, sir,” Pin said quickly. “The other guards don’t know about Discord’s little joke on King Sombra…”

“I have a pulse!”

“Shining? Shining!”

Shining Armor woke to the faces of Cadence, the Pin-bedecked pony, the castle medic, a mare called Healing Heart and all four guards. He wondered why they were above him before he realized he was on the floor looking up.

“Oh Shining, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you earlier!” Cadence apologized.

“Your Highness, I - I thought you knew!” the Pin pony was babbling a mile a minute.

The Prince moved to get to his feet, but still felt woozy. “Ugh!” he groaned, putting a hoof to his head and electing to do no more than sit up at the moment. “What hit me?”

“You don’t remember what we were talking about, honey?” his wife asked him, concern for him in her beautiful eyes.

Shining shook his head, starting to get up. “The sweater...everypony laughing at me and - no, that part must have been a dream.” He laughed a little. “I thought Pin said you were King Sombra’s daughter, honey,” he glanced from Pin to Cadence. “And then you said - “

“I am - “ Cadence said, her ears flicking in a mixture of regret and resignation.

Shining never made it all the way up and the world went dark again.

“I am so, so sorry for this, your Highness!” Pin Pony said again for the hundredth time as Cadence came out of their bed chambers.

The love princess smiled, putting a hoof on his withers. “It’s all right, Pin,” she said as patiently as she had nine hundred, ninety nine times ago. “He just needs a little time to adjust to the news.”

Despite her assurances, his ears were still flat at the sides of his head in worry. “I guess we’re a little old-fashioned here in the Empire still. All our marriages are - were arranged by our parents, but we usually grew up around the pony we were betrothed to. King Sombra bein’ royalty and you bein’ his daughter and all, you were probably promised to some Prince at birth you never met.”

She smiled thinly, but nodded. “Something like that, Pin. But don’t worry about Shining. He’ll get used to the news in time.” She sighed, looking back at the doors. “And he’s only heard half of it, to boot.”

Pin’s eyes grew wide. “There’s more?”

“Who my mother was - is,” she nodded.

He thought about that a moment, coming up blank. It wasn’t common knowledge who the King’s dalliance had been with that had resulted in the pink princess.

“Who - “ he began to ask, but thought better of it. “Oh, pardon me, Princess. I shouldn’t be sticking my nose in where it don’t belong.”

“That’s all right, Pin,” she said, smiling tiredly, looking out the window at the noonday sun. “It will come out eventually, but We are not in a hurry to rush the news...”

Shining woke up for the second time and found himself in their chambers on the bed. Cadence was at her desk finishing up paperwork left over from court that morning.

The first thing he noticed was he was still wearing the sweater. Sighing quietly so as not to disturb Cadence’s concentration, he’d wished she had taken it off him while he had been asleep.

Thinking about what had made him pass out in the first place nearly made him black out again, but he steeled himself to remain conscious. How was he going to function as this Empire’s Prince Regent if every time someone mentioned Cadie was the daughter of their deadliest enemy, he ended up face first on the floor?

But how was that even possible, he asked himself. They looked nothing alike, not to mention their temperaments and very magical abilities were polar opposite -

“Oh...DAMN!” Cadence snapped, hitting the desk with a hoof. Shining thought he saw a small, quick misting of violet at the edges of her eyes, but it was gone before he blinked again.

Oh no, not again! he cringed, his heart racing. “C - Cadence?” he asked hesitantly, still feeling light-headed.

His wife turned around quickly, holding her hoof gingerly. “Oh, Shining, I didn’t mean to wake you!” she apologized quickly. “I got a splinter in under my hoof.”

Groaning, he sat up. “It’s all right. I was awake. And I intend to stay that way this time,” he declared determinedly. He glanced to her hoof. “Want me to take a look at it?” he offered.

“Oh no, that’s okay,” she set it back on the desk, out of sight. “It’s fine now,” she rose, using a handkerchief to wipe the blood away and came over to him.

She gingerly sat at the edge of the bed, concerned when her husband moved away slightly. “Oh, Shiny. I’m so sorry! I only recently found out from Aunt Luna,” she apologized. “I was waiting for the right moment to tell you.”

He sighed heavily. “There would never be a right time to tell me that type of news,” he joked.

She shook her head. “No, I guess not.” She paused. “Anyways, Celestia is due to arrive tonight - ”


“What? How is Celestia - “ Cadence asked, confused.

“No, Cady,” he said seriously. “How can you be Sombra’s daughter?” Then another thought occurred to him. “Wait, how does Luna know?” Then more questions, “And what does an ugly Hearthswarming Eve sweater have to do with Discord and Sombra?”

“You have so many questions!” she laughed. The Princess of Love shook her head and tried to put her hoof on his, but he drew away. “What’s wrong, Shining?”

“You mean other than the fact that the King of Shadows is - was my father-in-law and I just saw mist in your eyes like his was when we fought?” his voice rose. He struggled to get out of bed on the opposite side from his wife.

“Honey - “

Anger and fear were giving him strength to feel himself return to normal. “Don’t honey me, Cadence - if that’s who you really are.”

Surprise and a tad of impatience crept into her face. “Didn’t it feel like it was me last night?” she challenged.

“Yes, but that’s besides the point,” he argued. “You know what we - I’ve been through with Queen Chrysalis...or do you?”

She sighed, seeing his point. “Yes, I do, Shining. As to the mist,” she sighed again heavily. “Ever since I found out, I’ve found it a little harder to keep my temper and when I get mad, well, I guess the eyes run in the family,” she ended, joking.

Shining didn’t find it funny.

“Look, sweetie, what would it take to convince you that I am still me? Still the Cadence you love?” she pleaded. “If I wasn’t, don’t you think I would have taken advantage of you sleeping? Do you seriously think you would have woken up?”

He didn’t reply, just listened, watching her intently.

“I”m not my father,” she tried again. “Please, I - “ she turned away, her breath catching as she felt tears back up in her throat.

Shining crossed over to the door. “Look, I need some time to think about this,” he explained. “Maybe we need to, I dunno, maybe bring the crystal heart in here and just make sure you’re you and you’re all right.”

Ears laid back in sadness, Cadence lowered her head, nodding.

The Prince nodded. “I’m sorry, Cadence, but I’m not. I’m going to take a walk to clear my head. I think I want to talk to Quill Pusher too. Find out where Pin Pony lives and ask him about this - ,” he pulled the festive yet ugly sweater he was still wearing off and threw it onto the bed, then walked out of the bedroom.

Cadence didn’t follow. She couldn’t blame Shiny for his fear and nervousness. Snorting, she went to the window and stared out, towards the two most local mountains, Little Crystal and it’s jagged-toothed, larger brother, Sombra’s Maw. When she turned back to the bed, the hideous sweater was gone. “Dammit, dad!” she huffed.

2. The Princess of Darkness

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In the Past - One Thousand Years Ago…

King Sombra stalked through the hallways of the Dark Castle (as he had so proudly and affectionately called it) right after breakfast. Slaves threw themselves down and buried their muzzles in their own reflections off the perfect crystal floors while servants bowed deeply. He rolled his eyes and sighed quietly to himself. If the slaves kept throwing themselves to the floor like that every time he walked by, the cleaning slaves would be polishing the floors all day.

Still, it wasn’t as bad as what his little filly Cadie had done in the dining hall to his chief scheduler, Tight Planner. He snickered to himself, remembering how breakfast hadn’t agreed with the tiny, pink-haired Princess of Darkness and Planner had just happened to be in the way. The prissy pony would be picking puke out of his mane for days, he thought in satisfaction. At least it would keep the pony out of his mane until he got to the throne room. Perhaps he could get a moment of peace in the meantime…

Throwing the doors open before the guards could do it for him, Sombra greeted them as he went inside. Every pony snapped to attention. Oh yeah, best to make a grand entrance, he nodded to himself and changed into smoke, save for his head, and floated down the length of the long walkway up to his throne. Managing to maintain a menacing veneer most of the way, his scowl dissolved into a grin upon seeing his littlest one hanging upside down from the tail of her wetmare (i.e. wetnurse), chewing on it as if she had just discovered how tasty it was.

Seeing her father floating in an evil, black cloud above her was nothing new to the tiny filly, but as always, fascinated her, pinkish purple eyes going wide in wonder at his appearance.

“Mmmm, what is this I see before me blocking my way to the throne?” he rumbled pleasantly. “A pretty pink princess ready to be EATEN!” he finished, scooping her up in menacing, black tentacles of smoke and shadow.

She squealed in laughter, flailing tiny hooves barely visible through the smoke as he gently tickled her. Behind him, he sensed the fear and hatred that usually nourished his power diminish as smiles broke out at their play together. No matter. There was plenty enough fear of him within the walls of the Empire and without to more than make up for the loss. Giving her one last affectionate nuzzle, he carefully placed her back in the hooves of the crystal Earth pony and dismissed them. “Be certain you thoroughly clean her face. She failed to aim the entirety of breakfast at Tight Planner, I see.”

The mare bowed, hiding her smile, which the King saw anyway but said nothing to as she left.

The audiences with his court and petitioners took into the early afternoon, when a break was declared and the rest dismissed until the next day. Tired yet satisfied, Sombra stood, stretched and was about to trot down the stairs when a voice behind him was heard along with clapping.

“Bravissimo, Somby!”

The Shadow King’s good mood soured immediately. Stone-faced, he turned to the source of the irritating noise. “Discord. How very unpleasant to see you.”

3. I Married Darkness

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Prince Shining Armor walked through the streets, lost in thought. Several guards fell into step just behind him. He noted their presence only long enough to be grateful they were his own, highly trained Canterlot-transferred guards instead of these highly amused crystal ponies.

He would whip these delicate crystal stallions into shape, he vowed, as soon as Hearthswarming Eve was over. No sense spoiling the holiday for them with more training than they could probably handle at the moment. He may have been irritated at their laughter, but that was no reason to take it out on them by being unduly mean.

Armor sighed heavily, more disturbed by the shocking revelation that bundled in the perfectly beautiful body of the mare he had married, with her purplish-pink eyes that read him so well, the voice of a goddess and spirit of love and such inner strength, there too lurked the DNA of a creature of hatred, evil and a very, VERY hard left cross.

He rubbed his chin gingerly at the memory, as he waited for a carriage to pass by at an intersection.

The thought of it gave him the mother of all headaches, just waiting to see if he would pass out again, hoping he didn’t so it could pounce on him instead.

“Sir, the way is clear now,” a guard piped up behind him.

“What? Oh, yes, thanks,” he muttered, turning back around and continuing across the street.

Where was he going anyways? He had lost track of that four blocks ago, lost in thoughts of smoky pink bedmares and foals with his blue mane, Cadence’s shiny pink coat and burning green eyes. The resurfacing thought nearly made him step off into the local reservoir until a guard steered him aside at the last minute.

This was getting nowhere.

Stopping, he looked out to the east, towards the residential district. “This is going nowhere,” he sighed, echoing his thoughts. “I’ve got to go back to the registry office to look up where Pin Pony lives.”

“Pin Pony?” one of the guards said from behind him.

Shining turned around. “Yes. You know him?”

“Yes sir, he gave me his address. I want to pick up a few pins for my grandcolts when he opens his shop,” he replied, smiling.

Shining closed his eyes. Please don’t mention grandcolts…

4. Mother of Darkness

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Shining Armor sat stiff as a board across from Princess Celestia as she delicately sipped at her tea. He had also made sure Cadence was on that same side of the polished crystal table, still nervous about sitting next to the mare he loved and daughter of his greatest enemy.

He rubbed his temple as he thought about what he had found out in the crystalling records sequestered deep under the castle, in the ancient catacombs housing King Sombra’s private study. He glanced nervously at the two alicorns as they looked upon him with sudden concern at his pained expression. Self-consciously he lowered his hoof, absently scratching at his coat, only to find the thrice-hated, hideous green sweater with overly-large cuffs and hideous popcorn pattern had reappeared again on his hide. Sighing, he used a spell to banish it away for the third time since its first manifestation upon him - which he had willingly - and stupidly volunteered to do of his own free will.

‘Maybe if I throw myself upon a funeral pyre it’ll get the hint and leave me alone,’ he thought glumly, wondering if an alicorn’s spell would be powerful enough to rid him of the offensive holiday haute couture. It seemed unlikely if his luck was holding true to form.

He sighed again.

“Is it obstructing your breathing, Shining?” the dulcet tones of Princess Celestia drifted through the room. “Perhaps I can ease that if - “

“No!” he blurted out, loathed that she touch him with magic in any way at all. Embarrassed at both their surprised looks, he lowered his voice. “No, sorry, please. I - “ He couldn’t help but sigh for a third time. “I’m not as upset about the sweater as I am about - “

Celestia’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, of course not.” She placed a hoof over Cadence’s. “Cadence told me while you were out that she had confided in you about her - father’s identity.”

He got up and paced. “Look, you don’t have to be so - diplomatic with me, your highness,” he loathed so much to say her name he felt ill. When was she going to come clean and tell him about what he had discovered in King Sombra’s own spidery handwriting deep below where they currently so comfortably sat?

“Look who’s being ‘diplomatic’,” the pink princess of love said evenly, careful to keep the sarcasm she felt welling up inside her under control. “Since when have you called Celestia ‘your highness’? Not after she said it was okay to call her by her name and forego the title, Shiny.”

He winced as Cadence said her pet name for him. Celestia noticed it immediately. She set her crystal teacup back on the saucer on the table. “No, it’s alright, Cadence. Shining Armor has every right to be shocked and upset. I was hoping you had taken the long journey here to tell him, but it is obvious you had not, for whatever reason.”

Cadence slumped slightly. “How could I, auntie? How could I tell him ‘Oh by the way, honey-dear, we’ll be fighting my father, who was known as the most evil unicorn in Equestria and you’ll have to most likely destroy if we are to save the empire and the crystal ponies.’?”

“Wait...was known?” Shining mouthed, words refusing to come out, his mind racing over what she could have possibly meant by that.

The solar ruler pursed her lips and nodded. “When you put it that way, I can see why you were not only hesitant, but unwilling to compromise his fighting spirit with such disparaging news.”

Shining was getting more and more upset by their conversation. He knew they were both hiding something - he knew what it was, too, so why in Tartarus didn’t they come clean with him?!?

Something else occurred to him, though, as he half-listened to their conversation. He stopped and whirled on Cadence. “Why didn’t you tell me after the fight, Cadence?!? Why? Sure, we were exhausted and slept for two days after while my sister and her friends found and organized a new emergency council to begin planning their new supporting governing body, but, DAMMIT, that was MONTHS AGO!!!”

Cadence couldn’t take his anger any longer, buried her face in her hooves and cried. Celestia put a hoof around here and comforted her, offering no rebuke to her former Guard Captain’s harsh words.

Furious, he stalked towards the door.

“Where are you going, Shining?”

“I dunno. Anywhere but here,” he snapped at Celestia. “Maybe I’m still tired and stressed from the fight and those corrupted crystals embedded in my horn, but I don’t feel like facing either of your lies and holding back another damn minute!” Using his magic to open the large doors to the room, he turned back briefly. “I was just starting to relax and trust you were you again, Cadence, before we came here. Even now that things are out in the open, I’m still only getting half-truths. Send me a message when you feel like telling me everything, okay?”

He slammed the door. Cadence cried harder. Distracted by her and puzzled by his words, suddenly Celestia’s eyes flew wide. “Oh no!” She ran to the door but amazingly, he had already disappeared down the long corridors.

5. The Little Pink Princess of Chaos

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“And what a pleasure it is to see you too, Somby,” Discord said cheerily, twisting his curvy form over and around Sombra’s dark crystal throne. Sombra watched the chaos spirit through slitted, unfriendly eyes. Turning to the court, he ordered them gone. Prior experience with this troublesome guest had taught him no good would come out of being made a fool of in front of his slaves and servants. Then, with a flicker of green, he nudged the sharp, black corrupting crystals the throne was carved out of.

“YEOUCH!” Discord screeched, leaping back. Frowning, he looked down at several nasty, deep wounds throughout his serpentine form. Sombra watched him emotionlessly, except for a passing smirk of satisfaction at the gaping wounds he had inflicted in the beast.

“My throne is neither yours nor your plaything, spirit,” he growled, slipping into its seat with an elegant, flowing move while Discord moved away, floating back down the stairs to a more respectful distance. “State your business and begone with you.”

Discord ignored him for the moment, snapping his fingers to produce a glass and a pink cloud over it which rained down chocolate milk neatly into the container. He tipped it to his lips and drank. The liquid ran out the holes in his body caused by Sombra’s sharp crystals and his whole form shivered and wiggled like jello. “Oh, that tickles!” he exclaimed, then looked down. “Well, that won’t do at all, Somby. I’m getting my wonderful drink all over your nice carpets!”

While the spirit of chaos plugged up his gaping wounds and banished the stains, the King felt his already thin hold on his temper slipping. If he ever found a way to bind this creature, he would keep him as a pet for his little Cadie. Then another thought which had occurred earlier, came back to his mind. “Why aren’t you in Canterlot, harassing those wretched princesses, Discord? Do they bore you already?”

Discord gave a melodramatic sigh, rolled his eyes onto the floor and retrieved them with his tail. “Points for you, Somby,” he congratulated. “The are SO BORING! Especially Celestia!”

For the first time since Discord had entered the castle, Sombra chuckled. “A cataclysm of fire and brimstone from Tartarus would bore you if it lasted more than an instant. That you have taunted them for - what, a hundred moons now - is of more interest to me than your gnat-like attention span.”

“Haha, you are so insightful today, Sombra,” the chaos being crooned. “And speaking of boring, bored now.” He looked around. “So where is that adorable little filly sprite of yours?”

As if on cue, the little princess ran into the room from a side entrance, quickly followed by her wetmare as she tried in vain to catch her. The pink filly stopped short when seeing not her father, but Discord. Her eyes went huge.

“Forgive me, your highness,” the nurse apologized, bowing her head. “She is too fast for me sometimes.”

A smile cracked his sour expression at the sight his daughter’s fascination with the patchwork pony spirit. “She is too fast for many of the servants,” he agreed. “Wait until I teach her how to shift into shadowform. Then your duties as her chaser will effectively be rendered - “

He paused, distracted as Cadie moved towards Discord. Discord grinned, certain if she were used to her father’s mouth full of fangs, his would hardly be any more frightening. “Ah, speak of the little darling! And what would you be wanting for Hearthswarming Eve, you little bundle of pink cuteness?”

She fixed her innocent eyes on his mismatched red ones and said simply, “My mother.”

Discord’s face fell, literally, sliding down his chest to his feet where it continued to looked chagrined and almost as red as his glowing eyes. “Err, well, um, yes, I suppose you would…” he floundered, the face growing legs and arms, climbing its way back up to its proper place on his face. Then his eyes lit up in a way Sombra disliked intensely.

“Discord…” Sombra growled in warning.

“But Somby…” the spirit whined. “It would put a smile on the child’s face to have her mother…”

“SILENCE!” the dark pony commanded.

Cadie looked up at her father with a confused look. “Daddy, could he - “

Sombra leapt from the throne, wrapping his pink daughter in a greenish aura, rendering it soundproof. “Tartarus take you, Discord!” he yelled, blasting his direction with his magic.

Discord warped his body to avoid the crimson beam. “You won’t make father of the year in the Empire with that attitude, now Sombra,” he chastised the angry shadow king.

Plunging the room into darkness as he shifted into shadow, the king’s emerald green eyes turned to Cadie. She had seen him do this before, of course, but not in such anger. He could see her mouth, “Daddy?” to which he shook his head sadly, launching an amnesia/sleep spell over the little crystal prison. Cadence drifted off in slumber, sliding to the bottom of the dome where Sombra took a moment to materialize a blanket around her, which she snuggled into, along with her favorite toy crystal pony mare. Another quick spell banished her back to her wetmare’s arms, parting his darkness enough she could leave with the child, conveying to her mind she needed to get the princess back to the safety of her room.

With that accomplished, Sombra rematerialized back into flesh, turning his back to Discord, stalking back up to his throne.

“You need some parenting lessons, Somby,” Discord huffed, annoyed. “She never smiles, you deny her her mother - “

“Get out of my kingdom, Discord,” the king of shadows snarled.

“At least make her laugh, for Celestia’s - er sorry, for someone else’s sake,” he babbled on. Again, his eyes lit up in a way the king wanted to wipe off his face with a strategically placed crystal spike. “I know!” He was in the process of snapping his fingers when Sombra shifted back into shadow, launching himself at the chaos spirit.

Sombra knocked the wind out of Discord as he tackled him. The fingersnap came from somewhere else and the king realized too late it was from that blasted prehensile tail coming out of the creature’s spine. In a flash, Sombra felt his form constricted by something severely confining to his shadow essence. It reacted by coalescing and condensing back into flesh pony form.

The two landed hard, Sombra astride the snake-like spirit of disharmony. He launched another spell to shield his umbrum form from Discord’s invasion of his personal space, then quickly followed with binding the creature’s shadow to his will, pinning it to the ground and thus Discord with it.

When the lanky being discovered it could not teleport itself out of Sombra’s unforgiving magical grip, he produced a white flag, along with a sheepish grin of surrender. “All right, all right!” he relented. “I give up. You win, Somby.”

“And I should take your word for this surrender why exactly?” the umbrum asked in a pleasant tone that made Discord shiver in fear.

“You shouldn’t, I suppose,” Discord muttered. “But you currently have me at a distinct disadvantage and could toss me out of your kingdom at your leisure, so what advantage is there in lying to you now?”

“Any advantage you can seize the moment I release you. I am not a fool, spirit.”

“True.” He looked over his captor. “but it is also true that you have been so busy with me you did not notice the little present I just gave you.”

As if on cue, Sombra’s coat began itching. He recalled the constricting feeling and the sudden weight on his torso, but had been too engaged with thoughts of impaling Discord to be distracted by it. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the sight of bright green - as bright as his eyes. He looked down.

The sight made him shriek and leap off his captive prey.

6. Tears of a Princess

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All Princess Celestia could do was hold Cadence as she cried. They watched out the window as Shining Armor exited the castle below, his trotting slowing to a stop to let several escort guards catch up. He took one last look upwards to the mares, then turned and left for deeper parts of the Empire.

Cadence tried to be brave, steeled herself to watch him go, but as he grew smaller and smaller in the distance, tears forced themselves back into her eyes. The Sun Princess had walked away back towards the door, but turned at the sound of Cadence’s suppressed sobs, seeing her withers shaking with the effort to withhold her feelings. The weight of the monarch’s guilt that this was all her fault made her feel an intense pang of sadness.

The pink princess felt Celestia’s hoof on her withers. She looked up.

“You know, dear, part of me feels guilt, but another part could never.” She nudged Cadence’s mane affectionately with her head. “And do you know why?”

Cadence sniffed. “Why?”

“I could never regret having you, dear,” she replied gently. “If I hadn’t, the Empire would be lost and with it, all the love in Equestria would eventually be swallowed up by Sombra’s pain.” She sighed, moving to the window again. “I once thought I could stop the darkness from taking over his soul. Love conquerors many evils and heals many wounds, but only if you let it.”

“I remember one of your lessons,” Cadence recalled. “‘Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate - ‘“

“ - and ‘hate leads to suffering,’” the Sun Princess finished with her, lifting her daughter’s chin with a hoof. “What does that tell you about what Shining’s going through right now?”

Cadence thought, but it only took her a second to realize what Celestia was driving at. Her eyes grew big in excitement. “Of course!” Then she settled down, biting her lip in concern. “It didn’t even occur to me that’s what he’s going through right now!”

Celestia bent down to her daughter’s head where she could rub her cheek. “You have that capacity I always admired in your father when we courted. He was so smart and level-headed in a crisis. Then, after a battle, he would bounce back seemingly effortlessly.”

The Love Princess drew back, thinking about that. Her mother could almost see the thoughts it brought up and the questions she was forming. “It did not mean he was not affected by the cost of war, dear, the deaths, the suffering. He kept that rather close to his chest, so to speak, neither discussing it nor letting affect his judgment. It gave the appearance of being cold sometimes, true, but as a ruler, I understood it. Luna is much the same way.”

Cadence drew back. “Shining isn’t that way, mom. Maybe we rushed into marriage too soon. If he can’t handle - “

Celestia put a hoof to her lips. “I believe he has the capacity to grow in that way, but unlike Luna and myself, he will have you to express his feelings to in private. You can be his guide and with your help, he will be a fine Prince Regent. I have faith in both of you. If I had not, I would have come to the Frozen North to take care of Sombra myself.”

“If Shining ever fell, I - I don’t think I could do what you had to do,” Cadence whispered.

“I hope you never have to find that out for yourself,” the solar monarch said seriously. “For now, we have to wait. Let him work this out on his own. He loves you, Cadence. You know by now how powerful that love can be. It will keep him safe.”

The Princess looked up, a question poised on her lips, but then she thought better of it and opted to only nod instead.