Princess Cadence was purged of the corruption that once held King Sombra in its grip, but she's not better. What happens when the only pony that can help you deal with the aftermath is your worst enemy? STORY COMPLETE
Everypony has issues. The Princess of Love has her subject's, her husband's, her's and worst of all, a king-sized case of PTSD from giving in to the evil that helped King Sombra conquer an Empire. Banishing him yet a second time was bad, the detox wasn't pleasant either, but the worst is living with the knowledge you let your husband, your subjects and worst of all, yourself down. No, the worst is that the only pony that can help her now is King Sombra. Being trapped in a cave with him and her husband keeping him at hooves's-length isn't going to get this resolved anytime soon. A fanfanfiction tribute to Wiggles's Ask King Sombra (read it first if you want the backstory or go here for a quicker story summary). Happy Second Anniversary!
The cave was damp, the sullen grey unicorn thought, shivering underneath his simple clothes. He looked over at his brown earth pony mare companion, not surprised to see her trembling also. She was just as miserable as he was, but refused to complain, yet again proving what a trooper she was.
‘I don’t deserve you, Coffee,’ he thought wistfully. Without hesitating, he extended his hooves in an invitation to snuggle up for warmth and again without hesitating, she took him up on it. Once there, he wrapped his forelegs around her and she buried her head blissfully in his chest fur, smiling. “Thanks, Kingsley!” her muffled voice echoed gratefully.
A snort of disgust came from the other end of the cave. The stallion ignored it, putting his chin gingerly on Coffee’s head, closing his eyes. He knew he was only pretending to ignore their unwilling cavemate’s jibe and on the surface it didn’t really bother him, honestly.
If anything it made him very sad because he could see -
“Please,” another stallion’s imperious voice said in disgust from below a weak glow from his unicorn horn. “Don’t pretend like you’d care for another pony’s comfort!”
Coffee Talk hadn’t heard the first jab from the royal white stallion, but she heard this. Her head rose from the comforting warmth of the nest of charcoal grey fur she had been luxuriating in to stare balefully at their taunter. “Oh shut the buck - “
Kingsley swiftly put his hoof over Coffee’s mouth to stop her sharp reply. “Ah, Coffee, we’re all stuck in here together. Let’s be nice to the more-powerful-than-us-houseguests!” he urged. He withdrew his hoof quickly, wiping it on his open-chested white shirt. “Eww...was licking my hoof really necessary?” he complained. “What are you? Two?”
“I can’t believe I am hearing this,” the white Prince stood, gesturing at Coffee Talk and Kingsley, looking to his companion. “Are you hearing this, honey?”
“I wish I weren’t,” the pink alicorn Princess shook her head. “I wish I wasn’t here at all.”
“That makes two of us,” Kingsley said, agreeing with Princess Cadence. Conversation had been painfully awkward the first couple of hours since they’d unfortunately been trapped in this wretched cave, making him seek out any opportunity for agreement with the “other side” in anything.
Coffee Talk looked at him with slight alarm. “What do you mean, ‘the two of us’?” she asked warily.
Not understanding her question at first, he blinked. Wasn’t it clear? Oh, that! “No, Coffee,” he shook his head. “I meant you and me, not - “
“Not that blasted argument again,” Armor snapped in irritation. “You and that thing you blame for taking over the Crystal Empire?” He trotted over, facing Kingsley down. “I’m so sick of that bucking excuse for your behavior. What a lame defense!”
Kingsley’s green eyes widened. “What argument?” he defended. “I’m not arguing anything!”
“He really isn’t,” Cadence sighed. Coffee could tell it was wearing on her as much as herself. As ambivalent about the prissy little alicorn as she was, it was a point they could agree on, just as they all agreed that the present predicament of the four of them being trapped together under a two-ton mudslide of rock and dirt was less than desirable.
Now if Kingsley would just leave it alone -
“And I get it - kinda - “
Oh great, thought Coffee. A little bit of that less-than-mature side of Kingsley that had let the Uber demon take him over in the first place wasn’t going to let this go, was it?
“You can’t see it, so it must not exist,” Kingsley continued, further poking the Prince Regent about the overly sensitive subject. “I’d expect that level of maturity from an earth pony - “
“Sorry, Coffee,” he apologized, looking sheepishly back at her. “Not you. You just don’t know as much about unicorn magic is what I meant.” He smiled that goofy smile she had a hard time resisting. “I didn’t mean you’re immature. I know you’re smarter than that.”
“What and I’m not?” Shining challenged.
“No, I didn’t say that,” Kingsley continued in a patient, more reasonable tone. “But I really don’t get how a unicorn can dismiss its existence so readily when you saw what it did to your wife - “
“Shut up!” Armor snapped, the muscles under his fur visibly tensing.
‘Oh great,’ Coffee Talk shook her head. ‘You did NOT just go there, Kingsley!’ Reaching up, she tugged at the edge of his shirt collar. “Kingsley, don’t,” she warned.
“Why?” the smoky grey unicorn challenged. “‘Cause you can’t take the truth that Cadence - “
“That’s Princess Cadence to you,” Shining had trotted over to him and Coffee, his posture stiff and defensive. He wasn’t going to let this go without a fight, both mares could see that. “And she’s a thousand times more a Princess and royalty than you’ll ever be, Sombra!”
‘Oh...Armor didn’t just go there!’ sighed Coffee Talk. ‘Dammit, why are stallions always so driven by their, their, their testosterone levels?!?’
As calm as Kingsley had been up to this point, now he was seeing - and feeling - how it was to have somepony grab the end of the stick he was poking someone else with and jab it back in his face. “I don’t go by that name - not anymore,” he said quietly.
Coffee glanced back behind Shining to his wife. Cadence was still at the other end of the cave, just standing there, refusing to intervene. Surely she could reign her grandstanding, impulsive wimp of a husband in, she thought. Why wasn’t she doing anything? And then the Princess did something she didn’t expect. She sat down. Her ears weren’t laid back, but she had a look of - what was that? Coffee squinted, trying to see behind the Prince’s horn light. Sadness? Resignation?
No. It was guilt.
Shining’s biting, sarcastic tone drew her back to the stallion standoff going on in front of her.
“Why? That’s your name in the Crystal Empire birth records. That’s your name under the guard registry - former Captain Sombra.” When had Shining started circling them, Coffee blinked, surprised. “It sure as Tartarus isn’t King Sombra. You never deserved that title, you lying sack of murderous slime!”
Wow, this sure didn’t resemble the pathetic excuse of a Captain of the Crystal Army guard who had stood impotently by while his Uber-possessed wife had cowed their pony subjects into forced submission. It also didn’t resemble the white unicorn who had hidden behind his staff and guards, refusing to let Coffee interview Cadence when she had returned later to expose the truth behind the buried story of Sombra’s near takeover (a third time) of the Empire. But then all trapped here - for several hours now - had a magic all its own when it came to making the situation get on everypony’s nerves. And while Kingsley was nowhere near as annoying as he used to be when the Uber demon had been in his head, he still had an innocent way of inadvertently getting under one’s hide. But after witnessing up close and personal how intentional it used to be, now she found its milder version more...cute, even endearing.
And Coffee Talk certainly had to hand it to Kingsley. He had never had this much self-control when he had been possessed by the Uber - something that had made the possession doubly dangerous to those around King Sombra. But now, with that all behind them, Kingsley had discovered a newfound peace in forgiving himself and this had been a blessing in their time in Yakut - so much so that it hadn’t even be shaken by Coffee’s news that Cadence, Shining and the entire royal family had covered up the Love Princess’s little slip of integrity and been Uber-possessed.
And despite Shining being a Prince, he wasn’t Yakut’s Prince and he sure as Tartarus wasn’t behaving like hers or anypony else’s Prince right now. Opening her mouth to stop this insipid, royal tirade, Coffee was cut off from the least expected of places.
“Stop it, Shining!” Cadence snapped from the other side of the cave, suddenly getting to her hooves. She trotted over to him, “Just stop it, damn it!”
It wasn’t the fact this came from Cadence or that she had used a very effective if quieter version of the famed Canterlot voice. It was the pain in her voice, the sheer guilt-ridden slip of personal agony in its tone that froze the squabbling stallions to the spot.
The two stallions - and Coffee’s mouths hung open for a second. “Cadie?” Shining Armor broke the silence, reaching a hoof out to his wife.
Cadence further shocked all of them by gently batting his hoof away. “It isn’t his fault,” the Princess said, looking directly at the former tyrant. “Not entirely.”
This siding with the dark unicorn rocked everypony in the cave, even Cadence herself. It seemed she couldn’t face what she had just said, though, as much as she felt she had had to say it and as true as she knew it was in her heart. It perhaps even sent her into a little bit of a tailspin of shock. Unable to face what she had just showed them was her emotional state, she turned and trotted quickly back to the other end of the cave and sat down in the dust at the far end of the other wall.
“Oookay…” Coffee Talk said slowly and quietly, trying to take in what Princess Cadence had just said. “That just happened.” She and Kingsley looked at each other. Even Kingsley respected the fact of the alicorn’s revealed upset and kept his muzzle shut.
Shining Armor couldn’t help but spear their two unwilling cave mates with a look denoting both surprise and helplessness. Coffee credited the Prince’s own state of shock with the fact it wasn’t an accusatory look of, “You did this!”. She shrugged her withers and lacking anywhere else interesting to look, chose her grey unicorn companion as a focus of attention away from Armor. Timing being what it is, this was the same time the Prince also looked back at Kingsley.
Kingsley noticed them both looking. “What?” he asked, genuinely as confused as to the Princess’s outburst as they were.
“What was that about?” Shining asked him. “Do you know something about this? Did you do something to her?”
The former guard captain’s eyes lit up then in some form of understanding, but then to Shining he curled down his mouth in one corner in disgust. “I’m not your wife. Go ask her what her problem is.” He trotted back over to the cave wall, pawing a space clear of rocks, then laying down, placing his head on his hooves and closing his eyes.
Coffee, seeing his look, was the next one to gain the expression of the beginnings of understanding. She nodded, saying only, “Oh,” then followed Kingsley’s lead and went over to sit down next to him. If she was still cold, she kept it to herself, placing a hoof over his to let him know she supported him. His eyes opened and seeing Coffee’s soft expression of comprehension in her gaze, smiled a small smile, then closed his eyes again.
Coffee removed her hoof, letting the dark unicorn have his time and space for the moment and drifted off into her own thoughts.
While quiet reigned on their side of the cave, Shining Armor was wondering how to approach his wife about her outburst. He clearly wanted to know what was going on in her head and help any way he could, but he wasn’t sure if more words would just make things worse right now. He looked back over at Coffee Talk and Sombra (he couldn’t stop thinking of Kingsley as Sombra. He was and always would be King Sombra to the white unicorn). They were existing in a quiet balance of companionship and understanding right now...why couldn’t it be the same for him and Cadence?
He took a moment to look at his beautiful wife, really look at her. The stress she had been under ever since they had killed King Sombra that second time had been accumulating, taking its toll until he had seen the bags under her eyes almost constantly now, the tired instead of happy, normal gait she usually possessed, even a diminishing appetite the past week.
“Cadence?” he began quietly. “I knew something was bothering you. Ever since we blew him up a second time, but you haven’t wanted to talk about it.” He sighed. “I guess neither have I.” She didn’t look at him, didn’t respond. His hoof went to her flowing, pink-shaded mane. “Anyway, I’m here when you want to talk.” He kissed her cheek, then laid his head down on her withers, sighing.
For a long moment silence dominated the small cave. Shining even though he heard the deep, even breathing of their companions on the far wall as they slept.
“I don’t need to talk to you as much as I need to talk to him first, Shiny.” Her soft voice startled him.
Shining looked up, shocked. “W - What?” he stammered. “Why?” the question tumbled out before he could think about it.
Cadence was drifting off to sleep, her eyelids drooping. He was surprised when she did answer before falling asleep.
“Because I think he understands me and now I think I understand him.”
Time in the little cave moved on. While Cadence’s sleep was brought on by exhaustion, Kingsley’s was more natural. Once Coffee Talk woke up after a few minutes, the mare and Prince Regent spent their awake time in contemplation of their current situation and their own, unique parts in the lives of their two formerly possessed ponies companions.
The brown mare tried looking over at the far side of the cave only twice. Shining Armor had extinguished his horn light once his wife had fallen asleep, so the weak glimmer of sunlight filtering in from tiny cracks in the cave ceiling high above them provided only barely enough light to see their outlines and no facial expressions. Bored, Coffee turned instead to look at the charcoal grey stallion laying next to her.
You sleep so much better these days, Kingsley, she thought, smiling. I dunno, but I think I’d never forgive myself if I’dve killed the Crystal Princess, her head shook slowly. But then she smiled wider, grunting quietly to herself. Then again, you did pay the price for her death by dying yourself - twice.
Memories have a funny way of turning a pony’s emotions from one extreme to another, however, and her smiled faded as the remembrance of seeing Kingsley’s/King Sombra’s body bathed in brilliant, iridescent blue light, then being torn apart from the inside out caught in her throat.
It had been horrible to watch - made worse by the glimmer of the old unicorn’s personality peeking through long enough to wink at Coffee in reassurance that this was absolutely the right and only thing that could be done to permanently banish the Uber for good, for forever. It was the only thing that had given her the strength at the time to close her eyes and throw the crystal heart above their heads, allowing it to do what had to be done.
Coffee shuddered involuntarily, remembering the terrible sound of Sombra’s metal crown hitting the crystal floor, echoing loudly, sending a shock at the time (and now) through her system, forcing her back to the reality she had just murdered her friend. What had been worse? Seeing that empty crown fall back to earth or finding his cracked, corrupted horn perched atop a pile of the ashes of his remains? Knowing it had to be done hadn’t stopped the sharp, painful stab of emptiness that had gripped her heart. Why had it had to end this way? Why hadn’t -
The mare jumped at the voice so close. The voice of a pony who she had just seen blown to bits in a memory that would not let her go.
The Earth Pony opened her eyes, finding them wet with tears blurring her vision. Oh Kingsley! she thought, throwing her hooves around his withers, squeezing her eyes shut to blink away the tears.
“What’s the matter?” Kingsley asked her, reciprocating the hug, his voice echoing eerily in the high-vaulted chamber.
His limbs were cold in that damp, darkish cave and their lack of warmth made her shudder.
She thought back to the emotional state she had drifted into...the pain of losing him, holding his shattered, broken horn to her chest, tears flowing uncontrollably from her eyes while all around her ponies were celebrating his destruction. “I - “ she began to tell him. “It - I...can’t...lose you again!”
She’d wished he’d cast a lighting spell. It was so dark she couldn’t see him. And as she opened her mouth to ask him, a weak, greenish light began to glow from his horn.
But the green was all wrong. Instead of its usual, darkish color, it was bright, pulsing with more power than the simple stallion Kingsley had ever displayed, glowing a sickly neon green...
“Why Coffee Talk,” Kingsley purred, his sharp, curved red horn coming into view below the light, sharp, white canines lining a cruel mouth below glowing, hot green eyes. “I didn’t know you cared!”
Coffee screamed, trying to shove him away, but his limbs turned into coils of black shadows as they wrapped tightly around her forelegs, her barrel, her throat.
“Coffee? Coffee Talk! SNAP OUT OF IT!”
The earth pony woke up sobbing, a scream choking her voice, robbing it of clarity and breath. Gasping, she only processed that it was a grey unicorn holding her and, still crying, tried desperately to get out of his grip.
Kingsley lit his horn and this time, outside of her nightmares it was a safe, darker shade of green. His matching green eyes were caring and concerned, no longer the cruel stuff of her nightmares. Once the simple grey unicorn’s features registered in her panicked brain, she dissolved into more tears and into his hooves. When she stopped fighting him, he drew her into a warm, comforting embrace, gently patting her back. “Whoa, hey,” he whispered in a perfectly normal, Kingsley-like voice. “That must have been some awful dream!”
Her trembling dissolved almost immediately. The emotional roller-coaster ride wasn’t through with her and she shoved him back, her earth pony strength landing him squarely back on his plot. “It was - and it was your fault, you big dumb jerk!”
Looking hurt, he sat there, stunned for a moment. “What’d I do?” he half-complained, half-whined. “I was only trying to help!”
The mare sniffed, shaking her head to clear the tears out of her eyes. “Help? HELP?!?” she wanted to yell, fighting to keep her voice low and level as not to cause a scene. “You killed yourself, you stupid horse! You left me in a room full of possessed ponies, a useless Prince and a frickin’ uber-possessed alicorn who would have killed all of us if that stupid plan of yours had failed!”
“But it didn’t fail!” he shot semi-quietly back. “I knew it would work.”
“And you couldn’t warn me?” Coffee argued back in return, knowing of course he couldn’t have. To warn her would have meant warning the demon inside him and that would have doomed them all. But she couldn’t help it, she couldn’t make her head tell her heart that it wouldn’t have been strategically sound to do that.
Kingsley patiently waited out his friend’s tirade. Somehow his big, stupid, understanding face reflected sympathy and compassion, those sad green eyes only making her madder. How could she stay mad at those eyes?
It was easy for a few more minutes.
“You didn’t know for sure it would work!” she said sharply. “It killed me to watch you die.” She turned away, fighting to push the memory of it out of her head. It wasn’t working. “That - that was the most horrible thing I have ever seen! It blew you apart from the inside out! Sweet Celestia, Kingsley, you never even screamed,” her voice dropped to a horrified whisper, her hooves going to her mouth, shaking her head.
“Yeah,” he shuddered, remembering, the color leaving the skin under his fur for a moment. “That was not fun,” he agreed. “And I’m not going to argue you, Coffee. It was a chance, it was the best chance we had at the time and it worked.” His ears laid back, withers slumping a little as well. “I’m sorry you suffered all those months before I came back.”
Silence hung on that last statement in the small cave. The mare sniffled, pulling herself together. When she seemed better, Kingsley’s quiet voice gently broke the silence further. “Have you felt this way these past three months?”
Coffee shrugged, then nodded. “I - I guess I have. I just didn’t realize it.”
“So hey, now who’s the dumb horse for not saying anything this entire time?” the ash grey unicorn gently teased, his eyes twinkling in the weak ambient light.
She lightly hit him in the wither with a hoof. “You dumb baby, you started it!” she teased back.
On the other side of the cave, Shining Armor was going through his own roller coaster of feelings. At first he lay a few feet from Cadence, trying to get some sleep, but eventually gave up when his racing thoughts would grant him no rest. He was tired. Keeping up his guard - and anger at Sombra - was wearing on him. He was generally a pretty pleasant kind of stallion when off duty and harbored ill will towards no one, so maintaining such bitter anger towards the charcoal-gray unicorn currently snoring at the other end of the cave had not only been a new, unpleasant experience for him, but a decidedly draining one. He just wasn’t used to feeling so at the mercy of such a strong, negative emotion!
After a few minutes of tossing and turning, then quietly pacing the length of their side of the cave, the Prince had decided to just lay back down and try to analyze his feelings in an attempt to get his overly busy brain to calm down. Did that even make sense? Working to get himself to calm down? Probably not, but ignoring them wasn’t doing any good either...
“Coffee? Coffee Talk! SNAP OUT OF IT!”
His ears snapped up at the sound coming from the other side of the cave, brought back from the dozing he had drifted off into by the urgency in Sombra’s voice. Canterlot guard training brought him instantly alert and he almost jumped up, ready for anything, until he heard, “That must have been some awful dream!”
It was just a dream. Shining let his muscles relax, but only a little, recalling how his sister Twilight had told him dreams - nightmare-induced ones - were King Sombra’s specialty. He could hold prey paralyzed by them, as he had done to both her and Spike in -
“It was - and it was your fault, you big dumb jerk!” Coffee’s accusing voice lashed out at her cave mate.
The Prince’s muscles tensed again.
“What’d I do?” the former King whined. “I was only trying to help!”
Shining snorted, almost laughed. That didn’t sound like the foul, nightmare-inducing thing that had attacked him in the frozen wastes outside the Crystal Empire. Still, if Coffee Talk was in trouble, Shining Armor had a duty to intervene to ensure she was safe, even if she had voluntarily taken up the side of a former tyrant. He was rising to his hooves, when -
“Help? HELP?!?” she snapped at Sombra, obviously trying to keep her voice down. “You killed yourself, you stupid horse!”
‘Killed himself?’ Shining straightened in surprise and confusion at first. This wasn’t about something that had just now happened, then.
“You left me in a room full of possessed ponies...” Coffee Talked snapped at her companion.
“...a useless Prince and a frickin’ uber-possessed alicorn who would killed all of us if that stupid plan of yours had failed!”
What? Shining visibly flinched at the earth pony’s description of him. How could she say that? Both stallions had been discussing how to defend against Cadence’s magic at the time...
“But it didn’t fail!” he heard Sombra/Kingsley counter. “I knew it would work.”
They hadn’t come up with a plan at the time, Shining Armor thought back, sorting through the stressful chaos during the time they were being attacked by the crystal ponies. Or had the former guard captain acted on his own on some reckless, on-the-fly strategy?
He didn’t recall that, but then again, he had been pumped full of adrenalin at the time, seeing first his wife acting crazy and possessed, then her slumping, her color returning to normal, then Sombra changing from the inept fool he had been discussing blowing up his wife with back into the King of Shadows, perched above them on a crystal spire, laughing maniacally.
The ‘fool’ was probably a ploy to make everypony in the room at the time let their guard down, Armor reasoned. No pony just gains that much dark magic in the blink of an eye...
Still, the criticism about his part in the fight at the time stung. Shining turned away from them, igniting his horn in concealment to cast a cloaking spell. There was something strange and - wrong about this conversation the two ponies at the other end of the cave were having and he intended to get closer to find out what it was.
Once cloaked, Shining crept slowly and quietly over to the other side of the cave where the unicorn stallion and earth mare were arguing. Luckily they were so loud and so involved in their own fight they were oblivious to his presence and he wondered at the depths of Cadence’s own exhaustion that she had not been woken up by the noise as of yet.
“And you couldn’t warn me?” Coffee Talk half-yelled, half-cried at Sombra. Warn her of what, Shining Armor had no clue and thought he had perhaps missed something as he had snuck over to their side of the cave, but all that stupid, evil grey unicorn with her did was sit there patiently and let her rant over something that had obviously been bothering her for a while now.
And again, it only compounded the Prince Regent’s confusion that the King of Shadows would be playing this game of the sympathetic listener.
And then the brown mare’s tone went from angry to full of pain. “You didn’t know for sure it would work!”
Okay, Shining thought, nodding. It had been a half-assed plan of the tyrant’s.
“It killed me to watch you die,” Coffee, cried, turning away from them. “That - that was the most horrible thing I have ever seen! It blew you apart from the inside out! Sweet Celestia, Kingsley, you never even screamed,” her voice dropped to a horrified whisper, her hooves going to her mouth, shaking her head.
If you hadn’t wanted to see it happen, you shouldn’t have thrown the crystal heart.
“Yeah,” the charcoal unicorn shuddered. “That was not fun,” he agreed. “And I’m not going to argue you, Coffee. It was a chance, it was the best chance we had at the time and it worked.” His ears laid back, withers slumping a little as well. “I’m sorry you suffered all those months before I came back.”
Shining Armor held his breath for the silence that followed, piecing things together from their conversation. Sombra’s plan...Coffee throwing the heart, him not telling her it would kill him. Wait…
“Have you felt this way these past three months?” he heard Kingsley ask Coffee.
The mare shrugged, then nodded. “I - I guess I have. I just didn’t realize it.”
A goofy look came over the grey unicorn’s muzzle. “So hey, now who’s the dumb horse for not saying anything this entire time?” he teased, his eyes twinkling in the weak, ambient light.
She lightly hit him in the wither with a hoof. “You dumb baby, you started it!” she teased back.
The two friends smiled at each other, both looking relieved and genuinely happy. Their voyeur sensed it was for real, that the closure - and relief that hung in the air was anything but rehearsed. He took a step to turn around to go back to the other side of the cave, but noticed Kingsley’s eyes shift in his direction. Shining froze.
Kingsley rolled his eyes in disgust. Drawing back from Coffee Talk, he nevertheless smiled at her. “Hey, why don’t you go check the entrance again? Maybe it’s daylight by now.”
“Yeah, sure, Kingsley,” she nodded, let go of him and set off towards the mouth of the cave.
When she was out of sight, the former tyrant snorted. “You’re not only a jerk horse, but a lousy spy, you know that, Shining Armor?”
Knowing the jig was up, Shining uncloaked. “You knew I was there? How long?”
Kingsley turned towards him. “Don’t play games with me, Armor. I don’t care if you believe me or not anymore.” He looked at the Prince Regent with contempt. “You think you’re the only stallion in this cave who was Captain of the Guard? They probably made you one to keep you from getting killed out in the field because frankly, you’re as lousy at stealth as I was!”
The Prince opened his mouth to fire back a sharp retort but hesitated.
The other unicorn’s glare turned neutral, then he looked away. “Yeah, I thought so.” He walked away until he heard,
“I could never sneak up on Twilight and get away with it.”
“My sister, Twilight,” Shining answered. “The one who helped Spike - “ he hesitated. Maybe it was best to not bring that name up. But if it told him anything, Sombra’s vacant reaction to both their names was interesting. Maybe they were two separate entities after all?
As Shining pondered this thought over, the other unicorn made a little circle in place, brushing sharp rocks away with his hooves, then, when satisfied, laid down and closed his eyes. He was truly tired of all this hate and aggression radiating from Shining. How had King Sombra fed on this stuff? No wonder the tyrant king had had such a foul temper if that’s the diet he had required to survive. Maybe if Kingsley ignored the feckless Prince he’d go -
“Why does she want to talk to you?”
Kingsley opened his eyes. “What?”
“Cadence. She won’t talk to me.”
“Maybe ‘cause you’re a jerk horse?” came a sharp reply as Coffee Talk rejoined them, frowning at Shining’s proximity to the two of them.
The dozing unicorn cracked open a green eye at that remark. A hoof indicated Coffee to the Prince. “She’s got a point, Armor. I’ll bet you never get invited to parties and peace talk negotiations.”
“Wait,” Coffee put a hoof out to her forehead, closing her eyes in concentration. “Shut up. Did you say Cadence wants to talk to Kingsley?”
“That’s what she said,” Shining nodded.
Kingsley and Coffee looked at each other. The Prince was as lost as moments ago when he had heard the first compassionate thing coming from the former tyrant aimed at the earth pony. They stared at him.
“What?” the Prince said defensively. “Am I supposed to understand why my wife - the Princess of Love - wants to talk to a former tyrant of her kingdom? I doubt it’s for makeup tips or how to spread love and light throughout the Empire!”
Coffee sighed, turning to Kingsley. “Is this worth it? It isn’t our damn Empire on the line, you know.” She stomped the ground with a hoof. “Yakut has nothing to do with this!”
Kingsley shrugged, closing his eyes again. “You go talk to him, Coffee. He won’t listen to me. I tried.”
“You know, ever since your cutecinera, you’ve been twice the smart ass, Kingsley,” she said sourly.
“And twice as handsome,” he quipped, looking rather pleased with himself.
Her eyes widened. “Who told you that?!?”
“One of your friends,” he yawned.
“Which - aw forget it,” Coffee sighed, hearing him snore softly. Turning back to the Prince, she shook her head. “C’mon, you dummy. Let me explain this so I can get back to my nap too,” the earth pony said as she led him away from their companions and back towards the front of the blocked cave entrance.
Coffee Talk sighed. She had only gotten stuck with this damn job because Shining Armor was a stubborn so-and-so in a position of power.
That and she and Kingsley owed an alicorn a favor.
“Look,” she began lamely. “I’m only doing this for Kingsley ‘cause he asked, okay?” She conveniently left out the alicorn favor bit. “But I don’t know how I’m even going to make you understand when you don’t believe - “
“Why do you keep calling him that?” the white unicorn interrupted.
Coffee facehoofed herself. Weren’t they past this yet? Why was he stuck on that? She had hoped against hope (apparently) that since he had come with her quietly and had started out with his mouth shut, that she could have gotten through this explanation relatively painlessly, ignoring her intense dislike of the Prince Regent in the process.
“ - that Kingsley was…” she trailed off, knowing this was going to go nowhere. Again.
She trotted away angrily, turned an about face and trotted back, feeling like some pent-up energy was building in her body from the aggression he was unintentionally bringing out in her.
Knowing she wasn’t going to get anything accomplished by bucking him in the face - he’d probably throw a shield up to protect himself anyway and she’d break her legs to boot - Coffee tried something else. She sat down and took a deep breath, letting it out. The unicorn before her straightened at the gesture, but said nothing. Coffee didn’t care. She plunged on ahead. “I call him that because that’s what he wants to be known as from now on. Wouldn’t you change your name if it was notorious?”
Was this progress? Who knew?
“Okay,” she said next, carefully. “So will you please do us a favor - and a courtesy and call Kingsley Kingsley?”
“He isn’t ‘Kingsley’ to me!” Shining Armor snapped, now being the one to turn away.
“Why?” Coffee Talk snapped in turn, growing mad again. “He already paid for his crimes. He died - TWICE! What the Tartarus more do you want out of his hide?” Shining wasn’t listening. His ears were down and he was staring at the wall. His obstinance right now made the earth pony long for the days when Kingsley would let the Uber side of him come out and kill somepony just for being a jackass. “You know something, Prince Shining,” she said the title mockingly, like it left a bitter taste in her mouth because did it ever right now. “I almost wish Buttface was around right now so he could take you apart for being such a issue-riddled - “
Armor whirled back to Coffee with such force she backed up, startled. “You know what I want, Coffee? I WANT MY WIFE BACK!” he yelled so loud in her face it reverberated through the cave.
The two stared at each other as the echo of his pain bounced through their stone prison, probably not only waking up their companions, but half of Yakut valley as well.
Finally the white stallion spoke first. “Who’s ‘Buttface’?”
“Go ask Kingsley - oh, excuse me - Sombra, in case you don’t know who I’m talking about because you have a stupid selective brain in that heartless, pony-shaped head of yours,” the mare said acidly, walking away. “No, better yet. Ask your damn wife,” she said over her wither to him. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and not get a ‘no comment’ like you two kept giving me when I was trying to tell the world what happened to him - “ she sniffed, hitting her own painful nerve as hard as Kingsley’s self-sacrifice had hit her. “How he let himself be burned from the inside out to save your damn crystal ponies and, and - “ She choked, barely able to get the next words out. “Fix his mess and no one but me CARED!”
The stallion stood there, weathering the brunt of Coffee’s anger and pain, stunned not just by her venomous, hurt tone, but the reasons behind it. He offered not another word, mercifully, as she stomped off, back to the cave proper. Ears down, he followed her quietly, but not so close as to antagonize her further, veering off to go back to Cadence. He dimly heard Sombra gently ask what happened, she refused to say and when Shining heard no reply in turn, he spared a glance at the charcoal stallion. He had a hoof on her back, stroking her hide. His eyes met Shining’s, but came away again back to his companion, offering neither reproach nor challenge to the Prince. Armor, ears flattening down as he himself laid down next to Cadence, stared at the couple on the other side of the cave from them, his eyes drifting to the ex-guard captain’s side where his cutie mark glowed softly in reaction to Shining’s own light spell.
Behind him, Cadence opened her eyes. As drained as she was, tempers were draining her further and she shook her head, no longer able to ignore the need to - as Coffee Talk had so aptly put it - ‘fix her own mess’.
One thing was for sure in that dingy, dank little cave, Kingsley had not slept well since his talk with Coffee.
It was one thing to be in the middle of the exploding, as he had been, and entirely another to have a front row seat and be and feel so helpless to do anything about it. That’s what had made death so great at the time. It had a marvelous way of clearing your conscience, but for those left behind and the ones who came back, life wouldn’t let the pain of the moment go with any measure of ease. He only understood that now through his brown marefriend’s eyes - and tears.
He rolled over, half-asleep, growling. Why was he still so agitated when they had made up? Was there something else he needed to do? He wish he knew.
When sleep finally came, it wasn’t kind to Kingsley. He dreamed he was in a world of pink fur, being chased by the crystal heart. Why was it after him? He wasn’t Sombra any more...then as he turned his head to see where the floating artifact was and if he were gaining any ground, he saw it too close and whipped his head back to continue running. A wisp of purple energy floating for an instant in his field of vision.
Oh no. No, no, no, NO!
There was a wall ahead and he slammed to a stop, tumbling to a halt and a heap in front of it. Cornered, as frightened as he had ever been in his lives, he turned around, desperately hoping he’d lost the crystal heart. No such luck. It floated there menacingly in front of him. “I’m not that pony anymore. You’ve got the wrong stallion!” he pleaded with it.
It ignored him and hovered closer, close enough he could see the sharp curve of his red horn in its facets. Terror filled his reflection and his mind as it glowed brighter, the glow reflecting off his fur, then sinking into it as cracks begin to show on his hide. No, no…
...NO! he screamed, waking himself up.
The crystal heart was still IN FRONT OF HIM.
“No, no, no, please!” he wailed, paralyzed with fear.
Coffee came bolting from the front of the cave, Shining Armor from the back at the sounds of his screams.
Cadence turned from where she stood in front of the terrified, prostate unicorn on the ground. Coffee was furious. Snarling, she inserted herself inbetween Cadence and her friend. Alicorn be damned to Tartarus, she wasn’t going to let him die at her hands yet again!
The love princess turned back from Shining to Coffee, then looked to where Kingsley's eyes were fixed. Her eyes went wide at what he must have thought when his first sight upon opening them was a weapon of death on her flank, two inches from his face.
Heart pounding, he couldn’t get his breathing under control. The Princess cantered back, away from him as Coffee knelt by his side.
“Kingsley?” She gently shook him, trying to get him to look at her. “Kingsley, it’s all right. It was a dream...calm down.”
He wasn't calming, his breathing coming in painful gasps. Behind them, the earth mare could hear Shining ask Cadence, “What were you doing, Cadie?”
“I just wanted to talk,” she explained to her husband. “He must have been having a bad dream.” They all looked to him for confirmation of this. Despite his racing heart and shortness of breath, he nodded. “I'm so sorry, Kingsley,” she apologized.
“What were you dreaming about?” Coffee gently asked.
He pointed a shaky hoof at the cutie mark heart on Cadence’s flank. “Uh, I, it, it…” he swallowed. He couldn’t get his brain to get a clear, smooth sentence out of his mouth. “Cornered...cornered me. I was breaking apart...again…” he ended up mumbling, closing his eyes, fighting to get control over his violent shaking.
The royal couple looked at each other, Shining with understanding, Cadence with a fresh wave of guilt.
Kingsley’s color wasn't looking good. He buried his muzzle in Coffee’s shoulder fur, shaking her whole side with his trembling. Fortunately, this position worked the same as a paper bag over the muzzle keeping carbon dioxide close and after a minute, she could feel his heart slowing and breathing returning to normal. The mare kept stroking him in reassurance until his face reemerged, but he kept his eyes on Cadence’s face, avoiding looking at her cutie mark.
“I’m beginning to think this isn’t going to work,” Coffee whispered to her stallion friend. “I’m going to tell Princess Luna - “
She stopped when a charcoal hoof landed on hers. “No, I’m - I’m okay now,” Kingsley’s forest green eyes reassured her.
“Okay, but she owes you some really good dreams, you goof,” she shot quietly back.
“On that I think we agree.” He straightened, moving away from Coffee Talk’s support and warmth. “You wanted to talk?” asked told Cadence. “Okay, let’s talk.”
“Go ahead without me. I’m not into group therapy,” the brown mare behind him grumbled. Coffee shot Shining Armor a look. The Prince nodded and started to follow the former reporter away to give the two their privacy. Coffee stopped him with a hoof. Her eyes shifted back over to the other side of the cave, the message clearly ‘You - over there’. The white stallion nodded and saying nothing in reply, retreated back over and away from them while Coffee walked back to the front of the cave.
Kingsley and Cadence started off with the awkwardness of a couple on a first date except that the stallion looked anything but interested in romance. Since Cadence had come to him, he decided to wait for her to speak first - after all, he had no idea where she was in her mental detox from the uber demon that had destroyed his life and nearly taken hers for an encore.
Keeping her eyes on his, the Princess of Love asked, “How do you - how did you go on?”
No explanation of that statement was even necessary. He knew exactly what she meant. “After? I didn’t,” he shrugged. “I was the Number One jerkhorse for a long time after we came back.” He grinned. “I kept getting Coffee’s name wrong and she couldn’t stand me.”
Cadence raised an eyebrow. “We?” she echoed. “You mean you and - it?”
“Buttface? No, I meant Coffee Talk and I, but yeah, it came along for the ride. It just kept quiet at first. I didn’t even realize the Uber survived the blast too until it saw an opportunity to - “
Cadence giggled. “‘Buttface?’ That’s what you called it?”
Kingsley nodded, “Yeah. Pet name, I guess, but it fit.”
Her mirth was short-lived, her smile fading. “No, we were its pets.”
“More like arms and legs...tools, but we let ourselves get used,” the stallion admitted. “We - well, I know I - didn’t see any other alternative at the time but to use it’s power to stop Princess - ”
“But she might have avoided war with the Griffons,“ Cadence began to say.
“No,” Kingsley shook his head. “At least I didn’t think she would. She had no military skill and didn’t listen to her advisors,” He stared off into another part of the cave. “I wonder what would have happened if I had let her live? I am reasonably sure I knew, but now we’ll never know.” He looked back to Cadence. “But with you, it was a different reason you gave in to the Uber.”
She nodded. “It was. I was afraid,” she admitted. “I was so terrified the crystal ponies wouldn’t accept me, wouldn’t love me.”
“You’re their frickin’ savior,” the stallion told her. “What’s not to love about you?” He shrugged. “Unless they don’t like pink. Then you’re horrible.”
They shared a laugh together and this time the smile didn’t fade as fast from the Princess’s face. After a moment’s reflection though, she did sober a little. “I’m supposed to be perfect for them. They don’t understand I can make mistakes too. But I’m an alicorn, so when I make a mistake, it’s a lot worse than a normal pony’s mistake. And my being a ruler, that’s twice the bad of their mistakes.”
“So you won’t do it again,” Kingsley told her. “And if you’re not sure you won’t, I made sure of it.”
“It really isn’t coming back?” Cadence asked him.
“It really isn’t coming back,” he assured her. “I could feel it this time. Not like it was over the Crystal Empire. Then I was trapped inside my horn and I was still a jerkhorse. This time,” he inclined his head. “Well, let’s just say it was different, it felt different.”
Cadence was intrigued. “How? How was it different? What did it feel like?”
Shining Armor moped. Watching his wife and the former Crystal Tyrant from the other side of the cave also made him want to brood, but when he thought about it and saw everypony was talking out their fears and feelings with each other, a wave of loneliness broke over the shore of his thoughts, overcoming the brooding which in turn threatened his mopiness.
All these feelings and emotions and not one of them positive, he sighed.
What was he doing wrong, he wondered. Wasn’t he supposed to hate the ex-king for all he’d done to the Empire and their ponies? Why was that so wrong?
‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong,’ his conscious whispered. ‘He keeps coming back!’
It was true. Enemies that get physically blown up weren’t supposed to come back. A soldier was supposed to vanquish them, then go have a drink with their platoon buddies after said extinguishing, get drunk, then go home and make love to their wives, grateful for another night they could do so. And dammit, just as they had been getting used to lots of nights of post-vanquishing lovemaking, here came the two sisters, warning them Sombra was alive and well and coming to take back his ill-gotten Empire once again.
Sheesh. Wasn’t one crack at reseizing the crystal throne enough?
And they’d survived that too...by the skin of their hides and through nearly losing Cadence. But something had changed after Sombra’s second death. Cadence had changed. True, she had been as shaken as Shining in the aftermath of the possession, yes he was begrudgingly acknowledging it had happened now, but once purified back to her normal, sweet self, the mare of his life had profoundly changed.
It had nothing to do with how the Princesses had pulled them both off the balcony and given them a stern talking to in the art of managing crises when hiding them from one’s subjects...had it? Had they hidden the truth not just from the nervous, confused crystal ponies, but maybe - just maybe - taken it too far and also neatly tucked it away from themselves as well? Shining Armor’s eyes widened as the thought opened a floodgate of pieces that had not quite lined up neatly before now...the sleepless nights, Cadence’s bright, colorful appearance taking a more subdued then sallow cast the longer they had refused to talk - really talk to each other about how they had been individually impacted by the terrible events of Sombra’s return and Cadence’s possession.
And the coup de gras - Cadence’s loss of appetite and her love magic at first stalling, then failing completely a week ago. When that had happened and a guard had come to them in a panic that day, saying the crystal heart was spinning more sluggishly and was taking on a darker, cloudier cast, that had been the final, final straws that had made him contact the Princesses, pleading for their advice and assistance.
Luna’s arrival and insistence she take over Cadence’s duties temporarily while they go on a second honeymoon had been out of left field and just plan, well, weird. Even weirder was the recommendation they come to this tiny little town of nearby Yakut when Canterlot had been just as fine a destination with more amenities and Princess Celestia nearby to assist in her niece’s recovery. It just hadn’t added up.
But as the Prince mulled over these facts, he took another look at Cadence across the cave and squinted, lighting his horn brighter. Did she - was she...smiling at King Sombra? And was her color looking better? It certainly seemed to be the case. She hadn’t smiled in a month, he thought in wonder and again as he pondered bitterly over the fact that evil unicorn had gotten a smile out of his wife, Cadence nodded to the ex-Guard Captain and trotted back over to their side of the cave.
Her husband shook his head at her. “I don’t get it, Cadie. Please, please explain this to me. What is going on?!?” Cadence gave him a small smile. “Why are you and he - “
“Shush,” she gently said, putting a hoof to his mouth to stop him. “I had to talk to Kingsley, Shiny. He understands what I went through. We were both possessed by the same demon. True, it was for different reasons, but underneath it all, we both wanted to protect our ponies.”
“But Cadie, you expelled it,” Armor shook his head. “It’s gone - for good.”
“Only because of what Kingsley did,” she agreed. “He took it back into himself so he could blow it up and destroy it once and for all so no one would ever have to suffer because of it ever again.”
“This is King Sombra we’re talking about,” her husband asked in confirmation.
“The same King Sombra who attacked our Empire...the Crystal Empire, right?”
Again a nod.
“The Sombra who attacked us - me in the wastes outside the city, dug around in my mind, haunted me,” he tallied off. “Who brought out my worst fears - which included doing some biologically obscene things to you while forcing me to watch - “
The Princess’s eyes widened in surprise at this. Whether she was perhaps thinking of the possibilities therein, Celestia only knew. She did have a profoundly open and kinky side to her power of love.
“The same creature who sealed off my horn. I still get a headache when I think about it,” he rubbed the appendage tenderly.
“He was, but he’s changed now, Shiny,” his wife nudged him underneath his chin. “Ponies can and have changed. You’ve seen it for yourself before.”
“But this thing he said he had in his head - “ the Prince began, struggling through the illogic as best he could.
“It was in my head too, sweetheart,” the pink alicorn explained patiently.
He ignored that. He just couldn’t see it happening - and he had been there. It couldn’t happen...not to his sweet Cadie! “It was blown up too.”
“Now you’re saying it too. Who’s ‘Buttface’?!?” The stallion desperately wanted to know why they kept calling it that!
“Go ask Kingsley. He’ll tell you,” she smiled as if she was privy to some private joke Shining wasn’t.
“I don’t want to ask that bastard!” Shining nearly spat. He took Cadence’s hoof in his. “I am asking you.” This was getting exasperating and he felt so lost he was almost ready to give up trying to understand all this. It didn’t add up. None of it. No matter how Shining Armor crunched the illogic of this in his head, he still wasn’t getting it.
“Okay it is, well was an uber demon. A minor, emotion based - ”
“Don’t interrupt, Shiny.”
“A minor, emotion-based entity that not only fed on fear and hatred but who’s physical, well, etcoplasmic composition was fear and hatred,” she finished.
Shining Armor withdrew his hoof from hers. “This is all making my head spin, Cadie,” he confessed. “I fight physical enemies. He was physical. I had the bruises for weeks to prove it!”
The Princess nodded. “I remember. It was no fun holding off those positions in bed while you healed.” She smiled at Shining’s brief smile. At least they were communicating now and he wasn’t giving up on her, even though he still couldn’t understand all this. “It wasn’t really physical,” she continued with the explanation. “It was, well, nesting in Kingsley’s consciousness when it attacked you, me and the Empire. It was using his body - and mine to attack - ”
“Not you, Cadie,” he shook his head in denial as if he had hit a physical wall his logical quite simply could not cross.
Cadence thought about that, taken slightly aback by the thought that maybe all this time he had placed her on a pedestal, thought her untouchable by corruption, whether through her integrity or by virtue of her alicorn status. Her mind whirred with not only the revelation, but how in the world she was going to get him to see she wasn’t perfect.
No, he had already seen it. It was getting him to accept it that was the problem. “So,” she began thoughtfully. “It’s the fact that buttface - er Uber,” she amended at the sour look Shining gave her. “Was a non-corporeal entity and you thought I would never let in something like that that you’re having a hard time understanding.” She wasn’t really asking him so much as sorting this out verbally in case there was something else, some other issue they were failing to address here.
“So, do you think he’s lying about the demon?” she asked.
“Yes!” he replied a little too quickly. He could see that as his wife raised an eyebrow at him. If he thought Sombra was lying, that meant he would also be accusing Cadence of lying as well. “No. I don’t know!” he gave up, lying down, rubbing his head as if fighting an oncoming headache.
The Princess sat down next to him and put a sympathetic hoof across his withers. “You know what I used to tell Twilight when I foalsat her and she had those hard questions like ‘how do you know wind is real?’ or love? I told her what I’m going to tell you about that demon - “
“Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not real,” they said together.
“Right,” she nodded. “We can’t see them, but we can feel what they do to us.” She paused. “Though I could hear that thing in my head,” the mare shivered. “I never want to hear that sound again, or think the thoughts I did when it was there.”
“But that’s just it, Cadie,” he said helplessly. “I can’t imagine you would’ve let something like that in in the first place! And I was supposed to protect you and I didn’t. I couldn’t because I - “ he trailed off, slamming the ground with his hoof.
“ - couldn’t see it?” she finished for him. Now at last she was beginning to understand him. How strange that all this time she thought the entire problem was him not understanding her. The revelation was as disturbing as it was a relief.
“I failed you,” she heard him confess sadly. “Back in the dungeons, I had to resort to letting Sombra out just to save you because I couldn’t. At the time it was the only thing I could think to do. The Princesses had gone back to Canterlot, you had neutralized my magic, you had the guards under your toxic love spell.” He put a hoof to his forehead, as if he felt not just the emotional and physical pain of the helplessness, but the loss of his magic all over again as well. “I was okay with it at the time in the heat of battle, but afterwards, after everything settled down and I had time to work it out just what happened when I really sat down and thought about it, realized I wasn’t the one who saved you. I wasn’t the one who kicked that thing out of your mind when you couldn’t and I wasn’t the one who took it back into myself and killed myself for you!” He stabbed a hoof out in the direction where Kingsley and Coffee Talk were on the other side of the cave. “It was him! Our sworn enemy! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?!?”
Cadence stood speechless for a moment, staring at him, her eyes shifting back over to Kingsley. Apparently dawn had come and since more light was pouring in through the topmost cracks in the cave ceiling, she could see him now without the help of their magic. The grey unicorn had heard all of this, of course. The cave was too small to not hear someone yelling from the other side, so it didn’t surprise her in the least that their earth pony and unicorn stallion companions were staring at them, Coffee with worry and Kingsley - well, he looked awkwardly at them, to his credit, instead of pleased with himself (for once). They locked eyes for a moment after which the grey unicorn turned away, back towards his marefriend and the wall.
He really has changed, hasn’t he? she thought in wonder. And now there was this whole new problem of Shining Armor’s pain she had been too wrapped up within herself to notice.
He felt Cadence’s hoof on his. “I’m sorry, Shiny, I didn’t know you felt this way. I failed you. I failed our subjects, Celestia, Luna. I failed myself, even Kingsley. I wish I could say I know how you feel, but I can’t.” She straightened, seeming to find a determination to help him and put aside her own doubts and fears for the moment. “What can I do to help?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, ears still low, but a bit perkier than before. “I think this is something I have to work out for myself.” He took a deep breath, letting it out steadily, slowly. Somehow he felt that even though it still deeply bothered him, it wasn’t as bad as before he had said something. “Telling you helps, though.”
The Princess smiled, a bit more color returning to her body, mane and tail. She even started looking more radiant to the white stallion. His ears came back up as he marvelled at how their talking out their problems had its own magical way of restoring some of the stunning pink alicorn princess he had always been so madly in love with at first sight. She was still thin, had bags under her eyes and looked like she had been put through a clothes washer, but she definitely was no longer on the decline as badly as when they had first left the Empire for this so-called ‘vacation’. Overjoyed and relieved, he nuzzled her, which she happily returned.
When they parted, she took a good look at him. “So, are you sure you’re feeling better?”
“I am,” he nodded. Now he glanced over at the grey unicorn who had been his bitterest enemy for what seemed like an eternity. “I don’t forgive him for killing the first Crystal Princess, but it’s like Coffee Talk said, he’s paid for that twice-over now.” He was speaking in a lower tone, so the other two couldn’t make out what he was saying, so it was no surprise when Kingsley saw the Prince’s less than friendly expression, bit his lip and turned away, but it was the eye-rolling and look of veiled disgust Coffee had as she shifted her attention back to her friend that now, to his surprise, bothered him. “But I at least owe Coffee an apology.” He felt a nudge. “Okay, and at least a thank you to Kingsley for saving your life.”
“And,” Cadence prompted.
“And the crystal ponies,” he nodded.
“And the Empire. He did save the Empire,” Shining agreed.
What else was there, he wondered for a moment. But only for a moment. “And Coffee, for using the heart to kill King Sombra,” he said thoughtfully. “I - don’t think I could have done that. Not if it had been you,” he declared, looking at his wife.
Cadence rubbed his shoulder with a hoof. “Let’s recover from this before we talk about your duty to Princess and country,” she nodded.
“Agreed, but Cadie, you said something else I’m not sure I understand.”
“You said you also failed Kingsley. Why did you say that?”
“Because, well,” she stopped, looking over at him. Was he ready to accept what she wanted to say, she wondered. “What is the saying, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’?” she gestured to the other side of the cave.
Shining Armor looked over as well. Coffee nudged Kingsley in the shoulder. He looked over at them, curious, but waiting. “I can see that,” the Prince conceded. “but failing him - .”
“His knowledge of how to get rid of Buttface was an unexpected side benefit,” he head Cadence say behind him. She smiled when Shining, at last, understanding the source of the nickname now, snickered. “I think I’ll just take the chance you’ll understand when I apologize to him because I want you there when I do.” Cadence turned back to her shining Prince and tweaked his nose. “And I trust you won’t need to defend me and will behave yourself this time?”
He nodded. “I will, as long as he isn’t being a smart-assed jerkhorse.”
“Where’d that come from?” she half laughed, asking him.
“From something Coffee Talk and I talked about,” he replied.
Cadence looked over at Coffee when she wasn’t looking at her. “Oh...I’ll bet you didn’t like her calling you that.”
“Hey, what makes you think it was directed at me?” he defended, mock hurt. “She could have been talking about Kingsley.”
“Hmm...maybe, and maybe in the past, but this time considering the stress you’ve been under, I kind of doubt it.”
9. Bitchometers and Bad Moods Brought on by Budding Hormones
Coffee had slowly walked the length of the cave at the entrance so much now she could swear she was wearing a trench in the hard, stone-riddled floor.
Why couldn’t Yakut’s caves have nice, soft dirt? She groaned inwardly. And why am I the one that keeps getting sent away during these talks?
She stomped back over to where Kingsley was sitting making dirt circles in boredom when a pair of brown forehooves came into his view. “Hey Coffee,” he said, not looking up.
Not really interested, the newsmare looked at what he had drawn next to the circles he was currently working on. It looked like a simplistic version of one of those overly-complicated graph charts her boss used to love to show at staff meetings, the ones with the bars of varying lengths.
She thought then that she recognized it. “What’s that?” she couldn’t help asking, pointing at it.
“New Bitchometer,” he replied, not looking up. “Like it?”
“I thought that was only something Buttface made you do when you were possessed,” she said absently, squinting to see who the little horsey faces on the top of each bar were supposed to represent.
“It was a collaborative effort,” he said absently. “Was about the only thing we agreed on without his powers of persuasion pressuring me.”
There were three bars and three horse head images - one perched at the top of each bar. Now that it was confirmed what his crude dirt drawing was, she did recognize it - sort of. Coffee read them aloud from left to right. “Let’s see who made this month’s top of the charts,” she muttered. “Coming in at 10%...Princess Celestia. She was off your chart last month. She’s back on now?”
“I tripped over that cat on our sidewalk during hers and Luna’s scheduled eclipse, remember?” frowned Kingsley.
“I think you should have put your own clumsy hooves down instead of the Princess for that one,” she suggested.
“Watch it, Coffee. Next month’s chart has an opening.”
“Sorry.” The next one was rather predictable. “And coming in at 40% bitch...her Pinkness?” she motioned with her head over to the other side of the cave.
Third - and the highest-placed winner at a full 50% was…
“...is that...Shining Armor?” Coffee asked in quiet surprise.
“Can’t say I disagree with that one,” the mare nodded. “Pretty good, pretty good. A+ for amusement.”
“Thank you, Coffee.”
“But you’ll have to call it something other than ‘bitchometer’ if you’re including him,” she suggested.
He snorted, annoyed. “Killjoy.”
“You know it!” she said, pleased with herself. “Hey, how about, ‘assometer’? You know - like a horse’s - “
“It’s my Bitchometer and I will name it, thank you very much,” he said sourly. “Though that is a pretty good name. For this month, at least.” He looked over at the other two cave occupants. They were deep in discussion, apparently. “How’s the lovefest going over on the other side of the cave?”
“Like I give a flip.” Coffee refused to glance over at the royal couple. This whole damn thing was fraying her very last nerve. She was quite frankly tired of seeing their muzzles at this point in their torturously long time cooped up together.
Kingsley snorted a lengthy and funny, almost musical nicker. It was his way of agreeing with the brown mare. He seemed to do it almost to amuse himself sometimes. She had often caught him doing it in the shower, along with his habit of singing - which was often terrible - unless he was singing at the deepest end of his vocal range, which then she had found to be rather sexy, though she would NEVER tell him that.
Whenever she was tempted to tell him, she knew it was because she was beginning her heat. When she would realize why she was wanting to say something, Coffee would literally head for the hills surrounding Yakut valley to go roost with the other local mares also in heat who didn’t want to get impregnated. Those retreats never lasted the length of her estrus, however, as the younger valley mares were so gossipy they got on her nerves and she would come cantering back home to see Kingsley prancing around, goaded into displaying for her when catching wind of her hormonal scent…
Her eyes suddenly grew wide. “Oh...crapbaskets!”
Kingsley refused to be distracted from his dirt circles. “What is it?” he asked in as bored a tone as he could muster.
She nudged him with her forehoof, maybe a little too hard. “When was the last time I was in heat?” she asked urgently.
“Ow!” he complained, then shrugged. “Dunno. Last - “
“Wasn’t it during Freckles and Drizzle's last visit?” she asked desperately.
“That was…” Kingsley straightened. Then he bolted to his feet. Getting in her face, he growled in a low, frantic voice, “What in Tartarus made you think of that?!?”
Coffee smiled dumbly at the dark stallion. He’s so...assertive when he’s upset, she thought in passing. She shook her head violently, coming back to her senses. “I don’t know,” she said slowly. “That wasn’t that long ago then.”
“No!” the stallion said and it came out in a ridiculously squeaky high pitch that helped quash Coffee’s passing fancy for him.
She sputtered, laughing. “What was that?”
He cleared his throat - twice. “No - nothing!” he said defensively. “It’s drafty in here!”
“No it’s not,” she protested, feeling her mood settle back down to normal. “Oh, wait. It is, actually.” She stuck her tongue out to which the unicorn snickered.
“And you call me immature - “
“I’m feeling for the direction of the breeze, you dummy!” she chided, looking back behind him. There must have been some tiny cracks in the cave wall they had missed seeing before, probably hidden behind bushes that cut out the ability of the sun’s light to give away their presence. “It’s coming from over there, past you.” She trotted around to the other side of him, then sighed when his scent faded. “Oh good. As long as you stay downwind of me - “
“Hey!” he argued, offended. “I showered before we came here. You insisted.” He lifted his head in slight offense. “I didn’t think I was that bad.”
“Shut up,” she interrupted. “Stay downwind of me so your musk doesn’t…” her voice lowered. “You know...aggravate my…”
Kingsley grinned wickedly. “Your...what?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows.
“...ovaries? Okay? You happy now that I said it?”
“Very,” he grinned a toothy grin. “It doesn’t take much to make me happy, Coffee, but that was a bonus.”
It was her turn to snort. “Hrumph. Small things amuse small minds.” She shot a look of death at him. “And if you tell Mrs. Lovehorse over there I’ll - “ She stopped in mid sentence, mouth open.
Kingsley stared at her, thinking the same thing at the same instant.
“Lovehorse!” he exclaimed and she moaned.
Coffee Talk facehoofed herself. When she pulled her hoof away, she caught the charcoal stallion smirking. “What?” she asked acidly.
“Well, if she’s to blame, that’s good news,” he replied.
“What?!? Why?” the mare sputtered.
“Why? It means she’s feeling better!”
10. What Stays Downwind Doesn’t Stop What Goes UPWIND or Who’s Apologizing to Who?
It took a minute for the Prince to take a few deep breaths, get up the nerve and prepare himself to face Kingsley and apologize. He hadn’t been this nervous since Queen Chrysalis’s mind control had worn off and he’d said, “I do,” to his real bride, the one that now gently patted his wither with a supportive hoof, waiting out his nerves with her amazing patience.
Cadence smiled at him. “Are you really that nervous about facing Kingsley?” she asked him.
Shining shook his head. “No, not really. I’m more nervous about facing Coffee - “ he turned towards the other end of the cave, his voice trailing off.
“Honey?” the Princess followed his gaze to their unwilling cave mates. “...Talk?” she finished for him.
The scene before the couple was strange to say the least, borderline crazy - or hilarious depending on which pony you asked. They stared a moment, Shining Armor forgetting his nerves, simply took his wife’s hoof off his broad shoulder bone. “I’m good now,” he assured her. “After seeing that, believe me, I’m good.”
Minutes before, while Shining and Cadence were talking…
“Oh, this is bad,” Kingsley whined, shifting his weight from one set of hooves to the other. For the first time since they had all been trapped in the cave, he earnestly looked for a way out, not pretending this time.
“What,” Coffee grumbled from her side of the cave. “A moment ago you were all, ‘Oh, this is great. Little Miss Lovehorse is feeling better. Our job here is done!’”
Kingsley stopped his frantic search of the cave wall interior, eyes wide. “Great, Coffee, broadcast it all over the cave why don’t you?” He dared ventured closer to the mare. “If you haven’t noticed, it isn’t done yet and now, because of your renewed interest in my backside - “
“It’s not your backside per se that I’m interested in,” Coffee pried her eyes away from Kingsley’s furiously swishing tail and what said occasional swish revealed underneath.
“ - stop that!” Kingsley half-whined, blushing. Any other time he’d be flirting with her and prancing around, but not while trapped in a cave with a captive audience! “Because of...that...we have a new, urgenter reason to get the Tartarus out of here,” he finished in an angry hiss.
“‘Urgenter’?” she echoed, forcing her eyes back up to his. Goddess they were beautiful...so green! “That isn’t even a word in my time.”
“Is too,” he argued. “Drizzle taught it to me.”
“Drizzle is no Ponish language major if you haven’t noticed!” Coffee hissed back. Her eyes widened, realizing her amorous mood was soured every time she felt annoyance at her stallion companion. “That’s it!” she exclaimed.
“What’s it?” Kingsley asked, feeling so far out of the loop of his friend’s logic he wasn’t even aware there was a curve, let alone a loop or connection going on.
“Keep pissing me off,” Coffee told him. “It kills the mood!”
“I’m pissing you off?” he said, surprised.
“Yes, keep annoying the Tartarus out of me,” she repeated. “That way I can keep myself under control.”
A big, smug grin spread across the former tyrant’s muzzle. Taking a stance as if he were challenging a foe, he rolled each of his withers like a bull ready to charge a target. “Thank you, Buttface, for small favors and some valuable life lessons I never thought I’d ever be eager to use again!” he trumpeted happily.
It was at this point that the royal couple had noticed them - or rather Coffee - keeping an unusually wide distance from Kingsley, shaking her head and snarling at him every time he opened his mouth and Kingsley…
...well, Kingsley was just being Kingsley at his very most annoying, dredging up memories of how callous, self-absorbed and arrogant he had been as the Tyrant King of the Crystal Empire. This included not only verbal aggrandizing of himself, but reiterating all the ways he used to get Coffee’s name wrong - Toffee Hock, Hoffy Smock and Chatty Wok, to name some of the worst. This behavior of the former king’s, intermixed with some ridiculous prancing about the cave, was the point where Shining Armor had turned to him, and seeing this, shook his head back and forth sadly, convinced the 1,000 years in ice had truly and finally taken its toll and scrambled what was left of the poor stallion’s mind.
“By Celestia, Kingsley,” the earth mare shook her head. “There's annoying and ANNOYING, but you are just plain ridiculous!” she sputtered, finally falling to the cave floor in a fit of giggles.
The charcoal stallion frowned. “Aw c’mon, Coffee,” he whined, still prancing back and forth. “You gotta admit this is pretty obnoxious!”
“It’s...something,” Shining Armor agreed, coming up to them, Cadence by her side.
Kingsley immediately stopped acting like a damn fool horse and straightened. “Whelp, there goes the party, Coffee,” he stated with just a hint of resigned sarcasm.
“Agreed,” she sighed. They nodded at each other, Kingsley leaving and Coffee heading for a wall opposite Kingsley’s destination.
The two didn’t get very far when Cadence spoke up. “Wait, Kingsley, I meant what I said as far as an amiable truce.”
“Yeah? Right. Okay,” he said in a tone that hinted he was waiting for the “but” in her statement.
And he wasn’t disappointed. “But I forgot something,” Cadence followed up quickly in a reasonably calm tone. The Princess looked awkwardly first at Shining, but that was a quick glance, then a longer look at Coffee.
Coffee bristled slightly. “Oh no,” she shook her head vehemently. “Don’t you start sending me to another part of the cave or I swear - “
Cadence’s eyes widened. “I wasn’t going to do that,” she defended. Well, at least not to a corner, if that’s what you meant…
“Listen, Princess, whatever you have to say to me you can say in front of Coffee, okay?” Kingsley insisted. Then he pointed at Shining Armor. “He’s another matter!” he snapped. “I’m sick to death of getting my head bit off and judged every time I open my mouth around - “
That immediately stopped Kingsley’s tirade and indeed all thought in the cave. The charcoal stallion’s eyes widened and after a heartbeat. “Huh?” he blinked.
Not believing her ears, Coffee came back over to Kingsley, still unconsciously, physically siding with him opposite the royal couple. She was having an even harder time believing what she thought she had heard the Prince say, especially after her job of trying to get the hard-headed pony to see hers and Kingsley’s side of the situation. Not daring to jinx progress, she kept her muzzle shut.
“I - wait,” Shining hesitated, looking at his wife. “This is supposed to be your apology. Sorry honey.”
“Oh I don’t mind waiting to give mine,” she acquiesced, encouraging him to go on. “Yours appears to be the bigger shocker, so since you’ve started, go ahead.” She smiled for the first time in front of everypony. “Besides, I don’t think Kingsley - or Coffee could concentrate on what I have to say now that you’ve said something.”
Shining nodded. Despite his initial tension being abated by the former Tyrant’s silliness, now that all eyes were on him, it returned. He started out slowly and carefully. “Okay...so, Cadence and I talked and it makes more sense to me now how - you - “ he nodded at Kingsley. “ - ...and Cadie could have been, ah, taken over by…” he looked down at his hooves, shuffling a moment. Then he looked back up to his wife. “I don’t have to call it, ‘Buttface’, do I, honey?”
The other three ponies snickered. Of all the ones to speak up, it was Coffee who said something first, “No, that’s an exclusive club...only those who had it in their head get to call him that.”
“That’s a thing?” he asked, surprised.
“No, you dork,” Coffee fought to not roll her eyes. “Of course not!”
Kingsley shook his head, glaring amused at Coffee, then turning back to Armor. “She’s yanking your bridle,” he said rather unnecessarily. But at least it showed that he was willing to speak civilly and without the defensive, then annoyed and finally exasperated tones he’d had in his voice this past, seemingly long confinement together.
A glance at Cadence to see she was smiling assured him he was doing fine and to continue. He had to think a moment where he’d left off, then went on, “The Uber demon-thing, whatever you call it. And I know Cadie’s a good pony. I just don’t, well, I don’t know you like I do her, Kingsley - “
“Obviously,” muttered Coffee.
“Coffee,” Kingsley shushed. She rolled her eyes.
“I know she isn’t capable of - “ he looked down trying to soften the blow of saying what had to be said. “ - murder. I just don’t know about you.”
“I’d killed before Buttface parked itself in my head,” Kingsley told him. “The griffon assassin that tried to kill the Crystal Princess,” he said matter-of-factly. “I didn’t hesitate to put that thing down.”
“Oh,” Shining digested that quietly for a moment, then the light of realization hit him. He raised his head back up. “Of course, being a Captain of the Guard, of course you - “
“And back then, it was a more violent time,” the other stallion added, lowering his head. “I killed a lot of enemies of the Empire, Shining, just not the one that I really needed to before - “ he drifted off. Coffee smiled, putting a hoof on his neck.
And just like that, Shining Armor’s attitude softened in an understanding that had started with a conversation with Cadence and a reality-check with Coffee Talk.
“I’m sorry, Kingsley,” the Prince Regent said from a lot closer to the charcoal stallion than they had been a minute ago. Kingsley looked up, staring into Shining’s blue, sympathetic eyes. “I realize now I blamed you for a lot of things that weren’t your fault. I blamed you for Cadence becoming possessed - “
“It caught me at a weak moment, Shiny,” Cadence said from behind him. “That was my fault.”
“I blamed you for her post-possession depression,” the stallion went on. “I blamed you for what I thought was our marriage failing, for her poor health lately, her magic failing - even for the crystal heart weakening!”
“Princess Luna didn’t tell us about the crystal - “ Coffee began to say, then put a hoof to her muzzle.
“Ah - we’ll tell you when you’re done with your confession,” Kingsley winced, smirking in a way both mares found adorable.
The Prince shook his head, not understanding but dismissing it for another talk. “So, I’m sorry. After I saw what that Uber do to Cadie, how it turned her, I can see how different you really are from when you were King Sombra. I didn’t give you another chance,” he wrapped the apology up. “Everypony’s right, you did pay for the Crystal Princess’s death by dying - twice and who am I to judge you beyond that? It isn’t fair to you and I think I see that...now?” Shining Armor trailed off, puzzled by Kingsley’s slowly deteriorating attention span. The dark-colored pony had started out attentive enough, but had drifted off more and more, stealing glances at Coffee Talk, inching closer to her and now at the end of his apology, the stallion was nibbling at the earth pony’s neck.
It wasn’t until Kingsley nickered into her fur, tickling her through the thick, tan hide that the earth mare was suddenly aware of what he was doing. For an instant she smiled, rubbing her head against his, then her eyes flew open. “Kingsley!”
He lingered on her neck, utterly distracted by her pheromones. “Mmmm?” he snorted against her. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. “Me not Sombra, sorry, blah, blah” he pawed at the cave floor, his tail twitching so much it was swatting Coffee on the rear.
“Um, yeah,” the earth pony smiled at the royal couple, pushing her paramour away with a gentle hoof to the forehead. “He accepts, he’s just - distracted, see. Since you’re feeling better, your Highness, I think it’s affected me and he’s well, scenting on me.”
Cadence’s eyes grew wide and next to her Shining Armor stifled a laugh. “Oh! Oh my,” they said at once.
“So yeah,” the brown mare nodded, now having to use her outstretched hoof to keep Kingsley at a distance. “So since we can’t get out of here - and I’m hoping help comes real soon now that we’re all good - “ she sputtered. “Can you like, turn off that love magic so I don’t get - um, mounted in my sleep tonight?”
“Oh dear, well,” the Princess looked embarrassed. “I can’t actually, ‘turn it off’,” she confessed sheepishly.
At this point Kingsley had decided since Coffee Talk was resisting his advances, he needed to turn on the charm by displaying, so at least he wasn’t as near her, prancing around the cave, tossing his luxurious coal-black mane and vocalizing rather - handsomely, she thought much to her annoyance. She watched him for a moment, finding herself smiling at how funny and cute he was, and how...intriguing. Then Cadence’s words sunk in.
Her head snapped back to the Princess. “Wait, you can’t what?!?”
Cadence blushed and with her stress gone, her natural beautiful coloring came back into her face, giving her a radiant look. She drug a hoof on the ground in front of her, looking down shyly. “I don’t have an ‘off’ switch, as you put it. It’s just something I naturally, well, radiate,” she explained.
Coffee couldn’t help the slack-jawed look of disbelief that overcame her, but what they didn’t expect was for her to do or say what she did next. “I gotta take a nap,” she mumbled, trotting over to what had become their traditional side of the cave. Shaking her head, she did a circling, kicking sharp rocks out of her proposed bedding area, laid down and closed her eyes.
“Okay, did we finally break her?” the Princess asked, looking at Shining.
“I’ll admit I did not expect that reaction either,” her husband agreed.
A deep-throated whinny caught their attention. Kingsley had stopped parading, looking at Coffee Talk with slight confusion. He trotted back over towards them, stopping next to the royal couple. “Well, I was hoping for a bit of a dance first,” he pouted, then as quickly brightened with a barely controlled sort of glee. “But I always did like a submissive mare,” he announced, wiggling his hips, tail swishing, its luxurious, silky length almost as flowing as his evil alter-ego’s had once been. Taking a deep breath of his companion’s estrus-laden scent as it wafted in their direction, he started to canter over to Coffee. “Don’t fret, my darling, virgin mare,” he whispered. “I’ll be gen- ack!”
“‘Virgin’?” echoed Cadence, “oh no, no, NO, Mr. Amorous.”
Shining enveloped the enthusiastic stallion in a field that drug him back towards the couple and away from Coffee.
“You are not taking advantage of Coffee Talk unless she consents to this,” scolded Shining in solidarity with his wife.
Kingsley cut a comical yet endearing figure as he was drug backwards, low to the ground, forehooves trying to dig in to resist being denied his prize. “Aw...c’mon guys. You’re all about love. It’s been stressful these past few days!” he moaned, complaining. Shining ignored the whining grey stallion, turning him around, setting him on his hooves, facing them and not Coffee. “And it’s your fault, y’know.” He glared at Cadence. “You owe us, Mrs. Lovehorse!”
“I don’t owe you turning a sexual blind-eye to a helpless mare trapped in a cave just because you gave me advice on the handling of emotional blowback on being possessed by evil, sadistic Ubers!” she scolded Kingsley in turn.
“Wow,” the unicorn’s eyes widened. “That was a long sentence and helpless? Helpless?” he emphasized. “You’ve never been kicked by that ‘helpless’ earth pony mare, your Highness,” he air-quoted. Glaring at Shining, he added. “Your battalion could use a kicker like her. Damn near sent me to the hospital the last time I pissed her off!”
“Then we’re saving you a hospital visit by keeping you away when she doesn’t expect you’ll be all over her,” an amused Cadence added.
Withers slumped in frustration and defeat, Kingsley snorted.
Something about what the dark unicorn had last said bothered Shining, but he put it aside for the moment when Cadence distracted him.
“Shining, we’re all exhausted,” the Princess shook her head, moving over to the earth mare’s side of the cave. “Let’s take a break, a nap, whatever we all need and tackle getting out of here when we are all up to it.”
The Prince nodded. “Good idea. I’ll take Mr. Amorous here and hit the other side of the cave.” He began to herd Kingsley ahead of him, away from the mares.
Kingsley rolled his eyes. “Ugh, fine! Just make sure Coffee’s scent isn’t wafting over there or I’ll file a complaint with the Princesses on the mistreatment of prisoners.”
“You aren’t a prisoner,” Shining snorted. “And fine, I can do that.” A pony-sized dome sprung up around Kingsley. “This’ll keep out her scent and - “ Kingsley’s eyes widened, fighting a moment of panic. Seeing his reaction, the Prince lowered the field and opted for a magical cuff around the stallion’s hoof instead. “Sorry, I guess that wouldn’t be too pleasant after what you’ve been through, but since Cadence mentioned it, I am tired and I don’t want to drift off and leave you loose when I’m not looking.” He sniffed the air, satisfied there was no antagonizing aroma near them. “And I think the air’s clear over here, so just relax, get some rest.”
“Hrumph, whatever,” the darker unicorn snorted. “See if I call for help anytime soon, then,” he grumbled.
“What’s that?” Armor asked, laying down nearby.
“Nothing,” Kingsley muttered, purposely laying down facing away from his pseudo-jailer.
Coffee Talk awoke to the wonderful smell of breakfast...fresh-baked bread, oatmeal and a deliciously-scented fruit compote. Cracking an eye open, she rolled over in bed, her hoof landing in a warm spot recently vacated.
“Ugh,” groaning, she carefully lifted her head, mindful of the neck pain that had been dogging her from sleeping on that blasted cave floor for what seemed like days on end.
“Am I dreaming?” she wondered, though, looking around the room. It was definitely her bedroom back in Yakut. Everything was in its place; her bird in his cage enjoying the morning sun, the typewriter on her desk, even a copy of the book she had written about her adventures with Kingsley and his evil mental houseguest right where she had left it on the fireplace, right next to the curved blade of King Sombra’s horn.
Coffee frowned. There were several things wrong -
“Coffee!” an all-too cheerful voice sounded through their cozy little home.
“Yeah?” the earth mare replied, running a hoof over her hair to straighten it. Surprisingly it wasn't the tangled mess it usually was from sleep. “That's nice to wake up to for once.”
A coal-black bundle of energy bounded into the room. “Good morning!” Kingsley beamed, a breakfast tray floating in his magic next to him.
His roommate raised an eyebrow. “‘morning, whoever you are and what have you done with Kingsley?”
“Hey, can't a stallion greet his beautiful bedmate with breakfast in bed?” he complained in the slightly whiny tone that certainly sounded like the Kingsley she knew.
She simply stared at him with a blank look. “Now I know you're a fake,” she deadpanned.
“Haha.” The beautifully prepared breakfast landed on the bed in front of her. She seriously thought about eating it anyway, considering they hadn't had a decent meal in like, forever. Taking a slice of bread and spreading it with the honey orange compote, she shrugged. If this isn't a dream I'll regret not eating this. If it is, I guess I can't be poisoned in dreams.
She hesitated only a moment before taking a bite. It was okay, maybe not as good as the smell would have led her to believe, but that was all right. As she chewed, Kingsley joined her, sitting on the other side of the bed. “So, how did we get out of the cave?” she asked him through a mouthful of food.
“Well, duh. How do you think we’ll get out?” Kingsley snickered. “We had an arrangement. You know…”
She pretended to ignore the fact he had replied as if it hadn't happened yet. A movement behind her companion on the mantle caught her eye, but when she focused on it, all was still again.
“Then why are we still here?” the mare asked him.
He smiled, but what it revealed made her back up as the light glinted off canines that were a little too sharp.
Behind him, the horn on the mantle glow a very, very slight red.
“This isn't - “ he began to say when she cut him off.
“Oh shut it,” Coffee growled, throwing the food to the floor, getting up. “I'm done with these games, I'm done with us playing psychiatrist to royalty and your impression of your former host, Sombra, is pathetic.”
Kingsley - or the thing inside him - frowned. “Well that's hurtful,” the dark unicorn said in disappointment. “It was a very good impression, we thought.”
“Huh, not even,” the mare growled, losing patience. The horn behind him glowed brighter. “And you got so many details wrong, where do I begin?”
The Kingsley/Sombra apparition leaned back on the bed. “Oh? Do tell.”
Coffee, feeling empowered, patted the bed. “First off, we don't sleep together.” She ruffled her hair with both hooves. “My hair NEVER looks this good in the morning and your host is too damn lazy to get up and make me breakfast, let alone be nice enough to bring it to me in bed!”
“You are quite observant, reporter,” the demon rumbled, the hint of misty purple tinging Kingsley's now red crystal eyes. He ran a hoof along the edge of the bed frame. “But why would I bother filling in such details?” The thing in his body smiled.
She looked around them. It was a valid question. Why indeed?
The question caused an uneasy flutter in the pit of Coffee Talk's stomach.
“Tell me, Miss Coffee, why are we still here?” the thing asked her pleasantly. Kingsley’s eyes went back to normal, as well as his voice. “The answer is the same for both questions,” he told her. He rose up and walked towards her.
“Kingsley?” she squinted as if that would confirm his unwelcome houseguest was no longer in control. A flash behind him drew her eye to the mantle.
The horn of King Sombra was gone.
“Why are we still here?” he pressed her.
“Where did your - his horn go?” Coffee asked, her nerves getting worse.
“Is there something else we have to do here, Coffee?” he pushed.
“What? No, Kingsley,” her voice betrayed too much defensiveness. She backpedaled towards the door.
“We aren't done here. You know what it is.”
“I do not,” she snapped. Her head hurt in a sharp way that made her more frustrated and angry than she already was. “Stop it,” her voice twisted, snarling.
“In denial, yup, keep it up, Coffee, and you’ll earn that brand new horn you’re sporting,” Kingsley said, stopping, sitting down to regard her. “Maybe we’ll all get lucky and you’ll kill us all before we starve to death.”
Horn? No, that wasn’t what was hurting her head, she wanted to reach up with a hoof, but her pounding heart and blurring vision froze her in place. The extra weight told her what she couldn’t bring herself to confirm with a touch.
“All right,” she looked around the fake room, which was starting to fade. “Princess? Luna? We can stop now.” Silence. “Princess? PRINCESS!”
Coffee woke up violently, gasping, her heart pounding, but to her companions they only saw her body shudder and her eyes snap open. Okay, I’m done with the nightmare, nightmare, who’s having the nightmare game, too, she decided.
Kingsley wasn’t next to her...oh yeah. Her heat. He’s probably hold up on the other side of the cave. Looking around, sure enough, she spied him on the frienemies side. A magically-conjured chain attached to his hoof, he wasn’t looking too perturbed about it as he was dead asleep, snoring softly.
“Coffee?” a hoof came to rest on her wither, making her jump a foot into the air. She screeched loudly enough it woke Shining on the other side of the cave.
“Don’t do that!” the earth mare scolded Cadence, turning to her.
“Sorry. You have a bad dream too?” she asked in sympathy. She was surprised by the glare she received for saying that.
“Yeah, you could call it that,” Coffee said, irritated. Realizing she was being cross, but for the wrong reason, she shook her head. “Look, I’m sorry, but dammit, before we get out of here, I have one more thing to say before I become the next ‘most likely to turn into an uber in this cave’.”
13. All’s Well that Ends up in Hell (or in this case, Tartarus)
By now Shining had come over to see what was going on. He too raised an eyebrow at Coffee’s statement. He gestured back towards the snoring unicorn. “Should I wake him for this?”
“No...I dunno,” she fretted, even more visibly irritated now. “No. He wouldn’t understand.”
“Won’t understand what?” came a voice from where he was.
Coffee facehoofed herself. “Dammit, Kingsley, just...go back to...sleep!” she snapped.
The dark unicorn sat up, mindful that he was still chained to the cave floor. “So far all of this has involved all of us and we all understand...where...we’re all coming from?” he said, almost losing track. “Anyway, I wanna help, Coffee,” he voice slipped from confused to gentle and concerned.
Shining genuinely smiled at him for the first time since had met. His horn lit up, undoing the stallion’s chain. Kingsley’s eyebrows raised and so did he, trotting over to the group. He was met by the warmth of the white Prince’s greeting.
“You really have changed,” he put a hoof on Kingsley’s wither. “It’s good to see.”
His smile was returned. “Thanks.”
That settled, all eyes turned back to Coffee. She fought off the smile that had briefly appeared seeing Shining’s sincerity, her anger dulled, but coming back. It didn’t take long to build back up once she resumed speaking. “I’m glad this all ended well for Kingsley and all and it’s good that you two lovebirds mended your issues, but if we’re airing all the dirty laundry in the room between us,” she paused, wondering how to say this without destroying the goodwill and moods it took such intense interaction to finally achieve. She decided there was just no good way to spin it, so she was going to go for the gold. “You two are a pair of royal assholes!”
“No, Kingsley, I have to say it and I am not going to sugar-coat this, even if it means we can finally get the tartarus out of here,” she countered.
Taken aback, but waiting on the ranting earth mare, Shining and Cadence bit back whatever gut reaction they might have felt should be said, as well as new questions as to what she meant by, "we can finally get out of here".
“I know Cadence had just gotten that uber ejected from her head and Shining was all over her making sure she was okay, okay?” the reporter started. “And no one had any reason to give a damn why I was standing over Kingsley’s remains - “
The Princess of Love put a hoof to her mouth, hit with the pain of Coffee’s emotions as strongly as if she had been slapped across the face by the angry mare.
“And he didn’t deserve any sympathy for the way he acted while possessed,” she glanced without reproach at the dark stallion. “But he was good at the end and caring and sacrificed himself to get that thing out of your hide, Princess.” Her head swung back to Cadence, her voice starting to shake with emotion. “But have you ever seen anypony you cared about murdered in front of you?” She stopped as she felt Kingsley’s hoof and she looked back to him. “You never even screamed - and you knew what was going to happen if you took it back - “ her own hoof went to her lips, her withers shaking with repressed sobs at the memory.
Somehow Coffee Talk got herself back under control enough to continue as her friend withdrew his hoof, knowing her well enough he should give her some space at this point, but still be there for her.
“I was in shock during the train ride back home,” she went on. “I can’t even remember how long I sat there in the dark after I put Kingsley’s old helmet and bloody, blown-up horn up on the mantle.” She looked at Shining. “Maybe you can do that in the field - just kill someone, or watch them be killed, Shining, and go on to the next victim or tell yourself it was for the good of the damn country, but I couldn’t. I did the only thing I could to work through the whole, horrible experience. I wrote it down.”
“And I could deal with that. I’ve lost ponies before, family I loved. My mother, but you your ‘Highness’,” she spat, turning full to face the love Princess now, the grief in her voice turning, betraying all she had felt afterward, a wall built by their silence, denial and her frustration and pain. She glared at Cadence with undisguised hatred. “You refused to even acknowledge it had happened. You can’t say you weren’t there, can you, your ‘Highness’?”
“She went through Tartarus - “ her husband finally spoke up, feeling defensive of her.
“Shut up!” Coffee yelled in his face. “This isn’t about what you think - or your pathetic, clueless subjects you have to hide the truth from because Celestia-forbid they’re so fragile that even the news of him being defeated a second time would send them into a panic!” She beat a hoof against her chest, glancing back and forth between them. “This is about my feelings getting the beat down as if they didn’t matter worth a damn! The only thing I could do to honor Kingsley’s sacrifice and his memory and you couldn’t be bothered to even just listen to me, you were so busy saving face and burying the truth!”
The brown mare broke down, anger spent, all she had left was sobbing. Kingsley moved in to put his hooves around her as her whole body was wracked with unexpressed pain and grief so violently forced to the surface. He endured the onslaught, rubbing her broad back in gentle circles, nuzzling her tear-soaked face while Cadence and Shining looked at each other with mixed and confused reactions stemming from “we screwed up” to “there is another side to this, you know” and yet knowing they had to let her get her grief out.
After enduring a few moments of soul-wracking sobs and a grip that was starting to turn his arms blue from her earth pony strength, the grey unicorn gently nudged Coffee away from them to their sleeping spot. It was to his credit with the couple that he gave them no reproachful looks, only glances that were awkward and just plain sad, but always quickly turning back to his distraught friend, closing his eyes as he nuzzled her face against his.
Behind them, Cadence turned to Shining. “She’s right, you know,” she whispered to him.
“Yeah, I suppose we could have handled that better,” he agreed. “But she wasn’t exactly letting us know she had such an emotional investment in him when she came back later to 'give her readers the truth'. Her entire attitude focused on her determination to shame us in public.”
His wife, nodded, nuzzling him in agreement. “She cares for him more than they’re willing to admit. Love and loss of love doesn’t let a pony think clearly.” She kissed his cheek. “I discovered that first hand when I thought I had lost you to Queen Chrysalis.”
Shining smiled, nodding in turn. He cast a sad look at the crying mare. “Is there any way we can make it up to her?” he wondered, watching Kingsley get up, letting Coffee’s physical exhaustion from the emotional onslaught work itself out until she fell asleep.
Cadence shrugged. “Apologize when she wakes up?” she suggested. “Right now that’s all I can think of doing. I don’t even know if we should try to explain what our reasoning was at the time. I don’t want to insult her intelligence. As a reporter, she should know that sometimes you have to leave out the truth to protect your subjects.” She finished as the dark unicorn came up to them.
“I’m sorry,” Kingsley apologized to them, keeping his voice low as well. “I’m sure she already knows that, but emotions can really bottle up until they explode. I had no idea she went through all this when I died.”
Cadence smiled at him. “She must love you very much to feel that way, Kingsley.”
He shrugged, blushing. “I dunno...we’re just friends.”
“Now...maybe later..?” grinned Shining Armor.
“Now, now, Shining, don’t tease him,” his wife mock scolded. “Let’s move away and let her get some rest.” She shooed the two stallions back over towards the other side of the cave.
“We still have the problem of getting out of here,” the prince sighed when they got settled away from Coffee, who had already fallen asleep.
Kingsley looked to her, then back to them. “I think that’s being taken care of,” he said simply, grinning...
14. In the end it was breakfast against the wall and Kingsley’s bondage fantasy
Coffee Talk awoke to the wonderful smell of breakfast...fresh-baked bread, oatmeal and a deliciously-scented fruit compote. Cracking an eye open, she rolled over in bed…
...wait a sec…
As she completed the rollover, she saw Kingsley there, as before, holding a breakfast tray in his magic, smiling at her.
“Good...morning?” the coal grey unicorn started out cheerfully and ended up questioningly as he was stared at by the annoyed, brown mare.
She sat up while her housemate tried to decide what to do next. Coffee, in the meantime, rolled her eyes.
“All right, brain, uber, or whatever Tartarus-damned power in Equestria decided I needed a repeat hallucination. It didn’t work the first time and I’m not doing it again now!” her voice raising, ended with the reporter chucking the breakfast tray into the air with a well-placed upper kick of her back leg to its underside.
“Hey!” Its flight was punctuated by Kingsley’s involuntary yelp of surprise and reciprocal annoyance. He watched the contents fly through the air, quickly enveloping them in a field that kept them from hitting the floor.
“What’s your problem?” he not quite snapped, righting the tray. He was successful in getting the bread back onto a now upright plate, but found the oatmeal particles too far-flung and soggy to do anything with except drag a trash can over underneath them.
“Geeze, can’t a pony do something nice for somepony, especially after what we’ve been through?” Somehow he saved the fruit compote, positioning the jar under it, moving that particular mess away from the oatmeal and releasing that part of the field. Splitting the field in two at that point, the saved compote and bread he set on the dresser and shot Coffee an acid look as he let the oatmeal land in the can. Whether it was out of spite or bad timing, some of the oatmeal landed in Coffee’s hair and on her cheek.
“Fine. I’m going back to bed,” he added sourly, turning to leave. Refrains of, “never should have got up in the first place,” drifted down the hallway as he disappeared.
“Fine!” she yelled. “Damn hallucination.” Her hoof scooped the dream-created oatmeal off her cheek and absently put it in her mouth as she heard Kingsley’s door close and the bed creak as he flopped back into it.
The oatmeal tasted pretty good for not being real.
Flopping onto her back as well, the mare waited to wake up, staring at the ceiling. Her stomach growled in protest at not getting the rest of the now-deceased breakfast.
At some point Coffee opened her eyes. “Knew it was a dream,” she grumbled, getting out of bed - and slipping on something. She looked down, eyeing remains of oatmeal on the floor. Using the bed as leverage to get back on her hooves, her head snapped over to the dresser and found the fruit and bread were still there. “Oh...crapbaskets!”
Coffee took the time to shower and put on a shirt before she peeked into the kitchen where she saw a newspaper floating in the air, obscuring Kingsley from view. Embarrassed, she tried to tiptoe over to the sink to set the empty bread plate down.
“Ate if after all?” the stallion said, distracted by some news article he was reading in the Daily Yakut Update.
The mare poured herself some coffee. “Uh, yeah. Sorry about that,” sliding into a chair opposite him, she smirked. “Would you believe I had a nightmare that started the exact same way while we were in the cav - “ she paused. With the reviving hot shower and smell of coffee, it finally hit her properly where they were. “We’re home? Really home?”
The page turned, paper lowering enough she could see him now. Normal Kingsley, normal, red magical aura holding the paper and non-red eyes scanning the classifieds. “Yeah. Boy, life really doesn’t start for you before coffee in the morning.”
“Shut up,” she scowled, but only half-heartedly. “What did ponies use a thousand years ago before coffee?” she retaliated.
“A cold shower,” he replied, losing interest in the paper, though refusing to lower it since he was still slightly annoyed with her behavior. “Why’d you think Uber was angry all the time?” He found his juice and took a sip. “Thank the Gods things have changed.”
The mare looked around. “Is there any more - “
“On the window sill,” he inclined his head. “Thought you’d want some, so I kept it warm.”
She picked it up, along with the remains of the fruit spread and a new spoon and returned to her seat. She had just lifted a prepared slab of bread to her lips when she took in a breath. “Oh Tartarus! What time is it?”
“Saturday. Don’t sweat it.”
Coffee resumed breathing, relieved she wasn’t late for work. Once she’d devoured enough food to slack her hunger and wiped out her first cup of joe, she felt steady enough to ask, “I don’t remember much...how’d we get out? Did you tell them? What happened?”
The unicorn finally put the paper aside. “Geeze, when you see red, you black everything out.” He paused, thinking back. “So you cried yourself unconscious. Guess you were pretty angry and about to have a nervous breakdown - “
Kingsley’s eyes widened. “Holy - why didn’t you tell Princess Luna before we agreed to help Cadence and Shining?”
“It’s not bad,” she shrugged. “At least not as bad as it used to be when I was a filly.” Coffee swirled the second cup around in its container, watching the creamer she’d added spin and slowly dissolve. “I was really okay most of the time. I guess my estrus kinda threw me outta wack. And I felt like I owed it to Luna for helping me out so much with you when you were uberized..and dead.”
Kingsley nodded, agreeing. “So, I suppose you got in touch with Luna while you were asleep...do you remember?”
Coffee shook her head. “Barely, yeah. I think I remember that, now that you mention it.”
“Once you two talked, Luna pointed out where we were to the mountain rescue team and helped them dig us out,” he finished up.
Coffee’s brown eyes lifted from her beverage, catching his gaze in hers. “Were they mad?”
“Shining was kinda shocked at first. Cadence just had that look of a deer in the headlights, but she realized yeah, they’d needed an intervention,” he told her. “Luna scolded them and told them if they ever stop communicating like that again, next time she’d teleport them into a locked room in the castle and throw away the coordinates.”
“As long as they leave me the heck out of it,” Coffee Talk agreed, nodding. “Sorry I wasn’t there for the scolding.”
Kingsley cracked a grin. “Yeah, it wasn’t equal payment to the stress and crap we had to go through putting up with Armor, but I think the lesson stuck.”
“I hope so!” his housemate agreed wholeheartedly. “At least you and I are paid up with Luna and we’ll never have to see those two again.”
“This’ll be the last place they come back to in our lifetime, I’ll bet,” the unicorn agreed, grinning wickedly.
Coffee got up and put the dishes in the sink. On her way back, she noticed Kingsley had circled something in the classifieds section. Curious, she peered closer at it. “What’s that you got marked?”
“Oh, something I want to check out,” he shrugged. “There’s this game Shining Armor was telling me about while we were waiting for them to finish digging us out. Turns out there’s a local chapter here in Yakut. It sounds like fun. You’re always saying I need a hobby.”
“‘Seeking players for Ogres and Oubliettes,’” the mare read aloud. “‘Role playing fun - chapters in every city. Tournaments coming soon.’ What’s an ‘oubliette’?” Coffee asked.
Kingsley wrinkled his nose, slightly wincing. “It’s - ah - basically a hole in the ground they used to throw condemned prisoners in.”
Picking up the discomfort in his voice, she started to ask, “Ah, did you - never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“No, you don’t,” he said, relieved.
“Why would that be fun to play? Wait - role playing? Sounds like a bunch of stallion nerds hiding indoors on date night ‘cause they can’t mount - “
“I resent that remark,” he stopped her.
“Why? Just bring a date,” Coffee shrugged.
“I was thinking about it,” Kingsley admitted. “I wouldn’t know anypony there - I’d feel kinda shy about - “
“You? Shy?” the mare sputtered.
“It could happen!” he defended, standing, following her into the living room.
“I’d pay bits to see that, buddy,” laughed Coffee.
“Good ‘cause I was going to ask you if you wanted to - “
“Maybe you could introduce to me to the Ponyville chapter,” he whined mildly. “We’re going next month to see - “
“Good luck, nerd,” she replied.
“Aw, c’mon, Coffee,” he moaned. “If you play, I’ll let you chain me up...let me rephrase that...” his voice drifted outside the living room window, lost to the clip-clop of traffic down the little dirt road leading out of the suburbs and down into the busy downtown streets of Yakut Valley.