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Illusion of Choice · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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This Side of the Mirror
"Honestly, Your Highness?" Abacus Cinch smiled, but Shining Armor had gotten warmer looks from thugs during his days patrolling Canterlot's seedier neighborhoods. "I would've thought you had more pressing issues than serving tea to an old civil servant."

Cadance's smile, though, showed that she was every inch the Sun's niece. "Not at all, Ms. Cinch." Her hornglow surrounded the teapot, the afternoon light shimmering crisply through the conservatory's roof. "I've found it extremely helpful to meet with those who lived through—" Cadance filled their guest's cup "—the unpleasantness."

"Unpleasantness." Cinch took a soundless sip of tea. "What a charming way of putting it."

"Oh, forgive me, Ms. Cinch!" Cadance became the very image of contrition. "I certainly don't mean to belittle the suffering you must've experienced during those dreadful years!"

The tiniest trace of an actual smile pulled at the crystal mare's snout, and Armor put another check in the 'yes' column of his mental list. He'd helped Cadance comfort many weeping ponies while they recalled Sombra's nightmarish reign, but as soon as he'd laid eyes on Abacus Cinch, he'd known that today's tea party wouldn't be like that. "Don't concern yourself, Your Highness," Cinch said. "I'm just happy it's all behind me."

"Behind us all." Cadance nodded. "Have you attended any Truth and Reconciliation Committee meetings? They're doing so much to help those who once served Sombra come forward, make amends, and begin the healing process."

"But you know," Armor added, taking his cue, "we still haven't found Sombra's second-in-command, the mare they called Chisel." He tried to keep the edge out of his voice. "It's as if nopony survived to give a description of her."

Cinch sipped again. "Pity."

"Yes." Cadance cocked her head. "Still, Ms. Cinch, you're familiar with my sister-in-law?"

"Princess Twilight?" A twitch pulled the corner of Cinch's eye, and Armor checked every other box in his 'yes' column. "She played an integral part in keeping Your Highness on His Majesty's throne, did she not?"

It took Armor some effort not to slap a shield around her there and then, but he'd promised Cadance he would follow her lead. "She did," Cadance was saying. "But lately she's taken several journeys through a magic mirror into a world much like our own."

"Fascinating." Cinch sounded as if she'd rather be talking about bugs.

"And even more fascinating?" Cadance's tone made Armor think of syrup. "We all have duplicates living different lives in this alternate world! Canterlot is a school, and my aunts are its principals! Twilight even met her other self and heard all about my duplicate!"

Something like a smirk pulled Cinch's snout. "The principal of some crystal-themed school, I presume?"

"Oddly, no." All trace of Cadance's humor vanished. "The principal of Crystal Prep is named Abacus Cinch."

Armor had never seen a pony go as still as Cinch did.

"And once I learned," Cadance continued, "that somepony by that name has been working as a palace accountant since the days of King Sombra, well—" For the first time in his life, Armor felt a chill looking at his beloved "—I felt we should talk."

"I see." Cinch set down her cup. "In what direction do you propose to take this talk, Your Highness?"

"That, Ms. Cinch, is entirely your choice."

"Choice?" Their guest barked a laugh. "What are my options? Confess or deny that I share a name with some magical mirror being?"

Gritting his teeth, Armor leaned toward her. "Are you Chisel?"

"I'm an accountant." She folded her hooves on the table. "Am I being arrested?"

As much as Armor wanted to shout 'yes,' he just puffed a breath through his nostrils and sat back.

"On the contrary," Cadance said, and Armor wished he could lock Abacus Cinch up for making his wife's voice go so quiet and flat. "Whoever you are, you have a place here. And any time you'd like to discuss your past—"

"Upstart!" A sneer crackled Cinch's face, but it vanished as Armor leaped to his hooves. "Forgive me, Your Highness," she said, her eyes closed. "Are we finished?"

"You always have choices, Ms. Cinch." Cadance stood. "Thank you for coming."

Her expression blank, Cinch rose and trotted out of the conservatory.

"Oh, Armie!" Cadance wavered on her hooves. "She'll come around, won't she?"

Armor moved to her side, her damp face pressing into his shoulder. "Sure," he said, making a mental note to triple the guard surreptitiously watching Abacus Cinch. "Sure she will."
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