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Unstable Relationships · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Love Bug
The morning sunlight from the bedroom window crept slowly across the ceiling's gold inlay. Cadance watched it and didn't want to think what she was thinking, didn't want to give voice to the feelings rustling through her. But—

Lolling her head sideways on her pillow, she asked, "Is it just me, or is something off today?"

"How so?" Twilight looked over from the book she was reading, and Cadance had to smile. More often than not, it seemed, she went to sleep watching Twilight read and woke to the same sight the next morning.

Her smile faltered. Because for all that she remembered very clearly every terrifying and wonderful moment with Twilight—being her foalsitter, meeting her years later at school, their courtship, their wedding, the changeling invasion, the reappearance of the Crystal Empire, their battle against Sombra, their coronation as Crystal Princess and Consort, the work they'd done to help the crystal ponies adjust to life in the modern world, doing their parts against Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow—this didn't seem...right.

"I don't know," she had to admit. Her face getting hot, she reached out and touched Twilight's flank, some small part of her expecting that her hoof would pass right through or that she would suddenly awaken to find somepony else in bed beside her.

"Well..." Twilight set the book on the nightstand. "We've both learned not to discount your feelings." Taking Cadance's hoof between both of hers, she kissed it. "What do you need me to do?"

The heat of her embarrassment changed to a much sweeter warmth, and Cadance stretched her neck so she could touch Twilight's lips with her own. "Just be your usual wonderful, beautiful, devastatingly intelligent self."

Twilight half closed her eyes. "I think I can manage that," she murmured before leaning forward to initiate a much deeper kiss.

Cadance's heart fluttered the way it always did when Twilight got assertive like this—

Except that Twilight had never gotten assertive like this because Twilight shouldn't even be here kissing her and—!

With a gasp, Cadance pulled back, her magic flaring uncontrollably and popping her across the room, her wings spread and her feathers bristling.

The warmth inside her burst into the prickliest sort of heat, and Cadance tried to find some words, some way of explaining herself to Twilight, still blinking at her from the bed. But since she didn't understand what was happening, all she could do for a long, long moment was blink back.

"All right, then," Twilight said into the silence. "I guess we might as well get started."

"I'm sorry!" Cadance blurted. "I...I don't know what—"

"It's all right, Cay." Pushing aside the blankets with her hornglow, Twilight rolled out of bed onto all fours and padded across the carpet to her closet. "This certainly isn't the strangest thing that's ever—"

"Your wings." Shock made Cadance whisper it. Because Twilight's wings were gone.

Except that Twilight had never had wings! How could she? She was a unicorn, not a pegasus and certainly not an—

"My what?" Twilight looked over her shoulder, her magic continuing to pull on the ceremonial silver and gold flanchard and peytral she wore as Captain of the Crystal Guard and Consort to the Crystal Princess.


"Nothing." Shaking her head did exactly that—nothing—to dispel the jagged uneasiness growing inside her. "I...I'll go notify Sunburst that we'll be away for the rest of the day and possibly longer."

"Away?" With a final click, Twilight turned, the sight of her in full regalia always making Cadance feel better about everything. "You think this is something outside the Empire?"

It took some effort to tear her gaze away from Twilight, from how very, very right and very, very wrong she looked. "It's big, Twily." She had to swallow to clear the roughness from her voice. "Really big."

Twilight gave a crisp nod. "All right. I'll tell Flash Sentry to activate the Guard and send word to have the royal coach attached to the next train."

"Could we—?" Part of Cadance stuttered at the idea, sure that she and Twilight had never done anything like what she as thinking. But the rest of her knew that they had, so she pushed on. "Could we teleport? The sooner we get this settled, I think, the better."

That got Twilight ears perking. "Shall we say Ponyville first to check on Discord and see if Starlight's noticed anything, then up to Canterlot to ask the princess?"

Not trusting herself to speak, Cadance just nodded.

"All right," Twilight said again. "I'll talk to Sentry, you talk to Sunburst, and we'll meet back here in fifteen minutes."

It took some more effort for Cadance not to run to the palace dining room, but Sunburst was there as always, his mane and beard as always perfectly coiffed, the chancellor's pendent shining as always from the chain around his neck. "Your Highness," he said as always, rising from his coffee and granola. He always insisted on calling her by her title the first time he saw her every day, but then he was fine with 'Cadance' after that.


Flailing out with her magic, Cadance grabbed a basket of muffins. "Emergency protocol one, Sunburst: Twilight's informing Commander Sentry right now. Hopefully we'll be back before nightfall, but you have my full authority until we return."

Sunburst's eyes went wide behind his glasses, but he asked the way he was supposed to, "And the code of the day, ma'am?"

"Persimmon." Several quick bites of muffin helped settle her a bit. "As near as we can tell, the threat's unspecific and non-localized. Just put out word that Twily and I are visiting the princess in Canterlot and keep alert."

His ears dropped just a bit. "You and Twilight be careful, Cadance."

Flipping her mane, Cadance gave a laugh she didn't feel. "Well, maybe just this once." But as soon as she was back in the hallway, she pulled the muffin basket to her chest and flapped as quickly as she could to their chambers.

She managed to suck down two more muffins before a crackle of light in the center of the room dissipated to show Twilight. "Everything set?" she asked.

Cadance nodded and levitated the basket over to her. "You'd better get some food in you."

Twilight smiled and plucked a muffin with a waver of her own magic. "Why? You're the engine here: I'm just navigating."

Despite everything, Cadance had to return her smile. They'd found early in their relationship that, with Twilight's knowledge of magic backed by Cadance's raw alicorn power, they could pretty much do anything they set out to try. Including teleport halfway around the world...


Not allowing her inner shaking to show, she sniffed with mock indignation and snatched the basket back. "Yes, I'm used to being the work horse around here."

When she was wearing her barding, Twilight's little giggle was the cutest thing Cadance had ever even been able to imagine. "You can't fool me," Twilight said, closing her eyes partway again. "You love being the big spoon."

Cadance's wings twitched with the impulse to swoop over, scoop Twilight up, deposit them both in the bed so close and so beckoning, and forget all this whatever it was.


The blue of her magic grabbed her saddlebags; she pulled them from the rack beside the door and settled them across her back. "Let's go."

One last swallow finished off the muffin, then Twilight turned away from her. "Any time you're ready."

Her face doing some more heating up, Cadance spread her wings, swooped over, and scooped Twilight into a hover, her wife's back fitting perfectly against her chest and stomach even with the armor. Leaning forward, she touched the tip of her longer horn to Twilight's, almost gasped the way she did every time at the sensation of Twilight's magic wrapping over her, around her, and through her. Her eyes sliding closed, Cadance surrendered herself to Twilight's touch—let her take the reins, as it were—and everything around her shifted: the temperature, the air pressure, the angle and intensity of the sunlight against her eyelids, the scents all woods, dirt, and grass after the drier, more crystalline aroma of home.

Opening her eyes, she saw Ponyville below them—it was always safer, they'd discovered, to do these really long-range transports while airborne to keep from getting tangled up in rocks or buildings or anything.

The town looked normal, something that usually proved to be deceiving. Ponies were setting up the market in the town square to their left, the cupcake-shaped building at the south end of the square showing a lot of traffic in and out. Without even thinking, Cadance curved her wings and glided them that way.

"Well, now!" a countrified accent called as Cadance brought them in for a landing. "Princess Cadance and Twilight Sparkle!" A cider-colored earth pony harnessed to an apple cart stopped and touched the brim of her hat—Applejack was her name, in fact, if Cadance was remembering rightly. "Been a right while! What're y'all doing in town?"

Since Twilight was shifting her armor back into position, Cadance gave a little laugh and a little shrug. "Oh, this and that," she said in the ditzy voice she'd used in school whenever she'd wanted ponies to dismiss her as an airhead: that the act had never fooled Twilight was one of the many reasons they'd gotten together despite the difference in their ages.


Cadance cleared her throat. "I don't suppose you've noticed anything weird going on this morning?"

Applejack tapped her chin. "Nothing's jumped out at me." She glanced over her shoulder and called back to a large red earth pony stallion hauling a bigger apple cart and a little blue pegasus mare drifting along beside him, the two giggling and nuzzling each other. "You love birds seen anything peculiar so far today?"

"Nnnope," the earth pony said.

The pegasus—Rainbow Dash, the mane and tail reminded Cadance—just smirked. "I wouldn't call what I saw peculiar since I find it waiting for me just about every morning." She nudged the stallion. "I'd say breath-taking might be a better word."

The stallion somehow turned even redder.

All Cadance's muscles were tightening, rooting her to the ground. Beside her, though, she could almost hear the clatter of Applejack's eyes rolling. "Sorry, Princess." She nodded toward the bakery. "Course, if you're looking for peculiar..."

Cadance couldn't loosen her jaw enough to answer.

Twilight did, though, a smile pulling her lips but not going any further. "Exactly." She bowed more than a little stiffly. "Thank you for your time this morning, Applejack, and I hope that we'll see you again soon."

"Sure thing, Twilight, ma'am." Applejack touched her hat again, then leaned toward Cadance. "And I ain't exactly complaining, Your Highness, but if you had something that'd tone them two down just a mite, I wouldn't mind you sending it out to the Acres." She gave a low laugh and started pulling her cart after the others.

The love flooding off Rainbow and the stallion buoyed Cadance enough to breathe again, but its edges seemed too scratchy, too lumpy, too frayed, almost as if—

As if they're supposed to be in love with other ponies?

The ringing of a bell interrupted the thought, made her turn to see Twilight pushing the door open and stepping into Sugarcube Corner.

"Well, now!" The voice saying it this time made Cadance think of a helium balloon. "If this doesn't take the cake! And it does 'cause you two are gonna be taking some of our cake!" A pink blur flashed past, and Cadance found that her magic had somehow activated and was holding a small plate with a slice of cake on it. "Special for visiting princesses!" The pink blur froze in front of Twilight and became Pinkie Pie, a name Cadance knew without even having to think about it. "And princess consorts, too," Pinkie said, reaching past the plate of cake floating in front of a startled Twilight to tap her nose with a hoof. "'Cause I know the proper terminology is cru-cru-crucial!"

"Umm," Twilight said. "Thank you, Pinkie. That...that's very kind of you." She leaned forward, took a bite of cake, and brightened considereably. "Oh, wow! This is incredible!"

Pinkie was hopping up and down in place. "Isn't it? My snookie-wookums puts his special sorta magic into everything he bakes!"

Twilight's eyes went wide, and she stopped chewing. "Discord baked this?"

Cadance gave another phony laugh. "What a coincidence! He's exactly who we came to see!"

"Hooray!" Pinkie shouted, but then her face was suddenly clenched and shoved directly into Cadance's. "Unless you're here trying to pin something on him," she muttered, and while Cadance had never imagined a helium balloon could sound threatening, Pinkie definitely managed it. "'Cause I won't stand by and let my snookie-wookums get railroaded!"

"No!" Cadance managed to gasp. "We...we're just here to consult with him about something that might or might not be happening!"

And Pinkie was back to hopping. "All right-o rooty, then!" She swept a hoof past the line of ponies waiting at the front counter, and Cadance saw Discord in a baker's hat merrily tapping away at the cash register. "Snookie-wookums!" Pinkie called. "Trade places in three, two—"

"One!" Discord shouted, appearing in a puff of smoke where Pinkie had been standing, and now that he was closer, Cadance could tell that it was a large mushroom sprouting from the space between his antlers rather than a baker's hat.

"Whoo-hoo!" Pinkie shouted from across the room, her hooves tapping the cash register.

Discord blew her a kiss, then turned with a big, snaggle-toothed smile and pressed his lion paw and eagle talons together. "Now, ladies, what can I do for you?"

Cadance stared up at him, her insides feeling like she'd swallowed multiple bowling pins as well as the ball that was knocking them over.

Beside her, she heard Twilight clearing her throat. "Cadance and I are looking for your professional opinion as a spirit of chaos."

"Well, now!" A big purple bow tie with yellow spots sprouted around his neck. "I'll finally get to add 'consultant' to my resume!"

"Yes." Twilight cleared her throat again, Cadance struggling to breathe around the jagged chunks of love—or something like it—careening invisibly and insubstantially through the air. "Cadance seems to think the world's experiencing an imbalance. We know it's not you doing it, let me hasten to say: your behavior since Princess Celestia and Princess Luna retired has been exemplary, and nopony who's seen you around Pinkie Pie could doubt the truth of your reformation. But we were wondering if you've noticed anything out of the ordinary this morning."

"Ordinary?" Discord's mouth went sideways, and his bow tie vanished with a pop. "Perhaps you don't understand, Mrs. Sprackle—"

"Sparkle," Twilight said.

"Whatever." At a snap of his claws, the walls of the shop turned transparent, ponies, griffins, reformed changelings, even a few dragons and minotaurs strolling through the streets. "This, you see, is Ponyville. Ordinary stops at the city limits."

"Well, now!" The fourth voice to say those words in the past few minutes sent Cadance spinning. Two ponies were looking up and down along the see-through walls, a white unicorn and a light yellow pegasus, the two of them wearing dresses that complimented each other so well, even if Cadance hadn't been able to sense the love flowing between them, she would've known they were a couple.


"Really, Pinkie!" the unicorn was saying with a slow grin. "If you were going to redecorate the shop, you might've consulted with—"

"Sorry!" Cadance lurched sideways, grabbed Twilight, and leaped for the doorway. "We've got to—! We can't—! There's something—!" Flapping over the startled unicorn and ducking pegasus, she hefted Twilight to her chest and broke for the open sky.

"Cadance?" Twilight asked, her voice in Cadance's ears understandably a bit breathless.

"Canterlot Tower!" The words wanted to come out as a scream, but Cadance managed to keep a partial lid on it. "Right now!"

"But..." Raising a hoof, Twilight gestured to the School of Friendship, spreading along its hillside beside the old palace. "Starlight Glimmer's the princess's former student, and, well, she might be less busy than—"

"Canterlot Tower!" It was a lot closer to a scream this time; Cadance wanted to take a deep breath, but she was panting too heavily for that. "Please!" She bent forward to touch her horn to Twilight's.

The familiar rush of Twilight's magic whooshed through her—


—and the alabaster marble of the throne room in Canterlot shut out the sky, the sound and scent of flowing water trying to soothe Cadance with its ambiance.


On the throne, the princess's wings shot out, feathers of red and orange and yellow matching her mane. "What the—? Cadance? Twilight? What's going on?"

"Hi, Sunset," Twilight said, her voice tight. "Sorry about barging in, but—"

The throne room door burst open, and a white pegasus stallion in full palace armor charged in. "Nopony move! I—" He stopped, blinked, and his mouth went sideways. "Okay, is this a 'Twilynanas' situation?"

Cadance felt Twilight shrug. "It's not me this time, Shiny."

The princess vanished in a gout of fire and reappeared beside the stallion. "It's all right, honey," she said, stroking a wing across the stallion's side—

The stallion. Shining Armor. Twilight's brother. Captain of the Canterlot Guard and Royal Consort, married to...to...to—

Princess Sunset stepped forward, one wingtip still resting on Shining Armor's shoulder. "Cadance?" she asked, everything about her radiating concern. "You look like you could use a nice cup of tea, huh? How about we go into the—"

The happy gurgle of a foal rang out from nowhere, and a light orange alicorn filly appeared hovering behind Sunset Shimmer and Shining Armor.

No. No, no, no, no—

An instant later, a blue unicorn mare with some sort of magic wand as her cutie mark and an annoyed expression on her face popped in beside the child. "Luster!" the unicorn more barked than said. "You can't go teleporting off like that! What—?" The unicorn's eyes went wide, glancing around as if realizing suddenly where she was. "Your Highness! I don't know what's got into Luster Dawn! She just started—" Her eyes narrowed this time. "Oh. Her aunts are here. No wonder she's become unruly."

"No," Cadance heard herself saying out loud. "No, no, no, no, no!" Each repetition, she noticed, was getting louder and louder, her insides squeezing tighter and tighter, the air bellowing in and out of her lungs growing hotter and hotter.

Every eye around her was wide and staring, and as much as Cadance wanted to blast them all, force them to stop whatever terrible game they thought they were playing—

She couldn't because none of them were doing it. The ebb and flow of emotions in the room, the feelings of friendship, the familial bonds, the love everywhere both general and specific, she could tell it was real. It was just the way it swirled up and down and around everypony that was wrong.

So it had to be an outside force acting on them.

Clenching her teeth, she let her rage at the lies and the deceit bubble and build, a pink haze crackling and swirling faster and faster with her at the epicenter, everypony else frozen like insects in amber. "Show yourself!" she shrieked, and she let fly all the power of honesty and devotion, of love and truth and right, cracked the very space ahead of her into a black jagged fissure—

Out of which dropped something smaller than a foal, something black and red with too many legs and a pair of antennae waving frantically. "All right! All right!" the thing yelled in a surprisingly deep voice. "I give up! You win! You win!"

The redness flashed from its back, a glowing mist that covered everything—Twilight, the other ponies, the throne room. Cadance found herself surrounded with the bug thing about five paces ahead of her. "I...win?" she more warbled than said. "Win...what?"

"I know, I know." Wings unfolded from the thing's back—was it a giant sort of ladybug?—and it rose buzzing into the air. "It was a one-sided contest since I didn't tell you about it, but I'll contend that the element of surprise was absolutely crucial."

She was sure her brain was physically twitching. "Contest?"

"Oh, yeah." The words came out with so much bass, they rumbled, and the thing flew up to hover in front her: a bug about half the size of her head, its red wings flashing in a heart shape as they hummed behind it. "The Princess of Love versus the Love Bug. A battle for the ages."

"Love Bug?" Every hair on Cadance's body bristled. "Some kind of changeling, you mean?"

"Please." The bug waved two legs on its left side. "Those wanna-bes?" It gave a low chuckle. "Or maybe I should spell it with two 'e's, huh? 'Cause they're nothing, not even insects, not now, not ever." It crooked a front leg to point at itself. "I'm the Original Gangster of Love, baby girl, the only real competition you're ever gonna have."

"Competition?" Cadance's confusion was slowly tightening back into anger. "What are you talking about?"

"Am I gonna hafta spell it out for you, baby girl?" It made a 'tsk-tsk' sound, which seemed odd since, as far as Cadance could tell, it didn't have a tongue. "And to think that I lost to a creature as clueless as you."

But Cadance could see it now, could see the way the love around her had been pinched and folded, bent out of shape and twisted, all the distortions leading right back to this bug. "However you did this," she forced out through clenched teeth, "you will undo it. Right now!"

"Really?" The bug gave a twirl, and the throne room faded back in, everypony still frozen, the light still tinged with the Love Bug's red glow. "You don't love your sweet little Twilight anymore?"

Cadance looked at Twilight, at Shining Armor and the alicorn filly, her heart twinging in three completely different ways. "I love them all," she whispered. "Just...not like this."

"Well?" The bug's deep voice settled over her as smooth as silk. "With life and love, variety's the spice. How d'you know everypony everywhere doesn't like things this way better?"

She spun, the bug pulling back just before she could smack it with her horn. "Because this isn't right! This isn't natural! This is something you manipulated into existence! Love, real love, is all about choice and consent and an understanding that develops between ponies! And besides!" She stomped a hoof with the force of a thunderclap to blow the last bit of her confusion away. "You said I won! Which means you put it back the way it was, and you put it back right now!"

The weird black feelers of its face seemed to cant sideways. "Even though you can't remember what it was like? Even though it might be worse than this?"

"Even though." She began taking slow steps toward the thing, her head slightly lowered so she could blast it if she needed to. "I help ponies see what's hidden in their own hearts, help them come to understand what it is they truly want when it comes to love. You just turn them into puppets, forcing them to feel what you want them to feel."

The bug had been moving away from her as she approached it, its antennae folded back and its dark, solid eyes fixed on her. But now it came up against the wall of the throne room, its wings scraping at the stone and making it wince.

"But that's done." Cadance didn't try to keep the growl out of her voice. "However things were, that's the way they're supposed to be. So you put them back, or I'll crack you open like I did the spell you were hiding behind." She touched the tip of her horn to its midsection and pushed it hard into the wall, its wings clattering to a stop. "You arrange it so we all wake up again in whatever beds we're supposed to be in, and none of us are going to remember that this happened except for me and you, right?"

"Yes'm," it squeaked. It spread its legs, and everything around Cadance flashed with a light as pure and clear as true love itself.
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#1 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny >>Baal Bunny
Captivating intro! The language, the interjections, the excepts, everything worked super well to establish a vibe of slowly-buikding panic reminiscent of Eakin's Hard Reset. I was a little disappointed with the ending though--specifically, how cadence was essentially able to talk the baddie into submission. Kinda gave me a "swiper no swiping" vibe. If you choose to publish this off-site, I would love to see some additional action at the finale to match the intensity you cultivated in the intro.
#2 ·
This seems:

A little anti-climactic to me. I like the build-up well enough, but the last scene with the reveal of who's doing all this, even though it's right there in the title, it just popped up and got swatted down too quickly and easily. Maybe that's the point you're trying to make, author, but I'd like it better if the villain had a little more heft, gave Cadance a little more of a challenge before she swats him down. So beef up the ending, and I think you'll be set.

In other words, what >>thebandbrony said... :)

#3 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
I agree with my fellows that the end is anti-climactic, but it doesn't feel inappropriate to me. The Love Bug seems to have been out to just test which of them had the keener sense/stronger connection to capital-L Love rather than anything outright malicious, so there's no reason it wouldn't walk back its changes when it lost the game.

The most low-key cool thing here is how much juice that bug is packing under the hood to have made the changes it did. Mucking with pony memories is one thing, but hitting Discord too and moving around Alicorn status to a pony who was probably in a parallel world at the time. Woo. Not at all relevant to the point or plot, but still an interesting thing to note.

But, yes. The slow rise to panic, Cadance's instincts guiding her to the wrongness and the general way she feels and sees the love around her. All superbly done.
#4 ·

Thanks, folks!

I've already started my rewrite of the last scene, and I really like your comment, Rao, about the bug's juice. I think I'll play that up in the rewrite, make the bug do its best to appear like a plain ol' ordinary magical bug but have Cadance come to realize just how dangerous a critter it is as it keeps trying to wheedle its way to victory even after it says she's beaten it. Can't imagine why that would come to mind as a plot point these days... :)