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All the Time in the World · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
The Phoenix Festival
Prince Shining Armor sat on the edge of his opulent canopy bed, staring down at the broken lamp which littered the floor. The twisted porcelain fragments reminded him of the sensations roiling his gut. He and his wife had fought many times before, but never with violence. Why did they both have to lose control over something so trivial?

A soft, almost guilty-sounding knock echoed through the bedchamber door.

Shining leaped up off of the bed and opened the door by hoof, meeting Princess Cadance face to face.

"I was wrong," both ponies said in unison.

"No, it was me," Shining Armor quickly interjected.

"Like Tartarus it was," said Cadance. "I never should have gotten upset in the first place!"

"Maybe it was both—" said Shining, but he stopped when his wife's lips locked tightly against his own. One passionate kiss later, the stallion found himself lying face up on the bed with his wife atop him.

"Let's never fight again," said Cadance, grabbing her husband by the shoulders and peppering his face with kisses.

"Let's do something other than fight?" suggested Shining Armor, flipping Cadance about so she now lay beneath him.

The princess ran two delicate forehooves down Shining's midsection, pressing firmly against the taut muscles of his barrel. "If we're not careful, the staff might think we're still fighting," she warned him.

"Buck the staff. Let's wake the whole damn palace," said Shining, with a grin. He reached out and plucked a small feather from Cadance's wing.

"Ow! What was that for?" she asked.

"You'll see," said Shining, twirling the feather an inch from his wife's navel.

It turned out all the Royal Academy rumors about make-up sex were true.

Shining Armor's vision returned to him slowly. Blackness faded to an indistinct series of geometric patterns. He was lying on his back, floating in midair, but drifting somehow. He could see the ceiling above him changing as he passed through the hallway.

Panic gripped his heart as his body failed to respond to commands. He was paralyzed! An archway passed overhead, and then the night sky greeted his gaze. His vision was still blurry, but one thing was clear. Not one, but two identical Moons sat in the sky above.

I'm dreaming, he realized.

It was a realistic dream, but a dream nonetheless. A light breeze caressed his pelt. His body floated slowly through the palace gardens, taking a turn here or there. Relatively unfamiliar with the gardens, he quickly lost track of where he was.

Then Shining Armor heard a familiar voice.

"Prince Shining Armor: it is I, Princess Luna. You are at this moment paralyzed within an unusual dream. Do you require my assistance?"

He couldn't see anything but the two Moons above him and the occasional foliage that drifted by, but Luna's voice was very close.

Yes, he thought with all his might, but his lips wouldn't respond. A few moments passed.

"You seem to be fine, then. Have a pleasant evening," said Luna.

Shining cursed his luck. At least it's only a dream, he thought to himself, as he passed through another archway. He could feel his body descending now, as though he were floating down a ramp or staircase. It was colder here, and very dark. There was a distinct musty odor.

Torchlight met his vision. There was a stone ceiling overhead, his eyesight still blurry as flickering lights danced off of a square grid of chiseled rock. Then he descended straight down until his back felt cool stone kissing against it.

Out of the corner of his vision, Shining Armor could see a cloaked figure standing above him. It was a unicorn, judging from the angular protrusion within the hood.

Then something gripped his heart like a vice, and everything went bright.

It was the middle of the day, and the Crystal Heart spun in the air above him. Shining Armor gasped for breath, sitting upright. He was laying beneath the vaulted expanse of the Crystal Palace Arcade, upon some kind of a padded dais decorated with flowers.

Suddenly, the cheers of a nation-state roared in his ears. He panted rapidly and tried to stand, but his wife held him down with a firm hoof.

"Sssh, just relax," she said, and smiled gently down at him as the applause continued. The passion from last night wasn't in her eyes, but her mane...

"Your mane... you have your mantle?" Cadance's mane lazily waved in the air behind her, magically shimmering in a myriad of pastel hues and glowing like the Fire of Friendship. Nearby her stood Princess Celestia. The resemblance was uncanny.

"The Phoenix Festival has officially begun!" shouted Princess Cadance, and somehow the crowd roared even louder.

Shining Armor turned his head and saw Princess Luna standing on the other side of him. She reached over and carefully helped him off of the dais. "It is a large step," she warned him as he hopped down onto the flooring, his legs still shaky.

Shining looked out at the throng as he steadied himself. Thousands of ponies, all cheering, lined the streets radiating away from the Crystal Palace. The scene was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The crystal avenues looked similar, but in place of small houses, towering structures cast long shadows across the landscape. The center of his kingdom resembled downtown Manehattan more than the quaint, sprawling city he knew and loved.

"I'll explain once we're inside," said Cadance. "Just wave to the crowd once."

Shining Armor waved to the cheering crowd, and then followed his wife up the palace steps while Celestia and Luna remained below.

"The year is 1147 Anno Solequus," said Princess Cadance.

Shining Armor's jaw dropped. "That's... what? I've been gone for almost a hundred and forty years?!"

Cadance shook her head. "No. You've been here the whole time, you've just lost your memories," she said. "This is the fourth time I've brought you back."

"Back from where?"

Cadance smiled wanly. "From death," she said. "Now, I realize our vows said, 'until death do us part', but I never took that literally—"

"Wait. This is impossible," said Shining, shaking his head. "Nothing can bring a pony back from death, not even the magic of friendship."

"Yet, here you are," said Cadance, shrugging. "I was just as surprised as you the first time it happened."

"How is this possible?"

"As best we can tell? The magic of the Crystal Heart, and my love for you," she said. "The first time, the event was supposed to be a state funeral. Then it turned into a week-long festival."

"Dear Celestia. I must have died in my sleep the night after our big fight," he said. "How did I die? Please tell me it wasn't the sex. The sex was incredible."

Cadance shook her head. "You didn't die then. The process of rejuvenating your body and mind apparently requires a reset point, because your brain needs to be physically restored," she explained. "Every time you die, the process 'resets' your mind all the way back to that emotional moment from your youth."

Shining Armor sat down on the floor of the throne room. "I can't believe this. I've missed more than a century. My friends must all be dead by now. My parents... Flurry Heart?"

"She's fine. She isn't here for the Phoenix Festival because she's out travelling. She likes to wait a few weeks before the introductions—it gives you more time to get up to speed on what's happened," said Cadance.

"And Twily?"

Cadance looked down at the floor. "You're not on speaking terms at the moment," she said. "It's complicated. Look, we have documents prepared that will help with the transition..."

Shining laughed dryly. "I... I can't even think," he said. "This is too much. I go to sleep and I wake up in a different life? What am I supposed to do? I missed my baby growing up! Do we have any other children? Why won't Twily talk to me?"

"This process is always hard," said Cadance, walking over and crouching next to her husband. "But I'm here for you, and I love you, Shiny. We'll get through this, I promise." She gently coaxed his mane aside with a hoof and pulled him into a tight embrace.

The couple held each other while Shining Armor cried.

The dull roar of crowd conversation and music drifted upwards to the balcony where the royals ate.

"I bet I'll never get used to these skyscrapers," said Shining Armor, holding up his glass to an attendant for more wine. "Or that new style of flying machine."

"I'll take that wager," said Princess Celestia, with a smile. "Still, it is impressive how quickly things have changed over the past century. Even Canterlot scarcely looks the same."

"I'm sorry we're not eating down there with our people. I just don't want to mingle right now," he said to Princess Cadence. "I'll walk about the city soon, maybe later today if I feel up to it."

"It's fine, dear, even if you want to hole up in the palace for the rest of the festival. They can see us eating up here from down below... that should be enough," she replied.

Just then, a pegasus mare floated up to the balcony, followed by a guard.

"Crystal Princess, please!" she cried, kneeling on the edge of the balcony. "Please bring my young colt back to me, I beg you!"

"We didn't see her," said the pegasus guard, landing next to the mare. He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder.

"Wait," said Princess Cadance, standing up from the table. "Madam, I am truly sorry for your loss. If your request were within my power to grant, I would do so. The Crystal Heart does not allow me to return anypony other than my husband."

The mare cried and shook her head. "F-forgive a grieving mother," she sobbed.

"I'm so sorry," said Cadance. "Guard, please take her down the stairway so she needn't fly."

Everypony waited in silence until the mare had left the balcony.

"Well, that was awkward," said Shining Armor.

"Some ponies mistakenly believe Princess Cadance has the ability to return anypony from the dead, but only chooses to use the ability on you," said Celestia. "Not an unreasonable theory. If anyone at all could be brought back from the dead, it might be imprudent to use the ability on an entire nation."

"So I'm the only one in the world it works on, then? Lucky me, I guess," said Shining, as he toyed with his salad with a fork.

"You seem to be managing quite well, Prince Shining Armor," said Princess Luna. "All things considered."

Shining chuckled. "It's an act. I'm still in shock," he said. "Oh, I've been meaning to ask you something. Do you interpret dreams?"

Luna smiled. "As well as anypony, I suppose. Though your sister assists me these days in managing the dreams of the afflicted."

Out of the corner of Shining Armor's eye, he could see his wife rapidly shaking her head. Luna cleared her throat noisily.

"Right... huh, that's good to hear," said Shining. "Anyway, I had a very unusual dream I was hoping to get some insight with."

"The one with the twin Moons," said Luna.

"Yes! You were there, do you remember it?"

"Sadly, I do not. Apart from the second Moon, the dream was unremarkable so I had no cause to make note of the details. Many decades passed before your first rebirth indicated the dream occurred at a portentous moment," said Luna. "Thus, your recollection—with which I am already very familiar—is the only reference I have."

"Damn. I was hoping you might have seen something I couldn't," said Shining Armor between bites of salad. "Like the identity of the hooded unicorn. It was such a vivid dream. Does it mean anything?"

Luna shrugged. "Dreams do not always have precisely defined meanings, but there are general facts which are clear. Subconsciously, you felt helpless and adrift, which is not unusual given your station at the time as a relatively new regent in charge of the prosperity of an entire nation," she said. "The unicorn likely represented Princess Cadance, given your mutual conflict from the previous evening. It was an event which, being fresh in your mind, still weighed heavily upon your ego."

Shining Armor finished his glass of wine in a single gulp. "I see," he said, taking a deep breath. "But what about the double Moon?"

For a moment, Luna looked away from the table. "Perhaps the Lunar duality also represented the relationship between you and your beloved? I do not know for certain," she said. "One should take care not to read too much into a dream, Shining Armor."

"You always obsess over that crazy dream," said Cadance, leaning over to wipe a bit of salad dressing from her husband's chin groove.

"Well, it's the last thing I remember," said Shining.

"If I were you, I'd obsess over the next-to-last thing I remembered," said Princess Celestia, with a wink.

"Auntie!" said Cadance, blushing.

Shining Armor laughed, then leaned over and kissed Cadance on the cheek. "When I'm feeling a little more stable, I'll be happy to."

A stack of books sat on the central table in the den.

"These are the journals from lives two, three, and four," said Princess Cadance, pointing to the stack. "They cover all the major events you experienced, from your perspective. In each life you elaborate more as time goes by, but you should be able to read them all before the festival ends if you pace yourself."

"What about my first life?" asked Shining Armor.

"You didn't know you were going to come back from the dead back then. I tried to get you to journal anyway, but you never took to it. So I ended up writing this for you," she said, hoofing him another large book. "It's less personal coming from me, but it chronicles Flurry Heart growing up, the passing of your parents, and all the subjects you probably care the most about. There are plenty of photographs."

"Thanks," said Shining, adding a deep sigh. "What about Twily?"

Cadance paused. "That happened shortly after your first rebirth, so it's in the one on the bottom there. The situation is complicated, but the short answer is you don't really know why she won't talk to you anymore. She still loves you, though," she said. "It'd be better for you read through the history of it and make your own interpretations than listen to me."

Shining frowned, idly flipping through one of the books. "This doesn't make any sense," he said. "Can't you talk to her for me? I wouldn't go three lifetimes without making amends with my baby sister. The two of us were inseparable."

"I really don't know what to tell you," said Cadance. "We can talk more after you're caught up, okay?"

Shining Armor nodded. "I think I want to go out into the city first, and immerse myself in some culture shock."

Cadance smiled brightly. "I think that's a great idea. Just don't overdo it, okay?"

As Shining Armor walked into the crowd, smiling ponies parted to allow him passage. Small booths were set up along the sidewalks, offering random services from face painting to fast food. The carnival-like atmosphere contrasted sharply with the towering skyscrapers and office buildings.

"Welcome back, Sire!" called a crystal mare. Her friends giggled and blushed.

"Thanks," he replied, waving.

Wandering the streets of a metropolis felt strange and disconcerting. Shining looked up at a tall building adorned with a red raindrop shape, and a curious idea crossed his mind. He trotted up to the building and stopped in front of the door.

"This door doesn't have a handle," he said out loud. He leaned forward experimentally with a hoof, and the door opened automatically. "Magic. Awesome," he said, and walked inside.

The building was air-conditioned and well-lit. The entry area was a waiting room of sorts. Several ponies were seated here, one of them clearly having a cold. Shining Armor walked up to the nurse at the front desk.

"My Prince," said the nurse, and he stood and bowed.

"Please, just call me Shining Armor," he said.

"Of course, Shining Armor. What can I do for you?"

"I was hoping I could see a doctor," said Shining.

The nurse's eyes went wide. "Heavenly Sun! Are you alright?" he asked, dropping his clipboard.

"I'm fine, no worries. The palace has its own medical staff anyway, doesn't it?"

The nurse nodded. "Of course, Sire," he said, and chuckled. "I suppose you're the pony who least needs our care, to be completely honest."

Shining smiled. "Yeah, I guess so. Still, I'd like to speak with a doctor about something private. I don't want to put myself ahead of anypony, though."

"None of our patients waiting are in serious condition. Come with me," said the nurse. He led the prince down the hallway and into a waiting room. "A doctor will be with you shortly."

The nurse shut the door behind him, and Shining Armor looked around the room. It looked like every other clinic waiting room he'd been in, except for a strange metal box with a colorful light display. He didn't have time to examine it, because within moments there was a knock at the door.

"Prince?" said the doctor as she entered and shut the door behind her. She was a blue crystal pony with a stone tablet for a cutie mark. "My name is Doctor Lithograph. What seems to be the matter?"

"Hi, doc. This is going to be a little strange, but I was wondering if I could get a full physical with blood work done?" he asked.

"I see. Is there a reason you aren't doing this at the palace?" she asked, furrowing her brow. "I don't know what the standard practice is after your... rejuvenation."

"Well, with everything going on, I don't want Cadance to worry about me being a hypochondriac," said Shining Armor. "I'm just curious if anything is unusual."

The doctor nodded. "Are you having symptoms?"

Shining Armor shook his head. "None. I feel like a million bits, which I suppose is normal for somepony brought back from the dead by the Crystal Heart."

Doctor Lithograph laughed. "I suppose so! They don't teach us how that works in University, but if you find out, let me know. I'd gladly be put out of a job."

It took about ten minutes for the doctor to complete the physical.

"Well, everything looks normal," she said. "You appear to be a very healthy stallion, but you're certainly well aware of how you keep in shape. I'll have you go down the hall to get your blood drawn, and we can send the results to the palace tomorrow."

"Sure. Could you have them sent to me directly?" asked Shining Armor.

"I don't see why not," said the doctor.

After a long walk around the city, Shining Armor returned to the palace grounds in the early evening. He began to wander around the Eastern gardens, the greenery surrounding the Eastern pillar of crystal that supported the tripod-like palace's structure.

"I wonder..." he said, and cantered to the palace's East entrance, staring up at the staircase. Of the three entrances to the palace, this one was the nearest to the royal bedchambers. He turned about and faced the gardens. Then he began to carefully retrace the path from his dream.

"Forward... it was rather slow, so the right turn would correspond to the main walkway," he said aloud, taking a right onto a large stone path. "Then a left, and a right... one more right, about here, and forward—"

Shining Armor stopped in his tracks, having nearly bumped into a large tree. It was planted in a small patch of earth mostly disconnected from the rest of the gardens, and it stood directly in front of the crystal palace wall.

Shining stepped behind the tree and felt the smooth crystal with his hoof. There was an impression of an archway, like a blind arcade.

"Hello, Prince. Welcome back," came a voice. Shining Armor turned to see an elderly crystal mare. She wore a set of gardening equipment on her saddle.

"Hello, and thank you," said Shining Armor. "Enjoying the Phoenix Festival?"

She smiled. "Very much. Didn't know if I'd live long enough to see it, but when they started the planning a few weeks ago, my odds went up."

Shining Armor smiled. "Congratulations, then," he said. "Hay, may I ask you something? Has this portion of the wall always been here?"

The mare raised a brow. "The impression in the arch there, yes? I can't rightly say," she said. "It's been here at least as long as I've been a royal gardener. That tree in front of it is much older than I am, as well."

"Ah, I see," said Shining Armor, dropping his head low. He turned and began to walk away.

"You know," said the mare, "King Sombra frequently used to remodel the base of the palace, or so the history books say. Given time and effort, the crystal structure can be mageworked through dark magic. Fortunately, this lies well beyond the abilities of most unicorns, or we'd run the risk of vandalism."

Shining Armor turned back and nodded. "That's very interesting. Thanks for your time, madam...?"

"Greenhoof," she said, with a bow. "And it's my pleasure to serve, my Prince."

Shining Armor lay awake in bed for an hour after Cadance had fallen asleep before unconsciousness finally took him.

He awoke to find himself seated in the gardens. The world had an ethereal quality to it, and after a few moments he realized he was dreaming. There was only one Moon in the sky, however.

He stood up and looked around. The color of the flowers and plants was intensifying before his eyes as his lucidity increased.

"This is growing too real. I'll probably wake up any moment," he said aloud. Then he noticed a large figure walking towards him.

It was Princess Twilight Sparkle, his sister. As she approached, he could see that his little sister was now bigger than he was. Her mantle billowed in the air, despite the lack of a breeze, shimmering with the glowing colors of an already-faded sunset as little streaks of light passed through it.

"Twily?" he said. "That's... that's not really you... is it?"

Twilight walked forward and embraced her brother tightly, nosing at his neck. It felt far too real to be a dream, now.

Shining Armor broke the hug and shook his head. "This... oh gosh, it's actually you. You're dreamwalking in my dream, or it wouldn't feel this realistic!" he said. "Oh, Twily. Cadance said you weren't talking to me anymore!"

Twilight Sparkle held up a hoof to her lips in a 'shhh' motion.

"Not talking to me... wait, she meant that literally?" he said.

Twilight smiled and reached forward with a hoof to stroke her brother's cheek.

"Well, this makes no sense," said Shining, sitting down on the path. "But neither does any sort of rift between us. It's so good to see you."

After a moment, Twilight sat down next to Shining Armor and motioned to the sky. A series of beautiful shooting stars zipped by overhead.

Shining laughed. "You always did like astronomy. You and Luna have a lot in common. It's kind of fitting that you'd help her out at night."

Twilight leaned against her brother and sighed.

"I guess I have to do all the talking, then? I wish I knew what to say," he said. "Everything is different. I missed Flurry Heart growing up, the world around me has changed, I miss our parents... I could really use somepony else to talk to, you know."

Shining Armor looked into Twilight's eyes, which were wet with moisture. She brushed aside a tear.

"I'm guessing this lack of communication isn't entirely your choice," he said, and frowned resolutely. "I'll get to the bottom of this, Twilight. I won't rest until everything is out in the open."

Twilight embraced Shining again, then stood up and began to walk away.

For a moment, Shining paused in thought. Then he called out to Twilight, "I don't suppose you know any way I could pass through a solid crystal wall, do you?"

Twilight turned her head and smiled a sad smile. Then she vanished, and the dream began to fade.

A letter came in the morning.

Prince Shining Armor:

Your lab results all came back normal for a non-fasting series. You should watch your intake of cholesterol, but even with that considered you're one of the healthiest stallions we've ever tested—in comparison with your apparent age bracket of a unicorn in his late twenties, naturally.

There is one unusual finding: your blood showed traces of unidyazoline, a common paralytic agent most often used in conjunction with general anesthesia in unicorns because it inhibits magic. This indicates that shortly prior to your rejuvenation by the Crystal Heart you were sedated, possibly to make the rebirthing process more comfortable, but that is pure speculation on my part. You would need to ask the palace doctors to find out precisely why this was done.

Attached you will find the formal results.

Shining Armor placed the letter into his saddlebags and took off for the library.

The Grand Library of the Crystal Empire was significantly larger than Shining Armor remembered. The entire first floor was littered with desks featuring strange colored light screens like the one in the clinic room.

"Can I help you, my Prince?" asked a crystal stallion as Shining stood gawking at one of the displays.

"Um, yes. I'm looking for information on dream interpretation," said Shining Armor. "Where are the card catalogs?"

"You can use one of the computers, here," said the librarian.

"Computer?" asked Shining Armor. "This thing?"

The librarian's mouth opened wordlessly for a moment. "Oh. Right, you don't recall. Well, I can help you. It's simple. Just touch the screen," he said.

Shining Armor's horn glowed, and the image on the screen warped and distorted itself. "I don't think I'm doing this right."

"Not with your magic," said the librarian, touching a button. A buzzing sound emanated from the screen and it restored itself. "Use a hoof, like so." The librarian touched part of the screen and a small visual window opened.

"Oh, neat," said Shining Armor. "So, how does this take the place of a card catalog?"

"It takes the place of a lot of things," said the librarian. He tapped a small oval icon and spoke, "Show me the history of the Yakyakistan Empire." The screen responded with a page of text and pictures.

"That's amazing! It's like there's a book inside the screen," said Shining Armor. "Magic's come a long way in the past century."

"It's actually not magic. Only the power source is magic, the rest is technology, believe it or not," said the librarian. "Anyway, this thing on the right is a scrollbar. You can tap it to move up and down through the text, or slide your hoof anywhere on the page for the same effect. Tapping on underlined words will take you to other articles. I think you can figure out the rest with a little trial and error."

"Thanks," said Shining Armor, and the librarian walked away.

Then Shining tapped the oval and spoke. "Show me information on dream symbolism," he said. The screen responded. He sat in front of the computer and began to read.

An hour of searching and reading passed, and then two. Shining Armor sighed. "Love, romance, change, rebirth... the Moon symbolizes practically everything," he mumbled to himself. "And I can't find a single reference to twin Moons anywhere."

He paused for a moment, then reached into his saddlebags and retrieved the letter. "Show me... unidyazoline," he said, and a page of information filled the screen.

Unidyazoline, under the name trade name hornizam (among others) is a Class-G medication used for magic suppression in unicorn ponies. It can be given orally or intravenously and is most commonly indicated as an adjunct to twilight sedation anesthesia. When administered alone, main effects include magic suppression, muscle paralysis, and double vision...

Double vision... Two moons...

Shining Armor felt his pulse quicken. "What if it wasn't a dream in the first place?" he whispered. "But then Luna would have to be lying..."

Even worse, he realized. She was there when it happened.

Shining stood up and galloped for the door.

"Where is Princess Luna?" asked Shining Armor, cantering into the throne room.

"She and Princess Celestia left last night," said Princess Cadance. "They only planned to stay for the first day of the festival."

"Dammit. I needed to talk to her," he said, stomping a hoof against the floor.

"Is this still about the dream?" asked Cadance. "I wasn't exaggerating when I said you obsess over it."

Shining Armor's jaw clenched. "Cadance, would you ever hide something important from me?"

Princess Cadance froze in place. Her mane drifted hypnotically in the air behind her throughout a pregnant pause. "I would do anything to make you happy, Shiny. You know that. You should read your journals."

Shining was about to press the issue, but a guard entered the room to speak. "Visitor for Shining Armor, from Friendlandia," he announced.

"Friendlandia?" asked Shining Armor.

"That's what Twilight named her kingdom," said Cadance, placing a hoof over her face. "It's an enclave within central Equestria. You should really read those journals."

"That's terrible. Horsefeathers. Didn't you tell her that was a terrible name?" said Shining. "Somepony should have said something."

"We all did, Shiny. We all did."

"Announcing the Great and Honorable Spike, the Brave and Glorious," said the guard, and in walked a dragon Celestia's size.

"Shining Armor?" called Spike, as he trotted over on all fours.

"Spike! Wow, you've really grown," said Shining Armor, warmly embracing his friend.

"Heh, yeah, it happens. And you look young. Again," he said. "I can't stay more than a minute, I'm afraid. I just wanted to stop by to congratulate you and wish you well." One of his claws pressed firmly against Shining Armor's saddlebags.

"Thanks. We should catch up sometime, though," said Shining Armor. "Um... Any word from Twilight?"

Spike leaned back and shook his head. "I can't speak for her. I thought you knew."

"He still needs to read up," said Cadance.

"Ah, right. She loves you, BBBFF. That's all I can say," said Spike, flexing his wings. "I figure you know that would never change, though."

"I understand," said Shining Armor. "I mean, I don't really, but you know what I mean."

"Right. Well, good luck!" said Spike. He gave Shining another hug, then hugged Cadance as well. Then he turned and trotted out of the throne room. The guard saluted the dragon as he passed.

"I'm going to go have a look at those journals now," said Shining Armor.

Cadance smiled and her shoulders relaxed. "I think that would be an excellent idea," she said.

Shining left the throne room and headed to the den. Upon arriving, he shut the door to the study and opened his saddlebags.

Sure enough, Spike had slipped something inside. It was a small scroll. Shining opened it up and whispered the title aloud...

"Passwall spell."

Shining Armor waited at least a half-hour after his wife had fallen asleep to leave the bed. He quickly cantered down the Eastern staircase, miniature scroll in tow. A brief detour through the East gardens, and he stood adjacent a tall tree, facing the blind arcade.

"I have no idea what I'm doing. This stupid wall probably doesn't even go anywhere," he murmured, then carefully cast the spell from the scroll.

A magic hole appeared in the crystal, large enough for him to step through. On the other side was a staircase.

"Sweet Celestia," he whispered, then stepped into the hole. He let the passwall spell expire behind him but kept levitating the scroll alongside. It provided minimal illumination in the otherwise pitch blackness of the stairwell.

Down he walked. The musty smell flooded him with recent memories of his 'dream'. After an extended drop, he reached a landing with a large metal door. It was locked.

"This time I don't need you, little sis," he said, casting Haspis on the door to the satisfying sound of a 'click'. He opened the door and walked into the light, then immediately dropped the scroll on the stone floor.

Shining Armor stood in a vaulted room beneath the palace, lit by a multitude of glowing crystal pillars. Embedded in every pillar lay a frozen image of Shining Armor's body, stretched out in the exact same position. Each copy had its eyes wide open in a look of shock. Three of the pillars had been shattered, but dozens more remained.

"What is this...?" he said, examining one of the pillars. There was something surreal about seeing yourself from outside the confines of a mirror.

"I had to marry a genius," came a voice from behind him. "Not just the captain of the hoofball team, but a raging dork with an intellect to rival his sister."

Shining Armor turned around to see his wife. She had a look of deep fatigue on her face.

"Caddy, what did you do?" he said.

"I couldn't handle it when you died on me, Shiny. It just wasn't fair. I wanted to spend my life with you, but your life... it's so short," she said. "So I went back in time, and I made... copies."

"You... made copies?"

Cadance nodded, wiping away a tear. "Yes. I needed you to be young, but I didn't want to reset all the growth we'd had together. The night we fought was a major turning point in our relationship, so I chose that evening to make the clones."

"And you convinced Luna to go back in time with you?" he said.

"No, I recruited Luna from the past to help me. Same difference, I suppose," she said. "We needed you to be conscious for the spell to work, so it was her idea to masquerade it as a dream."

"This is why Twilight won't speak to me," said Shining.

"We forbade her to tell you, and she wants you to be happy. But hiding the truth is very hard for her. She hexed herself to prevent the possibility of letting you know," said Cadance.

"I don't even know what to think. I'm just... some copy of your husband..."

"You ARE my husband," countered Cadance, placing her hooves on his shoulders. "I love you and I need you by my side, Shiny. This nightmare you see around you... this is how badly I need your love."

"It isn't fair—I should have been the one to see Flurry grow up!" said Shining Armor, angrily pushing Cadance away. "I didn't sign on to be a 'spare'. I didn't ask to be sent to the future!"

"Would you rather not exist?" asked Cadance, brushing another tear away. "I know this is hard, but think about how I must feel, Shiny..."

Shining Armor sat on the stone floor, leaning back against one of his dopplegangers' crystal columns. A minute passed in silence. "I can't blame you," he finally said. "I just don't know if you're still the mare I married. It's been too long, and I haven't been around. And don't say I have been, because you know what I mean."

"I'm the same mare," said Cadance, kneeling beside him. "I promise you that."

"I just feel... so expendable right now," he said.

"On the contrary. Nothing could be further from the truth," said Cadance. "You're indispensable to me."

"If I just up and left you? Would you just... thaw another one and start over?" he asked.

Cadance blanched. "I... no, of course not. Not until you passed away," she said. "But that would be horrible. You've never done that to me. I hope you wouldn't be able to."

"Never done...? I've figured this out before, haven't I?"

Cadance nodded. "You did the first time, and agreed to keep it a secret from yourself. The other two times, you remained unaware," she said.

"Wait," said Shining Armor, and he stood up and took one step back, then another, as his hooves began to stagger. "Oh no. The gardner. She told me that the Phoenix Festival was planned..."

"Shiny, relax," said Cadance, standing up and slowly approaching him. "Let's not overreact about this."

"You planned this several weeks in advance as a renewal ceremony, but you couldn't have known in advance when my clone was going to die," he said, shaking his head. "So you, you..."

"You volunteered for the ceremony. You knew it meant you were going to lose all of your memories," said Cadance, smiling as another tear trickled down one cheek. "It was completely voluntary, Shiny. You were ready to go."

"You killed me?" he said, his voice cracking as he backed against another column. "Caddy, no..."

"You were old and ready to pass on," Cadance said very gently. "You volunteered, Shiny. You wanted to be reborn."

"I wasn't reborn! I was murdered!"

"It's the same damn thing!" shouted Cadance, then her eyes widened as she placed a hoof over her mouth.


Cadance wiped her eyes, smearing mascara all over her cheeks. "Losing your memories, dying... there's no real difference, is there?" she said. "This is all just philosophical masturbation, in the end. My husband is still alive. You're still alive, right here in front of me."

Shining Armor barked an odd laugh. "If that's true... If it really doesn't matter, then make me forget all this nonsense," he said. "Kill me again, and start over."

"No, Shiny. Don't talk like this!"

"Do it! I want to forget the past two days, so just kill me and thaw another copy! It's just forgetting, that's all—same thing, isn't it? Your husband will still be alive," he said, taking a hard, empty swallow of air. "Go right ahead."

Cadance collapsed on the floor and began to sob.

A minute passed, then two. Finally, Shining Armor crawled over to his wife and held her in his legs.

"Please don't hate me," she whimpered.

"You took my life from me, in more ways than one," he said. "But I can't hate you. You're all I have left."

"What do you want me to do?" whispered Cadance, looking up to her husband with tears streaming down her cheeks.

"I don't know," said Shining Armor, and he sighed as he held his wife close. "This... this is uncharted territory for anypony, isn't it? I'll never get to see Flurry grow up..."

"You'll get to see other things," said Cadance. "We can have another child, Shiny. I didn't want to after Flurry Heart, but... I would if you wanted. Anything can happen. You still have your whole life ahead of you."

Shining Armor nodded, and looked up at the many copies of himself. "And then some," he said.
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#1 · 3
· · >>Trick_Question >>Trick_Question
I came in expecting Forever Young and ended up with The 6th Day. Not that I complain, I loved this story.

For the most part.

I think it's fairly obvious you couldn't give this a well developed ending, probably due to time constrains, seeing how right now it doesn't end so much as it just stops. And it ultimately works against the story as a whole because nothing is really resolved. The last conversation between Shining and Cadence brings up a lot of heavy questions that need to be addressed for Shining to move on, but just as the weight of the situation starts to sink in, the story ends.

And I'm really buttflustered about it because everything leading up to it was great. Despite an unevenly paced introduction, I liked just about everything else. The calm atmosphere with that vague inkling that something is wrong, all the little details of world-building. A real shame nothing really panned out into a solid conclusion.

Still, stellar work, and I look forward to seeing an expanded version of this.

Also, by virtue of being a copy, he's no longer your husband. Fight me.
#2 ·
This is a solid mystery with good foreshadowing, where every section adds another puzzle piece. It also reminds me more than a little of a few stories I've written (As Long As You Both Shall Live, for one).

I'm not sure I agree with >>Zaid Val'Roa that the story ends at the wrong place, but the ending does need more horse words. The conclusion feels rushed and somewhat incomplete because it finishes up right as you get into the meat of the moral considerations.

I'd like to see some more details on things that have happened in the past, Twilight's past in particular. Giving her a couple of marriages followed by being single for a century could help to underscore the mystery of Shining Armor's rejuvenation being highly unusual.
#3 · 3
· · >>Trick_Question
The big reveal scene at the end reminds me a lot of a similar reveal in The Venture Bros.

I didn't take play-by-play notes on this, as I was reading on a plane, but... this story took only a few minutes to pique my interest, and kept the intrigue going solidly the whole way. The pacing was great, and the variety of little oddities (like Twilight LITERALLY not talking) really fleshed out a version of the world where all this made sense.

My main critique would be that we're not really shown what limitations magic has, so the ending feels a bit frustrating due to the specific solution Cadance found. That she can travel through time, and copy an entire pony, including their memories, multiple times... Yet she can't restore later memories to a younger body, or merely "reverse aging" or similar. I'm not saying that's a dealbreaker for the story, but these seem like they'd be "easier" than what she ended up doing. And, story wise, "solutions" like this need to come from a problem that's been boxed in through other details in the story, otherwise it just feels arbitrary. Deus ex drama, if you will.

Regardless, it's still a great story, and up at the top end of my slate.
#4 · 4
· · >>Trick_Question
I think what I'd like to see more of here is motivations. The story idea is good, and the structure is mostly sound - although, tbh, I'd have started on the day of the festival, since it's a much better hook, then flashed back to the sex/dream, which would also, I think have let you set motivations for why Shining is doing this a lot more cleanly.

I think Zaid's complaint about the ending is also wrapped up in motivations; Shining has had most of the story to work through his motivations for discovering what's happened and how he feels about it, (although I think you could go deeper; the strongest thing here is the 'seeing Flurry grow up' thing, and I think more could help) but Cadence's motivations are really only brought up in the end to any extent, and I think expanding on that with more throughout the story would help. Show how lost she would feel without him, and how she's unwilling/unable to move on, stuff like that.

The motivation stuff especially feels off on the visit to the doctor; it didn't seem clear to my why he was doing it, except for a sense of curiosity. Maybe tying in the 'planned' bit would help - he's offered that tidbit fairly early on, but he doesn't make much of it until the ending. If the gardener came first, then he put some thought into what it meant, then he could go to the doctor...

Anyways, it's a pretty good story. I think the flow could use some work, and that a good way to do that would be to focus on the motivations of the characters, but it's clean and readable and I enjoyed it. Good work.
#5 · 5
· · >>Trick_Question
Very nice:

But Twilight does know a memory spell of some sort. She uses it at the end of "Return of Harmony" to restore her friends after Discord's zapped them all. Find a way to take that into account, and you'll make a top-notch story even better.

#6 · 3
· · >>Trick_Question
This is a tough one for me to grade.

I think it's done well on a technical level. Everyone's well-voiced and in character, the writing is sharp, narration is strong. The storytelling is... I don't want to sound backhanded here -- it's a complete tale from start to finish, but it's paced very awkwardly.

For a mystery like this one, there's not a lot of unpacking going on. By that, I mean there aren't very many moments where Shining Armor stops to smell the narrative roses, reflect on the information he's told, and deduct the direction he's supposed to go in. The plot moves at such a breakneck speed that there's not enough time for either Shiny, or the reader, to digest what's going on before we move briskly toward the next plot point. Shiny doesn't feel like a protagonist unraveling a mystery, but a castaway caught up in a narrative tide that sweeps him along without much input from himself.

Cadance's remark at the end, that he's a dorky genius, feels like an informed attribute rather than something informed by the story.

There are also a lot of elements that I don't think are maximizing their potential. Twilight's role is so very limited, despite being the linchpin to Shining Armor solving the mystery at the end. Shiny's fish-out-of-temporal-water situation isn't given due consideration; we get a line informing us that he's not coping well with the transition, but despite a couple emotional scenes at the start and finish of the story, he takes everything thrown his way in stride, and copes very quickly. Even his existential crisis at the very end of the story just kind of comes and goes in time for the resolution.

(Not to harp on that point too much, but this is a character piece that doesn't feel driven by the characters' actions or emotions, which is my main critique)

And the fact that everybody is in on this conspiracy, and just sort of rolls with it, even aiding and abetting Cadance in lying to Shining Armor, time and time again (lemme pay this story a compliment; on my first readthrough, before I'd quite placed what was going on, I found it very suspicious that Luna deflected Shining Armor's attempt at interpreting the dream), except for Twilight, and by extension Spike...

...We're getting into less severe gripes now. Also, I am cognizant that this is less of a review than it is a loosely organized series of bullet points. I'm sleepy; leave me alone.

Uh. Time travel's function in this story is unclear. The role it plays in Cadance's thing. I don't get it. I don't see its necessity. The library scene seemed superfluous; it's another moment that should contribute to Shining Armor's arc, but isn't given the kind of weight that it should get, given his limited response to it. The "Friendlandia" bit was funny, but placed awkwardly; it disrupts the tone that the author's going for in that part of the story, and would probably go better at the piece's beginning.


I'm running out of steam here.

I give this story bagged pizza/10.
#7 · 1
The Phoenix Festival
a retrospective

First off, thanks to everypony who read and commented! I almost guessed the exact order of the winners (not the same order I voted) except I thought Posh would be eighth (meta is hard) and I figured I'd come in fifth because I thought CiG's obvious story would trump mine.

>>Zaid Val'Roa
I'd like to have the two revelations separated more than they currently are, so I'm tempted for Shining Armor to realize the more disturbing bit in a separate scene. I'm still not certain that I need another scene to make it work, though.

I'll make it more explicit that bringing a pony back from death is "the one thing magic can't do".

>>Baal Bunny
I'll add a couple lines of dialogue to clarify that (in Cadance's words) whatever the Crystal Heart does literally, physically removes the memories from the brain altogether, and Twilight's spell can only restore memories that were locked away or forgotten. I'd prefer it to make some sense, but not a lot of sense, prior to the revelation (at which point it should make perfect sense).

It's vital to the story that the dream lead directly into the waking moment (that seamless transition is the biggest clue the reader is given as to what's actually going on), so I think it would be a mistake to start the story after the dream. I agree it would be a stronger hook but I don't think it should be changed.

I agree that a focus on motivations would improve the story. Most of that missing from this draft was due to time constraints in banging the story out.

By that, I mean there aren't very many moments where Shining Armor stops to smell the narrative roses, reflect on the information he's told, and deduct the direction he's supposed to go in.

I agree a story of this length with as much going on as it has needs more horse words, in particular to focus more on the character motivations that Not A Hat commented on. However, I don't agree that the reader should be treated to Shining Armor's literal thoughts. It would be easy to turn this story into a telly mess. I'd like to find a way to convey Shiny's thoughts and feelings without literally dumping them on the reader. I do that at one point at the end of the library scene, and even that's close to pushing it for my taste. I'll try to come up with a way to show his mindset with some subtlety to it.

As for the breakneck pace you feel, I can try to slow down the narrative but I don't agree that it seems driven by outside forces:

(Not to harp on that point too much, but this is a character piece that doesn't feel driven by the characters' actions or emotions, which is my main critique)

For emotions, this is sort of what Not A Hat was getting at with motivations, which I agree with. But everything in the story is driven by the characters' actions, so you've lost me on that point. The first three sections should feel out of control of the protagonist, which is the whole point: he is literally being swept through circumstances that are out of his control. The rest of the story is Shiny doing detective work (not counting Twilight invading his dreams, but even there I think his focus is on understanding). That work needs to seem more motivated, and perhaps elaborating upon that motivation will make it feel more like the story is under his control.

And the fact that everybody is in on this conspiracy, and just sort of rolls with it, even aiding and abetting Cadance in lying to Shining Armor, time and time again, except for Twilight, and by extension, Spike...

Illuminating motivations will help, but I think Twilight's motivations are intentionally mixed her. Everypony wants Shiny to be happy, but Twilight also misses seeing him. Helping him stems from her weakness to not respond and the hex doesn't prevent her from doing it. I thought the motivations were clear on her part.

Uh. Time travel's function in this story is unclear. The role it plays in Cadance's thing. I don't get it. I don't see its necessity.

I'm not sure how that isn't clear. Cadance needed to make copies of her husband when he was young in order to exact her plan, and to do that she had to travel to the past.

The library scene seemed superfluous

Really? I don't agree at all. It serves multiple purposes in the story: follow-up on the dream to show his obsession, discovery of one of the biggest clues in the mystery, and illustrating how much society has changed in his absence and how fish-out-of-water that must feel to him.

The "Friendlandia" bit was funny, but placed awkwardly; it disrupts the tone that the author's going for in that part of the story, and would probably go better at the piece's beginning.

That dissonance was intentional. The story was getting too grimdark and I needed a reminder that this is still ponies.

Thanks again to all the responses! I'll be mulling over everything y'all have given me and hopefully will produce a really great story this weekend due to your patient assistance. <3
#8 · 1
Just for the record, this was at the top of my final ballot, barely nudging out Skywriter's "Guardian" which did end up winning.