The ponies were all hard at work. Pegasi went about repairing roofs and ceiling ornaments, unicorns spent their time seeing to the restoration of the more complicated features of the palace, and all others busied themselves with the myriad other tasks that needed to be done to get everything back in top condition.
The recent attack brought about by the unexpected and hitherto unknown changelings and their Queen, Chrysalis, had left much of the city damaged. By some miracle there had been no casualties, only a few injuries here and there. Of course it made sense. The changelings were, after all, using the ponies as a food source. It made no sense that they'd want them harmed.
Ponies all about the capital were grateful that the attack had left only structural damage. Damage which was easily rectified. But for one lone unicorns, the damage was far deeper.
Walking along the red carpet of the main hall of the Canterlot royal palace, Captain Shining Armour was looking uncharacteristically forlorn. If anyone who knew him were to look at him now, they'd wonder why he was so depressed. After all, tomorrow was the most important event of his life. He was to be wed to his one true love, an event that would have made anyone else jump for joy.
However, the recent events had weighed heavily on his mind. Thought of doubt and other such troublesome ideas were pouring through his head like never before. He knew what he had to do, but he was afraid of what might happen if he did.
After much travelling, he finally came to his destination. A royal chamber in one of the palace's eastern towers. The door leading into the chamber was large and wooden. It was flanked either side by two grey unicorn guards, Guards who dutifully saluted when they saw their captain approach.
Shining Armour saluted back in response before going about his business. He took a deep breath before knocking on the door. A few moments passed before he got a response.
"Hello? Who is it?"
Shining raised an eyebrow. That was not the voice he expected. But he knew who it was regardless.
"Is that you Rarity?" He asked.
"Shining? Yes it's me. I'm here helping the Princess into her wedding dress to try it out. What are you doing here?" Rarity asked back. It was clear from the tone of her voice she had not been expecting him.
"I was hoping to have a word with Cadence". He replied.
Rarity gave a small gasp from the other side of the door in that overly-dramatic way Shining had come to expect from her.
"I should think not! You do know it's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding, correct?"
Shining groaned at this. He did not have time to argue with her over this. Fortunately for him, another voice began speaking before things heated up.
"It's okay Rarity. He can come in."
Shining smiled. He knew that sweet voice anywhere. It pleased him to hear it so calm, given everything that had happened recently.
"Very well Princess. But if he must speak to you, I insist you two do so with this between you!"
The stallion was unsure as to what Rarity meant by "this", but if it mean he could speak to his fiancé, he didn't care. He waited at the door, all the while hearing sounds from the other side. He wasn't quite sure what was going on, but he was soon relieved when the door to Cadence's chamber opened. Out walked Rarity.
"You may go in and speak with her now. Just remember, you can't lay your eyes on her."
Rather than pick a fight with one of his sister's friends, Shining just nodded in agreement. Rarity smiled before making her way down the hall where Shining had just walked. Shaking his head, Shining walked into Cadence's chamber and closed the door behind him. He looked around her room trying to see her, but couldn't.
"Over here." Her voice said.
Hearing her, Shining looked in the direction it came from. And there he could see the shadow of his fiancé behind a barrier, one mares used to get dressed behind. Shining rolled his eyes. rarity was certainly one for wedding traditions if she'd go this far.
The captain walked up to the barrier, still unable to see his future wife.
"I wanted to speak to you." He said.
"About what?" She replied.
Shining took a gulp. This was something he'd been thinking about ever since the changelings had been repelled. In truth he had no idea how Cadence was going to react to this. But regardless, it was something he had to do.
For a while nothing was said. The moment Shining had spoken, it was as though Cadence had been rendered speechless by her confusion. Her next words attested to that.
"Sorry? Sorry for what?" She asked.
"For me. For my failure. I was an idiot, Cadence. If I had not been so foolish as to believe that....creature's disguise, none of this would have happened."
He could not see her, but he knew her well enough to know what her expression would have been like. One of concern. He knew that she didn't like it when he said negative things about himself. His prediction was soon justified by her words.
"Don't be ridiculous. That changeling had everyone fooled, even Celestia. You cannot be blamed for what happened."
"Shining shook his head, his anger over what he considered a great failure on his part simply would not let up.
"But I can. You are my fiancé Cadence. What kind of groom cannot tell the difference between the mare he loves and some impostor? And worse still, that failure gave rise to even worse. I was so blind to what she was that I believed every word she said. So much so, that I even turned on my own sister."
Cadence was silent as she took in these words, allowing Shining to continue.
"You were there in that cave for who knows how long. Alone, cold, waiting for help but never finding it. And I wasn't there. I didn't even know. I wasn't there to help at the time you needed me the most."
Still the silence continued.
"I failed. I failed in my duties as a protector of the city. And worse than that, I failed as a brother and a groom."
His eyes were beginning to well up. All of these thought and doubts about himself had finally overflowed. He'd tried keeping them in check but it was no good. In Shining's mind, this failure meant he no longer considered himself good enough for her. No longer good enough to be the one to share his life with the mare of his dreams. And that thought practically crippled him. Tore him apart like nothing else ever has.
"Please forgive me." He said, voice beginning to falter under the crushing guilt he was feeling.
A single tear began to fall down his cheek. He just stood there, in silence. waiting for Cadence's response. To hear whether or not she would accept this apology. He had bared his very soul for her this day, and now he would see what she would do with it.
But instead of hearing some angry rejection, he heard something far more painful.
He heard her crying.
He heard every sob, every gasp for breath. It was a sound he utterly despised. He'd never wanted Cadence to be sad or cry about anything. Loving her like he did, his heart could never take it. All he wanted in the entire world was to turn around and look at her, to comfort her in some way that she would stop, for he could not bear to hear this sound.
Instead he just continued to stand there, keeping his promise not to look. After a couple of minutes, Cadence finally began to speak, her voice wobbling from her clear distress.
It was not a reaction he had expected.
"Do you really think I care about all that? Do you really think I would stay with you if I blamed you in the slightest for what happened?"
Shining felt a pang of shame as he said this. Deep down, he knew Cadence was a person who would not remain with someone if she didn't not continue to love them. But still, the disappointment he felt in himself would not go away.
"But my failure...."
He barely got his words out before cadence interrupted.
"I DON'T CARE ABOUT THAT!"
Her raised voice came as a shock to him, given her usual demeanour.
"I care about you too much to let you carry on insulting yourself like this. You are one of the most noble and courageous ponies I have ever met, and I love you Shining Armour. When I was down there, in those caves, thinking of you was the one thing that kept me sane. The one thing that allowed me to continue to hope that I might see the light of day once more."
Every words was like a punch to the stomach for him. She loved him this much and yet he had been unable to do anything to save her.
"Besides. You were just as much of a victim in all this as I was. You were just as much of a prisoner. If Twilight had not been there for both of us when she was, it would have been that witch you'd have been married too right now, not me."
Shining shuddered at the thought. That vile creature was willing to violate the sanctity of his relationship just to further her own ends. It made him sick to his stomach to think that he was a hair's breadth away from being that wretched changeling's husband.
"So don't you dare. Don't you DARE speak about yourself like that ever again!"
Shining just stood there, ashamed of himself for his childish behaviour. He knew she was right. She was always right when it came to things like this. Her power was love after all. She knew what she was talking about when it came to matters of the heart. So when she said she still loved him, Shining believed her.. He didn't know what to say. What could he possibly say to her at this point?
Before he could do anything however, he heard hoof-steps approaching him from behind. He remained where he was, keeping his promise not to look behind him. Instead, he felt a single hoof gently placed on his left shoulder. It warmed his heart to feel her again. The REAL her. He raised his right foreleg and placed his own hoof on top of hers.
Then he heard her sweet voice once more, now calmed and without that wobble the cry had left her with.
"My love. You don't need to be sorry about anything. Tomorrow, we will be wed. Husband and wife. I'm have chosen to share my life with you Shining. There should be no greater proof of your worth than that."
With those words, the doubts that had been plaguing his mind vanished, washed away as though they were never there to begin with. Cadence had absolved him of everything he'd held himself accountable for, and in doing so made him feel as though a great weight had been lifted from his heart.
He continued to keep his head pointing away from her as he spoke.
"Tell me. What did I ever do to deserve someone as incredible as you?" he asked with a small smile on his face.
Cadence gave a small giggle. Shining then felt her give him a small kiss on the cheek before replying.
"You were just yourself. You needed nothing else."
The two laughed, the first time they'd done so together since before this whole incident began. It was a pleasant feeling. Shining had entered this room feeling like dirt. Now he was once more the happiest stallion in the world. And like before, he had his beloved Cadence to thank for that.
"You'd better go. I don't think Rarity would appreciate you being in here too long." Cadence said jokingly.
Shining gave a small chuckle before replying.
"You're probably right. Besides, there's someone else I need to apologise to today."
With that, Cadence took her hoof off Shining's shoulder, allowing him to move forward and walk out of her chamber. Closing the door behind him, he smiled to himself as he walked back down the hallway, knowing that with this behind him, he could now face his next task. It would not be any easier, but like with Cadence, it had to be done.
Looking up at the tall bookcases, she could not help but feel a pang of nostalgia. It had been almost two years since she was in this building, in this room. And she still knew every square inch of the place by heart. It made her happy to know that not much had changed here in all the time she was gone.
Twilight walked about the tower library of Canterlot and admired the view, despite having been so familiar with it for so long. Back when she was living in this city as Celestia's student, this library at the top of the tower had been her home, much like the library of Ponyville had become. Her first home away from her family. She knew it as intimately as anyone in the city.
With the possible exception of Spike of course, who was now standing on top of a very tall ladder, looking all over the massive bookcases for the one tome Twilight had requested.
Given how long he'd been up there it was clear he was struggling to find it.
"I'm telling you Twilight, it's not here!" He shouted down.
The lavender unicorn frowned at this comment.
"It has to be there! That's where it's supposed to be. "Proper Canterlot Wedding Procedures - Volume 7". Books from that series were always on the top shelf."
Spike shrugged upon hearing this.
"We've been gone a long time Twilight. Maybe someone else put in on the wrong shelf."
Twilight gave a loud groan at this. What Spike had said was, unfortunately for her, more than possible. Even back when she was living here it was clear to her that she was one of the few who ever used this library who ever bothered to put books back in their proper places. Some things never change it seems.
Before she could speak in response however, there was a knocking on the door. She turned away from Spike and walked towards it. Using her magic, she turned the knob on the door and opened it.
And on the other side was a smiling white stallion. Twilight smiled at the sight of her brother. She moved to the side, gesturing for him to come in, which he promptly did. Entering the library, he looked around, having not been in here himself since Twilight left the city two years ago. He looked up at Spike, who nodded at him in greeting.
"What are you doing here Shining?" Twilight asked.
Her brother turned to face her.
"I was wondering if I could speak to you about something important."
He then looked over his shoulder towards the baby dragon.
The words had been just loud enough that Spike heard them. It was clear that there was no malice in the way Shining had said it, but Spike knew these two unicorns well enough to know that when they needed to discuss something in private, it was always important. The baby dragon put away the book he was holding and slid down the ladder. Once he was at the bottom he made his way out of the room and closed the door behind him, waving to the two siblings before doing so.
"Twilight faced her brother with a somewhat concerned look on her face.
"What's this about?" She asked.
Shining began to look rather uncomfortable, shifting his stance all the time. It was a look of combine embarrassment and discomfort Twilight had never seen in her brother before.
"Twilight. I wanted to talk about what happened.....a couple of days ago."
Twilight's expression now mirrored the discomfort of her brother. It was clear what he was talking about. That moment in the grand hall of the palace. When Twilight had made her accusations towards the fake Cadence in front of everyone. The moment which when finished, made her feel as though her beloved brother would never want to see her again.
Needless to say, Twilight suddenly understood why her brother was so reluctant to speak about it.
"Shining I..." Twilight began.
But her brother raised a hoof, prompting her to stop.
"Please, Let me say this."
Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it again and allowed her brother to continue.
"I wanted to talk about what I said to you that day. You were there, trying to tell everyone that the mare I thought was Cadence was evil. I'm your older brother, I should have believed you. Instead, I turn against you and barred you from my own wedding."
With every word he said, Twilight's feelings of pain grew. It was without a doubt the most remorseful and difficult time of her entire life. Being reminded of it was the absolute last thing she wanted right now.
"After everything we've been through together, everything we mean to each other, I should have trusted you. And I certainly shouldn't have reacted the way I did."
Twilight looked up at her brother, his face filled with shame over his actions. She hated seeing him like this, so decided it was time to add her own voice to the conversation.
"You have nothing to be sorry for brother. You were deceived. Everyone was."
Shining looked up at her.
"But..." He began.
But Twilight cut him off.
"No buts! As much as what you said to me that day hurt, I cannot say you weren't in the right to say it. I mean I just burst in there and called her "evil". I didn't provide any proof or anything. No-one had any reason to believe me, trust or otherwise."
Shining was rather taken aback that his sister would just come out and say she was in any way in the wrong about this. From his perspective he had been a fool who couldn't see the truth with his own eyes. And all the while his sister had tried to warn him, but he hadn't listened.
"I'm your brother. I should have trusted you."
Twilight did not reply to this. In her heart, she wanted to have said the same thing. To say that he should have trusted her. But given everything he'd been through, she simply did not have the heart to say that to him. He was her brother after all.
"What's done is done. Besides, everything worked out didn't it?" She said, forcing a smile.
Shining looked at her, his expression becoming stern.
"No. Not everything. There's still one matter that needs to be rectified."
Twilight raised an eyebrow, clearly confused about what her brother was talking about. But that confusion soon vanished with what he said next.
"Twilight. It would be my honour if you would once again be my best mare at the wedding."
Upon hearing these words, Twilight's heart leapt. With this appointment, she would once again be where she wanted to be the most on the big day, at her brother's side. The grin on her face was so wide it almost burst out of her head. And expression Shining could not help but smile at.
"I take that to mean you accept?" He asked jokingly.
Twilight, in response, simply lunged at him and gave him a hug, which he returned. They stayed together for a good three or four minutes before breaking away. When Shining looked down on her, he saw tears of joy welling in her eyes, as evidenced by the big smile she continued to wear.
"There was a moment, in all of that chaos, where I honestly thought you'd stopped loving me." She said.
Shining placed a hoof on top of her head and rustled her mane, much like he used to when they were little, smiling as he did so.
"That will never, EVER happen....Twily."
Twilight's smile grew even bigger.