Things aren't going well for Cadance. Two moons have passed since Sombra's defeat, and her new government has found a way to deal with their new leader: by treating her as if she was the old one. They're transferring their emotions to her, and it's reached the point where nopony dares to disagree with her, no matter how stupid the thing she says in a deliberate attempt to force it. But the only rule the crystal ponies know is that of fear, and so it's the only way they can see her.
But the Empire is starting to see its first tourist traffic, and part of that comes in the form of Iron Will, who sees the crystal ponies as just-freed slaves, ones who have to learn how to say no. To criticize. And Cadance, desperate for honesty, takes his words exactly the wrong way, and uses them to create her first Princess Decree: twelve hours in which nopony is permitted to do anything except criticize her.
Which turns out to be the wrong words, said to the wrong ponies, at exactly the wrong time.
You can't give them orders...
Read it here.
Tropes found in this story include:
- Abdicate the Throne: Cadance's answer to the final Armor-Piercing Question below: what makes her different from Sombra is that she's willing to give up power — and as it turns out, truly never wanted it in the first place. Which is part of what ultimately leads the crystals to request that she return, because they've decided the ponies best-suited to hold that power are the ones who don't desire it — along with needing somepony who knows the world as it is now to help them catch up.
- Affectionate Nickname: Shining Armor frequently calls Cadance "Katydid" in private. Word Of Fanfic Author is that it's because she chirps when she's happy.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Several. The first one is initially ignored: Iron Will asked Cadance what she's so afraid of. The two from Lapis during the gathering of the herd — "Why are you still here?" and "What makes you any different from him?" — are not.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: Junior secretary Lapis, after spending most of the story on either the perpetual verge of fainting or in actually doing so, witnesses Iron Will yelling at Cadance — and then becomes the voice of an Empire. By the end, she's been invited into the Cabinet, and it's said she arranged the vote which brought Cadance back.
- Blood Magic: Mentioned in several places as being part of Sombra's typical style. A number of the Empire's public artworks and highest magics have rust-hued stains around their bases, and nothing anypony can do will get the blood out.
- Call-Back: To A Mark Of Appeal: Cadance recalls Celestia telling her that the worst part of being a ruling Princess is finding somepony who'll tell her when she's being stupid.
- Call-Forward: In retrospect, when Cadance was giving her orders on what the Guards should look for in finding her fleeing husband, she probably shouldn't have put so much emphasis on having them try to spot his luggage.
- The Cameo: This story marks Flash Sentry's first appearance in the Continuum. He's described as "the personal curse placed on Shining's existence for which no counter existed": a rookie Guard who isn't going to lose that status any time soon. He can't even get the restraint off Shining's horn in time to do any good. (Word of Fanfic Author is that in this continuity, the mirror doesn't exist.)
- Character Development: For Cadance, the story demonstrates that she's not a natural ruler, really doesn't want to be in charge of anypony, and truly doesn't want to be stuck with doing the same thing for the rest of her life. (It may say something that her first plans for what to do after leaving the Empire are strictly mundane: spend a few days in Vanhoover, visit Twilight...) This demonstrates the personality divide between her and and the public perception of Celestia.
- Iron Will gets a share. His intelligence is emphasized, with Word Of Fanfic Author giving him some medical-level training in psychology. (He also loses his Third-Person Person status: it's something he only does when actual training is under way.) He becomes the one person who consistently tries to call Cadance out on her actions throughout the story, which is part of why she asks him to stay at the end: she recognizes her need for outside questioning.
- Emergency Broadcast: The only way in which Cadance wants to use the Ear, one of Sombra's most impressive magical devices: it's a crystal replica of a pony ear, about five times the size of the real thing — and when the recognized ruler of the Empire touches it, whatever they say next will sound from every solid surface in the Empire. It's the first major piece of communications magic seen in the Continuum, and is said to be one of a kind. Unfortunately, it's also the result of Blood Magic: anypony touching it also gets to hear the last screams of all those who made the sacrifice for this wonder out of their "love," and Cadance quickly learns to loathe the thing — but it's too useful to be destroyed, and winds up being pressed into service three times during the story: the announcement of the first Decree, an attempt at clarification, and the summoning of the herd.
- Exact Words: Cadance plays it for humor on Shining, noting that her Decree said everypony in the Empire had to speak critically to her, and as he's within the borders, that very much includes her husband. His ultimate response is... undignified.
- The crystal ponies also use this with Cadance's Decrees as much as they can get away with in order to avoid criticizing her: Jasper tries to speak critically about himself, and the cordial shop owner uses Cadance's joke concerning 'if you can only say something nice, don't say anything at all' as a means of justifying maintaining total trembling silence in her presence.
- Fantastic Slurs: Played with: Iron Will has a habit of calling the crystal ponies "refractors," but it doesn't seem to be meant unkindly and nopony has an adverse reaction to it.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Everypony in the Empire, producing a massive national case of future shock. After Cadance abdicates, the Cabinet desperately tries to figure out what their next move is, then remembers that the scheduled one was to reach out to other nations and invite them to reopen their embassies. They decide to contact loyal ally Mustangia first — then realize they don't know if Mustangia still exists. (It doesn't: the ponies are still there, but it's now part of Saddle Arabia.)
- Insistent Terminology: It takes Cadance a while to figure out that a "Princess Decree" is just another way of saying that she's giving the crystals an order.
- Never Say "Die": Defied. When talked about in the present tense, Sombra is always described as dead, having been killed — the works.
- Nightmare Fuel: In-Universe. Cadance has to be very careful about where her shadow falls when she's flying over the Empire, noting that crystals tend to react like a mouse who's just been shadowed by a passing hawk. Given that Sombra's own shadows were described as reaching for pony necks...
- Noodle Incident: Cadance teases Shining by telling him that mandatory criticism will let him voice some honesty about how their first date went...
- Not So Different: Cadance's secret fear. No matter how much terror the crystals felt towards him, Sombra demanded that it look like love. Cadance has the ability to make them actually love her, whether they want to or not — and it terrifies her."— what are you so afraid of?"Myself.
- Nothing Is The Same Any More: By the time the story ends, Cadance has voluntarily surrendered her status as sole ruler to become nothing more than the head of the Empire's leading Cabinet, and is subject to recall: the crystal ponies will vote on a yearly basis as to whether they still want that degree of outside rulership and when they say it's time for them to take over, she'll step down — plus she's just about kicked her Princess title out the window, hanging onto a remnant only because the locals needed something to call the Cabinet head of the transition government. Iron Will has become an official advisor to the government and assertiveness trainer for the entire Empire. In continuity terms when compared to the actual show, this is pretty much the break point which turns the Continuum into a full-fledged Alternate Universe: there's no going back to status quo from this.
- Potty Failure: Implied. After the budget meeting wraps up, Cadance wearily notes the puddles of sweat on the floor and that it's just sweat — this time.
- Run or Die: Shining's reaction to finding out he's expected to spend a day honestly criticizing his spouse is to douse himself in fur dye, put on a hat, cover his mark with pants, and find a place to hide until it's all over.
- Shamed by a Mob: Deliberately invoked by Cadance as her last-ditch gambit, desperately hoping that gathering the crystal ponies of the capital into a herd will give them strength of numbers and allow them to speak honestly about her at last.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: The entire Empire. The departure of Sombra's enchantment took enough memories with it to give them a chance at healing, but that's all it is: a chance. We're talking about an entire country suffering from PTSD, and a simple change of management isn't enough to fix things. There were ponies strong enough to stand up and fight back once. These are the ponies that were left.
- Slave Race: The crystal ponies are effectively a recently-freed one, and Iron Will reminds Cadance that minotaurs were enslaved in the deep past. It's his motivation for coming North in the first place: he doesn't care if he makes any bits on the venture, he just wants to do his good deed for a lifetime by helping the crystal ponies find their voices.
- Theme Naming: The identified crystal ponies all share their names with gems: Tanza, Jasper, and Lapis.
- Trauma-Induced Amnesia: A minor version. When she tries to speak to the owner of a cordial shop, Cadance has him tell her that he obeys — and then finds herself outside the store, with no memory of how she got there. Her first assumption is that she finally figured out how to teleport. And then she hears all the cases crashing down behind her.
- Wham Episode: "I abdicate."
- What an Idiot!: Invoked In-Universe. Cadance spends the opening scene deliberately and desperately trying to invoke this from her Cabinet, tossing out the world's stupidest idea for diverting funds from education to unnecessary road repair by having parents take over all teaching duties, which of course means leaving work early and giving up those hours...It was, in her opinion, fantastically idiotic. The sheer non-brilliance of her moronic proposal outshone every coat in the room and at any moment, somepony would scream out 'My eyes!' or better yet, 'My brain!' and tell her —"— that makes perfect sense, Princess!""It's your best idea yet!""How many hours did you want them to give up? Three? Four? How about they skip lunch and run tutorial drills during that time? Think of the additional savings to food budgets! And if you wanted to raise taxes and take some more of that for the roads..."
- Yes-Man: The entire Cabinet, mostly in what they see as self-defense. Disagreeing with the previous administration had consequences.
- You Kill It, You Bought It: Deconstructed. Cadance eventually realizes that when seen from the perspective of traumatized crystal ponies, her actions following Sombra's defeat looked like a deliberate act of conquest. (As noted in the story's comments section, it's one thing to swoop in and kill the dragon, but another to decide the cave looks sort of comfortable, move in, and start asking that the village send over some company once in a while.) Ultimately, nopony in the Empire ever truly asked her to take over, nor did she ever bother finding out if the crystals wanted yet another ruler from the outside who just claimed they were there to make things better.