The trials and tribulations of managing your own personal pony village.
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!F9CBa509ak 2017-12-28 07:31:35 No. 31628459

"We pass the same instructions on to them that I've been giving to you: This is our fallback. Our reserve. Our last resort, in case Anonymous... falls."
> "Cadance, if someponye came in here just to deliver this message-"
"I know!"
> Your voice had been sharper than intended, and Sunburst recoils from your touch.
> Sighing, you extend your wing again.
"I'm sorry, Sunburst. I didn't mean..."
> After a moment, he slips back near to you.
"I suppose... I am afraid too. I fear-"
> A monster beyond your control.
> One of your own making, even.
> Now running beyond your control, making it impossible for you to secure your daughter's safety.
> Sweet Celestia, what would Anonymous do if he found out?
> It would be so much worse than when you'd merely been his unwilling slave.
> Now you were bound up in his efforts; if he discovered your plans now it'd be like -
> Like a discovering a cheating spouse.
> He truly believed you were a wholehearted accomplice in his efforts now, and in many way you were.
> But what were your alternatives?
> March up to his front door and admit everything?
> You snort audibly, earning a questioning look from Sunburst.
> That'd go fantastically.
> It'd be lucky if you only ended up with the worst whipping of your life, and not hours shackled into that gibbet again!
> No.
"Sunburst, let me ask you this: Can you maintain control of your organization? Just the ponies you have recruited so far?"
> "The ones I know, absolutely. But the way we've isolated each group, each cell - I can't honestly say all of them."
> Always straightforward.
"Then here is what you are going to do: Reply to this - messenger. Keep it limited to as few ponies as you can, even within your network. Perhaps even set aside a group just for this purpose."
> Even as you'd begun to talk, Sunburst had grabbed a paper pad and pencil to begin scratching down your words.

!F9CBa509ak 2017-12-28 07:32:38 No. 31628464

"Tell them that we're glad to have them here and will be more than happy to continue firming up the plan. I would even like to see some - test runs of the plan with inert objects, to verify it will work as planned. But - we will not be initiating an escape. Not now, and not until we are truly at our last resort. This is now a contingency for emergencies."
> "Got it."
> You hiss, glancing out one of the half-blocked windows.
> Just where was this mysterious messenger-pony...
"We'll have to keep them at hooves'-length until we can be certain they are patient enough to understand. Until then - our objective is to hold this as tightly as possible."
> "I understand, Your Highness. And if they do decide that we aren't worth waiting for? If they go to Anonymous?"
> Your voice is whisper soft.
"-then they will only know the ponies who communicated with them. Whoever you ask to do this - make sure they understand the risk."
> "I will, Your Highness."
> They might accept the danger.
> But do you?
> For that matter, if storm clouds begin to gather over the camp again can you really bring yourself to order another escape?
> Certainly ponies would obey you.
> ...most of them.
> If not-
> "You're thinking of your daughter, Your Highness?"
> Sunburst's voice cuts through your thoughts.
> Though, the way you jump probably has more too do with how accurate his guess is.
> "Forgive me, Your Highness, I - you had a look I know well."
"It's fine, Sunburst. I just..."
> Your head hangs, mane sweeping down to cover your eyes and wings shuffling.
"...will she follow me, Sunburst? If - if it happens, and we order an escape, will she follow?"
> "Flurry Heart is not blind or stupid, Your Highness. What she did for Mocha Cream proves it; that would never have occurred to Megan without your daughter at her side."
"No. I know she isn't, but - Celestia help me - they have their hooks sunk so far into her mind. She's so - devoted. If I ask her to leave Megan-"
> "I know."

!F9CBa509ak 2017-12-28 07:33:40 No. 31628467

> Lifting a hoof, Sunburst ever-so-lightly touches your side.
> As if daring to lay a hoof on your body were - sacrilegious.
> "But you can stop it before it gets to that point. And if it does - then she can find her voice too, Cadance. Anonymous might have a temper, but he does listen - if not to her, then to Megan."
> ...
> Anonymous looks calmly at the small collection of marble-sized crystals you set out on his table.
> None were very large, and all heavily flawed.
> Nothing like the pure and gleaming gems that had once risen from the Crystal Empire.
> He sees it too.
> Picking up one, he studies it with a critical eye.
> Beside you, Tourmaline Twist and Lattice shuffle nervously, the latter briefly lighting his horn to adjust the kerchief he had taken to wearing around his neck.
> Neither was used to the opulence of his office or being in close proximity to Anonymous.
> "...relax, both of you. I asked you to do this."
> Setting the stones down, he motions to the pile overall.
> "This took a week?"
> "Yes, Master. I - know they're not very good-"
> Cutting Lattice off with a raised hand, Anonymous shakes his head.
> "What is this - rubies?"
> "Mostly, yes. It's - what the soil here is best for. What I can bring up from the ground. Some sapphire, malachite..."
"They cannot generate gems from nothing, Master. Just like growing plants, the gems need something to grow from."
> "Rubies, but... very rough, I'd say."
> He isn't wrong.
> Each and every one there was shot through with flaws: Cracks, inclusions, impurities.
> Gemstones were not your specialty, but you had lived long enough in the Crystal Empire to recognize when they were so dramatically imperfect.
> Tourmaline Twist shifts on her hooves.
> "We're still - learning how to use the ground here, Master. And neither of us has been able to practice this in a very long time..."
> "I'm not looking for excuses - Tourmaline, yes?"
> The mare shifts, looking away as she nods.

!F9CBa509ak 2017-12-28 07:35:19 No. 31628480

> "I'm not looking for excuses. I just want to honestly know, can you produce crystals I can use for something better? You too, Cadance."
> Tourmaline is the first to speak up.
> She even manages to project some force into her voice, even if her ears are still flicking nervously:
> "I think I can, Master. And even if they aren't good enough to be sold for jewelry - you use other crystals here for enchanted items, correct? Even imperfect crystals we grow can be better for that than whatever you're buying."
"This is true. Even what is too flawed for a jeweler to use can be used for enchanting."
> "And it'll be better than what I'm buying? Because those don't exactly cost much."
"Significantly. Enchantments will take with less effort, and last longer."
> Rubbing his chin, Anonymous turns one of the gems around in his hand.
> "Tourmaline, Lattice - there's no penalty here for being honest with me. Can you do better than this? Make enough to support our enchanters?"
> "Yes! With more time, more practice - we can!"
> While Tourmaline seems more certain with this repetition, Lattice's ears fall.
> "I... yes, Master. I - I think I'm already improving."
"Can you show him, Lattice? Which ones you worked on?"
> Instantly Lattice flinches, looking to you with fear in his eyes.
> You're left with the particular sense that this was something he'd rather wished you hadn't suggested.
> Anonymous, unfortunately, notices it too and leans forward:
> "Yes, Lattice. Why don't your show us?"
> Lighting his horn, Lattice carefully removes three gems from the pile - and no more.
> Not the largest nor the finest of the lot either.
> "...Cadance, I thought you said his talent was creating these."
"I did. Lattice?"
> "I can do better! I can! You - I don't know why - it's not working right, I can-"
> Tourmaline nuzzles him and Lattice cuts off, burying his muzzle in her mane.
> Your heart twists; of course he would be terrified.

!F9CBa509ak 2017-12-28 07:36:22 No. 31628487

> The vicious consequences of failing a slaver was something the Crystal Ponies remembered all too well.
> "Please, Yo- Miss Cadance! Master Anonymous! I can do better, just - give me time!"
"...I believe him, Anonymous. Let him keep trying."
> Rubbing his chin, Anonymous looks at you questioningly - but nods.
> "Okay. You're both dismissed; return to your work and keep trying harder. We'll check in once you've had a chance to improve."
> "Thank you, Master!"
> "Yes, Master! Thank you!"
> Both all but flee from the room, not even bothering to collect their gems before leaving.
> Anonymous grumbles softly:
> "I hope you're right about them being able to get better, Cadance."
"They just need to be more comfortable, Anonymous!"
> "So I've been told."
> Pushing his seat back, he stands and walks to the window.
> "And Cadance, remember: When we're in front of them, I'm Master. I'm willing to tolerate a bit when it's just us or close friends, but not all the time."
> Wincing, you follow close behind.
"...yes, Master."
> "Good girl."
> Beneath, the two crystals trot out from the manor and back into the camp proper.
> "I hate to sound the tough one, Cadance, but it's been a week and they've barely made a handful of dollars. It's not enough to even feed them on."
> Silencing you with a raised hand, Anonymous shakes his head.
> "I'll give them time to work. It's only two ponies, and this experiment may yet be worth it. Do what you have to in order to make them comfortable. I admit, though, I'm... not sure. Might've gotten dollar signs in my eyes when I heard the idea."
> He sweeps back around to settle back into his chair with a might groan from both man and wood.
> "Lattice is doing poorly at this. He doesn't seem to have much skill at all, despite claiming it's his talent."
> Still following, you sigh and feel your ears falling:
"I... am afraid some of that may be my fault. He seems to fear me and it is affecting his skill. I don't know why."

!F9CBa509ak 2017-12-28 07:37:24 No. 31628496

> Leaning over, Anonymous places a soft, affectionate kiss between your ears - leaving you squirming at the touch.
> "It upsets you, doesn't it."
"Yes. Very."
> "I can tell. You feel - affectionate towards these two. Almost - motherly. But baby birds need to be kicked out of the nest to fly - or, do pegasi do that?"
"They do not!"
> Anonymous chuckles at your indignant expression.
> "I get it. They were your charges. You want to be easy on them. But that's not how things are anymore, Cadance."
"Believe me, Master, I know."
> If he realizes the point of you calling him Master, it doesn't show.
"Once he starts to feel comfortable, he'll do so much more."
> "I hope so. If we could do this - even just to grow better crystals for the enchanting workshops-"
> Unconsciously, Anonymous reaches out to begin stroking your mane.
> You tolerate it silently.
> It wasn't - entirely unpleasant.
"There's something else I want to bring up, Anonymous. I think - with all the new ponies coming in, I'll need to take some actions to prevent... more incidents like that escape attempt."
> "Mmm, yes. We're lucky there hasn't been another one."
> You have been lucky.
> No need for you to take up the whip again.
"Exactly. And, I think, we need to make it clear that just running away without a plan is - dangerous."
> Anonymous' eyes fly open.
> Studying you with an intensely scrutinized expression, the corners of his mouth turn down into a frown.
> Your heart leaps; was it too much?
> Too blunt?
> Did he suspect-
> "I get it."
> Laughing softly, he leans back into his seat and folds his hands together.
> "You think Lattice might get some rabbit in his blood, try to run? I don't think you're right, but I'm open. What are you thinking of?"
> The relief on your face must be clear, even if he doesn't know of the escape plan.
> What exactly are you thinking of, though?
> This would have to be done delicately, to avoid the appearance that you've suddenly turned to - promoting slavery.

!F9CBa509ak 2017-12-28 07:39:37 No. 31628511

> ...even though you kind of are.
> A lump forms in your throat at that thought - yet another rung down the ladder of dignity for you.
> Your own fault this time too.
> You could just focus on contacting one of the ponies that had left with the last plan - have them talk about what hardships they'd encountered on their attempt.
> Or - or, Thunderlane had mentioned that the construction teams had a free pony on them, and that his life was none too easy either.
> Perhaps he could talk?
> Even have Anonymous take some of the others into the city, to see what you had.
> Would that strike the balance you were aiming for - resist only when necessary?

Let’s pick one to focus on!

>Ya, it IS a tough decision, the last few were kinda puffballs.
This brings me to another question I have, a more meta one: Obviously the story is nearing the climax, and this means that choices which will define huge swaths of the story are becoming rarer. With that in mind, I can stop offering simpler choices and just keep writing until I hit a bigger one - or keep giving you all the choices.

Do you have a preference?
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