The trials and tribulations of managing your own personal pony village.
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!F9CBa509ak 2018-05-18 10:40:12 No. 32388960

"Honestly? Yes. Yes I can."
> Extending a wing, you reach out to tap one of your primaries with each point you make:
"One. You know the community center with the museum? He didn't want to build that. He was afraid it would encourage rebellion. But he did it anyway, because we voted on it using money freed up when he fired the guards who were mistreating us and let us watch ourselves instead. He gave us the money, when there was absolutely no call for him to do that."
> Another feather is tapped.
"But maybe that's not really kind enough. Have you seen Mocha Cream? Young unicorn mare, kind of flighty, walks with a limp? When she was attacked - attacked for just carrying out her duties - a 'business' decision would have been to just get rid of her. He didn't, though. He paid for her treatment, even when she came back disabled. Isn't that what you were praising your master for doing?"
> Shining looks ready to interject, but you just keep going:
"Is that too close to him, though? What about how he's buying up ponies' family members where they're found, even if they're older and not able to work that well? It's not very businesslike, is it? Or how he pulls ponies off of their normal jobs when it's time to bring new ones in, so the new ones don't have to be afraid they're being shipped to a death camp?"
> On and on you go, point after point.
> His very real anger when he'd discovered guards were abusing ponies, more than just at the sabotage of his business.
> How he had gotten Windy Winters to a better buyer, for coming to his senses.
> The way he'd rejected Haute Glamour and everything she had stood for - exactly the kind of behavior Shining feared.
> Letting real Equestrian history be shown in the rec hall's 'museum', against his own intuition.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-05-18 10:41:14 No. 32388961

", maybe it's possible to just see all of this as - as any kindness making us more likely to follow him. And - don't mistake me, I know what he really is. But he's been better to us than he had to be."
> This is clearly percolating through Shining Armor's head; his eyes have again taken on that far-away look.
"Even more important, though? He wasn't always this way. There was a time where we had to fight tooth-and-hoof for every crumb he gave us. But your wife, Shining - she's been changing him, she really has."
> "Flurry too?"
"Flurry too. You should have seen him when he found out she couldn't fly... he gave Cadance the time she needed to help Flurry learn again."
> Grunting in a noncommittal sort of manner, Shining Slumps over onto his side.
"I... I know this isn't the easiest for you. There are still some days when I get sick with myself for what I'm doing, but still."
> "I want to see my daughter."
> You pause, considering.
> Shining wasn't in much of a position to negotiate, but...
"I'll pass on word. If I can make a suggestion, though? Give Anonymous the information he wants. It costs you nothing, but he won't miss what it means."
> Another wordless grunt gives you a sense of exactly how Shining Armor feels about that.
"And - I meant what I said about Copper Dust. He was - and you are - a good pony. Doing this won't change that."
> "But... if I tell him, he'll just send me back."
> The sheer pain in Shining's voice gives you pause.
> There was a depth there, even more than he'd shown you already.
> "I've come so far. All this way, just to find them. Just for Flurry and Cadance. And he'll just send me right back because I'm a runaway and he can't keep me-"
> You do sympathize.
> This stallion had been through so much, finally found his family, thought he'd lost his wife only to discover she was not the tyrant he'd thought.
> And now he'd have to give them all up.
"I... I'll talk to Anonymous. Maybe he can figure something out."

!F9CBa509ak 2018-05-18 10:42:54 No. 32388966

> "What, fly them that far just to see me? Even if he's as generous as you say, I doubt that. Besides, I'm a rebel. A runaway. I might put some ideas about fighting back into Flurry's head. He couldn't have that."
> Rolling the rest of the way over onto his back, Shining holds his shackled hooves up above himself.
> "I still half-expect him to come in and try and whip the location of everyone who helped out of me. All the places I stopped on the way here, the ones who gave me the disguise enchantment. Hang me up by my hooves again until I begged-"
"He won't. I wouldn't let him. Cadance wouldn't let him."
> "The police won't be very happy if he knowingly lets a rebel go."
"Then I'd suggest you don't mention it around him."
> Now the look Shining Armor gives you is a completely new one:
> Relieved surprise.
> You just lift your wings in a shrug.
"I'm here to keep everypony here safe, Shining. Not be a slaver's attack dog. If he can send you home without any of that, it's no trouble for us. If it spares you... even better."
> "...that's good of you."
> This time it is you who gives a little grunt.
> Shining doesn't seem to have more to say, just laying on his back and still staring at the shackles on his legs.
> Turning, you walk for the door.
> Locking the cell is the only thing you pause for before you all but flee from the security building.
> The rest of your day is spent in almost a trance.
> Back at the manor, things are only just settling down.
> Megan's room's window, now replaced with plywood for the moment, still stood out like an open sore.
> After dutifully reporting to Anonymous what Shining had said, you couldn't resist taking a peek in through the now-permanently-open doorway when you passed by.
> Pausing to stare for a moment at the spot where you'd tumbled into the wall, landed in a daze.
> Looking at the holes in the walls where Cadance had ripped hinges from frame.
> Sometimes you did really forget how powerful she could be.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-05-18 10:43:56 No. 32388971

> The room has already been thoroughly cleaned by the industrious house-ponies.
> Plaster, glass, and paint chips swept up.
> Megan herself would be moved into a temporary bed in one of the other rooms, of course.
> And-
> A soft gasp behind you sends you spinning around, wings open in a ready-stance.
> Mocha Cream, however, is just as surprised and stumbles back on unsteady legs until she falls onto her haunches.
"Oh - oh, Mocha. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to surprise you."
> "It's okay. I know you didn't mean to."
> You hold out a hoof, though, to help her up.
"Is Megan home yet?"
> "Yes. She went straight to Flurry when she arrived. They're upstairs now."
"I imagine they're pretty shaken up too."
> "This morning, they didn't even want to be separated when Miss Megan went to school."
> Mocha sighs heavily, shaking her head.
> "I don't know which of them was more scared... Flurry Heart has more to think about, of course."
"How is she taking it?"
> "Poorly."
> Settling back on her haunches again, Mocha grimaces.
> "She's been somber, even after Miss Megan came back. I think she's afraid this is all somehow her fault."
"Poor filly's been through a lot. First no one to care about her, and now everyone pulling her in different directions..."
> "And it will depend on what becomes of her father."
"Well, that at least we're making headway on. You can tell her that - I think it will be okay in the end.”
> “Celestia and Luna help her, she will need the good news.”
> You glance back towards Megan’s room, muttering under your breath:
“At least she has news to be happier about… some way to clear the clouds from her mind.”
> Mocha cocks her head questioningly.
“...sorry. I shouldn’t saddle you with it. I’m just… this whole thing came so close to destroying everything here, and I couldn’t stop him. I felt - feel - helpless.”
> “Yes… that is a hard place to be.”

!F9CBa509ak 2018-05-18 10:45:11 No. 32388973

> Holding up a hoof - a trembling hoof, one of her weak ones - Mocha shakes her head.
> “Talk, Thunderlane. That’s what they told me at the hospital Master sent me to, and it did help with the fear. At least talk about it with someone.”
> Even if you did not know her circumstances, Mocha’s tone alone is enough to know this is coming straight from her heart.
“I’m telling you.”
> “Not because you chose to. Because we happened to meet. Choose to. You have somepony close, don’t you?”
“Yes, Vapor Trail.”
> “Then tell her.”
> Mocha Cream smiles sadly, tears brimming in the corners of her eyes.
> “At least you have that much.”
> Oh.
> Quickly you pull the little mare into a tight hug with both forehooves and wings.
> “You have us too, Mocha Cream. Myself, and I’m sure Rumble would be happy to listen to you too.”
> ...
> Your thoughts are still distant and wandering when you return to your quarters.
> Vapor Trail is there, of course.
> Still being a nursing mother, she was on much-reduced working hours with many breaks.
> In fact, Sunbreak was tucked between her hindlegs even now - suckling away happily, her little wings twitching as she drank greedily.
"Still hungry, huh?"
> "You bet it. She's going to be a strong filly, I can tell."
> Shrugging off the uniform, you walk over and briefly nuzzle the foal before turning to nuzzle her mother in turn.
> "A tough day?"
"After what happened last night... you bet it."
> "Thunderlane?"
> Tilting her head away, Vapor fixes her eyes on the bed's pillow instead.
> "Ponies are saying it was Shining Armor. Princess Cadance's husband."
"...are they?"
"Yes. Some ponies are also saying he tried to escape with her, but I don't believe that. She wouldn't be walking around now if it were true."
> "That's probably accurate."
> You clamber up on the bed, settling down beside her and draping your head over Vapor Trail's side.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-05-18 10:46:13 No. 32388976

> She lifts her wing accommodatingly, letting you slip your muzzle beneath it.
> A quick twist of your head let you press an ear to her side and find her heartbeat.
> "Is it true, Thunderlane? The rest of it?"
> Exactly how word of this got out, you aren't sure.
> You can guess, though; even if the house-ponies knew about what they were or weren't supposed to talk about, gossip would spread about something like this.
> And at this point, you're tired of being Anonymous' representative.
"It's true; some of it, at least. I don't want you telling everypony, but Shining Armor was there, and..."
> Vapor increasingly curls in on herself as you tell the story.
> When it is done she twists around to look down at Sunbreak, who had finished her meal and promptly gone to sleep against her mother’s belly.
> "He only wanted to see his child..."
"Yeah. And honestly, with all that he'd heard... I can't say I entirely blame him."
> Vapor kisses Sunbreak softly on the forehead, causing the foal to squirm lightly in her sleep.
> You watch, her wing still forming something of a blanket over your head, and wonder.
> She'd been part of the plan to carry out Cadance's new secret escape plan, you knew that much.
> But just how far into it she was?
> How dedicated?
> That was beyond you.
> Was she still planning on fleeing the camp, when Sunbreak was old enough to travel?
> Helping others do the same?
> You draw in a deep breath, taking her scent.
> Her softness.
> "Something on your mind, Thunderlane?"
> "You're staring."
"Just... thinking. About all of this."
> Rolling off of her, you fall onto your back and hold your hooves up in the air just above you, just like Shining had done.
"I... I was scared, Vapor. Scared of him. He was strong - so much stronger than me; I couldn't stop him even if I wanted to and if he did hurt anyone in that house, anyone at all, that would be it; everything here would close down and I'd lose you and Sunbreak-"

!F9CBa509ak 2018-05-18 10:47:15 No. 32388980

> Vapor's wing settles over you again, breaking the stream of words flowing from your mouth.
"Sorry. I'm rambling."
> A soft kiss is placed on your cheek.
> "You're allowed to. You don't have to be some stoic rock for me to lean on. It's okay for you to tell me."
"Losing you... Celestia above, I don't know what I would have done."
> Vapor listens patiently as you tell her everything.
> Exactly as Mocha had suggested.
> When you’re done, you twist your head and place a kiss on her lips.
“Thank you.”
> She smiles before nuzzling into your neck, but you can tell she is worried too.
> About what, though?
> Again the little nagging voices make their way into your head.
> Was it that she sympathized with you, or was she afraid her own chances of escape were going to be crushed?
> You could just - ask her.
> Be direct about it.
> Ask her what her plans are.
> least then you wouldn't be blindsided, heartbroken, when it happens.
> No!
> You shouldn't be mistrusting her like this.
> Vapor's been nothing but kind to you.
> But...
> Then why do you feel so scared?

So, do we ask her the question straight on, or not? If we go a more indirect route, how should we phrase it?
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