The trials and tribulations of managing your own personal pony village.
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!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-01 10:50:41 No. 32456189

> You take a seat on the bed, and the ponies form a sort of semicircle in front of you.
> Despite the fact that you won't be the one telling the story, this feels like nothing so much as an interrogation.
> Cadance takes up a place next to Shining Armor; within moments, her wing is out and over his withers.
> On her far side, Thunderlane; Lattice sits alone.
> At least, until you reach out and rub his shoulder in what you hope is a reassuring gesture.
"What, exactly is going on here that I can't even be told?"
> "A-Are you familiar, Master, with why there are so few crystal unicorns?"
> Your brows knit.
"I am not."
> Lattice sags despite the touch on his shoulder.
> "There used to be. Until S-Sombra. Until the long winter."
> It takes you a moment to comprehend what he means.
> Thunderlane looks equally confused; Cadance and Shining Armor, however-
> When it does hit you, however, it settles over your back like an icy, leaden weight.
"But - fucking hell! I heard it was just - just mind control. Not - genocide!"
> "Magic could undo magic. From what I have gathered, Sombra saw threats in every shadow near the end. Any unicorn was a spark to rebellion."
> That in a soft voice from Cadance, echoed by a nod from Lattice.
> "So he removed the threat. Those who would not serve him willingly were - culled first. Those who turned on their neighbors to spare each other were next; for if they would betray once, they would betray again."
"Then how-"
> Too late you realize that might not be the best question to drop.
> But then, that must be the key to what Lattice was finding so hard to tell.
"How are you here?"
> "I don't know. Blind luck, perhaps, that he did not label us traitors too."
> He sinks the rest of the way to the floor, legs folding as they can no longer hold his weight.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-01 10:51:44 No. 32456197

> "Us - my family. They served him loyally. We don't remember much from that time; no crystal pony does. Too many shadows in our minds. But enough can be found out..."
> Swallowing hard, he flicks his eyes up to the Cadance and her husband.
> "When the tyrant king was destroyed and our eyes were opened, not everypony was willing to forget who worked for him. Some remembered what we'd done."
> Lattice lights his horn and carefully unfurls the kerchief about his neck.
> There, nested carefully within, hangs a glittering stone - pure and clear, but for a three-pronged flame of midnight blue and sickly green spearing it through the middle.
> "The symbol of my house. The last memory I have of them. I hate what they did, but we were family too."
> "Forgive us, Lattice... we did not protect you."
> He shakes his head sharply, but she perseveres.
> "It wasn't your fault. Sombra was - everywhere. I only faced him for such a short time, but even so it was all I could do. You don't have to-"
> "And that is why I could not ask you, Your Highness. I knew you would say that. I had to ask His Highness Shining Armor."
> Immediately Cadance's head snaps around, glaring at Shining Armor.
> You, however, preempt her:
"And I assume that your question was whether you should keep this information to yourself?"
> "Yes, Master. If ponies found out who I was - if I started drawing attention to myself..."
> He shifts nervously, tail flicking and a hoof dragging on the hard cell floor.
> "'d only be trouble. They might come after me. I heard what happened to Mocha Cream; everything they said about her would be true about me."
"But not now. Hell, I can attest to that."
> "Would the kind of pony who'd attack me listen to what you say, Master?"
> He does have a point there.
"Does Tourmaline Twist know?"
> "I don't know. Maybe. I haven't told her much."
"Is she going to come after you?"
> Shining Armor snorts softly.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-01 10:52:46 No. 32456205

> "She had better not. Another crystal pony, she should know what it was like with Sombra."
> Lattice nods, adding in:
> "I think she will be more sympathetic. Other ponies..."
"Is that why you hid the radio? To - prove somehow, that you weren't my lackey?"
> "Yes, Master."
> That is mumbled more softly; your hand rises from his shoulder to squeeze the bridge of your nose.
"God damn it, Lattice, why didn’t you tell me? I could have - have arranged something from the start!"
> He doesn't answer, but the reason comes to you again.
" thought I'd insist you work with me again."
> "Yes, Master."
> By now his voice is barely a whisper.
"And this is why you want money you make issued back to the camp. Because you're terrified they'll think you're just enriching yourself...
> "Yes, Master."
> It's starting to sound like the chorus to a song by now.
> "And why I had to ask Shining Armor. He - he's been through a lot, because he wouldn't give up who he was or hide to fit in. He suffered, and I hid."
> You scoot back on the cell's cot a bit further and rub your eyes a bit more.
"I still wish you had told me all of this to begin with, Lattice. Especially after I let you off the hook for running the crystal growth project, I thought you understood me well enough."
> "I should have, Master."
> Grunting at that, you turn back to Shining Armor - who is also still getting something of a glare from his wife.
"And you, I suppose, told him to demand that he should demand his profits go back to the camp instead."
> "I told him that he shouldn't be afraid of what happened in the past if he isn't doing it now. I have always hated ponies who collaborated just to get ahead-"
> Here Lattice winces, but Shining still goes on.
> "-but that Lattice didn't have to be that, as long as he kept looking out for other ponies. Doing it right here was not my idea."
> You shoot a look back at Thunderlane and Lattice each.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-01 10:53:48 No. 32456214

"I'm almost a little sorry I already told you I wasn't going to give a punishment for this, because it's really out of hand. Now, there's one last thing I am wondering: Lattice, you're insisting that I pay back some of your extra profits into the camp. But, what extra profits?"
> Instead of answering directly he forces himself upright to his hooves.
> Laying the crystal totem on the ground atop the kerchief, he stares it at a moment and pulls a few shaky breaths before lighting his horn with a blazing aurora.
> "Wait, Lattice don't-"
> It's too late.
> Despite Cadance's cry, Lattice's horn is glaringly bright - sending coruscating rainbows gleaming from his obsidian coat.
> You are too shocked to do anything at all.
> If this had been an assassination attempt, it'd be all over.
> It isn't, though.
> Instead, when you blink your vision clear Lattice is swaying over the remnants of his totem.
> Or, not the same totem.
> For now a fourth spur of crystal has been added, growing branch-like from the three-lobed center of it.
> Despite his eyes staring vaguely into the distance a wide grin splits Lattice's face.
> "It worked, didn't it? Hard - hard to do. But I've still got i-"
> You're off the bed just in time to catch Lattice as he tumbles over, his head landing full in your lap with eyes rolling up.
"Stunts aren't needed to prove stuff, Lattice! Thunderlane, go get some water for him!"
> "I'll... I'll be fine, Master."
> Running your fingers along his neck finds his pulse regular, if weak.
> You brush his mane back and shake your head in disbelief.
"Looks like you're lucky enough that you actually will. Don't ever do that again, Lattice!"
> "S-Sorry, Master."
> Swallowing hard, the stallion finally lets his eyes flutter shut - sides now dripping with sweat from his exertion and nostrils flared to pant heavily.
> "I h-had to know. If it could work still. If it really was just my fear stopping me."
"Is it always going to be like this?"

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-01 10:54:50 No. 32456220

> "No. I c-can do it slower. Less tiring."
> Rising hoofbeats announce Thunderlane's return with a water bottle gripped in his teeth.
> You twist and open it, but as soon as the first drops hit his tongue Lattice lights his horn and finishes draining it himself.
"Feeling better?"
> "Much."
> He struggles to his hooves, and with some shakiness manages to look at you.
> "Thank you, Master. I'll - I'll be sure to do everything I can."
> You heave yourself to your feet and dust off your hands.
"Good. Now -"
> Tapping him on the side, you wiggle a winger in a mid-air circle.
"-turn around?"
> Cautiously, Lattice does.
> And is still looking away when your hand comes down with a hard swat on his croup, eliciting a slight yelp from him.
> It is joined by pair of rather more muffled whimpers as you deliver a couple more quick slaps to both sides of his haunches.
> Thankfully Lattice is intelligent enough not to try and kick, though you had preemptively stepped to the side just in case.
> The look he gives you suggests he is seriously wondering whether this is necessary.
> But he does turn around, and barely gives so much as a squeak when you deliver a few solid slaps to his rear.
> Though his tail does firmly pin itself
"Don't ever jump me with a demand in front of a crowd like that, either of you. That was completely out of line. Next time, it'll be something more than my hand. Understood?"
> "Yes, master."
> "Yes, Master."
"Good. Thunderlane, go see him home; Lattice, rest up. We can talk more about how to implement this later, but I'm still glad you told me in the end.."
> After both of them head out, you take a seat back on the bed - looking at the two remaining ponies in the cell.
> Despite their earlier apparent differences, Cadance and Shining had huddled back up together again.
> Surprisingly, the latter pony doesn't look too upset at your impromptu discipline.
> Rather, he seems more surprised you agreed in the first place.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-01 10:55:52 No. 32456230

> "We should have looked after him better, back in the Empire..."
"Sometimes, Shining Armor, even leaders make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can have very real consequences; but even so you can't spend hours agonizing over the mistakes. Just keep moving, and do what you can to rectify the damage."
> "...yeah."
> You look to Cadance, who gives you a flat look.
> "Should I turn around as well?"
"No, you didn't have any part in this. I saw you were as surprised as I was. Though, you should know I won't ever hesitate to give you a few good swats if you ever try anything like that either."
> That at last manages to draw an angered snort from Shining Armor, while Cadance's cheeks merely color.
"Now - as long as I'm down here, Shining, I wanted to have a talk with you as well."
> "I'm listening."
"The fact is, I don't want to keep you down here in chains forever. For a whole number of reasons."
> "You want me to believe that you are 'better'."
> Wincing, you rub the back of your head awkwardly.
"Well, that's part of it. I won't deny that. But there's another part that really doesn't want to keep you chained up in a cell just because, and another part that wants to let you out just because - hell, I want you to have a chance to really talk with your wife and daughter."
> That finally gets through to him; Shining's eyes brighten at the perspective.
"I won't deny I'm no bleeding-heart ponies'-rights advocate. But, like I said - I'm a father too. I'd go through hell for Megan, and I get that."
> "So, what do I have to do?"
> Ah, progress!
"Not much. Just stay under Cadance's watch, don't go wandering off or try to set off any rebellions. And, don't try to get inside Flurry's head."
> He huffs, ears laid flat and tail swishing.
> But Cadance leans back against him and nickers softly.
> Shining Armor relaxes, even starting to lean back against her.
> "I don't have much to lose, do I?"

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-01 10:56:54 No. 32456234

"No, you don't. I'm not going to ask for groveling or anything like that. Your pride will be intact."
> "What about the horn suppressor?"
"It stays. We can fit you with a controllable model if you're going back to work. It'll shut off when you're plugged in at your workbench."
> "...I see."
> “Please, love. Don’t you want to be out of here? Don’t you - you want to live like a sane pony again, wash up-?”
> Shining pulls from Cadance's side and walks up to you.
> Despite barely reaching your chest, despite the chains he drags on the floor, you can feel the force of will in his eyes.
> "I can't know how much of what you have told me about this place is true. But I can't find out in here, either."
"So, is that an agreement from you, then? Stay with your minder, no wandering off, no trying to turn ponies on me."
> "I want to take another look at this camp. If what you've said about it being - 'better' - if that's true, then I - I agree. And..."
> His eyes fall, tail droops again, and voice softens.
> For the first time you hear real, real desire in his tone.
> "Please. Let me see my daughter. I will beg for that, if that is what it takes."

Do we agree to let him out, given the conditions he's given us?

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-05 10:01:57 No. 32476165

"Alright. Then, Cadance - he's yours to look after. A guard will come to take your chains off."
> "Thank you, Master."
> Shining merely huffs at hearing her call you that.
"I'll go see to Flurry, coax her out. Megan will probably want to come along, initially anyway. Oh, and Shining-"
> You stand, dusting off your pants again.
"I just want to be clear about this. You will be going back to your owner eventually; I'll be making that phone call pretty soon, and you should probably be a part of it."
> "Do... do I..."
"You have to, yes. Even if this was somewhere you wanted to stay, I can't legally keep you around. In fact, since I found out who you are I could be charged with receiving a stolen pony if I drag my heels."
> This produces another soft huff from the stallion.
> But also a nod of understanding.
> Turning for the door, you wave a hand in a goodbye.
"Good. Honestly... you two enjoy your time.together, okay? Cadance, tell me if you need a little bit of time off."
> Back in the manor, you have another issue to tend to.
> Megan had claimed one of the house-ponies' quarters as her own room while repairs were being done.
> Aside from giving her and Flurry a proper room, it kept them well within the house - where they would be safer.
> The displaced ponies were merely bunking in one of the other rooms.
> Marching downstairs, you tap the door to their 'room' and call through the door:
"Megan, sweetheart? Can I come in?"
> It is not your daughter who answers.
> "One moment, Master. Mistress Megan is - um - oh, you can come in now."
> You do, to find Megan struggling to fit her arms into her pajamas.
"Hey there, sweetheart. Getting ready for bed already? It's early."
> "Just felt like it."
"You didn't want to go out and play a bit?"
> "Nah. It's okay, Daddy."
> Willpower alone keeps the frown off your face.
> Still so nervous about going outside...
"Well, okay then."

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-05 10:03:45 No. 32476171

> Sitting on one of the room's beds - there were two of them, but only one showed signs of actual use - you wave both girl and filly to your side.
> They're all too happy to come, Megan curling up beneath your left arm while Flurry settles under your right.
> You muss both their heads fondly.
"That's my girls."
> "Is something wrong, daddy?"
> Huh.
> They were astute girls.
"...not wrong, but there is something I need to talk to the both of you about. Flurry Heart, you father, Shining Armor - you know he is still here? Until it's time to send him home."
> Given how she is curled against your rubs, you can feel her instantaneously stiffen.
> "Yes, Master."
"Well... he'd like to see you. He's out of the cell now, with your mother."
> No answer is given to this, although Megan reaches out across your chest to squeeze Flurry's hoof.
"Now, I won't force you to. Hell, I can't force you to. But... I think it would be good if you at least tried. Cadance will be there, of course."
> "Is he angry at me, Master?"
"No, Flurry. I've told you that before."
> Leaning over, you place a soft kiss atop her head directly between the ears.
> It earns you an earflick and comforted nicker.
"If anything, I think he's a little scared too right now."
> "Is momma angry at him?"
"I... maybe. Just a little. But she's mostly happy to see him back."
> "Then why didn't he want to talk to me before?"
> Shit.
> You don't know how to answer this.
> As if to say what you couldn't, Megan speaks up:
> "Well, I am angry with him! He should have. That's what they're always telling me at school: Don't hit when you're mad. Use your words. He didn't."
"...yes. He didn't use his words at all. And maybe we're all a little bit mad at him too. Even you, Flurry. You're allowed to be mad at him."
> "So mad that I don't want to see him at all?"

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-05 10:04:47 No. 32476174

"So mad that if you don't want to talk to him, you don't have to. That's allowed. But, that's not using your words is it? Maybe you should tell him - nicely - and then hear what he has to say too, hmm?"
> She doesn't look convinced, and you sigh as you run fingers through her mane.
"Just once at least, Flurry. Then no more. Can you do that for me?"
> With another squeeze from Megan's hand buoying her spirits, Flurry nods at last.
> "Mmmk. I'll... I'll do that."

> The walk back to your quarters is possibly one of the most tense moments you can remember.
> At the very least, the most tense moment in a very long time.
> Shining Armor walks at your side; not so close as to share affection, but not so distant as to obviously show a rift between you.
> He keeps his head up, looking around, as if examining the camp with new eyes.
> And really, he almost is.
> For the first time he isn't an agent or rebel, infiltrating to discover the truth or retrieve his daughter from some hell.
> He is examining it with a more open point of view.
> You, too, are watching - but for entirely different reasons.
> It is the ponies that you are looking at, trying to see their reaction to Shining Armor appearing at your side.
> Free from chains, yes, but scarred and his horn still capped with the restrictor ring.
> Some of your herd gaze on him with expressions of relief, even joy:
> Here was another Equestrian royal, alive and un-broken, even at your side again.
> A triumph!
> From the way some of them look, perhaps even a miracle!
> For others, you see not elation but a deep, deep sadness.
> It is not difficult to understand why:
> The same facts, taken from a different perspective.
> Here was another of Equestria's royal family, trapped in slavery as well.
> Another chance at somepony who might eventually spearhead a march to freedom, captured.
> In some, you even see anger.
> Over what had been done to him, or merely that another of your family had appeared in the camp?

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-05 10:06:23 No. 32476177

> Hard to tell.
> Much like Shining Armor's perspective had changed with time, you only hope their consideration of the topic does as well.
> The door to your quarters shuts behind the two of you with a soft click.
> For the first time in what feels an eternity you are actually alone with your husband.
> No threat of being interrupted at a moment's notice.
> He is looking about as well, studying your modest quarters with the face of one who had somehow expected more.
"I told you... it isn't much at all. I have a private bathroom, instead of one of the communal ones. That's about as much luxury as I've taken."
> "I see."
"Would you like to wash up? It must have been a while since..."
> "Yeah, I... that'd be nice."
"Come. I'll show you."
> As is typical, it takes a few moments for the water to rise from icy to lukewarm.
> The heaters never were sufficient for the task...
> Shining tests it with a hoof, then carefully steps beneath.
"Here. I have some good shampoos; that should get some of the gunk out of your coat-"
> "Cadance."
> That one word brings you to a screeching halt.
> From his place in the shower, mane and coat now slick with water, Shining looks at you with a guarded expression.
> "Why are you doing this?"
"Doing what?"
> "Pretending everything will just be..."
> He pauses, searching for the word.
> "...domestic. Between us."
> The denial dies in your throat.
> It was what you were trying for, wasn't it?
> Domesticity.
> Pretending everything was okay again.
> Seeing his point made, Shining Armor's eyes fall to the bathroom floor, to water pooling and running to the drain.
> "I'm sorry. I shouldn't take your dream. But I can't lie either. It's - hard for me. To forget everything that you're doing."
"But you said-"
> "I understand you're not a monster, Cadance. But I can't just pretend it isn't, either."
> You look away.
"I understand. I'll... leave you be, then."
> Retreating from the bathroom, you head for the bed in long, slow steps.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-05 10:07:25 No. 32476182

> A few minutes later, though-
> "Cady?"
> His pet name for you, and that tone...
> Ears pricked, you turn back.
> Still standing in the shower, Shining tilts his head and offers a small smile.
> "I... can't wash myself very well with this ring on. Could you...?"
> It is a lie; even with the ring, he is more than capable of a simple wash.
> But more importantly, it is a peace offering.
> With a smile, you slip back into the shower.
"May I...?"
> "Yes."
> Stepping in, you take the bottle in your magic and squirt out a dollop into his mane - tracing a thinner line down his back.
> His body has not gone to waste during his bondage - still every bit the muscular stallion you remember.
> Shining shivers softly at the cold goop landing in his fur, but gives a soft and happy sigh when you dig your hooves in to massage the stuff in with careful, slow motions.
> The slow, luxurious motions are as much for your own benefit as for his:
> This is the first time in so long you have been able to spend with him, and very well may be the last for at least as long.
> Nor for pleasure alone; your heart breaks each time you feel the rough crest of a scar beneath your hooves.
> Truly, Shining Armor must have suffered many times what you did.
> And despite the memories they must bring, Shining Armor seems to be managing to enjoy things as well.
> His head sinks, soon followed by his shoulders, until he is leaning almost far enough over to fall.
> A soft, happy nicker escapes his lips, followed by a long and happy sigh.
> "Perhaps... I can pretend for just a bit."
> You smile too.
> Smile, and keep rubbing until his entire body is covered in soap foam and his mane - the ragged, lanky thing he had used to hide the core of his disguise - literally drenched in suds.
> "Please."
> Rather than light your horn, you extend a wing out to deflect the water onto him in a cleansing spray.
> Shining's head rises back up into the spray.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-05 10:08:29 No. 32476186

> Shining's head rises back up into the spray.
> Suds run down his flanks to his hooves before being whisked away to the drain, but still he stays in place even when you lower your wing.
> "Much."
> What you do next is an undeniable risk.
> There is no way to know how he will react.
> Even this little bit of intimacy had clearly been a stretch for him; how much further can you dare to push it?
> But you could not live with yourself if you did not try either.
> And so you sidle up close against him, the limp and dripping strands of your mane coming to rest over the sodden mess of his as you press against his flank.
> Not in a gesture of desire, but simple comfort.
> Being able to share in his presence.
> And to your utter delight and relief, he relents:
> Leaning back against you, he lets his neck rest against yours amid the falling spray.
> Even earns a soft giggle from you by nibbling lightly at your mane.
> "You tempt me, mare. And I am defenseless before you."
"I know."
> You rest your chin on the back of his neck, breathing in his scent.
> Despite the recent cleaning it was still clearly there - familiar, masculine, comforting.
> Your Shiny.
"I love you, Shining Armor."
> He tries to answer, but only hiccups instead.
> Crying, you realize.
> He is crying.
> The big softie.
> Your big softie.
> Shutting the water, you wrap both your wings about him and hold him there.
> Feeling the soft heaves of his sides against yours.
> Eventually it quiets enough to let him speak.
> "And I love you, Cady."
> That name.
> Not Cadence.
> Not Princess.
> Not even Mi Amore Cadenza.
> Just Cady.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-05 10:09:31 No. 32476191

> With your magic you haul over a pair of towels to dry you both; it takes little time to wrap him up in them.
"Come. Let's get you into a proper bed."
> You don't even need to lead him on, but it is clear that something is still bothering him.
"Shining? What is it?"
> "I..."
> He jumps onto the bed, settling down onto his side, but still looks away.
> "I don't know if I want to go. My owner... he's a decent guy, but he's going to be angry. Really angry. Will probably take my magic away again."
"Is it really just your magic, love?"
> "No..."
> His head bows again, eyes half-closed in contemplation.
> "I - I thought I'd lost you. Now I've found you again and I'm told I just have to go home? He'll never let me out again!"
> Climbing up beside him, you stretch a wing across his back and let him leans his head into your chest.
> "I don't belong here. You don't either, but I really don't... but I can't just leave you behind again! I left you and Flurry Heart in the Crystal Empire and lost you both then; I can't just go now! I might never see you-"
> He cuts off, breathing hard.

What do we tell him? Are we in a position to make promises to see him again?
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