The trials and tribulations of managing your own personal pony village.
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!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-08 11:08:31 No. 32488618

"Shining... I think we both know you cannot stay."
> The admission draws a shaky huff from him.
> You wrap both your wings around him, cocooning Shining Armor in a feathery blanket.
"You said yourself this is not a place where you can fit in. I understand that. I - I wish you could."
> Muzzle sinking into his mane, you breath deep and hard - taking in his scent and relishing in it.
"And besides: Your master cares for you, does he not? From what you have told me."
> "Yes. He does."
> Shining sighs heavily, shifting beneath you.
"It would break his heart if you didn't come back. Do you really think he is going to punish you that severely?"
> "I don't know. He..."
> Trailing off into a low mumble, Shining utters something beneath his breath.
"If you don't want to tell me-"
> "He's taken a belt to my rump a couple times, okay?"
> Your soft gasp draws a prompt shake of his head.
> "It's - he's not cruel. It's a lot less even the lighter whippings. He can be stern, but yeah... he does care."
"So... he will not lock you up forever. Or torture you. And knowing what he does about this place, would your owner ever let you stay?"
> "No. It'd destroy Gracie if I didn't come back, though."
> Gracie.
> His own human child he'd grown attached to.
"Yes. You have others relying on you now, remember."
> "Not to mention, it'd crush Corona as well."
> Corona.
> You had forgotten her.
> Possibly on purpose.
> Shifting around, you slip your wings beneath his chin and lift Shining's head to face yours.
> His eyes are still so rich, so alive with light despite all he suffered.
"But I can promise you this:"
> Leaning forward, you press your forehead and nose against his - both your horns turned slightly aside to brush past each other.
"We will never lose each other again. You may go home, but you will not be walking away from me. We can speak by video, by telephone, by visit. We might be apart, but we will never be separated."
> "It's... not the same."

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-08 11:09:34 No. 32488624

> He's desperately trying not to sound whiny.
"I know. But what other option is there? Righting this is going to take time, effort, and sacrifice for the both of us, Shining."
> "What if he's hurt? Or he can't afford to keep us? Or-"
"Then we will see. We will face that trial then. But we cannot be paralyzed with fear now."
> Eyes falling, he mutters:
> "We shouldn't have to sacrifice our family."
> You bring them back up with a kiss to the tip of his muzzle.
"Never stop saying that, Shining Armor. Never let go what is right. You are the strength I don't have."
> Huffing softly, he looks aside instead.
> But you can see the red color invading his cheeks.
"I will bow and beg Anonymous shamelessly, if that is what it takes to see you. I don't think it will, though."
> "Really?"
"He... his heart is truly moved by seeing our separation, I think. His wife is - moved on, and it pains both him and Megan. He knows it pains Megan too."
> "Someone married that?!"
> The exclamation of genuine surprise draws a roll from your eyes.
"From what Megan has told me, he is the better of the two."
> "Well. Monsters do find comfort with monsters."
"Shining Armor!"
> "What? He may be 'getting better', but he is still a slaver. And even you cannot say he wasn’t a monster before."
"The point is, Anonymous will be sympathetic. And from what you have told me of your owner, he will be too. Be strong, my Armor."
> "He is. I know he is. Even with how stern he can be, he really does care. He took me and Corona in, after all."
"So he did."
> Releasing Shining, you opt to lay down beside him instead.
> It takes no urging for him to slip his legs around you - wrapping himself around your barrel and flanks, resting his head beside yours.
"Shining? What is she like now?"
> "Passionate. Vivid. Lively... like her name. Timid sometimes still, but she's learning to overcome that. If I respect my owner, she loves him."
> Now it is your to release a breath of relief, ribs shaking as you do.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-08 11:10:48 No. 32488630

> She hadn't been permanently crippled - destroyed - by her trial.
> "She’s hurt. Maimed in more ways than one. The nightmares still come; sometimes about here, sometimes about when she had her mark taken off. Sometimes about Merribelle."
> As if in confirmation of you recognizing that name, a soft 'oh' utters from your throat.
> "And even some things during the day... he used something electrical on her. Just a pop is enough to get her breathing hard; if there's a buzz or something..."
> Your emotions plunge straight back down, drawing a whimper from your lips.
> "Cadance... why was it her?"
"She was - strong. In mind and body. One of the strongest who'd come back. I thought she could stand what he would do better than somepony else. I thought he'd exact something on her, then let her go. I never thought he'd - he'd-"
> Although you cannot go on, Shining Armor continues to hold you between his legs.
> Now the situation from before is reversed:
> It is he who is sheltering your shaking, trembling form.
"F-Forgive me, Shining Armor. I didn't know what to do, I thought it would be over once and then we could just... I don't know."
> Eventually he nuzzles your ear again.
> "I can't understand how you defend someone who did that. But I do admit, you had no better choice."
> Your voice is small and weak now.
"I w-want to ask you something. You - you were the one who was relaying our messages to the outside, right?"
> "Yes. I was. To the people who helped me get in."
"Then you know about the plan. You were going to use the plan to get out."
> "I was."
"I told Sunburst to start that plan in case Anonymous ever became that monster again. If - if that day ever comes, could I send Flurry Heart to you?"
> Digesting this requests takes him several long moments.
> Moments during which he is all but still.
> "You - would trust Flurry with me? With Corona?"
> Disbelief mixes with shock in his tone.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-08 11:11:51 No. 32488636

"If it gets to that point, then I will have been wrong and you right all along."
> Shining's limbs tighten around you - a wordless recognition of what you had just admitted.
> "I... I don't think so. My Master once said that he wouldn't shelter a fugitive pony."
"But Corona-"
> "Had taken measures to - conceal herself. An alicorn is difficult to hide."
> You shudder, remembering what he had said Corona had done to her cutie marks.
> "Maybe if her life were in danger. Maybe."
"I will consider it as a last resort, then."
> Another soft squeeze from Shining Armor is accompanied by a nuzzle into the back of your head.
> "Thank you, Cady. For even thinking of me that way."
> Smiling, you twist aside to place one last kiss on his cheek.
"Whatever has happened to us, you are still my Shining Armor. Rest now; you deserve it."
> And he does.
> Soundly, despite having little else to do but think and rest in his cell already.
> That does not stop the stallion from spending the night dead asleep beside you, a comforting presence against your coat.
> You, though?
> Another story entirely.
> Perhaps it was having another in your bed - although that could not be it; to your shame, you had slept plenty well beside Anonymous in the past.
> No, it was Shining.
> Having him here.
> Something about that disrupted your sleep.
> Worry about losing him again, despite what you had told him?
> Or is it just the presence of another pony in here, as opposed to Anonymous' room?
> You don't know.
> In the end, you get only a few hours of sleep.
> Waking up beside Shining Armor, however, makes you instantly forget any malaise.
> It is a reassurance that this miracle is not a fantasy.
> He is alive.
> He is here.
> He does not hate you.
> Unbidden, your eyes begin to dampen again as you watch him breath softly in his sleep.
> When Shining stirs and rises, his eyes immediately go wide.
> "Cady? What's wrong?"
"N-Nothing. I'm - I just can't - it's really you."

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-08 11:13:31 No. 32488641

> Leaning in, he brushes his lips against your forehead.
> "Yes, Cady. It is."
> ...
> Which is more surprising - that Anonymous had actually asked Flurry Heart to see Shining in the first place, or that he had arranged for it out in the camp as opposed to his home?
> You don't know, but you are glad for each:
> What might otherwise have been an awkward confrontation amid the luxury of his home was now done in yours.
> Not that it makes Shining any less nervous.
> He paces in circles; path echoing the one you had often worn into the floor when turning some difficult issue over in your head.
"Shining. I swear, this will not be as bad as you think it will."
> "But after what happened before-"
"She will remember you, love."
> "Maybe. But I don't think-"
> The door to your quarters pops open, and you quickly spin to face it.
"Hello, Flurry. Why don't you come-"
> But it isn't Flurry.
> It is Megan - the young girl filling the doorway with her arms hunched defensively at her side.
> Oh, wait; now you see your daughter:
> Huddled behind those arms, one great aquamarine eye peeking around her mistress' side.
"Will you come in?"
> Looking around for her target, Megan first raises a finger to point straight at at Shining Armor's nose.
> "You can't hurt her. Okay? I won't let you. Flurry stood up to you, and I will too!"
> Breath freezes in your throat; this wasn't how you'd wanted it to start at all.
> Rather than anger, however, Shining Armor seems to look at her with some degree of sadness or regret.
> "I won't hurt anyone. Or anypony. I swear."
> As if to prove the point, he drops to his belly and points to his suppressed horn.
> "See? I can't do magic right now."
> "Good!"
> Marching straight up to him, her little hands balled into little fists, Megan all but pushes herself straight into Shining Armor's muzzle.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-08 11:16:30 No. 32488661

> "You - you great big idiot! Do you know how much you scared Flurry?! What did you think you were doing?! Don't you know to talk to someone when you're angry with them? Didn't anyone ever teach you that?"
"Megan. Please."
> "I was so scared."
> Her hands fall back to her sides, shoulders slumping and golden curls bouncing.
> "Flurry was scared! Why couldn't you have told her this? Why did you have to come in? Why?!"
> "It wasn't her. It was you. I didn't think you would let her go."
> "Well, you can't!"
> Back up come the hands, echoing the hiccup in Megan's voice.
> "You can't have her! Flurry Heart is mine and I will protect her."
> Shining hesitates, then lowers his head.
> "May I speak to my daughter? Please?"
"Speaking is all he will do, Megan. I will see to that."
> While she still looks uncertain, a choice is made for her:
> Flurry creeps from the doorway, advancing on cautious hooves, to stand before the father she has not seen for years.
> Each step taken in a slow, measured pace until she is close enough for him to reach out a shaking hoof.
> "H-Hey there, little gem..."
> "Why did you go away?"
> A tone so accusing, so bitter that even you are shocked.
> "Why didn't you stay with me? You could have stopped them! You should have stopped them! They took me away, away from you and momma and everypony I knew, and they stopped giving me food, and I was so hungry and sick and scared and wondering where you were and-"
> The words pour forth in a torrent, her wings spreading to a width that nearly echoes your own by now despite her smaller frame.
> Shining Armor accepts the attack without defense, his head falling and mane cascading down over his eyes.
> "I wasn't strong enough, Flurry. They ambushed me while I was sleeping, caught me when I couldn't fight. They put me away somewhere - somewhere very bad. And I couldn't - I couldn't come for so long."
> "Then why did you sneak in-?!"
> Turning his head aside, he sighs heavily.

!F9CBa509ak 2018-06-08 11:19:23 No. 32488672

> "I... I was a stupid pony. The places where I was, they hurt me very, very badly. And I heard that this was a place like that, so I thought they were hurting you. I thought I had to take you, or there wouldn't ever be another chance..."
> "Never! I would never hurt Flurry!"
> Brushing forward, eyes alight with anger, Megan wraps both her arms protectively around the filly's neck.
> "She belongs to me! That means I look after her-"
> "Where I had been - what I had heard about here - 'belonging' meant... meant like a pony would have to accept being hurt by someone. They would have to bow and beg all the time even though they were being hurt, and if they didn't they would only be hurt more. And then I heard that you were supposed to be learning to help run things here, I thought you were going to be made to hurt other ponies..."
> Pulling herself as upright as she can, Flurry Heart hisses out:
> "Mistress Megan has never hurt me."
> Despite flinching at ‘Mistress’, Shining nods.
> "I... I know now. But I didn't then. So I thought - I thought if I dared say anything, you would try to make me 'belong' like that too. I thought you, or your father, would hurt me too."
> He neglects to mention your role in that 'hurting'.
> Megan is frowning, though.
> "I don't get it. Why would you ever think that? Didn't you see anything? Dad is good to ponies! Why would you ever think any of us would hurt Flurry like that? Are you like the ponies who hurt Mocha Cream?"
> Shining freezes, choking on his next words.
> "Your father - he -"
> Pleadingly, he looks to you.
> You understand what he is stuck on:
> Her father had made it quite clear; no putting ideas of rebellion in Flurry Heart's head, let alone Megan's.

How much of the background do we explain to them now? How do we present it? Do we let them in on what happened to Corona? Admit some of the other cruelties that used to be in the camp? Enlighten her to what happens to ponies outside her daddy's little bubble?
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