"I said, I want a pony." Flurry Heart repeated. "You said I could have anything I wanted for my birthday and I decided I want a pony."
Cadence was speechless. Of all the possible things she'd considered her daughter asking for -a doll, a new dress, even a miniature castle of her own- this had never even begun to cross her mind. They sat in silence, save for the soft tinkling of a crystal chandelier shifting above them. While Cadence, though shocked, held her composure, her husband was a bit more expressive with his feelings.
"You can't have a pony!" he exclaimed.
"But you said if I was good and ate all my crystal peas all month, then I could have anything!" she pouted, "And I did. I ate every single one of those yucky peas! So I want a pony. Now."
Shining Armor reeled back in shock. Where had she even gotten such horrible ideas?
"Sweetie..." Cadence began softly, "I know we told you that, and while seven is a very important birthday, surely there's something else you'd like instead? Anything else, even?"
"No." Flurry Heart declared with as much purpose and intent as a seven year old could muster. She followed with a large bite of cake, as if losing the ability to speak would end the argument. Shining Armor and Cadence cast each other worried looks, and together they stepped back a few paces to discuss.
"She wants a pony?!" Shining asked, barely keeping his voice to a harsh whisper. "Why does she want a pony? Where did she even get this idea?"
"I don't know." Cadence replied, "There's been no… slavery anywhere in Equestria since Sombra’s rule, and I know she hasn't learned about him yet in her studies." She paused. "Maybe... maybe she's just phrasing it poorly."
Craning her neck around, she called back to her daughter, who was now fully focused on her cake. "Flurry, did you mean you want a friend? Somepony your age to have fun with?"
"No, mama." She called back, swallowing her current mouthful of cake. "I have lots of friends from school. I want a pony just for me. I promise I'll take really good care of her! I'll feed her, and walk her, and name her 'Antoinette', and give her lots and lots of love!”
Cadence's hopeful expression fell as she turned back to Shining. "Well, there's no misinterpreting that. Our daughter apparently wants a free-willed thinking citizen... as a pet."
Shining tensed at the implications, both for what it meant in the present and what it said about the future of the Empire. Soon though, he found his thoughts drifting in the direction they often went when faced with a problem he couldn't direct his army at or blast with his wife's love: ‘What would LSBFF do?’ And just like that, he had an idea.
"Alright, I'll try to talk her out of it." He said, turning to walk to Flurry's side.
"How do you plan on doing that?"
He shot her a sly smile. "With logic."
Walking over calmly, he sat down on the floor next to his daughter, who continued to eat such quantities of cake that would have been rather concerning if the current issue wasn't taking precedence.
"Flurry Heart, you can't have a pony."
She paused her cake genocide to look up at him with wide eyes. "Why?"
"Because owning a pony is a bad thing."
"But my friend has a pony."
"I- I don't know why they told you that, but they must have been lying. No one has 'had' a pony since Som- since the pony who ruled before your mama and me."
"So the old princess had a pony?"
"Er... yes, she had many actually. But she was a very bad pony."
"So if the old princess had lots of ponies, and I'm a princess now," her childish logic connected, "then why can't I have just one?"
"Uh..." he faltered. Perhaps trying to apply a Twilight solution to a child hadn't been the best idea. But something Flurry Heart had said was stuck in his mind. "Wait, which friend told you she owned a pony?"
"My best friend." she said plainly, returning a majority of her focus to her cake as she pulled free another large hunk from the main mass. "She told me all about how her parents got her a pony for her seventh birthday. And how much fun they have playing and laughing and having fun in her backyard." She paused, hoofful of cake halfway to her mouth. "I'll need a backyard too, so she'll have somewhere to sleep."
Cadence came to rest by her daughter's other side, both intrigued and worried by the path this conversation was taking. "Why would she sleep outside?" She probed cautiously.
Flurry Heart thought for a moment, hoof on her chin. "I don't know. But she said that her parents wouldn't let her pony come inside, and he had to sleep outside in the rain. I think it's kinda weird, but she says that's just the way it's meant to be."
Shining Armor and Cadence shared a now very worried look, as they each hurriedly ran through mental lists of their daughter's known friends and their families. Which among them could possibly be such flagrant abusers of equine rights? Rock Polish? His parents had been administrators under Sombra. Maybe Dewdrop? His traditionalist Earth Pony parents hadn't liked the idea of a new race suddenly appearing. But they were in the guard, so it couldn't be them. Could it? Half formed ideas quickly panned out into elaborate conspiracy theories in the minds of the Crystal Rulers. It probably would have continued for even longer, until Cadence finally formed a coherent thought from within her growing anxiety.
"Flurry Heart... which friend was it that told you this?"
Flurry paused, slightly miffed to have her cake interrupted once again for yet another question, but also glad that she finally had a chance to tell her parents about her new best friend. "Her name is Flurry Heart, just like me!" She declared happily.
To say Shining and Cadence were shocked would be an understatement. Ignorant of her parents' reaction, Flurry Heart continued unabated.
"I've never seen her, but we talk a lot. She tells me all about her life and her pony and stuff."
"What do you mean, you've never seen her?" Shining asked slowly, now concerned for an entirely new reason.
"Sometimes my horn gets all tingly," she said through a mouth of cake, pointing at the appendage in question, "and then I hear her voice in my head, and if I think really hard then she can hear me too."
"Oh," Shining sighed in relief, "So she's an imaginary friend then."
"No she's not!" Fluffy replied with childish indignation. "She's real! She tells me all kinds of stuff I didn't know about before!"
"Like what?" Cadence asked, genuinely curious.
"Like stuff about her pony, and stuff about crystals -she really likes crystals- , and a bunch of things about being a princess that you never told me mama." She rattled off.
"What... kinds of princess things did she tell you?" Cadence asked very slowly, as she discreetly cast a recording spell as well as several meant to scan a pony's mental, magical, and physical conditions.
"Lotsa stuff." Flurry Heart shrugged, "She was really excited when I told her I was a princess, so she said she was gonna help me be the best princess ever. Like yesterday she was talking to me about 'divine right' which I think means I'm supposed to rule because I'm better than everypony else. I'm not sure that sounds right, but she says that that's how she learned it. And she also taught me a bunch of stuff she says any leader needs to know, like to be careful who I trust, and avoid ponies who say nice things about me too much, and how it's okay to be either loved or feared, and how to convince other ponies to do stuff for me and make them think it was their idea. But sometimes we just talk about what makes the best tiara. She likes rubies, but I think sapphires are better. Can I have another cake?"
Cadence nodded, focused more on the prior part of her speech than the latter. With that, Flurry Heart returned fully to her cake. Her parents rose slowly and backed out of the room, each harboring their own dark thoughts. As they eased the door closed, they took one last worried look at their daughter. She was nearly through her second cake and a shaky levitation field was prying at the third. The door closed and they turned to face each other, expressions somber.
"You don't think it could be... him... do you?" Cadence asked shakily.
"Obsessed with crystals, prefers less-than-ethical methods of political power, and is fine with the idea of slavery? I don't think it could be anypony else." Shining said stone faced. "Somehow, someway... Sombra has invaded Flurry Heart's mind and is apparently trying to mold her in his image."
Cadence nodded. "I took a recording of the last part. I'll send it to Twilight along with some scans I took. Maybe she can start working on a counterspell to undo whatever Sombra did."
"Good idea." he agreed, "I'll send a guard for Sunburst. Maybe he'll know of something in the deep archives regarding Sombra ever doing anything like this before."
"I hope so," Cadence said, worry clouding her voice, "I can't bear to think of our precious little Flurry growing up to be just like him!"
"Easy now." Shining said, as he leaned in to give her a comforting nuzzle. "It'll all be alright. I promise you, I will not stop until I free our daughter of his evil influence. You have my word!"
Impossibly far away, and yet remarkably close, a cloaked figure crouched over a strange device. Fiddling with the knobs, she muttered to herself in frustration.
"Come on, come on, where are you? Why won't you answer me, Princess?" She coughed, disturbing even more of the thick layer of dust that coated everything in the immediate vicinity. With a grunt, she kicked the device. She hissed in pain as she did more damage to her foot than the device.
A sudden noise broken the relative silence of knobs being angrily rotated.
She jumped in surprise as she heard a muffled voice calling her. Removing the hood of her cloak, she allowed her purple and blue curls to spring forth from their confinement.
"What was that, Dad?" She yelled.
"I said, five more minutes and then it's time for dinner. I ordered us a pizza since your mother's still at work."
"Okay Dad," she replied, "I'm almost done."
"Alright, but be careful up there. That attic hasn't been cleaned since the previous owners were here."
"Daad..." She moaned, "I told you, it's not the attic anymore it's my clubhouse now. I put a sign by the stairs and everything!"
"Sorry sweetie. Just be careful around some of that junk. My father’s CB radio and some of his army gear is up there. That steel equipment is sturdier than it looks. I don't want to bring you a slice of pizza and find you missing a finger."
"I know." She called out in confirmation, and turned back to the exact radio in question. "Maybe it's out of power." she wondered aloud. Reaching around the back she felt around. After a moment, her hand returned clutching a strange device. It was a circular purple canister, clasped on one side, hinged on the other. A ring of LEDs encircled one side, with one large diode in the center. Like a squat arc reactor with a gothic paint job, it was slightly too large for her to hold properly in one hand. Two wires, one black and one red, were loosely connected to the inside of the device and snaked their way around to the back of the radio. It barely glowed enough to even tell it was on.
"Yep, it's dead." She declared, wriggling out the wires and putting the device into her hoodie's front pocket. "I guess I need Aunt Twilight to fix it when she gets back from her trip with her friends. I hope Princess me doesn't get worried if I don't call for a few days."
Hopping up, she brushed off what dust she could and made her way downstairs just in time to catch her father paying the delivery boy.
"Great timing," he said as the door shut, "Pizza just got here. I got your favorite, a meat lovers special."
She made a face. "Daad, that's not what I like and you know it." She declared dramatically.
"I know, I know," he smiled, opening the lid to let the scent of anchovies and pineapple drift out.
"You're the best Dad!" The young human exclaimed as she gave him a hug.
"And don't I know it!" He boasted as they made their way to the dining room. "Oh yeah, before I forget, your mama sent me a text about you." Setting the pizza down, he flipped open his phone. "She says you need to return the book you borrowed from the school library. One of the political science classes is doing a unit on The Princess and they need all available copies."
"Okay Dad, I'll go get it after pizza." She said, still more focused on the food than his words. "Oh! Should I give a slice to Rocinante?"
"I'm sure he'll be fine with his oats." Shining laughed, "Ponies probably can't eat pizza anyway."