Mass Effect: Shattered Record, Broken Wings

Mass Effect: Shattered Record, Broken Wings

by Meluch


  • 1. Prologue
  • 2. Chapter One
  • 3. Chapter Two
  • 4. Chapter Three
  • 5. Chapter Four
  • 6. Chapter Five
  • 7. Chapter Six
  • 8. Chapter Seven
  • 9. Chapter Eight
  • 10. Chapter Nine
  • 11. Chapter Ten
  • 12. Chapter Eleven
  • 13. Chapter Twelve
  • 14. Chapter Thirteen
  • 15. Chapter Fourteen
  • 16. Chapter Fifteen
  • 17. Chapter Sixteen
  • 18. Chapter Seventeen
  • 19. Epilogue
  • 20. Next Story Up!
  • 1. Prologue

    Civilian Docks, Tayseri Ward
    December 24, 2182 CE

    Whenever she put on her uniform, Amaia felt a deep sense of pride at the choices she had made with her life. At only one-hundred forty years of age, most other Asari would usually be living the high-life, dancing at clubs and abusing drugs of dubious legality. It was simply the accepted way of things, but Amaia had never wanted that for her own life.

    As the daughter of one of the lesser known Matriachs, Amaia had grown up wanting for nothing. Her mother's house sat on a small cliff overlooking the ocean on Thessia. While it was certainly an attractive option for her to live a life of luxury and relaxation, it was not the way that her mother had raised her. Amaia was going to make her mother proud, standing on her own two feet against all of the forces of the galaxy trying to push her down.

    Becoming an officer in the prestigious ranks of Citadel Security ensured that when she decided to retire in the next one-hundred years or so, corporations would be beating down her door to try and hire her. A shiver of excitement ran through her crest at the thought. Her options would be expansive and lucrative, all wanting her vast experience. The paychecks would be big, and her satisfaction even greater.

    If nothing worked according to plan though, Amaia was always glad to know that her mother's arms were always open. It certainly helped having that in the back of her mind as she leapt into the unknown.

    For now though, it was her turn again to work customs at the docks. Grunt work. The only thing to keep her company during the long hours was the incessant chattering of her partner, Silvin, a Turian.

    "I still don't know how you can like that crap."

    Stuff like that. Amaia was definitely regretting responding to his question of her favorite movie. She should really know better by now. It wasn't like this was the first time that Silvin had criticize her for what she chose to do in her spare time.

    "What? Blasto is fun!" Amaia turned away from Silvin, looking out towards the kinetic barrier keeping the atmosphere of the dock from flooding out into space. She blushed, glancing down at her datapad. She couldn't help herself, a small grin on her face. "And don't get me started on those tentacles."

    Silvin chuckled, a flanging sound distinctive to Turians. He rolled his eyes, turning to watch as an aging transport ship slowed as it neared the barrier.

    Amaia turned to watch as well. She liked to try and guess the exact moment that Citadel flight control took over for the pilots to guide the ships into the less talented pilots always gave themselves away with the inevitable judder at the switch. Her translator seemlessly fed her the ships name, the MSV Charybdis.

    With a solid clunk that reverberated through the dock, the cradle arms extended out and gently grabbed the Charybdis. A ramp extended out from the dock to the ship's airlock, sealing around it with a soft thump.

    "That is an ugly ship," Silvin drawled as he leaned against the railing of the dock.

    "I've seen worse." Amaia shrugged, pulling up the necessary files on her datapad for the captain of the ship. It was the worst part of working the docks. Paperwork and customs, a never ending task that she was always behind on.

    The airlock opened with a hiss and a group of Turians stepped out. Amaia glanced over their stained, unkempt clothing and scrunched up her nose in distaste. None of the Turians wore clan paint, and Amaia shifted uncomfortably. In the corner of her eye, she could see Silvin doing the same.

    The lead Turian of the group, whom Amaia could only guess was the captain from the sheer amount of frills and baubles adorning his aging jacket, gave her a flirty smile. "Morning, officer."

    Amaia gave him a friendly, if distant nod. "Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome to the Citadel."

    "It's good to be back," the Turian drawled as he gazed around the docks. Opening his omni-tool, he quickly transferred the ships customs documents to Amaia's datapad. "Everything should be in-"


    The moment she heard the cry, Amaia drew her pistol, instinctively moving closer to Silvin, covering his blind side even as he did the same for her. The Turians growled, their fingers itching for a weapon. Friendly eyes turned angry and Amaia kept the whole group centered in her view.

    Amaia gasped as a bloodied figure rushed out of the Charybdis' airlocks as fast as they could go. She couldn't tell if it was Asari, Human, or Drell and the fact that it was covered in blood certainly didn't help matters any, but she knew that this was going to be anything but a normal day. Leveling her pistol with the Turians before her, Amaia opened her omni-tool with her other hand. To Silvin, she said, "I'm calling this in."

    "I've got you covered," Silvin growled.

    A headache was already building behind her eye. It was going to be a long day.

    2. Chapter One

    Dilinaga Concert Hall, Tayseri Ward
    December 24, 2182 CE

    It could be argued that Sha'ira was the most famous Asari on the Citadel. Councillor Tevos, the Asari Republic's representative on the Citadel Council was definitely a close second, but going by sheer numbers more people knew the name of the galaxy famous Consort Sha'ira.

    Leading her small retinue around to the private entrance of the Dilinaga Concert Hall, Sha'ira took a moment to appreciate the ease of living that her fame brought her. Instead of having to wade through the vast, unorganized crowd trying to make their way through the main entrance, the manager of the hall was waiting to lead her to her private box. A gangly Salarian, he was a prime example of his species, well dressed, his short horns polished to a shine.

    "This way, Consort," the manager nearly gushed, holding his arm out for Sha'ira to take. Smiling, she gratefully took it, allowing the Salarian to lead her into the tastefully decorated private entrance. She took a moment to admire the statue of the Turian ship in one of the recesses of the hall. Noticing her interest, the manager stopped, smiling proudly. "I see you like the Kavar."

    "It is an intriguing piece." Sha'ira studied the statue, noting that it looked like an early Turian pleasure ship. She had spent part of her maiden years dancing aboard one that looked quite similar.

    "It's a reminder for me," the manager continued, blinking his large eyes. He ran a hand over one of his horns, oblivious to Sha'ira's quickly growing disinterest. "A reminder that hubris and pride is never a match for the universe."

    Sha'ira was of course too polite to say anything, allowing the rapid talking Salarian to ramble. His words faded into the background and she kept a soft smile on her face, nodding her understanding every so often.

    "The Captain..." With a blush of embarrassment, the manger trailed off as he noticed Sha'ira's lack of interest. "Forgive me, Consort. I get carried away sometimes. I forget that most people do not share my enthusiasm of obscure history."

    "It is quite alright," Sha'ira gracefully responded. "Do not let anyone else dampen your enjoyment of what surrounds you. Just be more mindful of others reactions to your lectures."

    With a grateful bow and relieved smile, the manager led Sha'ira and her retinue to the door of her private box. "Thank you, Consort. I hope that you enjoy the concert.

    Stepping inside, Sha'ira smiled as she looked out at the concert hall. Dark figures moved to their seats, quietly murmuring in anticipation for what promised to be one of the best performances of the season from the rising cello soloist.

    Taking her seat in one of the plush chairs, Sha'ira settled back comfortably, crossing her legs patiently as her retinue moved to copy her. She enjoyed listening to the maidens quietly chattering behind her, their quiet conversation wandering across every topic imaginable, from human soccer to wether or they had seen the new film Nekyia Corridor.

    Keeping only part of her attention on her retinue's conversation, Sha'ira looked back out across the theater below her. Nearly every species known to Citadel space was present, if not in equal numbers. The Council races by far made up the majority: Turians, Asari, and Salarians. She noted, and not for the first time, that the clothing each race tended to wears exemplified the traits that they tended towards.

    The Turians all wore varying levels of military dress. As the main protectors of Citadel space, it was in their blood. Their clothing had become more fashionable in the two-thousand years since they had joined the Council, but most still reflected their true nature. Sha'ira could certainly admire the way that their suits attractively draped on their carapaces.

    Salarian fashion was almost a contradiction of the terms. As the second race to find the Citadel, and having jointly formed the Council with the Asari, they held high positions across the galaxy. With metabolisms that worked at an incredible pace, they had seen more generations come and go than all of the other races combined. At the speed that their minds worked, very little of their impressive intelligence was ever spent on designing appealing clothing, or anything artistic in general.

    With lifespans upwards of a thousand years, the Asari had more than enough time to spend developing wild and eye-catching pieces of clothing, all reflecting their grace, and origin from their native planet's oceans. It was the Asari who had found the Citadel nearly three-thousand years ago, and Sha'ira was more than proud of that fact.

    There were of course the hopefuls amongst the crowd, races who were vying for a seat on the Council. The lone pair of Elcor stood out amongst the audience. Having evolved on a high-gravity world, their quadrupedalism and massive, muscular bodies were a natural byproduct.

    Harder to pick out were the Volus; short, rotuned little creatures with an ammonia based biochemistry. Forced to live in environmental suits off of their home planet, Sha'ira took a moment to thank the goddess Athame that she had a Volus looking after her rather impressive bank accounts. She then sent another quick prayer of thanks that she herself was not a Volus.

    Several Hanar floated near the back of the theater, their long tentacles hanging down to the floor. It still made her stare in wonder at how effortlessly they levitated through the air.

    Turning her attention finally to the last two, and by far the most enigmatic of the races, Sha'ira narrowed her eyes. It wasn't often that anything could truly surprsie her, but when she had heard the news that a Turian fleet had been forced to retreat after a failed invasion, it had made her sit up and take notice. Not only had it turned out that more than a single race had taken part in the humiliation of the Turian fleets, but they had already begun to form a rudimentary version of their own Council.

    Not in any of her seven hundred years had Sha'ira ever seen the Council in such a panic. She made enough from Councillor Tevos' subsequent visits alone to outright purchase the top ten floors of her apartment building.

    Humans and Equestrians. There was nothing about them that would alert anyone to the fact that they were observing some of the most paradoxical and threatening beings to have ever evolved in the galaxy.

    With the ferocity of the Krogans, the discipline of the Turians, and the creativity of the Asari, humanity upset the status quo. They were brash, loud, and entitled, strutting about like the galaxy owed them.

    Equestrians were a different matter entirely. All planets had seemed to follow one universal constant. Only one sentient race. It was almost easier to count the non-sapient creatures on Equestria. On top of that fact, Equestria was home to three of the strangest beings that Sha'ira had ever met. Gods in all but name, the Alicorn princesses. She had consoled more than a few scientists who had tried to explain how they moved stars effortlessly, and that was without mentioning all of the other impossibilities that filled ever aspect of their day to day lives.

    The hall fell silent as the lights dimmed. Sha'ira smiled in quiet anticipation as a shiver ran down her spine.


    The familiar feeling of anticipation washed through Octavia Melody from the tips of her hooves to the end of her tail, something that happened to her before every concert she played. She took deep, calming breaths, shifting her forehoof around the neck of her cello. Balancing on her back legs had long since become a natural thing for her, using her cello as a third leg to balance on.

    Standing on the rising platform, the grey mare let her music run through her head in last minute anticipation, her eyes closed. The moments before were always the best, and she savored every second of it.

    The platform jolted as it began to rise up to the stage before, but Octavia kept her balance from years of practice. It only took several moments for her to be lifted up to the circular stage of the concert hall. Octavia could hear the audience surrounding her, a false silence of people shifting in their seats and occasionally whispering to each other.

    She began to play


    The applause was still ringing through the concert hall as the stage lowered back down. Octavia smiled proudly at her performance, dropping down onto all four of her hooves. With a long practiced gesture, she flipped her cello onto her back. Stepping down off of the platform, she walked over to her case, still on the floor exactly where she left it.

    Flipping open the latches, Octavia opened the case. A jolt of shock ran through her body as she found herself face to face with a well-worn picture, intimately familiar to her. That picture had stayed in her cello case for the past nine years ever since the incident. Vinyl might be gone, but Octavia made sure that she would live on in some way, by achieving the success that Vinyl always dreamed of.

    Looking down at her hoof, Octavia studied the familiar polished gold wedding band. It wasn't very expensive, and it didn't have any diamonds or flashy jewels, nor was it very eye-catching, but Octavia simply didn't care. It was the last thing that Vinyl had ever given to her, and she had not taken it off even once since that day. It had become as much a part of her as her mane.

    With gentle respect, Octavia laid her cello in its case. Closing the lid, she locked the latches, so wrapped up in her thoughts and memories that she didn't hear the footsteps behind her.

    "Mrs. Melody."

    Startled, Octavia spun around to find Sha'ira and her maidens standing a respectful distance away. With practiced ease, she wiped the nostalgia from her face and plastered on a subdued smile. "Consort. It is good to see you."

    Consort Sha'ira bowed gracefully, and Octavia took a moment to marvel at how human the Asari looked. Completely female in appearance, all Asari were varying shades of blue and purple. The only true difference between humans and Asari that Octavia had ever noticed was the mane, or hair as she reminded herself. The Asari had none, instead possessing cartilage based scalp crests, striking and graceful in their appearance, revealing their past ancestry as aquatic mammals.

    "You played beautifully tonight," Sha'ira spoke, unaware of Octavia's inner observations. "It is always a treat to hear your concerts."

    "Thank you," Octavia ducked her head, blushing, ears laying back in embarrassment.

    Taking a step closer, Sha'ira clasped her hands behind her back. "Regretfully, I am here on business."

    "Oh?" Octavia's ears swiveled forward as she turned her full attention on the Consort.

    "A Turian General," Sha'ira said as she looked around the skeleton of the ship above, "by the name of Septimus Oraka has requested that you play for him privately."

    "It would be my pleasure," Octavia nodded.

    Smiling gratefully at the mare, Sha'ira gave another bow. "This is excellent news, Mrs. Melody. General Oraka will be pleased to hear it." Turning, Sha'ira led her retinue away.

    Staring after the Consort for a moment, Octavia felt her false smile falling away. Her ears dropping down forlornly, she slung her cello case onto her back and started walking to the back entrance. The only sounds to comfort her were the clip-clop of her horse shoes.


    The taxi ride to her apartment building seemed to pass in no time at all. Leaving the relative safety of the Ward Arms of the Citadel was always a sight to behold. The soft purple glow of the Serpent Nebula that engulfed the massive space-station made the beautiful sight simply marvelous.

    For the first time since she had moved to the Citadel, the view did nothing to raise Octavia's spirits. She barely even noticed the ride, so wrapped up in her own thoughts. Stepping out, she pulled her cello case onto her back once again. The taxi took off, flying off to collect its next customer.

    "Mrs. Melody, how was your concert?"

    Looking up, Octavia found the doorman smiling down at her. Wearing a tailored suit, Octavia could barely make out the bulge of his pistol. Octavia found the aging Turian a welcome treat from the general unappreciative masses.

    "It was fine," she replied morosely. "Thank you for asking, Fidelis."

    "My wife and I are looking forward to seeing you play next month," Fidelis said as he opened the door for her. "I can't thank you enough for the tickets."

    "It was no problem. I hope you two enjoy it." Octavia gave him a friendly smile. Stepping into the lobby of Tilican Tower, she made her way across the marble floors, polished to a shine. At the familiar sound of her hooves, the few residents loitering together in the lobby turned and waved at her. As the only Equestrian resident in the entire tower, everyone recognized her. Octavia gave weary nods and a weak smile in response.

    Stopping at the elevator, Octavia pressed the up button, waiting patiently for it to arrive.


    With a soft hiss, the door to Octavia's apartment slid open. As the door slid back closed behind her, Octavia sagged tiredly. Loosening her pink bow-tie, she walked into her practice room and propped up her cello gently on its stand.

    Walking back out and into her kitchen, Octavia opened her alcohol drawer. Her memories were calling for a more expensive pain reliever than tylenol. Pushing bottles aside, she wrapped her fetlock around the neck of a dusty bottle near the back. Setting it on the counter, she pulled a mug from another cupboard. Imported specially from Equestria, the bottle of Apple family cider was both ridiculously expensive and in all likelihood the only one of its kind on the Citadel.

    Everything about living on the Citadel was expensive for Octavia. As an Earth Pony, nothing was built with a species like hers in mind. Unicorns had their magic, and Pegasi had their wings, but all that Earth ponies had were their hooves. When she had moved into her apartment, she had to hire contractors to make it livable for her.

    As he popularity and income grew, the changes increased. She now owned the entire top floor and had a near three-hundred sixty degree view of the Citadel from her floor to ceiling windows, made from a clear Asari metal to keep the atmosphere in. The only obstruction of her view was from the block of rooms in the right corner.

    Filling her mug, Octavia placed the bottle back in the cupboard. Picking up her glass in one hoof, she walked three-legged to her living room.

    Setting her mug on the small table next to her favorite chair, she clambered in and settled down. The first few months of trying to sit in the store bought chairs had made her cave and have one specially made for her. Ponies simply did not sit the same way as bipedal species. It was only fitting that her favorite chair look out over the best view from her apartment.

    Outside her windows ships passed by, lumbering behemoths that ignored the smaller aircars that flitted between them. Seeing life pass by brought Octavia comfort, and she had spent countless hours just staring out her windows. Between practicing, playing concert, and occasionally doing the odd session for Consort Sha'ira, Octavia's free time was most often spent on her chair.

    Sipping at her cider, Octavia tried to ignore the urge to turn her head and look her mantle piece. She was trying to get the sour memories out of her head, not fill it with even more.

    She took a gulp from her mug, desperate to put her mind elsewhere.

    Octavia didn't want to look. She really didn't, but trying to stop herself was quickly proving to be impossible.

    "Dammit!" Octavia growled, swiveling in her chair.

    Pictures covered the mantlepiece, and Octavia let her gaze wander over them. It was simply Vinyl and Octavia's life, or at least what little there was of it. Everything was there, from when the two had met as fillies all the way to their wedding. Octavia giggled at the picture of filly Vinyl. A foreleg around filly Octavia's neck, she was smiling as wide as she could, her left eye swollen nearly completely shut from Octavia's punch that started the journey of their friendship.

    Clenching her eyes shut, Octavia downed the rest of the cider. She ignored the tears welling in her eyes as she stood up out of her favorite chair and returned the mug to the kitchen. It would be best if she just went to bed now. Better to let her thoughts and memories plague her in her comfortable bed than in front of her mantlepiece of photos.

    Even as she plodded tiredly towards her bedroom, Octavia could feel temptation coursing through her veins. She knew that she shouldn't, but the need to just peek into the room was almost too much for her to bear.

    Ears and tail twitching in agitation, Octavia grit her teeth together. Annoyed and disappointed in her inability to move past her pain, she turned to open the door opposite her own bedroom. It was not a room that she spent a lot of time in, but looking inside never failed to move her.

    The door slid open and lights turned on, revealing to Octavia a sight that she knew like the sound of her cello. The room was both a shrine and a tomb, though Octavia had never thought of it as such.

    Sitting in the center of the room was a state of the art DJ turn table, meticulously cleaned and polished. The bookshelf lining the wall opposite the door held more records than most people ever saw in a lifetime. All of them had been imported from Equestria, one of the last planets left that still manufactured the vinyl discs.

    Mismatched speakers hung from nearly every surface, artful in their arrangement. Everything was exactly the way that Vinyl would have wanted it. Vinyl might never have stepped hoof in the room, much less the apartment, but it was Octavia's way of remembering.

    "Happy anniversary, Vinyl," Octavia whispered, hanging her head. She stepped out of the doorway and let it slide shut behind her, retreating to her own room to hide from the galaxy.

    3. Chapter Two

    Civilian Docks, Tayseri Ward, Citadel
    December 24, 2182 CE

    By the time Vitus made it to the docks, Citadel news crews were already gathering, wildly speculating on what could be happening behind the C-Sec police line. Straightening his uniform as he stepped from his aircar, Vitus stood to his full height. Taller than the average Turian, he cut a striking figure as he waded his way into the growing crowd towards the entrance of the civilian docks.

    "Make a hole!" He shouted, the crowd too dense to simply push through. His mandibles flared in agitation. "C-Sec, coming through!"

    His loud, flanging voice cut through the din of noise and the crowd parted for him. Striding forward, he nodded in greetings to Lieutenant Amaia who was waiting for him behind the police line. She was the latest in a young line of officers that Vitus had taken under his wing and taught everything that the academy had left out.

    As he crossed the line, Amaia saluted him, and he noticed the sadness hidden behind her eyes. Vitus knew at that moment that this was going to be one of those cases, the type that kept you waking up from nightmares years later. Every officer had to experience one sooner or later, and it was Amaia's turn now.

    "Lieutenant," Vitus nodded to her, saluting her back. "Walk me through it."

    "Yes, Captain," Amaia slouched ever so slightly. Pointing towards the entrance to the main docks, she grimaced in disgust. "We have the smugglers locked up in the customs holding area. We're still running the names, but so far we've only positively identified the Captain. The rest are using fake identities. He's a Turian by the name of Herious Malsis, wanted for desertion."

    "Is he clanless?" Vitus asked, distaste rolling through him at the thought of a deserter. It was every Turian's duty to serve the Hierarchy, and those who shirked that duty were some of the most distasteful beings in the galaxy, at least in Vitus' eyes. A Turian who didn't wear clan paint stood out, a warning to be wary, announcing to all who looked upon them that they had cut all ties to their clan of origin.

    "They all are," Amaia confirmed. "We've got cars coming to pick them up and take them to headquarters for questioning."

    "Good." Vitus grit his teeth. "That's good work, Lieutenant."

    Amaia ducked her head, blushing at the praise. Vitus pretended not to notice, not wishing to embarrass the Asari maiden further.

    "The ship is docked this way, sir," Amaia pointed down one of the long hallways. Officers scurried about the hall, single-minded in their focus as they worked on their individual tasks. "Its named the MSV Charybdis, and its transponder reads the same but we are pretty sure that it is not its original name. It was probably purchased out of Omega. If the slave hadn't escaped, we would never have even realized."

    Walking onto the main dock, Vitus laid eyes on the Charybdis for the first time. He recognized that it was an aging human freighter, probably one of the first they had built, but over the years, pieces of other ships had been attached. The overall effect made for one very clunky looking machine.

    "What were they transporting?" Vitus looked over the C-Sec officers crawling over the ship, cataloguing every nut and bolt.

    Opening her omni-tool, Amaia logged into the local C-Sec network, pulling up the latest report. "It looks like there's some ten tons of red-sand, twelve tons of hallex, six tons of minagen x3, and we still haven't found everything. This ship has more smuggling compartments than anything we have ever seen."

    "Ambitious." Mandibles twitching, Vitus frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. "What about the slaves?"

    Amaia grimaced, her purple face turning a pale blue. Glancing down at the ground, she opening her mouth to say something, then shut it again, uneasy. She tried again. "The... The current count is at three-hundred eighty-nine, alive."

    "Alive?" Vitus asked, his interest flaring.

    With a pained grunt, Amaia bent over, clutching her stomach. She threw up, dry-heaving, and Vitus moved forward to rub her back, comfortingly.

    "You're doing a great job, Amaia," he said. "Catch your breath."

    Struggling to do just that, Amaia straightened, crossing her arms protectively over her chest. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. Slowly, color returned to her cheeks. Vitus waited patiently for her to continue.

    "Thank you, sir," the young Asari said shakily. "I'm good."

    "You're sure?"

    "Yes, sir," Amaia nodded.

    "Good." Vitus started walking towards the crowds of medics lining the docks. As he studied the group, he could make out the tired forms of the slaves. "Walk me through it, Lieutenant."

    Opening her omni-tool again, Amaia looked over the numbers. "One-hundred eighty-seven Asari, forty-three of them children. One-hundred sixty humans, mostly female, some twenty-four children. Twenty-eight Turians, mostly male..." pausing, Amaia looked up nervously at Vitus before she continued. "... and fourteen Equestrians."

    Vitus spun around to look at Amaia in shock, already feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on.

    "Four griffons, sir, the rest ponies," Amaia finished.

    Closing his eyes, Vitus let out a low groan. A bad situation turning worse, the headache burst fully into being. "Shit," he growled out. "This just got complicated." Opening his omni-tool, he pulled up Executor Pallin's number. "Thank you, Lieutenant." He dismissed her.

    Saluting, Amaia turned and headed for the customs office. Vitus watched her go, running one of his talons over his fringe. With a sigh, he made the call. He waited for the chime to let him know that the call connected. "Executor."

    "Captain Vitus," Executor Pallin's gruff voice answered. "What do you need?"

    "The smuggling bust I am overseeing has turned into an interplanetary incident." Vitus struggled with what to say next. "This could be... extremely delicate."

    "Go on, Captain," the Executor said, growing impatient.

    "I have fourteen Equestrian nationals that were being smuggled onto the Citadel for sale onto the black market." Looking over at the medics, Vitus tried to pick out any faces from the freed slaves, but they were just too far away.

    Executor Pallin was silent for several long moments. "I will get in contact with the Equestrian Embassy. I want you to debrief me in my office in one hour, Captain. Treat this with the utmost delicacy."

    "Yes, sir," Vitus said as he shut the omni-tool, wishing that he had brought something to take the edge off his growing headache.


    Golden Quill was not quite sure on the chain of events that had led up to him receiving the job of receptionist in the Equestrian Embassy, but he found the work fulfilling. Life on the Citadel was enjoyable, always full of excitement and things to do. What he enjoyed most about it was that he could never be sure of who would walk through the door. The guards kept those who had no business being there out, but for those who were more legitimate, it was up to him on whether or not they would be allowed to see the Ambassador.

    The entire front lobby of the Equestrian Embassy had been designed to impress, to show the other races that Equestria could stand with them as a functioning member of galactic society. This shone through in the subtle furnishings, elegant and refined. The Royal Guards in dress armor were there for the same purpose. A sight to behold in their gold plated armor, their saddle weapon systems were there to remind others that though they might be pacifistic, they could pout out serious amounts of force.

    Golden Quill was actually the focus of the room. Every line drew back to him, and he was required to dress the part. His suit was only slightly less expensive than the ambassador's and he had a closet full of them.

    At the blinking of a small light on his desk, Golden straightened, setting his front hooves on his desk. The guards were letting him know someone was about to enter, and being able to greet them unsurprised was just another one of his tricks.

    The doors slid open, and Golden's mind ground to a halt. That tended to happen when three of the most powerful beings in the galaxy walked into the room.

    Executor Pallin was in the lead, an aging Turian. His carapace was showing the signs of his age, and as the head of Citadel Security, he was not someone that Golden wanted to cross. Flanking him on either side were Councillor Tevos and Councillor Valern, the Asari and Salarian Councillors respectively. Having held her seat on the Council for nearly four-hundred years, Tevos was only just entering the Matriarch phase of the Asari. She still had a maiden's beauty, and she knew how to use it to the best of her advantage. Valern had only spent ten years on the Council, but his reach was long and his influence great. No other Salarian was as well known throughout the galaxy.

    "It is of the utmost importance that we be granted an audience with Ambassador Blueblood," Tevos spoke melodiously, and Golden found it hard to focus on anything except for her.

    "And-" Golden cleared his throat. "And what should I tell him is the purpose of this meeting?"

    Golden wanted to sink into the floor and die as Pallin leveled his glare at him. When the Turian bared his sharp teeth, Golden couldn't help but gulp in fear. "What we have to say is for Ambassador Blueblood's ears only," Pallin said.

    Frozen, it took Golden a moment to gather his wits back together. With shaky hooves, he pressed the intercom for the Ambassador's office.


    When his Auntie Celestia had asked him to represent Equestria as the Ambassador on the Citadel, his life had not been head in a good direction. Blueblood was stallion enough to admit that back then he was nothing more than a spoiled foal. With nothing to do with his time or money, he spent both on foalish, frivolous things. Becoming the Ambassador had changed all of that, much to Blueblood's pleasure. It gave him what he was so sorely lacking before. A purpose worthy of his talents.

    He managed to take a calming breath just as the door to his office opened. Putting on his best smile, Blueblood effortlessly slid into his element as Executor Pallin and Councillors Tevos and Pallin walked in. "Councillors. Executor. What brings you to my office this lovely night?"

    Tevos bowed apologetically. "Ambassador Blueblood. I am afraid that we bring bad news."

    Studying the Asari carefully, Blueblood felt he was qualified enough to judge that all three of them were extremely on edge. It showed in the tightness of Tevos' smile, the way that Valern's eyes darted around the room, and Pallin's mandibles flexed every few moments. Something had all of them worried, and they were coming to him with it. Already his excitement was growing, though he was careful to not show it on his face. Blueblood instead waited patiently for them to continue.

    "C-Sec seized a smuggling ship several hours ago," Pallin continued for Tevos. "We rescued a large number of slaves that were being brought in for sale on the black market."

    Even more intrigued, Blueblood made sure to keep his expression neutral. This was the type of situation that he lived for, a challenge. "That is good news, but I don't see why it required two Councillor's and the Executor of Citadel Security to inform me. I am quite sure that I would have heard about this on the news."

    When the three of them glanced at each other, Blueblood knew that he had hit paydirt. This type of big came around maybe once in a lifetime. It was sure to be something that would allow Equestria to strengthen its own position, with absolutely no protest from any other race.

    "There were Equestrians among the slaves," Valern simply said.

    There is was. Blueblood leaned back in his seat, his inner joy a stark contrast to disgust at the entire situation. "I see."

    4. Chapter Three

    Chapter Three
    C-Sec Headquarters, Observation Room
    December 24, 2182 CE

    Arms crossed over his chest, Vitus frowned at the headache that had been plaguing him for the past four hours. Standing in the center of the room, he had a clear view of every screen in the room. Technicians and analysts sat at the desks lining the walls of the room kept a constant flow of information moving across the screens.

    The briefing he had given to Pallin had gone about as well as he could have expected. Equestria was a touchy subject for pretty much all Turians. To come face to face against beings who could move celestial objects with nothing but their minds. Anything dealing with them was treated with the appropriate caution.

    The screens cycled through what information the analysts could dig up on the Equestrians in the C-Sec infirmary. Live video feeds were also being piped in from the cameras in the operating room.

    Vitus didn't bother turning to look as the door slid open behind him, his attention elsewhere.

    "Captain Vitus," the soft voice of Doctor Vilaria spoke behind him. He glanced over at her from the corner of his eye, and he instantly saw her exhaustion, evident in the slump of her shoulders and the bags under her eyes.

    "Doctor," he simply responded.

    Her face grim, Vilaria looked around at the screens and with a deep sigh, she rubbed at her eyes tiredly. As an Asari, she had been practicing her trade for nearly two-hundred years. C-Sec was lucky to have her on their payroll. Vitus had never seen her look so tired as she did right now, and that was certainly saying something.

    "This is a mess," Vilaria murmured, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

    "That's an understatement," Vitus said as he turned to face her. His mandibles flexed in agitation and he could feel his fringe start to itch. "Pallin wants me to put together a briefing for the Equestrian Embassy. Anything you can give me would be helpful."

    Vilaria fell still for a moment, frowning as she let her thoughts turn over in her head. She shifted her feet uncomfortably before she started nodding. Opening her omni-tool, she sent a data-pack to Vitus. His own omni-tool dinged as it received the packet.

    "That's everything we've gathered so far," Vilaria's shoulders slumped as she let the tiredness wash over her. "We're transferring them to Huerta Memorial in a few hours. They're better equipped to deal with them."

    Looking over the viewscreens lining the room, Vitus studied the Equestrians that were being projected. There wasn't a single one of them who wasn't undergoing some type of surgery. "What can you tell me about them?" Vitus asked, subdued.

    Vilaria let her gaze linger on every face, seeing through the tubes and wires to the people underneath. Taking a deep breath, she walked up to the screens on the left. The Equestrians were the smallest of the bunch, children by the looks them Vitus could only guess.

    "These three are the youngest," Vilaria gestured at them, her violet eyes sympathetic. "From what we can tell, they were born into slavery. The DNA tests show that only one of them has a parent present." She pointed towards the light blue filly before pointing to her apparent father, a dark indigo stallion.

    "These weren't the only Equestrians taken," Vitus frowned at that conclusion. If there were still more out there, things were going to get uncomfortable very quickly.

    "Yes," was Vilaria's simple confirmation.

    "What else?"

    Striding over to the screens displaying the Griffins, Vilaria chewed on her lip. She pointed at the worst looking of the four, half her beak missing. "The Griffins seem to have the worst of it. I can only guess it was because of their more aggressive nature. They had to be broken to be useful." Vilaria practically spit out the word, her brow furrowed in anger.

    "Their wings have been amputated down to the second joint. Whoever did this to them wanted to make sure they never fly again. It happened long ago, and wounds are healed over, but it was a messy procedure. It looks like someone just took a butchers knife to them." She shuddered, not liking where the thoughts were taking her. "Someone did this to keep them as pets."

    "What?" Vitus exclaimed in disbelief.

    "The scars certainly seem to indicate that," she nodded, pursing her lips. She reached up to her neck, rubbing it unconsciously. "The feathers around their necks have been worn away, and all of them have marks that are consistent with a heavy collar. My best guess is that they were kept by a crime lord as a status symbol."

    Crossing her arms uncomfortably over her chest, Vilaria took a shuddering breath. "All of the Griffins have an addiction to hallex, probably to keep them chained to their master. It's going to be hell getting them clean."

    "That's awful!" Vitus shook his head. He had seen worse, but any type of addiction was bad enough. Having to help mutilated slaves break free... some people never seemed to be able to catch a break. "You certainly know a lot about them."

    Smiling sadly, Vilaria turned to face Vitus. "It's not everyday that new race joins the Citadel, much less nine races that evolved simultaneously on one planet. I find them... fascinating."

    Shaking her head, Vilaria tried her best to gather her thoughts back together. Focussing back on the present, she pointed at the five mares, grimacing. "The five females have been used sexually numerous times."

    Vitus sighed. The rest of the room froze for just a second, the technicians and analysts sympathizing with the freed slaves. Vilaria shook her head, lips pursed.

    Turning back around, she pointed at a small unicorn mare with a dirty white coat and a tangled and filthy blue mane. Doctors swarmed around her, struggling to keep her alive. "This one is the worst of the bunch. An ambulance is on the way and the emergency room is being prepped. She's the one we're worried about. The rest are relatively low risk."

    "What about the males?" Vitus asked.

    "They've been lobotomized," Vilaria simply said. "They were probably used for breeding."

    Growling, Vitus felt his fists clench involuntarily. "So the little one might as well be fatherless?"

    "Yes." Vilaria looked down at the floor, clasping her hands behind her back. "They have all had multiple owners. They all have more than one brand, a sort of replacement cutie mark."

    Vitus felt his first spark of hope. Something he could work with! He turned to face the rest of the room. "I want those brands traced! Track down who they belong to. Use whatever resource you have too!"

    The analysts and technicians started typing rapidly at their workstations.


    Canterlot had changed the most in the thirty years since Chelsea Hall first made contact. The capitol of the Equestrian Empire, it was the shining jewel of the planet and the first to truly embrace the massive changes that the technology boom had brought. A marvel of engineering and style, towering spires of glass and steel were interspersed gracefully between buildings that had stood for a thousand years, from before the cracking of The Sphere.

    The Royal Castle was most impressive out of all of the buildings in Canterlot. When you were a being that counted millenial birthdays, change and new experiences were always welcome. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had whole heartedly embraced the changes, and the Castle reflected that. The towers reflected the spiraling grace of the Asari, the walls and battlements the strength and resoluteness of the Turians, and the practicality of humanity was most evident in the Royal sisters private bedrooms. They made some of the most comfortable beds in existence after all.

    That was were Princess Celestia was at the moment, fast asleep under the imported Egyptian cotton covers. It was only in her room that she found she was truly able to relax. She could take off her golden regalia and stand as free as any of her subjects. As an Alicorn, she didn't actually need to sleep, but there was nothing else that was quite so relaxing. It was only thanks to her sister Luna that she able to take such time to herself.

    A simple knock at the door broke the silence, though Celestia didn't stir. The door opened on silent hinges and Luna stepped in. Her mane flowing ethereally in the celestial winds. Smaller than her sister, Luna was still bigger than the average pony. Her mane reflected the night sky and her inky black cutie mark proudly proclaimed her dominion over the moon. With a horn as long and sharp as her sisters, her midnight blue coat helped her move through her precious night.

    "Sister," Luna spoke, her voice grave.

    With a groan, Celestia rolled over in her bed.

    "Sister, you must awake," Luna spoke louder. "There is dire news that you must attend to."

    Rolling back over to face Luna, Celestia cracked open a single magenta eye, only half awake and completely annoyed. "-How dire?" Her normally smooth voice cracked unflatteringly.

    "You should read it for yourself, sister." Luna levitated a datapad over for her sister to take with her magic.

    Taking it in her own magic, Celestia blinked her eyes trying to clear the sleep from her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she started to read, doing her best to comprehend the words written before her.

    Her tiredness disappeared instantly and Celestia stood from her bed as the full weight of the news hit her. She was a remarkable sight with brilliant white coat and an ethereal mane reflecting a glistening aurora. Her wings flittered in agitation as her deadly sharp horn glistened in the night. "I've made a terrible mistake!"

    "What do you speak of sister?" Luna raised an eyebrow in confusion.

    "I proclaimed these ponies dead after... after the attack." Memories washed over Celestia, regret playing over her face. "To learn that they are alive..."

    Donning her crown and royal collar with her magic, Celestia was already making plans. Furious, the power of her sun raged behind her eyes. "I cannot allow this to stand. This must be taken care of personally." Though her voice wasn't raised, it still carried the depth of her anger with it.

    "We agree," Luna nodded. "You should go, sister. We are still uncomfortable in the presence of... aliens."

    "Very well," Celestia set the datapad down on her desk. "You can handle the sun in my absence, sister?"

    Luna found herself unsure for a moment before hardening her gaze and giving a firm nod. "We can."


    At only nineteen years of age, Twilight Sparkle had learned more in her short life than most ever learned in their entire lifetime. As the personal student of Princess Celestia, she had access to the largest libraries, the brightest professor's, and even more enticing was that she unrestricted access to ask any question to the two oldest beings in the galaxy. Taking all of this into account, it was easy to understand why she already held two PhDs and was hard at work on her third.

    Living in the Royal library certainly helped, and the fact that said library stood above the throne room allowed Celestia, and occasionally Luna the quickest access for lessons.

    A unicorn, Twilight loved to delve into the deep mysteries of magic, uncovering secrets of the craft that even the Alicorn sisters had forgotten. That was what she was doing up so late even as the rest of Canterlot slumbered. Her nose buried deep in an ancient dusty tome, she occasionally had to blow her dark blue mane from her eyes, the pink and purple stripes distracting her as they waved across her vision.

    The lights dim, the only movement in the room came from Twilight's occasional page turning. She savored these moments when it was just her and endless pages of knowledge.

    A loud knock at the door broke the silence, startling Twilight. All four legs flailing, she fell off her sitting pillow and onto the floor. "Come in!" She called out, out of breath.

    The door opened, and Twilight's eyes widened as she saw Celestia step inside. Scrambling to her feet, Twilight gave a sheepish smile. "Princess! You're still awake!"

    Even as tired as she looked, Celestia still managed to give Twilight an amused smile. "Yes, I am." She glanced away, her smile turning to a frown. "I've come to see if you would like to accompany me to the Citadel."

    Her face scrunching up in confusion, Twilight stared up at her teacher. "The Citadel? What for?"

    "A grave matter has arisen that I need to see too personally," Celestia spoke calmly and evenly through her tiredness. "Luna agrees with me, and will be taking care of the sun while I am gone."

    Twilight only had to think it over in her head for a moment, her excitement already growing. She had traveled to all four corners of Equestria with the Princesses on their ambassadorial trips, and she had even met aliens, but she had never been off planet before. She wanted to squeal and bounce around the room, but restrained herself in front of Celestia. "I would love to, Princess!"

    Her excitement quickly took a nose dive as she remembered one very important matter. "But what about Spike?"

    Both Twilight and Celestia turned to look over at the small bed in the far corner of the massive library. Spike lay fast asleep under his covers, completely unaware of the conversation about him. A purple and green dragon, it was hatching him from the fossilized dragon egg at the entrance exam to Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns that had led to becoming Princess Celestia's personal student. The five year old filly had accomplished the impossible and made her mark in history forever.

    As Spike started to snore, both Twilight and Celestia smiled fondly at him. "Luna has offered to keep watch over him. She'll wake him up tomorrow morning and explain where you are."

    Twilight only had to think about it for a moment longer before nodding excitedly. "Yes!" She instantly covered her mouth with her hooves, sheepishly looking at Spike and hoping he wouldn't wake from her shout.

    Celestia led Twilight from the library, the much younger mare skipping excitedly after her mentor and out into the hallway. She was just barely able to keep up with the Alicorn's much longer stride.

    They walked in silence for several moments before Twilight's curiosity overcame her and she couldn't keep quiet any longer.

    "What is so important that you have to go the Citadel?" She asked.

    As the pony who controlled the suns orbit around Equestria, anything that could pull Celestia away from her throne had to be important. Twilight was eager to know what it could be.

    The Princess was silent for a long moment before she answered. They continued down the the hallway before she answered. "Do you remember the Batarian attack on Ponyville?"

    Twilight nodded immediately. "I'm a bit too young to remember it first hand, but I've read all about it."

    Celestia smiled at Twilight's studiousness, though it quickly turned sad. "I believed, foolishly, that the Royal Guard acted soon enough to prevent anyone from being taken." She shut her eyes, guilt eating away at her. "I was wrong. The Citadel captured a ship that was smuggling slaves. There are Equestrians among their number."

    Twilight froze, her mouth open in shock. She didn't have any clue to how to take the news. "Princess..."

    Ponies at the heart of their instincts were herbivores, herd animals. It was only thanks to Celestia and Luna's interference that the ponies hadn't been driven to extinction as they evolved by the much harder, carnivorous Griffins or more the more confrontational Minotaurs. Most other races wiped out all competition, quickly growing into societies that prized individualism over all else. Twilight could barely wrap her mind around the idea that someone would want to enslave someone else.

    Celestia stopped again, looking down at Twilight. "I have failed, my little pony. I cannot allow that to ever happen again."

    Stepping forward, Twilight nuzzled comfortingly up against her teacher. She smiled up at Celestia. "You haven't failed anypony, Princess."

    "You are kind, Twilight." Celestia nuzzled her back. "But I cannot accept that."

    The two continued on in silence down the hall. Luna's moon lit the stained glass windows on either side of the hall, creating a kalidescope of dark light.

    Twilight had never felt so unsettled before in her life.

    5. Chapter Four

    Chapter Four
    Tilican Tower, Bachjret Ward, Citadel
    December 25, 2182 CE

    Octavia woke slowly, letting her consciousness return to her naturally as she looked blearily out her shaded window. "Open blinds," she croaked out, luxuriating in the soft warmth of her bed. The shades rose silently and it took her vision several minutes to focus on the ships moving through the flight paths.

    The violet light of the Serpent Nebula trickled into the room. Her night had passed slowly, and Octavia had only managed to get several hours of sleep. Thoughts of Vinyl had plagued her, regrets that she could never fix making her sob into her pillow.

    Groaning, Octavia slid out from under her covers. Landing on all four hooves, she staggered to her bathroom, the door sliding open for her as it sensed her approach.

    Looking into her mirror, Octavia winced at the sight. Her mulberry eyes were bloodshot and dark circles sat under her eyes. The cider certainly hadn't helped last night. Shaking her head ruefully, Octavia started her shower. She could fix everything, hide how awful she really looked. She had a lot of practice with that.

    After her shower, and the thirty minutes it took to make herself look presentable, Octavia stepped into her kitchen. She quickly threw together a simple daisy salad, using fresh picked daisies from her small garden. That was one of the best features of her apartment. Under her kitchen island, it allowed her always have fresh vegetables on hand without paying the exorbitant prices on imports.

    She ate slowly, basking in the silence, gathering herself together for the day ahead. Working for the Consort helped keep her thoughts from the darker places of her mind.


    Walking through the Presidium was always an experience for Octavia. The political heart of the Citadel, the Presidium Ring was home to some of the most powerful beings in the galaxy. Politicians, bankers, movers and shakers, celebrities, and artists all spent the majority of their time there. Octavia could best describe it as an exclusive club that kept a careful watch on its guest list.

    Her cello firmly balanced on her back, she walked with a false confidence past embassies and high class restaurants. Despite her own success, Octavia was at her heart a small town mare. Ponyville back on Equestria was her true home, but that planet held far too many bad memories. Never mind the fact that she had worked for Sha'ira for the past five years, Octavia still felt dishonest whenever stepped hoof on the Presidium.

    Octavia got looks from nearly everyone as she made her way to the Consort's chambers. It was something that had surprised her when she first moved to the Citadel. It had taken a mental breakdown in Ryuusei's sushi bar and a kind Turian waiter to explain that Equestrians were rarely seen outside of Equestria itself. She just tried her best to ignore the stress and continue on with her life.

    The Asari tended to stare after her with varying degrees of lust and intrigue, especially from the maidens. Octavia had asked Sha'ira about it once and learned that the Asari viewed attraction differently from all of the other races. She was uneasy with interspecies romance, and tried her best to avoid any Asari who stared too long after her.

    Octavia couldn't quite figure out the Turians. They tended to stare after her with a mixture of respect and caution. They weren't quite sure how to react to being beaten back by Humanity and Equestria during the Relay 314 incident.

    Most Salarians just ignored her.

    It was the humans who were the most comforting. They always met her with a smile and wave, which she would gladly return. There was an ease there that she just didn't feel with the rest of the races.

    Stepping into the entrance of the Consort's chambers, Octavia gave a friendly nod Nelyna, the Asari receptionist. She had gotten to know her over the first five years she had been working for the Consort.

    "Mrs. Melody, it's good to see you," Nelyna greeted, a kind smile on her face.

    "And you, Nelyna," Octavia smiled back.

    Nelyna waved Octavia through. "You know where to go, Mrs. Melody."

    Stepping into the waiting room, Octavia ignored the people waiting to see Sha'ira herself. They weren't any of her business, and she was none of theirs. If there was one rule in the Consot's chambers, it was discretion was the better part of valor, and Octavia took that to heart.

    Stepping into the Consort's private music room, Octavia pulled her cello off her back and set it down. The room was tastefully decorated, soothing and relaxing, and most importantly, customizable to every clients individual needs. At the moment, there was only a single Turian chair set up in the center of the room.

    Opening her case, Octavia ignored the picture of Vinyl. Now was not the time. She only took several minutes to tune and warm up. Sighing, she settled in to wait for the client.

    Exactly at the turning of the hour, the door slid open and a tall Turian stepped in. General Septimus Oraka. He was dressed sharply, with gleaming white face paint proudly proclaimed his clan affiliation.

    Octavia waited patiently for him to take his seat, silent. This was not a time for talking, and that was not what Oraka was paying for. They both knew how this worked, and they wouldn't be breaking the unspoken rules.

    Without any pageantry, Octavia raised her bow and began to play. She had no need for sheet music, having long ago learned the music by heart.

    General Oraka leaned back in his chair, letting his eyes slide closed as he let out a sigh of pure pleasure. As the stress disappeared from his frame, Octavia smiled. She lived for these moments, and they kept her going when her thoughts turned darker.

    The hour finished and Octavia lowered her bow. Silently, General Oraka stood and walked out of the room, a spring in his step.

    Octavia packed her cello away and placed it on her back before she left the room herself.

    Nelyna smiled down at her as she walked past. "Mrs. Melody, the credits have already been transferred to your account."

    "Thank you, Nelyna," Octavia said over her shoulder, heading home. Back to her memories, and the sadness that surrounded them.


    He might not have had the most glamorous of jobs, Fidelis never gave anything less than his complete devotion. It paid the rent, and he had come to be friends with the majority of the residents of Tilican Tower.

    That professionalism is what allowed him to keep his face still as an aircar pulled to a stop and the blond maned ambassador of Equestria stepped out. Fidelis liked to keep abreast of all of the current politicians on the Citadel, and Ambassador Blueblood was definitely up there. Two Equestrian Royal Guards stepped out after the Ambassador, quickly flanking him. Fidelis quietly noted the guards professionalism as they covered Blueblood.

    Movement from the aircar caught Fidelis' attention and he shifted his gaze to seen an Asari step out. Amusement bubbled up as he realized that she was obviously wearing a human made suit.

    The group of four walked up to him, Blueblood leading. He nodded respectfully to Fidelis before he spoke. "I need to speak with a Miss Octavia Melody."

    "Is she expecting you?" Fidelis had respect for the Ambassador, but his loyalty was to the resident of the tower. He was paid to keep people out, no matter who they might be, and he was more than willing to do that.

    "No," Blueblood shook his head, unapologetic. "This is rather short notice. I need to speak with her before the news breaks."

    "What news," Fidelis asked. Aside from keeping people out, the other part of his job involved knowing when to let someone in. Discretion was the name of the game.

    "It involves her wife," Blueblood said patiently. "Vinyl Scratch."

    "I'm afraid that you are going to have to come back with an appointment." It seemed that today he would be turning away the Ambassador of Equestria. "Mrs. Vinyl Scratch is deceased."

    Blueblood shook his head no. "That's what Mrs. Melody believes, yes. It is what we are here to discuss with her."

    Or maybe he would be letting them through.

    "I see," was all Fidelis found he could say.


    Octavia had found that she spent the majority of her time in her practice room. She did not have what you could call an active social life by any stretch of the imagination and would practice her cello for hours on end. That was a large reason why she was one of the top paid artists on the Citadel. It helped to calm her, and she found that the act of playing let her say musically what she just couldn't say aloud. She could lose herself in her music, let her mind fall silent and experience peace like she so rarely could.

    Even as she drifted in inner peace, Octavia could feel her mind whirling, improvising as she played. The notes she played reflected the beauty of Thessia's waves, the stark majesty of Palaven, the gentle kindness of Equestria.

    The doorbell broke her peace and Octavia snapped back to reality. Propping her cello back up on its stand, Octavia set her down on the small table next to it. The doorbell rang again, and she trotted out of her practice room.

    Turning on the intercom, she looked out into the hallway through the closed circuit camera. Her eyes widened when she saw who it was that was just waiting outside her door. She scrambled to open it, hoping to look as presentable as possible, confusion rushing through her.

    "Ambassador Blueblood," Octavia cried, straightening her mane with her hoof. "What can I do for you?"

    The Ambassador gave Octavia a small smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, giving a short bow to the grey mare. "May we come in, Miss Melody? There are things that we need to discuss, and I'm afraid that time is of the essence."

    For the first time, Octavia noticed the others that were standing with Blueblood. The royal guards stood just behind him, and behind them was a slim Asari, a matron if Octavia had to guess. She raised an eyebrow when she saw that the Asari was wearing a well-tailored suit of human design if she was not mistaken.

    "Miss Melody?" Blueblood spoke again, a gentle tone to his voice.

    Octavia snapped back to reality from her thoughts, stepping aside and gesturing for them to come with a finely trimmed hoof. "Please. Please come in."

    Blueblood once again bowed respectfully to Octavia, stepping inside. The Asari followed after him. The two guards took up positions outside her apartment.

    Clearing her throat awkwardly, Octavia held her hoof out towards the main room. "We should be more comfortable in here."

    She led the two into the main room, settling into her favorite chair and smiling at the appreciative glances the two gave the space. Blueblood seemed most taken by the massive windows and the gorgeous view that they offered. A small cough from the Asari drew him back to the matters at hand.

    "Miss Melody," Blueblood calmly spoke. "Please forgive my rudeness. This is Elyra Vylia, and she specializes in matters such as this," gesturing politely to the Asari, Elyra, he gave Octavia yet another smile.

    Octavia nodded politely to Elyra as the two politely took seats on one of her slim, fashionable couches. She had purchased them purely for guest use, preferring her favorite chair to the uncomfortable lines of the factory made couches.

    "Can I ask what brings you to my house, Ambassador?" Octavia asked, tilting her head inquisitively, her ears still, facing the two.

    Blueblood opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again a moment later with a sigh. He shifted uncomfortably on the couch, glancing up at Elyra. She nodded at him and Blueblood sighed. He opened his mouth to speak again.

    "On the flight over, I tried to figure out how I would segue into what brings us here today" Blueblood spoke slowly, forming his words together carefully. He ducked his head, just for a moment, shutting his eyes. Opening them again, he continued on. "I realize now that there is no easy way to talk about this."

    Octavia took a long moment, staring at Elyra, wondering why a social worker, especially an Asari, was sitting on her couch. Noticing the mare's gaze, Elyra shifted in her seat, an unreadable expression on her face.

    Tearing her attention away from Elyra, Octavia looked back to Blueblood. "What are you talking about, Ambassador?"

    Looking at Elyra once again, Blueblood ran his hoof over the fabric of the couch. "Do you remember the events of March 17, 2173?"

    Eyes narrowing, Octavia tensed, her ears swiveling back in agitation. She managed to stop herself from grinding her teeth, taking a moment to gather her scattered emotions before speaking, her voice harsh, almost growling. "Yes, and tank you for bringing up that memory, Ambassador."

    Blueblood grimaced. He opened his mouth to speak, but Elyra cut in before he could.

    "Miss Melody..."

    "Mrs." Octavia interrupted.

    Elyra nodded apologetically. "Mrs. Melody. Your wife, Vinyl Scratch, was pronounced deceased-"

    "I am failing to see the point of this conversation." Octavia's voice was cold and quiet. Every muscle in her body was screaming at her to run, it didn't matter where, just as long as it wasn't anywhere near these two.

    "There is a point, Mrs. Melody," Blueblood pleaded. "Please, just bear with us. We are checking facts."

    Octavia stared at Blueblood for a long moment before nodding. She took a deep breath, edging back into her seat. She couldn't help but feel cornered. "... Go on."

    "Your wife, Vinyl Scratch, was pronounced deceased the next day was she not?" Elyra asked once again, far more gentle this time around.

    "Yes," Octavia whispered, looking over at her mantle and the pictures that sat there.

    "But her body was never recovered, was it Mrs. Melody?"

    "No." Octavia sunk down, turning to stare out the window.

    Blueblood looked up at Elyra, anxious. With a sigh, he gathered himself together. He took a calming breath before speaking. "Your wife did not die, Mrs. Melody."

    Spinning around, Octavia leveled her glare at Blueblood and Elyra, her eyes narrowed as rage boiled into her heart. "Get out. Get out!"

    "Not until we finish this conversation, Mrs. Melody.: Blueblood did his best to ignore Octavia's piercing glare.

    "Your wife was taken," Elyra spoke gently. "She never died-"

    "No!" Octavia shook her head in denial. "No! The Princess said-"

    "The Princess was wrong." Blueblood interrupted, doing his best to not agitate Octavia any further. "Mrs. Scratch was taken by Batarian raiders that day. She never died."

    Octavia rocked back as if Blueblood had physically struck her. Millions of questions raced through her head, but she couldn't speak a single word.

    "Last night, C-Sec seized a ship owned by a smuggling ring that operated out of the Teysiri Ward." Blueblood looked forward, keeping eye contact with Octavia. "Aside from a rather impressive amount of drugs, the ship was transporting a rather large amount of slaves. A small number of Equestrians were among them."

    Octavia's eyes widened and she took a shuddering breath. "Vinyl," she whispered out.

    "Yes." Elyra nodded. "Mrs. Scratch is currently undergoing emergency surgery at Huerta Memorial Hospital.

    Unsteadily climbing out of her chair, she stood on shaky legs. "I... I want to see her."

    "Of course," Blueblood nodded.


    The operating room was bustling with activity, but it was strangely silent for the amount of beings inside. Human, Asari, and Turian doctors worked, listening to the calm voice of Doctor Stable, the head surgeon. A carmel colored unicorn, Doctor Stable had a heart monitor for a Cutie Mark. All of the attention in the room was focused on the patient on the operating table.

    "I want scans of her horn," Stable ordered. "Horn rot appears to be heavily prevalent. We need to see how deep it goes."

    Vinyl Scratch lay covered on the table, and most of the doctors were in agreement that she was one of the worst patients they had ever seen. Her coat was caked in dried blood and filth. The stench wafting off of her was making even the Turian doctors nauseous, something that rarely ever happened to them. Her hooves were dried and cracked, and her horn had a split that ran nearly directly down the middle, pieces of the other shell flaking away.

    Doctor Stable took a moment to look up at the observation windows above the room. He could feel eyes on him, but he had bigger things to deal with.


    "Have the Princesses responded?" Councillor Tevos asked, staring down at the operating table below. Her arms were folded under her breasts, trying to resist the urge to itch her crest. It had been bothering her from the moment she had heard the news about the MSV Charybdis. She glanced over at Councillor Valern and Executor Pallin standing beside her. She could only assume that she looked as tired as they did.

    "No." Pallin shook his head, his shoulders slumping. "They are being rather tight-lipped on the matter."

    "An STG team observed one of the Princesses personal ships leaving Equestria several hours ago," Valern said softly, his eyes following every movement the Doctors made as they worked furiously on the mare below.

    The three fell silent. A Princess of Equestria was coming to the Citadel. Ever since the Relay 314 incident, they had found the state of galactic power shifting drastically away from them. Beings with the powers of gods existed, and they ruled the only planet in the galaxy with access to technology more advanced than the Protheans. Equestria kept a tight hold on their Dyson Sphere, and an even tighter hold on the technology that they backward engineered from it.

    "We must approach this carefully," Tevos said with a sigh, chewing on her bottom lip.

    "What about the..." Valern found himself searching for the word, something didn't happen to him often. He grimaced. "...the remains?"

    Tevos sighed, resting her head in her hands. This was a mess, and it was only going to get worse before it got better. She found herself longing for her bed and the time for an hour or two for a nap.

    "My officers have determined the culprits of that fiasco." Pallin growled, crossing his arms over his chest. "We have them in the high security cells."

    "That is... That's good." Tevos nodded. The whole ordeal was a nightmare.

    Valern turned away from the sight of the operating room below, blinking away the sight. "Personally, I am sickened by the entire ordeal." He caught Tevos' eye. "We must take direct action. We cannot be seen to be doing nothing in response to this, especially by the Princesses."

    "I agree," Tevos said, a headache forming. "I will speak with Sparatus."

    Pallin slipped closer to the window, studying the doctors. His mandibles flared in surprise when they out a harsh looking saw. "I... I am sure the Councillor will reason."

    Straightening out, Councillor Tevos got ready to leave. "Gentlemen. I am sure that we will be speaking soon." She nodded to Valern and Pallin. Even as she turned and left, she was activating her omni-tool, setting up meetings that would change the course of galactic politics.

    As the door slid shut behind her, Valern and Pallin stood in silence. They continued watching the frantic calmness of the surgery below. The Executor grinned at Valern's uneasiness at the sight. As the head of C-Sec, he had seen his fair share of gruesome sights but Councillor Valern left the sanitized world of the political realm.

    "This is too big of a problem to ignore anymore," Pallin finally spoke.

    Valren turned to face Pallin, is large eyes curious and intrigued. "And what problem are you speaking of?"

    "I've told you and the rest of the Council that security is not as tight as we all wish it could be." Pallin didn't speak vindictively. The Citadel budget, while not tight, was a highly political area. The problem was that C-Sec suffered from its own successes and a fairly low crime rate, at least on the surface. Money always flowed towards the elements with the loudest outcry. "Too much slips through the cracks. We just don't have enough manpower to track down everything we know is happening. The black market is growing out of control, slavery is far more rampant than either of us imagined, and we just got a glimpse of the hidden underbelly of the Citadel."

    "I see." Valern frowned, crossing his arms. "C-Sec is not up to the task."

    "As much as it pains me to say," Pallin hung his head, humbled. "Not in its current form. We need a bigger budget and more officers. We are stretched too thin to stop everything from slipping through."

    "I see." Already Valern was making plans to rectify the situation. "I will speak to the others about the matter."

    They both turned as the door to the viewing room slid open. Turning, they both watched as Ambassador Blueblood entered, followed by Elyra and his two Royal Guards. Blueblood stopped, turning to the door, waiting patiently. Pallin and Valern watched too, wondering who the Ambassador could be waiting for.

    When the grey mare slowly stepped in, Valern and Pallin glanced at each other in confusion. Her black mane hung limply and her eyes glassy, barely seeing. Her gaze barely gave Blueblood any notice and it slid unseeing over Valern and Pallin to the window behind them.

    The Executor and the Councillor politely stepped out of the way for the grey mare as she plodded towards the window. She stared down at the operating room, and the limp form of Vinyl Scratch on the table. The mare was in shock, that much was clear, dropping back onto her hind legs with audible thump. Her face fell blank, her eyes focused entirely on the mare on the operating table.

    Valern and Pallin moved to stand next to Blueblood, ready to fish for inormation.

    "Ambassador," Valern greeted, speaking softly in respect to the shocked mare.

    "Councillor, Executor," Blueblood nodded to the both of them. "Is there something I can help you with?"

    Valern and Pallin glanced at each other, making sure that they were in agreement.

    "We are... curious about Equestria's reaction to the past days events," Pallin spoke first.

    "I see." Blueblood watched the grey mare, standing perfectly still as she stared down at the operating room. "That is a matter that I believe Princess Celestia will bring up with Council when she arrives."

    "Princess Celestia is coming?" Valern hid his surprise. He was expecting one of the minor princesses to voice Equestria's part, not the Solar Princess herself, the head of the Equestrian Empire.

    "Yes," was Blueblood's simple response.

    "I see," Valern glanced at Executor Pallin. "Please, excuse me gentlemen. I have important matters that I must attend to." Turning on his heel, Valern nearly ran out of the room.

    "We have some matters to discuss before your Princess arrives, Blueblood." Palling spoke.

    Glancing at the greay mare, then at Elyra, Blueblood spoke. "Please, stay with her."

    Elyra nodded, moving to stand next to Octavia.

    "Your office, or mine, Executor?" Blueblood asked.

    "Your office will be fine," Pallin said, striding to the door, Blueblood easily keeping pace.

    6. Chapter Five

    Chapter Five
    Waiting Room, Huerta Memorial Hospital, Citadel
    December 26, 2182 CE

    The past twenty-four hours had passed in a blur for Octavia. She didn't even remember the ride over to the hospital. The only thing that had kept her moving was a single thought that kept repeating in her mind. Vinyl was Alive!

    A plastic cup balanced on her hoof, she stared down at the tepid coffee it held. She had been sitting in the waiting room of the hospital for who knows how long. She was vaguely aware of the other individuals that had been quietly bustling about, a quiet din of voices.

    Her omni-tool buzzed and Octavia startled, dropping her cup of coffee. Cursing under her breath, Octavia answered the call, straightening up when she found Sha'ira looking back at her. "Consort! I- I'm happy to see you..."

    "It is alright, Octavia," Sha'ira softly spoke, a gentle look on her face. "I understand. I received a message from your ambassador this morning explaining everything. I am happy for you, and I pray for your wife's swift recovery."

    "Thank you, Sha'ira," Octavia whispered.

    "I just wanted to let you know that I am not scheduling you any sessions until you are ready to return," Sha'ira said.

    Octavia felt a heavy weight lift off her shoulders. She bowed gratefully to Sha'ira. "Thank you. That is a much needed relief."

    Sha'ira waved off the thanks. "Think nothing of it. I would do the same for any of my acolytes."

    The call ended and Octavia slumped back into her seat, her exhaustion hitting her, all at once. She glanced over at Elyra, half asleep next to her. The Asari had stayed with her from the moment that they had arrived at the hospital. It was good that at least Elyra could sleep, because Octavia was positive that she couldn't do so herself.

    Octavia sat up straight when she noticed Doctor Stable walking up to her. He looked dead on his hooves, his eyes tired and bloodshot. "Is Vinyl going to be okay, Doctor?" Octavia asked, her voice cracking.

    Elyra woke at the sound of Octavia's voice. Seeing Doctor Stable, she sat up straight, wiping the drool from her mouth. She blinked tiredly.

    "Is Vinyl going to be okay, Doctor?" Octavia asked again.

    Frowning, Doctor Stable hung his head, taking a deep breath. "Physically, white time, yes," he nodded. "Mentally and emotionally, that is another story. It will be up to her, and how much she is willing to fight for it."

    "Vinyl's a strong pony," Octavia said firmly, managing to keep the tremor out of her voice. "She'll get better."

    Doctor Stable glanced at Elyra, sharing a concerned look with the Asari. "Octavia, you need to understand that Vinyl is not going to be the same mare that you married. She has been to Tartarus and back, and recovery is not a sure thing." Sighing, he shuffled his front hooves.

    "There is no easy way to say this, so I am just going to tell you." Doctor Stable frowned apologetically. "We had to amputate her left rear leg and her horn."

    Octavia felt her reality shatter. As an Earth Pony, she had nowhere near the level of connection that Unicorns and to a lesser extent Pegasi experienced. Eyes wide, Octavia couldn't imagine the horror. She was more than well aware that to a unicorn, losing their horn was nearly worse than death, extremely debilitating and humiliating.

    "Her horn..." Octavia whispered out.

    "Yes." Doctor Stable simply replied.

    "Will she be able to use magic?" Octavia asked, a thin shiver of hope welling in her chest.

    "No," Doctor Stable said simply, but not unkindly. "Unicorns use their horns to channel magic and focus it to their will. Without her horn, she has lost her connection to that part of her life."

    It took her a moment, but Octavia finally nodded morosely, but understanding. "Will she at least be able to walk again?" He voice was subdued and quiet.

    "Yes," Doctor Stable said gratefully. Good news to offer at last. "Prosthetics have come a long way since we made contact with humanity. We can make her a leg that will feel like she never even lost hers in the first place."

    "Good." Octavia nodded. "That's... Celestia, that's good."

    Elyra leaked forward, putting a hand comfortingly on Octavia's back. "You need to think about the following weeks and months. Caring for Vinyl is going to need specialized care. There are decisions that must be made."

    Octavia hung her head. She couldn't recognize her life from the way it looked the day before.


    Equestrian Docks, Kithoi Ward, Citadel

    Even from the docks, Solar One was immediately recognizable as it transitioned back to normal space. Gleaming, it was larger than all of the other ships in the Citadel fleet save the Asari Dreadnaught, Destiny Ascension. The ship smoothly acclerated towards the Citadel, and the Equestrian Royal Guards waiting at the dock readied themselves to receive the head ruler of the Equestrian Empire.

    Gracefully coming to a stop inside the largest dock, Solar One was a gleaming beacon of Equestrian ship building. The docking clamps locked the ship into place and the gangway was quickly extended to the main airlock. Without an order being given, the Royal Guard snapped to attention as one, saluting.

    The airlock cycled open, and a small contingent of Solar guards marched out, lining the gangway. They too snapped to attention, saluting, waiting for Princess Celestia to emerge.

    A moment passed, then Princess Celestia stepped out, a serene smile on her face. She looked out over the Citadel with familiarity. She had spent more than her fair share on the Citadel, and it had long ago lost its glamor. The look in Twilight's eyes, who was following behind her, reminded her of how wondrous the massive space station actually was.

    "It is an amazing sight, is it not Twilight?" Celestia asked, pausing to let her student walk beside her. She couldn't help but smile at the unbridled enthusiasm the purple mare was showing.

    "Yes Princess!" Twilight said breathlessly, looking out at the twinkling arms of the Wards. "It certainly is." The Serpent Nebula framed the arms perfectly, a sight she wouldn't be sure to repeat.

    Celestia giggled at Twilight's widening grin. "Yes. It's nice to see something older than I am for once."

    Twilight startled, looking up alarmed at Celestia. She could see the gears working her students head as she tried to wrap her minds view of her with the actuality.

    "I might be older than dirt, Twilight," Celestia soothed. "But always remember that even I had a beginning."

    Twilight gave a sheepish grin, leaning in for a quick nuzzle. "And you don't look a day over three-thousand and five."

    Princess Celestia laughed, a joyous, twinkling sound that filled Twilight with happiness. They walked together to the elevator, to whatever might await them beyond.


    The news had been announced to the Councillors the moment that the Princess had arrived. A tingling, nervous energy filled the Council Chambers, which had been cleared moments after the message. The meeting was to be private, but the lack of an audience and the unnatural stillness of the chamber was working to unsettle the Councillors as they waited for the Princesses arrival.

    On their raised dais, Tevos and Valern watched as the Turian Councillor paced a feet behind them. Muttering under breath, Councillor Sparatus let out a growl.

    "Calm yourself, Sparatus," Tevos spoke evenly, betraying none of the anxiety that coursed through her body. "We must present a unified front."

    "Bah!" Sparatus threw his arms up in frustration. Rubbing his forehead, he took a deep sigh. "I know. This isn't going to turn out well."

    The three terminals on the dais chimed, drawing the three Councillor's attention. At the soft alert from the C-Sec guards at the base of the tower, the Councillors took a few moments to compose themselves. It was time. The Princess would be walking through the doors any moment now.

    They didn't have to wait long. The elevator doors opened with a quiet hiss that the Councillors could only hear because of the stillness in the chambers. The sound of hoofsteps echoed through the hall as the Princess and her entourage made the long journey up the multiple flights of stairs and flowering trees genetically modified to always be in bloom. The entirety of the chambers had been carefully designed to be intimidating, to give others a sense of awe of the seat of government in Citadel space, but the Councillor's were only just noting how uncomfortable it was as it worked the opposite on them.

    The shimmering, ethereal mane of the Princess was the first thing visible, followed shortly by her long, deadly horn, with the delicate crown perched perfectly behind. Her eyes met each of the Councillor's in turn, and each suppressed a shudder at the quiet power held within. Her gleaming white form was nearly overwhelming and she completely ignored her surroundings, instead smiling down at Twilight, who followed along to her right, taking everything in with wide eyes. The Royal Guard behind them were merely a formality. Celestia was the most dangerous being in the room, and she knew it.

    Stopping on the bridge before the Councillor's dais, Celestia gave a brief nod of greeting.

    "Princess Celestia," Tevos spoke for the Council, impressed at the strength of her own voice. "It is good to see you despite the circumstances."

    "Councillors Tevos, Valern, Sparatus," Celestia greeted back, standing tall and confidently. "I believe that you know why I am here."

    "Indeed." Sparatus spoke, his voice deeper than normal.

    "We were surprised to learn that you would be coming yourself, Princess," Tevos covered for Sparatus, drawing the Equestrian's attention back to her.

    Celestia glanced down at Twilight, who was staring at the Council with attentive eyes. Looking back up, Celestia met Tevos' gaze evenly. "This matter deserves a more personal touch." Her voice was calm, even, but a rod of steel stood tall within it, unyielding, unbending. "Learning that subjects I had long since thought dead had been secreted from my world to be enslaved and twisted to the whims of others... there is nothing of more importance to me than seeing to their safe return, no matter the cost."

    "No race has ever taken such a small amount of slavery quite so slavery," Sparatus spoke, his tone thinly veiling his annoyance at Celestia's own instance of overseeing matters personally.

    Turning her gaze on the Turian, Celestia smiled calmly, her eyes narrowing dangerously. "Others may be willing to overlook their own being spirited away and abused, but I assure you that I am not."

    Her face hardened, her mouth setting into a grim line. Looking down at Twilight, who was sitting faithfully at her side, she nodded reassuringly to her. "Leave us."

    Twilight startled at the order. "Princess?"

    "It is alright, Twilight." Celestia did not change her tone, but she was sure to let her student know her anger was not directed at her. "There are matters I need to discuss that you need not hear. There is no need to sully your innocence, my faithful student."

    Leaning down close so she could whisper in Twilight's ear, Celestia spoke softly. "There's a little restaurant just a minutes walk from the base of the tower with salads that I absolutely adore. Go, and have fun. I will meet you there."

    Twilight looked into Celestia's eyes for a long moment, unsure, before giving a slow nod. "Yes, Princess." Turning, she started the long walk back to the elevator, the guards following after her. They were there for her protection after all. The Solar Diarch did not need guards to look after her safety, for what weapon could match the power of the sun?

    Celestia waited until they were out of earshot before turning back to face the Councillors. "While I, and the vast majority of my subjects are herbivores, I do understand that we are within the minority." Standing up straighter, her eyes glinted dangerously. "But make no mistake! I will not stand idly by when twelve of my little ponies have been butchered, cooked, and devoured!"

    The Councillors rocked back as if the words were heavy. The harshness in the Solar Princesses' voice was surprising.

    "We cannot speak for everyone under our control, but no Asari, and I believe that I speak for the rest of the Council when I say no Turian or Salarian would ever partake in such an atrocity." Tevos spoke carefully, not wanting to draw the ire of the Princess down on her.

    "Perhaps not, but I cannot allow things to continue in their present direction. I will do anything to protect my people, and to that end, we have much to discuss." Celestia settled down onto her haunches for what promised to be a long and headache inducing talk. "The first matter of which is the Treaty of Firaxan."

    The Councillors all glanced at each other. It had to Firaxan. Dreadnoughts. Equestria wanted more dreadnoughts.

    7. Chapter Six

    Chapter Six
    Huerta Memorial Hospital, Citadel

    The door to the hospital room slid open with depressing finality, and Octavia stepped inside. Hesitant, she winced at the beeping of the heart monitor and the sound of the other medical equipment working tirelessly. The harsh smell of antiseptics made her crinkle her nose. The room was bathed in the impersonal light from the fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling, and it almost hurt Octavia's eyes to look inside.

    She stared at the hospital bed that seemed to dominate the room. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she looked over its tiny occupant, fragile amongst the vast amounts of tubes and wire and bandages. This wasn't the way that things were supposed to be. This was wrong. The universe was wrong for letting this happen. Vinyl Scratch could never look weak. The very thought of it was wrong in Octavia's mind.

    Her once brilliant blue mane sheared short, it served as a blue highlight running down her head against her stained white fur. Her horn was completely gone, just a bandaged stump, the bandages pushing her still ears up against her skull unnaturally.

    Octavia crumbled, her knees turning weak as she laid eyes on her wife for the first time in eight years. "Oh, Vinyl..." she whispered, her voice cracking.

    She took an unsteady step forward, grabbing a chair from one of the walls. She dragged it up to the side of the bed, taking a moment to climb up onto the chair. Setting her forehooves onto the bed, she just stared at Vinyl for several long moments. Looking down at the smaller mare, she could feel tears welling in her eyes.

    "I'm sorry, Vinyl," she managed to choke out. "I let you go. I let you go..." She sobbed, dropping her head onto her hooves, her mane spilling over her face. "I mourned for you. I cried for years. I tried to move on... but I couldn't!"

    Octavia took a deep, shuddering breath, looking up at the white mare that she loved more than life itself. "Please, we will get through this together. Just come back to me."

    Lifting a shaky hoof, she gently placed it on Vinyl's cheek. She couldn't stop the tears, her vision blurring as she rubbed Vinyl's cheek. She ran her neatly trimmed hoof down Vinyl's body. Passing over the mare's barrel, Octavia gasped in surprise. She could feel every rib in the mare's body. "Oh Celestia, what happened to you Vinyl?"

    She kept running her hoof down, only drawing it away before reached the bandaged remains of Vinyl's left hind leg. "I don't know if you can hear me Vinyl, but I need to tell you anyway." She took a deep breath, steadying herself. "You are safe now, and I will do everything I can to help you get better. Just don't give up. We can get through this, I promise. I don't care if you play dubstep all day long, just as long as you come back to me."

    Octavia just stayed sitting there, rubbing a hoof up and down Vinyl's front leg, smoothing the fur over. She would stay there until Vinyl woke, and then she would stay there even longer.


    Apollo's Cafe, Presidium, Citadel

    The Citadel was simply one of the most inspiring things that Twilight had ever seen (outside of Princess Celestia, but that went without saying). The Presidium stretched out before her, a ring that spread up and out of her line of sight. Built by the Protheans before their mysterious disappearance, the Presidium (and the rest of the Citadel) was a marvel of engineering and aesthetics finding a happy middle ground. Every line was pleasing to the eye. The embassies that lined the Presidium fit perfectly into the the sloped walls that slid above, with an artificial sky hanging high overhead.

    The Presidium lake was a peaceful sight, and a subtle sign of power, though Twilight didn't note that. She was far too impressed with how it actually flowed up, at least subjectively. She knew that it was just the effects of gravity and the centrifugal force of the Citadel, but she found it impressive anyway.

    As one of the smaller species in the Citadel races, the sight was even more grand, larger than life.

    The cafe that Celestia had recommended had turned out to sit over the lake. Open air, the view was complimented perfectly by the enticing smells from the kitchen. It wasn't crowded, but several diners were scattered around the restaurants, mostly Humans, Turians, and Asari.

    Walking up to the counter, Twilight looked up at the menu, quickly scanning every item before making her choice happily and confidently. "I'll have the cranberry spinach salad, please."

    As the waited nodded, Twilight hoofed over the correct amount of credits with her omni-tool.

    "Twilight Sparkle?"

    Turning, surprised to hear her name, Twilight found Donnell Udina standing behind her, the Ambassador for Humanity. He had a friendly, if surprised look on his face, holding a take-out bag loosely in one hand. A fit man, he was balding with ease, dressed comfortably in his expensive suit.

    "Mr. Udina!" Twilight exclaimed, smiling at her. "It's good to see you again."

    "It's good to see you as well, if a bit surprising." Udina smiled at the mare's friendliness. "It's not often that I have seen you outside of a library, much less Equestria. What brings you to the Citadel?"

    "Princess Celestia thought it would be good for me to tag along with her and see the Citadel." Twilight bounced lightly on her hooves, not noticing Udina's surprise.

    "The Princess is here?" He asked.

    "Yes." Twilight gave a firm nod. "She wanted to deal with a matter personally in front of the Council."

    Udina scowled, annoyed that he wasn't informed. "I see. It would have been nice to have known beforehand. I quite enjoy talking with Princess Celestia."

    "It looks like you'll get your chance," Twilight beamed, waving at her mentor as she walked up behind them.

    "Donnel." Celestia greeted, her voice smooth and friendly.

    Udina spun around, a smile on her face. "Princess Celestia, it is surprising to see you here!"

    "I had an urgent meeting with the Council." Celestia said. "It was extremely last minute. My own ambassador learned of my arrival only hours before. The moment that I heard Equestrians were rescued from the blackmarket by Citadel Security, there was no other choice but for me to take care of it personally."

    "Your student was just informing me," Udina said.

    "The smuggling ship," Udina nodded, understanding. "Equestrians were rescued?"

    "Indeed," Celestia said gravely.

    "That is both wonderful," Udina gave a thankful smile. "And terrible news. I pray for their best."

    "Thank you, Donnell. You are a good friend." Celestia gave a bow of her head to the human ambassador.

    A cough behind her alerted Twilight to the waiter trying to get her attention, holding a tray in his hand. Twilight quickly gestured at a table, moving to sit as the waiter set the tray down, letting Celestia and Udina speak.

    "I certainly won't hold you any longer, Donnell. I am sure that you are very busy." Celestia politely bowed out of the conversation.

    Udnia nodded, looking down at his take-out bag. "Yes, I have to get back to a meeting with Admiral Hackett."

    Celestia smiled, recognizing the name. "Please, give him my greetings."

    "I will," Udnia bowed his head. "Good day, Princess. Twilight!" He waved goodbye at the purple mare who was happily chewing her salad, making him laugh at the sight.

    "Good day, Donnell." Celestia said.

    As Udina walked away, Celestia stepped up to the counter to order for herself. Finishing, she returned and sat at the table next to Twilight, not bothering with a chair. She plopped to the ground with a tired sigh, Twilight looking at her with concern.

    "Princess?" Twilight asked.

    "This has been nothing but a mess, Twilight," Celestia said. She cracked her neck, shutting her eyes. "I fear that we will not be able to continue on the path we have strived so hard to maintain."

    Twilight ignored her salad, waiting patiently for Celestia to continue. The Princess stared into the Presidium lake for a long moment before snapping back to reality.

    "We are at our cores, herd animals, Twilight. All of the others, even humans, are individualistic. They evolved on their worlds to be the top predators, and that is reflected in everything that they do." Celestia spoke carefully, and Twilight soaked it all in. Another lesson, and an important one from the tone of the Princesses voice. "They are content in watching others suffer, as long as they themselves are unharmed..."

    She opened her eyes, meeting Twilight's own gaze with her own. "It is difficult, even for me, to understand them sometimes."

    "What do you mean, Princess?" Twilight asked, cocking her head inquisitively to the side.

    "We have never need to be true warriors, Twilight." Celestia watched a pair of Turians as they left the cafe. Her voice was sad, burdened. "We have fought battles, and even wars, but never on scales even approaching the smallest battles that the others waged. That is going to have to change if we want to keep our position in the galaxy. Without our magic, I am afraid that Equestria would look incredibly different. Griffins, perhaps, would be the dominant species. Ponies might well have gone extinct."

    Twilight shifted uncomfortably, frowning at the idea. Magic did grant an unnatural advantage over nearly every challenge that one could face in life. To be confronted with the idea that it was the only reason that ponies had not been driven to extinction... it was certainly sobering.

    "I hate myself for it, but I informed the Council that Equestria would be forming a military to protect our interests across the galaxy." Celestia hung her head at this, ashamed. "I have made a deal with the Council. We are granted the same rights under the Treaty of Firaxen as the Asari and the Salarians."

    "Treaty of Firaxen?" Twilight asked inquisitively?

    "Dreadnoughts, Twilight. We have been granted a privilege that no other race that is a non-Council member has been afforded. We have been granted the construction rights to build three dreadnoughts for every five of the Turians. I intend to do so, and I intend to use them." Celestia sighed. "I wonder how different things might have been if we had never learned that we lived in a gilded cage."

    Both Twilight and Celestia fell silent. Coming to the Citadel, Twilight never imagined that she would be witness to the biggest change in Equestrian history since First Contact with humanity. For Princess Celestia to announce to the Council that Equestria would fight against any and all who seek to subdue her, with military might if need be... it was almost unthinkable. Lives would be lost in the future for sure, and Twilight was sure that it would be needed.

    "I want to visit the survivors," Celestia finally said.

    "I'll join you, Princess," Twilight was quick to offer.

    8. Chapter Seven

    Chapter Seven
    Lower Council Chambers, Citadel Tower, Citadel

    The lower Council Chambers were off-limits to all but the Councillors and important dignitaries. Unlike the actual Council Chambers, it was designed as a calming, welcoming place, where the Councillors could relax and talk privately together. Right now, the calm of the room was having no effect on Tevos, Valern, and Sparatus. The three of them all looked incredibly worried, and they felt even worse.

    "We knew that this day was coming," Sparatus paced along the simple path that circled the room, trying to bleed away his nervous energy. "It was only a matter of time."

    "The Treaty will need to be changed," Valern observed, rubbing his chin contemplatively. "If Equestria puts its talents towards warfare like it has in every other field, we will be hard pressed to keep up."

    The comment brought the severity of the past twenty-four hours into sharp, unforgiving focus, and the Councillors fell silent as they withdrew into their own thoughts.

    "I will contact the Matriarchs." Tevos broke the silence, straightening her dress before clasping her hands behind her back. "They will need to hear this news immediately.

    "Things are going to be different." Valern noted, partially to himself. He looked up through the ceiling of the chambers, past the dais above them, and out the window of the Council Chambers at the Serpent Nebula beyond.

    "That is an understatement," Sparatus roughly agreed. A soft chime on his omni-tool alerted him to a waiting message, which he quickly read through. He nodded, pleased, before turning to the other Councillors. "Primarch Fedorian is ready to sign off on the construction of another five fleets. As soon as we can agree on new terms, our shipyards will get started immediately."

    Tevos frowned, pursing her lips. Valern was right. Things would never be the same again. Whether or not that was a good thing... only the future could tell.


    "Vinyl, wake up."

    Vinyl Scratch groaned, rolling over in her bed. Pulling the cover tighter over her head, she nestled deeper into her bed, trying to fall back asleep. "Five more minutes, mom..."

    "You said that five minutes ago, Vinyl. Get out of bed."

    Grumbling, Vinyl threw her covers off, rolling out of bed. She dropped to the floor on her back with a hard thump. Groaning, Vinyl bit back a swear. "Dammit..."

    She laid there for a moment before rolling over onto her feet. Standing unsteadily, she stretched like a cat, letting out a wide yawn. As she walked to the door, she grabbed her signature sunglasses and dropped them on with her magic.

    Stumbling downstairs, Vinyl stepped into the kitchen. She trudged over to the table, she dropped into one of the chairs, letting her head drop down onto it with a hard thunk. "Tavi, I'm not built for mornings." Her words were muffled by the table.

    "You would feel better if you would not stay up the entire night partying at clubs." The grey mare sitting across from her simply turned the page on her newspaper, taking a sip of her coffee.

    Vinyl just groaned, looking up at Octavia. "Mmm... Partying." She shot her wife a dopey grin, resting her head on her forelegs.

    Vinyl walked through the markets, following behind Octavia. Still half asleep, she took a long gulp from an oversized mug of coffee. She took the opportunity to admire the view, watching her wife as she walked through the main street of Ponyville. "I'm just saying, Tavi, Celestia should just cancel day on weekends. It makes perfect sense!"

    Octavia glanced back at Vinyl, giving her indulgent smile. "How do you figure that, Vinyl?"

    "We could all sleep longer and party harder!" Vinyl grinned happily at the thought, staring off into the distance. She could imagine it now. The moon could stay out all night, she could play in clubs, and it would always be great to woo Octavia under the stars.

    "The Princess is not going to change the sun to cater your whim, Vinyl," Octavia drawled out, not bothering to look at Vinyl behind her. She inspected through a fruit stand, but Vinyl could hear the smile on her face.

    Vinyl just grinned, sauntering forward. Wrapping a hoof around Octavia's shoulder and kissed her on the cheek. "It'd be pretty awesome though."

    Octavia rolled her eyes, but she leaned forward and kissed Vinyl. "You would think that."

    "You love me anyway," Vinyl said. Looking into Octavia's eyes, she nuzzled forward before pulling away.

    Octavia leaned forward, a soft smile on her lips. "Vinyl... wake up."

    Raising an eyebrow, Vinyl cocked her head. "Huh?"

    "Wake up, Vinyl." Octavia's face took on a pleading expression.

    Stepping back a little, Vinyl felt confused, a tiny ball of fear welling in her chest. "Tavi, come on, you're scaring me. What are you talking about?"

    "Wake up!" Octavia shouted.

    The sound of antiseptic was the first thing that made its way through the haze that surrounded Vinyl's mind. Her eyes fluttering open, she found her vision was blurry and she couldn't focus. Harsh lights shone down on her. Whimpering, she pushed herself back into her bed, trying to ignore the pain and fear. Trying and failing. Terrified, she drew into herself.


    Doctor Stable, Octavia, and more than a few nurses stood around Vinyl's bed. Octavia kept her hooves firmly on the bed spread, making sure to not make any sudden movements. Her heart pounding in her chest felt like it was going to break out of her ribs and just run away. She ignored it, wanting to get as close to her wife as possible. "Vinyl," Octavia whispered.

    The small mare didn't respond, staring straight up at the ceiling. She was starting to hyper-ventilate, but she was doing her best to not look at anybody in the room.

    "Vinyl, can you hear me?" Octavia whispered again, leaning forward. No response. She looked back at the nurses and Doctor Stable, worried, but they didn't have anything to say. She looked back at Vinyl, frowning. "Vinyl, it's me, Octavia. Your wife. You're safe, Vinyl. Please, look at me."

    Reaching forward, she touched Vinyl's cheek with her hoof.


    Vinyl jerked away, crying out in pain, her eyes wide with terror. Octavia had never seen her look so scared in her life, and she pulled back away instantly, startled. She looked at Doctor Stable again, then back at Vinyl, who was trying her hardest to curl up into a ball and disappear under the covers. Biting her lip, Octavia looked pityingly at her. "It is me, Vinyl. Your wife... Tavi."

    Panting in pain, Vinyl's eyes stayed unfocussed. Even as she tried her best to not let anything in, her ears swiveled hesitantly towards Octavia. "Tavi..." Vinyl whispered, her voice dry, cracking.

    "Yes!" Octavia nodded excitedly, hope flooding through her body. "Yes! It's me, Vinyl. You are safe. Please, look at me honey."

    A moment passed and Vinyl's eyes stayed unfocussed. Slowly, she blinked, her eyes slowly coming to see the world surrounding her. She didn't look over at Octavia, still staring at the ceiling.

    "Vinyl," Octavia pleaded, her heart breaking.

    Nothing happened for a long moment, and Octavia felt as if she was being torn in two.

    Slowly, painfully, Vinyl turned her head, her eyes still shrouded in pain meeting Octavia's. There was no recognition in them. "... This is a dream," she creaked out.

    Moving forward, Octavia was careful to not make any sudden moves. She shook her head. "No. This is real. You are safe. You are home, Vinyl. Nothing is going to hurt you anymore."

    "I wish you were real..." Vinyl looked at Octavia with a deep longing, sagging tiredly into her pillow. She spoke slowly, her throat protesting every word with a flare of pain. She let out a sad sigh. "I love you. I wish I had told you that more often..."

    "I'm sorry that I was such an ass. I didn't mean to be so annoying. It... I..." Looking down at her bed sheets, she swallowed. "I don't want to wake up, Tavi."

    Octavia could feel her heart breaking at Vinyl's voice. She shook her head, moving forward to take one of Vinyl's hoofs in her own. Rubbing it slowly, she smiled encouragingly. "This isn't a dream, Vinyl. You are in the Huerta Memorial Hospital on the Citadel."

    Startling at the touch, Vinyl looked down at Octavia's hoof, her mind struggling to comprehend what she was seeing. "Real..." After a moment, she looked back up, her confusion evident on her face. "Tavi?"

    Octavia nodded, the tears that had been gathering finally falling down her face. "It is me, Vinyl. You are safe. You are home."

    "Tavi!" Vinyl tried her best to lunge forward to grab Octavia into a hug, but cried out in pain instead. Octavia leapt up onto the bed, gathering Vinyl in as big and deep of a hug as she possibly could, careful to not aggravate her wounds. Collapsing onto Octavia's shoulder, Vinyl began to cry out nine years of pain and torture. "Don't let g-go, Tavi. Please, don't let go..."

    "Never," Octavia whispered into Vinyl's ear, rocking her back and forth. "I'm not letting go, Vinyl."

    Looking over at Doctor Stable over Vinyl's shoulder, she mouthed a thank you to him. He smiled at the heart warming scene, looking back at the two nurses behind him. They caught the hint and quietly stepped out of the room, Stable closing the door behind himself.

    Octavia and Vinyl lay together on the bed. Time lost all meaning, and Octavia simply held her wife until she had no more tears to give. Exhausted, Vinyl cried herself back to sleep, fighting against it as hard as she could. She stared up at Octavia with desperate eyes, tinged with fear.

    "Rest, love." Kissing her gently, Octavia gave Vinyl a warm grin. "I will stay with you. You are safe. Nothing can harm you. I will be here when you wake up."

    Vinyl lost her fight to stay conscious, her eyes sliding close. Her muscles relaxed, and Octavia held her while she slept.


    Princess Celestia and Twilight stepped into the main lobby of Huerta Memorial Hospital. Before they even had a chance to look around, the Captain of the Royal Guard contingent on the Citadel stepped forward, greeting the Princess with a salute. "Princess Celestia! I assume that you are here to visit the survivors."

    "I am," Princess Celestia nodded. She took a moment to look around the lobby, taking in the window that looked out over the Presidium. "How bad is it?"

    "I..." the Captain ducked his head. He glanced at Twilight for a moment before looking back at Celestia. "It's bad, Princess. I have several guards standing watch over them. We can never be too careful."

    "You are doing an excellent job, Captain," Celestia said thankfully.

    "Thank you, Princess," the Captain nodded again.

    "Please, show me." Celestia gestured forward.

    The Captain led them past the front desk, and into the main wing that the Equestrians had quickly claimed as their own. Each door in the hall was guarded by a Royal Guard, armed with their battle saddles, an impressive sight. "All in all, it could have been a lot worse. Everything considered, we got lucky."

    "While I agree with you, Captain," Celestia said, taking the sight in. "I cannot allow anything like this to ever happen again."

    "I believe I can speak for all Equestrians when I say that I am happy to hear that, Princess," the Captain said. He gestured with his hoof. "The first four rooms are occupied by the griffins. The rest are the ponies."

    Celestia closed her eyes, pained. She put a wing comfortingly around Twilight, her heart begging out for contact.

    "The worst of the bunch is at the end of the hall. A Vinyl Scratch," he gestured at the end of the hall. "Luckily enough, she was... is married to a mare who moved to the Citadel after she... was abducted."

    "I am familiar with the couple," Celestia nodded. Moving to the first door on her right, she could hear Twilight following after her. The Captain nodded to the guard, who unlocked the door.

    Stepping into the room, Celestia and Twilight stopped just in the doorway. A lone bed sat in the center of the small room, its occupant larger than the average pony, strapped tightly, but comfortably to the bed with padded restraints. The griffin didn't bother to look at the door, her chest heaving. "Please, doctor, I'm going to die! I just need a little. Just one pill!"

    Glancing down at Twilight, Celestia raised an eyebrow before taking a step closer to the bed. "I am not your doctor, young griffin."

    The griffin froze, her wings stiffening as they spread out, ready for fight or flight.

    Twilight couldn't stop her gasp of horror at the sight. The wings were horribly mutated, and only the main bone, the humerus, was left. The rest of the wings had been loped off, and it made for a very unsettling sight, small and unnatural.

    "Do you have any?" The griffin asked, not bothering to roll over. "Please, I'll do anything!"

    "What is your name, young one?" Celestia frowned, taking another step forward.

    Jerking her head, she glared out the window that took up an entire wall of the room, growling. "If you're not going to help, get the-" She trailed off as she turned to look at them, realizing instantly just who she was speaking to. Twilight gasped at the long scar that sliced its way down through her right eye and over her beak, a slice having been cut out that had been replaced by what looked to be a custom made piece of plastic that the doctors must have installed. "Princess Celestia! I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't know it was you."

    "Please," Celestia shook her head. "What is your name?"

    The griffin gulped, a nervous look on her face. She tried her best to hide her broken spirit, rather unsuccessfully. "G-Gilda, your highness."

    "Gilda?" Twilight gasped, stepping past Celestia, an amazed expression on her face. "Do you know a Rainbow Dash?"

    "Rainbow?" Gilda's eyes widened in surprise at the familiar name. Leaning back in her bed, Gilda was speechless for a long moment. "She's alive? I thought..."

    "She's alive," Twilight nodded. "Actually, she's attached to the Alliance marines right now, but she's alive. She's training with one of their best special forces operators."

    "Dash is a soldier?" Gilda said, breathless.

    "Wonderbolt, actually," Twilight beamed.

    "That's just what she always dreamed of." Gilda let out a small, happy laugh. She smiled, looking back out the window, speaking to herself. "Good for you, Dash."

    Celestia smiled down at Twilight. "I'll leave you two to talk. I wish to check on the others."

    Twilight smiled back up at Celestia, darting in for a quick nuzzle. "Alright, Princess."

    Gilda shifted uncomfortably on her bed. "A... Alright... Princess..."

    9. Chapter Eight

    Chapter Eight
    Huerta Memorial Hospital, Citadel

    Octavia didn't bother to look as the door to the room slid open. It was probably just another nurse, or maybe Doctor Stable coming to check how Vinyl was doing. The guards outside certainly provided her with a peace of mind that was desperately needed as it felt like everything was falling apart around her. Vinyl was asleep, and as long as the intruder did nothing to wake her Octavia would settle for their presence. Even as her world spun chaotically around her, having Vinyl cradled in her hooves, loose against her barrel, the universe seemed brighter than it ever had before.

    "I am sorry, my little pony," a quiet voice intruded, full of sorrow and regret.

    Startling at the voice, Octavia managed to not wake Vinyl even as she spun her head to see who had just spoken. To her great surprise, she found Princess Celestia standing mournfully in the doorway. As the panic eased from her body, Octavia noted how uneasy the Alicorn looked. Celestia didn't seem to know what to do, fidgeting uneasily on her hooves.

    "Princess Celestia!" Octavia exclaimed softly. The Princess simply nodded.

    Octavia and Celestia just stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. Octavia stayed still, succumbing to the urge to pull Vinyl closer. Nervousness roiled through her body, and as it left she found it was quickly being replaced with darker emotions.

    "There i no need to be nervous, Octavia Melody," Celestia softly spoke. "This should be a time for celebration and rejoicing. One that we had thought lost to us has been returned."

    Octavia glanced down at Vinyl's fragile form in her hooves before responding to Celestia. "I do not feel much like rejoicing, Princess."

    Celestia nodded in raised a hoof hesitantly. "May I come in?"

    Octavia felt the foalish urge to just shout no, but she was not a pony inclined to such disrespect towards Royalty. Instead, she just gave a reluctant nod. "Please."

    Celestia stepped inside, walking to stand at the side of the bed. She looked down at the two mares, studying Vinyl with a careful eye. The door slid shut behind her, and a deep silence seemed to fall over the room.

    "You told me that she had died," Octavia whispered, looking anywhere besides the Princess. The accusing tone in her voice spoke more than enough. "I tried to move on, but there was always a part of me that belonged completely to her."

    Looking away, ashamed, Celestia lowered her head.

    Gathering her courage together, Octavia looked up at Celestia, who met her gaze. "The last nine years of my life were hell. I did my best to carry on... for her... but I have not lived."

    "Can you turn back time?" Looking back down at Vinyl, Octavia started running a hoof through the smaller mare's short blue mane. "I would give you anything if I could just save her from this. Please."

    "Octavia..." Celestia spoke with a deep shuddering breath. She shifted uncomfortably on her hooves.

    "I know it's not possible," Octavia said, glancing out the window. "But... a mare can wish, can't she?"

    "I..." Celestia struggled with what to say, her thoughts swirling. "I promise you, the ones who have done this to your wife shall be brought to justice. I will see to it personally."

    "It won't make Vinyl better..." Octavia whispered.

    The words cut like a knife to Celestia's heart. She struggled to breath, rocking back ever so slightly. Finally, she nodded in acceptance. Turning, she walked back to the door. "Don't believe that you have to go through this on your own, Miss Melody."

    With those final words, Celestia opened the door and walked out of the room.


    Gilda shifted uncomfortably in her bed, unsure of what to make of Twilight's stare. She shifted, her wings flaring in agitation, drawing Twilight's attention away from her face to them. Twilight quickly looked away, and Gilda was quick to tuck her wings back close to her side, blushing in shame and embarrassment.

    "Does it hurt?" Twilight blurted out, instantly slamming her hooves over her mouth, cheeks blushing.

    Gilda stared at Twilight, unsure for a moment before shaking her head slowly. "No. No it doesn't."

    The two fell into an uncomfortable silence, looking everywhere but each other. Gilda settled on the window studying the strange sight before her. Closing her eyes, Gilda gathered her courage back together before rolling to face Twilight, who was still blushing. "How... How do you know Dash?"

    Twilight perked up that, grateful for the change in topic. "Her family moved next door to mine after... well... after the Batarians came and raided. We hung out on weekends when I was home from the castle, with her human friend. We still keep in touch. "

    "Home from the castle? Hanging around with aliens and royalty..." Gilda raised an eyebrow, assessing Twilight with new eyes. "Little Dashie moving up in the world."

    "She's one of my few friends. She spoke a lot about you... and the day you were... taken. She missed you. A lot. She devoted everything into trying to make you proud... Rainbow Dash became a Wonderbolt for you." Twilight nodded, thinking back over happier days. She pulled a chair up to Gilda's bed, climbing into it and settling down comfortably. She crossed her front legs. "She is finishing up training at the Interplanetary Combatives Training Program with the Systems Alliance. Lieutenant Dash is going to be the first Equestrian to hold an 'N' designation!"

    "Huh..." Gilda settled back into her pillows. She looked up at Twilight before shrugging. "That means nothing to me."

    "Right!" Twilight blushed again, before launching into an explanation. "Well, 'N' designates the special forces in the Systems Alliance military. Rainbow is the first Equestrian to actually join the Alliance's military, and she's breaking records all over the place..." She trailed off as she noticed Gilda's attention wandering. She blushed, ducking her head. "Sorry. I didn't mean to bore you."

    "Meh." Gilda shrugged. "What happened to the rest of Ponyville."

    "Its been rebuilt, bigger than before," Twilight said, smiling. "There's a monument in the town square for... well..." She looked meaningfully at Gilda.

    It took the Griffin a moment, but her eyes widened in understanding. A monument for those who had been lost. It certainly was a mood killer.

    "Where exactly am I?" Gilda looked out the window, changing topics. "I haven't really had a chance to ask anyone. There was a lot of shouting and death, and then I was brought here... It's beautiful, wherever it is."

    "You're on the Citadel!" Twilight helpfully exclaimed.

    "The what?" Gilda asked, no sign of recognition on her face.

    Maybe not so helpful.

    "Sorry." Twilight apologized, but she brightened quickly, eager for a chance to teach. "It's the Citadel, the hub of the entire galaxy. Archeologists believe that it was built by the Protheans fifty-thousand years ago, maybe longer."

    "Protheans..." Gilda furrowed her brow in thought. "Yeah... I think I remember learning something about them."

    "Right." Twilight winced, biting her lip. "I forget that you never actually finished school."

    "No..." Gilda paused at the thought, her past coming back into harsh contrast for her. "I guess I didn't. Never really thought about that, to tell you the truth."

    "That's easily fixed." Twilight put a hoof comfortingly on one of Gilda's claws.

    "Great." Gilda rolled her eyes. "Just what I really wanted. To be saved from slavery to go right into complete boredom. Might have been better if I had just died instead."

    "No!" Twilight shouted, shaking her head. "You don't mean that!"

    "Why not?" Gilda shrugged, struggling to avoid looking Twilight in the eye. "It would be better for everyone that way."

    "That's not true, Gilda!" Twilight shouted, panic and surprise rushing through his body. "There are a lot of ponies who would miss you for the rest of their entire lives. You have a second chance! Not a lot people ever get that."

    "It would be better if they just had to miss me," Gilda said, not bothering to argue with Twilight. "It's better than dealing with my shit." She let out a sigh. "I just cause problems wherever I go..."

    "No, Gilda." Twilight shook her head, reaching out to put a comforting hoof on Gilda's claw. "It's a miracle that you have survived. Don't throw away your second chance. Those who care about you won't set you aside because you need help."

    Gilda fell silent, her head bowed, defeat evident on her face. Twilight didn't pull her hoof away, trying her best to stay positive. If she was the only who was going to be able to help Gilda with her problems, Twilight was more than willing to step into that position. It was what a good pony should do, after all.

    The door slid open, drawing both of their attention. Twilight brightened when she found Princess Celestia standing in the doorway. Gilda, embarrassed, wiped the tears from her eyes, choking back a sob. She looked away, trying to hide her sadness. Twilight didn't let go, looking back to Gilda.

    "You're very strong, Gilda," Twilight said with a firm nod. "I'm sorry that you had to go through all of that."

    Standing, Twilight gave Celestia a sad smile.

    "Is there anything that you need, Gilda?" Celestia asked softly, giving her student a soft smile as she stepped up beside her.

    Gilda was still for a moment, before she shook her head slowly. She absently rubbed the artificial part of her beak. She kept her eyes averted from the princess, staring down at her sheets.

    "If you can think of anything," Celestia said, understanding Gilda's reluctance. "Please, speak to one of the guards outside. They will do their best to acquire it for you."

    Gilda just fiddled with the sheets of her bed, struggling with her own thoughts. She finally just nodded in understanding. "I'm good, thank you..."

    Celestia nodded in acceptance before turning and stepping out of the room. Twilight turned to follow, but stopped, looking back at Gilda, a warm smile on her face. "I'm here if you need anything as well. I'll try to stop by before we leave."

    Gilda tentatively looked back at Twilight, clearly wanting to speak, but it was clear that she was having to fight the urge to be quiet. After nine years of being broken and beaten, there was very little left of her once strong, confident personality. "I... I want to go home," she finally managed to squeak out.

    "That shouldn't be problem," Twilight nodded, smiling encouragingly at the griffin.

    Gilda fell back against her bed, all of her courage, and her energy, used up for the day. Twilight waved a hoof in goodbye before stepping out of the room.

    As the door slid shut, Gilda started to cry, cuddling into her blanket. Starting to shake, she could feel the urge to take hallex coursing through her mind. After what felt like hours, she managed to fall asleep.

    10. Chapter Nine

    Chapter Nine
    Huerta Memorial Hospital, Citadel

    Vinyl Scratch woke to unfamiliarity. Reality crashed down upon her, the harsh sounds of a heart monitor snapping at her ears. Her heart started racing, and her breath came in deep gasping gulps, heavy pants as her unseeing eyes darted around the room, struggling to take in the completely unfamiliar surroundings.

    It was a dream. Even as she panicked, trying her best not to give them cause to come and beat her, Vinyl could feel the cruel tragedy of her own thoughts weighing heavily upon her. It was all just a dream. Tavi...

    Looking around the room, she quickly came to the realization that she had never seen it before. Had she been sold to another master? Maybe they would be nicer. That hopeful thought was quickly erased by the depth of the realization. Her heart sunk, and she tried her best to draw herself into a tight ball.

    Even as her breathing threatened to send her back into unconsciousness, Vinyl caught a flash of grey just in the corner of her eye. Gathering her courage together enough to look, she found that she couldn't breath. Octavia. It was the most beautiful sight that she had ever seen. Octavia was curled up on a strange looking chair, her head resting just on the edge of the bed, fast asleep, deep bags under her eyes. Time passed without meaning as Vinyl stared at her. She didn't notice as her heart calmed and her breathing went back to normal.

    It wasn't a dream... It took Vinyl a long time to process that thought. It felt like a dream, maybe it was, but she never wanted to wake up if it was. If Tavi was there, everything was safe. She was safe. No more pain. No more hurting. I'm safe...

    Laying back in her bed, Vinyl winced in pain as she moved wrong. She took a moment to study the room, stopping when she saw the window. The sight beyond was completely unfamiliar too her, indescribable in its perfection.

    A thick lake with towering fountains, soft green gardens, and glistening white buildings. It was a far cry from the shambling hovels and ornate palaces of Ujon, the wealthiest cities of the Batarian colony world Camala. Whatever it was that she was seeing through the window, it had a subtle grace and dignity that hinted at a deeper, stronger culture that had no need to showcase its wealth and power.

    The hiss of a door startled Vinyl, who nearly fell out of her bed as she reared back in surprise with a silent cry of fear. Falling back against the bed, Octavia woke at the movement, who sat up, startled. She instantly caught eyes with Vinyl, only glancing behind her to see Doctor Stable standing in the doorway. Turning back to Vinyl, she smiled encouragingly at her.

    "It's alright, Vinyl," Octavia said softly. "It's just Doctor Stable. He's been taking care of you."

    She reached out and placed a hoof on Vinyl's shoulder, only to watch in confusion as Vinyl pulled herself away, rearing back away from the contact as she tried to leap out of the bed, only managing to tangle herself in her covers. She cried out, the blankets restraining her as she fell into a deeper panic, her eyes going wide as she started to hyperventilate. "Get off! Get away from me!"

    Octavia looked back at Doctor Stable in concern as Vinyl started sobbing in panic and fear, desperately trying to free herself from her blankets. "Doctor? What's going on?"

    "A panic attack, by the looks of it," Doctor Stable said, careful to keep his voice quiet. He didn't want to give Vinyl any further reason to fear. "Be careful. It's instinctual. Let her know that she's safe."

    "The blanket!" Octavia noticed, seeing Vinyl's further panic as she struggled with the blanket. Reaching forward, she pulled it off of her. "It's okay! You're safe. You're free, Vinyl, don't worry."

    Catching sight of her missing leg, Vinyl fell still, all signs of fight leaving her as quickly as it had come. She stared lifelessly down at the stump, only blinking occasionally, her breathing slow and even. She ignored Octavia and Doctor Stable completely, drawing completely in on herself.

    "Vinyl?" Octavia asked softly, concerned.

    "She's in shock," Doctor Stable said, stepping forward slowly. He sighed, biting his lip. "I was afraid of this. I wanted to ease her into her new situation." He gave a shrug, looking over the monitors by Vinyl's bed, standing next to Octavia. He quickly typed an order into the machine for her IV. "Well, there's nothing for it now. Talk to her. I'm going to inject her with a mild sedative. It should keep her calm for this... conversation."

    Almost instantly, the new solution was added and Vinyl began to relax against the bed. Tears started to fall down her cheeks, matting her fur as she kept staring at her leg. "Tavi... my leg. Where's my leg?" She whimpered.

    Octavia reached forward slowly, making sure that Vinyl could see everything she was doing, and gently caressed her cheek. The smaller mare leaned into the musicians touch, seeking any form of comfort.

    "It had to be amputated, Vinyl," Octavia spoke softly.

    "When you were brought in by C-Sec, your leg had suffered traumatic injuries that were threatening your survival," Doctor Stable said. Whether Vinyl actually heard what he said, they would never know. She just stared.

    "My leg..." She whispered out.

    "That's not the only thing," Doctor Stable said, sighing.

    "Doctor!" Octavia cried.

    Doctor Stable held up a hoof, quieting Octavia. He took a deep breath. "She needs to know. There isn't ever really a good time for this." He looked at Octavia, making sure that she understood. Vinyl was silent the entire time.

    With a frown, Doctor Stable cleared his throat. "Vinyl, please look at me," he said calmly.

    Vinyl turned her head, looking at him with glassy eyes, her face expressionless.

    "Vinyl, your leg was not the only thing that we had to amputate," Doctor Stable said.

    Vinyl simply grunted in response.

    "Your horn had one of the most advanced cases of Scilian Rot that I have ever seen." He continued on, not wanting to draw this out any longer than he had to. "We had to take it off."

    "I am so, so sorry, Vinyl," Octavia murmured gently, holding out her forelegs in an invitation for Vinyl.

    Even drugged, Vinyl's emotions struggled to get the better of her and her tears started to fall harder. She leaned into Octavia's embrace, letting the grey mare embrace her tightly.

    "We can get through this together, Vinyl." Octavia reassured her.

    "We already measured you to fit you for a prosthetic," Doctor Stable said quietly. "You'll be able to walk like you never lost it in the first place."

    Vinyl just whimpered, pulling herself closer to her wife. Octavia shot a meaningful look at Doctor Stable.

    "I'll..." He frowned, nodding at Octavia. "I'll leave you two alone."

    Turning, Doctor Stable left the room. The door slid shut behind him, leaving Octavia and Vinyl alone.

    The two mares stayed hugging together for what like an eternity. Time passed, but the artificial lighting outside the window in the Presidium didn't mark that passing. It was a constantly midday, though Vinyl had no way of knowing that.

    "I don't know who I am anymore," Vinyl whispered, the first to break the silence.

    "You're Vinyl Scratch." Octavia ran a hoof gently along Vinyl's barrel. "My wife."

    "I can't think. There are holes... just running through my mind." Vinyl shook her head, clenching her eyes shut. She ignored the tears. "I don't want to think anymore. Turn off the thoughts. Take away the pain. My fault. All my fault."

    "No, Vinyl." Octavia wanted to sob at her wife's pain, to take it all away, but there was nothing she could do but hold her, listening to her rambling. "No, Vinyl. It's not your fault."

    "Tired." Vinyl whimpered. "Just want to rest."

    "I will keep watch over you, Vinyl." Octavia pulled Vinyl's head softly against her shoulder. "Sleep. Everything will be alright."

    "No," Vinyl whispered, settling in. "It won't."


    Octavia woke to the sound of the door hissing open, her foreleg numb from Vinyl's weight. Looking up, she found Elyra smiling at her. Blinking away the sleep in her eyes, Octavia glanced over at the clock to find that is was three in the afternoon.

    "Mrs. Melody," Elyra whispered, picking a chair up and placing it gently next to the bed.

    "Hello, Elyra." Octavia greeted quietly, meaningfully glancing down at Vinyl. The message was clear to the Asari. Don't wake her.

    "Do you have a moment to talk?" Elyra asked.

    "I do." Octavia nodded, careful that she made no sudden movements, not wanting to wake Vinyl.

    "How are you doing?" Elyra asked.

    "I am fine," Octavia said with a small nod. "It is Vinyl that I am worried about."

    "Vinyl will be taken care of," Elyra said with a gentle smile. "You need to remember to take care of yourself as well. If you aren't healthy, what good will you be to her?"

    Octavia looked guiltily down at the floor. "I..."

    Elyra reached over the bed, placing a hand carefully on Octavia's hoof. "It's alright. I can see how much you care for her. Just remember, you're important too."

    Octavia nodded, looking down at Vinyl. She noted how peaceful she looked asleep.

    "She's beautiful," Elyra said, drawing Octavia's attention back to her. "How did the two of you meet?"

    "We grew up next to each other in Canterlot," Octavia said. She continued on at Elyra's insistent nod. "I thought she was so weird. She loved music... well, I say music, but really she was happy with anything loud and dangerous. She was always so happy, and I loved that about her. We started dating in highschool..." She trailed off, laughing softly.

    "What's so funny?" Elyra asked curiously.

    "Just a memory," Octavia said.

    "Oh?" Elyra leaned back into her seat, getting comfortable. "Do you mind sharing?"

    "I actually asked her out first." Octavia blushed, ducking her head in embarrassment. "She was so surprised that she actually fell out of her chair and broke her leg. We were sitting on the balcony of a second story restaurant, and she just fell right over the balcony."

    "That's awful!" Elyra exclaimed, quickly slamming a hand over her mouth and looking at Vinyl, relieved to find that she didn't wake her. The two of them waited a moment longer before continuing.

    "I felt terrible about it, but she never blamed me." Octavia smiled at the memories. "After we left the hospital, she kissed me and said yes."

    Elyra smiled, happy at being let into such a private, heartwarming story. Octavia smiled, but it turned melancholic, then sad. "We got married a year later." She laughed, shaking her head. "Celestia! We were so young."

    "You still are," Elyra said.

    "I spent nine years thinking she was dead," Octavia whispered, looking down at Vinyl.

    "You have another chance with her." Elyra smiled at her.

    "Yes..." Octavia let her words trail off. She looked out the window at the Presidium beyond. "But it's been so long, and she's been hurt so much. Maybe it would be better if she didn't have to deal with me as she tries to heal."

    Frowning, Elyra leaned forward in her seat, her lips pursed. She watched Octavia with concerned eyes. "That would be a bad idea, Octavia."

    "Would it be, really?" Octavia sniffled, wiping her nose with her hoof. "I would just be in the way."

    "No, Octavia!" Elyra shook her head. "Vinyl loves you more than I think you know. You abandoning her in her time of need would break her."

    Octavia looked and felt unconvinced. She could feel her reluctance of going back into a relationship that had hurt her so much for so long. "I don't know..."

    "She has had no stability in her life since she was take from you." Elyra continued on, giving Octavia a pitying smile. "She was used, abused, and treated like an animal. That she is able to function so well after all of that is a miracle in and of itself. I cannot help but think that it is really thanks you that she is doing so well. It's alright to be afraid Octavia, but don't abandon the one person that needs you."

    Octavia stared down at the bed, nodding solemnly. "You're right. Of course you're right."

    "Good." Elyra nodded, satisfied, standing up. "I'll let you get back to your rest."

    11. Chapter Ten

    Chapter Ten

    The next week passed in a blur for Gilda. It was punctuated by daily visits from Twilight Sparkle and occasionally Princess Celestia, followed by struggling through the sweating and sickness that her lovely withdrawal from hallex provided to her. She didn't remember a whole lot of what they spoke about, but the conversations helped to keep her mind off of the exhaustion, the anxiety, and most importantly, the crawling across her skin, just under her feathers.

    The doctors and nurses were a constant presence in her room, checking to make sure the restraints were still comfortable and not causing any problems, making sure that she was coming off the withdrawal as easily as one could from such a major addiction. There was a lot of vomiting and expelling of bodily fluids, and Gilda was constantly on the edge of sleep, always just unable to fall over that edge into the Luna's welcoming embrace.

    It was during the fifth day in the hospital, or maybe the sixth, that Twilight had told her that they would be making the return trip in two days. Her doctors had been quick to discuss the details that such a trip would mean for her recovery, and Gilda admittedly didn't remember much of those conversations either. All the griffin knew is that everything had been set up and she didn't have to worry about any of it, which was just fine with her.

    Stumbling along behind Twilight Sparkle, flanked in front and behind by Royal Guards, Gilda followed blindly along to the Equestrian docks. They had taken a series of aircars from the Presidium to the docks in the Kithoi Ward arm. It was all a blur to her, a sensory overload to her already fragile mind.

    Princess Celestia crossed the gangway to the main airlock of Solar One somewhere ahead of her, but Gilda found herself pausing at the sight that greeted her. The Citadel arms spread out before her, jutting out through the shimmer purple of the Serpent Nebula. Dropping to her haunches, Gilda could feel Twilight beside her, watching her carefully.

    "I've never actually seen space before," Gilda whispered, unsure of what to make of the sight.

    "It's beautiful, isn't it?" Twilight asked, a small smile on her face as she watched Gilda.

    "Yeah." Gilda nodded slowly, staring out at the sight with a look of complete awe, her beak hanging partly open. "I... I don't know what to say."

    The spent a long moment together just staring at the view. Twilight stole the occasional glance at Gilda, blushing and looking away quickly each time. Despite everything, Twilight couldn't help but see Gilda in a new light. The griffin might have been broken, but she was strong enough to move past her own physical infirmities and try to make a new life for herself. With a blush, Twilight looked away.

    "I'm ready," Gilda finally said, standing.

    Twilight was quick to stand as well, leading her to the gangway. "Come on." As they crossed together, Gilda looked over the size and grace of the ship, impressed at its beauty.

    Stepping into the entrance of Solar One, Gilda's eyes widened as she took in the sheer beauty of the ship. If the outside was nice, the inside went even a step beyond. Everything had been hoof-crafted, a show of Equestrian workmanship to the rest of the galazy. The walls were paneled in a rich golden wood, with black inlays of obsidian and silver.

    "Whoa." Was all Gilda found she could say. She took a step backwards at the show of wealth, her wings shivering in intimidation.

    "Don't let it throw you," Twilight said, putting a comforting hoof on Gilda's shoulder. "Princess Celestia doesn't really like it either."

    "Really?" Gilda asked, confused. "She's the princess. Why doesn't she just change it?"

    "She might not like it," Twilight said with a smile, laughing softly. "But she does know that it helps the other races take us more seriously as an emerging race." She turned to look at Gilda, her comforting smile turning to excitement. "Do you want to watch from the bridge?"

    "We can do that?" Gilda asked, amazed.

    "I'm the Princess' student. They don't mind." Twilight reassured Gilda. "I'm sure they'll be happy to let us watch. Come on." She led Gilda past the entrance to a large staircase, leading her up a level. Gilda couldn't help but look over the statues and paintings that lined the walls. Twilight led her down a long hallway to a large door, raising a hoof and knocking.

    A moment passed before the slid open, revealing the bridge of Solar One, the two pilots sitting in their seats prepping the ship for takeoff.

    "Twilight Sparkle!" The Captain exclaimed, glancing at the two of them over his shoulder. He gave them a warm smile before turning back to his work. "Please, come in."

    "Captain," Twilight greeted, stepping inside and gesturing for Gilda to do the same. "We were wondering if we could stay and watch the take off?"

    "That shouldn't be a problem," the Captain said. "Go ahead, take a seat. We should be leaving in just a few minutes."

    Twilight took a seat in one of the chairs behind the pilots. Gilda just stood still, not really sure what she was supposed to do, glancing around the room nervously. Taking pity on her, Twilight patted the seat next to her. "Sit here."

    Eager to not look ridiculous, Gilda darted forward to sit in the chair. She glanced nervously at Twilight who gave her a warm smile in response.

    "The pilots are a part of the Royal Guard." Twilight leaned over to speak quietly to Gilda. "The entire ship was built for use by ponies. It's one of the few ships in the galaxies completely built for use by hooves, not hands. It's also one of the first ships to ever have been built entirely in an Equestrian shipyard. We've been purchasing our ships from the humans so far, but we're finally getting our industries up to snuff."

    The ship juddered ever so slightly, and Gilda looked at Twilight worriedly. "What was that?"

    "Just the docking clamps, my dear," the Captain said over his shoulder. "We're just about to pull out."

    Through the massive windows lining the front of the bridge, Gilda watched the walls of the dock ever so slowly begin to back away. At least thats the way it appeared to her. Pulling out from the dock, the ship nimbly spun around and began to smoothly accelerate towards the Mass Relay beyond.

    Gilda gasped as the Destiny Ascension slid past above them. The Asari dreadnaught was over two-hundred years old, but it was still the pride of their fleet, upgraded constantly to keep its proud spot as most powerful ship in the Citadel Defense fleet. It was bigger than any ship that Gilda had ever seen, and she wondered if she would have had to have endure nine years of hell if that monstrosity had ever flexed its muscles over the Batarian homeworld of Khar'shan.

    "Citadel Control," the Captain said, activating the communications. "This is Solar One. We are approaching the Relay and heading home."

    "Copy that, Solar One," the smooth voice of a Turian answered through the speakers on the bridge. "Have a safe flight home."

    The pilots readied the ship for the Relay jump, a delicate dance that they had long rehearsed.

    "We're going to be making three Relay jumps," Twilight said to Gilda. "It should take us a little under twenty-three hours."

    "That fast?" Gilda asked, more than a little amazed. The few space flights that she had experienced had taken more than several days, and they were usually just single Relay jumps.

    "Solar One is the shining example of what Equestrian shipyards can do," Twilight said proudly. "It's all thanks to the sphere. The other races might have learned at the feet of the Prothean ruins, but we have singular access to the single greatest piece of technology in the galaxy."

    "You can say that again." The Captain laughed. "If this was an Asari ship, we would be stuck in this can for several days. With our engines, we halve that time easily."

    "We'll get a pretty good luck at the sphere as we make the approach to Eqeustria." Twilight said to Gilda. "It's certainly a sight you don't want to miss."

    "Yeah," Gilda said, completely overwhelmed. She fidgeted in her seat, feeling her self-consciousness about how little she knew what Twilight and the Captain had just said.

    "Calculations are in," the Captain said. The Mass Relay grew larger in the windows as Solar One accelerated even faster. The great spinning wheels spun around the core of the Relay, a mass of element zero which allowed the near instantaneous travel between Relays. The entire process worked by releasing dark energy, which allowed for the raising or lowering of mass. Creating a mass free corridor to the connecting relay, the transition was seamless. Without Mass Relay's the Citadel Council would never have been able to assert their dominance across the galaxy. Without the Relays, it was entirely possible that none of the races would ever have meet each other.

    The Captain activated the ship-wide intercom. "This is your Captain speaking. We are about to preform the first of three Relay jumps. Please prepare yourselves for the transition. Thank you."

    Gilda gripped at the edge of her seat with her talons. She eyed the Relay dubiously, leaning over towards Twilight. "Are you sure that this is safe?"

    "We've been using the Relays for thirty years and we haven't had any problems," Twilight said with a shrug. "The Asari have been using them for a millennia. They are perfectly safe."

    "Alright..." Gilda drawled, unconvinced.

    Great tendrils of what looked like lightning arced out from the Relay, running the length of Solar One. Reality seemed to stretch for a moment before the ship accelerated forward. Gilda couldn't help but scream in terror.


    Huerta Memorial Hospital, Physical Therapy Room, Citadel

    The Physical Therapy room of Huerta Memorial Hospital was top of the line, a large and expansive room filled with all manner of state of the art exercise machines. A human was doing his best to relearn how to walk, and several Turians were learning to use their prosthetics.

    On the other end of the room, away from the others and behind an opaque wall, Octavia stood next to a medical bed, a hoof on Vinyl Scratch who was laid out on it. The smaller mare was doing her best to not look at her missing leg. Doctor Stable and several nurses stood arrayed around the bed, waiting. Octavia looked over at Doctor Stable.

    "What is taking so long? Why didn't we just come when it was ready?" She asked, a hoof on Vinyl's shoulder to give her a comforting source of touch to focus on. Vinyl was doing her best to not fall into a panic attack.

    "I'm sorry," Doctor Stable apologized. I don't know why they are being held up."

    Vinyl closed her eyes, focussing on keeping her breath even. Pushing her problems away, she tried her best to put on a strong face for Octavia, even as she was crumbling and crying out for help inside. "I-Is there any music here? It's too quiet."

    Doctor Stable nodded to one of the nurses who was quick to open her omni-tool and queue up the rooms speakers. With a push of a button, the soft notes of Beethoven came drifting through the room.

    Both Octavia and Vinyl winced, though for different reasons.

    "Do you have anything different?" Octavia asked, her patience growing thin. "I am afraid that Vinyl has never been one for classical. Electronic would be best, if you have it."

    The nurse was quick to change the music and moments later the manufactured sounds of some Asari electronic band began to play.

    Octavia looked at Vinyl, an eyebrow raised in a silent question.

    "I-It's not dubstep," Vinyl muttered, leaning into Octavia's hoof. "But it'll do."

    "Thank you." Octavia gave the nurse a kind smile.

    The door opened and an Asari wearing a white lab-coat entered the room pushing a small cart, a sheepish smile on her face. "I'm sorry I'm late. My name is Doctor Lydara."

    "Well, you're here now," Doctor Stable said with an annoyed huff. "Let's get a move on."

    Lydara pushed the cart over to the bedside, and Octavia and Vinyl got their first good look at the prosthetic. On top of the cart an extremely advanced looking mechanical prosthesis. It was the exact size as Vinyl's right leg, but done in chrome and advanced plastics. Vinyl simply stared at the leg, her nervousness and agitation growing.

    With quick efficiency and gentle movements, Stable and Lydara attached the mechanical leg into the socket joint that had been added during a surgery the week before. It slid in and it attached with a solid, mechanical thunk. The leg activated with a quiet electronic whine before falling completely silent.

    "It feels... weird," Vinyl said, staring uneasily down at the leg.

    "We just need to get it calibrated," Lydara said, holding a datapad. "Could you try moving your right leg for me please?"

    Vinyl did so, moving her real leg back and forth. On Lydara's datapad, an image of Vinyl's brain lit up, reading everything as her neurons sent the commands to her leg.

    "That is perfect, darling," Lydara said with a smile. "Now why don't you try the left?"

    Scrunching her eyes up tight, Vinyl slowly lowered the prosthetic, the movement shaky and unsure. It wasn't familiar, and everything about the leg was making her nervous.

    "It's alright, Mrs. Scratch," Lydara comforted, holding her datapad against her chest. "Your leg isn't going to bite."

    "It's not my leg," Vinyl murmured, keeping her eyes shut.

    "Of course it is, Vinyl," Octavia said, giving Vinyl a comforting smile.

    Vinyl just grunted in response. She continued moving the prosthetic, and slowly opened her eyes. She stared at it, her brow furrowed. The smooth, polished metal contrasted sharply against her stained white coat.

    "How does it feel?" Octavia asked.

    "Strange..." Vinyl said, nervousness tinging her voice.

    "That's to be expected." Doctor Lydara reassured, a confident smile on her face. "You are doing wonderfully. Everything looks good. Do you want to try walking on it?"

    Vinyl stared at her leg incredulously for a long moment before looking at Octavia, who gave her an encouraging smile and nod. Gulping, she tried to swallow her fears and gave a tentative smile back.

    "Alright, let's get you on the ground," Lydara said, nodding to Doctor Stable. He stepped forward and used a pedal on the floor to lower the bed closer to the ground. Octavia and Lydara helped Vinyl scoot closer to the edge. "Gently now. Touch down with your right hoof first."

    Vinyl did as Lydara said, supporting the majority of her weight on her right hoof. She touched the ground lightly with the prosthetic leg, wincing as if she expected it to shatter the moment it touched the ground. She looked up in surprise when she felt the floor, surprised. "How can I feel?"

    "The leg is attached to your nervous system and it has the same makeup as your right leg," Lydara said, happy to explain. "It acts in the exact same manner. Go ahead and put some weight on it. Test it out."

    Nodding, Vinyl looked back at her new appendage like it was an untrustworthy animal. She did as Lydara asked, wincing.

    If Lydara had been paying closer attention to her datapad, she might have seen the neuron as it misfired, but she wasn't, and subsequently didn't.

    With a surprised cry of fear, Vinyl's prosthetic leg jerked out from under her, sending the mare tumbling to the ground. Sobbing in terror, she pried at the prosthetic, trying to tear it off.

    "Vinyl, are you alright?" Octavia rushed to her wife's side, cradling her head in her hooves. "Please, say something!"

    "Get it off!" Vinyl sobbed out, her voice thick with terror and emotion. "Get it off me!"

    The doctors stepped forward, rushing to comply. The nurses gently held down Vinyl's limbs to keep them from flailing as the doctor's removed the limb, setting it back on the cart. The moment that it left the seal, Vinyl slumped back against Octavia, her entire body going limp. Crying, the mare was scared out of her mind, hurt and afraid and feeling terribly alone.

    "It's alright, it's off," Octavia whispered into Vinyl's ear, rubbing soothing circles into her shoulders. "Don't worry. Calm down, Vinyl. You're safe."

    "Don't make," Vinyl said, her breath heavy, her eyes squeezed shut. She buried her head into Octavia's neck. "Please don't make me."

    "Nopony is going to make you do anything Vinyl, love," Octavia whispered soothingly. "You're safe. You don't have to do anything that you don't want to."

    Octavia turned her attention to the doctors, fixing them with a steely gaze. "I think we are done here."

    Doctor Lydara packaged the leg up on the cart, quickly exiting the room.

    "I-I... I want to go." Vinyl shakily nuzzled Octavia.

    "Alright, Vinyl." Octavia nuzzled back. She turned her gaze to Doctor Stable. "Doctor."

    A nurse quickly stepped forward with a wheelchair and gently, Doctor Stable and Octavia helped Vinyl into it. One of the nurses stepped forward to push it back to Vinyl's room, but Octavia quickly stepped in.

    Getting up on her back legs, she rested her forelegs on the handles, giving the nurse a defiant look. She would push her own wife, thank you very much.


    "Is there any actual reason that you are keeping Vinyl here?" Octavia paced in front of Doctor Stable's desk, a grim frown set on her muzzle. It had taken several hours to coax Vinyl back asleep, and Octavia was at the end of her patience.

    "Well, nothing physical," Doctor Stable admitted with a nod, "But the way that she is acting is worrying. Vinyl is burying everything and nothing good can come from that."

    "But she is fine? Is there any reason she could not be an out-patient?" Octavia stopped pacing and stared directly at Stable.

    "She could, but I am worried that Vinyl isn't ready to move outside of a controlled environment." Doctor Stable bit his lip, recognizing a losing battle when he saw it.

    "It is not like I am suggesting Vinyl go out and head into the nearest night club," Octavia exclaimed, her annoyance rising. "I just believe that she would do better in a... homier environment."

    "It worries me," Doctor Stable said with a sigh, running a hoof on his desk. "Are you ready for everything this will entail?"

    "I am." Octavia nodded, no hesitation. "I have gone through my house and made sure that it is more than suitable for her needs."

    The Doctor stared at her for a long moment, seeming to size her up, but finally, he gave.

    "Alright..." Doctor Stable relented with a sigh. "Let's try this on a trial basis.

    12. Chapter Eleven

    Chapter Eleven
    The Equestrian Sphere

    Solar One slowed back to sub-light speeds as it dropped out of FTL. After three jumps through the Relay network, the remainder of the voyage to Equestria had to be made under the ship's own propulsion. The sphere itself was nowhere near a Relay and it was too much of a journey for most travelers to make it a common shipping route. That didn't matter to Equestria. They were still reeling from the sudden realization that they weren't alone in the universe. A little privacy was certainly the least that they could ask for.

    "I never had a chance to see it before..." Gilda watched through the windows of the bridge at the looming object that simply dominated the field of view. The Equestrian Sphere. A Dyson Sphere, or more accurately a Shell, it was home to all nine billion Equestrians. Solar One accelerated smoothly towards a massive, gaping hole that made Gilda slump back in her seat in amazement. Twilight had convinced her to come back to the bridge after breakfast to watch the approach.

    "You have all the time in the galaxy now, Gilda." Twilight watched Gilda, a silly smile on her face.

    "Yeah," Gilda whispered, nodding her head. She leaned forward, trying to get a better look. As the ship passed through the hole, she got a true glimpse of the power of the Princess. "Celestia did that..."

    Twilight leaned forward, taking a look. The hole had been made twenty-seven years ago, after the awakening. "Yeah, she did. She freed us all." Grinning, Twilight bounced a little in her seat. "After Ms. Hall broke the stasis, the Princess realized the terrible truth. She took the sun and burned a hole through the wall of the sphere. The sphere might be able to shrug off planet busting weaponry, nothing can withstand the fury of the sun."

    Gilda just nodded, staring at the melted edges of the holes. It was large enough to fit the entirety of the citadel through, with enough room to fit every ship in the Citadel fleet with it end to end and still have room left over. "Fury of the sun..."

    "Canterlot Traffic Control," the Captain spoke into the communications. "This is Solar One, making our approach."

    The windows darkened instantly as Celestia's sun came into view. The sun seemed to brighten, flaring almost happily as Solar One sped past, continuing on to the center of the sphere.

    "It knows that the Princess has returned," Twilight smiled at the sun.

    "Roger that, Solar One," the air traffic controller's voice sounded through the speakers of the room. "You are cleared for approach. May I be the first to say welcome home."

    "Thank you," the Captain said, directing Solar One onto an approach vector that would take it directly to Canterlot. He flipped on the ship wide comms. "Good morning to all of you, this is your Captain speaking. We are making our final approach to Canterlot now. It looks like the weather teams have a nice sunny day scheduled for us, and it is a nice, seventy eight degrees fahrenheit. We will be landing in the next thirty minutes."


    Cloud Beater stood watching the ships as they bustled about the Canterlot Space Port. Dozens of large transport ships sat parked in the port, hundreds of other ships flitting too and fro through the air around the capitol. He enjoyed his job. A landing pony, he got to direct every ship that came in and out of the port.

    "Solar One is coming in for landing." Cloud Beater's radio chirped. "Make the Royal docking slip ready."

    Above the sky, the ships parted and made way. From the sky above, Solar One descended, slowing to a hover above the port.

    "Hurry up!" Cloud Beater shouted, ordering his crew around. The Royal docking slip was private and it was kept in a constant state of readiness. The landing crew was quickly moving the gangway into position. "Don't keep the princess waiting!"

    Lowering down, Solar One settled down gently onto its landing gear. The landing crews pushed the gangway into position perfectly, a pegasus guiding them forward, directing the movements as precisely as she could, and it sealed around the edges with a soft thump.

    Cloud Beater turned to his friend standing next to him, a unicorn he had known since foalhood, Golden Mark. "I wonder why the Princess had to leave in such a hurry."

    "I heard that the Citadel rescued some ponies from slavery, and the Princess had to see their safe return." Golden shrugged, glancing at Cloud Beater from the corner of his eye. "I don't really know. Whatever it was, I'm sure that it was important."

    "Huh..." Cloud thought about it, nodding. "Sounds plausible."

    They quieted down as the airlock slid open and everyone working stopped shat they were doing. As Royal Guards filed out of the airlock, the workers bowed low. The sound of the Royal Guards saluting echoed through the space-port and Cloud Beater couldn't help but sneak a glance up at Solar One.

    Princess Celestia stepped out of the ship, closing her eyes with a smile as she turned her head to the sun. The sky brightened for just a moment, seeming to flare happily. Cloud could only guess that Celestia had retaken the flight of the sun from Princess Luna.

    Celestia stepped down the gangway, stepping between the Royal Guards towards a line of waiting chariots.

    Cloud kept his gaze on the gangway, watching for who would emerge next.

    He didn't have to wait long. Several doctors led a procession of ponies and griffins out through the airlock and down the gangway. He had to stifle a gasp when he saw just what an awful state that all of them were in. He leaned over to Golden. "Looks like you were right."

    "Told you so," Golden said with a confident grin. "It's all over the news networks."

    The Royal Guards turned to help the procession as quite a few of them had trouble descending the stairs. They helped them to the waiting chariots.

    "They look awful," Cloud muttered. He couldn't help but notice how many blood stained bandages there were, and the scars were not something easily missed either.

    "Hey!" Golden pointed with his hoof at the airlock. "Look up there."

    Cloud turned his attention back to the airlock just in time to watch Twilight Sparkle step out onto the gangway. His eyes widened in surprise. Everyone in Equestria knew the mare's name, thanks to the news networks that had seemed to jump out of the ether in the last twenty years.


    Twilight waited patiently on the gangway, staring back at the airlock. She took a deep breath of the fresh Equestrian air. She smiled encouragingly. "Come on. You don't have to be afraid."

    Nervously, Gilda stood just out of the light in the airlock. She shuffled her legs, her wings flapping in agitation. She shook her head.

    "You're safe, Gilda," Twilight said as she stepped back into the airlock. "Come on. No pony is going to hurt you here."

    Gilda glared at Twilight, unconvinced. The worry and fear building deep inside of her was clearly written on her face. "I... I'm not scared." She didn't sound confident, her voice wavering.

    "I'm right here with you," Twilight said as she nuzzled against Gilda's shoulder. Putting a hoof carefully and gently around Gilda's shoulder, careful not to touch the griffin's mutilated wings. Gilda screwed her eyes shut tightly, hyperventilating. "Come on. We can do it together."

    Together, Twilight led Gilda out onto the gangway. They were still for a long moment. Eyes still tightly shut, Gilda shivered, her legs shaking. The sun fell warmly on her face, and ever so slowly, the expression of fear slowly began to disappear.

    Cracking open a single eye, Gilda looked up at the perfectly blue sky. The sun shone warmly above and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. She looked around at the bustling space-port, and she frowned, her eyes tilting down in sadness.

    "What's wrong?" Twilight asked, stepping forward, confused.

    "It's changed," Gilda whispered sadly. "I... I don't recognize anything."

    Twilight stared at Gilda for a long moment before nodding in acceptance. She held out a hoof to Gilda. "Come on."

    Gilda looked at Twilight's hoof for a moment before taking it in her claw. Twilight led her down the gangway to the chariots. Whatever Gilda would face in the future, Twilight would be there by her side.


    Octavia watched with sadness as Vinyl stepped cautiously down on a regular prosthetic leg. It was a far cry from the last leg, lacking all of the mechanical complexity. Low-tech all the way. Vinyl growled at herself as she struggled to walk, limping around the room.

    "This... This'll work." She looked over at Octavia, giving an unconfident smile.

    "Alright, Vinyl." Octavia looked unconvinced, but she didn't let her wife know. She turned to face Doctor Stable. "I'll be able to take her home tonight?"

    "Yes," Doctor Stable said, watching Vinyl carefully. "I want you to contact me right away if anything goes wrong."

    "Vinyl." Octavia stepped forward to Vinyl, matching her unsteady gait. The white mare startled at her voice, nearly falling over. Octavia reached a hoof out to steady her. "Careful, Vinyl."

    "I'm fine," Vinyl said sulkily. She edged out of Octavia's grasp.

    Octavia stared at Vinyl for a moment before nodding in acceptance. "Alright."


    The elevator door opened and Octavia, Doctor Stable, and the nurse stepped out, the nurse pushing Vinyl, who was sitting quietly in a wheelchair. They walked down the main lobby, ignoring the stares of the patients and visitors around them.

    "Remember," Doctor Stable said, turning to Octavia. "If anything at all happens, please call me."

    "I will, Doctor," Octavia said with a nod. She stepped forward and took the wheelchair from the nurse, pushing it towards the entrance. "You ready, Vinyl?"

    Vinyl didn't say a word, just giving a sullen nod.

    With a small frown on her face, Octavia pushed Vinyl's wheelchair out of the hospital.

    13. Chapter Twelve

    Chapter Twelve
    Bachjret Ward, Citadel

    Octavia and Vinyl sat silently in the Citadel aircar as it streaked its way towards the Bachjret Ward. The buildings zipped by them at an incredible speed. Vinyl watched through the window, idly noting a large building, a temple by the looks of it. Octavia noted her interest, watching the temple as they flew by.

    "The Celestial Temple," Octavia said. "An Asari Matriarch built that after meeting Princess Celestia."

    Vinyl didn't say a word, just staring idly off into space. Octavia chewed on her lip for a moment, concerned. This wasn't the way that she had imagined things going.

    Leaning forward, Octavia saw her building coming closer. She pointed at it with her hoof. "That's where I live."

    Vinyl looked over at it, an unreadable expression on her face. Octavia blanched at the sight.

    "Well... where we live now, I guess..." the grey mare corrected.

    As the aircar landed, Octavia grimaced at the slight jolt. The doors opened, and Octavia quickly stepped out, trotting around to help Vinyl out of her seat. Neither mare spoke, and Octavia could feel her nervousness growing.

    Octavia led her past Fidelis, who caught the mare's pointed glance. Now was not the time for idle chit-chat. He opened the door for the two of them, and Octavia led Vinyl into the main lobby of Tilican Tower.

    The little white mare paused in the entrance, her eyes going wide at the sight that greeted her. Tilican Tower was not a cheap residence, and its residents were accustomed to a certain level of sophistication. The floor was polished marble, and beautiful pictures larger than the aircar that brought them there hung on the walls, of landscapes of Thessia, Palaven, and Earth. Gulping, Vinyl darted forward as fast as she could, sticking as close as she possibly could to Octavia's side.

    Several Asari chatting quietly on the couches in the lobby smiled as they noticed Octavia. They waved cheerily at her, only for their smiles to turn to confusion when they noticed Vinyl behind her. Their eyes widened in surprise, and more than a little happiness.

    Octavia groaned as Reala Maran stood and began walking towards her. The damn asari was the daughter of some notable Matriarch and she was always sticking her nose where it wasn't wanted. Friendly though she was, Octavia could certainly do without her attention at the present.

    "Octavia!" Reala greeted warmly, holding her arms out warmly. "It's good to see you!"

    "Reala," Octavia greeted with a strained smile and a nod. She could feel Vinyl pressing herself even closer on the opposite side of the Asari. "How are you?"

    "Good. I'm good." Reala nodded, trying to get a better look at Vinyl, who was nearly completely obscured behind Octavia's larger form. She smiled happily at her. "Who's this?"

    "This is Vinyl Scratch, my wife." Octavia introduced her, glanced back at Vinyl, who was looking incredibly uncomfortable at the attention that Reala was giving her. She turned back and gave an apologetic smile to Reala. "If you would excuse us, we need to get going."

    "It was good to see you, Octavia," Reala said in farewell.

    "You as well," she replied, strained. Octavia began to lead to Vinyl towards the elevator, doing her best to ignore the stares of the residents behind her. She shielded Vinyl with her own own body.

    The elevator door opened with a chime and they stepped in together.

    As soon as the elevator doors opened, Vinyl collapsed with a cry, all of her nerves abandoning her. Octavia managed to catch her before she hit the floor. She pulled Octavia close as Vinyl sucked in great breaths of air.

    "You did fine, Vinyl." Octavia assured her, stroking her gently. "We're almost home."

    Vinyl didn't say anything, trying to get as close to Octavia as possible, her head bowed. Octavia wrapped a hoof around her, hugging her closer.

    "It's alright," Octavia whispered into her ear. "It's alright."

    The rest of the elevator ride proceeded silently, and thankfully without interruption. As they reached the top floor, Octavia helped Vinyl up to her hooves. "Come on, Vinyl. We're almost there."

    She led Vinyl out of the elevator as the door slid open. It was a short walk to the front door of her apartment. She put her eye up to the security camera, and it instantly confirmed her identity. The front door to her penthouse slid open and Octavia urged Vinyl to follow her inside.

    "We're home, Vinyl," Octavia reassured her with a smile, giving Vinyl a warm nuzzle. Vinyl's head was nearly touching the ground, her legs trembling as she struggled to stay upright and off of the ground.

    It took her more than a few long moments to gather herself together, and even longer before she could take in any of her surroundings. Octavia waited patiently for Vinyl to make the first move.

    Slowly, Vinyl pulled herself out of Octavia's grasp. She shook her head to clear her thoughts before starting to look around what she could see of Octavia's penthouse. Her eyes widened, more than a little impressed. "Whoa... kinda swanky, Tavi," she croaked out.

    "I have more money than I know what to do with," Octavia said, looking around at her penthouse with new eyes, trying to see it like Vinyl was. "Might as well be comfortable."

    "Yeah..." Vinyl said, trailing off.

    The two of them stood there awkwardly in the entrance for a few moments.

    "Come on," Octavia gestured with her head. "I'll show you around."

    "This is the living room." She led the way into the living room, making sure to see Vinyl's reaction to the view. She just stood there, and Octavia could only guess that she had reached her limit for the day.

    "Whoa," Vinyl said, appreciative and tired. "Sweet view."

    "Yes," Octavia said, looking out the windows with a smile. "It is a part of the reason that I bought this place."

    "It was worth it," Vinyl agreed.

    Even as Octavia watched, she could see that Vinyl was beginning to relax, the stress of the past few days easing away. The decade of hard times though... that was still heavy on her soul. Her breathing was calming finally, and her lids were falling as she stared out the windows at the spread arms of the Citadel beyond.

    "It certainly is," Octavia said with a quiet smile.

    Vinyl wandered slowly around the room, stopping at the mantle. She looked over all of the photos that Octavia kept there, stopping as emotions threatened to overtake her. "Tavi..." The emotion was thick in her voice.

    "I missed you so much." Octavia moved to stand by Vinyl's side, nuzzling her comfortingly.. "I never stopped loving you."

    "I... I'm tired." Vinyl pulled away from Octavia, keeping her eyes away from her wife. "Where should I sleep?"

    "Follow me." Octavia did her best to hide her hurt expression from the smaller mare. She stood and led her towards the large hallway.

    Opening the door opposite her own room, Octavia led Vinyl inside. "This is yours."

    Vinyl paused in the doorway, looking at the room in surprise. She couldn't quite comprehend what she was seeing.

    "I'll let you get some sleep," Octavia said, edging past her and out of the room, leaving Vinyl alone.

    Vinyl stood there, trying to take everything in. It was familiar, mostly in ways that she hadn't seen in ten years. Stepping forward, Vinyl ran a hoof over the extremely expensive sound system, noting that it didn't have a speck of dust on it anywhere to be found. Her eyes wandered to the posters of her bands that were hanging on the wall.

    Tears began to gather in her eyes. Shooting a glance at the bed taking up one corner of the room, Vinyl moved to the corner furthest from the door. None of this was right. Nothing was right. It felt like hundreds of bugs were crawling over her coat, and she shivered in anxiety. Curling up around herself, Vinyl tried to go to sleep.


    Octavia poured herself a large glass of Apple Family cider. Tears gathering in her eyes, her face was torn as she sat at the kitchen table. She held the glass in both of her hooves as she stared out the windows, wondering where everything had gone so wrong. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

    Gulping down her glass, Octavia couldn't help but wonder what her life could have been like. As she got herself drunk, she welcomed those thoughts and the happiness they could bring, no matter how artificial. It was better than wallowing in her own pity.


    Royal Hall, Canterlot Castle, Equestria

    "Hey!" Sofi Blackwing shouted at the nearest Royal Guard, clacking her beak in annoyance as her tail swung back and forth in agitation. "How much longer do we need to wait here?"

    "The Princesses will be along shortly," the Guard replied, making no move from his position along the wall.

    Sofi's eyes widened at the guards response. She padded back to her family in a stunned silence.

    The Royal Waiting Hall of Canterlot Castle was filled with ponies and a small group of griffins, and they had been waiting together for nearly two hours. The guard had summoned them to an audience nearly twelve hours ago, and they had been gathered together from their various hotels nearly three hours ago. It had only taken thirty minutes for Sofi's impatience to rear its head and for her to start to pester the guards.

    "The Princesses called us here?" Sofi asked incredulously as she sat down next to her mother and father, Tyra and Voss Blackwing.

    "It must be something important," Tyra said, looking around at the rest of the crowd.

    "It better be." Voss growled, shifting on his talons and paws. He was grumpy, tired, and he could feel the first urges of hunger. "I don't enjoy traveling halfway across the globe to wait another three hours for something unimportant."

    "Peace, husband." Tyra laughed at her husband, shaking her head at him.

    Voss just snorted, turning his head away.

    "Her Highness, Princess Luna!"

    The entire room turned to the voice in time to see a the Royal Guards open the doors, and at the sight behind it they all quickly kneeled to the floor. Princess Luna, resplendent in her regalia, stepped calmly into the room. "Please, rise," she spoke in a clear, commanding voice.

    Slowly, cautiously, everyone complied with Luna's request. Sofi, Tyra, and Voss looked at each other in confusion before turning their attention to the Princess.

    "We are glad to inform all of you that this is a momentous occasion." Princess Luna said with a wide smile on her face. "Please forgive the long waits but I can assure you that it has been more than worth it. You have all had someone taken from you, and we are glad to announce-"


    Moments Earlier, Side Room

    Princess Celestia stood in the back of the room, watching calmly over the survivors from the slave ship, providing a welcoming source of relief to their agitation and nervousness. Celestia had the warmest smile on her face that Twilight had ever seen as she conversed quietly with Princess Luna beside her.

    "I'm not sure about this..." Gilda whispered to Twilight, rubbing her beak self-consciously.

    "You'll be fine," Twilight assured her, giving her a smile. "They're your parents, and they love you. Everything's going to be fine."

    Gilda shuffled uncomfortably, looking over the other survivors. They had the same nervous expressions on their faces, knowing just what was waiting for them beyond the doors. Families, friends, loved ones that they hadn't seen for ten years.

    With a nod from Celestia, Luna stepped through the doors. Twilight leaned in to nuzzle Gilda comfortingly as the griffin took a deep breath to try and ready herself. Her eyes darted around nervously.

    The door opened and Celestia stood. She looked over the ponies and griffins warmly. "Please, follow me."

    She stepped out of the room, and they all moved to follow.

    14. Chapter Thirteen

    Chapter Thirteen
    Royal Hall, Canterlot, Equestria

    Princess Celestia stepped forth from the waiting room, a wide smile on her face as she looked over the ponies and griffins waiting anxiously in the room. She was sure that they were still unsure of why they had been summoned so urgently to Canterlot and she was glad that she was able to give good news for once.

    It was easy for Celestia to make out the Blackwings standing together near the back of the group. The rest of the ponies and griffins were talking quietly to each other, nervous and more than a little afraid.

    With a small bow of her head, Celestia stepped aside.

    Out of the waiting room, the survivors began to nervously step out. The hall fell silent instantly stunned at the sight they were seeing. Realization of what was happening was beginning to come to the group.

    A small group of ponies near the front were the first to recognize one of the survivors. With a shout of joy, they sprung forward, wrapping one of the haggard looking survivors in a hug. With the dam broken, the rest of the group surged forward, searching the survivors for their lost loved ones. Cries of joy erupted from the room, even though no one fully knew what was happening.

    "What's going on?" Sofi leaned over to whisper to her mother.

    "I don't..." Tyra shook her head. She trailed off as three griffins stepped out of the room, looking around the hall nervously. Narrowing her eyes, Tyra leaned forward.

    The three Blackwings froze as the last griffin emerged from the room. Twilight Sparkle was by her side, whispering what appeared to be encouraging words to the griffin.

    "Oh Celestia..." Voss whispered as he realized just who the griffin was. "Gilda..."

    Gilda froze as she met eyes with her family, holding her breath. Her mind struggled to catch up with what she was seeing and her legs felt like they were going to collapse at any moment. She shuddered nervously as she locked eyes with her mother for the first time in a decade.

    "What are you waiting for?" Twilight nudged Gilda, smiling encouragingly at her.

    Glancing at her unicorn friend, Gilda nodded before leaping forward. She rushed to her family, and the four of them collided together into a hug. Gilda found herself moved to the center of the hug. It was griffin instinct to protect an injured member of the club, and the Blackwings weren't any different from the rest of their species.

    Gilda didn't know how long they all stayed like that, but the emotions roiling through her made it so that she didn't care. She was safe. She was home. Her family loved her, and she was free from her hell. Someone was making a choked noise, and it took her a moment to realize that it was her, and that she was crying.

    Tyra nuzzled against her eldest daughter, pulling reluctantly away to get a good look at Gilda. She took a moment to look over her daughter, and her face just crumbled as she saw the true extent of her injuries.

    Gilda shifted awkwardly under the stare as Tyra's eyes moved over her broken beak and its plastic replacement before moving on to her mutilated wings.

    "Gilda..." Tyra spoke softly.

    "Momma..." Gilda whimpered.

    Tyra pulled Gilda back into a hug. "Oh, Gilda..." The words were thick with meaning. I missed you. I love you. Nine years of sadness and loss were wiped away by the miraculous return of their prodigal daughter. "Oh, what happened to you Gilda?"

    Gilda hung her head, unsure of what she should say, shuffling on her feet.

    Sofi watched her older sister with conflicted emotions. She had just been a little chick when Gilda had been taken, and she only had vague memories of the girl. She glanced at her father, surprised to find him crying. Her father never cried.

    Voss watched his daughters and wife as they spoke quietly amongst themselves. He was quick to make sure that whenever one of them looked his way he had a smile on his face, but he was deep in his thoughts and miles away.

    Stepping forward, he put one of his paws on Tyra's shoulder. She looked up at Voss, and seeing the look on his face she stepped back. Sofi followed her mother's lead, leaving Gilda and Voss staring at each other.

    Gilda started to wilt under Voss' stare. Before she could give into the urge to curl up on herself, Voss' expression softened. He opened his forelegs for a hug. Without hesitation, Gilda rushed forward into her father's arms. He pulled her tight, nuzzling her gently.

    "Welcome home, little lion," Voss whispered.

    "Daddy," Gilda whimpered. She went limp in her father's forelegs, sobbing in relief.


    Twilight watched the reunions happening around the hall. Ponies meeting their grandchildren for the first time, seeing their children, spouses, parents, and friends for the first time in years. She looked up as Celestia sat down next to her.

    "I promised myself that nothing like this tragedy will ever happen again," Celestia said, looking down at Twilight. "I am just not sure if I can live with the choices I am going to have to make to keep that promise."

    "We're all here for you, Princess." Twilight leaned in to nuzzle Celestia.

    "Thank you, Twilight." Celestia wrapped a wing around Twilight. The mentor and the student watched Gilda and her family and their tearful reunion.


    Twilight sat on a small couch in front of a large window that overlooked Canterlot castle and the night sky beyond. She stared up at the moon, quiet. The past week and a half had been tiring, and she had been exposed to the realities of the galaxy.

    The door to the tower opened, breaking Twilight's concentration. Looking up, she found Spike walking in, a grumpy look on his face.

    "Spike!" She jumped off the couch, rushing up to her psuedo son, wrapping the baby-dragon in a giant hug. He gagged, trying his best to squirm out of Twilight's grasp.

    "Wow, Twilight," Spike grumbled. He tried his best to struggle out of her hooves, unhappy. "It's good to see you too."

    He coughed as Twilight's hug started to strangle him. "Need- Air- Twilight!"

    "Oh!" Twilight dropped Spike, who took in a great gulp of air, dramatic and overacting. "Sorry, Spike."

    He turned, glaring at Twilight as he rubbed his throat. "So, a week ago I woke up to find Princess Luna staring down at me, a certain purple unicorn nowhere to be found."

    "Sorry, Spike." Twilight winced, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof. "Princess Celestia woke me up in the middle of the night and I din't want to have to wake you."

    "It's fine, Twilight." Spike glared at her for a moment longer before rolling his eyes. He moved to sit on the couch Twilight had just vacated. "Just give me a bit of a heads up next time, why don't you. Luna is very... enthusiastic."

    Spike shuddered at the though, remembering back to his week with the Princess. Twilight just laughed at him, shaking her head in amusement.

    "Don't be overdramatic, Spike. I'm sure that the Princess was just fine," Twilight said with a definite nod.

    "Yeah." Spike rolled his eyes as he slouched down. "You didn't have to deal with her for the past week."

    Twilight came over and sat down next to Spike. They both looked out the window, watching as a spaceship came in for a landing from orbit, its thrusters flaring.

    "So, how was the Citadel?" Spike asked.

    "Big!" Twilight gestured wide with her hooves. "Overwhelming. I wish I had time to explore the Citadel Library."

    Her eyes went wide at the thought, her mouth opening a little at how wonderful that sounded. She stopped in surprise when Spike closed her mouth.

    "Please, contain your enthusiasm." Spike looked at her flatly.

    "Sorry." Twilight blushed.

    "So, what exactly was so important that you couldn't wait until morning to head out?" Spike asked, leaning back comfortably against the couch.

    "You haven't heard?" Twilight raised an eyebrow.

    "Heard what?" Spike asked, oblivious.

    Twilight giggled a little at Spike's cluelessness. She quickly sobered up as the harsh realities that she had seen came back to her. She gulped, nodding her head. "Princess Celestia had to take care of some important business with the Council. Their guards rescued a bunch of ponies and griffins that we all thought died years ago."

    "Oh..." Spike stared out the window, unsure of how to take that. "I can see why you had to leave in the middle of the night."

    Nodding Twilight looked down at the ground. Her mind worked overtime, her thoughts racing through her head. She blushed, glancing down at the floor. "I think... I think I'm in love."

    "Wait." Spike's head shot up, surprise written across his face. "What?"

    "Do you remember Rainbow Dash?" Twilight didn't bother looking up, continuing to think things over.

    "How could I forget her?" Spike asked, laughing. "She did crash into Princess Celestia!"

    "A friend of Rainbow's was one of those rescued." Twilight ignored Spike's little jab. "She's a griffin, and she's totally not ready for a romantic relationship right now, but..."

    Sighing, Twilight looked forlornly out the window, her brow furrowed and her head low. "I can't help how I feel."

    "Oh," was Spike's simple reply.

    The two fell silent for a long moment, just staring out the window.

    Spike put a scaly claw on Twilight's shoulder, giving her a reassuring pat.

    "Thank you, Spike." Twilight smiled down at Spike.

    "That's what I'm here for." Spike smiled at her toothily. He stood up off of the couch, stretching tiredly. "I'm going to bed."

    "I'll see you tomorrow, Spike," Twilight said, giving him a quick hug. "Sleep tight."

    "You too, Twilight." Spike turned and walked to their shared bedroom. His basket was waiting, and it was warm and welcoming.


    Celestia retired gratefully to her room, dropping her crown and golden shoes as soon as the door shut behind her. She didn't even bother looking as she dropped down onto her bed. She wasn't looking forward to the meeting the next day.


    With a shout, Celestia sat up in surprise. She found Luna sitting at the entrance to her balcony, a concerned look on her face. "Luna! You startled me."

    "I can see that," Luna said as she stepped forward, taking a seat next to Celestia's bed. "What has you so depressed? Is not today a day to be celebrated... so to speak." She glanced outside, making note of her moon sitting high in the sky.

    Celestia groaned, dropping back down onto her mattress. "It is. It certainly is, Luna, but I don't feel like celebrating."

    "May we ask why not?" Luna laid her head down on the mattress, watching her sister with concern.

    "The meeting tomorrow," Celestia simply said. "I must inform the families of the three male ponies."

    "Ah..." Luna nodded her head in understanding. "The poor stallions. You are afraid of their families reactions?"

    Celestia nodded. "What can I tell them to make any of this better? Their stallions have been changed forever. Lobotomized."

    Luna was silent, unsure of what she could say to her sister. She simply waited for Celestia to work through her own thoughts.

    "I shall see to it that we take care of all of their needs for the rest of their lives, but that is a poor substitute to returning their loved ones whole and unharmed." Celestia sighed, dropping her head down. "I am tired, and I cannot help but feel that it is just going to get worse from this moment on."

    15. Chapter Fourteen

    Chapter Fourteen
    Octavia's Penthouse, Tilican Tower, Citadel

    Octavia awoke to a scream that echoed through the apartment. Startled, she sat up, her heart racing as she looked furiously around for the source. Looking over at her alarm clock she blanched at the time that it read, 1:00am.

    With a sigh, Octavia rolled out of her bed, tiredly falling onto all four of her hooves. Stepping up to her door, she closed her eyes for a moment to compose herself, getting ready to confront whatever might be waiting for her beyond.

    Stepping out into the hallway, Octavia paused and listened carefully, her ears swiveling as they searched for any repeat of the noise. The scream had ended nearly at the same moment that she got out of bed, and now the house was eerily quiet.

    Octavia slowly walked down the hall, careful not to a make a noise. Stopping at Vinyl's door, she pressed an ear up against the door. Silence was all that met her, and Octavia frowned. She rolled her eyes a moment later when she remembered that she had long ago soundproofed the room.

    Opening the door a crack, Octavia's eyes went wide at the sound of Vinyl's frightened and feral whimpering.

    Pushing the door open the rest of the way, Octavia had to restrain her urge to rush into Vinyl's room, instead deciding to just stand in the doorway.

    "Vinyl? Are you awake?" She asked softly, the room dark beyond the light spilling in from the doorway. Nearly pitch black, Octavia had to squint, struggling to see anything in the darkness. "Vinyl?"

    She stepped into the room, wincing at the creak of her hooves against the floor. It sounded like a marching band to her ears, even though in her head she knew she was being as quiet as she possibly could. Vinyl's whimpers continued, showing no sign that she had heard Octavia.

    Her eyes gradually grew used to the darkness, and as Octavia peered around the room, she gasped in shock when she saw Vinyl curled up in the corner, shaking violently. The white-coated mare was still asleep and from the looks of it, deep in the middle of a nightmare, murmuring and crying under her breath.

    Octavia shuffled on her hooves, unsure of what she should do. She watched her wife, who looked smaller than she ever had seen before. She chewed on her lip, her heart aching. "Oh, Vinyl. Wake up. It is just a nightmare."

    Moving slowly to Vinyl's side, Octavia lowered herself until she was sitting down on her belly. She put a hoof on Vinyl's shaking side, trying her best to comfort the dreaming mare.

    "It's alright Vinyl. You're safe." Octavia spoke softly and warmly, trying to reach through the veil of dreams to her wife. Octavia began to hum a simple tune, starting in the back of her throat. As she hummed an old lullaby that her own mother sang to her when she was just a foal, Vinyl's pained expression began to slip away, her tortured expression easing.

    "Sleep, darling. I am watching over you." Octavia nuzzled Vinyl before curling up around her.


    Vinyl woke to the sound of soft music wafting through the open door to her room. She was still curled up in the corner, and she could feel a deep ache in her bones. She moved to stand but stopped when she remembered her leg.

    With a sigh, Vinyl reached over and pulled her prosthetic leg towards her. Awkwardly, she used her mouth to fit it into its slot where her leg used to be. It attached with a quiet click, and she spent a moment glaring down at it.

    Standing awkwardly, Vinyl looked around her room. Her gaze fell upon a stylish pair of sunglasses with magenta tinted lenses. She stared at them for a moment longer before turning and hobbling out of the room.

    Stepping out into the main part of the penthouse, Vinyl found Octavia swaying softly to music playing from an array of hidden speakers hidden in her penthouse as she went about making breakfast. From what Vinyl could see, automated machines made it easier for the Earth Pony, who had no access to magic.

    Octavia didn't notice Vinyl as she limped into the room.

    Setting the table, Octavia placed juice, toast, and a simple looking breakfast quiche. Vinyl watched her do so from living room.

    As she turned, Octavia startled when she noticed Vinyl standing still watching her. "Oh! Vinyl. I didn't see you."

    "Heh... Yeah, I noticed." Vinyl gave a fake laugh, looking away. Deep dark bags sat under eyes and she looked tired beyond belief.

    "Come on, sit. I made breakfast." Octavia gestured to the table.

    "I can see that..." She looked over the spread on the table, realizing how little she felt like eating. "It looks... good."

    Vinyl and Octavia sat at the table, Octavia waiting patiently as Vinyl struggled into her seat. An awkward moment passed between them before Octavia started to eat, Vinyl following her lead.

    Octavia stared at Vinyl whenever she was sure that the white mare wasn't looking at her.

    "So... How did you sleep," she asked, giving an awkward smile.

    "Fine!" Vinyl nodded, choking a bit on her food as she tried to lie. "I slept fine. No dreams at all."

    "That's good, Vinyl." Octavia stared at Vinyl, trying to decide if she wanted to call her out on the lie. Finally, she nodded, glancing down at her food. She would choose her battles. "You know that you can come to me with anything, don't you Vinyl?"

    "Yeah..." Vinyl stared down at her food, unbelieving.

    The two lapsed into silence, picking at their meals. Neither of them knew what to say and the atmosphere turned cold incredibly fast.

    Vinyl finished first, pushing away from the table. Most of her food still sat on her plate, barely touched and for the most part having just been pushed around. Octavia couldn't help but worry that she cooked something that Vinyl hates.

    "Do you not like it? I could make something else if you would like." Octavia cocked her head, watching Vinyl closely.

    "No." Vinyl just shook her head. "It's fine. I'm just not hungry."

    Staring at Vinyl for a moment, Octavia nodded before getting up and starting to clear the table, setting everything into the sink. Thanks to the miracle of technology, the sink started to clean the dishes on their own.

    "Is there anything you would like to do today?" Octavia asked, watching Vinyl carefully. She had no clue of how the mare was going to act and it was really something that she guessed would be a moment to moment judgement on her part.

    Quiet, Vinyl stared out the window at the Citadel beyond. She didn't answer, and Octavia shifted uncomfortably, unsure of whether or not Vinyl heard her.

    "I am here if you need me, Vinyl." Octavia finally offered, chewing on her lip.

    Vinyl just looked down at the floor. The two were still for a moment before Octavia began walking towards her practice room. "I'll be in my practice room if you need me."

    Octavia left the kitchen. Vinyl didn't move to acknowledge that she had left until she heard the door to the practice room close.

    Several moments passed before Vinyl turned, hobbling out of the kitchen.

    Hobbling into the living room, Vinyl looked out the window of the Penthouse and her eyes widen when she caught sight of the Destiny Ascension as it passed slowly by outside. She watched it for a moment before turning and moving over to the couch.

    With a grunt, she clambered on. Putting her prosthetic leg out awkwardly to the side, she looked up at the screen that took up the majority of the wall.

    Glancing over, she saw the remote a couple of cushions over. Stretching out, she grabbed it, dropping it between her forelegs. She turned the screen on and instantly, a news program began to play. The logo for the Citadel News Network spun in the lower left hand third of the screen. An Asari and Salarian sat proudly behind a desk, the news-casters. A flashing banner played across the lower part of the screen: Human/Turian Military Alliance.

    "It's impressive how far Humanity has come since the Relay 314 incident," the Salarian reporter said condescendingly. "To be able to put aside their differences and work with the Turian Hegemony on a naval project of unparalleled intricacy is impressive."

    "The fact that this announcement is appearing so close to the capture and rescue of the MSV Charybdis certainly bears-" The Asari continued speaking but Vinyl was already tuning it all out. She switched the channel, bored, ending up on some animated children's show. From the practice room, she could hear Octavia beginning to practice, the soft sounds of her Cello drifting from the room.

    Vinyl couldn't help but begin to drift off, her tiredness overtaking her.


    Gilda paced back and forth in the guest room that the Princesses had granted her the usage of the night before. She stopped, staring down at the floor and let out a frustrated groan. Shaking her head, she started pacing again.

    A knock at the ground broke her concentration and Gilda fell to the floor with a cry of surprised squawk.

    "Are you alright, Gilda?" The door opened and Twilight Sparkle rushed in, having heard Gilda's surprise. Seeing Gilda hyperventilating on the floor, Twilight winced, moving to help her stand up.

    "I'm fine." Taking a deep breath, Gilda discreetly smells Twilight Sparkle's scent. "I'm fine, Twilight."

    A cough from the door grabbed their attention. Both Twilight and Gilda turned to find Tyra standing in the door, looking at the two of them with amusement.

    "Hope I'm not interrupting something," she drawled out.

    "Mom!" Gilda scrambled up, blushing. She edged away from Twilight a little subconsciously as Tyra stepped into the room.

    "Are you going to introduce us, Gilda?" Tyra asked, giving Twilight a guarded smile.

    Gilda looked confused for a moment before coming to the realization of what her mother wanted. She coughed awkwardly before gesturing at Twilight. "Mom, this is Twilight Sparkle. Twilight, this is my mom, Tyra Blackwing."

    "Hi!" Twilight gave a little bow to Tyra, smiling warmly. "It's great to meet you. Your daughter is absolutely wonderful!"

    "You're Twilight Sparkle?" Tyra's eyes widened as she made the connection of just who Twilight was. "The Princesses personal student?"

    "Yep." Twilight blushed. "That's me."

    Looking back up at Gilda, Tyra gave her a soft punch to the shoulder, not noticing as Gilda recoiled away, screwing her eyes shut tight. Twilight winced as she was sure that Gilda was falling back into her memories.

    "You're moving up in the world, little lion." Tyra grinned, puffing her chest out proudly.

    Noticing Gilda's discomfort, Twilight discreetly placing herself between Gilda and her mother. With a small nod, Gilda gratefully accepted Twilight's intrusion.

    "How did the two of you meet?" Tyra asked, eying Twilight up and down with a strange look in her eyes.

    "I was with Princess Celestia when she travelled to the Citadel to bring all of... them home," Twilight answered with a curt nod. Her quick statement put an end to that line of questioning.

    "Right." Gilda stared down at the floor, scuffing at it with her talons.

    "So you know about what she went through?" Tyra perked up at Twilight's statement. "My little lion here won't tell me anything."

    Gilda looked even more uncomfortable than before. She withdrew even more in on herself. Twilight noticed, glancing between Gilda and Tyra. It was quickly becoming an uncomfortable situation.

    "That's not really my place to say." Twilight shuffled nervously on her hooves. "I don't really feel comfortable-"

    "Nonsense!" Tyra stepped forward, her wings flaring slightly. "I'm her mother. I should know these things."

    "Mom..." Gilda whimpered out, her eyes darting around the room.

    "Not now, dear." Tyra made a shushing noise at Gilda, who flinched away nervously. "This is important."

    "I'm not going to say anything that Gilda doesn't want me to." Twilight gave a meaningful look to Tyra, narrowing her eyes.

    "I'm her mother." Tyra insisted, narrowing her eyes. She glared threateningly at Twilight.

    "And you're acting like a moron." Twilight stomped her hoof onto the ground to emphasize her point. "Please, leave and don't come back until you can act maturely."

    Tyra glowered, opening her mouth to say something that Twilight was more than sure she would regret. Tyra stopped, thinking better of her words as Twilight took a step forward, her horn glowing with magic.

    "Go" Twilight pointed at the door with her hoof, her eyes narrowed and her resolve firm.

    Tyra stared at Twilight with her mouth open for a long moment before turning, flicking her tail back and forth in agitation. She left the room in a huff.

    As soon as she was gone, Twilight turned to face Gilda, finding her cowering on the ground, frozen in fear. The griffin had her paws tight over her eyes. Slowly and careful not to make any sudden movements to startle her, Twilight edged closer to Gilda, getting down to her level.

    "Gilda," Twilight whispered.

    Gilda didn't respond, keeping her eyes tightly shut.

    "You're safe, Gilda." Twilight reassured her. "Nopony is going to make you do anything you don't want to."

    Gulping, Gilda turned her head away from Twilight, fear coursing through her body. She wanted nothing else but to crawl under a bed and ignore reality.

    Gently, Twilight placed a hoof on Gilda's shoulder. The griffin flinched away at the contact with a quiet whimper.

    "I'm sorry!" Twilight said softly, quickly taking her hoof away. She winced at having caused Gilda pain. "I'm sorry. You're safe, Gilda."

    A moment passed, and slowly, Gilda cracked an eye open, looking up at Twilight. "Twilight..."

    Twilight smiled warmly at Gilda, nuzzling close. She felt warmth coursing through her chest.

    The moment was swiftly broken when Gilda's stomach gurgled. The two of them laughed, even though Gilda's was more than a bit anxious.

    "Do you want to get something to eat?" Twilight asked, standing.

    "Yeah," Gilda said, nodding. "Yeah. That sounds good."

    Holding out a hoof, Twilight helped Gilda stand, and together, the two left the room and began making their way to the royal kitchens, both trying their best to forget how Gilda's mother had acted.

    16. Chapter Fifteen

    Chapter Fifteen
    Octavia's Penthouse, Tilican Towers, Citadel

    Octavia finished the piece that she had been practicing the entire morning. The last note hung in the air, a magical moment. For just a moment, Octavia was able to pretend that everything was alright in her world.

    The moment couldn't last.

    Setting her Cello down on its stand, Octavia placed her bow down on the small desk set against the wall.

    Standing in the center of the room for a moment, Octavia stared out the floor to ceiling window as ships passed by outside and above her tower. It was so deceptively calm just watching everything pass by outside. It was like all of the problems in the galaxy just didn't exist. It was nice to think that there were people out there who didn't have lives that were falling apart.

    Walking over to her door, she opened it a crack and peered out. She saw Vinyl sitting on the couch, asleep, the soft drone of the TV helping to keep her calm. The Doctor had told her to expect that. Being able to surround herself with quiet noise certainly helped the small mare to keep her mind off of darker matters.

    Smiling at the sight, Octavia watched for a long moment. Vinyl looked more peaceful than she had for a long time and Octavia was almost able to imagine that she was the same mare that had fallen in love with so long ago. The mare who hadn't been a slave for the past ten years of her life.

    Octavia stepped away from the door when her omni-tool gave a quiet ding. Quickly glancing down at it, Octavia saw that it was the Consort. She accepted the call with a hoof, smiling at the holo-image that appeared above her omni-tool. "Sha'ira."

    "Mrs. Melody. How is your wife?" Sha'ira gave Octavia a warm smile, watching the grey mare calmly.

    Octavia glanced back out the door at Vinyl sleeping on the couch. "It is going to be a long road, but she is doing alright. As well as could be expected, I guess."

    "I am sure that everything will get better with time." Sha'ira smiled at the good news, and Octavia was thankful for her encouragement. Some people waited months to hear the same thing from the Consort.

    "I hope so as well." Octavia sighed.

    Sha'ira glanced away for a moment, looking at someone out of view of the camera. She turned back to look at Octavia, a slight apologetic look on her face. "I was wondering how much longer you needed before coming back?"

    Glancing back out the door, Octavia watched as Vinyl murmured, rolling over and getting stuck when her prosthetic leg slid between the cushions. She murmured more, weakly struggling against the couches hold.

    "Another couple of days, I believe," Octavia said weakly. She gave Sha'ira an apologetic smile. "I am not quite comfortable leaving her on her own."

    Sha'ira nodded in understanding. "If she is willing, I would like to speak her."

    "Really?" Octavia's eyes widened in surprise. For Sha'ira to offer a free session... it was practically unheard of!

    "Indeed." Sha'ira nodded, a sly smile on her face. "You are one of my best acolytes. Helping your wife recover does me just as much good as it does you."

    "I will have to see whether she would like that or not." Octavia tried to not break down in thankfulness to her boss. It would not be becoming of her.

    "Of course." Sha'ira held back a giggle at Octavia's wide smile. "I look forward to seeing you again."

    The call ended and the omni-tool shut down on its own. Octavia glanced out the door at Vinyl, whose face was creased with anxiousness even as she slept.

    Octavia stepped out into the living room, making sure to walk as quietly as possible. She smiled forlornly at Vinyl, who lay sprawled on her back, her head falling off the edge of the couch. Octavia sat down close to the couch, careful to stay where Vinyl would be easily able to see her.

    "Vinyl." Octavia spoke softly, leaning forward.

    Vinyl didn't even stir, fast asleep. The TV blared on quietly in the background.

    "Vinyl, come on." Octavia spoke louder, still gentle. "Wake up, darling."

    With a groan, Vinyl tried to roll over, but her prosthetic leg stopped her, slamming into the back of the couch. She grumbled in annoyance, her mind beginning the long trek back to consciousness as she struggled against the couch.

    "Vinyl, wake up." She spoke at regular volume, edging closer to Vinyl.

    Vinyl growled, her eyes blinking open tiredly. "Wha..."

    Octavia giggled at Vinyl's silly, sleepy expression, holding a hoof over her mouth.

    "Tavi?" Vinyl asked, looking at Octavia upside down from her position on the couch.

    Did you gave a nice nap, Vinyl?" Octavia asked, smiling at Vinyl.

    "What? Nap?" Smacking her dry lips together, Vinyl struggled to roll over. She felt completely disoriented, but Octavia's presence went a long way to making her feel safe. "Right. Yeah. It was good."

    "Are you hungry?" Laughing, Octavia moved forward and helped Vinyl right herself on the couch.

    "No..." Vinyl shook her head, still half-asleep. "I'm good."

    Staring at her a moment, Octavia nodded in sad acceptance. The two sat quietly for a moment.

    "There is someone who would like to speak to you, Vinyl." Octavia said softly after a long moment, trying her best to not freak out Vinyl.

    "Here?" Vinyl's eyes widened in surprised fear. Her head spun to face the door and she glared at it anxiously. "Now?"

    "No!" Octavia was quick to reassure her. "No. Not right now. Later, definitely not here, and only if you are willing."

    The white mare was silent for a moment, thinking it over. She looked up at Octavia. "Who?"

    "I work for her." Octavia smiled, biting her lip. "Consort Sha'ira. She is highly sought after for help. Sha'ira is remarkably compassionate. I think you would like talking to her, and I think it would do you good."

    Vinyl didn't say anything say anything after hearing that piece of information.

    "Just..." Octavia sighed, her head dropping almost imperceptibly. "Just think about it. Don't make any rash decisions."

    Vinyl didn't look like she was going to listen.

    "Please, Vinyl." Octavia reached out and put a hoof on Vinyl's shoulder. "Pleas think about it. For me."

    Vinyl was silent for a long moment, but she did finally give a short nod, glancing away from Octavia. "Alright."

    "Thank you." Octavia breathed a sigh of relief, pulling her hoof away.


    Sitting at her desk, Twilight was relishing the first opportunity to catch up on her studies since she left for the Citadel nearly a week and a half ago. She couldn't believe how antsy she had started to feel after not having cracked open a single book in that time and she had quietly resolved to never be without some form of reading material again. For the good of her sanity, of course.

    "Are we going to break for dinner anytime soon, Twilight?" From his spot lying upside down on a nearby couch, Spike groaned, looking up at Twilight.

    "In a minute, Spike. I'm almost done here." Twilight spoke absently, having long since learned how to respond to anypony asking her questions without breaking concentration from her reading.

    Spike rolled his eyes but accepted her words easily, going back to picking at his scales.

    "Hello? Twilight Sparkle?"

    The unexpected voice tore Twilight away from her book and she turned to look at Spike, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly in recognition. What was Gilda's mother doing in her tower?

    Setting down her book, she turned to look at Spike. "Go ahead and go to the kitchens, Spike. You can start dinner without me. I'll be along in a few minutes."

    "Cool!" With a grin, Spike slumped off the couch and jumped to his feet. "Thanks, Twilight."

    Spike rushed off, edging past Tyra as she came up the stairs, not even bothering to give her a hello as he rushed towards a hot meal.

    "Mrs. Blacking." Twilight waited until she heard the door close behind him before she started to speak. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

    "You can tell me what my daughter has gone through," she said firmly in a cold voice. Tyra's wings were flared slightly, aggressive. She eyed Twilight with eyes like a hawk, her movements predatory.

    "I told you before, that is between the two of you. I will not break her trust." Twilight was proud of herself that she spoke without a quaver in her voice. She stood her ground against the admittedly threatening griffin.

    "She never has to know!" Tyra shouted with a growl in her voice, stomping one of her claws as hard as she could against the floor to make a point.

    "It doesn't matter!" Twilight shouted right back. Anger welled in her chest against Tyra. "How could you go behind Gilda's back like that?"

    "I'm her mother!" Tyra clacked her beak, pacing to and fro in front of Twilight. She was angry, filled with rage, and it showed as her face contorted its way through a plethora of emotions: rage, anger, sadness, guilt. "I have to know what they did to my little lion. Tell me!"

    "No!" Twilight shook her head. "Stop trying to pressure me into betraying a confidence. It's the quickest way to lose a friend."

    The silence that followed her statement made Twilight feel like something was missing, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.

    "Tell me, unicorn!" Tyra stalked around Twilight, who stood defiantly against the angered Griffin. "I need to know."


    Twilight's simple question drew Tyra up short. She paused mid-step, unsure of how to respond.

    "I..." She frowned, shuffling on her feet. "I need to know. I need to make sure that whoever... whoever hurt her pays!"

    "Is that really more important than keeping the trust of your daughter who has finally returned after nine years." Twilight hung her head, feeling a twinge of guilt in her heart. She didn't want to get between a fight with Gilda and her mother, but it seemed that she had no other choice. "Nine years that you thought she was dead?"

    Tyra was silent for a long moment, unsure of how to respond.

    She looked up at Twilight, her eyes filling with tears. She opens her mouth to speak, but all that comes out is a sob. The tough-Griffin act that she had been putting up crumbled, leaving a hurting woman behind.

    "I lost her!"

    Twilight rushed forward, engulfing Tyra in a tight hug. The Griffin clung desperately to Twilight.

    "I lost her!" Tyra sobbed, burying her head into Twilight's shoulder. "She was my daughter, and I did nothing as they took her. I didn't even know she was alive!"

    "You did everything you could," she whispered. Twilight rubbed soothing circles between Tyra's wings, letting the griffin cry it out.

    The two females collapsed to the floor, Tyra's heavier weight too much for Twilight to support on her own.

    "I'm a Griffin. I'm strong, deadly!" Tyra sounded anything but deadly, her voice shuddering as her body rebelled against her. She spoke as a mother who saw her daughter hurting, but had no clue how to even begin making everything alright. "She flinches at the slightest noise, cowers from shadows! I couldn't even raise my youngest daughter right. What good am I as a mother?"

    "Be there for her now! That's all you can do," Twilight said. It seemed rather obvious to her.

    Tyra was silent for a long time before she spoke again, in a quiet voice. So quiet that Twilight almost had to strain to hear it.

    "She already has you. What use am I?"

    "You're her mother." Twilight was quick to respond. "She will always need you. Be there for her, comfort her through the nightmares. That's all that any of us can really do."

    The two stayed in their embrace, still against the cold floor as the roiling emotions left them.

    17. Chapter Sixteen

    Chapter Sixteen
    The Royal Kitchen, Canterlot Castle, Equestria

    Spike and Gilda sat at one of the dinner tables in the informal kitchen of Canterlot Castle. It was commonly used by residents of the castle who were not the Royal Sisters, providing a cozy atmosphere for meals in-between work and study. When Spike had made his way to kitchen, he was surprised to find Gilda already there. He had yet to actually be formally introduced to her, but Twilight's descriptions made it easy enough for him to guess who she was. A quick question confirmed it and he had introduced himself as Spike, the wonderful dragon assistant of Twilight Sparkle. He was happy at her quiet laugh and she quickly confirmed his suspicion that she was the Gilda that Twilight spoke of. He had quickly gone on to suggest dining with him, informing her that Twilight would be along shortly.

    That had been over an hour ago. Spike blushed as he glanced up at Gilda who just picked at her food. Where was Twilight? What was taking her so long? If he was a pony, Spike was sure that his coat would be slick with sweat by this point in nervousness. He had no skill with small talk and Twilight knew that! Curse her for putting him in such an awkward situation. Slowly, he reached out and grabbed one of the few remaining jewel remnants on his plate, bringing up to his mouth to chew even more slowly.

    Gilda paid Spike no mind, her thoughts drifting elsewhere.

    At the sound of the door opening, both Gilda and Spike looked over hopefully. When Twilight stepped inside with a content smile on her face, Gilda slumped ever so slightly in relief. She instantly tensed back up again when Tyra followed Twilight into the kitchen, finding a sudden interest in the floor. Spike just smiled and wave, missing the wave of tension that flooded the room. opens and Twilight enters, followed by Tyra.

    Tyra paused mid step when she saw Gilda's timid look. She looked at Twilight worriedly, who gave her an encouraging smile in response.

    Taking a deep breath, Tyra steadied herself and walked up to Gilda, who was doing her best to look anywhere in the room but her mother. Spike looked up at Twilight, confused about what in the world was happening. She motioned for the dragon to stay quiet, and he was more than willing to oblige.

    "Gilda..." Tyra's voice was quiet, nervousness filling her entire body. She didn't quite know what to do.

    Gilda was silent for a long moment before she answered, having to gather her courage together. "Mom..."

    "I want..." Tyra took a deep breath, trying again. "I want to apologize, Gilda. I've been acting like a hatchling. Finding out that you were alive, all that I could think about was how awful of a mother that I was."

    Gilda was silent, not knowing how she should respond.

    "I wanted to find out who had hurt my little lion, so I could track them down and make them pay." Tyra confessed, hanging her head in shame and embarrassment. "I was being selfish, and I wasn't thinking about you and your feelings."

    Gilda stared at the ground, unresponsive. Tyra waited for a moment, seeing if Gilda was going to respond in anyway. She didn't, so Tyra turned to go, smiling sadly at Twilight as she passed the lavender unicorn.


    Tyra stopped when she heard Gilda's voice. Slowly, she turned to face Gilda. Gilda looked up from the floor for the first time and met eyes with her mother, her face torn and sorrowful.

    "I love you mom." Hesitantly, Gilda stood. She was still for a moment but walked forward. Nervously, she wrapped Tyra in a tight hug.

    "I swear, little lion." Tyra wrapped her forelegs tightly around Gilda, smiling at the contact with her daughter. "I won't push you. I love you, and all I want is what's best for you. Please, just give me another chance."

    Gilda was silent, trembling ever so slightly. "I love you too, mom."

    "What's going on, Twilight?" Spike stepped up and whispered into Twilight's ear.

    "Not now, Spike." Twilight shushed her.

    With a shrug Spike sat back down and went back to eating, ignoring the touching scene before him.


    Sha'ira sat patiently on one of her chairs sipping at a glass of expensive Thessian wine. It was a beautiful vintage, and she was savoring every sip of it that she took. The door to her office chimed happily and she set her glass down, standing from her chair.

    "Come in," Sha'ira spoke confidently.

    The door opened, and Vinyl Scratch walked in. Looking back over her shoulder at Octavia, who stood in the hall smiling encouragingly, Vinyl gave her own shaky smile in return. It didn't reach her eyes. The door closed, leaving Vinyl cut off from her wife and alone with a woman that she had never met before in her life.

    "Vinyl Scratch." Sha'ira spoke first, breaking the silence.

    Vinyl looked up at Sha'ira, who was smiling calmly down at the small pony. She shifted nervously on her hooves, feeling uncomfortable in such a position.

    "My name is Sha'ira. It is good to meet you." Sha'ira gave a small bow in greeting. "I have heard a lot about you from your lovely wife."

    "Hi..." Vinyl said uncomfortably, shuffling on her hooves.

    "There is no need to be nervous, Vinyl," Sha'ira said. From the moment that Vinyl had entered the room, Sha'ira had quickly been able to get a read on the mare. Every moment that she spent with her only confirmed her initial thoughts.

    Sha'ira sat down on one of her couches, crossing her legs gracefully with an arm casually thrown over the back of the seat. She motions towards the other couches in the room. "You can sit if you want."

    Vinyl eyes the couches, nervously keeping Sha'ira in her line of sight the entire time. Slowly, she moves over to couch opposite Sha'ira, clambering onto it. She settles herself down, and the two females sit together quietly for a moment. Sha'ira has a soft smile on her face.

    "Why did you want to meet with me?" Vinyl asked cautiously with a quiet voice. She moved to sit on one of the couches, struggling up onto the cushion. "You've never met me before."

    "I have known Octavia for a long time." Sha'ira shifted in her seat, tilting her head to get a different view of Vinyl. "She talked about you often, and when I learned of your rescue, I couldn't help but want to meet the mare who so affected her."

    "Right." Vinyl nodded, looking around the room. She shrugged, not really understanding what Sha'ira was talking about. "Well..."

    Sha'ira watched Vinyl quietly, studying her carefully before speaking. "You have been hurt for so long that you have forgotten what it means to be safe."

    Shifting uncomfortably, Vinyl glanced at the door. The urge to run and not look back was quickly growing larger by the moment.

    "It is alright, Vinyl. You have nothing to fear. The only threat in this room is your mind." Sha'ira looked down at Vinyl's prosthetic leg, frowning at it in realization.

    "What?" Vinyl notices it, and tried her best to hide the leg, failing miserably. There wasn't anywhere that she could place it.

    "Is there any particular reason that you are not using a replacement limb?" Sha'ira spoke evenly, like she was conversing with someone about the state of the weather.

    "No..." Vinyl glances away, embarrassed and anxious. "I..."

    "You do not have to say anything about it if you do not want to," she said with a shrug. Standing, Sha'ira paced over to the side of the room with a small kitchen set into the wall. She pulled out an ornate tea-pot and two cups, preparing a set of tea for the two of them. "How do you take your tea?"

    "Uh..." Vinyl glanced about, not quite sure how to answer that. She had never been a tea drinker before the... "Regular?"

    Sha'ira laughed as she walked back to the couches. She set down several small pots, full of sugar, honey, and small little jar of milk onto a table set between the couches. Sitting down, she adjusted herself for a moment before leaning forward and pouring the tea into both cups, adding milk and honey to her own. Picking up her cup, she sipped at it, watching Vinyl with a half-smile.

    Staring at the cup, Vinyl struggled as she tried to figure out how to pick it up. Subconsciously, she tried to use her magic to lift the cup. The moment that she remembered that she had lost her horn, her eyes widened and she let out a whimper. Her face fell and she crumbled.

    Sha'ira smiled sadly at what she had just forced to a head. She took another sip of her tea before setting the cup down. "Vinyl."

    Vinyl didn't hear Sha'ira, descending quickly into grief and pain that she hadn't dared to touch, much less acknowledge since her rescue.

    "Vinyl," Sha'ira said louder.

    Still no response.

    Standing up, Sha'ira moved over to Vinyl's side, kneeling down to the floor before her. She placed a hand gently on Vinyl's left leg, bringing Vinyl instantly back to the present.

    "It is alright, Vinyl." She did her best to reassure her.

    "No." Vinyl shook her head, a sob cracking her voice. "It's not! I'm nothing. I should have died!"

    "No!" Biting her lip, Sha'ira sympathized with Vinyl. "You have survived through the darkest life in the galaxy! You've emerged, scarred, but alive!"

    Vinyl buried her head into Sha'ira's chest, sobbing. She had long since past the point of caring about propriety. Sha'ira embraced the little white mare, running a hand gently through the shaved blue of her mane.

    "You are strong, Vinyl. When I look at you, I see a young mare who has been beaten down by life, but has survived, ready to grow beyond the struggles that have held her back for so long." Sha'ira said, rubbing a hand up and down her back.

    Slowly, Vinyl's sobbing began to subside.

    "Grow, Vinyl. Don't be afriad to trust Octavia. She will always be there for you. Her love for you is among the strongest that I have ever seen." Pulling away from Vinyl, she puts a finger under the mare's chin, raising her head to look her in the eyes. "If you stand in the face of your fears, you will go far."


    Octavia sat on one of the couches in the waiting room of the Consort Chambers. She stared anxiously down at the ground, nervous about what Vinyl was going through in Sha'ira's room.

    Nelyna walked quietly up to her, and Octavia didn't notice until the young Asari coughed quietly. She looked up to find Nelyna smiling down at her, not having the energy to startle at her presence.

    "Oh, Nelyna. I didn't hear you." Octavia nodded her head briefly in greeting.

    "Would you like me to get you anything, Mrs. Melody?" Nelyna asked in concern.

    "No." Octavia shook her head, thankful but without need. "Thank you."

    "If you're sure," Nelyna said, understanding. It wasn't the first time that the Consort had stepped in when one of her acolytes problems had grown to big for them to handle by themselves. She was used to situations like this by now. "Don't be afraid to ask."

    "I'm fine, thank you Nelyna." Octavia was already turning her attention onto other things.

    Nelyna bowed gracefully to Octavia, acknowledging her wish to be left alone. As an acolyte, Octavia was more than several levels higher than her, and walked back to her post at the front.

    Looking back at the floor, Octavia went back to waiting for Vinyl and Sha'ira to finish.

    Several moments passed.

    From the staircase leading up to Sha'ira's room, Octavia's ears swiveled around when she heard Vinyl's distinctive hoof-steps. The sound of her prosthetic limb mixed with her other three hooves was quite noticeable.

    Standing up off of the couch, Octavia looked up at the staircase. A moment passed, and Vinyl hobbled downstairs, followed by a softly smiling Sha'ira. Vinyl's fur was matted with tears.

    Vinyl hobbled quickly over to Octavia, nuzzling her wife as she threw a hoof tiredly over her shoulder. Octavia's eyes widened momentarily at Vinyl's uncharacteristic actions. She looked up at at Sha'ira, who was smiling calmly down at the two of them.

    With a nod, Octavia smiled at the Consort, extremely thankful and it showed on her face.

    18. Chapter Seventeen

    Chapter Seventeen
    Canterlot, Equestria

    When she had first started living in the castle with the Princess, Twilight had found the tower that had been set aside for her use more than a little lonely, even with Spike there to keep her company. There were more books than she could ever count, and her bed was wrapped in sheets of the finest cotton from Saddle Arabia, but it wasn't home. Shining Armor wasn't there to watch over her, her mother wasn't fooling around in the garden with her experiments, and her father wasn't stumbling around the house trying to stay awake from the night of star gazing before.

    It just wasn't home.

    It had only taken Princess Celestia a day to realize what was wrong. After her lessons that day with the Princesses, Twilight had returned to her tower. Instead of the loneliness that had greeted her the night before, she found her entire family waiting for her with a home-cooked meal and a table for five. When Princess Celestia joined them for dinner, Twilight found a completion in her life that had been missing before. Both parts of her life, her home and her studies, fell into perfect alignment. Being the Princess' personal student didn't mean that she was giving up her family, and wanting to be with her parents didn't mean that she was rejecting the Princess.

    She hadn't realized that until then.

    There were so many memories tied into the tower that she had called home for the past fourteen years. Spike's first steps. Her first teleportation. Countless nights spent studying the journals of long dead philosophers and mages. Those had been the best years of her life so far, and it wasn't until she had gone with Celestia to the Citadel that she truly realized how lucky she was.

    When others had been taken forcefully from their homes, Twilight had been safe in the castle, deep behind the Princess' protection. She was given all the tools she needed to become strong and powerful.

    Others had never gotten that chance. She was lucky, blessed beyond belief, but she had a duty now. She realized the truth of that now. It was the duty of the strong to protect the weak, to help others in their time of need.

    It was in that moment that Twilight decided. She would be that protector. She would fight for the lost. There was nothing else she could do without feeling guilt at her own choices in life. With a nod, she settled deeper into her couch, content with her decision.

    Staring out at the city below, Twilight turned when she heard the door open. Looking over her shoulder, she smiled when she saw Gilda stepping up the stairs. "Gilda!"

    "Hey, Twilight." Gilda waved awkwardly with her talons.

    Calmly, Gilda walked over to Twilight's couch, settling down next to her. The two sat together silently for a moment, just enjoying each other's company.

    "Thanks." Gilda was the first to break the silence.

    "For what?" Twilight asked, tilting her head in confusion.

    Shrugging in embarrassment, Gilda glanced away from Twilight, picking at the edge of the couch with her talons. Her wings shuffled in embarrassment and Twilight secretly thought that the look on her face was adorable, even though she would never admit it to anypony.

    "Ya' know," Gilda said, trailing off.

    Twilight waited a moment longer for Gilda to expound further on what she was saying. She didn't.

    "I'm not psychic, Gilda." Twilight giggled, bumping her gently with her shoulder. "What are you talking about?"

    "Ya' know." Gilda gave an annoyed huff, completely embarrassed, her blush growing bigger and brighter by the moment. "My mom. Thanks. For talking with her, I mean. And not, ya' know, telling her anything."

    "It wasn't a probelm." Twilight nodded in understanding, smiling warmly with Gilda. "You're my friend. I'm not going to break your trust."

    "Yeah, well..." Gilda bumped Twilight back, glancing down at the floor. "Thanks anyway."


    They sat there for a moment, and Twilight was completely oblivious to the short looks that Gilda kept shooting at her. Gilda opened her beak, wanting to say something, but stopped, thinking better of it before closing it again.

    A moment passed. Gilda kept shooting lingering looks at Twilight.

    "What?" Twilight noticed one of the looks that Gilda shoots at her, and the two froze. Something in the back of her mind was shouting at her wildly that this moment was important, but Twilight wasn't quite sure why. She watched Gilda carefully, tilting her head ever so slightly.

    "Nothing," Gilda mumbled, looking away. She started to clamber off of the couch, but Twilight reached out and put a hoof on her shoulder encouragingly.

    "It's alright, Gilda." Twilight smiled at her. "You don't need to be embarrassed. You can tell me anything."

    "I- uh- you-" Gilda looked back at Twilight, still blushing. She gulps, obviously thinking through something. She grimaced, growling under her breath about her inability to express any of her thoughts and emotions. "Ah- screw it."

    Gently grabbing Twilight's head, Gilda pulled her in and kissed her for all she was worth. Twilight's eyes widened, but closed slowly in appreciation, leaning into the kiss.

    After several long moments, the two pulled away. Twilight blushed brilliantly, practically vibrating in excitement.

    "Wow... Gilda..." Her mouth worked up and down for a moment, unable to say anything else. "Wow..."

    "Yeah." Gilda nodded, blushing as brilliantly as Twilight.

    "What are you-" Twilight stumbled over her words, thrown for a loop, excited and unsure of what to say.

    "Twilight Sparkle, speechless!" Gilda laughed, a pleasant sound. "This is a first."

    "I..." Ducking her head, Twilight giggled. "Gilda, what are you..."

    Gilda shuts Twilight's muzzle with her claw. "I like you, Twilight."

    "I like you too, Gilda." Twilight's voice was quiet, embarrassed, but a deep vein of attraction ran through it.

    "That's good." Gilda giggled, her wings fluttering against her sides. "It'd be a bit awkward if I kissed you and you didn't."

    Twilight nodded, laughing quietly. She firmed up though and her face took on a serious slant. "Are you sure that you're ready for something like this?"

    "I..." Gilda had to think about that for a moment, looking back out the window at Canterlot below. "Yeah. I want to try."

    Smiling widely, Twilight edged closer to Gilda, leaning into the larger Griffin's side. "Alright."

    "Cool," Gilda simply said.

    The two sat there, staring out the window, smiling like a pair of idiots. Everything was going to be okay.


    Vinyl sat quietly on the medical bed in the center of the room as a pair of Asari nurses attached the Mechanical Prosthesis to the stump of her leg. Soft dubstep music played in the background. Her face was screwed up in concentration.

    Octavia stood at the head of the bed, a hoof on Vinyl's shoulder keeping the white unicorn calm.

    Vinyl tried her best to keep her breathing steady, focusing on staying calm.

    Doctor Stable smiled down encouragingly at the two mares. "You're doing fine, Vinyl."

    The leg attached with a loud click, quiet motors attaching to the receivers in Vinyl's leg.

    "Are you feeling alright?" Doctor Stable asked, studying the leg for any signs of a bad connection.

    "Yeah. I'm..." Vinyl shuddered slightly, having to consciously fight against her instincts to run. "I'm good."

    Nodding, Doctor Stable opened his omni-tool. "I'm going to activate the leg now, Vinyl. Be ready."

    "Yeah." Vinyl screwed her eyes shut and clenched her teeth.

    "You are doing great, love." Octavia leaned forward and gave Vinyl a gentle nuzzle.

    Vinyl just nodded, concentrating on not overreacting to anything. She kept breathing steadily, just like Sha'ira showed her.

    "I'm starting the leg, Vinyl." Doctor Stable gave his final warning, letting her know what was happening every step of the way.

    Keeping her eyes closed in intense concentration, Vinyl didn't move an inch as the leg activates with a nearly silent whine, the servos and motors doing a quick run through before settling into their natural positions.

    Several moments passed as Doctor Stable checked all of the readings to make sure that the leg was working correctly. He did not want to see a repeat of last time.

    "Alright." He gave a nod of satisfaction. "Why don't you try and get off of the table."

    Vinyl gave a grunt of confirmation.

    Opening her eyes, she saw Octavia giving her a smile of encouragement. She tried her best to return the smile, but it was shaky at best.

    Her face set in extreme concentration, Vinyl shifted her legs, carefully moving to the edge of the bed. Her mechanical leg moved naturally, in synch with her three remaining legs.

    "You're doing great." Doctor Stable encouraged.

    Chewing on her lip, Vinyl eased off of the table, landing on all fours. The leg reacted perfectly, and Vinyl opened her clenched eyes, a wide smile on her face.

    "Wonderful, Vinyl!" Doctor Stable nodded proudly, continuing to study his omni-tool for any signs of failure.

    Octavia walked around the table to Vinyl's side, smiling at her.

    "Why don't you try moving around?" Doctor Stable suggested.

    Vinyl nodded, looking back at the leg.

    With careful movements, Vinyl walked forward to Octavia, moving normally for the first time since her leg was amputated.

    Every movement she made was slow and deliberate, but she wasn't hobbling around anymore. It moved and reacted like a real leg, almost like she never lost it in the first place. It would just have to be something she got used to first.

    Slowly circling around Octavia, Vinyl's grin grew in size.

    "Hi there." She winked, feeling more courage than she had in a long time.

    "Hello, Vinyl," Octavia said back, giggling.

    As Vinyl circled around Octavia, she stumbled for a moment, and the room froze.

    Octavia sent a worried look to Doctor Stable, but he was too focused on watching Vinyl to pay her any notice. The two Asari looked like they were ready to move forward at any moment to restrain the mare if she started freaking out. They were afraid that she was going to react the same way that she had before.

    Slightly shaken, Vinyl managed to get the leg under control, standing still for a long moment to make sure she was alright. She took a deep breath and continued back around until she was facing Octavia.

    Leaning forward, she tenderly kissed her wife. They pull away after a moment.

    "I love you, Tavi," Vinyl whispered breathlessly.

    "I love you too, Vinyl." Octavia gave her a nuzzle. "I am proud of you."

    Vinyl grinned and carefully pranced away from Tavi. She looked worn and scarred, but life was returning to her and welcoming her back with open arms.

    She stopped, staring into space.

    Realizing something, Vinyl turned back to face Octavia who had tensed ever so slightly.

    In her most serious and honest voice, Vinyl spoke. "I want sushi."

    "Sounds like a date!" Octavia giggled, relaxing. Everything would be alright.


    Ryuusei Sushi, Bachjret Ward, Citadel

    Octavia and Vinyl sat at a small table tucked romantically back into a corner of the restaurant. Ryuusei Sushi was one of the premier restaurants on the Citadel. Some people waited months to get a table. Never let it be said that being one of the best known musicians on the Citadel didn't have its perks. Octavia had quickly been able to arrange a table for the two of them.

    As it turned out, they were the only Equestrians in the sushi bar. They were gathering a few looks, but they were easily ignoring everything else but each other.

    "I..." Vinyl stared down at the plates arranged before them, leaning a little into Octavia's side. It might have been easier to talk if they sat across from each other, but Vinyl wanted nothing else than to get as close to Octavia as possible. "The one thing that I always craved was sushi."

    Octavia understood instantly that Vinyl was speaking about when she was a slave. The sushi that was arrayed before them was completely vegetarian and Equestrian friendly and it was quite delicious.

    Octavia ate the sushi elegantly, with the ease of a pony who had been using their hooves their entire life like all earth and pegasus ponies. Vinyl watched her carefully, trying to mimic her movements.

    Vinyl struggled to use her own hooves, completely unused to having to eat without the use of her magic. She finally stopped in a huff, tears filling her eyes, but Vinyl determinedly scrunched up her face. She would not to let them fall.

    "Vinyl..." Octavia nuzzled Vinyl softly, noticing her trouble.

    "I'm fine, Tavi. Just..." She sniffled, leaning her head onto Octavia's shoulder. The stump of her horn drew Octavia's attention as the thin growth of her mane parted against it.

    "I'm sorry, Vinyl." Octavia put a leg around Vinyl and pulled her closer, resting her own head on top of hers.

    "It's..." Vinyl nodded dejectedly. "It's not fine, but... I'll get used to it... Eventually."

    "I know you will." Octavia smiled at Vinyl's attitude. "You're the strongest mare that I have ever known."

    Vinyl looked up, smiling sadly at Octavia. "Yeah."

    "Here." Reaching forward, Octavia held out her hoof for Vinyl to see. "Let me show you. Try it like this."

    Reaching forward with her hoof, she grasped the utensils with her hoof, careful that Vinyl could see every step. It was a matter of clenching and balancing the chopsticks between her hoof using the muscles.

    "I see..." Vinyl nodded. She repeated what Octavia had shown her, slowly but surely bringing one of the sushi rolls to her mouth. Vinyl chewed it with delight. "That's good."

    Octavia leaned back in her seat. Vinyl smiled at her in realization.

    "We're going to be fine, Tavi," she said firmly, a promise.

    "I never had a single doubt."

    19. Epilogue


    Udina's Office, Human Embassy, Citadel

    Donnel Udina sat behind his desk, slumped in his chair. He glared at the massive amount of datapads spread out in front of him. It felt like he had spent a lifetime already going over the choices and he had long since past his threshold for the day, falling back into his old grumpy ways. Whatever they chose today would influence the course of humanity forever. He couldn't help but think that he had earned the right to be grumpy, if just for the day, and in this particular meeting.

    He grabbed a cooling cup of coffee and rained it, grimacing as he sucked down the dregs. He picked up another one of the datapads, reading it with tired eyes. It had all become a blur to him, and he barely even saw the text anymore.

    Glancing up, he looked at the other occupants of his office. Seated on the other side of the table, Admiral Steven Hackett was in much the same position as Udina, slumped down in his chair. A grizzled veteran, he bore scars from fighting at Shanxi, his hair turning grey. Opposite Hackett, Captain David Anderson was leaning forward against the table, somehow having managed to stay more focused on the task at hand. He was one of the deadliest humans in the galaxy, one of the first to ever achieve the N7 designation in the special forces and responsible for countless successful missions.

    "Well, what about Shepard? A colonist... but no record of her family." Udina glanced down at the datapad on Shepard.

    Anderson picks up the relevant datapad, speed-reading through it. "The records were lost during the raid. She was raised in Equestria. Learned to look after herself."

    "She saw her whole unit die on Akuze. She could have some serious scars." Hackett glanced at Anderson. The relationship between Shepard and the Captain was known in certain circles.

    Anderson stared right back at Hackett, not giving an inch, his expression telling the Admiral that he should know better. Hackett didn't back down, not intimidated by Anderson in the slightest.

    "Every soldier has scars. Shepard's a survivor." Anderson finally spoke.

    "Is that the kind of person that we want protecting the galaxy?" Udina said, having missed the interaction between Hackett and Anderson.

    "That's the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy," Anderson said.

    Udina nodded, scanning the datapad for a moment longer. It was important that he was completely sure. This decision could affect the course of human history, after all.

    He nodded. "I'll make the call."

    20. Next Story Up!

    I just wanted everyone to know, the prequel to this story has been up for awhile! It is called Mass Effect: Shepard and the Rainbows. It is turning out to be a wild ride, and it is promising to be an even adventure as we continue on! I hope to see you all over there. Check it out!

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