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.

"Sister."

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."