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.