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.