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.

"NO!"

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..."