A stentorian noise jolted Scootaloo from her sleep. Her eyes were red from crying and dried tears made her face feel uncomfortable. She slowly rose from her position on the cell floor and looked around her. A single light bulb suspended from the center of the room was supposed to provide light for all five cells, but its light output was insufficient. Scootaloo looked at the other pegasi in the room. Everypony was groggily waking up from sleep and searching for the loud noise. Scootaloo's mother was slowly getting up behind her.
"What was that noise?" Scootaloo had been looking around everywhere but had come up with no possible explanation. Her mother shrugged at the question.
Everypony in the room was completely silent as they all listened in case the noise sounded again. After a few minutes, light hoofsteps could be heard from the corridor leading to the room. A red stallion walked into the room with a smug look on his face. He had the same colorings as the other earth ponies: red coat and black mane. Scootaloo was beginning to wonder if all of the stallions naturally looked like this or if they were all dying themselves to look uniform.
"Well, it looks like all of you heard the wake up call." The stallion spoke with an air of superiority and condescension. "That's good, because we don't tolerate laziness here. I'm going to open all of the cell doors now, and you're all going to follow me to...well, you'll see." The stallion walked towards the nearest cell, his weapons belt jingling as he walked. He lifted a key up to the cell lock, inserted it, and slowly turned it.
When an audible click echoed through the room, the cell door slowly began to open. A young blue pegasus walked out of the cell holding a green pegasus’ hoof. As the two waited for the next cell to be opened, the older one gave a wink to the younger one and hugged him. In a flurry of movement, the green pegasus was flying down the hallway.
It didn’t make it very far. When it hit the ground, it was already dead. A knife was embedded in the back of its head, and blood was dribbling down the handle. The earth pony stood facing the dead body with his leg outstretched. The small pegasus began to cry. An explosion was heard, and the small pegasus fell to the ground with a bullet hole in its head.
The stallion looked around at everypony in the room. “Now, if any of you try a little stunt like that again, this’ll be a pinprick compared to what’ll happen to you. Understand?!” He looked every single pony in the eye before continuing to unlock the cells.
Scootaloo trembled with fear as she stood there waiting to be released from prison. When the red pony opened her cell, she hesitated before slowly walking to the other ponies in the center of the room. Nopony said a word.
As the group of pegasi was led from the jail room and down the adjoining corridor, Scootaloo noticed tunnels branching off of the main tunnel that all led to rooms similar to the one she had just been in. All of the tunnels were filled with other pegasi following red earth pony guards. All of the groups eventually met up at the end of the corridor near the main entrance to the building. From there they were led into another corridor that ended in a large room. The room was completely white and looked like a perfect cube. Benches lined the walls, and a large wooden door stood at the opposite end of the room.
A large, muscular, red earth pony walked towards the door and turned to face the pegasi. “Okay, everypony, take a seat somewhere here. One by one, I’m gonna call you little worms to follow me into this room back here.” He pointed to the large door. “We’re going to perform some preliminary exercises to ready you for your stay here at the facility.”
Scootaloo looked around at all of the frightened faces and took a seat next to her mother. They hugged each other tightly, hoping that they wouldn’t be called up.
The earth pony looked down at a paper he was holding and found the first victim. “Our first lucky contestant is…Cloudrunner! Cloudrunner, get up here!” he said with an evil smirk on his face. A completely white, brave-looking pegasus stallion got up from his seat and walked over to the stallion. He turned back to the others proudly and gave them a reassuring smile. The huge door was opened just wide enough to admit the stallion and was closed again with a thud when he entered.
Everypony in the room was silent. Nopony knew what was beyond the door. The room behind the door must have been soundproof because no audible noise seeped into the waiting room. Scootaloo sat there waiting like everypony else, unsure of what her future held secret from her. She was terrified, yet she managed to keep rather calm. She decided that apprehension was useless and that the future was inevitable at this point.
After a few minutes, there was a knock from inside the huge door. The red stallion with the list smiled and began to speak again. “Well, looks like Cloudrunner’s finished in there. Who will be the next lucky winner?” He looked down at his list. “It looks like Starfire wins the grand prize!” As he said this, a tiny purple filly screamed. She started crying and grabbing her parents next to her and didn’t budge from her spot. Her parents hugged her back tightly. She only looked about five years old.
“Well, well, well, looks like Starfire’s gonna put up a fight! This should be interesting.” The earth pony moseyed his way slowly over to the small pegasus. Starfire turned away slowly to face the man but quickly turned back towards her parents. They hugged her protectively.
“Excuse me, Mr. and Mrs. Pegasus, but I called your daughter up. I’m afraid she’ll have to come with me.” The stallion said all of this with a pseudo-concerned voice, mocking them with every word.
The two parents looked at the stallion with stern faces and shook their heads. It was obvious that they were never going to let go of Starfire.
“Fine, have it your way.” The earth pony looked deeply at the two parents for a few seconds. Then he slowly raised a hoof and directed his gaze at the father. In one swift motion, he hit a spot on the father’s neck that caused him to tense up and freeze. He then did the same to the mother. Both parents were now paralyzed with their eyes wide open and their legs still around Starfire. The earth pony pulled the two parents’ legs apart like a clam and grabbed the hysterical pearl within.
“Wasn’t that fun?” the stallion said with a sardonic sneer. He carried the small screaming filly towards the door at the end of the room. Her parents still temporarily paralyzed, the filly turned towards them and began screaming. Tears fell from her face onto the cold unforgiving ground. She was able to choke out one final screech of “mommy” before the stallion opened the door and threw her inside. When the door closed, the screaming stopped.
Scootaloo had lost her cool sometime during the incident. She was now sobbing uncontrollably on the bench. Her mother simply sat on the bench in shock the entire time, her unblinking eyes wide open, her mouth slightly agape. No tears came forth from her eyes, and she looked as if she had been paralyzed, too.
This procedure continued on until only about ten pegasi remained. Scootaloo had spent the time spiraling deeper and deeper into sadness until she felt as if she was drowning in her tears. Eventually, her tears ran out, and she simply sat there shaking. Her mother hadn’t moved the entire time except to blink.
Finally, the red stallion looked at list again and once again began to speak. “Not many of you left, huh? I bet the anticipation is getting to you.” He laughed. “Well, one of you lucky little piles of dung is going up next. That worthless pile of trash is…Primrose!”
Scootaloo stopped crying. She stopped doing anything at all. She looked at her mother, but she still wasn’t moving. Scootaloo embraced her in a tight hug and started dry-sobbing again. She couldn’t let her go. If her mother left her, she would have nopony left, and these bastards would win. She squeezed her tighter and tighter until she felt as if she couldn’t let go. Then a strong hoof struck her neck, she felt tense, she felt cold, and she couldn’t let go. Her legs were pried apart, and her mother was taken. She heard the door open and close and knew that she was gone. A warm rush of blood gushed through her body, she felt tingly, and she opened her eyes. There was nopony there.
Scootaloo stared at the open space where her mother used to be sitting. She tried to cry again, but she couldn’t. She had exhausted the action. Instead, she just turned forward and stared into space, thinking about nothing in particular. She looked at the other ponies in the room. There were only a few that were her age; most were young adults or adults.
After a few minutes, the red earth pony looked to his list again. “Up next is a pegasus very near and dear to my heart. She always tries her hardest, and I definitely think she deserves this award.” He chuckled at his own joke. “Scootaloo, get on up here!”
Scootaloo heard her name, but she didn’t respond to it. She tried to get up, but her legs wouldn’t move. She watched helplessly as the stallion walked over and grabbed her. She was flung onto his blood red back and carried to the door. The earth pony then proceeded to grab Scootaloo’s back legs and throw her through the open door. Her eyes still blank and staring forward, the filly watched as the featureless floor moved past her and rushed up to greet her in a blur of gray. She stuck the landing with her head.
With the combination of stress and the impact to her head, she blacked out.
The world was a smear, a blur of incomprehensible colors. It was out of focus, indecipherable, and incoherent. Sounds melded together with smells, and sights tasted like iron. The world was made of a collage of indiscernible pieces that twisted past each other and joined to create new components. Swirling masses of particles shot through the air, and black dots entered and left existence in fleeting groups.
Scootaloo felt a sharp blow on the side of her head, and her vision focused. Shapes formed all around her as the side of her head throbbed in rhythm with her heartbeat. When her senses finally settled down, the pegasus could see that she was in a room. It was completely white like the waiting room but was considerably smaller and smelled of death. The wooden door loomed in front of her. She realized that she was sitting in a chair and tried to stand up, but she couldn’t move her forelegs. She tried again, but her legs were tied to the chair in which she sat. Her wings jutted out uncomfortably through the holes in the back of the chair. She tried to close them but was unable. She looked down at the floor in front of her and screamed into the rag in her mouth. The entire floor of the room was covered in dried blood, bone fragments, and small chunks of flesh. Feathers rested in clumps on the ground next to pools of crimson blood. It looked like a sight from a horror movie.
A laugh resounded from behind Scootaloo. She turned her head to look behind her and saw another red earth pony stallion. He sat in a chair just behind the filly and wore a frighteningly evil expression. However, Scootaloo was more frightened by the item he was carrying: a chainsaw.
“Well, looks like drama queen’s finally awake. You had to faint, didn’t you? You just had to faint. You know, that little stunt of yours cost us ten minutes. I was even able to handle a whole new patient while you were unconscious.” The stallion smirked at Scootaloo. “Now that you’re ready, we can finally begin.”
Scootaloo was confused. She tried to speak, but the rag muffled her voice. She watched helplessly as the stallion started the chainsaw and looked evilly at Scootaloo. She tried to close her wings again, but they were stuck in an extended position. The stallion noticed her struggling and laughed.
“Luckily, I was able to get your wings nice and firm before you woke up. It’s a lot harder to give the shot when the target is being flailed all over the place.”
The smell of gasoline began to fill the room as the chainsaw ran idly in the stallion’s hands. He looked Scootaloo straight in the face, and said, “Don’t worry, little girl. I’m going to try and make this as painful as possible.” He lowered the chainsaw towards the filly’s wings, and she bit down on the rags in her mouth as hard as she could.
She didn’t feel anything for a second, so she decided to open her eyes. She saw a stream of blood shoot past her, and the wave of pain hit her. Her wings burned immensely as the teeth of the saw ripped through her flesh. Feathers were pulled from their places in her skin and were shredded before they hit the ground. The motion of the saw made it feel as if her wings were being torn off by claws. Bones were splintered and torn apart. Chunks of wing were ripped right out of their places. Her whole body ached with pain. The world burned.
Then the motion stopped. The pain lessened slightly, but she still had to bite down on the cloth to not scream. She became aware that the pain was concentrated in the upper parts of her wings, so she forced herself to look behind her. The now-bloodied stallion sat admiring his handiwork as a shocked Scootaloo looked at her mostly-intact wings. Only about one-fifth of her wing had been cut off.
“We’re going to take this nice and slowly so you can get the most out of this experience.” The sadistic pony chuckled as he spoke. Scootaloo braced herself once again.
The torture continued for what felt like eternity. Piece after piece of Scootaloo’s wings was brutally torn away by the murderous weapon. The orange filly almost left consciousness multiple times, but the stallion would always make sure his patient stayed awake. Finally, the motion of the chainsaw ceased.
A moment of silence passed in the room before the stallion spoke up. “Well, aren’t you gonna look?” His voice sounded impatient.
Afraid to see what remained of her wings, Scootaloo slowly rotated her head until she was staring at the stallion. She then slowly lowered her eyes to look down at the bloody stumps protruding from her back. Pieces of shattered bone protruded from the feather-covered lumps of flesh. She tried to move the protrusions, but arcs of pain shot through her body at any attempt at movement. She cringed as a feather fluttered to the floor.
“Great work, huh? I’m kind of a professional.” He turned towards the floor and picked up some lumps of flesh. “These used to be your wings. Pretty ugly now, but they taste great.” He reached towards Scootaloo’s chair and untied her. It took a few seconds for her to realize that she had been freed. She stood up from the chair, trying to keep her wings as still as possible. With trembling legs, she started to walk towards a small door on the opposite side of the room.
“Whoa, there, you don’t want to forget your dinner.” He held out a hoof with the bloody lumps of soggy flesh. “This is the only food you’re going to get for the next few days, so I suggest you take it. It contains enough water to keep you going for a while, too.”
Hesitant to accept anything from the pony, she felt her stomach rumbling and realized how hungry she actually was. She slowly reached out a hoof and took the last vestiges of her wings from her torturer before continuing towards the exit. Still slightly dazed, she avoided puddles of blood and bits of bones until s he reached the door. She slowly reached up, turned the handle, and was blinded by the light of the outside world.
She stepped through the door and into a gigantic roofless courtyard. The area was a huge square and was about 300 feet on all sides. The walls surrounding the courtyard appeared to be almost four stories high, and the wall across from Scootaloo was covered in about 100 openings that all led into different corridors. The center of the square was a gigantic rectangular hole that took up most of the floor in the area. The only parts where the floor remained were two small strips of floor along the sides, the area where Scootaloo was standing, and a similar area on the opposite side of the room; the two small strips were only about two feet wide and extended between the larger areas, and the larger areas were about ten feet wide and stretched from wall to wall. The floor and the walls of the courtyard were made of old crumbling stone, and the walls were full of small divots. A large tower somewhere else in the building complex was emitting smoke of every color imaginable.
Scootaloo stood still as she further observed her surroundings. The pit in the center appeared to be some sort of mining operation; pegasi (wingless, of course) carried pickaxes and were hitting either the bottom of the pit or small clusters of rocks along the edges. The mine was flanked by earth pony guards (red and black, of course) that carried spears, guns, knives, or other weapons. As Scootaloo watched, a small pegasus in the mine cheered out and held up a cluster of gems. One of the earth pony guards swiftly climbed down a ladder on the side of the mine, walked up to the pegasus, and grabbed the gems from her. He then ascended the ladder and threw the gems into a box near him. The pegasus received no rewards, no compliments, and no relief, and everypony continued as if nothing had happened.
“Hey, what are you doing over there?” said a strong voice from nearby.
Scootaloo looked up and saw a guard walking towards her with a disgruntled look on his face. He produced a pickaxe from a stand on the wall and threw it at the ground in front of Scootaloo.
“You should be working, not standing there! Get down there!” The guard pointed angrily towards the mine.
Scootaloo knew she had no other choice, so she picked up the pickaxe and held it in her hooves. She walked towards the gigantic hole and stared down into it. It stared back at her with a dreadful darkness that rattled her. She reached out a leg and found the ladder on the wall, and she started slowly climbing into the abyss.
As she reached the bottom of the pit, she turned around and saw the many pegasi working away to serve their tormenters. There appeared to be almost one hundred pegasi in the mine, and everypony had a small amount of personal space. They were all sweating from the intense heat and were near the point of exhaustion. When Scootaloo found an open spot, she realized how difficult it was not to hit somepony with the pickaxe.
After placing her flesh lumps on the ground next to her, she started toiling away. Sluggishly moving the heavy pickaxe, she chipped away at a small outcropping of rocks on the wall, letting her mind wander. She began to think about her mother. She knew now that her mother would still be alive. Was she in the same mine as Scootaloo, or was she in some other area of the complex? Did she know that Scootaloo was still alive? Would she ever see her again?
She shook off thoughts of her mother and tried to think about other things. Would the large disappearance of pegasi be noticed? Would she be kept here forever? Why did the earth ponies hate the pegasi so much? Where exactly were they?
Scootaloo was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn’t even notice the lack of rock beneath her pickaxe. She continued swinging her pickaxe at empty air until she realized why her job had suddenly become so much easier. She moved back and began hitting at the ground as she let her thoughts wander once again.
After an hour or so, Scootaloo’s muscles began to fail her. Her hooves were slippery from sweat, her forelegs were tired out, and she wasn’t making very good progress. She looked around her and above her. She decided that nopony would notice, so she dropped her pickaxe and sat down for a rest. The rough ground was uncomfortable, but it felt good to stretch out for a bit. She looked down at the ground to see her progress; she’d only gone through about six inches of rock.
The pegasus was jolted from her rest by a loud impact right in front of her. A small section of rock in the wall near her suddenly exploded and sent a shower of dust towards her. When the dust cleared, Scootaloo was able to make out a small impact crater in the wall in front of her. She turned around to see one of the guards pointing a gun towards her from the ledge. She quickly turned back around, picked up her pickaxe, and miserably started mining again.
After another few hours or so, Celestia began to lower the sun beneath the walls of the complex, and the courtyard was bathed in shadows. As Scootaloo looked around her, she saw the shadows of the ponies around her. All of the shadows stretched out far beyond the ponies and ascended the walls of the mine, and every shadow had a visible pickaxe. When Scootaloo looked down at her own shadow, she was surprised to see that her pickaxe didn’t have a shadow. Her wings also appeared much bigger than their current stubs. She moved her pickaxe and wings and saw that this was only an illusion.
When the sun was completely out of view, the earth pony guards began to leave the area, and all the pegasi in the mine stopped working. Taking this as the cue to stop, Scootaloo dropped her pickaxe once again and sat down to rest her aching muscles. Her eyes stung from sweat running into them, and she had trouble moving her legs. Her wings also hurt for some reason.
She looked around and saw the pegasi leaving the mine. She picked up her tool and her wings and climbed out on the nearest ladder. She followed the moaning crowd to the closest tool stand and dropped her pickaxe off. The current of the crowd carried her until she found herself at the front of the group. They were all sitting in a group on the large platform where Scootaloo had entered the courtyard, and Scootaloo was sitting right next to the edge of the mine. The filly had no idea what was going on.
“Good evening, everypony!” said a loud noise. “Take a seat and get comfortable. We have some evening entertainment for you filthy pegasi tonight! Just hang tight while we get it ready.”
Scootaloo searched for the noise which seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. She found an earth pony at the far end of the mine with a megaphone. He had an evil grin on his face, which seemed to be part of the dress code for the earth ponies.
The orange filly looked around her; she hadn’t really taken a good look at the other pegasi. Most of them looked the same: tired, exhausted, broken, angry at life. The only thing that really separated one pegasi from another was their wings. There were pegasi that appeared to have just gotten their wings removed, as fresh blood still dripped from them. Some pegasi had mangled wings in the process of healing themselves, feathers sticking out at odd angles and huge scars. A few veteran pegasi appeared to have fully healed wings. The veterans had tiny wings that simply buzzed and fluttered, but the wings appeared fully healed. Scootaloo looked at her own wings. They had healed a little bit during her work, but dried blood still coated the outside, and small lumps of bone stuck through the flesh.
As she watched some of the newest pegasi, she saw that they all carried the lumps of flesh that were once their wings. Some of the pegasi were eating their wings like cupcakes, while others nibbled slightly and whimpered at the thought of eating themselves.
Scootaloo looked down at her flesh lumps. They were still soggy and squishy, but didn’t look very appetizing. In fact, she had never eaten meat before: Ponies were vegetarians! She eyed the flesh and searched for a good spot to bite. She found a squishy portion on the end, and grimaced as she slowly bit down on it. Blood squirted into her mouth, but she pressed on. After tearing the lump off of her wing, she started slowly chewing it. It didn’t taste excruciatingly disgusting, but it definitely wasn’t fine cuisine. She reluctantly swallowed the hideous wad and shuddered as she felt it slither down her esophagus. Scootaloo really didn’t want to eat any more, but she was so hungry. She knew that they probably wouldn’t be served any food for a while, so she slowly bent down and took another small bite of the flesh.
Scootaloo was about halfway finished with her meal when the entertainment finally arrived. She looked up in mid-chew to see the earth pony guards rolling something wooden into the courtyard. There appeared to be something attached to it, too. She squinted and was able to make out a blue shape hanging limply from the top of a long wooden mast. She focused on it and tried to make out any identifying features. When she found out what it was, she dropped her meal right into the mine.
It was her father.
She began to panic. If her father had survived whatever had happened on the train, he was still alive over there. If he had died, his corpse was tonight’s entertainment. If he was still alive, however, he would probably be dead soon from his role in the entertainment. Scootaloo looked around frantically for her mother for comfort, but remembered that she had lost her in the waiting room. With her eyes wide open, she stared straight ahead at the Schrödinger’s Cat that was her father; he was either dead or alive, but Scootaloo couldn’t tell, and he’d be dead soon anyway.
Suddenly, a shriek resounded from somewhere in the crowd. It was followed by somepony screaming “Nimbus!” at the top of their pony lungs. Scootaloo looked for the source and saw her mother standing over the heads of the other pegasi, screaming. Her mother looked fine (as fine as she could be, at least), but was clearly very distraught.
“Whoa, whoa, settle down, guys! We haven’t even started the entertainment yet and you’re already cheering?” the earth pony guard with the megaphone said wickedly.
After a few seconds, Scootaloo could hear her mother screaming “Stop!” and heard some struggling. After a minute or so, the pegasi around her were able to subdue her. She stopped screaming and simply sat there quietly crying.
“Well, now that everypony is ready, I think we can finally start the show! Tonight’s presentation is called ‘The Burning Pest,’ and I think you’re going to really love it!” The guard laughed at his own cruel joke and said something to another guard. The second guard brought the first some sort of canister and walked away. “Now, I hope everypony can see this. This is what happens when you rats disrespect your superiors!” The guard was grinning wildly.
A horrified Scootaloo watched as the earth pony guard poured the gasoline from the canister all over her father’s body. He walked away from the drenched corpse until his back was up against the wall, and another guard handed him a cigarette lighter. He flicked the lighter until a small flame appeared, and he threw the lighter at the body.
The lighter appeared to fly in slow motion. The flame flickered slowly back and forth in the air as the temporal river slowed. Tiny individual sparks flew from the flame and drifted slowly towards the earth. The shiny metal surface of the lighter reflected sunlight into Scootaloo’s moist eyes. A tiny droplet of water, lipids, and proteins formed from the moist layer over the pony’s eyes and slowly dropped towards the ground. It stretched and deformed as it hurtled towards the ground, pushing air out of its way as moved towards its final destination. The tear’s bottom surface touched the dry earth, and the oblong group of water molecules spread out to form a thin film of wetness next to Scootaloo’s left foreleg. At that exact moment, the lighter reached the point in space that was currently occupied by Scootaloo’s father. The molecules of the lighter, however, could not occupy the same space as the molecules of the stallion, so the lighter hit his soggy coat and bounced off. As the lighter flew through the air, a few molecules of vaporized gasoline met a few molecules of superheated oxygen from the lighter. The gasoline reacted with the oxygen in an exothermic combustion reaction, releasing large amounts of heat. The heat spread through the air and across the carcass, igniting more and more gasoline molecules. Eventually, a huge fireball exploded around the dead body and engulfed it in flames. The flames were blue, just like Nimbus’s coat.
As Scootaloo watched her father burn into oblivion, she thought about crying. She thought about being sad. She thought about throwing a tantrum or throwing a fit or mourning loudly. She thought about all of these things, yet none of them happened. She had cried enough that day. She had been sad enough, mourned enough, and thrown enough fits that day. She didn’t really want to be sad anymore. So she wasn’t.
Scootaloo watched her father’s corpse burn into a pile of ashes with no emotions. She felt out of reality. She felt as if she were watching a movie, as if this was all a nightmare, but she knew it wasn’t. She knew that her father was dead and that his memory was floating away in the smoke from the fire. She knew that everything was real, and she accepted it. She knew that pain and suffering would be common words to her from now on, and she had accepted that. As she watched the final blue flames on her father’s body die out, she let her memories of him die out, too. She looked at the earth ponies laughing at the pile of ashes and cracking jokes. She steeled her nerves and calloused her emotions. She was ready for whatever they could throw at her.
Or so she thought.