What is my name? What WAS my name? I can't remember anymore, it's been so long since anyone's called me by it.
Now, I'm just a letter and a bunch of numbers. M-1-17. The M is for 'minotaur.' The rest is just something they decided on randomly.
And by 'they,' I mean the slavers. For four years they've called me M-1-17. For four years I've been working, demolishing buildings and making railroads.
I've been working for three days straight as of right now, without any rest. Not even a minotaur can keep going like this, but they don't care. So long as their princesses don't have anything to say about it, they'll get results in whatever ways they can.
Now one of the slavers is saying something about a war, and an invasion. I'm not really listening, just thankful for the break. But they start to drag me off, and shove me into a heavily packed train. Only now starting to pay attention, I realize that they intend to have me and the other slaves fight their war for them, too.
Figures. I might as well get whatever rest I can, before we're all turned into magic-sponges.
Zir-shal. My name is Zir-shal.
I keep repeating it in my head, over and over again, trying to remember that I am NOT just some number. For a zebra, one's name is equivalent to their soul; to forget it, to forsake the title bestowed upon you by your father and mother, is a fate worse than death.
So I keep repeating it to myself, even as I mix potentially volatile chemicals together. I try to pay as much attention as I can to my work, while still making sure to remember my sacred title, but know that I risk a thousand deadly mistakes with every potion I brew.
Apparently these ponies don't enjoy fighting for themselves, as they have begun using slaves to take their losses for them. My disgust at their cowardice may be great, but I cannot speak out against them. I would get nothing if I tried, other than an even earlier demise.
And since zebras have long held mystical secrets that even their greatest unicorns do not know, we are their favorite fodder against magic wielding opponents. Apparently this 'Unicorn King' qualifies, to an extreme degree.
As such, we (meaning me and my enslaved brethren) are preparing for the battle that will soon take place. While I can't help but wonder why the princesses should need so many zebras to defeat a single unicorn, the army gathering nearby tells me that he might not be the only opponent we face. Either that, or he is powerful enough to warrant using an army to take him down.
... not the most comforting thought. Ignoring the strained feeling in my gut, I continue to prepare for the coming battle, repeating 'Zir-shal' to myself, over and over again.
The wind flowing through my feathers is almost comforting. Almost.
Falling from this high up would be a guaranteed death sentence; being able to fly doesn't do much to change that when your wings are chained to your back.
Many of my fellow griffons realize that, too, and more than one had tried to jump off of the airship shortly after takeoff, attempting to get past the guards. One lout actually managed to make it.
Since I'm seated towards the back of the ship, I could just barely see his body as he crashed into the rocks behind and below us at terminal velocity. Now he's finally free, the lucky little...
As we keep heading north, I can't help but wonder where we're going. As the temperature continues to drop and we pass into the wastelands of the frozen north, far beyond where most sane creatures would choose to live, I finally manage to figure it out.
They're taking us to the Crystal Empire.
These annoying little parasites that call themselves 'ponies' keep crawling all over me. They cut off my scales with knives. They tear at my wings with wicked hooks. They stick glowing hot metal into the tender flesh of my wounds.
With every jab, with every hoof stamping along my back, my fury increases. But I cannot destroy those that cause my pain and suffering, so I turn my rage onto whatever happens to be nearby.
Barely even aware of my surroundings, I attack the other group of ponies, the ones that were fighting my agressors. Their armour absorbs the heat of my fiery breath, and turns away my sharp claws. But even armour as great as theirs cannot fully protect them from a dragon's wrath, and they flee further with my every step.
Only one holds his ground. He stands firm, defiant, calmly waiting for me to approach. It infuriates me even more, and I attempt to crush him underneath my great hand. The stones buckle under my blow, but the pony doesn't.
I lift my hand, and search for the missing stallion, barely noticing the faint sensation of hooves on my back. Glancing up, I'm able to see the stallion as he brings his hooves to bear.
As my consciousness fades, I can't help but be both surprised and impressed by the pony's absurd strength.
"What is your name?"
I glance up at the creature standing over me, trying to figure out what he is. He looks vaguely equine, and has a horn, so I would guess him to be a unicorn... except that he looks absolutely nothing like a normal pony.
As I try to gather my wits, I remember how I got here. The slavers had taken me to fight the crystal ponies, and I had tried to survive the battle. But I had been hit by one particularly massive stallion, and then everything went black.
Now I'm being helped to my feet by a grey pony, and once again trying to remember a name long lost to time. "I... don't remember my name anymore. They just called me 'M-1-17.'"
The unicorn seemed to ponder this for a moment, before saying, "Miit."
"What?" I ask, completely baffled by his seemingly random statement.
"Your name is Miit. Welcome to the Crystal Empire." As he finishes, I glance past him, and see something that I can't believe.
"H-How? What happened to them?"
He glances back at the two figures behind him, frozen in purple crystals. Their faces hold looks of absolute terror, and their wings and horns leave little doubt as to their identities. "The princesses are defeated. You are free. You may do as you wish, and go where you wish, so long as you do not harm or harass my people."
I look around, only now noticing all of the other creatures celebrating across the city. I look at my hands, wondering what I could possibly do with them, now that I am free to do as I wish.
I choose to hug the strange creature before me, careful not to crush him in my massive arms. "Thank you."
He seems baffled at first, but then uses his magic to pry me off, and smiles as he says, "You're very welcome. However, I am not the only one you should thank. This battle had many heroes.
"But now is not the time for such things. Now is a time for happiness, and hope. Go, and enjoy your new freedom."
I gladly go to do just that.
"You're heading south?"
I glance at the pegasus behind me, recognizing him as the one who had been fighting with the defenders by his distinct blue and grey coloration.
"Indeed. My home is not amongst the ice and snow, so to warmer lands, I go.
The pegasus rubs his chin in thought for several seconds, before smiling brightly. "You know, that actually sounds like a good idea. Equestria's going to need just as much rebuilding as this place, and a new leader." He starts flying off, but turns back before he gets very far. "You want to help?"
I guess that it's as good an idea as any, and return his bright smile. "Very well. Help you I shall, or my name isn't Zir-shal!"
"Your name's Zir-shal?"
"So, I can go wherever I want?"
"And do whatever I want?"
"As long as I don't mess with your empire?"
The unicorn brings his hoof up to his face, clearly annoyed by me and my many questions. "Is that not what I have stated several times over now?"
"I'm sorry. It's just... well, I've never been 'free' before. Well, not since I can remember, at least." I claw at the ground nervously, trying to remember that the creature standing before me wasn't going to suddenly start ordering me around, that I was 'free,' as the others kept calling it.
He sighs at that, clearly very disappointed, although apparently not very surprised. "Celestia and Luna had been harming the innocent for far too long. It is good that no one else will be subjected to such injustice." He turns, and begins to walk away from me.
"Wait!" I wince as he turns back, but steel myself as I continue. "If I can go anywhere... does that mean that I can stay here?"
He seems to be somewhat surprised by that particular question, but still answers quickly. "Yes. As I said, you can go anywhere, and here is part of 'anywhere.' But if you choose that path, know that you will have to obey my laws, and that I shall be your absolute ruler."
"And I'm okay with that," I say as I bow to him. "In fact, I would like to make a request about how I might serve you." He nods, prompting me to go on. "I want to join the military."
Once again, he seems to be taken by surprise. His face holds a thoughtful expression for several seconds, before he speaks further. "Are you aware that there are currently no griffons in the Crystal Battalions? That there are no creatures, other than crystal ponies?"
I nod eagerly. "Yeah. And I don't care. I know how to fight, and I know that you're the creature that freed me. So I want to be in your army."
A small smile appears on his lips. "Then I shall gladly accept you. The pegasi became a military super-power because of their ability to fly; your abilities should make an excellent addition to my forces. And if you know anyone else who may wish to join, be sure to invite them to do so. May the new Aerial Brigade make your people proud."
Aerial Brigade, huh? It's alright, I guess, but it could be a little bit flashier. How about... The Talons. Yeah, I like the sound of that!
The little mare starts screaming, begging me to put down her foal. I simply grin, holding out an open palm. She seems to understand well enough, as she quickly drops a small purse into my waiting hand.
"What, is that it? Isn't your kid worth a little bit more than that?" Heh. A little 'bit'.
Father likes to talk about how I shouldn't hurt ponies, but it's hard to listen to him when they're the ones that made him like he is. He has so many holes in his wings that he can't fly anymore, but he wants me to leave the ones responsible alone? What kind of 'justice' is that?
The mare seems pretty eager to get her little filly back, since she starts grabbing a bunch of apples to give to me. As I lean in to collect my 'reward,' I hear a voice coming from behind me.
"I would kindly suggest that you put my daughter down. Except that I'm not particularly kind when someone harms my kin." I turn to see the speaker, a large stallion chewing on some wheat.
He looks a little bit odd, having a grey, dull coat, rather than the brightly colored kind that most ponies have. He was also incredibly large for a pony, nearly tall enough to reach my shoulder. But what stood out most were the scars covering his entire body.
"Oh, really? And why should I do that? Seems to me like I got a pretty sweet bargaining chip, here." I smirk, certain that he won't have anything to say to that.
He surprises me. "Because you don't know who you're messing with."
"Oh, really? Care to enlighten me?" I have to admit: for a pony, this guy has some hard scales.
The pony stands there for several seconds, idly chewing, before choosing to speak again. "Obsidian."
I freeze up at that. Obsidian. Captain of the Crystal Battalions, King Sombra's right hand stallion. Staring at him, I realize that he looks the part, and that he isn't an earth pony, like I had initially thought. He's a crystal pony, and one of the only ponies in that world that I'm scared of.
Practically throwing the foal to him (but being careful not to hurt it), I start begging him not to hurt me.
"What did you do this time?" I can tell from his voice that my dad isn't happy with me. He probably heard about what I was doing, and was getting ready to punish me.
However, upon opening the front door and seeing the stallion that was accompanying me, his whole demeanor changed.
"Obsidian? Is that you? Ha ha, it's been ages, old friend! I can see that you've been teaching my son some proper manners." He once again turned his disapproving eye at me, only for his anger to be interrupted by Obsidian.
"I'm sorry, have we met?"
"Oh, you probably don't remember me. I was at the Battle of The Crystal Empire. You managed to knock me out cold. Still keeping in good shape, I hope?"
"Quite. Farming is a very rewarding profession. I trust that you want a rematch?"
"Perhaps another time. Right now, I've got someone else to deal with..." As he drags me inside and closes the door, I can't help but be happy that I'm no longer near that monstrous apple farmer.