Ponyville was once a rather bustling rural town, its marketplace always teeming with local farmers and traders, and its citizens were some of the happiest pony folk you ever could meet. That all changed when the Griffons attacked. Twilight could remember the night all too well. She was up late studying when Spike belched up a scroll in his sleep, the little dragon so exhausted that it didn't even wake him. She pondered why Celestia would be sending her a message so late at night as she unrolled the parchment until the grim news the letter brought quickly wiped such trivial thoughts from her mind. Canterlot was under heavy attack by the Griffon empire. Celestia urged Twilight to do what she could to get as far from Ponyville as possible, as it would almost certainly be a priority target, being the home of all six of the elements of harmony.
The tears always came when Twilight thought of that night, the night her world was shattered. She cried for her friends and her family back in Canterlot, who she had been unable to contact since the invasion. She cried for the town she called home, the sound of splintering wood and the sight of screaming ponies being dragged from their homes still fresh in her mind. Most of all, she cried for Spike. He was still so small…Celestia had always said that pony hatched dragons grew far slower than normal dragons, but Twilight was not prepared to lose him when he was still the size of an eight-year-old pony, even if he was really ten years older than he appeared. She had still not forgiven herself for throwing him, barely awake and totally unprepared, into the wilderness to survive on his own. She prayed every night to whatever gods would listen to keep him safe.
If the nights were hard, though, the days were even harder. The work camp erected at the base of the mountain closest to Ponyville was brutal, a place the likes of which she had never experienced before. She spent her days, from sunup to sundown, using the limited magic she could access through the suppressor ring on her horn to move rubble and carts full of precious metals and gems through the mines. The work camps were an invention of the current overseer of Equestria, General Varzeros Bloodwing, and it seemed like anypony caught breaking Griffon law was shipped out to a work camp. There, ponies basically became slaves. There were guards posted at the mines at all times, so anypony caught slacking on the job would be whipped, quite literally, back into shape.
Twilight had seen so many ponies dragged to this horrible place, including several close friends. Lyra was the first to go. As a grand master of the Still Way, her potent skills in magical combat enabled her to bring down a staggering number of Griffons during the initial invasion. Before morning broke, she was deemed far too dangerous to be allowed to live with the general populous. When the Griffons finally subdued her, they immediately affixed a suppressor ring to her horn and sent her to start construction on the work camp under constant surveillance. Even now, a guard was posted to watch her at all times. Later on was Bon Bon, a close friend of Lyra's. She was caught several times aiding prisoners, providing them with food and drink from her store.
Rainbow Dash was the last of her friends to be sent to the appalling camp. Twilight vividly remembered the day they summoned everyone, whether from home or from work, to the town square.
Confused murmurs ran through the crowd of ponies gathered before town hall, nopony daring to ask above a whisper what was going on. The grey skies indicated that the scheduled rain would start soon, so why were they all outside? Twilight had become a scribe for the Griffons in addition to tending to the library, so they had placed her in the front of the crowd to record the event. While most ponies were looking to the faces of their friends and family for answers, or casting nervous glances through their manes at the Griffon guards surrounding the area, Twilight was transfixed on the pillory at the base of the town hall steps. It had an elevated platform, and the holes were sized just right for a po-
"LEMME GO, YOU FEATHERING BRUTES!"
Twilight's thoughts evaporated and her head snapped around when she recognized Rainbow Dash's furious voice. The whole crowd seemed to ripple as ponies turned to see the commotion. Two Griffon guardsmen were dragging the kicking and screaming mare toward town hall. Twilight's eyes widened. A ripple went through the crowd as ponies began to mumble and whisper, and Twilight tore her eyes away and craned her neck backward, scanning the crowd. Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie, Fluttershy, where are you… She didn't know what was happening. She just had to find them.
The rain began to fall as Rainbow's captors reached the town square. She could now see the pillory awaiting her, and it only strengthened her resolve to escape. She suddenly stopped thrashing and yelled at the top of her lungs, "I SAID, LET. ME. GO!" and with all the strength she had left, she dug her hind legs into the ground and kicked off into the air. One of the guards lost his grip in shock, and a single powerful kick to the beak of the other sent him crashing into the ground. She looped down to briefly touch the now softening earth before rocketing straight up into the darkening sky. Twilight's eyes now locked onto her nimble form. She hadn't found even one of the other girls. She silently hoped beyond hope that Rainbow would dart through the blackening clouds and disappear from view, disappear from this now hostile place. The freedom was short lived, however, as four airborne soldiers immediately converged on the Pegasus and tackled her, driving her headlong into the mud below.
"GET OFF OF ME, YOU BASTARDS!" Rainbow screamed as she was dragged to the base of the steps and dumped onto the platform. The guards shoved her neck and forelegs onto the slots, and she felt the hard wood slam down and heard the lock click shut, securing her into the pillory. They also took care to swiftly clamp her hind legs in steel shackles before she could start kicking at them again.
The town hall doors swung open and an ominous shadow was cast over Rainbow's form, causing her to go still. Twilight slowly trailed her eyes up to the doorway and her body seemed to respond of its own accord, trying to shrink back into the crowd, her breath catching in her throat. In the doorway stood a massive armor-clad Griffon, his piercing golden eyes fixed on Rainbow. Twilight recognized him. From the invasion. He had showed up when Lyra was still fending off the Griffon infantry, and his roar from the sky had not only seemingly reinvigorated the troops, it had pressed down on Twilight's very soul.
"It would appear we have everypony here now," he said in a deep, pitiless voice. Twilight felt as though she were trapped in an icy chasm as it washed over her, rooting her in place, and she had to put all her will into not shuddering openly. The cold drizzle was not helping. She was clearly not the only pony in the crowd who was uncomfortable, either; others were shifting restlessly and pawing at the wet ground.
"I will begin by saying that this is not something we Griffons, as a people, wish to do. We have been more than lenient in our dealings thus far, but when ponies like this Pegasus spurn the gentle hand we offer, we have no choice but to act. The Pegasus Rainbow Dash has committed her third act of flying in a flight restricted zone. For her transgressions, she is sentenced to carry out the rest of her days in the work camps," he paused, and Twilight could swear she saw cruel mirth dance in his golden orbs for but a moment, "as well as being stripped of her ability to fly."
Twilight's mind went blank. She stared forward without seeing for a moment. Rainbow, unable…to fly? A collective hush fell over the square. Rainbow, however, sprang back to life.
"Hey, wait a minute! What are you talking about?" she demanded, now struggling to escape the wooden apparatus which locked her in place to no avail.
"We were more than reasonable. You were even given a lead position in the weather patrol. You had more than enough time and space to stretch your wings without going into the restricted zone." The heavily armored Griffon signaled to two guardsmen, who promptly stepped to both sides of the thrashing Pegasus. Twilight finally gathered herself together enough to
"Wait, y-you don't have to do this!" Rainbow's struggles began to falter, her voice cracking. "I-I didn't mean to go too far from town, I swear!" The Griffon's golden orbs blazed briefly and he replied, "You had two chances to learn your lesson already, and you scoffed at both. The only one to blame for what's about to happen is you."
He cast his gaze to the silent crowd. "Let this be a lesson to all. Obedience will earn mercy. Rebellion results in pain." The guards flanking a now still Rainbow looked to him, and he nodded curtly. Each of them nodded back and gripped a handful of feathers in their talons.
"W-wait, please! Please d-don't do this!" Rainbow's voice trembled. "I swear I'll n-never even fly above the treetops again, just please, please anything else. P-please not this." Rainbow began to sob, the gravity of the entire situation finally sinking in, destroying what was left of her courage.
Her pleas were ignored.
Each yank sent another talonful of feathers flying into the air and caused Rainbow to release another shriek of pain. She thrashed against her solid wood prison, the clanking of the shackles on her hind legs just barely audible under her screams. The silent crowd looked on in stunned horror as the young Pegasus was violated in a manner no Pegasus should ever experience. Each feather torn from her seemed to weaken her, the thrashing and crying dwindling until they were naught more than twitches and pathetic sobs. Twilight saw Rainbow break as the last of her feathers were torn from her wings. Her body went limp. Her eyes took on a hollow, dead look. When the guards unshackled her, one slung her unceremoniously over the other's back and they marched off.
The massive Griffon took one last look over the crowd as he stepped out of the doorway, and Twilight noted somewhere in the back of her frayed mind that his armor was plated in gold, looking in the rain just like his frigid golden eyes. Without warning he took to the air, scattering Rainbow Dash's feathers to the wind again. A single muddied, cyan feather landed before Twilight's hooves. She didn't think her friend's screams would ever stop ringing in her ears.
Rainbow hadn't been the same since. She hadn't spoken a word since the incident, and she didn't willingly associate with anypony. She barely seemed to have any will at all. Twilight had begun puzzling through a spell to contact Canterlot almost immediately after the Griffons first invaded, hoping to open even a brief communication with anyone she could reach. After the brutal punishment dealt to Rainbow Dash, she knew she had to act, and she knew she couldn't reach just anypony. That very night, she attempted valiantly to locate Princess Celestia. Her spell was not yet perfect, though, which unfortunately resulted in it projecting a brilliant beam of neon magenta light out of the attic window in the dead of night, which landed her in her current location.
Twilight only heard about the rest of her friends in passing. From what she could gather, Applejack was still running Sweet Apple Acres, but it was now under Griffon control. She had apparently tried to rebuke the first wave of intruders on her farm, but once the Griffons reached the house and threatened her family with corporal punishment, she quickly caved to their demands. Soon there were constant patrols around every inch of the farm's perimeter, and she was given instructions on what crops to have ready for each shipment out of Ponyville. Failure to comply would result in punishment not only for herself, but for all of the farm workers as well.
Pinkie Pie, as Twilight remembered her, was another casualty of the occupation. Ever since the invasion, her hair appeared to be permanently deflated, and she showed not a single ounce of the joy she was most known for. Sugar Cube Corner had been turned into a mess hall for the Griffon troops, so the Cakes and Pinkie worked tirelessly around the clock to provide for the warriors of the occupying army. Twilight had heard talk from the newer members of the work camp that Pinkie would sit in the shop window every night now, just staring up at the moon for hours without even blinking. There had also been a handful of unexplained murders within the city limits after nightfall, but thus far no reports had been made of anyone glimpsing so much as a shadow of the culprit.
While Rarity was utterly appalled by the brutality of the Griffons, her eye for style and her innovation was quickly noticed by the Griffon higher-ups, and she was told to start designing new armor for the troops. She was reluctant to aid those who put her country in such a state at first, despite her desire to create, but her allegiance was quickly nullified when the invaders threatened to put her parents and younger sister into the infamous work camp if she refused. From that moment on, Carousel Boutique turned from a high-class fashion establishment to the heart of metal forging in Ponyville. She was an excellent actress, and she seemed to take to her new job with ease, but it was soon clear to nearly everypony that the task of making attire for war was physically and mentally destroying the young fashionista. Each passing day seem to drain a little more shine from her coat and a little more sparkle from her mane.
Finally, there was Fluttershy. The Griffons allowed her to continue her work as an animal caretaker as long as she agreed to provide a quota of eggs from her chickens each month. The griffons assigned a handful of ponies from the town to assist her in the raising of chickens and collection of eggs, and so far there hadn't been any issues. She seemed outwardly the same, but before Twilight had been sent to the camp, she had noticed there was something off about her dear friend. Once, she watched Fluttershy ask Rarity if they were still on for their weekly spa visit despite everyone in town knowing full well that the Ponyville day spa was shut down by the Griffons for being a waste of resources. When reminded of this, Fluttershy responded as if she had been told the spa was simply closed for the week, and said they shouldn't forget to reschedule. It began to seem more and more like the shy animal keeper was living in some fabricated world that only existed for her.
Twilight shook her head violently. She couldn't be thinking about her friends now, not while she was working. The punishment for slowing the line was harsh, and it took all of Twilight's concentration and energy to move the heavy mine carts while her magic was being suppressed. With her focus renewed, her horn lit up with a faint magenta glow, and the cart began to creep forward. She would have plenty of time to lament her old life when she was back in the sleeping quarters.
When the bell above the camp sounded the end of the day, Twilight raised a hoof to wipe the sweat from her brow. Her life of constant study had not prepared her at all for such hard labor. Each day was a grueling endeavor, and Twilight was never totally sure she'd get make it through. The young unicorn made her way to the main yard of the camp, her eyes scanning the other workers for a familiar cyan coat. It didn't take long to spot her; Rainbow's spectrum-streaked mane was rather easy to find in any crowd. The Pegasus stood near one of the fences surrounding the camp, her blank eyes staring out at countryside. It pained Twilight greatly to see her friend, once so full of pride, life, and passion, reduced to this empty shell of a pony.
Twilight walked up to her friend and gave her a nuzzle. "Come on, Rainbow. We need to get to something to eat before they call lights out." Rainbow gave a weak nod.
Twilight and Rainbow fell quietly into the soup line, which seemed to be serving a runny oat porridge this evening. Twilight passed the time by gazing around at her fellow workers. Downcast faces and dirty coats was all she saw. She had never seen such misery in Equestria before these camps were created. Some ponies now bore scars along their flanks where the bite of a whip had drawn blood from them. The only comfort the sight brought her was relief for sending Spike away. She would have died before she let him wind up in a place like this.
Twilight claimed bowls for herself and Rainbow and lead her friend to a rickety table. Twilight had taken it upon herself to make sure Rainbow survived this sickening place, hoof-feeding her before taking a single bite. The watery sludge was barely enough to fill one up, but it was better than nothing. When she finished her own bowl, Twilight collected the dishes and placed them in the cleaning bin. She gauged, based on the sun's position, that there might just be barely enough time to get herself and Rainbow clean before they were ushered into their sleeping quarters.
As the pair made their way inside the small bathing shack, Twilight checked to see if there were any other ponies around. Once satisfied that the coast was clear, she filled one of the bathing tubs with the ice cold water that was brought in from the mountains, then cautiously used what magic she could to perform a weak heating spell on the bath. It wasn't much, but it got the temperature to around lukewarm. Using magic was forbidden outside of the mine area itself, and anyone caught was given ten lashes as punishment. She stepped into the tub, ushered Rainbow in, and cradled her gently while she cleaned the dirt and sweat from the day's work away, taking special care when she made it to the her friend's barren wings. The only thing Rainbow seemed capable of doing herself anymore was pulling the mining carts the Griffons strapped to her every morning. Twilight hastily finished wiping herself down as the last hints of sunlight faded from the sky. They would have just enough time to make it to their sleeping quarters before the call for lights out was issued.
Twilight helped Rainbow into the tiny bed and gave her despondent friend another reassuring nuzzle before pulling the thin blanket over her. She never received a return nuzzle or so much as a word of thanks, but it didn't matter to her. She knew the best flier in all of Equestria was still alive, hidden deep within those dull magenta eyes, and Twilight wasn't going to let Rainbow's body die before she could regain her spirit and be herself again. With the last of her self-imposed duties completed, Twilight collapsed onto her own bed, the fatigue from the day crashing into her all at once, and her eyelids suddenly felt like they had weights attached to them.
As sleep threatened to claim her, Twilight hoped she might dream of Spike tonight instead of the horrible nightmares she routinely had. She had dreamt once that Spike had returned to Ponyville, all grown up and standing as tall as Celestia herself. In her dream, Spike smashed his way into the camp and rescued her and Rainbow, sweeping them both up in his powerful arms and flying them out of the hellish place. It was one of her favorite dreams, but one she so seldom enjoyed, each passing day spent in this place pushing the idea of life returning to normal further and further out of her mind. Twilight made a silent promise to herself, one she had made many times now, that no matter how bad things got, she would survive to see Spike at least one last time, to see the magnificent dragon she knew he would grow up to be.
Ambient energy cracked through the air as a nearly eight foot tall violet dragon leveled a claw at his target. Even at the dragon's impressive height, the mountain giant he was staring down still towered over him. The giant lifted what appeared to be an entire pine tree into the air, poised to smash the smaller beast into a fine paste. The dragon never broke his cool gaze away from the giant, his emerald eyes betraying nothing of his plan of attack. Neither had moved nor even seemed to breathe for several stretched, tense moments, as if they both sensed the fight would be decided in an instant, and neither wanted to miss any subtle hints the other might give away.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the giant let out a throaty bellow as he swung his massive tree. The dragon couldn't help but let slip a fanged grin as he watched the lumbering brute. Too slow, he thought, far too slow. As the giant's makeshift club arced through the air, the dragon decided he had waited long enough. The latent energy in the air vanished, and with a simple snap of his claw, a blazing column of light shot down from the heavens, completely enveloping the giant. All that remained of the giant when the brilliant light faded was a rather large pile of ash. The seemingly imposing creature had been utterly incinerated. It was rather clear who the winner of the skirmish was, and the dragon turned around with a grin plastered all over his face.
A much larger dragon that appeared to be made of translucent crystal sat a ways back, and it rose up as the smaller purple dragon approached, looking calm despite being intensely exasperated with him.
"I swear, you are the most thick-headed dragon I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. For two decades I have been telling you that your body has not developed as much as your magic. For two decades I have warned you of the potential harm you could cause yourself, yet you still see fit to expend eighth order spells to deal with riffraff. Do you have some sort of death wish, boy?"
Spike sighed. He knew this lecture was coming, but still, the idea had been far too tempting to ignore. "No, master, I do not have a death wish. I just thought it would be good to see how well my body could handle the spell. It was taxing, but I believe I managed it quite well."
The elder dragon huffed, clearly not buying the explanation in the least. "I've been around just a few centuries too long to fall for as feeble an excuse as that one. You also cannot pretend as though I am unaware of your tendencies for showboating and reckless use of magic. Simply try demonstrating a little restraint in the future, my young apprentice."
"Yes, yes," Spike relented. "I'll be more careful in the future, master."