Noctis is fast asleep in her tree shelter, exhausted from the night before. She doesn't hear the ominous thunder rumbling above, or see the lightning flashing through the clouds.
A lightning bolt arcs down from the sky, striking the trees below. A spark, vibrant light- and fire!
"Mama, it's too hot..." mutters Noctis, still deeply asleep. "And it's getting hotter-"
She wakes up with a jolt, and is greeted by searing flames and thick smoke near her door.
"Oh Luna, a wildfire!"
Noctis bolts, running as fast as she can away from the flames and deeper into the forest.
But why didn't the thunder wake me up? The last thing I remember is running through brambles...
Now safe from the flames, she looks at her reflection in a puddle.
All those cuts- why do they look so strange? Not like injuries from normal thornbushes...
She experimentally licks one of her injuries and retches at the horrid taste filling her mouth.
Those were poison-thorn bushes! Oh sweet Luna, I need to find the antidote fast! I know what plant to use, but will I get there in time?
She races down a deer trail that leads deep into a valley with a lake in the center.
This is the only place that herb grows...
Noctis heads to a certain hidden spot between the rocks and finds the plant she needs. Most of the patch she leaves alone, but she takes enough of the herb to get rid of the poison in her cuts.
Her wounds now treated and the poison countered, she turns back to the trail she came from.
Hm, my tree burned down so I'll need to find another place to take shelter. Shouldn't be very hard- a forest this big surely has lots of hollow trees. And if worse comes to worse, there should be a few caves nearer to the cliffs. Just need to watch out for eagles there.
As usual, she's on alert, though her main focus is finding shelter from the pouring rain.
One good thing about this storm- I don't smell smoke as strongly any more. Guess it put out the fire. And even better, the rain will wash away my scent and my tracks- makes it harder for predators to find me! Maybe I will live long enough to go back home!
Quiet, menacing voices from the brush and trees distract her from her thoughts. Though she cannot hear all that is said, what she does manage to hear is enough to send her running.
"...Pretty-filly from Equestria..."
Noctis walks quicker, then breaks into a run.
"Catch her!" says a voice very nearby. "
"Aye, and break her little legs if you have to!"
"Don't let her escape!"
Oh Luna, thinks Noctis, What have I gotten myself into?!
Almost as if in answer, a pack of several very large griffins come out of the shadows.
"Awful long way from home, aren't you, chickie?" taunts a battle-scarred dark brown griffin.
"W-what do you w-want f-from a little filly like me..?"
"Money and jewels, if you have any," says a second griffin, this one a dull gray.
"W-what if I don't..?"
"Then your life," replies a third griffin, this one a sandy brown color.
"My... life..?" squeaks Noctis. "But w-why..?"
"Fresh meat," says a fourth griffin, this one brown and white. "You may be a pretty small foal, but you're still edible. And since we're pretty sick of always having to eat fish and rabbits..."
Noctis turns tail and bolts.
There's a clearer area between the trees ahead- gaps are too big for them to get me, but I'm small enough to fly between the branches. Gotta get away!
Taking a zigzag path, she runs to what will hopefully enable her escape, then leaps into the air, spreading her small wings and taking flight.
However, she does not get very far. A small but lithe black griffin leaps unbelievably high, sinking its sharp claws into Noctis's shoulders and dragging her down.
The griffin holds her still and reaches its deadly beak toward her wings. She struggles to get free, only to feel a sudden jolt of pain at the same time as a sickening crack.
"Looks like you're caught now, pretty-filly," taunts the black griffin, "with your wing busted, you're helpless."
Again, she struggles to get free, only to have a sharp claw pressed against her throat.
"Give it up, chickie. Hand over your money and jewels!"
"But I don't have any!"
The black griffin turns to the rest of the bandits with a smirk.
"Shall we take her to the hideout and start a fire, boys?" asks the dark brown griffin from before, apparently the leader.
"Yes, definitely," replies the black griffin. "Tonight we can have a real meal for a change!"
"Better tie her up good then, before she tries to get away."
Before Noctis has a chance to protest, the griffins tie her wings and legs up tight with strong ropes.
"Get her muzzle too. She has sharp teeth and we can't have her breaking free."
Another griffin ties the bat pony's muzzle shut, then picks her up and carries her as the band goes still deeper into the forest, so deep that it makes it almost impossible to find the way back.
After what seems like hours of travel, they reach a cave, and Noctis is thrown roughly to the ground.
"Don't damage her too much yet," says the lead griffin, "I want her to be aware of what we do to her."
The bandits leave her where she is and go to the center of the cave, where the leader is trying to start a fire.
I need to get away from here! thinks Noctis. If I could just get my wing-claws free, maybe I could cut the rope. But it's awful tight...
Carefully, she tests her uninjured wing, seeing if there's any damage. Luckily for her, there is none, so she starts trying to move that wing into position to catch the rope.
Please let them stay away for a while, please let the fire take a while to start, please let me have time to get away...
Unfortunately, the black griffin from before seems to notice her movement and comes over, even as the other bandits get the fire started.
"Kill her when you get over there," says the lead griffin.
The black griffin comes over and, noticing Noctis's struggling, narrows his eyes.
"Might as well just give it up, pretty-filly. You'll never get free."
As he speaks, he flicks out his extremely sharp claws.
"Just stay still and close your eyes, pretty-filly, and I'll make it quick."
Noctis doesn't pay much attention to what is being said.
My wing-claws are almost free, just a little more!
The griffin raises his claws to tear her open, but at that moment, she gets her claws free and slashes through the rope binding her wings and legs, then darts out of reach.
Before any of the griffins can grab her again, she runs out of the cave, wanting to get as far away as she can as fast as she can. But her attackers give chase.
"Didn't order this meal to go!" snaps the lead griffin. "Better get her back quick, or it's on your heads!"
The leader stays behind, probably to make sure the fire stays under control, and the others race after Noctis. Though she is faster than they are, she's tired and injured, and not sure how long she can run before her legs give out.
Eventually, the griffins corner her against a sheer rock wall.
"Better bring her back crippled, if not dead, this time. This little pony-bucker is trickier than the boss thought."
"NO! I'm not prey! You won't take me!"
"You're a helpless little foal alone in the wild. If we don't get you, something else will."
The griffin who spoke reaches his claws toward her, and it seems like she's caught. Desperate, the bat pony looks around for any escape route, and notices a tiny hole in the rocks, too small for the griffins to fit inside.
But can I fit in there? Or is it too small even for me? Of course, if I don't try, they'll tear me apart...
Ultimately, Noctis decides to try it, and actually manages to fit inside the minuscule hole, and as she looks ahead, she notices the hole leads into what appears to be a long tunnel and decides to follow it.
Sharp claws sink into her sides as one of the griffins tries to pull her out, and adrenaline takes over.
A sudden surge of strength, and she manages to tear herself free and race deeper inside the rock. Outside, there is loud snarling and swearing, but the griffins cannot reach her.
Now safe, the adrenaline wears off and exhaustion takes over.
Noctis curls up into a small ball to keep warm, tucks her head under her uninjured wing, and falls into a deep sleep.