• Published 14th Jul 2018
  • 5,548 Views, 2,280 Comments

Prey and a Lamb - Lambs Prey



This is a story about a sheep. A little sheep, locked deep in prison, put there by ponies. He doesn't want to be there, but then he's had to do a lot of things he doesn't want to. It's a shame he deserves to be in there.

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2.0 Forced assistance and the Resistance

---The past---

Everything changed with the arrival of Captain Fire Strike.

The first thing the new Captain did when he took command over the Border Guard was to step up patrols and counter attacks. He had bunkers and dugouts built. He was aggressive in all his commands, favouring action over caution.

Fire Strike was quoted for having said on the same day he took command; "If we can't burn out Resistance by Hearths Warming, I'm going to turn this land into Tartarus myself."

Gossamer was scared of this new captain, although he'd only herd of the unicorn through second hoof sources. But they all seemed to say the same thing, 'The war was about to get much worse.' And that meant a harsh knock on effect for the inhabitants of the land. Sometimes he couldn't sleep at night for fear of what the future might hold.

It scared his mother too, she took to leaving the house as little as possible. Fleece in contrast became more outspoken and angry against both the Resistance and the Border Guard. Gossamer didn't know what to do to help either of them.

Three weeks into Fire Strike's command and with very little progress on finishing the war, the Captain made a decision. A decision that would have enormous consequences.

------

"What do you think they want to tell us?" Gossamer whispered to Fleece as he shuffled in closer.

"I don't know, but it'll be bad news either way." His brother muttered back.

"Hush," Their mother said, "Don't let anyone hear you."

The three of them were in the market square, along with the whole village. It was packed, and everyone was on edge. They had received the summons yesterday from Green Field's saying; "Tomorrow, a messenger is coming from Captain Fire Strike that will affect us all. Be at the market square in the morning, or else."

Well here they all where, and still no sign of any Border Guard. Green Fields stood above the crowd, shifting nervously on a wooden speaking platform which had been hastily constructed the night before.

'He doesn't look happy,' Gossamer noted. 'Either he already knows what the messenger will say and its bad, or he's upset about being left in the dark like the rest of us. Or perhaps he's worried if this Border Guard messenger doesn't turn up the crowd will linch him.'

It wasn't an impossibility. Two weeks ago the land owner Oak Tree over in the village of Hard Tack had been hung. Although opinions were still open as to whether it had been the villagers, the Border Guard or the Resistance who had done it.

Much to Gossamer's relief, the Border Guards arrived just then. He didn't want to see anyone or anypony hurt, even Green Fields. Enough had died already.

The Border guard was a grey unicorn, flanked by four accompanying guards in matching brown armour and uniforms. Everyone went silent as he stepped up onto the prepared stage, exchanging a quiet word with Green Fields.

The earth pony didn't look happy at whatever he'd been told, but quickly got off the stage and disappeared. The grey unicorn looked around at the assembled village and cleared his throat noisily. All eyes were on him.

"By direct order from Captain Fire Strike, appointed by her royal majesty Princess Celestia over the Border Guard on this side of the Long Ridge and tasked with putting down this foul rebellion, I bring a message."

"All the inhabitants this side of Long Ridge are to leave their areas of dwelling and travel to Canterlot for relocation. Any who stay will no longer have the protection of the Border Guard extended to them. All who comply will be treated fairly."

The unicorn stopped speaking and stood there.

It took a minute of stunned silence for them all to realise that was the end of the Guard's message, and that he wasn't just stopping to catch his breath.

Gossamer could scarcely believe what the Border Guard had just said, 'They want to kick us out? After all the death they've caused?! Surely I must have misheard?' He glanced quickly over at his mother and Fleece. Their dumb founded expressions said it all.

"Treated fairly? How is this 'treated fairly'?" A lone voice in the still crowd called out.

As if that had been the signal, more of the crowd started to shout out as well, "You're abandoning us?" An angry cow shouted.

"Leave our home? Never!" A donkey next to her yelled.

"Why should we leave? It's you who's the problem!"

"Yeah, if it wasn't for you and the Resistance we'd be fine!"

The unicorn on the stand looked around in confusion, bafflement on his features. He tried to say something but it was lost over the rising din of the crowd. He tried again, and when that too failed he took a different approach.

His horn started to glow blue, and the closest members of the crowd who had been pressing forwards abruptly backed of with startled yelps, but it wasn't an attack spell.

"Be quiet!" The unicorn shouted, his voice magically amplified. At the sudden volume, the crowd was shocked into doing just that.

"I repeat, this is a command from Captain Fire Strike," The Border Guard told the crowd, "This is for your own good. Can you not you can see that?"

"In what way is this for our own good?" Someone called out.

"We're moving you out of harms way, far away from the rebel threat in this land. The Border Guard is having to spend unnecessary resources on patrolling these villages and fields, rather than focusing on the true threat. The sooner you leave, the sooner we can finish this little war and then we can all go home." The unicorn explained as if it were obvious.

A long silence met his words. Eventually, an elderly sheep hobbled forwards, her wool grey and muzzle wrinkled with age, "You want us all to leave our homes?" The ewe asked in a shaking voice. The Guard nodded confidently, "Correct, if you do, you will be treated fairly-"

"Who will tend to our farms while we are gone?" The old sheep asked, her raspy voice somehow cutting through the unicorns magically enhanced one.

The unicorn blinked, his ear cocked to the side, "No one I guess." He replied.

"And if we left, what would await us on the other side of the border? Would your Princess provide new farms for us?" The ewe asked.

The grey unicorns eyes had narrowed noticeably at the phrase 'your Princess', rather than 'the' or 'our' Princess, but he still answered, "I was not tasked with the details, but rest assured, those who comply with us will be treated fairly. Trust me, it'll all work out fine for you."

The old sheep squinted up at him, "And pray tell, how would we get over the mountains? We have no supplies, and the harvest isn't for another two months. We have no magic or wings to speed any journey we might take. The route is hard and dangerous, especially at this time of year. Would you provide for us and act as our guards?"

The unicorn tilted his head in puzzlement, as if he didn't understand what the problem was, "No, of course not. That's not our job. Our job is to stop the rebels as quickly as possible. We can't do that if we're wasting our time trekking over the mountains now, can we?"

The crowd stared at him, and the other Border Guards who stood behind the grey spokes-unicorn, all looking completely oblivious. An ugly feeling started to build as many angry gazes fixed on the guards.

A murmur rippled through the crowd, one of disbelief and anger, twisting and growing as it went. Even the Border Guards couldn't miss such an obvious sign, and they began to shift nervously on the stage.

The old sheep who had asked the questions looked stonily up at the grey unicorn, "Well then young stallion, here's my answer." She said, and with that spat on the ground and turned away back into the crowd, who closed ranks behind her.

"Come," Gossamer's mother murmured to him and his brother, "We don't need to be here any longer. Quickly now." She said, pushing them towards the back of the crowd, her gaze never leaving the stage as the crowd started to press forwards again, a dark look in their eyes.

Gossamer shook his head furiously, and with a shiver turned to leave. It didn't take a genius to figure out that something bad was going to happen.

"Fleece." His mother called. "Fleece come on." Gossamer shot a look back. Fleece was still glaring at the stage.

"Fleece, we need to go." Their mother pleaded. The muttering of the crowd had grown into out right shouting by now.

"Fleece!"

Whatever spell it was that held Fleece frozen broke. His brother gasped as if coming up for air and finally turned away, rushing head long past their mother and Gossamer as he raced for home. Gossamer looked up into his brothers confused and angry face as he passed, "Fleece-" He whispered, but his brother was already past and running for home. He stole a glance back at his mother's face.

She looked scared. He was scared too.

"Come along Sweetie." She said in a strained voice, chivying him along further away from the shouting as the Border Guard drew up into a defensive formation on the stage. He didn't see who threw the first stone.

Gossamer hung his head and started plodding after Fleece.

---The Present---

"Wake up 452." An armoured hoof prodded him into wakefulness none to gently.

He opened his eyes to see one of the Pegasus standing over him. He glanced out from where he lay on the now still chariot floor to see they'd landed in some rocky barren field, no sign of any settlement, and one of the unicorns had started a magical fire. It was late in the day, and in the sky Celestias sun was slowly sinking. 'We must have stopped for the night.'

"I said get up inmate 452." The Pegasus barked, his nostrils flaring. 'A hot head it seems. Might make him easier to bait.'

"You said wake up, not get up." The sheep corrected the Solar guard smoothly, but rose to his hooves anyway. Even standing, he barely came to the bottom of the Pegasus's golden chest plate. "Well, I'm up. What do you want?" He asked with an innocent smile.

The guard scowled at him and unhooked the chain attached to his shackles, "It's dinner time. Get over to the fire. Annoy me and you can go without, and don't even think of trying to run. You wouldn't get two paces before we caught you." The Guard told him bluntly.

He blinked, he hadn't honestly expected to get fed. He knew he wouldn't have fed a prisoner, he'd want them weak and hungry to ensure obedience. 'Right, I keep forgetting, this are the pony guard, not the Resistance. They're soft.' He thought. They made their way over to the fire, the Pegasus breathing down his neck the whole way as he shuffled along in the heavy chains.

The solar Guard were all gathered around the fire, apart from two who stood guard, scanning the barren rocks surrounding them. None of the unicorns or Pegasus said a word to him, but he got quite a number of glares as he sat down, looking very small between two of the armoured unicorns.He made sure to sit on the opposite side of the fire from Captain Valour. The huge unicorn reminded him too much of Captain Fire Strike.

Sunshine levitated a mess tin over to him, and he took it clumsily between his metal encased hooves, and flask of water followed. Sunshine looked at him, as if waiting for thanks, but when it became obvious none was coming, the unicorn simply shrugged and picked up his own tin.

The guards were alert, but not on edge, so it was likely they hadn't landed in hostile territory. Or the Solar Guard's were confident they could handle any threat that came their way.

He personally had no idea where they were, he didn't remember any of this, either from his own memories or one's belonging to others. Who knew how far they were away from Vanhoover right now? He hadn't exactly been conscious when he'd been transported to Dreverton, which was why he hadn't known if teleportation from the volcano prison was possible or not.

The mess tin was full of some kind of hard biscuit and gruel. It was almost as tasteless as the meals he'd gotten in Dreverton. Observing the faces of the Solar Guards while hiding that he was doing so, he saw that quite a few of them were picking at their food half heartedly. It was something of a surprise to see that their mess tins held the same fare his own did.

'It seems their morals really are as shiny as their armour if they won't even think of eating better than the prisoner. What a foolish notion.' He thought, dipping his head for another mouthful.

As he finished his meal, he studied the ponies intently, but much to his disappointment, he couldn't see any drop in their guard despite the late hour and long day of travel. 'Tonight is likely the best chance at escape I'm going to get.' He thought.
He looked at the unicorns and Pegasus surrounding him on all sides, all highly trained and all there for one reason and one reason only. To make sure he didn't escape. He sighed, 'So no chance whatsoever.'

---The Past---

In the end, none of the village left for Canterlot aside from Green Fields and his family. No one was sad to see them go.

The Border Guards who had delivered Fire Strike's ultimatum had been run out of town, retreating under a magical shield while they were pelted with rocks and whatever else came to hoof. Not a single Border Guard in their distinctive brown uniforms and silver armour had been seen since. All patrols had ceased, all inspections had stopped. It was shocking in its abruptness.

To the villagers, it was the first step to peace, for them at least. The Border Guard and the Resistance could fight each other to their hearts content so long as they left the villagers out of it.

That peace lasted for all of a week. Gossamer wished that he could remember something happy about that week, wished he could say that for at least that last little bit before everything went to Tartarus, that they were a family again. But he couldn't. It was just another week still spent in worry and fear of the Resistance returning, their mother withdrawn, and Fleece angry.

---One week later---

Gossamer sat numbly amidst the smoking ruins that had been the village. Everything stank of smoke and his eyes were red from it. The fire had blazed all night and lit the sky blood red as he and Fleece had cowered under a bush, helpless to do anything but watch.

Fleece was somewhere near by, frantically running back and forth between the rubble and still smoldering beams, yelling for their mother. Gossamer wanted to join him, but his legs refused to support his weight and he couldn't get his mind to work properly, 'They burned it all. They burned it all.' Was the only thing in his head. His eyes stung.

Their mother had told them to run and hide till the night was over. "Don't come out till it's all over!" Was the last thing they'd heard from her. They'd done just that.

'Why? Why didn't we stay and help? Why did we run like cowards?'

Fleece and Gossamer hadn't moved a muscle the whole night, hardly even blinking as they stared at the fire blazing in the distance. They couldn't. They didn't know what to do, they only knew that their mother had told them to hide until tomorrow.

Well now tomorrow was here in all it's awful glory. The bright sun over head a mockery to the ruin that lay below. The village that he'd grown up knowing was gone. All of it. Not even the old maypole which no one had used in living memory was left standing.

'The Border Guard didn't come. They could've seen the fire all the way in the mountains, yet they didn't come to help. They still haven't come. They're not coming are they? Not even to help the survivors...'

A broken sound, half way between a laugh and a sob escaped him, "What survivors?" He asked hollowly to the remains of the inn lying before him.

It had been called the Seven Horseshoes, and Mr Barley the mule had run it. Now it was nothing but still glowing embers. He wondered sickly if Mr Barley was somewhere under all that, now nothing but a burnt crisp as well.

'Burnt up just like all those others-No! Don't think about them. Forget the blistered flesh of Miss Half trapped under-NoNo! Stop it! Leave me alone!' He was whimpering now, and shivering. 'W-why am I shivering? It's not cold at all.' The heat from the burnt village still radiated around him, along with the horrible cloying stench of burnt flesh.

"Mother!" Fleece's shriek cut through his shock. It's pitch sent horrible chills through Gossamer's blood. The despairing shriek was different from his previous calls for their mother. It could only mean-

"No." He whimpered, "NonoNo No no NoNo!" He sobbed as he stumbled as fast as his shaking legs would carry him towards Fleece, his brother half obscured by drifting smoke and piles of debris.

Gossamer rounded the pile just as the smoke shifted, revealing Fleece kneeling in the dirt by the still form of an adult sheep, his fore legs wrapped round their neck as he cried into her cream wool- "...no..." He whispered.

His brother sobbed into their mother's ash speckled wool, hugging her neck tightly.

'No.'

Her body was strangely untouched by the fire that had ravaged the village, in fact it almost looked like she could have been asleep. 'No, this can't be real.'

Gossamer couldn't move, he could only stand their shivering wide eyed at the still body that lay before them, "How could this happen?" He asked numbly.

His mouth answering his own question without any input from his brain, "S-smoke inhalation. M-Mother always said smoke w-was the real killer. J-just a f-few breaths... Just a f-few breaths, a-and, and-" His legs gave out.

He couldn't breathe, heart pounding as he started to hyperventilate. 'Is this what happened to mother? Did she try to breathe and nothing came? Was it painful-?' He turned his head and retched, everything compounding and bearing down on him, black thoughts and emotions swirling through him.

"I don't want to be here any more." He said in a small voice, "I don't want to be alive."

"No!" Fleece roared, shaking his hoof at the blue sky, "This is all your fault! I hate you!" He screamed at the top of his lungs. Gossamer stared at his brother, the rage twisted his features into something unrecognizable. Gossamer jerked back as Fleece whirled to face him, "You!" He yelled and lunged. Gossamer sucked in a breath to, to, to, he didn't know but-

Fleece wrapped Gossamer in a desperate hug, his brothers much larger frame enveloping his own.

"Don't you ever say that, don't you dare leave me too!" Fleece growled into Gossamer's wool, "Don't you dare! If you do, I'll, I'll kill you." Fleeces voice had become a choked sob by that point.

Gossamer couldn't get enough air in his lungs, his chest hurt as he clung to Fleece, "F-Fleece, mom is.... What do we do?" Gossamer whimpered. He didn't want to have to think, he just wanted someone else to tell him that none of this was real, that it was all going to be okay. He felt so small. He just wanted his mother back.

Fleece didn't ever get to answer. It was at that moment that a masked figure stepped through the smoke, head flicking this way and that as they looked around. Another figure followed, and another. The first one noticed the two sheep brothers hugging each other and paused mid step, eagle claw hanging in the air.

"Well if it isn't the kid." The griffin drawled.

Even through his tears, Gossamer recognised that voice. It was the same griffin from the market square, the one who had said something horrible to mother. He hadn't realised till he'd heard the voice, the snarling masks and speckled cloaks worn by the griffin and his three companions had thrown him off. 'The..Resistance..' He figured out far too slowly as his mind eventually caught up.

Gossamer whimpered as he saw other masked figures moving about, half scene through the smoke and ruins. Fleece was glaring at the griffin, teeth gritted into a feral snarl which the griffin paid absolutely no mind to as he strolled up, "Well, I'll be honest here, didn't expect to ever see you again kid, specially not after this." He said with a broad wave of a wing, taking in the smouldering devastation around them.

Gossamer began shaking even worse as the Griffin strolled unhurriedly over, 'Why are they here? Why now? Why didn't they come last night during the fire? The could have helped. Were they afraid of a trap? But, if so, why now? Unless...' Unless they were the cause of the fire in the first place.

Fleece muttered something strained, too low to catch. "What was that?" The griffin asked, pushing up his mask and leaning in closer.

Fleece's hoof caught him right in the beak, snapping the bird lions head to the side, "I hate you! This is all your fault. Yours! They're all dead because of you." Fleece screamed into the Griffins face. Gossamer's world contracted and he almost fainted, 'That's it, it's over. We're about to be murdered too.'

Fleece went for a second swipe, but the griffin caught it with ease. Fleece struggled to free himself, but it was hopeless against the strength of the griffin, "Kid, you're upset. I get that. I understand you, and I know what you're going through-"

"You know nothing! Let me go!" Fleece shouted. The griffin tightened his grip instead.

"I know believe me. No one should have to go through loosing their mother-"

Fleece let out a keening sounds, "Don't speak about our mother, don't you dare! Its all your fault"

The griffin yanked Fleece onto the tips of his hooves and then drove a fist almost casually into his gut. "F-Fleece." Gossamer called out as his brother coughed for air. The Griffin barely spared Gossamer a glance as he turned Fleece's head to face his own with his free claw, the other dangling the brown sheep by his fore leg.

"It's not my fault, and it's not yours either. It's hers. Understands?" The griffin asked Fleece. "W-what?" Fleece coughed. The Griffin lowered Fleece back down, "Celestias. It's all her fault. After all, who was it that left you helpless? Who's job was it to protect you? Who let you down? Who let this happen?" Fleece stared at him, "But-"

"-But nothing. You know who's fault this is. You know who you're really angry at." The griffin cooed, lowering his feathered head to Fleeces level, "Hold onto that anger. Keep it fresh and strong, let it give you strength. Never forget this feeling of being helpless. Rage against it, and never let it happen again."

He stared deep into Fleeces eyes, forcing the sheep to hold his yellow gaze, "Now, who is it that you're angry at really?" The griffin challenged softly.

"Celestia." Fleece mumbled in shock. His voice gained strength, "Celestia. This is her fault." He said, voice full of realisation. "This is all her fault."

The Griffins smiled grimly down at Fleece, all signs of caring about the recently orphaned sheep gone, "In that case it's settled. Welcome to the resistance kid. That is, if you want to get your revenge, yes?"

Fleece didn't even hesitate, "Yes. I want revenge." He replied, eyes fixed on the griffin filled with something like desperate hunger.

Gossamer grabbed Fleece from behind and whispered frantically into his ear, "Fleece, Fleece listen to me! We mustn't go with them, they're the one's that burned the village-" Fleece shook his brother off, "No! It's Celestias fault, her and all her ponies. If it wasn't for them..." Fleece's voice cracked, "If it wasn't for them, none of this would have happened. We have to go with the resistance. It's the only way."

Gossamer stared at his brother, almost blind with panic at his brothers sudden fit of madness, "No! Fleece, you're not thinking. Listen to me-"

"No you listen! We have to! I don't care if you're scared Goss, I have to do this. It's my duty to mother. This is what father would have wanted!" Fleece shouted angrily.

Gossamer's throat worked, but nothing came out. He wanted to say: 'The only thing father wanted was that young ewe down the hill' but he couldn't. He couldn't take his father from Fleece right after they'd just lost their mother. 'Mother'. The realisation was like a knife in the gut. 'I'll never see her again.'

"Enough talk. We need to leave before anyone comes to investigate. Come if you want to live. Or stay and die." The griffin broke in. He put a claw on Fleece's shoulder, "Come along kid. You know this is the right choice. Tell you what, because I like your spirit, I'll even take you under my wing and train you up." He offered.

Fleece nodded eagerly, then froze and looked at Gossamer, "What about my brother?" He asked.

The griffin glanced over at the much smaller sheep, still no bigger than a lamb. Gossamer saw nothing but disdain in those bright yellow eyes. "Humph, well, a recruit's a recruit, even if they're only good for latrine duty. I guess I could stand to put you both in the same camp. But not that same unit, there's a limit to my generosity. Take it or leave it."

With that the griffin turned, slipping the snarling manticore mask back over his beak. Once firmly on, he tilted his head back and let out a piercing shriek that cut the air, "Regroup and return to camp, there's nothing of value left. We're done here." The Griffin called.

Straight away all the other masked figures who had been scavenging through the debris left what they were doing and started trickling after the Griffin in frightening silence. Gossamer counted over twelve of them, he hadn't even seen where they all came from. But right now he couldn't care less.

"Fleece-" He began, but that's as far as he got.

"Goss, we have to go with them. Don't you see? It's the only way to right this wrong." Fleece said.

"B-but they're the one's who burned-"

"Don't lie to me! Now come on, or we'll be left behind." His brother cut across.

Gossamer looked into his brothers face, and saw the same things crushing his own heart reflected there. Fear, anger, hate, doubt, and desperation. But the difference was, Fleece had found the reason for his suffering. He was so desperate for someone to blame that he'd fixed his anger on the first target presented to him. 'He doesn't want to see the truth. He isn't able to.' Gossamer thought miserably.

"Come on Goss." Fleece said, starting after the masked figures.

"Goss? Goss are you coming?" He asked when Gossamer made no move to follow. "Goss? Come on!"

Gossamer looked at his hooves, stained with ash, 'How can this be happening? They killed the whole village, they killed out mother! And he wants to join them? Am I the only sane being left in this mad world? I-no we-can't go with them. I refuse!' He thought.

"Goss please! Please don't leave me!" Fleece begged in desperation.

In the end, that was what did it. Even as the logical part of his mind in the background kept churning out a list of all the reasons he should turn and run, it was the simple thing which made Gossamer cave in.

When it came down to it, standing there under the blazing sun and surrounded by the wreckage of his life, he realised there was only one thing left for him in the whole world.

Fleece was his brother. He couldn't leave his brother. It didn't matter what happened, or who they had to go with, Gossamer could not leave his brother. Even if it was suicide.

Gossamer squeezed his eyes shut, tears dripping from the corners. With lowered head and drooping ears, he stumbled after Fleece.

---The Present---

His eyes shot open and he gasped. Above him in the firelight, Sunshine stood, hoof raised to prod him again. "What was that all about?" The unicorn asked, a slight frown on his brow.

"Nothing that concerns you." He replied, struggling to keep the venom from his tone. That set of memories were not one's that he regularly chose to relive. Even being able to mute the intensity memory couldn't remove the sting those memories always brought. It was even worse when they crept into his dreams, which sometimes happened when he slept too deeply.

"That's not the answer to the question I asked." Sunshine told the lamb sternly.

He scowled, this time making no effort to hide his discontentment, "It was nothing but a nightmare Guard. Now if you're quite finished, I was trying to sleep." He said, rolling over so he didn't have to look at the Solar guard and waited for him to leave.

It took longer than he would have liked, but finally the unicorn sighed and walked away with a soft clop of hooves. Once he was sure the Guard was far enough away, he cracked open his eyes and surveyed the camp in the low fire light. The Solar guard were sleeping in a defensive ring, not even having removed their armour so as to be ready for anything. The two sentries were still wide awake and alert, scanning the darkness for any danger.

Silently, he tested the chain, pulling it up link by link till it went taut.

Looking down its length, he saw the other end locked to Captain Valour's chest plate. 'So much for that idea.' He rested his head back down and closed his eyes, seems he was headed for Vanhoover no matter what.

'They want me to solve some crime involving mind magic for them, but afterwards they plan to throw me back in Dreverton. This is going to be the only chance I ever get at either escape or earning my freedom. I best be ready.' With that in mind, he spent the rest of the night forming plots and schemes in his head till morning came.

---

With the rise of their mistresses sun, so did the Solar Guard. At first light, they were up and hitching the Pegasus to the chariots, not even stopping to break their fast. 'Must mean we're close then.' Prisoner 452 thought. Although looking round, he still couldn't see anything but barren, rocky land.

A yank on the chain brought him back to the present, "Get in the chariot 452." Valour growled. Giving the captain a wide innocent smile that somehow still managed to convey his utter contempt for the Solar Guard, he complied and climbed into the nearest chariot.

Within two minutes they were airborne, and then there was nothing to do but wait and listen to the beat of wings in the windy silence.

452 decided he wasn't going to miss anything important, so he closed his eyes, and let him self drift back into meditation.

---The past---

"Prey," Gossamer was told, "From now on your name is Prey. You're weak, slow, small and useless. You'll never make a soldier. So, you're Prey." The griffin spat, and moved onto the next recruit in the line.

It wasn't the same Griffin, this one had black feathers and a mask studded with iron nails instead of a snarling manticore. The griffin had told them her name was Torment, and that she would show them the meaning of her name if they ever stepped out of line.

"Hmm," Torment hummed as she considered the tall grey donkey which stood in line next to Gossamer, "Well built, decent coat, strong legs, generally okay. Hmm, from now on your resistance name is Lance, because that's the weapon we're going to give you."

The newly named Lance gave a slightly mad grin at his new name, a nasty glint in his eye, "Lance, I like it." The donkey said. Torment ignored him and moved onto the next in the line.

Gossamer looked at 'Lance' out of the corner of his eye and tried to hide his trembling. He couldn't believe any of this was happening, that he was right now standing in the middle of a resistance camp, hidden deep within the forest, and even worse, they thought he was now one of them.

'But I joined of my own free will didn't I?' He asked himself miserably. 'Too late to back out now. As Torment was very clear on what she would do to any deserters she got her claws on.'

Gossamer was currently standing in line with five other individuals who had either volunteered or been forced to join the Resistance. They were right in the middle of the camp, and around them the rest of the camp got on with its day. All the rough shelters were well hidden amidst the tall trees and vines, the dense undergrowth helping to break up any outlines from the view of any air or ground units that might be on patrol in the area.

Gossamer wasn't even sure where 'here' was was exactly. The resistance fighters hadn't traveled any sort of path once they'd left the village, instead they'd seemed to rely solely on a map in their head that only they knew. They had travelled swiftly all day, not stopping to rest once, and Gossamer had almost been left behind.

He was weak with exhaustion by the time they'd finally stopped in the evening, and he'd immediately collapsed onto the ground. It wasn't till masked figures started emerging from all around that Gossamer realised they were in the middle of the camp.

That had been four days ago. On the first day, a zebra wearing a snarling bear mask had kicked him and Fleece awake and told them to get up. Blearily they'd done so, and before Gossamer could ask what was happening or even had a chance to speak to Fleece, they were split up.

Fleece had been taken away by the Griffin, who's Resistance name was Razor, and Gossamer was given a bucket and told to fill up the water barrel.

When he'd timidly whispered that he didn't know where the water barrel or the river were, the zebra had grabbed him by one soft ear and dragged him through the undergrowth to a hidden stream, and then back to camp where he was shown the large water barrel hidden under a cloth drape. It looked almost identical to a bush.

Then the Zebra had swatted him roughly on the back of his head and left with a parting threat, "Those who don't work don't eat." Gossamer had picked himself off the dirt and miserably gotten to work.

It took all morning. The bucket was heavy and it didn't even have a handle. The route to and from the stream was heavily overgrown, and twice he dropped the bucket and had to start again. There were thorn patches along the way, and what with still being little more than a lamb, Gossamer struggled.

Every time he stood straining on the tips of his hooves just so he could reach the edge of the water barrel, struggling to lift the ungainly bucket high enough, his limbs would tremble and he'd almost fall over as all the blood rushed to his head, but he kept going.

When he'd finally poured the last bucket into the water barrel, he'd collapsed and sat there in the dirt and fallen leaves, panting. Out of nowhere a dark blue Earth pony wearing a fanged mask had appeared and started yelling at him for slacking off.

When Gossamer had tried to protest, the Earth pony had practically squealed with delight, "We've got a recruit disobeying orders here!" The stallion shouted to the camp. Faces had started to appear from the shelters, and the five or so individuals who had been practising with wooden swords and spears stopped to watch.

The knowing looks on their faces and the leers made Gossamer realise that he'd made a big mistake. "You all know the punishment for disobeying orders, but for those of you who need reminders-" The blue pony pulled a long black whip from under his cloak, a sadistic smile creasing his face as he pushed the mask up so he could glare at Gossamer properly, "-I'll happy to provide!"

Gossamer turned to run for it, even though he knew he had no where to go. There was a vicious hiss and then a blinding crack of pain. Gossamer hit the soft dirt with a shrill scream as his legs turned to sponge. His back felt like it had been set on fire it burned so bad. He could hardly breathe.

"Let this be a lesson to you lamb. Never question orders." The blue earth pony said from somewhere behind him, but he hardly heard the words through the throbbing of his back.

Whimpering he curled himself into a ball as everyone returned to what they had been doing after the brief show. The stallion was called Stinger Gossamer learnt, rather appropriate in his bitter opinion, and that Stinger was one of the three captains in charge of this camp. The other two being the Griffin Razor and the Zebra with the snake mask, Snake.

---

Gossamer had lain in the dirt shivering for over an hour until he was able to finally rise again. No one came to help him, they just stepped around him and continued on with their jobs with annoyed looks. Gossamer silently cried to himself, not even noticing the mocking jeers he got from those who saw. It wasn't just the pain, it was everything.

The Border Guard, the Resistance, Fleece's anger, their hard life, the unfairness of it, the war, being alone, his own patheticness and most of all, his mother's death.

He mourned for all of it.

It didn't help, no matter how much he cried, he knew it would never get better.

When he finally gotten enough strength back to stand, he'd hobbled off to the steam and very gingerly washed the long stripe of blood from his back. He'd whimpered and berated himself for his own weakness even as he flinched and cringed, but he just couldn't help it, the whip cut hurt too much.

He stared at his reflection in the dark water, the red swollen eyes, fresh tear tracks streaking the soot and dirt along with the big drooping ears. He looked hopeless. He felt hopeless.

He sat there for a very long time. He might have sat there much longer, if the same zebra with the bear mask from earlier hadn't found him and ordered him to 'get off his flank and help dig the new latrines', or else he'd let Sting "Have another go at that soft wool of yours. Lamb or not, you work or you suffer."

Head hanging so low his nose almost dragged in the dirt, Gossamer had pushed himself to his feet with will power alone and shuffled off to do as he'd been ordered.

---

That had been four days ago, and Gossamer had already learnt many things about how the resistance was run on a day to day basis. Not because anyone had taken the time to explain or teach him, he'd learnt because he had to. Failure to comply with an order or performing it too slowly meant getting punished.

The camp held about forty five members of the resistance here alone, but he'd caught enough passing conversation to know of the existence of at least three other camps, possibly four. He couldn't be certain, it wasn't like anyone ever told him anything.

Gossamer was the lowest of the low in the camp, if anyone wanted something doing, they could order him to do it. The camp was broken up into an unofficial hierarchy, which was determined either by strength, experience, or cruelty. Everyone seemed to instinctively know where they stood in the pecking order.

That said, fights, threats and bullying were very common and perfectly acceptable, so Gossamer had to try hard to keep out of sight and out of mind. He was miserable, sore, tired and hungry all the time. He'd thought back in the farm that they'd been hard pressed for food, but that wasn't anything like out here in the forest.

Any food brought in from raids didn't last long among forty five hungry mouths, and while there was food to be had among the trees, only the zebras were any good at either finding or correctly identifying it. Giving into temptation and eating a harmless looking fruit was a quick way to an early grave in the mud, but not before you'd vomited your guts out.

Gossamer wasn't making that up either, on the second day he'd seen just that. He'd only caught a glimpse of the donkey heaving up blood before he'd run away, but it had been enough to convince him to never eat anything he didn't see someone else eat first.

No one ever spoke to him except to either give him an order or to yell at him, usually both, and for the most part, the Resistance seemed happy to ignore his existence, aside from the two afore mentioned cases.

---

Standing in line after just receiving his Resistance name was one of those exceptions. The other five in line were fresh recruits who had been brought in by Stinger earlier today, and Torment had lined them up to give them all their new names. Apparently she'd also remembered that he hadn't been renamed yet, and decided that she may as well get it over and done with.

Although with the mockery of the name 'Prey', it wasn't much better than still being nameless.

"Prey!" Torment suddenly barked, making him flinch, "Yes ma'am?" He answered in a shaky voice.

Torment sneered down at him, "Stop shivering you worthless piece of cloud fluff, I'm not going to skin you alive. Yet." She added with a terrifying grin as everyone else in line smirked.

Gossamer gave it his best effort, but still couldn't quite manage to eliminate all the trembling, "What do y-you want m-me to do?" He managed to asked.

Torment grinned, "I thought a demonstration was in order, one that I'd like you to help me out with. Think you can manage that, Prey?" She asked, the cruel grin still firmly affixed to her beak.

Gossamer swallowed and bobbed his head up and down, mouth having gone too dry to speak.

"Excellent! Step forwards." Torment ordered. When Gossamer did so, Torment turned around to face the five new recruits.

"Right, I'll make this brief. You're in the Resistance now, and we are fighters. It's that simple. Understand?" Torment paused until all of the new recruits in front of her had nodded their agreement.

"And how do we fight?" She asked them. A lone zebra raised a hoof, "With weapons? Poisoned one's perhaps?" He suggested.

"I asked how, not with what," Torment snapped, "We fight by winning. And the best way to win a fight is to pick them with care, and to attack where the Border Guard least expect it. Ambushes, trip wires, poisoned water sources, night raids, that is how we fight and that is why we are going to win this war. One of the best ways to do this is by using surprise and attacking from behind."

All the recruits in front of the griffin nodded at her logic. A savage grin flashed across Torment's face, "Here, let me demonstrate."

With that the griffin whirled and before Gossamer could even scream, he was grabbed by the throat and lifted choking into the air. Her talons dug into his neck, not deep enough to draw blood but already he was gasping for air, weak forelegs trying to pry Torment's iron grip free.

"For example," Torment said, addressing the recruits, some of who were smirking openly at Gossamer's plight, "The throat is one of the biggest weak spots, and everyone, pony or otherwise, has one. It's soft, it's weak, it's easy to stab, slit or crush. Or simply choke, like right now." Gossamer's attempts to free himself we growing ever more frantic as his vision started to grow fuzzy.

"See this point here?" Torment continued, not paying the struggling lamb any attention, "This is the jugular vein, and this here's an artery."

A sharp claw poked the places on Gossamer's throat as they were named, this time actually pressing hard enough to draw pin pricks of blood. Gossamer struggled all the harder, a buzzing was building in his ears and the edges of his vision were starting to fade to black.

Abruptly Gossamer was dumped onto the ground, and immediately he began gasping for air, sucking in great lungfuls as Torment continued as if nothing had happened:

"Cutting a throat isn't as easy as it sounds, you actually have to go quite deep to get it right, and unfortunately..." She shot the huddled form of Gossamer nursing his throat a filthy leer, "...Despite Prey's worthlessness, I'm still not allowed to use him as a test dummy."

This got a few nervous chuckles from the recruits, aside from the one from Lance. That laugh sounded whole hearted in its amusement.

Gossamer shivered at the words and tried to crawl away unnoticed through the dirt, but a heavy claw came down on his back leg, making him cry out shrilly.

"Right, moving onto hamstringing an opponent." Torment said, dragging him back. Gossamer went limp and hoped it would just all be over soon.

---

It wasn't. Torment had gone into great detail using Gossamer as a display dummy, twisting his legs this way and that in their sockets, pulling his head back, digging talons into joints. Everything hurt, and all that movement had also reopened the long thick scab across his back from Stinger's whip.

He felt completely miserable as he sat under a tree and ate the mid day meal. He was off to the side out of everybody's way, hopefully that would be enough to get them all to ignore him. Painfully Gossamer lifted his fore leg and brought up the shrivelled Dapple Fruit for another bite.

'What do I do?' He asked himself. He knew if things continued on the way they were, he would soon either be crippled or dead.

Gossamer was just wondering if death wasn't the preferable option when he head a voice that made him forget all about his problems and pain.

Bolting upright, Gossamer yelled out, "Fleece!"

And there his brother was, amongst a group of four others who were just returning to camp. Gossamer hadn't seen his brother since they'd been separated that first morning, and he'd been having terrible nightmares of what might have happened to Fleece in that time.

Fleece stopped talking to the deer next to him and looked round. When he spotted Gossamer he quickly said a last few words to the young buck before trotting over to Gossamer, a large grin on plastered over his muzzle.

Gossamer almost threw himself at Fleece, but at the last second all his pains reasserted themselves and he had to settle for raising a hoof instead in hello. But the grin on his face as he looked up at his older brother and sole reason for living was anything but second best. And if the grin was desperate around the edges, so what?

"Fleece-" Gossmamer started happily.

"-Breaker. It's Breaker now." Fleece cut in.

Gossamer paused, "Breaker?" He asked in confusion.

"Yeah, that's my new name. My Resistance name. Breaker. And what's yours little brother?" He asked with a tired smile.

Gossamer hesitated for a second, "They called me Prey. But that doesn't mean that my names not Goss-"

"No. Your name is now Prey and mine is Breaker. We're now part of the resistance, so there's no use for old names." Fleece told Gossamer.

Gossamer blinked, then shrugged. Fleece was still his brother, even if he was called by a different name.

"Flee- I mean Breaker, are you okay? Where did they take you? I've been so worried." Gossamer asked in a low voice, glancing around to check if anyone was listening in, which they weren't.

"Come Prey, let's sit down first, I'm quite tired." Fleece said, moving over to a tree and taking a seat under it. Gossamer looked Fleece over as he sat down next to him. His brother did indeed look tired and dirty, much like himself. His hooves were chipped and cracked, and...

"What happened to your horn?" Gossamer gasped in surprise.

"Oh this?" Fleece asked touching his right horn which was cracked and missing its tip, "Razor did it. He hit me at full swing with a spear shaft." He said casually.

"What?" Gossamer squeaked.

"Yeah, he was training me. Said I had to know how to take a hit. On the other hoof, I broke the spear shaft. That's how Razor decided I should be called Breaker." Fleece explained, leaning back and putting a fore leg round Gossamer's thin shoulders.

"B-but, how could he do that? Fle- Breaker, we can't stay here, just look at you. It's only so long before we get killed!" Gossamer hissed in a low whisper, ears swivelling this way and that for eves droppers.

Fleece frowned in annoyance at Gossamer, "I already told you, we're not leaving. You need to stop talking about that, no one's interested Prey." He said.

Gossamer flinched as his brother said his Resistance name, "But, Razor-" He began. "Razor's a great guy, he's been in the Resistance since they began, can you believe that? Imagine what he's seen, imagine what I can learn from someone like that? And he's promised to teach me, so long as I can keep up. And with his help, I will get my revenge." Fleece said.

Gossamer was taken aback by gleam of awe in his brothers eyes as he spoke about the griffin.

"By beating you with a spear? What's that going to achieve? Can't you see Fleece, he's just using you-" Gossamer said, trying to break through to his brother.

"No!" Fleece shouted, shoving Gossamer angrily away, "I will not let you say anything against him. He's harsh yes, but it's all for my own good. Besides, I deserved the two times I got whipped, it taught me to do better next time." Fleece said with a careless shrug.

"Whipped? Why did-?"

"That's in the past now Prey, you need to move on. That's the way things work around here, and you're just going to have to get used to it. There's only one law out here; those who are weak, suffer. So I'm not going to be weak, Razor is going to make me strong, you'll see." Fleece said with a mad glint in his eye.

Gossamer stared up at his brother and felt what was left of his world crumble. 'How has everything gone wrong so completely?' He thought. Gossamer saw now that his brother really had gone mad. All those months of fear, uncertainty and helplessness had finally taken their toll. Their mother's death had been the last straw that had broken the camels back.

The Fleece in front of him was no longer the brother he knew. He just hadn't seen it till now.

"Fleece-" He tried one last time in a bid to appeal to his brother, but he didn't get any further as the hoof around his shoulders roughly pushed him off the tree root to sprawl in the dirt. He stared up in shock at his brother who was scowling furiously down at him.

"I told you to stop calling me that Prey. You don't get it do you? Fleece doesn't exist any more, there's only me. I don't want to see you again till you are prepared to face reality." Fleece spat, no not Fleece, Breaker.

Gossamer could only stare as his brother walked away. The whip mark on his back stung viciously from where he'd hit the ground, but it was nothing compared to how badly his heart hurt. Gossamer didn't even notice that he was crying, sobbing actually. Silent, hopeless, wracking sobs that shook his small body as he watched his brother leave him.

'I don't want to be here anymore.' He thought. 'I don't want to have to experience this.'

He pressed a hoof into his chest, trying to make the pain stop, 'I don't want to be living in this anymore. I don't want to be Gossamer.'

---Present---

Prey stood up once the chariot had landed, and stumbled out with a rattle of chains. Both of the chariots were parked in a deserted grass training yard in what looked like the Guard Station of Vanhoover.

Prey was a bit stunned as he craned his neck back to stare at the tall buildings of the city all around in the mid morning light. Prey had stolen memories of what cities were like, but those were over fifty seven years old. He had never actually been in a city himself before, and was honestly shocked by just how much larger than life everything was.

Prey was snapped from his silent awe as the sun was blocked out by Captain Valour, although by the way his golden armour glittered, the captain might just have replaced it instead.

"Right, get inmate 452 into the building and secure in the Office room. Gold Bit, has the office been prepared to my specifications?" Captain Valour barked to one of the Unicorns.

"Yes sir. The Windows and doors are barred and reinforced, with all the barriers and enchantments you requested in place. Only those with a key are getting in or out." Gold Bit answered with a salute.

"Well done. Get the prisoner inside before anypony sees. Remember, two guards in the room at all times. Right, let's move!" Valour barked.

Prey found himself being led, (or almost dragged, if you were as small as he was and also hindered by chains) in through the Guard stations rather plain lobby and down a deserted corridor. 'Strange. There are definitely other regular Guard ponies on duty, I saw their lockers in use behind the front desk, but I don't see or hear any of them.' He thought.

That led to one conclusion, that Captain Valour wanted as few ponies as possible to know of his existence here, and had purposefully ordered no one to be around this part of the building. 'Typical unicorn, doesn't want to be seen dirtying his hooves but is perfectly happy to take all the credit at the end.' Prey thought with scorn.

Gold Bit walked up to a door and placed his hoof against it, closing his eyes to concentrate. There was a shimmer of blue that rippled over the door like the surface of a pond, and then it opened. 'Obviously those magical barriers to contain me that I heard about, and it also seems that said key to them isn't a physical one.' He thought as one of the Pegasus guards pushed him inside after Gold Bit.

Prey found himself in a large office with a large wooden desk in the middle of it piled high with papers and files. He glanced at the right hoof wall which was covered with a floor to ceiling map of Vanhoover, and then across at the other wall which was backed up with filing cabinets. Behind the desk was a closed door, and he could only speculate as to what lay behind that.

There was also a large window, which would have been a point of great interest to Prey, if it wasn't covered in enough bars to stop even a rabbit slipping through, and the view beyond the panes showed nothing but the grey wall of another guard building anyway.

Prey couldn't see any visible sign of the enchantments that Gold Bit had spoken of, but he knew they were there. Without any way to determine which enchantments they were either, he couldn't even begin to start trying to formulate a plan of escape.

'Just wonderful. Competent Guards.'

There was a bang behind him as Captain Valour forcefully shut the door, and Prey saw that along with Valour, Gold Bit, Sunshine and Bright, two other Pegasus Solar Guards had followed them in. Prey felt a flash of nerves as Captain Valour stepped up and towered over him. He pushed the feeling down, determined not to let it show.

'I've experienced much worse than what ever they have planned. They're nothing compared to the Resistance.' Prey told himself, meeting Valour's glare with one of his own.

"Right, let's get this investigation started." Valour said.

---

Prey stared at the huge pile of papers that had been roughly dumped on the desk in front of him. 'What?' He thought.

He was currently sitting behind the desk, with the chain from his back legs trailing over the desk and locking into a steel bracket in the floor, the cement around the ends of the bracket still looked wet. Prey looked up at Captain Valour who stood on the other side of the desk with a raised eyebrow, "What do you expect me to do with this?" He asked in confusion.

"To get to work." Valour answered bluntly.

"Doing what?" He asked.

Valour snorted and narrowed his eyes, "Don't play dumb. I told you why I brought you here, so stop stalling and start work on solving this crime 452." He growled.

Prey awkwardly shuffled the top page off the pile with his shackled front hooves onto an uncluttered bit of he desk, so he could get a better look at it. He bent over it while at the same time both trying to keep an eye on the captain, and not fall out off the precarious stack of cushions they'd piles on the chair so he'd be high enough to even look over the edge of the desk. He read the first line:

'Incident report 322B - Sargent Door Lock 1154 - Reason: Unspecified report of Breaking and Entering - Location: West Nook Street - Time: 08:54 - Date-'

Prey broke off and looked up at Captain Valour, "An incident report?" He asked incredulously. He looked over the desk piled high with papers, scrolls and files, "Wait, is that what all this is? Reports? Paperwork?" He asked.

Behind him where the Solar Guard stood at attention against the office wall, he heard Sunshine stifle a chuckle, turning it into an awkward cough.

Captain Valour's expression didn't change in the slightest, "Yes. Everything you need is in front of you. All the reports, maps, times and dates. Your job is to find this criminal and then we'll bring him in."

Prey gestured at the desk piled high with papers, "I thought you wanted me to help you with some mind magic victims or something that you'd found, not organise, run and solve the whole mess for you. I'm not a Guard, I don't even know what half of this stuff is! I thought you were the Solar Guard for goodness sake, yet you want me to head up this whole investigation for you?" Prey asked incredulously.

Captain Valour pawed the floor boards, "Inmate 452, do not try my patience. I've offered you this chance to serve your Country and Princess to help even in the smallest part in atoning for your sins. You're here because of your experience in mind and memory crimes." Captain Valour's face was twisted in disgust.

"But if you think that fact or just because your still a lamb means I'm going to cut you any slack, you'd best think again and soon. Mind leeches are never young or innocent, so stop stalling and get to work!" Valour roared.

Prey just stared at the Captain open mouthed, the analytical part of his mind shocked into inaction.

'What-? I don't even- Is he insane? Nothing he says is logical in any way what so ever. Did he really just pull a random criminal from the highest security prison in Equestria on the sole basis that some incomplete report mentioned something about mind magic?'

'And then he expects this criminal to somehow solve a crime with the sole motivation being serving the Princess and Country which imprisoned him in the first place, and which he also coincidentally hates? Despite the excellent opportunities this gives me, I can't be the only one who sees the insanity of this.' He thought.

Prey looked at the other Guards in the room, trying to see anything that hinted at a hidden agenda or concern for their captains mental condition. All of them wore matching expressions of professional confidence. Evidently they saw nothing at all out of the ordinary with this course of action.

'Apparently, madness is catching.' Prey thought. He stifled a giggle, 'Ha! I'd know that better than anyone.'

"Alright," He said out loud, "But I'm going to need some things. Nothing big or illegal." He hastened to add when it looked like Captain Valour was just moments say from ripping the table right out of the floor and using it to beat him to death with.

"Name them, and make it quick. The more time we waste, the longer this criminal has to escape." Valour growled through clenched teeth.

Prey took a deep breath, now it was time to find out just how much that report the Captain had read on him had actually said, "I need someone who can give me a run down of what exactly is going on, preferably someone who knows about this crime and all the evidence. I need free access to any maps or sensitive evidence I might request, and-" He hesitated despite himself, then pressed ahead, "-I need my hooves free."

The captain didn't even blink, "Yes, yes and no. Now if that is all-"

"Oh come on! How do you expect me to read and write wearing these?" Prey asked holding up his manacled hooves, trying to play innocent.

"I said no. Criminals wear chains as a punishment and a reminder of their shame. Let this be a lesson to you." The captain said angrily, turning to leave.

"Captain, I think maybe you should reconsider." Sunshine said unexpectedly.

Captain Valour frowned at Sunshine, but without the anger that he had displayed when Prey had spoken, "Sunshine, I assume you have a reason for speaking out?" He asked.

"Yes sir. I think that there is very little harm that could be done by freeing the prisoners hooves. With all the magical suppression enchantments and us here on guard here 24/7, there's no chance of escape. For the good of this investigation, I think you should at least consider it sir." Sunshine stated, then added with a light shrug, "What's she realistically going to do sir?"

Prey was confused, 'She? Really?' He didn't get to think any further on it as Valour abruptly nodded, "I concede the point Sunshine. Practicality over punishment in this case, we can free inmate 452 hooves." Prey noticed that the captain didn't even go as far to grace him with an incorrect gender like Sunshine had done, just referred to him as if he were an 'it'.

Valour nodded at Golden Bit and Sunshine, "See to it, but keep the manacles to hoof, after that you're on first Guard rotation. In addition, I want you two-" He pointed an armoured hoof at the two Pegasi, "-outside the door. Make sure nopony tries to wonder in. If anypony asks, there is a sensitive investigation of national importance going on in here that cannot be disturbed. Twelve hour shifts for all. Anything suspicious, act on it immediately. I have to go and deal with the City Guard now, only report in if there's any new developments. I will be back tomorrow at o'eight hundred. Understood?"

"Yes sir!" Came the combined response as all of five of the guards saluted.

"Good. Bright, with me." Valour said and marched out the door, closely followed by the unicorn Bright, another shimmer of blue magic rippled over the door and across the walls as it shut.

Prey blinked at that, he didn't recognise that magic second time round either. 'Just wonderful. An enchantment I've never heard of keeping me trapped here.' Prey thought glumly.

He glanced at Gold Bit and Sunshine, 'And them.' He raised his front hooves with a clink of chains, 'And these, but not for much longer.'

"Well, who's going to let me out of these?" He asked with a bright smile.

Sunshine glanced at Gold Bit, "You're better at lock magic." Gold Bit nodded and stepped forwards, grasping Prey's fore legs in his magic and turning them this way and that as he looked the suppression shackles over.

"Hmm, these aren't standard nullification and binding crystal locks. I wonder why that is." Gold Bit mused. He shot a look at Prey, "Care to explain?"

Prey faked surprise, though in reality he could hardly believe his luck that Gold Bit hadn't recognised the sealing enchantments for what they actually were, "I don't know. They just put them on me the moment I was thrown in Dreverton. I assumed that it was just a standard procedure for all inmates."

Gold Bit narrowed his eyes at Prey, "I'm not buying it. Sunshine, stand ready. When I crack these open, I want you charged and to stun him if he tries anything while I examine his magic." Gold Bit instructed without talking his eyes off Prey.

"I've got him covered." Sunshine said, lowering his horn and pointing it at Prey's head, although it didn't start to glow as a normal Unicorns horn would have when holding a spell.

'Is he not taking this seriously?' Prey wondered, trying to look as small and innocent as possible.

The fact that Gold Bit moved onto unlocking the shackles without pause gave rise to a nasty revelation on Prey's part, 'Gold Bit wouldn't proceed without his fellow Guard being at the ready, which means that Sunshine is either capable of quick casting, or can hold a charged spell without his horn glowing.' Both of these skills were very useful to any unicorn soldier, as it allowed them the element of surprise, but both possibilities were only available to a very powerful or prolific spell caster.

Once again Prey was forced to reevaluate his guards strength, and it wasn't a pleasant conclusion that he came to; 'I am Olom Dee'd.' He thought, the Zebraican curse jumping naturally to mind.

Gold Bit finished manipulating the delicate magical lock holding the mufflers and shackles to Prey's hooves, and with a clank they slipped off.

Fresh air flowed welcomingly over his hooves as he took a look at them for the first time in fifty seven years. He winced.

His hooves were pale and worn, and the hooves felt almost malleable from their long isolation encased in steel. The fur on his ankles was thinning and matted, but there were no pressure sores that would normally have formed after being locked chains for any length of time, the magic on the shackles having taken care of that.

Gold Bit's magical aura wrapped firmly around his cloven hooves and dragged them up to the light, making Prey bite back a yelp of pain as his now unprotected tender hooves were squeezed. Gold Bit leaned in close and squinted, then his eyes narrowed. Sunshine tensed.

"There's nothing there." Gold Bit said suspiciously, "Why isn't there? Surely they wouldn't have wasted time with magic inhibitors if there was nothing to suppress."

Prey hid a smirk. Of course there wasn't anything there, at least not to the naked eye. The various runes carved into his hooves were exactly the same colour and texture as the hoof, and the indents from painfully carving them in had long since regrown. The runes were still there though, lying dormant within the hoof. A simple thing like lacking a physical form wasn't enough to destroy them once formed.

These were the old Runic alphabet, they would exist for as long as he lived.

"Stay on guard Sunshine, I'm going to do a scan to be sure." Gold Bit said, his horn brightening and a ray of light from it started to play over Prey's firmly gripped front hooves.

There was a long tense minute as Gold Bit completed his scan, Sunshine standing ready and Prey trying not to hold his breath.

"Still nothing. In fact, there's no magic at all, not even trace ambient magic." Gold Bit said. He narrowed his eyes, "That's really unusual."

"Do sheep even have ambient magic?" Sunshine asked.

"Yes, every pony has ambient magic, even earth ponies-" Good Bit broke off, "Right. All ponies. Sheep aren't ponies." He said with a dismissive snort.

If Prey had been less in control of himself, he would have let out his breath in relief, but he didn't. They would surely notice such an obvious tell sign. It did however irk him how Gold Bit had said; 'Sheep aren't ponies.'

"Are you quite finished?" Prey asked with a raised eyebrow.

Gold Bit looked at Prey for a long moment, then released the magic that held up the sheep's hooves, "For now." He answered.

Prey did sigh this time as he was finally able to lower his fore legs. The limbs felt off, they were too light and almost like they were floating now that they didn't have the constant weight of shackles pulling them down. 'I have some readjusting to do.' Prey thought as he rubbed them together. He winced.

'Ow, that hurts. My hooves have gone soft and weak, I hope that the fur grows back in too-'

He was jarred from his inspection as Gold Bit abruptly reached over a leg and shoved him off the cushion stack. Prey was in no way prepared for it, and went over backwards with a high pitched yelp of surprise and fore legs wind milling.

Half way down to the wooden floor in what would have ended up being a very painful landing on his face, Prey's momentum was arrested as Gold Bit's magic caught him.

Prey gaped as he was levitated back onto the chair, "What the hell was that for?" He squeaked in anger, then scowled as both Solar Guards attempted to stifle laughs at his high pitched voice.

Prey hated that his voice did that whenever he got angry. High pitched squeaking, no matter the fury behind it just didn't get the point across. Coupled with his innocent face, large droopy ears, fluffy wool and small size, Prey knew full well how ridiculous he looked when trying to be angry.

'They laughed too. They thought a runt lamb fighting a war was just a joke. Look who's the last sheep standing. These two unicorns will just be another tally mark.' Prey thought in comfort to himself.

"Hehe, right. My apologies. I was just making sure." Gold Bit said without a trace of remorse.

"Sure of what?" Prey squeaked, still struggling to regain his composure.

"Apparently, you're a mind leech. So we were checking to see if removing those shackles unsealed your..." Gold Bit's face creased with disgust, "...Mind reading capabilities. If it had, then you would have known I was going to push you off the chair and reacted."

"Or I could have read your thoughts and known it was a test, and then just faked being surprised." Prey retorted.

"Nah, even if that was the case, I doubt your little panic could be that..." Sunshine smirked, "...Hilariously convincing."

Prey decided a change of tact was in order, these two Solar Guards were quickly starting to dismiss him as nothing more than the lamb he looked like. Now that Prey had gotten his annoyance under control and was thinking clearly, he could see both positives and negatives to this.

On onehoof, it could lead them to underestimating him, although the fact that both of them were Solar Guards and that they'd fetched him from Dreverton made that seem unlikely. They were trained against carelessness, and to let their guard down around a former inmate from Dreverton would be lax in the extreme. Plus, while he was wearing the rest of these crystal enchanted chains, escape was still just a dim possibility.

On the other, he was being forced to solve this crime for them without any choice in the matter, and if they didn't take his suggestions seriously, suggestions which he would make sure benefited him in some way, then he would lose his only chance of tricking his way out of here.

Prey decided that a mix of both aspects was the way to proceed.

He crossed his fore legs over his fluffy wool and pouted at them, "That was unnecessary. I didn't think Guards, especially Solar Guards, resorted to such petty tricks for amusement. Evidently I was mistaken in thinking you were Celestia's best." He said with a sniff, his response carefully calculated to both appear childishly annoyed, but still intellectually competent enough to offer a barbed retort.

Both Solar Guards grins faded, "I think you mean Princess Celestia." Sunshine emphasised.

Prey sniffed again, "Whatever. But my point remains, that was unnecessary. My mind reading, if you want to call it something as unsophisticated as that, isn't sealed in my hooves. I don't even know why they bothered put those hoof shackles on me in the first place, no, this..."

Prey tapped a hoof against the metal collar around his neck, "...This is what keeps my mind reading capabilities sealed." He casually lied to them.

Sunshine and Gold Bit both nodded, evidently completely buying the lie as it appeared quite logical from their perspective. It wasn't the heavy collar that kept him from sensing the thoughts of those around him, it was the much larger metal band around his middle that held the mind sealing enchantments. Prey was certain of that. He'd had over fifty seven years to study it after all.

Which was why he told them it was the collar. If for some reason the Guard eventually decided to remove any more of his bindings, something he would be anxiously working towards, he wanted them to remove the wrong piece, and then he'd regain his ability to hear other peoples thoughts.

'Everything goes so much easier when you can second guess your opponents every move.'

Neither Guard stopped to consider why they were getting freely volunteered information directly from their prisoner, they both just seemed to buy it. 'Arrogant, naive fools.' Prey sneered internally.

"Right, that's enough stalling. Time to get to work." Gold Bit said clapping his armoured hooves together sharply.

Prey looked back over the piles of files on the desk stacked higher than his head. The thought of having something to read and study after all these years, even if just badly written Guard reports, made his hooves tremble. Learning and acquiring knowledge was perhaps the only thing he didn't regret about his time before Dreverton. It was that same hunger for learning that had kept him from giving up.

'That knowledge was also what stopped me from just dying off alone in the jungle and kept the war going.' Prey thought. Whether that was a good or a bad thing was very much open for debate.

'And that's also what got me cursed and eventually caught.' He mentally added with a sigh.

But back to the matter at hoof, he couldn't appear too eager to start digging through these reports, not least because he planned to use the details he learned to start building an escape plan. The Guards might get suspicious if he didn't offer at least token resistance.

"You really expect me to read all this? There must be thousands of these useless reports. What about eating and sleeping?" Prey asked.

"You'll get food and shelter 452, and you will also do as your told and work." Gold Bit told Prey in a level voice, his tone making it clear there was no room for any other possibility.

"Seriously though? There has got to be a more efficient approach than this."

"You've been offered this privilege. Captain Valour won't extend the chance a second time, so I suggest you cut out the whining and buckle down." Sunshine added in exactly the same tone of voice as Gold Bit.

Prey made a show of looking angry before letting his shoulders slump in defeat, "Fine," He muttered, "But this would be much easier if I knew what this crime is, as I'm supposed to be solving it."

Completely true, but for different reasons than the Guards.

Sunshine adjusted his golden chest plate absentmindedly, "Well, the captain did say that somepony would explain the case to you 452. I guess I might as well do it." He said with a shrug of his broad shoulders.

Gold Bit sent over a questioning look, "Shouldn't 452 just read the reports instead? Captain Valour told us to keep all interaction with the prisoner to a minimum."

"Well somepony's got to do it. And it's not like we've been all too focused on sticking to that last part." Sunshine pointed out with a grimace, making Gold Bit blink and then also grimace at himself in realisation. Sunshine continued; "It's going to have to be one of us Guards to explain it all anyways, might as well do it now so she can get to work."

Prey frowned, 'There it is again, she, not he.'

"I'm male, not female." Prey spoke up, giving Sunshine an offended look, even if he was just acting like it annoyed him.

Sunshine squinted at Prey, "No you're not." He said bluntly.

Prey rolled his eyes theatrically, "I think I would know best, don't you? Besides, what would I gain from lying? Especially about something as insignificant as gender?" He asked sweetly.

"I don't know what you're trying to prove, but you're obviously not a colt. Where are your horns for one?" Sunshine asked, dismissively swishing his tail.

Prey made his face go blank, "Ram, not colt. And I was born this way. Along with being a runt, apparently that means my horns will never grow in." Prey told him. That was a lie. He'd sacrificed his horns when they were still half grown to a certain black magic ritual. Dark magic always has a price, so when he'd been forced to pay, he'd chosen the body parts most useless to him.

He hadn't stopped to consider that this would make him look even more like a tiny ewe than he did already. Prey imagined that the Resistance fighters would gleefully have taken every chance to taunt and humiliate him even further than they already had over his new appearance. If any of them had been left by that point.

Sunshine was giving him a disbelieving look while Gold Bit seemed like he was trying to put a stop to all this and go back to following Captain Valour's orders, by standing stiffly at attention and ignoring everyone.

"What? Think I'm lying?" Prey asked.

"No, but I'm not..." Sunshine shrugged and shook his head, "Just trying to figure you out." He finished dismissively.

"How about you stop that, and give me a run down of why exactly I'm here, warden?" Prey asked.

"You will refer to us by our names or proper titles alone. Not 'warden'." Gold Bit drawled, without even turning to look from where he'd taken up guard position.

'Yes. Definitely sensitive about using correct rankings and titles. He must place a lot of his personal worth in being a Solar Guard.' Prey noted.

Sunshine didn't pay Gold Bit any mind and moved to stand in front of the desk, "Best get comfy in your wool then sheep, it's a bit of a long explanation. This all started weeks ago..." He began.

---I---

[[[Bonus Picture - For those who were wondering what Prey look's like]]]

Author's Note:

I am coming back to write in this AN box about chapter 40. So, first, hello to anyone reading. πŸ‘

Second, at the time of writing this, someone has been kind enough to submit a funny and great piece of fan art to go with this story. See HERE. If you want a laugh, check it out.

It was made by GreatSpaceBeaver, so thankyou to him! πŸ˜‡

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