Hi all, first pony fic for a while! This is a bit... different (uh, to put it nicely), I wrote it to explore a few concepts about the show that intrigue me. It was originally one big chunk, but because I don't know when (or how) to be succinct, I'm chopping it up into chapters. It should end up being five parts all told. I hope you enjoy!
Note: I am not American. I don't use American spellings. So, jewellery, not jewelry. Colour, not color. Humour, not humor. Sorry if it's jarring!
Not mine, no money, no sue.
At first it was amazing, being back together again. But as time dragged on, it became incredibly boring. There was darkness and tedium for what seemed like forever, though in truth it could have been anywhere between a few days and a few millennia. There was simply no way of telling. One by one they joined her in the Dark, and together they laughed and gossiped and bickered and sighed and squabbled. Something was missing, but as the Dark ate them away it became harder and harder to pinpoint what - or who. Memories shrank to a vague nagging feeling, until eventually even that faded. There was no touch, no taste, no sight, and no sound except for the other five voices suspended in nothingness.
They drifted in the void. They dwindled in the Darkness. They forgot.
And then there was colour.
"Twilight! Oh my gosh, Twilight!"
It was possible to get a sort of pseudo-privacy by 'pulling' one's consciousness as far from the others as possible. It wasn't much, but it was all they could manage. Their senseless womb was limitless as far as Twilight could tell, but the six of them were always and forever connected. There was no way of truly escaping one another at any time.
Twilight sighed - somehow - and brought her attention back to the here-and-now... though 'here' was a question she had never been able to answer to her own satisfaction, and 'now' was a complete mystery. "What is it, Rainbow Dash?"
Dash sounded excited. Her connection to Twilight buzzed with anticipation and amazement. “I dunno... but it was weird! There was, like... colour, all of a sudden!”
Twilight frowned. Well, she thought about frowning. It was the best she could do. “Colour? Yeah, right.”
Applejack’s Self was drawing closer, and Twilight could feel the others approaching as well. Great, just great, she groused. She loved them, she always had and always would, but even a disembodied personality drifting in a blank world of nothingness needs quality Alone Time.
“Colour, you guys!” Rainbow said enthusiastically. “Remember colour? Well, guess what I just saw!”
Twilight prepared to draw away from them again. If she’d had a head, she would have shaken it. “Rainbow, you’re going crazy. There aren’t any colours. Just the Dark, like always.”
“I swear,” Rainbow insisted. “It was just a flash, but it was there! I promise!”
Another insubstantial sigh, and Twilight resigned herself to losing her semi-solitude. She obviously had to deal with the mental breakdown of one of their number first. She moved herself closer to Rainbow’s Self. “Look, Rainbow. I know we’ve been here a long time...”
“An’ have you finally figured out just how long is long, Twilight?” said Applejack rather tartly.
“For the last time, I don’t know how long it’s been! I’m just as in the dark as you!” Twilight snapped.
“In the Dark, good one!” Pinkie Pie giggled.
“Hilarious,” Twilight said flatly. She didn’t actually say anything, of course. That would require the use of a tongue and teeth, of vocal folds, lungs, larynx and a million other things she didn’t in fact have anymore. Voices here were a matter of will and choice. She chose to use hers now. “Come on, we’ve been over this, girls. I don’t know where we are, and I have no idea how long it’s been. I don’t know why you keep looking at me to tell you!”
“Well, you’re the clever an’ ever-so-magical one, ain’t you?” Applejack said.
“It doesn’t work here,” Twilight said, controlling her temper with an effort. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times! I don’t have my magic, and I haven’t had it since we came here!”
“An’ there’s another question I want answered,” Applejack continued doggedly. “Where in tarnation is here?”
“Darling, we don’t know any more than you do,” Rarity snapped. “Now do shut up.”
“I just reckon we oughtta know how long it’s been, is all,” said Applejack stubbornly.
“So what set Applejack off again?” asked Pinkie.
“Guys, if you’d just listen for a second!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “I. Saw. Colours!”
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” said Rarity. “All this gloominess and Darkness, one of us was bound to snap eventually. I never suspected it would be Rainbow Dash, though... I always thought it would be Twilight or Pinkie, personally.”
“Oh, so did I!” chimed in Pinkie.
“What kind of colours do you think you saw, Rainbow?” asked Fluttershy wistfully. “I wish I could remember colours.”
“There were two blurs!” Rainbow sounded utterly elated. “There was a big white blur, and a little dark blur!”
“White an’ black?” Applejack sounded very put-out. “Couldn’t your imagination come up with any real colours? Even hearin’ about ‘em would be better than nothin’.”
“It wasn’t black!” Rainbow Dash was frustrated. It sang through their connection like a horde of buzzing bees. “It was... another colour. Um. Starts with P.”
“Pink!” Pinkie Pie said.
“Nope, wasn’t pink. I remember pink – don’t think I’ll ever lose that one thanks to you, Pinkie Pie. It was close to pink, though... sort of darker...”
“P... p...” mused Pinkie.
“Parsnip?” said Fluttershy.
“Was that a colour? The colour parsnip?” Dash wondered.
“That don’t sound quite right t’ me,” said Applejack dubiously.
Twilight concentrated. “Could it be pur... p-purpose? No, that’s not it. Um. Was it... puh... purple, by any chance?”
“Uhhh.” Rainbow Dash seemed to be thinking very hard. “Purple. Pur...pul. Yeah, I think it was. Hey, cool, I saw the colour purple!”
“Oh, I remember that word,” said Rarity with a little hitch in her voice. “My... thing on the head, the hair thing... that was purple.”
“Mane?” offered Applejack.
“Mane! That’s the... thing that hops, eats, er, canaries? No... carts? No, no, gracious, no... um, carrots...?”
“Pinkie Pie? She hops. Hopped.”
“No, that’s not it.”
“Bunny,” Twilight ventured.
“Yes, precisely, thank you dear. I’m certain my mane was puh-erple. Purple. Purple. What an enjoyable word. I do wish I could remember what purple was. I’m sure it was spectacular.”
“I wonder what a bunny looks like,” mused Fluttershy. “I’m sure I used to know.”
“I wonder what a bunny is,” said Pinkie. “Does it bun?”
“Maybe I saw a bunny!” Rainbow Dash said challengingly. “Maybe bunnies are purple, huh?”
“An’ maybe that’s a bunch o’ hooey, RD,” said Applejack.
“Look, you can’t have seen colour,” said Fluttershy kindly but firmly. “I’m so sorry, Rainbow Dash, but there’s been no colour at all for ever such a long time.”
“I know,” Dash said. It sounded like she was speaking through gritted teeth. Twilight wondered how she was managing it. After all, she was working with something of a handicap in that department. “Jeesh, don’t you think I know that? But I’m telling you, I saw colours! And it wasn’t just the big white blur or the little purple one, either... there was sort of... stuff around them. It all looked crazy familiar.”
“Sugarcube, you sayin’... you remembered somethin’ new?” Applejack said incredulously.
“Oh, how wonderful!” said Fluttershy.
“Nonsense,” said Rarity. “It must be some sort of hallucination. Nopony here has remembered anything in, in... oh, I wish there was some way to tell how long it’s been!”
“Join the club,” grunted Twilight.
“What’s a club?”
“Urrrgh, I was trying to be alone, you guys,” Twilight growled. “Seriously, I can’t hear myself think - and that means a lot more than it used to! It’s been a very exciting game, Rainbow Dash, and you’ve stirred us up and all. Lots of fun, hooray and whoopie, and now we all remember the name of the colour purple even if we can’t remember the colour itself. That’s great progress. But can we please forget all this nonsense now? I mean, come on, you didn’t actually see anything. It’s completely impossible.”
“Hear, hear,” said Applejack.
“Oh, I quite agree,” said Rarity.
“Dashie?” Pinkie said. “You’ve gone all wibbly on your end of the connection there. I’m sure Twilight didn’t mean to be a big meanie-pants and hurt your feelings or anything. You okay?”
“Oh my gosh,” said Dash suddenly.
“Dashie...?” Pinkie repeated. She sounded a little apprehensive.
“Oh my gosh,” Rainbow Dash said once more, her voice tight. “It’s happening again... guys, come here, come see this...!”
“You just cain’t handle bein’ wrong, can you?” Applejack said.
“Good gracious, some ponies,” Rarity sniffed.
“I’m serious!” Rainbow barked. “Quick, come here! Guys, all of you!”
“If I do, will you please, please, please drop it? You know, after you’ve been proved completely wrong and I am once again proved totally and incontrovertibly right?” said Twilight wearily.
“Twiiiiiliiiiiight, get over here!” Rainbow gasped. “It’s... it’s pulling!”
Twilight gave a mental shrug, and moved herself closer to where she could feel Rainbow Dash’s presence. She could feel the other four converging as well, though Applejack was grumbling sceptically and Rarity was flat-out disbelieving. Rainbow enfolded them in her Self, and they waited.
“Well, Rainbow Dash, do enlighten me on the purpose of this exercise, because I don’t feel any pulling,” said Rarity pointedly.
“Me neither,” said Fluttershy.
“Haaaaaang... oooon,” said Rainbow Dash, her Self tingling with anticipation.
Twilight sighed. “Rainbow, there’s no colour. There’s no pulling. This is a total waste of--”
The Darkness broke.
The brightness was devastating. The kaleidoscope of colours stabbed relentlessly at Twilight’s mind. She could feel the screams of her friends about her. Their pain was hers as well, amplified sixfold and echoing through the caverns of her Self.
“WHAT DID YOU DO?” she screamed.
“I sort of... grabbed onto where the pulling was!” Rainbow yelled back through the swirling overload of sights and sensations.
The sheer intensity of it was agonising, and Twilight screamed again, trying to tear herself away. She could feel the others doing the same, reaching futilely for their cool, safe, dull Darkness. But they were still enveloped in Rainbow Dash’s presence, and could not escape. Not even Twilight could break free with all her vaunted magical gifts. For some reason, Dash was stronger than she’d ever been before.
“What in...!” Applejack hollered. “Rainbow, you let go o’ me this minute, y’hear, or so help me I’ll give you a kickin’ you ain’t gonna ferget in a hurry!”
“Jeez, get a grip, AJ,” Rainbow Dash said. She was obviously striving for her renowned coolness, but the trembling of her voice and the acid taste of shock in her aura betrayed her.
“What... is it?” asked Fluttershy in a tiny voice.
“I... don’t know, darling,” Rarity quavered.
It was... Twilight struggled for the words.
“Room,” said Pinkie abruptly.
“That’s right!” said Applejack. “Now, how in the world could I have forgotten that? Room, it’s a room!”
“The same way we all did, Applejack,” Twilight said, getting herself under some semblance of control. It was tentative at best, but at least the effort made her feel a little better. The pain had receded, and the brightness was gradually becoming bearable as she adjusted. “We don’t know how long we’ve been in the Dark, but I’ll bet it was a long time. Forgetting is something that happens to everypony.”
“Us more than most, I’d say,” said Rainbow. “Is it just me, or is the... ruh... room... really... big?”
“You’re right!” Pinkie said brightly. “It’s an extra super-duperly enormous room! And it’s got an extra super-duperly enormous chair in it!”
“Chair!” they all chorused in awe.
“Oh, chairs! I’d forgotten chairs!” said Rarity with a little catch in her voice.
“Chairs were great!”
“Yeah, chairs were--”
“I suppose they never need polishing. Hah, y’know, I’ve worn that one. The red one. Didn’t work, but I still got to have a go - for once. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them. They’re still beautiful.”
The new voice startled them out of their euphoria, and they cried out in shock. It was somehow invasive to hear another voice, a seventh when it had forever been six, only six! Twilight frowned – or at least thought ‘frown’ as hard as she could. She bolstered her courage and pressed her Self forward into the crushingly detailed room, tugging at Rainbow’s grip. As she took in their surroundings her mind began shrieking memories and words. Dais. Scarlet. Equestrian flag. Velvet. Helmet. Armour. Rope pulley. Tray. Hoofbeats. Crown.
Wait. Back up. Hoofbeats?
Another voice spoke, smoother and richer than the first, and Rarity, Fluttershy and Twilight all yelped once more, whirling to where the new sound was coming from. How, how could there be yet another voice? An eighth voice?
There was a soft gasp of recognition from Rainbow Dash.
“The white blur!” she said triumphantly, relaxing her chokehold upon their Selves. “I told you! That’s the white blur!”
“Okay, Rainbow, you’ve made your point,” Twilight said in a strangled voice. “You were right, I’m sorry. Now let’s... investigate.”
“What did the white blur say?” hissed Pinkie.
“I don’t know, I missed it,” Twilight said, trying to squash the sensation of her heart racing – a sensation that would make a lot more sense if it weren’t for one tiny but crucial detail.
“How can I protect them?” she heard the first voice say. It was young... and old. She didn’t know how to describe it exactly. It was definitely a child’s voice, a little boy’s... but it was as weary as that of an old, old man. It was coming from a small purple blur. And it was strangely familiar. It boomed around her brain, carving trenches in her reason. Eight voices! Was this real? Were they all going mad?
Her thoughts were reeling, struggling under the influx of awakening memories, swamped with words and ideas and sensations. The colours... she knew the colours... there was white, and there was purple. That was what purple looked like. She had been purple once, hadn’t she? Perhaps that’s why she’d remembered the name so well...
...and then she staggered once more as yet another flood of words surfaced in her already strained mind. That was called a throne, a special kind of chair, and that colour was called gold, and that was a wing, that thing on that pony’s back... and she had been a pony once, she’d had one of those things, the pointy thing that did magic. Horn. That was it. Horn. Unicorn. Pegasus. Earth pony. Ali--
The tall pony-shaped blur with the horn was speaking, answering the question.
“It’s time,” she said softly.
Twilight’s heart leapt in her chest – or it would have, if she’d had a heart or a chest. Time, the answer to that maddening question...
How long have we waited in the Dark?
She could feel the yearning of the others through their connections. Their shock and amazement was transmitting to each other, amplifying their confusion.
The little purple blur jerked away from the larger white blur. “Please,” it said, almost begging. “No.”
“You’ve put it off long enough,” said the white blur. “You’re over five hundred years old, my friend.”
The other figure said nothing. Slowly, details grew clearer, and Twilight’s mind rang with a million names. Floor, marble, spear, guard, buttress, window, sunlight, sky, clouds, curtains, wall, tapestry...
“It’s time you grew up,” said the white figure sadly. There was some sort of waving cloud – with such colours! – for a mane and... and tail, that was it. It was called a tail.
“You must protect them,” continued the white figure. “You must use them. I do not mean to belittle you as you are, Professor, but it is too much for a child to wield all six, even one so old as you. It would drive you mad, or incinerate you. Besides, we are far past the need for a diplomat, historian or negotiator. We need a warrior. We need a great defender. We need what only you can give us.”
“Find somepony else,” said the small purple figure. He was gradually coming into focus as Twilight adjusted to what was, to her, utter blinding brightness, though her wildly shrieking memory was telling her that it was in fact a rather overcast day. She wanted to shy away from it, wanted to cringe and squint and shield herself. Though she had no eyes, it seemed that something deep inside her wished to play by the body’s rules. Bereft of a body, Twilight would take what she could get. Besides, the impulse staved off the panic for a few seconds more.
To distract her attention from all the oppressive details and the painful brightness, she began to study the small purple being. He was covered in hard plates of something chitinous-looking, shiny and glossy. They looked thick and heavy – far too heavy for the little figure. Twilight brought herself closer without even thinking about it, drawn to him for no reason she could explain. She knew the name for those overlapping plates, she was sure of it. Yet though a myriad of other words rose in her overcrowded mind (carpet, shoe, necklace, saddle, scroll, greaves, claws, quill, blade, fang, ribbon) for some reason the name simply would not come to her.
The great horned and winged figure spoke again, and her rich voice was grim. “There is nopony else. You know he is on the loose again. You and I and Luna are the only ones who know what is at stake.”
“No,” choked the small purple shape.
“I know what you fear,” said the white pony. “But you are wiser now. It will not happen again, I promise you.”
The purple blur had green tinges along it (green! Oh, to see green again, and know it to be green!), and Twilight’s reeling, overtaxed memory screamed a word.
“I’d rather not risk it, thanks,” the small dragon said. It turned away from the pony and hobbled over to look out of the window. It had to stand on tiptoe. Its eyes were distant, sorrowful and fearful.
“That’s a dragon,” said Twilight in a whisper.
“A wha?” said Applejack, her voice dazed.
“They can’t see us or hear us,” noted Pinkie. “Hey Dashie, we could play some totally wicked pranks!”
They could feel Dash straining, and then she said, “no good. I can’t move anything.”
“Shhh!” said Rarity. “That’s... I know them, I know them both!”
“Me too...” said Twilight slowly. “They were... important...”
“So... five hundred years...?” said Fluttershy. “If we knew them... and if that baby dragon is that old...”
“Then we’ve been in the Dark for five hundred years,” said Twilight. The idea was too huge to really take in. She felt numb. “We waited for five hundred years.”
“Felt longer,” grunted Applejack.
“It’s a baby?” Pinkie said.
Fluttershy sounded bemused. “I somehow... well, Twilight said dragon, and all of a sudden I knew that it was a baby one.”
“Yeah, it’s not very big,” said Rainbow critically.
“Would you kindly be quiet!” Rarity snapped.
The dragon was speaking again. “Why me?” he asked, staring out at the sky. “Why is there nopony else? There must surely be ponies that embody them.”
The great winged unicorn was still for a moment. “They do not respond,” she said finally. “They will not work for anypony at all. They haven’t for five hundred years.”
“Not even you?” the dragon said, eyebrows rising.
The pony’s mouth twisted. “No. Nor Luna either, to answer your next question. Not that that is an option at the moment.”
The dragon snorted bitterly. “Indeed.”
“Luna...” murmured Twilight. “Sounds...”
“Familiar,” finished Pinkie.
“They almost work for me...” the pony said, her tone heavy with disappointment.
“But not quite,” the dragon said, turning back to her with stiff, careful movements.
She sighed. “No, not quite. It is as though they sleep. They do not recognise me anymore... I am a stranger. It has been millennia since I last wielded them and that was before they chose their true avatars. I should not be surprised. I think they need somepony they know well, somepony to wake them. Somepony who knew and loved them, who recognises them, and yet embodies all of their special traits...”
“And you think that pony is a dragon,” he said with heavy bitterness. “Excuse me your Highness, but you must be mad. This war has turned your wits.”
“I have never been surer of anything,” she said, her chin rising proudly.
The dragon continued, stony and relentless. “You have no idea whether they’ll even work for me at all.”
“I don’t exactly embody Laughter at this point, do I?”
Twilight’s memory rang with a wicked little chortle, and she whispered without quite knowing why, “you did once.”
Almost as though she were hearing Twilight, the great white pony smiled.
The dragon was as still as a carven statue. “I haven’t laughed in thirty-eight years. I’m not your guy. Find somepony else.”
The pony tilted her regal head, the coloured cloud rippling behind her. “You are the most loyal creature I have ever known. You are unflinchingly honest, and you are always, always kind. You were born through magic, and you have the mighty magic of dragons in your very bones should you ever grow large enough to use it. You are unfailingly, almost self-destructively generous. You knew them and loved them, and they in turn knew and loved you. No, you are the only one who can end this... you are the only one who can wield them. You have simply forgotten how to laugh.”
“These are not times for laughter.”
The dragon fell silent, and his claws pressed together. They moved stiffly, making a noise like stone rasping against stone. Then he sighed gustily, two small jets of fire rising from his nose. “Princess,” he said, “you know what I’ve had to go through to stave off the hunger. The greed. You know what I’ve sacrificed, and what I’ve lost. You know how long it’s been. And now you would have me throw all that away, all that work, all that control, all that,” he paused and swallowed. “All that. To guard them? Use them? I could become a monster. With their power, I could become a greater horror than he could ever be.”
“Princess!?” Twilight gasped.
Rarity also gasped. “Oh my, of course! Princess Celebrity!”
“Pretty sure that ain’t her name...”
“You could never be...!” the Princess burst out. “You? Listen to yourself! You have been devoted to this nation for half a millennium. You could never become this horror that you fear. You deny yourself for no reason! My friend, there is no need for this emotional starvation!”
“Your memory is shorter than I thought, Celestia,” the dragon said, moving towards her. His limbs moved with a curious rasping noise, slowly and stiffly, but his eyes were full of fire. “I succumbed once when I was young, but she was alive in those days and able to bring me back. I still destroyed and plundered everything in my path, and worst of all, I almost killed four ponies. I can never forget that. I must never forget it. No, I’m better as I am. It’s my duty.”
“And so you will deny your duty in the name of duty?” cried Celestia angrily. “You will continue to live in the past with your sorrow and deny yourself a real life, deny everything that you could be, everything you could do to save my little ponies?”
Twilight gazed at her Princess, her mentor, the memories smashing through her mind like a ball through window glass. “Dear Princess Celestia...” she murmured. The great white alicorn blinked, her brow furrowing a little, before she shook her head and took a few steps closer to the dragon. Her face was flawless, Twilight thought, and the knowledge felt both new and old at the same time. But her beautiful lavender eyes were dancing with panic, and Twilight wondered who ‘he’ could be, and why the Princess seemed so afraid. What threatened Equestria? What did she need that dragon to guard?
“My duty is everything to me. It’s all I have left,” the dragon said, his gaze steady.
“It is all you allow yourself. You could have lived instead. Please, please listen to me! You are allowed to want things! You are allowed to wish for things, to hope and to need! You are not saving Equestria with this noble denial, you are killing yourself! You cannot stay this way!”
The dragon’s jaw tightened. His youthful face was thin and tired, and lines of deprivation and loneliness were drawn around his eyes and mouth. Twilight knew that face, knew that mouth, knew those eyes. She could almost hear that bubbling, mischievous little chortle.
He wasn’t chortling now. “I can stay this way,” he said wearily. “I must. Nothing I do can be for myself. The alternative is to become a mindless beast, ravening and destroying everything in sight. All I own is the knowledge in my head, and that is for Equestria. All for Equestria. Duty is everything, and that way I stay small, I stay sane, and I stay myself.”
“You won’t last another ten years this way,” said the Princess desperately. “Your scales are too old and hard for your little body. They will only get thicker, and eventually you will be trapped. They’re already too thick, aren’t they? You need help to bend your knees as it is. How many fingers still flex? Three? Two? You’re becoming a shell, a statue, and you know it. You need more size to support those scales if you’re going to live. And for the stars’ sake, live! Find love, find joy, find friends again! You must learn to want things for yourself once more. This is the only way to save your life and to save Equestria! If all your duty is to her as you say, then as her Princess, I order you! Equestria needs a champion, and she needs one now! You’re my last hope! Please, Professor!”
He closed his eyes. “I don’t even know if I can want things anymore.”
“Oh, poor thing,” said Fluttershy sadly.
“I don’t get it,” said Rainbow Dash.
“He’s still a baby, after five hundred years,” said Fluttershy. “He’s stopping himself from growing up, somehow. He’s very afraid.”
“I can sorta remember somethin’,” said Applejack. “It was about dragons, an’ growing. Cain’t rightly put my hoof on it, but I’ll bet it was important.”
The information slotted into place with a jolt that was close to pain. “Dragons grow through greed,” said Twilight. “The more they get, the more they want, and the more they grow.”
“But he owns nothing. He just told the Princess,” Rarity pointed out in a soft voice.
“Do you want to guard them?” came the Princess’ voice, coaxing and low. “They would want you to.”
The dragon turned back to look at an open casket on the steps before the throne.
Dragon, casket, steps... scales. So many words, so many things, after so long in the Dark with so few! A blazing torch was being shone into the shadowy corners of a long-abandoned house, only to discover that what had seemed empty was in fact crammed full. Twilight wrestled with her overwhelmed mind, and wrenched it back to the dragon, who was looking at the casket with the faintest suggestion of tears in his eyes.
“I want to do what is right,” he whispered. “They’d want me to do what’s right.”
“Then take them. Grow to your true greatness. Save your life and save my little ponies. Please.”
“Or take them, grow into a monster, terrorise and murder your little ponies. Even chance, Celestia. I’m afraid to take it. So there’s my choice – lose my mind and become a horror, lose the small size that permits me to stay amongst ponies, or become fossilised by my own aging scales.”
The Princess bowed her head. “I am sorry to have been so harsh, but you know it is true. You’re dying, Spike.”
Twilight choked as the name slammed into her with the ferocity of a stampede.
“Spike!” howled Rarity.
“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness!”
“I remember!” Rainbow Dash hollered. “He grew... and there were the Wonderthings, and he kicked their flanks!”
“He meant me!” Rarity sobbed. “He was talking about me! I brought him back! Oh, my little Spikey-wikey!”
“Twilight...?” Applejack said tentatively. “You okay?”
She wasn’t. “He’s. I...”
She was falling to pieces, her mind pulling apart at the seams. She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. “Spike...!” she managed. “Oh, that’s Spike, my Spike! How, how did I forget?”
“His face is so tired,” mourned Fluttershy. “He looks so lonely.”
“He’s... a professor?” said Rainbow Dash in utter disbelief.
“Looky at his little legsies, he can barely move!” Pinkie said in a stricken voice, and Twilight felt herself dissolving. What had happened to him, what had happened to her dear little assistant, her cheerful little friend?
“I know I’m dying,” Spike snapped. “You don’t need to rub it in.”
The Princess lowered her eyes.
“I don’t want to lose myself,” he said unhappily. “So what is right? What is my duty? I have to protect them... that’s a duty. But if I do...”
“Do. You. Want. Them?” the Princess asked. Her voice cut like a knife.
Spike’s tired eyes flickered over to her, ancient in his young face. “I want them back,” he snarled, and then his face crumpled in sorrow and he bowed his head. “I want them back,” he repeated, as though he could hardly believe it himself.
“Oh my gosh, you guys,” said Rainbow urgently. “Did you feel that?”
Applejack snorted. “Sugarcube, we’re feelin’ things we ain’t felt in five hundred years. Don’t rightly think I can separate it all out at the moment.”
“No, it’s... another pulling,” Rainbow Dash said. “Ow!”
“Dashie, I can see you, I can see you!” Pinkie suddenly squealed. “Oh, I’d forgotten what you looked like!”
Twilight tore her attention from the slumped form of her number one assistant, and sure enough Pinkie was right. The faint outline of a pony could be seen shifting in the air. It was less than the suggestion of a shape. It was as insubstantial as breath in a breeze, but it was there. The pony was small and lithe and light, her wings held proudly and her ragged mane tossed back. She was a young mare in the prime of her life, with athletic limbs and a cocky set to her chin.
She was Rainbow Dash.
“Can they see you?” said Rarity, and Dash gulped. Then she waved a trembling hoof before Celestia’s face. The Princess’s expression of regret didn’t change one bit, and her eyes never left the small, forlorn figure of Spike hunched over on the marble floor.
“I’m thinkin’ that’s a no,” said Applejack.
“Can I... d’you think I could touch...” Rainbow faltered, her eyes wide. Her hoof reached out, and brushed at Spike’s little head. It passed through his spines without pause, and Rainbow Dash slumped. “Nope.”
“Wait,” whispered Fluttershy. “Look!”
Spike’s neck straightened. His face gradually relaxed and grew calm, and Twilight thought for a moment that he looked far less tired, far less old. He could almost pass for the same little dragon he had been five hundred years ago. His brow had smoothed out, though he was obviously deep in thought.
“I want them back,” he said slowly. His eyes were clouded with concentration. “I want... that.” His arm reached for the casket, his elbow straightening with a noise like scraping stones.
Abruptly he stopped himself with a visible effort, and looked back up at the Princess. “Do you think that would work? Wanting something impossible?”
“It might work. If the focus of your greed can never be fulfilled... then perhaps you will not seek the belongings of others. Such baubles could not ever meet your needs,” the Princess said, and then sighed. “Oh, my dear friend. You would be trading one loss for another. Yet more pain, yet more yearning without end. Will you never allow yourself to be free?”
“But I’ll be able to be Equestria’s Champion. You need a big dragon, not a little one,” he said, awkwardly shrugging one shoulder with a raspy noise. Then he asked plaintively, “I’m really the last hope?”
The Princess set her jaw. “It is our only chance. Even if I was able to make them submit to me and then used them against him, there is the chance we could obliterate the world. It cannot be me. Luna is captured. It must be you, and it must be all you can be...”
He took a deep breath and looked back at the casket. “All I can be, huh?” His eyes darkened. “Let’s hope I’m still me afterwards.”
The Princess closed her eyes again in relief and dread. “You will do it?”
“I’ll try,” he said in a heavy voice, before giving her a rueful smile. “All for Equestria. Duty is everything. The only thing left that could make me agree. You’re a sly old thing, Celestia.”
She smiled once more, though her glorious eyes were still filled with sorrow. “I’m so sorry, Spike.”
“Will they be enough of a hoard to start the process, d’you think?”
“The six most magical, powerful and important items in the world? I should say so,” the Princess said with a sad little laugh.
He blew out another sigh, a little cloud of smoke rising from his lips. “I promised myself I’d never do this,” he said wryly. “I swore on their graves. What does that make me?”
She gazed back at him, her eyes shiny with tears. “Please, Professor. For me. For Equestria. For their memory.”
“You must promise me,” he said in a rush, “if I lose myself, you must end it. You have to. Nopony would be able to stop me otherwise, not if I’m using them. Only you have the power.”
She sucked in a sharp breath. He held her eyes with his, implacable, stony, and impenetrable. She eventually bent her head once more.
“I promise,” she said in a low voice.
“Then I will have them.”
Twilight was being ripped to shreds. Her little Spike, her little friend...
He took the casket in his creaking claws, and looked back up at the alicorn.
“And I will hoard them,” he said, fire leaping in his slitted eyes.
“No,” Twilight breathed.
“You have always been loyal to Equestria,” said the Princess softly. “I do not believe that will change. You will not lose yourself, I know it.”
Spike looked down at the glittering Elements of Harmony nestled in the velvet-lined casket. “I hope you’re right,” he said, and closed his eyes.
“What’s he doing?” moaned Rarity. “Spikey-wikey, oh, my sweet little dragon...”
“He’s wanting something...” whispered Fluttershy. “He’s finally wanting something so that he can grow up.”
“But you heard him!” Applejack said. “He don’t want anything! He’s given everythin’ up; He can barely remember how to want things at all!”
“’I want them back’,” said Pinkie thoughtfully. “That’s what he said. ‘I want them back.’ Did he have the Elephants of Huggity before, then?”
“He wants us back,” Twilight said in dawning realisation. The idea was tinged with horror – an emotion it seemed she was all too ready to rediscover. “He wants us... something he can never have. Something impossible.” Her nonexistent heart constricted. He must be so, so lonely.
“So he’ll hoard the Elements instead?” said Fluttershy. She sounded devastated. “But that’s... that’s a substitute. He’ll just be hoarding misery! He’ll never have what he really wants!”
“He wants the impossible, so that he keeps his mind and doesn’t start getting grabby again,” Rarity finished in a breathless whisper. “Oh, the clever little darling. Oh, the poor lonely thing.”
“And why am I still like this?” Rainbow demanded, stomping one of her barely-visible hooves.
“Loyalty,” said Twilight after a pause. “The Element of Loyalty. That’s why Rainbow was so strong before; He invoked loyalty. To us and to Equestria.” She let a bitter snort escape. “I guess he really was the new Rainbow Dash.”
“What?” said Fluttershy.
“The new me? No way, he’s nowhere near as awesome! He needs to be, like, twenty--”
“Rainbow Dash, do be quiet!” hissed Rarity.
“But if he can invoke th’ Elements...” began Applejack.
“The Elements,” Twilight mumbled, and then froze as the notion struck her like lightning. No, no it couldn’t be... but it fit. Though it was impossible, she was immediately convinced that it was right. There was no other explanation.
“...does that mean he’ll be able to use ‘em?”
“The Princess said he was the only one who could,” said Rainbow Dash.
“He’s gonna look pretty silly wearing five necklaces and a tiara,” Pinkie sniggered.
It was mad... but it was right. She knew it, deep inside her Self. Twilight pushed all their babble away from her mind, and took a moment to come to grips with it. Then she said, as steadily as she was able, “Girls. I’ve just figured out where we’ve been.”
Their chatter trailed away as one by one it hit them in a unanimous moment of sudden, awful realisation.
“No,” said Rainbow blankly.
“Y-you don’t mean...” Fluttershy stuttered.
Twilight paused once more, before taking a deep breath. “We are the Elements of Harmony.”
“Well shoot, no kiddin’, Twilight! We’ve always been the... the... you mean, we’re the... we’re the... holy horseapples.”
“Wha-a-a...?” Pinkie spluttered.
“But... but...” Fluttershy said, sounding utterly lost.
“You mean I’ve been a necklace for five hundred years?” shrieked Rarity.
Twilight ignored the commotion that started amongst her fellow Elements, staring at her little dragon friend. His face was twisted with longing. The casket containing the jewelled necklaces and the headpiece was clutched tightly in his knobbly, arthritic-looking claws. Only two fingers were actually wrapped around the box. The others stuck straight out, too stiff to bend. “What did you do to yourself, Spike?” she murmured. “Look at you, you’re a walking statue.” The memories flooded her, filled her to bursting. “Did that birthday scare you so much that you were afraid to grow up at all?”
“I never wanted to disappoint you,” he breathed.
Twilight’s thoughts snagged in shock, and she bent her concentration on him even more. “Can you hear me?” she said in a voice that was barely more than a breath.
“Twilight... I miss you,” he mumbled. His inflexible claws rasped around the casket and his eyelids fluttered as a sob racked his little body. “I’m so alone. I’m just so alone now. It’s been so long. I want you back, you and the pony gang...”
“Spike...” she said, her urgency rising inside her like bile. “Spike, can you really hear me...?”
“I’ve tried to make you proud,” he continued, his head bowing creakily over the box. Gold and jewels glittered in its dark velvet depths. “I’ve tried so hard...”
“You silly dragon,” she cried, heedless of whether he could hear her or not. “My silly, wonderful little boy, I have always been proud of you! Always!”
“I want you back,” he repeated, and his body twitched. “I want you back...”
Twilight’s senses, such as they were, began to howl.
“Guys...” she said, keeping a wary watch on the slumped head of the baby dragon.
“...means I’ve been an accessory for five hundred years, which is utterly intolerable!” Rarity finished her rant, her voice rising impressively at the close, before she took the equivalent of a deep breath and adopted a far more controlled tone. “What is it, Twilight?”
“I think something’s happening,” she said uncertainly. “I can feel magic. A lot of magic.”
She could feel their attention turning to her immediately. “You’ve got magic again?” asked Fluttershy.
She concentrated as hard as she could, but nothing happened. “Nope, doesn’t look like I can use it, but I can feel it again,” Twilight said, her voice tight and urgent. “It’s Spike. He’s starting.”
“Will this big throne room hold him, d’ya think?” asked Rainbow.
“Only just,” said Rarity. Her distress was pouring through the connection in waves. “He was around that size last time... the time I... oh, the selfless darling.”
“He doesn’t look any bigger,” said Applejack critically.
“He’s completely saturated with magic,” Twilight said. “He’s brimming with it.”
“Spike, take a letter,” Spike murmured in a voice that throbbed with longing.
Twilight pulled towards him with all her might. “Spike,” she said, hoping against hope that somewhere deep inside he could really hear her and that it hadn’t been her imagination before. “Spike, I believe in you. You can do this, I know you can.”
His lips parted in a soundless sigh.
“The Princess is backing away,” said Rainbow Dash, pointing with a whisper of a wing.
“I think I’ve figured out why,” said Pinkie weakly. “You guys, I’m thinking that little Spikey-wikey’s not gonna be so little anymore.”
Spike was growing. He hadn’t moved a muscle, still bent over and clutching the casket to his chest, but as they watched he doubled in size, then tripled. The rate was ferocious. It was a smooth, continual process, without any stopping or starting. The air around him was shimmering like sunlight on water. He never seemed to stay the same size for a second, but steadily continued to grow and expand. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he was murmuring constantly to himself. Occasionally Twilight could make out a word or two... and they always seemed to be very familiar names.
“Did he just mention... me?” asked Applejack.
“I think he’s remembering the Falling of the... something, things on trees... the Leaves,” said Twilight quietly. “He mentioned Pinkie and Rainbow and the balloon and being the announcer...”
“I’d forgotten,” said Applejack in wonder.
“I was... a something pony, Ironic Pony,” said Rainbow, wrinkling her forehead.
“Iron,” said Pinkie. “Though I like yours waaaaaay better.”
“Look at him,” Rarity said, awe and shock radiating from her in alternating waves. “Oh, just look at him!”
“He’s already taller than the windows,” said Fluttershy in a soft voice.
It was alarming and amazing and breathtakingly magical to watch. The dragon grew and grew, bent over the Elements of Harmony, his lips moving ceaselessly. In total silence he began to shoulder through the air, bending further and further over the casket, which was becoming toylike in his increasingly massive claws. A tear escaped his clenched eyes, and slowly slid down a snout that gradually elongated, prolonging its journey before it finally dripped off the end of a nose that was pushing into a point. Spike grew and wept and grew, all in that eerie silence. His body thickened and lengthened with shocking rapidity; the growth of an oak in seconds. His spines grew wickedly sharp and pointed, and his inaudible murmurs were made around a set of increasingly horrifying fangs. His neck stretched and stretched, arching into the air with a swanlike grace even as his chest began to deepen and broaden.
“He’s gotta stop sometime, don’t he?” Rainbow said in a weak voice.
“Cos he’s sorta running out of extra super-duperly enormous room,” Pinkie added.
“I think...” Twilight said as his head touched the roof, “he... he wants us back... that much.” Her absent heart constricted once more. “Oh, Spike,” she whispered.
“I’m guessin’ he ain’t done,” Applejack said, as a buttress came crashing down to the marble floor. “Whoo-ee, that’s gonna take a bit o’ work t’ repair.”
“He had better not crush that casket,” fretted Rarity.
“He’s... not quite the same,” said Rainbow Dash thoughtfully.
“Now, what makes y’ say that?” Applejack said with heavy sarcasm. Rainbow haughtily flipped her wings onto her back as another buttress came crashing to the floor. The two guards looked at each other, and then bolted.
“Oh ha ha, genius, I mean he looks different to how he was when he grew up that other time.”
Twilight pulled back her focus to study the still-growing dragon. It was true. His body and face were less ungainly, much leaner and somehow more elegant. There was no denying that he was again a massive hunter, a predator with gargantuan claws and fearsome jaws, but he was not the monstrous, gnarled lizard he had once been. He hadn’t developed the lumpy, ugly form and twisted limbs of so many years ago. His head was nobler and broader than she remembered, tapering smoothly to a fine pointed muzzle. His eyebrows had thickened, but they were precisely the same shape she had always known. She had no difficulty finding her little friend in that face. His vicious-looking green spines had grown long and thin and they curved under their own weight, drooping over his forehead at an almost jaunty angle. The fins beside his head had become pointed, and they swept upwards into jagged spikes. His tail coiled in gentle loops as it lengthened, and his limbs were straight and smooth. His feet and claws were impossibly huge. They gave the impression of being too large even for him. His body was a slender, sinuous column all the way from his deep chest down to tightly muscled haunches, limber-looking and agile for all its enormous scale. He was a collection of long, clean lines, all with a deadly purpose.
“He’s beautiful,” said Fluttershy reverently.
“He’s... bustin’ through the roof,” said Applejack. She gave an unsteady laugh. “Anypony else think this day’s had a few too many surprises?”
“Why didn’t they do this outside?” wondered Pinkie.
It seemed he would never stop growing, crouched over a now-miniscule box clenched between two claws each as long as a spear. His mammoth head soared majestically into the overcast sky – clouds, birds, the sun, oh, the sun! - his eyes still clenched.
“I’m guessing he missed us a lot,” said Pinkie with a weak giggle.
“No kidding,” Rainbow said, her ghostly eyes wide.
His head was level with the tallest of the palace towers when he stopped growing. He was larger than the mind could fathom - larger than any dragon Twilight had ever seen or heard of. His eyes finally blinked open and looked down at the devastation his growing had caused. She met his gaze with dread. Had he become what he most hated? Was he the monster he had feared?
There was only grief in those clear green eyes.
“He’s himself!” Twilight shrieked. Around her she could feel her friends hollering and yelling along similar lines. She wrapped her Self around Applejack in a hug. “He’s himself!”
“I knew he could do it!” crowed Pinkie. “Yeah, dragon power!”
The Princess spread her wings, soaring through the angry grey sky and settling on the splintered roof. “Spike...” she said hesitantly. “Spike, can you hear me? Spike?”
He blinked once more, and then focused on her. Twilight fell silent immediately, on tenterhooks to hear his answer.
“Celestia.” His voice boomed and thundered, and he started at the sound, before sighing like a gale. “I’ve kept my mind, but oh... oh ponyfeathers, look at me. This is not what I am.”
“This is what you should have been for nearly four hundred years now,” she said gently. “You do not feel the greed?”
“Oh, I feel it,” he growled. The sound was spine-chilling, and Twilight tensed. “I don’t think I will ever stop feeling it. It’s out of the cage now. But it’s reaching for something that can never be mine. I don’t feel the need to nick your palace to soothe the ache, if that’s what you mean.”
Celestia smiled sadly. “I understand, Professor.”
He looked down at his giant clawed feet, far below. “I don’t think I’ll be taking any classes from now on. I guess I’m not a professor anymore. I think I’m going to miss my students.”
“Professor means teacher,” corrected Celestia, and laid a hoof on his colossal snout. “You will always be that, Spike.”
A fleeting smile crossed his lips, his fangs glinting before they were hidden once more. “I’ve got a job to do first, though,” he said.
She nodded. “Yes. But... just look at yourself, Spike. Really look. You are not what you feared, what you once became. All your denial was keeping you from this. You are the best a dragon can be, a lion amongst mice. You can defeat him, I know it.”
He looked down at the casket pinched between his claws. “You know what the worst part is?”
She looked sympathetic.
“None of my suits will fit.”
Celestia looked amazed that he had said such a thing at such a time, before she smiled broadly. Pinkie burst out laughing. Twilight’s thoughts skipped a beat, and she chuckled despite herself. He’d always had a gift for saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. “You stuck your foot in it again, Spike,” she whispered.
He blinked again, and looked down, almost to the exact spot where she was concentrated. A wild hope rose in her. “Don’t close the box, Spike,” she said then, louder and more urgently. “Never close the box. We’re here. We’re all here. You’ve got what you want. I’m here, Spike, Twilight’s here...”
“Twi, he can’t hear you,” said Applejack.
“But I think he can almost hear us,” Twilight said, her attention still fixed on Spike. He was frowning, his giant brows beetling. “Look, it’s like he’s listening! And he answered me before, I know he did!”
“Uh, guys?” Rainbow said.
“We can’t touch anything,” Rarity said. “Even Rainbow Dash can’t touch anything after being... uh, invoked. Why would he hear us?”
“He’s my friend!” Twilight practically wailed. “He always heard me, even if he didn’t always do as I asked!”
“Guys, you might wanna pay attention...” Rainbow continued, her voice very unsteady.
“If we really tried, I think he could hear us properly,” Twilight said urgently. “He wouldn’t have to be so lonely anymore. He wouldn’t have to endlessly mourn us because he can’t have us back. He could be happy...”
“Only, I can sort of see Pinkie,” Rainbow said.
Twilight whipped around, and just as Rainbow had said, the shimmering outline of Pinkie Pie hovered in the air like vapour. She gaped.
“Two of you?” she choked.
“Well, he cracked a joke, didn’t he?” said Pinkie, waggling her hooves. Like Rainbow, she was young and strong, her mane as curly and her smile as wide as ever. “Boy oh boy, is it nice to have feet again! Whee!” And she began to bounce around the ruined throne room happily.
“Still random after five hundred years,” commented Dash, shaking her head.
“Well, how am I not all... corporeal?” asked Rarity. “If you ask me, the darling boy has been more than generous. He’s been a near-martyr!”
“An’ he’s honest as they come,” Applejack declared. “There weren’t a word of a lie in any o’ that, I could tell.”
“He just used magic, too,” Fluttershy said.
“I don’t know,” said Twilight after a moment. “Maybe we’ll find out.”
“Can you... hear something?” said Spike, still frowning. His new voice rumbled like a thunderclap, and he seemed embarrassed by it, ducking his huge head. Yet for all its intimidating volume, it was still recognisable as Spike’s voice. It had his inflections, his intonations. It was still her Spike speaking.
“Oh my gosh,” Twilight breathed, before hollering at the top of whatever passed for her lungs in this half-life. “Spike! Spike, it’s us! Spike, don’t close the box! It’s us, we’re back, we’re here!”
Celestia cocked her head. “I thought... no. No, I can’t hear anything.”
“Arrgh, call yourself a goddess?” Twilight raged. “Spike! It’s me! Spike, so help me, if you don’t hear me, I will ground you for a month! And you’ll have shelving duty for two months, and I won’t help you with magic in any way! Spike! Spike!”
“Don’t need help. And I’ve always done all the shelving anyway,” he grumbled. Then he looked rather confused.
“Consarnit,” Applejack said, stunned. “I don’t believe it. He can hear her!”
“He must be hearing me at the subconscious level... maybe he can hear all of us,” Twilight said, stifling a scream of frustration.
“This is becomin’ a very weird day,” said Applejack.
“I’m just pleased there is a day,” Fluttershy said dreamily. “Oh, I missed seeing the birds and the leaves...”
“...and the dragons taller than a palace...” Rainbow muttered.
“Shut up, Rainbow,” Twilight snapped, her attention riveted to the dragon.
Celestia was giving Spike a very strange look. “Are you... all right?”
He ducked his head again.” Uh. Yeah. It’s like something just out of ear-shot... it’s probably nothing.”
“Nothing? Nothing?! How dare... that’s it mister, five hundred or not, you are so grounded!”
“The greed?” asked Celestia delicately.
Spike blinked very hard for a couple of seconds, eyelids the size of doors squeezing shut. Then he straightened a little. “It’s not the greed, I know how the greed feels. No, it’s something else, something... weird.”
Then he bit his lip, looking around at the huge amount of damage he had caused. Gigantic fangs glittered. “Maybe we should have done this outside.”
“That’s what I said!” yelled Pinkie, waving her insubstantial hooves in exasperation.
“Well, if you had grown to an average dragon’s adult size, you would have fit in the throne room,” Celestia said archly. “I should have remembered that you were always one to stand out amongst the crowd.”
Spike snorted. A massive plume of thick black smoke rose from his nostrils, and the sound bounced from Canterlot Mountain. The echo was deafening. “Hah. Now I am a crowd. Where can I go, like this? Where will I live?”
“There is a cave in the mountains above Ponyville...”
A smile flitted over Spike’s vast, sad face. “I remember it. Fitting. Let’s hope nopony scolds me out of it.”
“They have other things on their minds right now, like struggling to survive. The refugees are still pouring into Hoofington, and the last dispatches report that Fillydelphia has been hit. They don’t have much time, Spike.”
“I know,” he sighed. “I know. I don’t understand why Ponyville is still standing.”
“I think he is saving it for last. Who knows why he does anything?”
“I’ll bet you can guess. You know him better than anypony,” Spike said, and shifted slightly on his haunches again. “This is sort of tight. How can I get out of here without destroying the whole palace?”
“I will teleport you to Canterlot Mountain, outside the city.”
“Good idea. I don’t want to start a panic.”
Celestia beat her wings and soared with weightless elegance to alight on Spike’s huge, muscular shoulder. “The ponies of Canterlot will have seen you by now. But you will not start a panic, Spike. You are something of a legend.”
Spike wrinkled his snout. “A legend. Me.”
The Princess gave him a sidelong glance as she settled on the smooth purple scales. “Oh, you think you’ve gone unnoticed, do you? Yes, my friend, you have almost as many tales surrounding you as I do.”
“Is it? They’ve been whispering about you for centuries. The dragon scribe of Ponyville! The dragon who knew the Six! The scholar, arbiter, diplomat, teacher and historian; the one who judges nations. Negotiator of the Bridling Peace Accords, hero of the Griffon Magewar Crisis, the one who solved the Bay of Serpents fiasco, and the one who made Dragonsdorf cease their raids into Equestria. There will be enough ponies in the know to tell them that they are in no danger from a purple dragon named Spike.”
“He did what?” blurted Twilight.
“They know me as a baby dragon,” Spike boomed unhappily. “And Bay of Serpents was in 152AL - almost three hundred and twenty years ago.”
“They know you as a dragon, first and foremost. A dragon that has lived his whole life in the service of Equestria,” she said firmly. “They know you are a magical creature. And they can see me with you. You will give them heart, and hope. They desperately need it.”
He pulled a face, before looking back down at his claws through the hole in the ruined roof. “This isn’t me,” he said quietly. “I don’t know if I have the power to reverse this. I’ve finally allowed myself to want them... and now that I have I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop.”
“You were always meant to be this, my friend,” said Celestia. “You are no monster. You are utterly glorious. You are astounding.”
“Spike the Astounding,” he said grimly. “Hooray for me.”
She tapped his scales with one hoof in admonishment. “All this bitterness never did suit you. Besides, you are forgetting. You will not die this way. Your scales will not mummify you. You will be able to move. Haven’t you tried it yet?”
He lifted one paw, holding it close to his chest to avoid ruining more of the crumbling roof. He tentatively folded his fingers and they bent with ease, claws flashing in the muted light. “I can move,” he said with dawning wonder. “I can move my toes. Look, Princess, they bend!” His narrow face was filled with a sort of bemused astonishment. “Oh, that feels...”
“I did warn you,” she said gently. “You came very close to being completely immobile, Spike.”
“I didn’t like the risks,” he said, still watching his paw flex with that expression of amazement. “I still think I’m lucky to have my mind.”
“I have been around for a very long time,” said Celestia, tipping her head. “Credit me with a little wisdom. I knew that you of all dragons would never again allow your mind to be lost in the greed.”
“I’ll listen next time,” he said, and put his paw back down to the throne room floor. Then he raised the other, regarding the Elements of Harmony still clasped between his claws. The casket looked like a pea in his grip. “How do I... use them?”
“It is different for everypony,” she said. “You must study them and work it out for yourself. I have faith in you.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Oh, don’t overwhelm me with details or anything. Do you think that reference guide would still be knocking about?”
She smiled. “Possibly.”
He looked at the Elements for a moment more, before nodding his head. “Let’s do this.”
Celestia stood upon his shoulder. “Very well. Hold still, and I will teleport us.”
“Need a hoof? You can tap my magical core, if you like.”
“I have enough power to spare, Spike.”
“But the Zone--”
She gave him a rather smug little smile. “I am the Guardian of the Sun. A mere teleport – even one with this much mass displacement – is no great trial.”
Spike rolled his eyes, huge glittering pools of green. “Showoff.”
“You are becoming less despondent, I see.”
“I don’t know,” Spike said thoughtfully, holding himself very still as Celestia’s horn began to glow. “It’s like... wanting them so much has brought them closer. I can almost hear them. It’s... nice.”
“Spike!” Twilight screamed. “You can hear us! Spike, we’re here!”
Celestia smiled. “I am glad. Hold tight.”
Spike nodded. “Right. Don’t want them to fall out, hang on.”
And he closed the casket before Twilight could call out again.