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Spike wanted everything.
Everything material, every belonging, anything that could be possessed shone with an irresistible gleam. Such things were everywhere in this town, and they were all too beautiful not to covet. However, there was more to it than just the irresistible beauty, more than just wanting them because of greed. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind there was a compelling drive that could not be ignored, an insatiable hunger for material wealth: a gluttony for more.
Spike wanted it all, and nopony was going to stop him from taking it. Most of them were too busy running around in a panic to impede him, anyway. A few had tried, but their puny efforts of resistance were futile. Two pegasi had demanded he back down, but he swatted them out of the air like flies with the unicorn pony he had abducted and wrapped up in his tail. More pegasi attempted to intervene, and he just trapped them in a water tower. There was even a pink pony that had tried to thwart him by throwing cake at him: cake, of all things.
Now that he sat atop the mountain where all of his wonderful treasures were stored, he couldn’t help but roar in triumph over the load of his ill-begotten gains. Even then, the hunger in his mind persisted; it still wasn’t enough. He had to have more. There was nothing else that mattered. No event mattered, nopony else mattered, not even he mattered. There was no room for any thoughts save for greed.
“Oh, be quiet!” the unicorn wrapped up in his tail ordered.
Spike looked back to her. Somewhere underneath all his greed for material possessions, a wisp of curiosity seeped into his mind. This pony wasn’t an item, yet he had stolen her anyway. Of all the ponies in the town he had just ransacked, he only took this one. Why?
It didn’t matter too much at the moment. She was busy spouting some self-righteous drivel or other, but since it didn’t have to do with what else he could take, it didn’t concern him. Not that what she was saying even registered. She was speaking a language he recognized, but for some reason he couldn’t understand the words, like they had lost their meaning.
“You’ve got nothing to be proud of!” she yammered. “Stealing everypony’s things, terrorizing the town, and using me as a weapon against my own friends! Which, as horrible as it is, I can almost understand because you’re a dragon and all. But this,” she hissed as she removed her ruined cape, “this is a crime against fashion!”
That was when he saw it; the pony was wearing an ornate collar of polished gold with a brilliant ruby embedded in the middle. The instant he laid eyes on it, he wanted it… but for once, greed was not at the forefront of his mind. He somehow felt like he’d seen the gem before, had once owned it, and it was special to him sentimentally. Despite all that, he had the sense it wasn’t his any more because he had given it away. Why would he do that? Why did this pony have it? Now perplexed, he couldn’t help but stare, dumbfounded, as he tried to piece everything together.
The unicorn realized he was staring at her jewelry. “Oh, no you don’t! You’re not getting this gemstone!” she threatened, trying to hide her belonging. He still ogled it, curiosity for once outweighing desire.
Her voice choked up as she spoke. “This was given to me by dear friend Spikey-wikey, the kindest, sweetest, most generous dragon ever... and it is too precious to me to give to a greedy old beast like you!”
The world went black as a flashback took him to the to the week before. He was smaller then, enough so the ruby had fit in the palm of his hand. He had been looking forward to eating it, but then this same pony had commented on its magnificent luxury.
Now torn between desires, he stood there, conflicted over two opposite outcomes. After some thought he made up his mind, and with a heavy heart, took the pony by the hoof.
“Then you should have it,” a strange voice that he vaguely remembered to be his own spoke, “this beautiful gem was meant to be with you.”
She stared at the gift in shock for a moment, then her eyes began to water. She smiled, voice wavering with the touching gesture.“I don’t know what to say; this is so generous!” She trotted around the room, overcome with joy. “Oh, my little Spikey-Wikey!” His heart all but stopped as she trotted up to him and kissed his cheek, and then he fainted.
The truth suddenly returned to him; the gem was his, but he had given it to this unicorn, Rarity, because he cared more her than serving himself. He, Spikey-wikey, loved her, and that mattered more to him than material possession.
But now, he was just a ‘greedy old beast,’ one that Rarity didn’t even recognize; one that even he didn’t recognize. With that revelation, he realized he hated all this now. None of the petty things he’d taken mattered save for Rarity. However, he couldn’t take her; he had to earn her, and there was no way that he could do that if he was still… this.
There was only one solution then; this avarice had to go.
A mental war broke out inside. Spike rebelled against his own dragon heart, leading a charge into his own mind on a crusade to purge it of his selfish desires. Threatened by opposing motives, greed began to dig its claws into his mind. It lashed out in hubris, blunting Spike’s desire for goodness with its primal rage and unwillingness to yield to any other notion than egomania.
Spike pushed back, seeing everything he now hated about himself in those dark thoughts. He hammered against it again, loosening its jagged barbs dug into his mind and making him flinch in the pain. Greed retorted with a crunch from its fangs, their poison threatening to contaminate his mind further, whispering the tempting psalms of more.
Then somewhere, deep within the purest recesses of his conscience, Spike’s voice spoke to him, shattering the grip of his hunger with its truth:
“No... Rarity matters most.”
With a heave that his entire good conscience was behind, he ripped greed from his mind and cast it into a deep pit. He could almost feel greed dragging its claws against the walls of his mind, desperate for a grip, leaving deep mental cuts with a sound like bark being stripped from a tree.
Now that he had banished those thoughts, with them went the drives that had propelled him to his monstrous size. His muscles convulsed in spasms and his form began reverting to its normal state. In an instant, he was the same dragon as he was before, hovering in mid-air where he’d once taken up so much space. The transformation had been so rapid that for a moment they hung suspended.
No longer constricted, Rarity looked back to see why the dragon had released her, only to stare in shock.
“Spike? You’re the rampaging dragon?” she asked in disbelief before both of them fell screaming towards the ground.
Going through the fall was just like all the stories of ponies who had gone through near-death experiences had described it; a bittersweet summary of Spike’s life flashed before his eyes while his heart pumped pure adrenaline through his circulatory system. Memories of helping Twilight with her studies when they were both still so young, the games they used to play in their spare time with each other, how he’d helped to get her out of trouble back in Canterlot after her first incident with the ‘Want it, Need it’ spell, moving to Ponyville on the day of Summer Sun Celebration, making such great new friends, and all the adventures they’d had thereafter.
He treasured all the friends he’d made and the time he spent with them. He wouldn’t trade them for all of Equestria, but the ones about Rarity held a special place in his heart. Though he was still working up the courage to tell her on Hearts & Hooves Day, he pined to tell her that even though he was a dragon, she was his very special somepony.
But now they were both going to die because he had lost control of himself and had delved into kleptomania. He didn’t want that terrible thought to be his last; he realized he finally had to tell Rarity the truth. There were no second chances now, as this would be their last moment together.
“Rarity, I need to tell you something, just in case we don’t make it!” He had to yell over the roar of the terminal wind rushing past their ears. His throat became dry and knotted; even now, those words were still hard to say.
“I’ve always sort of had a cru—”
Rarity cut him off with a hoof over his mouth. Her sincere smile and tearing eyes voiced her response for her:
For a moment, he felt so warm and fuzzy inside that he almost forgot they were in free-fall. If this was his time, Spike could at least die a happy dragon.
Spike saw a streaking shape of pink, then felt his momentum shift. Then they were no longer falling, but instead bunched up in a large sheet of fabric. He looked around, bewildered, and looked up to see that they had been saved at the last second by Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, who were now carrying them safely to the Ponyville Bridge in the fabric torn from Rarity’s cape.
Back on the ground, a overwhelming sense of relief washed over him; he was still amongst the living, with the greatest friends a dragon could hope for. As The Sisters were their witnesses, it wasn’t their time!
“We did it!” Fluttershy squeaked in joy. “I can’t believe we did it!”
“All in a day’s work,” Rainbow Dash gloated, allowing the success of another successful feat of flight to stroke her already sizable ego.
Now that they were back on the ground, he was now faced with the wake of all the damage his greed had wrought. He climbed up on the side of a bridge to get a better view.
Ponyville was in shambles. Almost every building in the town had sustained some amount of damage, and a few had been destroyed. Looking over it all from his seat on the bridge, he couldn’t help but hang his head in shame. Gaze now cast towards the ground, he spied a large footprint still fresh in the ground. He held up his own hand to the deep impression in the dirt, and it was miniscule in comparison.
His eyes began to water as the burden of guilt from what he’d done crashed down on him. The guilt was enough to drag his heart, even from Rarity accepting how he felt for him, down from its lofty perch and sink it into cold mud. How was he going to fix all this? What if he became vilified for his actions? What if he’d hurt somepony?
What scared him the most was that he thought somewhere, deep down, he could sense there was some part of him that even now didn’t care about any of that.
Rarity interrupted his depression. “Spike, I just have to tell you how absolutely proud I am of you.”
“Proud of me?” Spike asked, uncertain.
“Yes; it was you who stopped… well, you, from destroying Ponyville. You are my hero, Spikey-Wikey!” For the second time, Rarity leaned forward to give him a quick kiss on his cheek.
It was fortunate for Spike that he was a little more prepared for her affection this time, otherwise he would have fallen off the bridge right there.
“Well, shoot,” Applejack interjected. “This right here is sweeter than glazed caramel on a candy apple, but, if y’all would kindly excuse me, I’ve got a few bushels of apples I’ll be needing to get to market, seein’ as how they were plucked from the trees early. And I also figure y’all are gonna need some of the extra tools and supplies I got back in the barn on accounts of all the fixing up that’ll need to be done ‘round here.”
“And we’ll also need to start bringing everypony’s things back from down the mountain,” Rainbow Dash added before puffing out her chest a bit. “I’d totally be able to fly all that stuff back down in a jiffy.”
“That would be helpful,” Fluttershy agreed before looking around in worry at the wrecked Ponyville. “Oh my, there’s so much we’ll need to help everypony with. Where are we even going to start?”
“If I could make a suggestion, I’d say we start with Sugarcube Corner,” Rainbow Dash proposed, pointing a hoof towards Pinkie Pie. Now that the commotion had settled down, she had returned to staring in a wide-eyed, open-mouthed shock at the remains of the destroyed sweet shop.
Twilight sighed, realizing the amount of work that now fell upon them… on top of reorganizing the books in her library. “The mayor is probably going to need my organizational skills to compose an efficient reconstruction effort now, too.” She gave a wry smile with a weak chuckle. “It’ll be just like re-shelving my library, except with… you know… debris, and stuff...
“What about you, Spike?” Twilight asked. “Where are you going to start?”
He thought for a second before finding a response. “Actually, I think I’ve got something to write to the Princess about first.” Then he gave a nervous smile towards Rarity. “And there’s a big hole in Rarity’s workshop that’ll need to get fixed up.” The slight smile she gave back was a little reassuring to him.
“Speaking of holes in buildings, I’m going to need your help collecting all the bark to seal up that hole you made in the library.” She gave a slight authoritative smirk as she looked at Spike. “And don’t even get me started on those unkempt piles of books strewn about the place.”
Fluttershy gasped. “Where’s my chicken coop?”
“Yeah,” hollered Applejack from over her shoulder as she walked back to her orchards. “And I reckon I’m just gonna love seeing you try and figure out how you’re gonna put all those leaves back on my trees.”
“And… bu... how-an-whu… with cake, and t-t-the… holes...” Pinkie stammered, looking in disbelief over the ruins of Sugar Cube Corner before throwing her head and hooves up in the air, screaming in anguish towards the heavens.
“WHY, CELESTIA, WHY?”
Spike’s fatigue had begun to catch up to him just as Luna had begun to paint the night across sky once more. He faded in and out as he sat on Twilight’s back while she trotted back to the library. When she approached the door, she let out a sigh of relief and turned her head to check up on her passenger.
“Spike, we’re home. Are you still awake?” she asked with tenderness. He wasn’t; Spike had curled up into a little ball and had fallen asleep. Twilight let out a tired giggle.
As Twilight entered the library, she levitated Spike over to his bed and pulled his blanket over him. Twilight let herself smile a little, very weary herself but glad to have him back. She passed by Owloysius and greeted him with a slight grin. Owloysious simply hooted back. She dragged herself up the stairs, eager to lose herself in the embrace of her closest nighttime friend: her bed.
“Twilight?” Spike muttered through the darkness.
She turned from her spot halfway up the stairs. “Yes Spike? What is it?” Twilight asked, turning and descended the stairs over to Spike’s bedside.
He responded in a tired, groggy voice. “I’m really sorry about everything, what I did and the position I’ve put you and everypony in. I shouldn’t have let my greed get to me.” His eyes began to quiver a little bit as he spoke. The guilt still weighed upon him… as well as the terrifying lack of universal shame.
“Oh no, it’s not your fault Spike... well, not entirely.” She thought for a second about the right words to express her support. “It’s natural programing for a dragon to do what you did, but I’m guessing somewhere along the line, you made the choice to turn away from that and do what was right.” She gave him a tired but sincere smile. “I think you’ve learned your lesson, and I’m proud of you Spike, so please don’t worry about it.”
That seemed to be just what Spike needed to hear, and he smiled back. ”Thanks, Twilight.” He yawned, then closed his eyes and collapsed into sleep.
Content, Twilight went back up the stairs and into her bedroom. She breathed a sigh of relief as she crawled into bed and quickly fell into slumber.
The next few weeks were long, labored, and tiresome, even with everypony dedicated to the task of rebuilding their town. Damage throughout Ponyville had been immense, but for Spike, the experience was more of a personal recompense; every building rebuilt, personal possession returned and pony whose life he helped get back on track helped heal his own self-inflicted wounds, and every drop of sweat, worn muscle and aching joint was invested in earning atonement for his previous iniquities. Hours faded into days and days into weeks as time seemed to lose coherence in the face of the task, but he wasn’t deterred on his mission for redemption.
The work had been by no means easy, but the sacrifices he’d made were more than worth the view on that morning when the town was finally rebuilt. Staring over the pleasant structures standing with pride under a shining sun and cloudless sky from the very same bridge that was once a front row seat to the wake of destruction, Spike couldn’t help but smile and let himself relax as he held his mug of cider, basking in the presence of his friends and at the sight of their quaint little hamlet.
However, Spike felt like he was getting sick. That itself wasn’t too peculiar, except the feeling wasn’t physical; he didn’t have any symptoms like weakness, nausea, upset internal functions, or anything like that. It was more like a sickly headache in his thoughts.
He didn’t have long to think about it before an interruption from the energetic Pinkie Pie derailed his train of thought.
“Oh boy, I’m so happy we fixed up Ponyville!” she blurted. Her hyperactivity had gotten a boost from good spirits and several mugs of cider that Applejack had brought. “Hey, now that everypony has had the schedule freed of the ‘rebuild Ponyville’ point, you know what we should do?”
“Umm…” Fluttershy answered with reservation, “throw a party?”
“THROW A PARTY!” Pinkie exclaimed. Fluttershy recoiled in surprise from the blast of confetti that came from nowhere.
“A party? For what?” asked Dash. “That we’ve successfully repaired the town for the fifth time, or that Spike is now a part of our unofficial ‘Wreck Ponyville’ club?”
Dash took a draft from her cider as Spike squirmed in his seat.
“Aw, come on Dashie; it’ll be fun!” Pinkie remarked with a friendly slap to Dash’s back.
Unfortunately, Pinkie’s friendly slap caused Rainbow Dash to do a sudden spit take, knocking her mug out of her hoof and spilling its contents onto the bridge; the golden delicious nectar wasted as it flowed through over the stone.
Dash could only stare, mouth agape before the newest cruel joke that left her bereft of cider. She shot a sour leer at Pinkie, who was backing away with a nervous smile and picked up the empty flagon.
“I’ll, uh… just be getting you another cup then…” she said as she backed away, empty mug in hoof. “Alrightythenbye!” Pinkie zipped off towards the cider barrel at the base of the bridge.
Applejack let out a low chuckle as she raised her drink to her lips. “That crazy pony…”
Spike smiled at the ordeal, looking past Applejack from his seat on the bridge to snicker at the perturbed Rainbow Dash. Her expression was very cross as she waited for Pinkie to return with her refreshment.
Past her, he could see Rarity sitting with content on her spot on the bridge. He noticed that she was wearing the neckband inlaid with the fire ruby he had given her. Spike couldn’t help but smile again, but this time with an infatuated sigh to boot, losing himself in the sight of her splendor as something else snaked through his mind. Just then Rarity looked to him and their gazes met. She smiled and batted her eyelashes at him, and he almost fell off the bridge.
Rarity giggled, then hopped down from her seat and collected her saddlebags.
“Well, not to disrupt this fine gathering, but I think it best if Spike and I sit down for a little meal before we attend to our arranged business.”
“Business? What business?” Spike asked, not remembering having arranged anything.
Rainbow Dash put on a teasing sing-song voice. “Spike and Rarity, sittin’ in a...”
“Sing one more syllable and I’ll buck you right off this bridge, Applejack style, ” Rarity interrupted with an annoyed tone, but Spike could’ve sworn he heard something playful under that.
Dash smirked, then finished the first line. “… Fluttershy.”
“What?” Fluttershy asked.
“Oh, I was just making a joke about that one time you said you’d like to be a tree, and you know how the song goes ‘sitting in a tree,’ so I just swapped the lyrics around, since if you were a tree… oh, nevermind; it was a dumb joke anyway.” Dash gave up and flew towards the cider barrel. “Why’s that refill taking so long, Pinkie?”
Rarity smiled over her frustrated friend, then continued to Spike. “We had scheduled another day to venture out and gather gemstones again as soon as the reconstruction of Ponyville was complete. Don’t you remember?”
“We did?” Spike didn’t remember. ” I mean, yeah, of course!” he replied, trying to play off his confusion. He would’ve remembered if he’d made arrangements with Rarity, so why didn’t he remember?
“Well? You don’t intend to keep a lady waiting, do you?” Rarity asked. “Is something wrong?”
“No, everything’s fine,” Spike said, brushing away the concerns. “Wait, you want to head out now?”
Rarity looked at him with with a ‘that’s the point’ look.“Well, of course. I figured it would be best to get in a good meal before the day’s activities.”
“Alright, then. I’ll see you later today at the library, okay Twilight?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Twilight said. “Have fun!”
They were off the bridge and making their way into town when Rarity turned to look at Spike again.
“There is something else; I have, well… a surprise for you.”
“Really? What is it?”
“Come now, Spike,” Rarity said, tilting her head at him before adopting a playful tone with a bounce-as-you-trot hop. “I can’t tell you, silly; that would spoil the surprise!”
Spike chuckled over her behavior. Just then, both of them stopped in their tracks and turned, looking back at the bridge off in the distance as they heard Rainbow Dash holler, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘EMPTY’?!?”
The two looked back to each other, began to snicker, and then broke out into laughter as they resumed their walk to Carousel Boutique.
“Just have a seat at the table, and I’ll have everything ready in a just a moment,” Rarity said. Spike pulled up his chair, but stopped himself before climbing into his seat.
“Would you like some help setting up?” he asked.
Rarity smiled at him. “That’s so thoughtful of you, Spike, but allow me. You are my guest, after all.” She turned and opened the refrigerator, unloading several of its contents along with a large covered platter. “Such a gentlecolt… or dragon, as t’were…” she to herself.
Perhaps it’s better I do sit down. Whatever ailment he was afflicted with was starting to bring on a slight headache. It wasn’t too bad right now, but it was gaining strength. He’d have to take a nap later, or ask if Twilight knew a cure spell. Whatever it was, it wasn’t agreeing with him.
However, it did give him the opportunity to sit back and watch Rarity at work, trotting back and forth in the kitchen, humming some nameless tune as she prepared their meals. He sighed and propped up his head in his hands, letting his eyes follow her. He didn’t mean to stare, but then, he wouldn’t call it staring. He was admiring her, with her white coat of cleanliness and purity; regal purple mane so perfectly mimicking the perfection of feminine curvatures; those gorgeous eyes like the sea after a storm; and an essence that radiated a passionate endeavor to make the world a wonderful, elegant place for the ponies who lived in it.
Spike let himself sigh again he watched her levitate the kitchenware to the table, setting down some fine china along with some silverware upon a folded silk napkin for good measure.
Rarity trotted over and began to set up the table. “Now Spike, I know that you know it’s not polite to stare.”
That snapped him right out of his love-laced stupor. How long had he been stare—admiring her? How long had she noticed? Did she find it disapproving? He looked away, cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“I… I wouldn’t... call i-it…” he stammered at the floor. He was caught. Might as well face the choir. He looked back up towards her.
“Has anypony ever told you that you’re absolutely beautiful? Because you are, both on the outside and on the inside.” He started to turn away again, his words becoming more directed towards the linoleum. “At least.. I… think so…” Marshmallows could’ve been roasted over his cheeks.
Rarity’s lips parted in a huge smile. “Aw! And has anypony ever told you what an adorable little charmer you are?”
Spike could have sworn that he felt his heart thump against his sternum.
What he did feel was the evil sickness pound against his skull like a caged beast.
All the physical symptoms he hadn’t been feeling seized him in an instant. Cold shivers ran through him as every muscle cramped up at once. Ants crawled down his nerves. Spike keeled over, groaning in agony as his bones suddenly felt incorrect and his innards twisted themselves into knots. He thought he heard Rarity voice some rapt concern, but he couldn’t make it out over the ear-splitting pounding in his head. He whimpered as he held his head in his hands; he could feel whatever it contained pound against his skull with unrelenting voracity.
A moment later, he felt more stirrings from within, but the kind of his body repudiating what was happening to it. He could feel the tension ease away as his immune system focused against the entity wracking his brain. He felt it squirm again, but this time out of desperation. Spike could almost hear it scratching his skull as it was sucked from his mind. For the briefest moment, he felt the oddest sense of déjà vu.
That moment ended as soon as he felt something slimy and putrescent slide from his skull into the back of his throat. It hit his tongue, and nausea hit him like an avalanche. Spike hunched over in convulsion and reflexively grabbed the napkin in front of him, coughing wet, sick hacks into it like he was trying to cough up one of his own lungs. He heaved like he was about to vomit and felt a wet, slimy blob smack into his covered hand as he fell over the side of his chair.
Spike winced as he hit the ground. He lay there for a second, nearly relaxing as he could feel normalcy return.
Rarity was eye-level with him an instant later, her face contorted with worry and concern.
“Spike! Can you hear me? Are you going to be alright?” Her horn began to glow and Spike felt himself telekinetically lifted off the ground, Rarity’s fleeting urgency not allowing enough time for a response. “Hold on, I’m taking you to Ponyville General!”
“No…” Spike weazed. “No, I’m fine.” He coughed. “Whatever that was, I just needed to get it out of my system.” He slowly looked down and the soiled napkin he still had clutched in his claws. ”I’m feeling a lot better now. I…” He finally saw just what it was that he’d spat out. “AGHHH!!!”
It looked like a neuron he’d once seen in a book Twilight had about neuroscience, but what he held before him was almost enough to make him throw up again. It had a translucent appearance and had a texture like snot. The majority of it was laced with a slick black like crude oil. The features that resembled axons and dendrites were malformed and twisted in such disgusting ways that it hurt his eyes just to look at them, and the lot of it that was covered in what looked like the myelin sheath appeared to be sick and infected growths. What most curious was the nucleus. It wasn’t just black; it looked like a void, as if somehow it was an embodiment of nothingness that was trying to steal away the very light around it.
As repulsed as he thought he could get by looking at that disgusting thing, it went up another notch when he could’ve sworn that he thought he saw it move.
“Uh, where’s your trash can?” Spike asked, not wanting to hold this thing any longer.
Rarity gave a small sigh of relief over his apparent speedy recovery. “There’s one underneath the sink. But are you sure you’re alright? You looked positively deathly just a moment ago.”
“Don’t worry Rarity, I’m fine,” Spike reassured her as he walked to the sink, hoping that the squirming he felt in his hands was just the blob molding around as he folded the napkin and disposed of it. “Just fine…” he said, realizing he could smell his own breath, and it was bad… even worse than usual. “Though, I could use some mouthwash.”
Rarity smiled at him. “I should have some in the lavatory,” she said as she pointed a hoof in its direction. “Now go wash up and we’ll carry on as usual, hopefully without any other unprecedented events stalling our schedule.” Rarity gave Spike a playful noogie as he passed, making him snicker.
The mouthwash stung as Spike titled his head back to gargle. While he was glad to finally spit it out, it was far better to have the pungent aftertaste of intense spearmint on his tongue than… whatever that thing was. Now that his fetid breath was at least passable, he looked up, only to stare at his reflection in the mirror for a few seconds as he mulled everything over. The inexplicable sickness, that thing he coughed up, and the level of affection in Rarity’s behavior. Not that he minded in the slightest, but he thought it was certainly a little... odd.
“Ah, whatever,” he muttered as he hopped down towards the sink and made his way back to the dining room. He’d worry about it later.
Rarity greeted him as he walked back into the dining room. “Nice to see you’re still up and about.” She had finished setting up while Spike was in the bathroom. Rarity had made herself a small grass salad with at modest topping of lily petals, but Spike’s meal remained hidden under a decorative silver lid. “I hope your previous tizzy hasn’t robbed you of your appetite.”
“I’m fine, don’t worry,” Spike said again as he pulled himself back up into his seat. Then the smell of whatever was hidden on that platter hit him; the unmistakable aroma of sapphire was evident, but the gentle wafts of something he could place were there too.
Rarity smiled she saw the look on Spike’s face change when the smell of his food reached his nostrils. “Well then,” she said as her horn began to glow, telekinetically lifting the cover away from the plate. “Bon appétit.”
Spike’s eyes went wide as he saw what Rarity had prepared for him. He had gotten the scent of the sapphire right, but the gems looked professionally prepared and appeared to have been aged several weeks and friction polished. The smell of what he couldn’t place was what they were embedded in: small cut circles of richly colored glass.
”Whoa…” Spike muttered in awe, “stained glass sliders!”
“Glasswork isn’t necessarily my forte, nor cooking for dragons for that matter,” Rarity commented. “But even you wouldn’t believe the kinds of subjects Twilight owns books about. I just pray that my occasional errs didn’t muddy the end results to much, and I’ll admit that sometimes I had to… fabricate the next step. Regardless, I do hope you find them satisfying.”
Spike beamed at her. “Thanks, Rarity!” Then he plowed into the first slider.
“Well, how are they?” Rarity asked, looking for his approval.
Spike swallowed to save himself the indignity of taking with his mouth full. “They’re great! Thanks again, Rarity!” he said before shoving another into his mouth.
There weren’t that many sliders to begin with, but he still finished them all in a hurry. Looking down at an empty plate, he felt a little embarrassed now, thinking of how improper it must’ve looked for him to wolf down his food like that. What must she think of his table etiquette?
Daring to look up, he got his answer. Rarity had propped her head up on her forehooves and was staring at him with rapt attention through half-open eyes with a smile on her face. It was the same expression he’d only seen once before, when she told him what she thought about the fire ruby she now wore around her neck. He couldn’t help but notice that her salad looked as complete as it was when she’d set in on the table; she hadn’t even touched her fork.
At first he was surprised to see her composure in the face of his recent table manners, but then a devilish smile crept onto his face. “You know,” Spike said with a smirk, “this one total knock-out, bombshell of a unicorn once told me that it’s impolite to stare.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it starring…” the bombshell responded. “I’m glad to see you enjoyed your meal. If it so pleases you, I’ve got plenty more chilling in the refrigerator for when we return from business today. And the sooner we return, the sooner we can get to our other matter of business. You are still interested in your surprise, yes?”
Spike’s face lit up. “Oh, yeah: sure!”
Rarity unseated herself and made a step towards the door, but then paused in contemplation before turning back towards Spike.
“And in case you were wondering,” she spoke as she approached the dragon, then gave a husky whisper right into his ear, “I’d call it admiring.”
Spike seized up, frozen like he had been when she first kissed him. He almost fainted again as she turned back towards the door and let her tail brush up against him as she passed.
Somewhere off in the distance, he heard Rarity giggle, then realized she was already at the door. Quickly pulling himself out of his stupor, he hopped down from his chair and scampered off to follow her.
As the door to the dining room swung closed, there was a delicate thump against the door to the cabinet below the sink. Slowly it opened, and with a disgusting splat, the blob fell onto the floor. It tumbled over itself as it used its tendrils to pull itself across the kitchen, making its way to the refrigerator and with some effort opened the door. Hoisting itself up to the shelf where the rest of the stained glass sliders lay, it moved the cover away. With the disposition of a pony lost in the desert stumbling onto an oasis, it collapsed onto the closest slider and wrapped it in its tendrils. The slider began to dissolve, and as it did the mysterious being grew in correlation, black innards pulsing.
The sun was low on the horizon when Spike and Rarity returned with her fresh supply of gems. He sighed with content, both in the satisfaction of a hard day’s work and the anticipation of more “admiration” from Rarity. It felt invigorating to finally have the Ponyville he knew and loved back, but the thing he wanted to do the most now was relax: pull up a seat to a fire or maybe, if he played his cards right, snuggle up on a sofa with her. Or get a snack; he could really go for a few more of those sliders.
Best of all, there had been no Diamond Dogs this time.
“I had a wonderful time with you today, Spike.” Rarity smiled at him as she unhitched herself from the wagons she was pulling.
Spike looked to her as he dropped the ropes from the wagons he had commandeered. “Me too.” A thought occurred to him. “You say it like we just went on a date,” he said with a chuckle.
“Really now?” Rarity responded with a coy tone. “You don’t say…” She changed tones. “Now then, I still have one more arrangement planned: your surprise.”
“Oh?” Spike had almost forgotten about that.
“Well, perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it a gift,” she said, still keeping eye contact with him as she trotted up the stairs towards her bedroom. “Come now, I still have one more present for my little Spikey-Wikey.”
Spike smiled and hurried up the stairs, and she closed the door behind them.
Down in the kitchen, the refrigerator door swung open and a whole mess of its contents clattered to the floor, including the large, amorphous, black, sickly blob. Hoisting itself up on appendages that resembled legs, it turned as the scent of precious stones caught its attention. Stumbling out onto the main shop floor, it spied four whole wagons stuffed to the brim with gems. With an insatiable hunger, it lurched towards the carts.
“I managed to procure this recently in a business deal with a fine gentlestallion in Canterlot,” Rarity said as she fished a small box from one of her dresser drawers. “And for all that you’ve done recently, both for me and for Ponyville, I can hardly think of anypony more deserving of this than you.
“You’re certainly allowed to do whatever you well please with this, even eat it,” she continued as she trotted over to Spike, carrying the box in a telekinetic field. “Though I do sincerely hope you decide to keep it; that way, we’ll both have one.”
Spike’s heart skipped a beat, then turned into a flock of butterflies. Before him, shining brilliantly, was a heart-shaped fire ruby, just like the one he’d given Rarity.
Lifting the ruby out from the case and setting it aside, Rarity took Spike by his claw with her hoof, and gently lowered the ruby into it.
“Sincerely, to Spike: from Rarity,” she stated.
Spike could only stare in awe at the ruby for a moment, too touched for words. He looked back to Rarity, tears of joy welling up in his eyes. Before she could react, Spike wrapped his arms around her neck, pulling her into the most heartfelt embrace he could give.
He held her for a moment, awash in his own joy and emotions, words unable to be spoken properly through his choked-up throat. And then he finally said it:
“I love you, Rarity.”
She stood there for a second, stunned herself by this chain of events. Then she smiled, wrapped a foreleg around Spike in return, and tilted her head down to nuzzle him.
“I love you too, Spike.”
Heart, meet sternum. Sternum, this is heart.
Spike couldn’t think of another time when he’d felt this happy. He’d finally earned what he had strived so long for. Now, everything was right in Equestria.
That illusion shattered as tragically as the glass being smashed downstairs. They broke from their embrace, now alert to something out of the ordinary. They both rushed to the bedroom door and looked outside into the shop. Rarity gasped as Spike’s blood ran cold.
Rummaging around in one of the gem-filled wagons and devouring its bounty relentlessly was the form of a relatively small, wingless, pitch-black dragon. Its texture was off for a dragon; instead of scales, it appeared slimey and see-through, revealing its churning black innards and its core of consuming nothingness.
The dragon turned, revealing stark white eyes devoid of pupils and irises. Spike knew it was staring at him because he could feel its cold gaze pierce him to his very soul.
The dragon was slightly bigger than he was. Its otherwise circular features all ended in cruel angles, and a jagged, saw-like frill adorned its head. Though what a sent chill down his spine was when he realized just how much this terrible thing looked so much like him.
The dragon furrowed its brow and glared at them like a predator. It opened its mouth, letting out a foul wheeze followed by a hissing inhalation; wind passing over the harsh mouth of a deadly cave, like it was trying to steal back its own words as it spoke:
That was their only warning before the dragon launched itself up the stairs at them, roaring with a blood-curdling screech like talons on a chalkboard, making Spike freeze in terror. The dragon collided with him with staggering force, slamming him into the wall.and knocking the wind out of him.
Spike only saw blurry streaks when he looked back up in time to take a dizzying right hook to his face, knocking him to the floor. The dragon reared up to strike again when a bright blue light flash blasted it away and into a wall.
Spike’s vision cleared as he got back up to his feet, and tried to shake off the pain. Rarity was standing beside him with a defensive stance, her glowing horn pointed towards the enemy.
“Stay away from him, you monster!” she screamed.
The dragon pulled itself from the crater in the wall, taking a stance itself before getting a good look at Rarity. “You…” it hissed, sounding almost surprised. “I remember…” it spoke as it tensed up again, sinister voice becoming a growl. “I WANT!” the dragon roared as it pounced for her.
Spike pushed Rarity out of the way before the dragon collided with him again. The momentum of the tackle carried them both across the bedroom, through the window, and into the street, burning Spike with skids as they both crashed into the ground.
Pinned underneath, the dragon pulled back for another knockout punch.
Spike inhaled and blasted the dragon’s face with a breath of green fire. It howled in pain and clutched its eyes. Spike kicked the dragon off him and got back on his feet. He looked back up at the new hole in Rarity’s home.
“Aw, I just fixed that window!” Spike yelled. He yelled again in surprise as the dragon picked him up, glared at him, and then threw him like a rock back towards the boutique.
Spike crashed into the wall with a sickening thud. Dazed, he almost didn’t have time to duck from its fist slamming into the wall right where his head was. Spike dropped down and kicked one of its knees. It roared and countered with a swing of its tail. Spike dodged the attack with a jump. The black dragon grabbed Spike out of mid-air and slammed him several times into the wall. Spike took a few hits before he caught himself, bracing himself with his arms and legs to keep from taking another smack to the wall.
The dragon flung Spike by his tail towards another building. Spike twisted as he soared through the air and caught the impact with his legs as he hit the building. Knees strained with exertion, he launched himself off the wall back towards his enemy.
The dragon readied to punch Spike out of the air. Spike deflected the punch to collide with his target, making them tumble over each other from the force of the impact. Spike’s momentum carried over from the upset, putting some distance between them. He righted himself and faced the black dragon with another offensive stance. A moment passed; the two dragons glared intensely at each other, waiting for the other to make a move.
“Hey!” Rarity shouted from the side as a gem shard whizzed towards the black dragon’s head. It embedded halfway into its transparent skull with a sound like it had been cast into deep mud.
Spike felt a chill; all the dragon did was cock an eyebrow in curiosity and look in the direction from where it came, like getting shot in the head hardly even fazed it. The gem was pulled the rest of the way into its cranium, where it seemed to dissolve.
Spike looked in the same direction to see Rarity, hitched back up to one of the gem wagons.
“Would you rather get bogged down in an inglorious tussle,” she asked of the black dragon, “or would you rather have this cart full of delicious gems and this gorgeous unicorn mare?”
Spike felt like he was being stabbed by something cold as the other dragon turned in full to face her.
“Rarity, what are you doing?!”
She smiled with devious intent as the dragon readied to pounce her. Rarity gave Spike a ‘trust me’ look, then turned and galloped off at full speed. The black dragon took chase like a lion after a gazelle, snorting and growling with a ragged breath and a vicious hunger. Spike only stared for a moment, dumbfounded.
“Do try and keep up, dear!” he heard Rarity call back to him.
With that, he took off after them.
Keeping up was easier said than done; Spike was easily the smallest of the three, so staying with them was hard enough even without their lead on him. He ran long enough to realize that Rarity was leading them to the quarries where the two of them would gem hunt, but the longer he made chase, the farther away they got from him; he was losing them by the second.
“If only my wings had started growing by now!” Spike cursed his youth. He knew he wasn’t going to catch them running on his little legs.
Along the path he spotted a tree with a low-hanging branch and he got an idea. He turned his attention to one of the branches, bent the curiously elastic limber as far back as he could, then pushed at a downward angle as he braced himself against it.
“If it worked for Applejack...” he said, and released his hold on the branch. It flung him through the air like a catapult. He soared through the air for a few seconds and caught sight of them again.
Spike smashed into the other dragon with enough force to shatter bones, sparking concern in the back of his mind when he didn’t hear any cracks upon collision. How much different was this dragon from other dragons? He’d already seen it go almost unharmed by taking a projectile to the brain; could he even beat this thing?
Lack of fractures or not, Spike knew the creature wasn’t invincible by the way it shrieked when his impact hammered it into the ground. He hopped off the crumpled heap and turned to give it a swift kick in the face. It countered with a tackle, catching Spike and pinning him to the ground again. It pulled back its free arm for a slash, ready to burrow its sharp claws into his face.
Spike used his unpinned arm to redirect the attack into the ground, embedding its claws in the dirt. Spike hammered off the arm holding him, freed himself, then hit it with a downward punch to the back of the head that jammed its pointed snout into the thick dirt.
“Spike!” Rarity called to him, “lead the dragon over here!”
Spike turned and ran towards Rarity, only to stop out of bewilderment to see what she was planning.
She stood before a large, gaping opening of a deep chasm located at the base of a mountain. What was especially odd was that the cave opening was marked by a thick, reinforced threshold and an incredibly large door with multiple locking mechanisms that resembled clockwork mechanics. It was evidently extremely heavy as well; Rarity was to visibly exerting herself to open it.
“How in the hay did that get there?” Spike couldn’t help but ask aloud.
He heard a disgruntled growl from behind him. Spike looked back at the dragon as it finally pulled itself out of the ground. It glared at him, then crouched down. Spike witnessed, to his dismay, leathery wings sprouting from the foe's back. It propelled itself into the air and charged at him, flying low to the ground as vicious red flames erupted from its mouth.
Spike turned and ran, but he knew he couldn’t run for long. It had an aerial advantage over him, and it was getting closer by the second.
He spotted a hole he’d dug earlier that day and got an idea.
This might work, but even if it does, it‘s still going to hurt.
“Why can every dragon in Equestria fly but me?” Spike grumbled as he jumped into the pit and braced himself. This would have to be timed perfectly, and all he could do was guess when that moment would be. At least he would have a signal: pain.
It came in the form of scorching fire, searing even his heat-resistant scales. Spike choked as the air around him became heated death and gnawed at him like another monster.
Spike launched himself out of the pit. He collided into the dragon as it flew over, tackling it out of mid-air and knocking the wind out of it. They fell in a lop-sided arc to the ground and crashed with a heavy thud. Spike broke away as quickly as he could and took an offensive stance that put the dragon between him and Rarity. Hopefully, he’d be able to drive it back to the cave this way.
The dragon wasn’t content to fight on the ground, and instead turned towards Rarity, spreading its wings to take flight again.
“No you don’t!” Spike yelled, and shot a heavy fireball towards one of its wings.
His intent was to just injure it, but instead the fire incinerated the wing completely, spouting a foul smoke that made Spike gag. The dragon howled then whipped around to face him, unfathomable rage burning in its blank eyes.
It hit him before he could react. It seized his tail and swing him over its head like a flail towards the ground. Spike saw the ground coming and braced himself to keep from hitting it.
What he couldn’t see was the downward punch to the back of his head. Ears ringing and vision blurred, Spike was too disoriented to stop the brutal kick to his gut. It hit him so hard that he was thrown off the ground by it. He heard cracks as his ribcage collapsed.
Tears dribbled out of his eyes as he soared through the air, trying to coddle his pulverized innards. He felt a dulled, creeping dread come upon him, wondering how much worse off he’d be when he hit the ground.
A familiar magic enveloped him; his flight slowed, and he landed as gentle as a feather. Rarity looked over him, face torn with anxiety and worry.
“Spike!” she cried. “Oh, Celestia… are you going to be alight? Please, please be alright!”
He smiled in spite of his pain with a wince. “I’ll be okay, yeah…” He turned his head to cough and sprayed the ground with a mist of blood. “Okay, maybe…”
The black dragon was charging full speed at them. If his dismay wasn’t enough, he could see its ruined wing slowly begin to regenerate.
“Now that just isn’t fair!” he whined, but then he allowed himself a weak, painful chuckle. “Well... at least I got the dragon over here... you’re welcome!”
Rarity’s looked up, and her expression hardened. She took up a defensive position over Spike and put one of her hind legs up against the gem cart.
“You want these bloody gems so much?” she spat at the charging dragon before she kicked the cart into the abyss. “Go get them!”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the gems that the black dragon was interested in.
It caught Rarity with an outstretched arm, knocking her away from Spike and onto her back. The dragon put her in a choke-hold and dragged her over to the pit.
“Thanks for the lair,” the dragon mocked her with a panting hiss. “Do you know what I want?”
Muscles trembling, organs damaged and nerves screaming in agony, Spike pulled himself back onto his feet and charged the dragon with exertion that pumped acid through his veins.
“Get away from her, you beast!” Spike bellowed and slammed into the dragon. The force knocked Rarity out of its grip and they both tumbled into the abyss.
“Spike!” Rarity cried out after him. Her horn lit and she tried to pull him out of free-fall, but it was too late; he was already too far away and moving too fast to catch.
The sound of loss in Rarity's voice agonized Spike. He swore in his heart that he wasn’t going to leave her there, stricken with grief; he was going to get out of this pit if he had to climb all the way back up.
With that, he focused his energy on the adversary, trading multiple punches and kicks with it as they tumbled into the dark abyss in locked combat, falling through the openings of numerous open doors as thick and heavy as the one at the entrance.
Onward they fell into the pit, the smacks of fists and heels colliding with scales and slime lost to the roar of the wind rushing through their ears; still their descent into the nothing continued until the shadows consumed them both.
Slowly, the darkness cleared away for the light, and the world seemed to materialize before his eyes.
Spike was running as fast as his injures would let him through the twisted passages of a labyrinthine catacomb constructed of large chambers lit with gentle glows, connected by non-linear tunnels that branched off in all directions. Occasionally one would light up with a pulse of energy that ebbed back and forth between each connected chamber. As he ran through each room, he could feel his mood and thoughts ever so slightly shift towards one direction or another, as if each chamber was emitting some sort of palpable notion. For instance, despite his apparent panic over something or other, this cavity made him somehow feel posh. And—
Wait, Spike thought, confused. What is this place? How did I get here? What am I running from?
The soft, electric blue lighting of the tunnel adopted a backlit glow of angry red. He turned and saw the black dragon flying towards him with a fireball in its mouth; flames dribbled like spittle through its teeth.
Spike hoisted himself over a rock and made it into another chamber just before the fireball whizzed past him. It struck the wall with explosive force as it bathed the room in an angry light. Even though it missed him completely, Spike felt hurt by it, like a twinge of pain in the back of his mind.
The feeling of this room was stronger than the others. Spike felt remorse, penitence even, as if he had stumbled onto something he was ashamed of. The dragon flew into the chamber with him, circling like a vulture, and the feeling of guilt increased.
“You strain the limits of my patience,” the dragon growled as it landed in front of him.
Spike tried to scramble away, but this time failed to escape another grab.
“And now you’ve broken them!” it yelled as it caught him by the tail and threw him at one of the dark, deep pits near one of the edges of the room.
Spike hit the ground and slid across it, wincing again over the newest abuse to his injuries. He went over the edge and dug into the rocks for grip. They protested with an audible offensive that felt like it was scratching his skull.
Seeping up from the pit like heavy, poisoned air was an essence of something wicked and vile that filled him with fear and dread. He struggled to pull himself out, but fatigue had finally started to catch up to him. Spike was beaten, bruised, injured, and without any more options. To make matters worse, the dragon standing triumphantly over him could fly and regenerate. He couldn’t win… but he had to keep fighting. He’d already sworn to himself he wouldn’t be ended down here: sworn for her sake…
“Farewell, lesser,” it sneered with a cocky tone and lit another fireball.
Spike scrambled to claw his way out of the pit. He pulled himself over the edge and attempted to grab the dragon. It flapped its wings and took to the air out of Spike’s reach, shooting its raging projectile at him just as Spike pulled himself out of the hole and leaped for the dragon.
The fireball whizzed past Spike and hit the ground with explosive force where he’d been standing. It detonated with such power that it felt like it had just punched his brain. The shockwave added thrust to Spike’s flight, smacking him straight into the other dragon. The impact knocked it out of flight and caused them to careen into another pit.
They locked into combat again, trading fire and fist as they tumbled in freefall through the catacombs. They fell into another chamber, the notions of regret replaced with personal retribution and quests for atonement.
The dragon spread its wings in an attempt to stabilize itself and take the aerial advantage again. Spike responded with an angry whip of fire to its face. The enemy dragon refocused on him and hit him squarely a forceful headbutt that knocked them into the passageway to a new chamber. Spike painfully collided against several rocks along the way. He was fortunate the blows weren’t strong enough to cripple. Still hurt like the gates of Tartarus though.
The next chamber they fell into felt more inviting, freeing; it carried the air of those first moments when liberated from the shackles that bind. That gave Spike an idea. He charged a fireball and shot it in the opposite direction of his adversary. The recoil from his shot changed their trajectory enough to smash the enemy dragon into the edge of another passage.
The force of the attack was brutal enough that it left the dragon weakened. That allowed Spike to steer their fall into every rock in the tunnel on the way down, making the dragon pulverized by the time it hit the ground of the final chamber, pinned underneath Spike.
For a second, Spike completely forget about the fight as a feeling of blessed peace came over him: a peace that came with the unmitigated joy of forgiveness, with harmony rekindled amongst friends… with Rarity.
The echoing of a rockslide to jarred Spike from his trace. He looked up, felt a chill, then dodged out of the way just as several large boulders came crashing down on the spot where he’d just been standing.
The other dragon wasn’t so lucky. Still dazed from the crash landing, it couldn’t do more than watch as the massive stones rained down upon it.
Spike coughed and cleared away the dust cloud formed by the rock slide. The dragon was trapped with both its legs and left arm buried under the rubble. It still persisted, using its free right arm try and move away the rocks.
“Sweet Celestia, this thing just won’t stay down!” Spike cursed to himself and darted towards his nemesis. He grabbed the dragon’s free arm and twisted it, preventing movement. The dragon turned his head to breathe fire on him, but Spike kicked it in the face. Its head spun and smacked into the ground, pointing in the opposite direction from Spike. Then he stomped down on its face and pinned it with his foot, rendering the beast incapable of a counter-attack.
“Alright then, who are you? What do you want?” Spike demanded to know.
The dragon bore a look of surprise for a second, then a wicked smile broke out on its face and it began to laugh in a way that gave Spike a sudden sense of foreboding.
“What do I want?” it hissed through its chuckles. “What do I want?”
Spike got the nasty feeling that he had stumbled into a cruel joke.
“Do you know what I want?” Its voice became an aggressive growl. “I… want… EVERYTHING!”
Spike’s only warning was a sudden lurch and a nauseating sound of flesh being torn asunder before he saw whip-like tendrils sprouting from the stump of its left forearm coming straight at him. This thing had ripped off its own arm!
The tendrils struck his head, and he felt them wrap around his skull, feeling them stick to his cranium with some disgusting adhesive. Then Spike felt something touch his mind, and he collapsed in an instant as every muscle in his body twitched and buckled. He felt his thoughts warp and distort: shoved aside as a the feeling of every cave chamber shifted, saturating every thought and feeling until only one thing remained:
It all came back to him with the tact of a tsunami; an illustrious sheen on material wealth; the allure of owning so much; an indomitable, unignorable drive behind a hunger for material wealth; a gluttony for more.
Spike wanted everything.
He wrenched himself from its grip in a stricken fear. The avarice disappeared from his mind as soon as he was free of them, leaving only room for cold terror.
“You… you’re… no!” Spike stammered in horror.
The dragon pulled itself out from under the stones, crippled and mangled limbs already beginning to heal.
“You tried to kill me off…” Spike’s evil reflection spoke, allowing itself an evil laugh as it threw its arms outward in a self-promoting display. “Well, surprise; I remain!”
Spike’s mind was spinning wheels that suddenly didn’t want to work. This couldn’t be! He had banished this from his head and his heart, and yet it was staring back at him, cold-blooded murder in its eyes.
“You know what they say,” the dragon spoke with a smiling sneer. “What doesn’t kill you... will only come back later to try and kill you again.”
This was unfathomable. He had already banished this: refuted this! Why was it here? What was this place even? He couldn’t comprehend how he was supposed to kill this thing, so what was he supposed to do? Seal it away down here? How?
Malice crept into its voice. “I’m taking our mind back. I hope to Celestia for your sake that you enjoyed your last day in control.”
“No,” Spike spoke with certainty, though still scared. “I’ve already dealt with you: condemned you, refuted you! I’ve already sealed you away!”
They broke eye contact with each other as the entire cave shook. The cusp of the passage seemed to implode as a great metal threshold with a massive set of double doors materialized in between the two of them, then began to swing shut.
“No…” the dragon roared as it charged. “No you don’t!”
The doors slammed shut right before the dragon reached them. The last thing Spike saw on its face was a furious hatred. The sound of metallic clicks filled the cave as internal gears spun, deadlocks sliding into place as tumblers fell. Even over the loud orchestra of mechanical function, Spike could hear the monster banging against the door, roaring its spine-chilling spite.
Spike turned and ran like he’d never ran before. He ran until his lungs filled with fire and his legs pumped with battery acid. Then he ran some more.
More doors materialized behind him, the heavy clashing on the great metal constructs rung throughout the catacombs until the noise was deafening. But in his mind, he could still hear it screaming: still feel it pounding.
Spike wheezed as his injured body raged in protest, but still he ran. He already knew where he was running, and from what, but how to get there and how much further to get away remained uncertain. He just kept running, even as hazy shadows crept into his eyes as drained him of energy, his view fading as he continued to run.
One claw above the other, get a grip, then pull with that arm and push with the legs. Then get a grip with the other free arm, readjust footing, then repeat. One claw above the other…
The climb up the abyss was slow and painstaking, even with his injuries. Spike winced as the open door he’d just climbed through slammed shut with a booming clash. He thought for a moment about climbing back down and curling up for a nap right there on the cold steel, if just to alleviate the grogginess that was peeling away his vision, but he couldn’t do that; he’d already sworn to Celestia…
He briefly saw his own weak shadow flash up against the wall. He turned slowly to spot the source of the illumination. Two beams of light cut through the darkness, looking over the walls as they glided downwards. One passed over him, hesitated, then whipped back. He shielded his eyes from the bright glow.
“I found him!” the light gasped. “Rainbow, I found him!”
The second beam targeted him, then both swooped down to meet him.
Relief washed over Spike as the two pegasi come into view. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were both equipped with saddlebags and wearing hard-hats with large spotlights built onto them.
“Hang in there, Spike, you’re safe now!” Dash called to him as she flew in close. “We’re gonna—whoa!” she said, startled as she got a better view him. “Oh my gosh... what happened to you?”
Fluttershy gasped again as she saw him; he looked like roadkill.
“Oh, no! We’ve got to get you some help, Spike! Rainbow, help me…” Fluttershy said as she flew right next to the dragon, pulled him off the wall, and cradled him in her forelegs with Dash.
“Let’s get you home, Spike.”
Spike let himself hang limp in their grasp, and focused on his struggle to stay conscious. His senses were numbed to the point that even the slams of each great door that they passed through sounded muffled and distant. Their prolonged flight felt like it was taking place in slow motion, and his vision was dazed and unfocused. The warm glow of the setting sun illuminated the mouth of the cave.
“Spike? Spike?!” Twilight called to him through the darkness. Her voice sounded quiet and far away, but at the same time it was clear and ambient, undeterred by even his shot hearing. He couldn’t measure how joyous it was to hear her again.
He suddenly felt enveloped by a magical field of energy and was almost blinded by a flash of bright light. In an instant, the three were no longer flying up the cave; Twilight had teleported all of them up to the surface.
Spike heard everypony gasp as they all saw how disheveled and defeated he looked, circling around him in their concern.
“Stand back, everypony, give him some room!” Fluttershy ordered. She began to pull supplies out of her saddle bags as Rainbow lay Spike down on padded roll-out bedding.
Fluttershy carefully looked over his wounds with gentle prods. Spike winced in pain as Fluttershy touched his broken ribs, and a deep frown formed on her face.
“Oh my…” Fluttershy’s voice fell with concern, then she put on what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “It’s okay; I know how to fix this,” she said as she pulled a syringe from her bags. She spoke empathetically as she took the cap off the needle, “I hope this doesn’t hurt too much, but this will keep it from hurting for long if it does.”
As numb as Spike already was, he felt alien in his own scales as the anesthetic coursed through his veins.
“Twilight, if you could help, please?” Fluttershy’s voice sounded even more muffled now. He heard a faint sound of whirring spellcraft as Fluttershy’s forehooves lit up with the magenta glow of Twilight’s magic. Spike was dully aware of his broken ribs moving back into place and the fractures knitting shut. Something obscured his vision, and he focused on it.
Rarity’s face was a wreck with anxiety, concern, worry, fear, pain, and sadness. Slowly, relief began to spread across her expression like rays of sunlight breaking through the lingering clouds of a terrible storm.
“Spike... oh, Spike…”
Spike said nothing, but smiled and reached up to put a clawed hand ever so gently on her cheek. Rarity returned his grin in kind as she held his hand with a hoof. Neither bothered to hide the tears of joy welling up in their eyes.
“Spike!” Twilight encroached into his view. Her voice was still crystal clear, and increasing with volume. “I need you!”
Her tone and expression didn’t seem fitting in a wake of seeing a close friend so brutally beaten. If anything, she sounded bustling, almost impatient.
Spike vision went black, but Twilight’s authoritative voice became even more permeating and pungent.
“Ponyville needs you!”
Spike couldn’t see anything, but his sense of hearing was still slightly active. The distant sounds of heavy materials and tools beating upon them tapped his ears.
“Come on, we’re already running late!”
His eyes snapped open.
Spike looked around. He found himself at the edge of town, but the layout looked different. Several of the buildings he remembered being there weren’t, and in the place of others were different ones. Some were under construction. All of the others were damaged. Multiple ponies were busy with the project of building the structures while others moved materials to and from their destinations.
“Really, Spike; come on!” Twilight spoke from behind him, but her voice was the very air itself.
He looked back to her. Twilight’s face was carrying that expression she wore whenever they had someplace to be or somepony to meet and he was dragging his feet. Behind her, way of in the distance, he saw an all too familiar large door built into the side of a mountain.
“We’re scheduled to start reconstruction of Ponyville today, remember?”
His blood chilled with terrible realization.
“Wake up, Spike!”
Darkness was all he saw. It was the only thing to see. Spike didn’t bother to get up and look for anything else; that would require him to haul his heavy body out from this cocoon of cloth he’d wrapped himself up in, or at the very least open his eyelids. But those things felt like lead.
Then came the bitter recognition of where he was, following by a twitchy unease. Spike let out an early morning moan and shifted uncomfortably in his bed, reluctantly pulling himself together as he dared open his crusty eyes.
Twilight exhaled with a half-exasperated sigh while she was tapping her hoof impatiently. “Finally! I know you have a tendency to sleep in, especially after a day like yesterday would’ve taken it out of you, but come on!”
Spike grimaced as his vision came into focus. The library was a complete mess. Books and random assorted items were strewn about the entire room, along with scattered debris of splinters and chunks of wood. Twilight was casually organizing several books into piles while she trotted about the library, getting ready for a busy day.
She lightened up a bit. “Since you decided to be such a sleepyhead today, I let Owloysious make breakfast for you.” She gave him a slight smile. “Prench toast, extra crispy with a side of butter and syrup; just the way you like it. You should go eat it before it gets too cold, because we’ve got a long day ahead of us.”
“Twilight?” Spike asked, crestfallen; he already knew the answer. “What day is it today?”
“It’s Sunday.” She sighed. “Hay of a way to start it, with a township-wide reconstruction project.”
Spike grumbled as he made his way into the kitchen. His breakfast was still warm, and for what it was worth, smelled delicious. It tasted delicious too, but he could not have been less enticed by it.
Spike gloomily poured over all the things he just went through that he’d never went through. He’d yet to spend his time and energy on the grueling reconstruction of Ponyville. He wasn’t on the bridge with his friends after they finished the project they hadn’t started. He’d never—
“Well, not to disrupt this fine gathering, but I think it best if Spike and I sit down for a little meal before we attend to our arranged business.”
He felt his heart sink to the coldest, darkest, most crushing depths of the Mareianna Trench.
“I have, well… a surprise for you.”
“Has anypony ever told you what an adorable little charmer you are?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it staring… I’d call in admiring.”
It had never been real.
“I love you too, Spike.”
It was nothing but self-deception.
The only thing he could be thankful for was that Twilight wasn’t in the dining room with him, so she wasn’t there to see him struggle as he tried to keep himself from crying.
Spike sifted through a few piles of scattered books as he made his way through the library. He picked up a green, hardcover book with the title written in gold-leaf.
It wasn’t anything special; he’d seen it plenty of times before. However, now it appealed to him somehow. It was something of valuable worth, and that, to some extent, made it pretty in a way he’d never noticed before. For that reason, perhaps for a few more he couldn’t put his claw on, he coveted it for himself now.
He dropped the book as a terrifying chill swept through him. He backed away from it, staring at it like it was an angry, poisonous snake, trying to retake control of his ragged breathing.
“I’m taking our mind back.”
“What doesn’t kill you…”
“I… want… EVERYTHING!”
He’d refuted that; condemned it, banished it! It couldn’t! He—
“Spike, are you okay?” Twilight asked, looking at him with empathetic concern.
Spike tried to wipe away any shred of worry and woe from his face as quickly as he could. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He didn’t sound fine, and he knew Twilight would be able to tell, too. He needed another out. “Just… thinking about a bad dream, that’s all…” Spike started to walk past her, picking the book back up and handing it to her as he passed.
“Oh…” she replied, but her tone said still wasn’t convinced. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I…” Spike started to say.
“I love you too, Spike.”
"No," he muttered, off-put, as he walked out of the room. “Let’s just go.”
Twilight frowned. She respected Spike enough to not want him to feel as if she was invading his privacy if she pressed the issue, but it still bothered her that he’d hide something that was clearly upsetting him. Was he afraid she’d take it the wrong way or judge him for it? She wouldn’t do that; wasn’t a compassionate and unbiased pony you could count on when in need of support what friends were for?
Oh well, she thought. If he doesn’t bring it up again, maybe it doesn’t matter. I hope not, the next few weeks will be very busy. I’ll need to do some serious studying to relax after all is said and done... but, what could I study?
She looked down at the book that she held with her magic. The ornate, inlaid gold stamped onto the cover was very forthcoming with its title; Theoretical Psychology.
Twilight stared at the book for a moment. Pieces of immediately superseding events, driven by capricious inspiration began to move into place, forming one simple yet devilishly captivating idea.
“Dreams... now that would be an interesting subject…”