At the dawn of the second day, Spike flew off to where Ember had instructed: Fafnir's Arch.
It was an entertaining trial in and of itself to just get to the location to be sure, given the strong draft trailing down the massive mountain it neighbored that pushed at him relentlessly. For all the power it packed, it was far from being powerful enough to knock him off balance in flight. Braving the winds tenaciously until they pestered him no more, he kept low to the rocky terrain, trying to be as discreet as possible in an effort to keep others from deciding to follow and potentially hinder his date with Ember by challenging him. Thankfully, he saw no dragons tailing him by the time he reached the arch and descended downward.
To his immense delight, Ember was already there, her arms folded and a beautifully competitive glare all ready to go as she waited for him.
Fafnir's Arch looked rugged from a distance, but it hosted much more space than a sideways glance from a mile away would let on. The best part of this particular location, as Ember explained upon his arrival, was the fact that it was one of the more secluded parts of the territory this massive event was being held in. Not another dragon was around; most were out in the open of the area of land past Mount Conflagration, bellowing their wishes for a willing partner to flaunt their power upon. Even here, far below the arcing, naturally formed stone of the titular arch; surrounded by tall and rocky outgrowths jutting up from the ground and beside the craggy, steep slope of the nearby mountain, the roars, bays and cries of other dragons could be heard going out in the distance.
On Ember's word, the two engaged each other in fierce combat as all the other dragons had been doing since the day's beginning. And they fought hard, putting great effort forth to best the other with all of the brawn, teeth and claws at their disposal, yet not hard enough with any of these features to inflict true, grievous harm. Sparring was a session of expression and preparation, and so while one was expected to showcase at least a taste of their power first-hand to other dragons, to mete out genuine harm on opponents on this day was forbidden by dragon law. And Spike had no need of knowing what sort of penalties awaited a lawbreaker...
For how strict the law sounded, the drake found it far too easy to obey it, and Ember appeared to share his adroitness of following the tradition, as well as the enjoyment this session provided. Spike could see it with every swipe of her arm he either blocked or avoided. With every flying kick that sought to send him off balance; with every breath of flame to exit her maw; with every distracting, crackling whip of her long tail. Watching, blocking, and fighting back as he did with tactics similar to these, something most peculiar took its insidious, but not unwelcome effect on Spike soon enough.
He helped take down threats to Equestria with Twilight and her friends, and he had wrestled with many beasts and evil-doers over these many years alongside them. What he was doing now, though, was not like that. Playfighting as he was with Ember, it was like... something else entirely.
It was... odd. Odd in the fact that he couldn't quite name the sensation. It was like the tips of a long set of claws were tickling the insides of his stomach, tickling his very soul just seeing her go at him with such vigor, yet with zero hate or malefic intention in the show of it. She got a few good hits in on him, but instead of experiencing pain from such a thing, there was only a lingering feeling of soft, tender warmth. It was a feeling that permeated his entire being, through every draconic nerve and muscle he had. It was a feeling that made his blood light up with a searing, alien pleasure. It was a feeling that made him honestly smile.
"So... if I might ask, what is the bigger meaning behind this whole sparring portion of the Time of the Heartscale?" He spoke this to Ember almost casually as he ducked low, dashed behind and flanked her, locking his elbow around her neck. It wasn't too firm a grip, but was still enough to keep her horned head from squeezing out of it.
"Heh. It allows one to get a..." Ember paused her answer, a hand snatching onto Spike's wrist and prying from where it held onto her. With a grunt of honest effort, she not only completely pulled her friend off of herself, but flung him with a great force into the mound of rock ahead of them both. Unable to halt himself while spiraling through the air, the purple drake's back impacted against the wall of stone with a thunderous crash. His body cracking its surface with the power of the throw, it failed to so much as wind the young, infatuated wyrm.
Seeing him jump back to his feet, Ember, rolling the arm she used around in its socket and stretching it in preparation for another assault, huffed out, "...It allows dragons to get only the firmest feel of others. Both figuratively, and I suppose literally."
"I love the concept." Giving out a grating purr of amusement, Spike crouched low and arched his back, ready to pounce. Ember did the same.
Within seconds they both had lunged at one another in unison. Grappling with each other in the air, they tumbled, twisted, and spun before letting go and flying back to where either had launched from. Seeing Spike all ready to do it again, Ember instead stood up and shuffled toward a rocky mound near her.
"So," Ember started to say while sticking her claws into the side of it, tearing out a massive, bulky, near-spherical chunk of stone with all the semblance of a pony crafting a simple snowball from a snowbank. "How did you prepare for this event? How exactly? The thought's been biting my brain, to tell you the truth."
"Really? Heh! I'll have you know that my friends helped me prepare. And let me tell you; they went all out. They built me dummies to... test myself against. Granted, the things weren't the most alive of opponents, but... well, I feel ready!"
"That's actually a pretty neat way to go about it," Ember complimented, turning to and lifting up the absolutely gigantic boulder she had formed over her head as a mirthful smile snaked over her azure snout. In a motion of pure ease, she chucked the tremendous object right at Spike with all the dangerous resemblance of a trebuchet in a castle siege. Smirking, Spike dug his hind claws into the earth and pushed off on his powerful legs, jumping to the left and avoiding the missile most nimbly. Missing its target completely, the great rock crashed to the ground where he stood but a second prior, splitting apart into thousands of small, jagged shards and pebbles in the process.
The sound of the rock shattering rang in his ears. Adrenaline pumped through his body, filling it with enough vibrant energy to take on the entire world. Indeed, this experience was unlike anything else he had done before; unlike any of the countless, perilous adventures he had partaken in. It was more than just a rapid flurry of emotions that he could not identify. If he was sure of one thing, it was that it was... almost titillating!
Acting on this geyser of uncontainable energy, Spike stretched his wings out, jumped into the air and flew high. He got to an apex many hundreds of feet above the earth, turned downward, and then dove right in Ember's direction on the ground below, intending to divebomb her.
Ember saw his silhouette rain its shadow down on her against the blinding light of the sun, but didn't move an inch from where she stood. She simply took aim, her mouth filling with a purple glow.
Spike had to try and move about as bolts of fire began blasting at him in a purple barrage. For all the close hits that scraped by him, he was certain that he would avoid all of the fiery projectiles. That was what he believed he could do, when, suddenly, one of the flares finally hit his left wing. Eyes widening in surprise as he spiraled out of control, he was unable to stop and reset his descent properly.
Ember didn't realize she had actually hit him against the sun's glow, and by the time he was close enough for such a fact to become obvious, it was far too late to do anything about it. She was just able to give out a shrill "Yeep!" the second before Spike hit her.
The colossal force of Spike's impact ensured that he and Ember slammed into the ground together as a bunch of wings and scales, sliding a good several meters over it and leaving a trail of parted rock and trampled dirt in their wake. They came to a grinding halt at long last, a thin cloud of dust and smoke rising from the crater that had been formed.
Coughing the dust out of his lungs and shaking his dizzied head, Spike lifted it up after a few seconds and gave a groggy sigh before his dazed vision came onto Ember. With only the greatest clarity he realized that he was laying atop her, his claws wrapped around her shoulders as hers held tightly onto his. Much too stupefied was he to to pry his eyes from her now, he only continued looking at the dragoness below him, his face showing only embarrassed bewilderment in comprehension of what had happened.
Ember, in turn, looked back up at Spike with a shocked and bashful mien of her own. Her azure cheeks were as red as his now, and her eyes were as much like dinner plates as the drake's own.
The cloud of debris around them began to settle as they both caught their breath, taking in the stares each gave to the other. Only slowly did they unravel their arms from each of their strong and firm, if still trembling forms, the scope of their situation quickly evolving from astonishment and mortification to the blatant comedy of their clumsy accident. The expressions of shock quickly turned to smiles as they sat up in the crater, still breathless as their souls were beset by a phenomenal sense of heat not unlike the fire Ember had blasted Spike with that allowed the situation to become what it did.
The small smiles shown by Spike and Ember soon transformed into comparably larger grins as they both looked to each other once again. And all the two could do then, in unison, was laugh as loud and as boisterously at one another as they could, tears of earnest exuberance and gaiety beginning to well up in their eyes by the time their moment came to its end a good five, long minutes later.
Unbeknownst to Ember or Spike, they were being watched this whole time. That spy who observed them, hidden from their view behind a cover of rocks and boulders, was none other than the dragoness Prominence.
She had seen Spike flying towards Fafnir's Arch earlier in the morning, and when he didn't return so that she could openly challenge him as she wanted nothing more than to do this day, she decided to head here herself and saw what, and with who, he was currently spending time with. Time that he should have been spending with her. And in equal measure to the merriment he was showing with Ember, Prominence now felt nothing but anger.
She was quite restless, actively fidgeting where she stood. Seeing Spike and Ember acting so... so... close with each other had quickly set her blood to boiling. Ember didn't deserve Spike! No sir! Spike belonged to her; to Prominence, and no others! She decided that yesterday after that insipid and ignorant Garble's rejection, and by the scales on her back, she was going to make certain of it by the Time of the Heartscale's end...
When Prominence arrived here, she didn't decide to come alone. Not far behind the spying, seething dragoness were a pair of drakes. One, Fizzle, was a rather small and thin male with scales as white as snow as eyes that showed red and pink; a quite common trait of the albinism he had. The other, Scalio, was a rather massive fellow covered in horns and scales that more closely resembled darkly-hued armor than the hide of an average dragon. His mouth was filled with long and sharp teeth that glistened like pearl-tinted knives in the late morning light, while his wings and forearms were comparably small when put against his companions'.
Why they were here as well was no accident or coincidence. They were both some friends Prominence had made as a whelp, and ones she delighted in ordering around. While doing so was an easy thing that had little chance of objection from either one, that wasn't to say they didn't possess feelings or thoughts of their own
"Prom, are you sure about this whole thing? Doing this just doesn't feel right," Fizzle spoke up, raising a white claw. He looked to Prominence with a most concerned, outwardly slanted-brow visage at her tense mannerisms, then turned his view up to Scalio with an expression that was only filled with love. "I mean, I already found my life-mate, after all. And I wouldn't trade him up for any other dragon in the Dragonlands..."
"Oh, stop it, you!" Scalio giggled, the cheeks on either side of his large-fanged jaws reddening with the vivid hue of fresh cherries.
Prominence only rolled her eyes at the laughter and coos they gave off, caring only about her own ambitions that loomed overhead in this fragile moment. She left the cover she was spying from, walking up to the two in a frustrated strut.
"Guys, focus! Please," she insisted, her voice bearing trace hints of desperation. "This is important to me. Spike over there is the kind of dragon I've been looking for. I want him to be my life-mate, more so than any other dragon I know of. And right this second I can see he's got his eyes on the Dragon Lord."
"Torch?" questioned an honestly perplexed Fizzle, remembering who was currently serving the position.
"No, Ember," Prominence huffed. Her sharp teeth grating together, she let go of her view on her comrades for just a second to rush back to her cluster of rocks and peer back at the dragoness in question. Both she and Spike had gotten back up by that point and resumed their sparring session, now testing out how well one could block physical attacks against the other. Seeing this all too clearly and recognizing the air of harmony they were sharing that was as thick as a trail of smoke, her claws began to curl over the gray, stone flesh of her cover with a sharp squeaking sound, white lines forming in their wake.
She grunted and growled, "I remember clearly that those two have done a lot together since they first met during the Gauntlet of Fire all those years ago. I'm guessing they have tons in common, and even now I see them going at each other like... like something more than what simple friends would do. That means they must have some form of a chance of getting... together." The sound of her sentence finishing rolled off of her tongue like hateful venom. "But I swear by my scales, Spike will be mine. All mine. Heheheheee..."
Chuckling most maliciously, her expression became thin and maleficent; almost foxlike in its quality. She looked to Scalio and Fizzle with that same look, almost freezing the blood in their veins with just how perturbing it was, especially from one so commonly brutish and straightforward as she.
"And you two are gonna help me do just that."
Her claws rubbing and pressing together, another long, low snicker left Prominence. Complimenting the sound, her mouth curled into a foul and crooked grin. Sensing something most appropriately devious in her tone and motions quite well for one with a head so thick with horn and scale and bone, Scalio shifted an unsure glance Fizzle's way. Fizzle traded back a raised-brow, wide-eyed look of utter befuddlement and shrugged.
Before either could react, Prominence had ceased her mischievous claw-tenting and had zipped behind her allies quick as a flash. A magenta hand on either of their backs, she used but a fraction of her strength to push them both forward, encountering only small resistance in her forcible movement of her friends. She pushed and pushed until Scalio and Fizzle were beyond the cover and out in the big wide open. With one final thing left to do, she took a moment to gleefully pick up and toss a stray rock the way of Spike and Ember, pettily hoping to hit her rival for the purple dragon's heart from the lengthy distance. It missed, of course, but it did the job of attracting their attention well enough. Before Ember or Spike could turn the way of where the unmistakable sound of a rock went clattering, Prominence dashed behind the cover of boulders again, leaving her companions exposed.
Ember and Spike were visibly caught off guard by the two drakes they spotted, not at all thinking that they would be receiving company. And also unknown to them, said company had been given a crude script of words to recite as thought up by Prominence just a few minutes before. So, chomping his fangs together as he struggled to remember the words he was previously told to say, Scalio was the first to talk.
"Hey, uh, Ember! We got something we wanna say to you!" he bellowed aloud.
The awkward silence that followed told Fizzle that Scalio had forgotten his last line of corny dialogue he himself had little want to speak. Wanting more than anything to remedy his dear partner's plight more than avoiding the pain of doing this whole charade for Prominence's benefit, Fizzle pointed a colorless claw Ember's way and spoke as well, continuing in Scalio's stead.
"We wanna spar with you! Spar, as in fight you for a little bit! We just... um, have a mighty itch to face someone as strong as the Dragon Lord! To... prepare us! Prepare us for the days to... come! Which are soon!" While not yet done with his speech, his tone promptly dropped as he sensed the ridiculousness in this whole debacle creeping over him. "Eh... just for a little while is all. Is that an issue? Because, if it somehow is, we can always come... back in an hour...?"
The sound of Prominence's palm slapping her own muttering face from the background went unnoticed by all four dragons in the open. Good for her, however, the two dragons she sought to separate didn't seem to see the farce that was presented to them, and in fact only witnessed something they could not ignore.
Ember knew all too well that it was a common, if not expected thing for dragons to train with more than just one partner on the second day, and most rarely gave up on goading another to spar alongside them until they had their opportunity sated. Her view quickly turned to Spike, and the visage he now wore was an understanding one.
She read his expression like a book: If it's for a little while, then I suppose it's fine -- for now, of course.
Ember in turn rolled her eyes and huffed before looking to the two dragons interloping on their activity. Silently sighing, Spike read her movements just as well.
Well... alright, then. She then whispered "Be back as soon as I can." Putting on a grin, Ember lifted her head high and nodded Spike's way. Her pointed tail snapping about like an unfurled bullwhip, she marched off to meet the two dragons in a confident strut.
"If you boys really wanna test your mettle against someone like me, then be my guests," came her taunt, her wings extending. One flap of them later and she, like a bolt of blue lightning, was several meters up in the air. Seeing how quickly she had gotten into the sky, Fizzle and Scalio jumped into the air behind her on their own wings and joined her.
Spike watched Ember wait for her unwittingly reluctant pursuers to catch up, and she looked back to him. She gave a single, small, reassuring wave of her claw his way, then a wink, and departed with the two in a southward direction.
Spike watched her the whole time she left. He was already beginning to feel lonely as their shapes began to transform into small dots treading over the horizon, when the trap laid by a certain pink dragoness was sprung at last.
Amidst the sound of fading wingbeats, the young drake was torn from his vision of Ember when the apparently joyous cry of "Spiiiiike!" went streaking through the air behind him. Taking heed of it immediately, the unmistakable sting of unwanted surprise coming over him, his head swiveled around over his shoulder just in time to see a large, pink shape quite literally flying his way.
He had no chance to dodge the character racing at him, both far too overwhelmed by shock and with the figure already a meager few feet from him. With nothing to hold the shape back, it hit him with the force of something akin to a freight train. Much like the laughable incident had happened between Ember and himself just minutes before, though far less devastating to the terrain, Spike and this new interloper were thrown into a tumble and halted in a chaotic pile.
Spike didn't take long to recover from the collision, and just seeing who had tackled him as they had made his again-dizzied mind clear up immediately. Laying atop his prone body, casting down a great white grin, was a familiar-looking dragoness with pink scales.
"Do you remember me, Spiky?" she giggled girlishly, apparently unfazed by the impact.
Spike did, if only after a short time of thought. "P-P-Prominence?" he sighed, still breathless from the impact.
"Yessir! That's me!" the dragoness couldn't help but snortle. She leaned her head in closer to his, putting her beaked mouth just a dangerously meager inch from his own. "And as if I could forget you. How's it hangin'?"
"Um... f-fine, I suppose..."
"Fine? Oh, pff, surely you must feel more than fine now that I'm here. You sure looked lonely from where I just was, but I guess you aren't anymore, are you?"
"What do you mean by th-"
Spike couldn't finish, for Prominence pushed a finger to his flapping snout and close it gently, hushing him.
"Shhh... no need to question anything right now, Spiky," she tenderly whispered to him. "I just want to spar with you, while the day is still young and fresh. Just you. I want so dearly to see how much blistering heat you can take from me..."
Raising one of his own hands, Spike removed Prominence's from his mouth and spoke freely again. "I... guess I hate to say this, but I can't, Prominence. I was training with Ember."
"...And she, from what I've seen, is currently gone. Isn't that right?"
Prominence ended what sounded like a sudden, vicious snap with another unsettling purr. "Yes, she's gone now with those two drakes who I know as a fact you saw, too. And while they're busy doing their own thing, how about we..." she ran a scissored pair of claws over his chest like two voluptuous legs walking over scaly-looking rocks, slowly sauntering them up to his shoulder, "...perhaps do a little combat-related thing of our own? I mean, the only real action I got to see of you so far was when you helped me out of that pit yesterday after what that big bully Garble did to me..."
Spike hadn't realized his cheeks had reddened until he noticed how uncomfortably warm his face felt. Not liking it, in spite of its similitude to what he had shared with Ember not a short while ago, Spike shook his head, intending on remaining defiant to her advances.
"Prominence, I would... um... I would love to spar with you. I really would! But, you see..." Spike gulped, reaching a hand over and grabbing Prominence's stray wrist off of his chest, but gently so. Holding onto it for only a few moments, he slipped out from beneath her and sat up. He looked back down to her and frowned apologetically.
"I'm waiting for Ember to get back." He got next to his feet, briefly straightening himself out as he did so. "I don't... want to... to get in the middle of something when she returns and make her have to wait for me."
"But of course you would do a thing like that. So... attractively selfless." Giving off a light, suggestive growl, she nonchalantly flicked a claw along one of her long ears to show her lack of worry, using the other arm to hold her head as she lay against the ground in a relaxed pose. "It won't take them long, so I'm willing to bet it won't take us long either. I'm just seeing if you're a drake who can hold his own if he were to inevitably... fight for a certain somedragon when the right time comes."
Bouncing to her own two feet as her tail swished about behind her, Prominence gave a bow of her horned head. "Please can you, Spike? It'll be just until Ember gets back, I swear."
Spike took a moment to think over this predicament of his. Ember was currently gone (for how long, he didn't truly know), and this new challenger, Prominence, wanted to be his sparring partner now, albeit for reasons that were blatantly flirtatious. And if he did choose to engage her now, it would be a harmless little thing for certain. Today, after all, was a day for many dragons to test their might against each other. Ember was out there now, most likely making short work of tiring out the two dragons that swept her attention away from him. For all he knew, she was probably going to get back in no time at all. And if she did get back and Prominence refused to leave due to having no one to fight with, it may just happen all over again...
"If it really is just until Ember gets back here, then... I guess it would be fine with me," Spike finally relented, exhaling slowly.
Unlike Spike, Prominence looked positively thrilled on receiving this greatly sought-after answer. "Yay!" She jumped up and down twice on the balls of her heels with her joyous squeal, shaking her fists gleefully. "Oh-ho-ho, yes! You're going to enjoy wrestling around with me, Spike. After we muck about on the ground for a little while, I should really show you how amazing my flying skills are when-"
Prominence was cut off when the thunder of something -- or someone -- landing on the ground behind either of them went out, shaking the floor of stone upon which they stood with its sheer impact. His gaze on Prominence faltering no sooner than had he chosen to freely give it, Spike thought in the span of the split second that followed that the source of the noise was Ember, returned so quickly after leaving. Hope, so delightfully warm in its sensation, enveloped him in that moment.
He spun around with a smile on his face he could not hide, expecting so fully, and desperately, to see Ember beaming back at him.
But instead, looking back at him was not the Dragon Lord his heart yearned for, but the thuggish face of Garble. And he was leering down at Spike most bullishly.