Knocking gently on the door, Lieutenant Bright Cluster waited for the door to crack to whisper something under his breath to the guard on the other side of the door. Fluttershy tapped his arm, and Spike let her down. They heard hurried speech from the other side of the door, before a warm feminine voice spoke up.
"Oh, don't make them wait too long, Carrot, they've had quite a train trip from Ponyville."
There was a last whisper between the cracks in the door. Cluster nodded, then pushed the door open and moved to hold it against the wall.
"Announcing Princess Flurry Heart, warmth of the kingdom; announcing Fluttershy of Ponyville, Element of Kindness and savior of the lands overarching; announcing Spike Draconia, hero of these lands and other."
There was a beat of silence, before gentle clapping from the long table across the room filled it.
"I see you've made use of that thesaurus, Cluster," called a chuckling male voice, just slightly rasping on the end of 'thesaurus'.
"Very eloquent, dear lieutenant," came the same feminine voice, smile reverberating through her tone.
Flurry dipped quickly inside the room before Spike made his way through the door, ducking through it as Fluttershy walked beside him. He looked across the room, smiling at the couple he saw seated in the middle of the other side of the table. There were many other chairs at the table, but none at either end.
Princess Mi Amore Cadenza sat on one side of the exacting middle of the table, lacking any sort of the jewelry of her office. Her hair was already up in an official looking bun, except for one lock that swayed to the left of her eyes.
Shining Armor was similarly unadorned. His hair was perhaps a little too shaggy for a Prince, but the more surprising fact was that parts of the navy blue mane were going a silvery gray.
"Hey guys, Flurry," he greeted, holding a hoof out to his daughter.
Flurry walked up and met his hoof with one of her own, then held her other out to her mother.
Cadance leaned into Shining as all three held their hooves for a long moment, smiling at each other.
Spike was surprised when a dim glow settled over the three of them, before filtering into a liquid stream that flew through the air and out a window. Standing on his tip-toes, he was able to just barely glimpse the courtyard outside, with a slowly spinning Crystal Heart on display to the public.
"Wow," he said, looking back to the trio.
Flurry just nodded, slipping into a chair on the middle of the table opposite of her parents.
"It's a bonding experience," Cadance said, gesturing to the chairs lining the table. "We've been doing it since Flurry was still little. I'm a bit surprised Twilight didn't say anything about it, she was quite excited when we wrote her about the occurrence."
Spike hummed as he moved over to the table, pulling out a pair of chairs next to Flurry on Cadance's side of the table. "You know," he said, "she very well might have. It sounds like it's been years now, so I probably just forgot."
Fluttershy hopped up into the furthest chair, and Spike slid into the remaining one between her and Flurry.
"Perhaps. But," Cadance said, with a glittering in her eyes, "that is not what you traveled all this way for. I hear that not only have you two entered a relationship," she said, nodding to the couple, "but you believe it to be quite serious, yes?"
Blushing, Spike reached over and took one of Fluttershy's hooves in his paw.
"It certainly feels much more serious than previous relationships, yes," he said, gently squeezing her hoof. "Knowing my previous relationship, that is saying a bit for me."
"The lady Rarity, correct?" she asked.
Breathing in slightly, Spike nodded. He jumped a little, before looking down at the paw that had two yellow hooves wrapped around it, squeezing gently. He followed them up to a smiling face, and he nervously smiled back.
Cadance hummed thoughtfully to herself, before meeting the gaze of a clothed pony in the corner of the room. She nodded to him, and he bowed before exiting the room.
"Fortunately, these things are quite stable enough to put off for a short while," Cadance said, smiling at Spike. "Perhaps long enough for breakfast?"
"Absolutely," Spike agreed.
Cadance nodded, inclining her head at the side door. "It will be ready soon enough. In the mean time, Fluttershy?"
The mare straightened in her chair a little, nervously looking over at the Princess.
"Oh, uhm, yes Princess Cadance?"
Cadance kept her gentle smile as she said, "I'll be needed Spike to myself, at least some of today. Might I interest you in the castle's zoo, or perhaps the royal mud baths?"
"O-oh, uhm," she muttered, looking up at the drake beside her. He smiled, and nodded. Smiling back, she looked back at Cadance. "Both of those sound lovely, your highness."
"Excellent!" Cadance said. "If it's okay with you, may I assign you the same escort?"
"Oh, yes Princess."
"Map boy is going to lead her around?" Spike chuckled.
Cadance pouted while Shining and Flurry chuckled.
"He's been getting better," Shining said, wiping a tear away from his eye. "Used to get lost looking for the barracks, ended up in the Maid's rooms once. Almost got a court-martial for that one, until all of the staff members spoke up for him."
"Poor guy was apparently too busy blushing and stuttering to actually do any peeping, according to the mare that found him," Flurry added, causing Shining's laughing to ratchet up a notch.
Cadance 'Hmph'-ed at the other two, before cracking a small smile. "Remember that night he accidentally snuck into our room, Shiny?"
Immediately his chuckles transformed into a scowl, and Flurry's face took on a greenish tint.
"I still don't think it's funny that you invited him to, what was it, 'come on up and take a spin,'?"
Spike smothered a chortle while Fluttershy flushed, mouthing her trademark, "Oh my."
"Oh Shiny, you know I was only joking." Her grin grew a little wider. "Unless...?"
"Not Bright Cluster," Shining deadpanned. "Definitely not Bright Cluster." Shining suddenly chuckled, and said his thought out loud.
"Imagine, if he gets lost just walking down the hall..."
The table was quiet for a moment, then three, before everyone in the room succumbed to various forms of laughter.
Spike and Fluttershy brought up the end of the line as the group of royals led the way into the hallway. Flurry Heart leaned forward to kiss her mother's cheek, then leaned over to Shining to receive his kiss on her forehead.
"Later Spike," she said, walking down the hall. "I meant it about that live game, right?"
"Looking forward to keeping you out of any acid pits," he said, waving after her.
Looking around, Spike quickly identified one of the three guards keeping place outside of the door. Chuckling, he waved Bright Cluster over.
"Lieutenant, Miss Fluttershy has been given leave to any section of the castle, except for the few forbidden areas," Shining said when the pony got close enough to comfortably talk to. "You have been selected to continue escort of the VIP. Any objections?"
"Negative, sir," said Bright with a salute.
Shining returned the motion, then turned to Fluttershy. "He's yours, dear. Let me know if he does the smallest thing out of order, okay?"
With a giggle, Fluttershy drew her own salute, then turned to Bright Cluster.
"Can we please go to the zoo, lieutenant?"
Cluster saluted sharply, before turning and pacing to the end of the hallway. Spike heard a crinkling of paper as he drew away, and held back a grin as he leaned forward to kiss Fluttershy.
"See you soon," he said.
Smiling up at him, she nodded before turning to her escort and trotting up to him. She looked over his shoulder at something he was holding in front of him, then pointed to the left. They turned, and were out of sight.
Spike turned to the others, the smile slipping from his face as he looked at the suddenly grim Shining Armor, and the nervously worried face of Cadance.
"Uh oh," he said, a paw lifting to smooth at the spines on his head. "Those are the looks of trouble. Did I take the last cookie again, Shining Armor?"
For a moment Shining's gaze wavered, before slipping into the same worried look Cadance had. He turned to her, and started whispering.
They conferred between themselves for a full minute, and then some, before they both pulled back to look at Spike.
"Spike, before we get into our talks, aunt Celestia asked us to do something for her. Something none of the three of us," she said, gesturing at Shining, "feel is necessary. Will you trust us when we say it's not nearly as bad as it's going to sound?"
Spike looked between the two nervous ponies before nodding. "Of course I trust you two. Though I do have to say that all the cloak and dagger is making me pretty nervous."
Shining's worried frown solidified into something more concrete.
"This is dumb Cadance, why can't we say anything to him?"
Sighing, she pressed a hoof to her forehead gently. "They think he'd be a flight hazard if he knew," she muttered.
Snorting, Spike muttered, "Not much of a chance of that right now," as he stretched his back.
Shining let out a snort of his own as he covered his muzzle, while Cadance let her small smile show.
"That's the right way to think of this, Spike," she said. "Be serious during, but after I think we can all agree to laugh at it."
"Ah, I hope so," he said, his paws still coming up in front of him and working over each other. He looked around himself for a second, then glanced at his paws. Making a face, he leaned down and came to rest on all four of his legs. "Uh, whenever you're ready, I guess."
Cadance nodded, before taking a moment to look up at Spike. "Are you taller again?"
Making a face, Spike nodded.
"Yeah, but not quite naturally. I'm sure you've heard of my experience with the Ursa from Twilight?"
Making a strange face, Cadance nodded. "She mentioned that your wings weren't showing up for some reason, but I thought Twilight got you back to your original size?"
"Almost," Spike said. "I think I'm about seven inches taller than before, but that might change as my magic rebuilds itself. But, once again, we digress," he said with a small smile.
Sticking her tongue out, Cadance gave Spike another smile before turning to Shining Armor. "I believe you know the way best, dear."
Shining inclined his head before he turned and started walking up the hallway, away from the direction that Bright Cluster had led Fluttershy. Cadance fell beside him, behind by about one step, and Spike hurried to catch up. He heard the other two guards step up behind him, and the nervousness in his stomach grew.
Spike shook his head slightly as he concentrated on following the royal couple.
After a three minute walk, mostly filled with a nervous silence, Shining stopped in front of a door. Looking back at Spike, he held up a hoof before knocking on the door twice, poking his head in after.
Spike barely heard a muffled gruff voice.
"Yeah, we brought him," Shining replied. "Are you set up and ready?"
Spike heard what he was pretty sure was an affirmative, as Shining pulled his head out of the doorway to look at Spike.
"Are you ready, little guy?" he asked, giving a smile as he pulled up the old nickname.
"Any time you are, muscle-head," Spike replied with a small smile of his own.
Shining nodded before entering, Cadance right behind him.
Spike took a breath before walking up and pushing open the door.
The first thing he noticed was a pony sitting in a corner of the small room, with what seemed like a typewriter in front of her. It had a strange blue glow around it, and a long scroll was already fed into the machine.
Sweeping his eyes to the other side of the room, he watched as Shining Armor and Cadance took to a couple of chairs lining that side.
Finally, he let his eyes sweep to the center of the room, and stiffened.
Behind a large wooden desk sat Clear Sights, adorned by a heavily starched white uniform Spike recognized as an Officer's Dress Uniform. Several large medals decorated one side of Sights' chest, the other taken up by a steel nameplate and symbols for the Royal Equestrian Military. On the desk in front of him sat a small wooden disk and a mallet, as well as a decent stack of paperwork.
Clear Sights nodded at Spike, his mouth in a grim line. When Spike nodded back, Clear Sights raised the mallet and looked over at the stallion in the corner, who raised his hooves and nodded.
Tapping the disk lightly, Clear Sights announced, "This Court Martial is now in session. The Case is the Society of Nobility in Canterlot, versus Spike Draconia. Spike," he said, sighing gently before continuing, "you have been brought before the courts because recently you have shown an ability, a terrible potential, to become a threat to the lives and property of the ponies of Equestria."
Clear Sights paused and gave Spike a long, hard look.
"Now that you have left Equestria, what reason do the courts have to let you come back, and not merely command a full banishment to prevent any damages you may cause to the people of the country?"