Spike and Rainbow sped west over the treeline of the Everfree Forest, his feet and flapping mechanical wings almost grazing the still living branches that stuck out. After seeing how barren and dried up the farm looked, seeing the Everfree still relatively strong was surprising. Even with an overall lack of direct sunlight and no rain in many years, it showed few signs of ruin or decay. The creepy ecosystem really did seem to survive, and even adapt, without anypony's help.
"It's weird," Spike said as they flew over the forest, "we would sometimes go looking for things to eat in there when we'd have to come hide at the farm. We always found enough to live off of, and we haven't seen any wildlife for a while. I guess all the fighting scared them off."
The forest seemed to stretch on for miles as they stayed as low as possible. Rainbow and her friends had always chosen to go around the forest if they could in the past whenever they had some fun activity to do that involved going anywhere near it. The pegasus was amazed at how far the Everfree continued.
"So, Spike, you finally did it, eh?" Rainbow smiled.
"You hooked up with Rarity! Way to go, squirt! Well, you're not much of a squirt anymore, but you know what I mean."
His round purple cheeks turned a bright shade of crimson. "Heh, yeah. We've been together for a long time now. Been the happiest time of our lives, even through all the fighting. I just wish things would have come together under better circumstances."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know, without the war around us and all," Spike clarified.
"Yeah, true. So, how'd you do it?" Rainbow prodded.
The dragon grimaced a bit and looked away, clearly shaken up. He remembered the unfortunate event that led the love of his life becoming one with him, but he didn't like to think about it. It was the only thing he'd have changed if he could live his life over again. He checked overhead to find an empty sky before he began his story.
"Well, over the years, I think we steadily grew closer and closer, but neither one of us could really bring ourselves to say anything. It could have been because open relationships weren't encouraged back at the base. Could cause a distraction and all. But, I think we were also just nervous.
"Anyway, Rarity, Twilight and I were the leaders of the resistance's most elite squad. If a battle needed to be won, they'd send us, and there wasn't anypony we couldn't handle. The commander would always tell us she wished she could make a dozen copies of us, that the war would be over in a week!" Spike said with a chuckle.
"Who is the commander anyway? Anypony I know?" Rainbow inquired.
"I think so. You know Derpy?"
If Rainbow was safely on the ground, she would have fallen over. "Derpy?! The same scatter-brained, googly-eyed Derpy who everypony had to constantly clean up after?"
"Well, it used to be Time Turner. At least, that's what we all knew him as. His real name was The Doctor. He told us all about himself and what we were up against after the war broke out."
"The Doctor? Who? And what kind of name is 'The Doctor'?"
"Yeah, I doubt you'd know him. None of us knew much about him. He wasn't an actual doctor though, it was just his name. I don't get it. Anyway, he liked to keep a low profile. Derpy can explain why better than I can. She was his assistant," Spike explained.
Rainbow cocked an eyebrow curiously, "Why can't he tell me?"
He paused for a moment as small wave of sadness hit. "Because he was killed years ago."
The pegasus hung her head regretfully, "Oh.. I'm sorry."
"Eh, you couldn't have known. Oh, by the way, if you really believe what you said about Derpy, then she did her job pretty well," Spike smirked.
"And what job would that be?"
"Keeping a low profile," he said with a sly smile.
"Uh huh. Anyway, you never finished telling me what happened with you and Rarity. Spill it already, big guy!" Rainbow said with a friendly little jab into his neck.
He giggled at the reminder, despite not wanting to refresh the memory of the events that occurred, "Oh yeah. Well, we were growing closer and more nervous. We were fighting on the edge of Ponyville one day, near where the train station used to be. We were pushing through easily enough. Me, Rarity and Twilight were there, as well as Pinkie's little squad."
The pegasus blinked in surprise, "Pinkie's in charge of a squad?" How the hyperactive party animal could be in charge of anything more than the Cake twins from long ago was beyond her.
"Yeah, she's incredible. I don't know they do it. Maybe you'll meet them at the base," Spike gushed. "Anyway, she was there too. We saw her and threw everything we had into the fighting. We figured that once we routed them from the train tracks, we could follow them into Canterlot and take the city and that would be it.
"But, she stood there smiling at us the whole time. We weren't prepared in the least for what happened. The war had officially broken out about eight years before that. We saw plenty of victories and some losses on the battlefield. We thought we were on the verge of ending this, but then they came," Spike explained.
"The planes," the drake said with sinking spirits. "There was only about six of them, but we still had no idea what they were. They flew over the mountains and massacred us. How any of us got away alive, I don't know. They made me their first target. I did what I could to dodge them, but I had no idea what was coming at me.
"Some lucky bastard tore through one of my wings with their guns. Got me a few more times in the stomach and chest too. I crashed on the ground, thought I was done for. Twilight and Rarity ran over to me, got me under a shield."
Spike sighed softly as he continued, "Twilight ordered a full retreat and we abandoned Ponyville completely. I wasn't as big as I am now, so she was able to carry me back to base. They got me onto the operating table the instant I got there. They were able to save me, but with one of my wings destroyed, I figured I wasn't going to fly again.
"Fortunately, The Doctor had given the surgeons some information about this stuff called biomechanics. Flesh and metal together. There were plenty of ponies with replacement legs and some pegasi even had new wings and eventually were able to fly with them again. Took them a long time to do it, but they could. They drew up some plans for me and crossed their hooves.
"They told me they had to remove both wings so I could keep my balance after I was all fixed up. Was in surgery for most of a day getting the bullets removed and my old wings removed. After they built these babies," he said, thumbing to his steel appendages and checking around again, "it took half of another day to get them attached. They're not as streamlined as pegasi wings, since they never expected to have to make these for me, but they do the job."
She looked at the mechanical marvels as they flapped in the wind. They were some age marks and scuffs here and there, but their design was unreal. It was hard for Rainbow to imagine how metal could keep something flying in the air.
She thought for a moment about the planes that attacked her when she found Ponyville a few days earlier and wondered how in Equestria simple pony folk could literally construct such a thing. The most advanced technology she remembered they had were a hydroelectric dam and a stereo system that Vinyl Scratch had used at the Royal Wedding. If she was missing something, she was having a hard time remembering it.
"They are pretty cool, but you still haven't told me how you and Rarity got together. Plus, how are you even able to flap these things anyway?" she reminded the drake.
"I'm getting to all that," Spike smirked. "Anyway, Rarity sat with me as much as she could, even through the surgery. At least the doctors told me that. After I was shot down, most of it's a blur. I woke up a few days after I was put back together and she couldn't keep her hooves off me. We were so happy to see each other face to face again after that ordeal that we finally just came out and said what we had been wanting to say for so long.
"As far as the wings go, it's pretty incredible. The Doctor gave the brightest surgeons we had this stuff about.. oh, what was it? You know about nerves and muscles and stuff, right?"
"A little. I know it hurts when something like this happens to you," Rainbow said, nodding at her own enormously muscled pair.
"OK then. Well, he showed them some documents he had about connecting tiny wires to your muscles and nerves and training yourself to move them just by thinking about it. It takes a lot of practice and time. It's not like magic though. Just some amazing science," he explained.
"How in the hay do you do something like that?"
"That's even more amazing!" he continued. "He helped some of his top minds put together this device that could see the tiniest little things way up close. Stuff you can't see with your eyes. Think it was called a microscope. They used it to help attach these wings to my nerves and muscles and stuff, as well as the other ponies who had similar metal things. It took me almost ten months of trying to make them move on their own before I could even get off the ground for a second. But here I am!"
Despite being side by side with the proof to his story, Rainbow sneered in disbelief, "That all just seems so outlandish to me."
"But the rockets make sense?" Spike sarcastically asked.
"Hey, Pinkie had a Party Cannon."
Spike and Rainbow had been gliding several feet over the trees for about an hour before they crossed the threshold beyond the Everfree Forest. It was a wasteland everywhere the pegasus looked. Even the ground had wasted away, drying up into dust and cracking. The air itself was even miasmic as they sped by. An occasional brown puddle of what used to be water in a stream reminded them of what the land was once like. Every once in a while, what appeared to be the remains of a pony stuck out of the soil.
As they chatted about events of Spike's past, they remained unfortunately unaware of a pair of spies flying high overhead that happened upon their location. He looked to be no bigger than half an inch long from their height, but his large metal wings gave him away.
"Hey Maverick, which is the closest base with air support around here?" a light orange pegasus asked into his mic.
"I believe that'd be San Palomino, Afterburner," his white coated partner replied.
"I'm gonna call this in," Afterburner said, hitting the red button to his right. "Units 105 and 106 to San Palomino base, do you copy?"
Their headsets crackled and whined to life, "This is San Palomino, 105 and 106, go ahead."
"Requesting back-up approximately twenty miles north-northeast of Ghastly Gorge. You're never going to believe this, but we've spotted Spike," Afterburner responded.
A beige earth pony mare with a long, light brown mane and tail pulled her headset off her ears, placing them around her neck. She turned around on her short bench to better address her superior. "Colonel, you need to hear this."
The aging former showpony trotted with angry purpose to the radio. Trixie and her troops had been assigned to watch the southwest from a desert base and it had started to drive her a bit mad. Nothing interesting ever seemed to happen there, but she still had a job to do.
Though Trixie didn't agree that their leader take a powerful offensive weapon like her off the front lines and put them in an overgrown sand trap, the old mare wasn't going to challenge her superior. The resistance had taken most of the northwest and she didn't want them to get their hooves on Applewood and Los Pegasus. It made for a excellent base of operations to prepare for an assault on their strongholds when the time came and couldn't afford to be lost.
Trixie levitated the headset up to her ears and spoke up. "This is Colonel Trixie, what's going on?"
"Colonel Trixie, this is 105 and 106. We have a confirmed sighting on Spike about twenty miles north-northeast of Ghastly Gorge. Requesting back up," Maverick said.
Her eyes widened in shock, "You see Spike and Rarity?! You're sure?"
"Doesn't appear to be Rarity with him, ma'am. Don't see anything white sitting on him. Looks to be a different pony on his back, but we're too high up to see them clearly. We're keeping our distance until we get some help."
The Colonel grinned maliciously as thoughts of a defeated dragon entered her mind. The idea of real power was what originally turned her on to fighting for her commander, but if she brought down what used to be the terror of the skies and presented him as a gift to her superiors, it'd be guaranteed that she would be made one of the leaders of the land, should the war be a victory. Perhaps she could convince General Tiara to put his head on a pike and use it as a war banner. It would be so effective against those who have been fighting their leader's vision of peace using the one thing that always worked to bring it about.
"I'm sending two more planes to assist you immediately. One other thing, let me know who this mystery pony is. If they're riding Spike, they probably know Rarity too. We could use them to get to her, and through her, their home base," Trixie said.
"ETA on reinforcements, Colonel?"
"Just a sec," she requested. The headset stayed in place, surrounded by her dark pink glow. After a quick glance over the map laid on the table in the center of the room, she sat it back down on her head.
"About seven minutes. I have an idea though. Get his attention and get him to chase you. Lead him toward the base here and you should be able to meet up a bit sooner. Then, take him down! Just try not to get his passenger killed too," Trixie ordered.
"Yes, ma'am. 105 and 106 out," Maverick said, turning off the radio call.
Trixie lobbed the headset back to the beige pony and stomped over to the communications panel beside the radio, picking up a large microphone with her magic. The small button on the mic stand pushed itself down.
"All pilots report to the control room immediately!"
Within a minute, thirty pegasi in light blue uniforms had arrived and saluted the Colonel. She pointed at a light purple stallion with a blonde mane. "You and your partner head to the Ghastly Gorge area, approximately twenty miles north-northeast of it. Units 105 and 106 are up there tracking Spike."
A chocolate colored pegasus with silver colored hair looked at his partner at the mention of the dragon. The pilots all knew who he was. Despite being flesh and blood and not quite being as quick as their planes, he had been a menace for years. Even though he hadn't been seen in battle for quite a while, he was still feared.
The nervousness was more than obvious to Trixie. "Is there something wrong?" she asked angrily, not in the mood for excuses. They shook their heads, badly masking their sudden cowardice.
"Good. Now, Spike has a passenger. I want them alive, if possible. Get in contact with 105 and 106 as soon as you can once you're in the air. Now get going! The rest of you, get lost."
The pair dashed out of the room and out to the air field. The other pegasi quietly sighed in relief when the former stage pony turned her back and retreated back inside.
"Well, you heard her. Time to make Spikezilla a little angry," Afterburner said to his partner.
The white pegasus nodded and the pair started their descent. The small purple body near the ground slowly increased in size as they took their time, not wanting to give away their position so quickly. A loud roar from the engines would have surely alerted their enemy to their presence.
On their targetting screens, Spike's form appeared, swaying to and fro and getting larger as they charged at him. The triangles pointing toward his image beeped repeatedly and flickered green.
"Here we go!"