The first few days were the hardest. Spike had exhausted the meager number of gems he had found stuffed in his backpack and had taken to spending the majority of his day digging for buried gems or foraging. It was easy to assume the area was sparsely inhabited, for the silence was nearly tangible. He hated that more than anything else. The silence gave his mind free reign to wander, and it always wandered to the exact same place. Spike would be in the middle of plucking a ripe berry from a bush when his chest would tighten, and his eyes would swim with tears. The thoughts of home were always the hardest. They would stop him dead and assault his heart. More than once had the young dragon broken down in tears at the mere thought of Ponyville.
He never let those moments of weakness shake his resolve, though. Spike was determined to live out each and every day until he could see his friends again, no matter what the cost. The treacherous mountain terrain, however, was not proving to be an ideal location at the moment, seeming to rise to his vehement goal. There was very little vegetation close to the small cave he had been calling home, and the ground was much harder to dig through than the areas he was accustomed to digging around. At present, Spike was nearly an hour-long trek from his cave with perhaps two hours of day light left, at most. This was becoming a very serious issue as he had yet to find anything to eat despite foraging since he had awoken that morning. The growls emanating from his stomach could easily be mistake for a manticore's, and Spike clutched his empty gut as it rumbled and another stab of hunger hit him. While they were not yet bad enough to cause any serious discomfort, he knew that if he didn't find something soon, he would be in for a rather uncomfortable night.
As he cast his eyes to the horizon, trying once more to gauge just how quickly the sun was falling, Spike noticed a lone tree up ahead. As he approached, he spotted a small bird's nest nestled near the junction of two dried, withered branches. When the young dragon reached the base of the tree, he dug his claws firmly into its bark and began to climb. He quickly felt his muscles ache with fatigue, even during such a short climb, the toll of not eating in over two days becoming apparent. When he reached the small bundle of twigs and peered inside, Spike found four eggs resting peacefully. His mouth watered and his stomach roared, but as he slowly reached out to grab them, he stopped halfway, an image of Fluttershy springing into his mind.
What would she think if she saw me doing this? His mind reeled for a moment. He was famished, but he simply could not find the will to reach into the nest and pluck out the delicious-looking eggs, simply because he was afraid of what a friend he might not ever see again would think. For a moment, Spike's heart fought with his survival instincts. He knew if he didn't take these eggs it would be disastrous, but he wasn't sure if he could bring himself to end the lives of four small creatures before they had even begun.
As the dragon's internal conflict continued, a shadow swept over him. The owner of the nest had returned, and she was none too happy to see her eggs threatened by this intruder. Spike was ripped rather violently from his mental debate and snapped back to reality by her piercing cry as she swooped down and dragged her talons across his scaly face. The irate mother falcon was twice his size and quite intent on gouging his eyes out so he would never again set them on her eggs. The sudden confrontation jolted Spike's system hard, both mentally and physically, causing him to lose his grip on the tree's brittle bark. This resulted in Spike's back becoming thoroughly acquainted with the ground nearly six feet below.
As he rose off the ground, a quick check of his face left him more than grateful to be a dragon. The falcon's razor sharp talons proved to have been little match for his hardened scales, and she had missed his eyes. He opted not to test his luck, however, as she screeched her ire, still poised to dive down at him should he get near the trunk of the tree. Another night of sleeping cold and hungry on the floor of a dark, dank cave seemed to be the only thing he had to look forward to as he began marching back to his current lodging. Just as the the sun sank below the horizon and the light of day faded, Spike made it to the entrance of his cave.
While he couldn't consider this rather bleak setting a real home, Spike had become oddly fond of the small dark cave. He had thus far never dared adventure into the deeper reaches of the cave for fear of getting lost in the blackness and never again seeing the light of day, but he at least felt safe enough to rest his aching body at night. He gathered a single sizable log and a batch of sticks from a pile of wood he had collected several days prior, carefully arranged the kindling out of reach of the mountain wind, and with a quick puff set the small campfire ablaze. As he curled up with his pillow and blanket as close as he could to the warmth of the jade flames, he couldn't help but let his mind wander back to Ponyville. He vividly remembered every single Hearth's Warming. He could picture all of his friends sitting around the emerald fire talking, laughing, recounting stories of the past year, and planning grandiose things for the year soon to come. A bittersweet smile crept onto his lips as he gazed into the flames.
Those few happy memories seemed to be all Spike required to forget about the aching emptiness of his stomach, and he slipped into a cautious sleep, the flickering fire casting an eerie glow which did not reach the outer world. Moving silently, several shadowy figures approached the cave. They placed what they carried at the cave's entrance and then faded back into the night, but soon returned. The only indication of their presence was a muted clinking sound every so often, barely audible to even an exceptionally attentive ear. These figures continued to work through the night, completely undetected by the sleeping baby dragon.
Spike was seated at his usual table in Sugarcube Corner. He watched Pinkie, who was behind the counter happily taking orders and bouncing in and out of the kitchen. He could already taste the delicious gem-filled pancakes he had ordered, a special the Cakes kept on their menu for one special little customer. Spike always felt amazingly content inside the small family-run bakeshop. It was one of his favorite places to visit when Twilight gave him a day off. He heard the ring of a bell and almost immediately the poofy-haired, pink ball of energy he had been observing seemed to materialize in front of him, holding a plate of utterly scrumptious-looking pancakes that twinkled in the light.
Sadly, he wouldn't get the chance to tuck into those amazing looking hotcakes, for the sun finally rose just enough to throw bright beams of daylight into the cave, one unfortunately landing right on top of the dreaming dragon. With an annoyed grumble, Spike pushed himself up into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes to clear the sleep away. His stomach rumbled its first declaration of hunger for the day as he made popped the top off of one of his water bottles, taking a rather healthy swig. He would have to make a trip to the northern face of the mountain soon to replenish his water supply.
"Might as well do it today. I haven't checked for food in that direction yet," Spike thought out loud. As he finished packing his bag for another day of trudging across the barren landscape, a strong familiar smell immediately caught his attention. Spike's head snapped toward the direction of the smell; it was coming from the entrance of the cave. When he exited the cave he found, much to his amazement, baskets upon baskets of gems and salted fish. It was beyond him why all of this was sitting outside of some cave in the middle of nowhere, but he didn't let it deter him from digging into the baskets with gusto. Each and every mouthful was like a godsend to the starving dragon. Every gem was perfectly aged and the fish expertly preserved.
While Spike gorged himself on the heaping baskets of food, a tiny pinpoint emerged on the horizon. The object in question was quickly closing in on the cave Spike was currently residing in, and proving to be ever larger in size the closer it came. Spike's only focus was on the miraculous food before him. He relished the exquisite taste of each gem. He was about to grab another handful when he noticed a brilliant shine being cast upon the entire area.
Spike turned toward the sunrise and was nearly blinded by the dazzling, almost unbearable radiance of the beast landing in front of him. The young dragon was at an utter loss for words as he gazed upon the nearly translucent dragon he now stood before. The dragon in question shined with a brilliance Spike had only seen in the purest of diamonds. Spike stood entranced by both the size and spectacle of the creature before him. The much larger dragon then began to speak in a voice so deep it seemed to demand respect.
"Svabol re wux tirir persvek sia duil moxt ir?" The elder dragon's voice stole all the sound from Spike's throat. The young dragon could only stare up at the colossal elder with wordless terror.
"Renthisj drot, svabol dril tir wux tepoha ihk nomeno intrusion acht sia duil?" The giant translucent dragon set Spike with an inquisitive stare.
Spike was utterly terrified. The hulking beast in front of him was clearly speaking to him, but he had no idea how to respond to the foreign language. The only solution he could think of was to break down and beg for forgiveness for whatever wrong he might have done to the much larger beast.
"Please, sir, if this food was yours I sincerely apologize for eating it! I was just so hungry...if there is anything I can do to repay this debt, tell me," Spike pleaded.
The elder dragon looked down at Spike's tiny form and chuckled. It was clear to him this amethyst youngling was no threat to his hoard nor to his lair. He approached the young dragon and laid down in front of him, pushing another basket of gems toward him.
"It would seem to me, little one, that you do not speak the old tongue. Tell me, what is your name?"
Spike was again taken by surprise. Not only had the much larger dragon offered him food, but it also spoke in a language Spike understood!
"M-My name is Spike. I've been living alone in these mountains for almost a week now." Spike finished his sentence by stuffing another handful of gems in his mouth to quell his nervousness.
"Hmmm, Spike is a rather strange name for an amethyst dragon. Tell me, boy, who are your parents? I was quite meticulous when selecting this location for my new lair, and I was almost certain there were no other dragons in the immediate area." The sinewy translucent dragon shot Spike an inquisitive glare.
Spike swallowed hard, the mere sight of the powerful creature in front of him still enough to leave him speechless.
"I don't have any parents, sir. I was hatched in Canterlot and raised in Ponyville. The only reason I'm even here at the moment is because my...guardian told me it wasn't safe back home." Much to Spike's displeasure his eyes stung with barely contained tears.
The great wyrm took a moment to process this information. The young one's story certainly explained why he had no knowledge of the draconian tongue, and it also explained why he was slightly undersized for an amethyst dragon whelpling. Dragons hatched by ponies were quite a rare find, an amethyst wyrmling hatched thusly even more so. As the great wyrm looked down on the much smaller shivering dragon he could feel nothing but compassion.
"Do not worry, my boy, I mean you no harm. If you are truly pony hatched you must know next to nothing about your kind. It is a rare occasion for an amethyst dragon to be born into the world, even more rare for the Equestrians to get their hooves on such a prize."
Spike could only look up in awe at the hulking beast in front of him. The sunlight reflecting off the wyrm's scales threw brilliant light in all directions which flickered and danced when his taut muscles flexed and twitched under his skin, an involuntary display Spike had never seen before. Spike had no idea what an amethyst dragon was, nor what it meant to be pony hatched, but he was certainly curious to discover the meanings behind those things. Spike had no words to respond to the creature before him. The most he could manage was one of the most basic of questions.
"I'm sorry, but, who are you, sir?" Spike asked, a curious expression adorning his face.
The hulking wyrm smiled down at him.
"My name is Paraxxus the Wise, little one. I am here to begin work on my new lair. Those gems you were eating a moment ago were supplies I instructed my vassals to prepare for my arrival."
"Oh, I-I'm so sorry, sir, I didn't know anyone else was staying here. It was just the only shelter I could find after I was transported here. I'll go get my things right now and move on." Spike immediately shuffled to his sleeping area and began rolling up his blanket and packing away the few supplies he had out. He wasn't sure what he was going to do now, but he was certain he didn't want to anger the much larger and older dragon.
As Paraxxus watched the small whelpling collect his belongings, he pondered to himself. A pony hatched, young amethyst whelpling surviving alone out here for over a week... This little one might just have some potential in him; it must have taken quite a bit of courage and resolve to survive in these conditions while still so young. With his mind made up, the great beast rose off the ground and stepped over the baskets into the cave entrance.
"Hold there, young one. No one said you had to leave."
"W-what do you mean? I may not know much about dragons, but one thing everypony knows is that dragons don't share their lairs with any manner of creature." Spike swallowed hard as the giant crystalline dragon stopped in front of him.
"Bah, I haven't enough scales on my body to count all the things 'everypony knows'. They may be one of the most plentiful species in the world, but they have a pension for thinking much too highly of themselves." Paraxxus chuckled. "A dragon's lair is open to anyone they believe to be friend as well as any members of their brood and any vassals or wards they may keep." He brought his massive head down to ground level and stared deep into Spike's eyes.
"And this is where you come in, little one. I find myself in need of an apprentice, someone to carry on my work in both the recording of dragon history and my research into arcane and draconian magics. It must have taken a will as strong as dragon scales to survive out here as you have. I see great potential in you, Spike, so I ask you: do you wish to live here with me, learn the history of your kind, and study the ancient arts of draconian magic? It will be bitter work, and you will toil for years mastering the various crafts you must know to carry on my legacy once I am gone, but you will not regret such a decision."
Spike was speechless, yet again, as he struggled to take in all of this information. He had to admit he had always wanted to know a bit more about dragons, but every time he had tried to ask questions Celestia or Twilight would brush them aside and tell him dragons were nothing but big brutes concerned with little more than how much treasure they could hoard. And what was this about...dragon magic? Spike had never heard about dragons possessing the ability to use magic.
"I think I'd like to apprentice under you, sir, but..." Spike trailed off, eyes falling to the ground as thoughts of Twilight and Ponyville filling his head.
"What is it, child? Speak up."
"If I find out what happened to Equestria, and if I'm ever strong enough to go back, would being your apprentice stop me from going back to see my friends?" Spike looked back up and locked eyes with the great wyrm, determination shining through his concern.
Paraxxus's eyes, which naturally seemed to glitter with knowledge and understanding, glowed brightly. "My boy, with enough time, if you learn all I have to teach you," he gave Spike a fanged grin, "nothing will be able to dream of stopping you from seeing your friends again."
For the first time since his world was torn asunder, Spike felt a familiar fire ignite in his chest that warmed his entire body like the rays from the summer sun. This was his chance to see them again. This is what Twilight wanted him to survive for. Spike stood as straight as he could and drew in a deep breath, the fire within him burning almost visibly in his emerald eyes.
"When do we start?"