When Paraxxus had said his apprenticeship would be bitter work, Spike had imagined something akin to helping Twilight with a heavy weekend study session. He couldn't have been more wrong. The workload the great wyrm expected of his pupil was immense, even by the standards Spike was accustomed to from growing up with Twilight. He rose at daybreak and spent the first six hours of the day studying the ancient tongue of the dragons, as it was the most imperative thing to learn. After lunch the history lectures started. Paraxxus had begun with the very beginning. Spike learned of the god of all dragon kind, Io, and his three children: the beautiful Vorel, the righteous Bahamut, and the wicked Tiamat. The sheer loathing Tiamat seemed to harbor for her brother, Bahamut, was something Spike had never experienced before, having grown up in a land where "hate" was a word one could live their entire life without hearing.
Next came the lessons on the different dragon groups. Spike was taught about the benevolent metallic dragons, as well as the malevolent chromatic dragons. Paraxxus made a point to always end the history lessons with the gem dragons, the group to which Spike belonged. It had shocked Spike to learn that he was not only a gem dragon, but he also belonged to the most powerful group of gem dragons. It was because of this, Paraxxus told him, that he must devote as much time to his studies as he could. The Amethyst dragons were widely accepted by the rest of their gem brethren as the leaders, and as such, Spike had to learn all that was necessary to lead.
The Amethyst dragons were honorable, regal creatures. They approached life with a detached air, ignoring the conflicts of good and evil, order and chaos. This was the only part of the history lectures Spike ever wanted to truly dive into. While he enjoyed learning more about his species as a whole, the fact that he belonged to one of the strongest races of dragon in the world thrilled him, and he was hungry to learn more about his amethyst brethren.
After history came what appeared to be Spike's forte. Even as such a young dragon, Spike excelled at the art of magic. He had already mastered basic levitation spells and how to conjure small balls of light. Spike found that these simple feats seemed to astound his master. According to Paraxxus he shouldn't be capable of even the most basic forms of spell casting for perhaps another twenty years or more. When Spike questioned what might have been the cause of his unique gift for the arcane arts, his master could only surmise that it had something to do with the manner of his hatching. Unicorns used surplus amounts of arcane energy to hatch dragon eggs, and perhaps that enormous amount of energy may have seeped into the young dragon as well. His master also warned him of the dangers of overexerting himself when spellcasting. Paraxxus explained that dragons were unlike other spellcasting races; dragon magic poured a bit of the dragon's very life force into each spell, resulting in far stronger spells along with the added bonus of instantaneous casting, but sapping the user in return. The more complex and high level a spell was, the more of his life force would be taken. Paraxxus urged Spike to practice caution and restraint when using magic so he would not cause himself to pass out.
Once all of the day's lessons were finished, Spike would lumber into bed, already half asleep, and drift off nearly as soon as his head hit the pillow. He used to think Twilight's intense studying sessions were a taxing experience, but this strict regiment Paraxxus kept him on left him literally too exhausted to think by day's end. Spike didn't mind, however, for it was the first time in his young life that he finally had a sense of understanding about himself and his people. He knew now that he would one day grow to be the size of Canterlot castle and would wield both strength and magic not even Celestia could contend with. Dreams of grandeur filled his head at night, dreams of the adventures he might take, the places he could visit, the creatures he would meet. In the end, it was all worth it to him. Every single minute of every single hour of every single day, Spike came to almost dread sleep, as it meant he had to stop learning about all these new and amazing things.
Paraxxus lay in his chamber, preparing his pupil's studies for the morrow. The young lad devoured every bit of knowledge the great wyrm threw at him. Spike was taking to the draconic tongue far faster than Paraxxus had expected, and his aptitude for spellcraft was extraordinary for one so young. Unfortunately, the young dragon seemed bored with his history lessons, and every new spell he learned seemed to over inflate his young ego. There was also the problematic situation of his unwavering attachment to his homeland. Spike would ask of news from Equestria almost every day, and obsession could be a dangerous thing for a dragon. Paraxxus had lived long enough to see entire countries laid low in the wake of a dragon chasing something it thought it could not live without. The great wyrm had begun to worry. One day his young pupil might fly off in a blind rage should something truly tragic happen to him home, and the results could be disastrous. Unleashing a well trained, raging Amethyst dragon onto the world at large was not something Paraxxus wanted to have on his conscience.
Lately his apprentice had become a far too consuming thought in his mind, for that matter. Ever since he began Spike's training, Paraxxus was enthralled by the progress the young whelp made. He had, of course, heard stories and recounts of the aptitude of wyrmlings belonging to dragon races of prestige, but he never thought the results would be this astounding. As the mighty wyrm laid his head down to sleep, he still could not clear thoughts of the future from his mind. The path ahead of his pupil could lead him to eminence and fortune, or it could corrupt him and drag him to his demise. Paraxxus could do nothing but pray to Io and Sardior that his young ward would choose the path of light as he surrendered to sleep.
It was nearing midday when Spike looked up from the dusty tomes he was studying and posed the question, "Master, why don't I feel a need to hoard treasure?"
Paraxxus was momentarily startled by this question. While it was true that Spike had thus far shown no interest in gold or jewels, he had never considered why exactly his pupil showed no signs of wanting to collect a hoard of his own.
"Even with over one thousand years of knowledge, I'm not sure I can answer that question for you, Spike."
"What do you mean, master? Is there something wrong with me? I have always heard, even growing up in Ponyville, that dragons have an innate greed for precious treasure." Spike cast an inquisitive glance up at the much older dragon.
Paraxxus pondered the question for a moment's time before replying, "What a dragon considers treasure differs heavily from dragon to dragon, my young pupil. Not all dragons desire to collect things of material value." Paraxxus laid back and stroked his massive chin with a clawed hand. "As a dragon ages, it begins to learn what things it values most in the world. The tendency for most dragons is to desire and subsequently hoard the things they see their parents collecting. For you, my dear apprentice, I think that may be the root of the problem."
Spike stared up at the hulking form of his master, confusion still visible in his emerald eyes. He was still unsure as to what the great beast was talking about.
"I'm still unsure as to what you mean, master. Does me being pony hatched have something to do with this?"
"I believe it might, young one. The Equestrians value love and friendship above all other things. It is my belief that you seek to hoard not gold or precious artifacts or ancient tomes, but instead the friendships you lost when you were cast from your home." Paraxxus couldn't help but snort inwardly at such an absurd notion, but outwardly he maintained a pensive look.
"It would certainly explain your borderline obsession with returning to your homeland and discovering the fate of the friends and loved ones you once had."
Spike thought long and hard over those words. He had indeed felt a hole form in his chest the moment he had left Equestria, and nothing he had done since had managed to fill it. Was that possible? Did he indeed seek to hoard his friends and family? Was that why the ache in his chest refused to subside? Spike did not yet have the answers to these questions, but he knew they were worth pursuing.
"What if that is what I crave to hoard, master? I have felt as if a piece of myself was missing ever since I left Ponyville. What if all I truly wish to hoard is friendship and family?" Spike stared into space, maintaining composure even as his eyes swirled with emotion.
Paraxxus let a grin spread across his face as he eyed his pupil intently. Yes, he thought to himself, this young dragon has true potential.
"If the only thing you crave in life, my pupil, is the companionship of friends and the love of family, then I am both saddened and overjoyed." Paraxxus lifted the tiny dragon's chin with one of his massive claws, lifting Spike's gaze to meet his own.
"The stronger a dragon's lust for his treasure, the more powerful his resolve becomes when he seeks it. Your desire to see your friends and family again is mighty, and I would tremble in fear if I were standing in your way of reuniting with them." The great wrym lowerd the tip of his claw to the center of Spike's chest.
"I say this not in pride, little one, but simply in honesty. One day the heavens will tremble when you return home and confront the danger that cast you so far from you friends and family. I can see a fire in you that burns brighter than any dragon's flames. It is a privilege to train such a promising young dragon." The smile on Paraxxus's face widened just enough to flash his pearly fangs as he pulled his hand from the tiny dragon's chest to let him process the words.
It took Spike some time to take all of that information in. Never in his life had he felt he was overly special, and he most certainly didn't think he would "make the heavens tremble". On some deeper level, Spike could almost completely understand what his master was saying. He worked his body to exhaustion every day for the sole purpose of getting stronger and wiser so that he could return home. The mere idea of Twilight and Ponyville could grant him a second wind if he ever felt fatigue, and the simple thought of them being in danger made his blood boil with a fury he was sometimes afraid he couldn't control.
"It is I who am privileged, master. I would imagine not many dragons get the benefit of training under such an elder as yourself." Spike bowed low to the ground as he had learned was expected when speaking with an elder.
"If I may, though, master, shall we continue with our studies? I have a sudden fierce desire to learn." Spike turned his head to the tome in front of him, his eager eyes devouring the text with a renewed vigor.
"Of course, my boy. Of course," the great wyrm said as he cast a curious glance down at the young drake. Oh yes, this one is special, he thought to himself as he turned back to his own work. If only either of them knew just how much Spike would soon effect the scope of the world.
It was past midnight, sometime during the hour of the wolf, when Paraxxus felt the presence of one of his vassals. The great wrym rose up from his hoard and approached the hidden back entrance to his lair. Normally he would be furious if any of his subjects were to disturb him at this hour, but he had given each of his vassals an express order to find out as much as they could about the fate of Equestria and report to him immediately with their findings.
"I am terrible sorry for disturbing you at such an hour, my liege, but I bring news from the south." The minotaur spoke quickly as he dropped to one knee, looking up enough to clearly communicate, but not daring to meet his lord's eyes.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Tarvox. It was I who gave you the order. What news do you have from the pony lands?"
"I bring most tragic news, my liege. It would appear the Griffon king and his armies marched on Equestrian soil in the dead of night in an expertly crafted military strike. The whole of the pony kingdom now rests in the hands of King Bright Talon." The minotaur turned his gaze from his master to the ground, as if this news might bring some sort of punishment upon him.
Paraxxus reeled, if only for a moment. As far as he was aware, the griffons and ponies were currently under a common trade agreement. The Equestrians provided the Griffons with raw ore and construction materials in exchange for Griffon aid in training the royal military. Paraxxus knew full well this news would not go over well with his apprentice at all. The young hot headed dragon might even charge headlong into his enemy as soon as he heard it. It was in that moment that the great wyrm made one of the most difficult decisions of his long life.
"You have done well, Tarvox. Report to my other vassals that they are to bring me any new information they gather, but under no circumstances are they to speak a word of any of it to my pupil. The penalty for informing my apprentice of anything involving Equestria will be a death so slow only one such as myself could envision it." The great wyrm finalized his threat with a healthy blast of heated smoke from his nostrils. The minotaur bowed to the ground silently, then faded into the darkness of the night.
Paraxxus laid back down onto his pile of gold and jewels as he contemplated his order. As much as he thought Spike deserved to know what happened to both his homeland and his friends, the young dragon was far from ready to do anything about the situation. Spike might end up hating him for it in the end, but that would be far more favorable than letting his young ward charge headlong into griffon controlled territory. For now, despite how much it would weigh on the old dragon's conscience, he would keep this information from his pupil.
As Paraxxus drifted on the edge of sleep he thought to himself, I am truly sorry, Spike. It is wrong of me to keep this news from you, but I cannot risk letting you throw your life away for nothing. You are worth far too much to lose due to any kind of blind rage.