Spike gently closed the door to the small cottage as he stepped out into the cool morning air. He and Rarity had decided to stay the night at Fluttershy's to keep an eye on the still mentally fragile Pegasus. The two mares were currently still sleeping upstairs unaware of Spike's early departure. He left a small note on the door explaining that he planned to visit AJ's farm and that he wanted to get there before the apples began tending to the farm.
The trek to Sweet Apple Acres was a peaceful one. Spike had forgotten how green and lush the world could be, when you spend the majority of your life living in the mountains you start to think the only colors in life are brown, grey and a darker shade of brown. Despite all the things going on this stroll seemed to have a calming effect on him he had never experienced before. He took in a deep breath of the cool moist country air and savored the crispness, something about being back in Ponyville was just putting him at ease.
While he mind wandered in no particular direction his hooves had kept on their intended path and before he knew it the tall barn and sturdy farmhouse had come into view. While he had left Fluttershy's before dawn it appeared it was not early enough to make it here before some of the apple clan was already preparing for a hard days work. The hulking form of Big Macintosh was an easy spot, as far as Spike knew there wasn't another Stallion in all of Equestria that could measure up to Big Mac's colossal stature.
Spike approach the stallion with a bright smile and a friendly wave only to be met with the hard glare of a pony who very clearly had no time to spare for empty pleasantries. Spike decided to take the more direct approach and got straight to his business.
"Excuse me sir but my dear friend Rarity informed me this was the best place to find a Miss Applejack." Spike asked in a deep smooth baritone.
The stallion set him with a hard stare that was clearly meant to intimidate but Spike simple countered with an equally intense stare.
"Might be she is, depends on who's lookin fer her." Came the gruff reply.
"The names Snap Caster, Miss Rarity and Miss Fluttershy asked me to come by and deliver a message to her."
After a lingering suspicious glare the hulking stallion turned and disappeared into the farmhouse. A short time later he returned with what Spike thought might be Applejack but the grim hard face of the mare before him and the air of hostility surrounding her betrayed everything he thought he remembered about the seasoned farm pony.
"Is there something ah can help you with sir?" Her tone was flat and direct.
"Two of your close friends asked me to come and speak with you this morning. Is there perhaps a place we could speak without certain avian ease droppers listening in?"
Applejack turned to her brother and they shared a brief glance before the crimson stallion nodded slightly.
"Follow me Mr. Caster."
With that the farm pony trotted off toward the farm house with Spike trying his best to match her pace. When they reached the building Applejack nudged the door open and motioned for him to enter. Once both ponies were inside Applejack closed the door and locked it before turning to face the amethyst stallion.
"So what is it exactly mah friends wanted you to tell me stranger?" The scrutinizing glare she set him with was even to Spike a little unnerving.
"To be honest its more of a show than a tell." With a smirk the unicorn's horn light up with an emerald aura an within seconds an imposing Amethyst dragon stood before the simple farmer.
"Honestly if we went back twenty years or so you would consider me a close friend as well. It's good to see you again AJ, it's been far to long." Spike said as he loomed over the startled mare.
Despite the massive jump in growth Applejack would have recognized those amethyst scales with emerald fringes anywhere. The mare stood in disbelief at the massive dragon before her, his full height nearly reaching the roof of the barn.
"Sp-Spike is that you?" Questioned the startled mare.
The dragon smiled. "It's a rather pleasing feeling, not being forgotten." He chuckled.
"I fear we have little time though AJ, so I must be curt. I am here in Ponyville to retrieve the elements of harmony. I have already been to see Rarity and Fluttershy and I have both of them in hand. The only missing pieces are you an Pinkie Pie an I have reason to believe you will be the key to securing Pinkie." The dragon huffed.
"Rarity has informed me that your family much like her's is in constant danger that is dependent upon your actions. I am here to tell you that if you agree to come with us I will bring your family with us at whatever cost it may take."
Applejack pondered Spike's request at length. While it was a chance to once again be free to do what she wished, she also remembered what happen to the last group that tried to escape griffon control.
"I'm sorry Spike but unless ya can show me some proof you can keep my family safe I ain't willing to risk their well being." With that the mare turned toward the door.
As quick as the farm pony could move, the dragon was faster. In a blur he was in-front of AJ and placed a hand upon her head. His eyes and hand flashed green and suddenly displayed before the mare were the collective memories of his liberation of the work camp Twilight was a part of.
As the memories flashed through the mind of the farm mare she collapsed. Scenes of violence and scenes of gratitude seemed to merge together in her mind as the memories continued to play out. When Spike removed his hand from her head the mare looked up at him with wide awe struck eyes. The dragon offered her a warm smile and helped her back to her hooves, he then retrieved her hat from the ground and with a quick brush off placed it back on her head.
"As you've seen, I am fully capable of protecting those I bring under my care. I promise you that if you come with me I shall not only ensure your families safety but also bring them along." AJ could see fire burning in the dragon's eyes as he spoke. The fire was so strong is seemed to strip even her of her baser instincts. With a harsh nod the mare agreed to the dragon's proposal.
"Twilight has never steered me wrong before, if she believes ya can change things than I'll back ya every bit I can. As long as my family is safe I don't care what happens to me!" Applejack's proclamation was fierce and her voice carried through out the orchid.
The dragon smile a toothy grin and kneeled before the farm pony.
"I promise you my friend that your trust is not misplaced." With that the dragon rose, once at his full height he set the farm pony with an iron clad glare.
"What I need from you now AJ is a way to bring Pinkie back to the real world."
Unfortunately for Spike his discussion with AJ over their plans to help Pinkie were less than productive. Unlike Fluttershy who had at least in some fashion communicated with the outside world Pinkie had hardly spoken a word in over 15 years. AJ also brought Spike up to date on the unresolved murders that had been taking place in Ponyville for many years. Despite many thorough investigations the griffons hadn't managed to collar a single serious suspect. It was the mares assumption that Pinkie was behind it all. Her unique abilities combined with a murderous intent could easily create a serial killer that would leave no traces of evidence.
"We aren't getting anywhere with this AJ, confrontation seems to be our best shot at engaging Pinkie." Spike said as he brought a hoof to his chin.
"AJ you said these murders mostly took place during new moons, tomorrow night is the beginning of the new lunar cycle. Would you mind if I hide out here in the barn until then? I could use a detect life spell once night falls to track the movements of every being in Ponyville who might be wandering around after curfew."
The farm pony's face seemed to contort for a moment. It was clear to Spike that the idea of concealing a fugitive and putting her family at risk was a very serious situation for her.
"Ah suppose one night wouldn't hurt, but you promise me Spike that you won't leave this barn. An make sure you have one of your fancy spells ready to make yourself disappear or turn invisible or something if those bucking griffons show up."
Spike looked her dead in the eye. "AJ I swear to you on my honor as a dragon that not a soul outside of this barn will know I'm here. You won't even need to bring me supplies I am quite capable of going a few days without food or water."
After several painfully long minutes the farm pony finally nodded. She gave Spike 24 hours no more and no less to do what he wanted to do, after that he would have to find a new place to hideout. As AJ turned in for the night Spike lay awake pondering his options. Twilight had explained to him that the griffons had some sort of device that could detect the use of advance magic in the town proper. Spike however had no way of knowing if the device was tuned to pick up all traces of magic or simply unicorn specific magical emissions.
His lack of understanding acknowledged he decided it would be best to cast his spells from outside the boundaries of the town and then sneak back in with an invisibility enchantment on. He could not under any circumstance risk exposing himself before he had all of his targets safely extracted. Spike forced his eyes closed and killed his thought process, he would need rest if he was going to accomplish anything tomorrow and sitting up all night worrying would be disastrous.
The daylight hours passed slowly, luckily Spike had plenty of practice sitting around doing nothing. His first few lessons on mediation had be exercises in boredom before the young dragon finally grasped the benefits of practice. A practice he was participating in at the very moment. With his mind clear and focused he ran his plan for the night through his head over and over again. Any possible complications were immediately focused on and reworked until they fit seamlessly into the grand tapestry.
When he wasn't meditating he simply listened to the sounds of the farm. Various animals from chickens to pigs could be heard milling around as could the echoing thuds of hooves meeting bark as the Apply family worked their orchard. In a way it was unbelievably serene but just when the symphony that was farm life started to soothe away some of his stress the harsh clanking of metal on metal that was griffon plate mail could be heard that interrupted the tranquil symphony like a sledge hammer to the knee interrupts an intricate waltz.
As dusk fell and the sound a metal armor on the march faded from the air Spike peered out of the barn window. As far as he could see the griffon patrols had decreased significantly . The five or six some odd patrol groups that were present during the day turned into one come nightfall. All concern Spike had with how he was going to manage to sneak away from the farm into the forest to prepare his spells vanished when he saw how paltry the night watch of the farm was.
As the patrol group headed toward the northern section of the orchard Spike made a mad dash to the south headed straight for the Everfree. A younger Spike would have seized up in fear at the thought of going into the forest alone but grown dragon he was now barreled into the underbrush with nary a second thought. Once deep enough into the forest Spike paused, standing as still as stone. He listened for the snapping of twigs or the flapping of wings, but neither reaches his sensitive ears. It appeared no one had followed him, much to the dragons delight.
Once assured in his solitude Spike began preparing his spells. A powerful invisibility spell would be required to insure he was not detected as he slinked about town. An equally powerful detect life spell would also be required to ensure not a single being with a beating heart escaped his notice as he stalked the town in search of the pink party pony. With his plans set Spike's faux horn came to life with a gentle light. The first spell cast was a sound dampening charm to ensure his hoof steps would not arouse unwanted attention. The next a powerful invisibility enchantment, Spike surmised that if the griffons could see through this then he had much greater things to worry about.
The last spell was a relatively mundane spell but still incredibility necessary for tonight's activities, the detect life spell would reveal all living things around him for up to a mile as shimmering orange glows visible through any surface. With his magical armor in place the dragon stallion made his way out of the forest and into the town proper making sure to keep a fair distance away from any griffon shaped orbs of light the detect life spell revealed to him.
The few hours were surprisingly mundane. Aside from a few scattered patrol groups there was very little going on in Ponyville after dark. As it reach nearly four am Spike was unsure whether or not anything would happen this new moon until he caught the most fleeting glimpse of a much smaller, pony sized orange glimmer. Spike immediately took off in the direct of the light but almost as quickly as it had appear it vanished. The sudden appearance and disappearance was all Spike needed to be assured the entity was Pinkie, only her specific brand of insanity could fool his magic in such a manner.
It took more than a moment for the dragon to relocate the erratic pony sized glow, this time however it appeared above a solitary griffon sized glow. Before Spike knew what was happening the griffon glow slumped onto the ground. With all the speed his stallion legs could muster he sped toward the fallen griffon, it was there he caught his first glimpse of the culprit. Standing over the prone body of a griffon guard stood a bright pink mare, she seemed to be dipping something into the pool of blood on the ground. Before Spike could utter a single word the mare disappeared as if by magic.
Luckily for Spike he had a fairly good idea as to where his culprit had gone.
It was nearing four in the morning as Spike saw Sugar Cube Corner come into view, had he been anyone else he would have missed the hot pink mare disappear into the cellar of the building but his magically enhanced eyes caught the orange glow descending into the basement of the humble bakery. As he approached the cellar doors he found a massive lock clasp around a bundle of chains. Another trade mark of his culprit, only someone like her could arrange such a physics defying defense. The dragon stallion raised a hoof to his horn and tried to cover his horn as he could as a small burst of light emitted from it.
The lock fell open and Spike wrestled the chains out of the way, the steps leading down to the cellar were far more ominous than he had thought they would be. A foul stench reached his nostrils from deep within the cellar as he made his first tentative steps into the under croft. Spike thought his reaction insane at first but remembering back to his childhood he recalled Pinkie doing things even his current magical knowledge could not explain. There was literally no telling what the mare in the cellar was capable of and he was not going to be caught off guard by it.
As he reached the bottom the room opened up into a singular large open space. Partially decomposing, and full blown skeletal statues of griffons adorned the underground horror show. Spike was beyond shocked at the display before him, his master had shown him many terrible things during his schooling, a testament to the cruelty of the living he called it. However nothing he had seen before prepared him for the scene before him. At the far end of the room stood a lone figure, it appeared to be almost ritualistically placing something on a crude shrine.
The plum of blood stained feathers decorating the stand on the far side of the room was heaped with countless feathers, the pink mare delicately adding another to the menagerie. The atmosphere alone had him on end, Pinkie was very clearly a far more deranged pony than he could of ever imagined her being. As he took another tentative step forward there was a loud snap under his hoof, a lone bone he had absentmindedly overlooked. Within a second of the bone snapping Pinkie's head cocked to the side, her dead cold eyes boring holes into Spike's soul.
"What are you doing here Spike? No one is supposed to be here, this is my special place." Her voice was so lifeless and deadpan the dragon could have believed it came from a corpse.
"H-how did you know it was me Pinkie?" the stallion asked a bit flustered.
"I never forget a friend Spike, you know that." Her head turned back to feathers as she carefully aligned them.
Spike swallowed hard and took another step forward. "What is this place Pinkie? This isn't like you at all! You were always so much fun, always trying to make everyone smile."
The pink mare spun around suddenly causing the dragon stallion to take a step back. "I tried to make them smile! I tried every day but they just wouldn't smile. Nothing I tried could even get the smallest smirk out of those feathered meanies! And when all my best attempts to make them smile were met with beatings I just knew I had to try something else." Pinkie gestured with a forehoof to the macabre statues decorating the room.
"Look at them now Spike. See how they smile always? It took a bit more work than I thought but now they won't ever frown again, and they won't ever be mean to anyone again..." Spike noticed a disturbing twinkle in Pinkie's eyes as her voice trailed off.
Spike swallowed hard and spoke. "The statues are lovely Pinkie but what is that display on the alter for?". Spike asked, trying to get as much information out of the disturbed mare as her could.
Pinkie looked back over her shoulder at the mural. "It's so that they get to be meanies to anyone ever again."
"What are you talking about Pinkie? There is no way these griffons could be mean to anyone ever again."
"THAT'S NOT TRUE! Every pony knows that when you die you go on to a wonderful place where everypony smiles and is happy all the time. I couldn't let them go there, I had to make sure they couldn't be mean to anyone ever again. Grandma Pie told me once that blood is the currency of the soul, and when your blood is all gone your soul moves on. So if I keep these bloody feathers here and unharmed then those meanie griffons won't ever be able to move on and bother everypony in the great beyond."
Spike was at a total loss as to what to do in this situation, Pinkie was clearly far more deranged than he had originally assumed and he was completely unprepared to deal with this situation. He slowly began to back away from the crazed pink mare keeping an eye out for any wayward bones
"Spike." came the cold disembodied voice.
"You aren't smiling..."
Before he knew what was happening the pink mare disappeared, a moment later the glint of candle light off steel caught Spikes attention and he darted away from a blow from above. There was no mistaking the look in her eyes, the murderous intent was clear from a mile away. He knew he couldn't break the illusion because it might set off the magic detecting alarms through out the city but without his magic and in his pony form he was vastly ill equipped to deal with his attacker.
Spike barely managed to dodge another slash from the right as he tumbled to the side, he cursed under his breathe. If he was in his true form he could disarm Pinkie in an instant but in this pony form he was practically defenseless. Spike was torn from his thoughts as a red hot pain exploded across his chest as a knife skirted over his chest, leaving a crimson gash. Spike stumbled back, a hoof clutching his chest. For one of the first times in his life the young dragon feared for his life.
As suddenly as the attack happened the culprit disappeared into the darkness of the small room. Spike's eyes frantically searched the space for any sign of the next attack but it proved to be in vain as a knife plunged deep into the stallions right shoulder. With what sense remained to him Spike instinctively grabbed the attacker with his teeth and flung her at the nearest wall. Seemingly caught off guard the bright pink mare smashed into the wall creating a large indentation.
With supreme effort Spike in his stallion form grasped the handle the knife still stuck in his shoulder and pulled it out, tossing the blade into the darkness. He had no answer to the currently onslaught he was enduring, Pinkie's ability to seemingly disregard reality was to much for him to overcome without the use of his magic. In his defeated state Spike flashed back onto every encounter he had ever shared with Pinkie. She was always the mare to come to if you were ever feeling down, she could make anypony no matter how sad they might be.
The thing that stuck most in Spike's mind was the day she launches the entire town into song, there was a smile on every single pony in Ponyville that day. Exhausted, beaten and blooded Spike made an insane decision. With a wave of the hoof he was enveloped in a white light, as the light faded standing there in the place of the purple stallion was a small purple baby dragon.
"It doesn't matter now" he muttered as he barely dodged another lighting quick slash.
"If you are sad or blue." Spike bent backward at nearly a 90 degree angle as the razor sharp kitchen knife barely skirted over his neck.
"Cause cheering up my friends is just what Pinkie's here to do." Pinkies attacks had slowed down considerably since he changed his appearance and Spike managed to dodge stab aimed right at his heart.
For a moment Spike's eyes met with Pinkie's and the two stared at each other for a long agonizing moment before Spike muttered his final words.
"Cause I love to make you smile, smile, smile." Before his body gave out from blood loss Spike saw a twinkle in Pinkie's eye. Pinkie stopped dead as she eyed the little dragon, the next sound heard reverberating off the basement walls was the clang of metal striking stone as a kitchen knife clattered to the floor. An as he blacked out and fell to the ground he did so with a smile on his face.