Waking up is always an awkward experience, eyes blurry, mind fuzzy—it typically takes a moment or two to get one’s bearing. Spike found the process further complicated when awakened by forceful application of cupcake to the mouth. As the dragon choked down the sweet pastry, his vision focused a bit more and he saw what he assumed to be bouncing pink cotton candy. He bolted upright and rubbed his eyes; nothing was like what he remembered happening before passing out.
"It's about time you got up, sleepy head! You've been sleeping for, like, a bazillion hours! I made you cupcakes but I got tired of waiting for you to get up and try one, so I thought... what would be a better way to wake up than with a cupcake alarm?" There, standing before him like some kind of nostalgic dream, was a poofy maned, smiling Pinkie Pie.
Spike’s brain did a full reboot as he attempted to process the situation.
"P-pinkie? What's going on? What happened last night? We’re down in the basement, and you, with the knife, and the creepy statues and—why does everything smell like copper?" Spike rarely found himself at a loss for words after spending so many years with his nose buried in books but the current situation was just so totally irrational words seemed to completely fail him.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot about all that. Well, I don't really remember much, everything's been SUPER fuzzy for what seems like a really really really long time, but last night all of a sudden I could think straight again, isn't that neat? The first thing I really remember was you, only you were like a tiny little you, not the big gigantic you like right now. I remember singing too, little you was singing my song, and I felt all warm and fuzzy all over but then little you just kinda flopped onto the floor and turned into big you. So I carried you upstairs and put you in my bed. I knew I wasn't going to need sleep because I saw all these super creepy statues in the basement so I spent the rest of the night getting rid of them and when the sun came up I made breakfast."
Spike just stared at the pink mare for a moment as he processed the barrage of information. As he mulled over what Pinkie had said a certain portion of it caused him to jump to his feet and rush over to the mare.
"Pinkie, you said you got rid of everything in the basement, right?"
"Well yeah, it was SUPER spooky. I couldn't just leave it all down there."
"Yes, yes, but what did you do with it all? It was after midnight when I got to the basement—how could you have possibly emptied the whole place before sunrise without any guards seeing you?
"Oh, come on Spike. You're talking to the hide and seek champion of Ponyville, it was easy squeezy." Pinkie giggled and shoved another cupcake into the dragons slack jaw. "Besides, you’ve been hogging all the questions! It’s my turn to ask one. I'm not really sure how long its been, but it feels like I was all fuzzy for a long time. Think you could help me fill in the fuzzy parts?" Pinkie set the tray full of cupcakes down on the end table and jumped up on the bed.
Spike sighed and took a seat next to her, knowing he might as well just tell her what she wanted to know. Getting a straight answer out of Pinkie hadn’t even been an easy task before she spent 20 years in a daze killing griffons in the middle of the night and building eerie shrines out of their remains all the while having no idea she was actually doing it.
Spike spent the better part of two hours explaining the current situation to Pinkie Pie; he told her about the invasion, the occupation, the facilities that some of her closest friends had been sent to and treated like slaves in. He informed her of what she had been doing during her "fuzzy" period which, much to his surprise, seemed to shock her far less than he imagined. He concluded everything with the current situation in Ponyville and his plan for getting the rest of the Elements of Harmony out of town along with their families.
By the end of the conversation Pinkie's hair had slightly deflated and her gaze seemed fixed on the floor.
"Wow, I can't believe all that stuff has been going on and I didn't even know about it. I can't believe the things I'VE been doing and can't remember." Pinkie's voice carried a sad and somber tone. Almost immediately and as if by magic, though, her spirits turned around.
"But we don't have time to be worrying about that stuff—I mean, you can't change the past any more than you can change a burnt muffin into a... non burnt muffin. So what are you planning to do to get everyone out of here now that you fixed all of our mind brain problems?"
Spike was almost certain he'd gotten some form of mental whiplash from the seemingly out of no where 180's Pinkie was taking emotionally. Taking a moment to recover and collect his thoughts he explained his plan to the pink party pony.
"At present, the best I can come up with is crafting a teleportation circle in Aj's barn; I already have one setup in my current base of operations. Once it's finished it's simply a matter of getting everypony together so I can teleport us out of here. This is complicated even further given the level of supervision you elements have—it only took one night for a pack of griffons to come to Rarity's door asking questions about me after I showed up in town."
Pinkie seemed lost in thought and Spike wasn't faring much better. The task of gathering the remaining elements of harmony and their families was proving to be a most difficult problem. Pinkie was the first to speak up.
"What if I threw a party at Sweet Apple Acres and invited everyone?" The pink mare asked enthusiastically.
"That would only serve to draw more attention to us; you've been a mute for two decades Pinkie, for you to suddenly show up and throw a party would set off all kinds of warning bells." Spike hated shooting down his friends ideas, but he had to ensure the success of the mission.
"Oh yeah I guess you’re right.."
"The only solution I can think of is to gather up everyone in the dead of night and lead them to Aj's barn, but I have no idea how I'm going to do that without the use of my magic. The Griffons have some kind of rune ward system in place to detect it."
Pinkie shot to her hooves as Spike finished speaking. "But Spike, none of those meanie feather heads showed up this morning and last night you said you used magic to make yourself look like a baby dragon. Maybe they can't pick up your super awesome dragon-y magic like they can with unicorn magic."
Spike paused for a moment and pondered the issue. It was true he had used an illusion spell and with the potency of his magic it should have surely triggered the magical alarms in place throughout the city. Dragons used magic in a much different way than Ponies did so it wasn't beyond reason that the griffon defenses might not be attuned to his particular form of magic.
"You might be on to something, Pinkie. I assumed the Griffons that showed up at Rarity's the night I stayed there were drawn to her house by the few times I switched between my pony and dragon form, but it might be that they simply have her house under observation. I'll perform a few tests today in the park to see if the griffons are truly able to pick up on my magic. For right now though, I need you to keep up appearances—you've been a disconnected mute for two decades and thats what the griffons are going to expect to see today. Do you think you can keep up the act until tonight?"
Pinkie shifted from side to side for a moment before looking Spike in the eye.
"If it means helping our friends smile again, I'll do anything Spike," Pinkie exclaimed.
For the first time since he started this little crusade, Spike felt a brief glimmer of hope.
Spike spent the majority of the early morning hours wandering aimlessly around the park. When there was no one in sight he would quickly use his magic to toss a stone across the pond. After nearly three hours of this exercise Spike was fairly certain that the magic alarms in the small town were indeed not tuned to his particular brand of magic casting. With his experiments complete, Spike made his way to the first stop on his list of people he had to save today.
The Carousel Boutique stood as ominous as ever with its new hard metal and smog exterior. After taking a moment to look around the outside of the building, Spike raised a hoof and rapped gently on the door. Within moments, the proprietor of the establishment ushered the Pony/dragon into the shop and quickly locked the door behind him.
"Gracious, Spike, you've had me worried half to death! Have you made any headway concerning your plans for this little endeavour?" Rarity questioned.
"As a matter of fact, I have. I plan to gather everyone in Aj's barn tonight and use a teleportation circle to get the lot of you out of town. The only issue currently in the way is the delicate process of escorting your family, Fluttershy and the Cakes to Sweet Apple Acres without alerting any guards. I have a few spells in place to camouflage them and dampen the sound of their movement but hiding a large group of inexperienced magic users across such a large distance is going to prove difficult. All I need for you to do, Rarity, is invite your family and Flutters over for dinner tonight so I have the lot of you in one convenient place."
"That shouldn't prove to be too much of an issue; I could probably have a letter sent to them by noon."
"Excellent! For now I'm going to make my way to Sweet Apple Acres and begin preparing the teleportation circle for tonight. Leave your door unlocked this evening—I will more than likely show up with an invisibility spell active to avoid detection."
As Spike turned to leave the shop Rarity quickly moved to intercept the purple stallion. She hugged him close and leaned into his ear.
"Thank you for all this Spike, I can't remember the last time any of us even imagined we'd be free to act of our own volition again."
Spike broke the embrace and nodded slowly at Rarity, then quickly turned and exited the shop. He knew that unless everything went down tonight without a hitch the results could be catastrophic so he set out to ensure every single preparation he could make was made without flaw. The success of the entire mission was currently riding on his ability to escort his friends and their families across more than a mile of open terrain without alerting a single guard and he had no intentions of screwing up any of it.
As the evening sun set over Ponyville the tall muscular form of a stallion could hardly be seen entering the back door of Sugar Cube Corner. Spike navigated his way through the obstacle course that was the storeroom of the bakery and passed into the living room. Once inside the small family area he found Pinkie and the Cake family packed and ready for their trip.
"I want to thank you all again for agreeing to do this," Spike said as he approached the small group of ponies. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to place a weak stasis spell on your children—it will only last a couple hours and they will be perfectly fine when it wears off. I just fear that if they wake up at any time during our trip they could risk the lives of everyone in the group."
Mr. and Mrs. Cake shared a concerned look for a moment before begrudgingly giving the dragon the go ahead. Whether they liked the idea or not the sound of a foal crying was not something they could allow happening during the trek to Sweet Apple Acres. With the Cake's approval, Spike waved a hoof in front of the two sleeping foals; in an instant the both seemed frozen in time, not a single feature on their tiny faces moving. The second wave cloaked the carriage they lay sleeping in and the third muffled any sound the device would make. Spike turned from the carriage and approached Pinkie and her employers.
"This might feel a bit strange at first—being earth ponies, I'm sure you've had very little magic applied to you in your lifetime. Try to remain calm, and after a few moments the odd sensations will fade away." Spike paused for a moment, giving the three ponies time to prepare themselves.
As they each gave a firm nod Spike rose his hoof yet again and cast the same cloaking and dampening spells he had used on the twins. It was clear that the three earth ponies were more than a bit rattled by the spells; each stumbled about for a bit before finding their feet again. Once they were steady, Spike cleared his throat and addressed them.
"As soon as we leave the door I want complete and total silence. The spells I have in place will only muffle the sounds of movement, they won't do anything to conceal spoken words. From here we will be heading to Rarity's house to pick up her and her family. From there it'll be long trek to Sweet Apple Acres and hopefully to freedom. We'll probably come within arm’s reach of a few griffon patrols during our trip but I need you all to remain as calm as possible." Spike's commanding baritone seemed to have a fortifying effect on his small group as they all gave him strong nods in response.
Rarity's home was only a few blocks away from Sugar Cube Corner but every step seemed to drag on for miles as Spike lead his magically conceal parcel along its course. In what normally would have been a five minute walk normally turned into a thirty minute exercise in Spike's ability to manipulate a given situation. From a patrol squad coming within inches of the group having heard the muffled sound of the foal carriage bumping into a stack of cherry crates, to Spike having to suppress both his and Pinkie's murderous urges to eviscerate a group of griffons that were having their way with a mare that they had caught out past curfew. The entire process had already worn down what little patience Spike had for this extremely tactical operation.
The dragon gave a heavy sigh of relief as he ushered his group into the back door of the Carousel Boutique. Almost instantly the spells shrouding his group vanished and Spike plopped heavily onto Rarity's fainting couch. Normally maintaining such basic spells would have been a secondary thought to him but the tension of the situation seemed to have pulled more energy from him than he had realized. After catching his breath for a moment Spike pushed himself up off the couch and approached Rarity.
"Did you explain to your family and Fluttershy exactly what spells I'd be using on them tonight?" Spike asked in a no-nonsense tone.
"I have and my parents don't think they will have any problems, but Sweetie Belle and Fluttershy have had very little exposure to magic. The poor dears might need time to acclimate to being enchanted." Rarity cast a weary glance at her sister.
Spike eyed the two for a moment before turning back to Rarity. "We still have some time to spare so it shouldn't be an issue. Give me ten minutes to gather everyone into a group would you please?" When Rarity gave him the go ahead he disappeared into the dark, quiet kitchen. The purple stallion sat down in the middle of the room and proceeded to clear his thoughts. It was going to be an even greater toll on his body getting from the Boutique to the farm and if how how he felt now was any indication of his stamina reserves he was was going to have to calm both his body and mind down significantly if he was going to have enough energy left to perform the group teleportation spell.
As his brief meditation period finished Spike reentered the living area of Rarity's shop with a serene look on his face. He raised a hoof and pointed to the middle of the large decorative rug in the middle of the room. Instinctively the group seemed to gravitate toward it and all stood in place.
Spike turned to Sweetie Belle and Fluttershy, "Ok you two, I'm going to cast the cloaking spells now—you will feel a bit disorientated at first but take your time and adjust to the sensation. Everypony else you've all experienced this already so once Sweetie and Shy are adjusted we will make our way to Sweet Apple Acres." Spike didn't wait for a reply as his waved a hoof and placed a series of spells on his group. As expected the two magically uninitiated stumbled around for a bit but within ten minutes they appeared to have gotten used to the sensation. Without a word Spike opened the back door and ushered his flock into the night.
The second leg of the trip proved to be far easier than the first had been. They were more than three quarters of the way to the barn and they hadn't so much as smelled a griffon. It was as they passed the last sign post directing ponies to the orchard that trouble started. The graveyard patrol assigned to the farm was making its way back to town and their path lay dead center with Spike's group. As Spike looked around for options he realized that the section of the path they were on was fenced on each side, getting the Cake twins carriage over it would be impossible without breaking their concealing spells.
Spike took and deep breath and held both his hands out, effectively stopping the groups march. As the startled group of ponies cast question looks at the dragon Spike made his move.
"Get to the farm and get AJ's and the Apples into the barn as soon as you can!" With his declaration made Spike's stallion illusion dropped and he charged the oncoming group of griffon's fangs bared and claws at the ready. With a mighty sweep of the tail Spike managed to knock the griffons off the road and into the foliage, his group seeing the open path quickly sprinted forward, the sudden motion breaking their cloaking spells. With a savage hay maker Spike took the head off the closest guard to him sending the griffons disembodied head sailing into the forest. Before he could react however the remaining three guard piled on top of him talons and beaks searching for vulnerable purchase amongst the dragon scale.
Against his better judgement Spike released a burst of arcane magic that blew his assailants away. As he got to his feet Spike saw one of the guards raising a horn to his beak—with speed that could make lighting look slow Spike extended two fingers and an arcane missile struck the griffon dead center, stopping his alarm. Much to Spikes horror, as he watched the griffon fall he heard the chilling sound of another horn bellowing behind him. One of the two remaining guards had managed to sound off the alarm and it was at this point that Spike honestly began to panic.
In an almost rabid flurry Spike launched himself at the horn blowing griffon, his claws dug deep into the avian creatures throat. With a sharp yank Spike tore out a mass of blood and tissue that once was the griffons voice box. Dropping the crimson mass to the ground Spike leapt through the air at the last remaining patrolmen. Using the momentum of his leap, Spike spun his body as his fist connected with the griffons helm. The combined forces rendered the metal helmet meaningless and the entire upper portion of the griffons body seemed to liquify and splatter onto the ground. Without even taking time to catch his breath Spike sprinted toward the barn, every guard in town was more than likely on their way to his location and it was going to take him more than a moment to perform the teleportation spell.
Applejack paced back and forth across her living room floor, her brother and sister watching her all the while. The nervous pacing was taking its toll on both her siblings and it appeared Big Mac had had his fill of it.
"Would ya sit down already! He told us he'd be here and I ain't never known the little critter to lie before." Big Mac exclaimed
Apple Jack shot her older brother a thousand yard stare before marching up to him. "This ain't some simple party invitation Mac, we put our lives on the line agreeing to this. If Spike messes this up we'll be looking at the gallows!." Aj's frantic tone seemed to resonate a bit with Apple Bloom but it failed to phase the large crimson stallion.
"Ah spent the last twenty years tiptoeing around worrying if what I did would land me in a world of trouble. I don't know about you, Jack, but ahm willing to take this chance if it means gettin’ to make up my own mind about things again. A cowards life is no life to live for an Apple." The large stallion punctuated his argument with a deep huff right into his sisters face.
AJ was about to open her mouth in rebuttal but she was cut off by the sound of the front door being broken down. Into the farmhouse poured a decent sized group of ponies each with terrified expressions. The Apple family snapped to attention and helped their friends back to their booves.
Aj was the first to speak. "What in tarnation is going on here? I thought y'all were supposed ta be showing up all quiet like."
Rarity without missing a beat responded in a panicked tone. "No time! Patrol on the road, Spike attacked them. We have to get to the barn now!" was all the dressmaker was able to get out. The succinct nature of the message resonated immediately with the farm pony and within moments the three families were making a mad dash for the barn. In no time the lock flew off and the entire assembled party stood squarely inside Spike expertly crafted circle.
"What are we supposed to do now Rarity? Spike said he'd be with you all!" AJ shouted in a panic.
"He assured us he'd be here in time to perform the spell before the griffons caught up. Just give him a bit more time I know he'll make it."
Both mares cast a worried glance at the closed barn doors, each hoping that the first thing to come through it would be scaled and not feathered.
Spike continued his mad dash down the path leading to the farm. He had to respect the guard of the town as he was beset almost immediately by reinforcements as he fled the scene of his fight. Despite the toll it was taking on him, Spike was expending magic at a rapid rate assuring that any griffon that saw him was immediately shot out of the air. He couldn't risk being exposed to the griffon higher ups just yet, their lack of knowledge about a skilled dragon prowling their lands was the only thing keeping security to a minimum. Another bolt of lightning erupted from his fingertips as another in a countless stream of charred birds came crashing to the ground.
As Spike exited the treeline the welcoming sight of the bright red farm house filled his vision. Spike slid to an abrupt stop as he reached the fence of the farm and summoned up a great deal of magic. With the snap of his fingers a translucent wall appeared surrounding the area containing the barn and farm house, finally allowing Spike a moment to catch his breath. With supreme effort the dragon forced his feet to move as he charged for the barn doors, as he reached his destination he yanked open the door and saw a group of terrified ponies huddled close together.
Without missing a beat the raised his hands he said, "We don't have much time—everyone stay as still as possible and whatever you do, don't step outside the circle.” Spike stepped inside the teleportation circle he had crafted earlier in the day and began concentrating all of his magic into it. Meanwhile outside the barn countless griffons clawed and pecked away at Spike’s magical dome. The dragon could feel each and every strike against the magical force field as it sapped away more and more of his stamina to sustain it. For the small group in the tiny barn the next five minutes seemed to drag on eons—they could all hear the furious screaming coming from the outside. However their blood only began to run cold when they heard their amethyst savior utter one small phrase.
"The shield is down." Spike choked out breathlessly. He had held out the field for as long as he could but if he wanted to finish the teleportation spell he couldn't waste anymore magic keeping it up. Within moments the sound of splintering wood could be heard coming from the barn door as the griffons hacked away at it with battle axes. Mothers and fathers clutched their sons and daughters and a brother turned to shield his siblings with his body while a lone pegasus cowered behind them all. The whole time a lone dragon ripped every ounce of magic from his body he could to finish his task.
As the final crash echoed through the barn as the doors finally gave way Spike turned his head for just a moment to see a single griffon slip through. He could feel the magic he had been pooling into the circle finally propagate and a single phrase slipped his lips as the group disappeared into the ether.
"You're too late."