"Spike are you sure you’re ready to be up and around? You were asleep for nearly thirty hours after you teleported back here," Twilight asked, her voice thick with concern.
"I don't have much of a choice Twilight. I screwed things up royally during my botched rescue. The griffons know that there is a dragon wandering around Equestria now freeing ponies. They are going to start ramping up security all over Equestria now, not to mention trying to track me down and kill me. I need to work as fast as possible to free as many ponies as I can," Spike barked as he flopped back in his chair.
"Speaking of the killing me part, Lyra, of the ponies we've liberated thus far how many could you find that were capable of martial combat?" Spike said, glancing at the mint coated unicorn.
"Of those here at the castle I have managed to find six expert level Still way practitioners, two expert level Vortex Style specialists and, much to my surprise and to our luck, one Shattered Stone master. I have assembled them into what I affectionately refer to as the ‘Still Guard.’”
Spike smirked at the mint green unicorn. "Well, it's a decent start. Have them section off into groups and start instructing all those willing to learn. We need to build a fighting force if we want to win this country back. I can't take on an entire kingdom on my own."
He turned to Twilight, "On a non militaristic note, how are our friends adjusting to the new living conditions?"
"Its a mixed bag really, Rarity and Sweetie Belle are doing fine, although Rarity seems to be a bit pale and shaky. Pinkie and the Cakes seem to be the best off; they’ve taken over kitchen duty and little Rum and Angel are doing just fine. AJ seems to be the only one having trouble. She’s completely paranoid about the griffons finding us and punishing her and her family for running away."
Spike shifted in his makeshift bed, "Rarity should be alright in a few more days. Shes likely suffering from withdrawals. We can't do much for AJ at the moment other than reassure her that things are going to work out." Spike braced himself and sat up, swinging his legs off the bed and planting them on the ground.
"What do the supplies look like?" Spike asked turning to Twilight.
"We've used up the majority of the food we took from the camp and our foraging attempts have been less than successful. The way things are going now, we could probably last another four or five days," Twilight replied, face buried in what Spike could only assume was a log book.
The dragon took a deep breath and stood up, his body protesting the whole way. He used to think himself indestructible, but his recent crusade against the Griffon kingdom had opened his eyes to just how mortal he really was. His body ached from the constant strain of combat and the limited time he allowed himself to rest.
"Spike you shouldn't be out of bed right now!" Twilight protested, rushing to his side.
"I don't have a choice Twi. If I don't forge ahead we'll end up right back where we started. While I was in Ponyville, I heard whispers of a rebel force taking refuge in the Shifting Smoke Mountains. I've recovered enough strength to make the flight and I intend to scout the area and see if there is indeed a group willing to fight back. I shouldn't be more than a day, I'll renew the protection spells on the castle and be back before they fall off." The conviction in Spike's voice left no room for rebuttal.
"Meanwhile, everypony here will be you two's responsibility. At the very least we should have a few more days before they even think to search this deep into the Everfree."
Both unicorns nodded as the dragon spread his wings and gave them a mighty flap. They watched silently as he climbed into the mid afternoon sky, something about the lean powerful body calming their worried minds.
Spike soared over the Shifting Smoke Mountains, taking in every remote detail he could. His first two passes had turned up no signs of habitation. As he finished his third unsuccessful pass he landed to collect his thoughts.
This is pointless; if a simple fly by could have found them, they would have easily been caught by now. Either they aren't here or there has to be more to it. Suddenly, an idea came to Spike. He focused his mind and cast a very familiar spell to him.
The dragon flew over the mountain pass once more, this time with a detect life spell in place. The way Spike figured it, there wouldn't be any visible entry ways into the mountain if it was indeed being used as a base because they would immediately arise suspicion. He was nearly half way over the mountain chain when he spotted a myriad of faint orange lights inside its core. He paused for a moment, hovering in the air while trying to determine exactly how deep into the mountain the lights were.
"Well, I do like to make an entrance." Spike flapped his wings and shot a few dozen yards upward before diving back down to earth. As he approached the rocky mountain surface his tucked his wings in and cast an empowered burning hands spell. The extreme heat his hands were now emitting effortless liquified the rock as he dove into the mountain side.
Colonel Crimson Skies stood over a map of northern Equestria when his silent contemplation was abruptly ended as the door to his office burst open.
"This had better be important, private, or I'm throwing you from the top of the mountain with your wings fastened to your sides."
Once inside the room, the private stood at attention with a file in his outstretched wing. "The intel report from the recent incident in Ponyville, sir."
"Well it's about bloody time. Give me the run down private.." Colonel Skies snatched the offered file and slapped it open on his desk.
"It appears that the individual responsible for freeing the prisoners at facility 87 was the one behind this incident as well. It appears to have been a covert rescue mission unlike the full scale liberation at the facility. The only ponies missing from town were the remaining free elements of harmony and their families."
Skies nodded while scanning the file, "Well, whoever this guy is he's pretty damn good. We could really use a pony like him in the rebellion."
"About that, sir. It appears that the vigilante in question isn't actually a pony."
Skies looked up from his desk, "Are we talking about some kind of rogue griffon here? Last I checked, we weren't exactly doing well in the ally department."
"According to reports from the soldiers who responded to the alarm, it appears the ally in question is actually a dragon, sir."
"You want to run that by me again, private?" Skies said, an eyebrow raised in question.
"You heard correctly sir, all reports seem to indicate that a dragon is behind both rescue attempts. It does resolve most of our questions about how facility 87 was cleaned up so neatly. Dragons are an incredibly powerful race it would stand to reason one could wipe out an entire barracks full of guards single-handedly."
Skies sat in silence for a moment, absorbing the information.
"Get our scouts together. I have a new assignment for them. Tell them to assemble in the briefing room."
With that, the Colonel stormed out of the room, leaving his private still at attention. It wouldn't take long for his orders to be carried out and he wanted to get the gears turning on his new project as quickly as possible.
Moments later, Skies stood in the large open cavern they used as a briefing room as a dozen or so pegasi assembled in front of him. As they finished forming ranks he stepped up on the makeshift podium that was little more than a stack of crates.
"I've gathered you all here on such short notice because I have a new assignment for the entire scout division."
There was a quite murmur in the group as the Colonel continued.
"Our latest intel report has brought to our attention a powerful potential ally that appears to be hiding somewhere in Equestria. A Dragon, folks, is what I'm referring to. He or she appears to be the one responsible for both the destruction of facility 87 in the north and the recent commotion in Ponyville. Now, because of the nature of our little shit show here its rather difficult to find us, and while this is a bad thing for our enemies it’s also a bad thing for anyone looking to join up with us. This dragon might very well be trying do just that, seeing as how they have freed more of our kinsman in the past month then we have in the past year."
The Colonel stepped down and paced along the front line of scouts.
"As of now, I want all of you to start looking for this dragon, and when found bring him here for a meeting. If his goals do indeed align with ours he could be an immensely powerful ally."
It was at this time that a voice called out from the group.
"Any idea where we should begin looking sir?"
Skies turned his head to the voice. "Sadly, we have next to no idea where this individual could be, which is why I'm making it the priority of the entire scouting division. We have enough eyes and wings here to cover most of Equestria if well coordinated and it is of the ut---"
The Colonel was cut off mid sentence by a rumbling of the earth. Before anyone could react, the ceiling above the briefing hall exploded in a shower of dust and rock and the ground shook a second, more forceful time as if something had impacted it.
"SOUND THE ALARM, WERE UNDER ATTACK!" shouted Skies and he beat his wings, trying to disperse the smokescreen of sand and gravel.
"That won't be necessary; I'm just here to talk," came an unfamiliar voice from the fog. What came next was the sound of snapping.
A burst of air came from nowhere and immediately cleared out the room. Standing there below the massive hole in the ceiling was a tower of a purple dragon.
The dragon looked at the group of slack jawed ponies and smirked. "You see, I'm here to join the rebellion."
Spike landed in the castle courtyard around early morning and rushed to his office. He practically tore the ancient doors of their hinges as he barged in, huddled around his desk were Twilight and Lyra looking over what appeared to be a map.
Twilight turned in shock. "Spike, what are you doing? What’s with the rush?"
"I found the rebels, Twi. They’re currently setting up shop in the Smokey Mountains. We need to get everything and everyone packed and ready to move out. Once we meet up with them we'll actually be able to start making some moves. You two start waking everyone up and getting things packed, I need to gather the mine carts together and start casting a few enchantments."
Lyra and Twilight nodded and took off into the castle proper as Spike opened an old chest he had been using to store magical paraphernalia.
Spike rose up with a groan as he completed the final enchantment on the stolen minecarts. While not an overly intensive enchantment, casting so many feather-weight spells was at the very least an endurance trial. He paused to catch his breath as he eyed the camp; ponies were scattered everywhere packing and storing various equipment and supplies. Now that they knew of where to find the Crimson Wing rebellion it was imperative that they reach the smokey mountains as soon as possible.
He spotted Lyra and Twilight carefully packing what meager magical paraphernalia they possessed and hastily made his way over to them.
“Is this really all the reagents we have left?” The distress in his voice seemed infectious to the two mares.
Lyra was the first to respond. “I’m sorry, Spike, but there wasn’t much to take from the camp and we found very little in the surrounding area.”
Spike frowned. There were barely enough materials to prepare sufficient defensive wards, let alone renew the enchantments on the carts.
“We can’t waste any time on this trip, then. We have at most twelve hours before the enchantments wear off and after that we will have to traverse the mountains on foot.”
Lyra and Twilight shared an uneasy look before returning their attention to the dragon.
“Just finish packing everything and be ready to move at noon. I don’t wish to linger here any longer than we have to.”
The mares nodded and returned to their appointed tasks. Although the pace was a bit more grueling than Spike would have liked, they managed to pack up by noon and were ready to set out.
Spike stepped out in front of the large group and called for attention.
“Firstly I’m proud of all of you for preparing for this march so quickly, I know it hasn’t been easy but it was imperative that it be done as quickly as possible. Our destination is the Smokey Mountains—I shall lead the group, along with Lyra Heartstrings and Twilight Sparkle. Keep the formation tight and call out if anyone seems to be falling behind, I won’t stand for anypony to be left behind.”
As Spike was about to give the order for the Pegasi towing the carts to take off there was an explosion of dirt and stone as the outer walls of the ruined castle disintegrated. In an instant no less than a hundred griffons flooded into the area.
“EVERYONE FLY NOW! GET OUT OF HERE,” Spike screamed as he was swarmed by griffons.
Carts took off flying into the mid afternoon sun while the sounds of clashing metal and the humming of arcane magic resounded behind them. Spike leap into the fray without pause, his claws ripping through the throats of two griffons as he plowed his way into the avian lines. To his right, three griffons were lifted off the ground encased in a golden magical aura, clawing at their throats as if something were strangling them. A few feet away stood Lyra, her horn alight in a golden glow. With a flick of her head, her victims were embedded into the stony walls of the castle.
With a deep breath, Spike turned his attention to the wave of griffons rushing his way, and with a wave of his hand a dark circle materialized on the ground. With supreme effort, Spike completed the spell and no less than ten griffons collapsed to the ground without a word. It was then he noticed the several griffons taking to the air, having abandoned dealing with the dragon and turned their eyes on easier prey.
Spike called out to Lyra. “Lyra, you hold the ground defense! I have to protect the carts.”
With that he flexed his wings and shot off into the air, pushing his wings to their limit as he desperately tried to catch up with the fleeing ponies. In the blink of an eye he caught up to a griffon and, with a feral growl, he extended a claw and quite literally clotheslined the beast in two using just his speed and velocity. Aerial combat was not his strong suit, but the combination of adrenaline and need was pushing his abilities into uncharted areas.
As the dragon darted from griffon to griffon, taking out as many as he could, he simply could not keep them all away from the fleeing ponies by himself. Almost thirty yards ahead of him a pegasus towing a cart was side swiped by a griffon and fell plummeting to the ground. His blood boiled as he watched the cart full of ponies fall crashing down to their deaths, his inability to help them only fueling his blood lust.
With renewed vigor he pushed himself harder, straining his muscles further. His claws no longer factored into the equation of death, bolts of arcane energy flew in an omnidirectional pattern. The dragons rage was nearly palpable in the air, the unicorns in the group all clutched their heads as they were bombarded by the raw magic pooling in the air.
On the ground Lyra and the few unicorns she had assembled as the Still Guard had been back into a corner. The griffon numbers were overwhelming while her forces were meager to begin with.
“Lady Lyra, what are we going to do?” gasped a breathless unicorn.
“We do what we must, we have to buy as much time as we can. We are the Still Guard. We stand unmoving, unflinching in the face of all opposition,” cried the mint coated unicorn.
Suddenly the entire group of unicorns were encased in a brilliant golden, they each looked to their commander and saw the mares eyes awash in a blinding white light. One by one the griffons before the group were crushed into the ground by the overwhelming power of the unicorn mare.
“This is the last thing I can do for you Spike... save them for me.”
Lyra let out a mighty scream as a golden explosion enveloped the ruined castle.
All aerial combat ceased for a few brief moments as the shockwave from the ground overcame them. Spike looked down at the ruins of the castle with a panicked stare. Oh, Lyra no, the dragon thought to himself as the brilliant golden light receded. It was then that the unspeakable happened. While Spike and the brunt of his defensive forces were distracted a single griffon had penetrated the inner line. The sound that snapped them all out of their daze was not the resumption of combat, but the meek cry of a pink maned pegasus.
There hovering in the air was Fluttershy, a glistening steel sword impaled through her stomach. It was then that time seemed to slow to a crawl. Spike simply stood jaw agape, Twilight and the rest of the elements cried out in unison, and one cyan pegasus simply looked on with a blank face. No one spoke, the cries from the elements were choked in their throats. Time seemed to stand still.
The sky shattered.
In what could more aptly be called an act of teleportation rather than flying, a cyan coated pegasus appeared next to the fallen mare. The griffon responsible for her injury seemingly evaporated into nothingness.
“Fluttershy stay with me, you’ll be ok, we can get you to Twilight and she’ll fix you right up I know she can.”
There floating in the air cradling the blood soaked Fluttershy was Rainbow Dash.
The pink maned pegasus coughed up a small amount of blood and looked up at her friend.
“O-oh Dash -cough- I’m so glad.” Her speech was interrupted by another fit of coughing up blood.
“No you stay with me Shy, we can’t let it end like this. We’ve been together since we were fillies, we have to be together until were old mares.” Rainbow buried her face in her friends mane and cried.
As everything was unfolding Spike sat floating in the air, watching in a stunned stupor. He let a friend die—he had sworn to himself he would see all his friends return to their lives and now one of them was gone forever. It was then, watching Rainbow Dash cradle her dying friend in her hooves while the rest of his friends sobbed with her that something snapped within him.
Twilight was the first to notice the disturbance; she could practically taste the raw magic pooling in the air. Her eyes snapped to Spike whose body was shaking with visible tremors as raw arcane magic crackled around him. Her eyes went wide when she finally processed the gravity of the magic he was gathering.
She cried out to the rest of the group. “EVERYONE, WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!”
The sudden shout from Twilight seemed to snap everyone out of their collective stupor. With renewed vigor the pegasi pushed themselves forward. Little did they know, their efforts were not required.
Spike out stretched both his arms and out from his body shot a massive circle. Once the circle had encompassed all the ponies in the area he brought his hands together and in an instant they all vanished. He then turned his attention to the various griffons still inhabiting the area. With a mighty roar he brought his hands together in front of him. In short order a blinding white ball formed in front of his outstretched hands. This wasn’t some spell or incantation—this ball was a mass of raw, primal arcane energy.
Dragons cast spells by channeling the raw magics from the world into their bodies and then refining them and manipulating them into spells. However, a skilled enough dragon could with enough effort simply pool the raw magic in the air into their body and direct it unrefined at any target they desired. This was the attack Spike was preparing now. Pure, unrefined primal arcane magic in all of its majesty and horror.
“Iejir ihk Iejir.”
With that, the massive ball of white magic shot toward the ground faster than any being in the area could have escaped.
There was no sound, no shockwave, only a blinding white flash that extended for miles. When all was said and done the only thing remaining was a massive crater. Spike gazed upon the scene below him with eyes half open; not a single living thing remained. The griffons, the castle, the forest, it had all been annihilated. It was with a heavy sigh that Spike’s body finally gave out. He wasn’t sure what would happen to him, but he gave into the blackness knowing his master would not let his friends go wanting.