The flash of the explosion dissipated, but Spike still found himself in the sphere of energy. Then suddenly, it began to shrink around him. He felt a new energy coarsing in his body. It felt like a million centipedes crawling in his flesh. He realized that the sphere wasn’t shrinking, he was growing! His claws became longer. His arms and legs grew longer and thicker and wings sprouted from his back. The spell was working. As he grew, his body mass shifted and he fell on all fours. He held himself tight, so as not to touch the energy sphere again. Just as he thought he could no longer stand the horrible, crawling feeling in his flesh, the sphere flashed, then dissipated away.
He fell on the ground, exhausted. He breathed in heavily, blinking his eyes and adjusting to the darkness. He looked at his claws and arms. He was bigger. He stood up on his hind legs. Judging from his distance from the ground, he guessed he was at least five times taller than he had been. It was just what he wanted.
But then, something else occurred to him. How long had all that taken? To him, it had felt like a minute, but it was now dark. Panic struck him. Had he missed Twilight’s birthday party? She would be miffed if he had but if it wasn’t yet midnight, he could still surprise her.
There was something else. Where was he? He looked around and didn’t recognize anything. He seemed to be in a park. And nearby was a town. One at least twice as large as Ponyville. Nopony was around, which made him worry that it was very late. He shouted out, “Hello?”
Flames shot from his mouth, surprising him. He covered his mouth and made sure he hadn’t set anything on fire. This was a new ability he would have to learn to control. He tried again, “Hello?” He spoke quietly at first, then louder and louder until he could feel a fire reflex in the back of his throat. He shouted out as loud as he dared, but no pony answered. He walked around, trying to find any clue of where he was.
A figure flew high above him. Taking a second glance, he recognized the silhouette of a Pegasus against the night sky. Whoever it was, they were too far to hear him. So he got away from the trees and let out a burst of flames. That should get their attention, he thought.
It did. The Pegasus circled around and headed toward him. But as it drew near, he realized that it wasn’t a Pegasus, but an alicorn. There were only three alicorns in Equestria and he knew them all. He waved and shouted out again, letting the flames fly. The alicorn picked up speed and darted straight for him, but his relief turned to puzzlement. The alicorn was wearing armor, and whoever this was, they were too dark to be Princess Celestia or Cadence and not dark enough to be Princess Luna.
The alicorn’s horn glowed and fired an energy bolt at him. Spike ducked instinctively. He was too far to make it to any cover before the second bolt hit. “Hey!” he shouted, unintentionally letting out another flame blast.
“Stand down, dragon!” shouted the alicorn. “What are your intentions and how did you make it this far into Equestria without being detected?”
Spike froze. The Alicorn was now much closer. He recognized that voice and the purple coat of hair under the armor. And there was no mistaking the bangs sprouting out from under the helmet. “Twilight?”
Twilight continued to hover in the air. “Yes, I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, General of the Royal Army.”
“Twilight, it’s me. I know I look different, but…”
“Have we met before, dragon? What is your name?”
Twilight hovered silently for a moment. She descended and landed about thirty feet in front of him. Finally, he thought. But to his surprise, she was not surprised.
“Very well, Spike. I can see that you are a young dragon.” She remained distant and on her guard. “Drop whatever your mission was here and I will allow you to return home in peace, but I give you this message to take back with you. Your generation and the generations before you have been lied to. Your leader, Vilmax, started this war and has been perpetuating it for his own gain. I will admit I was not at my best at the summit so long ago. I let my anger get the best of me and I played into his claws. But ask yourself this: have we ponies ever tried to claim any of your land? Have we even taken a battle into your land? You will find the answer is no. If you don’t believe me, then try to find one dragon among you that remembers the ponies attacking first. For thousands of years dragonkind and ponykind lived in peace. That is all we wish to return to. Now go. I shall arrange an escort of safe passage for you.” Twilight lifted her head and shot out a purple lightning bolt.
“What are you talking about?” Spike stood up on his hind legs and walked toward her. “And what’s with the armor and when did you get wings? What’s going on, Twilight?”
Twilight stepped back cautiously. “Do not play games with me, dragon! Now, accept my offer before I change my mind.”
“But, Twilight, it’s me, Spike! Your Spike. You know, you’re Number One Assistant.”
Twilight’s eyes narrowed and her teeth clenched. She jumped into the air and shouted in a voice Spike had only heard Princess Luna use. “HOW DARE YOU TRY TO USE THAT NAME AGAINST ME!”
“Huh?” Spike stuttered. Before he could put together a coherent thought, Twilight shot down bolts at him again.
“DO NOT PLAY GAMES WITH ME. I WILL NOT BE SO EASILY FOOLED!“
“Twilight, it’s really me! Please stop!”
Twilight circled him and continued to shout, “DO YOU THINK YOU CAN TRICK ME? MY SPIKE WAS A BABY WHEN I LOST HIM. YOU ARE NOT. EXPLAIN THAT IF YOU ARE SO CLEVER.”
Spike shouted out, “Time Watcher’s studies on Temporal Manipulation!”
Twilight paused in mid flight. How would a dragon know about that book, she thought. There were very few copies left in Equestria and she knew where each one of them was. But there was another big flaw in the dragon’s answer. “EVEN WITH THAT BOOK, NO DRAGON HAS THE MAGICAL ABILITY TO USE THOSE SPELLS. THIS GAME OF YOURS IS POINTLESS!”
“Magical Manipulation!” Spike shouted back.
Twilight scanned the sky for more dragons. This still had to be a trap. “WHAT?”
“An ancient book on Magical Manipulation. I built up my dragon breath into a big ball of magic and powered Time Watcher’s spell!”
Twilight paused in the air. This could only be a trap, yet, it was too well thought out. The dragons were powerful and strong, but they had never been this clever. The purple lightning bolt she shot out would call in all the Royal Guards in the area. She wished they would arrive soon. She could not afford to let her guard down. Yet, she felt her resolve weakening.
She landed twenty feet from the cowering dragon. Her horn glowed white as she illuminated the clearing. Purple scales and green spikes. The dragons had done that part of their research correctly. She spoke again in a normal voice. “My Spike would not have known enough of magical theory to make such a complex spell work.”
“Why not?” he protested.
She had him, she thought to herself. “Spike was not a student of magic.”
“Twilight! I studied almost everything you did. I even took down half of your notes!”
Twilight gasped. She hadn’t thought of that. She had never thought of that. Her heart began to race. Could she allow herself to consider… She brought to mind the patrol schedule. Hurry, Sure Hoof, she though, I need you!
Cautiously, she drew closer. She walked around him, but he turned with her. “If you are indeed my friend, Spike, then do what no enemy of mine would do. Turn your back to me and sit down.”
Silently, he obeyed. Twilight was weakening, but she was no fool. She cast a spell, trapping his tail to the ground before she approached his back. He began to turn his head.
“Eyes forward, Dragon!” She commanded. He obeyed.
She came close and levitated a small heart-shaped locket out from under her breast plate. She opened it. On one side was a picture of the baby dragon she had raised. On the other, a single, purple dragon scale. She carefully searched his back. What she found made her tremble. On a spot just above his tail, three scales were missing. She held up the single scale from the locket. It was smaller, but the shape and coloring were right. Her breath became short and shallow. Her face paled and her eyes widened. She placed the scale back into the locket and backed away.
She examined the dragon before her, five times her size. If this was a trap, Sure Hoof would be there soon to rescue her. But her mind was far from that. She could feel the sweat run down the back of her mane. On unsteady hooves, she circled around to face him and released his tail.
All she could do was stare up at him. The pieces were almost together. But after so much time, how could she be sure? Then she thought of something. Something personal her Spike would know. In fact, only one other Princess and a Prince would have known.
Her voice was shaky. If this was a trap, this dragon would know she had fallen for it. But if it wasn’t…
“Dragon,” she started. “If you are truly my Spike, then answer me this: Sunshine, sunshine, lady bugs awake…”
With the appropriate claw and tail jesters, he responded. “Clap your hooves and give a little shake.”
She gasped and staggered back. She couldn’t move. For the second time in her life her reality had been completely changed. “Spike? Spike! SPIKE!” She threw off her helmet, galloped into his arms, throwing her hooves around his muscular neck. “It’s you! It’s really you! My Celestia, it’s really you!”
Confused, Spike held her as she cried. “Yeah, it’s me. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. But Twilight, what’s going on? Where are we?”
She pulled away enough to look him in the eyes. “You don’t know, do you?”
She climbed down from his embrace and stood in front of him. She tried to remember as much of Time Watcher’s spell as she could. “Spike, how many years did you try to age yourself?”
“A hundred and fifty.”
Twilight put a hoof across her eyes and fought to keep from crying again. “No, Spike, no!” As she remembered more of the spell, she became more agitated. She paced in front of Spike. Her wings shivered as the horror of that day so long ago came back to her. In a strained voice, she managed to ask, “That spell, it must have seemed like a couple of seconds to you?”
He could sense building anger in her voice, “More like a minute or so.”
Her whole body was shaking, now. She fought to control herself, “Time Watcher’s calculations were flawed. It may have seemed like a minute to you, but it took you out of linear time.”
Spike looked at her in confusion. “Twilight, I don’t understand.”
“It’s been a hundred and fifty years, Spike!” She yelled out. “One-Hunderd-And-Fifty-Years!”
Spike froze, his mind refusing to comprehend what she was telling him.
She pointed a hoof to the nearby town, “That’s Ponyville, Spike! A hundred and fifty years after you left. It’s been burned down and rebuild twice! But it always survives and always flourishes.”
Spike began to tremble. “Ponyville? That’s Ponyville?” Despite his new size, he felt like a small dragon in big trouble.
Twilight turned back to face him. “What I don’t understand is why? Why were you in such a hurry to grow up? You never said you were!”
“No,” Spike said trying to explain himself. “That wasn’t it. Well, not exactly.”
Twilight began to cry again. “Then what? What was so important that you would leave me?”
“I didn’t mean to…”
“I thought you died!” She yelled out. “You blew up the library and I thought you died in it!” Twilight collapsed to the ground, crying uncontrollable.
Slowly, Spike approached her. He reached out a claw to her, but she slapped it away.
“After all we’ve been through, after all we shared, how could you leave me like that? I was never suppose to know a day without you! It broke my heart, Spike. How could you do that to me?”
“I didn’t mean to do any of that. I swear!” Spike backed away, not knowing what else to do.
Twilight tried to control her breathing. She looked up to Spike and spoke through gritted teeth, “I just want to know why Spike. What was so important that you’d try such a dangerous spell on yourself? You never even asked me about it!”
Spike stuttered. In all his life he had never seen Twilight so angry at him. “To… To give you that ride.”
“On my back. You know, to pay you back for all the times I rode on your back.”
Twilight stared up at him, not remembering what he was talking about.
“Remember when we came back from the Crystal Empire? And we had that picnic with everyone? That night I said when I was bigger you’d ride on my back. But, you said you wouldn’t live long enough.”
“No.” It all came back to her, that night and that conversation. “No. Are you telling me that’s what this is all about? You did this because of that stupid promise?”
“It wasn’t stupid to me,” he tried to explain. “And with your birthday coming up…”
Twilight interrupted him and she shouted out, “You ruined my life. I don’t even celebrate my birthday anymore! It was the day… It was the day you died!” She turned away, not being able to face him anymore. All the pain of that day flooded over her again. Were it not for a hundred and fifty years of studies, it would have overtaken her as it had before.
Spike’s heart sank as tears welled up in his eyes. He had wanted to give her the biggest surprise he could. Instead, he had hurt her more than he could ever imagine. And there was no going back. No undoing the pain he had caused the one he loved the most.
He slowly approached her again.
“Don’t.” She whispered without turning around. “Just leave me alone.”
“JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Spike backed off. He watched her cry, not knowing what to do. There was nothing he could to do comfort her, he was the cause of her pain. Finally, he whispered, “I’m sorry,” and turned away. He sulked off, having nowhere to go and no one to turn to. The darkness of the night could not compare to the darkness he felt in his heart.
Twilight lifted her head and watched him leave. This encounter had answered many old questions, but none in the way she would have expected. The Royal Sisters had gone over the crater again and again, but could not determine what that lingering magical aura was. They considered an enemy attack, something unstable beneath the library, but noting fit the circumstances. They even asked Discord if it was chaos magic, but even he had had no clue.
No one considered that Spike could have caused it himself. In the end, the only thing that mattered was that he was gone. Now, despite her rage and her pain, the only thing that really mattered was that he was back. She got up and turned to face him, “Spike, wait.”
He froze, not daring to turn around.
“I’m sorry, too. I didn’t mean it. Please don’t go!” She threw off her armor, ran to him and threw her hooves around his neck again. “I know it was an accident, you didn’t mean to leave me! I really am glad to see you again. You have no idea, Spike. No idea!”
He held her as they cried together at their reunion. From the blasts she had fired at him, Spike could tell she had become much more powerful. But as he held her in his arms, she seemed so small and delicate. He caressed her cheek with an oversized claw and wiped away a tear.
He sat up on his hind legs and was suddenly hit on the back. He staggered, almost losing his balance. He was hit from the opposite side, causing him to fall over. He rolled over, protecting Twilight from harm. He looked up. Before him was a unicorn in full armor.
The unicorn’s horn glowed as he shot at Spike. He instinctively covered Twilight with his wings.
Spike took a deep breath, readying to fire blast the unicorn, but Twilight put a hoof to his lower jaw, stopping him. “Spike, don’t!”
“Release the Princess!” shouted the unicorn.
“We’re at war with the dragons,” explained Twilight.
“What dragons?” asked Spike.
“All of them. They think you’re attacking me!” She jumped out of his arms and stood between him and the two unicorns that were now in front of them.
“Stand down, Sure Hoof,” she ordered. “I’m fine.”
The second unicorn, Morning Star, positioned himself to fire at Spike.
“Step aside, Princess! We’ll handle this dragon.”
She opened her wings, blocking Spike from them. “I COMMAND YOU TO STAND DOWN!” she turned her attention to the sky. “FLYERS, ON THE GROUND, NOW!”
The two Pegasus that had struck Spike landed, along with a third one that had just arrived. The five Royal Guards surrounded Twilight and Spike.
Sure Hoof and the others were confused. He turned his head slightly as he stared at his General. “Princess,” he said as he held out a hoof to her.
Twilight lifted a hoof, but held it out to Spike instead. She lowered a wing to let him approach and he took her hoof in his claw.
The Guards stiffened, ready to attack.
“Captain Sure Hoof, everypony, this dragon is a friend. He is also a citizen of Equestria and you will afford him all rights and protections thereof. I command it.”
The Captain looked at Twilight suspiciously, “Princess, you were found without your armor in the clutches of this Dragon. How is he a friend and a citizen of Equestria?”
“This is Spike. My Spike. The one I’ve told you about.”
The Guards did not move. Sure Hoof took a step closer. “Your Spike is dead. You said so yourself.”
“I know, but I was wrong,” Twilight explained. “He used one of Time Watcher’s spells to bring him here and now.”
Sure Hoof was not only a Captain in the Royal Guard, but also a brilliant student of Twilight’s. What Twilight was telling him now did not fit in with what she had taught him. “Those spells are based on misunderstandings of temporal magic. Is that not what you said?”
“Yes, I did say that, but…”
“And a baby dragon was able to manipulate this spell?”
Twilight hung her head. She knew where this was going. “Yes, Captain. That is what I’m saying.”
Sure Hoof looked around at the other Guards who now looked to him for guidance. He took a few steps back and they did the same. “Princess, we have stood down as you commanded. Now I must ask you to approach me.”
Spike looked around at the Guards still ready to attack. If Twilight was their General, why did it look like they were not standing down. “Twilight, what’s going on?”
“Give me a moment,” she said to the Captain. Then she turned to Spike. “Spike, after you left, I went back to Canterlot. I was going to return when the new library was built, but I never did. It was just too painful to return. Instead, I buried myself in my studies and forgot most of what I learned about friendship. Then there was unrest among the dragons. Their self-proclaimed leader, Vilmax, challenged our right to the lands of Equestria. Princess Celestia sent me to meet with their envoy. But instead of being patient, I forgot about extending the hand of friendship and let him make me angry. That gave him the fuel he needed to start a war.”
“I guess that was my fault,” said Spike.
“No, Spike, it was mine,” countered Twilight. “I should have never left Ponyville. Instead of letting our friends heal me, I left and let my grief destroy me. Afterwards, I did go back and reconnect with everyone. Their children started calling me Aunt Twilight, and in time, their children. But it was too late. The on-and-off war had started. The last attack was ten years ago. We’re still not sure what they wanted to accomplish, it seemed too half hearted on their part. Now there are rumors of an even bigger attack.”
“But, Twilight, you told me that if somepony is set on causing trouble they’ll find an excuse to do it.”
“That’s true, Spike. But Vilmax had witnesses to my anger. And that’s what he points to whenever he needs to rally his army. That’s why these Guards won’t trust you. Nopony would.”
“So what are we going to do?”
Twilight sighed. “There’s only one thing I can do. Isn’t that right, Captain?”
Sure Hoof brought himself to attention. “By your own orders, Princess, I must ask you to submit to Security Protocol Four. If you refuse, I must relieve you of your command.”
Spike sat up. “What does he mean by that?”
“It means he needs to make sure I haven’t been hypnotized or otherwise compromised."
“Can the dragons do that?”
“They’ve done a lot if things we wouldn’t have thought they could. They have taken on allies like the Griffins and Changelings only to turn and destroy them later,” she explained. “Listen, Spike. This is going to be very unpleasant for me. But no matter what happens, you need to stay here and do nothing. Do you understand?“
Spike rose above Twilight and glared at Sure Hoof, but he finally acquiesced, “Okay, Twilight. If you say so.”
Twilight hugged Spike, then walked over to Sure Hoof. She sat down in front of him, “I’m ready, Captain.”
The Captain nodded to Morning Star who projected a containment field over Spike. Sure Hoof then shot a beam from his horn into her forehead. Twilight screamed from the pain and nearly fell over.
Spike stood up, “Hey!”
Twilight held out a hoof. “No, Spike, don’t!”
She took labored breaths as Sure Hoof scanned her mind. She shut her eyes tight and withstood the pain.
Sure Hoof moved in closer and probed deeper.
Twilight wanted to blast him away. But knew if she did, she would never be trusted again. She gasped, “Captain, you’re hurting me!”
Sure Hoof said not a word, but continued his scan.
The pain brought Twilight to her knees. But even with her brain being peeled open, she could hear Spike growl. “Captain! Is that not enough?”
“Not if I am to continue to obey your orders,” he replied.
She let out a scream that Spike could no longer tolerate. He bashed himself against the energy field, trying to get out.
Then suddenly, Sure Hoof’s eyes opened in astonishment. He stopped his scan.
Twilight fell, exhausted. She struggled for breath as she held her head with booth hooves.
Sure Hoof took several steps back and bowed before Twilight. “My General, forgive me! Release the drag…” He stopped himself. “Release Spike!”
Morning Star lowered the field. Spike bumped him forcefully as he ran to Twilight’s side.
The Guards gathered around, not believing what they witnessed. They had all grown up in fear of the dragons. They had been trained to fight to the death. Never had they expected to see a dragon cradle a pony so lovingly in his arms. Nor a pony, especially their General, allow herself to be held by a dragon without any fear or hesitation.
“Water, please,” Twilight requested.
Morning Star opened his saddle bag and levitated a canteen to Spike. He grabbed it out of the air and brought it to her.
Helplessly she pawed for it as he growled at Morning Star. “Spike, help me. I’m blind.”
“What?” he yelled as he shifted his anger towards Sure Hoof.
“It’s all right. Hypnosis can be done through the visual cortex,” She explained. “My sight will come back.” She desperately drained the canteen of its contents, then rested her head against Spike’s neck. Her sight slowly returned.
She saw Sure Hoof still prostrate in front of them. She lowered herself out of Spike’s lap and tried to stand. The best she could do was sit as Spike steadied her. “Captain, there is no need for that. Arise, please.”
Sure Hoof obeyed, keeping his head down. “I accept any punishment you deem appropriate.”
Twilight smiled. Her strength was returning. She took cautious steps toward him. “There is no need for that, either. You faithfully followed my orders under stressful circumstances. I could feel through our connection that it was very difficult for you.”
Twilight had had enough of these formalities. The crises was over. She put a gentle hoof under his chin and raised his head. She winced slightly as her horn glowed and she removed his helmet. “Sure Hoof, don’t hide your face from me. You’re not just the Captain of my personal Guard, you’re my dear friend and faithful student. I’m very proud of you.” She put a hoof around his neck and hugged him.
“Thank you, Twilight. I’m sorry for the pain I caused you.” As they broke the embrace, he looked up to Spike. “And I apologize to you as well, Mr. Spike.”
He was amazed to see the young dragon smiling at him and offering a closed claw to bump. Any remaining anger had drained away from Spike as he had watched their exchange. He remembered the wise words Twilight had taught him, the friend of my friend is also my friend. “It’s just Spike,” he responded.
“But I do have something I wish you to do for me,” continued Twilight. “Go directly to Palace Canterlot and give Princess Luna an eye witness report on all that has happened here.“ She looked up at Spike as she put a hoof on his shoulder. “And tell her I’m bringing Spike home.”