“I’m so scared,” Spike said. He trembled beside the bejeweled, golden chariot.
“Oh, the places we’ll go, Spike!” Rarity said. Her wild green eyes swam with a power not her own. Her horn flared the same sickly green as her eyes. “Manehattan! Fillydelphia! Canterlot!” She punctuated each city with yet another chariot—or Rariot, as the case was.
Rarity turned her manic stare on Spike. The pit of his stomach fell away as she reached out and hugged him close. “And there you’ll be by my side!” she mused. “Just as you’ve always been here in Ponyville, your constant praise and adoration driving me to even greater heights!” She turned from him to gaze over the transformed Ponyville. “From city to city we’ll go, creating more and more and more until there isn’t an inch of Equestria that hasn’t been utterly transformed! By my! Creative! Genius!”
Her horn flashed again, and the ground beneath them became a blindingly bright golden road. Trees and bushes and flowers around them were all imprisoned under sparkling pinks and whites. Rarity’s eyes were filled with the horrid spell’s light. She wore a sinister smile as she took in her creation.
As Spike watched her, the pony he’d once known as Rarity, revel in her terrific, accursed power, something welled up in him. He felt a determination he’d never known he had. His trembling ceased, and her stood firmly. Glaring right through the pony before him, he simply said, “No.”
The word echoed into nothingness, and the world around him fell away like sand.
Spike awoke as he always did: with sleepless eyes and a pounding headache. He groaned and rolled himself deeper into his silken blanket tangle. He’d been unable to get a decent night’s sleep in a very long time, but that was no fault of the bed. He couldn’t deny that his position had its perks.
Eventually he fell back into a half-slumber, but the shimmering walls of his bedroom prevented him from going all the way back to sleep. Usually as soon as the sun rose, that was it for sleepers; Equestria gleamed far too brightly even in the dimmest morning light. That was especially true for Spike, being that he lived in the most ornately designed room in all of Canterlot Castle.
Well… the second most ornately designed.
A gentle knock at his door pulled him right back to reality. “Sir Spike,” the guard said. “One of the prisoners has requested an audience with you.”
Spike opened his eyes all the way. He looked at his gold-lined emerald door and said, “Is it Twilight again?”
“No, sir, she’s very quiet this morning. It’s another friend of yours, I believe, The pink one.”
Pinkie Pie wants to see me? Spike’s mouth twisted in confusion. “Alright,” he said, finally sitting up. “I’ll be right down.”
The guard said no more as hoofsteps echoed into the distance.
Untangling himself from the blankets, Spike stretched his limbs and smacked his lips. He looked across the room to his window. The branch of a mighty sapphire tree sparkled there, a little bird perched upon it as usual. The bird had been there as long as Spike could remember. He’d fed it for a while, but he’d been forced to stop once no more worms could wriggle to the surface. Dread washed through him every time he looked at the bird now. He knew it was dead. After all, how could a robin with tourmaline wings and a quartz beak fend for itself?
He’d told Fluttershy about the bird. She’d never wanted to speak with him since.
Spike hopped down from the bed and walked over to the door. His feet made cold, wet sounds against the diamond floor. He opened the door and stepped into the hallway. No guards or anypony else were there to meet him. That was good. He’d stationed all the guards either in the dungeons or outside the throne room. Nopony else even worked at the castle anymore, so Spike was used to the quiet.
He walked the familiar path towards the dungeons. Every hallway was the same, for the most part. They were decorated with jewels and metals that Spike had long since lost the will to name, and every window was now the same stained-glass portrait featuring him, the queen, and a book. Once upon a time he’d been unable to look at those windows without breaking down, but they’d become so commonplace that he’d grown jaded. They barely phased him anymore.
The garden, on the other hand, he still couldn’t handle. It was an unfortunate inevitability that he had to pass through it to reach the dungeons—the queen had redesigned the castle to ensure every path led through the garden at some point. So as he approached the onyx archway leading out to the golden courtyard, he paused and took a deep breath. Squeezing his eyes shut, he bolted through the garden with all the speed he could muster.
Tears welled through his eyelids. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there—the most horrific statues in Equestria. The platinum renderings of Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, Princess Cadance, Shining Armor, and Discord always struck him hardest. In an ordinary world, they would be gorgeous works of art. Here, though, Spike knew they weren’t really statues. He cupped his hands over his ears, lest he hear their screams through the metal.
Once across the garden, Spike fell to his knees and panted in relief. He wiped the mist from his eyes, briefly stared at his reflection in the floor, and rose to his feet. He drew one deep, stable breath, then continued his march to the dungeons.
Contrary to any rational thinking, the dungeons were Spike’s favourite place in the world. The queen had deemed her prisoners unfit to bask in the glory of her creations, so everything was the same dull stone it had always been. All the queen had done down here was reinforce the cells to make them literally inescapable. Twilight wouldn’t even be able to teleport out.
Passing by each guard wordlessly, Spike eventually rounded the corner into his favourite cell block. He stopped at the first door on his left and beckoned a guard over. The guard nodded and bent down, allowing Spike to hop on his back and see through the only hole into the cell—a tiny slat near the top of the door. “Twilight?” he called in. “You awake?”
Her eyes appeared almost instantly, taking up the entire viewing space into the cell. “Oh, hi, Spike,” she said.
Every time, without fail, her voice almost made Spike cry. He suppressed the feeling and said, “Nothing new today, huh?”
He could see her eyes change as she frowned. “Sorry, no. I’ll keep trying, but this is the most powerful magic I’ve ever encountered. With the other princesses, maybe, but…” Twilight’s eyes closed, and she fell out of sight.
Spike bit his lip and stifled a sniffle. “I know, Twi. I… I'll try talking to her again today. It has to work eventually, yeah?”
No response came. He knew she was crying. More than anything in his life, Spike desired to tear through this door and hug her and hold her and cry with her. He wanted to break down in Twilight’s arms and let her fix everything, like she always did.
But he couldn’t do that. Only the queen could open this door. Spike was all alone.
“I’ll come back later, okay?” he said, trying and failing to keep the tremor from his voice. “Pinkie wants me.” He scraped a claw along the door, grinding the stone yet leaving no mark. “Love you, Twilight.”
“I love you too, Spike,” came the faint whisper.
Pinching a few tears from his eyes, Spike hopped from the guard’s back and continued down the cell block. He couldn’t linger long at Twilight’s cell, or he would never convince himself to leave.
Two doors down from her cell, he hopped up on another guard’s back looked through the slat. He saw a lump of pink huddled in the far corner, facing the wall. “Pinkie?” he said. “You wanted to see me?”
Pinkie whirled around to face him. Whatever Spike had expected to see, it certainly hadn’t been a smile. “There you are!” she said. Amazingly her voice still held a sparkle of enthusiasm, but it was severely muted. “I was worried you weren’t gonna come! Have you gone to talk to Rarity yet today?”
Spike gulped. “Uh, no.”
“Perfect!” Pinkie skipped over to the door. She briefly disappeared from sight, and just a moment later a single chocolate chip cookie slid through the slat.
“Whoa!” Spike flinched away and fumbled with the cookie, eventually getting a firm grip on it. He stared down at the treat, blinking. “Pinkie? How? What? Why?”
“You gotta give that to Rarity!” Pinkie said. “Normally it’d be a cupcake, but it’d get smooshed going through that little hole. I’ve been holding onto that for a long time. Make sure she has a really happy birthday, okay, Spike?”
“Birthday?” Spike’s heart twisted. He clutched the cookie against his chest and looked back into the cell. “Pinkie… I don’t think she—”
“I know, Spike. I know.” Somehow, she was still smiling. “It probably won’t matter, but please try giving it to her anyway. Tell her I said ‘happy birthday,’ too. Pinkie Promise?”
Even in the most dire situation he could imagine, Spike still found Pinkie’s attitude contagious. Looking at the cookie again, he managed his first real smile in days. “Yeah, okay, I promise, Pinkie.” He looked back into her cell. “Anything else?”
She shook her head, her curls dancing limply around her face. “Nope. Just, um, good luck!”
At that, Spike’s smile faltered. “Thanks,” he said. He slid down from the guard’s back, keeping his eyes focused on the cookie. It was the most ordinary food he’d seen in a very long time—he found it too beautiful to even consider eating. He held it tight and began his slow march out of the dungeons.
Thankfully the throne room and the dungeons were both in the same half of the castle, so Spike didn’t have to suffer the garden again to reach his destination. That offered him only a little solace, though, as the throne room was in many ways worse than the garden.
He stood before the most ornate door in all of Equestria—a great golden monstrosity decorated with every jewel Spike could name, and many more that he couldn’t. It resembled a gargantuan tombstone with its rounded top. Guards flanked either side of it. None of them had so much as looked at Spike as he’d approached.
Still staring at the cookie clutched in his claws, Spike could feel his breathing growing ragged. He knew exactly what lay behind this door—he’d seen it every day for the past… however long this had been happening. Years, it felt like. But even that knowledge couldn’t keep his nerves at bay. He remained there, getting lost in the cracks of the chocolate chip cookie, trying to regain a modicum of composure.
Squeezing his eyes shut, he imagined Carousel Boutique. He imagined himself and Rarity and Twilight and all of their friends laughing and enjoying each other’s company. That was it. Just talking and laughing. It was the happiest memory he could muster, and he didn’t even know whether it was real.
There was only one way to make it real, though. Steeling himself, Spike pushed the door open.
The throne room was enormous, and it was almost entirely empty. All of the windows bore the same stained-glass sin as the rest of the castle windows. The curtains billowed and caught the sunlight just so, casting rainbows across the chamber. The marble floor had been inlaid with diamonds, and the long carpet marking the middle of the room was not actually a carpet at all—it was a massive stripe of ruby that lead up to the great, golden throne at the end.
And resting upon the throne…
Spike focused on taking one step at a time. He walked the small infinity across the throne room, never once looking up. When he reached the end of the room, he still couldn’t look up. More tears flooded his eyes, and he stammered, “Good morning, R-Rarity.”
“Am I beautiful, Spike?” the queen said. Her voice was as hollow and distant as always, as though every emotion in her soul had been drained to nothing and she was speaking from a void. “Please look at me. Tell me I’m beautiful.”
Biting his lip almost hard enough to draw blood, Spike flicked his eyes up to the throne.
A pony who had once been Rarity sat there, unable to move from her golden seat. Her coat was a collage of white fur and shiny, colourful metals. Her tail was solid gold and attached to the throne, and her mane was half amethyst, half hair. She wore an expression caught halfway between glee and terror. Each of her teeth was plated in a different jewel, and her eyes had been entirely coated in emerald.
Spike could only look at her for a fraction of a second. A sob wrenched from his throat. The cookie caught his attention again. He thrusted it at the queen and said, “P-Pinkie Pie wanted you to have this. She says h-h-happy birthday.”
The room flashed green, and the cookie suddenly seemed much heavier. Spike looked at it and found it covered in bronze. His hand trembled, and the cookie fell to the floor with a clatter.
“My birthday, you say?” the queen said. “I do hope I look the part. Tell me I’m beautiful, Spike.”
“Y-y-you—” A sob cut him off. Without looking, Spike climbed onto the throne and wrapped his arms around her. He adjusted himself carefully, trying to hold more fur than metal. “You look awful, Rarity,” he croaked.
He felt her body tighten in his hands as though she had flinched. But it was fleeting. There was the light hum of magic, and her body relaxed. She wrapped a hoof around his shoulders—it felt horribly cold. “Oh, Spike,” she said, “you do say the nicest things.”
Whatever Spike had wanted to say next, the words caught in his throat and died there. He curled up against Rarity and wept the day away.