Love in a Time of Dragons

by Orkus

The Dragon Lord Cometh

"Hey! Rarity!" A deep voice called out from below the earth's surface.

Rarity, the white unicorn with the long, spindly indigo mane sitting beside the freshly-dug dark hole lying in the grey, gravelly ground before her, quickly answered back. "Yes, Spikey-wikey?" she shouted down into it.

"I've found something!" the voice yelled back. With the sound of dirt and rock being scraped apart underfoot, as well as the noise of dry earth being clambered over, a large, mulberry-purple figure with bright green, ovular-edged spikes lining his head and back emerged from the ground; the wings he bore brushing against the entrance of the hole. There was also something held in both of his front claws; something Rarity spotted right off.

"Oh my..." she gasped, seeing the shining gems he was holding with pure clarity. "Oh, Spike, you're such a dear!"

Spike had grown considerably in the last few years. What was once a young, small, wingless whelp of an admittedly stubby shape and girth was now a drake of a much leaner build. Having matured naturally, without the aid of greed-induced growth to help or hinder its natural process, Spike ended up sprouting a pair of wings over his shoulders, which came as a rather hefty surprise, and enormous delight, to all.

He still remembered when he was just a child, always standing below his friends and family. But, as demonstrated now, he was at least few feet over their height in the current day and age, which was a fact he fondly reminded himself with pride. Looking down to Rarity, he let a grin stretch across his snout at the white-furred mare.

"These are all I found in the spot you said they were at," he said before shaking his body, brushing off the last of the dust covering his form. "Think they'll do?"

"These are absolutely divine!" Rarity complimented in an ecstatic tone, using her magic to lift a single ruby from his cupped claws and inspect its shimmering red surface up close before dropping it back with the pile. "They'll go beautifully with the gown and locket combination I have in mind! Oh, Spike, I can't thank you enough for coming and helping me with this! I'll have that set ready in no time now!"

"Yeah, well... I didn't really have any plans for the day," the dragon chuckled, bashfully. "You're very welcome."

Interrupting the otherwise-quiet noise given off by their surroundings, Spike's ears detected the sound of wingbeats coming from a distance. It wasn't a few moments after that Rarity heard them too, and the pair looked upward, spotting a familiar, purple shape flying to them speedily, and they knew who it was almost at once. Once Twilight Sparkle had landed and tucked her wings away, she took a few seconds to catch her breath.

"Hello there, Twilight," Rarity spoke with a cheerful tune.

"Hey there, Twi," Spike greeted as well. Hints of surprise and suspicion peppered his words, despite their casualness. "What are you doing all the way out here?"

"I came out here because I received a message a short time ago, Spike," she said, curtly. "It's from Ember."

Spike's green eyes seemed to lighten up the second he heard her utter the Dragon Lord's name. "It's from Ember?" he echoed.

Twilight nodded. "Yes. She said she's coming to see you and I in a short time from now. Care to read it for yourself?"

She lifted the folded-up piece of paper from her satchel in a purple halo of magic and levitated it to her assistant. With a curious expression painted on his face, Spike immediately accepted it and placed the rubies he had been holding down on the ground next to him, unfolding the paper with his claws afterward.

As he started reading, Rarity walked up to Twilight. "Did something happen?" the unicorn fashionista leaned in and whispered, clearly concerned.

"As far as I know, no," she responded. "All Ember wrote to me was that she was coming by for a brief visit." As Twilight finished her sentence, Spike finished the note. He walked up to the two ponies and handing the paper back to Twilight.

"She's going to be here at noon," he spoke, before turning his scaly head to Rarity, tapping his foreclaws together uneasily. "Um... Rarity, I think I need to get back to Ponyville now. I'm sorry. It's just that..."

"Oh, darling, don't feel bad. You've done more than enough," Rarity chuckled easily, using her magic to pick the gems up from the ground and float them to a sack she had lying nearby. "These rubies are more than enough to please my client. You'd best get to Ponyville and make yourself presentable for the Dragon Lord."

Smiling most happily at her understanding, Spike stretched his wings out from his back. With a single, mighty stroke of them, he took off into the air, scattering the dust and pebbles below him. Twilight changed her view from his flying form to Rarity, who she noticed was also watching her assistant rapidly shrink in the distance.

"How long was it since those two last saw each other?" the unicorn asked, finally looking to Twilight. "Ember and Spike, I mean."

"Almost two years," Twilight answered. "It was after Spike, Fluttershy and I helped repel a freak invasion of wild cockatrices up in the Dragon Lands. She and I have still been writing to each other every month, though."

"I wonder what could be so important as to cause the Dragon Lord to travel to Ponyville in person," the unicorn queried to her friend again. "Do you think something awful has befallen the dragons? Surely Ember isn't dropping by just to say hi in such a quick manner."

Twilight shrugged, ready to join Spike in his venture back to town. "Well, I guess we'll find out soon."

Though he masked his feelings well with a look of self-assurance, Spike felt both nervous and excited on the inside as he imagined how he'd handle seeing Ember again. Once the clock in the middle of town had struck twelve and sent out an appropriate amount of chimes, he and Twilight trekked to the front of their castle's entrance in expectance of their guest's arrival. And, for the next five minutes, it was there they waited.

"Twilight, do you think she'll notice it's me when she gets here?" the dragon suddenly asked, looking down to the pony by his side.

She grinned, patting his shoulder comfortingly. "Don't worry, Spike. I've told her how much you've matured in some of the notes we've written to each other." No sooner had she replied, both looked to the sky as they caught something dark out of the corner of their eyes, and it was no bird when they each recognized the shape of its sleek, long outline against the sun.

Even if he lived in a place filled with a surplus of his kind, Spike would never mistake the brilliant cyan-and-turquoise figure heading toward him for another. In a graceful motion, the Dragon Lord was soon upon them and landed on the ground in a motion as swift as the wind itself. As Ember stood up to her full height, Spike could now see much more easily that in one of her claws rested the bloodstone scepter that cemented her position, and a small circlet of gold sat over her head and in front of her sapphire-tinted spikes, covered with similar, albeit smaller gems of the same crimson texture. After dusting herself off, her scales appeared to glisten in the sunlight, and the piercing red eyes lying just above her thin snout looked forward, focusing on the two now before her.

To Spike's partial surprise, Ember almost looked the same as when he last met her, though the spiraling pair of horns adorning either side of her head had clearly gotten a little longer, giving her somewhat of a more regal natural appearance to compliment her position. Being the first to break the silence that had befallen, Twilight spoke, beginning with her most formal welcome.

"Welcome to my castle, Dragon Lord Ember," the alicorn greeted, bowing her head courteously. She made a sideways glance at Spike, and noticed he was still staring at their guest in a way that conveyed enthrallment. Rolling her eyes, she tapped her elbow against his side, catching his attention.

"Oh, uh- yes! Welcome, Dragon Lord Ember," Spike also spoke in a quick and off guard manner upon being returned to the present.

Watching him so suddenly change his stance caused Ember to silently chuckle to herself. "It's good to see you again, little guy," she said. "It feels like it's been ages since we last got to speak."

Spike smirked back. "I'm not so little now, it seems."

"I barely recognized there for a moment, and... Wow. I see your wings grew in quite well," she smiled in return, examining the impressive pair of appendages attached to his back. "They're as big as mine now."

"Oh, these?" Spike asked, extending his leftmost one for both to see before tucking it in again. "Yeah, they're not the short, useless little gnat wings they were when we last saw each other, are they? Heheh..."

Ember joined in on the small bout of laughter with a giggle of her own before returning to her collected visage. "Spike, Twilight, I... didn't come to stay for long," she sighed. Spike nodded his head in understanding.

"Well, that is what your note said," he spoke sadly. "What prompted you to decide to come here on such a short notice?"

"It's just to deliver a simple, important piece of news, nothing else."

"We're all ears," Twilight assured, confidently. Taking in a deep breath, Ember began to speak.

"You see... something big is coming up soon. There's a tradition among dragons where drakes and dragonesses of our age all come together in a once-in-a-lifetime event that we call the 'Time of the Heartscale'," she started, looking directly at Spike as she explained herself. "It's going to happen when I call every viable dragon to the Dragon Lands exactly a month from today."

Spike appeared to be intrigued. "This gathering... what's it about?" he asked. Ember couldn't help but grin the moment his words graced her ears, revealing a smile that exposed some of her fangs in a most overjoyed fashion, as if she was holding in the punchline of the most well-humored joke ever created all to herself.

"Spike, it's where all the dragons find their life-mates, of course!" The dragoness told him in a tone that gave the impression that she was containing a powerful burst of innate delight. Instead of sharing her blatant enthusiasm, Spike was stricken into dumb silence by her reply. His expression was sent completely blank in awestruck surprise, as could be seen by both Ember and Twilight, prompting the former to slowly allow her smile to shrink a small bit. Holding the look for but a few seconds longer, Spike shook his head rapidly and returned to reality with a deep inhalation of air, stretching a claw over his back before returning it to his side.

"L-life-mate?" he finally stammered upon finding the right words, looking back to Ember. "As in... like... marriage?"

"Basically, I guess," she calmly said. "Twilight's told me enough about pony customs for me to know what that is. When two dragons choose each other at the Time of the Heartscale, it's a relationship they both share for life."

"F-for life? What? H-how?" His words came spouting out rapidly.

"I thought you wouldn't know about it," Ember mumbled. "I knew you were raised by ponies and all, and I wanted to let you know so that you would be prepared. After all, if you don't find a life-mate during the five days that the gathering takes place, in accordance to dragon law, you can never have one forever afterword."

These words hit Spike almost as worse as the ones from before. "F-forever? Oh, wow... oh wow..."

"Spike, are you okay?" Twilight spoke up, shaking his shoulder with a hoof upon seeing him in distress.

"Yep," he lied, shifting into a false mien of reassurance and standing straight, shooting her a thumbs-up with his claw. "Just fine. Very surprised, a bit shaken here or there, but fine. Peachy, even."

"It's good to see that you understand, Spike," Ember went on without pause, before changing her attention to the princess. "Twilight, I wanted to speak with you too because, after thinking it over for a bit, I've decided to allow you to observe how the Time of the Heartscale takes place. From a distance, of course."

"Oh my. Do you mean it?" Twilight almost squealed in joy, before immediately humbling her voice's pitch. "I'm... honored that you're allowing me this kind of access, Ember."

As Spike focused his attention to the ground, in an effort to calm himself and think, Ember let out another sigh. "Sorry to be so abrupt, but I'm afraid I need to go now," she apologized, rubbing a claw over the bloodstone scepter in her hands. "You know how the Dragon Lands are when it's unsupervised... can't leave it unmanaged for a minute before a dispute over territory breaks out, or something of that ilk. But that's why I'm the Dragon Lord."

Twilight was about to say a word of farewell, when another memory came to mind. "Um... Ember, before you go, my friend Pinkie Pie wanted to know the next time you were coming to Ponyville."

"Hmm..." she hummed, her reptilian eyes staring elsewhere as she placed a claw to her lips. "That's a tough request. Maybe we could plan for something sometime... after the event? How does that sound?"

"I'm sure Pinkie will be overjoyed to hear that," the princess thanked, bowing her head once more. "I hope your journey back to the Dragon Lands is pleasant, and words can't express how thankful I am that you decided to take the time to tell us this information in person."

Ember bowed back in mutual respect. "And I thank you for your time, Princess. Goodbye for now Twilight. And if you are attending the gathering, then I wish you have the best of luck on getting ready for it, Spike."

Spike switched his eyes from the ground to Ember as he heard his name being spoken. She was looking directly at him again with an expression he recognized as lighthearted. Possibly even hopeful, dare he presume as much.

Ember gave a firm nod at the pair and turned around. Her wings already outstretched, she took to the air with a quick series of flaps and was soon high in the blue, cloudless sky. When she was but a speck in the horizon, Twilight looked at Spike with a raised brow.

"Spike... are you okay?" she inquired in a concerned voice, repeating the question she had asked him a few minutes before. The dragon glimpsed at her, showing her a weary and unsure face.

"I don't think so, Twilight. I've gotta... think about this..." he responded in a slow groan, rubbing a sluggish claw over his face tiredly. "If you need me, I'll be in my room."

He trudged by his friend and entered the castle, letting the doors close loosely behind him with a loud, echoing thump. As he left, Twilight took a minute to think over what had just transpired.

"'The Time of the Heartscale'," she said to herself, making a large mental note on what Ember had spoken to her. Planting a hoof on her chin, she looked back to the castle and her thoughts turned to what tortured emotions her companion was most likely suffering through at the moment. "Poor Spike. I've got to do something... but what?"

Pondering her options to herself, Twilight trotted to the doors of her abode and quietly pushed them open, quickly vanishing inside.