And so it went, for the next few grueling weeks, Spike trained long and hard. His friends were behind him every step of the way, helping him when problems arose, and lifting his spirits back up when he felt down and unsure. They taught him how to appear modest and desirable without becoming too overtly foppish. They showed him the best tactics he could use if, or when the time came to defend himself from another dragon. All that was left was to perfect his skills.
"...And so, without further delay in my words, it would be my my greatest honor if you were to become my life-mate," the drake finished, wrapping up the speech he shared with the the unliving, dumb-expressioned dummy-dragon with a long bow on one knee. As he stood up, he looked through the field to the ponies standing nearby.
"Good job Spike!" Rarity cheered on with her friends. "That was even better than the last one!"
"Heh... thanks," he chuckled lightly, rubbing his back with his claw, still not used to, nor too comfortable with having ponies around to hear him say things like this. Still, he was feeling ready. Ready to participate in the event that would determine perhaps one of the most important moments in his life. And it made him feel proud.
Then, as if on cue, he felt it. It was like a crisp, boiling sensation that crept under his scales, and then beneath his very skin. It was not a painful sting, nor something pleasantly warm, but something that just... irked him. It was like an itch that covered the entirety of one's body, but replaced the need to scratch with the need to dig. Within scant seconds, he completely recognized this feeling from a time long before, and also noticed the faint glow surrounding him that began to grow brighter.
"Uh... Twilight..." he started uneasily, as he already started to rub at his sides vigorously with both of his claws.
Fluttershy looked just as surprised as he did. "D-does this mean-?" the shy pegasus tried to ask.
"It's time," the alicorn answered the two, seriousness coated in her volume and glare. "The Dragon Lord is calling all dragons of the proper age to the Dragon Lands. The Time of the Heartscale is about to begin."
"The month's over already?" Rainbow Dash cried out, holding both of her hooves to her head. Returning to her cool appearance, she looked to Twilight inquisitively. "That was... surprisingly quick. What's the plan now, Twilight? You haven't told any of us too much about what would happen once the day came."
"I guess I forgot to ask," Twilight began again. Straightening herself, she looked to each of her pony friends. "Do any of you want to come with Spike and I?"
"I think I'll pass, if that's alright with you," Fluttershy was the first to say. "It's just that... well, I'd rather not go to the Dragon Lands again if there are no animals in need of care."
"I've gotta watch the farm," Applejack said in a regretful voice. "Sorry."
"And I have to stick with the Wonderbolts," Rainbow Dash was the next to tell her friends. "Our next show is less than a week away, and I have to be in prime condition."
"I'll go! I'll go!" Pinkie jumped up-and-down joyously.
"And what about you, Rarity?" Twilight inquired, as everyone's eyes spun over to the unicorn in question.
Her response was swift. "I will go as well."
"You will?" Spike and Pinkie asked at once, both sharing equal surprise in their respective tones.
"You'd better believe I'm going," she insisted. "There's no way in Celestia's mane that someone such as I is going to just let you two go off and help Spike with this by yourselves. This is much to serious to pass up on."
"Are you sure, Rarity?" Twilight asked. "What about your stores? All your customers?"
"Yeah, you really don't have to come if you don't want to." Spike agreed.
"Of course I should!" the unicorn replied. "I don't appear to have any clients at the moment, and besides, I've actually been hoping I could tag along to try and get some... inspiration from the dragons. It's been a pipe dream of mine to fashion a dress modeled after something of theirs."
The shining look on Twilight's face seemed to tell everyone that she was exceptionally happy with having another pony on board. "Then I guess it's settled. You, Pinkie and I shall accompany Spike. We leave at once!"
"When exactly is 'at once'?" Rainbow spoke to the princess from where she hovered in the air nearby.
"As soon as possible," she replied with a flick of her ears. "But first, we'll need to pack some things up."
"You're most certainly right about that," Rarity agreed with a laugh.
Rarity and Pinkie Pie threw their hooves up and let out screams of delight as Spike carried them through the air on his (currently glowing) back. Following not too far behind was Twilight, who found herself struggling to keep up with her assistant, and beat her own wings rapidly as she tried to match his speed and carry her belongings that she held strapped to her sides. Spike also bore some of the princess's items for her, as in his foreclaws were various bits of equipment; some of which one would associate with camping.
"Hey, uh... Spike?" Twilight began as she noticed nearly two hours passed since their departure from Ponyville, flapping up to his side. "Is it alright if we land so I can take a quick break? My wings need a rest."
"Of course," Spike responded. After watching Twilight begin her descent and fade through the low-hanging clouds to the ground below, he made a rapid dive downward, causing the ponies on his back to grab a much firmer hold onto his scales from the sudden change in movement that seemed very reminiscent of that of a roller coaster ride at the local fair. Rarity sounded terrified more than anything else, while Pinkie simply threw her hooves into the air, clearly having the time of her life.
After the dragon spotted Twilight nearing a plateau that seemed to jut out of the equally grey, rocky ground the land was made of, he went up to it as well and dropped what he was carrying onto it gently, proceeding to land on it on all fours afterword, allowing his passengers to disembark from his glowing form safely. After hopping off, Pinkie began to stretch her limbs out, as if she had been cramped inside a small metal box the entire day.
"Oh, ho-ho boy! I still can't believe I get to see the Dragon Lands with you guys!" she squealed in excitement as she finished, pulling both Rarity and Twilight up to herself.
"Now, Pinkie, you have to remember that it's exceptionally unwise to interact with any of the dragons while the event begins," Twilight warned her pink friend. "We're only here to cheer Spike on and observe what happens."
"Yeah, I know," Pinkie sighed. The earth pony's demeanor then lightened up, and a devious expression drew itself upon her face. "Since Ember knows about you coming, do you think that she'll stop by and say hi to us if she has the chance?"
"I'd hope so," she responded, as Spike began to walk off from the three to the edge of the plateau; something interesting catching his eye. "I can't guarantee it, but I'm willing to bet that she may just pop by before the event formally starts."
"How much longer until we get to the Dragon Lands?" Rarity asked, fixing her curly mane from the effects of the wind it suffered through. "I remember this terrain certainly matches what it was the last time we went, but I've not the foggiest clue as to how far away it is."
"I'm pretty sure it's-"
"We're here," Spike interrupted from where he stood, his gaze unwaveringly held to the near horizon. Overcome by their own curiosity, the three ponies turned to him and trotted by his side, before looking out to where he was staring at. Each of them let out gasps as the sight of hundreds of dragons in the far distance befell their view, each of the creatures circling in the sky above the land they flew over or gliding down to land. Large ones, small ones, wiry ones, brawny ones... all of them seemed to possess a glow about them not unlike that which Spike had, telling them right off that this was the right place.
Rarity let out a mighty, awestruck sigh as she took in what she was witnessing, before deciding to look over to Spike to see how he was faring. "Well, at the very least there'll be plenty of dragons to get to know, eh Spike?" she chuckled, elbowing him in a good-natured fashion.
All he did was gulp before nodding ever so slowly.