• Published 27th Dec 2014
  • 2,819 Views, 87 Comments

Antaboga. - Reptilicus



Spike struggles to adjust to a new home and a new life.

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Collect the woolen sunlight and sing.

Cold air burned across Twilight's eyes as she flew, the wind whistling a dangerous tune as it whipped by, tearing at her mane and fetlocks. The landscape below had become a series of blurred strips of color. The trees merely dark streaks. Her wings screamed in agony as she flew. They didn't have the experience to move like this, and at this rate she was liable to cause an injury. Nor were the elliptical wings of alicorns really designed for high-speed flight. Not like the thin lanky wings of a pegasus. Her purple eyes glanced down, doing a quick survey of her surroundings as she made her next decision to alter her approach.

From what she could observe, she was moving at roughly 30 meters per second. The wind currents were pushing against her in a south-western direction. The air was hot and muggy, due to the rain from the previous night evaporating in the hot sun. Humidity was definitely high. With adjustments for atmospheric pressure, adjustments for the water vapor collecting on her coat increasing her density, and the fact that she was absolutely plowing through the thermals rising into the sky, Twilight quickly calculated it was going to take her over 23 minutes to arrive at Ponyville. She needed to be faster than this. Spike needed her.

No matter how much her wings hurt. No matter what crazy solution popped into her mind. She would do it. She would do anything to get home. To get to Spike. To tell him how she felt. To make sure he was safe. Nothing else mattered right now.

The gears in her head spun. Hadn't she done an entire research paper in college on something like this? Yes that's right, that was the answer. Her final thesis in the Prestidigitation Purpose and Pertinence Precinct in Canterlot Castle's North Wing. The one that has been published in the Seaddle Gazette on magical studies. Magic Mass Transfer Propulsion. The theory that teleporting while in motion would preserve the motion, and the length of the displacement would also increase the momentum due to magical drag forming a positive loop of increased energy feedback every time the target vanished and relocated, forcing the magic to alter its own velocity to keep up with the user, thus increasing speed. Unicorns in Canterlot had proved some parts of the theory to be sound, using vehicles and boats and even a coconut, but none with a living pony. To test something like this without proper safety measures could be seen as dangerous, possibly even insane.

Twilight blinked and vanished.

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The three tiny fillies known as the Cutie Mark Crusaders had never seen an oryx in their lives. The oryx were foreign folk who lived far across the sea, in dry grassy lands few ponies had been. Zubairi exited the portal composed of smashed fruit and squid ink that Zecora had drawn on the wall. It smelled and stained, and Zecora made a mental note to apologize to Twilight for the mess later. Long range magic portals usually required a vaguely geometric shape made of items from the region one wished to go. The three little fillies had watched in great confusion as Zecora frantically smashed fruit from her native land, and mixed it with a pouch of fresh ink milked from a squid, before hastily smearing it on the wall in the shape of a curled line. She had made a circle out of tightly curls, with 15 small marks around its outer perimeter, very nearly identical to Zecora's own cutie mark. Now they stared up at the oryx who stood before them, a pink and khaki colored sherwani about his withers, and small wooden spectacles on the end of his black and white striped snout, which at the moment wore a very droll unamused expression.

"Are y'all some sorta goat?" Applebloom's jaw hung in wonder at the strange gazelle.

"Dumela mma! Zecora these are not dragons." Zubairi noted in his gravelly old voice, with an esteemed accent very similar to Zecora's voice, tilting his head and squinting at the three fillies, his long beard and the bells tied to it swinging noisily. "Unless dragons in this land disguise themselves as wee pony fawn."

"What's a fawn?" Sweetie asked, staring up in wonder at the creature's long curved horns, and striped gaunt face.

"Are you gonna fix Spike?" Scootaloo squinted her eyes, not trusting this new visitor in the least.

"Definitely not dragons." Zubairi grinned at the cheeky youngsters, turning to Zecora. "Where is the patient?"

"Spike is laying in the next room. His caretaker should be here soon." Zecora coughed breathlessly, looking exhausted from having galloped from her hut all the way to Twilight's castle with Spike on her back. "Thank you for coming with such speed. Your expertise is what we need."

An deafening crunch from outside signaled the incoming Princess of Magic. The stained glass windows on the lower floor shattered inward covering the floors in dirt and shrapnel, as the golden front doors burst inward off their hinges with a cloud clang to reveal a smoking crater in the soil outside, with Twilight frantically crawling from it. She was covered in dirt and magical sparkling residue but seemed unharmed. She raced into the house, giving Zecora the look of a pony crazed.

"Where's Spike? WHERE'S SPIKE!?" Twilight shrieked, much louder than she would on any other occasion.

A wave towards the next room sent the Princess scurrying, nearly tripping on the slippery crystal floor as she made her way to the den, apparently not noticing the great stain on the wall, or the oryx and three fillies standing next to said stain. She skid to a stop at the dining table, Spike's shivering form laying upon it. His skin was paler than ever and he fitfully laid on a soft wooly towel. He had apparently been asleep, with the recent noise was causing him to groggily lift himself up and realize again he could not see. His head whipped this way and that, trying to identify the sounds he was hearing. A pitiful high pitched whimper escaped him as he reached forward with his claws, frightened and scared, grasping at the air.

Twilight fluttered awkwardly atop of the table, allowing Spike to cling to her leg with his tiny hands.

"It's okay Spike! I've got you! I'm right here." Twilight whispered, feeling her body tremble as she laid down next to him and wept, staring into the horrid blank orbs that had once been Spike's bright green innocent eyes. "I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere."

She pulled the little dragon up to her chest where immediately he let out a gurgle of pained relief and curled up next to her stomach, burying his face in her scraggly windswept chest fluff. Spike didn't cry often, and the sound was like needles in Twilight's heart. Complete agony, with no idea how she could help outside of comfort.

"I can't see you!" he squealed, his voice that of a child frightened beyond measure. "I can't see you, Twilight! I can't see anything!"

"I'm sorry, Spike. I'm so sorry. I'm going to fix this! I promise you, no matter what, I'm going to fix this!" Twilight's mind raced, trying to think about any healing spells she knew that pertained to eyesight.

"You don't have to fix anything." muttered a very old and regal voice. "Or at least I think not."

Twilight glanced up to see Zecora following Zubairi into the room, the latter of which was peering at Spike with great curiosity as he trotted calmly along, his beard and tail swaying. The oryx stalked forward, the bells in his beard jingling quietly. He reached up a dark brown hoof, letting it hang in the air for a moment, and brought it gently towards Spike's back. Twilight drew herself up to full height, which wasn't very high at all, and glared at the hoof making it's way towards her ward, ready to slap it away.

"No worries, much respect miss pony. I am here to help the child... " he bowed greatly, before giving Spike a poke in the shoulder, making the tiny dragon emit a squeak of fear. "...hmmmmmm. From the barbs on it's back I see... he is a little boy dragon, yes? Very small. Just hatched not too long ago, my guess. Hmm yes."

"Zecora... who... is this?" Twilight asked, feeling weirded out.

"Zubairi is an old schoolmate. His knowledge of dragons and wyverns is quite great." Zecora smiled warmly, backing cautiously out of the room to the doorframe, where the Cutie Mark Crusaders watched from the next room. "When Spike went blind after his fall, I knew Zubairi was the one to call."

"Pardon myself, miss pony, but may I ask where the parents of little Spike is?" Zubairi inquired, using an eyeglass to peer at the tip of Spike's tail as he studied it. "There is a mamma or poppa dragon somewhere, yes?"

"I'm his mother!" Twilight held Spike tightly as he tried to wriggle away from the stranger poking his tail.

The whimpers and shivering of the tiny dragon stopped instantly as Spike held very still, registering what Twilight had just uttered. His little arms pushed on her stomach, tilting his pale body back from her embrace so he could try to gaze up at Twilight. The mare looked down at the little dragon, smiling fondly as tears ran down to her neck. Even though Spike couldn't see, he could still express emotions, and he wore one of awe and adoration with a hint of confusion. A raspy sound of elation worked its way out of the baby dragon, as Spike collapsed in the embrace and held Twilight tightly, burying his face in her chest once again, sniffling loudly. Twilight bent low and pressed her muzzle onto the top of Spike's head, giving her little one a soft kiss.

"I'm his mother." Twilight repeated again, gently as Spike smiled and wept. "Since the day he came into this world. I'm not the best at it, or even actually very good at it, but I'm going to try harder. Because Spike deserves it. Because you deserve that. And I know that I've hurt you... my little monster... but I promise you it won't happen again. I love you, Spike."

"A brave... strange... lass adopting an antaboga at your age. Very brave. Unless you are not as young as you seem." Zubairi muttered, his horns humming and vibrating, levitating a stethoscope out of his sherwani. "This will be a bit cold, Spike, but I must to listen to your body pulse."

"Wait... what's an antaboga? Is Spike... ?" Twilight asked, noticing Spike's ears prick up as well at the odd word.

"MMmm Hmm." Zubairi nodded, seeming to not hear the inquiry, listening to Spike's heart with the instrument. "Healthy sound, healthy sound. How did you adopt Spike?"

"He was an egg at the Canterlot study hall. When he hatched my family let me bring him home. No one there is quite sure where the egg came from." Twilight was starting to feel exasperated. "Could you please just tell me what's wrong with him?"

"Egg was probably sleep for a good length of time if it was in that dusty old palace." Zubairi pursed his lips before turning to Zecora and the three fillies who were watching from the doorway. "Privacy with the family, please. This is a rather sensitive matter."

As the door shut, Zubairi smiled at Twilight, putting his stethoscope away and sitting on the floor, his face perfectly calm.

"Spike... is perfectly healthy. He is not sick. Nor blind." he began, pulling out a notepad and beginning to scribble upon it, a pencil clutched in his cloven hooves. "He is... what is the Equestrian word for it? Hmm... molting! Shedding. Special time in a young drake's life."

Twilight's jaw hung numbly for a few moments before she shook her head, giving Zubairi a look of disbelief. "Wait a minute. What the... what? You mean to tell me Spike is shedding? This entire time he's been SHEDDING? Like... a... a... snake or a lizard or something? Isn't that a reptile thing?"

"Is a dragon not a reptile?" Zubairi challenged with a wink. "They are cold blooded, yes like other reptiles. But they keep warm from the fire in their lungs. This has led to debate between myself and colleagues, if they should still be called cold blooded. But anyway... yes, the boy sheds. It is important that he shed, it means he is growing."

Twilight gazed down at Spike, who seemed almost as confused as she was. He might have been unable to see but he could certainly hear, and was currently scratching his tummy with his hand, as if trying to understand what was happening to him and his scaly skin. For the most part, knowledge of dragons in Equestria was a blank slate, and this new fact was a surprise for both of them. All the gears in Twilight's head ground quickly to a halt as she stared blank-faced. Sure, basic biological functions of reptiles and amphibians was something that was taught in most elementary schools in Equestria. But dragons? The great beasts that soared through the skies? Who breathed fire and brimstone? Who weren't even allowed in Tartarus because they were THAT dangerous? The same ones that often had huge hoards of gold and gems? The same ones who could grow so large a small sneeze from one could level a village? The ones whose migration was called a national emergency? Those dragons shed their skin? All that skin? Twilight's train of thought toppled from it's tracks, careening off a thought cliff and exploding onto the thought rocks below. The carnage was stunning.

"You two know nothing of dragons. Yes?" Zubairi stated, jotting away in his pad, noticing their cowed expressions. "Or of antabogas especially."

"Wh... what's an antaboga? Am.. am I an antaboga?" Spike asked, wiping his face with ones of his arms, sounding calmer than he had in quite some time.

"Well it's a type of dragon, little one. What is the word... ? Species! Yes that is it. Sea serpents, water dragons, ocean wyrms, all the same breeds. Same ancestors." Zubairi nodded as he spoke. "This is why you have fins on head and tail. It is for the swimming."

"I'm... a water dragon?" Spike asked, his voice barely above a whisper, his tiny hands feeling the fleshy fins behind his ears and the pointed flat nub on the end of his tail as if for the first time.

Zubairi nodded, smiling again at Spike in a mischievous sort of way.

"How old are you, wee Spike? I am guessing you are 6? Maybe... 7?"

"I'm 11. Well... 11 and a half."

Zubairi frowned. "You're very short for being 11."

He turned to Twilight, who was still reeling at all the information hitting her at once. Spike seemed miffed at being called short. Not that he could deny it, he was very very short.

"What does Spike eat? I trust he eats like a pony does. Flowers and fruits, grazing maybe?"

"Oh... well, yeah... " Twilight nodded, scratching behind her ear. "Grains, vegetables, he really likes to eat gems and other shiny stones and rocks. We just eat like everyone else. Besides the rocks, I guess. Spike likes to make nachos a lot. We go out pretty often. We both eat a lot of Applejack's fruit pies also. I mean... we don't eat too much junk food."

"Well the gems are good. Vegetables probably not seaweed. Seaweed is good for everyone. Highly recommend." Zubairi said stuffily, going back to writing in his notepad. "How long has he has been pale like this? I will guess a week or more. Maybe more than more?"

Both Twilight and Spike nodded, feeling a sense of dread from the more serious shift in the oryx's tone. Twilight could feel Spike's hands clutching harder around her barrel as his nerves fired up.

"Too long. Much too long. Needs more fish." Zubairi folded his pad up before putting it away. "Fish is important for an antaboga. Especially a youngling. Eat more fish, Spike. It has oils in it you need for the shedding."

"Is Spike's species uh... entirely aquatic?" Twilight asked. She'd never considered the idea that Spike might be living in an environment poorly suited for his needs. A dusty library didn't seem the sort of place any water dwelling animal would hang out in.

"MMmm slightly. Yes but also no. They bask themselves on the beaches, and often sleep in caves near the sea. They don't live where I am from, far too much desert, far too much hot, so I do not see them as much as I'd like. Out west is where you find them. The westward seas. Spike is small, miss pony."

"Miss pony? Oh we haven't been properly introduced! I've just been so worried about Spike I... I... completely forgot my manners." Twilight gushed awkwardly, extending a hoof. "My name is Twilight Sparkle. I uh... welcome to the house... this castle thing... which is mine now I think. I mean... mine and Spike's. It's new! Uh..."

"Dumela, Twilight Sparkle. It is rare to see alicorns in this time. None have been in Saddle Arabia for a long time. Where I am from... I am called Zubairi. Many also call me OLD! HAW HAW!" Zubairi laughed crazily at his own joke, his beard bells jingling wildly as his spectacles nearly fell from his face. "A reputation I have for being a good teacher of all that is dragon."

"Are you... uh... a gazelle?" Twilight asked, feeling impolite.

"MMmmph." Zubairi nodded with uncertainty, rolling his eyes. "Mostly. Grandfather was okapi."

"How do you know what I am?" Spike blurted. "I've gone through every book in Canterlot on dragons. None of them talked about what dragons are like! I couldn't find any that looked like me!"

"These old horns of mine... " Zubairi tilted his head. "....have slain many dragons. I was once a... what is the Equestrian word for it? A knight, yes. A knight I was. Whole family was. But one day I fell and hurt myself and a dragon helped me. A dragon saved my life, even after all the wickedness I had done. Since then I have devoted my life to trying to help them and teach others of their nature. I have learned much in my travels! Much!"

"So you know stuff about... what I am? Or what I'm supposed to be?" Spike asked, shifting toward the edge of the table, turning in the direction of the voice. "What am... what are we like? What are antabogas like?"

"Fast is a good word, yes. I have seen them swim faster than dolphins. And very big. Strong. They use ends of their tails to launch fish high into the sky, then breathe green fires into the air, cooking the fish and catch them in their mouth and chew them up. Some of the smart ones even sell the cooked fish to griffon tribes." Zubairi lifted his head, his saggy yellow eyes looking across the ceiling as memories came to him one by one. "There were some that spoke in my tongue. One once told me her favorite thing to eat was whales. She was certainly big enough to eat a whale. She liked to collect pearls."

"Wait... does this mean I'm never gonna grow wings?" Spike asked, looking somewhat downcast. "Do antabogas even have wings?"

An amused raspy chuckle came from the old oryx. "Afraid not. Antabogas realm is not the sky. But if you spend time in water, you won't need wings. None can catch you."

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The afternoon was spent with Spike slouched over in Twilight's arms, listening to tales from the old oryx. He had been many places in his long life. From the badlands near the sandy southern pole where changelings lived, to the cold far north shores and domains of the icy windigos. He had fought giant orthros in the magma-filled plains to the east, and danced in celebration with the kelpies of the west. Dined with harpies, and dived with mermaids. Flown with faeries and fought with sirens. He spoke of strange creatures and minerals deep below the surface, of giant statues shattered in great barren wastelands, depicting unknown alicorns from farther back than anyone could remember. He spoke of his school and his teacher, a wise old giraffe who had been turned to stone by a basilisk. Even adventures with Zecora had entered his tales, from a time when both were younger and less cautious, ready to seize all the sights the world had to offer.

But of all his knowledge and stories, it was the dragons Spike and Twilight wanted to know of most. How did they travel, how did they sleep and eat. Their habits, their cultures, all things they could learn. And Spike sat happily, curled up in Twilight's embrace, learning all he could ever have wanted to know about the kind of creature he was. The kind of creature antabogas were. They were mostly friendly dragons, who loved to play in the sea. They weren't cruel or evil, like many of the dragons Spike had encountered in his short life. Many were friends with other equines and hooved folks far across the world, even living amongst them in seaside villages.

And for the first time in his life, Spike didn't feel quite as different and separate from those around him. And most important of all, he knew now, Twilight loved him and thought of him as her own. And although he was weary, his mind was more awake and alive than ever. His heart still felt slightly uncertain about whether Twilight really wanted him around, but for now the confidence and love he felt had nearly washed away these feelings. He couldn't remember a time he had felt this comfortable, wrapped in Twilight's velvety arms and learning of the creatures he had descended from. But as the sun began to dip low, Zubairi informed them he had to leave.

Twilight gave Spike another kiss before wrapping him in the towel, sliding off the table herself in order to lead Zubairi out of the room so he could depart for home.

"I can't thank you enough, for what you've done." Twilight felt her voice shake, overwhelmed with all that had happened. "Even though I can't see Spike's eyes... I know him well enough to see that you really helped him today. You've helped us both. So again, thank you. Thank you so much."

"Take this." Zubairi's horns hummed as his notepad flew from his cloak into Twilight's hooves. "A first shed is a special time for little dragons. It is a mark of life. You and Spike may not know of antaboga culture but... it is traditional that the parent spend this special time with the young one. A good tradition. Remember! He must learn to shed the skin on his own. Try to help very little. It may be difficult for you and him. He must be strong, and will need to do it again when older."

"What about his eyes?" Twilight asked, flipping through the notebook quickly. "Does the skin... erm... peel off gently there? Will it hurt him?"

"Shouldn't hurt. He won't like it but... shouldn't hurt. Eyecaps are tricky. Be gentle." Zubairi bowed, turning to leave. "And fish, yes. He needs fish. Maybe you as well, so you can grow old and strong like me? HAW HAW!"

Twilight grinned wryly as the oryx trotted merrily away towards the smeared portal on the wall. Zecora was sleeping on a chair next to it, curled up with her striped tail swishing in her sleep. At first glance Twilight though Zubairi was staring at the zebra before she noticed his eyes were peering at a framed photo on the wall, a few feet above where Zecora was napping. He pranced forward studying it, before lifting it from it's hook and carrying it over to Twilight.

"This is a real photography, yes?" Zubairi inquired, raising a bushy eyebrow as he approached.

The photo was one of the few that hadn't been destroyed in Tirek's fire, and one of the most precious photos that Twilight owned. It was a picture taken only a few days after she'd been ascended to the form of alicorn, coming home from her coronation. The slightly dusty image featured Twilight, smiling happily after getting off the hot air balloon she often used in those days to travel to Canterlot. The famous fashion designer Photo Finish had been in town to snap the first pic of the newly crowned Princess of Magic and everyone was there. The Elements of Harmony, Twilight's best friends, and their little sisters. Spike stood happily near Twilight's hooves, a book clutched in one hand, and a quill in the other. Zecora and the Mayor were there too, smiling humbly next to the extended Cake and Pie families. All these ponies who had been strangers to Twilight only a couple of years prior, becoming a new sort of family for the bookworm. It had been a beautiful day, perfectly summed up in this still image. An image Twilight glanced at every time she went out. An image she had nearly lost. Twilight pawed at it with a hoof, remembering how carefree things had been, nodding to Zubairi as he stared at it with a renewed interest.

"Spike.... is purple?" Zubairi inquired quietly, squinting at the image.

"Yes... he's always been purple. Why?"

Zubairi sniffled a bit before readjusting his spectacles. "Antaboga are blue. Like the sea."

The old oryx drew back from the photo, furrowing his bushy eyebrows as he sat in thought, before turning to Twilight, a sparkle in his eye as he studied her.

"Tell me, Twilight Sparkle. Tell me of the day he hatch. What occurred?"

It was a story Twilight had told before, the day of her initiation into Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. The months spent preparing, learning all the magic tricks she could. Her confusion when her test subject had been a purple spotted egg, wheeled into the classroom from origins unknown. Tasked with doing something magical to it, anything at all to prove she had a grasp of the basics. She remembered the anxiety, with the four professors sitting before her, watching to see what she would do, their expressions solemn. She recalled the explosion that had shook the city, the massive rainbow that had torn through the sky, caused from a pegasus filly far away, who would later become one of her closest friends. And of course the chain reaction of surprise and fright that had led to Twilight releasing all her pent up magic at once, sending the room into chaos and shattering the egg. And in the pandemonium that followed, Princess Celestia herself, Goddess of the Sun, had strode into the classroom, informing Twilight that she would now be Celestia's personal apprentice.

"She told me I needed to tame my abilities through focused study." Twilight smiled fondly at the memory. "It was hard to stay focused when we took Spike home. He was so active and always wanted to play. He was my first real friend. We spent so much time together, reading fairytales and textbooks. Eventually he was old enough to understand how important my education was, an education I shared with him as much as I could. He's been at my side since then, helping me."

Zubairi had been sitting still, his eyes closed as if in deep thought through the story. He popped one eye open and smirked a bit as he glanced at Twilight who was still staring at the photo, daydreaming.

"Dragons and pheonix are similar, Twilight Sparkle. They both have a sort of... rebirth. When a dragon dies, his or her body is placed in magma. A special burial. The body separates and the clumps become new eggs. It is a ritual for them. The ones who wish to be parents take an egg and care for it. For a time I thought fire was needed to hatch a dragon egg, until I saw the shesha hydras of the Equadoe tundras hatch babies with her breaths of ice. It is then that I understood."

He placed a hoof on Twilight's shoulder.

"Only great magic can hatch a dragon's egg. And the egg will only hatch when it has taken in enough magic to make the baby inside... whole and ready, because dragons are magic themselves. It is a part of them. This means you truly are Spike's mamma. He is your blood, Twilight Sparkle. Your offspring. You are a part of him."

Twilight's jaw hung in shock as the oryx chuckled merrily and made his way over to Zecora, nudging her awake and speaking words to her in his native language.

"I must go now Twilight and Zecora. Tsamaya sentle to you both. And congratulations on hatching a baby antaboga, Twilight Sparkle. You must be powerful indeed to have done such a thing. What is it you Equestrians say when there is a new life? Mazel tov? Neigh? Haw Haw!"

The candles in the house flickered briefly as Zubairi stepped into the inky portal smeared on the wall. There was a loud sound like a pop and he was gone, returning to the mystical lands of Zebrica from whence he came. Only the echoes of the bells he wore remained, and these too, soon vanished. Zecora trotted over sheepishly, eyeballing the circles of fruit and ink on the far wall.

"I apologize for the ample mess. I hope I did not cause distress."

"Hmm?" Twilight blinked as if waking from a dream. "Oh! No! No, actually thank you Zecora. I'm in the process of enchanting this castle to clean itself, anyway. This little stain is a small price for allowing me to be sure Spike was healthy and safe. Thank you for recommending your friend. He was a real life-saver."

Zecora nickered and bowed as Twilight noticed the Cutie Mark Crusaders were mysteriously gone.

"Where's Sweetie Belle, Applebloom, and Scootaloo? Did Rainbow Dash arrive while I spoke with Zubairi?"

"Dash came and left, this is true. She wanted badly to speak with you. I told her you were busy attending to Spike. I'm afraid that answer... was one she did not like."

"Why? How did she react."

"She said vulgar words that were unpleasant. I dare not repeat with children present." Zecora coughed and blushed.

Twilight shook her head and sighed. That sounded like Rainbow Dash alright. No doubt those three impressionable fillies would be repeating whatever bad words Dash had said, leading to the rest of the adults feeling embarrassed. But that would be an issue for another day, and Twilight had more important things to worry about right now. She gave Zecora a hug and thanked her wise friend again as the zebra departed, ready to spend the rest of the day peacefully in her hut deep in the Everfree Forest.

Spike lifted his head from the towel he was resting upon as he heard the clicking sound of Twilight's hooves on the crystal floor as she rounded the corner, walking slowly towards the table. He scrunched up his face and dug into the towel with his small claws.

"Hey Twi?"

"Yes, Spike?" Twilight asked, her voice barely above a whisper, gently levitating the towel and the pale dragon on it to the floor in front of her.

"I heard all that stuff that Zubzub guy said. About... um.... how dragon eggs hatch."

"Kinda hoped you had heard all that." Twilight swallowed, trembling. "I don't think I could repeat it without going to pieces right now."

Spike swished his tail awkwardly, his blank eyes seeming to stare into space. "S... s-so does this change... stuff?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean... do you... r... regret... "

A purple aura hovered around the dragon as Twilight pulled Spike in, snatching him from the towel and hugging him fiercely.

"No Spike. I could never ever regret hatching you. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I know I've screwed up, especially recently, and maybe.... maybe it will take a while before I can make you really believe me when I say it but... I love you, Spike. I love you more than anything. You are the most precious thing in my life. I love you more than books!"

"That's a lot!" Spike grinned shyly as Twilight nuzzled him lovingly with the end of her snout.

"It is a lot!" Twilight echoed, cuddling Spike to her torso and lowering her voice. "Look at me, Spike."

"I can't really do that right now." Spike giggled a bit to himself. "I can't see, remember?"

"You must be feeling better."

"Yeah a little bit."

"Well since you can't see me right now, at least listen to me." Twilight began, whispering gently as Spike lay still in her arms. "Spike I don't want you to ever feel like you owe me anything. You are a blessing. I couldn't function on a level considered normal by anypony if I didn't have you by my side. I never want you to feel like... like your worth... is based on favors. You are more than that to me. More than I could ever write if I had all the time in the world to do it. You are more than just my little assistant, Spike. You are my son. You are my little boy. You are my foal, even if... that's... not scientifically or categorically correct but I don't care... that's how much you mean to me, Spike. Do you understand?"

Spike nodded, snuggling closer to his mother. "Does this mean I can call you mom?"

"Yes it does. And you should. Since that is scientifically and categorically correct!" Twilight nuzzled him again as he gurgled happily and yawned. "But hey, don't fall asleep yet, let's get all this... old weird skin off of you. You want to see again, right?"

"I'm tired. Can't we just buy me a cane?"

Twilight smiled and tried not to snort with laughter. If ever there was a sign that Spike was feeling a bit back to his old self, it was his strange sense of humor. Gently she placed him back on the towel, where he wriggled a bit to get comfortable before laying still.

"So um.... " Spike coughed politely, clearing his throat. "How do I start this? Is there a zipper?"

"I have no idea whatsoever." Twilight scratched the back of her head with a hoof. "I'm not even certain how lizards and snakes and turtles do this sort of thing. That's way outside my realm of knowledge. Maybe I should bother Fluttershy... or Pinkie Pie."

"I don't think I want Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie or Gummy staring at me while I do this." Spike shuddered at the thought of being ogled by Pinkie's creepy pet alligator.

"Hmmmm." Twilight thought hard, wrinkling her muzzle, her face lighting up as she got an idea. "I could make a little incision you know. Maybe use a quill or letter opener to cut some of the skin off."

"No!" Spike frowned. "That old guy said I have to figure out how to do this on my own. If other antabogas can do this, then so can I! I'd be shaming my dragon heritage."

"Zubairi could at least have given us a hint." Twilight deadpanned, rolling her eyes. "Dragon heritage, really?"

"And pony heritage!" Spike added. "You wouldn't want me to just take the easy way out."

"Sigh. I suppose that's true."

For several agonizing minutes, Twilight watched as Spike moved and contorted in strange ways, trying to determine how to start the process of his molt. Eventually he started trying to scratch it off using the small claws on his toes. Nothing seemed to be able to make a real dent in the skin, reminding both of them just how tough dragons were. Their flesh was like thick plated industrial rubber, covered in rocks. As she watched Spike struggle, an old distant memory floated up to the surface in Twilight's mind.

When she had been younger, still a filly, and Spike was still an infant, drooling and slithering around her as she studied, there had been an incident. Twilight and Shining Armor had been listening to the radio, with Twilight petting Spike the way other ponies would stroke a kitten. Shining had gotten up to get a glass of milk and had accidentally trodden on the very tip of the flat end of Spike's tail. He had immediately stepped off, but hatchling Spike had still screeched in surprise and pain, all the green quills along his spine jutting out as he curled up. One quill had stabbed deep into Twilight's hoof, causing deep red blood to flow. After that, their parents had decided it would be best to file down the sharp pointed ends of Spike's quills with a bit of sandpaper and lotion. Twilight still carried the faintest scar on her left hoof, and she stared at it as an idea came to mind.

"Spike! You know that thing that my dad said never to do?" Twilight asked suddenly, a mischievous grin on her face.

"Yeah?"

"Do it!"