• Published 12th Nov 2016
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Grief is the Price We Pay - Scyphi



Spike thought he could get them to trust and befriend Thorax. But they didn't.

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From Scratch

The cavern they had spent the night in was quite sizeable. Spike had first found it by stumbling across a cavity in its roof and falling in, but thanks to its great size, there was another, safer, way in and out the cave hidden a bit further into its depths, a level opening that opened up into the lee of a snow-covered hill. Thorax had wandered out to this opening to stand and survey the frozen lands beyond a few moments before, in hopes of spying anything of interest. When he did not immediately return, Spike wandered to the entrance and found the changeling standing at the opening and gazing out at the Crystal Empire visible out in the distance, shimmering in the early morning sunlight. Knowing the changeling’s thoughts and not wanting to interrupt, Spike stood sheepishly and followed his gaze.

“It’s so close, and yet so far,” Thorax noted aloud after a beat of this gazing, dismay tainting his voice.

“You heard Shining Armor when they escorted you outside the empire’s border though,” Spike reminded, remembering the event clearly in his mind. He suspected the traumatic memory would be forever burned into his mind now. “They’ll be guarding the border to make sure we don’t try and sneak back in.” He sighed, feeling betrayed by the ponies who had decided to abandon him for taking the side of a changeling. “They made it clear they don’t want us there.”

“They don’t want me there,” Thorax corrected.

“And so by extension they don’t want me there either if they don’t want you too.”

Thorax glanced at the dragon for the bitter tone he spoke in, but he chose not to comment on it. “It’s odd, really,” he admitted. “I guess they’re a threat to us both now, but from here, it all seems so innocently calm…”

Spike glanced at the sun, still hanging low on the horizon. “Well, it’s still early enough that they’re all still probably waking up, starting their day, getting breakfast…” he trailed off and rubbed his stomach, empty and aching. He glanced at Thorax. “Speaking of food, you, uh, getting enough?”

Thorax didn’t respond, but he exhaled slowly and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to discuss the matter obviously, but Spike already knew what the changeling had been doing when he thought Spike wouldn’t notice.

“It’s okay, Thorax,” the dragon assured his friend and now only ally. “You can keep…” he hesitated at the awkward term he was about to utter. “…feeding on me.” He wrinkled his snout for a moment, self-conscious on how that sounded, but he pressed on. “I mean, I haven’t even really noticed, so it’s not like it hurts or is harmful any, right?”

“Not unless I overfeed,” Thorax responded flatly.

Spike hesitated for a second. “Would you?”

Thorax looked at Spike. “I wouldn’t,” he promised, dead serious. “I wouldn’t dare. I would rather starve first than do that to you.”

Reassured but intimidated by Thorax’s unexpected intensity, Spike simply nodded. “So, uh, back to my original question…”

“So long as you keep producing positive emotion and freely releasing it so I can feed upon it like you have up to now, then yes,” Thorax explained, returning his gaze on the Crystal Empire on the horizon. “I think I’ll keep fed with you being around.”

Spike grinned, pleased. “Good thing I’m sticking around then, right?” he remarked. He rubbed his own stomach again. “So we just need to worry about keeping me fed, then.”

“What do dragons eat, anyway?”

“Preferably gemstones. But in a pinch I’ll eat just about anything edible. So same as ponies, basically.”

“We’ll have to go someplace where we can get a ready supply of that then.”

They were quiet for a moment.

“So…where do we go now?” Spike said, finally asking the question they had both been trying to avoid.

Thorax made a heavy sigh. “I honestly don’t know,” he admitted. He blinked his eyes a few times and Spike wondered if he was blinking away tears of regret. “The Crystal Empire was really kind of my last hope. But we really can’t stay here anymore, can we?”

Spike shook his head. “We’re not allowed in the city now, and we can’t stay here in the frozen wastes. We’ll freeze eventually…if not worse.”

“So wherever we go, I guess it’ll have to be away from here.”

Spike thought for a moment. “I suppose we could try heading for Yakyakistan.”

Thorax glanced at the dragon, one eyebrow raised. “Yakyakistan?” he repeated, unfamiliar with the name.

“It’s a land further north from here…unaffiliated with Equestria.” But no sooner had Spike made the suggestion had he begun to wrinkle his nose at the thought. “But the yaks that live there are all a bit…judgmental. I’m not really that confident they’d be willing to take in a dragon and a changeling now that I think about it.” He snorted then added, “And Twilight’s not here, so I can also say that I think they’re short-tempered idiots and not really fun to be around.” It then led him to yet another thought. “And yet she was more willing to befriend them than she was with you.”

They fell silent for a moment as they let Spike’s bitter thought sink in fully.

“Let’s not go to Yakyakistan,” Spike suggested after the pause.

“Okay,” Thorax agreed simply.

They pondered the dilemma a bit further in silence.

Spike then realized another concern he had neglected to consider before now. “How are we going to get out of here anyway? Just hoof it?” He glanced at Thorax. “How’d you get way out here on your own in the first place anyway?”

“I flew,” Thorax explained, and fluttered his gossamer wings briefly for emphasis. “But I suppose you don’t really have that option yourself, do you?”

“Could you possibly carry me?” Spike suggested.

“Probably…but the extra weight would mean I’d have to stop and rest more often…it’d drag out the trip, making it longer…probably by a couple of days.”

Spike rubbed his stomach, which had been grumbling with hunger off and on since he woke up. “Probably not too ideal seeing we pretty much don’t have any supplies.”

“And it all depends on whether or not the weather keeps staying decent. I lucked out when coming up here because the weather stayed fairly calm during my whole trip, but it still can get pretty temperamental outside of the Crystal Empire and without warning too. We could unexpectedly get caught in a blizzard.”

“That would be bad,” Spike agreed, not relishing the idea. “So I guess leaving here on foot isn’t going to be too ideal for the same reasons.”

“Does that even leave any other ways to leave at all?”

“Well…I suppose there’s always the train.”

“I’d be happy with the train. Never been on a train before.” Thorax glanced at his dragon friend. “But wouldn’t that cost money that we don’t have?”

“I have an all-season pass, courtesy of Twilight’s connections as royalty.” Spike frowned. “…but I left it in my room in the Crystal Castle, and it might be null and void now, considering I’m…” he trailed off.

“I suppose there’s another problem too,” Thorax reasoned, “and that’s whether or not they’d even let us on a train now.”

Spike nodded. “They probably won’t,” he agreed. “So we’d need disguises at the very least.”

“Oh, well, I’m covered there.” Thorax turned and with a burst of magical cyan flames, transformed into his crystal pony disguise of Crystal Hoof.

Spike grinned at the sight of the familiar face. “Unfortunately they’re going to be looking out for that disguise,” he pointed out. “You’d need a new one.”

“Oh right.” Thorax, as Crystal Hoof, scrunched up his face in thought for a moment. Then with another burst of mystical fire he transformed into another pony.

Spike recognized which one right away. “And I think disguising yourself as Sunburst is probably going to make yourself a bit too conspicuous, seeing he’s publicly known as Princess Flurry Heart’s crystaller and all.”

Thorax regarded the new amber-colored body he had assumed. “True,” he agreed and tried once more, this time taking the shape of a pony Spike quickly recognized as one of Cadance’s pony aides.

“Can’t you just create an all-new disguise from scratch?” Spike suggested. “That way you can create the form of an all-new pony that no one will have seen before and will have no chance of wondering why they might be in one spot rather than another…or the chance of somepony finding out they are in two places at once.”

Thorax reverted back to his natural form and bit his tongue. “It starts getting a bit difficult when you create a disguise from scratch,” he admitted. “Changelings are better at mimicry and not so much…creativity. It often takes more energy to do than for it to be wise or worth the effort.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself,” Spike admitted, concerned.

“I think I could still whip up something though.” Thorax thought for a moment. “Any suggestions?”

“Well since it takes so much effort, I’d suggest it’d be one you wouldn’t have to change or adjust again anytime soon,” Spike suggested. “And probably nothing too elaborate. In fact, that’d probably work in our favor in keeping unnoticed.” He rubbed his chin for a moment. “Can you shoot for a random generic pony tourist up here to see the Crystal Empire or something?”

Thorax thought for a moment. He then briefly burst into flames once more and transformed into a young earth pony stallion that could be a little younger than Twilight in age. His fur covering his body was a dark grey, similar in color to Thorax’s natural chitin, demonstrating Thorax’s point about creativity not always being a changeling’s strong point, but he contrasted it nicely by giving the stallion a stylized mane the color of pale cyan and with vividly ice-blue eyes to match, not the same as his disguise as Crystal Hoof, but there was a similarity. He bore a simple emerald-cut jewel for a cutie mark, but Spike quickly saw a potential cover story for that by pretending Thorax was a jeweler or jeweler’s apprentice up here to study the empire that was literally built out of the very medium he worked with.

Thorax appeared to have his misgivings about it though, turning in a circle as he looked himself over. “What do you think?” he asked Spike skeptically.

Spike, however, was much more optimistic about it. “I think it looks great. We can definitely work with that.” He then looked down at himself. “I guess that just leaves me, then.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be harder,” Thorax admitted as he reverted once more to his natural changeling form.

“What’s worse is that I actually brought disguises here to the Crystal Empire to use so to try and avoid drawing too much publicity as Spike the Brave and Glorious,” Spike explained, batting away the unwanted thought that he no longer had that title at the same time. “I didn’t want that hindering Twilight and Starlight’s visit.” He sighed. “But all that’s in a bag that’s also in my room in the Crystal Castle, where we can’t get at it now.”

Thorax gazed out at the Crystal Empire’s skyscape again, and Spike could see the gears turning in the changeling’s mind. “What if we could?”

Spike narrowed his eyes, apprehensive at the idea. “What are you suggesting?” he asked slowly.

“Spike, I’m a changeling,” Thorax reminded. “I can disguise myself as just about anything. I’ll sneak back in there, grab your things for you, and then…”

“Thorax, you can’t do that!” Spike interrupted, immediately worried. “They’ll be on guard for you, doubly so now than before! And if they catch you…”

“We snuck in before, you and me, even with the guards on full alert!” Thorax again reminded. “Twice!”

Spike twiddled his claws and bit his lip, unsure. “And we did do it by keeping you disguised as a pony, enough to get you into the castle itself without protest…” he conceded. “But when I tried to sneak you back out again after everything went awry…”

“It’ll be just me this time though, and disguising myself is easy. I’d only have to look after myself.”

“…And if I wait here while you go alone…” Spike shook his head. “It’s still way risky Thorax. That may have worked before, but we really shouldn’t push our luck on this. We don’t know what other security measures they may have taken up after they kicked us out!”

“Third time’s the charm,” Thorax stated with confidence. “Besides, I think I know the perfect disguise for this.” With a flash of cyan fire, he transformed into one of the crystal guards, complete with armor, and looked like he’d blend in without detection perfectly.

Spike fidgeted to himself for a moment, debating. “Well…”

“Please Spike, let me do this for you,” Thorax, still as the guard, pleaded. “You’ve done so much for me already, so let me do something for you now.”

Spike debated for a moment longer, then finally nodded. “Okay,” he said. He then gave Thorax a stern smirk. “But you’d better come back safe. I’m not about to be an outcast all on my own.”

Thorax grinned. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Spike.”

Author's Note:

Everybody keeps talking about where Thorax and Spike ought to go for shelter now that they're banished, but I find it interesting that none of you seem to have stopped to consider the complexities they have to face just getting out of the Frozen North. :raritywink:

Minor edits made to chapter as of 11/24/2016

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