• Published 3rd Jul 2012
  • 15,303 Views, 747 Comments

Of Age - paleowriter

Rarity is on a mission to learn more about dragons, stop a war, and discover her true feelings.

  • ...

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Rarity picked up her right front hoof, grimacing at it. Covered in mud and filth already. Why didn't I think to bring my boots?

She tilted her head back, rolling her eyes skyward at her own incompetence. Just what else didn't I think to bring that I'll end up needing?

The stars shimmered above her as Rarity wracked her brain for any other useful items she might've forgotten. If only I wasn't on a rendezvous schedule with those guards, I could go back and get my boots…and maybe some extra bars of soap…

Alas, she'd agreed to meet a segment of the Canterlot guard on the far edge of the forest by sun-up, at which point they'd then stay back and give her a day's head start. They'd trail her at a distance, looking out for her safety during the remainder of her trip. Rarity sincerely hoped they'd be as good at tracking her as Princess Celestia promised they would be. Especially since she was giving up going back for boots just to meet them on time.

Resigning herself to muddy hooves, Rarity walked onwards through the small clearing she'd stumbled into earlier. The ground squished uncomfortably with every step, making awful squelching noises that made Rarity wince.

Hopefully these noises don't attract the attention of any of the less savory inhabitants of the forest, Rarity thought to herself, keeping her ears perked up for the slightest sound of an attacker. She'd been lucky so far, and she knew it. Odds were she'd come across something unpleasant sooner rather than later, though. She'd prepared a dazzle spell as a last minute distraction move if something did come after her, but she'd rather not have to use it.

Then, almost drowned out by the chirping sounds of the Everfree night, Rarity heard a scream.

The unmistakable scream of a young pony.

Oh no! What other pony could be in the forest right now? Her head spun around as she tried to pinpoint its direction.

"Help!" the faint cry sounded.

There. Rarity's eyes locked onto the source of the scream.

A gangly creature flew through the air, its leathery wings beating rapidly. It struggled to carry with it a familiar looking wagon and scooter…with three fillies dangling precariously from its claws.

A cold shock crashed through Rarity. Sweetie Belle.

All promises to Princess Celestia and the Canterlot guard were immediately forgotten. Rarity's hooves couldn't move fast enough as she chased after the beast that had her sister.

Spike clambered through the thick forest, racing after the Cutie Mark Crusaders and their extremely scary-looking kidnapper. If only he'd brought some parchment and a quill, he could've written a note to Twilight to bring help, but he hadn't. And there was no way he was going to turn back to go get help and lose sight of Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom in the process. He was the only one who knew where they were and what had gotten them, after all.

Gotta…catch up…Spike's breathing was ragged and his muscles felt like they'd been torn to shreds, but he didn't dare slow down. The forest was dark. If he lost even a moment of time, he might lose the fillies forever.

He forced himself over another fallen tree, slipping slightly on the damp moss. Spike's eyes followed the creature making a slow descent in the distance. Once it was below the tree line, Spike lost sight of it, but that didn't stop him from running in the direction it'd gone.

It's landing! The thought brought both relief and added panic. Landing made it easier to catch up, sure, but landing could also mean it was getting ready to make dinner out of its catch…

His heart tightened in his chest. Hold on, I'm coming! Spike ducked under a mass of busted tree limbs, wincing as they scraped against his face. Then he had to skid to a halt as he almost ran into a dark boulder in his path. Spike ducked around the rock and continued on in the direction he'd saw the beast go.

Just what is that thing, anyway? Spike wondered. He'd never seen anything like it. Horned head, wings like a giant bat, but a long scaly body like a dragon who'd lost way more weight than was healthy. He had no clue what it could be, or just how quickly it may devour ponies…

The sound of screams gave Spike confirmation of which way to run. He remembered just an hour earlier, when it'd been the sound of giggles leading him in the right direction. The difference was panic-inducing to comprehend. Yeah, well this is what happens when you go into the Everfree Forest at night! Spike mentally chided the fillies, pushing a bunch of ferns out of his way. What were they thinking? What was RARITY thinking? She was the one to go into the forest in the first place!

Spike's heart beat even faster. He hoped whatever creature he'd been chasing didn't have friends. And if it did, that none of them had Rarity.

He burst through a thorn bush, brushing at his scales to knock the pokey thorns away.

"Let us go!" Sweetie Belle's familiar squeak sounded.

Spike looked up quickly. Just ahead of him was a pond, the moon reflecting on its calm waters. Next to it was a scene completely the opposite of calm.

Scootaloo's tail was trapped under the beast's claws, but she beat at it with her two front hooves viciously. Apple Bloom was loose somehow, leaping about and doing high-flying kicks at the creature's stomach. Meanwhile, Sweetie Belle was held tight by a huge fist, struggling with all her might to break loose.

"Take that, yeh big hunk of ugly!" Apple Bloom shouted, careening into the monster's chest.

"ARRGHHH!" Scootaloo punched at the reptilian arm repeatedly.

"I said, let us go!" Sweetie Belle chomped her teeth down on the hand holding her up.

The creature howled in pain. They've got it annoyed, but not enough to give up on them yet, Spike realized. They were actually doing okay on their own, but they clearly still needed help.

"Yeah!" Spike leapt forward out of the bushes. "Let them go!"

"Spike!" Apple Bloom looked over, startled.

"Spike!" Scootaloo exclaimed, mid-punch.

"Smmmmk!" Sweetie Belle's eyes flew open, her teeth still clamped down tight on the scaly finger.

Spike raced into the fray, gearing up his fire to full blast. Admittedly, fully blast still wouldn't be that much, but the monster was no dragon, he was sure of that. Which meant there was a chance its scales weren't fireproof. He inhaled deeply, feeling the flames kindling inside him, and was about to exhale when the creature spoke.

"Find your own food, dragon!" Its voice sounded like somepony slowly stepping on a set of bellows.

Spike swallowed his fire to respond. "These ponies aren't food! They're my friends! Now let them go!"

"Friends! Hah! A likely story," the creature wheezed. The scales on its head were long and winding around its face, almost like a thin lion mane. Horns jutted out in all directions from the scales.

Spike gestured down at his short stature. "Look at me! How would I be big enough to eat three ponies?"

The monster narrowed its eyes at him, sizing him up. It took a couple moments. Okay, so whatever it is, it isn't the smartest of species.

"Perhaps you have a point," it conceded. It looked back down at the two fillies in its claws. "More for me, then."

"Not if ah can stop yeh!" Apple Bloom shouted, launching another kick attack.

She was immediately swatted aside. Spike winced as Apple Bloom crashed to the ground, skittering through the leaf litter. Meanwhile, the creature opened its mouth wide, reaching down towards Sweetie Belle with sharp, dripping fangs.

"No!" Spike leapt forward, grabbing onto the beast's outstretched arm and swinging himself over it so he was between Sweetie Belle and the gaping maw that formed the creature's mouth. "I told you to let them go."

"Why would I do that?" the creature asked, pausing momentarily to eye Spike.

Spike felt his body trembling. "Because…because…" He glanced behind him at Sweetie Belle. Her eyes shimmered, pleading. Looking down where Scootaloo lay trapped, with Apple Bloom by her side, he saw identical expressions on both of them as well. They're counting on me. He swallowed. "Because ultra-intelligent creatures like us shouldn't just go and eat each other," Spike said, trying to appeal to the creature's vanity. "Obviously."

"Meat is meat." The creature shrugged.

Maybe it didn't have vanity. At least not about its brainpower.

Plan B.

"Well if meat is meat…" Spike tried next. His shaking was almost out of control, but he somehow kept a grip on the beast's arm. "Then eat me first. Maybe you'll be too full to eat them, then."

It laughed, a wheezy, thin laugh. "A gargoyle, eat a dragon? Oh, this would be too much."

"Exactly!" Spike exclaimed, relieved that he finally had the thing agreeing with him. A gargoyle, huh? So that's what it is. "I'll fill you right up. You might as well let them go now."

"Spike, no!" Apple Bloom yelled from below. "Yeh can't do that for us!"

"No way, Spike!" Sweetie Belle agreed.

"If you're going to eat Spike, you're just going to have to eat all of us!" Scootaloo yelled fiercely. It would've been touching if it wasn't so stupid.

Shut up, Scootaloo! Spike wanted to yell back. Didn't they see he was trying to help them?

The gargoyle laughed some more. "I didn't mean you'd be too much to eat. I can most certainly eat you and your pony friends, with no problem."

"Fine then," Spike said. He began restocking his inner fire. "Prove it."

"You're shaking, dragon," the gargoyle mocked. "You're afraid and you're putting your courage in the wrong place. Oh well. Goodbye, my cowardly cousin." The giant mouth opened once more, reaching for Spike this time.

Apple Bloom leapt up towards him but just couldn't get high enough with her kick. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo screamed.

Just as the gooey, saliva-covered teeth reached over the top of Spike's head, Spike let out his dragon breath.

Green fire filled the gargoyle's mouth.

It shrieked and flailed its arms, sending Spike flying. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were released from its grip, as it clawed at its own mouth. According to Twilight's books, gargoyles could make fire much like dragons could, but theirs wasn't nearly as strong. Spike had known it was a gamble to try the trick, but it'd paid off. The gargoyle just couldn't handle a mouthful of dragon flame, even from a baby dragon like himself.

Spike pushed himself back to his feet, allowing for a smug smile as the creature tore off into the night.

"Yeh did it, Spike!" Apple Bloom tackled him with a hug.

"That was the coolest thing I've ever seen!" Scootaloo exclaimed. "Almost as cool as a Sonic Rainboom!"

"That was more like a Dragon Fireboom!" Sweetie Belle chimed in. All three fillies burst out giggling at that, rolling along the ground near their wagon, which the gargoyle had also left behind.

Spike wanted to laugh with them, but he was still too shaky. Those teeth had been really close to his head…

"Sweetie Belle!" Rarity's voice called from a distance. "Sweetie Belle, I can hear you, where are you?"

Spike's shaking stopped. "Rarity!" he exclaimed, breathless.

She was okay. Rarity was okay. She was nearby, and she was okay.

"Over here!" Sweetie Belle's voice called through the trees.

Rarity raced along, desperate to get to her sister. The horrible things she'd heard…screams, roars, trees toppling, crashing…If Sweetie Belle's hurt even a little bit, I'll find that beast and, and…

Rarity pushed past the last branch separating her and her sister.

"Sweetie Belle!" Rarity exclaimed, running over to the little filly. Relief flooded her. Her sister was, at the very least, okay enough to stand. "Are you okay? Are you in pain? Tell me if anything hurts." Rarity set her hooves on Sweetie Belle's shoulders, looking her over. The darkness made it hard to see if there was any bruising.

"I'm fine, Rarity," Sweetie Belle pushed her sister's hooves away. "Really."

"But that beast had you! I saw it!" Rarity said, refusing to stop her fussing. Her sister was filthy. There was a pond nearby, maybe she could use the water to help wash her coat…

Sweetie Belle pushed Rarity's hooves away a second time. "Really really. I'm fine! Spike saved us!"

Spike? "What?" Rarity spun.

There, against the grove of gnarled trees, between Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, stood Spike. He bore one of the most serious expressions she'd ever seen on the dragon's face. Spike saved them?

"I'm glad to see you're safe, Rarity," he said.

Her mind couldn't begin to process everything that was going on. "Spike – what are you – what are any of you doing out here?" Rarity asked, the question finally hitting her.

"What are you doing out here?" Spike countered, his eyebrows knit in concern. "Rarity, it's the middle of the night and this is the Everfree Forest."

"Exactly." Rarity huffed, narrowing her eyes. "It's no time for little fillies to be awake, much less traipsing about someplace as horrid as - "

"It's my fault, Rarity," Sweetie Belle admitted, interrupting her sister. "I followed you with Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, and then Spike must've - "

"WHAT?" Rarity exploded. "How could you? Into the Everfree Forest? And you!" She spun at Spike, betrayal stinging her heart. "You let them! How could you? Sweetie Belle could've gotten hurt!"

"Let them?" Spike took a step backwards. "I didn't – I wasn't – I'm not here because – I wasn't – I was following them!"

Rarity bristled, yanking Sweetie Belle over and throwing a protective hoof around her. "My baby sister! How could you let her do this?"

"I DIDN'T!" Spike yelled, stamping his foot. "I followed them! I heard them outside the library, and chased after them when I realized where they were going! Then that gargoyle came – "

"Gargoyle!" Rarity gasped.

"Yes, and – "

"And Spike saved us!" Scootaloo interrupted the dragon.

"Yeah, so don't yeh be mad at him!" Apple Bloom agreed.

"Seriously, Rarity, it's my fault," Sweetie Belle said, squirming out of her sister's grasp.

Their words swam around Rarity's mind like dyes stirring into water. She stumbled backwards, trying to sort it all out. Sweetie Belle followed me…Apple Bloom and Scootaloo followed her…and Spike followed them? And then they got attacked, and Spike…Rarity's eyes flooded with tears. Spike saved them. Spike saved Sweetie Belle.

The chirping, nighttime forest noises filled the silence as Rarity worked out what to say next. She'd snapped at Spike, when the dragon deserved none of it at all. Why, if it wasn't for him…

"Spike, I'm so sorry," she said, dabbing at her eyes. "I was emotionally distraught, and reacted before I had all the facts. I should never have accused you of such irresponsibility."

Spike, who'd been wringing his hands nervously, the poor dear, dropped his arms to his sides. "Thanks, Rarity," he replied. "I forgive you. You were just worried."

Rarity bit her lower lip, looking at him. His eyes were still downcast. I've gone and done it again. I always manage to hurt him. Rarity hung her head in shame.

Then she remembered why she was in the Everfree Forest in the first place. She glanced up at the sky, checking to see if there were any signs of daylight yet. Still none.

"Listen, I've got to…er…" she trailed off, looking at the three fillies leaning up against one another. Their eyes drooped. Next to them, Spike yawned, a wisp of smoke trailing from his mouth.

She couldn't just leave them falling asleep in the Everfree Forest. Rarity knew that much. But the Canterlot guard…she had to meet them at sun-up. There was such a thing as being fashionably late, but Rarity didn't feel like this was one of the proper situations for it. She really should strive to be on time.

Though…she looked around. After all the running she'd done, Rarity had the stomach-sinking realization that she wasn't quite sure where she was. She needed to look at her maps, including the star maps she'd borrowed from Twilight. She magicked her lantern on and set it on the ground by their feet.

"Perhaps it's a good idea to get some sleep," Rarity suggested. "We should be safe for the night if we stay together," she lied. There was no way to guarantee safety, but she knew Sweetie Belle would never truly fall asleep if she was worried about something.

The three fillies nodded their heads simultaneously and sunk to the ground, passing out almost immediately. Spike rubbed at his eyes, stepping closer to Rarity as she sorted through her bags for her maps.

"Can I help you with anything?" Spike asked.

Rarity shook her head. "You should just get some sleep," she said, squashing down the warmth at knowing Spike was still willing to help her out when he clearly needed to rest, and also just after she'd treated him like a moldy, moth-eaten roll of cloth.

"I'm alright," Spike insisted. "What can I do?"

"Nothing, Spike, really," Rarity replied, unfolding her maps magically in front of her. "I'm just sorting out where I am now and where I'll need to go in the morning."

Spike scratched at his arm. "Aren't we going back to Ponyville?"

"You are," Rarity said. She gave him a significant look. "I'm trusting you to get Sweetie Belle and her friends back safely in the morning. I would do it myself, but I made a promise, and I really can't go back on it…"

"Wait, where are you going?" Spike asked. His green eyes narrowed.

Rarity hunched her shoulders, looking away from him. "I've got to go through the forest. To the other side. For the job Princess Celestia gave me."

"To the other side?" Spike exclaimed. "But that's crazy!"

"It's what I have to do," Rarity said calmly, tracing her hoof along the map to begin sorting out where she'd run that night.

"But…it's too dangerous!" Spike started pacing back and forth next to her, his purple scales reflecting slightly from the lantern light. "You can't! You'll be hurt. Or worse!" He turned to her, his face stricken. "You have to let me go with you."

"Spike, I'm perfectly capable of walking through a forest on my own," Rarity said. "Your offer is kindly meant, but I'm afraid it's impossible to agree to."

"But, but…" Spike began wringing his hands for the second time that night.

"Spike," Rarity said softly, putting a hoof on his shoulder and looking him square in the face. "If you come with me, who will get the girls home?"

Spike looked up at her. The lantern light flickered in his eyes. Rarity held in a small breath. While she'd seen the look from him before, the level of concern the dragon's expression carried for her never failed to catch Rarity by surprise.

"Rarity," Spike whispered. He blinked. His eyes looked a little damp. "Is…is the rest of your job going to be just as dangerous as the first part? This job you have to do alone?" He swallowed.

Rarity could feel him tremble under where her hoof sat on his shoulder. She opened her mouth to lie and help calm him down. But the words that came out weren't the ones that she'd intended at all. "I think so, Spike," she found herself saying. "And, I must admit, I'm rather scared by the whole idea."

His eyebrows knit together. "I see," he said softly.

Rarity's breathing was shallow. She was more than scared. She was terrified. She was going to be completely alone. Unless you take Spike up on his offer to go with you. The idea of Spike being there, by her side…it was so tempting…

But no. Rarity set her shoulders. If Spike came, he'd be in danger with her.

She couldn't let that happen.

Rarity dropped her hoof down from where it sat and turned away from Spike. "I'm sorry, Spike. I didn't mean to make you worry so much," Rarity apologized, looking back down at her map.

Spike was silent for a moment, but eventually he spoke. "It's alright." The dragon slunk away, lying down on a patch of moss near the pond. "Just stay safe. I'll get Sweetie Belle and the others home, I promise."

"Thank you," Rarity whispered. Her hooves moved forward of their own accord in the dragon's direction. She took several involuntary steps before she realized what she was doing.

No, Rarity. She shut her eyes, taking in a deep breath and regaining her willpower. No little cheek kisses, tonight. As much as he deserves one. Rarity held herself in check, backing away from where Spike rested. You'll just hurt him worse if you eventually find out that he's actually too…she swallowed. Too…young. She looked over at her sister and her two friends. They wouldn't be there if it wasn't for Spike.

She shook her head. This was far more confusion than any one mare should have to handle on her own.

Spike slowly opened his eyes. Daylight streamed through the forest canopy. Most forests would be awakened with a cheery scene of songbirds and basking turtles. But as Spike sat up, all the sunlight managed to do in the Everfree Forest was make the skeletal trees look like they glowed like eerie daytime ghostly spirit scary...things.

He looked over to where Rarity had been poring over her maps just hours earlier. She was gone. Spike was hardly surprised, though maybe that was part of the reason the morning seemed so gloomy.

What did cause him to pause was when he glanced to his other side to check on the fillies. Apple Bloom snored loudly…one…Scootaloo lay next to her, her wings twitching in her sleep…two…but beyond them…

"Sweetie Belle." Spike's heart dropped straight down to the soggy forest floor. "No."

The third filly was nowhere to be seen.