• Published 7th Apr 2017
  • 3,431 Views, 250 Comments

The Amulet of Shades - Sparkle Cola



Unfortunately, the Nightmare Moon Incident had one further complication...

  • ...
8
 250
 3,431

Chapter Nine: Faulty Reconnaissance

Cirrus read through the case file once more before his eyes trailed back over to the subject in transit. His work as an operative for Celestia’s Covert Ops was usually a little more anonymous than this, and having to deal with civilians on a face to face basis made him nervous.

Since when does Celestia assign one of her top surveillance specialists to be a personal escort and guard for this unlikely crew? A sedated librarian, a unicorn nurse, and a hotshot hippogriff psychologist— he would rather ditch this crew, pull down his shades, and lean back for a nap. Either that or duck out the cargo hatch and go flying.

Alone.

He snapped the case file closed, the brass auto-closure magically winding shut again. There was nothing new to gain from re-reading information that he had already memorized, and he knew it. It was just frustrating to be locked into one of Princess Celestia’s airships, having to play nursemaid in such a slow, cumbersome vessel.

“Um. Mr. Cirrus, sir?” Nurse Rhymes was looking over at him again.

“Cirrus is fine.”

“Yes. Um...” Nurse Rhymes looked at her hooves hesitantly, making Cirrus bite the inside of his cheek. He had probably offended her with his brusque reply. Why could he never just relax and be casual around mares?

“I was just wondering—”

“ —she was wondering, my dear sir, why we haven’t already arrived at Canterlot?” Dr. Saltz’ voice interrupted tautly as he turned another page in the large volume he was holding, his gaze hardly lifting from the page. “The itinerary explicitly stated that it would be an eight-hour flight.”.

Cirrus looked from Dr. Saltz to Nurse Rhymes again. The two had hardly said a word to each other. Maybe he could ask the cute mare out once they had arrived? Show her around Canterlot once their business was done…

...yeah, maybe in my dreams. Why is it that I am so proficient in covert espionage, but when it comes to ponies of the fairer gender, I can only appreciate them from afar?

“Apologies.” Cirrus cleared his throat. “The Captain had to alter our flight path when a feral weather system came in from the northern front of the Foal Mountains. We’ll make the mooring tower in about thirty minutes.”

Nurse Rhymes nodded with an acknowledging smile before looking over the patient, quickly going over the data displayed on a monitor next to the hospital bed and writing a few notes on a clipboard. Once done, she examined the bindings on the librarian’s wrists and ankles, making sure they were secure for the third time on this trip.

“That’s good.” Nurse Rhymes’ voice faltered for a moment. “We all appreciate it, to be sure. I only hope the healers at Canterlot Hospital will be more successful than Manehattan’s specialists have been.”

“Oh, you misunderstand.” Cirrus couldn’t help but smile a little. “We won’t be going to the hospital.”

Rhymes and Saltz turned their heads towards him, the latter raising an eyebrow. “Oh?” Dr. Saltz set his book down and crossed his arms, his voice becoming testy. “Then where is it you are taking us, Mr. Cirrus? I was looking forward to presenting my findings to a team of some of the best and the brightest of Equestria!”

Cirrus’ smile morphed into a smirk. “Oh, you are getting the best and the brightest—none other than the most legendary healer in the whole country. ”

Dr. Saltz other eyebrow elevated to join the first. “And who, pray tell, is that?”

“We are going straight to Princess Celestia.”

* * *

“Ugh! Where is he?”

Twilight completed her one hundred twenty-seventh lap pacing around the Cutie Map. Starlight Glimmer looked up from the stacks of accreditation paperwork she had to fill before the beginning of each new semester, rolling her eyes before she looked back down at her workload. Twilight hadn’t even noticed that she had been sitting in her throne the whole time, for Celestia’s sake.

“Twilight, unless you are training early for The Running of the Leaves, I don’t think your snit is going to make Spike arrive any sooner.” Starlight giggled as Twilight drew herself up short, shaking her head briefly to clear it. “Wasn’t there something you wanted my help with before you departed for Fillydelphia this afternoon?” She waved her hoof vaguely in the air. “Y’know, something to do with all of the lab equipment you moved up here last night?”

“Oh. Right.”

Starlight surveyed the mess of various arcane and mundane electrical instruments before her eyes finally rested on a calorimeter with a scorch mark on its surface. “And aren’t you supposed to put burning hot things inside of a calorimeter, and not a calorimeter inside something burning?”

“Oh, hah hah.” Twilight looked back at the lab equipment with a sigh. Starlight wondered if the scorch mark had something to do with her now re-growing tail. She knew it had been practically burnt off, but neither Twilight or Spike were divulging how exactly that had happened. Some ancient secrets were best left forgotten.

“I guess you’re right.” Twilight walked over and began to organize some of her notes on the lab table. “I did want you to take a break from your semester prep to give me some input on this magical experiment. I’m just used to Spike being a little more punctual about his assignments and it’s throwing me off.”

“Adolescence.” Starlight waved a hoof dismissively before cocking her head in thought. “And in Spike’s case, it’s not just adolescence: it’s dragon adolescence. What ya gonna do?” She hopped down from Twilight’s chair and made her way over to join her at the table. She smirked as she noticed she had drawn a glare.

Starlight picked up a notebook. Turning a few pages, she couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at what was written across the top: Amulet Experiment #6.

Seriously?

“I appreciate that he’s going through adolescence, Starlight.” Twilight scratched her head, throwing her mane into chaos. “ But the fact that his growth spurt shot him there in a little over two months has been completely outside of whatever we thought we knew about dragons! I’m just having a little bit of a hard time adjusting. And whenever I bring up the abnormality of it all, he manages to dodge, delay, or change the subject.”

“I know, Twilight, I know. You brought this up last week. And the week before… What I can’t figure out is why there is so much food on hand in the kitchen if your dragon assistant has been going through a growth spurt. But enough about that… I want to know more about this.” Starlight magicked the notebook in front of Twilight’s face, tapping on the title of the page with a hoof. “What in Equestria?”

Instead of reading what was directly in front of her face, Twilight merely pushed it away with a hoof. “Wait, food? What do you mean?”

It was Starlight’s turn to roll her eyes. “You put me in charge of castle expenses and supplies four years ago, Twi. I was just going over the books yesterday, and I can tell you, our food expenses haven’t changed. At all. So how are we handling the explosive growth spurt of a certain green-and-purple dragon?”

Twilight’s eyes darted from left to right a few times as she processed the question, until her expression lit up with a dawning smile. “That’s it!”

“What’s ‘it’?” Starlight drew her head back, angling her horn to the side as if it were an antenna trying to hone in on Twilight’s brainwave.

Twilight clopped a hoof to the tile floor. “There must be a connection!”

“I don’t follow.”

“Spike’s been working for the Apples as a farmhand for additional income, and he has been arriving home a little bit later over the past few months, claiming he has had additional work!”

“...And?”

“And the sun has been going down earlier and earlier as the year reaches the Lunar Peak Cycle! It doesn’t make any sense!”

Starlight sat down and folded her forehooves, tossing the notebook back on the lab table. “So… what then? Spike has been sneaking off after working Sweet Apple Acres to… what? Date Applejack on the side? Take dragon growth hormone?”

“Pfft.” Twilight waved a hoof dismissively. “As if! ...wait, dragon growth hormone? Is that a thing?”

All Starlight could do at that point was purse her lips and give a blank shrug.

Twilight picked up the calorimeter, glaring as if she was trying to burn a hole through it. “It’s time to do a little investigation.” Starlight could’ve sworn she saw the thermometer on the end of it climb up a degree. “So I’m going to follow him. Tonight.”

Starlight’s blank expression quickly fell into a flat look. “Tonight? The only thing you’re going to be following is the train car directly to the front of yours. You’re going to be half-way to Fillydelphia by then.”

“And that’s exactly what I want Spike to think!” Twilight grinned ear to ear, activating her horn with a local communications spell. “Captain Berrytwist?”

Starlight could pick out the quiet reply, carried by the spell’s auditory function over Twilight’s right ear. Twilight’s security head was likely maintaining her station near the front gates. “Yes, Princess?”

“Please report to the map room. I have a special assignment for you.”

* * *

The sound of Narcisse’s polished hooves rang out, echoing off of the stark edifices on either side of the narrow street. The buildings seemed to encroach on him the further he went, leaning in as if trying to blot out the sun and sky. Dust and debris blew in from alleys to his south, the wind carrying with it overtones of rotting garbage and unwashed bodies.

Just the way he liked it.

Not that he needed to be surrounded by such environs to feel better about himself or look down on those of lower birth. That wasn’t it at all. Narcisse actually enjoyed combing through the back alleyways, skirting across treacherous fire escapes, and delving through the filth of the underbelly of the city.

He relished being on assignment from Princess Luna, and being authorized to get his hooves dirty. Why?

It was the best kind of beauty.

Every scar that he he earned, every blemish or smudge that marred his pristine features; each mark separated him from the typical nobles and elite of Canterlot. Each blotch honored his dedication to the Lunar Princess. It was only she that could command him; it was only to her that he remained her dutiful servant. If only one day she could perceive that he wanted more...

Lighting his horn, Narcisse held up the scribbled address he had copied into a notepad back at the precinct. After reviewing the information on file from the police, including a small entry about this particular pegasus who had possibly crossed paths with the contact, he decided that he was less than satisfied with the answers they had received and determined that he would meet the pony in the flesh.

Lieutenant Oversky Downdraft - Pegasus
The Quartzite Corner Apartments
42 Cannon Lane #412

The accommodations weren’t much to look at, but he had seen worse. Everything about the structures and their color just screamed middle class, seeming to demonstrate that the architect’s main goal had been to pack as many ponies into one building as possible, without making it look like you were packing as many ponies as possible.

Before long, he stood in front of door #412. Narcisse frowned. One would think a border security agent working at the Manehattan port-of-entry would earn sufficiently to live in better lodgings. No matter. He lifted a hoof to knock.

* * *

“With all due respect Princess, this problem has none of the urgency you are assigning it.”

Captain Berrytwist stood at resolute attention with her head held high, but her eyes tracked Twilight as the alicorn paced back and forth in front of her. Meanwhile, Starlight Glimmer, having gone back to lounging on Twilight’s throne, rolled her eyes as she watched. “You may feel it to be important,” Captain Berrytwist continued, “but I am not willing to risk your safety by positioning myself over 600 miles away so you can do some reconnaissance on your dragon assistant.”

“And I’m telling you that this illusion spell is so well crafted it would fool my own mother!” Twilight clopped a hoof down on the tile floor to emphasize her point. “Tartarus, even Princess Celestia would have a hard time telling the difference!”

Captain Berrytwist raised an eyebrow. “And Princess Luna?”

“Well, of course not—but we’re not trying to deceive Luna! Anyway, I’ll be under disguise the whole time while you are in transit, and then I’ll plot a combo teleport-jump between different airships, hopping from location to location until I reach Fillydelphia! Nopony will be the wiser!”

“...Except for the crews of said airships.”

“I’ll be invisible!”

Captain Berrytwist shook her head before looking up to glare a hole in the ceiling.. “The way you throw magic around… It just feels like cheating. And it makes it very hard to do my job properly.” She met Twilight’s gaze again, narrowing her eyes dangerously. “ If this is your order, I shall obey it, but you have heard my reservations.”

After watching the back and forth over the past several minutes, Starlight decided to lift a hoof and interject. “You know I could be just as capable in observing him, Twi? Then you wouldn’t put out your Security chief so much.” After a pause, her look became mischievous. “Or is this you acting out after feeling a little too smothered by your Captain?”

“It’s not—!” Twilight retorted angrily, turning around before catching Starlight’s bemused expression. “Okay, maybe there is a little of that, but—”

At this, Captain Berrytwist snorted.

“—but this is something that needs to be me. If anything illicit is going on, I need to be the one to confront him about it.”

Starlight gawked. “Illicit? Who said anything about Spike doing something illicit?”

“Well, not illicit per se…” Twilight put a hoof to her face. “It’s just—I just have a feeling about this. I need to be the one that confronts him about it.” Twilight turned to Fizzlepop and gave her an apologetic look. “I can still make it in time for the summit. Besides, this can give you an opportunity to do a security analysis. You know, how do other ponies behave if you do a set up and you’re posing as me? And even if nothing happens, you can secure the premises of our hotel and the convention center well before I arrive. How does that sound?”

“It sounds entirely unnecessary, but as I said, if you order it—”

“—Twilight, I’m back!”

The door to the map room banged shut as Spike strode in, all three mares turning to face him. Spike paused for a moment, mid-stride, as he glanced from pony to pony and then exchanged blank gazes with them.

“Um. If you’re all busy, I can just…” He thumbed a direction over his shoulder. “I’ll just leave the tickets in your study.”

Twilight shook her head briefly before hurrying after him catching him by the door. “No, no... I’ll take them, Spike. Thank you. But what took you so long? It’s never taken you an hour and fifteen minutes to pick up tickets at the Ponyville Station.”

“Well, you remember that favor Golden Harvest asked me about last week?”

The two’s voices diminished as they exited back out of the map room, leaving Starlight and Fizzlepop alone, looking at each other.

“Whelp!” Starlight gave a half smile. “At least I don’t have your job! All I have to do is babysit students of Twilight’s School of Friendship, not the savant herself.”

Fizzlepop’s gaze narrowed. “About that. What are you doing this evening, and how are your stealth spells?”

* * *

“He already spoke with the police.” The surly yellow unicorn folded his forehooves as he leaned back against the door frame. A cigarette dangled uselessly from his lower lip before he pulled it back with his grubby lips, lighting it with his horn. His face was sallow and his stomach was distended, likely malnourished and overly sedentary. “I really don’t think he feels like talking about it with you or anypony else, so kindly shove off.”

The unicorn brought a hoof up to shut the door, but Narcisse’s magic came up quickly, freezing it in place. He leaned into the stallions face, giving a humorless smile. The stallion stank.

With a flick of his horn, the cigarette extinguished itself, and Narcisse pressed even closer, lowering his voice into a whisper-infused growl. “Sometimes, the police don’t ask all of the right questions.”

He held up his obligatory governmental badge, so he could do this by the book. “Agent of Moonlight, on assignment from Princess Luna.” He pointed past the stallion into the shadowy apartment behind him. “If you would be so kind?”

Narcisse watched the stallion’s eyes narrow, but he could already tell he had won this war of wills. Just to make sure though: “Surely your allegiance to the Princess would cause you to open up your home to one of her Agents. If it doesn’t detract too much from your extremely busy and important schedule?”

The pony frowned, stubbornly not moving a muscle for a few moments. Finally, he turned back into his apartment, grumbling under his voice. “Agent thinks he’s something special. Fine, come on back. Have a seat anywhere.”

Narcisse stepped inside, running a quick scan with his horn to see if anything was amiss. Nothing. Just normal, standard-issue house dust.

How boring.

“Downy?” The burly pony called ahead of him as he exited the short hallway into the living area at the end. “Canterlot Bigshot wants to see you. Guy thinks he’s tough or somethin’.”

Narcisse followed him into the room, panning his eyes across it until they came to rest on a blue pegasus reclining in the corner. The pony’s ears were covered by headphones and his eyes were obscured behind sunglasses. It seemed the lights and speakers were on, but nopony was home. Narcisse frowned as he waited, his twitchy hoof tapping on the floor before his eyes gravitated towards a dial on the pegasus’s music player.

With a flick of his horn, the dial twisted all the way to eleven.

Downdraft catapulted from his seat, his wings extending so violently that a few feathers scattered across the room. In less than a second, his earphones had smacked against the end table next to him, and his shades had hit the far wall.

“What the crap, man?!”

Downdraft and Yellowpony were both glowering at him—Downdraft hyperventilating—but that just allowed him to feel more comfortable. “Ah good. You’ve finished listening to your enriching media… I’m looking into anything having to do with this mysterious mare yesterday that caused a ruckus down at the library. The account I read suggests you allowed her through your security gate.”

“Man, I had nothing to do with that attack at the Library. Tell him, Eddy!”

Narcisse narrowed his eyes and stepped closer to Downdraft. “This isn’t about the attack at the Library, this is about your security at the gate. What do you recall about her papers?”

“Everything was in order, so I let her through! She was just another tourist returning to Equestria after playing with the catbirds!” Downdraft pounded his hoof on the floor, his glare hardening. “I had no reason to detain her, so I let her go—what do you want from me?”

At this, Narcisse smiled. He activated his horn and brought out a potion vial giving off a dull yellow glow. “What do I want from you? Oh, I don’t know. How about… the truth?”

Yellowpony looked angry, which was to be expected. Downdraft, though. He was trying for a poker face, but he couldn’t hide his eyes.

“I don’t need any kooky magic fouling up my system, horn-head.” Downdraft raised his front hooves as if trying to block Narcisse’s approach. “And I’ve already told everything to the police, and my own higher-ups with border security! I know my rights as an Equestrian Citizen, so you just back the hell up!”

Narcisse fought hard to keep from smirking, and held up a hoof. “I’m sure you are well versed in your rights, as well as your brother here… What was his name? Upwind?” At this, the two were glaring again. “And when we are done, you will not recall ever having any of your rights infringed upon. Are we in accord?”

Downdraft frowned. There was something wrong with how this stuffy unicorn had worded that. “Wait a minute. I’m not according with anything!”

With a smile, Narcisse’s horn flashed a brilliant magenta. Before Downdraft could recognize what had happened, Eddy had fallen back onto the sofa completely insensate. “What… what did you do to him, man?”

“Just a sleep spell.” Narcisse purred, before his grin grew wider. “Now, shall we drink to his health?”

* * *

“The Cleaning Solution Creating a Brand-New Revolution…” Tempest’s eyes narrowed as she studied the flamboyant sign with the electric blue lettering.

“Better than magic… it’s Kaboom?” She looked over to Meadow for clarification. “Sounds dangerous…”

Meadow giggled. “Don’t be silly, Tempest! The Flim Flam brothers do everything they can to separate a pony from his or her bits. That being the case, they wouldn’t want their product to blow up in pony’s faces.” Meadow hesitated while she stroked her chin. “At least not until they have safely absconded with that pony’s bits. They’re kind of shady like that!”

Tempest raised an eyebrow. “So they are a couple of shysters?”

Tempest’s eyes combed over the building’s facade. For the most part it looked like an older warehouse, blending in with the other neglected buildings in this quarter. Fillydelphia was a beautiful city, known for its many museums and exhibits. Obviously, this warehouse was nowhere near Fillydelphia’s artful museums and exhibits.

The front reception office had certainly been dressed up with a fresh coat of paint and some polish, but under more careful scrutiny, the rest of the building grew progressively more dilapidated the further away from the front entrance one’s eyes wandered.

Looking back to the steel-bar reinforced front doors again, Tempest took note of the pair of earth ponies hanging around the entrance. Both stallion’s manes were cropped rather short, and they both looked like they spent all of their free time in a weight gym and popping pony growth hormones.

Tempest couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at Meadow. “And we are trusting them with making amulets why?”

Meadow only grinned. “They love bits! Trust me, it’s their love of bits that will allow our plan to work. If they’re assured of so much money, they certainly won’t be willing to share our proprietary secret!”

Meadow quickened her pace a little, moving ahead to approach the two stallions at the door. As she pranced up to the waiting stallions, they closed up ranks to face the smaller mare. “Hello, sirs?” Meadow chirped in a voice that seemed higher pitched than usual. “My associate and I have a business proposal for your employers. Could we borrow a moment of their time?”

“Whaddaya want, little mare?”

Without skipping a beat, Meadow Lark gestured to Tempest, her voice lowering into a coo. “Oh, it’s not about what I want at all, Mr. Stalwart stallion. It’s about what she can give them. This mare has a new discovery… a revolutionary breakthrough known to nopony in Equestria!” Tempest stepped back, eyes widening at Meadow. Sure, Meadow was bubbly and energetic, but never at any time did she strike Tempest as the salespony type. Right now, there was a certain…lilt…to her voice. She must have done this in an earlier life or something.

Studly Dee frowned while Studly Dum cocked his head to the side. “Mr. Flim and Mr. Flam are extremely busy, Miss.They hear sales pitches all the time about the next ‘revolutionary’ thing,” Dee replied, pawing at an itch on his brawny shoulder.

“Yeah.” Dum’s heavily accented voice cut in. “If you twos don’t haves an appointment, you’ll need to talk to our… our spokesmare that—”

Dee cut back in for the assist. “—You’ll need to speak with Flim and Flam’s public liaison and arrange it with her. They don’t do walk-in appointments. Off with you now.” He punctuated his sentence with a flick of his hoof.

Meadow stomped her hoof into the pavement with a sharp clack, both stallions flinching back a half-step. Tempest thought she saw chipped pieces of concrete scatter from the impact, before noticing that Meadow had reared up, jabbing a hoof into Dee’s chest.

“What makes you think she doesn’t have an appointment?” Meadow hissed, her eyes narrowing into cold, dangerous slits.

Tempest reached out to hook an elbow around one of Meadow’s forelegs. “Umm, excuse us for a moment, sirs. We’ll be… right back.”

Tempest pulled the smaller mare away, Meadow grumbling a few things under her breath as they drew away from the two bemused earth ponies. “Yeah! Back after these messages!” Meadow called out over her shoulder once the stallions were out of whisper range.

“Geeze, Tempest!” Meadow whispered to Tempest. “What did you pull me away for? We were about to get somewhere with those two muscle heads!” Tempest covered her mouth with her hoof and stifled a chuckle. Meadow’s angry little pout was just so precious.

“Fact is, Meadow, that we didn’t actually make an appointment.”

“I know that!”

“If there is a way to do this without raising suspicion, let’s do it. I don’t want to screw this up!”

“Feh.” Meadow spat, glaring at the stallions. “I doubt they even have a public liaison. That’s probably just a line to get ponies to go away. Those two chislers probably don’t want any interference when they already have a good thing going. I know the type!”

Tempest folded her arms as she sat back. “Well, then what do you suggest?”

Meadow’s eyes became shrewd. “You show them your I.D.”

Tempest blinked in surprise as she watched Meadow saunter back to the two stallions. Was Meadow implying what she thought she was implying? Why would she go there, especially after she had more or less experienced a meeting with the entity behind it? Tempest shook her head and trotted to catch up.

“As I was saying, gentlemen…” Meadow’s head turned as she continued, including Tempest in the conversation as she was walking up. “This mare here is well known to both Mr. Flim, and Mr. Flam. She is a researcher that has been collaborating with them since day one when they took over this establishment!”

Tempest tried to keep a straight face as she looked from Meadow to the two stallions. They didn’t seemed too convinced, but they were looking at her expectantly. Was she really going to do this?

“C’mon, Temp.” Meadow urged, angling her head toward them. “Just show ‘em so we can proceed with your appointment.

Tempest hesitated for a moment. Meadow seemed to be acting as if she already knew what the capabilities of the Eye were, even when Tempest had purposely kept those capabilities vague. Or maybe Meadow just knew that Tempest had more magic at her disposal that she let on? Either way, she needed to act. All three ponies were waiting for her.

“Oh, you mean that I.D. Heh. Hang on, I’ve got it here.” Swallowing her nervousness, Tempest pulled the Eye out of her jacket and activated it’s tertiary effect, that of dazing another pony. Releasing the magical energies, Tempest watched as the two stallions’ expressions became vacant. Meadow had dropped her head and was shielding her eyes, but Tempest could make out a small smile on her face.

The act completed, Tempest gave a sigh. “They’ll be dazed for about three minutes, and will have minimal memories of the past little while. Let’s go.”

“Well, there you go!” Meadow chirped. “It helps when you have a magical MacGuffin to cheat, right?”

Tempest laughed uncertainly. “I just hope this works.”

Meadow Lark grinned. “It’ll work. Just stick to the plan.” She ambled forward and pulled open the door.

* * *

Twilight’s eyes narrowed as she watched her assistant enter into the establishment. In the past forty-five minutes, she’d seen Spike procure one of the Ponyville tour balloons and pay for a cloud walking spell with some of his hard-earned bits. He seemed a little anxious during the transaction, glancing over his shoulder from time to time, but as soon as he got off the ground he seemed to relax.

Berrytwist had not been pleased when Twilight told her that she was going to go ahead with her plan. Knowing her, she probably had the same glare on her face even now, half-way to Fillydelphia. Twilight sort of felt bad: her security chief was only trying to do her job.

“I’ll have to make it up to her…” Twilight muttered, bringing her binoculars up again. “But it’s not like I’m in any more danger than I was before she came on my staff three months ago.”

Trailing Spike to Cloudsdale had been a little bit tricky, as she had needed to obscure her own movements and sounds with stealth and invisibility spells. Spike’s dragon senses had grown more acute, and she didn’t want to take a chance of him picking up on her wing-beats if there was no visible ponies in the area.

Peering through the restaurant’s windows from her position, Twilight finally spotted him again as he sat down in a booth by a window. Twilight re-read the restaurant’s boisterous sign.

“Gabby’s Crab Shack. Hearty Meals for the Discriminating Flyer… Seriously? He came all this way to grab a snack? We have food at home.” Suddenly, Twilight’s eyes widened. “Wait, crab?”

While she knew some species ate meat as part of a healthy diet, such as griffons, Spike had never had cause to try it. He had always been with her and the girls, and as far as she was aware, Rainbow Dash had tried fish once, but she didn’t like it. It wasn’t that Ponyville prohibited carnivores from visiting the town; it was just rather difficult to purchase food of that sort in a still mostly earth pony town.

“So, he came all the way up here to eat fish?” Twilight’s eyes narrowed as she studied the other patrons—at least the ones she could see through the windows. “Huh. Most of the patrons are griffons, with a dragon here and there. Must be popular alternative cuisine.”

A griffon server arrived and started smiling and speaking with Spike. Thinking quickly, Twilight dredged up an Eavesdrop spell. She didn’t much care for taking an action that would spy on a friend… well… spying even more on a friend she was already spying on, but this was for science! Well, maybe not for science, but this was for a forensic investigation!

Completing the remaining segments of the magical construct, Twilight prepared to execute the spell matrix, but then hesitated. After another moment her horn dimmed, her expression morphing into a frown.

“...Yep. I’m a horrible pony. What would Applejack say if she could see me right now: spying on my number one assistant.” Twilight shook her head sadly as she watched the server, a rather cute griffon, leave with his order. Was she really doing this?

Although… what about his recent behavior? What about his abuse of their relationship of trust? If anything, this confirmed that Spike was sneaking around… He was up to something, as she had never even heard a whisper about him making trips to Cloudsdale at this time in the evening. Besides, that cute server was acting like she knew him quite well. In fact, her behavior had been decidedly flirtatious! Twilight’s resolve hardened as she brought the binoculars up again.

Twilight huffed and rested her head on her hoof. She started taking a sample of the average flight speed of the typical, everyday Cloudsdale pegasus. It was a simple matter to project a grid in the air and to time each pony during a segment of straight ahead flight for three seconds. Did she require data for an upcoming research paper? Not really. She was just bored. And maybe a teensy bit envious of Rainbow Dash’s incredible feats of speed and agility. Not that she would admit that to anypony.

Twilight had just recorded her forty-sixth pony when she noticed that Spike’s entree had arrived, the sever already heading towards another customer. Rolling her eyes when she realized she couldn’t even see the table surface beneath the window sill, she took to the air. Nothing that a little change in altitude couldn’t fix.

Chocolate cake? No, that wasn’t right, it wasn’t tall enough… It was some shade of brown though, and it seemed as if Spike was having to work a serrated knife in order to cut through it. Wait. Are those red juices coming out of it?

Her eye twitching, Twilight cast an immediate teleport spell, landing with a flash on the bench seat opposite of Spike. Exonerated, agitated, and just a little bit horrified, Twilight wasted no time as she stood up on her hind hooves, planting her left forehoof on the table while she pointed imperiously at Spike’s entree with the other.

“THAT’S NOT MAHI MAHI!”

Utterly startled from his calorie-infused regalement of bliss, Spike flinched back as an accidental gout of flame burst from his nostrils, unfortunately setting the draperies aflame.

As the flames began to spread, Twilight’s eyes glanced from the conflagration to the angry glares of the restaurant’s other patrons and the servers running towards their booth.. She slowly sank back down into her seat, an abashed chuckle escaping as she cast a quick extinguishment spell, a cold blue light glimmering over the flames before they suddenly snuffed out. Spike could only blink in shock.

“Uh. Heh-heh. At least my tail didn’t light on fire this time, right Spike?”

* * *

“I still can’t believe you were spying on me,” Spike grumbled.

He flicked a little bit of fire retardant off of an ear fin as he walked, residuals from when the restaurant manager came out with a fire extinguisher, screeching about his drapes. Needless to say, the meal was ruined, and Spike and Twilight no longer felt welcome to loiter any longer. Twilight was mortified, quickly throwing down Princess credit to cover expenses for the meal, the damages, any psychological counseling that might be needed, and a massive tip.

“I mean, the fact that you trailed me all the way up here, casting whatever secrecy spells you needed to accomplish that, only underlines the fact that I needed to sneak up here anyway to do it!”

“Not so fast!” Twilight defended. “You’ve been acting strangely for the past two months, all coinciding with this insane growth spurt you’ve been having! And every time I’ve asked you about it you have dodged! What am I supposed to do but get suspicious if you’re acting suspiciously?”

Spike bared his teeth a little as he walked a little faster. “Can’t a mature dragon go out and accomplish something without interference, or being subjected to scrutiny or outright suspicion? I’m not hurting anypony, and I’m certainly allowed to spend my free time pursuing my own interests… because it’s, you know, free time?”

Twilight flapped her wings to circle ahead of her assistant, waving her forehooves to placate him. She was temporarily relieved that she had become comfortable enough flying that she could hover backwards and match her speed with Spike as he stormed ahead.

“No—you can use your free time as you see fit!”

Twilight winced as Spike changed directions and veered off to the right. She couldn’t help but notice that several pegasi in the near vicinity had lost interest in whatever it was they were doing and were now trying to inconspicuously hover. However, hovering is hardly inconspicuous, especially when certain pegusi were feigning interest elsewhere while exactly matching their speed and heading. Especially when their ears were angled in their direction!

She supposed she shouldn’t be too surprised if a certain famous dragon and princess team starting having a loud argument out in public. “C’mon, Spike! You have to admit you’ve been acting strangely…”

Spike pointed at her. “According to who? You’re the only one prying and asking nosy questions! None of the rest of our friends have flicked an ear!”

Twilight gasped. She pried and asked because she cared! She had been responsible enough to ensure Spike followed his schedule and his educational regimen to the second! She had been wise enough to ensure that he grew up as a responsible adult of the Ponyville community!

Did she ever let him give into dragon greed again?

No!

Did she let him overindulge in ice cream when he became down like a certain other unicorn who shall remain nameless?

No! Well… not usually.

Did she allow him to laze about the castle and develop slothful habits?

No!

She had raised him as if he were family—because to her, he was. She wasn’t sure if the relationship was more like a mother/son bond or a sister/brother bond, but whatever the relationship was, it was special! She wasn’t the best cook, of course, but she always ensured the castle had plenty of foot, and the Golden Oaks Library, before that. Spike took care of the cooking, and they had both stayed well fed. He even got enough gems for his cravings!

But wait...

What if he had other cravings? What if all of this time she had been unintentionally starving him of critical nutrients, nutrients that could only be found in meat, and it had stunted his growth? What if that was why he had been so small compared to other dragons his age? Had she been hurting him all along?

Why had hadn’t he said anything? That was what hurt the most.

Twilight folded her wings, dropping to the packed-cloud surface of the street. “Wait,” Twilight squeaked. She raised a hoof as Spike walked past, feeling her eyes start to moisten. “Is this all about eating meat? Was I accidentally keeping you from a complete diet this whole time? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Spike stopped, covering his eyes with a claw. “It’s not…” He turned and gave a sigh, putting his hands on his hips. “I haven’t been starving, Twi.”

Twilight stood up, feeling her emotions wind up like spring. “Yes you have! You have been starving!” Twilight started to pace back and forth, and while she tried to hold back her tears, a few escaped anyway. “It’s been so bad that you felt like you had to sneak off Cloudsdale, for Celestia’s sake! And look at you! Now that you are eating correctly, no thanks to me, you are growing into a healthy drake!”

“Twi…”

“I just… I’m sorry! I’m sorry if after all this time, your physiology was needing something more… some protein…”

“Twilight!”

Not hearing him, Twilight went on with her rant. “I mean, there is probably some vitamin M, or whatever, some nutrient specifically needed for dragons. And I was too obtuse to even know it! Why didn’t I even ASK EMBER?!”

“TWILIGHT!”

Sitting down with a clump, Twilight put her head in her hooves and began to cry in earnest. She felt awful that she had driven Spike to this state. It hurt even more that he hadn’t told her!

Spike’s warm and scaly arm slid across her withers as he drew her into a hug. “It’s not that, Twi.” Spike murmured into her twitching ear as she continued to spasm against him. “That’s not the reason.” Spike continued to stroke his claws up and down her back as he waited for her to settle down, her mucus smearing across his chest scales.

Spike waited as Twilight fought to settle herself down, her shoulder muscles bunching up a few more times before she let out a shaky sigh. This really wasn’t a big deal, but he knew how Twilight could get sometimes. “Seriously. I’ve been okay. You haven’t left me hungry, and have taken good care of me over the years… Mom.”

That last word caused Twilight to blurt out a rather gooey laugh as more mucus wound up on his chest. Heedless of the mess, Twilight nuzzled into his muscular frame a little more. “Sorry, I… Well, you know, nopony in recent memory has ever raised a dragon before.” Twilight sat back and gazed at the mess she left. “Oops. Heh, hang on a second.” Her horn flashed a she performed the Quickleen spell, eliminating whatever organic messes were left behind on Spike’s chest and her own fur.

Once that was taken care of their eyes met as they sat in a semi-awkward silence. The corner of Spike’s mouth drew up slightly, giving the barest peak of a fang as his gaze turned pensive. “It was only another week, and then I was going to tell you outright. As soon as you arrived back from Fillydelphia.” Spike’s eyes widened in dawning realization. “Wait, why are you not in Fillydelphia?”

“No changing the subject,” Twilight hiccuped. “Just think of it as me back from Fillydelphia and tell me what is going on.” Twilight smiled hopefully. “Please?”

Spike stood up and scanned the area around them. It was a quiet Cloudsdale thoroughfare, and the temperature was rapidly falling now that the sun had been down for a few hours. In many strategic places around them hidden by building corners, rooftops and perched on lamp posts, he met the eyes of several embarrassed pegusi. As he looked evenly at each one, each pony in turn took back to the air to resume whatever it was they were out doing except for one that merely folded her hooves stubbornly before motioning with one for him to continue.

Spike just gave her a dirty look. “Why don’t we step into my balloon, Twi. Less eavesdroppers that way.” He indicated the parked balloon two furlongs away at a well-lit docking station.

Twilight nodded happily and trotted ahead of him towards his mode of transport. Several minutes later they had arrived, gone through the necessary permissions, and cast off. Just to be sure, Twilight cast a spell for a soundproof bubble around the gondola of the balloon. Once the spell was cast, Twilight sat back down and gave Spike a scrutinizing look. “This has something do do with Rarity, doesn’t it?”

Spike kept a straight face for exactly two seconds before he chuckled, putting both arms up in a surrendering fashion. “Guilty as charged…” He sat back and then grinned, flexing his draconic pectorals which Twilight had to admit were rather impressive. “Think she’ll go for it?”

“I… what?! Go for it? Hang on just a Celestia-forsaken minute!” Spike closed his toothy grin and ducked his head a little, but the corners of his mouth were still twitching up a bit. “Let’s go to the beginning and see how all of this started!”

Spike sat back, his face starting to grow smug. “I was in correspondence with Dragon Lord Ember, and she cued me in on something: I wasn’t the youngest dragon out there during all of those dragon “games” Garble initiated me with.

“Ugh. You mean during that dragon migration we watched ten years ago? How were you not the youngest? I mean, you were the smallest one there, and you were only twelve.”

“Exactly! Ember told me that the magic of dragon development is that our bodies are rather malleable to an extent. If a dragon wants to grow a supersized tail, he or she can do so. If a dragon wants to grow extra spikes over his back, he can. If he wants to grow to the size of a castle, it may take a while, but he can do it! That’s why you see so much variation… and once done, you can’t reverse it.”

Twilight frantically searched the gondola for a quill and something to write on. It was just her luck that somewhere between the restaurant and the balloon, she had lost it.

“What are you doing, Twi?”

Twilight winced at her assistant’s flat tone. “I’m… ugh, I’m looking for something to write with, Spike, this is good information! I need to take notes…”

“Relax, Twi.” Spike snickered. “I have taken copious notes of the whole process. I’ll show you when we get back.”

“Really?” Twilight squeed. “That’s wonderful! It just means so much to me if you could...” Twilight looked up at her bemused assistant, who had a claw over his face. “I’m sperging out again, aren’t I?”

“Just a bit. May I continue?”

Twilight sat straight and still, a modicum of the perfect student. She gave Spike a little wink.

“Anyway.” Spike continued. “There are certain exercises and practices one must go through for more horns, or more scales, or etcetera. It just has to be done during a younger period in the dragon life cycle. What I didn’t know until recently was that I was already doing the necessary work to emphasise brain development!”

“Well of course you did!” Twilight nodded approvingly. “I mean, would you really expect anything less?”

“But for the process to work, especially in the physical growth department, a dragon must consume huge amounts of protein. In my case, I needed rich meats coupled with a powerful exercise regimen. Sweet Apple Acres was the second part to that plan. As you can see, my plan worked.” Spike flexed his pectorals again.

“It certainly did! But is this something that will work to woo Rarity? I mean, this is a drastic change, Spike. She’s known you since you were little more than a baby dragon.”

“I was ten.” Spike shrugged. “Why should that matter?”

“Well, the age gap is kind of significant!” Twilight softened her voice a little. “In all honesty, I thought you had given up on that crush.”

“Give up on Rarity?” Spike folded his arms in defiance. “Absolutely not! Not until she actually tells me that she isn’t interested! I just fast-forwarded my growth a bit to put us on more equal footing, and who knows? Now, the age gap isn’t that important, is it?”

Twilight stroked her chin in thought. “I suppose not… I’m just not sure such a thing would really happen. We’ve known Rarity for twelve years now, and… well, let’s just say I think I’ve seen where her tastes actually lie.” Spike pursed his lips as he stared out into the distance from where they sat.
.
“Not that I won’t support you in your efforts!” Twilight hedged before continuing in a smaller voice. “Just… be prepared if she still turns you down. I’d rather not see you hurt.”

Spike gave a humorless chuckle and another shrug, still staring at the darkened horizon. “It’s hurt for twelve years, Twilight. It’s possible I’ve even spent more time with her than you. I’ll find a way to bring it up. When the time is right, she will know my feelings on the matter. Then, either way, we’ll go from there.”

“Oh, Spike…” Twilight murmured. She gave him a nuzzle as she squeezed in closer to him. “And either way, I’ll be right there with you to give you support. You’re so grown up now!”

“Spike chuckled as he turned back to Twilight, his eyes glimmering a little. “Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

“You two are just sooo cute!” Starlight’s voice chirped up suddenly as she popped up from the storage bin inside the gondola. Spike and Twilight lurched back with a shout, both of them pressing back against the side walls. “I think my heart just about melted two or three times tonight!” Starlight continued to grin at the two of them, bouncing on her hooves before climbing up into her seat. “And all for Rarity… Good for you, Spike!”

After a moment of silence, Starlight noticed that her friends weren’t smiling back at her.

“Was it something I said?”

Author's Note:

And there is chapter nine. Thanks to Seriff for being an excellent source to catch me when I wax too wordy, and if I start to go off track and quit making sense... Seriously, Seriff, your input has become invaluable - thanks...

Chapter ten is in it's planning stages, so stay tuned!

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!