• Published 25th Jul 2012
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Under A Luminous Sky - Jake The Army Guy



Twilight and an investigator from Canterlot must catch a killer

  • ...
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Chapter Sixteen- The Day That Never Comes

Under A Luminous Sky

by

Jake The Army Guy

Chapter Sixteen: The Day That Never Comes


Bentgrass’s hooves clicked quietly on the polished linoleum floor, the sound nearly lost under the thrum of activity around him. The corners of his mouth turned up for a brief moment. Nothing seems to breath life into a hospital like the threat of death.

He paced back and forth down the hallway, deftly avoiding the roaming orderlies and nurses that tried to pull him into his own hospital room. There were others that needed the attention much more than him. He could sleep later. He tuned them out, focusing on his own hooffalls, his eyes staring straight down, rising only when he reached one particular window.

He casually peeked inside. Big Macintosh lay on a double-sized hospital bed, motionless save for the soft rise and fall of his chest. Wires and sensors were attached to his chest and head, barely able to find purchase amongst the bandages and gauze. The large stallion was a mess: patches of his mane were missing, and a maze of sutured gashes covered most of his barrel and parts of his legs.

Bentgrass couldn’t hear through the thick glass, but he could see the green display of the heart monitor blip up and down in a gentle rhythm as Mac continued in the same deep sleep that he’d been in for the past three days.

A sharp movement across the room drew his attention; Rainbow Dash, fast asleep on a tiny couch along the wall, tossed fitfully, her brows arched and a light sheen of sweat on her face. He could almost hear the pitiful moans from her slightly opened mouth.

“Looks like one hay of a nightmare.” A large stallion sidled up next to Bentgrass, peering in the window. “You want to wake her up?”

Bentgrass couldn’t see the stallion’s face in the reflection, but he didn’t need to. “Something tells me that she might prefer the nightmare to her reality at the moment, General.”

Shining Armor nodded, but said nothing. The two stood there for a few moments, watching Dash toss and turn.

Shining finally stepped away and crossed to the other side of the hallway, sitting down on one of the low-set benches lining the wall. He sighed, his horn glowing and lifting the helmet off of his head. “So, I just got back from Canterlot. Princess Luna is examining Parchment's body.” He ran his hoof through his mane, still a bit damp from wearing the helmet for so long. “Funny thing, though,” he set the helmet down beside him, looking up to Bentgrass, “when the Guard got to Parchment’s hotel room, there was no sign of the scroll Twilight told us about.”

“That has already been taken care of.” Bentgrass never even looked away from the window.

“Taken care of how, exactly?”

“That is classified, General, and outside your purview.” Shining bristled at the comment, but Bentgrass continued before he could speak. “Rest assured that it is in a safe location, being examined by top ponies as we speak.”

Shining leaned towards him. “Examined by who, exactly?”

Finally, Bentgrass turned away from the window and looked to Shining. His words were slow and careful, as if speaking to a foal. “Top ponies.”

Shining open his mouth, but sighed and slumped back down in his chair. “So, you knew Parchment, right? What happened to him? Was he always crazy?”

Bentgrass sighed and crossed the hall, easing himself down into a cushion next to him. “The fear of losing everything can drive ponies to the brink. Actually losing everything can push them over.” He leaned back, his head thumping against the wall, his eyes staring straight up. “When he was fired from Her Majesty’s School three months ago, he... he seemed to take it rather well. He had always been a petty stallion, but I never thought he...”

“Was a deranged psychopath that wanted to take over the world?”

Bentgrass shook his head. “No, that was the power talking. I read the journal we found in his saddlebag. He killed Berry Punch of his own will, desperate to prove his theory and that he could be ‘just as magical as any unicorn.’ ” Shining shifted uncomfortably at that statement. “But once that tainted magic entered him..." Bentgrass sighed again. “You know, for a moment that night, I... I saw him, behind the magic and madness. He was terrified.”

A heavy silence fell between the two. They sat there for several minutes, ignoring the coming and going of doctors and nurses for several minutes. Bentgrass’s eyes were glued to the ceiling, the events of the past few days rushing through his mind, the decisions he’d made. One in particular kept coming back. He let out a loud sigh.

Finally, Shining broke the silence. “So, Twilight told me and the Princesses everything.” His hoof idly flicked the plumage on his helm as he spoke. “You’ll be happy to know that by royal edict, once Sheriff Shackle is fully recovered, he’ll be looking for a new job.”

“He shouldn’t be the only one.” Bentgrass nodded his head towards the heavy wooden door at the end of the hallway.

Shining chuckled. “Oh, don’t worry. Princess Luna has already had a little chat with the Equestrian Medical board. Doctor Well might want to take a nice picture of his medical license. Twiley was particularly adamant about that.

Bentgrass’s tail twitched ever so slightly. “And... how is your sister?”

Shining eyed him for a moment, his eyebrow arching as he appraised him. “She’s good. Hasn’t left Spike’s side yet.” He let out a sharp breath. “You know, growing up, our mom always said I was hovering over Twilight, doting like some wet nurse. It’s funny now to see her doing it to this giant dragon.”

“Well, he has been through a lot.”

“Yeah. Apparently, Princess Celestia has asked an old dragon friend of hers to come and take a look at him. Some ambassador or something from the fringe country. He should be here in a few hours.”

Another silence, though this one heavy with tension. Shining was tapping a steady rhythm with his hoof, gently gnawing on his bottom lip. Finally, he grunted and stood, his helm floating in the air next to him. “Look, Agent Bentgrass, I...” he groaned, running a hoof through his mane again, “aw, Tartarus. Twiley told me about what happened in front of the library the other day, with the monster-rabbit... thing. Now, I make no effort to hide the fact that I don’t trust you intelligence types. All those shadow games you play make me very nervous.”

“As well they should, General. That is the point.”

A loud sigh came from Shining as he closed his eyes for a moment, his brow furrowed. “All that aside, Agent Bentgrass,” he finally looked back down at him, his eyes soft, “you saved my sister’s life. Thank you.”

Slowly, Bentgrass rose to his hooves. He smoothed out his coat, then met Shining’s eyes and nodded. The two held each other’s gaze for a moment, then Shining stepped away, placing his helmet back on. “Well, I better get back to it. Take care of yourself, Agent Bentgrass. It’s been... interesting knowing you.”

“Likewise, General.”

Shining nodded and walked away. As soon as he turned the corner, Bentgrass’s face fell to a deep frown. He stepped back to the wall, sliding down and sitting roughly on the bench.


The open sky beckoned her.

Bending her knees, Rainbow leaped off the ground, and with a flap of her wings, rocketed towards the heavens. The sudden acceleration made her insides feel like they were being compressed into her hind legs. She smiled through gritted teeth and pushed higher. Breaking through the cloud ceiling, she snapped her wings taut and banked hard to the right, ripping through a cloud that exploded outward in a shower of raindrops.

Rainbow's face twisted in concentration as she bobbed and weaved between clouds, g-forces pulling her in all directions. The first shot of adrenaline was already working through her as she danced in the sky, exhilarating in the feel of the wind rushing through her feathers.

"Goin' my way, birdbrain?"

Rainbow looked to her left and grinned. Mac flew next to her, expansive red wings propelling him to her side. They shared a quick nuzzle before Rainbow peeled off and leered at him.

"If you think you can keep up, hayseed!"

With a sharp flick of her wings, Dash executed a right barrel roll and fled, leaving a rainbow contrail behind her. She spared a glance behind her, grinning at the crimson dot slowly catching up to her. Turning back to the front, she poured on the speed.

Pretty soon she felt his presence next to her. Rainbow led him through dizzying acrobatics; hairpin turns, deadly corkscrews, all at mind-numbing speeds. Mac kept pace through it all, the tips of his wings constantly rubbing with hers.

Rainbow squinted against the howling wind. "Not bad for your first time, farmcolt!"

"Why, Dash?"

"Huh?" Rainbow turned to face him and screamed. What was her husband was now a rotting husk. Decayed flesh dropped from his frame, the skin mottled and clinging to his bones. His eyes, those green eyes she loved to get lost in, were gone, replaced by two gaping holes that bored into her.

"Why didn't you save me?"

* * *

Rainbow's eyes shot open. She jerked her head up, her eyes darted back and forth as she tried to reaffirm her grasp on reality. Realizing where she was, she let out a long breath and flopped her head back down on the stiff couch cushion, the pounding in her chest slowly subsiding. Staring at the off-white ceiling tiles for several long moments, she arched her back and groaned at the loud pops that came from her spine. Stupid earth pony hospitals. Would it kill them to bring a few clouds down?

Rainbow yawned and slowly sat up, rotating her limbs to a cacophony of loud pops and cracks. The firm, unyielding couch in the corner of Mac's hospital room had been her home since they arrived. Despite protests from her friends and the doctors, she had been determined to remain at his side. She idly rubbed her aching face; the swelling around her eye had finally gone down, though the iris was still an angry red. She looked around the room, seeing the same sterile white walls and large window overlooking the scenic hill outside, but gasped when she saw the bed. "Mac!"

Macintosh was sitting up on the large bed. A large bouquet sat on the nightstand next to him, several balloons floating overhead, and a small, black felt box sat next to it. Dash raced over to him, ignoring the groans of protest from her sore limbs, and embraced him in a fierce hug, burying her face into his coat, not caring about the rough feeling of the scars that marred his once-pristine red coat.

She held him for several long seconds before she noticed that he hadn't hugged her back. Slowly, she pulled away to find him still staring off into space, his face neutral. She eased off of him and sat down on the bed with her legs tucked underneath her, brow furrowed and a shaky smile on her lips. "Mac?"

"How long?"

Rainbow's heart fluttered at the his tone: it was cold, detached. She cleared her throat and spoke. "Nearly three days. The doctors weren't sure if you would wake up at all, or if you did if you—" she gulped, doing her best to stop the quiver in her voice— "if you'd still be you."

Mac slowly blinked. "Girls okay?"

"Yeah. Pinkie had a pretty bad concussion, but you know her, she's acting like it never even happened." She laughed, but even she thought it sounded forced. "Fluttershy's not going to be flying for a few months. Heh, not that she'd care."

He opened his mouth, but closed it immediately, his lower jaw quivering. Rainbow shuddered a bit at the movement. Slowly, painfully, Mac spoke. "A... AJ?"

Dash took a deep breath. "Three cracked ribs. They offered her some magic-powered wheelchair, but she refused it."

"Y-You?"

She gave a pitiful laugh. "Come on, Mac, you know me! It'll take more than some super-powered egghead to take down Equestria's greatest flier!" She puffed her chest out, but he gave no reaction. She deflated, slowly easing back to her sitting position.

"It’s been crazy the past few days. A bunch of suits came and took Zecora to Canterlot to see if they could help her. Division Six agents have been hounding us, asking all kinds of questions.” She let out a nervous laugh. “I’d say you’re almost lucky you’ve been asleep.”

The room was silent for a few painful minutes. Dash opened her mouth several times, but closed it as her words failed her. Mac just stared at the same place on the far wall.

Finally, Mac looked down at the felt box on the nightstand. "I see this made it here."

Despite her best efforts, a light blush made its way across her face, her heart rate speeding up just a bit. "Uh, yeah. Applebloom found it when she was bringing some of your stuff from the farm." An awkward silence fell between them. Rainbow's eyes darted back and forth, desperately trying to find something to say. "I, uh... I-I didn't open it!" She rolled her eyes; she'd said that much louder than she had intended. "In case you, you know, wanted to do the whole, uh... 'down on your knees' thing. I mean, I know that's not rea—"

"Just go, Rainbow."

She stared at him for a moment. "What?"

He still hadn't turned to face her. "I said go. You saved me, brought me back, and I thank you, but you don't have t' try 'n spare my feelings. I understand if you wanna leave."

"Mac? What are you talking about? I'm not going anywhere!"

He let out a snort. "Rainbow Dash, stop tryin' t' placate me. Just go, already!"

"What's your issue?" Dash hopped off the bed, staring at him with her eyebrow raised. "Why would y—"

"I tried t' kill you, Dash!" He finally turned his head. His eyes were red and puffy, a wet sheen built up inside. "I... I can remember everythin'. Every second of it." He looked down at the ground, his eyes scanning back and forth. "It was... it was like a, a voice in my head. Screamin', howlin' in my ears! I di— I didn't just wanna kill you. I... I wanted t' hurt you. Wanted t' tear you apart, rip ya t’ pieces!” His voice trembled, his eyebrows creased, spittle flew from his mouth as he spoke.

"M-Mac," Dash said, her voice quivering, "that wasn't you. It was him! He was contro—"

"I shoulda been stronger!" The dam finally broke as he whipped his head back up, tears streaming down his face. He looked down at his body. "All this muscle, all this strength, an' I... I couldn't even stop myself from hurtin' the two most important mares in my life."

"Mac, I..." Her voice faltered, her words failing her.

"So you can go. I understand."

"Mac..."

"Dammit, Dash, stop tr—"

A stinging pain cut him off, a warm tingle spreading across his cheek. He turned his head and saw Dash slowly retracting her hoof, glaring at him through puffy eyes. "You stupid son of a goat!"

He slowly rubbed his hot cheek. "Rainbow, I—"

"Who the hay do you think you're talking to?" She jumped back onto the bed, straddling him with wings flared. "I'm Rainbow fucking Dash! The Element of Loyalty! Former Wonderbolt! I've beat down demons, gods and monsters, you think this is too much for me?"

Mac opened his mouth, but she cut him off. "You think some freak of a pony is going to keep me from the stallion I love? Well, I got news for you, buddy! It's gonna take a lot more than you trying to kill me to scare me off!" She took several deep breaths, her wings slowly lowering back to her side. She gently laid down next to him, his face—one of the few places on his body untouched by angry scars—inches from hers. "You're stuck with me, Macintosh Apple, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

Mac held her gaze, his eyes searching for some sign she was lying, but found none. Eventually, he turned away. "Dash, it's... it's more than that. I mean... look at you! Like you said, you're Rainbow Dash! You live yer life at a thousand miles an hour! Head's in the clouds, literally! Yer a national hero, a celebrity!" His gaze fell downward. "An' who am I? Just some... dumb bumpkin who kicks trees fer a livin'."

"Mac, I—"

"I mean, could you really give all that up? Leave yer home in th' sky? Come live on th' farm like an earth pony? Give up all that fer me? Could you ev—"

Rainbow reached up and grabbed his head with both hooves. She jerked his head to hers, and kissed him. Though they had kissed many times in the past, Rainbow was certain that it was the single most passionate kiss they had ever shared. She held him for for what seemed like hours, until she finally pulled back, a single tear rolling down her cheek, a smile on her lips, and her voice cracking.

"Eeyup."


At the top of the small hill next to the hospital, Twilight, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity stood witness to a very strange sight. Near the tree line, where the yellowed grass gave way to a sea of fallen needles and pine cones, stood Spike’s looming form. Three days ago, he had been a mere head taller than them; now, he was easily three times their height when on all fours and a little over eight pony lengths from tip to tail. He stood rigidly still, save for the occasional twitch, as a smaller, yet much older dragon examined him.

Spike groaned, raising his bandaged left arm to his face to scratch it. "How much longer am I going to have to stand like this?" His voice, once high-pitched and scratchy, was now a deep and rich baritone that reverberated in Twilight’s bones. "These bandages itch."

"Longer if you don't hold still and let me work.” Twilight was amazed at the stark difference between the two dragons. Despite being nearly a thousand years older than Spike, the green dragon, being only a bit larger than Princess Celestia, looked relatively tiny next to him. Where Spike’s body was stocky and packed with ropy tendons and fatty flight muscle, the smaller dragon was thin and sinewy, more closely resembling a reptile than what Twilight had come to identify as a dragon.

"Spike, Ambassador Sharptooth came all the way here from Tacksworn as a favor. Patience, please." Princess Celestia stood next to Twilight, watching the old dragon slowly circle around Spike, running his claws through the air around him, the light green glow reflecting off Spike's scales. Bentgrass stood behind them, clad in his immaculate black suit coat, watching the scene silently. Every now and then, Twilight would look over at him with a smile, but he never met her gaze.

"Oh, I didn’t mind coming down, Princess." Twilight was amazed that he was able to walk around so nimbly on two feet with his eyes shut. "Spike here is one of the first dragons besides myself to be raised by ponies. I'm just as interested in his well-being as you are." As Sharptooth waved his claws over his shoulder, Spike groaned quietly and fidgeted.

"Uh, you okay there, Spike?" asked Applejack.

Spike squirmed again. "Y-Y-Yeah, I'm fine. It just—heh heh—tickles a bit. Ow!" A tiny bolt of electricity passed from Sharptooth's claw into his tail. Spike whipped his head around, glaring at him. "What was that?"

"A dragon should not be ticklish." He ducked under Spike's tail, his eyes still closed. "Now, stop squirming."

Twilight stepped next to the old dragon. "Ambassador, please. Is Spike healthy?"

A slight frown creased his face. "His aura is... odd, somehow." He now stood directly in front of Spike, his glowing claws inches from his muzzle, causing a gentle buzz to ripple through his snout. "Remind me, Spike, how old are you?"

"Uh, I just turned nineteen a few weeks back."

The buzzing abruptly stopped. For the first time in minutes, Sharptooth opened his eyes and stared at Spike, scanning his massive frame. "Shells and shards, boy, you're still a hatchling!"

"Hey!" Spike's long tail swatted at the ground, the shock wave sending a small flurry of pine needles falling to the ground.

Sharptooth slowly stepped away, falling back to all four legs. He made a quick circle around Spike before looking back to Twilight. "And you're sure this wasn't greed induced?"

She nodded. "We've been careful to monitor his hoard. By what I know about dragons, it's actually pretty small."

“Aw, come on, Twilight!” A stifled giggle came from behind him. Spike whirled his head about to glare at Pinkie, who stood with a hoof at her mouth. "Oh, shut up! Besides,” he blew a tiny plume of smoke, his eyes darting upwards, “it's not the size that counts." At this, Pinkie collapsed, struggling to breath under gales of laughter.

"But, is he okay?" Twilight turned to look at Spike, doing her best to avoid the large swaths of half-formed scales on his chest and belly.

Sharptooth stepped back and looked to her. "Well, whatever it was that caused this left his bones severely demineralized." He looked up at Spike. "I'd advise you eat a diet high in gem stones for the next month or so, specifically labradorite. It's high in calcium and will also speed the healing of your injuries."

"Spike has t' eat junk food?" Applejack chuckled. "Oh, however will he manage?"

"Also, no strenuous activity during that time, especially flying."

Spike groaned. "Aw, I wanted to try out these babies." For emphasis, he gave his new wings a few beats, causing a sharp gust of wind that almost knocked Twilight over.

"Better to wait than to have them snap off mid-flight, yes?"

Spike grumbled something, standing upright on his hind legs and crossing his arms. Twilight tapped Sharptooth's arm. "But, other than that?"

Sharptooth scratched the top of his head. "Other than that... well, injuries aside, just by looking at him I'd say he's a perfectly healthy young Drakenwyvrm. If I didn't know any better, I'd put him at just past his first wyvrm-sleep."

The hill was silent for a moment. Twilight's friends looked at each other in confusion, but she and Spike were staring directly at Sharptooth. Twilight was the first to break the silence. "Uh, Ambassador, Spike is about to start his first wyvrm-sleep."

He raised his eyebrow. "Really, now? Hmm." He turned back to Spike. "Tell me, Spike. How do you feel?"

"Uh, great, actually. Well, except for the, uh, you know." He held up his bandaged left arm, also gesturing towards the off-colored scales across his belly. "But, yeah, I feel real good. More alert than I have in months."

"No unusual hoarding instincts?"

"None more than usual. "

"Hmm." He tapped his scaly chin a few times, his eyes looking upwards as he thought. "Well then, it would appear... you skipped it."

Silence reigned once more. After a moment, Rarity walked next to Twilight. "Twilight, what is he talking about? What is a 'worm sleep?'"

Spike stepped forward. "Wait, wait, back up. How can I just 'skip' a vital part of my life cycle?"

Sharptooth sighed. "It's sad to see a young dragon so ignorant of his own biology."

Spike swatted the ground with his tail. "Hey, less snark, more smart!"

Sharptooth let out a huff of smoke, glaring at Spike. “Impudent hatchling,” he grumbled, then clear his throat. "Well, the wyvrm-sleep is tied to a dragon's size, not his age. This is why dragons of the same species go into it at different ages. In fact, by your age, most Drakenwyvrms have already started theirs." He grinned. "You probably would have, too, if your hoard was a bit more... substantial."

Spike opened his mouth, but Sharptooth continued. "You see, when not caused by greed, a dragon's growth requires massive amounts of magic. When the body senses the need to grow a substantial amount, normally every few hundred to a thousand years, it triggers the sleep, so it can focus all its energy on growing, and not the usual biological functions."

Twilight slowly nodded. "Like a caterpillar going into a cocoon."

"Indeed." He looked to Celestia. "While you have yet to tell me exactly what's going on here, Tia," he turned back to Spike, "my guess is that some incredibly powerful source of magic somehow formed a link between itself and Spike's internal magic."

Once more, Twilight continued for him, pacing around Spike. "So... when Parchment linked their magic together, Spike's body sensed the raw magic in him, and drew it in to fuel his growth."

Sharptooth nodded, looking at Spike. "I'm actually surprised you survived it. If its anything like I imagine it, it couldn't have been a very... pleasant process."

“You have no idea,” Spike muttered.

Sharptooth cocked an eyebrow, but continued. “So, since your body no longer senses the need for the massive growth that happens during the Sleep, it's 'reset its clock,' as it were."

Spike leaned down, bringing himself face to face with the smaller dragon. "S-so I'm not going away for a hundred years?"

The Ambassador smiled at him. "Apparently not."

“I get to stay?"

"Yes."

A trembling smile played across Spike’s lips. "Like, for really real get to stay?"

Sharptooth nodded. "Congratulations. You don't have to wake up to find everyone you've ever known and loved is dead."

Applejack cleared her throat. "Uh, somepony wanna tell us wh—"

"Wooo-hooo!" Spike rose back up, flared out his new wings and let loose a torrent of green flame. "I'm not going away! I get to stay!" Spike howled again and twirled around.

"Spike, watch out!"

"Hit the dirt!"

"Incoming!"

All the ponies ducked to avoid his massive tail, feeling the wind as it soared above them. As his spin continued, the tail smashed into a nearby pine tree, knocking it from the ground and sending it crashing into the woods.

Spike didn’t seem to notice. "Twilight, did you he—" He stepped towards them, but yelped as he stepped on his tail. With a very undignified shriek, he fell backwards and crashed into a tree, landing on his rump and sending a deluge of dead needles and pine cones crashing on his head.

"Ugh, stupid giant tail." He shook his head and turned to Twilight, ignoring the howls of laughter from Pinkie and Applejack. "Twi! I get to st—"

"I know!" In a flash, she teleported herself up to him. Twilight squeezed his muscled neck as hard as she could, which wasn't very hard since she couldn't even wrap her forelegs all the way around. Spike squeezed back, earning a strangled yelp and a slight cracking sound. He immediately released her, looking down as she gulped for air. "Heh, sorry. New arms, too."

"It's okay, Spike,” she chuckled. "It's perfectly okay." She dove back at him, burying herself in his muscled hide.

Sharptooth looked at them both, his eyebrow raised. "Yes, now you have the pleasure of watching them wither and die before your eyes."

"Ambassador!"

He turned to look at Celestia, who stared at him with wide eyes, and shrugged. "What? It's true. Besides, the sooner he accepts it, the better off he'll be."

Celestia groaned, rubbing her eyes with a hoof. "Tact, Sharpie. Tact."

He just rolled his eyes. "I forgot how sensitive you ponies can be. Now, Tia, I believe it's time you and I had a chat. A magic powerful enough to affect a dragon that much—" he nodded his head towards Spike, who was still being assaulted with nuzzles from Twilight— "is something I think I should know about."

Celestia began to speak when a bright flash went off behind her. All ponies and dragons turned to find Princess Luna standing before them, flanked by two bat-winged night guards. "Indeed you should, Ambassador."

"Princess Luna." Sharptooth reached over towards her. The two guards tensed, but a small nod from her stayed them as she offered him a hoof. He reached a claw out, shaking gently. "It's been too long."

"Indeed, Ambassador." She turned to Celestia, but her eyes locked onto Bentgrass. "Special Agent Bentgrass. I am glad to see you well."

Bentgrass smiled. "And I, you, your highness."

"Wait a minute." One of the bat-winged guards stepped forward. "Bentgrass? Staff Sergeant Bentgrass?"

Bentgrass nodded at him. "Captain Anvil, it is nice to see you again."

Anvil stepped forward and grabbed Bentgrass's hoof, shaking it firmly. "I didn't recognize you without the enchantments! I haven’t seen you in, what's it been, five years?"

"Seven, sir." He looked at the other guard and gave a curt nod. "Captain Hammer."

The other captain just stared at him. "Bentgrass. Started any wars lately?"

Bentgrass smiled. "Not as of late, sir. Though I do have my eye set on Camelon." Anvil suppressed a chuckle, earning a leer from Hammer.

“So, Agent Bentgrass,” Rarity said, stepping forward, “you know these two gentlecolts?”

He nodded. “Ladies, may I introduce Captains Anvil and Hammer, commanders of Her Majesty’s Night Guard.”

"Pleasure to meet you,” Anvil said with a nod, before turning back to Bentgrass. “How have you been? Last time I saw you, you uh..." he let out a nervous chuckle, "weren't doing so hot."

Bentgrass approached Anvil, his expression dropping slightly. "Actually, sirs, I wonder if I might have a word. In private."

The two captains eyed him for a moment before turning to Luna. "Your highness?" Anvil asked.

"As you wish. I have things to discuss with my sister and the ambassador. Meet me back here in twenty minutes."

They guards saluted her, and she returned the gesture with a nod. Anvil put a foreleg around Bentgrass, walking him towards the top of the hill. "Okay, what's on your mind?" The three of them crested the hill, Bentgrass casting one more solemn gaze at Twilight before they walked down.

Her guards gone, Luna turned to face Celestia. "I have finished my examination of the Professor's body. I believe we, as well, should retire to someplace a bit more—"she glanced over at the ponies openly staring at them—"private."

Celestia nodded. "Sister, Ambassador, please follow me.”

"Wait, Princess Celestia!"

Celestia and Luna turned to see Rarity approaching them. She marched towards them, but soon jerked to a halt as a bright blush passed over her face. "Uh, heh heh, that is to say, Your Majesties," she gave a deep curtsy, "I just was wondering, what about Zecora?"

At this, Luna sighed and stepped forward, her eyes cast downwards. "Your friend is currently at Canterlot Psychiatric. Rest assured, she will be receiving the finest care possible, all at the crown's expense."

"It's the least we can do." Celestia slowly took her place next to her sister.

Applejack stepped forward. "Thank ya kindly, Your Highnesses, but what I think Rarity's tryin' t' say is," she paused, taking a deep breath, her eyes meeting with Luna's, "is Zecora gonna be okay?"

The Royal Sisters shared a brief look. Finally, Luna kneeled down, bringing herself eye level with them, and sighed. "While your friend is now much calmer now that that vile stallion is dead, we—" she cleared her throat, an annoyed look briefly flashing in her eyes— "that is to say, I am afraid the damage... has been done to her mind."

“I don’t understand,” Applejack said. “Parchment’s dead, so how can he still be controllin’ her?”

“He never was controlling her.” Luna scuffed her hoof against the ground as she spoke. “It seems that whatever Parchment did physically altered her brain chemistry. Her EKG resembles that of a severe schizophrenic now. Such fundamental changes are... most likely permanent.”

“But... but Macintosh changed back!”

Celestia knelt down to them. “It was your brother’s love for Rainbow Dash that saved him. Zecora has no such connection.”

As they spoke, Rarity slowly wrapped foreleg around Applejack. "S-s-so, Zecora is...

Luna shook her head. "I am sorry, my friends, but for the moment, yes." She reached out a hoof, placing it gently on Rarity's shoulder. "But, fear not. With time, therapy, and magic, the doctors are... hopeful that she will someday recover her faculties." Applejack gulped, but nodded.

"Celestia," Sharptooth said gently. She turned and met his eyes, nodding slowly before tapping her sister in the shoulder. Luna rose and stepped back. Sharptooth looked to the ponies. "I am very sorry for what has happened, ponies. Please accept my condolences."

Rarity sniffled, but stepped up to him, giving another deep curtsy. "Thank you, Ambassador. You are a true gentledrake."

Celestia smiled at the scene before turning to walk away. As Luna and Sharptooth moved to follow, she cast a glance back at Twilight, who still stood with Spike. "We'll talk more later, my faithful student." Twilight nodded. With that, the three ancient beings walked away.

Once they had crested the hill, Applejack turned back to Twilight, who had finally released Spike’s neck, adjusting herself so she was sitting on his muscular arm, resting her weight against his chest. "Now, will one of y'all tell us what in the Sam Hill is goin' on with you?" she said as she glared at Spike.

He sniffled. "Uh, well... It's uh, it's kind of a long story." He looked down to Twilight and laughed. "And I guess I have plenty of time to tell it, don't I?"

"I guess you do." She nuzzled back into him, enjoying the soothing warmth radiating from his body. "Girls, if you d—" A scalding liquid dripped on her shoulder, causing her to squeal and slap at the stinging pain. Once the sting was gone, she looked up and saw a near-boiling tear slowly crawling down Spike's muzzle. Twilight grinned up at him.

He raised an eyebrow. "What?" She didn't answer, content to simply grin. "Wait... oh, no. No, no. Don't you say it!"

Twilight's grin widened. "I guess you're not out of tears after all."

Spike banged his head against the tree, another shower of needles falling on them. "And you say my jokes are corny!"

Twilight chuckled. She looked up at him, appraising his new body: the wicked-looking spines that ran from his head to his tail, the razor-sharp teeth filing his massive jaw, the thin wisps of smoke that were near-constantly pouring from his nostrils. No longer the chubby little baby he had been, he now truly and fully resembled the terrifying beast of myth and lore. Yet despite the fearsome appearance, his eyes retained the same playful glint they always had.

An odd pressure slowly built up in her chest. Here was Spike, her number one assistant, cradling her like she had done for him so many years ago whenever he had a bad dream. For years, he'd been by her side through whatever came their way, his oddly keen logic and deadpan humor a constant through the highs and lows. And now, through the actions of a lunatic, he would never leave her. The lump in her chest throbbed and she lunged back at him, squeezing as hard as she could. Before she knew what she was doing, she spoke. "I love you, baby brother."

Spike sniffled again and gently squeezed her back, ignoring the chorus of "aww's" from the girls. "I know, Twi. I know."

Slowly, Twilight pulled away and looked up at him with wide eyes, her lips pouting.

He chuckled softly. "No."

She pouted her lip out further.

"No!"

She held her gaze.

"Ugh! You're going to keep giving me the puppy dog eyes until I say it, aren't you?"

She slowly nodded.

Spike sighed and pulled her back into his chest. He lowered his massive head, gently nuzzled against hers, and whispered, "Love you, too, big sis."

“Mac!”

Applejack gingerly stepped away from Spike’s side as Rainbow Dash and Macintosh walked up the hill towards them. Rainbow had a wing draped across his back, but withdrew and stepped away as Applejack embraced him. He threw his foreleg around her and squeezed tight, but instantly withdrew as she yelped and clutched her bandaged side.

Mac took a half-step back. “AJ, I—”

“Sssshhhh.” She gently pressed a hoof against his lips, a firm smile on her face. “Not one word, ya hear?” He tried to speak again, but she pressed harder against his mouth. “Not... one... word.”

Mac nodded and leaned in to nuzzle her softly. “I’m just glad you’re alright, Jackie.”

“You kiddin’?” She pulled away and grinned at him. “ This ain’t nothin’! I’ll be back in th’ orchards in a week!”

“Oh, no, you won’t!” The warm smile on his lips melted into a scowl. “You ain’t gonna be doin’ nothin’ but plantin’ yer keester in that wheelchair they offered! Me, ‘Bloom, an’ Caramel can handle th’ bucking til you’re up on yer hooves.”

“Aw, Mac, come on! I can—”

“Not... one... word.”

She grumbled something under her breath, but smiled at him.

Rainbow left the siblings and approached the rest of her friends. “So, hey! You girls notice anything new?” She struck an exaggerated pose, turning her head away from them. The others walked up and gasped. The noonday sun glistened and sparkled off the earring hanging from her left ear. At the end of several silver links was a brilliant emerald, cut into the shape of an apple half. In the center, built from ruby, sapphire, and topaz, was a tiny rainbow-colored lightning bolt.

"Wah-ha-ha!" Everypony cringed as Rarity shoved her way to the front of the group. "Oh, Rainbow, you have no idea how long I've been waiting for this!"

"Heh, yeah, I—wait, you've been waiting?"

Rarity sighed and tossed her mane. "Oh, Rainbow, darling, everypony has known this was coming for ages! We were just waiting for Macintosh to finally work up the nerve to ask."

Not even Mac's red coat could hide the fierce blush spreading across his face. "Uh, y-you have?"

"Oh, of course! Now, Rainbow, a soon as you and Mac feel up to it, you simply must come to the boutique and give me your honest opinions of the dress and tuxedo I've created."

"Wait, you've already made me a dress?" Rainbow took a tiny step back.

"Yes!" Rarity squeaked, her words all but gushing out. "I dare say its one of my finer moments. Like you, it's bold, yet just subdued enough to remain feminine and demure. And, oh!" She began to trot in place, taking dainty steps in the air. "Macintosh, you will simply di— er, that is to say, you will swoon when you see what I have made for you!"

Mac gulped, slowly stepping back to his fiance’s side. “Uh, th-thank ya kindly, Rares, but I thi—”

“Oh, and you simply must let me know who the Mare of Honor will be so I can make the proper ensemble.” She gasped again, stars glittering in her eyes as she clopped her hooves together. “And then you must tell me what you think of the designs I have for foal clothes! Oh, won’t it be marvelous? Little rainbow-maned earth ponies, crimson pegasi, or maybe e—”

Oh, look, here comes Fluttershy!” Rainbow zoomed past her to where Fluttershy was emerging from behind a particularly dense copse of trees. Rarity let out a quiet “hmph,” tossing her mane once more, then followed.

Rainbow landed next to Fluttershy, gently wrapping a wing around her, careful of the thick cast on her left wing. “How’s the wing doing, ‘Shy?”

“Oh, it’s fine, thank you. Though, the bandage is a bit... tight.” She nodded towards the large white bandage that wrapped around her whole midsection.

“Fluttershy, please don’t tell me you were in there hiding from the Ambassador?” Rarity eased up next to her. “I know you don’t like dragons, but he was an absolute gentleco— er, gentledrake,”

Applejack nodded. “‘Sides, Spike’s bigger’n he was.”

“Oh, um, I wasn’t actually hiding...” Fluttershy’s eyes scanned everywhere but their eyes, her hoof dug a small trench in the dirt beneath her.

Pinkie scratched her bandaged head. “Well, if you weren’t hiding in the woods, then... why were you hiding in the woods?”

“Well, um...” Fluttershy slowly stepped back from them, walking backwards to peek at something behind the trees. “I... I was...” Her head darted back and forth between her friends and whatever was behind the trees. Slowly, she stood up straight, shaking her head gently to move her mane away from her eyes. “Now, everypony just... just stay calm.” She turned once more to the trees. “It’s okay, honey, you can come out.”

Pinkie leaned over to Rarity. “Um, I know my head’s kinda wonky right now, but did Fluttershy just tell us to stay calm?” Rarity opened her mouth to reply, but all that came out was a strangled yelp.

From behind the dense row of trees limped the hulking form of Angel Bunny, his crocodile-like muzzle covered in bandages and a thick cast on his leg. The amassed ponies let out a collective gasp and backpedaled a bit, Pinkie actually slipping on the sea of browned needles. Twilight’s horn blazed to life, tiny sparks shooting from the tip, but Fluttershy jumped in between her and Angel. “Twilight, wait!”

“Fluttershy...” Twilight made no move, but her horn still sizzled with magic as she glared at the monster that had tried to kill her just two days prior.

“It’s okay, girls. He’s not going to hurt anypony.” Fluttershy turned to Angel, reaching up and running her hoof along his muscled arm. “Are you, honey?”

Twilight was about to protest, but stopped as she looked at Angel a bit closer. His deformed muzzle was pointed downward, and the remaining tentacle-like appendage was currently trying to dig a hole in the ground at his feet. Twilight had to shake her head once she realized that the mutated, hulking, bloodthirsty monster... was wringing his claws and trying to hide behind Fluttershy.

“Poor Angel feels just awful about what happened.” Fluttershy continued to gently rub the patchwork of black chitin and white fur on his arm as she spoke. “It wasn’t his fault, though! That evil pony was controlling him! He said it was like a voice shouting in his head, forcing him to do terrible things.”

“He’s right.” All the ponies turned to Macintosh. He looked between them all, then lowered his head. “I mean, if it was anything like what—” a tiny shudder worked through him— “y-yeah, he’s tellin’ th’ truth.”

Fluttershy nodded, stepping away from Angel and walking back to the rest of them. “Exactly! He’s agreed to help clean the mess he made in town, and help Rumble with whatever he may need until Thunderlane is back on his hooves."

Nopony moved for what seemed like an eternity, save for the occasional flick of a tail or twitch of an ear. The rustle of dying pine needles in the wind was the only audible sound. Finally, a loud grumble came from behind them all. Shaking the remaining needles off his body, Spike flipped back down to all fours and lumbered past them, his footfalls sending vibrations through their hooves, and stood before Angel. Upon seeing the other male approach him, Angel jerked his body back upright, bringing him eye level with the large dragon. With Spike on four legs and Angel on two, they glanced around, only briefly making eye contact before looking around again. Finally, Spike broke the silence.

“Hey.”

Angel grunted, slightly inclining his head.

“‘Sup?”

Angel gave a noncommittal growl, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head.

“Hey, sorry about the, uh...” Spike waved his claw in a circular motion over his face. “And the, uh...” He repeated the motion, this time gesturing to his left side. “Heh, you know...”

Angel grunted again, waving his paw and shaking his head, then turned and pointed to the stump on his left side, which appeared to already be growing back.

The two stared at each other for several more moments. Finally, Spike held up his fist. “We cool?”

Angel looked between his fist and Spike’s face a few times, then grunted once more, nodding his head and bumping Spike’s claw with his his own.

Spike smiled, then walked back to the group. “Yeah, he’s cool.”

The ponies stood in silence, their jaws slack. Rarity sighed and shook her head. "Boys."

A wave of laughter erupted from the group. Rarity's words seemed to break the tension in the air, and soon the sounds of light conversation drifted across the field. Pinkie Pie was bouncing up and down beside Macintosh and Rainbow, listing absurd plans for their wedding reception, while Rarity continued to swoon over Rainbow’s earring. Fluttershy divided her time between comforting Angel and nervously glancing at Spike.

Twilight was in mid-conversation with Applejack when she saw movement in the corner of her eye. Turning, she saw Anvil and Hammer walking back up the hill, though Bentgrass was strangely absent. Twilight met them halfway. “Excuse me, sirs, but where is Agent Bentgrass?”

The two guards shared a look, a nervous look in their eyes. Finally, Anvil spoke. “Um, he said he was heading to the library, then he was gonna, um... leave town..”

At this, the murmurs of conversation stopped. All of them turned to the two Captains. Applejack was the first to speak up. “Hold up, I know that little snake in th’ grass ain’t plannin’ on leavin’ without sayin’ goodbye!”

“Actually, I think that was his plan.” He idly rubbed the back of his neck with a hoof. “Although, I uh... I think he wanted you to talk to him, Ms. Sparkle.”

“Me?”

Spike let out a laugh. “How convenient, Twilight wants to talk to him, too! Over dinner, right, Twi?” He waggled his eyebrows.

She blushed furiously. “Spike!”

“What?” He smiled at her, showing all of his razor-sharp teeth. “Oh, come on, Twi. I’ve seen those looks you shot him every now and then.”

“Twilight!” Rainbow saddled up next to her, throwing a wing around her. “Don’t tell me you’re getting sweet on old Bright Eyes!”

“I...” she stammered, shrugging off her wing, trying hard to hide her blush. “I, I find him... intriguing.” The rest of the girls tittered at the admission, further heating Twilight’s cheeks.

“Well, then!” Spike nudged Twilight’s haunches with a claw. “There’s only one thing for it! Get your flank over there and talk to him!”

She dug her hooves into the ground, trying to stay in place against his gentle prodding. “Now, Spike, I—”

“Ah, ah, ah!” He leaned in close to her, bringing his snout inches from her. “You have to do what I say, I’m a big scary dragon now!”

“Easy, Spike! That’s probably why he left in the first place!” Rainbow hovered in the air next to Spike’s head.

Twilight looked up at her, her eyebrows furrowed. “What are you talking about, Dash?”

Dash shrugged. “Well, I mean with as scared as Bentgrass is of dragons, he probably doesn’t want to be anywhere near Spike right now.”

“Bentgrass isn’t scared of dragons!” Twilight let out a short laugh. “Where did you get that idea?”

Dash landed, taking on a slightly defensive posture. “What? That’s the last thing he said to Parchment before he died! Didn’t you hear him?”

“No, I was across the courtyard with the other girls.”

“Oh. Well, yeah, Parchment asked him how he wanted to die, and Bentgrass said anything but dragons, because he’s scared of dragons.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. "But, that doesn't make any..." Slowly, her furrowed brow straightened, though the confusion was plainly written on her face. She turned away from them. "I, uh... I-I have to go." With that, she trotted off, not even sparing a glance behind her.

Dash smiled, flying back to Mac's side. "Aw, our little egghead is growing up! She gonna ask her first stallion out on a date!"

"Hey, it's not her first date!" Spike grinned and leaned in close to the group, speaking in a very loud voice. "And since we’re on the subject, Rainbow, what's this I hear about you having a date with Deputy Bale?"

The silence was suffocating. Everypony and dragon stared at Dash, struggling to contain their laughter. After a few moments, Mac turned to his beet-red fiancé, raising his hoof like a school colt.

"Uh, how long was I out again?"


Twilight walked towards the library in autopilot, her eyes never leaving the ground before her. Her tail flicked back and forth much faster than her steps. Her mind was a torrent of facts, memories, and theories; the many pieces of the puzzle floating before her in her mind's eye. Several times they tried to slam together and form a picture, but each time she shook her head. There must be some variable I’m missing, some fact...

As she approached the front door, she took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face. She knew that once she clarified things with Bentgrass, everything would be fine. She pushed open the door, pointedly ignoring the voice in the back of her mind telling her otherwise.

The lingering scent of burnt paper greeted her as she eased the door closed behind her. Twilight hadn't been back to the library since that night; the hospital had been her home until she was sure Spike was okay. Great piles of books were still strewn across the scorched and scarred floor. Gingerly stepping around them, she made her way into the main room.

Bentgrass stood in the center next to the table with the destroyed carving, a purple book in his mouth. He set it down gently, then his ears twitched as Twilight entered the room proper. She kept moving towards him as he slowly turned around. Their eyes met.

And she knew.

It was clearly written on his face: the splayed ears, the drooping tail, his slumped shoulders. Everything about him, even his normally unreadable eyes, screamed of guilt and pain. He made no move to approach her once he saw her jerk to a halt.

Twilight could feel the blood drain from her face, only to have it race back as her cheeks flustered. Her limbs turned to jelly, and she stumbled backwards over a pile of half-burned parchment, her eyes twisted in a mix of confusion and anger. Dozens of questions danced on her trembling lips, but none made it any further.

Bentgrass sighed, his head hung low. “I... I saw Parchment’s nose bleeding after he changed Mr. Apple.” His hoof flicked at the ground beneath him, feeling the wood grain of the floorboards. “Then, I remembered what you said about dragons being highly resistant to outside magic.”

Slowly, Twilight began to regain control of her limbs. She took one step forward, making him wince. He raised his head and began to look around, his eyes scanning everywhere except her direction. “Honestly, I thought that he would have an aneurism of some kind trying to affect Spike so drastically. I didn’t know h—”

“Exactly!” Twilight surged forward. Books and papers went flying out of her path, flung at random as she advanced on him. “You didn’t know! And yet, you acted! You risked Spike’s life on a—on a—a guess!”

Bentgrass looked up as she drew near. His serpentine eye had lost some of its normal fire, now looking as pale as his grey one. “Twilight, please. You must understand t—”

“Understand what?!” He winced, looking away from her withering glare. Tiny sparks shot off from her horn, dissipating almost instantly. “That you care so little about his life that you were willing to just throw it away? We trusted you!” She took a half-step back, her brow creasing. “I... I-I thought I... Th-that maybe...” She shook her head, looking back to him with a venomous glare. “And you just said his life, my little brother’s life, wasn’t worth it, so y—”

One life!” He slammed his hoof down, whipping his head back to face her, a fire in his eyes. “One dragon versus the suffering and pain of every living thing on the planet, you are damn right that I did! To save your friends, to save you! And given the chance, I would do it again! And again, and ag—”

His head jerked violently to the side as a stinging pain spread across his cheek. Twilight retracted her hoof and took several steps back. Her lower jaw trembled, but the storm of conflicting feelings in her mind barred any sound. She briefly saw Bentgrass look at her, but in that moment her strength left her, and she fell to her haunches. Twilight stared at the floor, and took a shuddering breath. “Get out.”

Bentgrass didn’t move at first, simply rubbing his hot cheek. Twilight’s quiet sniffles were deafening in his mind. FInally, he took a few shuffling steps towards her, reaching out with his hoof. “T... Twilight, I—”

“Get out.” The front door blew open in a lavender blur, but her head never left the ground beneath her. “Never come back.”

Slowly, all the pain and guilt melted from his face, replaced by his trademark impassiveness, though a wet sheen was barely visible in his left eye. Standing up straight and adjusting his suit, he stepped past her towards the open door. Halfway there, he stopped, glancing back over his shoulder. “Some day, Ms. Sparkle, you will come to see the logic in my decision.”

After a few eternal moments of silence, Twilight whispered back. “And on that day, I’ll be as lost as you are.”

Bentgrass cleared his throat and resumed walking, his hoofsteps echoing in the now still library. He hesitated at the front door for only a moment, before walking outside and quietly closing the door.

All was still in the library.

For what seemed like hours, Twilight sat there, amidst the rubble and debris. For the first time in her life, her mind failed her; words, thoughts, even feelings refused to surface. The silence permeated her whole being, a rough edge from a gouge in the floor stabbed at her haunches. Nothing felt real; memories of the past days, the things she’d seen, what she’d learned. It all seemed like a distant mirage, a haze at the edge of her mind that refused to coalesce.

Slowly, Twilight willed her limbs back under her control, and she rose from the floor. Still looking down, she sniffled once more and set her shoulders. When she raised her head, there was no more pain in her eyes, just a blank neutrality that she forced upon herself. Shuffling, plodding hoofsteps brought her to the main table, and she looked down at the purple book Bentgrass had laid there.

Terrific Timeliness for Teachers: The Egghead’s Guide to Time Management in the Classroom.

She sank back to her haunches and, as a quiet sniffle escaped her, glanced back toward the front door.

“Thank you.”

The End