• Published 3rd Jun 2019
  • 1,629 Views, 215 Comments

Where We Belong - BlazzingInferno



Eternal night shrouds Equestria, and an even worse fate awaits Rarity. Or so she’s been led to believe.

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Curious Company

Morning came all too quickly for Rarity’s tastes. It came without warning, and without any of the niceties she’d come to expect. Gone were her sleep mask, feather bed, and monogrammed sleepwear. There weren’t any servants talking just beyond her oak door about the daily tasks that lay ahead or if Master Steward Rarity’s morning tea was running late. Instead she woke up on a startlingly hard floor, her cheek caked with rock dust and her back aching. The tattered remnants of her palace uniform still clung to her sides, and wisps of her ragged mane hung about her ears and eyes with all the grace of a bird’s nest.

She took a deep breath of icy air and shuddered. Even if she left The Pit this minute, her old life was over. The palace was lost to her, as was her place in high society. She’d done the impossible after Celestia fell, clinging onto social rank by the barest of threads while swaths of nobility faced exile or worse. Somehow she’d secured a lofty position in the new royal court, thanks to her celebrated artistic eye and organizational prowess. All of that was over. Bare floors were all she could hope for now, in The Pit or out.

Blinking didn’t work as well as it should have. Dragging a foreleg across her eyelids dislodged layer upon layer of spoiled makeup and dried tears. She didn’t recall crying last night, but it didn’t come as much of a surprise. One learned to cry secretly while in the employ of Nightmare Moon.

“You’d best get used to this, Rarity, being destitute, hungry, and—” ‘cold’ was the next item on her list, but that didn’t ring true at the moment. The floor was cold, but she wasn’t. She glanced back and found a tattered blue and purple blanket draped over her.

She definitely didn’t remember that. Was this another ‘gift’ from the dragon that swore he wasn’t kind? She couldn’t help smiling slightly. They were nothing alike, but at least he had a gentlemanly air about him.

“Spike?”

When no reply came, she rose, folded the blanket, and approached the curtain he’d vanished behind the night before. Pulling it aside, she discovered a grotto lined with blankets. She frowned at the blanket’s Spike-shaped depression and at the jewels scattered around the cave’s edges. Nothing evoked the classic notion of a greedy dragon more than a bed filled with treasure. No wonder he was too big to escape.

“Spike?”

Silence answered her. Perfect, unnerving silence.

She trotted to the cave mouth, her ears listening intently to her own hoofsteps, first loud against stone and then muted against snow. The valley was just as she’d left it: a wintery picture postcard, and an impossible one at that. Nopony had seen or felt sunlight in years, save for the wretched creatures stuck in this bizarre place. Had Spike been down here for years, or even decades?

A tree branch creaked somewhere in the distance. Rarity scanned the horizon until she spotted a puff of white engulfing a copse of trees, and a purple shape mostly obscured by branches. “Ah, there you are.”

She trotted, walked, and then pressed her way through the increasingly deep snow. By the time she could clearly discern him, dangling halfway up a tree with his tail wrapped around the trunk, her legs were nearly buried and entirely frozen. “I don’t suppose you have some warm winter clothes in that hoard of yours?”

Spike spared her a brief glance before returning to his work, whatever that was. He seemed to be having a staring contest with the branch nearest to him. “Cold?”

“Quite.”

He leaped to the next branch, catching it by claws first and then tail. “I have lots of blankets. Turn one into a cloak or something.”

She wrinkled her nose at the thought of his sleeping nook and its dragon-scented blankets. “Or something… I’ll just have to find ways to keep myself busy. Surely you don’t just sit in trees all day.”

Spike blew a jet of flame at the lower branch he’d just vacated, severing it from the tree trunk. The branch tumbled through the air and landed next to Rarity with a muted thud. “This is how I get firewood.”

Rarity eyed the branch’s still-smoking end and nodded slowly. Fire breath was slightly more elegant than breaking the limb off with his bare hands, she supposed. It still didn’t bode well for her longevity. The exit’s dark abyss was looking better and better, but that was for later. She couldn’t venture out there now, so soon after her apparent execution and with no supplies or idea of where to go. Such an undertaking also called for a hearty breakfast. “I don’t suppose you’ve eaten yet?”

“No. I didn’t want to wake you.”

“How very ki—” his scowl stopped her. Dragons were strange and sensitive beasts indeed. “Thank you. And thank you for the blanket.”

Spike rubbed his neck and looked away. “It was nothing. So… are you sticking around?”

“For now, yes. But I’d very much like something to do; I’m not a pony that can sit around twiddling her hooves.”

He landed in a crouch beside the felled branch and lifted it up. “Well there’s plenty of stuff to do just to stay alive around here. This firewood needs to get carried back to the cave, for starters. Want to do that?”

Rarity’s face fell. “Do you have any chores that are less physically taxing and more… emotionally fulfilling? My real talents lie in fashion and fine art.”

Spike laughed, showing off an impressive set of fangs in the process. “This isn’t Canterlot, Rarity. We haven't got any art exhibitions or fancy dress balls. After the firewood, there’s finding food, storing water, cleaning the cave…”

He threw the branch over his shoulder and started into the forest. Rarity followed after him, ears lowered and eyebrows knit into a scowl. He didn’t need to be so flippant about it; not every creature could be sated by mindless, manual labor. “What could you know of Canterlot, anyway? I wouldn’t think dragons would be so familiar with Equestria of old.”

“Heh. I was born there.”

She stopped cold. “You’re joking.”

He looked back at her and winked. “Nope.”

“I’ll have you know I spent most of my formative years in Canterlot, and I never encountered a single dragon. Not one.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised. Canterlot’s not the greatest place for non-ponies. I think I'm the only one that didn't go back to the Dragon Lands right after being born.”

With a great effort, Rarity caught up to him and studied at his blank expression. Surely he was lying. Dragons would never be welcome in the old heart of pony society and sophistication. “Where precisely in Canterlot, hmm?”

Spike sighed and looked down at the snow. “In Princess Celestia’s school. Hatching a dragon egg is part of the entrance exam for the advanced students.”

She stifled a small gasp; ponies rarely uttered that name aloud anymore, especially not in Nightmare Moon’s presence if they valued their freedom. The urge to check over her shoulder for watching eyes and listening ears still gripped her. “Oh. I can’t say I stayed up to date with the goings-on of the school.”

“Celestia told me that dragon mothers come to her with eggs that won't hatch, and she throws her best students at them for a little magical boost. Except I didn’t have a dragon mom to go back to. Some pony found my egg, some random student hatched me, and then Celestia raised me in her castle.”

Each casual mention of the Princess’s name shocked her, but not as much as that last statement. Her open mouth was admitting in snowflakes en masse, and yet she couldn’t think clearly enough to close it. “You mean you were… by the Princess… in Canterlot Castle?”

Spike nodded, smiling a little. “How’s she doing, anyway? She was really sad when I left on the dragon migration. She acted happy for me and everything, but I could tell.”

Again Rarity came to a stop. ”Spike, you… you really don’t know? I suppose if you’ve been stuck in here long enough, but…”

He stopped too and stared at her, eyebrows raised. “What?”

She inched closer to him and, after a great deal of hesitation, touched his leg with her hoof. Hopefully he’d take that as a comforting gesture. Hopefully. “Many years ago, a legendary monster called Nightmare Moon banished Princess Celestia to the moon and now rules as the queen of Greater Equestria. Canterlot is all-but-abandoned now.”

The tree branch fell from Spike’s hand. He stared off into space, mouth open and expression blank. Telling him was a mistake. What if he flew into a rage and tore the forest apart, or set fire to it? She’d be caught in the middle with only herself to blame for provoking the beast within him.

Instead he touched a clawed finger to his eye and flicked away a tear. “Oh no. I… I wish I could’ve… Oh.”

He sank to his knees. Tears fell from his snout and hissed in the snow. “What happened?”

Suddenly Rarity wasn’t talking to a fearsome dragon anymore. She moved her hoof to his chest and felt a thumping heartbeat beneath his warm, smooth scales. So much for brutish, unchecked rage. “Nopony knows how it happened, exactly. Some ponies still fight against Nightmare Moon, while others… ponies like myself have just had to find ways to get by, however we’re able. Nopony likes it, but that’s the world we’re forced to live in.”

Spike gave a great sniffle, and twin trails of condensation puffed from his nostrils. He curled his lips back, as if he was holding back a sob, and nodded quickly. “She would’ve wanted everypony to be as happy as they could, to go on living. Sorry I’m being so… so—”

He blinked, looked away, and stood. His voice became stoic. “Dragons aren’t supposed to be like that anyway, sorry. Let’s go get some breakfast.”

Rarity watched him carry on walking, her hoof still raised in comfort for this curiously inscrutable being. “But… Spike—”

“The longer we stand here, the colder we’ll get. Come on.”

---

Rarity held her tongue as they crossed the valley, second-guessing herself and her companion continuously. Merely mentioning poor, lost Princess Celestia briefly brought Spike to tears, but daring to pay him the smallest of compliments was verboten. Something didn’t add up, and that something was probably her repeated attempts to treat a dragon like a pony. He wasn’t an evil creature, obviously, but their similarities only went so far. His royal upbringing hadn’t done away with his insatiable greed, considering where his own kind had imprisoned him.

“Are you tired?” he asked, bearing no sign of his earlier grief.

She took a forlorn look at the tracks they'd made: hoof prints for her and clawed footsteps plus a tail line for him, all of which vanished into the forest’s depths. “I’ll be fine. Is there a reason we’ve walked so far?”

Spike pointed to the base of the nearest cliff, where the snow gave way to a narrow band of brown soil dotted with green sprouts, shrubs, and an occasional flower. “The snowfall isn’t as heavy on this side of the valley, so more plants grow.”

Hunger carried her the rest of the way. She stopped just short of the snowless ground and sniffed a green, succulent leaf. The socialite in her cried out in protest as she took a large and decidedly unladylike bite. Being that prim and proper required a full stomach, in her opinion. “Mmm. It’s certainly not palace fare, but…”

Spike scarfed down a fistful of leaves and gave her a questioning look. “But?”

Her ears drooped as the past once again threatened to sour the present. This wasn't gourmet cuisine, or even small town home cooking. Still, it was food. She wouldn't starve in here. The same couldn't be said for the wild, uncivilized world beyond The Pit. She might even become a meal herself for a manticore or a less discerning dragon. Eating like a homeless vagabond was still eating. “Nothing, nothing. I’m sure I'll get used to it. To all of it.”

He studied her paper-thin smile for a moment and then resumed plucking leaves. “Make sure to grab a few flowers, too. After this there's some damp spots we need to check for mushrooms.”

A bushel of leaves came away in her magic. “Leaves and mushrooms… lovely.”

“Did you used to be somepony important, or something?”

Rarity bristled and huffed at his use of the past tense. Nothing fueled anger quite like lingering anguish. “For all you know I was sightseeing and slipped off my private airship’s balcony.”

“Heh, funny. Did anybody… help you slip?”

Her scowl could’ve melted ice. “Why yes. Queen Nightmare herself decided I was to blame for the latest insult to her royal person and condemned me to being eaten by the likes of you.”

Spike let out a long, low whistle. “So that’s why you were wrapped in gold and gems. That must’ve been some insult.”

“One that I had absolutely nothing to do with, I’ll have you know. The master steward of the royal palace doesn’t go around ‘assisting traitors’ or whatever the charges were, no matter what the master steward might think of Her Majesty. Tyrant.”

“What about before, when… when Celestia was still around?”

His quiet, melancholy tone gave her pause. She set her bundle of leaves on the ground and studied his barely-hidden frown. “She must have really meant a lot to you.”

He nodded. “Yeah. I can’t believe she’s… she’s been around forever! Some evil monster can’t just… I asked about you. Let’s talk about you. Please?”

Rarity sighed and returned to her work. “I was never on a first name basis with Princess Celestia, despite my best efforts. My special talent is having an eye for fine art. I organized and curated art exhibitions, wrote critiques of fashion shows… that sort of thing.”

“Oh. That must’ve been fun.”

“You would think so, wouldn't you? What could be better than living the glamorous Canterlot life? The hollow, friendless, skipping-meals-to-afford-gala-tickets Canterlot life… I sometimes wonder if I would’ve been happier if—” Rarity glanced at him and bit her lip “—if I’d gone through with my other dream.”

“Which was?”

“I’d rather not say.”

Spike turned to face her, his jaw set and eyebrows low. Rarity couldn't hold back a giggle in response; there was nothing even remotely menacing about a dragon holding an armful of flowers. Still he kept up the serious act. “Is this because you still think I’m a pony-eating monster?”

“Nonsense, or so I’ve been led to believe. Whenever anypony asks where I’m from, I mention Canterlot and change the subject. The rest of it is… well the truth wasn’t about to get me anywhere in high society. Let's leave it at that.”

A flower landed on Rarity’s head. She gave Spike a glare and popped it in her mouth. “How terribly uncouth.”

He grinned. “I can keep throwing them, or you can keep talking.”

“Insolent dragon.”

“Snob unicorn that talks with her mouth full.”

Rarity gulped the flower down as best she could, coughing a few times in her haste. “I’d never mention this in polite company, but I was actually born in an insufferably small and unsophisticated town called Ponyville. I came very close to opening a boutique and starting my own line of dresses, that is until I sold everything I possessed to move to Canterlot. That's all I have to say on the matter, at least on an empty stomach.”

Spike held up his armful of flowers. “This should be plenty for now. Let’s go make some breakfast.”

“At long last. I trust these flowers taste better cooked?”

He looked down at his load, picked a flower out, and roasted it with one smokey breath. “You tell me.”

She took the flower in her magic and gave it a nibble. “Mmm. Indeed. As the former master steward of the royal palace, I hereby place you in charge of all cooking.”

“Hah. Of course, m’lady.”

“Just Rarity, thank you. This isn’t Canterlot, Spike.”

She ate the rest of the flower in two bites. And thank goodness for that.

---

The fire crackled merrily that evening, much to the relief of Rarity’s aching hooves. Heat did nothing for her dirty, sweaty fur, of course. “Is every day going to be like this?”

Spike didn't respond, and considering how deep he’d buried his face in his dinner bowl, it was probably for the best. An occasional, heart-rending crunch of a gem punctuated the rustle of cooked greens, prompting her to feel for the fire ruby tucked into her blanket again and again. She’d save one precious stone from such a barbaric fate, so help her.

Averting her eyes from his mannerless gorging didn't leave her much to look at. Staring at her own mostly uneaten dinner wouldn't make it any more appetizing, not after eating nearly identical fare for breakfast, lunch, and presumably every future meal. Instead her eyes wandered to the fluttering curtain at the back of the cave and the darkness that waited beyond it.

“There's a spa, somewhere out there: a spa with baths, steam rooms, professional masseuses, and an endless supply of hot towels.”

Spike empty bowl clunked on the stone floor. “There's also an evil queen, and monsters, and—”

“I'm well aware of the dangers, thank you.” She stood and stepped toward the exit’s curtain, doing her best to ignore how staring into that uncertain void made her hair stand on end. “I’m merely… considering all possibilities.”

“No you’re not,” he muttered, “you’re thinking about risking your life over a hot shower, even though you’ve got everything you really need right here.”

Rarity whirled around. “My own sanity is a need as well, and I don’t how I’m going to maintain it here!” She stomped closer, staring him directly in the eye thanks to his reclined pose. “I can live without showers. I can live without palaces. What I can’t live without is purpose, something to make life’s daily struggles worthwhile! What’s the point of living if nothing excites you, if nothing inspires you to drag yourself out of bed every morning besides the need to eat?”

Her legs were shaking now. She sank down on the floor, wet eyes focused on the fire. “In Canterlot I had high society to consort with and art to tend. Under Nightmare Moon I had an ornate palace to maintain and a staff to look after. What inspiration and higher purpose can I ever possibly have in a place like this? How can… how can I ever have one again?”

For a minute, only her own shallow breaths answered her. Nightmare Moon had destroyed her after all: pit or no, she’d never again be part of an art scene or aristocracy. She’d never be anything more than what she was now: a hallowed-out shell of a pony who had yet to stop breathing.

Finally Spike let out a deep sigh. “I’m sorry.”

“I fail to see what you have to be sorry for.”

“For forgetting that it’s barely been a day since you got here. I’ve been stuck for a really long time, and talking to you has been so easy it’s like we’ve been doing it for weeks and… Can you give me just one more day?”

Rarity raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”

“I get that this isn’t the life you want. It’s not really what I planned on either, but… but it’s way better with somebody to talk to. Please just give The Pit one more day, and if you still want to leave then I’ll fix you a big going away meal, and pack some supplies, and whatever else you need. Deal?”

She took another look at the exit. In the darkness beyond she could almost see Nightmare Moon’s wicked smile looming over her own fantastical hopes. Rarity had chosen the uncertain road before, abandoning podunk Ponyville for sophisticated Canterlot. A day with Spike was far from the most miserable part of that choice. Daring to step outside could indeed make The Pit seem like a summer holiday, such as if she were discovered and brought back to the palace.

“Rarity?”

A blink and a cough brought her back to the present. Opposite the foreboding exit was her proverbial cell mate: a mostly tame dragon currently wearing a look of silent loneliness that she’d grown up seeing in the mirror. That same dragon had shared his home, his food, and his company just when she needed them most. Surely replaying a bit more of his generosity was the first order of business.

“Yes, Spike. Yes, I’ll give it another day. It’s the least I can do.” Another month or year might follow, for all she knew.

Spike smiled with the warmth of the noonday sun. “Thanks, Rarity. I promise you won’t regret it.”

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