• Published 1st Aug 2019
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Sharing the Nation - Cast-Iron Caryatid



Wherein dragons begin to flood into Equestria for some unknown, completely mysterious reason.

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Chapter 1

— ✶ —

Twilight Sparkle still wasn’t used to the new configuration of celestial objects in the daylight sky—though she supposed it was technically the old configuration. Very old, considering it hadn’t been seen since before ponies had had magic. Now that there were two alicorns of the day, though, a return to the old status quo had apparently been necessary.

As for what that status quo was, well, the great rainbow ring arcing across from horizon to horizon was a clue. That was the celestial object charged with providing light to the world. Sunrise and sunset were still a part of the celestial dance, though they were much more colorful as each band of light rose or set on the horizon in turn.

In contrast, the celestial object providing heat was at once both much more similar to what the sun had been, but barely visible as a shimmering in the sky. This half-sun orbited Equus in the opposite direction of its counterpart, going virtually unnoticed until it crossed under the solar ring at noon, scattering its rainbow light across the sky in a dazzling nova.

The whole situation was kind of ironic, actually, as it bore a striking resemblance to the form the night sky had settled into after Luna had blasted Astri’s rogue moon to pieces, scattering it across the dark backdrop as a sparkling band of stars and nebulae that flowed along its length like a river. Twilight could have fixed it, of course, but she wasn’t of a mind to, actually quite pleased with the look.

All the same, the new circumstances took some getting used to. Things had just been so much simpler when there had only been a sun in the sky. Take, for instance, her current situation; she was helping clear the rubble of what was technically still the Ponyville Palace, as she and Luna hadn’t actually stopped sleeping in it. Not being much of an outdoor pony, she had naturally gravitated to stand in long, looming shadow of the tower. This had been a mistake, as putting herself in the shadow explicitly meant she was no longer in the shade.

Those were two different words now. Her inner librarian was simultaneously fascinated and disturbed.

Truthfully, as an alicorn, the heat didn’t actually bother Twilight herself much, but the cognitive dissonance was distracting, and she certainly heard plenty about it from the rest of the ponies working with her on the demolition site. It wasn’t the only distraction, either, though the rest wasn’t actually bad; most of the differences were even improvements, if subtle ones.

The vast majority of the noticeable differences came, of course, from the solar ring. The unseen sun was simply that—unseen—and only really had the one effect, while the solar ring was hard to ignore, and quite unique besides. It’d be easy to that rainbows were a mundane, known quantity, but that actually couldn’t be further from the truth when you had one as your sole source of light.

Of these changes, the greatest by far was also the least complex, that being the simple property of how diffuse the light was in spite of providing the same general level of illumination. It might seem like a small thing, ponies being able to look directly into it without damaging their eyes—and maybe it was a small thing for the two thirds of the equestrian population whose only benefit would be in no longer being woken up by sunbeams in their eyes—but for pegasi and anyone else with wings, it was an incredible boon.

In contrast to its diffusion, however, the remaining properties of the solar ring’s light were, if anything, most unique in how they hadn’t changed. In spite of the illumination coming from separate bands of rainbow light, the net color those bands produced was almost the same as what the sun had—perhaps slightly whiter, slightly brighter, but only to the trained eye. Twilight considered it an improvement, but not terribly noteworthy. Instead, the real interesting aspect and where things began to get surreal was in the shadows. Not only were the shadows now smeared on one axis but they were also rimmed in rainbows on the other.

Twilight had dropped more than one load of rubble while distracted by them.

Crash!

This time, it was something else, however.

“Princess Sparkle,” sighed a gruff, dun brown earth pony with a hardhat. Stone Step had been the foreman for the original construction of the Ponyville Palace and he’d continued on to oversee the cleanup and repairs without a hitch after Astri had toppled it. It was for this reason that he was one of the few ponies on the job site that had no problem at all speaking his mind to the one who had kind of… sort of… cause the whole thing. “I realize that this is all on your bit, so it really doesn’t matter to me how long your expense report for property damage gets, but sooner or later all this spacing out is going to get somepony hurt.”

Twilight’s ears folded back in embarrassment. “Sorry, Stone Step, it’s just…” she gestured past the tower and the giant tree holding it up to the street on the other side where a tall, ochre dragon was walking down the street, hunched defensively over a map and checking landmarks. No sooner had she pointed him out than he was assaulted by an excited Pinkie Pie. Normally this would be a relatively mundane occurrence for Ponyville, except for the minor detail that said party pony been out of town this morning.

“Huh, would’ya look at that,” Stone Step remarked as he stepped up beside Twilight. “It’s not every day a dragon moves to Ponyville.” In the coming days, however, he’d be eating his words as more and more of the lithotrophic reptiles turned up. In fact, by the time Pinkie Pie had arranged a party for that first dragon, there would be two others attending it and one more avoiding it like the plague.

— ✶ —

It was unfortunate that the Ponyville Palace had been all but destroyed, because the crowd that gathered to get a look at Ponyville’s three new dragons was far too large for Sugarcube corner. This, apparently, meant nothing when the recently-empowered Pinkie Pie was involved. Sure, some of it had still spilled out onto the street, but only because the immortal party pony had discovered block parties when she’d gone to Las Pegasus.

“I don’t know if this should bother me or not,” Twilight told Luna as they entered the ballroom-sized Sugarcube corner. Twilight Sparkle was quite literally sparkling in her new regalia, her black crown, peytral and shoes all twinkling with the faint glimmer giving the impression of stars from deep within, each piece decorated with one of the stars from her cutie mark all in luminescent white. She matched Luna quite well, she thought, and though she might have expected her regalia to blend in with her ethereal, star-filled mane, the regalia’s black was actually so dark that it contrasted the blue of her mane, emphasizing and brightening it.

Luna, on the other hoof, was literally glowing, her ethereal mane white with the soft white of the moon. Celestia had teased her about it when the change had first occurred, soon after Twilight’s ascension, saying that she was going gray, but such was the way of sisters. It was actually quite the milky white, its gentle glow accented lightly by silvery patina and not overpowering in the slightest.

One could say that they were quite overdressed for the occasion, save for the fact that they were genuinely incapable of coming any other way.

Luna leaned in close to Twilight and nuzzled her side. “I see nothing amiss,” she informed her recently-acquired marefriend.

Twilight shivered at Luna’s touch, but did her best to stay focused. They were in public, after all. “Sugarcube corner isn’t normally the size of an entire hoofball field,” she said. “On the one hoof, it’s Pinkie Pie and part of me wants to run back home and hide under the bed… but on the other hoof, it also blatantly proves that it’s just magic—earth pony magic, but magic all the same.”

“One does tend to find it less surprising when a being of power performs great deeds,” Luna reasoned, easing up on her teasing of Twilight in order to survey the expanded space. “Verily. The acts which have been ascribed to the pink one were impressive before you granted her power.”

“Oh, well, there’s an explanation for that,” Twilight told her, idly searching the room for the bouncing form of the pink party pony.

“Truly?” Luna asked, perking up at the new information.

Not sighting Pinkie Pie, Twilight instead led Luna deeper into the room where she thought she saw a flash of ochre scales. “Yeah, Rainbow Dash told me just the other day; it seems she’s been like that the entire time.”

“‘Like that?’” Luna parroted, bemused. “As in…?”

“Yep,” Twilight confirmed, popping the ‘p.’ She was still pretty baffled by it herself. “Apparently she’d done the whole achieving-oneness-with-her-cutie-mark-and-transcending-her-mortal-form thing before she ever met any of us, and she just… didn’t tell anypony.”

“That… explains much and does sound like something she would do,” Luna admitted, then acquired a distinct pout. “Oh, fie—I should have liked to see the brash one’s face when this came to light. I am certain the cracking of her ego would have been glorious to behold, and I am shocked that they did not hear it in Canterlot.”

“My friends do have names beyond ‘the pink one’ and ‘the brash one,’ you know,” Twilight retorted with a mild huff and a roll of her eyes.

Luna wasn’t apologetic. “You do recall that it was she whose careless insults finally pushed you over the edge and created Astri, do you not?”

“She apologized,” Twilight said, weakly defending her friend. “…And I think we both know that my ability to function rationality was already circling the drain at that point anyway.”

Luna wilted at the reminder. “Was the apology at least sincere?” she asked, more subdued.

“Yes,” Twilight answered without hesitation. “Rainbow Dash might have a bit of an ego, but she at least owns up to her mistakes when she’s confronted with them.”

“Well…” Luna felt herself obliged to be magnanimous as they began to make their way into the room. “That is good, I suppose. I shall endeavor not to snipe at her overmuch when next we meet.”

Twilight had never been one for crowded rooms, so if there was any situation where she appreciated the instinctual reverence that ponies had for alicorns, making her way through a party would have to be up near the top of the list. They had little difficulty heading over to the dragons of the hour, only stopping a few times to say exchange words with ponies that Twilight hadn’t had the chance to speak to since she’d become an alicorn.

As for the dragons in question, her first impression was that they had no idea what was going on. They were in the densest part of the crowd, but were being given a wide berth. The ochre one she’d seen on the street was the tallest; standing upright, he towered over everypony else in the room and seemed to be practicing his looming—except, surrounded by a crowd, there wasn’t any particular individual to loom over and he seemed a bit lost for it.

In spite of his presence, however, the tallest dragon was not actually the largest or oldest present. Behind him, backed up against the wall was a slender red dragon who Twilight took to be female, shorter only by dint of being down on all fours. This one seemed more wary, the cause for which was clear in the curious younger dragon around her ankles. He—or she, Twilight wasn’t quite sure—seemed to be about Spike’s age or a little younger. Having only really spent any time around Spike, Twilight wasn’t terribly good at judging ages or genders except in the most obvious cases. If anything, her experience with Spike was probably a detriment, as her pseudo-sisterly-slash-motherly instincts tended to encourage her to see him as a baby at times and she would probably judge other dragons younger by association. The fact that Spike was perfectly capable of living alone and taking care of himself these days was hard to accept.

Come to think of it, she wondered if Spike would be attending the party. She didn’t see him and wouldn’t blame him if he’d just stayed home considering how his previous experiences with other dragons had gone, but it’d be unfortunate to let one experience sour his entire race for him. He was generally more outgoing than she was and would probably be feeling a little lonely by now, but if he hadn’t come, he hadn’t come. Either way, she should make an effort to go see how things were going for him.

“A hale and hearty welcome to our fine growing city, young dragons,” Luna announced, bringing Twilight back out of her musing to the present. “The moon and stars greet thee.”

The gruff, deep, “Whadd’ya want?” she got in response from the ochre dragon crossing his arms over his chest was jarring, but not, in hindsight, terribly surprising.

Luna’s gregarious smile became a bit fixed. “Why, to greet thee, of course, as I have already done, and to offer our sincere well-wishes to you on your travels. Praytell, I am curious as to thy names and what road has brought three dragons to us?”

“Name’s Brimstone. This just seemed like the place to be,” he said, followed by a glance over at the other two dragons and a scoff. “Them, no idea. It’s not like everydragon knows each other.”

Well, Twilight could already tell that this was going to be a bundle of fun. It seemed like Spike had made the right decision in not showing up.

If only she could have done the same.

— ✒ —

Spike yawned, stretching his arms above himself and sending a shiver of relief down his spine as he came out of the basement of what had once been the Golden Oaks Library, leaving the door open behind him.

It was a bit of a slog to get through all of the paperwork he was doing for the mayor these days, but at least he could do a lot of it from home. In fact, at the moment, with the palace a ruin and far too many ponies crammed into Rarity’s tower, working from home was all but required. Some ponies, he knew, liked to keep their work and home lives separate, but after growing up with Twilight, he didn’t particularly mind it. All in all, he felt good having a job and actually earning his own money for once. Even if he’d never truly wanted for much of anything—within reason—there was just something different about actually having money even beyond the ability to spend it on the occasional thing he would never have asked Twilight for.

The downside was, of course, that it was work—and pretty boring work at that. He’d done well with winter wrap-up and the Mayor had asked him to continue on with similar organizational tasks and some of the more mundane paperwork that bureaucracies always seemed to produce in an infinite amount. He’d assumed the skills would transfer over, and fortunately they had; he had no problem keeping up with the workload, but it was also much harder to stay enthusiastic about it when it wasn’t a real, tangible undertaking like winter wrap-up or one of Twilight’s numerous strange and bizarre projects.

Still, it was decent pay for doing a job he was good at and comfortable performing, so he wasn’t about to complain.

He was making his way into the kitchen, scratching an itch on his side when he spotted a pair of gem-encrusted cupcakes on the table in the middle of the room. A closer look revealed them to have been placed atop a pair of what looked to be Pinkie Pie’s usual invites, and a glance at the window to check how late it was revealed that whatever Pinkie Pie had going was probably already well underway. He could probably catch the end of it and pick up a few snacks, except he already had cupcakes, so maybe he’d just take it easy tonight; he needed a shower before going anywhere anyway.

Committing himself to a night of sloth, he sat at the table, pulled the invite from underneath the cupcake with emeralds and amethysts and read it out of curiosity as he idly nibbled on the cupcake. Contrary to his expectations, it actually wasn’t an invite at all.

It was an unvite.

Spike had to read it over several times in order to believe it, because he’d never, ever heard of Pinkie Pie doing such a thing.

Hey Spike!

You are hereby formally unvited to the official welcome party of Brimstone, Kindlemaw and Char. You are absoposilutely welcome if you actually want to come, but it’s not recommended. Please enjoy your conciliatory cupcake.

Regards,

Pinkie Pie’s back left knee, tippy tail and sinuses.

Huh. Well, if Pinkie Pie’s sinuses said so, who was he to argue? No doubt the legendary Pinkie Sense™ had become even more incredible and inscrutable after recent events… though perhaps he was overthinking it; the names ‘Brimstone, Kindlemaw and Char’ were a pretty big hint as to why he might have been unvited, after all.

A quiet night inside with cupcakes it was, then. As he was reaching for the second cupcake, though, he noticed something he hadn’t previously properly processed; the second cupcake had a second unvitation under it, this one addressed to Ember, whoever that was. Well, that was a bit disappointing, but he knew better from experience than to second guess Pinkie Pie or touch anything she’d labeled for someone else. Gratefully, he mostly knew this from other ponies experiences, but wisdom was wisdom, no matter how it was won.

He supposed that if he was going to have company, he might as well take that shower sooner rather than later.

— ✶ —

“Well, that was useful,” Twilight sarcastically griped as she and Luna left the party, the raucous sounds fading away behind them. “At least we tried, and the daffodil dumplings were pretty good.”

“I’m not so certain,” Luna mused once they had the streets to themselves.

Twilight cocked her head in question. “Not a fan of daffodils? Did they disagree with you?” That would be unfortunate if true, as they were one of Twilight’s favorites.

“No, the daffodils were fine, though I preferred the toasted anise,” she commented off-hoof.

Twilight puckered her lips in distaste. “Those were potpourri; I don’t think you were supposed to actually eat them.”

“It would not be the first time,” Luna admitted, quite unashamed of her culinary habits. “But what I had actually meant was that we might yet have learned something,” she continued.

“Other than ‘dragons are jerks’?” Twilight asked, curious. “Because this has to be the third or fourth time I’ve learned that one, personally.”

“A lesson I fear more of Equestria might be learning soon, if my hunch is correct,” she said, rather pensive.

“Oh—you mean if this is all the Celestias’ fault and they’re unintentionally luring them all here by bathing the world in their new partially draconic magic through the new celestial objects?” Twilight asked.

Luna looked confused. “I thought you said you didn’t get anything from meeting them?”

Twilight frowned. “I didn’t. That’s just one of the more likely hypotheses for dragons appearing so soon after Celestia’s… bilizardification. Their being cagey or possibly unsure of their actual reasons for coming here doesn’t actually prove anything one way or the other.”

“Perhaps not,” Luna said with a hint of mild exasperation. “But it fits, thus strengthening the argument.”

— ⁇ —

“It doesn’t actually work that way…” the pony with sparkly hair countered, not terribly put out by the disagreement, which confused the cloaked figure hiding in the shadows.

Well well well… wasn’t that an interesting conversation? The goddess of the sun had been… bilizardified? The figure decided that this was clearly the process by which a pony was improved by becoming two lizards and didn’t give it a second thought. More importantly, neither the sparkly pony or the glowing pony seemed too bothered by it or to think that it would be temporary. If the sun goddess was attracting dragons to this land like they’d said, it would explain a lot… but if the dragons that had arrived in town today were only the very tip of the vanguard, it would also complicate things incredibly.

Then again… all the chaos such a thing would cause might make it much easier for other things to fall through the cracks, and that could be very useful indeed.

The figure was about to leave quietly before another tidbit of information was dropped in its lap.

“What about Spike?” the slightly taller mare with the glowing mane and tail asked. “I did not see him at the party, but surely it would be worth seeking him out to ask him.”

The other mare stopped to consider that just as they were about to turn off the road where the cloaked figure was hiding. “Huh, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. Well, that settles it; we should definitely go talk to him tomorrow. I’ve been meaning to pay him a visit and make sure he’s doing okay all alone in that old tree anyway. Even though he always took care of me more than I took care of him since we came to ponyville, it still just feels wrong to leave him all alone there.”

The taller mare let out a sigh. “I do wish you had been made part of the conversation, but…”

“I know,” the smaller one said, lowering her head. “I was half out of my mind, avoiding everypony and sneaking off to track down and eat pseudo-divine behemoths; not my proudest moment.”

“Twilight, please… You were far more than only half out of your mind; you assaulted the mailmare.”

“I did not assault her. I just… wanted her to know about the evil sleeping beneath our hooves. And she resisted.”

“She flies everywhere now—in case you hadn’t noticed—and no longer delivers to us.”

A very interesting conversation indeed.

— ✒ —

If there was one thing that Spike enjoyed about living on his own, it would have to be the ability to set his living space up for dragons rather than ponies. Not having to worry about heavy metals in the kitchen was one of those things, as was turning the water heater up as far as it would go and then asking Applejack if she could make it go any higher. If the tree had still been in use as a library, the thick, dense fog that billowed out when the bathroom door opened would have sent Twilight into fits.

It was only after rummaging around in the icebox for a cold glass of milk that he spotted something awry; the other cupcake was missing, and if he wasn’t mistaken, it had been taken by a slim, turquoise dragoness wearing a hooded cloak. This marvelous bit of deductive reasoning was only possible thanks to the fact that she was lounging on his couch licking the crumbs off her claws.

He would be forever grateful that his life around Twilight had warped his sense of normality so much that, while his brain was repeating ‘abuh?’ over and over, his mouth ran off and said, “You must be Ember, right?” instead of the other way around.

“Got it in one,” she confirmed, seemingly appreciative, then picked her own unvitation up off the sofa next to her. “But I guess you don’t get credit for that one. You gonna explain this… thing?”

“It’s Pinkie Pie,” he said as if that explained everything, awkwardly making his way into the room and setting his bottle of milk on the table. Belatedly, he realized he was wearing a towel after his shower and froze up.

“And who, or what, is a Pinkie Pie?” she asked icily.

The part of Spike that was functioning decided that it would be better to do nothing and accept whatever impression he’d already made rather than just suddenly whip off his towel. This was the correct choice. The part of him that wasn’t functioning had been given the job of explaining Pinkie Pie to a svelte, angry dragoness, and the only reason it managed anything at all was because the previously futile endeavor had become much easier in the past week. “Pinkie Pie is… the immortal demigoddess of parties. Literally. She probably bleeds either confetti or cotton candy and you don’t want to find out which. Normally, though, she’s harmless.”

“Hrmph,” she grunted and burned the unvitation to ash in a blast of coral-colored fire. “I’ll have to have a talk with her.”

“Riiiiight… You do that,” Spike said, searching for a subject change. Amazingly, he actually came up with one. “Hey, so, if you’re Ember, then is there any relation to Emberstoke the Eternal?”

No one said it was a good subject change.

Before Spike knew what was going on, he was being slammed into the ground with an angry dragoness on top of him in all the wrong ways. “Where did you hear that name?” she all but growled, her teeth inches from his face and smelling faintly of sapphires and frosting.

“Twilight and Luna woke him up something like a week or two ago to ask him about pre-Discordian history!” he blurted out.

Ember was caught unaware, not expecting an answer anything like that, but it wasn’t terribly effective in calming her down as her ire quickly returned. “You—woke—him—up?!”

“I wasn’t even there!” Spike squeaked, pulling back from her. “And what does it matter? Luna said all he did was be a jerk and go back to sleep anyway.”

Slowly, Ember got control of herself and backed off from Spike’s face, still on top of him. “This Twilight and Luna are ponies, right? How the rockslide did a couple of ponies even wake him up?!”

Spike blinked, scooting out from under Ember and sitting up. “They’re kinda…” he gestured vaguely with his hand. “Alicorns. Goddesses. Twilight is the source of all pony magic, and the one who gave Pinkie Pie her power. The way I heard it? She hit him. With a star. A big one. Several times.”

She stared at him, incredulous. “Wait, this is the one with the sparkly hair?”

Spike shrugged. “Yeah?”

“What the muck is wrong with ponies that the powerful ones don’t even get any bigger?!” she screamed in frustration. Standing up, she began to pace, muttering to herself.

Spike took the opportunity to get up. He felt a draft and discovered that he’d left his towel behind. With a shrug, he kicked it into the kitchen and headed back over to his bottle of milk, which he picked up and moved over to the opposite side of the table so he could keep an eye on Ember and the table between them.

Eventually, Ember looked like she’d come to a decision and Spike’s forethought was rewarded as she walked over and slammed her claws on the table. “Look—yes, Emberstoke is my grandfather and I was named after him. You don’t want to meet him. I don’t want to meet him. Dragon Lord Torch is my father. You don’t want to meet him. I don’t want to meet him. There is a pattern here. I came to this damn podunk pony town expressly so I wouldn’t have to deal with giant overbearing rockheads running my life and I will be very displeased if any word of my presence here reaches anyone important—pony or dragon. Is—that—clear?”

“Uh, sure?” That didn’t sound like such a big deal to Spike, and he said so. “This has been weird, but literally the only thing I know about you is what you just said. I don’t even know where you live.”

Ember gave him a look like he was thick, walked back over to the sofa, flopped down into it and said, “I live here now.”

Now, Spike was many things, and yes, noble and virtuous were two of those things, but he was also an adolescent male and Ember was… he didn’t know what she was, and that was part of the problem.

He never stood a chance.

— ✶ —

Twilight couldn’t help but stop outside the ex-library for a moment just to take the sight of it in. As much as the palace Luna had built for her had been both incredibly striking and a touching gift, she did still miss living in the old tree… though maybe part of it was the simplicity of being a small-town live-in librarian that she missed.

Hopefully, her taking a step back from the official side of things would allow her to recapture some of that carefree part of her life. Actually, that gave her an idea… Well, several, as a matter of fact, and they all involved building things, but maybe that wasn’t unexpected when she was feeling homesick. Regardless, she should have the time now, so making them happen shouldn’t be a problem.

Receiving a gentle shoulder-bump from Luna, she put those thoughts on the back burner for now, stepped up to the door and knocked.

The delay in any answer was not unusual. The sheer amount of clattering and scrabbling of claws on wood was unusual and not easily explained. Spike answering the door and not-so-casually leaning on the frame was downright suspicious. None of this mattered to Twilight the moment she saw Spike.

“Oh, uh, hey Twilight. Luna,” he said, glancing nervously over his shoulder. “Um, come on in, I guess?”

Twilight did not go in. Instead, her eyes began to water as she walked forward and did her level best to crush him in a hug. “I am so, so sorry for not being here for you.”

Spike just kind of… stood there. “Uhh?”

“She is referring to her perceived abandonment of you when she moved into the palace,” Luna explained with some level of helplessness, as if she’d been over this subject before—which she had.

“But… you and I were the ones who arranged the whole thing,” he said, entirely befuddled. “And she’s come and talked to me here since then? Several times?”

Luna walked up next to Twilight and leaned in to comfort her. “She has been having a difficult time coming to terms with having not been in complete possession of all her faculties since becoming an alicorn,” she said. “She is prone to assuming the worst of her past actions no matter what I tell her, but I would be a hypocrite to judge her.”

Spike looked a little dubious, flagging a little in the press of the mare gripping him like a lifeline. “Could you at least get her to accept her imagined failings inside? Um… I have tea?”

Luna checked on Twilight, who had calmed down a little but still wasn’t letting go of Spike. Shaking her head in amusement, she proceeded to guide her marefriend into the ex-library. “Did you not previously come to the realization that all of your kitchenware was poisoned the last time you invited me to tea? True, I’ve been known to partake in such, but I generally stick to organic types rather than metals, and Twilight would likely prefer something more comforting.”

“Hey, I’m independent and responsible!” Spike objected, acting a little offended. “I’m perfectly capable of buying an extra tea kettle.”

Sooner or later, they did get Twilight inside, sheepishly holding a cup of tea in her hooves.

“Oh jeez, I’m sorry, Spike,” Twilight apologized, bringing her cup up to her mouth and taking a sip. “It just came up last night that I hadn’t really been a part of things back then; just one of a bunch of things that I’ve been feeling bad about, so when I saw you… it wasn’t even entirely about that; you just caught the brunt of the whole mess.”

Spike still looked uncomfortable, scratching the back of his neck and not looking at her. “It’s fine. Feeling left out was the last thing on my mind back then. We were worried about you, you know? You were really out of it when you came back claiming Equestria wanted to eat you.”

Twilight pursed her lips. “Spike, Equestria did want to eat me.”

“It was a network of buried stars which turned out to be the source of dreams that wanted to eat you,” Luna clarified. “And it was not actually capable of doing so. It tried, you’ll recall, and you came out of it intact.”

Twilight gave Luna a faux-glare. “And shall we remember who exactly was the one who woke it up?”

“I have come to terms with my failings,” she declared with a prim, unaffected air. They briefly faux-glared at each other before Luna broke into a smile, which in turn got a chuckle out of Twilight. Gradually, Luna’s expression became melancholy as she looked at Twilight. “I am glad that it is something that we can joke and laugh about now.”

“Well,” Twilight said, turning away with a bit of a blush. “I got over that part of it… not quite quickly, but before things really started going downhill and getting complicated. That one night when I finally told you what was going on is one of the few good memories we managed to make in the palace before it was destroyed.”

“It was, at that,” Luna said, wrapping a wing around Twilight’s back in order to pull her closer.

“Aaand this is why I’m glad I’m no longer your assistant,” Spike said, pointedly not looking at the two adults in the room.

Twilight started, self-consciously scooting away from Luna with burning cheeks. “Sorry,” she said, chewing at her lip in indecision. “Actually, Spike… would you like to be my number-one assistant again?”

Spike gave her a ‘what did I just say?’ look.

“No, really—hear me out,” she said earnestly, shuffling in place. “I… quit is a bit of an understatement since I made a rather spectacular fool of myself while doing so, but it’s accurate enough. The thing is, I might have been less than completely rational at the time, but even looking back at the whole thing now, I think I did have a point. The position they tried to put me in wasn’t doing me or anypony else any favors, and it wasn’t healthy, so… I’m not going back. That means that pretty soon now…” Twilight gave a heartfelt look at her marefriend. “Luna’s going to be handling most of the work of running Equestria, while I’ll be—”

“—Spending her money?” Spike interrupted with a smirk.

“Wha—no!” Twilight shouted, indignant and puffing out her cheeks. “I mean, technically yes, but no! I’m going to be helping out with building the new palace, the new library and a few other things I have ideas for, and I could use the help.”

Spike looked oddly nervous, glancing over his shoulder at nothing Twilight could see. “I—I dunno… I’ve only just recently started working for the mayor; it would be pretty rude to just up and leave suddenly.”

The mood in the room plummeted. “It would only be fair," Twilight said, crossing her arms and producing a petulant pout. Both Spike and Luna wilted further at that, and she felt a bit guilty for it. None of them had been particularly fond of the mayor since she’d fired Twilight from her position as the town librarian without warning.

Spike was still hesitant, though. “I’m not sure, Twi… I always liked being your assistant, but I also like getting paid and being able to take care of myself.”

Twilight blinked, unbothered. “If that’s what you want.”

Spike looked shocked. “What, just like that?”

“All you had to do was ask,” she said, then reconsidered. “Well, any time since coming to Ponyville, probably. You haven’t always been quite so responsible, though I probably should have been giving you something for everything you did for me regardless…”

Spike found himself glancing over his shoulder again, but cut the action short and steeled himself. “Okay, yeah, I’d like that, Twi.”

“Great!” she said, clapping her hooves together in happiness. “Though, even with everything I just said, I am going to be trying to take it easy once in a while, so I might let Luna borrow you from time to time if that’s okay?”

That was fine with Spike and the three of them talked a while about the specifics of the situation. In particular, Luna had managed to secure the job of informing the mayor. Twilight thought that maybe her marefriend would enjoy it a little too much, but she was staying out of it herself and while Spike was showing his independence, it wasn’t something he wanted to do either.

Once they’d covered everything, Twilight was all prepared to get on with her day when Luna had to remind her that they’d actually come here for another reason.

“Oh, right,” she said, sitting back down. “So, you probably already know since you didn’t come, but last night, Pinkie Pie held a welcome party for three dragons.”

“Yeah,” he said, motioning to the trash can. “I got an unvitation.”

“An unvitation?” Twilight asked, walking over and picking it out of the trash to take a look. Sure enough, it was exactly what it sounded like. “…Really?”

“The pink one does on occasion remind me not too subtly of Discord,” Luna mused. “Perfectly unpredictable until you count on her being predictably unpredictable.”

“Is it bad I kinda hope this isn’t a one-time thing?” Twilight asked, a little shy of speaking poorly of her friend. “As much as I like Pinkie Pie and her parties, it wouldn’t hurt for her to apply a little more forethought and, well, planning to her party planning.”

“Regardless,” Luna cut in, getting the subject back on track. “Pinkie Pie was likely correct to assume you would not have enjoyed the company, as the dragons in attendance were evasive and less than helpful on the subject of their presence.”

Spike mumbled something under his breath that nopony else caught, though Twilight certainly noticed.

“We have some ideas,” Twilight said, taking over. “But they’re hard to substantiate, so we thought we’d ask you.”

He seemed to be getting increasingly uneasy. “Uh… I have no idea why any dragon would want to come to Equestria in particular,” he hedged. “I don’t really know much about them?”

“Oh, no, not like that,” she explained, waving her hoof in dismissal. “We were actually suspecting that something might be drawing them here.”

“Specifically, we are blaming my sister,” Luna clarified, attracting Twilight’s ire.

“Luna!” she huffed. “You’re not supposed to tell him that; it contaminates the result!”

It only took her a moment to understand. “…Ah,” she said, slightly chastened. “Oops?”

Twilight ended up rolling her eyes before she got back to Spike. “Anyway, yes; we suspect Celestia has something to do with it. Have you noticed anything…?”

Spike gave it all due thought, but in the end he just had to shrug. “Not really? I mean, if you’re saying I should be treating her like some, uh, dragon lord that I’m drawn to serve, then I probably wouldn’t notice. I already live here, I already respected Celestia a bunch… and I don’t think I’m staring up at the sky in a daze any more than every single other creature on Equus ever since she decided she liked it enough to put a ring on it.”

— ✶ —

“Well, that was helpful,” Luna said in her best deadpan voice, echoing Twilight from the previous night.

Twilight took on a front of mock offense. “Speak for yourself! I got myself an assistant, thank you very much. Actually, I got us an assistant.”

“Fair enough,” Luna said, relaxing into an easy, pleased smile. “No matter the outcome of our query, I can tell that helped you in particular more than could have been expected.”

Twilight walked closer to Luna and gently nuzzled her side. “…Yeah.”

“Did we err in separating the two of you?” Luna asked, quietly sullen. “In the past half hour, you have been more bright and free than I have seen you in the past week combined.”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, considering Luna’s words. “…No,” she finally said. “It wouldn’t have been fair to drag him around as a third wheel when we were spending all of our time together and it’s probably for the best that he wasn’t with me for the rest. Those weren’t the times when I was at my best.”

“Do you not think he would have been a stabilizing influence?” Luna asked.

Twilight hesitated. “Maybe,” she admitted. “But we can’t go there and it’s equally likely I could have said or done something unforgivable. It… worked out in the end—at least for him—and speaking of which…” Twilight glanced back in the direction of the ex-library with a half smile. “Do you think we’re well out of earshot?”

Luna glanced back as well. “Well enough,” she judged, curious as to why Twilight had asked.

In place of an answer, a sharp, keening squeal shattered the silence. “Eee! I can’t believe it! My little Spike has a girlfriend!”

“…What.”

— ✒ —

No sooner had Twilight and Luna left than Ember had come back downstairs and gravitated to the couch again. Spike was more than a little conflicted about that. He liked to think that he was savvy enough that he wouldn’t fall into the same kind of pointless drama that always made up the bulk of stories in books and comics, but, well, exhibit A.

The thing was, there were two different drama avoidance imperatives in play and they were at odds with each other. On the one hand, there was obviously the fact that having some dragon hanging out in his house hiding from the world and threatening him to stay silent was, obviously just a recipe for problems… but on the other, he’d never forgive himself if he ended up in the role of the put-upon normal guy who kept complaining about having his life turned on its head by a hot girl on his sofa.

“So, those two milksops are supposed to be ‘goddesses,’ huh?” Ember asked. “What do they actually do, again?”

Spike could only shake his head at the bravado on display; wasn’t he supposed to be the thuggish male? “One of them is the big rock in the sky; the other one is all the little burny bits,” he said with raw sarcasm.

“I know what the moon and stars are,” she snapped. “What do you mean they are those things? They raise and set them like your other pony princess does the sun?”

Spike pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “It’s literal. Their pony bodies are just little bits of them manifested on Equus so they can interact with the rest of the world.”

Ember actually turned to look at him. “Wait, really? So if you gut one of them…?”

“Pointless,” he told her, doing his best not to wince at the image. It was true enough, and he wasn’t about to tell some random dragon that an alicorn’s ability to manifest was limited by the time of day.

“Beheaded them?” Ember prompted, and this time the reaction Spike had to suppress was annoyance.

“Also pointless,” he told her again.

“Burned entirely to ash?” she continued.

“Still pointless,” he said, now only half annoyed and half curious how long she would keep at it if he let her. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the patience just at the moment. “They can literally demanifest and not leave a body behind. Unless you can fly up into the sky and punch the moon, there’s nothing you can do to them, and even if you could, I still wouldn’t recommend it since the last alicorn to try that got smeared across the night sky.”

“Huh,” Ember said, just staring ahead. “A giant rock. That makes way more sense; you should have just said that.”

Spike groaned.

This was his life now.

Why.

Author's Note:

The cutie marks in the cover are care of adamlhumphreys and credited here.