• Published 22nd Dec 2012
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Schemering Sintel - N00813

Many years ago, Spike was kidnapped. Now, Twilight has finally found him and his abductor.

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2 . Recollections

Chapter 2: Recollections
By N00813
What do you mean ‘It is complicated’?”

Princess Celestia stared down, her face a prime example of resigned sorrow. Her white coat of hair, normally shining with glory and warmth, now looked dull and tattered, tufts of it fluffing up in odd places. Even her mane seemed to flow with less vigour, less energy. She looked away, her face wrinkled around the eyes with age, a frown etched upon her features. “I’m sorry, Twilight.”

Twilight followed her mentor’s gaze, glancing at the new Sugarcube Corner – the new Ponyville. In many ways, it was just like the old one. Buildings were still in the right places. A cloud home hovered in the sky like a spectre, off to the north, whilst the flags set upon Carousel Boutique continued to flutter freely in the wind. In the distance, neat rows of red-and-green blobs set upon Apple Acres’ land continued to stand on tiny sticks of brown. Sunlight continued to bathe the little town in its warm glow. Only her library looked any different, with a massive, gaping hole set in the wall, and the entire structure leaning and groaning like an elderly pony.

Yet, in so many other ways, it was irreparably different. Guards in golden armour patrolled the cobblestone streets in threes and fours, the sunlight glinting off the enchanted metal armour, turning them into walking, spiky lanterns. A detective, sealed in a white oversuit, took pictures of the wreckage all the while with a big camera as he sprinkled little cards with numbers onto the ground. Her friends, surrounded by guards, stood behind her, whilst her brother awkwardly patted her on the back as she whirled her head back to gape at her mentor.

“You’re just going to let Spike –”

Twilight couldn’t say any more. Spike’s absence already hurt like nothing she’d ever felt before, not even when she was using darker magic, and this new revelation was like twisting the knife. It was just too painful to say, to make it seem like he was actually gone, and that this time no one would bring him back…

No, he wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be dead. He had so much to live towards; Rarity, herself, his friends here in Ponyville. He wasn’t going to die.

And if so, there was a point in rescuing him. A baby dragon, defenceless in a merciless world that only wanted to turn him into a flambé; Twilight could think of no worse thing that could happen to him.

Clearly, her five friends thought similarly as well. All of them wore grimaces, some more severe than others, and one was still sobbing quietly as Twilight turned her attention towards the one pony she respected most in the entire world.

“No, I won’t,” Celestia said, gaze hardening for just a moment, before her eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “I – this is a complicated issue.”

“You know how the dragons are, Twilight,” the Sun Princess murmured, heaving a little sigh. The seemingly mocking treatment tore at the gaping wound in Twilight’s heart. It sounded like the Princess had already given up. “They don’t have a government. Each is accountable only to themselves.”

To Twilight, it didn’t seem that complicated. Rescue Spike from the kidnapper and bring the latter to justice.

Was it politics? Was that why she couldn’t simply find and interrogate every dragon in the country – in the world, if it came to that – to find Spike?

The realisation that she’d already answered her own question hit her like a cold gust of wind. The realisation of what those answers implied hit her like a blizzard. Her eyes widened and her breath shortened into fast, rapid pulses.

“I know how much all of you care about Spike,” Celestia continued, raising her voice to address the whole lot of them. She turned her head away to look towards the shining city of Canterlot. It was just as majestic – and distant – as ever.

Twilight followed her gaze, little droplets of tears springing up over the lip of her lower eyelid. The unicorn’s frown darkened with every passing second.

“Nonetheless, all of you should stay safe,” the Princess continued. “Please, do not attempt anything. I – we will do as much as I can. Let us, and the guards, handle this.”

The image darkened as Twilight felt her eyes close inexorably, crashing shut with the finality of a falling guillotine. She could not hope to resist. When she opened them again, she found herself somewhere else.

Twilight turned her head. The town and the ponies of Ponyville were still conspicuously unchanged. The Princess had left a few days ago, a multi-coloured blur that was as substantial, and helpful, as the mist. Business as usual. Conversations more muted, friends more distant, eyes wider and more prone to wandering or twitching. But still, life as normal. It looked like nothing was out of the ordinary.

What a lie, Twilight thought, almost spitting the words out under her breath.

There was nothing she could do for Spike here. There was nothing anyone could do for Spike here. Twilight shook her head, glaring at the floor as if it could tell her where Spike was.

The Princess was useless, for all of her political clout. There was no rival government to pressure, nowhere to place an embargo. Her brother had attempted to balance guards between the rest of the country, the Element-wielders and Spike’s search team, but he'd heavily favoured her and her friends.

And there was no ransom demand given out.

Some cold, rational part of Twilight agreed with him. That attack had seemed tactical, not random. None of the neighbouring buildings had been damaged in the kidnapping. It was logical that they, or at the very least she, were the real targets of this attack. Logical, yet… the dragon had simply left her alone. It hadn’t attempted to do anything to her. Spike had been the one taken.

Perhaps Spike was the lure. The bait to draw all of the Bearers in, and in one fell swoop, eliminate them. Twilight shivered at the raw brutality, the utter savagery of the soul that was capable of such acts. The soul that now held her foster brother’s life in its claws.


She felt her eyes smash shut as liquid threatened to spill over her cheeks, the fur already matted with dried tears.

In the brief blackness, the ghost of a whisper flickered through her mind, tantalisingly close, yet too far away. She opened her eyes once more.

The calendar hung on the opposite wall, pages yellowing and covered with a year’s worth of scribbles. All of those scribbles were her own.

Yes, she’d wasted enough time.

She blew stray strands of mane out of her eyes with a quick blast of breath as she glanced down at the display in front of her. An almost completed checklist lay next to ten prone forms wrapped in golden armour.

The guards lay sleeping, piled up against the wall, their helmet-plumes brushing against the window. She had to thank her prodigious magical power level and her almost-encyclopaedic knowledge for that. Without them, she wouldn’t have been able to find the loophole in their armour enchantments, and overwhelm the weakened magic with her own.

With the best of luck, they’d still be sleeping come morning, and wake up in the late afternoon. In between their limp forms, she’d scratched out a quick note outlining what she intended to do, and signed it with her own magical imprint and signature. Anyone with a brain cell would know that the note wasn’t a forgery.

She charged up her horn, before closing her eyes as she felt the ley take her.

Twilight opened her eyes to find herself on a small ledge overlooking Ponyville. Her gaze roved over the entirety of the town – the entirety of what she had, over the years, come to see as her home.

It looked no different from before.

She could still turn back, say that she was running experiments and that the guards were simply caught in the backlash. She could still give up, and let Spike fend for himself whilst the search team fumbled around…

She had been Spike’s companion for more than a decade. She would be able to track the dragon that had taken him, to recognise the signs that he had made, and brush off any false leads. Celestia wouldn’t have any of it. Divided we fall, she had written in a previous letter. The last letter Twilight received before she started her own preparations.

Her friends? Even now, they were all locked up in their own little bunkers, ten guards to a Bearer. Even if they were free, they had their own careers and their own futures to worry about. It wasn’t like the fate of the world hung in the balance – only the fate of one friend, one dragon, amongst millions of other people.

They would help. That, she knew for sure. They were true friends. Still, Twilight hesitated with a hoof in the air, facing the sleeping barn of Sweet Apple Acres. What if she was wrong? What if this whole thing was a fool’s venture? What if he was already dead and another friend died on the journey? It would all have been for naught. And it would all be her fault.

She sighed.

It was her own fault, her own failure to protect him that had ended them up in this situation. She was his caretaker – she was the one responsible. Now was her chance to fulfil that responsibility. To save him.

Sorry Princess, girls, she thought, but I have to do this. I owe him that much.

Night-time Ponyville used to be a calm and peaceful period for Twilight. With Spike’s disappearance factored into the equation, however, the night sky seemed to hold only demons and dragons, held back by the most tenuous of veils.

In the blackness, her consciousness surged upwards, smashing against the barriers of sleep. With each heave, the barrier weakened more and more, until – at last – her eyes blinked open.

A town of masks greeted her last, parting gaze. Ponies tried to live as if nothing horrific had happened. They papered over the cracks with smiles and sugar, freer laughter and cheaper apple cider. Even as a five-pony patrol of guards marched past, they acted as if no one was there. It was as if everyone wanted to forget, to distract themselves in their day-to-day labours rather than face the truth – they’d been attacked, and the next victim could be any one of them.

She turned away, and pushed her hooves into the ground, starting the long gallop down the lone train-track linking Canterlot and Baltimare. Only a trail of tears followed her. The hungry forest on both sides, held back by the two thin steel rails of civilisation, seemed to mock her with its animal growls and cries.

Twilight hummed, lifting a hoof to feel at her throat. The hard, calloused skin at the centre pad felt like some foreign material next to the soft, pliable fluffiness of her windpipe. She couldn’t tell where the bone ended and the skin began. A small frown drew across her face.

She should have known. For the hours that she’d spent running alongside the tracks, listening to the howls of the wild, some of the wild would have settled in her.

How many years had passed since that memory had been forged? The unicorn shook her head. That wasn’t important. Spike was important, and the fact that she’d gone on this massive, bloody quest testified to that.

She twisted her body around, the hard mattress pressing into the nubs of her bones. Pain, of the sore and aching type, seemed to burn her back, leaving her on her side, drooling into the pillow as she sought to recall that dream-memory. Everything she had done was for Spike. She couldn’t forget that.

The musty air of the room, carrying the stink of other people’s fur and sweat, smashed into her nose. Luckily, the cold air blowing into the room from the tiny grate in the wall provided some semblance of ventilation. She grimaced, pulling herself to sit on her rump, collecting her forelegs under her. Twilight swung her hooves down, letting them hit the dirty wooden floor with several quick, dull clops.

As she ran a quick disinfectant spell over her teeth and body, her tattoos briefly glowed a brilliant silver-white before reverting back to their normal, dull-grey colouring.

Silver sparks, the remnants of ley-infused magicka that had just danced around her torso, spun into wisps of white smoke that burst apart as Twilight strode into – and past – them. Eddies danced in her wake.

She opened the door and stepped outside, floating the key alongside her. Her education in Canterlot, and her special talent, had given her extraordinary control over residual unicorn magic. The tattoos she’d gotten, materials specially procured from a notorious information broker and hammered into her flesh by a trusted contact, had boosted her already prodigious magical ability to insane levels. Enough to do her task ten times over. Just in case.

She felt no magic draw at all, no tiredness or fatigue or headache. As she slapped the key onto the bar countertop, the sharp clack drawing the attention of the barkeep, she couldn’t help but smile. Today was the day.

The bartender's head turned towards her. One front hoof clasped an empty glass, which he was polishing with a dirty rag held in the other. He placed the two items down on the counter, before trotting towards her.

“The Great Dragon of the South,” the bartender proclaimed, almost religiously, as he waved the tankard of booze he held around a hoof dramatically. Somehow, none of the alcohol inside had managed to escape, although the liquid sloshed quite loudly within its container. The flickering lamp, fuelled with some manner of reagent, not magic, cast half his face into shadow and washed the other half with orange fire-light. “Dark as night, his scales the same shade of blackness as ‘is ‘eart. Say he bathed in the blood of ‘is enemies. Eyes that would make you insane if you looked at ‘em fer too long. The face of evil, I tell ya.”

He grinned, and slammed the tankard down with enough force to chip the striking edge, before stretching his jaw around and down.

“Pleasure doin’ business with ya,” the barkeep said, smirking, as he scooped up the key with a hoof. Twilight hummed, nodding quickly, dismissively.

For a moment, their eyes met, and the barkeep's smug grin seemed to crack under her violet gaze.

Twilight was sitting across from him, her eyes wide and pointedly ignoring the groans, sighs and rolled eyes from the other patrons. “When was this?”

“Couple weeks back. Finished pillagin’ the locals, so I guess ‘e moved on up.” He pursed his lips. “Why so interested, lassie? You ain’t looking ta actually gut him…”

The bartender scrunched up his face in sneering grin that Twilight found rather condescending. “Lass, you ain’t got no muscle, no experience, no nothing. You one of them Equestrians, I can see it. Here’s a tip: turn back now, an’ live. Doin’ you a favour here.”

“Dragon’s getting sore up there,” one of the inn’s patrons muttered. Twilight turned her head to see the speaker, a big draught-pony that reminded her of Applejack’s brother. He had a brown-blue coat, the neck area coated with the redness of chafed skin and the body layered with scarring. His eyes and face, wrinkled by exposure to the elements, spoke of a lifetime of hardship endured and pain suffered. He was nothing like Big Mac, on second thought. At least, nothing like what she had last heard of Big Mac. “Bastard. Might lose another part of my harvest this year.”

His friends, crowded around the same wooden table, nodded and agreed in murmurs, before taking a gulp of their alcohol each.

Twilight narrowed her eyes.

“I have unresolved business with that dragon,” Twilight said evenly, her brows set. “And I won’t turn back. There’s too much at stake.”

“You willin’ ta stake ya life?” The bartender shrugged, but he still seemed unconvinced, his eyes level and face etched with a smirk. “Lass –”

“Twilight,” she said, giving him a flat stare. “Twilight Sparkle.”

The entire inn suddenly fell into silence. The bartender backed off rapidly. His eyes were widened, his mouth hanging.

He bumped into the casks of ale behind him. The rattle sounded like thunder in the quiet.

He took off, ducking into a room away from her, his hoofsteps quickly fading into the crackle of the lamps.

Twilight opened her mouth, raising an eyebrow in the process, before she noticed the stares of every single creature – sapient and not – on the inn floor aimed at her.

Her stomach sank. A chill ran down her spine. Cold diffused into the muscle as it went.

“It’s her,” someone said somewhere. Didn’t matter who. Didn’t matter why.

It was as if time had slowed down, as Twilight’s eyes caught the silver-orange glint of weapons being drawn all around her, like fireflies had suddenly popped into existence. Very sharp, murderous fireflies that reflected the orange glow of suddenly-superhot flame lamps.

She let instinct take over, and with a quick, blind teleportation spell, winked out of existence.

Twilight huffed, despite the smile playing on her lips. She had later found out that Celestia had prepared a sum of money to reward whoever had information on her location, and quintupling the reward if she was brought back to Equestrian borders safe and sound. A bounty, in other words. Celestia meant well, she knew, but the consequences of her actions had made Twilight’s life a little more difficult.

Only a little more. After all, she was a smart mare.

She dropped down from the worn barstool, and started her walk towards the inn’s exit.

A roar split the heavens. The wooden walls barely slowed the wave of sound.

The inn fell quiet, all conversation ceasing for a few seconds, before some brave soul’s whisper catalysed speech. Hushed whispers sprang up, in place of the mumbles and chuckles present just seconds ago.

Twilight didn’t even hesitate in her steps.