• Published 28th Jun 2012
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A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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Gauntlet of Fire

"Princess Luna and Princess Celestia will be here any minute. I just want to make sure that everything's all set!" Twilight excused her need to make double and triple checks all over the dining room.

"Is she always like this around the princesses?" Starlight Glimmer asked me as Twilight continued to carefully tip her hoof precisely against the position of certain items on the table.

"Well, I think it stemmed from Princess Celestia." I explained. "She was her mentor after all."

"What do you guys think?" Twilight asked us. "Spike's off helping Rarity collect more gems, so I need your input on this!"

"It looks great, Twi." I calmly answered.

"Yeah, you don't need to be so worked up over it." Starlight joined. "You've been rearranging the stuff on the table for hours."

"You know me. The job's never done until I'm completely satisfied." Twilight stated somewhat proudly before a knock at the front door shook her coat. "Oh, that must be them! Come on! We have to go greet them!"

Starlight and I exchanged a short glance with each other before walking after the trotting purple pony in front of us.

"I'm guessing I'm not the only one who can have little freak outs…" Starlight muttered softly to me.

"I think we've all been there." I responded, gaining an approving smile from Starlight before we caught up with Twilight at the front doors.

"Princess Luna! Princess Celestia!" Twilight voiced out loud. "Welcome!"

"Greetings, Twilight Sparkle." I noticed Luna's head poke around as she carried a dainty smile. "Where is Alex?"

"Over here." I waved behind Twilight, easily catching Luna's attention. "Hi." I managed to say before she pulled me in for her expected hug.

After properly exchanging her own kind of warm greeting with Twilight, Celestia walked past us and seemed to eye me oddly. It looked like she had something to say, but due to Luna currently expressing her motherly love with me, she held it in for the moment.

"Let's go to the dining room." Twilight suggested, "We have it all set up for your visit."

Once Luna felt comfortable releasing me from her grip, we were able to walk to the dining room together. There, as Twilight and Luna settled down in their seats, Tia remained standing and unexpectedly placed a hoof on my shoulder.

"Is there you something you may have forgotten to tell me?" She asked.

I was clueless. Was there?

"I don't know," I pulled from my thoughts, "Is there?"

"A little bird told me that I apparently have a niece I don't know about?"

Oooh. That's why she was looking at me all weird.

"Oh, yeah. Her. Um. Yeah. Her name is Athena." My words became slightly jumbled up. It was true that I hadn't told Celestia about Athena at all, and I didn't know why I hadn't really expected for her to find out and eventually ask about it. "She's a little shy when it comes to meeting new people."

"I guess I should come out and say hi…" I heard a new voice jump in. Athena had appeared by my side and hesitantly stepped towards Celestia. "So, I guess you're supposed to be my…um…aunt?"

Tia pulled out her hoof and lightly surprised Athena when she slightly picked up her head to have a better look at her face. "I can tell that you have a beautiful smile. There is just some kind of warmth that radiates from you." Tia softly stretched out her nurturing smile before removing her hoof from underneath Athena's chin. "I remember seeing you some time ago, but I've never had a chance to truly meet with you. It's a pleasure." She now held out her hoof for Athena to shake.

"Y-yeah…" Athena almost clumsily accepted Celestia's hoof and shook it. Observing her softly flushed face, it appeared the 'close observance' caused her to feel embarrassed. "Same here."

Seeing the two of them speak face-to-face was nice to see. Being my sister, her looks and personality had to somehow come from Celestia's side of the family.

Nevertheless, once all greetings were finally done, we all settled down at the table. It was mostly Twilight's idea for this get-together in the first place, so I wasn't sure what she had planned for discussion. I was just kind of along for the ride.

"It's nice to have everyone together like this." Twilight acknowledged. "I wasn't sure if you two would be able to come, knowing how busy you are with everything in Equestria, but I'm really glad that you did in the end!"

"Of course!" Luna agreed. "We so rarely get a chance to relax and just visit. Sometimes, I can't help but wonder how things would be if we weren't princesses."

"There's usually some crisis we have to deal with." Celestia exchanged, adding on to Luna's statement. "Somepony always needs our help. But today—"

Before Tia could finish, we heard a loud wailing come from outside. At first, I thought it might have been Starlight since she had remained outside the room, but it was way too high-pitched. It wasn't long before the pony responsible threw herself against the doors and came in holding a friend in particular with her magic.

"Twilight! There's something wrong with Spike!" Rarity, who had been wearing her custom-decorated hard helmet, along with a dirty coat all over, cried out in worry. She cleared out the snacks on the table and laid the little dragon like a patient at a hospital. He had been scratching all over, and every part of his body had radiated with light like the magic in our horns. It was a sight that I had never seen before, and the anxious vibes Rarity had brought in began to get my heart racing too.

"What's wrong?" Twilight immediately asked.

"I don't know! Nngh!" Spike paused for a moment to focus more on scratching. "All of a sudden, my scales just started glowing and... burning!"

That sounded extremely painful. I couldn't imagine what he had been going through.

"Little is known about dragon culture, but this is a phenomenon we've seen before." Luna managed to inform us both seriously and calmly. "It is the call of the Dragon Lord."

"Dragons glow whenever the Dragon Lord has need of them in the Dragon Lands." Celestia elaborated Luna's answer.

Based on Spike's reaction, this is the first time that this has ever happened to him. I wonder if every dragon imaginable gets this same call or only ones past a certain age. This 'call' must be extremely rare, seeing as Spike just started experiencing these itchy and burning symptoms for the first time. Then again, I can't imagine newborn dragons being called, and Spike was still technically a baby, I think.

"Great... H-How do I make it stop?!" Spike continued to scratch endlessly. Watching him scratch made me feel the need to turn away; I almost started feeling an extremely uncomfortable itch coming on.

"The only way to end the summons is to answer it." Luna replied, "You must journey to the Dragon Lands and see what is expected of you."

"B-B-But the Dragon Lands are full of... dragons! And they're ghastly creatures!" Rarity reminded, but she immediately stopped once Spike ceased scratching and glanced over at her due to her remark. "Oh, oh, not you, of course, Spikey-wikey." She stepped in to feed him with affection. "But remember that rotten Garble?"

Spike gulped nervously. "How could I forget? He would have burnt us to a crisp if none of you weren't there." I couldn't remember the exact dragon they had been referring to, but I did remember going off carelessly in a fiery fit of rage against one the last time. I still couldn't believe I was stupid enough to charge in like that, but maybe it was Athena's feisty spirit that motivated me? "If I have to go to the Dragon Lands, would you guys come with me?"

"Ooh!" Twilight unexpectedly cheered and circled her hooves excitedly. "Oh my goodness, I'd love to! We are sadly lacking any information on dragon culture and customs. I could research them – maybe even write an article! This could be my chance to make a great contribution to the knowledge of Equestria!" The room had been entirely still, besides Spike's continuous scratching, when Twilight stopped talking. She quickly noticed this and made a change to her last statement. "And be there for Spike, heh, of course."

"Be very careful." Celestia critically advised. "The Dragon Lands are particularly dangerous for ponies. It would be wise to be discreet."

"Ooh! I'm sure I still have the dragon costume we used the last time we snuck into the Dragon Lands!" Rarity giggled, following Twilight by taking things rather lightheartedly.

"I think we might want something a little more practical this time." Twilight suggested.

"I don't think you know a spell that can actually turn us into dragons, do you?" I asked. "That would probably be the best disguise to boot."

"Actually," Twilight rubbed her chin as her eyes darted back in thought. "While I don't think I have a spell that can fully transform any pony into a full-fledged dragon, I think I might have something similar. But it's way too dangerous to try to pull off." Twilight shook her head disapprovingly. "For one, I've hardly ever been able to test the spell out. I can't promise it'd work out alright."

"Let's give it a try." I proposed, catching surprise from everypony in the room. "I don't want to just watch like last time. If I can be there for Spike and actually do something, then I want to try."

Twilight and Rarity exchanged a slightly worried look at each other. "But, what if the spell fails? Even if it does work at first, I can't guarantee it'll work until we get back."

"If it fails, then I'll deal with it whenever it happens. I'm not a simple Earth Pony anymore. I've got magic and wings, and I might as well use what I have to help my friends."

Twilight appeared to think about my request for a moment before turning over to Spike. "Spike, do you think you can hold on for just a little while longer?"

"I-I'll try…!" I felt sorry to hear that his scratching seemed to be intense. "But, does anypony have some lotion? I could really use some right now!"

"I've got plenty!" Rarity chipped. "I'll run back and bring you some. While Twilight's testing out her spell, I'll go get cleaned up for when we leave."

"Sounds like a plan." I nodded and turned over to Twilight. "Let's get going, Twilight."

Before I could leave the room, a hoof grabbed me by the shoulder. I turned back around to find that it had been Luna. She had been sending me a troubling look on her face. "I understand that this is not your first dangerous task, but please do be careful. Dragons, except Spike, are known to be extremely ruthless and daunting. Don't place yourself in any more danger than you need to."

I placed my own hoof on Luna's and nodded. "Don't worry. We're just going to go see what the Dragon Lord wants. Hopefully, it's just some kind of announcement or something and that'll be that. Even so, I just want to make sure I can actually do something to protect Spike without putting the other two at risk."

Luna nodded as well and lightly fixed my hair. Eventually, a small smile of approval lit up on her face, allowing me to reconvene with Twilight in confidence.

"Just a reminder: This spell won't completely transform you into a full-fledged dragon." Twilight said as she searched through several books in her massive library. "This spell is more of a 'disguise' instead of an actual transformation."

"'Disguise'?" I asked about. "Something like wearing the dragon costume from last time?"

Twilight paused for a second as she tilted back a certain book before she ultimately pulled it out and brought it over to me. "You could say that, but this does away with the actual costume." She opened the book and skimmed through it. "It's a little hard to get into the details, but I'm going to try to explain it as easily as I can. With magic, I'll be able to technically layer a disguise over your body without you having to actually wear anything. In theory, the other dragons should see you as just another one of your kind, but we ponies can see the real you behind a luminescent illusion. At least, I believe anypony that can control magic can."

"So, if I'm understanding what you're saying, you can make me look like a real dragon even though I'm still technically me?" I ran through my mind to clarify her information. All seemed well until certain functions that only a real dragon could perform came to mind. "Hold on. What if I need to do things that only dragons can do? Like breath fire?"

"That's doable to replicate with magic." Twilight confirmed, reading thoroughly through one page. "You can't send letters like Spike can, but you can at least get the 'showy' part right. Think of this disguise as being a huge puppet. I know you're no 'illusions and tricks' magician, but that's what you'll have to consider being in order to convince the other dragons."

Twilight reminded me of Trixie. I'm pretty sure if Trixie was in my place, she'd be able to pull it off with no problems. However, it had been quite a long time since I had last seen Trixie. I could only hope that she was doing alright.

Twilight patted me with her hoof, catching me away from my thoughts. "As long as you don't purposely bring attention towards yourself, I think you'll do just fine. I'm more worried about how long my magic will last. Like I mentioned before, I haven't had much practice with this spell. It's hard to gather research on the performance if it's just me, after all."

"Well, I'll be glad to be your guinea pig." I returned. "However, I don't want you or Rarity trying this spell out for yourselves. If you can blend in without actually being a dragon, that'd probably be best. If any pony's cover had the chance to be blown, I'd rather it be me."

Twilight nodded. "Normally, I wouldn't let you do something like that on your own, but I honestly figured that it'd be best if Rarity and I stood on the sidelines. I can keep watch over the condition of the spell and make any changes if needed. For example, it's going to be extremely suspicious if you show up with Spike and you're the only one not glowing. But, don't worry, I'll be there and take care of the 'glowy bits'."

"You're right, Twilight." I nearly praised. "I hadn't thought about the 'glowy' and 'itchy' part. It's nice to have a genius around to watch your back."

Twilight only lightly blushed in response as another voice came booming in.

"Don't forget about me!"

Athena ran into the conversation.

"Obviously, you can't be outside to watch my back," I reminded as I turned towards her, "So, can I count on you to keep guard from the inside?"

Athena placed a hoof to her forehead and saluted. "I'll do whatever it takes to help you if you find yourself in a bad situation. If you got dragons on your tail, you know I can be a great distraction. In fact, a big ole flash can probably keep them at bay long enough for you to escape!"

"Great to hear." I, myself, flashed a bright smile and patted her mane. "Okay then, Twilight. Let's get started."

"Okay! Just need another book for reference…" She quickly pulled out a separate book from a certain section. She flipped through a bunch of pages until she seemed to come across certain drawings of different types of dragons. "Got it! Hooves crossed." She stared at the image for a while before she closed her eyes and concentrated on the stream of magic that appeared at her horn. During the process, her magic extended out to me, but I couldn't notice any real change to begin with. Swirls of her magical aura rotated around me like a tornado. It took some time before these swirls slowed down and came to a stop. I still definitely didn't feel any different, but I waited to see what Twilight would say after lifting up her face and taking a look at me again.

"I think it worked!" She exclaimed out in delight.

Athena's head poked in my line of sight. "Whoa! You're like a completely different pony! Erm, dragon!"

In order to confirm the results they apparently saw, I lifted up my hooves and took a look at them. However, I didn't see much of a major difference that Athena seemed to hint at. Instead, I believed I noticed what Twilight had mentioned about not too long ago. I was able to see my normal hooves, but there was a luminescent aura around them. It was hard to tell, but I think the outline the aura cast was supposed to be a dragon. In the case with my hooves, I saw ghostly claws extend out from the front of my hoof.

"Tell me, Athena." Twilight turned towards my staring sister. "Does he look exactly like a dragon? You don't see any part of his real pony self?"

"Yep!" Athena answered loudly. "Looks like a blue dragon I've never seen before in my life! Although, I can still imagine his little pony self instead, hehe." Athena finally stopped staring at me and turned back to Twilight. "Great job on picking out his 'costume'. It looks pretty legit!"

"So, I guess only ponies that can use magic can see the real me, huh?" I glanced around, looking for a non-existent mirror. "What about the spell, Twilight? Think it'll hold?"

"I'm still not sure." Twilight revealed a frown of slight doubt. "The spell didn't seem too hard to do, but I can't tell if it'll hold right. According to the book, the spell should at least last a few days, but I should be able to remove it whenever I want. Still, I've never actually been able to reliably test it out. In our case, this should give me some good data, but it's still a risky and dangerous move. Let's just hope that the spell is able to hold out like it's supposed to."

"Whatever happens, I'm not alone." I said in hopes to alleviate Twilight's worries and doubts. "Worst case scenario, the spell fails and we high-tail it out of there. All Spike has to do is answer the call to get rid of the itchy glowing, right?"

"Right." Twilight nodded. "I guess it could be worse, huh?" She approached me and managed to smile gently. "Thanks again for doing this, Alex. I know you didn't have to."

"Don't sweat it." I shook my head. "This is a win-win for the both of us. I'll be able to take a more active role in helping Spike, and you'll get your data over the performance of this spell."

Twilight glanced at my apparent dragon form and chuckled. "Now that I look at you, you seem like you could be Spike's older brother."

"Is that so…" I rubbed the back of my head with a feeling of embarrassment rising up. "Well, being his 'older brother', I probably shouldn't keep him waiting any longer, should I? I can't imagine how many of scales are irritated at this point."

We returned back to the dining room to surprisingly find Spike taking a breather instead of scratching his scales to death. Rarity, who was now apparently sparkling clean, had just put away a tube of lotion. "How do you feel?" She asked.

"Soo much better." He responded with a sigh of relief. "Thank Celestia for anti-itch creams."

"Thank me…?" Celestia didn't seem to quite understand the term ponies would use occasionally for their benefits. Nevertheless, all attention was drawn to me when they noticed Twilight, Athena, and I enter the room.

"Whoa!" Spike nearly freaked out at the sight of me. "W-Who's that?!"

"So, you used that spell." Celestia noted, forming an approving grin. "That'll do nicely."

"Hold on a second. Is that supposed to be…?" Spike expressed, pointing towards me.

"Yep, it's Alex!" Twilight answered.

"Don't you see him, Spike?" Rarity asked.

"Those who do not have magic cannot see through the disguise." Luna confirmed. "As long as the spell stays strong, dragons should not be able to tell that this dragon is really a pony."

"Cool." Spike gazed at me just like Athena had been a while ago. "You should have made him insanely huge and scary! That way no dragon would want to mess with us! Hang on. Can you make me a bigger dragon too?!"

"One thing at a time." Twilight politely requested, laughing a bit afterward. "None of us know much about dragon culture, as Princess Luna brought up. I want to make sure that the disguise is believable, so I picked one of the common types of dragons from a book I have. Besides, I couldn't exactly make him any bigger because, for optimal performance, the 'disguise' should be close to his own size." Twilight turned her head towards me. "That reminds me. You might want to fly most of the time. I don't think dragons usually are on all fours like us, and I don't want any of them getting suspicious."

"Got it." I acknowledged.

"So, you wouldn't be able to make me any bigger then?" Spike repeated his question.

Twilight shook her head. "The spell is geared towards ponies. Even if I could, I think we'd be more at a disadvantage if I tried to make you any bigger. The whole point of doing this is to make Alex look like a dragon in the first place. You're already a dragon, Spike."

"Yeah, I know…" Spike returned despondently. "It's just that I'm sure other dragons are going to pick on me for being a shrimp."

"If any dragon tries messing with you, I'll show them who the real shrimp is." I stated defensively.

"As much as I appreciate your enthusiasm…" Twilight turned to me. "…try not to be rash with your behavior. We don't know how well this spell is, and I wouldn't want any sudden actions you take to cause some kind of instability with the spell."

"Don't worry about me, Alex!" Spike assured. "Thanks for looking out for me, but I just want to end this silly glowing and get out of there. I don't think you'll have to pick any fights with the other dragons."

"Please be careful." Luna reiterated Celestia's earlier warning.

"We will!" Rarity assured delightfully. "As uneasy as going to the Dragon Lands sounds, we're much more prepared than the last time we've stepped into dragon territory!"

After promising that we'd take care of ourselves, Twilight, Rarity, Spike, and I, with Athena inside me, began making our way towards the Dragon Lands.

If I remember correctly, I think we were able to find the Dragon Lands through the Dragon Migration last time. I don't think any of us knew the exact route, but we could, at the very least, remember the direction the dragons had taken. It was a shame that there was no train to the Dragon Lands, but then again, it probably wouldn't exactly be smart on behalf of ponies if you led them straight to frightening fire-breathing dragons.

When we finally arrived, we noticed dragons of different kinds and sorts gathering together at one particular place. Rarity raised a good question while we hid behind a few mountains of rocks.

"So, Twilight, this disguise you mentioned being 'practical'? What is it exactly?"

Twilight turned her head to what appeared to be a giant shard of stone and worked some kind of magic before she brought it over to cover the both of themselves like a blanket. I don't know how she did it, but just like with Pinkie, I didn't question it. Poking a couple of holes for the two of them, they were now literally inside a rock.

"Hmmm... Well, it may be practical, but this disguise isn't flattering in the slightest!"

"It's not supposed to be flattering." Twilight emphasized with a hushed voice and most likely hinted for Rarity to lower her voice as well. "It's supposed to blend in!"

"Shh." Spike shushed. "Come on. Let's get on top of these pillars and join the other dragons."

Twilight appeared to use her magic as slyly as she could in order to climb the pillars without getting out of her disguise. Once they were settled down, Spike hopped on top of the rock and sat down. I wasn't sure if he did that just to get a better view, or if it was to sort of make the rock stand out less.

Either way, I stayed on the side of the rock and faced Spike. "How do I look, Spike? Still okay?" I asked.

"Yep. You look fine to me."

"Alright." I now turned to Twilight, noticing the aura that continuously remained around her horn. "Don't forget. Whenever every dragon here loses their glow, make sure to turn it off for me too. Then, we'll take off."

"You can count on me." She whispered back.

"Hey-hey, look! It's our old friend Sparkle-warkle." An extremely familiar voice joined in on the other side of the rock.

"It's Spike." Spike answered with an unamused tone towards the red acquainted dragon.

Oh yeah… That was the dragon I lost it on.

I could only wonder how he'd react if I knew I was here. Despite the reunion, it was nice to see that Spike was a lot more mature, in a sense, than the last time he was here. Before, he was somewhat submitting, but now, he looked like he wasn't going to take anything from any of these dragons.

I'm proud of you, Spike.

"Are you sure your pony friends didn't give you a pony name?" He seemed to continuously draw any kind of straws unnecessarily in order to incite some reaction from Spike.

"It's nice to see you too, Garble." Spike returned in an unfazed manner, crossing his claws seriously.

"I didn't say it was nice to see you. It's not. I don't like you." Garble reached a claw over to Spike and pushed him forcefully off the rock, leading him to fall right in front of me. "Was I not clear about that?"

Despite the natural unfriendly nature of dragons, there was no way I could let Spike just hit the ground as if I didn't care. I reached out and caught him with my own hooves/claws, and this, of course, caught the attention of Garble.

"Gross. Are you friends with this shrimp? Let me guess, you're another dragon who's fwends withdumb little ponies too!"

Placing Spike back on his hind claws, I turned to Garble as I placed my front claws on the edge of the rock. "So, what if I am?"

I believed my dragon form was possibly slightly bigger than my pony form, but I was still smaller than Garble entirely. I wanted to push Garble off the rock, but I wasn't exactly sure if I technically had the strength to.

"Ha ha!" Garble laughed cockily. "You've gotta be. The is the first time I've ever seen you around here. I'm willing to bet you live in stupid little Ponyville too!"

"Maybe you and that rock are made for each other." I decided to take another approach aside from violence.

"Exactly!" He responded, crossing his own claws in pride. "That's why I'm sitting on it and you're not."

"After all," I continued, "You two both have one thing in common. You don't have a brain."

"Oh, you're asking for a beatdown, big shrimp." He reacted with anger, jumping off the rock and hopefully giving Twilight and Rarity some breathing room.

Come on, Alex! Let's give this dragon a run for his jewels!

Are you crazy? He's not worth blowing our cover for.


Garble continued to eye me intensely while I only returned a rather stoic and unamused expression. From my experience with this reckless tool, I believed treating him like a child was probably the most effective means of offense. The only time to resort to physical means would be in defense of others and me. That was the plan I was sticking to so far.

The both of us continued to glare at each other in our own way until a booming voice echoed throughout the entire land. "Dragons of Equestria, hear me!" Every one of us naturally turned to find the source of the sound, and the feud between Garble and me dissipated for now. "I have been Dragon Lord for longer than many of you can remember, and my reign has been extraordinary!" Standing on top of the largest mountain on the rocky surface was this insanely large dragon that certainly lived up to his title. I don't think either of us had ever seen this guy before, and he looked especially much larger than any of the dragons we had come across combined. Noticing the silence from his brief pause, he filled his lungs and roared. "Agree with me!"

Immediately after, every dragon in the vicinity began cheering and chanting a name. "Torch! Torch! Torch! Torch!" I wasn't sure if they did this out of fear, or if they actually respected their leader. Even Garble and his friends were cheering out loud.

"Who is that?" Spike asked, pointing in the direction of the Dragon Lord.

"It's Dragon Lord Torch, dummy." Garble answered rudely.

"No, next to him." Spike corrected.

"That's his daughter, Princess Ember." Garble answered again, leaving the 'dummy' part out this time. "I wouldn't even look at her if I were you, unless you want Torch to eat you!"

Spike began shaking, but I patted his back and spoke to him with confidence. "If he's going to eat anyone, it's definitely not going to be us."

Garble sent me another aggravated look, but before he could say anything, the Dragon Lord continued speaking.

"Unfortunately, according to dragon law, it is time for me to step down. Sad, I know." He momentarily paused again and quickly became infuriated when he didn't receive the reaction he expected. "Be sad!" Every dragon immediately began crying, and I had to say that seeing this was actually hilarious. There was something about dragons forcing themselves to cry because their leader said so that was extremely amusing. "This is why I have summoned you – to compete for the throne in the Gauntlet of Fire!" Every dragon now cheered, and I believed it was safe to say that it was genuine this time. "Whoever has the strength and fortitude to retrieve this bloodstone scepter from the heart of the flame-cano will be crowned Lord of the Dragons!" He held a scepter, which was a splinter compared to his claw, and flicked it behind him. I couldn't make out where exactly it went, but after seeing an immense fiery blaze fire from a particular area in the back, I could only assume that that was the designated place.

However, the most interesting part was this red wave that flashed over all the dragons in the area. Right after this flash passed over, every dragon immediately lost their glow. I supposed Twilight hadn't been expecting to this happen, seeing as it took her a few seconds to remove my glow after it had disappeared from Spike. Thankfully, no dragon seemed to notice as they had been paying their undivided attention towards the front.

Suddenly, a sneeze was heard right by us, causing for Garble and his friends to become alarmed and perhaps even suspicious.

"Uh, excuse me!" Spike exclaimed.

"Ugh, you even sneeze like a pony!" Garble responded in disgust.

"The Gauntlet is dangerous, for I designed it myself!" The Dragon Lord continued speaking. "Only dragons with my ferocity, strength, and determination will be able to finish. We will gather at the cliff when the sun is at its peak!"

"I don't want to be Dragon Lord or dragon toast, and I stopped glowing, so let's sneak out of here!" Spike whispered between us.

Just as he was about to place his claws on the rock Rarity and Twilight had been hiding, I placed my own claw on his shoulder.

"Hang on, Spike. If we leave right now, we'll stand out like a sore hoof." I advised. "Let's wait and see if the dragons will start leaving soon. Maybe we can slip out then."

"Where do you think you're going?" We heard the Dragon Lord say, causing us to immediately look back in fear that we might have been caught. However, we were relieved when he happened to be directing his eyes at something else. If we weren't mistaken, it was his daughter that Garble had mentioned about. Ember.

"To prepare for the Gauntlet." She firmly responded.

"No, you're not." The Dragon Lord firmly stated. "There's no way my daughter is going to compete in something that's meant for the best of the best dragons."

"But I'm smarter than most of these boulderheads and you know it!" Ember argued.

"Being smart won't help you win this Gauntlet!" The Dragon Lord countered with a bellowing voice. "It was designed for a big, strong dragon to win, because it takes a big, strong dragon to lead! Besides, I said no!"

Ember had literally been thrown back just by the air coming out of his mouth, yet this seemed to be the least of her problems. "I hate when he does that!" She growled and flew away in submission of her father's decision.

"Ha. When I become Dragon Lord, I will make burps an official greeting!" We began to hear individual dragons excitedly chatter.

"Ha, you? Please! When I win, I will pillage Equestria for all their pillows. Why should these ponies be comfortable while we sleep on rocks?" Another stated that was quite much more alarming.

"That's nothing!" Garble pushed through the two. "When I'm in charge, the first thing I'll do is get revenge on those puny ponies! They'll regret they ever crossed Garble! We'll take whatever we want from Equestria and burn the rest!"

"Oh, my gosh!" I heard Twilight release with a worried hush.

"Ooh, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I hope that burping dragon wins!" Rarity shared.

"None of them can win!" Spike refuted. "Equestria's in big trouble if any of them are in charge!"

"But what can we do?" Twilight asked.

"There's only one thing to do, and only I can do it!" He proclaimed, "I have to win the Gauntlet of Fire!"

"Oh..." Twilight and Rarity exchanged nervously, later removing the camouflage to confront Spike directly.

"What do you mean you have to win the Gauntlet?" Rarity questioned.

"It's the only way to protect Equestria from the dragons." Spike explained. "You heard them! They have horrible plans for ponies if they win! So, somehow, I have to do it!"

"There has to be another way." Twilight nearly pleaded. "It's too dangerous. Besides, if you win, you'd have to stay here!"

"I know, but there's no other way to keep my friends safe." Spike acknowledged with a downhearted look. He then turned to me. "You all should go back home. You think it's dangerous for me? If any of the other dragons find out that ponies are on their turf, they'll flip out!"

It was already too much that Spike was willing to sacrifice staying at home with us to protect us. There was no way I'd be willing to go home after that, knowing that he was out here competing on his own! I was on board with Rarity and Twilight. I didn't want Spike to leave where he belongs, but if he's not going to change his mind, then I want to help him see it through to the end. Besides, maybe we can work something out, even if he wins? There's has to be some dragon that won't wage war with Equestria. Kind of like that burp girl?

"Twilight." I faced her. "Has the spell been working out so far?"

"As far as I know. Why?"

"If Spike has made up his mind, then I want to help him. Every one of us knows that we can't just leave Spike on his own, am I right?"

"But, the dragons!" Spike pointed out. "If they—"

"Hey." I interrupted. "If you're going to participate in this competition even though it's practically the most dangerous thing you've ever done, then I say it's just as fair to stick by you. Personally, I'd prefer if Rarity and Twilight went back…but I know they'll even be more worried with me here. Besides, Twilight is on a research mission, and it's almost impossible to get her out of something like that."

"Alex is right." Twilight acknowledged, "If you're staying to compete, then the least we can do is stay here to cheer you on!"

Spike looked to the side and seemed to think to himself for a moment. "Well, I guess you guys made up your minds too, huh?" He mentioned as he scratched his cheek, "I guess it wouldn't be right to just send you off like that. Fine. Let's work together and protect Equestria!"

Spike held out his claw, causing for the rest of us to draw our hooves together. We broke the pact apart a moment later as an ironic sign of an unbreakable bond.

"You two go on ahead." Twilight informed, taking notice of the dragons gathering at the edge of the cliff behind us. "We'll stay back, but we'll be sure to keep up with you."

"You sure you got everything?" I asked. I trusted them, but I still felt as if there would be situations where it would be nearly impossible to stick with us.

"You worry about Spikey, darling." Rarity responded. "Twilight and I will be able to handle ourselves."

Whatever the case, I was sure that they'd know what path to take, should anything happen. All I could do now was leave them to their own. "Let's get going, Spike. We don't want to stay here any longer and draw attention to us."

"Got it." He acknowledged with a clenched claw.

The two of us reconvened with the other dragons on the cliff. I didn't realize it until we had already caught up with them, but I had been running on all fours. However, it didn't seem that any of the other dragons made a big deal about it. Instead, they'd probably think I was some kind of defect or something at worst.

"Flying to Flame-cano Island is the first of many challenges you will face in your quest to find the bloodstone scepter!" He announced towards every one of his competitors. "The fight for the Gauntlet starts now!" With that said, he concluded his short speech with a mighty flaming roar.

As if that singular roar was the starting horn, every dragon immediately hopped off the cliff and began their trek in flight as loudly as they could.

"Good luck!" I heard Garble say towards Spike. "Just kidding. I hope you lose."

Before taking off, he swiped his tail towards Spike and knocked him off the cliff. I dove after Spike, catching him just a little way down towards the sea below. As I safely held him in my claws, I was glad to see that I was already capable of helping bring him to his goal.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah! Just fine!"

I was big enough to place him comfortably on my back. "Keep an eye out for me, will you?"

"No problem!" Spike shot a little salute before I began heading towards the designated area.

We were flying almost silently for a while until Spike seemed to focus closely on the water below of us. "That's weird. Am I just seeing things, or does it look like something's in the water?"

I glanced in the direction he had been facing and found what he appeared to have been raising a question at. It looked as if there was some kind of cubic shadow on top of the water, and it was obvious that it wasn't from any of the dragons above us. Either way, we got our answer fairly quickly when some kind of sea monster shot vertically at us above the water. I had been so startled that I nearly kicked Spike off my back.

However, for some reason, Spike was less concerned about his own safety once I was able to make some space between these hazards.

"He's gonna drown!" He shouted.

I had been hit with confusion at that moment. I had no other choice but to swirl my head around the field for whatever he had been watching from behind. Eventually, I spotted something shiny glitter and stand out from the ocean below. If I wasn't mistaken, it was another dragon, and just like the two of us, this dragon was the "small fry" of the pack.

Personally, I didn't know what I wanted to do, seeing as dragons weren't the same as ponies, but this was technically Spike's race. So, the first thing I did was enact on his behalf and dive after this submerging dragon. He had already been under the water, so Spike and I had to immediately hold our breaths and catch this dragon before he went too far below.

Pockets of bubbles later, we managed to only bring this fallen dragon back up to the surface. However, he seemed to be knocked out cold, and he wasn't going to be able to reach the island on his own.

"Stay on my back." I instructed. "I'll carry this one over there." I took a quick glance at the skies and found that they were nearly empty. "We got pretty far behind, but the good news is that there doesn't seem to be any more of those sea monsters."

"Come on! Let's catch up." Spike suggested.

As I tried carrying this unconscious dragon to safety, I couldn't help but be burdened by his weight. The dragon himself appeared to be pretty light, but he was wearing gold-plated armor or something. I didn't necessarily understand why, especially since every other dragon was going bare. I could only suppose safety was the utmost priority for this particular one.

Nevertheless, I was finally allowed to take a breather once we came across the designated land. As I regained my breath, Spike approached the dragon and called out to him. "Hey, are you okay?"

"I don't know if we have enough time to make sure he's alright, Spike. The other dragons have already—"

I heard rustling right behind me, causing me to immediately jump and turn around.

"Don't freak out! It's just us!"

This large bundle of seaweed talked in front of me, and within the seaweed, I could see two pairs of eyes.

"Twilight? Rarity?"

Before we could have a chance to talk, ragged coughing sounded nearby, and all of us found the lying dragon to be the cause of it. Spike took off his helmet and gasped afterward. "Princess Ember!?"

Getting up on her claws, she reacted rather aggressively. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Only saving your ungrateful scales!" I heard Rarity fire back.

"Did that seaweed just talk?" Princess Ember immediately noticed. Before any of us could come up with something to misdirect her attention, she had already been pulling away at the seaweed. I was hoping that Twilight and Rarity would have been able to disappear from sight, but they were actually standing dumbfounded in front of the suspicious dragon. "Ponies?! What are they doing here?!"

"They're our friends!" Spike answered.

"Friends?" Princess Ember appeared to hold a non-hostile stance. "I was wondering why you two seemed so buddy-buddy back there. In case you didn't know, dragons don't do friends."

"Well, these dragons do." Spike mentioned a little proudly.

I had to admit that Spike was being a little too careless. He didn't look worried at the slightest regarding what this dragon might just do, due to the presence of ponies. Instead, he acted rather friendly, almost as if he and Princess Ember were already friends.

"Whatever." She rolled her eyes and retrieved the helmet she previously had on from Spike. "I don't care as long as none of you get in my way. I have a Gauntlet to win."

"But I thought your dad said that—"

"I don't care what my dad said!" Princess Ember shouted back. "I'll show him and every dragon who thinks I'm just a little princess there are better things than being big and strong!"

Spike's attitude almost made me want to propose a truce with this princess, but we still didn't know what her true motives were. She honestly didn't look like she cared much that Twilight and Rarity were here uninvited. Could she be a dragon that we can entrust the scepter to instead of Spike?

"So, you're not going to tell any dragon the fact that ponies are on their land?" I asked.

"I told you." She responded impatiently. "I don't care what any of you do. Just don't get in my way!"

Before any more could be said, a wave of sand was shot towards us followed by a loud crunch. A boulder had appeared unexpectedly nearby, and the sound of another dragon's suffering erupted from underneath. Twilight quickly threw the seaweed on the ground back over Rarity and herself while Princess Ember equipped her helmet.

Each of us continued to stare endlessly at this scene until the dragon underneath was able to lift himself up slightly, but it wasn't enough to remove himself out of the boulder's trap. "Don't leave me here, Spike!" It was Gargle, and he spotted Spike out from our group. Just several minutes ago, he nearly knocked Spike out of the race. Now, he was here begging for his help.

If he had asked me, I honestly would have contemplated leaving him behind, but Spike, being the friendly dragon he was, quickly came to his rescue and helped him move the boulder over. Even so, Garble didn't look entirely grateful.

"Ha-ha! Knew you'd do it. Your pony friends made you soft." Garble poked his head, as if that would prove his point. He later kicked a body of sand over Spike, causing me to furrow my eyebrows. Whether it was illogical or not, I used my magic to gather a large mound of the same sand and allowed it to rain upon Garble like a heavy storm.

He poked his head out from the sand and shook it off, looking angry but mostly surprised. "Where the heck did that come from?!"

I looked upwards and found some other kind of monster slinging massive objects from the ground. "Must have come from them. Karma, huh?"

"You seem pretty cocky for a puny dragon that's more pony than dragon." He stepped toward me and noticed my stature while shaking off the rest of the sand on him. He took few whiffs and threw his head away in disgust. "You dragons shouldn't even be here. I can't handle your pony scent!"

"Speak for yourself, you filthy cretin!" Another small outburst came from Rarity.

"What was that?!" Garble turned his head over in the direction where Twilight and Rarity had been hiding inside the bundle of seaweed. Garble began making small steps towards the seaweed as if he suspected the one responsible had been hiding in there. However, Princess Ember stepped in his way and cut him off.

"I said 'speak for yourself', you, uh, 'filthy cretin'?" She tried to repeat Rarity's remark in a low voice, but she had a terrible time pronouncing the last word. Thankfully, Garble wasn't exactly smart, so he didn't bother finding the two different pitches suspicious.

"Geez, how many 'dragons' are pony-loving losers?" He faced each of us with a scrunching face. "You all make me sick." He turned back to Princess Ember and eyed her carefully. "What's with the cover-up? You afraid you're going to hurt your wittle pony tail?

"You might want to watch who you're talking to." Princess Ember's eyes narrowed within her helmet, and her disguised voice slightly grew closer to her original tone.

"Who do you think you are?" Garble continued on an aggressive approach. "You act like you're Princess Ember or something." He began leaning in towards her while scratching his chin. "Actually, you kind of look like—"

"That's my, uh, old neighbor!" Spike ran in, coming between the two of them. "He turned his head around and analyzed his surroundings as if he was trying to come up with a name on the spot. "Uh, Sandy... Rockbeach!"

"Well, tell your stupid neighbor to watch his mouth!" Garble warned and then turned his head over to the monsters I noticed above earlier. "I'm only here because stupid slingtails knocked me down! I've wasted enough time making small talk. Get it?" He pointed at each of us and began walking off. "Ha-ha! Because you're all too small to win this! I'm funny."

Once he finally left, Princess Ember felt that it was safe enough to remove her helmet.

"Why did you cover for me? You could've had one less competitor." She asked Spike.

"I could ask you the same thing." Spike returned. "You could've easily told Garble about my friends."

"I'm just as surprised." I pointed out. "I didn't expect you to come in like that and take the blame. Besides Spike, I thought all dragons hated ponies."

"Like I told you guys. I could care less about any of that. I've got more important things on my mind than what numbskulls like Garble do all day." She crossed her claws over her chest before she suddenly looked at me as if she realized something. "Wait a minute. What about you? This is the first time I've ever seen you around here. You live with ponies like Spike does?"

If I answered her truthfully, it would put a big dent in my cover. Nevertheless, it would also be a great opportunity to get a better look at her motives. Seeing as she did what she did, I decided to take the risk.

"Yeah, I do…" I responded a little hesitantly.

"How?" Princess Ember questioned with apparent interest. "I mean, I get little Spike here. No offense, but he looks like he wouldn't hurt a fly. But, you? Wouldn't ponies freak out about a dragon living among them? You're not big like other dragons here, but you still look like you can intimidate others, especially ponies."

I decided to keep my answer vague for now. "It's…a long story?"

We suddenly heard a screeching scream come from atop. Taking a short glance, we found various dragons being hurled by boulders, just like Garble had been.

"Yikes... That looks rough." Princess Ember revealed a hint of fear in her eyes. "But that's what makes it a challenge."

"Are you kidding? Those boulders are huge!" Spike emphasized and thought to himself for a quick second. "Hey, you should join us! Everyone is working on their own, but if we all work together, we're sure to have a big advantage!"

"Pssst!" We heard. Figuring it had come from the two in the seaweed, Spike ran over and poked it. However, the two of us had been surprised when it all fell down and nopony had been behind it. Nevertheless, the whispering continued. "Spike!" A tree nearby waved a dead branch, catching Spike's attention. As he ran towards it, I decided to stay by Princess Ember.

"I still can't wrap my head around the idea that you two are actually working together." She mentioned. "It's unreal. Are you two brothers or something? Even family doesn't change the fact that it's every dragon for themselves here."

"You could say that." I took the vague approach once again. "Even so, it wouldn't hurt, would it? At the very least, we can be a team until we get past all the dangerous and hard stuff."

"You have a point…" She thought to herself. "If I have a better chance of getting in there first, I want to take it." She turned towards Spike, who had been talking to the other two inside the tree log. "Hey, you, little fella! I've thought about it, and your plan makes sense. Let's do it."

"Really?" Spike dashed back on over. "Great! It's a deal!"

Spike held out his claw for a solid shake of the agreement, but Princess Ember reacted strangely to this gesture. Instead of using her whole claw, she only grabbed a hold of Spike's finger with two and lightly shook. "Just so you know, this doesn't mean we're gonna pick flowers or exchange necklaces or whatever pony friends do." She clarified.

Not entirely accurate, but whatever.

"Good luck. We'll meet you at the top!" Twilight waved from the top of the trunk they were in.

"And how exactly are you going to do that?" I brought up.

"Um. We don't exactly know yet." Twilight returned with a sheepish grin.

I thought for a moment and turned towards Ember and Spike. "Hey, Spike. You two go ahead and head for the top. I'm going try to sneak the others in."

"Gotcha!" Spike sent out a salute before he approached our new partner. "Let's get going!"

"So, how do you expect the three of us to make it there without arousing suspicion?" Rarity asked with genuine concern. "Even the other dragons are having a hard time on their own!"

"I noticed that every one of them is flying the way, but I don't think any of them have actually tried climbing the mountain." I pointed out. "Sure, it's longer, but it doesn't really give any room for those creatures to hurl boulders at you. They're too busy with the other dragons, so I'm sure they'll have a hard time noticing us. The other dragons are too busy trying to get to the place they need to go, so I'm sure same goes for them.

"Sounds reasonable enough." Twilight responded. "How are you going to get us up, though?"

"Maybe I can still use magic but not make it obvious?" I suggested. "As dumb as it'll look, I'll try carrying you with my wings, but at the same time, I'll use magic to do all the heavy lifting. Make sense?"

"Whatever works, darling!" Rarity's voice echoed inside the dead log.

"Alright. Make sure to hold on tight and be prepared for anything." I warned before setting my plan to motion.

For a moment, I tried climbing my way to the top, and, while I avoided any trouble regarding the hurling boulders for the most part, climbing was beginning to become a hassle when I found myself in the steeper part of the slopes. I had no choice but to switch gears if I wanted to make it in time.

"Change of plans!" I informed the others.

As quickly as I could, I used my magic to bring the log over to my claws. I could only hope that it looked natural towards the other dragons, seeing as it'd be nearly impossible if I was actually trying to carry the huge log with just my hooves. Nevertheless, my wings were free to move, so I slowly ascended as carefully as I could. I stuck by the cliffside while avoiding the direction of the boulder-slinging monsters.

When I came to what appeared to be a huge entrance, I finally released the log onto the rocky ground and quickly tried to catch my breath. I heard Rarity yelp within, possibly from having released the log so suddenly.

"Sorry…!" I apologized, still practically out of breath.

"You guys made it!" Spike approached us, looking both relieved and excited to see us.

"Yeah…" I continued breathing in and out harshly. "I need a moment though."

"We can't wait too long." Princess Ember mentioned. "Some of the other dragons are already inside there."

I turned my head up and noticed something odd about her face. "You're not wearing your helmet? What are you going to do if the other dragons find out who you are?"

"That thing was just getting in the way." She answered. "Besides, I'm at the point of no return. It won't matter if any dragon even manages to realize that their very 'princess' is among them."

"Well then. You two go on ahead. I won't be long." I suggested.

"Listen, Spike." She turned towards him. "I wouldn't have made it this far without you. So I guess, if you want to, we could keep working together. I mean, just until we get through that tunnel."

"Okay!" Spike returned a thumb up before following her inside.

"We'll be right behind you." Twilight hushed out.

I felt well enough to go in after them, but I decided to have a short talk with the two before we actually went in. "I'm not the only one who thinks that Princess Ember is the answer to our problems, right?"

"What do you mean?" Twilight asked.

"Spike wanted to win the Gauntlet so he could keep the other dragons from invading Equestria, but what if Princess Ember won instead? I know we hardly know her, but she doesn't seem to have a burning hatred for ponies like Gargle does."

"That's what I was thinking!" Twilight responded, nearly breaking out of her soft voice. "But, I have to be frank. As long as it's not some dragon like Gargle, I'm willing to take the risk if it means Spike can come home."

"Then, should we help Princess Ember win the Gauntlet instead? To be honest, I don't think Spike would mind, especially since he seems to see her as a friend already."

"I concur!" Rarity nearly shouted out. "But, first, we must catch up with them if we're to help Princess Ember win!"

"Yeah. The scepter should be somewhere inside, so let's get this over with already." I reached out my claws and grabbed ahold of the top branch without actually putting any tension on it. Using my magic, I slightly lifted up the log so it wasn't actually on the ground. If we came across any dragon, and they began to question it, I could easily let go without any risk of hurting the girls inside.

We came across the first deadly obstacle in a short moment, which was, what appeared to be, massive walls of rocky spikes that poked in and out of sight in a flash. A few dragons had been caught behind, and they looked like they were hanging on for their dear lives. I did not know how we were going to pull this off.

"If I can get a good view of the land at the other side, I can teleport us across!" Twilight exclaimed out in a low voice.

"What is one of the dragons see us?" Rarity concerned herself with.

"Honestly, they look too troubled by this spike trap to be worrying about who's in front of them." I mentioned.

"If I teleport us, we're going to have to leave our cover behind and find a new one…" Twilight informed.

"You'll be exposed…" I realized and thought shortly. I tried to observe what had been across whenever there was an extremely short opening. As expected there were piles of rocks around the area. Seeing as Twilight had made their first cover out of a huge rock, I supposed it wouldn't be a challenge for her to work with that. "There are a few rocks over on the other side. Teleport us and immediately take cover behind those rocks. They can be your new cover, right?"

"Yeah, I guess we can try that." Twilight said.

"It's the only choice we have, isn't it?" Rarity inquired uneasily.

"It's the only one I can come up and work with for now…" I returned.

"Alright! On the count of three!" Twilight initiated. "One! Two! Three!"

No matter whether the walls were closed or open, Twilight was able to get us across with her teleportation spell. Just as she had mentioned, they left the log behind and quickly dove to cover behind the rocks. Taking a short moment, she worked her magic and made those rocks their new disguise.

I now had to remain on the ground as a pushed a couple of those same rocks in front of me. Thankfully, I was able to use the same trick of keeping the rocks slightly above ground while I pretended to push them for the most part. However, it wasn't long before we reached our next obstacle. It was similar to the rock walls, but this time, there were frighteningly large and extremely sharp spikes poking in and out from the cavern walls. It was definitely something I'd hate to go through, but I was sure that Twilight would be able to teleport us through again.

"Same plan?" I suggested to Twilight.

"Looks like it."

Following the same maneuvers as last time, the other two were able to find themselves new rocky disguises and allow me to push them on forward. When we eventually came across Spike and Princess Ember analyzing their surroundings, I brought myself to a stop and proceeded to take a moment to catch my breath as the other two ponies seemed to watch me.

"You okay?" Twilight asked.

"Peachy." I responded.

"I'm glad the two of you are fine." Rarity stated, directing her attention to Princess Ember and Spike.

"Hmph, us?" Spike replied. "That tunnel was cake!"

"Wait. How exactly did you two get through?" Princess Ember asked out of curiosity.

Before she could receive a straight answer, the caverns we had been inside began to rumble violently all of a sudden. In the midst of the chaos, Rarity found herself stumbling towards a large pool of lava.

"Rarity!" Spike called out, running after her with me following right behind.

Both of us nearly dove after her, grabbing a part of her disguise and pulling her in right before a huge spurt of lava almost burnt her to a crisp. When we were as far away as possible from that edge, Rarity cried out in relief. "Oh, thanks, you two!"

Spike exchanged a light sigh of relief. "It was nothing."

"Nothing?" Princess Ember exclaimed unexpectedly. "You just risked everything to save her! And they're putting themselves in danger just to support you! Why would they go through all the trouble just to do that?"

"Well, that's just what friends do." Spike easily answered. "Don't you have anyone who looks out for you?"

"Not really. Unless I count you." She shared a little fragilely before immediately returning to a stubborn attitude. "Which I don't! Because we were only helping each other get through the tunnel, and now we're through the tunnel, so that's it."

"Wait, what do you mean?" Spike questioned, not fully understanding her leave of absence.

"Well, there's only one winner, one scepter, and one Dragon Lord." She explained. "So, I guess it's every dragon for themselves."

"Oh." Spike reacted with disappointment. "So we aren't really friends?"

"Maybe if we were in Ponyland, but like I said, dragons don't do friendship." With that blunt remark, she walked towards the edge and flew off until she was out of our sight.

"Wow." I mentioned, taking notice of the kind of behavior she left us with. "She reminds me a lot of a particular pony I know…"

"What do you mean?" Spike asked, still holding a despondent look after observing her leave with such a sour mood.

"Don't quote me on this, but I don't think she exactly meant what she said. She was just trying to cover up for something. Her feelings or something like that. Kind of like Starlight. Not Starlight Glimmer, but, you know, the Starlight from my life."

"You really think so?" Twilight questioned my certainty.

"That's what I want to go with."

"You gotta be right!" Spike agreed with me. "If she didn't care, then why would she go to the trouble of protecting us like she did back there? Even if she doesn't think so, we're friends and that's that. She just needs to know what friends really are."

I nodded my head and glanced at the hall we had just come from. "We better get going. Right now, the important thing is making sure the scepter doesn't fall into the wrong claws."

Without Princess Ember, we traveled through a maze of crevasses, but it appeared we only traveled in a bunch of circles. It was that, or we were finding different areas that were completely identical to the first one. Either way, I don't think any of us were sure on how we could find the scepter at this point. It seemed more like a game of luck, and, in this case, any dragon could find the scepter if they manage to pick the right way.

"Is it just me, or have we seen this crevasse three times already?" Twilight mentioned several minutes in.

"It's kinda hard to tell. They all look the same." Spike roamed his eyes around the vast area before they stopped in a certain direction. "Except for this one! Look!" The path he pointed at looked the same to me, but we followed in after him enthusiastically nonetheless. Inside, any doubts I may have had were immediately erased when a stellar sight appeared before us. Among a mound of red crystals appeared to be the very scepter we had been searching for. "We made it! I can't believe we're the only dragons to make it this far!"

"You're not!" We unexpectedly heard a shallow voice behind us. Turning towards the direction of the sound, we spotted Gargle slipping in from underneath the shadows, and he looked absolutely agitated. He quickly approached us with a threatening posture. "And I'm not losing to a couple puny pony-loving dragons like you!"

Now was the time for action. I needed Spike to start heading for the scepter now while I tried stalling this reeking opponent.

"How pathetic do you have to be to pick on a couple of 'puny pony-loving' dragons?" I asked, keeping him at bay and away from Spike. "Seems like you're trying to cover up whatever it is you don't like about yourself. Maybe you secretly like ponies but don't want to admit it?" I added snarkily at the end.

Appearing much more impatient than last time, flames immediately bellowed out from his mouth after releasing an aggressive roar. I had no other choice but to jump backward and fall to the ground in order to avoid the fire as much as I could. Nevertheless, I felt an intense amount of heat scrape the surface of my coat, and my entire reaction caused some sort of amusement for Gargle. "What kind of dragon is afraid of a little fire? You really are more pony than you are dragon!"

Noticing Spike was still standing behind me, possibly questioning what he should do in the confrontation, I ordered him to move on. "Spike, start running towards the scepter!"

"Oh, no you don't!" Gargle began moving forward, but I lifted myself up from the ground as quickly could and threw myself at him. Nevertheless, seeing as he was a bigger dragon than me, he clenched his claws around my neck and used me instead as a weapon against Spike. I was thrown towards him and unable to stop myself in time. I ended up not only landing on top of Spike but also brought us closer to the edge of the narrow bridge we had been on. I was able to have a good look at what laid underneath us, and I could see a bunch of sharp rocky spikes below us as a result. If I wasn't careful, Spike and I could easily get hurt!

I wasn't sure if he was going to go straight for the scepter, but his eyes narrowed towards us. It appeared that he intended to finish us off before he would claim the scepter for himself. All I could do was try to push myself up and provide cover for Spike, but we heard a sharp whistle coming from behind him.

"Hey, bozo! Over here!"

As Garble turned around, Spike and I leaned past him to find a friend offering her aid to us.

"Athena!" I cried out.

"A pony?! How did you get here?!" Garble leaning in, looking ready to pounce my extremely brave sister.

"With the kind of puny brain you have, you'd never understand even if I told you." Athena wittily replied.

Taking on the stance of an aggravated bull, he was just about to rush at her before something else flung towards him. Whatever it was, it sent him flying over Athena and back towards the entrance.

"Are you guys okay?" We heard and found Princess Ember landing near us.

"Ember!" Spike pointed out with extreme surprise. "I thought it was every dragon for themselves! Why did you stop and help us?! You could have easily gone for the scepter and become the next Dragon Lord!"

"Well, isn't that what friends do?" She returned hesitantly. "And I am a friend. I mean, we are. I never should have left you guys back there. Agh, please don't make me talk about my feelings!" She nearly begged.

"More ponies?!" We heard Gargle growl from where he had been. I turned and noticed that Twilight and Rarity had been somehow knocked out from their cover, and they were completely visible in front of Garble. "You two. I've been waiting to give you much-needed payback from last time." He slowly began stepping towards them, cracking and preparing his claws as they fearfully stepped away from him. He had been leading them towards the edge of the death trap, but another pony quickly galloped and jumped onto his back, pulling tightly on his small scaly ears.

"Hyah!" She broadcasted her warrior's cry.

"Agh! Get off!" Garble ordered as he stumbled backward in an attempt to fight back.

"Go get the scepter!" Princess Ember seemingly advised to either one of us.

Just as Garble reached far enough to grab ahold of Athena, Ember swooped in fast enough to tackle him against the wall, releasing his grip on his captive pony. I quickly encouraged Spike to move on as I kept an eye on the struggle between Ember and Garble. Since she had already been playing on the offensive, I decided to stay in the middle field as a defender.

Garble eventually managed to throw Ember to the side, seeing as she was practically the same size as me, and quickly pinpointed Spike's location in order to overtake his position. However, being in the middle of the field, I launched upwards in the air and blocked him to the best of my abilities. Before he could simply throw me to the side as well, Princess Ember came from behind and snatched his tail.

Before I could blink, Garble grabbed a hold of her shoulders and brought her back down to the floor. She tried to get back up, but Garble clearly had the higher ground to easily keep her down. Bringing my hind claws upwards, I dove towards him and wrapped my foreleg around his neck. I couldn't completely pull him away from Ember, but she was able to successfully get back up.

Grunting in frustration, he was able to reach behind him and throw me off like he almost did with Athena. I stumbled across the dirt and found myself hanging on the edge of the bridge, but this time, I was glad that I had wings to back me up.

"I'm sick and tired of you dragons helping each other!" Garble snarled as he and Ember had a sort of tug-of-war match across the bridge with their claws holding onto each other. "Dragons don't do helping!"

"These dragons do!" Princess Ember asserted back.

Seeing as I had the lower ground, I grabbed a hold of Garble's hind leg and caused him to lose his balance. With him at a major disadvantage, Ember found the strength to release a mighty yell and throw him onto his back, disorientating him.

Even though I had been using my wings to keep me afloat, Ember offered her claw to me. I didn't need it, but as a sign of newfound friendship, I accepted it. She helped me back on the bridge, and we found several more voices coming from the path we had taken to get here. Twilight and Rarity covered themselves with their disguises, but I couldn't find Athena around. I quickly searched and began to call out her name in a panic.


Don't worry. I'm right here with you.

I let out a major sigh of relief before Princess Ember questioned me on something in particular.

"Just how many friends do you have?"

Before I could give a suitable answer, a wave of scarlet red blossomed over every one of us. After that, there was a gigantic flash that could only signify something, well, significant. Despite this transferal of power, Ember and I found Garble approaching us with malicious intent. "Listen, you guys, we got ponies with us, and we gotta find them and smash them!" He informed the dragons behind him.

However, we suddenly heard Spike's voice boom out behind us in response.

"Leave my friends alone!"

Garble noticed this and was heavily surprised to see the 'puny pony-loving' dragon carrying the scepter in a commanding stance. "What? You?! You have the scepter?! But that means that you're..."

"The Dragon Lord. Dragon Lord Spike." Ember bowed, causing me and the other dragons to follow shortly after.

Garble groaned, but even he felt forced to repeat this manner of respect. "Dragon... Lord... Spike..." He grumbled in defeat.

"That's right!" Spike remained at his heightened position of power. "Uh... Now, go start your long journey home. And give every dragon you see on the way a hug. Don't tell them why."

"Awww! But that'll be super embarrassing!" Gargle protested.

"I command you to do it!" Spike ordered. "And none of you are allowed to hurt any ponies either!"

Annoyed, Garble groaned heavily. "I can't believe this..." He stopped to hug this huge dragon nearby, and it was quite a big surprise when this dragon reacted rather positively to this friendly gesture. Maybe there were some dragons that really only wanted friends in the end?

"Good job, Spike." I congratulated as he returned to us with the scepter.

"Dragon Lord Spike. Hm, has a nice ring to it." Princess Ember noticed.

"Dragon Lord Ember sounds a lot better." Spike surprised her and gave her the scepter.

"What? No." Ember shook her head. "You're the Dragon Lord now." She attempted to give the scepter back.

"The Dragon Lord is whoever brings the scepter back to your father!" Spike claimed, pushing the scepter away. "Besides, you'll make a great leader. I was just doing this to protect the ponies. But I know you'll protect them just as well as I would have."

"You sure about this?" Ember asked with uncertainty.

"Absolutely. Our home is in Equestria with our friends." Spike answered, placing a friendly claw on me.

"Well, you'll all have at least one friend here too." Ember pointed out before Spike dove in for a hug. "What are you doing?" She nearly freaked out from the sudden gesture.

"It's called a hug!" Spike happily explained.

"Oh. I don't know if I like it. But... okay." With a frazzled blush, she lightly patted Spike's scales.

In response to this sight, I could only chuckle lightly.

All of the other dragons, including our group, made their way back towards the former Dragon Lord with Ember having the scepter in her claws. I lagged a little behind, seeing as I wanted to make sure the other two ponies made it back safely. However, I was thankfully able to make it in time for the big reveal.

"Ember? You?!" A booming voice exclaimed out in surprise.

"I know you didn't think I could do it, but I did." Ember confronted her father with confidence.

"I expressly told you not to do it, because you're not—!"

"I'm not big and strong!" She left his sentence unfinished. "I know. But you know what? I won anyway. So maybe it takes more than just being big and strong to be a good Dragon Lord!"

Taking a moment of consideration, her father eventually responded back. "I was wrong, Ember. You might not be big, but you are strong and smart, and perhaps that counts for more than I thought. And you will make an excellent leader."

"Thanks, dad." Ember landed on top of his nose and expressed with a hint of surprise. She turned towards the others and shouted out loud, "Agree with him!" The other dragons looked at each other in uncertainty before she quickly declared her last order invalid. "Just kidding! That's not gonna be my thing."

With a hearty laugh, her father made the official announcement to all the other dragons in the vicinity. "Dragons, hear me! I present to you our new Dragon Lord, Ember!" Receiving a lengthy amount of applause, he soon found Garble roaming about and stopping to hug his extraordinarily huge mouth. "Hm? What is the meaning of this?!"

"I can't tell you!" He cried out in shame, earning a cheerful laugh from Ember.

Once it appeared that every dragon was officially dismissed, Spike and I waved down Ember to a secluded spot. From there, we decided to extend our farewells before heading back to Ponyville and calling it a day.

"After today, I don't expect any of you to come back ever again, but I just want to let you know that you're welcome back anytime. After all, there's going to be some major changes now that I'm in charge." She assured valiantly.

"Of course!" Spike excitedly agreed. "We'll keep in touch! Maybe we can even work something out between ponies and dragons soon?"

"We'll talk about that later." Ember promised.

"I've been meaning to ask you something!" Twilight waved her hoof eagerly like a schoolpony and caught Ember's attention. "I've been totally meaning to gather up as much information as I can about dragons. Would you mind if I write to you every now and then for a little research?"

"I don't see why not." Ember encouraged, accepting her request.

"Yay!" Twilight cheered with a gleeful grin.

"Either way, I'm just glad that there's at least some dragon out there that's cool with ponies." I mentioned. "With you in charge, I know things will definitely change."

"I'll make things change, if I have to." Ember assured. "These dragons could definitely use some smartening up. It's annoying just to have a conversation with dragons that have rocks for brains. I can't imagine how much nicer Equestria must be."

"You should visit sometime!" Spike brought up.

"As long as your ponies don't freak out about it, that's not a bad idea."

"I'm sure we can manage that." Rarity stated with a royal smile.

After exchanging our goodbyes, Spike, Rarity, Twilight, and I began making our somewhat long trek back home. Nevertheless, I'm sure Twilight and Rarity were glad to not have to be undercover anymore.

"You did well, Spike." Twilight congratulated. "With Ember as Dragon Lord, the ponies will be safe and you've gained us a powerful ally."

"And a new friend!" He pointed out.

"Plus, Ember said I could write to her anytime I had questions about dragon culture! With this much information, I'll be able to write a whole book on dragons!" Twilight repeated her excitement. She then turned to me and looked me over. "Today has been one of the best days I've ever had! Not only will I have access to more information about dragons, but it seems the spell was a complete success!"

"Oh! And I gained tons of ideas for a new line of camouflage clothing! I think I'll call it "Camo-Maud"!" Rarity shared her exhilaration.

Every one of them laughed out loud as we walked, yet I was stuck there wondering if Rarity had been making a reference to Pinkie's sister. They spent the entire time hiding in rocks, and Maud's passion was all about rocks.

"Too bad I didn't really get to see much action as I thought I'd see…" Athena popped in beside me, looking a little disappointed. "I mean, I saw a lot of action. I just didn't take part in most of it."

"Maybe you should consider that as a good thing instead of a bad." I suggested. "It may seem like fun, but if anything happened to you, I'm sure you'd regret it."

"Yeaah… I guess you're right." Athena remained silent for a moment before she spoke up once again. "Knock-knock!"

"Who's there…?" I responded reluctantly.

"Dragon!" She mentioned with a gleeful smile.

Oh, this can't be good…

"Dragon who?" I asked, preparing myself for the worst.

"Dragon your hooves again?!"

Uggghhhh. Just why did you have to?

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