With no warning, the might of the Griffon kingdom descends upon Equestria. Twilight, in her desperation, teleports Spike as far away from the conflict as she can in the hope of saving his life.
With no warning, the might of the Griffon kingdom descends upon Equestria. Twilight, in her desperation, teleports Spike as far away from the conflict as she can in the hope of saving his life. Completely lost for the first time in his life, Spike must learn how to survive in the world alone.
But, when he finds out about the fate of Equestria and what could possibly be happening to his friends, can Spike realize the true might that comes with being a dragon? And will it be enough to help him reclaim the only treasures he ever allowed himself to hoard: his friends?
****Alt Uni tag for heavy use of Draconic abilities and lore outside of the MLP universe because, well, the MLP universe doesn't really have any of it's own.****
**Giant super awesome mega thanks to my amazing editor Idylia
Spike awoke to the sound of frantic hoof beats. It took a moment for him to wake up enough to take in the scene before him: Twilight was rushing all around her room, grabbing one item after another and stuffing them into a brown satchel. As Spike watched her rush around the room something struck him. All of the things she was placing into the bag were his things. For the briefest of moments, Spike flashed back to the evil door in the crystal kingdom and the horrible vision he experienced. The young dragon shook his head, trying to clear the terrifying memory from his mind. He rose from his basket with a stretch and approached Twilight.
"Twilight, what are you doing? It's the middle of the night... What's going on?" He let out a long yawn.
Twilight stopped dead her tracks. "Spike! We don't have much time. Let me finish packing this."
Spike watched as a magenta glow encased his pillow and blanket and stuffed them to into the bag. Twilight set the satchel on her desk and turned to Spike. She place her forelegs on his shoulders and set him with a look that sent a fearful chill down his spine.
"Spike, I don't know any other way to say this, but please don't be afraid. Spike... I'm sending you away, somewhere in the mountains. At least there you won't have much trouble finding food and shelter."
Spike's eyes immediately started to tear up. He shook his head and looked Twilight in the eyes. "W-why? Did I d-do something wrong Twilight? If I did I'm s-sorry, I swear I-I'll try harder. Please don't make me leave."
Twilight couldn't help but begin to break down into tears herself. She knew this was coming. She just thought she'd be more prepared. She took his small face in her hooves.
"Shhhh, hush now. You didn't do anything wrong, Spike. You are the best little dragon anyone could ever hope to have. I love you so much, and there is nothing you could ever do that would make me send you away."
Spike was now openly sobbing into Twilight's chest. It was all he could manage to choke out his words.
"T-then w-why, Twilight? I-I don't wanna go. I-I want to stay here with you and all of our friends." He buried his face into her coat again, crying his little heart out.
"It's for your own safety, Spike, I swear. You need to stay as far away from Equestria as you can. It won't be safe here." Twilight punctuated her explanation by placing a soft kiss on the baby dragon's forehead. "If I thought I could keep you here without putting you in mortal danger, I would never have even considered this."
In the distance avian screeches could be heard, and soon after the screams and cries of ponies mingled into the chilling chorus. Twilight knew their time was almost up, and she quickly grabbed the satchel she had packed and slung it over Spike's head. Her voice was terrified and frantic as she lifted the small dragon's head one last time.
"Okay, Spike, it's time. Don't ever forget how much I love you. Please forgive me for this... I just don't know what I would do if something happened to you. You are a brave, strong, smart little dragon. Survive, Spike, for me, for all of us. I love you so much, my son."
Twilight's horn began to glow a blindingly bright whitish magenta, and Spike could feel the magic enveloping his body. Everything was happening so fast he honestly couldn't process it all. All Spike could do was squeeze his eyes shut tight and hug the lavender unicorn as hard as he could, enjoying the warmth as long as possible, and utter one simple phrase:
"I love you too, mother." A final tear slid off his scaly cheek and splashed onto the floor.
The world suddenly went white, and Spike felt the rush of magic flow through him as he was teleported. Not a moment after the young dragon vanished from the room, the door slammed open and a group of five armor-clad griffons rushed in. Twilight quickly found herself surrounded, and she slowly lowered herself to the floor and placed her hooves on her head. The only thoughts running through her head were of Spike. She hoped beyond hope that she had placed him somewhere safe. As she was lifted off the ground, and the last of their tears seeped into her coat, she sent out a silent prayer to any god who would listen that her son be protected in the harsh world she had no choice but to throw him into.
As the world came back into focus, Spike was a bit disorientated, but he realized he was in a mountainous location. It looked nothing like the areas he usually visited with Rarity when they went looking for gems, though. The terrain was anything but level, and his feet felt out of place against the chilled ground.
He was also quickly becoming aware of the heavy rain drenching his bag and body, and the brutal winds that threatened to blow him across the rocky terrain. Spike's previously crippling grief was almost at once overcome by the situation he now found himself in. As he struggled to his feet, he had to brace himself against the howling wind to not be lifted from the ground. He raised a claw to his face to try and block some of the torrential downpour. How could this be happening? One second he was sleeping happy and warm in his basket, and in the next ten minutes the one pony who meant the more to him than anything in the world had flung him through the fabric of space onto a mountain and into the middle of a hurricane.
Spike struggled to put one foot in front of the other as he began a slow trek forward, no destination in mind. How could Twilight do this to him? He had to shield his eyes as another gust of wind crashed against him, pelting his face and body with all manner of rock and foliage. He could barely muster the strength or attention to protect himself from the storm. Nothing currently happening around him could tear him away from the one soul-crushing thought playing over and over in his head.
Never before had he ever really been alone. There had always been someone around, whether it was Twilight or the Princess or even just a palace guard. Spike's chest tightened as he thought of Twilight. As much as he wanted to hate her, to curse her for this situation, he simply couldn't. She was the first thing his newly hatched eyes had seen, and sure, she hadn't always been the perfect guardian, but she had done her best to raise him since.
Spike snapped out of his reverie as lightning split the sky and thunder immediately boomed overhead. The storm was only getting worse, and it was directly over him. He braced himself against the wind and trudged forward, digging his heels in with every step to stay grounded. Another crack of lightning illuminated the mountainside, revealing a cave just a few more meters ahead of him. Every step was a struggle for him, and every blast of wind slammed more debris against his body, but he slowly pushed toward the cave. Just then, a larger rock connected directly with his face, causing him to stagger and almost lose his footing. The metallic taste of blood spread through his mouth as Spike neared the entrance to the cave. He couldn't be sure what might dwell inside, but he was willing to risk meeting it if it got him out of this storm.
As Spike entered the pitch black cave, he let out a tiny breath of fire to illuminate the area. As far as he could see the cave was uninhabited. The young dragon collapsed onto the floor of the cave with a heavy sigh, partly out of relief for finding shelter from the raging storm and partly from the emotional toll the night had taken on him. As he lay there, battered and exhausted from the ordeal, his thoughts drifted back once again to Ponyville and all of the faces he might never see again. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, his childhood crush Rarity, and Twilight... he could see all of their faces cast against the blackness of the cave, and for the second time that night he could feel his throat tighten up and his eyes begin to burn.
He cried for all of them, for every friend he may never see again, for every day he wouldn't get to spend in Ponyville, and most of all he cried for the loss of the one pony who meant the most to him. The sounds of the raging storm and his own quiet sobbing were the only lullaby Spike would have that night. He didn't even bother to take his pillow and blanket out of his soaked pack. As he felt himself starting to drift off, he tried as hard as his could to picture Twilight's face one last time, but he saw only a blurry image of the mare who raised him as the sweet blackness of sleep overcame him.
Spike awoke with a jump after a particularly bad nightmare. He made an attempt to call out to Twilight so he could tell her all about the horrible dream he had, in which she forced him to leave Ponyville, and he had to trek through a storm all night and sleep in a cold dark cave. He stopped when opening his mouth made his face throb, and the pain brought reality crashing down on him. He was still in that cold dark cave. He felt his wet satchel against his back and shivered, gently pulling it off and realizing his whole body ached.
He noticed that now the cave wasn't completely pitch black. A small amount of light was pouring in from outside. When Spike gingerly walked to the entrance of the cave he saw dawn starting to break the midnight sky. The ominous clouds of the storm had started to dissipate into wisps and he was treated to a beautiful magenta sky flecked with fading stars.
The sight, while beautiful, caused Spike's breath to catch in his throat. The sky reminded him so much of Twilight. He still could not understand why she had sent him away. If she had just given him some reason instead of being so vague maybe he wouldn't be so hurt. For a moment he felt the fire of anger burn in his chest, but he quickly smothered the flame. The look on Twilight's face was proof enough that what she did, she did as a last resort. He couldn't be mad at her for wanting to protect him.
Spike felt like he could sit there in the frigid cave, wallowing in his misery until the day he died, until one small phrase sparked another recent memory to come rushing to the forefront of his mind.
"Survive, Spike, for me, for all of us." Twilight's voice echoed in his mind.
With a deep breath and a wipe to his eyes, Spike looked toward the horizon. He felt an ember ignite in his heart as he looked up at the sky. He would survive, and he would find out what happened to Equestria and to all of his friends. He swore that dawning day that he wouldn't allow himself to die until he saw Twilight Sparkle again.
The first few days were the hardest. Spike had exhausted the meager number of gems he had found stuffed in his backpack and had taken to spending the majority of his day digging for buried gems or foraging. It was easy to assume the area was sparsely inhabited, for the silence was nearly tangible. He hated that more than anything else. The silence gave his mind free reign to wander, and it always wandered to the exact same place. Spike would be in the middle of plucking a ripe berry from a bush when his chest would tighten, and his eyes would swim with tears. The thoughts of home were always the hardest. They would stop him dead and assault his heart. More than once had the young dragon broken down in tears at the mere thought of Ponyville.
He never let those moments of weakness shake his resolve, though. Spike was determined to live out each and every day until he could see his friends again, no matter what the cost. The treacherous mountain terrain, however, was not proving to be an ideal location at the moment, seeming to rise to his vehement goal. There was very little vegetation close to the small cave he had been calling home, and the ground was much harder to dig through than the areas he was accustomed to digging around. At present, Spike was nearly an hour-long trek from his cave with perhaps two hours of day light left, at most. This was becoming a very serious issue as he had yet to find anything to eat despite foraging since he had awoken that morning. The growls emanating from his stomach could easily be mistake for a manticore's, and Spike clutched his empty gut as it rumbled and another stab of hunger hit him. While they were not yet bad enough to cause any serious discomfort, he knew that if he didn't find something soon, he would be in for a rather uncomfortable night.
As he cast his eyes to the horizon, trying once more to gauge just how quickly the sun was falling, Spike noticed a lone tree up ahead. As he approached, he spotted a small bird's nest nestled near the junction of two dried, withered branches. When the young dragon reached the base of the tree, he dug his claws firmly into its bark and began to climb. He quickly felt his muscles ache with fatigue, even during such a short climb, the toll of not eating in over two days becoming apparent. When he reached the small bundle of twigs and peered inside, Spike found four eggs resting peacefully. His mouth watered and his stomach roared, but as he slowly reached out to grab them, he stopped halfway, an image of Fluttershy springing into his mind.
What would she think if she saw me doing this? His mind reeled for a moment. He was famished, but he simply could not find the will to reach into the nest and pluck out the delicious-looking eggs, simply because he was afraid of what a friend he might not ever see again would think. For a moment, Spike's heart fought with his survival instincts. He knew if he didn't take these eggs it would be disastrous, but he wasn't sure if he could bring himself to end the lives of four small creatures before they had even begun.
As the dragon's internal conflict continued, a shadow swept over him. The owner of the nest had returned, and she was none too happy to see her eggs threatened by this intruder. Spike was ripped rather violently from his mental debate and snapped back to reality by her piercing cry as she swooped down and dragged her talons across his scaly face. The irate mother falcon was twice his size and quite intent on gouging his eyes out so he would never again set them on her eggs. The sudden confrontation jolted Spike's system hard, both mentally and physically, causing him to lose his grip on the tree's brittle bark. This resulted in Spike's back becoming thoroughly acquainted with the ground nearly six feet below.
As he rose off the ground, a quick check of his face left him more than grateful to be a dragon. The falcon's razor sharp talons proved to have been little match for his hardened scales, and she had missed his eyes. He opted not to test his luck, however, as she screeched her ire, still poised to dive down at him should he get near the trunk of the tree. Another night of sleeping cold and hungry on the floor of a dark, dank cave seemed to be the only thing he had to look forward to as he began marching back to his current lodging. Just as the the sun sank below the horizon and the light of day faded, Spike made it to the entrance of his cave.
While he couldn't consider this rather bleak setting a real home, Spike had become oddly fond of the small dark cave. He had thus far never dared adventure into the deeper reaches of the cave for fear of getting lost in the blackness and never again seeing the light of day, but he at least felt safe enough to rest his aching body at night. He gathered a single sizable log and a batch of sticks from a pile of wood he had collected several days prior, carefully arranged the kindling out of reach of the mountain wind, and with a quick puff set the small campfire ablaze. As he curled up with his pillow and blanket as close as he could to the warmth of the jade flames, he couldn't help but let his mind wander back to Ponyville. He vividly remembered every single Hearth's Warming. He could picture all of his friends sitting around the emerald fire talking, laughing, recounting stories of the past year, and planning grandiose things for the year soon to come. A bittersweet smile crept onto his lips as he gazed into the flames.
Those few happy memories seemed to be all Spike required to forget about the aching emptiness of his stomach, and he slipped into a cautious sleep, the flickering fire casting an eerie glow which did not reach the outer world. Moving silently, several shadowy figures approached the cave. They placed what they carried at the cave's entrance and then faded back into the night, but soon returned. The only indication of their presence was a muted clinking sound every so often, barely audible to even an exceptionally attentive ear. These figures continued to work through the night, completely undetected by the sleeping baby dragon.
Spike was seated at his usual table in Sugarcube Corner. He watched Pinkie, who was behind the counter happily taking orders and bouncing in and out of the kitchen. He could already taste the delicious gem-filled pancakes he had ordered, a special the Cakes kept on their menu for one special little customer. Spike always felt amazingly content inside the small family-run bakeshop. It was one of his favorite places to visit when Twilight gave him a day off. He heard the ring of a bell and almost immediately the poofy-haired, pink ball of energy he had been observing seemed to materialize in front of him, holding a plate of utterly scrumptious-looking pancakes that twinkled in the light.
Sadly, he wouldn't get the chance to tuck into those amazing looking hotcakes, for the sun finally rose just enough to throw bright beams of daylight into the cave, one unfortunately landing right on top of the dreaming dragon. With an annoyed grumble, Spike pushed himself up into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes to clear the sleep away. His stomach rumbled its first declaration of hunger for the day as he made popped the top off of one of his water bottles, taking a rather healthy swig. He would have to make a trip to the northern face of the mountain soon to replenish his water supply.
"Might as well do it today. I haven't checked for food in that direction yet," Spike thought out loud. As he finished packing his bag for another day of trudging across the barren landscape, a strong familiar smell immediately caught his attention. Spike's head snapped toward the direction of the smell; it was coming from the entrance of the cave. When he exited the cave he found, much to his amazement, baskets upon baskets of gems and salted fish. It was beyond him why all of this was sitting outside of some cave in the middle of nowhere, but he didn't let it deter him from digging into the baskets with gusto. Each and every mouthful was like a godsend to the starving dragon. Every gem was perfectly aged and the fish expertly preserved.
While Spike gorged himself on the heaping baskets of food, a tiny pinpoint emerged on the horizon. The object in question was quickly closing in on the cave Spike was currently residing in, and proving to be ever larger in size the closer it came. Spike's only focus was on the miraculous food before him. He relished the exquisite taste of each gem. He was about to grab another handful when he noticed a brilliant shine being cast upon the entire area.
Spike turned toward the sunrise and was nearly blinded by the dazzling, almost unbearable radiance of the beast landing in front of him. The young dragon was at an utter loss for words as he gazed upon the nearly translucent dragon he now stood before. The dragon in question shined with a brilliance Spike had only seen in the purest of diamonds. Spike stood entranced by both the size and spectacle of the creature before him. The much larger dragon then began to speak in a voice so deep it seemed to demand respect.
"Svabol re wux tirir persvek sia duil moxt ir?" The elder dragon's voice stole all the sound from Spike's throat. The young dragon could only stare up at the colossal elder with wordless terror.
"Renthisj drot, svabol dril tir wux tepoha ihk nomeno intrusion acht sia duil?" The giant translucent dragon set Spike with an inquisitive stare.
Spike was utterly terrified. The hulking beast in front of him was clearly speaking to him, but he had no idea how to respond to the foreign language. The only solution he could think of was to break down and beg for forgiveness for whatever wrong he might have done to the much larger beast.
"Please, sir, if this food was yours I sincerely apologize for eating it! I was just so hungry...if there is anything I can do to repay this debt, tell me," Spike pleaded.
The elder dragon looked down at Spike's tiny form and chuckled. It was clear to him this amethyst youngling was no threat to his hoard nor to his lair. He approached the young dragon and laid down in front of him, pushing another basket of gems toward him.
"It would seem to me, little one, that you do not speak the old tongue. Tell me, what is your name?"
Spike was again taken by surprise. Not only had the much larger dragon offered him food, but it also spoke in a language Spike understood!
"M-My name is Spike. I've been living alone in these mountains for almost a week now." Spike finished his sentence by stuffing another handful of gems in his mouth to quell his nervousness.
"Hmmm, Spike is a rather strange name for an amethyst dragon. Tell me, boy, who are your parents? I was quite meticulous when selecting this location for my new lair, and I was almost certain there were no other dragons in the immediate area." The sinewy translucent dragon shot Spike an inquisitive glare.
Spike swallowed hard, the mere sight of the powerful creature in front of him still enough to leave him speechless.
"I don't have any parents, sir. I was hatched in Canterlot and raised in Ponyville. The only reason I'm even here at the moment is because my...guardian told me it wasn't safe back home." Much to Spike's displeasure his eyes stung with barely contained tears.
The great wyrm took a moment to process this information. The young one's story certainly explained why he had no knowledge of the draconian tongue, and it also explained why he was slightly undersized for an amethyst dragon whelpling. Dragons hatched by ponies were quite a rare find, an amethyst wyrmling hatched thusly even more so. As the great wyrm looked down on the much smaller shivering dragon he could feel nothing but compassion.
"Do not worry, my boy, I mean you no harm. If you are truly pony hatched you must know next to nothing about your kind. It is a rare occasion for an amethyst dragon to be born into the world, even more rare for the Equestrians to get their hooves on such a prize."
Spike could only look up in awe at the hulking beast in front of him. The sunlight reflecting off the wyrm's scales threw brilliant light in all directions which flickered and danced when his taut muscles flexed and twitched under his skin, an involuntary display Spike had never seen before. Spike had no idea what an amethyst dragon was, nor what it meant to be pony hatched, but he was certainly curious to discover the meanings behind those things. Spike had no words to respond to the creature before him. The most he could manage was one of the most basic of questions.
"I'm sorry, but, who are you, sir?" Spike asked, a curious expression adorning his face.
The hulking wyrm smiled down at him.
"My name is Paraxxus the Wise, little one. I am here to begin work on my new lair. Those gems you were eating a moment ago were supplies I instructed my vassals to prepare for my arrival."
"Oh, I-I'm so sorry, sir, I didn't know anyone else was staying here. It was just the only shelter I could find after I was transported here. I'll go get my things right now and move on." Spike immediately shuffled to his sleeping area and began rolling up his blanket and packing away the few supplies he had out. He wasn't sure what he was going to do now, but he was certain he didn't want to anger the much larger and older dragon.
As Paraxxus watched the small whelpling collect his belongings, he pondered to himself. A pony hatched, young amethyst whelpling surviving alone out here for over a week... This little one might just have some potential in him; it must have taken quite a bit of courage and resolve to survive in these conditions while still so young. With his mind made up, the great beast rose off the ground and stepped over the baskets into the cave entrance.
"Hold there, young one. No one said you had to leave."
"W-what do you mean? I may not know much about dragons, but one thing everypony knows is that dragons don't share their lairs with any manner of creature." Spike swallowed hard as the giant crystalline dragon stopped in front of him.
"Bah, I haven't enough scales on my body to count all the things 'everypony knows'. They may be one of the most plentiful species in the world, but they have a pension for thinking much too highly of themselves." Paraxxus chuckled. "A dragon's lair is open to anyone they believe to be friend as well as any members of their brood and any vassals or wards they may keep." He brought his massive head down to ground level and stared deep into Spike's eyes.
"And this is where you come in, little one. I find myself in need of an apprentice, someone to carry on my work in both the recording of dragon history and my research into arcane and draconian magics. It must have taken a will as strong as dragon scales to survive out here as you have. I see great potential in you, Spike, so I ask you: do you wish to live here with me, learn the history of your kind, and study the ancient arts of draconian magic? It will be bitter work, and you will toil for years mastering the various crafts you must know to carry on my legacy once I am gone, but you will not regret such a decision."
Spike was speechless, yet again, as he struggled to take in all of this information. He had to admit he had always wanted to know a bit more about dragons, but every time he had tried to ask questions Celestia or Twilight would brush them aside and tell him dragons were nothing but big brutes concerned with little more than how much treasure they could hoard. And what was this about...dragon magic? Spike had never heard about dragons possessing the ability to use magic.
"I think I'd like to apprentice under you, sir, but..." Spike trailed off, eyes falling to the ground as thoughts of Twilight and Ponyville filling his head.
"What is it, child? Speak up."
"If I find out what happened to Equestria, and if I'm ever strong enough to go back, would being your apprentice stop me from going back to see my friends?" Spike looked back up and locked eyes with the great wyrm, determination shining through his concern.
Paraxxus's eyes, which naturally seemed to glitter with knowledge and understanding, glowed brightly. "My boy, with enough time, if you learn all I have to teach you," he gave Spike a fanged grin, "nothing will be able to dream of stopping you from seeing your friends again."
For the first time since his world was torn asunder, Spike felt a familiar fire ignite in his chest that warmed his entire body like the rays from the summer sun. This was his chance to see them again. This is what Twilight wanted him to survive for. Spike stood as straight as he could and drew in a deep breath, the fire within him burning almost visibly in his emerald eyes.
When Paraxxus had said his apprenticeship would be bitter work, Spike had imagined something akin to helping Twilight with a heavy weekend study session. He couldn't have been more wrong. The workload the great wyrm expected of his pupil was immense, even by the standards Spike was accustomed to from growing up with Twilight. He rose at daybreak and spent the first six hours of the day studying the ancient tongue of the dragons, as it was the most imperative thing to learn. After lunch the history lectures started. Paraxxus had begun with the very beginning. Spike learned of the god of all dragon kind, Io, and his three children: the beautiful Vorel, the righteous Bahamut, and the wicked Tiamat. The sheer loathing Tiamat seemed to harbor for her brother, Bahamut, was something Spike had never experienced before, having grown up in a land where "hate" was a word one could live their entire life without hearing.
Next came the lessons on the different dragon groups. Spike was taught about the benevolent metallic dragons, as well as the malevolent chromatic dragons. Paraxxus made a point to always end the history lessons with the gem dragons, the group to which Spike belonged. It had shocked Spike to learn that he was not only a gem dragon, but he also belonged to the most powerful group of gem dragons. It was because of this, Paraxxus told him, that he must devote as much time to his studies as he could. The Amethyst dragons were widely accepted by the rest of their gem brethren as the leaders, and as such, Spike had to learn all that was necessary to lead.
The Amethyst dragons were honorable, regal creatures. They approached life with a detached air, ignoring the conflicts of good and evil, order and chaos. This was the only part of the history lectures Spike ever wanted to truly dive into. While he enjoyed learning more about his species as a whole, the fact that he belonged to one of the strongest races of dragon in the world thrilled him, and he was hungry to learn more about his amethyst brethren.
After history came what appeared to be Spike's forte. Even as such a young dragon, Spike excelled at the art of magic. He had already mastered basic levitation spells and how to conjure small balls of light. Spike found that these simple feats seemed to astound his master. According to Paraxxus he shouldn't be capable of even the most basic forms of spell casting for perhaps another twenty years or more. When Spike questioned what might have been the cause of his unique gift for the arcane arts, his master could only surmise that it had something to do with the manner of his hatching. Unicorns used surplus amounts of arcane energy to hatch dragon eggs, and perhaps that enormous amount of energy may have seeped into the young dragon as well. His master also warned him of the dangers of overexerting himself when spellcasting. Paraxxus explained that dragons were unlike other spellcasting races; dragon magic poured a bit of the dragon's very life force into each spell, resulting in far stronger spells along with the added bonus of instantaneous casting, but sapping the user in return. The more complex and high level a spell was, the more of his life force would be taken. Paraxxus urged Spike to practice caution and restraint when using magic so he would not cause himself to pass out.
Once all of the day's lessons were finished, Spike would lumber into bed, already half asleep, and drift off nearly as soon as his head hit the pillow. He used to think Twilight's intense studying sessions were a taxing experience, but this strict regiment Paraxxus kept him on left him literally too exhausted to think by day's end. Spike didn't mind, however, for it was the first time in his young life that he finally had a sense of understanding about himself and his people. He knew now that he would one day grow to be the size of Canterlot castle and would wield both strength and magic not even Celestia could contend with. Dreams of grandeur filled his head at night, dreams of the adventures he might take, the places he could visit, the creatures he would meet. In the end, it was all worth it to him. Every single minute of every single hour of every single day, Spike came to almost dread sleep, as it meant he had to stop learning about all these new and amazing things.
Paraxxus lay in his chamber, preparing his pupil's studies for the morrow. The young lad devoured every bit of knowledge the great wyrm threw at him. Spike was taking to the draconic tongue far faster than Paraxxus had expected, and his aptitude for spellcraft was extraordinary for one so young. Unfortunately, the young dragon seemed bored with his history lessons, and every new spell he learned seemed to over inflate his young ego. There was also the problematic situation of his unwavering attachment to his homeland. Spike would ask of news from Equestria almost every day, and obsession could be a dangerous thing for a dragon. Paraxxus had lived long enough to see entire countries laid low in the wake of a dragon chasing something it thought it could not live without. The great wyrm had begun to worry. One day his young pupil might fly off in a blind rage should something truly tragic happen to him home, and the results could be disastrous. Unleashing a well trained, raging Amethyst dragon onto the world at large was not something Paraxxus wanted to have on his conscience.
Lately his apprentice had become a far too consuming thought in his mind, for that matter. Ever since he began Spike's training, Paraxxus was enthralled by the progress the young whelp made. He had, of course, heard stories and recounts of the aptitude of wyrmlings belonging to dragon races of prestige, but he never thought the results would be this astounding. As the mighty wyrm laid his head down to sleep, he still could not clear thoughts of the future from his mind. The path ahead of his pupil could lead him to eminence and fortune, or it could corrupt him and drag him to his demise. Paraxxus could do nothing but pray to Io and Sardior that his young ward would choose the path of light as he surrendered to sleep.
It was nearing midday when Spike looked up from the dusty tomes he was studying and posed the question, "Master, why don't I feel a need to hoard treasure?"
Paraxxus was momentarily startled by this question. While it was true that Spike had thus far shown no interest in gold or jewels, he had never considered why exactly his pupil showed no signs of wanting to collect a hoard of his own.
"Even with over one thousand years of knowledge, I'm not sure I can answer that question for you, Spike."
"What do you mean, master? Is there something wrong with me? I have always heard, even growing up in Ponyville, that dragons have an innate greed for precious treasure." Spike cast an inquisitive glance up at the much older dragon.
Paraxxus pondered the question for a moment's time before replying, "What a dragon considers treasure differs heavily from dragon to dragon, my young pupil. Not all dragons desire to collect things of material value." Paraxxus laid back and stroked his massive chin with a clawed hand. "As a dragon ages, it begins to learn what things it values most in the world. The tendency for most dragons is to desire and subsequently hoard the things they see their parents collecting. For you, my dear apprentice, I think that may be the root of the problem."
Spike stared up at the hulking form of his master, confusion still visible in his emerald eyes. He was still unsure as to what the great beast was talking about.
"I'm still unsure as to what you mean, master. Does me being pony hatched have something to do with this?"
"I believe it might, young one. The Equestrians value love and friendship above all other things. It is my belief that you seek to hoard not gold or precious artifacts or ancient tomes, but instead the friendships you lost when you were cast from your home." Paraxxus couldn't help but snort inwardly at such an absurd notion, but outwardly he maintained a pensive look.
"It would certainly explain your borderline obsession with returning to your homeland and discovering the fate of the friends and loved ones you once had."
Spike thought long and hard over those words. He had indeed felt a hole form in his chest the moment he had left Equestria, and nothing he had done since had managed to fill it. Was that possible? Did he indeed seek to hoard his friends and family? Was that why the ache in his chest refused to subside? Spike did not yet have the answers to these questions, but he knew they were worth pursuing.
"What if that is what I crave to hoard, master? I have felt as if a piece of myself was missing ever since I left Ponyville. What if all I truly wish to hoard is friendship and family?" Spike stared into space, maintaining composure even as his eyes swirled with emotion.
Paraxxus let a grin spread across his face as he eyed his pupil intently. Yes, he thought to himself, this young dragon has true potential.
"If the only thing you crave in life, my pupil, is the companionship of friends and the love of family, then I am both saddened and overjoyed." Paraxxus lifted the tiny dragon's chin with one of his massive claws, lifting Spike's gaze to meet his own.
"The stronger a dragon's lust for his treasure, the more powerful his resolve becomes when he seeks it. Your desire to see your friends and family again is mighty, and I would tremble in fear if I were standing in your way of reuniting with them." The great wrym lowerd the tip of his claw to the center of Spike's chest.
"I say this not in pride, little one, but simply in honesty. One day the heavens will tremble when you return home and confront the danger that cast you so far from you friends and family. I can see a fire in you that burns brighter than any dragon's flames. It is a privilege to train such a promising young dragon." The smile on Paraxxus's face widened just enough to flash his pearly fangs as he pulled his hand from the tiny dragon's chest to let him process the words.
It took Spike some time to take all of that information in. Never in his life had he felt he was overly special, and he most certainly didn't think he would "make the heavens tremble". On some deeper level, Spike could almost completely understand what his master was saying. He worked his body to exhaustion every day for the sole purpose of getting stronger and wiser so that he could return home. The mere idea of Twilight and Ponyville could grant him a second wind if he ever felt fatigue, and the simple thought of them being in danger made his blood boil with a fury he was sometimes afraid he couldn't control.
"It is I who am privileged, master. I would imagine not many dragons get the benefit of training under such an elder as yourself." Spike bowed low to the ground as he had learned was expected when speaking with an elder.
"If I may, though, master, shall we continue with our studies? I have a sudden fierce desire to learn." Spike turned his head to the tome in front of him, his eager eyes devouring the text with a renewed vigor.
"Of course, my boy. Of course," the great wyrm said as he cast a curious glance down at the young drake. Oh yes, this one is special, he thought to himself as he turned back to his own work. If only either of them knew just how much Spike would soon effect the scope of the world.
It was past midnight, sometime during the hour of the wolf, when Paraxxus felt the presence of one of his vassals. The great wrym rose up from his hoard and approached the hidden back entrance to his lair. Normally he would be furious if any of his subjects were to disturb him at this hour, but he had given each of his vassals an express order to find out as much as they could about the fate of Equestria and report to him immediately with their findings.
"I am terrible sorry for disturbing you at such an hour, my liege, but I bring news from the south." The minotaur spoke quickly as he dropped to one knee, looking up enough to clearly communicate, but not daring to meet his lord's eyes.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Tarvox. It was I who gave you the order. What news do you have from the pony lands?"
"I bring most tragic news, my liege. It would appear the Griffon king and his armies marched on Equestrian soil in the dead of night in an expertly crafted military strike. The whole of the pony kingdom now rests in the hands of King Bright Talon." The minotaur turned his gaze from his master to the ground, as if this news might bring some sort of punishment upon him.
Paraxxus reeled, if only for a moment. As far as he was aware, the griffons and ponies were currently under a common trade agreement. The Equestrians provided the Griffons with raw ore and construction materials in exchange for Griffon aid in training the royal military. Paraxxus knew full well this news would not go over well with his apprentice at all. The young hot headed dragon might even charge headlong into his enemy as soon as he heard it. It was in that moment that the great wyrm made one of the most difficult decisions of his long life.
"You have done well, Tarvox. Report to my other vassals that they are to bring me any new information they gather, but under no circumstances are they to speak a word of any of it to my pupil. The penalty for informing my apprentice of anything involving Equestria will be a death so slow only one such as myself could envision it." The great wyrm finalized his threat with a healthy blast of heated smoke from his nostrils. The minotaur bowed to the ground silently, then faded into the darkness of the night.
Paraxxus laid back down onto his pile of gold and jewels as he contemplated his order. As much as he thought Spike deserved to know what happened to both his homeland and his friends, the young dragon was far from ready to do anything about the situation. Spike might end up hating him for it in the end, but that would be far more favorable than letting his young ward charge headlong into griffon controlled territory. For now, despite how much it would weigh on the old dragon's conscience, he would keep this information from his pupil.
As Paraxxus drifted on the edge of sleep he thought to himself, I am truly sorry, Spike. It is wrong of me to keep this news from you, but I cannot risk letting you throw your life away for nothing. You are worth far too much to lose due to any kind of blind rage.
On Equestria's northern border stood the Dawn Glow mountains, a thick band of imposing summits named for the way the rock faces appeared to turn from charcoal and ash to silver in the light of the rising sun. Perched high atop the tallest of the range was a city, but this was not just any city. This city was the home of the Griffon King. Sweyn's Roost was a city of such splendor, it was said that it rivaled Canterlot in both grace and beauty, and the Griffons prided themselves in maintaining that image. The Griffons were a proud race, each individual born with a keen eye for detail, for perfection. Anything they set out to do was done with utter precision. Every single building in the capital, from each lowly family house to the towering library, was expertly constructed to portray a sense of prestige and elegance. The streets themselves were decorated with large golden statues of famous griffon rulers, warriors, and scholars, to always remind the citizens where they came from and what they could aspire to.
The area of life in which the Griffons strove for perfection beyond all others was their military. Every single griffon, male or female, was required at the age of sixteen to enlist in the military for no less than a two year term. Over time, this system groomed the population into an exceedingly efficient work force and lead to an overwhelming sense of unity. The king also looked very harshly upon those who tried to avoid enlistment. Being caught trying to avoid military service was met with an immediate banishment. Even with such a masterfully trained military and disciplined workforce, however, the Griffon kingdom still struggled to provide for its subjects.
Sweyn's Roost was the gleaming crown of Griffon territory, lands which extended north to claim the majority of the Dawn Glow mountain range and beyond, and a small bit of The Darktide, the deep forest named for how it barely slid up the bases of the mountains like a viridian wave lapping at the shore. At one time the mountains had been full to bursting with precious metals that past Griffon kings had made use of to build their mighty empire. Now, however, the mountain was very nearly depleted of all its resources, abandoned mines littering the mountainsides. For the last five generations, the Griffons were forced to make trade agreements with the Princesses of Equestria. They provided their skills in forging and construction and helped to train the Equestrian royal guard and military in exchange for the materials they could no longer obtain in their own lands.
Griffon kings had made requests several times in the past that the Equestrian crown provide a small portion of land to be used for farming in exchange for a reasonable price. The mountainous land the Griffons ruled over was next to impossible to cultivate, meaning the only places to grow crops were around the edges of The Darktide, at the base of the mountain. The resilient trees of the forest had long ago evolved to grow with little nutrition from the earth, however, so as time passed the tide had begun to close in on where earth met stone on the mountainside, requiring management to be held away from the farms. These small, scattered farms were also not safe, as the forest was home to beasts said to be even more terrifying than what lived in The Everfree. It took constant patrols by elite guards to keep the farms safe from attack, and a portion of the food they produced therefore went directly into keeping the guards fed.
Every request was almost immediately denied. The letters would always read: "We do not feel it is in the best interest of our subjects to allow such a heavily militarized race colonize a section of Equestrian land." It was always the same story. Although it went unsaid, it was clear that the Equestrian crown also held their claim to most of The Darktide for this reason instead of allowing the Griffons to clear the forest and expand their farms. They did acquiesce to upholding the current trade agreements, but with each passing generation the Griffons' resources shrank further, and as they needed more, talks became more strained. With the odds stacking higher and higher against the Griffon empire, it had been in slow decline for some time. More citizens would go hungry with every frigid northern winter, and the cities would become more dilapidated with each passing year. The only thing that managed to withstand the test of time was the military. No Griffon king, whether mighty or humble, would allow that edge to dull.
Overlooking all of this once majestic but now diminished kingdom was Dawn's Peak, a castle which truly brushed the sky and had been home to rulers of the Griffon empire for well over a millennium. The golden apex of its towering spire was the first point in the land the light of dawn touched as the sun began its slow climb into the sky every morning. This morning, a lone figure could be seen standing on a beautifully sculpted balcony. Standing tall as beams of light illuminated more and more of the gleaming spire, he cast a hard but weary gaze at the city below and sauntered back inside as the light began to stream into his chambers.
King Ozarian Bright Talon was still relatively young for a Griffon and even more so for a crowned monarch; at the age of thirty-four he was the youngest to sit upon the Griffon throne in centuries. He had taken the throne shortly after his twenty-second birthday when his father, King Stavros Swiftwind, succumbed to diretide, a foul illness that originated from the depths of The Darktide.
Ozarian had luckily been strong enough to resist it, even having stayed by his father's side during the final days, but, then again, he had always been a strapping young Griffon. His frame, which stood larger and taller than most Griffons, was covered by a healthy coat of feathers which looked as though they were blanketed in a mix of gold and amber dust. Around his throat and reaching down his breast and over his shoulders, each feather was a brilliant crimson, as if he wore ruby armor, and the scaffolding of his wings was the same hue, bleeding into the glittering amber and gold. He was truly a stunning sight to behold, and served as an impressive image of his mighty kingdom.
He reached a small table, lifted up one of the glass pitchers on it, and filled his goblet leisurely with a smooth, perfectly aged, dark red wine. As he brought the cup to his beak, a loud rapping resounded through the room. With an annoyed huff, he sat his cup back down and walked over to his chamber door, agitated that anything dared to interrupt the tranquility of the morning. There was only one in all his kingdom who would dare trouble him at such an hour.
"What is it now, Keirin?" he questioned irritably as he threw the door wide open and headed back toward his wardrobe without a second glance. "I thought I told you to hold all matters until after I'd at least put some clothes on." He pulled open his wardrobe and entered it as an older Griffon calmly entered his chambers. Keirin Greyfeather had long ago learned to ignore the petty complaints of his liege lord, having stood as retainer for the royal family for generations. His feathers, once countless shades of smokey slate, had given way to silver over the years, and his royal blue cloak and silvered tail swept the polished floor.
"My fine king, I'm sure I don't have to impress upon you how important it is to handle matters concerning occupied territories not just with prudence, but with haste." The elder Griffon's brows furrowed as he set his ruler with an unamused gaze.
"Yes, yes, spare me your lectures, old man. What must we review this time?" Ozarian did what he could to calm his aggravation as he exited his extensive wardrobe, adorned in tunic the same royal blue as Keirin's cloak with golden trim.
"Well, I might as well get the troubling news out of the way first, then. There was another incident in Cloudsdale in the night. A group of rebels set fire to a barracks, destroying nearly half the building." Keirin waited for the cursing he knew was coming.
"Damn those accursed Pegasi! Nearly a year has passed now and they are the only ones still causing trouble! I was hoping it would not come to a point where I must turn to true barbarism to bring those winged fools into line, but now things are getting out of hand." Ozarian returned to the table that he had abandoned his goblet on and quickly snatched it up, downing the sweet liquid in a single prolonged swallow. "Send a mandate to the ones overseeing Cloudsdale. Tell them to inform the Pegasi that from this day forward, if even a single act of rebellion transpires in that city, I will tear it apart. Cloud. By. Cloud."
The older Griffon scribbled the order down in his ledger before looking back up at the king, scrutinizing him carefully. "Are you sure you want to use such a heavy hand, sire? There might yet be a more peaceful solution to this problem." Keirin had never been fond of overly aggressive actions. He knew all too well the history of his people and the many follies that had befallen them when they responded too quickly and too harshly.
"General Varzeros's actions with the town of Ponyville proved to me that proper displays of force can work just as well as negotiation. Also, need I remind you, Keirin, of just how well 'negotiation' with the Equestrians has worked out for our people in the past? No. I used a gentle hand in the beginning, and all it seemed to do was make matters worse. If they will not fall in line themselves, then I will put them in line." With a deep breath the king returned to his seat, his fury quickly fading.
Keirin let out a deep sigh. General Varzeros was as warmongering a Griffon as he had ever known. The general had been pushing for open war with Equestria for years, even before Ozarian came into the throne. Stavros Swiftwing had been a particularly gentle soul, for a Griffon, and he would immediately dismiss any notions of war with any race. Varzeros eventually gave up trying to convince him to go to war, but not a week after his death and his son's ascension to the throne, Varzeros was once again whispering tidings of war, now into the new sovereign's ear.
Sadly, Ozarian was a bit more ambitious than his father and for years grew increasingly vocal about his distaste for how far the kingdom had fallen. Slightly over a decade after he rose to the throne, the order went out: the entire kingdom began producing weapons, and an additional draft went out to collect as many soldiers as possible for training. Keirin had to give credit where credit was due, at least. The strike was a masterful craft of tactical warfare, placing the whole of the Equestria firmly under griffon control in three days.
"Speaking of Ponyville, your grace, my next bit of news comes from that exact location." Keirin flipped several pages of his ledger and began to read. "It would appear that the element of magic, Twilight Sparkle, was caught practicing magic in a restricted zone. The report states she was trying to perform a tracing spell on princess Celestia in the attic of her home. She has since been put to proper work and her horn has been affixed with a suppressor ring." Another turn of the page brought forth news which made Keirin grimace uncomfortably, but he continued to read. "It also appears the element of loyalty, Rainbow Dash, was once again caught trying to blitz through the no fly zone around the town to escape. As per your orders, for her third violation of this rule, her flight has been disabled. She won't be getting off the ground again for some time."
Each recount seemed to darken the king's mood. Keirin knew that somewhere deep down his liege hated every punishment he was forced to deal out. The loyal adviser also knew all too well that Ozarian Bright Talon would never dare show such weakness. In his mind, as long as the good outweighed the bad, he would be able to live with his decisions, and, for the Griffons, the good quite certainly did outweigh the bad. In the single year since the invasion, during which the Griffon empire reaped the rewards of their newly acquired conquests, there had been tremendous improvement.
"Enough of this!" the king barked out. "Tell me something good, for a change, old bird." He didn't even turn his head from the balcony.
"Very well, sire. The new infusion of goods seems to have jump-started the economy. We are once again selling our metal work around the world, and with the addition of the newly acquired farmlands, we have more than enough food to sustain both our own people and the Equestrians."
If only for the briefest of moments, Keirin thought he saw the corner of the king's mouth curve upward. The thing Ozarian was truly after, at the end of the day, was the well being of his people. Keirin knew full well that one major purpose for the invasion of Equestria was to investigate the dark secret that princess Celestia had been keeping for centuries, but it seemed this was not the primary concern weighing on the king's heart.
The king turned back to his adviser. "This is good news, indeed. Tell me something, though: what news have we from Varzeros on the captive princesses?"
Another dozen or so pages of tedious reports were turned before the old Griffon looked up from his tattered ledger. "The reports indicate the same as always. Neither have made any attempts to escape, and their fear for the well being of their subjects has kept them raising and lowering the moon and sun." Keirin turned another page. "This report is new, though. We have finally made contact with the spirit of chaos known as Discord, and he has hinted that he might be able to free the celestial bodies from the control of magic for the right price."
The king was momentarily speechless. This was never something he had considered to be possible. Even before the time of Luna and Celestia, the sun and moon were moved via powerful magic. The mere idea of them moving of their own accord seemed almost insane.
"And what price would this being of chaos demand?" His eyes locked with those of his adviser.
"It would appear, my liege, that the only thing Discord requires is the destruction of the elements of harmony." Keirin saw the king's sharp look, shocked by his adviser's apparent indifference, and shot back a reprimanding glare as he continued. "The very elements we have locked in the royal treasury." His gaze at the monarch then became inquisitive, unsure as to what Ozarian might do with this information. The younger Griffon stepped quietly back to the balcony.
Ozarian contemplated this newfound knowledge as he looked over Sweyn's Roost, now shining in the sun's rays. It took only another moment for him to tilt his head to the side without turning and state, "I would speak with this Discord, if at all possible. Tell him I am more than willing to have those blasted elements destroyed, but I would first like to speak with him about his claims regarding the moon and sun." For far too long had one of the most essential parts of life in the world been left up to the whims of magic. Ozarian swore right then and there that he would go to whatever lengths he must if he could change that fact.
The scratching of quill on parchment filled the chamber once more as Keirin marked down his king's wishes. "There is one final thing, my liege. General Varzeros has requested that another five battalions be dispatched to Equestrian soil."
Ozarian seemed to stumble over his thoughts for a moment. "What could he possibly need another five battalions for? We already have over ninety percent of the country under sufficient control. Adding any more troops, never mind five battalions worth, could spark even more civil unrest." Keirin could see the confusion in the young king's eyes as they stared out over the city.
"I am not sure, your grace. The reasoning for his request is 'Disturbances in Canterlot'. I don't know what to make of the situation with so little detail." Keirin did not hide from his liege the concern he felt that the general could be overzealous, but he felt it prudent to keep any further worry to himself.
King Bright Talon stood in deep thought for a moment. While it was against his first instinct to add even more troops to Equestrian lands, General Varzeros had yet to offer him anything but sound and profitable advice. In the worst case scenario, losing Canterlot would be a heavy blow to their claim on Equestria, a blow Ozarian was not sure he was comfortable enduring. He turned fully around and approached his trusted retainer.
"Send General Varzeros the troops he requested. Canterlot must be kept under total control if we are to demonstrate any real authority over the Equestrian lands. As for the rest of the report, I shall deal with it in due time. It is far to early in the morning to have already dealt with such tiresome matters. Leave me now, Keirin. I would like to enjoy the last bit of morning in peace." With this last command issued, Ozarian gave a gentle but dismissive wave of his amber wing toward the door before walking back to the edge of the balcony. Keirin quickly closed his ledger and excused himself from the chambers, leaving the monarch to his own devices.
The streets were bustling again. The market place was filled each day with traders from lands near and far. As he looked down upon the rediscovered prosperity of his people, Ozarian felt a renewed sense that everything he had done thus far had been well worth it. The city seemed to glitter in the light of the mid-morning sun now that they finally had the time and resources to keep everything maintained. Every structure, in fact Sweyn's Roost itself, was carved out of the very stone and steel of the mountain, the entrance being a grand arch on the summit's southern side. From far enough away, it looked as though Dawk's Peak was the natural top of the majestic range, and a proud flame burned in Ozarian's crimson chest when he could oversee his lands and be confident that he was making the right choices as the Griffon king.
Life in Equestria, however, was far removed from the vision the king saw in his head. If he could see but a mere glance into the suffering taking place in Ponyville alone, he might have an entirely new outlook on what his occupation was doing to the inhabitants of the country he now ruled.
Ponyville was once a rather bustling rural town, its marketplace always teeming with local farmers and traders, and its citizens were some of the happiest pony folk you ever could meet. That all changed when the Griffons attacked. Twilight could remember the night all too well. She was up late studying when Spike belched up a scroll in his sleep, the little dragon so exhausted that it didn't even wake him. She pondered why Celestia would be sending her a message so late at night as she unrolled the parchment until the grim news the letter brought quickly wiped such trivial thoughts from her mind. Canterlot was under heavy attack by the Griffon empire. Celestia urged Twilight to do what she could to get as far from Ponyville as possible, as it would almost certainly be a priority target, being the home of all six of the elements of harmony.
The tears always came when Twilight thought of that night, the night her world was shattered. She cried for her friends and her family back in Canterlot, who she had been unable to contact since the invasion. She cried for the town she called home, the sound of splintering wood and the sight of screaming ponies being dragged from their homes still fresh in her mind. Most of all, she cried for Spike. He was still so small…Celestia had always said that pony hatched dragons grew far slower than normal dragons, but Twilight was not prepared to lose him when he was still the size of an eight-year-old pony, even if he was really ten years older than he appeared. She had still not forgiven herself for throwing him, barely awake and totally unprepared, into the wilderness to survive on his own. She prayed every night to whatever gods would listen to keep him safe.
If the nights were hard, though, the days were even harder. The work camp erected at the base of the mountain closest to Ponyville was brutal, a place the likes of which she had never experienced before. She spent her days, from sunup to sundown, using the limited magic she could access through the suppressor ring on her horn to move rubble and carts full of precious metals and gems through the mines. The work camps were an invention of the current overseer of Equestria, General Varzeros Bloodwing, and it seemed like anypony caught breaking Griffon law was shipped out to a work camp. There, ponies basically became slaves. There were guards posted at the mines at all times, so anypony caught slacking on the job would be whipped, quite literally, back into shape.
Twilight had seen so many ponies dragged to this horrible place, including several close friends. Lyra was the first to go. As a grand master of the Still Way, her potent skills in magical combat enabled her to bring down a staggering number of Griffons during the initial invasion. Before morning broke, she was deemed far too dangerous to be allowed to live with the general populous. When the Griffons finally subdued her, they immediately affixed a suppressor ring to her horn and sent her to start construction on the work camp under constant surveillance. Even now, a guard was posted to watch her at all times. Later on was Bon Bon, a close friend of Lyra's. She was caught several times aiding prisoners, providing them with food and drink from her store.
Rainbow Dash was the last of her friends to be sent to the appalling camp. Twilight vividly remembered the day they summoned everyone, whether from home or from work, to the town square.
Confused murmurs ran through the crowd of ponies gathered before town hall, nopony daring to ask above a whisper what was going on. The grey skies indicated that the scheduled rain would start soon, so why were they all outside? Twilight had become a scribe for the Griffons in addition to tending to the library, so they had placed her in the front of the crowd to record the event. While most ponies were looking to the faces of their friends and family for answers, or casting nervous glances through their manes at the Griffon guards surrounding the area, Twilight was transfixed on the pillory at the base of the town hall steps. It had an elevated platform, and the holes were sized just right for a po-
"LEMME GO, YOU FEATHERING BRUTES!"
Twilight's thoughts evaporated and her head snapped around when she recognized Rainbow Dash's furious voice. The whole crowd seemed to ripple as ponies turned to see the commotion. Two Griffon guardsmen were dragging the kicking and screaming mare toward town hall. Twilight's eyes widened. A ripple went through the crowd as ponies began to mumble and whisper, and Twilight tore her eyes away and craned her neck backward, scanning the crowd. Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie, Fluttershy, where are you… She didn't know what was happening. She just had to find them.
The rain began to fall as Rainbow's captors reached the town square. She could now see the pillory awaiting her, and it only strengthened her resolve to escape. She suddenly stopped thrashing and yelled at the top of her lungs, "I SAID, LET. ME. GO!" and with all the strength she had left, she dug her hind legs into the ground and kicked off into the air. One of the guards lost his grip in shock, and a single powerful kick to the beak of the other sent him crashing into the ground. She looped down to briefly touch the now softening earth before rocketing straight up into the darkening sky. Twilight's eyes now locked onto her nimble form. She hadn't found even one of the other girls. She silently hoped beyond hope that Rainbow would dart through the blackening clouds and disappear from view, disappear from this now hostile place. The freedom was short lived, however, as four airborne soldiers immediately converged on the Pegasus and tackled her, driving her headlong into the mud below.
"GET OFF OF ME, YOU BASTARDS!" Rainbow screamed as she was dragged to the base of the steps and dumped onto the platform. The guards shoved her neck and forelegs onto the slots, and she felt the hard wood slam down and heard the lock click shut, securing her into the pillory. They also took care to swiftly clamp her hind legs in steel shackles before she could start kicking at them again.
The town hall doors swung open and an ominous shadow was cast over Rainbow's form, causing her to go still. Twilight slowly trailed her eyes up to the doorway and her body seemed to respond of its own accord, trying to shrink back into the crowd, her breath catching in her throat. In the doorway stood a massive armor-clad Griffon, his piercing golden eyes fixed on Rainbow. Twilight recognized him. From the invasion. He had showed up when Lyra was still fending off the Griffon infantry, and his roar from the sky had not only seemingly reinvigorated the troops, it had pressed down on Twilight's very soul.
"It would appear we have everypony here now," he said in a deep, pitiless voice. Twilight felt as though she were trapped in an icy chasm as it washed over her, rooting her in place, and she had to put all her will into not shuddering openly. The cold drizzle was not helping. She was clearly not the only pony in the crowd who was uncomfortable, either; others were shifting restlessly and pawing at the wet ground.
"I will begin by saying that this is not something we Griffons, as a people, wish to do. We have been more than lenient in our dealings thus far, but when ponies like this Pegasus spurn the gentle hand we offer, we have no choice but to act. The Pegasus Rainbow Dash has committed her third act of flying in a flight restricted zone. For her transgressions, she is sentenced to carry out the rest of her days in the work camps," he paused, and Twilight could swear she saw cruel mirth dance in his golden orbs for but a moment, "as well as being stripped of her ability to fly."
Twilight's mind went blank. She stared forward without seeing for a moment. Rainbow, unable…to fly? A collective hush fell over the square. Rainbow, however, sprang back to life.
"Hey, wait a minute! What are you talking about?" she demanded, now struggling to escape the wooden apparatus which locked her in place to no avail.
"We were more than reasonable. You were even given a lead position in the weather patrol. You had more than enough time and space to stretch your wings without going into the restricted zone." The heavily armored Griffon signaled to two guardsmen, who promptly stepped to both sides of the thrashing Pegasus. Twilight finally gathered herself together enough to
"Wait, y-you don't have to do this!" Rainbow's struggles began to falter, her voice cracking. "I-I didn't mean to go too far from town, I swear!" The Griffon's golden orbs blazed briefly and he replied, "You had two chances to learn your lesson already, and you scoffed at both. The only one to blame for what's about to happen is you."
He cast his gaze to the silent crowd. "Let this be a lesson to all. Obedience will earn mercy. Rebellion results in pain." The guards flanking a now still Rainbow looked to him, and he nodded curtly. Each of them nodded back and gripped a handful of feathers in their talons.
"W-wait, please! Please d-don't do this!" Rainbow's voice trembled. "I swear I'll n-never even fly above the treetops again, just please, please anything else. P-please not this." Rainbow began to sob, the gravity of the entire situation finally sinking in, destroying what was left of her courage.
Her pleas were ignored.
Each yank sent another talonful of feathers flying into the air and caused Rainbow to release another shriek of pain. She thrashed against her solid wood prison, the clanking of the shackles on her hind legs just barely audible under her screams. The silent crowd looked on in stunned horror as the young Pegasus was violated in a manner no Pegasus should ever experience. Each feather torn from her seemed to weaken her, the thrashing and crying dwindling until they were naught more than twitches and pathetic sobs. Twilight saw Rainbow break as the last of her feathers were torn from her wings. Her body went limp. Her eyes took on a hollow, dead look. When the guards unshackled her, one slung her unceremoniously over the other's back and they marched off.
The massive Griffon took one last look over the crowd as he stepped out of the doorway, and Twilight noted somewhere in the back of her frayed mind that his armor was plated in gold, looking in the rain just like his frigid golden eyes. Without warning he took to the air, scattering Rainbow Dash's feathers to the wind again. A single muddied, cyan feather landed before Twilight's hooves. She didn't think her friend's screams would ever stop ringing in her ears.
Rainbow hadn't been the same since. She hadn't spoken a word since the incident, and she didn't willingly associate with anypony. She barely seemed to have any will at all. Twilight had begun puzzling through a spell to contact Canterlot almost immediately after the Griffons first invaded, hoping to open even a brief communication with anyone she could reach. After the brutal punishment dealt to Rainbow Dash, she knew she had to act, and she knew she couldn't reach just anypony. That very night, she attempted valiantly to locate Princess Celestia. Her spell was not yet perfect, though, which unfortunately resulted in it projecting a brilliant beam of neon magenta light out of the attic window in the dead of night, which landed her in her current location.
Twilight only heard about the rest of her friends in passing. From what she could gather, Applejack was still running Sweet Apple Acres, but it was now under Griffon control. She had apparently tried to rebuke the first wave of intruders on her farm, but once the Griffons reached the house and threatened her family with corporal punishment, she quickly caved to their demands. Soon there were constant patrols around every inch of the farm's perimeter, and she was given instructions on what crops to have ready for each shipment out of Ponyville. Failure to comply would result in punishment not only for herself, but for all of the farm workers as well.
Pinkie Pie, as Twilight remembered her, was another casualty of the occupation. Ever since the invasion, her hair appeared to be permanently deflated, and she showed not a single ounce of the joy she was most known for. Sugar Cube Corner had been turned into a mess hall for the Griffon troops, so the Cakes and Pinkie worked tirelessly around the clock to provide for the warriors of the occupying army. Twilight had heard talk from the newer members of the work camp that Pinkie would sit in the shop window every night now, just staring up at the moon for hours without even blinking. There had also been a handful of unexplained murders within the city limits after nightfall, but thus far no reports had been made of anyone glimpsing so much as a shadow of the culprit.
While Rarity was utterly appalled by the brutality of the Griffons, her eye for style and her innovation was quickly noticed by the Griffon higher-ups, and she was told to start designing new armor for the troops. She was reluctant to aid those who put her country in such a state at first, despite her desire to create, but her allegiance was quickly nullified when the invaders threatened to put her parents and younger sister into the infamous work camp if she refused. From that moment on, Carousel Boutique turned from a high-class fashion establishment to the heart of metal forging in Ponyville. She was an excellent actress, and she seemed to take to her new job with ease, but it was soon clear to nearly everypony that the task of making attire for war was physically and mentally destroying the young fashionista. Each passing day seem to drain a little more shine from her coat and a little more sparkle from her mane.
Finally, there was Fluttershy. The Griffons allowed her to continue her work as an animal caretaker as long as she agreed to provide a quota of eggs from her chickens each month. The griffons assigned a handful of ponies from the town to assist her in the raising of chickens and collection of eggs, and so far there hadn't been any issues. She seemed outwardly the same, but before Twilight had been sent to the camp, she had noticed there was something off about her dear friend. Once, she watched Fluttershy ask Rarity if they were still on for their weekly spa visit despite everyone in town knowing full well that the Ponyville day spa was shut down by the Griffons for being a waste of resources. When reminded of this, Fluttershy responded as if she had been told the spa was simply closed for the week, and said they shouldn't forget to reschedule. It began to seem more and more like the shy animal keeper was living in some fabricated world that only existed for her.
Twilight shook her head violently. She couldn't be thinking about her friends now, not while she was working. The punishment for slowing the line was harsh, and it took all of Twilight's concentration and energy to move the heavy mine carts while her magic was being suppressed. With her focus renewed, her horn lit up with a faint magenta glow, and the cart began to creep forward. She would have plenty of time to lament her old life when she was back in the sleeping quarters.
When the bell above the camp sounded the end of the day, Twilight raised a hoof to wipe the sweat from her brow. Her life of constant study had not prepared her at all for such hard labor. Each day was a grueling endeavor, and Twilight was never totally sure she'd get make it through. The young unicorn made her way to the main yard of the camp, her eyes scanning the other workers for a familiar cyan coat. It didn't take long to spot her; Rainbow's spectrum-streaked mane was rather easy to find in any crowd. The Pegasus stood near one of the fences surrounding the camp, her blank eyes staring out at countryside. It pained Twilight greatly to see her friend, once so full of pride, life, and passion, reduced to this empty shell of a pony.
Twilight walked up to her friend and gave her a nuzzle. "Come on, Rainbow. We need to get to something to eat before they call lights out." Rainbow gave a weak nod.
Twilight and Rainbow fell quietly into the soup line, which seemed to be serving a runny oat porridge this evening. Twilight passed the time by gazing around at her fellow workers. Downcast faces and dirty coats was all she saw. She had never seen such misery in Equestria before these camps were created. Some ponies now bore scars along their flanks where the bite of a whip had drawn blood from them. The only comfort the sight brought her was relief for sending Spike away. She would have died before she let him wind up in a place like this.
Twilight claimed bowls for herself and Rainbow and lead her friend to a rickety table. Twilight had taken it upon herself to make sure Rainbow survived this sickening place, hoof-feeding her before taking a single bite. The watery sludge was barely enough to fill one up, but it was better than nothing. When she finished her own bowl, Twilight collected the dishes and placed them in the cleaning bin. She gauged, based on the sun's position, that there might just be barely enough time to get herself and Rainbow clean before they were ushered into their sleeping quarters.
As the pair made their way inside the small bathing shack, Twilight checked to see if there were any other ponies around. Once satisfied that the coast was clear, she filled one of the bathing tubs with the ice cold water that was brought in from the mountains, then cautiously used what magic she could to perform a weak heating spell on the bath. It wasn't much, but it got the temperature to around lukewarm. Using magic was forbidden outside of the mine area itself, and anyone caught was given ten lashes as punishment. She stepped into the tub, ushered Rainbow in, and cradled her gently while she cleaned the dirt and sweat from the day's work away, taking special care when she made it to the her friend's barren wings. The only thing Rainbow seemed capable of doing herself anymore was pulling the mining carts the Griffons strapped to her every morning. Twilight hastily finished wiping herself down as the last hints of sunlight faded from the sky. They would have just enough time to make it to their sleeping quarters before the call for lights out was issued.
Twilight helped Rainbow into the tiny bed and gave her despondent friend another reassuring nuzzle before pulling the thin blanket over her. She never received a return nuzzle or so much as a word of thanks, but it didn't matter to her. She knew the best flier in all of Equestria was still alive, hidden deep within those dull magenta eyes, and Twilight wasn't going to let Rainbow's body die before she could regain her spirit and be herself again. With the last of her self-imposed duties completed, Twilight collapsed onto her own bed, the fatigue from the day crashing into her all at once, and her eyelids suddenly felt like they had weights attached to them.
As sleep threatened to claim her, Twilight hoped she might dream of Spike tonight instead of the horrible nightmares she routinely had. She had dreamt once that Spike had returned to Ponyville, all grown up and standing as tall as Celestia herself. In her dream, Spike smashed his way into the camp and rescued her and Rainbow, sweeping them both up in his powerful arms and flying them out of the hellish place. It was one of her favorite dreams, but one she so seldom enjoyed, each passing day spent in this place pushing the idea of life returning to normal further and further out of her mind. Twilight made a silent promise to herself, one she had made many times now, that no matter how bad things got, she would survive to see Spike at least one last time, to see the magnificent dragon she knew he would grow up to be.
Ambient energy cracked through the air as a nearly eight foot tall violet dragon leveled a claw at his target. Even at the dragon's impressive height, the mountain giant he was staring down still towered over him. The giant lifted what appeared to be an entire pine tree into the air, poised to smash the smaller beast into a fine paste. The dragon never broke his cool gaze away from the giant, his emerald eyes betraying nothing of his plan of attack. Neither had moved nor even seemed to breathe for several stretched, tense moments, as if they both sensed the fight would be decided in an instant, and neither wanted to miss any subtle hints the other might give away.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the giant let out a throaty bellow as he swung his massive tree. The dragon couldn't help but let slip a fanged grin as he watched the lumbering brute. Too slow, he thought, far too slow. As the giant's makeshift club arced through the air, the dragon decided he had waited long enough. The latent energy in the air vanished, and with a simple snap of his claw, a blazing column of light shot down from the heavens, completely enveloping the giant. All that remained of the giant when the brilliant light faded was a rather large pile of ash. The seemingly imposing creature had been utterly incinerated. It was rather clear who the winner of the skirmish was, and the dragon turned around with a grin plastered all over his face.
A much larger dragon that appeared to be made of translucent crystal sat a ways back, and it rose up as the smaller purple dragon approached, looking calm despite being intensely exasperated with him.
"I swear, you are the most thick-headed dragon I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. For two decades I have been telling you that your body has not developed as much as your magic. For two decades I have warned you of the potential harm you could cause yourself, yet you still see fit to expend eighth order spells to deal with riffraff. Do you have some sort of death wish, boy?"
Spike sighed. He knew this lecture was coming, but still, the idea had been far too tempting to ignore. "No, master, I do not have a death wish. I just thought it would be good to see how well my body could handle the spell. It was taxing, but I believe I managed it quite well."
The elder dragon huffed, clearly not buying the explanation in the least. "I've been around just a few centuries too long to fall for as feeble an excuse as that one. You also cannot pretend as though I am unaware of your tendencies for showboating and reckless use of magic. Simply try demonstrating a little restraint in the future, my young apprentice."
"Yes, yes," Spike relented. "I'll be more careful in the future, master."
It seemed that Spike's concept of time had warped at some point during his training with Paraxxus. The young dragon had lost complete track of time and even date many times as he toiled for countless hours on varies tomes and scrolls, a far cry from the exhaustion which used to overcome him every night when he had first started his training. Two decades was not long in dragon years, but Spike was nowhere near the same dragon whom Paraxxus had found in his lair. He was now close to eight feet in height sporting a sleek, muscular build from the years spent honing his skills, and while he was barely more than a child as far as a dragon's lifetime was concerned, his mastery over the arcane arts was unheard of for one his age.
Mastery of such advanced magical arts, however, was a double-edged sword. Spike was capable of casting ninth order spells, but using just one could bring him to the verge of collapse. While this greatly concerned his master, Spike relished his abilities, the young dragon almost routinely overexerting himself to demonstrate his magic prowess and perhaps stroke his ego. His physical abilities were nothing to scoff at either. Knowing that Spike would need more stamina to fuel his confidence and firmly believing that battle knowledge should be balanced, Paraxxus had sent a letter to a close friend requesting assistance in training his pupil. The battle dragon Tavrinth the Fury turned out to be an even more grueling taskmaster than Paraxxus ever was.
Battle dragons, unlike most other species, prided themselves in their physical prowess. They did not bother themselves with any study of the arcane arts; perhaps one battle dragon in one hundred was capable of spellcraft. There was no physical fighter more lethal in all the world, however, than a master at arms battle dragon. Their race had perfected the art of physical combat down to each minute flick of the tail or twitch of the claws, and they knew exactly how to utilize every single ounce of their raw strength and size to utterly dominate an opponent.
Tavrinth woke Spike every morning with a swift lash of his tail, a taste of what was to come during the rest of the day. Spike's years under Tavrinth's tutelage were brutal, the young dragon enduring merciless punishment from dawn until dusk. Every failed block resulted in a thrashing. Each missed tail sweep earned another pummeling. The elder dragon would accept nothing less than perfection, and Spike spent many years learning close-quarters combat to give him just that. Of the twenty years since Spike had been taken in by Paraxxus, about one fourth the time was spent with Tavrinth mastering every aspect of dragon physical combat. While no true master in the ways of fighting, Spike was more than capable of dealing with the majority of the creatures he encountered.
Even with this extensive training in physical combat, Spike still preferred to rely heavily on spells to augment his fighting. He would always cast the burning hands spell before engaging in close combat, causing each of his powerful punches to inflict a nasty burn. He also seemed to favor a rather brutal physical opener in nearly every situation. A fiery one-two punch combo to the chest followed by a right elbow to the chin, then a quick uppercut into a fire burst spell began nearly any fight Spike had ever been involved in.
As Spike's knowledge of both magical and physical combat had grown, the young dragon had become ever more hot headed and brash. He would dive head long into any situation he deemed worth championing without a second thought, often severely overexerting himself in the process. Paraxxus had found him unconscious in the middle of some fight he had started and had to clean up on more than one occasion. Spike had quickly and comfortably learned all the lessons his master had to teach except when it came to his spell casting in comparison to his physical fortitude. Spike was indeed gifted in the art of spellcraft, able to cast spells far beyond what he should be capable of, but this was more of a curse than a blessing with his reckless attitude. A single ninth order spell could sap away nearly all of the young dragons stamina and place him on the brink of collapse, yet knowing this did not stop Spike from constantly abusing his proficiency in high level magic.
Paraxxus's vigilance had kept Spike quite safe from himself, but it seemed like no amount of time or training could mend the hole in the young dragon's heart. Spike would still sometimes lie awake at night, no matter how deliriously exhausted he was, thinking about home. As much as it pained him to admit it, his visions of Ponyville had blurred a little more with each passing year. The only place he still had a solid recollection of was the library he had lived in with Twilight. Spike took some solace in still remembering each of his friends in vivid detail. He could summon up the face of any of the six immediately, their appearances and personalities still as fresh in his mind as they had been the last time he saw them.
The most unfortunate side effect of his deep, lasting connection to his friends was that, at times, Spike would fly into uncontrollable bouts of rage when reminded of them. The emptiness in his heart would consume him so much that only aggression and violence could stop the pain. These episodes would always lead end the same, with the very outcome Spike found himself in tonight. He was in one of the many chambers of his master's lair, one designed specifically for training. Numerous training dummies adorned the large chamber, and Spike was currently laying into one of them with all his might.
A razor sharp claw raked across the straw filled neck, then a bone-crushing elbow drove deep into the chest. The young dragon unleashed a flurry of blows into the straw target, each one of increasing power and ferocity. A vicious roundhouse kick took the head off followed by an equally brutal tail swipe removing the lower legs.
"WHY?" Spike screamed, clutching his head in his hands.
"WHY CAN'T I MAKE IT STOP?!" the young dragon roared as he drove his claws through the dummy's chest.
"GODS BE DAMNED!" With a final intake of breath, Spike unleashed a blast of dragon fire on the straw doll, reducing it to a pile of ash. Spike fell against the nearest wall and slid down, burying his face in his knees as the tears came. He had thought the hurt would lessen over time, but every image of Twilight which surfaced in his head caused his emotions to fly completely out of control. Spike clutched his chest as the tears fell. How could twenty years pass without his master gaining even a single shred of information about Equestria?
Paraxxus could hear the fervent beating coming from the training room not far from his sleeping chamber. The only explanation for such a disturbance was his pupil having another troubled night. When he heard his student roar, the elder Crystal dragon rose off of his hoard and proceeded down the cavernous hall toward the source of the commotion. He turned the corner into the training hall and was met with a sight he had never seen before: his young pupil was hunched over in a corner, his shoulders shaking as he sobbed. The sight alone was enough to pull at the ancient dragon's heartstrings, and Spike's anguished cries were enough to tear at any heart.
Paraxxus entered the chamber and approached his young ward. Seeing the boy so devastated invoked an emotion in him he had never experienced before. The great wyrm knew there was only one thing that could possibly put the young dragon in such a state, the thing being something Paraxxus had hoped to avoid for a few more years. Paraxxus sat down next to his apprentice and laid a clawed hand on Spike's back.
"Do not fear, my boy. You will see them again in time," Paraxxus said, trying his best to reassure the young dragon.
"How can you know, master? I was forced to leave because my home was in some kind of danger. How can you tell me that after twenty years have passed I'll be able to return to Ponyville and find everything the way I left it?" Spike's words started quiet but his voice raised quickly to a shout as he shot his master a wild stare full of confusion and frustration.
Paraxxus let out a heavy sigh. He knew this day was going to come. A lie could only sit festering for so long before it needed to be cleansed by the truth. With a heavy heart the great wyrm sighed and met his young pupil's eyes. "I never said anything about things remaining the way you left them." He looked away, staying at the far wall as he collected his thoughts. "While it pains me to reveal this to you, I believe it is finally time you knew."
The emotions in Spike's eyes amplified into doubt and anger. "Master, you can't be…" Paraxxus held up a hand to stop him.
"Ponyville is nothing like you remember it to be, Spike. The reason your Twilight Sparkle cast you out into the wilderness was because the Griffon kingdom was invading Equestria. For the last twenty years, your homeland has been under the control of the Griffon King, Ozarian Bright Talon." Paraxxus braced himself for the furious response this news was sure to bring.
The look Spike shot up at his master was one of such rage and pain, the emotions were practically palpable in the air. The young dragon recoiled from his master as he jumped to his feet, betrayed beyond belief. Emerald fire poured out of the corners of his mouth, his fangs bared for all the world to see.
"HOW DARE YOU KEEP THIS FROM ME?" Spike roared, raw arcane energy crackling around his claws.
The elder dragon stood his ground, his face as indomitable as always. Inside, however, was a different story. The crystal dragon could feel the primal magic pooling in Spike's twitching claws and he had no intention of having the spell thrown at him. Paraxxus knew exactly how dangerous his pupil could be with the right motivation, and his guilt was not about to supersede his self-preservation. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Paraxxus spoke up.
"And what would you have done, my boy, if I presented this information to you when I received it? You were still a pony hatched whelp as green as summer grass when my vassal brought me the news of Equestria's fate." Far removed from his normal manner of speaking to his student, Paraxxus found himself using a harsh, overpowering tone with the Amethyst dragon. He could see the fire burning in his apprentice's eyes.
"I would've tried to do something! I wouldn't have spent two decades reading books and sitting in a cave if I knew my friends and my home were being ruled by a bunch of mangy war-mongering birds!" The arcane energy was starting to wrap closer around Spike's claws.
Paraxxus shook his head. It would appear his history lessons had not be as clear as he thought. "Do you pay attention to nothing, boy? I know I have explained to you the history of the Griffon Empire and its dealings with Equestria. I'm surprised it took the Griffons this long to finally stand up and stop being shoved around. Celestia would have seen the Griffons starve to death in the mountains' winter if they continued to refuse being assimilated into the Equestrian diarchy." The great wyrm huffed a great deal of sulfurous smoke at his student.
"And regardless of the situation or reasons behind it, what would you have done? You would have rushed back home in some impossible act of blind heroism to save your friends, and the Griffons would have gutted you on the spot. The Griffons have no love for our kind, Spike. You couldn't have helped your friends back then. You've always had such potential in you, and I could not bear to see you throw it all away on some impetuous, bullheaded decision."
Spike seemed to waver for a moment, the rage in his eyes dimming slightly. The more he thought over his master's words, the more his impulse to attack left him. The energy slowly seeped from his claws. What could he have done back then to help anyone? Spike had spent his entire life playing the gopher. He searched for this and brought that, and when the real action started he was always shielded from it. Now, though, things were different. Now he had the power to change things, to make a difference, to fight to retake his homeland. Spike clenched his fist hard, his blood and scales humming with potent magical energy.
"I won't lie, master. I would have most likely tried to rush blindly back to Ponyville as quickly as I could, but you could have stopped me! I just…I wish you had at least told me what was going on." Spike eyes dropped to the ground, and he gritted his teeth.
"What good would that have done, boy? That knowledge would have simply twisted and polluted your heart even more than it already is. You would have wasted countless hours anguishing over things you couldn't change, wasted precious time you could have used training. I told you once, Spike, many years ago, that if you learned what I had to teach you, nothing would be able to stop you from going back to see your friends. I meant it, so I couldn't let you get yourself killed or drown in your own darkness."
Paraxxus cast Spike a smoldering glare. "If you truly wish to go back, to retake your home and free your friends, you must stay and continue your training. You are not yet prepared for the battle you will start." With his piece said, the elder dragon sat back in silence.
Spike's mind was a hellish landscape filled with all the possible atrocities his friends might have been subjected to in his two decades of absence. Every thought made the young dragon clench his jaw harder. A drop of blood slid down from the right side of his mouth where he had apparently broken skin. No, he thought to himself, there's no more time to train now. He needed to get back. He needed to go home. With a shake of his head to try to clear his mind, Spike looked up at his mentor, his eyes still glassy with a subtle sadness.
"I'm sorry, master." Those were the last words Spike uttered before he dashed out of the room and into the hallway, his destination the town in which he was raised. To any other creature, the labyrinth belonging to Paraxxus the Wise would be almost impossible to navigate. Spike had spent a good portion of his life in these tunnels, however, and he made quick work of finding the exit of the cave.
Spike had never been much of a flier, but once his wings grew in his master had, of course, instructed him in the art of flight. Although he was no Wonderbolt, Spike had taken to flying without much trouble. The young dragon felt adrenaline coursing through his veins as he opened his wings in the night air. As he was about to take off into the dark sky, he could feel the earth rumble beneath him. He turned toward the entrance of the cave as Paraxxus stepped into view. The great wyrm and the young dragon locked eyes for a spell, neither one moving, neither one even breathing. In that moment Spike felt compelled to stay, the gaze of the older dragon locking him in a trance. Paraxxus was the closest thing Spike had ever had to a father, and as a teacher he had never provided poor instruction, but every fiber of Spike's being told him to take off for Ponyville. With a final shake of his head, Spike shot his master and mentor an apologetic look. A few strong flaps of his mighty scaled wings launched Spike into the air. He was strongly tempted to look back, but forbid himself from doing so, knowing that even the briefest of glances might cause him to change his mind.
Spike rose higher and higher, and once he broke through the light clouds, he set his sights on the stars, looking for the one guiding star that would direct his journey. Once he found the waypoint he was searching for, Spike thrashed his wings with all his might, trying to coax as much speed out of them as he could. He was already twenty years late. He wouldn't allow himself to waste any time in his return.
A pale purple Unicorn stood on shaky legs, all of her energy focused into moving ore and gems into a mine cart.
The years had not been kind to Twilight. Her body had withered over the past twenty years inside the work camp, every ounce of her vibrance and youth spent in the mine shafts hollowing out the mountain. She was barely skin and bones now, a mere slip of a pony with mere slips of her former life. She had long since lost what little contact she had with her friends back in Ponyville; the only vestige of her old life which remained was a Pegasus mare completely stripped of will. While Rainbow's feathers had grown back some years ago, the emotional damage dealt to her seemed to have left permanent scars. She had shown no signs of mental recovery over the long years they had spent toiling in the mines.
Twilight could at least take some solace in the fact that she had kept both of them alive for this long, especially with the nation in Bloodwing's unyielding grasp. She had learned that he was the one who had personally seen to Rainbow's punishment on that fateful night, and as he sunk his talons deeper and deeper into Equestria, the conditions for ponies in the work camps had gotten worse and worse. At this point, simply stopping for a few harried breaths while there was a mine cart to pull or rocks to move could result in a whipping under the General's orders. Even in the face of such brutal oppression, though, Twilight had managed to keep both herself and Rainbow Dash out of harms way.
It was as if her fleeting sense of relief was due to be broken.
As the two ponies dragged their loads to the sorting and collections area, Rainbow Dash suddenly collapsed to the ground, the weight of the cart behind her too much for her aged and malnourished body to bear. Mere moments after the mare's collapse, a Griffon guard was unraveling his whip. A swift crack sounded as the whip cut through the air and bit into Rainbow's flank, a crimson line forming in its wake. While the Pegasus made not a sound as the leather cord cut into her flesh, her facial expressions told all there was to tell. Strike after strike landed upon the cyan-coated mare, leaving her flank torn and bloodied as the guard continued to whip her mercilessly.
Twilight watched in horror, flinching at each grimace on Rainbow's face until she could no longer stand it. The same emotion that she had felt two decades ago ignited within her. She could not ignore such a brutal punishment being dealt to one of her closest friends, especially when Rainbow was the only one she even had at her side. The Unicorn steeled herself and kicked off her mine cart, the fruits of her forced labor clattering across the ground, then dove between the guard and Rainbow Dash. She stood adamantly even in her frail state, the look in her eyes almost daring the Griffon to strike her. His eyes betrayed surprise for but a moment before they blazed with fury at her insolence.
"Any prisoner foolish enough to interfere in the punishment of another is deemed fit to earn a place beside them," he spat out at her.
A powerful crack of the whip sliced a bright crimson gash into Twilight's chest. His lashes resounded through the yard, coming one after another, the guard showing no intention of stopping. Twilight bit her lip to stifle her screams. She would not fall. She would endure all the pain he could deliver to keep her friend safe. Blows rained down endlessly onto her chest and forelegs as Twilight fought to stay standing, each strike making the world around her a little darker, a little fuzzier. She could feel rivulets of blood dripping down her legs. As she teetered on the edge darkness, Twilight swore she heard a familiar voice rain down from above. She tried to make out the words, but her dimmed senses and failing consciousness made it impossible.
The guard's whip suddenly cracked across her face, throwing her to the dirt as pain exploded behind her eyes and she choked out a gasp. She felt the ground beneath her quake as if a massive object had collided with it. Hot… was all that she could process. Twilight barely cracked open one eye to see a blurred purple figure standing behind the guard before darkness overwhelmed her.
"TIR TI XTIRL JACIONIV!"
Valtrath paused mid swing as he heard the thunderous cry above him. The roar he heard echoing from the heavens was in a voice so forceful it seemed to impact his very being, and the language was like nothing he had ever heard before. The seasoned guard scanned the skies for the cause of the disturbance but found nothing, so he turned back to his current task. This Unicorn had been trouble year after year, but she had never misstepped far enough to earn serious corporal punishment. This time, however, she had crossed a line he would make sure she never crossed again. The fact that she still stood antagonized him further, and he cracked his whip across her face, unmoved by her pained gasp when she fell.
As he raised his talon to deliver a final lash to the lavender Unicorn, the ground beneath him seemed to tremble, a layer of dust lifting around his paws. The Griffon suddenly felt an intense heat radiating from behind him, far too hot to ignore. He slowly turned around and was met with a paralyzing emerald glare. He felt his stomach drop. There, towering over him, stood an Amethyst dragon, its mouth hung open to reveal rows of glistening razor-sharp fangs. With every heavy exhale it breathed brilliant emerald flames from its gaping maw, the heat enough to raise the temperature all around them. Valtrath's voice seemed to have been stolen from him as he cowered in the shadow of the dragon, its slitted eyes mad with a rage that could stop the most foul beasts of Tartarus dead in their tracks.
The Griffon tried to open his beak to cry out for help, but the only response his body could muster was to lose total control of its bladder.
"SI GEOU SVENT WUX VILKLVI!" Spike roared, drawing in a massive breath. The Griffon never stood a chance against the emerald dragon fire which enveloped his body, leaving nothing more than a scattering of ash on the wind when the inferno finally subsided. As Spike looked up from the smoldering, blackened patch of earth he was shocked out of his rage by the sight before him. If it weren't for the unmistakable feel of Twilight's magic, Spike would have surely doubted that the Unicorn lying unconscious before him was in fact the pony he cared about the most in the world. Her mane, splayed across her face from her being thrown to the ground, was dirty and unkempt, and Spike's brief glance was enough for him to see her ribs under her faded lavender coat.
As he knelt down to pick Twilight up off the ground, he was surrounded by a squad of five Griffon guards, their swords and pikes all aimed squarely at his chest. He immediately assumed a defensive crouch, despite the fact he was almost certain he could take this group of fools out with a single well-placed spell. The teachings of his master echoed in his head, however, and judging from the size of the complex from the sky, Spike knew he would have to conserve his stamina if he wanted to get his friends out of it. This meant he would have to focus on taking his foes down physically. Spike flicked his slitted eyes from one Griffon to the next, his muscles tense, ready to counter the first move made against him.
The first Griffon launched his attack, thrusting his pike at Spike's neck. Spike dropped immediately into a full crouch, one of his clawed hands barely skimming the ground. In doing so, he glanced at Twilight for but a moment, but it was enough to notice the gash across her muzzle, left by the first wretch he had dispatched. He saw red, his eyes widening for a fraction of a second before he regained his senses. He caught the sword-bearing talon of the Griffon and whipped the avian beast over his shoulder, slamming it to the ground. With a swift and deliberate elbow to the throat, Spike made sure the guard would never rise again. Spike pushed himself up from the ground with one hand, whirling around with his other arm and tail extended to ensure he was not assaulted as he jumped to his feet.
The four remaining guards were visibly shaken by the display, their eyes betraying their uncertainty on how to proceed. It had taken the dragon mere seconds to kill one of their fellow guards and return to his feet. He was already back in the strange battle stance he had adopted before, emerald eyes blazing. It was almost absurd how fast the beast moved given his size, and the raw power with which he had thrown his first attacker to the ground had audibly cracked the guard's armor. Damaging Griffon-forged steel, the most advanced craft of their civilization, was no small feat.
Spike watched the unnerved avian creatures slowly circle him, his mind racing with possible options. I need to deal with these dregs as quickly as possible, he thought to himself. Every second I spend is another second reinforcements could be on their way. As he weighed his options, he caught another glimpse of Twilight and Rainbow laying unconscious on the ground, and another wave of rage swept through him. In an instant Spike's hands heated up, becoming hot enough to scorch the feathers of the Griffons around him as he prepared his favorite battle spell. He then extended one hand in front of himself, and an orb of pure white light formed in the air above his palm. He smirked when the guards each took a slight step back. He waited for one guard to be directly in front of him, then he closed his eyes, and the orb exploded in a fluorescent burst of light. Spike grinned as the Griffons shrieked and their weapons clattered to the ground, the flash blinding and disorienting them. He clenched one white-hot fist and blindly lunged forward.
The first guard fell before the light had even faded, Spike using his forward momentum to drive his fist deep into the Griffon's chest. The sound of metal shearing echoed out, mingling with the Griffon's howl of pain as his armor and ribcage caved in, crushing his lungs. Before he could register his inability to breathe, Spike whipped around to deliver a crushing backhanded strike to the guard's helmet. Griffon steel appeared to be no match for raw draconic fury as the metal collapsed in on itself, crushing the guard's skull and ending his life.
Two down, three to go, Spike thought as he opened his eyes and launched himself at two of his blinded foes who were standing a little to close together for their own good. Spike landed between the two and once again took advantage of his momentum, this time to drive his powerful elbows down into their spines. Loud, sickening cracks resounded through the area as their vertebral columns snapped, bones shattered and nervous tissues shredded by the sheer force of the impacts.
The two guards slumped to the ground without a single further sound, neither so much as twitching as they lay there, prostrate and broken. Spike turned his attention to the last guard standing. The Griffon was vigorously shaking his head, trying to hasten the return of his eyesight. He finally regained his senses, but all he saw was a purple blur as Spike dashed behind him and grabbed both sides of the helpless avian's head. With a simple twist, the Griffon was once again face to face with the snarling purple dragon. The rest of his body, however, hadn't turned with him.
With the first squad out of the way, Spike quickly checked the surroundings for more incoming guards and leapt over to the ponies. He knew that his flare spell must have attracted attention from the rest of the complex. As he approached Twilight's unconscious body, he gritted his teeth, his eyes burning with anger and the tears he was fighting to hold in. He wanted to cry out in rage and sorrow as he got a full look at the state his friends were in. Rainbow's back and flanks were a crimson mess from the whipping she had sustained before Twilight jumped in, and Twilight's chest and forelegs were in a similar state. They were also both more malnourished that he had initially realized; he could very clearly see both mares' ribcages, and their coats were quite pale.
As he gently lifted Twilight's mane away from her cheek and ran a clawed finger under the gash from the whip, a wave of reinforcements arrived and surrounded him. Spike slowly rose to his feet, his previous restraint vanishing as his mixed emotions turned into pure rage. Nearly thirty Griffons now surrounded him, some on the ground and some in the air, all armored and armed, weapons raised at the young dragon. Spike quickly realized that he would not leave this encounter unharmed unless he pulled from his more advanced pool of spells, and there was one spell that seemed to fit the circumstance perfectly.
He stepped to stand over the two inanimate ponies, effectively shielding them with his body, and raised his arms. The immediate area around Spike began to smell of ozone, and the air audibly crackled with rising energy, causing some of the Griffons' feathers to ruffle. They took care not to get too close, but it wouldn't matter. Spike gritted his teeth as tiny violet sparks arced over his outstretched claws, and before a single guard could react, bolts of lighting arced from each hand, striking the two nearest guards. The arcane lighting did not stop at those single strikes, however. It continued to chain around the circle, periodically drawing screeches of shock and pain as it jumped from Griffon to Griffon, and by the time the two bolts had finished their rounds, every last guard lay in the dirt.
Spike took a few heavy breaths, his shoulders heaving as he glanced at the ring of bodies around him. The stormy scent cleared from Spike's senses only to be replaced by the fetor of burnt feathers and flesh, and the only movement around him was an occasional involuntary twitch as arcane sparks discharged off the corpses.
Having ascertained that they were safe, the young dragon dropped to one knee for a moment, careful to avoid the ponies, still breathing heavily. Casting two sixth order spells, even together like that, had taken more of his stamina than he had expected. The best he could surmise was that in his anger he had poured more power into his spells than he had intended, something he would need to refrain from doing in the future. He scanned the horizon for any other hostiles before carefully picking up both Rainbow and Twilight, cradling their fragile forms against his chest. Not far off was a cluster of mine carts, so he settled on gently placing them inside an empty cart and covering it with a large piece of canvas. Once he was happy with the hiding spot, Spike spread his muscular wings and launched into the air, heading for what he assumed to be the main building of the complex. He knew he wasn't going to be able to get everypony out of here and to safety if even a single Griffon could make it away from the camp. The sky had at least been clear since he started his rampage, but he needed to make sure it stayed that way.
Spike saw no Griffons patrolling the complex during the brief flight, and as a dragon his vision was second to none. When he was directly above his target, he idled in the air for a moment and drew in a deep breath. His only option for ensuring that no Griffon escaped the camp once he entered the building was a forcecage spell, but using such a high level spell, especially on such a scale, was going to be dangerous given how much of his stamina he had already depleted. This spell would need to be perfect. He slowly exhaled, settling his nerves, and dove toward the imposing building. Just before he slammed into the roof, a snap of his fingers encased the entire complex in a rippling translucent cube of energy.
Spike tore through the roof with a deafening crash, rolling several times down the long corridor he had landed in to lessen the impact. He took a moment after stopping to lean against a wall in a low crouch and catch his breath. As he had anticipated, the creation of the forcecage had drained a good portion of his remaining stamina and he could feel his body starting to weaken significantly. His brief respite, however, lasted barely long enough for him to fully stand. A large oak door at one end of the hall suddenly burst open, revealing a group of Griffons who charged into the hallway. Spike entertained the idea of simply roasting the lot of them with dragon fire, but he quickly dismissed the notion. Somewhere in this building must be a storage room, and he was going to need the supplies to aid in the escape.
Spike took stock of his remaining energy and put a self-imposed limit on his spell casting. Nothing above fourth order, he thought to himself as he adopted a defensive stance before the pack of Griffons which were charging down the hall. The space was fairly narrow, only wide enough for three guards to stand side by side with weapons raised, but ceiling sloped high overhead. Perfect, Spike thought as he waited for them to get close enough. Those in front were poised to attack while the rear groups were opening their wings to soar over and surround him, and just as they got in striking range he launched his counterattack. All it took was another snap of his clawed fingers to materialize a towering wall of ice between himself and the Griffons. Spike then focused as much power as he could into his muscular legs before making a spinning leap off the floor to deliver a thundering roundhouse kick to the middle of the wall.
A web of cracks grew from the point of impact as the frozen wall went toppling down onto the aggressing Griffons, forcing them to scatter. The wall crushed the first three outright when it fell, and when it hit the ground it shattered along the cracks which had formed, sending large chunks of ice flying low down the hall. One barreled into a fourth guard, and while his armored chest was protected, his exposed head was immediately pulverized. No helmets, eh? Guess they weren't expecting me so soon. Only six Griffons now stood before the young dragon, and they were now visibly on the defensive. With the odds a little more in his favor, Spike liberated two swords from the dead guards and charged down the hall. While he was not particularly skilled in combat with weapons, Spike knew he was going to need something to deflect the wall of pikes he was heading straight into. Dragon scales could only protect against so much.
"Si charis wux shio tepoha xurwka martivir mrith dout ithquent," Spike roared as he rushed down the hall. He was about to collide with the barricade of sharpened steel when he unleashed a small burst of dragon fire. It wasn't enough to catch anything ablaze, never mind damage any of the Griffons, but the quick burst of emerald heat had the desired effect of startling them just long enough for Spike to weave into the pikes. He did not, unfortunately, perform the maneuver as gracefully as he had hoped he would, and a loud hiss escaped his lips as he felt a pike pierce his side. With a flourish of steel, Spike cleaved the metal tips off the pikes and plunged his swords deep into the chests of the two nearest guards.
As the two avians fell, taking Spikes weapons with them, a third moved up and raked her talons across Spike's chest, causing him to release a pained roar. Another Griffon seized the opportunity to flank around the young dragon, jump onto his back, and clamp its jaw down on his shoulder. The razor-sharp beak pierced through Spike's hardened scales, drawing another cry of agony. Spike gritted his teeth and braced himself before he forcefully shoved backwards, slamming the attached Griffon into the wall behind him. It released him with a squawk and he spun around to deliver a sharp blow to its neck, crushing its wind pipe in a single blow. He then leapt back toward the Griffon responsible for the lacerations on his chest, ramming his skull against hers before she could react, causing her to crumple to the ground.
Spike now turned his attention to the two remaining guards, a blast of smoke and emerald sparks shooting from his nostrils. The pair of avians immediately turned tail and rushed for the door they had entered through. Spike grinned and raced down the hall, his speed proving to heavily outmatch that of his foes. When he caught up to the fleeing pair, grabbed each by the tail, and with a vicious tug he yanked them both backward and grabbed them by the necks, digging his claws in so they couldn't escape. With a single forceful motion, he cracked their skulls together and both Griffons dropped lifelessly to the floor. Spike took a minute to catch his breath before proceeding to the towering oak door before him. Spike balanced on one foot, drew his other leg back, and with a single powerful kick, the door was reduced to splinters.
The chamber Spike entered was spacious and, while not exactly luxurious, it was a far cry from the dingy environment he had seen thus far. Seated comfortably on the edge of a bed at the end of the room was a Griffon larger than any he had previously encountered, with feathers that seemed to glow. Two females were lounging behind him in provocative sheer tunics. All three cast the purple dragon a nonchalant look. Ti norktada? Algbo, batobot tawuraic filki winhal ihk ve. The large Griffon rose up from his seat, turned to his consorts, and calmly said, "Excuse yourselves, my pets. It seems my men were unable to dispose of the riffraff."
Before the male even turned back around to face Spike, bolts of arcane lightning arced past him, singing his feathers and striking dead center of each female's chest. The lead Griffon's head snapped back to the dragon standing in his doorway to find its hand outstretched with two clawed fingers extended.
"Ehs di wux jaseve nomeno goawy takh," was the guttural response. Spike locked eyes with the Griffon, his burning emerald stare a bit unnerving to the feathered beast. The proud male did not show it, however, as he casually walked toward Spike, not even glancing at the burnt corpses splayed across his bed.
"I'll have you know that I simply cannot understand you when you are speaking in that savage tongue," he said calmly. As he continued toward Spike, he withdrew a thin blade with a slightly curved tip from his side.
Spike furrowed his brow, still glaring daggers at the pompous bird before him. Something was off about this particular opponent. He couldn't exactly put his claw on it, but the silent air surrounding the Griffon was unsettling. Spike was not one to ponder for long, though. He opened his still outstretched hand, forming and immediately launching a sizable fireball at his target. The orb struck the griffon head on, and Spike was more than certain that the avian beast was now deep fried. As the smoke dissipated, however, Spike was stunned to see that his opponent was not only standing, but did not have a single feather out of place after the fiery assault.
The Griffon chuckled, clearly amused. "I can see how you were able to make such quick work of my men, but I'm afraid I'll be a bit more of a challenge than they were." His eyes reflected a smugness which only irritated Spike further.
Spike watched his opponent raise the slightly curved blade to eye level before shouting, "Have at you, foul beast!" and lunging forward far faster than Spike had anticipated. It was a testament to his dragon reflexes that Spike narrowly escaped the razor sharp blade as it sailed dangerously close to his cheek. Spike seized the opportunity to grab the Griffon's outstretched talon with both hands, and with as much force as he could muster, he pivoted and flung the bird over his shoulder, aiming for the nearest wall. His opponent easily maneuvered while sailing through the air, however, and as soon as his hind feet hit the wall, he launched himself back at Spike, making another sweeping slash at the now startled dragon.
Spike quickly defended by catching the blade on his forearm, the scales there being some of the toughest on his body. The clash seemed to finally halt the Griffon's momentum and gave Spike a chance to counter the swift attacks. Spike spun, his tail whipping around and sweeping his opponent's supporting foreleg out from under him. As the large avian started to fall, Spike drove a knee square into the Griffon's breastplate, shoving the feathered beast away.
Spike panted, trying to catch his breath. He knew that he couldn't keep this pace up much longer. He was already drained before even starting the fight, and this particular Griffon was indeed what he claimed to be. The only good news was that needing to focus had quelled his rage temporarily. Think, Spike. Think. Magic isn't going to work. The fireball proved that. And this guy has skills. I just need to buy a little more time… His mind was racing, though he didn't let it show.
"Credit where credit is due, bird. You certainly aren't a pushover like the rest of the dregs around this place were." Spike started to take steps to the side, raising both his arms in an offensive stance.
The griffon followed suit and mirrored Spike's movements, the two slowly circling around the room. "Ah, so the beast does speak a more civilized tongue. I must credit you as well, my scaly friend. Dragons appear to be every bit as tenacious as I've heard them to be." As soon as he finished speaking, the Griffon lunged forward to try and slash Spike again, only to have his strike deflected off the Spike's forearm once more.
"It would also appear dragon scale is just as hard as they say," he commented casually, the same smug look in his eyes.
The corners of Spike's mouth turned up in a cocky grin. "You'll need a lot more than your little letter opener to pierce my hide." It was this verbal jab that gave Spike his plan. The blade was indeed thin, and the curved tip and hand guard suggested that it was designed for parrying and slashing. It was simply not broad enough for a thrust to do too much damage, as long as Spike kept his vitals safe. He ceased his side stepping and simply stared his opponent down.
"I'm afraid I'm running out of time for this little song and dance, so why don't we just jump right to the end, featherbrain? I'm starting to figure you're not really that much more dangerous than your peons." Spike brought both both arms up again, assuming an offensive position as he goaded the Griffon.
"My, my, my. Must we make with such petty insults? And here I was beginning to think that we might have a duel between gentlemen. Very well, beast. If you have grown bored of our little dance, I shall gladly end it for you!" The two combatants charged forward, meeting in the center of the room in a flash of silver and violet. A feral roar resounded through the chamber as steel entered through the dragon's thick hide and pierced through the other side, painting the Griffon's face and chest with a spray of crimson.
Before the griffon could move his blade and cause any more damage, however, a clawed hand encased the talon holding the weapon's hilt, crushing it outright. The Griffon growled in pain and confusion before realizing what had happened. Spike had shifted his body at the last moment, allowing the blade to pierce through his left shoulder, to lock the Griffon in melee range long enough to catch him. With the avian's talon firmly crushed in his iron grip, Spike locked eyes with the now terrified Griffon. "Looks like I'll be the one to end this dance, friend," Spike spat out venomously. "Let's see you grit that beak!" The dragon drew back his right arm and drove his fist into the Griffon's skull, letting go of his talon so that the blow sent the now helpless creature spiraling through the air. His limp body skipped across the ground before slamming into the wall and crumpling to the floor.
In an impressive display of pain tolerance, Spike gripped the hilt of the sword and pulled it out of his body, careful of the curved tip, before snapping the damnable thing in half. He then proceeded over to the newly created indent in the wall to find his foe, the his shoulder throbbing with every step. Spike still held the the broken sword by its hilt, fully prepared to finish off the fallen Griffon, but closer inspection proved that he needn't worry. The way the Griffon's head had impacted the wall had left a rather messy declaration that further efforts to end his life would not be necessary.
Spike tossed the sword away and slumped against the wall, panting heavily. He was hoping against hope that there weren't any more Griffons roaming around. His body had finally started to register the damage it had sustained as the flow of adrenaline tapered off, his chest and both shoulders now burning. Spike knew that he was low on stamina, but the puncture wound through his left shoulder was going to create a serious problem if he left it alone. He covered the visible slit with his opposite hand and in a flash of golden light, a wave of relief washed through his body and he visibly relaxed. Spike's knowledge of clerical arts was extremely limited, but healing a standard wound was not something out of his skill range.
Spike rose to his feet and steadied himself before making his way out of the large chamber and back into the corridor. He began searching the building room by room, looking for either any signs of life or, with any luck, a storeroom he could pillage for food and supplies. When he completed his search and had found neither, he made his way to the front exit of the building. As soon as he stepped through the doorway, Spike was met with dozens of confused and tired stares. It seemed as though every pony in the camp had converged on the building, so their Griffon keepers must have either fled or tried to take him down. A quick scan of the skies spotted no Griffons trying to claw their way out of his forcecage, so he assumed the latter was true.
With a snap of his claws the cube of energy encasing the complex dissipated, much to his body's relief. He didn't think he could have kept the spell channeled another minute. The ponies gazed skyward and watched the barrier dissolve away before rushing toward the bloodied purple dragon. Spike could tell there were dozens of questions being asked, but they all melded into one incomprehensible drone. He raised a tired hand to try and silence the crowd.
"I can't understand anything when you all talk at once," he said, breathing heavily. He scanned the crowd for any familiar face he could call on to act as a mediator, eventually spotting a mint-colored unicorn with striking gold eyes.
"It's been ages, but if memory serves you're Lyra Heartstrings, aren't you?" Spike asked as he gestured for her to step forward.
The unicorn stepped out of the crowd and gave him a puzzled look. "I am, sir, but I don't believe we've ever met. How do you know who I am?" Something about the dragon did seem familiar, but Lyra simply could not put her hoof on it.
Spike chuckled. "Pinkie Pie used to rave that Bon Bon made some of the best candy in Ponyville, so naturally I frequented her store when I was younger. There was always a unicorn in the shop that had the most peculiar way of sitting."
Lyra's eyes went wide as she noticed the Amethyst dragon's emerald spine and tried to imagine the powerful creature before her being the size of a filly. "S-Spike? Is that you?" When Spike replied with a nod, Lyra's jaw almost hit the ground.
He smiled down at her. "The one and only. We can catch up later, though. Right now we need to move. I'm almost certain I didn't let any of those featherbrains escape, but I'd still like to get out of here as quickly as possible. I'm in no condition to organize this whole thing, so I need you to gather up a group, find out where they keep the food around this place, and load as much of it into those carts down by the mines. We'll need as much as you can find."
For a moment Lyra stared at him blankly, then the realization set in. "D-do you mean w-were leaving?" Lyra's eyes were suddenly swimming with tears.
Spike gave her a genuine smile and nodded. "You bet your flank we are. You think I just fought through all that for you all to stay here a moment longer than absolutely necessary? To Tartarus with that. We are leaving here tonight." Lyra was clearly on the brink of tears, but with a deep breath she composed herself, at least outwardly.
"Words cannot express how much this means to me and everypony here, Spike. None of us thought we'd live to see the day we could leave this horrible place. Thank you, Spike. Thank you so much. You rest. I'll make sure we are ready to leave by sundown."
"Thanks, Lyra. If you need me, I'll be down at the mines. I need to check on something." Lyra nodded and immediately turned around to start issuing orders. With that Spike mustered what little strength he had left and lifted into the air, vaguely hearing ponies express every reaction from disbelief to breaking down with joy as he left. Luckily for him, the mine was downhill from the guard complex, so he could glide most of the way there.
Spike touched down by the mine carts and rushed over to the one he had carefully hidden his friends in. He ripped the canvas cover off the top and peered inside, his frayed nerves relaxing slightly when he saw them both still safe inside. He laid the canvas on the ground and gently placed both Twilight and Rainbow Dash on it. He eyed their slashed skin, placed a hand over each them, and with what little stamina he had left performed a series of minor healing spells. While he knew this was most likely a mistake and that he should be holding onto as much energy as he could, he simply refused to allow two of his dearest friends to wake up to the pain.
Once this task was finished, Spike leaned up against the mine cart and pulled the two ponies close to him resting their heads on his lap. It was then that he noticed Twilight's muzzle once again. Against his common sense, he drew on his last shreds of stamina to at least close the wound. He wasn't going to let either of them out of his sight. Never again. Spike tried to keep silent vigil over his friends, but the last spell had sapped what was left of his energy and his eyelids were becoming impossibly heavy. It would most likely be another hour or so before Lyra and the others were prepared to leave, so he might have enough time to close his eyes for a moment. This option proved too tempting for Spike to ignore, and he slowly let his eyes close. Even in such a state of exhaustion, he was certain he'd awaken if anything came near.
Spike lay dozing almost peacefully when his subconscious twitched him awake. Faster than a Wonderbolt, Spike's arm shot out and he closed his claws around something's windpipe. Hues of mint and white filled his blurry vision and his eyes snapped open when he realized who he was almost strangling, immediately releasing her.
"By Sardior, Lyra, I'm so sorry." The unicorn backed away a few steps, choking to catch her breath as she rubbed her slightly bruised throat.
"It's fine," she coughed out, "Spike." She coughed again. "I'm sorry if I startled you. It's almost sundown, and we just finished packing the last of the supplies. Everypony is waiting at the gates. Would it be too much to ask where we might be going?"
Spike carefully rose to his feet, and pulled the canvas sheet up, trying his best not to jostle his friends. He tied the canvas around his neck so that it hung around his chest diagonally, like a sling, and after gently placing Rainbow and Twilight into this makeshift pocket, Spike turned to Lyra.
"We're heading to the ruins of the Castle of the Two Sisters. It should be deep enough into the Everfree to keep away prying eyes. We should be able to set up camp there for at least a little while." He shifted his weight back and forth to make sure his precious cargo was safe and comfortable.
Lyra hesitated for a moment. "Are you sure about that, Spike? I mean, I know you can obviously defend yourself, and if I could get this bucking ring off my horn I could help, but there are a lot of ponies here that are far too weak to defend themselves."
Spike placed a hand oh her shoulder and gave her a knowing smile. "Don't worry, Lyra. I wouldn't be marching you all out there if I wasn't sure that I could keep everyone safe. I know a good number of defensive spells and wards that should keep us well guarded once we get to the castle." Lyra nodded, concern still evident in her eyes, and followed Spike back up to the gates of the camp.
"Alright, everypony, listen up. Our destination is in the Everfree. Everypony must stay in a tight, single file line. Wandering off will place not only you, but everypony else in danger if we have to find you. We should reach our destination by sunrise if we keep up a good pace through the night, so stay focused, stay with me, and rotate who pulls carts every few hours so we don't have to stop moving. Oh, and keep chatter to a minimum. We'll be making more than enough noise hauling these carts around. We can't afford to make much more."
With his piece said, Spike stepped to the front of the line and lead the trail of ponies into the dark unknowns of the Everfree. Spike, having regained a bit of strength from his short rest, conjured several small orbs of light which he scattered along the line of carts. He lead the way with a much brighter orb hovering over one shoulder, the other arm cradling his previous cargo close to his chest. The journey progressed uneventfully for hours, much to Spike's surprise, and by midnight he had concluded that the presence of a grown dragon was likely keeping most beasts in the Everfree at bay. Not even a lone Timberwolf had come anywhere near the group, and they littered the dark forest.
Once he was confident that the ponies would be safe as long as he stayed near, Spike periodically made brief flights above the treetops, using a darkvision spell to ensure that he was leading the group in the right direction. Thankfully, aside from a few encounters with hazardous terrain, their luck held, and nothing threatened the caravan as they pushed on through the twilight hours. Just as most of the ponies were reaching the point of exhaustion, Spike pushed through the brush into a clearing. Just ahead lay a drawbridge, warped by time but clearly built to last. The sun had yet to rise as the group of newly freed ponies funneled across and into the ruined castle, and, while he had to be careful to not tear open his wounds, Spike managed to raise the drawbridge after a serious struggle against the rusted bridge crank.
The group decided to set up camp in the throne room of the castle, as it was the only space vast enough to house everypony. While the rest of the group organized their acquired provisions and set up camp, Spike stood in the center of the room with his eyes closed and his hands in front of his chest, several inches between his clawtips, as if he was holding an invisible ball. The canvas pouch containing Twilight and Rainbow Dash sat at his feet. When Lyra finished organizing the group and took notice of the dragon's awkward stance, she proceeded over to him.
"Umm, Spike, what exactly are you doing?," she asked inquisitively. "You've been standing like that for nearly ten minutes now." She tilted her head slightly in confusion.
Spike did his best to maintain his focus while answering the unicorn's question. "I told you before that I would personally make sure everyone was safe. I'm preparing a defensive spell to ensure that anything which tries to wander in will either be repelled or occupied long enough for me to deal with personally."
Comprehension dawned on Lyra's face and she nodded, retreating away to let the dragon concentrate. It was another twenty minutes before a tiny pearl of luminescent amethyst light materialized between Spike's hands. The dragon slowly extended his claws, keeping the sphere stable as it grew larger and larger until it eventually expanded to encompass the entire throne room, passing harmlessly through everypony as it grew. The translucent magenta sphere soon circumscribed the whole palace, rippling for a moment at full size before slowly dissolving into nothing. Spike immediately collapsed to his hands and knees, hissing as the impact jarred his injured body. His breathing was labored, the guard and ward spell officially draining the last of his stamina.
Lyra, having seen him fall, rushed to his side, her face full of concern. "Lyra," he panted out, "I'm leaving you in charge." His body shook as he tried to get out his words. "I can't keep going anymore. T-take care of Twilight and Dash. Make sure everyone eats. If I'm not awake by sundown," he drew another shaky breath, "hit me with something heavy." Spike's body crumpled, falling away from the canvas pouch as his world went pitch black.
Twilight slowly opened her eyes, vision still blurry, to see patches of darkening sky and stars just now sparkling into view. Her mind was in a haze. The last thing she remembered was standing between Rainbow and a guard, and she remembered pain, but she didn't feel pain now. As she looked around groggily, one thing became quite apparent: this was not the work camp she had passed out in. Tilting her head slightly to one side, she could see several small campfires scattered around a long hall with stairs leading to two identical thrones at the far end. A handful of mine carts sat against the walls. Twilight could feel something screaming at her from the back of her fogged mind, but couldn't make it out.
As she struggled to gain her bearings and sit up, a Unicorn with a mint coat approached her with a bowl. "Here, Twilight, eat this. You've been unconscious for a full day, now. You need to regain your strength."
Twilight blinked at her but slowly took the bowl. It took a moment for her to recognize the mare, her mind finally putting together the mint coat and golden eyes. "Lyra? What's going on? Where are we?"
Lyra smiled gently. "We're in the ruins of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. He lead us here after he dismantled the work camp." Lyra struggled against her horn ring to levitate a small scrap of blanket onto Twilight. "He told me to make sure you two were taken care of to the utmost of my ability until he woke."
With Lyra's help, Twilight sat up slowly, realizing that her body was, in fact, a bit sore. She took a long draught of the vegetable soup Lyra had handed her, the warmth and flavor almost bringing tears to her eyes, then slowly began to puzzle through what she had been told. "What are you talking about Lyra? Who is 'he'? How did we get out of the camp, never mind make it this far into the Everfree?" Twilight looked around her again, noticing a rainbow mane not far from her. She registered then that Rainbow, and in fact herself, must have been badly injured, but when she looked back at Lyra the other Unicorn's smile only widened.
"Well, he said to wake him up by nightfall, so why don't you do it for me? Then you can ask him all the questions you like. I know we all have plenty, so I'm sure you have even more." Lyra pointed her hoof at a section of wall Twilight had not yet scanned.
Twilight's eyes followed the invisible line from Lyra's hoof to their apparent savior. As her violet eyes fell on the sleeping form of a large Amethyst dragon, her vision blurred and her throat tightened. She flung the blanket away and leapt up, paying no heed to her sore, fragile body or the bowl which she kicked aside. She galloped the short distance to the sleeping dragon and threw herself rather clumsily into his lap.
Spike shot awake to the feeling of something crashing into his chest, fully prepared to throw the object across the room, but he immediately stopped himself when he caught sight of the object's lavender coat. The next moment his emerald eyes locked with the large violet ones which looked as though they held a lifetime of unspent tears.
Twilight was the first to speak, as she fought to choke back her sobs. "I've had this dream so many times that it eventually became a nightmare. Tell me this isn't that nightmare. Tell me I'm not going to wake up on that cold mattress, inside that horrible camp. Please, please tell me you're really here, Spike. Tell me it's finally over. Please!" Twilight whimpered out her words, her voice low and desperate as she pressed her forehooves against Spike's chest.
Spike was momentarily at a loss for words. Twilight's terrified pleading voice and the look in her eyes of hope and terror struck him like a hammer and put a sudden burning desire in his heart to never let her out of his sight again. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and pulled her close, nuzzling into her mane.
It took him a moment to find his voice. When he could finally speak, he whispered into her ear, "You aren't dreaming, mom. I'm here. Everything is going to be okay now."
With that, the last of Twilight's restraint cracked and the floodgates opened. She buried her face into his hard scaly chest and cried like the world was coming to an end. Spike sat and stroked her mane, whispering comforting words to her as she let out two decades of sorrow, pain, and regret. Spike made another promise right then, with every ounce of conviction in his heart and soul.
Mom...I promise I'll make them pay for this. I swear to everything that I hold dear in this world that I will make them tremble at a dragon's might.
The night's darkness was quiet, the moon slowly descending in the last hours before the dawn, a few glimmers of wavering light barely visible in one of Canterlot Castle's arched windows. A Griffon sat at a table under the open window, the light of two candles illuminating the documents neatly stacked on either side of him. His pristine coat was a deceptively regal burnt shade of amber with a tinge of crimson, not too dissimilar from the king's, and his bright amber eyes showed that he was on constant high alert, even in the dead of night. He drew the next sheet from the sizable pile of papers to his right and frowned at the contents. "'Failure to receive shipment from facility 87'? This should go over just swimmingly." He shook his head and scrawled out instructions on the parchment to deploy an investigative team to the facility, then finished it with his signature, 'A Grimtalon.'
Avris Grimtalon was a model Griffon citizen. He was an exemplary soldier with infallible dedication, resolve, and strength of will; he had spent years steadily increasing both his strategic and combat expertise to be promoted up to his current status; and he was always willing to spend whatever time and effort was necessary to increase his operational knowledge so as to better perform his duties. Even his wedding had been an event with exceptional military attendance, his lovely wife having been a fairly high ranking officer herself before she retired from military life to raise their little girl.
Avris sighed and looked out the window at the moon. By his calculations, he would have just enough time to finish his work before his morning briefing with General Bloodwing. As chief advisor to the general, his workload was staggering, so finding him still in his office many hours after the rest of the city had gone to sleep was a regrettably common occurrence at this point. Spending yet another night away from home was not something he was pleased about, but his position and responsibilities could not be ignored. He grimaced slightly when he thought of the earful his wife would surely have for him when he got home. He couldn't blame her. Eyra was a patient woman, especially when it came to military matters, but recently it seemed he was always stuck in the castle at night drawing up work orders or dealing with matters which the general felt he hadn't the time for.
With great effort Avris pulled his eyes away from the night sky and focused back onto the papers in front of him. You can worry about your strained life at home later, he told himself. Right now it's time to work.
The strained Griffon grimaced at each work order and mandate he signed. While he was utterly dedicated to the empire, General Bloodwing's orders as of late had become almost criminal. He expected higher output from every facility, and ordered for decreased food rations for any work camp not meeting quota. The base restrictions for what ponies could and could not do in Equestria were much the same as they had been for years now, but there were more and more errors they could be punished for, and the range on those penalties was becoming ever larger, and leaning toward the more severe options every year. The love Avris had for his country and king was unquestionable, but the brutal laws signed into action by his own hand weighed heavily on his conscience. He had felt the urge on numerous occasions to speak up to the general about it, but it was not his place to question his superiors.
The twilight hours quickly dwindled as Avris finished his work. He sorted the papers and rose from his desk, reports clutched firmly in his beak, then proceeded out the door, careful that he heard it lock behind him. As he padded down the long corridor, the light from the rising sun began to beam through the arched windows. How many times now had he watched the sun set and then rise through the castle windows instead of through the ones in his bedroom? How many mornings since he last awoke curled up with his wife? The only thing he missed more than the feeling of Eyra beside him was the sight of their daughter bounding into their room and crash landing onto their bed. Once the issue with facility 87 was under control, he would request some time off. The minimal time he had been able to devote to his family as of late was simply becoming unacceptable.
When he reached the general's door, he promptly shoved his personal concerns to the back of his mind. The general loathed being awoken at sunrise, but Avris knew that the documents held in his beak were matters which could not wait. There was no doubt that the general needed to hear about the issue at facility 87, although it would surely infuriate him, especially at this hour, and he would more than likely pass the responsibility of overseeing the investigation off to his advisor. After quickly preparing his thoughts, Avris rapped soundly on the large, ornate door.
He heard light footsteps approach the door, and when the heavy door swung slowly open he was greeted by the general's hand servant, Princess Celestia herself. General Bloodwing had kept the princess of the sun close by as his own personal servant since the invasion twenty years ago. With downcast eyes, the Alicorn ushered him into the room and disappeared into the general's walk-in wardrobe. Avris stepped in and turned to his left where Bloodwing's massive frame was slowly rising from his bed, his wings stretching out to their impressive six meter span.
"Avris, I'm certain I've told you how much I dislike being awoken at daybreak," he rumbled irritatedly. A string of pops and cracks then echoed around the room as he twisted his neck back and forth. Celestia stepped lightly out of the wardrobe, wearing a small, pale pink chemise and holding a pitch black tunic for Bloodwing. Her eyes were still fixed squarely on the floor slightly in front of her as she walked over to him. There had been a time when she would blush in embarrassment at being seen in such clothing, but her eyes and expression now were quiet, betraying nothing of her feelings on the matter.
"I know, sir, but this particular information is something which must be attended to immediately."
"Very well," he grumbled, stretching an arm out for Celestia to slide on the tunic. "What do you have to report." It was much more of a statement than a question. Avris decided to start with good news to try and brighten the general's mood before moving onto the more problematic documents.
"I received a letter from the king last night. It appears the royal runecrafters have finally devised a way to destroy the Elements of Harmony. Within a week's time they can be shattered, and the being known as Discord shall uphold his end of the bargain and free the sun and the moon from the control of the princesses."
Bloodwing seemed to swell with glee. "Excellent!" he boomed out. "Truly it has been far too long that such an aspect of daily life has been controlled by the whims of such pathetic beings. It will be delightful to see the sun and moon rise and fall on their own each day instead of being shackled to the wills of some worldly harlots." His deep, throaty chuckle resounded around the room. Celestia's eyes had widened slightly when Avris had made his announcement, and her face was not quite as inscrutable as before as she stood behind the general.
Avris swallowed, bracing himself. "In other news, sir, it appears there has been another rebel attack on the supply lines running through the mountains. Reports indicate that the group was comprised largely of Pegasi, no doubt organized by the Crimson Wing offensive." He almost recoiled at the look on Bloodwing's face. The mere mention of rebel activities was enough to enrage him. Luckily he seemed to recompose himself quickly this morning, causing Avris to breathe a mental sigh of relief at starting with the news from the capital.
"Any other news, Avris?" Bloodwing snapped as he walked over to his refreshments table.
"Just one other thing, sir. I've been informed that facility 87 is late on their delivery and report this week." He did his best to hold his head high as he saw the general's wings stiffen and his arm freeze as he reached for a goblet. Bloodwing whirled around, almost knocking the small table over, his golden eyes full of fury.
"I want a full team dispatched immediately to determine the cause of the delay!" His voice was steadily raising to a shout. "That camp holds two invaluable pieces of cargo, and I will see heads roll if they are not accounted for!" The sheer intensity of the general's command left his shoulders heaving in its wake. Avris simply nodded sharply.
Bloodwing turned back to his refreshments table. "If that is all you have to report, then leave me. Seeing your sorry face isn't a way I enjoy starting my day to begin with, and I've no interest in any more news of general incompetence," Bloodwing grunted over his shoulder as he poured himself a glass of wine. Avris saluted the general silently and turned to leave, but paused for a moment. He turned back slightly.
"Sir," he began. Bloodwing turned, surprised his advisor had not yet exited his chambers. "When the business with the Elements is settled and the delays at facility 87 are investigated and dealt with, I'd like to request a leave of absence. I've been here from dawn to dusk and frequently overnight for over a month now, and my family is beginning to worry." For once, Avris looked Bloodwing dead in the eye.
The general met his gaze, holding it for a few silent moments before huffing, then turning back to his goblet and nodding slightly. "Very well, Avris. Once the current matters are handled, I'll sign off on a week of leave. Your exemplary service indeed merits some time with your family." He then waved Avris away, who saluted once more and exited the room.
Once the door swung shut, Bloodwing turned to his servant and sneered. "You hear that, Celestia? By week's end, the Elements of Harmony will be gone, and you and your wretched race will lose your monopoly on the sun and moon." His deep laughter filled the chamber before he tossed a chunk of smoked fish in the air, catching it in his beak with a precise snap. He picked up his goblet and proceeded over to his desk, placing it down. Celestia bit her lip as the general passed by her, but she couldn't stop herself from speaking up.
"My good general, please, you must ask the king to reconsider. Discord is not a being to be trusted, and giving him the chance to toy with something of such great importance could end disastrously!" The general again froze for a moment before whirling around, eyes burning with rage. Celestia braced herself for what she knew was coming as the hulking Griffon took one long stride toward her, lifting his arm as he moved, and backhanded her with such force that she was sent tumbling backward into the wall behind her. As she began to pick herself up, blood trickling from her lip, a shadow fell over her and the general gripped her muzzle like a vice, pulling her entire torso and forelegs off the polished floor.
"How dare you question the king's plans, you cheap harlot! If I hear so much as another word out of you about this, I'll ensure you're never able to eat solid food again, and I'll see the same done to your sister." The mention of any harm coming to Luna changed Celestia's eyes from dull to fearful instantly. She had been conditioned at this point to care little for her own physical well-being, but threats against her sister were still very real to her. Satisfied that his message was clear, Bloodwing let go of Celestia's muzzle, allowing her to drop unceremoniously onto the floor again, and seated himself at his desk.
"Pick yourself up and retrieve my equipment from the armory. When you return, you will prepare my luggage, and be quick about it," he barked over his shoulder. "I will be leaving for the capital tonight to oversee the dealings with this Discord fellow, and I will not stand for any delays."
After Celestia exited the room, Bloodwing quickly padded over to the door and locked it shut behind her before making his way over to the left wall of the room, past his bed. He placed his talons against the wall and pressed one of the small stones, causing it to sink into the wall with a click. The false wall slid to the side to reveal Avris standing at attention in a corridor just large enough for a single Griffon to walk through, a bundle of parchments clutched to his side. The general ushered him in and cleared his desk, then greedily snatched the bundle and placed it down.
"I must say, Avris," he remarked as he spread out the parchments, "if the military life were ever to lose its luster, you should consider taking up theater. That particular performance was magnificent."
"I am humbled by your praise, sir, but I'm not sure I'm really suited for any life other than military life."
Bloodwing chuckled at the remark, now inspecting each document before him. After ascertaining that everything was in order, he turned back to Avris. "Excellent. Inform the alchemists to continue their experiments with Luna. I want the new formula completed as soon as possible and distributed to all ranking officers." He quickly gathered up the parchments and tossed them into his fireplace along with a match, then watched them begin to curl up and turn to ash.
"It shall be done at once, and, sir, about my earlier performance, I was serious about the leave. My country is always at the front of my mind, but I really have been absent from home for far longer than I would like." Avris spoke in a firm but respectful tone and stood resolute as his superior finally turned from the fire, finally sure no traces of the documents remained.
"I had a feeling that was the case, my friend," Bloodwing stated in the same tone, locking eyes with his subordinate. "I would issue the time starting today, but I require you to oversee Equestria in my absence. I would trust no one but you with this task. Once I return from the capital, you may take an entire month's leave if you so desire."
Avris bowed low to the ground. "You honor me with this task, General. I shall ensure Equestria remains exactly as you leave it for when you return."
"Good, now make yourself scarce before my servant returns." Bloodwing handed Avris another stack of letters. "Ensure these reach the proper messengers as well. It is important that the king be kept properly appraised of the goings-on in Equestria." He smirked darkly as his advisor exited through the secret passage, then clicked the stone in once more, causing the wall to slide back to its normal shape. There is no greater feeling than seeing a long-term plan finally come to fruition, he thought as he went to unlock the main door to his chamber.
As he sat back down at his desk and pulled over the papers he had swept aside, he heard Celestia's soft hoofsteps approaching the room. He cast a disdainful glance at the Alicorn as she entered the room, his armor and sword clutched by the minimal magic she was capable of utilizing with the intricate steel suppressor ring affixed to her horn.
"About time," he snapped at her as she carefully lowered his pristine equipment onto his bed. "Pack enough in my bags for one week, and be thorough about it. You know what's in store for you should something be missing when I reach the capital."
Celestia bowed her head low and mumbled, "at once, sir," then disappeared into his wardrobe.
Bloodwing returned to the documents he was preparing. If he was to be absent from Canterlot for a week, he needed the proper containment staff notified. After he completed all the instructions which would be sent to various Griffons around the castle and city, he wrote up a brief but precise letter for Avris, who he knew would need little direction on procedures while he was gone. He stood and bound the parchments together with a short length of black string, then pulled a short rope located on the wall next to his desk. Within moments there was a knock on his door. He sauntered over and opened it to see a small messenger Griffon standing at attention.
He glared down his beak at the soldier and bent down close to him. "See that these get to their proper destinations or I will have every last member of your family eviscerated in their sleep," the general hissed darkly. The smaller Griffon accepted the documents with shaking talons and nodded fervently, doing his best to keep his posture straight and tall. It pleased Bloodwing to no end that no matter how many years these peons were under his command, he could still make them quiver in fear. He stood back up at his full height and nodded curtly, and the soldier rushed down the hallway and out of sight.
While closing the door, Bloodwing saw Celestia exiting his wardrobe out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see her carrying an array of silk clothing in various dark shades of red, blue, and black over to his bed in her faint magical grip. He watched as she carefully placed them onto his bed beside the bags she had taken out, methodically folded each article, and placed them all into the bags. It still infuriated him that even after twenty years of abuse and servitude, she still endeavored to carry herself like royalty. He stifled his rage for the moment, as there were more pressing issues to focus on, and turned his attention to his equipment.
As he finished affixing his sword belt, he heard his servant quietly clear her throat behind him. He turned to see her standing before him, head bowed low, his bag held in the air before him.
"I prepared one week's worth of attire, sir." She dared not even raise her head, much less look him in the eye. Bloodwing took the bag from her magical grip and was turning back to put on his sword when he head another muted sound from the Alicorn.
"I begin to tire of your presence, Celestia. You have my permission to speak, but be quick about it before I lose my patience."
Celestia hesitated for a moment before clearing her throat and responding softly, "I was wondering, sir, if I would be accompanying you to the capital."
Bloodwing said nothing at first, but then allowed a long, hearty laugh to burst forth. "Oh, Celestia, that is simply precious. Do you really think I intend to let you within one hundred leagues of the king? I'm sure you'd love to try and convince him of all the terrible things happening to you and your precious ponies, but I'll die before that happens. No. You, my dear, will be staying here in Canterlot. You will attend to Brigadier Avris while I am gone, and you had best serve him just as well as you serve me," he said as he picked up his bag again and placed his helm upon his head.
With that, the hulking Griffon left the room, and Celestia was left to her thoughts. She knew it had been but a fool's hope. Bloodwing would never allow her even a fleeting chance to speak with King Ozarian. She knew far too much about all of the horrific things happening in Equestria to which the king was being kept blind. She also knew it was no mistake that she had seen so much. Everything Bloodwing did concerning her was for the express purpose of making her life a living hell. She had been reduced from being the ruler of a nation to a mere servant girl, forced to follow every whim of a man who took sadistic pleasure in brutally punishing her for even the slightest missteps. She was now forced to spend her days listening to him discuss every terrible thing he did to Equestria and its citizens.
General Varzeros Bloodwing was, at his very core, a ruthless, power-hungry, manipulative, narcissistic demon. Celestia hated him with every fiber of her being, but all of her hate was for naught. There was nothing she could do in her current situation. As she did on most occasions when she was alone, the broken, defeated Alicorn slumped to the floor and broke down into tears. She wept for all of her failures. She wept for letting Equestria fall, for every pony harmed because she hadn't been a better leader, for her sister who she hadn't seen in nearly ten years.
After some long moments, in a masterful show of willpower, she collected herself. She would not let him or anyone else see her cry. She rose to her feet and, knowing that remaining idle for long would earn her a punishment, she set about her normal daily tasks. At least I'll be free of him for a week, she thought to herself as she finished making the general's bed and went about emptying his chamber pot. She knew Avris Grimtalon was a Griffon of honor. She had seen his brief looks of disgust whenever Bloodwing hit her in his presence. Serving him while Bloodwing was away would be the closest thing to freedom she had experienced in over a decade.
With that thought rooted firmly in her head, she continued her cleaning duties, all too eager to watch the general fly off into the night sky.
Spike touched down in the center of the courtyard after completing his final aerial sweep for the night. It was just over a week ago that he had lead the ponies out of the wretched work camp in which they had been imprisoned for so long, and many were still regaining the strength sapped out of their bodies by all the years of forced labor and cruelty. That combined with the suppressor rings on the horn of every Unicorn present meant he was currently their only line of defense, so he had taken it upon himself to perform a daily search of the area surrounding the castle to ensure that no possible threats came too close. He had also sat down for some lengthy talks with Twilight and Lyra to learn as much as possible about the past twenty years in Equestria.
When Twilight first told him about the punishment which had put Rainbow Dash in her current miserable state, he had immediately seen red. If not for a firm slap to the face from the lavender Unicorn, he would have surely gone on a rampage. Both she and Lyra had been crystal clear, though, that they were likely in the only currently safe location in Equestria due to its hidden nature, and regardless of Spike's power, he could not take down an army alone. The only others who had taken a stand were an evasive Pegasi rebel group, and the only way for them to stay safe was to stay in constant motion to elude Griffon forces. So, for the time being, the Dragon had to wait.
He had realized quickly that every day he spent in the castle stewing would only bring him closer to his boiling point. He needed to do something, anything, to start rectifying the current situation and ease his troubled mind. His first instinct was to get back to Ponyville and try to find his other childhood friends, so he had spent every possible moment working on a way to do so. As he made his way through the main hall, passing through ponies who were getting ready to sleep, he briefly made eye contact with Twilight, who was tucking in Rainbow Dash, and gave her a slight nod. She silently returned the nod, and he proceeded upstairs.
After making sure everypony was comfortable for the night, Twilight and Lyra went upstairs and entered the chamber which was once the shared bedroom of the royal sisters. Spike had been using it as a makeshift office so that the three could have discussions and make plans away from the rest of their company. The two Unicorns found the violet dragon seated behind the large, slightly-decayed desk. He sat slightly hunched over in the equally large and old oak chair, elbows rested on the dark, unfinished oak surface, snout on his clasped hands. His posture made it clear that he was deep in thought, but Twilight immediately noticed the slight crease to his brow, the almost imperceptible frown, and recognized the look all too well. While somepony else may not have noticed, Spike was clearly upset. When Lyra let the door close with a low thud, Spike raised his head and motioned for them to sit. "I'm sure it goes without saying that I've been a bit on edge. I'll be honest: receiving all this terrible news day after day and having no immediate way to change anything has left me both angry and agitated." The dragon sat up straight and lowered his clasped hands to his desk.
"As things stand, nopony here can provide me with anything resembling useful information about the current state of Equestria. I cannot fault any of you for this, but we certainly won't improve our odds of changing things by remaining in the dark." He paused for a moment, then took a deep breath and continued. "I have decided to return to Ponyville to try making contact with the remaining Elements of Harmony. I assume they have been living relatively free lives and should be able to provide me with more updated information than you, who have been imprisoned. While I'm gone, I will place the two of you in charge here." Having said this, Spike sat back in his chair and awaited a response.
Twilight's eyes, which had been slowly getting wider as he spoke, were frantic. "Spike, are you out of your mind?" She was clearly working very hard to keep the volume of her response controlled so as not to worry those down in the main hall. "We don't need to have been in Ponyville for the last decade to tell you that the Griffons aren't going to let a grown dragon simply waltz into town!" Lyra nodded quickly in affirmation, eyes just as concerned.
Spike chuckled. "Twi, who said anything about a dragon going to Ponyville?" He rose from his chair and stood in front of his desk, then with a snap of his clawed fingers, a flash of light filled the room, causing both Unicorns to shield their eyes. As the light faded and their eyes readjusted, the ponies found themselves looking into the eyes of not a dragon but a strapping Unicorn stallion with an amethyst coat and a two-toned emerald and malachite mane. Twilight looked like she was having a hard time keeping her jaw from dropping to the floor in shock.
"I would've thought by now that you two would be more aware of my magical prowess," Spike said a tad smugly. "A simply transformation spell like this is a trick we dragons have been using since before ponies began recording history." His grin did not fade as he took a seat on the floor before the two mares.
Twilight was once again the first to reply once she collected herself. "Spike, that's incredible!" she said excitedly while padding around him, inspecting his Unicorn appearance. "Your transformation is flawless!"
Lyra seemed less excited, her eyes still as troubled as when he had stated the plan. "Your disguise is undoubtedly great, Spike, but I'm rather worried about the implications of you leaving the castle. You are currently the sole force defending this place, so you being gone for any amount of time would place everypony in grave danger. You maintain the spell that shields this place, and you are the only being strong enough to fend off the creatures of the Everfree. If a pack of hungry timberwolves got close enough to sniff us out, we'd be done for."
Spike nodded in agreement and replied, "I understand the concern, Lyra, but luckily for us I believe I've found a way to add two more watchmen to the guard of the castle."
"Well, in that case I would want to meet them first if that is at all possible." The mint-coated mare still looked rather distressed at the whole idea.
"Oh, there's no need for that. You both know our new watchmen quite well. Well, watchmares I should say."
Twilight and Lyra shared a puzzled look. Some comprehension began to dawn in each of their eyes as they looked back to him and Twilight spoke. "I'm not sure if you're going where I think you are with this, Spike, but…"
He cut her off with a deep chuckle. "I am indeed looking at the two who will guard the palace in my absence." He held up a hoof to stop the protest he knew would come. "I've been searching for a proper spell to deactivate those rings on your horns and return you both to full capacity, and I think I finally cracked it before tonight's patrol. If this works, you should be more than capable of casting the guards and wards spell with minimal instruction," he said to Twilight, "and you should be able to easily dispatch any threats that infiltrate the shield," he said as he turned to Lyra.
"Now let's get going on this." With a wave of his hoof and another flash of light, Spike the dragon was before them once again, rising to his feet. He stepped over to stand in front of Twilight and raised his clawed hands around either side of her horn.
"Try not to move, Twi. The spell I've devised isn't complicated, but the more you move, the harder it'll be for me to focus on the ring."
The three sat perfectly still as the room hummed softly with arcane magic. One by one each rune adorning the ring took on a dull yellow glow until they were all lit, then the glow strengthened momentarily before fading away. As the ring went dark, there was a muffled crack followed by bits of metal hitting the floor. Twilight immediately shivered openly as magic rushed through her veins for the first time in nearly fifteen years. The feeling was almost foreign now, and it was absolutely exhilarating. She fought to contain her excitement as Spike moved on to Lyra, still in deep concentration, to perform the same ritual for her.
In just over twenty minutes since he had started, the fragments of the second ring fell to the floor, giving Lyra access to her own magic after twenty years without it.
"I will admit that when I initially saw those rings, I had no idea how to remove them, but upon further inspection I realized that it wasn't magic which fueled them, but runecraft. A typical disenchant spell wouldn't suffice, so I had to get creative and whip up a little something of my own." Spike pulled out a small notebook and placed it in front of Twilight, who relished in lifting and opening it with her newly returned magic.
"In there are my personal notes on Griffon runecrafting. I'll be lending you this along with some books I found on the subject. Before I depart, I'll go through my method of removing these rings with you, and you should research as much as you can on runecraft while I'm away. We will surely have to deal with more if we continue our rebellion." Twilight nodded without looking away from the notes, the familiar spark in her eyes as she devoured this new knowledge warming Spike's heart. He then turned to Lyra.
"Lyra, I want you to begin instructing every Unicorn present in the most basic forms of the Still Way the moment you are able. You'll also need to find out if there are any other martially trained ponies among us. You are presently the only one skilled in pony combat, and we won't get far with just the two of us able to jump into the fray if the need arises. I entrust the training of our future troops to you." Lyra stood ramrod straight and nodded militantly, her eyes filled with determination.
"Come sunrise I shall depart for Ponyville to try and recover the other Elements. During my absence it will be of utmost importance that you both carry out the tasks I am leaving you with to the fullest extent of your abilities. We are the seeds of rebellion. If we dare wish for any hope of overthrowing the Griffons and reclaiming Equestria for its rightful rulers, we must ensure our seed takes root and grows properly. I am placing my trust in the two of you. Can you complete the tasks I've presented for you?" He set the two mares with a commanding look filled with fiery vigor.
"Leave everything to us. We will not fail," the pair responded in perfect unison, eyes alight.
Spike could only smile in response.
The thick foliage of the Everfree did a good job hiding the bright flash of light which went off near the border of Ponyville as the midday sun began sinking toward the horizon. As Spike made his way out of the dense forest, he spotted what appeared to be some sort of checkpoint built on the road leading into town. An armored Griffon sat inside a sturdy little booth flipping lazily through a newspaper. Spike paused for a moment to weigh his options. If he took the road, the guard would undoubtedly see him due to the placement of the structure. If he tried to cross the open field to sneak into town, the lack of cover would also lead to him being spotted, since security checkpoints to enter town likely meant at least a small guard and perhaps patrols. He certainly didn't want to be immediately detained upon arrival to his childhood home.
Spike pondered for a moment before his lips curled into a wry grin. He briefly deliberated the solution he had come up with. It was potentially reckless, but, given how limited his options were, he exited the forest and stepped onto the dirt road leading into town, strolling rather nonchalantly up to the building which blocked the way.
A quick rap on the front window brought the guard to attention.
"Pardon me, sir. I was wondering if I could enter the town," Spike said coolly, looking the Griffon dead in the eye. The Griffon frowned and stepped out of the booth.
"I'll need to see your papers before you go anywhere," he said as he attempted to stand imposingly over the amethyst stallion. Unfortunately for him, Spike had sculpted a rather imposing pony illusion for himself, easily standing at eye level with the rather small border patrol.
The corner of Spike's mouth barely turned upward as he made a subtle gesture with his right hoof, expertly employing a suggestion spell.
"You don't need to see my papers. I'm here visiting a sick friend."
The Griffon's eyes went dull as he replied in a deadpan voice, "I don't need to see your papers, sir." Spike grinned.
"Enjoy your stay in Ponyville." The guard stepped back into the booth, stamped a sheet of paper, and passed it through the window to Spike.
"Enjoy your stay in Ponyville, sir." Spike grinned as he accepted the paper and placed it in his bag then continued down the road toward town, pleased that his plan had worked so well.
Thanks be to Io for these Griffons being so delightfully dimwitted, Spike thought in silent gratitude. As he approached the small town in which he had spent much of his childhood, a wave of nostalgia washed over him, flickers of memories floating to the front of his thoughts. Ponyville itself, however, did not greet him with the warmth he remembered.
The friendly, welcoming atmosphere Ponyville had exuded in his youth seemed to have been stripped away and replaced with a cold sense of foreboding. It was as if the Griffons had somehow drained the very color from the town, leaving everything a dull, silent grey. Spike's memories were of bustling businesses and smiling townsfolk milling about, and each step down the now deserted streets only strengthened his resolve to make things right. This was not how Ponyville was supposed to be.
When Spike entered the market square, which should have been filled with carts and ponies selling their wares, he was met with a barren expanse of brick. Never would have imagined Ponyville could be so utterly depressing, he thought to himself as he watched a swirl of leaves get blown across the grim landscape. If memory serves, Carousel Boutique should be the closest, and Rarity always was in the know from what I remember…should be a good place to start. With his destination in mind, Spike proceeded toward the only high fashion establishment in all of Ponyville.
The sun had begun to set when Spike reached what he remembered to be the location of the boutique. What he found where the beautifully designed building once stood was an imposing iron monstrosity. Gone were the meticulously chosen decorations and the lovely silks and velvets from the windows. Additions had been fastened all around the main structure, like so many strangling vines snaking around the trunk of a tree, slowly squeezing the life from it, and each one was producing a steady trickle of black smoke, even with no sounds of activity inside. Spike shuddered to think what the columns would produce if there was work being done. The once inviting dress shop had been turned into a nightmare of iron and smog that he could scarcely recognize.
Spike gathered himself and knocked on the door of the imposing establishment, hoping that Rarity was still the proprietor of the shop despite its vulgar appearance. When his first knock was met with silence, he frowned. Determined to at least see who was running this modified metal abomination, he rapped loudly on the door, the sound echoing down the deserted streets. It wasn't long before he heard shuffling behind the door, and then a voice he could never forget no matter how many years it had been.
"We are closed for business at the moment. Please bring your orders to the front desk when we open in the morning." Spike didn't need to hear more than a single word to know who the posh, sophisticated voice belonged to.
"I don't have an order, persay. I was looking for a particular mare that used to run a dress shop in this location. I spent many an afternoon here as a little dragon helping her sew and collect jewels for her creations."
There was a brief silence before he heard a chorus of bolts and chains being undone and he let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. The door flew open to reveal a worn and haggard Rarity. There were slight frown lines etched into her forehead and dark circles under her eyes, emphasized by her normally flawless eyeshadow and mascara being smudged. Her once vibrant, styled mane hung loose and unkempt around her face. Her eyes went wide the moment she locked eyes with him and she froze, blindsided as two decades of separation came to an abrupt end. As if someone had paused Rarity and then pressed play, her eyes suddenly swam with tears and she threw herself at Spike, who caught her without missing a beat.
Her body shook silently for several moments before stilling, then, as quickly as the emotion had overtaken her, she recomposed herself and ushered him inside, immediately bolting the door shut behind him.
"Excuse me for a moment, Spike. I need to escort my current guest out." Before Spike could respond, she was gone, leaving him standing alone in the entryway. It wasn't long before she returned, a Unicorn stallion with an onyx coat following just a step behind.
"I do so apologize for this, Rhyme, but a very old and dear friend has dropped in and I simply cannot miss this opportunity to catch up. I do hope you understand the situation," she said sweetly, looking up at him. Spike could tell just from her tone that she was putting on her best pleading puppy dog eyes. The onyx stallion smiled in return.
"It's no trouble at all, Miss Rarity. I left the refreshments in the cooler, so you and your friend help yourselves, alright? I'll catch you on a better day." With that, he tipped his hat to her and Spike before placing it over his cobalt mane and letting himself out. Rarity immediately went to the door and refastened every last lock and chain.
As Rarity led Spike into the sitting area of the house, Spike stopped for a moment and, after noting that all windows were fully covered, dropped his disguise with a quick wave of his hoof. Rarity turned, confusion from the sudden flash of light evident in her eyes. The moment she saw the purple dragon before her, her eyes filled with pain and longing, and she threw herself at him for the second time that evening. He caught her once again and held her close as she dissolved into tears, her frail body going limp. Spike was taken aback by the outbursts of emotion from his childhood friend. He had never expected that his return would elicit such a reaction, especially from the always confident and composed Rarity he remembered.
When Rarity's sobs finally weakened, Spike dared to lift her chin up from his chest only to be met with a look as heart-wrenching as the one he had received from Twilight only a short week ago. Rarity's eyes were glassy with tears still unshed and filled with pain, showing clearly how much the past two decades under Griffon rule had damaged her mind. It might take some time before she could explain to him exactly what had happened to Ponyville while he was gone.
Spike carried the mare over to her divan and managed to calm her down enough for her to stay upright on her own before setting her down and sitting on the floor beside her. He wiped the last of her tears from her eyes and nuzzled her.
"You don't have to say anything, Rarity," he said softly. "I've already found Twilight, and I've learned how terrible things have been while I've been away. I'm here now to try to right the wrongs and return Equestria to the way I remember it." As he drew away from the Unicorn, his hypersensitive nose suddenly made him aware of the lingering scent of strong alcohol.
"Rarity, have you been drinking?"
Her horn lit up in response. A small cabinet quietly opened and a bottle of amber liquid floated out accompanied by two small glasses. Before Spike could come up with the right question to start with, the top of the bottle spun off and it poured the liquid into the two awaiting glasses before coming to rest gently on the table. One glass levitated over to Spike, who wordlessly took it out of Rarity's magical grip.
"In times like these, darling, even the best of ponies need a little something to take their minds away from the troubles of daily life." That being said, the fashionista tipped her glass back and downed its contents in a single swig,
Spike was stunned as his childhood crush expertly downed her drink. He took a sip from his glass as Rarity refilled hers. Dragons never had much use for commonplace alcohol, as their anatomy burnt off most of it before it could enter the bloodstream. There were, of course, specially fortified brews his master had exposed him to which could get the job done, but he could chug Nightmare moonshine for three days straight and not catch the slightest buzz. The taste of the Sweet Apple whiskey Rarity had passed to him wasn't bad, though, and he took another small sip as the bottle placed itself on the table again.
After a slight pause in her motions, Rarity said, "Now that I've settled down a bit, I do believe I have some questions which merit answers."
"By all means, ask away."
She sipped her drink and gave him a sideways glance. "Well, first and foremost I simply must know how my adorable little baby dragon showed up on my doorstep as a rather strapping stallion this evening. Dragons certainly don't just turn into ponies as they age, and you are of course in a more…expected physical form now." She eyed him up and down, drink still at her lips.
Spike chuckled. "Well, you are correct about that. I just used a little shapeshifting magic to disguise myself. I wanted my entry into Ponyville to go as smoothly as possible."
Rarity gasped and replied, "I thought only the princesses possessed magic powerful enough to completely alter somepony's appearance," to which Spike couldn't help but laugh as he remembered his own naivety.
"One of the first things I learned after leaving Equestria was that the majority of the things I had learned here were as far from the truth as I could have ever imagined. Without going into too much detail, I will note that Celestia and Luna are far lower on the scale of magical beings than they would want anypony to believe." He tossed back the last of his drink before setting down the glass and staring intently at Rarity.
"That isn't important, though. The reason I'm here is to get you and others back together. If we are to have any chance of success, we need to reunite the Elements of Harmony. I have Twilight and Rainbow Dash hidden away at our current base of operations, and I came back to retrieve you, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Applejack."
Rarity dropped her gaze to the floor and held it there for far longer than Spike was comfortable with. He had expected surprise perhaps, or something akin to Twilight's initial reaction, but there was clearly something bothering the snow-white mare and Spike needed to know what it was. "Rarity, what's the matter? I've been out of the game for two decades now; I'm counting on you to bring me back up to speed right now." He kept his voice encouraging but firm as he spoke.
Rarity bit her bottom lip before downing what was left in her glass and bringing her eyes up to stare forward at the bottle on her table. "I'm afraid things might not be as simple as you want them to be." She refused to make eye contact with Spike as she spoke. "If I were to disappear from the shop, Sweetie Belle and my parents would be sipped off to one of those horrid work camps. The same goes for Applejack if she were to stop tending to the farm. As for Pinkie and Fluttershy, well, both of them seem to have slipped…" Her voice cracked slightly, and she quickly poured herself another glass of whiskey and drank it in one gulp.
"Fluttershy, despite my best efforts, seems to have withdrawn into her own little dream world." Her voice was strained. "Talking to her is like talking to a filly playing pretend. She is completely dissociated from the rest of the world." She took a deep breath before going on. "Pinkie Pie is another story entirely. Ever since those brutish Griffons invaded Ponyville she has kept herself shut away fro the outside world. I haven't heard her speak a single word in over ten years. It's been longer since she last smiled."
Spike leaned forward and held his head in his hands. His friends were far worse off than he had predicted, which complicated matters significantly. Rarity carefully moved over to the edge of the divan and said quietly, "I'm sorry, my dear, but I don't think any of us are in any shape to be leaving Ponyville at the moment," punctuating the admittance by draping a foreleg over Spike's shoulder. The amethyst dragon tensed under her touch. With a heavy sigh, he rose his head up. A dragon did not give up so easily. He turned to Rarity, a forceful determination in his eyes, and sat up straight, willing the worry and doubt from his body as she pulled her hoof from his shoulder.
"I didn't rescue an entire camp full of ponies only to have them return to lives as nothing more than slaves. If I have to smash my way through an entire army of Griffons to rescue your family and Applejack's, so be it. If I have to spend the rest of my life trying to find a way to mend both Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy's damaged psyches I will gladly do it. I will not surrender now and let my friends and family continue to suffer under Griffon rule." He placed a hand on Rarity's cheek, using his thumb to carefully wipe away the fresh tears which had sprung to her eyes. "I will fight to my last breath so that you can all live your lives in whatever ways you wish to."
His deep, forceful tone and commanding presence as he spoke those words shook Rarity to her very core. The Spike she knew so many years ago was only a child. He could never have invoked such powerful feelings in her, feelings which caused her to shiver and blush lightly as she met his gaze. Her body seemed to move on its own, rising slightly to press her lips against his only to have him turn away at the last moment.
The mare's blush brightened as she looked away while Spike stood up fully.
"I'm sorry, Rarity, but I'm simply past that point in my life," Spike said quietly, brushing his nose with his thumb. "You'll always be a very special somepony to me, but I'm afraid I've moved past that particular crush." He leaned down to nuzzle the top of her head for just a moment.
"Why don't you show me where I can sleep tonight? We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, and if we're planning to get everyone back together, we're both going to need every bit of energy we can get."
Rarity smiled up at the amethyst dragon and daintily levitated the bottle of whiskey back into the cabinet, which closed as quietly as it had opened, before stepping off the divan and gesturing for him to follow her. He was right, after all. If they wanted to see things return to normal, they couldn't allow themselves to be sidetracked by such attractions.
Saving the Lost (Part I), Butterflies and Precious Gems.
A single shaft of light slowly crept across the floor of Rarity's guest room through the slim opening at the top of her tightly drawn curtains until it landed squarely on the eyes of a sleeping purple dragon. With a grumble, the groggy dragon placed a clawed hand over his face and sat up, nearly hitting his head on the canopy above him. After so many years far from Equestria, he had not registered how much larger he now was in comparison to pony homes.
Spike slowly rose from the bed with a massive yawn and steadied himself, allowing the fog to clear from his first full night of sleep in over a week, then with a quick snap of his fingers, returned to his stallion disguise. After ascertaining his illusion was stable, he exited the bedroom and made his way down the hall to the bathroom. His horn glow a faint emerald green as he applied his magic to the hot water knob in the shower, cranking it up as high as it would go. He would have much preferred to take a shower without the transmogrification spell in place, but he knew that at full height he would never be able to properly use a pony's bathroom.
As his telekinesis worked one of Rarity's many shampoos through his mane, Spike let out a long sigh. The state of Ponyville was still weighing heavy on his mind, far more than he had expected it to, and the fact that two of his closest friends should have been, according to Rarity, institutionalized based on all conventional standards long ago was his first and foremost concern. He had to somehow bring them back to reality before anything further could be done, but it had been so long since either of them had seen him that he doubted he would be able to significantly impact their stunted states of mind. It was as this concern floated around in his head that another thought clicked into place.
Maybe I don't have to be the one to help them… Maybe I just need to give the ones who can help them a chance to do it. He quickly washed the remaining shampoo from his mane, used his magic to shut the water off, and proceeded to step out and dry off his coat. Rarity was closer to Shy than anyone else. I need to get them to sit down together to see if Rarity can crack through whatever wall Shy has built between herself and the rest of the world.
Spike nodded in silent self-affirmation, then exited the bathroom, towel still draped over his head. As soon as his hooves touched the hallway, he collided with something small and white, which he caught in a magical emerald grip before she could fall to the floor.
"Sorry, Rarity. I didn't even hear you outside the door." The violet stallion pulled his towel off his head so it draped around his neck.
The alabaster mare immediately regained her bearings and looked up at him with a panicked expression.
"Spike, you must come downstairs this instant. There are guards at the door asking questions about the strange stallion staying at my shop. Someone must have followed you here last night once you arrived in town." The frantic look in her eyes gave Spike significant new insight as to just how terrified the citizens were of the Griffons constantly patrolling the town. He remembered then how quickly she had dragged him into her home the night before once she knew who he was. He nodded to her, then quickly went to retrieve a small booklet off the nightstand in the guest room, which he brought downstairs to the sitting room where Rarity was anxiously waiting by the front door.
He placed a hoof on Rarity's shoulder and gave her a small comforting smile to try and convince her that everything would be fine. The mare simply gathered herself and opened the door, outside of which stood a squad of five Griffons. After a single flick of his eyes over the group to size them up, Spike was torn between wanting to chuckle and scowl. Between their body language and equipment, he could tell that this squad was even more ill-suited for combat than the Griffons he had dispatched at the work camp, but no normal town pony would be a match for them based on size and armaments alone. One little whisper had reached them and they had immediately sent an entire intimidation squad in, which he did not care for one bit. His thoughts were cut short as one of the Griffons spoke.
"Is this the stallion in question?" The stocky, brutish soldier fixed Rarity with what was certainly meant to be a cold and imposing glare, but it only made Spike all the more amused inside. When he felt Rarity tremble slightly at his side, however, his amusement disappeared.
"Y-yes, this is him," the mare said in a polite tone. "He's a very dear friend who just made it into town as of last night." The Griffon immediately shifted the glare over to Spike, but the large stallion would have none of that. He kept his stance tall and, with a look that could stop a hydra in its tracks, locked eyes with the guard.
"I'm sorry if I've caused some kind of trouble, sir," Spike said smoothly. "I checked in with the border guard before entering the city and my papers were deemed to be in order. If there was something else required of me, I promise you I was unaware." He followed his confident assertion with a brilliant smile.
Spike could tell the Griffon doing the talking was in charge, and that he was shaken by the presence he was being confronted with. This particular guard was nothing more than a common thug who was given a badge, and the field of raw magic that Spike was emitting was on its own enough to unnerve such a creature.
The guard swallowed hard before speaking again. "Under normal circumstances that would have been fine, but Miss Rarity is a citizen of more importance than others. It is our job to keep an eye on the company she keeps." The hesitation in his voice was palpable.
"Ah, please forgive me, sir," Spike replied, still smiling in the same calm but commanding manner. "I have been abroad in the Summer Isle for some time now studying herbal magic with the Zebra tribes. I suppose I have not fully acclimated yet to all of the current workings of Equestria."
"I'll be needing to see your papers, Mr…"
"Caster. The name's Snap Caster," Spike filled in without missing a beat. "I have everything right here, sir. Please feel free to look it over." He levitated the small booklet he had grabbed over to the Griffon.
There was a moment of tense silence as the guard scrutinized the paperwork. Spike could feel Rarity growing increasingly nervous as the seconds ticked by. The inspection, however, was completed faster than even Spike was prepared for.
"Everything seems to be in order, Mr.Caster. Enjoy your stay in Ponyville, and be certain you adhere to all laws in effect within the town limits."
"Of course, my good sir. I wouldn't dream of causing trouble in such a peaceful little town."
With the exchange finished, the guard handed Spike back the booklet, and the group turned in unison and proceeded away from the shop. Rarity quickly closed the door and breathed a heavy sigh of relief, her quivering muscles visibly relaxing. She looked up at Spike, then impulsively locked the stallion in a fierce hug.
"Oh, Spike, you haven't any idea how terrifying that was for me. I hadn't any idea of what to do, but you handled the situation so masterfully. How can I ever thank you?"
"Arrange to come with me to Fluttershy's today and we can call it even."
Rarity let go and took a step back, setting the large stallion with a puzzled expression.
"Why ever would you want me to come with you, darling? Fluttershy and I haven't spoken in years." The mare sighed, failing to keep the sadness out of her face as her eyes shifted to the floor. "I can't imagine I would be of much help to you."
Spike gave her another comforting smile. "Time is a rather abstract thing, isn't it? I hadn't spoken with you in years, yet it was quite an emotional moment when I showed up at your door." The corners of Rarity's mouth turned up a minute amount. "What I'm getting at, Rarity, is that out of all of us you have the best chance of bringing Fluttershy back. None of us ever had the kind of emotional connection with her that you two shared."
Rarity shifted from side to side, her now indecisive gaze still on the floor as she absorbed Spike's words. The mare's expression remained reluctant, but she suddenly gathered herself, trotted out of the sitting room, and came back a moment later with a small white sign which read 'Closed for Business', and with that they were out the door. She meticulously hung the sign and fastened every last lock on her door before they began what could only be described as a cautious stroll to Fluttershy's cottage.
During the walk, Spike periodically shifted his eyes over to his dainty companion who, much to his surprise, seemed to be more and more physically drained as their walk progressed. It seemed to him like being out in public was physically draining for the once attention-hungry fashionista.
Spike leaned toward Rarity slightly and muttered under his breath, "Is something the matter, Rarity? I've never known you to be so pensive about being out in public."
The mare's eyes flicked to meet his for but a moment, then shifted from left to right, scanning the streets as she mumbled, "Times change, Spikey. I am ashamed to say the Griffons robbed me of far more than just my store. When they took away my gems and dressed, they took away my will as well. Without my stunning gowns to adorn me, I quickly lost any taste for parading around in public. If I couldn't add any of my own flair and flaunt it, what reason was there for doing it at all?" Rarity pursed her lips and her eyes locked on the path ahead of her when she finished, signaling to Spike that she was discussing the matter no further.
The remaining walk to Fluttershy's home was uneventful, only a few ponies even casting puzzled or curious looks their way for more than a moment. It was clear that the once lively residents of Ponyville kept quite to themselves nowadays. When the duo finally approached their friend's residence, they were met with the familiar sight of a petite pegasus with a sunshine coat and pink mane fluttering about, filling many an empty bird's nest with fresh seed. The sight warmed Spike's heart. Even if she was not quite herself, at least one of his old friends had been able to continue doing the things she loved to do.
As they crossed the small bridge over the creek, Spike nudged Rarity and gave her a look that seemed to suggest she start the conversation. Rarity nodded and, as they approached the front of the humble cottage, she seem to drop all of her anxieties and transform into the Rarity he'd known twenty long years ago.
"Fluttershy, darling, it has been ages! I know I haven't been around much as of late, but could you be bothered to have a spot of tea with me and my friend this afternoon?" The meek pegasus stiffened slightly then dropped to the ground, her tail quickly swishing to cover her face as she noticed her new company.
Come out slightly from behind her tail, Fluttershy peeped out, "R-Rarity, is that you? I can't remember the last time you stopped by…I was so upset when you started canceling our weekly spa visits, but I didn't want to press the matter."
Rarity fought hard not to outwardly sigh at the abrupt reminder of just how far gone her closest friend was. "Oh, I know, dear. Things have just been so terribly busy, but don't you worry yourself for a minute about it! I finally had a free moment and came right down, although as I said I am entertaining a close friend from out of town at the moment. He is rather eager to meet all the important ponies in my life; would it be too much trouble for us to have a little brunch with you?"
Both Spike and Rarity could tell the timid animal caretaker was contemplating their sudden request, but it wasn't long before she nodded and opened the door to her cottage, ushering them in. When the pair entered, Rarity was immediately struck by how little it had changed in all the years that had passed. Small animals still scampered across the floor, and there was a calming melody from song birds singing throughout the home.
Once they had settled themselves on the couch, taking a moment to nudge away a particularly comfortable bunny, Fluttershy disappeared into the kitchen. Spike then took a moment to take the scene in, It was so foreign to him, the peace and tranquility, that he actually felt uncomfortable. At no point in the last twenty years had he experienced such serenity, and the contrast was particularly evident when he compared Fluttershy's welcome to his arrival at Rarity's home the night prior. He was abruptly removed from his dreamlike state by a sharp jab from Rarity.
"Please allow me to deal with our dear Fluttershy for the time being," she murmured quietly into his ear, before meeting his eyes with her own gloomy ones. "I think a few minutes of observing her might give you a better sense of what we are dealing with." The white mare pulled away from Spike as the sound of Fluttershy's light hoofsteps signaled her return. They watched as she gracefully navigated her way around the various critters running about the floor with a tray held daintily in her outstretched wings. She carefully placed it down when she reached the sitting area and offered both Rarity and Spike steaming cups of tea, to which they each smiled and accepted with their telekinetic grips.
Fluttershy flashed a brief but stunning smile in return before seating herself and retrieving her own teacup from the tray, balancing it expertly on a single wing. No conversation was had for several minutes as the three ponies quietly sipper their tea, occasionally trading glances before turning their eyes back to the floor. Finally, Rarity appeared ready to break the ice.
"So, Fluttershy, how have you been keeping the past few months? I heard from some of the ponies that help you tend to your chickens that an order came down from Canterlot. They said that the Griffons are demanding a twenty percent increase in egg production."
The pegasus sighed softly. "I had to have Big Mac build three more coops just to house the chickens I would need to meet Celestia's orders. I simply don't know what the Princess could want with all these eggs, but she could at the very least send some nicer ponies to collect them. Those big meanies just how up whenever they like, scaring my animals, shouting and demanding their crates. I have honestly never met such rude ponies in all my life."
Rarity's shoulders drooped and she shook her head sadly. She had almost forgotten just how lost her dear friend was in her little fantasy world. Almost.
"But I'd rather not bother you with my little troubles. How is your new line coming along, Rarity? I always so look forward to your spring lines. The floral patterns are so pretty."
Rarity put on her best fake smile. "It's coming along just famously, darling. I'd invite you to come by and model a few of the dresses for me, but I know how much you dislike it after that whole incident with Photo Finish."
Spike sat silently and sipped his tea as he listened to the two mares make small talk. He was having serious trouble believing that Fluttershy could honestly think Rarity was still making dresses. Then again, Fluttershy was immersed so far in her fantasy that she was suffering visual delusions, seeing Griffons as particularly large, rude ponies when they came for shipments.
A timid voice caught his attention before his mind could wander further.
"So, umm, Mr.Caster, was it? Rarity tells me you are visiting from out of town. What brings you to our quiet home?"
Spike set his tea cup back on the tray and cleared his throat. "I've been doing quite a bit of traveling recently. I've been on a bit of a magical research expedition visiting many different cults to try to broaden my horizons. I was beginning to feel a bit burnt out, so I decided to take a little rest and relaxation, and what better place to do it than Ponyville? Our dear friend Rarity was generous enough to let me stay with her, and I simply couldn't stay without meeting her other friends, so here we are."
"Oooh, that sounds so exciting! Other than Cloudsdale and Ponyville, I've never been anywhere else. I've always wanted to travel to Saddle Arabia someday. I've heard they have some truly amazing animals over there that are nothing like any creatures we have in Equestria, but I've sadly never been able to work up the courage to travel very far from home on my own."
Rarity took Fluttershy's wistful pause as a time to cut in. They needed to start drawing the pegasus back to reality, and all this small talk was getting them nowhere.
"Oh, Fluttershy, I meant to tell you I had the most incredibly dream the other night! I dreamt our dear little Spikey-Wikey came back to Ponyville a big handsome dragon and he swept me right off my feet! It was so strange to have such a dream out of the blue. I mean do you even remember the last time we saw our favorite little dragon?"
Fluttershy's eyes went wide as she pondered. "Oh my…I honestly can't say for certain, Rarity. My best guess would be more than a dozen years, now. The last time I remember seeing him, he was leaving because he wanted to find out more about his own kind. I remember how heart broken Twilight was after he left - she was locked up in her bedroom for days crying her heart out."
Spike cringed slightly at the mention of Twilight. He knew, of course, that this memory of Fluttershy's was a fabrication, but he was sure the parts about Twilight were true. He felt a sudden fierce urge to fly back to the ruined castle just to make sure she was safe and sound, but he managed to shake it off.
"Well, I have something to confess, my dear. This stallion isn't who I said he was. Snap Caster is the alias of a dear old friend of ours, a friend we haven't seen in twenty years now who is desperate to properly reintroduce himself to you."
With that, Rarity nodded to Spike. The stallion stood and proceeded over to a more open area of the cottage. As the two mares watched, one in hope and one in confusion, his horn burst to life, and after a brilliant flash of emerald light, the pony visage was gone and a large purple dragon stood before them, slightly hunched over in the small cottage. His green eyes met Fluttershy's sky blue ones and he managed a small grin.
"It has been a long time, Shy, but it's Spike. I didn't leave to find out more about my kind all those years ago. Twilight transported me into the mountains to save my life when the Griffons invaded. I'm here to try and help you deal with what has happened over the last two decades and hopefully bring you back to the real world."
Neither Spike nor Rarity said a word after that. They both stood silently, transfixed on their friend as she seemed to process his statement. Just as it looked like she was about to speak, her tea cup fell from her wing as she collapsed back into her chair, thoroughly out cold. Spike quickly caught the falling cup in a magical grasp and placed it on the tray before turning to Rarity.
"Well, honestly, that went about as well as I expected it to," Spike said as he rubbed the back of his neck. Rarity simply sighed and nodded in agreement.
"I suppose so. She was never one to deal very well with sudden shocks. Why don't I clean up down here while you take her upstairs and lie her down."
With a snap of his fingers, Spike resumed the form of Snap Caster and gently picked up the unconscious mare with a field of green magic. As he trotted down the stairs after laying Fluttershy in her bed, he could hear muffled cries coming from the living room, where he was met with the sight of Rarity sprawled haphazardly out on the divan with her face buried in a pillow. Each muffled sob felt like the twist of a knife in Spike's heart.
He crossed the small space between himself and the distraught mare and gently ran a hoof through her mane. Even with all the information Paraxxus had crammed into his head over the years, one area in which he was sorely lacking was offering comfort. The best comfort he had ever known was sulking away into the training hall and dismembering one training dummy after another.
"It's going to be alright, Rarity. We'll get her though this. There has to be something we can do to bring her around."
"It's not that, Spike. Simply seeing her like this is just too much… How can she be so blissfully unaware of the things going on around her? I've suffered for twenty years dealing with this hell we live in, and she spends her days basking in a dream world, dealing with none of it!" Rarity lifted her head from the pillow and stared at Spike through her tears, mascara running down her cheeks. "Sometimes it just doesn't seem fair. As serious as her problem is, sometimes it just doesn't seem so bad to me. I'd like to forget sometimes! I'd like to pretend all this isn't really happening, but I can't." Spike's ears flattened to his head as Rarity broke eye contact to stare at the floor and her voice broke. "Can we really take that away from her? I think of the hell we are living in, the hell we will be throwing her into by making her remember what exactly has happened here, and it's tearing me apart."
Spike was speechless. He honestly hadn't considered the repercussions of their plan for Fluttershy. His will, however, would not be shaken. The elements needed to be reunited, and that could never happen while Fluttershy was living in a world where the conflict didn't exist.
"We have to, Rarity. No matter how sweet the dreams we may dream, they aren't reality. We need everyone back together if we are going to take back Equestria, and we can't do that if we let Fluttershy go on believing everything is fine." His voice was soft but firm as he kept a comforting hoof on Rarity's shoulder.
The distraught mare squeezed her eyes shut tight for a moment, smudging her already running mascara further, before slowly looking back at Spike. "Alright, I'll do what I can to bring her around."
"That's all I can ask of you, Rarity. If this doesn't work, we'll have to regroup and I'll try to think of another way."
It was then that the duo heard a soft padding at the top of the the stairwell. Rarity quickly wiped away her smudged makeup and leapt up, her trademark socialite smile plastered on her face as Fluttershy shakily padded down the stairs.
"Fluttershy, dear, we were so worried about you! Are you sure you're ready to be out of bed?"
There was no response. The petite pegasus silently made her way to the nearest seat and sat down. She set both of them with her firmest stare before speaking.
"I would very much like to hear an explanation from you, Rarity. Why would you bring Spike here under such deceptive means?"
It took a moment for the mare in question to recover her voice. "It was never our intent to deceive you, my dear! Spike cannot simply walk about town as a full grown dragon…The Griffon guards patrolling the city would have him arrested in a heartbeat." Fluttershy's eyes were skeptical for an instant, yet she remained unphased.
"What are you talking about, Rarity? There hasn't been a Griffon in Ponyville since Gilda visited Rainbow Dash."
Rarity cast a wary glance at Spike.
"Fluttershy, how can you not see it? The town has been overrun by Griffons for two decades now…They show up at your doorstep monthly to collect eggs from your chickens. You can't keep pretending forever that they aren't there!"
The pegasus didn't miss a beat. "I don't know what you're talking about, Rarity. The only ones coming to collect the eggs from my chickens are ponies. I deal with them frequently. I know you aren't AppleJack, but certainly you can see when a lie has gone too far."
It was then that Spike stood up. This discussion was bound to turn into an incident if he didn't stop it from spiraling out of control.
"Rarity is telling the truth, Fluttershy. I've seen the tyranny of the Griffons. I've personally recused dozens of ponies from one of their unethical work camps. Things in Equestria are not as you see them. There is suffering and oppression spanning the four corners of the land."
Fluttershy shook her head violently. "No, everything is FINE! Things have been difficult, yes, but I haven't seen a single pony being treated in any oppressive manner. And there haven't been any Griffons here!"
It was at this point that Rarity snapped. "That's because you refuse to see things the way they are, Fluttershy!" she shouted at the quieter mare. "You live in your little dream world and see only the things you want to see! Life in Ponyville has been utter hell for the past twenty years, and you've sat here and happily ignored all the strife and pain by living in this dream world of yours!" She choked back a sob. "Did it ever occur to you that your friends might need you around? That we might need your support during those hard times?"
Fresh tears streamed down Rarity's face as she stared at Fluttershy, shoulders heaving. "It was so hard in the beginning, and every time I came to you for comfort, you'd prattle on like nothing was wrong with the world," she hissed out. "Do you have any idea how it feels when you find more sympathy and sanity in a bottle of cider than in your best friend? Why can't you see what's happening, Shy? Is that world you've built really worth casting away all the ponies that love you?"
Having spit out that final question, Rarity fell into Spike's broad chest and dissolved into heavy sobs. He draped a foreleg around her shoulders and rubbed her back gently. Fluttershy said nothing, for the outburst had seemingly shocked her into silence. Her face was contorted in a mixture of sadness and confusion, with a touch of what Spike could only assume was anger, although the emotion seemed quite foreign on their timid friend. Her mind was clearly whirling.
"I know this must be very hard to take in, Shy, but you simply must believe that we are telling the truth. Have you ever known either of us to lie?" Spike asked in a gentle tone, still supporting Rarity's shaking form.
"I honestly don't know what to think right now, Spike. I mean how would you react if two of your best friends just showed up at your home one day and told you that the life you'd been living for the last two decades was a lie? That you could possibly be insane? I've never seen Rarity this upset, and it's scaring me, but how am I to believe that Equestria has been governed by Griffons for this long when I cannot remember even once seeing one since Gilda was here?"
Fluttershy took a deep breath and slowly stood. "I…I'm sorry, Spike, but I need to ask that you two please leave. You are some of my best friends, but I can't just sit here and be screamed at that I'm crazy."
With a defeated sigh, Spike rose from the divan and, after some struggle, pulled a haggard and miserable Rarity to her hooves as well. Just as Spike emerald magic encased the door handle, Rarity stopped dead behind him.
"Spike, there is one more thing I want to do," she whispered, leaning in close to him, "no, need to do, but I'll need your help."
"What do you need me to do?" he whispered back, refraining from opening the door.
"When I say to, I need you to grab Fluttershy with your magic and hold her down. Can you do that for me, Spike?" The yellow mare was starting to step over toward the door. Spike hesitated for a moment, but nodded. Rarity pulled away and wiped her face quickly, then turned sideways toward Fluttershy.
"So sorry to have troubled you with all this, dear. At the very least, thank you for the tea. It was delicious." The false smile was back on her face.
"It was no trouble Rarity, but I really must insist you leave."
It was then that Rarity caught Spike's eye and nodded. His grip on the door handle dissipated, and Fluttershy suddenly found herself pinned to the floor encased in an emerald green aura. She tried to escape, but the strong magical field wrapped around her prevented any movement, even to open her mouth and cry for help. Rarity leapt over to her and immediately started to build up her own magic, horn alight with a soft blue aura that was quickly growing brighter by the second.
"What are you planning to do, Rarity?" Spike's voice was slightly shaken.
"I'm going to show her through my eyes what the world has looked like for the past twenty years." The white mare's voice was tense as she concentrated on the magic pooling in her horn.
"How in the world do you plan to do that? The only spells I've ever seen you use are for finding gems." Spike was starting to doubt that this plan was a good idea.
"I'm going to use the same memory spell Twilight used on all of us when Discord first escaped from his stone prison." The blue aura was now bright with threads of energy arcing gently around her horn. Fluttershy's eyes were now wide.
"Are you sure you can pull that off, Rarity? Twilight is an incredibly skilled Unicorn, and this spell could easily backfire if performed improperly."
"Twilight explained the basics of the spell to me during tea one afternoon. I'm not certain I can duplicate it entirely, but this is the best hope we have of getting Fluttershy back, and for that I am willing to risk everything. Just keep her still while I perform the spell."
With that, Rarity lowered her head and touched the tip of her horn to Fluttershy's forehead, releasing a blinding flash of blue light.
Suddenly, all Fluttershy could see were images flashing through her mind, like someone flipping too quickly through a scrapbook: images of herself and Rarity at the spa being pampered by Aloe and Lotus, picnics in the park with all her friends, modeling sessions with Rarity, Pinkie and Rarity helping her haggle in the marketplace.
Then, as quickly as the memories of the past had come and gone, new images appeared that she did not recognize, that she did not remember: all the citizens of Ponyville huddled in town square surrounded by Griffons in armor, a vacant lot where she knew the spa was supposed to be, Carousel Boutique transformed into an imposing metal structure which spewed smoke and sparks. She saw Rainbow Dash locked in a pillory, two Griffons tearing out her feathers, then saw Rarity pleading with a large Griffon in an ornate suit of armor only to be backhanded into the dirt. Two decades of Rarity's memories flickered through her head like a film reel set to spin too fast and her skull felt like it was going to split open.
As Spike watched the display before him in awe and felt the occasional tendril of magic arc past him, he suddenly became aware of a strong metallic odor. He immediately flicked his eyes over the two ponies and saw blood trickling from Rarity's nose, dripping onto Fluttershy's floor. The unicorn was pouring everything she had into the spell, clearly straining her body beyond its limits, but she didn't seem willing to let it go. If the spell worked, they would surely have their friend back, but Spike didn't know how much longer Rarity could keep going.
"Rarity, I think you need to stop. Your body can't handle the amount of magic you're channeling."
"No!" she cried out, still not breaking the spell. "Not yet! It's working, she's remembering! I can feel it! I just need a little more time!" She gritted her teeth.
Inside Fluttershy's head the pages just kept turning. Numerous empty bottles lay scattered around a dark bedroom, a strange stallion she didn't know passed out on the bed. An exhausted, worn mare huddled in the corner of a bathroom sobbing to herself. Fluttershy could feel the weight of Rarity's sorrows as if they were her own. That was when something seemed to click into place, like a switch had been flipped. It was all real. Everything they had told her was real. She had just seen it all. She had blocked it out all this time. The shadows which had clouded her mind retreated like the dusk giving way to a sudden dawn and her eyes snapped open.
Spike wasn't sure what happened, but in that instant Rarity's horn seemed to falter and there was a small explosion of magic that blew her clear across the room. She slammed into the wall before Spike could react to catch her and slumped to the floor. Spike immediately dropped the spell holding Fluttershy in place and rushed to Rarity's aid, but she had already managed to pick herself up, blood still dripping from both nostrils, staining her normally pearlescent coat. She stood there on shaky legs staring silently at Fluttershy.
When Spike looked over to the other side of the room, he saw that the pegasus had pushed herself into a sitting position on the floor and was staring at them like a newborn filly. Her eyes were bright and alive in a way that Rarity hadn't seen in many years. For a few more tense moments, nobody dared speak a word, until Fluttershy took a deep, shaky breath.
"I remember," she finally said, her voice barely over a whisper.
"What was that, dear?" Rarity managed to choke out. She had heard her friend, but she couldn't allow herself to believe it just yet.
"I remember," Fluttershy squeaked out again, her wide eyes pooling with tears.
"Welcome back, Shy," was all the fashionista could get out before bounding across the room and all but tackling the petite pegasus back to the ground. Spike smiled warmly and watched as the two mares simply held each other close, sobbing into one another's coats.
He looked out the window at the setting sun and let a renewed sense of hope wash over him. He could do this. He could get his friends back together, and with a lot of luck maybe get Equestria back to the way it was supposed to be. He looked back to his friends, still cuddled close on the floor.
Two down, two to go.
Saving the Lost (Part II), Apples and Bloody Feathers.
Spike gently closed the door to the small cottage as he stepped out into the cool morning air. He and Rarity had decided to stay the night at Fluttershy's to keep an eye on the still mentally fragile Pegasus. The two mares were currently still sleeping upstairs unaware of Spike's early departure. He left a small note on the door explaining that he planned to visit AJ's farm and that he wanted to get there before the apples began tending to the farm.
The trek to Sweet Apple Acres was a peaceful one. Spike had forgotten how green and lush the world could be, when you spend the majority of your life living in the mountains you start to think the only colors in life are brown, grey and a darker shade of brown. Despite all the things going on this stroll seemed to have a calming effect on him he had never experienced before. He took in a deep breath of the cool moist country air and savored the crispness, something about being back in Ponyville was just putting him at ease.
While he mind wandered in no particular direction his hooves had kept on their intended path and before he knew it the tall barn and sturdy farmhouse had come into view. While he had left Fluttershy's before dawn it appeared it was not early enough to make it here before some of the apple clan was already preparing for a hard days work. The hulking form of Big Macintosh was an easy spot, as far as Spike knew there wasn't another Stallion in all of Equestria that could measure up to Big Mac's colossal stature.
Spike approach the stallion with a bright smile and a friendly wave only to be met with the hard glare of a pony who very clearly had no time to spare for empty pleasantries. Spike decided to take the more direct approach and got straight to his business.
"Excuse me sir but my dear friend Rarity informed me this was the best place to find a Miss Applejack." Spike asked in a deep smooth baritone.
The stallion set him with a hard stare that was clearly meant to intimidate but Spike simple countered with an equally intense stare.
"Might be she is, depends on who's lookin fer her." Came the gruff reply.
"The names Snap Caster, Miss Rarity and Miss Fluttershy asked me to come by and deliver a message to her."
After a lingering suspicious glare the hulking stallion turned and disappeared into the farmhouse. A short time later he returned with what Spike thought might be Applejack but the grim hard face of the mare before him and the air of hostility surrounding her betrayed everything he thought he remembered about the seasoned farm pony.
"Is there something ah can help you with sir?" Her tone was flat and direct.
"Two of your close friends asked me to come and speak with you this morning. Is there perhaps a place we could speak without certain avian ease droppers listening in?"
Applejack turned to her brother and they shared a brief glance before the crimson stallion nodded slightly.
"Follow me Mr. Caster."
With that the farm pony trotted off toward the farm house with Spike trying his best to match her pace. When they reached the building Applejack nudged the door open and motioned for him to enter. Once both ponies were inside Applejack closed the door and locked it before turning to face the amethyst stallion.
"So what is it exactly mah friends wanted you to tell me stranger?" The scrutinizing glare she set him with was even to Spike a little unnerving.
"To be honest its more of a show than a tell." With a smirk the unicorn's horn light up with an emerald aura an within seconds an imposing Amethyst dragon stood before the simple farmer.
"Honestly if we went back twenty years or so you would consider me a close friend as well. It's good to see you again AJ, it's been far to long." Spike said as he loomed over the startled mare.
Despite the massive jump in growth Applejack would have recognized those amethyst scales with emerald fringes anywhere. The mare stood in disbelief at the massive dragon before her, his full height nearly reaching the roof of the barn.
"Sp-Spike is that you?" Questioned the startled mare.
The dragon smiled. "It's a rather pleasing feeling, not being forgotten." He chuckled.
"I fear we have little time though AJ, so I must be curt. I am here in Ponyville to retrieve the elements of harmony. I have already been to see Rarity and Fluttershy and I have both of them in hand. The only missing pieces are you an Pinkie Pie an I have reason to believe you will be the key to securing Pinkie." The dragon huffed.
"Rarity has informed me that your family much like her's is in constant danger that is dependent upon your actions. I am here to tell you that if you agree to come with us I will bring your family with us at whatever cost it may take."
Applejack pondered Spike's request at length. While it was a chance to once again be free to do what she wished, she also remembered what happen to the last group that tried to escape griffon control.
"I'm sorry Spike but unless ya can show me some proof you can keep my family safe I ain't willing to risk their well being." With that the mare turned toward the door.
As quick as the farm pony could move, the dragon was faster. In a blur he was in-front of AJ and placed a hand upon her head. His eyes and hand flashed green and suddenly displayed before the mare were the collective memories of his liberation of the work camp Twilight was a part of.
As the memories flashed through the mind of the farm mare she collapsed. Scenes of violence and scenes of gratitude seemed to merge together in her mind as the memories continued to play out. When Spike removed his hand from her head the mare looked up at him with wide awe struck eyes. The dragon offered her a warm smile and helped her back to her hooves, he then retrieved her hat from the ground and with a quick brush off placed it back on her head.
"As you've seen, I am fully capable of protecting those I bring under my care. I promise you that if you come with me I shall not only ensure your families safety but also bring them along." AJ could see fire burning in the dragon's eyes as he spoke. The fire was so strong is seemed to strip even her of her baser instincts. With a harsh nod the mare agreed to the dragon's proposal.
"Twilight has never steered me wrong before, if she believes ya can change things than I'll back ya every bit I can. As long as my family is safe I don't care what happens to me!" Applejack's proclamation was fierce and her voice carried through out the orchid.
The dragon smile a toothy grin and kneeled before the farm pony.
"I promise you my friend that your trust is not misplaced." With that the dragon rose, once at his full height he set the farm pony with an iron clad glare.
"What I need from you now AJ is a way to bring Pinkie back to the real world."
Unfortunately for Spike his discussion with AJ over their plans to help Pinkie were less than productive. Unlike Fluttershy who had at least in some fashion communicated with the outside world Pinkie had hardly spoken a word in over 15 years. AJ also brought Spike up to date on the unresolved murders that had been taking place in Ponyville for many years. Despite many thorough investigations the griffons hadn't managed to collar a single serious suspect. It was the mares assumption that Pinkie was behind it all. Her unique abilities combined with a murderous intent could easily create a serial killer that would leave no traces of evidence.
"We aren't getting anywhere with this AJ, confrontation seems to be our best shot at engaging Pinkie." Spike said as he brought a hoof to his chin.
"AJ you said these murders mostly took place during new moons, tomorrow night is the beginning of the new lunar cycle. Would you mind if I hide out here in the barn until then? I could use a detect life spell once night falls to track the movements of every being in Ponyville who might be wandering around after curfew."
The farm pony's face seemed to contort for a moment. It was clear to Spike that the idea of concealing a fugitive and putting her family at risk was a very serious situation for her.
"Ah suppose one night wouldn't hurt, but you promise me Spike that you won't leave this barn. An make sure you have one of your fancy spells ready to make yourself disappear or turn invisible or something if those bucking griffons show up."
Spike looked her dead in the eye. "AJ I swear to you on my honor as a dragon that not a soul outside of this barn will know I'm here. You won't even need to bring me supplies I am quite capable of going a few days without food or water."
After several painfully long minutes the farm pony finally nodded. She gave Spike 24 hours no more and no less to do what he wanted to do, after that he would have to find a new place to hideout. As AJ turned in for the night Spike lay awake pondering his options. Twilight had explained to him that the griffons had some sort of device that could detect the use of advance magic in the town proper. Spike however had no way of knowing if the device was tuned to pick up all traces of magic or simply unicorn specific magical emissions.
His lack of understanding acknowledged he decided it would be best to cast his spells from outside the boundaries of the town and then sneak back in with an invisibility enchantment on. He could not under any circumstance risk exposing himself before he had all of his targets safely extracted. Spike forced his eyes closed and killed his thought process, he would need rest if he was going to accomplish anything tomorrow and sitting up all night worrying would be disastrous.
The daylight hours passed slowly, luckily Spike had plenty of practice sitting around doing nothing. His first few lessons on mediation had be exercises in boredom before the young dragon finally grasped the benefits of practice. A practice he was participating in at the very moment. With his mind clear and focused he ran his plan for the night through his head over and over again. Any possible complications were immediately focused on and reworked until they fit seamlessly into the grand tapestry.
When he wasn't meditating he simply listened to the sounds of the farm. Various animals from chickens to pigs could be heard milling around as could the echoing thuds of hooves meeting bark as the Apply family worked their orchard. In a way it was unbelievably serene but just when the symphony that was farm life started to soothe away some of his stress the harsh clanking of metal on metal that was griffon plate mail could be heard that interrupted the tranquil symphony like a sledge hammer to the knee interrupts an intricate waltz.
As dusk fell and the sound a metal armor on the march faded from the air Spike peered out of the barn window. As far as he could see the griffon patrols had decreased significantly . The five or six some odd patrol groups that were present during the day turned into one come nightfall. All concern Spike had with how he was going to manage to sneak away from the farm into the forest to prepare his spells vanished when he saw how paltry the night watch of the farm was.
As the patrol group headed toward the northern section of the orchard Spike made a mad dash to the south headed straight for the Everfree. A younger Spike would have seized up in fear at the thought of going into the forest alone but grown dragon he was now barreled into the underbrush with nary a second thought. Once deep enough into the forest Spike paused, standing as still as stone. He listened for the snapping of twigs or the flapping of wings, but neither reaches his sensitive ears. It appeared no one had followed him, much to the dragons delight.
Once assured in his solitude Spike began preparing his spells. A powerful invisibility spell would be required to insure he was not detected as he slinked about town. An equally powerful detect life spell would also be required to ensure not a single being with a beating heart escaped his notice as he stalked the town in search of the pink party pony. With his plans set Spike's faux horn came to life with a gentle light. The first spell cast was a sound dampening charm to ensure his hoof steps would not arouse unwanted attention. The next a powerful invisibility enchantment, Spike surmised that if the griffons could see through this then he had much greater things to worry about.
The last spell was a relatively mundane spell but still incredibility necessary for tonight's activities, the detect life spell would reveal all living things around him for up to a mile as shimmering orange glows visible through any surface. With his magical armor in place the dragon stallion made his way out of the forest and into the town proper making sure to keep a fair distance away from any griffon shaped orbs of light the detect life spell revealed to him.
The few hours were surprisingly mundane. Aside from a few scattered patrol groups there was very little going on in Ponyville after dark. As it reach nearly four am Spike was unsure whether or not anything would happen this new moon until he caught the most fleeting glimpse of a much smaller, pony sized orange glimmer. Spike immediately took off in the direct of the light but almost as quickly as it had appear it vanished. The sudden appearance and disappearance was all Spike needed to be assured the entity was Pinkie, only her specific brand of insanity could fool his magic in such a manner.
It took more than a moment for the dragon to relocate the erratic pony sized glow, this time however it appeared above a solitary griffon sized glow. Before Spike knew what was happening the griffon glow slumped onto the ground. With all the speed his stallion legs could muster he sped toward the fallen griffon, it was there he caught his first glimpse of the culprit. Standing over the prone body of a griffon guard stood a bright pink mare, she seemed to be dipping something into the pool of blood on the ground. Before Spike could utter a single word the mare disappeared as if by magic.
Luckily for Spike he had a fairly good idea as to where his culprit had gone.
It was nearing four in the morning as Spike saw Sugar Cube Corner come into view, had he been anyone else he would have missed the hot pink mare disappear into the cellar of the building but his magically enhanced eyes caught the orange glow descending into the basement of the humble bakery. As he approached the cellar doors he found a massive lock clasp around a bundle of chains. Another trade mark of his culprit, only someone like her could arrange such a physics defying defense. The dragon stallion raised a hoof to his horn and tried to cover his horn as he could as a small burst of light emitted from it.
The lock fell open and Spike wrestled the chains out of the way, the steps leading down to the cellar were far more ominous than he had thought they would be. A foul stench reached his nostrils from deep within the cellar as he made his first tentative steps into the under croft. Spike thought his reaction insane at first but remembering back to his childhood he recalled Pinkie doing things even his current magical knowledge could not explain. There was literally no telling what the mare in the cellar was capable of and he was not going to be caught off guard by it.
As he reached the bottom the room opened up into a singular large open space. Partially decomposing, and full blown skeletal statues of griffons adorned the underground horror show. Spike was beyond shocked at the display before him, his master had shown him many terrible things during his schooling, a testament to the cruelty of the living he called it. However nothing he had seen before prepared him for the scene before him. At the far end of the room stood a lone figure, it appeared to be almost ritualistically placing something on a crude shrine.
The plum of blood stained feathers decorating the stand on the far side of the room was heaped with countless feathers, the pink mare delicately adding another to the menagerie. The atmosphere alone had him on end, Pinkie was very clearly a far more deranged pony than he could of ever imagined her being. As he took another tentative step forward there was a loud snap under his hoof, a lone bone he had absentmindedly overlooked. Within a second of the bone snapping Pinkie's head cocked to the side, her dead cold eyes boring holes into Spike's soul.
"What are you doing here Spike? No one is supposed to be here, this is my special place." Her voice was so lifeless and deadpan the dragon could have believed it came from a corpse.
"H-how did you know it was me Pinkie?" the stallion asked a bit flustered.
"I never forget a friend Spike, you know that." Her head turned back to feathers as she carefully aligned them.
Spike swallowed hard and took another step forward. "What is this place Pinkie? This isn't like you at all! You were always so much fun, always trying to make everyone smile."
The pink mare spun around suddenly causing the dragon stallion to take a step back. "I tried to make them smile! I tried every day but they just wouldn't smile. Nothing I tried could even get the smallest smirk out of those feathered meanies! And when all my best attempts to make them smile were met with beatings I just knew I had to try something else." Pinkie gestured with a forehoof to the macabre statues decorating the room.
"Look at them now Spike. See how they smile always? It took a bit more work than I thought but now they won't ever frown again, and they won't ever be mean to anyone again..." Spike noticed a disturbing twinkle in Pinkie's eyes as her voice trailed off.
Spike swallowed hard and spoke. "The statues are lovely Pinkie but what is that display on the alter for?". Spike asked, trying to get as much information out of the disturbed mare as her could.
Pinkie looked back over her shoulder at the mural. "It's so that they get to be meanies to anyone ever again."
"What are you talking about Pinkie? There is no way these griffons could be mean to anyone ever again."
"THAT'S NOT TRUE! Every pony knows that when you die you go on to a wonderful place where everypony smiles and is happy all the time. I couldn't let them go there, I had to make sure they couldn't be mean to anyone ever again. Grandma Pie told me once that blood is the currency of the soul, and when your blood is all gone your soul moves on. So if I keep these bloody feathers here and unharmed then those meanie griffons won't ever be able to move on and bother everypony in the great beyond."
Spike was at a total loss as to what to do in this situation, Pinkie was clearly far more deranged than he had originally assumed and he was completely unprepared to deal with this situation. He slowly began to back away from the crazed pink mare keeping an eye out for any wayward bones
"Spike." came the cold disembodied voice.
"You aren't smiling..."
Before he knew what was happening the pink mare disappeared, a moment later the glint of candle light off steel caught Spikes attention and he darted away from a blow from above. There was no mistaking the look in her eyes, the murderous intent was clear from a mile away. He knew he couldn't break the illusion because it might set off the magic detecting alarms through out the city but without his magic and in his pony form he was vastly ill equipped to deal with his attacker.
Spike barely managed to dodge another slash from the right as he tumbled to the side, he cursed under his breathe. If he was in his true form he could disarm Pinkie in an instant but in this pony form he was practically defenseless. Spike was torn from his thoughts as a red hot pain exploded across his chest as a knife skirted over his chest, leaving a crimson gash. Spike stumbled back, a hoof clutching his chest. For one of the first times in his life the young dragon feared for his life.
As suddenly as the attack happened the culprit disappeared into the darkness of the small room. Spike's eyes frantically searched the space for any sign of the next attack but it proved to be in vain as a knife plunged deep into the stallions right shoulder. With what sense remained to him Spike instinctively grabbed the attacker with his teeth and flung her at the nearest wall. Seemingly caught off guard the bright pink mare smashed into the wall creating a large indentation.
With supreme effort Spike in his stallion form grasped the handle the knife still stuck in his shoulder and pulled it out, tossing the blade into the darkness. He had no answer to the currently onslaught he was enduring, Pinkie's ability to seemingly disregard reality was to much for him to overcome without the use of his magic. In his defeated state Spike flashed back onto every encounter he had ever shared with Pinkie. She was always the mare to come to if you were ever feeling down, she could make anypony no matter how sad they might be.
The thing that stuck most in Spike's mind was the day she launches the entire town into song, there was a smile on every single pony in Ponyville that day. Exhausted, beaten and blooded Spike made an insane decision. With a wave of the hoof he was enveloped in a white light, as the light faded standing there in the place of the purple stallion was a small purple baby dragon.
"It doesn't matter now" he muttered as he barely dodged another lighting quick slash.
"If you are sad or blue." Spike bent backward at nearly a 90 degree angle as the razor sharp kitchen knife barely skirted over his neck.
"Cause cheering up my friends is just what Pinkie's here to do." Pinkies attacks had slowed down considerably since he changed his appearance and Spike managed to dodge stab aimed right at his heart.
For a moment Spike's eyes met with Pinkie's and the two stared at each other for a long agonizing moment before Spike muttered his final words.
"Cause I love to make you smile, smile, smile." Before his body gave out from blood loss Spike saw a twinkle in Pinkie's eye. Pinkie stopped dead as she eyed the little dragon, the next sound heard reverberating off the basement walls was the clang of metal striking stone as a kitchen knife clattered to the floor. An as he blacked out and fell to the ground he did so with a smile on his face.
Waking up is always an awkward experience, eyes blurry, mind fuzzy—it typically takes a moment or two to get one’s bearing. Spike found the process further complicated when awakened by forceful application of cupcake to the mouth. As the dragon choked down the sweet pastry, his vision focused a bit more and he saw what he assumed to be bouncing pink cotton candy. He bolted upright and rubbed his eyes; nothing was like what he remembered happening before passing out.
"It's about time you got up, sleepy head! You've been sleeping for, like, a bazillion hours! I made you cupcakes but I got tired of waiting for you to get up and try one, so I thought... what would be a better way to wake up than with a cupcake alarm?" There, standing before him like some kind of nostalgic dream, was a poofy maned, smiling Pinkie Pie.
Spike’s brain did a full reboot as he attempted to process the situation.
"P-pinkie? What's going on? What happened last night? We’re down in the basement, and you, with the knife, and the creepy statues and—why does everything smell like copper?" Spike rarely found himself at a loss for words after spending so many years with his nose buried in books but the current situation was just so totally irrational words seemed to completely fail him.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot about all that. Well, I don't really remember much, everything's been SUPER fuzzy for what seems like a really really really long time, but last night all of a sudden I could think straight again, isn't that neat? The first thing I really remember was you, only you were like a tiny little you, not the big gigantic you like right now. I remember singing too, little you was singing my song, and I felt all warm and fuzzy all over but then little you just kinda flopped onto the floor and turned into big you. So I carried you upstairs and put you in my bed. I knew I wasn't going to need sleep because I saw all these super creepy statues in the basement so I spent the rest of the night getting rid of them and when the sun came up I made breakfast."
Spike just stared at the pink mare for a moment as he processed the barrage of information. As he mulled over what Pinkie had said a certain portion of it caused him to jump to his feet and rush over to the mare.
"Pinkie, you said you got rid of everything in the basement, right?"
"Well yeah, it was SUPER spooky. I couldn't just leave it all down there."
"Yes, yes, but what did you do with it all? It was after midnight when I got to the basement—how could you have possibly emptied the whole place before sunrise without any guards seeing you?
"Oh, come on Spike. You're talking to the hide and seek champion of Ponyville, it was easy squeezy." Pinkie giggled and shoved another cupcake into the dragons slack jaw. "Besides, you’ve been hogging all the questions! It’s my turn to ask one. I'm not really sure how long its been, but it feels like I was all fuzzy for a long time. Think you could help me fill in the fuzzy parts?" Pinkie set the tray full of cupcakes down on the end table and jumped up on the bed.
Spike sighed and took a seat next to her, knowing he might as well just tell her what she wanted to know. Getting a straight answer out of Pinkie hadn’t even been an easy task before she spent 20 years in a daze killing griffons in the middle of the night and building eerie shrines out of their remains all the while having no idea she was actually doing it.
Spike spent the better part of two hours explaining the current situation to Pinkie Pie; he told her about the invasion, the occupation, the facilities that some of her closest friends had been sent to and treated like slaves in. He informed her of what she had been doing during her "fuzzy" period which, much to his surprise, seemed to shock her far less than he imagined. He concluded everything with the current situation in Ponyville and his plan for getting the rest of the Elements of Harmony out of town along with their families.
By the end of the conversation Pinkie's hair had slightly deflated and her gaze seemed fixed on the floor.
"Wow, I can't believe all that stuff has been going on and I didn't even know about it. I can't believe the things I'VE been doing and can't remember." Pinkie's voice carried a sad and somber tone. Almost immediately and as if by magic, though, her spirits turned around.
"But we don't have time to be worrying about that stuff—I mean, you can't change the past any more than you can change a burnt muffin into a... non burnt muffin. So what are you planning to do to get everyone out of here now that you fixed all of our mind brain problems?"
Spike was almost certain he'd gotten some form of mental whiplash from the seemingly out of no where 180's Pinkie was taking emotionally. Taking a moment to recover and collect his thoughts he explained his plan to the pink party pony.
"At present, the best I can come up with is crafting a teleportation circle in Aj's barn; I already have one setup in my current base of operations. Once it's finished it's simply a matter of getting everypony together so I can teleport us out of here. This is complicated even further given the level of supervision you elements have—it only took one night for a pack of griffons to come to Rarity's door asking questions about me after I showed up in town."
Pinkie seemed lost in thought and Spike wasn't faring much better. The task of gathering the remaining elements of harmony and their families was proving to be a most difficult problem. Pinkie was the first to speak up.
"What if I threw a party at Sweet Apple Acres and invited everyone?" The pink mare asked enthusiastically.
"That would only serve to draw more attention to us; you've been a mute for two decades Pinkie, for you to suddenly show up and throw a party would set off all kinds of warning bells." Spike hated shooting down his friends ideas, but he had to ensure the success of the mission.
"Oh yeah I guess you’re right.."
"The only solution I can think of is to gather up everyone in the dead of night and lead them to Aj's barn, but I have no idea how I'm going to do that without the use of my magic. The Griffons have some kind of rune ward system in place to detect it."
Pinkie shot to her hooves as Spike finished speaking. "But Spike, none of those meanie feather heads showed up this morning and last night you said you used magic to make yourself look like a baby dragon. Maybe they can't pick up your super awesome dragon-y magic like they can with unicorn magic."
Spike paused for a moment and pondered the issue. It was true he had used an illusion spell and with the potency of his magic it should have surely triggered the magical alarms in place throughout the city. Dragons used magic in a much different way than Ponies did so it wasn't beyond reason that the griffon defenses might not be attuned to his particular form of magic.
"You might be on to something, Pinkie. I assumed the Griffons that showed up at Rarity's the night I stayed there were drawn to her house by the few times I switched between my pony and dragon form, but it might be that they simply have her house under observation. I'll perform a few tests today in the park to see if the griffons are truly able to pick up on my magic. For right now though, I need you to keep up appearances—you've been a disconnected mute for two decades and thats what the griffons are going to expect to see today. Do you think you can keep up the act until tonight?"
Pinkie shifted from side to side for a moment before looking Spike in the eye. "If it means helping our friends smile again, I'll do anything Spike," Pinkie exclaimed.
For the first time since he started this little crusade, Spike felt a brief glimmer of hope.
Spike spent the majority of the early morning hours wandering aimlessly around the park. When there was no one in sight he would quickly use his magic to toss a stone across the pond. After nearly three hours of this exercise Spike was fairly certain that the magic alarms in the small town were indeed not tuned to his particular brand of magic casting. With his experiments complete, Spike made his way to the first stop on his list of people he had to save today. The Carousel Boutique stood as ominous as ever with its new hard metal and smog exterior. After taking a moment to look around the outside of the building, Spike raised a hoof and rapped gently on the door. Within moments, the proprietor of the establishment ushered the Pony/dragon into the shop and quickly locked the door behind him.
"Gracious, Spike, you've had me worried half to death! Have you made any headway concerning your plans for this little endeavour?" Rarity questioned. "As a matter of fact, I have. I plan to gather everyone in Aj's barn tonight and use a teleportation circle to get the lot of you out of town. The only issue currently in the way is the delicate process of escorting your family, Fluttershy and the Cakes to Sweet Apple Acres without alerting any guards. I have a few spells in place to camouflage them and dampen the sound of their movement but hiding a large group of inexperienced magic users across such a large distance is going to prove difficult. All I need for you to do, Rarity, is invite your family and Flutters over for dinner tonight so I have the lot of you in one convenient place."
"That shouldn't prove to be too much of an issue; I could probably have a letter sent to them by noon."
"Excellent! For now I'm going to make my way to Sweet Apple Acres and begin preparing the teleportation circle for tonight. Leave your door unlocked this evening—I will more than likely show up with an invisibility spell active to avoid detection."
As Spike turned to leave the shop Rarity quickly moved to intercept the purple stallion. She hugged him close and leaned into his ear.
"Thank you for all this Spike, I can't remember the last time any of us even imagined we'd be free to act of our own volition again."
Spike broke the embrace and nodded slowly at Rarity, then quickly turned and exited the shop. He knew that unless everything went down tonight without a hitch the results could be catastrophic so he set out to ensure every single preparation he could make was made without flaw. The success of the entire mission was currently riding on his ability to escort his friends and their families across more than a mile of open terrain without alerting a single guard and he had no intentions of screwing up any of it.
As the evening sun set over Ponyville the tall muscular form of a stallion could hardly be seen entering the back door of Sugar Cube Corner. Spike navigated his way through the obstacle course that was the storeroom of the bakery and passed into the living room. Once inside the small family area he found Pinkie and the Cake family packed and ready for their trip. "I want to thank you all again for agreeing to do this," Spike said as he approached the small group of ponies. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to place a weak stasis spell on your children—it will only last a couple hours and they will be perfectly fine when it wears off. I just fear that if they wake up at any time during our trip they could risk the lives of everyone in the group." Mr. and Mrs. Cake shared a concerned look for a moment before begrudgingly giving the dragon the go ahead. Whether they liked the idea or not the sound of a foal crying was not something they could allow happening during the trek to Sweet Apple Acres. With the Cake's approval, Spike waved a hoof in front of the two sleeping foals; in an instant the both seemed frozen in time, not a single feature on their tiny faces moving. The second wave cloaked the carriage they lay sleeping in and the third muffled any sound the device would make. Spike turned from the carriage and approached Pinkie and her employers.
"This might feel a bit strange at first—being earth ponies, I'm sure you've had very little magic applied to you in your lifetime. Try to remain calm, and after a few moments the odd sensations will fade away." Spike paused for a moment, giving the three ponies time to prepare themselves.
As they each gave a firm nod Spike rose his hoof yet again and cast the same cloaking and dampening spells he had used on the twins. It was clear that the three earth ponies were more than a bit rattled by the spells; each stumbled about for a bit before finding their feet again. Once they were steady, Spike cleared his throat and addressed them.
"As soon as we leave the door I want complete and total silence. The spells I have in place will only muffle the sounds of movement, they won't do anything to conceal spoken words. From here we will be heading to Rarity's house to pick up her and her family. From there it'll be long trek to Sweet Apple Acres and hopefully to freedom. We'll probably come within arm’s reach of a few griffon patrols during our trip but I need you all to remain as calm as possible." Spike's commanding baritone seemed to have a fortifying effect on his small group as they all gave him strong nods in response.
Rarity's home was only a few blocks away from Sugar Cube Corner but every step seemed to drag on for miles as Spike lead his magically conceal parcel along its course. In what normally would have been a five minute walk normally turned into a thirty minute exercise in Spike's ability to manipulate a given situation. From a patrol squad coming within inches of the group having heard the muffled sound of the foal carriage bumping into a stack of cherry crates, to Spike having to suppress both his and Pinkie's murderous urges to eviscerate a group of griffons that were having their way with a mare that they had caught out past curfew. The entire process had already worn down what little patience Spike had for this extremely tactical operation.
The dragon gave a heavy sigh of relief as he ushered his group into the back door of the Carousel Boutique. Almost instantly the spells shrouding his group vanished and Spike plopped heavily onto Rarity's fainting couch. Normally maintaining such basic spells would have been a secondary thought to him but the tension of the situation seemed to have pulled more energy from him than he had realized. After catching his breath for a moment Spike pushed himself up off the couch and approached Rarity.
"Did you explain to your family and Fluttershy exactly what spells I'd be using on them tonight?" Spike asked in a no-nonsense tone.
"I have and my parents don't think they will have any problems, but Sweetie Belle and Fluttershy have had very little exposure to magic. The poor dears might need time to acclimate to being enchanted." Rarity cast a weary glance at her sister.
Spike eyed the two for a moment before turning back to Rarity. "We still have some time to spare so it shouldn't be an issue. Give me ten minutes to gather everyone into a group would you please?" When Rarity gave him the go ahead he disappeared into the dark, quiet kitchen. The purple stallion sat down in the middle of the room and proceeded to clear his thoughts. It was going to be an even greater toll on his body getting from the Boutique to the farm and if how how he felt now was any indication of his stamina reserves he was was going to have to calm both his body and mind down significantly if he was going to have enough energy left to perform the group teleportation spell.
As his brief meditation period finished Spike reentered the living area of Rarity's shop with a serene look on his face. He raised a hoof and pointed to the middle of the large decorative rug in the middle of the room. Instinctively the group seemed to gravitate toward it and all stood in place.
Spike turned to Sweetie Belle and Fluttershy, "Ok you two, I'm going to cast the cloaking spells now—you will feel a bit disorientated at first but take your time and adjust to the sensation. Everypony else you've all experienced this already so once Sweetie and Shy are adjusted we will make our way to Sweet Apple Acres." Spike didn't wait for a reply as his waved a hoof and placed a series of spells on his group. As expected the two magically uninitiated stumbled around for a bit but within ten minutes they appeared to have gotten used to the sensation. Without a word Spike opened the back door and ushered his flock into the night. The second leg of the trip proved to be far easier than the first had been. They were more than three quarters of the way to the barn and they hadn't so much as smelled a griffon. It was as they passed the last sign post directing ponies to the orchard that trouble started. The graveyard patrol assigned to the farm was making its way back to town and their path lay dead center with Spike's group. As Spike looked around for options he realized that the section of the path they were on was fenced on each side, getting the Cake twins carriage over it would be impossible without breaking their concealing spells. Spike took and deep breath and held both his hands out, effectively stopping the groups march. As the startled group of ponies cast question looks at the dragon Spike made his move. "Get to the farm and get AJ's and the Apples into the barn as soon as you can!" With his declaration made Spike's stallion illusion dropped and he charged the oncoming group of griffon's fangs bared and claws at the ready. With a mighty sweep of the tail Spike managed to knock the griffons off the road and into the foliage, his group seeing the open path quickly sprinted forward, the sudden motion breaking their cloaking spells. With a savage hay maker Spike took the head off the closest guard to him sending the griffons disembodied head sailing into the forest. Before he could react however the remaining three guard piled on top of him talons and beaks searching for vulnerable purchase amongst the dragon scale. Against his better judgement Spike released a burst of arcane magic that blew his assailants away. As he got to his feet Spike saw one of the guards raising a horn to his beak—with speed that could make lighting look slow Spike extended two fingers and an arcane missile struck the griffon dead center, stopping his alarm. Much to Spikes horror, as he watched the griffon fall he heard the chilling sound of another horn bellowing behind him. One of the two remaining guards had managed to sound off the alarm and it was at this point that Spike honestly began to panic. In an almost rabid flurry Spike launched himself at the horn blowing griffon, his claws dug deep into the avian creatures throat. With a sharp yank Spike tore out a mass of blood and tissue that once was the griffons voice box. Dropping the crimson mass to the ground Spike leapt through the air at the last remaining patrolmen. Using the momentum of his leap, Spike spun his body as his fist connected with the griffons helm. The combined forces rendered the metal helmet meaningless and the entire upper portion of the griffons body seemed to liquify and splatter onto the ground. Without even taking time to catch his breath Spike sprinted toward the barn, every guard in town was more than likely on their way to his location and it was going to take him more than a moment to perform the teleportation spell.
Applejack paced back and forth across her living room floor, her brother and sister watching her all the while. The nervous pacing was taking its toll on both her siblings and it appeared Big Mac had had his fill of it.
"Would ya sit down already! He told us he'd be here and I ain't never known the little critter to lie before." Big Mac exclaimed
Apple Jack shot her older brother a thousand yard stare before marching up to him. "This ain't some simple party invitation Mac, we put our lives on the line agreeing to this. If Spike messes this up we'll be looking at the gallows!." Aj's frantic tone seemed to resonate a bit with Apple Bloom but it failed to phase the large crimson stallion.
"Ah spent the last twenty years tiptoeing around worrying if what I did would land me in a world of trouble. I don't know about you, Jack, but ahm willing to take this chance if it means gettin’ to make up my own mind about things again. A cowards life is no life to live for an Apple." The large stallion punctuated his argument with a deep huff right into his sisters face.
AJ was about to open her mouth in rebuttal but she was cut off by the sound of the front door being broken down. Into the farmhouse poured a decent sized group of ponies each with terrified expressions. The Apple family snapped to attention and helped their friends back to their booves.
Aj was the first to speak. "What in tarnation is going on here? I thought y'all were supposed ta be showing up all quiet like."
Rarity without missing a beat responded in a panicked tone. "No time! Patrol on the road, Spike attacked them. We have to get to the barn now!" was all the dressmaker was able to get out. The succinct nature of the message resonated immediately with the farm pony and within moments the three families were making a mad dash for the barn. In no time the lock flew off and the entire assembled party stood squarely inside Spike expertly crafted circle.
"What are we supposed to do now Rarity? Spike said he'd be with you all!" AJ shouted in a panic.
"He assured us he'd be here in time to perform the spell before the griffons caught up. Just give him a bit more time I know he'll make it."
Both mares cast a worried glance at the closed barn doors, each hoping that the first thing to come through it would be scaled and not feathered.
Spike continued his mad dash down the path leading to the farm. He had to respect the guard of the town as he was beset almost immediately by reinforcements as he fled the scene of his fight. Despite the toll it was taking on him, Spike was expending magic at a rapid rate assuring that any griffon that saw him was immediately shot out of the air. He couldn't risk being exposed to the griffon higher ups just yet, their lack of knowledge about a skilled dragon prowling their lands was the only thing keeping security to a minimum. Another bolt of lightning erupted from his fingertips as another in a countless stream of charred birds came crashing to the ground.
As Spike exited the treeline the welcoming sight of the bright red farm house filled his vision. Spike slid to an abrupt stop as he reached the fence of the farm and summoned up a great deal of magic. With the snap of his fingers a translucent wall appeared surrounding the area containing the barn and farm house, finally allowing Spike a moment to catch his breath. With supreme effort the dragon forced his feet to move as he charged for the barn doors, as he reached his destination he yanked open the door and saw a group of terrified ponies huddled close together.
Without missing a beat the raised his hands he said, "We don't have much time—everyone stay as still as possible and whatever you do, don't step outside the circle.” Spike stepped inside the teleportation circle he had crafted earlier in the day and began concentrating all of his magic into it. Meanwhile outside the barn countless griffons clawed and pecked away at Spike’s magical dome. The dragon could feel each and every strike against the magical force field as it sapped away more and more of his stamina to sustain it. For the small group in the tiny barn the next five minutes seemed to drag on eons—they could all hear the furious screaming coming from the outside. However their blood only began to run cold when they heard their amethyst savior utter one small phrase. "The shield is down." Spike choked out breathlessly. He had held out the field for as long as he could but if he wanted to finish the teleportation spell he couldn't waste anymore magic keeping it up. Within moments the sound of splintering wood could be heard coming from the barn door as the griffons hacked away at it with battle axes. Mothers and fathers clutched their sons and daughters and a brother turned to shield his siblings with his body while a lone pegasus cowered behind them all. The whole time a lone dragon ripped every ounce of magic from his body he could to finish his task. As the final crash echoed through the barn as the doors finally gave way Spike turned his head for just a moment to see a single griffon slip through. He could feel the magic he had been pooling into the circle finally propagate and a single phrase slipped his lips as the group disappeared into the ether. "You're too late."
Early in the morning hours, General Bloodwing's carriage landed in Sweyn's Roost. A flurry of servants greeted him as he exited his carriage and they were all set to work with a single wave of the talon. The massive griffon paused for a moment to take in the majesty of the capital; it had been too long since his last visit to the most glorious city in the known world. As Varzeros took in his surroundings, an elderly silver toned griffon moved up and stood squarely in Varzeros's path. The general immediately snapped his gaze to the much smaller silvery griffon and puffed out his chest.
"Well, if it isn't the decrepit old scribe himself. By what honor am I forced to endure your company?" Varzeros boomed as he chuckled slightly to himself.
Keirin Greyfeather stood unphased by the general's insults and instead beset the larger griffon with a stare that could only come from one who had weathered the winds of time and had no quarter left to give for the petty words of arrogant upstarts.
"The king asked that I escort you to the council chambers. He would like to speak with you about this elements business as soon as possible and doesn't want to leave you to your own devices until then," Keirin explained dryly.
Varzeros felt his face flush with heat as his temper rose at the elderly griffons words. He knew it must have been the old bird himself who had insisted upon this and he knew Ozarion prized his old advisor’s advice even more than his own. That fact alone never ceased to put a strain on nearly all of Varzeros's plans. Keirin, despite his age, was still as sharp as ever and meticulously observed every piece of paperwork that came in or out of the capital—Varzeros knew this well enough to consider the scribe a formidable opponent.
The pair made their way down a long, elaborately decorated corridor before being stopped by two guards posted at a massive door. With a nod from Keirin, the guards pushed opened the door and ushered them into a spacious, domed chamber. At the far end of the room, behind a rather large ornate table, sat the venerated king of the griffons, one Ozarion Bright Talon, who ushered them over with a mere wave of the claw. The general and Keirin quickly closed the distance and sat themselves at the meeting table.
The king was the first to speak. "It's been a long time Varzeros, I haven't seen you in over five years. I trust the position I left you with hasn't been too much of a burden."
The general smiled. "No duty in service of the kingdom could ever be seen as a burden, your grace. While the workload is heavy and the hours long, I toil at these tasks for the glory of the kingdom." Varzeros bowed his head.
Keirin cleared his throat at this moment and spoke. "I do not wish to contradict you my good general, but a great many a report that has crossed my table bares the mark of one Avris Grimtalon. I'd be willing to bet my beak that I see nine letters from him for everyone one of yours." The elderly griffon made a point to lock eyes with the general as he finished.
Varzeros mastered himself with supreme effort to avoid showing any signs of falter. "Running an entire country is an extremely taxing endeavor lord Keirin, there are simply not enough hours in the day for me to reply to every single piece of paperwork. Brigadier General Avris is my most trusted adviser and I entrust in him certain duties so that I have more time to oversee the more delicate matters that come with governing a country." He smirked at the older griffon conveying without words that it was his move.
Keirin huffed at the statement. "And what of the King's demands for monthly reports on the princesses of Equestria? Were lucky to see a single report on either of them even half that often."
Again Varzeros bit his tongue—the old bird was indeed meticulous. "Our reports on the well being of Celestia and Luna fall far below the importance of a number of other issues we must bring to the kings attention. The reports we do provide are well documented and go into fine detail exactly how the former leaders are being treated under our rule." Varzeros stated with a smug grin, however his smug attitude began to vanish as Keirin brought up his next point.
Keirin smiled. "Then would you like to explain to our good king why, according to my confidential reports from griffons serving inside Canterlot Castle, you have made Princess Celestia your personal chamber servant and routinely abuse her with little to no cause?"
Keirin held his breath hoping beyond hope that this information would push the general beyond the tipping point. For a moment Keirin believed he had won; the deadly glare he was receiving from Varzeros was so strong he could have sworn he felt it on his very flesh. But everything began to crumble when the general smiled that sadistic smile at him.
"I commend you on your supreme efforts to keep our good king as in touch with the goings on with his kingdom as you've done Keirin but I believe on this occasion you may have overlooked a scroll or two. While it is true I now keep the princess of the sun as a personal attendant, it is only because she was caught sneaking messages out to the Crimson Wing Offensive, the single most active rebel group in Equestria. We believe it was Celestia herself who provided the rebels with the patrol schedule they needed to launch their small scale assault on our barracks in Cloudsdale," Varzeros huffed.
"In the wake of her willful act of sedition I knew the only course of action was to keep her under my own close, personal watch at all times. From that point forward she has been assigned the role as my personal handmaiden." Varzeros cast one final knowing grin at Keirin before he sat back in his chair silently.
Ozarion paused on his adviser for a moment to see if he had any further rebuttals, when he was certain Keirin was finished he turned to Varzeros.
"While I'm glad to see you both pursue the safety and stability of my kingdom with such fervor, we have something more important to discuss. As you no doubt are aware, general, I have received word from my runesmiths and they assure me that we will have the means to destroy the elements of harmony by the week’s end. Since it was you who broached this agreement with the spirit of chaos, you should be the one to have the honor of destroying those damnable gems."
Varzeros swelled with pride. "Why, your grace, you humble me, I was simply acting in the best interest of the kingdom—I had no desire for any sort of reward. But if you see fit to allow me the honor, then I certainly won't pass up the chance. I will see to it personally that the elements are reduced to a fine dust and scattered on the wind." As the general sat back in his chair with a smugness few could rival, he was unaware of how swiftly things back in Equestria were about to go awry.
It was nearing high noon in Equestria as Avris Grimtalon stretched his neck, he had been sitting at the general’s desk since breakfast filling out paperwork. Even though he had been tasked with taking on the generals workload while he was in the capital, nothing had really changed for Avirs. He had been doing the majority of the general’s work for years now; the only difference now was that the chair he sat in was a bit more luxurious than the one in his office.
A faint knocking interrupted his concentration and he turned his head to the main office door, swiftly rising from the desk glad if only to have a reason to stand for a change, and made his way to the door. There before him stood the timid, almost frightened form of princess Celestia. He noticed a tray full of food floating in her weak, golden telekinetic aura.
"I beg you pardon, sir Avris, but I have brought your lunch as well as a personal message." Celestia bowed her head low. Avris couldn't help but feel unsettled with the alicorn’s mannerisms—it was almost like watching a whipped dog whimper. With the wave of a talon, he ushered her inside.
"Why thank you, Celestia—with all the work I've been doing I had honestly lost track of the time. Place the food on my desk and take a seat for a moment." Avris motioned to a large lounge chair near by.
The alicorn seemed to freeze in the doorway, unmoving, her eyes somewhat confused as to what to was happening. Avris saw this and could only shake his head; he knew the general could inspire fear but this was bordering on the ridiculous.
"I can assure you, my dear, this isn't a test or anything, I don't have any orders for you at the moment and I would like to read my letter. Please relax for a moment while I tend to these matters." Avris spoke in a soft gentle voice as he once again motioned with an outstretched talon to the chair.
Celestia looked at him with glassy eyes, as if the mere act of offering her a place to sit was enough to make her cry. With the barest of movement she nodded and sat down gracefully. Once Avris saw she was comfortable he turned to the letter she had delivered and opened it. The letter was from his wife and seemed more of a mission statement then a letter.
"To my loving husband,
Since you haven't the time to make it home for meals I have taken it upon myself to request through your office a personal visit. Our daughter has seen less of you in the past few months then she did in the womb. I have committed a hostile takeover of your midday meal—your colonel and private will be seeing you within the hour. Your loving wife, Eyra."
Avris swallowed hard. This was not a pleasant turn of events. Being forced to visit him at work was not something his Eyra was going to be happy about. With a shaky head, he turned to Celestia.
"Celestia, would you please return to the kitchen and bring me two more meals identical to my own? It appears I will be having company for luncheon today. After you bring them back you may take a two hour lunch break yourself. I fear I will have my talons quite full, so I won't be needing your assistance."
Celestia opened her mouth as to speak but quickly turned her head back toward the ground. Avris saw this and quickly addressed her. "You may speak, don't be afraid."
Celestia against he better judgement glanced at the Brigadiers face and saw not the furious hard glare she was expecting but a soft compassionate glace. If gave her the strength to look up and speak.
"M-my lord general Bloodwing has instructed all the staff in the castle that if I am found away from his chambers for anything more than twenty minutes I am to be beaten and brought to him immediately." She cast her eyes back to the ground as she finished. She was taken by total shock, however, as the brigadier stormed off to the generals desk and snatched up a piece of parchment. She saw him furiously scribbling down something before snatching the paper off the desk and presenting it to her.
"If ANYONE in the castle gives you any issues about the break I allow you to show them this and remind them who is in charge at present." Celestia was somewhat shocked at the look in the griffons eyes. He had the same fiery anger in his eyes that Varzeros had but she could almost feel a warm glow coming off it, as if it were directed not at her, but at anyone who might disrupt the free time he had given her. With a deep bow, Celestia took the parchment and made her way to the kitchens to fulfill the brigadier’s orders.
No more than ten minutes after Celestia had delivered the extra food did Avris' wife and daughter storm into the room. The thing he loved and hated the most about his wife was her complete and total bluntness. She was never afraid to do or say whatever was on her mind at a moment’s notice. Now here she was, in all her terrifying glory, glaring at him across his desk.
"Colonel Eyra and private Leetha reporting for duty sir." Her words were harsh and her tone and mannerisms only reinforced her overly negative mood. Luckily for him, his daughter did not seem to share her mother’s sourness and bounded around the desk, nearly crash landing into her father’s chest.
Avris laughed warmly and scooped the child up into tight hug. "How is my little song bird today?" he asked in a chipper tone.
"I'm super excited for my recital next weekend, mommy and me spent this morning at Ms. Olivia's so I could practice. Are you gonna be able to come see me sing this time daddy?" Avris felt a pang in his chest as his daughters tone turned somewhat sad when she asked him if he was coming. He also didn't miss the glare his lovely wife was giving him just behind their daughter.
"Well you will be very happy to hear, my dear, that I will most certainly be there for your recital." This news seemed to catch Eyra by surprise and she momentarily lost her frosty demeanor.
"What do you mean you’re going to make it? Has your schedule changed in some way I am unaware of?"
"In fact, it has, my beautiful wife—once the general returns from the capital I have requisitioned a month of leave. I informed him that I have been busting my wings off with all the paperwork around here and that I found the lack of time I had to spend with my family was becoming unacceptable. Surprisingly, he said he felt the same way and would have let me start my vacation today, but he needed me to run Equestria until his return."
Leetha was immediately giddy after hearing the news, "Are you serious, daddy? You’re gonna be at home every day for a whole month!?" Avris smiled at the girl and patted her head.
"Well, hopefully we won't be at home every day, we might take a trip to the capital for a few days to visit your grandparents. Staying cooped up in the house all day would be very boring." He laughed.
The news seemed to soften Eyra’s features a great deal and, for the first time since she had entered the office, she actually smiled. "Well, that really is good news. I'm not even sure I'll be able to put up with you for a whole month after seeing so little of you. I do like the idea of visiting the grandparents, though—I haven't seen my father in ages."
"Well if you could, would you send them a letter when you get home and inform them of our intentions, just to make sure we don't have conflicting issues?"
Eyra sighed and took a seat next to her husband. "I supposed to could handle your mail for you brigadier, but for now why don't we eat before our lunch gets cold?"
The griffon family settled into their meal, quietly chatting amongst themselves, all the while two messages from two locations both carrying equally dire news were headed straight for Avris's desk.
General Varzeros sat stewing in a silent rage in his massive bed chamber in the royal palace. He had been planning to use his time in the capital to personally attend to a few issues that were currently slowly progressing on his grand scheme. Unfortunately for him, it had become apparent on day one that Keirin had command and control in Sweyn's Roost comparable to what he had in Canterlot. While he had never caught a single one of them any time he had ventured outside of his room he could feel the eyes of Keirin's spies glued to the back of his head. He had heard tales of the old bird’s secret network of spies that permeated the capital. Shadow seekers, they had been nicknamed by the royal guard, gathering any form of information they could get their hands on before slinking back to the shadows to fairy it away to their master.
For this reason, Varzeros had been largely confined to his room for most of the duration of his stay, not risking giving that damned old fool even a scrap of information. Luckily his stay was nearly over; the meeting with Discord would go down tonight and in the morning the means to destroy the elements of harmony would be finished and he could return to his kingdom. He was brought out of his train of thought by a rapping at his chamber door.
He could feel his anger boiling over—he had left explicit instructions not to be disturbed until the meeting with all the servants in his wing. Whoever was at his door would be lucky if they walked away with their throat intact. As he reached the door he nearly tore it off its hinges with the force he used to rip it open.
"I thought I informed everyone that no one was to disturb me!" he screamed.
"Yes, well, unfortunately general, my orders carry a bit more weight around here then yours," Ozarion stated smoothly.
Varzeros barely managed to stammer out an apology, "Y-yo-your grace! Please forgive me, sire, I never imagined you would personally come to my chambers. Please, come in and have a seat."
Varzeros quickly ushered the king in and pulled out a chair for him around his dinner table. "Would your grace like a refreshment of some kind? I brought a few bottles of wine from my person cellars with me, purchased from the griffon monks in the Hollowing mountains." Ozarion nodded and Varzeros poured them each a goblet of wine and offered the king a glass before sitting down at the opposite end of the table. The two locked eyes for a short moment, each taking a sip of their wine. Varzeros was the first to break the tentative silence.
"Might I ask your grace what brought about this personal visit? It's not every day the king drops by one’s personal apartment even if the griffon in question is a general."
Ozarion chuckled lightly, "Does a king need a reason to visit his subjects? You also undervalue yourself, general. It was you work that laid the foundation for the invasion and eventual victory in Equestria. I was merely stopping by to inquire about your well being, you aren't the type of griffon to spend his days locked away."
"I fear the rural life may have taken root in me, your grace. The hustle and bustle of the capital is far removed from what one experiences in Equestria. I tend to spend my days now lounging in my study cradling a good book rather than getting mixed up in the fast paced arena that is politics."
Ozarion took another sip of wine, never removing his eyes from Varzeros. The general could feel the penetrative glace of the king on him; while the king’s attention could be swayed at times with matters of the people, Varzeros knew Ozarion was no fool. The king may be young, but he was fierce in his ambitions. He had a natural gift for ruling that even Varzeros had to respect, a gift that was as unpredictable as the king’s visit this very evening.
Ozarion smiled, "Well, I can surely respect that—living so far away from one’s own people, it can't be helped to pick up a trait or two from the locals. I just trust your edge hasn't dulled from spending so much time in a place so mundane as Equestria."
Varzeros allowed himself an internal sigh of relief, it was clear to him now the only reason for the kings visit was to determine if he was still willing to go forward with the deal with Discord.
"I can assure you, your grace, that I am as steadfast as ever. I am almost giddy with anticipation for the morrow when I can wield the tool of our salvation in my own hands."
Ozarion smiled and placed his cup on the table. "That's exactly what I wanted to hear, general. I'll take my leave now, be sure to get your rest. From what I hear, this Discord fellow can be quite a handful to deal with."
With that the king exited the chamber leaving Varzeros to his own devices. The general merely chuckled to himself; he was so close to victory, he wouldn’t allow an army of ten million interfere with his plans let alone one spirit of chaos. Varzeros sat back in his chair, taking another long pull from his wine glass, effectively emptying it. Come morning the last remaining obstacles in his way would be removed and he would be free to continue on with his plans. With a wicked smile he closed his eyes, hoping to dream dreams of the morning that was to come.
Varzeros could barely contain his excitement as he marched down the long corridor to the runeforger’s chambers. He had waited over twenty years to see the instrument of Equestria's true downfall and being so close to it had reverted him to a mere schoolboy. As the massive door into the runeforge opened for the nobles, they were buffeted by a wave of intense heat. The temperature inside the forge easily jumped forty degrees, leaving the king, his adviser, and Varzeros panting as they trekked through the hall.
It wasn't long before the foremen halted the march, leaving the small group standing before a massive furnace, flames and smoke spewing high into the air. As if by some grand design, as soon the group arrived the senior runesmith called a halt to all production and seized a pair of heavy metal tongs. With supreme care, he removed a large object from the great forge and placed it carefully into a vat of quenching oil. As the object was removed, its form became more pronounced, appearing to be a warhammer of massive size.
The deadly end of the weapon appeared to have runes engraved on all sides that glowed a faint yellow. With the utmost care, the master runesmith lifted the now cool object off its makeshift pedestal and approached king and company. He bowed low to the ground and offered up the mighty weapon.
"I present to you, my king, the instrument of harmony's destruction. We, here in the great forge, have affectionately named it 'Harmony Breaker'."
Ozarion turned his glance to Varzeros who promptly moved to the head of the group. With an outstretched talon he grasped the mighty weapon and hefted it into the air. It was heavy, and he could literally feel the power radiating off of it. He took a step back and performed a few practice swings, testing the weapon’s weight and balance.
"It's perfect, I have never before held such a fine weapon. You have outdone yourselves, humble masters. You are certain this weapon will destroy the elements of harmony both physically and magically?"
The master runesmith lifted his head to match Varzeros' gaze. "My lord, if you strike the elements with this hammer it shall be as if they never existed. Our runeforging is without fault."
Varzeros could do nothing but smile, here, resting in his hands, lay the final instrument of Equestria's downfall. He could hardly wait for the brief meeting awaiting him with the spirit of chaos, and could almost hear the elements shattering as he left the great forge.
The trio left the great forge and made their way to the war room where the meeting with Discord would take place. As the guards opened the grandiose door, the king and company were met with a startling landscape. The interior of the war room had been transformed into a vision straight out of the mind of a madman. Chairs and tables floated across the room, goblets conversed with themselves about which liquid they preferred to be filled with, and the paintings decorating the walls had taken on the lives of their own visages, griffon kings who argued endlessly with one another over who ruled best.
"I hope you don't mind, but I was a bit tired of waiting so I decided to amuse myself with the scenery," came a whimsical tone from seemingly out of nowhere. In a brilliant flash of light, the spirit of chaos materialized in front of king and company, bowing deeply before snapping his fingers and returning the room to its natural state.
"I could tell from the looks on your faces that my preferred arrangements weren't going to work, so in order to make this all move along smoothly I suppose we can discuss the matter in a more normalized environment." Discord proceeded to the far end of the war table and sat down gracefully while motioning for the rest of the group to sit down as well.
As the king adjusted himself in his chair he cleared his throat. " Lord Discord, I trust you know why we have gathered here today?" "Why of course I know why we've all gathered in this terribly droll little room; we've come to discuss exactly how you plan to destroy those precious little gems over there on the table."
Ozarion cleared his throat, "Quite—we present to you the culmination of over two decades worth of work and research." Varzeros stood up next to the king and unbuckled the warhammer from his back, placing it gently on the table.
"The runeforged war hammer 'Harmony Breaker' will reduce the elements of harmony and the magic they posses to nothing." Discord's head stretched clear to the other side of the table and inspected the weapon. "Hmm, it does seem rather impressive. So, will I be doing the honors, or will that fall to our esteemed king Ozarion?" Discord mused.
Ozarion shook his head. "General Varzeros will be doing the honors—he is, after all, the one who put this whole thing together." "Well, if you all would be so kind I am a very busy spirit of chaos, so if we could get this evening’s show underway I would be very appreciative."
Ozarion raised a talon and motioned to the servants at the door behind him. Immediately the doors opened and a cart carrying a large anvil pulled by four burly guards was brought into the room. Together, the four guards hefted the anvil off the cart and placed it down next to the middle of the table. Without a word the guards and servants quickly exited the war room and closed the door behind them. Varzeros rose from his seat, placing a talon on the warhammer and gripping it tightly. He paced over to the anvil, weapon in hand, and stood up on his hind legs, plucking the element of magic from the necklaces sitting on the table and placing it on the anvil. With the warhammer clenched tightly in his right arm he lifted the weapon high into the air and with all the force he could muster brought it down onto the bejeweled necklace. With only a small explosion of light, where once the element lay, nothing remained.
General Varzeros made quick work of the task, destroying all six elements in rapid succession. As the hammer fell on the final necklace he let the warhammer slip from his grasp and clatter to the ground, panting heavily.
"I must say, you seemed to enjoy that a bit too much general," Discord chimed in.
"I don't see how I could have enjoyed it less—those accursed things have been the sole power of Equestria for centuries. Celestia and Luna used them to hold dominion over most of the world for far too long. That ends now. We have upheld our end of the bargain, chaos lord. Now it is your turn to uphold yours."
Discord grinned. " Well I shall certainly try, but my ability to uphold my end relies solely on whether or not your little hammer worked." Discord turned his gaze to the heavens locking eyes with the setting sun. He rose a claw and, with a snap of his fingers, attempted to set the sun and moon free from their false masters control. For a moment nothing happened, but then slowly the sun began to rise back up into the sky. The entire collective party watched, awestruck as the sun crept back up into a position denoting high noon. Discord smiled gleefully. "It is done! The sun and moon are now once again moving in their natural alignment ."
"How can you be sure of this?" Varzeros questioned.
"Think, my dear general. Celestia has no idea whats happening at this very moment. There is no way she could possibly have moved the sun in alignment with our actions. Our deal is done, I shall now take my leave. Equestria no longer needs me as long as you all are in charge."
With a snap of his fingers the spirit of chaos disappeared from the room without a trace. This, however, was not enough to draw the attention away from the now free roaming celestial bodies. Ozarion, Keirin and Varzeros all knew looking at that mid day sun that things would never be the same again.
Avris glared down at the two letters sitting on his desk. He could hardly believe either but the details provided could not be overlooked. Facility 87 had been entirely wiped out, not a single griffon stationed at the facility was alive to verify exactly what had happened. Then there was the even more pressing report that not only had the elements of harmony and their families escaped Ponyville, but they had done so with the aid of a grown dragon.
Avris was hard pressed to begin writing the letter he knew he had to write. This turn of events would totally obliterate any chance he had at getting personal leave to spend with his family. With all that in mind, he raised the stamp bearing his sigil and pressed it into the hot wax, sealing the letter to the general. Duty, Honor, Family: that was the griffon way, and Avris had been raised his entire life to embody that philosophy.
With that stamp, the letter was sent off to general Varzeros with the utmost haste. Avris had brief fantasies about what would happen when the general returned to Equestria after reading the news. None of them, however, would prepare him for the savage rage that was to come.
"Spike are you sure you’re ready to be up and around? You were asleep for nearly thirty hours after you teleported back here," Twilight asked, her voice thick with concern.
"I don't have much of a choice Twilight. I screwed things up royally during my botched rescue. The griffons know that there is a dragon wandering around Equestria now freeing ponies. They are going to start ramping up security all over Equestria now, not to mention trying to track me down and kill me. I need to work as fast as possible to free as many ponies as I can," Spike barked as he flopped back in his chair.
"Speaking of the killing me part, Lyra, of the ponies we've liberated thus far how many could you find that were capable of martial combat?" Spike said, glancing at the mint coated unicorn.
"Of those here at the castle I have managed to find six expert level Still way practitioners, two expert level Vortex Style specialists and, much to my surprise and to our luck, one Shattered Stone master. I have assembled them into what I affectionately refer to as the ‘Still Guard.’”
Spike smirked at the mint green unicorn. "Well, it's a decent start. Have them section off into groups and start instructing all those willing to learn. We need to build a fighting force if we want to win this country back. I can't take on an entire kingdom on my own."
He turned to Twilight, "On a non militaristic note, how are our friends adjusting to the new living conditions?"
"Its a mixed bag really, Rarity and Sweetie Belle are doing fine, although Rarity seems to be a bit pale and shaky. Pinkie and the Cakes seem to be the best off; they’ve taken over kitchen duty and little Rum and Angel are doing just fine. AJ seems to be the only one having trouble. She’s completely paranoid about the griffons finding us and punishing her and her family for running away."
Spike shifted in his makeshift bed, "Rarity should be alright in a few more days. Shes likely suffering from withdrawals. We can't do much for AJ at the moment other than reassure her that things are going to work out." Spike braced himself and sat up, swinging his legs off the bed and planting them on the ground.
"What do the supplies look like?" Spike asked turning to Twilight.
"We've used up the majority of the food we took from the camp and our foraging attempts have been less than successful. The way things are going now, we could probably last another four or five days," Twilight replied, face buried in what Spike could only assume was a log book.
The dragon took a deep breath and stood up, his body protesting the whole way. He used to think himself indestructible, but his recent crusade against the Griffon kingdom had opened his eyes to just how mortal he really was. His body ached from the constant strain of combat and the limited time he allowed himself to rest.
"Spike you shouldn't be out of bed right now!" Twilight protested, rushing to his side.
"I don't have a choice Twi. If I don't forge ahead we'll end up right back where we started. While I was in Ponyville, I heard whispers of a rebel force taking refuge in the Shifting Smoke Mountains. I've recovered enough strength to make the flight and I intend to scout the area and see if there is indeed a group willing to fight back. I shouldn't be more than a day, I'll renew the protection spells on the castle and be back before they fall off." The conviction in Spike's voice left no room for rebuttal.
"Meanwhile, everypony here will be you two's responsibility. At the very least we should have a few more days before they even think to search this deep into the Everfree."
Both unicorns nodded as the dragon spread his wings and gave them a mighty flap. They watched silently as he climbed into the mid afternoon sky, something about the lean powerful body calming their worried minds.
Spike soared over the Shifting Smoke Mountains, taking in every remote detail he could. His first two passes had turned up no signs of habitation. As he finished his third unsuccessful pass he landed to collect his thoughts.
This is pointless; if a simple fly by could have found them, they would have easily been caught by now. Either they aren't here or there has to be more to it. Suddenly, an idea came to Spike. He focused his mind and cast a very familiar spell to him.
The dragon flew over the mountain pass once more, this time with a detect life spell in place. The way Spike figured it, there wouldn't be any visible entry ways into the mountain if it was indeed being used as a base because they would immediately arise suspicion. He was nearly half way over the mountain chain when he spotted a myriad of faint orange lights inside its core. He paused for a moment, hovering in the air while trying to determine exactly how deep into the mountain the lights were.
"Well, I do like to make an entrance." Spike flapped his wings and shot a few dozen yards upward before diving back down to earth. As he approached the rocky mountain surface his tucked his wings in and cast an empowered burning hands spell. The extreme heat his hands were now emitting effortless liquified the rock as he dove into the mountain side.
Colonel Crimson Skies stood over a map of northern Equestria when his silent contemplation was abruptly ended as the door to his office burst open.
"This had better be important, private, or I'm throwing you from the top of the mountain with your wings fastened to your sides."
Once inside the room, the private stood at attention with a file in his outstretched wing. "The intel report from the recent incident in Ponyville, sir."
"Well it's about bloody time. Give me the run down private.." Colonel Skies snatched the offered file and slapped it open on his desk.
"It appears that the individual responsible for freeing the prisoners at facility 87 was the one behind this incident as well. It appears to have been a covert rescue mission unlike the full scale liberation at the facility. The only ponies missing from town were the remaining free elements of harmony and their families."
Skies nodded while scanning the file, "Well, whoever this guy is he's pretty damn good. We could really use a pony like him in the rebellion."
"About that, sir. It appears that the vigilante in question isn't actually a pony."
Skies looked up from his desk, "Are we talking about some kind of rogue griffon here? Last I checked, we weren't exactly doing well in the ally department."
"According to reports from the soldiers who responded to the alarm, it appears the ally in question is actually a dragon, sir."
"You want to run that by me again, private?" Skies said, an eyebrow raised in question.
"You heard correctly sir, all reports seem to indicate that a dragon is behind both rescue attempts. It does resolve most of our questions about how facility 87 was cleaned up so neatly. Dragons are an incredibly powerful race it would stand to reason one could wipe out an entire barracks full of guards single-handedly."
Skies sat in silence for a moment, absorbing the information.
"Get our scouts together. I have a new assignment for them. Tell them to assemble in the briefing room."
With that, the Colonel stormed out of the room, leaving his private still at attention. It wouldn't take long for his orders to be carried out and he wanted to get the gears turning on his new project as quickly as possible.
Moments later, Skies stood in the large open cavern they used as a briefing room as a dozen or so pegasi assembled in front of him. As they finished forming ranks he stepped up on the makeshift podium that was little more than a stack of crates.
"I've gathered you all here on such short notice because I have a new assignment for the entire scout division."
There was a quite murmur in the group as the Colonel continued.
"Our latest intel report has brought to our attention a powerful potential ally that appears to be hiding somewhere in Equestria. A Dragon, folks, is what I'm referring to. He or she appears to be the one responsible for both the destruction of facility 87 in the north and the recent commotion in Ponyville. Now, because of the nature of our little shit show here its rather difficult to find us, and while this is a bad thing for our enemies it’s also a bad thing for anyone looking to join up with us. This dragon might very well be trying do just that, seeing as how they have freed more of our kinsman in the past month then we have in the past year."
The Colonel stepped down and paced along the front line of scouts.
"As of now, I want all of you to start looking for this dragon, and when found bring him here for a meeting. If his goals do indeed align with ours he could be an immensely powerful ally."
It was at this time that a voice called out from the group.
"Any idea where we should begin looking sir?"
Skies turned his head to the voice. "Sadly, we have next to no idea where this individual could be, which is why I'm making it the priority of the entire scouting division. We have enough eyes and wings here to cover most of Equestria if well coordinated and it is of the ut---"
The Colonel was cut off mid sentence by a rumbling of the earth. Before anyone could react, the ceiling above the briefing hall exploded in a shower of dust and rock and the ground shook a second, more forceful time as if something had impacted it.
"SOUND THE ALARM, WERE UNDER ATTACK!" shouted Skies and he beat his wings, trying to disperse the smokescreen of sand and gravel.
"That won't be necessary; I'm just here to talk," came an unfamiliar voice from the fog. What came next was the sound of snapping.
A burst of air came from nowhere and immediately cleared out the room. Standing there below the massive hole in the ceiling was a tower of a purple dragon.
The dragon looked at the group of slack jawed ponies and smirked. "You see, I'm here to join the rebellion."
Spike landed in the castle courtyard around early morning and rushed to his office. He practically tore the ancient doors of their hinges as he barged in, huddled around his desk were Twilight and Lyra looking over what appeared to be a map.
Twilight turned in shock. "Spike, what are you doing? What’s with the rush?"
"I found the rebels, Twi. They’re currently setting up shop in the Smokey Mountains. We need to get everything and everyone packed and ready to move out. Once we meet up with them we'll actually be able to start making some moves. You two start waking everyone up and getting things packed, I need to gather the mine carts together and start casting a few enchantments."
Lyra and Twilight nodded and took off into the castle proper as Spike opened an old chest he had been using to store magical paraphernalia.
Spike rose up with a groan as he completed the final enchantment on the stolen minecarts. While not an overly intensive enchantment, casting so many feather-weight spells was at the very least an endurance trial. He paused to catch his breath as he eyed the camp; ponies were scattered everywhere packing and storing various equipment and supplies. Now that they knew of where to find the Crimson Wing rebellion it was imperative that they reach the smokey mountains as soon as possible.
He spotted Lyra and Twilight carefully packing what meager magical paraphernalia they possessed and hastily made his way over to them.
“Is this really all the reagents we have left?” The distress in his voice seemed infectious to the two mares.
Lyra was the first to respond. “I’m sorry, Spike, but there wasn’t much to take from the camp and we found very little in the surrounding area.”
Spike frowned. There were barely enough materials to prepare sufficient defensive wards, let alone renew the enchantments on the carts.
“We can’t waste any time on this trip, then. We have at most twelve hours before the enchantments wear off and after that we will have to traverse the mountains on foot.”
Lyra and Twilight shared an uneasy look before returning their attention to the dragon.
“Just finish packing everything and be ready to move at noon. I don’t wish to linger here any longer than we have to.”
The mares nodded and returned to their appointed tasks. Although the pace was a bit more grueling than Spike would have liked, they managed to pack up by noon and were ready to set out.
Spike stepped out in front of the large group and called for attention.
“Firstly I’m proud of all of you for preparing for this march so quickly, I know it hasn’t been easy but it was imperative that it be done as quickly as possible. Our destination is the Smokey Mountains—I shall lead the group, along with Lyra Heartstrings and Twilight Sparkle. Keep the formation tight and call out if anyone seems to be falling behind, I won’t stand for anypony to be left behind.”
As Spike was about to give the order for the Pegasi towing the carts to take off there was an explosion of dirt and stone as the outer walls of the ruined castle disintegrated. In an instant no less than a hundred griffons flooded into the area.
“EVERYONE FLY NOW! GET OUT OF HERE,” Spike screamed as he was swarmed by griffons.
Carts took off flying into the mid afternoon sun while the sounds of clashing metal and the humming of arcane magic resounded behind them. Spike leap into the fray without pause, his claws ripping through the throats of two griffons as he plowed his way into the avian lines. To his right, three griffons were lifted off the ground encased in a golden magical aura, clawing at their throats as if something were strangling them. A few feet away stood Lyra, her horn alight in a golden glow. With a flick of her head, her victims were embedded into the stony walls of the castle.
With a deep breath, Spike turned his attention to the wave of griffons rushing his way, and with a wave of his hand a dark circle materialized on the ground. With supreme effort, Spike completed the spell and no less than ten griffons collapsed to the ground without a word. It was then he noticed the several griffons taking to the air, having abandoned dealing with the dragon and turned their eyes on easier prey.
Spike called out to Lyra. “Lyra, you hold the ground defense! I have to protect the carts.”
With that he flexed his wings and shot off into the air, pushing his wings to their limit as he desperately tried to catch up with the fleeing ponies. In the blink of an eye he caught up to a griffon and, with a feral growl, he extended a claw and quite literally clotheslined the beast in two using just his speed and velocity. Aerial combat was not his strong suit, but the combination of adrenaline and need was pushing his abilities into uncharted areas.
As the dragon darted from griffon to griffon, taking out as many as he could, he simply could not keep them all away from the fleeing ponies by himself. Almost thirty yards ahead of him a pegasus towing a cart was side swiped by a griffon and fell plummeting to the ground. His blood boiled as he watched the cart full of ponies fall crashing down to their deaths, his inability to help them only fueling his blood lust.
With renewed vigor he pushed himself harder, straining his muscles further. His claws no longer factored into the equation of death, bolts of arcane energy flew in an omnidirectional pattern. The dragons rage was nearly palpable in the air, the unicorns in the group all clutched their heads as they were bombarded by the raw magic pooling in the air.
On the ground Lyra and the few unicorns she had assembled as the Still Guard had been back into a corner. The griffon numbers were overwhelming while her forces were meager to begin with.
“Lady Lyra, what are we going to do?” gasped a breathless unicorn.
“We do what we must, we have to buy as much time as we can. We are the Still Guard. We stand unmoving, unflinching in the face of all opposition,” cried the mint coated unicorn.
Suddenly the entire group of unicorns were encased in a brilliant golden, they each looked to their commander and saw the mares eyes awash in a blinding white light. One by one the griffons before the group were crushed into the ground by the overwhelming power of the unicorn mare.
“This is the last thing I can do for you Spike... save them for me.”
Lyra let out a mighty scream as a golden explosion enveloped the ruined castle.
All aerial combat ceased for a few brief moments as the shockwave from the ground overcame them. Spike looked down at the ruins of the castle with a panicked stare. Oh, Lyra no, the dragon thought to himself as the brilliant golden light receded. It was then that the unspeakable happened. While Spike and the brunt of his defensive forces were distracted a single griffon had penetrated the inner line. The sound that snapped them all out of their daze was not the resumption of combat, but the meek cry of a pink maned pegasus.
There hovering in the air was Fluttershy, a glistening steel sword impaled through her stomach. It was then that time seemed to slow to a crawl. Spike simply stood jaw agape, Twilight and the rest of the elements cried out in unison, and one cyan pegasus simply looked on with a blank face. No one spoke, the cries from the elements were choked in their throats. Time seemed to stand still.
The sky shattered.
In what could more aptly be called an act of teleportation rather than flying, a cyan coated pegasus appeared next to the fallen mare. The griffon responsible for her injury seemingly evaporated into nothingness.
“Fluttershy stay with me, you’ll be ok, we can get you to Twilight and she’ll fix you right up I know she can.”
There floating in the air cradling the blood soaked Fluttershy was Rainbow Dash.
The pink maned pegasus coughed up a small amount of blood and looked up at her friend.
“O-oh Dash -cough- I’m so glad.” Her speech was interrupted by another fit of coughing up blood.
“No you stay with me Shy, we can’t let it end like this. We’ve been together since we were fillies, we have to be together until were old mares.” Rainbow buried her face in her friends mane and cried.
As everything was unfolding Spike sat floating in the air, watching in a stunned stupor. He let a friend die—he had sworn to himself he would see all his friends return to their lives and now one of them was gone forever. It was then, watching Rainbow Dash cradle her dying friend in her hooves while the rest of his friends sobbed with her that something snapped within him.
Twilight was the first to notice the disturbance; she could practically taste the raw magic pooling in the air. Her eyes snapped to Spike whose body was shaking with visible tremors as raw arcane magic crackled around him. Her eyes went wide when she finally processed the gravity of the magic he was gathering.
She cried out to the rest of the group. “EVERYONE, WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!”
The sudden shout from Twilight seemed to snap everyone out of their collective stupor. With renewed vigor the pegasi pushed themselves forward. Little did they know, their efforts were not required.
Spike out stretched both his arms and out from his body shot a massive circle. Once the circle had encompassed all the ponies in the area he brought his hands together and in an instant they all vanished. He then turned his attention to the various griffons still inhabiting the area. With a mighty roar he brought his hands together in front of him. In short order a blinding white ball formed in front of his outstretched hands. This wasn’t some spell or incantation—this ball was a mass of raw, primal arcane energy.
Dragons cast spells by channeling the raw magics from the world into their bodies and then refining them and manipulating them into spells. However, a skilled enough dragon could with enough effort simply pool the raw magic in the air into their body and direct it unrefined at any target they desired. This was the attack Spike was preparing now. Pure, unrefined primal arcane magic in all of its majesty and horror.
“Iejir ihk Iejir.”
With that, the massive ball of white magic shot toward the ground faster than any being in the area could have escaped.
There was no sound, no shockwave, only a blinding white flash that extended for miles. When all was said and done the only thing remaining was a massive crater. Spike gazed upon the scene below him with eyes half open; not a single living thing remained. The griffons, the castle, the forest, it had all been annihilated. It was with a heavy sigh that Spike’s body finally gave out. He wasn’t sure what would happen to him, but he gave into the blackness knowing his master would not let his friends go wanting.
As her vision came back into focus, Twilight took in her surroundings. The rest of the ponies in their group had been shaken up by the abrupt massive teleportation and were slowly finding their way back to their hooves. The thought of the teleportation seemed to immediately jog the unicorn’s memory as she frantically searched the landscape for a certain pink haired pegasus. There, surrounded by the rest of her friends, lay Fluttershy, her soft yellow coat stained crimson and her once gentle, caring eyes were only glossy and void.
Twilight started to run to her late friend’s side when the entire area began to quake, and a rumbling echoed from the large cave opening near by. Before anypony could react, a massive figure emerged from the cave in a blinding light that forced the onlooking ponies to shield their eyes. The hulking being reflected the sun’s rays in an awe-inspiring display of rainbow light and glitter, like a massive diamond. As if having their visual senses assaulted wasn't enough, the titan’s booming voice bellowed across the rocky mountain side.
"Svabol tir wux siofme wux re tirir shafaer sia verthicha?” demanded the behemoth.
Twilight could only squint up in utter terror as she saw what could only be the outline of a dragon, her vocal cords were paralyzed in fear.
"Anyui ve equine ghoros si--" The glimmering colossus seemed to stop mid sentence, lowering its massive head down right in front of Twilight. It sounded to the unicorn as if it were sniffing her, and she could feel a warm, wet air blowing in her face.
"You smell like an ignorant, bullheaded apprentice I used to have." Came a much softer, but still deep and powerful voice. Twilight's eyes finally seemed to adjust to the bright light reflecting off the creature looming over her. She opened her eyes fully and stood in awe at what could only be described as a dragon carved out of pure diamond.
"Would you kindly explain to me, young miss, why there are a few dozen equine sitting on what would amount to my front lawn?" He asked, staring down at the tiny unicorn.
Twilight swallowed hard and for the first time, made eye contact with the massive dragon. "W-well you see sir, we were ambushed by griffons as were trying to meet up with a group of rebels and things got out of hand at an alarming rate. We lost a handful of ponies, one of which was a very dear friend, and when Spike saw what happened to her he just snapped. I've never felt that kind of magic before it was so… so RAW and overbearing! Just being near it was enough to overload my horn. The next thing I knew, Spike shot a massive yellow ring out from his body and it expanded rapidly in every direction. Once it encompassed the forest we were all just teleported here."
Twilight had to pause for a moment to catch her breath after rapid-fire rambling out her explanation. "After that we all woke up here and I haven't seen Spike since. I'm not sure if he even came with us during the teleport."
"Well, that would definitely explain the massive magical disturbance I felt. I had a feeling my idiot apprentice might have been behind it, but the optimist in me simply wanted to hope he wasn't that big of a fool." Paraxxus looked out into the horizon.
"You are may stay in my lair for the time being. I am going to see if I can retrieve Spike… and whether he is dead or alive." Paraxxus turned his head back to the cave entrance.
"DOVANICK" shouted the elder dragon in a deep booming voice. Moments later a relatively small Minotaur came rushing out of the cave and quickly took a knee before the dragon.
"Show them all to Spike's old training hall and help them get settled. You know what rooms to keep them out of." The large dragon instructed his apparent servant. The Minotaur nodded without word and quickly ushered Twilight to follow him.
With his orders given, Paraxxus unfurled his massive wings and took off into the air. The massive concentration of magic had dissipated too much for him to get an exact enough location for teleportation, so he would have to comb the area where the dispersed magic still lingered.
"You better be damn grateful for this boy, you KNEW before you sent them here I don't involve myself with the affairs of lesser species.”
The sun was beginning to set in the distance as Paraxxus closed in on where the largest concentration of residual arcane energy existed. He scanned the forest below for any signs of his wayward pupil when suddenly the lush greenery of the forest gave way to a massive crater. The giant wound in the earth could have easily measured a mile across. In the dead center of it Paraxxus caught a smudge of purple mixed in with the dirt brown environment.
Paraxxus began a slow glide down to the ground when out of the corner of his eye and a couple hundred feet below him he spotted a contingent of griffons that seemed to also be heading for the center of the massive crater. When the griffons reached the ground before him he began a nose dive in an attempt to cut them off before they reached his pupil.
"You two hurry up and unfurl the stretcher. We need to get this thing back to the castle before it regains consciousness," barked the lead griffon. Before his subordinates could even grab the pack containing the equipment the entire group was shaken to the ground as Paraxxus impacted the ground, kicking up a large cloud of dust.
"Just want exactly do you pathetic little creatures think you're doing?" boomed the deep, resounding voice of the elder dragon.
The dust settled to find the group of battle hardened griffons cowering in fear of the hulking behemoth before them. The lead griffon swallowed hard and mustered what meager amount of courage he had left to him and looked up to face the crystalline colossus.
"B-By order of the griffon kingdom, this dragon is under arrest for crimes against crown and country," the griffon declared meekly.
A rumbling chuckle echoed from the dragons maw. "How adorable. May you be as amusing to whatever gods you pray to." Immediately, every single griffon in the assembled party exploded in a shower of blood and gore.
Paraxxus gently lifted his unconscious pupil and placed him onto his back, then took off into the twilight sky, not wanting to linger any longer then he had to. With his newly acquired cargo he would have to set a slower pace back to his lair, which meant they most likely wouldn't return until after daybreak. Paraxxus decided to use the time to decide exactly what course of questioning he had in mind for his uninvited guests back home.
It was nearly midday by the time Paraxxus had returned to his lair, cared for his pupil and assembled said pupil’s second-in-commands. Needless to say, the elder dragon found himself sitting opposite a table to two ponies not only famished, but exhausted and irritated. Lyra and Twilight both sat silently as they watched the dragon lift a large ornate urn to his mouth and take in the steaming tea that had been presented to them by one of Paraxxus' many vassals.
As Paraxxus finished off his tea he set the two small ponies with a stern glare.
"I will be frank. Spike and I parted on less than favorable terms. He knew without asking that I would refuse to aid in his foolish crusade and as such I have abandoned him as a pupil. However, given the condition I found him in and that I know he wouldn't have involved me unless there was simply no other option available to him, I will allow you all to stay here until he recovers. But know this: I refuse to suffer the ignorance of less species. You and your kin will follow every rule I set down for you, and disobedience will result in whatever punishment I see fit. Are we clear?"
Twilight was the first to speak, "We understand wholeheartedly. We had no idea where Spike was sending us and we certainly did not mean to trespass on your property. I will personally insure great care is taken to honor your wishes while we are guests in your home," she said, bowing deeply.
"Very good. Now that we are on even ground, I would like for you to explain to me exactly what series of events lead to this unfortunate happening. I've always known my apprentice to be careless and hot headed, but for him to expend that amount of raw magic is startling even for me."
Twilight lowered her head and fought to hold back the tears. "Well sir, it went wrong when the griffons attacked." Twilight recounted the entire tale of how they had discovered the rebels and had planned to meet with them, but were caught in an ambush. The elder dragon merely nodded and sipped at his tea as the unicorn told him everything.
"It would seem you have all experienced much in a short amount of time... another hallmark of my foolish pupil, always rushing forward without proper forethought." Paraxxus paused to toss a few salted fish into his great maw.
"I offer my condolences for your loss. Even if I find you to be of one of the lower class species in the world, death should be mourned appropriately. I shall instruct my vassals to aid you in whatever funeral preparations you require for your lost friend. If you wish I will also perform a prayer for the lost for all of your kin that perished during the attack."
Both unicorns were speechless for a moment, unprepared for such an act of kindness. Lyra was the first to regain her composure. "We can not express our gratitude enough, good sir. The dragon's prayer is an honor none of my kinsmen could ever have dreamed being worthy of."
Paraxxus nodded toward the mint green unicorn. "That will be all for now. You both must be past the point of exhaustion after your ordeals today. We will continue our conversation when my pupil awakens and we can decide on what exactly he plans to do with the lot of you. If you require anything during the night simply ring the bell in the training hall, and someone will be along to attend to you."
With that, the massive dragon rose up and retreated into the deeper recesses of the cavern. Twilight and Lyra were lead back to the training hall with the rest of the ponies, the mood of the group of tense, but calm. The presence of the dragon Paraxxus seemed to somewhat soothe the frayed nerves of the ponies and allowed them to drift into a cautious sleep.
A week had come and gone since Spike and his entourage took shelter in Paraxxus's mountain lair. The majority had taken to assisting the elder dragons vassals in maintaining the lair while Twilight and Lyra oversaw Spike's recovery. The young dragon had been on the verge of death when he was brought back to the mountain lair. If not for the skilled workings of an elder dragon he very well might have passed into great beyond as a result of his insane actions.
A wave of déjà vu struck the waking dragon as he arose from his old bed inside the mountainous lair of his adolescence. Like a flip book images of the prelude to his black out flashed through his mind in rapid succession. Before he could come completely to his senses a deep booming voice assaulted his ears.
"HOW DARE YOU BRING YOUR PETTY SQUABBLE TO MY DOOR STEP." The colossal voice of the elder dragon echoing throughout the lair.
Spike winced at the sheer decibel of his masters voice.
"I'm sorry master, In my distress I sent them to the only place I knew to be safe. We have all experienced a great loss and in my heart I could think of only one place we could be safe to mourn." Spike stated, his eyes cast down in shame.
The elder dragon let out a heavy sigh. All his anger seemed to melt at the look on his pupils face. Paraxxus couldn't recall ever seeing such a look of pain on the young dragons face.
"I will allow you and yours to stay here until you are fully rested and your friend buried. But after that I want you all gone, I will have no part in this foolish game of nations. If you attempt to come back here again with your little menagerie I will personally demonstrate for you my wayward apprentice what REAL dragon magic is."
With that the massive dragon made his exit, leaving his ultimatum to linger in the young dragons head. Spike lay stewing, his masters words repeating over and over in his head. He had thought on some baser level that if he truly had no other option to turn to his master might take pity on him enough to aid in his cause. Now though he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was completely alone in this en devour.
With supreme effort Spike made an attempt to rise to his feet but tragically fell back onto the bed beneath him. He silently cursed his own weakness as he begrudgingly yanked on a string suspended slightly above his bedside. Within moments one of Paraxxus's servants entered the room bowing lowly to the young dragon.
"What is it you wish of me lord Spike." The minotaur asked.
"Find the ponies Twilight Sparkle and Lyra Heartstrings and bring them to me immediately." Spike commanded in a tone he had learned from listening to his master address the help.
Without question the minotaur bowed deeply and retreated from the bedroom to complete his given task.