Chapter 1 - Of friends and fire
Ember’s claws were gripping the Bloodstone Scepter so tightly, she feared she might snap it in two. ‘How could he think I wouldn’t win? How could he abandon me like that? I am his daughter for ruby’s sake,’ she thought to herself, before letting out a sharp snort of frustration. The guards flanking her modest hoard flinched at the short flare of blue-hot fire that escaped her mouth. Her mind elsewhere, Ember took flight and began to circle inside the heart of the volcano.
‘Okay. Calm down. It’s too late now. Being angry at Dad won’t solve anything.’ Ember thought firmly, though the idea of giving her father a good scorching still had its appeal. ‘I need to solve this, and quickly. But who will help me? The Scepter won’t let me order another dragon to help, they have to want to. And not just because they want to help themselves in the process. They have to want to help me because they believe in me…”
And therein lay the problem.
The first six weeks of Ember’s reign as Dragon Lord had been anything but smooth. After the dragons had dispersed and gone back to their own hoards and caves, word had quickly reached her of dissent and dissatisfaction among her kin. Not only did many of them think her unworthy to begin with, but somehow they had discovered that Spike — who was still technically a baby by dragon standards — had beaten her to the Scepter and that he was living with ponies. Ponies, of all things! To top it all off, many believed that her father's lack of faith in her was a front, and that he had somehow assisted her in reaching the Scepter first so she could continue their bloodline’s reign.
‘If only they knew the truth,’ She thought bitterly. ‘That he had not only forbidden me to enter the Gauntlet, but had also decided not to inform me about this damn Passage of Rite once I had become Lord. And now I have only two weeks to complete this damn Rite and no dragon is going to help me!’
An angry red flame erupted from Ember’s muzzle as she screamed in frustration, shaking the entire mountain. Stalactites and gems fell from the ceiling, falling into the magma below. As they hit, they caused little ripples on the surface of the molten stone. Gasping, Ember took several deep breaths before making up her mind and heading out of the chasm.
“Can we be of assistance, my Lord?” one of her guards asked, sounding like he was doing it only because it was expected of him.
“No.” Ember replied curtly, donning her armour and holding her helmet under an arm. “I am going out for a while. I may be a couple of days, four at the most. If anyone wishes to speak to me, tell them to leave at scroll in the urn and I will reply upon my return.”
With a shallow bow from both guards, Ember donned her helmet, grabbed her leather satchel, and with Scepter in claw took off into the evening sunset. A short distance away, the young dragon lord landed next to a innocuous pile of volcanic rocks in the shadow an overhanging cliff. Pulling them aside she revealed a small chest hewn from a single piece of black granite. Sliding her claw into the lock, Ember opened the chest to reveal a selection of gems as well as a second suit of armour which was lighter and less bulky than the one she regularly wore.
After swapping armour sets, Ember selected two faceted Pyrope crystals from the gems before her. Turning them over in her claws, Ember took a moment to admire the lava-like patterns within. Despite their relative lack of magical prowess, dragons were capable of incredible feats of enchantment. They would imbue their armour, scales, even their volcic glands; among other things, these enchantments allowed dragons to breathe fire with a wide range of magical effects, all generated by varying qualities of gems. Chief among these gems was the crystal known as Pyrope; a blood red gem with minimal naturally occurring flaws that only formed in the hearts of the hottest and explosive volcanos, which was capable of containing the most powerful dragon magic. In this case, the gems contained a powerful invisibility enchantment.
Slipping one gem into her satchel, Ember pressed the other gem into a matching hole in the middle of the light armoured chest piece. There was a semi-physical shudder of magic and before her very eyes, Ember’s body seemed to vanish into nothingness. The illusion wasn’t perfect; The gaps between the gauntlets and braces, as well as the areas at the back of her knees and waist still revealed her sky blue scales. However, unless some pegasus or gryphon got within thirty feet of her, she was confident she would simply look like a shimmer of the sky.
Lastly she pulled out a long metal tube with a strap and after slipping the Scepter inside, slung it over her back where it to shimmered into nothingness, also protected by the aura of the activated Pyrope crystal.
Burying the chest once more, Ember opened up her satchel and withdrew a quill, ink and scroll. She was about to set to writing when a doubt crossed her mind.
‘If I ask them for help, it could well weaken my position as leader.’ The quill hovered above the parchment, a bead of ink gathering at its tip. ‘Even if we do succeed, the fact I asked ponies for help... the Scepter might not even let me.’ Ember took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. ‘But if I don’t then I will lose my position as Lord anyway. It seems I don’t really have a choice.’
Bowing her head in acceptance, Ember touched quill to scroll and began to write,
Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria and Spike...
Relaxing at the breakfast table in her crystal palace, Twilight Sparkle was happily enjoying a large stack of pancakes with some of the Cake’s delicious honey and lavender syrup. Last night's study session on the history of Saddle Arabia had been arduous and Twilight figured she deserved a treat.
Sat across from Twilight and tucking into her far healthier bowl of muesli, Starlight Glimmer was humming happily to herself and reading the morning paper. Twilight smiled to herself, admiring just how far Starlight had come in such a short time. While she still had anger issues and bouts of crushing guilt at what she had done, Starlight was finally beginning to accept her past and begin anew. It filled Twilight with joy to see her so content and happy, bobbing in time to her own little melody.
Savouring the sweet flavour of her last pancake, Twilight kept an ear out for Spike. Given it was almost nine in the morning, the little dragon was usually up by now, despite being a heavy sleeper. Twilight was beginning to get a little concerned. ‘Perhaps he just stayed up all night reading comics?’ Twilight wondered to herself. ‘I’ll give him until ten and then go and see where he’s got to.’
Ten o’clock came and went and Twilight found herself standing outside Spike’s room banging on the door.
“Spike? Spiiike?” Twilight called. “Come on now you lazy dragon. We have work to do.” When there was no response, Twilight pushed open the door and immediately yelped in surprise.
Spike was lying on the floor of his room, atop a pile of ash that had once been his basket and favorite blanket. There was a scroll lying under the dresser on the other side of the room that had seemingly appeared during the night, and Twilight would have thought that would have been the cause of the burnt bed, if Spike himself wasn’t on fire.
In a panic, Twilight grabbed Spike, turned on the shower and shoved him under the deluge of icy water. Steam obsured Twilights vision and for a moment she thought she had succeeded in putting out the mini living inferno, until she looked back and saw that Spike was still burning bright, super-heating the water as fast as it fell upon him.
“Okay, new plan...” Twilight said to herself in a panic.
A flash of teleportation magic brought her and Spike to the edge of the small lake on the outskirts of Ponyville, and with a grimace, Twilight dunked the sleeping dragon under the water. A geyser of steam erupted from the lake, and to Twilight dismay not only was the fire not out but Spike had woken up.
“Hu, hey, what the…” Spike flailed in Twilight’s magic before managing to look at the alicorn. He sleepily rubbed his eyes. “Umm, Twi why are we outside? I don’t feel so good.”
Twilight balked. “Spike, I can’t put this any other way but… you’re on fire!”
“I’m what?” Spike brought up his claws, blinked and then flailed like a wild animal caught in a trap. “Aaagh, put me out, put me out!”
“I’ve tried Spike, but I can’t.” Twilight groped around desperately in her mind for a solution. “And I’m not sure I know any magic that would put it out without hurting you…” A sudden thought crossed Twilight’s mind. “Wait…it doesn’t hurt?”
Spike shook his head, and then covered his mouth with his claws like he was trying not to vomit. “I just feel really, really sick. Like I’ve eaten way too much ice cream, but like… way more than usual.” He paused, looking at his flaming claws. “Maybe I’m just that: sick.” He finished, confused.
Twilight considered this information for a moment. It made sense… kind of.
“Sooo… you just feel nauseous?” Twilight asked for confirmation. She set spike down on the sand, as it was the only thing within sight that wasn’t flammable. “Just like you had the flu or something?”
Spike nodded nervously. “Pretty much. My head’s spinning like I’ve just ridden a rollercoaster blindfolded, and my ears feel like they are stuffed with jelly. My scales tingle too… like they did when I was summoned, just not as bad. It’s like taking a swim in lava.” Spike ran a flaming claw across his head as if wiping away sweat. “And I feel like I‘m running a temperature.”
“A temperature?!” Twilight yelled. “Spike, you set fire to your bed! It’s a good job you didn’t sleep in the four poster last night else you would have set your whole room on fire.”
“Well, it’s a good thing your castle is made of crystal,” Spike replied dizzily. “At least I can’t burn the whole place down.”
After taking a moment to compose herself, Twilight grabbed Spike and teleported them back to the castle. “Okay, let’s think this through. Six weeks ago we got back from the dragon homeland. You could easily have picked something up there that you would never have been exposed to back in Ponyville.” Twilight continued to talk to herself and she ran through the building.. “But I haven’t got a clue what is wrong with…”
“Princess, what is going on? I found, agh!” Starlight gasped stopping dead in her tracks, dropping the scroll she was carrying. “Twilight! What is wrong with Spike!” She put her hoof to her mouth in shock.
“I don’t know.” Twilight replied galloping past Starlight and into the castle's study. She deposited spike in the hearth, ignoring the huff of surprise at being used like a portable campfire. “But I think he has some kind of dragon fever.”
Starlight blinked, as if mentally noting down to never let an ill dragon stay the night in her house, before holding out the scroll she had dropped. “I found this in Spike's room when I went looking for the both of you. I think it was sent by dragon fire but I don’t recognise the seal on it.”
Starlight jumped as Twilight teleported again to her side with a flash and took the scroll for herself. “It’s from Ember.” Twilight gasped. “Maybe this is what made Spike ill.”
“What do we do?” Starlight asked apprehensively.
“Well, first I am going to read this message.” Twilight replied firmly, breaking the seal and unfurling the scroll.
Starlight watched Twilight's expression go from stressed to surprise, to shock and even anger before she looked up and audibly gulped, setting the scroll down on a nearby table.
“What is it Twi?” Spike asked from his place in the hearth. “Whats wrong? Is Ember okay?”
Twilight turned to him nodding slowly. “Yeah, she is but she may not be for much longer.” tapping her hoof frantically, Twilight turned to Starlight.
“I need you to go and get our friends. Get Rainbow first and tell her to watch the skies for any unusual activity. Tell her she is looking for a small, possibly invisible, sky blue dragon and if she finds her, to bring her here. Then get the others.”
Starlight could hardly believe her ears. “A possibly invisible dragon... Yes, Okay.” She turned to go then did a double-take, “Wait? A dragon? A dragon is coming here?!”
Twilight nodded. “Yes, or she could very well be here already.”
Ember circled high above Ponyville, her eyes scanning the town below. She had instantly spotted the giant crystal castle, it wasn’t exactly hard to miss, and now she was just waiting for Twilight's reply. She had been there since sunrise, and had actually enjoyed watching the transition of night into day. She knew of the pony princesses and how they drove the sun and moon across the sky, but had never paid any particular attention to the stars and sun. The Dragon Badlands were also a very dusty and dirty place with ash blasted up into the sky from the numerous volcanos, it made getting a good clear look almost impossible. But here, in Equestria, the skies were kept clear by the pegasi, allowing Ember to get her first proper look at the sunrise.
It was beautiful.
Movement from below caught Embers attention. ‘Hmm, speaking of pegasi,’ She thought. The young dragon looked down to see a blue pegasus take flight from a small cloud home on the edge of the town, seemingly the only one of its kind in town. What stunned Ember was the pegasus’ speed. ‘He could very well be faster than me,’ Ember thought with surprise.
Watching more closely Ember could tell the pegasi was searching for something. He was spiralling upwards, looking all around him, occasionally darting off course as if examining something before returning to his original flight path.
‘Is he searching for me?’ Ember wondered. ‘There is nothing else up here that would be worthy of such a definitive search.’
Tilting her wings, Ember began her own spiral, descending slowly towards the pegasus below. As she drew closer she realised her initial assumption was wrong, this pegasus was female and to top it off, what Ember had assumed was some kind of multi-coloured cape was actually the mares rainbow coloured mane. Even by pony standards, the mare stood out.
The mare looked up, and screeched to a halt in mid air. She was staring, Ember realised, right at her. Holding her position as best she could with minimal wing movements as to blend in best, Ember watched as the mare slowly flew towards her, squinting and looking puzzled before…
“Lord Ember?” The pony called out, her tomboy voice taking Ember by surprise. “Hello? Are you out there?”
For a moment Ember considered not revealing herself, but then realised that the only way that a pony would know she was coming was if Princess Twilight had told them. Since Ember knew that Twilight was the Princess of Friendship, chances were that she wouldn’t tell just any pony who was coming, and would have shown the foresight to only tell somepony she trusted to keep her arrival a secret, as she had asked in her letter.
Ember enjoyed the look of disbelief on the mare’s face as she removed her helmet, knowing she would look like a head floating in mid-air.
“Woah… Twilight wasn’t kidding. Lord Ember, I presume?” The rainbow maned mare asked.
“Yes.” Ember replied, deciding to keep her replies short and to the point.
“Hi… um… my name is Rainbow Dash, I’m a friend of Princess Twilight. She told me to come looking for you. There has been an incident with Spike.”
“An incident?” Ember replied, trying to keep the level of concern in her voice to a minimum.
“Yeah.” Rainbow replied. “Its best if you come and see… I doubt you’ll believe me otherwise.”
In spite of herself and the urgency of her visit, Ember couldn’t help but burst out laughing when she saw Spike huddled in the hearth of the great crystal fireplace. Around her the seven ponies she had been rapidly introduced to looked at her with a mix of surprise and anger at her unsympathetic reaction, but to Ember this was the final straw.
“Oh Spike. I knew you were different, but this…” Ember was eventually able to bring her laughter under control. “I’m sorry for laughing Spike. But I’m afraid it’s probably my fault you are like this.”
“Wha’dya mean, your fault?” Applejack stomped her hoof. “Our Spike here is a livin’ barbecue, an you're laughin’.”
“It’s just that… he’s finally started Pyrosis.” Ember replied, shaking her head. “I’m not laughing at him, I’ve just never seen it in a dragon this age.”
“Huh?” Applejack looked at Spike, bemused. “Wha’dya mean?”
“I mean,” Ember turned to the ponies gathered around her. “Spike is, what... ten, twelve at most?”
“I’m fourteen.” Spike replied with a huff, tapping a flaming foot on the stone.
“Exactly, I’d have expected to see this happen when you were six or seven. Its entirely normal.”
“Normal?!” All seven replied in shock.
“But… he’s on fire.” Fluttershy squeaked in surprise.
“Yes, and it’s a natural process that all dragons will go through several times. Sure it messes with your head for a week or two, and like Applejack said he is a walking barbecue, but once it’s over Spike’s scales will have hardened, his bones strengthened and his fire power increased. I think it would also explain why he hasn’t grown wings yet. Once this is over his body will be strong enough to take the strain of flying and… they will start growing.”
All seven ponies turned to stare at Spike in awe, except Twilight who was hurriedly scribbling down everything Ember was saying into a notepad. It wasn’t until Dash poked Twilight in the side with the tip of her wing that the princess’ knowledge fever was broken.
“Oh, sorry. You know me. I love knowledge and we know very little about dragon culture and anatomy and customs so I just wanted to write it down before I forgot.” Twilight beamed nervously.
Ember just nodded, accepting that the self-confessed egghead Princess was just being curious.
“So, with that cleared up… sort of... “ Twilight tried to continue under Embers gaze. “I read your letter but you weren’t overly specific, just that you needed Spike’s and I’s help urgently.” Twilight gestured to the various chairs in the study, pulling them into a circle. “So, let’s take a seat and see if we can come up with a solution.”
Choosing the largest chair in the room, Ember stacked her armour at her side and settled herself down across from Twilight, her friends completing the circle. Looking from one to the next, Ember was surprised at the diversity shown in the room. She had always assumed that ponies just looked the same: small, fluffy and well, edible. But the collection before her proved otherwise. They looked like all colours of the rainbow, especially the one with the rainbow mane, and then there was the pink one who didn’t so much as walk but skipped like brimstone on lava. It was just weird. Setting that thought aside for now, Ember begrudgingly turned to the matter in question.
“After becoming Dragon Lord, my father was supposed to inform me of a task that every new Lord must undertake. This second gauntlet if you will is known as the Passage of Rite and must be completed by every new ruler in order to learn how to lead the dragons of Equis. However, despite what my father said on the day I became Dragon Lord, it seems he doesn’t want me to be Lord after all. He seems to have deliberately avoided telling me about the Passage in the hopes I would be forced to give up my new position.”
Ember paused, giving the ponies around her a moment to absorb what she had said. Most looked shocked, but Twilight looked confused.
“You said once you got the Bloodstone Scepter that you were the Dragon Lord. That was it. Gauntlet over. And why wouldn’t your own father want you to rule?”
“Because he thinks I am weak. Because he thinks I am small, and… and… undragonlike,” She finally admitted. “Garble told him about Spike and I helping one another, and how Spike beat me to the Scepter. He looked like he was going to crush me then and there. That boulder head seemed to trust him more than his own daughter.” Ember took a moment, making sure she didn’t unleash fire again. She didn’t want to look weak in front of Twilight. She didn’t want to be ‘undragonlike’, but maybe it was already too late for that. “Cutting a long story short, he neglected to tell me about the Passage of Rite in the hopes I wouldn’t complete it in time and be forced to step aside.”
“Darling… I mean… Lord Ember.” The white pony, Rarity, clamoured to amender her slip of the tounge. “If your father didn’t tell you about the Passage, then who did?”
“The Scepter did. I picked it up a few days ago and I just knew. Like it had zapped the knowledge straight into my mind. When I confronted my father he had been so shocked that I knew what the Scepter had told me was true. I have to complete the Passage within two Lunar cycles of becoming Lord. With six weeks gone, I figured the Scepter decided it was a good idea to remind me.”
“Well, how can we help you Lord Ember?” Twilight asked. “I am guessing you want some help choosing who is going to help you complete this Passage of Rite?” - “Shouldn’t it be rite of passage?” Rainbow muttered to Applejack, who just shrugged. - “Oooo, I can draw up a chart with different dragon attributes and skills with a venn diagram…”
“No,” Ember cut across. “Therein lies my problem, I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean?” Twilight replied nervously.
“I can’t just pick the two dragons that will help me, and order them to do it. No. They have to want to help me succeed. If I just turn up to the Passage with two random dragons, it will not open.”
“You mean to say there isn’t a single dragon out there who wants to help you?” Rarity cried incredulously. “After winning the Scepter and defying your father to become Lord, helping spike and proving you’re not just some ‘boulder head’… not one?”
Ember shook her head sagely. “Not any who I could reach in time, and to make matters worse a rumour started that my father was lying about not wanting me to enter the Gauntlet, and that we plotted together to make sure the Scepter stayed with our bloodline and that I shouldn’t be Lord at all.
“So most dragons won’t help me because they don’t think I’m fit to lead, some of the older dragons who know about the Passage won’t help because they want another go at the Gauntlet, and the rest believe my Father and I conspired so I could win.”
There was a very long pause and every pony looked at Ember in disbelief.
“That’s…” Starlight stuttered. “That’s horrible!”
"It's not like the all hate me or want to kill me, well not the majority anyway." Ember allowed herself a wry smile. "Its just that most are indifferent to me as dragon lord. They don't believe in me enough to help."
"Don't you have any friends?" Starlight asked, a pained tone to her voice. "Surely you have some."
Ember sighed deeply. "My father was a loud, obnoxious, gigantic beast who could crush most other dragons without even noticing. No one wanted to come near me in fear of my father." the young dragon Lord shook her head sadly. "There were a few dragons I would go see and hang out with but I wouldn't have called them friends, and I doubt they would want to help after all these rumours."
“Well, I believe in you Ember.” Spike rallied. “And I will accompany you and help you complete the Passage of Rite.” He beamed, thrusting out his chest, proudly. “And no dragon is going to get in our way!”
“You can’t…” Ember muttered sadly. “Not now anyway.”
“What?!” Spike gasped. “Why not?”
Ember stood up and turned to look at the disappointed little dragon. “You were my first choice Spike, you and Princess Twilight. But now that you have started your Pyrosis, which I believe is my doing when I sent you that scroll, I can’t in good conscious ask that of you. Pyrosis takes time and takes its toll on the body. My own Pyrosis took a week and for that entire time I was hoard-ridden, and flamed so brightly I melted my way through a good chunk of my mother's gold and silver.” She smiled to herself. “I awoke looking like a gold and silver statue.”
“But,” Ember continued before Spike could respond. “Even with your older age, I have no idea what will happen. If anything, that makes it worse as I have never seen or heard of a dragon your age undergo the process, and I… I... I just don’t want to see you get hurt, ok? Right. Good. Feeling talk over.”
Ember blushed and desperately hoped she didn’t look cute to the ponies around her. Dragons were not supposed to have caring or nurturing feelings instincts for those outside their own blood-kin, but Spike… he had done what no dragon had ever done before… for her. He had done more for her than her father, and he had only known her for mere hours.
“Twilight. You can’t agree with her surely.” Spike clamoured. “Look at me. I’m on fire. Nothing is going to hurt me when I am a walking volcano.”
Twilight shook her head. “No Spike. Ember is right. You are saying here.”
“Come on Spike. You are on fire.”
“Soooo. We just heard that this process made Ember bed-ridden when she went through it. We can’t have you passing out in the middle of a dangerous test, probably surrounded by lava.”
“I’ll be fine. Promise.”
“You’re melting the hearth.” Twilight replied flatly, pointing at Spike’s feet where they were slowly melting their way into the stone. “I don’t know the melting point of granite but…”
“Approximately one thousand two hundred and fifty degrees celsius.” Pinkie Pie randomly cut in.
Twilight blinked. “How do you know that?”
“Some of the best gems on the farm came from granite rocks.” Pinkie Pie beamed. “And Maud insisted we learn everything about it so we could make sure we got the best gems. From apatite to spodumene, and topaz to zircon. They’re called pegmatites!”
Ember glanced at Twilight. “Ummm, is she always like this?” Twilight nodded with a gentle smile. “No offence pony, but, you’re weird.”
Pinkie nodded matter-of-factly, grinning. “Yep! I get that a lot.”
Ember just shrugged. “Right, anyway. Spike, I’m sorry but you can’t come. Which now means I know of only one pony who would help me and that’s Twilight.” She stomped a clawed foot on the crystal floor. “Ugh…what do I do now!”
“Are you sure there are no dragons out there that can help?” Twilight asked cautiously. “I mean, it only took you a night to get here. Surely there must be other dragons in reach?”
Ember shrugged, “There probably are. But finding them in time…” She sighed. “The reason I came here was that I knew there were two... friends... who would help me, without hesitation. I have no idea how long the Passage will take, and it will take us a few days to get back with two ponies in tow. As crazy as it sounds, you, Spike and maybe Rarity are the only friends I have. Ugh, this is so weird.”
“Trust me darling when I say this is a normal response for those who are not used to friendship.” Rarity soothed. “We have met dozens of ponies, gryphons, buffalo and even a god of chaos, all of whom felt just like you, but now they embrace friendship and everything that comes with it, and while I acknowledge that dragons are traditionally solitary creatures, that doesn’t mean to say you can’t have a few friends watching your back in case things get a little rough.”
Ember smiled nervously. “Thanks. Thanks Rarity.”
“Think nothing of it darling,” Rarity replied, flicking her mane regally,” You helped Spike. You saved his life too. How could I not see you as a friend?”
‘Confound these ponies.’ Ember rolled her eyes at her own mental monologue, with a smile beginning to grow. “So, will you help me Rarity?”
“I would be honoured darling.”
Twilight clapped her hooves together enthusiastically. “Well, I guess that settles it. Rarity, meet me back here in two hours. I will get us a carriage and pack my things.”
“But Princess, how are we going to get her there?” Ember pointed at Rarity. “She can’t fly?”
“Oh…” Twilight’s enthusiasm visibly drained from her face. “You’re right. But how were you going to get us there?”
“We can both fly and I was expecting us to share Spike to speed up the journey.” Ember shrugged. “I never considered the possibility he couldn’t come.”
“Twilight?” Starlight raised her hoof. “I could go in Rarity’s place.”
Twilight looked confused. “If you are thinking what I think you are thinking, you can’t teleport all the way to the Dragon Lands, not even Celestia or Luna can do that.”
“No I mean… I was reading that book about your past adventures, and came across the Best Young Fliers competition, where you gave Rarity wings.” Starlight seemed dislike being the center of attention, but she pressed on. “I was intrigued so I looked up the spell and started improving it.”
Twilight looked both excited and surprised. “What do you mean by improving?” She asked.
“Well, I’ve managed to make the wings more durable and make the spell last longer. I optimised it for my magic specifically, so it could be more deeply ingrained. If Rarity wanted the wings though, I would have to modify the spell for her, and that would take a while.”
“And you want to help Ember?”
“Of course I do.” Starlight replied firmly.
Twilight considered Starlight for a moment. “Ember, is there a way of checking those who wish to help before we get to the cave?”
“You don’t think I’m telling the truth, Twilight?” Starlight sounded genuinely hurt.
Twilight placed a comforting hoof around Starlights neck. “Not at all, I am just a little surprised at your conviction, and why you would want to help her.”
“Well, since you ask, there is a way.” Ember pulled the Bloodstone Scepter from its case eliciting several “ooh”s and “ahh”s. “For the first two lunar cycles, all I need do to test a dragon's conviction is to have them hold the Scepter. If the gem glows then I know they truly want to help me.”
“Well what are you waiting for?” Dash beamed excitedly. “Pass it around.”
“May I?” Twilight asked. With a nod from Ember, Twilight took the Scepter in her magic and waited. There was a slightly lengthy pause, as if the Scepter was judging and probing her, then the gem shimmered into light basking the room in a ruby red ambiance.
“Thank you Princess.”Ember couldn't help but smile.
“Anything for a friend.” Twilight held out the Scepter. “Starlight?”
Starlight paused, as if worried she would suddenly find her earlier conviction gone. “What will happen if it doesn’t think I’m worthy? It won’t punish me will it?”
Ember shrugged. “Not that I know of.”
Starlight nodded with a gulp. Her teal magical aura traded places with Twilight's purple one. There was a lengthy pause and for a moment Ember was convinced that she was screwed, when a blinding flash of light erupted from the Bloodstone. Everyone in the room shielded their eyes until the light eventually faded to nothing.
“Woah… that… was... Awesome!” Rainbow swooped down on Starlight. “What did you do!”
It took a moment for Starlight to stop staring at the Scepter in her grasp. “I… I didn't do anything.”
“You must've done something.” Applejack added with surprise.
“I…” Starlight started at the Scepter. “I just held it.”
Twilight looked to Ember who was wearing exactly the same kind of stunned expression as everyone else. “Any ideas?” She asked, looking from the speechless Dragon Lord to Starlight and back again.
“She… the… the glow of the scepter relates to the strength of the dragons conviction to help me…” Ember still couldn't seem to grasp what she had just seen. “Her conviction, or her reason to help me… It’s even stronger than yours.”
Now it was Twilight’s turn to be speechless.
“Twilight?” Fluttershy whispered in her usual quiet voice. “You alright?”
“Yeah.” Twilight, sighed and then Smiled at Starlight. “Well, if that’s how you feel, then who am I to complain.” Twilight gazed at Starlight like a proud older sibling might do at their sister's graduation. “Come on then, we’ve got packing to do.”
“Well if that’s everything, I’m going back to bed.” Spike stretched his fiery body and yawned. “Though…Ember, how the heck do you go to sleep when you are on fire?”
“I slept on sand for a week. That was after I melted my mother's hoard.” Ember was still staring after Starlight as she and Twilight vanished through the tall crystal door. “Who is she?”
“You mean Starlight?” Spike replied, “She’s Twilight’s student and prodigy.”
“Interesting,” Ember mused, “She must be very good to be selected by the Princess herself.”
Spike nodded. “Yeah, she’s good at lots of magic. Shield spells, offensive spells, time travel, she locked Twilight and me in a giant block of crystal once, and she stole Twilight's cutie mark… that wasn't so good. But yes, she is a very powerful unicorn. She can even fly without wings!”
‘Right. Pony princess of friendship: check. Baby dragon replaced with time travelling, flying unicorn: check.” Ember slouched in her chair with a sigh. ‘Well, I hope they are up to it because this is the only chance I have.”