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Kindred Spirits

Chapter 1: A Cold Reception

“Alright, nap time’s over freak!”

The dragon cracked open an eye and was immediately blinded by the setting sun bursting through the opening of his cave.

‘Ugh... how stupid am I to pick a cave that faces toward the sunset? Not to mention incredibly obvious to any would-be intruders like-’

Wait. Intruders. Someone was in the cave with him. With a snarl he shot up and blinked away any remaining drowsiness.

“There we go.” The intruder said mockingly. “Thought I was gonna have to wake you up myself. That would’ve been fun.”

Finally his sight returned and he steeled his eyes against the illumination to catch a glimpse of his enemy. However, his opponent was just a black silhouette against the remaining fading light.

“Who are you? What do you want?” He tried his best to sound menacing.

“Wow that was pathetic. Anyways, I’ll keep this short: Your cave is on Griffin Empire territory. No dragons allowed, get lost.”

“What!?” The dragon roared. “Twilight and I made especially sure this cave was a part of the Central Wilds! Sure it’s close to the Griffin Empire, but not in it!”

“Maybe ‘Twilight’ was right a month ago, but the Empire claimed this land a few weeks back. They sent me to kick your scaly hide out.”

He opened his mouth to argue, then quickly fell silent.

‘Why should I care about this cave anyways? No use fighting some griffins over something I don’t even like. Besides, I don’t even have that much of a hoard yet. Just a few coins, a few gems and of course...’

“Yeah sure. Whatever. I’ll leave. Just let me gather up all of my things and I’ll-”

“Leave the hoard.”


“Did I stutter? I said leave the hoard. It’s the Empire’s now.” The intruder gave a wicked laugh. “And maybe a bit of mine as well.”

The dragon sighed, more annoyed than shocked by now. “Jeeze fine! Just a bunch of coins anyway!”

“Stop!” the silhouetted griffin commanded as the dragon fastened one of his treasures around his neck. “That stays too.”

“This is coming with me no matter what you or your ‘Empire’ says.” He growled in response, placing a claw across the brooch.

“And you’re going to keep it from me?”

“Do you have a death wish?! I’m a dragon for Celestia’s sake! I’d rip you apart!”

He had hoped to scare off the intruder with the threat, but they only flared out their wings and gave the same malefic laugh as before.

“You’ll find me FULL OF SURPRISES!”


The dragon only had time to bring up his arms in self-defense as the griffin lunged at him claws-first. While his scales protected him from the razor sharp talons, the impact sent them both flying deeper into the cave.

As soon as they hit the ground they broke their struggle and recovered. A brief moment of rest lingered before the griffin once again shot towards him. Anticipating another charge, he slashed in an arc in front of him. The griffin had instead maneuvered to his side, completely dodging the blow and exposing the dragon’s right flank.

An explosion of pain erupted from his side as both talon and beak ripped through scale and flesh. He quickly turned his head towards his side and let loose a burst of flame only for the griffin to release and dive behind him.

‘He’s... too fast... and its obvious he’s been trained in combat...’


The dragon readied himself for another attack, but his opponent was already sitting back on his haunches, clucking his tongue against the rims of his beak.

‘No wonder. He’s armored as well’ He thought, noting the blood red helmet and chest piece, the color of the Griffin Empire.

“Dragon’s blood.” The griffin sneered with disgust. “Not as tasty as I thought it would be. Terrible actually.”

Blood? He looked down at his side to see deep gash with dark red liquid seeping out.

“You’re injured now. You can’t run, even if you could fly faster than me. Give me that necklace-thing and scram, or die fighting over some stupid treasure!”

“How about... neither!” He roared as he dived after the griffin. The walls of the cave rumbled as he flew past the dodging griffin and slammed into the dull rocks. Instead of falling unconscious from such an extreme impact, the dragon rose again and turned back to his opponent, primal fury evident in his eyes.


He ignored him and charged again. Dodge. Slam.

“This cave isn’t stable!! If you keep-”

Charge. Dodge. Slam.

This time the cave roared in response as rocks began to trickle down from the ceiling.

“Shoot... SEE YA!” The griffin jeered as he shot for the exit, only to be blocked by a sea of rocks falling right in front of him. The dragon watched in horror as the boulders showed no sign of stopping, rolling towards him like a tidal wave.

“We’re going to be crushed!!” His would-be opponent screeched as he raced back towards him.

Without any other option, the two victims covered their heads and braced themselves as the wall of rocks advanced to the back of the cave.


“Am... I dead?”

“No you moron! You’ve trapped us inside this stupid cave!” A shrill voice responded.

The dragon groaned, flashes of pain wracking his head and side as he tried to rise to his feet. In the distance, a small frantic scraping along with a trickling of rock could be heard.

A small burst of green flame leapt from the dragon’s mouth and into his claw, illuminating the walls with an emerald glow. As his eyes adjusted to the sudden change of light, the dire situation they were in became evident.

In front of him, a wall of rocks both small and large stood where the entrance of the cave used to be. While most of the rocks looked movable by claw, the dragon knew the cave extended quite a ways, and the back of the cave was not a few paces behind him. The griffin from earlier was at the top of the wall of rocks, frantically trying to claw their way through to the outside.

“Wait... I got us trapped?!” He questioned. “You were the one who attacked me!”

“Look, it doesn’t matter anymore if we BOTH die! Now get up here and help me clear these rocks!”

The dragon grumbled, realizing his former enemy was right.

“Here’s a bit of light.” He said as he shifted the green flame to his left claw and began digging with his right. The green glow allowed him to see that the griffin had discarded his helmet and chest piece, revealing his unique features.


‘Do all griffins have these kind of curves? And what’s with those markings around his eyes? Are they natural or some tribal decoration? Wait... I’ve seen this griffin before...’

“What’s your name?”

“What the heck does it matter to you?” The griffin said as ...she? continued to shovel away at the rocks. “Just keep digging!”

“I said... what is your name!?

“Gilda!” She shouted. “Just Gilda! No last name, nothing fancy, just Gilda!”

“I thought you were a male for a bit there...”


“My name is Spike.”

“Wonderful! Now get digging and we can...” Gilda’s head slowly turned toward Spike, hazel eyes suddenly analyzing his purple and green scales and spines.

“Remember now?”

“You... you were the baby dragon with Rainbow Dash and her stupid friends!” Gilda growled.

“And you were that jerk griffin who blew up on everyone at the party!”

The griffin scoffed. “Whatever. Bunch of losers deserved it. Speaking of losers, why aren’t you hanging out with them back in Ponyville anyways? Finally wisen up and realize what a dumpster that village is?”

“It’s... a rather long and personal story.” Spike said lowering his head.

“Then don’t tell me, shut up and dig! If you hadn’t noticed, we’re kind of on a timer! Caves have limited amounts of air in them. We run out of air, we die.”

Spike remained quiet as they both began raking clawfuls of smaller rocks out of the way. Occasionally, he would have to strain himself to move a large boulder that blocked their path. After a few hours of digging, fatigue started to set in.

“I’d grown pretty big.” Spike began, still digging.

“Yeah I can... I can tell.” Gilda grunted.

“Couldn’t even fit in the library anymore.”

“What a shame.”


“Twilight started coming up with plans... like building me a house or... getting me a nearby cave... but Celestia made it clear: I had to leave Ponyville... and she meant leave... no nearby caves, just... gone.”


“I don’t know for sure.” Spike paused as he lifted another large rock and dropped it behind them. “I think it’s just the fact... the fact that I was the first dragon she ever truly raised with ponies. Probably thought I would give in to instinct and... well... have myself a snack. So... no chances and all that.”

Gilda chuckled in disbelief. “That’s the dumbest thing... I’ve ever heard! Are you lying??”

“Nope. So... how about you?”


“Me? Well... after that fallout with Rainbow Dash I just went back home...”

“To your parents?”


“Heck no. I was hatched the middle child. Older brother, younger sister. I was like... like a ghost to them. They ignored me, so I ignored them.”

“Wow that sucks.” Spike panted. “I guess I was always a single... a single child, with all the attention from Twilight.”

“Bah it’s nothing. Obviously I turned out fine.”

Spike managed a weak laugh.

“Something funny?” Gilda growled.


“Good. Anyways, I went back home, and there was nothing for me to do. Got bored real fast.”


“Nothing? No hanging out with friends or-”

“No friends.”


“So in order to keep myself oc... occ... occupied.” Gilda struggled to lift a boulder that had surfaced to block their path. Spike joined in with her, surprising the griffin.

“Ready? One... Two... Three...!”

The large rock slowly eased out of it’s resting place, tumbling down into the stack that had piled up behind them.

“T-thanks.” Gilda gasped.


“Don’t... don’t mention it.” Spike’s breath had turned ragged and he struggled to stand.

“Already tired?”

“Well... usually I’d last a bit longer... but this gash in my side is sapping my strength...”



“It’s fine. Just... just keep talking.”

“So in order to keep myself occupied I decided I’d join the Force.”

“The army?”

“No. The Force of Andune. Military force under direct control of... the emperor.”

“Did you... have to try out or something?”

Gilda shook her head. “Sounds important... but it’s just a bunch of specially trained soldiers sent out to do stupid stuff like... steal young dragon’s hoards... collect debt from poor townspeople... stupid stuff. And now I’m here.”

Spike didn’t respond, clutching his side while every breath came with high-pitched wheezing. While it might have been the green flame playing tricks on his eyes, he could have sworn he saw a look of concern from the griffin.

“You don’t have to respond if you... if you don’t want to. But I was curious... about why you were willing to fight so hard over that necklace.”

“...Leaving present from... my friends... Don’t want to... lose..”

Gilda nodded, not wanting to make Spike talk any more than he needed to.


Another half hour passed by, and the air began to thin out while each breath was heavy and laborious.

“Spike... I... I gotta say the truth... it’s hard to breathe... I’m kinda... kinda scared...”

“Truth or dare.”


“Truth or dare?”

For the first time in what seemed forever for her, Gilda laughed. Not out of spite or mean spirit, but simple humor.

Spike laughed weakly beside her. his digging came in random bursts, only a few small rocks actually being moved away with each sweep.

“Well... obviously we... we can’t... we can’t do dares... so let’s do truths... you first...”

“Do you..... do you ever feel... lonely?”


Gilda hesitated, not expecting such a deep question. She thought he was just rambling. Still, she had little left to lose.


“Yeah. To say the truth... as funny as this sounds... you’re the first pony... griffin... dragon... I’ve actually talked to... since Rainbow Dash...”

Gilda’s progress through the rocks had decreased dramatically as well. Only one or two rocks were swept aside with each rake of her claws. Breathing was unlike anything she had ever experienced before, as if trying to breath through a small straw combined with hours of hard labor.


“Ever... since I left... Ponyville... You... ever been in love?”


“No... well... Rainbow Dash... had me... had me questioning... my sexuality.” Gilda chuckled.

“You and... every other mare in... Ponyville.”

If not for the lack of air, the dragon and griffin’s laugh would have been heard across both the Griffin Empire and the Central Wilds.

“Alright... last one...” Said Gilda.



Spike had gone from raking a few rocks out at a time to simply picking up the miniature boulders one by one. At Gilda’s question, he gave a sad smile and fell forward in defeat.


“Heh... right there beside ya pal... I...” The boulder in front of Gilda fell backwards, a pale beam of moonlight shooting through the small opening that had been created. The fresh night air’s scent filled Gilda, giving her a natural high.




“Get over here dude. This is the best drug you can ever have.”

A second wind gripped Gilda as she stood and wrapped her claws gently around Spike. With a few seconds of strained pulling, she had positioned the dragon to be right in front of the small opening to the outside world.

“Is that... pancakes?” Spike asked softy as the same night air filled his lungs.

“No Spike.” Gilda responded with a small laugh. “That’s life.”


Spike awoke to piercing rays of sunshine once again. With a small groan he tried to stand up only to be quickly restrained.

“Whoa there buddy. I’m no doctor, but I think it’s best if you stay down.”



“Yeah, I dragged us to the outside edge of the cave and fell asleep with you. Wasn’t sure if you’d make it through the night. I’ve been watching you for nearly the whole day now, and this wound just... isn’t closing up all the way. I guess all that hard work you did only made it worse.”

Spike looked over towards the griffin who had moved out of the sunlight for him to see her. Gilda’s once stout feathers and fur now were ragged and tangled. What piqued Spike’s interest was a large red blotch on her side.

Had she been injured? or...’

“Did you... try to cover up my wound with your own body?” He asked in near amazement.

“Well yeah.” Gilda said, turning her head away. “I couldn’t let you just bleed out like that and I thought the wound would close up. It’s... it’s my fault anyways.”

“You were trying to kill me not too long ago.”

“Things change. Deal with it. Now, I suppose I could fly to Lionsberg, pick up some medical supplies and then fly back. Still... I’m a fast flier but it would take a couple of hours.”

Spike shook his head. “No need.”

“That wound isn’t closing up by itself anytime soon.”

“There’s a plant right below this cave with long, string-like leaves. Bring one of them to me.”

Gilda shrugged and took off from the cave. With a quick tuck of her wings she plummeted towards the forest floor and landed with a loud thud.

While the amount of flora was nearly limitless, only one plant nestled between grass and rock carried a leaf that reminded her of a long strip of gauze.

“Alright I got it.” Gilda shouted as she flew back up into the cave.

“Good, give it here.”

Spike took the leaf gratefully, holding it up to his snout.

“So what do you do? Eat it and it helps clotting? Breathe fire on it and it-”


The dragon’s long wet tongue shot out and wrapped around the leaf, slowly working its way across the entire strip.

“Oh.” Gilda said in surprise.

“This.” Spike said, withdrawing his tongue. “Is the Vivaxacis Frons. Also known as ‘nature’s band-aid.’ It becomes sticky after a bit of water and helps open wounds close up.”

The long strip of flora wrapped around the dragon’s waste like a belt, hiding the gash in his side.

“That’s... actually pretty cool!” Gilda said in amazement.

Spike looked back towards what remained of his cave,  letting out a tired sigh. “Guess I better start looking for a new home.”

“I’m sorry about all of this.” Gilda said softly lowering her head.

“You? Sorry? That’s new. Besides, wasn’t it your job? Not that that’s much of an excuse.”

“Exactly. I could have just let you go with the necklace, but I had to be a jerk about it.”

Spike shrugged as he walked towards the edge of the cave. “It’s fine. All in the past now right? At least we’re both alive!”


“Yeah, but I’m the one that nearly got us both killed anyways.” Gilda sighed.

“Tell you what. You let me go with the necklace and we forget this ever happened?” The dragon said as he extended a claw towards her.

Gilda hesitated, eyeing the claw warily.


“You... still want the brooch?” Spike asked in disbelief.

“No. It’s just... this may sound weird, but those long hours we talked and helped each other were... nice? fun? I don’t know, but I liked it. Besides the whole nearly dying part of course. I don’t want to forget that.”

Spike looked at the griffin in shock, then smiled. “You know, you’re the only company I’ve had since I left Ponyville. Despite the uh... cold reception, I enjoyed talking to you too.”

The dragon extended his claw once again. “How about you let me go, and we forget about the fight?”

Gilda gladly took Spike’s claw, giving it a firm shake. “You got yourself a deal.”

A second of silence lingered between the two as they broke their clawshake.


“So... I guess this is it?” asked Gilda with a small hint of sadness.

“Yeah I guess so. I’m going to get something to eat then start looking for a new cave. One that’s not so close to the Griffin Kingdom’s border!” Spike laughed.

“I suppose I’ll just go back to Lionsberg and report that you moved out then.”

“Mission accomplished huh?”

“Heh, yeah.” Gilda spread her wings to take off, then suddenly folded them back. “Hey, how will I know where to find you?”

“Find me?” Spike asked in confusion.

“You know if you ever wanted to maybe talk some more or just hang out.. I mean it must be pretty lonely out here right?” Gilda squeezed her eyes shut. She was usually in complete control of any conversation she got herself in to. To her, this was borderline begging.

To her surprise, Spike gave her the same warm smile as before. “Give me one of your feathers?”

The griffin gave him a curious look, then quickly reached up to her chest and plucked out one of her white feathers.

“What do you need it for?” She asked as she handed it to the dragon.

“Once I settle in, I’ll send you my location through fire breath using this feather as a gateway. Pretty nifty huh?”

“I never even knew you could do that! I thought your fire was just for roasting stuff!”

“Nope! Full of surprises ain’t I?”

“Hey! We’re supposed to forget about that remember?” Gilda said jokingly as she softly punched the dragon’s arm.


“Woops. I’ll have to remember to forget next time!” Spike laughed.


For a split second the two were locked in a silent gaze, both of their smiles that had seemingly been forever robbed of them now reflected in each others’ eyes.

Gilda looked away as a wave of heat rose up into her face. “Well, see ya.” She said quickly as she took off from the cave.

“Have a safe flight home!” Spike called.

“Hey!” Gilda shouted, looping back around to hover just a few feet away from the dragon’s face. “You better not forget to send me that message, or I’ll come looking for you myself!!”

Spike’s eyes widened at the griffin’s ferocity. “Definitely won’t forget now!”

“Good!” Gilda smiled as she took off straight into the air and out of the dragon’s sight.

‘Hasn’t changed a bit.’ Spike sighed, but found himself smiling as well. ‘But maybe that’s not a bad thing.’

Chapter 2 →

Kindred Spirits

Chapter 2: The Land of the Gods

The first stars of the night began to light up as Gilda flapped her wings, aiming for the peak of a nearby mountain. To a pony’s eye, the large blood-red structures that surrounded the pinnacle would seem like simple smudges against the dark earth.

‘Lionsberg. Home sweet home.’ Gilda scoffed in disgust.

While it was true that the ‘town’ housed a considerable number of griffins, you had to be an enlisted soldier to even think of living there.

‘Town, heh. More like a garrison.’

Gilda tucked her wings in and landed in front of Lionsberg’s largest building. The massive fortress was a testament to the Empire’s strength, jutting out from the side of the mountain in an almost absurd manner. Without hesitation she pushed through the double steel doors and glanced about the room. To her left, a small female griffin who looked like she couldn’t slaughter a calf managed the desk. Past the desk, a massive hallway stretched into the distance, its walls lined by the crest of the empire: An eagle’s claw and wings back-set by a lion’s paw.

“Name: Gilda. Rank: Soldier of Andune. Number: 46. Dragon’s gone.” Gilda said plainly as she approached the small griffin.

“Oh! Uh... yes Gilda... they’ve been looking for you I believe.”

‘Great. The last thing I need is the sergeant to be ‘looking’ for me. Probably mad as-’

“Well well well. Look who decided to show up.” A deep voice sounded from down the hallway. A massive griffin that almost doubled Gilda’s size began slowly making his way toward her, his face displaying no emotion.

The petite griffin behind the desk slipped away as the sergeant  ignored her, finally stopping a few feathers away from Gilda.

“Sir!” She answered with a swift salute. “I understand that I’m late, but I’m happy to report that the dragon is gone and the land is clear for garrison!”

“Okay.” The sergeant said without emotion. “Where’s my hoard?”



“No hoard sir.” Gilda  remarked quickly, thinking on her feet. “Probably too young to even have one yet.”

Without notice the male griffin spit on her front right claw and let loose a guttural growl. “Not only are you a full day late on your mission, you’re also a damn liar!”

Usually Gilda would have followed up such disrespect with a quick punch to the head. Too bad this particular griffin would deck her in a single hit. All she could do was recoil as he continued yelling.

“Do you think I’m stupid?!” He screamed, his beak inches from Gilda’s face. “The scout that found the dragon’s cave reported back to ME personally! Gems, gold, and a single piece of treasure! SURE DOESN’T SOUND LIKE ‘NOTHING’ TO ME!!!!”

“But sir! There was a cave in! And-”

“ENOUGH!” The sergeant shouted, immediately silencing Gilda. “Andune’s advisors warned me of hatchlings like you. Little brats who would abuse the protection and good grace of the emperor all for their own benefit!”

Gilda opened her beak to speak only for the older griffin to raise his claw in front of her. “You’re relieved of duty.”


“Consider yourself lucky. Usually I would take you into the back and beat you to a pulp until you told me where you stashed the treasure. Sadly, with the promise of war looming on the horizon, I simply don’t have time anymore.”

“Good!” Gilda shouted in frustration, storming back towards the exit. “While you’re enjoying your war, I’ll be getting high off poison joke! Have fun dying!”

“I expect you out of the city by daybreak!” The sergeant called after her. “If I see you’re still here I’ll-”

She slammed the door shut behind her, the sudden rush of night air helping to cool her rage.


‘Hated being a little toy soldier anyways.’

Still, the sergeant’s warning was not lost on her. She had to gather up what few belongings she had and bail.

Gilda took flight and circled around the mountain. On its opposite face a building with multiple layers was set into the peak’s side, acting as a bare-necessities home for the griffins stationed at Lionsberg. While the structure was unique with its soft white coat of paint, the ever omnipresent Empire Crest was tattooed onto the once pristine surface, changing its perception from hospitable to hostile.

‘Probably a hospital or apartment before this sudden surge of militarism...’

The only way to enter into the compound was through the bottom. Once inside, any griffin could fly up to the storey which their room was located on and find their home from there.

“Gilda.” She said as she swooped into the apartment, her perfect and swift entrance nearly frightening the old gray griffin that sat behind the counter.

“Gilda... Gilda... Ah! Here it is!” He said as he tossed her a small silver key.

The moment it was in her claws she rocketed up to the 23rd floor, where five doors were built into the mountainside. Unlocking and throwing open the second door from the left greeted Gilda with a gust of stale air. Inside, the room was much like a cave with carved rock acting as walls and a natural darkness eating away at it’s corners.

Dangit! Forgot to get the lighter from the clerk.’ She sighed, tapping a claw against the unlit lamp that hung from the ceiling. ‘Doesn’t matter. Not like I have much of anything to collect anyways.’

Gilda made a clean sweep of the room, starting with what little food and money she had left. Next, the bed. Neither the sheets, the mattress, nor the pillow were hers, but she took the pillow anyways. Finally, the small desk against the back wall was littered with trash. Fumbling through the mess, her claws wrapped around something thin and solid amongst the mounds of paper. Straining her eyes, the object in her grasp came into focus, bringing with it a flood of memories.

It was a picture with Rainbow Dash she had taken many years ago back at the Junior Speedster Flight camp. The two had hoof and claw wrapped around each other’s shoulder, friendly yet mischievous smiles plastered on their faces.

‘Dash...’ She growled, almost dropping the photo in her flash of anger.

Something stayed her grip though, and she swiftly threw the photo in the bag with her other belongings.

Returning to the bottom floor, Gilda left her key with the now sleeping clerk and stepped outside. For the hundredth time in her life, she was without a home.

‘Suppose I could go back to Dagger Fels. The delivery service there loved me, so getting a job wouldn’t be too hard. Ugh. So boring though. Not to mention the customers are all annoying.’

Gilda continued to sift through her options in her head, each conclusion ending with memories she would rather forget.

‘Are all of these towns as bad as I remember? Or maybe I’m just cynical?”

Before she could answer her own question, a green light in the distance caught her eye, immediately reminding her of the emerald-illuminated cave she had been trapped in with Spike not even half a day ago.

‘Not a light...’ She realized with a smile ‘but a flame! Finally! I was beginning to think he’d forgotten!’

The green flame coalesced in front of her only to quickly transform into a large pale brown parchment which floated gently into her open claws. On it’s surface, a map containing the mountain they had met in earlier was marked with a red ‘X’ with a similarly colored line connecting it to another mountain off to the south-east. At the bottom of the map, the words ‘letter on back!’ were inscribed with excellent form.

‘A dragon with good handwriting’ Gilda chuckled as she turned the parchment over. ‘Now I’ve seen everything.’


‘Dear Pri Gilda,

Hey! I’ve drawn out the location of my new cave, as you can see on the map. All you have to do is fly to the cave we met in earlier then head directly south-east. The mountain I’m in is pretty noticeable and I’ve highlighted a few landmarks to guide you along the way. Hope you drop by when you get some free time, it was nice having someone to actually talk to!

Your friend,


‘Friend?’ Gilda’s eyes lingered on the last few lines. ‘Eh. Sure. Why not.’

Looking up from the paper, the vast land known as the Central Wilds expanded until it met the horizon. Forests, mountains, valleys, canyons, rivers and lakes ruled by no pony or griffin, where no sergeants could scream at her or no clerk tell her her rent is due.

‘I suppose I could use a vacation.’ Gilda thought as she leapt from the mountainside and took off into the night.


The streams of light that had cut through to the forest floor only half an hour ago were now quickly disappearing as the sun dipped below the horizon.

For Spike, this was the end of a very very long day. Not only had he done the daunting task of finding a new home, he also had to make sure there were plenty of resources nearby. The dragon had spent from sunset to sunset exploring his cave and the surrounding environment, thoroughly pleased with himself.

‘Nearby lake? Check’

‘Plenty of wildlife? Check’

‘Nice variety of useful flora? Check’

‘Stream?’ He thought as his large green eyes gleamed with pleasure at the sight of the flowing water. ‘Heck yeah!’

Spike folded his large purple wings and slowly descended into the trees, doing his best not to destroy his new habitat.

‘Now just to clean off a bit, then I can get some nice long slee-’ 

“Hey!!” A familiar voice shouted at him from above.

He looked up just in time to see a brown blur shoot through the forest canopy, landing between him and the stream.

“Gilda! Wow you made it here pretty fast!”

“Whew!” The griffin gasped as she tiredly turned towards Spike. “That flight is LONG! Coupled with all the junk I have, I wasn’t sure if I WHAT THE HECK!?”

“Is something wrong??” The dragon asked, frightened by her sudden scream.

Gilda looked at him with shock and worry. “Did the wound not close up?? Did some wild animal attack you??”

Spike looked down at his body, realizing it was coated in fresh blood.

“Oh! Uh... no.. I’m fine.”

Gilda relaxed, her worry turning into curiosity. “Then what’s with all the blood?”

“I was... hunting.” Spike said softly.

“Oh duh!” Gilda smacked her face with her claw. “Completely forgot! Dragon’s gotta eat right?”

“You don’t mind?” Spike asked, surprised.

“Huh? What’s there to ‘mind’?”

The dragon gave a sad chuckle. “I’ve spent most of my life with ponies so you could imagine the reaction they would have.”

Gilda laughed and nodded in understanding. “No worries dude! We’re natural hunters as well! Dragons and griffins are kindred spirits!

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to hear that.” Spike said as the tension left his body.

“Just telling the truth. Anyways, what did you have in mind for the rest of the day?”


“Wash off in this stream then sleep.” He let out a loud yawn. “I’m dead tired.”

“Sounds like a perfect plan.” Gilda agreed as she stretched her wings. “That flight nearly killed me.”

Spike walked past the griffin and stepped into the river. Since it only reached up to his waist, he slowly lowered himself into the water until he lay against the current with only his head above the surface.

“Wanna join in?” Spike called to Gilda who had been watching him with a slight fascination. “Water’s warm and the current against your scales - er feathers - feels great!”

Gilda hesitated. “Eh, I’ll pass. The cold wind kept me from sweating so I feel good as new.” She lied.

“Suit yourself.” Spike shrugged, relaxing against the smooth liquid.

After a few more minutes the dragon lifted himself from the river and fanned out his wings.

“About time! Thought you had almost fallen asleep in there!” Gilda joked as she stood up and grabbed her bag.

“Almost did! Anyways, you ready?”

“Lead the way.”

Spike crouched then launched himself into the air, rapidly flapping his wings to gain altitude. Gilda followed closely behind, darting past the dragon in a matter of seconds even with her heavy load.

“Wow are all dragons this slow?!” She called out as Spike finally adjusted himself.

“Dash said the exact same thing!” He called, causing a laugh out of both of them. “Just don’t go showing off on me!”

The two joked about Dash as they flew lazily through the air, with Spike recounting the insane expectations the cyan mare had placed upon him as soon as he sprouted wings.

“You should have seen the disappointment on her face whenever I actually started flying and she realized I wouldn’t be performing a ‘Sonic Dragonboom’ anytime soon.” Spike reminisced as they landed on the entrance to his cave. “Of course the next minute she was excited again and started coming up with ways I could use my tail to do tricks.”

“Ha! That’s Dash! She may seem a little pushy at times, but she’ll always find the best in you!” Gilda shook her head. “Wish things could have turned out differently back in Ponyville.”

“I’m sure they’d forgive you if you went back.”

“Don’t worry about. At least I kicked myself out. You should be the one complaining here.”

“I try not to think about it.” Spike sighed.

“Look at us crying here. We’re supposed to be relaxing! This cave looks way better than your older one. A lot more stable too.”

“Yep! Hopefully this one won’t fall on us.”

Spike walked to the back of the cave and reached into a small cove, pulling out the brooch he had worn when they last met.

“Nice hiding place, but aren’t you afraid someone will steal it?” Gilda questioned.

“No. This brooch is enchanted so that I know where it is always. It’s a strong metal and gem, but I can’t risk them being scarred, so I keep it in the cave. If anyone ever took it, I’d simply have to take a little trip to get it back, whether it be a few miles away or to the ends of the earth.”

Gilda shuddered slightly at Spike’s last words. “I believe you.”

Spike gave her a sadistic smile, then returned to his normal self. “So how long do you plan on staying?”

“Didn’t really think that one through. How about a week?”

“Sounds great. Got anything in particular you wanted to do?”

Gilda shrugged. “I dunno. I’d really like to see how you hunt. Can’t imagine something as big and slow as you can catch anything!”

“Me hunting?” Spike hesitated. “I’m not sure...”

“Better yet, you teach me how to hunt!”

“You don’t know how to hunt?”

“Well duh, or else I wouldn’t need you to teach me!” Gilda said haughtily as she crossed her arms.

“With someone like you a week is more than enough time to teach you hunting.” Spike said as he looked Gilda over. “I guess I’ll just show you the stuff I know and how I live.”

“That plant band-aid thing was pretty cool, so if you got more where that came from I’m up for it.”

“Alright! Then it’s settled!” Spike dropped to the cave floor, bringing his front claws to rest under his head. “Anyways, I’m going to sleep. I know it’s not much, but make yourself at home.”

Gilda laid down her bag, glad to be rid of the extra weight that had been plaguing her all day. As she removed the pillow and dropped it on the floor, a soft, windy noise filled the cave signifying her companion was fast asleep.

Laying her head upon the pillow after such a long day’s work made her drowsy within seconds. Just before she faded away into sleep, a single amazing thought crossed her mind.

I don’t have to wake up for a drill tomorrow.


‘I am the silent killer, the invisible panther in the jungle, the hunter, the PREDA-’

Gilda’s hind leg rustled against a nearby brush, startling the fox she had been sneaking up on. Before she could leap forward and attempt to give chase, the red creature had already darted off deeper into the trees.

‘Damn it’

Overhead, a strong gust separated the clumps of leaves as Spike landed in the forest beside her.

“What did I tell you?” Spike smiled. “They can hear everything. If you don’t crack a leaf, you’ll have forgotten not to breathe and they’ll catch you a mile away.”

Gilda groaned in frustration. “How do you do it? You’re almost twice my size!”

“Patience.” The dragon said slyly.

“Yeah well, I have none of that.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind. For now, how about we take a break? You’ve been at it for hours now.”

“Agree completely.” Gilda said as she flared out her wings. “Stalking through the forest is NOT my kinda thing.”

“Follow me. You’re probably hungry by now and I got something you may or may not like.”

Spike led Gilda to a small grove he had discovered yesterday, revealing a massive bush with large, black berries hanging from its vines.

“Edible?” Gilda asked, eyeing the berries with caution.

“Only during the Spring and Summer.”

“Alright you got me curious now. Why aren’t they edible during the Fall and Winter?”

“During the sunny seasons, these plants want their seeds spread as much as possible so they allow all sorts of creatures to come by and eat it. During the Fall and Winter however, the plant goes into a sort of survival mode, so it turns its berries small and red. These red berries give the whole plant a poisonous effect when eaten so it remains untouched by pretty much every animal, even insects.”


Gilda looked back at the bush in amazement. “How do you know all this stuff?”

Spike gave a sad smile. “Twilight made sure to pump me full of information before I left. Her parting gift, if you will. Beside the brooch of course.”

“Let’s make sure all that cool information doesn’t go to waste then!” Gilda said as she dived into the bush and began devouring one of the large berries, stopping mid chew when she noticed her companion wasn’t joining in. “Not hungry?”

“I uh... lost my appetite for fruits a while back. Just gems and meat for me now!”

“Ah. Got ya. Thanks for showing me this by the way.” She said as she continued eating. “It’ll tide me over until I can snag some meat for myself.”

Spike paused for a second. “If you want, I can get you a kill.”

“Heck no!” Gilda waved him off. “It’s already insulting enough I have to be taught to hunt! I’ll get my reward when I’ve earned it!”

Spike nodded, seemingly satisfied with her answer. “We still have a couple of hours left ‘till sundown. Do you want to try hunting again? Or we can just hang out and I can show you around some more.”

“You’re on a roll with this whole nature thing, so let’s go with that. Besides...” She continued, clenching her claws. “I don’t know if my temper could survive another hour of hunting today.”

For the rest of the day Spike and Gilda flew through the Central Wilds, a relaxing spring breeze allowing them to stay adrift without any effort. Occasionally, they would dive down to the surface, inspecting an unique piece of fauna or watching an exotic animal from afar.

“So this is what you used. I was wondering where you had gotten parchment from”

Gilda shifted the pale brown leaf around in her claws, feeling the small creases that made a web like figure across it’s surface.  To anyone who simply passed their eye over the leaf, it would appear to be an everyday piece of parchment.

“What did you use for the ink?”

“The berries you ate from earlier.”

“Ha! Figures.”

Spike looked towards the setting sun, shifting his feet nervously. “Hey Gilda?”



“I need to leave you for about an hour.”

“What!? Why?!” Gilda asked in shock.

“Look just don’t worry about it.” Spike said as friendly as he could. “Meet me at the stream in about an hour!”

Before Gilda could respond the dragon took off into the sunset.

“AN HOUR! I’M COUNTING!” She shouted after him.

Gilda spent the next hour flying around the vicinity of Spike’s cave. Discovering new types of fauna and life that they had missed earlier. Eventually she found herself staring at a flower that constantly looped its color scheme between purple, blue, and red.

‘Why is this so boring all of a sudden?’ She thought as she flicked the flower with a claw. ‘Do I really need the commentary of that oversized lizard to enjoy myself?’

The griffin ended up landing by the side of the stream twenty minutes early. As the final hour of sunlight began, the forest started to darken, creating a strong feeling of growing loneliness.

‘Spike... where are you?’ Her thoughts went back to how he had left her, an awkward smile and a nrvousness clear in his eyes. She had seen this countless times before, mostly at Junior Speedster Flight camp. Just when she thought she had made a new friend, they would tell her they needed to something ‘important’ and dashed off, never to be seen again. Whether it was because of how she had acted or simply because she was a griffin she’d never know.

‘Have I been abandoned? Did I do something wrong?’ Gilda began to panic, followed by a flash of rage in her eyes. ‘If he leaves me here alone, I’LL FIND HIM AND-’

“You alright Gilda?” Spike said from her side.

“WHOA! I mean, yeah. Was just falling asleep from how LATE you were.”

“Wha-? Pretty sure I’m actually a bit early...”

I’m the one who just broke away from an on-the-dot daily routine. Believe me, it was longer than an hour.”

“Good point. Anyways, it’s almost dark. I’m going to wash up, then we can head in for the day.”

Spike once again waded into the river and positioned himself as he had done yesterday, enjoying the relaxing warm current. Gilda watched him as she shuffled her claws anxiously.

“Wanna join in?” Spike repeated the same question from yesterday. “Or do you think Turnabout Berry juice looks good on you?”

Gilda looked down at her chest, a black stain blotched across the once pristine white feathers.

“How did that get there?!”

“Looks like someone never learned their table manners,” Spike joked.

“Alright that’s it! Move your scaly butt over, I’m coming in!”

Spike moved to the other side of the stream just in time to avoid the pouncing griffin, droplets of water spraying across his face as she hit the surface.


Gilda slipped under the water only to quickly resurface a second later.

“Wow!” she gasped as she took a breath of fresh air. “It’s not as cold as I thought it would be! In fact it’s kinda warm! Feels good too.”

“Told you,” Spike said smugly. “I was worried you’d keep up those excuses and never get cleaned.”

“Excuse!? It wasn’t an- how did you-”

The dragon laughed. “Oh come on! You told me you hadn’t even broken a sweat the entire flight while you were sweating right in front of me!”

Spike’s laughter cut off as a giant wave of water was splashed into his face.

“Hey!” He looked down to see his companion hiding a snicker. Almost as if in reflex, he splashed a wave back at her.

A moment of shock came over her as she was doused, followed quickly by a malicious grin. “Now you’ve done it! En garde!”

Gilda launched herself at him, visions of their previous fight causing him to instinctively recoil. Instead of slashing at him, she wrapped her claws around his stomach and pulled the dragon underwater.

Not wanting to be bested, Spike wrestled her down with him and the two playfully fought to keep each other’s head below the surface. While Spike outmatched her in pure strength, he was surprised at how little he had to hold off against griffin.

The rushing water combined with an even match had them exhausted within minutes. Both adversaries crawled out from the river half-gasping half-laughing as they collapsed upon the bank, the last rays of light fading from the forest.

“Well.... I’m... I’m clean! Crazy tired though...” Gilda gasped.

“Same,” Spike breathed in response. “Let’s... head back to the cave and get some sleep...”


“What the heck are you doing again?” Gilda asked curiously.

Spike dug fervently into the side of the mountain, tongue hanging out in anticipation. “There are gems here! I know it, I can smell them!”

“You can smell gems?”

“Oh yeah, guess I never told you that about dragons did I?” He said as he ceased digging for a moment.


“What do they smell like? No, what the heck do they taste like?!”

Spike’s eyes lit up as he continued his digging. “Like a combination of candy and fruit! And the best thing? They’re actually good for you!”

“Good to know why you’re so anxious you’re nearly drooling!” Gilda jeered.

“It’s just I haven’t had some in a few days and- AHA! JACKPOT!”

Jutting out from the massive concave Spike had dug into the mountainside, hundreds of multi-colored gems sparkled against the sun and reflected across the two’s widening eyes.

“Holy cow,” Gilda breathed.

“It’ll take a lot of the day for me to ferry these between here and my cave. If you want to just chill out you can... huh?”

Spike was surprised as the griffin reached over and pulled out an armful of gems. “Didn’t you just want to relax?”

“Things change. Deal with it,” she jabbed, then quickly smiled at Spike. “Now let’s get these gems back to the cave!”

Gilda took off towards his cave, leaving Spike with a small grin on his face.

After they had ferried the clump of gems, Spike left Gilda alone once more despite her loud protesting.

‘Now I’m getting curious. What the heck is he doing?’

When the dragon returned, she once again reprimanded him for being late as they cleaned themselves in the stream. The strain they had put on their bodies throughout the day washed off as they relaxed and enjoyed the warm water.

Gilda whistled as they touched down at the mouth of the cave. “Dang we did good work today.”

An enormous pile of gems now laid at the back of the cave, making Spike’s mouth water. “Thanks for all the help Gilda.”

“Don’t mention it! This was nothing compared to a drill anyways!” She said as she fluffed her pillow.

Spike began to lay down for sleep before a large blue gem caught his eye. Technically there was nothing unique about this particular gem compared to the rest in the pile, but something about it awoke a feeling inside of him he hadn’t felt for a long time.

‘Where have I seen this before...?’ Spike thought, struggling to remember.


“Gilda?” He called as he plucked the gem from the pile.

The griffin was just about to flop down on her pillow when he turned around to face her.


“I want you to have this.”

Spike passed the gem carefully into Gilda’s claws, causing her to grin.

“For all that hard work huh?” She chuckled. “I though I told you not to mention it!”

“No.” Spike said, trying to find the right words. “For just... being here. Just being you.”

The gem in her claws had seemingly transformed as she glanced down at it again. No longer was it a simple pretty light blue, but a radiant and luminescent ocean that shifted in her gaze and breathed a warm wind against the cool night air.

“T-thanks Spike. It’s... ‘Cool? Awesome?’ …beautiful.”

Spike opened his mouth to respond, but the peaceful silence that had risen between the two urged him to remain quiet. He instead went to the back of his cave and laid down, giving Gilda one last smile before closing his eyes.

Even as a soft snoring rumbled through the cave, Gilda’s eyes were still entranced by the gem between her claws.



‘I’ve got you now!’ Her thoughts were a wildfire as Gilda shot out from the brush at her prey.

The moment the tip of her beak exited the foliage, the deer she was hunting raced off into the forest, disappearing into the trees.

“URRRRRRRRRGH!” She growled, slamming the ground.

“Almost! But not quite!” Spike said from behind her.

“That was perfect! Tell me what I did wrong!?”

“You need patience. You have the stealth, you have the speed, now just wait for the opportune moment. If you had just waited a few more minutes for the deer to start grazing, you would have had a perfect opening.”

Gilda began to complain, then shut her beak when she realized he was right.

“Again?” Spike asked.

“No. If I missed another today I’d rip the Central Wilds in two.”

“Alright then! Turnabout Berries it is!”

“Another joke like that and I’ll chuck those berries at your head!” Gilda joked, causing both of them to laugh as they took off.


The whole day had been spent hunting, leaving Gilda’s whole body aching after constant stalking through the forest. All of her pain disappeared however as she sat on her haunches next to Spike, gazing up at the stars at the exit to his cave. She had always taken them for granted, but now, here, they stretched across the sky, a map of her past life and a vague prophecy of her future.

“You were so close today,” Spike said in support. “I think tomorrow’s the day.”

“I’m not one to disappoint,” Gilda smirked in response.

Looking back towards the stars, nostalgia overwhelmed her as she remembered back to  her childhood.

“You know, all of this hunting and star gazing reminds me of my grandfather.” Gilda reminisced. “He would always sneak me out of the house and take me star-gazing during the night. Then he would tell me about how griffins used to live in caves and hunt.”


“Wow. Where is he now?”

“He passed away when I was a teenager.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be!” Gilda said with a sad smile. “Since my parents never gave me any attention, I was never given the dreadful opportunity of taking him for granted. I still remember during his last days he would always tell me ‘I’ll tell the gods to keep a lookout for you when I get up there!’”

“Gods??” Spike asked, his interest piqued.

Gilda looked away shyly. “It’s nothing. Just some stories he used to tell me about different griffin gods and goddesses and how they would come down sometimes to visit the earth.”

“Can you tell me about them? If you don’t mind of course.”

“Oh, sure.” She said, surprised that Spike hadn’t scoffed at the idea. “There’s Andune, who is the leader of the gods, Beckaning, the controller of the weather, Terrascar, who shapes the earth..”

Gilda recounted with near perfect accuracy the names her grandfather had passed onto her, leaving a description for each which she explained in excitement.

“... Carniven, the god of war and...” she hesitated. “Gilda, the goddess of the hunt.” She said softly.

Spike’s eyes widened and he turned to look at the griffin, her head down as she looked away from the dragon.

“I know, it’s funny.”

“Not at all,” Spike said strongly. “Every race has their own legacies, their own beliefs to teach.”

“Thanks Spike.” Gilda turned back towards him. “It’s just... growing up around all of those ponies... they’d always laugh at me whenever I brought that stuff up. Ponies have Celestia and Luna, living proof of their beliefs and stories. We griffins have... nothing.”

“And that’s amazing.”



“Where’s the fascination, the hope, the imagination when your goddess is just standing there in plain view?” Spike questioned. “Besides, ponies? They live in their own little world where they control the weather, nature, the earth...everything! What about out here? Outside of Equestria? I can see a griffin god shaping the earth or a goddess stalking her prey through the forest.”

Gilda failed to respond, awed by the dragon’s words.

“As for the name? I think we can both agree you’ve earned it.”

“Not yet.” Gilda said with determination. “But tomorrow I plan to fix that.”

Spike nodded, the power of her statement still ringing through his ears. “I believe you.”



‘Wait for it Gilda.’

The buck stopped in the middle of the grove, looking around cautiously. Gilda’s mind screamed for her to simply leap out and grab it, but she silenced herself and stayed in place.

As if teasing her, the buck trot throughout the grove several times over, stopping every few feet to sniff the air.

‘Come on EAT!’

Satisfied with his search of the area, the buck knelt down and began nibbling on upon the leaves of a nearby bush.

‘You’re mine.’

Gilda snapped out of the bush, catching the buck as he was raising back to his hooves. Before the deer could even begin to struggle, she swiftly sunk her beak into it’s neck, causing it to go instantly limp in her claws.

“YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!” She shouted in triumph dropping the carcass and throwing her arms into the air.

“Well, you were right.” Spike said, clapping as he came up behind her. “You didn’t disappoint. Not only did you get your first kill, it was a full grown buck at that!”

The griffin had the biggest smile on her face as she looked up at Spike, then back to the buck. “Now to enjoy the reward! Shall we?”


“You were the one who taught me how to hunt, so you get some of the meat!”

“Uh... no thanks. I’m not hungry.”

Gilda cocked her eyebrow at the dragon. “Hmph. Fine. More for me then.”

Crimson blood splashed across her chest as her powerful beak ripped into the carcass. Out of the corner of her eye, Spike gazed at the buck with longing eyes and a watering maw.

“You sure you’re not hungry?”

“What? Oh yeah! Not hungry at all! Hey, I gotta leave you for an hour, meet me at the-”

“AGAIN!?” Gilda shouted. “You do this everyday! Just what the heck are you doing?”

“Stream. Hour,” Spike responded, taking off into the sky.

‘Oh no you don’t.’ 

Gilda paused to create some distance between her and Spike, then leapt into the air and began scouting. Off in the distance, a purple blur against the clear blue sky was quickly fading from view.

‘Gotta stay low, just above the trees so he doesn’t see me.’

She followed the dragon until he descended into the forest then swooped below the trees herself. Utilizing the same techniques Spike had taught her over the week, she stalked through the forest, not a single twig cracking under her stabilized weight, not a single brush rustling as she slipped through the foliage.

Finally, the purple dragon came into view. Through the clearing of trees, Gilda had a perfect view of Spike as he moved through the forest. The sight made her shudder. Despite being twice her size, he moved like liquid through the brush, his eyes fixated on his target: A wild boar eating a bush of Turnabout Berries only a few paces away.

Just as he was beside the boar, it froze, instinct telling it to run like crazy while also instructing it to eat. A few days ago, Gilda would have wondered why Spike didn’t attack right then.

Spike waited until the boar went back to eating then quickly sprung from the brush, snapping the squealing boar up with his powerful jaws. A moment later, a loud crack rang through the forest and the boar fell silent.

‘Not bad... not bad at all!’

Gilda began clapping as she approached the dragon, causing him to wheel around in shock.

“You didn’t disappoint. That was impressive! Now why did you have to leave me behind to do this? Afraid I might mess you up?”

Spike sighed, laying the boar against the ground. “No. I just... didn’t want to be seen like this.”

“What?” Gilda asked, not expecting such an answer. “I thought we went over this! I’m cool with you eating meat! Heck, I just downed a buck myself!”

“I know! But it’s me! I’m not fine with myself eating meat!”

“I don’t understand.”

“Remember what I said about having to leave Ponyville because Celestia made me? She didn’t just make me leave randomly!”

“What did you do then??”

“Fluttershy, the yellow shy pegasus. You might have met her during the party?”

Gilda’s mind wandered back to her final day with Rainbow Dash, cringing as she remembered her encounter with the shy pony. “Uh, yeah I remember her.”

“I had been hunting in the Everfree without anypony noticing, so as time went on, I got more and more reckless, hunting closer and closer to Ponyville. Fluttershy was walking through the forest, looking for herbs and she... she saw me.”

“And with her crazy love of animals...” Gilda continued, piecing the puzzle together.

“Right. She was scared and ran to the library, basically trying to convince Twilight that I had become her worst fears: A dragon that endlessly gorged on any animal smaller than itself.”

“Why that little...!”

“Please don’t hold it against her Gilda,” Spike said softly. “If she had known it would lead to my banishment, she wouldn’t have said anything.”

“I won’t,” Gilda said with a nod.

“Twilight wrote out a letter and had Dash fly it to Canterlot. By the time I returned to Ponyville, Celestia was already at the library waiting for me. I confessed everything, how I’d been hunting for months, how I HAD to eat meat now and gems alone would make me sick. After a night of consideration, she gave me a few days to say my goodbyes.”

“But why do you feel so guilty that you have to hide your hunting from me?”

A small shaking overtook the dragon’s body. “The look of horror on Fluttershy’s face... the fear all of my friends had of me the first few hours after the incident... I just...”

“Spike, I can never understand what it feels like to be cast out for something you can’t even change. But I want you to know that out here, there aren’t any princesses constantly watching you, no ponies you have to be careful with, no impossible rules you have to struggle to obey. The only other being here is me, and I’ve already told you that I’m more than ok with who and what you are.”

Spike’s breathing slowed, returning to normal. “I just never want to have to go through those first few weeks of being alone. I had lost everything... all of my friends... everyone I loved...”

Before her companion could fall back into depression, Gilda instinctively stepped forward and gently wrapped her claws around the dragon’s stomach.

“For what it’s worth, you have me now.” She whispered, resting her head upon his warm chest.

Spike’s dim eyes immediately lit up into a fiery emerald as the griffin embraced him. Without wasting another second, he placed both of his claws between her neck and shoulders, pulling her closer.

“Worth more than I could have ever dreamed of.” He whispered back.

Any awkwardness the sudden affection had brought along with it immediately dissipated, igniting a fire within Gilda she had never felt before.



“Please... don’t leave tomorrow.”

“Me leaving is the last thing you need to worry about.” She said softly, rubbing her head against him.

Neither of them had to speak another word, their simple embrace conveying the thousands of thoughts, emotions, and feelings that they had gained for each other over the past week.


Celestia rubbed her temple with one of her hooves in frustration as the haughty griffin left the throne room with his beak turned in the air.

“Scribe,” she called out, her tired tone betraying her royal image.

“Yes, my princess?” A lowly earth pony answered from the foot of her throne.

“Put it on record that relations with the Griffin Kingdom are now top priority.”

A small scribbling held the dead silence that threatened to grip the room at bay. “It is done.”

“I was also promised an update on R&D #4’s project.”

“Yes my princess, I have it on record that, despite a bit of struggle at the start, positive results have started to show from the majority of the test subjects. Estimation time is set for either a few more days to a full week.”

Celestia breathed a small sigh of relief.

‘Finally, a bit of goods news.’

← Chapter 1                                                                                                                  Chapter 3 →

Kindred Spirits

Ch. 3: An Astounding Discovery

Gilda’s eyes slowly opened to a sea of shimmering violet that shifted as the sun’s rays trickled across its surface. As her eyes adjusted to the new day, glowing purple scales phased into view along with sharp green spines and a pair of powerful wings that extended from his haunches past his shoulders. Taking the whole dragon into view, a tail as long as herself wrapped back around him, the end barely grazing his lower stomach. Finally, On the other end, the stubby neck she had seen him with years ago now extended a few feet forward where it met his head, two powerful claws resting underneath it.

When she had first seen Spike, Gilda had acknowledged these features as hard and dangerous with a slight hint of fear should he even land one blow on her. Now, after sharing the past week with him, his whole body had shifted in tone, making her relaxed and comfortable when she identified them. Scales were no longer armor, but a glimmering jewel that danced in the sunlight. Wings were not attack or escape mechanisms, but a way for both of them to leisurely drift amongst the skies. And his arms and claws, which she had worked so hard to avoid during their confrontation, were now a powerful shield which comforted her and protected her from the one enemy she could never cut down: loneliness.

Despite having spent her whole life sleeping alone, Gilda found herself content while she drifted off to sleep beside Spike as he told her stories from his childhood. With no secrets left between them, her trust in him had redoubled, leaving her to rest at the dragon’s side despite the military superior in her head screaming to never put herself in such an exposed state.

‘Also helps that he’s a living heater,’ Gilda thought with a smirk, remembering the radiant warmth that had kept the cool spring night air at bay.

A small part of her wanted to shake the dragon awake, but the peacefulness reflected in his face convinced her otherwise.

‘Besides, I still need to get this whole ‘patience’ thing down all the way. Not to mention, out here there’s no rush. We have all the time in the world.’

Gilda walked over to the cave entrance, stretching out her wings and cramped muscles that had accumulated during the night.


Spike’s eyes slowly opened to a blur of brown, yellow, and white that seemingly danced across a soft blue background. As the grogginess drained from his eyes, the colors before him began to take shape. The brown revealed itself in the form of a pair of flared wings that caught the morning’s sunlight, each distinct feather lit up like yellow amber. Below, the wings branched down into a tan-furred body tipped with a swishing tail and powerful feline hind-legs that stretched in an almost exaggerated manner. Yellow razor sharp talons opened and closed in a repeating pattern, their identity matched only by that of a similarly fine beak that rested upon opal-white feathers. Finally, purple splotches surrounded the griffon’s eyes, transforming her into a beautifully exotic creature.

Fully awake, Spike watched the griffon in silence as she continued her exercise. While Gilda’s speed and maneuverability had caused him injury, such thoughts of violence from her had faded from his mind days ago, leaving a trait to be admired. The ritual on display left the dragon entranced.

“Oh you’re awake!” Gilda exclaimed in surprise as she turned towards him with a curious look. “How long have you been watching me?”

Spike quickly let out a fake yawn and stretched his claws above his head. “Just woke up! Was clearing out my eyes.”

“Right,” she responded with a roll of her eyes. “Think you’re awake enough for a morning flight?”

Realizing his ruse was a failure, Spike dropped his act and walked to Gilda’s side. “Depends. Are you stretched enough?”

The griffon gave him a quick knowing smile before launching off into the sun-kissed skies. She slowed her pace to allow the dragon to catch up then flew ahead of him and began speeding through the air, pulling off loops, rolls, and other awe-inspiring tricks Spike had no idea what to call. Throughout her routine, he glided along realizing that trying to do anything close to such maneuvers would most likely wind up with him dead on the forest floor.

“Hope you don’t mind,” Gilda said as she returned to her companion’s side. “Gotta keep myself fast. Flying with you is relaxing, but I was born for speed!”

“Not at all,” Spike said as he drifted along lazily. “Besides, I’m the one who gets a free show!”

“Good point!” she replied with a small laugh.

Below them the Central Wilds extended as far as the eye could see, a collage of green and brown as they flew into seemingly nowhere at all.

“You know, a long time ago this area of the Central Wilds belonged to the Griffon Kingdom,” Gilda remarked.

Spike looked at her with a hint of surprise. “Wow, something Twilight didn’t teach me! Where did you learn that?”

“Before you can even begin working as a janitor in the barracks, the captains cram your head full of griffon history,” she sighed. “Mostly about how amazing our past and present emperors are and how ‘The Central Wilds are our rightful inheritance!’ More annoying than educational actually.”

“Sounds like they’re pretty determined to take this land back...” Spike said with a small hint of worry.

“Ha! Don’t worry about it Spike,” Gilda reassured him. “Griffons may be fast by themselves, but when you try to get us all moving together, we fall over each other. It’d be a miracle if the Empire’s army even put a dent on the Wilds in the next thousand years!”

The trees below them suddenly ceased at the edge of a massive cliff, an adjacent wall of rock standing not a quarter mile away. Together, the two bluffs birthed a massive gorge that twisted and turned as it sloped down further into the earth. A large river snaked along its bottom, leaving moss and lichen across the rocks it flowed past.

“Shall we?” Spike said as he lowered a claw towards the winding path below.

Gilda eyed the rocky crags and rushing river like an appraiser judging a jewel. “I got a better idea. How about a challenge?”

“Not a race I’m guessing?”

“Even better,” she replied with a devious smile. “I give you a ten second head start down the valley, then take off after you.”

“A game of tag!” Spike realized. “How do I win?”

“Reach the end of the gorge.”

“What!? But I don’t even know how long it goes!”

“And that’s half the fun!”

Spike looked towards the gorge then back to Gilda. “As soon as the wings come out, start counting.”

The dragon’s wings ceased beating and folded to his sides. After a split second of seemingly hovering in mid-air, he began free-falling into the earthen tear below.

A flash of purple shot out from the gorge as Spike’s wings sprang back open, the strong wind that roared through the crevices sending him rocketing downstream.


The intense burst of speed that had accompanied him as he took off  nearly sent Spike slamming into the side of the rock wall. With a swift jaunt of his wings to the left he managed curve along with the valley. Once he was finished narrowly avoiding two more close calls, he quickly grew accustomed to the gorges many twists and turns and allowed himself to pick up speed.

Not even two minutes into his break-neck flight and a disturbance in the air flow tickled his instinct.

The hunter was upon him.

Spike dared to crane his long neck to look over his shoulder. Off in the distance, a brown and white blur was rapidly closing the distance on him.

‘No way! Already!?’ 

A playful fear suddenly gripped his heart, sending a burst of adrenaline coursing through him. In response, his sinewy wings tucked themselves closer to his now perfectly straight body, causing him to fly down the gorge at speeds he had never dreamt possible.

‘This is what Gilda and Dash must have meant!’ he thought in exhilaration as he dodged past another clump of rocks. ‘Heh. Gilda. I bet she never expected me to-’ 

Something landed heavily against the dragon’s back, turning all of his momentum downward. Before he could even begin to react he was impacting the river, a massive splash sounding through the gorge.

A surge of water fought against him as he swam back to the surface. As Spike’s head broke through the river, he was greeted by a breath of fresh air and a shrill laughing.

“That was fast dude,” Gilda called out as she bobbed above the water not a few yards in front of him. “But not fast enough!”

 Spike let out a groan. “If I had gone any faster I’d have been a green and purple smear on the gorge!”

“Too fat!” she said as she waded over to his side, the river slowly dragging them along. “You must have been sitting around in that cave all day until I showed up!”

“You kidding?” he lifted up his scaly arms and gave a quick flex. “This is all muscle baby.”

“Ha! Come on, you can use all of that muscle to climb yourself up onto this rock,” Gilda pointed towards a section of the gorge that jutted out into the river, cutting the flow in half.

Together they fought the current and latched onto the peninsula’s side. While the outcrop of stone was a few feet higher than Spike was expecting, he managed to lift himself to the top, reaching out a claw towards Gilda as she scrambled up beside him.

“A lot steeper than I thought,” she grunted as she accepted the help.

Spike walked a few steps towards the center of the outcropping, failing to make it all of the way as he collapsed in exhaustion. While the rock was nowhere near as comfortable as his cave, it possessed a certain pleasant warmth it had soaked up from the sun’s rays.

“Already tired?” he heard Gilda pant as she followed his path. “Me too.”

The griffon plopped down beside Spike and together they took in the sights and sounds that the gorge created. Clear blue water coursed by them, the pleasant sound of running water against smooth rock immediately relaxing him. Off in the distance a dull roar could barely be heard, no doubt the river crashing against rocks. Despite it being an obvious sign of danger, it served only to add to his ease, reminding him of a distant booming thunderstorm that rocked him to sleep during this past lonely Spring.

An alien sound invaded his ears as Gilda sighed and stretched out next to him like a cat.

“Ah, this is the life. No boss, no sergeant, no annoying or just outright stupid griffons or ponies, just the sound of nature! I dig it!”

Spike couldn’t help but give a small grin. She may have broken his concentration, but he enjoyed how outspoken she was about her thoughts, a refreshing change from what he remembered in Ponyville - an unspoken but omnipresent tension among the residents that grew as he had become bigger and more ferocious. Nopony would talk to him, tell them how they felt, just lie to him through gritted teeth only for it all to come crashing down that terrible night many months ago.

“Right there with ya,” he responded, shifting to a more comfortable position. “This rock isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Could probably take a short nap here actually.”

“You must be a heavier sleeper than me, because your stomach is growling like a freight train,” Gilda said as she punched him lightly in the gut. “I’d much sooner sleep through a hurricane! Come on, let’s go snag some grub.”

‘That’s strange...’ Spike rose to his feet. ‘I don’t FEEL hungry. Maybe it was something I ate?’

Then he felt it. It started as a sudden jolt in his stomach, as if he was being shocked from the inside out. Suddenly a great sickness came from him, and for a second Spike feared he was about to throw up last night’s dinner. Instead, a second shock rang through his body, mysteriously causing the fire glands deep within his chest to erupt on their own accord.

‘I... I know this! I’ve felt this before!’ He thought, allowing the now familiar feeling to take control.

Gilda stepped in front of him, a look of concern across her face. “You alright Spike?”

‘No!’ Spike quickly spun around and let loose a mighty belch that shot a green flame clear across the outcrop, a long line of black singe against the rock left in its wake.

“WHOA!” the griffon shouted as she lunged back, taking a defensive stance.

“Don’t worry,” Spike said as the flame grouped back together and swirled in front of the dragon’s face, causing Gilda to relax as she recognized the patterned movement from the map in Lionsberg. Out of the glob of green heat a rolled up scroll took form and dropped into his outstretched claw.

Twisting and inspecting the parchment in his claws stirred an infinite number of emotions within Spike.

‘A red band with a golden seal,’ he breathed. ‘Well, it can’t get any worse... I think...’

“What...? Who?” Gilda grasped for a solid question as she watched him carefully work at undoing the scroll.

Spike failed to respond, the adrenaline of the moment a hundred times stronger than his flight down the gorge. With trembling claws, he unfastened the band and left it to the breeze, the strong winds of the crevice allowing the red scrap to flutter into nothingness. The golden seal dropped to the stone below him, the gold on rock producing a soft clack. Finally, the scroll unraveled itself before him.

Dear Spike,

I  understand my recent decisions regarding your presence in Equestria has most undoubtedly pitted your mind against me. However, I ask that you toss aside these malefic thoughts for just a few words I have to say, for I come bearing great, miraculous even, news.

The moment I had declared my ruling of your banishment, two great consequences arose, the first of which I had only partially foreseen, and the second which grew from deep thinking upon the subject. As you may have already guessed, the first consequence was that of my precious student, Twilight Sparkle. I had underestimated the true strength of the bond you two shared, and though Twilight saw the logic behind my decision, she shunned me in every sense the moment you left. Even now, so many months after your departure, her heart is cold to me, and in part, her friends.

Next, the second consequence was of my realization of my responsibility to you. It was I, after all, who ordered your egg recovered, who allowed your egg to be used in magic tests, allowed you to serve Twilight after your unexpected birth, and who allowed you to live the majority of your life amongst my people. Despite your natural urges, you were, at heart, a citizen of Equestria. Thus, I felt it was my duty to personally assign and oversee a whole Magic Research and Development Group to combat this unfortunate hindrance.

These past few months have been marked by a repeated number of failures on the project, and even I began to lose faith myself. Still, we persisted, and our experiments birthed forth an astounding piece of discovery that I predict may find uses even past you.

Come to Ponyville and return to Twilight’s side while beholding the creation which alters nature itself. No more must you hide yourself alone in caves nor feast upon those weaker than you. You can return to the life you once had, igniting Twilight’s heart once again and reuniting with old friends. Come back to Ponyville, without fear of banishment.

I shall be waiting for you when you arrive.

Princess Celestia

Spike craned back his long neck and let loose a roar of happiness that echoed down the gorge.

‘This is it. We can go home. Twilight. Rarity. Applejack. Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash. They’re all waiting for us! I can already smell the cedar of the library while Twilight reads, hear the latest fashion successes and failures from Rarity, see Rainbow Dash show off her newest trick, taste Applejack’s newest pie, feel the soft fur of Fluttershy’s pets, and Pinkie... heh. Wait... We? Us?’

Spike paused for a moment then nearly slapped himself. ‘Of course! Gilda!’ He took solace in the fact that his mind had at least already included her beside him.

The dragon spun back around, expecting an elated griffon to pounce upon him in shared glee. Instead, she had unknowingly slipped the parchment out of his claws and was in the process of reading it herself. While she gazed upon the message, her face changed from confusion, to disgust, and finally contorted itself in anger. Finally, she lowered the parchment, her eyes lit up in a fiery rage.

“Alright Spike,” she breathed, seemingly on the verge of exploding. “Forget hunting. Let’s go find some Turnabout Berries and spend the rest of the day writing out a letter telling this witch to go screw herself.”

Spike recoiled, confused by Gilda’s reaction. “What do you mean?”

Now it was Gilda’s turn to be shocked as she gave him a look of disbelief. “Did we read the same letter?”

“Yes, I’m allowed to go back to Ponyville!”

“Oh, so you skipped over the other ninety percent of the message and focused on the one piece of good news. Gotcha.”

Spike merely gave her the same confused stare as before.

“HELLO?! SPIKE?!” she screeched, throwing her claws into the air. “Look at this junk! ‘natural urges?!’ ‘unfortunate hindrance?!’ ‘an EXPERIMENT?!’ What are you, a lab rat?! Not to mention, it’s glaringly obvious she wants you simply to get Twilight to worship her again!”

“But... Twilight and...” the dragon stuttered as if lost in a trance.

“Listen to me Spike!” Gilda shouted. “If you return to Ponyville praising Celestia for accepting you back, you’ll have proven everything she had ever put against you right in her mind! Not to mention, we still have no idea what this little ‘creation’ of hers is. From what it sounds like, it could change who you are, or worse, WHAT you are!”

Spike shuddered at the thought of being a pony for the rest of his life. While the idea seemed cool for a day, having it forced upon him forever was a frightening idea.

“No,” he responded, shaking away such thoughts. “If it was something like that she would have told me in the message.”

“Then consider this: You’re still Spike the dragon. Nothing has changed from the last time you were in Ponyville until now except for ONE thing. You’ve grown bigger. Now do you really think that all of those stupid ponies are all of a sudden going to stop being afraid of you when you get back?? Dream on Spike!”

‘She’s right,’ he thought, bringing his claws to his head in despair. ‘No. I have to try. There’s got to be a way...’

“Then I’ll do things differently this time,” Spike declared. “I’ll be more social, more informative, let them know I mean them no harm.”

Gilda shook her head slowly, her reaction one of anger, shock, and sorrow. “So this is it then,” she growled. “After over a week of hanging out and listening to you rail on about how much better life is here with me, your willing to just pack up and go flying back to Ponyville without a second thought!”

“Gilda I’m not just leaving you behind! I want you to come with me.”

The griffon threw her head back and laughed mockingly. “No.”

“What do you mean?? If this is about your last visit, that was YEARS ago! They’ve probably completely forgotten by now!”

Gilda hesitated before resuming her outburst. “Because those ponies are still the same idiots I had to put up with back then. Nothing will change, and I’ll end up having to deal with them not only for just ONE day, but the REST OF MY LIFE!? No way!”

“If you hadn’t have thrown a fit you’d have found out that they’re no worse than I am!” Spike shot back in frustration.

Gilda suddenly relaxed,  her flared wings folding slowly to her sides. “Thrown a fit huh?”

“Look, that’s not what I meant...” he began as he realized his mistake.

“It’s fine,” she said, raising a claw and sending a wash of relief through Spike. “You’re right. You ARE no worse than them. You’re also no better.”


“You can go back to Ponyville and knock yourself out trying to appeal to those morons,” she seethed. “As for me, I’ve heard enough.”

Gilda suddenly shot into the air, pulsing her wings to pull herself out of the gorge.

“WAIT!” Spike shouted, rocketing after her.

The griffon paid him no heed, disappearing over the sides of the rocky crags. Despite his swift ascent, Gilda was just a small blotch against the blue horizon as he shot out of the crevice.


‘Turn back around.’


‘The one person to show you any sign of companionship in years and you lashed out at him and ran. How familiar...’

IT’S NOT MY FAULT! He’s blinded himself into believing those hair-brains will show him any sort of affection! Not to mention he’s going back to PONYVILLE. Don’t you remember what happened there?

‘Would Ponyville REALLY be worse than any of the other towns you’ve skulked through over the years? At least in Ponyille, you wouldn’t be alone.’

Gilda froze in the air as her muscles turned on each other and fought for control. For a moment, she almost turned around. Then the elephant in her mind sprang forth, reminding her of the main fear she had going back to Ponyville in the first place.

Rainbow Dash

She imagined herself bowed before the rainbow pegasus, pleading for forgiveness, a cocky smile spreading across Dash’s face as if she had been expecting this moment ever since Gilda had stormed off long ago.

That was it. The thought returned her to her original course, and further away from Spike. It was such a petty reason, and her mind screamed at her for it, but it was enough to tip the scales.

‘That’s it!? Your leaving because of THAT!?’

Going back would mean defeat, and I don’t lose.

Gilda shut out her thoughts as she continued her flight, an overbearing shadow of sadness and loss hanging over her that she had not felt for many years.


‘The brooch. That’s all. Leave the gems. To Ponyville!’

Spike’s mind raced as he looked over what remained in his cave. Seemingly satisfied, he turned around and spread his wings, crouching his legs to take off.

Nothing happened. His legs stayed locked and something ate at the back of his mind, telling him he had forgotten something.

He swept another gaze across the cave. Nothing forgotten.

‘Except for Gilda’s bag’

Spike cringed. He had tried to simply ignore it at first, but his mind wouldn’t allow it. The brown bag sat there against the side of the cave, stirring the emotions and memories he had felt and gained over the past week.

‘Maybe she’ll come back for it and I’ll have another chance at talking to her!’

Despite the promise of Twilight and her friends just a couple day’s flight away, the dragon left the mouth of the cave and stood at its center, eyeing the bag.

‘I’ll wait here for another day,’ he settled. ‘She’ll come back for it. After all, what’s one more day out here to me? I have the rest of my life to spend in Ponyville!’

Spike laid down in front of his gems, staring at the opening  as he anxiously waited for the amber griffon to come storming in.

← Chapter 2                                                                                                                  Chapter 4 →

Kindred Spirits

Chapter 4: The Taste of Blood

A sharp ringing tore through the room, startling the sleeping griffon from her restless slumber. After nearly a full minute of aimless stumbling, she finally slammed her claw down on the annoying clock, silencing it for good.

Gilda stifled a weak yawn, laying her head against the desk in front of her. While it was a pretty nasty piece of carpentry, her body was begging for rest after only a couple of hours of sleep.

It was the same problem as before. Despite having no one to share the night with nor any activities to partake in, Gilda found herself struck by a strange case of insomnia, the same sleeplessness that had plagued her nearly her entire life.

‘Except for the week I spent with Spike.’

The shoddy desk nearly broke in half when her claw impacted the wood, sending a loud rattling throughout the room. Every time such thoughts had come up in her mind, a fit of rage coursed through her body, its target undefinable. Spike? Celestia? Herself?

Whatever. It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s gone, nothing but a goddess’ toy experiment now. No going back. I made this decision. Commit.

Awakened by her own outburst, Gilda fought against the waves of exhaustion and dragged herself in front of a large mirror that hung above a rusted sink. A quick turn of a knob and a small trickle of orange-tinted water escaped the nozzle, cascading down into her open claw.

Bringing the soaked claw to her head, she began smoothing and arranging her feathers, only occasionally looking towards the mirror for guidance.

The mirror itself was a ghastly decoration with a single crack at the top that crept down to its center, eventually webbing out into a multitude of other smaller cracks. A frame of decaying wood surrounded the reflection, making it seem as if it had been stolen from some long-closed haunted house.

But what disturbed Gilda the most, what made her only able to cast the rare glance towards the reflection, was the haggard and sorrowed visage that would stare back. She could never tell if the fractured mirror was to blame or if it was actually hiding something even worse.

‘How could this happen so fast? It’s only been one week... have I already given up?’


The griffon shook herself back into focus, hastily finishing her preparations. Her fur was matted and greasy and random feathers still poked out from her chest and head, but any care she had for her appearance had dissipated.

A sad relief flowed through her as she turned away from the mirror. To her right, a mattress stained with yellow splotches was shoved up against the wall, with no sheets or pillow to accompany it. The only other construct in the room besides the sink and bed was the door, which shared the same decaying wood she had seen before.

Gilda threw open the door, a loud creaking sounding behind her. She was greeted by a dust caked hallway, taking a left and traversing the hall until she walked into a pitifully small lobby with a single unmanned desk at its center. Her pace quickened as she rushed the double doors, barging through into the welcoming morning air.

This was it. This was her favorite part of the day. Stepping outside. While that sweet first breath only lasted for a split second, it helped to rid herself of the terrible muskiness that pervaded her apartment. A look of disgust ran across her face as Gilda looked back towards the pathetic structure. It was run down, seemingly abandoned, and overall a sore sight.

‘But it’s cheap.’

With a sigh, she took off and soared high into the air, making her way towards a small building. Below her, a disfigured shanty town sprawled across a massive cliff side. Instead of overlooking the usual romantic lake or beautiful valley, the bottom of the cliff was marred with sharp rocks and a strange gloomy mist. The mere sight of the razor-sharp stones put Gilda on edge. It was no secret that many a griffon had ended their own lives by free-falling into the pit below.

‘Dagger Fels. What an aptly named town.’


Tucking in her wings, she swooped down and landed in front of a portly structure with a sign that read ‘DAGGER FELS PACKAGE AND MESSAGE DELIVERY’. After a quick minute of bracing herself, Gilda entered through the door-less passageway.

“Gilda,” a squeaky voice called out.



Behind the desk before her, a tall, thin, lanky male griffon attempted to give her a menacing glare. She knew him as Kaussic, the annoying idiot who co-owned the delivery company with his ever-silent brother, Bissin. While she hated both of them, at least Bissin kept his mouth shut.

“Barely even a week into the job and you’re already turning up late!” Kaussic berated her. “This had better not become a habit!”

“Oh chill out,” Gilda sneered. “I’ll just fly a bit faster and make up for the lost time.”

Kaussic continued his glaring as she made her way to the backroom. Usually Gilda would have simply decked the asshole, but she needed this job to pay for the apartment.

Two large shoulder bags which had been filled to the brim with packages and messages greeted her as she entered the backroom. To her left, the room expanded until it ended with a wall of wooden cabinets each individually marked for every town resident. The other owner of the operations, Bissin, was busy sorting boxes. He was the polar opposite of his brother, nearing obesity and displaying almost no emotion.

Gilda spared no time in grabbing the bags and rushing out the backdoor. While Bissin rarely ever talked, every word she had shared with him had been forced and awkward. Not to mention, she was almost certain he was watching her any time she turned her back to him.

The combination of the cool morning air greeting her and the thought of Bissin stalking her made Gilda shudder as she exited the post office. Fishing the list of deliveries and town maps from the bag, she took off into the air to begin another monotonous day of work.


Gilda landed in front of a small house on the outskirts of town, double checking the address and package to make sure she was correct. Satisfied, she rapped on the rotting door with a balled claw.

After a half-minute of waiting, the door creaked open slightly and a small female griffon eyed her warily, not even daring to stick her head out from her home.

“Hello Ms. Merd, your package has arrived,” Gilda began in a monotone voice.

The tiny griffon cast her eyes downward. “I didn’t order any packages...” she said timidly.

“What? But it says your name and address right here and everything,” Gilda responded, pointing towards the brown-wrapped package in her claws.

“... I didn’t order any packages,” she repeated.


The small griffon shut the door quietly, disappearing from view and leaving Gilda dumbfounded.

“Ugh... whatever,” she sighed as she returned the package to her bag and took back into the air.



“Huh!? Who goes there!?” an elderly greying griffon threw open the door the second Gilda finished knocking.


“Hello Mr. Tisir, your package has arrived.”


The old griffon glanced down at the package before quickly looking back to Gilda. “You’re early!”



“I said you’re early!” he barked. “I’m not expecting this ‘till tomorrow!”

Gilda stared at the customer with uncertainty. “Well, you’re getting it today.”

“No. I’m getting it tomorrow,” he retorted as he reached over and slammed the door in her face.


“Oh yes... I’ve been waiting for these...” the gangly male griffon in front of Gilda breathed as she handed him the package.

Not only did he appear sickly, but a foul odor lingered about him that made her want to vomit.

“Wait!” he shouted as she turned to leave.

“What? Is there something wrong?”

“Don’t you want to like... stay and talk...?” he whispered.

Before the vile griffon could even finish his sentence, Gilda had taken off in a flurry of feathers.


Razor-tipped rocks cast long shadows as the sunset illuminated the cliff and the pit below it, giving the town an ominous and lonely aura. From where Gilda flew, it was as if Dagger Fels would be engulfed in twilight at any moment.

The whole day had been a nightmare. She had worked with maybe three customers who simply took their package without argument. All of the rest seemed to have a bone to pick with her.

Physically, Gilda had barely even begun sweating throughout the entire day, her military experience making her more fit and stronger than probably any other griffon in town.

Mentally, she was exhausted. Any motivation to do anything had abandoned her, leaving an empty, emotionless shell. The routine was almost over. Now to turn in her bags, check out, and go back to sitting aimlessly in her apartment, then start it all again tomorrow. Just like the good old days.

Gilda touched down in front of the post office and wearily journeyed inside, walking past an empty front desk and entering the backroom.

“Ah, Gilda!” Kaussic called from the other end of the room as she deposited the shoulder bags back on the table. “Came back just in time. I have one more message for you to deliver.”

‘Go screw yourself’

“Sure. One more. What is it?”

“Not for the likes of you to know,” the skinny griffon sneered. “It’s top priority that this gets delivered as soon as possible to Sergeant Perdicion at the military garrison.”

Gilda cocked an eyebrow at her boss. “They’re... using the Post Office to send their messages!??”

She struggled to hold back laughter at such an absurd notion.

“The coins they’re paying us nearly double our normal income!” Kaussic growled. “Look, if you won’t deliver this, I will!”


“Whatever, I’ll do it,” Gilda sighed, returning to her normal jaded self.

Kaussic passed a large rolled scroll into her claws, freezing before letting it go. “Remember. This is the military here. If you screw this up, I’ll be the least of your worries!”

Grasping the scroll with one claw, she hopped through the back door and took to the skies.

‘Heh. Look at this thing,’ Gilda thought as she flew to the garrison and inspected the scroll in her claws. ‘There isn’t even any band around it! No one would even know if someone had...’

A wry smile spread across her face as she nosedived into a back alley. Making sure no one had spotted her, Gilda unraveled the scroll.

Instead of words, large lines and a vast array of symbols spread out across the parchment, with various griffon cities being highlighted along with a large portion of the Central Wilds.

‘Dang. Just a map. No wonder they used the delivery service, this is probably just a quick glance for the sergeant.’

Despite not being the secret message she had hoped for, the map made the back of her neck tingle.

‘This seems eerily familiar...’

Suddenly it clicked. The eastern portion of the map which charted the Central Wilds was the same area that Spike had drawn out for her more than a week ago.

Gilda centered her attention on the two mountains she and Spike had had stayed in. The first, which had nearly caused their deaths after the cave in, was now fully garrisoned and acted as an outpost for the military’s ever-expanding push into the Central Wilds.

‘I underestimated them,’ she thought, noting how fast the kingdom had expanded in only a weeks time.

Refocusing her attention on the first mountain, her gaze drifted along the same path she had flown to reach Spike’s second cave. Along the way, a handful of symbols dotted the landmarks, causing Gilda to constantly shift between the legend and the map itself.

‘Squares for manticores... huh. Three manticores. I thought they were rare? Triangles... Oh cool! A sea serpent lived upriver from where we used to clean off! Circles are for...  lhurgoyfs? I don’t even know what the hell that is...’

Finally her eyes landed upon the second mountain that housed Spike’s cave. The mountain had been emblazoned with a silver star.


‘Lets see, a silver star is...’

Gilda’s expression turned to shock as she saw ‘Adolescent Dragon’ next to the silver-star symbol. Frantically glancing back towards the second mountain, a small note ‘Purple, S. Hoard’ had been jotted down next to it.

‘Calm down Gilda. This thing is probably a week old.’

Even with her doubts, she darted around the map, eventually settling upon a handful of words and numbers she had missed nestled in the bottom right hand corner.

It had yesterday’s date on it.

A million scenarios as to why Spike had stayed coursed through her mind.

‘Could it be...?’

No. I called his friends morons and told him off. Why would he stay for ME?

Gilda’s enthusiasm withered away, her old rage beginning to set back in.

Doesn’t matter what he stayed for. The military will out him soon enough if this map is anything to go by. At the rate they are expanding, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already knocking on his door.

Breaking the deal she had made with Spike, Gilda let her mind wander back to their first hostile encounter, when she had been assigned to remove him from the area no matter the cost.

A Soldier of Andune will come, demanding that he leave and give over the brooch. He’ll deny of course.

Her breathing quickened as she allowed her thoughts to turn sadistic.


The soldier will charge him, dodging his blows. Spike’s a hunter, not a fighter. He’ll get injured early on in the fight, probably by weapon or claw...

Gilda dropped all barriers. This was past rage now. This was morbid, primitive, hateful thinking.

Who knows what happens next. He’ll bleed out slowly throughout the fight, getting weaker and weaker. Maybe the soldier will call out for a surrender, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. Spike wouldn’t give up.

Her tongue ran along the rim of her beak.

His breathing will turn heavy, his movement will slow, and the soldier will charge again. Spike might breathe fire, he might swipe a claw. It won’t matter. The soldier will dodge then aim beak-first for his neck, ripping through his purple scales. Blood everywhere as a loud gurgling-

A vile, sanguine, familiar taste rose up in the back of Gilda’s mouth.

Dragon’s blood. Spike’s blood.

For a horrible moment, Gilda’s body fought with itself, half of her struggling to swallow the taste greedily while the other half begged her to rid herself of the poison.

What’s the matter now? I can’t handle a bit of violence?

‘This is Spike I’m thinking about! How could I imagine something so horrible happening to a friend and just shrug it off??’

Even if he deserves it...

‘But no, this is going too far, I can stop this...’


But why should I? Face it! He abandoned me for those stupid ponies!’

‘And what would that make me, abandoning HIM when he needed ME the most?Her stomach twisted at the thought. ‘I might as well just slit his throat myself!’

The taste of blood filled her throat as a violent convulsion rocked her entire frame. With one final pulse, Gilda’s front legs buckled, her neck shot forward and yellow, lumpy bile spewed from her beak and onto the dirt below.

She stumbled backwards then collapsed as shallow breaths echoed through the abandoned alleyway.

While her mind had cleared substantially, a torrent of thoughts, images, emotions, and decisions still plagued her.

One image in particular, however, stood out in her mind - that of Spike, nothing but a bloodied corpse now, being dragged out of his cave and dropped into the wilderness below. No more jokes, no more laughs, no more struggles. Just food for the flies.

As gruesome as the image was, Gilda latched onto it.

‘I can stop this.’

The griffon rose back to her feet, slowly guiding her mind along this single track of thought.

‘Who cares what the hell he stayed for. Is he injured? Is he just a lazy ass? For me...? It doesn’t matter. He was my friend even after what I did to him. He tried to stop me from leaving.’

‘And even with that, that was fine. I may have abandoned him for pathetic reasons, but at least it was something. How shallow, how malicious, how evil would I be to let him die like this?’

A new energy filled Gilda, adrenaline completely sweeping away all the mental fatigue from before.

The line had been crossed. And frankly? Gilda was glad. She could have left Spike, and heck, even Rainbow, to bore themselves to death with those other stupid ponies. There was no way she could convince them otherwise.

But the line had been crossed. This was life or death. This was in her claws now.

Gilda wasted no time. Retrieving the map she had discarded during her convulsions, she shot out from the alleyway and into the sky. The town was now a black sheet below her, with no distinguishing features between any of the buildings. To her, that didn’t matter. She could go back to the post office and happily tell Kaussic a weeks work of insults as she walked out, but Gilda had already forgotten about him, his brother, and the post office.

As she left Dagger Fels behind, her defining rage began to resurface. This time, she liked it. While yes, some of it was still directed towards Spike, Celestia, herself... heck, the whole world, it had a main target now.

Gilda imagined the assassin-soldier landing in Spike’s cave, seeing what she had seen before. Would it be male or female? Would they be cocky? Confident? Maybe even a bit nervous? Big or small?

‘Doesn’t matter,’ she settled, ‘if they even so much as TOUCH Spike, I’ll rip them apart.’

Then a terrifying thought hit her.

‘What if I’m too late?!’

She imagined returning to his cave only to come face to face with the image she had plastered in her mind just minutes before.

Gilda picked up speed, becoming a black bullet against the star-lit night sky.



Kaussic double checked the shuttered windows, made sure the back door was firmly locked, and finally placed the crude blockade on the post office’s front entrance. Stepping out into the streets, he took a refreshing deep breath.

‘Another successful day of work, even with that annoying bi-’


A loud, thunderous explosion shot out from the plains that bordered Dagger Fels. Kaussic wheeled towards the sound in shock, his eyes widening in fear as he witnessed a tidal wave of gale-force winds rocketing towards the town.

Before he could react, the wall of air struck him, sending him flying into the air only to slam him back into the ground a moment later.

A pitiful groan escaped his beak as he gasped for air. Through his wavering vision he saw a dark blur shoot across the plains, quickly disappearing from view.

‘What. The hell. Was that?’

← Chapter 3                                                                                                                  Chapter 5 →

Kindred Spirits

Chapter 5: Home is Where the Heart is

‘I’ve hunted here before’

Lush, brown trees took on a spectacular violet garb as the dragon’s scales reflected whatever stray rays of sunlight had managed to break through the forest canopy. Aside from such subtle shifts in color, it was nigh-impossible for any unsuspecting prey to predict his presence. Each step forward meant a carefully placed silent claw, a small flick of the tail to slide past a sea of trunks, a shift of the wings to avoid creating even the smallest disturbance in the afternoon breeze.

Suddenly, the wind shifted, acting as a harbinger for a scent that flared his nostrils and caused him to lick his chops hungrily.

Amidst the appalling stench of red-clad fruit, the musk of two equine mares could be made out, setting each of his senses off with pleasurable alarm.

‘Books, apples and sweat,’ he tasted as his forked tongue prodded the air.

‘Busy in conversation,’ predatory ears overheard.

The dragon moved with new-found purpose, slipping through the rowed-woods with a frightening mixture of swiftness and stealth. Not long after, the trees cut off abruptly in an unnatural line, giving way to fields of crops, rolling hills, and a home and barn off in the distance.

Such landforms and structures were only dully acknowledged. His attention was focused solely on the sight before him - two ponies, orange and purple, lingering just outside of the patterned forest, engaged in idle chat.

“...And was just wondering if you would need any help for this upcoming Applebuck Season?”

He ceased his advance, a small batch of trees the only thing separating him from his prey. While the dragon could simply leap from the orchard right now with an almost sure chance of a catch, months of previous hunting had taught him that the element of surprise was something to be treasured.

‘Now just to wait for an opening.’


“Well shoot Twilight that’s awfully kind of ya, but Macintosh and Applebloom are already bitin’ at the bit to get started! We should be fine for this year.”

The orange mare stood perpendicular to his current position. She would see him lunging with at least a second or two to spare. On the other claw, the purple mare faced in such a way that he could descend upon her this instant, with not so much as a struggle...

‘Stop! She isn’t the target!’

“Oh good! I wanted to check just in case. Don’t want another repeat of the season you tried to do it all yourself!”

“Yeah you’ve been remindin’ me every year since. Thought you’d of forgotten by now.”

“Hard to forget half the town falling ill. How are the crops coming along?”

At last the orange mare turned away from him, towards the rows of fresh crops.

“Greener than ever! Ah’m expectin’-”


A ferocious roar ripped from his maw as he sprang from the apple trees, claws and wings outstretched in an intimidating manner. Both ponies reacted instantly, the orange with an expression of fright while the purple possessed a wry smile. High-pitched screams followed shortly.

Instead of aiming for his original target, the dragon found himself swerving to the left towards the other mare, her face quickly sharing the same fear of her companion.

‘What am I doing!?’

Before he could crash into the purple pony, his feet dug into the earth, halting him just before impact.

Then he fell to the ground laughing. The orange mare’s face quickly contorted in confusion while the purple mare’s snout was scrunched up in a sour pout.

“Spike!” Twilight shouted. “You said you were going to prank Applejack not both of us!”

His laughter died away as he picked himself back up. “I’m an equal opportunist! I provide scares no matter the pony!”

“Spike...?” Applejack asked, half in shock, half in joy..

The dragon nodded as he turned toward his friend with a wide grin, flaring out his purple wings and flexing his green spines. “I’m back, and boy is it good to be home!”

“Well I’ll be! Mighty glad to see ya again! Things were gettin’ eerily quiet around here with ya gone, even with Pinkie Pie on the loose.”

“It’s good to see you again too! And the farm as well! After stalking through the orchard for the past five minutes I can already tell you’re in for a great season!”

“Heh, yeah it’s in great condition this year.”

Applejack’s brow furrowed and her expression darkened.


“I don’t mean to cause any trouble... but... Celestia...?”


“Already talked to her and sorted everything out,” Twilight interjected quickly.

“Good,” Applejack said sharply. “Was downright ridiculous what happened those months go.”

Spike waved his claw in the air, as if shooing an insect. “All in the past now. Anyways, me and Twilight want to meet up with the others before sundown, so we gotta get moving!”

“Alrighty then!” Applejack extended a hoof. “I won’t keep ya waitin’!”

“See ya around!” he responded, accepting the hoofshake. Where he had once considered her one of the strongest ponies he had ever known, her limb felt like a twig in his grasp.

‘So weak. Probably wouldn’t even put up a fight.’

Spike chuckled at the absurd thought. ‘What am I going to do? Wrestle her!?’

“Ya’ll come back around real soon!” Applejack called out as they departed from Sweet Apple Acres. “With Applebuck Season comin’ round, we’ll have plenty of fresh apples!”


“Thanks Applejack!” Twilight called out. “See you soon!”


“Yes! This is freaking awesome!” Rainbow Dash cheered. “I knew you were too cool for the princess to keep out!”

The three friends lingered on the outskirts of Ponyville, Twilight having just caught the cyan mare as she finished her daily weather patrol.

“You know it!” Spike crowed back, pounding her hoof with his claw. “You’ve probably got a million tricks to show me huh?”

“Actually, I’ve kinda been laying off the new tricks so I can perfect my current ones.”

“Not making up any new tricks?” Twilight asked, suspicious. “Since when has Rainbow Dash never been thinking up a new trick?”

Dash puffed her chest out in pride. Since she was getting ready to try out for the Wonderbolts, that’s what!”

“No way!” Spike cried excitedly. “I’ll make sure to stay out of your way then, you must be training hard.”

“Now wait just a minute Spike. Just because I’m training doesn’t mean I don’t have time for some good old fashioned fun!”

“Rock on! I’ll make sure to hit you up for a race later!”

“A race?” Dash snickered. “Don’t kid yourself!”

“What?” Spike asked with a wry grin. “Don’t believe that I’ve improved while I was gone? Or do I need to chase you down to prove my point?”

The cyan mare broke into hysterics. “A dragon trying to catch a pegasus! I’d love to see you try!”

‘Me too.’

“Pfft. Whatever. Twilight and I have to get going, see ya around Dash, and good luck!”

“Sure thing! I’ll see you two later!”


The door to the Carousel Boutique swung open, revealing a pampered white mare.

“My apologies but the- oh! Twilight! And... Spike!?”

“Nah, just some random purple and green dragon that asked to stay at the library for a few days!” said Twilight.

Rarity scoffed at the crude joke while beckoning them inside. “Come in come in! Tell me everything!”

While Twilight and Rarity stood at the back of the main designing room, Spike leisurely sprawled out in front of the exit, casually watching the two ponies as they conversed.

“Do fill me in what happened Twilight. I’m elated to see Spike back, but Celestia seemed rather...”

‘I’ve never noticed just how ridiculous Rarity is. Her hair curls and loops all over the place like some exotic dish and she constantly reeks of unsavory perfume. Twilight manages to look exquisite without any of tha-’

‘Whoa, calm down Spike! I love her, but not like that!’

“... And that’s how I convinced her Spike had no intention of causing us any harm.”

“This is FANTASTIC news! Spike, I’m so happy that you’ve returned!”

“Me too! Lemme tell ya, it was getting pretty lonely out there.”

“Well now you don’t have to worry about being alone ever again. We’re all here for you.”

“Aw... thanks Rarity.”

“Spike and I have to get moving,” Twilight said quickly. “Still have to visit Pinkie and Fluttershy before the day’s over!”

“Oh! Hurry along then! And Twilight?” Rarity caught them as they exited the boutique.


“Take it slow with dear Fluttershy... she’s still horribly conflicted...”

“We know,” Spike responded softly. “Don’t worry. I understand how she feels and haven’t harbored anything against her.”

“Hm. Good. I look forward to the inevitable party Pinkie will throw. ‘Till then!”

“Bye!” Twilight called as the door shut behind them. “Whew! Was seeing if I could get you out of there before you started hitting on her!”

“Twilight!” Spike growled, smoke rising from his nostrils. “I already told you I was over her YEARS ago!”

The purple mare laughed. “Sure Spike. I’d believe you if you didn’t have that same lovey-dovey look in your eyes you always have when you see Rarity.”

‘It’s not because of Rarity...’

“Aren’t we in a hurry?”

“Yeah yeah. Next stop: Sugarcube Corner.”


“And I’ll host it right in the middle of the town square, so everypony will HAVE to attend!”

Pinkie jumped up and down excitedly in front of them, having immediately lept the counter the moment they had entered the store.

“That’s nice Pinkie.” Twilight smiled. “Any idea when?”

“Right now!”

“Whoa Pinkie! We still have to go see Fluttershy and I would like to make my first day back a little relaxing!” Spike said desperately, raising his claws in defense.

“Silly me! Of course you do! We can have our own quick party right here then!”

Before either of them could protest, the pink pony disappeared into the backroom only to return with three large cupcakes.

“One for you! And one for you! And one for me!”

Spike grimaced at the confection, then began to raise it to his maw.

“WAIT!” Pinkie cried out.

“Huh? What’s the matter?” the dragon asked in shock.

Pinkie took a deep breath, then burst into song.

♪Spike is back!

Spike is back!

He’s right here beside me with a big-nice-snack!

Spike is here!

No more Fear!

Now we’ll celebrate with a big-nice-cheer!♪”

“Hooray!” she cheered happily. “You can’t just have a welcome-back party without a song to start it off!”

“Thanks Pinkie,” Spike said as he tried to wipe the stupid grin off of his face. “It already feels like home again!”

“See!? It works! Now let’s dig in!”

The two mares began to eat away at their cupcakes while Spike eyed his desert with uncertainty.

‘Come on! Just eat it!’

He glanced at Pinkie, who smiled at him in return, followed by Twilight, who cocked an eyebrow at the dragon. Suddenly, his cupcake seemed highly unappealing.

“Something wrong, Spike?” Twilight asked.

‘Now I can’t eat around her anymore? I’ve known her for my whole life! Why is this happening now??’

“Huh? Oh! No, nothing! I’m fine.”

Spike tossed the morsel into his mouth, cringing as he felt it slide down his throat.

‘Tastes like nothing. Like a scrap of cardboard.’

“That was delicious Pinkie,” Twilight thanked her. “Spike and I have to get moving now.”

“Aw! Leaving already??”

“Yep, sorry,” Spike apologized. “We still have to see Fluttershy before sundown.”

“Just remember, HUGE party tomorrow!”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world Pinkie! See ya then,” Twilight called as they left Sugarcube corner.

As Spike and Twilight stepped outside, crimson rays shot across the tops of Ponyville’s rooftops, soaking the tops of the buildings in a blood-red hue. Mares hastily gathered their children while stallions chatted amongst each other, exchanging their final farewells before their wives called them back home.

“Last stop,” Twilight said apprehensively.

“Last stop,” Spike repeated.


‘She looks almost like a deer.’

Spike observed the yellow pegasus from afar, hidden by a patch of brush. Indeed, while he had always known FlutterSHY wasn’t a brash pony, her timid and frail movements were as clear as daylight to him now, bringing up images of the wildlife he had once lived amongst during his exile.

Twilight entered from the left side of his vision, trotting up to the fence which surrounded Fluttershy’s home. The mere sight of her sent his heart racing and made him shift uncomfortably.

‘Come on, focus. This is about Fluttershy, not Twilight.’

“Fluttershy!” the purple mare called out, eliciting a squeak from the startled pegasus.

“Oh Twilight. It’s just you,” she responded as she turned and trotted towards her friend.

“Fluttershy, we need to talk.”

She instantly halted her progress, taking a few steps back in apprehension. “But... I already said I was sorry and...”

“No. Not about that. Come here.”

The pegasus fidgeted in place.


Finally, Fluttershy continued forward until she stood before Twilight, pink strands of hair still shrouding a sad, guilty expression.

“Thank you. Anyways, Celestia allowed Spike to return”

“Oh my goodness,” she squealed, raising a hoof to her mouth.

“No! Look you have to understand, Spike doesn’t hate you. He’s your friend!”

“He’s not mad?”

“Nope. Happy to see you actually.”

“Is he... here here?”

“Whenever you’re ready, I’ll call him over.”

Fluttershy took a deep breath, her eyes darting around the grove as if to oust the hiding dragon.      

“I’m ready.”


The dragon stepped forth from the brush, making sure to keep his wings folded and teeth hidden. At the sight of him, the yellow pegasus shied away, shrinking closer to the ground.


“Fluttershy,” he responded simply, at a loss for words.

To both their surprise, Fluttershy flew herself to be eye level with the dragon and embraced his snout. “I’m so sorry Spike,” she said softly. “I never knew...”

“It’s ok. You were just following your instincts. It’s over now.”

Twilight trotted up to Spike with a large smile. “You should see yourself right now Spike, youAAAH!”

With a sudden tug she was pulled in, a large purple-scaled arm wrapping around her. “Don’t think you can get out of this either,” Spike growled playfully.

The initial shock wore off and Twilight fully embraced the dragon with a happy sigh. Once more, the strange feeling of heat and anxiousness overtook his body.

‘There it is again. I’ll never be able to act the same around Twilight now because of something I can’t even control!’

Before dismay could overtake him, a soft prodding ran up his left belly as Twilight wriggled free of his grasp and lifted her muzzle to his ear.

“Spike, I love you.”

The dragon had heard this many, MANY times before, spoken in much the same way. For some reason, however, the three words meant more than anything he had ever heard or felt before.

‘That’s it,’ he settled, finally relaxing after the chaotic inner struggle he had been fighting ever since he had first seen Twilight from his exile. ‘I love her. It took months of being away to finally realize it, but I love her.’

“I love you too,” Spike responded, but with a whole different world of intentions.

The three friends held their embrace for what seemed like hours until nightfall forced them to part ways.


‘Now how do I tell her?’

Spike lay on the library’s wooden floor, taking in the scent of old oak and ancient textbooks. It was a smell he had known since his childhood, but had nearly forgotten during his absence.

“By the way,” Twilight spoke as she finished putting up her textbooks “If there’s anything you need for sleep tonight, like pillows or blankets, just let me know.”

His only response was to shuffle his claws and cast his gaze downward.

‘Should I do it now...?’

“Spike? Is something wrong?”

“Uh no. I’m fine. Just uh... hungry!” he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“Oh duh!” she chuckled as she brought a hoof to her face. “How could I forget dinner? I’ll go get you a bowl of gems and chop myself up a salad!”

The dragon breathed a sigh of relief as Twilight left for the kitchen, only to remind himself that she was just one room over.

‘Maybe I should wait for tomorrow night? Can’t be during the day with Pinkie’s party and all. Ugh. Just thinking about having to go another day having to fight this feeling-’

A sharp cry rang out, startling Spike back to his senses.


Leaping up from his rest, Spike dashed towards the kitchen in a frenzy.

“Twilight! Is everything ok??”

‘She’s fine.’ His thoughts were alleviated as he caught sight of Twilight through the kitchen opening. The purple mare was holding one of her forelegs aloft, a pained grimace across her face.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she breathed. “Just made a stupid mistake and cut myself with the knife on accident. It’s nothing bad. See?”

Twilight turned towards him with a pained smile, holding her wounded leg towards him.

“Heh, you had me scared for a second-”

A drop of crimson seeped from the exposed gash, cutting off the dragon’s words and thoughts.

Insinctively, his tongue flicked from his mouth for a split-second, the sanguine scent and taste of blood having already worked its way into the air around them.

His heart rate increased, heat flushed through his body, and the same, strange anxiousness he had been plagued with the moment he had reunited with Twilight returned.

‘This isn’t love.’

It was a morbid thought which spawned hundreds of thousands of other realizations that he had believed to have left behind long ago.

‘The princess was right.’


‘I’ve never noticed just how... beautiful? No. Delicious, Twilight looked.’

“I told you it’s not a bad cut! I’ll be fine!”

‘I should have never come back.’

“Is this a joke?”

‘You know what? I do love her. The way she’s not too skinny, has a bit of meat on her. And that flank. Mmmm...’

“Well I’m not going to fall for it!”

‘I’m a monster, just like Fluttershy first assumed!’


‘Thinking of Fluttershy, I wonder if all of them taste differently? Would Rarity taste like marshmallows?’

“You’re starting to scare me! Are you ill?”


Spike wheeled away from the mare, slamming into the kitchen wall in a mad scramble to be anywhere but where he was now. Despite a cry from Twilight, he recovered and ran into the library’s main room, his now dilated eyes frantically searching for the door. All the while, a haze began to cover his thoughts, replacing them with that of a hunter who had cornered his prey.

‘Turn around. You’re starving.’


It didn’t exist. Everywhere he looked, either a bookshelf or a wall of wood stood out, mocking his desperation.

Any sentient thoughts he had once possessed vanished as he threw himself against the wood and began ripping it apart with his claws. Behind him, a small clopping of hooves against the oak floor could be made out amongst the thoughts screaming in his head.

“Spike it’s ok! I’m here! Please listen to me!”

Spike turned around. Whether to tell her to run, push her away, or simply roar at her in vain hope of scaring her off, he never even got the chance.

The moment his snout rotated towards the purple pony, it brushed against against her leg which had been raised towards him in reassurance.

The same leg which was soaked in blood from her wound.

A warm, decadent liquid splashed into his maw, followed by a flash of red against his eyes, then finally a sharp scream of horror flew through the library.

Something hard rolled about in his mouth. Bringing up a claw, he pulled the object out, curious as to what it could be.

A purple-red lower-foreleg was pinched between his claws, a large majority of the hair and flesh having been stripped away leaving only bone and a small hoof. Past the leg, the pony it had once belonged to was collapsed and writhing upon the ground, tears and blood mixing in a pool beneath her.

‘You know what? I AM hungry.’

“Spike... please... remember...” Twilight gasped through her sobs.

The dragon advanced upon her in a slow, sadistic manner, as if he fancied the idea of playing with his food.

Trying to pick herself up, his prey crashed back to the ground with a cry the moment she put weight on the legless stump. He watched with glee as she began to drag herself away, splotches of blood dotting the library’s oak floor and staining the once pristine books a delightful scarlet.

“Spike... you’re not... a monster.”

The purple deer slowly crawled herself towards the kitchen, her incoherent babbling completely lost upon him.

‘She looks like a fish out of water.’

Unable to hold back any longer, he lunged, catching a large portion of Twilight’s exposed belly between his razor sharp teeth. A strange stretching feeling resisted him, only for it to snap and give way to another wave of fresh hot liquid. A second scream rang out, small bits of blood trapped in her throat giving it an exotic, vibrating sound.

Realizing that his prey had no way of outrunning him with a missing leg and half her stomach ripped away, Spike focused on savoring the scrap of flesh that rolled about his mouth.

‘Like a deer, except with added flavoring. I could get used to this.’

Returning towards the hunt, he found the pony lying in a pool of her own fluids at the center of the kitchen. Succulent blood poured from the wide tear in her belly, inviting him to feast. Rushing forward, he towered above her, menacing wings closing off all escape as he gazed down at her hungrily.

Before he could begin, Twilight lifted her head, giving the dragon a strange stare as if she were looking for something.

“Spike...” He could barely understand her through the gurgling and spittles of blood. “I love you...”

‘Love you too.’

His head shot forward, warm crimson splashing across the kitchen and his face as he-



Spike convulsed violently, his consciousness struggling to save itself from the fevered nightmare that had overtaken his mind. Long scratch marks were etched into the rock beneath him and gems lay strewn across the cave floor, as if a fight between two great monsters had just occurred.

At last, his eyes snapped open and a wave of exhaustion overcame him, leaving him panting and slumped against the ground. Once proud and powerful wings now lay strewn out around him, too weak to straighten themselves and too frightened to fold back in.

Then he, a prideful and fearsome dragon, broke down into tears. Thousands of infected emotions could be heard in his sobs, but three rose out above all others: horror, disgust, and defeat.

Horror from the images that had been seared into his mind. Disgust with himself for even having the capacity to dream them in the first place. Defeat due to his inability to stop such recurring nightmares.

After a full month of questioning both himself and the princess’ reasons for his banishment, doubt wormed it’s way into his thoughts, birthing the evils that lurked in his sleep. They had been small, innocent dreams at first, beginning with comparing his friends to certain foods only to end with the unspeakable thoughts that plagued him now.

‘I thought they were gone. Why did this happen again?’

His vision scanned the cave, as if the rocks themselves may have held the answer to his life’s problems. Emerald eyes froze upon a brown bag, a fine layer of dust having accumulated upon it’s outer shell.

‘They stopped because of her. Gilda...’

Spike sneered at the name. A week ago it had carried hope, with a near assurance that he would meet with the griffon again and be able to repair their friendship. Now, combined with his ever-growing doubt in himself, it was a main component of the invisible ball-and-chain that kept him confined within his cave despite the promise of home and family just a few days’ flight away.

‘She didn’t return. She never even cared in the first place. I was just some little week-long vacation for her. A simple stress-reliever.’

His attention returned to the untouched bag. The past week, it had served almost as a holy relic, awaiting the moment when the goddess would return to reclaim what was rightfully hers.

‘I should burn it. One burst of flame. Bam. Done. One more obstacle out of the way.’

Staggering to his feet, Spike narrowed his eyes menacingly towards the sack, activating the fire glands which smoldered at his core. Just before a gout of green flame would cleanse the bag and all of it’s contents from his life, a single line of thought crossed him.

‘I don’t even know what’s inside.’

He sighed, letting the fire die out.

‘Might as well check before I incinerate the thing.’

 Spike cautiously edged towards the bag, snapping it up in one swift movement when he was close enough. Dust fell from its sides, but nothing extraordinary happened.

‘Just a bag after all. Now let’s see...’

Reaching into the sack, he retrieved the first item he could grasp: A small, fluffy pillow.

He let it fall to the ground, searching the bag for another item. A satchel of coins.

‘Ugh! No wonder she didn’t come back for this thing! There’s nothing but junk in here! I’ve been wasting my time.’

When he reached in again, his claws wrapped around a thin, hard object.

‘Probably some ceremonial weapon or-’

It was a framed photo of Gilda and Rainbow Dash, each with a hoof and claw wrapped around each other’s shoulders in a friendly embrace. The picture surprised Spike. While he had known the two used to be good friends, the way in which Gilda talked about Dash had always made him assume she saw the friendship as a thing of the past.

The dragon laid the photo down gently and began rummaging through the pack once more. This item could have been mistaken for a slip of paper if not for it’s unique texture. What he pulled out was instead a brown parchment leaf, inscribed with the map he had drawn for Gilda over two weeks ago.

‘I thought she had thrown this away,’ he reminisced, only to quickly toss it aside. ‘Eh. Just a map.’

The bag was nearly empty now, only a small lump forming an outline along its bottom. With trembling claws, he grasped whatever was left inside, the shape and texture immediately recognizable.

‘Of course. How could I forget?’

Letting the bag drop to the floor, Spike held a large blue gem in his grip. Despite the sapphire having no unique features to distinguish it from the other jewels, it possessed a soft inner glow its brethren lacked.

Gilda’s face the night she had received the gift was still seared into his memory. It was an expression that had surprised him, that had convinced him that he had only seen a small part of her, that told him he had only scratched the surface.

Spike sighed in defeat as he retrieved the bag and began replacing the objects.

‘I can’t do it,’ he thought hollowly. ‘Destroying Gilda’s stuff will only make things worse. I have to do this myself.’

The dragon sauntered to the back of his cave, his regal spines, wings, and tail now drooping in defeat. After grabbing a clawful of gems, he plopped down where he had once lain, his eyelids already becoming heavy and a soft blanket beginning to smother his consciousness.

Only a day after Gilda had left, he had fallen back into his old routine: Eat gems and sleep. Hunting only came once a week, enough meat to keep his muscles and organs functioning while controlling the guilt and shame he felt during his feasting to only a few minutes every seventh day.

Sleep was a heavy burden now, but unavoidable. Despite the nightmares, most of his time was spent in his cave, daydreaming of better days while dreaming of horror. In only a week’s time he had already gained a bit of weight and began to return to his usual sluggish self.

He took one last look around the cave as his vision began to blur. Atop the pile of gems behind him, a golden brooch lay, pristine in reality but tarnished within his mind.

‘You’re not a monster. You’re not a monster. When you wake up, be it night or day or whatever, leave here. Go home. There’s nothing for you here anymore. You can leave. Go home. You won’t hurt them.’

Spike repeated the thought to himself endlessly every time he began to drift off to sleep hoping, praying, that he may wake up one day and leave the now self-made prison he found himself trapped in.


A dull thud sounded from the mouth of Spike’s cave, rousing the dragon from his sleep.

“Quiet idiot!” a sharp whisper cut through the air, easily being picked up by his sensitive ears. “You’ll wake him up!”

He hesitated. The voice was clearly female, but not one he had ever heard before. This one was raspy and young, as if coming from a adolescent who was still struggling into adulthood.

“Whatd’ya mean?” a male responded, sounding about the same age as his companion. “He’s just a dragon right? I thought they all could sleep through hurricanes?”

“Weren’t you listening during training? Dragons have enhanced hearing! I’m surprised he isn’t already trying to bite our heads off!”

‘Oh no. It couldn’t be...?’

Spike opened an eye, spotting two armor-clad griffons in the midst of a heated argument lingering on the ledge that jutted out from his cave.  Both of the intruders turned towards him  and he instantly closed his eyes, wanting to maintain the element of surprise.

“So... what do we do now?”

“Hmmm... you could sneak up on him and use your claw to slit his throat.”

Spike struggled not to cringe.


“Shhh! Shut up!”

“But can’t dragons like.. talk and stuff? I don’t want to murder anyone!”

“Once again, you must have been asleep during training. They specifically told us dragons only think about eating, sleeping, and killing. They’re basically monsters!”

“Alright then. You go kill it.”

“Huh!? No, you!”

“How about no one kills anyone?”

The two intruders wheeled towards him, frightened by the sudden addition to their private conversation.

Spike was now fully awake, still lying down but with his neck and head at full alert. He stared at the two griffons with curiosity and suspicion.

“DAMNIT! See!? You DID wake it up!”

‘Just stay calm. I can make it out of this without a fight.’

“Is there anything I can help you two with? You know, besides the whole slitting my throat part.”

“Alright, listen up!” the female griffon sneered as she stepped forward. “We want your whole hoard! All of it! Nothing more nothing less! You can stay and fight against two of the Griffon Empire’s most elite soldiers, or you can scram!”

‘Maybe I can just slip the brooch out from it’s hiding place and tuck it beneath my wing.’

Spike looked behind him, noticing the brooch still resting proudly atop his hoard for all to see.


“How about a deal?” he asked, trying to remain peaceful while still maintaining an air of danger. “I take my small, worthless little brooch ‘Sorry guys...’ along with me and you can have ALL of my gems. No fight necessary.”

“But isn’t the brooch basically the whole reason we came?” the male griffon asked, seemingly lost.

“Huh. Seems you were listening for once,” the female griffon grunted before fixing Spike with a hard glare. “My brother’s right. The sarge asked us to kick your sorry butt out AND get the brooch. So here’s a deal: you leave with your life and scales. That’s it.”

‘Here just for my brooch? Rarity DID tell me the gem inside it was rare... Whatever. Time for a little intimidation.’

Spike pushed himself up, flaring out his entire wingspan, thrashing his purple tail violently, and flashing out his claws in a hope to scare them off. A small trail of green flame leaked from his maw.

“Leave. Now. Before I make you regret ever coming here.”

Instead of the fear he had hoped for, the female griffon seemed to take the words as a challenge. “Anything you do to me, the sergeant would match ten-fold!”

He was at a loss for words.

‘Well. At least griffons have good loyalty I guess?’

“Your move then,” Spike said finally.

“Just how I like it. Bro, stay out of this fight!” she called back towards her partner. “Just grab the brooch. I’ll take care of this monster.”

Her brother began to walk towards his hoard. Spike moved to block him, only for a patch of blood-red to appear out of the corner of his vision. He quickly turned towards his assailant, bracing himself.

While Gilda had sent him flying in their fight before, the younger griffon only pushed him a few yards back as they locked claws in a quick struggle. Realizing she was outmatched strength-wise, she broke away, lunging to his exposed right belly.

‘I’ve seen this technique before!’ he recognized as he leaned to his left, narrowly avoiding the soldier’s razor sharp beak. ‘Albeit more refined.’

With the griffon now exposed from her failed attack, Spike balled his claw, settling for a quick punch to her armored skull as opposed to running the risk of ripping her throat out. She dropped like a dead weight and cried out, clutching her head as she was sent rolling along the cave floor.

‘Just have to injure them enough to scare-’

A fierce tickling erupted in the back of his mind.

‘Now remember Spike,’ Twilight said softly, her eyes red from endless tears. ‘I’ve enchanted it so that you’ll always subconsciously know where it is. If someone else you don’t know tries to steal it...’

Spike turned to where his brooch lay only to find it firmly locked in the grasp of the male griffon.

Defensive instinct cast aside his passive combat as he lept forward and slashed at the thief, tearing three large lines into his side.

After staggering away, the griffon looked towards his side with wide eyes, immediately dropping the brooch and letting out a screech that unnerved Spike.

Blood was leaking profusely from the wound and bits of pulsing muscle and tissue could be made out threw the claws that were trying hopelessly to seal it up.

‘Look at that. He’s probably not even reached adulthood and I’ve almost murdered him.’

He tried to fight against his own mind as a groan sounded from behind him.

‘Well? Aren’t I going to eat him just like in my dreams? Monster.’

“DROLUND!” a female voice screeched out followed by a ferocious battle roar. Spike’s thoughts were still conflicted as he spun around, an unprepared impact to his chest throwing him to the ground.

The sister had pinned him down, her eyes lit up in a fiery rage as she used both claws and beak to tear away at his defenses.

‘Fight back! Tear off her legs! Incinerate her with fire!’

No fire came, and while he could certainly struggle with the young griffon and fatally injure her, every inch of his being was screaming at him for simply thinking the idea.

‘What am I going to do!? Let her kill me!?’

His mind drifted as small cuts began to emerge along his arms, the sister thrashing at him like an enraged cat.

‘No one would miss me. Twilight’s already been without me for all these months, she’ll probably just think I enjoyed being away from Ponyville and simply never came back...’

A razored claw slipped past his arms, leaving a deep gash across his sternum.

‘The others have probably all but forgotten me. Who’s left? No one. Better to just die here and never have the chance of fulfilling my sick dreams!’

As blood dripped down his forearm, he began to slowly give way, emotional and physical weakness overtaking his body.

‘Just... end it!’

Spike’s arms finally gave way, allowing the soldier a clear shot at his exposed throat. As she reared back for the final blow, darkness draped his eyesight, bestowing him with a strange peace that washed away the strife and pain he had experienced ever since his exile.

‘I’m sorry Twilight.’

← Chapter 4                                                                                                                  Chapter 6 →

Kindred Spirits

Chapter 6: The Journey Home (Part 1)


Gilda pumped her wings faster as the sanguine scent filled her nostrils. A full night’s worth of flying was swept aside by a burst of adrenaline, a familiar mountain rotating while she curved around it. Nearing her final destination, a shrill cry rang out and echoed across the treetops.

That wasn’t Spike!

At last the cave she had been scouring for curved into view, a gaping hole with a convenient ledge carved into the mountain’s face. She landed recklessly upon the outcrop, the impact kicking up dirt and leaving her momentarily stunned. While she recovered, the sound of a nearby struggle could be heard through the dust cloud.

Get up! He could be dying right now!

With a fierce roar, Gilda sprang from the cloud of dust to find a female griffon atop a purple dragon, the latter lying defenselessly as his attacker reared her beak back, ready to swing it down in an arc for the fatal blow.

She had already closed the distance, reaching the other griffon just before the kill could be made. Usually, in a controlled situation, Gilda might have taken the extra amount of time to maneuver about, attempting to find a nice weak point to grip to help wrestle the enemy down easier. Now, however, she settled with a primal tackle, sending both of them just where she wanted: Away from Spike and out in the open.

They broke away from each other as they hit the cave floor, immediately staggering back to their feet and meeting eye-to-eye.

Her prey’s expression was that of shock and confusion, two emotions Gilda knew were the bane of combat.

Taking advantage, she leapt forward, this time positioning herself so that she could grasp her enemy’s chest and back while they fought. To her surprise, the younger soldier was much weaker than she had expected as Gilda slammed her against the wall, the claw which she had just used to shove the other griffon now squeezing at her throat.

“Gilda! Stop!” Spike called weakly as he lay on his side, gasping for breath. She looked quizzically back at the dragon, then returned to her foe.

“You’re right,” Gilda said, releasing her grip and pushing the soldier to the ground. Certain that her opponent would not attack her again, she turned back to Spike, eyeing his wounds. “She’s not worth the energy. How are you?”

“Just a few scratches,” he responded simply, emerald eyes gazing up at her as if she were a figment of his imagination. “You... you’re here. You came back? After a whole week...?”

She raised a claw in response, expecting a witty or convincing excuse for her prolonged absence to escape her beak. Instead, she stuttered and squawked, tripping over her own empty words.

I came back to save his sorry ass remember? 

But not because of our friendship. How pathetic is it that I needed a life-or-death situation to get me to return?

“You can tell me later,” Spike dismissed, her awkwardness apparently evident enough for him to notice. “We need to deal with these two.”

“Right,” Gilda nodded, happy for the change of subject. Glancing back towards the two injured siblings, she grinned deviously. “So how should we do it? I say we beat them around a bit THEN throw them out.”

A soft growl came from behind her. “No. Her brother is heavily wounded and needs help.”

“Huh!?” She turned back towards the dragon, sweeping a claw across his red-stained purple scales. “They nearly killed you! We should return the favor!”

Spike didn’t respond, instead giving her a sad look.

So did you.

She looked away in shame. “Got any ideas?”

“Remember the stream we visited every day? The place is rich with Vivaxacis Frons,” he attempted to rise to his feet, only to grimace in pain. “Can you get some? I’m not really in any state to fly right now.”

“And leave you with these two!?”


“Alright! Calm down!” Gilda raised her claws defensively before turning to address the two soldiers. “Hey! If I get back and there is a single extra scratch on him, you’re both dead. Got it?”

The sister croaked and the brother groaned in pain.

“Good.” She began dashing towards the cave exit, skidding to a stop and looking back towards Spike as she reached the outer ledge. “Hold ‘em off until I get back!”

Not waiting for a response, she shot into the air, heading east as the sunset slowly decayed the remaining light before her. While the flight was actually a hefty five minutes considering her speed, the whole wilderness that stretched beneath her was strangely familiar, creating a warm remembrance that contrasted against her week in Dagger Fels.

The rushing water caught her eye as it reflected the last bits of lingering sunshine. Diving through the forest canopy, she began hastily searching for the plant Spike had shown her before, all the while reminiscing of the many times she had visited this same stream with the dragon.

Reminds me of  when Dash and I would hit the river after practice.


As Gilda continued her search, she shook her head slowly.

He’ll want to go back to Ponyville. I have a decision to make.

None by the riverside.

Hmmm. Dagger Fels or Ponyville. One has loneliness and the other has never-ending stupidity. Then again... I might not have been able to weather the storm with just Dash, but now that I know Spike is cool...

She searched the bases of nearby trees. Still nothing.

And what about Dash? You’ll look so pitiful, running back after storming away like that.

The plant lay before her, its long leaves sprouting much in the same way she had first seen it: nestled between a rock and the ground. Instead of retrieving it, she stared blankly, her mind already occupied wrestling with itself.

You can’t go back.

Gilda raised an eyebrow as if to question herself.

You just attacked an Empire soldier. If you go back, you have a pretty high chance of having a bounty on you. Sure, you could disguise yourself, but is that really worth the risk or effort?

While it wasn’t the answer she had hoped for, it was a strong enough argument to snap her back to reality. Pulling as much Vivaxacis as she could carry, she took off into the air.


She’s back. But after a whole week? Did she just randomly decide to return at the perfect time? Maybe I never woke up.

Spike leaned against the cave wall, his breathing finally slowing back to its normal pace. The griffon sister had recovered as well, choosing to tend to her brother instead of attacking again.

Now what?

His thoughts churned, sifting through the options that lay before him.

Gilda would want to stay here. But Twilight...

Images of the mare he dared call sister flashed through his mind, each one filled with sadness, tears, and depression.

What about my dreams?

Spike fought back the tide of nightmares that threatened to overwhelm him.

No. I have to try. Plus, there is always Celestia’s little miracle experiment. If I don’t like it or feel even slightly strange, I’ll just leave. At the very least I’ll get to see the girls again.

He was stunned at his sudden motivation, as if a simple shroud had been lifted and he could simply think normally once more.

Now just to convince Gilda...

A rush of wind heralded the irascible griffon’s arrival, large bandage-like leaves filling her claws.

“Jeeze you didn’t hold back huh?” Spike eyed the mass of greenery impressively.

Gilda approached him, holding out the Vivaxacis. “Can never have too much of a good thing.”

“Him first.” He pointed a claw towards the two siblings. “I’ve got just a few scratches.”


She scoffed but obeyed, following him to the male soldier’s side. Waterfalls of blood trickled from the three tears in his side and his breaths came in ragged heaves.

Spike motioned for Gilda to pass him the plant, dropping all but three strips and letting the others fall to the ground. After a few quick measurements and an occasional adjusting, he handed the two griffon females around him each a strip.

“What do I do with this!?” The sister’s eyes darted between her brother and the Vivaxacis in panic.

“Soak it up.” Gilda leaned forward to show her, running the plant in between her beak against her tongue.

The soldier shrugged in confusion and followed suit as Spike finished his own strip. After carefully laying the green band across the center cut, he pressed lightly to hold it in place, eliciting a pained gasp from the brother.

“You’re hurthing ‘im!” the sister squealed with the Frons still in her mouth.


Gilda moaned something intelligible as he extended a claw towards her and retrieved the second strip, repeating the same process as he did before.

“This isn’t poisonous, is it?” she wailed again.

Spike sighed, reaching back for her piece. “He’ll be fine, just give me the plant.”

She begrudgingly agreed and he finished his work, all three gashes sealed with the natural remedy.h

“Alright, now scram!” Gilda growled as she pointed towards the cave’s exit.

“Gilda,” Spike interrupted with a roll of his eyes. “You can stay until he can fly again. As soon as he can take off, you leave.”

The sister nodded and returned to her brother as he turned towards a scowling Gilda. Again their eyes, this time locking each other in place as they tried to delve into each others thoughts and motives.

“Maybe we should just talk,” he said plainly.

“Right. Not here though,” she responded, nodding towards the two soldiers.

Spike walked past her and motioned for her to follow. Stopping at the cave’s ledge, he waited for Gilda to stand beside him before speaking.

“So why did you come back?” he spouted out the question which had been weighing his mind, quickly realizing its hostile tone. “I mean you were gone for more than a week and your timing... either I’m the luckiest dragon in the world or something happened. And believe me, coming from past experiences, it wasn’t luck.”

She hesitated, withdrawing slightly. “I found out through a military map that you had stayed. Was thinking you’d be in danger with the Empire having you on their hit list and all.”

“So that’s it,” he sighed in resolution, slumping a little.

“Look, I know what you’re thinking,” Gilda growled, turning aggressively towards the purple dragon. “I’m shallow. I’m not a good friend. If you’re expecting some huge magical event that suddenly makes me perfect and has me pouring out apologies left and right, it ain’t happening. Everyone has their flaws. I just happen to have more than most others.” She finished, resigned to defeat.

“And everyone should strive to better themselves, even if the ‘flaws’ are a part of who they are.” Spike stated firmly, holding one last gaze at the horizon before meeting Gilda’s eyes. “Come back with me to Ponyville. We both have problems we can help each other fix.”

She huffed then smiled slightly. “Not like I have much of a choice. Can’t go waltzing back into the empire after assaulting two of its soldiers.”

He jumped in shock, the answer completely different than what he had been expecting. “So you’ll come?”

“Yeah,” she said, lowering her head. “I’ll go back with you. Just don’t expect me suddenly lose my aggressiveness and frolic around all day with those ponies.”

“Well the first step is admitting you have a problem right?” He asked hopefully.

Gilda sneered, clearly distraught with his deduction. “It’s not a problem! It’s just who I am.”

“We’ll just have to twist it to be positive then! Like... aggressively nice!” He beamed, the griffon’s sour mood fading away as a happy curiosity seeped into her face. “Or.... aggressively generous! ‘Take this present or else!’”

“Spike.” She chuckled, shaking her head. “You’re lucky you’re a funny dude.”

“Heh, just one of my few positive traits.” Spike shuffled his wings, opening his mouth as if to continue before the two recovered soldiers crept onto the ledge beside them.

“This plant stuff is a miracle!” the sister crowed, displaying her brother ecstatically. All three of his grievous wounds had ceased their bleeding and the griffon himself appeared rejuvenated.

“Great!” Gilda mocked with fake enthusiasm. “Now leave.”

The soldier’s pleasant mood darkened, her brow furrowing as she looked between the two companions. “If you seriously think the empire will just ignore you, you’d be dead wrong!” she scowled. “If I were you, I’d be tucking tail the moment my brother and I leave!”

“Yeah yeah,” Spike yawned and stretched in exaggeration, wings flared out from his sides while his scaled arms and claws rose above his head. “I think I’ll take my time.”

“Suit yourself! Come on Drolund!” she growled, grabbing her brother’s front-right foreleg and dragging him to the edge of the outcropping. The siblings took off, quickly swerving behind the mountain and out of sight.

“About time. Thought those two were moving in for a second there,” Gilda joked as she looked off in the direction they had left.

“I’m kind of worried about that warning though.” He shifted uneasily. “Should we really leave now? It’s getting dark.”

“After that overnight non-stop flight?” she questioned, looking back towards her aching wings. “I wouldn’t last another hour. I have to sleep.”

“Fair enough. Barring any distractions, we should reach Ponyville in two to three days if we leave tomorrow morning.”

“Can’t wait,” Gilda said sarcastically as she turned to rest in the same place she had slept over a week ago, freezing when she spotted a dust-covered brown sack. “Oh. My bag...”

“I watched over it for you while you were gone.” Spike paused         before continuing to the back of the cave. “I thought maybe you would come back for it and I could talk you out of leaving.”

She cringed slightly, looking between the bag and the dragon. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” he said awkwardly as he fixed the lopsided brooch so that it sat proudly atop his meager pile of gems. Turning back around, he settled to the floor while searching for the right words to close off the night. After a few failed stutterings, he nearly resigned himself only to be stopped by what he saw before him.

Gilda had sifted through the contents of the bag, retrieving both the framed photo of her and Dash along with the sapphire Spike had given to her over a week ago. As her pupils glowed and a rare warm smile formed on her beak, he drew in a deep breath, wanting to hold the image for hours.

This was the part of Gilda he had hoped would make her return for her belongings. This was the part of Gilda he wanted to see more of. Sure, he had come to admire her aggressive style, but even that trait could get out of hand some times. If he could work with her, get to know her better, he was sure he could have her enjoying Ponyville eventually.

Seemingly satisfied, she put her two prized possessions back into the satchel, preparing to settle down for the night.

“Hey Gilda?” Spike called, the words coming much more easily now.

“Yeah?” she asked, llifting her head curiously.

“Thanks for coming back and saving me,” he said, bracing for protest.

The griffon paused for a moment, dwelling upon his words.


“It was nothing.” She grinned knowingly. “Friends help each other out, right?”

“Good night Gilda.” Spike smirked as he rested his head.


With a sigh, he curved his neck back towards his body leaving his head neatly tucked between his wings and belly.


Spike blinked rapidly, easing smoothly back into consciousness. It was the first time in quite awhile that he had awoken peacefully as opposed to thrashing and whimpering, fevered images of his friends staining his mind.

Along with his newfound refreshment, a pit of excitement bubbled inside him.

We’re going home! Finally!

Shooting up from his resting place, Spike nearly called out for Gilda before he noticed the griffon curled up in a pleasant sleep, the toll of her non-stop flight having finally caught up with her.

Overnight flight. She had flown night and day because she suspected I was in danger.

He swore to himself, promising to show his full appreciation towards her act after all the recent drama had blown over. As his head drooped, his eyes fell across his dull and dirtied light-green belly scales, the sight surprising him.  Rotating his arms into view, their once proud violet had turned a mottled purple that stretched across his legs, wings, tail and he assumed head as well.

I haven’t bathed in over a week! Dear Celestia I look terrible.

Sneaking past his sleeping companion, Spike gently lifted off from the cave’s perch, veering back in the same direction Gilda had to retrieve the Vivaxacis. The sound of rushing water already began to help clear his mind as he landed next to the river. Easing himself in, he was greeted by the relaxing flow of the current, Spring having changed its temperature to a pleasurable warmth.

He lay there with his snout and eyes breaching the surface, minutes disguising themselves as hours as his mind wandered and collected every small sound, scent, and sight that radiated from the nature around him.

“Mind if I join in?”

Spike’s eyes snapped open and he splashed around in shock before turning to see Gilda chuckling at him from the riverside.

“Man!” she crowed, still laughing. “Next time I’ll make sure to knock, huh?”

“Didn’t know they trained ninjas in the griffon army!” he grinned, shifting to the opposite side of the river.

“Didn’t need the army to teach me how to sneak up on somebody,” she said as she eased in next to him. “Half of Rainbow Dash’s pranks needed us to be dead quiet.”

“You must be pretty excited huh? To see her again?” he questioned hopefully as he eased back down, keeping his head above the surface.

She hesitated, focusing intensely on the water flowing around her. “Not as much as I should be.”

Gilda seemed to tense up, awaiting a response. Spike simply nodded.

“I need to get all of this grime out of my scales!” he said suddenly, rising slightly so that she could see his dulled hide. “Haven’t bathed in a week, so sorry if I’ve smelled this whole time.”

She smiled at his ruse before waving a claw at him. “Pfft. Don’t worry about it man. I’m right there beside you. Pretty sure all the wildlife in a ten mile radius have evacuated the area due to us.”

Spike laughed a little before turning solemn. “Just can’t find the motivation when you’re all alone you know?”

“Believe me. I know,” she responded gravely.

The next half hour was spent picking dirt out of scales, feathers, and fur while the two exchanged their lives over the past week. Spike skirted around the topic of his nightmares and lingered upon the more boring details. Gilda described life in Dagger Fels.

“...boring, creepy, annoying, and most of all exhausting,” she finished her insults of the cliff-side town, regaining her breath.

“And it’s Ponyville you don’t want to go back to?” Spike asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Like I told you. I’m a complicated griffon,” she said grimly, giving one last look over her feathers and fur. “How do I look?”

Spike brought a claw up to his snout, inspecting the griffon as if she were a gem or treasure. “Good enough to meet a princess!”

Gilda frowned at him. “Do you think she’ll let me stay in Ponyville at all? You know, with all of this griffon-pony tension thing.”

“Of course! Believe me, I’ve known Celestia my entire life. She won’t let her judgement be clouded by small things like that!”  he said assuredly.

She looked him in the eye as if expecting him to burst into laughter at any moment.

She judged me off of one event.

“Guess the only way is to find out ourselves!” Gilda said quickly as she turned away and leaped out of the river.

Spike shook himself from his dazed state while slowly dragging himself out of the water.

“We should get started while we still have daylight.” Gilda looked at the newly-risen sun while covering her eyes with a claw.

“Right.” He nodded, fully recovered. “Two to three days flight time. We can stop and find someplace to sleep during the night. Dragons are pretty good endurance-wise so if you need a break...”

“What!?” Gilda squawked, glaring at him. “I just did an overnight flight and you’re questioning my endurance? Ten coins... bits... whatever, says that I won’t even break a sweat before you’re begging to land!”

He simply shrugged with a mischievous smile. “We’ll see.”

Spike took off before she could retaliate, the verdant green of the surrounding forest falling before him and giving way to clear blue skies. Below, a loud snarl sounded as Gilda rocketed up after him.

I think I’m beginning to figure her out. Kind of.


“You’ve broken quite a few sweats there.”

Don’t respond to him.

“Need a break?”


He’s just messing with you. Dash did this a thousand times before. Just ignore him.

“You know you don’t have to pay me any bits or-”

“SPIKE!!” Gilda screeched as she glided slightly behind the dragon, heavy breaths in perfect synch with her strained wing beats. An extra piece of Vivaxacis had been used as a makeshift rope to form a harness, allowing her brown bag to hang from her neck.

“What?! Just saying, I’m pretty tired too!” Spike panted, his long purple tail drooping behind him. While the sun lingering overhead barely troubled him, it did little to help his prolonged flight.

She flew up beside him and pointed a claw at the forest below. “Then land.”

“What is this a contest now?” He looked over at her with a smirk.

“Depends. Do you want it to be one?” she shot back.

For a brief moment, emerald clashed with amber as the two stared each other down. Before either of them could utter a word of combat,  Spike’s eyes widened as he gazed past Gilda.

“Land!” he shouted, dropping from the sky like a rock.

She watched with surprise as he touched down in a small clearing. “Well that was easy.”

“Gilda! Griffons!” he called out from below, thrusting a purple arm out in the direction they had been flying.

Gilda turned with curiosity, scanning the horizon for any signs of life. In the distance, a pair of blood-red blotches stood out against the clear-blue sky.

“Spike, they’re just patrols!” she scoffed while landing beside the apprehensive dragon. “The troops sent into the Central Wilds are only there to root out any creatures that might be in the way or report on Equestrian activity. Believe me, they hammered that into our heads.”

Spike hesitated, glancing down at the brooch that adorned his neck. “So they won’t attack us?”

“Positive.” She clapped a claw across his back. “To them, we’re just a couple of weirdos flying around minding our own-”

“You two!” a deep voice boomed from above. “You’re coming with us!”

“No freaking way...” Gilda whispered scathingly without turning around.

“Were you gonna bet on that one too?” Spike jeered.


She punched him on the arm with a small laugh before turning grim. “Probably just a mistake. Don’t talk. I’ll sort this out.”

Together they wheeled around to the sight of two heavily armored Empire soldiers landing inside the clearing. Unlike the siblings she had met before, their armaments were far bulkier, supported by a trained strong body. The soldier on the right wore a pair of silver gauntlets whose tips ended in a point finer than any griffon claw could hope to possess.



“If there’s a fight, don’t hold anything back. These guys will rip you apart in half a second.”

Despite a loud gulp, he nodded in understanding.

“Alright,” she shouted across the clearing to the approaching soldiers “How about you two go back to your patrols before I make you regret ever landing?”

“Gilda!” Spike turned to her with a hint of fear in his eyes “Are you trying to get us into a fight?”


“What!?” she asked in confusion  “That’s a pretty common griffon greeting.”

Spike said nothing as he rolled his eyes and let out a long sigh.

“Gilda, is it?” the soldier from before asked more in statement than question as he and his partner stopped a few paces away.

“You know my name?” she asked, her interest piqued.

“Oh, everyone in Lionsberg knows your name ever since the sergeant put out a reward for you and this purple beast’s capture!” his partner butted in with a raspy voice “I see you’ve gone from skulking around the barracks by yourself to hanging out with feral creatures. Can’t tell if that’s a step up or down!”

A flash of rage lit up Gilda’s face as she took an aggressive step forward. “I sure hope that reward is worth your life! Spike here has ripped hundreds of griffon troops from Dagger Fels into shreds and incinerated thousands more!”

Both of the soldiers hesitated, looking towards a startled Spike who was busy raising his claws in the air.

“Whoa now!” he said defensively “I don’t want to kill anyone...”

“SPIKE!” she twisted and growled at him.

“Get them!” the deep-voiced soldier yelled, charging forward.

Gilda immediately leapt back to gain an extra few seconds to tear her bag away and study her opponent. In front of her, the first soldier was already claw-locked with Spike in a match of pure strength. The second soldier lumbered forward, his metal gauntlets flashing in the sunlight.

Jeeze this guy is slow. Still, if I get hit even once by those points...

She feigned a dodge to the right, baiting her attacker as she swung back to the left just as he prematurely tore at thin air. Time slowed down as Gilda inspected his armored side for any signs of weakness. The blood red plates wrapped around even his underbelly, leaving no room for her claws to work their magic.

She settled for a brute force tackle. That got him. The bastard was stronger and heavier, sure, but the sudden attack left him sprawled across the grass in confusion. She capitalized on the chaos, grasping both sides of his helmet. Then she pulled.

It was more an act of mercy, really. Breaking the necks of ponies was a technique they had been taught the first week of training. A griffon’s neck was actually not too different. Still, while she was a strong believer of ‘if you attack me, you’re asking for death’, something had kept her from performing the simple twist and ending the struggle right there.

Spike would be horrified.

Her mind began to drift and her grasp on the helm weakened.

He would question me for the rest of my life. Still friends maybe, but all trusts severed...

The helmet was halfway off when her claws finally slipped, allowing the soldier to knock her away and return to his feet.

I’m getting distracted in a fight! What the hell? Get it together Gilda!

Snapping back to reality, she quickly sidestepped a barrage of frenzied swipes only for his middle talon to slash through her right cheek feathers, staining them crimson red.


She cursed, getting ready to sidestep again before realizing the idiot was completely blinded by the lower half of his helmet.

“You bitch! Get over here and fight like a griffon!” he croaked as he twisted and clawed in place, trying desperately find a target.

It was hilarious. For a moment she considered just watching him for a few more minutes until he passed out from his own stupidity. But no. Spike was still fighting the other soldier out of the corner of her eye, a single black scorch mark on his enemy’s armor the only damage. The dragon himself looked to fare far worse, his posture sagging and fresh cuts visible across his belly and arms.

Alright. Time to end this.

She waited, jumping in the moment his back was turned to her. Once more, she gripped the helmet and ripped it off, leaving the soldier’s head completely unarmored.

“Thank the gods!” he rasped, spinning around to Gilda “Now you-”

She brought the helmet down upon his skull like a bludgeon, the first hit silencing him as he collapsed into the dirt, unmoving.

“You’re welcome,” she spat, turning her attention to the other soldier. He backed away, shifting his gaze between the two of them and his unconscious partner.

Then he took off, flying west towards the Griffon Kingdom.

“Hey you wimp!” Gilda cried out as she shook her fist at the fleeing soldier.

Off to her side, a slow sigh sounded as Spike struggled to remain on his feet. “You know, I’m getting real tired of all these cuts.”

“Can you fly?” she asked, inspecting the wounds that laced his body. “I mean if you can’t, just tell me, but I don’t know if that soldier is going to bring reinforcements or...”

“I can,” he said simply, flexing his wings with a  grimace “Let’s just keep it slow and steady, ok?”

“Slow and steady. Got it.” Gilda nodded.

She retrieved her bag and they took off, resuming their eastbound journey.

Despite the energy she had spent during the fight, Gilda felt reinvigorated. It may have been strange to some, but to her it was a simple afterthought. Fighting was fast and interesting, a spice of life, pumping her full of adrenaline.

Glancing back, Spike trailed behind her, his flight strained and laborious. Red cuts covered a large portion of his scales and underbelly and even a few tears could be made out in his wings, making flying even more difficult.

Look at him. He’s gotten sliced up repeatedly over the past two weeks because of me. But then again... he got himself into this in the first place by staying with those morons. Only a matter of time before the queen of morons made a stupid move towards him.

Half of her wanted to berate herself for getting him into this whole mess in the first place. The other half wanted to pity him being a victim of circumstance.


“How are you holding up?” she asked as she slowed down for him to catch up. It was a horribly stupid question and both of them knew it.

“I’ve been better. Just... really tired,” he blinked rapidly as a spot of blood dripped into his eye “Thanks for the help back there.”

Gilda looked at him with a mix of horror and confusion, Spike completely missing her reaction as he stared forward, focused on staying afloat. “Thanks for what?”

“For helping me out back there. I’m no good at fighting and that soldier was just toying with me...”

No way. He’s thanking me? If I were him I’d be kicking my ass!

“Uh y-yeah. No problem. Just a couple of brutes,” she said awkwardly, rubbing the back of her neck.

A small spasm shook Spike and for a split second he dropped in altitude. Fearing the worst Gilda dived after him only to return to his side as he regained control.

“You sure you’re alright?” she gazed at him in concern “I mean I know the soldiers are still back there but I don’t want you falling out of the sky.”

“Is the contest still on?” his grimace morphed into a smile.


“Huh...?” she hesitated, only to quickly realize his intentions “Spike, are you insane? You almost fell just a few moments ago!”

“So you give up?” he questioned, already knowing the answer.

Gilda sighed and shook her head. “First one to land loses. Screw bits or coins.”

Spike simply nodded in response, the pain creeping back into his face.


The sun was disappearing below the horizon when Spike wordlessly sunk beneath the forest canopy. Gilda followed, neither of them mentioning the contest as she landed with a tired thud beside him. Forget fighting. Forget adrenaline or energy. After hours of scouting for patrols and flying, she was exhausted, and Spike was completely haggard, wheezing breaths and uneven steps giving him the appearance of an undead dragon.

For a moment she expected him to collapse right there and then, an easy target for any soldiers passing by overhead. Instead, he began walking, continuing his journey east as if some supernatural force tugged him along.

Dang. He may not be a good fighter, sure, but hell he’s a trooper.

They walked for hours. They trod through small streams, struggled to fly across large crevices, and made their way through miles of forests. Any traces of sunlight had completely dissipated now, casting the entire Central Wilds into a silvery glow. Both of them remained silent, all energy focused on walking.

Finally they came across a large wall of rock that jutted up before them, black holes burrowing deep into its side.

“This should be a good place to stop,” Gilda said, checking back on Spike.

He looked up at the massive cliffside before looking back to her with a confused expression. “Stop? But the soldiers-”


“Spike!” she hissed. “Look at yourself! Forget the soldiers, we need to rest or we’ll be sitting ducks! There are plenty of caves here to hide us from view.”

Spike bowed his head, clearly too tired to argue. “Alright. Pick a cave, then let me go in and check with my flame. Don’t want to stumble upon a sleeping creature.”

Gilda nodded and spread her wings, trying to ignore the burning pain as she took off. There were dozens of holes throughout the wall, some nothing more than a small compartment and others that she was certain could house a family of manticores. She settled upon a medium sized one that lingered a bit ways from the others, certain any passerby would give it a simple glance without inspecting it.

She waved Spike over, the dragon breathing heavily as he landed beside her. After recovering, he spat an emerald flame into his claw, casting an eerie green glow onto the surrounding rock walls.

“This brings back memories,” Gilda huffed as they began to slowly work their way in.

“Let’s just hope we don’t have another cave in,” Spike joked.

The cave itself stretched further back, eventually coming to a dead end after a small curve.


How anticlimactic. Still, the last thing I want to do right now is get into another fight while we’re so injured.

Spike placed the flame on the floor at the back of the cave as they settled down, preparing to sleep for the rest of the night. After pulling her pillow from the sack around her neck, she fluffed it up and plopped down, a sense of euphoria overcoming her as she finally began to get some rest.

Across the cave, Spike laid down on all fours but did not lower his head, instead looking down at the brooch around his neck.

“What are you thinking?” Gilda asked curiously.

He hesitated, looking to her then grimacing as he returned to his brooch. “Nothing really.”

Ouch. Maybe he was upset with her?

“We’ll look for some of that plant tomorrow,” she said, eyeing his wounds “Get you all patched up.”

“No,” Spike said aggressively, shaking his head. “Not with those patrols around. We have to keep moving. I’ll be fine.”

“But you have cuts all over your body! Even on your wings! If we don’t-”

No!” he roared, causing her to flinch. His shout echoed off the rocks, making it twice as frightening. “We’re already wasting time resting here! Tomorrow we don’t stop until Ponyville!”

She didn’t respond. This was not the same Spike she had befriended weeks ago. Despite his almost frightening determination and stone-hard face, his eyes were rife with fear and worry. She hated it. After all, it was her fault he was in danger.

Spike sighed, lowering his head and closing his eyes. When they opened again, they possessed a soft, sad glow.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, looking at her with regret. “It’s just... it was almost too good to be true ya know? Being able to go back to Ponyville after what happened? But then you... I mean, the nightmares, I’ve been attacked twice, these patrols... not to mention I still have no idea what Celestia has in store for me. I just feel like something bad is going to happen. That we won’t make it back.”

He had tried to stop himself, but it was too late. She was part of the problem, part of the reason his life was in total chaos right now. She could have just let him be, never returning after their first encounter. He’d be in Ponyville by now, happy with his friends. Instead, she had wormed her way into his life like some sick parasite, leeching all of his carefree and whimsical attitude and replacing it with her own sour pessimism.

“Spike... I...”

Tell him you’re sorry. For everything. For attacking him, for leaving, for waiting to return, for even bringing up the suggestion of hanging out in the first place.

But I was just doing my job. He expected me to come with him without even asking what I thought about going back to Ponyville. I wasn’t going to return to him a few days later like some beaten needy dog. It was his decision!

“It’s fine Gilda,” he said simply.



“I know what you’re thinking. I don’t want you to worry about it. None of this is your fault. It was my decision, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he finished, smiling at her.

His words defused the argument in her head, leaving her dumbfounded. “But...”


She reached out, struggling to find the words to argue with him.

He’s right. He already knows you too well. You wouldn’t apologize or talk about it. You’d let it sit, the guilt simmering and growing in your mind. You won’t apologize, but you can...

“Fine,” Gilda surrendered. “I won’t worry. But I’m making a promise right here.”

“A promise?” Spike asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No matter what happens, I’m getting you back to Ponyville. I’ll be there for whatever diabolical plan Celestia has for you. I’m not abandoning you again. I promise,” she said with finality.

“Alright,” Spike nodded with a big grin across his face. “Then I’ll make a promise too. No matter what happens, I’m getting you back to Ponyville. Remember, I’m not the only one in danger here. They want you too. And,” he continued “I’ll be there when you meet Dash again.”


Gilda’s eyes widened before she smirked, slowly shaking her head.

He knows alright.

“Then it’s settled,” she said, extending a balled claw towards him. “Tomorrow, Ponyville. Even if we have to fight off an army of Empire troops.”

Spike balled his own claw and together they fist pounded, sealing the pact.

“To Ponyville,” Spike finished with a nod.

← Chapter 5                                                                                                                  Chapter 7 →

Kindred Spirits

Chapter 7: The Journey Home (Part 2)

Maybe it was instinct. Maybe because she had more to think about than ever before. Maybe she was just restless.

Gilda sat fully awake at the entrance to the cave they had selected the night before, staring blankly off into the distance. All she could see of the Central Wilds was the dark-cyan carpet of the treetops,  shaded by the lack of sunlight. Their cave faced west, but she could imagine a soft glow creeping over the horizon, eventually rising to remove night’s curtain and reveal the verdant green as spring turned to summer.

Imagination aside, it really wasn’t that great of a view. Nothing like Spike’s second cave, which had towered above the forest canopy and displayed miles of land. Not that it mattered. She had too much on her mind to be sightseeing. Empire patrols, Ponyville, Celestia, experiments, annoying ponies, Rainbow Dash. All of them coalesced into a titanic wave, threatening to drown her in doubt and worry.

Just how serious are these patrols in catching us? How long will I be in Ponyville? Should I even be there in the first place? What about the Princess? I’d like to think she wouldn’t just label me as an Empire loyalist, but after what she did to Spike... and the experiment? I don’t even know what the heck it is! Then there’s Dash and her friends. She BETTER not be expecting some lame apology or something stupid like that.

She groaned, holding her head in her claws. A month ago, she would have laughed at the idea of returning to Ponyville. Now, she was willing to fight through Empire troops, confront the princess herself, and even reunite with the same friend who had betrayed her for a bunch of idiots. What had happened?

She released her head and closed her eyes, letting out a deep sigh. The answer was obvious. Spike. She wasn’t sure what to think about that. On one claw, during the time she had spent with him he proved himself a pretty cool dude. Not to mention he did wait a whole week for her to return. On the other claw, she only knew him for two weeks. She had spent years thinking Rainbow Dash was a great friend only for her to blow her off and never even try to contact her again.

Two weeks, and now she was placing everything solely on him. What if he flip-flopped when they got back to Ponyville? What if he slowly faded her out for his old friends? What if he outright disowned her after a single misunderstanding like Dash had done?

Her fond memories of the time she had spent with the dragon began to smother as paranoia and fear  blanketed her thoughts. Her breathing quickened as she began to panic. What had she gotten herself into?

And then last night I promised I’d stay with him until he met the princess. Am I that desperate? Maybe today I’ll promise to stay in Ponyville for a few years. Come on! Keep going Gilda! How else can I tie myself down?

She opened her eyes, discovering only a serene peace. Her breaths came in smooth, calm waves and the tension that had racked her body gave way to a relaxed stance. The blanket was lifted from her mind, leaving her thoughts clearer and more confident.

She didn’t mind the promise actually. For once in her life, she had a goal that was her decision. No sergeants had ordered, no boss had told her to, only her. She actually had more freedom than ever before. Not to mention, Spike had also promised her that he would be there when she confronted Dash again.

And if he breaks that promise...?

...But he won’t. I... I trust him.

Trust. A word she had abandoned years ago, ever since her only friend had cast her aside like some old toy. Could she take that again?

Gilda looked back into the cave, knowing Spike was still sleeping soundly. She wondered if he thought the same of her. He had waited a whole week for her to come back right? Had he sat there in his cave, wondering why he had tied himself to some emotionally unstable griffon that might not even ever return?

As long as Spike keeps his promise, I’ll keep mine.

She resumed gazing out at the Central Wilds, her chaotic thoughts still uneasy, but at least settled. Rays of light were now seeping over the cliffside, bringing the flora and fauna of the land to life. Treetops sparkled as they still held their morning dew while an occasional chatter or chirp would sound from the woods. Off in the distance, a flock of birds began the day’s first flight, flying in a formation that appeared oddly familiar.

Wait. That’s the multi-layered dual patrol formation I was taught back in training. Did the army steal it from Central Wilds birds? Or...

Gilda did a double take, squinting her eyes. The formation was fast approaching, growing larger by the second.

Those are too big to be birds.

“Spike!” she called out frantically as she spun around, dashing to the back of the cave. After rounding the corner, the purple dragon came into view, yawning and rubbing his eyes.

“Well aren’t you an early bird,” he said playfully, leaning his head on his left claw “Get it? Because you’re half-”

“No time for jokes! Patrols!” she said quickly.

Spike shot up, following closely behind her as they dashed to the cave’s exit. Gilda halted him with a raised claw before peeking her head out of the entrance.

Shoot. We’re too late. 

A patrol of a half-dozen armor-clad griffons circled overhead before touching down in the clearing between the cliff and the forest. Five of them formed into a line facing the cliff while one stepped out, turning back towards the patrol. Unlike the others, this particular griffon’s armor bore three silver stripes down both its helm and body piece.

“Think we can sneak past them?” Spike asked in a whisper as he looked over her shoulder.

Gilda analyzed the patrols before turning back and inspecting her companion.

“No way. They can see us too clearly from here. Not to mention you’re injured, sleepy, and you’re a dragon,” she concluded, returning to gazing out the cave.

“Jeeze. Next time remind me and I’ll wake up as a pegasus or griffon,” he snorted.

Atennnnnnn-tion!” the leader squawked below, a high-pitched shrill voice signifying her as female. Her squad immediately saluted in respect before returning to an at-ease stance.

“Alright now listen up,” she shouted “You two scouts patrol either side of this cliff and make sure nothing sneaks out! If you see anything suspicious, screech! Everyone else, sweep every single cave starting from the left, working your way right. Be thorough, but be quick! I don’t want to be here all day.”

The squad saluted again before spreading out and assuming their commanded positions. Gilda pushed herself and Spike deeper into the cave as one of the scouts began guarding the clearing below them.

“We still have a bit before they reach us, but we need to think up something quick,” she whispered with a slight hint of panic.

“Right.” Spike nodded, bringing a claw up to his snout “Is it possible to ambush the scout outside our cave and make our escape? The clearing was pretty large so they might not notice in time.”

Gilda thought about it for a moment before stealing another glance outside. “Won’t work, this commander isn’t stupid. She’s watching every member of her squad constantly, so we’d have to do it in the blink of an eye.”

“Dang. What if... what if you left the cave first, got their attention, and then outflew them until I could make my escape? I mean, I don’t want to put you in danger, but...”

“Don’t worry about me.” she waved a claw in the air “As for your plan, I dunno. There are so many things that could go wrong. The captain could send the scouts after me while still leaving the rest of her squad in the area, I could run into another patrol while fleeing, we could end up getting separated long enough to be captured... Spike?”

The dragon was rapping his talons against the side of the cave, eyeing the rock walls and ceiling with a grave expression. Finally, he took a deep breathe and turned back towards her. “I think I can collapse the cave before they reach us.”

Gilda looked at him with horror. “Are you insane??”

“We survived it once,” Spike said with a fierce determination. “We can do it again. It’s either that or capture.”

She recognized this Spike from last night. The one who was overcome by fear. The one who had substituted his sarcastic and humorous approach to life with recklessness and desperation.

“Spike.” She gripped his shoulders firmly and stared him in the eyes “I promised to get you to Ponyville. Not under a pile of rocks. There’s got to be another way.”

He looked away, unable to match her gaze.

“And I promised you too,” he said softly. “Let’s keep thinking.”

Gilda released her grip but kept him in her view as her mind began to try and work out an escape plan.

They were probably told to look for a griffon AND a big purple dragon, not just one or the other. I suppose I could just walk out and strike up a conversation with the captain. It’s common knowledge that some griffons still live in the wild. Still, it would be incredibly suspicious if I told them they couldn’t check my cave.

That was her one obstacle. In reality, Spike was a large neon sign placed above her head that read ‘PLEASE CAPTURE ME’. Without him beside her, she was just a normal every day griffon. The cave’s curving interior would allow the dragon to hide in the very back without being seen from the entrance, so all she had to do was keep them from wanting to explore back any further.

Think Gilda. What could you do to make them not want to search this cave? To make them completely forget about their duties in the first place? Is there something I could say? No, if I said anything too crazy they’d probably just push me aside. Something I could do? Past fighting I can’t think of anything, and six of them would completely overwhelm me. Some way I could look? What am I going to do there, pull silly faces on them? Maybe even...

She laughed mentally.

That’s ridiculous. They’d be thunderstruck. Dumbfounded. They’d.... completely forget about their duties.

No. Absolutely not. It would be degrading. Embarassing. Completely against her character.

But I promised...

No! Why did I even THINK of this idea?

‘As long as Spike keeps his promise, I’ll keep mine.’ Guess you lose huh?

“Spike, back of the cave. Now,” Gilda said with a mix of agitation and disbelief.

“Got a plan?”

“Back. Cave. Now.”

He gave her a curious look but followed behind her. After they had passed the curve so they were hidden from the entrance, Gilda spun around and looked Spike straight in the eyes.

“What happens in the cave, stays in the cave. Got it?” she whispered fiercely.

Spike leaned away from her sudden ferociousness with confusion and fear. “What the heck are you talking about?”

Here’s your chance. You can back out right now and come up with another plan.

“Spike...” Gilda sighed in defeat. “What do you know about preening?”


Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Trillon gave a loud yawn as he exited yet another empty cave. There was nothing here. No dragons, no manticores, no cerberuses, not even a stray cockatrice.

Can’t believe they woke us up so early just to walk around inside empty holes in some random wall.

“Private Trillon, quit your daydreaming and scout that last cave!” the captain scolded him from below.

“Yes ma’am,” he responded in a bored tone, lazily raising his claws in salute.

He took flight, descending from one of the upper-most caves to a hole that lay slightly beneath the tree line and set aside from the others.

Maybe there’s a fearsome rabbit in this one. The fight of the century.

Touching down within the assigned cave, he immediately ducked into a crouch as a heavy musk filled his nostrils.

Something is in here and I’m pretty sure it isn’t a rabbit.

“Alright, come out with your claws up! This is the Empire’s land now!” he shouted, his echo bouncing down the cave.

The sound of scratching and shuffling answered back, growing louder by the second. As his eyesight began adjust, a silhouette stood out against the darkness. Trillon’s muscles tensed, readying himself to spring forth at a seconds notice.

Finally. Now let’s see what I’m up against here...


Oh, even better. It’s a guy. Andune, if you can hear me, please never let me meet these griffons ever again for the rest of my life.

 She stepped forward slowly.

Remember Gilda. No matter what he says, you are nothing more than a frightened damsel who’s daily innocent life has been interrupted. Now go!

“H-hello?” she called back, struggling to soften her voice. Combined with her natural sharp tone, it produced a breathless, airy sound, as if she was a wounded animal striving to breathe.

Just what I want.

“W-Who goes there??” the soldier shouted out cautiously, crouching even lower.

This better work.

Gilda entered into the light, only a few paces away from the frightened griffon. The reaction was immediate.

“What the... holy... is this real life?”

Every feather on Gilda’s body curved intricately outward, a thick layer of oil causing any speck of light that hit her to make her shine like a jewel. She put on the most innocent face possible, hoping it would mask the simmering rage that lingered just underneath.

Why don’t you come closer and find out buddy?

“I’m sorry, you wanted my claws up right?” she asked in a scared voice, stretching her talons above her head slowly.

The soldier lost it, starting and stopping sentences in random as sweat began to pour from his armor like rain. Finally he recovered, looking over his shoulder before returning to her.

“L-Look, uh... a beautiful g-griffon such as yourself shouldn’t be... uh... holed up! Yeah, holed up in a c-cave like this!” he exclaimed, his eyes now as big as saucers. “I can uh, take you back to my place. A nice, big, warm comfy apartment! Then you can preen to your hearts content! And uh... maybe I’ll watch...?”

Gilda stared back at him in horror.

Ok now I really am afraid.

“Ah jeeze that must have sounded a little weird huh?”

No shit.

“Ok, well how about-”

Private Trillon what the hell is going on in there?” the captain screamed from the clearing.

The soldier turned around, panic turning him into a rabid, unthinking animal. “Uh nothing Skrillok! I mean ma’am! I mean captain!”

“Damnit Trillon!” Skrillok cursed in response, her voice growing closer as her scolding continued. “If this is another trick or prank I’m going to have you cleaning out the garrison toilets for the next-... wha- what the hell!?!

The captain touched down at the entrance to the cave, glancing rapidly between the two griffons. Finally, her eyes settled upon the soldier, flames of rage burning within her pupils.

“Get out of here and wait in the clearing!”

“But I found her! And-”

That’s an order!!

He straightened himself, puffing out his chest as if to combat his captain. Overall it was a pathetic site. Skrillok still stood a half-head taller, looking down upon the younger griffon as if he was just an annoying insect ready to be smashed.

He deflated like a ballon, drooping his head and wings. “Ok.”

Before he exited the cave, he turned around to get one last look at Gilda, his eyes full of loss and lust.


“Alright, alright!” the private hung his head as he spread his wings and leapt down into the clearing.

The captain returned to Gilda, looking at her with uncertainty and a hint of amusement. “Can you understand me?”

She nodded.

“Good!” the captain brightened up. “My name is Skrillok. What’s your name?”

Hmmm. Something cute and stupid. How about....


The captain squinted her eyes, and for a moment Gilda feared she had overstepped her boundaries.

“What an interesting name Fluttershy!” she said politely, nodding with a smile. “I want to apologize about Trillon back there walking in on your... private moment.”

“He scares me,” Gilda said shyly, not even having to act.

“You tell me!” Skrillok laughed, shaking her head. “Darn military’s recruiting fledgelings the moment they get out of school, so I can’t blame the kid really. Talks about wanting to fight dragons and manticores but I’m sure he’d pass out the moment he got into combat. Still, bet he never thought to meet his greatest dream and fear while out here on duty!”

“That explains a lot.” Gilda smirked, almost accidentally reverting to her usual self.

“Seriously. Sometimes it feels like I’m a mother more than a captain. Speaking of which...” she turned around, leaning out of the cave. “Area’s cleared! Fall into take-off formation!” turning back around, she held a claw in the air, bowing slightly. “Once again, sorry for the interruption. We’ll leave you in peace.”

“Thank you.” Gilda bowed in return.

“Just one more thing... you haven’t happened to have seen a female griffon and purple dragon together skulking around have you?”

She flinched. “No, sorry.”

Skrillok gave her a worried look as she nodded. “Be careful then. If you do see them, run away. Command tells me they’ve already murdered two small patrols out of cold blood. I don’t know if they’re some kind of wild avengers or anarchists, but if I get my claws on them...”

Gilda’s beak dropped before she quickly closed it again.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Those sons of-

“I’ll be careful,” she reassured the captain.

“I wish you luck. Oh, and by the way,” Skrillok blushed, pointing a claw at Gilda’s right leg, “you missed a spot.”

“Oh! Heh, thanks.”

The captain saluted before departing from the cave, her squad taking off after she barked a few orders. As they flew away, one griffon stopped mid-air, as if giving one last longing gaze back at the cave before catching back up to his squad.

So Spike and I are murderers now huh? Who the hell would have such a grudge against us to make up such a stupid lie? Doesn’t matter. Whoever it is just gave me even more of an incentive to get us to Ponyville ASAP.

The squad disappeared behind the treetop horizon, leaving almost no trace they had even touched down in the first place.

Too bad Skrillok is out to capture me. She seemed like a decent person.

“Spike, it’s safe to come out. They’re gone,” Gilda shouted towards the back of the cave.

The dragon came from around the corner, opening and closing his maw while clicking his tongue. “Your feathers taste... strange. Not bad, just weird.”

“Listen here,” Gilda got in front of him, leaning forward so that their faces were inches apart. A single talon pointed at him menacingly “This is a one time thing! Never happening again!” she huffed, trying to pull an angry tone but only coming off as awkward and forced. “And don’t go bragging about this either! If you do, I will find out and I will hunt you down!”

Spike’s eyed widened in shock as he began to stutter. “Uh, yeah? I mean okay. One time thing. No... bragging? Got it.”

Her gaze narrowed, unsure if he understood the gravity of the situation. Finally, she lowered her claw and sighed. “Just... not a word of this beyond you and I got it?”

“Understood,” he said with certainty, having caught on to the seriousness of her plea.

 Gilda nodded then walked to the mouth of the cave. “A non-stop flight to Ponyville is going to be hell. Even so, I’d rather arrive sore than not at all.”

“Another endurance flight, right after yesterday’s. Should be easy,” Spike quipped sarcastically as he joined her side.

“So what’s the bet going to be?” she asked with a small chuckle as she looked from the wilderness to her friend. “First one to land kisses the Princess when we get back? Has to explain why we look like a couple of beaten-up stray cats?”

The dragon laughed and met her eyes. Instead of the cocky, comedic grin she had been expecting, he wore a soft yet determined smile that reflected trust and warmth instead of conflict and competition. “No bets,” he said, mimicking the same balled claw he had made the night before. “Just our promises we made to each other.”

Her doubts and fears of trusting him surfaced in her thoughts again, causing her to hesitate.

No. I can’t do this now. We have to avoid these patrols, have to get to Ponyville, to safety...


He raised an eyebrow, his claw still hanging in thin air awkwardly.

“You trust me?”

“Do I have any reason not to?” he asked, withdrawing slightly.

“Hello!” Gilda threw her claws up. “Abandoned you at the first sign of conflict? Got you wrapped up in all of this Empire crap? Almost killed you? Honestly, you must be extremely naive or have a head injury!”

She was breathing heavily, her preened feathers now puffed out and already returning back to their usual messy state. To her frustration, Spike’s smile only grew wider after her outburst.

“I know you won’t believe it, but it was partially my fault that you left.”

Well he’s right about the ‘not believing’ part.

“Really, it was shallow of me to think that you would just throw away your whole life to come with me to Ponyville. I should have talked to you about it. Instead, now I’ve gotten you into a situation where you have to go.”

“Oh come on!” she cried, trying to block out his words of reason. “I chose to come back. It was my decision.”

“And like I said before, I chose to stay and wait for you.”


“As for the brain damage, I thought that was common knowledge between us?” he asked, his whole body relaxing.

He’s in complete control and he knows it. How can he be so... lighthearted? Goofy? While still being able to calmly sweep away everything I’ve done to him?

“Hey, what about the whole killing you part?” Gilda said, hoping to trounce his argument in her own morbid way.

He grimaced and for a moment she thought he had been defeated.

“I don’t recall any such thing,” he tapped a claw to his chin. “All I remember is the first promise two friends made to each other.”

Gilda closed her eyes as she recalled their fateful encounter over two weeks ago.

‘The dragon extended his claw once more. “How about you let me go, and we forget about the fight?”’

‘She took his claw in hers, giving it a firm shake. “You got yourself a deal.”’

Well technically it was a deal not a promise...

Shut up.

“I just want to say...” she took a heavy breath. “I trust you Spike and to be honest it kind of worries me.”

For a moment he was taken aback only to recover a second later. “Was it something I did?”

“No,” she said swiftly. “It’s that I’ve only known you for two weeks and I’m already fighting patrols and going back to Ponyville and Andune knows what else.”

His face contorted, as if trying to find a solution to some unsolvable anomaly. “Hmmm... is there anything I can do to help? You know, besides spending another few months together in this cave.”

Gilda simply lifted a balled claw, returning the warm, trusting smile he had given her only a few minutes before. “Just don’t let me down and keep on being you Spike. So far, you’re a pretty cool dude in my book.”

“I think I can do that,” he said, bumping his claw against hers.

She exhaled, a great tension having been removed from her shoulders. Sure, by the end of their journey she’d feel like hell, but for now she was weightless and eager to continue.

“Let’s do this.” Spike seemed to feed off of her newfound adrenaline, determination visible in every inch of his purple and green scales as he turned to the cave’s exit and crouched in preparation.

“Let’s.” Gilda followed his movements and the two shot from their temporary shelter, rising just above the hole-riddled cliff before leveling out and gliding east.


Everything was going perfect. Great. Amazing. ‘Stupendalicious’, as Pinkie would say. He and Gilda flew low against the treetop, a western wind in their wings which sped them faster towards Ponyville. There were no patrols in sight and he was still refreshed from last night’s sleep.

Thus, he made sure to be extra careful.

A mare stood before him, her eyes bloodshot from tears and lack of sleep. Even through her exhaustion, she recited hundreds of wilderness survival tips she had learned from her books the night before.

“And remember,” she moved the papers to the side, looking up at her life-long friend with sadness, “whenever everything seems to be going your way, that’s when you’re most vulnerable.”

“A superstitious Twilight?” Spike asked, his usual humor forced and dripping with depression. “You’ve been spending too much time around Pinkie.”

Twilight began to smile only to break into another fit of tears. The dragon quickly wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in for a soft embrace.

“Just be careful out there ok??” she whispered through broken sobs.

“I will.”

He scanned the skies again, his gaze lingering upon the eastern horizon.

Hold on Twilight. I’m coming.


“What’s the Princess like?” Gilda asked suddenly.

Fatigue already began to set in, gnawing away at his wings and overall stamina. Next to him, his companion was already taking in tense breathes, speaking in-between gulps of air.

“You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said cryptically, keeping his focused on the sea of green that rolled below him.

There was a pause followed by a small grunt as the griffon flew closer to him. “Well now you’ve got me even more interested.”

Spike looked towards the rising sun, it’s brightness not distorting his vision in the slightest. He opened his mouth, as if he had found every word he needed in the ball of light itself. “Loving, caring, wise, stout, intelligent, firm yet soft, and even a bit humorous at times.”

“I bet she thought it was humorous when she banished you,” Gilda snorted.

He tried not to react, but a low, menacing growl escaped before he could stop it, putting his friend on edge. Daring to look at her, she began to drift away while staring straight ahead.

“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, causing her to slowly return to his side as she looked at him with a hint of skepticism. “When I hatched, Twilight was too young to take care of me and the Princess had a personal interest in dragons, so she raised me herself.”

“So basically she was...” Gilda let out a small gasp of realization.

“My mother,” he finished for her, feeling exposed to the world. An awkward silence creeped in, leaving the beating of their wings the only sound. Spike tried to attune himself to the rhythm to no avail. Gilda had unknowingly awoken a whole nest of questions he had been asking himself for the past four months.

Talking is the best cure, right?

“She is... was a good mother,” he began, instantly catching Gilda’s attention again. “While she could be a bit mechanical with stuff like eating or my behavior, she took time out of her Royal life to spend time with me. She’d read me stories, tell me about Equestria, take me to visit Twilight... even occasionally sleep with me during nap time.”

His friend remained silent, her eyes a mix of sadness and anger.

“As I grew older and began living with Twilight she kept in constant contact. I don’t think I ever went a day without hugging and talking to her while I was still in Canterlot,” he remembered fondly. “Heck, even when we moved to Ponyville she sent me personal letters.” He chuckled, forming a sad smile. “Sometimes she’d call me off on ‘royal duty’ away from Twilight just so we could have a day to ourselves. We would eat at Pony Joe’s every time...”

“How could she do that?” Gilda interrupted suddenly, her face contracted in a vicious scowl. “You... you’re her son and she just casts you out! That bitch!” she screeched. Her rage simmered down as she  caught sight of her companion’s hurt expression. “I shouldn’t have exploded like that.” she said qucikly. “It’s just...”

“It’s fine. Thanks for listening,” Spike said grimly, looking away from the sun. “I’ve been trying to come up with answers myself ever since I was banished, but I don’t know what went wrong.”

“Looks like getting to Ponyville will be the least of our problems,” she mirrored his grimness. “Seems like the only thing we have any more are... shoot! Spike, land!”

He didn’t hesitate, collapsing both of his wings and diving as fast as he could into the curtain of green below. Sharp branches and twigs merely glanced off of his hard scales while he dropped through the canopy, a sharp pain in his left arm signaling a harsh yet satisfactory landing. Immediately his eyes began scouring the woods for something or some place that would hide them from the search of trained griffons. A group of clustered trees surrounding an enormous fallen log caught his attention. Diving behind the rotting wood, his mind slipped into a well-honed predatory state as he waited for the patrols.


“I’m telling you I saw something purple flying around and then it landed right here!

Nixis walked behind her sister, glancing at each tree or bush as if it might contain a rampaging violet dragon or a vigilante murdering griffon. “Sis, I’m not sure about this...” she whispered loudly, their heavy blood-red armor clanking noisily through the silent forest.

“What are you so worried about?” she asked with aggravation. “Just two idiots on the run who need a good beating.”

“Don’t you remember what the sergeant said? Five griffons dead! What if they’re waiting to ambush us right now?”

The older sister stopped, slightly heeded by her sibling’s warnings. “Good point. How about I just...” she brought her claws up to her beak. “Hey freaks! Quit hiding and fight like a griffon!

Nixis cowered at the sudden shouting, expecting to be attacked at any moment. “Vints you’re going to get us killed! Please, let’s just leave and report back the location to the sergeant,” she begged.

“Bah!” Vints spat in disappointment as she turned back from where they had first landed. “They’re not coming out. Bunch of cowards. Come on let’s go, I don’t feel like playing hide-and-seek all day anyways.”

Nixis breathed a sigh of relief, following her sister gratefully. Before they could take off, a cold, tingling feeling ran up her spine, as if she was being watched. Giving one last look over her shoulder, she shuddered then launched herself back into the warm, clear open skies.


Great so now there’s apparently a sergeant in the area trying to track us down. All for two people trying to fly peacefully home. This is getting out of hand. Still... I wonder if this sergeant is the one who’s been spreading crap about me and Spike. Hopefully we run into them on our way to Ponyville so I can give them a nice punch to the face. Now where’s Spike...

“Looks like all of that hunting training proved more useful than I expected,” Gilda called, looking for her partner as she stepped out from a thick brush.

A pair of purple wings rose from behind a nearby log, an adolescent dragon rising soon after. “I’m just glad we didn’t have to get into another fight,” Spike shouted lightly back, brushing dirt from his scales. “Everything in my body is already screaming at me for not falling asleep right then and there.”

“Meh, looked like a couple of amateurs to me,” she shrugged as they met back up. “With the element of surprise on our side, there probably wouldn’t even have been a fight.”

 “Even so, judging by the sun, it’s only just now noon,” he said as he looked at the multitude of rays of light shining straight down through the canopy. “We still have a whole day of flying ahead of us.”

“And apparently even more patrols between us and Ponyville. Better not sit still for long.”

Without even realizing, they began looking each other over, the scars, sleeplessness, and exhaustion obvious despite their best efforts to hide them from each other. As they finished, their worried eyes met, his dull emerald and her faded amber seemingly catalyzing off of each other. When they finally broke their gaze, a heavy aura of hope and energy permeated the air around them.

With a nod, they wordlessly took back into the air, each gasp for air and strained beat of wings seemingly symbiotically shared between them.


To Gilda, it appeared at first that a wall of pure gray was mocking them in the distance, challenging them to scrape the world’s ceiling in a futile attempt to pass over. She asked Spike what the heck it was, but he simply shook his head and told her to wait, a hint of excitement nipping the back of each of his words.

Hours passed, and their shadows began to elongate against the seemingly endless sea of trees as the sun kissed the western horizon. The wall soon gained distinct outlines across its form, disfigured slopes originating from some unseen point in the heavens making up its framework. At last, Gilda’s eyes widened as she realized exactly what she was seeing.

“Of course,” Gilda breathed excitedly, forgetting her fatigue for a handful of precious seconds. “It’s... they’re mountains!”

“Exactly,” Spike looked over to her curiously. “But didn’t you fly to Ponyville before?”


She considered the question, struggling for an answer. How could she have forgotten something so awe-inspiring? Something so majestic?

All of those years after Ponyville, just drifting through life... a graveyard for loving memories.

“It... it’s been a long time since I traveled there.”

A breeding ground for hateful ones.

He caught on to her uneasiness, his newfound second wind dying slightly. “They’re one of our final checkpoints,” he continued. “After about an hour of flying through the mountains, we’ll come out on a giant plain, then another group of mountains, then the Everfree Forest, and finally...”

“Ponyville,” Gilda finished, troubled to find a bit of enthusiasm backing her voice.

After so much flying, landing anywhere not overrun by patrols sounds great, even if it is infested by a bunch of lunatics. By the time we arrive, we’ll be collapsing from exhaustion on the town’s front door.

“Hope they don’t mind us crawling into the town at the dead of night,” she said, taking note of the sinking sun behind them.

“Hah! I almost wish they weren’t expecting us just so I could see the looks on their faces.” his happy mood quickly faded away, becoming grim. “Still, the way the Princess worded that letter? I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s waiting for us the moment we get there, ‘Secret Experiment’ and all,” he shuddered.

Gilda groaned, dragging a claw down her face. “Damn I almost forgot about that junk. If it ends up being something ridiculously stupid, you better refuse or... or...” she hesitated, realizing the weight of what she was saying.

“Let’s see what exactly it is before we make up any crazy plans,” he defused the topic, clearly wanting to postpone it as long as he could.

She remained silent, secretly seething at the alicorn Princess.

She banished Spike only to keep him in the dark until she could alter him to suit her needs. Man, and I thought I was bad. What’s it take to change a goddess like that? Hmmm... maybe someone hasn’t given her a nice bitch-slap after thousands of years. Depending on how this ‘experiment’ turns out, I’d be happy to help.


After a few hours daydreaming of how she could best humiliate a goddess, Gilda found herself at the base of the towering behemoths she had seen before. Even with the change of climate and geography, trees still managed to cling themselves to the mountain’s side, like a moss struggling to entangle a rock. Eventually, the massive landforms won out through pure strength, their height shooting through the cloudless starry night skies above and replacing their garb of green leaves with a hood of pure white snow.

She wanted to let her head droop and sag, to let it rest for awhile after a whole day of constant lookout, but the frost-tipped peaks enthralled her and held her gaze.

“Insane,” Spike said, hypnotized as well. “It’s summer and there’s still snow on their tops,” he shivered, folding his arms and rubbing them against one another. “I wonder how long either of us could last up there. I mean my fire would come in handy sure, but what would happen if ice formed on my wings? I’d drop from the sky like a brick!”

Gilda opened her beak to make a witty remark only for a small weak croak to sound. Terrified that Spike might see it as a sign of weakness, she turned her head away quickly, covering her beak with a claw.

“Gilda? Are you alright?”

She coughed before attempting to speak again, trying to break the feeling of dried cotton stuffed into her mouth. “I’m fine.”

Both of them reeled back at what sounded like an old hag battling to remain amongst the living, awkward silence lingering in the air.

Glad the conflict was over, Gilda looked ahead, focusing all of her attention on the beating of their wings and not the numbness of her tongue or the massive dehydration that was plaguing her last stores of energy. Her condition wasn’t helped by the presence of rushing rivers sweeping through the valleys and gorges below, the sweet fluid of life tempting her to land and drink.

“You sure?” he continued again suddenly.

“Yes!” she hacked. “Shut up!”

Giving her one last look of concern, Spike returned to his silent flight.

Stupid dragon. Does he think I’m weak or something? Probably thinks he’s better than me because of his ‘endurance’. I’ll show him endur-

“You know what?” Spike scratched at his scaled neck with a troubled expression. “I’m thirsty. Gonna land and get a drink real quick. You can join me if you want.”

He folded his wings beginning to descend into the mountain-enclosed valley below. Gilda lingered behind, eyeing him with suspicion.

Probably thinks he’s a clever bastard too.

She called out to refuse his offer, to smugly wreck his little plan. Instead, a foul, dry breath was all that escaped.

Well I mean... if he’s offering...

Reluctantly she flew down after him, swiftly catching up to the dragon’s side. To her relief, he said nothing nor gave her any sign that he had tricked her in any way. After a full minute of descent, they touched down next to the banks of an impressive river which size fit in perfectly with the massive mountains surrounding it. Moonlight had turned the water into an illuminated silver, giving it an inviting and exotic lure.

Gilda waited until Spike had lowered his snout into the shallows before joining him, the sensation of cool re-energizing liquid coursing through her throat and spreading out across her entire body. A minute of relieved gulps passed before she finally backed away. Of course she still wanted to lie down, to pass out while watched over by nature’s earthen guardians, to fall asleep underneath the stars she knew so well.

She looked up. Everything was still the same as it had been two weeks ago with Spike, and so many years ago with her grandfather. As she lowered her head, she caught sight of her partner clutching a claw to his chest, trying to take advantage of the precious time they were resting.

Damn I hate ponies. Completely random, always annoying, and can’t help but stick their noses into everything and everyone’s business. Not to mention, they apparently have no problem ostracizing friends they’ve known almost their entire lives.

Spasms shot through her muscles as she painstakingly stretched her aching wings and legs. Every extension was a small explosion of pain, as if she had dropped from the sky repeatedly on each individual limb. The sound of tendons popping sounded as Spike left the riverside, opening and closing his wings with a pained grimace.

And yet here we are flying non-stop through contested territory just to run back kissing the hooves of the same ponies who cast us out. I wonder if it’s really worth it? Will life in Ponyville really be better for Spike than what he had out here? I swear to Andune if we get back and they treat him like crap after all of the hell he’s been through, I’ll beat them all to a pulp myself. I wonder how they’ll reject him when they can’t even tell a manticore from a bear with their faces smashed in.

“Gilda.” Spike backed up to her slowly, his eyes trained onto some unseen object in the distance. “There’s a patrol.”

Her aggressive reverie was shattered by his sudden cautious whisper. “Where? Do they see us?” she hissed back.

“They see us alright,” Spike nodded his head towards the spot he had been watching. “But they aren’t moving.”

Gilda followed his gaze, coming across a massive chunk of rock that jutted out from the side of one of the nearby mountains. Perched upon its precipice were three, maybe four armored griffons who stood silhouetted against the pale moonlight. They stared right back, completely unmoving.

“If they want to fight, let them come to us,” she said grimly, unconsciously backing away.

Spike crouched low, clenching his claws.

Can we take a fight against four soldiers? Hell can we take a fight against three? We’re on our death beds here!

She stopped her retreat, noticing the stalwart dragon before her. His eyes had never left the patrol, as if he planned to defeat them through staring alone. His whole body was tensed and withdrawn, ready to spring open and tear down any opponent who stood in his way.

Right. We’re so close. We didn’t come so far just to be stopped like this. We didn’t come so far just to end up breaking our promises.

Rejoining Spike, she matched his death stare and straightened herself, fighting off the waves of pain. He tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement of her before returning to his battle.

Come on.

One of the griffons shifted, leaning over to one of its squad mates.

Stop wasting our time. Get down here and fight us. By the time we’re through with your sorry hides, all of those stupid little murder rumors will be true.

All four of them leapt into the night sky, circling overhead before falling into formation.

“Alright Spike, let’s stick together for this fight! With your fire breath, we can keep them separated and... uh... what?”

Instead of flying towards them, the patrol took off and flew farther down the valley, disappearing as they followed its twisted route. Spike and Gilda were left dumbfounded, their steely gazes replaced by looks of shock and confusion as they turned to one another.

“Did we scare them off?” Spike asked, looking back down at the perched rock to make sure they were still gone.

“I... don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean with all of these rumors flying around of us killing patrols, maybe I guess? Or,” her face darkened as she sifted through other possibilities, “they may be setting up an ambush somewhere else.”

“We can’t stay still any longer then.” He opened his wings, a flash of pain racing across his face. “Let’s keep moving before they bring any friends.”

They took off down the river in the direction the patrol had fled, nervously eyeing every cave and gorge they passed by. All the while, Gilda dug through her history in the Empire’s military, trying to recall what kind of order would have them be scouted but not attacked. Each time she landed upon the same answer.

“Spike, we should turn down one of these valleys and fly for half an hour,” she said suddenly, unable to hide the nervousness behind her words.

Instead of surprise, he nodded, frowning slightly. “I was thinking the same thing. But do you think we have enough energy to still make it to Ponyville? We’ll be adding a whole extra hour onto our flight time.”

“It’s either that or be ambushed, and I’d rather drop dead from the sky than be captured.”

Both of them stopped, the valley below forking off in separate directions. Their heavy, exhausted gasps for air now dwarfed the sound of their flight as they hovered, looking between each other and the splitting path.

Spike finally sighed, settling upon Gilda. “Alright. If you think you can make it, we’ll take a detour.”

She bristled up, her feathers standing on edge. She wanted to yell at him, tell him she could fly twice as long as he could without even being a dragon.

Just... so damn tired.

“I’ll be fine,” was all that came out, startling even her.

Spike said nothing. Whether he was just as tired as her or deeply troubled, she couldn’t tell. Maybe both? Maybe neither?

Come on, just a bit longer. We can do this.



He lost count of the hours. Or had it only been minutes?

Spike’s mind and vision were a complete blur now, the rivers, stars, mountains, trees, and grass all weaving into a mess of gray. Every thought, every fiber of his being was focused on only one thought now.

Get to Ponyville. I don’t care about the expirement anymore. What if it turns me into a pony? That’s fine. What if they all take one look at me and send me right back? At least I’d get one last look at my friends. Maybe a zombie invasion is happening and Celestia needs me to help fight them off. That... wait that would actually be pretty awesome. But all that matters is that Gilda and I are safe for one night. Anywhere but here or captured by griffons.

Once they agreed they had gone south far enough to throw off any chances of being ambushed, they dived into an eastbound valley. Conversation was completely dead, the only voice that of the howling wind that whistled between the mountains. If Spike imagined hard enough, he could transform the musical wind into one of Pinkie’s many cheer-up songs.

‘Smile’ would be pretty handy right now. ‘Giggle at the Ghosties’? Heck yeah, we’ll laugh the patrols away! No.

Suddenly, the wind faded away, stealing his last bit of comfort.

Oh come on! Is nature itself against me now?

“Spike, over here,” Gilda called out to him weakly, drifting off to one of the nearby mountains. Before he could question her, he looked up, a small spark igniting within him.

The plains. Thank Celestia.

Spike joined Gilda on a ledge extending from the mountain’s side and turned to take in the scope of what lay before them. The valley’s river ended in a large silver lake, two mountains on either side acting as a natural gateway between the two lands. Past the lake, an endless span of light-brown grass swayed in the wind, appearing much like the oceans Twilight had taken him to see so long ago.

“We’re here,” his monotone, tired voice robbed him of any excitement or relief he may have felt within. “This is it, all we have to do is get across these plains and we’re done with patrols,” he pointed a claw towards the horizon where the grass and stars met in a single, unfaltering line. “About an hour of flying and we reach the Everfree Mountains, Equestrian territory. The patrols won’t follow us in there unless they want to make relations with the Princess even worse. I’d hope we’re not worth the risk of starting an all out war...”

Gilda remained silent, scanning the plains with an uneasy stare.

Dang, looks like all of this exertion finally blew her mind.

“I’m not sure about this Spike.”

He did a double take, searching around for anywhere else besides the fiery griffon that the worried, fearful whisper may have originated from. Finally, he settled upon Gilda, her eyes matching the expression of her voice.

“Is something wrong?” he asked as he got down on one knee, trying to rest while they were still stationary. Gilda and the threat of patrols were the only thing keeping him from lying down upon the cool rock and drifting away.

 She looked back towards the plains again. “It’s so... open. At least in the mountains we might be able to hide, but out there...”

“But there’s also no place for them to hide. Why would they try to attack us out there instead of in this contained valley?”

She just sighed at his assumption, shaking her head. He lifted himself back up and walked to her side, looking down upon her with concern. “If you’re afraid that they’re out there, we could fly-”

“No,” she snapped without turning away from the plains. “I’m not afraid and I... we can’t take any more detours. We’re barely standing as is.” The plains swayed again, the tall grass seemingly waving them invitingly in, like a venus flytrap coyly attracting a fly. “Spike, whatever happens between here and the Everfree, I want to say- I mean you’ve been- thanks,” she finally blurted out with a huff. “For trusting me, for waiting, for being a... good friend.”

“Even with only two and a half weeks between us?” he joked with a smile as Gilda turned to him at last, giving her own small grin.

“Even with two weeks between us.”

Spike folded his arms skeptically. “Well, if we’re giving our ‘just in case’ farewells now, I want to say thanks for-”

“Stop!” she startled him, her screech sending a faint echo through the valley behind them. “Stop thanking me Spike. It drives me crazy!” a sour scowl replaced her grin. “I haven’t done anything for you yet.”



“Ok ok!” he threw his claws in the air in defense. “When can I thank you?”

“When we’re in Equestria, safe and sound,” she shoved her claw out eastward, “then you can kiss my claws and tell me how awesome I am.”

He shrugged but nodded in acceptance before walking to the edge of the outcropping. “Shall we?” like a salespony highlighting their wares, he motioned exaggeratedly towards the swaying plain.

“Let’s finish this.”


Leaving the mountains and flying onto the plains was the equivalent to stepping off an enormous cliff and free falling into a never-ending black pit below. She was sure that there were poets, writers, song-singers, artists who would look upon such a scene and birth forth a life’s worth of ideas and imaginations. For her, every pulse in the wind was a griffon prowling along the ground, every blink of a star an incoming moon-lit patrol.  

Any second wind they had gained from the change of geography quickly faded away, leaving their usual swift speed at nothing more than that of a hot air balloon drifting along a wind-less day. If she could explain it in the nicest way possible, she would compare themselves to injured deer in a wolves’ den.

Something stirred in her right eye, a small, rainbow glint against the tan grass.


“Uh, Spike?”


 “Huh? What is it? Patrols??” he looked around fervently with wide eyes.

Gilda pointed a claw at his chest. “Your brooch. It’s kind of glowing.”

He glanced down, having to shield his eyes from the bright multi-colored gleam emitting from the gem. “What the heck is going on? It’s never done this before!”

“Well cover it up!” she said, panicking. “You’re shining like a beacon!”

Placing his claws over his chest, he blocked the light, his dark purple scales illuminating into a vibrant violet. Streams of light still shone from between his fingers, as if trying to break through their scaled prison.

Why now? Why now? Dear Celestia why now??

“Doesn’t matter,” Gilda nodded forward, jagged spikes lining the horizon. “Just a bit longer and we’re in the Everfree.”

Spike liked to imagine that their snails pace picked up slightly at the sight of the mountains, crossing the hostile territory in a manner of only a dozen or so minutes. Instead, they continued to lumber along, the cool night air beckoning him to close his eyes and fall into the sea of soft grass below. Still clutching the gem, he let his head sag, blinking rapidly to keep himself awake. Next to him, Gilda was constantly shaking herself awake, occasionally beginning to nod every few minutes.

It’s just the same pattern over and over again. Sway to the right, wind lets up, sway to the right, wind lets up, sway to the right, sway forward... sway... back?

His eyes snapped open, realizing the small disjointed, trampled tunnels that were shooting through the tall blades below. In a panic, he looked up only to notice the same odd intrusions burrowing towards them from across the plain, like a pack of hidden lions closing in on their prey.

“Spike, fly up!” Gilda cried out.

Together they rose, attempting to delay the inevitable. As he flew higher, Spike couldn’t help but look back down only to witness a beautiful horror.

A countless number of dark blurs shot out from the tall grass below, rocketing directly towards the slow-moving friends.

No! We came so far just for this?

Their forms began to take shape as they grew nearer, talons and fresh, powerful wings beating rapidly for extra speed becoming easily identifiable.


This is just another nightmare. Maybe I passed out over the plains awhile back?

Their blood-red armor was tinged with the moon’s silver, their faces dark and hooded from the helmets they wore. Realizing what was happening, Spike opened his maw, igniting the fire glands in his stomach.

I won’t be stopped!

A burst of flame fired from his mouth, engulfing the first patrol and sending it reeling back, fighting to quench the inferno that had ignited its fur and feathers. Before he could turn to engage another, a breath-stealing grappling slam to his side sent him hurtling to the ground, his wings flailing wildly to regain control. Even more patrols grabbed him during his descent, dragging him down faster and faster. He opened his mouth only for a longing gasp to escape, breathlessness and days worth of exhaustion finally catching up to dampen his flame.

Have to get these griffons off of me, or-

A crunch sounded as he slammed into the ground, unmoving. The griffons piled off of him, leaving his body laying face down in the grass. Had he broken his arm? His legs? Maybe some ribs? He tried to move only to find his muscles uncooperative, finally having given up. Suddenly, another loud thud sounded farther away, followed by a beaten, familiar groan.

“Well well well, look who decided to show up,” a deep, gruff voice sounded.

“You,” he heard Gilda spit with obvious disgust. “You son of a bitch! You’re the one who’s been spreading those rumors to have all of those patrols on our asses!”

A throaty, mocking laugh carried on the wind. “My superiors weren’t too happy when the same dragon escaped twice. Suspicious, in fact, especially with you of all griffons being mixed up in all of this junk. Soldiers, drag the beast over here!” he shouted.

Both of his wrists were grasped. Spike’s vision flashed as a pain he had never thought possible shot through his right arm causing him to let out a weak, pained roar through pure instinct.

“Spike!” Gilda screamed in a worried, horrified tone he had never heard from her before.

The pain persisted as he was dragged along, eventually being dropped into a small cropping that had been cleared out for the occasion. A tall, buff griffon looked down upon him as Gilda struggled to break free from two soldiers restraining her.

“I swear to Andune I’m going to rip out your throat!” she said furiously, glaring daggers at the sergeant.

“Yep,” he sighed. “Get in line darling. You two,” he pointed towards the soldiers who had dragged Spike towards the clearing. “Report.”

“Looks like a broken arm, sir,” one of them said in an emotionless, stale voice.

The sergeant scratched at the patch of feathers beneath his beak. “Hmmmm. Trying to decide whether to bring it back dead or alive. I’m not one for animal cruelty, but putting it out of its misery right here and now would save it a lot of pain.”

Damn you he’s not an animal!” Gilda screeched.

“Not to mention It’d be a real pain having to listen to it squeak and squawk all the way back to Lionsburg...” he continued, ignoring her. “Then again, if we took that into account, I’d have to kill the bitch too, and they want her alive!”

 A round of forced, awkward laughter erupted in small batches around the patrol before the sergeant shut them down with a hard face. Turning back to Spike, he waved a claw in the air as if beating down an annoying fly. “Pah. Just leave him there for now. I’ll make my decision in a bit.”

The blanket of grass began to eat away at his consciousness as the sergeant turned back to Gilda. This is what his body had wanted. Just a nice, soft relaxing place to lie and sleep for a day... or two...

“Now, you my... out right? How....sort...old...”


“Twilight!?” he shot up, only to sink slowly back down. “No. This is... nothing. It’s over.”

“Spike! Are you hurt!?”

No Twilight. I’m not hurt. Everything’s  fine. Just... go back to your life without me. It’s better this way. You won’t have to deal with anyone asking any questions, I’ll never get the chance to hurt you, Fluttershy won’t have to be afraid anymore.

“Spike! Please, say something!”

The black curtain that covered his mind lifted, leaving him in a small, disturbingly clean pure white-walled room with a single window. Through the aperture, an uncountable number of ponies stood shoulder to shoulder, some peering in at him with looks of worry, others with looks of anger, and still others refused to even look in, their backs turned to him.

Twilight stood at the forefront with tears running down her face, crying out a silent scream. Celestia lingered behind the purple mare, her head bowed in sorrow. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity circled around the two, troubled expressions betraying their usual, joyous selves.

Seeing the ones he loved in pain because of him was enough to bring the dragon to his knees, but what completely destroyed him, finally broke his will, was the yellow pink-maned pegasus who could be seen off in the distance, her back turned in utter fear.

“Spike, come on,” a beautiful, firm, proud griffon approached him from seemingly nowhere, grasping his claw. “It’s time to go.”

He gave one last look towards the window, the dark shroud from before slowly wrapping back around him. His friend, his family, his sister, pounded her hooves frantically against the glass, wordlessly calling out for him with pained eyes.

“I... I wish I could of seen you all one last time,” his gaze lingered on Celestia and Fluttershy. “All of you.”

He squeezed his companion’s claw, accepting the darkness.

← Chapter 6                                                                                                                     Chapter 8 →

Kindred Spirits

Chapter 8: Malignant


Me leaving is the last thing you need to worry about.

Hard. Not the softness of a bed, not the firmness of cave rock, but cold, dense, lifeless concrete.

You can go back to Ponyville and knock yourself out trying to appeal to those morons! As for me? I’m done.

Darkness, both in body and mind. Legs unmoving, eyes sealed shut, wings splayed out lifelessly.

I’m shallow, I’m not a good friend. Everyone has their flaws. I just happen to have more than most.

Silence. No songs of morning birds, no rustling of leaves in the wind, just a skeletal breathing accompanied by a hollow reverb, like that of a damp, lonely cave.

I’m making a promise right here. No matter what happens, I’m getting you back to Ponyville.

A gasp echoed through the concrete cavern, shattering the eerie solitude. Piece by piece, the wheel of life began to turn again. A twitch of the claw, a soft groan, and, inside, the first faint spark of an exasperated mind.

Damn you he’s not an animal!

Anger, fear, hopelessness, a restless sleeper trying to awaken only to be caught between the throes of their own nightmare and the sweet freedom of awakening. The twitches grew in frequency and size, the cogs of memory sifted off their dust.

I’m going to make you regret coming here. Going to make you regret letting me back up. Going to make you regret ever joining the army!

Pain. Rips, tears, bruises, maybe even broken bones sending a shock of agony across every nerve. Despite a parched mouth, the metallic taste of blood lingered within.

Damn you... damn you...

Despair. Defeat. Collapse.

Just... don’t kill Spike... please... all my fault...

Another pass of the wheel and the lids lifted, a pair of amber eyes peering into the darkness. Gilda blinked rapidly to accommodate her vision before taking in her surroundings.

Mere inches from her beak, long, thick bars of steel descended from the ceiling to the floor, so finely meshed that she was certain not a single talon would fit in-between them. Shifting her head slightly allowed her to see farther past the bars, a long gray corridor extending into the distance only to end with an ominous wooden door. The only source of light, a barred window engraved into the door, cast small, precious beams that danced throughout the corridor, highlighting a multitude of other inlaid cells.  

A prison.

She closed her eyes, a weak sigh hissing out. Everything about the situation called for panic, demanded that she fight back against her captors, screamed for her to tear apart the bars, find Spike, and escape.

But something stopped her. Of course she was exhausted, but her restraint was not physical. Something lingered in her thoughts, reassuring, soothing.

What is wrong with me? It’s over. We lost. I broke my promise to Spike. Spike...

The sergeant’s words rang through her head, his casual, morbid threats all too real.

Please no... if he’s... I’ll never...

Still, peace.

What is wrong with me?? Am I fine screwing over my only friend now? Probably getting him killed? Or... am I missing something...?

A sound. A clanking of metal from the door threw aside the prison’s mute cover. Gilda held her breath, straining her ears. Muffled voices seeped in, barely breaching her hearing’s threshold.

“...this area is off limits. Only stationed prison guards and the captain can-”

“Yeah yeah, keep it to yourself, I’ve got a signed letter from the princess herself right here, so outta my way!”

Alarms went off inside her. Not from the mention of a princess, which the Griffon Kingdom obviously lacked, but from a small, minute detail.

That voice.

“A letter from the princess...?”

“Hello! I’m holding it in front of your face! Are you gonna let me in or do I need to go get the princess myself?”

This is a dream. This is a nightmare.

“No! That won’t be necessary madam. The prisoner is in the last cell on the left. If you find yourself in any danger, just shout.”

“Oh shut up.”

The door creaked open as Gilda instinctively backed away from the bars.

Not here. Not now.

Hooves fell upon stone, the distinct noise of clopping bouncing throughout the cells.

Go away.

Louder. Closer.

Why you? Where’s Spike? Bring him in! Or if he’s still injured, how about that guard out front? Hell, even that annoying pink monstrosity. But not you.

Her world slowed down as a cyan leg came into view. Rainbow hair came next, and, finally, a curious, excited, concerned, energetic face.

She looked away quickly, not wanting to make eye contact.

“Hey, what’s up! Talk about long time no see huh?” the visitor started, moving the rest of her body into full view.

I wonder how pathetic I look to her, lying here broken because I wanted to come back to this stupid country.

Dash shuffled her hooves slightly. “Heh, trying to pull the old sleeping trick on me are you?” she joked with a small, fake chuckle. “Well it didn’t work back in flight camp and it ain’t working now.”

Don’t try and bring up good memories with me, asshole. Those days are over.

Several more tense moments passed before the mare lifted a hoof and for a brief second Gilda thought she had won out against her old friend. Instead, Dash slammed a hoof against the metal bars, causing her to flinch in reflex.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” she snorted, bringing her face closer to the bars. “Hey! Pegasus who saved your life here! Can you at least show a little respect? Maybe fill me in on what you’ve been up to since the last time I saw you? Has to be something big to make a full-fledged Empire squadron jump you like that.”

A flip switched within her mind, the puzzle of how she came to be here falling into place.

*   *   *

“Damn you...” Blood spat from her beak. “Damn you...” Deep red gashes covered both feathers and fur.

“Tch tch tch,” the sergeant clucked, shaking his head. He shoved her with a single claw, rolling her back straight, causing every inch of her body to erupt in pain. “You know, you didn’t have to fight me. I just gave you the offer!” He raised a claw to his beak. “Of course, I suppose even if I had warned you, it wouldn’t have changed anything. Oh well! Sipid! Dagen! Tie her up.” His claw swept across the dozen other squad members. “The rest of you, get ready to move out!” A bored sigh escaped his beak as he turned to the unconscious dragon. “Now what to do with you?”

Gilda gave one last desperate struggle, only to be easily suppressed by the two soldiers. She had failed, and Spike’s life was on the line now. All options had been ripped away. Any remaining hope had been grounded. It was time for her to put aside her pride, put aside her vanity, put aside her rage. With pleading eyes, she looked up to the sergeant.

“Just... don’t kill Spike... please... all my fault...” Her eyes fell upon her fallen companion, his purple scales having gained their own fresh set of cuts to go along with the multitude of scars he had accumulated over the past few days.

Funny. Before he met me, he was flawless. Now he’s a map of injuries. It all started with that one gash in his stomach... with one cave collapse... with one abandonment. Now he’s paying the price for what I did. Beg, you bitch! Save him!


Silence!” The sergeant spun around, pure rage in his eyes. “I can’t believe how damn pathetic you are!” His gaze simmered down to a smoulder, the rage unchanged. Gilda whimpered as he grabbed the dragon by his unbroken arm and hoisted him up like a rag doll. “I’m done with games. I’ve been being nice up until now. I’ve been trying to treat you like some little runaway girl. No more.” He shook Spike and pointed at her. “Do you understand the hell you put me through? You made me look like a moron! Incompetent! Almost demoted! And yet here you are now, begging for this animal’s life, like your words are worth anything to me. Tell me —” He placed a claw across the dragon’s neck, “— how much does this beast mean to you?”

Gilda stammered, choked. What should she say? A lot? He would rip out his throat to spite her. Nothing at all? Then he would rip out his throat anyway, because Spike would mean nothing more than extra baggage.

“I... don’t know.”

The large griffon narrowed his eyes, his razor talon unmoving. “Even when you were skulking around in the barracks, I knew something was wrong with you. What is it like? To wander through life with no loyalties, no direction, no purpose?”


“That’s why you joined the army, no?” Realization dawned on him. “You wanted to belong, wanted something to latch onto so you wouldn’t be such a worthless piece of shit.” He lifted Spike forward, shaking him once again. “Is that what this thing is for, too? Some poor creature you’re leeching off of to make yourself feel better, to feel needed?”

Gilda longed to cry out, deny everything he said. Instead, she let out a single sob.

“Amazing.” The sergeant placed his talon back on Spike’s neck. “I guess I’ll go ahead and put this poor bastard out of his misery, then.” He sighed. “I’ll never know if you were acquaintances, friends, or if you had a bestiality fetish, but I like to think that death is a better alternative to having the life sucked out of you by some evil bi—”

It was as if a cannonball struck the sergeant’s chest, tearing him away from his hostage and sending him further into the plains. Spike’s body fell to the ground.


A giant windstorm kicked up as Gilda dragged herself across the cropping, looking over him in horror. Blood poured from an incision at the base of his neck, the sergeant’s talon having left a long gash as he was torn away. She gently placed her head against the dragon’s chest. No gurgling, thank Andune, but shallow, weak breaths. Half of her face was splotched red by Spike’s blood as she stood back up. The wound may not have pierced his throat, but it was far worse than she had assumed.

I need something, anything!

She covered the wound with her own fur, searching desperately for a more effective gauze. Black blurs smashed into each other all around her, a disturbed hive of wasps throwing everything into chaos. Calm winds whipped into harsh gales, the clear sky clouded with dust, and the gently swaying plains grass began to dance violently, mimicking the battle above.

Grass... of course, the Vivaxacis! I still have some in my... bag?

Sure enough, there it was, lying in the middle of the cropping, bathed in moonlight. Had she been carrying it this whole time? Was she so tired that she —

Who cares? Get that plant!

Gilda staggered forward, falling down to four knees as she pried open the sack. Parchment leaf? No. Map? No. There it was, lying between her gem and the picture of Dash. She pulled the strip of healing plant out and began crawling back to Spike. The storm raged on overhead, growing fiercer by the moment as the combat intensified. For every order barked, a scream of pain answered back only to be instantly drowned out a second later by another order. The cycle continued, loud, confusing, yet in some strange way, uniform.

She ignored them. All of her attention was held on wetting this damn leaf. Stopping the blood. Saving her friend. The Vivaxacis fought against her parched tongue, her mouth already dried since their brief stop at the river. Dark splotches that Gilda could only assume were her own blood laced the plant as she removed it, satisfied. Just as she had done three days before, she placed the strip upon his neck, wrapping it around like a makeshift necklace, double checking to make sure it would stick. What if it fell off? What about Spike’s broken arm? What about his other cuts?

Wait. What the hell is going on? Who attacked the sergeant? Is it —

Her vision flashed as she blacked out, waking mere moments later. Something had hit her, throwing her from Spike’s side. She struggled to stand.

He needs me! Whatever these things are can go and fu —

Another hit, this time from the side. Any air she had left was knocked from her lungs, leaving her beak agape in a breathless gasp. She rose again, legs quivering.

Another hit to her head. Orders, screams, battle, all faded into a dull roar as she fought to stay conscious. She didn’t even try to get up, instead turning her head to see the stars.

What is going on? Can’t anything go right anymore? I have to get Spike... need to get away from the sergeant... Equestria is right there...

Each distinct spark in the sky blurred together, forming a soft, silver glow that coaxed her into sleep.

I can’t. Not now... not when...

Before her eyes glazed over, a loud thud sounded from her side, multi-colored strings swinging into view. Her visitor shouted, whatever words they had said falling upon deaf ears. Finally, she gave into the temptation, allowing sweet forgone, sleep to embrace her.

*   *   *

And now she was here. In a cell. Even worse, she knew the one mare she had sworn to never, ever rely on again was responsible for saving her life. Damn luck. “Where’s Spike?” she croaked, still refusing to move.

“Huh? Spike?” Dash asked her in confusion. “Oh yeah, what was up with that anyways? I mean you were both being attacked by the same patrol. That wasn’t just coincidence, was it?”

Gilda scowled, her face hidden from Dash’s view. “Where. Is. Spike.”

“Whoa, okay, chill out.” Gilda could see her old friend raise her hooves in defense. “He’s fine. Well, kind of. He was in really bad shape when we found him, broken arm, lots of cuts and bruises, basically everything bad you can think of.” Rainbow Dash waved a hoof towards the door, regaining her confident smile. “But since the princess is so freakin’ awesome, she and the doctors have already almost finished healing him up. He won’t fully recover for a long time, but at least he’ll be able to walk.”

She wanted to react. Let out a sigh of relief. Ask if she could see him.


The word lingered on, as if the pony had some false hope that Gilda might follow it up with some light conversation. Nothing. A minute passed and the mare squirmed.

“Anyways,” Dash said, trying to meet Gilda’s eyes. “You’re probably wondering what the heck happened, right?” A pause. Dash leaned forward to search for any reaction in the poor lighting. Not even a twitch. “You remember Twilight Sparkle? Purple pony? Big nerd? Ah, whatever. She pulled some hocus pocus unicorn stuff and found out where Spike was. Said he was in trouble or something. Of course, me being me —” She placed her hoof against her chest with a cocky smile. “— I was sent out with the Wonderbolts strike team to escort him back.”

No response. Dash gave a small huff of annoyance.

“Look, Spike’s been asking for you and I don’t like seeing a friend locked up like this.” She waved at the metal bars. “I’m here to get you out and take you to him.”

Friend. Did she really just say that? Is that really what she thinks? Screw you, Dash. Screw. You.

“Go get the guard.” Gilda slowly fought to sit up.

Her ‘friend’ brightened as she finally spoke. “That dude?” She pointed towards the prison exit. “Why? I have the keys right here!” Reaching behind her, she retrieved a key ring that had been lying across her back, jingling them happily in her mouth.

“Go get the guard,” Gilda repeated dully, resting on her haunches while matching Dash’s eyes. A small hint of satisfaction was taken as the pegasus retreated from her icy gaze.

“I don’t get it.” Dash dropped the keys and shook her head in confusion. “What do you want the guard for?”

Gilda scoffed vehemently. “Are you that dense? I’d walk with the guard, I’d walk with princess-who-gives-a-shit, hell, I’d probably even walk with that stupid annoying pink friend of yours.” She shoved a claw forward, pointing at the pony in front of her. “But you? Go to hell, Dash.”

The mare reeled back at Gilda’s insult. “What the hay is wrong with you? You aren’t still mad about me telling you off are you? That was, like, a million years ago!”

“Fool me once Dash,” she hissed, lowering her claw. “I won’t be fooled again.” No retaliation came, pleasing her greatly. “Now go find the guard. I have a new ‘cool friend’ that I need to check up on.”

Neither of them moved, both sets of eyes narrowing. Two warriors, determined to shatter each other’s steel, unbreakable from their own beliefs, so alike yet so different at the same time.

Suddenly, Dash sighed, her face darkening. “Fine. If you’re going to stay like this, I won’t bother you anymore.” The illusion faltered, her hard expression turning to profound sadness. “I’ll go get the guard.”

Gilda watched her turn to the prison’s exit, shocked. She had won, right? This is what she wanted. Did that rainbow-striped idiot honestly think she could come back, act friendly, and sweep everything under the rug?

She was nearing the door now.

Good, let her go. If she doesn’t care enough to even fight for it, I won’t care either! All that time spent around those other stupid ponies probably made her —

“So that’s it?” Gilda heard herself call out in aggravation. Dash looked over her shoulder with the same cold expression. “You’re not even going to try and fight me? Talk to me?” She seethed, trying to glare back at the small portion she could still see of the mare. “Sure, there’s no possible way you could make up for throwing me out like some used toy, but you could at least try!”

Dash cracked, storming back to her cell and pressing her face close to the bars. “Looks like someone forgot who acted like a complete jerk to my friends! Shouting and calling them all losers was not cool!”

“And that was enough for you to ditch me?” Gilda fired back. Her entire body was tensed, as if the conversation was like any other battle. This was what she craved. This was her element.

Her foe winced slightly at the blow, but recovered. “For some ponies? Yeah!” As fast as her assault had started, it faded away, replaced with a passive, regretful aura. “But for me? No. And I should have known you were upset by the time of the party.” Dash coughed, shaking her head with a grin. “Pretty terrible coincidence, now that I think about it. Setting up all those pranks when Pinkie had been annoying you all day...”

Gilda caught herself smiling, swiftly forcing back into her usual frown. This was not what she had expected. “Yeah, well... it’s too late now!” She strained to sound aggressive. “No way I’m going to be friends with someone who all of a sudden tells me off then leaves me hanging!”

“Oh now you’re lying!” Dash stomped a hoof angrily. “I sent like, a gazillion letters asking to talk, or maybe meet up again, but no, you were too bitter to even write back! You left me hanging!”

“Letters?” Gilda asked in confusion. “I never got any letters. You’re the lying one here!” she went back on the offensive, pointing a claw at her.

I wouldn’t lie about this!” Rainbow Dash shouted.

The door to the prison burst open. A brown earth stallion brandishing a spear in his teeth rushed in, chest puffed out. “Donth thworry ma’am! I’ll thubdue —”


“Oh! Uh... sorry.” The guard backed slowly through the door, a sheepish grin on his face.

The door creaked shut and Dash turned back to Gilda. “Either you had short term memory loss when you visited, or I must have messed up the address somehow,” she said skeptically. “It was Dagger Fels, The Perch, 117 right?” She raised a hoof to her chin. “At least I think that was it. I wrote that address like a thousand times.”

Gilda froze. “I... I left Dagger Fels as soon as I got back from Ponyville...” She closed her eyes.

“And I couldn’t send any more letters after that,” Dash continued. “The Empire wouldn’t accept any mail from Equestria for a while after that. So that means by the time your new address got sorted out...”

No. Please no. All of these years, all of those times checking to see if I got any letters just to find cobwebs. All of that cursing Dash...

When she opened her eyes again, the mare took a step back. She could imagine the look on her face now. She wanted to hate Dash. Blame her for everything. Make it all simple. It was Dash’s fault. Dash’s fault that she had fled Dagger Fels and joined the army out of rage, Dash’s fault that she hadn’t tried to contact her herself, Dash’s fault —

“Damnit.” She brought a claw to her face. An entire minute of silence lingered, the same lifeless reverb from when she had woken returning in full force. Lowering her claw, she looked over to her old friend. A rainbow mane covered her eyes, her head bowed in sympathy. “Listen.” Dash lifted her head in response as Gilda waved her claw menacingly. “This isn’t over. You can’t just dismiss me like that and then expect me to be all Junior-Speedster best-friends-forever with you again after a few nice words.”

“And you can’t call my friends losers, yell at one of them until they cry, and steal and then expect me just brush it off like it’s no big deal!” Dash mocked her, waving her own hoof around.

“Whoa whoa whoa.” Gilda went on the defensive. “Sure, calling all of your friends and not just the pink one losers was a little much, but the yellow one was totally walking backwards through the street.” She crossed her arms. “Do that in any griffon town and you’d get your flank kicked. I was just helping her out.”

Dash squinted her eyes with a frown. “Yeah. Sure. Okay. And the stealing?”

She shrugged. “I don’t think ponies would take Empire currency. Besides, it was just one apple.”

The two stared each other down, both straightening up. The eerie silence from before had dissipated, an invisible, harmonious connection long-broken creating an undetectable melody itself. It was weak, it was strained, it had its scars. But it was there again.

“So are you going to get me out of here and take me to Spike or what?” Gilda asked, maintaining her aggressive tone.

“With pleasure!” Dash retrieved the key ring, selecting a rusted, moderately sized key and slotting it into the cell door’s lock. A sharp click heralded her freedom as the cell door swung open. Rising from her haunches, she took a step forward. Immediately, her extended leg gave way, leaving her slouching beak-first into the prison floor. “Gilda! What’s the matter?” Dash asked worriedly while helping her back to her feet.

If I’m this messed up, then Spike... I’ve got to see him.

“It’s nothing,” Gilda grunted, taking a few test steps to adjust herself. “Just need to get my land legs back after all that flying Spike and I did,” she motioned to the door. “Lead the way.”

Dash nodded, keeping an eye on her as she tried to walk defiantly down the corridor. By the end of the hall, she had fallen back into a meager limp, silently cursing herself. The worried mare opened the door for her, causing her to scowl as she staggered through. The guard who had barged in on them before turned around, jumping back at the sight of the griffon.

Dash closed the door behind her. “Chill out, buddy. She’s with me.”

Gilda eyed the guard until her friend caught up. They began walking together, the walls fading from a plagued gray to a crisp white. “Speaking of which, why was I locked up in the first place? Thought it was pretty obvious I was helping Spike back in the plains.”

“I don’t mean to brag, but if it wasn’t for me, you’d have been waking up in the plains,” Dash said.

Gilda rolled her eyes. “As opposed to waking up in a prison cell?”

“Hey, you’re safe in Equestria now, right?” she asked, eliciting an amused cough from the griffon. “Anyways, the Wonderbolts I went with to rescue Spike thought you were attacking him or something. Heck, I’ll admit even I was expecting you to be another squad member until I got close enough. Once I figured out it was you, I told them to take you back to the palace. Of course we had no idea you even knew Spike. I guess it was a bit dangerous of me to assume...”

Gilda snorted. “You’re lucky I was with Spike and not the patrol,” she said, as they opened a pair of metal doors. “If I had been captured, I would have had to tear down this entire place just to...”

They both stopped. The dank, cavernous aura of the prison gave way to a vast illuminated hall. Mighty pillars ran down its length, supporting a lofty ceiling with intricate patterns and symbols. Claws and hooves alike clacked against the tiled marble floor, a fluctuating pattern of white and gold giving it the appearance of a deity’s chess board. Guards, servants, and nobles trotted through the celestial structure with blank stares, seemingly oblivious to the brilliant craftsmanship and beauty that surrounded them.

“Would’ve been a shame, huh?” Dash mocked her wide-eyed stare.

Gilda closed her mouth and lowered her gaze. “Hmmmm.” She paused. “Depends on if I’d get to see the princess’ reaction or not.”

“Huh?” The mare cocked an eyebrow at her. “Didn’t know you had a beef with the princess. She only ordered you to be imprisoned until Spike started asking for you.” She shrugged. “Can you really blame her with all this craziness going around? From what I’ve heard here in Canterlot, griffon and pony relations are walking on pins and needles.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a grudge with the princess,” Gilda said, after a moment’s consideration, “But not because she imprisoned me. That’s actually being reasonable.” Before she could be questioned, she motioned forward with a claw. “What are we standing around for? Take me to Spike.”

“Yeah. Right.” Dash shuffled her wings uneasily before continuing.

After travelling to the center of the hall, they began walking deeper into the palace. The first thing Gilda noticed was the cold, suspicious stares. Guards straightened their posture, servants quickened their pace, and the various nobles paused to give her a quick look of disgust before trotting off with their noses turned up. Several times, a nearby guard would stray from their duties to question Dash, stealing an occasional untrustworthy glance throughout the interrogation.

“Look! Here! Note!” She shoved the now wrinkled scrap of parchment in the guard’s face. “You’re the third guard so far. Go back to sitting at your post.”

This one had the same reaction as all the others. She looked at the parchment, looked towards Gilda one last time, then trotted off without saying a word.

Now I know how Spike feels. Everyone watching you, seeing you as a monster or a threat. He’s probably been surrounded by a bunch of doctor ponies for some time now, all of them freaking out about having to work on a dragon. I’m basically the only being left in this whole country who sees him as an equal. Better get to him fast.

They finally reached the end of the hall, a massive double door looming at its end, which Gilda assumed led to the throne room. Dash took a sharp left, entering a smaller door that lay off to the side.

“Almost there,” the pegasus said as she followed her through. This room was much less grandiose than the hall but had various tables and chairs set throughout, appearing to serve more as decoration than utility. “Hey, by the way, what’s up with you and Spike?” Rainbow Dash asked. “You never told me back in the prison.”

Gilda hesitated. She chose her words carefully.  “I... met him while on patrol. We ended up recognizing each other from when I first visited and we talked a bit.” They passed through another door, entering a room even smaller than the last. “I thought he was a pretty cool dude and he seemed to tolerate me. We hung out, he asked if I wanted to go back to Ponyville with him and I agreed.” Gilda wanted to smack herself for such a weak lie.

“Huh,” was Dash’s only response. Both of them knew she didn’t buy it, keeping the knowledge to themselves. “Still, Spike? Cool? I dunno...”

Gilda halted, looking at her friend with suspicion. “What are you saying?”

“Well I mean Spike is laid-back, nice, funny, but not really cool. I guess I just couldn’t imagine you getting along too well with him.”

“Hey!” Gilda shoved her face into Dash’s, “What the hell does that mean?”

The mare retreated. “Nothing! I’m just saying...”

“Don’t say anything! Spike may not be throwing out any Sonic Booms or fighting everyone he comes across, but you know what? I trust him. After the hell we went through, I know he won’t flip-flop on me at any second unlike somepony.” Dash cringed. “That’s enough to be cool in my book. Plus, you’ve never seen him hunt or chased after him down a canyon. In fact, I probably know more about him now than you!”

“If you’ve been ‘friends’ with him since the princess sent the letter, you’ve only known him for like, two weeks!” the mare shot back, “Are you saying that after the years we’ve known each other, he’s already a better friend?”

Gilda narrowed her eyes, “Maybe I am.”

With a snarl she turned away, trotting onwards without a word. Gilda walked after her, any chance of talk now dead.

Good. I didn’t want this to be easy anyways, especially if she thinks she can be my personal planner.

Another door crossed, this one leading them into a wide hall with a dark red carpet. While other passageways dotted the corridor’s length, only one door, standing at the very end, possessed two royal guards stationed on either side of it.

“Alright,” Dash huffed. “Remember, this is the princess we’re talking about here. Please, please, pleeeease try and show a little respect?”

Gilda said nothing, approaching the guards and leaving the begging mare behind.


She ignored the shout. Before she could reach the door, two large, white wings extended from either guard, blocking her passage.

“Halt!” the left guard shouted, breaking his statue-like stature to look her over. “You are the griffon the princess has requested?”

“She’s with me,” Dash called from behind, skidding to a stop behind her. The guards failed to even acknowledge her, keeping their eyes locked on the griffon.

Gilda put on an annoyed face and crossed her arms. “I’m assuming that I’m the only other griffon here besides the ambassador, and I’m pretty sure you two have already gotten to be great friends with him right?”

A short grunt. Whether it was a laugh or not, she had no idea, but getting even a small reaction out of these two was a miracle.

“Wall,” the left guard said, causing his partner to look over in response. With a jerk of his head, the guard on the right nodded as they folded back their wings. Both stepped aside, the right guard turning the knob and motioning them into the open door. “Enter.”

She took a deep breathe, instinctively straightening herself.

Let’s do this.

She stepped through into a spacious guest’s room. Dash followed behind with ‘Wall’ bringing up the rear and closing the door.

“ for your fears, I’m almost certain he’ll be in no real danger throughout the night,” a gray unicorn stallion squeaked from the middle of the room. “But please, your majesty, understand that I am a doctor for ponies. I’ve done everything I can, but if something happens —”

“I understand, doctor.” A smooth, caressing voice filled the air, instantly causing Gilda to deflate. “In the end, I am to blame here. If he is injured, I will take full responsibility.”

The princess stood at the center of the room, unlike anything Gilda had seen or expected. Books, art, stories, all strove to tell of her brilliance, yet none could compare to what stood before her. Long, slender-yet-healthy legs supported a wholesome body, a flowing tail and mane made up of soft blues, pinks, and indigo hovering about her like a trapped mystic waterfall. Her neck and muzzle were beyond any carefully chiseled or painted craftsmanship, the only blemish upon her beautiful face being violet, grief-stricken eyes which even in sadness whispered of infinite knowledge and wisdom. Almost as if to purposefully prevent her from achieving perfection, a golden crown and brooch adorned her head and chest, acting as humble ornaments instead of the boasting symbols of prowess other leaders had worn them as throughout the eons.

Gilda’s legs locked up. Her body tensed. A suffocating, drowning sensation filled her lungs.

The doctor extended his front hooves, bowing before the princess. “Thank you, princess, for your empathy,” he said. “I wish you the best of luck with the nobles tonight.”

With one last nod, he made for the exit, even his expression of shock and cautiousness at the sight of the griffon unable to break Gilda from her fearful reverie.

The princess spoke again, turning towards the bed at the center of the room. “How are you feeling?”

The mattress shifted and relaxed as its inhabitant lifted himself off. “I’m fine,” a familiar voice said softly. “Have to practice walking a bit is all.”

The princess stepped aside, revealing a purple and green dragon, his gaze downcast as he staggered to his feet. Any enchantment the goddess may have held over her shattered as Gilda saw him, an igniting spark burning away the cold demeanor that everypony had given her since her awakening.

“Spike!” she cried out with relief, rushing forward.

“Gilda?!” His head shot up, a big grin growing across his face as she slowed to a stop before him. As swiftly as it had come, the smile faded to a frown. “I’m real sorry about this.” He shook his head. “As soon as I woke up and found out you were put in prison, I asked Celestia to get you out and bring you here.” He sighed weakly. “It must have been pretty terrible, waking up in a cell after what happened last night.”

Gilda didn’t respond, her eyes tracing the dragon’s body with a mix of horror and guilt. Throughout their journey to Equestria, she had never had the chance to truly inspect her companion. Now, in the well-lit, soft environment of the palace’s guest room, every scar, every blemish, stood out like a deranged road map against his scales. Indentations in his arms from being mauled, an almost blinding mark that ran across his head down to his snout, freshly scabbed patchwork within his wings, and, the one that frightened her the most, the small incision at the bottom of his neck that stood as a testimony to their struggle. Despite their promise, she cursed herself for the scar that stood along the side of his emerald belly.

Before she could blame herself any longer, Spike extended a curled claw, prompting her out of her misery. “Gilda,” he spoke softly, not with forgiveness or sympathy, but as a friend. “It’s over. We made it. We’re here.” A wistful smirk spread on his snout. “Even if I got a few extra scale decorations.”

She fought against his kindness only to give an amused choke at his dark humor. “Spike.” She returned the gesture, bumping her claw against his. “You’re awesome, dude.”

He gave a nervous, sad laugh. “Heh, forget me. I was worried... I mean everything was so confusing and the last thing I remembered was you being attacked.” Taking a sharp breath, he shook his head. “I thought they had horribly injured you or...”

“Nope! They wanted me alive,” Gilda said quickly, trying to avert his fears. “They would’ve probably just taken me back to Lionsberg and smacked me up, then I guess imprison me for some years...”

Spike grimaced at the alternative then smiled at her. “Better to end up here than that, right?”

She grunted, glancing at the guard beside her. “I dunno, everypony’s already giving me weird looks and acting like I have some sort of disease. I can already tell it’s going to get annoying real quick.” Her gaze returned to Spike, the dragon nodding sullenly along with her words. “But I think I’ll manage,” she added.

What’s a few thousand ponies compared to what me and Spike have been through? Besides, he needs me. If they’re giving me a cold reception, I can only imagine what they’ll do to him.

He perked up at her final decision. “Just don’t forget, I’m still here, so there’s one pony, er, dragon who likes you.”

Gilda stammered, caught off-guard by his words. “I... It’s... Ha! You think you can take everything for yourself huh?” She recovered, regaining control of the conversation. “Don’t you forget, I’ve got your back! Just because we escaped the Empire doesn’t mean we’re in the blue yet!”

Now it was Spike’s turn. After a moment of surprise, he was grinning again. “Looks like we’re going to have to make some more promises here soon.”

The tables turned again, leaving her staggering. “Uh... that —”

“Hey!” Rainbow Dash butted in next to them, her wings outspread. “Is everygriffon and everydragon forgetting a certain pony? You both still have me!”

Gilda sighed at the intrusion. “I’m not sure Dash, can I be friends with you? You might not be cool enough. I might not get along with you too well you know?” She said, causing the pegasus’ wings and head to droop.

“Er...” Spike glanced between the two nervously. “Oh yeah! Gilda, you need to meet my — I mean, the princess.”

Gilda turned away from her upset friend, looking to where Spike had gestured. The princess had been standing to the side throughout their whole reunion, at last stepping forward to meet her. Instead of the same fear and awe Gilda had experienced before toward the goddess, her reuniting with Spike had created a seething anger at the sight of the princess, instantly spoiling the mirage of omnipotence she had accumulated for her.

I may be responsible for the scars, I may have abandoned Spike before, but this cleverly-disguised witch banished him from his home and friends only to have the gall to ask him to come crawling back.Maybe this is what happens after a thousand years of no one questioning your power. You just assume you can throw around friendship and love like worthless trash.

Gilda steeled herself as the devil-in-disguise stopped before her, her river-like mane seemingly flowing forward in an attempt to caress her in intoxicating warmth.

“Welcome to Canterlot, Gilda. I am Celestia.” The princess bowed her head slightly. “Spike has told me many great things about you.”

“Yeah, he’s told me a lot of great things about you too,” Gilda said casually, taking sadistic pleasure at the happiness that sprung up behind her eyes. “A lot of bad things too.”

They fell dim again as a small commotion went off around the room. Spike gasped. Dash groaned. The guard stepped forward aggressively. “Your highness, I would be honored to escort this prisoner back to her cell.” He strained to keep his emotionless guise, bits of rage dripping through with every syllable.

“I thank you for your concern, Steel Wall, but that will not be necessary,” she said with a relaxed, sad tone that surprised Gilda. “Please, join Diamond Dawn outside. I must speak to these three in private.”

The guard bowed, not even hesitating at her command as he rotated and exited, closing the door behind him.

“Might need to send that guard back to training,” Gilda snorted. “He was cracking a bit there.”

“Emotion is a natural, wondrous thing, even anger,” Celestia addressed her heavily. “I only ask that they follow my orders without question. Spike?” The dragon lingered behind Gilda, his eyes averted. “Please, come stand beside your friend. You as well, Rainbow Dash.”

The dragon stepped forward with apprehension. “Celestia, I’m sorry, I didn’t want —”

She seemed to cringe at the sound of her name. “Spike, please. Don’t apologize. I trust that everything you’ve told Gilda has been reasonable, especially after what you have been through.” The griffon squirmed as Celestia shifted her gaze to her, giving a slight nod. “Thank you, Gilda, for enlightening me as to his true thoughts.” She gave a sad smile. “He can be quite tricky to read some times, especially when he knows the truth may hurt others.”


What? She’s thanking me? Ugh. Guess I’ll have to be blunt if I want to avoid her little tricks and wordplay. Perfect. Just my style.

“Alright princess,” Gilda spat, pointing a claw at the goddess. “You banished your son after having raised him his entire life!” she growled. “For three months he suddenly had to learn how to hunt and survive on his own and for another half a month he was constantly on the verge of being killed by Empire troops!” Her anger only escalated at the princess’ sympathetic expression. “Either you come up with the most convincing explanation ever heard, or...” She curled her claw into a fist. “I start and end a revolution right here in this room.”

“Gilda!” Dash hissed from her side. Spike said nothing, his eyes downcast.

Celestia raised a hoof, quieting the pegasus. “Once again, Gilda, your words are backed by both anger and reason,” she said, causing Gilda to simmer with anger. “Please, know that what I am about to tell you all is not an excuse. I am still at fault for allowing the situation to persist for so long in the first place.”

“Situation?” Spike asked, his head peaking up with curiosity. “You mean my banishment?”

“Yes... and no.” She focused on him with intense sorrow. “It’s an infestation that took root at the very start and has been festering ever since. You see, Spike, until I had you, dragons were a complete mystery to everypony, even myself. It had even come to the point, centuries ago, that I actively set out to discover nesting mates to ask them for an egg.” Gilda swore the princess’ face had tinted pink for a brief moment. “Like anypony would respond to someone barging into their home asking for children, I was denied and quickly turned away. When I began bribing them with treasure, they rightfully responded with rage, angered that I would assume such shallowness from them.” Celestia frowned, as if upset with herself. “After realizing my own pettiness, I ceased any further attempts lest my frustration would lead me to resorting to something drastic.”

Even if her magic wasn’t enough to break through a dragon’s resistant scales, she’d still have an entire army of pegasi at her command...

Gilda shuddered at the thought of the frustrated goddess.

She may be a witch, but at least she’s not a cold-blooded murderer.

“Are you telling me after all those years you couldn’t just find an egg lying around somewhere?” Dash asked with disbelief.

“What about the adult dragons?” Spike butted in after her. “If you were so curious, why not just talk to them?”

Gilda opened her beak to join them before the princess lifted her hoof again, her usual calm expression  tainted with worry. “Please, everyone,” the princess said. She closed her eyes a moment, a very faint glow emanating from her horn before she opened them again. “All of your questions are excellent, but time is running short and you must hear everything I have to tell you before we depart.”

The dragon and mare bowed their heads in respect. The griffon narrowed her eyes.

“Rainbow Dash.” She nodded towards the pegasus. “From my experience, a dragon parent’s egg is more important than their entire hoard. Thus, I suspect it is nigh-impossible to simply find one ‘lying around’. Spike —” The dragon perked up. “— the various dragon couples I came across seemed quite content with just each other and spared few words for me. Lone adult dragons were the same, dodging my questions and herding me away as fast as they could.” She sighed, as if remembering a past frustration. “If I tried to visit the same dragon twice, I would return only to find that they had fled after my first visit.” Her agitation transformed into a wry smile. “Now that I have dwelt upon it, I am certain that the goddess of a neighboring kingdom assaulting you with questions ranging from breeding to strengths and weaknesses was the sign of a bad omen to them.”

Her playful demeanor faded as she straightened, her mane flowing up with her. “Even so, those tales are but footnotes in a greater story. As all three of you must well know, while relations with the Griffon Empire have always been strained due to our close vicinity and conflicting viewpoints, our distant Zebra cousins have always held Equestria in high regard.” Gilda shifted uneasily as Celestia continued. “During one of my visits to uphold our current standings, I was showered with their usual gifts: hand-woven masks, scrolls detailing their new discoveries in alchemy, mounted weapons, all natural and, while worth their weight and more in gold, expected. Before I would return to Equestria, however, they wheeled out a cloth-draped caravan, tearing the cover away in front of me to reveal a purple-speckled dragon egg.”

Gilda scoffed, giving the princess a questionable look. “So you’re telling me that the zebras could find a dragon egg but a ‘goddess’ couldn’t? Sounds fishy to me.”

“Is it?” Celestia asked, tilting her head slightly. “Zebras have always excelled at connecting with the nature around them, from the smallest plant to the largest hydra. But I agree. My curiosity got the best of me, and I asked the zebras myself how they had acquired it. If they are to be believed, a lone dragoness rested in a cave near the Kingdom’s capital for several months. I was told the zebras impressed her, honoring her with stories and gifts, repelling would-be intruders. Eventually she departed, sorrowfully leaving a single egg she trusted unto them. When they asked why, she only told them that she’d rather the hatchling be raised there than where she dared return.”

The princess leaned forward to nuzzle a now troubled Spike, only for him to shy away at her encroachment. “Spike... forgive me for not telling you this earlier. I had always assumed you would bring it up one day while visiting from Canterlot, but —”

“But then you stopped inviting me,” Spike responded gruffly, crossing his arms. “I even wrote to you, but it was always the same ‘royal meeting’, ‘too busy’, ‘soon’...” He let the last word fade out, as if implying dozens more excuses.

“All for your sake, Spike,” she said desperately, surprising the dragon. After regrouping herself, she shook her head. “But I’m getting ahead of myself.”

“So this dragon chick gives them an egg and they just give it away to you?” Gilda asked suddenly, unable to hide her interest.

“Indeed. The convoy came with a message from the king himself: dangerous rebel groups were forming across the kingdom and he no longer trusted the safety of his own palace. He also expressed frustration that the egg had yet to hatch, wishing me luck in my attempts to keep it unharmed at all costs. Of course, for the first time in centuries I was giddy to accept it and bring it back with me to Canterlot.” She hissed slightly, sending shivers down Gilda’s spine. “Two years, five-hundred-and-seventeen different spells, dozens of experimental nesting methods... the egg would not hatch.”

Dash’s eyes widened. “Jeeze, I would have given up after the first few attempts!”

The princess nodded in agreement, her expression darkening. “Yes, the failed spells and experiments were defeating enough, but there was something else trying to stop my progress all together: the council.”

“Council?” asked Gilda.

“Long story short, nobles had ideas and wanted power, so Celestia created an assembly of twelve nobles who were to represent the general pony populace,” Spike recited as if by memory. “Still, I rarely even talked with any of them if ever. What do they have to do with my egg?”

 Celestia blinked slowly and grimaced. “Simply bringing the egg back caused an immediate reaction of discomfort from them. Questions of what I would do with a baby dragon, how I would know how to raise it, and most of all what dangers it could bring to Equestria were abundant. I foolishly ignored their cries, thinking they would let the issue pass in due time.” She sighed. “I was wrong. My failed hatching attempts only strengthened their argument by creating new reasons for me to abandon it. I was ‘wasting my time’, ‘spending my strength where it was unneeded’, ‘ignoring my duties’.”

Gilda clacked her claws against the tile in thought. “Couldn’t you just... I dunno... disband them or something?”

“No,” the princess responded immediately. “While the council can be a burden on distinct topics, they provide key insight into civilian life and have helped solve me out of a few problems before. Not to mention, the message that would be sent out should I disband them... it would be unpleasant.”

“What if we made a little story huh?” Gilda raised a claw, bringing up its razored tips. “‘Front Headlines: Whole Council Found Brutally —”

Three knocks sounded from the door.

“You may enter,” Celestia called as she half-turned towards the interruption. After a small click, the door slid open, the head of one of her guards poking into the room. “Yes?”

“Your highness, Sovereign is here and has requested to speak with you.”

Beside Gilda, Spike shot to attention, his eyes brightening.

“Allow him in,” the princess commanded.

The guard disappeared, leaving the door slightly cracked. A moment later, it gently swung open, a gray earth stallion wearing a prim black suit weakly trotting in. An impressive white mustache, thick brows that seemed like they would blind him, and a long beard graced his muzzle. Gilda was almost certain the old pony would snap in two should she even so much as touch him.

Celestia nodded towards him. “Please Sovereign, with haste.”

The stallion bowed, letting out a muffled cough. “The council has fully assembled within the dining hall per your request,” he read with a gruff, deep voice. “Also, your apprentice has arrived back from Ponyville with her friends and will be joining them soon, as per your request.”

“Of course, the one time I want them to take their leisure they are assembled within mere hours,” Celestia spoke with clear disappointment. “Tell the dining staff to begin serving the hors d'oeuvres and the council that I shall be joining them soon.”

“It will be done, your majesty.” He bowed again, turning to leave.

“Sovereign! Wait!” Spike called out, chasing after the elderly pony.

A thousand possible reactions from the old stallion flashed through Gilda’s head. Disdain? Confusion? Fear was certainly up there. Maybe he wouldn’t react at all, fleeing out the door as fast as his worn hooves could carry him.

Instead, Sovereign turned around, his bushy eyebrows lifting to reveal two pale-white pupils.

He’s blind.

“Spike? Is that you?” His voice became hoarse with surprise as the dragon stopped in front of him.

“Yep!” Spike lowered his head while dampening his speech. “Back from banishment! I knew they couldn’t get enough of me.”

Sovereign gave a choking laugh. “Yes, I had heard you were to return from Celestia but became worried after you hadn’t arrived for so long!” He extended a hoof forward, prodding the dragon’s face before giving him a soft nuzzle. From the corner of her eye, Gilda could see the princess gazing longingly at the two friends.

“It was crazy!” Spike accepted the nuzzle warmly. “Manticores, treasure, griffons... I gotta sit down and tell you everything after this blows over.”

“A tale I cannot wait to hear. Now if you will please forgive me, the princess has demanded haste.” He bowed to the dragon.

“No problem.” Spike bowed in response, surprising Gilda. “I’ll catch ya later.”

“Till we meet again.” Sovereign turned away from the dragon, and despite his condition, found the door perfectly, opening and slipping out of the room with grace.

Spike watched the old pony leave before returning to Gilda’s side, his face flush with embarrassment. “Sorry Celestia.”

“Not at all, Spike,” she reassured, the slightest hint of sadness edging her words. “It is only fair that you are able to spare a moment for a friend you’ve known your whole life.” The princess glanced back towards the door with worry. “Still, time is short, and I have not yet finished. Now, as I said, my attempts at hatching the egg were all in vain. With the council’s persistent attacks, my constant failures, and my duties constantly growing in size and difficulty, I fear that I began to lose faith. I questioned if the egg was defective, if I truly had been throwing away precious time pursuing a lost cause. With nearly all ideas put to test, all spells cast, I submitted the egg to our initiation program, hoping that the imagination of a filly or colt would surpass thousands of years of knowledge.” She smiled warmly, shaking her head. “I will admit, I had no faith in such a method and continued my own fruitless research, each result the same as the last.”

“You didn’t expect Twilight, though,” Spike continued, beginning to fit together the puzzle.

To Gilda’s amazement, Celestia’s smile widened and her usual calm demeanor gave way to a spark of giddiness. “I definitely did not expect Twilight. It was a moment in which I had some time to myself, some free time to journey about the palace at my leisure. Imagine my surprise when your head came jutting out of the eastern spire!” The princess’ wings opened up as her excitement grew. “I quickly raced to the top, dispelling all of the chaos that had ensued. On that day, in that room, after nearly a thousand years of loneliness, I discovered love again, from both Twilight and you, Spike.”

For the first time, Spike returned the princess’ smile, his tense stance relaxing.

“But someone else had to see that enormous head coming out of the spire, right?” Gilda mused, her rage now replaced by curiosity. “Wouldn’t the council have found out?”

Celestia’s wings folded back into place, her grin forming into a frown. “Yes, the council found out immediately through civilian reports, with one member having caught site of Spike’s enlarged form themselves. The first reaction was of panic, of fear that Canterlot itself was under attack. While I was loathe to inform them of Spike’s birth, twelve panicking ponies are more easily managed than thousands. In any case, the councils pestering redoubled at the news, their arguments shifting to accommodate Spike. ‘Have I any idea of what I’m doing?’, ‘A princess should be a leader, not a babysitter.’, ‘What will you do once he matures and becomes feral?’” she recalled, the words clearly having been seared into her mind. “Of course, I ignored them, my beliefs only sharpening when Spike began to speak his first words and began learning basic pony education. The fact that a dragon could learn just as well as anypony else was the greatest blow I ever made against the council’s irrational campaign. The years went on and Spike grew, as did his relationship with Twilight and I. A few council members were replaced, their beliefs just as narrow as the member before them. Throughout his growth, their questions remained the same and their fear only grew with his size. It mattered not. By the time I sent Twilight and Spike to Ponyville, it was common knowledge amongst the council that he was my son.”

“Wait...” Spike’s face contorted with realization. “If the council was that suspicious of me, then... my birthday...”

Celestia nodded, turning solemn. “When I let you go to Ponyville, I had foolishly assumed a baby dragon was raised like any other creature. You had gone through childhood just like a pony, why not adolescence?”

“But then I hit puberty... and the greed...” The dragon sunk, bringing a claw to his head.

“Exactly. Your uncontrollable rampage across Ponyville ignited flames not only within the council, but amongst mayors, nobles, and countless numbers of ‘concerned families’. Thousands upon thousands of letters poured in demanding you leave Equestria. The only thing keeping you from banishment was my insistence that you were still only a child and that you hadn’t attacked or eaten anyone during your hoarding.”

Gilda watched as Spike fell to one knee, burying his head in his claws.

I should do something.

But what? Claw bump him? Get real.

I should comfort him! I did it after he confessed about his banishment, why not now?

Oh come on, Dash is RIGHT there. I know her. She’d flip and start assuming all kinds of stupid things.

Celestia answered for her, taking a step forward and wrapping the dragon in her long wings.


 Instead of fighting, he lowered his claws, looking up at the goddess. “Why didn’t I know about this?” he asked with sad wonder. “The most I ever had to do was help clean up and apologize to a few ponies... but all across Equestria?”

“Because it was not your burden to bear, Spike.” Her voice had dropped to a near-whisper. “You were not in control, neither did you have any idea it would happen. Stopping yourself with the help of Rarity was amazing and beyond anything anyone could of asked of you.”

Spike grimaced, shaking his head. “So you took all the blame for yourself? You didn’t know any more than I did!”

Celestia countered. “And what if I just let them go wild? Told them it was no fault of mine and that the destruction of half a town was an unhappy coincidence? Hundreds of ponies, protest groups, news stations, would have descended upon Ponyville to make you miserable. It was my duty as your mother to protect you from such a fate.”

Celestia withdrew her wings as Spike rose, his claws clenched and a new air of confidence surrounding him. “Mother...” He nodded. “So I guess that night was it huh? When they found out my diet had begun to include meat, they freaked out?”

“Precisely. While Rainbow Dash was wise to come and bring me to you, she arrived at the worst time conceivable: in the middle of a council meeting.”

Dash drooped with embarrassment. “My bad.”

“Pay it no mind,” Celestia said. “It was simply yet another unfortunate circumstance in a long line. Now, as you recall, I returned to Canterlot to ‘consider the best course of action.’ In truth, I asked the council to withhold their judgements, to allow me time to assess what had happened and how we would work with the situation.” She sighed. “They would not allow it. Either I had you out of Equestria within the week, or they spread the word that a carnivore, the same one who had destroyed a town years ago, was now hunting and nesting within Ponyville.”  

“That’s blackmail!” Gilda shouted, slamming her claw down onto the tile. “Are you even in control of your own kingdom? Sounds to me like the real people in charge here are a dozen of old narrow-minded morons!”

“Believe me, Gilda,” Celestia responded, calmly. “Spike’s situation is unlike anything else. Past him, the council could be considered nothing more than advisers compared to my power.”

“Sovereign said they’re in there, in the dining room. Twilight and my friends too,” Spike said in a low tone, beginning to connect the dots. “Why? What are you planning?”

“As you recall, in that painfully unemotional letter the council and I sent you, I spoke of an experiment that will alleviate your desire for meat. Tonight, in front of your friends but more specifically the council, I will unveil it, hopefully slightly alleviating their fears and allowing me to begin working on deconstructing their campaign against you.”

The dragon closed his emerald eyes, took a deep breath, then opened them once again. A new aura of determination swirled about him. “What do you need us to do?”

Celestia nodded, pleased by his question. “Dash, you shall join your other friends and provide support and words of encouragement to dissuade the council. Your fond memories with Spike will be a powerful tool here.” The princess went to address Spike before she paused, returning to Dash. “And keep Fluttershy calm please. She has a kind heart, but her fear of dragons could work against us.”

“Count on me princess!” Dash answered with a salute.

“Spike, I simply need you to follow along with the experiment,” her face turned hard. “If you feel sick, uncomfortable, anything, you tell me. While we have done extensive testing, I will not have you harmed any further by my hoof.”

Spike gave a slight nod, maintaining his determined air.

“And Gilda?” The griffon straightened at the sound of her name. “You must fight against your own anger. I understand your loathing of the council due to their actions against Spike, but the simple fact that you are a griffon, especially during such unstable times, will work against you. Please, try to not make them more suspicious of you than they already are.”

“Sheesh!” Gilda snorted. “I guess I just won’t say anything.”

Celestia smiled. “While I am loathe to say this, it would be for the best if you did not.” She backed away, sweeping her gaze across all three friends. “I must leave you now. Such a simple act as entering the dining hall with you would upset the council and damage our work from the start. Before I go I want to thank you all. You, Dash for saving your friends’ lives, you, Gilda, for bringing Spike back home safely and accompanying him during his banishment, and you, Spike, for persisting and enduring even against all odds. Thank you, for everything.”

“Wait,” Spike called out as she turned to leave. The princess rotated back to face him with a sad, longing expression. Before she could question him, he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her neck in a warm embrace, stunning her. “Thanks mom.”

The goddess remained frozen before beaming, her happiness seeming to make the room itself brighten. As they broke away, her eyes lingered upon her son, a new life having lit up behind her pupils. With one last quick nuzzle between them, she turned to Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow, will you escort them to the dining hall after I depart?”

“Sure thing!” Dash saluted again. “I’ll wait a bit so you can get to the hall before us.”

“Thank you.” The princess trotted to the door, stealing one last happy glance at Spike before leaving.

So he’s already forgiving her? I mean sure, she had her reasons but she banished him. Her own son! Is he too naive or do I just hold a grudge for too long?

Gilda shattered the silence with a long exhale, groaning in the process. “I hate politics.”

“Me too,” Dash said.

“Same,” Spike said, right afterward.

Gilda stepped in front of her friends where the princess once stood, extending a claw towards them. “You both ready for this?”

“All for one!” Dash shouted putting out a hoof. Her friends fell silent, giving her a confused look. “What? It’s from an awesome book I read! You’re supposed to say ‘and one for all!’”

Spike and Gilda shared a glance, shrugging. Stacking their claws onto her hoof, they gave her an affirmative nod.

“All for one!”

“And one for all!”

← Chapter 7                                                                                                                      Chapter 9→ 

Kindred Spirits

Ch. 9: Dinner with Family, Friends, and Flies


“Yes, good.”

“Uh, fifty-four!”


“This one is... one-hundred-and-twenty-one.”

“Right again!”

“... Mom, this is boring.”

The small, purple dragon dropped his quill and pushed away the half-finished scroll, a muffled rasp sounding as it scraped against the rug. He folded his scaly arms, looking over his shoulder at his mother with a disappointed frown. “This is all easy stuff! When are we going to move on to something harder?”

She was dumbfounded. To anyone else, it would be a once in a lifetime sight. For Spike, it was an everyday occurrence.

“So you’ve already grown tired of stage one intermediate math?” She asked him with worry, levitating  over a frayed, worn book. Like he had come to expect, she began pillaging the poor pages, scanning each and every distinct line in a frantic pace. “But Professor Parameter says right here that you should be spending at least another two weeks on the subject!”

“Two more weeks? That’s forever!” Spike stuck his tongue out in protest.

His mom continued her search, her initial nervousness transforming into frustration. The pages flew under her gaze now, like a deck of playing cards being shuffled before a game. Is that what this was? Were they going to be playing Go-Fish again?

Instead, she let out an agitated groan, clasping the book closed with her own hooves. “Not a single suggestion or note on early progression either.” She raised her hoof to her chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps I can summon the professor himself to the palace...”

Three knocks echoed from the door.

“You may enter, Sovereign.”

        One of the double doors slowly pushed open, the old butler hobbling his way in. A tray with two chocolate smoothies balanced upon one of his front hooves as he slowly approached.

“Sovrain!” Spike clapped his hands together. The gray stallion meant snacks, board games, cool stories, fun. Sure, Mom could be fun too, but she could also be bugging him to do his homework.

Sovereign gave a gruff chuckle as he limped towards them. “Almost, Spike. Remember, it’s ‘run’, not ‘rain’.” He set the tray down then bowed to the princess, his casual demeanor having quickly faded away. “Your Majesty, the smoothies you requested.”

Much to Spike’s joy, the tray sat perfectly atop his lesson, blocking the scroll. With eager claws he snatched up one of the drinks, observing his mom and friend as he sucked at the chocolatey goodness.

“Perfect timing, Sovereign,” his mother said with a sigh, taking up the second smoothie for herself.

“Forgive me for my intrusion, Princess, but you seem rather flustered. It may, of course, just be these old ears and fading eyes of mine.”

“Your intuition would be correct.” Spike felt a tender hoof wrap around and pull him closer to his mother’s soft stomach. He didn’t fight, snuggling into her warm embrace with a smile. “Spike here is troubled about how simple stage one intermediate math has become, but the book says that he should be studying it for another two weeks.” She took another sip then shook her head. “I’m uncertain whether to maintain our current schedule or put it aside for his pleas.”

The butler huffed, his mustache puffing outward in reaction. “May I make a suggestion, Your Highness?”

“You may.”

He bowed. “Thank you. Long ago now, I raised two foals which I had the pleasure of schooling myself from our very own home. While at first I thought it a blessing, I quickly found myself torn in two. My daughter excelled at math but struggled with reading and writing while my son was the complete opposite! He would write papers at his own leisure without any mistakes yet struggle with even the most basics of number problems!”

“They were like night and day.” The hoof around Spike tightened slightly. The butler’s head drooped. “Forgive me. Please, continue.”

“As you wish, Your Majesty. After quite a bit of floundering about on my part, I finally gave in and visited a good friend of my wife who just so happened to be a basics math teacher at a nearby school. When I presented her with my conundrum, she immediately pinpointed the source of my dilemma: I was using the same strict lesson structure for each of my children! She taught me that each child is special, progressing through the learning process at their own, unique pace. Some children will excel in some places, some in others, but what matters most is that you work with your child as they learn and not against them. Even if it means breaking away from the scheduled norm.”

“Of course...” A faint glow bathed over the room, awakening Spike from the half-sleep another one of Sovereign’s funny stories had put him in. From his resting spot, he could spot his mother’s long horn emanating a soft light, multiple pictures hovering into view before her face. “Throughout the years, I’ve had apprentices, students of my own.” She picked out one particular picture, lowering it down for him to see. A purple filly beamed at him, the photo having captured her face at a moment of pure glee. Spike smiled back, having already made fond memories with this particular pony himself. “Each pupil has been unique, different, a brand new experience that I learn from as well as I lead them, at their own pace, through the secrets and wonders of magic. Who is to say that math is no different?” She replaced the pictures then nodded towards the butler. “Thank you, Sovereign, for your story.”

        He bowed again. “It was my pleasure. For truth, it might actually be the first story I have told you that you have ever learned from, Your Highness!”

        “You humble yourself too much, my friend.” Spike finished his smoothie as his mother looked down upon him, her calm, common smile having swept away her bout of nervousness. “Tomorrow, Spike, we will resume to the next stage and present you with an actual challenge.”

        He burped happily in response before covering his mouth, a devious grin hiding underneath. “Sorry, manners.”

        His mother laughed lightly. “Oh Spike, what are we going to do with you?”

        A loud pounding from the door caused Spike to jump. After a moment’s silence, a royal guard half-stepped into the room with a grim expression.

        “Your majesty, Duke Watergate of the council has—” the guard glanced back through the door, grimacing as he returned “—adamantly requested your presence.”

        A wave of warm air washed over Spike as a long, drawn out exhale fought back the silence. When he looked up again, the radiant smile from before had dulled into a sad frown. Whoever this Duke guy was, he certainly did not make his mom happy.

“Do not allow him in. I will address him personally outside of my chambers.”

Spike’s interest piqued. That tone was usually reserved for when he had done something bad, and even then it was always blunted with a delicate edge.

The soft cushion fell away as his mother rose to her hooves. “Sovereign, please watch over Spike while I am gone. I shall return shortly.”

He followed her with wide eyes as she made for the door, ignoring the butler getting comfortable in front of him. Sovereign meant fun. Spike liked fun, but not now. Something was wrong. Around him, his mom could get frustrated, confused, maybe even nervous. But never upset. Something was wrong, and he was going to find out exactly what.

Sovereign began talking the moment his mother exited the room. “Let’s see, we can play Hungry Hungry Hydra, Battle Cloud, Cockatrices and Stairs—”


“Yes, Spike?”

“Can you tell me a story?”

The old stallion lit up at his proposal, adjusting his enormous glasses. “I would love to! Here, give me a moment to to dig through my memories.”

As soon as Sovereign lowered his eyes in thought, Spike dashed to the royal bed, seizing two of the violet pillows that rested upon it. Without wasting a second, he blitzed back his original spot, trying desperately to hold the cushions behind his back.

“Spike? I heard a bit of commotion. Is something wrong?” The butler called out as he glanced around the room, finally settling upon Spike.

“Uh, yeah! Just uh... getting comfortable is all.”

“Ah yes. Excellent foresight I must say, as this particular story is one of my more lengthy tales. You see, a long time ago, I was in Durma, working for the local zebra government who were trying to buy the loyalties of local tribal leaders...”

Slowly, Spike propped one pillow atop the other, positioning the large cushions so they stood at his sitting height. While Sovereign continued with his story, he slowly edged himself out of the stallion’s view. Sure enough, after escaping the field of vision, the butler’s faded eyes remained fixated on the stack of violet, completely oblivious to their inanimateness. Satisfied, Spike tiptoed slowly to the exit, pressing his ear against the middle crack of the chamber’s double doors. If he strained, distinct, slightly muffled voices could be heard not far from the entrance:

“...Is your duty as the royal princess to attend and participate in every meeting the council summons you for, scheduled or not.”

A soothing yet stern, familiar voice fought back. “Have you forgotten, Watergate? Sudden gatherings are for the convenience of the council and I in discussing newly risen emergencies, not for the usual topics and check-ups you have tricked me into before.”

“Hmph. It is convenient for the council.”

“And for some reason, consistently inconvenient for me. Pray tell, Watergate, I would love to hear your estimate why.”

There was a pause, allowing a few seconds of silence to linger in the air. At last, the stallion spoke again, his haughtiness from before dampened. “If you were to truly ask me, princess, I would say it is that scaled creature you have become so fond of over the years. Over time, It has sapped away at your strength, your free time, and even your participation in requested parties and various politics. Make no mistake, your majesty, the simple fact that you are able to still control the country under such stress is an amazing feat in of itself, but I implore you to reconsider this whole ‘dragon’ endeavor.”

Spike gasped. They were talking about him! And from the way the stallion talked, it wasn’t good. Had he done something wrong?

“An expected and almost undoubtedly rehearsed line. I want to inform you and all the council that I have not been this healthy in centuries and that my free time has never been spent better. As for my participation, I can assure you that the nobles can wait patiently for an opening in my schedule without dying if I cannot attend their next weekly party.”

“And... the council...?” he asked with a loud gulp.

“From now on shall assemble at my command and my command only. With that decreed, there will be no meetings for the rest of the day. Good day, sir.”

The clopping of hooves against tile started, growing louder.

“B-but princess!”

“I said good day, sir,” she said with a strong tone before relaxing back into her normal prose. “Please, inform the rest of the council then return to your family and enjoy the rest of the day off.”

“Y-yes your highness.”

Before Spike could retreat back to the still-rambling Sovereign, the double doors swung open, sending him staggering backwards only to land upon his spines. His mother quickly swooped forward, taking the baby dragon in her hooves.

“Spike, are you alright?” she asked. Behind her, a red stallion stood frozen, staring at the mother-son pair like a stunned deer. With one quick glare from the princess, the stallion resumed his departure with hastened steps.

        Spike dug himself into his mothers chest. “Yeah, but...”

        “What is it, dear?”

        “Did... did I get you in trouble?”

        A profound sadness overtook his mother as she reached down and nuzzled him. “No, Spike. Never.”

        “But that stallion—”

        “Is wrong. Spike, you are nothing less than a miracle to me and just because someone attempts to tell you or me otherwise doesn’t change anything. Mr. Watergate is just struggling with a foolish problem that has rooted itself within his mind.”

        Spike’s shade of gloom disappeared, leaving him curious and confused. “Well shouldn’t you go tell him the answer then? I know I get mad when I’m stuck on a problem that I’m doing wrong.”

        His mother blinked as she gazed at him with blank expression. Before he could assume any wrong, she burst into a light, wonderful laughter that filled the royal chambers. As she fought to contain herself, she began to carry him carefully back to Sovereign. “If only everything in life was that simple! Even so, this is a problem Mr. Watergate needs to find the solution to himself. He and the rest of the council shall come around eventually... I hope.”

        “Ah! Your majesty! I do hope everything went well. I was just finishing informing Spike here of my time working as a special force agent in Durma.” Sovereign motioned towards the pillows before him.

        After a hint of hesitation, his mother looked down at him, cocking an eyebrow with a half-smile on her face. Spike grinned mischievously back, bringing a single claw to his snout, giggling when his mom mimicked his move.

        “Thank you, Sovereign, for keeping Spike company,” she said as she placed him down in front of the two cushions. “I think that’s enough work for today, don’t you think? How about a game before dinner?”

“Monopony!” Spike shouted, throwing his claws in the air.

Sovereign nodded, slowly rising to his hooves. “As always, young master, you prove yourself to be a dragon of taste. I shall retrieve the aforementioned game at once.”

The pillows behind Spike floated away only to be replaced by the familiar warm caress of his mother’s side. As soon as she had settled, he buried his head into her soft belly, letting all of his tension drain away. There was nothing wrong. Just one stallion that needed to find an answer, that’s all. With his mother, Sovereign, Twilight... he was the happiest dragon alive. Everything was perfect.

*   *   *

With Gilda at his side, Spike followed behind Rainbow Dash as she made her way back to the grand hall. Not that he needed her as a guide or anything. He knew the palace like the back of his claw. Still, he preferred it like this. Even in these small rooms, where ponies were sparse, the uncomfortable aura of fear and suspicion was stronger than ever. Being next to the same friend who he had just trusted his life with, who had told him she would never judge based on his race or appearance but on his loyalty and character, was enough to put his mind at ease. Not to mention, Gilda herself was a victim of the scornful eyes and shaded whispers as well. While she could no doubt hold up on her own, he wanted to be beside her, to let her know she wasn’t alone.

“Looks like you two are the main attraction,” Dash said uneasily, as if reading his thoughts.

Gilda laughed, ironically causing some ponies to look away. “Welcome to the freak show, Dash, the most popular show in Equestria. Spike and I are professionals at this point.”

“Yeah. Professionals at being ourselves,” Spike said, grimacing.

“Just remember dude, it’s us two versus thousands of them, so the odds are in our favor,” Gilda remarked casually.

Dash shuffled her wings.

Spike smiled at her confidence. “Seriously, after those patrols, a thousand stuck up nobles aren’t looking so fierce.”

The pegasus slowed down until she trot just in front of the two.

Gilda gave a fake yawn. “Yep. a thousand nobles thrashed. Just another day in the life of Spike and Gilda. Next thing you know we’ll be wrestling hydras.”

“So you both hung out for like, two weeks before leaving for Ponyville right?” Dash asked suddenly without looking back.


“Uh... yeah.” Spike looked over at the griffon, sharing a glimpse of confusion.

“Dang, must have been a crazy two weeks. What did you two do?  Try to outdo each other’s death-defying tricks?”

“Er... no.”

“Oh. Did you race then?”

Did playing tag flying down a steep canyon count as racing? “I... guess? Not really.”

Rainbow Dash stopped in front of the door leading to the grand hall, laughing as she turned back to face him and Gilda. “Duh! Here I am talking about all of these speedy things. Sorry Spike, forgot dragons were all about endurance. Besides, knowing Gilda, she convinced you into more crazy, badass stuff. Lemme guess, you two went around picking fights with manticores and hydras and cerberuses didn’t you?”

Spike scratched the back of his neck, shaking his head. “We didn’t fight any wildlife.”

“Then what the hay did you do??” Dash asked.

“Hmmm let me remember... we did stuff like hunting—” the pegasus cringed “—exploring, stargazing, treasure—”

“Whoa whoa whoa wait! Stargazing?

Spike immediately regretted his words as Dash shifted her horrified stare over to Gilda.

 The griffon was half-crouched, her wings standing on edge. “W-what? So we chilled for a bit. Hunting was totally cool, and there was that one time we flew down that canyon.”

Dash held her expression.

“Hey! What about you, Ms. Egghead! I come back only to find out you’re shoving your face in books. Since when was reading a bunch of fantasy-romance schlock considered ‘cool’?”

Dash shook her head, breaking from her stupor. “Since I said, that’s when! And the genre is action not romance!”

Spike raised his claws in a vain attempt to calm the pair. “Ladies—”

“Looks like hanging out with all those Ponyville wimps has killed your perception! Next thing I know you’ll be raising a pet turtle!”


“Oh yeah? Well it looks like hanging out with Spike turned you into a star-crossed softy! And he’s a tortoise!”


Gilda’s face flashed with anger. “Did you already forget what I told you numbskull?? Spike is co—”


        The shout came out more as a primeval roar than a word, sending every noble and servant that lingered within the room scrambling through any nearby door they could find. Dash and Gilda lept away from him in shock, the former slamming into the door behind her. Across from the trio, an unicorn guard’s horn lit up, summoning in a floating halberd. The guard himself remained unmoving, seeming to treat the decorated polearm more as a warning sign than an actual weapon.

        An eerie silence crept over the room, the only remaining six eyes all locked on the dragon.

        “Heh. Sorry,” Spike turned and apologized to the guard. With a snort, his horn lit up again, poofing the weapon away.  

        Rainbow Dash struggled back onto her hooves. “Jeeze Spike! What was that for?”

        “I know you both want to argue over whether reading books or looking at stars is cool or not, but please, can we do it after we’ve convinced the council not to banish me again?” Spike begged.

        Gilda looked away while Dash lowered her head.

        “Sorry Spike. We should be focusing on helping you,” said Dash.

        “Yeah, my bad,” Gilda agreed.

        “Whoa! Gilda apologizing now? That—”


        The pegasus spun around and threw open the door, trotting through. “Right! Let’s get to that dining hall!”

        Before Spike could follow her through, a claw shot out and grabbed him firmly by the arm.

        “Spike,” Gilda said as he turned towards her. The griffon’s eyes were a mix of worry and anger.


        “Whatever Dash says, ignore it,” she said, removing her claw. “I don’t know what’s gotten into her, but she’s been talking about how weird it is that we’re friends and how ‘uncool’ you are. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s actually afraid of you just like every other pony but doesn’t want to show it.”

        Spike frowned. Dash? Afraid of him?  No way. But then why would she be acting like this? Then he remembered. Dash butting in during their reuniting. Gilda’s harsh words. Dash drooping her head. “Gilda, maybe it’s not me she’s afraid of, but you.”

Gilda looked him in over in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about? Why would Dash be afraid of me? You’re the one she’s trying to separate, not me.”

Spike set his jaw, considering his hunch. He couldn’t pinpoint it, but he was sure of one thing: Dash had shown throughout his growth and his return to Equestria that she didn’t mind him. Whatever was causing the pegasus to work against him, it couldn’t be his fault. There had to be an outside influence. “I don’t know Gilda. I hate to say it, but I think you know Dash more than I do. It’s up to you to talk to her and find out what’s happening.”

        “Hah! Talk to her? She hasn’t earned it. I’m not going to get all goody-goody with her just to be tossed out again,” Gilda said, crossing her arms.

        He made to argue only to retreat at the last second. He knew Gilda. There would be no way to talk her out of a grudge, especially one she had held for years. No use throwing himself between the two friends. They’d sort it out by themselves. “Just remember, Gilda, Dash still wants to be your friend. The only question is if you still want to be friends with her.”

        He turned away and went through the door before she could react. Spike never considered himself a deep dragon, but he had to admit, he was mentally patting himself on the back for that line. Now just to hope for the best from Gilda.

        As Dash and he began traveling across the grand hall’s width, Gilda caught up, her eyes shaded and head slightly downcast as if in deep thought.

        “Move along nothing to see here bozos get lost!” Dash shouted at their wide-eyed onlookers. Who could blame them though really? It wasn’t every day you got to see both a dragon and a griffon walking along with one of Equestria’s heroes.

        Unlike the single, small door on the opposite spectrum from which they had entered the hall, the double doors that stood on the other side of the throne room’s entryway were an impressive height and width, able to take in a rough estimate of six ponies wide. Dash barged straight through the middle of them, throwing both segments wide open. The impressive architecture from the grand hall spilled into this room, a grand ballroom with two sets of stairs across from them that ran into an upper balcony which ran a circle that overlooked the entire lower floor. As far as Spike knew, the ballroom which Twilight always threw her parties in was the smaller, frequently used location. This place was utilized to entertain only the most noble of menageries and the occasional ambassador.

Unlike the grand hall or the guest rooms and lounge section, the room was devoid of sound and frighteningly empty save for his mom’s two signature royal pegasi guards protecting another set of double doors which loomed between the two sets of stairs. Spike gulped. This was it. Through the door ahead was the dining hall. While most of his meals were spent with his mother in her royal chambers, the massive corridor was nothing new to him. Still, he had never seen it full. A table that big, filled to the brim with ponies watching your every move... he shuddered. Best to just go in and get it over with.

“Ready when you guys are,” Spike said nervously, looking from one friend to the other.

“Ready when we are? We’re not the ones on the chopping block here, dude.” Spike nodded slightly. She had a good point. “Besides, you should take a second to relax. You’re shaking like crazy.”

Shaking? He was shaking? He didn’t feel like he was shaking. Wonderful. He wondered what other things his body was doing that he wasn’t aware of.  

“Spike, just remember, Gilda, Celestia, Twilight, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, me, and even Fluttershy. We’re all here to back you up. Any dumb lie they try to throw at you, we have the truth to back it up.”

        “We’ve also got the claws too, if it needs to come to that.” Gilda’s words sounded almost hopeful, making Spike give a small, coughing laugh.

        He swung his arms back and forth, stretching out his joints until he heard a soft pop. Satisfied, he took a deep breath, allowing it to roll into a low, feral growl. He was a dragon. What were a bunch of old ponies to him? “Alright. I’m ready.”

        “Still shaking.” Dash pointed out to him.

        “I said I’m ready!”

        “Okay okay!” she folded. “Both of you just stay behind me so the council will see me enter first. Make a good first impression ya know?”

        He snorted, amused. Can’t argue with that. He and Gilda fell in behind Dash as she began trotting forward. When she got to the door, the guards closed in, blocking the passage.

“You just had to stop my awesome entrance huh?” Dash groaned, halting in front of them

The guards ignored her completely, the left one reaching back and retrieving a parchment that had been tucked between his wings. “Ms. Dash, you are to be seated with the rest of Twilight’s friends. As soon as you enter, please take a left and follow along the table. You will find your seat between Ms. Rarity and Ms. Fluttershy.”

Spike nodded. Good. Rainbow Dash next to Fluttershy made Spike calm slightly. It seems his mom had everything planned down even to the seats.

“Mr. Spike, you are to be seated next to the princess. Ms Gilda, you will be seated between  Ms. Sparkle and Ms. Applejack.” The guard replaced the parchment as he and his partner stepped aside. “Enjoy the dinner and good luck.”

Good luck huh? Hmph. Now that he thought about it, the guards themselves probably dealt with The Council on a regular basis. They were probably choosing the lesser of two evils in such a situation.

Gilda let out a deep breath from his side.

“Something the matter Gilda?”

She shook her head. “Just trying to decide whether I’d want to fight patrols to death or listen to a bunch of old ponies whine about something they have no idea about.”


        “Hmmmm. Tough decision, but I’ll take the ‘not dying’ option.” Spike jested, eliciting a smile from the griffon.

        “Guess you’ve never heard of ‘bored to death’ huh Spike?” Dash poked his side with a hoof.

        Now he was grinning. “Guess I’m about to find out. Lead the way, Oh Impressionable One.”

        “With pleasure.”

        Like a single gear bringing the whole machine to life, Dash took a step forward, setting the three friends into motion. They were only a few feet from the door now. Spike’s heart raced, his mind swam with infinite possibilities, and beneath it all, a swirling mass of anxiety, hopes, and fears threatened to destroy him before their mission had even started.

        He instinctively sucked in air as Dash reached forward with her hoof.

        Let’s do this.

        The double doors swung open and they crossed the threshhold.

        Just as he had expected, the sight immediately flooded his mind with nearly every emotion imaginable. The first thing he noticed was his mother sitting upon an ornate chair across the room at the head of the table. On his right, a bunch of ponies he didn’t recognize lined the table, eyeing him with skepticism. Prim suits and dresses hid their frames, the extravagant designs giving them an air of superiority.

He looked left, then exhaled.

There they were. Like a light in the black, his four friends sat side by side, each showing their adoration in their own unique way.

Applejack gave a homely smile, her hoof lifted in the air in a single wave. That’s what he liked about her. With just a simple, small motion, she could make you feel like you had an entire foundation beneath your feet to support you.

It was also the exact opposite reason he liked Pinkie Pie so much. The flamboyant pony had both hooves thrown into the air while she stood up in her chair, flailing about wildly. It was clear she wanted to scream out his name, but she settled for muffled squeals and whimpers instead.

In complete contrast, Rarity sat politely next to her, giving a soft wave he would expect to see in a parade. Her beauty had only grown stronger since his childhood, deep blue eyes and long purple curls as radiant as ever.

Then there was Fluttershy. Much to Spike’s dismay, she refused to make eye contact, her head dipped as she raised a hoof over her head and shook it about meekly.

There was so much he wanted to say to them. So much he wanted to talk about. How was applebuck season going so far? How was the rest of the Apple family? What about you Pinkie? Throw any killer parties lately? And Rarity, how did that batch of dresses you had before I left turn out? Dang, you’re probably way behind in jewels huh? Why don’t we go out and catch up while digging up a few? Fluttershy... let’s talk.

Finally, his gaze settled upon Twilight. Unlike the others, she didn’t wave, squirm, or look away. All she did was smile, the most radiant action in the room. He should run up and hug her, tell her how much he had missed her, introduce her to Gilda.

But not now. Now he had to make sure he could even talk to them in the first place.

“Ah, here they are now. Welcome, Spike, Gilda, and Rainbow Dash.” Celestia’s voice sailed across the room in greeting.

        Some of the nobles leaned forward in their chairs to stare at them, expressions ranging from frightened shock to pure disgust dancing across all twelve of their faces.

        “About time. Was beginning to believe you had fled,” one of the stallions who had sneered said tiredly, giving a loud yawn.

“Not for the world,” Spike countered as he began walking along the left side of the table with Gilda and Dash. The stallion narrowed his eyes and sat up straighter, focusing on him intently. He cringed. Probably not a great way to start a relationship with someone you’re trying to appease. Dash took her place between Fluttershy and Rarity, giving Gilda and him one last nod.

He continued on, at last coming upon Twilight. Wordlessly she reached up and nuzzled him lightly before glancing towards Gilda, looking back at him with confusion. Shoot. She didn’t know.

He leaned forward and whispered into her ear. “A friend.”

She gave one last look at the griffon then turned back to him, nodding with a smile and motioning him towards the seat beside her. He turned to check up on Gilda before he left, satisfied to find her begrudgingly taking her seat between Twilight and Applejack. Alarms went off in his head as the cowpony flashed a frown at the griffon before turning her head away. Thankfully, Gilda’s attention had been focused entirely on the council across the table for her to notice. Come on Applejack, not now. Please, I know what she did, but you have to believe me.

He slowly turned away, reminding himself to keep his eye on the two throughout the dinner. Walking past Twilight, he took his seat who’s height matched that of his mothers, a small cut out from the back allowing his tail free movement. The princess’ throne sat at the head of the table, overlooking the entire congregation. As he got a better look of his surroundings, he noticed splotches of sauce dotting everypony’s plate, the hors d’oeuvres having already been served.

Despite the room already being dead silent, Celestia raised her hoof in attention. “Before we begin, I want to thank all of you for coming tonight. I understand we may have different opinions or outlooks upon certain things and that some of you may have busy schedules, but it is imperative that we reach a consensus on such a rupturing subject.”

“Excuse me, your majesty, but I believe we did come to a consensus,” a mare with a timid voice said lightly. “I thought it was agreed by the council that the dragon was too dangerous to live amongst ponies?”

Spike watched as his mother slowly faced the council member, her expression dull and unamused. “A consent was reached amongst the council, a consent which I strongly disapprove of. We are gathered here tonight to solve this conundrum.”

“Y-yes, your majesty,” the mare squeaked, recoiling from his mother’s deadpan voice.

A dark blue stallion raised his hoof tenderly.  “A meeting with you is always a pleasure, your highness, but how is a dinner supposed to sway the council’s opinion on a matter we have all unanimously agreed upon? Do you hope to impress us with his astounding manners?” He picked up her slack. Spike may not know much of the council, but he was already beginning to associate the group to a pack of timber wolves: knock one out and the rest of its friends would attack.

“Your Majesty, dinner is ready. Shall we begin serving the first course?”

Spike looked over his chair to see a plump mare with a massive chef’s hat. Through the door behind her, he could make out a long line of other cooks prepared to wheel out the food upon metal racks. Steaming salad utilizing multiple types of high-quality leaves with chunks of cooked mushrooms, carrots, and tomato looked to be the first course. He gulped. The memory of throwing up his first salad popped into his mind, causing him to shiver. Best to just take a bite or two to distract the council. Eat extremely slow.

“You may, and thank you.” The chef bowed graciously at his mother’s kindness, clopping her two front hooves together. A dozen ponies, all in cooking attire, made their way out of the door and began serving the simmering bowl of vegetables. The council members looked upon the meal with approval and his friends’ mouths hung open at the sight of the delicacy. Spike’s only reassurance was a sympathetic look from Gilda, the griffon rolling her eyes up and opening her mouth in a silent gag. Hey, at least she could stomach it. “Please, worry yourselves not on anything but enjoying your meal.”

The bowl of salad was set before him. Should he eat it? He already knew the sensation of trying to stomach such a meal. Better off trying to eat a bowl of pebbles. Across the table the council was already readying their silverware either by magic or hoof. Twilight and Gilda were the only others hesitating, eyeing him with worry. Ignoring the unusable small silverware, Spike gingerly plucked a single leaf from the bowl.

 The entire council stopped their feast and stared at him. Oh wonderful, even his friends were watching him with bated breath. Can’t back down now. He popped the leaf into his mouth, rolling it about with his tongue. A volatile, burning liquid rolled up in the back of his throat, coaxing him to rid the foul sludge from his being. Keep it down. Swallow it.

With a forceful gulp it slid down his throat like a slime-caked slug. Small convulsions racked his body until he gasped, trying to put on a believable smile for the council.

The little conversation that had started up with the introduction of dinner had ceased, reigning back in the tense silence. Even worse, every eye was on him now. A cough rang through the hall.

“You’re efforts are admirable, ...Spike? Is it?... but a good actor you are not,” a red stallion directly across the table from him said, shaking his head with disappointment. “Know that it is no grudge we hold against you, but simply a fear for the welfare of your friends and their families and the entire population of Equestria. Who is to say what could happen if you went on another rampage, only now with the desire for meat in your belly? The Wonderbolt strike force couldn’t stop you, so imagine how many ponies would die before the army could be assembled.”

What could he say? Every word from the councilpony was level-headed and reasonable. Now even his image of Twilight was soiled. His past nightmares flashed through his mind, that uncontrollable, smothering instinct forcing him to rip and tear her apart. Truly, how far were they from reality? He lowered down further into his chair. They hadn’t even passed the first course and he was already feeling defeated.

Twilight smacked a hoof against the table, causing him to shoot back up and drawing all attention away from him. He appreciated the gesture, really, but angry Twilight? He’d take the council anyday.  “And who’s to say Spike will just snap one day and decide to gobble ponies up?” Okay, just a little upset. For now. “He hasn’t hurt anypony his entire life, even during his accidental growth! What makes you think he would do it now?”

 The stallion sniffed, adjusting his glasses. “You assume many things, young prodigal.”

“An’ you don’t?” Applejack joined in. “Ah may be just a simple farm pony, but ah can tell ya I know Spike a lick more than all dozen of ya combined! Believe me when ah say he’s more prankster than predator.” The rustled cowpony leaned back in her chair before shooting back up, leaning over the table. “And that’s just me! there are five others here that will tell ya the same thing in their own special way.”

“Six,” Gilda startled Spike by growling. There was that look again. Now there was no doubt. Applejack was already wary of the griffon, Maybe even suspicious.

“Seven, if I may correct you,” Celestia added playfully, distracting the two from their conflict. Did she do that purposefully, or just a harmless reminder? Knowing how much of a mastermind his mother could be, probably the former.

        The same stallion who had convicted Spike of fleeing when he first entered threw his hooves into the air. “So let’s just agree we’re all assuming!” He folded his hooves. “We come back to the same conclusion as before: why risk endangering a whole town for just one dragon and its small group of friends?”

        “If you honestly think us seven are Spike’s only friends in Ponyville, you’ve got another thing coming, sir. Unlike Canterlot, dear Ponyville is a much stronger, smaller, contained  community.” Now Rarity was joining in. He had never felt so loved yet so disliked at the same time. “Why, I could sit here for the rest of the night giving you names of ponies who have asked me of Spike’s health these past tragic months!”

        The councilpony shrugged and leaned back in his chair.“Hearing is believing lady, so start spewing!”

        Now Rarity was mad. By the end of dinner they’d be hoof-fighting. “Very well then! There’s Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Applebloom, Cheer—”

        “Please, everypony,” Celestia interrupted. “None of you have even begun eating your first course. Let us continue discussion after we have a bit of energy, yes?”

        Mumbling stirred up amongst the council, putting Spike at ease. They might be talking about him, but the silence was enough to make him scream. The fact that everyone else was currently working away at their food, however, was not lost on him. He looked down at the salad, his rumbling, churning stomach reminding him of what had happened just minutes before.

“Having twouble?” Gilda asked him with a beak full of salad. To Spike’s surprise she gulped it down and impaled another batch with her fork before shoving it into her beak.

“Jeeze Gilda! Didn’t know you were such a fan of steamed salad!” He watched with wide eyes as she chewed.

She waved her claw through the air before swallowing and clearing her throat. “Are you kidding me dude? We haven’t eaten for three days! I was thinking it was some dragon thing when you didn’t say anything about being hungry. I’m more impressed you aren’t shoving this garbage down your throat like me.”

He sighed, shaking his head as he returned to his bowl. “I... I can’t. It feels like I’m eating the sludge from Froggy Bottom Bog. I’d rather not eat anything than throw up in front of the council.” Twilight put a reassuring hoof on his side.

Gilda’s eyes shifted between his uneaten salad and her own bowl. “Alright then.” He watched her push away her bowl and drop her utensils. “I just won’t eat either.”

“Gilda, no.”

She didn’t respond, folding her arms and closing her eyes.

“Gilda, eat. Please.”


“Gilda, I appreciate the concern, really! But...”

Another hoof touched his shoulder. “Gilda, your actions and dedication are admirable, but I have kept my son’s needs in thought. There will be gems for him come the second course,” Celestia said lightly.

The griffon opened a single eye before begrudgingly resuming picking at her salad. “You win this time,” she huffed before taking another bite.

        So he waited. His lack of eating soon caught the council’s attention, garnering grim nods and hushed whispers. Before long, he was feeling awkward, isolated. Alone. He stuck out like a sore thumb. Maybe they were right. Maybe he didn’t belong.

        “Psst.” Yet another hoof poked him, this time on the leg. “Spike!”

He turned to see a pink pony dancing excitedly on her hooves. “Pinkie?”

        “Yeah!” she whispered. “I got a secret I need to tell you. Get down here!”

        He looked at her in confusion then shrugged, lowering his head. “Yeah?”

        “Closer. It’s a big secret.”

        He went lower.


        Lower. He was nearly muzzle-to-muzzle with her now. This had better be a good sec—

        “SURPRISE HUG!”


        Spike jumped as the pink pony pounced upon his snout— no — his whole face. He should have seen this coming, really. Just goes to show what even three months away from Pinkie does to you. Luckily the reaction from the council wasn’t as terrible as he was expecting. The majority crossed their hooves, glaring daggers at him, but he caught the timid mare giggling and the red and the blue stallions from before cracking smiles. Ponies after all.

        Pinkie backed down, bopping him on the nose. “This is the slowest dinner party I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t wait till it was over to say hi!” she whispered.

        “It’s ok Pinkie, I’m happy to see you too,” he said, trying to wipe the big stupid grin off his face.

        “Pinkie!” Rarity hissed as she approached them, her head lowered. “This is supposed to be formal! You can’t just go jumping on Spike like that! Oh, and hi Spike.” She smiled up at him, giving a small wave. Before he could respond, Rarity was dragging Pinkie by her tail back to her seat.

        “Glad to see that some things never change,” Gilda said with dripping sarcasm, refusing to look at the pink pony. “And by glad I mean horribly disappointed.”

        The spines on Spike’s back tingled as Twilight shifted uncomfortably next to him. He dared not even check on Applejack.

        “Well, Gilda.” Oh no. Please Twilight, just stop now. Don’t say anything. “That’s just the kind of pony Pinkie is. She can’t help but bring a little comedy into everyrone’s life.”

        Ok Gilda, now is your chance, just snort and roll your eyes.

        “‘Comedy’ huh? Is that what ponies call being annoying as all hell these days?”

        Spike grimaced as he heard Applejack slam her fork down. “Now listen here! Ah don’t know what the hay is wrong with you, but ah’m a might more annoyed by your constant hate than I am by Pinkie’s antics!”

While he could only see Gilda’s back, he could imagine the fire in the griffon’s eyes as she wheeled towards the earth pony. “Pretty sure you’d find any form of humor funny after wrangling pigs all day Ms. Bucktooth!”

He had to think of something fast. While other conversations echoed through the dining hall, Gilda and Applejack’s dispute was quickly gaining the attention of a few council members. Two friends arguing was terrible enough, but he couldn’t afford to give the council anymore bait along with Gilda’s race. As if answering his prayers, the plump chef mare from before swung open the doors behind him, the long line of trays lingering in the passageway beside her.

“Oh look!” Spike cried out, his deep unintentionally-menacing voice causing several ponies to jump. “The second course! What are we having Ms. —er— chef?”

 The chef recoiled, glancing between him and his mother. “Uh, the second course is ready, Your Majesty?”

“You may begin serving.” He sighed as Celestia affirmed. He checked on his two quarreling friends. Gilda sat simmering, her eyes straight forward with a fierce scowl across her face. Meanwhile, Applejack seemed to worriedly question Rarity, opening her mouth wide to the fashion pony who shook her head and patted her on the shoulder. It was only a quick fix, but at least the crisis had been averted.

Instead of receiving the second course, a potato soup, a bowl filled to the brim with sapphires was set before him. At last it hit him. His stomach dropped, his knees weakened, and his whole body began to shake.

He was hungry. Starving.

Forget manners. He began popping the sapphires into his mouth like a machine, the loud crunching of gems sounding like a freight train against the gentle sips of soups. He froze mid-chew, looking up at the council. There they went, again, staring at him like he was some malformed monster. What? Was eating gems considered taboo now too?

A brown mare gaped at him in horror. “How... how do you stomach that??” she cried. “Much less chew them! Do they not cut up your gums?”

        Curiosity instead of fear. He could live with that. After swallowing the load of gems he licked his chops and cleared his throat. “Nope! The inner walls of my mouth and my teeth are way too tough for that. Would take a lot more than some  gems to mess ‘em up. As for eating them? No idea. Dragons eat gems! Go figure!”

        “Indeed, imagine my surprise when I came back to my royal chambers one day to find him already having half-eaten one of my jewel pieces,” Celestia said with a mischievous tone causing him to snicker. “I was panicking and having the doctors monitor his health for the rest of the week. Of course it was just another one of many wonderful traits dragons have.”

        “Now wait, why don’t you just eat gems instead of meat?” the red stallion asked.

        “See, I tried that back when I started throwing up all the salads and hayfries and stuff, but...” How could he explain this? He looked around the room before freezing on his friends. “Ah! Pinkie!”

        “Sup Spike!” Pinkie leaned forward on the table so she could see him.

        “You like candy don’t you?”


        Silence again. He could hear the crickets chirping all the way from the palace gardens.

Oh. Well, this was awkward. Seems like Pinkie had become a pure vegetarian over the three months he had been gone.

“Uh, so, what I’m trying to say is—”


“Right!” Three months. He had to get back into Pinkie’s flow. “So you love candy! Now, candy isn’t all you eat right?”

“Nope! But I tried once! But then I got sick and for the whole next day I was like BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEGH”

“Yeah, so—”


“—Gems are—”


Pinkie’s reenactment became muffled as Rarity leapt from her seat and shoved a hoof into her mouth. Figures that when he finally wanted the council’s attention they were busy watching his two friends wrestling.

“Anyways,” he said loudly, regaining their attention, “gems are kind of like candy for dragons: sweet and tasty, but they’ll make you sick if they’re all you eat.”

“What a shame,” the timid mare huffed, seeming geniunely upset.

“Not quite,” the red stallion spoke again. “We still come to the same dead end: he is a carnivorous being with the possibility of rampaging at a moment’s notice.” It was strange. The more the councilpony talked, the more Spike felt as if they had met before. He hadn’t met any of the council before though, had he? Was this just a case of déjà vu?

“Excuse me, sir? What’s your name?”

The stallion’s glasses nearly leapt from his face as the spotlight fell on him. He looked back at Spike with complete shock. “My- my name? Oh! Yes! Of course! It’s Watergate. Mr. Watergate.”

Hmmmm. Nothing. Maybe just a coincidence. Still, Might as well keep up the small talk to avoid the awkwardness. “So what do you like to do?”

“I’m not quite sure I understand,” Watergate said warily.

“You know, like after work? How do you relax after a long hard day of banishing dragons?” Spike asked jokingly.

The stallion rose a hoof to his mouth, shifting in his seat. “I don’t really have much alone time anymore I suppose. Most of my day is spent planning or in meetings or in public showings.”

“Well no wonder you’re so uptight! You’re too busy working all day!” Dash scoffed. “Even Twilight over here hangs out with friends when she isn’t studying and she’s the biggest egghead I know!”

Watergate hesitated.

“Here’s a bit of info for you missy,” the same boisterous stallion barged in instead. Did he say his name yet? Too many members to keep up with.“Being a part of the council is a lot more difficult than reading books or pushing clouds around all day. It takes sweat! Hard work! Dedication!”

A now free Pinkie jumped up in her seat. “All the more reason you need a fun party!”

“No! No partying!”

“Could get a bit of extra free time if you just dropped this whole ‘banishment’ deal. Make it easy for both of us,” Spike joked with a small sliver of hope.

A single, short laugh was his only response. “Look! He has a sense of humor now!”

“Believe me, he’s always had that,” Twilight said, giving Spike a small wink. He nodded towards her with an uneasy smile. Really, he had never felt so torn before. Any minute now and he would rip in two.

“Your Majesty, the third course is prepared,” a familiar voice said from behind him.

“You may begin serving,” the princess spoke in her signature soft voice. How did she manage to do that in such a situation? Either his mother had too much faith in his ability to argue against the council, or she had a lot of hope riding on this experiment.

A plate slid into view. No gems this time. Instead, a familiar daisy-daffodil sandwich. Twilight liked to order these back at that fancy restaurant in Ponyville. What was it’s name again? Wait. Scratch that. Why was he getting the sandwich in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better to get nothing at all and keep snacking on the few remaining gems? Now it just looked weird. Sitting. With an inedible sandwich in front of him.

And now the council was all staring again. Great.

“So no grains either?” Watergate asked. Like he doesn’t already know the answer to that.

“Gems and the occasional meat. That’s it,” he said it as bluntly as possible. No reason to skip around on the subject. Now that he thought about it, probably no reason to stress it so hard either.

Watergate sighed, gazing over at Spike’s sandwich. “Do not understand me wrong, princess, the dinner has been enjoyable, but I’m afraid I don’t see its point. Unless you plan to win over the council’s  heart by displaying to us his admittedly excellent table manners, then this has all been a waste!”

“Would table manners be sufficient?” his mother asked, tilting her head. Watergate crossed his hooves and frowned at her. Darn. Well. Nice try at least.

Spike gently pushed away the daffodil sandwich and reached for his bowl of gems. Only a few sapphires left. Better ration them. He popped one into his mouth, rolling it around with his tongue a bit before chewing it to pieces. Two more. Watergate had begun nibbling away at his own sandwich, his eyes still focused upon him. Alright, he wants to play this game? Spike could do that to. The councilpony’s cocked an eyebrow as he met his gaze. Then they stared. Awkward, totally, but neither dared look away. His eyes narrowed. Spike copied. He shifted his shoulders slightly. Spike mimicked.

“So Spike, tell us about your time in the Central Wilds,” Watergate said. They held their gaze.

“What do you want me to tell you? It was boring, lonely, depressing. I can go on if you want.” Spike picked up another gem, tossing it into his mouth without looking away.

“Lonely? I thought dragons were used to that sort of thing?” The stallion picked up his sandwich and took a small bite.

Crunch. One more. “Most dragons aren’t raised by ponies.”

“And for good reason, as we have seen.”

Ouch. He tried to retaliate, but only found himself reaching for the last gem. Watergate’s eyes had hardened, sensing his weakness. He instinctively put the sapphire into his mouth.

“So you lived out in the Wilds for, what, three months? You must have learned to hunt to get the meat you needed right?”

He caressed the gem between his tongue and teeth. Would have to hold onto this one for awhile. “Actually, I taught myself to hunt back while I was still in Ponyville. It was just a little thing I did right before bed you know? It was like eating dinner. Something you do naturally. Nopony knew or had to know.”


Crunch. All gone. Spike closed his eyes, unable to match his opponent’s victorious stare. Twilight began to say something. Didn’t matter. Every sound around him had coalesced in to some strange white noise. He couldn’t understand anything.

“I... I don’t mind.”

        The blur of conversation shattered. Fluttershy’s voice was the same as ever: quiet, soft, and barely audible. Yet it had rung out loud and clear. Spike opened his eyes and looked towards his friend. Her head was lowered and she wore a pained expression, but she held her ground.

        “Excuse me?” Watergate asked. No. She’s done enough. Leave her alone.  “You don’t mind? What ever do you mean?”

        “It’s okay if Spike h-hunts,” she squeaked out. “I know I caused a lot of trouble when I got scared, but it’s natural. I mean, even cute otters hunt for fish and—”

        “Wait you were the one that reported the incident?” Wattergate guffawed. “All we ever heard was that it was from a Ponyville resident!”

        The timid councilmare raised a hoof to her to mouth. “Oh dear you must feel so guilty! But don’t worry, you did the right thing.”

        Fluttershy lowered into her seat. Of course she felt guilty. You all made her feel guilty. She didn’t respond, hanging her head in defeat. That’s fine. She’s done all she could. Right here, right now, it truly was the thought that counted. But not for the council.

        “I think its all coming together.” Watergate placed his hooves down on the table, bringing them together in deep thought. “Much like a loving parent must say farewell to their child come a certain age, I believe it is time for all of you to simply let Spike go. Let him roam free in the wild.”

        Oh boy.

        Rainbow Dash was the first to react, the jingle of silverware sounding as she slammed her hooves down. “You are asking for it buddy!”

        “What the hay are ya implyin’?” Applejack shouted.

        Fluttershy silently shook her head.

        “I’ll be certain to let my sister out into the Everfree when I get back to Ponyville so she can ‘roam free’! Utterly ridiculous!” Rarity huffed.

        Pinkie was laughing, only to suddenly stop and look around at her angered friends. “Oh. That wasn’t a joke?”

        Gilda held her word to the princess and seethed. No. Seethed is the wrong word. If looks could kill, Watergate would have evaporated into thin air under the griffon’s gaze. ‘Plotted to murder’ would be more satisfactory, albeit not a single word.

        “Did you not hear him when he told you that his banishment was miserable?” Twilight had lost her worried-yet-steady voice and replaced it with worried-yet-angry. “Stop thinking of him as some kind of animal!”

        “Ladies! Please! Calm down!” Watergate raised his hooves in defense. “It comes down to basic nature! Ponies are meant to work together. Look! Cities! Farms! Dragons are meant to be alone. Have you ever seen a dragon city? Like I said, basic nature.” He pointed a hoof at Spike. “For goodness sake look at him. He’s covered in scars from head to hoof from fighting other wildlife! That’s fine, it’s in his nature.”


        Spike watched as every head turned towards Gilda before following them. Her fork twirled around as she spun it with her claw. Of course it was bent in half. He could try to stop her, but no. He knew her too well. She was going to have her say, and no one was going to stop her.

        “Sorry to ruin your ‘nature’ fantasies, but all of Spike’s scars have been from griffons.” Gilda tapped the fork against the table. “He also didn’t fight any wildlife. You must be feeling pretty stupid right now huh?”

        Spike tensed and tried to keep his expression calm. Watch it Gilda...

        Watergate ignored her scathing remark and waved a hoof through the air. “Manticores, cockatrices, griffons, whatever. In the end it’s all fighting.”

        “NO.” Everyone besides him and Celestia jumped at her shout. “He was attacked! It was self defense! He chose none of those fights!”

        “Care to tell us why, exactly, griffons are attacking dragons?”

        Gilda hesitated then growled. “I came here as Spike and Dash’s friend. Not your scout.”

        Out of the corner of his eye, Spike could see the rainbow mare throw her hooves into the air in a silent cheer.

        “Mmmmmm,” he hummed, taking a sip from his water. “Let me guess. Going to stay for a nice visit of a week or two before heading back? Get some good knowledge of the daily lives of our beautiful elements here and then—”

        “STOP!” Spike roared. Watergate flinched as he went for another sip, a bit of water splashing across his face. “She said she came here as our friend and that’s final!”

“Seriously!” Dash followed him up. “At first I just though you had something against dragons. Now I’m beginning to think your some paranoid psycho! Gone to a doctor lately?”

Watergate adjusted his tie, frowning. Spike was ready. Gilda and Dash surely were. Go ahead. What’s next? Rainbow manes are a new-age sign of heresy? Gilda was actually an assassin? He opened his mouth.

“Watergate, I will tolerate the council’s concerns of Spike, but there will be no further accusations against Gilda. Your vision and thoughts have clearly been affected by our recent conflicts against the Empire. Stand down.” The stallion snorted before relaxing and returning to nibbling on his daffodil sandwich. His mother turned her attention towards him and his friends. “You as well, Spike, Gilda, and Rainbow Dash.”

Spike nodded and relaxed. Dash grumbled and sat back down in her chair. Gilda glared.

His mother gestured behind him. “You may begin serving the final course.”

        Only one more course to go. He doubted the possibility of winning over the council through niceties after that little conflict. So far, everything he had done and said had only made the situation worse. Better let mom handle the rest and just keep rationing these gems. He reached down into the bowl, looking down in surprise when he found nothing within. When had that happened? Awesome. Here comes another full course of awkwardness.

        So this was the final course. A single large leaf with a various assortment of berries lining its top. Strawberries, blueberries, grapes... back in his childhood he may have found this enjoyable. Probably would have picked off the fruit and left the leaf to rot. Now all he could do was push it away and fold his claws together.

        Still, for some odd reason it smelled really good.

        A shriek pierced the clinking of silverware. The timid council mare covered her mouth with both hooves, her eyes widened in horror. “Look!” she cried out, removing one of her hooves to point towards him. Had he done something wrong? Or was she pointing behind him? Spike looked over his chair in confusion.

        There, sitting atop an enormous silver platter, was a cooked boar being wheeled towards him.

        What?? No! Stop! What was his mother thinking?? Spike froze up. He couldn’t shout, beg for it to be taken away. Not now. Not with all the council watching. If this was part of the experiment, then he had to stick it through. For his friends. Still... his nightmares, fear of losing control... already the smell was causing his mouth to water. What if the council was right? Who was Spike to know anything about dragons, the whelp who had spent his childhood learning about ponies? Just breathe. Relax. Block the smell. That sweet, succulent, smell of tender, cooked meat.

        “By the goddess what is the meaning of this??” The boastful stallion roared, pinning his back to his chair.

        Stare at the ceiling. Staring at the ceiling. Ignore the giant luscious boar being placed in front of you right now. Man this ceiling sure is decorated. How did they get up there? Oh yeah, hire a few pegasi. Pretty obvious one there.

        “Either you have gone mad, Princess, or you’ve decided to further confirm the council’s belief through unethical methods,” Watergate said, a horrified undertone seeping through his mask of calmness. Even while Spike tried to distract himself, he couldn’t help but see the councilpony shove an accusing hoof towards him. “Look at him! He’s slack-jawed drooling like a raving dog over that dead boar!”

        He closed his mouth. Gasps and whispers from his friends only made the situation worst. Couldn’t blame them of course. Living your whole life with ponies taught you that what lay before him as an abomination. He could only imagine Fluttershy’s face right now. Imagine. He dared not look.

         “Spike.” Celestia reached towards him, touching his shoulder. He peeled himself away from the ceiling, looking back at his mother with pained eyes. “Do not be ashamed. It is only natural.” Her support was lost on him. Of course it was natural. That was the council’s entire argument.

        “Hey Spike,” Gilda called out, leaning forward and appraising the boar. “Make sure to pass that over here if ya don’t finish the whole thing.”

        The council grunted and murmured. Spike laughed. His time spent hunting with Gilda came flooding back. Teaching her how to move through the forest, her own hastiness working against her, her rage at missing prey, and her joy when she finally got a catch of her own. There were no words about whether it was wrong or right, just a single goal. And each other.

        He finished his fit of chuckling, stealing a glance at Gilda. She wore a devilish grin, snickering at the ponies around her. The moment she noticed him, her grin transformed into a confident smile and she jerked her head towards his mother.

        Right. He had to see this experiment through. For his friends. He turned back to his mother, giving her a nod. Instead of the uncertain thoughts that had plagued him before, everything seem whitewashed, clear. He could do this.

        His mother gave him one last look of concern before retreating. She raised her hooves and clopped them together, sending a muffled, resonating boom through the hall. “Sovereign!”

The main doors from which he, Gilda, and Dash had entered from swung open, allowing the aged butler to hobble his way in. Held aloft in one hoof, a small silver band sat snugly upon a violet cushion. Was that the experiment? Seemed more like a cheap ring a pony would wear on one of their hooves than some nature-altering super-device.

“Ah I see. So this is that experiment you’ve been keeping us in the dark about,” Watergate mused, eyeing the band suspiciously as Sovereign passed Spike and made his way to his mother. “This had better be good. The way you had us word that letter we helped you with made it sound like the greatest invention since the airship.”

“Sometimes, Mr. Watergate,” his mother thanked Sovereign then levitated the band from the cushion, allowing it to float beside her, “simplicity can be a beautiful thing. Spike.” A click came from the band as half of it popped back. Did she plan to put that around his finger? What was it going to do? Change him? Affect his thoughts? He shook his head. Come on. Trust her. She’s your mom. She knows what she’s doing.

Spike took a deep breath and bowed his head. “Ready.”

        The opened band shimmered, growing before his eyes until it had doubled in size. It floated forward, approaching him directly. Not his finger, he realized, but his neck. He gulped, closing his eyes. The feeling of cold whatever-the-hay-metal-this-thing-was-made-of encircled a portion of his neck, causing him to shudder. Everyone else held their breath, turning the air stale and lifeless.

        The band snapped close. Everyone gasped.

        Spike opened his eyes, bringing up trembling appendages.

        Huh. Nope. Still claws. He looked around the room, noticing the same confused stare from his friends and the council.

        “Nothing happened,” Watergate said bluntly. Can’t argue. He didn’t feel any different.

        “Spike, eat your salad,” his mother said in almost a casual tone.

        So that was it. Spike reached over the boar for the first course, pushing it aside with his other claw. After setting the bowl down in front of himself, he plucked out a leaf, inspecting it warily as it dangled in his claw. Hope this works. Throwing up in front of the whole council would not be very convincing. He steeled himself and slid the leaf into his maw.

        The difference was immediate. No gagging on a muddy, bitter taste. Instead, it tasted like... nothing. Kind of like edible water. He swallowed the vegetation, awaiting the surge of bile that followed. Once again, nothing. This was strange.

        “Spike, are you alright?” His mother asked with concern.

        He snapped out of his stupor, noticing everyone staring at him. “Yeah. I guess. So... I can eat vegetables now?”

        Celestia nodded. “Indeed. This band allows you to eat and digest just as you were when you were younger.”


        “This changes nothing. We could care less what he can eat. It’s what he wants to eat that has us concerned,” Watergate said.


        “I have taken your fears into consideration as well. Spike, the boar, if you will.” His mother gestured at the steaming meal before him.

        “Ugh!” the councilpony grunted as hisses and whispers erupted from across the table. “I do not need to see this!”

        “Then he is free to go?” Celestia asked calmly.

        Watergrate grimaced before shaking his head. “Fine! Do it!”

        Spike flinched at his shout. His friends weren’t doing much better to help with their faces frozen in horror. His only support came from a concerned mother and sister. Even Gilda had her claws folded, eyeing the band around his neck with a fierce scowl. Best to ignore everyone and get this over with before it got to his head. He looked down and inspected the boar warily. The dish still looked tasty, but the watering in his mouth had dried up and the pleasant scent faded away. Only one thing to do now.

        He stopped himself before digging in with his claws. Better to save as much face as possible. Picking up his fork and knife, he weathered the gasps of despair as he cut away a small slice from the boar’s stomach.

        “Stop dragging it out! Get it over with!” Watergate shouted with a strained tone.

        He shoved it into his mouth. Bad idea. He had no idea what magic was in this band, but it had turned the taste of meat into... he didn’t even want to think of it. He had stomached many harsh things in his life, but this was beyond his league. He spat the chunk of saliva-covered meat back out into his salad bowl, signalling a loud groan of disgust from the council.

“Are you well, Spike?” his mother whispered to him.

He spat another gunk of saliva into the bowl. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.Will just take a few days to get this taste out of my mouth.”

She turned back to the council. “As you can see, his lust for meat has been sated. Your fears have been addressed.”

“Addressed??” Watergate threw his hooves in the air. “You’ve only tackled the main problem! There are countless number of other reasons for banishment that I can list!”

“Sadly, I fear this meeting is coming to a close. Perhaps we can schedule another for tomorrow?” His mother asked nonchalantly.

“Tomorrow? My schedule is filled! Talks with the Empire’s ambassador, public showings, meetings, there’s no way I could fit in another!”

“I’m sure we could find some time.”

Watergate gaped at her. “Are you trying to rob me of my sanity??”

“This is your endeavor, Watergate. I have given the time and method to fix your main concern. Any further conflicts your crusade desires will be on your time.”

The room fell silent as the councilpony relaxed. Finally, he began to slowly nod. “The only reason we’re not going to simply spread the word that a dangerous creature  is currently endangering one of our towns is the fact that we are currently in unstable connections with an army of another.”

We?” The boisterous councilstallion from either shouted. “What so suddenly makes you the spokesperson for the rest of us? I won’t let this monster endanger us all after what happened before!”

Watergate slammed a hoof on the table, stunning his peer. “Raffle, knock some sense into yourself! Word of our conflict with the Empire has already spread across the country. Causing even more panic could potentially be a far more devastating outcome than a single dragon.” He hesitated. “Potentially.”

“Intelligent thinking, Mr. Watergate.” His mother commended.

The councilpony only snorted in response before leaning forward. “But I’m not just going to let this problem go unchecked either. Your majesty, you are able to send letters to Spike, correct?”

Spike didn’t like the sound of that, and judging from his mother’s narrowing eyes, neither did she. “...Yes. Why?”

“I want to be able to contact Spike at any moment I desire. You know, send him a signal so we can meet up, check on how he’s doing.” He tilted his head. “Make sure that band is staying on.”

His mother lingered upon the councilpony before turning towards him. “Spike, I will not teach him the spell without your consent.”

“Oh, and if you’re having any doubts with that band, leave now and don’t waste my time,” Watergate said.

Spike mused while looking around the room. The council was in disarray, arguing amongst each other. Only Watergate gazed at him with hard eyes, patiently awaiting a response. To his side, his friends all waited expectantly for him. Gilda wore the same scowl from before, her gaze still locked upon the band. On the opposite side, his mother’s eyes were aglow with a sad victory. He understood. She had won his freedom in Equestria, yet enslaved him at the same time. Finally, he looked down upon the band. It was a dull, lifeless silver, a blot against his brilliant violet and emerald scales. No taste and no meat was bad, but they were small sacrifices for his friends. Not to mention, he always had gems. And if he ever did go on a violent rampage, he’d vomit his guts out at the first taste of flesh.

“Teach him.” Spike nodded towards his mother then turned to Watergate. “This band is everything I could have asked for. I have no doubts.”

His mother raised her hooves again, clopping them together. The same dull thunder trembled through the hall, silencing the council. “Then we have reached a conclusion. Tomorrow I will teach Mr. Watergate the spell to contact Spike through scroll. Mr. Watergate, understand that you will not teach this spell to anyone else, lest you face sever consequences.” Watergate bowed his head in response. “Spike will resume being a citizen of Ponyville and have full Equestrian rights. If any of you wish to contend this, you may approach me later.” His mother looked over the table one last time before lowering her hooves and bowing slightly. “Thus, this meeting is adjourned. Thank you all for coming.”

Yes!” He heard Pinkie shout. Twilight wrapped her hooves against his right arm. He bent down and brought her into a tight embrace. Only seconds after his freedom and he already felt home again.

They stayed in each other’s arms until Spike slowly broke away. He had to get out of this room. “Twilight, I can’t be by this boar any longer.”

“Come,” his mother said, rising from her chair and trotting to his side “we can all converse further within the grand ballroom. This hall is tainted with bad air and... flies,” she finished, glancing over at the council.

As he followed his mother, his friends rose from their seats and greeted him before trotting with him. Everyone but Fluttershy, Twilight, and Gilda beamed at him with pure happiness. Gilda was still upset, Twilight smiled softly but continued to eye him with concern, and Fluttershy’s head was bowed, her eyes hidden by long pink locks.

The bickering of the council faded away as he crossed through the opened double doors and entered the grand ballroom he had traversed before. Gilda stormed in front of him to the ballroom’s center before spinning around and flaring out her wings.

“There is no way that thing is staying on!” she screeched.

“Hey chill out Gilda!” Rainbow Dash jumped in front of him. “You heard that goon. Spike needs that band or they’ll go ratting on him and causing all kinds of chaos. You don’t want him to be covered in pony reporters and protesters do you?”

“Like that will matter! Travelers will come along and spread the word themselves. And stop calling it a ‘band’! It’s a damn dog collar!”

Celestia stepped forward, nodding to her. “Your fears are honest, Gilda, but Spike’s presence in Ponyville is not a secret. It was simply the council’s ability to spread fear that I was concerned of. This band helps quell that problem for now.”

“There it is with ‘band’ again,” Gilda scoffed. “Screw this.” She began making her way to the door connecting to the gardens.

“Gilda, wait!” Maybe it was the familiar tone of her voice he had heard weeks before, maybe it was just him assuming the worst, but something in Spike snapped, causing him to lurch towards the griffon with an outstretched claw.  

It must have been the look in his eyes. The moment she glanced back over her shoulder at him, she froze up, her furrowed brows and hard eyes softening. She walked back to him.

“Don’t worry. Just to need to blow off some steam. Just getting some fresh air,” she said softly so only he could hear.

Of course. He felt stupid. There was no way she would leave again. He hoped. “Heh, right. Sorry. Kind of overreacted there.”

“Catch you in a bit?” she asked, raising up her claw.

“Definitely.” He returned the claw bump then watched her leave for the door. Just taking a breather, calm down Spike. Should probably start saying hello to his—

In the blink of an eye he was on the ground.  He groaned rolling over slightly to come face-to-face with an eye-full of pink.

“We won! We won! Spike’s coming home!” Pinkie cried as she straddled his belly.

“I don’t think ‘won’ is the right word Pinkie,” he said. “I’ve still got this coll- I mean band to get used to and Watergate didn’t seem finished yet.”

Pinke shook her head then— oof— stuck her face right into his in a playful nuzzle. “That old meaniehead is just full of hot air. Besides, you’re home! As soon as we get back to Ponyville, BAM! A welcome home party for Spike!”

        “Pinkie, I’m sot sure if a party...” He stopped himself. Three months too long. He should know better than to try and stop Pinkie from throwing a party, especially after he had been gone for so long. See? He was already beginning to get readjusted. “Pinkie, a party sounds great.”

        “Woohoo! I’m going to start making invitations right now!” She dashed off towards the double doors that led into the grand hall.

        “Does she even know her way around the palace?” Rarity asked as she trotted to his side, watching the pink pony burst out of the ballroom. “Bah, I’m sure she’ll find her way. Now about that awful thing around your neck...”

        “Rarity, you didn’t hear what I just told Gilda? I have to wear this!” he said, rising back to his feet.

        “No no no dear, not that, I mean that ghastly silver looks absolutely horrid against your brilliant scales! If you could just give me an hour of work, I could turn it into something acceptable so you can walk about town without embarrassment.”

“I like the sound of that. Maybe repay you by digging up a few gems?” Spike asked.

Rarity’s eyes flashed as she beamed with excitement. “That would be wondrous! I’ve fallen so far behind in my gem hunting with you gone that I’ve had to dig up my back up containers. Not to mention it would be a great way to catch back up after those dreadful three months.”

“Sounds like a deal.” Spike extended a claw.

 She pushed his claw out of the way and embraced him, wrapping her hooves around his stomach. “Oh Spike I’m so glad your back! While you were gone, I was worried that I... that I’d never see you again.”

He returned the hug, holding her softly. “It’s ok. I’m back. I’m home now.”

“Forgive me.” She backed away, wiping tears from her eyes. “Very unladylike of me to cry here. There are others waiting and I won’t stand here wallowing.” She began walking away before calling back over her shoulder. “Remember, as soon as we get back to Ponyville, that... thing gets redecorated.”

 “Glad to see that some things never change.” Applejack took Rarity’s place, smiling up at him. “Mighty glad to see ya back Spike. Things were gettin’ far too dull with ya gone. Even Pinkie was movin’ a bit slower than her usual self.”

“Kept your eye on Twilight for me while I was gone?” Spike asked, smiling back.

        Applejack’s expression turned grim. “Darn girl scared me a bit there, lockin’ herself up in the library for the past few months. Now that you’re back, she seems to be loosenin’ up a bit.”

        He sighed. He had to talk to Twilight. But first, “Applejack, about Gilda...”

        “Pah!” She waved a hoof at him. “Don’t worry about it none. If you and Dash can be friends with her, ah’m sure there’s somethin’ in there ah just haven’t found yet. Gimme some time is all ah’m askin’.” She brought a hoof up to her chin. “Still, kinda curious how she just shows up out of nowhere. But ah’m ramblin’. Ya need to  talk to Twilight, so I’ll let ya go.”

        Applejack stepped aside. Ahead of him, his mother and sister were talking in hushed whispers. Not yet. He veered off towards Rainbow Dash and the yellow pegasus she was chatting with. As he approached, Fluttershy turned her attention towards him, lowering her head in reaction. Dash tilted her head before realizing he was coming. She immediately wrapped a hoof around her friend’s shoulder in support.

        “Heya Spike! Was just talking to Fluttershy about dinner. I thought it was great! Man that daffodil sandwich and salad were awesome! What did you think Fluttershy?” Dash forced out a smile, shaking her friend slightly.

        “It was nice.”

        No. This was not happening. He lowered himself down gently so that they were eye level. She flinched slightly, trying to back away from him only to be held in place by Dash. Her eyes were downcast, averted from his. “Fluttershy.” No response. “Fluttershy, look at me please.”

        The troubled pegasus lifted her head slowly until her guilt-stricken eyes met his. Was this how she had been for the past three months? All of this suffering his friends were enduring, all because some stuck up ponies were afraid of the unknown. This was going to take more than a few words to fix.

“Listen, that councilmare was right. You did the right thing, telling Twilight about what happened.” She tried to deny it, to look away from him. Dash held her firmly. “It was the council that was wrong. Not you.” Nothing. “I know you won’t admit it, but I just want to tell you that you did nothing wrong, you’re still my friend, and I’m so happy to see you again.”

Nothing still. He felt defeated, like he had lost a decisive battle. He bowed his head before turning to Dash.

“I’m happy to see you too Spike.”

He looked back at Fluttershy. She met his eyes for only a few moments before lowering her head once again. He didn’t care. That one, faint, squeaked sentence was enough, opened up doors that he had feared to be sealed shut. “Thanks Fluttershy.”

Rainbow Dash released her grasp, allowing her to walk away towards Rarity and Applejack. “That actually went better than I was expecting,” she said, watching her go. “She and Twilight were almost impossible to talk to while you were gone.”

As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. That couldn’t have gone any better. Baby steps, Spike. You’re home now. No need to rush anything. “Dash, can I ask a favor?”

“Sure thing! Whatcha need?”

He turned towards the door leading outside to the palace gardens. “Can you go check up on Gilda for me? I’m worried about her, especially with all of this griffon-war stuff going on amongst the Canterlot ponies.”

Dash rose to her hooves. “Smart idea. Gilda didn’t look too happy when she left. I’ll talk to her while you patch things up with Twilight.”

While Dash exited for the gardens, he focused his attention upon his mother and sister. The two mares hadn’t moved from their spot next to the stairs, their eyes unwavering as if in a staring contest.. Were they arguing? When he approached, both of them broke off their conversation, smiling at him. That was not a normal smile. Something was happening here.

“Spike, you, Celestia, and me need to talk in private.”

Uh oh.

“Uh, sure. Where to?”

“Follow me.” His mother rotated around Twilight and began trotting up the nearby stairs. He followed behind her side-by-side with Twilight. Unlike the soft, grateful presence she had maintained since he returned, Twilight trotted beside him with a face of stone and furrowed eyebrows. They reached the top, coming upon another double door which the princess help open for them. The room beyond was a much smaller, more contained area than the grand ballroom. Chairs sat aside petite tea tables, satin couches dotted the walls, and even a few bookshelves held tomes for those more in the mood for reading than conversing. Across the way, a paned clear-glass door led to a balcony that overlooked the palace gardens. Overall pleasant, relaxing. Probably used as a small ‘get-away’ section to escape the hustle and bustle of ballroom parties.

 “So, Spike, how are you feeling?” Twilight asked as she and his mother stopped in front of him.

Suspicious. Her tone made it sound more like she was expecting a certain answer more than an honest response. Something in the back of his mind told him that the conversation from downstairs was still in effect.        

Best to just answer honestly. “Feeling good. Got my friends, my family, my freedom. I guess the only bad thing is the council and this weird band and all of the craziness it brings, but I’m fine.”

She didn’t respond, staring at him uneasily. Obviously not the answer she wanted. “What exactly happened on your way back home?”

“I was uh... attacked.”

“I see,” she said with grim confirmation.

“Look, I’m fine! I’m back home. So I got attacked. I’m still alive aren’t I? I’ll get over it.”

Twilight grimaced. “Get over it? Spike, you’re covered in scars and now you come back just to be met with some strange device that changes the way you eat!” She sighed, rubbing her head with a hoof. “I’m just worried about you.”

“Spike, if there is anything I can do, any fears you have or want to discuss, Twilight and I are here for you,” his mother said.

“No really, I’m fine!” He held up his claws defensively. “Sure, I got a few scars, but I’m back right? No more banishment.”

“You shouldn’t have even been banished in the first place!” Twilight shouted.


His mother turned away, trotting to the balcony door. “I shall leave you both be. If either of you wish to speak with me, I shall await you outside.”

Whoa! What the heck was happening? “Mom?” It was too late. The door to the balcony eased shut, leaving her a milky blur through the panes of glass. “Twilight, what happened?”

“Spike, I’m so sorry about all of this. About everything.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

“Spike stop blowing this off. You were gone for three months!”

“But Twilight, I already—”

“For something that wasn’t even your fault! That you had no control over!”

“Yeah that did kind of suck but—”

“And then when you come back you’re nearly bleeding to death and have a broken arm!”

“Well... yeah that was pretty bad...”

        “And now, you have to wear this... this... thing just so you can stay home, where you belong! Celestia failed you and she knows it!”

        He was stunned. Had he forgiven his mother too quickly? Should he still be upset? Resenting her?  His thoughts were a jumbled mess, struggling to find some place of leverage. What was the worth of forgiveness when banishment was just a band-less neck away? What was stopping his mother from letting the council slip through her hooves again? What was stopping Gilda from just—

        He stopped himself. Where would Gilda be now if he had never waited for, never forgave her for leaving? Not here, that’s for sure. He’d be deprived of the one person who truly understood him anymore. Yes, he had his scars. Yes, Gilda’s aggressive and blunt personality conflicted with his friends. But who else would have joked off his fears with the boar? Who else would be there beside him, letting him know that a bunch of stuck up ponies were no big deal?

        She wouldn’t be here. It was a simple conclusion that held so much power. Just thinking about it tore a void in his stomach. Forgiving her was what he had wanted. Did it make him a better person than Rainbow Dash, who had waited too long? Or Twilight, who was still feuding with his mother? No, it was just who he was. He forgave his mother. Twilight hadn’t. He understood that now.

        “Twilight, I’m lucky to have you watching my back, but I’m also lucky to have my mother.” Twilight shifted uncomfortably, shaking her head. “I believe she’s done all she can, and if that means I need to put up with a few vegetables and disgruntled councilponies, so be it.”

        “She’s the Princess, Spike,” she said softly. “She can raise the sun, she taught me almost everything I know... but she can’t protect you from her own country?” She sighed. “I won’t believe it.”

        “And that’s fine.” He bent down on one knee, allowing her to nuzzle his chest. He gave her all the time she needed, waiting until she gently backed away. Her breaths were slower, more calm now as she smiled at him. “Can you at least go talk to her for me?” He asked as he rose back to his feet.

        Twilight looked back to the balcony then nodded to him. “Why don’t you go check up on the girls downstairs? I’ll... try and talk to her.”

        “Thank you. See you back downstairs,” he called as he exited for the ballroom. The door clicked shut behind him. There. He had done all he could. Now it was up to Twilight. He carefully began making his way down the small pony-steps, greeting Applejack and Rarity as he descended.


The palace garden that stretched before her was impressive to say the least. Of course, since summer had just begun, the greenery, roses, and bushes were in full bloom and at peak condition. She imagined that for the royalty and nobles, who had never so much as set a foot in a forest or journeyed through the wild, this was an amazing sight. Not for her. Not that she cared. Sightseeing was the last thing on her mind right now.

He didn’t trust her.

No, he trusted her. He was just... afraid. Afraid she’d leave again.

Wasn’t it something amazing, to be feared? She thought so. To have ponies, griffons, dragons, whatever, panic in your presence. It meant you were strong. It meant you had power over someone.

She used to think so. Now she hated it. She loathed herself for it. Seeing Spike afraid because he thought she was running away... even worse, all of this could have been avoided if she weren’t so stupid.

Oh, you can go back to Ponyville? I dunno, I kind of left there in a bit of heat last time. Ah yeah you’re right, they’ll get over it, and I’m totally sure Dash tried to contact me afterwards anyways making a reunion pretty sweet.

Bam. No scars, no fear, just two friends crashing Equestria. But that wasn’t the case. She had been petty, nearly costing Spike his life and punching holes in their friendship.

And yet he had forgiven her. That’s what drove her crazy. After all the hell she had put him through, he had the ability to say ‘Don’t sweat it Gilda, let’s just get back to Ponyville’. ‘These scars? Pfft. New decorations!’. All said with that sarcastic little quip of his.

She suddenly realized she had been standing rigid ever since landing on the roof. She sunk down onto her claws, instinctively kneading the stone despite its hard shell.

Forgiveness. He had done the same thing for the princess as well. She had banished him for three months and was now making him wear that damn collar, yet he forgave her too. Maybe he was naive. Maybe it was just a flaw of his.

But Spike wasn’t naive. He could be ridiculous some times, sure, but naive? Not really. He knew what was happening and what he had to do.

So what did that make him? She looked up, taken aback by the brightness of the stars in spite of the glaring Canterlot lights. She snorted. Must be some Goddess magic. Still, she found herself rolling onto her back, bringing her claws to the back of her head as a makeshift pillow. There they were, just like she had shown Spike before. What was it, a month ago? Not even that? It felt like she had known him for so much longer...

Spike. That’s what it made him. His ability to forgive, to brush everything aside to bring out the greater good in everyone. That’s what made Spike, well, Spike. It was a rather crazier thought than she was used to, but she liked it. It just felt right, like the feeling you get after solving a difficult puzzle.

She returned her attention to the stars. Goddess magic... weren’t there two now? Where was Celestia’s sister?

Her beak formed into a wry smile.

Goddess of the night. Probably off in some crazy party or getting fu—

“Hey! I’ve been looking all over for you!”

Gilda rolled back onto her belly, scrambling to her feet. Before she could begin to look around, a dull thud sounded from behind her. She spun around. Dash. She made to protest, but Spike’s words rang in her ears. Maybe it’s not me she’s afraid of, but you.

Afraid. Fear. She was tired of it, especially amongst her friends.

She held out her claw towards her friend. “Heh, my bad. I wanted to hang out in the gardens down there, but some weird old pony was whistling and rummaging around. Decided for the roof instead. Sup?”

        Dash was frozen, glancing between her and her claw.

        Did she say something wrong? “You ok Dash?”

        “Yeah!” She bumped her hoof with her claw, a wide smile springing up on her face. “Spike and I just wanted to check up on how you were doing. Never know when you’ll get mobbed by a bunch of prissy nobles huh?”


         Gilda returned to the roof’s edge overlooking the palace gardens. “Hmph. Honestly, I’m not sure who’s in more danger, me or Spike.”

        “Dang. What can I do to get onto the list? You two are stealing all the fun!”

        Gilda brought a claw up to her beak. “You know, there is a Mr. Watergate you could get rid of...”


        “Hey I’m just kidding! Well, kind of.”

        They both laughed. Dang it had been a long time since she heard this. Too long.

Dash joined her side as the laughter died out. “So you never did tell me about you and Spike.”

“What do you want to know?”


She groaned, creating another small chuckle from Dash. “I guess you did save our lives and all. Alright. Get comfortable, ‘cus this one’s long.” Ugh. Where to begin? Might as well start from the roots. “So for some insane reason I decided to join the Empire army...”

Even with her rushing the story still dragged on to a considerable length. She focused upon the events she thought Dash would find ‘cool’, explaining each battle in vivid dramatic detail while skipping around delicate topics like Spike’s confession and her leaving. She made sure to also not bring up a single word of stargazing.

“Then... oh man, I dunno if I want to tell you this one.”

“Aw come on!” You can’t just say that and then  not tell me!” Dash cried, throwing her hooves in the air.

        “Alright alright! Just promise this never leaves me, you, or Spike, got it?”

        “Pinkie Pr—” She stopped the strange movements she had been making and folded her hooves behind her back with a sheepish grin. “Promise.”

        Gilda eyed her suspiciously. Don’t know what the hell that was, but if it involves ‘Pinkie’, Dash had the right idea. “Right, so get this. Spike and I are staking out in this cave for the night. After we get a good night’s rest, guess what we wake up to? Like, twenty soldiers outside ready to do a clean sweep of the area!”

        Dash gaped. “How the heck did you get out of there?”

        “See, this is where things get kinda embarrassing,” she said, scratching the back of her neck. “So my thinking was, if they don’t see Spike, they’ll just assume I’m a wild griffon right? But then they might still check my cave anyways. I had to make sure they didn’t go further in so I...” Sudden paranoia overtook her. She leaned forward and whispered into Dash’s ear. “I preened.”

        Dash retreated, shaking her head in confusion. “You... oooooooooooooooh. Oh... OH!

        Gilda nodded in embarrassment. For Andune’s sake if Dash ever spoke of this to anyone else, she’d snap her in two.

        “How long did you have to preen? Must have set a new record there!” She asked.

        “Well I had Spike to help me out—”


        Shit. “Look, it was either that or get caught, got it?”

        “I know! You did what you had to.” Dash folded her hooves, looking resigned only for her eyes to open again, a slight glimmer behind them. “Still... you preened with him.”


        “Alright! Just forget it.”

        Awkward silence. Not that she minded. Definitely better than Dash going off assuming things.

The sound of a door closing echoed across the palace gardens. She looked over to Dash, sharing a confused shrug as they both began searching around. There, right below them. A balcony extended out from the palace, and walking out onto it, the princess herself. Gilda tapped Dash on the shoulder, bringing a single claw up to her beak while pointing down. Her friend looked over the side then quickly retreated, giving her a nod.

Even from above her regal beauty was mesmerizing. Still, her posture seemed less regal than before. Slumped. No surprise there, especially after forcing your son to wear some stupid dog collar to even live a normal life.

“What do griffons think of the princess?” Dash whispered.

“Depends. Back when I was younger, some books would call her ‘beautiful’, ‘majestic’, and other stuff like that.  Nowadays? Most of those books are gone, and kids are told she’s ‘the wicked witch of the east’.” Her thoughts flashed back to when she had just entered into the Empire’s army, staff instructors cramming hateful images of a sun goddess roasting griffons alive. “To recruits, they let us know her as ‘pompous’ and ‘arrogant’.”

Dash shuffled uneasily next to her. “Do you believe that?”

        “Just the ‘witch’ part.”

        They both hid their snickers beneath claw and hoof. As Gilda finished her muffled laugh, she took a deep breath from the cool night air. This wasn’t so bad. Funny, how just a few days ago she was afraid to death of begging her old friend for forgiveness. Still, the way she just tossed her out. Ridiculous. What was stopping her from doing it again? Besides, she had Spike now. Sure, he couldn’t outright race or do anything crazy, but she had gotten over that long ago. She smiled, thinking back to the canyon. They could make their own fun anyways.

        But here she was, enjoying herself with Dash without any crazy tricks or races. And Spike. He had given her a second chance even after her abandonment. She looked over to her friend who was finishing her own chuckle. Memories of Flight Camp, of their pranks, their feats, came cascading back to her. It didn’t matter if she needed one friend or one hundred. There was only one Dash, and she enjoyed hanging out with her.

        Forgiveness. Only a month with Spike and he had already taught her how powerful it could truly be. Maybe it was time to put that lesson to use.

        “Hey Dash?”


        Gilda paused, clenching her claws. No backing down now. “I just wanted to say that, I mean, You know... it’s fine that you told me off at that party. I forgive you.” The words came out stuttered and strained. Her friend’s eyes widened in amazement. “Heh. Kinda deserved it anyways. It was my bad for yelling at all your friends. Not to mention you tried to write me letters anyways.”

        Dash nodded solemnly. “I’m sorry for just kicking you out like that. I should have stopped you outside and talked to you. Plus, like I said before, setting up all those pranks after you were already upset with Pinkie was the most stupid idea ever.” She shook her head, smiling. “And you know me. I’ve had a lot of stupid ideas.”

        “Seems all of this could have been avoided if they would just throw ‘Pinkie Pie’ into a mental asylum.” Gilda growled.

        Dash sighed. “Gilda, I understand Pinkie—”

        The door opened again, cutting her friend off.

“It’s good to see Spike well, now that he has returned home to his friends.”

Celestia. Was she talking to herself? One thousand years would drive one crazy. Gilda motioned for Dash, sneaking a look over the edge of the roof to the balcony below. While the princess still remained, Spike’s friend Twilight had joined her. Oddly enough, neither seemed eager to make eye contact with the other.

Twilight snorted. “Well? I saw his condition when he arrived. He was almost dead!”

“Which is of course why I brought in our greatest doctors and sought to healing him personally. As you saw, he has made a swift recovery,” Celestia said.

“And now he’s covered in scars.”

“They’ll fade in time...”

“But the experience of being beat to near death won’t.”

Celestia bowed her head, allowing the silence of the night to creep in. Gilda glanced over to Dash, but all of her attention was transfixed on the scene below. Meh. Might as well enjoy the drama while it lasts.

 “This has been troubling you since the day he left, no?” The princess asked.

“Of course,” Twilight said. Still no eye contact. The awkwardness was so thick Gilda could probably swim through the air surrounding the two below.

“Twilight, you haven’t spoken to me since then. I’m no mind reader. You need to tell me what your thoughts truly are, without curtains or subtlety.”

“He was your son and you exiled him,” Twilight said quickly, as if relieving a weight from her shoulders. “You should have stopped them. He’s never hurt anyone... he didn’t deserve any of this.”

“I tried everything I could Twilight.” Whoa. Frustration. That one was new. “I’m not all powerful. I cannot control everything with a mere whim.”

“And why not!?” Twilight’s voice picked up as she finally faced towards the princess. “You’re the Princess! You are the law! You are Equestria!”

“Exactly! I am law. I am a model. Which means, more than anypony else, my actions set precedent! Imagine what message would be sent out to all of Equestria, to all of the world if I were to combat the council? Especially in a time such as this, where we are at severe odds with the Empire! We need fluidity, and as much as I love Spike, snubbing the council and making an enemy of them was a dangerous option! I brought him back home as soon as I could. If I had known he would be attacked by griffons,  I would have left and brought him back myself.”

“What about this collar? You’re forcing him to change who he is so he can stay home.”

“The band is only temporary until this rising conflict between nations has been quelled. Afterwards, I can focus solely on Spike and confront the questions and fears that come along with him.”

“And how long will that be?”

Celestia hesitated. “I... cannot lie. I do not know. Months? Years? Such things can be dampened or ignited with small, simple actions.”

“From what I’ve heard while in the palace things are only getting worse.”

“You would be hearing correctly,” Celestia said softly.

Twilight’s whole body drooped. “So it could be years... I’m sorry. You said you’ve done everything you could but... I just can’t believe that.” She turned around, trotting back to the paned door.

“You will let me know how Spike is doing won’t you? And you too?” Celestia called out with a hint of desperation and lone sadness. “I’ve missed your letters...”

Twilight paused. Silence... silence...

“I will.”

Even Gilda found herself letting out a breath of relief. Twilight left her field of vision, disappearing through the glass door below. Celestia returned to her silent vigil, gazing out at the vast palace gardens below.

Well that was enough drama to last a life time. Gilda retreated from the roof’s edge, her friend following closely behind.

“They’re teacher and student?” Gilda asked in a low whisper.

Dash shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. A few months back and Twilight would be head over hooves about how amazing the princess was. Now, ever since that night...”


        “So we just witnessed the equivalent of a messy breakup! Sweet!”

        Her friend laughed, punching her lightly on the shoulder. “Hey, that’s my friend your talking about! Not to mention the princess!” She paused suddenly. “Then again, you are kinda right, that was... GAH! Forget it!” Gilda only laughed harder, causing her friend to glare at her. “Look, everyone’s probably gonna start heading to bed real soon. We should get back inside.”


        “Sounds like a plan. Don’t want to stick around and watch the princess cry anyways. Let’s bail.”

        They positioned themselves on the opposite side of the roof before taking off and looping back towards the entrance to the ballroom below. The still air of a summer night gave them no struggle as they descended, landing with impressive silence upon the lush green grass below. Dash led the way, holding the door open for Gilda. She nodded to her friend and passed through.

        Spike was at the center of the ballroom, chatting with two of his friends. The white one, Rarity, was it? She was pretty cool. Kept that pink monstrosity in check and had some class without being a complete ass. Gilda could respect that.

Then there was Ms. Bucktooth. The paladin-everyone-needs-to-get-along girl. Too bad really, she’s the type of pony Gilda wouldn’t mind hanging out with and Dash seemed to get along with her really well. The faster ‘Applejack’ got it through her head that she wasn’t going to put up with unrestrained insanity, the faster they could start getting back onto right foot. Or hoof. Whatever.

        “Hey Gilda! How was the garden?” Spike waved her over.

        She walked over to him, shrugging. “Eh. Just a bunch of dumb roses. Nothing as cool as what you showed me out in the Wilds, that’s for sure.”

        “Maybe we could request them to bring in some of those turnabout berries huh?”

        “You’re the one with the Princess for a mother. You talk to her!” Gilda jeered. Wait. She was missing something. Oh yeah! “Plus, probably not too good of an idea. Those stupid animals would poison themselves as soon as the berries turned bad.”

        “Eh, they’d learn eventually,” Spike joked.

        They shared a laugh as she stopped at his side.

        “My! I wouldn’t believe it had you told me just a day ago, but you two truly are close!” The white pony gushed. “Spike, Gilda, you must tell me the story of how you became friends some time. Perhaps over tea or maybe lunch?”

        “Eh...” Tea? Lunch? Probably at some fancy restaurant knowing her. Gilda shared an uncertain glance with Spike.

The dragon scratched at the back of his neck. “Errr how about Gilda accompany us while we hunt for gems? That way we can both tell you.”

“A genius idea Spike! Oh I simply cannot wait to get back to Ponyville and get all caught up with my little Spikey Wikey again.”

Spikey Wikey? What the hell? She looked up at her friend, but he was already turned away, trying his best to avoid eye contact with her. Ah. Embarrassment. Chalk up another phrase she can use against him.

“Rarity, I thought I said...” Spike paused, his eyes drifting over to the stairs. Gilda followed his gaze, witnessing Spike’s purple friend descending towards them. Twilight, that was her name. Gotta start memorizing them all. “Twilight? Where’s mom?”

Twilight paused at the bottom of the steps. “She’s... thinking.”

Well, that was one way to say it.

“Ah! Master and mistresses!” A gruff voice called from the exit to the grand hall. The butler that had hugged Spike and brought in the band during dinner was hobbling towards them. Perfect timing old dude. She wasn’t sure if she could take any more drama after the whole student-teacher breakup. “All of your rooms have been prepared and are fully set for your overnight stay. Once you are done conversing, I shall lead you to them.”

The white pon- Rarity let out an exaggerated yawn, covering her mouth with her hoof. “I don’t know about you dears, but I am exhausted.”

“Reckon ah’m plumped as well after all this runnin’ around,” Bucktooth agreed.

“Gilda?” Spike asked.

“Me? The past three nights have been sleeping on cold stone. I’m freaking tired and a soft bed sounds amazing,” she said.

“Couldn’t agree more! Then again, I didn’t have to wake up in a cell...” The dragon shuddered. “Sovereign, before we go, you wouldn’t have happened to see Pinkie Pie running around would you?”

Sovereign nodded. “I have, in fact. Mistress Pinkie Pie demanded a plentiful amount of paper, glue, glitter, and all other sorts of decorations before retiring to her room for the night. I have not seen her since and presume she is still within.”

Spike shook his head, covering his face with a claw. “I guess she was serious about those invitations. Anyways, can you lead us to our rooms?”

“With pleasure, master Spike.” The butler bowed, turning back towards the exit to the grand hall. “If you would follow me, please.”

 The yellow pony, Rarity, and Bucktooth fell in behind Sovereign as he departed for the grand hall. Dash, Spike, and Twilight lingered behind with her, bringing up the rear. Once again, Gilda found herself stunned by the grand hall. Unlike the light filled corridor it had been mere hours before, a soft glow of silver illuminated the pillars and walls, giving the hall the characteristics of a noble, primeval cave. She had no idea what kind of magic this was, nor did she have any love for it, but damn if it wasn’t impressive. Probably from the night sister. Where was she anyways?

Also unlike before, the hall was nearly devoid of any nobles. The golden-clad celestial guards of before had been replaced by bat-winged lunar guards, their dark blue armor fitting their environment especially well. The only constant was that of the palace servants who still passed from room to room, regarding her and her friends with a sense of awe and fear. Other than the light clopping of hooves against tile, the hall was near silent, with no one around to carry the conversations—

They had only just passed the middle of the hall when a male griffon stepped from the massive double doors of the throne room. Two lunar guards stood astride him, hovering slightly behind to allow him space. Gilda froze. He spotted her. They locked eyes. This must be the ambassador. Why did she freeze up? He had no idea who she was. Did he?

The ambassador scoffed and faced forward before continuing down the length of the hall, eventually disappearing behind one of the massive pillars.

“Gilda, you alright?” Spike called out to her in concern. The entire procession had stopped and looked back at her with a mixture of worry and suspicion.

“Huh? Oh! Yeah! Just uh... had a moment there I guess. My bad.” She stole one last glance down the hall before rejoining her friend. Sovereign continued across the way, opening the door to the guest rooms she had gone to first reunite with Spike in earlier. They all passed through, Gilda giving the butler a nod before a simple thought struck her. “Wait. I mean, sorry if this is touchy for you du- Sovereign, but aren’t you blind? How did you know where the door was?”

The old butler chuckled as he closed the door behind him with ease. “Mistress Gilda, I have traveled this palace since I was but a young foal. Believe in me when I say that I could traverse it ten years ago with my eyes closed, and I can do it ten years later blind.”

Gilda frowned. Mistress? Blech. Still, this Sovereign guy was pretty cool. Best just to let it slide.

He led them on until they reached the same hall she had confronted Celestia’s guards in. Sovereign turned to them, bowing. “All rooms within this hall are ready for use. I only ask that you do not disturb the room on the left at the end of the hall for Mistress Pie has requested complete and total privacy for the rest of the night. If any of you have any questions, concerns, or requests, please do not be afraid to come talk to me in the lounge we just passed through. I shall be there for the remainder of the night. If I happened to have dozed off, a good shake will get me back on my feet. Thank you all, and good night.” He bowed once more before retreating back through door.

“Well ta-ta everyone. I hope to see you all well in the morning.” Rarity trotted down the hall, taking the last door on the right. Fluttershy followed soon after, disappearing into the room just before hers without saying a word.

Bucktooth yawned, taking the room closest to her. “Would rather wrassle livestock all day than have to deal with that lot of jackals again. Sleep tight everyone.”

“Mission accomplished,” Dash said proudly, stretching her legs as she made her way to her own room. “Awesome to see both of you back Spike and Gilda. Can’t wait to get back to Ponyville! Then the real party starts!”

“Spike, are you sure you’ll be alright?” Twilight asked with worry, looking up at the dragon.

Spike’s tail and wings sagged as he sighed, lowering himself and hugging her. “Twilight, stop worrying. I’ll be fine.”

They held their embrace before Twilight broke away. “Good night then. See you tomorrow.” The mare trotted down the hall, giving both of them one last look before entering her room.

That left the two of them. Unlike the rest of the entire night, the silence that hovered between them was anything but awkward. As she looked up at him, he looked back, and thousands of words were spoken without either a snout or beak opening. They had made it. Crazed sergeants, patrols, cave ins, fights, all had been conquered to reach this point. Only a month spent together and already there was so much here. Respect. Friendship. Learning. Well, she learned from him. Hunting, forgiveness... She wondered if he ever learned anything from her.

“So I guess this is it huh?” he asked.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gilda shot back in a joking manner.

“I don’t really know myself! All of that craziness from soldiers to nobles and now... we’re here.”

“Heh, don’t get too comfortable. The fun is only just starting and you’ve still got Watergate hot on your tail.”

He chuckled. “Right. See you tomorrow then?”

She laughed with him. “Tomorrow, and make sure you don’t hurt yourself tonight because I’m not there to watch out for you.”

 “I’ll try. Good night Gilda.”


He walked away, passing through the door at the very end of the hall, the pony-made door forcing him to scrunch up his wings to slide through.

And now here she was alone. Best to get some rest. She took the untouched door behind her, walking through to find a well-sized bedroom. At its center, an impressive bed took up most of the space, two cupboards on either side providing room for items she did not have.

A knock from her door. Spike? She turned around, readying her free claw and crouching in case of an attack. Throwing open the door, she found Sovereign before her, holding a brown sack in his mouth.

        “Uh, yeah?” Gilda asked cautiously.

        “Forgiff myth intruthion, mistreth, but I wath informed thath the guardth never returned you your belongingth.” He gently lowered the sack to the ground, prodding it forward with a hoof. “Thus, I have returned them to you myself.”

She opened the bag, sifting through. Sure enough, everything was there, even the gem Spike had given to her weeks before. “Thanks! Thought this had been lost out on the plains or something!”

The butler bowed. “I shall leave you be now. Good night.” He trotted back down the hall, returning to the lounge.

Wait. How had he known what room she had taken? Maybe it was a wild guess? Huh. Better to not even think too much about it. That butler worked in mysterious ways. She placed her bag upon one of the cupboards then resumed her inspection. Let’s see... bed, cupboards, there’s a mirror over there and... a shower. Dear Andune there was a shower. Really, she had no idea why she was so excited as she watched the hot water pour down. Back in Dagger Fels and Lionsberg, she rarely ever showered despite it always being a constant opportunity.

“Just can’t find the motivation when you’re all alone you know?”

        Spike’s words echoed in her head. She knew.

        She must have spent a few minutes using the provided soap and another half hour simply allowing the warm water to cascade over her body. Feathers, fur, claws, and wings were all washed clean of days’ worth of sweat, dirt, and blood. Whether it was through instinct or exhaustion, she finally turned off the stream, stumbling out and drying herself off. Satisfied, she threw herself into the inviting sheets. She was tired. So tired. Was the struggle over? Hell no. But they were wrong. Even the wicked got a bit of rest.

*   *   *

        “If being cool is all you care about, maybe you should go find some cool friends someplace else.”

        “Let me guess. Going to stay for a nice visit of a week or two before heading back? Get some good knowledge of the daily lives of our beautiful elements here and then—”


        “Gilda! Wait!”

        Gilda awoke with a start, gasping for air. Nightmares. Now? After all of the crap she had been through, now was when she was having nightmares?

        She crawled out of bed, her head pounding with each beat of her heart. It wasn’t morning yet. She knew that. She could feel it. Aside from the small amount of light leaking under the gap of the door, her room was pitch black. She sat down, leaning against her bed.

This was all wrong. Something was wrong. Something was missing. Here, right now, felt just like her life back in Dagger Fels, in that dirty apartment. Alone. Her eyes began to deceive her. The window began to crack, dust began to accumulate on the cupboards, her sheets began to run yellow and stained.

She panicked, throwing open the door and leaping out into the hallway. Did the door just creak? Or was that her imagination again? Her eyes were still closed. If she opened them,  would she see the regal hallways of the palace, or the tattered walls of her old apartment? Maybe this had all been some crazy dream?

She opened her eyes. Dark red carpet, clean wooden walls. Thank Andune. Thank Celestia. Thank whoever the hell would listen. What now? Should she laugh? Cry? She felt so... exposed. Was she afraid of a bunch of stuck up nobles?

Something tickled the edge of her ears. A muffled, droning sound stemming from the lounge room. Curious and not wanting to return to sleep, Gilda made her way down the hallway, pausing at the door at the end. Was that... Spike talking? Yes. Definitely. She carefully, slowly, silently, cracked open the door, peering through with a single eye.

There, sitting upright and waving his claws in the air, was Spike. Sovereign sat across from him, nodding while listening intently.

“... So we finally reach the mountains and begin flying through the valleys to pass to the other side. When nightfall comes and we land for a drink of water, we get spotted by a patrol of like, twenty griffons off in the distance! So Gilda and I hold our ground and stare them down...”

She closed the door, unable to wipe the stupid grin off her beak. Spike had said he’d tell his story to his friend, and he had held his promise. She made her way back to her room, climbing back into bed. She felt secure now. Safe. What did that even mean? She wasn’t going to be attacked by anything here, much less than when she was out in the wilds being pursued by patrols.

Didn’t matter. Whatever that moment was or had meant, it had passed. She was safe now. Secure.

She was still smiling as she drifted off to sleep.

← Chapter 8                                                                                                                   Chapter 10 →

Kindred Spirits

Ch. 10: Relapse

First, a week within that horrible apartment. Then, a straight overnight flight to reach Spike’s cave. Sure, she got a nice rest within Spike’s cave, but right afterwards was a cold, damp hole accompanied with a pins-and-needles waking. Then, to top it all off, she had woken up in a cell after being beaten to unconsciousness.

        Gilda pulled at the silken sheets tight, wrapping herself in a soft cocoon. Her claws were probably tearing holes in the fabric. Oh well. Give the palace servants something to work on. She had earned this.

        After her brief panic attack, she had enjoyed the best slumber she had experienced in years. Dreams of chasing purple dragons down canyons, pulling off tricks with rainbow pegasi, and violently pranking a certain pink pony had guided her through the night, reminding her of fond memories and building excitement for things yet to come. She could get used to this, falling asleep without fear or doubts of tomorrow.

She remained in her dormant state, allowing time to pass by at a malformed, warped speed. How long had she laid there? Hours? Minutes? Seconds? No idea. She lay until her eyes finally opened on their own. The first thing she saw was the door. This sleep was great, amazing. But she wanted to get up. She wanted to see her friends.


Huh. Wanting to get up from bed instead of wanting to lie around all day. That was something new too.

Gilda cast off the covers and crawled from her bed. She stretched out her legs and rolled her neck, satisfied as the muffled pops uncorked the knots in her muscles. Now, one more thing before leaving

With a quick twist of the valve, the warm water fell upon her once more. Amazing. Maybe not quite the relaxing pulse of the river she and Spike had shared in the Central Wilds, but after what she had been through, she was more than content. She clawed off a bit of soap from the bar, scrubbing her bed-scrambled feathers and a few spots beneath her wings she missed the night before.

Alright. That was enough. Any more and Spike and Dash would come knocking out of concern. She turned the water off, shivering as the moist, warm air gave way to a gust of room temperature. Drying off, she found herself drifting over to the mirror. She looked... good. Yeah. Good. Fur was a nice light tan, her feathers radiated brighter than she could remember, and her beak and claws turned a soft orange-gold in their cleaned state. She leaned in closer to her reflection. Her purple colored chest feathers had tucked themselves away after her shower. Gotta fix that. There we go, that looks better. Maybe move around her head-feathers a bit...

She blinked, retreating from the mirror. What was she doing? What was she, some stylist now? She laughed. Way too much time spent among all of these upper class snobs. Was starting to affect her psyche!

She turned away towards the door, hesitating. She spun back around, finishing up the final touches of the feathers atop her head. There. Nothing fancy. Just want to look nice. Nothing wrong with that. Just another new thing to try out here in crazyland.

        Let’s see, bag, and... that was it. Eh, she never was a griffon of many possessions. Giving the room one last scan, she opened the door and left, flipping the light off behind her.


        The hall was dead silent. Of course she’d probably overslept everyone else. She made her way to the end of the hall, passing through the door. The only other person was the old butler Sovereign, resting upon the same chair she had seen him on the night before. Did he even move?

“Ah, mistress Gilda, it is good to hear you awake,” an old, gruff voice greeted. The butler turned towards her, nodding. Not that he could see or anything. Probably just a formality. “Your friends are currently all enjoying the pleasantries of Canterlot. Master Spike is still resting, I’m afraid.” He pointed a hoof towards the door leading to the grand hall. “If you wish, I can take you anywhere you desire within the palace. Even provide a tour, if desired. If you wish to leave for the city, however, I’m afraid you would find me more of a burden than an assistant.”

She weighed her options. On one claw, checking out more of the Equestrian capital would be pretty sweet. It had already admittedly surprised her in a few areas. On the other claw, if she went out into the city she’d be alone with thousands of ponies eyeing her with mistrust and suspicion. Not that she was afraid of being attacked or anything. She could break a few hundred ponies easily. It would just be... uncomfortable. She imagined the stares she had garnered in the palace magnified a hundred times over. Then she imagined weathering them without Spike or Dash with her. She shuddered.

“Nah, I’ve seen enough prissy nobles to last me the rest of my life.”

“A fair reasoning.” The butler let a small chuckle escape before he regrouped himself, motioning a hoof forward. “Might I interest you in a seat then as we wait for master Spike? Oh but I warn you, we may be here awhile. He’s always been a heavy sleeper.”

“Ha! Could have told you that the first few days after meeting him.” Gilda climbed up onto the couch, struggling to keep her claws from ripping at the soft fabric. She found the sweet spot, which allowed her talons to curve along the cushion’s edge. Satisfied, she returned her attention to the butler. He seemed quite peaceful despite the awkward silence between them. “So uh... you’ve known Spike since he was a fledgling? I mean a colt? I mean... ugh! whatever it is they call baby dragons.”

The butler bowed his head. “Indeed, even before that: since he was born. Ah, what a spark he was. Came during some of the most troubling times in my life.” He huffed, his mustache blowing outward. “‘Twas a day of happy sadness when he left for Ponyville. Even so, I still saw him often. Then this whole debacle with the council, I feared he would never return!”

“Yeah, those councilponies were making my beak grate,” Gilda seethed, clenching her claws as she remembered their stupid accusations against Spike. If she ever met Mr. Watergate in a dark alley... best not to get too worked up over it. She’d deal with him whenever he reared his ugly head again. “So what was he like when he was a kid?” she asked, trying to keep up the conversation.

“Much the same as he is today, if you would believe it. Quick-witted, sarcastic, mischievous, but in the end possessing a heart of gold. Even throughout his rebellious teen years he would return to Canterlot with nothing but accolade for his friends.” Sovereign’s brows lifted. “Speaking of which, he spoke quite highly of you the night before.”

“He did?” Gilda wanted to smack herself. Of course he did. “Yeah, well... he probably only told you the good parts.”

“You don’t think yourself worthy of his praise?” Dang, he cut right to the chase.

“Well, I mean, I did some questionable things.” Her attempts at sounding natural failed, the words coming out forced and strained. “And... I don’t know. It just seems weird. My whole life I’ve really only ever had one friend, Dash. Everyone else was... stupid? Uncool?” She grimaced as Pinkie Pie flashed through her mind. “Never really had more than one friend. Never really needed more than one friend. Then she told me to screw off and I thought that was it ya know? But then...” Her voice faltered as she hesitated. What was she doing, rambling on to some old geezer?  Why would he give half a damn about her problems?

Gilda raised her claw and opened her beak to cut her story short. She stopped when she saw the butler. He appeared just as she had seen him last night, nodding intently with his hidden eyes fixed forward in concentration. She sighed. Might as well finish what she started. “But then all of a sudden Spike just comes up out of nowhere. “

“Mmmm. From what little Spike told me, it sounded like you found him.”

She snorted. “I found him all right.” For all the good that did him. “But that isn’t the point.  Pretty much everyone I’ve ever met has steered clear or ignored me.” Wow, that came out whiny. Sovereign was probably thinking she was some loser. She doubled back in an attempt to save-face. “Not that that mattered or anything, most everyone else were complete idiots anyways.” She paused. That didn’t sound right either. “I guess I never thought some dragon raised around a bunch of stuck-up nobles would be the one to hang out with me.”

“Ha! I believe you just solved your own paradox!”  Sovereign said, sitting up in his chair. “Think of it like this: Spike is a rather laid back dragon who has been raised amongst the most  strict social group in Equestria, perhaps the world. And while the tales he has told me of his friends have been rambunctious at times, Equestrian society is quite passive, save a few pegasus sects. I imagine you,  in your straightforward and blunt ways, are a breath of fresh air to him.”

His answer only troubled her, raising even more questions. “So is that all I am? A breath of fresh air?”

The question caused the old butler to shift uneasily. “I can only tell you that I have known master Spike his entire life and believe that he is not the type to fool around with his friends. He may come off as humorous at times, but you will find that he is fiercely loyal.” Funny. She’d have said the same thing about Dash. Sovereign coughed, relaxing back into his chair. “But I am no soothsayer or psychic. If you truly fear that your friendship with Spike is based on no more than a temporary exotic awe, you will have to speak with him yourself.”

Talk to him herself? Wouldn’t that be grand? ‘Hey Spike, I know we’ve been through hell and back together, but I’m having doubts about our friendship. Could you answer a few questions for me?’ She shook her head. So damn awkward.

Wait. Hadn’t she already been through this before? That morning at the mouth of the cave, spent worrying, feuding with herself. She had come to a single, clear conclusion: she trusted Spike. So why was she doubting her trust now, when they were safe?

Something had happened. Something had changed. Celestia? No. As much as she hated to admit it, the princess was cool. The collar? Sure, it was weird, but it didn’t really come in between them. Yet.

His friends. More specifically, Bucktooth and that pink one. There was no way things were going to go smooth with those two around, and if a fight broke out, who would Spike choose?  The friends he’d known for years, or the griffon he’d known for a month?

She could picture it now. Another one of Pinkie Pies’ parties, having just told the moron how much of an insane idiot she was and how no one liked her stupid pranks or annoying attitude. Then Spike would turn on her and say—

“Morning Gilda, Sovereign.” Gilda nearly fell from the couch as a jolt shot through her body. She turned her head, spotting Spike emerging from the hall door. “Must have been nice, not waking up in a jail cell huh?”

She blinked, pulling herself from her imagination. Just Spike. No Bucktooth or Pinkie Pie. She was safe. “Totally! Best sleep I’ve had in forever. You?”

“Eh, the soft bed kinda threw me off after sleeping in a cave for so long. I got used to it though.” He looked between her and the butler. “Been chatting it up with Sovereign?”

“Uh, yeah. We’ve been talking about nobles and stuff and how annoying they can be.” Please catch on, please catch on, please catch on.

“Indeed. We both came to the consensus that they can be quite the frustrating bunch.”

She reminded herself to shake his hoof later.  

Spike chuckled shaking his head as he stopped beside them. “Must not have been talking for very long then.”

“Mmmm yes. I do believe we reached our conclusion rather swiftly.” Sovereign waved a single hoof through the air. “But that is beside the point. On both of your calls, I will have a message sent out to your friends that both of you are ready for departure.”

 “What?!” Spike reeled. “Already?”

“I am afraid so. Ms. Pie was the one to request that all of you return to Ponyville with haste. Something about a party, if I recall.”

A party. How could she not see this coming? Of course there was going to be some stupid ‘coming home’ celebration. She took a deep breath. Just relax, don’t panic. Act cool.

“What troubles you Spike?” Were you hoping to accomplish something here in Canterlot before leaving?” Sovereign asked.

Spike sighed. “No. It’s just... I’m worried about you, Gilda.”

Shoot, was it that obvious? Here Spike was having to deal with stupid collars and prejudiced councilponies and he’s worried about her? No way. Not happening. “Worried about me? Ha! What for? I’m doing perfect. You’ve got way more things to worry about than me.”

He frowned at her. Must not have been very convincing. “I wanted to make sure you’re totally ready for this. Don’t think I’ve forgotten what happened the last time you were at one of Pinkie’s parties. Not to mention, you don’t seem to be on good terms with Applejack.”

Once again, he knew her too well. Gilda jumped down from the couch. “Look, I’ll smooth things over with Bu—” Shit. That was close. “— with Applejack, as soon as I can. Just got off on the wrong claw is all. As for the party, I’ll chill out and coast through. It’ll be over in no time and we can get back to hanging out.”

Spike’s eyes narrowed, disbelief and worry still etched in his face. She stared back. If he truly knew her well, he’d back down right now. There was no way she’d let him win this fight.

Finally, he relinquished, his wings and tail drooping as his gaze cast downward. “Alright. Fine. Sovereign?”

“Yes, Master Spike?”

“Can you tell my friends Gilda and I are ready and lead us to the carriages?”

The butler slowly rose from his chair, nodding. A part of her wanted to help him, but the old relic had surprised her more than once. “If you would please follow me.”

And off they went, beginning their journey to the wonderful land of stupidity. They both followed Sovereign into the grand hall, the corridor having reverted to its light-state. All she had to do was survive the party. As bad as Ponyville was or could be, there was no way they could ever hope to match the idiocy she had just witnessed over the single night she had spent in Canterlot.

Sovereign stopped a passing pegasus guard, speaking in a low, hushed tone as he pulled a slip of parchment from his suit. The guard looked over the slip for a moment before saluting to the butler and turning about-face back down the hall.

“You can just pull guards off duty like that?” Gilda asked.

 Sovereign began leading them down the hall himself, giving a soft laugh.“You act surprised! In truth, I saved him a half-hour of attending his post within the inner palace. After spending some time with her majesty, you begin to see that the guards are more for formality than protection. As for being able to pull a guard from his duties? I suppose I do have a few select privileges here and there.”


They passed by the familiar entrance to the prison where she had reunited with Dash. There may have been over a hundred doors spanning this hall, but the prison’s was easily identifiable with its sick, wooden detail.  Instead of leading them out of the main exit at the opposite end of the hall, Sovereign veered off to the right, holding the door open for them. A hallway. A really short, albeit wide hallway. Spike seemed to know his way now though, continuing on and motioning for her to follow. They entered into what she could only assume was a waiting room, the layout similar to what she had just seen back in the guest room’s lounge.  

Sovereign trotted in behind them. “You may wait in here if you wish, but I am certain your mother is already waiting out on the platform. I... believe she could use your council.”

His tone was disturbing, weak, his usual soft voice fracturing. Spike seemed to have caught on as well, not hesitating as he turned towards the exit to the platform. “I’ll talk to mom. Gilda, do you want to come along or stay here?”

Hmm, more sob stories. “Ah sure, why the heck not. I’ve been by you through insane councilponies, family feuds should be a bit easier right?”

She got a laugh out of him. Good. That was one of his better traits, to be able to brush off his problems and push forward. A trait she envied. Sovereign stayed behind as they walked to the door. She instinctively took a step back as he opened it.

While the stone walkway to the platform was wide and had protective railings, they were high. The faces of adjacent large mountains spoke of their true height, their white-tipped snowy peaks closer to eye level than their bases. She stepped out with Spike onto the walkway slowly, more in pure awe than any sense of fear. Peering over the railing, she saw their position for what it truly was.

Where to start? Off in the distance was Ponyville. She might not have seen it for years now, but the specks of funny colored buildings were enough to convince her she was right. Past Ponyville was the Everfree, spanning off into the distance. Somewhere over that horizon, she knew, were the mountains and the plain that she and Spike had traversed until they were attacked. A massive cloud she could only assume was Cloudsdale hovered about an hour or two’s flight away from the small town. Below, a long ravine ran alongside the mountain the city was placated upon, a river snaking down its length.

Over the other rail, nothing but the tall slopes of the mountains. As far as she could remember from what had been drilled into her mind during training, Manehattan was somewhere over the opposite side of the palace. Then where was Fillydelphia? Trottingham? Wasn’t there a Hoofington? Damn. Should have asked Sovereign for a map.

        While she had been occupied with the view, Spike had already begun traversing the walkway that stretched out to the platform. She dashed after him, falling back into stride at his side.

“Nice view huh?” he asked with a smirk.

She shrugged. “Eh. Nothing that I couldn’t see with a quick flight. I guess it’s pretty sweet for all the unicorns and earth ponies around here.”

A small flight of steps guided them up onto the large, circular platform that jutted out from the palace. At the platform’s center, a large, decorated chariot stood manned by four guards, with two separate guards unhitched and gazing at them closely.

Spike continued on, waving a claw at them. One of the guards nodded in approval, trotting up to him. “The princess is on the far side, past the carriage.”

“Thank you,” he said. Thankfully, Gilda made no remark about the guard’s venemous stare as she followed him around the carriage.

There she was. Celestia stood upon the platform’s edge, gazing down upon the large ravine that spanned below her. The slight breeze that whipped at Gilda’s fur and feathers had no effect upon the princess’ mane, its soft hues seeming to flow at their own, continuous pace.

Spike’s pace slowed until he came to a complete stop, eyeing the princess warily. Couldn’t blame him. Even if she was his mother, you don’t walk up to the goddess of the sun and slap her on the back in greeting. Wait. Her being his mother would probably make it worse... bah. She never was strong with the whole ‘parent’ thing.

“Please Spike, Gilda. Join me.”

Even with what Gilda would call a soft whisper, her voice carried an edge of ominous power. Together, they approached her, halting at her side. Gilda let her bag fall to the stone, rolling her shoulders as the weight fell from them. For a full minute she held the silence, continuing to inspect the land before her with great detail as if it might disappear in a moment’s notice.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Celestia broke the silence, tilting her head towards them with a sad smile.

Really, if Gilda were to be truthful, there were much bigger, cooler looking ravines back in the Empire and the Central Wilds. Still, ‘no’ probably wasn’t the answer the princess was looking for. Best to just keep her beak shut and let Spike do all the romantic talking.

“Only because it’s been so well cared for,” Spike said.

Celestia hummed, shaking her head as she looked back out at the landscape. “Thank you, Spike, but I fear you put too much confidence in me.”

Spike’s reaction was one of surprise. Why wouldn’t it be? Just last night she had seemed in control, winning over her son’s freedom and batting away the council. But he hadn’t heard what had happened between Twilight and the princess.

        “Too much confidence? You brought me back home, convinced the council to let me go, and are trying to prevent a war all at the same time!” He shook his head in disbelief. “Not to mention you’ve been running the country during all of this.”

         “Following the previous night’s dinner, I would have humbly agreed with you. But open one door...” she sighed, lowering her head. “Only for many more to close.”

        “Did something happen? Is this about Twilight? What did she say to you last night?”

        Celestia turned to them, placing a hoof upon Spike’s chest. “Spike, I only ask that you care and watch over Twilight during these times of conflict. Our relationship falls between us to repair.” She lowered her hoof.. “You have already endured so much in so little time.” She glanced between Gilda and Spike. “Both of you. Please, it is my duty to find a solution to these fractures.”

Gilda was no social expert, but the princess was holding back. Strained words, uncertainty biting at the end of every sentence. “Something is telling me Twilight wasn’t the only thing to be added to your list of problems last night.” Celestia paused, letting her eyes linger on Gilda. Hopefully a sign to continue. She pointed a claw back over her shoulder. “I happened to see another griffon back in the hall last night. Real prim looking fellow, weird for us griffons. Didn’t look too happy.”

The princess looked back to Spike with hesitation only to bow her head in defeat.  “Quite observant of you, Gilda. If either of you may have noticed, my sister, Luna, was absent during last night’s feast. While I am certain she would have been overjoyed to help in your antics against the council, I had appointed a meeting with the Empire’s ambassador for the night.”

“And then we showed up...” Spike continued with realization.

“Precisely. The council was well aware of your arrival, and delaying our meeting would have only disturbed them further. Thus, I asked assistance of my sister. I provided her with some guidelines, requests, hints.” She drifted on, closing her eyes. “Luna, at her heart, is a peace-loving leader, but she has always been a mare of emotions.” Before Gilda could remind her of the guard from yesterday, the princess bowed her head at her. “Also a mare controlled by her own emotions, be it love or agitation or... loneliness...”

Her eyes opened again, and for a split second, Gilda saw not a goddess or a queen, but a simple, pained mare. Only for a moment, then it passed, as if an illusion. “Forgive me. As you may have already presumed, Luna’s council with the ambassador left much to be desired on both sides. From what she could tell me through her flustered words, the council ended in shouting and a reassurance that griffon aggression would continue.”

Spike growled, his face contorting into a snarl. “What the heck is going on here? What do they want? Does this have a chance of leading up to all out war?”

Instinctively, Gilda followed Celestia’s gaze as she she scanned Spike, her eyes dancing from scar to scar, finally resting on his face. The cut that had nearly taken his eye from wrestling with the empire soldier was prominent, creating a webbed white line from just above his right brow, skipping over his eye, and continuing a small ways down his snout.

“Spike, this is not your burden. Return to Ponyville and en—”

“Tell me!” he hissed, his wings flaring out. Gilda had to give the princess credit: she didn’t flinch, only took on a more subdued expression. Of course, it hadn’t affected her either. No way Spike would ever hurt either of them. She watched as realization dawned upon him and his wings folded back into place, hanging his head. “I haven’t come back just to go on vacation. When I return to Ponyville, Applejack will probably need some help on the farm, Pinkie will have her parties, Dash her tricks, Rarity will need help finding gems, I need to smooth things over with Fluttershy, and no doubt the library is a complete mess after Twilight has been panicking for three straight months.” He rotated, nodding to her. “Not to mention I need to introduce Gilda to everyone.” He returned to the princess, no longer slumping. “And you. I won’t step in between you or Twilight, fine, but please, tell me what is going on. Maybe I end this whole conflict with a simple thought. Maybe I can’t do anything but give a few words of support. But please, tell me so I can do something. Anything. I can either worry about you or a war, and I would much rather be thinking constantly about a war than just leaving you behind and pretending to ignore what’s going on.”

        For a moment, Gilda thought the princess would keep up her resistance.Then, a great tension seemed to release from her, her rigid posture fading away and falling into a relaxed position. This was the princess she had seen after her reunion with Spike. This was Celestia.

        “Forgive me. It was foolish to assume that you would just move on without being troubled by my conundrum. If you truly wish to know what is at the heart of this conflict, then I will show you.” The princess turned towards the center of the platform, taking a step forward. As Gilda and Spike followed behind, her horn lit up, a wave of multi-colored light spraying out in a sustained illumination against the platform’s stone floor. Gilda shielded her eyes until the glow from the horn faded, leaving only the stream of light cascading upon the floor.

        “What is that?” Spike asked, lowering his own claws from his eyes and staring down at the square of light. “Wait. It’s a... map?”

        Gilda looked over the patch of light, distinguishing three different main colors: gold, green, and silver. Starting from the left, the gold expanded outward until it halted at the green’s edge. The silver lay on the opposite side, divided from its shining counterpart by the batch of green in the middle. While it appeared to be primitive, a closer inspection revealed distinct landforms, cities, and natural landmarks. Spike was right, it was a map. A map she had seen many times before in training.

        “It’s the Empire, the Central Wilds, and Equestria,” Gilda said.

        “Correct. As you can see, our two nations are naturally separated. The Central Wilds serves as the perfect border, allowing each of us our own room to breathe and flow.” Celestia turned, the light staying in place as she rotated. She swept a hoof from Ponyville to Cloudsdale to the twisting ravine. “Today is a beautiful day for Equestria isn’t it? Did you know Canterlot was initially supposed to have a day of rain? I had the schedule changed to better suit your travel needs. For us ponies, this is natural. We suit the land to our needs, bend the weather to our will, and, in my sister and I’s case, change day into night and night into day at command.” She looked over to the west, fixated on the horizon. “To the griffons, these practices are abominations. I... I’m not quite certain why. The Empire’s ambassador has remained aggressive yet ambiguous. If I could just understand...” She turned to Gilda. Great. She could see where this was going.

        She raised her claws defensively. “Look, I’m probably the worst griffon you could have fall into your lap. Any time history came up in flight training, I fell right asleep.”

        “Flight training? Don’t you have any schools?” Spike asked.

        Gilda scoffed. “Schools are for ponies. For griffons, flying comes first, learning mumbo jumbo second. Our boring lectures are usually during breaks from flight training.”

“Dang, when we get some free time back in Ponyville, you need to tell me more! Can’t believe I never asked you about griffon life and culture.”

She shrugged. “Sure, when we get some free time I’ll fill you in. Really, most of it’s boring, but there are a few cool things in there.”

Celestia was still upon her, an almost desperate aura offsetting her usual calm. “Forgive me for my intrusions, but, did you not go through the training for a soldier of the Empire’s army? Surely there were tidbits within there?” She had begun pacing only to stop and nod at Gilda directly. “I do not mean to press, but this ambassador is leaving me little choice.”

“Hey, I said I wouldn’t be your scout, but I’m no fan of anyone dying for stupid reasons like war. If I could tell you what you needed to know to turn this whole thing around, boom, I’d say it in a heartbeat but I really just cannot pinpoint a single fact that would help.” She spoke truthfully. As soon as she had passed her peers in flying and fallen behind in education, she bailed on those stupid flight training sessions. “As for training? They told us two things: The emperor is the gods’ gift to the Empire and that the Central Wilds are rightfully griffon territory that needs to be reclaimed.”

Spike looked back towards the map. “But why? I must be missing something here.”

“Look here,” Celestia said, returning to the now-transforming map. The golden edge expanded, eclipsing the green center until it bordered the the silver side. “Over four hundred years ago, the Central Wilds were indeed part of the Empire. With our borders so close, many conflicts arose between our nations, such as where the true border lay, the power of each other’s armies, and, most of all, arguments over the weather.” She paused, raising a hoof into the air as a small gust of wind brushed through Gilda’s fur. “Did you know that creating a hurricane here may cause severe weather as far as the Central Wilds? Needless to say, our weather practices had clear impact upon the griffon’s environment, and they demanded we cease and allow nature to take its course.”

“Well, you’re still at it today. Guess there was some war and you won?” Gilda asked, looking over the map. Despite her ignorance during her youth, her interest was piqued. Of course, back when she could care less, there wasn’t another war possibly lurking on the horizon. Ha! Wouldn’t that be something! But no. ‘War’ was just a word used to describe fights among rebel groups over in the zebra kingdom. This whole thing will just blow over after a few spitting matches.

Celestia frowned. “I suppose. The war that did indeed come was, as I now regret, terribly brutal. With our close proximity, once significant obstacles of battle were easily minimized. Supplies were only a short flight away, forward bases had only to be built a half-days flight from a nearby town, reinforcements poured in constantly...” The princess seemed to focus once more on the Everfree’s horizon. Gilda imagined pegasi and griffon alike fighting mid-air above the canopy, bodies dropping like flies down into the forest below to serve as dinner for a pack of timber wolves or a stray manticore. “The war was violent, but thankfully short. After only a year-and-half of fighting, Equestrian forces finally began to push into Empire territory. It was not long later, and after near-begging from me, that their empress agreed to halt all conflict and come to negotiate the situation. Eventually, after much struggle we reached a treaty: the Empire would fall back, allowing the creation of the Central Wilds to act as a natural barrier, thus avoiding weather conflicts.”

“No way.” Spike shook his head. “That much land? There’s no way they would allow that!”

“It was a struggle, and while it may seem as much, I came to the conclusion that I judged best to avoid future conflict between griffon and pony. Regrettably, my decision has seemed to come back to haunt me.”

“If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, Princess, it’s that we griffons are slow to forgive, especially for something on this scale.” Gilda inspected the map once more, realizing it had reverted to its original form. She pointed a claw. “This can’t be how it is now is it? The army was just entering into the Central Wilds when I first met Spike.”

The map transformed once more, the golden edge seeping out like a pool of expanding water. She heard Spike gasp in shock. “No way. Only a month and they’ve come this far!” He turned to her with hopelessness. “Gilda, you told me the griffon army was slow and unorganized!”

“Ok so I was wrong!” she said in defense. “But really, why are you surprised? There’s nothing stopping them. I caught a glimpse of one of the maps explaining stuff we had to clear out and you were the only dragon on there! The only thing stopping them is a bunch of stray wildlife.”

Spike only looked back at the map in worry as Celestia placed a hoof upon his shoulder. “Gilda is right, Spike. Being that the Wilds have only been unconquered for four hundred years, the wildlife is still quite tame compared to what you would find in the north or far east.”

“Right,” he sighed. “Sorry Gilda. I’m just shocked I guess.”

“Hey, I’m right there with you. If I were in charge over there, I’d have the army turn around today.” She turned to the princess. “But I’m not. So, you got a plan if they don’t stop?”

Celestia hesitated, staring down at Gilda. Was that a no then? Was she finally dying of a stroke from old age? What the heck— oh. “If you don’t want to tell me because I’m a griffon, that’s totally cool with me and everything. Won’t hold it against you.” She tried her best to defuse the awkward situation, but the princess only shuffled her wings and gave a slight grimace.

“I suppose it matters not. Even if you decided to leave and tell an Empire commander, it would only serve for them as one of many warnings I have spoken.” The map of light flowed down to her right hoof. She stamped down on the middle of the Central Wilds. “So far, the Empire has carved straight through the Wilds. From what my scouts have reported, I have judged that they intend to reach the Equestrian border before allowing their weaker, more untrained forces to spread out over their trail and slowly finish the job. There is a massive gorge at the heart of the Wilds. Should the Empire forces continue onward, I will have no other option but to meet them head-on there.” She raised her head, the glow from her horn fading as the map slowly phased away. “I cannot risk allowing them to reach Equestria.”

Gilda immediately looked at Spike, he looking back at her. She knew this Spike, the anxious, collapse-yourself-in-a-cave Spike. And didn’t he have the right to be like this? After all he had been through, now there was the possibility of war?

“So is there anything we can do?” He asked in desperation.

“You already agreed to it.” Celestia pointed a hoof back towards the palace. Through the seating gap in the carriage, Gilda could see Dash, Sovereign, and the rest of Spike’s friends stepping out onto the walkway. “Go home. Return to Ponyville. Nurse your relationship with your friends back to full health.” Gilda perked up as the princess nodded to her. “Create new ones. A large part of this conflict stems from confusion and uncertainty of each other’s race on both sides. Displaying that griffons are not the killing warriors our society makes them out to be will do its part in repairing relationships between the nations.”

Gilda laughed mentally. Sucks for Celestia. She really did get the worst griffon possible. But... a war. The laughter stopped. She’d have to try. It’s the least she could do. For Spike. For Dash. For all the ponies and griffons who would lose their lives over something so stupid.

 “There you are!” Spike’s fancy-pants friend lead the pack, guiding them around the chariot. “Ever so sorry for making you wait. You know little old me, hit the streets of Canterlot and it’s almost impossible to tear me away.”

The rest of the friends came into view. While Bucktooth, yellow-scared-pegasus, and Dash were the same as ever, the other three mares held an assortment of items. Rarity levitated a shopping bag next to her, the annoying pink pony dragged a large bag in her mouth, and Spike’s sister Twilight had a large golden— wait. She had seen that before. Was that... Spike’s brooch? Gilda swayed from side to side in an attempt to get a better view, but Twilight seemed insistent to be hidden in the back, away from the princess.

“No problem! I had to talk to mom anyways.” Spike was doing his best to put on a fake grin, masking their grim conversation only moments before. He waved a claw towards their bags. “What did ya get?”

Rarity put a hoof to her chest. “Oh me? Nothing too spectacular. Just a few odd threads and cloths that would have taken dreadful weeks to import”

“Invites to the party!” Pinkie-Pie said through a mouth full of brown sack. Ugh. Gilda wondered if she could maybe slice a small hole in the back. Idiot would be too air-headed to notice that by the time they reached Ponyville, every single letter would be gone with the wind.

Before she could even begin to sneak around, Celestia stepped in front of her, taking her place in the gap between her and Spike and the ponies. “So it seems we separate once again.” She sighed. “As quickly as you came, you leave.”

“Hey don’t sweat it princess!” Dash jumped in. “We’ll make sure to drop by more often. Right Twilight?”

Gilda cringed. Dash, she admitted, was a cool pony. Could pull off some killer tricks, feared pretty much nothing, was a good friend. Well, most of the time. But Subtlety? Nope. No way. If Gilda wanted to play ‘relationship repairer’ she’d maybe, casually bring up the subject a few days later in a small conversation. Dash? Gilda was pretty sure outright dragging Twilight to the princess was her friend’s next step.

Of course, Twilight was taking Dash’s suggestion just as awkwardly and resistant as she had expected, averting her eyes and slinking even further back into the group.

        “I appreciate your concerns, but please do not worry over me,” Celestia continued before silence could settle in. “You have all won a hard-earned rest in helping return Spike home. I trust that you shall all return to Ponyville and celebrate while welcoming both your returning friends.” Gilda almost scoffed. Almost. She had actually accumulated a bit of respect for the princess, as scary as that was.

        Pinkie Pie dropped her bag from her mouth then threw her hooves over her head in a cheer. “Yep! Both of them! Don’t think I forgot about you, Gilda.” She pulled one of the hot-pink invitations from her bag, opening it up for Gilda to see.

Oh no. Why. Why? Not only was ‘WELCOME HOME, SPIKE!’ printed in glittery letters, but a cheery ‘+ GILDA’ followed right after. There was no way she could have done this unknowingly right? What did it take for this moron to get a clue? Wonderful. Can’t wait.” She lied.

        Celestia’s horn glowed, the carriage door swinging open invitingly. “I shall not keep you any longer then. Enjoy your celebration, and know that I am there in spirit and thought.”

        Pinkie was the first in, chucking her bag full of invitations into the backseat before jumping in herself. One by one, the other ponies followed. Bucktooth tipped her hat to the princess, Rarity did some weird curtsy, Fluttershy skulked in after them. Dash stayed behind. Twilight hesitated, then made for the carriage.

        “Twilight.” Spike’s call surprised Gilda. It was soft, almost desperate. It shook the mare as well, causing her to look back to them as she was half-inside the carriage. “Come say goodbye with me?” There was a moment. A pause. Finally, she backed away from the carriage’s steps. Cautiously, she made her way to her, Dash, Spike, and Celestia, her head bowed as if in defeat. Gilda caught the two share a brief smile before turning to the princess.

        Celestia was gazing upon both of them, her eyes misting over as— wait. Tears? Gilda had to do a double take. “I cannot tell you how much joy it brings me to see both of you here, home again. It’s so strange...” She took a gasping breath, bringing a hoof up to her mouth, blinking rapidly. “During all these years, I took all of this for granted. Assumed that restoring my sister, defeating Discord... I assumed that you were untouchable. I grew lazy, and allowed all of these horrible, misguided thoughts and actions to fester until they finally snapped back and nearly destroyed both of you.” Her eyes locked upon the golden brooch that rested upon Twilight’s back. She squeezed her lids closed before lowering her hoof. When she opened them once more, the tears had vanished, leaving behind the same calm, resolute princess Gilda had been accustomed to. “I won’t allow this to happen again. I will sit still no longer. I will stop this war from ever occurring. I will rid you of that band. And when all is done, and I have finally achieved acceptance and harmony amongst our races, even then I will not rest. This is my promise, to you, Spike, Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Gilda. Please, accept it knowing that I shall fulfill and sustain it with all my heart.”

        The princess’ soft words struck Gilda like a thrown brick. Yes, her plight was sincere, kind, loving... but... a promise? What was so big about a promise? A promise was just a few words. A nice, almost meaningless little resolution. At least, that’s what Gilda had thought a month ago. Then it had happened. That promise she and Spike had made together to get each other back to Ponyville. There had been something there, a sort of connection, an understanding and underlying power between them. Gilda had respect for Celestia, no doubt. More than that? No. Her promise may have been the truest in the world, but to her, it meant nothing.

        Spike was the first to respond, giving a half-bow. “I believe you. I’ll do my best to keep Watergate satisfied.”

        “Now that’s the princess I know and love!” Dash said. “If anypony can stop a war, it’s you!”

Twilight herself had finally dropped her cold shoulder, fighting back watering eyes. “I believe you too. But I can never forgive you.”

Celestia leaned forward, gently nuzzling Twilight’s bangs. “I’m not asking you to. I’m just begging you to trust me, as you did once before.”

Twilight wiped at her tears, fighting back short, choked sobs. “I’ll try. I won’t just say yes, but I’ll try.”

“Thank you.”

So now it was her turn. Really, she should just accept the promise. Fit into the crowd. Leave the entire affair in Canterlot ending on a happy note. That’s what she did back in Flight Camp. Promises were just another toy to screw around with. Promise to help someone, forget about it an hour later. Promise to not be late, never show up. Promise you’re telling the truth when you’re actually lying between your beak. Promise to safely bring your downtrodden friend back to his home...

“Save your promise for someone else princess. I don’t want it.”

Twilight and Rainbow sounded as if they had just witnessed verbal murder. Celestia remained silent, but gave her a curious look. Spike nodded slowly.

“Look, what you said was good, and I can tell you really care for Spike and his friends, but promises...” Gilda looked between the staring faces, lingering on Spike. “Promises aren’t just something I throw out or take anymore. I don’t want to have to put my belief and trust into someone I barely know.”

To her surprise, Celestia did not question her further, instead extending a hoof. “Perhaps, then, you may accompany Spike when he returns to visit Mr. Watergate and I? I feel there is much we can learn from each other.”

Gilda paused on the hoof then gave the princess a wry smile, accepting the hoof-claw shake. “Yeah. I think I can do that.” She released the shake then punched Spike lightly on his stomach. “Besides, Spike here needs someone to protect him from all of those councilponies.”

“What! No I don’t,” he said, crossing his arms and shutting his eyes. After a moment’s consideration, he cracked open an eye. “Not that I wouldn’t mind the company. You know. Just in case.”

Celestia, Twilight, and Rainbow laughed. Spike just smiled back at her, very softly returning the punch to her side.

The princess’ laughter faded. She trotted past them, to the nearby edge of the platform. Off in the distance, Ponyville appeared as a small carnival against the landscape. She turned back to them. “There is no use waiting any longer. I must continue with my negotiations and all of you must return to your lives in Ponyville. While it pains me to say goodbye to all of you after only a days reunion, I may rest easier tonight knowing you are all safe for the time being.”

Dash, Twilight, and Spike bowed. Gilda gave a short nod.

        “Hey Twilight, I’m going to fly down with Spike and Gilda. Tell the others I’ll catch em back in Ponyville okay?” Dash said.

        “I’ll make sure to tell them,” Twilight said as she made her way towards the carriage. Her voice was shaky, her steps fidgety and uncertain. Before she could make the final steps up into the carriage, she suddenly turned back around, pinpointed directly at Celestia. “I’ll have a letter sent by next Tuesday.” She began to scramble back up the steps before freezing and turning back once again. “But it might not be a friendship report. Or maybe it will, with Spike coming back home. I might be able to come up with something with everything that’s happened so far but—”

        “Twilight,” Celestia stopped her, suppressing a cheerful smile. “Any letter will be fine, friendship report or not.”

        The student turned red with embarrassment. “Right.”

        “Also, take as long as you need. I’d rather you collect your thoughts and pace yourself than you panicking.”

        “And endangering the entire town again...” Spike grumbled loudly enough for everyone to hear.

        Twilight opened her mouth to fight back only to turn an ever deeper shade of maroon. She quickly leaped up the last few steps, disappearing into the carriage and shutting the door behind her.

        “That went a lot better than I thought it would.” Spike said.

        Couldn’t deny that, especially considering the scathing conversation that Gilda had overheard the night before. But what did she know. Maybe Twilight was just some over-emotional toy.

        Celestia left her spot at the edge of the platform and rejoined with her, Spike, and Dash. “I must echo your sentiments, but I am wary. Twilight no doubt still has her worries and restless thoughts.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to watch out for her and reassure her that everything is alright.”

Celestia smiled. “It seems things are already beginning to return to normal then.” The princess and Spike shared a small laugh before Celestia returned to her usual, calm state, looking between him and Gilda. “But even the watchers need watching. In only a day’s time of observing you both together, it is clear that there is a strong friendship that has budded and is even now growing. I cannot stress how vital this is. Keep it. Treasure it. Your friends in Ponyville may be kind and caring, but the situation, the bond you both share is unlike anything else, different even from your best friends or I.”

Gilda tried to say something, anything. A quick glance at Spike told her that he was in the same situation. Of course, they had both known everything she had said already. Friends? Bond? No shit. Maybe it was finally hearing it from someone else that made both of them stop, made them realize how far they had come from wanting to kill each other to watching each other’s backs as they returned to a town full of ponies.

 “Do not look so deterred, Rainbow Dash.” Celestia said. Her friend had been moved by the princess as well, shuffling her wings and hooves. “You, more than anypony else share a close friendship with both Gilda and Spike together. Watch over and protect them as well.”

Dash looked up in surprise then immediately dropped her awkward stance, giving the princess a salute. “I’ll keep ‘em out of trouble princess!”

Gilda looked to Spike, happy to see she wasn’t the only one trying to contain her laughter.

“Thank you.” Celestia bowed her head towards the pegasus. “I won’t keep you waiting any longer then. Remember my words, and Spike, if anything, anything...” a fire lit up behind her eyes “foul comes from the band you now wear, tell Twilight and I immediately. Do not hesitate.”

Spike took a step back, as shocked as Gilda was at the princess’ sudden ferocity. “Uh... don’t worry. I won’t.”

The princess relaxed, satisfied. “Very well. I will be there when Watergate calls for you.” Celestia stepped forward, sharing an embrace with Spike. “Until then... farewell, and welcome home.”


For three months he had dreamt of this moment. Flying, Equestria opening up before him as he descended towards Ponyville. Heck, it was even better now. He had Gilda, and, as much as the band made him uneasy, it slightly alleviated his fears of turning... primitive.

He scowled. Come next dragon migration, he was getting some answers. Really, should have gotten them years ago, but it was too late for that now.

“Got something on your mind?” Gilda asked.

He snapped out of his grim thoughts, quickly shaking his head to regain focus. The pegasus-drawn carriage lingered off to his left, while Gilda and Dash flew beside him to his right. His friend was giving him a curious look as she matched his speed, drifting lazily beside him.

        He pulled off the best mid-air shrug he could. “Oh, me? Nah. Not much. I’m more interested in what you’re thinking, moving into a completely new town and all.”

        She scoffed. “Moving from town to town is nothing new for me, so don’t worry. This one’s just a bit more, uh, cheerful?” Gilda cast a scowl towards Ponyville. “Griffon towns aren’t so colorful. We prefer not having our eyes burnt out by constant rainbows.” She sighed. “Guess I better get used to it.”

        Maybe he should bring up how her only pony friend was literally made up of every spectrum of color there could be? Eh. Better to just let that one rest.

        “By the way, what’s up with that brooch of yours? I saw that Twilight was carrying it around back in there. Did it go out of fashion or something?”

        “Heh, I had Sovereign give it to Twilight when she woke up.” He looked down at his chest, the dull, gray band cresting his collar in place of his usual golden, rainbow-gemmed brooch. “Let’s just say fashion has taken a minimalistic turn.”

        Gilda appeared confused before realizing what he was staring at and implying. She brought a talon to her face and groaned. “Shoot. Just when I almost forgot about that stupid thing. I guess there’s no way I can convince you to ditch it as soon as we get to Ponyville?”

        Spike chuckled. “If only it were that easy huh? But no. I’m going to see this through to the end.” He looked back. Canterlot was shrinking behind them, and the massive platform they had departed from was now bare. “Besides, my mom has enough to worry about for now.”

        “Ponyville ho!” Dash cried out, flying in front of them. They were almost to the town, the ponies below clearly visible from their distance. “Hey, Gilda, how about a race for old time’s sake? First one to the town center wins!”

        Gilda perked up, then quickly fell back again, falling back alongside him. “You don’t mind do you?” She asked hesitantly.

        “Mind?” Spike laughed. “Heck no! I get to see two of the greatest fliers in existence duke it out! The pleasure is all mine!”

        “Ha! I like the way you think dude.” She left his side, picking up speed as she drifted off towards Rainbow Dash. “See you down in Ponyville?” She called out.

        “Meet ya there!”


Gilda flew to Dash’s side, saying something to the pegasus that the wind drowned out. Dash bristled up, then, in the blink of an eye, they both shot off, rocketing towards Ponyville. The sound of laughter tickled his senses as they shrunk into the distance. He smiled. Gilda was in for a surprise. While she had tried to hide it, the way in which she had described her past, lonely life in the Empire was drenched in sorrow and hopelessness. Here, she would be happy. His friends would be her friends. Yes, there would be those same ponies who had come to fear him that would no doubt give her the same problems, but he would be there to protect her.

He almost smacked himself. Protect? Gilda? He’d be better off trying to keep her from trashing any pony who gave her trouble.

Spike joined the carriage as it began its descent, admiring the architecture and population below as if it had been years since he had last seen them. Weather pegasi were busy picking out the last stray clouds that lingered amongst the blue, ponies conversed, trotted, and tended to their gardens below. Some looked up and waved. Others grimaced. A few fled into their houses. Doesn’t matter. Nothing could knock him out of his good mood now.

He and the carriage reached the heart of the town, now only barely matching the height of the buildings around them. The town square towered above every other building; multiple levels, spires, and attributes having been added over the years since his childhood. In front of its steps, Gilda and Dash stood, waving their talons and hooves in the air at each other. Of course. He wouldn’t have expected to find them any other way after a race.

“I touched the steps first!” He heard Dash shout.

He landed in front of them. Neither acknowledged his presence.

“Steps?! You never said anything about steps!” Gilda fought back, butting heads with her friend.

“Yeah? Well maybe you should listen to the rules next time!”

Spike stepped forward, smiling as he took a deep breath. “Glad to see some things never change.”

She snorted, backing away from Dash and turning to him. “You’re right about that. Dash is still the same lame-excuse-making machine she’s always been.”

“Hey!” Dash shouted.

Gilda ignored her, walking to his side. She swiveled her head, taking in all of the scenery. “Looks like things have changed a bit since I was last here. You’re gonna have to give me a tour some time.”

“Ha! Me, give you a tour?” Spike himself was busy glancing about, admiring all of the new buildings that had popped up during his absence. Mr. Breezy’s Wind Emporium now had a fresh, new, larger sign hanging above its doors, Sofas and Quills had finished its construction that had been underway when he had left, adding a second floor and changing its name to ‘Sofas, Quills, and Camping Supplies’, and even the Sugar Cube Corner had gained a small new cupcake-shaped hut that sat near its front door. “I’m almost as confused as you are. Maybe we can get Twilight to—”

Hey Spike! Hey Dash! Hey Gilda!”

He and Gilda turned towards the shout. The carriage had landed across the town square from them, Pinkie stumbling out as she dragged her large sack of invitations behind her. She trotted towards them, somehow managing to maintain her signature smile through the cloth in her mouth. He heard Gilda give a low, frustrated groan.

“Have a nice flight down?” she asked, spitting the sack out of her mouth.

        Spike made to answer her, but Gilda stepped forward, snorting. “Yeah. Wonderful. Did you want something or what?”

        “Yep! Just wanted to say that the party is in an hour at Sugar Cube Corner. I wanted to have it as soon as we got back but...” She looked back at the bulging satchel, giggling “I need some time to get everyone in the town an invitation! Oh well. See you all in an hour!”

        Gilda grunted as Pinkie Pie dragged her satchel off, flagging down random ponies. “I’m impressed. She actually got straight to the point instead of spouting out some random annoying junk.”

        Spike didn’t even try to respond. He could agree to satisfy her, but he would be lying. Pinkie could be a little too outgoing at times, sure, but he never really minded and usually found her funny most of the time. He could go against her and try to talk her into warming up to Pinkie, but she was already in a conflicted position with moving into a new town, the war, ponies... he didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable than she might already be.

        Twilight answered for him, being the last of his friends to leave the carriage. While the rest called out their farewells and split off, his lifelong friend and sister approached him with a smile. His golden brooch rest across her back. “I guess Pinkie told you what she was up to? Why don’t we head back to the library? There’s something I wanted to show you, and an hour would be just enough time.”

        “Actually, I was thinking maybe you could show Gilda and—

        “That’s a great idea!” Dash interrupted, jumping forward to Twilight’s side and turning back towards Gilda and him. “Twilight can go get you all caught up on all of the craziness you missed back at the library while I get Gilda all moved in back at my place?”

        He and Gilda shared a glance. She shrugged. Well, so much for that. “Uh, yeah. That can work.”

        “Great!” Twilight wrapped her hooves around one of his arms, hugging his side. She waved over to Gilda and Dash as she began tugging at him. “See you at the party Dash!”

        “Catch you both at the party then,” Spike called as he gave in to the pull of Twilight. Dash waved him off as Gilda gave him a nod. They took off into the sky, heading towards Dash’s house on the edge of town.

        Twilight led him through the familiar streets, sometimes looking back and asking him a common question.  He answered as best he could, but the more they traveled, the more uncomfortable he became. The same distant, awkward stares that had plagued him in Canterlot had returned, only now within his own hometown.

        He ignored them. It didn’t matter. He was home now. So what if a few ponies threw some questionable looks his way? He’d weather them, just like he had done before.

        “...While you were gone, the girls were constantly trying to get me out of the library.” She sighed. “It’s not like they weren’t my friends anymore or anything like that but... I just didn’t want to do anything.”

        He opened his snout to respond, to comfort her.

        A scream. Loud. Feminine.

        Was someone in danger? He and Twilight both turned towards the sound. A brown mare stood at the corner, frozen in fear as she gaped at him.

        He shied away. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Ponyville was a quickly growing town, and no doubt many ponies had moved in over the past three months.

Many ponies that had no idea the town housed a fire breathing, carnivorous winged lizard.

        Every pony in the streets had stopped as well. Some grumbled and moved on, others quietly shook their heads, and most just stood where they were, watching the scene with uncertainty and morbid curiosity.

        Twilight stepped forward, an urgent, strained smile across her face. “Don’t worry! He’s with me! He’s really—”

        The mare fled, disappearing behind the same building she had passed.

        “—nice... ugh.” Twilight growled, twisting back to him. “Come on. Let’s get to the library.” He bowed his head, staring down at the cobblestone as she led him away. Maybe he was embarrassed. Maybe it was something else. He kept his eyes down. He didn’t want to see them there, staring at him. Twilight’s back-right hoof came into vision. She had fallen back, taking her place by his side. “I’m sorry Spike. I wish I could tell everypony in Equestria, and that they’d all understand.”

        “Sorry about what? I’m perfectly fine. Honest.” He did his best to sound truthful. Heck, he wanted to believe it himself. Even so, his composure staggered, birthing cracks and blemishes in his mirage.

Twilight stopped, narrowing her eyes. “Spike. Stop.”

“What?” He said defensively, finally looking up. They were in front of the library now, the only building that seemed to have remained unchanged over the years. Around them, ponies would stop to stare at him. He turned away.

“Ever since you’ve come back you’ve had this... this... ‘unstoppable’ attitude. I mean, before you were ba- had to leave, you never talked to anyone besides your close friends and you stayed inside the library pretty much all day!” Twilight walked into view again. Wait. When had he started looking back down? She placed a hoof in his chest. “Then you came back and stood up to all of those nobles, the council, and even shrugged off nearly dying.” Twilight frowned at him. “You almost had me fooled.”


“Spike, you don’t have to hide anything from me. You don’t have to put up this ‘tough guy’ image in front of me. You’ve been holding up all of these fears and worries, only for them to snap back at you!” She backed away, inspecting him from spine to foot. “Just look at yourself! I haven’t seen you this distressed since the night you had to leave!”

He made to argue, then froze. He had come back from near death, endured the whispers, stares, and paranoia of hundreds of nobles, and stood up to the council. But now he breaks? One scared pony? Maybe Twilight was right. Maybe he had been lying to himself.

Still... it had felt... seemed so real.

“Come on Spike. Let’s get inside.”

        Twilight led him inside. He nearly smacked his head against the top of the door, having to duck and squeeze in his wings to fit through the small aperture.

The sight was horrific, to say the least.

 Books. Books Everywhere. A sea of them. Some opened up on tables and chairs, a few shoved back into their respective shelves, most scattered across the floor. At the center of the room, a table had been dragged into place, an enormous sheet of parchment sprawled out across its surface. Twilight was shocked, observing the horrible wreckage with as much confusion as he was.

“I don’t remember leaving the library like this,” she whispered.

“And you were afraid for me? This is insanity!” He breathed out the last few words. That did not come out as softly as he had hoped. Twilight hung her head, brushing her hoof against one of the many books that littered the ground. He felt so stupid. He placed a claw on the back of her neck, running his claws through her mane. “I’m sorry. I...” he faltered, unable to continue.

Twilight leaned into his side. “Its ok. Its just, while you were gone, all I could think about was you. Alone. In some damp, dark cave.”

“You’re right. I’m much better off here, in this dark library,” he said in a playful tone. His joke payed off as Twilight giggled. He knelt down, surprising his sister with a nuzzle. “With you.”

She let out a deep breath as she returned his affection. “You’ve grown so much. A few years ago and you would have been pushing me away in embarrassment.”

“Because now I understand what I have to lose, and how precious every moment is.”

Silence. Twilight’s breaths came in relaxed waves now, a relaxing, gentle beat that calmed his senses. If it weren’t for what would surely be a manic party in only an hour, he would have fallen asleep right then and there.

“Oh! By the way.” Twilight perked up, leaving his side and wading through the ocean of books. She stopped at the table in the center of the room, waving him over. “Come on, there’s something I want to show you before we have to leave.”

Curious, he carefully followed the path she had swathed through the books, coming to a rest slightly behind her. She stepped to the side a bit, sweeping a hoof across the parchment that rest upon the table. It was a map. He had seen it before, the night he had to leave Ponyville. Much like the map his mother had used before, Equestria encompassed the right side of the map while the Empire took up the left. The main focus was the Central Wilds, every major landmark inked in with precise perfection.

What caught his interest the most, however, was a small, glowing purple dot that sat directly on top of the letters ‘PONYVILLE’. He pointed towards it with his claw. “What is that? Is that just to highlight Ponyville? Or something else?”

Twilight twisted her neck, reaching behind her back for his brooch. She placed it upon the table, focusing upon it as her horn began to glow. As if in perfect synch, the purple dot upon the map intensified, pooling out a soft violet across the rest of the room. The moment Twilight released the magic, the dark light receded back, reverting back to an innocent purple blot.

“So... that... the brooch...” he stuttered, picking up the same precious relic he had worn since the day he left. Those three months. Until Gilda had shown up, he thought he was alone.

        “As soon as I found out you were being banished, I started researching tracking spells. I tried to learn how to track actual living beings, but that was much more advanced than I could've hoped to teach myself in only a few days.” She nodded towards the brooch. “Tracking inanimate objects, on the other hoof, was beginner level magic that I learned in only a few hours. At that moment, I was considering maybe giving you one of your favorite books as a ‘present’ that I could enchant, but when Rarity revealed she was working on your brooch to us, I knew it was perfect for what I had in mind.” She looked to the map, her hoof tracing an invisible line across the parchment. “I saw you settle down,  move, and then move again, and finally, when Celestia told me she had sent a letter for you to return... you stayed.” Twilight gave a half-hearted, weak chuckle. “I know it sounds crazy, but I thought that maybe... maybe you had found peace out there. No ponies always watching you, screaming in fear, questioning everything you do—”

        “Twilight.” He stopped her. “A million ponies could be constantly screaming, staring, throwing rotten fruit at me, whatever, and I would still stay here with you.”

        She smiled at him, a sad, longing gesture. “I know Spike. I just hope that, one day, everypony will see that you’re not some monster.”

        He scratched at his back spines, shuffling his wings. “I don’t know about that. I mean, with all of this war stuff, everypony seems even more afraid of other races. Take Gilda for example, she...” Twilight had hung her head once again, despair clear across her face. Once, again, he felt stupid. He had spent so much time with Gilda, who could take the truth no matter what. “Twilight?”


        “How much do you think I can clean up before we have to leave?”

        Her frown faded away, replaced with a knowing smirk. “Depends. Mind if I help out?”

        “Hmmm.” He dramatized, raising his claw to his snout. “Don’t suppose I can say ‘no’, can I?”

        She laughed as books from all around the room began to lift, a soft purple glow wrapping around them. “Come on you. Let’s get started.”

        He laughed with her, reaching for the nearest book on the table. Before he could even check where to file the text, his eyes froze on the cover. A gleaming, golden pony head stared back, surrounded by a leathery dark brown. He knew exactly where this book went. He scanned the room, finally settling upon Twilight’s familiar book-carrying satchel, hanging hazardously off one of the many chairs. Carefully, he tucked the book into the folds and hung the satchel in its rightful place, smiling as he returned to work.


        “And we’ve known each other for years! Right Gilda?”

        “Yeah. Sure.”

        “Yep! Ever since we first met and pranked that annoying prissy filly together back in flight camp.” Rainbow Dash clapped her hooves together. “Oh man, I still remember the look on her face, covered head to hoof in tree sap!”

        “Wait, you two went to flight camp together?” The mare’s uneasy expression slowly turned into a look of horror.

        Gilda knew it. She had told Dash that they should just get to her house as soon as possible. But no, she had to stop and introduce her to her weatherpony friends. The conversation was already starting to go over like a lead balloon.

        “Sure did! We were by far the fastest in our division, heck, even the whole camp! Every time a race started it up, it was just me and—”

        The mare had ceased listening, gasping as she turned to her stallion partner that flew beside her. He shared her shock, turning back to them with distress. “They allow griffons into our flight camps?!”

        Don’t explode Gilda. Just two stupid ponies. Not worth your time. Just ignore them, they’ll freak out and you can keep moving on like nothing happened.

        “Well, yeah, but I talked to our old instructor a few months ago and they haven’t had a griffon for years now but that doesn’t—”

        “That’s ridiculous!” They both said in unison. The mare continued on, panicking. “Does Celestia even know? We have a colt we just sent off to flight camp and now we find out about this?”

        “And what the hell are you afraid of?! Scared your little foal is going to get owned by some fledgling?” Gilda shot back. Forget subtlety. These ponies obviously couldn’t keep their stupid thoughts to themselves. Somebody had to tell them they were wrong.

        “Gilda...” Dash tried pleading, but she ignored her. Her fault in the first place for leading her to these idiots.

The two morons went from flat out shock to anger. “Looks like somepony hasn’t been paying attention to what’s going on! If you haven’t heard the news, your precious Empire is on a beeline straight to Equestria!” The mare brought a hoof to her head. “Could you imagine all of the violence and conflict that could occur amongst griffons and ponies together in those camps? Especially in times such as these.”

“You don’t need to worry about that.” Gilda seethed, glaring daggers at the two ponies. “If your colt is anything like you two, he’s already experiencing his fair share of violence from other ponies, griffons or no griffons!”

“Why you...” the stallion growled through gritted teeth, advancing on her. Gilda readied herself, bringing up her claws.

Dash immediately flew in-between them, holding up both her hooves. “Whoa you two! That’s enough!”

        They both ignored Dash, keeping their eyes locked on each other. She wanted him to fight. Push Dash out of the way. Let her pummel him.

        Whether through sheer intimidation or Dash’s presence, the stallion threw up his hooves in annoyance, snorting in disgust. “Fine. Whatever. Come on Blossom, lets finish up weather duty instead of wasting our time here.” The stallion gave her one last glare before backing away and joining hooves with the mare. As he flew off, he glanced back over his shoulder. “And Dash, make sure you keep that griffon of yours on a leash!”

        She made to tackle him out of the air before Dash grabbed her, pulling with all her might. “Let me go! I need to teach that idiot a lesson!”

        “Gilda, what the hay is the matter with you?”

        She stopped immediately. The tone was too familiar, almost identical to the one she had heard years ago. As Dash released her, she turned back around, shivering slightly at her friends furrowed eyebrows and harsh frown.

        “Are you really mad that a couple of ponies are freaking out? You almost attacked him for Celestia’s sake!”

        Gilda hovered there, stuttering out her words. “He attacked me! Plus, were you watching that? They were treating me like I was some Empire spy or something, like I was going to attack at any moment!”

        “And that’s enough to make you verbally and almost physically thrash somepony? Gilda, you can’t let it bother you that much!”

        Gilda held her claws to her head, clenching her beak. “Forget it! I’m not upset. Let’s just get to your house. No more stops.”

        Dash stared her over. Dear Andune she hated that stare. It was uncertain, suspicious. The same one she had been enduring ever since she got back to Equestria. At last, she turned around,  flying off in the direction of the rainbow-spewing cloud house in the distance. Gilda followed behind, struggling to withhold her anger. She had told her not to flag them down. Just keep moving. But no, now she looked like an ass because Dash couldn’t take a hint.

        A lingering silence still hung between them as they arrived. When they both stood before the front door, Dash stopped suddenly, looking up at the massive cloud structure. “Well, here we are!” She said, glancing back at her.

        Once again, Dash being obvious. At least she was trying to keep things cheery between them. Might as well play along. “Still as cool as I remember. I still say the rainbows are a bit overkill though.”

        “And I still think they’re totally rad!” She fought back playfully. “Should probably add a few more actually. Pah! Whatever, let’s go inside and get you settled in.”

        The door didn’t so much as ‘open’ as it did poof away at Dash’s touch. When Gilda had fully entered the main living room, the clouds gathered back behind her, sealing the entryway once more.

        Dash’s place hadn’t changed much, not that Gilda was surprised. Dash wasn’t really much of a decorator. She put something where it would be efficient, then was done with it. Even with so few changes, the environment still awed her. It was amazing, how something so miniscule to the ponies could send her into questioning everything she had ever known. How the hell was this platform and the couch on top of it not falling through the clouds to the earth below? Griffons could walk on clouds. That was it. Any attempts at mimicking the architecture of the pegasi had resulted in failure. As far as she could tell from what she had heard and seen, it wasn’t some secret formula they were missing. It just wasn’t possible.

        And yet here it all was. Clouds purposefully crafted to be at freezing temperatures, thus allowing the sustenance of food. Clouds used like building blocks, unaffected by the wind around them.

        She had asked Dash back when she first visited. The only response was a shrug, a snort, and ‘magic’.

        She struggled to imagine what it must have been like, hundreds or thousands of years ago, when griffons realized they simply couldn’t craft the skies like their pegasi neighbors. Did it shatter them? Jealousy was almost certain. That would explain growing tensions, a war... maybe it  explained a bit of what was happening between Equestria and The Empire today.

        “You actually came back at the perfect time.” Dash had trotted across the room, passing into a small corridor. She hoofed the door at the end, causing the cloud to scatter. “I was just about to turn my guest room into a trophy room.”

        Gilda walked up to her side. She peeked through the passageway, nodding. Just like the rest of the sky-house, nothing had changed much from her last visit. It was much like the room she had stayed in back at the palace, albeit without the awesome shower. She poked her head back out, smirking at her friend. “Good thing I showed up then. Wouldn’t want such a nice room being wasted.”

        “Hey!” Dash scowled,  staring her down.

Gilda was too busy already laughing to pay her any attention. “Come on dude, you gotta admit that was a good one.”

Dash cracked, chuckling along with her. “It was decent. Now come on. Throw your stuff in here and I’ll give you a rundown of the whole house.”

She obliged, parting with her brown satchel with a bit of disappointment. Would she still be here if it had simply never existed? Would Spike have waited for her if she had never left the bag behind? She didn’t really give him much else to put faith in. She peered inside, a small, blue glint winking back at her. Sighing, she placed it down upon the bed, turning away. It was safe here, more secure than it had ever been. No use slinging it around with her like some moron.

The ‘rundown’ was more or less exactly what she had shown her years ago. Here’s this, here’s that, oh-look-at-all-the-awards-I-won-while-you-were-gone, Isn’t-my-room-awesome, blah blah blah. Gilda found herself almost passing out as Dash began raving about her Wonderbolt posters.

“Tryouts in two months baby! I’ve already talked with Spitfire, Soarin’, and Fleethoof and I’m almost sure I’ve got a 100% chance to get in! Wait... oh shoot! Gilda!”

“Huh? Wha?” Gilda shook herself, rubbing her eyes.

“Party! We’re gonna be late for the party! Come on!” Dash dashed past her, breaking for the exit.

Gilda wheeled after her, stuck between half-sleep and confusion. It had already been an hour? No way. She was not ready for this, especially after her encounter with two of Dash’s acquaintances. If something like that happened with actual friends, would she tell her off again? At least she had Spike. He was her only anchor. She needed to talk with him before the party.

They retraced their original path, heading back to the center of Ponyville. Sugar Cube Corner stuck out like a sore talon, impressive considering the entire town was a vomit of assorted colors. The building itself already made her uneasy, her stomach knotting tight the closer they flew. Just stay calm. How long could a party last? A few hours at most. Ha! She had just blazed through one, how hard could three be?

She scanned the ground as they passed over the top of the pink building. Where was he... where was he... ah! There he was, coming down one of the backstreets with Twilight by his side. She had to catch him before he went out into the open. The ponies pouring into the Corner below were most likely all his friends, and as soon as they started talking, she’d never get the chance.

“You ready Gilda?” Dash asked, pointing a hoof down at the current of ponies flooding into the party.

“Actually Dash, you go on ahead. I need to uh, get ready, you know? Before I go in,” she said. Dash cocked an eyebrow at her. Come on. Just take it. Go.

To her relief, her friend gave a sad shrug. “Alight then. Catch ya inside?”

“Definitely.” Gilda raised up a claw to the mare. Her dark mood vanished as she grinned, returning with a hoof bump.

“See ya then!” she called out, dipping out to join the crowd below.

Gilda breathed a sigh of relief. Thank Andune. Good. Spike was still unnoticed. She flew off to the street he and Twilight were walking down, landing at the junction between the road and Sugarcube Corner’s square. Spike and Twilight both snapped to attention at her abrupt landing. Spike continued walking towards her with a smile. Twilight followed closely behind, wearing that same, stupid stare every other pony had when they saw her. Apparently helping a best friend return home wasn’t enough to rid you of suspicion.

“Hey Gilda! You ready for this?” Spike asked, coming to a stop in front of her.

She hesitated, glancing between her friend and the drilling eyes of Twilight. “I need to talk with you. Alone.” It was blurted out, sounding a bit desperate.

        Spike was only momentarily thrown off by her sudden demand. His sister, however, raised her brows and glanced between the both of them. Spike grinned sheepishly at Twilight, pointing towards Sugarcube corner. “Twilight, mind going and telling Pinkie that Gilda and I will be there soon?”

        She pursed her lips. Before the silence could take over, she nodded her head, an obviously-forced smile sprouting up. “Yeah, I’ll go on ahead. Make sure not to keep Pinkie waiting too long. You know how she can be.”

        “Thanks Twi! See you in a bit!” Spike waved her off. Gilda caught the mare glancing back. A quick, strained grin, then she swiftly turned back, cast her head to the ground, and picked up her pace. Gilda grunted as she returned to Spike. For Andune’s sake, what did she have to do to earn a ponies trust around here? It seemed like the only ones backing her were Dash and Spike. Spike ceased his waving. When he looked back at her, his face contorted in concern. “Is something wrong, Gilda?”

        Yes Spike. There are so many things wrong here. Go on, tell him Gilda. I can’t take these ponies treating me like I’m some Empire spy, like I’m some outcast. I don’t even know why I care. Maybe I’m going soft. Spike, have I seemed softer? Don’t lie to me now. Tell me the truth. She sucked in a breath. “Spike, I can’t go to this party.”

        Ok. Nevermind. Don’t tell him. Just run away like you always do. Coward.

        Shock, of course. He reeled back. “What? Why?!” He recovered, regaining his footing. As he looked her over once again, his eyes widened slightly. “Gilda, did something happen when I was gone? When you were with Dash?” He began to scan her body once again, seeming to inspect her entire physique. “You weren’t hurt were you?”

        She guffawed, the laughter escaping her beak before she could even stop herself. Even when he was concerned, Spike was still funny as hell. She sucked in air, cutting her laughter short and giving her friend a serious eye. “Spike, hear me out on this one: If you ever start to worry about me getting into a fight, worry about the ponies health, not mine.” She paused. “Don’t get me wrong, they may all be idiots, but I don’t want to have to hurt any of them. But those two pegasi... they treated me... my whole race, as if we were some animals or something that would attack them at a moment’s notice.”

        “Gilda...” He took a step forward, hesitated, then, as if hit with a sudden weakness, dropped to all fours and slowly lowered himself into a sitting position. It was strange. She was used to his tall, strong, fierce looking figure. Here, now, he looked different, withdrawn. “I don’t know what to say about those ponies. I could make up some stuff and say that the dispute will end in a few months and they’ll forget all about this stupid junk, but I don’t want to take the chance of lying to you.” He brightened up a little, shuffling his wings. From here, they appeared as two elegant drapes caressing his back. “But I want you to know that me, Dash, and eventually all of my friends will be here for you. Believe me, I know how you feel. All of the ponies that are in the Sugarcube Corner are ponies that have accepted me, who are my friends.” He clasped his claws together, shaking them slightly. “Please, give them a chance. Dash and I aren’t the only cool ones in Ponyville.”

        She did not want to go to this party. Just minutes before, she had been shaking at the thought. Now? She felt relaxed. Spike’s talk had soothed her, reassured her. Damnit. He was too good at that. Thank Andune he was a dragon. If he was a pony, he’d have been one of those corrupt council members. She looked back at her tirade, bringing a claw up to her face and shaking her head. “Sorry about that Spike. I hate whiners, yet here I am pouring out my guts to you.”

        “Believe me, I know how you feel. Heck, when I was on my way to the tree house with Twilight...” He smiled, giving a sad laugh. “Now look, I’m starting to whine!”

        “Wait, no, what happened?” She knew Spike too well to ignore the small movements he made when he felt uneasy. Clenching and unclenching of the claws, rustling wings, a swishing tail. To hell if he thought she was just going to ignore his problems.

        He relaxed a bit, but his expression only hardened. “While Twilight and I were heading to the library, there was this pony and she... she screamed. Screamed and ran.” As if to try and cover up his distress, he gave her a big, goofy forced smile. “It’s nothing really. It was over in a second. We just headed into the library after that.”

        “Thought you just said you wouldn’t lie to me.” Gilda bit back, adding a playful tone into her words. “I’ve lived most of my life on my own dude and even I’m getting a bit cranked by this whole ‘outcast’ thing. Think you might be rubbing off on me.” She walked over to his side, rotating and sitting down beside him. While they were on a backstreet, the occasional pony would still pass by, half-trotting half-galloping off at the site of them. Spike seemed to notice with her, laughing in unison as a passerby pegasi mare let out a yelp after spotting them, leaping into the sky and disappearing into a batch of clouds. She turned to him. There was a smile now. Not a fake one, like only moments before, but real, genuine. Of course, she was grinning as well. “Funny isn’t it? How the moment we get split up, we both get into trouble?”

        “Ha! Are you kidding me?” He stood up, returning to his proud, stout draconic figure. he smirked down at her, offering her a claw. “Did you forget The Empire? The council? Every single pony besides my friends in Canterlot? We’ve been getting in trouble every moment since we got back. They’re just a lot easier to bear when someone who could care less about what you are is there to watch your back.” She took his claw, rising to her feet. “Also helps that you’re a good friend.”

        That was it. Such a simple solution. From hanging your head awkwardly to simply laughing off the situation. A friend by your side. And as good as a friend Dash was, she couldn’t understand or share the situation they found themselves in. No fault of hers. It was facts. She puffed up, newfound determination filling her. “Alright. Let’s go to that party.”

        Spike did a double take. “What? Really?!”

        “Yep. I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

        “Yes!” Spike threw a claw into the air with a cheer. “Watch Gilda. The ponies at this party are nothing like the rest in the town. They’re awesome.”

        “Alright alright.” She waved a claw at Sugarcube Corner. “Hurry up, before I change my mind!”

        “Right. Make sure to brace for Pinkie Pie. I know how you feel about her, and she’ll be in full force here.” Spike reminded her as they began towards the food-adorned structure.

        “Ugh. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll try to ignore her.” That annoying pink demon was chaos ponified, sure, but there would be no way she could bring her down now. Pumped up? Check? Spike? Check. Dash was in there too, so she was doubly set. Now there was only the subject of Spike’s other friends. Always fun to have a wild card in the situation right? Unless, of course, they were pink and squeaked out garbage all day long.

        They stopped in front of the door. They looked at each other in confusion. Gilda watched Spike reach for the door then retract his claw, hesitating. Couldn’t blame him. Do you just walk into a party? Knock? Say something? ‘Hey everypony, it’s us, we’re—’

        The door burst open, a pink head popping out from within.

        “ABOUT TIME!”

 Before she or Spike could even back away in shock, they were grasped and quickly pulled inside. As the world stopped spinning around her, her eyes adjusted and she suddenly became aware of the mass of ponies that surrounded them. Her knees locked. Her breath stopped. Someone say something! Anything! Oof. Something squeezed in between her and Spike. She turned and caught an eye-full of pink.

“Everypony, after three months of unfun, Spike is back in town!” If Gilda’s talons weren’t restrained by Pinkie’s strangely long legs, she’d be using them to cover her ears from the horrible screeching. “Even better, he brought an old friend back with him!” She felt the hoof squeeze her closer. Her smell almost made Gilda puke. It was the kind of smell when you take too many nice, sweet things and swirl them together to get a disgusting monstrous heap of foul-scented sugar. “Now come on! I’ve got enough games and food to last us for days!

Days. Wonderful. Both she and Spike were shoved forward cast into the spotlight as ponies began to spread out. Some went to the various little activities spread around the corner, others to the nearby food counter. Most began to advance on Spike, skating gingerly around her. Fine by her. Go talk to Spike. He’s earned the right to see all of his friends again. She began to back away slowly...

Right into Pinkie Pie. She felt herself being pushed back forward, towards the crowd. “What’s the matter Gilda? I didn’t set all of this up just for you to sneak off!” Gilda ground her claws into the floor, trying to fight back against the abnormal power. It was official. This... thing was trying to humiliate her. She wouldn’t be surprised if this was all some elaborate trap to have her snap again. She had to escape from her at all costs. Employing an old-as-dirt technique, Gilda suddenly released her tension, lurching off to the side. As she rolled back to her feet, she caught a glimpse of Pinkie stumbling forward, disappearing into the crowd of ponies that now swarmed Spike.

Perfect. She skated the crowd, keeping an eye out for any blip of pink. Finally, she had traversed the admittedly large room, ending up right next to the food table. She made sure to stand off to the side, away from approaching hungry ponies. It was the same process for each: approach, eyeing her like she was a lion about to pounce, realize she was staring back, avert their eyes, grab their food, leave. So predictable. These were the ponies Spike called his friends? Speaking of Spike...

The sea of ponies that swarmed him kept their respective distance, asking him questions in rapid succession. Some were on his thoughts, most of what the Central Wilds were like. He looked... happy. He answered their questions with a smile, waved back to friends excitedly, and overall seemed to be having a good time. Of course he deserved it, but Gilda couldn’t help feel disappointed. She always thought what they had was unique, was special. Sure, she was friends with Dash, but there was something else there that made it different.

Dear Andune it was such a selfish thought. Maybe the sergeant had been right. Maybe she was just some parasite.  Maybe she had been hanging out with Spike all this time just to feed herself with attention. She had finally found someone else who appreciated her and all she wanted to do was tell off his friends.

Maybe Dash realized this years ago, when she told her off.

She suddenly felt alone. She wasn’t hungry, didn’t want to talk, and definitely did not want to play any little games. So she stood there. Eventually the ponies began to simply ignore her. That was fine. She could live with that. Just don’t talk to her. Don’t stare at her. She had been able to stare back and laugh before. Where had that gone? How long had she stood here? Mere minutes? Hours? Where was Dash?

So she stood some more. The longer she lingered, the more heavy and hot the air seemed to become. Each breath was laborious, as if trying to breathe normally on a hot summer day. Her head began to spin and a strange exhaustion began to set in. She had to get out of here soon. Or at least talk to Spike or Dash.


        Gilda nearly jumped at the sound. She jerked her head towards the direction, her blurred vision settling upon a magenta mare. She wore a strange smile, unlike any Gilda had seen before. While it wasn’t quite awkward, it wasn’t very sincere either. Gilda struggled to recover, trying to control her erratic breathing. “Uh, hi.”

        The mare extended a hoof. “Name’s Cheerilee! Nice to meet you!”

        Gilda hesitated, then put her talon out and shook the mare’s hoof. “Name’s Gilda, as you probably heard.”

        “Of course! Pinkie always knows how to make a nice introduction.” Gilda had to stop herself from scoffing. “I’m the local teacher for Ponyville. Well, one of them. We’ve gained a couple more over the years, but I’m still the head of education.” She suddenly grinned sheepishly, bringing a hoof up to her head. “Not that I’m better than anypony or anything, it’s just that... oh look at me, drawling on about nothing! Anyway, What brings you to Ponyville? I’d think that someone foreign would want to visit a place such as Canterlot and not our little old town.”

        “Oh, I’m with Spike here,” she said, pointing at the dragon. To her frustration, the crowd had only grown from when she had last seen him. “We met up while he was out of town and I decided to come back with him. I’m old buds with Dash as well.”

        Cheerilee gawked, then smiled again. “Well isn’t that something? You’re already a part of the Ponyville family it seems.” Once again, Gilda almost snorted. Cheerilee seemed to have her heart in the right place, but she obviously wasn’t too bright.

        Guess it was her turn to continue the conversation. As much as she appreciated an actual talk with someone other than Spike or Dash, it came off as slightly forced. “So what is your relation to Spike? Were you his teacher or something?”

        “Oh no, not at all. As far as I know, Spike received his education from assisting Twilight in the library. We were mostly just friends, simple as that. Nowadays...” She glanced over to the dragon. “Well he’s grown.”

        Gilda’s eyes widened. Was she trying to say something with that?

        Cheerilee seemed to pick up on how she had worded her statement, waving a hoof in the air. “Dear me, I meant grown up of course! I mean, uh, he has so many more responsibilities now! Yes, that’s it! We don’t really have time to see eachother anymore.” She seemed satisfied with her excuse. “Still, he used to be such a cute little thing. Not that it matters or anything! He’s still the Spike we all know and love, just a bit taller.” She reassured herself.

        “Yeah...” Gilda faltered, too distracted by the way Cheerilee was staring over at Spike.

        Too distracted to notice the pink pony quickly advancing on her position.

        “There you are!

        No. Hell no. She spun away from Cheerilee, giving out a choked cry at the sight of the insane mare. There was nowhere to run. Cheerilee and the food table were to her right, the wall to her left. She had literally cornered herself. She rose up her claws in feeble defense as Pinkie neared her. “Pinkie, I don’t want to—”

        “I have been looking all over for you! Come on, it’s time to party! I’m going to introduce you to everypony and show you every. Single. Game!” Pinkie wrapped her hoof around her front leg, jerking her forward.

        Gilda fought her, holding her ground. “I don’t want to play any of your games!” She hissed desperately.

        “No need to be shy! It’ll be fun!”

        “Pinkie... stop.” Gilda growled. Ponies were beginning to stare at them now. Gilda lowered her head in embarrassment. She wanted to leave. Right now. Get out of here, away from all of these ponies.

        “There’s no danger, no need to be a stranger!” She paused, raising a hoof to her mouth and giggling. “Listen to me, I sound just like Zecora. Oh well!” She shrugged, then jerked at Gilda once again. “Now hurry up, some ponies are already starting to leave!”

That was enough. Whether it was the onlooking ponies, Pinkie’s squeaky voice ripping apart her ears, or the insistent non-stop jerking, Gilda snapped. “STOP!” She roared,  pushing back with all her strength.

 The mare yelped, her grasp tearing from Gilda as she stumbled back from the sudden force. All conversation in the room died out the moment Pinkie slammed onto the floor. Gilda froze up, slowly looking up from the grounded pony. Everyone had turned completely still. Every eye in the room was on her. She crouched slightly, withdrawing into herself. All she wanted to do was leave. Escape. Almost as if to scorn her luck, Dash had finally showed up as well, her brows furrowed and her mouth gaped open as she glanced between her and Pinkie. Applejack stepped from the crowd, glaring at her as she helped her stunned friend from the floor.

She dared not look at Spike.

The murmurs started and ponies began to shift in place. Pinkie herself began to rise from the ground, rubbing her head. Gilda made for the door. She didn’t want to hear what Pinkie had to say, what Dash had to say, and definitely not a word from Spike. She spotted the dragon walking towards her as she neared the exit.

“Gilda...” He reached out with a claw.

She bolted the rest of the way, throwing herself out the door. The moment her talons hit the ground, she slammed her back paws against the pavement, launching herself straight into the air. Her mind had turned primitive. Up. Away from the party. Away from all of the staring ponies. Away from her friends and that stupid pink idiot.

She had no idea how high she had flown. Only a few wispy, thin clouds surrounded her. Her breaths came in strained, gulping heaves, signifying that oxygen was lean. Perfect. She hovered to one of the clouds, flopping down upon it. To her surprise, the weak structure did not fall apart around her, but instead served as a sort of hammock, holding her in a nice meshy embrace.

She closed her eyes. Everything had gone just as planned hadn’t it? It was awkward, forced, Spike had been swarmed and too occupied, and of course, the big one, Pinkie had completely and utterly humiliated her once again. Everything was thrown to the wind now. Applejack was more confident than ever that she was an ass. Dash? Ha! The next time they met could be a complete re-enactment of the party years before.

And Spike... She rolled over, keeping her eyes sealed shut. She had assaulted one of his friends. No way in hell he wouldn’t be more wary of her than ever before. All he had wanted was to come back home to his friends, and yet here she was assaulting one of them. But it wasn’t her fault. That moron had been asking for it. In fact, screw all of Spike’s friends. They were no different than anypony else. If it was up to her, she’d keep Spike, Rainbow, and throw everyone else out. Just three friends hanging out without any other stupid people.

        How selfish. How parasitic. She should just leave. Rainbow was already becoming questionable again and Spike didn’t even need her. The party may have not been swarming with ponies, sure, but there were a healthy amount there. He had enough friends. He deserved a relaxing, fun life with them after all the hell she had put him through. Instead, she just made everything awkward.

        “Mind the company?”

        Her eyes snapped open. A mass of purple and emerald rose into view, two massive wings supporting a serpentine body. Spike panted just like she had before, his tail and arms drooping. He wore a sad smile and pleading eyes.

        Gilda scrunched her face up, unable to move. A smoldering anger built up in her stomach. What was he doing here, now? He had lied to her. His friends were not her friends. She had told him she didn’t want to attend the stupid party, and now look.

        Tell him to leave. Tell him to leave you alone.

        “How did you find me?”

        “Would you believe me if I told you it was the power of friendship?”

        Ok, she smirked. She fought back the urge to laugh as well and returned to her angry frown. “No.”

        Spike sighed. “Didn’t think you would. You left a huge hole in the clouds when you flew up here.”

She rolled away, sweeping him from her vision. A sea of clouds soared out below her, merging with the horizon off in the distance. If it wasn’t for the thin air, she’d fall asleep here, letting the scene feed her fascinating dreams. “Go away. I don’t want to talk.”

“Say it again and I’ll go.” There was a pause. “That’s a promise.”

A promise. He would leave, no doubt. She opened her beak.

“You lied to me.”

“I did.” Just two words. They stung her yet were relaxing at the same time. He had lied, sure, but to hear him admit it was soothing. “I’m sorry. I thought... I thought if they could talk, be around me without being afraid, they would accept you even easier. I was wrong.”

Gilda said nothing. She could continue, scolding him for getting her to even think of attending that doomed party. But she didn’t want to. She was satisfied. She had forgiven him. She chuckled at herself. How new. How different.

Something still ate at the back of her mind though. It was such a sensitive, strange topic. Anyone else and she would simply let it rot and eat away at her. Then again, anyone else and she wouldn’t even be in such a situation.

She rolled back over. He was beating his wings and panting a bit faster now. The cold that would usually nip at her from such a far height fell away as warm waves of air washed over her face.

“Spike, why did you wait that week? Why did you bring me back with you?”

He recoiled a bit at the question. Instead of blurting out an answer, he hovered there, his head lowered in deep thought. Good. She wanted a sincere answer.

Finally, he raised his head.

“Because you’re my friend and... Because I’m selfish.”

Gilda nearly fell from the cloud. “What?”

Spike huffed. “My banishment was terrible. It took me from my friends, my family, my home... everything. But it gave me one thing: I could be myself. I could hunt, fly, breathe fire, search for gems, do anything I wanted without anyone giving me a strange look or screaming or murmuring behind my back.”

“What about your best friends?” Gilda butted in, unable to stop herself.

Spike shook his head. “You were there last night when they saw that boar. Even Twilight sent Dash to the princess out of panic when she first heard of my hunting from Fluttershy.”

Gilda cringed. She had seen how close he was to Twilight. To have your closest friends that you’ve known all your life suddenly fear you...

“But see, even if I could be myself in the Wilds, it was still lonely. At first I flew around a bit, explored... but then I started staying in my cave.” He snorted. “I would do nothing for days but lay around. I started oversleeping and having these horrible nightmares.” He shuddered then looked to her. “Then you came. You were the first person that I could ever just be myself around. You thought hunting was cool, weren’t afraid of what I was... I didn’t want to leave that behind.”

“And what happens when everypony accepts you? What does that leave me as?” The questions poured from her beak without a single stumble. No restraint now. These were questions that had been eating away at her for weeks. She had let them sit, but now, after what had happened below, she needed them answered, begged for a small conclusion.

“It would make you Gilda. My friend.” Spike said the words, not hesitating a moment. “The friend who would go out and hunt with me. The friend that actually wasn’t crazy. The friend that would always have my back no matter what.”

        She lay there, silent.  The drumming beat of his wings washed over her ears.

        “Oh, and don’t worry about what happened at the party. I’ll let them know it was an accident. They can’t hold what happened against you.”

His voice was calm, worried. It relaxed her. No, relaxed wasn’t right. Her body was locked with tension, unable to move her legs or turn her head to look at Spike. Her breathing was faint. Must be because of the thin air. Definitely.

        “Gilda...?” Spike reached out to her with a violet claw. She had never realized just how big his wings were. Now, at full expansion, their warmth almost enveloped her on every down thrust. His emerald belly rippled in the sun—

        She yelped as his claw touched her shoulder, backing away further on to the cloud. Spike himself fell back, horrified.

        “What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”

        “No!” she shouted, wanting to slap herself for the small laugh that came out after. “I’m fine. Perfect. Amazing.”

        She wasn’t lying, but Spike seemed unconvinced, his green eyes scanning over her chest, running down her side, grazing over her haunches...

        “Did I say something wrong?”

        “No, Spike!” There was the laugh again. Her friend was in shock before her and all she could do was giggle like some pony. “You did nothing wrong.” Everything right, on the contrary.

        Spike grimaced. “Do you need some time alone? I can head back to the party if you want.”

        What kind of question was that? Hell no! Stay here! Screw that party and everyone in it.  

        But she couldn’t say that. She had just gone over why. Selfish. She couldn’t cling to Spike like some parasite. Her giddy, ecstatic attitude dropped as she gazed sadly back at Spike. “Yes, Spike. You should go back to the party. I’ll be fine.”

        He looked upset, beginning to drift away. “Alright then.”

        He was folding his wings. Only a few seconds before he would disappear beneath the clouds, leaving her here. Alone. Spike began to descend.


        The violet wings reflected light wildly as they snapped back, sending him rising back to her. “What’s wrong?”

        “When will I see you again?” It was blurted out, hasty. Also a stupid question. “Like, you know, when can we hang out again? Tomorrow? It’s cool if your schedule is booked in all. But still, I could come with you if you have to help with something. Except Pinkie. Well, maybe—”



        “Rarity and I are going gem hunting tomorrow. Wanna come? I was going to ask you tomorrow morning, but now is a better time anyway.”

        She was nearly hopping on her claws in excitement.  “When? Where?”

        “The rock fields we always gem hunt at are right over... uh...” He looked about, the sheet of clouds below completely blocking any vision of the ground. “Well, they’re straight ahead from Dash’s front door. If you get lost, just chill out at the Ponyville Town Center. I’ll come and get you. As for the time, ten o’clock should be about right. Rarity takes her time though, so don’t feel too rushed.”

        “Ha! You know me, I’ll be there on the dot, no sooner, no later!”

        “Can’t wait!” He flew forward, raising up a balled claw.

        Bump it. Bump it.  Her claw had retracted, gluing itself to her chest. What the hell was wrong with her? Bump it!

        It was too late. Spike was already slowly lowering his own claw, retreating. His eyes were a mixture of hurt and confusion. “I’ll see you tomorrow then. If you need me, don’t be afraid to come and find me.” He paused, then tucked in his wings. “Bye.”

        He disappeared, leaving a small hole in the cover of clouds as he plummeted below.

        She fell back. Exhaustion ate at her body and mind. She had done it. Spike was there, all to herself, and she rejected begging for him so he could return to his other friends. Sure, it was only one small action, but it was a beginning. As much as she trusted Spike, he was only one dragon. It simply wasn’t possible for him to be there for her every step of the way.

        The sun was just peaking over the horizon now, turning the clouds a light orange.

        She tried to relax, enjoy the last few minutes of sunshine.

        Why hadn’t she returned the claw bump? Why had she nearly screamed at being touched? The way he had left, looking so confused, so hurt... she’d get this all sorted out tomorrow. As soon as they met back up, she’d apologize, claw bump him, and they’d dig up the biggest batch of gems ever known. Tomorrow.

        The clouds were a deep shade of blue now. Stars began to pop up overhead. She began searching for her old familiar constellations. There was... no that was nothing. Maybe...? She growled, sitting up as if to tear down the heavens themselves. She couldn’t find a single one. Something was wrong with her.

        She looked back down, the solid wall of clouds below giving her a sickly feeling. She felt exposed, vulnerable. Laugh it off. Just a bunch of clouds right? Just a vast, empty...

        Her stomach turned over. She had to go find Spike. No, not Spike. Can’t go to Spike. Who else?

        Dash. The party had to be over by now.  Go back to Dash’s house. Who cares if she’s upset at you. Anything was better than this, here, now.

        She leapt from the cloud, breaking through the thick layer. Ponyville loomed below, the lights in every window giving way to the cover of darkness. She made a straight beeline to Dash’s house, throwing open the front door.

        “Dash? Daaash?”

        She waited. Nothing. Taking a cautious step forward, she poked her head inside. Empty. She tenderly stepped in, making her way across the living room and into her own guest room. There was her bag, still lying on the side of her bed. She slowly crawled onto the bed, pulling at the sack. She put her claw in. Map. Photo. There it was. As she pulled her claw back out, the sapphire within her grasp seemed to illuminate the room itself.

        So many memories. Only a little over a month. Just one object.

        She growled at herself, pushing the gem back into its bag. Getting clingy again. Weak. She had been fine on her own for years. Surely she could spare a single night?

        She scoffed at herself. Dagger Fels. Lionsberg. She couldn’t imagine going back to that now.


        Dash’s voice nearly made her fall from the bed. The clouds made no sound as they appeared and disappeared, so her entrance had been completely silent.

        “Uh, hey. How did the rest of the party go?” Gilda asked sheepishly.

        Dash frowned, stamping a hoof down. “Forget that, what the heck was up with you and Pinkie? Why did you knock her down like that?”

        Gilda recoiled. This had been coming, but now, hearing it from Dash made her sick. She raised her claws up in defense. “Look, everyone was staring at me and then Pinkie... she came over and started pulling at me.” Dash’s frown didn’t fade. Gilda lowered her head. “Look, I won’t apologize for yelling at her, but I did push her down, and... I’m sorry about that.”

        Dash had traded in her frown for a gaping mouth. “You’re... sorry?!”

        “Yeah, I am. She can be annoying, but she didn’t deserve that.”

        Her friend closed up her mouth. “Are you feeling alright Gilda? I mean, you’re apologizing! And you look tired.”

        “I’m apologizing because I mean it, Dash.” Gilda made to continue her aggressive tone only to falter and weaken. “But tired? Yeah. I’m exhausted.”

        “Well, make sure you get some rest ok? Can’t be cool if you’re sleep-flying!” Dash said playfully, a hint of concern eating at the back of her words.

        “Good night, Dash.”

        The mare backed out of the room, giving her one last look. “Good night, Gilda.”

 The cloud closed behind Dash. Gilda didn’t lie down.

She didn’t know how long she sat there. Sleep wouldn’t come. She could lie down, sure, but she already knew it wouldn’t change anything.

She rose to her feet, swatting the clouds to her room’s exit aside. The living room was even worse, its emptiness causing her to shift uneasily. She continued on, escaping onto Dash’s front cloud.

Ponyville opened up before her, only a few distinct buildings still illuminated. Sugarcube Corner, The Town Center, and the Library.

The Library. She looked away. Don’t think about it. You’re independent. He’s a friend, not some constant pillar of strength.

She fell back onto her haunches, looking up at the stars.

Maybe it was the few remaining city lights. Maybe it was her mind screwing with her. She couldn’t see a single speck, just a blank, black canvas.


All of them slipped his mind. It annoyed him, made him angry with himself.

A hoof on his side. He looked down. Twilight looked back at him with concern. “Spike, you’ve been stargazing for awhile. Aren’t you going to get some sleep? It’s been a long day.”

He sighed, returning to the stars. “I’m worried Twilight. About Gilda. I talked to her after the party and she seemed... not herself.”

“Come on Spike, you know her more than any of us,” Twilight said, turning to leave the balcony. “She’s tough. In fact, she’s probably already fast asleep, like you should be.”

Twilight began tugging at his arm. Perhaps she was right. Maybe Gilda had only been a bit anxious after all that had happened. She turned him away, didn’t claw bump him because she needed some space and time alone.  Tomorrow she would be healthy and relaxed. Spike gave in to Twilight’s pull, following her inside.

Just as he began to close the paned door to the balcony, he stopped. It wasn’t pain, shock, or even suspicion. It was a feeling in his mind, his gut, his whole body, that screamed for him to rip from the balcony and soar into the air, and roar. It sounded perfectly in his ears. No malice, no challenging, no opposition, just a simple, desperate call.

He trembled, having to withhold every muscle in his body as he stepped back out onto the balcony. He looked about. The town Center, Sugarcube Corner.... of course. Dash’s house was behind the library.

He had to look. He had to get one glance. His wings shot out.


An invisible force dragged him back. Twilight’s magic. The balcony drifted away from him, the paned doors slamming as he passed into the library’s interior. He could break from this magic easily, but the thought of fighting her horrified him.

“What is the matter with you tonight?” His sister asked with worry, stepping in front of him. He was sitting on the floor now, a sudden daze overcoming him.

“Something is wrong Twilight. I just... can’t shake this feeling.”

She gave him a sad smile, trotting forward and nuzzling him. “You’re still running from patrols, Spike. You’re home now. You’re safe. You can rest.”

He struggled to accept her conclusion as he returned the embrace. He struggled to accept it as he promised her he would get some sleep. He struggled to accept it as he sat there on the library floor, still trembling.

It wasn’t patrols.

As his vision finally blurred over and he fell back, his instincts burned at him, scolding and growling at him as if he had missed something immense, important.

← Chapter 9