He would never learn the pain of being forgotten.
He had never sought out to be recognized in the eyes of anypony but those he cared about. Regardless of the passing of the years, he would never once care whether other ponies remembered him or not.
But he cared—painfully, agonizingly so—that ponies were forgetting her.
Ponies of all ages and walks of life trotted along the streets of Equestria’s capital city, each lost in their own little worlds, their own little all-encompassing universes. That filly over there fretted over when she would next see her friends to play, that stallion over there wondered when he would see his beloved again, that elderly mare sitting at a table thought of her deceased husband, and many more avoided the young dragon stomping his way past them, his eyes glued to the dirty gravel path.
He didn’t want anypony to see him cry, yet it was hard to not be stared at when he was nearly six feet tall.
As he made his way through the Moon Quarter, his bag thumping against his body, a scroll crumpled up in his claw, Spike the Dragon refused to look at others for fear he would show them nothing but hatred.
“Don’t cry, Mister Dragon.”
He stopped, dead in his tracks, his breathing ragged, and he turned around to find a filly looking up at him. Even though the elderly mare behind the filly could scarcely hide the fear in her eyes, the little filly seemed to be too concerned with his tears to care about his fangs and sharp claws.
“I… What?” he asked, taken aback.
“Don’t cry,” the brave filly repeated. “Wh—”
“Inkwell, dear,” the elderly mare interrupted, pulling the filly away. “Let’s not bother the—”
“Why are you crying?” the filly pushed on, seemingly determined to help him. He appreciated it. It was nice to feel like somepony wanted to help, for once.
“I… I can’t find my best friend.”
The words came out of his mouth unbidden, automatically, and yet to hear them said aloud was a much larger blow than he’d expected. It still hurt. It still hurt, even then.
“Mommy says everything I lose is always under my bed,” the filly said, a tender warmth in her gaze. “Did you try looking there?”
“I… No,” he replied. He looked at his claws, filthy and worn-down after weeks of digging under trees. Tears filled his eyes again. He hated it. Shining had told him to be strong. “I’ve tried everywhere.”
“Young one,” the mare said, and in that moment, her fear faded away. She stepped forward. “Have you asked Princess Rhythm’s guards for help?”
He clenched his fists. “Princess Rhythm’s guards can’t help me,” he said, a little more violently than he’d intended, judging by the mare stepping back. He balled his claws and felt the scroll crumple up further. “She… I have to find her. My friend.”
“Where do you think she is?” the filly asked. She tugged on her grandmother’s foreleg. “We can help look, can’t we, Granny?”
The mare seemed uncertain. “I—Well—”
“She’s under a tree,” he said. “In a library.”
The two ponies blinked, as they should when faced with such a statement. It was natural, yet their reaction only angered him all the more.
The filly reacted first, gasping. “Really?! That’s just like Princess Parchment!”
It felt like a knife had been plunged into his heart. There was no other way to describe it.
“Twilight,” he corrected immediately, trying to keep his irritation in check. Princess Parchment. He’d never hated a name more than he hated that one. “Her name is Twilight. Twilight Sparkle.”
The filly nodded gravely. “Twilight… Maybe Twilight Sparkle found Princess Parchment!” she exclaimed, her complete and utter lack of comprehension only twisting the knife further into his heart.
But not as much as what her grandmother said.
“Inkwell, you know that’s only a bedtime story, dear,” the grandmother said, and her soft laughter sounded mocking to Spike. “Princess Parchment and the others aren’t real.”
“I know,” the filly said with a giggle, and whatever else she had to add went unheard by the dragon rushing away, tears clouding his eyes.
Princess Parchment and the others aren’t real.
He stopped again, opening his saddlebag and hastily exchanging the scroll in his claw for another, much more wrinkled, one. He unfurled it and tried not to feel the ache in his soul at the messy sketch of a unicorn reading a book.
It had been so long…
It had been so painfully long, he felt as if he constantly needed to remind himself of how she looked.
“Spike! Why do you keep that drawing around?! I look bad in it!”
“What? No, you don’t! You look nice in it! And just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean I can’t keep it, Twi.”
“All right, all right. Silly dragon.”
He wasn’t altogether sure how he got to the castle. Well, no, he was, but he’d been too occupied with his thoughts to pay attention to the path. He only realized he’d arrived when he realized the pony he was now glowering at was one of the castle soldiers posted by the entrance.
“Ah… Master Spike,” the guard said with hesitation, averting his gaze, clearly uncomfortable. And honestly? Spike wanted him to be. “You’re back! The Princess was worried. How were your travels?” He faltered. “Good news, I hope?”
“Which one are you? You’re one of them, aren’t you?” he asked, bluntly.
He hated trickery and deceit. Hated it with a burning passion.
The stallion faltered again, his eyes darting towards the ponies walking by. “I… I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Master Spike,” he said, readjusting his position and clearly struggling to keep eye-contact with the dragon.
Spike’s nostrils flared.
He bent down, ever so slightly and carefully asked again, “Which. One. Are. You?”
The stallion lowered his gaze, and it wasn’t until they were alone that he spoke.
Spike relaxed a bit. For a moment, he almost felt rude.
“You’re new, aren’t you?” he asked, and before the soldier could reply, Spike smiled thinly. “Of course she would bring in more of you. She always waits until I’m not home.”
“I-It is my honor, Master Spike,” Thespian said, voice trembling. “The Princess has done m-much for us. A-And my companions speak highly of you.”
“Speak highly of me? Which ones? The ones like you?”
Thespian mutely nodded, and Spike leaned back.
“You know,” he said, “just because you lie about the way you look doesn’t mean you should lie when you talk, too.”
“Where is she?” He paused. “Sorry. Dumb question. She never goes anywhere.” Before the stallion could even hope to reply, he stalked off into the castle, issuing one last request. “Tell the guards I don’t want to be bothered.”
If there was one benefit to looking like a large bitter dragon, it was that nopony dared stop or question where he was going. The pony guards already knew him, and the other ones avoided him as much as he avoided them.
For the first few minutes, as he made his way towards the castle’s private quarters, he was undisturbed. For a few minutes, he felt he would be able to rationally and calmly discuss the horrible news he brought.
But, like many things since the forsaken night he’d left Twilight’s library, it didn’t go as he hoped.
Just as he stalked past the throne room, where unwitting guests thought they were talking to an alicorn princess, the chamber’s two large doors swung open. He found himself stopping to take a look, only to feel burning irritation once again.
One of those pompous monocle-wearing nobles stepped out, head held as high as his ego, probably, and then… and then an elderly mare followed him, a royal crown placed on her head.
“Princess Rhythm, it was an honor,” the stallion said, pushing up his monocle. “A shame dear Princess Melody is sick! I would have loved to see h—eek!”
The stallion jumped back at the sight of the glowering dragon, and though the pony looked afraid, the being masquerading as a pony beside him looked surprised.
She licked her lips. “Ah… Spike… What a pleasant surprise…”
“Your Highness,” Spike dryly greeted.
The Duke was thoroughly impressed, inspecting Spike behind his monocle. “Oh! Good heavens, it talks! Why, Princess! How fascinating!”
“Yes, he lives in the castle with us,” the changeling said.
The stallion turned to Spike. “Young sir, you’re quite lucky ponies have taken you in! I mean no offense, but your kind isn’t known for their kindness,” he said, completely missing the alarmed look that flared up in the alicorn’s eyes. There was a message in them, a plea for somedragon not to burn off somepony’s entire coat.
Your kind isn’t known for their kindness.
Dragons aren’t the kind ones when ponies eagerly agree to give a terrified baby dragon to a crazed spirit in exchange for peace.
“Lucky,” Spike hissed, and added before stomping away, “I’ll say I’m lucky. Luckiest dragon alive. Right.”
Towers of books surrounded him, and it was only in Twilight’s room that he felt at peace. He sometimes swore it still smelled like her. Or he told himself it did, at least.
Despite the severity of the news he brought, he hadn’t found it in him to go and seek out the pony he wanted. Instead, he’d retreated to his safe haven; the only place where he felt he could sit and think.
And miss her.
His belongings lay scattered on the nearby bed: a few gemstones, a few scrolls depicting the lost princesses, the heart-shaped emerald Discord had thrown at him and belonged to Twilight, and… and a single worn-out scroll, halfway unfurled.
Just looking at it made him sick.
He grimly thought that the Princess of Canterlot had one reprieve, at least. His anger towards her and the world had been momentarily replaced with rage, confusion and a sense of betrayal brought about by…
He grabbed a telescope and peered through it, desperate to get his mind off the scroll. He tried to focus on the distant lands, but his thoughts kept moving towards the scroll and… and he realized he was also a bit afraid of meeting with Her.
What he had to say, well…
It wasn’t easy to say.
But, like many unpleasant things in life, they would come after him if ignored for too long. Time had a way of doing that, as it proved when three knocks sounded from the door.
He felt inclined, for a moment, to point out that there was no point with her knocking when she could just walk through the door. He felt inclined to not even answer, to wait and see if she would poke her head through. He felt inclined to do very many things, not all of them kind.
Three knocks again.
He walked towards the bed and sat down, dumping the telescope on the pillow.
“It’s open,” he called half-heartedly.
A tendril of blue magic wrapped itself around the doorknob, and when the door opened, Princess Cadance stepped in, a bright smile on her lips.
“Spike! Welcome home! I thought you weren’t coming back for a few more weeks,” she said, closing the door behind her. She looked happy to see him, and he didn’t doubt she was. He knew, somewhere deep inside, he was happy too, until he remembered the kind duke.
“I saw her,” he said, still sitting atop his bed. He knew no good would come out from telling her, no true catharsis, but he did regardless. “Coming out of the throne room with a duke. He was surprised a creature like me could talk.”
Her smile faded. “I heard,” she said, subdued, her ears lowering. “He didn’t mean—”
“Yes, he did,” Spike cut off. “There’s new changelings, too.”
She faltered, but her gaze did not lower. “We talked about it… Before you left, we did talk about it,” she gently reminded. “I know you don’t like it, but there won’t be any new ones for a while.” A pause. “Why don’t you try befriending them? They’re not bad, Spike. Not anymore.”
He scrunched the bedsheets in his claws. He felt like retorting something, anything to express disdain for these creatures that had harmed Equestria and now harmed any chance they had to find the others, but his eyes landed on the worn-out scroll instead.
She noticed, and he saw her noticing.
He unclenched his claws before he tore a hole in Twilight’s bedsheet. It needed to be in a good state for when she came back, he told himself, even if the letter on the bed said otherwise.
“Did…” She drifted off, for even she was afraid of what both of them had always dreamed of. “…Did Auntie Celestia write?”
“Yes,” he whispered, and tears bordered his eyes. “Yesterday. I sent her a letter, and she burned a message into one of my old letters.”
He didn’t have to say anything for her to know that did not bode well.
For over three hundred years, they’d had no hope. For over three hundred years, he’d been searching blindly, finding nothing after nothing, no princesses under trees, or mountains, or waterfalls. He wondered if it was stupid for him to look knowing he was literally cursed against it. He knew it wasn’t Cadance’s fault, he knew it was Discord, and he tried not to blame her, but…
But sometimes, at night, no matter how badly he felt about it, he did.
For over three hundred years, they had nothing, and the one time she replied…
Cadance levitated the letter towards her, slowly and carefully, like somepony awaiting terrible news from the doctor. She breathed in and out, in and out, a method she’d once taught Twilight, and then unfurled the letter. It had been singed, literally, as if fire had burnt through the scroll.
He could see the backward message.
“There is no hope for us,” Cadance read aloud, and what a sickening silence followed as the scroll got furled up again, revealing her stricken expression. “Oh.”
Tears trickled down his eyes, his claws again clenching against the sheets. How could she say that? How could she say that, after he’d been looking for so long?
Cadance said nothing, for there was nothing to say.
He hated Princess Celestia. In that moment, he hated her as intensely as he’d ever hated Discord, with the burning fire of his own flames, with the heat of the tears rolling down his cheeks because how could she say that to him?
“M-Maybe it’s not true,” she said, putting the letter down on a desk and trying to keep hope because that’s all she had ever done. That’s all she and Shining and everyone else had ever done, keep hope no matter what, but hope was running thin now. Hope was dead to him, and it had died with six damned words.
“Yes, it is,” he said, the words leaving his mouth with as much intensity and fire as flames would. Hope was dead, and with its death, it had brought to life anger and sorrow like never before. “Yes, it is.” He stood up and he grabbed the telescope, Twilight’s telescope, and hurled it against the wall because who cared if it was ever used again when Twilight was as good as dead just like the rest.
Yes, it is.
“Spike!” Cadance exclaimed, but whatever else she had to say was drowned out by his yells.
“What?!” he exclaimed, despairingly so. “It’s true! There is no hope! We can’t do anything! I can’t do anything! I can’t, no matter how hard I try!”
“That’s not true,” Cadance said, keeping her voice leveled and kind, and the kinder it was, the more furious he became.
“They’re forgetting them! They don’t even know what they look like! No one knows but me!” he roared, turning around and grabbing the drawing of Twilight. “You know who they remember?! Princess bloody Parchment, not Twilight! Not Princess Celestia, but Princess Sunswept! Not Princess Luna, but Princess Stars!”
“I know that, Spike—”
“Then do something!” he snapped, slamming his foot against the ground.
“I am, you know that,” she said, raising her voice ever so slightly. “I’m having the statues built, and—”
“That’s not enough! That won’t do anything! What’s the point now?! They all think they’re fairytales!” he interrupted, voice breaking both in anger and hopelessness. “All of them! You think anypony’s going to believe they’re real now!? I can’t even try and convince them because I’ll curse them!”
“Spike, I’m trying the best that I ca—”
“Are you?!” he demanded, wiping away his tears. “Then why are changelings ruling Equestria?! Huh?! Princess Celestia put you and Shining Armor in charge, not them! Why are they talking to nobles?! Why are they going out into the kingdom?! When was the last time you spoke to a pony?! Of course they didn’t care Chrysalis died when you handed Equestria to them!”
And now, now she reacted.
“Spike!” she snapped, agitated. “That’s not true! You know why I can’t meet with ponies!”
“I don’t care!” he roared. “I don’t care! They’re the reason no one remembers them! They’re the reason everypony thinks everything is fine! They and you and this lie and all of this! Ponies should know about this!”
“We tried telling them! The castle court! You were there! You were there, and you saw how they reacted! Imagine that panic all over the kingdom!” she said, and then made a noticeable effort to temper her voice. “Spike, you know we were going to tell them. You know Shining Armor accepted the changeling’s help because we thought we’d find them quickly.”
“Well, he thought wrong! He thought wrong, and now he’s dead!” he said, and it hit him to say it. He fell to his knees, slamming his claws into the floor, tear-stricken eyes closed because it wasn’t fair. “He’s dead, and I don’t know where Twilight is, and I can’t find her! I can’t find her because of your stupid curse, and we can’t tell anypony because of your stupid curse, and Twilight is stuck under a tree forever and—” He again slammed his fist against the floor, the words leaving his mouth out of anger and fear and pain.
“And I’m stuck with you!”
And no sooner had the words left his mouth, a horrifying sensation swept across him, amplified and worsened by the deafening silence that followed. He looked up to the terrible sight of a muted Cadance looking down at him, eyes twinkling with unshed tears, and he knew he’d gone too far.
He’d gone too, too far.
“I-I… “ He stood up, horrified. “I’m s-sorry, I didn’t—”
“I know,” she interrupted quietly, but the tears did not stop. His or hers. She stepped back. “I… I’ll leave you to settle in now.”
“Wa-Wait, please!” he begged, horrified, wanting to reach out and stop her yet knowing he could not even if he tried. “I didn’t—! I didn’t mean it, I—”
“I know,” she repeated, and she still stepped back. “I… I just need time alone.” She smiled, and that hurt even more. “All right?”
“I… Okay…” he relented, for what else could he say?
She stepped back again, and then turned towards the door, wrapping her magic around the doorknob and swinging it open. He watched as she made a move to leave, but before she did, she turned around towards him and offered a smile.
“…Will you be staying for dinner?”
“I…” He stood up, wiping his tears away. “I… don’t know.”
“You don’t have to decide now,” she said before stepping out, “but I hope you’ll be there at seven.”
And with that, she closed the door and left the dragon to his thoughts, to his choices, and to his shame. He walked over to the desk, taking the letter and looking it over once again.
There is no hope for us.
He thought of Cadance and her undying hope, and he made a choice.
Quietly, he walked over to the telescope’s remains and scooped them up in his claw, taking them with him over to the bed. There, he packed his things into his bag: the gemstones, Twilight’s emerald, and even the fragmented device. Once it was done, once there was nothing more to take, he took his bag and crossed the length of the room, opened the door and turned around.
Turned around to look at Twilight’s room for the last time before stepping out and closing a door he would not be opening for a long time to come.
He did not know how long it took for him to leave the castle, or for him to leave the city itself. He just walked, and walked, and walked, every step harder than the last.
“Master Spike!” greeted the pony guard defending the city gate. “Where are you going? You just came back!”
“I have things to find, Lance,” he replied.
“Things to find? I see.” The guard adjusted his helmet and offered the dragon a toothy grin. “When will you be back? The others and I are having a celebration soon. We thought you might like to come.”
Spike looked back towards the castle in the distance, towards the lights beginning to shine through the windows now that night had come. Supper was waiting somewhere inside and with it the Princess of Hope.
“I don’t know,” he said, turning back to the guard. “I’m not coming back unless it’s with Twilight.”
And the guard blinked.
“Twilight?” he asked. “Who’s that?”
Spike stared at him. He stared at him for the longest time before reaching into his bag, taking out a drawing, giving it to the guard and walking away without another word. He kept walking even as the guard called to him and only stopping when a traveling pony walking past him called him.
“Excuse me, Sir?” the pony said, and Spike listened if only because of the respect he was shown. The young earth stallion gazed at him with wondrous eyes. “Sir, are you from Canterlot?”
“Yes,” Spike said. “Why?”
The stallion stepped back, stunned. “Sweet sugar apples, might you be…” He cleared his throat. “Your name? May I ask your name?”
Spike looked back to the castle and again made the choice.
“Seeker,” he said. “That’s my name.”
“Oh…” The stallion bowed. “Forgive me. I thought you might be somepony else.”
“I’m not,” Spike said, and without another word, went on his way and left a princess to dine alone.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Cadance looked up from the window, finding one of her guards by the door. Four entire days had passed since Spike had left, and she knew he would not be back.
Thespian cleared his throat. “Princess, there’s a stallion wanting to see ‘Princess Rhythm’. A farmer, apparently? He brings urgent farming news, but he doesn’t want to say what it is unless he’s spoken to ‘’her’ directly. He’s been coming every day, and we told him he needs to elaborate but he refuses and… well… Totem would like to…” He paused awkwardly. “Take your place and see what he wants, but we would like your approval as always.”
Cadance’s reply did not immediately come.
Why are they talking to nobles?! Why are they going out into the kingdom?!
When was the last time you spoke to a pony?!
She didn’t quite know how the curse worked, or how it spread, but she knew simply talking to her would curse them. But Spike was right.
“Are you sure he hasn’t come for any other reason?”
“W-We don’t think so, My Que—”
“Your highness. We don’t think he has.”
She took a deep breath, even though she didn’t need to. She missed breathing. She missed the actual calm it used to bring.
She smiled. “Tell our visitor that Princess Melody will be seeing him. Please,” she added, before he protested or questioned her. “And tell Totem to prepare the throne room for me. The blinds need to be all mostly shut.”
“Yes, your Highness!”
After a dozen minutes, Princess Cadance found herself in the throne room, the blinds all closed and only a few torches spread throughout—enough that visitors could see, but too dark for them to realize they could see through her.
She stood before the throne, patiently waiting until the distant doors opened and four guards escorted in a young stallion. A smile graced his lips when his eyes fell upon her, and she returned the gesture, for a moment invigorated by taking an active part in the running of the kingdom.
“Your Highness,” he greeted, bowing down to her. “It’s an honor!”
“The honor is all mine. My mother was busy with other duties, unfortunately,” she replied with practiced serenity. “I apologize for the dark. I’m ill, and shadows help with my migraines.”
“Princess, not at all!” he sputtered. “Please, don’t apologize! Though…” He looked into his saddlebag and retrieved an apple. “Might this help? It’s one of the best ones we picked this season.”
She smiled kindly, and when she nodded, a guard took the fruit.
“My guards tell me you have urgent news?” she prompted, hoping to move things along. “Something to do with farming?”
And to this, the stallion hesitated.
“Well… “ He rubbed a hoof behind his neck. “Well. It’s not really about farming, but it is urgent.”
“What do you mean?” she asked carefully.
“I…” He cleared his throat. “I don’t want you to think me insane.”
Silence again, and Cadance took a deep unnecessary breath.
Hope died last.
“Can you please explain?” she asked.
For the last time, he cleared his throat. “My name is Fritter Cobbler. I… My family and I have lived in the farming community Ponyville for some time now, you see? And, well, a few months ago, my brother and I got lost in the Everfree Forest, and, well…” He smiled nervously. “Would you happen to know something about a Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
Cadance didn’t know what to say. She simply observed him, through the haze created by tears, and she smiled, for what else could she do?
She could only hide in her castle, stay behind the scenes, and never dare to hope again.