Rainbow Dash lowered her hover closer to Spike’s height and held out a hoof for him to bump.
Spike hopped and missed a couple of times before making proper contact.
Scootaloo stepped closer to Spike and offered a hoof as well. “Yeah!” she echoed the celebratory sentiment from Rainbow Dash. The young dragon easily bumped his knuckles with her hoof.
Spike grinned and hopped in place. “Really?” He suddenly shut his mouth, clamped his claws over it, and his eyes bulged.
Rainbow was fast enough to act. She grabbed him and positioned his body so that the fire shot upward. That way, it did not burn anything in the air just above where he’d been standing.
“See, pegasus speed,” she declared proudly.
Scootaloo smiled up at her hero with admiration.
Spike looked up at Rainbow Dash from where he now stood on the ground. “Can I really stay with you? We don’t know how long this molt is going to take. You have obligations. Even today, don’t you have to see one of your fledglings tonight?”
“Goodness me, what have we here?” Zecora’s voice suddenly filled the air. “Flames I saw that gave way to fear.”
“Zecora!” Spike exclaimed
The zebra potions expert walked into the scene, where the two ponies and dragon now stood or hovered. Zecora wore a saddlebag for her venture this day to collect samples of interest for her potions.
“Hello Spike, Scootaloo, and Rainbow Dash. Per chance you can tell me of that green fire I saw flash?” she asked the trio.
Rainbow Dash relayed the entire story Spike told to her and Scootaloo.
Zecora nodded thoughtfully. “Most certainly, I do have such a gel that can help our purple dragon friend with that pungent smell.”
The four started to walk through the forest together in the direction of Zecora’s hut.
“I hope you do not mind my questioning, but I heard the dragon mention for you a ‘fledgling’,” Zecora told Rainbow Dash, who hovered alongside her.
“Oh,” Rainbow blushed and stroked the back of her mane. She swallowed and tried to play casual. Zecora was already helping her team so much, and she was a very well-informed zebra. Hopefully, it would be no big deal. “I turned into a vampire a little over a month ago.”
Zecora paused in her trek and looked at Rainbow Dash with a hint of caution in her eyes. She glanced at Spike and Scootaloo
“We’ve both known for awhile,” Spike said calmly.
“It’s true,” Scootaloo added.
Zecora then decided to keep walking with some of her caution abated.
“It’s a type called a master mev,” Rainbow Dash continued. “The ‘mev’ part stands for ‘magic-eating vampire’. I need to see my fledglings so that I can exchange magic. It’s a special way to feed me, so others won’t get hurt.”
“Oh, I see. You caught me unawares in much disbelief, but this other part of such news is a relief,” Zecora said.
The quartet of friends suddenly heard a loud screech.
Spike immediately darted to place himself just behind Rainbow’s hovering figure.
“What was that?” Scootaloo asked.
It didn’t take long for the source of the screech to appear, for it was an enormous bird.
“A roc,” Spike whispered in quiet terror. “Master, please tell me you can do something about that.”
The roc dove its large talons at the ground. Rainbow quickly grabbed Spike as she turned around, to clear them both out of the way. Scootaloo and Zecora managed to handle themselves on their own, doing the same.
“Zecora, Scootaloo, run!” Rainbow Dash commanded. “Spike, get on my back!”
Each of her companions did as she said. They all fled together. The roc flapped its wings much higher up than the rest to track all of them at once.
“Rainbow, we can draw it away from them with my smell,” Spike suggested from his place on her back.
“Alright, let’s do that. Zecora, Scootaloo, find some place safe! We’re going to distract it. Spike, you need to hold on tight, buddy. We need to be fast too,” Rainbow Dash told him.
Zecora and Scootaloo heard the suggestion, looked up, and nodded with worried compliance. Together, they ran to find a place to hide.
Spike grabbed at the back of Rainbow Dash’s neck as he’d done when he last visited the Dragonlands with Rainbow.
“Over here!” Spike taunted as Rainbow Dash hovered with a smirk.
The roc screeched only to find a rainbow blur flash from its left to its right. Again, the roc moved in to grab its desired prey, and again, it missed from the blur. Rainbow Dash flew at a slow enough pace to still keep its attention away from their grounded friends. The roc chased them, and every time it came close enough for an attack, it missed. The speedy pegasus kept dodging clear.
Spike started glowing red. “Master? Is this you or the molt?” he asked. His itching intensified, so he found himself having to grip tight with one clawed hand and scratch at himself with the other.
From her peripheral, Rainbow Dash could see the red glow. “The molt. It’s entering a new phase. Looks like it’s time to bring in some mev power to this joint.”
“You’re going to use magic?” Spike asked.
“Mev magic first,” Rainbow said. “I’ve never used it like this. I have to face the roc, and you have to hold on. I need to focus on what I’m doing. Try not to let go until we’re on or near the ground. This is a new kind of distraction.”
“Okay,” Spike agreed with a touch of hesitance in his voice.
Rainbow Dash turned around to look at the stalking bird of prey, and her eyes had turned to their vampiric red. They glowed for a moment as the mev directly positioned herself in the roc’s line of sight.
The roc flapped its wings and stared at the enchanting eyes in silence.
Slowly, Rainbow Dash descended, keeping her eyes in direct contact with the roc. She could blink, but she knew she should not look away otherwise. The roc kept its gaze locked on her as well, flapping its wings and slowly, slowly following the descent.
Spike gulped as they neared the ground, and he hopped off as soon as he could with a stumble. He scratched at himself and ran, taking a quick peek back so he could know where the other two were. He understood that Rainbow Dash was using her enchantment to only keep the roc still and nothing else. After all, master mevs couldn’t bite other creatures without permission during the day.
“Master?” Spike heard Twilight’s voice.
He turned around and hoped that Rainbow’s trance wasn’t broken. The sky blue pegasus had by now landed and stood on the ground, but she and the roc were still locked in each other’s gaze.
“Rexa, go find Spike and teleport out of this area,” Rainbow Dash ordered without looking away from her enchanted prisoner.
Twilight questioned the situation no further and glanced around.
“Over here,” Spike managed to say between itches.
The roc blinked and shifted a little but only that little bit.
Twilight galloped to the source of Spike’s voice and teleported further away from Rainbow Dash and the large bird, re-appearing in front of Scootaloo and Zecora.
“Whoa!” Scootaloo said in surprise.
Twilight gasped. “What’s going on?” she asked them.
“Our little dragon friend here with us is molting. The large bird does not find his stench revolting,” Zecora started to explain.
“It attracts predators,” Scootaloo added. “Spike and Rainbow were keeping it distracted, to get it away from us, but judging by this glow and the scratching, that idea’s off the table. I hope Rainbow’s got a plan or knows what to do.”
“She has the power to summon me with mev magic if necessary,” Twilight explained to everyone. “We focus on our part, and she’ll focus on hers.”
Meanwhile for Rainbow Dash, a red circle appeared on the ground to her right side, not far from where she stood. Blitz rose upward to see her master and the roc. The leviathan dread understood without any verbal command and telepathically sent the word Master as a message.
The roc shook its head, released from the enchantment and covered its eyes with one of its large wings. It stood in place.
Rainbow’s eyes returned to magenta as well, and she shook her head too. The large bird let its wing down upon sensing her movement and saw the magenta irises of the pegasus. Rainbow made eye contact with it. “Spike is my friend,” she told the roc. “I have to look out for him.”
The roc shook its head in the negative. and Rainbow understood that it did not understand her.
Rainbow sighed and sternly pointed her hoof forward. “Go,” she ordered. That action should be clear enough, she figured.
The roc gestured its massive wings towards its own torso, up along its neck, then to its beak, and out to her. It flapped its wings emphatically for a dramatic lift before it landed again.
Rainbow Dash nodded and licked her lips. “Tasty,” she agreed. She most certainly understood eating magic, of course, though she had no idea how to ask if the bird would let her. It did not understand her as easily as the phoenixes had from the day before.
The roc handled that part for her. It gestured a large wing tip at Rainbow Dash’s mouth, then at its own neck, and nodded.
Rainbow raised her eyebrow as the only way she could think to ask if the large bird was sure.
It nodded and then made numerous gestures with its wings up at the air to retell their chase, and the eye lock. It pointed at itself and bowed, then pointed at Rainbow Dash. He respected the master. The predator bird was now captured prey of the mev.
“Well then,” Rainbow said, letting her magenta eyes turn red and her fangs grow, “don’t mind if I do.”
Blitz dismissed herself back into the ground. The master mev was about to feed.
Rainbow lifted into the air, and the roc stopped her for a moment. It spread both its wings, then gestured to the left wing with its right along its feathered tips. Then it gestured at her wings.
“My pleasure,” Rainbow said with a mid-air bow, and she changed her wings to their bat version. She darted around for a bit to show that she could still fly as capably and quickly with them.
The roc nodded in approval.
With that, Rainbow Dash drew in closer to the neck and dug her fangs in with a smile. When she finished, she found a much smaller version of the bird falling to the ground. Rainbow dove down and caught it. “So your size comes from your magic,” she remarked. “I think you might need just a little help for this next week. I know just the pony for the job.”
Spike scratched at his scales, and finally, the glowing stopped. “Ah! Finally,” he said. “I didn’t think that itching would ever stop.”
He peered down to see a gray material starting to cover his stomach and work its way further up and down his body from there. “Twilight?” he asked worriedly. “Help…me…”
“Spike!” Twilight exclaimed in equal worry.
“Please,” Spike wheezed.
“Is this part of the molt?” Scootaloo asked.
“If I had to venture a guess, my response would be a likely yes,” Zecora agreed with the filly’s theory.
Twilight’s lips trembled in horror, uncertain about what to do. “I can’t just leave him like that, can I?” she asked, tears welling in her eyes. The material covered Spike’s entire small body. He was stuck, standing in place, like a captured dragon statue.
Zecora and Scootaloo avoided her gaze, looking down at the ground, and then each solemnly nodded.
“We have to wait,” Scootaloo said sadly. “Hopefully, it is the molt, and his wings will be here soon.”
“Wings?” Twilight asked.
“That’s what Rainbow Dash thinks is going to happen,” Scootaloo explained.
Twilight wiped her eyes and smiled. “That would be wonderful and something definitely worth waiting for. Okay.” She sat on her haunches. “I’ll watch over him.”
Scootaloo sat as well. “I’ll help.”
Zecora nodded. “It would not feel right to leave this scene; indeed, I sense that would be a little mean.” She chose to sit as well. Three sentries surrounded the little dragon statue.
Several seconds passed, and then a crack formed along Spike’s left arm. A small purple claw poked out, then another. The crack worked its way to his torso and spread further into a vertical crack along the main form of the gray encasement. A little light beamed out and then grew brighter and brighter. The three sentries moved to protect their own eyes. The light finally flashed away completely, and Spike crouched in a small crater. The three friends opened their mouths in awe to see his left wing spread outward, then his right.
Spike stood up and looked at his new wings. “She was right,” he chuckled. “She was right!” he yelled.
“Shh!” Twilight said. “I promise I’m as excited as you are, but Rainbow’s still with that huge bird so far as we know.”
Spike barely heard her, toying with his new wings. He flapped about and had some trouble before managing a simple glide.
“Oh Spike, I’m so jealous,” Scootaloo admitted with a smile, “but more than that, I’m so happy for you.” She reached out a hoof for him to bump, which he did. Then Scootaloo looked over to Twilight and asked, “We can go and help Rainbow out now, right? We’ve guarded Spike, and the smell is gone.”
Twilight smiled. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Huh?” Scootaloo asked.
“Looks like I just missed it,” a raspy voice said and approached.
“Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo galloped over to her older sister. She gasped. “Is that what I think it is?”
Perched on Rainbow’s back was the reduced size roc, now the size of an eagle.
Spike glided over to take a closer look and then settled himself to stand on the ground once more, next to Twilight.
“Master, how did you get its magic?” Twilight asked. “Did it really let you?”
Zecora noticed the title usage but chose not to question it out at the moment and continued watching the friends talk with each other.
“Like I keep saying,” Rainbow said, “when it comes to being a master mev, there’s a magic in the process of trying to do things without magic, other types besides mev that is, for as long as I can. This bird respects me for my efforts.”
Zecora came closer to look at the bird and the mev. “I can only look on in wonder and am relieved that things did not go asunder.”
“Rexa, I want you to escort this bird to Fluttershy’s sanctuary now that Spike is safe. I’m spending some time with my little sister this afternoon,” Rainbow explained.
“Oh Master Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo said. “I would love to actually go with you to do that as our way to spend time together, if that’s alright.”
“No complaints here,” said the master mev.
“Names are different among mevs it seems,” Zecora remarked. “That’s what I have thus far gleaned.”
“They’re titles for the pack,” Spike explained. “You actually feel something, super faint, if you call Rainbow Dash by the ‘master’ title but when it comes to fledglings like Twilight, that’s for inner pack use. We get to know them, but we’re not supposed to use them.”
“At least until Nightmare Night,” Rainbow said with a nod.
Twilight, Spike, and Scootaloo blinked at that. Zecora glanced back and forth to at least realize this news was surprising to the others.
“What?” Scootaloo asked.
“Hey, if I want a big show like what I hope that to be, I’ve got to give a little. I want Ponyville to know the titles, and given the nature of the performance, I won’t expect that rule, even if expressed as a line in the show, to be followed seriously. I’d rather ponies have fun with that than a panicked mob,” Rainbow explained.
“Oh,” the two ponies and dragon realized together.
“I guess if more friends or family ask, who do take it seriously, we can tell them the truth about our preferences like some of us have already done,” Twilight admitted with a blush.
“Right,” Rainbow agreed. “Well come on, Scoot. Let’s head over to Fluttershy’s. Congrats on the wings, Spike. Thanks for all your help today, Rexa, Zecora.” Rainbow bowed her head, maintaining her back to stay upright enough for the roc.
“You’re welcome Master Rainbow Dash,” Zecora said with a small bow of her head as well. She blinked. “A tiny sense of something within me did indeed flash.” She met eyes with the other friends in the group. “An interesting day I spent with all of you; at this time, I’m afraid I must bid adieu.” With that, she walked home.
Rainbow and Scootaloo waved at Twilight and Spike before starting their walk to Fluttershy’s animal sanctuary.
Spike and Twilight stayed behind to talk to each other.
“Hey Twilight, how did you know how to find us all out here?” Spike asked. “Was it some kind of fledgling mev instinct?”
“Oh no,” Twilight admitted, slightly shaking her head in the negative. “I was on my way to Zecora’s to ask about the cream she has that helps with blemishes for your stone scales, which of course, is no longer necessary.”
“Yeah, that’s a relief,” Spike said. With seriousness and a touch of uncertainty, he asked, “Can I stay with you?”
“Definitely. We still have so much work to do around the castle, even if school’s done for the day,” Twilight remarked.
“No, what I mean is…” Spike gulped. “In the Dragonlands, families make molters leave home. It’s called the Molt Effect.”
Twilight blinked with her mouth slightly open, and she started to grasp her friend’s concern. “Well, this isn’t the Dragonlands and Molt Effect or no, I don’t want you going anywhere.” She gently tapped her right hoof at his stomach.
“But I’m growing up. What if something even worse happens?” Spike asked.
“You’re supposed to grow up,” Twilight told him with a smile, “but you’ll always be you. And whatever happens, we’ll get through it together.” She offered an open right forelimb, and Spike stepped forward to hug his lifelong alicorn friend.
The young purple dragon lifted himself in the air. “Woohoo! Yeah! Look at me!” He plopped himself on Twilight’s backside. “Let’s go home!”
Twilight looked up at him uneasily. “Uh, I don’t need to carry you anymore, do I?” She used her horn to magically tug at Spike’s right wing. “You have wings,” she pointed out.
“They are new!” Spike replied back with a smile, “And I don’t want to overdo it.”
Twilight groaned and rolled her eyes but then smiled and complied, beginning their walk home.