“And... there!” Rarity let her breath out as the ruby she’d been levering out of the earth finally came free, dirt crumbling off its facets. “Hah hah!” she squealed triumphantly, holding it up to the light. “Oh, you’ve outdone yourself this time, Rarity, darling! What a marvelous find!”
The sun hung low, nearly touching the horizon, its glow blanketing the valley in oranges and reds. It had been a long, tiring day of searching and digging, but Rarity’s bulging saddlebags spoke to the trip being well worth the effort. It was always a pain to come up to the Rambling Rock Ridge and dig for gems, especially considering she had nopony to help her. But true genius occasionally required sacrifice, and for the sake of her art, Rarity could cope with dirt and exertion for an afternoon.
The unicorn tucked the newfound ruby away in her bag, barely able to tug the cover fully closed. Well worth the effort, indeed. This would easily take her through her next two weeks of commissions, with enough left over to deck out a display mannequin or two. And just in time, with the sun about to set. “I do believe,” Rarity mused aloud, “it’s time for a well-earned rest.”
Suddenly her horn lit up like a light bulb, the tug of her magic enough to yank her head to one side. The combination of the light in her eyes and the magical pull made Rarity stumble, disoriented, and by the time she had her balance again, she’d already been dragged several feet. “What on earth?” she breathed.
Tentatively, Rarity took a step toward the source of the pull. She hadn’t felt anything like this since the day she got her cutie mark. It was distant but powerful, the call of a source of jewels larger than any she’d ever discovered before. She could feel it right down to her bones, and it was swiftly replacing all apprehension with an eager curiosity. Exhausted or not, she simply had no choice but to investigate.
She carefully slid her saddlebags off and tucked them into one of the holes she’d dug. Ever prepared, she had tucked a spare set under the strap, just in case. Next was a layer of dirt over the full bags, to hide them from roaming eyes; unhidden, any items she left in the valley were unlikely to stay there. With the spare bags draped over her back, she was ready to go.
Rarity followed the magical pull, over and around the peaks of dirt and stone that bordered the valley of the Rambling Rock Ridge. It seemed to be coming from the other side, so a bit of searching led her to a rough path that curled behind the mountains. The path ran uncomfortably close to the edge of the Everfree Forest, which made her a bit nervous—she’d never been into that forest, only heard the stories that ponies told in hushed voices, the rumors of basilisks and manticores and other horrid beasts. Still, the promise of the gold at the end of the rainbow (so to speak) drew her inexorably forward.
The path wasn’t easy to navigate, especially considering how tired Rarity already was. She took it one step at a time, lighting the way with her horn as the sun dipped lower. Finally it led her to a very well hidden cavern, facing outward toward the forest. The entrance blended in so well with the outcroppings of rock around it, she doubted she’d ever have stumbled across it without her magic.
She paused at the cave mouth to turn up the intensity of her magical illumination, then ventured inward. The ground was smoother there, easier to traverse, but she kept her slow, careful pace. She could still sense that treasure trove up ahead, drawing closer and closer...
And all of a sudden, there it was. Rarity’s eyes went wide as the huge pile of gemstones came into the radius of her light. Why, there had to be hundreds there! It was astonishing, breathtaking, the most amazing deposit she’d ever seen. They were utterly flawless, perfectly faceted jewels of every color she could imagine. And they were mixed with shiny coins of all denominations, pieces of pony jewelry, little statues and sculptures...
In an instant, everything changed. Rarity’s blood went cold as she realized exactly what she was seeing. A huge pile of gems, coins, and other valuable items, in the back of a dark cave? There was only one explanation for what all this was, and why it was here. Only one creature that would gather all of these precious things together. She had to get out before—
“You must think you’re pretty clever.”
Rarity jumped as if she’d been stung by a bee, spinning to face the voice that had come from the cave mouth. It was just as she’d feared: blindly, idiotically, she’d trotted right into the lair of a dragon. And it had her trapped.
The beast towered over her, casting a shadow on the stalactites overhead. The light from her horn illuminated its lavender scales and reptilian green eyes. Behind it, she could see its tail lashing back and forth—if dragons were anything like her darling Opalescence, she knew that was not a good sign.
It spoke again, voice cold, white teeth gleaming in the light of her magic. “Sneaking into my cave while I’m hunting. At least you’re smarter than the ponies who tried to fight me. But how many idiot knights do I have to go through before you start getting the picture?”
Rarity couldn’t respond, terror freezing her tongue. She shrank away from the monster, but halted when she felt cool metal under her hooves. It was backing her right into its hoard. Would it then take that as proof she was there to steal from it?
The dragon followed her pace by pace, though its stride was slightly longer than hers. “Maybe I should just stop playing around. Well?” Its head was close enough that she could feel the heat of its breath. One quick snap was all it would take for it to bite right through her neck... “Gimme one good reason not to roast you right now.”
Rarity trembled helplessly. Her mouth moved silently, her mind grasped desperately for something, anything to say...
And then, suddenly, she found it.
“Well, for a start, that would be an act of absolutely unconscionable rudeness!”
“Rudeness?” The dragon leaned away slightly, giving her a skeptical glare. “Are you arguing manners with a dragon?”
“Yes! Yes, I am!” Rarity exclaimed. She straightened up, looking the dragon in the eyes and standing her ground as best she could. She sensed a fraction of an advantage, and she knew she had to press it if she wanted to get out of that cave alive. “Might doesn’t make right, you know! Making assumptions about a poor innocent pony and threatening her without giving her a chance to explain... Why, it’s the absolute height of cruelty!”
The dragon’s lip curled slightly, and it leaned forward again, narrowed eyes never leaving hers. “Fine, then,” it said. “You want to explain? Explain. And make it quick.”
Alright, this was her only chance. Rarity breathed deep, summoning up all of her charm and eloquence. “Gladly! As you can see from my cutie mark, my special talent is related to gemstones, so I use a special spell to track them down. I detected a massive treasure trove in this cave, and it wasn’t until I came all the way back here that I realized it belonged to you!
“No matter how beautiful and well-gathered the hoard, I would never dream of stealing from anypony—or anydragon,” she corrected herself. Good, good, she’d even managed to mix a little bit of flattery in there. Now for the finishing touch. Rarity bowed low to the ground, nose nearly touching the stone. “So I do hope you will accept my sincerest apology for intruding in your home.”
Silence. After a few seconds went by with no reply, Rarity dared to glance up past her forelock. The dragon seemed stunned, mouth open and eyes wide. She’d hoped to surprise it, but it seemed she’d been even more successful than she hoped. She stood up, tentatively, realizing as she did that the dragon wasn’t as large as she’d first thought—when it wasn’t rearing up to intimidate her, it was only a head taller than she was, maybe two.
It met her eyes, seeing she had stood up again, and it quickly schooled its expression into indifference—or at least, it tried to. The shock was still clear in its face and voice as it struggled to take back control of the conversation. “Well. That, uh, that little story was amusing enough. If you really haven’t taken anything from my hoard... I suppose I can let you go. Just this once.”
Relief flooded through Rarity’s body, and for an instant she felt as if she might collapse like a rag doll. But she maintained her composure, bowing her head again briefly and smiling winningly up at the dragon. “Thank you so much. I assure you, I haven’t taken so much as a single coin. So, with your leave?”
She edged toward the exit, just a step, and after an agonizingly uncertain second, the dragon slowly shifted to one side, allowing her to pass. She gave it one last brilliant smile before leaving it behind her. Her pace was controlled, careful, calm; it wasn’t until she left the cave entirely that she finally permitted herself to give in to instinct and run.
That had certainly been interesting.
With the intruding unicorn gone, Greenfire padded over to his hoard, mentally cataloguing his coins and gems. Everything seemed to be in order. She’d shoved a few coins around, but it looked like none of them were missing, just as she’d claimed. Still, it was a little discomfiting. Ponies almost never managed to get that close to his hoard.
He’d seen them in the forest before, of course, if briefly. And every so often one stuck around long enough to exchange words with him. Mostly those were the daring ones who’d heard rumors about the dragon in the Everfree Forest and come seeking his riches. Luckily, their daring didn’t stand up in the face of his fire breath; it was always child’s play to scare them off. He’d never even had to hurt one yet.
But there was something different about that one. Not only the way she’d found his cave, which only one or two ponies had managed before. Not only the way she seemed to shine from within, almost like a gemstone herself. But the way she’d talked him down from his initial anger with a few short sentences, rather than trying to run. And then she’d actually apologized for entering his cave. Apologized! No pony had ever apologized to him for anything.
No pony had ever talked to him like he was more than a monster.
With a heavy sigh, Greenfire breathed a burst of the flame that had named him toward the ceiling. It wasn’t worth thinking about. He’d lived his whole life alone and never had reason to complain. He was happy. He’d done quite well for himself. He didn’t need or want any more than that.
So he curled up tight on his hoard and closed his eyes, willing away the nagging feeling of something bubbling in the pit of his stomach, and trying to ignore the fact that, brief and confrontational though it may have been, it was still the longest conversation he’d had in months.