It was two weeks later that Greenfire saw that unicorn again.
He didn’t usually go out to the Rambling Rock Ridge before sunset, but his stomach was growling like mad, and he hadn’t indulged his “sweet” tooth in a while. A nice bite of emerald or topaz was just what the doctor ordered. Hey, maybe he’d even find a ruby. They’d always been his favorite.
These thoughts bouncing around in his head, feeling almost carefree for once, Greenfire clambered over the cliff that separated the ridge from the Everfree Forest.
And there she was.
Reflexively, Greenfire ducked behind an outcropping of stone, peering out at the figure down in the valley. She didn’t seem to have noticed him. Sheesh, he was getting careless, taking this long to notice a pony so close to his territory.
It was definitely the unicorn he’d met in his cave. Same coloration, same absurdly large curls in her mane and tail. How much time did she have to spend in the morning putting each hair into place? Greenfire didn’t know anything about pony manecare, but it seemed like such a waste of effort.
But as much as she obviously cared about her appearance, she didn’t seem to have a problem with manual labor. She was levitating a small shovel, digging away at the dirt with a surprising ferocity. The reason for her enthusiasm became obvious when she unearthed a glimmering emerald, bigger than her own hoof. Greenfire couldn’t help but stare, almost drooling over the delicious-looking jewel.
It went on like that. The glow of her horn’s magic would briefly surge, and she would home in on a section of the dirt and dig. Invariably she would come away with a gleaming gemstone, each shinier and more appetizing than the last. Right, she’d mentioned a spell that let her find jewels. Greenfire had never exactly envied unicorns their magic, but he wouldn’t have minded a spell like that. The question was, what did she need with the gems? Ponies didn’t eat them, he knew that much. Was she looking for riches? Did she just like to collect them, the same way he did? A pony with a hoard... That was a funny thought.
She was kind of pretty, for a pony. Her mane bobbed slightly as she worked, always holding its shape, and it drew his eyes to her face. Her eyes sparkled like sapphires, framed by her long lashes and the pale blue on her eyelids. She managed to look elegant, almost regal, even as she was digging up gems with a levitating shovel.
The sun melded with the horizon, and Greenfire jolted in place as he suddenly noticed the hues of orange that streaked the sky. Had he really been watching her that long? It was interesting to see a pony that wasn’t screaming in either fear or anger, but he was wasting time just sitting there and watching her dig. “What’s wrong with me?” the dragon muttered under his breath.
When he looked back down again, he found the pony focusing her attention on one particular divot. But the motions of the shovel were slowing, and her breaths coming faster. She was obviously growing tired; she’d already been in the valley for a while before he’d gotten there. She paused in her work, glancing up at the sun, then down at the dirt again. And finally she sighed, placed the shovel in one of her saddlebags, and turned back toward Ponyville. It wasn’t long before silence settled over the Rambling Rock Ridge again.
Once she was completely out of sight, Greenfire leapt down to the pit she’d left behind, a mixture of curiosity and greed spurring him on. They were deep underground—it took several minutes of digging to finally get to them, enough time that he began to doubt her magic had been accurate. But his claws were up to the task, and soon the gems were finally unearthed.
And oh, what beautiful gems they were. There were four clumped together in the dirt: a fist-sized ruby, a flawless sapphire, a sparkling amethyst, and a diamond as clear as spring water. These were far too good for snacking; they would make a wonderful addition to his hoard. The dragon scooped them up with one foreleg and started up the rock face, ready to make the short trip back to his cave.
But something stopped him.
What was it? He just didn’t feel right. She’d done half the work to find the gems, detecting them and then starting to dig them up. If not for her, he’d never have known to dig right there. Taking them felt like... theft. He’d never cared about that sort of thing before, but now, for some reason, it didn’t sit right in his stomach.
She hadn’t stolen anything from him. That was it. She could have looted from his hoard, but she hadn’t. A pony had the moral high ground over him. He bristled, prideful, at the thought. There was no way he was going to let a pony show him up like that. So he couldn’t keep the gems. But leaving them there would just invite those infuriating Diamond Dogs to come by and steal them. So that only left...
Greenfire groaned. This was the stupidest idea he’d ever had. But there was no way around it. So be it, then. It wasn’t like he had anything to fear, right? He was a dragon! He could go anywhere and do anything he pleased!
But... he’d wait until dark.
A loud noise from outside the boutique woke Rarity from her slumber. Rain pattered gently against the roof as she rose to consciousness. She lifted off her sleeping mask and squinted at her bedroom window, trying to decide if it was worth getting up to investigate. There was surely no one in Ponyville who would try to steal from her, but she wouldn’t put it past certain residents to play a night-time prank... Well, as long as she was awake, she supposed there was no harm in checking.
It seemed to have come from just outside, so Rarity slowly made her way down to the first floor. Opalescence dashed up to her, clearly outraged that anypony had dared to disturb her slumber. “There there, Opal, darling, it’s alright,” Rarity said, suppressing a tiny yawn. “Mommy just needs to look outside.” She couldn’t see anything through the windows, so she opened the top half of the front door and carefully leaned outside. A glint of reflected light caught her eyes and drew them down to the grass.
Gemstones? No, not just any gemstones. These were the gems she’d left behind a few hours ago! The very same ones she’d been too exhausted to finish digging up. She’d been half convinced they were lost to whoever else stumbled across them. How in the world had they ended up on her doorstep? She certainly didn’t believe they’d dug themselves out of the dirt and walked down from the Rambling Rock Ridge. So what kind soul was responsible for bringing them to her?
Rarity opened the other half of the door and stepped out into the light rain. She focused her magic into a spotlight and cast it around the area along with her gaze. Surely there had to be a clue somewhere. A note her mysterious benefactor had left, or perhaps a trail in the grass...
Or a large round hoofprint in a patch of mud. She dashed over to it—only to stare in shock. It wasn’t a hoofprint. It was a clawprint, with three clawed toes extending from one side. Almost in a trance, Rarity reached out and placed one hoof in the print. About an inch of space on either side. Just the right size for some creature a head taller than she was, maybe two. Some creature with claws, scales, and absolutely no reason to give her any gemstones when it could keep them for its own hoard...
Rarity had put the dragon out of her mind since their encounter two weeks ago. She’d had a bit of an adventure, narrowly escaping from the clutches of a terrible (if easily outfoxed) monster, and now she could stay out of the Everfree Forest and never have to worry about it again. That was what she’d thought... But now she didn’t know what to think. It had been watching her in the valley, for who knew how long. It could have attacked her at any time, but it hadn’t. It could have at the very least kept the gems she’d left behind—and honestly she wouldn’t have blamed it if it had—but it hadn’t.
Common knowledge about dragons (what little there was) said they cared about nothing but themselves, that they were slaves to their greed. What else did common knowledge have wrong?
How long she spent thinking and staring at the clawprint, she couldn’t say. At the very least, it was long enough for Opal to yowl in complaint at the cool air blowing in. And long enough for the rain to fully soak into her mane, causing her forelock to droop down into her face and startle her out of her contemplation. In a daze, she shuffled back into the boutique, picking up her gemstones and bringing them in with her.
No, they weren’t hers. Or at the least, they weren’t just hers. Rarity nodded to herself, suddenly firm with determination. She would hold on to them for now. And tomorrow, after the boutique closed for the day, she had someone to talk to.