Chapter 20: Dragonkind
The very familiar voice shook Spike out of his lethargy. "Huh?" he mumbled.
"Spike, pay attention,"
That was Rarity's voice. Spike focused and then realized that he was sitting on a bed in a brightly lit and elaborately decorated room. He recognized the bunch of pony mannequins grouped by one corner and the sewing machine that sat on a nearby table. The bed sheet was decorated with a diamond pattern, as were the walls. "Rarity?" he asked. "What's going on?"
"I brought you here, remember?" Rarity replied. Spike felt a little intimidated. She stared at him rather seriously.
"W-well, what is it then?"
"Spike, I'm quite aware that you have certain...feelings for me."
"What? But how did you-? I didn't get to say it that time so what could have-?"
A hoof stopped his spluttering protests. "Recently, I've become aware that I'm starting to feel something similar."
"Really?" Spike's jaw dropped.
"Which is why I brought you here in the privacy of my bedroom so we can explore these feelings properly rather than embarrassing ourselves out on the street or some such thing."
"Oh...uh...sure, Rarity. I don't mind talking about my feelings and-!" Spike shuddered and stopped when Rarity's face moved closer to his. She placed both front hooves on his shoulders and gently pushed him on his back.
"Talking wasn't what I had in mind..."
Spike found himself unable to speak. The room faded into darkness while Rarity's face came closer and closer and...faded into black as well.
Spike still lay there expectantly until the reality of what was happening settled in. He wasn't on the nice, soft bed of the most beautiful pony in all of Equestria. Instead, he was laying back-first on a hastily put together pile of ursan furs. He remembered why it was so dark. He was in the deepest part of Seethe Scale's cave. The only bit of light coming in was from the far away entrance.
With a groan, Spike rose reluctantly from his bedding and looked around despite how futile that move was. He was in complete darkness. He had been so for the greater portion of his first week. Seethe Scale’s cave was deep enough to be far away from its entrance, leaving its inner portions very little access to sunlight. For the first couple of days, he relied on the torches positioned along the cave, but, when they burned out, he couldn't find any replacements. When he asked Seethe Scale about getting more, the kirin didn't even bother to reply. He began gathering bits of dead branches from the woods nearby, but the few he collected were far from enough to illuminate the enormous cave.
Indeed, his first week with Seethe Scale could be summed up perfectly by stumbling in the dark. He was now wishing that the kirin was an angry, cursing sort of teacher like Doctor Redbrand. Even that would be something. Seethe Scale didn't shout or growl at him at all, but that was because she would barely even talk to him. He could count on one claw the number of times she would say anything in a day. She hadn't even bothered to set any rules about her lair. The fear of touching something he shouldn't touch or saying something he shouldn't say all but rendered him nearly paralyzed around her.
Instead of talking, Seethe Scale spent hours just lying in the dark quietly. Prince Terrato had mentioned that the kirin “got a little broody at times”. The prince had obviously understated that aspect. Seethe Scale brooded nearly all the time next to her small hoard of golden coins and jewelry.
If she wasn't doing that, she was out getting food. She came home with meat most of the time, but, with winter already here, most of the wildlife had gone into hibernation or migrated. On a few occasions, Seethe Scale came back with pickled vegetables from the nearby city of Wallforge. Spike relished the chance to eat something more familiar. Meat was…delicious, he had to admit that. He also had to admit that his pointed teeth were more at home with tearing through meat than grinding plants or gemstones. but he still favored the familiar comforts of food he had grown up with.
That small comfort did little to make his stay with Seethe Scale any more pleasant, however. He continued to wait for some kind of instruction on her part, maybe a test or a lecture, but the week passed with him just awkwardly trying to pass the time. That had to end. This morning, he was going to talk to Seethe Scale and straighten things out.
The kirin was near the cave’s entrance and stretching her wings when Spike approached her. “Um…excuse me,” he said. No response came from Seethe Scale. She didn't even seem to hear him, but he already expected that. He had tried several times to talk to the kirin and he knew that it was an uphill battle to even get her to notice him, let alone speak. “Hey!” he said with a much louder voice. “Down here!”
Seethe Scale faced Spike. “I heard you,” she said. The sunlight from the entrance let him see more of her face than when she just sat in the shadows. She didn't look angry, or even annoyed.
“Listen, um…” Spike twiddled his claws. “I’d understand if you don’t like me and didn't want me around your cave. If you don’t want to have anything to do with me, just say so. I can just go away and find my way back to the Northern Barrier Land.”
There was only silence for some time after Spike said that. “What makes you think that I don’t want you around?” Seethe Scale asked.
“Well, I feel like an unwanted guest in your cave for one thing,” Spike replied. “I just came here to grow stronger. If you don’t-!"
“What I feel or want doesn't matter,” Seethe Scale replied. “The prince has given me the task of helping you and I will do so.”
“But we haven’t done anything in a week! How is just standing around a cave supposed to help me?”
Seethe Scale tilted her head slightly and took a closer look at Spike. “You’re upset,” she said.
The proximity of the kirin’s head took Spike aback. He could pick out some of the wickedly pointed teeth that protruded from her upper lip and he could smell smoke mingling with her breath. “W-well…maybe a little,” he replied.
Seethe Scale pulled back. “I needed some time just to get used to having you in my cave,” she replied. “Just getting used to your presence and scent has been surprisingly difficult.”
“We could still talk right?”
“The process goes two ways. I had to get used to sharing my cave with another and you had to get used to some degree of isolation.” Seethe Scale walked out to the sunlight with Spike following close behind. “You've spent too long being a pony. Ponies are day-active herd creatures. You share their love of conversation and need for a great deal of light. I've spent too long living like a full dragon. My first instinct when you first entered my cave was to kill you before you got anywhere near my hoard. I was hoping that we can spend some time adjusting; you as a dragon, me as a pony.”
“Did it work?” Spike asked. He felt more than a little relieved that all the awkward waiting at least had some purpose behind it.
“I don’t know,” Seethe Scale replied. “I haven’t killed and eaten you. That has to be worth something.”
Once more, Spike took notice of rows of pointed teeth in Seethe Scale’s mouth. “Don’t worry," he said. "It’s worth a lot. But did we really need an entire week for th-?” Spike caught himself too late. “N-not to question your methods or anything!”
“Interesting,” Seethe Scale said. “Does a week seem that long to you?”
“Well, yeah. Seven days is pretty long.”
“For a pony.”
Seethe Scale flexed her wings some more. She appeared in deep thought for a couple of minutes. Suddenly, instead of flying off, she sat by the entrance of her cave and gestured for Spike to sit nearby. “A week is nothing to a dragon,” she said. “One reason it bothers you is because you’re in ‘pony time’. Slow down and try to perceive things more as a dragon.”
Spike sat just a few feet from the kirin. A week did feel long to him but, now that he thought about it, he was barely used to being around Seethe Scale or living in a cave. “And what’s the other reason?” he asked.
“You’re waiting for lessons the way ponies teach them,” Seethe Scale replied. “You’re not here for lessons like some foal in a pony school.”
Before Spike could say anything in response, he noticed Seethe Scale’s ears perk up and her nostrils flare. She stood up and walked over towards the trail to her cave. “That’s far enough,” she growled. Spike walked over to see who had arrived and why they were causing this sort of reaction. Mudslide had been allowed to approach the cave’s entrance and even talk to the reclusive kirin whereas this visitor was kept at a distance and greeted angrily. Even as he went over to look, he had to keep his distance from Seethe Scale. She was projecting a great deal of heat, enough to melt the snow near her. Her fur bristled and her eyes lit up as if they had small flames within them.
“G-greetings, mighty Seethe Scale!” someone said from down the trail. Spike looked more closely and saw a group of five ponies; two of whom were pulling a wagon behind them while the other three led the way. The lead pony, a green unicorn with a long, curly mane of bright yellow had stepped forward to speak for their group. Though he stumbled with his opening words, he carried himself with a degree of confidence despite being faced with an obviously angry and enormous kirin.
“Deliveries have been already made,” Seethe Scale said, her tone low and dangerous. “I don’t like ponies being this close to my home.” She snorted, causing a brief stream of dark red flame to billow from her nostrils.
“We mean no disrespect,” the lead pony said. He bowed low to emphasize his point and the others followed his example. “We are here on behalf of Mayor Gold Plate.”
“Leave,” Seethe Scale hissed.
“We will, mighty Seethe Scale,” the lead pony said. He gestured towards wagon behind him. At once, the two ponies who were not pulling the wagon trotted over and removed its cover. Underneath was a sizable pile of gold coins and jewels. Spike wiped some drool off his mouth. “All we ask is that you accept this tribute from the mayor in honor of your constant vigil over Wallforge.”
Seethe Scale looked the wagon over, a low growl resounding within her throat. “I said leave,” she said. They unfastened the wagon and departed hastily after one final bow. Spike could hear their hard gallop as they made their way back to the city. Seethe Scale grabbed hold of the wagon and lifted it with ease, placing the entire thing in front of him. “It’s yours,” she said with a snort. “Eat what you want and bury what’s left somewhere outside my cave.”
Spike’s mouth watered some more as he clambered over the wagon. The gems in the pile sparkled temptingly. He took a particularly impressive sapphire and was about to pop it into his mouth when he looked over to Seethe Scale. The kirin no longer looked angry as she watched the trail to her home. “Are you sure I can have this?” he asked.
“But why? Those ponies gave these to you for watching over them!”
“No,” Seethe Scale said. Every trace of emotion had faded from her voice. "Wallforge elections are coming up and Gold Plate wants a show of support." She watched with interest as Spike inspected his new hoard. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Great!” Spike replied as she looked over the gems. “Thank you for giving all of these to me!”
Seethe Scale continued to quietly observe. Spike tried to focus on eating, but, now that he was aware of Seethe Scale's scrutiny, he glanced nervously at her several times before finally turning around. “Um…do you need something?” he asked.
“Your temperance is surprising,” Seethe Scale said. “Do you not feel any urge to collect more treasure after gaining such a large hoard?”
“What? Oh, no! I’m done with that! One hoarding spree is enough for me!”
“I see…did you grow at an alarming rate during that time?”
“Yup, I turned into a real monster for a day.”
“Tell me how it all happened.” Seethe Scale walked over and lay down just a few feet away from Spike. He related the whole incident, although he was careful enough to avoid mentioning his interrupted attempt to confess his feelings for Rarity or anything to that regard.
Throughout the story, Seethe Scale listened intently. “This Rarity…do you love her?” she asked.
Spike’s eyes widened. “No!” he protested. He clamped both claws on his mouth. “I mean, how’d you-? I mean, why’d you say that?”
“The tone you take and the look on your face say it all,” Seethe Scale replied. “You may as well wear a shirt with her face on it.”
“That’s not a bad thing is it?” Spike asked. “I mean, I’d understand if you don’t like the thought of it because…well…”
“Why should what I think matter? Are you going to force yourself on this Rarity and make her bear a kirin foal?”
“What? Of course not! I would never think of doing such a thing to her!”
“Then you decide for yourself what to make of your feelings. Spend more time understanding your dragon aspect, then look at your relationships. I will say this, however. This Rarity has been a good influence to you. She’s taught you to control your gluttony, lust, and greed. From your story, you've successfully overcome your Appetite Phase thanks to her.”
Spike smiled at the thought of Rarity being able to help him overcome something. It was true. He had reverted to normal during that time thanks to her. What Seethe Scale had mentioned intrigued him, however. “What’s this Appetite Phase?” he asked.
“It’s the first of the phases that dragons go through in their life time. Dragons in this phase are overcome by lust, gluttony, or greed, whichever resides within them the strongest. If your greed had defined you strongly enough, you would have remained a Greed Dragon for the rest of your life.”
“What about the other phases?”
“The Expression Phase tests your pride, wrath, or envy. If you are still not defined by these things, you will go through the Apathy Phase, which guarantees that you’ll turn into a Sloth Dragon.”
“Is that it?” Spike asked glumly. “Are dragons always defined by bad things?”
“Supposedly...” Seethe Scale stopped herself.
“Don’t concern yourself too much about these things. They will come in time and what sort of dragon you are will be revealed.” Seethe Scale stood up and flapped her wings. “I have to go,” she said. “Stay in the cave as always.” She flew off afterwards.
Although still confused, Spike popped the first gem into his mouth and savored the crunch against his teeth. He grabbed a handful of gems to snack on, then began looking around for a good hiding place. He doubted that there would be any thieves willing to risk approaching the home of a clearly territorial half-dragon, but he wasn't going to risk this bounty. With this pile, he may not have to eat anymore meat.
It was already sunset when Seethe Scale returned. During that time, Spike had kept himself busy burying his new loot all around the cave. The frozen ground was difficult to dig up, even for his practiced claws. He had also reflected upon how Seethe Scale behaved around ponies. By the time she arrived, he had questions already rehearsed. He stood by his space in the cave and quietly watched her, trying to find some kind of sign that it was a good idea to speak up. “Um…Seethe Scale?” he finally ventured to say.
The kirin lay down by her bed before looking at Spike. “How is your vision?” she asked.
“It’s fine, thanks, I just-!” Spike paused. Fine? He looked around. He should be completely blind in this cave, but he wasn't. Seethe Scale lay there in plain sight. He could see the cave as a whole now, albeit in various shades of gray. “W-what’s going on?” he asked. “I can see in the dark, but it’s all weird and gray!”
“Hatchlings develop that much earlier,” Seethe Scale said. “Yours was hindered by spending too much time out in the light. Did you think that dragons would prefer the darkness of caves if they had to rely on illumination?”
“This is…” Spike looked around and walked forward. He could see even the small pebbles by his feet in detail. “This is pretty cool,” he said.
“A week spent well,” Seethe Scale said.
Spike suddenly found himself enthusiastic. “So what are we going to do next?” he asked.
Spike ended up waking early the next day. It was barely dawn when he was walking about the cave, marveling at his new-found ability. He picked up a pebble and inspected it, picking out individual grooves and niches on it just for fun.
“Cute,” Seethe Scale said softly from behind him. “You’re acting like a hatchling given his very first bauble.”
Spike tossed the pebble away in embarrassment. “I can’t help it,” he said. “I've never been able to do something like this.”
“Darkvision has its uses.” Seethe Scale rose from her bed. “You’re lucky to still be able to develop it.”
“So what are we doing now?” Spike asked.
“We're going out. I’m taking you with me this time. Before we go, we must go over a few rules.”
Spike felt a measure of relief at the mention of rules. That was one more familiarity he could take comfort in. “What are they?” he asked.
“Anywhere outside my cave, I will call you ‘Seifralhadar’. You must answer to this name only. The ponies you've encountered in Wallforge have been similarly warned.”
“What’s wrong with ‘Spike’?” Spike asked.
“It’s not a dragon name. If the Draco’dim and their agents find out, you’ll die along with whoever gave you that name.”
Any enthusiasm Spike had was quickly crushed by this new worry. “Draco-what?” he asked. “Who are they and why should they care about my name?”
“They are currently the strongest and most influential group within dragonkind,” Seethe Scale said. “We shouldn't have too much trouble with them thanks to the Heartland purge keeping them busy.”
“So they’re sort of the dragon rulers and-hey, what do you mean by Heartland purge?”
Seethe Scale looked grimly towards the outside of her cave. “Of course you haven’t heard. With the barrier down, the Draco’dim are extending their influence towards the Heartland. A purge is already on the way.”
“And by purge you mean-!”
Spike paused, outrage temporarily taking away his ability to talk. He remembered all the dragons he had encountered in the Heartland. None of those encounters had at all been pleasant, but for them to be killed just didn't seem right. “ We've got to stop them,” he said. “Equestria will never allow dragons to be killed just like that!”
“You’re wrong,” Seethe Scale replied. Her emotionless tone ran counterpoint to Spike’s angry words. “Equestria will allow it. The Draco’dim’s methods may be harsh, but Equestria stands only to benefit from their actions.”
“The Draco’dim enforce many rules among dragons. Among them is the rule of not eating ponies and leaving their settlements alone so long as they don’t monopolize resources. Without the Draco’dim, the Legion will have to deal with more than just your occasional rampaging greed dragon.”
“So all of Equestria will just let these Draco’dim kill as many dragons as they like?”
Spike stamped his foot as hard as he could. The barely audible thump only made him angrier. “But that’s not right!”
“Right for whom? It’s right for ponies to not want to be eaten.”
“What about the dragons?”
“What dragons do to each other is not Equestria’s concern.” Seethe Scale moved closer towards Spike. There was nothing threatening about her movement, but Spike still felt the urge to back up a bit before looking up at her. “I understand how you feel and you’re right. The Draco’dim’s continued existence will only continue to hurt dragonkind as a race.”
“Then why do you just let it happen?” Spike asked.
“I’m not a dragon. Why should I be bothered if dragons are destroyed by their own pride?” Seethe Scale gazed at Spike intently. “Let the dragons settle this issue among themselves.”
“I’m a dragon,” Spike said, his tone low and defiant.
“Are you sure? It was only yesterday that you could even use your darkvision.” Before Spike could retort, Seethe Scale’s unicorn horn glowed slightly. “I need to be alone,” she said abruptly. “Go outside and prepare yourself. We’ll be leaving soon.”
In a huff, Spike left the cave. Once he was out of sight, Seethe Scale pointed her unicorn horn at a cave wall. The projected image of Prince Terrato looked at her a few seconds later. “Your highness,” she said reverently.
“Hey, Seethe Scale,” Terrato said with a smile. “How is your new ward progressing?”
“Faster than expected,” Seethe Scale replied.
“And that small detail I mentioned?”
“Also progressing well.”
“Good,” Terrato’s eyes narrowed as he went on. “Some chosen should have arrived in Wallforge by now, have you noticed?”
“Yes, your highness.”
“Luna’s taken a page from my book by having her own personal eyes among them,” Terrato said. There was a tinge of admiration in his tone as well as more than a hint of annoyance. "It’s possible that she may try to contact you as well. I don’t want my sisters to get wind of your other task. Not yet.”
“She will learn nothing save for Spike’s condition, your highness.”
“Good. Speaking of your other task…”
“Nazhadar and Himfadora have already agreed to your propositions, your highness. I am making headway with the others, but Spike’s progress will be crucial.”
“I’m counting on you, Seethe Scale.”
“I won’t fail you.”
The image disappeared and Seethe Scale walked out to meet her "ward”. The dragon kept his eyes on her. Though he was still a little angry, she noticed something in his gaze that wasn't there when he first entered her cave: trust. “Let’s go,” she said.