The Ambassador's Son - Book 2
Gifts and Lessons
An MLP:FiM Fanfiction by Midnight Shadow
"Sharptooth! Sharptooth, come down from there! Come down! Right now! It's time for bed!"
"Yes Mama!" the dragon chirped, and he spread his wings, leaping from the branch. Shimmer Star screamed in fear as the green bundle of wings and scales flew like a rock... which is to say straight down.
Mere moments before he was reunited with terra firma in a fateful fashion, his body was suddenly surrounded in a bright glow of light and his descent came to an abrupt halt. Shimmer Star found herself breathing heavily, blinking impotently at the dangling dragon.
"Shimmer, my little pony, did you forget your magic?" The voice was soft and regal, friendly and yet powerful. A white, winged unicorn strode into the clearing, horn glowing with the faintest of auras as Celestia held the baby dragon in the grasp of her telekinesis.
Shimmer Star gasped and bowed, flinging her muzzle into the dirt as her princess approached. "I'm sorry, your majesty! I try to remember, but-"
"Rise, rise. I fear it was such... over-reliance on protocol and needless elevation above the herd that lead to my sister's fall. I would not have the same happen again." Celestia sighed, turning away, looking up to dark sky, where the full moon hung silently.
"You miss her, don't you?" asked Shimmer Star in a soft whisper. She immediately blushed and tried to drive her muzzle deeper still under the loam.
Celestia paused for a moment, a look of hurt crossing her features. Then she sighed, "Indeed, dear one. Both Everfree and the castle feel so empty without my sister." Celestia gestured with a wing, the movement encompassing the whole of the Everfree Forest. “Everything reminds me of my sister, dearest Shimmer. Our palace, where we ruled in peace and harmony. The forest, which was the playground of our youth. Her night sky, adored by so many yet often cursed when she tried to merely have it appreciated.”
Celestia grew silent. The Everfree was the heart of Equestria, where the Royal Castle of the Twin Pony Sisters still stood, albeit in ruins. A scant few years ago, or so it seemed to Celestia, she had banished her sister Luna to the moon. The final battle between them had raged for many a day and night, though in truth neither knew precisely how long. When one is battling with the sun and moon, it becomes hard to keep track.
Equestria, such as it was, had fallen to civil war and strife before the conflict had ended. In the intervening years, the Everfree and Equestria had come back to life. Both had grown beautiful and strong again. Beneath open skies and twinkling stars, even beneath the moon itself which would bear her sister's mark as a permanent reminder of the dark times before, Celestia's ponies flourished.
Life was gentle and calm these days. Even Celestia's court was simple and rustic. Fireflies hung in gently swaying glow-pots, providing soft light when the sun was down. The birds and beasts wandered freely amongst the undergrowth, and soft green shoots and vines covered the castle walls and floor. Where before had stood an imposing bastion of power, the castle was now little more than a ruined shell, supplanted by a friendly, loving village. True, the village held thousands, and hundreds of thousands more roamed the lands beyond, but it was a village. It was no longer a citadel.
Celestia sat upon no throne. She had no throne room from which to rule, and no bed chambers to retire to, not even a bed as such. Neither did she have servants, instead, she lived as her people lived. The lost trappings of industry, the 'useless detritus of civilisation' as she saw it, had all been swept away by the civil war. She loved her people as they loved her, and had thought it enough. She had had no stomach for government, or tax forms, or politics. She had mourned her sister, and so civilisation had fallen. But now...
Celestia blinked, recollections and memories and regrets passing in an instant. She eyed the still-floating dragon. "Ah, yes. Sharptooth, I believe it was? Little one, your wings are not yet ready for such an effort as carrying your body. I would suggest gliding. Do you not have someone who could teach you?"
Shimmer Star looked away, tears in her eyes.
Celestia was contrite, "Forgive me. I am not the only one who has loved and lost. Flutter Fire was a brave pony. She did not deserve such a fate."
“No, she didn't. I miss her, my husband misses her.” Shimmer's voice wavered, a quiet sob causing her voice to crack.
“I would have thought that such a bundle of trouble as Sharptooth here would keep you busy, filling your lives with more than enough love. Not to forget, but to move on. Maybe you need... something else?” Celestia pondered, her gaze shifting from Shimmer, to the dragon, to the forest as it buzzed with life. She took a deep breath. Maybe it was time.
“Like what?" Shimmer's outburst snapped the princess back to reality once again as with an accusing voice, the unicorn continued. "You won't take him away from me!”
“Oh no, no. I rather think it is time for a new age to dawn. Shimmer," Celestia turned away and began pacing, as if she were measuring out a building site, "you shall start a school, right here in the Everfree. Three days a week, for the foals. You will teach reading, writing, math and magic. Brandy Butter shall teach cooking, weaving and painting. Your husband shall teach masonry and woodwork. I shall find others. Three days a week, to start, as two more days shall be spent with me.”
“With you? Why?”
“Because," and Celestia deposited the dragon safely on the ground, "I shall need to teach all of you.”
There was a bright crimson glow as a fireball burst into being. It hung, flickering and spitting, suspended between the claws of the small, green dragon. Sharptooth grinned as the foals in his class flinched from the heat and light; it was hot enough to sear the flesh from their bodies, but it was little more than a comfortable warmth to him. Sharptooth enjoyed these times he could spend with his mother, even though he felt bashful in front of the other kids. He was the only dragon, but he did enjoy helping to teach the other foals. Shimmer Star always said that even if they were clumsy or slow, or rude or inattentive, that so long as they had that spark of curiosity, then she could draw it out of them. It was her special talent. He wondered, sometimes, if that would have been his talent too, should he have been born a pony.
“See, children? A dragon does not need a horn to focus his magic. It is innate, intrinsic to his very being,” the unicorn mare said, adjusting the glasses on the tip of her nose.
Glasses were a new addition to Equestrian life, the product of the many smithies and glassworks that had been cropping up in the last decade since she'd been press-ganged into educating the next few generations of ponydom. Such advances had been spurred on by a changed Celestia who seemed no longer content with the pastoral life of her ponies.
The fireball sputtered and went out. Sharptooth looked forlornly at his paws and blushed, mouthing "sorry mama" to the teacher.
She smiled, and carried on. "So it is with the pegasi and the earth ponies. You all know very well the power earth ponies wield; they grow our crops and plough our fields. Less well-known is the magic of the pegasi, as they are often hidden from view amongst the clouds.”
Shimmer smiled to herself, pausing for a few moments. She remembered fondly her friend from long ago. “Theirs is the air, the clouds... even the weather. One day, all of ponydom may be powerful enough to arrange the weather, in some small way, to our liking. Just think, if we could postpone rain or hasten it! What a wonderful world that would be.”
The children laughed, but she'd seen the plans, had experienced the magic. She carried on, undaunted, sewing the seeds that would one day blossom into something great. “There is talk of building a great city in the sky, where all flighted creatures may dwell in their element, taming the skies above. It shall be their realm, as the earth is for the ponies that tame the land below, and as magic is for us unicorns that tame the elements between. Some of you, my children, may yet grow up to see Cloudsdale become a reality. I sincerely hope it is so. Class dismissed.”
Sharptooth waited as the class filed out of the makeshift building. He was rather proud of it, having coaxed – in concert with a group of earth ponies – a set of trees and bushes to grow together into a coherent structure. They hadn't understood, at first, why he would want such a thing, but he'd persevered and eventually they had helped him. Now, all were protected from the rain here, and the wind. In summer it was cool, in winter it was warm.
His mother stood up and stretched. Sharptooth ran to her side and hugged her foreleg. "Ah, the young. I do so love teaching the children. they bring me the greatest joy.
Sharptooth looked hurt, “I thought I was the one thing that brought you the greatest joy.” He flapped his wings, stirring up the dusty ground.
Shimmer Star kissed him on the nose and gestured for him to take his customary seat upon her haunches, 'You bring me the greatest joy of all, son. Come now, you may carry my things. School is out for good, we move tomorrow in search of a new home.”
Sharptooth sighed, “Why, mama? What's wrong with the Everfree?”
Shimmer sighed, “A long time ago, before you were born, you had an Aunt, Flutter Fire. She was killed and eaten by diamond dogs.”
“I know. I hate them.” The dragon snorted, brief spurts of flame ejecting from his nostrils.
“No, no. I told you, Sharpie, it is beneath you to hate. Understand their nature, understand their ways. You need not approve, or accept, merely understand. You are a dragon, and a proud dragon should be above such petty things as hatred and jealousy. If a humble pony such as I can forgive them, you should too.”
Sharptooth growled, but Shimmer swatted him with her tail, “That was not the point of the story. The point is that should I be forced to live in the shadow of my herd-sister's death, there would come a time when I would have to leave and find a new place to dwell. Celestia is not like me, nor any other pony. She is far more like you, my bonny boy; you and she will still be young and strong, whilst I grow old.”
“Mama, you're not that old!”
Shimmer laughed, “Gee, thanks.” She swatted Sharptooth again. “It is true, I have many years left, but I am no yearling. As such, I want to leave a legacy made of more permanent stuff. This capitol that Celestia aims to build, this Canterlot she speaks of; it shall be my legacy as much as hers. It shall be mine, and my husbands, and yours.”
“But... this is our home,” Sharptooth stated, wings and ears drooping.
“The Everfree is her home too, but it is also her prison. If we her people are to move on into the future she seeks to build, then we must find ourselves a new home, where we can make a new start and create new memories.” the lavender mare lead the dragon primly out of the clearing, giving it one last fond look of farewell. “Will you join with us in this endeavour, my son?”
“Do we have to?” Sharptooth looked forlornly at the makeshift schoolhouse he had created, at the glades he may never see again, at the forest he'd called home for all his life. Suddenly he realised that his mother had stopped. “What?” the dragon asked, embarrassed.
“My son,” Shimmer Star paused, voice shaking, “when you were born...”
“You told me-”
“Listen. When you were born, diamond dogs took from you your birthright as much as they took from you your brothers and sisters. I have been charged, along with your father, of bringing you up. One day, he and I will be gone to join your Aunt Flutter in the Great Herd. I will pass on happily if I know you have been returned to your rightful place amongst your own kind.”
She shushed Sharptooth once again at his hurt look, “We love you, first born amongst all our foals, but you are not a pony and can never be. It would be cruel to expect you to be. One day, you must return to the dragons and find your clan. Maybe that day is now.”
“But... but mama,” Sharptooth stammered, “I don't want to... I want...”
“What, my love?”
“I don't want to go to the dragons! I want to stay with you!” Sharptooth sniffled, crying out with tears running down his cheeks as he twiddled his claws together.
Shimmer Star turned her head back to look at the ground. She kicked the leaves and twigs around for a few moments before continuing, “Be that as it may, but I think it is time for you to learn a little more about your own kind. Then you can be sure.”
The forest was verdant and green, alive with the sounds of nature. The path through it was nothing more than an animal track, and the treacherous roots and broken branches covered with moss threatened to be her undoing. Shimmer Star galloped recklessly through the undergrowth, horn flashing in fits and spurts as she slashed what greenery she could from her way. Behind her, so close she swore she could feel their hot breath, the timberwolves were gaining.
Sharptooth did what he could, with fireball after fireball giving the vicious creatures at least some pause for thought, but he was tiring. Breathlessly he hung onto the unicorn's tail as they sped onwards.
In an explosion of leaves and branches, Shimmer broke through the treeline and emerged into an open expanse of grassy fields. The sudden drop of the hillside caused her to stumble and fall, pitching the young dragon upon her back off, to fall awkwardly onto the wet sod. Sobbing with lost breath, winded, Shimmer Star waited for the end. As long seconds turned into a minute or more, she opened her eyes. The timberwolves were distant, snapping and snarling impotently at the edge of the clearing.
“Well?!” she cried, “what are you waiting for?”
The insistent tug on her tail made her turn, as Sharptooth cleared his throat, “I think they're waiting for him.”
Shimmer looked up, into the red eyes of a black dragon.
"I see I have been lax in pest control," Onyxious shouted, as he spread his wings and leaped for the forest boundary. His bellowing roar and the accompanying belch of flame scattered the creatures in moments. Onyxious pursued for a brief minute or two, torching trees and tearing up the undergrowth, before giving up and sending a plume of fire skywards. He returned, chuckling, to find the pony and the hatchling staring in disbelief and more than a little alarm. "And I see your map-making skills were of a somewhat amateur nature the last time you and I spoke, my dear pony. Perhaps you will do better in future visits?"
Shimmer Star looked up into the glowing red eyes of the dragon, and then bowed low, breathing long and hard into the earth.
“You need not bow to me, little one. I do not own you. I, perhaps, should be bowing to you. You bring me something important, yes?”
The dragon was large, Shimmer had forgotten quite how large in the intervening years. “I-I-I do, sir,” Shimmer stammered, “may I present Sh-Sharptooth?”
The dragon peered down with some amusement, “Hail and well met, little Sharptooth. Pray, can you tell me why your mother brings her ungainly, odd little foal to a dragon?”
Sharptooth, his muzzle hanging open, squeaked and froze. The large black dragon snorted with amusement, “I see. Come, then, geasling. You have not discharged your duty quite yet, but it would behoove me to be accommodating. You did, after all, brave the wilds for my sake.”
The dragon's cave was large, spacious, and rather warm. After the drizzling clouds of the plains and the boggy marshes and dank undergrowth of the forest, it was heavenly. Shimmer Star fell to the floor in front of the fire and lay there, breathing heavily. For his part, Sharptooth waddled over to the fire eagerly and examined it with bright eyes.
“Mama, no wood!” the little dragon reported. He stuck out a claw, letting the eldritch flames play over his scales, “hot, too! Will I be able to do that?”
“One day, my sweet,” the unicorn replied, exhausted as she lay recuperating, “for now you are but a little dragon, with but a little magic. Fire hot enough to burn rocks without fuel is a few years beyond you. A few, but not many.”
“Oh?” rumbled the black dragon, peering down with interest, “does your foal feel he has the capacity for dragon magic?”
“I'm no foal! I'm a dragon! I can do any magic you can do!” Sharptooth waved a claw, pouting at the enormous wyrm.
“Make fire then,” the dragon rumbled. He passed down a bowl filled with water, placing it in front of the unicorn. She gratefully drank from it. “Go on, all dragons must learn to make fire.”
Sharptooth placed his paws together, closed his eyes, then drew his paws apart. Between them spurted a red ball of flame.
“Sufficient,” the dragon snorted. He passed down some dried fruits and nuts, placing them carefully in front of the unicorn. “Tell me, young one. Can you breathe fire?”
Sharptooth twirled his toe-claws in the dirt, and shook his head as he gazed down at the patterns he left in the dust.
“Interesting," Onyxious said. The great black dragon placed his titanic head close to Sharptooth, looking him over. "A latent ability with magic, an affinity for fire, yet he does not have his own flames."
"I have been teaching him, Onyxious. We both have, my husband and I. But we are not dragons. I have brought him here because—"
Onyxious nodded, gently. "Be calm, little Shimmer Star. You do your family proud." The dragon stomped off deeper into the cave, to return with a selection of foodstuffs suitable for a pony. "Your wish to educate and enlighten is obvious and commendable. Perhaps it is time to show your scaly little foal here some of what being a dragon means. You cannot be expected to teach a dragon about breathing fire, though I dare say he may pick it up himself... in time."
Shimmer shuffled herself closer to the fire and yawned, despite herself. The black dragon laughed, a deep rumbling sound that shook his cave, gesturing to a fur rug. "But it would seem, like all mothers, you are tired from caring for your little one, and yourself. Rest now. Tomorrow, young Sharptooth, your education will begin."
Sharptooth stood outside the cave in freezing rain. He was still yawning and picking sleep-dust out of his eyes as the heavy, grey clouds floated overhead. The huge black dragon Onyxious had insisted, and Mama Shimmer had agreed. It was so totally unfair! It was cold and wet, he was hungry and tired... and worst of all, Onyxious himself was still inside ferreting about in the back of his cave.
Sharptooth curled his claws into the grass, contemplating the feel of the slick blades between the toes of his paws. Motion at the cave-mouth drew his attention. The black dragon stuck his great head out on his sinuous, muscled neck, stretched and then leaped from the hill-top, only half-unfurling his wings to make the short glide down. The rush of wind as the ebony dragon back-winged nearly blew Sharptooth over. As he staggered to regain his balance, Onyxious slithered around him with an appraising look on his gargantuan muzzle.
"Yes, yes... well proportioned. Stance firm, tail could do with being a bit longer. Onyxious didn't stop pacing, it was making Sharptooth dizzy. Suddenly, the black dragon spun, the very tip of his tail upending the smaller green dragon and throwing him into the dirt. "You really haven't been taught to fight, have you?"
Sharptooth sniffled and started to cry.
"Ah ah, none of that, or I won't give you your present."
"A present?" Sharptooth sniffled again, wiping his muzzle with a claw. Onyxious nodded, placing a small black box on the ground in front of Sharptooth. “These, young dragon, are your first set of training spikes. One day, you will be forced to do battle. Fighting is one of the rituals all dragons go through, and if you are to be a dragon in every sense of the word, you must learn to fight like one.”
Sharptooth opened the box. Inside were a collection of silvery, metallic objects. He lifted a few of them out, one by one, and examined them. "Training spikes?"
Onyxious grinned, showing his teeth. "Let me show you how they work."
Sharptooth barrelled across the countryside, dropping to all fours for greater speed. He spread his wings and leaped into the air every now and again, seeking to catch his prey. The animal was fast and nimble, and Sharptooth was only little. As he had been taught, Sharptooth made a great leap, all four claws outstretched, the bladed gauntlets making a sharp snick noise as they unfurled. He landed in a heap in the grass, the timberwolf having dodged sideways at the last minute. Rolling over and over, Sharptooth shouted in anger. He took a deep breath, it seemed to make his whole body swell and grow in magnitude, and then bellowed just as loudly as he could in frustration.
Onyxious chuckled, landing next to him. "I should have known a useless whelp like you wouldn't be able to catch a pitiful timberwolf. Years of soft living with soft ponies has made you just like them. Soft."
"What?" Sharptooth's head snapped up suddenly.
"Yes, just a pony in a dragon suit. Maybe it was a mistake, bringing you out here." Onyxious clenched his talons into a fist. There was a brief yelp, and the timberwolf keeled over, dead. "You can't hunt, you can't fight, you can't-"
"Shut up!" Sharptooth's muzzle screwed up. "That's not fair!"
"You should go home. To your pony mother, hide between her legs."
"That's... you... no! That's not fair!"
"It's alright, she's only a pony. I won't hold it against her if she has failed."
"My mama hasn't FAILED!" Sharptooth shouted, and a jet of flame spurted from each nostril, the tears on the end of his muzzle sizzling away into vapour. "She's my Mama and you w-won't—"
Onyxious held up a claw for silence. "Little one. Breath again."
Sharptooth stood there, breathing heavily and hiccuping, with little spurts of flame causing wisps of smoke to rise in front of his muzzle. He blinked.
"Fury, for a dragon, is a powerful emotion. Common beasts like that timberwolf, they do not feel fury. A dragon does. It dwells inside you, burning you up. If you do not learn to harness and control it, your fury can control you. When you do, little Sharptooth, then shape it. Will it into being. Focus it, bring it forth, and unleash its might. Flame, little dragon. This is your true first lesson."
"Focus. Feel that anger, that burning hatred. The emotion was real, though my words were chosen with care to evoke it. Feed it, do not feel it. Let it grow and bubble up within you, and when you are ready... breathe out."
Sharptooth took a breath, screwing his eyes shut, and then did his best to roar. Flames, hot and true, seared the grasses, burning them to ash.
"A lot of anger, for one so small. I trust I am not responsible for all of it?"
Sharptooth shook his head, balling his claws into fists. "The diamond dogs are."
Onyxious lay down suddenly, curling his tail up under his chin. "Come closer, little Sharptooth. I will tell you a story about diamond dogs."
"A high king, hmm?" Sharptooth scratched his muzzle. "Can't say I've heard much about one, but it has been a few centuries."
The front door to the house was closed and the curtains were drawn. The dragon stoked the fire with a poker and muttered a few strange words, waving a claw. It flared up brighter. "Come now, it is time for a cup of tea before we retire for the night. Then you can tell me all about it. Into the kitchen with you, fetch Miss Hairpin a cup too."
"Aww, dad! Can't I make her get the tea?"
"A pony making a dragon tea?"
"She is my—"
"Hush, my boy. You're making the tea tonight. All of it. You do want to show off your fire-breathing, don't you?"
Chip wearily got up from his spot by the fire, trotting into the kitchen. "I'm... I'm not sure I can still breathe fire!" he called. Chip reappeared with the tea-set on a tray held in his muzzle, which he set down on the table. "It kind of went out when I'd finished eating that fire-ruby..."
"Nonsense, lad! If you feel you need a bit of a push this one time, then be off upstairs with you. Your saddlebags will likely had a few shards left."
"Good idea!" Chip replied, and he dashed through the living room and up the spiral stairs. His door slammed open and there were distressing sounds of the boy searching through his stuff. "I can't find them!" he called, voice echoing down the stairwell.
"Maybe you should check the hoard room?" Sharptooth called. Chip dashed back down again, taking the steps two at a time as he all but galloped through the house. His hoofsteps dwindled off into the distance.
"Excitable, isn't he?" Hairpin chuckled.
"Quite, and very inquisitive. Very inquisitive indeed. Almost impossible, one could say, of getting rid of for a brief chat."
Hairpin's ears perked up. "Y-yes?"
Sharptooth leaned his large, blunt head closer. "Do not fear, my dear. Whilst he is my son, and of the Leatherback clan, you belong to him, not me. I merely seek to look after his best interests. And that means caring for his pets where he is unable. How far along is it?"
The pegasus looked flustered, flicking her blonde mane out of her eyes. "H-how far along is what?"
Sharptooth just stared, with a friendly, patient look on his muzzle..
"You're saying... I'm..." Hairpin motioned to her belly with a wing. She looked at it quizzically as Sharptooth nodded. "I'm pregnant," she said to herself, softly. "I'm actually pregnant? Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Oh Celestia! Me? But how?"
"One would assume in the usual manner," Sharptooth said, smirking.
"Pig Iron! He... he really did give me up. I mean, of course I know he did, it's just I've been unable to have a foal for so long, I kind of forgot why, and now you're telling me I've gone and got myself—!" Hairpin's ears flattened to her skull and she started breathing heavily.
"Be calm, my dear pegasus, be calm. You are among friends. I take it this wasn't planned, then?" Sharptooth placated the mare with gentle words and gentler application of forepaw to her mane. "If you're having second thoughts, there are ways to—"
Hairpin blinked and looked over at Sharptooth. "No! No, no, I mean... I've always wondered what it would be like. I-I guess I'll find out." A slow smile spread across her muzzle and her ears flicked up as she stroked her belly with a wing, slowly. "I did wonder... it's not far along at all, sir, not at all. How did you find out?"
"We dragons have a nose for such things, and a small spell confirmed my suspicions. You had that... look about you. I, er... don't suppose?" Sharptooth looked pointedly down the corridor where Chip had disappeared to, then back to the pegasus.
"What, you mean—? With him? Oh... no! No, no, no, it-it wouldn't be right, I mean, he's my... and I'm his... and..." Sharptooth had the decency to look flustered. Hairpin stared at the dragon for a few long seconds, and then burst out laughing. "He's really too young and... well he's cute as a button but he's not my type. Even forgetting the whole... master thing. Even if he was, my type I mean, I wouldn't. It's just... you haven't had slaves, ever, have you? No, I suppose not, you being that close to Celestia and all."
Sharptooth shook his head. "No, and it's really not something I feel entirely comfortable with."
"If my being here makes you uncomfortable—"
Sharptooth shook his head and waved his claws. "No, my dear, it is not that, not at all. I just do not entirely agree with the total subjugation of another thinking, sentient life-form. The disregard some have for the lives of others is a cause of personal pain to me." The large green dragon's eyes unfocused for a moment and a grimace crossed his features, then he looked back at Hairpin. "You will be well treated with my son. I will make sure of that, and I dare say he will too."
"Please don't," Hairpin whispered.
"Don't set me free." The pegasus shivered slightly.
Sharptooth sighed, but reached out to smooth down the mane of the pegasus with gentle strokes of his foreclaws. "No, my dear. You are safe. And so will your foal be. Before you are unable to travel, however, I feel we should all make a trip back to Stalliongrad. There was a lot of unfinished business there. We can perhaps pick up your spouse?"
"Oh, er, there... isn't one."
"Do you plan on..?" Sharptooth rolled his eyes as the pony shook her head. "Do you atleast know who it was?"
"I think. I mean, I'm pretty sure it was one of them..."
Chip came clattering up the hallway to the living room, pulling up short when he saw the expression on Hairpin's muzzle. "Hey, Dad, Pin. What's up?"
"Good news!" Hairpin said, flicking her tail. "We're having a baby!"
"WHAT?!" shouted Chip, and a wall of flame soaked the table. As the heat and light subsided, and he looked away from the laughing dragon and pegasus, his eyes fell upon the now-empty table. "Oh strangle me with Celestia's bright, bushy blue beard." he swore, "I've posted the teaset."
Ranger cowered in the darkness. He was buried, but even that didn't make him feel safe. He and the small number of trolls who had followed him were all that remained of the Shattered Hills pack. He was probably the closest thing to an Alpha that they had. In the darkness, with the stench of fear and piss almost tangible, it didn't seem like nearly enough. The air was choking, they were tired and hungry and scared, but none dared so much as move a muscle. The old stories came back to them; tales of the burning sun, the breath of the sky-god, and they feared for their very souls. When the sky god came, he left nothing but dust. The dragons of this world, they weren't the same as the beasts of home. It was then that Ranger learned another new term: regret.
The scrabbling was faint at first, but soon grew in volume. The trolls couldn't help it, they started wailing. This only caused the scrabbling to return, louder. As dust and debris rained down amongst them, the ceiling was torn off in great chunks. Ranger found himself looking up into the piercing blue eyes of a dragon that was also the deepest shade of blue. The sun behind her was blinding and he cowered from it, and the dragon.
"Ah, my prize. Patience is a virtue, and it rewards those who keep it. Come forth, little trolls, come forth."
With much coaxing, the dragoness urged the diamond dogs into daylight. She had them gather in a roughly circular group, which she paced around slowly. "Yes, yes. I will take you. Little trolls, do you know what today is?" She waited, but they did not speak. She snorted. "Today is your deliverance from the tyranny of free will. My brother has bid your pack be eradicated, and so it shall be. From this day forth, mongrels, you will belong to me. Your pack shall be no more, your lands forfeited and your lives... mine. There is but one alternative, my playthings, and you are of course free to choose it.
"If, however, you choose to bask in the glory of service to your new mistress Akhekhu, there is but one tiny little favour. One amongst you has led you low, my servants. His blood must be shed. Deliver him to me."
Ranger looked around at the pack. Broken, dispirited, homeless. His life had been harsh, as it was for all diamond dogs. He had been born to an unfavoured union and pronounced as a beta amongst the pack. For every morsel of food or respect, he had had to fight. With one fell act, he had sought to elevate himself and instead had brought wrack and ruin. There was only one thing he could do, if he were to die with any sort of honour.
He stepped forwards.
The light, when it came, was so bright it went beyond merely blinding him. It permeated his very being, infiltrated every pore. It washed over him in a golden tide that consumed his very essence to produce yet more light. And then, as all bright lights must do, it faded... and he was gone.
Akhekhu looked over her collection of slaves, cowering together and whimpering as the last of the ash blew away in the wind. They were filthy, unwashed, malnourished and ignorant of even the most basic of courtesies to their new owner. Lady Akhekhu of the Sapphire Reaches would have a lot of work to do if they were to be made suitable, but they were hers. They would make good slaves though, of this she were sure. If not, well... her own young would require hunting practice.
"Come, dogs. Heel."
As she lumbered away from the site of devastation, she mused thoughtfully to herself that slaves who could fly may have been a better choice. Walking was tiring. If only there had been more of them, they could have carried her.
The Elder stirred the cauldron slowly. The time of weeping was over, and it was now time to rest. The last of the torches were fading, sputtering out. Soon the fortress would be in darkness, and it would be neverending. The dragons had trapped them all, helplessly and entirely too securely within the bowels of Equestria. Magic held the castle together, he could remove it, but then the boiling rock outside would rush in, and they would die in agony. The rock surrounding the structure was too hot to dig through, even where it had solidified, and would remain too hot for far too long.
No, no. They would never be leaving this place.
He stirred the cauldron as another diamond dog dipped a cup in and shuffled away.
Eventually there was only one cup-full left. His own. He filled it and walked slowly to the two stone thrones. Sitting down, he uttered what blessings he could for the souls of his people, that they would not be trapped in this place. His own soul, however, would remain. With none to bless his passing, he would have to brave the wrath of the gods alone.
He raised the potion to his lips and drank, emptying the bowl. He placed it down on the empty throne next to him and closed his eyes. The secrets of the fortress would remain hidden, at least. If they could not get out, there were none left who could get in. He could rest. Rest was good. He was so tired.
In the silent tomb, the last torch sputtered weakly, and went out.