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═ The ══════════
══════════ Son ═
The Flame of Youth
An MLP:FiM Fanfiction by Midnight Shadow
Chip puffed out his chest and raised his head and tail. He trotted smartly out from behind the schoolhouse and over to the horde of screaming children. He was going to be masterful, suave, sophisticated. He was going to march in there and be instantly liked by everypony.
His resolve faltered somewhere around the twenty pace mark.
He came to a halt under the shade of a small tree and stood at the sidelines as a group of some ten ponies, with a smattering of diamond dog trolls and a couple of griffons, played a variation of hoofball.
The ball was a strange egg shape, with what looked like handles on each side that could be grabbed by muzzle, claw or paw equally. Each end of the pitch had three goals—one at ground level with a net at the back, one basket several feet up and one hoop even higher up.
There didn’t seem to be any score difference between the three, Chip wasn’t sure there even was a score. The game seemed to consist of kicking, punching and biting the other players in a struggle to get the ball, at which point the lucky player would presumably head for the goal they most wanted to put the ball in. Pegasi should have had the advantage, Chip reasoned, but for the fact they wouldn’t play as a herd and lacked paws. The griffons refused to cooperate, letting the pegasi dive and separate the players from the ball so it more often than not ended up on the ground. The diamond dogs, on the other hand, played as a pack. After a few moments of watching, he came to the conclusion they had to be winning.
“Hey. You must be the new kid.”
Chip looked up, from where the phantom voice had come. A griffon lay languishing on a branch. She had coloured head-feathers, so he reasoned she was a... what was the term? A chick? A hen? He wasn’t sure. A girl, anyway. Girls, in his opinion, were often trouble.
“How’d you know? I got here a few nights ago.”
“I hunt at night, dufus; don’t you know anything about griffons? Carriage like that, you gotta be somebody important.” The creature jumped down with a flick of her wings and tail, and landed lightly in front of the colt. “Name’s Carmine. What’s yours?”
“Chip,” said Chip.
“Short name for a short kid. What’re you doin’ all the way out in Tacksworn, huh? Family on the run? Dodgy business back home?”
“Earth ponies, pfah.” Carmine turned away, apparently bored.
“I-I’m a dragon,” blurted Chip. “I-I mean my... my dad’s a dragon.”
Carmine turned back, her neck-feathers ruffling. “Dragon, eh? Only one dragon around here; old coot lives alone up on that mountain.”
“That’s the one.”
“Horseapples, short stuff.” The colourful crest on Carmine’s head fluffed up in surprise.
“Hey C, this creep botherin’ ya?”
“Heeeyyy Butch. Dozer, Digger, Ruff. Meet the new kid, Chip. He’s a dragon.” Carmine flexed her forepaws, rearing up on her hind legs and spreading her wings wide to pantomime something between shock, horror and fierceness. Chip blushed, stomach knotting up inside. Why did he have to go and blurt something so stupid...
“A dragon?” Butch snorted, and gave a barking laugh, punching Chip on the shoulder. “Don’t dragons usually have more... rah, and less... you know... this.”
Chip pouted, gritting his teeth, saying nothing.
“What’s that, dragon boy? Gonna rip us apart with those fierce claws, huh? Fly away with those huge wings?”
Chip ground his teeth. The other diamond dogs laughed as their leader, Butch, continued,
“Oh, oh, right, your mama isn’t a dragon though, is she? One lonely night, she pro—”
The breath exploded from Butch’s lungs as a head slammed into his chest. From there, it was only moments until there was a full-scale fight, with teeth, paws, legs, tails and anything else within reach.
It shouldn’t have been surprising, really, but the fight was ended rather simply. An orange glow surrounded the combatants and each was lifted into the air and, importantly, away from each other.
“And what is the meaning of this? Who started this fight?” asked a stern voice. Two adult ponies approached the still snarling and lunging creatures. Four paws pointed directly at Chip.
“Is this true?”
Chip hung his head.
Calligraphy frowned. “I shall have to tell your father. Ordinarily I would give you detention, but I don’t quite think I’ve had the whole story.” She glared meaningfully at the dogs before continuing, “Recess is over. Back to class.”
“Alright! Alright! Settle down. Good afternoon, class.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Calligraphy,” intoned the children.
“Today we have a new student amongst us. Some of you—” She shot a glance towards the diamond dogs’ table“—may already have met him. This is Chiphoof Irontail Leatherback, of the Diamond Expanse Dragon Clan. He is a dragon; his father is the ambassador Sharptooth. Say hello to Chip, everyone.”
“Hello Chip,” the class dutifully replied.
“Chip, tell us about yourself.”
Chip gulped nervously, and clip-clopped to the front of class. This hadn’t been in the brochure. “M-my name is Ch-Chip, Chip Irontail. My folks... come from Neighvada, originally. I... recently moved here wi-with Sharptooth; he’s kind of my dad.”
“Miss?” asked a lavender unicorn filly suddenly. “If he’s a dragon, why does he look like a pony?”
“It’s... complicated,” mumbled Chip.
“Go on,” urged Calligraphy Quill.
Chip choked. He stood there, breathing heavily. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t say a word. His stomach hurt and he couldn’t force the words out. Not yet. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he whispered, voice breaking, eyes shining and wet with almost-tears.
Miss Calligraphy cleared her throat and moved quickly. “Th-that’s okay, Chip, you may take your seat.”
Chip walked morosely down to the indicated desk. He noted it was next to Carmine, the lavender unicorn who had asked the awkward question, a bronze pegasus filly and some other griffon he recognized partially from the hoofball game. He didn’t know how to recognize griffons, really. Carmine’s tinted headfeathers and her face seemed expressive enough, although the rest of her was a mixture of an eagle’s brown and white feathers, and a lion’s golden coat. The other griffon was much the same, but with a different set of colours.
He winced as he heard whispers and giggles from the dogs’ tables; echoes of ‘dinky dragon’ burning in his ears.
“Pay no attention to those mutts, Chip. You’re cool. Butted Butch straight in the gut, no fear.”
“Really?” hissed the other Griffon.
“Sure did B, you should’a seen him. Butch tried to give him the usual; the kid here gave it first. He’s alright.”
“So,” whispered the unicorn filly, “you really a dragon?”
“Sharptooth adopted me, if you have to know,” growled Chip, “so he says that makes me a dragon.”
“Adopted? Never would’ve known,” joked the pegasus. “Bright Pinion, Penny.”
“Chip. Just... Chip.”
“Well I’m Carmine, that bundle of feathers is Beth, and horny over there is Bella. Fuller name Isabella Liriope. Don’t call her Izzy or Bell, she hates that. Otherwise known as B-one and B-two.”
“Hey!” cried Bella.
“Alright, B-one and B-prime.”
“I’ll stick with Bella,” said Chip with a small smile.
“Shush now, children. We’ll start with a math recap for this period, and then move on to history and geography and then my favourite, Equestrian Literature.”
There were groans all around, followed by the sound of pulpets being opened and books being placed on desks and pages flipping. Chip found a well-organized stack of materials in his own pulpet, and quickly slipped out the necessary books. If there was one thing about schools everywhere, he noted, it was that lessons were invariably the same—boring.
He sighed. A rock and a hard place, that’s what he was between. He looked at the clock. Three hours until school finished, three periods to get through... and then his life would be over. Stupid Butch. Stupid diamond dogs. Stupid teacher. Stupid school. Augh!
School had been out for what felt like hours. All the other kids had gone home. Chip was the only one left. He’d even done his homework, under the watchful and disapproving gaze of Calligraphy Quill, the earth-pony teacher. Bella had been excused for the Equestrian Literature to have her magic lesson with Whisp Spark the orange unicorn. Southern Storm would be in the next day for a morning of flying lessons for the griffons and pegasi. That would leave Chip, the earth-ponies... and the diamond dog pack. All in the same room. Together. What fun.
The classroom door creaked open and a familiar scaly shape eased itself in.
“Ah, Ambassador Sharptooth.”
“Just call me Sharpie, Miss Calligraphy, when it’s just you and me.”
“Cally.” The teacher batted her eyes at the dragon. Chip rolled his own. “I’m afraid I have some bad news, there was... a bit of a ruckus today, before class. I have made it clear there will be no further infractions of this nature, but...”
“Fighting, hmm? Have no fear, madame, I shall have a word with the boy. I can’t have a growing dragon like him fighting, he might hurt someone.”
“And that’s another thing, are you sure he’s a...”
“Yes, Miss Calligraphy?”
She made a moue of disapproval again. “Nothing, Ambassador Sharptooth. Have him back here tomorrow before the bell, lunch starts at noon sharp.”
“Until the morrow, my good mare. Come, Chip.”
The flight home should have been exciting. It should have been awe-inspiring. Chip found he dreaded every second of it. He was landed, carefully, and then ushered in through the front door. His legs felt like lead, his stomach full of ash, twisted in knots. He clambered onto a small pile of cushions, turning around three times and wriggling until he settled as deeply as possible into the pile. He tried to see if he could get the ground to open up and swallow him, leaving nothing but a pile of cushions. Maybe he could burrow down under them and Sharptooth would forget he was there.
“Fighting, hmm?” The dragon poked at the ever-burning fire. It flared up and lit the room.
“Uh huh,” answered Chip, in a small voice.
“I see,” the dragon said. He wandered into the kitchen and started opening and closing cupboards, finally filling something with water and shaking some sort of powdered substance in after it. He returned, an old and ornate teapot in his paws. He eased himself back into the plush seat and inhaled deeply, exhaling gently. A spurt of blue-white flame enveloped the bottom of the vessel. Chip watched as the metal started to glow slightly on the bottom. Sharptooth held it then, and looked at it.
“Tea leaves are usually added to boiling water,” he said, “but not this tea. This tea is made with cold water, and boiled after adding. It’s important, I find, to make tea the correct way. Badly made tea is bitter and spoiled. Growing a dragon is much the same. One must be careful to grow your dragon properly.”
“Are you going to send me away?” Chip whispered.
Sharptooth shook his head, breathing out on the teapot again. “I just want to know what happened.”
“It’s your fault.” Chip sulked.
“Insisting I’m a dragon! I told them I’m a dragon and it’s all your fault! They all think I’m weird and I hate you!”
“But you are a dragon, young Chip.”
“I’m a pony! Everyone can see I’m a pony! I don’t have fangs, or wings or horns! I can’t fly! I can’t breathe fire! I’m a pony! An earth-pony! I’m nothing! I have... I have nobody and I’m nothing and...”
Sharptooth noted that the tea was boiling. He’d made the water too hot, too fast. It would be a barely passable brew this time. He put the pot down on a wooden coaster on the table. “That’s not what I asked though, is it. What happened?”
“He... Butch. He’s a diamond dog. He-he said m-my mother...” Chip squeaked out between sniffles.
Sharptooth took the tea-towel he’d been using to wipe down the table and picked up the colt. He cleaned snot and tears off the face again and made soothing noises.
“Ah, your parents. You can always expect the ignorant to dig at the most sensitive spots. I see why you got into a fight now, but I won’t have it again, you hear? No silly dog-troll can take the memory or the honour of your parents away, and if they try you do not simply attack. You challenge, you duel, and you do not do it on school time or school property. If you get into a fight, you certainly do not start it. Clear?”
“Yes sir.” Chip sniffed.
“Piffle. I’m no sir, not to you. If you can’t call me Dad then you can call me Sharpie, okay?”
“Yo-you’re really not going to send me away?”
“Over a spat with a mongrel? ...Don’t say I said that. No, no, of course not. Come, I think I need to teach you something.”
Sharptooth bodily carried the young colt out the front door before leaping into the air off the edge of the cliff and riding the wind currents to the top of the mountain. The sun was going down by now, and the sky was slowly getting darker.
“Chip, I think it’s time I taught you to breathe fire.”
“Da—” Chip caught himself, and then shook his head. “Dad, I’m not a dragon though. I can’t breathe fire.”
“I thought we’d had this talk. Do dragons all have wings or horns?”
“Alright then. Do ponies all have wings and horns?”
“So, do your lack of wings and horns make you not a pony?”
“But I’m not a pegasus or a unicorn!”
“No, you’re not. Pegasi and unicorns are still ponies, however. You, my son, are a dragon because I am your father. Not all dragons have wings, or horns. Not all have legs or claws. We dragons come in many shapes and sizes; who is to say there cannot be a dragon that is pony-shaped?”
“But that makes no sense!”
Sharptooth smiled. “That is because you’re still learning. Trust me, Chip. By an accident of birth, you were born a pony. By an accident of fate, you are now a dragon. Now, do you wish to learn to breathe fire?”
“But you said... not all dragons breathe fire.”
“No, and not all dragons have wings, but they all learn to fly. You, then, will still learn to breathe fire. It’s all in the breathing. Your head”—Sharptooth tapped the colt’s head—“holds your thoughts. Your heart”—he tapped the colt’s chest—“holds love and hate, sorrow and joy. But your gut... your gut holds your fire. So breathe, young dragon. In through the nose, out through the mouth. That is lesson one.”
“In through the nose, out through the mouth. Is that important?”
“Very. Flaming bogeys are neither big nor clever, despite what you may have heard.”
Chip looked up from going cross-eyed in an attempt to peer at his own nostrils, to see his dad choking back laughter. He let a giggle escape his lips and soon the pair of them were laughing heartily.
“Flaming bogeys? ...Can you do that?”
“Yes, I’m ashamed to say I can, but not tonight. Tonight you will breathe fire. Now concentrate. Some say anger is the wrong fuel for fire, but with what’s happened to you today, I feel it most appropriate we harness and direct that energy. You feel it in your gut, don’t you? That heat, that tightness?”
“But... I’ve never...”
“Take hold of your anger, young dragon; hold onto it. Keep it between your paws and feed it. Don’t hate, don’t rage, just feed that feeling. Let it boil up inside you, grow and swell. Breathe in through your nostrils, out through your maw, each breath feeding the fire, topping it up, like bellows. When you feel it will overflow, spill out of your ears, then push and breathe it out.”
Chip did as he was told. He felt that heat, it was like a golden burning light inside his stomach. The more he thought about the heat, the less he thought about Butch. The more he breathed, the clearer his head became. The light grew inside, warmth and heat, and he he felt ready.
He took a deep breath, and hissed and growled in a half-neigh.
“There! Perfect! I do believe I saw a whisp of smoke!”
Chip hiccuped. “W-what? Really?”
Sharptooth smiled and hugged his son. “No, but you believed, didn’t you? Just for a moment?”
“That’s what I wanted. Breathing fire isn’t all about the flames, little one, it is about self-control. Do you feel better? A little?”
“Good. We will continue our fire-breathing lessons another day. For now, I have another thing to teach you. I will teach you to bellow.”
“To bellow, to roar. A dragon without a roar is a very sad creature indeed. Each dragon has his or her own, and it may take you awhile to find one which suits you.”
“Is this like breathing fire?”
“Yes and no. Remember your gut? It holds all your powerful emotions. Anger and rage go into your gut; they knot it up with hatred. A dragon that cannot roar cannot let it all out, and he ties himself up with those knots. Take all your frustration, all your anger. Everyone has a little. Some have a lot. Remember, think, then feel. Then... roar.”
Sharptooth walked to the edge of the mountain and was silent a moment, head bowed, and then he seemed to inflate. He suddenly threw back his head on his long neck, and roared. The explosion of sound was followed by a red and white oily flame that speared skywards, echoing faintly from the far mountains and the valley.
Chip’s hair stood on end and his tail and ears flicked up to alertness. He found himself breathing heavily, shaking almost. The emerald-green dragon turned, eyes burning in the growing starlight, and all of a sudden the monster seemed to shrink back down into Sharptooth the amiable.
“That is a roar, young dragon. In battle, it can confuse your opponents, break their spirit and cause them to flee. It is your best, first weapon for defence and a core component in your arsenal. Now, you.”
Chip was led to the edge of the mountain. The sun had gone down; the sky was red. Chip looked out over unfamiliar terrain. That direction was scrubland, a few forests, deserts. It was a barren tundra until it met the endless ocean, far off in the distance. It made him feel lost, alone. He breathed in, and gave a half-hearted whinny.
“That is a good start, Son. Roars can serve many purposes. I... I admit to having an ulterior motive for teaching you to roar.”
“What?” asked Chip.
“Emotions for dragons, as they are for ponies, can often be fickle things. Hard to deal with. I have something to tell you, and I do not know a better way for you to process it.”
“It’s about my parents, isn’t it?” asked Chip, guessing.
The dragon nodded in the twilight. He twisted his claw, and with a burst of light a set of small scrolls appeared. The dragon put one down, and handed the other to Chip, solemnly. Chip took it in his muzzle, broke off the seal with his teeth and unrolled it. The dragon, using a little magic, summoned a mage-ball of light which illuminated the writing.
Chip scanned the page, quietly. It was all so... clinical. His parents had been visiting with some diamond dog dignitaries, as thought. They’d been in the mine, crossing from the old section to the new on the way back to the surface. Ironically, the new section had been the one to fail. There was hints of a gas explosion, sparks from some machinery... the investigation was still underway. The blast had been huge, the pit had collapsed. The diamond dogs, natural diggers, had excavated the section where his parents had been... and they had been found. All had died, diamond dogs and all. The concussion wave had most likely killed them; the falling rubble had finished the job. They would be buried with all due haste, once the investigation was finished. He, Chiphoof Irontail, had been proclaimed sole heir of the Neighvada Irontails through right of birth. He noted with idle amusement that his subsequent adoption had no impact on his inheritance.
He was alone.
They were gone.
Both of them.
His whole family; his whole world.
He stomped on the paper. He slammed his forehooves into it. He ripped and tore at it with his teeth and his hooves until it was nothing but shreds and then he fell to his knees and hocks and wept as the wind whisked the paper away silently and without fanfare.
A paw touched his withers. “Roar, young dragon.”
Chip sniffled. He got to his hooves. He walked to the edge of the mountain. He breathed deeply, and he roared.
His roar was from deep in his heart. It forced its way out of his lungs like an animal as it leaped for the infinite horizon. It sung of loss and pain, and loneliness. It echoed from the valley and it echoed from the far mountains as Equestria answered.
Sharptooth had put the colt to sleep in his room, again ensconced in the couch. He’d tucked the foal in securely and nuzzled him. Chip had still been crying softly as they’d come down from the mountain, but he’d gone to his room of his own volition.
Sharptooth eased himself into the weir, his own roar still playing on his mind. Pain never does leave, he mused, but it does lessen.
The door creaked open and a small figure dragging a blanket pitter-pattered across the hard-packed dirt floor.
“Can... can I still sleep with you, just for tonight?”
They curled up together in the weir. Sharptooth placed his wing protectively across the blanket-wrapped foal and nuzzled softly, but once again his son was already asleep.