Snorting with frustration, Solrathicharnon reached a talon into a bag that was barely large enough to contain it and jabbed at the first thing he found. He withdraw it and licked at it with his tongue to get a feel of the shape. It took a few seconds to realise it was an irregular shape like a cloud, he assumed it was the cutie mark of the unicorn known as Smoke. Given his blindness he’d never actually seen her but most of her kind ended up named after their marks, or visa versa. He gave a snort, it was as if life was trying to humiliate him as much as possible, not only requiring him to actually give something away - give something of his away - but to give it to the weakest possible creature as well!
The eldest dragon in the world only barely made a show of waiting for Celestia to dismiss her court before tromping off, smoke billowing from his nostrils and mouth as he exited the palace and let himself fall from one of the bridges that suspended it over the burning caldera and down into the magma below. He hit the liquid rock with a solid smack, but he scales were thick and the flesh beneath them tough from over a millennia of life. He was utterly unharmed save for the slightest of stings.
Solrathicharnon, as he swam beneath the magma, gave serious thought to simply blowing off this entire endeavour. Celestia would probably be furious, but he doubted that she could become so furious as to do anything to him. She may have even expected it. However, he swiftly dismissed the idea. All of this, everything he was doing, was part of his plan to take revenge on Luna, to make her pay for what she did to him nearly a thousand years ago. But he was no match for Luna in battle. He needed Celestia, needed the strength of another alicorn to clear the way for him, distract Luna long enough. That would mean remaining, if not necessarily on Celestia’s good side, then at least adjacent to it.
Which meant that he needed to get a present. A real present.
Solrathicharnon followed familiar currents of magma through great tunnels that he had dug himself beneath the volcano, half-swimming, half-climbing his way to a large, empty chamber on the volcano’s side, a cave with no exit to the surface but which was free of magma. There was no air, but dragons didn’t need to breathe so that wasn’t an impediment, and he’d build up a travel horde for himself within the chamber, carefully carrying stolen loot of a thousand and more years here, shielded from the heat of the magma within his mouth or beneath his heart-scale. He had another horde elsewhere, of course, his true horde buried deep where no creature would ever find it, but for the moment this meagre pittance was enough for him to sleep easily.
And he would have to give some of it away. A low rumble escaped Solrathicharnon’s throat, He could account for every single piece of gold, every single gemstone, every piece of art that had once belonged to some other creature but was now his. He instinctively knew where everything was, could reach out with a claw and pick up a single specific coin if he wanted and find it exactly where it was supposed to be. Even blind as he was, nothing was unaccounted for.
Solrathicharnon knew that he was in many ways different from other dragons, but he was still a dragon. He reached out and plucked a small fortune of gold coins from one treasure pile, feeling the metal upon the thinner scales of his hands. He held eighty-seven coins from a collection of over a thousand that had been first minted six hundred eighty-four years ago in the kingdom of Heststed. He’d attacked the convoy carrying the newly minted coins and made off with his prize. These were among the last coins minted on the continent that were pure gold; not long after the various nations had begun to debase their coins with lesser metals in order to allow them to mint more.
No. There was no way he would ruin his collection and give these away. Solrathicharnon set them down, and felt out another treasure. His hand closed on a statue of silver and pewter but laced through with filigree of platinum that his claw traced along. This was a pony, a statue of the Zaldian prince Iheskorra, a unicorn and the second husband of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza of Cavallia. Iheskorra had disowned himself from his family and his nation, an ancient rival of Cavallia, to be with Cadenza. The statue had been intended as a gift to Zaldia from Cadenza, a peace offering to Iheskorra’s sister Queen Bitxikeria. But the statue had never made it to its destination. Solrathicharnon had fallen upon the pegasi transporting it, taken it and fled with it. The Cavallians had pursued him for years before giving up - proof of its value, that it was worth taking.
No. Solrath tapped a claw against the tip of the statue’s horn. There was no way that he could surrender this, either. He considered a mound of gemstones, pushed his maw into it and felt their edges against his muzzle, but banished the thought the moment their scent and taste reached him. No, these were his as well, his to do with has he pleased, and it did not please him to see Smoke get any of them.
Another rumble escaped his maw. Everything here was too much to give away! Too much value, too much effort to have acquired, too much his and his alone. Solrathicharnon would not part with a single sliver of any of his treasure! But what did Celestia expect him to do, fly into a town and just steal something? He had no objections in principle, of course, but he somehow doubted that Celestia would care much for such an action. She styled herself as a protector of ponies and would not look kindly on such actions while he was part of her court.
Solrathcharnon stuffed a small collection of gems into his mouth, chewing on them. He would not give up anything that was his...and he couldn’t exactly go shopping. And wouldn’t even if he could have. But perhaps he could find something else, something he could pass off as a gift to Smoke, close enough to it to placate Celestia but which wouldn't be too much effort to acquire. After all, if he had to work to acquire the thing, then it should be his.
He paused as he chewed on the gems. His tongue glided over the fragments in his mouth. The depths of the Earth were positively lousy with gemstones, and not all of them were actually tasty to eat even if they had a lustre that would please a pony eye. Surely Celestia couldn’t complain if Smoke was given a gift of a gemstone? Ponies wore jewellery all the time.
Solrathicharnon swallowed, then turned and headed back to the magma pool, slipping once more into the liquid walk and swimming/crawling through the tunnel. Once he emerged from the tunnel, however, he went down, not up, deeper into the magma.
There had to be a worthless gemstone somewhere nearby…
There was absolutely no way to articulate the draconic ability to navigate while swimming through magma. Certainly the stunted Draconic language had no real words for something that dragons just did, and few other creatures were capable of exploring the depths of the Earth, the crushing pressure of liquefied rock all around them, and so had no words to express it. It wasn’t sight, since even if Solrathicharnon wasn’t blind there was no way to see through rock, liquid or not. It wasn’t navigation by scent, or hearing, or electric impulses. Dragons simply could navigate, sense their surroundings, know what was near to them when they were surrounded on all sides by magma.
Even calling what dragons did swimming wasn’t quite right, as even the hottest magma was still a thick morass; it was more akin to a mix of shimmying and dragging, wings and claws almost grabbing the magma in front of the dragon and pulling them forward. And even for a dragon as mighty as Solrathciharnon, it was slow going.
Gemstones floated within the morass of magma, often gathering together into what amounted to giant geodes, solid outer shells that resisted the intense heat and which could be cracked open to expose the interiors. The smallest of these were no bigger than a pony’s hoof, while the largest that Solrathicharnon had ever found was a thousand feet across and, when dug through, had revealed an entire cavern comprised of rubies. It had taken him decades to eat the contents.
It took hours of crawl-swimming through the magma before he finally found what he was looking for, a gemstone nearly as large as a pony that was smooth to the touch, but which had no taste whatsoever. Quartz, most likely; edible in the same way that a plain cracker was edible to a pony. Solrathicharnon grabbed it with his mouth, then began the laborious process of navigating back to his lair. Hours more were spent on the effort of getting back to his lair.
Still, at least it was done. He could just hand over the giant quartz to Smoke...and then no doubt have to deal with Celestia complaining, growing angry, calling the gift “lazy”. Kindle probably too, since he would parrot anything that the alicorn said. The jinn Yangin would no doubt join in on the snark. Solrathicharnon couldn’t believe that he was finding himself missing when Zecora was his only company in Celestia’s volcano palace; the zebra was just as deferential and sycophantic as the rest of Celestia’s minions, but at least she didn’t talk as much.
Growling once more, Solrathicharnon considered. He had the giant quartz and wasn’t going to go and get another, or find something else. This would be his gift, or nothing at all. But how to make it seem like a worthwhile gift…
Ah, of course. The same way that ponies added value to lumps of metal and pieces of rock to begin with. The same reason why the statue that he had stolen from Cavallia was worth more than its weight in simple pewter and silver and platinum. He’d carve it into something. It would have to be something simple or something abstract, given that his blind eyes wouldn’t let him see what he was doing, but surely he could produce something worthwhile.
Grunting, Solrathicharnon flexed his claws, then got to work. What would a pony like Smoke care about, while Solrathicharnon would place no value in it whatsoever? Well, of course, any thought about Smoke invariably led to also thinking about her would-be mate Kindle, so by the time his claws started carving off layers of the quartz, he already had an answer.
Not that Solrathicharnon had any idea where Smoke would put what would probably end up being a three-foot tall statue of a heart, but it really didn’t matter to him. He was going to give a gift and get this inanity out of the way, and then get back to doing something useful, like meditating upon his hatred of Luna.