• Published 2nd Aug 2013
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Rise of the Dragonking - Scarheart



The era for peace is over. Despite the best efforts of the Alicorns, an ancient enemy has returned to resume a war forgotten by even Princess Celestia. A world is plunged into darkness. Old foes must become allies if they are to survive.

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RotDK Chapter 1: Eye of the Scar

Book One of the Prince of the Changelings
Rise of the Dragonking

Zekk the Diamond Dog worked with his pick furiously at the stone, the sweat of his day's labor mixing with the grime and dirt caking his brown fur. His yellow eyes were well suited for working in low light environments, so having just one lone lamp was enough for him to see what he was doing. This was a new section of tunnel and his pack leader had assigned him to search for gems there.

He ran the back of his furry hand across his pug face, his ragged sleeve catching on one of his fangs jutting up from his lower jaw. Zekk took a moment to unhinge the wool, grumbling irritably until it was free. Casting a suspicious glance over his shoulder, he checked to see if anyone had seen him get caught up on his teeth again. Of course he was alone, but he always had the sensation he was being watched. He was born nervous, grew up nervous, and was now a nervous adult who preferred to work alone.

Satisfied there was no strings in his mouth, he switched his pickaxe to his other hand and wiped his other arm across his face and promptly did the same thing. "Stupid sleeves," he muttered as he spat.

Back to work. Dig, dig, dig! So far this day, he had found nothing, but his instincts told him to keep going, to keep picking. If there was one thing he was really good at compared to his bretheren, it was finding gems and gold and silver. Diamond dog society was centered around collecting gems for trade with the other races. Especially ponies. There were sometimes the occasional dragon client, but they were fairly unreliable as they had a tendancy to just take what they wanted when it came to hoarding. Not only were they greedy, they had little tolerance for neighbors of any kind. They barely tolerated each other save during the migrations.

After several hours, Zekk still found nothing. After a poor attempt at a mental calculation (he admittedly was not very bright), he decided to let his stomach determine what time it was. Time for lunch! Rooting his food out from his pack, he found a rock and plunked down on it. He had a sandwich his mother had made for him and munched while staring at the section of the tunnel he was working on. He did not mind coming up empty, but he was beginning to think his natural instinct for finding gems was failing him in a way he simply did not understand. Still, that sense was telling him to keep doing what he had been doing. Having belief in his gem finding skills, Zekk finished his lunch quickly, loudly, and none too cleanly. With a belch he rubbed his hands together and set back to work.

He sang an old song that had been passed down from his family for generations.

Digging for a ruby, ho!
Where the gems? We don't know!
Dig 'em up, haul 'em out!
Shiny to find and shout!
Digging for sapphires, ho!
Where the gems? We don't know!
Dig 'em up, haul 'em out!
Shiny to find and shout!
Digging for diamonds, ho!
Where the gems? We don't know!
Dig 'em up, haul 'em out!
Shiny to find and shout!
Zekk gonna find the goodies
Zekk gonna dig dig dig dig
Zekk gonna find the shinies
Zekk gonna find 'em big big big!
Dig 'em up, haul 'em out!
Shiny to find and shout!

Somewhere back from where he came he could hear someone yell at him to shut up and stop singing. It was echoed by a lot of other diamond dogs who heard it. There was even howling. Outright threats to his personal health were made. Zekk had never claimed to be a good singer, but it irritated him his pack would not know a good song if it bit them on the nose! He snorted, went back to work, and sang his favorite song under his breath, adding a few choice words at his critics between verses.

Zekk's pick broke through into a hidden tunnel. Surprised at this, the diamond dog first looked at his tool to see if it was somehow responsible for this. He then dug the hole a little bit bigger and set his tool aside. He bent to one side and picked up his lamp and held it out into the hole, his head following his outstretched arm. It was a bit of a tight sqeeze, but Zekk managed to get enough of his body through so his upper torso past the shoulders dangled from the hole he had dug.

He realized this was not another tunnel. The cave was vast, its ceiling stretching up into the darkness hiding behind stalactites. The insignifcant lamp was a dot in a stretch of pitch black feeling as though it went on forever. Slowly the diamond dog waved his lamp from one side to the other, trying to catch something beyond the range of his little light.

"Big cave," he observed sagely, wondering if he should pull himself forward or back up or something, because he was really getting uncomfortable in this position. Zekk decided to go forward after several minutes of debating with himself (and losing), falling instead of the old adage of what would his mother want him to do. A warm wind kissed his face as he made up his mind.

With a few grunts and some flailing, Zekk managed to fall unceremoniously on to the floor of this new cave, landing on top of his head and promptly biting his tongue for his efforts. His lamp clattered away from his grip forward, but managed to remain lit. It sounded very loud. As it bounced down a slight slope, Zekk closed his eyes and waited for his lamp to stop bouncing away. When it did stop, he cracked on eye open, then the other before righting himself with a flop over to one side. Rubbing his sore head as he stood, Zekk grumbled to himself and shuffled towards his lamp.

As he drew closer to it, his beady eyes caught sight of something glinting just beyond the edge of the light on the other side. Zekk bent and scooped up his lamp, raising his arm over his head and peering intently. His instincts were telling him he had hit the Mother of All Loads. Suddenly he burst forward as fast as his legs could carry him, his eyes growing larger and larger as he realized what he had found had just effectively established his family for life. Before him lay the largest pile of gold and gems and treasures he had ever seen. A low hissing wind washed warm air over him. It smelled of sulphur, but he reasoned it had to be due to the volcanos in this mountain range. Diamond dogs knew where the fissures and vents for the toxic gasses were, but this was a new one. It was a new cave, after all.

The register never did occur in his tiny little brain as his greed easily overtook what little common sense he had. He was rummaging through the treasure, filling his pockets, squealing with giddy delight at his fantastic discovery. Of course, he could not tell his leader about this nor anyone else! How was he going to sneak these treasures past them?

Zekk was busy pondering over what to put in his pockets already overflowing with loot to notice behind him a very long thin red line come to life like coals being stoked. It paused for a moment as an ear focused on the noise somewhere to the front and to the left. Slowly, ever so slowly the ember slit grew wider and wider, the flames within growing brighter and brighter. A verticle slit widened, narrowed, lifted up and down before the pupil zeroed in on the diamond dog. Zekk was still oblivious as the eye maintained a lock on him and began to rise from within a great black shadow. Higher and higher it rose behind the greedy little creature, considering him at first with some curiosity and marveling at the lack of awareness. This suddenly became amusing as the great skull came to rest on a clawed fist while Zekk would empty his pockets for shiny treasure only to empty them when he found something more appealing to replace them with.

There was only one eye in the skull of the great black dragon Flamespyre. His massive form was lost deep within the darkness and the little lamp was not near enough to catch any of his ebon scales and their glossy glint. Over his socket where the right eye had once been was three very deep and very old wounds long since healed into jagged scars. It always throbbed, even while the dragon slept. The legacy still sang to him and had started pulling from his long sleep even before Zekk had stumbled into the lair. The diamond dog has quickened the awakening. Flamespyre set the calling song to the back of his mind and focused on his unwelcome guest. The dragon's tapered snout exhaled a deliberate blast of hot breath at the diamond dog to see just how oblivious it was.

Zekk straightened, the hairs on the back of his neck standing straight up (and a bit singed) from the hot air rolling over him. His mouth hung open for a moment as a dreadful feeling washed over him. He slowly turned, his lamp leading the way. Not seeing anything at first, he did notice everything seemed to have a bit of a red glow to it. Glaring suspiciously at his lamp, he shook it a couple of times to make sure it wasn't broken. His observer went unnoticed.

The dragon rolled his one eye and covered it with a claw, wanting to both laugh and pity the stupid thing. In his younger days, he would have certainly devoured the intruder right there on the spot, but he sensed he had been asleep for a very long time indeed. He shifted his mass to a sitting position as silently as possible. Remarkably enough, the dragon was pleased to discover he was capable of being nimble still after...how many years was it?

Zekk jumped when he heard some of the treasure move where he had been facing. Thinking some of his pack had found him, he called out, "Go away! There no treasure here!" Mine! All mine you fools!

"None belonging to you, to be certain," corrected a rumbling voice...above?

Zekk's head tilted back...and back...and back, his jaw hanging lower...and lower...and lower. Then he saw the unmistakable eye of a dragon. A very large dragon who was so large his body was still hidden by the natural darkness. The diamond dog's eyes bulged unnaturally and he immediately began flinging things from his pockets.

"Zekk sorry! Zekk not know this dragon treasure! No eat Zekk!" he blubbered. "Me no has gems of nice dragon. See?" Pockets were physically turned inside out as proof. The poor creature was shaking from fear, his features pale as a ghost.

"I will not eat you, Zekk," said the dragon. "One moment, if you please." He recalled a spell and focused it on a nearby stalactite. With a thought and a bit of focus, it blazed with a soft light. The dragon repeated the spell on another one a hundred feet away.

Zekk shielded his eyes from the light. It was almost as intense as sunlight. While not overly fond of bright lights, the diamond dog was not about to complain given the circumstances. Maybe the dragon wanted to eat him with light. Maybe he wanted to watch as he tore his victim apart with his bare claws. Black dragons were evil, weren't they? Well, all dragons were greedy, chaotic, and usually not the most sociable of creatures.

"A bit much for you? Let me fix that," said the dragon as he went about making his light spell not quite so bright. Having done just that, the lone burning eye flickered

Flamespyre was not large for an adult dragon, at least not when compared to dragons of younger generations. As he could not tell how long he had been asleep, it was difficult to determine his age, though the term 'venerable' said to his face might illicit an unkind glare or a likewise witty retort. Dragons could sleep for centuries, or even a thousand years or longer. Age meant nothing to them as it was just another number to add to their considerable life spans. He was already old when he had first gone to sleep, the treasure of his horde an accumulation starting as sheer greed early in his life.

Among the first things he hoarded was a simple book. Being an unusual dragon in regards to dragon habits and tendancies, he found his hunger for knowledge burying his inborn greed. In a sense, his love to learn pushed his greed to the wayside and he learned to control it. This still did not prevent him from amassing what he had and he did jealously guard it in those years past. Now when he had just moments ago watched Zekk pilfering through his hard earned treasure, he was not angry. Irritated at being awaken, yes. He had even considered for the briefest of moments, but there were many questions he wanted answered. Besides, if this one who called himself Zekk could run a few errands for him, it might buy a few more days for snoozing.

"What year is it?" Flamespyre asked Zekk. "I have been asleep for a very long time."

The diamond dog thought for a moment, his mental calander not exactly organized. He brightened and nervously told the dragon the year. He thought more, forgetting what month it was. June? "It's Tuesday," he added as an afterthought, but with a confident nod. "Zekk's supposed to be digging here all day today. Zekk not know about cave and nice dragon and pretty shinies and gems."

"Heavens, I've slept through at least an era," groaned Flamespyre. He rose to his claws and shook himself. Treasure that had wedged between his scales flew in every direction. Those great bat wings of his stretched out, joints and sinew protesting while great muscles rippled beneath armored scale and thick skin. "Are you sure it is June?" he asked Zekk.

"Zekk been underground for months," replied the diamond dog with a nervous shrug. Was the dragon going to eat him? "Not really matter when digging under earth."

"Zekk," the dragon said after noting the diamond dog was still terrified of him. "I am not going to eat you. I am not going to smash you, squish, eviscerate, lacerate, decapitate, or defenstrate you. My name is Flamespyre Battlesinger, but you may call me Scareye, or just Flame for short. I'm interested in making friends and learning about what has changed in this world." He spoke patiently and gently with Zekk.

Zekk stared at him. Zekk blinked. Zekk tilted his head to one side, confused. "What mean 'defenstrate'?"

"It's the act of throwing someone or something out of a window high off the ground," replied the dragon, somewhat amused.

This confused the diamond dog even more. "Why would dragon Scareye want throw poor Zekk out window? Dragon that mad at Zekk to want find window and throw out?"

Surely he could not be this dense! Flamespyre rubbed his temple again. "No, no, no. Nothing like that. I only wanted you to know I will not hurt you. I am your friend. Friends do not eat friends. Do you understand?" he spoke the last two sentences deliberately, slowing down his speech.

It sank through. Zekk bobbed his head eagerly, relief clearly etched on his canine features. "Yes! Zekk and dragon Flamespyre friends! Friends good! What can Zekk do for friend?" he rubbed his hands together. Perhaps he might get something for helping? A gem, perhaps? A nice big shiny one to make his leader shut up.

"What is the nearest town from here?" the dragon asked as he tapped a claw on his chin thoughtfully. "And where might it be located?"

Zekk thought, scratching the top of his dead with a dirty claw of his own. "Hm. Zekk think it Ponyville. Not far. Maybe two, three days."

"Ponyville?" asked Flamespyre curiously. He looked around at the mounds of treasure and furrowed his brow. Given the centuries he had slept, it was not surprising his books were more than likey buried under most of it. Still, he knew exactly what he wanted and sent out a searching spell. Once located, a map appeared hovering in front of him. It was ancient, but magic had preserved it. Scarheart carefully unfurled it and rolled it before the diamond dog so Zekk could see it. "Show me where, please." Ponyville?

Zekk knew maps. He had dozens of them in his pack back in the mining tunnel. This one was beautiful to behold. The pictures upon it moved and he could see the waters of the lakes and rivers flow and lap against shore and stone. Mountain ranges bore clouds to conceal their peaks and mist settled in forested valleys. "Zekk no ever see map like this before," he admitted with wistful words. "Very pretty. How you get this map?"

"I made it," said the dragon with a touch of pride. Flamespyre shook the map gently. "Ponyville. If you would be so kind as to point out its general area, I will be able to do the rest."

"What would dragon Scareye give Zekk for place on map?" asked the diamond dog shrewdly. "Information not cheap."

The dragon smiled. "Indeed it is not." His single eye gazed over his great horde. For a brief moment he was in conflict with his natural desire to not want to give anything to anyone and keep everything for himself, but he then smiled at Zekk and said, "You may fill your pockets with whatever you can carry. After that, you must promise me you will leave and never return to my lair ever again."

Zekk's eyes went round. He could not believe his good fortune. "Promise?" he asked warily. His greedy eyes kept going to the map as well as the treasure he was imagining in his pockets already.

The dragon held up his right claw. "I solomnly swear on my one remaining good eye." The crimson life within the socket flared around the widened pupil. "Will you show me where Ponyville is?" he asked as deep within his chest came a rumble. The diamond dog had a more than generous offer and was not about to be given more. Flamespyre smiled, revealing his great fangs, some as long as Zekk's arms.

Zekk got the point. "Here," he said in a hurried squeak, looking at the map and pointing with a claw on a spot. He tapped the enchanted parchment rapidly. "Ponyville here. Look for castle in side of mountain. Alicorn princesses live there. Very pretty! Zekk never see them before, but Zekk told they are more beautiful than gems. Zekk find that hard to believe. Zekk love gems more than ponies with wings and horns." He spoke rapidly, knowing he had come dangerously close to killing the deal and perhaps himself.

Flamespyre snatched the map away from the diamond dog's frantic tapping and examined the spot worriedly. Thankfully the magic deflected such little abuses, as it was intended, but the dragon still worried. "Alicorns, you say?" This could be a problem. He could understand ponies finally discovering fire and establishing a civilization, but alicorns as he remembered were less than forgiving to dragons like himself.

Zekk was looking at him expectantly. "Zekk get gems now?" he asked hopefully.

"I'm a dragon of my word," Flamespyre said. He swept a claw over his horde. "Take as much as your pockets can hold. If you see any books or scrolls, you are not to have them. They are my most prized possessions. Understood?" Dragon generosity was unheard of to this degree, but Flamespyre's magic was already beginning to work it's way into the diamond dog's heart and mind for future use. There was a long way to go to reach the goal in mind.

Zekk nodded eagerly and promptly began to fill his pockets, his mind already planning a dozen more trips once the dragon was gone. At least he hoped the dragon was leaving. This was starting to become a dilemma for the diamond dog. What if the dragon was only trying to trick him and would lie in wait? Dragons never left their treasure horde unguarded. It was unheard of. As he pondered this, his head began to hurt and he almost forgot to keep packing his pockets with his payment until the dragon politely reminded him with a cloud of smoke from his nostrils to hurry up. More fur was singed in the process and Zekk found the motivation to do just that.

Flamespyre escorted his small guest to the hold in his wall and gave him a helpful push through it when Zekk became stuck as he did when he first entered the lair. Zekk heard the dragon ask if he was unharmed and did not answer for a while as he was busy gathering up the treasure that had fallen out of his clothing. The dragon's voice repeated the question a bit more forcibly, which made Zekk jump and yelp. The voices from his pack members once again yelled from down the tunnel for him to stop singing and that it was, if possible, worse than the singing he had been doing earlier.

"Yes! Yes! Zekk fine!" snapped the diamond dog as he threw ugly glares down the tunnel and then back at the hole where a massive red glowing eye was staring in expectantly.

"Excellent." The red glow intensified and Zekk found himself staring, his body suddenly going slack. It changed to a swirling green, reflecting in the diamond dog's eyes until they turned the same color. "Now, fill in the hole. Once you have done this, you will never have any memory of our meeting. You will tell the others there is a fissure here and not to dig here. Too dangerous for mining operations. If you understand my instructions perfectly, please repeat them to me." Unseen and unfelt was the plant deep within the mind of the diamond dog to come at the dragon's bidding should Flamespyre demand it. There would be a price to pay yet for trespassing in a dragon's lair.

Zekk did so, obeying the commands as if they were his own thoughts. He whistled merrily, worked tirelessly, and even double checked to make sure he was filling the hole properly (he had previously never double checked his work ever before in his life). Once that was done, the magic in his eyes flared brightly for a moment, then disappeared. The diamond dog was then staring at a tunnel wall. His mind registered his nostrils picking up the smell of sulphur.

Satisfied his magic had done its job and that he still had the right touch for manipulating minds (albeit a simple one), Flamespyre surveyed his lair, digging up a ruby between two claws and turning it over slowly. The map floated before him and unfurled until it was flat and at an angle easy for him to read. Into his mouth went the gem, glinting in the light of his magic infused stalactites. He chewed on it a couple of times, wondering how much the world had changed. How many years again? Why was the legacy calling to him now? Was it time? He had never anticipated sleeping this long. Something terrible must have happened. So much history missed! The legacy should still be sleeping. The map had shown him something else, yet being this far beneath the earth obscured the reading.

"Pity," he sighed as he rolled up the map. A rolled up end tapped against his bearded chin as a pile of gold not far from where he sat shifted. Snoozing would have to be set aside. He was wide awake now. Zekk would have been a poor choice to use for gathering information. True, he was simple minded, but the dragon felt some instructions would have gone over as well with him as oil and water.

He raised his tail over the moving mount of treasure and held it for a moment while he munched on a couple more gems. "Wake up," he said after swallowing the last bite.

The sound of gold coins rolling down a slope of various treasures filled his ears as a wing rolled up from beneath it. It was red with charcoal gray tips and stretched up into the air. A groan accompanied a scaly head of a smaller dragon poking from the treasure. A golden eye opened and blearily blinked in the light. A yawn followed, the wing folded, and the head disappeared beneath the treasure bed. He did not know of the legacy. Nor would he until it was rightfully where it belonged.

"Last warning," Flamespyre said with a smile as he chuckled without humor.

Incomprehensible mumbling drifted up, a dark red clawed forearm emerging and waving for the black dragon to go away. With a slight shrug, the dragon brought his tail down forcefully, sending a spray of gems and gold flying everywhere. The target upon which it fell yelped, a crimson tail with a charcoal gray tip flopped up as well as a sputtering young face of an outraged dragon. His large golden eyes were wide from the rude awakening.

"Poppa!" he whined and started rubbing the sleep from his face. The sleep had not aged him. He was still the same as he was before he went to sleep. Only a third the size of his much older sire, he was still a formidable sight. Scarheart Battlesinger was almost a perfect copy of his father in terms of body shape. The rest of him took after his mother. She was no longer with them. The young dragon shook himself free of anything that might have gotten stuck under his scales like a dog might do after emerging from a swim.

"Did you sleep through my conversation with the diamond dog, my son?" asked the black dragon as his eye swirled with amusement. He tucked his map beneath the fold of one of his wings. The amusement faded as he was reminded of whom his son took after. Pity the price she had paid had been for nothing.

The smaller dragon was digging a golden statue from his ear, tilting his head to one side as he looked at his father. "I caught a little bit of it. Was trying to sleep." He finally fished it out and examined it before setting it down carefully. "Ponyville?" he asked without much enthusiasm. Flamespyre was still groggy and was idly popping gems into his mouth as his stomach started rumbling. "Sounds exciting," came the groan.

"We missed a great deal of the world while we slept. I'd like to know what."

His son smacked his mouth as he scratched an itch under an arm pit. "Eh, kingdoms falling, kingdoms rising, war, more war, followed by unsustainable moments of peace," he said through a mouthful of gems. "History never changes, Poppa."

"We're going to this Ponyville," stated Scarheart firmly. "What I need lies near there."

"But Poppa!" Flamespyre yawned out the last word.

"Don't you 'but Poppa' me, young drake. I didn't raise you to sleep your life away. You've already done that by leaps and bounds!" Scarheart went to his son and hooked a forearm over his neck. "We can't do that. There's a world out there just begging to be explored. There are races to learn from! New things to see! You're young and you should be enjoying these experiences." He began dragging his offspring forward. "Come. Let us see the skies with our own eyes. Let's see if we have a moon or a sun above us."

"All right, Poppa. I'll humor you," said Scarheart with a grin. He was still sleepy and dragged his feet through the dragon hoard as he let his father lead him. "Shouldn't we be looking for other dragons?"

"If I know our own species," Flamespyre said as they began working their way up the main passage leading outside, "They are unchanged and have completely forgotten how to use magic and have adopted their more primal natures. I fear they have regressed." He slid around a boulder he clearly had not placed in the middle of the tunnel. Peering up, he saw the signs of an old cave in, his magical enchantments having enough to keep the whole thing from collapsing. "Bollocks," he grumped at the damage. Using his front claws, he crushed the limestone easily until the passage was more managable to traverse.

"Regressed? You mean remained free," Scarheart helped move some of the rock aside. "A happy dragon is a free dragon."

"I won't argue that," agreed his father as they continued upward. "But a simple minded dragon relying far too much on instinct forgets all about the pursuit of knowledge. Why do you think I insisted you learn magic?" A happy dragon was a dragon empowered with magic, he thought to himself.

His son sighed, recollecting the memory with sadness. "Mother's wish."

"As well as my own," added the black dragon, his eye flickering back to the smaller dragon. "We want you to always know a dragon's true potential by exploring the possibilities most other dragons would not consider. Take into account shape shifting. How many species are capable of that sort of magic?"

"Changelings," Scarheart replied automatically. "And I think Alicorns, too."

"Tsk, tsk," his father said as they came to a wall. "Unicorns, too. There are plenty of other creatures who can do it, but it all comes down to how well you can learn and control the magic required to sustain and hold a form that is not your own for an extended period of time." Scareye sat on his haunches, studying the rock thoughtfully. "Now where did I put the latch?"

"Lower left beneath the granite rock shaped like a sitting unicorn. You remember? The one that looks like half its horn was broken off," reminded Scarheart as he reached past his father and pointed with a claw. "Here, I'll get it!" He did so, his claw touching a lever hidden beneath the stone formation he had mentioned. There was an audible click and the magic took care of the rest. There was a rumbling sound, the rock split in two and slid apart. Flamespyre was bathed in sunlight as he stepped outside. Scarheart followed with a hop in his step.

Spreading his wings into the sun, the black dragon smiled and closed his one eye. "Oh, my to feel that sun. Wonderful! Simply wonderful!"

Scarheart strode next to him, imitating his father's stance. He grinned openly at the feeling, smelling the fresh air, hearing the birds. Without thinking, he unleashed the loudest and longest roar he could, sharing his joy with the world and everything within a twenty mile radius. He repeated that roar, and was joined by his laughing father. Both dragons echoed their voices, trumpeting their triumphant return to a world that had fogotten their kind. The very mountain shook from the weight of the echoes, the valley below felt as though it held every collective breath of every living being within it. The family name of Battlesinger was well-earned.

Flamespyre lifted off, testing his wings for the first time in, well ever. "Which way, Poppa?" he asked as he touched down and bounced from one rear leg to the other.

"One moment," Flamespyre said with a grin. "I couldn't get you out of bed a moment ago. Now you've got energy to spare." He pulled out his map from his wing and unfurled it. "Let's give the map a chance to feel the earth and adjust to any changes that might have happened." He almost immediately saw something he had been hoping for. Could it still exist?

Scarheart stopped what he was doing and padded over next to his father. He wanted to see the changes happen as much as his father and peered over his father's left forearm. Having only heard his father describe how the map worked, this was going to be a highlight to the day indeed.

"Son?" Flamespyre asked, his eye blinking.

"Yes?"

"Go close the front door. You opened it. You go lock it."

"But-"

"The map's not going anywhere, my drake." The black dragon tossed his snout towards the opening and shooed Scarheart to close the lair entrance. "You DO remember how to close the entrance, don't you?"

"Yes, Poppa I remember," grumbled the red dragon. Scarheart wanted to watch the map change. It just wasn't fair! Still, the rules were the rules. If you were the one who opened the lair, then you had to be the one to close it. Sitting before the entrance, he curled his tail around his feet as he crossed his forearms over his chest. "To close the door, look to the floor, seek the fire's score. Close the eyes, look to the skies, as a dragon flies," he recited the words of magic, placing a claw over a burnt out blackened stone at the base of the wall. As he did this, he closed his eyes and turned his snout skyward and spread his wings, beating the air with measured and powerful strokes. The magic took hold and accepted the ritual, starting the stones to close together.

"Well done!" praised Flamespyre with a proud grin. He waved the back of a claw over the map as if wiping away something.

"I feel stupid doing it," snorted Scarheart sourly. "Like I'm a hatchling again."

"Bah! Nonesense. Some day all of this will be yours. Everything in that lair is my legacy to you. You're the only other dragon other than me who knows how to get in." The black dragon motioned his son over. "Come, the map is starting to change."

Scarheart eagerly rejoined his father after making sure the lair was sealed. Adjusting his wings, he arched his neck to see around his father. Scarheart laid the map on the ground, using stones on the corners to prevent the wind from blowing it away. The images fluxuated, blurred, then flattened as the paper began to glow a light blue.

"Show me where we are now," commanded the one eyed dragon to the map. The map blurred as if thinking, then flared a white-hot mark like hot metal writing on the side of a mountain range. The mark turned to a reddish brown, mimicking old ink. A small scribble next to the mark informed them who was at that spot. In this case, the names of both dragons appeared in draconic script the same way the mark had appeared. The map held those marking for a moment while the landscape beneath adjusted from what it once was long ago to what it was now.

"A few minor changes," observed Flamespyre mildly. He spoke again to the enchanted map. "Show me Ponyville." The map paused with its realistic depictions and flattened the images, then seemed to move as the ground does when a dragon flies over it. It slowed, then stopped, a new mark appearing. The name appeared as well in the ancient language of the dragons. The map then made a query where the map legend was kept. "Yes please, I would like the distance between here and there," replied the dragon.

Shifting is view, the map seemed to pull away from the land, going up like a climbing hawk into the air until both marks could be seen at the same time. Weather patterns, the jet stream, barometric pressure, and humidity were taken into account for planning the route, as were a hundred other minor details. One could take the map and either plan for flying or walking to find the best route possible. There was good reason for Scarheart to take particular pride in this magical invention of his. It had taken him over a hundred years to get the map to do what he needed it to do. To that extent, it worked beautifully, as intended, and even offered some pleasant surprises. Paths to a forgotten powers. Reconnections to glory.

It was the perfect map.

"We can be there in less than two days if we take our time," announced the black dragon, quite pleased with Zekk's assessment. The diamond dog was only off by about ten miles when he had first poked at the map with his finger. "If we go east for a day then angle northeast the rest of the way, it should be fairly easy and we won't have to contend with mountain ranges."

"Have we figured what time it is now?" Scarheart looked at the sun's angle in the sky. "Would you say a little past half the day gone?"

Flamespyre squinted, using a foreclaw to shield his eye. "I believe so."

"So roughly mid-morning the day after tomorrow?"

"If we take our time. We could race it and get there by tonight." Scarheart was grinning.

"Not so fast, Scar." The elder dragon held up a claw. "There are some things you and I need to plan for. The last thing we're going to do is run headlong into something we are not prepared for. We need to find out if we'll even be accepted as we are now." He had doubts, but an idea was already in its infancy in his mind. Time and thinking would create for him something to work with.

"What have you in mind, Poppa?"

"Well, first of all," the dragon said abashed. "I don't know much about ponies, I'm afraid. It would appear they becams civilized while we were sleeping. Alicorns, however, I'm a bit more familiar with, as you should be as well." Flamespyre lied, knowing full well about ponies and their accursed Alicorn rulers.

Scarheart frowned, his mood deflated a bit. "Oh. I suppose they would be around still, wouldn't they? Do you think they've changed since...then?"

The black dragon shook his head. "I don't know. We will need to find out." It was so easy to tell him anything and be believed. Children could be so gullible. "Don't ever underestimate what you cannot understand. Perhaps being one will give you an understanding of what it is like to live as one. Not only will you appreciate them, but perhaps you will gain an insight to yourself." He poked a claw at the young dragon's chest, knocking him back slighty and offering a knowing smile. Little naive idiot.

"A life lesson?"

"Every day is a lesson," the black dragon said philosophically. His eyes drifted towards where the cave entrance had been. "Well," he added. "At least when you're awake to experience it."

"All right," Scarheart said. "Your way it is, Poppa. Just one thing?"

"Yes?" asked his father.

"What does a pony look like?"

Flamespyre hissed a sharp intake of breath and rubbed the back of his neck. "Ah, you have never seen one, have you?"

"No, Poppa, I have not."

"Fair enough. We'll start with illusions. I'll have to go research a few spells, look up pony anatomy, study bone structures." Flamespyre was ticking off his list on his claws. "So much to do!"

"Can't we just watch them as birds for a bit?" suggested Flamespyre.

The one eyed dragon caught himself and started chuckling. "That's actually a brilliant idea. Observe before we actually observe, eh?" His red eye rolled up into its socket as he said to himself, "It must be my age getting to me. Keep it simple, keep it easy. No overthinking." Birds? Seriously? There was too much of the young drake's mother in him.

"Poppa?"

The dragon smiled. "Your father's mind is just starting to slip, my boy. We'll do as you suggest. Birds are readily available around here to find something suitable." He stretched his wings and peered over the ledge. "What bird will you be looking for?" he cast his eye over his shoulder and asked his son.

"Probably the one you're going to declare we're both going to be," replied his son dryly.

"How droll," mused Flamespyre. "Come along. Let's go see what's out there." With that, he tipped over the side, his tail snapping like a whip. Scarheart followed after, pausing a moment to watch the massive wings of his father snap open and catch an updraft of air.

"You call that flying?" he called down, gathering his legs under him. The red dragon did a mental calculation, tested the air, and dove after the larger dragon with a gleeful roar. Hugging his wings close to his sides, he fell like a streaking arrow, the side of the mountain a blur as he closed in on his father. At the last possible moment, he veered slightly to his father's good side with the eye so he could see him when he passed. Father was always leery of anyone approaching him on his blind side and tended to be sensitive if someone did, which usually meant an attack without thinking first. The scar on his left flank attested to one such incident.

He shot past Flamespyre, flaring his wings out and leveling. The wind whistled past his ears and he banked hard to pass in front of the larger dragon.

"Stay within earshot!" he heard Flamespyre yell. "And do not start any forest fires! You hear me? No forest fires! And find a common bird! Nothing rare or endangered or pigeons! They're the bird kingdom's flying rats, for pity's sake!"

Scarheart waved back at him and began to look for a bird. But what kind? He had to first remember what one looked like. Having not even seen a living thing since awakening other than his father, it was going to take some jostling for his mind.

Something blue streaked past him on the right and high in the sky. The dragon blinked, turned and noticed with some awe a rainbow streak in the air. Hovering on measured wing beats, he followed the trail to its source and had to squint to make sure he was seeing what he and his father had talked about before the subject of birds. This one appeared to be a, what was the word? Pegasus! A blue one at that, with a chromatic mane and tail, like the very rainbow it was creating.

"Pony!" he cried happily. There was not way this was just a coincidence. Naturally he had to give chase and greet the pegasus, not aware he had just bellowed the word loud enough to be heard across the valley below.

The Pegasus stopped in midflight and turned towards Flamespyre. She hovered, watching him with an expression of surprise. Large eyes fixed on the huge red dragon charging at her. Rainbow Dash wondered for what reason any dragon would want to yell at her. What was one doing out here anyways? There had been no reports of any dragon living out here. They had their territories far from Equestria. This one was probably lost and probably hungry.

"What does he want?" she asked herself out loud. Other than Spike, Twilight Sparkle's assistant, her only other experience with dragons had been the one she had tried to kick in the snout a couple of years back. That had not ended well. This one looked about half the size of the other dragon, maybe a little cooler. She thought about running, but maybe she could have fun with this one. She wasn't really expected anywhere at this particular time.

The dragon slowed, his wings snapping out as his large golden eyes drank her in with insatiable curiosity. "You're a Pegasus, aren't you?" he asked excitedly. "What's it like being one? How fast can you fly? What's your terminal velocity in a dive? Can you turn on your wingtip?"

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" Rainbow Dash hurridly said, holding her hooves out in front of her and backing away from the barrage of sudden questions. "Slow your role, who ever you are." It didn't look like the dragon was interested in devouring her. He did stoke at her interest by asking good questions.

"Sorry," apologized the dragon. "I just haven't seen any living thing in ages. And I do mean literally ages. My name is Scarheart Battlesinger. You're the first pony I've ever seen. I've heard of ponies, but never seen one."

"I'm Rainbow Dash," she said proudly. She tilter her head to one side and arched an eyebrow. She was leery of this oddly friendly monster. "Shouldn't you be hanging around other dragons?" Pointedly she leveled a hoof at him. "You'll scare everypony if you get seen."

"I would like to learn how not to do that," he said. "My father and I are trying to work on a way to where ponies won't be scared of us. We more or less woke up with our home right in the middle of this kingdom called," he struggled to remember the name the map had shown him. "Equestria?"

"You're kind of on the border," Dash said. "But to answer your questions, yes. It's awesome. I can fly faster than any pony in all of Equestria. I can break the sound barrier and am the only pony that can do a rainbow boom. Last but not least, yes, I can turn on a wingtip." She was suddenly being held by some unseen force. "Hey! What are you doing?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry, but I need to take you to see my Poppa!" Scarheart said, not really grasping the concept he was in the process of ponynapping. He wrapped a claw around Rainbow Dash, who was protesting loudly.

"Hey! You can use magic?" Dragons use magic? Since when did dragons start using magic? "Let me go, you big jerk! You can't do this!" Rainbow Dash struggled against the dragon's grip, even resorting to chewing on his armored skin.

Scarheart did not listen, already wondering how pleased his father would be at this lucky fortune of finding a pony. A colorful and feisty one, at that! Once she was securly in his grip, the young dragon let out a roar to his father, letting him know he was returning to the lair. Rainbow Dash, having resigned for the moment she was a captive (and not a happy one at all) clamped her hooves over her ears and glaring up at her captor. She continued calling him names relentlessly, not minding she was running out of words and repeating herself.

"Not fair using magic!" she said at the end of her tirade as he swung around on his landing approach. "Not fair and not cool! What do you want me for, anyway? I can't even be a half a bite to something as big as you!"

Then she saw Flamespyre. He was the most frightening monster she had ever seen and he was just sitting there, doing nothing but glowering with that one glowing crimson eye that was positively livid with rage. It was probably the livid rage part that made her clamp her mouth shut and think of how evil he looked. On top of that, he was covered from snout to tail tip with black scales that gleamed in the sun.

"Holy mother of Celestia," she whimpered once she had several seconds for her eyes to soak in this new dragon. "My life is over."

That one lone eye fixed on her before flashing up towards Flamespyre. "What do you think you are doing, son?" he rumbled in a terrible low voice.

"Poppa?" the young dragon said in confusion. "I found a pony. See?" He held Rainbow Dash out so his father could see her clearly.

Flamespyre calmed himself from his fury and reminded himself this was his son's excitement and lack of social skills combining into one horrible decision to capture the pegasus. "Put the Pegasus down, boy."

"But-"

Flamespyre advanced, his voice dropping to a low and angry whisper. "I am about one second from losing what little is left of my temper. Put. The. Pegasus. Down. Now."

Scarheart did so quickly, setting Rainbow Dash on the ground gently. "I'm sorry," he said to her. He then firmly set his legs under him, wrapping his tail around them tightly. "I just wanted to learn about ponies."

Collecting his wits and his thoughts, Flamespyre took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, taking an apologetic tone as he addressed Rainbow Dash. "My apologies, miss," he said to her. "Did my son harm you? He's not exactly ready for socializing. I was hoping to get him started on learning how to interact with other species."

Rainbow stuttered, "I'm fine. No big deal." She tried hiding her trembling hooves. Dealing with Spike had been less frightening. Not that she would ever admit to being scared of anything. "Can I go now? I've got somewhere I need to be."

The black dragon shifted uncomfortably. "If it's not too much trouble, we are in need of your help."

"Yeah," Dash observed wryly. "You've got a funny way of asking for it."

The dragon sighed. "Well, I cannot say I blame you. We were going to go about this a different way, but your appearance might be of great help."

Dash was about to take off, but her curiosity somehow convinced her to hold her ground. "I'm listening," she said defensively. "Can you keep it quick? I really don't want to be here for some reason."

After introducing himself, Flamespyre quickly summarized how he and Flamespyre woke up to a different world, leaving out his plan to assume the guises of ponies. He shelved it for now, keeping his intentions honest and sincere. Stressing his desire to learn about the new world, he used logic and reasoning for selecting Ponyville as a place to start learning and reaquainting himself and his son with the world. However, he wanted to do it in a way that would not have panicking ponies running amok. By the time he had finished, Rainbow Dash actually felt sorry for the two dragons and was mulling over his story. The black dragon's words were like honey and she felt she had to believe every word he spoke as the solomn truth.

"So, do you know someone who might be able to help us?" he asked at the end of his tale.

The Pegasus suddenly smiled, stamping a hoof firmly on the ground. "I think I know just the pony you want to talk to!" Her fear had melted away, though she was still distrustful.

She was dealing with dragons, after all. Everyone knew dragons were a pain in the flank to deal with. Except for Spike, of course. Spike was pretty cool for a dragon. Scarheart was certainly not cool. He now officially held jerk status for ponynapping so far as Rainbow Dash was concerned. As for the big black dragon with the wicked red eye, he simply terrified the color out of her mane. Flamespyre had the appearance of a living nightmare anypony would dread. But his voice was silky smooth, enticing, inviting. She knew she couldn't vouch for anypony in particlar, but she did have one in mind. "I know a pony who would love to meet you," she promised. "She's kind of an expert on dragons. Sort of."

"Is she reasonable?" asked Flamespyre.

"She's real big on logic and other egghead stuff," Rainbow Dash said slowly. "Does that count?"

"That's a start," agreed the dragon. "What do you have in mind?"

The pegasus furrowed her head in thought. How as she going to do this? "Well, I could ask her to come here, but she would have to have ponies with her to keep an eye on you guys. Have you tried just going to Canterlot and announcing yourselves? I really don't think the princess would have a problem with you guys."

"I have issues with pony royals," said the dragon flatly. "They're personal, but have nothing to do with my desire to co-exist peacefully. Besides, our appearance would cause a great deal of fear and confusion. My own memories of how my kind affected the other races are quite fresh in my mind." Scarheart flickered his eyes to his son, who had sat very still and did not move since being chastised. "Very well. I shall wait here. I fear there will be little room for compromise, but I would at like to assure you ponies my son and I mean your kind no harm. When do you think you can return with your friend?"

Dash gave it a thought. "How about sunset two days from now? Right here okay with you? It's not hard to get to for us. What makes you so sure she'll want to come?"

Flamespyre nodded. "Curiosity, I would imagine. Tell her I will be happy to answer any questions she might have in regards to dragons. I'm sure we're as mysterious to her as you ponies are to me. I would like to be able to call you friend and soon!" She was buying it, based on the expression on her face. Her distrust had started to soften up at least a little.

Rainbow Dash nodded, grinned at the terrifying black dragon who wasn't so terrifying after all and gave the smaller dragon a neutral look leaning towards not being too promising. Scarheart smiled apologetically and tried to make himself smaller, if that were possible. "Nice meeting you!" she called over her shoulder as her wings began to beat on the wind. "Don't you worry about a thing. Twilight Sparkle is the best pony at this sort of thing!" She then took a hoof, pointed it at her eyes and then jabbed it at Flamespyre. Her expression clearly meant she was not going to be forgiving of him any time soon.

The two dragons watched as the cyan pegasus zoomed away at increasing speed, leaving behind her a chromatic trail. Once her form had disappeared from view, Flamespyre slowly turned to his son, his single eye baleful and malicious. What humor he might have had was long gone now. Furious, he exploded on Scarheart with incredible swiftness, grabbing the younger dragon by the thoat and slamming him to the ground with a spiteful hiss.

"Foolish whelp! Fortunate are you to not have damaged that pony. Do you have rocks for brains? Fool! Fool! Fool!" He shook Scarheart with each shout of 'fool'. "And now we shall have an Alicorn upon us. We will be seen for our power and attacked. Do you wish so badly to join your mother you would throw our lot in with an Alicorn? FOOL WHELP!!" Scarheart released the shaken dragon, his claws having cut through the thick skin and leaving thin red lines on Flamespyre's neck.

"I'm sorry, Poppa," whispered the red dragon. "I wasn't thinking." He had seen his father fly into a range many times, almost as if he was a completely different dragon, but this was different.

"No! You certainly were not," screamed his father, his eye exploding again with his anger. "You have already planted the seed of fear within that pegasus and she will spread it to her friends. They will come with the desire to remove us from our home. Our home!" Saliva flew from his jaws, glistening off his great fangs.

"But you wanted to be sneaky," said Scarheart. His own anger flared, but just for a brief moment. "I'm sorry, Poppa," he apologized again. "I just wanted to make you proud." Golden eyes rose and met with the angry red orb still ablaze. They did not flinch, but were submissive. Father did know best. He had kept them both out of the final battle, already knowing the outcome before it had been decided. He had kept the Alicorns from finishing them off.

Flamespyre stared at his son for a moment longer, then softened a bit. "I know you prefer to be seen, but this is an uncertain time. You should have let the pony alone and not made contact. I thought you would understand the need to be cautious." The tip of his tail slapped smartly against Scarheart's snout.

Until then, he had to prepare himself for killing an Alicorn.