• Published 10th Jul 2014
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Sleipnir's Big Adventure - BlackRoseRaven



A hero makes an unlikely alliance with a stubborn prince, and they adventure across Equestria together.

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Red Dragon, Teen Dragon, Nice Dragon, Mean Dragon

Chapter Twenty Five: Red Dragon, Teen Dragon, Nice Dragon, Mean Dragon
~BlackRoseRaven

Sleipnir regarded the ruby dragon thoughtfully for a few moments, unafraid even as it snorted smoke out over him. He lowered his head meditatively, and then he said calmly and seriously, as if his words were a real answer: “Because 'tis not very nice.”

“It is not very nice. This is your reason, why I should leave those ponies alone?” the dragon asked, some of his amusement vanishing. He leaned back, scowling as he studied the earth pony thoughtfully, and then he asked moodily: “Are you diseased? Do you have some... brain damage, perhaps? I ask because I don't like to risk food poisoning.”

“Oh, nay, I have perhaps been knocked upon the head one too many times, but I am as healthy as a horse!” Sleipnir declared, then giggled a little at his own pun before he suddenly smiled and thrust up a hoof, the dragon rearing back a little in surprise. “I have been rude. What is thy name? Mine is Sleipnir, and my companion is Blue.”

The dragon looked awkwardly down at the earth pony, then cleared his throat before he hesitantly rose a single claw as he said finally: “I... I am called Infernus.”

“Well, Infernus, 'tis very nice to meet thee. And what a mighty name thou has! 'Tis almost as proud a name as mine!” Sleipnir smiled as the dragon scowled, then opened its mouth: but before it could speak, Sleipnir cut him off as he continued thoughtfully: “But 'tis rather difficult to say. So I think I shall call thee Little Red.”

“L-Little?” the dragon scoffed, then glared down at Sleipnir before he tried to rise to his full, intimidating height... and only succeeded in slamming the top of his head into the ceiling of the cavern, whimpering a little and grabbing at his own skull.

Sleipnir laughed loudly as Blue stared stupidly, and the dragon snarled, smoke and fire bursting from its nostrils before it snapped: “You stop that right now!”

“Oh, shush, 'twas quite humorsome! And there is nothing wrong with being a little clumsy, friend... thou must admit 'twas rather silly of thee, though.” Sleipnir smiled benevolently, unintimidated even as the growling dragon leaned down so his head was only a few feet away, smoke wreathing up around the stallion from the beast's tremendous jaws. “Now come, enough of thy smoke and sparks. 'Tis good to learn to laugh at thyself. Especially for the proud and strong, like thou art; it helps us all from becoming arrogant and foolish.”

The dragon growled moodily, then he reached up a single claw and disdainfully attempted to shove Sleipnir down into the ground... but instead, his digit simply ground down through the stallion's mane of vines and along his neck before the earth pony gave a loud sigh of relief. “Now that is fantastic! If thou art trying to woo me, Little Red, thou art succeeding!”

The dragon stared blankly for a moment, then drew his claw back and looked stupidly at it before Sleipnir shook himself quickly out and said easily: “But we were speaking of something else, were we not? Aye, why thou should leave those ponies below alone, that is just so! Blue, thou art better at this than I: explain to our friend why 'tis wrong.”

Blueblood stared with horror at Sleipnir, but the earth pony only gestured at him pointedly several times, and Blue spluttered before grinding his teeth together and muttering under his breath: “Sleipnir, if we get out of this... I really will kill you.”

“Oh, thou shan't, thou adores me.” Sleipnir scoffed, then he slapped the unicorn on the back, almost knocking him sprawling.

Blueblood shook himself off as he picked himself up, but before he could glare over his shoulder or say anything to Sleipnir, he found the enormous dragon had leaned down again and was now studying him almost suspiciously.

The prince gave Infernus an uncomfortable smile, and then he cleared his throat before saying weakly: “Well, it's... it's very nice to meet you, Lord Infernus...”

“Yes. Lord. I like that. I am a lord, as a matter of fact, I'm glad you recognized that.” the dragon said proudly, raising his head and polishing one of his claws against the scales of his breast.

“How could anyone not? You're... a mighty dragon, after all, you must... you must rule over these mountains and beyond!” Blueblood said hurriedly, smiling nervously... and then he winced when Sleipnir elbowed him firmly.

Thankfully, Infernus was distracted by the compliments, preening and completely ignoring Sleipnir and Blueblood as they huddled and almost shoved their heads together, the prince hissing: “I'm just doing the one thing that might keep us alive-”

“And 'twill make him feel as if he has every right to continue to be a bully. Thou art doing him no favors, either.” Sleipnir said disapprovingly, and Blueblood looked with disbelief at the earth pony. “Aye, 'tis difficult at times to tell someone they have been a fool, whether they are great or small, pitiable or proud. But 'tis important that we do, all the same. For they will be the stronger and better for it. False compliments and empty kindness do naught but encourage arrogance and narcissism.”

“You do realize that basically describes dragonkind, right?” Blueblood asked moodily, and Sleipnir only huffed again, the unicorn groaning and rolling his eyes. “Fine, Sleipnir. Then what do you suggest that I do?”

“Well, I do not know. Thou art the diplomat here, not I.” Sleipnir replied mildly, and Blueblood felt one of his eyes twitching as he glared balefully at the earth pony. “But do not do what thou just did. 'Twas a step backwards.”

“Good, any steps we take away from the dragon and his teeth are good.” Blueblood muttered, and then he and Sleipnir both winced and looked up when the dragon cleared his throat loudly.

“Lord Infernus wants to know if you have anything else to add, or... if he should start thinking about making lunch preparations.” The dragon eyed them both, licking his lips slowly as he laced his claws together. “Of course, it would be rude of me not to invite my two... 'guests,' wouldn't it?”

Blueblood gave a weak laugh, but Sleipnir only rolled his eyes before the earth pony suddenly complained: “Oh, enough of thy lies, great newt.”

Infernus scowled, leaning forwards moodily, but Sleipnir only stepped forwards and said dryly: “Thou art not going to eat us. And aye, 'twas amusing the first time, but 'tis no longer prankish but... childish. Aye, 'tis like when my daughter was a little girl, and threatened to bite me until she got her way. Although at least my daughter always bit, whereas thou might have the teeth, but certainly not the drive nor hunger.”

Infernus laughed loudly at this, and then he gestured at himself, saying sourly: “If you haven't yet noticed, Sleipnir, I happen to be a dragon. Your friend seems to understand what that means. While I, on the other claw, am struggling to understand precisely what you are, since no pony would be dumb enough to accuse a dragon of being a vegetable eater.”

“I never did.” Sleipnir replied with a slight smile, and the dragon blinked before flushing slightly as the earth pony said thoughtfully: “Although I must admit, there is a rather... interesting odor coming from thy jaws. Aye, 'tis the sweet smell of burnt wood and leaves...”

“N-No, no. Don't... how dare you accuse me of...” Infernus fumbled wildly with his words as Blueblood gaped in disbelief, before the huge reptile suddenly leaned forwards and roared.

Blue yelped and dropped low, covering his head and staring in shock as a massive gout of flames burst through the box canyon... but Sleipnir only stood undaunted, smiling as the roaring flames passed harmlessly several feet above his head.

The dragon dropped his head, and his grin immediately died on his face at the sight of Sleipnir looking up at him pleasantly and fearlessly, the enormous earth pony asking kindly: “Art thou done? I do not know why, but... at least thy little burst of temper brings me more entertainment than thy sulky complaining. But I have always feared the weight of words; 'tis terrible what they can do. That is why poets are such awful creatures, and of course I speak with all the love in the world to mine brother, most foul of that wretched kind!”

Sleipnir laughed loudly, and Infernus simply looked blankly down at the earth pony. “How did you... I just... alright, fine! Maybe I don't enjoy eating meat, but I will make an exception in your case, Sleipnir, if you continue this... this...”

“Little Red, come now. Thou art reasonable. I am perhaps a little less reasonable and much more silly, but that means only that our negotiations should be all the swifter, and filled with cheery heckling, not this... thisness.” Sleipnir gestured back and forth, shaking his head with a chuckle before he reached down and absently yanked Blue to his hooves, the unicorn wincing a bit as he kept suspicious eyes on the dragon. “Oh, cease that, Blue, our new friend shan't harm thee. Aye?”

“I haven't decided yet.” the dragon said moodily, and then he growled before reaching down and picking Sleipnir up in one claw, hefting him up to eye level. He snorted out smoke, but Sleipnir simply huffed and wiggled a foreleg free to wave the smog away.

They looked at each other for a few long moments, and then Infernus finally rumbled: “I think that you should take your friend and leave, Sleipnir. I have no interest in discussing this with you. And if you refuse, well... I don't think you'll like what will happen then.”

“What will happen?” Sleipnir asked curiously, and Infernus looked dumb for a moment before hesitating... and Sleipnir immediately pounced on this, declaring: “Nothing! Aye, precisely, just as I thought! Thou shan't do a thing to us, will thou?”

“I... I will! Stop putting words in my mouth!” the dragon growled, squeezing Sleipnir in one claw... but he might as well have been trying to squeeze water from a stone, Little Red growling as Sleipnir only grinned widely at him.

“Does thou desire to hoof-wrestle? I shall tell thee what, if thou can beat me in hoof-wrestling, I and Blue shall simply leave here, right this moment. But if thou loses, thou must shush and listen to whatever Blue has to say, and we shall see if we can change thy mind.” Sleipnir challenged, and the dragon frowned suspiciously at this, leaning forwards and narrowing his eyes.

He squeezed the stallion testingly for a moment, and then the dragon huffed before quickly setting the earth pony down, saying dryly: “I've come to the conclusion that you're insane, little earth pony. Fine, we'll 'hoof wrestle.'”

The dragon smiled indulgently as dropped an elbow on the ground and held his claw out, and Sleipnir smiled warmly as he reached up and firmly grasped just below the bottom digit. “Very well, Little Red! Blue, come here and referee for us!”

Blueblood sighed tiredly, but Sleipnir seemed as confident as ever... and while the prince still had plenty of worries about what the dragon was going to do, he was fairly certain who the winner of this little contest was going to be.

The unicorn hesitantly cleared his throat, then leaned back and opened his mouth... only to be cut promptly off as Sleipnir complained: “Thou art not doing it right! Thou must come and stand here, thou knows what to do!”

Blue groaned loudly, and then he grumbled under his breath as he walked up beside Sleipnir before stretching up with a grunt to push his hoof carefully against where hoof and claw met, muttering: “Great.”

“Careful you don't get crushed now... Blue, was it?” Infernus asked patronizingly, and Blueblood glowered up at the dragon. “Between you two, you certainly seem like the sane pony, after all. I'd hate to think of how your friend will get along without you.”

“Oh, very badly. But I do not think we will have to worry about that quite yet.” Sleipnir replied cheerfully, and then he winked up at the dragon. “Art thou ready?”

“I'm ready, Sleipnir.” Infernus only smiled wryly, like an adult who was humoring a toddler in some game. “Blue?”

Blueblood sighed, then he took a slow breath before suddenly yanking his hoof back, saying sharply: “Go!”

And in the blink of an eye, Infernus went from lazing comfortably to flailing one limb wildly as Sleipnir easily pinned the other against the ground, the earth pony grinning widely as Infernus wailed: “You're twisting it, you're twisting it!”

“Oh, I apologize, friend! I had simply expected a much better fight from thee, that was all.” Sleipnir said kindly, and he finally allowed the dragon to yank his claw away, the enormous reptile scuttling backwards into his cave and staring with something like horror down at the earth pony, who smiled benevolently up at him before suggesting cheerfully: “Perhaps thou would like to have the best two out of three?”

The dragon mouthed wordlessly, and then he flinched away, holding up both his claws as Sleipnir began to step forwards. “N-No! No, no, no... I... I think you made your point, Sleipnir, I... uh... speak your piece and I will consider it with all the most amiability I definitely can certainly dredge up!”

“How strange the language of today sounds to mine ears! How it twists and turns upon itself like a great gluttonous serpent!” Sleipnir said with interest, and Blueblood smiled in amusement despite himself, wishing that he could still be surprised by the enormous earth pony's ridiculous feats of strength. “Well, Blue, will thou say thy piece? And will thou try and say it half so well as this dragon speaks, my friend?”

“I'll do my best to, Sleipnir.” Blueblood said ironically, and then he shook his head quickly before looking up at the dragon, who was half-hiding in his cave and looking nervously out at them...

Blueblood softened in spite of himself: he couldn't help but pity this poor, giant idiot. This dragon, who... well... he wasn't so large and powerful now, was he? No, he'd thought he was so powerful, that even if sure, he didn't really want to hurt these ponies, he still had a right to treat them however he wanted, he still wanted to prove that he was the biggest, the strongest...

Blue smiled faintly after a moment, and then he asked: “Why were you attacking the fortress? Considering the fact you apparently don't eat meat and, from what I heard, you never really hurt any ponies, only scared them... I find it difficult to believe you were doing it out of some kind of enjoyment. You don't strike me as cruel. Only... young.”

“I am not young, pony, I am an adult!” growled the dragon... which was probably the most revealing thing he could say in regards to his maturity and his age. But after a moment, he settled a little, leaning forwards hesitantly out of the cave and saying finally: “And... this is my territory, that's all. I'm... they shouldn't be there, that fortress belongs to me, not any other dragon.”

“Not any other dragon...” Sleipnir looked musing, tapping a hoof against the ground before he suddenly rose his head and sniffed the air several times. Infernus stared at him, while Blue only frowned, by now used to Sleipnir's eccentricities, before the earth pony suddenly brightened. “Aye, that is why the smell is so strong! Thou hast played host to other dragons recently!”

“N-No! I definitely do not share my territory, that is for... for younglings!” spluttered Infernus, and Blueblood and Sleipnir traded looks before the young dragon covered his mouth, then blurted through his claws: “Stop it! I'm an adult now, I really am!”

“You just left your aerie, you must have only been here for a few months.” Blueblood said slowly, as realization dawned on him, and the dragon winced as Sleipnir looked curiously towards the unicorn.

And Blueblood felt a strange sense of both victory and relief at the fact that he finally seemed to know something that Sleipnir didn't, as he explained: “Dragons live mostly solitary lives. But they gather into social aeries when it's mating seas...” Blueblood broke off at the horrible glare Infernus was giving him, and he gave a weak smile.

“We are not animals. We are not some... stupid little beasts. Just because our culture is different than yours, don't talk about me like I'm a... a pig or something.” growled the dragon, looming forwards threateningly out of the cave.

“Yes, I. I know. I apologize.” Blueblood said awkwardly, leaning away... then he grimaced as Sleipnir only gestured at him to go on, the unicorn sighing before he continued carefully: “What I meant to say is that, uh, they... do have families. But usually the families split up once the babies are able to fly and follow their... which parent they choose.”

Infernus crossed his forelegs and sulkily dropped his head, but Blueblood felt a lot more confident now with that glare off him. And Sleipnir still looked interested, so the unicorn hesitantly gestured to Infernus, saying: “When a dragon grows old enough, he leaves the nest. Sometimes with his siblings, other times not. And while they're still young adults, they settle a shared territory: they all live on their own, but usually within a short flight of each other, to protect themselves from other aggressive adult dragons.”

“More or less.” mumbled Infernus, moodily flicking a boulder away with one claw before he glared at the two ponies. “I don't see what that has to do with anything, though. And I don't like you talking about me like I'm some kind of animal to be studied. How would you like me to talk to you like that, huh?”

“You mean like how you were talking down to us like we were food?” Blueblood asked dryly, before he could stop himself, and the dragon looked surprised as the unicorn winced... then bit his lip and added in a quieter voice: “It's not very nice when that happens, especially when that person... scares you a little, now is it?”

“I'm... I'm not scared at all.” Infernus shyly dropped his head, half-covering his face in a very childish gesture, and Sleipnir chuckled as Blueblood smiled a little in spite of himself. “I... okay. But... but I don't really eat ponies. I just eat trees and magma and gemstones.”

“Aye, as I figured.” Sleipnir said with a smile, turning his eyes towards the dragon. “Thy culture is very interesting, though. I enjoy that all of thee take care of each other... but now thou must tell me if thou art being very foolish, or very foolish. And by this, I mean art thou trying to impress a maiden dragon, or art thou trying to prove to thy friends that thou art the biggest, toughest brute in these territories?”

The dragon looked up in surprise, and Blueblood took only a few moments to put it together himself, nodding slowly before he murmured: “Of course. You're attacking the fortress to make it look like you're either fearless or feeding.”

“I... well... no!” exclaimed Infernus, blushing deeply and looking awkwardly back and forth... and then he slumped to the ground, visibly deflating as he sprawled out and dropped his head in front of them with a look of humiliation. “Okay, okay. Yes. I... I'm supposed to be the biggest, toughest dragon in these mountains, look at me! But... but the other dragons would laugh at me and chase me away if they found out that... I...”

He bit his lip, and Sleipnir smiled kindly, striding forwards and reaching up to gently pat the dragon on the end of the muzzle. “Now, there there, my friend. There is no need for such sorrow or pain! Aye, thou art young, and when one is young, one is prone to such mistakes.

“But while I promise not to lecture thee upon them, thou cannot continue this charade. For it puts those ponies at risk, and they have suffered very much already. For a little like thou art, I think, they too are misfits.” Sleipnir said gently, and Infernus grimaced a bit and shifted uneasily.

“Well, I can't... I mean, sometimes when I hunt, the others watch me. We usually go out hunting together... I can't just leave the fortress alone! It's hard enough as it is convincing the others not to attack it!” complained Infernus, and Sleipnir looked thoughtful at this.

“Aye, and if the others are used to the taste of meat, then I fear they will not take as readily to our advice as thou has...” The enormous earth pony crossed his forelegs as he sat back, lowering his head in thought as Blueblood shifted uneasily. “Tell me more of these dragons.”

“Oh, uh... Stormwing, Sunflare, and...” The slight pause, the sudden dreamy look, the little smile all made it very clear what the dragon likely thought of this next name on his list: “Crystelle...”

“Oh yes, I see, then... 'tis both kinds of foolishness at play!” Sleipnir said cheerfully, looking up and smiling warmly in return. And then a moment later, he suddenly clapped his front hooves together, and Blueblood gave the enormous earth pony an uneasy look: he had a bad feeling about whatever Sleipnir was about to suggest, especially with that twinkle in his eyes...

“I know precisely what we must do! Little Red, thou must woo this Crystelle!” Sleipnir declared, and Blueblood slapped his forehead as the dragon gaped down at the enormous earth pony. “Aye, 'tis very simple indeed. For then all shall be happy and in balance, and thou and thy mate may claim and rule this territory together.”

Blueblood stared in disbelief, and Little Red gave a high-pitched laugh before he stuttered out: “W-What makes you think that... that I even want some... that I... that Crystelle... that I would ever want her as a mate or-”

“Roughly everything thou does. Thou sounds almost like I when I first fell in rapture with my gorgeous phoenix.” Sleipnir replied with an easy shrug, looking kindly up at the dragon. “Fear not, 'tis a good thing, 'tis a grand and glorious thing! Young love is to be admired and applauded and celebrated... and I can think of no better way to do so than this.”

Infernus blushed deeply, and Blueblood stared at the enormous earth pony before he said disbelievingly: “Sleipnir, even if this wasn't a completely ludicrous idea... we don't have the time to play matchmaker between two dragons right now!”

“Oh, nonsense!” Sleipnir huffed, waving a hoof before he glanced up at the sun thoughtfully: “Let us see. We must return by mid afternoon, and 'tis... why, 'tis not even yet noon! We have all the time in the world and more!”

Blueblood scowled horribly at the stallion, but Sleipnir only grinned widely and winked over at Blue. “Now, do not complain. For I am sure thou can benefit well from these arts I have to teach, too. For what better way to spend thy time than enchanting sweet mares, and sharing with them the pleasure and comforts that can only come with the pairing of hearts and bodies?”

The ivory unicorn reached up and rubbed slowly at his temples, and Infernus hesitated before asking uncertainly: “You... are you sure that you can... I mean, Crystelle, she's... she's never really...”

“Nay, thou never need doubt in these skills of mine! 'Tis certainly one thing to doubt in mine skills as a warrior when I am but a pony and thou art some grand dragon, but I take grave offense at thy doubting in mine abilities as a lover and pleaser of mares!” Sleipnir declared, thrusting a hoof into the air. “Why, if thou continues to doubt me I shan't have any choice but to drag thee off to whatever serves as thy bed and make thee squeal in delight, size or no.”

The dragon stared down at the earth pony, and Blueblood slowly rubbed at his own face before he asked tiredly: “What do you propose then, Sleipnir?”

Sleipnir winked, saying cheerfully: “'Well, first of all, our new friend dragon must find something precious to him. Something that he would not desire to part with, something that has... meaning to him.”

The dragon frowned uneasily at this, looking suspiciously down at Sleipnir, but the enormous earth pony only nodded fervently before he continued confidently: “And then we shall go and visit Crystelle. We shall speak to her together, and handsome Little Red shall do as I instruct. And by this afternoon, thou hast my promise, Crystelle will adore thee as she has adored no others in her life!”

The dragon continued to look down at Sleipnir warily, while Blueblood tilted his head curiously... although he admittedly had no idea just what the earth pony was up to himself. Knowing Sleipnir, though, it would be something no normal pony would request...

But after a moment, Infernus nodded moodily, saying grumpily: “I... I'm going to try and trust you, even though I really don't think that I should. But... I'll be a moment.”

Infernus looked at them both measuringly, then huffed out a bit of smoke before turning and heading quickly down the steps. Blueblood scowled a little at this, then moodily looked over at Sleipnir, but the enormous earth pony simply smiled cheerfully in return before he said kindly: “Fear not. I shan't leave thee here alone, Blueblood, but thou seems strangely uncomfortable around the dragon. If thou prefers, thou does not have to come with us. I am sure Infernus will be glad to allow thee to rest in his abode.”

Blueblood laughed dryly at this, and Sleipnir cocked his head before the unicorn asked moodily: “Do you have any idea how protective most dragons are of their hordes?”

Sleipnir huffed, then countered: “Well, does thou have any idea how deep the passions of a dragon run, Blue? Because love is the greatest of all treasures we can attain, and when young, we feel the stings of passion so much the deeper, do we not? Aye, when we are young, fires seem so much hotter and the world seems like it will end with every misstep we take...”

The earth pony paused, then smiled suddenly, laughing and saying cheerfully: “'Tis a good thing that I have never been young myself, although Celestia has always told me I am quite young in mind. Well. Not in those exact words, but 'tis the gist of it, in politer fashion.”

Blueblood looked moodily at Sleipnir, and then he shook his head quickly before muttering: “It always astounds me how people warm up to you so quickly, Sleipnir. And yet you quickly annoy anyone who spends any extended amount of time with you.”

“Well, that is not entirely incorrect, but I am fond of thinking that I frustrate other ponies in the best of ways.” Sleipnir said easily, shrugging before he smiled as Infernus lumbered back towards the entrance, holding something daintily in his jaws. “And... oh, 'tis perfect!”

The dragon looked nervously at Sleipnir, then hesitantly set the trinket he was carrying down: Blueblood was surprised to see that it was some kind of silver necklace, with a large, shimmering blue gemstone inset into the front of it. It was definitely too large for any pony, but was clearly too small for Infernus, too...

“This uh... this was my mom's.” Infernus mumbled, shifting awkwardly before he glowered when Sleipnir stepped forwards and picked it up, studying it appraisingly. “Hey! Careful with that!”

“I am gentle as a lamb!” Sleipnir complained, and then he returned his eyes to the necklace, studying it thoughtfully before suddenly smiling and looking up at the dragon. “Aye. This will do most excellently indeed, my friend. Thou shall present this to Crystelle.”

Infernus winced at this, shaking his head hurriedly before he blurted: “N-No! I couldn't, this... my father gave this to my mother when-”

“Aha! Then 'tis all the more perfect! More perfectly perfect than I had thought!” Sleipnir declared brightly, and then he hefted the large necklace above his head, looking up into the gemstone on the front with a loud laugh. “Aye, I feel the love and warmth and tenderness it radiates... 'tis a grand gift, my friend, 'twill win her heart even without the gift and art of my words.”

“But... but it means a lot to me! I mean, mom is...” Infernus quieted, and then he cleared his throat and shook his head violently when Sleipnir looked up at him compassionately. “Look, not important. It's mine and I don't want to give it away.”

The earth pony only chuckled quietly at this, however, and Blueblood looked curiously at the enormous stallion as Infernus scowled, before Sleipnir said gently: “As has been said by many wiser than me, the only gifts worth giving are those that are important to us. I understand that thou does not desire to part with this, but ask thyself: is this better hoarded away with thy mounds of treasure, or adorning the neck of thy beloved?”

The dragon puffed out a bit of smoke at this, shifting awkwardly back and forth before he dropped his head and mumbled: “That's... that's not a fair question.”

“I do not see how. 'Tis only what it is, after all, and that is fact and truth.” Sleipnir replied easily, shrugging and smiling up at the stallion. “Come now, Infernus. Search thy heart and feelings: is this thy mate? Does thou love her?”

“I... but we're young, and dragons aren't supposed to choose mates until they're adults and... families usually split up and we're just sharing territory and... and what about Stormwing and Sunflare? And if she sees me with a pony, she's... they're all going to just laugh at me!” Infernus retorted, shaking his head vehemently before he snatched the necklace away and hugged it up against his breast. “No, no, this... just... no!”

“Oh, cease. What does thou feel? Damnation, idiot, what does thou truly feel?” Sleipnir asked, gesturing pointedly up at the dragon, and Infernus shifted awkwardly before dropping his head low and mumbling something unintelligible.

But Sleipnir only smiled warmly as if he'd understood... and Blueblood wasn't sure if Sleipnir actually did or he was just that good at reading people. Or manipulating them in his gentle, tender way, the unicorn reflected ironically. “Precisely, now thou art beginning to see, art thou not?”

Infernus dropped his head and scowled at the enormous earth pony, but the stallion only looked benevolently back before he gestured at him quickly. “Now come, come. If thou does not mind, Blueblood shall sojourn here for the... oh, hour, I would wager, that it shall take us to woo Crystelle and convince her of thy worth. For it should not be a thing of great difficulty, as long as thy feelings are true and she does not detest thee.”

The dragon winced at this, and then he hesitated before leaning down and asking meekly: “And... and what if she does hate me? What... what do I do then?”

“Oh, that does not matter.” Sleipnir smiled kindly, and Infernus blinked as Blueblood stared for a moment at Sleipnir, before the earth pony smiled again and closed his eyes, saying softly: “Thou cares for her, aye? So thou must do what thou can to share this affection with her, and show her thy love, and discover if there is a connection between the two of thee.

“The connection is what matters, not love. Infatuation burns hot, and 'tis exotic and fast-paced, but is good only for short-lived courtships that are meant to be... fond memories, or practicing thy love.” Sleipnir continued, smiling up at the dragon. “Love that comes slow, that must be earned, is far better. Love will grow, if tended, if thou puts the effort to it, if thou nurtures it. What is most important is that the two of thee share a bond, a connection that will act as the foundation for thy affections.”

“Do... I don't know if we have that or not, though, I mean... I've never... I don't think I've ever spoken to her on her own or... she's never...” Infernus shifted back and forth, and Sleipnir winked cheerfully up at the dragon.

“Well, then this is all the more reason for us to visit her now! And fear not: if there is a connection between the two of thee, 'twill burn as hot as day. Why, I predicted long before my sister knew that she and a certain silly Draconequus would end up as wife and husband. My sister being the husband, of course, and poor Discombobulation the wife.” Sleipnir smiled again, although Blueblood noticed a strange shift in Sleipnir's demeanor.

But maybe that was just his imagination. Or maybe even the mighty Sleipnir didn't like the Draconequus... not that Blueblood could precisely blame him. Discord had always been a troublemaker, after all: he still didn't know why Auntie had allowed him out of his imprisonment.

The dragon, however, was looking more worriedly than suspiciously down at Sleipnir, shifting back and forth anxiously on his claws before the earth pony suddenly gestured impatiently at him. “Enough, enough of all this silly chatter, though! Come, let us be off, Blue shall be able to make himself comfortable enough in thy happy little abode, I am sure.”

Infernus grimaced at this and shifted a little, and then he sighed tiredly before nodding and looking hesitantly over at Blueblood, asking awkwardly: “Are you going to... I mean... you don't mind staying here, right?”

Blueblood grimaced a bit, but then he simply nodded, pawing a hoof at the ground as he said moodily: “I... suppose not, no. Perhaps I'll... help myself to the use of your hot springs, and then take a short rest inside your cave.”

“Just... just don't touch my treasure. Or anything else. Please.” Infernus said after a moment, and the stallion resisted the urge to glower as Sleipnir badly hid a grin behind his hoof.

Thankfully, he only had to resist for a few moments before Sleipnir waved a hoof to get the dragon's attention, saying easily: “Now come, there is no need to be so concerned! I assure thee, Blue has as much interest in treasure as I do in books or other silly things.”

Infernus shifted awkwardly as Blueblood gave Sleipnir a dour look, but forced himself to nod all the same. The dragon looked only a little mollified by this, but hesitantly nodded back after a moment before he dropped his head and mumbled: “I... fine. I'm... I suppose you can't run off with anything, anyway, and... we'll be back soon. Right?”

“Aye, we shall. 'Twill be but minutes, fear not.” Sleipnir agreed, and then he winked over at the unicorn. “'Tis a good idea to make thyself presentable, though. Handsome or not, a little extra shine shan't hurt for when we return with the pretty dragoness in tow.”

Infernus smiled awkwardly, and then he winced when Sleipnir cheerfully leapt forwards and scampered his way up onto the dragon's back, thrusting a hoof into the air and declared: “And now, let us venture forth to the maiden fair!”

The dragon almost whimpered, but then he scooped up the necklace in his claws before spreading his wings and flapping them once. Blueblood winced at the gust of wind, then looked up and watched with a mix of envy for Sleipnir and sympathy for the dragon as the great red beast flew into the air, then turned with a roar and flapped his wings hard, propelling himself onwards.

Blue watched until the two flew out of sight, and then he sighed before turning and looking out towards one of the hot springs. After days of sputtering lukewarm showers, and all the nights he'd spent in the wild with only a wet cloth and a sponge to clean himself, it looked incredibly inviting...

A few minutes later, Blueblood was seated comfortably, resting back against the naturally-smooth rim of the pool and sighing in relief. He sank down until only his muzzle was left sticking out of the water, relaxing slowly in the heat as he mumbled in contentment.

Blueblood wasn't sure how long he stayed like that, but he was certain it wasn't even an hour before the world shook violently as something crashed heavily to the ground, and Blueblood was startled out of his doze, splashing wildly in the pool before he flung himself around in a circle and glared furiously, opening his mouth-

His words died in his throat as he stared in disbelief up at the huge black dragon that was currently glaring at the entrance to Infernus' cavern. He was almost as large as the red dragon had been, but had an extra set of horns pushing up from his skull and several large, dangerous-looking spikes along his tail, which was slapping angrily against the ground every few seconds to send rock and shrapnel flying in all directions.

“A home? A home for her? Let's see what you'll do when you have no home and no treasures left!” growled the dragon as his eyes roved along the edge of the cave. He reached up experimentally, grasping into it... then swore as he only managed to tear away a single large, loose stone, looking moodily down at the boulder in his claw before flinging it absently over his shoulder.

Blueblood stared in horror as the rock arced towards him, then it crashed to the ground only a few feet away, bouncing once as Blue flung himself sideways. He managed to just get out of the path of the huge stone before it splashed down into the pool, sending him sprawling with a yelp.

The dragon looked over his shoulder with a frown, and then his eyes widened in surprise as they locked on Blueblood, who winced and stared back. There was a moment of stunned silence between them, and then the dragon suddenly snarled as Blueblood scrambled for his hooves, the beast spinning around as he asked with disgust: “He's been hiding another one?”

The giant lumbered towards him, and Blueblood staggered backwards, wildly trying to think of anything he could possibly do as he asked hurriedly: “So you know my friend, m-my good friend Infernus? He's... he's about to be home, you know, he'll be back any-”

“No, he won't. He's too busy trying to mate with Crystelle... Crystelle, who was supposed to be mine!” roared the dragon as he leaned down, and the power of his voice knocked Blueblood rolling backwards with a yelp before he landed on his back.

He propped himself up with a wince as the dragon loomed over him, the massive reptile sitting back and raising his head to full height: almost as big as Infernus... but then again, his long, thin neck probably added a few extra feet to that. And he was certainly tall, but his body was narrow, even if his wings looked like the largest that Blueblood had ever seen as the beast gestured angrily with them. “Over there, right over there, he's trying to claim her as his wife, and that worthless sack of scales Sunflare is just calling it all cute! But I knew it, I knew that there was always something wrong with those two... with all three of them, really, since how could Crystelle ignore me? Me?”

“I... I don't know.” Blueblood said lamely, and the dragon hissed at him through his teeth before the unicorn held up a hoof, asking weakly: “Would you... happen to be Stormwing, then? Because... b-because really, Infernus has told me all about you-”

“Oh, yes?” Stormwing only seemed more infuriated by this, however, leaning down and snorting out a reeking steam over the unicorn, Blue flinching away before the dragon asked coldly: “Did he tell you how much I just love you tender little morsels? And how angry it always made me that he kept that fortress of you little tasty treats all to himself?”

Blueblood smiled weakly, and then Stormwing reared back and narrowed his eyes, saying coldly: “Tell me, friend. What would hurt Infernus more? Finding his home destroyed and you missing, or finding his home destroyed and a nice little note written in unicorn parts telling him to get lost before the same happens to him?”

“Well, I... Infernus was talking about moving to a brand new cave, you know, and... t-truth be told, he's never really liked me that much, we really have never simply... clicked...” Blueblood babbled out before he was even really aware of what he was saying, and then he forced himself to smile weakly, tapping his front hooves together nervously as Stormwing narrowed his eyes.

The enormous dragon slowly tapped a claw against the ground, and Blue swallowed thickly. He knew that there was nothing he could do to escape this dragon or even hope to hurt him, especially without any of his equipment... not that his tiny little sword would have done more than piss this giant off, of course.

Blueblood thought desperately before he squawked when Stormwing reached out and picked him up, the giant reptile asking coldly: “What do you mean, he's moving to a new cave?”

For a moment, Blue could only stare, mouthing wordlessly... and then all the breath whooshed out of his lungs as Stormwing snapped: “Don't make me repeat myself! Where is this cave?”

Blue wheezed loudly in and out, then shouted almost desperately: “I... I don't know!”

Stormwing snarled, clearly not pleased with this answer, but the unicorn was only relieved he hadn't called the brute an idiot. And then his eyes widened in horror as the dragon drew him in close, hissing: “Then you're of more use to me dead.”

Stormwing began to open his mouth, and Blue shouted the first thing that came to mind: “But if you kill me, y-you won't get his treasure!”

The dragon paused, then scowled as the unicorn wheezed loudly in and out, studying him intently before asking slowly: “What are you talking about? What treasure? You couldn't possibly have anything that interests me.”

Blue nodded a few times, then he let himself slump forwards, closing his eyes as he whispered: “Infernus... Infernus has a secret place where he hides his most valuable treasures, though. Magical ones. Amazing artifacts, gemstones... gemstones almost as large as me!”

The dragon's eyes gleamed greedily, and then he asked impatiently: “And where are these treasures? What's to stop me from just killing you and ripping Infernus' lair apart?”

“B-Because they're hidden in a place a dragon alone can't reach. That's... that's the trick. That's why he keeps us pony... slaves.” Blueblood wheezed, even if he almost stumbled over calling himself anything less than the adventurer he'd become. I suppose... I still have to have some pride, though. “He... he keeps us alive and happy so that we'll... take his treasures back and forth between the... places.”

Blueblood halted dumbly, realizing he had no cover story whatsoever, but Stormwing was only looking at him, visibly wrestling with himself. And then the dragon growled suddenly before he almost crushed Blue in his claw, the unicorn crying out in agony and again struggling for breath as the dragon growled: “Take me to these treasures. Show me where they're hidden, and prove they exist. And maybe, just maybe, I'll let you live.”

Blue wheezed in pain, trembling a bit before he was flung almost disdainfully to the ground, and he hit with a resounding thud that nearly knocked him unconscious. And yet even as his mind danced between light and dark, and sounds slurred together in his ears and his whole body trembled with pain, another idea came to mind. One that was an enormous risk, and yet...

Stormwing shouted at him, and Blueblood shakily tried to stand... then flopped over on his side and screamed as loudly as he could, grabbing at one of his hind legs. The dragon leaned back slightly in surprise as Blue continued to scream and howl, rolling back and forth a little on the ground before he yelled: “M-My leg! It's... it's b-broken! Oh Heaven, it's broken!”

The dragon hissed, and then he leaned down and snapped: “That's too bad, you're just going to have to get up and walk it off!”

“W-Walk it off? I can't walk at all, a-a-at all!” Blueblood howled, convulsing on the ground as he continued to hold his 'broken' leg. “Oh, oh it hurts so badly, it hurts so badly that if... if something doesn't dull the pain s-soon, I'll... I'll die!”

“Maybe I should just kill you now and get it over with.” growled Stormwing, leaning down with disgust, as Blue trembled in very real fear, knowing this was a one in a hundred chance.

“Go a-ahead then, j-just go ahead... and... and then when Infernus finds out he's... he'll kill you with the dragon sword and I'll be avenged!” Blue cried out in as miserable and bitter a voice as he could manage, forcing himself to half-roll away.

“The dragon sword? What are you talking about, what is this 'dragon sword?'” growled Stormwing, and then he snarled and stepped forwards over the unicorn. “Tell me! Tell me now, or I'll break your other leg and kill you!”

“No, no! No, oh p-please no!” the unicorn wailed, covering his face as he felt a mad, insane urge to giggle. He knew his luck was going to run out eventually, he knew that he should be trying to escape, trying to come up with some kind of plan... and yet all he could do was spout more insane, unbelievable garbage that Stormwing was just eating up. “It's... it's the most p-powerful weapon a dragon can wield, it... it can kill any dragon in... with one hit!”

Stormwing scowled, but he shifted back and forth, clearly not knowing what to think. Blueblood wanted to continue rambling away, but he made himself focus on whimpering and rolling around on the ground in pain as the dragon shifted indecisively back and forth.

And then suddenly he sat back, laughing shortly before he shouted: “I knew you were lying! I know it, because... because there's no way that Infernus could... that he would let you touch something like that, I know it!”

Blueblood laughed disbelievingly: that was the reason Stormwing thought he was lying? And as the dragon snarled down at him, the unicorn felt a surge of inspiration before he snapped, as if it was common knowledge: “W-Why not? It's far too large for anyone but a dragon to use, anyway! I... I can b-barely move it when I drag it behind me!”

Stormwing halted, one claw half-raised, his eyes widening... and when Blueblood looked up at him, he realized that whatever else, this dragon wanted to believe what he was saying. He realized that he was faced with a giant, terrifying beast that he couldn't possibly hope to fight in physical combat... but one who also didn't seem capable of even thinking for himself, let alone figuring out that this weak, tiny little pony was manipulating him.

They looked at each other for a moment, and then Blue realized he had fallen silent, and the dragon narrowed his eyes before Blueblood threw his head back with a badly-forced cry of pain. But the silence had been too long, and he'd frozen up, and he'd gotten arrogant, and even if it had just been for a bare moment that he'd dropped out of character... it appeared that while Stormwing was stupid and gullible, even he could figure things out if enough hints were dropped in front of him.

“You little bastard!” snarled Stormwing, slashing a claw down, and Blueblood flung himself backwards, scrambling to his hooves and bolting away as Stormwing roared: “I knew your leg wasn't broken! I knew you were lying, you little lying bastard!”

He dropped forwards, then gurgled before his jaws snapped open, and a thick jet of black, steaming poison shot out of his maw. Blueblood barely managed to fling himself out of the way of the burst of acid, hurrying towards the other end of the box canyon even though he knew it was pointless, he knew he was trapped, and Stormwing roared in fury as he flapped his majestic wings before taking to the air, shouting: “Stay still! Stay still so I can crush the life out of you!”

Blueblood looked over his shoulder in horror as Stormwing leaned down and spat out another stream of poison, and the stallion threw himself forwards and sprinted with all the strength he could, narrowly avoiding it. Stormwing hissed in frustration at this, then shot quickly forwards, winging down low to attempt to slap Blue with his tail, but it narrowly missed and instead smashed into the ground beside him, knocking the stallion reeling.

He tripped over his own hooves and went face-first into the ground, swearing as he flopped painfully over with a gasp. He twisted up onto his belly, then winced as Stormwing streaked onwards through the air: he was forced to veer upwards to avoid the canyon wall, then flapped his wings hard several times to pick up speed even as he shot away from the canyon itself and higher into the air, and for a moment, Blueblood had the wild hope that maybe he was just going to go away.

But then the black dragon slowly began to wheel around, and even though he was far, far away by now, Blue could feel the reptiles sharp eyes glaring hatefully at him. And then the mountains shook with the beast's voice as it roared, terribly loud even from across hundreds and hundreds of feet: “Stay right there, and maybe I'll make this fast!”

Stormwing slowly angled himself into a weak decline, and Blueblood trembled before he felt it: the pulse. No, not just the pulse, the drums of the earth as well as the heartbeat of nature, time seeming to slow down as his entire body shook with their beat... and yet... “I... I can't understand! I can't-”

Just listen! Sleipnir's voice shouted in his mind, so urgent, so real, that Blueblood actually looked around in shock for the earth pony.

No, he wasn't here... but yet in a way, he was. Everything he had taught him, it was still with him... and Blue gritted his teeth before he clenched his eyes shut, shrinking himself down on the spot as much as he could as Stormwing dove eagerly in towards him, and-

Blueblood heard the command, and his body reacted even before his mind could process it, his horn lighting brightly up before his eyes snapped open and he looked disbelievingly up, knowing what his one chance was, and unable to believe he was actually going to try and do this as the dragon angled himself downwards, came on ever faster, dove greedily-

Blue snapped his horn sharply upwards, and a flare of light shot into the air as Stormwing dove in low... before the flare exploded in a brilliant volley in front of the dragon, and he shouted in consternation, jerking his head back and grabbing at his face, his whole body tilting... and then going out of control as he careened wildly past, low enough to the ground that his frantic wingbeats knocked Blueblood sprawling.

Less than a second later, Stormwing crashed face-first into one of the canyon walls, cracking it with the force of his impact and sending boulders and debris tumbling down from above to add insult to injury as he sprawled brokenly to the ground, helpless beneath the avalanche. Blueblood gaped as he picked himself slowly up, then he grabbed at his own body and looked dumbly down at himself, barely able to believe... he was alive.

He began to grin... and then he turned dead white as Stormwing roared furiously as he flung himself to his claws, chunks of loose rock flying in all directions as he stumbled around in a circle and almost screamed: “Bastard! Little bastard!

Stormwing broke into a shambling stagger-charge, and Blueblood trembled and stared, knowing there was no way out, there was no way he could survive, there was nothing that could save him-

And then his ears twitched as he heard it: a brazen, fearless voice shouting a war cry and warning before something smashed violently into Stormwing's face and sent him crashing to the earth with a great blast of dust and rock.

Blueblood gaped in disbelief, then coughed loudly, stumbling back from the dust cloud rising and swirling through the air around Stormwing... or at least, whatever was left of him. And then his eyes widened as he heard wingbeats, looking up over his shoulder in amazement as two dragons touched down behind him: Infernus, and a beautiful, rose-colored dragoness wearing the blue-stone necklace around her neck.

Their wings blew away the dust as they both settled to the ground, and Blue turned his amazed eyes back forwards to see Stormwing was wheezing weakly, his muzzle visibly crunched in and tears running down his cheeks as Sleipnir calmly hopped off the dragon's maw... and then, without looking behind him, he simply slammed one rear hoof firmly backwards into Stormwing's face.

It knocked the dragon's head backwards, and Stormwing squealed before he leapt into the air and wildly flapped his wings, clawing at the air with all four limbs before he finally managed to fly up and away, sobbing like a baby.

Sleipnir approached Blue with a smile, and the unicorn looked at him with relief and warmth, laughing weakly... before his face froze as Sleipnir clapped him on the shoulder and said cheerfully: “See, my friend? I told thee we would not need our equipment today. And thou wert so worried for some reason, but look at how well all has turned out!”

Blueblood mouthed slowly... and then he slowly ground his teeth together, one of his eyes twitching before he leaned forwards and yelled furiously: “You idiotic, ignorant, insensate... imbecile! You... you peasant!”

“Oh, come now, thou art fine! And I am certain thou hast grown stronger for the experience.” Sleipnir said helpfully... and then he winced and ducked back when Blueblood swung a hoof at him, before the earth pony danced backwards when Blue attempted to tackle him. “Well, I cannot bring the great cowardly beast back to eat thee, Blue, 'tis the truth otherwise!”

“Come here so I can strangle you, you... idiot!” Blueblood shouted furiously, charging after Sleipnir, but Sleipnir easily kept ahead of the unicorn, grinning over his shoulder at him and only fueling the prince's incoherent rage all the further. “Wipe that... that stupid smile off your face!”

“Well, now I most certainly cannot, since 'tis my smile that makes thee chase me like a lusty maiden!” Sleipnir replied cheerfully, and Blueblood skidded to a stop so he could stomp his hooves and shout a furious volley of curses he never would have dared to use in his Auntie's presence, Sleipnir giggling like a foal from where he'd stopped a few feet away to watch.

The dragons, meanwhile, turned from the two to look at each other, and Infernus gave a weak grin, trying to think up some excuse... but a moment later, Crystelle said with a strange delight in her voice: “Oh, they're just like little hatchlings at play!”

“I... that's why I take care of them!” Infernus said glibly, and Crystelle gave him a warm look as Infernus grinned lamely, turning a deep scarlet as he caught an amused, quick look from Sleipnir before the earth pony went back to teasing Blueblood.

The dragon still didn't know what to make of the ponies... but one thing he did know was that he was extremely glad he hadn't tried to pick a fight with them. They had clobbered Stormwing, they had helped him show Crystelle how he felt for her... and like it or not, the strange little ponies were starting to grow on him. Even if Sleipnir had also managed to make him agree to a few embarrassing requests in front of the dragoness... but she had giggled so cutely that it had almost made up for the humiliation.

Still. He only hoped that these 'misfits' were half as amusing as Sleipnir was... and they realized how lucky they were going to be to have their own resident dragons watching over them.