• Published 31st May 2018
  • 1,881 Views, 61 Comments

A Dragon's Hoard - Amethyst_Dawn

A forbidden child is raised in the outskirts of Equestria.

  • ...

A Huntress' Life

When many imagine nobility, images of regal gowns, lavish stones set in golden chains, and bountiful feasts on grand tables are typically the kind to be conjured. A camouflaged mare crouching in the mud, on the other hand, is generally the last thing to come to mind. Though her lineage was still respected by many who knew of it, the Unicorn named Rarity had never seen the era where her family had lived in the luxury of such extravagant material wealth. She was more than aware of her heritage, and what other ponies thought of her for it. To her, however, she was a commoner. A seamstress and peasant, noble only through her place in the small community that was Applesgate. These ponies depended on each other for survival, and her link in the chain was to make coats, shirts, and cloaks from hide and fur as her livelihood.

On this day, Rarity had been called to hunt; and it was now her temporary duty to help gather meat for the community. To do so, she had ventured towards the heart of the Darkwood alone, bearing only her leather cloak and a small but elegantly crafted bow and quiver. Very few delved half as deep into the forest even in the broadest of daylight, for the thick canopy and tangled vegetation forever casted a thorough shadow that gave the woods their local name. But Rarity was one of the few who defied the old superstitions, and knew that the best game came out at night: the well-fed predators that stalk their prey under the cover of absolute darkness.

That very reasoning was what drove Rarity to her current position, and she watched from the shrubbery as a large owlbear stood on its hind paws a stone’s throw away. Undoubtedly ignorant of its pursuer, it was stubbornly pecking away at a thick branch that held a number of dangling pomegranates just out of reach; biting into the limb with quick, jerking motions that made the feathers along its back sway like the waves of a calm seashore. Rarity closed her eyes to take a steadying breath, nocked an arrow, and aimed her bow cautiously with a magical aura. Her horn glowed with a matching light, just dim enough to not attract the beast’s attention.

“Back of the neck, right under the skull.” Rarity muttered far under her breath, drawing the bowstring back. There was a sharp thwip, and the animal let out a panicked screech before it crashed to the ground, dead. A whooping cry sounded through the forest as Rarity watched the arrow shudder out from the owlbear’s face; a steady trickle of blood ran out of the fatal wound, and mixed into the mud beneath it. She let her string slack as she looked into the trees with a huff, putting away the unspent arrow. “I’d appreciate it quite grandly if you’d stick to your side of the forest, Rainbow Dash!” She hissed, keeping her tone dangerously even. Her accusation was met by a cackling from amongst the branches as a brightly colored Pegasus glided down to perch on the felled beast like a hawk.

“Cripes, Rarity. Who shoved a stick up your plot?” The unwelcome mare laughed, scratching behind her left ear with a hindleg. She was covered from neck to frog in bark-like gambeson—a trick the ponies of Applesgate often used to blend in with the trees during a hunt—and most of her otherwise vibrantly multicolor mane was dulled with moss. A cocky smirk was smeared across her face, as was only normal for her. The only part beneath her neck that showed was her mark; a white cloud impaled with a jagged kukri. Obscuring half of her left mark was a pink puncture scar that Rarity smirked at.

“What is ‘up my plot’ is of no concern of yours, Dash. Though to be quite frank, you’d do well to place yours elsewhere.” Rarity bit back, pulling out an ivory-handled dagger and approaching the kill with a knowing grin. “I thought we agreed that you’d stay within eyesight of town after our last rendezvous. You wouldn’t want to end up with another scar, would you?” Dash’s smile shattered at the remark, and she lowered herself into a protective crouch with a snarl as if hoping to guard the owlbear.

“Look, sissy, the game’s getting scarce back there. Forgive me for trying to feed myself here.”

“Yourself?” Rarity laughed as she stepped out of the mud, not caring a thimble for Dash’s threatening tone. “Our kills go to the same places, Dash, the only difference between what happens to our kills is that I am competent enough to know the difference between salvageable hide and fat. You might do better at finding the scarce meat if you didn’t announce yourself after every kill like a Minotaur with a broken back.”

Dash growled, grabbing the owlbear around the neck as she took to the sky without another word, and lifting the kill off the ground with little trouble in spite of its massive size. Rarity sighed in irritation, nocked another arrow as the Pegasus flew past her, and without so much as a glance she fired into the woods after her fleeing rival. The shot gained results almost instantly, and a pained yelp echoed back to her, accompanied by a loud crash from further in.

“She never learns…” Rarity muttered to herself, heading to where the clamour rose from. All talk, all action, no brains. That was Rainbow in Rarity’s eyes. She had no sense of tact, dignity, or proper use of her theatrics. Rarity could forgive the Pegasus for most of her shortcomings, even her insistence on bending every rule to her provide her an advantage. But she was brash. Thoughtless, brash, inconsiderate, and immensely easy to predict.

It wasn’t hard for Rarity to follow the typical trail of broken branches to find her quarry, even while she was preoccupied with her own thoughts. She turned her nose up with a grunt of annoyance at the sight of the owlbear’s unnatural position, the poor dumb thing possibly had at least a few broken bones after the fall. Fortunately for her, Rarity guessed that the meat and hide should still be useful. She levitated the bear without any strain, and raised her brow a bit as she moved her gaze to the otherwise occupied Dash, who was tangled in a mass of vines. Rarity’s arrow was sticking straight out of her cutie mark, directly adjacent to the previous scar, and Dash’s wriggling was surely causing herself a world of pain because of it. Rarity barely even blinked as she trotted up and yanked the tip out of Dash’s thigh, eliciting a scream of pain and a vicious thrashing.

“I’ll kill you for this, Rarity!” Dash screeched, managing to free her hoof and take a swing at the Unicorn that fell inches short. Rarity rolled her eyes bemusedly without a flinch, turning away from the arrogant creature. She heard several, far uglier threats thrown her way as she left—a few choice ones even involving her mother—but she knew better than to fear anything that an overconfident parakeet had to say.

“Don’t struggle too hard, dear, you’ll snap your neck.” She called back calmly, carrying the bear westward “And if you want to have a better chance of not being shot, stop making a beeline for the trail.”

“Garçon! Another Beavertooth, if you please.” Rarity shouted slurredly as she held her empty mug into the air, and scattered a number of hook shaped golden pieces onto the table she was using as a prop to keep her body off the ground. The middle-aged mare behind the bar looked to her, lowering her spectacles off of her pink mane to count the gold before shaking her head with a sigh.

“Pinkamena!” The barkeep called out, “take care of the Lady, she's thirsty.” The summons were answered in the blink of an eye as a bright pink flash came racing from the back to retrieve Rarity’s mug, vanishing in the same second. Rarity chuckled, watching as the blur froze in place beside her table, and saw that somehow it had avoided spilling the newly-filled vessel. The speedy pony’s name suited her immensely, given her saturated taffy pink coloring. Her curly fuschia mane fell splendidly beyond her shoulders, and she wore her signature optimistic smile.

“You never cease to amaze me, Pinks.” Rarity grinned, accepting the drink with an unsteady hoof. “Such a speed at any age is a rare gift indeed, and it’s certainly not wasted on you.” She tipped the mug in a kind gesture before tipping her head back to take a deep swig. Her mind hazed, rendering the barmaid’s response into an incomprehensible buzz before she even realized it. The kick of the ale was swift and brutal, knocking Rarity forward and sending a shiver up her spine which shook her into a state that teased lucidity. In her stupor, Rarity gave an apologetic look. “Sh-sorry, darling. I’m afraid I missed that, would you mind repeating it?”

“I said I appreciate the compliment, Rares.” Pinkamena laughed with a tone Rarity couldn’t quite decipher, setting her tray onto the table and playing with a lock of her mane. Pinkamena’s tone was patient, almost like a sister watching their sibling recover from a sugar crash. “And I wanted to know if you’d be awake for the show this time, to see your design in action?”

Rarity stared blankly at the filly for a few seconds before the words clicked, and she smiled sheepishly. Had she really blacked out for every show? They were infrequent enough occasions that she had plenty of time to remember that she shouldn’t get drunk, and she could swear she’d heard Pinkamena’s singing before. But as she searched her memories of the inn, none of them put the filly on the stage.

“I am so sorry, Pinks.” Rarity felt a strong thread of guilt weave into her heart, “I know how important your performances with your sisters are, I promise I’ll be awake to see this one.”

“Yeah, actually it'll just be me, trying ‘The Ballad of Queen Lun’.” Pinkamena said in a melancholy tone, catching Rarity’s confusion. “I’ve been working on a new style that’ll work solo, and I wanted to test it on something familiar. Something everyone knows, see how they like my take on it.”

“Why won’t your sisters be joining you?” Rarity felt a slimy dread creep and nest in the back of her neck, and her hackles rose as a lingering feeling of ghostly fire licked at her sides. Pinkamena seemed to recognize something as she met Rarity’s eyes, and she placed a gentle hoof on Rarity’s.

“They’re okay, Miss Rarity. My sisters are fine.” She assured, wrapping her foreleg around Rarity’s shoulder. “Maud’s in the room helping Limey pack, they’re going back home. They’ll be helping serve the food tonight, but after that, they’re going to finish up the preparations for the trip.” Rarity’s eyes fell onto the polished wood of the table, staring blankly for a moment before they slowly shut. She gently pulled her head up, inhaling deeply and forcing the discomfort out.

“I really have been a disappointment for your family, haven’t I?” Rarity muttered weakly, the thread of guilt thickening into a chain of sludge. Pinkamena flinched back as if she’d been slapped, the affection falling out of her hug. Rarity didn’t need to see the conflict on Pinkamena’s face, she could feel it in the way the filly moved. Slowly, the filly’s hug was peeled away completely, and the sound of hooves dropping on the floor echoed like the drop of a pin in a catacomb.

“I don’t resent you for what happened, Rarity.” Pinkamena offered, stepping back and picking up the tray. “None of us do, we’re just…” Rarity held up a hoof, cutting Pinkamena off.

“I know you don’t, Pinks.” She smiled emptily, lifting the glass in a bitter salute. “Doesn’t mean that I don’t.” Pinkie opened her mouth to speak while Rarity greedily downed the mug of ale, only for the both of them to be interrupted by the door of the inn slamming open.

“You sadistic, no-good, showoff bitch!”

Rarity rolled her eyes as the thick accent flooded the hall, turning every head but hers. Pinks froze in horror at the foul tone, before glancing to the doorway and crawling back with her ears down. There were only three ponies in town who swore like that, and Rarity left one of them in the forest. Rarity let out a tired sigh, finished swallowing what was left of her hard drink, and turned.

“A good afternoon to you as well, Applejack.” She chimed coldly. The bellow came from a sturdy, sunset-orange mare that stomped towards Rarity’s table with clear purpose. Her nostrils flared, and her ears flicked angrily against the wide-brimmed leather bolero that sat comfortably on her golden mane. For any other pony, when those emerald-green eyes locked onto them with the same intensity they burned with now, they knew there would be no leaving without some form of scar. For Rarity, however, the only burning she felt was the alcohol in her throat. She met the challenger’s glare with a look of pure apathy, eagerly awaiting the storm to pass. “If you expect me to trod back into those woods, I’m going to need a larger wagon.”

“Don't y’all go trying to shove this’un away, Rares!” Applejack snapped angrily, smacking a firm hoof onto the table. “Ah just got word from the patrol. They came back from hauling that bluebird out of another tangle an hour ago, and Fluttershy’s working on patching up her flank! That's the third time this month y’all shot her down, and Ah want t’ know why!” Rarity stared bemusedly, frowning as she noticed that Pinkamena looked ready to cry.

“I've explained myself before,” Rarity asserted, calmly setting her mug down. “Each time it’s been the same reasoning. It hasn’t changed, and quite frankly I'm getting tired of repeating myself.”

“Alright, look.” Applejack shut her eyes, her stance relaxing. She rubbed a hoof against the bridge of her muzzle, and her tone cooled down. “Ah get it, really Ah do. she still ain’t forgiven you for stealing her glory and she’s making it hard on you, you’re within your rights to clip her wings every now and then. But Ah swear, you're more territorial than an ursa!” She glared daggers past her hoof, eying Rarity with unrestrained ire. “When it comes down to it, she’s your partner for this season. Ya shouldn't be stringing her up like bait for timberwolves just because she shot first. It's careless and short-sighted, and we can't afford to lose any more hunters.”

Rarity glanced back at Applejack sharply, a swift rage boiling her blood at those words. “Yes, because that's all he was, isn't it? A dog to fetch our food?”

“You know that's not what Ah meant, Rarity!” Applejack flinched, visibly growing more frustrated. “Now don't you go changing the subject. Ah’ll make this easy for you to understand; If ya keep putting arrows in her flank, she ain't gonna be worth anything to this town. Ah don’t think she can take that, not yet.”

“Yes, because her contributions are phenomenal as-is.” Rarity quirked her brow, still showing only a chilled disinterest. “I doubt I need to remind you why we ordered her to stay by the borders of the forest.”

“Aw, shit, Ah can't argue with you tonight.” Applejack visibly deflated, lifting her flanks off the stool. “Just try to find ways to discipline her that don’t involve shooting her down, alright? Think you can manage letting her get away with a little more?”

“Fine, have it your way.” Rarity deadpanned with a grimace, turning towards the stage. “But mark my words, Applejack; if the rules can bend, the rules will break.”

“It’s my town, Rarity. I’ll make sure the rules don’t bend past what they can take!” Applejack barked, shoving herself away and storming out of the inn. Once again alone at the table, Rarity let out a long, anguished breath as her eyes began to sting with fresh tears.

What happened to us? She asked herself, the chains tightening around her heart. We used to be sisters, and now we fight like badgers whenever we cross paths. Celestia pardon us, at this rate we’ll be at each other’s throats by the end.

The mental interrogation grew numbing and ceaseless in spite of her attempts to ignore it. When her mind kept asking for answers, her lips had none. She picked up her drink in hopes of drowning out the questions, only to be disappointed by an empty mug. She didn’t need to deal with this. Not now, not ever. If she were going to survive long enough to move on, to have hope, she’d just need to endure the heartbreak until she could find something else worth living for.

Rarity’s ears twitched as a flute began to play from behind the stage, and she looked to see Pinkamena on the platform bobbing steadily to the lively rhythm. She was wearing a dress of polished purple scales, a small gemstone set in the corner of the V neckline. A frock of Rarity’s craft, which she recognized immediately. In spite of herself, Rarity smiled, and Pinkamena beamed right back as both of their hooves began to tap to the beat of the music. Once her cue came, the pink pony opened her lips with a twirl and began to pour out the clearest voice in the village.

‘Round the water, through the trees.
Past the rivers of the breeze
Was once a city of gold shimmering
Where ponies would kneel before our queens
Crowns of silver woven with fate
Eyes full of love and empty of hate
Come little ones, and hear me sing
Of time long past, a forgotten date

We worked hard stone, we played in the field
The laws of nature to our kind would yield
Yet clock struck doom and robbed our power
From that day on our fate was sealed
The night was when rest was well earned
And in envy strong your heart was turned
For time was nigh that ponies should cower
As the first fury was summoned to burn

Queen Lun, Queen Lun, we weep of your fate by the hooves of your grief
Pray tell, pray tell, why did you forsake those who praised your belief
We sang, we danced, we played through the night powered only by drink
Ignored, ignored is not what you were, pray tell why was that what you think

Came the Drake named Chala-Umiir
Sending your subjects fleeing in fear
Yet you declared him welcome instead
And fattened him up with bread and beer
He said many words both sour and sweet
He refused even the tastiest meat
Though many a pony wanted him dead
You ensured that he could have their heads...

As she listened to the new tune to the old ode, Rarity felt herself relax. It was a well-aged poem to be sure, telling of the fall of the beloved Queen Beanna Gealach a thousand years past. Rarity herself wasn’t there, but she fondly recalled the stories of her ancestors. What it was like in the city of Canterlot at the time of the Great Isolation, and how the first of the Belle line was handmaiden to the Queen of the Night herself.

Queen Réalta an Domhain
Down in blaze of glory-fire came
Begged her sister “Don’t let him stay
For our people he will slay”
You scoffed and drank another round
O’er piles and bodies you’ve not found
The Drake seduced your heart with words
And to him, your loyalty bound

Queen Lun, Queen Lun, we weep of your fate by the hooves of your grief
Pray tell, pray tell, why did you forsake those who praised your belief
We sang, we danced, we played through the night powered only by drink
Ignored, ignored is not what you were, pray tell why was that what you think...

Pinkamena’s voice was remarkable to hear; it bathed the room in song like a tide of hope, all while ringing with a deep softness. It was optimistic, yet sober. Youthful, yet sophisticated and refined. It contradicted how she sounded in conversation by a good few octaves. While her normal tones could carry an upbeat tune with a sensational lack of fault or dischord, how well she adapted to a resonant tone was something that astonished Rarity as she listened.

For the rest of the night, Rarity remained seated at the same table, mug empty as crowds and conversations faded in and out of the inn.

Rarity wrinkled her nose as the stench of the work proceeding around her perforated her nostrils and assaulted her senses. It had stopped bringing gagging tears to her eyes only a month ago, but she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to fully ignore it.

As she walked to the tanner’s counter, she couldn’t help but notice a young colt pedaling away on one of the horrid-looking contraptions, rolling a large barrel that vomited black sludge from a rectangular hole in its side whenever turned to the floor.

“A’right, Mrs. Stone, Ah’m guessing you’re here to pick up yesterday’s hide?” A deep voice called from the back of the building. Rarity glanced away from the tired colt to see a burly, red Earthen stallion standing by a large shelf stacked with yellowed parcels. His golden mane was obviously dirtied from a day’s work, but his green eyes always remained as bright as they had ever been. Rarity smiled at him, and rolled her eyes.

“Not at all, Macintosh, I just decided to stop by and smell the fresh air.” She giggled as she pulled a few small pouches from the satchel across her back. “And please, it’s... Belle now. Just Ms. Belle.”

“Right, sorry Ma’am.” Macintosh’s generous grin faded a little as he grabbed one of the larger packages.

“Oh, pish posh, it’s quite alright.” Rarity scolded, waving her hoof. “I think it’s time.” She placed the pouches on the shelf with a metallic clatter. “One-hundred and fifty still the normal wage?”

Macintosh nodded silently as he heaved the load onto a small wagon, adding on a few smaller bundles. He started to push the wagon towards the open entrance of the tannery, but paused as he drew alongside Rarity. She gave him a curious look, but he didn’t meet her gaze, choosing instead to stare ahead at the open entrance.

“Rarity, Ah...” He started, a small hesitation in his voice giving what was on his mind away to Rarity. Macintosh stayed in place for a moment before shaking his head, and shoving the cart forward with an inaudible sigh. Rarity lifted her hoof towards him, but quickly decided against it. Now wasn’t the time.

Once Macintosh had escorted her out of the tannery, Rarity took to pushing the cart with her magic. She brought the skins through the streets of the small town, the thatchwood roofs of the simple plaster houses casting cooling shadows over her. Once her own home came into sight, a small shack on the corner of the path caught her eye. It wasn’t a gaudy shack by any stretch of the imagination. By all realities, it was probably the most humble building in the entire settlement. The only major visual difference that separated it from the others was a large sign with a blue wing painted on, the sign of a Healer.

Rarity hung her head, and chuckled under her breath. She knew that her mind wouldn’t let her rest until she paid somepony a visit. She parked her cart by the front entrance, flicking her neck to cast a quick lock spell over it, and walked inside the hospice.

The scent of mud and medicine permeated the interior, and various herbs and ivies had grown in planters that worked with thick curtains to separate several small cots along the north wall. To her right, Rarity spotted a blonde-coated Pegasus mumbling to herself behind a workbench, the open shelves stacked with bottles of colored liquids and powders. Adjacent to the station were a few cupboards, doubtlessly filled with similar ingredients. The Pegasus pulled aside her blush pink mane to spare a moment’s glance at Rarity before letting it fall back over her eyes, and wordlessly nodding to the back of the building.

“Thank you, Fluttershy.” Rarity nodded back with a smile, turning and leaving the murmuring mare to her own devices. She combed what she could see of the cots in the back until her eyes landed on a bicolor blue tail peeking out from behind one of the curtains. Rarity approached the bed quietly, greeted by the sight of a frail pink Unicorn carefully laid on it. There was a cast around their left foreleg, and red-stained bandages on her head. They didn’t move or react to Rarity’s presence, the only sign of life being the gentle rise and fall of their chest. Rarity let out a small sigh, and sat down next to the cot.

“Hello, mother.” She whispered, placing a hoof on the pony’s chest. “I’m back.”

Author's Note:

AND HERE IT IS! :pinkiehappy:

After months upon months of planning, losing the original first chapter with the death of my old laptop, a complete lack of motivation to work on this as a result, and numerous delays in daily life... after all that, the first chapter is finally here! :yay:

As you can probably tell, this is going to be a somewhat ambitious project for me to do. So please, don't be shy with expressing your criticisms, opinions, or whatever down in the comments below! :twilightsmile:

EDIT: Rewritten 8/18/20

Until Next Time, God Bless You!
~Amethyst Dawn :heart: