• Published 15th Sep 2012
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An Old Mare's Tale - realbrickwall



What really happened one thousand years ago

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Chapter 17

The desert heat and tumbling sands wore heavily on Celestia and the other ponies. Before it was even evening, they were forced to slow their pace and switch up the wagon setup so that they didn’t need to stop every time somepony needed water, which was incredibly often.

Celestia passed Amaranth a wooden bowl part full of water. “So, you’ve been quiet since the mountain. Well, extra-quiet I mean.”

Amaranth drank it all in one gulp. “I’ve been thinking about what Brother Skipping Stone said to you when we left the temple.”

Celestia frowned. “You heard that, huh.”

Amaranth nodded. “I know you are used to making sacrifices. You have ruled Equestria for centuries, and suffered through many tumultuous times. But I can’t help but wonder if you’re capable of risking your own sister’s well-being.”

“We’re doing this to save Luna. Everything will work out. We just need to bring everything back in balance.” Celestia moved ahead of Amaranth to cut off the conversation.

“Did you know we didn’t tell Brother Skipping Stone who you were?” Amaranth didn’t press to keep up with her, but he spoke louder so that she would still hear him.

“What?”

“He addressed you as Celestia the instant we brought you to the temple.”

Celestia huffed. “So?”

“There’s no telling what he knows, but I’d count on it being correct.” Amaranth and Celestia’s eyes met for an instant before Celestia turned away.

“It’s going to work, okay?” She huffed and accelerated into a trot, and caught up with the wagon. Morning Glory and Flash Burn were gabbing frivolously, and Sage was talking with Zerishan in Zebraic. Shimmerdust appeared to be contemplating her hooves, which Celestia had come to realize was probably true in the literal sense. None of them turned when she started to walk towards the front of the wagon.

Before Celestia even got around to the front, she heard what must have been some sort of giant insect, for she could not imagine anything else capable of making the sound. However, she soon came up far enough that she saw Hurricane and Adombra doing some sort of strange humming.

“AmMUMmumMUMmumMUMUMuuuu” Adombra began

“AMmumMUMmum-“ Hurricane attempted to repeat, but Adombra interrupted

“AmMUMmumMUMmumMUMUMuuu”

“AmmmumMUM-“

“AmMUMmumMUMmumMUMUMuuu”

Celestia rushed to stick a hoof in Hurricane’s mouth before he could deliver his atonal reply.

“What in the hay are you two doing?”

Adombra laughed. “Ah, Sunny! I was just teaching young Hurricane how to do a proper…what is the word…drone? Yes, something like that. It’s an important part of the music of my tribe, and most zebra tribes. He is awful at it, though.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Oh. Uh, well, I guess it’s good you two have stopped talking about perverted stuff, finally.” She removed her hoof from Hurricane.

The black pegasus instantly turned back to the zebra with a big grin. “So, do the zebra chicks really go for the guys who do that crazy humming stuff?”

“They sure do! If you ever figure it out, I’ll show you where the girls with the nice booties like to go.”

Celestia put a hoof to her face. “Hurricane, perhaps you could try to learn something WHOLESOME about zebra culture?”

Hurricane rolled his eyes. “What is this, cloud kindergarten? Fine.” He looked off to nowhere in particular as he tried to think of a question. “So, uh…culture. How about that?”

Adombra nodded. “Indeed.”

Celestia growled. “Oh, forget you two. At least leave me out of it when you talk about butts next time.” She headed back towards the rear of the cart.

“Hey, for your information,” Hurricane yelled after her, “when I said ‘tight’, I meant it in a good way!”

The pegasus and the zebra were as soon out of mind as they were out of sight. Celestia moved to join Zerishan and Sage’s conversation.

“-however, I don’t think that’s true of all zebras. I think my husband is just peculiar.”

Celestia perked up. “What’s peculiar? Don’t tell me Adombra actually has depth.” She giggled.

Sage turned. “Oh, uh, we were just talking about, uh…well, how much Adombra seems to like mares with, uh…you know. Large, uh-“

“AAAAARGH!” Celestia threw her hooves up and collapsed on the ground. “New conversation!” She hopped over to Shimmerdust. “You look deep in thought. What’s in that pretty little head of yours?”

Shimmerdust didn’t look up. “A brain?”

Celestia smiled. She had that one coming. “I mean, what are you thinking about right now?”

“Oh.” Shimmerdust picked her head up. “It’s kinda funny. You know my butt?”

Celestia gritted her teeth. “I know of it.”

“I’ve just been thinking, you know, about how all parts of a pony serve a purpose, but my butt doesn’t seem like it needs to be the size that it is. I mean, it needs some padding, but past a certain point, it seems like the only possible purpose would be to get stallions to look at me, which I guess is kind of a purpose, so-…Sunny?” Celestia was already trotting off.

She sidled up to Flash and Glory, who cut themselves off when they noticed the look on her face.

“Ah, Sunny, uh…” Morning Glory put on her best nervous smile, “you seem…intense.”

Celestia pointed a hoof. “Tell me what you’re talking about right now. And it had BETTER not be butts.”

Glory laughed. “Ahahaha, of course. Why would we be talking about…those things. Yes.”

“Then what were you two talking about?”

Glory and Flash exchanged a look, and yelled at the same time.

“Playing horseshoes!”“Eating pie!”

Another look.

“Eating horseshoes!”“Playing pie!”

Flash frowned. “Okay, we’ve got to work on this. Maybe-“ Flash stopped and looked at Celestia, who was fairly sure that she was emitting a whistling steam from her ears.

“THAT IS IT! EVERYPONY STOP!” The wagon lurched to a halt as Celestia’s voice tore through the desert air. Adombra and Hurricane peeked their heads around the wagon. “You will all engage in a conversation that has NOTHING to do with rear ends, or so help me, I will take the wheels off the cart and hitch all of you to it!”

There was a long silence, until finally Hurricane spoke. “Ooh! Ooh! I have one!”

Celestia pointed a hoof at him. “Okay, go.”

“I was actually wondering about those marks you zebras all seem to have on your-.” He stopped cold. Another awkward silence.

“Non-anteriors?” Sage suggested wryly.

There was another silence before Celestia sighed. “Close enough. At least it’s culturally relevant.”

Zerishan chuckled. “The symbols which adorn our flanks go as far back as our histories. Each means something in the ancient Zebra language. My husband’s means ‘discovery’, and mine means ‘fortune’, which is often used to refer to economic success.”

Adombra yelled from the front of the cart. “It’s why I married her. She helps me get lucky all the time.”

“HUSBAND!”

Celestia sighed. “Please continue. How do you get them?”

“In ancient times, when a foal was old enough, they would perform many trials as a coming of age ritual. Their mark would be chosen for them by the elders, and would be carved into the flesh with sharp stones and ink. However, long before the dragons ruled, it is said that zebras were gifted with the favor of the divines. The gods chose to grant us a painless ritual, which performed itself once a zebra had discovered where their destiny lay. My own engraving appeared when I sold my first tapestry at a market. I would suggest you ask Adombra to tell you his own story. And I wish you the best of luck figuring out which parts are true. It took me ten years of marriage, three foals, and more wine than even he will admit to drinking.”

Shimmerdust perked up. “Oooh, you have foals?”

Zerishan smiled gently. “Well, not anymore. They have all grown up and moved away. I will not be surprised when they start having foals of their own.”

Shimmerdust sagged. “Aw. I like foals.”

There was a gagging sound from the front of the cart. “I’m just glad we don’t have to put up with any brats on this trip.” Celestia was sure Hurricane was rolling his eyes.

Zerishan laughed. “You may feel differently when a foal enters your life.”

“Yeah, right.”

Morning Glory huffed. “Hurricane, you play with foals at the orphanage almost every day and-“

“HEY, SHUT UP! I don’t play with them, okay? I show off a little and leave them some toys, THAT’S IT!”

Glory growled. “I swear, he’s like a foal himself.”

Amaranth yelled up towards the front, “If it helps, Hurricane, none of us really think of you as ‘cool’ or ‘tough’ to begin with, so you don’t have much of an image to protect.”

There was a moment of silence. “The INSTANT my wing is working again, I’m making you a lightning cloud codpiece.”

“Don’t bother,” Glory said, “he’ll grow up when he’s good and ready. Though, I hope it’s soon, because he has a lot of catching up to do.”

“I heard that! Don’t think you’re getting off because we share a parent!”

Glory replied in a singsong voice that sent chills up and down Celestia’s spine. “Nooo, but I DO know the exact age SOMEPONY stopped wetting the be-ed…”

The front of the wagon was silent.

Zerishan tilted her head. “Strange. I am accustomed to ponies being very evasive and polite. You must be close indeed.”

Morning Glory waved a hoof in the air. “He’s my brother. It’s my job to pound at his thick skull to get things through.”

“Ah, you three are all siblings?”

Amaranth shrugged. “No, I’m not related to them. I just happen to be utterly bereft of tact or subtlety. I’ve never seen much point in developing them, in any case. Good ponies seem to stick by you even when you point out their faults.”

Celestia smiled. “It can be unpleasant, but I guess we all need it from time to time. Besides, you’re lovable enough to make up for it.”

Zerishan interjected, “Well, if that’s the case, you will be quite welcome in zebra society. It is a mark of prestige to speak the truth plainly, even when it is to your disadvantage. Most of our shamans take very strict vows of truth.”

Glory raised an eyebrow. “Not to disparage zebras, but I’ve never noticed them to be much more truthful than ponies. At least, not your merchants or diplomats. I suppose I’ve hardly talked to the kind of zebra who doesn’t stand to make more money from lying.”

Zerishan made a sort of minimalist shrug that only involved a slight tilt of the head. “Zebras are, in the end, much the same as ponies. We are flawed, we fail to uphold our own morality, we can be offended, and we can be cruel. But the culture of honesty does run deep, especially in zebra lands. Make no mistake, the stigma of untruth is far stronger than you are used to. I would be wary, especially if you wish to gain the favor of our elders.”

Adombra yelled from the front. “Ah, I believe they may not have to worry about that.”

Celestia frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean we may not make it to zebra lands at all.”

The ponies all galloped around to the front of the cart, and Zerishan hopped down to follow them. They all gazed into the distance ahead.

On the horizon was a figure that could only be seen due to its massive size. It seemed almost flat, but a single appendage towered over it, looming dangerously.

Sage whispered. “Scorpio.”

Flash Burn took to the air instantly. “What is that?”

Twilight Sage didn’t take his eyes off the monstrosity. “Long before Equestria was founded, perhaps even before the dragons ruled the world, there were terrifying beasts that roamed the world. They were once imprisoned, because defeating them was nigh impossible.”

Morning Glory raised her eyebrow. “Well, it doesn’t look imprisoned now.”

Celestia’s head sunk. “Most of them were imprisoned in the stars.”

Glory winced. “Oh.”

A horrible sound reminiscent of a rake on a chalkboard rent the air. The shape started moving towards them.

Flash looked down. “So, uh, what’s the plan here? We’d have a rough fight against that thing if we had the entire Day AND Night Guards here.”

Zerishan lifted a hoof nervously. “It’s right between us and the zebra lands. We have to turn back.”

Celestia huffed. “If we turn back and try to wait until that thing moves, the world will be over before we ever get to zebra lands.”

Sage yelled, “Well, dying in a fight against that thing won’t help much either.”

There was a cough from the front of the wagon. “If you’ll all calm down,” Adombra said without even a tinge of nervousness, “I know exactly where we can go.”

“I told you, husband, you’ve never seen the Cave of Wonders! I’ll not have you lead us blindly into the desert.”

Adombra shrugged. “I can find it again if you’d actually let me for once.”

“NO! We must go back to Mission.”

Adombra sighed. “So you do not trust me.”

Zerishan instantly softened. “Husband, of course I trust you-“

“And of course you know I’ve never missed a direction since you’ve known me.”

“Yes-“

“But you won’t let me make the call when it actually matters.” Celestia’s heart skipped a beat. Though she had known the cheerful old zebra for a scant few hours, the bitterness in his voice surprised her immensely.

Zerishan was silent for a moment, then hung her head. “You are right, husband. I have been inattentive to you. Perhaps for longer than I even realize now.” Another moment. “I need you more than ever now, and I am too old and proud to see it. Please, lead us.”

Adombra didn’t hesitate. “We can outrun the beast, but not with a full wagon. We need to rid ourselves of the heaviest goods.”

Zerishan winced. “You don’t mean-“

“The water. We’ll keep two barrels.” Zerishan instantly began unloading the barrels, and the rest of the ponies followed suit. As they hit the sand, Adombra turned to Hurricane. “So, boy, I hope you run better than you sing.”

Hurricane laughed. “Just try to keep up, gramps.”

A cloud of sand flew up as the ponies began galloping as one, and the race began.

It soon became obvious that the Scorpio beast was too fast to outrun. Though there was still quite a bit of distance between it and the ponies, it was gaining steadily, and the ponies could not keep up their pace, especially not under the midday sun on the hot desert sand.

Flash Burn was the only one who didn’t seem tired (though it may have helped that she was flying). She shouted down, “We’re not going to make it! There’s nothing in sight ahead!” Celestia looked over to Adombra, who was completely silent. His eyes were transfixed on the horizon, his hooves carrying him in a straight line that should have been impossible over the sandy dunes. Hurricane kept making yelping noises as he was pulled back on course by the unwavering zebra.

“Tell him that!” Hurricane replied in Adombra’s stead. “Dude’s possessed!”

Celestia tried bumping him as she ran. “Hey! Flash says she doesn’t see anything! There’s nothing close enough, even if this is the right direction!”

Adombra was still silent. Zerishan yelled over the sound of hoofbeats, “Stop trying to disturb him! Maintaining direction in the desert is difficult, even for him. It’s taking all he has.”

The ponies continued in silence. They kept pace for a while, until there was a thud from the back of the group.

“SAGE!” Shimmerdust and Flash Burn cried out in unison. The orange unicorn was prone on the ground.

Twilight Sage groaned. “My legs. I don’t think I can move my legs anymore.”

Shimmerdust walked over to him, but collapsed before she reached him. “Uh…okay you have a point.”

Celestia hear Hurricane yelling at Adombra to stop, but the old zebra continued nonetheless, taking Hurricane and Zerishan along with him. Celestia rushed over to help Sage, but slowed when she found that her legs were nearing their end as well.

Morning Glory breathed heavily, “Unicorns, huh?” She walked slowly, and the shaking of her legs told Celestia that she was giving everything she had just to stay up.

Celestia groaned. “We can’t keep this up. We…I can hardly breathe. We’ll die before Scorpio even catches us, at this rate.”

Sage tried to move, but failed. “So, what do we do? We have one flyer and one magic user between us, and that thing must have eyes that are bigger than our wagon, assuming its anatomy is generally accurate to a scorpion’s.”

Flash huffed. “Anatomy! Scorpions have to have some kind of weakness other than being small, right? Sage, you must know something.”

Sage made an extra large breath that was like a sigh. “Its legs can’t move in every direction, it sees different light than ponies. That’s about all I can think of, and at that size, we couldn’t take advantage of either of those without an army of pegasi and unicorns. Maybe zebra mystics. But we kinda don’t have any of those.”

Flash slumped in the air. “Okay, so…just go for its eyes?”

Sage shook his head a couple millimeters. “At that size, even its eyes are too tough. It’s take the force of a catapult to get through them. And it doesn’t have weak joints either. Exoskeleton.”

Shimmerdust piped up, sounding even more far off than usual, “no skeleton means it’s all squishy underneath. Squishy and huggy like a teddy bear.”

Flash pounded her hooves together. “Right! So, all we have to do is…get…inside. Uhhh…” she looked around at all the scrunched up faces, “We’ll call that ‘Plan B’.

Amaranth sighed. “We’re going to die, aren’t we?”

Celestia put a hoof to her face. “Negativity is not going to help us right now.”

“Nothing is.” Amaranth sunk his head. Nopony had a retort.

As the beast drew closer, its full measure became even clearer. Even without its tail, it stood taller than the castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. Its stinger was lifted high enough to scrape the cloud homes of pegasi in mixed-pony towns. But, even more incredible was its coloration. While at a distance, it had seemed black, up close, Celestia could tell that was not the case at all. It was a dark blue, and its carapace was filled with the stars of the night sky, wearing its once-prison as a new skin. As it closed in on the ponies, it made its horrible screech again. This time, it overwhelmed Celestia’s senses, and she could do nothing but futilely cover her ears with her hooves. She felt like she was about to vomit.

Even as it drew right up to the ponies, it did not slow down. Celestia could feel its footsteps even through the sand.

Flash Burn flew to the air and began her attack. In spite of Sage’s earlier advice, she went straight for the eyes. She kicked over and over to no effect. Scorpio kept moving forward. It was right above the ponies. And still it continued.

And it continued on.

In a few seconds, it had passed over them completely.

Flash Burn relented her attack and rejoined the other ponies. “Okay, what just happened here? I’m pretty sure that thing was chasing us.”

Sage struggled to his hooves. “I think…I think it couldn’t see us.”

Flash frowned. “Again. Chasing us.”

Sage shook his head. “Again, speaking from anatomy, scorpions don’t exactly have or need to have excellent eyesight. We’re so small…I think it couldn’t tell we were even things. I think it’s chasing the wagon.”

Flash looked down and up in an instant. “I have to separate the others from the wagon. Is anypony carrying something I can use to cut the wagon harnesses, in case I can’t snap Adombra out of whatever he’s doing?”

Sage produced a fine knife from his saddlebag quickly. “Here. Good thinking, Captain.”

Flash stammered. “Uh, t-thanksgottagobye!” She took the knife with her hooves, and became nothing more than a blur of flame as she took off to catch the wagon.

But even at her speed, she had not reached the zebras before another sound split the air. But this was not the horrible screech of Scorpio. This was a terrible roar, one that Celestia recognized even though she had not heard it in centuries.

The unmistakable sillouhuette of a great dragon appeared in the sky in the exact direction Adombra had been leading them.

“Sage?” Celestia said hesitantly, “It’s pretty much impossible for me to be dreaming right now, isn’t it?”

“Yup.” The orange unicorn was unusually terse.

“Well, on the bright side,” Shimmerdust offered hopefully, “the scorpion’s WAY bigger, so we really don’t have MORE problems.”

Celestia frowned. Even though Shimmerdust had a point, it didn’t really make her feel any better. The dragon began flying in their direction, though Celestia was unsure if it was headed for the wagon, Scorpio, or the ponies.

Suddenly, as it drew near to Scorpio, it ascended high with a great flap of its wings. Then, without warning, a column of flame that looked like it must have been only a foot wide, but as bright as the desert sun, lanced Scorpio straight through. The beast made a sound much like its last one, but much quieter and faltering.

The flame was followed by tens, maybe even a hundred more like it, all in quick succession, severing Scorpio’s body into sections of boiling carapace. A shockwave of force and heat hit Celestia, knocking her to the ground. She regained her hooves quickly, in time to see that the dragon was diving right towards her.

“Sage? Dragon strategy.”

Sage paused a moment. “Pretty sure if it wanted to kill us, it could have spared a couple more of those flame lances.”

“Still doesn’t make me feel better.” Celestia dug her hooves into the sand. Dragons were never good news.

It was mere seconds before the dragon approached. Though its size was nowhere near that of the Scorpio, it was still easily large enough to fit a whole pony into its snout. It was a deep, dark purple in color, with black, menacing spines. With a single flap of its wings, it landed on the ground, mere feet away from Celestia. She instinctively backed up. She’d fought dragons before, but that was when she was an extremely powerful goddess. The dragon leaned down.

“Art thou well?” Its voice was a bass lower than any pony could possibly achieve, but it was gentle and calm.

“Uh.” Celestia searched for a reply, but found none. She just stared. She saw shapes moving on the dragon’s back, which quickly revealed themselves to be Adombra, Zerishan, and Hurricane waving excitedly.

“I did give aid to these fellows when I did see their danger. It was them who did telleth me that thou mightst require assistance. Dost thou require healing?”

“Uh,” Celestia repeated.

Sage got on his hooves weakly. He spoke something in Draconic.

The dragon frowned and replied in Draconic. Sage translated the dragon’s words into Equestrian. “Ah, it is good that you speak the Empire’s tongue. I do not know so well the tongue of ponies. Sadly, I have no water, or food. I can only offer shelter, and whatever treasures may aid you.”

Celestia shook her head. “Okay, wait. I can buy a dragon being sufficiently decent as to fight off a horrible monster, but dragons do NOT offer anything else their riches, ESPECIALLY ponies. What’s going on here?”

The dragon smiled gently. “Come ye to mine home, and I shall explain all.”

He turned to fly, but a blazing trail streaked towards him, hitting him directly in the face. Flash Burn hovered with an angry look.

“Get away from them!” She shouted, clearly prepared to deliver another flying kick.

The dragon did not change expression, or even move. “Thine friends art safe. Please, accompany me to mine cave.”

Flash’s eyes widened. She looked at Celestia, who could do nothing but shrug.

“I guess we’re following him.” Seeing her acknowledgement, the dragon took off in the direction that it had come from. Celestia and the other ponies slowly made their way behind him.

It was over an hour of walking before they saw a large hole in a rocky crag hidden among the dunes. The dragon waited at the entrance. He beckoned the ponies closer. Hurricane and the zebras were nowhere to be seen.

Celestia immediately confronted the dragon. “What did you do with our friends?”

The dragon produced little reaction. “The zebras and the pony have already entered the home.”

Celestia pressed. “Look, we’re not going into your cave until we get an explanation.”

The dragon looked momentarily consternated. He said something in Draconic. Celestia noticed this time that she could almost feel the dragon’s words in her bones when he spoke his native tongue.

Sage translated, “He, uh, wants my help translating. He seems to think that his bad ‘pony speech’ is making things unclear.”

Celestia frowned. “He’s perfectly clear, but something’s up, I know it.”

The dragon winced. “I promise that I am a friend to thee,” he resumed his broken, antiquated Equestrian. “Whatever I may have done to cause thee offense, it is my deepest regret. More so that thou art a stranger to me.”

Celestia stomped her forehoof. “Any pony would be foolish to trust a dragon, before or after the war!”

The dragon’s eyes widened, then closed. He sighed, and smoke trailed from his nostrils. “There is much news to me. But know that I may be dragon, though no citizen of the Empire.”

Celestia prepared to shout something else, but was interrupted by the pressure of an uncountable number of hooves on her hindquarters.

“JUST GO INSIDE” yelled a multitude of ponies behind her. She tried to protest, but they were too strong and quick, and the sand offered her hooves no traction. She found herself practically being carried into the cave. She heard the dragon making a sort of giggling noise behind her.

Celestia shouted and cursed until they rounded a corner inside the cave, revealing to her something that rendered her speechless. Stacked almost to the ceiling was a mound of glassworks of near infinite color and composition. Some were larger than any pony, and some were so small and intricate she couldn’t believe that even magic could create them. In the light of Shimmerdust’s now-glowing horn, they coruscated in a display of colors that put to shame anything she or her sister had ever painted in the sky.

“H-wha-buh?” She stammered, unable to form a sentence.

“Dost thou enjoy mine workshop?” The dragon rumbled from behind her. “Thou art welcome to all the treasures thou mayest desire. I have no use for them.”

Celestia shook her head. “Seriously, what? Dragons never share their treasure. EVER. Everypony knows they just hoard it all up for whatever reason.”

The dragon smiled. “I think that mine treasure is hoarded in this time, yes?” He chuckled. “But surely ye ponies havest more use for this finery than I do. It doth me no pain to grant unto it some of thee. Or, grant some of it unto thee?”

Morning Glory piped up. “Far be it from me to interrupt a scintillating conversation about glorious riches, but…what is your name, exactly?”

“Ah, of course. Pardon me.” The dragon cleared his throat. “My name is-“

Celestia felt an earthquake and covered her ears to futilely defend them from what must have been an explosion.

“But thou mayest call me Kremhault the Terrible.”

Celestia opened one eye. Okay, the cave was still there.

Hurricane piped up. “Okay, how exactly did you come by that title, mister weirdly-nice dragon?”

Kremhault the Terrible tilted his head. “I have no titles, young pony. To what dost thou refer?”

“The whole ‘the Terrible’ thing? You’re not really very terrible. You’re not even, like, smarmy.”

Kremhault the Terrible said something in Draconic to Sage, who replied quickly. The dragon nodded. “Ah, I see. Yes. It is simply a translation of mine name, which, of course, mine parents declared me.”

Celestia’s eyes went wide. “Well, that explains a lot of the old history books right there. I always wondered how we used to have a diplomat named ‘Sorgat the Destroyer’.”

Sage chuckled. “Can we just call you ‘Kremhault’ or something?”

The dragon clapped excitedly. “Oh, a ‘nick-name’! I have never had one before.”

Celestia raised one eyebrow. “Riiiiight. So, do you normally invite passing travelers in to stay a while and take your stuff?”

The dragon gestured to the hoard of glassworks. “I do not normally receive visitors. It hath been over one hundred years since I have spoken to another living soul.”

Glory’s jaw dropped. “How in Equestria do you stand such loneliness?”

Kremhault smiled. “Sleep, mostly.”

Amaranth frowned. “Take it from somepony who’s done it before, you should really try to get out more.”

The dragon sighed. “I do not cooperate well with the Empire. It is generally unsafe for me outside this desert.”

“But the Empire was obliterated hundreds of years ago,” Amaranth continued. Celestia tensed. She looked at Kremhault, hoping he wasn’t about to explode on them.

The old dragon only shook his head. “It was a matter of time. The emperor, the nobles, they had become decadent. Cruel. Even in my time, many wished them dead.”

Celestia snorted. “Pretty sure all the dragons were decadent and cruel.”

Kremhault returned, “And the nobles of your ‘Equestria’? They art kind?”

Amaranth shrugged. “He kind of has you there.”

The dragon continued, “Some dragons, even nobles, were good. But too few.”

Celestia felt a pang of guilt over the pressure she had been laying into the dragon. “Is that why you left the Empire?”

The dragon smirked. “No. I claimed something which the Empire believed did belong to it, but did not.”

Celestia mirrored the expression. “Mister Generous actually stole something?”

“No.” The dragon’s smile widened.

“Then what?”

Instead of speaking, Kremhault responded by spreading his wings. An aura of light surrounded him, brightening and coalescing into a giant necklace of gold, with a large jewel at the center.

“Oh.”