• Published 14th May 2022
  • 429 Views, 61 Comments

Art of the Dragon - Trinary



Smolder is worried about being a role-model so Rainbow Dash gives her an opportunity to be just that.

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Chapter 3

Rainbow Dash was still pretty fast as a dragon, though her flight was a bit more wobbly than usual. She struggled to get used to the feeling of having large, smooth, leathery dragon wings instead of her normal feathered ones. She found herself unconsciously side-slipping in mid-flight or banking too hard when she adjusted course, but overall it wasn’t too bad.

After a few moments of a lazy flight, she spotted Smolder skipping stones at the lake again. She must’ve really taken to that spot. “This should be good.” Rainbow tucked her wings back and went into a dive. “Hey, Smolder!”

The young dragon stiffened and whirled around at the call. She looked up and her eyes went wide at the unfamiliar dragon barreling down on her. Dash grinned as she flared out her wings to slow her descent and pull up.

“Ha! You should see the look on your fa—aagh!” Rainbow yelped as her now much-larger wings caught more air than she had expected and was now in a genuine freefall.

Before either had a chance to do anything more than wince, Rainbow slammed into Smolder, sending both of them tumbling into the lake with an almighty splash. Rainbow coughed and sputtered when her head broke the water. “Ugh, okay, so that did not go as planned.”

Smolder, her crest drooping, shot her a half-lidded stare made more ominous by the smoke trickling from her nostrils. “What’s the big idea?! Have you ever thought about this little thing called ‘watching where you’re going’? I really recommend it.”

Rainbow grumbled but couldn’t disagree. “Yeah, well … sorry about that. Hit a crosswind I didn’t expect.”

“Lucky for you my homework for class tonight is to practice being more forgiving of accidents.” Smolder pinched the bridge of her nose with her claws. “Ugh, fine. So who are you anyway and what’re you doing around Ponyv—wait...” She narrowed her eyes and tilted her head. “Professor Rainbow Dash? You’re a dragon?!”

“So Ember can’t tell ponies apart but you can recognize a pony when she’s become a dragon?” Rainbow tilted her own head—less in confusion and more to drain the water out of her ear holes. “But yep! Got it in one, kid.”

Smolder rubbed her face. “Is this an Element of Harmony thing? Because it was confusing enough trying to make sense of that already. If I have to worry about the Tree switching my species around I am going to start burning things.”

“Nah, don’t get your tail in a twist.” Rainbow waved her off as they made for shore. “I got Twilight to turn me into a dragon for a day so I could experience what it was like.”

“Huh.” Smolder shook out her wings, climbing out of the water. “I’m surprised she did that. You use bad grammar to confuse her until she starts worrying about that instead?”

“You’re on a roll.” Rainbow brushed a claw over her new spines.

Smolder blinked as the surreality finally hit her. “Wait ... why did you want her to turn you into a dragon?” Her mouth hung open as she figured it out. “Is this because of what I said to you yesterday? Your first thought was to actually become a dragon?”

“Well when you say it like that it’s like you don’t think this is the best idea ever or something,” Rainbow grumbled. “You said I couldn’t understand your problem since I wasn’t a dragon and, well, I want to help with whatever’s bothering you.”

Smolder started rubbing her temples. “That is just … I need a minute.”

This was already going less than smoothly. Rainbow coughed to try to get things back on track. “Um, before I start asking you to show me dragon stuff, I wanted to say sorry. Y’know, for yesterday.” She winced when Smolder tensed up. But instead of exploding again, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began counting. It was a calming technique Rainbow recognized from Fluttershy’s classes.

Once she reached ten, Smolder exhaled again and stood up. “Yeah, I know. And—I’m sorry too. You just, uh, really weren’t supposed to see that. It’s kinda personal.”

“I got that.” Rainbow relaxed slightly, unaware until then of just how tense she herself had become. She knew that could have gone a lot, lot worse for both of them. “There’s nothing you have to explain to me or anycreature else, okay? You like what you like and it’s your business. It’s nobody else’s and it doesn’t change how awesome you are.” She cleared her throat. “Uh, and for the record? Liking dresses doesn’t mean you aren’t cool or tough. I mean, I like dresses. Or, like them enough anyway, if they aren’t too poofy or frilly or unaerodynamic.” Then she remembered the frilly sleeves of Smolder’s dress and wish she had rephrased that. “But if I thought liking frills and laces made somecreature lame, I’d never have been friends with Rarity or Fluttershy for more than five minutes. Just because it’s not for me, that doesn’t mean I don’t get that other creatures do like that stuff. I mean, there are ponies who don’t even watch the Wonderbolts—the weirdos,” she added the last bit with a faux-grumble, inviting a laugh.

It seemed to work, with Smolder starting to snicker. “I don’t know. I’ve met plenty of weirdos who do like the Wonderbolts. Silverstream, for starters,” she added with a casual grin

Nicely played.

Rainbow chuckled. “You know, you don’t have to be ashamed of being a dragon and liking dresses or anything.” She rubbed her neck. “I mean, I get it: I thought it was weird or embarrassing to admit how much I liked Daring Do when I first started reading it. But I was wrong. You like dresses and tea parties, so what? It doesn’t make you any less of a dragon any more than reading made me less of an athlete.”

Smolder blinked before making a rude noise. “Huh? No, that’s not it. I know I’m an awesome dragon, I don’t care about that.” She thought about it briefly before amending her statement slightly. “Okay, yeah, I don’t particularly want other dragons giving me grief over it, but whatever—I can flatten any one of them dumb enough to think I’m soft. I’m 100% dragon and I know wearing a dress doesn’t change that.”

“Heh, that puts you up on where I was with Daring Do,” Rainbow admitted, stretching out her new wings. “Okay, so are you interested in being my dragon tutor for the day? You get to be the teacher and show me all the dragon-y stuff: the fire, the scales, the fire, how to fly with these, and how to breathe fire.”

She could see her thinking about it, her tail curling and uncurling. Finally Smolder came to a decision and nodded. “Eh, sure. Why not? It’s not like I don’t already have to do this for Spike.”

“Great!” Rainbow’s eyes gleamed. “What’s first?”

Smolder thought about while she wrung the last bit of water out of her tail. “Okay, so what do you feel right now?”

Rainbow was not expecting Smolder of all creatures to ask her about her feelings. Confused, she stopped for a moment to consider and … “I want … I want—something? I don’t even know what I want except that I want it. Really bad.” Her wing twitched. “Also, there’s this … I dunno, tension? It feels like Lightning Dust just showed up and challenged me to a race and I want to show her I’m still the best.”

“Yeah, you’re definitely a dragon now.” Smolder ran a claw through her own spines. “The closest that you’d be used to is if you were really, really hungry, only for dragons this is a constant thing. As for feeling tense, well that’s pretty normal when a dragon first meets another dragon. You’re waiting to see if I display any weakness so you can take advantage of it, not to mention you’re probably feeling a need to defend your hoard against me.”

“I don’t have a hoard.”

Smolder shrugged, unconcerned. “Everycreature has a hoard of some kind. It’s whatever you value the most, whatever you take pride in; Professor Applejack has her trees, Professor Fluttershy has her animals, Princess Twilight has her books. For you ... hmm...” She tapped a claw against her snout in thought. “Imagine I was going into your house to snack on your Daring Do first-editions and trophies—”

“KEEP YOUR GRUBBY CLAWS OFF MY BOOKS AND TROPHIES!” Rainbow roared, exhaling fire in a loud burst.

Luckily, Smolder had anticipated this and dove out of the way. She surfaced from behind some bushes just as Rainbow Dash had clapped her claws over her own mouth, looking horrified at herself. “Yep, that fits.”

“Oh my gosh, Smolder I—I’m sorry!” Rainbow mumbled her claws still firmly clamped on her snout, not wanting to take any chances. “I don’t even remember deciding to—”

“Scorch my scales?” Smolder shrugged. “Meh, saw that coming a mile away. That’s pretty standard dragon-ing.”

Rainbow slowly pulled her claws away. “So, this is how dragons feel? All the time?”

“Pretty much. You have no idea how weird it was for me to live in the school.” Smolder looked at the school. “Sharing a dorm and now a room with other creatures, getting free supplies, having other creatures ask to—to borrow my things…” a faint tremor ran through her. “That’s really not the dragon way.”

“Weird.” Rainbow flexed her claws. “I mean, just having this constant urge … all the time?”

Smolder shrugged. “Don’t you always like to win and stuff? Or—I dunno, help other ponies or whatever?”

“Okay, yeah but that’s … a really good point.” Rainbow shook her head. “But that’s just me, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t think everypony feels that way all the time … or do they?” She thought about it, feeling decidedly unsettled by the implications. She shook her head, not wanting to dwell on it. “How’d you adjust?”

“It’s sort of an on-going process,” Smolder admitted. “I had to start looking at things sideways so it wouldn’t get to me. Like the dorm. I share my room and the dorm with a whole bunch of creatures. That got under my scales until I realized that it means that I also have a share of it, which means it’s mine. So all the other creatures are also mine. So I couldn’t get jealous or mad at things that were mine that were in my own place. Does that make sense?”

“Sorta?” Rainbow waggled a claw.

“Eh, good enough. Of course that did make it kinda weird because then it felt like all my friends’ stuff was actually my stuff. That … got really awkward.”

Rainbow snorted. “So was that why that one time you ended up taking every pillow in the entire dorm and turning it into your own private cave?”

Smolder flushed. “Um, yeah, basically. I can’t help wanting things, it’s part of being a dragon.”

Rainbow bit her lip as she thought that over—only to wince since her teeth were now pointed. “Ow! Um, okay, wow, that’s a lot to take in.” She flicked her tail, trying to get used to the sensation. “Hnng. Before we go any further, maybe we should do something about this urge I have to smash your face in?”

Rainbow blinked, surprised at herself. Even she wasn’t usually that blunt. “Er, not that I’m saying you should let me beat you up or—gah this is annoying!” She shook her head, as if trying to physically rid herself of the impulse. “It’s like I can’t even think before I know which of us is better at—at something! How have dragons not all killed each other off by now?!”

“Yeah, dragon first impressions are all about establishing your dominance.” Smolder grimaced. “It’s probably why Spike was ready to write off all dragons and think of himself as a pony after the Migration thing, since he didn’t really know what he was getting into there. But dragons are tough and we don’t go down easily. Plus, it’s not like every fight is to the death or anything. We’re rough, but we’re not that stupid.”

“If you say so.” Smolder’s glare came as a subtle clue that came out wrong. “I didn’t mean it that way!” She smiled, uncomfortably aware of just how many sharp teeth she was flashing. “Look, how about if you and I have a race to the flagpole? That’ll help settle this—whatever instinct I’ve got going on now and it won’t result in me getting fired for beating up a student.”

“Heh, you’re assuming I wouldn’t kick your newly-scaled butt.” Smolder snorted with a smirk. “Still, if I’m being honest here—I don’t particularly like my chances at going against the fastest flyer in the world.” She frowned. “Dragons aren’t big on getting into fights we can’t win.”

Rainbow held up a claw, still grinning. “Yep, yep, I am awesome—but I’m not sporting my usual set of wings. You may have noticed but I don’t have them completely down yet.”

Smolder made a big show of looking at the lake and then at the wet grass that had puddled beneath the two of them where they climbed out. “I might have spotted a sign or two.”

“Consider this a golden opportunity—ha, dragon pun, see what I did there?—for you to have an actual shot at beating me in a race.” Rainbow leaned forward. “That ought to get you some pretty impressive bragging rights, now wouldn’t it?” She might have been a beginner when it came to learning about dragons, but Rainbow could see she had Smolder hooked. The way her eyes lit up and her tail wagged faster than usual were a dead giveaway. “And for the cherr—uh, ruby on top? You beat me and I’ll give you a Get Out of Homework Free Card for any one assignment you don’t want to do, mine or anypony else’s.” She stretched her face into an even fiercer smile. “That is, unless you’re that afraid that a day-old dragon can beat you.”

“Oh, it is on now!” Smolder snorted, fully embracing the challenge. She marched forward, standing toe-to-toe with Rainbow and hovering high enough so she could shove her head into Rainbow’s personal space. “Maybe I’ll be the one wearing your Wonderbolt uniform at the end of the day!”

A fire raced through Rainbow. “As if you could fit your big backside into it!” She leaned forward herself, her forehead butting against Smolder’s. “I’m going to fly so many rings around you, they’ll think you’re that obelisk with the Rings of Scorchero!”

“I—” Smolder stopped short. “—have no idea what you’re even talking about.”

“So, I know what my next lesson plan is going to be.” Rainbow shook her head. “Whatever, let’s just do this! First one to the flag on top of the School wins.”

Smolder crouched down in a ready position, her wings flared out. “On your mark…”

Rainbow soon joined her, assuming her normal racing pose. “Get set…”

“GO!”

The two took off like a bolt. Rainbow took the early lead, soaring through the treetops to reach the open air. She took a winding path to the School, angling around taller trees and rooftops. But she soon found herself struggling; her leathery wings sliced through the air, perhaps even better than her normal ones, but she wasn’t used to their larger size. It especially didn’t help that she was losing speed on the turns and banks. She felt about as maneuverable as a brick.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw that Smolder had settled behind her, coasting by on her slipstream. Sneaky. After Rainbow leaned too hard into one turn, stalling, Smolder shot ahead. Rainbow grumbled and flapped harder. The flagpole was just ahead and she did have greater speed than Smolder. She closed the gap significantly and would likely have soon overtaken her, but the flagpole was too close.

Smolder’s face was pulled back in a fierce grin, reaching out to slap her claw against the flagpole a scant instant before Rainbow Dash could. “Ha ha, I did it! I won!” Smolder whooped, doing a spin around the pole. “I—wait a minute.” She looked back at Rainbow, narrowing her eyes. “You didn’t let me win to make me feel better?”

Rainbow snorted and shook her head. “That’s not my speed. You want something, you have to earn it and, yeah, you did. Congrats. But just wait until I get a better handle on these big flappers and then we’ll have a rematch.” She looked at Smolder’s wings thoughtfully. “You know, you probably could’ve gotten an even better time if you kept your wings spread out a bit more and timed your flaps with your exhales.”

Smolder looked at her back and then at Rainbow in puzzlement. “I guess? Dragons don’t exactly breathe the way ponies do, so I guess it never occurred to me.” She scratched her muzzle. “You know, if I had beaten another dragon that way, especially an older one? They would’ve either slunk off or grumbled about how I got lucky because a bird flew in their path or something.” She landed on the School’s roof and sat down. “I mean, losing to a younger, smaller dragon is really humiliating, even more than losing in general.”

After stretching out a few kinks in her neck, Rainbow joined her. “You think so?”

“I used to.” Smolder hugged her legs to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. “Coming here’s helped change my view of things. Sometimes I keep getting surprised by how much.”

When she didn’t seem prepared to add any more to that, Rainbow broke the silence. “I’m not feeling that same pressure that was there before, so I guess that got it out of my system.” She nudged her, snickering. “So, if I was an actual dragon, you’re saying I’d go all to pieces now? ‘Oh no, Smolder, you’re just so incredible and I’m such a wuss!’” She let out an over-the-top fake sob she’d learned from watching Rarity. “‘Fetch me the lava-flavored ice-cream!’”

Smolder cackled. “You know, that would be a big hit in the Dragon Lands if anycreature ever invented that. But yeah, for dragons if you show any weakness, you deserve to get piled on by the ones stronger than you.” She hesitated for a moment before adding, “Honestly, I would’ve thought you of all ponies would get behind wanting to show whoever you meet that you’re the best.”

Rainbow scratched her spines. “Eh, you got me there. But there’s one big difference: it isn’t about showing dominance for me. When I meet somecreature who’s got some serious skills, I don’t start thinking they’re some kinda threat I have to smash or grind down or whatever. If they can go hoof-to-hoof or wing-to-wing with me, I think that’s actually really cool. Applejack, Gilda, Little Strongheart, Daring Do, Lightning Dust, Maud—it’s exciting to get to meet creatures with serious moves. We connect because we both know we’re bringing our all to whatever we do.”

Smolder blinked. “But that means that they can beat you. And you hate to lose.”

“Well duh, of course I do,” Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Obviously. But if all I wanted was a guaranteed win every time, I’d only ever compete against ponies I know I can easily beat, like Fluttershy.” She leaned forward. “I want my wins to matter because it shows that I actually accomplished something worth doing.”

“That’s … huh.” Smolder’s tail flicked as she thought about it. “Most dragons are more practical minded. A win’s a win to them.”

Rainbow grunted, tapping her foot impatiently. “Hng, how to explain this—okay, so dragons have hoards, right? Is every item in your hoard equally valuable?”

Smolder shook her head. “Of course not. If something is rarer then that becomes much more valuable than something that’s in every dragon’s hoard, especially if it means you have something other dragons don’t. Making other dragons jealous of you is almost as good as beating them in a fight.”

Rainbow grinned. “Right, it’s the same thing for winning! If you beat somepony who isn’t really all that good or isn’t trying, then what’s that worth? But going head to head against a really tough competitor and winning? That counts for a lot more.”

She waited to give Smolder a chance to think it over and was pleased to see her nod. “Heh, sometimes it’s even better to lose—as much as it stinks—against a really good rival, knowing you’ve given them a run for their money than an easy win over somepony else who never had a chance against you in the first place.” She leaned forward, making sure Smolder was following her. “But part of that means you have to respect your opponent. If they’re not worth respecting, then why bother taking the time to challenge them? It’s only by going up against creatures you respect that you improve yourself. If you don’t respect them, you’re not respecting yourself; it’s the same as going ‘I’m so weak and lame that I can only win by picking on those even weaker and lamer than me.’ That isn’t what I’m about and I don’t think that’s what you are either.”

“That … makes a lot of sense.” Smolder admitted.

“Why does everycreature always sound so surprised when I do that?” Rainbow wondered aloud.

Smolder chuckled weakly. “No no, I meant you actually explained that in a way that would make sense to a dragon. That’s actually pretty helpful. You know, with the exhibition coming up and all.”

Seeing her mention it, Rainbow took the opportunity to follow up on that. There was probably some old bit of pony wisdom somewhere about letting sleeping dragons lie, but that wasn’t her thing. “So, I hate to bring it up—”

“Then don’t,” Smolder muttered half-heartedly.

“—but what did you mean yesterday about why you can’t work on your float?” Rainbow rubbed her neck.

There was a longer pause there, one Smolder tried to fill by drumming her claws on her arms. After she finished she finally said, “I’m not the right dragon to represent the School.”

“You’re the only dragon who goes to the school,” Rainbow pointed out. “I mean, I don’t really count.” The look Smolder gave her made it clear how little that helped.

“Look,” Smolder groaned. “This exhibition thing is to show us off and go on about how if we could learn friendship, then other creatures can too and should come to the school to learn, right?”

It sounded a lot more inspirational when Twilight was describing it, Rainbow rued. “I guess? You’re a dragon, you go to school and you made friends. Not really seeing the problem.”

“Ugh.” Smolder lashed her tail. “It means that I’m not like other dragons! That means I can’t be this role-model that you need me to be.” She snorted when she saw Rainbow’s continued lack of understanding. “Think about it: my friends are all pretty perfect representatives or examples or whatever of their homes. Yona is as smash-happy as any yak could ever want and thinks yaks are the best at everything. Gallus is clever, thrifty and snarky, all good griffin traits. Silverstream? She’s as easily excitable which I guess is a hippogriff thing since Princess Twilight said her dad and Princess Skystar were pretty excitable too. Ocellus is sensitive, emotive and tries so hard to make a good impression—which is what the changelings have wanted to do since they reformed.” She thought some more and snickered. “Even Sandbar is the perfect pony example, being all super-eager and friendly, like he’s a super-normal pony.”

Rainbow’s mouth twitched. “Yeah, okay, I see that. But what about you? You breathe fire, don’t take nonsense, tough as a cyclone—sounds to me like you’re all-dragon and you admitted that wearing a dress doesn’t change that.”

“It’s not—” Smolder waved a claw, smoke leaking from her nostrils. “I know I’m all-dragon, but I’m not an ordinary dragon. I’m fine with that but how are other dragons supposed to relate to me when I do stuff so different from them? My friends can have other changelings and yaks and griffons and hippogriffs look at them and go ‘they’re just like me, if they can do it, I can do it too.’ If other dragons hear about me they can shrug it off and go ‘Smolder doesn’t count, she was always different. She likes cute pony things. That’s why she can do other pony things like friendship, it doesn’t mean that we can.’” She crossed her arms and puffed out some more smoke. “There are probably dozens of changelings who can see themselves in Ocellus or yaks in Yona, but dragons?” She shook her head. “I like tea parties and dresses and cute stuff. How many dragons do you think can relate to that?” She added after a moment’s thought, “Besides Spike.”

Rainbow blinked. “Okay, that’s … um, wait how would they even know about you liking cute stuff? I thought you said you just did that with Ocellus?”

“I do but…” Smolder groaned. “Blame Professor Applejack. It just … it doesn’t feel right. I’m okay with keeping my private life private cuz that’s my business. But it’s something else when I’m going to try to convince other dragons to give the School a chance by passing myself off as being just like them when I first arrived—that bothers me.”

Another awkward pause fell as Rainbow scrambled to think. “You seemed pretty disinterested in school when you first arrived,” she mused. “When did you realize you liked cute stuff?”

“The Tree of Harmony showed me.” Smolder shrugged as if that were enough explanation. Rainbow wondered what that said about her life that it actually was. “See, we were all down in the caves under the School and had to face our fears, and mine was admitting to myself that I liked cute stuff—liked being cute. I even realized there that I wasn’t an ordinary dragon, which is cool and all, but doesn’t make me cut out to be this example of the School’s success in changing me.”

Rainbow rubbed her muzzle. “If you didn’t do that before you got to the School—”

“I—I think maybe I always liked that stuff. I just could never admit it to myself until the Tree made me confront it.” Smolder idly kicked at the ground. “I mean, Garble is a sensitive beat-poet and I love the big doofus. I never made fun of him for it or anything. Maybe I was always different from other dragons.” She shrugged. “I’m not whining about it, but it does mean that I’m not exactly going to be relatable to other dragons. You know how thick some dragons are?”

“I have a pretty good idea.” Rainbow Dash surprised herself by having the good grace not to mention that it was meeting Smolder’s brother that helped convince her of said thickness. “It’s not as if there aren’t ponies like that.”

Smolder shook her head. “That’s not the point. We dragons have spent a long time telling ourselves that we don’t do friendship; that the only way to get ahead is to look out for yourself. Dragon Lord Ember is changing that, but even she can only do so much. To convince the more rock-brained lizards among us, you can’t give them anything out of the ordinary about the dragons who come to the School, otherwise they’ll latch onto it and make it out that it’s just something ‘wrong’ with that dragon.”

“You’re saying the only way to make an impact on other dragons would be if we had brought the nastiest, most selfish, unpleasant jerk in the Dragon Lands to town and turned him into a model of friendship for others?” Rainbow’s face wrinkled. “We already had Sludge pass through Ponyville and it didn’t seem to make an impact on him.”

Smolder thought about it and shrugged. “Okay yeah, point taken: he’s pretty low.”

“Besides,” Rainbow’s eyes lit up as she thought of something. “Ember wasn’t exactly sold on the concept of friendship until Spike helped her in the Gauntlet of Fire. Now look at her!”

“They’ll just say that she was already different since she preferred using brains over being big and strong.” Smolder sighed. “I know it’s dumb, but that’s how some dragons are.”

Rainbow snorted. “Again, it’s not just dragons. Remember when I told you my cutie mark story in class? The Sonic Rainboom?”

“Which time?” Smolder drawled. “The first or the fiftieth?”

Smarty-scales. Rainbow rolled her eyes. “I pulled of a Sonic Rainboom right in the faces of some of the biggest jerks in Cloudsdale—and when I went back years later to compete in the Best Young Flyer competition, those same dolts tried insisting to my face that I had never pulled off a Sonic Rainboom and that there was no such thing.”

“Oh yeah.” Smolder scratched her head. “How’d they manage that? Did you concuss them or something in that race?”

“No! Well, probably not.” Rainbow thought it over, then shook her head. “Nah, they were always dumb. Some ponies just won’t accept what’s in front of them no matter how obvious it is. That goes for dragons too. If you think you aren’t going to be a good role-model just because there’s going to be at least one dragon who isn’t going to listen to you for whatever dumb reason—then that’s setting way too high a standard and that’s me saying it.”

Smolder frowned, not looking entirely convinced. “I guess.” Instead of pursuing it further, she asked, “Do you want me to show you how to breathe fire?”

Rainbow stood up, instantly transfixed. “More than anything.”

“I was hoping you’d say that...”