• Published 10th Mar 2013
  • 3,369 Views, 136 Comments

Appletheosis - DuncanR

Just your average, garden-variety talking snake. In an apple tree. What could go wrong?

  • ...

Oh don’t be so literal minded

“So, how big of a snake are we talking here? Fifty yards? A hundred?”

Rarity looked at Spike, who was riding on her back and keeping a wicker basket steady. “Not even,” she said. “Twilight said he was only eight or ten yards long.”

“That’s still pretty large, isn’t it? I wonder what he’s like.”

“Twilight paid him a visit, didn’t she? Did you ask her about it?”

Spike shrugged. “Yeah, but she won’t say anything about him. Said he was a waste of time.”

“From a scientific point of view, I assume?”

“Pretty much. Whatever happened, it must’ve been pretty frustrating for her.”

“Well we can’t have that, now can we?” Rarity ducked under a loose branch and turned a corner. “Fluttershy is certainly good with wild animals, but this particular one is intelligent: He deserves to be treated with a more refined, diplomatic touch. So far, everypony who's visited him has come back with a simply dreadful story. I’m sure he must think we’re just as dreadful.”

“Well, kay... but what if they’re right? What if they think he’s a jerk-face because he’s actually a jerk-face?”

“Then that’s what we need to determine. True diplomacy is more than just threat assessment and scientific research.” She looked back at him. “Why did you want to come along, anyhow?”

“Mostly just to keep you safe,” he said. “It’s dangerous out here.”

She frowned at him. “Don’t get any funny ideas about heroics, all right?”

“It’s not that,” he said. “You can handle yourself just fine. I’m just saying it’s always safer to go hiking or camping in pairs... the buddy system is just plain common sense.”

“Oh. Well, of course... how thoughtful.”

“No problem. Though I have to admit, I kind of want to meet this snake. We’re both reptiles, so we might have something in common. And it’d be nice to have another guy to hang out with, too.”

“Just promise to leave all the talking to me for the first little while. Once we’ve smoothed things over, then we can afford to get a little casual.”

“You got it.”

Rarity walked to the end of the dirt road and came to the edge of a vast, barren ocean. The beach was made of jagged gravel, and the brackish waves crashed against the western edge of the world and sent sprays of salty, fetid foam into the air. There was a small island just off the coast: a rocky outcropping with a flattened top, whereupon stood a garden of indescribable beauty. In the center of this garden was a dead and dying tree: nothing but a snapped and splintered trunk, like a bleached femur thrust into the ground. A great scaled beast writhed at the foot of the tree: its bloated body was covered in armored scales, and a hundred serpentine necks writhed and thrashed about in the throes of a long and lingering death. Each head cried out in a different voice. A single golden apple hung from the highest branch of the tree, shining and ripe. A triad of slender, unutterably beautiful mares lounged by a nearby pool, playing harps, singing and washing their manes.

“Rare? You okay?”

Rarity flinched at the sound of Spike’s voice. She glanced around at the plain grassy hill in the circular clearing. “Sorry, I... did you see anything odd just now? Like a daydream, or deja-vu?”

“Nope. Just a hill and a tree. Why?”

“It’s nothing. Nevermind.” She walked to the foot of the tree and delicately cleared her throat. “Helloooo? Are you home, mister snake?”

She heard a deep, metallic hiss directly behind her. Rarity spun around and stared into the slitted eyes of an orange boa-constrictor. It hung down from the highest branch, perfectly still in the cool breeze. She clenched her jaw and swallowed a lump in her throat.

‘Only’ eight yards...!?

Spike glanced between them, then nudged Rarity with his elbow. She stood perfectly still, except for her trembling knees. The serpent continued to loom before them.

“Heya!” Spike said. He hopped off her back and held up the wicker basket. “My name’s Spike! How do you do?”

“As well as can be expected. Greetings, Spike.” He nodded to him respectfully. “My name is Zaraturvara. Welcome to my tree.”

“Cool.” Spike held up the basket. “We brought you some more eggs, if you want ’em.”

“Kind of you.” Zaraturvara peered at Rarity, who was still trembling. “Is she with you?”

“Yeah, she’s cool. You know how it is... ponies and snakes.”

The serpent lowered to eye level with her and smiled without baring his fangs. “Greetings, fair maiden. It is both an honor and a privilege to have you grace my humble garden with your magnificent presence.”

“Thanks!” she squeaked. “Pleasure’s mine!”

“Please, do have a seat.”

“That’s very gracious of you!” Rarity flopped on the grass and managed to take a slow, deep breath. “I’m sorry... about... I didn’t mean to...”

Zaraturvara shook his head and clucked his tongue. “Not offended in the slightest, my lady. ’Tis simply the way of things. Do please, take as long as you need to compose yourself.”

Rarity sat on the grass and watched in silence as the serpent nudged his nose in the basket of eggs. After a few more deep breaths, the tremble left her limbs and she managed a nervous, apologetic laugh. “Not exactly the best of first impressions, I suppose.”

“It’s simply your nature, and no fault of you and yours.” He lowered onto the grass like a coil of rope, with his head reared up. “So what brings you here? It’s not the tree is it? Are you here for the tree?”

“Oh, not at all. We simply came to visit with you.”

He sighed. “Of course you did.”

Rarity looked up at the shelves of foliage. “It’s a marvelous tree, I think.”

“Looks’ll fool you,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

“A double edged what?”

“It’s a weapon,” Spike said. “It’s a long, sharp, pointy thing with a handle. You kind of need hands to use it.”

“Yes, that’s it.” Zaraturvara eyed him for a moment. “I don’t wish to be rude, but... what are you? Just so there’s no confusion.”

Spike puffed his chest out. “I’m a dragon!”

“A baby dragon,” Rarity said.

Zaraturvara smirked at her. “It’s not the size of the dragon in the fight... it’s the size of the fight in the dragon.”

Spike pointed a talon at him. “Hey, that’s a pretty good one! Mind if I use it?”

“You’ve really never heard it before? I think it’s older than I am.” He tilted his head. “There’s an awful lot of things you people haven’t heard of, I must say.”

Spike scratched the back of his neck. “I’m just glad to meet somebody who won’t crack a ‘short’ joke whenever I’m around.”

“Trust me,” Zaraturvara said, “in your case, smaller is better.”

“Oh yeah? What’s ‘my case’, exactly?”

“You’ve chosen to co-exist with non-dragons,” he said. “Nice catch by the way!”

Spike puffed his chest out again. “Thanks!”

Rarity pursed her lips. “Hrmph!”

“I meant you,” he said, and nodded to Rarity.

Spike’s eyes widened. “You mean I’m the nice catch?”

“Goodness yes! A dragon who isn’t going to set you on fire and swallow you whole? That’s one of the rarest things in the world. Compared to that, an ordinary unicorn is sort of a dime-a-dozen.”

There was an awkward pause.

“No-no-no!” Zaraturvara shook his head. “Oh what is wrong with my manners? I swear I meant no offence. Honestly, it just slipped out.”

She smiled back at him. “You don’t talk to a lot of people, do you?”

“Very rarely. I’m not very good at it.” He nodded to her. “You really are quite exceptional, you know. I’m just saying that your being a unicorn has nothing to do with it. You’re exceptional entirely on the basis of your own personal merits.”

“Really?” Rarity stroked a lock of her mane. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve tamed a dragon, of course. Not everyone can do that.”

“Whoa!” Spike shot to his feet and waved his hands. “Let’s not get carried away here! I’m not... I’m not tame! I’m scary! Rar!”

Zaraturvara rolled his eyes. “I didn’t say you were tame. Just that you’d been tamed. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Spike lowered his claws. “It’s... not?”

“Not at all. It’s your nature. It’s the purpose of your existence.”

“It is!?”

“That’s what a dragon is. Not scales and claws and fangs and fire... I mean, that’s what a dragon is made of. But what a dragon really is, truly, is the personification of a sin. Pride, wrath, greed, all that.”

Spike arched one eyebrow. “Whaa?”

“Tell me,” Zaraturvara said, “Do you people have stories of knights vanquishing dragons?”

Rarity and Spike nodded together, slowly.

“A knight doesn’t defeat a dragon with weapons and muscles and grunting. The knight wins because his heart is pure and his cause is just. The vanquishing of a dragon is a metaphor of virtue overcoming vice.”

Spike set his fists on his hips. “That’s just silly! Nobody ever fought a dragon with just virtue.”

Zaraturvara cleared his throat and raised his voice. “And so the King of Nerluc assaulted the Tarrasque with knights and catapults to no avail... but Saint Martha found the beast and charmed it with her hymns and prayers, and led back the tamed Tarrasque to the city. The people, terrified by the monster, attacked it when it drew nigh. But the monster offered no resistance, and died without a sound. Martha then preached to the people and converted them to Christianity. Sorry for what they had done to the tamed beast, the townspeople changed the name of their town to Tarascon in its memory.”

Rarity and Spike stared at the serpent in silence.

“Oh, come on... just look at you two! You’re the spitting image of Andromeda and the sea serpent. Zabava and Gorynych. The... that... whichever dragon Saint George slew, and the princess he rescued. Whatever her name was.” Zaraturvara nodded to each of them. “You were meant to be be together. It’s a match made in heaven!”

Spike wrung his claws together. “Does that mean I gotta be slain by some knight?”

“Don’t I get a say in any of this?” Rarity said.

“Oh don’t be so literal minded,” Zaraturvara said, ignoring Rarity. “The legend doesn’t say the dragon has to be slain. Only that it is vanquished.”

“You don’t honestly think...! The two of us would...!?” Rarity pointed at Spike. “But we’re just friends!”

Spike and Zaraturvara both stared at her, shocked.

“And people call me venomous,” Zaraturvara whispered.

“I mean... well, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just... we don’t really have anything in common.”

“Are you joking? You are the living embodiment of generosity and self-sacrifice. He is the living embodiment of greed and pride. You grow in power as you pursue virtue, and he grows in power when those around him pursue sin. You’re the perfect match! There is no mortal being you cannot either chastise or proselytize to!”

Rarity stood up and ran away from the tree, sniffling.

Spike stood up, talons clenched. “Look what you did!”

Zaraturvara watched her run away. “Figures. People ask for the truth, and what do they do when they hear it?” He shook his head.

“Well you didn’t have to hurt her!”

The serpent reared up. “Life is suffering!” he roared.

The two stared each other down for a minute. Spike sat down on the grass and crossed his arms. “You didn’t have to be mean.”

“She’s afraid of you,” he said.

Spike eyed him.

“She’s afraid of you, and herself, and what that means. Up until now it’s all been a game, even if she didn’t realize it. Now she has to face the consequences of her relationship with you, and the possibility that it might progress to the next level.”

“How do you know all this, anyways? We just met.”

“Remember when she said ‘We’re just friends’? I saw the look on her face when she saw the look on your face. That particular look could fill a novel, cover to cover. You don’t need magic or divine wisdom to see these things. It’s obvious.”

“Will it progress? The relationship, I mean.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s frightening enough that it could.”

Spike gazed up at the tree. “You said I was the embodiment of something bad, right?”

“Pride, yes. One of the deadliest of all sins.”

“So... does that make me bad? Is it my destiny to blow up castles and eat villagers?”

Zaraturvara stared at him for a moment, slack jawed. “You’re... asking me... about destiny?”

Spike’s lower lip trembled. “Am I bad?”

The serpent tugged one of the branches down, dangling a shiny apple in front of him. “I cannot tell you... but I know one way for you to find out.”

“What’s that gonna do?”

“This is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of the fruit of the tree, you will know. You will grow powerful. You may even become an angel, or immortal.”

“But I thought you told Fluttershy it was the tree of power everlasting.”

The snake flexed it’s coils to affect a shrug. “Same thing. Knowledge is the only kind of power that really matters. There’s knowledge, and then there’s beating people up. That’s about it.”

Spike stroked his chin. “All I gotta do is eat the fruit, huh? What’s the catch?”

“Oh, thank God! I’m glad somebody is paying attention. The catch, as you say, is that you don’t know what the catch is until after you eat it.”

Spike eyed the fruit.

Zaraturvara gently let go of the branch. “In your case, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s overkill. But I can tell you this: God created all things with a purpose in mind. Dragons grow strong in the presence of sin and vice, but they themselves need not be evil. They are merely a chastisement and a warning to keep others on the path to righteousness.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all. How can dragons do evil stuff, but not be evil?”

Zaraturvara paused to think. “Tell, me Spike... is it evil to make a child suffer?”

“Are you kidding!? That’s the worst! You’d have to be a monster to do that!”

“Is it evil for a mother to punish a child when they have been disobedient?”

“Well, that’s completely...” Spike froze mid sentence and stared off into space.

“It’s quite a catch, isn’t it?” The snake flexed it’s coils. “I must say, it’s nice to finally meet someone who will listen to my questions.”

“Yeah.” Spike took a deep breath, then exhaled gustily. “So you’re saying I don’t have to be evil, just cause I embody evil?”

“You embody the evil in the hearts of others. That is all.”

“Do you think I’ll end up evil anyways? Is there anything I can do about it?”

The snake worked it’s jaw back and forth. “If you ever figure that one out, you let me know, all right?”

“Yeah. I can do that.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “Hey, listen. It’s been cool talking with you, but I gotta—”

“Right, right.” He nodded vigorously. “You’ve probably left her too long, already. You can blame me for delaying you.”

“Really? You’re cool with that?’

Zaraturvara rolled his eyes. “I’ve gotten used to it by now.”