The Everfree River rolled lazily through the heart of the wilderness for which it was named. It curved and wound around, full of twists that could make the water run parallel to the flow, the two separated by a thin strip of land; tributaries that would rejoin the main river eventually; and even a few full loops occurred, creating ovular islands that spoke of its creation by chaotic magic.
The river had no real headwaters, and no real outlet. The lazy water emerged from a strange spring deep in the forest, and flowed along until it fell down a chasm that seemed to never end. But that same water always found its way back out of the spring. No blockage or interruption ever long interfered with the flow of the mysterious river. It always found a way to push on from spring to chasm.
Though variation in width occurred it was never a small flow. It was always good and wide. The river almost never suffered a change in depth, however, dropping down a great distance, the water murky and dark not that far down. The silt of the bottom floated up quite a way, hiding the huge fish and other things that swam down below.
The river was the domain of many living things, most of them surprisingly mundane. The huge fish that swam the river and had whole lives in the thick, oozing silt of the bed were nothing special. The strange three-eyed arthropods, bodies like shields, crawled unobtrusively along the bottom, feeding on detritus from the far-away surface.
The plants that grew on the river top were not so strange, their roots merely stretched down far lower than their normal cousins and were tougher in general. Water hyacinths, water lilies, blue lotuses all had their thick-growing stands that replenished themselves quickly if plucked. Narcissi crowded some areas of shore, and bent their petaled heads to look over the languid flow of the water.
The most singular living thing in the Everfree River was the thing which made it, if only slightly, different from its surroundings. The Everfree River was not so free as the rest of the wild things around it, steeped in chaos and free of management. The river was managed and cultivated, tidied and arranged by its sole sapient inhabitant, Steven.
His origins were lost even to him. He simply was. His name just an appellation he had always held. Like any other dragon, of which he was surely a variation, he was long-lived. Unlike other dragons he did not suffer from the crushing compulsion of greed. He didn't clutch and grasp for treasure, selfishly hoarding all he could touch. He was satisfied with his life and what he had.
His home was the river, whether snuggled in the silt at the bottom, drifting in the middle or laying out on the bank, resting comfortably, he lived in all the twists and turns of the great water. It suited him to be everywhere, though of late he had made himself a more-or-less permanent 'base camp' in a region that put him close to Ponyville and the old castle of the Royal Pony Sisters.
He would swim with all his might to the various points along the river, on a schedule only he knew, just to make sure things were going well. He cultivated the plants and farmed the fish and arthropods, if only in loose ways. He had about as much control over the Everfree as anyone else, but he used every last little bit of what control he could muster.
His home base was not much, a cave he had dug out. The river in that part of the Everfree flowed through a channel of stone, so he clawed out a cavern just for sleeping, then created an inlet, to make what amounted to a small lagoon grotto for himself, for living and perhaps entertaining. He set up a canopy of woven vines, and had the comforts of home there, including a mirror he had received from his benefactrix, Rarity. It was a full-length mirror for her, but a hand mirror for him.
His day always began with a stretch in his carved-out cavern, and a slow slide out into the river. There were always large, sluggish fish near his home, which made for a quick bite for breakfast. Fed, he would go to his lagoon grotto and take up his mirror.
He loved to comb his thick, luxuriant mustache with the comb Rarity had given him, which had at one time been a hay-fork. The portion cut by Nightmare Moon had long since grown back, as lush and full as its partner, but he dearly loved the royal purple twist of hair which he had been freely given on that night. So he had had Rarity permanently implant it on his chin, to give him a unique and twisty goatee.
After combing himself, and twirling his goatee, he would rush off to do his patrols of her river. He ranged far and fast every day to keep things just so. He would work through lunch, though would snack on any available fish or arthropods. He only stopped when he had satisfied his personal schedule, when he would return home, always with things.
As he cultivated and checked, he would nick flowers. He always carefully considered the offerings before he delicately plucked what were, to him, tiny and fragile blooms. He always arrived home with plenty of them, fresh and unharmed, full of heady fragrance.
He used most for decoration, to brighten and beautiful his living space. The Everfree was liberated, but it was also gloomy. The explosion of fresh-plucked flowers helped to mitigate the dark, drab dreariness of the place. It was more in line with the kind of place he wanted to live. Just another quirk that was a natural part of him, a soft and fussy fastidiousness.
On normal days he would spend his leisure hours moisturizing his glorious, glittering scales, maintaining his claws and generally primping, before having fish and arthropods for dinner. Before going to sleep he would end his day with a small ritual. Any flowers he did not use for decoration, which happened to be the most beautiful, were carefully arranged in colorful and fragrant bunches, then tied together with string made from thick vines split into quarters and dried.
Significant variation happened every so often, and Steven always tried to hold some awareness for when that would happen. His day would proceed along as normal until around dusk, when he was settling in to his personal time. He would just be minding his own business when she would come, and his heart would stop as he regarded her.
Her mane was deeper black than the darkest Everfree midnight, glistening in the tiniest hint of light that slanted through the thick and concealing trees. It was a beautiful explosion of tiny and fluffy curls, which shook and danced when she turned her head. Her tail was the same, a long and hanging cascade of glistening oil-black curls, which occasionally subtly hid a long and colorful ribbon which was tied to the base of her tail on some nights.
Her body was the most perfect shade of puce, all reddish-purple with just the faintest hint of brown. She resembled nothing so much as a rare and desirable wine given life, a beauteous flow from her tough hooves which could put on great speed, to the long and sublime spiral of her horn, which held great magic power. The only break in her coat's perfection were the Cutie Marks on her flanks, a plum beside a stem glass.
She was Section Chief Brandy Punch, though no one who knew any better ever called her that. She was Slivovitz. Chief Slivovitz. Holder of the Order of the Diamond Crescent, chief of the Ponyville-Adjacent Everfree Nightwatch. Tapped to represent the Nightwatch at The Day of Remembrance in Canterlot, giving great prestige to the fourth Royal-controlled service.
She was the elite. She led the elite. She was royal constabulary perfection equinified. She was Steven's greatest weakness and his greatest joy.
“Steven?” Slivovitz asked, in what seemed like a husky voice.
“Hmm?” Steven asked, hands pressed to his cheeks at he made moony eyes at Slivovitz.
“Steven!” Slivovitz cried.
“Ah!” Steven shrieked, surging up in the water and blinking rapidly.
Slivovitz cleared her throat and spit into a patch of grass. “That Pocket may have been a traitor but he could prepare a decent meal. We're fine but...” She looked up and sighed. “You know why I'm here, Steven.”
Steven smiled hopefully and ran his hand over his shining pompadour. “You wanted to see me.”
“Yes, for information, just like always,” Slivovitz stated. “You go everywhere the river does and you see things. It's a stretch but you might have something. So I check.”
Steven deflated slightly, and compulsively stroked at his mustache. “W-well... glad you're here. You know I... I like having you around...”
“Steven...” Slivovitz said in a tired tone, a hoof coming to rub her head. “Normally I have more time to chew the cud with you, as the cows say, but I got a late start and I need to go on patrol.”
“Oh, patrol! I know, I know...” Steven said, flailing slightly and darting his eyes around. “B-but couldn't you... stay for a bit?'
Slivovitz sighed, and shook her head. “I have a schedule. We're the best, and we stay that way by keeping time and doing our jobs. It's why I'm here. I just need something to go on, if you have it.”
Steven looked a little pained by the statement, but he quickly recovered. “W-wait here. I have something.”
“Ste-!” Slivovitz began, holding up a hoof to try and call a halt. “-Ven...” She could only watch him sinuously twist away and quickly wind himself to his grotto home, where he busied himself with his trinkets. “Do you have some kind of object that tells me the location of an immediate threat?” She loudly asked.
“No...” Steven said slowly, hands behind his back and he sinuously undulated his body slowly back from his grotto. “But I've got something better than that!”
“Oh this is going to be something...” Slivovitz whispered.
Steven pulled his hands from behind his back and displayed a collection of bouquets. They wouldn't put any of the Equestrian florists or gourmets out of business, though surely the selection would give them pause. The beautiful flowers were well preserved, or were still fresh. Even though they were only bound in sliced vines there was a genuine artistry and a genuine care taken with them.
“Here, I have this but... I want you to have them...” Steven said, shyly, a blush on his cheeks as he handed over the ample assortment of bunched flowers.
Slivovitz took the whole copious mass with her magical aura and looked over them with wide eyes. That was... no, it wasn't unexpected. She should have been surprised, but given all the time she had spent with Steven it wasn't a surprise at all. “Oh, so... tha-thank you, Steven. I don't, uh, quite know what to say...”
“Do you like them?” Steven asked, with a flutter of his eyelids, realizing he lacked lashes to give the action import.
Slivovitz looked over the collection of bouquets and sniffed at them. She was rather used to the plants of her Everfree, but had not really taken the time to stop and smell the flowers for any significant time. Beautifully fragrant, and filled with scents very different from her native region. She carefully nibbled on the petals of a narcissus, and nodded. “Certainly better than the rations I burned on the campfire.”
“So it's just... tasty?” Steven asked, a little hurt behind the hopeful light in his eyes.
Slivovitz looked into those big, bright eyes, sniffing at the flowers again. She knew what it meant. From the very first day she had suspected a lot of things. He was always so eager to try and help, even if he never offered much. “I... could probably eat the blue lotuses to get to sleep easier and spice my dinner at dawn.”
“Oh...” Steven said, looking dejected.
Slivovitz turned away and brought the flowers with her. “Look, Steven, I really, really appreciate this. I do, honestly. But I really need to get to work."
“Oh yes, yes... I understand Section Chief Slivovitz, you have important works...” Steven looked away as well, slumping over until the tips of his mustache trailed in the water.
“You know, Steven...” Slivovitz said, turning to regard the drooping dragon. “I really do need vital information about the situation in the Everfree. If you could give me some good information, I would have a reason to be here, to hang around and... well, I'd really appreciate you for giving me that.”
Steven barely registered Slivovitz leaving. His mind was racing with what she had told him. His bouquets had been nice, and potentially both delicious and useful. But she didn't need bouquets. She needed an informant.
Steven's routine altered itself after that. His patrols remained the same, as did his cleaning and management of the Everfree River. But rather than picking flowers for his innumerable bouquets he only picked enough to decorate his home. The rest of his scavenging was spent in picking up interesting bits of detritus.
He gathered up moss and hanging plant material, anything that he could weave. He saved his fish bones and arthropod shells for needles and decorative plates. He preserved any fallen hairs for use as thread, when he couldn't get enough thinly split vines.
His leisure hours after patrols were spent in feverish work. He made every moment of the sun being in the sky count, sewing, weaving, decorating with tree sap for glue and fish bones as pins. The kindly Rarity had taught him the basics of haberdashery, because the sartorial arts fascinated him when Rarity told him about them. She had shared a lot of things about the world outside of the river, and he was leveraging that for his new project.
He'd be what Slivovitz needed. No matter how much work it took, he would be that.