Most of the ponies in Equestria were familiar with the places dragons hung out in their land, such as the Badlands down south and Dragontown in Fillydelphia. What the equine populace is quite unfamiliar with is that the Badlands are merely the gateway to a collection of dragon settlements, reaching far southeast of Equestria's borders.
Here, dragons lived in communities as successful and fruitful as those of the Equestrians. They farmed, crafted, traded and just lived simple lives, seldom interrupted by random events. Among these settlements are historical Wyverndale, hot and dry Blazeburgh and elusive Treasure Cove, but our story takes us to the dragon capital of Scale City, governed by Baron Monitor and his wife Hilana.
Monitor and Hilana had a single child, whom they named Beryl. Beryl was exceptionally bright as a hatchling, growing up without a hitch. He started school just fine and was accepted by all the other younglings as an equal and a friend but one day, everything changed suddenly.
Beryl walked into the dining room, where Monitor and Hilana were enjoying a breakfast of finest corundum. The emerald-green dragon child wore four iron horseshoes tied to his claws. In his mouth was a thin bundle of hay. And then he spoke one thing.
"I'm a pony!"
With that, Beryl slipped under the table, pulled over a bale of hay and started munching on it contentedly. Occasionally, he would raise a horseshoed claw and bring it down on the stone floor with a sharp clop.
At first, his parents tried to bring him to his senses themselves. They asked, begged, scolded, coaxed, even pushed, all to no avail. They soon called for assistance on the matter, but the doctors of Scale City could come up with nothing regarding Beryl's strange behavior.
"It doesn't appear to be anything physical or psychological," one dragon professor said to Beryl's parents as he stood in the doorway. "He's simply lost the essence of being a dragon."
Needless to say, the baron and his wife were distraught. They respected the ponies as allies, but to have their only son believe he was something he wasn't.... Monitor and Hilana sent out messages to all the dragon settlements, begging for any reptile with the knowledge to come and help Beryl. They had dozens of replies and visitors from all over the land, but all were baffled by the equine antics of the baron's son.
Days later, there was still no improvement. Monitor sat with his head in his claws, Hilana sitting beside him. On the couch opposite sat Mina of Dragontown, Dim Sum of Wyverndale and Crackle of Treasure Cove. They had all come to help, bringing with them reports from their home cities.
"My son," Monitor whispered, listening to the sound of non-hooves clacking against the dining room floor. "My little fire ruby."
"I'm truly sorry, Baron," Mina said. "I wish we could have done more for Beryl, but this is beyond anything our specialists know of."
"Same here." Dim Sum leaned back somberly against the couch. "Even Governor Larma had nothing on it."
"Grraaaa!" Crackle agreed.
Hilana brushed a tear from her eye. "We can only hope, husband, that the delegates from the Badlands will have good news for us. I've heard that, despite their seemingly primitive lifestyles, they have made many breakthroughs. They should be here any minute."
Monitor didn't lift his head. "What's the use? There's nothing left. This will be just another disappointment."
The three female messengers knew better than to try and comfort the baron. He had become incredibly distressed all throughout his son's long episode. All they could do was sit and hope that the Badlanders would have some good news.
Mere minutes later, there was a heavy knock at the door. Three dragons entered the house: two towering males, one green and one red, and a smaller shrewd-looking blue one between them. They made straight for the den and inclined their heads respectfully at Monitor and Hilana.
"Greetings, Baron," the blue dragon addressed. "We are sorry for the delay. There was a hydra stampede going on in the forbidden jungle."
The red dragon chuckled, which sounded more like an earthquake. "Forbidden for whom, I keep wondering."
"Hush, Basil," the green dragon scolded. "Keep it together."
Monitor looked apprehensive. "Have you news, any news at all?"
"My lord Baron, from all the information the other specialists have been sending me, I have come to the saddening conclusion that no dragon has ever been afflicted with this—" The blue dragon waved a claw toward the kitchen, where Beryl was still munching on hay. "A dragon is a dragon, regardless of how he behaves. But I don't have anything more to say on your son's mental health."
Hilana shuddered from spine to tail. "Does that mean....."
"Not so fast, my lady," the blue dragon insisted, holding up a claw. "Delivering the aforementioned conclusion was only half the reason we came. My escort here, Reginald, has been itching to share a fact of sorts since news of young Beryl's condition reached the Badlands. I'll let him take things from here."
Basil and the blue dragon stepped back and Reginald stood alone before the baron. "It's like this, sir. I once kept a hoard in a cave, deep in one of the forests of Equestria. One day, a baby dragon found my cave and helped himself to my gems. I was somewhat inflamed by this but, with the help of a pony and an owl, the hatchling escaped my cave unscathed."
"You have a fiery temper, Reginald," Hilana noted curtly.
Reginald bowed his head. "I know I shouldn't have been quick to anger; I just get so tired of having to keep an eye on my things, as though any creature will try to take them. Anyway, it turns out that the baby dragon was an assistant to this pony, who is now one of the princesses of Equestria. My encounter with them happened years ago, but I've heard that this princess is very warm and friendly, and her assistant a very capable dragon. I was thinking, Baron, perhaps we could send for him to see if he could help Beryl."
Monitor stroked his scaly chin. This news gave him much hope; a dragon who was raised within pony society sounded like the perfect help for his son. "This could indeed be the solution," the baron said. "My deepest gratitude, Reginald."
"You're welcome, Baron."
"Could you send a message to the princess, requesting if her assistant could come as soon as possible?" Monitor continued, addressing the Badlands delegates.
"Of course, Baron," the blue dragon said.
Spike landed in Scale City the following afternoon. He had grown much during his time with the Bearers of Harmony, both in size and knowledge. Once upon a time, he was a young and occasionally overeager #1 assistant, ready to lend a helping claw. Now he was the counsel to the Princess of Friendship, a wise and reliable creature with the utmost respect for friends, family and allies.
After making sure his gear was all with him, Spike folded his wings and made his way to the baron's home. Passing citizens would stop and watch the 15-foot purple dragon walk down the street. It wasn't that dragons were an uncommon sight in Scale City, far from it considering their dragon-only population. But the way Spike held himself struck many of the citizens as odd yet impressive.
Spike arrived at the baron's house and knocked. Hilana appeared in the doorway within moments. She took in the queer-looking symbols on Spike's bag, which were actually the coat-of-arms of Harmony.
"Are you the princess's assistant?" Hilana asked.
Spike nodded. He was, in fact, far more than just an assistant to Twilight Sparkle; he was her friend. But that was hardly relevant then. "I've heard of your son's condition. May I come in?"
"Of course, of course."
Spike followed Hilana into the house and to the den. Monitor brightened at once upon noticing the purple dragon. "Welcome, my brother," the baron greeted. "Thank you so much for coming."
Few ever spoke to Spike calling him 'brother', usually only Twilight, but he accepted the gesture. "No need," he replied, warmly shaking the baron's hand. "I'm not familiar with the illness that was described to me in the letter I got, that your son is afflicted with."
"Well, it's not much of an illness, really," Hilana clarified. "Would you like to see him?"
"That's why I'm here."
Monitor, Hilana and Spike crept to the kitchen doorway and peered in. Beryl was sprawled casually under the table, munching on hay and twirling one of his horseshoes. Every once in a while, he would raise his head and make a growly whinnying sound.
The baron quickly retracted his head, refusing to look upon Beryl a moment longer. "Not one dragon in all the territories were able to come away with even an idea of what he has. Please, counsel to the princess, help my son."
Spike frowned blankly and looked back into the kitchen. Having lived among ponies all his life, he was extremely knowledgeable of their behaviors and habits. Beryl was acting in a peculiar way, unheard of among the draconic, but hardly equine either. Spike watched the young dragon for a minute longer before a smile pulled across his snout.
"I can cure your son," he said at last.
Monitor put a hand to his chest and laid his other on Hilana's shoulder, tears of joy appearing in their eyes. "But," Spike continued, "you have to let me do it my way, however strange it may seem."
"Will it hurt him?" Hilana asked concernedly.
"Ma'am, I won't lay a claw on him."
Beryl was getting through a lunch of hay when he got an unexpected visitor. It was unexpected, mostly due to Beryl being under the table, but what a guest it was. A tall purple creature, who barely fit under the table at all, with large golden-looking horseshoes on his claws. Beryl was so surprised, his mouth fell open and the hay dropped out.
"Hey there," Spike said to the smaller under-table resident.
"H-h-hey," Beryl stuttered. He picked up the hay and put it back in his mouth. "Who're you? And what are you doing here?"
Spike looked up casually at the underside of the table. "I'm here, just the same as you, but who are you?"
The baron's son was delighted to explain. "My name's Beryl, and I'm a pony!"
"Nice to meet you, Beryl." Spike held up a gold-shod fist. "I'm Spike, and I'm a pony too."
Beryl looked unsurely at the offered appendage. "What is that?"
"It's my hoof. Ponies often greet each other with a hoofbump. You do know that, right? Being a pony and all."
"Of. Of course!" Beryl happily hoofbumped Spike.
Monitor and Hilana frowned in the doorway. The purple dragon's method was more than just a little strange to them; it looked downright counteractive. But Spike looked out at them from the edge of his vision, silently insisting they let him do his thing.
"There's no way this will work," the baroness said to her husband. "The princess must be an airhead to have a counsel this mad."
But Monitor had thrown away all his anguish already and refused to give in. "I'm done wallowing in hopelessness, Hilana. Everything we've tried so far was a buildup to this. It was all planned from the start that we'd get this contact through the Badlands, after we've tried everything local. I know Spike will succeed."
Hilana frowned uncertainly, but didn't say a word more. From that day, Spike and Beryl spent their time together under the table, munching on hay and talking about things ponies do. Beryl was especially enthralled by the many facts and stories Spike told him about ponies, in particular the ones involving the Elements of Harmony and other of his friends' adventures.
Later that week during breakfast, Spike slipped off one of his horseshoes. This sudden action caught Beryl completely off guard and the youngling could only watch as the purple dragon continued to remove his footwear.
"What are you doing?" Beryl demanded.
"Taking off my horseshoes," Spike replied, doing so.
"Bu-bu-but you're a pony!"
Spike nodded. "Yeah, I am a pony. But ponies don't have to wear horseshoes. Most of the ponies I know almost never wear them." Spike always considered 'horseshoes' to be inaptly named altogether.
"Huh." Beryl watched the older dragon for a moment longer, then looked at his own tied-on horseshoes. After a moment's more thought, the green dragon started undoing the knots holding the metal U-shaped pieces to his claws and threw them aside with a clang.
In the other room, Monitor gave a deep sigh. Just the sound of his son shedding the equine gear was a pleasure to hear. "It seems that the counsel's plan is working."
"Yes, it is," Hilana agreed, the sight siphoning off her own fears.
Their claws freed of the shoes, Spike and Beryl lounged comfortably under the table on their hay piles. Time went on and one morning, Spike reached a claw into his bag and pulled out a large emerald. Joining Beryl for breakfast, the purple dragon ignored the hay offered by the youngling and instead started munching on the emerald.
Beryl, of course, objected. "How are you doing that? Ponies can't eat gemstones; they eat hay."
"Ponies eat a lot more than just hay, Beryl," Spike held. "There's one pony I know of who can bite into rocks like chocolate. Ponies can eat gemstones, so we can too."
Spike pulled out a piece of jasper and offered it to Beryl. The younger dragon took the 4-inch crystal and sucked on it like a lollipop. His reptilian eyes widened and his mouth hung open on the jasper. In a swift lash of tongue, the vermilion mineral was ground up between Beryl's dragon teeth.
"Mmm. That's crunchy. I guess ponies can eat gemstones"
"They sure can," Spike agreed.
Meals became relatively seasoned from then on, hay gradually becoming completely replaced by corundum and quartz. This improvement brought more hope to Monitor and Hilana and they had all the delegates and messengers come to them as they waited for Spike to complete his undertaking.
The final step was taken several days later, following a hearty breakfast. Spike crossed his legs in a position Beryl had started knowing as 'storyteller mode'. The youngling eagerly sat up, bouncing in place. "What are you going to tell me about today, Spike?" he asked, thinking back on the many stories already told. "Is it gonna be about ponies?"
"Ponies..." Spike dragged a claw over the surface of a breakfast tiger's eye quartz. "No, Beryl. Today's story will be about a diamond dog."
"Diamond dog?" Beryl had heard of the strange canine miners who lived in the mountain regions, though he'd never actually seen one. "Will there be ponies in it?"
The older dragon rolled his eyes but smiled all the same. "Yes, there will be ponies in it."
"Yes!" Beryl squealed with joy.
"Very well. The story goes like this."
Several hundred moons ago, high in the mountain region of Equestria, lived a diamond dog named Zola. She was a good daughter who helped her kind mine minerals and prospect for metals deep in the mountains they lived. Zola's father, Dalton, was part of an important trading business, sending their finds down to the nearby cities for anyone who ordered them.
One day, a group of ponies came right to Zola's home. They had come to procure a gemstone for the crown and peytral of Princess Celestia herself. But they required a pair of gemstones, two purple sapphires, to finish the pieces before they were presented to her Highness. But the size they had been requested to get was more than just a rarity.
"That jeweler's a nut!" one of the ponies ranted earlier, after looking over the craftspony's instructions. "Where in Equestria are we going to find a purple sapphire that big?"
"No dragon would ever part with such a prize," another concurred. "And there's not a pony in the business who's got two like that. Not even a Pie."
"Wait, guys," insisted the third. "There's a trade in gemstones going on around Vanhoover. I've heard that the locals trade regularly with diamond dogs that live in the mountains nearby. I'm sure one of them has what we're looking for."
The others ponies muttered to themselves, then nodded. "Well, we'd certainly have more like with a miner than a dragon. Let's go."
So they traveled to the mountains of Vanhoover, where the path was pointed out and they trekked through the rocky cliffs, finally coming to the diamond dog village. There, they asked around for advice on purchasing the gemstones they sought for the princess's regalia and were soon standing at the door of Dalton's home.
Knock knock knock
Zola opened the door, only a little surprised to find three ponies standing on the doorstep, as they usually tended to have their orders shipped out of the mountains. "Good day, ponies. How may I help you?" Zola greeted.
"We've come to find two of the largest purple sapphires," one of them replied. "It's for the crown and peytral of her Highness, Princess Celestia, and we require the very best. Might you have what we're looking for?"
Zola, her whole family being in on the mining business, knew how to handle things. She digested this information, then remembered the two sapphires her father had found several weeks ago. They were immense, each almost six inches long, an absolute record for purple sapphires in diamond dog mining records. Knowing her father, she guessed they were locked away in the family's secondary vault, where they kept their most valuable finds.
"I believe we have what you're looking for," Zola said, feeling pride from the jubilant expressions of the ponies. "What price are you offering for them?"
One pony pulled out a large sack of gold, tied with a cord bearing the Equestrian royal crest. "We offer you and your family fifty thousand bits for your sapphires."
Zola's canine jaw almost dropped right then and there. Fifty thousand bits was a sum she could barely fathom and certainly a hefty one. "You stay right there," she requested, already leaning inside the house. "I'll be right back with the sapphires."
Closing the door, Zola rushed through the house and into the family storeroom. Here sat hundreds of gemstones of varying shapes and sizes, sitting pretty on cushion-lined shelves. At the far end was a round slab of crystal with a keyhole shaped like a canine. The tooth, not the dog. This crystal served as the door to the family's secondary vault, where they kept their most valuable finds.
When Zola got to the crystal door, she remembered that she didn't have the key to the vault and that her father probably had it. She went into the bedroom, all set to ask him for the key, but Dalton was fast asleep on the bed. With asking her father being out of the question, Zola turned the room upside down in absolute silence trying to find the key, before coming to the conclusion that Dalton wouldn't have been so careless as to just leave the key lying around.
It was then that Zola noticed a glint coming from the bed's headboard. She drew nearer and found the edge of the canine key sticking out from under Dalton's pillow. Zola knew at a glance that removing the key would be impossible without waking her father which, in her mind, was completely unacceptable.
So, with a heavy but sure heart, Zola returned to the door and announced to the ponies—
"The deal is off."
You can imagine how the ponies reacted: initial shock, some stuttering and then outrage. It was understandable, seeing as they had come far to purchase the sapphires. They inquired as to why Zola was backing out of the deal and she told them.
"Excuse me, miss," the ponies said after her explanation. "We have to discuss something between ourselves."
Zola nodded. "All right then."
The vassals walked a short way and huddled up. "This is insanity!" one of them hissed. "More so than the jeweler's request!"
"Why is she unwilling to wake her father for what's likely the biggest deal of their lives?" the other wondered. "Sentiment can only go so far."
The third hefted their saddlebags. "Maybe if we offered more, she'd agree to wake her father, Dalton."
Agreeing on this idea, the liegeponies returned to the house and said to Zola, "Perhaps you would agree to wake your father Dalton and sell us the sapphires for one hundred thousand bits."
The numbers rolled into place in Zola's mind. She was not greedy, but she was still a diamond dog and almost jumped at the thought of such riches. But then the thought of her sleeping father popped up again and she shook her head. "Nothing doing, ponies."
The haggling continued. One by one, the ponies pulled out each and every bit bag they had with them, and each time Zola turned them down. Finally, the ponies heaved the very last one onto the pile, totaling up to the sum they'd been given for the purchase.
"All right, miss. Here's our final offer: five hundred thousand bits. You wake your father and bring out the sapphires, then the gold is yours. Surely he would want you to wake him for this."
Zola swallowed. Before her stood the biggest amount of bits she had ever seen. She knew that with all that gold, her family could live wealthy lives free of dirty work. They could get a fine house, eat nice food, maybe even get some of that imported cider her mother loved so much. They could be living the dream. Surely her father would agree.
But no, Zola knew that wasn't right. The life of a diamond dog was down in the quarries within the mountains. Every canine miner felt the joy of hunting for gems just as much as dragons did for eating them. Zola knew her father loved his work; she did too, as did all her species. And she knew that neither she nor Dalton nor any other diamond dog would give that up for all the bits in Equestria.
"Not happening. Keep your gold, ponies. I may not speak for diamond dogs everywhere, but this houndgirl knows her and her pack's place, and it's right here."
I know dad would agree, she thought in her heart. I just know it.
The ponies, of course, were shocked by her refusal. Even more so was their sadness, having failed to procure the desired sapphires. Now the jeweler would be unable to finish Princess Celestia regalia. They realized then that their mission was over so they gathered up all the gold, turned tail and descended the mountain village.
Zola watched them until they disappeared down the path. She reentered her house and found herself crying, yet she wasn't sure why. I did what I thought was right; I turned down the deal to let my dad sleep. Why am I unhappy with that?
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Zola walked into the family room and her father walked in through the other entrance, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Dad?" she spluttered. "You're awake!"
"Zola? I just got up now. Slept pretty good." Dalton scrunched his nose. "What was all that noise?"
"Some ponies came to purchase those purple sapphires you found. The big ones."
"They came to buy them?"
"Yes; they offered several hundred thousand bits for them. They want to use them for the Princess's regalia."
Dalton's eyes widened at the end of her sentence. "The Princess wants to purchase our sapphires for hundreds of thousands of bits to ornament her finery?"
The middle-aged diamond dog gave a growling snort and slowly sat himself down on the couch. "Princess Celestia." He scratched absentmindedly behind his ear. "Did you give the ponies a receipt?"
Zola cocked an eyebrow. "A what?"
"You know, a receipt; it shows that either a sold item or payment for an item was received. For when one makes a purchase."
"Dad, we don't work with receipts. Besides, they didn't buy the gemstones."
"What are you saying?"
"The key was under your pillow, dad; I couldn't get at it without waking you. So I turned down the offer."
Dalton scrutinized his daughter for a moment. When it was clear to Zola that he had nothing to say back, she continued. "Each time, they stubbornly raised the price, begging me to wake you and get them the sapphires. By the end, the price had gone up to five hundred thousand bits, but I wouldn't give in; I refused to wake you up."
The houndgirl gulped. "Yes, father?"
"Go to my room. Get the key from under the pillow. And get those ponies their sapphires."
It was a full six seconds before Zola got her legs moving, diving into her parents' bedroom and retrieving the key. She rushed to the family storeroom and strode over to the great crystal slab. Zola inserted the tooth-shaped key into the equally tooth-shaped hole and turned.
Click clack clikty clockt click clank clonk
Only a diamond dog would craft such a complicated-sounding lock. The door swung outwards and Zola leaned in. The interior of the secondary vault was about the size of a medicine cabinet. On the middle of the three shelves, resting on a black cushion, were the two purple sapphires.
As a diamond dog, Zola had a partiality for gemstones, the larger and shinier the better. And even though she was there when her father locked them away, the sapphires still took her breath away. Each one was half a foot long and just under two inches wide, their cores made up of semi-transparent heliotrope corundum. Surely worth the recently proffered price.
It all worked out in the end, Zola thought fondly as she removed the sapphires from their resting place.
A minute later, she was sprinting down the mountain trail. She found the ponies just a short way down, their journey slowed from their load of bit bags.
"Ho there, ponies!"
The trio turned at Zola's calling. "What is it, miss?" one of them inquired, venting slightly from their previous encounter.
Zola grinned. She pulled out a reinforced case and popped the lid open. Inside, resting on a bed of velvet, sat the two purple sapphires. When the ponies saw them, their eyes gleamed with elation. The sapphires were larger and far greater than they had ever imagined. Just right for a princess.
"If you're still willing," Zola said, "we're ready to deliver."
The liegeponies looked at her confusedly. "Do you really mean it?"
"Thank you. Thank you so much, miss!"
Two of the ponies started untying the bit bags from their saddles. "I take it you'll want those five hundred thousand bits like we offered," their companion said.
"What?" the ponies exclaimed. "Are you not selling the sapphires?"
"We are, but for the original price. Please unload fifty thousand bits."
The liegeponies were dumbfounded; the diamond dog was turning down a fortune here. What was the crazy pup doing? "Does your father know about this?" one of them asked, as the others carefully counted out the correct amount.
"Sure he does. It was mostly his idea."
"You don't say..."
With slow movements, the ponies pushed the large sack of gold in front of Zola. The houndgirl passed the case over the bit bag, sealing it for the journey. "Thank you for your purchase," Zola said. She pulled out a small piece of parchment and laid it on top of the case. "Here's your receipt."
The ponies accepted the case and the receipt with stupefied sluggishness. The moment the case had passed from her paws to their hooves, Zola heaved the huge bit bag onto her back and lugged it back uphill, whistling the tune to an old diamond dog mining ditty. When she turned around a cliff and out of sight, the ponies glanced down at the receipt.
Diamond Dog Mining of Vanhoover receipt
Seller: Zola, daughter of Dalton
Item: Purple sapphire
Purchaser: liegeponies to Princess Celestia
Payment (in bits): Fifty thousand bits
Thank you for your purchase
And so ended the great search for the purple sapphires. The ponies returned to Canterlot with the gemstones and the jeweler completed his work. The golden crown and peytral, inlaid with those two individual sapphires, were presented to Princess Celestia a week later. Everyone involved in their creation was acknowledged that night, including the diamond dogs. With the bits from their sale, Zola and her family refurbished their village, turning it into the center of gem-trading for half of Equestria...
"And that's the story."
Beryl blinked his eyes and shook his head; he hadn't budged or talked during the entire storytelling. "Is it all true?" he finally asked. "Did a diamond dog really sell the gemstones that are in Celestia's finery?"
"As far as I know," Spike replied. "There is a diamond dog village in the mountains near Van Hoover and it's pretty fancy in comparison to some of their other settlements. I've found Zola's name in the Canterlot archives too, when I went looking for personal mining tips.
"But now I have a question for you, Beryl: what did you think of Zola when she gave up all those bits just so that her father could sleep?"
Beryl looked startled. Having to answer questions was not something he was accustomed to, especially from his time being a pony. What reply could he give to satisfy Spike's request?
After thinking hard on it, the little dragon spoke up. "Surely, her father would have wanted her to wake him up for a big payment like that. It was stupidity on her part, choosing to let him sleep rather than stir him for what was probably the biggest transaction of their lives."
"Zola acted honorably, though, respecting her father's rest as she did. Don't you think that merits something? Look how much she cared."
"It merits foolishness, Spike. Foolishness of letting your own ideals blinding you from the important and relevant things in life."
"Hmmph. So you're of the opinion that honoring one's parents as Zola did, in such a piously foolish manner, is pointless." Spike laced his fingers in front of his snout. "You may be right there. Zola wasn't exactly obligated to respect her father as she did, and in doing so she would have left her family behind, so to speak.
"So all her drama was for nothing?" Beryl asked.
Spike scratched his head. "Well, the story continues that some time later, Zola discovered a new kind of gemstone while mining. Researchers found that this gemstone, which grew in a peculiar shape and was fiery-red in color, bore many special properties along with its natural beauty. This gemstone was, of course, a fiery ruby."
"Zola discovered the first fire ruby?!"
"So it would seem. Zola's fire ruby made her and her town even more famous, luring dozens of miners from all the races of Equestria into mountains and caves to search for them.
"And now..." Spike reached into his bag and pulled out a golden charm necklace, inlaid with a gemstone: a fiery ruby. "My own little gem heart can't hold a light to Zola's; hers was said to be two feet in diameter."
He dangled the fire ruby necklace from his finger, waving it back and forth. "Diamond dogs aren't social creatures by nature; most of them prefer living alone and mining solo. Zola's village proves that even the most aloof of beings can unite to be more than they're perceived to be. You seem to see ponies the same way, Beryl: as lesser beings with limited composure, sophistication and refinement."
Those words shook Beryl. "I respect ponies, sure I do! And they do eat hay, and wear horseshoes, and-and they—"
"Ponies don't live under tables, Beryl. I don't know where you heard such nonsense, but nothing could be further from the truth."
Spike pushed himself out from under the table with his legs and stood up. Beryl, not wanting to lose sight of his companion, scurried out from under too. He climbed up on a chair, trying to raise himself closer to Spike's own height. "I know more about ponies than any dragon in all of Scale City. Ponies are great! They're simple, playful, being a pony rocks!"
"I can agree with the 'great' part, but those other things you think about ponies? They're wrong, Beryl."
Rummaging inside his bag, Spike pulled out a photo album. "I may be the only dragon to have ever grown up in pony society. I alone know the full details of their lifestyles and ethics." He opened the album on the table and slid it in front of Beryl. "Throughout my life, I've interacted with many kinds of ponies and found great friends among them. Here."
Beryl sat down and looked at the photos. Spike appeared in almost every one, usually along with a purple unicorn pony, and younger too. In one photo, Spike could be seen with the unicorn and a phoenix chick, a bowl of cake batter spilled all over the unicorn's head. Another showed Spike chugging down cider with the unicorn and a rainbow-maned pegasus. A third photo had Spike in a suit dancing with small filly in a white dress.
"Wow," Beryl muttered as he turned the pages, taking in more and more of Spike's life. One page had Spike and the purple unicorn interacting with other ponies, doing things like washing animals, making dresses, celebrating at a party, even picking apples; all things that never came to Beryl he thought of ponies. "So these are all things ponies do."
"That and more."
At the end of the album was a big picture of Spike with six of the mares who had appeared in the other photos, all six of them looking happy. Beryl spent some time examining this last picture. "These ponies were your friends?"
"Are. Whoever I don't see regularly, we stay in contact." Spike looked at the end picture. "When I was younger I had a fire ruby, one that I had aged for months, to be eaten on my tenth birthday. But the day before that grand day, I gave the fire ruby to the white unicorn that appears in some of the photos. That act later saved the entire town from the destruction of a rampaging dragon." At this, Spike grinned.
"This," he said, holding up his fire ruby, "was given to me on my eighteenth birthday, a gift from that same unicorn. She told me how I had helped inspire her and reinforce a lesson in generosity, a lesson we both benefited from in the end."
Spike took Beryl's claws and wrapped the youngling's fingers around the fire ruby. "Ponies are amazing creatures and can be the very greatest of friends, Beryl, but you're not one of them. You are a dragon, a child of fire and magic, not bound by the laws of ponies or deer or gryphons. You were born to the house of Monitor and are destined for greatness. Look upon this fire ruby, one of the most valued of all minerals in Equestria, and recall what is yours."
The fire ruby gleamed with an inner light which filled the dining room. Monitor, Hilana, the delegates and the messengers all crowded around the doorway, peering in to see what was causing the place to glow. Spike continued holding the fire ruby in Beryl's grip, making sure the youngling's gaze never wavered from the stone.
With a muffled BOOM, a wave of spectral fire exploded out of the fire ruby. The onlookers at the door had their hair and scales blown straight up and their faces sooted. Monitor quickly wiped his face with an Arimaspi handkerchief and inched inside, keeping his back against the wall.
Dust motes flickered and disappeared in the dying light of the fire ruby, though the gem continued to shine from within. The dragon holding the fire ruby lifted his head, his turquoise eyes burning with the fiery passion of the draconic youth. Beryl grinned and his fangs glinted.
Monitor couldn't control himself any longer. He threw himself at his son and embraced him, spreading his wings and soaring around the dining room. Steamy tears fell from his eyes. "Oh, my son! My beautiful Beryl. You've come back!"
Hilana hurried in, the delegates and messengers slowly following. The parents held their son between them, Beryl still holding the fire ruby. Never before had the crowd seen such a happy family scene such as this. But then, none of them were the draconic counsel to the Princess of Friendship.
Spike stood across the table, a satisfied smile on his face. "Operation successful, Baron," he said, approaching Monitor and his kin. "Your son has come back to himself."
Monitor nodded vigorously. "Yes, yes he truly has. But how did you do it?"
"And in such a strange way too," Hilana added.
Spike drew a finger across the table's surface. "It's straightforward when you think about it: in order to reach a person who's place has lessened, so to speak, one must lower themselves to their level. From there, you can reach out to them and help them back to better heights."
"Astonishing," Monitor explained.
"If you say so." Spike held out an open claw. "Beryl?"
Beryl looked briefly at Spike's hand, then at the fire ruby he was still holding. "Oh, right." He leaned over and deposited the charm necklace in the adult's possession. "Thanks for that, Spike."
"Oh, it was my pleasure." Spike strode back to the table, closed his photo album and stowed it back into his bag. He looked at his fire ruby for a moment, then strung it around his neck. "It will always be a pleasure to help a fellow dragon. But now, I must go."
All the dragons in the house escorted Spike to the door and gathered on the street outside the baron's home. Pedestrians and traffic stopped as Spike walked into the middle of the road, shouldering his bags. The baron's company applauded and thanked Spike over and over, each in their own way.
"Nice seeing you again, Spike," Mina said.
"Make sure the Princess isn't letting alicornhood get her down!" Dim Sum clamored.
"I'm glad to see you have your own kind of hoard rather than ripping of some other dragon's," Reginald commented slyly.
"Thank you, my brother," Monitor praised, Hilana standing beside him in bliss. "You've done us a great service and we shall not soon forget it."
Beryl left his mother's side and stepped into the road. Spike knelt down as the hatchling approached. "Thank you, Spike," Beryl said. "Without you, I'd still be trying to get through a trough of hay every morning."
"Hmhm." Spike ruffled Beryl's spines. "You know, they can be deep-fried into crispier pieces. Maybe then you'll find them more to your tatse."
The two dragons laughed. Beryl took a step back and Spike spread his wings. "Good luck to you all, my brethren!" he shouted. And with a beat of his wings, the dragon counsel launched himself into the air, the Scale City crowd cheering and waving up at him.
But Beryl certainly made the biggest scene, taking a deep breath and blowing a column of roaring flame twenty feet into the air. All the dragons around stepped back in surprise. Monitor and Hilana stared up at the blazing pillar emitting from their son's mouth. When Beryl closed his jaws and ended the stream, the crowd burst out into deafening applause; such huge amounts of dragonfire are not expected of dragons as young as Beryl.
Spike, too, caught sight of the fire, and had his own little clap for his ex-charge. He had liked the youngling from the very start and was sure he would grow up to be a great dragon someday. As he flew out of the city limits, Spike looked down at the fire ruby bouncing around on his neck; the fire ruby he'd got as a gift.
"This was for you, Rarity," Spike said to himself, as he turned north back home Equestria, high up where no dragon could here him. "For all that you've given me."