The Collection Of My Centerpiece
(This is a work of fanfic based on Hasbro and company's "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic." I am not in any way affiliated with the creators and this document is wholly intended to be a work of parody that complies with fair use. Given mature themes, the intended audience for this piece is adults.)
Spike was once proud of his hoard, millenniums in the making, consisting of great wealth and mysterious artifacts. That was before he began to make a transition from an ancient dragon to a truly decrepit one. He had shrunk to roughly half his largest size. His purple scales had became soft and saggy, and his green spines had curled inward. Something in his instincts told him that defending a great hoard against rival dragons would be beyond his means. So, even as hopelessly covetous as dragons were, he had wisely decided to trust the greater part of his hoard to the care of Princess Celestia herself, the head monarch of the pony race he had spent most of his life in direct or indirect service to.
Now, he kept only a few things about his cave: a pile of pristine diamonds to sleep on, enough gold to purchase what sundries he desired of nearby Ponyville, a few examples of such supplies and, of course, the centerpiece of his collection. The centerpiece in question was a statue of a unicorn, wrought in incredibly lifelike detail, including a truly exquisitely designed dress inlaid with countless jewels. As the plaque on the pedestal proclaimed, her name was Rarity, and she was a love from his childhood... so very long ago from now.
Today, he was performing one of his favorite tasks, the maintenance of the centerpiece. Stone would naturally decay in exposure to the air, but this statue was of a magical nature, requiring only a recharge every now and then. Spike, being a dragon with magical fire breath, could provide this recharge. A very low heat, not enough to melt the stone or jewels, would refresh the magic on the statue, magically repairing any minor decay to the stone, and even burning off offending dust and minor impurities.
Spike examined the statue carefully for any signs of hairline cracks or other flaws and was satisfied to find none since the last time he had maintained it. All that would be required was a minor blast of flame sufficient to lightly envelop the statue.
He inhaled as far as his creaky old dragon lungs would allow and blew hard on the statue.
The flame he expelled would hardly light a candle.
Well, he thought, he would simply try again.
When he was wheezing after the twentieth failed attempt, Spike realized he had a serious problem. A dragon that was unable to belch more than a flicker of flame at his age was more than merely inadequate to refresh the magical wards on their favorite treasures.
Spike sat up and massaged a wrinkly chin in thought with one claw while idly drumming his nails on the cave floor with the other. He looked at the statue of his favorite pony and realized it was time for him to make a decision he had been putting off for centuries.
After a long contemplation, he went to his quills and scrolls (his claws still finely trained to manipulate the tiny things even at his advanced age) and wrote a simple message. Then, once again, he performed a colossal effort to expel a tiny gout of flame which was sufficient to burn the scroll. It evaporated under magical enchantment, its next stop: Princess Celestia herself.
Early the next day, the telltale sounds of a chariot touching down outside his cave told Spike that the alicorn had arrived. The tall slender white pony of horn and wings stepped into his sight, trailing her billowing chromatic mane and two rather plain-looking Equestrial guardsponies. An ancient dragon was one of the few creatures who did not feel the need to express humility in the presence of the immortal who rose the sun each day. Besides, they had been acquaintances for ages. The two greet each other as associates would while passing each other on the street.
Celestia looked at the statue of Rarity and asked, "So, you have made your decision, then?"
Spike nodded, "She won't thank me for it, but I think it only right, all things considered."
Celestia smiled, "Only right to surrender your most precious treasure? What a strange dragon you turned out to be, Spike."
Spike lumbered back on his hindquarters, crossing his arms with a harrumph, expelling a weak gout of smoke from his nostrils, "That's what I get for entertaining the company of ponies for so long."
The princess laughed lightheartedly at his display and responded, "Admit it, Spike, you enjoyed every minute."
Spike let that pass unanswered. Curling up again on his pile of diamonds while facing his visitor and her guards, he asked, "Have you made the necessary preparations?"
In reply, the alicorn made a subtle direction to her guards, who brought a small banquet table and a few boxes of documents before being dismissed.
The dragon was satisfied, "Well, then, let us begin."
Princess Celestia faced the statue, closed her eyes, and began to concentrate. Her horn glowed, and the statue glowed in sync with it. Slowly, the ashen surface of the statue began to soften and gain color. The unicorn's coat turned white, her styled mane a lustrous purple, the bright azure color returning to the diamonds of her cutie mark.
As Rarity fell forward off the pedestal, Celestia's magic caught her and delivered her safely to the floor. Soon, the unicorn began to move, her hooves holding her head while her face scrunched in pain. Survivors of petrification often complained of a headache, and hers was thousands of years in the making.
Eventually, Rarity's head cleared, and she sat up and opened her eyes. Towering before her was a wrinkly scaled beast. She blinked. Then, without a second thought, she bolted towards the exit, only to see Princess Celestia standing there. She reared back in confusion.
"Good morning, milady," rumbled the dragon behind her.
Rarity slowly turned around and asked, "Spike, darling, is that you?"
Spike brought his snout down next to the unicorn so that she could get a better look at it.
She turned around and kicked him square in the nose with both hind hooves: quite an impressive feat for an old mare.
Spike pulled back holding his face in pain as Rarity faced him with her eyes narrowed and voice angry, "You snake! You charlatan! How dare you treat a lady this way?! What do you have to say for yourself?!"
Still rubbing his sore nose, the ancient dragon felt it inappropriate to tell her that her immortality was fleeting, that the very statue she had become would soon crumble without his ability to sustain its magics, that a replacement could not be expected to protect her over the centuries as he had. Instead, he interjected weakly, "Didn't you want to know how well your performance was received?"
"You thought that I would want to know how well my performance was received?! Really?!" Rarity was livid, she stomped her hooves and capered about in a angry circle, casting scathing looks at Spike and even Princess Celestia herself, "You told me that I would be a masterwork for the centuries, that I would not need worry about growing old, that Equestria would never forget Rarity! I agreed to this, I told you that it was my destiny!"
As the unicorn ranted, the dragon and alicorn traded a strange look. It was one thing to be nostalgic about one's dearest memories, but it was quite another to see them come alive in order to chastise them.
"And now, look at me!" cried Rarity in one of her trademark meltdowns. "Flesh and bone once again, doomed to face all that and more, in a world I could not possibly know, where all my friends are gone and even my infinitely great grandchildren could not hope to recognize me." She ended her melodramatic display collapsed in her own tears, sobbing, "Why, Spike, why would you do this to me?"
Spike let her cry for a bit, and then reached over with a claw to comfort her, running it over her elegant curls and under her chin. Rarity did not resist, and looked at up him with hope in her eyes that he could provide the answers she needed.
"I'm sorry, Rarity," was all Spike had to say, "but I never told you it would be forever. This is the end, do you understand? Your performance is over, and you did it better than anypony else could have."
Sniffling, Rarity climbed into a sitting position and looked at the cave floor, allowing her curls to hide her eyes. After some time, she looked up at Spike, revealing dried tears, and asked bravely, "Would you tell me about it?" The dragon smiled in response: he had been hoping that her vanity had survived so that he would be able to provide her the comfort that she wanted.
What followed was an ancient dragon and an immortal alicorn plumbing their collective memories in recounting the history of the time Rarity spent as a statue. This was supported by various photographs and excerpts from the boxes that Celestia's guards had dropped off next to the buffet table. From that same table, the unicorn sustained herself with an occasional drink and bite while listening.
Rarity learned of her initial debut to stunned art critics everywhere. She learned that, from time to time, Spike would even take her on tour. She heard the compliments of every visitor to Spike's hoard. She also learned of the state of modern day Equestria. She had learned how many of her advances in fashion were still used today. She even learned a bit about the lives of her friends, her grandchildren, and descendants some ten generations down the line.
It took a full three days for the recounting to complete, during which Rarity became considerably less upset and actually a bit amiable and grateful to the efforts of Spike. She also became considerably less animated, tiring, even resorting to the occasional nap, though never sleeping long while there were still things to hear about herself.
When the recounting was complete, and Rarity seemed overjoyed. "Marvelous, I have succeeded on all counts, Equestria has known of me for centuries! I do believe that this was the best idea we ever had, Spike! No stuffy old retirement for Rarity! Nopony in the history of Equestria would dare follow in my hoof steps!"
Beaming at Spike, Rarity said, "I said I would never kiss a dragon again, but I do believe I at least owe you a peck on the cheek." She began to walk towards Spike before collapsing on wobbly legs. "Oh, my!" said the embarrassed unicorn, "It seems I have rather overexerted myself."
Spike said tenderly, "Allow me, milady," and reached out to fetch a thick blanket. He deftly placed it in the center of his diamond pile before gently scooping up Rarity and placing her atop it, next to him.
"My, how lavish!" said Rarity, marveling at her diamond bed. She weakly made herself comfortable before resting her head on the dragon's stomach. Dragons are cold-blooded creatures in most regards, but the inner furnace beneath that stomach is an exception. Closing her eyes against that warmth, she murmured, "You always were the perfect little gentleman, Spike. Sometimes, I wish that you had been born a stallion."
The dragon smoothed those curls once more and asked her, "Would you like to stay with me, Rarity, until the end?"
"That sounds like an absolutely marvelous idea," sighed the unicorn, nuzzling him as she drifted away, "Thank you for a wonderful time."
For about an hour, Spike and Celestia kept their silence and looked on warmly until Rarity's breathing, somewhat ragged at her age, had slowed to a state that suggested she was in a deep sleep.
Then the dragon spoke softly to the alicorn, two words with tremendous gravity, "How long?"
Princess Celestia's expression took on a slightly regretful turn as she replied, "Very soon. The petrification does not eliminate aging so much as stretches the hours into years, and the magic sustaining that expansion is about spent. I was impressed: you must have been maintaining those magics well for her to have lasted this long."
"Thank you," said Spike earnestly. "And as for me?"
Celestia's look slightly reproached the dragon for making her recite what he already knew, "Your fire is going out, Spike. There is very little doubt what that means."
"Of course." Spike stared at the midday sunlight spilling from the exit to his cave, illuminating a world he would never see again.
Something emerged from that light, his eyes distracted by its subtle movement, and he allowed himself to lose focus. As they trotted into the cave before standing about Princess Celestia, Spike surveyed countless new visitors, ponies with familiar faces of centuries ago, the names almost forgotten to him. As they filled the cave, five particular ponies stood before the rest, and he felt a distinctly un-dragon-like sense of longing.
The alicorn could see a vacancy in the dragon's eyes and asked, "You can see them, can't you?"
"Yes," answered Spike, "I have been able to for quite some time. Although, I do not know what to make of them. Spirits, perhaps?"
"In a matter of speaking," said Celestia, "they are the reflections of those who have come before. They become visible to those who can recognize their influence never truly leaves the great cycle of life."
Looking up from where she lay beside him, it seemed that Rarity could see them too. She climbed to her hooves and brightly trotted out to greet her friends. Spike watched her go, energetic, happy, and slightly translucent. He did not need to look beside himself to feel that her body had stayed behind and had grown still. His energy began to fail, his inner flame flickering: something very essential had went with her.
"A great cycle of life?" mused Spike weakly. "Oh, Celestia, it's always been your way to regard things in the manner of a sun rising and setting. Do you mean to tell me that all of this will happen again some day?"
"I know it will," replied Celestia immediately, "as the patterns are too obvious to deny. Each time the sun sets, it is merely waiting its turn to rise again. There are only minor differences, each day building upon the last."
Spike laid his head down, his body coiled atop the pile of diamonds in a protective semicircle about his favorite treasure. His eyes closed, and yet, he noticed that he could still see the spectral ponies, smiling at him. Waiting.
"Perhaps," he murmured, "but there is only one way I would like to see this day end. I trust my payment was received?"
Unseen, Celestia shook her head softly, but not in disagreement. "The greater bulk of your hoard is secure in an Equestrian treasury. However, you know that you really did not need to pay me anything, Spike, as your service to ponydom was surely payment enough."
After a long pause, the dragon whispered, "I wonder if even I had learned to value generosity?"
Minutes passed in silence until a small rivet of black smoke emerged from each of Spike's nostrils: the fire had gone out at last; the dragon was no longer breathing.
Princess Celestia readied herself, closed her eyes in concentration, and her horn began to glow.
The diamonds beneath Spike and Rarity lit. At first, merely floating pinpricks, like fireflies inside each gemstone, casting dazzling rays through the pristine facets. However, the glowing built continually, and soon the diamonds resembled stars. Even greater the intensity built, becoming a searing force that enveloped all, filling the cave with a sheet of pure blinding light.
(Throughout Equestria, ponies would later recount an odd darkness in midday, as though the sun had gone behind a cloud, but on a cloudless day.)
After some time, the brightness began to fade, shrinking slowly from the cave walls while maintaining intensity at the center. Smaller it became until one could see that dragon, unicorn, and diamonds had been completely incinerated. Now, there was nothing left on the smoldering cave floor but a compacted sphere of mass about the size of a ball, its heat causing it to resemble a miniature sun.
Celestia opened her eyes and lifted the sphere with her telekinesis, turning it over and over. As she did so, it cooled from white hot to molten red, it smoothed and elongated into an oblong shape. Finally, it had cooled enough to be as hard as the diamonds that formed it, its surface as purple as Spike's scales with round spots the color of Rarity's cutie mark.
It was a dragon's egg: the final product of Spike, Rarity, and riches immeasurable.
Princess Celestia smiled warmly as she marveled at the perfection of the legendary artifact she had helped to create. Before the alicorn left the cave with it, she said to the egg, "When I find the student who can hatch you, then I will know that the part of the great cycle containing you and your friends is upon me again."
This story has been challenging to write because it started with a somewhat grimdark premise (Spike has taken Rarity for the purpose of making her a trophy in his hoard for thousands of years) but I decided I would rather it be a tender story. Trying to pull something morbid back into tender territory requires a lot of conditions be established in order to avoid (or at least severely mitigate) the creepiness of the situation.
In the original story, The Centerpiece Of My Collection, the condition I set up was that this petrification arrangement was one of mutual consent and benevolent intentions. Spike is a dragon, and dragons want to collect precious things for their hoard, so he would see nothing wrong with adding Rarity to it. (As someone on the original ponychan thread mentioned, could you imagine him trying to explain that to Twilight Sparkle?) Rarity is a very vain pony, not to mention the bearer of the element of generosity, and she had already lived her life to the fullest. All these factors lent feasibility to the idea that she would happen to find petrification appealing enough to go through with it. The result was a fairly deep thought as to the motivations of the characters and a very bittersweet resolution.
A concluding story was not really needed, but I had some ideas along these lines and I decided to see them through. You could choose to interpret the end as Spike taking advantage of Rarity because he did not tell her how little time she had left nor that she would end up a component to form a dragon's egg. This was because he preferred to let her pass away peacefully, blissfully ignorant of both things. I tried to diminish this final deceit with Rarity's implied consent. The knowledge that they had both recently passed away before forming the egg should have redeemed it further, but in some reader interpretations this might make it seem worse, implying some sort of necrophilia or touting spontaneous regeneration! I do, at least, like to think I buried the idea that Spike had tricked Rarity into giving up the last years of her life through an understanding that Rarity gave them up willingly in thinking she would never be turned back from stone.
Did I succeed in making this story more tender than creepy? That's going to be up to each individual reader's opinion. In fact, it's been my experience that no matter what I write, somebody is going to choose the worst possible interpretation, and I should respect that. Who am I to set myself up as the judge of the one true perspective of anything, anyway?
I like to have a surprise reveal in my stories, and in this one it was that an egg was formed, the physical representation of the idea Celestia puts forward about how life and death are linked in a great cycle. In which case Spike, Rarity, and all their friends will once again walk Equestria some time in the future, their adventures will continue for an eternity (or close to it). This is not implying that they will necessarily have the same physical bodies, names, memories, nor live in the same conditions they had lived before, "Each day is different, building upon the last." However, I am implying that they will share a subconscious bond of eternal friendship. After all, in episode 23, Cutie Mark Chronicles, it actually became canon that, "Everypony everywhere has a special magical connection with her friends, maybe even before she has even met them!"
MintyRest, the same brony who had reminded me of the cockatrice when I wrote the first fanfic, made another interesting observation upon reading this story: how would the immortals, Celestia and Luna, feel about recognizing the reincarnation of their old associates, having to let them go again and again? I think the answer can be found in the immortal's credo from the first story. "Living for the moment," is not something I made up on the fly, but rather a core premise of centuries-old world philosophies (such as Buddhism and Taoism) and has even been supported by scientific study and inducted into the field of cognitive psychology as a remarkable mental panacea. I could not see long-lived sentient creatures such as alicorns and dragons surviving if they could not adopt this practice, and so Celestia and Luna would not dwell on the friends of theirs who are outside the current "cycle of life," but rather savor the ones who are in the here and now.
From this idea of a cycle of life, I would say an even more interesting possibility emerges: what if all fanfic existed on the same continuum, just different iterations of the story retelling itself time and time again? It would mean that no matter how grimdark the fanfic you read, it would balanced out by the contrary in later iterations. All that matters in the end is how well you are enjoying the journey.