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Ot · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Lizard of Ot
"Treasures unfathomable!" the unshaven stallion peering from the shadowy alleyway hissed.

"Really." Spike didn't even bother putting a question mark at the end.

The stallion narrowed his eyes. "You sound somewhat skeptical, my young friend," he said in that weird accent of his.

Spike started counting the reasons off on his claws. "One, you're Dr. Caballeron, the villain in, like, half the Daring Do stories. Two, even though you're supposed to be kind of a good guy now, not stealing anymore and writing books with A.K.Yearling and like that, you're still hiding behind trashcans and hissing stuff. Three, that permanent three-day's growth of beard thing is so completely out of style these days that—"

"Fine!" Squeezing out from between the cans, Dr. Caballeron managed to knock the lid off one, a rabid-looking yellow cat snarling and squalling and launching itself out, slicing three parallel lines in his snout before scattering away down the alley. "Yow!" The doctor wrenched a white kerchief from his saddlebag and clamped it to his nose.

With a sigh, Spike turned and headed back up the street. Every time he tried to go to Donut Joe's these days... "Let's get you to Canterlot Tower."

"The tower?" Dr. Caballeron's voice cracked. "Surely there's no need to involve—"

"Cat scratches can be nasty." Spike looked over his shoulder with a shrug. "I'm just thinking we'd better get it cleaned up before it gets infected."

Dr. Caballeron groused and grumbled the whole way, but he still followed Spike around the corner to the West Gate. Spike winced when the guard announced, "Her Highness's Royal Advisor and Friendship Ambassador returns!" but, well, it had only been a month since he and Twilight had moved into the palace. He was sure he would either get used to the shouting eventually or Twilight would get more confident and not need to know where he was every minute of every day.

The announcement seemed to make Dr. Caballeron even paler—though maybe that was from the little stripes of blood staining the front of his kerchief. "Actually," he said, his eyes darting around under his brows as he stumped along beside Spike through the gate, "I see now that I...I made a mistake calling out to you earlier. I thought you were somepony else."

"Really." Again, Spike saw no need for a question mark. "There's exactly one dragon in Canterlot right now, and you're looking at him."

"The sun was in my eyes!"

"Sun? You were in a shadowy alleyway."

"The shadows were in my eyes, then! "

Opening his mouth to ask how exactly that was supposed to work, Spike stopped, not really wanting to know. Instead, he took the last couple steps down the gleaming gold and marble hallway to the public bathroom and pushed the door open. "Let's just get those scratches taken care of."

"They're fine!" The doctor tried to plant his hooves, but since one of them was holding the kerchief in place and the janitorial staff was always polishing these floors, Spike had not trouble sliding him along till they were standing in front of the nearest big white ceramic wash basin. "I have my field kit on me, and that should prove perfectly sufficient for—"

A big purple flash went off to his left. "Spike?" Twilight called. "Are you back from lunch already?"

"Twi?" Spike gestured to the blue and beige tiles. "This is the stallion's restroom."

Twilight blinked down at him. "So? You're a dragon, not a stallion. "

Sighing no longer seemed strong enough, but at least he only needed two claws to count off reasons this time. "First, it's just general courtesy not to enter the opposite gender's bathroom. And second..." He aimed the claws at Dr. Caballeron, his wide mouth and eyes suggesting that he hadn't expected to meet Equestria's current reigning monarch in a public lavatory.

More blinking went on after Twilight swung her head in the direction Spike was pointing. "What's Dr. Caballeron doing here?"

Spike shrugged. "He said something about unfathomable treasures, and—"

Dr. Caballeron gasped like he'd been bucked really hard in the chest.

"Treasures?" Twilight's wings poofed up. "Is this a new archaeological find, Doctor? I know you and Daring Do promised Ahiuzotl never to work in the Tenochtitlan Basin again, but if you've come across something that—"

"Twi?" Once again Spike gestured to the plumbing fixtures around them. "Maybe we could talk about it in your office?"

"Oh! Yes!" Purple light from her horn flooded everything, Spike's middle stretching. But he was used to this sort of thing by now and knew not to tense up or shift around too much. "Of course!" Twilight continued, the glow clearing away to show one of Twilight's new offices, books and papers covering just about every available surface. "Please, Doctor, have a seat...if you can find one. Sorry. I'm like a gas: I tend to expand to fill all available space."

Grabbing a set of dishes from a nearby chair, Spike held them up so Twilight's magic could send them away. The kitchen, he hoped.

The doctor, though, wasn't moving from where he'd landed on the carpet when Twilight had first popped them into the room. He was, in fact, still gaping the way he had been for the past couple minutes, and it occurred to Spike to wonder if he might be a little shocked at moving from the trashcans of a Canterlot alleyway to the office of the Princess so suddenly...

"Now, then, Doctor!" Twilight had her extra-big grin on, the one Spike recognized as meaning she was ready to learn. "Tell me all about your latest discovery!"

A moment of silence, then Dr. Caballeron slumped forward just a bit. "Very well." He straightened once more. "As you said, Your Highness, due to my agreement with Ahiuzotl, I'm no longer able to ply my trade in the areas I've come to know so well. So I've been studying the lore of the west, the ancient regions beyond what are now the Changeling Lands, trying to find what treasure troves— I mean, what archaeological sites might have lain fallow and undiscovered since the time of Equestria's founding. And I...I uncovered a legend."

Twilight's eyes were practically shining. "Something like the legend of Nightmare Moon?"

He shook his head. "These are more campfire tales, less formal and more homespun. But they all center upon—" With a lick of his lips, he swallowed. "The Lizard of Ot."

Spike couldn't keep his neck spines from perking. "The Lizard of What?"

"Ot." Dr. Caballeron reached into his saddlebag, pulled out a small, dusty notebook, and began leafing through the pages. "The majority of the tales, full of wild hijinks and fanciful shenanigans, seem designed to entertain foals on the frontier. But there's just enough consistency to make me think that something might lie at the base of it all: a dragon cave out in the Badlands filled with wealth and magical artifacts."

"Whoa..." Possibilities flapped through Spike's mind. "And you think the dragon might still be there! So you came to Canterlot to get me! Except...wait. You said you'd made a mistake, that it wasn't me you were looking for! And anyway, wouldn't it've made more sense to go to the Dragonlands if you're looking to find something out about some old dragon?"

Sweat started forming on Dr. Caballeron's forehead. "Me? To the Dragonlands? I— Well, let's just say that in my career as an archaeologist, I've found myself in...disagreements with dragons every now and then. I'd heard, of course, about the contacts our new and beloved Princess has made among dragonkind, however—" The smile he turned toward Twilight seemed as oily as the deep-fried carrot on a stick Spike had gotten at the last Ponyville Fun Fest. "So I thought perhaps a more civilized sort of dragon might be found here in Her Highness's capital."

"That's Spike!" Twilight clapped her front hooves together. "Oh, isn't it fortunate you ran into him!"

The doctor's smile became less greasy and more stony. "In truth, Your Highness, I'd forgotten that you had a dragon as your Chief Advisor. I'd not wanted to bother you, you see, at this preliminary stage of my research, so I'd been on the lookout for some ordinary draconic citizen who might be willing to enter into a partnership with me. I'd planned that we should explore this matter together before I, uhh, presented my findings to the, uhh, wider scientific community."

The slightly sour smell in the air around Dr. Caballeron made Spike wonder if he maybe wasn't telling the entire truth.

But Twilight was clapping her hooves again. "Well, I'm more than happy to sponsor your preliminary research!"

"Sponsor?" Dr. Caballeron's ears shot straight up. "You mean...funding, Your Highness?"

"Call me Twilight: we're fellow academics, after all!" Her horn wavered, and several pieces of paper popped into the air above her crowded desk. "A pair of train tickets to Appleoosa, and a voucher for whatever supplies the two of you'll need to hike out into the Badlands from there!"

The papers drifted down, and Spike was pretty sure his face looked as blank as Dr. Caballeron's.

"Have fun!" Twilight chirped. "My whole life changed when I went after my legend! Maybe yours will, too!"

"Seriously," Spike said from his side of the campfire as he watched Dr. Caballeron use his magical razor to trim the stubble of his beard back down to the three-days-old stage. "If you want a beard, shouldn't you have a beard? And if you don't want a beard—"

"Ha!" The doctor touched the thing lightly to the tip of his chin. "I shouldn't expect a reptilian such as yourself to understand the intricacies of facial hair."

As much as Spike wanted to sigh loudly and roll his eyes, he settled for just that second one. The last three days had turned out a lot more enjoyable than he'd expected, after all, hiking along beside Dr. Caballeron through the buttes and the hills and the canyons. He'd been afraid things would get boring—could he and this semi-shady treasure hunter really have anything to talk about? But after Spike had asked at lunch on that first day what they actually knew about this Lizard of Ot, the doctor had started telling him all the stories that he'd collected over the last few years.

And they were pretty funny. The Lizard sometimes turned out to be a smart alec, tricking greedy ponies into doing stupid things, and sometimes turned out to be too smart for his own good, falling into traps that he'd set himself or getting fooled by good-hearted ponies he was trying to trick. "Kinda like Discord," Spike had offered at dinner on their second day.

Dr. Caballeron had shaken his head. "I would categorize the Lizard more as a trickster than a discordian character. The classical version of the discordian is almost entirely devoted to bringing chaos. The trickster, however, embodies a certain didacticism, a truth-telling and lesson-teaching aspect." He'd shrugged. "Of course, now that we know Discord is an actual individual rather a mere cultural archetype, it seems more likely that this Lizard of Ot is or was a creature some trace of which we can perhaps locate."

That had shut Spike up for most of the third day: he'd forgotten that this semi-shady treasure hunter was also almost as much of an egghead as Twilight...

Now, though, after dinner on the third day, Dr. Caballeron had apparently told all his stories and was spending the evening with several mirrors and his razor, getting his not-quite-a-beard into shape.

Spike added a little shake of his head to the roll of his eyes. "So why're you doing all this stuff now? Last I looked, we're still out in the middle of nowhere."

"Look again, then." Without glancing away from his mirrors, he'd nodded to some books he'd been paging through while Spike had made supper. "For if I've properly traced the lines of story transmission, we should be very near to the Lizard's cave."

That made Spike sit up. "Really?" he asked with a question mark and everything this time.

"Indeed." Dr. Caballeron tapped his razor into silence. "This will be our base camp, I think. And at dawn tomorrow, we begin to construct a grid search pattern in our quest for the Lizard of Ot."

As excited as he was at the news, Spike thought he'd likely toss and turn all night. But curling into his sleeping bag and closing his eyes, he found himself relaxing almost at once, sleep washing over him—

Then washing away with a suddenness that forced him to sit up and gasp. Because he wasn't out under the starry desert sky anymore, the smoke from their doused fire tickling his nostrils. He was inside a cave, the smooth rock walls reflecting a soft, warm golden light.

More blinking, though, made him realize that it wasn't just golden light. It was actual gold, coins and statues and ingots lying in patterns along the sandy floor, stacked into structures, and even hanging from the ceiling in places. Little fire pits sparked here and there, too, but a lot of the gold seemed to be glowing all on its own.

"Yes," somepony whispered into the silence, and Spike turned to see Dr. Caballeron sitting up, his eyes wide and seeming to flicker in the weird light. "As the stories say..."

"Stories," a rumbly voice said to his right. Shadows moved there, too, and Spike saw a long, lean, golden figure stretched out on a big, round, intricately carved metal table. "I never much saw the point of them myself."

The figure was reptilian, but it didn't look like any sort of dragon Spike had ever met. It was more like a snake as big around as an apple barrel and longer than Discord was tall, a pair of legs near the head and another pair way back by the tail.

"The Lizard of Ot," Dr. Caballeron more breathed than said.

One of the Lizard's eye ridges arched. "Well, I guess stories can't be all bad when they talk about me." The black eye under that ridge winked slowly. "Have you come to answer my riddle and win the mystic power that goes with it?"

If Dr. Caballeron hadn't been furiously blinking, Spike would've thought he'd frozen solid.

Spike, though, had to start counting his problems out on his claws. "Okay, first, riddles are totally a sphinx thing, not a lizard thing. Second, we didn't come here. We were asleep out in our camp, so you must've brought us here. Third, we—"

"Yes!" Dr. Caballeron shouted, spring up onto all fours. "I have come to answer your riddle and to claim the mystic power!"

"Really?" Spike would've given it two question marks and an exclamation point this time, but he wasn't quite sure that was allowed.

Dr. Caballeron shrugged. "Well? He's offering, isn't he?" Trotting, he crossed the room to the Lizard's side. "Ask me your riddle, O Lizard!"

The Lizard did another slow wink. "Ot," he said. "I don't quite remember what it is. All I have is this ancient mantra of my people: 'When you're ot, you're ot, and when you're not, you're not.'" The Lizard nodded. "So bring me my Ot from somewhere in this room, and all my power will be yours."

"Of course." Dr. Caballeron waved a hoof at the Lizard. "You yourself are Ot, are you not? The Lizard of Ot, and as you say, 'When you're ot, you're ot.' You, therefore, are Ot." He touched his chest and bowed.

Half a heartbeat went by. Then, with the tiniest possible ripping sound, all of Dr. Caballeron's beard stubble fell right off of his face.

"No!" the doctor shouted, dropping to his knees and trying to catching the drifting particles of hair. "No!"

A sigh ruffled Spike's neck ridges. "He chose poorly," the Lizard said. "And you?"

"Me?" Spike had to stop himself from taking a step back. "I've got all the power I need, thanks."

The Lizard's black eyes shimmered. "Then...you won't help me find my Ot?"

Spike had to spread his hands. "I wouldn't know where to start. Except, well, like Dr. Caballeron said, with you. You're the Lizard of Ot. So, I mean, can't Ot be whatever you want it to be?"

A couple heartbeats passed this time, then the Lizard nodded. "I like that."

"What?" On the floor of the cave with a brush and a little bag, the clean-shaven doctor—he looked more like a pharmacist, Spike thought, without the stubble—leaped up from trying to rescue his beard. "His answer's the same as mine!"

The Lizard winked with his other eye this time. "Yes, but his presentation was better." Pushing himself up on his little legs, the Lizard cocked his head. "You sure you don't want the power?"

It surprised Spike how little he was tempted. "Sorry."

"Good." The Lizard more slithered than stepped down from his big round metal plate. "'Cause there isn't any. All I've got is all this stuff, and I don't even know what most of it is..."

"Hey..." Spike tapped his chin. "Maybe Dr. Caballeron could help you inventory it."

The doctor had dropped his little brush by now and was slumped back against a wall. "Inventory?" He sat forward. "Just from here, I can see a dozen marvelous pieces. You could start your own museum anywhere in the world with this collection." The golden light played across his face, a slow smile forming there. "Or perhaps unearth your Ot."

"You..." The Lizard took a deep breath. "You think?"

Spike clapped. "Okay! Doc, give me a scroll and a quill, and I'll send a message to Twilight! I'm sure she'll want to be involved, and maybe Daring Do, too!"

Dr. Caballeron tossed Spike the writing materials, and the Lizard pointed toward a shadowed spot that was actually the door to the surface. "Be right back," Spike said, and started out.

A Friendship Ambassador's duties were never done...
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#1 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
Weee're off to see the Lizard!
(Well, someone had to say it.)

Great bit of rare character interaction, though I do feel Twilight should've been at least a bit more skeptical of the not-so-good doctor. She's the one who introduced Dash to the Daring Do books, after all. (Though I suppose sending Spike to supervise was her way of ensuring he didn't try to sell everything not nailed down.) Still, you approached the prompt in a delightfully metareferential way. Ot is what Ot is, and it is up to each of us to decide what precisely that means.

All told, quite fun all around.
#2 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
It's a cliched and rote compliment at this point, but someone's gotta say it: this feels like an episode of the show.

Not a very long episode, but still - the light hearted feel, the friendship lesson learned, the charming and snarky banter between Spike and Caballeron (of all people!) it all just felt good. And the take on the prompt is certainly fun. Good job!
#3 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
As the folks above me alluded to, this is a charming, wholesome story that makes me feel good for having read it. And I like feeling good. So... good!

There's a lot of nice humor around the edges here (that question mark calling-back is just my kind of humor), and I actually didn't mind Twi's essential assumptions of good will/fangirling overriding her common sense, but I wish we'd gotten more Spike/Cabby interactions. You could have given us some of those Ot stories, for example, and actually shown Spike coming to marginally appreciate Cabby's company, rather than just telling us they worked together. The ending with the Lizard is also rather short, but in that case, I think that gives it a very appropriate feeling of anticlimax, so I ended up appreciating that choice.

All in all, a sweet little bit of writing. Good stuff.
#4 ·

But again, I'll ask for more. Give Twilight a good, solid reason to send these two off on the Road to High Adventure; have more banter between Spike and Dr. Cab and more banter with the lizard once they meet him. I'd like more of an idea of what the cave looks like, too: how big it is, if it's stuffy or cold or anything like that. Just take what's here and deepen it.

#5 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
In which Ot is simple yet profound.

The only problem I see here is that your descriptions are a bit too bare. At times, it feels like an upgraded screenplay. Just add a little more of description with, say, Twilight's new office and the lizard's cave and it would be eye-catching all the way.

For how simple and short the story it is, I've been fooled by it and was shown a simple story. No great twist (unless you count an anticlimax a twist), no deep matters to be had here until we get to the moral, and the ending seals the wonderfully optimistic and light-hearted tone to it. On a meta level, this is something refreshing like stopping at a gas station on a long highway given the two stories before this. Spike and Caballeron seem like an unlikely duo but you played their unexpected chemistry quite well, and, for the little screentime the lizard himself had, you paint him for long enough that he's interesting but without dragging on for too long as the final character.

It's a nice story! It certainly doesn't belong at the bottom, but, given what I've read so far, I will be surprised if it gets a top place and I will also be surprised if it doesn't get a top place.
#6 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
I really like the charming, cute style that this is written in. It feels comedic without overdoing its tone, and overall just does a great job of being exceptionally inviting towards the reader. Twilight in particular really steals the scene that she's in--you've really nailed down her brand of affable goofiness down.

Now, I think I'll have to say that the main conflict itself never really got a hold of me, despite how much I enjoyed the general feeling of this story. I think it may have to do with the fact that our perspective character, Spike, doesn't really seem very invested in the story himself, so I spent a lot of the story waiting for a 'real' conflict to show up and make him sit up and pay attention.

On a similar note, the resolution of the conflict didn't quite feel as satisfying as it could have for me. The Lizard is the only one getting what they want, since Spike doesn't really want anything and Caby wants the wrong thing. The whole thing felt kind of odd to me, if I'm being honest, and I'm not entirely sure why.

So overall, while I definitely had a lot of fun with this one, I think I'm stepping away from it with the sense that I still want there to be a bit more of a satisfying arc/conclusion. Which may be completely counter to how you want the story to shape up, so feel free to just take my thoughts as one reader's reaction.

Thanks for writing!
#7 · 2
>>Comma Typer

Thanks, folks:

And congrats to our medalists! Who'd've thought we'd live to see an actual Ot round?

I had no intention of entering the round at all, but this title came to me Friday morning, and I had no choice but to run with it even though I really only had Friday and Saturday to work on it. There's a nice skeleton here, I'm convinced, and a little work can probably turn it into a good, solid piece of fun.