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Through Fire · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Ambassador Spike
"Stupid thing..." Spike growled. He wiped his sweat-slick fingers on the carpet, glowering all the while at the bag in front of him. Though nearly full to bursting, he'd managed to zip the top flap up almost all the way. A gap of only a few offending inches was all that plagued him now.

He sighed. "Look, I know we haven't always gotten along – I mean, if it weren't for that fireproofing enchantment, I probably would have burned you to cinders years ago. But we're stuck together, and if we're gonna make it through the trip, I really need you to work with me. And that means closing..."

Spike's fingers closed around the zipper.


He stood, planted his feet on the ground, and gripped the bag tightly for counterbalance.


His ropey, baby dragon muscles bulged as he pulled.


With a heave to put Rockhoof himself to shame, Spike pulled the zipper, and felt it glide, mercifully smoothly, pulling the flap shut and securing it. Relieved, he collapsed back, laughing.

"There, now. That wasn't so––"

He paused, and frowned. Though closed, a bit of the zipper had come undone below the fly – a gap in the teeth, no more than an inch long, through which a bit of polka-dotted cloth peeked out.

Spike almost – almost – tried burning it to cinders then and there. It wouldn't have worked, but it would have been cathartic to try. Instead, he breathed slowly, and exhaled.

"Whatever, close enough. Now, lessee..."

He stood, reaching for the notepad and pencil he'd left on Twilight's bed. In the top margin, he'd written "SURVIVAL CHECKLIST: CONVENTION EDITION" in big, bold letters. Beside it, in parentheses, he'd added "Adapted from the work of Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Checklists."

Beside that was a winking, stick figure alicorn with a tiara, and a word bubble reading "Talk Nerdy To Me."

Spike reviewed the list quickly. He'd checked each box off as he packed the corresponding item, and continually checked to ensure they were all still packed as he piled more items into the bag. The review was strictly a formality, but he was the number one assistant to the Princess of Checklists, after all. Let it never be said by anypony that he ever failed to live up to that duty.

"Alright, got the essentials in here. Toothbrush, mini toothpaste, mini mouthwash, soap, extra soap, stick deodorant, gel deodorant, spray deodorant... Comic books, autograph book, Power Ponies cosplay, Slaymare cosplay... boxer shorts to be worn underneath cosplay..."

Spike cast a narrow-eyed look at the patch of fabric poking out of his luggage.

"Yeah. Check. That's just about everything. Except for..."

The pencil landed on the list's only unchecked item. Spike licked his lips nervously before reading it out loud.

"Get Twilight's permission."

"Permission for what?"

Startled, Spike jumped, yelled, and flung his arms wide, accidentally sending the pencil and notepad flying. He turned, gulping.

Twilight Sparkle stood behind him, the notepad impaled halfway down her horn. Flanking her was Starlight Glimmer, cupping her mouth with a hoof to hide a smile.

Twilight's eyes, bleary and bloodshot, flicked upward at the notepad, before settling back on Spike and narrowing.

He blinked. "Okay, you can't even be mad at me for that. That's, like, a one and a million shot."

One of Twilight's eyelids twitched. Spike hoped it was just from exhaustion.

Starlight snickered, and failed to hide it.

The notepad glowed as Twilight tugged it free from her horn. She skimmed it, raising an eyebrow – Spike figured it was at the stick figure – then glanced at the travel bag. "You taking a trip?"

Spike nodded, his wings twitching, an involuntary, nervous reaction that he hoped he learned how to control before his next sudden mutation. "Uh, yeah. I mean, that's what I wanted to ask you about. You remember that convention we talked about – the big one, in the Crystal Empire?"

"The one I said you couldn't go to?" Twilight trotted past Spike, to the bookshelf on the opposite side of the room. Tomes flew from the shelves, caught in her aura; she brought each one close and glanced at it briefly before either dropping it on the bed, or shuffling it back into place.

"No, you said that maybe I wouldn't be able to go, and maybe I would," said Spike, opening his wings just slightly. "Then you said we'd talk about it later. And, well, it's later now, so I figured I'd––"

"Wait until the middle of finals week at the school so I'd be too tired and busy to give you a definite no?"

Spike's mouth slowly closed, wings drooping. "I... didn't time it that way on purpose..."

"Well, sorry to disappoint you, Spike, but my answer now is the same as it would have been if you'd asked me last week." Twilight paused to flip through one of the books, before nodding in approval. "I can't give you time off right now; I need you here."

"But this year's the thirtieth anniversary panel for––"

"I need you here."

"Twi, I've been planning this for months! I haven't taken a vacation in more than a year – lemme have this, please?"

"I've already said no!" Twilight turned around to glare down at Spike, the book floating behind her head. "You've got a job to do, responsibilities, commitments to ponies who are counting on you. You can't just shirk all of those to go to some... comic book convention."

Spike balled up his hands and puffed out his chest. "Princess Celestia would've let you go if you asked her."

"I wouldn't be selfish enough to ask in the first place!"

Spike's wings snapped shut with an audible slap.

They stared each other down in silence – silence that was broken by an awkward cough from Starlight.

"So, map must be on the fritz again. 'Cuz this looks like a friendship problem, sounds like a friendship problem, but I'm not getting the, uh... flank flashies."

She pointed, twice, sharply, at her cutie mark.

"I... this isn't... we're not..." Twilight stammered, before pressing a hoof to her forehead, slumping. "Spike, I didn't mean to..."

She trailed off. Her eyes closed, and she remained still for so long that Spike was sure she'd dozed off.

Starlight coughed. "I mean, maybe it's one of the others getting called, for all I––"

"Starlight, please don't." Twilight stepped forward and unfurled a wing, letting its tips brush over Spike's shoulder. "I have to get back to the school – we can talk about this more later, if you'd like. Just... take the afternoon off."

With that, she gathered her books, floated them into a neat stack, and trotted tiredly toward the door.

"Wish I was just the Princess of Checklists," she grumbled under her breath as she left.

Spike flopped to his bottom and cupped his face in his hands, frowning. He didn't look up as Starlight circled over to him.

"Please don't take it personally, Spike. She's burning the candle at both ends – you know better than I do how she gets when she does that." She paused. "I'm sorry your thing didn't work out."

"'Comic book convention.' They're graphic novels." He huffed. "Think it would have made a difference if I'd asked her last week?"

"It's best not to dwell on what-ifs." Starlight cleared her throat. "You know, Mrs. Cake still owes me a free smoothie over at Sugarcube Corner for doing that exorcism last month."

Spike lifted his head, blinking at Starlight. "I thought the ghost turned out to be Discord with a tambourine?"

"Mrs. Cake still insisted on comping me drinks. And, well, who am I to argue with free stuff?" Starlight chuckled. "Anyway, it's yours, if you want it. Just say I sent you, and it should be okay."

The smoothie was free by itself. As it turned out, the mix-in he wanted – finely ground topaz – was extra. Spike paid the difference, fighting down the urge to complain, and settled into his seat, to slurp his drink and stew.

"I wasn't being selfish," Spike muttered to his straw. "It's not selfish to want time off, is it?"

He slurped up the last mouthful of smoothie in the cup and swirled it around with his tongue, wincing mildly. Too cold – it hurt his teeth. Then, sighing, he pushed away from his table – he had some unpacking to get a head start on.

But as he moved, he noticed the other patrons murmuring, shuffling toward the door. Spike's ears pricked – there was some kind of commotion outside. Frowning, he dropped to his feet and padded through the other ponies, gently nudging through them until he stood in the doorway.

Someone, of some equine race that Spike had never seen before, was in the courtyard outside. There were just enough similarities between her and a pony for Spike to be sure she was a shel, but she was very distinctly something else, too. Her mane, stuck with twigs and bits of leaf flowed down to wreath her neck, and her horn, which curved and forked asymmetrically, was red, contrasting with her dirt-streaked, creme-colored coat. Her tail, a narrow whip with fluffy tufts which also had twigs and leaves caught in it, wagged as she bounced between ponies, firing off a rapid question before bouncing to someone new. Subtly different, the questions always followed the same theme.

"Hey! You there! Do you know the Princess?"

"Hi there, tiny winged pony-person! Where can I find the Princess?"

"Do I have to track the Princess by scent; is that how I find her?"

"What does the Princess smell like? I'll bet she smells like sunshine and morning dew."

Spike cupped his hands around his mouth. "It's finals week! So, probably more like stale coffee, teabags, and candle wax!"

The chatty visitor's ears perked and pivoted toward Spike. Gasping, she whirled toward Sugarcube Corner, and whipped a hoof toward him.

"You! Shiny-smallish-scaly-pony-person!"

The ponies in the doorway took a collective step to the side. Spike glanced at the other ponies and planted his hands on his hips, miffed. "I'm a dragon. Name's Spike."

"Right. Right. Dragon, that makes sense, that makes so much more sense than–– okay, no, don't sweat the small stuff, focus, focus..." She abruptly stopped and bounded up the steps, sliding to a stop in front of Spike.

Spike inhaled, and wondered if the newcomer's own smell inspired her question about tracking down "the princess" by scent – she smelled dirty. Not bad, necessarily, just earthy and sweaty.

"Shiny-smallish-scaly-Spiky-person!" the newcomer said, stopping for a quick breath. "Your name really suits you, incidentally, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, you know the pony princess's secret study-stink, like intimately know it, which means you must get close enough to get a sniff or two of her at least every now and again, which means...!" She grinned, pushing her face close against his.

"You must know the pony princess!"

Spike took a stutter-step backward, smiling back shakily. "Uh, yeah. I know all of them, actually."

"There's more than one?"

"Four. Uh, five. One of 'em, I live with – Princess Twilight Sparkle."

"Do you know where I could find her?"

Spike lifted an arm and pointed past the visitor, to the castle of cut crystal towering over Ponyville. She followed with her eyes, and swallowed.

"Oh. I guess that would be the most logical place to look for a princess." Then she grinned at Spike. "Think you could introduce me?"

"That really depends on who's asking," Spike replied. "You are...?"

"Autumn Blaze!" She seized Spike's hand between her two front hooves and shook it, and Spike, vigorously. "And you're Spike. And they're all..."

Autumn gestured back at an empty courtyard, the ponies she'd accosted having vanished. Her face fell. "Gone. They're all gone."

"Yeah, ponies kinda don't like it when you bombard them with random questions and get all up in their faces." Spike eyed the ponies who'd side-stepped him before, glaring with disapproval as they discretely slipped away from Sugarcube Corner. "Even the ones here, which is saying something."

Autumn laughed sheepishly. "Sorry. I spent an abnormally long period of time living completely isolated in a shack on a hilltop, and I kiiiinda need to relearn the art of conversation. Social niceties, body language, personal space..."

"Reminds me of another shut-in I used to know." Spike eyed Autumn again, connections forming in his brain. "You're that kirin, right? Fluttershy and Applejack told me about you – they solved a friendship problem in your village a little while back."

"You know Fluttershy and Applejack?" Autumn squealed. "I know Fluttershy and Applejack! Aren't they just the best?"

"I mean, they're not Rarity, but––"

"I don't know who that is – although for some reason I imagine her being as beautiful as she is unattainable – but I'm gonna live and die on the Applejack and Fluttershy hill for as long as I live. Just, not literally on a hill. I'm kinda past that."

"To each their own, I guess," Spike said with a shrug. "What brings you to Ponyville? You're a long way from the Peaks of Peril."

"How do you pronounce 'envoy?'" Autumn said, beginning a long, circular walk around Spike. "Do you pronounce it like you're saying an 'n?' 'N-voy?' Or like 'on-voy,' as if something is sitting on a voy. Because I've heard it both ways, but I've been saying 'N-voy,' and getting weird looks from ponies."

"Uh, I guess both––"

"Anyway, I ask because that's what I am. See, our leader, Rain Shine – she's a real hoot, you'd like her – decided that we needed to integrate more into the outside world after being shut away for so long, and since I've had the most experience with ponies––"

"You were the natural pick."

"Right! Of course, I wasn't really sure what to do or where to go or who to talk to. Applejack and Fluttershy told me that you were all ruled by a princess, so I figured I'd start by trying to find the princess. And that was just a simple matter of following the train tracks, and getting directions from ponies when I ran out of train tracks, until I wound up here!"

"'Followed?'" Spike parroted. "You didn't ride the train?"

"Nah. Turns out, you need money to do that. We kirin use pumpkin seeds for currency."

Spike blinked. "So you... walked?"

"All the way here from the village, on minimal sleep, food, and water. It's kind of a miracle I'm still alive, if I'm being honest." Autumn swayed on her hooves, and almost toppled over – Spike braced her flank with his hands and helped her keep her balance.

"If it helps, you probably won't be able to meet with Princess Twilight right away. She's got kind of a full schedule for the day, between teaching and... Princess stuff. Won't be home until tonight." He cast a look over at the castle. "If you want, you can always come by and hang out until she's finished. Catch a nap, a bite to eat, maybe a hot shower..."

Autumn's ears folded quizzically. "Okay, I got like, two thirds of that. You'll have to explain what 'hot shower' means."

Spike's face blanked. "You've... never heard of a hot shower before now."

Autumn shook her head. "Language has evolved in some crazy ways since the last time I hung out with anypony that wasn't kirin, and I'm still catching up on all of it."

Spike had to laugh at that. "Well then, Autumn Blaze, allow me to introduce you to something that'll change your life forever." He crooked his arm toward her, and she linked her foreleg with him, letting him guide her toward the castle in the distance. "Hot running water."

Twilight and Spike's shared bedroom had its own adjoining bath and shower, of which Spike gladly let Autumn avail herself, after a crash course in what the individual little knobs did, and an explanation of the dos and don'ts of detachable showerheads, of course.

Autumn sang to herself as she washed, her voice audible over the patter of water against the crystal. Spike was no stranger to ponies with perfect pipes, but even he had to admit, her voice was peculiarly angelic. He even caught himself humming along as he unpacked his luggage – or tried to unpack; he got sucked into reading his comics pretty quickly, keeping single-issues stacked on top of an old, worn omnibus. Distracted as he was by his reading, Autumn's song got muddled, lost in translation, though he at least carried the tune and kept the gist of the lyrics.

"'Cuz rainbows won't block out the sun," he sang softly. "Unless you hum-de-hum..."

Autumn emerged after a time, accompanied by a clouds of rolling steam. Her horn glowed as she toweled herself off, giving her mane and tail a thorough rub-down, before folding the towel and floating it back into the bathroom.

"You know, I thought you were exaggerating, but hoo! Who knew being pelted by boiling hot water could be so relaxing and rejuvenating? I feel like writing a musical on that subject alone. Or at least a couple showtunes."

"A musical?" Spike echoed. "How is it that the kirin invented musical theater before indoor plumbing?"

"Hey, what do you think is more difficult to figure out – pipes and knobs and showermajiggies that require years of jiggery-pokery, or three-part harmonies requiring only the voices the singers were born with? Maybe you all did things backwards, and we did things the sensible way."

With that, Autumn hopped onto Twilight's bed, circled it once, and flopped onto her belly. Spike stared at her; she tilted her head to one side.

"What?" she asked.

Spike fidgeted. "That's just... Twilight's bed, is all."

"Ooh, princess bed. No wonder it's so soft and comfy." Autumn nuzzled the comforter, purring contentedly. "Ponies are so nice, letting you use their bathrooms and sleep in their beds while they whittle away the day in their offices..."

Spike almost clarified that he meant to give her a guest bed, and that the shower was just a courtesy, but he bit back the comment in the end. What were the odds Twilight'd ever know that a kirin had been romping around in her bed? He'd change the sheets and pillowcases later, and she'd probably thank him for it.

"So," Autumn said, when she'd finished her nuzzling. She folded her forehooves and dangled them off the edge of the mattress. "I couldn't help noticing – almost didn't say anything – you've got a bag out, and a super-tiny, vertically piled library. You taking a trip? Moving? Or is this some kinda weird pony way of organizing books?"

Spike glanced at the half-open bag – his travel soaps and deodorant were visible inside, along with the button-eyed plush of Rarity that he slept with most nights. Blushing, he quickly pulled the flap closed and shoved the bag away before Autumn could notice and ask about it.

"I was planning to take a trip today, actually," Spike said. "To this... uh..."

Autumn rested her chin on her folded forelegs. "If you're trying to get me to guess the end of that sentence, you're out of luck – I'm kinda terrible at that, turns out."

"No, that's not it," Spike said with a shrug. "Just... ah, you don't wanna hear about all this stuff."

"I wouldn't ask if I wasn't curious," Autumn said. "C'mon, spill it."

Spike sighed – he'd be lying if he said this wasn't the tiniest bit embarrassing to share. "I was planning to go to this convention. Way up north, in a place called the Crystal Empire."

Autumn floated the first comic off the topic of the stack and brought it in front of her face, scanning it detachedly. "Some kind of literature convention?"

Spike chuckled. "Yeah, kind of. It's a comic convention."

Autumn glanced at Spike. "Like, stand-up? I thought you said it was a literary––"

"Comic books," Spike clarified. "Like the one you're holding. You know, superheroes, fantastic adventures, thinly-veiled allegories for social problems... you have those, don't you?"

"Kind of? I'm basically the entire kirin literary community, all on my own. Should've brought my folio." Autumn flipped through the comic, her eyes lighting up. "Ooh! Pictures. Can't read the text – pony script, go figure. What's this one about?"

"That's Power Ponies. One of the first comics I really got into, back when I was little." Spike gently dug the omnibus out from underneath the pile, and presented it to Autumn with a grin. "I go for slightly more mature stuff these days."

Autumn floated the omnibus out of Spike's grip and opened it. Immediately, her eyes widened, and her face reddened. "That griffin's insides are on his outsides! And... that mare's face is right between that other mare's––"

"Whoa, uh–– shoot, I thought that was the censored edition." Spike, blushing, clambered onto the bed and lunged for the omnibus, only for Autumn to yank it out of arm's reach. She flipped through it rapidly.

"This is... filthy. Disgusting, even. Vile, nasty, obscene, perverted, and a thousand other synonyms that I can't recall." She slammed the book shut. "What the heck is this?"

Spike heaved a sigh. "It's called Slaymare. This... legendarily edgy comic. It's about a filly who watches her whole village get slaughtered by rabid minotaurs, and discovers her special talent is revenge."

"Does she get revenge for the death of her village?"

Spike cringed. "And then some."

Autumn regarded the front cover with a long, evaluatory gaze. Then she turned to Spike, grinning. "Can I keep it?"

A moment's shock passed. Spike laughed, relieved that he hadn't torpedoed diplomatic relations with the kirin by exposing their envoy to obscene pulp fiction. "You can take that one, sure – I got another copy that's super censored. That's the one I was hoping to bring. The artist was gonna be at the Con this week to celebrate Slaymare's thirtieth anniversary; there's a panel for it and everything. I was gonna ask him to sign my censored omnibus as a joke."

"Sounds pretty special," Autumn said. She floated the omnibus back to the floor, to rest beside the the pile, and rolled to her side, nestling her cheek against the pillow. She looked up at Spike, dark rings underneath her otherwise striking golden eyes. "But you're not going anymore, are you?"

Spike glanced at a clock in the corner of the room – his train north would have left a half hour ago. The realization made his heart sink. "Some... some stuff came up. I couldn't get free for the week after all."

"...That's disappointing," Autumn said softly. "I mean, I'm glad you were here to meet me, but all the same..."

That surprised Spike. Not that she expressed empathy for him, but that she did it without rattling off a string of synonyms and parallelisms. She was tired, Spike reminded himself, and resting on a comfy princess bed – she was probably dozing off.

"It's probably for the best," Spike said. "I couldn't really get away; Twilight needs me around too much. And it's nice to know that I'm that important to everyone else."

The words rang hollow, keeping his back to Autumn, and unfurling his wings to wrap around arms and sides like a cloak.

Autumn's tail landed on his lap, her fur tickling his thighs slightly.

Spike smiled to himself – it was an intimate, familiar gesture, but not an unwelcome one, or unsurprising. She did say she needed to relearn personal space, after all. He contented himself with gazing out the window, at the afternoon sun crawling toward the western horizon, and listening to the sound of Autumn's steady breathing as she let herself fall asleep.

"I guess this isn't so bad," Spike said, to no one in particular.

A knock at the door drew his attention; it opened before Spike could give any kind of response – a textbook Starlight move. Twilight would have asked if he was decent.

"Hey Spike, I was looking for you at Sugarcube Corner, but Mr. Cake says that I just––"

She stopped abruptly. Spike turned to look at her – she was wide-eyed, glancing rapidly between him and Autumn, whose back was to the door.

"...Does Twilight know you've started inviting girls over?" said Starlight. "Has she even given you the talk yet?"

Spike blushed, hard, and whirled around to face Starlight. "Starlight, that's not––"

"Spike, c'mon, it's just me. I won't tell Twilight; I'll even help you change the sheets. Just, next time, maybe don't use her bed? It's pretty tacky. Tiny bit unhygienic, too."

"This isn't what it looks like!" Spike groaned, burying his face in his hands. "She's a diplomat, and she's here to see Twilight; I'm just letting her sleep in here to be, y'know, hospitable."

Starlight raised an eyebrow. "At least that's plausible, as cover stories go."

"Oh, shove it. Ask her yourself!" Spike pressed his hands against Autumn's shoulder and shook her, hard. "Autumn, wake up; we gotta––"

"DON'TEATPUMPKINSEEDSONMYNEWSOFA!" Autumn snapped. Then she was on fire.

Flames cascaded around her body as she bolted upright, her mane a ring of fire. In an instant, the flames swallowed the mattress and licked along the posts to swallow up the canopy, transforming the bed into a candle of blue and pink and purple.

With a flash of hornlight, a rain cloud appeared over the bed. Immediately, a downpour swept over the bed, quenching the flames, and Autumn, too. She stood there, soaked to the bone, her waterlogged mane and tail hanging wetly.

Starlight ducked her head sheepishly, her bangs falling over her face. A hiss of breath escaped her lips. "Oh, I really should have looked before I leaped..."

Autumn chuckled sheepishly, sweeping her tail back and forth on the bed. "Sorry. That's... that's a kirin thing. Happens sometimes, when we get angry."

"A kirin. That figures." Starlight gestured at the bed. "So, when you said 'that's a kirin thing,' were you referring to spontaneously combusting, or reacting angrily to being shaken awake?"

"The former. The latter's an Autumn Blaze thing." She grinned. "Which is me. I'm Autumn Blaze, by the way. Are you the pony princess?"

"No, but who knows what next year might bring?" Starlight looked at Spike. "You okay?"

Spike was; the water hadn't hurt him any more than the fire head. He was more concerned about the comics, but a glance over his shoulder told him they were fine – too far away to be caught in the fire or flood.

"I'm built dragon tough. We laugh at fire."

"A dragon after my own heart," Autumn said. She reached her hoof toward Spike expectantly; he pounded it with his fist.

"Well, you're getting along well, at least." Starlight watched with a nervous, shaky smile on her face. "So, I guess this isn't the worst diplomatic visit this castle's seen... if half of what I've heard about the yaks is true..."

Hours later, the three of them sat at the Cutie Map, together at one side, with Twilight in her own throne. Bleary-eyed and expressionless, she stared at Spike, Autumn and Starlight.

"So," she said, abruptly. "You lit my bed on fire. And then you doused it with water."

"Uh, the fire was all me, actually," Autumn said, raising her hoof. "And I'm really sorry about that. These two didn't have anything to do with it, though – please don't yell at them, or turn them into toads, or whatever it is that pony princesses do to their subjects."

Next, Twilight looked at Starlight, raising an eyebrow.

Starlight fidgeted. "The rain cloud was me. Seemed like a good idea at the time."

Twilight's gaze landed on Spike next. Her jaw worked in a long, slow circle, her teeth grinding together audibly. She said nothing. Asked nothing. Just kept staring. And staring. And staring.

"...Accidents happen, I suppose," she said, returning her gaze to Autumn. "I think we can make a fresh start from here. Welcome to Equestria, Autumn Blaze"

"Delighted to be here," Autumn sighed. She leaned her hooves onto the table, idly running them over its smooth, glassy surface. "You are... way less angry about that than I thought you'd be, Miss Pony Princess Twilight."

"Let's just change the subject." A thin smile stretched across Twilight's face. "Why'd you come to Ponyville? I know you're trying to reach out to Equestria's government on behalf of the kirin, but our town's a peculiar choice for that."

"This is just where everypony I talked to pointed me toward," Autumn said. "See, I was walking along the train tracks, following them as much as I could, and every now and again, I'd meet a random pony or two – bums, drifters, hobos, even the occasional tramp. I asked each one if they knew where the pony princess was, and they all just kept pointing me toward here."

"And here you are now." Twilight tented her hooves – a human-ish gesture that Spike was sure she'd picked up from Sunset Shimmer. "Perhaps you should have been more specific about which princess you wanted to meet with."

Autumn looked between Spike and Starlight for explanation. Finding none, she said, "Does it make a difference which one of you I talk to?"

Twilight nodded curtly. "Of the five alicorn princesses in Equestria, the only ones with the official vested power to recognize the kirin as a state, and open diplomatic relations with them, are Princess Celestia and Princess Luna – they're in Canterlot, north of here. Princess Cadance, in the Crystal Empire even further to the north, rules as a vassal of Canterlot, and her daughter is still in diapers."

"What do you do?"

"Teach friendship and shoot rainbows." Twilight tapped her hooves together, once. "Sometimes, I attend state functions, during which I smile and wave."

"Hmm. Good to know." Autumn leaned back in her borrowed throne. "Kinda sounds overly complicated, though, like you're in this middle ground between a single-ruler authoritarian system and oligarchical rule by the landed elite. You ever think about maybe forming a polity driven by the will of the masses, rather than concentrating political power with a race of winged demigods?"

Twilight's eyelids twitched, out of sequence with one another. "So you'll be wanting to go to Canterlot, is what I'm trying to say. I can arrange for a train tomorrow morning – it's probably best if I introduce you to the Princesses personally."

Autumn blinked. She glanced quickly at Spike, then smiled. "That's super nice of you, Princess Twilight. But, uh, if it's all the same to you... maybe I could go with Spike, instead? As long as it's okay with him, I mean."

Startled by the invitation, Spike looked at Autumn, then at Twilight. He wasn't sure it would be. They hadn't even spoken since the incident earlier that day.

Twilight's eyelids twitched so hard that they shut momentarily in a very spasmodic blink. "Spike? Would it be okay with you?"

Flustered, Spike drew himself up, and stammered a response. "I guess–– but, I mean, don't you kinda need me here? To help you out with... uh... stuff?"

That was the whole reason you wouldn't let me take my trip, he almost said. He bit the comment back, though, his wings twitching with nervous energy.

"Handling sudden diplomatic envoys is precisely the kind of unexpected eventuality that I wanted my number-one assistant present for," Twilight said evenly. "In other words, that would be helping me out with stuff. So. Are you in?"

Spike looked at Autumn, who grinned, and nodded encouragingly.

"I guess so," he said at last.

Autumn whooped. "That is so, so massively good to hear, Spike. Because denying me, an official diplomat, my choice of escort to meet your heads of government would have been a grievous insult to the kirin, and we probably would have had to launch a mutually destructive war of conquest against Equestria in reprisal, but thank goodness we don't have to deal with that. Right?!"

Spike, Starlight, and Twilight stared at Autumn with varying levels of shock.

"...That... that was a joke. I was kidding, I promise." Autumn scratched the back of her head. "Yeah, it seemed funnier in my head. Maybe I need to relearn how to read a room."

"Well, who knows? Maybe somepony else'll get called for that particular friendship mission." Twilight looked at Starlight. "Would you mind showing Autumn to a guest room? Without destroying any more of my furniture. I'd like a minute to talk to my assistant alone."

"Wonderful; something else for me to never live down," Starlight muttered. She hopped off her throne and headed out the double-doors, down the halls that led to the guest quarters. "C'mon, Autumn, let's find you a bed for the night."

Autumn followed, shooting a look to Spike. "See you tomorrow," she mouthed.

Spike watched them leave, waiting until Starlight pulled the doors shut to speak. "I know she's kind of a motormouth, but first impressions aside, Autumn's pretty cool. You shouldn't––"

"I don't want to talk about Autumn Blaze right now, Spike."

Spike felt a quick stab of anger in his gut, a reminder of how much their talk from before still stung. He looked at Twilight, ready to respond––

The sight of her slumped over in her throne, wings drooping, head hanging low, blunted that stab considerably.

"Twi? You okay?"

Twilight heaved a sigh, and looked up at Spike. Freed from her carefully constructed facade of diplomatic politeness, without any traces of barely maintained cordiality, Twilight just looked beat.

"I've been thinking about earlier," she said. She paused to huff out a dry, humorless chuckle. "It's been on my mind all day, in fact. I said some things I didn't really... I mean, I know you're not selfish, Spike. I just... I'm tired. I lashed out and said something I didn't really mean."

Spike felt a twinge of self-consciousness, and idly gripped his wings.

Twilight raised a hoof, slowly, to silence him. "It's not selfish, or greedy, to ask for a vacation, not with how hard you work. I know it's been forever since your last one; it's just... you know how busy this time of the year is. For me, and for all of us. Especially now that we've got the school to run. I really need all hooves on deck right now."

"...I don't even have those," Spike muttered. He chanced a little smile at Twilight.

She seemed to lighten a bit, wings perking, the corners of her lips twitching. "You know what I mean. Like, think of it this way – if you'd caught that train today, like you planned, who'd be here to meet up with Autumn? I certainly don't have anypony else who could've taken her to Canterlot – I would've had to go myself, and I really, really can't afford that right now."

"Starlight couldn't do it?"

"Starlight's been letting students cry into her shoulder over finals for the better part of the day. Ninety percent of her schedule is tear-related. Without her, I'm pretty sure the school would just have a collective emotional breakdown, and my whole curriculum would fall apart."

Spike thought about it, then nodded begrudgingly.

Twilight took a deep breath. "So, what I'm getting at is... I was harsh and insensitive to you, and I'm sorry for that. And I'm sorry for making you miss your convention. I hope... I mean, I want to make it up to you. I plan to, in fact. Just, let's get through this week, and I promise, we'll figure something out together. Okay?"

Spike knew Twilight was sincere; he knew how hard she worked, how short she could get when she was overworked, and how genuinely she cared about him. He knew she'd keep her promise to him, to the best of her ability.

It wouldn't be the same, but it meant something that she'd try, at least.

So he forced a smile, and nodded.

Twilight's relief was immediate, and palpable. She stretched her wings, as though new life flooded through them, and rose from the table, circling around to Spike.

"I'm gonna try and find another bedroom tonight – my own bed has gone and combusted. Care to join me?"

Spike hesitated just long enough for his hesitation to be obvious. "Why not?"

Spike was a late riser by nature; if he had to travel to Canterlot, he usually preferred a late morning or afternoon train to something that left at the crack of dawn. Autumn insisted on leaving early, however, and made another vague allusion to a war of reprisal that was no funnier than the first one.

"I used to be a stitch," she grumped as she and Spike arrived at the station, after spending their walk in awkward, threat-induced silence. "The other kirin? They found me hysterical before the Silence."

"I think you're funny," Spike replied. A yawn forced him to pause, and distorted his voice as he continued speaking. "Just not when you're threatening to declare war on Equestria."

"You and I have very different opinions on comedy, my friend." Autumn sighed, then drew herself up primly. "But, okay, I suppose I can adapt for the sake of my audience."

Spike patted her shoulder. "That's the spirit."

The two of them passed through the station, and onto the platform – Spike tried to head for the ticket counter in the waiting room, only for Autumn to stop him with a shake of her head. She beckoned him outside, instead, where they found Starlight Glimmer – sleepy, yawning, sipping coffee between yawns, and floating a pair of tickets beside her head.

At her hooves was his old, worn, fireproof travel bag, predictably and stubbornly half-unzipped.

"Did you seriously schlep out here at dawn just so you could buy the tickets for me?" Spike said, looking askance at her. "And what's with the bag? Princess Celestia isn't gonna want me to introduce Autumn to her if I'm dressed up as Humdrum. Goes against decorum."

"You're welcome, Spike, and good morning to you, too." Starlight slurped a bit of coffee and floated one ticket into Spike's grasp. Autumn caught the other in her aura.

"I'd stay to see you off," Starlight continued, "but I'm expecting Silverstream to have camped outside my office all night, just to catch me before anyone else could. So, I gotta get back to work. Sorry."

"Oh, think nothing of it," Autumn said warmly. "Thanks, Starlight – I owe you one for this."

"Just make him pay me back." Starlight winked at Spike. "He can get me a smoothie."

She stalked off the platform and back into town, guzzling coffee as she went.

"What was that all about?" Spike said to Autumn. "What would you owe her for, the tickets? It's not that big a deal; diplomatic trips to Canterlot get charged to the crown."

"Well, about that," Autumn drawled, Nearby, a train's whistle blew, the engine chuffing and chugging as it churned up to the platform. "We're not going to Canterlot, Spike."

"What are you...?" Spike quickly looked down at his ticket: a one-way express ticket to the Crystal Empire.

Well, that explained the bag. "You didn't..."

"No, Starlight Glimmer did. We got to talking last night about everything going on, about your convention, and how disappointed you were that you couldn't go – she felt bad, and I felt bad, and we both agreed that we wished there was some way you could still go do your thing, and then she explained to me how trains work––"

Said train screeched to a halt at the station; a smattering of ponies drifted from the cars and into the station. The conductor – a bespectacled crystal pony – stepped onto the platform, staring at his pocket watch.

"And then, yeah," Autumn finished, pedaling one hoof in the air. "We decided, why shouldn't you go to your thing? She packed your comics back into your bag and slipped out here to buy the train tickets. It's a day later than you wanted, sure, but losing one day's better than losing all of them. Right?"

"I..." Spike gripped the ticket in his hands. His wings twitched; he flattened them against his body, held them there as tightly as he could. "But Twilight... she was counting on me to take you to Canterlot."

"She was counting on you to be my escort on an official diplomatic mission," Autumn corrected. "Which we can do, oh, pretty much anywhere. We don't need to go visit your other pony princesses, do we?"

"Princess Cadance lives in the Empire, so technically... wait, I mean––" Spike shook his head and turned on Autumn, gesturing emphatically. "That's not the point!"

Autumn recoiled. "I don't understand – we were trying to do something nice for you. I was trying to do something nice for you. Are you mad at me?"

Spike opened his mouth to yell something back. It hung open, awkwardly; he realized he didn't know what to say.

"...I'm not sure," he finally said, lamely. "I'm not sure if I'm mad. And if I am mad, I'm not sure if I'm mad at you, or at Starlight, or at Twilight, or at... me."

He turned his back to Autumn, tugging his wings around his body like a cloak.

"Why would you be mad at yourself?" Spike felt a hoof come to rest on his shoulder, turning him around until he faced Autumn again. "Hey, talk to me. Why would you be mad at yourself?"

Spike rubbed his arm and glanced away shyly. He sighed. "Yesterday, when I asked Twilight if she'd let me go to the convention, she said... she said I was being selfish. Ignoring my responsibilities so I could go off and have fun."

"Isn't that the point of vacations, though? To drop your responsibilities and have a good time?"

"Yeah, but––"

"Then what's the big deal?"

"The big deal is that I think she might have been right!"

The conductor's pocket watch snapped shut. He made the last call for boarding in a crisp voice, and stepped back onto the train.

"I think she might have been right," Spike repeated, a little more calmly. "I think, maybe, just maybe, I wanted to go to this convention so badly that it... it made me forget that, sometimes, I need to put my friends' needs before what I want."

"What you want still matters, though," Autumn said.

"Not when it... when it causes problems for my friends." Spike's wings twitched as, on the tracks, the train began to churn back to life. "Look... this is a dragon thing – I have a bad history with wanting things too much. Sometimes, it's pretty benign, like, getting super fixated on something, not being able to let go of it. Sometimes, it's less benign; I make a big mess, and ponies have trouble looking me in the eye for a couple years afterward."

"You think wanting to go to this convention constitutes a 'dragon thing?'"

Spike nodded. "Definitely on the benign side of the spectrum, but... yeah. I do. And it wasn't until I talked to Twilight last night that I realized... how can I go off and have fun, by myself, while she and the rest of my friends are all putting themselves through the wringer?"

"What you want is still important though. Just because wanting something might bring out a bad side of you doesn't mean you should shut that down completely. I know a thing or two about repressing a side of yourself you don't like. I mean..." Autumn chuckled self-consciously. "You think I was always cool about lighting on fire whenever I got too mad?"

Spike chewed his lip, before shaking his head. Not far away, the train came to life, crawling down the tracks, puffs of black smoke trailing from its chimney.

He felt Autumn's hoof cup his chin and draw his head back up, until they were eye to eye again.

"Spike, it is sweet – really sweet – that you care so much about your friends, and that you wanna do right by them. But you gotta take time for yourself, too. If you ask me, it's a lot more selfish for somepony else to ask you to sacrifice what you want for their sake."

Her horn glowed, and

Her voice lowered to a gentle whisper. "Do you wanna go to this thing, Spike?"

Spike tried to reply. Only a weak, strained note came from the back of his throat. He settled for a nod – a little one, meek and gentle. "But the train... it kinda came and went, didn't it? And the next train to the Empire isn't until tomorrow morning. We wouldn't get there until after the convention."

Autumn grunted, staring down the tracks at the train as it picked up speed, steadily vanishing into the horizon. "Yeah, talking you into going kinda ate up valuable time. That's... quite... frustrating."

"Right?" Spike sighed. "I'm sorry. I know you tried your best to––"

"Don't be sorry. Be mean. Get me pissed."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"I'm faster when I'm in Nirik form; I'm pretty sure I can get us on that thing if we can catch it before it picks up too much speed. But I'm just mildly frustrated right now, and I can't do anything with that." Autumn stamped her hoof. "Get. Me. Pissed."

"Uh... you're..." Spike fumbled for something appropriately cutting. "Ugly?"

"You're not fooling me; I'm a snack, and we both know it. Try again."

"Uh... Rarity's ten times better than Applejack and Fluttershy combined."

A spark rippled down Autumn's tail. "Alright, we're getting somewhere. Keep going"

"If... if you don't get me on that train, I'll throw such a diplomatic temper tantrum that the Princesses will carpet-bomb the kirin village just to shut me up."

Autumn's eyes vanished in pools of stark white nothingness. "Wow, that really isn't funny. Okay! Bring it on home, Spike!"

Spike planted his feet into the ground, plucked up his courage, picked up his bag, and slung it over his shoulder. "Musical theater is for ponies who don't have the attention span for opera!"

Autumn blazed. Coated in flames from head to hoof, she was as staggeringly beautiful as she was terrifying.

She glared down at Spike with vacuous eyes.

"Get on my back right now."
« Prev   10   Next »
#1 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
This was a good story. I think the personality of all the characters clashed real nicely. Whether it was Twilight and Spike, or Spike and Autumn. It real like natural dialogue, just two people talking about different things.
#2 ·
· · >>Chris >>Miller Minus
A lot of:

Good stories this round! As >>TerrusStokkr said, the character interaction is the highlight here. I always enjoy some good banter, and this story's got that all over.

When I got to the end, though, I found myself not entirely sure what the story had been about. Spike wants to go to this convention, but Twilight says no. Heated words are exchanged. Twilight apologizes, so when circumstances then conspire to get Spike to the convention, he feels guilty about it. And...that's kinda it? Maybe it's just me, but for the longest story in the round, it feels a little thin....

I've been thinking about the story on and off all afternoon, and I just can't put my finger on what's bothering me. Maybe the serious nature of the discussion at the end is too heavy for what's come before? Maybe I'd like it better if Autumn undermined Spike's idea about his wants vs. his friends' needs by calling it the stupidest thing she's ever heard instead of her also start to wax philosophical? It just strikes me off that everyone gets what they want at the end--Spike gets to go to the convention, Twilight gets to show him that she did need him there after all, and Autumn gets to take a detour that'll lead her to meeting all five of Equestria's princesses--but no one seems very happy about it.

I'm sorry I can't be of more help, author...

#3 ·
· · >>Chris
So this story takes its Character Voicing, dials it up to 11, and then tears off the control knob. Seriously, this is some really fun characterization, all around. It's a joy to just see these characters talk to one another, and your prose does a great job of getting out of the way and letting the reader really just soak it all in.

Now, I'm going to have to note that despite how much I enjoyed reading this story, I do have to note that its high-level pacing could probably use a little polishing. As it comes across right now, you've got a really strong moment-to-moment pacing with the dialogue beats and the jokes all flowing one into the next really nicely. But the overall story feels meandering and a tad stretched out. This story definitely feels like it's the longest story of the bunch, and not just because it has the biggest wordcount. There are points here and there where basically nothing happens for a couple of hundred words at a time, other than the banter and the dialogue. Especially on second and third read-throughs, it's tough to avoid feeling tempted to skim to the next good bit.

I think my main takeaway is that you might want to either trim some of the fat (maybe take 2 or 3K off the wordcount), or somehow make the "downtime" bits feel more meaningful. Your conflict is a pretty simple one, so maybe adding a new dimension or complication to it would buy you more time to play with the characters.

As the story is right now, it's super fun, but it holds my attention unevenly. With a little streamlining to the plot, I think this one could really knock it out of the park.
#4 ·
I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m now considering animal sacrifices to become this good of a writer. I haven’t found a suitable supernatural entity to whom offer them yet, and I'm doubtful the animals would like that very much, so I’m going to stick to reading and writing for the time being.

I don’t know what to say about this story. I loved how all the plot threads came together towards the end, I loved the idea, and I loved the characters (the "talk nerdy to me" -bit got an actual laugh out of me). Sorry, but I really don’t know how to go about improving it.

Thank you for writing.
#5 ·
>story is called "Ambassador Spike"
>the word "ambassador" isn't used once

Post by Posh , deleted
#7 · 2
· · >>Miller Minus
I'm just realizing how much of this writeoff is filled with ponies playing stupid/ridiculous to the hilt; first it was Luna in Soviet, then Dash in Demise, then Dash again in Gift, and now Autumn in this story. I've read four fics in a row about obtuse Equestrians!

Anway, I think tying this so closely to the school is a mistake; we know from the show that the school is pretty much zero-effort and zero-responsibility for the main six and students, so it makes Twilight seem really disproportionately mean for not letting Spike go to his convention. I think you were aiming for something more like "she has a point, but she's being grumpy and expressing it unfairly," but it really came off as her just being a dick (not helping: Starlight's entire job is "let ponies be sad in her general vicinity," which sure doesn't sound important, either. If you really want to stick with the school explanation, I'd at least give her some real duties (probably something in the same general field, like counseling) that don't drive home how there really doesn't seem to be any reason why Twilight should feel overworked). It's good for the audience to sympathise with Spike, sure, but you don't need to throw Twi under a bus for us to do that--he's our focus character and he's not getting to do something he wants, we're already sympathetic!

Past that, Autumn was a wonderfully whimsical character, and you did a great job of making her feel vibrant and active, even when she wasn't doing much of anything. I broadly agree with >>Baal Bunny and>>Bachiavellian that this is a very slight story, especially considering its wordcount, but I personally found that her exuberance kept me going right along for the entire fic. You've got a good thing going there, energy-wise. I also really enjoyed your use of Spike as a straight man, though granted he's wonderfully suited for that role to begin with. Still, you found a good balance between too dry and too snarky for him, which I appreciate.
#8 ·
· · >>Chris
Review to come in a bit but I had a questiony-do for >>Chris

we know from the show that the school is pretty much zero-effort and zero-responsibility for the main six and students

Is this a thing? I've seen most of the school episodes and I don't remember it being implied to be zero-effort for either party.

Student Counsel, for example, seems to imply the work is difficult for the students, and that starlight's job is vital.
#9 ·
I want to attempt to determine what's bothering >>Baal Bunny by just looking at the conflict, and how it progresses through the story. Because I don't think we got a concrete conflict to sink our teeth into, and the only conflict we did get felt a touch forced.

Like everyone else mentioned, the voices and character interactions are fantabulous, but I would pull back on that praise with one character out of the four: Twilight. In both scenes in which she features, while I found that she sounded like herself, I didn't get the sense that she acted like herself, and she seems to be only acting the way she is because without her standing her ground against what Spike wants, the conflict would be gone. In that way, it felt forced.

In Scene 1, I wondered why she was acting so strong-arm against Spike despite what he wanted not really being a big deal. Not that she should have just let him go, but, I'm trying to remember her ever being so stern towards Spike and I really can't, except maybe when he was going greed-crazy. And in Scene 2, I mean... isn't this her first time ever meeting a Kirin? She loves other species to death. Where's her desire to research? Where's her desire to be the ambassador? In both of these scenes, you could argue she's too stressed out to act like she normally would, but defaulting to a poised, stern VIP (Very Important Princess) doesn't feel like what she'd do under stress. But she has to, for the conflict.

And I noticed that, when Twilight speaks with Spike alone, she sounds like herself again... and the conflict evaporates. When Starlight and Autumn revealed their plan at the station, I asked, "Why do they have to be so sneaky about it?" Even not knowing how she pulled back with Spike, can't Autumn just go to Twilight and say "Actually I want to go the the Crystal Empire with Spike instead?" What's she gonna say? The trip is for Autumn now, that's what she wants... what's she afraid will happen if she's honest about it with Twilight?

Without the strong conflict, for me, the philosophical discussion at the end felt a bit flat. I couldn't shake the feeling that they were sneaking around for no reason.

Also, to hit rewind a bit: most everything between Twilight's two scenes sweep the conflict under the rug, which is why I think so many are finding it muddled. Spike accepts that there's nothing he can do, and then starts to hang out with Autumn, and during those couple scenes we're left wondering what the story is about anymore, because it's almost like Spike has forgotten about even wanting to go.

So all this boils down to: Strengthen the conflict, bring it in as early as possible, and try not to let it dissipate just as the story is getting going.

And all this aside, Author, you win the Best Banter award this round, and kudos to you for having such great invisible prose. There's a lot to like about this story, as others have detailed.


Her horn glowed, and

Best cliffhanger ever.

Thanks for writing and good luck, hooray!
#10 ·
Huh. I really liked this, and I wasn't really expecting to.

Autumn Blaze is perfectly ridiculous. Absurd, funny, almost Pinkie-esque in her quips, but feeling perfectly natural. Spike on the other hand has a much more grounded, mature presence in this story, and an honestly pretty nuanced internal/external conflict that I found myself fascinated by.

And yet you somehow made these two seemingly opposing characters, story arcs, genres, work together. Work together really well.

I'm a bit baffled, but mostly impressed.