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* * *
Still Cleaning This Crossbow
by Spike the Dragon Twilight Sparkle Jeffrey C. Wells
because why the hell not at this point
* * *
"So," said the Collective Body of Equestria Daily Pre-Readers, leaning back in its rocking chair. "I hear you're interested in writing something for my little Readership to peruse. Is that so?"
Spike tapped the tips of his claws together, nervously. He hadn't expected things to be so, well, awkward. Like any hot-blooded young male with a healthy lexicon, he was full of the frustrated, barely-constrained urge to write, to put pen to parchment over and over and over again, until his quill was blunt and his inkpot was bone-dry. And he was one of the lucky ones! How many of his peers in Ponyville actually had a job as a professional scribe? And not just to any ordinary pony, oh no. He was the personal secretary to Miss Twilight Sparkle herself, whose appetites for dictated memoranda were the stuff of legend. Every day, Twilight worked Spike to a frazzle, forcing him to write letter after letter, sometimes not stopping until far into the night, when Spike would finally drop from exhaustion. (And even then, Miss Sparkle often remained awake, availing herself of the assistance of her pet owl as she continued to scribble on.) Yes, it was all very technical and erudite, but think about it! He was getting paid… to write! How many ponies could say that?
But sometimes… sometimes, in the small hours, Spike would get strange urges. Urges to write really crazy stories about stuff that didn't actually exist. He even kept a couple writing manuals under the cushion in his basket, so he could take a few furtive glances at them from time to time when he was all alone in the library. A few years ago, he had gone on the Canternet and was thrilled to find that he wasn't the only one with this rather bizarre fixation. There were even entire groups out there dedicated to it.
On the Canternet, they called it "fiction". Spike was seized with a desire that day, a desire that had never left him: to get extremely, profoundly fictional, and to do it with the most eligible Audience in Ponydom, to wit, the entire Readership of Equestria Daily.
There was only one problem, only one thing standing in his way.
Spike cleared his throat and affected as deep a voice as he possibly could. "Yes, Mr. Body of Equestria Daily Pre-Readers," he said.
"Please," said the Collective Body of Equestria Daily Pre-Readers. "Call me Collective."
"Yes, Mr. Collective, sir," said Spike. "I would very much like to show something I've written to your Readership. Because… um… it's… very…"
Large, thought Spike. The Equestria Daily Readership was large, absolutely huge, in all the right ways. But you can't say that to the Pre-Readers! They'll think you're just in it for the fame!
"Your Readership is very… discerning," said Spike, instantly happy with his choice.
Collective nodded. "Good," it said. "Good."
Then it leaned in close, its eyes glinting like coal.
"Tell me, boy," it said. "Do you have a spell-checker?"
Spike coughed and nearly choked. "Sorry?" he said, not quite believing his ears.
"A spell-checker," repeated the Collective, more slowly. "You can't tell me you don't know what one is." The Collective leaned back in its chair again. "For in case you make… typos."
"Sir," said Spike, "I wasn't planning on making any mistakes with your Readership's work, typographical or otherwise."
The Collective chuckled, without humor. "Oh, you say that," it said. "Nopony goes into a piece planning on making mistakes. But mark my words, you'll be there, writing, getting all enthusiastic, and you'll feel like you're on a roll with the passage you're in, and then, suddenly, you'll want to use a word like 'metonymy', and you won't feel like getting up from your work to get a dictionary. That's what a spell-checker is for, son."
"I would never use so complicated a word with your Readership," said Spike, politely, who had in fact planned out an extensive passage that rather hinged on metonymy, both the word itself and the linguistic concept it represented.
"Mm," said the Collective. "So you like simple words, then."
Dang it all to Tartarus! Talking to the Collective was like navigating a trap-filled temple in one of those "Daring Do" novels that Twilight kept around. (Incidentally, the very books that had introduced him to the concept of written fiction in the first place, though he would never admit this to Miss Sparkle's face.) Spike frantically assessed the Collective's impassive countenance, hoping for a lifeline. He found none.
"I think you should use the right word for the right situation," said Spike, practically squinting in anticipation of the backlash. "Whatever complexity it might have."
Silence, but for the noise of the Collective's chair, rocking slowly back and forth.
"Good," said the Collective. "I think you sound like a promising young author."
Spike tried to hide his sigh of relief. "Thank you, sir," he said.
"So," said the Collective. "How extensive is your piece? How long is it going to be?
Oh, Celestia, thought Spike. Right, sir, as if I'm going to tell you that it's a one-shot. Yes, I want to get fictional with your Readership, but I don't want any lingering commitments. I was planning on marking it completed after tonight. How do you say that to the Pre-Readers?
Thankfully, this time, there was a lifeline. "I see that look on your face, boy. I know what it's like to be a young author. So many ideas, so little time. You just want this out of the way so you can get on to your next masterpiece."
The Collective held up a silencing hoof. "Believe it or not, son, I don't have a problem with it. So long as your initial submission clearly states that this work is complete. Do you follow?"
Spike scratched one clawed toe against the boards of the Collective's front porch. "Yes, sir," he said.
"Good," said the Collective, lighting a pipe and puffing on it thoughtfully for a moment. "Too many authors out there leading my Readership on with promises of future updates. They talk a good talk, but then it just peters out. The author attrition rate is quite staggering — especially if a fledgling writer is at the helm. I can't count how many times my dear Readership has come to me, crying, wondering when the next part of its favorite piece is coming out. I don't have the heart to tell it that it ain't coming. I've had my fill of that kind of interaction, do you hear me, boy?"
"Yes, sir," said Spike.
"Good, said the Collective. "So long as we all understand one another. You have fun, treat my Readership right, and get it home on time. And don't you worry about getting me up, because I keep late hours. I'll most certainly be awake when you get back, just doing some regular maintenance and upkeep on my old pistol crossbow, from back when I was a sniper in the Equestrian Royal Guard. If I make myself clear."
Spike gulped. "Crystal," he said.
"Mm," said the Collective. Then it turned its head back toward the house. "All right, Readership, you can come out now! This gentledragon has some plans with you, if I'm not mistaken."
The front door swung open, and there it was, the entire Readership of Equestria Daily, in the pixels. Just looking at it standing there, so big and comparatively responsive, put all sorts of six-star thoughts in Spike's head. It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
He couldn't wait to get fictional with it.
The Readership gave the Collective Body of Equestria Daily Pre-Readers a quick peck on the cheek, causing the old assembly to smile a little. "See you when we get back, Pre-Readers."
"I'll be waiting," said the Collective.
When they were finally alone in their carriage together, the Readership let out an affectionate, but exasperated sigh. "I'm sorry if the Collective Body of Equestria Daily Pre-Readers raked you across the coals a little. It's a little old-fashioned, but please understand that it only wants the best for me."
"No, no, it was tough but fair, tonight."
"I'm glad," said the Readership, snuggling up to him, causing Spike to nearly swoon.
"So, um," said Spike, as the carriage pulled away. "I was thinking… um… if you didn't have any other plans… maybe-I-could-show-you-some-of-my-writing?"
"Oh, sorry," said the Readership, pursing its lips in a heartbreaking little pout. "I'm set to 'no fanfiction' mode today."
"Oh," said Spike, quietly.
And then, "So… hypothetically… if someone, I mean, not me, but someone, were to post a piece of fanfic today, you wouldn't see it at all."
"Not even a little."
"Absolutely not," replied the Readership. "It's all blocked."
"Oh," repeated Spike, his eyes fixed on the floorboards.
Several moments passed, with only the noise of the carriage's wheels to mark them.
"Well," said Spike, "how about we just make out, instead?"
"Sure!" said the Readership, cheerfully.
And so they did. All night long.