• Published 19th Nov 2013
  • 9,776 Views, 90 Comments

Soft Diplomacy - Bastinator



After arriving in Equestria, Anon was at the mercy of life. He has a crap job, a boring life and he can't even speak up for himself if his life depended on it, but books have always been there for him. What if they got the attention of royalty?

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Chapter 4: That's Not Sunscreen

The seats buckle and shake as the train churns across the snowy landscape. You hold tight onto your seat, fingers digging into the armrest as you do your best to keep calm. Even so there’s that sickening feeling in your belly that’s telling you that the bathroom is a minimum of fifty hoof-lengths away as of Equestrian Safety Standards. Figuring that at your speed you move at about fifteen hoof-lengths a second you have about three seconds to make it to the bathroom with another second to assume the proper purge position.

Another sudden shake hits you right in the gut forcing your head back in your seat. ”Can’t take a little rocky ride?” the mare across from you chortles at your displeasure. No matter how tight you close your eyes it doesn’t remove that intestinal distress that’s rocking your world right now.

”Aww he’s just got some motion sickness is all,” another passenger tries to calm you down, “You best hit that there privy sugar.”

You shake your head and take a few deep breathes. “I’m fine…”

She gets out her seat and hands you a paper bag, “At least take this.” You thank her and take a few hits with the bag. ”Poor thing,” the green maned mare woefully remarks before returning to her seat.

Your companion rolls her eyes as your breathing begins to slow thanks to your gift. She checks her watch and sighs defeatedly, “The travel time itself is not in the Empire’s favor. I can feel my bones locking up as it is.” Ms. Harshwhinny, a real piece of work if you’ve ever seen one. She always has that look as though she’s looking down on everybody else. You were a bit excited when you got to visit the Crystal Empire, but… with the Equestria Games Inspector.

She’s the ponified version of Gilda, just without the violence and drinking. Then again, she could be packing more than a few gallons in that floral suitcase of hers. ”I get how you feel sister,” the mare responds massaging her foreleg, “I need to stretch these old bones.” She smiles at you and stretches a hoof across the aisle, “I’m Ms. Peachbottom.”

You quickly shake her hoof until you’re sure the food in your stomach is going to stay there. “Anon ma’am. Pleasure.”

She does a double take on the two of you, “So what brings you two to the Crystal Empire.”

”Business,” Ms. Harshwhinny replies coldly.

Be likeable Anon, that’s a politician’s key tool. “A-and you ma’am?”

”Oh I’ve been all around Equestria, and when this Crystal Empire popped back up I just had to come and see.” Her smile spreads to you and you can’t help but share in her joy. ”I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months, thankfully I had enough saved up for one last trip.”

“Last trip?”

She nods, “Last. I can’t keep doing this forever. I need to settle down back in Mustangia with my folks. They can’t have me running off on a whim whenever a new frontier opens back up.” You don’t know why but you feel comfortable around her.

“Where else have you gone, if you don’t mind me asking that is?”

”Not at all hun. It’s nice to see somepony who’s up for a chat.”

“Well, I’m more of a listener than a talker really,” you laugh nervously and look down.

”Really? I’d never have guessed,” she chuckles sarcastically and you find yourself joining her. Your internal distress melts away as you listen to Ms. Peachbottom’s ventures to the corners of the land. You’ve read all about these locations, the sands of Saddle Arabia, the rich architecture of Damarescus, the works. And when she spoke of her time in Aviaris your eyes near shot out of your head. ”You’ve never been?” You shake your head, “Well it’s not for the faint of heart, but if you do go be sure to keep a firm back and sharp eye. You’ll need it hun.” You have the second part at least.

In fact you’re so enthralled with her that you hardly notice the transition from the frost to vibrant green lands. ”Would you look at that,” she gazes out the window, “That’s darn right pretty I reckon.” You make out the towering crystalline structure just above the hills; your eyes might actually fall out this time.

“That’s… gorgeous.”

A dull humph comes from your partner, “Spruced up no doubt.” Because it’d look like shit if she wasn’t coming. The cunt…

”Ooooh I can’t wait to get a closer look, how about you honey?” God just look at that shine to it, it’s almost blinding to look at and that’s from miles off. If the entire city’s like that… you regret not bringing eye protection. ”You still alright in the noggin there?”

“Huh?”

Ms. Peachbottom giggles, “You aren’t used to be talked to like that are ya? You ain’t got a thing to worry about, I don’t bite much.”

“Ponies aren’t exactly lining up to talk to me, and those who do… well I already said how I- Wait what was that last part?”

”I wondered how long it’d take ya to notice that.”

~~~

The train screeches to a halt and you hold onto your seat before helping Ms. Peachbottom with her things. ”Aww, you don’t need to do all that for me deary.”

“M-my pleasure ma’am.” You hoist her luggage out of its compartment, your heart skipping a beat when you spot a rip in the flower motif. “I- I’m so sorry, I didn’t know-“

She waves a hoof, “That’s quite alright. It’ll give me something to remember you by.” She’s such a sweetheart, though you hoped she’d remember something better. ”Help me to the door?”

“Yes, of-of course,” you hoist the luggage back up, “You’re alright here, right Ms. Harshwhinny?”

”Oh just splendid,” she struggles to grab hold of her bag. She looks like she’s having more than a lot of trouble.

“Maybe I could-“

”Did I ask for your help?” she snaps with a glare, “Go help your new friend.”

“Ok…” you sulk away, “I’m- Sorry…” You wait in line to exit the car.

”Flankhole.”

Peachbottom’s about to get off the train and you place her bag down. You look back to your companion and can almost feel the seething rage she’s channeling. “I should- probably help her with her bags.”

”I think that’d be best hun.” A crash comes from Harshwhinny’s section and you freeze in place. ”Want to give her a few moments?” You chance a glance, her eyes more than a little set on you, fire burning bright. ”She’s giving you the eye ain’t she?” Just don’t move. Her vision is based on movement.

“Yeah… I really should help her.”

Ms. Peachbottom extends a hoof, “It was nice knowing you Anon.” You give her a hearty shake take a step back.

“I wish you a good visit.”

”ANON…” Harshwhinny growls. Oh shit you moved!

“Until next time.”

”ANON!” Shit shit shit!

~~~

You grab hold of her bag and ease it out, “If I see a single tear, I’ll make sure you’re scrubbing toilets for the rest of your life.” At least you’ll be experienced at it. Dang- This thing- is heavy. Finally managing to get the thing out turns out to be more effort than you thought. Before you can even set it down she snatches it out of your grasp and inspects it, the most minute of details clear for her. This is her job after all. She rolls her eyes and shoves it back into your arms, “You got lucky.” Ms. Harshwhinny looks out the train, most of the passengers having departed by now, “Let’s go then. Try not to be too excited.”

For what? She’s just here to inspect the city for the games right? Can’t think there’d be ponies jumping to greet her, that… witch. You step off the train car which swiftly makes its departure down the line, leaving you both in the dust. She taps her hoof and checks her watch as you admire the small crystalline details on the station. That book wasn’t lying when they said how engrained it was with their culture; even the track rails have a sparkling glow to them.

“Wow, this place is-“

”Disappointing.”

“Wha- What do you mean?”

”Take a look. You see a welcoming party? You see anypony here to greet us? No. THAT is disappointing.” She’s just a games inspector, not the ponified pope after all. Or is she? ”How could they think I’d even consider letting the Equestria Games be hosted here if there isn’t even a proper welcoming committee? Ugh…”

Just tune her out and she’ll stop rambling. She pushes your leg angrily, “Are you even listening to me? What’s your problem?” Your problem? You don’t have a problem.

“I just… It doesn’t matter.”

She shakes her head and looks to the outskirts of the city, “How you ever got where you are is beyond me.” Luck. A few metric tons of it to be exact. ”Even if they are late I’m not sticking around to find out. Come on.” She leaves her bag behind for you to carry. You sigh and follow her lead, luggage in tow. ”And be careful with that, it’s worth more than you are.”

“O-ok.”

Crossing Sombra’s Arch, the historical name for the two obelisks that signify your official entrance to the Crystal Empire, was a bit eerie, but when you laid your eyes on the city itself in all its glory… Not even Canterlot compares, and you hide to make a quick adjustment when you saw the castle then. Thankfully you’ve been conditioned for such things by now, but it certainly does get the blood flowing. ”You’re not going to cry are you?”

“What? N-no. I would never…”

”Whatever you say,” she trots on, the significance of this place seemingly absent to her. King Sombra himself had strode through this arch during his rule. Hell, he’d even been the one who designed it. You grab hold of the heated obelisk, the crystal throbbing underneath your grip. They said that he even stored a part of his soul inside them as a symbol for his immortality. You quickly pull your hand away at the thought. Better not chance it. The last thing you’d like is to be possessed by a pissed off King… It does sound kind of cool though. ”Anon!”

“Sorry…”

Tagging behind her gives you time to admire the faint twirls engraved into the homes as you make your way to the tower in the center of the city. The homes are truly unlike anything you’ve seen so far in your time here. While the eastern cities resemble some of the more modern buildings you grew up with and the westerlies resemble some older rustic structures you’ve seen, these don’t seem to follow any style you’ve seen.

At first glance it seems sharp and chaotic, but when you take into account just where you are it makes sense, the frame resembling the flow of a natural growing crystal. From a bird’s-eye-view this must look like a shining field of rocks, a painful step for any mythical giants that may be lurking in the sky. You shudder at the thought; it must be what it feels like to step on a Lego in the dark. You cup your eyes, the road polished to the point where the sun might as well be having a staring contest with your face.

This can’t be good for your skin, but god forbid if you want to put on sunscreen. Gilda almost flipped shit when you tried to pack some, and Ms. Harshwhinny would be a tad more vocal you’d expect. The last thing you need is to drive that stick up her butt that much further. So you just need to stick it out. ”Map.”

“Map? I don’t have-“

”One, of course you don’t. Why would I expect competence out of you?”

She doesn’t need to be so rude about it. “I thought… you know, we were going to the tower.”

”Try this next time. When you start to think, slap yourself in the face. That’ll get the point across.” She raises her hoof threateningly after a few seconds, “Now go fetch me a map.”

You have to take a stand sometime Anon. You can’t just let people roll right over you. “Go ge- get your o-o-own map.”

The air stands still as she turns, “What did you say?” Oh god what have you done?

She stares coldly and you immediately feel any amount of confidence you had melt away. ”Set down my bag. Good. Now go and- Eye’s up and head straight!” You’re forced to look her in the eye as she scolds you. ”I saw a vendor down that alley. He’s likely to have a city map on him. You think you can handle that?” You nod quickly, “Good. Try not to get lost on the way.”

Shuffling off you hide behind a corner and take a row of hits of your paper bag. “Never… again…” You suddenly realize that a handful of crystal ponies are giving you some strange looks. They too sparkle like the rest of the city much as a crystal would, their curiosity proven with their sustained looks. You take a few more hits and finally compose yourself, brushing off your shirt and taking a deep breath.

The pony behind the stall sports a warming smile as you move up to him, “Welcome. How can I help you?”

“Umm, do you have any maps by chance? If you don’t that’s ok…”

”I’ll see if I have any in the wagon. One second.” He seems a nice sort of fellow. You feel a tug at your pant leg, a small filly down there looking up at you.

You smile nervously, “What are you supposed to be?”

”Barren!” his mother comes over, “That’s not an appropriate question to ask strangers. I’m sorry about him, he’s never seen anyone like you before.”

“It’s alright. No offense taken.”

The mare shoos him along as you wait for the merchant, “So what brings somepony like you here?”

“Oh you know… This and that,” you turn back to the stall. You don’t want to be rude, but you just want to get your map and get back before she gets pissy.

”Pardon my questioning. I tend not to be this intrusive, but…” she steps closer, “You wouldn’t happen to be here about the Equestrian Games by chance, would you?” Okay, what is so important about these games?

You nod tentatively as the stallion comes back with your map, “Sorry about that. That’ll be five bits sir.” He looks over your shoulder for a few seconds, “Oh…. Buuut for somepony like you there’s no charge.” A salespony doesn’t just go from five bits to nil. You look back, the mare whistling suspiciously and looking off into the sky. She told him didn’t she? You don’t know how, but she did.

You thank him for the map before turning back to the growing crowd of ponies around you. “Ummm…”

”Welcome!” they shout in unison, stallions, colts and mares alike. Dumbfounded is certainly a word to describe how you feel right now, that and overwhelmed. Just stay down breakfast, I beg of you. You almost think your peptalk worked before they got closer and you felt the pressure spike in your gut. You’re backed against the wall by a swarm of the equines, frantically searching for an exit if your life depended on it.

The lead mare steps forward, “We never thought to meet the judge himself, could we-“

“Sorry, have to go!” you run down the wall on your left.

”Wait!” they scream after you, “We just wanted to talk!”

“Have… to keep… breakfast…” You come to a T in the alley and look both ways. Shit you’re already tired. You should hit the track more often. You can’t outrun them for long and you’re not thrilled with being subject to a horde of smurfs. Where could you…

~~~
Anon, you’ve done it again. Peeking out from the lid of the trash bin you make out the oncoming swarm you’ve tried to avoid. ”Why’d you have to do all that,” one the ponies speaks up, “He just wanted to look around. Now you made him run off.”

”I’m sorry, okay? I just- This is important to my little colt so…”

”Hey it’s alright, we all understand. Next time though, try not to scare him off.” The group splits up and you sigh in relief, only now realizing the not-so-pleasant stench of week-old lasagna. Still, this beats unclogging the toilets back in Canterlot. You’ll never forget when the old guard captain had put laxatives in his men’s food. Weeks it took you to clean up that mess, and months to work off the smell. You’d rather end up in this dump, literally.

By the looks of this map you can make it back to Ms. Harshwhinny without a hitch as long… “Ugh…” you groan grabbing your stomach amidst the trash. Between the train ride and your ‘tour’ here this place your primed to go off at any moment. The garbage doesn’t help.

”Darn whippersnappers! Stay out of my trash bins!” Oh no. The peeved pony knocks your bin right onto its side… before it begins to roll. Please, please no. Alas, it continues to roll down the slope, only managing to pick up speed the further it goes along. It’s your first week all over again. The bin comes to a gut-wrenching halt, the lid rolling off into the middle of the street allowing your exit.

“Please, no more…” You crawl out the garbage pool, hands sticky with what you hope is cream of soup. Working in a locker room is enough for you to know the cold musky truth. Leaning over the curb you’re all too tired to fight it now and proceed to purge all over the shiny crystal roadway.

Over the sound of your spewing innards you can hear the gasps of several crystal ponies who happen to be watching the train wreck. Gave them a good show you did, now all you need is your old boss and this’d be nigh nostalgic. That smug grin and coffee mug… And to think this is the supposed greener pastures. At least it’s just used tissues you’re rolling in this time. You fish the soaked map out of your pocket. Squash soup… Who’d have thunk?

”Where…. In … EQUESTRIA HAVE YOU BEEN!?” You pull yourself back over to your slavemaster who immediately berates you for your tardiness. She’s not looking too hot either with being soaked in water and all.

“What happened to you?” you ask softly.

”Oh I’ll tell you. I was splashed not once, but TWICE while you were gone. Where were you? Chatting it up with the locals?” She must’ve seen the mob looking for you. ”I tried to ask for directions, but noooooo. They were too busy looking for the Tall, Handsome, Kind Equestria Games Inspector,” she emphasizes dramatically.

“The- They said I was handsome?”

”Quiet! I’m just… Dear Celestia what is that stench?”

You sniff your sleeve and immediately regret it. “Week old tuna fish, crusty socks and a bad batch of spring rolls.”

”Your sarcasm’s showing,” she scoffs.

“But it wasn- Ok…”

”Do you at least have that map? I swear…” You hold up the map, Ms. Harshwhinny’s eyes shrinking into nonexistence. No earplug can protect you.

~~~

She pushes you through the door where a pleasant aroma of mint greets you. Well, she doesn’t exactly push you. It’s more of a forceful glare than anything, but it gets the job done. ”Finally!” she sighs in exasperation, “I could use a good time to balance things out.” As could you, but… a spa? Really? It could help de-grimify you, but the rest really isn’t necessary. Oh how good a hot shower would feel right now without the nozzle snapping off and turning into a fire hose. One of the spa clerks comes to greet you with a smile, “How can I help you two today?”

”How can’t you?” she sighs.

”That bad of a day? I’m sorry, but I know a good hooficure and massage will bring a smile back on that face.”

”That sounds just splendid,” Ms. Harshwhinny finally seems to relax. The spa clerk looks to you and you can tell she’s trying her best not to curl her nose at the stench of elderly horse leftovers, “And you sir?”

“I’ll just take a shower if you don’t mind,” you reply looking longingly towards the curtained holy land.

”Actually, we’re doing a two for one special for the deluxe treatment so if you two would like…”

Please say no. Please say no. Please say- ”Absolutely.”

You tried to debate, but that’s hard to do when you only get three words out before you start stuttering like Radio. They at least do you the favor of letting you take a shower first. The second the water hits your face you know you’ve died and gone to heaven. This is definitely what you needed. It feels like its peeling back layers of gunk and makes your skin feel all that more sensitive. You’re reluctant to get out, but you can almost hear your companion’s annoyed shouts wrecking the pipes that provide this blissful paradise.

Wait a bumbling minute… You don’t have a fresh pair of… *gulp* You uneasily wrap your towel around as much of you as you can and exit the washroom. ”How was your shower?” the spa attendant asks with noticeably less fear of your stench.

“Delightful, thank you ma’am,” you blush, not entirely comfortable standing in front of her as unclothed as you are.

”Whoop, looks like you missed a spot,” she points. Oh god damn- Wait a second. She has to hold her chest she’s laughing so hard, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself.” You tame the fire quick enough before you do something rash and just smile innocently.

“Good one ma’am. Never heard that one.” Except for the thirty-five other occurances.

”Now, how about hooficure?”

“What?”

~~~

Your fingers dig into the doorframe as a brigade of spa ponies pull back on your towel. ”It’s part of the package sir. I- uhn… insist.” All of your Nope is insufficient to display just how Nope you feel right now.

“I’ll pay full price, please just no.” Your muscles strain at the combined strength of their tugs. You didn’t know they were this strong. God, if you’re up there, send an angel to save me from this evil. *rriing* Another pony enters the spa and… “Peachbottom?”

”Anon?” Her entrance manages to loosen your grip enough for them to yank you back, your towel at least. You stumble forward in your naked glory and headfirst into what you pray to be the mud bath. Thank god. You breach the mud and your eyes are met by Peachbottom and a whole bunch of angry ponies. ”Having fun?” Peachbottom giggles.

“You wouldn’t be interested in the Deluxe Special would you?”

~~~

You emerge from your second shower all the more refreshed knowing that you’re not going to get swarmed anymore. ”Thanks again hun,” you hear her call from behind the curtain.

“No pr-problem.”

You find your old clothes in the laundry room and slip them on, the faint sparkle to them quite noticeable though you’re unsure if it’s their choice of detergent or just crystal magic. You’re thankful for their courtesy either way. They still have that fresh clothes smell to them, also known as Lowes. You even feel lighter, though that might be the overcharge you paid for severance of your contract. It just goes to show you to always read the fine print… You’re still going to click over the Terms and Conditions though.

”I can fix this. I can fix this,” you hear the bumbling of a pony as you walk back out. Don’t complain, you’ll get a severance fee. By this time Ms. Harshwhinny and Peachbottom have reached the closing portion of their experience. That looks pretty good actua- whoo… A hoof presses into your back at just the right place and boy does it feel good. ”Sorry darling, I can fix it, I can fix it…”

“A-anytime.”

“And the prince, where to start with him. That stallion had me blushing something fierce.” The two of them look to be having quite a swell time, and by the sound of it Peachbottom’s had a heck of one in the city. ”Of course it was too good to be true, turns out they were looking for some other pony all along, but that was the most darn tootin reception I’ve ever received, bar-none.”

“Sounds great.”

Ms. Harshwhinny groans at the sound of your remark, “Oh he’s back…” Laying on the bitch pretty fierce isn’t she? Deep breathes Anon, keep it cool.

“How are, you know, you two doing? Enjoying yourselves?”

”What does it look like?”

”Oh yes we are, I can’t thank ya enough for this.”

“My p-pleasure ma’am.”

”Are you still here? Go fetch our bags or do something useful.”

“But they’re right-“

”Are you back-talking?” she leans up.

“N-no ma’am. Right away ma’am.” You scurry off like a frightened dog with its tail between its legs. This day couldn’t get any worse. *ring*

”Wonderful news! Look, Princess Cadence better than new.”

Right on cue Ms. Harshwhinny shoots up, the cucumbers on her eyes popping off, “Princess Cadence?!” You think you just peed a little.

You keep hidden while Ms. Harshwhinny begins to rail on her, but your curiosity gets the best of you. T-Twilight? Oh boy, she was in charge of the reception? This, this is rich. The princess’s star pupil and she fucked up big time. Don’t you try and take the blame for this Pegasus, just stay back and let nature run it’s course. No, don’t pull the sympathy car- Wait, is that a cinnamon bun? They have cinnamon buns here? What sort of trickery is this? You wander around the city in fear and there were cinnamon buns wrapped in sugary goodness? You could just crawl over and bury your face in that beautiful steaming brown pile of…

Wait, no no no. Don’t you dare grow a heart now. You’re Ms. Harshwhinny, not the Grinch. Let Twilight fail for once. Please, oh please. ”…which in my expert opinion, amounts to the first ever unvarnished, unrehearsed and unbiased appraisal of a potential host for the Equestria Games. Which can only mean one thing…” Cue momentous speech.

~~~

“The next host for the Equestria Games is… the Crystal Empire! Congratulations crystal ponies.” The roar of cheers is almost enough to drown out your own thoughts.

“Crystal Empire speeches only take place every other Saturday following the-“

”Shh…” Ms. Peachbottom hushs at you, “Just look at that sky.”

“But the records clearly… Colorful…” Okay that’s pretty impressive.

~~~

She manages to calm you down by the time you reach the train station. “You’re not coming?”

”Naww I’m thinking about sticking around here a while longer. This place is something else.” You’re bummed out that she won’t be there for the trip back to Canterlot, but if she’s going to be happy here then that’s alright by you. You stop just before you get on the train, “Something wrong?”

“It’s just… I’ve read all about the Equestria Games back since its founding. I know the current records and previous champions for the last decade.”

”So what’s the matter?” You sigh and lean against the train car.

“I don’t know why it’s so important to them. Why did that Pegasus care so much? Why was this all such a big deal?” You shake your head. Why did Celestia send you here in the first place?

”Why ain’t it important to you?”

“But that’s- I never-“

”Now now don’t try and argue with me honey. Just tell me, why ain’t it so special to you?”

“Well, I’m not from around here so I don’t…” That was it. That was her point.

”And now you go it hun.”

“T-thank you Ms. Peachbottom. For your words and kindness.”

She goes in for a surprise hug leaving you speechless, “You take care in the city now. A fragile thing like you needs some caretaking.” Your fingertips finally make their way around her, hugging her right on back.

”All aboard!” She breaks off with a smile as you fix your shirt.

“Well… that’s my ride.”

”Be safe now,” she waves as you back into the train car. You spy Twilight and her friends through the window on the adjacent car. A smile almost creeps up on your face as well. She’s not a bad pony and you wish her harm because she did the one thing you never could. You could read a hundred books on her, but that doesn’t mean you’d ever really understand her. Books can’t teach you everything. They don’t hold all the answers. Maybe… Perhaps you could talk to her. Get to know her for who she is. Maybe then you’ll understand… Twilight looks your way and grins.

”Anon! Where’s my bag?”

Maybe another time…

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