• Published 7th Aug 2016
  • 3,017 Views, 465 Comments

Around the World in 81 Days (And Other Problems Caused by Leap Years) - GaPJaxie



When Twilight and Celestia have an argument about the existence of leap years, there’s only one possible way to settle their differences: a race around the world!

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Day 3: Griffonstone

“Griffons of Griffonstone!” Twilight proclaimed, wings spread and horn held high as she stepped out onto the platform. “I am Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria, and I have come to visit your kingdom with gifts of goodwill, books, and non-economically-disruptive foreign aid grants!”

Behind her, the train’s engine let out a loud hiss and vented steam. The wind around her blew, still carrying a mountain chill even so late into the spring. The fresh-cut wood of the platform creaked, and nearby thatched roofs rustled. And as for the griffons of Griffonstone, they went about their business as they always did, without so much as a glance in Twilight’s direction.

Twilight’s face fell. She looked at Spike. Spike looked at Lidar. Lidar whispered in Spike’s ear. Spike whispered in Twilight’s ear. Twilight's brow furrowed, and she lifted her head. “And!” she proclaimed, in a booming Royal Canterlot Voice that carried far, “we have Equestrian designer sunglasses!”

Heads turned. Griffons stopped. Then they began to congregate around Twilight, the crowd peppering her with questions.

“Okay, okay, yes. Ha ha.” Twilight let out a stiff chuckle. “I… did not know griffons liked sunglasses so much. Okay. Spike!” She raised her voice to be heard as the crowd around her grew thick. “I think I’m going with these griffons! Go check our bags at the hotel, would you?”

“Sure thing, Twilight!” Spike gave Lidar and Power Dive a wave goodbye, then hurried off to his royal duties. It took considerable elbowing and shoving for him to make his way through the crowd, but he eventually got to the luggage, and with five of the bits Lidar had given him last night, managed to hire a porter to carry it. “The Grand Griffonia Hotel, please.”

It was a fine spring day, when the sun shone bright but the air was cool, and the smells of sawdust, pine oil, and fresh mountain air swirled in equal measure. The streets were dirt, but they were wide and clean, and trod flat by many centuries of feet and claws. Following his porter into town, Spike could see there were two clear varieties of buildings. The old buildings were made of thatch, adobe, and elegantly fitted wooden slats, all built upon a modest base of stone. They resembled nothing so much as well constructed bird’s nests, and though many had fallen into disrepair, just as many weathered their centuries with pride.

The new buildings, by contrast, were made of wrought iron, glass, and uniformly cut planks of the cheapest green wood, all built atop a thorough foundation of concrete. The railway station was the largest of these structures, but far from the only one. The movie theater, many of the warehouses, the clocktower and more all showed this style, and in the distance, Spike could see a lumber mill of the same variety, churning out more fresh-cut beams. A large symbol adorned the side of the mill: a stylized turning gear overlayed by a lightning bolt. He vaguely recalled seeing it on the train as well.

“We’re here.” Spike nearly rammed headfirst into his porter, so abruptly did the young griffon stop. Without ceremony, he dropped Spike’s luggage, departing as soon as it became clear he would not be getting paid again for the last ten feet of the journey. Ahead of Spike was a curious structure, certainly in the new style, but of a design he did not recognize. The center consisted of a pair of massive iron archways, open to the air on both ends and supporting a high ceiling perhaps two stories tall. Inside was an entrance hall of some variety, flanked by long rows of doors that lead to boxy side wings.

“Huh…” It took him a few trips to haul all the baggage inside, and the fresh cut wood was harsh against his feet. But at the same time, the open design gave a commanding view of the mountainside, and allowed for the free transmission of the breeze from one side of the building to the other. A number of chairs were tossed around the space, occupied by griffons and the occasional pegasus, while a long wooden table at the far end seemed to serve as both the front counter and a bar.

“Excuse me.” Spike signaled with a claw, getting the attention of the elderly griffon behind the table. “Room for two? It’s for Princess Twilight Sparkle’s visit. We should have reservations?”

“Ah, the princess! Yes, of course.” He reached under the table and produced a room key. “Your visit is pre-paid for the first night, but after that it will cost you fifty bits a night. How long will the princess be staying with us?”

“Just the night. And we’ll need to check out super early tomorrow.” Spike took the key, which was adorned with a number to match one of the side rooms. “We’re catching the five-AM express to Vineigha.”

“No, you aren’t!” called a voice from across the room. Turning, Spike saw that the sound came from one of the pegasi in the chairs—an older blue stallion with a broken chain on his flank, a cigarette in his teeth, and a glass in his hooves that very likely did not contain water. He nudged his muzzle towards the train station. “The line to Vineigha is closed. No trains are running that way.”

“What? No!” Spike hurried over to him, the bags momentarily forgotten. “The schedule in the train station said it would be on time!”

“Well that’s gosh-golly-gumdrops for the train company, ain’t it?” The stallion sneered and shook his head, pausing to take a drink from his glass. “Black Hooves tore up all the tracks from Carpania to the Iron-Shoe pass last night. Company’s probably holding off on announcing it until they know the full extent of the damage, but I saw it myself. That line will be down for at least two days. Maybe a week.” A few of the other pegasi and griffons around the hotel nodded in agreement.

“Oh no no no.” Spike wrung his hands, pacing two steps towards the bags, then two steps towards the door, then two right back towards the blue stallion. “We can’t be stuck here for two more days!”

“I can send you the bill if accommodations are a problem,” the proprietor said, twirling his little moustache with two talons. “I’ll even charge only a thirty-percent additional collections fee.”

Staying isn’t the problem. Leaving is!” Spike continued to pace, like his little feet might eat through the cheap floor. “Twilight made a bet with Princess Celestia that she could get around the world in eighty-one days, and there’s no room for error! We can’t miss a single day.”

“Then you’ve already lost that bet.” The stallion in blue shrugged. “This isn’t Equestria. Trains out here miss more stops than they make, and that won’t get better when you pass into Aero-Lipizzia. Smart merchants check the tracks the instant they show up in a new town, and smarter merchants allow for three days delay for every station their cargo has to pass through.”

“No no no. Okay. Okay.” Spike clasped his hands to his head as he paced. “Think Spike. Uh…” He whirled to the blue stallion. “What do you do for really important cargo? Something that has to be there right on time no matter what.”

“You hire the Pegasus Express.” He gestured at himself, then to the other pegasi lounging around the main hall. “It’s why we're here. There’re little cloud stations every twenty miles on the periphery. One pegasus sprints the cargo to one, who sprints it to the next one, and so on. On a good day, we can even beat the train.”

“Perfect!” Spike heaved a sigh. “How do we get passage for one pony, a dragon, and some luggage?”

“You give my boss…” He eyed the amount of luggage. “About three-thousand bits and he tells us to carry you.”

Spike nearly choked to death on his own spit, a little rush of fire and smoke coming up as he coughed. “Three thousand!?” His claw clutched to his chest, and he managed to get his breathing under control. “But, he’s a griffon, right? Griffon greed. You’re a pony. What if I just paid you directly?”

“Well, if you paid me directly, then it would be four-thousand bits.” He blew a cloud of smoke of his own. “Three thousand to pay off all the station managers, and a thousand to be worth the risk of screwing my boss.”

“But Twilight’s a princess!” Spike’s tone rose. “On a diplomatic mission!”

“In that case, six thousand, because it’s important and she can afford it.” He snorted. “I didn’t move to Griffonstone because I dislike griffon culture. You want me to do a job? Pay me.”

“F-fine! Bite me! I’ll find another pegasus and he’ll carry us!” Spike turned and stalked off through the hotel. But the pegasi quietly turned their heads away from him without a word, while the griffons were all too quick to discuss their “far more reasonable” payment terms. The stress grew on Spike’s face, and though it was barely past noon, he began to look nervously to the clock.

“Hey, kid,” called the blue stallion, and Spike looked up from his pacing. “Calm down. You don’t need to freak out. I’m not trying to mess up your trip. The Pegasus Express is a high-cost courier service, yeah, but you work for a princess—she can afford it.”

“Twilight doesn’t carry around three thousand bits in cash!” Spike threw up his hands and glowered at the other pony. “What, did you think she just stuffed her life savings into a suitcase before she left?”

“I didn’t say you had to have it on you.” The blue pony gestured at the hotel. “Look around you, kid. You’re in Griffonstone and it’s got plenty of ponies and at least one dragon. The world’s smaller than it used to be. Go down to the bank, have your princess write a check from the Crown’s accounts, and stamp it with the Equestrian seal. They’ll telegraph it in and you’ll have your money before close of business.”

“I…” Spike slowly lowered his hands, his hard expression softening to something more complicated. “I don’t think we can do that.”

“Why not?”

“We never got…” Spike swallowed, and shook his head more firmly. “Princess Celestia pre-paid our planned route, but she didn’t give us permission to just start writing checks for Equestria.”

“Well, yeah. Kid, not needing permission is what money is for.” He put down his glass, and gestured Spike over. “It’s why I came here. I’m a pony, sure, but you know what? I like smoking. And I like drinking. And I like gambling. And I like a bunch of other things that ponies aren’t supposed to like. And in Equestria, that’s a problem, because ponies are supposed to do what ponies are supposed to do. But out here? If you can pay, nogriffon cares.”

Spike crossed his arms. “‘I really like money’ isn’t the best argument for committing fraud I’ve ever heard.”

“Woah. I didn’t tell you to commit fraud.” He quickly raised a hoof. “If Twilight actually can’t write checks for Equestria, then she can’t. But is it legally does not have that power or Princess Celestia will give her a sour look if she does? Because they ain’t the same thing.”

Spike paused a moment, arms still crossed. “She doesn’t have Princess Celestia’s permission,” he repeated.

“Well,” the stallion in blue asked, “does she have Princess Celestia’s permission to lose the bet?”

Spike said nothing for several long seconds, and the stallion raised his hoof. “Kid? I get it, okay? I’m sorry. I know the world out here seems really unfriendly when you’ve just come from Equestria. I’m not trying to be a jerk. But out here, there’re a lot of griffons and ponies and horses who just don’t like you and they never will. And you know? That’s their problem. You do what makes you happy. But if you keep needing everypony’s approval, they’ll just all drag you down until you’re hating life. Sometimes you just need to look around and realize the only thing trapping you where you are is you. And then you toss fifty bits on the counter and buy a ticket to Griffonstone and never look back.”

He smirked a little. “Well, in my case, anyway. I think in your case, you go ‘No, I am working for a real princess’ and then win a bet with tall white and motherly back there. Which I admit I’d kind of like to see.”

“I’ll… think about it. I need to talk to Twilight.” Spike turned to leave, but then stopped, and turning back, he tossed the blue stallion a bit. “For your advice.”

“A bit?” He looked down at the single shiny coin in front of him.

“It wasn’t very good advice.”

The stallion grinned, as did several others around him. “Tell you what, kid. You decide to go that way? I’ll see if I can’t talk my boss into a discount. Not every day the pegasus express gets to carry a princess. Oh.” He nudged his head. “And you might want to lock up your bags in your room before you go, or they might not be here when you get back.”

Spike did indeed lock up the bags, and then went down to see Twilight. He found her in front of the movie theater, surrounded by a large crowd of griffons. They were elders, mystics, business leaders and statesgriffons, all appropriate company for a royal diplomatic visit. Very nearly half of them were wearing dark aviator sunglasses, tinged with silver frames. Spike furrowed his brow, until he noticed that the front of the theater was dominated by a yellowing and well-weathered poster depicting Spitfire in a set of aviator glasses, the silvery Top Feather writing running along the poster beneath her. It seemed to be the only movie poster around.

“Ha ha! Yes. I’ve… met Spitfire. In the course of my royal duties. As a princess! A title which outranks Wonderbolt by a considerable margin.” Twilight’s voice carried over the crowd. “Yes, she’s… what? No. I don’t know. I guess she’s a bit taller in real life.”

“Hey, Twilight!” Spike called, pushing his way through the crowd. “Twilight!” A little puff of dragon flame suddenly cleared his path, and he made it up to her side.

“Oh, Spike! Good.” Twilight pulled away from a griffon in the middle of asking her why everything in Equestria explodes when it crashes. “Did we get checked into the hotel okay?”

“Yes, fine.” Spike nodded. “But—”

“Wonderful! And the bags are all stored?”

“Yes, that’s fine too,” Spike spoke faster. “But, Twilight, there’s a problem with our train tomorrow. It might not run on time and—”

“What?” Twilight focused in on him suddenly, and lifted her ears high. “But the board on the train station said it would be right on time! They didn’t just update it now did they?”

“No, the board still says it’s on time, but there were some ponies talking in the hotel and they’re pretty sure—”

“Oh. Phew.” Twilight gave a little nervous chuckle and shook her head. “You scared me for a second there! Don’t worry, Spike. I think the ponies who run the train company know a little more about scheduling than some random ponies you met in the lobby. Just check the official schedule before we leave and we’ll be fine.”

“But the schedule could be wrong!”

“If the schedule was wrong, they wouldn’t post it. The West Equestrian Railway is a professional organization.” She paused a moment to fend off another question, then turned back to Spike. “We’ll be fine, Spike. Okay? Go have fun.”

“But—”

“Go have fun! See Griffonstone. Visit the library. I’ll be here… signing Top Feather posters.” She sighed and turned back to the crowd, and after watching her deal with a few more curious griffons, Spike left.

A quick trot back to the hotel secured Twilight’s royal effects. She didn’t have a ring or a stamp with her, but the golden loop that held the front of one of her dresses together did have the Equestrian seal on it, and held without the fabric, did closely resemble a formal ring. Spike looked down at it, then outside, and then walked back out into town.

The bank was one of the new structures of course, barely more than two rooms, a teller station, and the vault door in the back. There was a bored looking female griffon behind the counter, tending her talons with a nail file. Spike trotted right up to her, and held up the golden seal.

“Hi,” he said, “I’m Spike. Princess Twilight Sparkle’s assistant. Her uh…” He swallowed. “Her royal highness would like to do some shopping while she’s in Griffonstone and will need to open a line of credit back to Equestria.”

After a moment, he added. “And she’ll need some checks printed.”