Take The Dragons Bowling
Standard disclaimer: This is a not for profit fan work. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is copyright Hasbro, Inc. I make no claim to any copyrighted material mentioned herein.
Garble knew he was in trouble when he was called to that cave.
The massive cavern was home to former Dragon Lord Torch, and while it now rightfully belonged to Dragon Lord Ember, like everything in the Dragon Lands, the diminutive Dragon Lord normally preferred to meet other dragons in her own smaller cave.
The Dragon Lord stood rock still, a stern expression on her face. She gripped the Bloodstone Scepter in one taloned hand.
That was the second reason Garble knew he was in trouble.
The Dragon Lord remained motionless until two more of his clutchmates entered the cavern. Backdraft and Charcoal landed beside him. At that moment, the glow that had surrounded them faded.
Ember lifted the Bloodstone Scepter, and Garble fell prone, prostrating himself before the Dragon Lord. His clutchmates did likewise. “We have responded to your call, O Dragon Lord,” the three dragons chorused.
After a wait, not very long but long enough to tell the dragons who was in charge, Ember spoke. “Get up, you three,” she ordered.
Once the dragons were looking at her, Ember dropped a book onto the stone floor between them. “I’ve talked with Smolder about the things she’s learned at the ponies’ School of Friendship,” she spoke.
Garble stayed quiet, as did his clutchmates.
Ember opened the book and flipped through its pages. When she found what she was looking for, she held the book open and pushed it into the three dragons’ muzzles. “Do you know who this is?” she said.
Garble didn’t read the pony language, but the picture was obvious. There was only one pony with a dark coat, wings, and a horn. “Princess Luna,” he said.
“No, you idiot! That’s Nightmare Moon!” Ember shouted.
“Who’s Nightmare Moon?” Charcoal asked.
Ember slapped her forehead. “Nightmare Moon is the corrupted form of Princess Luna who twice tried to bring eternal darkness to the land, which would have killed every living thing,” she said. “But now, she’s been reformed, and rules alongside her sister, Princess Celestia.
Ember pulled the book back, turned to another page, and showed the book to the three dragons. “And this one?”
Garble thought of himself as a tough dragon, but there was something about the unnatural creature pictured in the book that made him recoil. Something like that shouldn’t exist. He recognized the figure, but at the same time, he couldn’t tame his tongue to speak his name. “Di... di...” he stuttered.
“Discord. Spirit of chaos. Able to bend the world to his whim. Has enough power to defeat the pony princesses, and has done so twice in the past.” Ember slammed the book shut and let it drop again. “Now, every week, he shares tea with the pony who represents kindness.”
Ember then placed a photograph on top of the book. It portrayed a pink unicorn mare with a mane of purple and teal.
“Who’s that?” Backdraft asked, perhaps unwisely. “How come she’s not in the book?”
“She’s not in the book, yet,” Ember said. “Starlight Glimmer. A powerful wielder of magic. Developed a spell to steal a pony’s special talent from them. Later stole a powerful time travel spell, altered it on the fly, and used it to change history. She even managed to destroy all life on this planet on one try, something not even Nightmare Moon did.”
“So, is she a namby-pamby nice pony too?” Garble asked.
Ember slammed the butt of the Bloodstone Scepter on the stone floor. Lightning coursed over its tines. “She’s the bucking guidance counselor at the ponies’ School of Friendship!” she yelled.
The three dragons leaned back, away from the crackling scepter and the angry Dragon Lord who wielded it.
“No matter how bad the pony, they get reformed,” Ember growled. “But you three have done nothing but antagonize Spike and his pony friends. And I refuse to let you three be the only creatures in Equestria that won’t be reformed. You’re making every dragon in the Dragon Lands look bad.”
Ember slammed the Bloodstone Scepter on the ground again. “You will go to Equestria, to the city of Ponyville. You will listen to Spike and the ponies there, you will interact with them like civilized creatures, you will do what they say, and you will make nice, until they all see you are reformed.” She raised the Bloodstone Scepter; it thrummed with power. “This, your Dragon Lord commands!”
Garble rose, followed by his clutchmates. His wings opened of their own accord, as he instinctively sought to meet the command of his Dragon Lord.
Princess Twilight Sparkle recognized the feel of dragonfire magic in the instant before a scroll appeared before her. It wasn’t Spike’s familiar magic, but that of somecreature who rarely wrote. And the scroll’s appearance, a crude parchment whose origin Twilight Sparkle decided it was better not to contemplate, made it clear this wasn’t a normal message from Canterlot.
“Spike! It’s from Dragon Lord Ember!” she shouted eagerly.
Spike briefly turned his attention away from the stove, where he was cooking breakfast, to see what was going on. But only briefly; he didn’t want to burn the pancakes.
Twilight Sparkle unrolled the scroll and read it at her normal speed, which is to say she had the whole thing read in seconds. “Great news, Spike!” she said. “Ember is sending three of her dragons to make amends with you, and to become friends.”
Spike dropped the pan on the stove. “I think it’s about time to take that trip to Haywaii I always wanted to take,” he said. “I better go pack!”
Spike’s attempts to escape were stopped as Twilight Sparkle enveloped him in her magic and dropped him on the kitchen table. “Spike, I think it’s great that Ember wants more of her dragons to learn about the magic of friendship,” she said, placing a reassuring hoof on Spike’s shoulder. “And there’s no dragon I trust more to teach those lessons than you.”
“Twilight. You’ve been to the Dragon Lands. Twice. Didn’t you learn anything?” Spike said flatly.
“Yes, we all learned that dragons aren’t nice. In fact, I seem to recall one dragon who once said ‘Dragons don’t do friends’. I’m sure she would never learn about friendship.”
“Ember is different!” Spike countered.
“Dragon Lord Ember is only different because she chose to embrace the magic of friendship. It’s a choice I think any dragon can learn to make,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Besides, Ember wrote that she’s ordering the dragons to be nice. And from what we’ve seen of the Bloodstone Scepter, that means they have to be nice.”
“I don’t know, Twilight,” Spike said. “I think I better get those tickets to Haywaii, just in case.
“Heh. Look at those stupid ponies, thinking they’re hidden in their clouds,” Backdraft said.
“Yeah. Stupid ponies should know they smell like ponies,” Garble said.
“Hey, think we should deal with them?” Charcoal said, smiling. But the smile was wiped from his face when his body started glowing, and pain wracked his muscles.
“You idiot!” Garble yelled. “The Dragon Lord ordered us to make nice with the ponies, and she used the Bloodstone Scepter! That means we’re compelled, so you’re never going to be able to attack those pegasi, no matter how delicious they smell.”
“But I’m hungry!” Charcoal complained. “Give me some more of that jerky with the ruby dust.”
“Whatever,” Garble said, passing over the back with their food.
At least Dragon Lord Ember didn’t set them up to fail, Garble thought. She provided them with a big bag of food, though only after telling them she didn’t trust them to understand what they could and could not eat in Equestria. She also provided them with a bag of pony coins, which they used to “pay” for things, instead of just taking them. Finally, she provided them a crude map. Ember had pointed to a spot on the map, ordering them to find Princess Twilight Sparkle and that runt Spike in the big purple eyesore of a castle.
Garble also surmised that the Dragon Lord told the puny ponies they were coming, because they had been trailed by those pegasus ponies, not so hidden in their clouds, ever since they reached Equestrian territory.
They flew all day, flying south of the great peak where Canterlot stood, skirting the ominous forest with its seriously creepy magical vibes, and then, finally, they saw it. The light of the setting sun glinted off an ugly and fragile-looking construct of purple crystal.
“All right!” Garble announced. “Time to make nice with the ponies. Let’s get this over with, so we can go home.”
“Look in the sky! Dragons!”
“This is awful!”
“The horror, the horror!”
The three dragons watched in amusement as the three ponies standing by a flower stand proceeded to faint.
“At least some ponies know to respect dragons,” Backdraft said.
“They’re not who we care about,” Garble said. “We need to find the princess and the runt.”
The dragons circled down and alighted before the front door of the castle. At the same moment, the door glowed with magic and opened.
Princess Twilight Sparkle stepped out of the door and smiled. “Welcome, dragon guests,” she said. “On behalf of the ponies of Equestria, and in the name of friendship, we welcome you to Ponyville.”
“Excuse me. We?” Charcoal said.
“Yes. Spike and I.” She turned her head, and then scowled. Her horn lit, and a moment later a little dragon was dropped on the ground between them.
Spike waved. “Uh, hi, guys!”
Garble leaned down, bringing his muzzle right next to Spike. “Hello, runt,” he said.
“Nice wings,” Backdraft said.
“Well, yeah. I’m really proud of them,” Spike said.
Backdraft also leaned down. “They’re puny wings. Puny wings for a puny dragon!”
Twilight Sparkle pulled Spike back with her magic. “Now, boys, I’m sure you’re all tired after a long flight. Why don’t we have Spike show you where you’re going to be staying?” she suggested.
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Spike said.
“I don’t think anything pony sized is going to fit us,” Garble said.
“There is one place big enough,” Spike said, pointing a claw back toward the castle. “And you won’t believe what we found there!”
The three dragons followed Spike inside, through several corridors, finally reaching a broad archway and a set of stairs leading down. “It’s a funny thing,” Spike said. “We got the letter from Dragon Lord Ember, and then we found this cave!”
Garble pushed the others out of the way and ran down the stairs. Backdraft and Charcoal scrambled to follow him. Spike shrugged and bounced down the steps after them.
The stairs started out even and level, like any stairway in the castle, but shifted as they descended to rough-hewn stone, what one might find naturally occurring in a cavern. The stairway finally opened into what appeared to be a natural cavern, with an uneven floor and bits of stone and crystal here and there. The only sign it was part of the castle came from the walls being made of that familiar purple crystal.
“Pretty nice, huh?” Spike said.
“Wait. There’s just one cave?” Charcoal said.
“Well, yeah,” Spike replied. “You can share?”
Garble got in his face again. “Dragons don’t share,” he said.
“Well, ponies do share,” Spike retorted. “And since you’re here to show how you can get along with ponies, you can start by sharing this cave.”
“Fine,” Garble said. He went to one area of the cave. “But this is my section. None of you can come in here.”
“I guess that’s the best we can expect,” Spike muttered.
“This place isn’t so bad,” Charcoal said. He pointed to the wall, made of the same purple crystal as the castle. “Look, free food!”
“Uh, I don’t recommend doing that,” Spike warned.
His words were met with the sound of dragon teeth crunching on crystal. Charcoal chewed with a smug look on his face, and swallowed in an exaggerated manner.
“Five, four, three, two, one,” Spike counted down.
“Hey, what gives?” Charcoal said.
“You know how you eat jade, and you’re hungry an hour later?” Spike said. “Well, this is magic crystal. It fixes itself, and when it does, it disappears from your stomach. See?” He pointed to the wall, which showed no evidence it was once chewed on.
“So you tried this first?” Backdraft asked.
“Of course. How could I not? This place is one huge, delicious gemstone!”
“Fine. We’ll have to eat the food we brought,” Garble said. He reached into a bag and pulled out... something.
Spike decided he wasn’t curious enough about dragons to find out what it was.
“Look, just get some rest, okay?” Spike said. “Tomorrow, I’ll show you around town, and we’ll have you reformed in no time.”
Spike flipped the pan one last time, sliding another sapphire and ruby pancake onto a large stack. He was able to make breakfast without interruption. He didn’t know how long dragons normally slept in the dragon lands, but for those three dragons in particular, he was not surprised to find they weren’t early risers.
Spike left the kitchen, found the stairway to the mystery cave, and bounded down the stairs. What he saw didn’t make him enthusiastic for the prospect of these dragons getting reformed. Each of the three dragons was sleeping against the wall of the cavern, as far from each other as they could be. The cavern’s stray bits of rock and crystal had all been swept up into three small piles, each guarded by one of the sleeping dragons.
“I guess sharing is out,” Spike muttered to himself. Then he cleared his throat. “Breakfast is ready!” he announced.
His announcement was met by the grating snores of three dragons.
“Guys? Breakfast is ready,” he said again.
Still, there was no response.
Spike knew one sure way to wake them. He walked over to where Garble slept, and poked at a stray bit of crystal he was guarding. He immediately pulled back his hand, barely escaping Garble’s grasp.
“Claws off my hoard, short stuff,” Garble said.
As Spike suspected, even the slightest hint of a threat to their hoard was sufficient to rouse all three dragons. “Breakfast is ready,” he said.
The three dragons followed Spike up the stairs, with only mild grumbling. He led them to the kitchen, where their morning feast was set out on four plates.
“That one’s mine!” Garble shouted as he rushed toward one of the plates.
After many years of making pancakes, Spike had gotten good at making them. He was pretty sure each stack was the same size, but he was happy to let Garble think he won. After the other dragons had claimed a plate, he took the last seat.
Backdraft poked a claw at his pancake. “What’s this soft stuff around the gems?”
“It’s pancakes!” Spike said.
“Pancakes? Isn’t that a pony food?” Charcoal said.
“Well, ponies don’t eat pancakes with gems in them. But I’ve found it’s a great way to serve gems!” Spike poured syrup over his pancakes, then added some crushed amethyst he kept in a repurposed salt shaker.
“Figured you’d like pony food,” Garble said. “And pony dresses.”
“It’s not a dress, it’s an apron,” Spike said.
“Whatever. It’s still stupid pony stuff.”
“Well, I like cooking. I’m good at it. Better than Twilight, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, right,” Garble said.
“What? You don’t think a dragon can be better than a pony at cooking?”
“Of course! I’m better than you, which means I’m better than ponies too.”
Spike smiled. “Then how about we....”
Garble interrupted him with a hand over his muzzle. “But I’ll let you think you’re the best.”
The other dragons nodded.
Spike grumbled and went back to his breakfast.
“When are we going to do something?” Charcoal complained.
Spike led the three older dragons around Ponyville, searching desperately for an answer to that question. He had thought that introducing the dragons to cooking would be a great way to show them some of what the pony world offered, as well as demonstrating how much more they could do when working together in friendship. But Garble and the others had shot him down.
“Well?” Backdraft said.
“Uh, there’s a park over there,” Spike said.
“What’s a park?” Garble said.
“It’s a place where ponies hang out.”
“What’s hang out?” Garble said.
“It’s a pony thing. Watch.”
The park was mostly an open grassy field, with benches arrayed along the edges, and some playground equipment in a sand pit in one corner. Foals ran and played, while parents talked with each other.
“Now remember, we’re here to show that ponies and dragons can all get along,” Spike said.
Within a moment, the park felt even more open, as every pony had relocated to the corner of the park furthest from the dragons. Most of them acted as if the dragons didn’t exist. Only the pegasus foals were acknowledging them, by playing a game of chicken, seeing who was willing to fly closest to the four dragons.
And with the three larger dragons’ eyes watching them, none were that brave.
“This is stupid!” Backdraft protested, after five minutes of this.
“Is this hanging out? Then dragons don’t hang out!” Garble said.
“We need to have fun in the dragon way,” Charcoal said.
Spike looked around, desperate to find some inspiration. He noticed a filly carrying a novelty balloon, and remembered something. “Hey, there’s a carnival in town!” he said.
“Whatever that is, it’s got to be better than this,” Garble grumbled.
As the dragons walked across town, Spike eagerly regaled them with descriptions of the carnival. “Twilight took me to one in Canterlot years ago. There’s food and games and all these thrilling rides!”
“Thrilling for a pony, maybe,” Garble scoffed.
The sound of foalish squeals and screams grew louder as they reached the location of the carnival. A giant Ferris wheel dominated the grounds, but Spike looked instead for the thrill rides. It was an easy task: just follow the screams.
And what the screams led to was... something rather less impressive than he remembered. The roller coaster filled with squealing foals was moving at a slower speed than he recalled, and it looked far too small to hold the larger dragons.
Now that he thought about it, Spike realized that the Canterlot carnival was ten years earlier. The photographs that Twilight Sparkle’s parents always brought out when they visited made the memory seem fresher than it was.
“Pass,” Backdraft and Charcoal said in unison.
“Why are you even showing us these weak pony things?” Garble said. “Where do you do your gorge surfing?”
“That’s it!” Spike said. He took flight, the others following.
Ten minutes later, they reached their destination. Spike waved his hand over the canyon carved into the earth. “This, gentledrakes, is Ghastly Gorge.”
“You call this a gorge?” Garble said.
“Where’s the lava?” Charcoal asked.
“And how can you get any speed? The water down there’s barely moving!” Backdraft added.
“Well, you know ponies can’t survive high heat, so of course there’s no lava. But the gorge is great for flying! There’s tricky wind currents, and you have to dodge all these hungry quarray eels!”
“Eels? You think we’re afraid of eels?” Backdraft said.
“These are giant eels! Easily big enough to eat a dragon!”
Garble rubbed his hands together. “Finally, some action!”
Spike scratched his chin. “Of course, the quarray eels are hibernating this time of year.”
Garble flew down and landed, hard, right next to Spike. The rock under Spike’s claws quaked, and Spike shivered. “Are you trying to antagonize us?” Garble growled.
Spike waved his hands and took a step back. “No, no, honest! It’s just hard to find something for dragons to do in Ponyville!”
Garble leaned down, close enough for Spike to smell his hot, foul breath. “Listen, short stuff. We’re going to go back to that pony town of yours, and you’re going to show us something fun to do. Got it?”
Spike gulped. “Got it.”
Ponyville is known for its distinct buildings. For decades, the town was too busy establishing itself to try to impose any form of order or sameness. Most of the homes were still the simple thatch-roofed cottages that were easiest for the earth pony settlers to construct, but if somepony wanted to shape their home into a celebration of their occupation and special talent, nopony said a word. And so it became a Ponyville tradition to build shops that could most charitably be called unique.
And as Spike looked at each one of dozens of unique buildings, not a single one called out to him as a place to bring three obnoxious dragons.
Garble and the others had mercifully stayed silent as they waited for Spike to deliver on his promised entertainment. But they were losing patience. Spike could hear it in the way their breathing was growing louder. He could sense the crackle of flame building in their throats.
Spike jumped as he felt a vibration through his feet. He nervously checked behind him, fearing one of the dragons had done something stupid, before realizing the feeling was coming from in front of him. What was up ahead?
Up ahead was a building that didn’t stand out as much as the rest of Ponyville’s oddities. From a distance, the only thing that stood out about it was its curved roofline, one covered with living grass instead of dry thatch. But up close, the building was decorated in such a way that nopony could mistake its use. Two huge spheres painted a marbled purple, supported on thick posts, were stuck in the ground like some madmare’s lollipops, and the columns surrounding the building’s front door were tapered, white, and adorned with two red stripes.
It was Ponyville’s lone bowling alley.
“And here we are,” Spike announced with as much courage as he could muster.
“What is this place?” Garble said.
“Go inside and you’ll see.”
Spike remembered that the building was spacious inside, big enough even for the dragons. But the double doors were pony-sized. Backdraft entered first, followed by Charcoal. Neither dragon had any problem navigating the doors; they were tall, but their sinuous forms slid through the small opening. Garble, on the other hoof....
Spike held his breath as Garble pushed his bulky form through the door frame. He had a brief vision of the door frame cracking, bringing down the whole building. With one final grunt, Garble finally forced his way in. And once the building stopped shaking, Spike followed.
The dragons were staring at the scene in front of them. They were probably staring out of confusion. But at least they didn’t look hostile, and that was a good start.
“This,” Spike intoned, “is called bowling. It’s a simple game. You throw the ball down the lane, and you want to knock over all the pins. You get a bonus when you do. You don’t need to be strong to knock down the pins, but as you can see, the strongest ponies can really crush it.”
There was a mix of ponies playing, from foals starting out to mares and stallions who really knew the game. One burly stallion stepped onto the lane, ball in hoof. He assessed the pins, twisted his body, and bowled the ball down the lane at high speed. With a loud clatter, all ten pins were knocked down. The stallion returned to his friends, who greeted his accomplishments with simple grunts, the kind that communicate so much when uttered between good friends.
Seeing the strike brought a hint of a smile to the visiting dragons’ faces. Something struck Spike. It was loud, the loudest thing they had heard since crossing into Equestria. It was nothing compared to the sound of cracking rock from their volcanically active homeland, of course, but it was something. Now, he had to seal the deal.
“You know, you don’t have to play if you don’t want to,” Spike said. “I’ve played before, and I’m not really strong enough to be a good bowler. You’d probably beat me easily.”
Garble smiled. “Fine, we’ll do this pony game. But only because Dragon Lord Ember told us to get along with you.”
Spike breathed a sigh of relief. It was only the briefest of respites, as he had to stop the others from walking onto the lanes.
“Wait, guys! You need shoes first,” he said.
“What are shoes?” Charcoal asked.
Spike motioned to them to wait, and then flew up to the counter, hovering at pony eye level. “We want a lane and four half sets of shoes,” he said to the proprietor, an earth pony stallion with a bowling ball cutie mark.
The stallion dropped eight shoes on the counter. “Go ahead and take lane seven,” he said, motioning to the lane next to the one where that impressive strike was just bowled.
Spike passed out the shoes. The other dragons had no idea what to make of the strange-shaped items made of thick and somewhat flexible material. They poked at them with their claws. Backdraft sniffed one, only to recoil in disgust.
“Yeah, don’t do that,” Spike said. “You put these on your hind claws, so you don’t scratch up the wood surface of the lanes.” Spike demonstrated this; the shoes magically shaped to fit his claws, even though they were shaped more like a pony’s hooves.
The larger dragons were skeptical, but whatever magic was in the shoes fit their larger claws as well.
“Now follow me.”
All three other dragons slipped, tripping over each other and landing in a big pile.
“And be careful, the shoes are slippery!”
The three visiting dragons recovered quickly, getting up and walking away as if nothing had happened, albeit with slightly smaller steps. They walked to the lane, and perched awkwardly on pony-sized seats. “Let me show you how to bowl, and we can all get a few practice rounds before starting a game.”
Spike picked up a bowling ball. He staggered under the weight, soon finding his balance. “So you hold the ball, then you walk to the lane, and you release the ball.” He felt their eyes on them as he demonstrated how to bowl. Spike’s movements were not graceful, and he didn’t throw the ball very fast, but it did make it down the lane, knocking down six pins.
“You get two balls per frame, two chances to knock down all ten pins. After that, the pins are replaced, and the next dragon takes his turn. Now, I’m going to try to make the spare. That’s what knocking down all ten pins on the second throw is called. If you knock them down on the first throw, that’s a strike.”
A low rumbling sound caught the visitor’s attention, and they jumped a bit when the bowling ball rolled out of a hole onto the strange rounded rack. Spike picked up the ball and bowled again. His second throw only got two of the remaining pins.
“So if that throw wasn’t for practice, I would have scored eight points, one per pin. Now, if you get a spare, you score ten plus the number of pins on your next throw. If you get a strike, you score ten plus the number of pins on your next two throws. So you want to try to get a strike or spare.”
Garble stepped up, pushing Spike aside with his tail. “Now let me show you how a real dragon bowls.”
Garble picked up the bowling ball, giving it a cursory inspection, and then hurled it. An instant later, they were looking at ten downed pins.
“Nice throw, Garble!” Spike said. “But two things. One, you’re supposed to bowl, like with the ball on the wood lane. And two, you’re supposed to knock down the pins in front of you.”
Fortunately, there was nopony on the lane to the right to complain about the errant bowling ball.
Even with a few practice throws, none of the dragons were very good bowlers. The larger dragons had strength, but lacked accuracy. They managed several strikes, but quite a few balls ended up in the gutter. Spike, meanwhile, was consistently hitting most of the pins, but not all of them. Of course, that was suboptimal, from a scoring perspective.
“Looks like you all beat me,” Spike announced. “Though no one’s going to write home about these scores.”
“If those stupid gutters didn’t keep getting in the way, I would have totally won,” Backdraft claimed.
“You know, there are bumpers that cover the gutters that we could use, like those foals over there,” Spike said.
“No! We’re going to beat this like dragons,” Garble said.
“Uh, why do foals play this game if they’re so bad at it they need to cheat?” Charcoal asked.
“I don’t know, really. I guess it’s something you get better at with time. You get bigger, you get stronger, and you do better at bowling.”
“But what makes a grown pony play?” Charcoal continued.
“You could ask them. I bet it would make Dragon Lord Ember happy if you talked to ponies,” Spike said.
Charcoal turned to the strange group of stallions, who had even dressed up in clothes to go bowling. “Why do you bowl?” he barked.
“It’s bowling. It’s friends, and bowling, and you know, it’s like life, right?” the skinniest pony in the group replied.
Before any of the others could reply, a mare approached the ponies, a tray with drinks balanced on her back. The ponies took the drinks in their hooves.
“And these really help, you know?” another of the ponies said.
“What is that?” Backdraft asked.
“This, my dragon friend, is a White Rushin’,” the biggest of the stallions said.
Garble slapped the empty tray carried by the mare, causing her to jump. “Bring us three White Rushin’s!” he ordered. “Dragon size, none of that puny pony stuff.”
“Um, that requires payment,” the mare replied, her voice quavering.
Garble dropped his bag of bits on the tray. “Here’s your pony money. Now bring the drinks, and keep them coming!”
The mare scurried off, and the three dragons turned and waited for her to return. Spike was worried she was going to run into the kitchen and then run straight home, but she did return, walking carefully with three large metal pails balanced on her back. Garble grabbed one of the pails and took a big swig of the drink within. He slammed it down and then belched. Pale blue flames licked his muzzle, but they were extinguished when he licked his lips.
“This is great!” Garble announced.
The other two dragons sampled the drink, nodding in approval. Spike wisely chose not to tell them that the metal pails they were holding were normally used to hold dirty mop water.
Regardless of the previous use of their drinking vessels, the drinks loosened up the visiting dragons, and they approached their second game with gusto. They were acting more comfortable with the pony game, and even started ribbing each other the same way they did in their gorge surfing. They continued to throw jabs at Spike, but they way they were doing so was different, like he was now one of the drakes.
Charcoal looked over the bowling ball in his talons as their third game was being set up. “What’s the reason for these three holes?” he asked, poking them with his claws.
“Hey, you ponies. Why are there holes in the bowling ball?” he then asked the stallions next to them.
“It’s bowling. There are rules,” the large one replied.
Whether or not that response satisfied Charcoal, he didn’t persist, mostly because the serving mare returned with three fresh pails of drink.
Spike, going first, staggered onto the lane, ready for his first throw in the third game. He focused on lining up with the front pin, but then remembered something about bowling, probably something Twilight Sparkle had talked about after reading one of the books in the library. He was supposed to aim just off center, not directly down the center of the lane. He tried this tactic, and managed to knock down nine pins, rather than his normal six or seven.
Spike was happy with his improved performance this game, and also happy at the improved attitudes of his dragon guests. They still had their strikes and gutter balls, the former met with cheering and stomping, the latter with another gulp from their White Rushin’ pails.
Spike picked up a spare on the tenth frame, a fine conclusion to what had to be his best bowling game ever. Pencil in claw, he tallied his final score, the table shaking after another strike from Garble.
“How much am I winning by, shrimp?” Garble called.
Spike looked at the paper. “Actually, right now, I’m ahead of you by one pin, 152 to 151. But don’t worry! You got a strike on the tenth frame, so that means you get two more throws to add to your total.”
“Piece of cake,” Garble uttered, followed by a flaming belch. He took the bowling ball, hurled it down the lane, but it skidded into the right gutter. Garble snorted; Spike could smell his breath from where he was sitting.
“One more throw. You got this!” Spike said.
Garble took his last throw with greater care, stopping to stare down the pins. He pulled back and bowled, twisting to compensate for his last throw’s drift. But he overcompensated, and his final throw ended up in the left gutter.
Garble threw his head back and screamed. “Noooo!” he roared, as flames erupted from his mouth, fueled by the buckets of alcoholic drinks he had been consuming. The gout of flame easily reached the ceiling—the wooden ceiling.
“Fire! Everypony, get out!” Spike yelled.
Being covered in earth and grass had the advantage of keeping the bowling alley cool in summer and warm in winter, not to mention muffling the sound of clattering pins for those outside the building. Unfortunately, it made firefighting a much more difficult task. Pegasi were quick to gather rain clouds, but there was little they could do to deal with the fire inside. By the time ponies brought out the water pump to put out the fire, the damage had been done.
“My bowling alley!” the owner cried.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Ten Pin; like we always do, the town will come together to help you rebuild,” Mayor Mare said to him. “Although we will have to involve the princess, due to the nature of the ponies, I mean dragons, involved.”
Meanwhile, standing away from the crowd were four dragons and one irate alicorn. “I raised Spike from an egg,” Twilight Sparkle said to the visiting dragons, “and I clearly remember he had complete control of his flames by the time he was two years old. So would you mind telling me just what happened?” She sniffed the air. “Never mind, I know exactly what happened.”
“Please, Twilight, it was an accident!” Spike said. “We were actually having fun before, you know. Please don’t get mad.”
“I’m not mad; I’m disappointed,” she replied. “But there’s somepony else who will be mad. Follow me,” she ordered.
Ten minutes later, the dragons were back in the castle, sitting while Twilight Sparkle prepared a spell. In a large font, she sprinkled powdered ruby. She lit her horn, and flames erupted in the font, green flames with the familiar magical signature of dragonfire.
The fire shimmered and shifted until an image formed in it, cave walls and treasure and one irate blue Dragon Lord. “Princess. You can’t possibly have a reason to talk to me already,” Dragon Lord Ember said.
“Unfortunately, I do,” Twilight Sparkle replied.
“Garble and the others couldn’t have been there more than a day,” Ember said.
“True. They arrived last night,” Twilight Sparkle said.
The image of Ember turned and looked right at Garble, the Bloodstone Scepter clutched in her talons, her red eyes glowing with a fire of their own. “And just what did you do?” she growled.
“Dragon Lord, I...” Garble started. In a softer voice, he continued. “I lost control of my fire and burned down a pony building.”
“It was an accident, Dragon Lord,” Spike said. “We were doing an activity that ponies do for fun. Garble and the others were trying to get along with ponies.”
Ember’s expression softened. “If Spike says it was an accident, and that you were trying to get along with the ponies, then I won’t need this,” she said, putting down the scepter. “Just use the bits I sent with them to pay for the damages.”
“Uh, Dragon Lord? We, uh, spent the bits,” Backdraft said.
“You spent the bits?”
The dragons nodded.
“ALL the bits in that large bag?”
They nodded again.
In a flash, the Bloodstone Scepter was back in her talons. The dragons flinched.
“Those were supposed to last you for your entire trip!” Ember shouted. She turned to Twilight Sparkle. “Princess, these dragons are supposed to be learning to get along with ponies. So how would ponies handle this kind of situation?”
“Well, adults would normally pay for the damages. But when somepony younger like the Crusaders causes damage, like with a crusade gone awry, we normally have them work to repair any damage they caused.”
“Good. We’ll do that.” Dragon Lord Ember pointed her scepter at the three dragons. “You will work until you have fixed the damage you caused. This, your Dragon Lord commands!”
When the dragons returned to the bowling alley, they were surprised at the activity surrounding the place. Tons of furniture, bowling supplies, and other items were piled up outside, covered by makeshift tents, and a stream of ponies were going in and out of the building. Sure, the time they had spent getting chewed out by the Dragon Lord had felt like hours, but it couldn’t have been that long.
“Where did all these ponies come from?” Backdraft asked.
“Like the mayor said, ponies come together to help rebuild,” Spike said. “Today, it’s a fire, but tomorrow, it may be a monster attack or rogue storm.”
“I want to say the ponies have it under control, but the Bloodstone Scepter won’t let me leave,” Garble said.
“You’ll just have to ask what work the owner wants you to do,” Spike said, motioning to the earth pony with the bowling ball cutie mark.
The three dragons approached the stallion, but stopped, standing parallel a bit away. They looked at each other, all waiting for one to make the first move. Finally, Charcoal and Backdraft slapped their tails across Garble’s legs, and the larger dragon stumbled forward.
“Our Dragon Lord commands us to work until your bowling place is fixed,” Garble said.
“Good. We’ll accept anycreature’s help,” Ten Pin replied. “Now, what do you know about construction?”
“What’s construction?” Charcoal asked.
“That’s what I thought,” Ten Pin muttered. He turned to face the crowd of ponies. “Hey, Hard Hat!” he shouted.
A blue-gray earth pony wearing a hard hat trotted over. “Yes?”
“What can your construction team do with three dragons?”
“I know just the thing,” Hard Hat replied.
Moments later, the three dragons stood, holding up one of the large beams running along the ceiling while ponies maneuvered a new support beam into place. “This is not what dragons should do!” Garble roared.
“Don’t worry,” said Spike as he swept the floor. “There are only twenty or thirty more of those.”
Once that task was finished, Ten Pin walked up to the dragons. “Hard Hat says he doesn’t need any more help from you, so I have a list of tasks for you to work on. Here’s a scroll.”
“Let me take that,” Spike said.
“What’s it say?” Garble said.
“It’s a list of things to clean,” Spike said.
“My bowling alley is open every day. I don’t normally have the opportunity to really clean things,” Ten Pin said. “But with your help, and a lot of hard work, everything will be as clean as the day this place opened.”
“Right. Hard work,” Garble muttered.
The bowling alley owner walked off, and Spike read the first item on the list. “Task one. Clean and sterilize bowling shoes.”
The bowling shoes were stacked in a huge pile, and as the dragons moved closer, the lingering smell of smoke was replaced by something fouler. The odor from the shoes hovered over them in a malodorous cloud.
Conveniently, the materials to clean the shoes were nearby. “Use that polish and those rags for the outside, and spray the inside of the shoes with that,” Spike explained.
Charcoal picked up the spray can, poking the button on top with a claw. Heavily perfumed aerosol shot out, spraying him right in the muzzle. His nostrils twitched.
Spike ducked, covering his head with his arms.
“CHOO!” Charcoal sneezed, flames erupting from his mouth. Fortunately, they went over the top of the pile of shoes.
“Let me take that,” Spike offered. “You three polish and shine, and I’ll use the sanitizer spray.”
The dragons started working, only to start complaining immediately. “Why are these things so small?” Garble said. He was having trouble holding the shoe; it was around the size of his claw, and hard to grip.
“Ponies are smaller than dragons,” Spike said.
“Why are there so many shoes?” Backdraft said.
“Ponies have four hooves, of course,” Spike said.
“If these things can magically change size, why can’t they magically clean themselves?” Charcoal asked.
“You know, that’s a really good question. I don’t know why they don’t,” Spike said. “But look at the progress we’re making!” Sure enough, the neat stack of cleaned shoes had grown. “Keep going, and we’ll be done soon.”
It took a while to make it through the shoes, resulting in a new pile of clean and polished shoes. Of course, once they finished, Spike pulled out the list again. “Task two. Clean and polish bowling balls. Oh, and it says to use hot water.”
“Now that we can do,” Garble said. “Where’s the nearest pool?”
“No, we can get water from the tap,” Spike said.
“What do we tap?” Backdraft asked.
“Just let me get it,” Spike said.
A few minutes later, Spike returned, staggering under a cumbersome load of three pails of water. He dropped them on the ground by the others, some water sloshing out of the pails.
“Hey. Aren’t those our cups for the White Rushin’s?” Charcoal said.
“Uh, maybe? But they’re the right size to clean a bowling ball!” Spike dropped a ball into the pail.
Garble pushed Spike aside and breathed into the pail, his flames instantly setting the water to boil. From there, it was a simple task to wash the bowling ball.
After a while, Charcoal spoke up. “What do we even need the water for? We can just clean these with fire!” The idea immediately caught Garble’s and Backdraft’s attention, and the three dragons exchanged high fives.
Garble grabbed his next bowling ball and breathed on it. Melted bowling ball slag slipped through his talons and splattered on the ground.
He kicked dirt over the mess. “That ball needed to be replaced anyway.”
“Please don’t do that again,” Spike said. “But I like the idea. What if you used a different kind of flame? Like when I send scrolls by dragonfire?”
“So the magic and not the heat?” Garble picked up another bowling ball and breathed. This time, it disappeared.
Over in the Dragon Lands, Dragon Lord Ember sensed a message arriving. Knowing it was from the direction of the pony lands, she attuned her magic to receive it. Now, unlike a certain pony-raised dragon, Ember found using her maw to receive messages to be undignified and not fitting her station. Thus, she willed the message to appear above her head, and raised her talons to catch it.
When a small but surprisingly heave spherical object landed on her head instead, she growled. Somehow, she knew that Garble and his fellow troublemakers were responsible.
“Yeah, maybe we just stick to soap and water,” Spike said.
Just like the shoes, there were a lot of bowling balls, but eventually, they were all scrubbed clean and polished. It took long enough that night had fallen, and Spike noticed the constant sound of ponies at work was now gone. “Looks like everypony’s gone home,” he mentioned. “We could come back tomorrow.”
“No. We’ll finish this stupid thing and get the Dragon Lord off our backs,” Garble said. The others nodded along with him.
“So what’s next?” Backdraft asked.
“Task three. Put the shoes and bowling balls back if the racks are ready.”
“The what?” Charcoal said.
“It means we go back inside and check.”
Stepping through the door to the bowling alley, Spike stopped and gawked at the site. They had been inside when the dragons were helping with the structural repairs, and he recalled dozens of ponies working around him, but the sheer amount of work they had accomplished between then and now was astonishing. The interior was a mess of sawdust and scrap, but the walls and furnishings were all restored, along with about half the lanes. And that included the racks for the bowling balls and the cubbies for the shoes.
“Okay, balls there, shoes there,” Spike said.
“We’ll take the balls,” Garble said. “Charcoal, go short. Backdraft, long.”
While the larger dragons moved, Spike grabbed an armload of polished shoes. He put them back into the cubbies. When he turned around, he saw the dragons doing something remarkable. Garble was tossing the bowling balls through the door to Charcoal, who relayed them to Backdraft, who stood by the rack. Backdraft caught each ball, and slid it into place on the racks.
“That’s pretty cool,” Spike said.
“This? This is nothing,” Garble boasted. “If you lived in the Dragon Lands, you’d see us tossing boulders all the time. This is pathetically easy in comparison.”
It reminded Spike of how little he knew about the Dragon Lands, and what dragons did outside of building hoards. Spike had seen them gorge boarding, of course, but it stood to reason they did other things to pass the time.
Meanwhile, he replaced the shoes, only to run into a problem. About half the shoes remained in a pile, and he was out of cubbies that he could reach from the ground. And unlike the library, there was no convenient ladder on wheels. It looked like he was going to have to fly.
“Here,” Spike heard Garble say. Then he felt himself being lifted up to the higher shelves.
Spike turned his head. “You’re helping me?”
“No!” Garble quickly replied. “I’m helping myself. Because this has to get done, and I don’t want to touch those stupid smelly shoes.”
True to his word, Garble didn’t touch the shoes. He glared at his friends, who picked up the shoes and held them up at Spike’s level. And working together, the remaining shoes were put away much faster.
“Thanks for your help,” Spike said.
Garble looked away. “Just tell us what’s left on the list.”
“Actually, just one thing,” Spike said. “Oil and polish the rebuilt lanes.”
“Oil?” Charcoal said.
“Polish?” Backdraft said.
“Right. Just follow me,” Spike said.
Spike found the oil sitting by the first lane, along with a number of scrub brushes with long handles and wide, flat scrubbing surfaces. The oil was in a barrel, and a bucket next to it had a convenient line on its inside with “One Coat” written next to it.
“So the oil is poured on the lane, and the brushes are used to spread it out so that all the wood is covered,” Spike explained.
“Sounds stupid,” Garble said.
“It’s nothing like gorge boarding, but....” Spike looked at the brushes, then around the bowling alley. “Or maybe it is!”
“What are you talking about?” Backdraft said.
“Okay. What I want you to do is close your eyes. Imagine you’re back in the Dragon Lands, and you’ve decided to go gorge boarding. Tell me all about it. What’s it like? How do you do it? What are you feeling?”
“Before you even think about going into the lava, you need a board,” Garble said. “Stone or metal. Too thick, and it will slow you down. Too thin, and you risk it breaking apart before you reach the bottom.”
“And you want something flat and smooth. If it’s uneven, you’re more likely to spill,” Backdraft added.
“Then you jump into the lava flow, and if you don’t match the momentum, you’re going to fall over,” Garble said.
“Wyrmling’s mistake,” Charcoal said.
“And once you’re going, you have to watch the lava. Another wyrmling mistake is to just look for obstacles on the course. If you do that, you’re going to be surprised when a bubble releases a jet of hot gas in your face,” Garble said.
“You need good eyes, but you need instinct, too. The heat shimmers make it hard to see clearly, so you just have to know what’s going to happen. Trust your gut,” Backdraft added.
“And watch your speed, especially around curves. Too fast, you’re going to wipe out. And too slow, you’re going to lose the race,” Charcoal continued.
“Sounds great,” Spike said. “Can you open your eyes now? I’m going to need your advice on my technique.”
While the dragons had been talking, Spike had spread a bucket of oil on the first lane; it sat pooled in an uneven puddle. And he had removed the pads from the brushes and tied them to his feet with some cords.
He put one foot onto the lane, soaking up the oil, and readied to kick off. “Watch this!”
Spike kicked off and slid down the lane, spreading the oil as he went. His path wavered, and he twisted his body as he tried to keep his balance. While he came close to falling, he eventually reached the end of the lane, grabbing onto the wall to stop himself. He had slowed down enough that he didn’t crash like a bowling ball.
“Eh, needs work,” Garble said. “First, you should lean forward. Makes you more stable when you’re going fast. And second, you need to go faster.” Garble grinned. “And I know just how to do that!”
“Uh, what?” Spike said nervously as Garble flew to him.
“You need to start off with some more momentum. A push.”
“Look, Spike, I’m not going to trick you. If I do, that just means more time here and one angry Dragon Lord. That would be stupid of us. It’s just... I’ve seen you handle real gorge boarding without any practice, so you can do this.”
“Okay. I’m ready,” Spike said.
“Charcoal, Backdraft, you catch Spike when he reaches the end of the lane. And then send him back. Ready?”
“Okay. One, two....” And Garble pushed Spike down the lane before he said three.
Spike, surprised, quickly recovered, leaning down and focusing on the end of the lane, where the other dragons caught him.
“That was awesome!” he shouted.
Not only was it awesome, but it was also fast. In no time at all, the lane was polished to a shine. And after the second lane, the other dragons wanted to try. With their significantly larger feet, the brush pads could only cover one of them, so the other dragons had to do their simulated gorge boarding while balancing on one leg.
The rest of the work passed quickly, and late that evening, Spike led the others back to the castle. They may have smelled of mineral oil and had not a few bumps from when they wiped out, but they returned happy.
In the days following the incident at the bowling alley, the visiting dragons were more willing to see the things Ponyville had to offer. They had a chance to see ponies in action, even if that action was nothing like what dragons called action. They played pony games and tried pony food.
Spike noted that, for some reason, Garble showed an interest in ponies performing, especially music and spoken word. He kept the others sitting, watching pony performances, long after the time that Charcoal and Backdraft, and even Spike, had grown bored.
The only suggestion that surprised Garble came the night before the dragons were scheduled to depart. “What do you mean you want us to go back to the bowling alley?” he asked Spike incredulously.
“You see, I was thinking about how awesome gorge boarding was, and how ponies would enjoy something like that,” Spike said. “And that night in the bowling alley, I had this great idea. So I talked about it with the local clock maker, and he was able to build something, and ponies really love it! You’ve got to see it!”
“Uh, I guess we could do that,” Charcoal said.
“And just so you know, you’re banned from drinking there.”
The dragons shrugged. “Fair,” Garble said.
Stepping inside the bowling alley, the dragons were amazed by the change. From what they could see, there was no indication that the place was nearly destroyed by fire a few days earlier. Ponies gathered on the lanes, bowling as normal, but what attracted their attention was the group of foals gathered around something new at the lane on the far right.
“Take a look!” Spike said.
With their tall forms, the dragons had no trouble seeing the addition to the bowling alley. Some kind of mechanical creation, it featured a wide sloping plane with moving obstacles. The base glowed with orange light, and the exterior and obstacles were painted to resemble volcanic rock. It was a recreation of one of their gorge boarding courses!
They watched as a foal dragged a bowling ball to the top of the course and released it. It rolled down, bouncing off one obstacle, then two, like hitting floating rocks. Then, the whole device tilted, with the same effect as hitting a gas bubble. At the end, there were no obstacles, and the ball picked up speed.
The end result was a bowling ball coming out onto the lane at a fast speed and a random angle. The bumpers had been set on the lane to cover the gutters, so the ball ricocheted down the lane, eventually colliding with the pins. The foals cheered, caring less about the number of pins that fell, and more about the random path of the ball.
“The little foals really love it,” Backdraft said.
“They have a hard time controlling the ball when they’re small,” Spike said. “But gorge bowling? They can be just as good as their parents!”
They watched the small crowd of foals taking turns playing with the new toy, while their parents chatted with each other, enjoying the company, food, and drink. It was a happy scene, at least until the dragons noticed a certain stallion approach. Spike moved to step forward, but Garble placed a claw on his shoulder. “I’ll handle this,” he said.
Garble crouched down, putting him more on a pony’s level. “Mr. Bowling Pony, our Dragon Lord commanded us to make nice with the ponies, and me getting mad and losing control of my flames was not nice.”
“I accept your apology,” Ten Pin said.
“Huh?” Garble said.
“What’s an apology?” Charcoal whispered to Backdraft.
“I’ll tell you guys later,” Spike whispered back. “An apology is a very pony thing to do, and you just made one.”
“Truth be told, I was at fault myself,” Ten Pin said. “I’m supposed to cut off my guests before they have too much, and I should have been paying attention. But I was stuck in a rut, and not caring like I should. That fire gave me time away from the bowling alley for the first time in years.
“And now look at this! Everything is new and clean, ponies who haven’t visited in ages are coming in, and that device! I never would have thought of doing something that wasn’t normal bowling, and the foals are having a blast!”
“So, are we good?” Garble asked.
“We’re good. And have you considered introducing bowling to the Dragon Lands?”
“Eh. Might be better than boulder tossing,” Charcoal said.
“Probably wouldn’t look much like this once dragons were done with it,” Backdraft said.
“Don’t hold your breath. Dragons don’t change easy, and they don’t like new things,” Garble said. “Trust me, I know.”