The Path of Hugging

by Mysterious Stranger

Chapter 1: Kumbaya, my dragon lord

Filled with loathing, Garble reluctantly hugged the first dragon he saw after turning around to obey the command of Dragon Lord Spike. There hadn't been a minimum duration issued for each hug, mercifully, but the entire second of awkward contact sent shivers of disgust up his scales. He hurried onward, praying for solitude. Alas, another dragon was soon within his sights. The second hug was just as awful. Garble could feel the other dragon stiffen with shock. Garble kept his gaze locked forward as he continued on. He didn't dare look back at those he had hugged. He could imagine the weirded out looks they were surely giving him well enough. It only got worse when they responded verbally.


"The heck?"

"What the—"

One dragon spotted Garble hug the three dragons ahead of her inside a tunnel. Her eyes widened with horror as she realized Garble's intentions. "N—no! Stop!" the dragon protested as Garble plodded towards her. "Stay away!" Like the stiff joints of an ancient machine, Garble's arms made contact with her torso. "Whyyyyyyy?" she whined softly. Garble resisted the urge to explain his actions. Truly, he was a divided soul, pulled in one direction by societal norms, and yanked in another by the authoritative commands of the Dragon Lord. Garble pressed on, leaving the poor dragon behind in stupor. Once he was outside Flamecano, he started flying. After crossing over the body of water that separated Flamecano from the mainland, the horror within his heart expanded immensely. Directly ahead of him was the former Dragon Lord, Torch. There was no avoiding it. Garble flew up to Torch's face and wrapped his arms and legs around Torch's nose.

"What is the meaning of this?" Torch demanded.

It dawned on Garble that he could at least partially respond to the question. "I can't tell you!" he cried out. A laugh from above caught Garble's attention. He glanced up. It was Ember, holding the Bloodstone Scepter. "Wait, what? What happened to the little guy?" Garble asked.

"He gave me the staff," Ember said with a smirk. "The rules were that the title of Dragon Lord goes to whoever brings the staff back, remember?"

Relief flooded through Garble. "Oh! So the command he gave me wasn't legitimate! I'm free!"

"Oh, wow, I guess that would be true," said Ember. She grinned wickedly. "In that case..."

Garble's heart sank to new, previously unexplored depths. "No," he whispered.

"I command you, as Dragon Lord..."

"No!" Garble cried.

"To continue to follow the command given unto you by Spike!" Ember finished triumphantly.

Garble's shoulders slumped. "As you command," he said dejectedly. With a hard flap of his wings, he ascended to Ember's altitude.

Ember's eyes widened as she realized what she had just done. But before she had the chance to exempt herself from the rule, Garble had wrapped his arms around her. Garble felt her recoil as he continued to hug her longer than he had the others. Ah, sweet revenge. Garble got the sense that his actions were just as humiliating to her as it was to him. He knew he could endure so long as Ember continued to suffer.

Torch looked up and scowled at the scene. "That didn't take long," he muttered.

As Garble kept hugging, he felt Ember become less tense. She moved her arms, as if she didn't know what to do with them. Finally, she pushed Garble away. "Keep going," she said flatly, her gaze cast aside.

Garble kept flying. He now carried a faint, fuzzy feeling within his gut. Presumably, it was a side-effect of too much hug exposure. Disgusting. After a while, he was all by himself in the open sky. He smiled just a little. So long as no dragons were within his sight, he would be home in no time. No sooner had this thought crossed his mind, he spotted a lone dragon sitting among the rocks below. Garble groaned as he glided down.

The dragon looked up when Garble landed. His eyes were moist. "I was hoping no one would see me like this," the dragon said softly. Garble suddenly felt that things were starting to get a little surreal. Nonetheless, he stepped forward and embraced the dragon. Like Ember had, the dragon's immediate reaction was to stiffen. But as the seconds went by, his guard went down. He made a choking sound. Then he threw his arms around Garble and began sobbing into his shoulder. With barely a thought, Garble patted the other dragon on the back. His mind wasn't focused so much on his arms as it was his heart. Something was stirring within him. Something alien. Something new. Something profound. After a few minutes, the dragon's sobbing subsided. He withdrew from the hug and wiped the back of his hand over his eyes. "Thanks," he said. "I... I needed that."

Garble's soul continued to churn. "You're welcome," he replied. Where had that come from? With naught else to say, he took to the skies again. He saw no one else as he went. He was flying passively, automatically. His mind refused to stray from that last hug, and what it meant. Something had happened. Something had changed. When had that happened? Was it the first hug? The second? The one with Ember? The last only? Garble tried and failed to shake these haunting questions from his mind. After a while, he reached his home-cave. Well, no matter. It was over. He had fulfilled the command. Garble looked towards his hoard of treasure in the back of the cave. The day was only half-over. He had time to go treasure hunting. Perhaps he would gather enough to increase his greed and grow a little taller. His mind went back to that last hug again. No, stupid! So stupid! Think about treasure! Okay, fine, if don't want to think about treasure, think about getting revenge on Spike. Or Ember. Spike and Ember. Spember. September.

Thanks. I... I needed that.

Garble felt a shiver go though his body. He had this sense, this weird sense, that his life had arrived at a very important moment. Hadn't he felt hollow before? Hadn't he felt that his life was missing something? Wasn't there a reason he felt the need to pick on ponies and smaller dragons? His thoughts were interrupted by someone landing outside his cave. He turned around. It was his buddy Fizzle.

"Yo Garble," said Fizzle. "Some of the guys are heading up to the forest to steal some Phoenix eggs. You in?"

Garble's mind felt cloudy. An off-hand comment that Fizzle had made about his dad a few days ago floated up to the surface. "Uh, how did that thing with your Dad go?" Garble asked.

Fizzle eye's darted aside momentarily. "Uh, what? Where did that come from, huh? I asked you if you wanted to come up to the forest with us."

"I know, I know," replied Garble. "I was... just wondering." He waved his hand. "Never mind. Let's go."

Fizzle didn't move. "Do ya really want to know?"

For a moment not a word was spoken. Garble thought back to all the hugs he had given earlier. The surreal feeling came back again. Garble walked up to Fizzle and threw an arm over his shoulder in order to guide him back into the cave. "Yeah, he said. "I do want to know."

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