Ember Goes to the Spa

by Starscribe

Chapter 1: Relaxation Services

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"So, how'd you like your first day in Ponyville?" Spike asked, approaching Ember with the nervous steps of a dragon who knows he's probably gone where he shouldn't.

It was only the first day of Ember's formal negotiations on behalf of the dragons. She looked far worse than she had after becoming Dragon Lord. Spike had seen this kind of expression on the faces of many guests to Twilight's Castle of Friendship, particularly when they came for diplomatic purposes.

Ember wasn't alone. A half dozen of the other young dragons had accompanied her on the trip, serving as honor-guards and diplomats. Yet for as impressive as dragons could be in the field of battle, they were thoroughly unprepared for the battlefields of diplomacy. There ponies were the undisputed champions, as evidenced by Twilight's cheerful expression as she made her way out of the great hall, followed by several scribes and functionaries. She looked as though she'd just spent a relaxing day reshelving books. Ember, on the other claw, slumped over the back of her chair, resting the scepter on her lap and looking like she'd just lost a fight with a volcano. She didn't even seem to have heard Spike.

Ember's other dragons had abandoned her, flown off to who knew what mischief until the next morning. Spike didn't doubt they'd be off causing chaos somewhere, but he felt no desire to join them. Spike had learned his lesson well during his first adventure trying to fit in with the young of his kind. Most dragons were brutish barbarians, and didn't care if their amusements hurt others.

But Ember was different. Spike reached down, setting down a tall glass frosted over with ice on the edge of the table in front of her. It was lemonade, though tiny splinters of sapphire floated in it. Each one chilled the throat and mouth when swallowed, making it one of the most refreshing things he'd ever tasted. "Here, this will make you feel better."

Ember finally seemed to see him. She reached forward with fumbling claws until she eventually grasped the glass, then sloshed it around as she lifted it for a sip. "This better..." She trailed off as she tasted its contents, visibly relaxing. She drank quietly for nearly a minute, seeming to come alive with each successive sip.

Spike grinned proudly to himself as he watched, feeling satisfied. Yes, ponies and dragons were very different beings, but the skills he'd learned as an assistant could work just as well for either one. It was only the trappings that ever changed.

"I don't know how you cope with this, Spike," Ember eventually said, setting the glass back down on the table. She didn't seem to realize she'd spilled, and some would dribble down onto the mountain of scrolls and papers in front of her. Spike deftly slid the glass a little further away from the treaties and other important legal documents she might've accidentally damaged. "I don't understand how they haven't all murdered each other by now. If everything they do takes so much talking... what stops them from going crazy? If this was a dragon meeting, we would've had a duel in the first ten minutes and whoever won would've made all the decisions. What's so hard about that?"

"Ponies aren't big on duels," Spike said. "Though they do like contests. You might be able to get them to agree to one of those if you wanted. Just... probably not any of the skills we dragons usually have." Spike winced as he remembered his experiences with dragon contests. Both hadn't been what he would've called "positive."

Ember's expression darkened, and she downed the rest of the lemonade before he spoke. Her voice was very quiet then, as though she didn't want to be overheard. Spike swelled with pride that she was trusting her opinion to him over the dragons she had brought with her. "Spike, I don't know how I'm going to make it a whole week in this place. At the end there, I just wanted to burn it all. Maybe a good war would make us feel better."

"Uh... maybe it wouldn't!" Spike said. "I know meetings are boring, but you shouldn't go to war because of it!"

Ember eyed him, genuine confusion on her face. "Why not? It's worked just fine for us, and dragons have been around a lot longer than 'Equestria.' Sure, we might not have all the fancy books they do, or waste time building castles... but there are dragons older than this whole civilization. They're the ones doing things wrong, not us."

"Well, uhh..." Spike retreated a step, his words more desperate as he began to panic. "If you did that, you'd lose out on all the wonderful things ponies have to offer! I think if you knew what you'd be giving up, you'd never want to fight them!"

The Dragon Lord rose, stretching and slinging the staff over one shoulder. She watched him with increasing skepticism. "Really? What could they possibly offer? And don't you start on any of the 'teaching us about friendship' crap, because I already heard that. Let's just say it didn't impress me. Me making friends was one thing, but I don't see many of the others being interested. I know plenty who would rather make food out of ponies than friends."

Spike didn't say anything to that, and he hoped that Ember wouldn't be repeating it around town either. It had taken him years before the comparatively backward ponies of Ponyville had finally accepted him into the village. He didn't want to go back to the days of mothers pulling their foals close whenever he walked by. "Well, uh... how about a trip to the spa! Twilight and her friends always go after a stressful day, and they always seem to come back feeling refreshed! I bet if we left right now, we could get you in before they close!"

"Spa," Ember repeated, saying the word slowly. "What is a... spa?"

"I'll show you!" Spike took hold of one of her claws, tugging her towards the doors. Ember looked like she might be about to protest, but ultimately, she stopped fighting and followed alongside him. "Alright, Spike, I'll trust you. But if this turns out to be one of those sissy pony things, where you sing songs and make each other flower necklaces, I'm going to be very unhappy."

* * *

Ponyville was abuzz with news about the conference, but none of the ponies gave them any trouble. It was true that Spike was a familiar face around town, but Ember wasn't. Anypony who saw them coming promptly found a good reason to be going the other way. Fortunately, Ember didn't seem to notice—if the dragon could even see their social cues, she was content to ignore them.

Spike knew from experience that Aloe and Lotus's spa was most active in the mornings and afternoons, then slowed down as ponies went home with their families for meals and other activities. So, he wasn't surprised to see the place almost deserted when they finally reached it, and he held the door for the Dragon Lord.

Ember stopped in the doorway as she entered, sniffing suspiciously. "What is that smell?"

"All kinds of things, miss," Lotus Blossom said from behind the counter. "Essential oils, herbs, anything and everything it takes to help a pony run down by the day relax." The lobby was empty of all but her, and the earth pony had put down a colorful magazine as they entered. To her credit, she didn't show even the smallest sign of fear at Ember's presence.

"Well, I'm not a pony," Ember said, gruff. "But my friend here thinks this place is pretty great. I guess I'm going to give it a chance."

"You won't be disappointed, miss," Lotus said, stepping out from behind the counter. "Uh, Spike dear, did you have anything specific in mind for your friend?"

"Well, I'm guessing you don't offer a lava facial or gemstone scrub," he said.

Lotus betrayed her first sign of distress, glancing nervously away. "No, I am afraid we do not. But we have cared for many exotic clients. I am sure we can find a treatment to suit your taste, miss..."

"Ember," she said, waving one claw dismissively. "Just call me Ember."

"Ember, right..." Lotus said. "Well miss Ember, the lockers are through there." She gestured to the door. "Stow your, uh... once you've put your things away, we can get started."

Lotus hurried away towards one of the two doors, holding it open for Ember.

The dragon turned to glare at him over her shoulder. "This better be good," she hissed. "If you've dragged me all the way to a frou-frou pony pleasure palace..."

Spike shook his head, though he matched her whisper. "It's not like that! Even the toughest, bravest ponies I know come in here! If even somepony as cool as Rainbow Dash likes it, I'm sure you will too!" I hope.

"I better," she whispered back, before following Lotus into the lockers.

Spike didn't follow, though he did stick around to pay.

"My friend really needs to enjoy herself," Spike said as he handed over the bits, failing to conceal his fear. "She's really, uh... it would be really bad if she didn't."

"Do not worry yourself, dear," Aloe said. "I'm quite certain she will leave as refreshed as any other customer." She pointed at the sign on the wall behind her, proclaiming the “money-back guarantee of total relaxation.” "Will you be joining her, or waiting here for her to be finished?"

Spike thought about it for a few seconds, considering the war Ember had (hopefully) suggested as a joke. Then he pushed several more bits into the pile. "I think I could use a little relaxation myself. Ember can be a little temperamental, so... probably best for me to be close, just in case."

"Of course, of course," Aloe said, gesturing for him to follow. "Your satisfaction is important too, dear. Serving a princess during such a momentous time in Equestria's history must be quite the chore."

"You have no idea," Spike muttered, following her into the lockers.

Despite all his fears, things went well at first. The spa ponies cranked the water as hot as it would go, and that was almost as good as lava. Better even, once they added the lavender and tea tree oil. It was true, Spike would've been terribly embarrassed to share this place with almost any other dragon he'd ever met. But Ember seemed to be able to appreciate it. She stopped complaining very quickly, and soon was sipping a refreshing beverage and enjoying the same scale-polish and claw-trim Spike always asked for during his visits.

The last part was always what Spike looked forward to the most: the massage. By then the spa was closing, more and more of the rooms they passed were dark and apparently empty, and the light of late evening was streaming in through the windows. I hope Twilight doesn't mind that I took Ember here. I wonder if I should've told here where I was going... Twilight was smart, she would figure it out. Anyway, it was too hard to think about his worries with Aloe working all the stiffness out of his muscles.

Ember had insisted that Spike go first, so she waited on a nearby chair, looking much happier than she had after the conference, but still skeptical. "I don't understand why ponies would invent something where they lay down and get beaten up."

"Oh, most of our customers don't require such a firm hoof," Aloe said, looking up from her work. Spike didn't really notice. As much as he knew this diplomatic mission was important, it was hard to think straight about anything. "But dragons are tough—we know how to cater to every customer." She rose, moving away from Spike. "How's that, dear? Better?"

"Much, thanks!" He sat up, then got out of the way. "Go on, Ember! I know you'll enjoy it!"

Ember grunted, rising slowly and depositing her towel on the edge of her chair. She lay down on her belly, and Spike had to scold himself for looking a little too long. Don't even think about it, Spike. You know she's way too important to be interested in you.

"How does that feel, dear? Is that the right amount of pressure?" Spike was barely listening. Aloe appeared to be working on Ember's back, exactly as she had been doing for him a moment earlier.

Spike took Ember's empty seat, folding his claws and waiting for Ember to be finished.

"Have you started yet?" Ember asked. "I can't feel anything."

"Oh, of course." Aloe brought her hooves down in harsh, exaggerated movements, hard enough that her tough hooves might've seriously bruised a pony's back.

At the very least, it seemed like the trip to the spa had worked. Somehow, he doubted that Ember had been serious with her rantings about a war with Equestria, but he couldn't ever be quite sure. Maybe he'd get another statue.

"Nothing." Ember rolled onto her side, annoyed. "This isn't doing anything. Are you sure it works on dragons?"

Aloe retreated a step, frowning. "I don't know if I can be any harder, miss..." Then her expression brightened. "But I know somepony who can. One moment, I'll get him." She hurried off, leaving the two of them alone for the moment.

"We don't need to stick around." Ember sat up at once. "I get it, they're not tough enough to handle a dragon. I already knew ponies couldn’t handle us."

Spike shook his head. "Not yet! Aloe said she was getting somepony... you should have the full experience!"

The door to the massage parlor opened less than a minute later, Aloe hurrying back with an urgent expression on her face. She held the door open, but nopony else came through it. Instead, one came through the wall.

Bulk Biceps was one of the few ponies Spike knew who could seem intimidating even to a dragon. He shook the wood and plaster of the damaged wall off around him. The pegasus didn’t have a scratch on him.

Aloe winced, and spoke with a deliberate, forced tone in her voice. "Miss Ember, this is Bulk Biceps. If my massage wasn't firm enough, his will be."

Ember looked up from the bed, eyes widening a little as she saw Bulk Biceps. "You're... a pony?" she asked. "I've never seen..."

"Yeah!" he responded, shouting from less than a foot away. "Most ponies don't understand the importance of personal health!"

Ember opened her mouth like she was about to object, then shrugged and rolled back into position. "Whatever. Do whatever you came to do."

Spike winced, getting out of his way. Bulk Biceps hardly even saw him, and probably would've knocked him right over if he hadn't moved. As he walked, the floor of the parlor seemed to shake. I wonder how often he forgets to use the door?

"Most ponies say I'm too aggressive," Bulk said, apparently thinking he was speaking quietly. He wasn't. "Say something if this is too hard, okay?"

Ember nodded absently. "I wouldn't worry, pony. I probably won't even feel—" She trailed off as the muscular pegasus slammed himself into her back with one shoulder, with the force of an earth pony trying to settle a fence. The table wobbled, barely holding upright, and Spike heard a sound like bones breaking.

He winced, expecting to hear Ember's angry shouts, maybe pony screams as fire engulfed the spa. Instead all he saw was his friend begin to smile, Ember exhaling as though Bulk Biceps had just removed an enormous weight she was carrying. "First flames of heaven," she muttered, barely loud enough for Spike to hear as the pegasus lifted himself up for another blow. "I've never felt—" He didn't get to hear whatever she'd never felt, not over the volume of another strike.

This time he didn't look away in fear, and he was able to see the sound he'd taken for bones breaking was just the cracking of tired joints in her back.

Bulk took to the air with the buzzing of his pathetic wings, and started attacking Ember's back with his hooves with all the vigor he was known for. Strength that could've broken the bones of a pony without Bulk's special talent seemed like just the right amount of force to make a dragon like Ember relax.

Less than an hour later, and they were making their way back to Twilight's Friendship Castle, and the diplomatic lodgings within. Lotus had sent the two of them on their way with a few relaxing glasses of chilled melon juice flavored with spices. It was a pony relaxation, but even Ember hadn't complained. She no longer looked like she might be about to snap at the next pony who dared talk to her, either.

"So, you still thinking about..." Spike began, but he didn't actually finish the sentence. "That was pretty great, wasn't it? It would be a shame if something bad happened to Ponyville, and you couldn't come here and enjoy it again."

Ember shrugged, grinning slyly at him. "It was better than I expected. But I knew ponies had to have something going for them. They're not strong like minotaurs, they're not as brave as griffons... it had to be something. Mostly I wanted to see how serious you were, Spike. Words are okay I guess, but you should know by now that isn't the way we dragons do things. You didn't just tell me not to do it, you did everything you could to make sure none of your friends got hurt. Even if I had really been considering it... which I wasn't... that would've been enough to convince me. It wouldn't have mattered if the spa was worse than listening to Garble bragging about his conquests the whole flight over."

"Wait." Spike stopped walking, staring up at her with horror and depression on his face. "All that... and you weren't even serious about invading Equestria?"

Ember laughed, loudly enough that one of the few ponies still walking the streets turned to stare at them. "Invade the country that controls the sun?" she said, a toothy grin on her face. "Maybe my dad would be that stupid, but not me! If ponies really had something we wanted, we could just wait for them to die."

Spike shivered, unable to meet her eyes anymore. "Y-you're joking again, right? W-we dragons sure are funny... heh heh..."

Ember laughed louder than ever. Yet as they walked together the remainder of the way back to the castle, passing along the empty streets, she began to slow, walking closer to Spike. When she spoke again, it was barely louder than a whisper. "No one hears about that," she said, her voice quiet and dangerous. "Not Garble, not your pony friends, nobody." She lifted the scepter of the Dragon Lord with her free claw, though Spike felt no magic from it. "I want your word."

Spike gulped. "You got it, Ember. Not a word." He was smiling now, though he made sure to look away, not letting her see. She liked it. She's just like Rainbow, she just doesn't want anypony to know.

"Good," Ember nodded, satisfied. "Keep this secret for me, and maybe I'll let you take me again before I return to the dragon lands. Maybe."

"Your wish is my command."

Something told him the peace talks were gonna work out after all.

Next Chapter: The Spa Comes to Ember Estimated time remaining: 19 Minutes
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