Diaries of a Madman

When Discord breaks free of his stone prison, he proves to be much older and wiser than he was on the show. A being of ancient and unimaginable power, he forces Celestia to make a deal to save her little ponies. What she doesn't realize is that one of the terms of the deal is that she forgets ever making it. Enter Navarone, a poor human just trying to get by—or at least, to the ponies that's what he looks like. Pulled from his home by an accidental summoning from one Twilight Sparkle, Navarone is thrust into a world of ponies and more violence than he expected from such a peaceful seeming world. These are his adventures—with a few asides from everybody's favorite Lord of Chaos, of course.

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98. Chapter Eighty-One—Dreamwalking Part 1

I celebrated my newfound freedom by kicking Spike’s ass all up and down the training field. He may be as strong as I am, but he wasn’t as fast, lithe, big, or experienced. I helped him up at the end of our little session. “That was a nice little workout,” I said with a smile, pulling him off the ground.

“For you, maybe. Now I have two guys out here beating me around! You’re lucky dragons don’t bruise, Nav, or I’d make you explain to Twilight why I come home black and blue every day.”

“Stop your bitching. I can get bruises, and I have. I even got half my teeth knocked out one day. Why do you think I’m in my armor right now?”

“…Exercise?”

“Hell no. This stuff is pretty light, surprisingly. It’s so I don’t break anything when the naga slaps me around. Now that I’m feeling pretty good, you want to go visit my dragon friend?”

That got his attention away from his wounded pride. “Can we? Right now? What are we waiting for?”

“We’re waiting on us getting some real weapons. He lives in the Everfree, and I’m not going near that place without something to fight with, even if we’ll just be flying over it. Leave your shield; I can’t carry you, it, and our weapons.” We both walked over to where we had left our shit. “Just your sword. We won’t be in danger territory long enough to need the crossbow.”

“Then why are we carrying weapons at all?”

“Because I got stabbed in the fucking back in a place that wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. I’m not going anywhere unarmed. I’m only bringing my gun and some knives, though. You’ll be fine with just a sword.”

“So… what does that gun do?” he asked as I slung it over my shoulder.

“It’s a crossbow, but better. And remember, it’s one of the things that Twilight doesn’t get to know about. Like this trip into the Everfree.”

“My lips are sealed!”

“Good.” I grabbed Spike and slung him over my other shoulder. “Let’s go.”

“Wait!” I already had my wings out and was about to take off, but I stopped. “Do I have to ride over your shoulder?”

“Unless you want me to cradle you in my arms, yes. Do you want me to cradle you, Spike?”

“It’ll only be us that sees it, Nav.”

I shrugged and pulled him off my shoulder, holding him like a hero holds a lady. “If we get called gay, I’m not denying a word,” I said, finally taking off.

“Psh. As if anypony would care.”

“You mean like Rarity?”

He just muttered darkly, looking away as we sailed over the forest. About ten minutes later, I began circling around the cave area, looking for a decent landing spot.

“Whoa whoa whoa, this is the dragon’s cave?” Spike asked, looking down at the place we were about to land.

“Yeah, Reginald’s cave. It’s much nicer inside.”

“Nav, you don’t understand. I’ve been here before! I know the dragon in there! He tried to kill me!”

“Spike, why were you in the middle of the Everfree?” I wasn’t about to land just yet, not if Spike is talking about possibly getting killed.

“It’s a long story that involves Owlowiscious and jealousy issues. Not important. What is important is that I might have accidentally eaten some of his gems and he kinda tried to kill me.”

“Oh, you’re the dragon he was talking about! When I first met him, he was really paranoid about thieves, mentioning some hatchling stealing some shit and not apologizing for it.”

“Yeah… So let’s just go now before it’s too late.”

I started landing. “I have a better idea. You go in there and apologize like a man. You stole and you will own up to it. If he freaks out, we’ll book it and hope for the best. If not, you can ask your questions.”

“Nav, I’m… I’m not so sure about this. He was big and sharp and scary!”

“And he’s also an extremely decorated war veteran that could kill you in an instant if he was really trying. He was probably just scaring you off. Stop being a pussy.”

By that point, I was on the ground and in no real hurry to take off again. My wings hadn’t been moving all too much lately, so they were somewhat sore from the flight. Spike’s eyes went wide when he heard a snort of what might have been snoring from the cave.

“Alright, let’s go,” I said, pulling my gun up and priming a round. I didn’t pump it, but I would rather have it mostly ready just in case. I heard him take a very deep breath before starting to follow me. We got to the entrance of the cave before his steps started faltering. I stopped and turned back. “Relax, Spike. If anything bad happens, I’m here.”

He took another deep breath before nodding. “Okay. I’m ready.”

I turned back around and kept walking in. I got a few steps before I felt his hand grip mine. I looked down to see him holding onto me, presumably for comfort, and looking every which way as we walked further into the cave. I was tempted to jerk my hand away, but he was still young and there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of fear. He was holding together well enough, so I let him have whatever comfort he might get from holding my hand.

I heard Reginald begin humming or doing something as we walked inside. “I smell a friend,” he whispered, slowly pulling out of his bed of jewels. “A friend and…” He took a deep whiff before jolting out of the pile and sending jewels everywhere. “A thief!”

Spike fucking jumped behind me as I held up the hand that he wasn’t holding. “Now hold on a moment, Reginald. He’s not here to steal this time. He’s here to apologize for what he took and maybe explain why.”

Reginald huffed, blasting the two of us with steam and making me sweat horribly in my armor. “So you say. But he is hiding behind you, clutching at your hand in fear. I hear no apology.”

I rolled my eyes and dragged Spike out of his horrible hiding place with his grip on my hand, standing him upright in front of me. After a second of nothing, I nudged him and whispered, “Man up, Spike. If I can’t trust you to apologize, how can I ever trust you in battle?”

His achingly strong grip on my hand eased up as his eyes squeezed open. After yet another long and deep breath, he let go of me entirely and stood at his full height. In a voice that was much higher than his normal one, he quickly said, “I’m sorry for stealing your jewels and I’ll never do it again and please don’t kill me!”

“Hmm… And why were you in my cave, hatchling?”

“I… I ran away from home… I didn’t have anywhere else to go! I didn’t think the ponies wanted me and I don’t know any dragons… I just went into the first dry place I found in the thunderstorm, and this was it. I didn’t know it was somepony’s cave!”

“Somepony?” he hissed, leaning in close. “You were the egg from the trade! I hate that treaty… But my name is on it, so I can hardly complain. That explains why you know so little. Are you still missing a home, hatchling?”

Spike slowly shook his head. “I… I live with the ponies. What treaty? What trade?”

“Every few years, the ponies get a dragon egg randomly taken from the horde. The treaty is old and the reasons behind it are unimportant. I assume that you were the egg taken. I wonder how they hatched you… But that is also not important. Tell me, what do you know of the dragons? What do you know of your own kind?”

“Almost nothing… Nav here helped me track down some dragons during the great migration that told me some things, but then some pony ‘friends’ of mine showed up and ruined everything. I didn’t learn nearly as much as I wanted to know.”

Reginald cast his gaze to me. “Navarone, you are a friend and I do trust you. However, I request that you leave. You have my assurance that no harm will come to your friend. I will educate him.”

“When can I come back? If I leave him here overnight, I will get my ass tore out the frame by his… caretaker.”

“Give me two hours. I will take more time if needed.”

I shouldered my rifle. “I’ll be here then.” I looked down to my little friend. “Spike, behave. If Twilight finds out about this, it will probably be a once in a lifetime chance, so make it count just in case.”

“You got it, Nav! And thanks.”

“No problem. I’ll see you both in two hours.” I started walking out, listening to Spike try to introduce himself to Reginald, now considerably less afraid. I was pretty sure that Reggie wouldn’t go back on his word and hurt Spike. I was hoping he wouldn’t, because Twilight would kill me.

Lacking anything else to do, I started walking into the woods to hunt. With the way Taya was attempting to regulate my diet, I didn’t end up with much in the way of meat during that long month. With two dragons behind me to cook, I figure I could find something, kill it, get them to cook it, and eat it without Taya freaking out.

So into the woods I went, pumping my rifle as I walked. I knew there was probably nothing dangerous for me in this place, but that doesn’t mean I like going in there unprepared to fight.

Do you know how I’ve said before that the forest is dark and miasmatic? It’s never really a fun time to go into the Everfree, but it’s a good place to hunt and you’ll always have a surprising encounter or two.

My surprising encounter this time was walking up on two manticores going at it like they were anim—Well, yeah. I was tempted to just walk away, but the female was just the right size to drag back to the cave. I’m not going to say I watched, but it was hard not to hear them growling and the female… moaning?

When the male finally finished, he pulled off the chick and immediately left, not even bothering to make sure she was fine. The girl, for her part, collapsed to the ground, seemingly panting. That was weird, but I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on manticore mating habits. I quickly lifted up my gun and aimed right at it.

It seems I made too much noise or something, because she lifted her head to look at me. When she somehow saw me, her eyes went wide and she screamed, “Wait!”

I almost dropped the gun in surprise. Manticores can’t talk! “What the fuck?”

The manticore was bathed in a green fire as it turned into a heavily blushing changeling. My mouth just dropped. “I can explain!” she said.

“I don’t want an explanation. I’m just gonna go. You stay here, away from me.” I turned around and started quickly walking away. When I heard the changeling jumping up and bounding after me, I started running. I didn’t get far because it’s hard to run in armor. She jumped in front of me.

“I like animals and it feels good and I needed food and please don’t tell the hive!” she very quickly said.

I crossed my arms. “I didn’t see a fucking thing. I don’t care what you did because it’s not my problem and there were no victims. If you like spiky penises, whatever. Now I’m going to keep walking and you’re going to stay here and do whatever floats your boat.”

I turned left and started quickly walking again. She hopped up next to me. “Soooo… What’s your name?”

I stopped, running a gauntleted hand down my face in annoyance. “I’m not doing this. Unless you know where some really tasty animal is—and I mean the kill and cook kind of tasty—then buzz off.”

“I know where something is! It’s called a fenghuang! I really like it, but I think it can smell the changeling on me… So you can kill it. I can show you where it is if you promise not to tell anyone!”

“I already—You know what, sure. No clue what a fenghuang is, but alright. Lead the way.”

She grinned and began walking into the woods. “So I found out about my desires—”

“No talking allowed. We wouldn’t want to scare the animals, after all.”

“Oh, it’s okay; they’re all used to me. I’m not usually in my changeling body, though.”

“How about this, then? No talking allowed. We wouldn’t want to scare me, after all.”

“Scare you? How? It’s perfectly natural!”

“I’m not having this discussion. Just keep walking and stop talking.”

She sighed, her head drooping. I just kept following her, doing my best to look anywhere but her backside, where it was rather obvious she had just been having fun. After a few minutes of walking in silence, she said, “My name’s Mirror. What’s yours?”

I sighed and answered, “Navarone. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of me.”

Her ears immediately drooped down. “I have,” she whispered, looking away.

That sounded rather morose and not what I was expecting, but I wasn’t about to bring that up. Instead I just kept following her, hoping to find whatever it was she was trying to show me.

“So how long have you been in the forest?” she asked after another few minutes.

“Less than an hour, this time. I’ve spent a lot more time here in the past. Look, how far away is this thing?”

“Not much farther. Just another half hour! So what brings you to the lovely Everfree?”

“Why don’t we just fly there? We both have wings. Animals don’t see me anyway, so we can just land nearby, I can go and kill it, and then we can finally go our separate ways and never see each other again.”

“You don’t want to be friends?”

“I’m not a friendly person.” I stretched my wings, ready to take off. “Now let’s go.” Her little dragonfly wings twitched into life and we both took off. Getting through the trees was a little difficult, but that didn’t stop us. When we cleared the top, she changed into a blue jay and started flying in the same direction that we had been walking. I followed her.

What should have been a thirty minute walk took about three minutes by air. Not having to deal with trees in the way or going around hills saved a lot of time. Soon enough, she began dipping into the trees. I did my best to follow her and ended up on the ground with only a little bit of pain; getting through tree cover with huge wings is hard.

She turned back into a changeling when we were both on the ground and whispered, “Its nest is just ahead, inside the massive tree.”

I peered ahead of us, toward a tree that I remembered from one of my earlier trips. I do believe it was probably the tallest tree in the entire forest, though I don’t remember there being a nest in or near it.

“Well,” I said, checking my gun, “it was interesting meeting you. Don’t follow me and please never talk to me again.” I began walking away.

She immediately began following me. “So I was thinking… After you kill the fenghuang, my hobby’s gonna be a lot easier. Most of the other changelings in the hive are pretty boring and if I’m going to have a lot of free time anyway, do you mind if I come by your place sometimes to hang out?”

“I mind very much. Don’t come to my house. You come to my house, I’ll drag you back to the hive and tell everyone there what I found you doing.”

“I guess it’s okay if you come to my place instead. I have a home away from home nearby. When can I expect you?”

“How about the weekend after never? I think I’ll be free then.”

“Is that one of those weird pony month names? I don’t remember that one. I think I’ll have time in three days. I just need to get the place spruced up a bit first. I can tell you how to get there after you kill the bird for me.”

“Then you wait here so I can actually sneak up on the damn thing. It’ll know you’re coming.”

“Oh! Right. I’ll just wait here.” She casually plopped her ass down on the ground. “Hurry back!”

Finally. I continued alone and in silence, the gun at the ready. When I finally cleared the brush and the forest around the extremely large tree, I looked up and started walking around it, trying to find anything that looked like either a nest or a place the nest could hide. As I was doing that, I was counting myself lucky that this tree wasn’t an evergreen, because I wouldn’t be able to see the trunk at all were that the case.

I saw a hole in the tree about halfway up the thing on the side opposite of where I started circling. I stretched my wings yet again and took off, trying to be relatively silent. When I finally got up to the hole, I saw that it was about my size. I immediately regretted landing right on the lip of the hole.

As soon as I touched down, some fuckmassive bird shot out of the hole, talons outstretched and beak ready to strike. I fell backwards in shock and his talons grabbed me. Thankfully, his beak completely missed the mark. I don’t think he was expecting the weight of a human in full armor, because we began sinking toward the ground at an alarming rate. What was more troubling is that he was using his talons to pull me closer to him, his beak primed to strike at the only part of my body that wasn’t armored.

The one day I didn’t wear a helmet, I swear to God. Since I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to get the gun up at that angle, I ripped one of my knives out of its sheath and plunged it into the thing’s chest. It released an immense and eardrum-shattering screech and tried letting me go. I released the dagger and grabbed onto its talon with one hand while the other held onto the gun, me not willing to let such a priceless weapon break from the height.

The height that was, as I found when I looked down, rapidly decreasing. I slid the rifle in its sling around my shoulder as I reached up and grabbed the knife in the bird’s chest, dragging it downward and cutting open more of the bird, releasing a torrent of bright red blood onto my head and wings. When my knife finally pulled free, I let go of the bird and shot my wings out, kicking off some of the blood and greatly slowing my personal descent. The bird just started spiraling to the ground.

My fall was more controlled, and I landed right next to the crumpled form of the bird that was still slightly twitching. I spat next to the thing’s body, a line of blood dribbling down my face. “Just had to make it hard, you bitch.” I knelt down next to it and plunged my knife into its throat. “Well, guess who came out on top anyway?” I ripped my dagger out and rubbed it across the bird’s feathers, cleaning it. When it was good enough, I slid it back in its sheath. “Now how am I going to get you back?” I mused, standing up and looking over my kill.

“I can help!” a certain annoying changeling said, popping up next to me.

I ignored her as I looked over the thing’s body. It was probably just under twice my height and I wouldn’t be surprised if the damn thing weighed as much as I did without my armor. It also had the most beautiful feathers and fucked up body I had seen on anything in a while. It looked like it was made up of all kinds of birds, and possibly some other animals as well. I almost regret killing it, just because this thing would have been awesome to see flying around.

But almost doesn’t cut it for long. “Looks like I’m having turducken tonight,” I said, nudging the body with a foot to determine weight and possible center of mass.

“What’s that?” Mirror asked, joining me in poking the bird.

“A human joke. Now buzz off.”

“Ha, I get that one! Because I have bug-like wings!” She demonstrated by shaking them quickly, making a low buzzing noise. “So how are we gonna carry it back to your place, Navi?”

I was right on the edge of getting very angry with this little bug. “Didn’t you say you wanted to get your home ready?” I asked, at least trying to stay somewhat pleasant.

“Oh, I always have time to help a friend!”

“No, I insist. Go home. Right now.”

“Wellll… If you insist. You look big and strong; I’m sure you can carry him back alone. Remember, you can come visit in three days!” Her wings stretched again and she almost took off, but stopped at the last minute. After a second of consideration, she jumped forward and latched onto me, hugging me. I didn’t notice her horrible stench until that point, but it flooded into my nose when she touched me. “It was nice meeting you, Navi!” Before I could do anything, her wings kicked in and she flew off.

And she completely forgot to tell me where she lived, thankfully. Here’s hoping I’ll never see her again…

“For once, I agree with you,” Flo said in my head. “There was something very, very wrong with her, mentally. No one normal comes into a forest and pretends to be an animal to get sex.”

“Look, I don’t even want to think about it. Just help me figure out how to get this thing back.”

“Put one leg in both hands and just fly. It’ll probably be hard, but that’s likely the best way. Just do it quickly, before she comes back.” She had a very good point. I grabbed one of the thing’s legs and jumped off from the ground, shooting my wings down and attempting to get some height.

It took me a little while, but I finally got above the treeline. I was very thankful for my treelike stamina at that point, even though that didn’t spare my wings from some soreness. When I was finally up, I started sailing away toward the area where Reginald had his cave. I don’t think I was anywhere near the two hours being up, but I could still sit outside and start gathering some sticks and shit for a fire.

Proving that there might possibly still be a god out there, I made it to the cave without that crazy changeling finding me. I dropped the bird from a few feet in the air, not wanting to carry the damn thing for any longer. I landed next to it and took a moment to stretch and look around before grabbing some suitable looking wood for a fire and setting them all up for a good campfire setting.

I released the air pressure in my rifle when I started sitting down and carving the bird. I was expecting that I’d be perfectly safe in front of a dragon’s cave, since there were scorch marks all around and the trees were cleared for a good twenty meters. Most animals would probably be afraid of an area where anything that trespasses risks getting melted or eaten. That didn’t stop me from keeping my hand near the rifle, ready to pick it up in an instant, though.

It had been a good long time since I carved up a bird. I was hoping I did well enough. And if not, well, fuck them.

By the time I finished, I think the two hours were up. And if they weren’t up, they were close enough to it. I stood up and ran a hand over my hair, knocking out some of the well-dried blood. I need a stream or something. Christ. After I had cleaned myself up a little, I walked over to the cave entrance and called, “Yo, you guys done yet?”

About half a minute after I called in, Spike came walking out. “Just abo—Whoa! What happened to you?!”

I jerked a thumb behind me at the dissected bird thing. “Caught dinner. It tried catching me. Go get a fire started. I want to find out if Reggie has a stream or something I can get this blood out with. Anything tries stealing my food, fucking torch it.”

“Uh… Are you okay? It didn’t hurt you, did it?”

“Nah, I’m good. I just got blood all over me. I’ll be back soonish, I hope.”

“Alright… And thanks for this again, Nav. He explained so much! Did you know that I have claws? Check this out!” He lifted one of his arms and held up his hand. With a loud clicking noise, claws pushed out from each of his digits. They weren’t that big and didn’t seem that fearsome, but they were a more formidable weapon than his bare whatever he called them.

“That is pretty cool. Just be careful with those things. It would be extremely uncomfortable if they came out while you were pissing.”

“…Yeah. Well, you go get washed up. I finally get to cook meat again!”

“Have fun with that.” I walked past him into the cave as he started walking outside. I probably should have warned him about Mirror, but I wasn’t expecting to ever see her again anyway.

When I got into the cave, I found Reginald looking away, deeper into the cave. Steam was slowly coming from his nostrils. I had no idea what that meant, but it probably wasn’t a good sign. “Hey, you alright?” I asked, stopping.

“I feel… off, Navarone,” he answered, spinning his head toward me. “Like—” His eyes went wide. “What happened to you? Were you accosted yet again? I’ll kill the monster!” I was not expecting that reaction. As his anger grew, claws poked out of his hands, his pupils contracted, his tail grew spikes, and his wings shot out.

“I’m fine! I went hunting and made a mistake and ended up with blood everywhere. Everything’s just fine, man! Calm down.”

He snorted out a billowing cloud of steam as he slowly calmed, his body reverting to its previous state. “I… see. And you did not think to wash?”

“The last time I tried going to a river in the Everfree, I ran into a gay river serpent that wanted to spend entirely too much time with me. I was hoping you knew of a stream or something nearby that doesn’t have anything dangerous in it.”

He sank to all fours, shaking the earth and causing a few gemslides in his mounds of treasure. “There is one in the back of my cave.” He shot one of his hands out and grabbed me, sitting me on his back. He started walking to the back of his cave without explaining why I was now riding him. “As I was saying, I feel off. The dragon, Spike, knows so little. He claimed that there were no books relating to our kind in all of Equestria, or at least none that went into much detail. It seems impossible; I authored two myself only three thousand years ago!”

“Dude, a lot can happen in three thousand years, especially when you’re dealing with a mortal race.”

“I do not believe it is this race’s mortality that is the problem, Navarone. I believe that information is being hidden, kept from others. The friend you sent me, the pony by the name of Watcher, had no idea who Discord was. None at all. All he knew of was the statue. Discord existed before the memory of every living being I know, and the ponies don’t even know about him. That isn’t the sign of a clerical error or information being lost. That is a sign of information being hidden and destroyed.”

“Speaking of Discord, I need to know more about him.”

“You and your friend both. Personally, I know little. I knew him before he destroyed the alicorn race and I knew him as he ruled the world in his chaotic clutches, but never once did he make any sense to me. He did all he could to thwart the efforts of Celestia and Luna as they attempted to seal him in stone, and then applauded them in their efforts to stop him. He perverted Chrysalis and some alicorns into the changelings we know of today. He did a myriad of other things, few of which were important. And he resides to this day in the statue garden in Canterlot.”

“I am not so sure of that, Reginald,” I said, patting his neck.

“Again, you mimic your friend. Given Discord’s power, I would not be entirely surprised to learn that he could influence some small things around his statue, but not much.”

“For one, he got into my dreams while I was miles away.”

“Hm…” He reached around his back and pulled me off again, setting me down next to a small spring that bubbled into his cave from some underground source. “I never did forget the naga caves, after all the time I spent there,” he said, looking down into the water and brushing a talon through it. “But go on.”

I unbuckled my breastplate, pulled my shirt off, and pulled the rubber band out of my hair as I continued, “And his statue is hollow. If there might have been something inside of it once, it’s gone now.”

“That is… troubling. And coupled with some of what Watcher told me, it warrants investigation. But this is entirely against everything I know of Discord. He does not sit back and watch. He is too powerful and apathetic. He would be playing some manner of game with us, giving us some way of winning or knowing he was around. Sitting in the shadows is not something he would do.”

“Hey, I don’t know if he’s out and about or not. Hell, I don’t particularly care if he is. But between you and me, this motherfucker destroyed my entire race.” I stopped to dunk my upper body under the water, letting my wings fall in next to me. It was very cool, not quite dipping into cold. After shaking my head and rubbing as much of the blood out as I could, I pulled my head up and took a nice breath of air.

“How could he have killed your race?” he asked, genuinely confused.

I sat back, letting the water and some extra blood drip off me. “I found out recently that I didn’t come from another dimension, as I thought. I came from the past. The far, far past. I can’t give you more details or tell you how I know this, but as it turns out some manner of element of chaos is responsible for killing off my people. And I know from other sources that the same element of chaos is responsible for killing off or imprisoning a group of entities known as the elementals.”

“And you can’t disclose those sources?”

“I’m afraid not. And I’d greatly prefer you keep them to yourself, too. If Luna or Celestia learned about what I just told you, uncomfortable questions would be asked.”

“Very well. My silence is assured. However, it is still important that they be told that Discord might be on the loose. I will deliver this information to them personally.”

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to tell them without more proof?”

“Yes. They may have more proof that they overlooked because they did not think Discord was active. If it is brought to their attention, they will reevaluate things.”

“When will you leave?”

“If Discord hasn’t moved yet, I doubt he will move soon. I will leave when night falls, to seek out Luna. Are you clean, Navarone?”

“Nah, I’ll never be clean again. The blood’s gone, though.” I stuffed my shirt into the breastplate and grabbed it, standing up. “Ready to head back when you are.”

He tilted a head to the side, staring at my chest. “What are those protrusions on your chest?” He lifted a hand and very gently poked one of my nipples.

I blinked, completely surprised by that. “Uh… nipples? If I was a woman, that’s where milk would be stored for our young.”

“Ah, mammal. I forgot.” His talons wrapped around me, setting me on his back again. “If you or Spike ever need more information, you are both welcome here at any time. I believe Spike will be considerably more formidable in battle now that he knows more about his body, probably powerful enough to make it to my cave alone.”

“Probably, but I’d prefer not to take that chance. Besides, it’s good for him to get some time with some other guys. He’s around girls most of the time.”

“He is nearing the age where that will not be a bad thing for him. For them, though, it might.”

“I’ll see what I can do to keep him out of trouble. He’s almost as strong as I am now, though.”

“But you are more authoritative. You probably always will be. Just make sure he knows who’s boss and there is a good chance he will accede to your will.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, I guess.” It sounded more like something a dominatrix would be interested in, but maybe it would be useful some day.

Reginald continued his walk in silence, his scales shifting under me in a way that would probably destroy my legs if I wasn’t wearing armor. I made a mental note to never ride Kumani, if you know what I mean, without my armor.

“So what was with your reaction when you thought I was hurt, anyway?” I asked after a moment of silence.

He snorted some steam and answered, “When I saw you wounded at the party, I felt a rage I hadn’t in a long time. To see a friend of mine cut down so… I’ve lost several friends over the years, many of them killed in their prime. I do not like it. When I can do something about it, I will.”

“Well, thanks for the thought. I’m finding more loyal friends in this place than I did back at home, that’s for sure.”

“Loyalty and friendship given often equal loyalty and friendship received. You have done right by me, so I do right by you. Just remember that lesson, since you didn’t seem to learn it at your home.”

 That was interesting advice. Advice I quickly forgot as we got outside the cave and I spotted a familiar changeling heckling a disgusted looking Spike. “God dammit!” I quietly hissed, grabbing my breastplate and spreading my wings. I lifted myself off Reggie’s back and landed on the ground. “Mirror, what are you doing here?” I asked as I walked over, ready to drop my breastplate and grab a dagger if she rushed me. I tried to keep the anger and irritation out of my voice, but I don’t think I was overly successful.

She spun around with a massive smile when she heard my voice. “I knew you didn’t turn into a dragon! That would mean you’re a changeling like me and not Navarone, and that would just be silly.” I opened my mouth to ask why she was here again, but she continued, “I just remembered that I never gave you the directions!” As she said that, she started walking over to me. Spike seemed to grow noticeably more relieved when she was away from him, but I could hear the hackles or spikes or whatever on Reginald’s neck start to bristle as she got closer to the two of us. “I realized it’s pretty hard to describe where I live if it’s all one big forest, so I figured you could just meet me at the big tree and I can take you there. So, three days?”

“…Yeah. Three days. I’ll meet you there. Now, you go prepare.”

“Okay!” She didn’t move. “So who are your friends?”

I nodded behind her. “Spike.” I jerked my head to the back. “Reginald. Now, you should probably get going.”

She waved at Reginald. “Hi! My name’s Eva. Nice to meet you!”

I blinked a few times. “Eva? You told me it was Mirror.”

“...I did? Well that’s weird of me. It’s obviously not Mirror!” She giggled in a way that honestly worried me. “Well, I should probably get going…” We all watched her for a few seconds before she shrugged. “Are you guys having a cookout? I can help! I know all about cooking.”

“…A changeling cook?” I slowly asked, really wanting to cross my arms.

“I might have exaggerated just a little… But I can still help!”

“That’s quite alright,” I hastily said. “Spike is an excellent cook. We don’t need any help.”

“Oh… Do you need anything else?”

“We’re fine. You really should get started on that mess back at your home. I’m sure you don’t want me to see anything I shouldn’t when I come by.”

“Don’t worry, I have nothing to hide from my bestest friend!”

“Right. Still, I’d rather make sure. You know, just in case.”

She hopped up on her hind legs and gave me a salute. “I’ll have it done in time, or my name isn’t Poly!”

Reginald snorted, blowing steam toward her. “You said your name was Eva,” he answered. “And Navarone said your name was Mirror. Which is it, changeling?”

Her entire body spasmed and her face contorted for a moment before the smile returned. “Mirror! It’s definitely Poly. Say, that steam thing is really cool! Have you ever thought of opening a sauna?”

“Didn’t you say you had something to take care of?” I interjected, wanting to get rid of her as quickly as possible so I would never have to see her again.

Her smile slipped the tiniest bit before she nodded. “Yep! Remember Navi, three days!”

“Yeah, three days. In front of the tree.”

“Three days,” she said yet again, still sounding happy. I nodded to show that I understood. She said it one more time before the smile on her face seemed to give way to a look of horror for a split second. Then she took off flying, speeding away.

“Welp, glad I’ll never see her again,” I said, walking over to the fire Spike had going.

“Nav… what was that?” Spike asked, watching Mirror fly away.

“The most mentally unbalanced person I’ve probably ever met. I will be doing my best to forget that I ever met her.”

Reginald walked over to our fire and plopped down on the ground. “That is probably wise. Little good ever comes from tangling with crazies.”

“I dunno…” Spike said, looking back down to where he was cooking the bird. “It seems like we should try to help her or something.”

Reginald and I shared a look before turning our eyes back to the fire. I wanted to tell him no offhand, but I was thinking of a nice way to say it. Flo decided not to help by saying, “He’s sort of right. Yes, she might be dangerous. But you should at least make an attempt to help her, Nav. It’s the right thing to do.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said aloud, sitting down next to the fire. “Reginald is right. She is crazy and probably bad news. However, she might be helpable. But I know from experience that you can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped. And I also know from experience that enabling someone potentially dangerous like her is a good way to make them keep coming around. If she doesn’t want to be helped and we visit her, there’s a chance we’ll have to put her down to keep Ponyville safe from her.”

“She… she can’t be dangerous, Nav,” Spike hesitantly said.

I sighed, running a hand through my very long hair. “She’s unpredictable and potentially dangerous. As I said, I will think about attempting to help her. No promises.”

“Hm…” He flipped one of the hunks of meat. “I’ll go with you. Anyway, what was this thing? I’ve never seen feathers like these.”

“Man, I don’t fucking know. It sure didn’t want to be eaten, though. I’m not at all used to having prey fight back.”

Reginald grinned, saying, “It takes the fun out of the hunt if the prey is mindless and weak. Though there are few animals that can satiate my hunger any longer, at least without causing an extinction. The downside of growing to my size is running out of fair fights.”

“Sounds nice to me,” I said. “And constantly being armored would also be nice. I know I wouldn’t have been stabbed in the back if I had been wearing this baby.” I tapped the breastplate beside me for emphasis.

“It reassures me that you feel no need to wear it around me, then,” Reginald said. “But having scales is not all good. It heavily mutes the feel of a lover’s touch, for one. And the feeling of shedding them is incredibly uncomfortable. Still, I believe they are worth it.”

“Might have to start stealing some from Spike, then.”

Reginald actually chuckled. “That would be a bad idea, should you ever run into another dragon. Such an action is seen by some to be a sign of the most intimate form of love. I do not judge, but there are many who would.”

Spike started blushing when the dragon mentioned that, and he quickly turned his head back to what he was cooking. I just shrugged and said, “They’d be hard to affix onto my skin anyway. Spike, that bird close to done?”

“I think…” He pulled the large, flat rock he was using to cook them away from the fire. “It looks done. I’ve never cooked something like this before, though.”

“Well, you have a stronger stomach than I do. Try it.”

“What? Why do I have to do it? You’re the one that killed it!”

“And you’re the one that think’s it’s ready to eat. So eat some of it.”

He sighed and muttered something before grabbing one of the slivers of meat and tossing it into his mouth. He took a short moment to chew and taste it before his eyes went wide. “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted!” he yelled, his mouth still full.

I lifted an eyebrow, looking down at the meat. “Maybe that crazy changeling knew her stuff after all. I think I’ll wait for it to cool, though.”

“Psh. Don’t be such a big baby, Nav,” Spike said, reaching for another piece.

“It’s hardly acting like a baby when I can’t eat something for fear of getting burned. I don’t have a dragon’s resistance to fire and heat, after all.”

“That makes me wonder something, actually,” Reginald said. “You say you come from elsewhere, and I believe you mentioned you are the dominant life form there. How did your kind manage that with so few tools of survival?”

I tapped my head. “Our minds. We had no magic and few natural resistances, but we had the ability to create what we didn’t have. It also helps that we were the only sapient race.”

“Hm.” Reggie blew some air onto the bird steaks, presumably cooling them. I shrugged and grabbed a piece before Spike could eat all of it. “It was a similar story with the ponies. Not their alicorn forebears, the ponies that Discord created.”

“Back up, what?” I asked, still not having taken a bite.

“Not even the history of their creation was remembered? What a shame… Before Discord arrived here, there were alicorns, like Celestia and Luna. When he came and began destroying the alicorns, he did so in three primary ways. Some, he perverted into changelings. Some, he turned insane. And finally, some he broke into three: unicorns, pegasi, and what you know as earth ponies. As far as I know, only Celestia, Luna, and the prisoners of Tartarus survived.”

“So what about Cadance?” I asked, finally taking a bite of the meat. When the taste hit me, I completely zoned his answer out, caught in the memories. Thanksgiving with the family. Cool November days… My eyes opened wide as I remembered, caught in a wave of raw nostalgia.

A claw on both shoulders brought me down from the clouds. “You alright, Nav?” Spike asked, standing in front of me.

I blinked, quickly shaking my head and lifting a hand to rub at my face. “Yeah. That just brought back memories. This thing could pass as a full Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes, and cranberries. How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know, but I know it’s awesome. We need to find another one for the road.”

“That would be impossible,” Reginald said, looking down at the feathers and remains. “This was the fenghuang, I believe. There existed only one, to my knowledge. Such a rare combination does not happen often, after all.”

Spike let me go and we both turned to look at him. “Only one?” I asked. “Fucking seriously? Christ, even a few million years in the future, humans are still causing extinctions!”

Reginald shrugged. “There is no great loss. This bird survived merely to survive. It had no chance at children and did little more than merely take up resources. Killing it does the rest of the world some good. And if it tastes good, then eating it after killing it is no real crime.”

“Sounds like pandas,” I muttered, glancing darkly at the feathers. I was just going to leave those and the remains here, but now I felt obligated to see that as little of it was wasted as possible. I knew Rarity could make something with the feathers, at least.

Spike shrugged at Reggie’s explanation. “Good enough for me.” He walked back over next to the rock and stuffed another piece in his mouth. “Tastes too good to waste.”

“True enough,” I sighed, pulling another slice of meat off the slab.

It was a nice little cookout we had there, all things told. Unfortunately, I needed to get Spike back at a reasonable hour or Twilight would do her best to hunt us down. I had a feeling that if she had to come into the forest to find us, bad things would happen to me.

So I took off with Spike held cradled in my arms and a bag of bird remains tied to my waist, dangling under me. “So what’s better about being held like this?” I asked as we soared over the forest.

“Better view,” he answered. “If I’m over your shoulder, I can only see your wings. Or the ground, if I’m facing the other way. I can look around a lot more this way. It also feels less like I’m just a piece of meat. Also, your hand is usually on the back of my tail, and that feels… weird.”

I felt my face turning hot, remembering some nights with Kumani. “Oooh, yeah. Forgot about that. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but that spot at the top of your tail where it connects with your body is a serious erogenous zone. Putting pressure on it would probably feel really good.”

“…Why would you tell me that?”

“Okay, I probably could have picked a better time, but still. If you ever pick up a hot dragon babe, it would be important to know that.”

“Hmph. Any other ‘tips,’ oh great Navarone?”

“Assuming you have the same type of body that the dragon I fucked did, your dick will have some very interesting features that mares will probably love. And if you learn to use your freaky dragon tongue well, you can probably make just about anyone love you.”

“This is getting creepy. How would you even know what… that looks like? I thought you were into mares!”

“Remember my gender changing stones? My partner was curious.”

“I had forgotten about those, actually…” We fell into silence as our flight home continued. A few minutes later, we landed in my backyard and I let him down. “So… what’s it like as a girl?”

“Different. It’s more of a full body thing and less of a centralized thing. You’d have to try it yourself to understand. Now, I promised I would do something with Taya to celebrate getting healed.”

“Alright, that’s cool. I might… stick around for a while. See if the naga’s still up for teaching, you know?” More like see if Doppel still wants him now that I’m better. I wasn’t about to get in his way, that’s for sure. Not with Flo doing her best to make sure I got over my ‘addiction.’ I still craved it, but…

“Stay as long as you want,” I said. “Lord knows I got tired of Twilight’s constant bitching. You’ve been putting up with her longer than I have.”

“I got used to it.” I grabbed my practice sword from where I left it and he grabbed all of his gear. We stepped inside together and found Cadance at the kitchen table with her abomination sitting next to her.

“So how ‘bout them assassins?” I asked as I stepped inside.

“I’m almost positive it won’t be another month, Nav,” Cadance answered, rolling her eyes. “I like this about as much as you do. I rarely get to see Shining Armor and your home was not made for mothers or their foals.”

“Bah. You’re lucky I remember why I’m not married to Gilda. You know where Taya is?”

“Did you check her room?”

“I haven’t checked anywhere. I just got back, after all. I suppose that’s a good first stop. Spike, make yourself at home or whatever.” As much meat as we had in there, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d be very ready to do just that. I went on out and up the stairs, looking for my daughter.

Her door was closed, which isn’t really much a sign of anything. I knocked on it and waited until I heard a muffled, “Who is it?”

“Your father,” I answered, leaning back and crossing my arms. As soon as she had time to process my answer, the door lit up and flew open. “You still want to do something to celebrate?”

“Yes!” Before I could see much of anything inside her room, she quickly exited, using magic to pull the door shut behind her. If her room was anything like what I remembered, there was no real reason to want to see inside it anyway; she didn’t do much to personalize it.

“Well, just let me put my stuff up and change and we can do whatever you want. Or if you can’t think of anything, I’m sure I can figure something out.”

“You won’t need to change and you’re going to need your practice sword. You’re also probably going to need your ring.”

“…Taya, what do you think the definition of celebrate is?”

“Having fun or doing something fun in the wake of a serious event. And what better way to celebrate than by…” Her horn lit up and I got a small amount of vertigo as we teleported elsewhere. “…bonding with my father?” We were in my backyard again.

“What did you have in mind, then?” I asked, once again crossing my arms.

“A fun training exercise! You and me against our teachers.”

“That… sounds somewhat suicidal. I don’t know if you remember it or not, but our teachers happen to both be very good at their craft. You’ve only been training for a month and I’ve only been training for a few. You really think this’ll end well?”

“No one will get hurt, even if we lose. It’s just a training exercise, daddy.”

I shrugged. “Alright. Maybe my ring will be enough of an advantage. If you can deal with the naga, I can probably handle your instructor. So where are we doing this?”

“Right here, of course. They should be here in a few minutes.”

Time enough for me to get out of some of my armor for a second, at least. I pulled my gauntlets off and let them fall to the ground, stretching my fingers and letting the sweat hit the cool autumn air. When they were aired out enough, I pulled the rifle from my back and set it up against the house where it wouldn’t be damaged in the scuffle. And finally, I pulled my ring from my necklace and slipped it onto one of my fingers.

“So why this, of anything?” I asked. “A nice picnic, a walk or something, going swimming… Why a training bout?”

“Because I like fighting and you like fighting. Is it really so bad to fight together?”

“I don’t like fighting, actually. It’s a bit dangerous for my tastes. I do it out of necessity, no other reason.”

“Then why are you always smiling when you train with the naga? And why do you always seem to be in a better mood after a session?”

“…I like getting exercise.” What should I tell her? That fighting is fun? That the rush of adrenaline you get from combat and murder is addicting? That I’ve grown to love the thrill of the fight and of not knowing who would come out on top, my life versus theirs? That isn’t anything you should tell anyone sane, not and expect them to think you’re mentally sound. And it’s definitely not something to tell someone like Taya, who has a cutie mark in combat magic but has barely started her career.

“Daddy, why do you lie so much?”

“Because sometimes lying is the best and easiest solution to some problems. But only sometimes, and it takes a lot of practice to know when those times are. And it takes even more practice to get good at lying. The only ponies I’ve ever seen that were any good at it were Celestia and Luna. And since they’re both six thousand years old or so, that tells you something. So I lie because it’s for the best. And you shouldn’t lie because it wouldn’t be for the best.”

“That’s hypocritical!”

“Doesn’t make it any less true. And lookie there, our instructors are here.” Which is a good thing, because I really don’t want to have that discussion with Taya. Fiery Sage and Ames were moving together toward us from the side of the house, presumably coming straight from the front gate. I knelt down and slid on my gauntlets as they closed the distance.

“So you want to do a team exercise,” the unicorn said when they were close enough. He was looking at me, for some reason.

“That is Taya’s plan, yes,” I said, pulling out my practice sword. “It’s a decent enough idea; between her magic and my steel, we should be a good enough pair to deal with most opponents that threaten us. We’ll just need some practice to be able to work together. Which I suppose is what this is for.”

The naga looked down to Taya for a moment before looking at me. “Navarone, I wounded you severely when we first began training. Taya is younger and weaker. I do not wish to risk her health like this.”

“I can solve that,” Sage said. “I can give your weapons the same temporary enchantments used for duels and arena matches. They’ll be completely harmless, but will let your enemy know that he is down.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “Will that work on even ranged weapons?”

“If the ammunition is coated in the magic, yes,” he answered. I grinned as I walked over to where I left my rifle. When I had it safely in hand, I walked back. “That thing is a weapon? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I’d be surprised if you had.” I pulled out the magazine and said, “Use the magic whatever on these.”

The naga snorted. “If you are going to be using your ranged weapon, this fight will be over in seconds. I know you are a monster with that thing, Navarone. It defeats the purpose of the exercise to beat both of us that quickly. Your sword against mine, or I will take the day off.”

I sighed and reloaded the rifle. “Fine. It’s not my fault that I like winning.”

Sage was smiling as I walked back to where I had left the rifle the first time. “It seems that naga underestimates me a little too much,” he said. “I think I would have time to stop any manner of ranged attack from hurting me.”

“It’s cute that you think that,” I said as I walked back. “What about my throwing knives? Can I use those, at least?”

The naga shrugged. “I’ve seen you use them. You have to be relatively close to use them and I don’t see them doing much to end this battle, not as small as they are.”

I grinned and pulled them from the straps around my belt. “Would you kindly?” I asked Sage. His horn lit up and they were suffused with a glossy covering. “Now, shall we get started?”

“We might as well begin now,” he said. “I fear this match will be over quickly.” I held out my practice sword to be made safe and the light from his horn consumed it, giving it a familiar shiny covering. The same had already been done to the naga’s giant tree branch that he called a practice sword. “Now, making magic safe is somewhat harder. However, it can be done.” His horn lit up yet again and he did something. I have no clue what he did, though. After a moment, he bent his horn down to Taya’s and did something else. “There. Now we should be safe until I remove the enchantment.”

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