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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20. Chapter Fifteen—No good deed goes unpunished

A few weeks later, to show that even in winter I can’t get a break, a letter from Princess Celestia arrived. It wasn’t a particularly nice letter, either: It detailed her knowledge about what happened at the naga camp, though not her sources for such knowledge.

It was a summons to Canterlot. There wasn’t a fan in my world large enough to contain the shit I thought was about to hit.

The letter detailed that it would be in my best interest to accompany the guard that was coming the next day to pick me up, and that not doing so would be a rather large mistake. I was very tempted to cheese it, but if she knew what happened with the naga camp, what else did she know?

So I made my excuses the following day and went with the guard she sent for me. I could have done a lot, but I figured there were several good excuses I could use to get out of any punishment. I’m somewhat decent at getting out of things, when I really need to be.

I did make a decided point not to bring any manner of weapons with me, though. Those could only hurt my defense. I also brought the journal entries relevant to the issues, as the only hard evidence I had with me. Yes, they painted my guilt, but I wasn’t planning on using them unless the situation was dire.

When we got to the palace, I was escorted under heavy guard to the same fucking sitting room I ended up at every time I went to this palace. I was seriously starting to hate that fucking sitting room, and I think Celestia was doing it on purpose. I mean, this palace was pretty big; surely there were more rooms in it.

I was looking out the window, contemplating escape, when Celestia came in. “Navarone, why do you think I summoned you here?” she asked in a neutral voice.

Without turning, I said, “I can think of a few reasons. You want all of them, or just the ones that you’d like?”

“By all means, tell me your thoughts.”

“There is almost certainly going to be a trial of sorts. What happens there, though, is what I’m debating on. One is that you are pissed for what I did, and will seek to condemn me for it. Probably a harsh sentence; I would ask for death if that is the case, unless exile is on the floor.”

“The other reasons?”

I turned. “You want something. You stand to gain from this. From the slaughter of the naga, you learned my potential uses. I could be pressed into service as an agent of the state, dealing with… ‘unpleasant’ problems. Or the trial could be a sham, something you were forced into doing by your spymaster who reported it in the first place; you couldn’t possibly condone something like that in your territory, but at the same time you don’t want to condemn me for doing what was probably right, so you’ll hold a trial and call me innocent. Or the trial is an example to Luna, to show her the unrepentant murderer I truly am. Depending on her reactions to the trial, my fate might differ; I could end up free, exiled, dead, imprisoned, or pressed into service.”

“Anything else?”

“You just wanted to see me again, and didn’t have a good reason to summon me to the palace.”

“If I ever wanted to see you, I wouldn’t need a good reason to summon you. Wanting to see you would be reason enough.”

I just shrugged and waited. She continued, “All of those are decent reasons, though I doubt I’d have to press you too hard to get you to do a few favors for me. I don’t have to deal with legal issues when it comes to having somepony arrested; I could just tell the guards to take you away.”

“You could, but you wouldn’t.”

“If there was a big enough threat to Equestria, I could and would.”

“Which means that either you don’t consider me a threat or that this is a false trial. And one probably means the other.”

“You think too much.”

“No, but when I do think, I plot. If you gave me a few days, I could come up with a foolproof plan to take you down unseen, have Luna installed as the only princess, and control her through her love for me. I’m just not ambitious enough to want to do that, nor would I be an overly good leader.”

“Killing me would have more consequences than you could possibly imagine. This world runs because I live. Luna could not take on all that responsibility or power herself, even with you controlling her.”

“Yeah, and that’s the other reason I don’t do it. I have no idea what you know, or what fail safes you have in place.”

“Is there any reason I shouldn’t have you thrown in a dungeon for what you did to the naga? Or your threat to me?”

I gave her the journal entries. “Read through those, if you want. If you don’t want to do that, I’ll try to explain. Or I could do both.”

She spent some time reading through the journal. “Your mind is twisted, Navarone,” was the first thing she said, and then spent some time thinking. “I did not know all of this, about the naga. I will have to send a representative to talk with them.”

“I would really rather you didn’t. A lot of my backup plans involve them.”

“That is something else we need to discuss. There is a lot I think I need to talk about, concerning this.” Here we go… “First, don’t think you can ever disappear to a place I can’t find you. When you teleport somepony once, you can teleport them from anywhere. It just takes more energy the farther away they are. At the peak of day, I have enough energy to bring you here from anywhere on the planet, even if I wouldn’t be able to move well for the next week. And with Luna helping me, I could probably rip you from anywhere. Including back on your Earth, if you somehow got back there.” Oh, shit. “Second, you need to stop letting ponies break laws concerning you. Kidnapping is illegal, and is now yet another crime against you I’ll have to pretend didn’t happen. Third, what kind of creepy questions did those naga ask you, and how were you able to answer them?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, I do. Answer me.”

I started telling a lie, but then her horn started glowing. “By the way, after reading that journal entry, I cast a lie-detecting spell. Don’t plan on lying to me in any more of our conversations.” Son of a bitch.

“How does that spell work?”

“Magic.”

“How does it detect a lie? Does it read some physical or emotional response from me?”

“Magic. Answer my question.”

“No.” It took a lot more courage than I would have liked to say that.

“After all this, you still don’t trust me?”

“Some crimes can’t be ignored.”

“Which is why they must be reported. Who did it? Did Luna somehow sneak out?”

“It was not Luna. That is all I will say on that.”

“You are going to be wonderful to have on my staff in a few years, you know that?”

“If I’m still alive.” Or sane.

“Oh, no, you’re not allowed to die. If I thought you would accept it, I would keep you here in Canterlot as a pony until Luna was freed.”

“Speaking of which, you are still doing your best to get her to not love me, right? Have you managed to find any suitable male ponies for her to love instead?”

“The goal isn’t to replace her love, it’s to stop her from loving. Down that way lies nothing but pain, for those such as her and I.” Her eyes were downcast for a moment, before she looked up again. “But yes, I am at least trying to get her to forget you. It… isn’t working.”

“At least next year I won’t be at the Gala.”

“I don’t know… you were the star attraction at the last one, and definitely provided plenty of entertainment for me.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Fleur is waiting for the rogue Egill to appear again, ready for revenge. Which he won’t,” I said to her thoughtful expression. “Now, how are we going to deal with the naga problem?”

“To be quite honest, the plan was a mix of two of those you said: To get Luna to see you as a murderer and to force you into a task for repentance. But after reading your journal and your reasoning, I am forced to admit that a trial would be stupid. Which reminds me. What is,” she bent to look over the journal again, “…Kristallnacht?”

I grimaced. “It was a night of extreme intolerance displayed by one ethnic group against another back on my world. Several people called Jews were assaulted or killed, arrested, and had their homes and businesses destroyed. In this respect, it would be where one group planned to systematically and quietly kill everyone in the other group in the night.”

“And you honestly think that is what would have happened?”

“Given what I know of the naga people, I think it probably would have.”

“Good enough for me. And I know I can’t call you unrepentant, because you were definitely vocal in here about how bad you felt by doing it. Didn’t stop you, of course… I think you mentioned something before, about Nuremberg Laws, which covered this?”

“If someone orders you to break the law and you do it, you can’t hide behind the excuse ‘I was only following orders.’ We can do this farce of a trial if you want, but you will gain no support by anyone in the court from it, especially if you declare me guilty but fail to lock me up. And declaring me innocent would be tantamount to saying genocide is okay as long as it’s against your enemies. I killed noncombatants. Accidentally, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“You aren’t making me feel any better about not giving you a trial.”

“You already told me my sentence: A task. But you have not yet said what this task will be.”

“Remember: You don’t have an option here. It is this or prison.” This is sounding better and better. “There has been a… problem, I suppose is the best word, across the ocean. It is not something I can ignore. But it also is not safe over there, even for me, not where this happened. I will be leading a contingent of guards across the ocean to attempt to restore order. But none of them have any combat experience. You are to accompany me and Twilight as our bodyguard. She already knows, of course, but none of her friends do yet. We will be gone for around a year, probably.”

“What happened? Was there a rebellion?”

“No, nothing as bad as that. A few incursions from other races, but nothing too bad, until now. The real problem is the drought. Food is hard to grow there, and we can only ship so much from here to there. Twilight and I are going to use our magic to help make rain, since so many ponies are starving. It is not a new problem, but one that was exacerbated by increasing incursions from hostile creatures. That’s why we’re bringing guards. Before, we could at least distribute the food we sent over evenly. Now, though, our relief shipments are being disrupted. Your job is simple: Protect us. The soldiers will take care of everything else.”

“Why can’t the guards guard you?” You know, like their name implies.

“Because you are available and some guards have to stay here. I don’t have many of them, so I have to use them carefully. You are also probably more effective as a fighter than many of them, anyway.” She apparently didn’t realize my fighting skills were basically shooting and running away.

I contemplated running again, but I wouldn’t get too far before I was either dragged back or teleported back. Besides, if she was telling the truth about what would happen if she died, it would be a good idea to protect her. Dammit. It’s not like anyone wants to hurt her anyway, right? “When do we leave?”

 

Pretty damn soon, as it turned out. I was carried back to Ponyville and given two days to prepare.

Now, this may be a personal bias from back home, but when I found out that our destination was the Middle East, I freaked a bit. I grabbed every crossbow bolt I could find, the tools to make more, and every other weapon I had. I went down to the nearest pig farm and got some pig bones to wear as charms—I know that’s stereotyping and probably wasn’t even relevant, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I also got some more alcohol to replace that I lost or drank.

I knew there wouldn’t be much room for me on whatever ship we took, so I did make sure to travel relatively light, even if we would be gone for a year. I grabbed some spare clothes, enough material to keep me writing for a while, something I could hopefully use as a honing stone for my knife, the fire strikers, that brown cloak that seems to follow me everywhere, rubber bands for my hair, and my gloves. I felt ready to kick all kinds of ass.

 

Of course, it wasn’t as simple as just packing up and leaving. No, when you have friends, leaving is never so easy. Spike was going with us as Twilight’s assistant, so saying goodbye to him wasn’t an issue.

Rarity was no trouble to me, since we never got along that well anyway. We pretended for Twilight’s sake, and there was no animosity there, but we were just too different to get along easily. Applejack wasn’t that hard, as she was usually at the farm and I didn’t know her as well as the others. The still incident drove a bit of a rift between us as well, even though it wasn’t my fault.

Rainbow Dash was surprisingly hard. After she got over the whole selfishly almost getting me killed thing, we grew pretty tight, and me getting wings brought that bond even closer. She was probably the pony that was most similar to me, as well; we both were more fond of actions than words. It got us into plenty of trouble, as well.

Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were outright troublesome to say goodbye to. The three of us grew into great friends during the dance lessons, and our experiences with the naga brought us even closer. The honing rock was actually one of Pinkie Pie’s mementos from her early days at the farm, given to me as a parting gift, even though I was planning to come back.

Fluttershy was probably the saddest to see me go, for some reason. For the one that was most afraid of me when I got here, she sure changed her mind about me for some reason. Opposites attract, I suppose, though we weren’t as opposite as she thought. At heart I was a coward; I just knew how to hide it better.

But goodbyes aside, leaving wasn’t that difficult. Ponyville was a nice little town if you were normal, but just a place to live if you weren’t. Everyone was friendly but cold to me, even after a year. I understood, of course; somehow a rumor spread that I was responsible for the explosion and fire at Applejack’s place, even though I was miles away at the time. Aside from a few friends and the naga, there was nothing for me in Equestria.

 

We traveled by train to where our fleet was docked, in a place that I shit you not was called Manehattan. I drew several glances my way; it is not every day you see a cloaked, hooded figure wielding an uncertain-looking chunk of wood walking on two legs and with a purpose behind the eternal princess of the realm, followed by a decent-sized contingent of guards. Most of the stares were reserved for Celestia, of course, and many watched the guards, but I saw more than a few on me.

I smiled when I saw our ships. They were an odd contrast to the tall buildings around me, given that they were all old wooden ships, large and unwieldy, with massive furled sails atop tall wooden masts. Netting dotted the rigging of the ships, though I don’t know how a pony would go about climbing it. Hooves can only do so much, after all.

In case you couldn’t tell the truth from the lies in these journals, I absolutely love the ocean and sailing. Now, I hate the beach, but I love the ocean. Odd how that works, but whatever.

“So, which of these boats is ours?” I asked Twilight, who was walking beside me and Spike.

“The big one,” she answered, nodding to what was in fact the largest one there. Why am I not surprised?

“If I’m supposed to be protecting you, I want it known that any enemy will be suspecting the biggest boat and the smallest boat to be containing the princess.”

“Nopony will be attacking us,” she assured me. “You’re just there in case we need any leg work done, or we need your hands.”

I looked at Celestia’s back. I didn’t buy Twilight’s explanation, though I wouldn’t doubt that I would be doing my share of grunt work. I had a feeling that I was here for a reason, something Celestia knew I could do that ponies probably couldn’t.

 

When we got to the cabin I was sharing with Spike, I dropped my heavy pack, muttering obscenities about the heaviness of it; I didn’t pack much, but in my experience, every suitcase you bring from home seems heavier than the ones you bring back.

“Really, Nav, I don’t know why you bother wearing so many clothes. No pony would know the difference,” Spike said.

“They wouldn’t, but I would,” I assured him. “Besides, you have scales and don’t have to worry about sunburns or extreme cold. If this Middle East is anything like the one where I came from, there will be a lot of sun and a lot of heat, and sunburns will be commonplace until I build up a nice tan or I start wearing clothing over everything.”

“Psh. Why are you the most dangerous species ever, again?”

“Vehemence mixed with intelligence. Or perhaps that’s backwards. Either way, every single human is at least a little bit insane, and can completely turn off empathy if they need to. For most people, that is an automatic thing, but some people can turn it off whenever and some people never have it on at all.” He just shook his head.

I didn’t bother unpacking, but rather went to see Celestia’s commencement speech to the people of Manehattan and the guards that didn’t have duties. It was the usual crap about helping those less fortunate than ourselves, a mission of peace, restoring order, yada yada. I suppose it was a nice speech, but I’m too jaded by human politicians to believe half of what is said to a crowd.

Her crowd seemed to have no such compunctions. There was plenty of cheering and clopping of hooves to go around after it. I just shook my head from the perch I had found on a nearby building, and then jumped off, spread my wings, and coasted back to the ship. We left a few hours after that, when the last relief supplies were loaded.

 

I feel like any good story needs someone who was seasick on the long voyage and someone that made disparaging but kind hearted remarks to that bitter sick person, but that wasn’t really the case here. Spike started getting sick, but Twilight healed him before I could make any jokes. Besides, this isn’t a story and you shouldn’t be reading it anyway… you dick.

Twilight spent her time studying the sea as well as she could from the ship. There were a few species she could see, and she made what notes she could, but there wasn’t all that much else for her to do. I suppose she studied some magic with Celestia, for I often saw them together near the back of the main ship. I also often saw her with the captain of the guard that was with us, and I figured they knew each other from back when Twilight used to live in Canterlot.

Most of my time was spent on the smallest ship of the fleet, just feeling the sea mist and wind in my face as we sped to our destination borne on winds both natural and magic-made. It was a glorious feeling, to get back to the ocean. It was something that I could honestly relate to from my old life, and if I closed my eyes and just felt the wind, mist, and shifting of the deck beneath my feet I could pretend I was still home, on my way to a dive spot, with family and friends just a few meters behind me.

I carried Spike with me one day on that trip, when he asked what I did all day. He wasn’t impressed that I was just standing there with a stupid smile on my face, and he didn’t wait too long before leaving me to talk to the ponies around the ship until I took him back. Aside from that one day, I don’t know what else he did; I rarely saw him scuttling about on the main ship.

On the third day, once land was nothing but a memory, all the sailor ponies started a song. It was a typical sailor song, something about searching foreign ports for exotic women and being at home only on the sea, and if there had been any mention of alcohol or treasure I could have closed my eyes and pretended I was listening to a pirate song from back home. Thankfully, this one seemed relegated to the sailors and some of the guards; I wasn’t tempted at all to join in on it.

What time of mine wasn’t spent on the smaller ship was spent locked in a planning cabin with Celestia, Twilight, and a captain of the guard, some surfer dude named Shining Armor.

The first words out of his mouth upon seeing me in the meetings were “What is he doing here?” He had a typical jock voice that made me want to punch him, but I withheld my hands; he would probably beat me bloody even without his magic.

I shrugged and turned to go, but Celestia called me back. “In terms of politics, Navarone is about as dangerous as I am. In terms of combat and war, he knows more than you do. He has several thousand years of history of warfare to pull his knowledge from, and knows all manner of tactics. In terms of a personal bodycount, he has more kills than most ponies I know of that are alive today.” Not all of that was true, but I wasn’t about to dispute her.

Shining Armor understandably resented her rebuking of him, even though it wasn’t so much against him as it was about me. I tried to make it a bit better: “Don’t think I’m here to replace you, Captain. Your men wouldn’t follow me and I have no ambitions anyway. I don’t know the disposition of your troops, anything about the politics in the area, the enemy we face, or the people we’re going to help. I’ll answer questions if I think I can help and point out flaws I see in plans.”

Twilight smiled. “Don’t worry about it, brother.” Oh, that explains some things. I mean, I had just been living with Twilight for nearly a year now. Even if she didn’t tell me she had family, I’m sure she told her family about me at least sometimes. I could understand why a brother might not like the guy his sister has been living with for a while.

Anyway, he looked a little less displeased after hearing that, and the true planning began. The enemy we were facing were apparently cat people that were getting pushed out of Egypt for some reason and into the Middle East. Twilight’s suggestion was a fact-finding mission to Egypt to figure out what was going on and to see if we could stop it. But that would involve sending an uncertain number of ponies into an uncertain situation against an uncertain enemy. We didn’t know if ponies would be automatically killed by whoever saw them or what, so we tabled that.

Shining Armor’s suggestion was launching assaults against the cat people and pushing them back to the Suez Canal, where we would draw a demarcation line and try to settle with the leaders of the cat people for a demilitarized zone. That was impossible for several reasons. The simplest was that we simply didn’t have enough troops. That area is small on a map but massive in life, with plenty of caves and mountains to hide in and around. Fighting might be necessary, but you couldn’t possibly hope to fight an up front and personal war in terrain like that. We would be relegated to wandering the land and trying to get lucky by finding an enemy camp, or waiting for a strike and retaliating with extreme prejudice.

I suggested diplomacy. There were problems with that, of course: We didn’t know much about the cat people. We didn’t know what kind of leaders they had, what their grievances were, if we’d offend them, or if we would make ourselves look weak if we offered to talk. I mean, it might be possible to coexist with them, but we simply didn’t know.

In the end, we decided a mix, of sorts. Because we didn’t know how anything in Egypt would react to a pony, we decided to send me and Spike in on a fact finding mission of sorts. The reasoning for Spike was that of all the sapient species anyone in the cabin knew about, they almost all respected or feared dragons. With him, I could actively send messages back to Celestia, and receive new instructions if needed.

The reasoning for me was that I could easily pretend to be a mercenary again, as they hear all manner of news. Since no one knew what I was, I probably wouldn’t be killed on sight. Probably. I was not overly pleased to hear that I would be risking my life on something like that, but whatever. Such is life in Ponyland, at least for me.

Depending on the information we brought back, we would either try to strike a deal with the cat people or be forced to fight them. A small ship would be anchored offshore, while Spike and I flew in. The rest of the fleet would continue on to the Middle East in an effort to spread hope and food as they could.

Twilight was not eager to send Spike into the unknown like that, and tried to get him to tell Celestia he was afraid, but he just saw it as a big adventure. Even after making it absolutely clear that I was in charge and that this was a pretty serious matter, he still seemed pretty down with it.

After several weeks of traveling, we arrived off the coast of Egypt. My ship dropped anchor, allowing the rest to continue on. I mentally reviewed my list of instructions:

Pretending to be a mercenary, infiltrate their society. Learn what’s causing the hostile migration of the cat people. Learn about the cat people culture. Learn if they can be reasoned with. If at all possible, stop the migration (fat chance). Learn what trade goods or bribes could be used on them. If necessary, return to the ship off coast for extraction. It will wait there for one (1) month. If there is no news from you in that time, it will move on to the Middle East, and you will be forced to rendezvous with the rest on your own.

If, of course, we were still alive.

I left a letter with Twilight, to be opened and read if I never came back. Not if she didn’t hear word from me, but if Celestia confirmed by magical means that I was dead. I won’t detail in here what was in it, but it basically asked her to find some way to send my journals home. It also gave my real name and the address to write on the cover of the journals, in case she couldn’t send them directly home.

We were given plenty of bits to bribe information out of whomever we needed and sent on our way. I carried my weapons, some alcohol, my cloak, the firestarters, and Spike. Everything else was left behind; much of it could be replaced in Egypt, I was hoping. Surely a bipedal, intelligent cat race would wear some kind of clothing I could use. I rode the ocean winds in as far as I could, but I had to give a finishing spurt of manpower; the ship was anchored a ways offshore.

 

No matter what species is dominant in a given area, if they’re intelligent, they will be attracted to the ocean. It can be used for trade, food, travel, and exploration. With that in mind, we set off to look for a port city. I had the cloak on over my wings, and I was already despising the climate. After just a few minutes in the sun, I had to take the thing off; I didn’t care if the people here saw my damn wings, I just couldn’t take the heat. Not like they knew what humans were anyway.

We had been traveling for a few hours by the time we saw glints of light in the distance. Now, I had long had a feeling that we were being watched, but every time I looked either into the desert or into the water I couldn’t see anything or anyone. No one approached us as we made our way to the city, so I was assuming we would be admitted into the city if nothing else.

 

We were. And in that, we got our first glimpse at the dominant people here: Cats. To be quite honest, we were all thinking that the cats were being pushed out by a force that was attacking them, but this proved otherwise. And then I saw what I presumed was the reason so many were moving: Gibbets were erected on the wall, and on them were hung prisoners, each with the crime of ‘treason’ marked above them.

Upon asking a guard, he snarled, “Escaped slaves.”

I nodded to myself and helped a visibly sickened and frightened Spike along. We both got a lot of looks from the people here, but none of them said anything. There were plenty of other foreigners in the city, due to its port status: dog people, a small group of naga, a massive elephant, zebras, and even a few ponies were some of what we saw just in our first jaunt into the city.

“Nav…” Spike suddenly croaked, “there were bodies out there!” Referring to the walls, no doubt.

“Yeah. We all told you this wasn’t an adventure. Welcome to a brand new culture.” He sobered quite a bit after that, and didn’t talk again for a while. I’m inured to all manner of grisly sights, due to my unnatural amount of time spent on the internet. The smells got to me a bit, but I was mostly used to it from hunting.

Meanwhile, I was trying to find any manner of tavern or bar or someplace I could find some manner of work or news. That this was a slave culture wasn’t entirely surprising, but I needed to know more before I sent a preliminary report.

We passed a bar that seemed to cater exclusively to equine guests, and Spike tried to get me to go there, but I pulled him away. “People will see where we go and who we mix with. We need news from these people, and possibly a job or two to build trust. Ponies won’t help us with that.” That was the reason I gave him, at least. The real reason, though, was that I actually saw those ponies when we passed them. He saw ponies and was rejoicing, but I looked into their eyes and at some of their ‘cutie’ marks.

These were not the ponies we were used to. I joked a few months ago about getting a tramp stamp cutie mark, thinking it was impossible. It wasn’t.

When we found a tavern that catered to travelers of all types, I coaxed Spike inside. I took one look at the inside of the place and realized that I had made a pretty serious mistake: This place was seedy as fuck. Leaving would have been a bigger mistake, though; I could see a few dog people gripping knives and looking at me, wondering if I would make an easy mark. I said a silent prayer and pulled Spike to an empty table.

We weren’t alone for long. A female slave cat walked up to take any order we had. I pulled out a bit and said, “Clean water for us both. Food, if you have anything we can eat.”

She looked dubiously at the gold. “Be careful about flashing that around too much, traveler. Too much pony money means you’re a pony lover, and that isn’t always a good thing to be, here.” With that bit of advice, she grabbed the bit and walked away. Soon after she left, one of the two dog people from before sidled up to our table.

“My friend and I,” he said, “would like to know what you are. He thinks you’re a bastard shaved cat and pegasus pony mix. I think you’re an ugly mutant.”

“You’re closer to the mark,” I said. “I’m newly arrived in town and looking for work.” I was tempted to be insulted at his remark, but I honestly didn’t feel like risking my luck against someone that probably got in fights for a living.

“A mercenary, huh? Is there a lot of work for you over in Equestria?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Oh? Your little friend there looks like someone who might,” he said, eying Spike, who perked up at the mention of Equestria.

“He’s young. He is always looking for more stories of fabled lands.” Stories he probably won’t be able to find if he gets us killed. Spike at least had the brains to look abashed at my rebuke.

“Keep his curiosity on a leash. It does not do well to speak of such things here.”

“Thanks for the advice. I’ll keep that in mind.” So much for dragons being respected. The dog fellow gave us one more appraising look, and then walked back to his friend.

When the waitress brought us food, I took a guess at something. They wouldn’t kill us. Dragons might not be respected, but killing one would get the guard all over them in a second. I immediately swapped our glasses of water. Of the two of us, I was obviously the warrior, and anyone that wanted to get at us would knock me out instead of him. And on the off chance I woke up, they’d want him awake to be used as a hostage. I was tempted to swap the food, but that would be more noticeable.

And when I took bite of the peppered… meat… in front of me, I found the reason they’d put something in the water: That shit was spicy as hell.

Spike looked at his plate dubiously. “Navarone, I don’t eat meat.”

“Yes you do. You’ve just never had it before. Trust me.”

I could tell he still didn’t want to try it, but after further guidance he slowly took a bite. The fire that lit in his eyes was all I needed to know that he really never did have meat. What the hell kind of dragon doesn’t eat meat? Those ponies are cruel.

In the middle of our odd meal, the barkeep came by our table. He was a mongrel cat called Amir. “I heard you say you were a mercenary. What kind of jobs you looking for?”

“Anything that pays well. News will also be welcome. I didn’t know there was a slave revolt here recently.” I pushed my uneaten food to Spike, who finished it off with relish. I don’t do spicy, not when I have a choice.

“Yes, the crazy fools thought they could try overthrowing the system here. They tried to get as many foreigners on their side as possible. A few ponies threw in their lot with them, but none of the rest bothered. Slave revolts never go anywhere, and why would they? Most are content with their lot. They’re fed, clothed, and quartered. All they have to do is work.”

“It is not for me to question how other people are governed. I’m just here for the work, or news if there is none to be had.”

“You’re in luck, stranger. A caravan is heading south for Catro in three days. They’re looking for more guards; with some slaves still fighting, there are plenty of bandits loose in the area.”

“What’s the pay? And what kind of supplies will we need to bring?”

“The pay is good salt, depending on how the trip goes. Standard guard fare if you encounter no trouble. Bonuses for defending well in attacks. Food and weapon repairs will be provided, if needed.”

“Where can I find the merchant for this job?”

“A representative of his will be in the bazaar tomorrow, calling for warriors. The representative is a pony named Anton, with a mark of hooves on his side.” Cutie mark of hooves? Fucking brawler.

“I will look into it. How much for a room for the night?”

“Your gold covers it. Despite being pony printed, it is still good here, and it goes farther than most other currencies.”

“I don’t suppose it would also cover a nice, long cord? Forgive me for being paranoid, but I don’t trust the look of some of your other… patrons.” With a glance to the two dogs. I looked back to the cat. “Until my business here is done, I’m afraid we cannot run.” I snapped my fingers somewhat sadly.

“They’re all bark and no bite. Just don’t leave the inn until tomorrow, and you should be f—” Before he could finish, Spike collapsed, dead asleep. “Oh.”

“Tell your waitress not to turn her back on drinks before she delivers them.”

“I will beat that lesson into her! You will be compensated for what almost happened, mercenary.”

“No, friend. It is the result of being a stranger in a strange land. I have suffered worse since I began my work.” When I looked at where the dog people were, I saw they had left rather quickly. “You might do well to hire a bouncer, though.”

“Hmph. Most of those are just as big of brutes and as dishonest as those two that just left. I will hold off the beating since you asked, stranger, but I will not let you go unpaid. I will send the slave that let this happen to your room tonight, and let you do what you would with her.”

My wings twitched at that. It was an interesting prospect, but not one I was planning on accepting. As far as I was concerned, any sex with a slave was tantamount to rape. “No, I’m afraid my mercenary code would not let me accept that. I do not ever accept sex as a payment. It is unprofessional and dangerous. If you really feel the need to repay me, get me that cord I mentioned, and tell me where I can find some good desert clothes before I leave. Preferably something I could use to hide my wings but could remove easily.”

“Why would you want to hide such beautiful instruments?”

“I’ve run into people that would refuse to hire me because I was a flier, but had no compunctions when meeting me without knowing I had wings. And it pays to not let your enemies—or friends, sometimes—know what your abilities are.”

“You have been at this business for some time, I would say.”

“Something like that.” More like reading an assload of books. He clapped his hands, and said something in a very clipped voice that I could barely understand to the slave woman that appeared. She bustled off.

“You will have your cord before you retire for the night. Do you have any preference of rooms?”

“Something on the top floor, with either a window or roof access. A good lock will be a bonus.”

He had a slave show me to the room I would be using. I was carrying Spike. The room had a single bed, something I was expecting, and a ladder leading to a trapdoor on the roof. I was pleased with that. Thieves, I could deal with; I was leaving nothing in this room but clothes and Spike, and thieves typically don’t murder. The lock on the door was enough to last until I could make a trap.

 

When the slave came back, she had a cord and some desert style clothes for me. I set aside the cord and tried to figure out how to put the damn clothes on. The slave girl smiled in mirth at my confusion before chipping in. A few of her touches lingered on uncomfortable places, and I could sense there was more to her mirth than she let on. But I didn’t press the issue and she didn’t say anything about it.

With her help, though, the clothes went on much easier. I was at a loss with how to cover my wings, though; the rags I was covered with didn’t do much for that. Then she gave me a light-weight cape.

When we were finished, she gave me a letter. “This is from the master, to be given to the pony Anton. It will get you your job,” she announced, and then left. I smiled and sighed, then went about writing my report to Celestia. Basically, it announced my speculations that the hostile migrants were escaping slaves. I wasn’t certain yet, but I told her that I suspected offers of political asylum would do well; they were fleeing slaves, running into an uncertain future with uncertain people. A modern day Jewish exodus. I then detailed my plans to take the merchant job and head south to the capital, in my world called Cairo and here called Catro.

Since Spike was currently passed out on the bed, I set the letter aside and went about writing two notices, one for the inner door and one for the outer door. One said ‘Do not disturb—Trust me.’ The other said, ‘Spike, don’t open this door. Trust me.’ I’ll let you decide which I put where.

With that done, I set about working on the trap. It was a pretty simple thing, really: If someone pulled the door open, they’d get shot with a bolt. I tested it once and with a loud thunk, a bolt was protruding from the door. Anyone trying to open it quickly would get a bolt right in the face. I wrenched the bolt from the door, reloaded the crossbow, dropped the cape and went to the roof.

I glided to a roof away from mine, and then looked for an easy access down. Part of the clothing I was wearing was a full head covering, leaving only my eyes looking out. With that over my head and the cape over my wings, I could be any cat or dog person—I’m taller and bulkier than most cats and shorter and smaller than most dogs. My plan was to head to the pony bar we passed on the way in and ask for any manner of news. Yes, they weren’t the ponies I was used to, but they were probably still more willing to talk to strangers than anyone else in this city.

I had a hard time finding the place again; this city was really maze-like. When I finally did, I almost wasn’t allowed in. At the door I was posed a riddle: “There are two sisters: One gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first.”

I thought for a time, and then it clicked. “Celestia and Luna.” The door was opened and I was the first non-pony to be admitted into the bar. More from disinterest rather than because the riddle was difficult, I guessed.

As I entered, I took a second to look at the name of the tavern: The Salted Mare. Comforting.

I definitely drew a lot of stares. One angry pony, hopped up on salt and heavily dehydrated, came at me, asking unkindly, “Where are you from, cat-man?”

“West.” That didn’t satisfy him. “Far, far west.” Now that perked up a lot of ears.

“Oh, are you then? What news from the far far west do you bring? Anything new from our beloved eternal bitch queen?”

“The sun sets in the east this night. It has reversed course in order to respond to a crisis. I’m just here for news.”

That started several murmuring conversations, and two more strangers came up, one drawing the drugged pony away. The other stallion asked, “What proof do you have that Celestia is here, stranger?”

With my gloved hand, I pulled out a bit and rolled it over my fingers.

“Bits are not so uncommon here, stranger. What more proof do you have?”

“What is it to you, pony? I know Luna is free, I know Celestia and her student Twilight are to the east, and the sun throne in Equestria lies empty for the first time in living memory, and probably will for over a year. I care not what you do with that information. But I’m here for any news I can bring back. There are people pushing into the east, cat people. They bring with them violence and turmoil. Are they escaped slaves, and would they settle for asylum? Or do they want more?”

“They are slaves. Or rather, they were. How do you know what you know?”

I let the cape slide from my back, and they all gasped at my enlarged pegasus wings.

“It has been so long…” the pony next to me whispered. “But I’m confused. You aren’t a pony. How did you come by these wings?”

“A magical mistake. A fluke. They function, but they are not mine, not really. I need more information before I head further inland.”

“You can’t just leave! So long with no word from home, and now a non-pony pony agent comes in and just as suddenly leaves? What game are you playing?”

“I’m just a pawn, an agent. I don’t make plans, I just follow orders. My orders are to gather information. There is more information in the south than there is in this city.”

“Why would she send a… whatever you are… instead of a pony?”

“Because we didn’t know the reception ponies would get here. Most of her ponies are… naïve to the world anyway. I am a bit more seasoned.” Some of them snorted at that.

“I left Equestria because of that same reason. I regret it every day… please, can any of us go with you?”

“What’s stopping you from going east yourself?” I answered. “There are pony-held lands over there.”

“We can’t leave. We can enter this land, but no pony is allowed to leave the borders of this country without a royal order. If you aren’t careful with who you show those wings to, you might find yourself included in that. The reason there are no pegasi or unicorns here is because they left as soon as the edict came out; some of the pegasi were brought down with arrows, but the unicorns all managed to teleport out.” I’ll have to add that to my report. At least that tells me that Celestia knew more about this land than she let on.

“Celestia will learn of this. If you have any letters, give them to me, addressed, and I will get them to her. What she does with them will be up to her, but I imagine they’ll get sent to family,” I announced to the bar. A very hushed silence came over everyone. Suddenly, there was a mass exodus to the door to go buy paper and pen.

I grabbed the hoof of my new friend before he could leave. “No cat can know I’m here. I must travel incognito if I am to complete my mission.”

“I will see to it. You are a hero, whoever you are. If what you say is true.” I snorted at that—I was just doing what anyone would, and Spike was going to be the one sending these letters, not I. I settled back to enjoy my free water while I waited for the patrons to return with letters.

There were certainly a lot more letters than I was expecting. Everyone gave me at least one. The fellow that was hopped up on salt when I came in was now fully hydrated and able to give me twelve, with a heartfelt apology to me included.

As I left, I reminded them, “Remember, I don’t exist.” They all cheered and waved me out. Poor bastards had been away from home too long, doing whatever they could to survive. The few here that had cutie marks were nasty things, while most didn’t have any at all—they could never find anything they liked doing. Most of those that frequented the streets were those that belonged in this city.

I made my way to a roof and flew back to my building. Thankfully, Spike was still asleep and in bed, and the trap was undisturbed. It was getting to be night by then, so I added some more to my report about the ponies here, then went to bed, leaving the trap on the door.

 

Thank God I did, too. I woke up the next morning to a shriek from the door. Apparently during the night, one of the dog people somehow got my door opened and caught a bolt in the throat. It died without a sound. The shriek was from a slave woman passing by.

It woke up Spike, who groggily sat up, asking “Where am I?” before seeing the body on the floor and turning greenish.

I looked at him and said, “We’re not in Equestria anymore. Get used to it.”

I checked the body for anything useful before the guards took it away: In this city, if you scored a kill you got first dibs on the body, legal kill or not. I grabbed a letter, some native coins, and his dagger and let them take the rest away. The letter was in a language I couldn’t read, so I put it away and concentrated on getting all my gear set up.

The slave was still in hysterics, and I explained to her that I didn’t even kill him, the trap did. She didn’t seem to want to hear that, either way, and left, wailing. Fucking women, man.

I broke down the trap, reloaded the crossbow, and left it where I could easily reach it. I then gave the report to Spike, followed in a few minutes by the letters. We went down to the common room for a complimentary breakfast, thanks to the body at our door. Poor Amir was so embarrassed: “This has never happened before! A guest drugged, then almost attacked!” He promised to hire some manner of guard.

While we were eating, a response from Celestia came. That drew a lot of glares from other patrons and a small alarm from Amir, thinking we had been poisoned again. I waved him away and pocketed the letter for later.

When we got back to the room, I checked it. “Go south, but be careful. We will offer asylum to any bands of escaped slaves we run into. Try to contact a group of fleeing slaves, if you can do so safely and without blowing your cover. See if you can get them to escort you and as many ponies as you can find that want to escape east. I will initiate talks with the government of this Egypt you are in to see if I can get my ponies freed, after you get back. And while I thank you for the information, don’t do that with any group of ponies again until or unless you are fleeing east with slaves. It is just too risky.”

I nodded to myself. “What are we going to do, Nav?” Spike asked.

“We’re going south with a caravan. We’ll see what happens from there.”

I draped the cape over my back again and we went off to try to find this Anton fellow. The bazaar was a large place, as it happened, and finding him wasn’t as simple as asking for someone hiring warriors. I got several job offers, and a few people offering to work under me—or more likely, under Spike. After all, a lot of dragons have huge hoards of wealth.

I was afraid to ask specifically for a pony offering jobs, because not many here were friendly toward the idea of ponies with enough money to hire fighters. Spike kept muttering unpleasantries about the people in the city and their hatred toward ponies.

We finally got lucky and spotted a reddish roan pony haggling with a zebra over the price of a water jug. His cutie mark was of hooves. I waited for him to finish his business, and then approached. Before I could say a word, “A warrior, are you? I have a spot for one more. You or your friend will have to stay, as I can’t bring both.”

“I have a letter that might change your mind,” I said, giving him the letter the slave woman gave me. I was hoping it would; I couldn’t leave Spike behind and I had to get south.

He somehow opened it with his hooves, and read it to himself. He smiled, and whispered ‘about time.’ He then looked up and said, “Fine, but you’ll take a pay cut for the extra load,” with a nod to Spike.

“I’m okay with that.”

“Good. If you have everything you need, come with me.” We followed. He led us to a large pavilion outside of town, and into a smaller, personal tent.

“I don’t talk business with somepony when I can’t see their face. Take that head cover off.”

I sighed and began to unwind my head wrap. The pony looked at my unkempt, long brown hair, unshaved and windblown face red from the sun, and probably thought he had made a big mistake. He held his peace, however, and said, “That’s better. Now, the standard fare for a caravan guard is six kilograms of salt. With your friend coming along, I’ll have to cut your pay to five. If you want to pull some extra work, I can raise it back up to six, or higher if you are more useful. What manner of skills do you bring, aside from fighting?” said with an eye to my sword belt.

“I can scout and kill from afar. I can probably hunt, if that’s a necessity. And I might be able to find extra oases, if we need them.”

“We have scouts. What makes you think you’re better than they?”

I smiled and dropped my cape. He leaned back. “If those work, you’re hired.”

“Follow me.” We went outside the tent, and I demonstrated. I got a lot of stares from the ground crews, people readying tents and supplies to be packed in a hurry but looking for any reasonable chance for a break. I didn’t do much, just went up and down a few times, but it was enough for Anton.

“You’re hired. As a scout. Their pay is the same, more for finding oases and warning us of probable attacks. Since you can fight, you will be paid extra, and you’ll get the full price of both warrior and scout if you end up doing both. But your orders will come directly from me.”

“Understood.”

“And what am I going to be doing?” Spike asked.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Anton said, “you are dead weight. If you prove yourself useful, you may be compensated, but don’t expect to be asked to do much. You are small, yet.” Spike rolled his eyes at that, but it was true.

 

The rest of that day and the next were spent waiting for the caravan to leave. I stayed away from the city as much as I could, knowing the friend of the dog I killed was still in there, and I didn’t want a knife in the back.

A day after I got to the camp, Anton called me to his tent. “I just got word that you were involved in a murder in the city. Would you care to explain?”

“A dog tried to slip me a sleeping concoction to knock me out. When that failed, he broke into my room in the night. But I was expecting him, so I set up a trap to kill anyone that walked in the door. He did, and the trap worked.”

“Did he have anything on him?”

“A few coins, a dagger, and a note.”

“Do you have the note?” I handed it to him. I saw his eyes scan the page, and he handed it back to me, saying, “It’s gibberish to me.”

One of the few times I had heard a pony lie. I saw his eyes moving, he knew what he was reading. And he was slightly worried. But I didn’t call him on it. “Are you reconsidering me?” I asked instead.

“No. That just proves your cleverness. You’re still hired. Now leave me.” I did.

 

After that it was pretty smooth sailing. We broke camp the next day and started off. From what I finally determined was Alexandria in my world to Cairo was about a hundred and thirty miles. That would take us at best eleven days, at worst twenty. We would definitely miss the boat if Celestia couldn’t get word to it, but it seemed our priority had changed by then anyway: Go south for information, then east if possible to hook up with any roaming slave groups.

Most of the other caravan guards were rough looking types. Dogs or cats, with a single naga looking rather out of place. They were armed with a variety of weapons, mostly close ranged. We were definitely not in Equestria anymore. This was a small army, well equipped and trained by hard lives. Most didn’t have much in the way of armor; metal would be too hot and heavy in the sun, and leather was highly frowned upon everywhere in a world where most everything is sapient. Eating a thinking animal is one thing, but wearing them is another thing entirely. Besides, most of these fighters were skilled desert rats, fast and loose on their feet.

I’ll skip most of the trip, as it was pretty much just walking and walking and walking, then flying and then walking and walking and walking some more.

I will say this, though: The desert nights of Egypt are absolutely amazing. Nothing on the cavern of the naga, mind, but still beautiful.

But holy fuck was there sand everywhere! God it was annoying.

 

And then on day seven, the whole trip went to hell.

We were making good time, and were over halfway to Cairo. I was on a scouting trip to the west, directed by Anton. Spike was walking beside Anton when I left, talking of some matter or another. I think Spike reminded Anton of someone he had lost in the past, but I never asked him.

But there I was, flying around and looking for anything new in the desert, when I saw smoke rising to the east, in the caravan. I couldn’t tell what was going on, but I knew the place wasn’t supposed to be on fire. I turned back and made a beeline for the caravan.

When I got nearby, I could see Anton standing alone a ways from the caravan, signaling me to come down to him. I loaded my crossbow in the air and warily landed near him.

“What happened?” I asked, aiming my crossbow around me. “And where’s Spike?”

Instead of answering, he asked, “Do you remember that note you gave me when we first met? The one from the innkeeper, I mean.”

“…Yes.”

“Amir is not exactly what he appeared to be. He is an ally of the slaves, basically; he supplies them when he can, with food, water… fighters.”

I aimed my crossbow dead on Anton. “Where’s Spike?”

“He will not be harmed, if you cooperate.” I knew this was too good to be true.

“What do you want?”

“Drop your weapons, first.”

I did as he asked. I slipped the weapon belt from my waist and laid it on the ground, then slowly lowered the crossbow on top of it.

“Now step away from them.”

I did, never letting my eyes leave his face. I saw a cat in my peripheral vision sneak up and grab my supplies. I still had the gloves that no one knew about, if I absolutely had no choice but to fight.

“And now?” I asked.

“Now, you sleep.” Something clubbed me in the back of the skull and I lost myself.

 

 

A note from your friendly neighborhood Discord

Never trust dogs to get a job done. Those dogs were told to deliver a message to the human. Not to drug him, not to break into his room, and not to underestimate him. That fellow deserved his fate.

As to what the message contained? Writing in an ancient language that only Anton and I understand, and the only reason Anton understands it is because I gave him the knowledge. Basically, it marked the bearer as an asset to the slaves. Anton wasn’t supposed to order Navarone knocked out. Unfortunately, he was still too useful to punish.

 
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