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.

1Likes
0Comments
25178Views
AA

65. Chapter Fifty-One—Fuck Appaloosa. Also, more cheeselegs!

“Why are we going to Appaloosa again?” I asked Twilight. We were already on the train, of course, so it was a little bit late to go back, but it still would be a nice thing to hear.

“It’s Applejack’s tree’s birthday.”

“First, that’s retarded. Second, that’s seriously retarded. Third, I don’t care about a fucking tree. I meant we as in me and Taya. Why are we going?”

“You’re going because Taya’s going. Taya’s going because her teacher is going. Several spells work differently in different biomes. It’s important that she learn now what kind of differences to expect.”

“I fucking hate deserts,” I muttered, looking back out the window.

Approximately three people were happy that we were on the way to some no-account town in the middle of the terribly named Mild West. Applejack, who was going to see a lot of family. Spike, because we were going back to a desert type area with a group of buffalo that revere dragons. And Twilight, because she’s a bitch that likes seeing me suffer. Wait, no, because she gets to teach Taya. That’s definitely what I was supposed to write.

Anyway, Appaloosa. For those that don’t know—not that there will be any, given no one is supposed to read this (fuck you, Celestia)—Appaloosa is a small town or whatever that was thrown up in the middle of a place it wasn’t supposed to be. Buffalo territories surround it. Buffalo are like the Native Americans of my world if all the lies the Native Americans made up about their culture was true. So basically, stereotypical ones. The buffalo got all uppity about their land being stolen or some shit. There was a big hoedown in the town until something ridiculous happened and they all lived happily ever after or something.

So, you know, not how I would have solved it.

I was predicting a long week of boredom and waking up too early. From what Twilight told me, there weren’t that many pegasi there, though. I might be able to just find a cloud or something and sleep up there without risking anyone busting that cloud out from under me. Or if all else failed, I could do like I did in Twilight’s library and move a cloud into a building for a permanent cloud bed.

Those things are fucking comfortable, man.

We were almost there when I asked Twilight why I was going, so it was hardly any surprise when we arrived less than an hour later. I stood and slung the axe over my shoulder. I didn’t really want to bring it, but Twilight insisted. Apparently I’m supposed to have it on me at all times when I’m away from my ‘home base’ or some stupid shit like that. It didn’t make any sense to me, but then the antiquated laws Twilight digs up rarely do. Since she made me take that, she couldn’t stop me from taking my crossbow and some bolts. If I was going to look like a warrior, I wasn’t going to have my ability to fight go impeded.

Applejack was the first one off the train, of course. I wanted to be the last, but Fluttershy was being herself and insisted I go first. Arguing with her is occasionally akin to arguing with a wall, so I didn’t bother.

My first up close and personal impression of the town was rustic. “Yep, this is gonna be a bad week,” I said aloud while looking around. It was a right and proper boomtown, pulled straight out of a Western flick.

And there’s the pony that’s wearing a hat and a western style vest. Gotta have one of those. He even had a faded orange hanky in his left pocket. “Howdy y’all. Welcome to AAAAAAAAPPALOOOSA!” He reared back and kicked his legs out as he said that. “Welcome back, Cousin Applejack! I see you brought the old gang back. But who’s this one?” he asked, turning to Taya. And then he saw me. “My my, you’re a big fella. What’s his name?”

“Sir Navarone, knight of Princess Luna,” I answered, my voice not entirely welcoming.

“Aww, you have him train—urk!” My hand was now wrapped around his throat.

“Not. An. Animal,” I said. “Sir Navarone. Knight of Princess Luna.” He nodded as much as he could with his air flow being restricted. I let him go and stepped back. All the girls save Taya were giggling. “AJ, you knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?”

“Yep! So Braeburn, how’s the crop going?”

“Good,” he croaked, still eyeing me nervously. “So uh… what else are those hands good for?”

I saw him looking at me in a new way that I didn’t like. I reached around to my back and pulled my axe free. I held up the axe with the blade as big as his head with one hand. “And what exactly are you implying, Braeburn?” I coldly asked.

He turned beet red. “Nothing! Nothing at all!” The girls were giggling again. “How about I uh… show you around town? To… make up for offending you?”

I looked around as I put my axe up. There was exactly nothing to see. “Pass.”

“Come on, it won’t take but a few minutes!”

“Not interested. Look, how about you just tell me where the changeling hive is and I’ll chill with Chrysalis for the week?”

His entire body paled. “Ch-ch-changeling h-h-h-h-hive?”

I crossed my arms. “Yeah. Chrysalis told me the capital was near here. I figure she won’t mind a surprise visit.” And maybe I can see my children, which is a scary thought.

He gulped. “W-w-w-we don’t know nothing about… about a changeling hive.”

I rolled my eyes. “So it’s hidden. Great. Spread the word around town that Navarone is interested in going. The changeling agents she has here will either find me or get word back to her.” He seemed to grow more and more scared at each word.

Twilight pulled me back with magic. “Don’t worry about him, Braeburn,” she said. “He just doesn’t like deserts. Don’t let him spook you.”

Braeburn let off a nervous laugh. “If you say so, Miss Twilight.” He turned back to me. “So are you sure about that tour?”

“Yes, I’m quite sure.”

He sighed and shook his head. “You’re the only pony ever come through here that didn’t want to take it…”

“And I’m also not a pony, so your record is clean.”

He blinked. “Oh yeah.” Then he remembered Taya. “So, Little Miss, what about you? Are you interested in seeing the sights?”

“No.”

He jerked back a bit. “Really? You don’t want to see the square dancing area? Or the memorial? Or the horse drawn horse drawn carriages?”

“Not really.”

“Oh posh!” Rarity said in her stern voice. “You’ve made Taya so reluctant to do anything interesting, Nav!”

“No,” she answered. “He made me reluctant to do things I don’t want to do.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. “Then he made you not like things that sound fun.” She turned to Braeburn. “I would love to take the tour of the town again, dear.”

He answered her with a nervous smile. “Uh… Anypony else wanna join?” No takers. I couldn’t help but smirk a bit.

“Just you and me, big boy,” Rarity said, her voice getting a bit husky. “Do lead the way.”

He gave a small sigh and walked off, tail and ears low. Rarity trotted behind him.

I turned to the girls. “So she knows he’s gay, right?”

“Nope,” AJ answered. “So what was that about changelings?”

“Chrysalis told me their capital was near here. I figured the locals would know. If they don’t, one of the changeling agents posing as ponies would.”

“What changeling agents?” Rainbow Dash asked. “I thought we kicked them all out!”

“You kicked the ones out of Canterlot. But I read a copy of the peace treaty and the alliance treaty. There was nothing about removing agents in either one. And you just know Chrysalis is going to have agents here.”

Twilight hmm’d. “I was working on a spell that would enable me to detect changelings… It eliminates their disguise and makes it so that they can’t change for an hour.”

“No need,” I answered. “She trains her agents well, but they grow lax in pony lands because you guys are terrible at noticing obvious things. We’re being watched by one right now.” They all looked around. Fluttershy was swiveling her head like mad. “I’ll talk to her later, after we get more settled in.”

“If you’re so sure she’s an agent, why would she be willing to talk to you about anything that might break her cover?” Twilight asked.

“Because they know me and I know some things to say to hopefully get them to talk to me.” I shrugged. “Nothing much to it.”

“You could just stay here and not go to that nasty ol’ cave!” Pinkie said.

“Would you deny me a chance to see an old friend, Pinkie? I thought you cared more than that.”

“Well… Can I come, then? Chrissy was my friend too!”

“Pinkie, don’t lie to yourself. You know she despised all of you. Well, all of you but Taya.” They all shrugged and nodded except for Pinkie.

“She did not hate me! She went to my party, after all.”

“Because I asked her to. The only reason she even allowed your presence near her was because I suggested it.” I looked around the town again. “Now, where are we staying?”

The girls brushed past me. “You woulda known that if you took the tour,” Rainbow said.

“Or, you know, one of you could be a good friend and tell me,” I commented as Taya and I began following.

“We could, but where’s the fun in that?” AJ asked.

“Spike, you’re on my side, right?”

“Uh… sure?”

“That’s a plus, at least. So, where are we headed?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. I spent most of my time with the buffalo last time I was here.”

For fuck’s sake… Ah well.

All things were going fine for us until our way was blocked by a brown stallion in a black hat and a blue vest with a star on it. He looked to me. “Braeburn said you were a knight of some kind. That true?”

“Some kind is right, yeah. Navarone, knight of Princess Luna. How can I help you?”

He grimaced in distaste when I said Luna, but didn’t comment. It was a good thing he didn’t. “We got some riffraff in the jail we need to settle out. Outside our jurisdiction. We sent word to Canterlot, but they’re always slow getting any help here.”

“What exactly do you need?”

“I need to see your badge of office first.” I pulled the axe off my back and held it up so he could see all sides of it. He raised a hoof and traced some of it. “Yeah, this is real. Come on.” He started walking off to the jail. I slid the axe up and turned to the others.

“Twilight, you interested? I might could use your help.”

“Sure. Go on ahead, girls. I’ll catch up when we’re done.” Spike stayed with the others as Twilight and I started following the sheriff fellow. Taya dogged my heels, of course.

We caught up to him easily enough. “So what kind of problem do you have?”

“Easier shown than explained. And it’ll make more sense when you see it anyway.”

None of us said anything to that. We reached the sheriff’s office in silence. He led the way in and closed the door behind us. The cells were empty. He saw me looking and said, “We keep prisoners of their nature elsewhere. Not that we get many, of course.” He walked to the side of the building and pulled a rug up. Under it was a cellar door that he raised with a grunt. It hit the other side of the floor with a thud that shook the building. We followed him into the depths.

“Dog and a pony. What’s the deal here?”

“How can you even see them?” he asked. He reached up and pulled something, flicking on a light.

“Magic ey—” The blood drained from my face. “Fido,” I whispered.

The dog looked up from where he had jerked his head away when the lights turned on. I was already back upstairs, in the sheriff’s office. I had my hand on a desk, trying to steady my breathing. Taya was at my side almost as soon as I got upstairs, hugging me. Twilight and the sheriff didn’t take that long to come up, either.

“And just what in Tartarus was that?” the sheriff demanded.

“We have history,” I responded. “It’s best he not see me. Bring the pony up here. I’ll talk to him.”

“I don’t want to let either one of them outta their cell until you hear their story.”

“The dog attacked the pony screaming changeling. The pony fought back in ways it shouldn’t have been able to. Am I close?”

He blinked. “Dead on. How did you know?”

I straightened, turning to lean against the desk. “I told you, the dog and I have a history. Bring the pony to me. Tell him the paramour of Chrysalis is upstairs.”

“Paramour of who? That doesn’t make any sense!”

“Paramour. Of. Chrysalis. Tell him that and bring him up here.”

He shook his head. “You’re the knight. But if he tries to escape, you better not let him get away.” He went downstairs.

Twilight turned to me. “Nav, you look like you saw a ghost. What kind of history do you and that diamond dog have?”

“Let me just say that it’s worse than you could possibly imagine. You don’t need to know anything more than that.”

Taya said, “You should tell her.”

“I can’t. Celestia told me not to.”

“And since when did you follow any of her orders?” Taya asked, starting to get a bit angry.

“When I started agreeing with some of them. No pony should know the blackness that lives in the heart of man. I have my own heart of darkness. I didn’t even have to go to the Congo to get it.”

The sheriff came back up the stairs, leading a placid looking pony behind him. The pony walked up to me and looked me over. When he was satisfied, he knelt to one knee, changing to his natural shape. “Hero,” he said as he lowered his head.

The sheriff was shitting bricks at this point. “But… you’ve lived here for years!”

“Rise, changeling,” I said. “I’m no lord to be bowed to.” It stood, looking at me with expressionless blue eyes. “Did you provoke the dog?”

“No, Hero. We heard about their defeat and knew any remnants would be heading toward the hive. Our job was to watch so we could alert our guards if they tried coming through the pony town. I was not as careful as I should have been. My laxity cost me my disguise and perhaps my life.”

“What is he talking about?” the sheriff demanded. “That dog put two ponies in the hospital trying to get to this… thing! What is going on?”

I sighed. “That dog is a refugee that despises changelings. That’s all you need to know.” I turned back to the changeling. “There’s at least one more agent here, a female. Turn back to your shape, lead me to her, and tell her to go get Chrysalis, some of her guards, and a cage large enough and strong enough to hold Fido.”

“You can’t do that!” the sheriff yelled.

I looked at him. “And why not? He attacked a citizen of another nation that happened to be here. It is only fair that he be judged by the courts of the nation of the citizen he attempted to murder.”

“He’s right, Nav. You don’t know the full story!” Twilight said.

“You’re right, I don’t. But I know more of the story than either of you two. I know this dog. He despises changelings. If we give him to any court in Equestria, they’ll probably let him go so he can try again. The changelings will know exactly what to do with him.”

“And what,” Twilight asked with disgust, “is that?”

Taya and I shared a short look before I turned back to Twilight. “You don’t want to know.” The changeling had already turned back into the pony, complete with western style clothes. “We’ll be back in half an hour,” I said.

The sheriff blocked our path. “I can’t just let you wander around town like that,” he growled.

“Twilight knows a spell that will disable changeling disguises. If she comes with me and keeps that spell ready to use if he makes a break for it, will you allow it?”

I could hear his teeth grinding. “I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.”

“Come on, you three,” I said, leading them to the door. The sheriff stepped out of the way, glaring at us as we passed.

When we got down the road a ways, Twilight said, “You owe me a very long explanation, Navarone.”

“I owe you more than that, Twilight. Changeling, let’s make this quick.”

He started trotting. We followed him, easily keeping up. He stopped at a store and made his way inside. We followed. The mare that was watching me before was at the counter, wiping it down with a rag. She forced a smile when she saw us. “How can I help you?”

“Intelligentsia, sentient, drone,” the male changeling said.

“Egg, larva, foal.”

“I’ve been exposed,” the male changeling said. “Hero needs the queen, guards, and a cage to fit the dog.” He smiled darkly. “Tell them to bring a muzzle.”

The female took a look at me. She nodded. “Hero.” With that, she changed into an eagle and shot out an open window. The male changeling walked over to the door and flipped the sign from open to closed. With that, we went back to the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff sighed in relief when we stepped inside. “No trouble?” he asked.

“None.” I looked at the changeling. “How long should it take for the queen to get here?”

“If she leaves as soon as she gets the message, three hours. The cage will take longer, but she might not bother with that.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot she had some interesting abilities.”

“So why does he call you hero?” the sheriff asked.

“Good question, actually. Why do you call me hero?”

The changeling looked to me. “You saved our queen and our existence. You are the hero of the changelings.”

The sheriff sighed, walking over to a couch behind the desk. “Sounds like a tale. Apparently we got some time. You go right on ahead and tell it.”

“It’s pretty simple. When the queen attacked Canterlot, I helped stop her. Celestia was about to banish her to Tartarus, but I stopped her too. Then I did my best to get Chrysalis accepted by some of the more important ponies. I also found them a good food source.”

“Oh come on. You can make it more interesting than that. Details, Sir Knight!”

I rolled my eyes and plopped down on the couch on the other side of the desk. Taya hopped on my lap a moment later. The sheriff raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. “I suppose the best place to start is the party at Maris…”

I don’t much care for explaining my… feats to people. Occasionally they hear them and expect me to be some kind of hero or something. I’m just lucky, stupid, and really, really smart. I know those two conflict, but you can be smart and stupid at the same time. The luck thing, though, that’s the real kicker. Either way, he kept me talking for a good little while. And thus my fame grew again, though honestly I don’t know how they hadn’t even heard of my existence by then. This place was way the hell out and away from the rest of Equestria, but still!

We were disturbed near the end of my tale by someone bursting through the door. “Sheriff, monsters are approaching!”

We all jerked up. “What kinda monsters?” the sheriff demanded.

“Black, holes all in their body, fangs, bug-shaped ponies!”

“The changelings are here,” I said. “About time. Sheriff, go calm your people down. We’ll be out momentarily.”

He sighed. “Alright. If any of the princess’s agents show up and get mad about what you did, you are getting the flak for this, not me.” Flak… how do ponies know what that is? Either way, he left the building with the random intruding pony in tow.

I turned to Twilight. “You should go and make sure your friends are calm and not trying to attack Chrysalis, if she actually came in person.”

She looked at the changeling in our presence nervously before turning back to me. “Don’t go anywhere without me,” she said before teleporting away.

“The fuck does that mean?”

“She wants to visit a changeling hive,” Taya answered. “I don’t know why.”

“Because she’s fucking Twilight.” I turned to the changeling. “I don’t think there’s a reason for that disguise anymore. Your superiors might say differently, but for now, I think honesty might be a good policy.”

He sighed and changed back to his proper shape. He stretched his wings, now that he could finally feel them again. “If the queen is angry with me, can you…”

“I’ll talk to her, see what I can do. No promises.” He nodded.

The wait wasn’t all that long. A group of changelings came in and the one at the head—an intelligentsia, I believe—asked, “Where is the dog?”

I looked at the changeling that had been a pony and nodded toward the cellar. He led the group of changelings downstairs. Taya and I went outside to find Chrysalis and all six of the girls—Spike was nowhere to be found—glaring at each other. Or rather, the girls were glaring at Chrysalis. Whatever.

Chrysalis had her back to me. I walked up next to her and stopped at her side. “We’re all allies here, even if not friends,” I said.

“She’s here to steal somepony away!” Rainbow yelled.

“No, she’s here to take a prisoner away. And it’s not a pony prisoner.”

“Well then who is it?” Rarity asked.

“Do you remember the diamond dogs? Because they remember you, Rarity. And they most definitely don’t like you. They offered me ten bags of gems to kidnap you, cut your tongue out, and bring you to them.” All six of them were shocked and disgusted. “The dog in there is the one that made the offer. He also offered me twenty-five bags to kill Chrysalis. And he assaulted a changeling here in Appaloosa, so he’s under Chrysalis’s jurisdiction.”

“Are you sure that’s how it works?” AJ asked. “Seems to me like he deserves some frontier justice for wanting to hurt Rarity here.”

Rarity jerked back a bit. “Heavens no, Applejack! Even a ruffian such as himself deserves a fair trial!” She turned to face me and Chrysalis. “And I intend to go with him to see that he gets it!”

“Unacceptable!” Chrysalis and I said at the same time. I nodded to let her go first. She continued, “He is a dangerous criminal. He assaulted one of my changelings and he will be judged for it. I do not need a pony looking over my shoulder making sure it happens! I have been ruling for just as long as your precious princesses. I know how to give a trial.” She nodded to me.

“A changeling hive is no place for any pony, let alone one as delicate as you. I took Taya to one once, and I have no desire to bring her to another. They are dark, uncomfortable, and miserable if you’re a surface-dweller. You have no place down there.”

“So we can hold the trial up here!” Rarity turned to Chrysalis. “It’s not that I don’t trust you to give him a trial. I don’t trust you to give him a fair trial.”

I will ensure that,” I said, crossing my arms. “As a knight, I have some kind of responsibilities or powers or something like that. I’m exercising them now. I will deal with this issue, Rarity. Trust me.”

She sniffed. “A proper trial needs witnesses!”

“Of which we have two. The changeling that was assaulted and the dog that did the assaulting. Chrysalis is an expert at reading memories. She can find the truth of the matter quickly.”

Rarity faltered, there. “But… but how will anypony know if she’s telling the truth?”

“How would anyone know a regular witness is telling the truth?” I countered. “I trust her.”

There were grumbles among the crowd that had formed around us. The dog came out of the sheriff’s office, at this point. He was surrounded by changelings and a female dog that was leading him to our group. The real dog didn’t seem to be seeing anything around him, aside from the female dog.

“Sir Navarone has placed his trust in me,” Chrysalis said aloud. “Do any of you seek to contest that?” No one met her eyes, though they didn’t seem that happy about it. “Bring the prisoner, then. Navarone, join us.”

“Taya, stay here with Twilight.”

Twilight said, “I’m going with you.”

“Like Tartarus you are!” Rainbow said, jumping in front of her. “If you’re going, I’m going!”

“And if she’s going, I’m going!” AJ said, stepping up to her side.

I stepped in because I knew what was about to happen. “Then it’s a good thing Twilight isn’t going.”

“I want to study one of the hives, Nav. I’ll be fine!”

I rubbed the back of my head. “Chrysalis?” I asked, turning to her.

“Twilight and Taya may come. Just them. You are responsible for them, Navarone.”

“I don’t like this,” Rainbow grumbled. “Don’t do it, Twilight! It’s not worth the risk!”

“When else am I going to get to study the changelings?” Twilight asked, a grin forming on her face. “This is gonna be great!”

“Hmph! You better make sure he gets a real trial, Twilight!” Rarity said.

“Of course, Rarity.”

“And make sure he’s taken care of,” Fluttershy said. Forgot she was there, for a moment.

“Don’t worry about it, Fluttershy.”

“And make sure to have fun!” Pinkie exclaimed, throwing a balloon at her from nowhere. It hit Twilight in the face and flew up into the sky.

“And be safe,” Rainbow said.

“I’ll be fine. The changelings are allies of Equestria. They wouldn’t harm anypony.”

“And be sure to get back soon,” Applejack added. “You might miss Bloomberg’s birthday otherwise!”

“And I sure… wouldn’t want that!” Twilight said nervously, giving some shifty eyes. They all bought it, of course. Chrysalis and I rolled our eyes.

“If you are coming, then come. We need to leave now if we wish to get to the hive before nightfall.” Twilight teleported away and then teleported back less than fifteen seconds later. She was now wielding a set of saddlebags and an irate dragon.

“I don’t wanna go!” he said, still shaking his head.

“You can’t always get what you want, Spike,” Twilight answered. “I need my number one assistant there to help me take notes!”

Chrysalis sighed. “No time for this.” Her horn glowed and her eyes lit up. Spike chose that moment to turn his head—or had his head turned—and caught her gaze. His eyes went dull.

“I… wanna go…” he mumbled.

“Then that’s settled,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“How did you do that?” Twilight asked, astonished. “He’s heavily resistant to magic!”

“She can explain it on the way. Let’s go.” The changelings started leading the dog—still heavily entranced—away. Chrysalis and I followed. Taya followed me. After a moment, Twilight started following as well, Spike still on her back gazing numbly at Chrysalis.

“So… how did you do that? And when will he be fixed?” Twilight asked when we were outside of town.

“Magic. And I’ll release him when we get to the hive. And I’m giving you a choice, Twilight. Blindfold, or let me do to you what I did to him.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“I can’t just let you know where the hive is. Sure, Celestia knows, but I don’t want just anypony knowing.”

“But its location is pivotal to my understanding of how you live! If you’re near a river—”

“Twilight, give it up. She’s not going to let you get anywhere near that place without making sure you can’t remember where it is.”

“Ugh, fine! I’ll take a blindfold! You better not let me trip on anything, Nav.”

Chrysalis magicked up a bit of black fabric and flew it over to Twilight, who pulled it out of the air with her own magic. She tied it around her forehead with an exaggerated sigh. “Happy?” she asked, sounding miserable.

“Navarone, make sure she can’t see.”

I walked up to her and stuck my foot out in front of her, making her trip. “She can’t.” I helped pick her up and set Spike back on her back.

“That wasn’t very nice, Nav!”

“I’m not a very nice person. At least I helped you up. Taya, guide her and make sure she doesn’t trip on anything. I need to talk to Chrysalis.”

“Not without me you don’t!” Twilight said, trying to nose herself up next to me but failing when she stepped in a small pothole and stumbled. I caught her, stopping her from falling.

“I need to talk to her about personal stuff, Twilight. Nothing to do with the dog.”

“…Promise?”

“I promise that we won’t discuss anything about the dog that I think you need to hear.”

“Promise that you won’t talk about him at all.”

“That’s as good as you’re going to get. And since you’re blindfolded, good luck finding us in the group of changelings.”

“Nav, I’m being serious! This is an important thing, you shouldn’t decide this yourself!”

“I’m not deciding anything. Chrysalis is the judge, remember?”

“Fine! Do it your way, then! But don’t think I won’t tell the princess about this!”

“Okay. Taya, watch out for her.” I went and caught up with Chrysalis. “Guilty?” I asked.

“Guilty,” she confirmed. “He’ll make a useful addition to our feeding chambers. His love for his mate is strong.” She giggled. “Or rather, it was. You and I helped nip that in the bud, though.”

That hurt. That hurt a lot. “Anyway… my children. How are they doing?”

“Perfectly well. They are into their larval forms now.”

“They? How many are there, exactly?”

“Three. An average sized brood, for me. There was one griffin that gave me eight. Now that was an interesting labor.”

“I don’t suppose it would be possible for me to see them while I’m here? Just me, I mean. Not Taya or Twilight or Spike.”

“Of course. I assume you didn’t tell anypony?”

“Nope.” No one but Celestia. “This isn’t… something I want getting out.”

“What, ashamed of me?” She was smirking.

“I don’t think the news would be well-accepted. It’s not something I want anyone to find out about. I still can’t even believe it’s possible!”

“If I could explain it, I would. It is just a curse I have.”

“I could definitely see that as a curse… Just raise them right. I don’t want a Mordred on my hands.”

She looked surprised. “How did you know I named the male Mordred?”

I face-palmed. “Thank God I’m not a prince.”

“You know, if you marry Luna you will be…”

“First, no chance in hell of that. Second, my name’s not Arthur. As long as he doesn’t show up at my doorstep in twenty years demanding his birthright, I’ll be happy.”

She blinked. “Oh, that old tale! My name is not Morgan la Neigh, Navarone. I have all the power I need, now.” We walked in silence for a moment. “Although… I can give you children, Nav. She never can.” I felt her tail brushing against me lightly.

“Luna went full fucking psycho on me, so she isn’t even an option anymore. Assuming you have a way to avoid pregnancies in the future, I’ll happily fuck you silly when we get some free time.”

“My my, what brought this happy little change? From the way she described it, you two were practically soul mates!”

“Not quite. We were adults about it, thankfully. There were a few tears shed, I believe, but she handled it well enough.”

“Oooh, so you’re free?” I felt her tail actually wrap around me, now. She pulled me a bit closer.

“Something like that, yeah.” I set a hand on her side and gently rubbed her carapace. “We’ll have time for fun later.”

“Or I could take you right here and now. I don’t think you could resist me long.”

“Why do I always find myself surrounded by dangerous women who want me?”

“Because you wouldn’t settle for all the safe mares that wanted you. Or maybe you just like to live on the edge. Either way, I’m not complaining. And I don’t hear you complaining either.”

“You know my past, or at least a bit of it. I’ve gotten well-used to not being in control.”

“Ooh yes, and how fun it is when you’re not!”

“Lord, I don’t even want to think about it. I’m still tapped out from Luna’s estrus. That was fucking hell.”

Chrysalis recoiled a bit. “You voluntarily sat through her estrus? You must not know your history.”

“That’s what killed it for me. She went too far. I actually sprinted out of her fucking room.”

She nodded. “Yes, I remember hearing horror stories about her estrus. It is no surprise to me you could not last. There is no shame in it.”

“Yeah, I’m not ashamed at all. It was… it was terrible. But enough about it. What can I expect from this hive?”

“More. Everything that was in the other hive and some. And there are a few electric lights. Not many, but we have some.”

“That’s good to hear. So will Twilight actually be able to see?”

“A little. There is enough light for outlines, at least.”

“Good. Now, can you make us invisible?”

“What? Why?”

“We’re being followed. I want to make sure we lose them by the time we turn to throw off the people in town from thinking your hive is this way.”

“Followed? Followed by who?”

“Rainbow Dash and Applejack.”

“I have a better idea…”

“We can’t hurt them.”

“Troops, attend me!” All the changelings turned to her. “We are being followed. Two of you turn to lizards and lie in wait here. When they come this way, put them to sleep. Do not harm them.”

“Wait!” Twilight said. “I can talk to them!”

“You had your chance,” Chrysalis said. “They didn’t listen to you. Shows how much trust they put into you, doesn’t it?” She turned back to the changelings. “When you put them to sleep, one of you will remain with them until they awaken to make sure they come to no harm. And when they awaken,” she smiled darkly, “give them my regards. Now go.” Two changelings molded into lizards and the rest of us continued walking.

I fell back a bit so I was walking with Taya and Twilight. “Which pocket is the paper in, Twilight?” I asked.

“Left.” I reached in and pulled a bit out. I leaned onto her back to scratch out a short message.

I held it up to Spike. “Chrysalis wants you to send this to Celestia, Spike,” I told him. He jerked his head to me.

“Really?” he asked his voice full of wonder.

“Yep. She’d be ever so pleased.”

He grabbed the paper with a big grin and sent it away.

I patted Twilight’s neck amiably. “There. If anything goes wrong, Celestia knows where we’re at.”

“Thanks, Nav,” she said. “I don’t expect anything to happen, but just in case…”

“Yep, just in case. Now, do you know a spell to help you see in the dark?”

“I can create light, if that’s what you mean. Why?”

“Changelings don’t light their caves. They can all see in the dark and when magic is hard to come by…” I shrugged, not that she could see it. “Well, some things are more important than others. And you won’t be overly popular if you create light down there. You’ll blind all the changelings who aren’t used to seeing light.”

“Surely they have some lights, though!”

“Yeah, in their buildings. Even then, it’s only in their rooms, not in the general layout of the buildings. And please, don’t ask to see any of their feeding chambers. I’ll bring food to you three while we’re down there.”

“Nav, I need to see how the changelings feed if I’m to write anything on them.”

“Twilight, you don’t—watch your step, rock—you don’t want to see it. It’s horrifying. Taya, tell her.”

“He’s right,” she quietly answered. “It’s not worth it.”

“Oooh, what would either of you know about science?”

“More than anypony you would know,” Chrysalis answered. I didn’t even notice her falling back to our little group. “He’s the reason we have more lighting than we usually do.”

“What do you mean, more lighting than usual?”

“He showed me his world through his mind. The technological wonders. The power his people hold. The wonders of his so-called modern era…”

Twilight scoffed. “Impossible. He told me all about it too. I humored him at the time and it did sound wonderful, but the things he described are impossible without magic.”

“He told you about them, you said. But did he show you? Did he let you look into his mind?”

“I didn’t know it was possible,” I answered. “And Twilight never offered. I wouldn’t have agreed, either way.”

“It isn’t legal to do for anypony not in the guard!” Twilight said.

“It isn’t?” I asked. I looked to Taya and picked her up. “How did you know that spell?” I whispered.

“I saw Shining Armor use it on you three times. I figured it out from there,” she quietly answered.

“Don’t use it on anyone else. And hope that Diamond Tiara doesn’t figure out that’s what you did to her.”

“Yes, daddy.” I set her back down.

“I’m going to regret opening this conversation up, but what are the differences in changeling magic and unicorn magic?” I asked.

“Style,” Chrysalis answered. “We do things differently than the ponies. That’s the only difference.”

“Are you sure?” Twilight asked. “I remember…” She blushed lightly. “I remember seeing your spell in Navarone’s mind. It looked very different from the others but it had the same effect.”

“That’s what different style does,” Chrysalis answered in a longsuffering tone. “It makes the same spells look and cast differently.”

“How do you know so much about unicorn magic, anyway?” Twilight asked.

“Because I helped invent the spells, you twit. And before you ask, no, I won’t explain that. I have been alive longer than Celestia. I know a thing or two.”

“But… Spike, take note!”

I reached over and poked him. “He’s pretty out of it, Twilight. It’ll have to wait.” I could practically hear her teeth grinding.

Fine,” she forced out, her voice dripping with venom. “If you helped invent the spells,” she said in a tone that was now full of sarcasm, “why would you change the style?”

“We didn’t. Ponies did. You use your magic more than we do, thus your styles evolve more and more as you have differing teachers. You have more spells than we do now, and we do not have another Starswirl to aid us. We make do with what we can loot, what we can steal, and what we can pick from the minds of the unicorns that we capture.”

“You know, I’m sure Princess Celestia would send you some top magic teachers if you asked.”

I sighed as Chrysalis huffed. “And be forced to give even more concessions to that… princess of yours? I do not want any ponies in my cities at all, especially those high and mighty university professors! I have agents in the university at Canterlot, even now. They always talk of the arrogance the professors display in the face of the best and brightest Equestria has to offer. I will not listen to them berate and belittle my changelings for living in squalor when squalor is all we have in which to live.”

“Then why not send some of your more gifted changelings to the university?”

Chrysalis smiled. “I have. They don’t look like changelings, of course. Did you not listen to me mention my agents?”

“I… I thought you meant they were… other kinds of personnel.”

I smirked. “What, just because they’re black they have to be janitors? That’s racist, Twilight!”

“No-no, I didn’t mean—Wait, what?”

“Nah, I’m just fucking with you. I know what you meant. Chrysalis, continue.”

“I’m done, actually, unless any of you has a question.”

“Sure, I’ll bite,” I said. “How do you get your hair to do that thing with the holes?”

She ran a hoof through her mane. “Skill, mixed with a bit of magic.” She shrugged. “I could probably do something similar to your mane, if you let it loose.”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“I would like to see it loose, though…”

I reached around and pulled the rubber band out and shook my head a bit, trying not to throw sweat everywhere—even if it was February, we were still in a desert. My grey hair flew everywhere. “Getting about time to cut it,” I said, pulling it away from my face.

Her horn lit up and I felt some of it lift. “Interesting,” she whispered. “Full of muted life. This is no ordinary mane.”

“Correct. I’m fucking Samson.”

“I don’t know who that is,” she said, still toying lightly with my hair.

“Old story from my world. Not important.” Cut my hair and I’ll be weak, I believe. I’m not going to let Chrysalis be my Delilah.

“This is all a mess, Navarone,” she finally pronounced. “I suggest you find somepony to help you deal with this.”

“I’ll think about it.” No I won’t.

“No you won’t,” Twilight said. “I’ll be sure to tell Rarity about the queen’s suggestion.”

“Now that’s just cruel,” I commented as I put my hair back up.

“Cruel, but necessary,” Chrysalis said. “Something must be done with that mess. Most changelings do not have hair, so there are none that specialize in dealing with it. If there were, you would have it fixed at the hive.”

“Speaking of the hive, how much longer until we get there?”

She looked around. “Another two hours. For you. I will meet you when you arrive. Honor guard, fall in.” With that, she flared her wings and took to the sky. A cadre of changelings followed her and formed up around her as they flew away. Our number now had around seven changelings, me, Twilight, Spike, Taya, and the dog.

“So. Navarone. Tell me what happened with this dog,” Twilight said.

“I already told you, I can’t. Celestia’s order.” And thankfully, she actually did give the order this time.

“I think, given current events, that it’s pretty important I know what happened.”

“Watch out for that hole.” She stepped over it. “Honestly, it’s not. What happens to the dog does not concern you nor is it your business.” We heard a buzzing in the air and a changeling joined our group. “Did the ponies following us put up any resistance?”

“They dropped like a rock. Weren’t expecting it at all.”

“Good. Thank you.” I addressed the head of the pack, “Start heading directly to the hive. We’re in the clear.” We turned toward the direction Chrysalis had flown off. “Twilight, it’s really not something I want to talk about even if I could.”

“It’s just…” She sighed. “You never talk to us anymore. Any of us. Sure, you’re willing to talk about our lives and things we did, but you rarely bring up anything you’ve done anymore.”

“Because I’m not proud of a lot of it. It isn’t anything you ponies need to know about. If I had the choice, not even Celestia would know. Besides, I don’t like talking about myself. Never have.”

“But you don’t mind talking to others about themselves.”

“No, I don’t. Well, I mind it less. I’m not much a fan of talking to people at all, but given my position, that’s hardly an option.”

She sighed, shaking her head. “At least you’re willing to tell me that much. What could possibly be so shaming that you aren’t willing to tell your friends?”

“I’m not talking about this. I’m sorry. If you truly want to know, ask Celestia.”

“Okay, I will.” She moved her head from side to side. “Ugh, can you take a note for me?”

“I suppose.” I reached into her pack again and pulled out more paper. “What do you want to say?”

“Dear Princess Celestia, Navarone is being an insufferable buffoon again. He refuses to tell me, his friend, what he did with the changelings to make him so depressed and self-centered. He told me that if I wanted to know, I would have to get your permission. Would you kindly allow me this one thing so I may help my friend get better? Your loving student, Twilight Sparkle.”

I looked over the note. ‘Yo Baby Cakes, Twilight’s being herself. Tell her that she can’t know what happened with the changelings and the dogs. She won’t get off my back about it. Yes, I told her you said I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Oh, and we’re almost to the changeling hive now. Feel free to start eavesdropping in on me if you want. Your hop on hop off lover, Nav.’ Close enough.

“Spike, another message from Chrysalis. Send it on, buddy.”

“Wait. Taya, read over it. Make sure it’s accurate.”

I rolled my eyes and handed it to Taya. She looked over it. “It’s paraphrased, but it amounts to the same thing.”

“Fine. Send it.” I took the note and passed it to Spike. He sent it away.

“So… what’s a hop on hop off lover, daddy?”

Twilight face-hoofed. I sighed and explained obscure indie music to Taya as we continued our walk.

“And that’s why hipsters are bad people,” I finished just as we made it to the entrance to the hive. We had long since gotten the expected answer of no from Celestia. Twilight let off her typical exasperated sigh when she had all of the changelings in the group confirm that it did, in fact, say no. Most of them were drones and couldn’t read or talk, but with a hefty dose of quiet moving, we managed to convince Twilight that all of the changelings confirmed what I said. And it was true, so I didn’t feel bad. “So uh… how do we get down?” I asked.

“I’ll go get a crew and the queen,” one of the sentients said. He dove down the hole.

“Can I take this blindfold off yet?” Twilight asked.

“No. Wait until Chrysalis tells you to.” She sighed again. “You really aren’t missing a thing, Twilight. Trust me.”

I heard the buzzing of insect wings. I looked over to the hole just in time to see a large group of changelings and Chrysalis bursting from the earth. They flew up for a moment before returning down to our group. “Grab the dog, the dragon, and the ponies,” she commanded as she landed in front of me. “Take the dog to processing. The ponies and dragon go to the palace.”

“What do you mean, processing?” Twilight demanded.

“That is none of your business.” Changelings were already moving to grab everyone mentioned.

“Don’t worry, Taya. You’ll be fine,” I told her.

“I know.” It’s a shame I wasn’t strong enough to carry her for too long anymore.

One of the changelings grabbed Spike and jumped into the hole. The ones carrying Taya followed. And then went Twilight, slightly panicking at having her feet off the ground. The dog went last. Soon, it was just me and Chrysalis at the top.

“Straight drop?” I asked.

“Not this time. We’ve made some changes in our hives after the Diamond Dog episode. Follow closely.”

I ran a finger down her side. “Given who I’m following, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.”

She smirked. “It is just us two up here. I don’t know if the others would mind if we took our time…”

I smiled and jumped in. A moment later, she followed me.

I let her zip ahead, since I didn’t know the way. We took a few twists and turns and one ridiculously sharp angle before we made it to the cavern, where I found myself stopping short. Chrysalis noticed and joined me as I hung above the massive city. “Mother of God,” I whispered.

This place was just absolutely massive. It was dotted in sparkling lakes and had huge luminescent mushrooms growing around all the water sources. Gems of all kinds glittered around the ceiling, each letting out a unique shine. Buildings big and small decorated the cavern, each a vast contrast to the blocky buildings in the hive near Ponyville. These buildings had aesthetic appeal, arches and spikes and towers flowing off buildings, connecting the entire city. From where I was, I could see crowds of changelings going about their day, actually seeming to converse. A few statues were erected in various courtyards, each with a large plaque beneath them. Hell, there was even a statue of me in one of those places.

I had to do a double take on that one; I wasn’t wearing a shirt in it.

“I take it you like my city?” Chrysalis asked, smugness in her voice.

“Hell yes. Much better than that depressing place we went to before. There’s actually light here, with the mushrooms. And there are a few electric lights.” Not many of them. It took me a second to notice that some of the courtyards were lit up.

“That depressing place was meant as a temporary mining and observing hive. Only later was it reconstructed as a true home. The other pods were much nicer, but you didn’t get a chance to see them.”

“Shame. So, straight down?”

“No. They’re en route to the royal palace. Probably already there by now. Shall we?”

“Lead the way.” She started off again and I followed her, still looking around the city. It was around the size of Canterlot, I believe. I couldn’t tell what color almost anything was, as my night vision made everything black and white, but it was still nice. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all black and green anyway.

We landed in a courtyard next to a massive building that looked like it went all the way to the ceiling of the cavern. “Spare no expenses, eh?” I asked when we landed. I saw that all the others were in the courtyard already, save for the dog. “Twilight, feel free to take the blindfold off.”

“Ugh, finally!” Her horn lit up and the thing came off her face. “Oh ha ha, Nav.” She couldn’t see a thing. “Now, how about you let Spike go?”

Chrysalis’s horn lit up and Spike jerked. “Huh? Where am—” He looked around. “Oh dear Celestia… This. Place. Is. AWESOME!” He hopped off Twilight’s back and ran over to the statue.

“Spike? Come back, I can’t see!”

I laid a hand on Twilight’s head. “I got you, don’t worry. Taya, come on over, the way is clear.” She walked toward my voice. I stopped her with a hand when she got to me. Wait… “Twilight, cast the spell that lets you see what I see.” Her horn lit up for a moment and she gasped.

“Look around, Nav.” I did. She had her eyes closed, probably trying to focus only on what I could see. She shuddered when I moved my head quickly. “So disorienting. Go slow.” I slowed down a bit, still looking around.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Chrysalis said in a bored voice. I jerked my head her way before I could help it and Twilight groaned.

“Spike, come on back,” I called. He sighed and plodded back to the group. I turned back to the queen. “Well, do you have anything planned for us?”

She barked a laugh. “No. I was in the middle of something when one of my agents showed up saying you were requesting my presence. She explained the situation or I never would have been able to get away. I can have somepony give you a tour of the city, but it will have to be without me. I have to return to managing my kingdom. You are welcome to stay as long as you desire, but I can’t promise it will be all that entertaining.”

“Do you have any libraries?” Twilight asked.

Chrysalis gave her a rather ‘what the fuck’ look. “We live underground in near permanent darkness. Most changelings can’t even read, let alone write. We don’t have the materials to make paper or the time to waste writing books or the space to waste storing them. So no, we don’t have any libraries.”

“Well sor-ry,” Twilight muttered.

Chrysalis turned back to me. “Do I need to get her a muzzle? Or maybe a leash?”

“She’ll behave,” I answered, patting Twilight on the head. I got a glare in my general direction for my efforts. “I would like to see more of the city before we leave, and there’s still that matter we discussed before,” meaning my children, “so if you could give us some kind of guide, that would be awesome.”

“Of course, Nav. I’ll have rooms drawn up for you as well. It will have to be the same style as you had last time, though; guest rooms are few and far between in changeling cities.”

“Fair enough. Just make sure we have a spare bed. I actually need sleep this time.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Your guide will arrive here shortly. Do not wander far.”

She didn’t give us a chance to answer, just melted away in a green fire. Twilight flinched when she saw it.

“Twilight, you want a more complete view of the city?”

“What do you mean?”

“I fly over it and you watch through my eyes.”

“Uh. Sure.”

“Can I come too?” Spike asked before I could take off.

I slung him over a shoulder. It’s somewhat surprising that he’s still so light. I took off, gaining air as quickly as possible. “Feels so good to get a proper stretch in,” I commented as we rose. “Train cars are so confining.”

“They’re fine for me,” Spike answered.

“Yeah, you’re smaller than I am. When you get to be my size and when you get your wings, you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

“And won’t that be a fun—Oh wow!” I got to where we could see the city again.

“Take it all in. Ain’t no telling if we’ll be able to come back up here.” I cast my gaze around, trying to give Twilight as much of a view as possible.

“This place is so cool! How long do we get to stay here?”

“Few days at the most. I know I’m welcome to fucking move here.” I pointed my statue out to him. “The changelings quite like me.”

“Is that… you?”

“Yep. I had no idea they were building that, but there it is. Apparently I’m a hero here.”

“Well, you’re a hero in Equestria too, but you don’t have any statues!”

“Yeah, but there are plenty of other heroes in Equestria, of several races. Here, they don’t have nearly as many. And I’m the only one here with a statue that isn’t a changeling.” He looked around and saw that it was true. “I hope the changelings here don’t treat me any differently than the ones at the other hive.”

“How did they treat you?”

“With indifference. It was nice.”

“I think I’d rather be treated as a hero than indifferently.”

“That’s because you’re not used to being treated as a freak. Remember Egypt? And then Israel?”

“Oh yeah…” Before he could say anything else, I let my wings furl a bit and dove down, holding onto him tightly. I caught myself from hitting the ground a few feet about Twilight and lowered myself to the ground gently. Spike hopped down with a clicking of clawed feet on stone.

“Get a good view?” I asked.

She magically shoved paper and a quill in Spike’s hands. “Yes. Now, take note…” She droned on about something or another. I didn’t pay attention enough to remember what she said.

I want to say she was winding down when the guide got there half an hour later, but it sounded like she was just getting started. Spike had already gone through several papers, each magically dried and carefully pressed into Twilight’s saddlebags. I don’t know why she has such an insatiable urge to study every little thing, but I suppose that’s just who she is.

I had to poke her a few times to get her attention to tell her the guide was here. Given that she couldn’t see him, I could understand that, but still. Wait… Taya said they had glowing eyes. So I guess Twilight really is just bad at noticing things when she gets like that.

“So, what can we expect from the tour?” I asked the guide. I couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a guy and I really didn’t care.

“You can expect to be shown the hive,” it answered in a voice feminine enough for me to assume it was a chick.

“Well, that was a useless answer. Lead the way.”

“Ask a stupid question and you’ll get a stupid answer, Nav,” the guide answered.

“…Doppel?”

“The very same. What, can’t you tell?”

“No. All you changelings look the same to me. Pheromones?”

She nodded. “That’s how we tell each other apart.”

“Spike, write that down!” Twilight interjected.

“Phero… How do you even spell that?” Twilight gave an exasperated groan and used her magic to rip the paper out of Spike’s hands. She thrust it at me and apparently used my eyes to hold the quill so she could write the word with magic. She then pushed it back at him.

“You could use Spike for that.”

“I tried! You’re less resistant to magic than he is. Now… Doppel, what can you tell me about the pheromones?”

Doppel gave Twilight an incredulous look. “They exist. We use them as identifiers. What more do you want?”

“Is it a smell? A feeling? Do you have a sense beyond the normal five? How do you detect them?”

“What’s a smell?”

I said, “You ever been near a body after it’s been sitting out for too long and it’s rotting?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you feel something in your nose that was unpleasant?”

“No. Nothing different about a rotting body than a live one, other than us not being able to use the rotting ones for food.”

“Interesting,” Twilight muttered. “Spike, write that down. Changelings have no sense of smell.”

Doppel turned to me. “So what’s a smell?”

“It’s a sensation in your nose when you detect airborne something something that something something. Can we get on with the tour?”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine, if we must. Do you want to see anything in particular before we do get started?”

“Nav’s statue!” Spike said

“I really don’t know if I want to get up close and personal with that thing,” I commented.

Twilight smirked. “What, afraid of getting too much attention from all the adoring fans that notice you look very similar to the statue?”

“Doppel, will that be a problem?”

“You’ll get more attention here than you will at Epsilon, but that’s not saying much. Changelings are, for the most part, pragmatic and down to earth. Most of us don’t hero worship.”

“Most?”

She grinned. “You’ll be fine. I’ll be sure to throw the statue on the list of things to show you. Now come on, this is a big city.” She started leading us into a corridor.

“So why haven’t we seen any other changelings yet?” Twilight asked.

“Because this is a courtyard in the royal palace. Not many changelings come here. We don’t have many guards or a large standing army since we have so few enemies or predators underground. The only hives with large military presences are to the north, near the griffin territories.”

“And there’s no crime?” Twilight asked.

“None. Ever.”

“That’s impossible! Even Canterlot has some crime.”

“Then I guess that’s something we have up on ponies,” Doppel answered in a smug voice.

“Think about it, Twilight,” I said. “Any criminal in a place like this is probably going to be found nearly instantly. And if they identify each other with pheromones, there’s probably no way to block them. It’s likely that a crime scene would be hot for days after the crime happened. Crime can’t really exist in an environment like that.”

“So you think it’s more a physical impossibility rather than a cultural difference?” Twilight asked.

“I wouldn’t say impossibility. And I’m sure culture would play a big part in it as well. Why would they need to steal if all they need to survive is emotion and they don’t have any strong desires? A drone doesn’t have many thoughts beyond ‘do what I’m told.’ Intelligentsia have no need for crime, since they’re well provided for anyway. Sentients are the only ones that might need to do something illegal, but when you were raised with the singular motive of serving the hive, you wouldn’t know that crime is ever an option.”

“Sounds… interesting,” Twilight said. “Spike, write that down.”

He looked at her with a funny look before he remembered that she couldn’t see it. “I don’t know how to spell several of those words.”

“Ugh! Nav, you are now promoted to temporary assistant.”

“Pass. You know I can’t write without something hard to write on. I don’t know how Spike does it.”

“By not writing too hard,” he answered. “That and the paper she gets is usually pretty thick.”

“Eh, whatever. Either way, I can’t write your notes for you.”

“Yeah, but I can use your eyes to do it.”

“Whatever floats your boat. Just know that I’m going to be checking out the sights. Not every day that we get to be the first ever extra-changeling race allowed peacefully into their capital.”

“Not that impressive,” Twilight muttered. In a louder voice, she continued, “I prefer Canterlot.”

“Well, nothing’s keeping you here,” I said. “I’m sure Chrysalis would be happy to send you packing.”

“No, it’s my duty as a scholar to archive as much as possible about anything undocumented. The changelings have always been a poorly understood race. Quite like the naga. It’s amazing how you have such a habit for finding races like them and getting in close with them. This will be the third species I’ve been able to study that you’ve gotten me access to!” Cats and naga being the other two, of course.

“Luck. And how interesting is it that I’ve also had sex with all three of them. If you come to the next Europe party, you might have a chance to talk with dragons. If any of them would be interested, that is.”

“Would any of them?”

“Psh, no. The only thing that I learned from the dragon chick I met is that Spike will be glad that he’s fire resistant if he ever starts fucking one.”

Twilight gasped at that. “Nav, don’t you talk that way in front of him!”

Spike said, “Twilight, I’m as old as you, if not older.”

“That’s ridiculous! You’re ten years younger than I am.”

“No,” he countered. “Dragons age differently. I learned that during the Dragon Migration.” I should point out that he’s actually as tall as she is now.

“Then why—”

“There are better times for this conversation,” I broke in. Doppel was watching with every sign of amusement, and we were finally where other changelings could see us. And we were getting a whole lot of looks. I saw a few lips being licked as they eyed Twilight and Taya. “Spike, guide Twilight. Taya, stay by my side. Doppel, make sure they know why we’re here.”

Doppel stepped forward a bit. “Citizens of Alpha Hive, listen well and spread the word: This is a small delegation from Equestria. Sir Navarone and his squire Spike the dragon, assistant Twilight Sparkle, and his daughter Taya.”

“Assistant?” Twilight muttered darkly, glaring at me.

“Squire?” Spike also added before looking at me as well. I let my shrug encompass them both.

Doppel was continuing: “The queen expects them to be treated with respect. It is not every day we get visitors to the hives, after all.”

One changeling stepped forward from the small crowd around us. “Can we feed off them?” he asked, eyeing a shrinking Twilight.

“No,” Doppel answered. “Sir Navarone is the reason we have food. You are not going to harm him or any of his dependents.” The changeling that asked bowed his head for a second before backing into the crowd.

Another stepped forward. “Are the rumors about you true?” she asked, looking at me.

“I just got here,” I answered. “I don’t know what rumors about me exist.”

“That you slept with our queen. That you led the vanguard against the Diamond Dogs. That you are the reason we have electricity.”

Oh wow. Rumors that are actually true. “I didn’t lead the attack.”

“But you planned it,” the changeling said.

“Yes, I did.” The changeling nodded and backed into the crowd as the other one had.

“What attack?” Twilight asked, confused. I ignored her. The changeling crowd around us began to disperse and Doppel continued. “Nav, what attack?”

“Nothing, Twilight.”

“It’s not nothing! What happened?”

“Remember that note from the princess? I am not allowed to discuss it.”

“You just did, with that changeling!”

“What Celestia ordered was that I not explain to those I am not comfortable explaining it to.”

“You… you can explain to a random… changeling,” that word had extra venom, “but not to your best friend?”

Best might be pushing it. “Yes,” I answered.

“That doesn’t make any sense, Nav!”

“I can imagine. Doppel, how far are we from wherever we’re going?”

“Not too far,” she answered, looking back with a smirk.

“This isn’t over, Nav!” Twilight promised me. Just keep telling yourself that. “And it isn’t over for you either, Spike!” I imagine he was thinking much the same.

Doppel said, “Ah, I can just taste the tension in the air. You are always so filling to be around, Nav. I can’t even remember the last time I was hungry, ever since we met.”

“Maybe my human memories are just more vivid.”

“They most definitely are. Pony memories taste stale, hardly worth eating.”

“Spike, write that down!” He muttered something dark and did as Twilight said. “So how do changelings taste?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never eaten one,” Doppel said.

Twilight let out a frustrated sound. “Twilight, you’re such an easy target,” I commented, poking her gently on the side. She practically growled at me. Doppel and I giggled, which just did wonders for Twilight’s mood. She was nearly steaming by the time we got to the first place Doppel brought us to.

“This is a repository of learning,” Doppel said as we walked up the steps. I had a hand on Twilight, carefully guiding her up. Taya was on her back. Spike was walking next to me. “We don’t have books, but we have to teach our children trades somehow. They learn here, in a relatively safe environment.”

“How do they learn without books?” Twilight asked. To her, that was nearly blasphemy.

“Through experience. We have tradeschangelings come in and teach practical skills. Masonry, the occasional carpentry skills, mining—though most of that is done in the field—magic, building, basic combat, how to use disguises and hide among different societies, and various other skills are taught. Students are given a background in every skill and are guided down the correct path for them—or occasionally pushed down a needed path in times of hardship.”

“Do changelings have any kind of cutie mark?” Twilight asked.

“Remember the pheromones? As a changeling starts down an occupational path, they begin to take on identifiers of that path. Certain… smells, you would say. Every changeling is different, but two miners have more similar pheromones than a miner and a mason.”

“You said you occasionally force them down paths,” I said. “What does that do to their pheromones?”

“They pick up the identifier of what they became, not what they wanted to become. A changeling forced into mining would identify as a miner. What about you, Navarone? Do you have any kind of identification?”

“Nope. Humans don’t get anything physical like that. We can get ink tattoos, but we pick them. We can also wear different clothes to identify status, but anyone can put on a suit. Some jobs have uniforms, but when you get home you remove it.” I shrugged. “It’s nice, not having anything forcing you down one path or another.”

Twilight sniffed. “It’s hardly forcing anypony, if it’s something they’ll love.”

“And humans are vastly different from ponies,” I said. “I couldn’t imagine doing something all my life, even if it was something I loved. Especially now that I’ll have such a long life.”

“Sounds to me like you’re just afraid of commitment,” Twilight slyly commented.

“How long is this fucking staircase?” I asked, getting tired of this.

“Well, it would help if you two had been walking instead of talking,” Spike said. He was standing at the top, a few steps ahead of us. His hands were on his hips and he was glaring back at us. Doppel just giggled as she walked up to the columns aligning the front of the building. I guided Twilight up the rest of the way and looked back down. There weren’t even ten steps behind us. What the fuck?

I just shook my head as Taya hopped down and we began following Doppel again. “So how many kids does this place teach?” I asked.

“There aren’t any goats in the hive,” Doppel answered.

“How many fucking changelings, then?”

“None of our teachers have sex with the students.”

“Fine, fuck it. I didn’t care anyway.”

“All of the foals of the hive come here, Nav,” she said. “This building is large. We won’t visit all of it. Queen Chrysalis just mentioned that your friend likes magic, so I thought I would show her one of our magic classes. One of the teachers might be there, even if none of the students are.”

“Why not just come back when there are students learning?” Twilight asked.

“We might. But now you know where the building is, and can come back whenever you desire.” Doppel continued leading the way down relatively dark halls. The inside of this building reminded me of the office building thing we entered in the hive near Ponyville. Twilight tried looking in some of the open doors, but wasn’t able to see anything but the occasional set of glowing eyes watching us. I saw a few smaller changelings with the regular sized ones. I assumed they were students staying behind to talk with their teachers.

Doppel finally stopped outside one door. I didn’t see anything different about this one from any others, but maybe it was a pheromone thing. She knocked, waited a second, and then pushed the door open. It sounded like she whispered something to the changeling inside. A moment later, she beckoned us inside. I gave Twilight a gentle push so she knew she could enter. I followed her, with Taya behind me. Spike shrugged before joining us inside.

There was a teacher there with two students. “You are here for a demonstration, Sir Navarone?” the teacher asked.

“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” I answered. “Would you mind if we lit the room up a bit? My friend is less able to see in the dark than I.”

The teacher looked to Twilight. “Why would you even enter these caves without being able to see?”

“To learn! And I didn’t think it would be that much of a problem…”

He shook his head. “Create light if you must. It would be interesting to see how a unicorn did it.” Her horn lit up and a small globe of light lifted from it and settled near the center of the room. Twilight looked around, finally able to see.

“A few tables, a small dueling range, a few crystals…” She turned back to the teacher. “How do you teach without any kind of paper? Or proper tools? You don’t even have… What?”

The teacher was giving Doppel an ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ look. He turned back to Twilight. “We teach practical magic. Not many changelings are able to use spells. For those that can, we don’t teach wasteful practices such as those you use. We need to conserve their energy as much as possible so they can benefit our society rather than hinder it by using more resources.”

Twilight looked aghast. “Wasteful? I’ll have you know that I performed that spell flawlessly!”

The teacher stomped a hoof down and turned to one of his students. “Show her.”

Twilight’s light turned sickly green. I blinked and watched the student harder. Her horn was barely letting off any light at all. With the sound of shattering glass, the light tore itself to pieces.

“Impossible!” Twilight uttered, completely shocked.

“Not impossible,” the teacher answered. “Hard, yes. But with all the excess magic you poured into that spell, it was easy enough for any half-trained student to tear it apart using itself.”

I didn’t understand a word of that. I did, however, know where this was going. I nudged Spike with my foot and jerked my head toward the door. He nodded and we silently backed out. We walked back the way we came a bit. We stayed within sight of the door, but we couldn’t hear anything being said and they couldn’t hear us. He sank to the floor with a sigh. I joined him there. It was a shame neither of us could lean against the wall, but with his tail and my wings it was impossible.

“So how did we get here, anyway?” he asked. “I don’t remember the walk at all for some reason.”

“You were… reluctant to come. Chrysalis did something to your head.”

“That sucks. But at least this place isn’t so bad. What kinda food do they have here?”

“The hive we went to before had mushrooms.”

“…And?”

“Mushrooms. That was pretty much it. They might have some gems, but I don’t know if they’d give them to you.”

He sighed and kicked at the ground. “Why are we even here? Twilight never said.”

“I am here because I had to escort a prisoner that attacked a changeling. I also didn’t want to stay in Appaloosa.”

“That place wasn’t so bad. I know I liked it.”

“That’s just because the buffalo respect dragons.” Fear is more like it, probably. In a place as flat as where the buffalo live, I imagine a single dragon could probably take out whole tribes with no problem. They’d have nowhere to run or hide. When they first met Spike, they met him after accidentally kidnapping him. They probably thought his parents—large dragons—would come by looking for him and destroy the tribe. By treating him well, they hoped he would tell the parents that it was an accident and get them to spare the tribe. Of course, that’s speculation, but it seems likely to me. “If you’re me, and so vastly different, I imagine meeting the buffalo would not have been enjoyable.”

He shrugged. “Braeburn sure seemed to like you.”

“I’m not gay. I’d prefer not to deal with his advances. Hopefully he got the message.” If not, I was going to make sure he understood—assuming I had to deal with him again, that is. “Anyway, I’ll do my best to get you three out of these caves as soon as I can. I know you and Taya don’t want to be down here.”

“What about you?”

“I love the changelings, man. They’re awesome. I’d rather be down here than in Appaloosa.”

“If you say so…”

The door to the room we left Twilight in banged open. It was already open, it just opened the rest of the way with a loud boom that reverberated down the halls. Twilight stalked out with a nasty expression on her face. Taya followed her, looking her normal relatively ambivalent self. Oddly enough, none of the other changelings looked out at the noise.

Twilight looked up and down the halls, not being able to see a thing. “Where are you two?” she demanded.

“Should we?” I whispered to Spike.

He sighed and stood. “Down here,” he called. Twilight began trotting to us, looking even more unhappy. Taya followed, a bit more subdued.

“And just what were you two doing?” Twilight snapped.

“Just chilling,” I answered. “Are we moving on with the tour already?”

“Yes! Now lead the way out of this infernal building.”

I looked to Taya. “Two passwords.”

“Bacon, watch, password.”

“Alright.” I knelt down next to her and whispered, “New word is illegal.” I stood up. “Come on. I suppose Doppel can find us on the front steps.”

“That insufferable mare?” Twilight asked, her voice dangerously icy. “I’d rather be led around by a… a hydra!”

“Yeah, she can be annoying at times. But at least we’re being led around and we aren’t being eaten.” She just hmphed and didn’t say anything.

When we got to the entrance, there was a relatively small hydra waiting for us. “I heard this form would be preferable,” Doppel’s voice said, coming from three mouths at once.

“Yeah, that’s creepy as fuck,” I said. “What’s next on the tour?”

“The feeding chambers are closest,” the hydra said. “And I suppose you are all likely hungry. I don’t know how long non-changelings can go without food.”

“Can you really wander around the hive like that?” I asked.

“Well, I could. It wouldn’t be a good idea, but I certainly could. I have a lazier idea, though.” She shrunk to a very small version of herself. Her itty bitty wings flapped and she flew up and landed on my head. “Onward, trusty steed!”

I reached up to my head and grabbed her. With a gentle tug, I pulled her free and moved her in front of my face. “What was that?”

She smiled sheepishly. “Uh, please?” I set her back on my head and she casually sprawled all over it. “Now then, shall we?”

Twilight didn’t look overly amused at her antics. I lifted Taya up to put on Twilight’s back, but a purple light shone in front of Twilight and she began walking down the stairs. I set Taya down with a shrug.

“Next time, make it a red light,” I said when we were at the bottom. “That screws with night vision considerably less.”

She hmphed again.

“Just because you aren’t as good at magic as you thought is no reason to act like a cunt. Use it as motivation to get better or something.”

I think she actually growled at me. I smiled and patted her on the head before walking on down the path.

I didn’t really describe the hive well, so I suppose I should go ahead and do so for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have visited Alpha. The primary mode of changeling transportation is flying, as they all have wings. Most buildings had several entrances that weren’t connected to any kind of path, though every building had at least one entrance that someone without wings could get to. The reasoning for this was that some changelings become crippled or something and can’t use their wings. So there were walkways and stairwells all around the hive, each leading to and from several buildings. Most of them were in the air, above the ground floor. The entire place felt like a hive from Warhammer 40k without all the technology and Emperor worship. It was certainly dark enough to be one; even with the mushrooms and the few electrical lights, I had to guide Twilight and Taya along.

At that moment, we were on a very high path. It was a pretty awesome place, all things told.

The guide on my head pointed us down the path. I took the lead and we started off yet again. We got several more looks than we had before, but most of those watching us cut their gaze off when they noticed Doppel perched on my head.

When we finally got to the feeding chamber, I stopped and turned to Twilight. “You don’t want to see this,” I said.

“How bad could it be?” she asked, brushing past me. She casually flung the doors open with magic and sauntered inside.

I gently shook my head and followed, Taya and Spike right behind me. We found Twilight standing just inside the door, gaping in horror at the sight before us. This room was fully lit with electrical lights, giving everyone a clear view of what kind of hells awaited inside.

I looked around and saw the sadness mixed with love etched onto the faces of the ponies in the cells, as well as the ambivalent looks the changelings in disguise gave them. I heard the wailing as some changelings walked away from cages. I saw as some ponies tried ramming into the cell walls, only to be uselessly repelled.

I nodded. “Yep.” With that, Taya and I continued walking through the large room. Twilight had sunk to her belly, her legs unable to hold her. Spike was just looking on in horror. We left them like that.

“Should we just… leave her there?” Taya asked when we were out of earshot.

“Oh God no. I just want Twilight to get kicked out of the hive for making a scene. This is the easiest way to do it.”

“Aren’t you worried about her hurting anyone?”

As if on cue, we heard a small explosion behind us. I pulled Doppel off my head and put her on Taya’s. “Here, hold this.” I slipped my ring on and shot back off behind us.

Twilight was shooting fire at one of the cells, trying to melt the lock. I saw part of the floor was blackened where she had tried to explode it already. What she didn’t seem to realize was that these cages were very powerfully magic proofed; after all, they have to keep violently in love unicorns inside.

All the changelings in the room were rushing away, those that weren’t already outside. Spike was pulling Twilight’s tail, trying to get her to stop. Most of the prisoners were screaming. I grinned as I ran down the hall. I live for this shit.

When I got close enough for Twilight to see me coming, I leapt into the air, slid my ring off while I was flying, and landed dead on her back, sliding the ring over her horn as I landed. As soon as I got settled, I slid the crossbow off my shoulders and had the strap in her mouth as a bit. I pulled her head back as she tried to fight. That caused her to rear back to try to knock me off, but Twilight never really was much of a physical pony. I had her under control in less than a minute.

And she was pissed. I could practically feel the waves of anger dripping off her. Spike had backed away, he was so afraid. “Now, when I take this bit out of your mouth, what are you going to do?”

I wasn’t really expecting an answer.

“She is going to thank me for my benevolence and give my people an apology,” Chrysalis’s voice said as she serenely walked up to our group, glaring at Twilight. “I give the ponies one chance to send me a visitor, and this is what happens. How disappointing.” She looked up to me, her eyes softening. “Thank you for stopping her, Nav. Once again, you have my thanks.” Her glare returned as she looked back down to Twilight. “Well?”

I let the bit slide out. “You’re a monster! Evil! How could you do this to anypony?”

“Because we need to eat. Because your princess deemed the crimes these ponies committed worth giving them to us. Because their cries of suffering amuse me. Yes, to you I am evil. You could even call me a monster. But I don’t care. You are no longer welcome in my caves, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight stomped a hoof down. “I refuse to leave anypony like this. If you want me gone, you’ll have to force me out!”

Chrysalis’s gaze moved to Spike. “You. Send a message to your princess. Detail what happened. Let us ask her opinion, shall we?”

Twilight turned to Spike. “Do it. We both know the princess couldn’t have allowed this!” She then turned her head back to look at me. “And get off me.”

“Coulda said please,” I muttered as I slipped off her. She didn’t say anything to that, which was probably a good thing.

Spike finished writing his note and blew it away. A moment later, we received a reply. Twilight ripped it from his hands—with a hoof, somehow—and quickly read over it. Her face fell before turning bright red, her anger returning. “Princess, how could you?” she whispered.

Chrysalis used magic to tug the paper from Twilight’s hoof. She read over it with a triumphant grin. She looked up to Twilight. “It’s a good thing you didn’t unpack.” She turned to Doppel. “Go get some drones. They will take Twilight Sparkle back to the surface and you will lead them to that no-account pony town.” Doppel bowed and cantered off, finally returning to her normal size.

“What about me?” Spike asked.

“You are welcome to stay or leave. Same for you, child,” she said to Taya.

“Taya needs to stay with her teacher. Might as well get something done this week. Spike, that’s your call.”

“I’m not leaving Spike down here!” Twilight said, finally coming to her senses.

I looked at her and raised an eyebrow before turning to him. “Spike?”

“As cool as this place is, I think I’d prefer Appaloosa.”

I shrugged. “Your choice. I’ll stay down here for a little while. I have business to take care of.”

“And what kind of business could you possibly have?” Twilight demanded.

Chrysalis ahemmed. “The dog, perhaps?” she answered. “Or did you forget what happened with him in your haste to assault my changelings?”

“I didn’t—”

“You did,” Chrysalis butt in. “At least one injury was reported. And we still haven’t perfected feeding times yet, so several changelings will have their meal times delayed now. We usually do our best to give our prisoners at least eight hours of sleep, and their sleep schedules will be affected. For this one action, you have injured at least one changeling, delayed the schedules of several more, and put a large dent on the hive’s efficiency. All because you could not control yourself. And Celestia spoke such highly of you back when I was in Canterlot. She must be so disappointed.”

Twilight flinched at that. If there was anything she hated, it was disappointing Celestia. I don’t know why; I mean, I’ve gotten fairly used to that. Maybe I don’t care as much because to me she’s more of a friend than a mentor/mother figure/teacher/goddess. Although now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I saw Twilight’s mother at the wedding.

“But I…” Twilight slumped, trying to find words. “I just… How can I make it right?”

“By leaving my hive.” As if on cue, we heard the buzzing of changeling wings. Chrysalis turned to them. “Remove these three,” she commanded. I pulled the ring off Twilight’s horn as the changelings surrounded her.

“Be safe, Taya,” I said as two of them gently lifted her. She silently waved as they took her away. I saw a few tears dropping from Twilight as some of them flew her away.

 

 

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...