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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61. Chapter Forty-Seven—Hunting

We got back around midday or so. Airships aren’t an overly common sight in Ponyville, but it was at least natural. Or rather, it was something that belonged in their world. Most of the ponies gave it a few odd glances before going about their day. A few pegasi stopped by to say hi when they realized we were stopping. I was too busy grabbing my bags from the under decks to see who all was there, but when I got back out, I recognized several pegasi from Ponyville. Thankfully, after so long there, I was a common sight as well, and thus elicited no comments from the pegasi.

My bags were tied to a rope and slowly lowered over the side while I flew down to the ground. I tried to get Cadance and Shining Armor down to talk with Twilight, but neither were willing to deviate from the schedule. Even though they could both teleport down, say hi, and teleport back up in the time it took me to get my bags.

Fucking ponies never see sense. Never see what they have until it’s too late…

Though I’m not certain they would see it even then. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a pony have a period of time that’s ‘too late.’

I hummed a sorrowful tune from back home as I untied my bags from the rope. When they were all loose, I tugged the rope sharply three times. It began to ascend.

I had time to grab one of my bags before a furry presence made itself known by rubbing up against my leg. I looked down to see Taya. “Miss me much?” I asked as I picked her up, grunting slightly under her weight. She was just about too heavy.

She didn’t answer with words. I set her down a few moments later and grabbed at one of my bags. Before I could get any of them, they all picked up an orange glow and started floating.

“Well then, shall we?” We began walking back to the library. “Anything happen while I was away?”

“Nothing too important,” she answered. “Or at least, nothing you would consider important.”

“Good enough for me.”

We were halfway back to the library—seriously, I don’t know why they couldn’t just drop me off right there since that’s where they picked me up—when we ran into Pinkie.

She grinned massively when she saw me and opened her mouth wide.

“No thanks, I’m good,” I countered her pre-emptive party offering. “I’ll give you the choice between a hug and a party.”

She seemed to deflate. “Aww, how did you know I was going to throw you a party and then hug you?”

“Because you do that every time. Like I said, your choice. Hug or party.”

“Will you enjoy the party?”

“Probably not.”

“Will you enjoy the hug?”

“Maybe, but I think it’s improbable. It’s more likely that I’ll enjoy that than I’ll enjoy a party.”

“You’re such a spoilsport, Nav! Why don’t you ever enjoy my parties?”

“I’m not really a spoilsport. I never stop others from having fun if I can help it. But your parties just aren’t my style. Too immature for my tastes. I willingly admit that you throw great parties, but they’re great parties that I’ll never enjoy.” I shrugged. “I’m perfectly okay with that.”

“But it’s so sad! You should be able to enjoy what everypony else enjoys!”

“There’s your problem, Pinkie. Every pony.”

“…You’re a pony to me, Nav.”

My foot froze for a moment before I managed to continue walking. That was not something I was ever expecting to hear. “Pinkie, never forget that I’m not a pony. It’s for the best, trust me.”

“No, I don’t think I will. You’ve never hurt me or anypony I know. And I know you never will hurt anypony that doesn’t deserve it. You belong here, Nav. This is your home now, if you’d only realize it.”

I sighed. “In a way, that’s true. But… I’m not getting into this debate. It’s not worth it.”

She stopped. I didn’t. I knew I was supposed to and that she wanted to make a scene, but I wasn’t going to give her that easily. “Nav…”

I stopped and turned to her. “I said I’m not talking about this, Pinkie,” I calmly replied, knowing full well that I was about to be talking about that.

She looked like she was about to cry. “Why don’t you want to belong?”

I sighed. “Taya, take my stuff back. And don’t listen in.” She walked on without a word. I led Pinkie to a conveniently placed bench and sat. “Pinkie, no one gets to know of this conversation. You want to know why I don’t want to let anyone in? Why I don’t make more of an effort to make friends? Why I’m such a dick? Well, there are several reasons. One is that I’m relatively callous and uncaring. Sure, I don’t really want to hurt anyone, but at this point, I’m honestly beyond caring. But you see, it goes deeper than that. I used to hate hurting people—as I’m sure you found when you violated my privacy and read my journals. Think about this, then: What happens if I get close to someone and then I disappear?”

“Disappear how?” she whispered.

“Into thin air.”

“They would… they would be sad. They would look for you. Some wouldn’t stop until they found you.”

“Now guess how my family—my blood—feels. Guess how my mother feels about her son that disappeared one day with no trace. Guess how my father feels that he can never meet the woman I would one day marry.” Well, maybe. “Guess how my sister feels that her twin is gone forever, making her an only child.” I looked away from her and leaned back into the bench. “It wasn’t my fault that it happened, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know they’re hurting. Hurting because of the relationship I had with them. And the few friends I had have to be hurting as well. You can’t tell me that’s fair, Pinkie. I fought as much as I could to avoid forming any strong relationships here. Sure, I had pretty good reasons for it aside from that—like the honest inability to feel much of love and general introversion—but I don’t want to do that to anyone. If I disappeared once… who says it can’t happen again?” We were silent for a moment. “Guess I fucked that up, huh?” I stood. “I’ll see you later, Pinkie.”

As I started to walk away, I heard her quietly say, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“I don’t know, am I?”

“You owe me a hug.”

“Oh thank God, I don’t have to party.” I walked back over to her and hugged her.

Her forelegs shot out and wrapped around me, jerking me against her and forcing me to my knees to match her bench-borne height. That did not feel pleasant at all to my knees. I let her go to find that I was pretty well trapped. “Nope, you’re not going anywhere!” I sighed and did my best to get comfortable. Given how soft she was and how nice she smelled, that wasn’t really a problem.

We were like that for a few minutes. I knew I could outwait Pinkie if I had to. I mean, she was good—scary good—but I didn’t have to eat for a while yet.

An hour later, we were collecting quite a few odd looks. Several people came by to ask what Pinkie was doing, to which she answered “Hugging a friend!”

My answer was always, “Getting hugged.”

Taya showed up at the two hour mark, looking for me. She found me forced against Pinkie, looking incredibly bored. “Daddy, what are you doing?”

“Getting hugged, apparently. Pinkie, I really don’t want to be out here all night. I’ve slept in your arms before, but that doesn’t mean I want to repeat it.”

“Guess what, Nav?” Pinkie whispered. I grunted. “You didn’t go anywhere. You shouldn’t live your life in fear of what might happen. Live in the time you have.”

“Pinkie, I’m not a child. Are we done here?”

She pushed me away. I think she was on the verge of crying. She somehow held me by my arms, looking me in the eyes. “Nav, I care about you. We all do. Why won’t you just let us in?”

“Because letting others in has never ended in anything other than pain for me. And yes, that includes ponies.” I said that way too calmly. Why isn’t this making me angry? “Let me go, Pinkie. Nothing I have is worth it.” Maybe it was the resignation in my voice. Maybe it was the calm voice I said it in. Maybe it was my relatively dead eyes.

But whatever it was, Pinkie punched me in the face. Not an easy punch from a soft hoof—I swear, sometimes hoof density changes—but a hard as fuck blow from a hard as rock hoof.

I flew back and my skull hit the cobblestone road behind me. It hurt. A lot.

For a moment, I couldn’t even move. All I felt was pain. My entire head was fucked up, my knees were still sore, and I had been attacked by yet another friend.

I achingly sat myself up. Pinkie looked horrified. She opened her mouth but I cut her off. “No. Give me a few days to cool off. If you open your mouth to me in that time, I will hurt you. Leave.” She opened her mouth again. “Now.”

There weren’t unshed tears in her eyes this time. She just ran away, sobbing.

When she was gone, I finally let my head sink into my hands. Despite all the pain resistance I had, it still hurt incredibly badly. I think the only reason I stayed conscious at all was because of the tree thing. I tried to move my legs, but found that I couldn’t.

And then I felt the pain deaden and finally drop away entirely. I pulled my head up and found Taya looking at me with concern. “Thank you.” I tried moving my legs to find that they still wouldn’t budge. “I’ve been kneeling too long. I can’t move my legs even with the pain gone.” An orange aura surrounded me and I lifted up a bit. “I love you, Taya. And don’t tell anyone what Pinkie just did.” Though given that she did it in the open in a town as relatively small as Ponyville, I expected the news to make the rounds anyway. I sighed a bit as Taya drifted me back to the library. I slowly felt circulation begin to warm my legs up again.

“She should be punished, though,” Taya answered me after a short moment.

“I am punishing her. Being forbidden to talk to a friend—or someone she considers a friend—is hell for her. And to have left on such a sour note?” I shook my head. “What I did was cruel. I pushed her to the breaking point and then got angry when she broke. Shoulda known that was coming… I deserved it.”

Taya didn’t answer. For her, that was indictment enough.

“I hate getting punched in the face. Try to avoid that, Taya.” We were nearing the library now. “Set me on my feet. I want to see if I can walk yet.” She did. I took a few shuddering steps. I was soon back into the rhythm and we finished the journey to the library.

Twilight looked up as I entered. “How was the trip?”

I shrugged. “Alright. I only had to kill one person. I got to call the king of the griffins a peckerhead, which was pretty awesome. It was a nice vacation.”

She was looking at me funny. “Did you say you… killed somepony?”

“It was a griffin, actually. An assassin sent to kill Cadance. Or maybe her unborn foal. Either way, an assassin. I got another formula for more alcohol. Do you think Fluttershy has bees with honey?”

“An assassin tried to kill Cadance?!”

“Hm? Yeah. Came in the dead of night and tried to give her a second smile. Didn’t get the chance. Now, about the bees?”

“Why would somepony want to kill her?”

“Don’t know. Being dead makes you hard to interrogate. Bees?”

“Forget about the stupid bees! This is important, Nav! What happened?”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. My guard was getting laid in my room so I was in the hall. I was nodding off when I saw a griffin come down the dark hall. This was a normal occurrence, so I didn’t pay it much mind until she got to me. She stopped, looked down, pulled a dagger off my belt, and opened the door to Cadance’s room. I followed her in, confronted her, we got into a tussle, and in the end she had a bolt in the back of her braincase.”

“Why didn’t you capture her?”

“Because she kicked my ass. I couldn’t even use my left arm and my side was scratched all to hell. The only reason she didn’t kill me is because she wasn’t trying. She was pouncing at Shiny when I pulled my crossbow up and shot her. The reason I didn’t let him take care of it is that, if he hadn’t stopped her yet, he probably wouldn’t be able to stop her at all. They were both awake at that time, so either one could have used magic to pull her away from me and hold her in place. If neither had done it, I figured there was a reason.”

“Did they figure anything out about why the assassin was there?”

“If they did, they didn’t tell me.” Nothing all that unusual about that. And it wasn’t my business anyway.

She started pacing, muttering. I shrugged and continued on up to my room. I set down my weapons and started unpacking. When I got done with all that, I returned to the front room of the library to find Spike looking for books and Twilight reading through one. Taya was writing something down over in the corner she usually does everything in.

Spike looked up when I walked down the stairs. “So what took you so long to get back to the library, anyway?”

I waved a hand. “Oh, I just got held by Pinkie.” Literally.

He rolled his eyes, returning back to his search. We all knew Pinkie.

Twilight said, “I figured she would have come back with you. I haven’t seen her in a few days.”

“She ran off. You know how she is sometimes.” I walked over to a table and grabbed a small sheet of paper. I wrote down a quick list and walked over to the door. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I said. The only answer I got was Taya looking up.

The first stop I made was Fluttershy’s cabin. I was a bit surprised that none of my other friends noticed me walking in town, but it was getting near nightfall by then. I was hoping that I wouldn’t wake Fluttershy.

I whistled a low song as I walked, just thinking about things I needed to do. I still had to take Spike hunting. That would give me an excuse to get out of town for a day or two so I wouldn’t have to worry about running into Pinkie. I needed to start the mead.

…And that’s actually it. It was nice to have a schedule with nothing on it again.

I made it to Fluttershy’s little home with no interruptions. I knocked. She didn’t take long in answering it, a toothbrush in her mouth. When she saw it was me, she stepped aside, gesturing to enter. I did so, shutting the door behind me. I took a seat while she went back to her bathroom.

Angel glared at me from a perch on the other side of the room. I showed him my middle finger and he shook a bunny fist at me before running away. Fluttershy didn’t take long to get back down. “What did you need, Nav?”

I passed her the list of ingredients that she somehow grabbed in her hoof. “Do you know where I can get any of these? I don’t need them tonight, I just need to know if you have any of them.”

She read over the list quickly. “I can get some of this. I… I don’t know what some of this is, though.” She looked up. “What’s this for? If… if you don’t mind me asking.”

“A project of mine. I want to see if I can recreate something I found in Gryphus. If I can, cool. If not, oh well.”

She looked a bit confused. “Griffins have ways of handling bees? I’ll have to talk to Gilda about it! If she’s willing, that is…”

“Gilda’s in town?”

“Oh, yes. She got here a few days after you left. She’ll probably be leaving soon, though.” Well, I guess that explains why she didn’t contact me in Gryphus. Ah well.

“I don’t think she’ll know much about bees, but you’re welcome to ask. Has she been doing okay? Not threatening or attacking anyone?”

“Not that I know of. She seems to be much nicer now!”

“Good. I’m going to let you get to sleep, then. I know you wake up early for your animals.” I stood. “Good to see you again, Fluttershy.”

She smiled. “You too, Nav. Oh, and when you get a chance, talk to Pinkie. I think she had something important she wanted to tell you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Do you know what?”

She shrugged and said, “No...”

“Thanks for the heads up, anyway. I’ll talk to you later.” She saw me out and then I was heading back home.

What could Pinkie possibly want? I mean, I already saw her. She didn’t say too much when I saw her then. At least, nothing that would warrant Fluttershy telling me to go find her.

Guess I’ll find out in a few days.

 

I woke up to the sensation of something velvety on my lips. I tried swatting at it to find that I couldn’t move. That wasn’t surprising, honestly; my biology dictates that I pretty much must sleep during winter and fall. If I don’t, I’ll be unable to do much of anything the following day that doesn’t involve laying down. Because of that, my body is usually very sluggish at night during winter.

Anyway, the velvety sensation. It disappeared for a moment before coming back stronger. I felt something slip into my mouth. That’s when I opened my eyes to see Luna kneeling down, kissing me. My brain wasn’t really firing right, so I pretty much just laid back and took it.

After a minute, she finally pulled back and noticed my open eyes. “Good, you’re finally awake.”

“Silly Woona. The knight is supposed to kiss the princess awake, not the other way around.” She blushed at the nickname. I felt my eyes slip closed again and I started drifting back off. I felt something gently slap at my face, but I was still too far gone.

I heard a sigh and some muttering. “I didn’t want to have to do this,” she finally said. I felt the velvet on my lips again. After a moment, my heart rate started to pick up and my eyes shot open to see Luna’s horn glowing. She pulled away at my sharp intake of breath. “I know magically healing away fatigue is not wise, but I do need to talk to you. I can put you back to sleep after, if you desire.”

I sat up. “What did you need?” I saw that we were in her bedroom and I was on her bed. My pants were missing. “And… what all did you try to wake me up?” My crotch was wet.

“Let’s just say that we’ve been here a while. You are a very deep sleeper, Nav. Now, what happened while you were in Gryphus?” I gave her a short run through. “You had no problems with your guard?”

“Not really. Other than the fact that I had a guard in the first place. The company was nice, at least. If I had to spend all that time alone, I would have been bored out of my mind.”

“There was no throwing you against the wall? No failing in his duty to protect you with his life? No molesting you?” The last was spoken with a particular vehemence.

“I think I would have mentioned something like that happening, Luna.”

“That is not a no.”

“I have no complaints against him. Is there anything else you need?”

“Navarone, you are essentially the commander of all my forces, should it come to a battle. Yes, I have a night captain of the guard, but she will defer to you if the situation calls for it. You do not need to coddle your troops just because you like them.”

“Okay.”

She grit her teeth. “Well?”

“He threw me against the wall in self-defense. Him failing in his duty to protect me is what saved Cadance. The molestation thing was an accident.” I shrugged. “If he was a dick about what he did, that would be one thing. I honestly don’t think he did bad. I mean, given the number of days he guarded me and the number of times I got attacked, I think it was a pretty good ratio.”

“You could have died, Nav!”

“I could die walking down the street. There’s a mare in Ponyville, extremely clutzy. She helps people move sometimes. It wouldn’t be the first time she accidentally left a moving chariot open and let its cargo go everywhere. You can’t expect me to stay perfectly safe, Luna. There will always be some dangers out there, and with a career like mine, I’ll always run into more of them.”

She sighed. “I wish I could just keep you here at the palace. I love you, Nav. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I don’t want me to get hurt either. But someone has to do the things I do. It might as well be someone that won’t be missed by too many people.”

“Navarone, never think for a second that you are not important to many ponies. Despite what I think about many of your friends, I know they like you and would mourn your passing. Celestia would lose her only real friend besides me. Your daughter would be distraught. And I would lose my love.” She reached out a hoof to caress my face. It was… a hoof. Soft, but still a hoof.

I took it in my hands. “I know,” I answered, stroking the hoof lightly. “It just makes my job easier to think I won’t be missed. And I really don’t like the idea of punishing someone for acting like a normal pers—pony. I don’t know protocol. I leave that to others. I told him I would put a good word in.” I shrugged. “Smiles is a good guy, from what I saw. Just… don’t give me guards again, please.”

“I did not think you would approve. That is why I made sure to give him the orders myself. If there ever is a next time, do not try to be friends with the guard. Their job is to keep you safe, not to keep you entertained.”

I shook my head, letting her hoof fall. “I can’t do this royal stuff, Luna. I treat people as people—or ponies as ponies, whatever. I know it’s just their job, but I know what it’s like to just be doing a job. They’re still people under it all. Why treat them any different than I would Celestia?”

“For being such a horrible place, your world inspires such lofty ideals.”

“It’s not all horrible, Luna. There is plenty of good there. There’s also plenty of bad. It’s a balance.”

“If you say so. We have other things to discuss, however. I am…” She blushed brightly. “I’m going into heat soon. There are ways of alleviating it and making it disappear until next year, but there is still a discomfort involved. I know you can’t be very active during the fall and winter months at night, but I can give you magical energy so you can be awake at night.”

“Hold on. I thought ponies had heat on a monthly basis for a short time period. I know Celestia had that long thing, but I thought that was because she put it off for so long.”

“Normal ponies do have heat cycles like that. Theirs are weaker, shorter, and more common. Celestia and I enter estrus once a year. Over time, heat cycles have changed. When we were born, what we go through was normal. There was a time when ponies had a single estrus season during the spring. Ponies back then were slaves to their bodies. Celestia and I can control ourselves, but it takes a force of will.” She giggled slightly. “All of Equestria had to be shut down during estrus back then.”

“That doesn’t sound enjoyable. I know what it’s like to be a stallion near a mare in heat. I bet it was worse back then.”

“I’ll keep that in mind… So, what do you say, Nav? Would you like to keep me company during my heat?”

I want to say yes, but… “How long does it last?”

“A week, usually. The entire time you were in the palace during the week of the wedding, Celestia was in heat. She cast the libido spell on you prior to her heat cycle because she knew it was coming and that the spell needed time to settle on you.”

“What exactly would happen?”

She ran through it. I don’t want to explain all of it because it’s really no one’s business but mine and I figured I could remember. I sighed at the end. “I’ll help you through this, but I’ll need the option to back out at any time. And you better not get pregnant.”

She beamed and hugged me, pushing me back onto the bed a bit. “You won’t regret it!”

I had a feeling I was going to regret it.

 

The next morning dawned bright and early. I was too busy being asleep to see it, though; I didn’t get up until noon. Normally I wake up a lot earlier than that, but Luna had to put me back to sleep with magic so that really messed me up. I opened my window and let the sun shine through the leaves, invigorating me. Not for the first time, I smiled at the idea of a tree living inside of a tree.

I grabbed my crossbow, some bolts, my sword, and my knives. When I had them all attached, I went to get Spike. I found him in the kitchen, stirring a pot of something. “Spike, you ready to go kill something?”

His head shot to me so fast his neck popped. His eyes widened at the same time and he dropped the spoon, letting it drift to the bottom of the pot. “Buck yeah!” He snatched off his poofy pink apron—I wish I was joking—and ran up to me. Given that we were in the kitchen, he only had to run two steps. “When are we leaving?”

“As soon as you tell me whether or not you have any chores to do.”

He looked around. I followed his gaze. The kitchen was a mess. He poked his head around me and I looked behind as well. The library was even worse of a mess. He stood up straight and looked up at me. “I’m good. Let’s go.”

I shrugged. “Cool. Come on.” I led the way to the front door, where we bumped into Taya.

“Where are you two going?”

“Into the forest to hunt,” I answered.

“Can I come?”

I shared a look with Spike before turning back to Taya. “Honey, you can’t eat meat.”

“So?”

“Well when you put it that way… Come on. But you aren’t allowed to look if we kill something and start gutting it.”

I led the way away from town. Thankfully, nothing of importance happened on our way. When we got outside of town, I asked, “Do either of you know if there’s anything planned for the next few weeks?”

“Nightmare Night is the only thing I know of, Nav. Why?” Spike replied.

“I’m going to have to spend a week in Canterlot soon. I don’t want to miss anything if I don’t have to.”

“Why do you have to go there?”

“Knight stuff. It shouldn’t be hard, but I’ll be busy for quite a while each day.”

Taya spoke up with her usual quiet voice, “Can I come?”

“Sadly… Wait, you might be able to. But I’d have to leave you alone often. It would probably be pretty boring even when I was around. So you probably could come with me, but I don’t think it would be a good idea.” She answered me with just a sigh.

When we got to a good shooting range, I handed Spike the crossbow. “I’ve shown you how to shoot before, but it’s been a while. Warm up a bit.” I passed him the quiver and he loaded it. After a moment of looking around, he spotted something to use as a target. He raised the crossbow up—it was a bit big for him, but he had some good dragon strength going on. After a second of aiming, he took a shot. “Little to the left. Remember, this crossbow is better than the crappy one Twilight made for me. Unless there’s some good wind, it’ll go where you point it.” He reloaded and shot again. He hit the target this time, though it wasn’t a perfect shot. “Close enough to kill. Take a few more shots just in case.” He did. All were good enough. “Alright. Taya, you interested in trying?”

She looked at the crossbow and then down to her hooves. She looked back up. “How would that work?”

I pulled a bolt out from the quiver. “Grip this with your magic. Shoot it down the field into the target. You shouldn’t hold the bolt all the way there, as that would be too easy. You should release it when it has enough momentum so it’ll fly true.”

“…what?”

“Grab this with your magic and throw it at the target.” She did so and missed. “To the right.” She grabbed another one and threw it. “Left.” She tried again and managed to actually hit the thing this time. “You hit it. Try a few more times.” She managed to hit it several more times. When she was finished, the pumpkin was unrecognizable. “I think that’s enough. Let’s collect the ammo and get to the forest.”

We walked downrange and grabbed the bolts. Thankfully, none of them had broken. Taya cleaned all the nastiness off them and I slipped them back into the case and passed the crossbow and quiver to Spike. “Spike, this is your hunt. You’ve eaten too much meat without knowing the feel of taking a life. I’ll guide us through the forest, but you’re taking the shot.”

He looked at the crossbow with wonder in his eyes. After a moment he turned back to me. “This is so cool!”

I didn’t much like the sound of that. “Spike, crossbows kill things. I know you were raised in Equestria, so let me explain this to you: When something dies, it no longer exists on this plane. You erase something from existence. If it had a family, that family is now missing a member. You might kill a father, a daughter, a baby, a friend… Killing isn’t something to think as ‘cool.’ It is something that is necessary, yes. Something that is dark. And, God help me, something that is fun as hell at times. Load it now, but keep your hand away from the trigger. Just holster it until I tell you to pull it up. And only shoot when I tell you.”

He looked a bit more grave after that, and nodded his assent. He awkwardly loaded the crossbow and slung it over a shoulder. It was a very loose fit, but I knew he wouldn’t drop it.

“Now, while we’re in the forest, you two need to follow behind me. Don’t touch anything I don’t touch. If I tell you to do something, you do it. If you must talk, whisper. Do not wander away for any reason and always keep me in sight. Now, are you both sure you want to do this?” They nodded. “Let’s go.”

Into the forest we went. I pointed out a few things to them as we walked. We stopped several times when I heard noises close by. I knew I was invisible to the forest, but Spike and Taya weren’t. Most of the noises wandered away, not staying long enough to pose a possible threat. The few that did stay long turned out to be small animals, not worth shooting.

We continued like that for nearly two hours. I picked up some of the safer fruits and herbs and stored them away for Taya if we did manage to kill something.

At about the two and a half hour mark, we ran into something worth killing. I stopped our little group and crouched down. “Manticore ahead,” I whispered. “I don’t know why it hasn’t picked up on our scent yet, but they don’t hunt in packs. Spike, get ready. Aim for the chest,” I said, tapping my chest to where he would want to shoot. “Or the head, if you think you can hit it.” He nodded, gulping slightly. It’s easy to talk about killing something, but when you actually have to up and do it? Yeah, that’s when it gets hard.

I motioned our little group forward. We did our best to quietly ease ourselves up, and we thankfully managed to get a good sight line on the target. Spike slowly pulled the crossbow up and aimed it at the manticore. After nearly half a minute of aiming, he gently pulled the trigger.

A few things happened at once. First, the crossbow shot and spewed a bolt at the manticore, who seemed to be sleeping peacefully on a rock. Second, something large fell from the sky and landed atop the manticore, getting in the way of the bolt. Third, a loud squawk cut off the screams of the beast we were trying to kill. I ripped the crossbow from Spike’s claws and reloaded as quickly as possible. Before the manticore could fully wake up, he had a bolt sticking out of one of his eyes. It slid off the rock, dead.

The thing that jumped on top of it whirled to face us and I saw that it was a griffin. I dropped the crossbow and drew my sword. “Get behind me,” I warned the others. I wouldn’t have time to reload before she could get to me, even though she appeared to have a bolt sticking out of her wing. “Wait…” I lowered my sword. “Gilda?”

She relaxed a bit. “Yeah. Whose bright idea was it to shoot me with that nasty toy of yours?”

“Well, whose bright idea was it to try to steal our kill?”

“You three were just standing there! I figured if you weren’t going to kill it, I would.”

I shook my head and put the sword up. “Come here, let me see what the damage is.” My group walked into the little clearing. Spike grabbed the crossbow as we walked. He reloaded it, thankfully. He then went to inspect the manticore. Taya watched Gilda warily.

Gilda held her wing up. “So that’s what that thing does? Nasty. I imagine it gets the job done well, though.”

“Ask him,” I said with a gesture towards the dead manticore. I lightly gripped her wing and she flinched. “Relax. Let’s see…” I probed the area around the bolt. “No bone here, good. Taya, come here.” She stepped up. “Cut the bottom of the bolt off from this side,” I said with a point. Her horn lit up and the bottom of the bolt separated, leaving just the tip sticking out. “Now, this is probably going to hurt like a bitch.”

“What’s a—” Gilda cut off with a loud avian screech as I yanked the bolt out the rest of the way. Her wing shot out, knocking me back as she whirled toward me.

I held my hands up. “It had to come out, Gilda. Relax.”

“Let’s see you relax when something is ripping a wooden stick out of you!”

“I know it hurts. I got my ass kicked the other day by a griffin, so don’t think I don’t know it hurts. Taya, heal her up, would you?”

Taya’s horn glowed and the small trickle of blood coming from the wound stopped. Gilda ruffled her feathers a bit. “That felt… odd. What do you mean, you got attacked by a griffin? Where?”

“In Gryphus.” I told her the story as she preened a bit.

“That’s strange, but I don’t know much about politics. If I had known you were going to be in town, I would have waited to come to Ponyville for another few weeks.” She shrugged. “Oh well. So what do you want to do about the manticore?” Spike was still looking at it with an odd look.

“Carve it up and eat it. It was supposed to be Spike’s first kill, but…” I shrugged. “If you find some dry wood, I’ll start cutting it up so we can cook some steaks.”

“Have you ever eaten manticore before?” she asked, a bit of amusement in her voice.

“Nope. Now that I think about it… that poison might be a problem.”

“You bet your feathers it is. If you eat the wrong parts of it, you’ll get paralyzed for hours, even if you cook it first.”

“Okay, you carve it. I’ll take Taya to look for wood. Show Spike what to do and what not to do.”

“You got it. And… thanks for sharing, Nav.”

“Anything for a friend. Let’s go, Taya.”

We got back fifteen minutes later with enough wood for a decent sized fire. Gilda was using her talons to point out what can and can’t be eaten to a very enthusiastic Spike. The manticore was laid open on the ground, many of the organs thrown lazily about. Taya surprisingly took it well enough; I figured she would get sick, as a pony.

We piled the wood up and Taya set them on fire. With a little redneck engineering, I built a crappy little spit that we could hopefully use to cook on. Taya shook her head sadly at my attempt. She disappeared with a pop and reappeared a minute later with some proper gear. “Thank you, Taya.” She nodded. I set up the stuff and checked on the status of the manticore.

They were carving stuff out now. I passed Spike my knife so he could help better; his claws were sharp, but they couldn’t cut like Gilda’s talons. I started pulling fruits and whatnot out for Taya and myself. I showed her how to eat them and we pigged out while the meat started to cook.

“So Gilda, you know how to cook meat, right?”

“Of course. I’ve only been doing it all my life.”

“Just making sure. It’s been a long time since I had to. Long enough that I want to make sure someone knows what they’re doing.”

We all settled in around the fire. “It’s good to have company out here in the forest,” Gilda commented. “I’ve been hunting solo and eating alone since I got here.”

“Yeah, the ponies don’t take too kindly to meat eaters,” I replied. I threw a rind into the fire. “Something I’m glad I didn’t have to learn. Most don’t know I can.”

Spike spoke up, “Most don’t even think about me eating meat. I’m a dragon, and all they see is little baby Spike, Twilight’s harmless assistant.” He sounded bitter.

Gilda grinned—you learn to tell griffin facial expressions when you spend a few weeks in their capital. “I know you’re not a baby, man. That thing you shot at me hurt enough to confirm that.”

Spike smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, sorry about that. I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Ah, no big. I probably would have got hurt worse killing this thing if you guys hadn’t finally made yourselves known.”

“Woulda been one hell of a fight,” I said, watching the meat pop in the fire. Taya was doing her best to try not to look at it, and was holding her nose away from the fire. “Smells good, at least.”

“Manticore doesn’t have the best taste,” Gilda said, “But it is filling and there’s a lot of it. A single griffin can survive off a manticore for a week if they have to, and have a way of keeping the meat good.”

“Salt would do it,” I said. “Salt or a freezer.”

She nodded. “Salt works well, but it’s not something you’re likely to have on the go. Here, let me show you how to make some jerky. That stuff’ll last you forever.” She led Spike back over to the corpse. She pointed some more stuff out that I heard but don’t want to write. She let Spike cut some more meat out. When they had enough, she led him back to the fire. “Now, this meat has to be dried but not cooked. To do that, we’ll poke a hole in it, run string through each slice, and hang them over the fire. If the string starts melting or burning, it’s too close to the fire.” She picked up two long sticks and pulled a string out of… somewhere. She strung the thin slices of meat up and tied them to the sticks. She then stuck the sticks in the ground, letting the meat dangle over the fire. “There you have it.”

Spike turned to me. “Now why didn’t the cats teach us this?”

“Because they got all their food from looting. Meat looks done, Gilda.”

She took a look at it. “Yeah, if you like it medium. I prefer it well-done when it’s not rare.”

“Well, call me uncivilized if you want.” I pulled one of the steaks to me with my knife and held it away so it could cool a bit.

Gilda smirked at that. “What, not going to eat it right away?”

“My hands are more sensitive than your talons. If I touch this, I’ll get burned. Same for my mouth.”

“Wuss.”

“Forgive me for knowing my limits. I’m not exactly masochistic.”

“Yeah, yeah. You can keep your uncooked swill. Me and Spike’ll keep the good stuff for ourselves.” Spike actually looked like he was tempted to grab a piece for himself, but decided against it when Gilda said that.

A few minutes later, I deemed the steak cool enough to safely handle and eat. I took a small bite and nodded at the taste. “Could use some seasoning, but it’s good.”

Gilda shrugged. “There’s only so much you can do out here, and I’m no chef myself. I’m sure you had some good food up in Gryphus, though.”

“Oh God yes. The chefs up there know how to make a fucking steak, even if it was reindeer.” They were actually better than some of the ones I had back on Earth. Or maybe my memory is just corrupted a bit. I continued chowing down on the steak.

“Can… can I try a piece?” Taya asked in a very quiet voice. Gilda, Spike, and I all looked up at her, shocked.

“Uh. No,” I said. “I’m not giving meat to a pony. That would probably make you sick and taste terrible.” Luna managed, but she isn’t my daughter.

“Come on, Nav. What’s the worst that could happen?” Gilda asked.

“Her getting sick, as I said. I won’t risk it. Besides, if you can’t stand the smell, you definitely won’t be able to stand the taste. I told you what we would be doing out here and that you probably wouldn’t like it.”

She sighed and laid back down. I looked to Gilda and we shrugged. I continued eating the steak. Gilda finally reached over and pulled hers off the fire. Spike copied her with another one. They began chowing down immediately, somehow not getting burned. I guess having a beak and being a dragon means you don’t have to worry about mouth burns.

Gilda didn’t take much time, what with her massive beak. She was working on a second piece before Spike was halfway done with his first. I stopped after one; I wasn’t that hungry to begin with, and the fruits I ate before the meat didn’t help.

Gilda looked at me while she was finishing off the second steak. “You not eating much? I know you like eating a lot of tender meat.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Not in front of Taya.”

“So why can Spike hear it, but not me?” Taya asked.

“Because he’s olde—well, I think he’s older than you. No one ever tells me how old you guys are, and everyone ignores me when I asked.”

Gilda looked at me like I was stupid. “It’s pretty obvious, Nav. Taya is—”

She was cut off by a roar from the forest. I snatched my loaded crossbow up and stood, aiming in the direction of the noise. “Gilda, carry Spike out. Taya, teleport home. I’ll cover Gilda and Spike. Move.”

“What is it, Nav?” Spike asked, standing and looking about him in fear. Gilda was already throwing dirt into the fire, hurrying to make sure the forest didn’t get burned down.

“Hydra. Leave it, Gilda! It’s too close as it is! Taya, why are you still here?”

Gilda grabbed Spike and leapt into the air just as the hydra pounded out, its four heads writhing and hissing. Its heads all pointed at Taya, who thankfully had the presence of mind to not argue and just teleport out.

Leaving me alone with the beast. Its eyes turned to track Gilda, but she was too far gone. Lacking another target, it turned to the carcass of the manticore. It tore into it, each head trying to get the most.

I waved Gilda out of the forest, hoping she wouldn’t try to stop and ask me what the hell just happened. I grabbed the jerky strings and then started jogging out, hoping I remembered enough to get me home in one piece. I don’t know why flying didn’t occur to me.

 

I made it out easily enough, thankfully. Gilda and Spike followed my progress from above, occasionally swooping down as Gilda spotted some small game or something that she presumably had Spike gut and roast with his fire. She had Spike feeding her as she flew, hunting for more targets for them to share.

It took me about an hour to jog out. I lost sight of Gilda several times, but I don’t know if she was diving all those times. They joined me on the ground as I started walking back to Ponyville.

“That was fun, you two,” Gilda said. “With Nav here scaring all the animals into moving, I was able to catch them easily. And with Spike there to clean and cook them, we had them ready to eat in no time. We’ll definitely have to hunt again sometime.” She held a talon down to Spike for a bro-claw or whatever it was called in that situation. Either way, he met it and the bro-whatever was complete.

“I’m sure Spike’ll be down for hunting whenever you’re in town. I might be busy, but I might also not be. Never know until it’s time to go, usually.” I doled out the jerky and they gave grateful nods.

Gilda looked Spike up and down as he chewed on some dry meat. “I’ll have to show you how to hunt like a proper predator, then. None of that pansy shooting things from a distance.” She poked me with a talon. “That’s for wimps like this guy.”

“What, so since I like not getting mauled by a manticore, I’m a wimp?”

She rolled her eyes. “So how did you escape from that hydra, anyway? It was like he didn’t even see you!”

“I’m invisible to most creatures that can’t talk. Only a few smarter ones can see me. I can walk right through that forest and make it through unscathed.” I am become STALKER, walker of the Zone.

She smirked. “So that’s how a squishy fellow like you explored that place. You find anything cool in there?”

“Eh, you know how it goes. All sorts of plants, weird critters, ancient ruins full of treasure and enchanted artifacts, a few random abandoned buildings, all kinds of fruit and whatnot. The usual.”

“Yeah, I know all abou—wait, what was that about treasure?”

“Oh, the princesses cleared all that out. Added quite a bit to their coffers, too.”

She sighed. “Wouldn’t mind bringing back some gold…”

“From what I heard up there, you’re a noble’s daughter anyway. Why would you need money?”

“I got bills to pay, same as anypony else.” She shrugged. “Ain’t nothing in this world’s for free.” I grinned. “What are you smiling about?”

“That was a song back in my world. I guess it fits even in magical pony land.”

She ruffled her feathers a bit. “Magical. Right. Well, I need to get back to where I’m staying. Don’t want to worry Dash too much, if she’s even there. I’ll probably be out hunting again tomorrow, if you’re interested.”

“We might be. See you,” I answered.

Spike nodded. “Bye, Gilda.” With that, she took off. Spike turned to me. “Does she seem a lot cooler now?”

“That’s because you’re giving her a chance. And because you shot her and she didn’t kill you. Let me tell you, she’s a monster in bed.”

Spike tripped a bit. “Y-y-you’ve slept with her?”

“Yeah. Well, it was a three-some, but still yes.” He just shook his head as we continued into town. “Wait… Spike, we should probably wash the blood off before anyone sees us like this.”

He looked down at his claws. There wasn’t much blood left, but it was still noticeable. “Yeah, we should. Good thing there’s a creek near here.”

A creek that was currently occupied by a singing Fluttershy. We shared a glance. He shook his head. I jerked my head to the water. He sighed and we continued, both of us kneeling at the water’s edge.

“Oh, hello you t—” She caught sight of the blood and her eyes went wide. “Oh, are you two okay? You aren’t hurt, are you?” She flew up at us while she was talking, examining each of us.

“We’re fine, Fluttershy. W—”

Her eyes went even wider and she squeaked. “What about Taya?! She’s not with you! Oh, is she okay?”

“She’s fine, Fluttershy. We were hunting, that’s all. I sent her home so she didn’t have to see anything nasty. She teleported out.”

Fluttershy went a bit pale. “Um. Oh. O-okay. You didn’t… I mean… you didn’t make any of them suffer, did you?”

“Quick and clean, Fluttershy. That’s how I work. It didn’t know it was under attack at all.”

She sighed. “Well, at least you three are okay. Oh, you didn’t hurt any of my friends, did you?”

Spike and I looked at each other. We turned back to Fluttershy and shrugged. How were we supposed to tell which animal was one of hers?

She gulped and whispered, “I think I’ll go check on my animals.” She flew off, leaving me and Spike to clean ourselves.

As we continued back to Ponyville, I commented, “We could probably blame Gilda if any of her critters turn up missing.”

“That’s wrong, Nav.”

“I know. I wasn’t actually going to do it. I mean, I’m not a good person, but I’m also not a jerk.”

We had little fanfare upon entering the town. The ponies were all used to me by now, and were used to me coming and going as well. A group of ponies was singing a happy song somewhere else in the town, and we could hear the music and lyrics ringing through the streets as we walked to the library.

The song was getting ominously close by the time we got to the library. Thankfully, Twilight has some pretty strong spells protecting her pad, so we didn’t have to worry about getting caught in the song.

Taya was there waiting for us, sitting morosely on the floor. She perked up immediately when she saw me safe and sound. She stood to her feet when I got yanked off mine by purple magic. “Twilight, so lovely to see you.” She pulled me right up to her face so she could look me in the eye. She forgot to restrict my arms, and I reached out and booped her on the nose. She dropped me, startled. I barely managed to catch myself. “You know you don’t have to magic me over if you want a closer look. I understand that my appearance is so appealing that you just have to get me closer.” I know I was digging my grave deeper, but the look on her face was just so wo—Wait, is she blushing?

“You made Pinkie cry!” Nope, that’s anger. “And you took Spike and Taya without telling me and almost got them both hurt!” Dammit, Taya.

“Now that might be exaggerating a bit. They weren’t in any danger.”

“THERE WAS A HYDRA!”

“I had it under control. You know I’ve spent plenty of time in that forest. I know how it works.”

“Relax, Twilight!” Spike said, coming to my defense. “With him and Gilda there, we didn’t have to worry about a thing.”

That might have been the wrong thing to say. “And what was Gilda doing there?” she practically hissed.

“Same thing we were,” I said. “Hunting.”

Twilight jerked back. “You took Taya hunting?”

“Yeah. I told her what was going to happen, but she wanted to go anyway.”

Her left eye twitched. “You’re a terrible father,” she whispered. I just shrugged. I mean, what more did she want? I’ve been telling them that since the beginning. Ain’t my fault it took them so long to figure out.

Taya, however, had a different reaction. She said, “No he’s not! What would you even know about being a parent?”

“I know a good parent doesn’t let their foal eat something that could kill them!”

“I didn’t let her have meat,” I answered.

Twilight looked a bit taken aback. Before she could reply, Taya said, “No, he didn’t. I asked and he refused to let me have any.”

Twilight was getting a bit flustered. She said, “A good parent doesn’t take their foals somewhere they might get hurt.”

“Bullshit. There ain’t nowhere in the world someone can’t get hurt. You just have to do your best to make sure they’re as safe as possible in the places you do bring them.”

“And you thought the Everfree Forest would be a safe place to bring her?”

“He took all the precautions he could!” Taya said. “If anything happened, he was going to fly Spike out and I was going to teleport out.” Not entirely true, but I wasn’t planning on denying it since that made me look better than what I was going to say.

“But… But a good parent doesn’t take their foals away from school without telling the teacher!”

I crossed my arms. She was beaten and she knew it. “It’s Saturday, Twilight.”

She made a very aggravated noise. “You still made Pinkie cry!”

“Pinkie punched me in the face. I felt it prudent to punish her.”

“Not that! What you said to her, to forget you! And how… how everypony you let in just ends up hurting you…” The anger from her voice was fading. “That’s not true, Nav.”

“I guess that depends on what kind of pain we’re talking about. Physical pain, it most definitely is true. Emotional pain? Then I may have been exaggerating. Taya here has yet to do anything to hurt me.” Taya smiled at me for that. “Hell, there are a few ponies and,” with a glance at Spike, “dragons that haven’t hurt me yet. But you? Yeah, you hurt me. Pinkie’s done plenty of damage herself, more than most have. You shouldn’t tell me something is or isn’t true without all the details, Twilight.”

“Oh, and what has Pinkie ever done to hurt you?”

“I already told you, but you didn’t believe me.”

She blinked. “Do you mean… what you said before you started exploring the forest?”

“Yes. You thought I was joking or maybe lying. I wasn’t.”

She seemed to pale. “That’s… that’s not… no… Why didn’t you tell anypony?”

“Who would believe me? At the time, I didn’t know it was possible to read memories. Now? Well, now I’ve been through worse. Well, not really worse, but more physically painful. Their betrayal still stings and it probably always will.”

“What are you two talking about?” Taya asked.

“Nothing,” I answered. “Don’t worry about it.”

She stomped a hoof down. “It isn’t nothing! They did something to hurt you and they need to be punished!”

“No, they don’t. I’m pretty sure they both learned their lessons.”

She looked ready to retort again, but Twilight spoke up. “She’s right, Nav. That isn’t something that can ever be forgiven. Celestia should be told.”

“No.”

“Nav, the kind of pony that could do that to somepony… they shouldn’t be allowed to walk free! I don’t know if… I don’t know if I can keep being friends with them for doing that to you…”

“Twilight, look at me.” She lifted her gaze from where it had rested on the floor. “Nothing changed. This happened a few years ago. Have you noticed a difference in either of their behaviors?” She slowly shook her head. “They both know what they did was wrong. They thought I wanted it. It was a mistaken thought, but that’s what it was. They’ve apologized and we’ve all moved on. Let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Nav… I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t… I always wondered why you changed so much… Why you seemed to flinch whenever Rarity or Pinkie entered the room… I just didn’t… didn’t expect that!”

“Neither did I. I need you three to promise nothing will come from this. I don’t want to ruin their lives over a foolish mistake in the past.”

Twilight and Spike nodded. Taya was hesitant, but after a long shared look between the two of us, she slowly nodded.

“Alright then. Imma go put these weapons up and go for a walk.” I did just that. Taya came with me. It was a nice day.

 

A few days later, I woke up being cuddled by Pinkie. I only wish I was joking.

I was pretty well stuck, which was fixed by blowing her ear until she jerked awake. She woke up smiling until she saw my glare. “Why are you in my bed?” I demanded.

Her smile actually widened. “I’m not in your bed. You’re in my bed, silly!”

What. I looked around to find that yes, I actually was in her bed. “...How much did I drink last night?”

“Nothing, silly! It’s just been three days.”

“So why am I in your bed?”

“Because you’re warm!”

Oh yeah, this is Pinkie. “Well, can you let me go?”

“Nope! Or at least, not yet. First we gotta talk!”

I sighed and asked, “About what?”

“...I’m sorry for hurting you, Nav. I just… I wanted to make you smile. And you won’t ever let me help you! It just gets so frustrating…”

“And that translates to you punching me in the face?”

“Well, Rarity told me that the only way you ever learn is by pain…”

“If Rarity told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

“Of course! If she told me that, I know there’d be candy or something else fun at the bottom! Oooh, or maybe a party!”

...Pinkie. How do I keep forgetting this? “Well, I forgive you. Now can you let me go?”

“Nope! Not until—mmmf!” I cut her off by kissing her dead on the mouth. Her eyes slammed open before slowly sliding closed, her oppressive grasp loosening. Eventually, one of her hooves went to my wings, gently stroking it…

Which made pushing away from her extremely easy, sliding off the bed and onto the floor. I was very ready for the move, so I caught myself and was out the door before she could react.

Never a dull moment with Pinkie… I got out of the building without her coming after me, at least. She was probably a little distracted. Still, it was a good escape plan, one I decided to remember for the future, just in case.

 

 

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