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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119. Chapter Ninety-Seven—Inside the Fire

When I got back to the palace to start finding everyone that needed to be present when we started building up the mine, I was instead found by one of the servants that came back to work at the palace. “Princess Cadance would like to see you in the throne room, Sir Navarone,” she said, bowing so low she almost touched the floor.

“Did she say what she wanted?” I asked, not really wanting to take time to deal with her shit.

“She did not, sir,” she answered, not lifting her head up. “Shall I escort you there?”

“Nah, I know the way. And stand up. I like being able to see people’s faces, not the back of their heads.”

She flinched and quickly stood up, but still didn’t look me in the eye. “I apologize, master. I hope I did not offend.”

“Relax. It’s almost impossible to offend or anger me. Now go about your business.”

“Yes, my lord…” I left the poor traumatized servant there and walked on to the throne room, trudging up the annoying staircases to get there.

“You need to move this damn room,” I said when I finally got to the throne room. “There are too many fucking staircases to get here.”

“I’m starting to agree,” Cadance replied with a sigh. “But I suppose it will be good exercise.”

“If I wanted exercise, I’d go fuck Kumani for an hour. Now what did you need? I was just about to go get started on my business.”

“...You already forgot?”

“It’s been a long day.”

“Everypony just woke up!”

“My day has been going on for weeks since I can’t sleep. Now again, what do you need?”

“Ugh. The meet and greet? That’s today, Navarone. You need to be there.”

“Like hell I do. I have important shit to do. That mine isn’t going to dig itself.”

“Are you going to be using a pickaxe?” she asked, the smile she usually had on her face disappearing.

“Well no—”

“Then you don’t need to be there,” she answered, the smile instantly coming back. “The event starts in two hours.”

“What makes you think I don’t need to be there?”

“I have a feeling you don’t know much about mining. And Watcher is very capable, from what I’ve heard of him. Having you there might be useful, but not as useful as having you with me at the meet and greet.”

“How will that possibly be useful for me?”

“You’re going to need resources, I believe. Resources that are currently very limited. How do you expect to get any if you don’t know those that have the resources very well? Yes, you’re currently the big hero, but if you start blowing everypony off like this, you won’t stay that way for long. If you want to convince them to give you what you need, you have to know them.”

“What, I can’t just use gold?”

“Who needs gold when everypony is hungry and nopony has food? Until we get an economy running and more goods here, gold is worthless.”

“God fucking dammit,” I muttered. “Fine.

“Excellent! Now, does Kumani have any dresses? It’s going to be a formal thing, so it’s best if she’s clothed.”

“Man, I don’t fucking know. I haven’t seen her wearing any. You want me in armor or something I’m going to lie and say is formal for humans?”

“I leave that up to you. If you want to ham up the hero role, wear your armor. They might think you’re more of a fighter and less of a thinker, though.”

“Don’t care what they think of me. Putting that armor on is a pain, so fuck that.”

“Do as you like. Do you want me to send the royal seamstress to Kumani to make her a dress?”

“Fuck no. If she’s wearing a dress, I can’t stare at that sexy ass all day.”

“...Sometimes even I think you might be more of a fighter than a thinker.”

“Eh. Where’s the damn thing gonna be held? I’ll be there and I’ll bring Kumani if she wants to go. Maybe Taya as well.”

“Aw Nav, don’t bring a filly to something like this. She’d be so bored! Well… Taya might not… But she’d still probably have more fun helping your crew.”

“So would I. I’ll give her the choice.”

“Good idea. Anyway, it’ll be in the same place Twilight had the Crystal Fair. Remember, two hours.”

“I’ll be there, don’t worry. I’ll make a point of being miserable the entire time to spite you, but I’ll be there.”

“That is good enough, I suppose. Is there anything you need from me?”

“Nah, you’re dismissed.”

Her legs actually twitched like she was about to stand up and walk away, but she stopped them. “Very funny. If you see Shining Armor on the way to talk to Kumani, send him my way.”

“Sure. Have fun in this big empty throne room with its evil hidden room. All by yourself.” She just rolled her eyes as I walked away.

It didn’t take me long to get to the room Kumani appropriated for herself. There weren’t any beds for anything her size in the entire castle, so she needed a room large enough to push two beds together. Though why she chose to stay in the castle instead of on the ship, I don’t know.

When I let myself in, I found that she was still asleep, curled up in such a way that she was on just one of the beds. She had a few jewels and a hundred or so bits that she seemed to be wrapped around. “Huh.” I walked over to her back and sat up on the bed, gently rubbing her shoulder to try to wake her up without shaking her.

...It didn’t work. So instead I moved her tail aside and slowly molested her until she moaned herself awake.

“Hey Kumi,” I quietly said, not stopping.

“Mmm… Nav?” she asked, turning her head to look at me.

“Yep. There’s a big meet and greet thing for the city today that I have to go to. You interested in coming?”

“You better not stop until I do,” she sighed, her head falling back on the pillow. Then she shifted positions, making all the coins and jewels clink as she lifted up her lower body so that her ass was in the air. “Get to it, stud,” she whispered, lifting her tail.

“Far be it from me to ignore an invitation,” I answered with a shrug.

Half an hour later, she was forcing me to cuddle. “So you said something about a meet and greet?” she asked as she toyed with some of my feathers behind my back.

“Yeah. I came here to ask if you were interested in going.”

“Will there be free food?”

“Nah. There is almost no food in this city at all. Won’t be for another few days, but I’m hoping we’ll be gone by then. Just the chance to meet some of the more boring of the citizens of this damn city.”

“Why are you even going to this thing, then? Just blow it off.”

“If only. Long story short, I can’t. If you don’t want to go, the crew could probably use your help. I know I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t go.”

“Then I won’t. Why haven’t we ever used your wings in sex?” she asked, tugging on one of them gently.

“You rub them all the time,” I answered, ruffling them.

“No, I mean you using them on me. As soft as they are, I bet it feels great down there!”

“A few people would definitely agree.” Kat, Braeburn, that crazy bar owner. “If you want to try it, we can later. But I need to go find Taya and then start getting ready.”

She sighed, dipping her claws down to caress a more intimate part of me. “Do you really have to go so soon?”

“Yes, sadly. Besides, lying on gold and jewels is not at all comfortable.”

“Oh yeah, forgot those were there. I should probably warn you that my hoarding instinct is gonna kick in a bit harder as my mating season progresses. When it’s over, I should be back to normal.”

“You’re not going to start stealing, are you?”

“...Probably not. I should be able to control the urges better than that, but if I see an easy mark, I might not be able to help myself.”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Now, I need to go.”

She didn’t let me go. I cleared my throat.

“Oh yeah, another thing is that I might get… a little more clingy,” she apologetically said, finally releasing me.

“Do your best to control that,” I said, pulling away from her. “Affection is cute, but overdoing it will get annoying.” When I finally got up, I started putting on clothes.

“I’ll try.” I started walking to the door when she shot out a very random question. “Why’d you break things off with Luna?”

I turned back quickly, shock on my face. “Where did that come from?”

She was sitting up now, looking my way. “You keep saying things like that get on your nerves. I don’t want to make the same mistakes she did.”

“Well, that isn’t really possible. She was using me to satisfy her desire of having ‘tamed’ an apex predator. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that with you. We can… talk more about that later. I’ll see you when the ship gets back, Kumi.”

“Enjoy the party,” she called after me, sounding relieved.

“I won’t,” I said before the door closed.

Then I started making my way to Taya’s room, which was right next to mine. Of course she was in there, because where else would she be? She did have a few spellbooks arranged around her that I know I didn’t get for her. “Hey daddy,” she said when I entered, not looking up from the book she was floating in front of her.

“...Where did you get those?” I asked, walking up to her bed.

“Found them in the castle. Asked Watcher about them. Said they were okay.”

“And what is in them?”

“Ugh.” The book flopped to the bed as she let it fall. “Nothing! It’s starting to get very frustrating. A stallion as powerful as Sombra had to have a few combat spells, but I haven’t found any yet. Just a bunch of useless things about transmuting and prolonging life. Nothing interesting at all.”

“Want to take a break in an hour to go with me to a party? It’ll be boring, but your eyes are going to need a rest after trying to read in this poor light.”

“...Yeah. I don’t really want to go, but mining sounds even more boring. And this way you have to spend time with me.”

I sat on the bed next to her, setting my hand on her head. “I will always make time for you if you think we don’t spend enough together. We both know that in times like these, I get busy. I have things I need to do and in those times, other things get pushed to the wayside. Sadly, you’re one of those things that often get pushed aside. But the event doesn’t start for another hour and some change. I need a shower, but after that we can do something together, if you want. And you can think of something for us to do, of course.”

“Then hurry up and shower. I can tell you’ve been to see Kumani already.”

I sighed, taking a second to smell myself. “Is it really that noticeable? Human noses don’t pick that stuff up very well.”

“Daddy, you practically reek of it. Everyone can always tell. Well, every pony can, at least. It’s very… alluring,” she creepily said and then took a deep breath.

“...I’m gonna go take a shower. I will see you in fifteen minutes.” After what she said and how she said it, I wasn’t going to be hugging her. So I just stood and started walking to the door. She didn’t answer and I just walked out feeling rather awkward.

“I really wish I knew what to do about that,” Flo said when I was back in my room. “It’s… honestly disturbing.”

“Yeah. It’s beyond disturbing. But I’m afraid to ask for advice. What if someone thinks she should be taken away?”

“I know, Nav. Just… hope she grows out of it. Or better, finds someone else.”

“I certainly hope she finds someone else. Grandkids would be fun. I’d spoil them and make up embarrassing stories about their mom to fluster her.”

“...Don’t you already spoil Taya?”

“Eh.” I was in the shower by that point, thanking no one in particular that the hot water was finally working.

“You should really know who to thank for that, Nav.”

Obama? I felt a weak slap to the back of my head, but didn’t correct myself.

Soon enough, I was out, dry, dressed once more, and heading to Taya’s room yet again. She was, of course, back to poring through her books. “I’m physically cleaner,” I said, outstretching my arms and wings as if daring her to find a fault.

“I can tell,” she answered, dropping the books back to her bed. “You ready?”

“Sure, I guess. What are we doing?”

I did not like her smile one little bit. “Practicing,” she answered.

As I dodged a very large boulder aimed right at my face, one thought resounded through my mind. It didn’t have to be like this.

Dodging that boulder put me in the way of a smaller one moving even faster, so I let my wings fold up, dropping down a few feet and letting it sail over me. My daughter was supposed to be nice.

A rock hit me from the back, knocking me off course and almost into another one before I shot to the right. Into flowers and art. Doing cute things. Making me smile instead of worry.

My sword batted another small rock coming at me out of the way, sending it colliding with another one that looked like it was about to come at me. Instead she’s throwing giant rocks at me.

“To be fair,” Flo said as I got clipped by another rock, “you said yes.”

“She didn’t tell me she was using real rocks!” I yelled before getting caught right in the small of the back by a rather large boulder. I barely rolled off it before it fell to the ground, not bothering to catch myself with the wings and instead starting to run on foot.

“A fair point,” Flo answered. “Duck.” I did so without thought, letting a rock from the side pass over my head. “But you could have told her no after you realized she was.”

“She looked so happy…” The small rock coming at my face was easy enough to catch with my hand, but it dragged me a few steps before I let it go, learning my lesson.

“You’ll be caring less about her puppy-dog eyes when she smashes your face. Or worse, your teeth. You don’t have a dentist with you.” To punctuate that, I felt a rock slam into one of my kidneys, stealing my breath and almost knocking me down.

“Watch your back, daddy!” Taya called from somewhere to my right.

“Fuck target practice,” I groaned, one hand clutching at my aching kidney.

“It’s not target practice for you,” Flo giggled. “For you, it’s dodging practice.”

“I’m giving you a spanking next time I see you,” I sighed.

Unfortunately, it seemed Taya was tired of not hitting me. After dodging a few more rocks, the ground in front of me exploded and three new rocks joined the fray, one shooting at me and two looping around either side. It was all I could do to roll out of the way and even then, I felt one collide in the ground inches behind me.

I really wish I could have seen what the air around me looked like as I did my best to avoid getting fucking wrecked by dozens of rocks. I’m sure it must have been an amazing sight, what with all those things looping around me.

Of course, it was only a matter of time that I got hit by one I couldn’t get up from. One of the smaller rocks hit me in the shin, stopping me just long enough for one of the big ones to knock me off my feet and throw me to the ground, then hold me there.

Taya came merrily trotting up to my groaning form. “You went down pretty fast, daddy,” she said before the rock jumped off me. “I thought you’d last a few more minutes!”

She wasn’t expecting me to snatch her front legs and drag her onto me as I rolled over, pulling her into a hug. “Never let your guard down,” I whispered, struggle-snuggling her.

“Daddy, please!”

“What’s that? You want to be tickled?”

“NO!” I started tickling her anyway since she’s always so adorable when she’s giggling. She definitely started struggling at that point, seemingly caring less about hurting me. Or more likely, she was just instinctively flinching around.

Either way, I stopped a minute in when I became aware that we had a visitor, letting Taya catch her breath while glaring at me. “What do you need, Fluttershy?” I asked, not getting up or letting Taya go.

“Um… If this is a bad time, it can wait…”

“There ain’t no time like the present for anything,” I said. “What do you need? Oh, and I’m limiting you to two ‘ums.’ Use more than two and we stop paying attention.”

“Um… Okay?”

“That’s one. Let’s see if you can make it.”

“Oh my… Well, how much do you… know about Kumani?”

“I know that she’s a dragoness with somewhat affluential parents. I know that she and I get along. And I know she tastes pretty alright.”

“...Tastes? No, never mind. But… aren’t you worried? She’s a dragon, Nav! They’re so greedy and possessive when they get older…”

“And? That just means she probably won’t do anything to hurt me so I don’t leave her.”

“She’ll… get really big and vicious!”

“She’s already pretty vicious. And I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to deal with the size difference, if we stay together that long. Magic’s a hell of a drug, after all.”

“You don’t think you will stay together that long?” she asked, perking up at least a little.

“I didn’t say that. The two of us have very long lives ahead of us, unless something shortens them, and a lot can happen that can drive two people apart. But on the same vein, a lot can happen that brings two people together. That’s how relationships work. Hope for the best but be prepared for disappointment.”

“Nav, as your friend—”

“Is that all you’re speaking to me as right now, Fluttershy?” I butted in. “Just a friend?”

“...Yes. And as your friend, I want you to know that…” She took a deep breath and just blurted the rest out quickly, “None of us think this is a good idea!” Her peace spoken, she turned her stare at me, daring me to refute her.

I couldn’t. “Yeah, I know it’s not. It’s an absolutely terrible idea.” Both she and Taya flinched back in surprise, staring at me. “But it’s a terrible idea that’s fun. With all the horrible shit that I’ve been through, is it so bad that I want something that makes me happy? Sure, the two of us probably won’t work out well. But while we’re going, it’s fun. Is that so bad?”

Fluttershy looked away, unable to come up with a good reply.

“Taya, we need to go get ready,” I quietly said, finally letting her go. She hopped off me and helped me up and then we both started walking away, back to the palace.

We were stopped a few steps away. “If she makes you happy…” Fluttershy started, but paused until I turned to face her. “That’s all we really want, Nav. You to be happy. That’s what… friends want for their friends.”

“Cool. I hope that means none of you are going to attempt to sabotage my relationship. I know how you ponies tend to think.”

“We would ne—Well… I would never do that, Nav.”

“I know that you wouldn’t, but Dash? Twilight? And I could see Applejack or Rarity possibly getting roped into it as well.”

“...Yeah. It was Twilight that sent me here…” she quietly said, looking away.

“Then tell them that I’ll fucking slap their shit if they try to ruin what I have. And then Kumani will slap their shit. And then I’ll do it again for good measure.”

“...Okay,” she whispered, still not looking at me.

“I’ll see you later, Fluttershy. Come on, Taya.” The two of us continued our walk back to the city alone.

Thankfully, the shield didn’t extend all that far into the surrounding area, so it didn’t take us long to walk back. On the way there, one of my soldiers landed next to me. “We’re ready to go, sir. Waiting on you.”

“I can’t go this time. Cadance has me playing nursemaid to a bunch of nobles and merchants. Tell Watcher he’s in charge and to do what he can to get the mine up and running, but not to start digging without me. And I want the ship back before dark. If he thinks it’s safe, he can keep a few people in the cave itself, but I don’t want to leave the ship in the weather for too long.”

“Yes sir,” the guard answered. “Do you want any guards to stay with you?”

“I’ll have the naga and the changelings. I should be fine.”

“Yes sir.” He spread his wings and took off, soaring to the ship.

We continued our walk until we got to the palace. Since I ended up on the ground, I needed another damn shower, which I took quickly. I also made Taya take one, since she was going to be dressing up whether or not she liked it.

When I got out of the shower, Ames was in my room. “I grow weary of this peace, Cain,” he rumbled. “And this city… the citizens stare at me. It is worse even than Ponyville.”

“If I have my way, we won’t be here for much longer. Hopefully, Watcher will get the mine ready today and after that, we can start digging. If the staring gets to you, just stay with Cadance and guard her. Well, after today. Right now, we’re going to a party.”

“...Very well. What is to be my purpose there?”

“Do your best to look intimidating enough as my guard that people don’t want to come talk to me. I doubt it’ll work, but it’s worth a try.”

“Intimidation is easy,” he replied, showing off his rather scary teeth.

“I don’t want to make it obvious. Now, I need to get dressed, get Taya, and go.”

It didn’t take me long to do any of those. Soon, the three of us were heading to the stupid event that none of us wanted to attend. It was already beginning to fill up slightly as we arrived, each citizen wanting a chance to meet the princess that was now apparently ruling over them for some reason.

And since she was currently flooded with visitors, some of them turned hungry eyes upon me. Actual hungry eyes, mind; it didn’t look like they had really made a habit of eating. Not even the naga’s overwhelming presence could protect me from the worst thing in the world: thankful citizens.

It took us nearly half an hour to get away from the worst of it. The thing that attracted the attention of the common people was the arrival of Twilight and her friends. They all seemed to be a lot happier and more willing to be approached, so everyone surrounded them instead, leaving me, Ames, and Taya to catch our breath.

“Why did we come to this, Daddy?” Taya asked, standing rather close to my leg.

“Because we had to,” I sighed, patting her head. “Or at least, I had to, and you decided to join me.”

“Company,” the naga mumbled, turning to face a newcomer. I sighed and did the same, ready to face the horrors once again.

What greeted my new gaze was definitely not a simple commoner, glowing from crystals or not. This mare had a considerably more noble bearing and the clothing she was wearing painted her as someone much more well-to-do. “Sir Navarone,” she said, bending her knees slightly.

To be nice or to be normal? Ugh. “My lady,” I answered with a nod. “How can I assist you?”

“Could we perhaps speak alone? Or at least, without your… guard.” She seemed rather disdainful of the poor naga, that’s for sure. I’m starting to think these crystal ponies are more than a little xenophobic.

“He is rather protective of me, and understandably so. There have been multiple attempts on my life. I’d rather him stay here. He is discreet and will stay silent.”

“Very well,” she answered, taking a second or two to eye him before looking back to me. “I come to you representing the noble houses here in the Crystal Kingdom. Each of the few surviving houses has a number of questions they would like to ask you.”

“Answering questions is easy,” I said with a shrug. “Ask away.”

“Do you know what Cadance is going to do with our city? She is the… splitting image of Sombra’s daughter, so no one questions her right to rule, but we still worry.”

“Back up, what? She looks like his daughter?”

She nodded. “Very much so. Since he exiled his family around the time he started going mad, we believe it’s probable that she is one of his descendants.”

“...Huh.” Props for Celestia on that one. “Well, I have no clue what she’s going to do. Ruling isn’t my job or my problem. She’s a decent sort with a relatively good head on her shoulders. A mite bit too trusting for her own good, but a few years of ruling will straighten that little problem out. I imagine she’ll do a decent enough job.”

“Hm. What of her husband, this Shining Armor?”

“He’s military. More muscle than brain. Nice enough, but she’s definitely the thinker of the two.”

“Good to know. And what of you, Sir Navarone? What is your place here?”

“I’m passing through. Heard a friend was in need and decided to stop to help. She’s still having problems, so I’m still here.”

“And your ship? Why does it leave and return?”

“Maybe you don’t realize this, but I eat meat. Or at least, I can. And so does some of my crew. There is no meat in the city. There is meat out in the countryside just waiting to be murdered and brought back.”

“...I see. What of the… ugh, dragons with you? What are their relation to you?”

“Do you guys have a problem with dragons or something? I’ve seen several tapestries and statues detailing fights with them. And I know Sombra’s journals—”

“You read Sombra’s journals?!” she broke in, almost hysterically.

“Yeah. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read the last one. It was destroyed. But I did get to read the others. Why?”

“It is no matter,” she immediately answered, recomposing herself quickly. “Yes, we have a rather negative history with dragons. It would not be incorrect to say we despise them. The two with you have been tolerated because they are with you. But that does not change the fact that we dislike them. What relationship do you have with Equestria?”

“A friendly one. Mostly. I stirred things up there and decided it might be best if I left. So here I am for now, or at least until I depart.”

“And this is your wife?” she asked, looking to Taya. I think all three of us flinched in shock at that. “No? My mistake. Daughter, perhaps?”

“...Yes. Why would you think she’s my wife?”

“She is the proper age for it. And anyone can tell that she is in heat.” Taya blushed slightly in either anger or embarrassment. “I just assumed. So she is unwed?”

“Yes, she most definitely is,” I answered.

“What is your price for her?” she asked, completely deadpan.

“What?!”

“She is attractive enough. I would be willing to pay well to marry her.” The shock on my face was just growing more and more. “I have blood relatives to give you grandchildren with her, if that’s what you’d prefer.”

At that point, what I’d prefer was to punch that bitch. If her face wasn’t made of crystals, that would have been my immediate reaction. However, the naga beat me to the figurative punch. “Times have changed, pony,” he growled, moving to loom over her. “Children are no longer bargaining chips and property.”

I calmed down very quickly when I realized why she was saying things like that. “Naga.” He backed away from her immediately. “He is mostly correct. Some nobles and kings use their children for political reasons or consider them property. I am neither noble nor king.”

“So times have changed,” the mare commented, nodding. “Being gone for a thousand or so years will do that. What new surprises await us, I wonder?” she rhetorically mused. “When do you imagine you will depart?”

“When I’m good and ready. And I very much suggest you and your noble friends keep your hooks out of Cadance until I’m gone. Don’t think I won’t be watching. I see you start digging, I’ll come down on you bastards. What you do when I’m gone isn’t my problem.”

“Understood. We need to consolidate power before we can do much anyway.”

Finally, people honest about their dishonesty. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“What of the princesses of Equestria?” she asked. “Are they still in power?”

“Celestia is. Luna just got arrested for reasons. You want details, ask someone else.”

“And these six mares here? Who are they and why are they here?”

“I really, really wish I could tell you. They definitely don’t belong here, that’s for damn sure. Don’t bother with them, either way. Not worth your time.”

“There are many that would say the same of you,” she commented, looking toward the six mares that were trying to keep a happy crowd placated. “At least they are ponies.”

“Xenophobia will not get you far in this new world,” I said, crossing my arms. She turned back to look at me, lifting a crystal eyebrow. “Peace rules. If you make an enemy of one race, you might make an enemy of several. Hate dragons if you desire; they’re rare enough anyway. But if you keep up that attitude, you’re going to piss off your neighbors to the south. You piss off the griffons, you can kiss those supply trains from Equestria goodbye. And if you make enemies of the changelings… Well, I don’t suggest it.”

“I will discuss that with the others. Now, my final question. What exactly are you?”

“Your worst nightmare when an enemy and your best friend when not. That’s the simplest and easiest description. And I very much suggest you remember it.”

“...Once again, understood. You are very persuasive, Sir Navarone. I almost feel sorry for your wife.”

“I’m not married.” I realized that was a mistake as soon as I said it. The surprised and pleased expression on her face wasn’t even needed. “Nor am I looking to get married,” I hastily added. “One of those dragons you despise so much keeps my bed warm, thank you.”

And there went the happy look. “I see. We might talk more later. For now, I have things to discuss with my group.”

“Good luck with that,” I said as she wheeled around to leave. She didn’t reply. “Fucking bitch,” I muttered, ruffling my feathers in distaste.

“I wonder how much she would have paid for me…” Taya mused, watching the lady walk away.

“Would never have been enough,” I replied, turning to the castle and starting to walk that way. “I’m done here. Stay if you want.”

A familiar feminine voice called, “Oh Navaroooone!” I ignored the shit out of Rarity and kept walking, pretending I didn’t hear her. “I know you heard me!” she called, much closer. I still just kept walking, hoping she wouldn’t bother catching up. “Don’t make me catch up to you, Nav!” Ugh. That’s it… “Oooh! That’s it!” Right as I turned to face her, she pounced to stop me somehow.

She couldn’t stop herself since she was already in mid-air and by the time I realized she was jumping, it was too late for me to back off. However, it was not too late for the naga to snatch her out of the air by her tail, holding her up to glare at her.

“Release me at once!” she demanded when she recovered. The naga snorted and looked to me.

Instead of doing what was probably the intelligent thing and telling him to set her down gently, I walked over to where I could see her face. “And just why were you following me?” I asked.

“Princess Cadance requested we keep you from leaving,” she answered. “Now put me down!”

“Did she have a specific reason why?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“Of course. But she said it was a surprise.”

“Hm. Well, Cadance hasn’t really let me down yet. Drop her.” By the time Rarity’s head impacted the rather hard stone road, I was already walking back to the party.

“So why aren’t we leaving?” Taya sighed, still walking next to me.

“Because it’s best not to piss off the people in power,” I answered. “And to be fair, I did tell Cadance I would be here, like it or not. You’re free to go if you want, but remember that I’ll be here. Alone. Where anything could happen.”

She rolled her eyes and replied, “The naga would be here, daddy. And I’m not planning on leaving you. I know you’d misbehave without me here to make sure you’re being good.”

“You didn’t have to drop me!” Rarity yelled at the naga that was paying her just as much attention as I usually do. She continued muttering as we left her further behind to explore the party, but didn’t make any comments we cared about.

“What’s got her all up in a huff?” Rainbow Dash asked, dropping out of the sky to walk next to me.

“She’s on her period,” I replied with a shrug. “So what’s this surprise Cadance wants to give me?”

“I dunno. She didn’t tell any of us. So where did you find Gilda, anyway? Like, why’s she with you?”

“I figured I could use a quick flier. You were too invested in Equestria to come with me, so I asked her instead. She came by while I was bedridden and that’s when I asked her.”

“Whoa. You’ve been planning to leave for a while, haven’t you?”

“Yeah.”

She snorted and muttered, “Coulda told me.” There was no good answer to that, so I didn’t reply. After a few seconds, she asked, “What about Zecora?”

“I made a deal with her. If you want to know more, ask her. It’s not my business to say why she came, I don’t believe.”

“...If you say so. But… did you really have to take Spike?”

“No, I didn’t have to. But after what Rarity did to him and after a few conversations with him, I realized that he really needed to get out of Equestria, one way or another. This way he’ll be safe with me instead of traveling alone.”

“Are you really sure he needed to get out? He seemed fine to me and everyone else!”

“He was starting to get miserable. I could tell after just a few talks with him. Like it or not, a growing dragon doesn’t really fit in well in a peaceful pony place. He was already fighting against his nature when I decided to go. He just got worse ever since, so I finally decided to offer him a place with me. He accepted and Twilight was cool with it.”

“...How did you convince Twilight to let him go?”

“A smooth tongue, if you know what I mean.” She looked up in surprise and I just winked.

“Ugh. You’re so perverted!”

“I was joking, Dash. I just talked her into it. She did cry a little, but she agreed that it was probably for the best.”

“You are just… something, Nav,” she said, shaking her head.

“That’s not to say I haven’t fucked her, mind. We’ve done the horizontal tango a few times.”

“Daddy, please!” Taya said, glaring up at me. “You’re in polite company!”

“It’s hardly fit for impolite company,” the naga concurred.

“Oh relax,” Dash said, grinning. “Nav, can you write me up a list of everything you’ve slept with? I really want to see your record.”

“I’ll see if I can find a paper long enough,” I dryly answered. “Just remember that your name would appear on there, Dash. So don’t pretend I’m alone.”

“Hey, that was different!”

“Yeah, yeah. Tell me again about your clam jousting club?” She immediately turned bright red and looked away, stammering something. “Uh huh.”

“I have to go!” she quickly said, galloping off, seemingly fighting to keep her wings down.

“So easy,” I said with a giggle, looking away from the onlookers watching Dash in confusion.

“Daddy, you’re awful,” Taya said, shaking her head.

“Yeah, I know. Don’t follow my example, Taya.”

“Why not? I bet that lady would still be willing to pay…”

“Taya, I am a slut, not a whore. I don’t get paid for it, I just enjoy it. There is a huge difference.”

“...Does that make it okay?” she doubtfully asked.

“Well, I can’t get anyone pregnant. But just because it’s fun for a little while does not mean it’ll make you happy. Trust me as someone that has experienced it. There’s a reason I went for a relationship instead of boning everything on board.”

“Hmph.” She looked away, not saying anything.

It was at that point that I decided to look around the ‘party’, since I was surprised we hadn’t been stopped and talked to in a little while. It seemed that a good number of the common citizens had left after they spoke to everyone they wanted to talk to. Since I showed up early, many of them had already spoken to me and saw what a dick I was. The small number that hadn’t seemed to be wary of the naga since they no longer had such large numbers to bolster their confidence.

“How do you like my party?!” Pinkie asked from above us. I flinched around until I saw her on the naga’s back, piggyback riding him.

As soon as he realized he had an unwanted guest, he reached back to snatch her off. She dodged, sliding down his tail and having a giggle fit. When she was down next to his tail, he tried to slap her with it, but she jumped over it, smiling all the while. He tried that a few times before stopping.

“Aww, but the jump-tail was so fu—eep!” Didn’t miss that time.

“I do not give free rides,” he calmly said, glaring at Pinkie as she picked herself up from the bush she got knocked into.

“You coulda just said so!” she complained, shaking her head to knock all the leaves off her and returning her hair to its normal pristine poofiness.

The naga just snorted. Unfortunately, I knew getting rid of her wasn’t going to be that easy. Especially since she bounced over to me with a smile. “To answer your question,” I said, “the answer is no. This party isn’t enjoyable. Too many people and not enough corners to hide in.”

“Well that’s just silly! If you hide in a corner, how will you escape when they find you? Come on, Nav, this is simple pony-avoidance 101!”

“Cornered animals fight a lot harder,” I answered with a shrug. “And I prefer fighting to running. More in my nature, it seems.”

“If you say so,” she doubtfully said. But her happiness returned quickly enough. “Are you looking forward to your SURPRISE?!”

“No.”

“That’s too bad, because it’s happening now!”

“...What?”

“Everypony, can I have your attention?” Cadance called from a stage that seemed somewhat hastily set up. Oh God, it’s a public announcement.

I just sighed, hanging my head. “Let’s get closer!” Pinkie whispered, grabbing my hand and pulling me along. I went without fighting, knowing I would regret the coming moments no matter how I handled them.

It didn’t take too long for everyone in attendance to shut up and give her their attention. After all, they were probably used to Sombra doing awful things to them if they didn’t obey.

“First, I would like to thank you all for coming by. It was a great chance for me to meet you all and see how things stand in the kingdom. I will do my best to address the issues brought to my attention, but please understand that some things have to be taken slowly due to lack of resources.” Like a politician. We’ve trained her well. “Of course, it would be remiss of me to not celebrate those who had integral parts in allowing this to even take place.”

Pinkie jerked up a little straighter, smiling. “I knew somepony liked my party!” she whispered.

“I speak of Sir Navarone and Twilight Sparkle, of course,” Cadance said, making Pinkie completely deflate. Guess she thought she would get a name drop. “If the two of you would please come forward?”

Of the two of us named, I was the more immediately noticeable. Escaping would have been impossible. Fuck. So instead, I walked through the crowd, following the line that opened before me as the crystal ponies smiled and beckoned me forward. I saw another line forming a little ways away and knew Twilight was also walking forward, probably a lot more proudly than I was.

When we finally got up to the stage, Cadance continued, “Without the actions of these two, Sombra would have retaken the city. Navarone’s heroic actions and Twilight’s quick thinking saved the day. Because of their actions, they are both being awarded the title of Hero of the Crystal Kingdom!” God dammit. Cadance paused to let some light applause go on. “I would give them keys to the city, but… Well, there isn’t exactly any material to make them on hoof. But I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll see of either of them. The last bit of information should raise everypony’s spirits for sure. The supply train from Equestria is ahead of schedule and should be here some time tonight.”

That got even more applause from the crystal ponies, their claps echoing hollowly because of what they seemed to be made of. “Waste of my time,” I muttered quietly, hoping no one would hear it.

“Smile and nod,” Twilight whispered back.

When the applause ended again, Cadance continued, “We should be able to begin distributing everything in the morning, if all goes well. So rest well, my citizens. Tomorrow, your fast ends.”

“Another useless title to add to the rest,” I quietly said, spreading my wings to take off. However, my feet were suddenly wrapped in a light blue aura, trapping me to the ground as Cadance turned to face me.

“I wanted to thank you for taking the time for this, Nav,” she said, letting my feet go. “I know you really didn’t want to be here. And you definitely did your best to make that known, which is why I called for this announcement sooner so you could leave now instead of having to wait.”

“Thanks for that,” I replied with a nod. “Now, I’m off.”

“Have a good day,” Cadance called as I fled to Taya and the naga, who didn’t follow me when Pinkie dragged me off.

“Okay, now we’re leaving,” I said when I landed. “Let’s get out of here quickly before more people accost us.” To answer that, Taya’s horn lit up and the three of us teleported to her room in the palace. “...That’s one way to do it,” I said, looking around for a moment to catch my bearings. “And now we have the rest of the day off,” I said, stretching.

“I want to keep searching through these books,” Taya said, her horn lighting up and one of Sombra’s books floating to the bed.

“Then we’ll get out of your hair,” I said, walking to the door. “Thanks for going with me, Taya.”

“...You’re welcome, daddy.”

With that exchange, the naga and I let ourselves out. “Once again, I find myself with no tasks,” the naga said, clenching and unclenching his fists. “When was the last time we practiced?”

“It’s probably been too long. So you wanna fuck around and beat our thingies together?”

“It is more pleasurable than doing nothing. I suggest you prepare your body. It’s been a while and I’ll be rough.”

I smiled and answered, “Just the way I like it.”

When the airship got back, I could barely walk. I want to say I gave as good as I got, but the naga completely dominated me and loved every minute of it. Still, he enjoyed it, and keeping my crew placated is always important.

“What progress did you make?” I asked Watcher as he saluted.

“We’re ready to begin digging,” he answered. “The main room was more secure than we thought and required less restructuring. We did everything we needed and got some scouting done.”

“Excellent. I want us out of here again before dawn. Well, figurative dawn; the sun’s barely fucking gone down since we got here. But the supply train is coming tomorrow and I don’t want us getting bogged down with helping ferry supplies around. I’m tired of being in this damn kingdom.”

“Agreed. I’ll spread the word. Who do you want with us?”

“Assuming you didn’t find any hints of anything dangerous in your scouting trip, we’ll only need the diggers, people to carry heavy loads, and the pegasi.”

“So everyone we brought before?”

“Yeah. Shame we can’t bring the naga. His big, strong arms would be so nice…”

“...I think we’ll be fine with your dragon,” he said, taking a small step backwards.

“Eh, probably. Anything else to report?”

“No sir. Just a question. Did anything ever become of that book you found?”

“...Book? Which one? We’ve dealt with a bunch of them. Speaking of which, what did you find in Sombra’s last journal?”

“Nothing but insane rambling, descriptions of dark rituals, and things like that. There wasn’t anything useful. But I meant the book you got from the magic shop, the weird one.”

“Oh! I forgot about it, actually. I figured it was useless since the lady told me to wait for a—” Suddenly, realization struck me. Who else did I know that was more of a scholar than Twilight? “...I’ll wait a few days to deal with it. I really don’t want to get distracted when we should be digging. Just remind me after we find the elemental. Flo says it shouldn’t take us long to get to her.”

“Good. I’m ready to move on. The rest of the crew is feeling the same way, though they do like being in a friendly port.”

“Then rest well so you can dig quickly. And tell everyone to stay in the palace or on the ship so finding them all will be easier.”

“Yes sir. Until morning, then.”

“Until morning, Watcher.”

The next interruption I had came from a rather frantic Spike. I was just catching up on my journals when he barged in, his eyes wide in horror. “Nav, Taya just tried to seduce me!”

“What.” Before I realized what I was doing, I was on my feet, hands reaching for the sword I wasn’t wearing.

Spike blanched when he saw that, but he continued, “I was trying to sleep because Watcher said we were leaving early when she knocked on my door. Next thing I knew, she was kissing me!”

“...That’s… Did you kiss her back?”

“No! I knew you’d kill me!”

“What? Dude, no I wouldn’t. I mean, I can’t deny I was surprised at first and my immediate reaction might have been… unpleasant.” He eyed the hand that reached for the sword and I shrugged. “But sex isn’t a relationship. And hell, if she came to you, then it’s obvious you aren’t taking advantage of her. Though she’s kinda in heat, apparently.”

“But… she’s your daughter!”

“And? Sex is fun. It feels good for both parties. You can’t get her pregnant and I know you’d be careful, so there’s no real harm in letting the two of you have some mutual fun. That said, if you don’t want it, you don’t want it. If she keeps bothering you after you made it more than clear you aren’t interested, come to me. Until then, fuck if you want. Just make it very clear whether or not you’re interested in a relationship beforehand. I don’t want you to hurt her by making her feel used.”

He was… more than a little shocked by that. To be fair, I bet most people would have been. “You… You really just don’t care?”

“It’s not that I don’t care, Spike. But there are things that I can’t teach her. There are things she would ignore when it comes from me or anyone else. Sex is a lesson she has to learn for herself. Having a partner that I know would be gentle would help and would put me at ease. I know you wouldn’t take advantage of her, so you can teach her safely and show her a good time. And of course, not get her pregnant.”

“Do… do you want me to… have sex with her?”

“I want you both to be comfortable. What you two want is all that matters. If she wants to go behind my back and sleep around, she’ll do it. No amount of me scolding or begging will change that. I will have a talk with her, don’t get me wrong, but if you want to go for it, go for it. If you don’t want to, don’t. Just use your brain.”

“I’m trying! I just… I can’t understand how you’re okay with this!”

“Then don’t understand. Just do it or don’t. Just know that if you do something to hurt her, I’ll do the same thing to you.”

He was silent for a few very long seconds before I just realized what I implied.

“God fucking dammit, you know what I meant! Although I do have the gender stones still…”

“...So you really don’t mind?” he slowly said.

“I really don’t. If you want to, go for it. If you don’t want to, don’t. If you make it clear you aren’t interested and she keeps pestering you, let me know.”

He sighed and nodded. “I’m… going back to bed. I doubt I’ll get any sleep, though…”

“And I have a daughter to track down. Do you know where she went?”

“No. I was in a hurry to get away…”

“I’ll find her. I have all night, after all.” And so the two of us went our separate ways. He seemed rather more reluctant to part company than I was, which makes sense given that he was probably nervous about running into Taya.

My first stop was, of course, her room. No luck. And so began my long exploration of the castle, doing my absolute best to find her. After nearly an hour of searching, I found her in Doppel’s room. The changeling, of course, looked extremely nervous as she attempted to comfort my daughter.

Thankfully, it seemed that Taya was more angsty than sad over it. Angst, I can handle. Tears are just… bad. When I stepped inside, Doppel gulped and immediately said, “It wasn’t my fault!”

“I’m not mad.” She breathed a sigh of relief. It was at that point that I realized I had absolutely no idea what to say. “I spoke with Spike.”

“What did he tell you?” Taya asked, glaring at the floor.

“That you tried to seduce him.”

“What about it?” she asked, transferring her glare to me.

“I’m here to tell you to go for it if you want. Just know that you will find no lasting happiness in nothing but sex. It’s fun. By all means, enjoy it. But beware the pitfalls. Sex addiction is possible. Look at me and Doppel. I was addicted and when I got hurt, I was extremely snappy because I couldn’t get it. Doppel’s addicted and she’s a total fucking slut that probably has at least three partners a day. No offense, of course.”

“Eh, it’s true. Though three is low,” the changeling said.

“Of course, you’re in heat,” I said, continuing. “I understand your craving. So like I said, go for it. But if Spike doesn’t want it, carefully think about who you go for next. You do not want to get pregnant. And I do not want you to get pregnant. So either find a way to protect yourself or keep trying other races. Not the naga, though; he’s married and would probably split you in half.”

“Why can’t I make you angry?!” Taya yelled, glaring at me. Doppel and I were both quite surprised at her sudden tone shift.

“Taya, you do make me angry. But why would this make me mad? And hell, why do you want me to be mad? Getting angry doesn’t do anything, especially not over something like this. You have an itch you want scratched. I can’t say it’s wrong because I do it all the time. I’m no hypocrite.”

Taya huffed and looked away. “I can’t believe you don’t even care,” she said.

“I do care. I just trust you. And I’m not stupid. If I tell you not to do it, you’ll want it even more. I’ll tell you the same thing I told Spike, though: I trust the people I have with me. And there are some things I can’t teach you. If I can’t, I’d rather it be someone that I trust than someone I don’t know. You’re young and by human standards it would probably be illegal, but the law was never really based on common sense.”

“Wish my parents were like that,” Doppel idly said. I wish I had parents.

“I just… UGH!” Taya teleported away, leaving me and Doppel very, very confused.

“What happened?” I asked.

Doppel sighed. “You used logic, Nav. And I used empathy. To an angry teenage mare… Well, she probably really wanted you to yell so she would have a reason to feel so angry.”

“But I was just… A few hours ago she was fine!”

“She’s young and in heat,” Doppel replied with a shrug. “First she got denied by Spike. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he refused because of you. So she was doubly angry and she wanted you to give her a real reason to feel that way.”

I sighed, slowly lowering my head into my hands, massaging my temples. “I just… This is the one time that I really, really wish I could talk to my mom. God, what am I supposed to do about this? Let her seethe? Try to reason with her?”

“I dunno. My parents just sent me to the pain chamber. That obviously didn’t work. So don’t torture her, I guess.”

“...I thought Chrysalis didn’t send any changelings there.”

“She doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean other changelings can’t send others there. She prefers a more… hooves-on approach to hurting others.”

“Huh. Well, I need to go find Taya again, I suppose.”

“You really shouldn’t,” Flo said when I was out.

“About fucking time you showed up,” I said. “The hell were you waiting for?”

“There was nothing you could really do about this one, Nav. And you were handling it perfectly well… if you were speaking to someone with no emotions. Give her time. That’s all you can really do right now.”

I hate being a parent.

“I know, Nav. But there are plenty of good things about it. You can’t deny that.”

“Yeah… Shit, man. Now what the hell am I supposed to do? I can’t just start writing again.”

“Take your frustration out on dreams. Find a nice nightmare and just go to town.”

“...Not a bad id—What are you staring at?” I asked a passing servant that was eyeing me. He jumped and sprinted away. “That’s what I thought, bitch.”

“These things tend to happen when you talk to yourself in the open,” Flo commented as I walked back to my rooms.

“Yeah. I regret nothing.”

Instead of hitting up nightmares first, I decided to reread some journal entries to try to glean anything I could about Taya that might help me deal with her later. While I was reading, I found a tidbit of information that made me feel like an idiot, in some ways.

When I went back in time, I got a lot of stuff. The gun, bullets, a laptop… I forgot about some things, somehow. Some things that would probably have been really useful.

I had a fucking radio set. “How did I forget about this for so long?”

“Stress,” Flo answered. “I didn’t really think about them either. Well, now you know about them.”

“...Yeah.”

We left around six in the morning. Kumani was rather bleary-eyed, but the crew and soldiers seemed fine. The miner didn’t seem to be paying much attention to anything around him, but I honestly didn’t care as long as he was useful.

Taya did not join us.

Finding the spot was simple, since there was a tarp over the entrance to the mine. Apparently Jak managed to rig up a very simple elevator, but it required people actually holding ropes at the top and lowering it manually.

I left one of the radios at the top and flew down, leading two pegasi. We were going to check on the bottom, make sure it was all clear still. We got down to find that it was, indeed, clear.

“Looks good,” I radioed up. “Start sending people down.”

“By the sands, that scared me!” Kat answered. “You didn’t tell me how loud it would be!”

“You can mess with the sound settings later. You’re the only one up there with fingers that also wouldn’t accidentally crush the thing. Tell Watcher we’re good.”

“Alright. See you at the bottom.” With that, the radio fell silent and I slid it in a pocket.

“So how far in did you guys explore?” I asked the two guards with me.

“Not very,” one of them answered. “These tunnels are like a warren. We didn’t want to get lost.”

“Understandable. Not like there’s anything we care about down here. What about the other power switches? Any of them work?”

“We didn’t try any,” the other one answered. “The lights work and that’s all that matters.”

“...Alright.” We were silent for a few seconds before I said, “I hate standing around like this. Name a topic.”

“Mares,” one guard immediately said.

“That’s a topic I can get behind,” the other one replied with a smirk. And so the three of us shot the shit about women while we waited. It was interesting.

Have you ever watched something happen for six hours with almost nothing to break the monotony? Even something as cool as explosions gets old after that long. And even fucking Kumani could only keep me distracted for so long. I have no clue how the guards managed to just stand around doing nothing for that long.

But finally… “We hit ice!” one of the unicorns called.

“Finally!” I exclaimed, running over to the hole and immediately wincing back because of the heat. From the small glance I got, I could tell the hole was about fifty or so feet deep. “Stop for now, let the heat die down. I don’t want to risk melting what we came here for.”

Of course, they had stopped anyway when they hit the ice, but this way they wouldn’t continue. Still, I was finally excited. It’s about fucking time!

“Cutting through ice is different,” the miner said, looking down the hole. “If you melt it, you have to deal with the water. If you vaporize it, you have to deal with the vapor. Cutting through it and then removing it is the best option. But to do that we’d have to enlarge the hole and then ferry the chippings up here.”

“We have magic,” Watcher said. “We can melt it and bring the water up here. This room is large enough that we can just toss it in one area and forget about it. We’re just waiting on Nav.”

“What is down there, anyway?” the miner asked. “I can’t imagine what could interest you so much. I thought we got everything out of this old mine already.”

“Not the most important thing,” I replied. “You might find out when we get it. I’m just happy there weren’t any more damn crystals down there.”

“That’s why we didn’t go deeper,” he said with a nod. “Nothing of value.”

“Eh. Kumani, can you get me down there? You’re immune to hellish heat.”

She hopped up from where she had been lying and walked over to look down. “Too smooth to climb, too narrow to fly. We’d need a rope.”

“No, you’d need a chain,” Watcher said. “Which we brought a few of, to pull a block of ice out.” His horn lit up and one flew over from the pile of equipment. “Be careful.” He slammed a spike into the ground and attached the chain to it, letting it fall to the bottom of the hole.

Kumani and I walked to it and after a few seconds to figure out how to proceed down, we quickly descended. The heat was stifling, but not actually dangerous unless I was touching any of the surfaces directly. Since I had Kumani to do that for me, it wasn’t a problem. “What do you think?” she asked when we were at the bottom.

Flo?

“I can feel her… Go down seven more meters and then stop. You want to cut smoothly along the hole’s walls down for three meters and then bring that chunk up.”

“Excellent. We’re close. Very close. Kumani, get us back up.”

“You could say please,” she grumbled, going to the rope.

“I’ll pay you in kisses,” I replied as she started climbing.

“I can agree to that.”

When we got to the top, I relayed the instructions to Watcher. Soon, the process began again, though it was much faster this time. Every meter down, some of the melted ice was ferried to the top and just casually thrown aside. Around the four meter mark, someone noticed something…

“Where’s the miner?” Kat asked.

“What?” I said, looking around. “He’s not… Oh fucking hell, where is he?” He most definitely wasn’t with us, that’s for sure. “Did anyone see him leave?”

One of the guards spoke up, “He said he was going to the barracks, sir. I figured he just wanted to see something.”

“God dammit. Watcher, keep going. I’m gonna go make sure that guy’s alright.”

I walked over to the barracks alone, because I really didn’t need anyone to hold my fucking hand just to get there. But when I arrived to the room, it was noticeably lacking any miners. “Really?”

“Look around,” Flo said. “See if he left any clues.” I started looking around, grumbling about the stupidity of civilians. The room was very unsurprisingly bare of any useful hints.

When I got back to the main group, he still wasn’t there. The unicorns were back at work. “The miner fucking disappeared,” I called out. “If he isn’t back when we finish here, we’ll have to look for him.”

“Then let’s hope he gets back,” Watcher said, looking around briefly before getting back to work.

It didn’t take much longer for their work to be done. Very soon, a large chunk of ice with a very yellow center was lifted from its icy dungeon, chains attached to the top.

“Don’t eat the yellow ice,” one of the guards muttered when he saw it.

“Why yellow?” one of them asked.

“It’s fear,” I answered, putting a hand on the block. “Say you were about to be imprisoned for who knows how long. How would you react? To be frozen in that moment for so long…” I pulled my hand back, shaking my head. “Anyone seen the miner?” Much to my disappointment, no one had.

“Fucking hell. Kumani, get topside. Start pulling this ice up. We’ll melt her back in the kingdom. Everyone else, squads. We’re going miner hunting.”

“We could just leave him,” Kumani replied with a shrug. “I mean, it’s not like we need him again.”

“Humans leave no one behind,” I answered, trying to keep the hint of anger out of my voice. “It’s a long way to the top, Kumani. I suggest you start climbing.” She just shrugged and jumped up, flying to the top before starting her slow ascent. “Unicorn in every group. Watch the dust. If it’s not broken at all, he’s probably not down that hole. Come back and try again. You find him, shoot a light back to the main room. Two unicorns stay here, shoot lights down the tunnels if someone finds him.” The guards all broke into their squads and started going down various tunnels, leaving me with Kat, Watcher and his squad, and the three unicorns we had from the ship.

“We probably won’t find him,” Watcher said.

“I know. But if there’s the chance…” I looked to the unicorns that would stay behind. “In five hours, call everyone back anyway. I don’t want to leave him, but I’m not staying in this place past when it should be dark.” They both nodded. “Kat, Sunny, with me. Watcher, move out.”

We broke off, picking a tunnel at random to go down. Watcher did the same.

“I really don’t like tunnels,” Kat said as she walked down the clear middle of the hall, over the rails.

“They’re not too bad,” Sunny replied. “Though I’m used to being inside.”

“I’m not,” I said. “I hate it down here, too. Cold, dark even with the lights, enclosing. Hardly any room to stretch my wings. Can’t believe that fucking miner wandered off.”

“I can,” Sunny quietly replied. “Bad memories. He’s been through a lot. Sometimes you just have to… get away. Or maybe return to the site of the trauma. I know sometimes a few of us just go to the cargo holds and just sit.”

“...True.” A dark silence took over as we walked, but I got sick of that quickly. “Anyone see signs of him?”

“There are tracks,” Kat said. “But they might be from the guards. It’s hard to tell.”

“Then we’ll keep going until there aren’t anymore. Hopefully it’ll end with a miner. Then I can punch him in the throat and tell him to stop his shit.”

“Bad idea,” Kat said. “He’s all crystally.”

“I’ll figure something out. Let’s talk about… I don’t know, give me a topic. I don’t want to walk down here in silence.”

“Stallions?” Sunny suggested.

“Nav’s a guy,” Kat flatly said.

“Hey, I’ve fucked a stallion,” I said. “That entitles me to talk about them!”

“...That is so hot,” Sunny replied. “You bottomed, right?”

“God dammit, really? No, I pounded his ass.” Mares, I swear.

Of course, then they wanted to know the whole (or hole) story. As I regaled them with the tale, I noticed that it was slowly getting warmer as we walked further in. It wasn’t until I saw a light in the distance that I mentioned it, though. “You two see that?” I asked, nodding ahead.

“I do,” Kat said. “I don’t remember the scouts mentioning anything like that, though.”

“Are there still tracks?” Sunny asked.

“Yeah,” Kat said, kneeling down to check. “They look… off, though. Like he was in a hurry.”

“Well, we’re not. I don’t really want to start running toward heat, not in this cold weather gear. Fucker can wait.”

“You’re not even interested in the light?” Kat asked.

“Nah. There’s a saying back in my world. Curiosity killed the cat.”

“...I don’t like that saying,” Kat replied.

“I didn’t think you would.” Sunny was giggling at it, though. Together, the three of us walked closer and closer until we could tell that the light ahead was actually a flame. “What the hell is that idiot doing? Does he want to fill this damn place with smoke?”

“At least it’s warmer,” Kat said.

When we finally got to the fire, though… It wasn’t just a small fire. It was a furnace. A fucking massive one. And standing before it was the miner, just staring into the flames.

“Dude, we’re leaving,” I called. “Get away from the damn fire and let’s go.”

He didn’t reply.

“Ugh.” I walked up to him and got rather close before stopping, realizing that he was bleeding. “...What happened?”

“I can hear them,” he rasped. “Hear them calling. Hear their unceasing call to join them in the flames… Oh frost, I shouldn’t have come!”

I took a slow step forward, realizing I might be dealing with a crazy. “It’s not too late to go. We got what we came for. You can be on the first lift out and never see this place again.”

“It was too late as soon as I set hoof in here.”

“They can’t stop you. They’re dead. You’re not. Whatever they’re saying, just ignore them. They have no power over you.”

The miner slowly turned his head to me and that’s when I realized that I just might have been wrong: Both of his eyes were just empty sockets. “They won’t let me leave. Not this time, not again.”

“Oh God… How did this…” Before I could even think to react, a shovel slammed into my chest from nowhere, pushing me back. Kat and Sunny both jumped forward but were pushed back by the handles of shovels. “What—”

“Help me,” the miner whispered before more tools knocked his legs out from under him, sending him to his belly. Two picks slammed through his back legs and he was swung around before being dragged into the furnace. He made no sound until he hit the flames and the entire time, his empty sockets were just staring me down.

But when he entered the furnace, the shrieks began… until the slamming and locking of the furnace door shut them off. The smell, though… The smell of burning fur and flesh still leaked through.

“Holy shit.”

“By the sands…”

“Sweet Celestia!”

At our exclamations, the mining tools fell to the ground and the furnace immediately shut down, the flames instantly dying away. I fell to my knees, my mouth gaping, completely unable to comprehend what I just saw.

Before I could stop her, Kat dashed to the furnace door and pulled it open. There was nothing inside but ash. She slowly pulled away from it, just backing away.

“I… I think… we should leave,” I slowly said, standing.

“I… yeah,” Sunny said, her eyes unable to leave the open furnace door.

Kat just started running. The two of us didn’t take long to join her.

When we got back, the ice block was gone and only the two unicorns were in the main room. They seemed rather surprised at our noisy entrance. “What happened?” one asked.

“Yeah,” the other said. “You guys look like you saw a ghost or something!” All three of us flinched. “Haha, what? You guys get spooked over something?”

“Call everyone back,” I quickly said.

“You find him?” the first one asked.

“Call them back,” I just said again.

It might have been the… haunted look on my face, but he seemed to catch the mood and nodded, his horn lighting up. Together, the two of them sent the signal down all the tunnels. It took another fifteen minutes for all the guards to get back.

“Who found him?” Watcher said as his group, the last, exited the tunnels.

“We did,” I answered. “And I want everyone out of this mine right the fuck now. Teleport, fly, climb ropes. Get us all out!”

“By the night… Evacuation plan! You know what to do!” All four of his squad’s unicorns lit their horns up, teleporting away. Since most of them didn’t have the strength to get to the very top, I had no idea where they were going. While they were doing that, the pegasi grabbed the earth ponies and started flying out. “Now what happened?” Watcher asked me.

“The dead happened,” I answered. “The miner was right. And he paid the price.”

“That poor, poor bastard,” he sighed. “Get out as quickly as you can.” He looked to the unicorns from the crew, two of whom seemed confused. “Teleport out. If you can’t get to the top, teleport up the tunnel and keep teleporting until you get to the top. I’ll see you topside.” His horn lit up black and he was engulfed in a green flame, completely disappearing.

“Kat, up the rope first. You can climb faster,” I said.

“Hold on,” Sunny broke in. “Watcher doesn’t know a few techniques we picked up. Pool up.” The three unicorns moved closer. Sunny’s horn lit up and an aura surrounded the other two. A few seconds later, all five of us were standing at the top. “Easy enough,” she breathed, tired after casting a spell that none of the three of them could manage on their own. “Just takes combining energy. Very worth it.”

“What happened?” Kumani asked, running over to us.

“I do not want to talk about it,” I answered, my eyes unwillingly going to the hole.

“It couldn’t have been that bad,” she said, pulling me close.

“It was,” Kat answered for me.

“It definitely was,” Sunny added, reinforcing my silence.

“It’s not important,” I finished, pushing away from Kumani. “I want this ice chunk loaded onto the ship, everyone! The sooner we get back, the better. Watcher, find some way to plug this fucking hole once everyone gets out.”

“Yes sir,” he answered, nodding. Four loud pops around us made me jump, but then I realized it was just Watcher’s unicorns reaching the top. Gonna have to tell Taya about that trick.

“How do we get it up?” Jak asked, walking over to me. “It would be… difficult to do it the way we got it here.”

“We don’t have to get it all the way onto the ship,” I answered. “If you can find a way to secure it on the wooden platform it’s on, you can let it hang freely under us.”

“Ah…” He looked over to the ice chunk for a few moments, thinking. Eventually he said, “Simple enough. You mind if I cut some of the ropes?”

“Do whatever you have to do. Just get it done quickly. I do not want to be next to this hole for long.”

“Aye, I understand. SMILES! Stop fiddling around and get over here!” The batpony flinched from where he had been standing and doing nothing, galloping over to Jak. I just walked away, not seeing any more need for myself there.

For better or worse, walking away brought me right back to Kumani’s grasp. “Whatever it was, I won’t let it get you,” she said, holding me.

“I don’t think anything could protect against what we just saw,” I quietly said, letting myself be held. “Right now…” I sighed, pushing away from her once again. “Right now I need to be strong. What would the troops think if their leader can’t even handle something?”

“You shouldn’t push yourself,” she said, once again letting me go without much of a fight. “You aren’t a soldier, not trained.”

“Not conventionally.” I took a deep breath, letting the silence and deep chill soothe me for a moment as I forced the trauma down. It didn’t take that long before I had it all out of the forefront of my mind and I was once again in control. “We have a job to do.”

“That’s unhealthy,” Flo whispered.

Unless you feel like taking over so I can freak out without drawing attention to myself, I don’t care if it’s unhealthy.

Kumani shook her head. “Come to me when you’re ready. But don’t think I won’t be watching. I don’t want you hurting yourself.”

“And I don’t want me hurting myself either. There are plenty of others out there in a line to do it. We can talk later, in private. And you can comfort me all you want. But for now, I’m over it.”

She didn’t answer as I turned around, trying to find anything to do.

Within the half hour, we were on our way back to the city, the elemental gently swinging around below us. Smiles was given the unwanted task of making sure she didn’t fall off the side, so he was holding on down there, probably shivering his balls off.

Kumani, of course, dragged me down to her room. I relayed the tale of what happened to the poor miner, trying to recapture as many details as I could. It felt… nice to have someone to discuss it with. Someone to confide in, I suppose.

When we got back to the city, I had the elemental lowered to the big festival area. It brought quite a large crowd, as none of them knew what the fuck it was, but I honestly didn’t care. They could ask all the questions they want. As long as no one answered them, it didn’t bother me.

As soon as it was lowered, we began transporting it. It took several unicorns to fly it into the castle proper, where I had them ferry it to one of the big meeting halls with no carpet.

“What now?” Kumani asked when it was in place.

“Now, Watcher and I stay here to slowly thaw it out. Everyone else, wait outside and make sure nobody gets in.”

“What? Why?” she asked.

“Because she was afraid when this happened. If she’s been frozen in that moment for this long, she’ll probably be afraid when she gets out. I don’t want to overwhelm her with new faces. It’s best that it’s just a servant of her sister that greets her when she’s freed. And word might spread that we’re in here with a chunk of ice. I don’t want anyone getting in here to ask questions.”

“...Alright.” The others had already left at that point, leaving just me, her, and Watcher. “If you call, I’ll come right away.”

“Then I’ll see you soon, Kumi.” She nodded and stole a quick kiss before walking to the door. “You ready for this, Watcher?”

“Yes. Hopefully. You’re sure she won’t be violent?”

“No clue. Flo thinks she won’t be or that she’ll realize we’re friendly. And either way, it’s a risk we have to take.”

“Then let’s do it.”

His horn lit up and the room began to heat up, centered around the elemental.

I settled down to wait, wondering what new excitements this would bring.

 
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