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.


118. Chapter Ninety-Six—Down the Rabbit Hole

As much as I wanted to immediately begin the search—which wouldn’t be as much of a search as it would be going right where Flo told me to go—there was too much to be done in the kingdom proper. All of my team was exhausted. Cadance was out for the count, Shiny didn’t know how to run a kingdom, and Twilight and her friends were busy trying to clean up the mess of the fair and Sombra’s attack. Sadly, it fell upon me to assist Shining Armor in helping the place recover that first, hectic day.

It was boring as all hell. And worse, it continued all night. As it turns out, turning back into their shitty crystal forms gave all the ponies in the city their memories back, meaning each of them needed to start working again. Which really sucked, since we had all of the gold. Watcher was very correct when he said that the gold would have to be returned to kickstart the economy.

I don’t even want to bore myself by writing down the details of what we had to do. Frankly, it was absurd and it took way too long.

The next morning, however, I was dragged into a room with Shining Armor and Cadance, who was feeling considerably better after a lot of sleep and a few hot meals. The three of us were in one of the many sitting rooms through the palace, with them on one couch to hold each other and me on another. Taya wanted to come along, since she was pretty upset about me fighting Sombra without her, but I was able to distract her. Kumani was helping someone with something, so she wasn’t a problem.

“So you owe us an explanation of sorts,” Cadance said, sipping some rather hot (decaffeinated) tea. “I believe you said you would tell us why you were here after the crisis.”

“I… did agree to that,” I slowly said. “But I hardly think I owe you anything.”

“You know what she meant, Nav,” Shiny said, smirking.

“Yeah, yeah… To make it simple, there is a being of great power imprisoned somewhere under the ice near here. I want to break it out. I have reason to believe that Sombra was attempting to do the same thing, but turned evil somewhere during the process.”

“...What kind of being?” Cadance asked after a few seconds. “Is it dangerous?”

“It has great power,” I answered. “Of course it’s dangerous. However, it shouldn’t attack us without a good reason. I have a feeling that it’ll be pleased to be released.”

“So what kind of being, Nav?” Shiny reasked.

“It’s… a really hard explanation. You know how Celestia covered up some parts of the past? Hiding history and things like that?”

“...That does make sense,” Cadance said. Shiny just nodded.

“There was a being that ruled before she did called Discord. However, some time long, long before he ruled, there were other things called elementals that ruled. Discord imprisoned some of them and killed the others. One of them that he imprisoned is under the ice here. I’m going to break it out.”

“How do you know it’s there?” Shiny asked.

“And why are you releasing it?” Cadance asked.

“Because Discord is free once again and Celestia refuses to believe it. We need some way of taking him down. I’m hoping the elementals can help. As to how I know it’s there… I have my sources.”

“Which are?” Shiny pressed.

“Confidential,” I answered.

“I don’t like it,” he muttered, leaning back. “But… you’ve proven yourself a friend, Nav. You’re reliable and we can trust you.” Not like he could have stopped me, of course. “Will you need anything from us to help you?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I replied. “I haven’t been able to do any kind of looking yet. I’ll probably need a guide and I might need someone that’s an expert at mining, but I’ll wait until I can actually do some scouting to say for certain. Oh, and I’ll definitely not want Twilight or any of her friends to find out what I’m doing. Celestia can’t know about this.”

“That might be difficult,” Cadance said. “You know they all wanted an explanation. And they also really, really want to know what happened with Luna.”

“That sure is a shame,” I said with a smile. “I’m sure the two of you can find ways to keep them busy and away from me until they leave.”

“Didn’t you promise them an explanation?” Shining Armor asked.

“Yeah, but you should know by now that I’m a fucking liar. There’s a reason I left in the middle of the night without telling any of them anything.”

“That won’t work,” Cadance said with a sad smile, shaking her head. “You know those girls, Nav. They’ll hound you day and night despite whatever task we find for them.”

“Is there any way you can get them to leave, then?” I asked. “I mean, their job is done anyway. Don’t most of them have jobs?”

The two of them shared a short, pained look before turning back to me. Shining Armor said, “Unfortunately…” He stopped, unable or unwilling to continue.

Cadance took up whatever he was saying. “...Princess Celestia sent them a letter telling them to stay here for two weeks to help around the kingdom.”

“We couldn’t make them leave if we wanted to,” Shining Armor finished. “I’m sorry, Nav, but they’re here to stay.”

Fuck. Celestia outplayed me again! “Then I’ll just have to do what I’m good at: Lie through my fucking teeth. As long as I’m wearing the ring, there’s no way they can know.”

They both face-hooved. When they recovered from it, Cadance gently said, “Nav, I know you’re… different when it comes to friendships, but even you have to admit defeat sometimes. Telling them the truth would be so, so much better!”

“I agree. But again, I can’t risk Celestia knowing. What do you think she would do if she found out that I was helping beings of great power that used to rule the planet? I don’t want to risk her trying to stop me. And you just know that Twilight would tell Celestia as soon as I told any of them a word. Yeah, honesty’s the best policy here, but it’s not a policy I can currently take.”

“...What can she really do?” Shining Armor asked. “Unless she actually attacks your ship, can Celestia actually make you stop?”

“I want to be able to go back to Equestria one day and not be an international criminal wanted for a number of crimes I didn’t commit. Sure, there’s not much she can do to me directly, but there’s plenty she can do to me. Without me there to defend myself and while needing a scapegoat to take attention away from what happened with Luna, don’t you think she might be willing to go a little far?”

“We can personally assure that won’t happen,” Cadance fiercely said. “I’m a princess and Shining Armor is her guard captain. She’s powerful, but there’s only so much she can do if she has many ponies working against her. You need to tell them the truth, Nav. Trust me when I say that the two of us will protect you from anything Celestia might try to do.”

That really, really wasn’t an assurance that I wanted to take… “Listen to them,” Flo whispered. “They’ll help you, Nav. If you can’t trust them, trust me.”

“Fuck me for being a fool,” I sighed, my wings drooping. “Fine. Though God knows it’s stupid. But I want at least one of you there when I tell them! I have a bad feeling I know what their reactions will be and honestly, I don’t want to deal with it.”        

“We can do that,” Cadance said, smiling widely. “Shining Armor, dear, would you mind fetching them? I think the crystal ponies can survive without us all for an hour or two.”

“Of course, honey. Shouldn’t take me too long to find them… Don’t you talk about me, now!”

“We would never do that,” I said, smirking as he stood up. “She definitely didn’t tell me how much you liked wearing her clothes when no one else is around.”

A large blush instantly crept across his face and I knew I scored a goal. “Cadance! You said you wouldn’t tell anypony!”

“I didn’t, dear. He just guessed.”

“You’re way too easy, Shiny,” I said, chuckling.

“Very funny,” he forced out through gritted teeth before stomping out.

When the door closed behind him, the two of us took a second to laugh at his suffering before I said, “You do have pictures of that, right?”

“Oh, of course! But you know I can’t show you. He’d be so upset! Besides, they’re all at Canterlot. I’m sure after your… ahem, escapades with that Braeburn fellow, you’re quite a bit more interested in feminine stallions.”

“Eh, I just like making Shiny squirm. It’s always funny. Speaking of that, I have a question, if you don’t mind answering something that might be awkward.”

“By all means, ask! With as much as we owe you, I can put up with some awkwardness.”

“Alright… Luna’s party, the rave thing. Why were you stripping?”

She made the unfortunate mistake of trying to take a sip of her tea as I asked that. When it clicked in her mind what I said, that tea she was drinking spewed everywhere, thankfully mostly missing me.

“I-I’m sorry?” she quickly said, somewhat confused.

“It’s a fairly simple question. Why were you dancing erotically at that party?”

“Oooh! I told them not to tell anypony!”

“You know you can tell me anything, Cadance. If you and Shining Armor are having problems, I might be able to help.”

“No no no! It’s nothing like that, Nav!” She sighed, setting her teacup down and dabbing at her mouth with a napkin. “It’s… embarrassing, though. Luna used me, essentially. The two of us never had a very… friendly relationship, ever since she got back from the moon. I mean, I can understand. She got back after so long to find another princess in her place. She probably felt like I was some sort of replacement, even though nothing could have been further from the truth. But anyway, I’d been trying for a long time to befriend her or try to talk more to her, but she always rebuffed my efforts. I figured if I could get the two of you together…”

“She might give you more attention,” I said. “But what did that have to do with the party?”

“Oh, almost nothing. That’s just history. I gave up on that way before then, when you explained just why you didn’t want to be with her. While we’re on that subject… Nav, I’m really sorry for trying to get you back together with Luna. Or with her at all! If I knew… Or if you told me, I never would have even tried!”

“Water under the bridge,” I replied, waving a hand. “Keep going.”

“Well… Even despite what she did to you, I still wanted to at least be able to talk to her more easily. So when I found out she was throwing that party, I volunteered to do anything she needed. She told me that she had a job perfect for somepony with my… ugh, qualifications. I thought she meant I would be helping ponies with love problems! Then she made me a buckin’ stripper!”

“Why didn’t you tell her to go to hell?” I asked.

She sighed, looking down at her teacup. “Because I’m naive, I guess. I thought it would make her like me. Or, you know, at least make her happy. She… didn’t even remember I was there. And then I found out what she tried to do to you at the party and… Well, I stopped wanting her to like me.”

“Better late than never, I guess. I hope you at least smacked that bitch around a few times.”

“I didn’t need to, Nav. The only thing stopping her from life in prison without parole is you not being there to prosecute her. Even then, she’s going to be there for a good while.”

“Good. Maybe that’ll teach her not to be such a fucking insane bitch. What about Celestia? Didn’t she get in trouble for covering things up?”

“Captain Blossom wasn’t as interested in pressing the case against Celestia. Shining Armor wanted to, though, and he was making headway before we were sent here. But really… even with evidence of her guilt, can you imagine anypony actually locking the Princess Celestia in jail?”

“Eh. I don’t really care. I’m certainly not planning on going back to Equestria to live there. I got places I’m welcome all across the world that aren’t Equestria, so whatever happens there isn’t my problem.”

“Oh, but it is! You’ll be forever remembered as the alien that heralded an entire regime change, Nav. Some will love you. Some will hate you. But don’t think it won’t be your problem.”

“...Shit. Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m not planning on making any stops in Equestria for a while, so I shouldn’t run into any immediate consequences.”

“That’s a more appropriate answer, I suppose. But this is a depressing topic. I have much happier news!”

“Oh boy. You pregnant again?”

“No! Thankfully… But Shining Armor and I got to talking and… we decided we want you to be Skyla’s godfather!”

“...Did the two of you decide this when you were high? Or maybe when you both had no sleep for weeks? Because Skyla hates me, if you’ll recall.”

“Oh, that’s just you being paranoid! You know she likes you deep down, Nav.” I just gave her a flat stare. “Deep, deep down.” One of my eyebrows lifted. “Very well hidden. Come on, Nav! This would make the two of us feel so much better!”

“As… stupid as I think it is, I agree. But only on the condition that you watch over Taya if something happens to me.”

She clopped her front two hooves together, smiling widely. “I knew you’d agree! And of course we’ll be Taya’s godparents.”

“Well, at least that’s one thing off my mind,” I sighed. “So when’s Skyla even going to get here? I know Shiny said he’d see about getting her sent up as soon as possible.”

“We sent a letter to Celestia through Spike already. Skyla should be heading up on the next train, along with a large amount of supplies. Hopefully she’ll be here in a few days.”

“And until then, you can have all the freaky-deaky horse sex with Shiny that you want. Enjoy it while you can.”

“Trust me, we’ll certainly take advantage of it.”

Before I could answer, the door barged open and suddenly Pinkie! “Nav!” She jumped across the entire room to land on the couch next to me before immediately cuddling against me. “Did you miss me? Huh, huh? I’m soooo glad you kept your promise! Now I just need to throw you a not-so-long lost friend party!”

“Later,” Twilight answered, stepping into the room at a more subdued pace. She looked quite exhausted, though she was well used to spending late nights up studying.

“Yeah!” Dash yelled. “He promised to explain why he abandoned us and no pony is leaving this room until he does!”

“I’m not quite sure about that,” Rarity said, stepping in behind Twilight and under the flying Dash.

“Yeah,” Applejack said, entering as well. “Ain’t no way he’ll tell us the truth. I think we all know him that well by now.”

“He will,” Fluttershy quietly said, entering last. “If… it isn’t a problem, of course…”

“Found them,” Shining Armor said, herding them all further into the room so he could pull the doors shut.

Cadance was rather amused by the varied responses the girls had and said, “Everypony, please sit and make yourselves at home.” Rainbow Dash plopped down on my other side, making sure that between her and Pinkie, I had no chance of getting away. The others took up various places around the room. “We’ll have time for Navarone to tell us what he’s been up to later. First, I would like a basic progress report of how everything is going in the city.”

“Just fine, Princess Cadance,” Twilight said. “The fair is fully cleaned up, as is most of the damage Sombra did. A lot of it disappeared when he did, thankfully. Morale seems fairly high and with some of the gold getting spread back into the public, everypony seems to be getting back to work. I would like to note that I’ve seen many formal requests to meet with Navarone, however. He’s the hero of the city and he can’t hide in the castle forever.”

“Like hell I can’t,” I snorted, earning me a few glares. “I get stared at enough. I’m not interested in any more.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” Cadance said. “You’ll have to at least make a public appearance, but it probably won’t have to be very long. Banquet, maybe? Who’s in charge of the food supplies?”

“Me,” Applejack said. “I uh… I don’t suggest a banquet, Princess. Sombra didn’t seem to think that much of feeding his ponies. In fact, you should probably ask Princess Celestia if she can get that train to go faster.”

“That bad?” Cadance asked, flinching slightly.

“‘Fraid so, Princess. The good news is that the crystal ponies were used to it, I guess. They won’t be too upset to wait another few days, I don’t reckon.”

“Well that’s a blessing, I suppose… What about a formal holiday and a public meet and greet? I want everypony to meet me anyway, so I think that would be a good idea.”

“Do you happen to have a dress ready?” Rarity asked. “You simply wouldn’t want your subjects to meet you without something that tells them you mean business!”

“If you can look up public customs and traditions, I’d be very thankful if you made me a dress, Rarity,” Cadance tactfully said. “I trust in your judgment. And of course, you can plan the event, Pinkie. Make it tomorrow, if you can.”

“No problemo, Princess!” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing in her seat.

“It would be my pleasure,” Rarity added, somehow bowing in her seat. I had no idea how the hell she was going to make a dress that quickly, but Rarity rarely disappoints when it comes to clothing.

“And of course, Shining Armor, how is public safety looking?”

“It’s doing great, Cadance. Nopony has spotted anything from the wastes coming in and nopony has reported any kind of problems at all. I’ll still want to see about getting a few guards trained, but we might not even need them.”

“Better safe than sorry,” Cadance said with a nod. “Navarone, what about you and your team? If we do need anything, will you be able to help us?”

“Watcher assures me that his men are well-rested and able to assist however they’re needed. I know some are already doing what they can in the city. And my less conventional troops also stand ready. I know the naga is quite displeased at having nothing to do for so long.”

“No offense to him, but I hope it stays that way,” Cadance sighed. “I believe that’s everything. Now, by all means, begin pestering Navarone. I’m quite interested in a few things, myself.”

Dash was the first to say anything. “Why the buck did you leave like that?!”

“I don’t like goodbyes,” I answered with a shrug.

“We were worried sick!” she exclaimed.

“I left a note!”

“A note that didn’t say anything important! Like where you were going, when you’d get back, who you were going with… It’s like you didn’t want anyone to find you!”

“...I didn’t.”

“And why not?” Twilight asked.

I sighed, leaning back and trying to decide what to do. After a few seconds of thinking, I nodded. “Alright, I’m going to do something I absolutely hate doing. It’ll hurt and it might take a while, so bear with me. You’re about to hear the whole truth, or at least a lot of it.” Applejack snorted, but the others all seemed interested. “It’s a long, painful tale. Don’t interrupt, don’t ask questions until I’m done, and for the love of God, don’t give me pity. If someone does any of the above, I’ll stop telling the story right then. Alright?” They all nodded and agreed. “It all started a few years ago…”

And so it was that I told the whole story of my involvement with Luna, Flo, Discord, and everything else that led up to me leaving Equestria. Even my relatively abridged version took well over an hour to tell.

I don’t want to talk about the reactions, which were almost exactly what I expected. Given that I just implicated three of them in technical rape, the reactions were definitely rather unpleasant. Not anger at me, of course. No, all I got was that emotion that I absolutely despise: Pity. That, of course, pissed me off.

None of them stopped me when I excused myself from the room shortly after my tale was told. Honestly, I was surprised that they gave Shining Armor the task of following me. “So… how do you feel?” he awkwardly asked when he managed to track me down.

“Just fine,” I answered with a shrug. “But I didn’t want to be in a room full of emotional women.”

“Want to talk about any of it?”

“Nah, no need to. I’m already too dead on the inside to save. What about you? Didn’t Twilight sort of rape me?”

“That depends on how the law is interpreted or prosecuted. It’s certainly possible for her to be arrested and jailed for what she did. Same for her two friends, but that was more definitely illegal. I leave it up to you, Navarone. If you want to press charges… I’ll help you.”

“I don’t. They learned their lesson. Luna didn’t. Now, I want to get started finding that elemental. No more distractions.”

“Alright, Nav,” he said with a nod. “I’ll tell everypony you had some work to do. I’m sure they’ll understand.”

No they won’t. They’ll probably take that for ‘He went to go brood. Go comfort him.’ “Thanks. I’ll send some people back if we need anything.”

“Good luck, then. And for the record… I’d rather be with you than stay here.”

“Noted. Have fun being a king.”

“Ugh… If yesterday was any indication, I know why Celestia turned so evil…”

“Not evil, no. Just apathetic. But remember that you have a wife you can take your stress out on by pretending she’s a piece of meat and just tenderizing her.”

The small smile he had slowly disappeared as that processed. “...Is that a sex joke or a wife abuse joke?”

“Take it how you want. I’m gonna bail. See you later.”


Since I still didn’t quite know my way around the palace yet and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time searching, I just jumped from the nearest window and flew up to our ship, still parked in the same relative spot. Of course, most of my crew was on the ground doing whatever they could to help, but there were still a few ponies on the deck. “What’s going on, sir?” one of the soldiers asked.

“I want everyone but the naga and the two changelings back on board in an hour,” I told them all. “Spread out into the city and find your comrades and get them back here. If you can’t find everyone, don’t worry too much; I have a feeling that we’ll be back here soon enough.”

“Yes sir!” all three said, saluting. They held it for a second before the unicorn and the earth pony went to the ladder and the pegasus soared off.

“What about us?” one of the actual crewmembers asked.

“Prep the ship to go, I guess. I don’t know what that entails.”

“There’s really nothing to it,” the guy said. “We just remove the anchor spell and we’re set. And we can’t do that until the others get here.”

“Then one of you go help the guards find the crew. I don’t want to leave this place without at least five of the actual crew and three of the squads.”

“You got it,” the other crewmember of the pair said, hopping to her feet. “I wanted to see more of the city anyway.”

“And me?” the last crewmember asked.

“Watch the ship,” I answered with a shrug, walking over to the side. “I don’t expect anything to happen, but why risk it?”

“Fair enough. It’s gonna be a long hour…” he sighed as I jumped over the side.

A short hour later, four of five squads and five crewmembers stood before me, along with Kat, Taya, Kumani, and Zecora. The changelings and Ames would both be useless while Jak decided he would be more useful helping modernize some of the Crystal Empire’s infrastructure. I stood before those that were on the deck rather proudly, honestly happy to be working with them.

“Well guys, we killed an evil eldritch abomination that wanted to take over the world. I say that’s something to be a little bit proud of, myself. That said, I don’t particularly feel like being a damn occupation trooper. We came here for a reason, a reason beyond helping Cadance and Shining Armor deal with a small problem. I believe it’s time we got started on that reason. Sadly, I don’t think it’s something we’ll be able to do in a day, so expect to be spending some more time in the kingdom. But for now, let’s finally get moving again. Captain, set the course for southeast. I’ll home us in as we get closer.”

“Aye aye, Nav. We’re going southeast, helm!” The ship began to turn on its invisible anchor line. When it was ready, the captain nodded and his horn lit up, allowing us to once again begin our trek.

“Oh, and by the way,” I said when the ship gently lurched into motion, “I have a feeling it’s going to get very cold again once we get far enough away from the city. With that in mind, I suggest getting below to get dressed in something warm.” Since I was currently standing in the way of the doors going down, I stood aside, making my way to the railings as the ponies went down.

As I watched the palace slowly start to recede, I thought about what I had just done. About telling Twilight and her friends the nitty and gritty details and of how much of a mistake it probably was. “You know you’ll get even more cold than they will, right?” Kumani asked, planting herself next to me.

“...Yeah. Have you ever… I don’t know, done something you know was wrong? And then kept doing it and doing it, even though you knew every time that it was wrong? Then just built a habit out of it? Maybe even grew addicted?”

“That depends on what you consider wrong, I guess. I mean, I’m dating you. To dragons, that’s a crime.” One of her arms went around me and pulled me in close enough that she could get a wing around me.  “Why?”

How should I explain my addiction to lying to my girlfriend? Surely that wouldn’t end well.

“You don’t,” Flo replied. “You’ve said yourself that—”

“I’m addicted to lying,” I answered Kumani. “And I just told so many truths that I feel… hurt by it.”

“You’re addicted to what,” she flatly said.

“Lying. Saying things that aren’t true. Spreading falsehoods. It’s… an ingrained reaction. A self-defense mechanism. One that is both killing me and keeping me alive…”

Kumani’s grip on me loosened considerably, but she didn’t let go. “And how am I supposed to trust anything you say, now? That you haven’t been cheating on me? Or that you won’t?"

“Most things, I don’t know. But if dragon senses are anything like those of a mare, you’ll know if I fucked someone else. Some of them could always tell once they got me naked. God, I shouldn’t have told you…” I sighed, leaning down on the rail. “Meeting old friends always does this to me.”

Her grip actually tightened back up, forcing me off the rail and more into her. “I’m glad you told me, Nav. It’s better I know now than having to catch you in one later. At least now if I do, I’ll understand more of why. But you still better not lie to me.”

“I try not to lie in romantic relationships.” Of course, I’ve only ever had one other pseudo-romantic relationship, so…

“That’s certainly a good thing. Now let’s get you inside. Looks like we’re about out of the shield.”

“Yeah.” Thankfully, she didn’t carry me back that time. She let me go and took my place at the railing as I walked on down to my room, where Taya was waiting.

“Have you been avoiding me, daddy?” Taya asked.

“That’s silly. You’re silly. Stop being silly, Taya.”

“Yes or no, please.”

I rolled my eyes, stepping into my room and closing the door behind me. “If I’ve been avoiding you, it hasn’t been on purpose. Why did you think I was avoiding you?”

“You didn’t spend any time with me at that crystal place!”

“Ever since Sombra died, I have been knee deep in administrative work. As much as I hate that stuff, someone has to do it. That someone happened to be—” A slam at the door interrupted me. “What the hell?”

It opened a second later, revealing an extremely irate Rainbow Dash. “WHERE DO YOU GE—” And she was immediately silenced by Taya.

Dash doesn’t like being forced to stay quiet.

When she realized that her angry words weren’t making any noise, she started thrashing around until Taya restrained her physically as well.

“Thank you, Taya. Dash, I will not be yelled at by a visitor aboard my ship. You can either say what you have to say in an inside voice or get your ass thrown off the side and blocked from coming back. Don’t think I can’t have that done. Taya, let her talk.”

When the binding around Dash’s mouth disappeared, she took a long breath and slowly let it out. “Where do you get off by just running away after telling everyone something like that!?”

“...I’m not running? Dash, I came here to fucking do something. Like, to the Crystal Empire. And that something wasn’t helping Cadance, though I was happy to help her. I’m going to go see about starting on the task I came here to do. I’ll be returning to the kingdom tonight, probably.”

She was silent for a few seconds, not even struggling in the physical restraints she still had. “...Oh. I should uh… I should probably get back…”

“I’m pretty sure it’s too late,” I answered. “We were almost to the shield when I went down. We’re almost definitely past it now. I’m not going to let you fly in this mess, not with that snow storm still blowing.”

“I can make it!”

“Yeah. You can make it. Not, you will. We’ll be going back to the kingdom tonight. You’ll just stay with us until then. Taya, let her go.”

The bindings around the pegasus disappeared, though she didn’t seem all too happy. “You think I can’t do it?”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you could. But I’m not going to risk it. Besides, don’t you want to know what I came here to do? I figured you’d be bursting to know.”

“Well… yeah. I mean, you gave hints when you told us… uh, all that you told us. But I don’t think you ever actually said why you were here.”

“Well, maybe you’ll find out when we get where we’re going. Taya, take her to one of the female guards and ask if she can borrow some cold weather gear.”

“I’ll be fine!” Dash insisted.

“Yeah. Fine and cold. This way you’ll be fine and warm. And I need to get dressed so I can get back topside. So Taya, if you would?”

“...Yes, daddy. But we aren’t done talking about that.”

“I’m sure, dear.” Like hell we aren’t. Dash just rolled her eyes, but let Taya lead her away. When the two of them were free from my room, I closed the door once again and set about getting dressed into clothing that would actually keep me warm up above. “God, I really need more guy friends… That aren’t Smiles.”

Even on the ship, my choices were fairly limited. Four of the crew, ten of the guards, including Watcher, Jak, Ganger for the one day out of four he’s active, Spike, and the naga. Watcher doesn’t seem to want friends, Jak’s kind of a dick, Ames is sometimes amusing and sometimes really scary, and most of the crew and the guards consider me a commander before a friend. That left Spike, who was himself still rather innocent and occasionally feminine.

I’ve made it this long, I suppose. What’s a little longer?

When I was dressed up and ready to go, I went on back to the deck, waiting for Flo’s signals to tell us where to go. Some of the guards and Kumani were already on deck, most of them taking care to avoid the flurries of snow and freezing wind shooting over the sides. I walked up to the helmsman, since I didn’t want to have to yell instructions over the wind.

Rainbow Dash and Taya got on deck shortly after, both decked out in stuff that should keep them warm. Dash looked very out of place dressed like a night guard, but at least she wouldn’t freeze to death. The two of them looked around the deck before spotting me and joining me.

“I think Rarity would have a fit if she saw me like this,” Dash said, looking back at herself in the rather used uniform.

“She’d probably like it,” I answered. “I bet she has a thing for people in uniform. Just tell her that you’re there to lock her in your prison of love and she’d probably do anything you asked.” Even the helmsman gave me a weird look for that one. “What?”

Dash just scoffed before looking down at herself. “Hm… I wonder if she’d let me keep this outfit… Psh. At least it’s warm, I guess.”

“I told you that you’d need it,” I said. Flo whispered something before Dash could answer and I looked to the helmsman to say, “West, one point.” The ship turned slightly and we continued onward.

“Not that I need it,” Dash said with a shrug. “But I can’t really complain. So where are we going?” she asked.

“To rescue someone,” I answered. “Hopefully she’ll be grateful.”

“That’s not really very selfless, Nav.”

“Dash, you flipped out when your friends dressed up and did more heroic deeds than you. You can’t really talk about selflessness.”

“Hey, we all agreed to never talk about Mare-do-Well again!”

“Just saying.” To be fair, though, she was right. Everyone involved in that damn event was just stupid as all hell. ‘Oh, our friend is acting like a cunt? Instead of telling her, let’s all dress up and teach her a lesson!’

Not their proudest moment.

“But still, who would need rescuing up here?” Dash asked.

“If the Crystal Empire is any indication, a lot more people than we thought,” I answered. “You’ll find out who we’re here for if you’re still around when we find her. Until then, though, you can stay in the dark. God knows I don’t want Celestia finding out.”

“...Are you saving someone that she imprisoned?”

“No? Celestia may be an amoral bitch that spent about five years letting me be tortured, but usually the people she locks up deserve it.” Flo whispered something else and I said, “Another point west. Start slowing down. I swear, this is like playing hot and cold on a GPS.”

“...What?” the helmsman asked as he did as I said.

“Human game,” I answered. “Doesn’t matter.”

“I’m still interested. How do you play?” he asked.

“You and a few friends get together. One of you closes your eyes, spins around, and then tries to find a predetermined goal based on the input from other people. The closer you get to heading in the right direction, the ‘warmer’ you are. If the object is up close, it’s not that hard to stay hot. But if you’re talking about a distance of miles having to go over roads and shit, it’s one hell of a game.”

“Sounds interesting,” he said.

“Sounds boring,” Dash corrected.

“I think it would be fun,” Taya quietly said. “Unless you use your wings. That would make it more boring.”

“Slow down a bit more,” I said. “We’re coming up to it now.” The ship kicked a little as it slowed. “Shouldn’t be but about ten seconds. Stop it then.”

“Aye,” the helmsman said, “One Celestia, Two Celestia…” Never heard that counting method before. When he got to ten, the ship hard braked, coming to a halt.

“We’re there,” Flo whispered.

“Good job. Lower the ladders! Two pegasi, on me! Dash, stay here.”

“Psh, no! I’m going with you!”

“Taya, make Dash stay here.”

“Okay, daddy!” Her horn lit up and pre-emptively cut off whatever complaints Dash would have had.

By that time, two of the soldiers had gotten to me. “We’re going down. You two familiar with walking on snow and maybe ice?”

“Yes sir,” they both immediately answered.

“Then let’s go.” I spread my wings and jumped up, flying over to the edge and then letting myself drop down. Three shapes from the ship followed me down as preparations were made on the deck to let the earthies join us.

Flo led me right to the top of where the other water elemental was supposed to be and I slowly landed there, trying to test the ground to make sure it was solid. When I didn’t have any problems, I nodded and let my full weight drop down. That’s when I realized that Kumani also followed me down. She and the guards quickly landed next to me.

...Which turned out to have been a bad idea. Under me, the ice was fine. Under me and the two guards, it also probably would have been fine. But Kumani is a fairly large and heavy fucking dragon. The weight of all four of us crushed the snow we were on and the apparently thin layer of ice under it, sending us crashing into a shaft. A shaft that had been, as it turned out, blocked off with a few wooden boards…

...That had dry-rotted through, sending us cascading even farther down. It was too narrow for any of us to use our wings while we were all clustered, which didn’t stop Kumani from trying and buffeting us further. I only just barely remembered my sword and shitty TV shows, which gave me the idea to pull it out and slam it into the wall in the hopes of arresting my fall.

Much to my surprise, it actually worked. And it seemed that Kumani seemed to have the same idea, because she managed to grab onto something to stop herself a few meters past me, grabbing one of the guards by the leg. The other continued falling into the darkness...

“Well shit,” I said, tapping my head against the very cold rock wall. “You two alright?”

“Sort of,” Kumani said. “You?” she asked the guard.

“I think you ripped my leg out of my socket, but it’s better than…” He looked down to where the other had fallen.

“Pull him up,” I said. “Or at least grab another leg. He’s probably the only one with a wingspan small enough to actually get out of here.”

“Just how am I supposed to pull him up? I have one arm to use!”

“If you’re telling me he’s too heavy for you to pull up one handed, he needs to go on a fucking diet.”

“I have a condition!” he cried, looking away.

“Actually, I thought you meant… Ugh.” Kumani lifted the guard up by his pained leg, letting him sort of piggyback her. “Just… Fly up there or whatever,” she said.

“Go tell them what the hell happened. Fly down some rope or something.”

“What about you, sir?” he asked.

“Oh, you know us. We just love hanging out together,” I sarcastically answered before turning mean. “The fuck you think we’ll be doing? Go!”

“Yes sir!” He spread his wings and gingerly took off, making sure not to hit the walls as he went up. Soon, he was out of sight.

“Well, one down,” I sighed, shifting my grip on the sword.

“It wasn’t your fault, Nav.” Yeah, it was yours. Why the hell did you have to follow us down?

“I know. Look, I can get down from up here. My wings just barely touch the sides, so I can slow my descent. Wait for the rope.”

“You’re just going to leave me?”

“I want to… pay my respects, I suppose. I feel I should do it sooner rather than later.” I pulled myself up and put both feet on the wall, using them as leverage. “I’ll see you when we all get down.” With that, I yanked the sword out, immediately starting to fall.

Down and down I went, deeper into the bowels of the earth. Much to my surprise, past a certain point, the entire area opened up into a very large chamber with holes branching out in all directions but down. Each of those branches had what looked like the remnants of a rail cart system leading to the edge. Even more to my surprise was the still very much alive bat pony sitting on the ground at the very bottom. She saluted as soon as I landed.

“You’re alive!” I damn near shouted in surprise.

“Yes sir,” she replied, dropping the salute. “The cavern opened up and I barely had time to react… Think I cracked a hoof in the fall, but it’ll take more than that to keep me down.”

“That is excellent news. You scout any?”

“Negative. I don’t know what might be living down here, but I know it’s nothing I want to risk meeting alone.”

“As cold as it fucking is, I can’t imagine anything at all living down here. Let’s at least check out the different tunnels, see if we can see anything useful or find any lights.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing lives in cold places, sir,” she cautiously said as she began following me with a slight limp. “Especially not underground. This looks like an abandoned mineshaft, but that doesn’t mean nothing would take to living here.”

“Then let’s keep our eyes and ears open, eh? I know I don’t want to get fucking eaten.”

“Not unless it’s by my coltfriend,” she quietly replied before shutting up.

Most of the shafts just led away into darkness, but we found one with several perfectly preserved wooden carts with completely rusted wheels. “Think they’d use metal carts,” I whispered before shrugging and moving on. Another led to what appeared to be some kind of control room, with a number of extremely brittle wooden tables. “Can you read any of these signs?” I asked, stepping further inside.

She followed me in and looked at the wall with them on it. “No sir. Too dark and they look way too aged.”

“Do you know any civilizations that put death traps in their mines?” Aside from dwarves, of course.

“No sir. But I’m still not certain it would be a good idea to flip random switches.”

“If you live your life only doing things that are good ideas, you’ll never have any fun.” With that profound statement expelled, I reached out, flipped a random switch under one of the signs, and immediately regretted it.

That said, after the horrible, searing pain from having extremely bright lights turn on above me wore off, I stopped regretting it. I could see out the door that lights in the main chamber had turned on as well. Looks like today’s my lucky day.

“See there?” I asked with a smile, turning back to my companion. “Everything turned out just fine.”

“And now everything that might be living down here just woke up,” she calmly said. “And if they’re intelligent, they’ll probably be headed this way.”

“Well, just close the door. Maybe they’ll miss us.” She casually kicked the door shut. As soon as the door started moving, it disintegrated into dust and the hinges broke, falling off the wall. We both looked at it before our gazes met once more. I shrugged and pulled my sword out. “The entrance is still a pretty tight fit, even without a door. That’ll keep them from attacking us all at once, if there’s anything down there at all. We’ll just watch the door until our team gets down here.”

“Yes sir,” she answered, joining me in watching the rather large chamber.

We stood there in silence for five minutes before I got bored. “So… Nightshade, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“What made you want to be a guard?” I asked.

“I wanted to help protect Equestria, sir. And staying at home in Hoofington wasn’t that appealing. I figured the guard would get me out.”

“That it definitely did… And if you ended up with Watcher, I’m sure you’ve been all around Equestria.”

“And outside of it. He noticed me after a few of the ponies I helped arrest didn’t wake up for far longer than expected. That probably had something to do with the very nonregulation poisons I used.”

“Is that why… Nightshade?”

“Yes sir. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more deadly plant where we were at the time, so I got the nickname Nightshade.”

“Make ‘em yourself? The poisons, I mean.”

“Of course. Or at least, I used to before we started working with you. Now I make them with Zecora, who’s teaching me more than I ever thought there was to know.”

“You make anything that isn’t deadly?”

“Eh. Most of the poisons I make don’t actually kill, they just stun or knock out. But if you meant potions that would actually help or heal, no. My special talent isn’t alchemy, it’s poison-making. I tried using a healing potion I made once and woke up three days later in the infirmary with a splitting headache. Everyone giggled at me for days and I never really found out why.”

“You try asking Zecora to teach you? Plenty of options to retire with skills in healing. Not so much with skills in poisoning.”

“You would be very surprised, sir. Wait… Do you hear that?”

“No. You have bigger ears.”

“Shh…” We both stopped talking, just waiting for whatever it was she heard.

A few seconds later, a familiar blue pegasus shot out of the shaft, carrying a rope in her mouth. Luckily for her, she managed to stop her fall before hitting the bottom. “Just Dash,” I said, sheathing my sword. “Let’s see what’s going on.”

“You sure we should risk going out?” Nightshade asked. “If there is anything down here…”

“We don’t want them preying on Dash,” I finished for her. “She’s a civilian. A fast one, sure, but still a civilian.” I let myself out of the control room, walking toward the center, where Dash was looking around in wonder. “What took you so long?” I asked. From the sound of clopping behind me, I could tell Nightshade was joining me.

“That stupid unicorn!” Dash growled, spitting out her rope. “And just what the hay were you thinking?! When you disappeared like that, I… Bucking idiot!”

“We’re just fine,” I said. “Though I think the other guy might have hurt his leg. Say, did you see Kumani on the way down?” Just as I asked that, I saw the rope jerking back and forth, signalling someone coming down. I looked up and got a very nice view of Kumani’s ass as she slid down the rope.

Dash was also looking up. She chuckled and whispered, “Nice view.”

“Damn right. And that’s mine, you hear?” I replied.

“Yeah, yeah. So just what the buck were you thinking, Nav?”

“Well, I wanted to see how close we could get today. Turns out we were able to get pretty fucking close. Dash, Nightshade, go topside. Tell Watcher and Flash what we found down here.”

“Yes sir,” Nightshade answered before taking off.

Dash was a little more recalcitrant. “You can’t tell me what to do! I came all the way down here to help you and I’m not leaving until you’re back up there!”

“Dash… Of course I can tell you what to do. You just don’t have to obey me. But since you’re going to be a stuck-up little filly, fine. I shouldn’t let you off my apron strings anyway. I wouldn’t want you getting your little hoovies hurt by accident, after all.” I was hoping my prodding would get her to go, but it didn’t.

“You can be a real jerk sometimes, Nav,” is all she answered with.

“Oh hey, it opened up!” Kumani said from somewhere above us. We both looked up again to see her spread her wings and glide the rest of the way down. She landed right next to me. “I have words for you, mister!” In response to that, I jumped up, wrapped my arms around her neck, and kissed her.

That kiss went on for about as long as I expected, which was about fifteen seconds or so. Eventually, I pulled away and tried giving her a sad face. “I’m sorry for leaving you, Kumi,” I said, kissing her on the nose again for good measure.

“...Did you just call me Kumi?” she asked in utter shock.

“You don’t like little pet names?” I asked, pretending to be hurt. “I don’t have to use it…”

“It’s… it’s uh… I’m gonna go look around…”

“I’ll be waiting,” I replied, letting go of her neck and dropping to the floor. She fucking shambled away, looking positively lost.

When I looked over to Dash with a cocky grin on my face, I saw that she was probably just about as shocked as Kumani, if not more so. I walked on over and held up a fist. She shook her head quickly, getting over some of it, and brohoofed me.

“Nav, that was… Amazing! Can you teach me to do that?” she whispered, trying not to alert Kumani to what I did.

“What, and give a mare those powers? You’re outta your mind.”

“...Teach me or I’ll tell your little ‘Kumi’ what you did.”

“...We can talk later. For now, though, she has the right idea. I didn’t finish looking around with Nightshade. Let’s see what we can find down here.”

“Tch, whatever. Don’t think I’ll forget, though!”

Most of the tunnels did seem to lead off into mining areas, but a few of them led to things like a dining hall, a mining barracks, and finally, an overseer’s room.

“I’m just saying,” Dash said. “You’d think they’d put a staircase or something up there! Sure, a straight shaft like that isn’t a problem for someone as awesome as me, but Kumani definitely would have needed it!”

“I know, Dash. I’m wondering why there wasn’t something like that as well. But remember: Sombra was evil. It’s possible he didn’t want to risk anyone escaping.”

“Then how did he get them all in?” she asked as I stepped into the office.

“Elevator is my guess. Don’t touch anything.” I stopped her just in time, too; she was about to poke a book.

Instead she pulled her hoof back and joined me in walking around the room. “So what’s this place?” she asked.

“Overseer’s office, I think,” I answered. “We should wait for the unicorns to get down here. They might know how to preserve some of this stuff. Better than making it turn to dust at a touch.”

“...This stuff would do that?” she asked in wonder, looking at the book she almost touched. In response, I kicked the bed that was made of wood. My foot went right through, breaking the area I kicked into dust. The rest of it remained intact, though all of it shivered. “Cool!”

“But not good. I want information. We can’t get that if we destroy everything as soon as we touch it. This place has been untouched for at least a thousand years, meaning this stuff has mostly rotted.”

“Can’t I just break a few chairs? Ooh, we could stage a fight and break beds over each other!”

“No, Dash. Come on, I think I hear some more people in the main hall.”

“Never let me have any fun,” she muttered, kicking the side of the door as we walked out. When it dissolved, she actually giggled in glee before going back to following me, more of a beat in her step.

Watcher, another unicorn, and three earth ponies were down in the center, warily watching their surroundings. One of the pegasi was flying overwatch above them while the others were going back up into the hole. Watcher started walking my way when he saw me. “How’re things topside?” I called over his way.

“Reasonable,” he answered. “Your daughter was… most distraught. What are your orders?”

“See if you can make a dent in this rock. I wasn’t expecting to have to cut through fucking stone.”

“Stone is easier than ice, sir. You don’t have to worry about catching a blast of highly pressurized steam to the face. That said, I question the wisdom of continuing a mine that someone else built. It appears that the supports in this place have collapsed in many places. It’s entirely possible that this chamber might collapse if we just start blasting rocks.”

“So you’re saying we need to find an experienced miner,” I said, crossing my arms.

“Twilight could help!” Dash quickly said.

“Yeah, but she’s not going to be learning about this place,” I answered. “Watcher, what do you think? Back out now, go back to town, and hire a miner? Or explore this place, see what we can find, and use that info to hire one? Because I bet someone in the city used to work here and if we can find a roster…”

“We can find someone who knows the place in and out,” Watcher finished with a nod before turning back to the group that came with him. “Two groups of two. Spread out, search the tunnels. Call if you find anything.” They all nodded and broke up.

“I found the overseer’s office and a barracks,” I said. “Those are probably our best bets. But everything down here will turn to dust at a touch. I was hoping you had a spell for that.”

don’t, but someone in my team does. She should be down shortly.”

“No more after the next group,” I told him. “I don’t want too many people down here without a quick way of getting them all back out. As Nightshade said, there’s no telling what might be lurking down here.”

“Yes sir.”

“...And my daughter better not be one of those coming down in the next group.”

“Of course not, sir. Did you see any signs of anyone else down here when you first got here?”

“No. Unbroken dust on the floor. As far as I can tell, this place is dead.”

“I suggest very highly against that phrasing, sir,” Watcher replied, looking around the room. “That can have more than one meaning.”


“What does that mean?” Dash asked, suddenly somewhat suspicious.

“Sometimes the dead don’t stay dead,” Watcher answered, looking back at her.

“It’s true,” I confirmed with a nod. “I know that at least vampires and ghosts exist. I’ve heard stories of necromancers, but I’ve yet to run into one.”

“Psh. Ghosts. I’ll believe that when I see one,” she replied.

“Suit yourself,” I said with a shrug.

“Your wording…” Watcher commented, looking at me. “You’ve run into a vampire?”

“She came out to me before we left. I assume you know who I mean.”

“...No sir, I don’t. But now that you said that, I believe I do. That certainly explains a lot. I wonder how she’s remained hidden for so long.”

“Support from high places,” I said by way of answer. “I don’t want anything to come of this, Watcher. She told me in confidence and I trust that she’s done nothing wrong.”

“Oh, I know she hasn’t. Hiding vampirism is one thing. Hiding murder is another.”

“What are you two talking about?” Dash demanded.

“A mutual friend,” I replied. “But anyway. Watcher, we found a control room for the lights and other things, but we couldn’t read any of the signs. Do you think your unicorn will be able to help us find out what the others do?”

“With the lights on, I don’t think we’ll need the others, sir. This is a smash and grab, not an occupation. Cadance and Shining Armor might eventually restaff the mine, but that will be their problem, not ours. I don’t like the cold, I don’t like being underground, and I really don’t want to be down in this pit for longer than necessary. I’m fairly certain that point, at least, is held by the rest of my team.”

“Alright, fair enough. Personally, I’ve taken a liking to plundering dark and dangerous holes, if you know what I mean. But yeah, we’ll try not to tarry.”

“I’m sure Kumani must be disappointed,” he dryly answered.

Dash snickered and gently kicked my thigh. “Got you good, Nav.”

“I would suggest a competition, but I don’t feel like hearing sexy rhymes,” is all I said by way of reply.

“She’s too busy using her mouth for other things. Now, show me this control room. At the very least, it will give us something to do until the others get down here.” He continued looking around the large room as we walked toward what I was pretty sure was the control room. Its entrance was more symmetrical than most others, but that still left a few other options open. “What is Kumani doing over there?” he asked.

I looked that way and saw her kneeling down, fiddling with something. “Don’t know,” I answered with a shrug. “I’ll go talk to her when we get you to the control room.” Thankfully, I picked correctly. “Yeah, this is it. Or at least, I think it is. All those switches make me think so.”

“I’d guess that you’re correct,” Watcher said as Dash continued walking over to the wall. “How did you get the right switch for the lights?”

“Randomly flipping one and getting lucky.”

Very lucky,” he answered, stepping inside.

“Can I flip one?” Dash asked, looking back with her hoof raised to one of the switches.

“Nope,” I answered. “Keep Watcher company and mind yourself, young filly. I’d hate to have to spank you.”

Her ears twitched and she coughed before nodding. “I-I’ll be good!” I gave her a smirk before walking back out into the main room, heading over to Kumani and trying to keep my steps quiet since she was facing the other direction and might not notice me.

It wasn’t until I was right on her that she snapped one of her arms back, grabbing me at the collar before I could react, and whirling her body around to somewhat violently kiss me. At first, I was more than a little surprised. Not unpleasantly, of course, but I really was trying to be quiet. Still, I gave into the kiss and tried wrapping my arms around her, but she pushed me back as soon as she felt my arms. “Can I call you Navi?” she asked, setting me down at an arm’s reach from her.

“I’d prefer you didn’t,” I answered. “I really don’t like that nickname. And if you don’t want me to call you Kumi, I won’t.” I mean, I made it up on the spot anyway. Heat of the moment and all that.

Either way, she actually blushed very slightly over that. “It’s okay,” she said after a few seconds. “I just… wasn’t expecting to hear that name again. Just… go easy on it in public, okay?”

“You got it… Kumi. So what were you fiddling with?”

“Hm? Some rock I found. I thought it was a gem or something, but turns out it’s just a stupid crystal.” Her tail snaked around the black fragment and lifted it over to me.

When my fingers wrapped around it, I felt a sudden sensation shoot into my hand before it just as quickly faded away, almost making me lose my grip on the thing. “Good lord… Did you feel anything when you picked it up?”

“A twinge. I thought it was just a small cramp.”

“...It wasn’t. This thing is magical.” I held it up to the air with my left hand, getting a better look at it. “It’s magical and it’s black. That almost definitely means it’s evil.”

“So, what, give it to Watcher?”

“No. Sombra was corrupted by something.” I drew my sword and turned away from Kumani. “And when I first met him, he hissed something at me, something that sounded a lot like ‘crystals’.” With one smooth motion, I tossed the crystal up and slid my sword right through it, slicing the thing in two. “Evil has uses. But corruption does not.” Now that the previously small fragment was even smaller and in two, I used the heel of my boot to grind each piece into a fine powder. “I learn from history.”

“Geez Nav, you coulda just let me crush it,” she said with a grin that I only saw when I turned back to her and slid my sword up.

To that, I replied with a shrug. “I like being theatrical sometimes.”

She chuckled and pulled me close. “I like it.” Before she could kiss me, a clearing throat caught our attention. Unfortunately, she let me go to address it.

When I looked to our side, I saw one of the night guards. “Watcher wants you in the control room, sir,” he said.

“Alright. Well Kumani, we can finish this later. Duty calls.”

She… groped me, winking. “You bet, Nav.” Now, I can handle a lot of things easily. Rampaging monsters, sure. Falling to my death, no problem. Flirting and kissing in public, eh, whatever. But actually getting my dick grabbed? My wings flinched, my face flushed slightly, and even my ears twitched.

“R-right.” I quickly walked away, doing my best to hide my reaction. How the hell did that happen?

Flo giggled and whispered, “She turned the tables, it appears. You aren’t the only one that can make the other flustered.”

“You okay, sir?” the guard asked, walking next to me.

“Yes,” I immediately answered, not even thinking about explaining myself. He didn’t reply. By the time we got to the control room, I was back to my normal composed self. “What do you need?” I asked at the door. Watcher, another unicorn, and Dash were all in the room.

“We got a time view spell cast on the panels,” he said, turning back to me. “From what we can figure, there are pumps in some of the outlying tunnels. I assume there was a problem with ice and flooding. We might be able to use those to expel any ice we run into farther down.”

“Maybe. Find anything else useful?” I asked.

“I think there was an elevator here,” he said. “At the very least, a lift.”

“Wonder if we can get another one down here. That would make digging easier.”

“Yes sir. I’ll tell Jak, if you can get him the funds he needs to obtain materials in the city.”

“If they have materials. We might have to wait until the supply train gets here in a few days.”

“That would be… inconvenient. If all else fails, we can just cordon off the area with protection magic and fly everyone down here with the pegasi or use ropes.”

“Yeah. What about turbines or anything like that? I’m sure they had to run into gas a few times in this damn place.”

“Yes sir. There did seem to be a few things of that nature. A certain someone tried flipping one,” he said with a pointed look at a mildly blushing Dash, “but nothing happened. I can only assume they’re frozen over or maybe not connected to the power grid. Magic is powerful, but it can only last for so long.”

“Better than gas would do,” I idly commented. “Anything else of interest?”


“What about the—” Dash started, but was cut off by Watcher’s magic.

“Good, I suppose,” I answered. “Go check for rosters, see if you can find some names. I want some experienced miners down here before we start digging.”

“Yes sir,” Watcher said, turning to his soldier. “Let’s go.” He dragged a struggling Dash with him as the two soldiers walked out.

Now, I’m sure that most people would be extremely curious by whatever Dash had to say before Watcher cut her off. I’m not most people. If it affected the plan to dig, Watcher would have said something. Since he cut her off, it was almost definitely not important. Or worse, it would be heavily distracting. At that point, I wanted to get the elemental and get out, nothing more and nothing else.

Life has a way of never being that simple.

While the three of them went toward the barracks—probably guided by Dash—I walked back over to where Kumani was, near the middle of the large chamber and for some reason looking up. “How is this room supported, anyway?” she asked when I got close enough, moving her head down to face me.

“No clue. I’m just going to hope that it stays up. We’re probably leaving soon and it’s a long, long climb up. I suggest getting started now.”

“I don’t really want to leave you down here, Nav,” she said. “There aren’t many soldiers with you and you don’t have your armor.”

“If anything starts attacking, I’ll be flying up and then climbing. I doubt it can follow us. I’ll be fine.”

“...Alright. Though it would probably be faster if someone pulled me up. Climbing takes a while.”

“Yeah. I’ll see you topside, Kumani.”

She leaned in to steal a quick kiss before nodding. “See you topside.” She then leapt into the air with her powerful legs, flying up to the top of the chamber before starting the long, long climb up.

With her going up and no longer a potential source of distraction, I walked over to the room where Watcher had been headed. “Find—Whoa.” Instead of being old and decrepit, the entire room looked almost brand new, with a few posters on the wall and spic and span beds lined up in even rows. Watcher held his hoof up to his mouth, gently shushing me. I just watched in awe as the other unicorn slowly walked through the room, her horn glowing.

After nearly a minute, she stopped in front of a dresser, looking above it at something on the wall. “Here,” she whispered, her voice so quiet I could barely hear her. Watcher rushed to her side, reading over the list posted above the dresser.

“Roster,” he said, quickly reading over the entire thing. After a moment, his horn lit up as well and a piece of paper appeared next to him, followed by a pen. He wrote several things on the page before nodding and sending them both away. “We have what we need.”

The other unicorn’s horn went dark and the entire illusion shattered, truly revealing what horrible effect the ravages of time had upon the room that had likely seen no upkeep in centuries. The desk they stood in front of was just a wooden wreck, broken apart on the floor. The prim bedding was all rotten and dead, each long since turned to dust. There weren’t even any hints of posters left on the walls.

“Are you ready, sir?” Watcher asked me.

“...Yeah. Start getting people flown up, Watcher.”

“Yes sir.” He went back to the main room, his trooper following him. That left just me and Dash in the large room.

“Dash, help them ferry people up. I want to get out of here quickly.”

“Alright, Nav. But uh, you should really ask Watcher about that other power switch.”

“I’ll think about it. Now go. With as fast as you are, you can probably make two trips for the soldiers’ one.”

That got the nervous expression off her face. “Only two? We’ll see about that!” Before I could say anything else, she zoomed off, leaving a light rainbow trail in her wake.

So easy. I joined Watcher and the other remaining troops at the bottom of the long pipe leading up, each of us watching the surrounding area in case something decided to pop out. Together, we waited in silence for the pegasi to get back down so another group of us could head up.

Thankfully, there were only two groups of us actually down there, so it didn’t take us long to get back up. When the pegasus carrying me passed Kumani, I told her that we’d just pull her slow ass up. I mean, hell, we needed the rope anyway.

Just under fifteen minutes later, we were all back on the ship and once again headed to the city. “So what was the point of that?” Rainbow Dash asked as I weathered a piercing glare from my loving daughter.

“Scouting,” I answered. “Now we know exactly where it is, what we need, the conditions we’ll be working in, and can get back at any time. Much better than how we were before, without knowing much of anything.”

“If you say so,” she dubiously answered. “But I still haven’t found out what we’re trying to get there!”

We aren’t getting anything,” I answered. “You’re not here to help us. You’re here because I didn’t want to risk you freezing your blue ass to death. You aren’t coming back out here with us.”

“Why not? I’m not doing anything with the crystal ponies! Whenever I try asking Twilight if I can help, she just tells me that she doesn’t need me for anything!”

“That’s nice. This still isn’t any of your business. If I wanted everyone knowing what I was doing, I’d be telling everyone what I was doing. I don’t particularly want anyone that’s going back to Equestria to know what’s going on.”

“...It’s an elemental, isn’t it?” she asked. “There’s another one down there!”

“What gave you that idea?” I asked, massaging my temple. “Actually, I don’t care. It’s cold out here. I’m going back down below.” I started walking to the doors leading to my room, but felt scaley claws wrap around my wings, pulling me another way.

“We have a little time,” Kumani said, dragging me down to the cargo hold. “Let’s make the best of it…”

When we got back into the city, I sent my soldiers all across the city, hunting for any of the miners on the list we recovered from the hole. I was really hoping we could convince at least one of them to come back and work for me, or maybe even recommend books that would help us start digging safely ourselves.

While they did that, I returned to the palace to get back to helping Shining Armor and Cadance with their ruling stuff. True, there was only so much I could do, but they seemed to really appreciate what little I could help with.

Though I had to avoid the hell out of Twilight and her friends… None of them were pleased that I left so suddenly again and took Dash with me. Well, Applejack didn’t particularly care that I left, just that I dragged Rainbow Dash with me.

“So where did you go today?” Cadance asked before she went to get ready for bed.

“I went to go start on what we came here for,” I said. “It was a good scouting session, at least. We found a mine deep under the ice right on top of what we’re looking for, so hopefully our search won’t take as long.”

“...A mine? We probably will end up needing a new source of income… Did you see anything valuable down there?”

“No. I have a feeling that whatever corrupted Sombra came from down there. I suggest against any kind of official efforts there. In fact, you should probably close the place off completely once we’re done. We sort of fell through the ice and almost died since the shaft goes straight down for several hundred meters.”

“If it’s dangerous, are you sure you should be going down there? I know this is important to you, but is it really worth whatever happened to Sombra?”

“Yes. It’s absolutely worth it.”

“Alright, Nav,” she sighed. “I trust you know what you’re doing.”

“Cool. Now go to bed and fuck Shiny’s prostate off.”

“No promises about that second part,” she answered with a small chuckle. “But bed sounds nice. I will see you in the morning, Nav.”

Note to self: Make sure they both have wet dreams, just to fuck with them. As I walked on through the halls of the palace, looking for something to do, Shining Armor found me. “Hey Nav. Do you have that necklace on you? The uh… alicorn thing?”

“The alicorn amulet?” I warily asked.

“Yeah, that! Do you have it with you?”

“No,” I lied. “Why?”

“I dunno. I just keep thinking about it for some reason. Just think of all the good I could do with it!”

So much for him being immune. “That’s interesting. You should probably go to bed, Shiny.”

“Oh yeah, it is getting pretty late… I guess I can get it back from you in the morning. Good night, Nav.”

“Have fun with your wife,” I said, walking away and thinking of how to keep the amulet hidden. Eh, fuck it. Not like he’ll actually go evil for it.

With most everyone else getting ready for bed or already there, I walked up to the room I had secured for my own use. Not that I slept there, of course; it was my season for wakefulness, so there was no sleep to be had for me. But I did keep some stuff stored there. Namely, all the journals of Sombra’s that we found hidden in and around the palace.

Despite Watcher’s plan of getting the elemental and getting out, I was still rather curious about what drove someone that was purportedly as great and wondrous a leader as Sombra to become evil. The early journals of his that I found just detailed life as a prince in a weak empire. Beset on all sides by enemies of various kinds, he grew up in a rather warlike state.

As I read on and on in his journals, in a way I started to feel more and more like Marlow, hunting down the ever elusive but already dead Kurtz. What could drive a man like Sombra, who had everything he could want and more, to the depths of evil that he had supposedly fallen to?

One day not long after his parents’ death, Sombra was leading a military patrol out into the trackless wastes around his city. While doing so, apparently he and his men ran into an enemy that had been attacking their realm for a long, long time, an old dragon by the name of Vilustuminen—good luck pronouncing that one. The battle was pitched and fierce and ended with Sombra cast down an icy ravine into the darkness.

There, he found something he described as amazing, some manner of powerful crystal. When he took it back to his kingdom after recovering, it began melting, revealing it to be ice rather than the crystal he originally took it for. Thus, he met his elemental, Aqua. Perhaps sensing his desperation to help his people, she promised him power if he helped free her.

Oh, how his people thought he was mad for digging a hole straight down into the icy earth. They worked and worked, digging deeper and deeper into the darkness… Until they struck more crystals. Actual crystals, crystals with powers.

Crystals of darkness.

They distorted the voice of the elemental, making Sombra think he found what he had been promised. He stopped digging down, instead digging out and finding more and more of the powerful crystals. Not all of them were evil, no. Many of them had true, good powers. But all of those that were evil, he took for himself.

And of course, the darkness of the crystals wasn’t the only problem he ran into. It’s hard, after all, for only a single source of evil to bring down a great man. The crystals Sombra found helped his ponies better their lives, but his enemies were still a constant threat. Griffins from the south, the occasional marauding dragon, undead, and monsters of all kinds were serious problems for the small kingdom.

Until one day, a mysterious peddler sold a book bound in some strange material to one of Sombra’s servants in the palace, promising it would make a gift suitable for any king. And so Sombra came into possession of a spell book full of dark, evil rituals. One of the rituals was for binding a piece of a dragon to one’s body in the place of a horn, which would grant the person magic. Dragons are, after all, magical in nature.

So Sombra took to hunting dragons, suspecting that the more powerful the dragon was, the more powerful his magic would be. And so he hunted and finally killed Vilustuminen, cutting off one of his teeth for the ritual and storing the rest of the bones for possible later use. That gave Sombra his first taste of dark magic, permanently casting a stain upon his soul. Shortly after that, the elemental took control of Sombra’s body for a few critical seconds, exiling all of his family from the kingdom for their protection from what she thought was soon to come.

Unfortunately, that was the last piece of information I could find in his journals. I suspected the journal that blinded me and was later burned was the most recent of Sombra’s journals, detailing everything that came after his family was forced out. With that in mind, I made a note to ask Watcher in the morning what the hell happened.

As that thought struck me, there was a knock upon my door. “Come on in,” I called, setting the last journal down and turning to face whoever wanted me.

One of the night guards entered. “Watcher wants to see you, sir,” he said. “We found the only surviving miner. And he isn’t interested in helping us.”

“Well, I’d be pretty pissed if a group of bat ponies started banging on my door in the middle of the night, too,” I answered. “Try waiting until morning.”

“It is morning, sir,” he answered. “The miner said he refuses to ever put a hoof back into that mine.”

“Hm.” I hopped up, grabbing my sword and my gun. “Let’s see if the ‘Hero of the Crystal Empire’ can convince him otherwise, shall we?”

He led the way to the nearest exit of the palace, where together we flew over to what was apparently the miner’s house. Watcher and his command squad were outside of it, waiting on us. A few of the crystal ponies were walking by, eyeing the strangely colored night ponies. And of course, since none of them had the crystal look anymore, they stood out even more. When those passersby saw me, they were instantly all smiling.

“Why won’t the guy help us?” I asked Watcher.

“Turns out he had a few bad experiences there. Which is pretty expected, honestly. But he’s the only survivor. Meaning everyone else that he was working with were either killed or rescued by Equestria, dying ages ago. Poor guy’s a little unhinged and thinks the mine is haunted.”

“...Is it?”

Watcher gave me a grim look. “Ghosts rarely haunt places, Navarone. They haunt minds. It doesn’t matter if it’s haunted or not. If he thinks it’s haunted, to him, it’s haunted. I can’t imagine how we’ll convince him to come with us.”

“If we have to, we’ll fucking kidnap him,” I said. “I really don’t want to start digging without knowing if it’s safe first.”

“That would be a bad idea,” he replied. “He needs to be convinced. You’re famous here now, so I figured it would be better if you did it.”

“...Alright. Wait out here.”

“Yes sir. And good luck.”

I walked up to the miner’s large crystal house and firmly knocked on the door. After doing that, I resolved to never use my hand when knocking on doors made of stone again. The miner fellow barely pulled the door open a few moments later, looking nervously around before seeing me and opening it slightly more.

“W-what do you want?” he whispered.

“I’m doing a survey for Princess Cadance,” I lied. “Do you mind if I asked you a few questions?”

“...Questions? I can answer questions.” He looked around me and spotted the night guards residing there. Both of his ears shot down and he backed inside. “P-please, come in.” I followed the poor guy inside, closing the door behind me. “Can I get you anything, sir?” he asked, appearing at least somewhat more calm now that he wasn’t seeing my troops.

“No thanks,” I quickly answered. “Before I start asking, the princess told me I should make sure her subjects are comfortable. So if you have any questions for me, by all means, ask.” Come on, ask the right ones…

“Well… what are you, sir?”

“I’m a human. That probably doesn’t mean much to you, though. Let’s just say that a lot has happened since this city disappeared.”

“Hm… Oh, don’t make me keep you standing!” He led me further into his house, to a den, and we both sat. “Did the princess of Equestria send you here?”

“Not quite. I’m a friend of Princess Cadance and heard she was in trouble. I came to help her.”

“...Why? The monster that was troubling her was powerful! Evil! He could have killed you… Killed us all…”

“Because if no one takes responsibility, if no one gets it in their mind that they are the hero, then evil will always win. Someone needed to build up the courage to do something. I happened to be one of those that did. Courage and bravery are both such fickle things, I’ve found… It takes a lot to get them and even more to hold onto them. But there is little more rewarding than being the one that gets them and helping others.”

He was silent for some time before asking, “W-what about personal fears? Or things that would hurt only you?”

“Those take even more to get over, but are, in their own way, even more rewarding. Nothing like staring one of your own fears down to make you feel incredibly self-assured. It’s amazing what a bit of self-confidence can do to change someone, you know?”

“No… I don’t know.” The more we talked, the more lively and animated the fellow seemed to become. But he still wasn’t quite there.

“Oh? Maybe I got the wrong house. I thought you were one of the heroic miners that helped bring this kingdom to power before Sombra’s evil turned it on its head. Surely you had to deal with a lot of fear in your daily life, didn’t you?”

“I… Some. It started as such a good job. We were just miners, but everypony adored us for the riches we brought home. But over time… Sombra became a monster. He demanded higher and higher quotas, making us work harder than ever. When we started failing to meet them… Do you know what bodies in an incinerator sound like?” he asked, his voice cracking there at the end.

“I can’t imagine it’s pleasant.”

“It’s worse when they’re still alive…” He honestly sounded like he was getting close to crying. “I was injured near the end. The foreman said it was a freak accident, or maybe tripping over a pick. I… I saw the face of the pony, sir. The pony that attacked me…”

“Why didn’t you report him, then?” I asked.

“Because he was killed three days before! I… survived, barely, and was sent out of the mines to recover. Before I could fully heal and be forced to work again, something strange happened. Then a few days ago, everything was instantly different. I don’t know what happened to all the other miners, but I haven’t heard anything about them…”

“Which means they were probably trapped outside the city when it disappeared. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all retired to Equestria. You know, Princess Cadance would probably be willing to pay quite a bit for an experienced miner. She’s going to need a source of income soon. Your services would be quite useful.”

“I… I can’t go back, sir. I can’t. If my own brother was haunting me then, who knows what ghosts may be waiting for me now? Wanting me to join them in death?”

“You can’t live your life always in fear of what might happen. If I were you, I’d take the first chance I got to go back to that damn mine and stare it in the face, daring it to do a thing to you. Prove to yourself that you’re better than your fears.” He looked away, pensive. “But that’s just me,” I added, standing. “Well, you answered my questions. I’ll just let myself out.” He didn’t make a sound as I let myself out of his house and walked back over to Watcher.

“Well?” he asked.

“Give him twenty minutes,” I said. “Knock again and ask once more. I’ll be back in the palace when you get an answer. If he says no, we’ll just look for books.”

“Yes sir,” he replied, nodding. I flew off to go back home.

Before I even landed, one of the pegasi found me. “Another message from Watcher,” the fellow said. “The miner agreed to help us. He’s being prepped for the trip now.”

“Excellent. Return to Watcher and tell him to give the miner details of the mine and to ask him what materials we’ll be needing, then give Jak the information. I want to leave as soon as we have what we need to start digging again.”

“Yes sir,” the guard replied with a salute before flying off again.

I love it when things go my way.

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