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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114. Chapter Ninety-Two—Show of Hands

That night, I decided to go dream hunting. The insanity of dreams and large numbers of ponies made the work always interesting and honestly, I could write books about the things I’ve seen and done in dreams alone. And as Flo is so apt to tell me, doing so would be better than stealing work from human authors. But fuck that. Too much effort.

Anyway, that was just to explain why it was that I was forced to wake up the next morning by an annoying, insistent knocking. It’s really annoying to be in the middle of conducting a wedding ceremony to kill a nightmare and then suddenly get jerked awake by an unhappy elemental.

“Better be important,” I groaned as I pulled myself out of bed. Thankfully, I wasn’t actually asleep, so I didn’t feel like complete shit. but I was still really pissed off. Since I knew the person on the other side would have just opened the door if it was actually important (or if it was Taya), I just ripped the door open and glared down, not even saying a word.

The mare on the other side continued attempting to knock for a few seconds before she realized she wasn’t making sounds. “Oh, Navarone!” When she saw my face, her smile quickly slipped off. “Um... Did I interrupt something?”

“I was dream walking,” I gruffly answered. “That’s hell to get out of quickly. What do you want?”

“Oh, if I’m bothering you—”

“I’m up, now. And it’s day out, since I know you don’t have the night shift. What do you need?”

Flo snorted at that. “First you made her feel guilty that she was bothering you. Now you’re making her feel guilty that she isn’t. Good job, Nav.”

I try.

“Well... My family wants to meet you, sir.”

“...I already know your kids. I know everyone on the ship.”

“You don’t remember? When we first met, I told you that I was from Stalliongrad. I haven’t had a chance to get back home until now. And now that I’m here, I brought the one that saved me! They really want to meet you.”

“...Can you tell them that I’m busy?”

“They would wait until you weren’t. They’re on the ship and they know you’re here, sir.”

I slowly nodded, thinking back to when I first met the unicorns. “I remember you, now. Or rather, I remember our first talk. And our subsequent ones. You know how I feel about accolades because we went over that in depth. Why would you bring your parents here, knowing that?”

“Why, to meet everyone else, of course. The seven of us are really close and they wanted to meet them all.”

“Can you tell them I caught death, then? I don’t think they’d wait for me to get better, in that case.”

“I... could tell them that, but it would probably create even more problems. Can’t you just meet them, sir? For me?” With that last line, she put on the sweetest smile I had seen since Doppel tried roleplaying as Sweetie Belle.

“Your feminine wiles won’t work on me. My dragon girlfriend would murder me.”

“Back up, what?”

“If I let your feminine wiles work on me, the dragoness I’m in a relationship with would murder me. Well, she would probably murder you first.” She was silent for so long that I thought I actually scared her. “...Are you okay?” Her face was getting more and more red.

“Stay down here. I’ll... figure out a way to get rid of my parents.”

“I was joking about Kumani. The only reason she would be mad is if she had reason to believe that you and I were fucking or something.”

“...Ineedtogetmyparentsoutofhere!” She fucking sprinted back up the hall toward the deck.

As I watched her go, a few things ran through my mind. The first was pretty obvious. “Flo, did I almost just get sitcommed?”

“I do believe you almost did. That was a very lucky and timely mention of Kumani.”

In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, that mare told her parents that she and I were dating. She was going to throw it on me at the last second because that would have caused the most drama and I would have been forced to go along with it or make a big scene. By mentioning that I was dating the only kind of species whose policy on cheating in relationships is to toast first, ask later, I sort of ruined her entire plan.

I love it when I accidentally do things very right.

 

 

Note from the best Lord of Chaos out there

 

There are some out there that might call my little ploy too large of a gamble. After all, why risk showing my hand? To those, I say bah. What’s life without a little risk?

For those of you that don’t know, Grogar was an old ram, a goat with his mind set on power. He managed to learn magic and used it for dark, evil deeds. I might or might not have had something to do with that. There isn’t much evidence of him left anymore, not after Celestia decided to hide things. Of course, if you know where to go, meeting him isn’t impossible…

But anyway, since I finally sort of confirmed my freedom, I decided to have a little… fun. With that goal in mind, I decided to pay some visits to a few friends.

“Taya dearest, it’s time to wake up,” I whispered, poking her with a talon. She swatted at me with a hoof, definitely not getting up. “That wasn’t an option,” I flatly said, flipping the bed that was connected to the floor.

She tumbled to the floor, looking around and blinking wearily. “What? You!”

“Yes, me. I have a task for you, Taya. Would you be interested in doing me a favor?”

“…What kind of favor?”

“Something simple, of course. I need you to guide the human to a certain location. There’s an old friend there waiting for him. Of course, don’t tell him that. Just say that you want to go exploring the city some more. The spies in his eyes won’t see any problems with that.”

“That sounds… easy. Where are we going?”

A scrap of paper with the address appeared in my lion paw and I set it on a table. “Go to that address before tomorrow.”

“Okay. Why’d you go away for so long?”

“Because you didn’t need my guidance. And of course, I’m never truly that far away.”

“But… Daddy keeps calling you his enemy. A monster that killed off humanity… Is that true?”

“I have never killed anyone, Taya.” Not directly, at least. “But I am the enemy of the two royal sisters and they do watch him. Of course he would say that I’m his enemy and that he has cause to hate me.”

“Oh. So you don’t want to hurt us?”

“I just want to have a little fun, Taya. How would hurting either of you be fun?” Unless I happened to be slightly sadistic, of course…

She was silent for a few seconds before looking at the paper I left on the table. “Before tomorrow?”

“Before tomorrow. It’s rude to keep friends waiting, after all. Trust me, the three of you will have a smashing time!”

“Well… Okay. What’s the harm in seeing a friend?”

“Excellent! I’ll be sure to let him know you’re coming. I will see you soon, Taya. Tata for now!” Before she could ask any more of her numerous questions, I disappeared and reappeared next to a certain little friend of mine, who was glaring at a group of passing school-colts and wishing he was in a place more female friendly. “You know,” I idly commented since only he could see or hear me, “at that age, they’re basically the same anyway, as long as you’re behind them.”

Miguel cursed softly, one paw gripping a dagger and his other shooting out claws as he whirled to face me. When he saw me, his eyes immediately widened. “So you were real!”

“Were and am. No erotic fever dream was I, though you might have preferred that. We made a deal, Miguel. Your life in exchange for services. I’m calling on you now.”

“In the middle of a crowded marketplace? You must be mad.”

“Well, of course I am! You would be too, if you were me. But it’s not like crowds matter if they’re busy being frozen.” He blinked, looking around to see none of the ponies around him moving.

“If you have the power to do this, why do you need me?”

“It isn’t the place of the pawn to question, Miguel. I don’t need you. You’re just useful.” And since I have no intention of rewarding you, it’s not like any of this matters. “Now, do you want your task, or would you prefer to have a gaping stomach wound open so you can bleed out here instead of a few years ago?”

“I listen, then. What do you want?”

“When you return to your room, you will find a special dagger and a scrap of paper with an address. Go there and wait one full day. Kill anyone that steps inside with that dagger. Simple.”

“Who am I waiting for?”

“Oh, an old friend of yours. He’ll be bringing a guest, who you can play with if you want.” Not that I expected my little kitty to win, of course. “Just as long as neither leave the building, feel free to do as you like to them.”

“Hmm… So I get to toy with my prey. Nothing any different than what I already do. Very well, monster.”

“Monster, master, close enough. Do have fun, now!” Before he could respond—not that he would—I snapped and disappeared, getting ready to watch the show. I quite love it when titans clash. And watching a certain human bumble his way through another horror show will be ever so amusing.

Especially when someone else will be doing all the real work.

 

 

With the strange business of that mare out of the way, I was free to go about my business as I needed. Of course, I had absolutely no business to go about. There were no events I wanted to attend, no one I really cared to see all that much, and for some reason, I had a horrible tension in my chest that just wouldn’t go away.

That in itself was enough for me to decide that I needed to get laid. My mind cursed itself immediately for deciding to get in a relationship, but I quashed that thought down. A good relationship would probably do wonders for my mental health, even if it meant I was stuck with one person for sex.

That said, it remains to be seen if this actually was a good relationship…

“Getting laid won’t help,” Flo told me as I got dressed.

“Maybe, maybe not. But either way, I’ll have gotten laid, and that’s never a bad thing.”

“Never? Even with Luna?”

“…Almost never a bad thing. Besides, it’ll give me an excuse to get off this damn ship.”

“This tension might be there for a reason, Nav. Maybe you shouldn’t get off the ship. After all the trouble you’ve been through, you might have picked up a kind of sense for it. Just call this a lazy day and stay here.”

“Hm. There are plenty of games on the laptop… Wait, do I really want to fall back into that hermit phase? Playing games and writing instead of going out and doing things? I’ve been down that road before, Flo.”

“Yes, but before, you made it a lifestyle. This is a single day. Consider it a break.”

I shrugged and was about to say sure when my door opened on up and in walked Taya. “Daddy, can we go back into the city today?”

“I dunno. I was thinking about calling today a lazy day. I don’t particularly enjoy parties in the first place, so not participating much in this one wouldn’t do me any harm.”

“But… it’ll be fun! And aren’t there other people that you know here and have to talk to?”

“A few I know, but everyone I really care about is going on the trip with us. And of course, there are some that might not be overly happy to see me. I mean, I guess we can go back, but don’t pretend that this trip is for me. Let me just finish getting dressed and we’ll go.”

“…Daddy, I think everyone already knows you’re here. Do you really need to hide?”

“They know I’m here, yes, but they don’t know where I am. This will help me avoid trouble or attention while we walk. I thought we went over this.”

She made no reply as I threw the cloak over my shoulders and let it settle. When its familiar weight was back on me, I started putting on weapons. “You don’t need those either, daddy,” she commented. “I can protect you!”

“I know you can. But I’m not so old that I can’t help protect myself yet. These are light and easy to conceal, so there’s no risk in carrying them. In fact, there’s more to gain.”

“…So you don’t trust me?”

God, how many times have we been over this? “I trust you plenty, Taya. But I also trust in steel and myself. And there we go…” I finished putting on weapons, not that there were too many to equip. “You ready?”

“Yeah. Can I lead the way?”

“Go for it. You got some destination in mind?”

“N-no! Just want to explore, is all.”

She always did like wandering around places, ever since I met her. “Guide the way, then. I’ll be right next to you.”

As she started walking off, Flo said, “That was a strange denial, Nav.”

I know. She probably wants to go somewhere but is embarrassed to say. This way she can just say we found whatever she wants while wandering.

“Makes sense. Just be careful. The feeling in your chest is still there and it might mean something.”

Might, might not. Could just be heartburn. I’ll avoid all the trouble I can, as usual. Just help me out. Don’t worry about the air elemental for a little while.

“Very well, though I have been feeling bursts of activity from her. In a city of this size, I imagine she’s had a number of pranking targets. Her days have not been idle.”

Well, if you feel her up close, let me know and I’ll see if I can veer us that way. I would very much like to talk to her again.

“As would I. She would be very useful in assisting us in finding others of her kind. Though if they’re trapped in boxes, it might be wise to keep them in boxes until we can find a way to contain them long enough to talk. Also, you should really talk to Taya.”

About?

“Kumani.”

We were off the docks by that point and into the city proper, so I didn’t have to worry about any of the crew overhearing us and possibly letting the words get back to Kumani. “So Taya, what do you think of Kumani?”

“She’s a dragon,” she answered without turning to face me.

“That’s what you know of her, not what you think of her. You didn’t get to spend much time with her, but from what you saw, what do you think?”

“…That it was a bad idea. She’s greedy and will probably always care more about herself than you.”

“That’s not necessarily true. Spike’s a dragon that isn’t a greedy little shit. Though to be fair, he wasn’t raised by dragons. I don’t think anything too bad will come of this. Hopefully.”

“She also seems really immature and possessive. What she did to Doppel was just mean!”

“Unfortunately, that’s the dragon way. I had a discussion with her about it, so hopefully it won’t happen again.”

“And if it does?”

“I might kick her ass to the curb. I’m willing to deal with some strangeness—after all, I’m a stranger in a strange land—but I know better than to give chance after chance now. If she pushes me, she’ll find herself on the losing side of an unpleasant fight. That does not mean you can push her into fucking up. I’m fair and I’m intelligent. If I find out that anyone is instigating problems on the ship, I’m going to be extremely unhappy.”

“You already told me that, daddy. I’m not a child.

“I know, I know. But it’s going to happen eventually because this world operates on cartoon logic. I just want to avoid it for as long as possible since it’ll be such a big mess when it finally happens.”

“…Do you really think someone would do that?”

“Yeah. The crew I got is decent, but if we pick up any passengers that are more drama hounds, I can almost guarantee it. Even as we are, it’s only a matter of time.”

“Daddy, you’re weird.”

“Yep. Want some funnel cake?” We were passing by one of the free food tables at the time. I don’t know how they keep them stocked and fresh, but I blame magic. Given that it brought me free funnel cakes, I can’t really complain.

“Okay.”

“No funnel cake for you until you give me an answer that isn’t as shitty as ‘okay.’ And I’ll make sure to eat it really loudly if you don’t and it’ll be awkward for everyone.”

“Even you?”

“I’m your father. Part of my job is to embarrass you. If I have to embarrass myself to do it… Well, sacrifices must be made. Besides, I’m in disguise.”

She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Yes, daddy. I would like a funnel cake.”

“Take one, then. I won’t stop you.” She gave me the weirdest look as her horn lit up and one of the cakes flew over to her. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. This is your own fault.”

“But you—Never mind.”

“Hey, you’re the one that chose to stay with me.”

We continued in silence as we ate. She eventually said, “You don’t regret it, though. Do you?”

“Nah. I can’t imagine where I would be right now if it weren’t for you.” Actually, I could very easily imagine it. I probably would have killed myself a month or two after coming back from Egypt if I didn’t have to take care of Taya.

Either way, saying that put a smile back on her face and on we walked.

I have to say, Stalliongrad had a lot of interesting things going on for the party, even if I wasn’t actually that keen on going out of my way to see most of it. Jugglers, mimes, ventriloquists, a few bands, and all kinds of other street performers were out in force. Of course, most of them would probably be there even without the party, but this gave me a chance to see the reactions of several different races to the performers.

…Most of the reactions didn’t exist. Most of the adults would throw them passing glances as they moved on. As always, the kids were the only ones that actually showed much interest. Surprisingly, Taya wasn’t an exception: She stopped to watch a few of them do their thing and watched with, if not childlike wonder, at least some mild form of interest.

Several blocks into the city and probably half an hour later, I was wondering if I could make any pocket change by juggling my daggers. I didn’t see any of the performers actually asking for or getting any bits for what they were doing, though. Come to think of it, I didn’t see any beggars, either. Actually, I hadn’t noticed any beggars in any of the pony cities I visited.

Maybe having their career choice tattooed on their asses had something to do with that.

While walking, some guy shoved a flyer at Taya and then quickly made himself scarce. “…What just happened?” she asked, picking the thing up from where it had fallen.

“Someone was in a hurry to give you something, it seems,” I commented. “What does it say?”

“Uh. It’s an invitation to some kind of—” She quickly broke off, her mouth hanging open and a blush burning across her face. “D-daddy, what’s… an orgy?”

I immediately ripped that page from her hands, crumbled it up, and tossed it in the nearest trash can. “Something you are far too young to attend. Sick bastard should have known that.”

“But I have my cutie mark now!”

“Taya, if you don’t know what an orgy is, you’re too young to attend one. I’ll tell you later. For now, let’s just keep moving.”

“…Okay.” And so on we went.

Now, I know this is a male majority city and a lot of the guys probably really need to get laid. I can understand that. But to go handing that stuff out to girls Taya’s age? That’s just all kinds of fucked up. I don’t even want to imagine what might have happened if I hadn’t been around.

At some point I must have zoned out, because after a few seconds of walking, I realized that Taya wasn’t next to me anymore. That almost made me nervous before I saw her purple and white tail entering what looked like an antique store a few feet back. I quickly rushed to join her, not wanting to leave her alone for long in this city. Especially not in an antique shop in a place as magical as Equestria.

When I got inside, I immediately felt justified in my decision. The mare behind the counter was your stereotypical freaky gypsy merchant that sells cursed items on purpose. And most of the antiques in the room had a kind of metallic sheen to them that I recognized from enchanted objects.

“Looking for something… interesting?” the merchant asked.

“Interesting isn’t always good,” I said by way of reply. “I see that most of the items here are enchanted. How many of them are cursed and how many are actually useful?”

“Everything that is truly useful comes with a price, my dear. That is the way of the world.”

“A price in bits or a price in… other terms?”

“Usually both, in my experience. But I keep the truly interesting things in the back. If you care to see any, by all means, ask…”

Taya was looking over some of the accessories for some reason. “What does this one do?” she asked, using magic to lift up a nifty looking hat.

“That keeps the sun out of your eyes,” the mare answered. “Cloth doesn’t hold magic nearly as well as metal, though even that doesn’t hold as well as it works. You, human, I sense you have an object of power that not even our greatest magi could make.”

“I have more than one. Three of them are on me right now.” I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of asking how she knew who and what I was. “I’m not interested in selling, either.”

“I didn’t imagine you would be. But a trade, perhaps?”

“Nope. I know what the objects I have do. I have no idea what anything you give me might do.”

“Fair, fair…”

“What about this?” Taya asked, holding up a ring.

“That little thing makes you immune to most common diseases, I do believe,” the mare answered. “Not very useful if you live in a city full of unicorns, but for an adventure? Well, you never know…”

“Hey, if enchanted items like these exist, why aren’t they more commonplace?” I asked. “Shit like that ring would be really useful.”

The old mare chuckled and replied, “Because, Navarone, this shop is very well hidden. It only shows itself to those that we think might need the items we have. Enchanted items are rather rare due to the small number that know the spells or have the strength to cast them. What you see here represents what is likely a fourth of the total number of enchanted items that are known to exist.”

As soon as she said my name, I felt the tension in my chest release. My eyes narrowed. “What are you? And what is this place?”

“Not everyone that fights him is on your ship,” she said by way of answer. “And this is a simple antique shop that has a few more enchantments than usual on it. If you looked outside right now, all you would see is the void…”

I didn’t take the bait to look. “What do you want with us, then?”

“All we want is to help you.”

“So give me everything here. That would be pretty damn helpful.”

And there’s that little chuckle again. “Now now, you know that isn’t how things work. It would be far too easy. No, what you may do is pick one item each. And if you care to trade any of your magic items, you can get one for one on some of the more… unique items.”

Should have brought the fucking gender stones. “Alright. You seem to know a lot more about us than we know about you. So what should we get?”

The old mare’s smile deepened. “For your little filly, I suggest an amulet I just… obtained from an old friend.” She reached behind her and pulled a necklace down from the wall. It featured the head of a unicorn with red eyes and a set of wings on either side of the head, simulating an alicorn. At its center was a red jewel of some kind. “This is known as the Alicorn Amulet, an item of immense power. But as always, power comes at a cost.”

“What kind of cost?” I asked, snatching the amulet from the air as Taya tried floating it to herself.

“Wise to ask. Its use is addictive and the longer you use it, the darker you become. The effects are reversible with time and as long as it is used sparingly, it is harmless. In return, it grants immense power.”

“So it turns you into a paranoid bitch at the cost of power. Those are the exact kind of personality traits that you don’t want someone with power to have.” I dropped the amulet down on the counter. “Hell no.”

“What?!” Taya yelled. “Daddy, that sounds amazing! I don’t have to use it all the time, just when I need it!”

“Yes, and its use is addicting. You put that fucker on and do some magic, you’re going to want to keep it on. Hell, it might get to the point where I have to keep my ring on just to keep the damn thing away from you.”

“Please? I promise I won’t go mad with power!”

I sighed, looking at the amulet and thinking. “…Alright. I’ll let you take this on a few conditions. The first is that I will hold onto it and I will decide when you need it. You use it for what we need and then immediately take it off. The moment you don’t take it off when I tell you is when I throw the fucker in the ocean. If I catch you trying to use it behind my back without an extremely good reason, it goes in the ocean. And we tell everyone on the ship what it is and what it does so they’ll know what to look for if you start using it. Okay?”

And then I had a daughter hugging my leg, a big smile on her face. “Alright! So can I keep it?”

I slid it in a pocket. “Yeah. You’ll get it when I think you need it. So miss shopkeeper, what do you have for me?”

“I have a few offers for you, young warrior. The first is an offer of knowledge, a book thought long lost that I guarantee would interest and benefit you. The world it contains is… amazing.” That wording was strange, but before I could comment, she continued, “The second is a necklace of true seeing. There will be illusions in your travels and this will allow you to see their true nature.” If it weren’t for changelings, I’d say that my ring would work just fine for that. “The last is a mystery item. I guarantee it will be useful, but I can’t tell you what it is.”

“Hm… Both the amulet and the book would be useful to have.” Flo, what do you think?

“Communicate not with your guardian,” the mare quickly said. “She is not here to assist you in this, Navarone.”

“Alright lady, you’re pissing me off. How the hell did you even block her?”

“I honestly don’t know. I am merely the front for my group. But you have another whose advice you can ask.”

“…Taya, what do you think?”

“Twilight told me something once, daddy. Books are eternal and how wisdom is spread from one age to the next. If it would be useful… I say that.”

“The book it is, though I know there will be some place down the line when I will hate myself for this decision. Tell me, can I return to our ship and pick up some items to trade? I would love to get rid of those damn gender stones.”

“I’m afraid not. Once you leave, this shop will be nearly impossible to ever find again. And even if you do find it, the trade is a one-time only offer. Unless you want to trade the ring, the key, or the sword, this is it.”

“Fuck. What about the miscellaneous items around here? Can’t we get any of those?”

“For all of the bits you have on you at the moment, I will allow you to pick any of the lesser items here at random. They are all nondescript and indistinguishable.”

“And you won’t tell us what they do until we pay for it?”

“Precisely. If you want to make that deal, feel free to browse while I prepare your new book.”

“I hate gypsies so much,” I muttered as she walked off. If she heard, she made no indication. “Taya, grab a necklace at random. I only brought a small bag of money, so it’s not really a problem.”

“Why a necklace and not anything else?”

“So anyone can use it. Rings can only be used by someone with hands or a horn. Weapons can only be used by someone with hands. Armor can only be used by someone that it fits.” She shrugged and used magic to pull a necklace with a half-moon crescent on it. “Alright, no. I know she said none of the shapes meant anything, but I’m not taking shit that ties back to Luna.”

She blinked a few times before the realization hit her. When it did, she immediately put the thing back and pulled down a necklace with a simple, blank metal oval on it. “Is this okay?”

“Sure. Set it on the counter.” She did that while I pulled out my pouch of gold. As soon as both items touched down, the mare came back out with a rucksack held on her back. “We picked an item.”

“So I see.” She moved the backpack onto the counter and pulled the gold away, tossing the bag onto one of the shelves behind her. “Are you sure an amulet is what you want? Not a horn? Or a staff? Maybe even a rare spell book? There are items aplenty in this shop of mine. In merely looking around yourselves, you have scratched the surface.”

“Alright, I’ll bite. Give me an example of what a horn might do.”

“One might inspire your comrades in arms, pushing them to fight on even against overwhelming odds. One might dishearten your enemies, helping them break and flee before you.”

“Oh, that kind of horn. What about a staff?”

“It would allow anypony to use its spell a limited number of times per day. A staff of fireball, for example, would allow the user to throw five fireballs per day.”

“Anything else?”

“Rare books aplenty, though none that would be as definitely useful as the one I have here. Candlesticks that give their candles numerous effects such as a cloak of darkness for as far as candle’s unlight stretches. Flasks of infinite fluids. Compasses that point to various things. The list goes on, if you want to take a look around.”

“What about questions? Will you answer me if I ask you anything about your uh, organization? Or will you answer any questions about our enemy?”

“We both know the answer to that, Navarone. As much as I want to, I can’t answer your questions. It would draw the wrong kind of attention.”

“I am getting really fucking sick and tired of this cloak and dagger bullshit. Taya, grab a horn. I’d rather have something like that than an amulet that affects a single person.”

“Okay, daddy. But where are they?”

“To your left,” the shopkeeper answered. Taya wandered that way. “I know you’re tired of it, Nav. So am I. But there are rules in place, rules that can’t be broken. You aren’t alone and we do want to help, but there’s only so much we can do.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it. At least I’m getting something useful out of it…”

“Very true. Ah, is that the horn you want, little one?” Taya had come back, carrying a basic hunting horn with magic.

“Sure. It’s not like it matters since the choice is random, to us.”

“True, true. Let me get a good look at it, now…” With an appraising glint in her eyes, the mare gently took hold of the horn. “Ah, a horn of rallying. Only friends will hear it and when they do, they will know where you are and how to get to you. An interesting effect, one that is good for mazes or battlegrounds.”

“Interesting indeed. Taya, let’s go.”

I grabbed the knapsack and the horn and turned to the door, but was stopped. “A word of advice, Navarone. I know you want to read that book immediately, but you should wait. There will soon come a time when you will meet an old friend, one that will be very useful when you seek enlightenment within the book’s pages. I suggest you wait.”

Her warning done, I walked out of the shop, making sure Taya left with me. When we emerged, we were back on the windy streets of Stalliongrad, returned from wherever we had gone. I slipped the horn into the packsack without taking time to look at the book and threw it back over my shoulders.

“Let’s go back to the ship,” I said. “I don’t feel like doing anything else today.”

“Just a few more minutes?” Taya asked. “I promise I won’t find the craziest shop possible again!”

“…Sure, I guess. But don’t expect me to buy anything. That horn wasn’t cheap.”

“What horn?” Flo asked. “And when did you get a bag?”

Access my memories of the last ten minutes.

Taya replied, “Okay, daddy. Let’s go!”

“...The last ten minutes are us walking through the city, Nav. I just triple checked. The last thing I can see is you turning around to look for Taya. What happened?”

I took a short moment to explain what had transpired in the strange realm.

“And you picked the book? That’s—Well, actually that wasn’t too bad of an idea. I can usually tell when something is off. But still, the book over a necklace like that? Why?”

Knowledge is power, Flo. Yes, the necklace would have a definite use and wouldn’t be bad to have, but the book might have information about Discord in it. Anything I can learn will be more than I know and that would be useful.

“…True. And it might contain other things as well. After all, I don’t think she would trick you like that. But another point, this Alicorn Amulet. Are you sure you should ever let Taya use that?”

No, I’m really not. But I have it and it might be useful. And even if I don’t let her use it, any other unicorn presumably can. Preferably one with more experience.

“Watcher?”

Maybe. At the very least, I need to tell him about the shop. If anyone would know what the hell that was, it would be him.

“True. Make sure to do that. Whatever it was… it’s more powerful than an elemental. Or at least, more powerful than the small amount of me that is in you and rather far away from my main body.”

“Daddy, can we go in here?” Taya suddenly asked. The building to which she was referring looked like a nasty, run down warehouse that hadn’t seen an inspection team in years.

“Hell no. That place looks like the home of a damn serial killer.” As it turns out, I would later curse myself for those words.

“Please?”

“Why would you even want to go in that place? I can’t imagine anything interesting being in there. Just pony tetanus.”

“I just want to explore. It looks cool!” That doesn’t sound like her at all.

“…If you really want, I guess we can. I haven’t seen any bums, so I doubt any are in there. A quick look around won’t hurt.” Once again, I would come to hate myself for that wording.

My first impression of the place was crowded. Not with people, but rather with boxes. They formed an obstacle course that seemed highly possible to get lost in. I immediately wished Taya didn’t have such an exploratory nature. And with the wind from outside howling through the shattered windows of the decrepit storehouse, it sounded as though the entire place was breathing.

“Oh hell no. Come on, Taya, we’re leaving.” When the last word left my lips, I heard a soft giggling from behind one of the top boxes in front of us. We both looked up to see Miguel jumping down to stand in front of us. “Oh, it’s… you.” I did my utmost to keep the distaste out of my voice, but I can’t promise that it worked. “I think there are more comfortable places you could be, Miguel.”

“There are,” he replied.

The silence mounted for a few seconds before I said, “Well, we were just leaving. I’m sure I’ll see you later. Have fun.”

“I’m afraid you aren’t going anywhere,” he sighed. “It’s a shame that annoying monster wants you dead. Still, a deal’s a deal.”

“Wh—Fuck!” Before either Taya or I could react, he managed to slash my face with his claws and bound away back into the boxes.

When he was away from us, he laughed, using it to conceal the sound of his movements. “He couldn’t have picked a better hunting ground, though,” the insane cat whispered, his voice like the sound of a knife being unsheathed.

“Sure was nice of you to tell us that you were going to kill me while we were standing right in front of the door, you stupid piece of shit. Let’s go, Taya. Quickly.”

And of course, as soon as I said that, another set of laughter echoed through the building, though that one was wildly different. I whirled around to jump out the doors only to find a blank wall behind me.

“...Okay, this is bad, but we can still get out. Taya, teleport us out.”

“This… it’s all wrong! He told me it was a friend!”

I knelt down and grabbed her shoulders, forcing her to look at me. “You’re going to explain what that means later. But right now, I need you to teleport us out.” Taya seemed to be in full blown panic mode for some reason. I didn’t really want to slap her, but I also didn’t really want to fight fucking Miguel. So I lifted my hand to slap her…

And that’s when I saw her eyes jerk behind me.

That meant he was behind me, probably rushing me. Every single instinct I had told me to jump aside. And I ignored every single one of them. If I moved out of the way, he would hit Taya. So instead of jumping to the side like I should have, I jumped backwards into him, catching the jagged knife through the meat of my right shoulder. The good news is that it threw him off balance and ripped the dagger from his hand. The bad news is that the pain was more intense than it had any right to be, even in an extremely painful shoulder wound.

Taya actually yelped in fear when I jumped back from her. Thankfully, Miguel abandoned his knife and booked it, giving me time to sit up and look down at the throbbing wound. “F-flo, numb me,” I whispered.

“I can’t fix this, Nav! Not with that thing still in you!”

“That’s why I said numb me! Taya, watch my fucking back.”

“HE LIED TO ME!”

“That’s not the sound of you watching my back! Flo, hurry the fuck up!”

“I’m trying. Your body can only do so much, Nav. And calm down. I… I think the knife might be… sucking in blood.”

“That’s impos—” While saying that, I looked down at the tip protruding from my shoulder to find that it was, in fact, possible; there was no blood on it. “W-what?”

“I have no idea, but you need to get that thing out of you right now!”

“Fucking…” I tried moving my right arm, but it wasn’t cooperating. Probably something to do with the hunk of steel in it. “Taya, I really, really need you to stop panicking. We are both going to die if you don’t help me.”

At that point, she looked more angry than panicky, actually. “I’m going to kill him!”

Flo sighed. “Nav, I’m about to do something very dangerous. When you can’t feel your arm anymore, reach around and rip the dagger out. You have to be quick or you might get nerve damage.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Now!” My entire right arm and shoulder went dead, completely killing the pain and any sensations I felt there. As if unbidden, my left hand reached around behind me and my wings jerked out of the way as it gripped the dagger. My upper body leaned back as my left hand ripped the dagger away from my body with a vague tugging sensation. “That… tore more than I thought,” I heard Flo whisper. “Nav… I’m gonna have to take control. I have to turn your nerves back on, but it would hurt enough to make you pass out.”

“Don’t you dare get me killed,” I hoarsely answered as she pulled me into my mind. Thankfully, I couldn’t feel shit from my physical body in there.

You don’t need to worry about that, she thought at me. But I can only control you for a short time. Less than twenty minutes, probably. You’re too far away.

“Then make it count. Kill that son of a bitch.” I knew I should have put that bastard down a long time ago.

Instead of killing that son of a bitch, she reached out her left hand to Taya, setting it on her cheek. “Taya, I really need you right now. Please.”

Taya seemed to flinch back. “Y-yes, daddy. I just… What do you need?”

“Can you teleport us out?”

Taya’s horn lit up brightly, but nothing happened. “It’s… not working,” she whispered, her voice strained.

“Then can you heal me?”

She moved her head to my wounded shoulder, her horn still lit up. Once again, nothing happened. “Why isn’t anything working?!”

Miguel’s laughter echoed around us. “That dagger was special,” he taunted. “I didn’t know how, but now I do. It steals your blood even now!” Flo looked back where she had dropped the knife and gasped. Blood from my body was being pulled down to the dagger. She kicked it away in shock and the flow stopped as it skittered away before embedding into a box.

“You need to move!” I told her. “If you stay here, you’re both sitting ducks.”

“Taya, we need to move, find a way out of here.”

She shook her head, a manic smile coming to her face. “I’ll burn him out!” she harshly said.

Flo and I both shouted, “No!” Thank God, it wasn’t too late. Flo explained, “If you light a fire in here, it’ll kill us as well as him! We can’t get out, remember? We’d be trapped too. Just help me up and let’s go.” Taya grit her teeth and used magic to lift my body up. “...That works. Just help me get the gun ready.”

“I want him alive if possible,” I said as Taya pulled the gun off my body.

“Leave it empty. Just pump it to max,” Flo told her. “Shotgun.”

More laughter. “So you got a new toy,” Miguel said. “I’ll enjoy learning how that one works…”

“Let’s move, Taya,” Flo said, holding the now armed gun up with my off hand. Taya was still holding my body up with magic, so she started walking in one direction, floating us behind her facing the other. That way, we at least had two directions covered.

“Fucker’s a serial killer,” I said, trying to keep my nerves under control. “He’ll talk and talk, wait until you’re too weak to fight back. And he knows we’re trying to protect Taya, now. He’ll use her against us.”

Then that will be the mistake that kills him, Flo answered.

“Leaving that knife behind was a mistake,” his voice whispered from nearby. Flo whirled toward where it came from and saw a shadow skittering away.

“Windows on all sides,” I quietly said. “That shadow could be from anywhere…” Our head returned to the front, slowly swiveling to try to spot him as we moved. Every time we heard a sound, Flo flinched toward it. “Stay calm, Flo,” I said. “It’s like hunting. Don’t ever make a sudden move unless you have to. Slow and steady; don’t let him know you know he’s there. You’re not the prey, you’re the predator. Just keep that in mind.”

She… attempted to move slower. She was still rather jerky, but that was totally understandable. Taya was the one I was truly worried about. She was constantly whispering, “I’ll kill you,” over and over again.

“Calm her down, Flo. Three of us, one of him.”

“Don’t you worry, Taya. There’s three of us and one of him. We’ll be just fine.”

“No there’s not, daddy,” she solemnly answered. “There’s two of them. And I’m going to kill them both.”

“The fuck is she smoking?” I asked.

Something had to move the door, Flo thought.

“...We can deal with that later. Miguel is something we can hunt down and kill. Well, capture, interrogate, and then kill.”

“What…” Flo looked down at her right shoulder to see blood flowing… up. Her eyes slowly lifted up above us to see Miguel crouched down on the top of one of the things of boxes, smiling. As soon as he saw us looking, he fucking pounced.

And immediately went crashing into the boxes from a blast of air coming from nowhere. “You won’t hurt him!” a female voice screamed.

“What the fuck?” I quickly asked.

“Air elemental,” Flo whispered, eyeing the damage in wonder.

“No time to gawk,” I said. “You need to move!”

...Right! “Taya, quickly!” Flo loudly said, presumably pushing the elemental from her mind.

Taya needed no urging and was already running, looking for a way into the next aisle over, where he landed. By the time we got there, he was gone… I just hissed a curse as Flo looked around for any sign of him.

“We’ll find him,” Taya whispered, her horn lighting up and her eyes closing. For some reason, I became deaf. And then a blast of pure sound shot out of her horn, exploding across the room and shaking the barrels. A surprised yowl came from a few aisles over and Taya began galloping that way…

Leaving me behind. “Taya!” both Flo and I shouted as we fell to the ground. “The arm’s fucked, not the legs! Run, dammit!” I shouted. Thankfully, Flo quickly started chasing after her, but with the sound still echoing around the room, the howling wind from the pissed elemental, and Taya’s head start, it was impossible to keep up. Soon, we were alone.

Flo swallowed loudly, lifting up the rifle. “I… I don’t like this,” she whispered.

“You have wings,” I said. “There’s enough room in here to use them. At the very least, get on top of some of these damn boxes. With Taya gone, the game’s changed.”

“Okay… Okay, I can do this…” She had to stand parallel to the boxes to be able to spread the wings all the way, but she was in the air quickly enough and on top of the boxes a second later, struggling to catch her balance from the less than graceful landing. Thankfully, a short burst of wind pushed us upright.

“Flo, now really isn’t the time to grow nervous and clumsy,” I said as calmly as I could.

It’s different when I’m in control, okay!

“I know it is. But you’re not going to let me down, Flo. We’ll get through this. Keep an eye out for Taya, because unless she’s screaming, we’ll never hear her in this.”

Even from our perch upon the boxes, we could see almost no movement in the large warehouse. Nearly a minute after we got up top, the hellishly loud sound suddenly cut out. I really, really wanted to call out for Taya, but I also didn’t want to give away our position.

“Flo, load lethal rounds. If the worst happened, he’ll be getting back on the boxes soon. And if it did… I don’t want him alive. I’d almost feel too bad to torture him.”

It took her a few seconds to do it with only one good hand, but she managed it. After she did, we began panning our eyes around the room again, hoping to see anything, but hoping above all to see a purple filly. Thankfully, a thought came to me.

“Flo, this rifle has a thermal scope.”

That made finding them so, so much easier. She flicked that fucker on and zoomed out as far as it could go. And thank God, the only heat signature in the room was something the size of Taya. I didn’t even have to tell Flo to go; as soon as she saw it, she spread my wings and took off.

When we got there, she was just sitting there, staring off into space.

Bleeding.

Thank God, it was only a cut along one of her front legs. “It… it hurts,” she whispered when Flo wrapped her in a hug.

“I know, Taya,” we both whispered. “We need to get out of here,” Flo continued. “Can you walk?”

“He… just jumped out at me. No time… I don’t even know what happened…”

Flo slowly turned to where Taya had been looking to see two daggers and a lot of fine black ash. Thankfully, they were far enough away that it wasn’t pulling blood from me. “It’s okay, Taya,” Flo whispered, setting our good hand on her head. “But we need to go now. We’re both hurt.”

“I love you, daddy,” she answered.

“And I will always love you,” Flo replied. “Can you walk?”

“...Yes.” Taya slowly stood, favoring her leg. “H-how do you feel?”

“No pain at all,” Flo truthfully answered.

“Good, I think.”

“It’s really not,” I sighed. “Flo, get that vampire dagger before you go. Taya couldn’t close the wound, which means it’s probably magical. We’ll need help to do it.”

If I go near that thing, it’ll start making me bleed again.

“And if you don’t get it now, this cut might never close. Just grab it.” Flo used my body to sigh and walked over to it, wrapping it in fingers sticky with my life fluids. Sure enough, more began slowly draining as soon as we got close enough.

“Taya, can you teleport us now?” Flo asked, holding the knife at an arm’s length.

“I can try, but I’m really tired…”

She’s not the only one. I’ll hold on for as long as I can, but don’t expect that to be much longer.

“I can assure you that I’ve been in worse pain than whatever I’m in now,” I replied as Taya’s horn lit up.

Nothing happened. “I-I can’t… Too tired…”

Your body can’t carry her back.

“No, it can’t. But we have something that she can use to give her the strength. I don’t like it, but… Give her the amulet.”

Flo sighed and pulled the dark device from my pocket. “Taya, try it with this,” she said, passing it to the filly.

She looked at the amulet held in her hooves for a moment before nodding and slipping it around her head. Her eyes seemed to light up as a dark smile came to her face. When her horn lit up this time, it was a blood red. In an instant, we appeared back on the ship with Taya’s leg healed.

Flo immediately sagged to her knees, dropping the dagger to the deck. “Thank the waters,” she whispered.

Of course, on a ship like mine, you don’t instantly appear, bleeding, and expect to be left alone for long. We were almost instantly surrounded by guards. “What happened?” the one in front of me asked, laying a hoof on my good shoulder.

“Attacked,” Flo answered. “Get Zecora, give her the dagger, tell her it’s killing me.”

The guard looked to one of his companions and barked, “Go!” The other fellow grabbed the dagger and fucking went. The guy that was talking looked back to me. “Did you get the attackers? Are they coming here?”

Taya answered, “He’s dead.” The smile she had on was freaky as all hell and she was still wearing the damn amulet.

“Taya, take that thing off,” Flo quietly said.

“It looks quite nice on me,” she commented, lifting it up to look at it with a hoof.

“Give me control,” I calmly said.

Nav—

“I’m not asking.”

Flo sighed and thrust me back in. I immediately winced at the stinging pain, but pushed it back so I could reach around and grab the hoof holding the amulet. Taya looked up in surprise to see me glaring. “Take. It. Off,” I growled. She gulped and did so quite quickly. I snatched it out of her hooves and struggled to my feet, slipping the vile thing into a pocket. “I need to get to the infirmary,” I said to the guard, lifting my hand up to attempt to staunch the trickle of blood out of my shoulder.

“He must be taken to my room,” Zecora said. “To do otherwise spells his doom.”

“Then lead the way. I can walk.”

“To walk will get your blood flowing. Ride on a back. Now get going!”

I was about to tell her no when the guards forced me on someone’s back. Given that, I wasn’t about to argue. Unfortunately, getting carried and held on meant I didn’t have anything else to pay attention to, bringing the pain back to the forefront of my mind. I’m not needed here any longer. Flo?

She pulled me from consciousness, letting my body sag. “Well, that could have been a lot worse,” I commented, rolling my shoulders.

“I… I’m sorry I panicked, Nav.”

“I understand, Flo. You aren’t used to dealing with that stuff. You did well enough; we’re still alive, after all. And Taya’s just fine. It sucks that we’re stuck out of commission, but I didn’t want to leave the damn ship again anyway.”

“...Do you think Zecora can help you?”

“Probably. And if not, she’ll know how I can be helped. I picked this team for a reason. They know what they’re doing.”

“The naga’s going to be upset, you know.”

“Yeah… He probably will be.”

“Kumani, as well.”

I winced, thinking about how she might react. “I’ll… cross that road when I come to it. If push comes to shove, I’ll blame Sp—No, that would be a bad idea. I’ll blame Opal.”

“She won’t buy it.”

“Then I’ll kiss her until she isn’t angry anymore. It’s foolproof!”

“Right. We’ll see. So what do you want to do until then?”

“Hm. We could fu—Dammit. Oh, I have a good idea. I can show you the memories of the magic shop.”

“Yes, that would be a good idea. I can’t imagine how they could have blocked me from seeing it.”

And so I did. When the memories stopped, she hummed. “I… don’t know, Nav. I really don’t. You’ll have to ask Watcher. Or failing that, use Spike to send a letter to Celestia. She ignored evidence that Discord was free before, but now we actually have proof. I’m almost positive this attack was from him.”

“If he wanted me dead, why send something like Miguel after me? The fucker could kill me with a thought.”

“To prove a point, maybe? To show that even allies can be corrupted, maybe. Thinking about it, that could explain what happened to Blueblood.”

“A lot of things could explain what happened with him. We’ll need to talk to Taya. She seemed to have some idea about what was going on. If she somehow knows something I don’t… Well, I’ll be hella pissed, but I need to learn whatever she knows. Until then, though, I guess we just wait. There’s really not much else to do.”

“...Scrabble?”

“Flo, you’re a fucking dictionary. Let’s hit up the dream world, I guess. Might as well see what good I can do…”

 

 

Another note from Discord

My my, two in one chapter? I’m on a roll!

Anyway, with Miguel taken care of and Taya once again alone in her room—crying, of course—I decided it was time for another appearance. I appeared back in her room with a large smile on my face. “You did it, Taya! Wonderful job!” The bolt of lightning she immediately shot at me didn’t even make me flinch. “Are you ready for your next assignment?”

“I HATE YOU!”

“Now now, that’s no way to talk to me. Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong, my dear?”

“You lied! You said he was an old friend, not a… a MONSTER!”

“Well, he was an old friend. Navarone knew him from his time back in Egypt. And I did warn you that your time with him would be quite smashing, did I not? You can’t deny that it was definitely exciting!”

“I. Will. Kill. You!”

“How rude! You’d just cast me aside after everything I’ve done for you?”

“You didn’t do anything for me! You’re just a freak, a monster that wants to hurt us! Trying to turn me against my daddy… I’ll kill you!” One again, she tried using magic against me. And once again, nothing happened.

“Oh, by all means! Kill me if you can. I promise that you won’t hear any complaints from me.” She pounced at me with a vicious snarl, attempting to strangle me. I just wrapped her in a hug. “Love you too, Taya dearest. But I’m afraid that I have to go now. I’ll be in touch.” I used my talons to peel her away from me. With the way she was struggling, I almost thought she might hurt herself. “I do wish you good luck with your new goal, by the way.”

With those final parting words, I dropped her and teleported away from that room, a large smile growing across my face.

Everything’s going according to plan...

 

 

When I next opened my eyes, the first thing to greet my vision was a set of very blue eyes. I flinched backwards and the changeling did the same with a squawk. With the sudden pain in my shoulder, I regretted it a lot more than the changeling did. Given that it was right back in my face, I don’t think it regretted it at all.

“Navi, you’re awake!” Eva merrily said, a smile coming to her fanged mouth.

“Sadly. Why are you right in my face? And where’s everyone else?” I was obviously in Zecora’s room, but it was lifeless save for the two of us.

“I’m your nurse! Well, for now. Also, I’m really hungry…”

“Nurses don’t usually creep their patients out, Eva. And that only answers one of my questions. Where’s Zecora? And Taya?”

“It’s really late at night and Zecora needed sleep. Mister Watcher let her use his bed! She said the first of many curses was broken on you, but I don’t know what that means. She’s really confusing sometimes!”

“Not sometimes. More like all the time. Now give me a hug. With as weak as I feel, I can’t promise to give you much, but I can spare a little love.”

She immediately pounced into bed and wrapped her freaky legs around me, a huge smile on her face. “Thank you, Navi,” she whispered as I gave her some good memories to steal. “Mm… You always have the best love.”

“Have you been taking it from anyone else?”

“Well… No.”

“Then of course I have the best. Now please let me go. You’re hurting my shoulder.” She shot away from me, blushing and stammering. “Relax, Eva. It’s okay. Do you know where all my stuff is?”

“In your room, I think. Do you need anything?”

“Water and some food. My body’s gonna need it to replace the blood I lost. Everything else can wait until morning.”

“Okay! I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere!” Before I could answer, she galloped from the room.

I just shrugged, something I immediately regretted from the stinging in my shoulder. “You need to be careful,” Flo told me.

“No shit. Can you tell me what the damage is?”

“You’re not bleeding anymore, at least. Some of your bones are sawn through and you have a hole in your shoulder. It’s bad, but not irreparable. Oddly enough, your body seemed to be… ignoring it.”

“Zecora said one of my curses was gone, not all of them. So I guess she managed to stop the bleeding but not the unhealable part.” A gentle probing of the area around the wound showed that I was bandaged up and presumably had stitches to keep it closed.

Eva got back quickly enough, thankfully. A feeling of hunger was growing in my belly and was likely to announce itself to the world by the time she got there. “Zecora said you had to have soup for some reason…” Eva said, holding the bowl up.

“Eh. Just set it somewhere and I’ll manage.” Holding the bowl and eating would be impossible with one fucked hand.

The smile on her face disappeared for about two seconds before an even bigger one showed up. “I’ll feed you!”

Oh God, please no… “I… can manage on my own, I think.”

“You could, but you won’t have to. Not with Eva here!” One of her hooves grew some creepy fucking fingers and grabbed the spoon. “Open wide for the train, Navi!” she said with a laugh, lifting the spoon to my mouth. “Choo choo!”

“Real—Mmf!” She shoved the damn thing in my mouth as soon as I opened it. I swallowed the thankfully good soup and tried again. “Dammit Eva, st—” And there was another spoonful of soup. I just glared at her.

“Hee hee! You’re fun, Navi. Now open wide!” If I wasn’t so hungry, I would deny her just to do it. Sadly, it seemed that my choices were starve or consent to be fed. I sighed and opened my mouth. “Yay!” I died a little inside with each swallow. The punishment didn’t end soon enough. “All done, Navi!” She reached out and rubbed my stomach. “Was it good?”

“Eva, please stop…”

“Aw… Well, I need to go take this back now. See you soon!” She trotted back out, carrying the bowl in a sickly green aura of magic.

“Shut up, Flo,” I said before she could even comment. Thankfully, she heeded my words. That left me to mope in silence until Eva got back.

“So what now?” she sweetly asked.

“We could go to sleep. Or rather, you could go to sleep and I could go play with dreams.”

“I’m supposed to watch you. Zecora said so! Er… I think.”

“Well, you’d get really bored out here all alone…”

“You could tell me a story!”

“Fuck it, why not. How about I tell you about Goldilocks and the three bears?” And so things went until morning.

Somewhat late into the morning, Zecora finally made her reappearance. “Ah, I see you are once again awake. Do try not to get stabbed, for goodness sake. That dark dagger carried a dangerous curse, one that required your new lovely nurse. One I was thankfully able to break, though it took plenty of water from the lake. There are other curses on you, so there is little you can do. Stay in bed and get plenty of rest while I try to get you at your best.”

“That’s doable,” I answered. “But does it have to be your bed? Also, I really need to talk to Watcher and then Taya.”

“Watcher is weary from a long night. I swear, I can’t let him from my sight. Last I saw of Taya, she went to go weep. From her, I haven’t recently heard a peep.”

I sighed, sitting up out of bed. “I better go talk to her, then…”

“That arm must be in a sling, or else all will hear you sing.”

“Then sling it. I’ve comforted her while worse off. Just do it quickly.”

“Try to sit still; this cannot kill.” She began scrounging around her room for stuff to make a decent sling. Soon enough, she had my arm set up so it couldn’t easily move.

“Thanks, Zecora. Did you manage to save the dagger?”

“I have it somewhere in here. Go and take care of your dear.”

I tenderly stood, trying not to jostle my arm any. Gravity was no match for my forced fatherly instincts, so I quickly started walking down to Taya’s chamber. Or at least, I tried to; the naga was standing in my way as soon as I left Zecora’s room. “Human,” he almost growled.

“...Naga,” I answered.

“We will discuss this.”

“Later, I hope?”

“Sooner or later. You will not leave this ship without a talk with me.”

“...Alright, that’s fair. Now uh, I need to go talk to Taya.”

“Very well.” He stared at me a moment longer, presumably making sure I got the message, before slithering off.

Well, that was creepy. With him gone, I continued on my way. Eva followed me, presumably still in nurse mode. When we got there, I put my good hand on her head. “Eva, wait here.”

“Aww…”

With her out of the way, I knocked on Taya’s door. “Go away!”

Yeah, she’s fine. I did the opposite of going away, instead opening the door. “I feel like we’ve been here before,” I idly commented as I stepped inside, sliding the door shut behind me, though it took me a second to remember I had to use my off hand. She was quite a mess at this point, likely not having slept very well.

She just sniffled and said, “I’m so sorry, daddy…”

“Why? It isn’t like this was your fault, Taya.”

“Yes it was! Discord tricked me!”

Now that stopped me. “What?”

“He… he told me there was an old friend there waiting for us! And that I needed to take you to meet him!”

“Well… I wouldn’t really call Miguel a friend, but that isn’t otherwise untrue. How did you know it was Discord?”

“I…” She wasn’t going to give me much in her condition.

I sat down next to her on the bed and wrapped my arm around her, pulling her into my lap. “You can always tell me anything, Taya. What do you know about Discord?”

She was still silent, even as I started rubbing her back. Finally, she said, “He… came to me one night, a long time ago. In my dreams… He told me… He told me that you were just a puppet. That Celestia was bad and he was good. He showed me so many wonderful things…”

I went from calm to instantly pissed. The only reason I didn’t punch the nearest object is because Taya was the nearest object. I reigned the anger in carefully, trying to show her that I wasn’t upset with her. “So he used me against you. That’s… interesting. Do you remember how long ago this was?”

“Almost two years, I think…”

“How often did you see him?”

“Just… a few more times. Not often. He… showed me something called true magic and made sure I knew how to use it.”

See, now that sounds ominous and I knew it was something that I needed to ask about later. “Did he ever hurt you?”

“No… He seemed really nice. Even after he tricked me and came back, he was really nice…”

“Satan is a masterful liar. If you ever see him again, just ignore him. Don’t listen to his offers and don’t accept any deals. And tell me. I want to punch that motherfucker in the face.”

“I don’t think it would hurt him… Lightning didn’t.”

“It would still make me fucking feel better. Fucking dickwad…” I sighed and patted her back. “But I need to go lie down. Zecora said I need bed rest.”

“I’m coming with you!”

“By all means. And don’t worry, Taya. I don’t blame you for what happened. Everyone’s fallen for tricks at some point in their life. Now you know what to watch out for.”

“I know, daddy. I know…”

We were in my room for a little while, doing shit on the laptop, when Watcher stopped by. “Feel well, sir?” he asked.

“Better than I was, that’s for damn sure,” I answered, closing the laptop. “I have things for you to do. First, do you know what the Alicorn Amulet is?”

“No sir. Do you need it researched?”

“If possible, but that’s secondary. I obtained it recently.” Since I was still wearing the pants from last night, I dug it out of the pocket and held it up. “This is it. Basically what it does is give a unicorn a tremendous power boost at the cost of being addictive to use and corrupting you over time. Its negative effects slowly wear off after you take it off.”

“Sounds… dangerous, but useful.”

“It is. I’m only telling you so you’ll know what to be wary of in case someone takes it from my room.”

“I will watch for it, then. Where did you get it?”

“That’s the second thing, the more important one. While we were in the city yesterday, Taya entered a random shop. I followed her inside. It led us to a magic bazaar of some kind, where hundreds of enchanted items were on display. Upon looking outside the windows, it appeared that we were in a void. An old gypsy lady was at the counter and knew quite a lot about me, Taya, the crew, and our mission. She was able to silence Flo somehow. She gave us the amulet and some mysterious book that I haven’t opened yet. I want to know who she was, where that shop is, and what organization she’s working for.”

“I’ve… never heard of anything like that. Sir, can I view the memories in your mind? It might give me an idea of what to look for.”

“Go for it, I guess. While you’re at it, watch the memory of the fight, as well. That was an assassin sent by Discord.”

He walked over, his horn lighting up. “I’ll try to make this quick, then.” With that, he probed my mind, shuffling through the memories I gave him. About five minutes later, he backed off. “So it seems that we aren’t as alone as we thought. You and Flo make a formidable team, Navarone. Is there anything else you need, or shall I go get looking?”

“Start looking. We’ll be leaving this place as soon as we get everyone on board, so search while you can. But if you find anything, don’t expect me to look at it; I’m not taking a foot off this damn boat until we’re out of Stalliongrad.”

“Understandable. Get well soon, sir. I’ll be back when I find anything.”

And then it was just the two of us again. “He’s weird,” Taya commented.

“Yeah. But he’s a useful weird. Back to the laptop?”

She nodded, but before I could open it, a guard appeared at my door. “Sir, there’s a dragon outside looking for you. We told her you were unwell and she… got a little upset.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes, setting the laptop on the bed. “I’ll go talk to her,” I groused, standing up.

“Good luck, sir,” the guard said, stepping out of my way. Taya hopped to follow me. Somehow, I knew that this couldn’t end well.

When I got outside, things seemed somewhat tense. Kumani was glaring daggers at the guards and they were keeping a wary distance from her. None of them looked scared, but they definitely seemed rather reluctant. One does not fight with a dragon and expect to get away unscathed, after all. My appearance seemed to break the stalemate, as Kumani grinned when she saw me. “Nav!”

“That’s me,” I calmly answered. “Did you need something?”

“What happened to you?” she asked, pushing the guards aside to get a better look at my wound. I wasn’t wearing a shirt, so it was rather obvious that I was hurt.

“An old enemy sent me a message. It came in the form of an assassin with a cursed knife. I’m… recovering.”

“That sucks. You want to go do something?”

“No. I’m tired of this damn city and I’m not leaving the boat until we’re away from this place. No more getting stabbed for me, dammit.”

“But you’ll miss the tournament!”

“I can’t compete with a fucked up arm. If anyone asks why I’m not there, tell them what happened and that I can’t move my arm.”

“Nav, you can get over this quickly. Don’t be such a wimp.”

“How about I stab you in the shoulder with a fucking vampire blade that eats your blood and see how you handle it? Even with my thick blood, I still lost a lot. If I tried fighting right now, I’d pass out. I’m not going to risk it.”

Kumani sighed and slowly nodded. “That… makes sense, I guess. Alright, then. You want me to stay here with you? Make sure nothing else hurts you?”

“I’ll be fine. I just need some rest. Go enjoy what’s left of the party. Tell everyone bye. Do whatever. I’m planning on leaving when the blacksmith gets here, so try to get ready to go. Alright?”

“Alright, I can do that. I’ll see you soon, Nav.” She leaned in and gently kissed me, earning a few gasps from those on deck.

“See you soon,” I answered her when she pulled away. She smiled and took off, leaving the ship and all the stares behind. When she was gone, they transferred to me. “What? You’ve never seen a dragon fly before? Bah!” I went back down the stairs to my room, Taya once again following me. Whispers probably started as soon as we got out of sight, but I don’t care about that.

My next guest was the naga, a thin smile on his face. Taya wasn’t in my room at the moment, busy doing something or another. “I have something for you, Cain,” he announced, slithering inside. I gasped at what I saw. “Yes, it’s glorious. And just in time, too; you need protein.”

I nodded and started tasting the naga’s sausage as soon as he got close enough. “Mmm, I missed this so much. And it’s nice and juicy!”

“Yes, I knew you would like it,” he slyly commented, chuckling. “Eat up. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

I didn’t want to talk with my mouth full, so I swallowed the load before grinning. “I love your sausage, man. It’s the best.”

“If you wait a moment, I can give you more.”

“Nah, these meat balls look fine.” They were way too big for my mouth, so I took them slow and steady, getting the most out of it. I finished off with a nice swallow of thick milk. “Ahh, I needed that…”

“You and me both, Cain. I feel much better now.” He paused a moment as we both recovered before saying, “It’s nice that Gilda finally made herself useful; she brought plenty of meat back with her when she finally returned to the ship.”

“Gilda’s finally back?” I asked, setting the plate and glass of milk on the bed.

“Indeed. Apparently she has friends here. Meat trading friends. It’s nice to know that we won’t have to constantly hunt or fish to keep our supply up.”

“Yeah. And thank you, Ames. I’m sorry about the whole leaving you here thing. Taya just asked if I wanted to go into the city and I never even thought to bring you.”

“That was unwise.”

“Don’t need to tell me twice. I got fucking stabbed, remember? Doesn’t matter now, though; I’m not planning on going back into that city unless I absolutely have to. And if I do go, it’ll be while armored and accompanied by you and a few other guards.”

“Good. Tell me, how did the fight go?”

“Poorly. I didn’t even get a chance to draw my sword before I got stabbed from behind. Taya ended up killing him.”

“That is… a shame. But all that matters is that you got back. How is your wound?”

“Feeling fine, as long as I don’t move it too much. Thankfully he didn’t take out my heart with it.”

“Yes, that would have been inconvenient. Well, I shall allow you to rest.” He took the empty plate and glass back from me and moved back to the door. “If you need me for anything else, just let me know.”

“Will do. See you, Ames.” And then I was once again alone…

It took the damn minotaur until the seventh day of the party to get aboard my ship. With him came all of his tools, a ton of supplies, and… “Smiles.

He was living up to his name, beaming like a madman. “Yes sir! It’s great to be back!”

God FUCKING dammit! “And just why are you back here?”

“I’m his assistant, helping him with blacksmithing and getting used to pony culture!”

“Do you even know anything about blacksmithing?” I sighed, face-palming.

“Of course! That’s what my cutie mark is in, sir. But the guard calls to all walks of life and Princess Luna needed more soldiers than blacksmiths, so that’s what I became.” I think he could actually hear my teeth grinding from where he was, as he suddenly looked somewhat nervous. “Uh… I should go help Master Jak with his tools…” He quickly snatched me in a hug, making me hiss in pain. “Oh, it’s just so good to be back!” He released me again, still smiling. “Talk to you soon, Nav!” And then he happily trotted away, his wings twitching in excitement.

“Well, at least things are interesting again,” Flo idly commented while I practically screamed on the inside.

And so it was that we left Stalliongrad behind. We were fully crewed, we had all the supplies we needed, and despite my injury, spirits were high. The Second Chance was once again on the move and things felt like they were in motion again.

If only we had known what we were getting into.

 
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