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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131. Chapter One Hundred and Eight—Flying South for the Winter

And uh… what exactly does that mean? I asked, dreading the answer.

“You are a very welcome ally, Navarone,” Ice answered as we got closer to the castle. “Mist and Naiad have kept me a prisoner here for a long, long time.”

God, don’t tell me they’re as bitchy as Brook!

“Not that bad, no. They have had each other to remind them that they aren’t gods. We will talk more later, though. After all, I would not want to poison your mind against my… loving sisters.”

Well, you’re doing a piss poor job at that, man. They aren’t going to try to keep the rest of us here, are they? Because I’ll tell you now: It won’t work.

“If they refuse to let you leave, there isn’t much you can do.”

You’ve never seen teleportation at work, have you? He didn’t reply. Given that we were floating over the castle walls at that point, heading toward the main door, I wasn’t too surprised. If his sisters could hear him, he’d want to stay quiet. Though he could probably just talk straight into my head, so I guess he just didn’t have anything to say.

The castle was lit up better than the rest of the city, with bioluminescent lights of some kind stuck onto the walls. I had no clue how deep we were, but I had a feeling it would be pretty dark without the city around us.

Flo cleared her throat to get my attention and said, “Now might be a good time to tell you that I know Naiad.”

“She’s changed,” Ice said.

Do you know her well enough for it to be useful to us? I asked.

“Some time ago, yes. But now… The Naiad I knew wouldn’t lock a brother up.” I smirked at that, especially when added to his name. Flo just sighed at my sense of humor.

“She might if she thought it was for my own good,” he said. “Thankfully, Aqua helped me.” We were floating in front of the grand entrance at that point, the doors as gaping as Doppel’s vagina. “Maybe meeting an old friend will put her in a good mood.”

I certainly hope so. Are we going in or what?

“We are waiting on Aqua and Brook. Your naga friend was much larger than you. She’ll have to move slower to compensate.”

There’s no reason to wait for either of them. I’m the leader of the ship. Twilight’s only coming because of Aqua. The naga is only coming for protection.

“You misunderstand. We aren’t waiting for the pony or the naga. We’re waiting for my sisters. Their passengers aren’t important. But I don’t want anything discussed without all of us there to hear it.”

Makes sense, I guess. How long do you think we’ll be down here?

“Honestly, I don’t know. Hopefully it won’t take very long. Unfortunately, though, unless you have more evidence of the element of chaos than what you showed the purple one, they may not believe this Discord is the same demon as the one we faced so long ago.”

“I faced him on the field once, brother. I know it’s him.”

Anything as evil as this Discord fellow is deserves to get his shit wrecked anyway. He tortures for the sake of torture, is cruel because it’s funny. Who wouldn’t want him dead? Especially elementals that are supposed to revere all life.

“Times have changed, human. And we have changed with them, for the worse. But there’s Brook.” He turned around so I could see Brook approaching with the naga inside of her. He didn’t seem overly happy at the moment, but I didn’t care that much. I was also able to see Twilight hanging out in Aqua next to me.

Then what are we waiting for?

He started moving by way of answer, into the inviting doors. The other two let him take the lead, for whatever reason, so I got the first look at the castle’s interior. Unsurprisingly, it was fairly bare. After all, being full of water isn’t exactly conducive to having decorations. It also had almost no one else inside. I saw a few seaponies that watched us pass by with excited eyes, and a few squids that barely paid us any notice, but the castle lacked the life that Canterlot had. Or perhaps it was the lighting, because most of this castle was dark and gloomy instead of bright and inviting.

Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign.

Instead of taking us into what was probably the throne room, we veered off down a side hall. “Unfortunately, we don’t really have that many chambers for surface dwellers down here,” Ice said as we moved. “So we’ll be putting you in the main chamber for now. More rooms will be cleared out later, if you stay long enough to need them.”

What kind of population are you looking at down here? And are they dangerous?

“They’re harmless. Everyone knows full well what happens to those that misbehave. As for the population, about fifty or so, of various races. Given the choice, I think most would very much prefer to be on the surface.”

Then why not take them to the surface?

“I asked my sisters the same thing many times.”

Oh man, this is going to end poorly… He didn’t reply.

After a few minutes of navigating through halls, he started going up a staircase that ended in no more water. Ice reached a hand inside of himself and pulled me out. As I’ve found from my test runs, the transition from breathing water to breathing air again is painful. He kept a hand on my back until I had all of the water expelled from my lungs. Watching it seep back into his body was also pretty cool. Twilight was going through the same procedure next to me, but it took her longer because she wasn’t as used to it. Ames had no problems at all, since he’s a freak.

Finally, I sat up and looked around. We were in a large chamber with several doors connected to it. Heads were poking out of each door at our noisy arrival and everyone else in the main hall was definitely staring at us. Much to my consternation, I saw that the vast majority were male. Most of them were either diamond dogs or ponies, either earth pony or pegasus. Also in attendance was a single griffin, two changelings, and a minotaur. I had a feeling Twilight was going to be very glad I brought Ames.

“When will we talk to the others?” I asked Ice, my voice hoarse from coughing.

“At their convenience,” he said. “I’m going to take Aqua and Brook to them now. It was a very wise decision, getting Brook’s support. And from what Aqua told me, you had a hard time of it.”

“This damn body is proof of the hard time,” I replied. “Tell Mist and Naiad to hurry up. I don’t want to be down here for long.”

“I don’t think that would be wise,” he said. “But the sooner we meet them, the sooner they will get here. Goodbye for now, Navarone.”

“See you,” I said with a nod as he began flowing back into the water. Aqua and Brook followed him. While they were leaving, I pulled the sword belt off my shoulder, followed by my shirt. It was wet and annoying, so I wanted to twist it dry.

While I was doing that, Twilight was looking around the room. “This place is… strange,” she said.

“Company,” Ames growled, looking ahead.

I turned that way to see everyone in the room approaching us. Most of them were staring at either me or Twilight, though a few were watching the naga carefully. And a few were also looking at him lustfully; them getting closer meant I could see more details on them, which meant I could tell the griffin had pink highlights on his head feathers. Oh boy, this is gonna be fun.

“Howdy,” I said, dropping my shirt and gripping my belt in such a way that drawing the sword would be easy.

“Never seen one of you before,” one of the dogs said. “But I bet I could make you feel better than anyone else ever could.”

“I’m spoken for,” I said. “And so is Twilight. And also the naga. So if you’re here looking for a quick lay, I suggest turning right back around and walking away.”

Sadly, none of them stopped. “So far from home…” the dog continued. “Your little boyfriend will never see you again, bitch.” I almost took that as an insult before I realized he was a dog. “You might as well forget all your old lovers. You’re in our world, now.”

The naga and I drew our swords at the same time, both of us holding them up in ready positions. Twilight quickly jumped forward, holding up one of her hooves. “There’s no need for violence, guys! Look, mister…” She looked the dog fellow up and down before continuing, “...dog, we’re only going to be here for a day or two.”

“Ha!” Each one began cracking up at that, oddly enough. “Is that what they told you? That they’d find you a ship passing by and give you a free ticket out of here? Nobody leaves this prison! I’ve been here for ten years. The only exit you’re gonna get is a one-way ticket to a watery mass grave.”

“We know the elementals in charge here,” Twilight said. “We’re here to talk with them. In fact, I bet we could even get all of you guys home!”

“Hold on, now,” I said. “Show of hands, how many of you are pirates?” About half of them made a half-hearted movement. “Yeah. I’m not going to bring a horde of cutthroats onto my ship. So why don’t you all just back the fuck off, hm?”

The lead dog’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll change your mind, bitch. It may take a year or two, but you’ll learn. And when you do… Oh, what fun we’ll have together.” He turned his back on us. “Leave ‘em alone. Maybe getting ignored’ll make them give in easier.”

“Suits me just fine,” I said, sheathing the sword.

Twilight glared my way. “Do you always have to make enemies everywhere you go, Nav? Now who am I supposed to ask about the seaponies?”

“I don’t know, maybe the seaponies?”

“...I could tell you,” a hesitant voice said. I whirled on him, drawing my sword, to find that it was the gay griffin.

“Really?” Twilight asked, instantly excited.

I grabbed her tail as she ran at him, holding her back. “At what price?” I cautiously asked, stepping in front of Twilight.

“N-no cost!” he quickly said. “Just… someone to talk to would be nice… Someone that doesn’t just want to use me…”

Twilight picked me up and moved me with magic. “Navarone, I’m an adult,” she said. “I can make my own decisions, thank you. And I’m going to talk to him about the seaponies!”

“Whatever,” I said with a shrug, pushing my sword back into its sheath. “You get raped, don’t come bitching to me.”

She gave me a very sour look before looking away, turning her nose up. “Come along, sir,” she said. “Let’s leave my paranoid friends alone so we can talk…”

When they were a few meters away, the naga grunted and said, “I don’t know which one I feel more sorry for.”

“And I don’t care,” I answered, grabbing my shirt. It was dryer, at least, but I knew it would still be annoying to put on. Since I knew no one down there would be trying anything, I left it off. Besides, it felt nice, having a bunch of people surreptitiously staring at me.

“You travel with a changeling,” a new voice said, right next to me. Once again, I jumped back, half-drawing my sword. The two changelings were somehow standing next to me, neither having made any noise.

“I do,” I said. “She’s my maid. What of it?”

“...A changeling that lives openly?” the other one asked, showing me that both were male. “Have times changed?”

“Or are you just apathetic?” the other asked.

“Both. Chrysalis attacked the Equestrian capital and got herself captured. A peace treaty soon followed. Now what do you want?”

“To be anywhere that is not here,” one said.

“We survive off… lust,” the other added. “It is disgusting and slimy, but there is no love down here.”

“Our shape-changing makes us little more than valuable commodities. We want to leave. Quickly. We will pay any price.”

“And if what you say is true, you can get us out.”

“...I’ll see what I can do,” I said. “But if you do get out with me, I’m going to leave you locked up around the masts on our ship until we get where we’re going, then I’ll be dropping you off immediately. I refuse to allow anyone any chance to sabotage my ship.”

They both nodded and one said, “Acceptable. Being imprisoned alone would be a better life than being used as a sex toy by thirty different people.”

“I’m sure. As an aside, the changeling I have with me actually prefers lust, so don’t expect any sympathy from her. And don’t worry about food while you’re on the ship. Apparently my mind is different or something, so I can attach more emotions to memories than usual. Feeding you guys will be easy.”

Their eyes lit up and both smiled, their tails wagging slightly. “Can… can I have a small taste?” one whispered, stepping forward. “Just a little bit of love! It’s been so long…”

The other grabbed that one by the tail and yanked him back. “Ignore him,” he said. “He’s been here a little longer than I have.”

“I understand. I’ll fill you two up if I can get you to the ship. So what does everyone do for fun around here?”

“Us. Or him,” one said, pointing to the griffin talking to Twilight. “We occasionally get books that aren’t completely destroyed by water, but it’s hard to read without much light. But of course, neither of us know how to read.”

“You guys should learn that before you head back to the hives,” I said. “Anyone we need to watch out for?”

“No one would be stupid enough to do anything to you unless you ask for it,” one said. “The rulers here watch everything. You break one of the rules, bad things happen. You break another one… I hope you can swim.”

“Well, that’s a plus. But aren’t you two worried about that dog? Didn’t he say he wanted us ignored?”

“Any chance of getting out of here is worth a little extra roughness if we ever spend more time with him. And that griffin likes it when they’re rough, so he’ll probably beg for punishment.” The naga snorted, but thankfully didn’t say anything. “But if we’re leaving, it’s not like it matters.”

“True. Hopefully the elementals will let me take you two. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to leave anyone in this place, pirate or not. I just don’t really trust most of them on my fucking boat. Two will be easy to control. Adding more would make it problematic.”

“We’ll obey whatever order you give, as long as it gets us out of here,” one said. “So you don’t need to worry about us ever hurting you.” Needless to say, I wasn’t planning on trusting either of them very far, but we needed to head back to Equestria to stock up on supplies if our next stop was going to be Antarctica. There’s no telling how long it might take us to dig out the two elementals there, and I didn’t think there would be a convenience store down there.

“So… what’s your name, anyway?” the other asked.

“I’m Navarone,” I said, nodding. “Naga don’t give out their names. And that over there is Twilight.”

“And you said you were both taken, right?” he asked.

“I am, yes. And you’re not going to hit on Twilight. You are going to get on my ship. You are going to keep to yourself. Then you are going to get off my ship. If someone offers to fuck you, by all means, have fun. But we have enough crew, so don’t expect to stick around.”

“Right, of course… I can wait until we get to shore, no problem.”

“Good. You do know the changeling passcode to talk with spies, right? They’ll probably shoo you off if you don’t use it and getting to a hive without their help might be hard.”

“...It’s been a while. Remind us.”

“Get them somewhere private and say intelligentsia, sentient, drone. They’ll reply with egg, larva, foal. Then you ask for suggestions on how to get to a hive or whatever. I don’t know, once you’re off my ship, I don’t care anymore. I just do suggest going back to a hive, because they have a new food source.”

They both nodded. “We need to report back to the queen anyway.”

“Hey, tell her I said hi, and that I’ll probably be coming to visit in a few weeks or months. Well, assuming she’s still in the capital, anyway.”

“...You know Queen Chrysalis?”

“Oh yeah, I met her when she attacked. I was one of the ones that helped stop her and then forge the treaty later. Let me tell you, she’s a monster in bed. Anyway, that’s not really important. So what brings two sentients to the middle of the ocean?”

And so we shot the shit for about half an hour. Twilight seemed to be getting on just fine with the gay griffin, but I made sure to keep my eye on them anyway. Since our back was still to the wall, it wasn’t hard to make sure no one got too close. And thankfully, my clothes finally dried off enough that I could cover myself again.

Finally, five water elementals pulled themselves out of the staircase. Once again, everyone in the room looked their way, expecting even more new playthings. Instead, they all got surprised by an extra two elementals. All five of them turned to me. Suddenly, I have a bad feeling about this.

“Human Navarone,” one of the ones I didn’t know said, flowing forward. “I am Mist, co-ruler of these waters.” She held a tendril out at hand level that I somewhat cautiously shook.

The other moved forward then, saying, “And I am Naiad, the other ruler of these waters. We welcome you to Atlantis.”

“Greetings, Naiad and Mist,” I said. “I’m Navarone. This is my bodyguard and that is my friend, Twilight. And I have an elemental in me named Flo.”

“A friend I am eager to catch up with,” Naiad said with a presumably false smile. Flo snorted, but didn’t say anything. “But there will be time for that later. Tell me, are any of you hungry? Or have any needs that we can help with?”

“We’re fine,” I said. “I’d much rather get straight to business so I can get back to my ship.” And out of this rotting, sunken castle. “You two,” I was looking at the changelings, “go stand somewhere else. This is private.”

“Please, Nav,” Mist said. “No business we have is private from our subjects. They are fully welcome to stay.”

“If it’s just the same, we have business elsewhere anyway,” one of the changelings said before walking away. Smart. Good. The other went with him.

It was about that time Twilight walked over, with the birdbrain following her. “So are we finally ready to talk?” Twilight asked.

“Send your friend off, and yes,” I said.

“We just went over this,” Naiad said. “It’s perfectly okay for them to hear.” I narrowed my eyes slightly at the griffon.

He took the hint and said, “It’s okay. I have a date anyway. See you later, Twilight.”

“You always scare everypony away, don’t you?” Twilight asked.

“It’s a good skill to have. Naga, make sure no one gets to close.”

He pulled his sword out and said, “That will not be an issue.”

“This is ridiculous!” Mist said. “This is our kingdom, Navarone. Who are you to place rules upon our subjects?”

“Just a private businessman, making sure his interests are being met. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”

“And what is your… business?” Naiad asked.

“Freeing your sisters and killing the element of chaos.”

“That’s what we were afraid of…” Naiad sighed.

“Why would the only human want to kill the element of chaos?” Mist asked. “You should be protected! Not… running about the world doing dangerous deeds!”

“If the whole world is expecting someone else to act as a hero, no one will ever become the hero. Someone has to act. Circumstances just came into place that made me the one that had to make a move. So here I am. And besides, I have no desire of being coddled and locked away as a prize. The only thing you can do for me is change me back to a guy or give me your support.”

“I’m afraid your gender is locked,” Mist said. “We don’t know how you could be changed.”

“And our support is problematic,” Naiad said. “We believe that if we begin acting, it will draw the attention of chaos. We want as little of him active as possible.”

“It’s far too late for that,” Aqua said. “Discord is following Navarone’s ship very closely. He’s already influenced many things around them, including forcing my host and her friends to stay aboard the ship. If Navarone’s here, you can rest assured that chaos knows you are as well.”

“...That is inconvenient. But still, I’m sure he will leave us alone if we don’t bother him.”

“Maybe you don’t know what chaos means,” I said. “Motherfucker’s crazy. He hurts people just to hurt them. The way I figure, he’s more likely to attack you if he thinks you’re leaving him alone. Especially since word on the grapevine is that he wants to die.”

“He didn’t seem to have that mood so long ago when we fought him, Navarone,” Naiad said. “You can ask Flo all about that. She should remember, having been there on that battlefield. Something with a death wish does not fight back as he did.”

“Unless he thought death was impossible at the time,” I said.

“Then what makes now different?” Mist asked.

“You didn’t have any humans helping you, back then. If you want something destroyed, you ain’t never gonna find anyone better at it than one of us.”

Ice jumped in, then. “And we have a responsibility to protect and guide all life, sisters. We shouldn’t need to be reminded by one of our creators, but now that he is here, perhaps it is a sign. We were made for this purpose. Why continue to shirk our duty?”

“Because we also have a responsibility here, to our subjects,” Naiad said.

“The greater good, sister,” Brook said. “Your subjects are but one small part of this very large world. And would they not do better with other waters to guide them? Think of how many of us are trapped. There are thirteen still alive, but only five here. We have a responsibility to them, as well.”

“Indeed we do,” Mist confirmed. “But new responsibilities are just as important as old responsibilities. We rule over these seaponies. We could never risk abandoning them.”

“I left my subjects behind,” Brook said. “And Aqua left her followers behind when she was imprisoned. As did every elemental, for that matter. And look how the world has fared. Civilizations and powers stronger and larger than those in our time now exist. We are not needed to rule, sisters. We are needed to guide, to advise. Our job as rulers ended when the first true nation was formed. Nomadic lifestyles like we preferred are rare. There’s nothing left for us to rule. So we must become saviors instead.”

“They rule fine without us, but require us to come and save them?” Naiad asked, a smile on her face. “How could they have come so far, then?”

“The same could be asked of you, elemental,” I said. “How well were you doing when chaos came and destroyed all you held dear? How well were your creators doing? How well has every civilization since then done? They require your aid just as you required aid when he came for you. The difference is that now, there actually is someone that can help them. That someone is you. Would you be so selfish as to deny them aid that you yourself were denied? Water elementals are supposed to be loving and protective, yet you would let the world burn?”

“And yet, you aren’t speaking of just freeing the waters,” Mist said. “You already have a traitorous air elemental on your ship. And Aqua said the cost of her help was saving the fires as well. They attacked us so long ago. What would stop them from attacking again?”

“Well, you kinda outnumber them three to one,” I said. “And we would free the waters first, so you would have all of your numbers present. Besides, that was back when the numbers were higher. If they attack you now, we’d be talking about pure extinction. Surely even a war-loving fire would prefer peace to total extinction.”

“You could be surprised,” Naiad said.

“No he wouldn’t,” Ice shot back. “You know the fires as well as I, sister. They have the same desires that we do. They just act on them differently. They would not attack while chaos was looming. Remember all the peaceful dealings we’ve had with them.”

“It is easy to speak of peace when you never fought, Ice,” Naiad harshly replied.

“Let’s not make this unpleasant,” Mist calmly said. “Even if we did agree to help, we don’t want to expose our people to the surface world. Isolation means safety.”

“Oh, it’s too late for that,” Twilight said. “I sent a letter to Princess Celestia about the seaponies as soon as Aqua told me. She’s already researching spells to resist pressure and allow breathing underwater so she can send diplomats.”

Mist and Naiad both turned a very dark shade of red, but stayed silent. I said, “Ladies, your arguments are going up in smoke. There’s no reason for you not to help us. Is there something you aren’t telling us? Some reason you don’t want to help?”

Flo broke in, using my voice. She looked over to Naiad and said, “Sister, you cared for me when I was hurt. You ferried me away from battle at the risk of your own life. You can tell us anything. We are all family here.”

Naiad moved forward until she was right in front of me, then reached a tendril out to my ear, entering me. “We are afraid, Flo,” Naiad quietly said in my mind.

“As are we, Naiad. But we can’t let fear hold us back from doing the right thing. If we don’t act, the consequences will be just as bad as if we don’t try. And if we succeed, that’s the end of it. We’ll be in peace.”

“How can you be sure? From everything those from the surface have told us, Celestia is an opportunistic tyrant eager to snatch whatever power she can. If she sends diplomats here…”

“You can just as easily send them back. But then, why would you? Navarone and I have had many, many dealings with her. She is dark, yes, but cares deeply for her subjects. She is a good ruler. And as Brook said, our time is over. The races we shepherded must make their own paths now, with us acting as mere guides rather than as rulers. But just the same, they will need help truly destroying chaos. Stopping him is one thing. But destroying him? We aren’t even sure how it could be done… Perhaps we can find a way, if we combine our knowledges. We will never know unless we try.”

“...I will convince Mist. You and your followers can wait here while I speak to her privately.”

Actually, can we go back to our ship? And take the two changelings with us?

“Why would they want to leave? All of their needs are tended to. What more could they want?”

Changelings eat emotions and prefer love, Naiad. There is no love to be had down here. They’ve been forced into selling their bodies for lust. They need to be freed.

“Then I will allow it, though I can’t imagine why they’ve never mentioned it to us before.”

Excellent. How quickly will you have an answer for us?

“I don’t know. Mist can be stubborn. And I am still unsure as well. Expect it within a week.”

A fucking week?! We could be to Antarctica by then! That was probably an overestimation, actually. But unless things went very wrong, we could at least be on our way there.

“Nothing is stopping you from leaving, human. Your friend has Aqua in her head, and she can act as a messenger.”

Good. Then we’ll be gone before the day is out. Talk to your sister.

“Farewell for now, Flo,” Naiad said before pulling out of my head. “Come, Mist. We have things to discuss.”

“...Very well, sister,” Mist reluctantly said. They both began sliding back to the stairs as the other three elementals moved up to us.

“Well?” Ice asked when they were underwater.

“Naiad agreed to appeal to Mist,” I said. “They said we should have an answer within a week. I’m not going to wait around. Twilight, can you teleport people to the surface?”

“I should be able to. I’ve been studying up on teleportation even more, lately. I want to see if I can learn how the monkey anchored a location.”

I looked around the room until I found the dull eyes of the changelings, both of whom were looking at me. When they saw me looking, they started walking over. “We’re taking those two with us,” I said.

“What is it with you and those disgusting bugs?” Twilight asked.

“Hey, changelings are fucking adorable. It’s not my fault you’re racist.”

“I’m not—Look, I invited the griffin!”

“I don’t see him here with us.”

“He turned me down,” she said. “Apparently he quite likes it here.”

Psh, what a slut. “Just because you like one race doesn’t mean you can’t dislike another.”

“He’s right, Twilight,” Aqua said. “You are letting your bad experiences color your entire perception of their race. You stereotype them based on Chrysalis’s evilness.”

“But… they’re evil!”

Since the two changelings were close enough, I grabbed one of them and held him up in front of her. “Just look at him, Twilight. How can something so cute possibly be evil? Adorable little fangs to gently tickle you with. The holey legs to hold onto while they cuddle you. The harmless little horn. Tufty ears that flop around when they move. The large, soulful eyes that cry out for love. Broken and holey wings that make you just want to hold them close and keep them safe…”

“I don’t know how I should feel about this,” the changeling I was holding said.

I casually tossed him aside and continued, “I don’t know what your problem is, Twilight. You’re just weird.”

Her face had grown steadily redder while I was talking until I finally tossed the changeling off. When I said that last line, she blinked a few times. “Me?! You’re the one that’s weird! Did you even listen to any of what you just said? All those things make them creepy, not cute! Ponies are cute, not changelings! Look at my rubbable tummy. The floppy ears! My soft, squishy body! My happy, loving eyes. And if I had wings, they’d be soft and feathery, perfect for holding somepony close!” Thank God she doesn’t have those. God, can you imagine an alicorn Twilight? Horrifying.

“You’re trying too hard,” I said. “Face it, Twilight. You’re just jealous.”

“Jealous? JEALOUS?! What is wrong with you?”

“Ahem,” Ice broke in. “While this is amusing, were you not in a hurry?”

“Oh yeah. Twilight, what are you waiting for? Teleport us up.” She sniffed and looked away. “Oh come on. What if I promise to rub your belly when we get up there?”

“It’s gonna take more than that, mister!”

“Three hugs?” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Five? Five hugs, to be collected whenever you want. And a belly rub, of course.”

She stiffly nodded. “That will do.” Since the naga came back over when the two elementals left, we were all clustered together closely enough to be teleported easily. “I’ll see you later, Aqua.”

“Goodbye for now, Twilight,” she replied.

Ice tried saying something, but we teleported out before he could say more than a word. Thankfully, the sun wasn’t in our eyes because of the balloon, but it was still far brighter than anything the changelings had seen for years. They both hissed, slamming their eyes shut.

“That was fast,” Watcher said. “Are they going to help us?”

“We’re waiting for an answer. Tie these two to the masts, if you would. Give them freedom of movement, but make sure they don’t get off the deck.”

“Yes sir. Prisoners?”

“No, passengers. Passengers that I don’t trust. We’ll be heading back to Equestria to pick up some supplies and maybe a miner, then we’ll be moving to Antarctica. We’ll drop these two off in Equestria.”

“Easy enough. I’ll have them secured soon.”

“Good.” Since I could see Gourd up near the helm, I started walking that way until Twilight grabbed me with magic.

“I believe you owe me something?” she said.

“And you’ll get it as soon as I get us in the air,” I said. “I just want to get us moving quickly.” Her eyes narrowed, but she nodded and let me go. It was still fairly early in the morning, so the deck was mostly empty. Getting up to the helm was simple enough. “Next course is Equestria,” I said when I got up there. “We want to pick up some supplies and maybe a miner before heading to Antarctica.”

Gourd nodded. “I’ll set us a heading to a port city, then. We just need to wait until Gilda and Rainbow Dash get back.”

“Did they take a radio?” I asked.

He shrugged. “No clue. I didn’t ask.”

“Well, as soon as they get back, get us moving. How long should it take?”

“Two or three days, I imagine. And it might take us a little while in town, if we absolutely have to find a miner. Not too many ponies would want to leave their homes, especially to go to a place that nopony knows much about.”

“If all else fails, we can find books about it. Anything to report?”

“Nah, it’s been pretty quiet.”

“Good. I’m going below. You need anything, feel free to find me.”

“Yes sir.”

I walked up to the railing leading to the deck and jumped over it, landing on the deck. “You ready, Twilight?” I asked.

She smiled happily and nodded. “I’m following you.”

I sighed and started walking down the stairs to my room. Of course, as she said, she followed me. As soon as I stepped into my room, she grabbed me with magic and set me on the bed, then hopped up across my lap. “God, you ponies are such tummy sluts, I swear.”

“Well, you’re a regular slut. What’s the difference? And I’m not feeling any rubbing!”

“I don’t coerce people into fucking me,” I said, starting to gently rub her tummy.

She quietly moaned and said, “Y-you know you like it…”

“I just think it’s funny how much you guys enjoy them. Do this to a human, they’ll just think you’re weird.”

“I should t-turn you back into a pony and l-let Spike rub your belly, then! S-see how you like it.”

“Fuck no. I don’t like being a woman and I don’t like being a pony. But my times as a female pony were the absolute worst points of my life. I never want to do that again for any reason.”

She snorted, but stayed silent so she could more fully enjoy herself. After a few minutes, she sighed and finally fully relaxed. “I missed this,” she quietly said.

“All you ever had to do was ask,” I said.

“I know… But you always seem so busy. And when you aren’t busy, you seem to want to be alone. I know how you are when you get like that, so I just leave you alone. But now, since I get five hugs whenever I want, I don’t have to!”

“You’re sadistic.”

“No, just opportunistic. Besides, I know you like hugging mares.”

“Eh. It’s more fun when I’m not wearing a shirt, because of how furry and soft you are.”

“I’ll be sure to remember that.”

“Wonderful. Now are you done having your belly rubbed?”

“Hm… Nope. Only when you admit ponies are cuter than changelings.”

“Never!”

“Then I hope that stamina of yours keeps going strong…”

“I don’t know why you’d want me to admit to a lie. Sure, a few of you can occasionally be cuter, but on average, the opposite is true.”

“You’re so difficult!”

“Hey, I’m not the one refusing to let someone stop rubbing their tummy until that someone lies. You need to look in a mirror before you call me difficult.”

“I have looked in a mirror, and I saw something a lot cuter than a changeling looking back.”

“I think all that time reading in dim light has messed up your eyes, because you obviously need glasses.”

She snorted. “Fine, then. I’ll let you get away with admitting we’re the sexiest race alive, instead.”

“Like hell. You might be sexier than the changelings’ normal bodies, but you’ll never be as sexy as dragons.”

“What?” Spike gasped, standing in my doorway. I hadn’t even noticed him standing there. Twilight blushed and quickly rolled off me, standing up.

“Twilight was trying to get me to lie,” I said, brushing some of her purple fur off my pants. “I mean, you can’t deny that dragonesses are sexier than mares, right?”

“...Oh. Dragonesses. Nav, can we ta—”

A crew member brushed past him and said, “We got a small problem, sir.”

“What kind of problem?” I asked, jumping up.

“There’s a water thing on the deck that’s asking for you.”

“How’s that a problem?” Twilight asked.

“It came with an escort,” the crew fellow said.

I sighed and grabbed my rifle and one of my daggers, sliding it into a pocket. “Well, let’s go see what they want.” I walked past everyone and started heading to the deck. Spike sighed and didn’t follow, but the other two did.

When I got to the deck, I found Ice up there, looking at the tied up changelings in confusion. “What do you need?” I asked him.

“Why are these two tied up?” he asked.

“Because I don’t trust anyone that might have been a pirate,” I said. “They seemed okay with it, so that’s where they’ll stay until we get to Equestria.”

“...I don’t like it, but this is your boat, not mine. Although I would like to extend a request to go with you.”

“Sure, as long as you don’t mind staying in the cargo hold. We’re going into the cold, after all, and I don’t want you living up to your namesake.”

“I have no intention of freezing,” he said. “I just want to get out of the ocean and away from my sisters.”

“With Flo in my head and Aqua in Twilight’s, you won’t be alone for a while,” I said. “But whatevs. I’ll definitely welcome any help in dealing with the two waters we dig out of Antarctica. Aqua’s initial reaction to us was… less than welcoming.”

“I’ll certainly be able to help with that. Is there anything else you might need help with on board? I’ve been doing nothing for a very long time.”

“Ask Gourd or Watcher,” I said, pointing to the two. “I leave the day-to-day stuff to them, usually.”

“Very well. I suppose introducing myself around will be a good idea as well.”

“Sure. Also, did you have some kind of escort or something?”

“Ugh. My sisters are overly protective of me and forced some guards to go with me.”

“Well, tell them to fuck off. My crew has shit to do and I don’t want them nervous about armed outsiders off the side of the deck.”

“FLYERS, HO!” our lookout shouted, pointing off to the side. I looked that way and could just barely see two shapes flying our way.

“On second thought, don’t waste your time,” I said. “Gourd, get us in the air!”

“...Air?” Ice asked.

“Aye aye, sir!” he called back.

“You sure that’s them, Nav?” Twilight asked.

“We’re literally in the middle of nowhere,” I said. “Who the fuck else could it be?”

“...Look at your luck,” she said.

I rolled my eyes and chambered a round. “I’ll stay out here to be sure, then, if that makes you feel any better. But even if it is someone else, we still need to get in the air.”

“What do you mean, in the air?” Ice asked.

“Dude, this is a fucking airship. As in, it flies.”

“...What strange technologies have been created since last I set foot on land?”

“This wooden thing? Technology?” I snorted and shook my head. “Look who’s talking, Mr. Nanomachines. This thing wouldn’t even rate as a blip on the radar when I’m from.”

“What’s a radar?” Twilight asked.

“I rest my case.” The ship juddered and I nearly fell, but Ice shot a tendril forward and grabbed me. “Thanks. Gourd, what the hell?”

“Sorry, sir!” he called down. “Small problem in engineering. We got it fixed, no problem.”

“Make sure it stays fixed. I don’t want us falling out of the fucking air.”

“I agree with you there,” he said.

“You can let go, Ice,” I told him. His tendril pulled back. “Anyway, go introduce yourself around. Make sure they know you aren’t Brook, because she earned herself an unpleasant reputation here.”

“Alright, I can do that. Oh, and do you mind if I make someone a host if I grow close to them?”

“Go for it. Just make sure to tell them everything it entails. I know Aqua and Flo didn’t tell either of us that they could take over whenever they wanted.”

“It wouldn’t have changed my mind,” Twilight said, “but it would have been nice to know.”

He nodded. “Simple enough. Thank you for letting me come.”

“That’s what she said. And no problem.”

“But… no one female said th—Oh.” I didn’t know elementals could blush, but this fellow managed it.

Twilight sighed and said, “Get used to it. Nav here is a pervert. He looks for any excuse for a bad joke and just sticks it in.”

“If you know what she means,” I said with a smile. She rolled her eyes and Ice blushed even harder. “Alright, I’m going to talk to the changelings, make sure they’re comfortable. Ice, talk to Gourd and Watcher. Twilight, keep being nerdy.”

“I’m not… Well, okay.”

Strangely enough, Ice reached out and hugged me. “Again, thank you,” he said.

“Dude, why are you hugging me?”

“...Do you not like hugs?” he asked, still holding me.

“I’m asking why you’re hugging me.”

He pulled back, even redder, and said, “I was told hugging was a human way of expressing gratitude. Is that not the case?”

“I don’t know, I guess?” He pulled me back to keep hugging me. Twilight giggled. “Dude, you’re being weird.”

“I am feeling gratified,” he said. “So why is hugging you weird?”

“Because it’s fairly fucking obvious I don’t want to be hugged.”

He jerked back. “My… my apologies, Navarone. But how was it obvious?”

“...How much time have you spent around people?”

“Very little,” he said. Oh God, I just invited a socially awkward elemental to my ship. Great. “Is there something wrong with me hugging you?”

Before I could tell him the obvious answer, Gilda and Dash landed on the deck. Gilda had several strings of fish that hit the deck with wet thwaps. “Yo Nav, wanna cook out?”

“Hell yeah. Gilda, Dash, this is Ice. He’ll be traveling with us.”

“Hey,” Dash said, nodding.

“Sup. Nav, you got a knife on you?” I pulled the dagger out and tossed it her way. She started cutting into the fish.

“I’ll go grab another one and start helping,” I said, heading to the deck.

“But… what did I do wrong?” Ice asked as I walked.

“Ask Twilight,” I said over my shoulder. “She’s down with that friendship bullshit.” Spike was in my room for some reason. “Hey Spike, you interested in a cookout? Gilda brought some fish and we could use your fire.”

“I thought you said you hated fish.”

“No, I hate fishing. Fish is awesome. Especially fish from the ocean.” I set the gun down and grabbed another knife. It wasn’t a proper fish knife, but it would do. “You in?”

“...Sure, I guess.”

“Good.” Maybe this’ll help him get outta that funk. “Then grab a knife and let’s go.”

“Nav, I have claws.”

“Whatever. But don’t whine to me if you fuck your claws up.” He rolled his eyes and we started walking back out.

When we got up to the deck again, Twilight was still talking with Ice about stupid stuff I didn’t care about. Dash was talking to one of the changelings and Gilda was still slicing fish open. The naga was nibbling on one of the fish that hadn’t been cut open yet.

“Dude, how do you eat that shit raw?” I asked, grabbing one of them and slicing into it.

“It tastes just fine to me,” he said with a shrug. “Cooked also tastes fine, though.”

“Fuckin’ weird, man.” Thankfully, I had learned to clean fish at that point, and taught Spike to do it as well. Soon enough, we had all of them cleaned up and ready to be cooked. While Spike was doing that, I walked over to one of the changelings. “We’re heading to Equestria now,” I told him. “Should be there in a few days or something. You won’t be out here long.”

“Why does everyone here call you sir?” he asked.

“Long story that ends with me getting cursed with the body of a female. I’m actually a guy. You hungry?”

“Immeasurably, sir.”

“Alright, just steal my love as you normally would, then,” I said, leaning in and thinking happy thoughts. He touched my forehead with his horn and sucked some love out. “Not too much, now,” I said after several seconds, pulling away. He sighed when I broke contact. “I actually lose emotions in my memories when you take that stuff,” I said. “I let Chrysalis play around in there and almost went fucking crazy. You’ll have to wait until later to get your fill.”

“Alright, I can wait. Can you tell your… maid that we’re here? I would like to talk to another changeling, one that’s been to a hive recently.”

“Sure, after I feed your friend.” I looked over at him to see him patiently waiting, staring at me hungrily. The way he was sitting and with his tail wagging as it was, he reminded me of a fucking dog. “Is he uh… is he okay? Like, mentally?”

“He was down there for a while,” the changeling said. “So for a long time, he was the only thing most of the guys would have sex with. It… got to him a little, I think.”

“Sucks for him. Well, see you later.” He didn’t reply as I walked over to the other changeling.

“Do you really think we’re cute?” the fellow excitedly asked.

“I mostly said that to fuck with Twilight,” I answered. “You hungry?”

“Oh, definitely! Please, give me love!”

“Alright. Just take it like you normally would,” I said, leaning in and thinking even more happy thoughts.

He rushed forward, touching his horn to me, and immediately started sucking. “Oooh, baby… It’s been soooo long… Yes, yes!” Alright, this is really creeping me out.

I let the guy go a little longer than his friend, but his body still sagged with disappointment when I pulled away. “You can get more later,” I told him. “But feeding you guys drains me.”

“H-how long later?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“Probably tomorrow or something,” I said.

He hastily nodded. “I can wait! And you taste soooo good…”

“Thanks, I guess. Now, I’m gonna go…”

“I’ll wait for you,” he quietly said, watching me back away.

Weird as fuck, I thought to myself as I headed to the stairs going down.

“Just be wary of him,” Flo said. “He didn’t seem like the dangerous kind of creepy, just the slightly obsessive kind.”

“Which can turn into the dangerous kind. If you were a slutty bughorse, where would you be?”

“In a stallion’s bed, getting railed from behind while my tongue lolls out and drool seeps down my chin,” Flo answered.

Hot. Since I didn’t want to interrupt that, though, I knocked on her door. A tired-looking Doppel opened it a few seconds later. “Yes, master?” she asked.

“We got two changeling guests on the deck that would like to meet you,” I said. “Dug ‘em out of a sunken city.”

“Ooh, more changelings! Ever since Eva and Ganger left, it’s been kinda lonely here. I’ll have to talk to them. But why didn’t they come down here to meet me?”

“Because I don’t trust either of them. I got them tied to the masts.”

“That’s cruel!”

“Not, like, completely constricted. More of a leash or something to make sure they don’t leave the deck.”

“Oh. Well, let me just get cleaned up and I’ll go talk to them.”

“Doppel, you’re sexy even without getting cleaned up.”

“Oh, you! I still need a shower, though. I’ll be up when I’m done.”

“Alright, cool. See you later, then.” She nodded and went back on into her room, shaking her sexy rump. I watched for a second or two before heading back up, where the fish was done. “You work fast, Spike.”

“Well, fire breath is hot,” he said with a shrug.

“No complaints from me. Think we should invite Kumani?”

“She didn’t help catch or clean or cook,” Gilda said. “That means she doesn’t get to help eat.”

Spike shrugged. “Fair enough to me.”

“Just don’t tell her that I agreed,” I said, grabbing one of the fish. The other two smiled and we started eating. Soon enough, most of the fish were gone, devoured with the bones tossed over the side for good measure.

“I think that calls for a nap,” Gilda said, stretching languorously.

“You earned one,” I said, using a knife to pick something out of my teeth. “Hey Spike, you want to do something fun?”

“You bet I do!” he quickly answered, perking up. “Can I pick?”

“No. Go find Rainbow Dash and ask her to teach you all the ins and outs of flying. You’ll love it, I promise.”

“...That doesn’t sound fun. Hey, why don’t you teach me?”

“Because she knows that shit better than I ever will. I fly enough to get by. She flies like a pro.”

“Hey, I could teach you,” Gilda said. “In fact, let’s do that right now.”

“Works for me,” I said, nodding. “Have fun, Spike.”

“But—”

Gilda grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him up. “Come on, big guy. Let’s get you started.” He just sighed and followed her as they walked to the front of the ship. Good, maybe he can get laid. That would do him some good, I bet.

Thankfully, that cleared my schedule entirely. I grabbed the leftover fish and brought it all down to Kumani’s room. I found her in there, struggling to go over some of the old papers we had worked on while I was teaching her to read. “Brought you brunch,” I said when I walked in.

She looked up with a smile. “Smells like fish. I haven’t had any of that in a while.” I tossed one at her and she snatched it out of the air with her mouth. “Definitely fish,” she said, nodding. “Cooked by… dragonfire?”

“Yep.” I set the rest down on her desk. “Having fun trying to read?”

“It’s getting easier. I believe I have most of the letters down, now.”

“Want some help?”

“Sure.” She grabbed me and sat me on her lap, so I could read over whatever she was trying to read. “Hm. You smell salty.”

“I went down to the bottom of the ocean earlier. That’s probably why.”

“Probably. Anyway, shall we?”

And so we did.

A few hours later, she was about ready to stop. That was understandable. She was doing well and you can only look at words and letters so long before you go mad. “So you want to go fishing?” she asked.

“Ship’s moving and in the air,” I said. “I probably can’t fly fast enough to keep up to it. You’re welcome to go if you want, but I can’t.”

“...There really isn’t that much for us to do together on this ship, is there?”

“Not really, unfortunately. I guess we could practice combat together, but I still need to get my armor modified for my new body.”

“Hm… There’s another kind of wrestling we could practice, if you’re up for it…”

“...If by that you mean sex, no. I’m currently bleeding down there and it hurts and it’s nasty and I don’t want anyone near that.”

“Oh. When will you stop bleeding?”

“No fucking clue. Less than a week, but I know almost nothing about human vaginas other than that they feel good when you put your dick in them.”

“...Why not?”

“Well, how much do you know about dragon penises?”

“Uh… That they feel good in my vag, I guess. Alright, I guess I can understand.”

“You can, but at the same time, it’s different. There’s a lot more to vag care than there is to penis care. Thankfully, Flo happens to know most of it, so I shouldn’t end up with any kind of nasty infection.” I hope. God knows I don’t want a blue waffle. “But they’re hella nasty when compared to dicks. Thank God I can’t get pregnant. I’d rather stay abstinent than risk having to force a child out of that thing.”

“...Yeah, I can understand that. Now let’s stop talking about it.”

“Gladly. So… what do normal people do in relationships?”

“I dunno. I’ve never really had one…”

“Huh. Well, I guess I can go drop my armor off now that there’s almost no chance I’ll be getting fixed any time soon.”

“And I guess I might as well drag Spike out flying, teach him the ropes.”

“Good luck,” I said, nodding. “Last I saw, he was with Gilda, learning from her.”

“Hey, maybe my job will be easier then. Still, I bet there are differences between wings like mine and feathers.”

“There are a few, but not many. I’ve had practice with both because magic.”

“Eh, I think I prefer you with feathers. They’re fun to run my claws through.”

“And it’s fun for me, too. Those leathery wings didn’t have the same nerve clusters as these, so no wing molestation.”

“What a shame that would be,” she commented, reaching down to tweak at one of them. “Now, I’m gonna go find Spike and you need to get that armor done so we can do some fighting.”

“Yep. See you later, I suppose.”

She pulled me in for a short kiss and said. “Later.” She walked out first so I could watch her ass as I walked up to my room behind her.

Thankfully, my room was devoid of supplicants, so I didn’t have to worry about appeasing anyone. Instead, I just started pulling the armor off the ceiling. It all came down easily enough. Since it was annoyingly hard to carry without putting it in something, I used my blanket as a bag and just carried the entire set down to the makeshift smithy.

Smiles was reading a book in there and Jak’s door was closed again. The bat horse jumped when I dropped the bag to the floor with a loud clatter. “I need this resized,” I said.

“I uh… I heard about what happened,” he said, tossing his book aside.

“I’d certainly hope you would have, since that was a day or two ago and this is a small ship. When can you have this armor fixed?”

Once again, I got pulled into an unwanted hug. “And I just want you to know that I’m here for you, Nav.”

“Smiles, knock your shit off or I’m going to kick you right in the dick.”

“What—”

“Right. In. The. Dick.” He immediately pulled away. “When can you have this armor fixed?”

“...Less than a week. Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

“Yes. Tell Jak we’re heading back to a port city to get some supplies, so he can get all the metal he can find there, as long as he can afford it. I’m not going to pay for his pet projects until they start benefitting the ship.”

“Yes si—ma’am.”

“It’s sir, Smiles. I just happen to have the wrong genitals. I’m still very much a guy. Come find me when the armor’s done.”

I turned to go, but he quickly said, “I need to measure you.”

“Well, make it quick,” I said, turning back.

“You’re… gonna need to lose the clothes,” he said.

I rolled my eyes and started stripping down. “I don’t know why,” I said. “Aside from the boots, I’m not planning on wearing any of this without some kind of clothes underneath.”

“I need to know a base measurement,” he said. “And… why are your… your mammaries on your chest?”

“Our babies are considerably more helpless than yours, so we evolved to have the milk dispensers in a place that we can easily hold babies against. Your babies can stand within two or so days of being born. It takes ours months to stand. So reaching crotchtits is easy for you guys, but not so much for us.”

“Oh. That’s weird. Why would your foals be more helpless than ours?”

“In this time period, I couldn’t tell you. In ours, it was to support our large brains. They took more development time, so a child is helpless for years, making sure his parents take care of him in his vulnerable child-state.”

“...How do you know all this, anyway?”

“I was a student before I got pulled away. And some of it is just common sense, when you start thinking about it. Anyway, start measuring.”

“What about that?” he asked, pointing to my panties.

“Not taking them off,” I said.

He shrugged and walked over to a desk, pulling out a tape measurer and a notepad. “Hold still, then.” He walked back over and started measuring me. It was a lot more awkward since he didn’t have magic. After a minute or two, he asked, “Sir, are you in… heat?”

“Humans don’t have heat, Smiles. However, you could say that I’m in anti-heat. We can successfully breed at any time, but there are times when we’re more likely to succeed or less likely to succeed. Right now, I’m at the point where my body should be the least likely to succeed, if I remember right. It also hurts like a bitch and makes me irritable, so I suggest you hurry up and stop ogling me.”

“...Yes sir.” He didn’t ask any more questions, aside from having me move around occasionally. Finally, he said, “All done. You can put your clothes back on, if you want.”

“...If I want? Are you saying you want me to keep them off?”

He looked away, blushing slightly. “W-well… You know I’m gay, sir. So it’s not like I’m attracted to you or anything…”

“Oh, I see how it is,” I said, picking up my clothing. “You just wanted me for my body.”

He flinched and his head jerked my way. “N-no! It’s not like that!”

“Well, you’re not interested in me now, are you? And you just said you weren’t attracted to me. So is looks all you really care about? And now that I don’t look like a man, you don’t want me?”

“No!”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“I… I thought you didn’t want me to want you!”

“Oh, I didn’t. And I don’t. But just because I’m a chick doesn’t mean you can’t be gay for me.”

“...What?”

“Dude, I don’t know. I’ve been in a weird, trollish mood today. I’m just gonna get dressed and go. Make the alterations on the armor, and just change it to fit me. Don’t make it all girly or emphasize my body or whatever stupid thing you armorers do.”

“...Of course not.”

“You better not, Smiles. I’ll kick you in your dick.”

“I know, sir.”

“Good.” Since I was now mostly dressed, I nodded once and walked out, fully expecting to get back in a few days and find nothing more than a platemail bikini that offered more protection than the old one did, because videogame logic.

Since I had nothing else to do that day, I just went on into my room and read for a while. It was nice.

Several hours later, I decided to take a break and head to the deck to see what all was going on. Kat and the spider dude were up there. She was teaching him to swab the deck, if you know what I mean. Truth be told, I didn’t want anything to do with them at the moment, but they had already seen me and going back in would just be rude.

So out I walked, heading to the very front of the ship. Of course, Kat intercepted me halfway there. “Hey Nav, I wanted to talk to you about… Spider.”

“Shit, did he really pick that name?” I asked.

“Yes. But he insists that it wasn’t your fault. Or at least, that he didn’t do it because he was afraid of you.”

“Don’t they always say that?”

“...Yes. But I’m going to take his word for it, because what else can I do?”

“Spank him and tell him to stop being afraid of women?”

“It’s hard to tell when you’re being serious or not sometimes.”

“Yeah, I get practice. So what did you want to talk about, then?”

“Ways to help him adjust. He’s still deathly afraid of females and very subservient to them.”

“Give him to Watcher, Gourd, or Jak. All three of those are guys that are in positions of command that have things he could do and all three are nice enough to take care with him. But I suggest Gourd, because there are a lot of things Spider could do to help out on the ship.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” she said, nodding. “I guess I’ll ask Gourd if he can use Spider, then. Sands know I don’t have much for him to do…”

“Teach him to read,” I said with a shrug. “It’s always good to have everyone on board being able to read. That’s why I’m teaching Kumani.”

“I can do that in our spare time, then. But don’t you think it would be better if… say, you taught him?”

“No. And I’m not going to, either. I don’t like spiders, Kat. I will tolerate him because he is sapient, but if he couldn’t talk, I’d throw his ass over the side in an instant. Keep that in mind before you ever ask me to do anything with him.”

“Why do you hate spiders?” she asked. “Is that not racism?”

“No, that’s speciesism. Big difference. And even then, it’s hardly that. After all, I’m tolerating him just fine. I’d even let him date my daughter, though I’d probably be extremely passive-aggressive about it. I just happen to want as little to do with him as possible.”

“Again, why?”

“Because my mother was absolutely terrified of all bugs and she raised me almost alone. So whenever a bug would show up, she’d scream in terror at it. That irrational fear transferred to me, and since I know it’s irrational but I’m still afraid, I’m angry about it. That angry fear equates to hate.”

“Oh. You really should get that sorted out. Perhaps this is a chance to do that!”

I rolled my eyes, having had this conversation before. “I’m quite alright with my irrational hatreds. They keep me warm at night, when I’m cold and have no one to cuddle with.”

“...You could cuddle with me instead.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, if Kumani ever leaves. But until then, I’ll stick with my irrational hatreds. Find someone else to teach him to read, or do it yourself.”

She sighed and nodded. “Very well. I’m sure there’s some male on this ship that wouldn’t mind teaching him to read… I guess I should start looking. See you later, Nav.”

“Good luck,” I said, nodding. I continued my walk to the front in silence, happy to have that fleeting moment of social contact gone.

We stopped in some random port city two days later. The two changelings very excitedly watched it approach from the sides of the ship. “How’s it feel?” I asked the sane one.

“Like coming home,” he quietly answered. “I thought I would never see land again…”

“Well, you got a long way to go before you get to the hives. And despite peace between the ponies and changelings, ponies are still wary of them. I suggest using a disguise when you leave.”

“So it’s the same as usual,” he said, nodding. “At least Doppel told us how to find other changelings.”

“Yeah. It would be a pain in a city of that size.” I pulled my key out of a pocket and unlocked his bindings. “You’re free to go as soon as we get close enough. Take care of your friend. I think he’ll need the help.”

“Yes sir. And thank you. If you ever need help, just find me and I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Stay out of trouble, man.” He went back to watching the city approach as I walked over to his friend, the less sane one.

“So close,” he whispered when I got close.

“I bet you’re looking forward to it,” I said.

“More than you could possibly know. Just imagine… being a pet. For three years, being a pet and doing whatever anyone wanted… Being whatever they wanted… Pirates. Sadists. Monsters… And in the end… I liked it. Became addicted, in a way… Is that wrong?”

“No, it’s not.” I unlocked his binding thing. “You did what you had to do to survive. There’s never anything wrong with that. You’re free to go as soon as we get close enough. Just go in disguise.”

“...Thank you.”

“Anyone woulda done the same,” I said with a shrug, turning to go. He didn’t reply.

And that was the end of those two.

While we were in town, I dropped off a package containing all the human books I had translated in my spare time. I also sent a few letters, though I made sure to tell the receivers not to reply. Jak dragged Smiles down to the junkyard and looted as much scrap as they could carry. And of course, Watcher sent out word that we were looking to hire a miner for a dangerous and cold operation.

Our first few applicants very quickly decided against going with us when they learned that our previous miner had been violently murdered by ghosts. The next few decided against it when they realized just how cold it would be. One fellow saw the giant spider and just turned around and walked away.

Finally, we got a visit from a representative of a large mining company. We were currently docked at the skyport when she flew in. I was on deck, watching the naga and Spike fight. She was a well-dressed and relatively professional-looking businesshorse that looked upon their display with just a twinge of distaste.

“Can I help you?” I asked, walking over to her.

“Are you… Watcher? Or Navarone?” she asked.

“I’m Navarone,” I said, nodding. “You don’t quite look like a miner.”

“I represent a company called Miners Without Borders. Do you have some place we can discuss a possible partnership?”

“Yeah. Just come with me.”

“Very well.” I walked past Spike and Ames, heading to the door going down. She skirted widely around them, making sure she wasn’t anywhere near where they might hit her. Since I expected Watcher was in his room and that room was considerably more professional than mine, I led her there.

Thankfully, my expectations were proven accurate. “Watcher, you got a minute?” I asked.

“What do you need, sir?” he asked. I stepped inside, letting the representative enter behind me. She took a spot in front of his small desk while I leaned on the wall.

“Hello. I am Ms. Crabapple, here on behalf of Miners Without Borders. My company has learned of your interest to mine in the lands far to the south and that you are looking for miners to assist you.”

“You’re close,” Watcher said. “We need a miner to help coordinate our efforts. My team is good at many things. The correct math behind planning tunnels is not one of them. We know what we want and we know where it is, but getting to it is problematic.”

“I can work with that,” she said, nodding. “We are interested in expanding our operations. That continent is not officially owned by anypony, so it is fully within our right to mine there freely. However, it is dangerous and the startup capital required to outfit an airship like this one is immense. We will give you the assistance needed in procuring your artifact if you will protect us in the initial setup phase, as well as allowing us to use your airship to transport our sensitive equipment.”

“What kind of contract are we looking at?” Watcher asked.

“It will take us at least a full month to have all of our equipment operational in the area at which we were looking, and perhaps two weeks extra to have our own airship fully fitted for the journey. So you would be helping us for about a month and a half.”

I shook my head. “No abouts, ma’am. Give us a concrete time.”

“Mercenaries with a schedule,” she said, smiling. “I like that. I will have to consult with my superiors, but I can guarantee that it will not be more than two months.”

“Are we gonna get anything else out of it?” I asked.

“If all goes well, you will be given the opportunities for future work with our company,” she said. “And I have been authorized to pay five thousand bits upon the completion of the job.”

I looked over at Watcher. “Thoughts?”

“Two months is a long time, sir,” he said.

“We still got a few days before they give us an answer anyway,” I said, tapping my head. “And once they do and we get the two from the ice, they still have to deal with the ones in the water. Way I figure, a town like this doesn’t have many freelance miners. Even fewer that would be willing to head down where we’re going. I don’t want to sign my soul out to a company, but the money’s nice and two months of simple guard duty will be even better after dealing with the giant fucking spiders.”

“All good points. But it’s still technically Gourd’s ship. We’ll need to talk to him.”

“Yeah, fair enough.” I looked back to the lady. “When can you have a contract drafted up?”

“Give me a few hours to talk with my superiors,” she said. “I can be back before nightfall. If you agree to the terms, we can have the ship loaded with the mining supplies in less than three days.”

“Alright, awesome,” I said, nodding. “Just find me, Watcher, or Gourd when you come back tonight, then.”

“I will do that. It will be a pleasure working together, Navarone.”

“I certainly hope so.”

When she was gone, I went to go find Gourd. Watcher beat me to him and was already talking about it. I just settled back to listen and jump in when needed. “Why this ship?” Gourd asked.

“Because this ship is already outfitted for it,” Watcher said. “It’s fairly obvious, looking at it from the outside. And since we’re looking for a miner anyway…”

“Yes, yes. Do we know any details yet?”

“She said she would come back later, after we had a chance to talk to you and she had a chance to draft a contract,” Watcher answered. “As Nav pointed out, we almost definitely won’t find a miner willing to go with us unless we go to a mining town and ask. And even then…”

“I know. I’m not complaining, Watcher. The money’s nice and it’s a good opportunity. But this is the south pole we’re talking about. Do you really want to be down there for two months? Most of my crew is already moody enough. I don’t need to make them depressed by keeping them in darkness for two months.” Oh shit, I forgot about that.

“We have unicorns and we have pegasi. It won’t be that hard to change the weather,” Watcher answered him.

Gourd sighed and shrugged. “Alright. The ship can handle it just fine. I made sure that little hiccup was fixed, so we’re flying high and strong. We’ll just need to spend a little extra time on maintenance. Be sure to ask that representative if any proper engineers are coming.”

“We’ll do that,” I said, nodding. “Though you can meet with her, too.”

“...I suppose I might as well. After all, I’m gonna be the one to have to explain it to the crew.” Good, that means I don’t have to.

“Tell them to absolutely stock up on books, luxury items, and warm clothing,” I said. “I’ll be doing the same for everyone else. It’s gonna get really boring really fast down there, especially since it’ll probably be way too cold to go out safely. And if any of the crew feels like getting into some illicit relations, they better have some protection. I don’t want to deal with pregnancies at all, let alone for two months.”

“Noted,” Gourd said, nodding.

“Already taken care of,” Watcher added.

“Then I’ll make sure to tell everyone on my end,” I said. “I don’t want anyone bored enough to try their luck in Athena’s realm.”

“I know some ponies who would kill for a chance there,” Watcher said.

“Then don’t tell them about it, because chances are, they’d die for a chance there. I’m gonna go talk to our passengers before that lady gets back here. I’ll see you two then.” They both nodded and I wandered off.

Twilight and her six friends were, of course, somewhat displeased upon learning my plans, but thankfully calmed down well enough when I explained why we were doing it. Most everyone else didn’t care that much, though Ames and Doppel were more depressed than the others. After all, neither of them could really survive well in the cold. Many of them grabbed some gold and went into town to pick some stuff up for the extended trip. Thankfully, Rarity had been able to sell off some of her spider silk outfits and picked up a nice profit that she shared with her friends, so none of them needed to borrow gold from me.

The businesspony came back as she said she would, bearing a briefcase with a contract. Watcher and I read the terms while Gourd pelted her with questions. To make a decently lengthy story short, we signed the contract. Seven weeks of our lives would be spent working for Miners Without Borders, which I still thought was a pretty stupid fucking name.

They began loading up the next day. Our ship was mostly full of food and other various supplies, but they wormed drills, pickaxes, shovels, miners, and other things of that nature wherever they could fit them. A lot of it ended up lashed to the deck. Included in that ‘a lot of it’ was a very large drill that looked quite out of place on our airship.

Finally, three days later, we were ready to depart. All of my crew was accounted for, Miss Crabapple and her miners were on board, our ship was full to the brim with supplies and equipment, and spirits were neutral at best.

So began a trip that would quite possibly haunt me for the rest of my life.

 
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