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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181. Chapter One Hundred and Forty-Eight Part 1

The day we got to Hawaii was a very grey one. It was windy and there were light showers across as much of the island as I could see. Nothing too serious and nothing that any of us figured might delay our plans. Truth be told, we figured that might help us, since it could mean fewer locals out and about to be on the lookout.

But all the same, I didn’t wanna get fucking wet, so as soon as the first of the islands came into view, I called for a meeting of Brook, Gourd, Watcher, and all the scouts in the meeting room that had been getting a lot more use.

When everyone was in place, I began addressing them from my seat in the command chair. “Alright guys, you should know the basic plan by now. Gilda, you’re going high and far.”

She nodded, her avian eyes glittering with some manner of sadistic glee. “That just means I get first dibs on tasting whatever’s living here.”

“First, that’s super creepy. Second, I want you to avoid combat if at all possible. I know you’re not going to listen to that if you find a decent scrap, so I want you to avoid getting in combat with something overwhelming. You can’t come back and brag to everyone if you don’t come back.”

Gilda chuckled and spread one of her talons to show it off. “I bet these babies can slice up any local that wants to pick a fight with me!”

Why the fuck did I agree to… Never mind. I just shook my head and moved on. “Spike, you’re paired up with Shadow on this one.”

“Shouldn’t I go with Gilda?” he asked. “I can get as high as she can and—”

“No you should not,” I immediately said. “Shadow, take him above the trees. Fog, Nightshade, you two stay on the beaches. Gilda, you can go as far as you want, but report back in every four hours. Shadow, keep the ocean in view. Nightshade, keep the ship in sight.”

My soldiers all saluted. When they did, Spike flinched and then hastily followed suit. Gilda snorted and shook her head.

Watcher used magic to slap Spike. “You aren’t a soldier, Spike. Don’t salute.”

“Uh… Alright, Watcher. Um, why not?”

“Because he said so,” I replied. “Now stop asking questions unless they’re pertinent to not getting killed by locals. Alright, Brook, you guys do your thing.”

“Most of us are girls, actually,” she said.

“I absolutely do not care.” She stuck a watery tongue out at me, so I stopped feeding her any attention. “Try to regroup with each other every two or so hours so Flo, Aqua, and Ice can talk to us here on the ship and let us know what you’ve found.” She rolled her eyes and nodded. “Once we determine the land is safe enough to begin pushing in, the ship will follow behind Shadow and Spike. Nightshade and Fog, you’ll stay on our sides to keep an eye out for things when we start pushing in. Does everyone understand their assignments?” Nods all around, though some were more hesitant than others. “Does anyone other than Spike have questions?” This time, all the heads but Spike’s shook. “Then get to work.”

Just about everyone began filing out. Soon, it was just me and a very nervous looking Spike in the room. “C-can I… Can I ask a question now?” he slowly asked.

“Yes, Spike, you can ask one question now.”

“Why can’t I go with Gilda?”

“Because you’ll be more focused on having sex with her than you will be on the mission.”

“...Oh.”

He stood there, clacking his claws together for several long, awkward seconds.

“You’re dismissed, Spike.” His eyes opened wide and he hastily nodded, then scampered away. “Flo, you mind keeping me apprised of the situation?”

“Of course, Nav. Most of us actually already left the ship. We knew what we would be doing and didn’t see a reason to wait. So far, it seems like a fairly standard tropical island, though my team hasn’t started going up a river yet.”

“Well, let me know. I figure it’s only fair I get to play the knight in shining armor for once.”

She giggled and replied, “You play damsel in distress too well for that, silly!”

Further banter was cut off by Rainbow Dash bursting into the planning room, struggling to slip on her boots. She got about a meter into the room before face planting and sending most of her armor scattering across the floor. “Am I late?!” she yelled, jumping back up and ignoring the fact that her helmet was somehow on sideways.

“Yes. Late and uninvited. Dash, you’re part of the night crew on this one. Why are you here?”

“I thought I… Wait, what? How am I… Nav, I can’t see at night!”

“Twilight’s got you covered,” I said, waving a hand. She hung her head and probably had a despondent expression on her face under the metal helmet. “God, hold still.” I walked over there and yanked the helmet off, then set it on her head properly. “Why are you here?”

“You… You said if I trained with the guards, I could work with them… I wanted to scout! I thought that if you weren’t gonna invite me, I could show initiative and get assigned to go out anyway!”

“Well, I appreciate the enthusiasm, even if it was unnecessary. We’ll have three ponies in the air tonight, Dash. You’re gonna be one of them. Didn’t you read the roster?”

“...The what now?”

I slowly ran a hand down my face, then sighed. “Alright, just about every time we have something planned, we post a roster at least twenty-four hours in advance in front of Watcher’s door. This lists off who is going to be doing what and when, so they’ll know what and when to prepare. Tonight, you are going to be assigned with the other two pegasus guards. You’ll be hit with a spell that gives you a unique vision. You and the others will fly close patterns around the ship to make sure nothing hostile approaches.”

She got a slightly confused look on her face and for a second I honestly thought her eyes were just going to flash with a sign that said PROCESSING. Finally, she blinked a few times and asked, “Why wouldn’t you just send me out today?”

“Ask Watcher. He assigned the teams. Maybe because he wanted to see how you’d handle following orders from another guard. Maybe because he wanted to see how you’d operate at night. Maybe because he wanted to see if you were actually reading the roster. I don’t fucking care why. You’re going to go out tonight, you are going to follow the orders you are given, you are going to scout with cool dragon eyes, and you aren’t going to bitch about it. Now pick up this armor and go get some rest. You have a long night ahead of you.”

“...Wait, what do you mean, dragon eyes?”

“The spell gives you vision like a dragon’s. That means you’ll see like they do. You want more information, ask Twilight. Or Spike, when he gets back.”

“Huh. That sounds super cool! Do you think she could cast it on me now?”

“I dunno, probably? That’s something you should ask her, not me.” She grinned and tried jumping for the door, but I snatched her tail and forced her to stop, though it felt like it about wrenched my arm out of its socket. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere until you pick up this mess, missy.”

She stopped struggling against me and looked around. Pieces of her armor were scattered everywhere. “Oh yeah…” She started picking it up and actually putting it back on. After a second of thought, I figured that would probably be the easiest way to carry it, since she didn’t have hands or a bag to put it in.

While she was doing that, Flo tapped me on the brain or something to get my attention. “Now might be a good time to mention that the elementals find her creepy, by the way,” she told me.

I backed up to the table and leaned against it, then crossed my arms. “I had a talk with Brook a few days ago, by the way,” I said.

“That’s the big bad elemental that hurt Spike, right?” Dash asked. It came out kinda muffled since she was currently holding a boot in her mouth so she could try to put it on, but I understood enough of it.

“She is the leader of the elementals that made a few mistakes and apologized for them,” I said. “But that’s not the point. She told me you are interested in becoming a host.”

Her head shot toward me, throwing another boot across the room and cracking a wooden chair. She paid it no mind. “Yeah! Can you order her or one of them to make me a host?!”

“No. Waters choose their hosts with much care. For the most part, they only make hosts out of those they trust and feel they could come to love. Because of that, they try to get to know prospective hosts very well before agreeing. Brook told me that you were attempting to skip that step.”

She guffawed and waved a wing. “That takes too long. I’m not getting younger, Nav! I wanna live forever so I can get even more awesome at flying!”

“Do you want kids?” I asked.

She froze for a few seconds, then continued what she was doing much slower. “I dunno. I never really thought about it. Why? Does an elemental in you make that harder or something?”

“Kids are a lifelong commitment, Dash. Are they something you’d want to rush into with a random stallion you met on the side of the road?”

“Of course not! That’s—”

“The same as asking every elemental to make you a host,” I said.

“But I’m a lesbian. Stallions are… ugh! At least the water things are girls!”

“You’re missing the point, Dash!” Surprise surprise. “This is a lifelong commitment. A much longer life, in this case. They can see your every thought, feel your every mood, take control every now and then, and will change how you view the world over time. Do you want that to be someone you aren’t compatible with? Or do you want to get to know the elemental before you make the choice to have them inside of you for hundreds of years? Because you can’t just get the longer life and better healing, Dash. You get an individual inside of you, a permanent companion. You want that to be someone you like, not someone you find yourself hating.”

She finally stopped hunting for armor and actually sat on the floor to stare at me. After several long moments of that, her head tilted slightly. “How long did you know yours before becoming her host?”

“That’s a poor example. But for the record, about half an hour. Maybe a full hour. And it was a hard transition. A very hard one. We still butt heads, occasionally. You remember how I was when I got to Equestria, though. How much have I changed since then?”

“A lot. You were a much bigger jerk back then.”

“The more different you are from your elemental, the more you change. If everything was reset and I had to pick from any elemental, there’s a pretty good chance that Flo wouldn’t be my first choice.” I’m actually very surprised that she did not hit me or even comment on that. “Ice and Smiles are the best example. Ice got to meet everyone on the ship. He found a few he liked more than others and spent more time with them until he narrowed it down. He made the offer and now Smiles is a host and they’re happy together.”

“Wait, together together? Or, like, friends?”

“I don’t know and I don’t want to know. Point is, speak to the elementals. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. The real you, not just that you’re desperate to live forever or whatever. They want hosts, not to be used. They want companions. Coming at them as you are is just going to upset them and drive them off.”

Her ears dropped and she looked away. “Did uh… Did Brook tell you that?”

“She said you were being creepy. I didn’t ask for details. I want you to be happy, Dash. And I want them to be happy. So drop the bullshit and just be yourself around them.”

She sighed and hung her head. Her helmet slid off and hit the floor because it wasn’t strapped on. “Alright, Nav…”

“Good. Now stop throwing your fucking armor everywhere. Jesus. That shit’s heavy.”

“Ugh. You’re telling me! I’m the one wearing it!”

“No you’re not, it’s all over the fucking room. Clean this shit up and go to bed, Dash.”

She finally hopped up and saluted. The hoof she was saluting with had a boot. It was looser than she thought and went flying right past my head. “Yes ma’am!” With that, she got back to work and I finally left before she managed to brain me, just shaking my head and wondering which elemental she’d try to molest next.

Leaving that room put me out on the deck. It was still raining, but the balloon kept the worst of it off. Since we were still above the ocean and not expecting any trouble until we began moving inland, Fluttershy and Rarity were on the deck, looking out toward the island. Kat and Spider were near them, pretending to practice. But from the glances Kat occasionally sent at the two mares, I figured she was there to keep an eye on them in case something happened and they didn’t react quickly enough. The non-flying members of Nightshade’s squad were on deck throwing dice. Zecora was hoofing Doppel a potion. Something inside of me told me I should be concerned about that, but I pushed it down and just walked to the very tip of the ship to stare at the island.

I want to say that Hawaii had changed with the years, but I had never seen it to begin with, so that didn’t really mean much. We also didn’t have it mapped yet, so I had no clue how the terrain would compare to what it was in my day. At the moment, what I could see of the place was actually pretty nice. It looked like a fairly typical jungle with crystal clear ocean water, a pure white beach, and what we figured was a volcano way in the distance.

From what I heard, the common theory is that we’d find our guy in that volcano. Personally, I doubted it would be that volcano, but that it would be a volcano. My guess is that our guy would be in a volcano that was spouting all kinds of toxic fumes and possibly even lava, because we’re not allowed to have nice things and the trip had been too easy so far.

My universal musings were interrupted by mares appearing on both of my sides. Fluttershy warmly pressed up against my right side and Rarity stood close to my left. “Why don’t we just fly over all of it?” Rarity asked. “Surely the ship could get high enough!”

“Because we gotta get low eventually to pick up the fire,” I said. “And I’d rather pacify whatever threat there might be when we can work as a team, not when our attentions are divided by dealing with the fire. We could fly over everything, but then we wouldn’t know what was there and we wouldn’t be able to deal with it before it became a problem.”

“Do you think there’s anypony here that would want to hurt us?” Fluttershy asked, pressing against me a little more.

“Any pony? No. Anything? Probably. You know a lot about animals. How many ecosystems have you ever seen evolve that didn’t have natural predators?”

She looked at the island for a few seconds before shrugging. “Predators might not want to hurt us, though!”

“And if they try, you get to tell them no,” I said with a pat on her head. “Twilight told me I had to give you a chance to talk any predators down before I just have someone make it explode.”

“I’d be happy to make a new friend!” she replied excitedly, looking up at me with a large smile. “Especially if it means we won’t have to hurt anything.”

Rarity chuckled and said, “I’m more worried about running into locals, personally. Twilight informed me that I have been placed in charge of first contact, should they prove to be less than understanding of our goals here. I’d be quite delighted if our trip here was entirely uneventful.”

“You and me both,” I sighed, shaking my head. “If shit hits the fan and either of you are needed, you’ll be assigned a guard squad. Probably Black Fate and Grey Boulder, if I had to guess.”

“That’s the… medic and the instructor, right?” Rarity asked. I nodded. “Well, Grey Boulder is certainly a charming fellow. And while I’m not a fan of his name, Black Fate is very calming and definitely collected. I believe that if I should I be required to entrust my life to somepony, they would both be good choices.”

“Bet it doesn’t hurt that you think they’re both handsome, huh?” I asked.

“That is certainly a positive,” she said with a very matter-of-fact tone. “I believe it would be good to have a strong, protective stallion in Fluttershy’s life.” That made the mare pressing against me squeak in shock. “Despite hoping they’re not needed, I almost hope they end up getting assigned to us…”

“Well, there’s nothing stopping you from talking to them anyway,” I replied with a shrug. “Grey’s asleep, but Black is, like, right over there.”

“I believe that would be wise, actually,” Rarity said. “It would put my mind more at ease to know more about the guards with whom I will be entrusting my life. Would you care to join me, Fluttershy?”

“Oh, no. I already trust them. Nav wouldn’t assign them to us if he thought they might let us down!”

“That’s definitely true,” I said. “But it might still be a good idea for them to know more about you than your name. Guards are required to protect you. Friends are happy to watch your back. It may not sound like much of a difference, but it definitely is.”

She shrugged. “I’ll talk to them later, if that’s okay. I really like the view. I never thought I’d get to see a place like this!”

“That’s certainly the upside of adventuring,” I said with a nod. “Jungles, tundras, taigas, mountains, deserts, caves, ancient ruins, forests, new cities… It’s not all boring and bad. I hope one day, Applejack will come to see at least a few of the positives. I know she’s miserable here.”

“Applejack is a... very family-oriented mare,” Rarity said, obviously choosing her words carefully. “She believes that her place is with them, on the farm, and that abandoning them is akin to betraying them.”

“Well, I’m of the opinion that she’s not needed,” I said. “Most of you aren’t. Given the choice, I’d’ve left all of you in the Crystal Kingdom.”

“We’re here for a purpose,” Fluttershy said, her voice actually taking on some force. “Princess Celestia wouldn’t have told us to come if there wasn’t a reason! And as the Elements of Harmony, we have to help protect Equestria.”

“You may not think it of us, Nav, but we are heroes,” Rarity said. “We have very different methods and I believe you may have done more than us at this point, but that does not detract from what we are capable of. You have not kept us very far in the loop with a lot of information about this… Discord fellow, but we have gleaned enough to know that it is very important that he be stopped. It is our place as Elements of Harmony to stand with the other great heroes of Equestria to protect everypony! Some of us are less pleased with it than others, but we’re still going to do our duty regardless.”

“I’m well aware, Rarity. But how much can you really do without the actual artifacts? Hell, you still haven’t gotten yours back, have you?”

“...No. And I honestly don’t know. But the artifacts merely focus our underlying power, according to Twilight. It’s still within us and it can still come out, but directing it is difficult. That is one reason Fluttershy is confident while I am nervous.”

“You found mine in South Equestria,” Fluttershy proudly said, rocking side to side while still pressing against me. “I kinda wonder what it was doing there…”

“And I wonder where we’ll find mine,” Rarity said. “I believe we’re rapidly running out of destinations, are we not?”

“We still have three more after this,” I said. “I know at least one of those will be incredibly dangerous and I’ll do my best to leave you two behind.”

Rarity scoffed and dismissively waved a hoof. “It can’t be that bad, not after some of the places we’ve been!”

“We’re going to Tartarus.”

“Well, I’ve been mistaken in the past. We’re going to be returning to Canterlot before we go, right? I believe paying a visit to a lawyer might be wise…”

“I’m pretty sure Silver Quill can write you a will, Rarity.”

“Then I believe I shall go pay her a visit. I will see you both later.” She casually walked away, head held high. Something told me that was a front and she was probably more than a little worried about being headed to pony hell. To be fair, I was also more than a little worried about being headed to pony hell, so I couldn’t judge her.

That left me alone with Flutterbutter. She placed her forelegs on the railing and lifted herself up so she could get a better view. When she was situated, she sighed in delight. I thought about mentioning the fact that she had wings, but then I remembered that I literally just sent soldiers out to scout for danger and telling her to go flying would be kinda stupid.

Since I already had the elemental talk with Rainbow Dash, I figured it was only fair that I had it with Fluttershy as well. “So Brook told me you were interested in becoming a host,” I calmly said.

“Oh, yes!” she happily replied. “I remember when I was alone after… After I was ponynapped by Trixie. But you let me keep Flo, so I didn’t feel alone at all!”

“Part of becoming a full and complete person is learning how to feel at ease by yourself, Fluttershy.”

“I know… I’m usually happy to be by myself, but I never… I never feel brave when I’m alone, Nav. I need somepony else with me to feel courage. A water elemental would always be with me. They’re so loving and nice and motherly… If I had one inside me, I would have to be brave to protect them! And they could talk to me and be my friend. When Flo was with me, we talked about you a little, Nav. The way she feels about you is how I’ve wanted somepony to feel about me all my life. I know it’s selfish, but I can’t stop myself from wanting it…”

“The reason Brook told me is because you were worrying some of the sisters. The details weren’t my business, so I didn’t ask. But water elementals choose their hosts very carefully. Try not to come off as desperate. They want companions, not to feel like they’re just saving you from something all the time. And while they do want to help you better yourself, they don’t want you to rely totally on them. You still have to be your own individual; you can’t let yourself revolve around your elemental. And while they will probably come to love you, they don’t want to feel obligated to love you because that’s what you expect of them.”

“I… I thought… The way Flo described it, the two of you changed each other so much that you became perfect for each other. I thought that’s how it was supposed to be!”

“We are a very special case,” I said, gently stroking her back. “She was desperate and I was her only way out. We established what we have only after a few years of working things out. Most elementals want that kind of relationship at the start. They want to know they’ll be compatible with their hosts as-is. They don’t want to have to change themselves to fit you better. So if you want to become a host, let the elementals get to really know you, and get to really know them. You’ll both be happier and better off in the long run.”

She stayed silent for a few very long seconds before actually turning her head to me. “It sounds like you gave up a lot to help Flo, Nav.”

“Anyone who accepts an elemental gives up a lot, Fluttershy.” She continued staring at me. I sighed and looked back at the island. “But you’re right. I did give up more than most.”

“If you have one in you for so long is it… impossible to be away from her for long? I know some creatures that have symbiosis can’t survive away from their partners.”

“Yeah, you can give them up with no issue. It’s just lonely, after having that constant presence. You’re definitely right: It’s comforting to always have someone with you. They give advice, they help you solve problems, they’re good friends, and they have a whole host of health benefits. But you can’t just rush into it. Get to know them and all that. Think of it like a relationship. You can be acquaintances with anyone, but true lifelong friendship requires compatibility and really knowing each other. Or you can just fuck anyone you meet, but getting to know someone and falling in love with them is a lot harder and requires someone special. You need to find the elemental that’s right for you, and let them realize you’re right for them. So basically, just really get to know them.”

She sighed softly and looked back to the island. “You’re right, Nav,” she quietly replied. “Now that I think about it, it really is a lot like finding a real special somepony. I’d be dedicating my entire life to having one…”

“Yep. So finding the right one makes things a lot easier.”

“Hmm… Maybe I’ll go talk to one or two of them now, if they’re available.”

“They’re not. Right now, all the waters are scouting. You could talk to Twilight or Smiles, though. They have waters in them and might have other advice to give you.”

A familiar voice from behind said, “I’d be happy to answer any questions.” We both turned and beheld Twilight Sparkle herself. “I’m sure Aqua would, too. But before that, I had a question for Nav.”

“Let’s hear it,” I said with a nod.

“If we happen to have time and we find that the island is safe, can we stop at a volcano? I’ve read reports that say volcanos are the largest founts of Earth magic in the world. I’d like to spend a few hours studying one to see what I can find.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” I replied with a shrug. “But don’t set the fucker off. The last thing I want to do is try to outrun a pissed off volcano with this ship.”

“That certainly won’t be my intention,” she said, nodding. “Though a relatively active one would likely have more magic in it. If there’s one like that here and you think it’s safe, I’d prefer that one.”

“We’ll see. That’s getting ahead of ourselves, anyway. This place is probably crawling with murderous little bastards that think ponies and humans are super tasty. You know we aren’t allowed to have nice things, Twilight.”

“Oh? You seemed to think what I was doing to you last night was a pretty nice thing…” Of course, that made Fluttershy squeak.

“Thank you for doing my laundry, Twilight.” I fucking hate doing laundry. Socks always go missing, even when I do it by hand. Letting someone magically clean it is much better.

“That’s not what I… Never mind. What kind of questions did you have, Fluttershy?”

“And on that note, I need to head below,” I said. “Gotta put on armor in case shit gets hairy. I’ll see you two ladies later.”

“Nav, this ship is always hairy,” Twilight said. “Pinkie and Rarity shed all the time, especially when Rarity runs out of her special shampoo.”

“Twilight, the next time you get overly literal with me, I am going to kiss you right on the fucking mouth.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to kiss me left on the mouth? Or maybe—” She had to stop talking, because my tongue was suddenly occupying her mouth.

A few seconds later, I pulled back. “Keep it real, ladies.”

I started walking away, but Twilight said, “It’s hard not to stay real, Nav. We exist, so we’re always—” Once again, she found her mouth occupied by an intruder.

This time, when I’ll pulled back, I said, “I’ll see you ladies later.”

Before I could even turn away, Twilight said, “Technically speaking, it’s always later. You can’t really say you’ll see some—” I’m ashamed to say that it took about four more iterations of that for me to finally escape. Not only did Twilight not learn her lesson, she managed to get more annoying.

So the last time, I just left after kissing her. Neither of them said anything, though I think Fluttershy was blushing.

When I got to my room, I fell onto the bed. I didn’t really have any plans of putting on armor, at least not at the moment. Getting away from Fluttershy was the goal, and pawning her off on Twilight was a decent enough way to do that. My scouts would be gone for at least three more hours and our ship wasn’t going to move until they all reported back, so there was no reason to get prepared for battle immediately.

Compared to the bed I had in Canterlot, the one in the cabin was pretty terrible. The clouds in it helped a little, but it was still small and unpleasant. It made cuddling a lot more intimate, but that’s about it. But compared to standing out on a windy deck with bothersome miniature horses everywhere, it was heaven.

Of course, since I made the mistake of not closing my door, my heaven was interrupted by the most adorable daughter I’ve ever had. The proper thing for me to say is that she made it better since she’s my daughter and I love her.

I’m a very improper person.

She let herself in and used magic to shut the door behind her. “Are you alright, mommy?” she asked as she walked up to the bed.

“Yeah. What’s up?”

“You’re lying down. I thought something might be wrong.”

“Well, I don’t have any chairs in here. Lying down is better than standing.”

“Usually you have a book or you’re writing or on the laptop. You don’t usually just… I don’t know, lie here in the dark.”

I blinked a few times and then looked up at the light. Turns out, it was off. “I didn’t even realize. I’m fine, just… bored, I guess. We’re pretty much just going to be sitting here until our scouts get back. Until they do, I don’t really have much to do.”

“Why didn’t you join them?”

“I was bad at flying before I got a demon wing. I’d slow our scouts down and get in the way. My days of being useful in the air are over.”

She hopped up on the bed and sat on me. “That sounds very pessimistic, mommy.”

“Sometimes, pessimism and realism go hand in hand. Am I comfortable?”

“No, but you’re comforting.” She used magic to grip the demon wing and slowly spread it out to its fullest. “Back when I was first learning magic, I… hurt you. A lot. Do you remember what you told me?”

That was a long time ago, shortly after I found her and got her to Equestria. I hadn’t really thought too much about it. “I dunno. Something about not hurting people, maybe?”

She just sat there for several long and uncomfortable seconds. “It’s… weird, mommy. To one person, something can be so important, so profound, that they try to live according to it every day. But to someone else, it’s just… I don’t know, a passing moment. Something they just said. That entire event… changed me, mommy. It changed who I was, how I thought, how I looked at you and the world… And you don’t even remember it.”

“I was in a whole lot of pain, Taya.”

“It’s not just that, mommy. You cause change. You make people think. And it seems like half the time, you don’t even seem to realize it. Sometimes you’re really irresponsible.”

“I’ll let you in on a little secret, Taya: Adults are just grown up children. No one gives us a manual on how to behave or what to say or do. We’re just muddling through it like everyone else. So yeah, sometimes I am a little bit irresponsible. Sometimes I say things without thinking.”

She sighed and shook her head. “What I was getting at is that you can’t just give up and call it a lost cause, mommy. This is your wing now. You have to learn how to fly with it. You really have to practice. You have the ability and the skill. Giving up is beneath you.”

“I can fly. But barely. Practice isn’t going to make a shitty situation better. That’s like telling a man with a broken leg to walk it off. The only solution I have is cutting them both off and hoping they regrow into something that can get me into the air. And at the moment, barely flying is better than being unable to fly.”

“Even if it means you’re not useful when you’re flying?”

“It means I can get from the ship to the ground much faster, where I can proceed to be useful.”

Her head tilted slightly and she used some magic to float one of my large knives over. “If I promised to always stay with you and teleport you wherever you wanted to fly, would you let me cut them off so they can grow back big and strong?”

“First, that’s horrifying. Second, that’s morbid. Third, I would let Flo do it, because she can make sure it’s completely painless. Fourth, why is it even that big of a deal?”

“Mommy, I walked in and found you lying here in the dark, moping about how you can’t be useful or fly around. You’re so used to flying now that taking it away from you or making it harder isn’t fair. What’s a few months of letting me help you? I’d be happy to, if it meant you were happy.”

Those are better reasons than I was expecting, at least. “When I think we’ll have a month of down time, maybe,” I said. “But now’s a bad time. Shit might be getting fucked here pretty soon and I’ll need all the mobility I can get. For now, shitty wings are better than no wings.” Her face got all frowny and mopey. “And don’t think it’s because I don’t trust you, Taya. When it’s time, I’ll be relying heavily on you. But that time isn’t here yet. So for now, just chillax and take my word for it that I wasn’t moping. I was just enjoying a moment of silence and stillness in a world so often full of noise and movement.”

She floated the knife back to its place and then joined me on the bed instead of just sitting on me. Given her silence, I assumed she either needed a moment herself or respected the fact that I did. Since she was a pony, I was going with the second one.

Despite untold amounts of time passing, Hawaii didn’t really grow all that much. The main difference is that instead of being a chain of islands, it was now just a single island. That made things easier in some ways and harder in others. Easier, because it meant we had to scout less. Harder, because if we found any problems on the island, we’d have to deal with them instead of just moving to the correct island.

Around the time all the scouts were supposed to be checking in, Flo and her sisters finally had something interesting to report. “We found crude boats on the far side of the island, Nav,” she said in my head. “Looks like intelligent life takes the pot.”

“Just because there was doesn’t mean there still is,” I replied, sitting up. “You got any details, or do you just see boats?”

“Just boats, for now. We wanted to circle the entire island before heading in. There’s no river here, so we believe that the inhabitants will likely be close.”

“Or they’re just not worried about anyone stealing their boats. One of you stay there and watch. The rest of you, start looking for a way inland. I’ll tell Watcher what’s up and tell the scouts that we probably have company here. Stay safe.”

“I intend to.”

I finally hopped out of bed and stretched. “Did she find someone?” Taya asked.

“She found boats. Crude ones. That means some kind of intelligent life.”

“So am I gonna get to blow something up?”

“That’s a tossup. Let’s go find Watcher.” She slid off the bed and followed me to the deck. Watcher was talking with Fog and Nightshade. There were a few other unimportant plebeians up there that I ignored. Watcher chose to stop talking when I got close and all three saluted. “The elementals found boats,” I said. “There’s something intelligent out there.”

“Want me to call Shadow in?”

“Yeah. I want everyone to know we got company here. Probably nothing too advanced, but a stone spear will kill you just as well as a metal one.”

“That it will.” His horn lit up bright orange and he shot a flare off the side of the ship. It flew sideways for a while before shooting straight into the sky. “In hindsight, that might not have been the best of ideas.”

“Let’s hope that the locals don’t have any reason to look up,” I sarcastically replied. “But whatever. They’re probably gonna find out we’re here anyway. Better to let them know we’re here and capable of making fire than letting them think we’re easy pickings. Gilda check in yet?”

“No ma’am. It can be hard for fliers to tell time, though.”

My two scouts nodded. “When your bearings are all over the place, it’s really easy to lose track of how far the sun’s moved,” one of them said. “And she’s too fluffy to easily wear a watch.”

“Four hours is four hours,” I said, crossing my arms. “She knows she’s supposed to be checking in and she knows I’m gonna be pissed if she doesn’t. If she isn’t back in another hour, she better have a damn good fucking reason. If she’s not back in two, we’re assuming something happened and we’ll start moving in. If we still have no sign of her in four hours, we’re going full alert and assuming the locals are hostile. And if we find out they hurt her, talking to them goes out the window.”

“Is Gilda worth that?” Taya asked.

“Any member of my crew is,” I said.

Before that could continue, Shadow and Spike landed next to us. “Did we find something?” Spike asked.

“The elementals did,” I replied. “Crude boats on the other side of the island. There’s something intelligent here. We’ll wait two hours for more information and then we’re moving in. You four, take half an hour to rest your wings and get some food, then head back out.”

“Were the boats wood?” the scout that was with Spike asked.

Flo?

“They were,” she said.

“Yep.”

He nodded and said, “I believe I may have seen some kind of wooden treestands a kilometer or two into the jungle. They were so crude that I couldn’t tell if they were made by something intelligent, but I figured it would be worth noting.”

“Was anything on them?” Watcher asked.

Shadow shook his head. “No. The stands were just on a few trees near a little clearing. I don’t know what they were for.”

“Hunting,” I said. “Humans used similar tactics. Set up bait in a clearing and then get in a stand on a tree on the edge of the clearing. Your prey goes for the bait and doesn’t see you. Easy food.”

“So we’re probably dealing with a predator race,” Watcher said, lifting a hoof to his chin. “A predator race that either has some manner of ranged weapon or is capable of jumping and landing on prey from a tree.”

“Bow and arrow or spears, probably,” I said. “Those were both fairly common in early human hunting tribes. I’m going to go find Rarity and then get armored up. I doubt these things have steel. A large group of warriors in plate will hopefully be enough to give them pause.”

“If Gilda shows up, I’ll send a runner for you,” Watcher said with a nod. “I’ll keep an eye up here for now. If we do have to rescue Gilda, we’ll probably have to do it at night. I say we have at most three more hours of light.”

“Most of us have night vision. And if we find out they don’t have magic, it might be better to just throw up a lot of magical light to scare and disorient them.”

“Once they get used to it, we won’t have the advantage of darkness anymore.”

“What predator race do you know of that can’t see in the dark?”

“Dogs and naga are bad at it, I think. But fair enough. I’ll see you when you get back up here, Nav.” I nodded and finally started heading below. Taya followed, of course.

Rarity was not in her room or in Fluttershy’s room. I found her in Silver Quill’s room, apparently still setting up a will. Or more likely, complaining. They both stopped talking when I knocked, so I don’t really know. “Is something wrong?” Silver asked when she opened the door and beheld me.

“Not yet. I was looking for Miss Marshmallow here.” Rarity rolled her eyes, of course. “We found signs of sapient life. We haven’t made first contact yet, but it looks like you’re gonna be it. And not to jump the gun or anything, but some of our scouts haven’t reported in yet. As of about ten minutes ago, they’re late.” It’s hard to go pale when your fur is completely white, but she managed somehow. “So I really hope you’re going to be as useful as Twilight says you are.”

“Do… Do we know when I might be needed?” she faintly asked.

“Not yet. We’re gonna give the scouts two more hours to report in before we start moving. It’ll probably be some time after that, unless the elementals get lucky.”

“Then I shall… be ready. I hope…”

“Don’t be nervous, Rarity. I’ll make sure your guards get you out if shit goes south. And I’ll be right there with you.” Of course, I might wait a second or two longer than I should to step in, but I probably wouldn’t.

“That is more comforting than you know, Nav.” She sighed and shivered slightly. “Who… who hasn’t reported in yet? Is Spike okay?”

“Spike’s fine. He’s back on the ship now. Gilda’s missing, so far. And I haven’t heard back from all the elementals, but that doesn’t mean anything. I sent Gilda out the farthest, so we’re hoping she’s just late returning. But we know there are sapients out there and we’re pretty sure they’re predators with ranged weapons, so I’m heading to gear up and get back on deck. You’re welcome to join us, if you want.”

“I believe I just might,” she said with a nod. “As soon as I finish up here, that is. I shall see you on deck, Nav.”

“Until then.” Taya and I went back to my room, leaving them to whatever they were up to. “I was really hoping I wouldn’t need my armor in this heat,” I sighed as I began pulling it down.

Taya used magic to take it all off the ceiling at once and place it on the bed. “It’s pretty hot out there. I’m glad I don’t have armor…”

“You say that now. If you ever find yourself in a melee, you might change your tune.” Since it was all in place, I began putting it on. “At least it’s not very heavy. Once you get older, I’ll probably get you some armor. But you’ll quickly outgrow anything I get you now.”

“...Why would I want to wear armor? If anything gets too close, I can just teleport away.”

“Until you can’t anymore. Or until someone surprises you. Or something else happens. You may know how to make things blow up, but you don’t know combat. You have to plan for the unexpected, or one day you won’t be coming home. You’re my favorite daughter, Taya. I don’t want you getting hurt when it can be prevented.”

“Can’t I just hide behind you?” she asked.

“Sometimes. But that won’t always be an option. And again, you never know what kind of unexpected thing might happen. A fight between two people is easy. But real combat isn’t usually like that. You can get surrounded, you can get ambushed, you can get surprised. In my time, it wasn’t uncommon for whole fights to be done in seconds, before the losing side knew they were even fighting. Being protected at all times without using extra energy on magical shields is extremely important. Being uncomfortable for a few hours is better than being dead for a lifetime. Why do you think people like Watcher and Shining Armor wear armor?”

Her head tilted slightly. “I always thought that was because they were guards and they had to look imposing.”

“Guards are supposed to look professional, not imposing. And that’s another reason to wear armor. As much as you might not like it, and I know I damn sure don’t and didn’t like it, looks are extremely important. But the reason they wear armor is to keep them protected even when their magic fails. The reason they learn how to fight in… hoof to hoof combat is in case their magic fails. The reason they have to go through all the same physical training is…?”

“...In case their magic fails,” she sighed, hanging her head.

“Correct. Magic is powerful and very useful. But so is steel. You must never rely so much on it that you let your body waste away. But we’ve been over this plenty of times. Not liking it doesn’t make it any less true.” And I was finished suiting up anyway. “Let’s head topside. Maybe our favorite griffin will be up there.”

“Why would Princess Gilda be here?” she asked.

“The world’s a very strange place,” I replied with a shrug. It surprised me that she liked PG more than OG, but I wasn’t going to debate the point. At least PG was punctual, even if they were both usually pretty bitchy.

Things on deck were mostly unchanged. All the scouts were presumably below, probably either getting food or just resting in their rooms. Watcher and Kat were talking. Spider was getting instructions from one of the crew unicorns about some maintenance on the rigging. A few soldiers were talking to Applejack and Doppel.

There was no sign of my missing griffin.

My daughter and I walked over to Watcher and Kat, first. “Gilda still hasn’t checked in,” he said when we got close. Kat rolled her eyes.

“I figured. Watcher, tell Taya how important it is that she wear armor, exercise properly, and learn how to fight without magic.”

He looked at her and said, “Very.”

“See, Taya?” She sighed again. “Anyway, has anyone teleported Gilda?”

“I haven’t,” Watcher said, shaking his head. “And I don’t think any of my troops have, either. She doesn’t seem to trust magic.”

“Most other races don’t,” Kat said, tensing her claws. “It is… unnatural.”

“That’s not true at all,” I said. “Magic is perfectly natural. It’s just not common because of Celestia and Discord. New rule: Anyone that acts as a scout has to be teleported by a few unicorns, so we can teleport them back if necessary.” Watcher’s horn lit up and Kat disappeared for an instant, only to reappear a meter away. “One down.”

All of Kat’s fur was standing on end and she traded a nasty glare between Watcher and Taya a few times. “I believe I prefer to trust my own two paws.”

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