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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182. Chapter One Hundred and Forty-Eight Part 2

“Or my wings?” I asked, brushing her cheek with one of them. That wiped the glare right off her face, as I knew it would.

“...Yes, or your wings.”

“Well, the upside to teleporting is that when a unicorn teleports you once, they’re ‘tuned’ to you, so to say. So they can teleport you whenever they want, wherever you are. It’s great for getting out of bad situations.”

“Or for moving me when I am bathing.”

I will be teleporting you, not Nav,” Watcher said. “So you don’t need to worry it being misused.”

“Words hurt, Watcher,” I said, shaking my head. “Words hurt deep.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said with a nod. “Staves and stones may crack your bones, but words will hurt forever. On the flipside, the truth will set you free.”

“Watcher, you’re my vassal now. I can boop you on the nose and you no longer have the right to be upset.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, my lady.” I reached out and booped him before he could try to back away. “That felt just as degrading as I thought it would.”

“Well, there’s more where that came from.”

He sighed and shook his head sadly. “Have you heard anything else from the elementals?” he asked when he got over being extremely disappointed.

“Nope. We’re staying on that same schedule, for now. I’ll update you when they update me.”

“They can speak to you in real time?” he asked.

“Yep. Flo can tell me whatever she sees, whenever she sees it. I wouldn’t be too surprised if she could figure out how to hijack my vision and show me what she sees, though I’m not positive I’d be able to interpret it. It’s pretty similar to the radio I have, but only I can hear what she says.”

“Why didn’t we give Gilda one of those?” Watcher asked.

“The range is too far. One of the same problems we had when we brought it underground. They can’t just go forever. Elementals have a much farther range, especially if they’re in water. I was able to hear Flo when I was in Europe and she was still underground.”

“That’s… very interesting,” he slowly replied, poking at his chin with a hoof. “I believe that Brook has been grooming me to be a host. Do you believe I should do it?”

“I believe that I like having one,” I said with a shrug. “I don’t know if you would or not. But I know if you find that you don’t like it, she would leave. Probably wouldn’t hurt to try. They can also give you orgasms randomly, so that’s a big plus.”

“I am not sure I would consider that a positive. In fact, I believe I will make sure that she does not do that before I agree to anything.”

“I did not get that luxury. In fact, I had to learn that lesson the fun way.”

The silence that followed was not entirely comfortable. Finally, Watcher slowly replied, “I can’t help but wonder how much of how you act is you and how much of it is her.”

“Being a host is like being married, in a way. You spend every moment, both waking and sleeping, with that person. There is absolutely no escaping them; they are always there. You will find yourself picking up their mannerisms and they will find themselves picking up yours. Unless you knew me before I got Flo, you’ll probably never know how much of this is me and how much is influenced by her.”

“I knew her before,” Taya said, looking at Watcher. “Most of how she acts is the same.”

“You shut your cute little mouth,” I said, poking her right on the snout and leaving my finger there. She eyed it with extreme disdain.

“Nav, stop fingering your daughter,” Kat said, crossing her arms. “She obviously doesn’t like it.”

“Fingering means something a whole lot different to my people than it does to yours,” I idly replied, removing the offending finger. “Or at least, I hope it does.”

“I refuse to ask.”

“It’s when you shove your fingers—”

Watcher’s horn lit up and I felt something covering my mouth. “It will forever be a mystery,” he sarcastically said. “I think I’m going to go get food while we have a moment of down time. I’ll get back on deck soon.”

“I’ll join you,” Kat said. They both left. When they were a few meters away, Watcher’s horn dimmed and whatever was covering my mouth disappeared.

Since they apparently condoned ignorance and hated cultural exchange, I decided to let them depart for their stone-age, racist ways. My daughter and I continued to the front of the ship. For some reason, I really like standing right at the tip.

A few minutes after we got there, Taya awkwardly cleared her throat and quietly asked, “What’s fingering, mommy?”

“It’s when you use your fingers for lewd purposes,” I said. “Usually putting them inside of someone.”

“...Oh.” She shifted from side to side a few times before awkwardly rubbing the back of her neck. “Kat was wrong…”

I slowly turned my head to look at her. She was very stolidly looking at the deck, her face bright red. As soon as my mouth opened, she teleported away. My mouth closed and I turned back to face Hawaii.

“I’m going to assume she was talking in general and had no specific implications in mind.”

“That is wise,” Flo said.

“You’ve been quiet today. Is scouting taking up all your concentration?”

“It is not.”

I waited a few seconds to see if she had anything else to add, but she stayed silent. “I guess not much has happened. No reason to give input, in that case.” Still, I’m used to a lot more snide remarks.

“Well that’s obviously not what you like,” she coldly replied. “Maybe I’m just trying to fit you better.”

Oh boy, here we go. She snorted. “I’m gonna have to have you explain why you’re mad, Flo.”

“You told Rainbow Dash you’d prefer to be the host of one of my sisters. I don’t think any explanation should be required!”

“Oh. That’s not what I—”

“I can see into your mind, Nav. I know exactly what you meant!”

“So do you wanna do this now or do you want to wait until you’re back on the ship?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“There is nothing to ‘do’, Nav. I know why you feel the way you do.”

“And yet you never thought it was important to stop doing any of the shit that pisses me off.”

She fell silent. Soon, I actually stopped hearing anything at all. The ship stopped creaking, the sails stopped flapping, the sounds of conversation behind me died, I could no longer hear the ocean. Then something icy slowly ran down my back and it felt like two hands came to my shoulders.

“I acted the way I thought you needed, Nav, not the way you wanted. I know that you don’t think elementals are perfect. You are correct. I have made mistakes with some of my behaviors. I have done things that are inappropriate. But I have acted solely in a way that I thought would help you, overall. I did my best to be what you needed in this lonely world, Nav. Unfortunately, it is the curse of my kind that we often forget that mortals do not always share our perspective. In my mind, I was what I thought you needed. It just so happened that in your mind, what I thought you needed was an overbearing and occasionally creepy mother figure that didn’t respect you.”

“I had a mother, once. Didn’t much figure I needed another one.”

Silence returned to us once again. After about a minute or two, the hands shifted from my shoulders to my cheeks. “You are not going to like what I am about to say, Nav.”

“I don’t like having to have this conversation at all, Flo.”

“Your mother did not care about you. She birthed you and both she and your father made sure you stayed alive. But you did not have loving, interested parents. They perverted your view of parent-child relationships, Nav. Possibly irreparably. I thought I could… help mend what was broken. I thought I could be what you never knew you wanted, never knew you craved. It is in my nature to love and heal. If I see something broken, my mind instantly goes to how it can be made whole. It did not occur to me that sometimes, people prefer things to stay broken.”

“You tried to fix me.”

“I tried to fix you.”

It may have been pointless to allow that silence to build given that she was in my head and she knew what my response would be before I did. But honestly, finding the right way to word it was not easy. “You know me better than it’s possible for a human to know anyone, even themselves. Did you really think what I needed was a mother that wanted to fix me?”

The hands on my cheeks disappeared and it felt like she was suddenly hugging me. “Yes, Nav. Your childhood was traumatizing. The only way for you to ever improve as an adult was to get over that and begin healing. Instead, you let it form into scar tissue and stay forever blemished. I know you hate being taken care of. I know you hate people trying to fix you. I know you… I know you’re tired of me. I know you think I’m too overbearing and overprotective sometimes. Or that I’m too playful, even bordering on abusive… But I’m trying, really trying, to help you. And it’s working. I can’t take full credit, but you are slowly becoming happy again, Nav. You’re being more positive. Part of what loving, supportive people in your life do is help you grow and change and become happy.”

Silence is a tool, a weapon of the betrayed. It comes in many packages and flavors. Right then, I didn’t know why I was silent or how to feel. Or rather, I didn’t know how I wanted to feel. There was a time when my very first reaction would have been to tell her to get out of my body. There was another time when I would attempt to kill or hurt her to get back at her.

But time changes everyone. Even me, apparently. I felt pissed and hurt and betrayed and so much more, but… I don’t think I wanted to feel that way. Or at least, I don’t think I did. Time changes everyone, but was it really time that changed me?

“You can change my memories, Flo. You can probably alter my mood and my inner thoughts as well. If all you wanted to do was fix me, how can I trust that you didn’t completely change who I was?”

“If I wanted to do that to you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, Nav. I want you to be happy, but more than that, I want you to want to be happy. I will say this: You were clinically depressed when I came into your mind. There was a chemical imbalance in your brain that was causing you to feel bad. I slowly tweaked that over time to cure it, because it was unnatural and I know you didn’t want to feel that way. But that is the only thing I have done and I did not do it all at once because I saw what happened when you asked Chrysalis to try. So yes, I did directly alter the way your brain worked, but only because you went out of your way to try unhealthy methods of doing it yourself.”

Everything I was wanted me to be angry about that. She lied to me about what she could do, she used me to free her sisters, she altered my brain, she tried to fix me, she abused me in all manner of ways. And yet, she was there for me when I needed her, she helped me get over the darkness inside of me, she gave me advice and help, she healed me and kept me alive.

Everything I was wanted me to be angry.

But time changes all people. Everything I was… was gone. It was gone, and I remained. And I got to decide what that meant. I got to choose who I wanted to be, how I wanted to act, what I wanted to feel.

And I made my decision.

“I love you, Flo.”

The iciness around me was almost immediately changed with a warm wetness all across my body, like I was in a steam room. Her embrace grew tighter as she mentally pulled me closer. “I love you too, Nav.”

And in an instant, the entire feeling and mental state just disappeared as something grabbed me from behind and turned me around. I had time to look surprised before a leathery wing slapped me in the face. “Nav, wake up!”

I blinked away the small stars and looked down at the bat pony with his hooves on my armored chest. “The fuck you want, Smiles?” I asked.

He sighed in relief and backed away. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for a few minutes. Ice found a village!”

“That’s good. Go get the captain, we’ll—”

“They have Gilda!”

That took a second to sink in. “They… have her? Have her how, exactly?”

“Um.” His head tilted and his eyes went blank for a second before turning blue. “She’s tied to a pole. I believe she is unconscious.”

“How in the fuck… Whatever. Do you see any evidence of magic?”

“Yes. There’s a fellow wearing bones standing over her, waving a staff and chanting. I can’t tell what it’s doing, but I don’t think it’s good and I’m pretty sure it’s magical in nature.”

“So you can’t get in there to save her.”

“My sisters are saying they don’t want to take the risk.”

“Alright, give me details about the population. Bare minimum; we might not have much time.”

“They’re kobolds.” Flo gasped. “Much smaller versions, though.”

“I don’t know… Never mind, I’ll make Flo explain on the way. Do you see weapons?”

“Stone, bone, and wooden weapons, though the guy standing over her has something covered on his side. Their huts are flammable. No walls or other defenses, aside from the volcano they’re right next to.”

You’ve gotta be fucking shitting me. “Put Smiles back in control.” He blinked and his eyes went back to their normal golden hue. “Head to the helm and plot a course to Ice, then get back to me. I need to be kept informed.”

He stepped back and smartly saluted. “Yes, my lady!” With that, he cantered off to the helm. I quickly followed and went down into the depths of the ship.

Before I got too far, I found Rarity, who was heading to the deck. “You’re up, Rarity. We got sapients, we got a village, and we think they might not be friendly. We’re on the way as soon as we get a course charted.”

“M-might… might not be friendly?” she weakly asked, her voice suddenly hoarse and her eyes going wide.

“They knocked Gilda out and tied her up. Your job is to get her back. So better think up some nice words. You’re defusing a hostage situation.” She very loudly gulped. “I’ll get your squad sent to you soon.”

She didn’t pay any attention as I hurried past her. From the sound of it, she just froze in place. My next stop was Watcher’s room. He had his two squadmates in there and it sounded like they were talking before I walked up. “Gilda come back?” Watcher asked when he saw me.

“No. She got captured by the locals. The elementals found a village. Looks like their chief is doing some kind of ritual on her now. We’ll be headed that way as soon as a course is plotted.”

“My troops will be ready in ten. What are the locals?”

“Something called kobolds, but I have no idea what those are.”

Flo hijacked my face and said, “Kobolds are a smallish reptilian race. Bipedal, fairly intelligent, very loyal, tool using, cold blooded. I believe these might be the remnants of Mist’s old worshippers.”

“After this long?” Watcher asked.

“Kobolds were our main followers, back in our time. Most water elementals had a small clan. Mist just so happened to have lived here. During the war, she was forced to retreat into the sea, but the kobolds couldn’t follow her. That said, I doubt any of them would know what an elemental is, these days. And they have a rudimentary magic, so appearing to them alone would put us at risk.”

“Then we’re doing it the hard way,” Watcher said with a nod. “Plan?”

“We’ll go in friendly,” I said. “If they hurt Gilda, we’re putting that village to the sword.”

“...I don’t know what that means,” he slowly said.

“It means that we kill them all.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll see you topside.” I nodded and began heading up to the deck. He and his soldiers quickly vacated his room and went deeper into the ship to rouse the others.

On the way to the deck, I found Rarity, who was still locked in place. When I got close, her body jolted and she looked at me with fear-filled eyes. “Nav, I’ve… I’ve never done anything like this before!”

“Just be yourself. And if shit starts going downhill, hit the dirt and stay there. Let’s go.” She shuffled behind me with very leaden hoofsteps.

Before I got through the door at the top of the stairs, Smiles started coming down. “We’re on the way, ma’am,” he said.

“Good. News?”

“None yet. The helm said we can’t go full speed due to the number of volcanoes here. We should be there in an hour or two.”

“You still have your armor?”

“Yes ma’am. It might not fit so well anymore, but I still have it.”

“Get geared up. I doubt you’ll be needed, but another pair of hooves on the dirt is always useful. And if Jak isn’t in the book, get him on deck too.”

“Right away.” By that point, I was on the deck. He started heading down, but had to stop and back up because Rarity was still being overly dramatic and slow.

Now that I finally had a moment of peace, Flo decided to start talking again. “My sisters and I would be very appreciative if you did not kill them all should they harm Gilda, Nav.”

“I will take that into consideration.”

“Nav, this is the first time we’ve found any evidence of our old people. We at least want to speak to them, to see what history has passed on.”

“Flo, do you know what happens to small, enclosed communities on islands with no population influx over the course of several million years?”

“...Yes, I do. Given Ice’s basic description, they are likely not the same people they once were. But on the off chance they have any memory or rationality left, we would like to speak to them.”

“If Ice stops being a little pussy, he can go talk to them right now and sort this shit out right proper. I doubt they’ll try to smoke him.”

“My sisters are likely placing his safety, and their own for that matter, above that of Gilda’s. Once upon a time, that would not have been the case. But now, with so few of us and the means to make more of us currently out of our reach, we must take precautions. It will take all thirteen of us to free the fire. This journey will be for naught if we take a loss.”

“There is only one of me, Flo. And do you know what I am going to do as soon as we get there?”

She did not reply. I continued to the front of the ship in silence.

Shortly after I got up there, some loud hoof falls close behind me made me turn back around. Spike and Twilight continued their approach. “What’s going on, Nav?” Twilight asked.

“Gilda got captured by the locals,” I said. Spike’s eyes widened and Twilight’s eyebrows lifted. “We’re going to get her back.”

“How did she get captured? Can the locals fly?”

“I’ll be asking her that as soon as we get her back,” I replied. “I don’t think they have wings, so she was probably doing something stupid.”

“I wanna help!” Spike quickly said.

“Good. You were going to help whether you wanted to or not, but wanting to makes it easier. You’re welcome to join us as well, Twilight.”

She shook her head. “I’ll give you some protection spells, but if you’re going to be fighting, I think I would likely get in the way. I haven’t done any training with Watcher’s soldiers. You don’t know much about magic, so I’ll just say that if two unicorns try casting similar spells at the same time at the same target, things can... get out of hoof.” She sighed and hung her head. “I don’t think they ever could fix that pillar…”

“I’m going in wearing my ring, so those spells won’t do me any good. Ice thinks these things have magic.”

That made her perk back up. “Are you sure fighting them is wise, then? I know your ring will likely protect you, but we have no idea what kind of abilities they might have.”

“Fighting them is the last resort. The elementals want them alive. Apparently they’re kobolds or something and—”

Twilight’s eyes instantly went blue and Aqua said, “You will not harm them.”

“I wouldn’t have to if your brother would stop being such a fucking pussy and get out there and save my soldier. But since he’s choosing to sit this one out, we’re going to fix this my way. And if those kobolds force my hand, my way is going to be almightily bloody.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed for a moment before going back to their standard purple hue. One of her hooves immediately went to her head and she shivered. “That was weird.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda shitty when they just jump in and take over. Anyway, Twilight, give Rarity as many protection spells as you can. And a translation spell, just in case these things don’t speak your horse tongue.”

“You’re… still bringing Rarity?” she asked.

“Yes. You’re the one who said you wanted her and Fluttershy to be more involved. So she’s going down with us, but she doesn’t have any armor. Do what you can.”

“Alright. Is Spike going to be guarding her?”

“No, Spike’s going to be with me. He’s the only one here with any other kind of magic resistance, so I want him on the vanguard. Black Fate’s squad is gonna be guarding her.”

“Alright. How long until we get there? These protection spells have timers. I’m going to give her as many as I possibly can, so they’ll be relatively short timers.”

“An hour or two. I thought the ones you gave us for the spider raid lasted a week.”

“I didn’t give you many since I knew they didn’t have magic and I knew Watcher also gave you some. Watcher needs to save his strength now, so I’ll give her every one she’ll get. And she’ll get some against magic as well. I also doubt this will take nearly as long, so I can afford to save some of my strength in case I’m needed.”

“Ah. Well, once you give her the wards, please head below. I don’t want anyone that isn’t going to be involved in this operation possibly getting in the way.”

She grinned and saluted. “Yes ma’am!”

“Ugh. Just for that, I’m going to be in charge tonight.”

That made her giggle, of course. “You can be in charge… if you can be in charge.” Her horn lit up and forced me to bend down to her level, where she kissed me. Spike rolled his eyes. A few seconds later, Twilight pulled away, grinning widely. “For luck, my lovely lady.”

“I don’t tend to believe in luck, but if it means kisses, maybe I’ll start.” Her horn let me go and she walked away, chuckling some more. When she was next to Rarity, I realized Spike was still staring at me. “You’ll get your orders when it’s time, Spike.”

“Are you two, like… I dunno, dating now?”

“We are not, no. I’m sorry we keep acting like that around you. I know she’s like your mom or whatever.”

“No, it’s not that. Big sister is closer, honestly. I just know you’re doing things and you two keep getting closer. You’re actually closer now than when you were living with us in the Treebrary. I thought… Eh, never mind.”

Smiles was finally coming back up to me now anyway, along with Watcher. They got to me quickly and Smiles saluted again. “Nothing new yet, ma’am.”

“Good. Watcher, your guys ready to go?”

“The last few are gearing up now. Do you want all nine of us?”

“Yes. Since Spike has magic resistance, he’ll be with me. I’ll leave it up to you whether we bring Kat or the naga or not.”

“Naga, yes. Kat, no. If this turns into a fight, it’ll be completely out in the open. I know she can fight conventionally, but I’d rather have her in reserve.”

“Spike, go get the naga. Tell him to bring his sword.”

“You got it.” He hurried off to the staircase.

“Zecora?” I asked.

“She’s picking out potions now,” Watcher replied with a nod. “Her magic might be able to counter some of theirs. I was planning to assign her to Grey Boulder’s group.”

“She’s going with me. If this becomes a fight, I’m going after their mage or leader. You focus on Gilda. Black Fate needs to worry about getting Rarity out. Let Grey Boulder and the naga do crowd control.”

“Yes ma’am. Do we know what the elementals are going to do yet?”

“Flo wants me to not kill all the locals. Aqua doesn’t want me to even hurt any of them. Their say means exactly nothing if they choose not to help us deal with this situation.” I looked right at Smiles for the next part. “If they choose to assist us when we get there, their help will be appreciated and keeping the kobolds alive will be much more likely. But if they choose to continue standing aside, I’m of the opinion that bloodshed is likely.” I looked back at Watcher. “But to answer the question, as of right now, we do not know what they are going to do yet.”

“Then they better sort themselves out and come to a decision soon. If one of the crew gets hurt because they chose not to act, that’s going to create a serious rift of distrust.”

Smiles’s eyes went a dark blue as Ice took over. “I want to save her, Nav!” he said. “But my sisters won’t let me! None of the ones with me are in your camp. They’re all with Mist and they won’t let me go!”

“All it takes for others to suffer is for good people to do nothing, Ice.”

“I can’t do anything, though! I tried as soon as we saw her, but they’re actually holding me here!”

“Dude, your sisters are fucking bitches, Jesus. Who’s in your group?”

“Mist, Naiad, and Flumen.”

“I am going to have a very long and in-depth conversation with Brook very soon about those two. And maybe Aqua, too. If Gilda gets hurt, I am holding them responsible.”

Smiles’s ears fell. “They’re moving her.”

“Her who? They who?”

“The kobolds are moving Gilda.”

“...Where are they moving her?” I slowly asked.

“Uhhh…” He fell silent for a few very long and slow seconds before his head tilted. “Why would they be moving her toward the volcano?”

My head jerked to the guy at the wheel. “HELM, SPEED US UP!” His ears shot straight up and then right back down. Thankfully, he followed my order anyway. The ship very quickly started picking up speed. “Ice, follow them.”

He shook his host’s head. “I can’t. There’s no water up there.”

“You can tell your sisters that if Gilda dies, the kobolds die. Put Smiles back in control.” He bit his lower lip, then sighed and hung his head. When he looked back up, his eyes were golden again.

“So what do we do, Nav?” Watcher asked.

“Shit, I put Smiles back in control too soon. How many of them are moving Gilda?”

“Three,” Smiles replied. His eyes stayed golden, so Ice was just relaying info. “The mage and two very ornately armored guards. Her stake is being carried by magic.”

“I’m going after Gilda and the mage,” I said to Watcher. “You escort Rarity to the village. If they throw her in that volcano, the mage is following right behind her. Hopefully, we can avoid putting the rest of the village to the sword.”

“Be careful, ma’am,” Watcher said. “We know three are going up there, but we don’t know how many are already there.”

“Unfortunately, we only have so many that are capable of standing up to enemy mages,” I said. “Or at least, ones with weird and heretofore unknown magics. And if the rest of the village starts acting up, I can’t have them coming up the mountain behind me.”

“Can I go with you?” Smiles asked.

“Is Jak in the book world?” I asked.

“He’s not. He’ll be on deck soon.”

“Then no. Stay on deck and help him. If we need the siege weapons, he’ll need your help.” That made the adorable little bat pony sigh, of course. “That said, if the ship gets close enough that you can watch me, watch my back. If shit hits the fan and they start coming up, keep them away from me.”

The despondent expression left his face and he saluted again. “I won’t let you down, ma’am!”

“Good. Go find Jak and stick with him. Flo should be joining Ice soon and can keep me informed.” He actually bowed and left. I shook my head and looked back at Watcher. “Any thoughts?”

“Splitting up is a bad idea about seventy percent of the time, Nav. I’ll wager that this is one of the few times it’s not. We have to keep the village controlled and we have to keep that mage controlled if we want to have any chance of getting Gilda out alive. I don’t like it, but I know this is the best shot we have at saving her. And of course, I’d wager that these things probably know something about the fire elemental, so we have to deal with them anyway.”

“I’m of the same opinion, on all fronts. I hate splitting up and I hate that my group is so small, but that’s the way the cards fell.” Over Watcher’s shoulder, I saw Spike and the naga come out of the depths of the ship. Zecora followed shortly after. “Go tell your team what’s up. I’ll talk to Zecora and Spike.”

“Yes ma’am. Be careful with Spike. If he starts thinking with the wrong head…”

“I know.” He nodded and went to do his thing. I waved Spike and Zecora over. The naga also slithered in to join my little group. “You’re with Watcher on this one, naga.”

“Hm. Splitting the group is not usually wise, sister,” he said.

“It is in this case. Watcher will explain.”

“Very well. My sword thirsts. You tend to steal all the glory in these battles. Perhaps without you by our side, there will be some for us.”

“That’s not even a little bit true.”

He shrugged. “You do, at the very least, cut a very striking figure on the battlefield. I have a feeling that despite my size or Spike’s fire or Zecora’s magic, should we ask any survivors of our encounters who they feared most, many might say you.”

“That’s kinda weird, but whatever. Go join Watcher so he doesn’t have to brief everyone twice.” He snorted and slid on over to where Watcher was gathering his troops.

“Why are we splitting up, Nav?” Spike asked.

“The situation changed. They’re moving her. Zecora, you know what’s going on?”

“Watcher explained a little,” she said. “We’re rescuing Gilda from a race of bipedal lizards who have strange magic.”

“Correct. Well, partially. We don’t know if it’s strange magic or not, but it is magic. What’s changed is that they’re moving her away from the village. Our group is going after them. Spike, can you carry Zecora?”

He looked at her for a moment before walking over next to her. “Do you mind if I…?”

“I do not mind.”

He slowly and carefully picked her up. “I… believe I can carry her for a few minutes…”

“I hope you are not calling me fat, Spike,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was joking. And judging by the blush on Spike’s face and how quickly he set her down, neither could he.

“We’re going after Gilda,” I said. “She has three guards, two random guys and their mage. My ring should protect me from the mage completely. You two try to focus on the others. With luck, this guy will have to focus on me. The goal is to avoid fighting. But if they hurt her or if they push us, we’ll take them down.”

“What about the village?” Spike asked.

“That’s Watcher’s responsibility. With luck, the village will stay placated. Our goal is to save Gilda and avenge her if we can’t.”

“You put a lot of value on Gilda’s life,” Zecora very matter-of-factly said.

“I place a lot of value on loyalty,” I replied. “Why does everyone seem surprised by that? Like, is it common practice for ponies to just fuck each other over when shit gets rough?”

Zecora rubbed the back of her neck before shrugging. “My own village threw me out because a manipulative pony told them to. While I was in exile, I was treated harshly in many places for being a stranger. When I went back, my sister tried to kill me. I know you’re different, but…”

“Nav would never leave anyone behind!” Spike said, stomping a claw on the deck.

“Never is a very strong word,” I said. “It would certainly take a lot for me to abandon someone, though. Humans have a very clan-centered mindset that’s caused by our ape-like brains that… You know what, never mind, it’s not important. Do both of you have everything you need? We should be getting close.”

“Oh, I should get my sword and crossbow!”

“Spike, stop using that sword,” I said before he could move. His wings twitched and his ears fell. “And we’re probably going to be at ranges where the crossbow would be useless. I’m not even carrying my gun.”

“I thought…” He sighed and hung his head. “Okay…”

“You got everything, Zecora?”

She patted a small bag at her side. “I do.”

“Not gonna wear your old ratty cloak this time?” I asked.

“I left that behind in the village. I no longer need to hide who I once was.”

“Alright, cool.”

She shook her head. “You are a very interesting being, Navarone.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“There are many who would question a lot of the things that I say. You do not. I find that fascinating.”

I shrugged and replied, “I know you word things the way you do for attention. It’s one of those shamanistic habits I’m trying to wean you off. If you actually explained any of what you said, I would be interested to hear it. But I’m not going to dig for information when you dangle statements like that in front of me like bait. I don’t like dancing to someone else’s tune. I’m actually very interested in your life and whatever stories you’d be willing to tell, so it’s kinda frustrating that you’re still trying to force me to ask instead of just telling me like a normal person.”

Of course, her eyes were super wide and Spike’s mouth dropped.

After a few seconds, Flo slapped me in the back of the head, making me flinch. “Sorry, I forgot that I’m a lady now. Um. I’m happy that you find me fascinating, Zecora.” I finished that with a very awkward smile that led into a very awkward silence.

Thankfully, it only lasted for several very long and painful seconds before someone called out, “Village, ho!” What’s Doppel doing on deck?

When Flo was finished smacking me again, I turned to the front of the ship where, sure enough, I could see a decently sized village was carved out of the jungle next to a smoking volcano. We were still too far away to see anything, but Spike rushed ahead to the tip of the ship and leaned out as far as he could get.

After a few seconds of staring, he turned back and said, “I don’t see anyone on the volcano. It’s all just red!”

“Jesus, the entire thing is full of fucking lava,” I sighed. “That’s definitely a bad sign.” To me, it was just a regular brown and rocky mountain. But to Spike’s eyes, the entire thing was lit up like a German oven. There’s a chance he’d be useless on it.

Zecora and I joined him at the front of the ship, so we could all look at it. I didn’t really think we’d be able to see our targets that soon, though. “Will it be safe to walk on?” Zecora asked.

“Flo says the kobolds are cold blooded,” I replied. “If they can handle it, we can probably handle it. Good news is, I don’t see any structures on the mountain. That probably means it’ll just be the three of them.”

“When should we start flying?” Spike asked. “We’re probably faster than the ship.”

I looked back to the deck and found Watcher with my eyes. “Hey Watcher, we’re about to head out.”

“Be careful out there, my lady,” he replied with a nod.

“I’m never anything but, old man.” He smirked and rolled his eyes before turning back to his troops. “Grab her and let’s go. We’ll find our targets on the way. Watch the thermals off the mountain; they’ll throw you around if you aren’t careful.”

“I’ve been practicing. Ready, Zecora?”

“Indeed I am, Spike. Please take care. Falling might break a few of your bones, but it would break all of mine.”

“I won’t let you down!” While he was grabbing her, I put a foot to the rails and threw myself off. Since I’m slower than a neckbeard running a triathlon, Spike quickly caught up. He’s not completely stupid, so he matched my pace. Despite our slow speed, we still outpaced the boat. “Shouldn’t we be going faster or something?” Spike asked.

“Dude, my wings are fucked. Maybe you haven’t noticed that one of them is literally a demon wing.”

“...Oh yeah.” He shut up and we continued at our slow speed that was thankfully still faster than the ship.

Once we got over the village, I was able to actually see four figures at the top of the volcano, right at the end of a staircase that had been carved out of the stone. One was a large wooden stake that was floating a foot or two off the ground right on the edge of the inner part of the volcano. All three of the kobolds were looking at her unconscious form, thankfully.

“I see them.” We were about halfway to them, at that point. I could see the mage doing something in the air with one of his hands. The other held a wooden staff and some kind of covered weapon hung at his side. I couldn’t tell what he was doing because the air around them was hazy from all the gasses coming out of the volcano.

“It all just looks like a shimmery mess to me,” Spike replied.

“I see them as well,” Zecora said. “Though I do not recognize that magic yet.”

Looks like it’s your lucky day, Flo. She petulantly sniffed at me, which of course made me giggle.

As we got closer, the arm motions the mage was making got more and more frantic. When we were three quarters of the way there, Gilda came to with a very loud squawk. Her head jumped to several different places. It looked like she saw us, the fact that she was tied up, the volcano, and the three lizard things in front of her.

As soon as she locked eyes with him, she started yelling at him. Of course, most mages don’t really like being yelled at. He casually waved his hand and her stake slid right off the platform and down into the lava.

 
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