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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176. Chapter One Hundred and Forty-Five

The way I figured, even if I could fly with two mismatched wings without extra training, there was still a hell of a lot an actual, proper flyer could teach me. Rainbow Dash was a natural, and never really learned enough to be able to properly explain how she does what she does. I assumed a veteran Wonderbolt would have experience with several flying species. So I sent Soarin’ a note that night, after Moonbeam and I got back from our night on the town.

Sure enough, I received a celebrity guest the next day around noon. The typical maid did her standard knocking routine. Flo did her standard rude routine and opened it without asking me first. The maid, whose name was apparently Rose Dancer or something, bowed and said, “A member of the Wonderbolts is here to see you, my lady.”

I was already fully dressed to greet the day, including a cover over my wings, so I hopped up and asked, “Where is he?”

“If you would care to follow me, I will take you to him.” She bowed again and then walked out. I followed her. Flo elected to remain behind.

“Is it Soarin’?” I asked.

“It is, my lady. He’s… quite handsome.” Why not hoofsome? “I heard the two of you were dating.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” I hastily replied. “We went to dinner together once. I think he had the wrong idea and… well, the news took some gossip and ran with it.”

“So he didn’t kiss you?”

“...Like I said, he had the wrong idea.” She smirked, but stayed silent. When we got to the palace entrance and I saw him, she bowed again and went on her merry way. Does she just wait around until someone wants to find me, or does she have some kind of super-pony senses?

Soarin’ widely grinned when he saw me, and met me halfway. “I heard you were back in town, but I thought you’d be too busy to have time to see me,” he said.

“It’s rare that I’m too busy for friends,” I shot back with a grin. “But I’ve definitely been busy. Though I imagine you have been, too. Surely Spitfire’s been trying to kick you in some kind of shape.”

“Round’s a shape,” he said with a shrug. “How have you been? I heard you got hurt.”

“You heard right. I’ve definitely been better. One of my wings got cut off while I was fighting the demon queen. It’s healed back up, but there was a… complication. I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me get back in the air.”

“Anything for you, Nav. I’ve never heard of a complication quite like… having a wing cut off, but I’ve helped a few fliers, both experienced and not, come back from broken and dislocated wings. Is there any pain?”

“No, not so much. But the complication is a little bit weirder than that.”

His head tilted slightly. “What’s wrong with it?”

I looked to my side, where I could see a pair of guards idly watching us. It was tempting to ask him to go for a walk with me to show it to him privately, but the guards were well on their way to trusting me and Celestia was the one that told me the wing was safe, so I just mentally said fuck it and pulled the drape off my wings. Soarin’s mouth dropped. “It was corrupted by demonic magic.” I flapped both wings a few times and said, “They still act like they should, but I’m not comfortable going for a flight without someone really experienced there with me.”

His mouth slid shut and he nodded. “I understand completely. I’ve… I’ve never even seen mismatched wings like this, but I think I can get you flying straight. And I’m definitely happy you came to me with this instead of trying to figure it out yourself. You might have gotten hurt again.”

“That, and I’m a weak flyer to begin with. I was wondering if you could give me tips or something.”

“Hold still.” I did so as he slowly circled me a few times, looking me up and down. Soon enough, he stopped in front of me and said, “Your body was not built for those wings.” He lifted one of his wings and pointed at my hip. “They should be around here, I’d say. Maybe a little bit higher. And they should circle around your body like a dress, not hang limply down. It’s obvious for any experienced and learned flyer that you’re not built for it. No offense to you, but I really don’t think you’ll ever be a strong flyer, though there are certainly tricks we can try to help you out. Of course, the more you work at it, the better you’ll be.”

“Cool. Do you have time to help me today, or do we need to wait? I’d like to get back in the air, but I understand if you have stuff going on.”

“Don’t worry about it. If you come up with me to the academy, I can talk to Spitfire. She’ll give me all the time I need to help a national hero, and if you want, she’d probably be happy to assign you somepony else.”

“I certainly wouldn’t mind her hooves all over me… Unfortunately, she already made her disinterest clear.”

“Well, she wouldn’t have time anyway. She’s too busy working on our own recruits. We have a few really promising ones this year. Shame that filly from Ponyville didn’t apply, but oh well. Anyway, the academy would be a good place for practicing; the clouds there are reinforced, so falling only means a bruised ego instead of a broken body. It’s also a lot more private than the average area. The only ponies that would see you would either be Wonderbolts or our recruits.”

“Well I mean, getting there is the main thing. Being able to fly at all is most of what I need. Everything else is just filling in the pie, as far as I’m concerned.” Of course, he licked his lips. That dude loves him some pie. “But sure. Despite being here for five or six years, I still haven’t seen Cloudsdale.”

His eyebrows shot straight up. “You haven’t been to Cloudsdale yet?”

“Nah. Never had a reason to.”

“Well buck it, then. Wanna make a day of it? That place is awesome. I can show you the weather factory and everything!”

“Sure. The way Dash always talks about it, the place is gotta be pretty neat. I’ve been all cooped up in the palace anyway. Starting to get bored out of my mind.”

“Awesome. And you have to fly to get everywhere there, so it’ll be extra practice. Are you ready now, or do you need to get anything?”

“Well, I left all my bits in my room. I’ll need to go get them, just in case.”

He waved a hoof. “Don’t worry about it. I can cover you.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot we were both loaded. I’ll get the next one, then.”

His smile turned sly. “We’ll see. Now, how do you usually take off?”

“Like, flight-wise?” He nodded. “Jump into the air and flap my wings real hard. I prefer jumping off of something high, though. It’s a lot easier.”

“And in this case, it’ll end with you splatting into the ground if your wings fail and I’m not fast enough to get to you.”

“That is a very good point. Then shall we head out?”

“Yeah.” We started walking to the main entrance. “So did you really fight the demon queen in hoof to hoof combat? I heard about it, but I’ve heard so many other rumors about you that I never know what to believe.”

“I didn’t. I fought her in hand to hand combat. Or more accurately, sword to glaive combat. She cut my wing in half and when it healed, it was corrupted. She was a very dangerous opponent, and regenerated constantly and eventually overwhelmed me. Shining Armor and the royal guards saved me.”

“That sounds really bad. Your life is… pretty dangerous, Nav. Are you sure you really want to keep doing things like this?”

“Nah. I never even wanted to start. Unfortunately, I have a really important job that I have to finish before I can retire. Don’t get me wrong, now: Fighting and killing are both really fun. But I really prefer not getting sharp things shoved at or in me.”

“I can definitely understand that second part,” he said with a nod. “We’re technically part of the Equestrian military, but we thankfully almost never get called to service. Anyway, here we are.” We were finally outside, in the largest courtyard the palace had. “You want to try taking off on your own?”

“Yes. The rest would be pretty pointless if I can’t even get in the air.” He shrugged. I took a few deep breaths and slowly spread my wings. When I was good and ready, I hopped up and thrust down. My feathery wing went down a lot faster than my bat wing, possibly due to different weights and what they were made of. I fell back to the ground, not having gone anywhere.

“Interesting. That’s something I hadn’t thought of. Your wings have different wind resistances,” he said. “The feathery one can allow some small air flow through it and around the edges, but the demon wing can’t. That’ll be difficult to compensate for. It’ll probably also make hovering in place almost entirely impossible, instead of just difficult for you. Flying up will likely be harder, but flying forward should be the same. I would suggest, once you get the hang of it, to make a habit of jumping from ledges to get in the air.”

“That was already my main goto,” I said. “This just enforces it. Let’s see…” Flo, can you help a brotha out?”

“No, but I’ll happily help a sista.” I rolled my eyes and jumped back into the air. She was able to accurately adjust my wings and I got into the air. Since I knew staying there would be hard, I quickly got some altitude and began circling.

Soarin’ wasted no time in joining me. “You should have waited to try this until we knew you could land,” he said.

“Well, if we go straight to the academy, I can faceplant into the clouds if necessary.”

“True. But if you get stuck, I’ll laugh at you for a little while before helping.”

“Noted. Lead the way, flyboy.”

He looked at me with a grin. “If you get to call me that, I get to call you… I don’t know, let’s go with Navi.”

“Let’s not and say we didn’t.”

He shrugged and looked back forward. “Maybe some day.” With that, he finally picked a direction and started angling up. I followed him at an uncomfortably sedate pace. Now that I was in the air, Flo was no longer helping me and I had to try to keep myself afloat. It was not easy. I kept dipping down and just barely catching myself before heading into a dive. I don’t know if he was going higher to try to get to Cloudsdale or if he was making sure he’d have time to catch me if I spiraled out of control. “So how long are you in town?” he finally asked.

“Another week, maybe. Probably not much longer. My ship got damaged in Africa. It’s at a drydock for repairs. But Celestia needed my help, so she brought me here. As much as I needed the break, I’m looking forward to getting back to my duty.”

“Especially since this break hasn’t been very relaxing, from what I’ve heard.”

You can say that again. “It’s had its moments. Cloudsdale isn’t several hours away, is it?”

“Nah. At this speed, maybe half an hour. If you don’t mind holding onto me, I can probably cut that to ten minutes. If you’re in the air like this, you can obviously fly. You’ll just need some more practice to keep it even.”

“I certainly don’t mind riding stallions,” I said. “Or do you want me under you?”

He smiled and said, “Top or bottom, doesn’t matter much to me. But we’d probably both be more comfortable with you under me…”

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind. Go ahead and grab me.”

“Stop flapping your wings for a sec.” I did so and started gliding. He darted behind me and carefully grabbed me under the arms. “You ready?”

“Let’s do it.” He shot off, easily going about three times as fast, even with my extra weight. At that speed, talking would be impossible, so I didn’t even try. Instead, I opted to watch the landscape under me. We passed over several farms, one village, a forest or two, and came close to a mountain.

Finally, all the cloud cover just suddenly disappeared and a magnificent city appeared in the sky before me. Rainbow rivers led to waterfalls leading down to the surface. Towering structures of all kinds dotted the massive cloud city, impossible architectural feats made possible by the texture and weight of the building material. Thousands of pegasi flocked around, going about their standard city business. Even from where I was, I could see several armed patrols of pegasus guards leisurely soaring above the city.

When it was fully in view, Soarin’ slowed down. “You ready to fly on your own again?” he asked.

“Hope so. Drop me.” He did so and I fell into a dive. I shot my wings out and slowed my descent, then used them to flip me around in the air so I could easily pull up. That weird maneuver ended with me back up at his level, with both of us going at a much slower pace.

“So what do you think of the city?” he asked.

“I think it’s pretty fucking neato, man. When I come from, rainbows didn’t work like this. I don’t know how you guys did it.”

“I dunno. The guys at the weather factories might know, if you wanna ask them. Anyway, the academy is about half a kilometer above the city. I just wanted to let you get a really good look at it.”

“This is certainly a pretty good fucking look. It’s one of the nicer cities I’ve seen here. The Crystal Empire has it beat, but not by much.”

He grinned, of course. “I want to see that place, some day. Maybe the upcoming Equestria Games will be hosted there.”

“I hope so, but I kinda doubt it. I don’t know if their economy is in the right place to host something like that.” And if it was anything like the Olympics, hosting it would just put them in a massive amount of debt for years.

“Eh, if not, I can always get Spits to send me up there to do a recruitment speech.”

“Nope. That’s a straight Earth pony town. There’s no one there to recruit.”

“...Huh. That’s not common.”

“Yeah, I bet. They’re the descendents of the original earth pony clan. Kinda racist, but they tolerate all three pony types these days.”

“Well, you won’t have that problem in Cloudsdale,” he said. “Xenophobia is pretty well bred out, here. We’ve been trading directly with the gryphons for a while, and have a good relationship with them. And word of your abilities and history as a warrior spread to all the commoners here as well, so you’ll have no issues.”

“At least there’s that. What about hero worship? That shit’s super annoying.”

He shrugged. “Heroes and celebrities are common in Cloudsdale. The Wonderbolt academy is on the outskirts and the main pegasus guard training ground is in the center. The only unicorns or earth ponies that have the ability to visit usually have enough money or magical skill to cast extremely high level spells. If you’re in a tavern, you might get approached, but you’ll be fine on the streets.”

“Good, so it’ll be like a changeling hive.”

“I’d also like to visit one of those some day, now that we’re officially allies.”

“I would heavily advise against it, but you do you.”

He shrugged again. “Maybe we can go to one together some day. I heard there’s one near Ponyville.”

“We’ll see.” It would be funny to see his reactions, that’s for sure. And maybe if I asked just right, he’d let me put a leash and collar on him for funsies.

“After the city, the academy is going to bore you,” he said. “It’s very utilitarian.”

“I figured. Military bases usually are. But don’t worry, I’m used to being disappointed.”

He chuckled and said, “Then you’re not used to being around me.”

“We might see about that, if you play your cards right.” His smile just deepened and he didn’t reply.

We finally crested the top of the last bit of cloud and we both beheld the academy. A few groups of trainees were doing drills and some of the more experienced members were either judging them or watching them. I didn’t see the telltale flicker of Spitfire’s fiery mane anywhere, so I figured she was inside. The few buildings on the large cloud were small and squat. It looked like there were three sets of barracks, an administrative office, something that might have been a hangar, and a mess hall.

“Most of the really experienced Wonderbolts don’t actually live here,” he said, taking off toward the administrative office. “We have housing in either Cloudsdale or nearby. A barracks is a little too… cozy and close for some of us.”

“Understandable. I’ve done a stint or two in one.” Full of bored, horny miners. “They can certainly get claustrophobic.”

“That’s a word for it.” He alighted on the cloud in front of what I figured was the administrative office. I came in for it and badly misjudged my new wings. Thankfully, I didn’t face plant, but I did fall on my ass. “Yep, that’s definitely something you’re gonna need to work on.” He held out a hoof for me, surprisingly. I didn’t really need it, but I took it anyway and let him pull me up.

“That’s what we’re here for, after all,” I said. “Shall we go talk to the boss?”

“I’ll talk to her,” he said. “You should wait outside her office. She doesn’t like friends outside of the Wonderbolts seeing her in her training captain mode.”

“Sure, I guess. Lead the way again.” He nodded and we both went inside. He nodded at the secretary, who barely paid either of us any mind, and continued down one of the halls. Hundreds of trophies and pictures lined the walls and dotted the waiting room. The hallway was lined with more photos and plaques, each detailing some famous race. We passed several offices on the way, though no one was in any of them.

Finally, we got to a long line of chairs leading up to a door. One mare was waiting in one of the chairs, a teal pegasus in a trainee outfit. Soarin’ led the way up to the closed door. The mare looked between us in wonder before quickly looking down.

“Is Captain Spitfire in?” Soarin’ asked.

The trainee hopped to attention and saluted. “She is.”

“At ease… Lightning Dust, right?” The mare pulled the salute down and nodded. “If we’re not in uniform, you don’t have to salute us. Or stand to. Do you know if she’s seeing somepony in there?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then she probably won’t mind me going in. Nav, wait here.” I shrugged and he just let himself into Spitfire’s personal office.

As soon as the door shut behind him, the trainee looked at me. “You’re Sir Navarone, defender of harmony, right?” she asked.

“I’m no longer a knight or a sir,” I said. “But the rest, yeah. And you’re Lightning Dust, a trainee, right?”

“That’s right. What… If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your wing?”

I looked over my shoulder to the corrupted one and sighed, looking back at her. “What happened is impatience mixed with too much cockiness,” I said. “I was fighting the demon queen to protect Celestia when I struck what I thought would be a distracting enough blow for me to disengage for a second. Then, without stopping to check or even think about possible consequences, I backed off and stopped thinking about the battle. Turns out, the blow I struck was done using a steel weapon, not an iron one, so the demon barely felt it and was able to strike back almost immediately. In my arrogance, I allowed her to strike me and slice off my wing. Celestia healed it, but it was corrupted by the darkness in that demon’s weapon.”

She looked away. After a few seconds, she quietly said, “I’ve been… running into similar issues.” When she turned to look back at me, I could see uncertainty painted across her face. “Shouldn’t those of us with amazing skills show them off? Isn’t that the point of being gifted with them? Isn’t that… the point of being a Wonderbolt?”

“Absolutely. But never at risk to others. Showing off and being daring are great, and if you want to risk yourself, do so. But never put others at risk for a mistake you made. After I lost my wing, I was out of that fight. The demon queen overwhelmed me and I had to be saved by guards. Four of them died because I took an unnecessary risk. I knew that I could have held her off indefinitely, but I wanted to try to take an easier way. If I had just lost my wing, I would consider it fair and try to learn from my mistake. But four good men are dead. That is the tradeoff you have to consider, Lightning. Are you risking yourself, or are you risking others? And if you’re just risking yourself, are the things you’re doing even worthwhile? Showing off is all well and good and it’s pretty much what the Wonderbolts are for, but if you’re not impressing anyone, it’s pointless.”

“...I never really thought about it like that. Risking myself is… it’s just something I do. It’s who I am. I love risky flying. I dunno, I guess I just… never thought that some ponies don’t live like that!”

“They don’t, and they usually can’t understand those that do. You’re in the right place for fancy and risky flying, but you have to be careful around other people. If you’re working with a group, make sure to ask what they’re okay with. If you’re putting on a show, make sure to speak to the planner about appropriate or allowed risks. If you’re training, take into account that other trainees might not be as skilled as you. Don’t get cocky. Stay patient. Showing off is perfectly fine, but putting others at risk is not.”

“That’s something I’ll have to think about, Navarone. Thanks for the advice.”

“Happy to help. I was also young once, so I know the drill. But almost getting killed a few times put a damper on it, especially when they were caused by someone else taking a stupid risk.”

She slowly nodded as the door opened and Soarin’ extricated himself. “We’re good to go, Nav. And Lightning, Spits is ready to see you now.”

The mare’s eyes lit up again and she nodded. “Thank you.” She let herself into the office and kicked the door shut behind her.

“Ready to hit the town?” Soarin’ asked.

“Yep.” We started walking back out of the offices. “Didn’t you say it was against the rules for Wonderbolts to have sex with each other?”

He shrugged. “We’re technically a military branch, so a lot of the guard rules apply to us. We’ve had members in the past retire to be together. If the relationship goes south and either pony wants to come back, they can do so freely after passing the standard physical exam.”

“I was definitely wondering why that was a rule. Way I figured, it seems cruel to put both genders with peak physical performances and with loads of stress in the same barracks and expect them not to get down and dirty. It makes sense if it’s more of a military thing.”

“Yeeeeah… Most Wonderbolts have broken that rule. No hints about who, though.”

“That is completely understandable,” I said with a nod. We were coming back up to the reception area, so I left it at that. I wasn’t about to pry about who was breaking rules in front of the secretary, because that was a good way to ensure the news spread everywhere. There was also the fact that I didn’t really care. After all, I only actually knew two of them by name.

When we got back outside, he asked, “Do you want to see any more of the academy? There’s not really that much to look at, but I know it all by heart.”

“Nah. A military base is a military base. This place looks a little bit more interesting than the changeling one I toured, but not by much. Besides, I tend to be a distraction. Your recruits need to train, not fawn over me.”

“Fair enough. So, what do you want to do first? If you’re hungry, I know a great lunch spot. Or we can go straight to the tour. The weather factory isn’t too far from here, and they have a food court there anyway.”

“I ate breakfast and I don’t really need more nutrients at the moment to heal up, so I’m fine on food for a few days. Let’s do the weather thing.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “You may be okay without food for a few days, but I hope you don’t mind if I eat while we’re out.”

“Hey, I can eat, I just don’t have to. I’m down for whatever. Just remember that it’s all on your ticket today.”

A small grin split his face. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s head on to the weather factory.”

“You got it.” He spread his wings and effortlessly took off. I spread my wings and effortfully followed. “Looks like I might be a pretty big distraction anyway.”

After a second, he followed my gaze. We were looking at the main batch of recruits, all of whom were watching the two of us. There’s no telling what was going on in their minds. First, that I was there. Second, that I was there with Soarin’. Third, that I had a fucking demon wing. Or fourth, that I was absolutely terrible at flying.

“Should I flash my tits?”

“I didn’t know you had any pets. Hay, I didn’t even know you could train tits. I never tried catching one.”

“...I meant my breasts. Flashing your breasts is a thing humans females do at crowds to distract them.” Or to show off how slutty they are. Either or.

“Oh. Then no. But if you want to flash me, I wouldn’t turn you down.”

We both grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind.” We were getting out of range of the recruits anyway.

The weather factory wasn’t all too far from the academy. Apparently, they would use the Wonderbolts to recruit pegasi in a few towns to provide water for the weather. It was considered a civic duty for each pegasus, but some are always more reluctant than others, so a Wonderbolt was sent in as a sort of celebrity guest to knock some fervor into the locals, and to assist where they fell short.

The tour through it was uneventful, honestly. I got to touch actual rainbow fluid, but I was warned very quickly not to try tasting it. Not only does it burn like fire going in, apparently it also burns like fire going out. Even if I didn’t usually have to worry about that, I decided not to take chances. The stuff was super thick, like molasses or blood. But it wasn’t sticky at all, so it just slid right off my fingers.

I also got to see a weather machine that would make George Bush jealous. The ponies apparently used it to generate tornados, which they used to clear out dense forests when they wanted to build a new road through it.

One of the things they showed me was a lightning maker. Honestly, I was expecting to see a giant Tesla coil. Instead, it was a long, glowing pillar of glass. Every few seconds, it would shoot a bolt of lightning from the tip in a random direction, though each one only went about five meters. There was a large fence around it with several warning signs, each promising a gruesome death for anyone that got close enough without protective gear.

“So what’s the point of this?” I asked our guide. “Seems dangerous to have something like this just sitting around.”

“It has several applications,” the pegasus replied. “First, it allows our scholars the ability to study lightning in a relatively tame environment. Second, it lets us recharge our magical batteries very easily, allowing us to reuse them quickly. Third, we can bottle spikes of lightning and use them as weapons or light shows.”

“You can bottle this shit?” I butted in. “That makes no sense. How?”

“With a magically enhanced bottle,” he said. “We keep a large storehouse full of them. I would offer to show it to you, but it’s under heavy and strict guard. Getting permission to enter can take up to a week. The process is simple, but it can be dangerous if proper precautions aren’t taken. Generally speaking, getting permission to view the bottling process can also take up to a week. And, unlike unicorn or earth pony cities, we don’t look fondly on bending the rules for celebrities or heroes.”

“No skin off my back,” I replied with a shrug. “Preferential treatment sucks when you remember that it comes with being seen as a living abomination and a complete freak of nature.” Soarin’s ears twitched, but the guide didn’t react. “So what’s next?”

As it turns out, a large, fancy restaurant was next. It was the last part of the tour, so the guide left us at the entrance. “So why is this here?” I asked Soarin’ when we were seated. “Are tourists common enough to warrant this?”

“It’s not just tourists,” he said. “This place works as the food court for the workers at the factory and it’s a fairly high profile place for more well-to-do pegasi in the city itself. All the food here is prepared using weather. Lightning for heat, rain for water, snow for ice cream and food storage. Most of the vegetables served here is also grown from clouds. They haven’t gotten the trick for growing fruit up here yet, though.”

“Well, what would you recommend?” I asked. “I can’t eat flowers or grass.”

Surprisingly, an answer came from a waiter that had apparently been lurking behind me. “What are you capable of eating, Lady Navarone?” he asked, stepping into view.

“I’m an omnivore,” I replied. “I can eat any meat and almost all vegetables. It’s just grass and flowers that I can’t, really.”

He actually grinned. “Mister Soarin’ gets partial credit. We have just about every vegetable, flower, grass, and fruit under the sun here, most of which was grown locally. What he failed to mention is that we also get meat directly from several local griffin farmers. There are enough griffins living here to warrant having some on hoof at all times, and our chefs cook it quite often. So if you happen to be interested, I can bring you the special griffin menu.”

“I am definitely interested. I love the feeling of meat inside of me.” The smile on the waiter’s face took a hit. “Wait, that came out wrong.” And his smile came back full force. “Yeah, give me the griffin menu.”

“Right away, ma’am.” His eyes turned to my companion. “The usual for you, sir?”

“Yep. You guys know me too well. Oh, and all of this is going on my tab.”

“We strive to please.” He bowed for a moment before heading back to the kitchens or wherever he was going.

“That’s always a welcome surprise,” I said, leaning back a little in my chair. “Not too many ponies are okay with meat eaters.”

“Cloudsdale has a lot of griffins,” Soarin’ said with a shrug. “It’ll be interesting seeing you eat meat. It’s still really easy for me to forget that you even do that.”

I used a finger to pull one side of my mouth back, showing off my canines. He blinked when he saw them. “This is without enhancements,” I said after I let my lip go. “With them, it’s honestly kinda excessive. I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.”

“We have, but you didn’t show me your teeth. They’re uh… something.”

“That they are.” The waiter dropped the meat menu off and said some more pointless bullshit before dipping again, letting me look it over. Unsurprisingly, all the meat they had was bird. Turkey, chicken, peacocks, goose, duck, phoenix, several types of parrots, seagull, and about a dozen other small birds that probably wouldn’t have even been a snack. “I had no idea phoenixes were edible. Or legal to eat…”

“They have phoenix?” Soarin’ asked, completely in disbelief.

“Apparently. That’s damn sure what I’m gonna get, too. Hopefully it won’t break your bank too hard.”

“I mean… that’s not the concern. I just… I didn’t know you could actually kill phoenixes. I thought that when they died, they turned to ashes and then came back. How are you supposed to get any meat out of that?”

“I dunno. We can ask.”

His ears shot down, but before he could reply, the waiter reappeared. “Have you decided, ma’am?”

“I’ll definitely try the phoenix,” I said, handing the menu back. “Though we were both curious. How do you get meat out of it? I thought when it died, it turned to ash.”

He shrugged. “I’m afraid I honestly don’t know. That’s a very famous trade secret of our chefs, so I don’t think they would tell you, either.”

“That’s a shame, but I understand. I have no idea how to cook something like that, so just tell them to make it the most popular way.”

“As you wish, ma’am. Is there anything else?” Neither of us needed anything else, so the dude departed back to the kitchen once more.

“Now I’m even more curious,” I sighed.

“Well, trade secrets are trade secrets,” Soarin’ said. “I know we Wonderbolts have a few. And I bet you warriors do as well.”

“Not really. I want everyone on my side to be able to fight to the best of their ability, so they don’t get hurt in a fight. That, in turn, increases my survivability. Combat isn’t about the individual, or even the individual group. It’s about everyone on your side being better than as many people on their side as possible. That way, every fight, from a duel to a skirmish to an ambush to a full battle is skewed toward you. One person can win one fight. One person cannot win one war. Keeping trade secrets as a warrior is a good way to lose a war. It’s the job of a great warrior to train new fighters in everything they might need to know.”

“That makes sense, I guess. But having trade secrets is good for us. It means ponies will want to come see our shows instead of somepony else’s.”

“From a purely monetary standpoint, that’s a good idea,” I shot back. “But from the standpoint of a consumer, or in this case a fan, keeping secrets is a good way to limit competition. Making your opponents as competitive as possible gives you a reason to keep advancing and striving to better yourself, instead of allowing yourself to plateau and stagnate before you’re ready. That creates a better show for the fans.”

He shrugged. “I leave things like that to Spits. What you said makes sense, but it doesn’t really matter too much to me; I’m getting pretty close to retirement age, these days. Hitting my skill ceiling doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Like I said, that’s the perspective of a fan. Steady and skilled competition drives advancement. That’s one of the reasons ponies are so far behind on technology. But that’s another topic entirely and I’m sure you don’t care.”

He shook his head. “I actually really like hearing your perspective on things. It’s extremely different and always interesting. A lot of ponies treat me like a celebrity and just say whatever they think I wanna hear. You don’t, and I like that.”

“Come on, who doesn’t love mares who cuddle up to you real close and simper and nod at everything you say? They usually fuck the best.” Although now that I think about it, all the mares I’ve ever had sex with were extremely opinionated and strong-willed.

“Unlike most celebrities, I’m not really looking for an easy lay. At least, not anymore. I’ll still have some fun with the occasional groupie, but having a connection is better, in my mind. Sex is great, but sex with somepony you want to make happy is better.”

I shrugged. “Fair point. Truth be told, as someone that’s had both and has been both genders, sex as a woman feels so much better just for the multiple orgasms, but it’s so much more satisfying as a guy, able to give multiple orgasms. I mean, I know I’m perfectly capable of giving another girl multiple orgasms, but it just isn’t the same.”

“Well… I’ve never been a mare, so I can’t really say it feels better or not. But if I can make my partner feel good, I’m satisfied. And in hindsight, we really probably shouldn’t have been talking about this in a public restaurant.”

“No, probably not.” All the tables around us had fallen completely silent. We were right at the lunch rush, too. “But everyone already thinks I’m a total slut, so whatever. I’m used to it.”

He snorted. “I don’t. I’d hardly call you the perfect model of a proper lady, but definitely not a slut. But then, who wants a pampered, prissy little perfect lady? After so long in the Wonderbolts, I’ve found that I like mares of action.” Jesus, I just hit every one of this guy’s fetishes, don’t I?

“Making a prissy little perfect lady lose all decorum certainly has its perks, but I definitely prefer low maintenance partners. I don’t want someone that’s going to try to stifle me or demand constant attention, like a lot of proper ladies. Someone with a personality and with their own life suits me just fine, especially if their life happens to merge pretty well with mine.”

“A mare after my own heart,” he quietly said with a smile. “Or a female human, that is. What are female humans called?”

“Women. Or a woman, when it’s just one.”

“Woman,” he slowly and quietly said, as though tasting its effectiveness. “I’ll remember that. But you’re definitely right. I want to be a part of my special somepony’s life, but I want her to have one outside of mine. Independence and a sense of responsibility are attractive.”

“Thankfully, in a world with cutie marks that define your special talent, that’s not too difficult to come by,” I said. “In my time, everyone was left to drift along, trying to find meaning and purpose as they could. A lot of people decided to just tie themselves to someone else’s life, figuring it was easier than finding their own way.”

“No, that happens here too,” he replied. “It’s likely not as much of a problem among the common ponies, but it happens a lot among the rich or the famous. When your special talent is being rich, you don’t really have much going for you.”

I guess that explains Diamond Tiara’s cutie mark. “In about a week, I’ll be elevated to the actual nobility.” His eyebrows lifted. “I wonder how many moochers will try flocking to me when I’m single, rich, and have a title.”

“You’re becoming a noble?”

“Yeah. Celestia and Fancy Pants talked me into it, the fucking bastards. Almost every bit of it is going to suck. Especially since I’m just getting the fucking Everfree as my fief.”

“The… Everfree Forest? Why would anypony ever want that?”

“Beats me, man. I dunno what the hell I’m gonna do with it. Probably fuck all. I don’t want to be a noble, I don’t want a title, I don’t want a fief. Hell, I don’t even particularly care about being rich. Too much responsibility and work.”

“Well… I feel like it deserves a congratulations, anyway. And probably a celebration, if you’d be interested.”

“I wouldn’t be, unless it would be the kind of celebration that helps me forget for a little while. I’m probably gonna have to put on a super fancy dress and wear makeup and smile. That shit blows.”

“I’ve never worn a super fancy dress or makeup, but smiling isn’t too bad.”

“Tch. I’m used to not being allowed to have nice things, so at least I’m inured. But complaining is therapeutic.”

“...Even if the pony you’re complaining to is jealous?”

“Hey man, you want my life, you go ahead and take it. Enjoy dresses, bleeding for a week every month, fighting for your life, and being a noble lady.”

“Well, jealous about some of it. Being a noble would be nice. The only way I’d ever become one is if I married into it.”

“Fleur de Lis is going to be single soon. She’s looking for a prince charming now.”

“Huh. I was thinking about someone else, but having options is nice. It’s not really something I would go out of my way for, so to say, but it would be nice.” He shrugged. “But it looks like our food is on the way.”

Sure enough, I could actually smell some cooked meat. Before, it was just grilled fruit and vegetables. I looked over at the source and saw a griffin holding my plate in one talon and the pegasus waiter holding Soarin’s quiche on his wing.

“You have excellent taste, Navarone,” the griffin said, setting the plate on my table. “Phoenix is a delicacy my family has been preparing for generations.”

“I certainly hope it’ll be as good as it smells,” I said with a nod. “I love trying old family recipes. They always have wonderful character.”

“Indeed they do, my lady. And every generation adds its own twist. I would love to stay and chat more, but I’m afraid I am needed in the kitchen. Please, tell the waiter what you think. I’d love to hear the thoughts of somebody so traveled.”

“Happily.” He sketched a short bow and went back to the kitchen, while the waiter dropped off Soarin’s plate. “I’m surprised the chef himself came out,” I quietly said.

“It’s partially policy and partially interest,” the waiter said. “Ponies aren’t allowed to handle meat dishes here. We have a special griffin waitress that usually handles them, but the chef wanted to speak to the great Navarone.”

“Fame has a few perks here and there,” I said with a shrug. “I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.” The waiter did another shitty small bow and dipped after a few more pointless niceties.

“I’ve never actually tried meat,” Soarin’ said, looking at my steaming plate. The meat was actually orange, surprisingly. I had been waiting for it to cool, but it had been about a minute or so since it was delivered and it showed no signs of stopping. “I can’t imagine it would taste nice to a pony.”

“Luna seemed to like it,” I replied, poking the phoenix steak with a fork. A few juices seeped out. “But then, she’s also an insane psychopath, so take that with a grain of salt.”

He shivered. “No thanks. I tried salt once and swore off it.”

“That’s not what I… never mind.” Since the meat wasn’t cooling, I just used the knife to cut a small slice off. It went through like it diarrhea through one-ply, and I lifted it up to my mouth for a heat test. It was hot, but not painfully hot. When I bit down, my mouth exploded with flavorful steam.

Soarin’s eyebrows shot straight up and that’s when I noticed steam dripping out of my nose, too. “What the buck…” he whispered. “I’ve never seen anything like that!”

I took in the flavors and slowly exhaled, shooting more and more steam out of my nose. It seemed that the longer I had it in my mouth, the more I filled with steam. When I finally swallowed it, I left my mouth open and watched it trickle and finally die out. “Holy fucking shitballs.”

“Too hot?” he asked.

“Hell no, that shit’s the bomb diggity, man. It’s like an angel came in my mouth!”

“That actually sounds really unpleasant,” he replied as I took a larger bite.

It was not unpleasant at all. When I was done, my nose was dripping with whatever kind of juices the meat had in it and I had a pleasant warmth deep in my stomach. Or what would have been my stomach if I was still human.

“That looked like quite an experience,” my companion said. “You may have enjoyed that more than I liked my quiche.”

“Dude, you tore that poor thing apart. But yes, this shit was hella dope. Like, fo rizzle mah nizzle.”

“...I don’t know what that means.”

“That I liked it.”

“Oh. Good. Do ponies ever say things that you don’t understand?”

“Sometimes. ‘Friendship is magic’ makes no sense to me, for example. And ‘please stop rubbing my belly’ just goes right over my head. And I still have no idea what they mean when they say ‘you are a valuable friend and mean more to me than you could ever know and I hope we will stay close for as long as we both live’.”

“Well, at least we have some slang that confuses you.”

The waiter showed back up before I could think of a reply and asked, “What did you think, ma’am?”

“Tell the chef that I liked how his meat tasted in my mouth.” One of the waiter’s eyebrows slowly lifted. “That came out wrong. Uh, tell him his cock is amazing and makes my body super tingly.” Soarin’ barked a laugh. “Shit, no… Damn, tell him he satisfied me in a way no other man could.” Three of the stallions at the tables around us burst out laughing. “Fuck! Use some fancy waiter talk to tell him it was good!”

“Your wish is my command, my lady.” He took the plates and quickly beat feet, not even asking if we wanted dessert.

“It might be time for us to go,” Soarin’ said, still struggling not to laugh.

“The benefits of having a tab. I’m ready when you are.” His wings shot out and he leapt across the table and over me, then pulled my chair out before I could move.

“You got me last time,” he said, walking around to hold up a hoof for me. “But you won’t stop me from being a gentlecolt this time.”

“Dude, what the fuck.”

He shrugged, but didn’t move his hoof. “Every ma—woman deserves to be treated like a lady sometimes. Especially one that’s actually going to be a Lady soon.”

“...I’ll allow it this time, flyboy,” I said, taking his hoof. He gently pulled me out of my seat, beaming. “But if you try it again, I’m putting you in a dress and we’re going for a walk around Canterlot.”

“Only if you can catch me… Navi.”

We walked side by side to the doors. He very wisely chose not to hold them open for me.

“So now what?” I asked when we were back in the city itself.

“Well, there are a lot of sites to see,” he said, looking over to one of the skyscrapers to our right. “And we have to fly to get to most of them. You think you can do it?”

“I think I need to learn how. Lead the way.”

His wings spread out and he shot up in the air again. I followed him at a much shittier pace, though at least I did make it up.

Once upon a time, the pegasi were a super militant group. All of the pegasi trained to be warriors of some kind, though most ended up taking on different jobs once they hit a certain age. But it resulted in a very utilitarian mindset that was matched in their architect.

However, at some point that mindset started to greatly change. They retained the nobility and honor of their old culture, but picked up the standard peace and pacification traits of the other two pony tribes. They still produced a higher than average number of guards due to their history, but the average pegasus is about on par with the standard earth pony, in terms of aggressiveness.

Luckily or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint, clouds are super easy to mold into new shapes. As the culture changed, the buildings and architecture changed with them. When I come from, cities often had relics of the past that depicted cultural traits that were abandoned a long time ago. Because that was impossible in Cloudsdale, it produced an interesting uniformity in city structure that also promoted a strange uniqueness because of the pure pliability and weight of its main building materials.

Unfortunately, the effect was pretty much ruined by Flo singing A Whole New World to me. There were a lot of good sites, but it was tarnished by realizing I accidentally agreed to another date with the same fucking stallion.

There are times I seriously consider replacing Flo with River. Then Flo reminds me that she can rewrite my memories on the fly and make me think I had always been a pretty girl that loves pink and dresses and I decide that stockholm syndrome love is still love, so I keep her.

She hit me for that. Like, I think it left a bruise this time.

The sun was setting by the time Soarin’ had shown me the last thing on his list. We got a lot of stares the entire time. I had a feeling that even more ponies would be watching me that I now had a demon wing. It was beyond bothering me too much, at that point, so I didn’t pay it any mind.

“So what do you think?” he asked when we were idly floating above the city.

“I think it’s a magnificent place. I really like the idea of having clouds as your main building material. It allows for a lot of flexibility. And I bet redecorating is super easy. Mind, the defensibility is absolutely garbage, but that matters less when you have no enemies capable of getting to you.”

“Yeah, our main defensive tactic was moving the city a little bit further up whenever our enemies made a big enough ladder, then laughing at them as they had to build it a little bit bigger. It didn’t work so well on the unicorns, but it was supposedly great fun against the earth ponies.”

“That’s twisted. I love it.”

“Yeah, I figured you would.” Silence fell back on us again as we soared over the towering clouds. “I really do like the view the princess gives us when the sun sets.”

Ugh. “Unfortunately, that means I need to get back. Due to my… condition, I can’t really stay out too much past night during fall and winter.”

“Yeah, I remember. You want to head back to the palace? You probably couldn’t make it at your speed, but I’d be happy to carry you again.”

“Honestly, nah. My wings are getting tired and I really don’t feel like getting carried. As I’m sure you know, it’s kinda uncomfortable.”

“Yeah, I understand.” He looked around a few times before pointing to a building. “That’s a pretty nice hotel, if you want to stay here.”

“I left my bits home and I’m damn sure not going to make you pay for that. You got a couch, right?”

“I do. And I got the whole day off from Spitfire, so I don’t really have anything else planned tonight. You can stay at my place, if you want.”

“Cool. Lead the way.”

He grinned and banked off, leading the way to a group of mansions. Though to be fair, all of the cloud houses were mansions. When your building supply is infinite and your building space is huge, the size of your house means practically nothing. So in that regard, the place he took me to was actually kinda humble. The only kind of outside decoration was something that displayed the official Wonderbolts logo, emblazoned in one side with his personal emblem.

“You might not believe it, but I almost never have mares over,” he said before he opened the door. “Their places are usually closer.”

“Well, I’d invite you to my place, but it’s near Ponyville and I let a local lesbian couple rent it for a while, until I get back from this trip.” Less rent and more just live there and look after the place, but whatever.

“I don’t mind, it’s just not common,” he said, finally opening the door. The way he was saying that, I was expecting his place to be something of a mess. And sure enough, there were a few dirty uniforms here and there and a several take-out buckets next to the couch. “I would apologize for the mess, but this is how I unashamedly live, so it feels hollow.”

“Hey man, it’s whatever. I have an actual maid, even though I never asked for her and don’t actually pay her.” I said I would when she started, but I never really got around to it. I just gave her money whenever she asked. “So I can’t judge and I wouldn’t be interested in it anyway.”

“I do need to clean up, though. One of us is going to be sleeping on the couch. Might as well not make either of us sleep in it.”

“Alright, let’s drop the media-friendly act. We’re both adults. You wanna just fuck and cuddle tonight? I mean, the newspapers are gonna say we did anyway and we’ve both been hinting toward it all night. I’m totally down if you are. But if not, I’m taking the bed and you get the couch.”

He blinked a few times. “Well, at least I never have to worry about you beating around the bush. So, buck it. Ever since the first time I saw you, I wondered what you looked like without clothes, male or not. Now, I’m absolutely interested in having sex with you. I’d also be interested in more.”

“No offense to you, but it’s a bad time in my life for a relationship. Sex is great and let’s totally do it, but I’m not looking for anything more right now.”

“I understand. Friends it is.”

“Yep. Now let’s fuck.”

He did not treat me like a lady at all. It felt pretty amazing.

Now that I had the confidence and practice to actually get back in the air, Canterlot became much more tolerable. Getting around with a fucked up wing sucked. Being able to fly past most of the people that might have bothered me was much better. Of course, I didn’t have many reasons to go out, but it was still nice.

Two nights after my trip to Cloudsdale, Captain Midnight Blossom finally came back to my room. I was asleep when she got there, but Flo let her in and they apparently watched me sleep for about fifteen minutes before Flo finally woke me up. Both of them refuse to tell me what they did in that time, so I can only assume it was a scantily clad pillow fight followed by a fast make-out session.

When my eyes opened, I beheld two glowing yellow orbs very close to my face. Then I noticed the fangs. I didn’t freak out this time because there was no real reason to be afraid of the friendly neighborhood vampire these days. “Blossom. You’re very close tonight.”

“Flo thought it would be funny,” she replied with a shrug, though she didn’t move. “I had a few questions, if you wouldn’t mind answering them.”

“Happy to help. Have you already eaten tonight? I think I can spare a little blood.”

“I have, thank you.” She sniffed lightly at the air and her eyes moved down my body. “Though I believe you’ll soon have a snack ready for me regardless… Are you on your cycle now?”

“Not yet. Jesus. Flo, do you know when I’m due?”

“Tomorrow, actually. Remember, they have much more powerful noses. And Blossom’s is stronger still.”

“...Yeah. Well, shit. I’m borrowing your tongue tomorrow. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Happily. I still owe you your present for not petting me during the party, after all. But that is good for one time only. I was going to let you rub my belly, but I’ll substitute this instead.”

God fucking dammit. Choices, choices… “Why not both?” I asked.

“Nope. One or the other. Anyway, that’s not why I’m here. At the party, you told Fleur that we were under attack by a demon of chaos. Is that true?”

“Yes. He’s not currently doing anything, but he is free and we know he’s watching events unfold.”

“And he’s been active in the past?”

“Oh yeah. He killed off my race, then the race of beings we created to guide the new races we made, then that cycle happened a few more times until we get to today, when he killed almost all of the alicorns.”

“...And you think he’s going to try something similar soon.”

“I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t.”

“But you’re going to stop him.”

“I’m damn sure gonna try. Better than sitting here and waiting for the end. I’ve never actually felt like I had the world on my shoulders until literally right now. So thanks for that, I guess.”

She stared at me for another few seconds before finally moving away. “I have two offers for you, Nav. The first is my dark curse. Truly, it is a blessing in disguise, when you choose to look at it so. Enhanced strength, better smell, better sight, better hearing, dozens of miscellaneous powers. But it is permanent and you must feed daily or risk becoming an animal. I do not offer this lightly. I believe that it could possibly help you on your journey.”

I wasn’t even a little bit tempted. “No thank you.”

She bowed her head for a second before looking back up at me. “The second offer is myself. I will quit the guard right now and I will travel with you. I can feed off animals if they’re available. I will follow whatever order you give me. If the world is in danger and you’re trying to save it, I will help you in absolutely any way necessary.”

I finally sat up and gently put a hand on her shoulder. “Blossom, thank you for the offer. I want you on my ship. But I need you in Canterlot. Your skills would be very useful on my journey, but they’re invaluable here. And having command over all of Equestria’s armed forces is extremely useful.”

She pulled away from my hand and looked down. “I feel… useless here, Nav. Like I’m living more of a lie than I already was.” Her eyes focused back on mine with a stark intensity. “I refuse to die when I could have done something to help save everypony!”

“...In a few days time, I will officially be an Equestrian noble. On that day, you will tell Celestia that you are a vampire. If, and only if, she casts you aside, I will take you as a vassal and protect you from whatever she tries to do to you.”

Her glowing eyes watched me for several very long seconds. Finally, her head very weakly nodded. “Deal. If my princess, the mare I swore eternal fealty and loyalty to, finds my presence undesirable, my place is no longer here anyway. If Princess Celestia casts me aside, I will be your vassal. If she strikes me down, at least I’ll go to the grave with the truth on my lips.”

That took a lot less convincing than I thought. “If she wants to strike you down, she’ll have to go through me and Fleur. Mind, Fleur probably won’t slow her down, but I will stop her in her tracks.”

She was silent for another few very long seconds before suddenly bursting forward and hugging me so hard I fell back on the bed. After a moment of stunned silence, I hugged her back. She stayed quiet for nearly a minute, just holding me tight. Finally, she whispered, “I owe you everything, Nav.”

“Friends owe friends nothing,” I said, slowly rubbing her back.

“You taught me to live again. You gave my self-worth back. I… I have pride in myself now. You have been the moon in my darkest of nights. For all of that and more, I owe you.”

It’s far too early in the morning to deal with this, god damn. Flo sighed judgmentally. Thankfully, Blossom didn’t notice or didn’t pay her any mind. “I want my friends to be happy, Blossom. I want them to love themselves. Some fucked up shit happened to you and it was awful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still love who and what you are. You owe me nothing for helping you realize that life is still worth living. If anything, I owe you for allowing me to see the light return to your eyes. But friends owe friends nothing. I am, and always will be, happy to help you.”

“I…” She fell silent for several more seconds before sighing. “I wish I could cry… I’m not… I’m not a wimpy mare, not really, but… but I wish I could cry right now, Nav.”

“Flo, can you come leak on her face?” For what it’s worth, I actually didn’t mean that sexually.

It actually made Blossom giggle, though. She finally pulled away and stared down at me, smiling softly. “I believe you might be the best friend I’ve ever had, Nav.”

“That’s kind of sad.”

She looked over to Flo. “Can I mind wipe her and make her proud of being such a good person?”

“Hold on, now…” I quickly said, grabbing one of her legs.

Flo turned pink and nodded. “Only for an hour or two.”

Blossom turned to me faster than I could look away and light flooded from her eyes, then completely overwhelmed my will.

The good news is that I don’t remember any of what happened after that. The bad news is that Flo apparently used her weird painting skills to paint a portrait of me and Blossom in the girliest dresses they could find. I only got to see it once before Flo gave it to Blossom as a present.

At least shame had been beaten out of me ages ago.

The day my ship returned to port was a very relieving day for me. After I had spent so long in the open air, staying in the palace felt incredibly confining. I knew that I could have gone wherever, but at the same time, I knew that I’d have to return to the same lonely palace eventually. Even with Celestia, Flo, and Moonbeam to keep me company, it lacked the hustle and bustle of an active mercenary ship.

No one actually told me my ship was back, either. Flo and I were doing our thing in my room when something loudly popped next to me. I looked up from the book I was writing and had time to see a purple mass of fur pouncing at me. Taya brought me down to the bed with her hug, a hug that I viciously returned.

“You don’t know how much I missed you,” I sighed into her hair, gently rocking her side to side.

“I bet you know exactly how much I missed you,” she replied. “I love you, daddy…”

I slowly rubbed her back. After a few seconds, I said, “You can call me mommy if you want, Taya.”

She finally looked up, eyes wide. Then her eyes went over my shoulder and she gasped. Her horn lit up and my demon wing jerked out, extending to its full length. “What happened?!”

I rolled over slightly and set her down. She uneasily let me go so I could stand and stretch both wings. “The reason I had to come to Canterlot was to help Celestia fight demons,” I said. “Someone in the mage’s tower accidentally summoned one and that one brought in more. When I was fighting one of them, it cut this wing in half. Celestia was able to reattach it, but it was corrupted by the demon’s magic. They ran some tests and found that the corruption has stopped. So now I’m part human, part tree, and part demon.”

She was silent for several long seconds. “Why couldn’t I have come with you, then?” she finally asked. “The princess knew you were going to be fighting. I could have helped you!”

You could have gotten in the way. You could have made me worry more about protecting you than myself. You could have been hurt, instead of me. “Magic has very little effect on demons on this side of Tartarus,” I replied with a shrug. “It takes a ridiculous amount of power to damage them. And even then, they can heal up so quickly that it takes a lot of energy to keep them down. Even with three very experienced warriors, we had a difficult time.”

The silence came back with a vengeance. Finally, her eyes went back to the wing. “Does it hurt?”

“No. And I can still fly, though it’s harder.”

Her eyes found mine again. “What changed, daddy? Why can I call you mommy now?”

“Because I accept this now,” I said, waving a hand down my body. “I’m done fighting it. If I find a way back, I will become a man again. But I do not believe that will happen, so I am going to accept who I am. And who I am is a woman.”

Taya just stared at me for a little bit longer. Finally a huge smile spread across her face. “I’m happy for you, mommy.” And with that, her horn lit up and she floated me back over to hug me again. When my arms wrapped around her, she sighed in delight. “I almost forgot how you smelled… Your bed lost your scent a few days ago.”

Is that creepy or flattering? “All you ponies smell the same to me. I’m still not used to the idea of unique scents on people.”

“Most ponies smell pretty similar,” she said. “But you’re not a pony. You’re different. It made me uneasy at first, but now it makes me feel safe…” She slowly breathed in and held it for a few seconds before sighing out. “Then the accident happened and it became softer, less harsh. When you became female, Twilight and her friends talked about how your smell changed a lot. They also talked about how Spike reacted. It’s different, but I still love it. I can still tell that you’re you. I can always tell that you’re my mommy.”

Alright, I’m still not sure if this is creepy or flattering. “I need to take more showers, I guess.” She pulled away and stared at me, eyes wide. “What? When a human can smell another human, that’s usually seen as a bad thing. And it’s pretty hard to be stealthy when ponies can smell me coming.”

“You never need to be stealthy when I’m around, mommy. If anyone tries to hurt you, I’ll turn them inside out.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. “I love you, Taya.”

She sighed one more time and pressed herself back against me. “I love you too, mommy…”

We stayed like that for a minute or two, until I felt the need to ruin it. “So have you heard the news yet?”

“What news?” she asked.

“We’re becoming nobles.”

Her ears shot straight up as she pulled away again. “What?!”

“Yeah, my bad. I kinda got roped into it and you’re getting dragged in by association.”

“...How? And why?”

“To answer those, I’ll have to explain some basic politics and some of the other shit I’ve done while in Canterlot. As usual, all of this shit stays between us.”

“Right.”

I started by bringing up Fancy’s sexuality and why he hid it, then went to the trial of Pertz and how Celestia murdered him. That led to me killing the three super fancy nobles and the problems that happened at Fancy’s coming out party. Her eyes went hard when I mentioned discussing Discord with Fleur. I ended with Fancy Pants and Celestia talking me into becoming a noble.

“I know neither of us really want this, Taya. But me becoming a noble is probably for the greater good. And since we’ll get the Everfree Forest, we won’t get too many people coming to try to get our favor. We’ll have a lot of power with an extremely small court, essentially. It’s hardly ideal, but it’s about the best we can do under the circumstances.”

She was silent for some time before nodding once. “You deserve this, mommy. You deserve more than this, but this is a start.” She smiled and buried her face into me again. “When we beat Discord, we can finally go back home and you can live with the respect and honor you deserve.”

Not what I was expecting, but it’s better than being angry. “Don’t forget that this title will pass onto you.”

“No it won’t, mommy. You’ll live forever. I’ll die of old age well before you even start aging again.” Well, that’s morbid.

Flo finally moved forward and placed a hand on Taya’s head. “I would not be so sure of that, child. My sisters and I will not take a host at your age, but when you grow, you may well find one of us more willing to accommodate you. Even with that, you may not live to see your mother on her deathbed, but you will find yourself lasting much longer.”

Taya shook her head. “I can’t live longer than her. Mommy doesn’t need me, but I need her.”

Um. “Taya, you can survive without me,” I said, brushing her hair with my hand. “I mean, I’m totally awesome and all that, but you’d definitely survive.” She didn’t reply. Flo and I shared a look over her head. She shrugged, so I figured that was good enough for the moment. “The ceremony to make me a noble is tomorrow,” I said. “We’ll both need to be dressed up for it.”

Taya’s horn lit up and a letter appeared. “The princess sent two letters in a few days ago,” she said. “One was for Rarity. One was for you. Spike was curious about why she sent you a letter if you were in Canterlot, but he just gave it to me without opening it. I didn’t either, but I was curious.”

“Oh boy, here we go,” I muttered, taking the letter and opening it. “Let’s see…”

‘My dearest soon-to-be Lady Navarone, I know you and Taya will need the proper clothing in which to join the nobility, so I took the liberty of asking your close friend Rarity to assist you. By the time you get this letter, she should be finished with her preparations. She has already been generously compensated. There is no need to thank me. Love, Sunbutt.’

“She actually signed it as Sunbutt. Wow.”

Taya slid it out of my yielding hands and quickly read over it. When she was finished, she looked back up at me. “Mommy, why does Princess Celestia hate you?”

“I’ll let you know when I have an answer, dear,” I sighed, reaching around her underlegs and lifting her off me. “Let me get ready and we can go find my apparently ‘close friend’ Rarity.”

Taya rolled over and just laid on her back. “I think she’s still on the ship. She’s been in her room ever since she got that letter. Pinkie and Fluttershy apparently heard a lot of creepy laughter, but the only one she let in was Spider. I guess now I know why.”

I started grabbing up all the shit I needed to make myself seem like a functional person. “Creepy laughter sounds right, coming from her. I swear she’ll turn into a crazy cat lady one of these days.”

“...Rarity only has one cat.”

“Give her time.” I debated taking a weapon or two, but in the end, I decided against it. “I need to go to the ship anyway. I’m sure Watcher and Gourd need to talk. And of course, Twilight’s friends are always super needy.”

“Actually, Rarity is the only one left on the ship. Twilight went to see her parents. We dropped the others off at Ponyville before coming here.”

“Well, that makes it easier. Where’s the ship parked?”

“At Princess Celestia’s personal skydock. I walked here from there and teleported in once I got to your door.”

“Then lead the way. I have no idea where that is.” She hopped off the bed and pulled the door open with magic. The two of us walked and Flo slid down the hall. “Did I miss anything big?”

“Not really. We got the ship repaired. Twilight and I picked up a few rare magic books in some of the shops in the city we docked in. I think Rainbow Dash and Gilda got in trouble with the guards, but they outran them and then hid on the ship until we left. Kat said someone was following her, but she got away and also hid on the ship. The naga cut the paw off a dog thief, but it was ruled a self-defense and the paw was reattached.”

“Sounds like everyone had some fun, then. I’ll have to punish Gilda and Dash, which I’m sure they already know is coming. Kat will definitely need a talk. She did tell me she might bring some trouble with her and I need to make sure she’s still safe.”

We walked in silence for a few moments until Taya turned her head back. “But you don’t need to talk to the naga?”

“Nah, he did the right thing. Fuck pickpockets. Besides, heat of the moment and all that. I’m surprised someone tried stealing from a naga, though.”

“Oh, she didn’t. The naga was with Doppel, who was disguised as a noble. As soon as the thief tried grabbing her purse, the naga snatched her by the hand, dragged her a block away to a group of guards, held the paw against the wall, and sliced it off before they could do anything.”

“...How was that self-defense?” I slowly asked.

“The guards were ruled as defending themselves by not trying to arrest him.”

“Alright, yeah, I can see that. I’ll talk to Watcher about it first, then.”

The silence came back as we continued to the private dock. I was kind of surprised that the castle even had one of those. As far as I knew, Celestia didn’t even have a personal airship. If she did, our time in the middle east would have been the perfect time to use it. It was also kind of surprising that she had never let me use it before, but whatever. And since she had wings, I kind of wondered why she even needed a personal skydock.

After going up a few sets of stairs, we finally got to a grand entrance near the top of one of the palace towers. Two of my soldiers were standing guard on the other side of the door, on the platform leading up to the ship. They came to attention as soon as I stepped outside. “At ease, guys. You know better than that.”

They looked at each other for a short moment before looking back. One of them said, “With the news, we thought it was prudent to keep up appearances.”

“Jesus, you guys already know? Why didn’t Taya?”

“Word came right after she left, sir,” he replied with a shrug. “The princess summoned Watcher and Gourd both. They told us and asked us to be on the lookout for you.”

“Damn. She works fast. I’m looking for Kat, Gilda, Rarity, and the naga.”

“Gilda’s at Ponyville. The others are all on board, as far as I know.”

“Then I’ll deal with her later. Thank you. Come on, Taya.” We started walking again, but before we got too far away, I stopped. “By the way, it’s ma’am now. Spread the word.” Their mouths both dropped. I continued on without letting them recover. Flo split off and slid down the side, probably to find one of her sisters.

Since I knew dealing with Rarity’s dramatic bullshit would take a lot longer than I’d like, I stopped by Kat’s room first. She was in there with one of the elementals, sharpening a knife. Her door was open, so I stopped outside it and knocked on the edge. Both of them looked up. Kat smiled, but didn’t stand up. The elemental, who I decided was probably Cascade, turned pink.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes, Nav,” Kat said. “But your wing is looking a little bit off.”

“Yeah, it got corrupted by a demon. Weird story. I heard you ran into some trouble.”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” She slid the knife into a holster and stood, stretching her lithe kitty body. “So you’re becoming a real proper lady now, huh?”

“You aren’t brushing this one off, Kat. I know how you cats avoid things. What happened and will it be a problem?”

She rolled her eyes. “A goon from the local syndicate was moonlighting as a set of eyes for one of the guilds I left behind in my old life. I lost him in the city and didn’t get back to the ship until I knew he was gone. It’s not a problem.”

I stared at her for a few more seconds. I knew it wouldn’t do any good, because she was a lot better at that game than I was, but it still felt prudent. Finally, I nodded once. “Fine. But if you see anything out of the ordinary when you’re in a city, stop whatever you’re doing and get away until you’re sure it’s safe. You pissed off a lot of very dangerous individuals. I know you’re good, but there’s always someone better. That’s something you need to keep in mind when you’re alone.”

“Trust me, I know. That’s why I got away from that goon as soon as I saw him tailing me. I thought about killing him, but I figured that might cause some problems.”

“You figured correctly. And yes, I am apparently becoming a real proper lady now. It fucking sucks, but it is what it is.”

Kat reached back over to the knife she had just been sharpened and pulled it out. I lifted an eyebrow. She held it in one paw and drew it across the other, making her immediately start bleeding and making Cascade gasp. Kat pressed that bloody open palm over her heart and bowed low, holding the dagger out before her with the other palm. “I swear a blood fealty to you, Lady Navarone. Direct my life as you will.”

I honestly had no idea what to do. There was obviously some kind of ceremony or something that I didn’t know about. It seemed like the right thing to do, so I carefully pulled the knife away from her. “I accept your oath of fealty, Katrina. I will direct you to the best of my ability, and reward you for your service as best I can.” She looked at me expectantly, then at the dagger. “Alright, I don’t really do the whole ceremony thing, Kat. We’re in private, so let’s just leave it at that, okay?”

She blinked a few times, then slowly took the knife back from me. “You were supposed to slice your palm, and then we’d press them together with yours on top, to show that your blood always comes before mine.”

“That’s disgusting and sounds like a good way to spread disease. Cascade, can you help her?” The poor elemental had been inching over ever since Kat cut herself, so she instantly pounced and healed her. “Thank you. Kat, I appreciate this. And I’m happy that you’re with me until the end. As my vassal, you and your safety are officially my responsibility. I order you to come to me if you have even the slightest inkling that you might be in danger from those assassin clans. We’ll deal with them together.”

She blinked yet again. “I… I was not expecting that.”

“Yeah, I fucking bet. After this adventure is over and we save the world, if you want to be free of my service, I will free you from your oath. If you choose to stay by my side, you will have a place. The entire Everfree Forest is becoming my domain, so I will have plenty of land to grant you and Spider. We can talk to Zecora about taming it later, when it becomes relevant.”

She clenched her newly healed paw. “I am with you until the end, my lady.”

“Don’t start that shit with me, at least not in private. Now, I need you to steal some things for me.”

“Oh, wow. You’re jumping straight into it, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, yeah. Celestia has a private library hidden in a secret chamber in the palace library. I don’t know exactly where it is or how to get in. I’ll let you borrow my ring and my key. If you can safely get in, bring me every book you can find that I wrote. Don’t take any weapons with you. If you get caught, run if you can and surrender if you can’t. I’ll make sure you stay out of trouble.”

She just looked at me for a few seconds before slowly asking, “If you can make sure I won’t get in trouble, why can’t you just get the books yourself?”

“It’s a long story that involves a lot of censorship. Bring me those books before we leave Canterlot. If you need help, ask Doppel. She can scout the place out for you and possibly find you an easier way inside.”

“Very well. May I bring Spider?”

“Yes, but keep him out of sight. You can be seen by guards until you start breaking in. I don’t want him seen at all. They’ll look at you funny. They’ll actively watch him.”

“I understand.”

“Only look at the books you find long enough to determine if they’re something I wrote. If it is not, leave it exactly where it is and don’t look at it anymore. I don’t care how tempting it is, leave the other books alone. There is dark, dark shit in this world, and that ring won’t protect you from everything. I don’t know what she has in that place and I damn sure don’t want to find out. Find my books and get out.”

“Of course. Stealing is not typically how I operate, but I know enough to know that I should only take what my client, or in this case my patron, wants.”

“Good. Hold onto them until you know that I am alone or with people you trust, then deliver them to me.”

She pressed the paw she cut against her chest and bowed again. “Your will be done, Navarone.”

“Thank you, Kat.” She straightened back out, smiling. “Do you know if the naga or Rarity are still on board?”

“Rarity is, but I’m not sure about the naga. I don’t talk to him much.”

“I’ll go check.” I nodded at the elemental at Kat’s side. “It was nice to see you again, dear.”

She flushed pink again. “And you as well, father.”

I still didn’t want to deal with Rarity yet, so Taya and I went deep into the bowels of the ship, down to where the naga resided. His door was also open. He and Doppel were leaning over a heavy book. He was slowly sounding out words when I knocked on the side of the door.

They both looked up, of course. Doppel’s face split into a grin and she flew across the room to hug me. “You’re back, Master!”

“Sure am,” I said, hugging her back. I almost corrected her and told her to call me mistress, but I decided it could wait until the naga wasn’t right there. “I heard you two had some fun while I was away, too.”

Doppel flinched slightly and the naga snorted. “It was hardly fun,” he growled. “I dealt with a thief. The pony guards did not approve, but they also did not stop me. I consider that the end of that.”

“It was awful,” Doppel whispered, shivering slightly against me.

“That is not quite the end of it,” I said. “Pony laws are not quite as draconian as naga laws. I advise you remember that the next time you deal with a criminal in pony lands. By all means, catch them, but do not punish them yourself. You got away with it this time because you’re fucking horrifying and those guards were probably pissing themselves, but the next batch of guards you run into might not be so chickenshit. I can probably get you out of some trouble come tomorrow, but I don’t want to have to abuse my authority like that.”

He grunted. “So be it. Next time, I’ll just drag the criminal to the guards and let them see the failures of their own weak laws. There are few thieves in the naga caves, for those that steal are dealt with promptly and brutally.”

Doppel finally let me go and flew back to land on the ground. “It’s actually true in changeling caves as well. Drones are encouraged to subdue any changeling they see committing a crime. Given the disparity in numbers between drones and all the other classes, attempting to subdue the criminal usually ends up with the criminal getting crushed, or worse.”

“Well, you’re not in the naga caves or the changeling caves,” I said. “This is happy go lucky sunshine and rainbow pony land. Their laws and customs are different. You should know this by now, naga.”

He rolled his eyes. “I am well aware. However, just because I know they are different does not mean I know how they are different.”

“You have sixteen retired guards on board you can ask. Either ask one of them or ask one of them to accompany you whenever you travel in pony cities.”

He sighed. “Very well. I suppose, as a direct representative of the naga, I should do my best not to shame my species in the eyes of the ponies. I shall learn the proper laws of the land and attempt not to overslide my bounds next time.”

“Good. We’ll probably be back in the air in about two or so days. If you have any business to do in the city, do it quickly. I need to speak to Rarity.”

“Have fun, Master.” The naga just grunted and went back to his book. After a second, Doppel buzzed over and joined him. Taya and I went back up the stairs to look for the dreadful white menace.

“So, wanna place a bet on how frilly this piece of shit dress is gonna be?” I asked.

“I’m gonna go with very.”

“Well, it’s hard to have a bet if all participants bet on the same thing.” Knowing Rarity, my expectation was very pink, very frilly, and very annoying.

But strangely enough, the closer we got to her room, the darker the ship seemed to grow. It wasn’t too obvious, but the light definitely seemed to be a lot dimmer in front of her room than just a few meters down the hall. I could hear a small amount of shuffling on the other side, and what sounded like some kind of muttering.

Despite the small amount of trepidation I felt, I confidently knocked. The shuffling and muttering immediately stopped. A few seconds later, the door slowly eased open and a very harried dress horse poked her head around the side. Her bloodshot eyes and haunted expression greeted my raised eyebrow.

As soon as she saw me, she started chuckling. Deep, throaty laughs that slowly picked up in volume until it was honestly somewhat uncomfortable. Finally, it turned into a straight cackle that seemed to go on for a full minute.

“So uh… I heard you were making something for me,” I cautiously said.

Her laughter immediately stopped and she just stared at me. “You.” It was a direct accusation, one I didn’t know how to reply to. “You, a noble.”

“Um. Yes?”

“A high-class, virtuous noble, invited and welcomed to all social circles.” She giggled again, still not opening the door even farther. “A high-class noble with heraldry and land and a direct line of ascension!”

“Wait, line of ascension?”

She didn’t pay that any mind. “The boorish and rude Lady Navarone! Owner of the savage Everfree and brutal warrior that won the hearts of all Equestrians!” Her door slammed open and she squared up in front of me, now glaring. My eyes couldn’t even glance over her shoulder to see what was behind her. “Lady Navarone! Friend to Lord Fancy Pants and Lady Fleur de Lis, richest being in all Equestria, writer of dozens of novels and painter of dozens of paintings! You. A true noble lady!”

She glared for about fifteen more seconds before her eyes seemed to crack. The anger left her and was slowly replaced with sorrow. The laughter started again, but this time she fell to the floor and curled up into a ball, trying to laugh around tears.

Well, this is inconvenient. She was in the way of the rest of her room, so I couldn’t get in to get my clothes. Her body was just long enough that stepping over her would be uncomfortable and I couldn’t fly over her in that tight space. Taya could probably teleport us over, but I wasn’t sure if our clothes were done or if they had even gotten started. Drama and tears are Rarity’s specialties, so I had a feeling she could keep up her show for long enough to be annoying. Playing her game was unfortunately my best shot at getting out of there quickly.

That did not mean I had to play by her rules, however. I looked next to me, where Taya was watching Rarity with a bored expression on her face. “Taya, activate cuteness.”

She looked up at me and blinked. “Really? Now?”

“Yes.” I pointed at Rarity. “Do your thing.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes, then focused back on Rarity. After a second of mental preparation, her eyes welled up and she plodded toward the balled up mare. “You… you aren’t mad at mommy, a-are you?”

Rarity slowly looked up at Taya. She noticed the tears pooling at the poor filly’s eyes and flinched, then slammed her own eyes shut. “No, no, you won’t use her against me!”

Taya softly whimpered. “W-why are you angry with mommy? She’s just trying to do what’s b-best for me…”

Blue magic grabbed both of Rarity’s ears and pressed them flat against her head to try to block out my adorable daughter’s voice.

It did not, however, protect against the weak nuzzle Taya did to her. Rarity flinched again and tried hiding her face behind her forelegs. So Taya just softly brushed her side with a hoof, making Rarity whimper.

There isn’t too much cuteness you can do against someone fighting back like that, but Taya had a trump card. Her horn lit up and magic dragged Rarity’s forelegs away, then forced her eyes open just in time to see Taya actually start crying. “W-why are you d-doing this?” she forced out between tears. “W-we just want our p-pretty dresses!”

For a moment, I honestly thought Rarity was going to have a heart attack. But she finally recovered and instantly hugged the poor filly. “There there, dear. I made the dresses, I promise! I did, and I did a truly outstanding job. You’ll be the prettiest little filly anywhere, believe you me! Please, there’s no need to cry!”

Taya immediately calmed down and her voice returned to its normal dead tone. “Okay.” She pushed away from Rarity and walked back to my side.

Rarity watched her go with a disturbed look on her face. “How in the world…” she slowly whispered, shaking her head.

“That’s the power of cute,” I said. “So, are you done with your tantrum now?”

Her eyes went from Taya to me. With that change came a glare. “You are a monster.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a monster who’s about to be a noble.” Her teeth started grinding. “And I’ll need an outfit made by the best fashionista in Equestria to attend the ceremony.” Unfortunately, Celestia sent a message to you instead of Photo Finish.

That did little to abate her anger. She angrily sniffed. “You may enter, Taya. And get your stupid human butt in here, Navarone.”

“Ouch, my feelings,” I said, rolling my eyes and stepping inside. Taya followed without a word.

Since I outplayed her drama with Taya’s cuteness, Rarity’s game was done and she knew it. Her horn lit up and the light returned to normal in the room. I kinda wondered how she managed to make it seem darker to my augmented eyes, but I decided I was better off not knowing. On the far side of the wall were two large packages.

Rarity grabbed the larger of the two with magic and thrust it at me. “Take it and go.” She gently took the smaller one and held it up for Taya. “Here you are, dear. If you’d like my assistance in putting it all on, you are free to stay. I’d be delighted to help you.”

I rolled my eyes and put my package down. “Taya, hold her down on the bed, would you?”

Rarity’s eyes went wide as Taya lifted her up and pressed her against the bed, on her back. “Don’t you dare harm me, you wretch!” she hissed, struggling to move any of her legs. Taya was holding each one down and had another spout of magic against Rarity’s horn, preventing her from doing anything. “Unhoof me!”

“This is for your own good,” I said, approaching the bed with an outstretched hand. She eyed it with trepidation and actually started trembling as it approached. She howled as it gently stroked her soft belly and she started spouting off all the amusing pony curses she knew.

Of course, no one can resist my stomach rubs for long. After her curses ran out of steam, she was forced to lie back and enjoy it like the little tummy slut she is. She whimpered in joy and one of her back legs started trying to kick, though Taya wouldn’t let it move too much. Soon, Rarity’s tongue was lolling out and she began panting, with drool dripping down one side of her face.

About ten minutes after I started, I pulled the package over with a foot and grabbed it by the strings. “Taya, can you teleport the two of us out?”

“Easily. Just say the word, mommy.”

I looked back down at Rarity, who was doing her best to glare at me with a dopey expression of joy on her face. “Thank you for the clothes, Rarity. I’m sure they’ll be exquisite. And don’t worry, there’s no need to thank me for the belly rub. Taya, shall we?”

Her horn lit up brighter and we both appeared on the deck of the ship. Before I could say anything, she fucking booked it into the palace. I followed her as quickly as I could, knowing that being anywhere near ground zero would be a bad idea for anyone that didn’t want to be in a disgustingly pink dress.

For better or worse, Taya hadn’t been keeping up with her jogging while I was away, so she quickly found herself out of breath and had to slow down about halfway to my room. “It’s always nice to help Rarity relax,” I idly commented as we continued our walk. Taya was probably too out of breath to reply. Either that or she just didn’t have anything to say. “I’m sure she’ll be very grateful toward both of us. She seems to really enjoy seeing you act cute, so you might want to be ready to do it the next few times we bump into her.”

My loving, adorable daughter rudely snorted, and left that as her only reply.

It felt good to have her back at my side.

 
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