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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166. Chapter One Hundred and Thirty-Eight Part 2

The witch lady growled and rubbed the blood over her mask. It seared in instantly and the expression on the mask changed from one of anger to one of pain. Then both of her front hooves shot into the ground and she started yelling. A few seconds later, the arena started rumbling and then the ground in front of her began cracking. Finally, what looked like a herd of zebras made of dirt rose out of the cracks and started stampeding toward Zecora—and everyone behind her, which concerned me more.

Zecora slammed a hoof down on the ground in front of her, making the herd split and break away from her. They continued running on either side of her, pushing them toward the crowd around her. As soon as they got to the edges of the arena, they exploded into dirt, showering everyone on both sides in filth.

When the dirt started settling in front of Zecora, another ball of fire shot at her, thrown by the witch doctor. Zecora casually backhoofed it, pushing into the sky. Then she spat in the dirt, put her hoof above it, and then tossed that hoof in the air. The water expanded and flowed around her hoof. She waved her leg around for a moment to give the spit momentum and then pushed it at the witch.

She tried shooting lightning to stop it. Instead, it electrified the water, which made it probably hurt even more when it slammed into her. Zecora still had some control over the water, because she used it to pull at the witch’s mask. It was somehow stuck on the mare’s face, so a portion of it broke away instead of coming off entirely.

When that mask broke off, some kind of green smoke started pouring from its mouth. The witch ignored the pain she was in and tried clutching at that smoke, doing her best to drag it back in. But holding smoke in with hooves isn’t exactly the best way to go about it, so it quickly evaporated and left her howling in rage.

She jumped up and then slammed all of her hooves on the ground, making the water instantly evaporate into steam. Then her entire body burst into green flames and she reared back onto her hind legs. Both her forelegs shot a continuous stream of green fire at Zecora.

Her eyes actually widened in surprise and she threw a burst of dust up from the ground. It solidified as a thin wall of stone, but even that started smoking. She used the time it granted her wisely and pulled out another vial, which she tossed at the ground in front of her feet. It exploded in a puff of blue smoke and she disappeared into it right as the flames broke through.

The blue smoke instantly evaporated in the fire and Zecora reappeared several dozen meters away. The witch didn’t notice, though; she was enraged and focused very singularly on that one spot. It backfired quickly when her flames turned cyan and started burning out.

In her anger, she didn’t notice that her flames were disappearing until her hooves went back to normal. The pain on her mask immediately turned to surprise as all the flames around her body just instantly snuffed out. That’s when Zecora’s next vial finally hit the witch doctor on her side.

It exploded in a burst of green and some kind of vines immediately started growing around the evil witch. She tried struggling, but the vines responded by going right for her mask. She gave up trying to cast a spell to use both hooves to hold the mask on, doing her best to stop them from prying it off.

After several long seconds of a shitty tug of war, the vines turned spiky and started pushing spines into the mask, making the mare scream out and give up on holding it. Instead, she started frantically beating her back legs into the ground, starting some kind of small earthquake.

But Zecora wasn’t idle in that time. While the witch was fighting with the plants, Zecora pulled out a small knife and a very thin slice of leather from one of the naga’s kills. She sliced into one of her legs and rubbed it over the leather, then used the knife as a shitty quill to write something onto the parchment. When her message was completed, she awkwardly walked on three legs to the struggling witch doctor and slapped the paper onto her mask right as the earthquakes started rustling the stands.

Some kind of unearthly wailing began coming from the mask itself as the area around the parchment started leaking green smoke. The witch froze and the earthquake immediately stopped. Her head tilted up as she tried to look at what was causing the smoking, then she started screaming in horror and doing her best to peel the parchment off.

At that point, it was burned in and there wasn’t much she could do but try to beat down the green flames that started licking at the mask. Its expression started wildly changing as it burned away. Finally, the vines covering the mare got to her legs and forced them down, so she fell into the dirt and just screamed as the mask burned.

Zecora watched on with her glowing yellow eyes until the mare was immobilized, then carefully ripped off a piece of her cloak and used it to staunch the small wound she had from her dagger. By the time she finished that, the fire had burned its course and all that was left of the mask was a smoking husk that Zecora very easily yanked off the witch doctor’s face.

It revealed a surprisingly young looking zebra with tears streaming down her face. I don’t know if they were from pain, rage, or sadness, but she was glaring up at our shaman with all the anger she could muster.

Zecora stared down at her for an uncomfortably long time before gripping the edge of her cloak with one hoof and then yanking it off, revealing herself. Several zebras in the audience gasped and some started yelling, but our eyes were on the witch.

When she saw who really bested her, several emotions shot across her face. Confusion, surprise, fear, sorrow, and then right back to anger. When Zecora saw where it ended, she shook her head. “You were my sister, once.” Back up, what? “You were my family. I loved you, but—”

“You didn’t care about anything! All you wanted was power!”

Zecora sighed and gently caressed the witch’s smoking hair. “My dear sister, I am… I was a shaman. My path did not allow me to show strong emotions. But I loved you very dearly. And I still very much do.”

“All you ever did was ignore me!”

“I gave you advice, sister. It was my mistake in thinking you were old enough to understand it.”

“You gave me riddles, Zecora. Meaningless stories around meaningless messages, all shrouded in so many mysteries that they were impossible to understand!”

“That is the way of the shaman,” Zecora sighed, shaking her head again. “It is a path I fell away from, sister. But once, I thought it was the path I wanted for myself… and for you.”

“I don’t care about balance! I don’t care about equality! I only want power!”

“And that is why you will die,” Zecora said so quietly I could barely hear it from the sidelines. She lifted a hoof above the immobilized witch’s head and waited for some kind of response. All she did was glare.

But before Zecora could bring it down, I shouted, “Wait!” Zecora slowly looked to me. “She’s family, Zecora! She’s your fucking sister! We’ve already won this stupid duel. Just let her surrender!”

The witch spat on Zecora’s hoof, the one that was still on the ground. “I will never bend my neck to you!”

Zecora lowered her hoof and said, “Nav, there is nothing left of the sister I once knew. The path of the witch doctor is not one that allows redemption. It is not one that allows change. All that she was died when she sold her soul to the spirits. The only thing this mare can do is bring suffering.”

“...I lost my sister,” I said. “She is gone. Forever. It will haunt me for the rest of my life. If you truly believe your sister is already dead, that there is no way for her to come back, then I won’t stop you again. But if you think this will haunt you, you have the power to walk away right now.”

Zecora looked back at her baby sister, who was struggling to free herself from the vines. Then she looked at the mask. “Without this, you have no power,” she softly said, then stomped it into the ground with one of her hooves. Between catching it on fire and breaking it in half with blunt force, she probably wouldn’t be wearing it any time soon.

When it broke, the witch started screaming again.

I guess Zecora realized that was about the only response she would get, so she sighed. Then she lifted up one of her hooves to look at it, the one that she sliced open for her parchment spell. After an uncomfortably long silence, she lifted that hoof up high, so everyone could see it. “My blood has been shed,” she called out, looking around the audience. “I yield.”

“COWARD!” the witch on the ground yelled when she realized she was going to get to live. Zecora looked at her sadly, shook her head, and started walking back to us.

Ames put his hand on my shoulder and quietly said, “I have a feeling you will regret this, human.”

I passed Zecora on my way to the center of the arena. She didn’t even spare me a glance. When I got to her sister, I paused a moment to cut the vines around her before continuing to walk to the center. She immediately grabbed what was left of her mask and scurried away from the arena. Pertz stared very disdainfully the whole time and when I stopped, he didn’t move.

“You have lost four duels out of five, Pertz,” I called. “By all rights, you lost five out of five, but I’ll give you the last one out of the goodness of my heart. It is time for you to return with us to the princess of the sun.”

He took a few steps forward and looked around the audience. “Who among you would have me leave?” he asked. Silence greeted him. “Who among you would allow these outsiders to take me?” None answered. “Who among you will fight to the death to keep your god here, where he belongs?” The audience roared. He continued looking at them for nearly a minute before raising a hoof, making them slowly grow quiet. Then he looked back at me. “You have your answer, pawn of Celestia.”

“What god needs normal peasants to defend him?” I asked. “What god demands people fight and die in his name? And what god refuses a direct challenge to his power?” I drew my sword and pointed it at Pertz. “No god of mine. No god of any kind. If you choose not to return to Equestria, I challenge you here and now, Pertz. Prove your overwhelming power. Prove your divinity. Show your subjects what power you really have!”

The audience immediately started baying for blood. Pertz let them go for another minute before his eyes lit up a fiery red and he slammed one of his hooves into the ground. The entire fighting part of the arena lifted up a full meter, pulling straight out of the ground.

“I will remove you from existence, heretic,” he growled.

“I gave you the chance to do this the easy way,” I calmly said. “Remember that, when it comes time for your trial.”

He fucking vanished, with no indication that he was teleporting. I usually take that as a surefire way I’m about to get attacked from behind, so I immediately spun around, swinging my sword in an arc behind me.

I just barely stopped my blade in time from actually hitting him. He grinned very menacingly before pressing his hoof against my chest. “And I gave you the chance to walk away,” he replied. “Remember that while you rot in your cell.” He lightly pushed, chuckling.

Nothing happened.

He blinked a few times and pushed slightly harder. I looked down at his hoof and saw that it was glowing the same color as his eyes. Since it was doing nothing, I pulled my sword away. He also pulled his hoof back.

“What. Are. You?” he asked, the light around his eyes growing brighter with each word.

“I am someone with skills tailor-made to bring people like you to justice,” I said, sheathing the sword. “So you have two choices. Now that you know your magic won’t work on me, I can beat the everloving shit out of you and drag you back to my ship, then let a professional torturer play with you until we get back to Canterlot. Or you can willingly come with me and we can avoid all that unpleasantness.”

He vanished again and reappeared several meters away. His horn lit up and a fireball flew at me. I let it impact my armor and dissipate, then started walking toward him. His eyes opened wide and he tried hitting me with a spike of ice that also dissipated, then lightning that did nothing.

By that point, I was about a meter away from him. He tensed up and I lunged forward to grab him, then he disappeared and ended up somewhere else in the arena. I held my hands up and started walking again. “I can do this all day, Pertz!” I called as I walked. “I wasn’t expecting actual magic from you, but that doesn’t do much to me either.” Or at least, I don’t think it does. “Cast your spells, use your magic. Doesn’t bother me at all. But when I get my hands on you, it’s going to hurt. And the longer you do this—” He interrupted me with another fireball. “—the more I’m going to make it hurt.”

The anger in his eyes was starting to be replaced with panic. He tried several more spells, each that I effortlessly walked through. When I got to him, he teleported yet again.

I lowered my arms and looked around the arena. “How much do you think it’ll take?” I called out. “They see you failing against me, Pertz. Their faith is dying as we speak.” Or at least, I certainly hoped it was. If I had to drag him back through a mess of pissed off soldiers, shit might get bad.

Pertz discovered my weakness right as I got to him again. In desperation, he threw a rock at me. The magic around it died as soon as it hit my armor, but it still impacted it and made a very audible noise. His surprise let me finally punch him in the face with the hand wearing the ring, which his magic didn’t block.

Unfortunately, that knocked him out of his stupor and he blinked away to the other side of the arena yet again. When he was situated, he teleported in a boulder and threw it at me. Dodging it would have been easy, but instead I drew my sword and cut it in half, breaking the magic over it and letting it fall on either side of me.

“You’re starting to seriously piss me off,” I said, stalking toward him. “Celestia wants you alive, but I’m getting tempted to settle for just giving her an apology.”

He grinned and summoned several spears. My shoulders sagged as all of them shot to me at once. I chopped the first one in half and dodged the spearhead coming at me, ducked under the second one, grabbed the third one out of the air and used it to bat the fourth one away, then spun to narrowly let the fifth one glance off my armor.

When the immediate threat was gone, I held the spear I was holding up and carved the head off with my sword, then spun around to start dealing with the ones that ended up behind me. I slapped the first away with my sword, grabbed the second and slammed it into the ground, then sliced the head off the third. Right as the one in the ground started pulling up, I sliced its head off as well.

I knew those spearheads could still very much fuck me up, so I started running at him before he decided to use those against me or summon anything else to throw at me. Instead of doing that, he slammed a hoof against the ground, sending a crack careening right at me. Of course, I jumped to one side before it got to me and kept running along it, hoping nothing bad came from it.

When it missed me, he grimaced, almost as though he had expected me to be stupid enough to just stand there and take it. I got almost close enough to hit him when he disappeared again. “Fucking shit!” Sure enough, he reappeared on the other side of the arena.

I growled, put my sword up, and pulled up my gun. He eyed it with some apprehension before deciding it wasn’t a threat and throwing another useless fireball at me. I aimed at his chest and emptied an entire magazine into the motherfucker.

The first five stopped against a magic shield with no effect. The sixth made him flinch, the seventh made his knees bend, the eighth made him lift a hoof to his head, the ninth shattered the shield and dropped all of nine of the bolts to the ground, and then the tenth impacted his left shoulder.

He yelled in pain and the red light around his eyes died out. The audience around us erupted in anger, so I swiftly reloaded. Flo, kill or kidnap?

“You already have him down. Cut off his horn, grab him, and run.”

“Everyone, to me!” I shouted, trying to scream above the crowd. My group of soldiers started pulling themselves over the side of the arena and then rushing to Pertz, which is where I was running. I got there first and immediately chopped his horn off, making him start howling. Since it might be useful later, I shoved the horn at Kat, who slipped it into a pouch. “Spike, hold him. Kat, Applejack, guard him. Sentinel, rear guard. Zecora, interdiction. Naga, we’re cutting a path out. Pop your potions!” The audience was already rushing us, at that point, so the naga drank his red potion and his eyes went unfocused, Spike drank his orange one and started glowing slightly, and Sentinel’s squad drank their green ones and seemed to blur.

“Rules of engagement?” Sentinel asked so fast I barely understood her.

“Kill all who attack,” I said, raising my gun up.

That was all we had time for before the battle began. I started picking targets off with my rifle, though its scope wasn’t really suited for up close engagements. As soon as the chamber pinged empty, I slung it and drew my sword, since shit was starting to get hairy.

Ames was laying into everything around him with his giant blade. Despite the fact that I focused on fighting, I quickly realized he was actually using his greatsword one handed and using half a zebra as a club in the other. He’d use his massive hunk of metal to chop three zebras in half in one swing and then smash a skull with the body in another. He cut such an imposing figure that the majority of berserk zebras coming from that way started trying to flow around him and come at us from another side.

Unfortunately for us, they were coming from all sides, so scaring them away from one avenue didn’t help all that much. Sentinel’s squad was moving so quickly between targets that I could barely see them, though. They set up a very clear line and any zebra that got over it had their face kicked in before they could get a single step further, then before the others around them could react, the batpony was already away and onto the next target. Soon, they started steering clear of that side as well.

Spike looked like he was so scared that he was about to piss himself, but he was holding onto Pertz regardless. And since he was the primary target for the zebras, every one of them that got past us rushed straight for him. But despite his fear and despite his distaste for it, he fucking toasted every bastard that tried getting to him. Normally his fire breath is green and extremely hot, but now it was orange and came out as actual lava. It coated the people he hit it with and completely fucked them up instead of just charring them.

Applejack, for her part, watched his back. Enough got past us that he couldn’t toast them all before they got to him, even if his head was on a swivel. But once the zebras got that close, they weren’t paying attention to anything except for Spike and Pertz. That made it easy for Applejack to use her sexy applebucking thighs to send her back hooves right into their skulls with the kind of accuracy that only a decade or two of practice can provide. She probably didn’t like the feeling of blood on her hooves, but she damn sure did her duty.

Kat saw that Spike and Applejack had Pertz covered and sidled up next to me, holding her rapier in one hand and a dagger in another. We fought side to side. Since the zebras were more interested in saving Pertz than they were fighting, our job wasn’t really all that hard. Several zebras did try to fight, but I sliced their legs off when they tried to kick, dodged when they tried to body slam, stabbed them in the chest when they tried to bite, and just generally made their life a living hell, assuming they had any life left at all when I was done. I couldn’t really see much of what Kat was doing, since she was in my blind spot, but I imagine it was pretty similar.

Zecora was fucking everywhere in that fight. Whenever Kat and I started getting overwhelmed with numbers, she’d appear and throw up a wall of stone to redirect them long enough for us to thin the numbers out again. Or she’d throw some kind of acidic potion at a crowd, cutting through them and making them shriek in pain as they melted. And when Sentinel’s group started losing ground, she threw another vine potion on the ground in front of their line that quickly grew and started snagging legs and stopping people from moving easily.

The naga didn’t lose any ground, so she didn’t have to help him. Most of her time was spent helping Spike and Applejack pick off anyone that got past us.

After what felt like thirty seconds but was probably closer to five minutes, the assault ended. The village wasn’t all that big, despite the influx Pertz probably brought, so they didn’t really have the numbers to attack us for long. Truth be told, they probably didn’t have the numbers to survive attacking for as long as they did. We probably left over two hundred bodies around us, both dead and too wounded to keep fighting, and the naga had to actually push us a path clear through them.

“Similar formation,” I said as we started moving. “With one difference. Zecora and Kat, you two are the most stealthy guys we have, at least in this camp. You two can blend. Go rescue the pony prisoners and try to get them to the ship. While you’re at it, bust everyone else out as a distraction. But you two getting out alive is more important than getting the pony prisoners out, so ditch them if you have to.”

“...Why are we saving them?” Kat asked.

“Because chaos in an enemy camp we’re running from is good,” I said. “And I bet the others will make a lot of fucking chaos. And you can get out stealthily with wounded prisoners more easily between the two of you than you can with all of us. Also, the naga would kill them in his enraged state.” She opened her mouth, so I continued, “And because I’m ordering you to.”

She closed her mouth and rolled her eyes, then nodded.

“We will meet you at the ship,” Zecora said. “But if we do not make it before you are forced to leave, wait for us five kilometers north of the shaman village. I will ensure that we have a way of making it that far quickly.”

“You’ll have three days,” I said. “I don’t like leaving people behind, but I don’t think we can afford to wait forever, not unless we kill everyone in this fucking camp.”

“Which should not be necessary,” Zecora said, though she turned back to stare at the group of dead zebras we left behind, many of which she probably knew once. “But I think it likely that you will have to fight your way out.”

“Then let’s get fighting. Naga, start moving faster. Sentinel, you guys are flankers. Applejack, watch Spike. I’ll get the rear.”

Zecora and Kat hurried off toward the prisoner cages, which weren’t too far from the arena, but were the opposite direction from the ship. And the zebras that fled were raising the alarm in the town, so we wouldn’t have time to free the prisoners and escape without fighting while guarding injured ponies, which wouldn’t be fun. The two of them would have a much better chance of getting out by themselves, even if it did leave us uncomfortably shorthanded for a running retreat.

Thankfully, the naga still had the sense to head directly for the ship instead of trying to go through the village, which was starting to burst into life. He also had the sense to drop the body he was using as a club. He was still holding his sword with only one hand, so I could only assume he was just waiting to get a new club.

The first attacker tried coming from above, but one of Sentinel’s troops was watching up there and called out the popobawa before he could get too close. I shot him out of the air and he thudded into the ground to our left. After that, I kept the rifle up instead of my sword. My sight lines were pretty decent at the moment, since we weren’t trying to go directly through the village.

The next challenge was a bit worse, though. Two elephants charged us from the village, followed by a rhino. Before I could lift my gun to start taking potshots, one of the guards called out more fliers.

I muttered some unpleasant words, then called out, “Naga, take the left elephant. Spike, the right. Sentinel, distract the rhino! I’ll get the flyers. Applejack, try not to die.” They hurried to do my bidding as I started sniping. This time, there were three of the bastards and they were coming in much faster.

When I knocked the first one out of the air, they shifted their attention from trying to save Pertz to trying to take me out. I injured one of the other two before they got on me, then I dropped my gun and drew my sword out with a slice attack that sliced the leg off the injured one.

The survivor darted out of my reach momentarily, then landed and came out me with his claws bared. I completely ignored those claws and just stabbed him through the chest. He choked up blood and uselessly batted his claws against my breastplate for a second before I pulled my sword up and cut him from his heart to the top of his head, then kicked him back.

His body thudded to the ground. That threat gone, I slammed my sword into the ground in front of me, then pulled my rifle up to lend fire support to the others. Ames had one elephant dead already. It was missing a leg and was partially decapitated. He was squaring off against the rhino while Spike tried burning a hole through the other elephant’s tough skin.

The naga looked like he had his business taken care of, so I started shooting Spike’s elephant. I knew my gun wouldn’t be able to completely penetrate its hide, but if I hit an eye, it would probably die. I emptied one magazine into it, but before I could reload, Spike finally got his aim right and hit the fucker right on the tip of the trunk with his lava. The elephant immediately started choking and slamming his trunk into the ground, trying to put it out so he could properly breathe again.

That gave Spike the time he needed to time his next shot right, and torched the fucker’s eyes. His normal flames would probably make an elephant blind forever and possibly kill it, if he got lucky or the blast was sustained enough. His enhanced flames burned straight through the eyes and toasted the elephant’s brains.

Applejack got a front row seat to that one, since she was standing behind Spike. She very messily got to see what she had for lunch when that one went down. Spike seemed like he was about to join her, but then looked over at the naga and rushed to join him.

By the time he got there, it didn’t matter. Ames waited until the rhino was charging him and then brought his sword straight down, slicing through the horn and cutting the rhino’s face in two. Before the momentum carried the rhino’s body through him, he slithered right out of the way. The rhino slid all the way to Spike’s feet before grinding to a halt.

We all stood there for a moment, just breathing (and retching, in Applejack’s case). Finally, I slung up my rifle and grabbed my sword. “Let’s move.” The naga started slithering again, Applejack shrugged off Spike’s attempt to comfort her and then both of them started following, Sentinel’s troops started darting around our flanks, and I brought up the rear.

We just left behind several hundred thousand dollars of ivory, I bet.

“It’s worthless if you can’t live to sell it, and stopping to try to cut it off and carry it would be detrimental to that cause,” Flo replied.

I’m just saying. That would be a nice retirement… if I wasn’t already loaded.

The next attack was a pack of hyenas, twenty strong. I wasn’t expecting those assholes to be as fast as they were. They came out of the town and were halfway to us before the warning was called. Spike finally dumped Pertz on Applejack and pushed her behind him, then bared his claws. The naga didn’t wait and just started sliding to them. I began taking potshots. Sentinel’s group surrounded Applejack.

I stopped five, though all of those probably survived. My gun is strong, but it doesn’t shoot through metal armor that well, bronze or not. Either way, injuring them too much to keep fighting at the moment was enough for us. Five split off to try to deal with the naga while the last ten went right for Spike.

He immediately burned three of those to death with his lava breath and used his claws to tear another two apart. The last five scattered around him and tried getting to the ponies. I took out one when it got close to me. Sentinel’s squad each crushed one. The last one managed to touch Pertz before Applejack spun around and crumpled his helmet in.

I didn’t give them time to breathe this time, since I knew the attacks would only get worse as the enemy had time to prepare. “Keep moving!” We all fell in and I pulled my gun back up to take potshots at more flying bastards trying to get to us. I don’t know where Pertz got so many creepy bat rapist things, but they were really annoying and left a trail of bodies anyone could follow, even if they lost sight of us.

The good news is that we were able to see the ship at that point. The bad news is that the ship was under siege and I had almost all of the heavy hitters with me. Thankfully, they had the good sense to pull up the gangplank shortly after we left, so the only things able to get up there were the popobawas and a few climbers. But they couldn’t get off the ship, because they were surrounded by hippos and crocodiles.

Those hippos and crocs noticed us as we started getting closer, too. And worse, another wave was coming out of the city. Two more very pissed off rhinos, one of which was being ridden by a gorilla with a spear, were charging right to us. I snapshotted the gorilla twice, making him tumble to the ground, then started shouting orders.

“Naga, Spike, front! Sentinel, distract left rhino! Applejack—”

“Don’t die?” she cut in.

“Cut the sass.” Everyone hurried to follow my orders. I was absolutely not looking forward to trying to kill two rhinos, but making myself the rear guard kinda made that my responsibility. The naga and Spike rushed forward to start picking off the crocs and hippos that began coming for us while I started running to the rhinos with my sword drawn.

Sentinel’s squad appeared right next to one of them and started harassing it. Extra speed may have given them better jumping skills, because one of them got on its head and started rapidly kicking at its eyes. The other two hounded its legs, not that it really felt that too much. Either way, he veered off while trying to get the one pony off his head.

The other turned to me when he saw me charging and I thought I saw what might have been a grin on its face. After all, it probably didn’t expect much from someone my size coming at it. Right at the last second, I dipped to the left and swung my sword right at its knee. My sword slammed into it and caught for a second before slicing through. I dipped a little too far, though, so instead of cutting his leg off, I just cut it so deeply that he buckled and tumbled to the ground. When I ran up to try to finish the job, he started thrashing around, so I backed off until he finally managed to get back on three of his legs. The fourth was limply flopping around and he had to be in a shitton of pain, but an animal that big probably has methods of dealing with even the most grievous of injuries.

So I went to his side before he could fully recover and sliced his spine in half. He didn’t have a way of dealing with that particularly grievous injury, and fell to the ground with a croak.

The other rhino managed to get the pony off his head and was playing what had to be the most frustrating version of whack-a-mole ever, one where the moles are adorable bat ponies that are kicking you wherever they can appear, then disappearing before you even realized you got hit.

They were doing such a good job distracting him that he didn’t notice I was stabbing him until one of his lungs was cut in half. I was trying for his heart, but I didn’t want to get too close and my sword wasn’t really long enough to get all the way there from outside his rib cage. Thankfully, my sword leaves the kind of cut that causes ridiculous pain, so his insides started freezing when I pulled it out. By the time I managed to cut his throat, I probably didn’t even have to.

Before I could check on the progress of the fight for the ship, a loud baying caught my attention. I looked to the village and saw a massive elephant with a full war carriage on its back. It was full of small monkeys, each of which had several small spears that looked like they were designed for throwing. It was almost within throwing range at that point.

“For the love of god,” I sighed, slinging blood off my sword.

I knew I had to close the distance to that bastard as quickly as possible, before the monkeys could fill me full of spears. But before I could start running toward it, a massive bolt pierced its chest and then exploded, taking out a large chunk of it and sending the monkeys all flying. They were running away to the village before what was left of the elephant even hit the ground.

When I turned to where the bolt came from, I saw Jak reload a ballista before picking up a hammer and slamming it down on a monkey trying to scale the side. He turned to yell something and Smiles started twisting the crank on the ballista, aiming it closer to the ship. When he stopped, Jak pulled the lever and shot clean through a hippo.

Since they seemed to have their shit handled, I finally looked down at the ground fight. Spike and the naga are good fighters, but hippos are giant, fast, ridiculously strong, and in this case, they had the numbers. Crocodiles are fast, have sharp teeth, a predator’s instincts, and even more numbers. So unfortunately, they were quickly getting overwhelmed.

Sentinel’s group shot off before I could order them to and started helping. I didn’t bother with my gun and just ran in with my sword to protect Applejack, who was surviving by running and trying to make hippos collide with each other. She couldn’t keep that up forever, so I started slashing the fuckers that were distracted by her cute butt.

I didn’t have to kill most of them, thankfully. The way Applejack was running (in abject terror), just slicing up one of their legs meant they couldn’t catch her, and that they were out of the fight. They were all so focused on getting Pertz that none of them really paid any attention to me.

Well, up until what I thought was Applejack’s mindless running brought her to the docks, that is. One of the crew members lowered the gangplank long enough for her to get up with Pertz, then immediately picked it up before anything could follow her, either friend or foe.

Most of what was following her were foes, but there was one friend in particular who would have really benefitted from a higher vantage point to shoot down from. Instead, I was stuck on the ground with a group of very angry and very strong animals. Since fighting in the middle of a group of enemies by myself was a good way to force my daughter to pick out a tasteful tombstone, I Scooby Doo’d my way to Ames and Spike, who were fighting back to back to try to stay above the tide of enemies.

My help was enough to finally make the enemies wary. We made a nice little triangle of fire, ice, and steel and anything foolhardy enough to get near paid for it very dearly. Between me helping Applejack, what the naga and Spike had done before I got to them, and what Jak was doing, it honestly felt like we could hold there indefinitely.

Unfortunately, we didn’t really have ‘indefinitely’. The village was still stirring, though I could barely see chaos unfolding inside it. Another group of zebras was making their way toward us, so I knew we didn’t have too much time before overwhelming numbers started picking us off.

My little group was about thirty meters from the ship, and those thirty meters were controlled by ten hippos and probably twenty crocs, spread out. There were more on our other sides, but whenever I took my eyes off my side long enough to really see what was going on, one of the crocs tried nipping at me and I got to add another tally to the number of souls haunting my ship. Because of that, I had no idea what Sentinel was doing.

With the arrival of Pertz on the ship, my crew finally got their shit together. I could hear Jak shouting orders from where I was and guards started loading all the ballistas on the side facing us. I couldn’t quite tell what they were loading, but I could make a pretty good guess.

I quietly said, “Spike, on the count of three, swap sides with me.”

He coughed a few times and then hoarsely replied, “Yes sir.”

“One.” We both tensed up. “Two.” The enemies closest to me got ready. “Three.” Spike and I seamlessly swapped sides. Two crocs immediately tried going for him and a hippo tried chomping on me. I stabbed my sword through the back of the thing’s throat, taking out its brain, and ripped my blade out before it could fall and slam its mouth shut.

Right after that, I heard several loud explosions on Spike’s side and felt a searing wave of heat hit me. While my ears were still ringing, the naga grabbed one of my arms and started dragging me toward the ship. Spike was clearing the way through the survivors with his breath and the naga was swiping at whatever was trying to charge us from behind when the second volley hit where we had been standing, fucking up another large group.

The survivors finally fell back, demoralized as fuck and not willing to risk getting burned, blown up, or stabbed. We got to the ship’s gangplank right as the group of zebras got to where the second explosion went off, shepherded in by familiar blurs. That’s when I realized Kat was on one of their backs and saw the cloaks on some of the ‘zebras’ billowing enough to reveal that they were just ponies.

So we got to the deck as they were getting to the dock, and the crew member in charge of the plank started pulling it back. I immediately rushed to him and slammed my foot on it, keeping it in place. The blurs stood guard at the front of the dock while the ponies dropped the cloaks and rushed up the plank. When everyone else was on board, Sentinel’s group joined us.

“Holy Christ almighty!” I shouted. “Gourd, air, now!” Another group from the village was starting to run for us, now. These guys seemed unnaturally fast and were closing the distance a lot faster than I was comfortable with.

But the airship started picking up out of the water, so I figured we might finally be home free.

“Is Pertz secure?” I asked aloud, not really knowing where anyone was. Neither him nor Applejack were on the deck, so I figured he was.

Watcher appeared next to me and said, “As far as we know, sir.”

“He could do some magic that we weren’t familiar with. Take my ring and—”

Something on the ship exploded. Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched the tail of our ride start going up in green flames. We stared aimlessly for a few seconds before the crew started rushing to put it out. Before they could, another fireball hit our balloon and we immediately started falling from the sky.

We weren’t too high up and we were directly above the river, but the impact was still bone jarring. At least half of us ended up on the deck and Gilda actually tumbled out of one of the masts, though she thankfully landed right next to Spike, who was able to miraculously snatch her out of the air.

As soon as we touched down, Gourd immediately started yelling orders and Watcher joined him. One crew member immediately went below to check for leaks, four of them continued trying to put out the fire, and the last two started rolling up what was left of the balloon so it wouldn’t be in the way. Two of the guard squads joined the fire brigade, one went downstairs, and Watcher and Sentinel stayed up top.

Zecora joined me at the rails, staring back at her sister with a new mask. They just stared at each other. I don’t know if they were magically dueling, having a staring contest, or just trying to telepathically ask each other where in life they went wrong. Either way, that wasn’t fixing anything, so I rushed over to Jak. “I need that bitch with the mask dead,” I said, rooting around in one of my pouches. Before I could find the potion I was looking for, Kat handed me hers.

“We’re low on incendiary, lass,” Jak said, holding up one of the explosive bolts.

“You don’t need it, if you can hit her,” I said. “Pour some of this over the bolt before you shoot.” I handed him the potion.

“I’ll do my best, but she’s a wee target a long way away.” If he couldn’t hit her, I’d have to try sniping her with my rifle. It was a pretty long shot, though. Long enough to be difficult.

But he apparently has experience, so he loaded a regular bolt and poured some of the white potion on it. The metal bolt head changed to glass. Jak looked at me and I shrugged, so he started calling instructions to Smiles.

A few seconds later, he pulled the lever and the bolt flew off. The witch doctor saw it coming and lifted a hoof to try making it stop, but it pierced whatever ward she put up and slammed right into her chest. The fires on the ship immediately died out and her mask fell off as she flew several meters back and then landed in a crumpled heap. After that, her body started burning green. The mask started floating and all the smoke from her body absorbed into it. When all that was left was the shattered bolt, the mask disappeared.

“So… now what?” Kat quietly asked.

“Pick your poison,” I said with a shrug. “Fight to the death, give in to despair, or let yourself starve. Your choice, really.”

Of course, my prediction didn’t quite prove true. Right as I finished saying that, some kind of roaring caught everyone’s attention. It took us a second to figure out where it was coming from, but we soon realized it was coming from the river. By the time one of the guards came back up to report a ridiculous leak in the hull, we saw the flood of water coming at us with all the fury mother nature could provide.

“Welp, guess nature picked for us,” I said. “It’s been fun working with you guys, but—” And then I realized they were all water elementals. “Oh.” They slid around and under the ship, then lifted us off the river’s floor. Before any of us could really comprehend what was happening, we started moving down the river faster than we flew up it.

Flo?

“We picked up our last sister and got here as quickly as we could. We should be out of Africa in a few days.”

“Gourd, Watcher, a moment, if you can,” I called out. They started making their way to me, so I turned to Kat and handed her my ring. “Find a way to get this on Pertz and make sure it stays on Pertz. Then talk to Zecora and see what she can do about keeping him asleep for a few days without killing him.”

“You got it, Nav.” She ran below right as the two leaders got to me.

“As you can see, shit went south,” I said. “I can explain later. The elementals got their sister out and are ferrying us down the river. Flo’s thinking it’ll be just a few days before we get to the ocean. She’ll probably be able to give a more accurate time table later, but if they keep this pace up, expect three or four days. Watcher, any injuries?”

“Nothing serious from the fighting,” he said. “We lucked out on that front. I know there were few broken bones from the landing. My medic and Fluttershy are already working on them. I’ll talk to Zecora when she gets a moment and see what she can do for them.”

“Good. And when you both get more than a moment, talk to her about personal stuff. We just killed the shit out of her sister and, like, more than half of her entire village. She might be a bit… you know.”

“Yes sir.”

“Gourd, what can you fix and how long will it take?”

He sighed and shook his head. “It’s bleak, sir. Without the tail, we can’t steer. And without the balloon, we can’t fly. I’ll talk to Rarity and see what she can do with it, but I wouldn’t expect to fly until we can get to a friendly port. And we have a large hull breach that let in a lot of water. My crew reported that the elementals are stopping more water from getting in and cleared out what was already in there, so we might be able to use the boat as a… well, actual boat until we can get to a port sophisticated enough to have what we need. But I’d honestly like it repaired before we head into open waters, elemental or not.”

“Alright, this time, can you answer my question? What can you fix and how long will it take?”

“We can try to fix the balloon. If we can, expect it to take at least four days, most of which will need to be spent near the coast so we can use magic. We can patch the hull if the elementals can keep it dry. It should take a few hours, but we’ll need to use magic on it as well, so that’ll be another coast job. We can’t fix the tail at all, so the elementals will have to help us steer until we can get to a port. Aerie if we’re flying, waters if we’re floating.”

“Shit fuck. Get Rarity out here as soon as possible to look at the balloon. Tell her fixing it is top priority and that she can use whatever she can find to make it happen. And find Twilight and ask if she knows any magic that can help. Tell them to put their heads together and get this shit fixed. I do not want to have to fucking sail to Europe and sit in a shitty coastal town for a few days.”

“Yes sir. Do you need anything else?”

“Not from you, Gourd. Keep me updated.” He nodded and ran off to dictate more orders. “Watcher, I want a full squad watching Pertz at all times. With us moving this quickly, I don’t think we’ll have too many more problems out here. Especially since we’re going out the same way and everyone knows what we’re capable of now.”

“Yes sir, and I agree. I already have one squad watching him now. What were you saying about his magic?”

“It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before. Same for Zecora. But my ring worked against it, so I’m having Kat find a way to affix it to him now. I trust her to make it work.”

“Good. Now what about the ponies you brought back with you?” We both looked at the three royal guards and the random mare that were watching the movements around the ship with confusion in their eyes.

“That’s a very good question,” I said. “Let’s find out.” Together, we walked over to them. When they saw Watcher, the guards’ eyes lit up and they saluted.

“At ease,” he casually said. “I’m ex-guard, now. Who are you and why were you in that town?”

“We were prisoners, sir,” one of the guards replied. “The princess sent us with a trade ship. Our job was to deliver a letter to Pertz and demand a reply. He… didn’t like being ordered around.” One of the other guards scoffed. “We’ve… been there for a while.”

The mare was silent, so I looked at her. “What about you?”

“S-silver Quill, m-ma’am,” she squeaked, then went back to silence.

“...And why were you there?” Watcher asked after a few seconds.

She looked down and said, “I was the secretary on the trader ship…”

The guards nodded. “The trader didn’t take to… being in a cage. So Pertz gave him a jug of water, then broke two of his legs and told him to walk home. After that, the rest of us decided being in a cage wasn’t so bad, all things told.”

“Man, what a prick.” One of the guards snorted. “Alright, we’ll get you guys situated with some food and maybe some rooms later, once we get this mess cleaned up. But rooms are in short supply, so you might find yourselves double bunked. If you want to formally lodge a complaint, I’ll formally tell you to shove it up your ass. We’re heading back to Canterlot as soon as we get our shit fixed, so you guys should be home pretty soon.”

They all sagged in relief and the mare started crying, so I started walking away. Watcher joined me and we walked to the far side of the ship together. “Thoughts on them?” he asked.

“Probably telling the truth. It sounds like a Celestia thing to do, doesn’t it?”

“Yes sir. And provincial guards are tough, so we can put them on duty to replace the squad watching Pertz. No armor, but they’ll survive.”

“Give them a day to recuperate, then put them in the rotation. You’ll be in charge of the guards until we get rid of them. Pass the order on that none of them are allowed to see or talk to Pertz, just in case.”

“Of course. We didn’t risk all that just to have him killed on the way home. Or worse, have him freed.”

“...I can’t overstate how nice it is to work with someone that’s actually competent. Thank you for being you, Watcher.”

“Yes sir. Do you need anything else?”

“Not at the moment. Put two squads on duty and tell the rest to get some rest, food, and showers.”

“Happily. When we get some time, you’re going to tell me what exactly happened.”

“Of course. It certainly could have been handled better. I definitely made a terrible judgment call, even if it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. But whatever, live and learn and all that. Now, I’m going to go take a shower.” He lazily saluted and wandered off to talk to his soldiers.

Zecora found me before I could head below, though. “I want to thank you yet again, Navarone.”

“For fucking what?” I asked. “Getting us knocked out of the air? Fucking up our steering? Almost making us get stuck here?”

“For making me remember love, even if it was for just a moment. For bringing me home, even if it was a bittersweet return. And for helping me bring Pertz to justice, even if it came at such a cost.”

“...Zecora, we just killed a good two to three hundred members of your village. Are you really okay with that?”

She shook her head. “They stopped being mine a long time ago, Nav. Now, they are merely familiar faces with unfamiliar voices. And in many cases, unfamiliar faces with unfamiliar voices. We did the land of my birth a favor by removing a blight from its face and helping drain a good chunk of its pus. The survivors of the arena will know that Pertz is no god. They will spread the word, and news of his defeat will travel far and fast. We did a good deed today, and I do not regret it in the slightest.”

“And the sister thing?”

Her smile dampened slightly. “Her actions proved that she is no sister of mine. I gave her the chance to pick herself up. She chose the path of darkness yet again. You merely did what had to be done, though I suppose I do regret that it came to it. I am now the last member of my family. And in a way, I am perhaps the last true member of my tribe.”

“Nah, man. You’re a part of our tribe, Zecora. As long as this ship is flying and I’m leading it, you have a place here.”

Her smile picked back up and she actually hugged me. I was covered in blood, so I didn’t really feel right hugging her back, but I did it anyway. “It feels very nice to belong again,” she whispered in my ear. I didn’t reply, so she cut the hug off a few seconds later. “Thank you again, Navarone. Truly and deeply, thank you.”

“I’m happy to help, Zecora. I mean, I’d be a lot happier if I wasn’t singed, covered in blood, and forced to limp back to Equestria, but I’m still pretty happy, all things told.”

“Of course. And I shall happily be by your side until you no longer have need of me.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Those potions were really useful. We’ll have to keep more on hand. They didn’t have nearly as much of a negative effect on the naga as I thought.”

“He was fighting it,” she said. “His honor-bound mind didn’t allow it to take full effect, so I believe he was able to retain limited mental faculties. Though when it wore off, he instantly became so weary that he retired to bed immediately.”

I looked around and sure enough, he wasn’t there. Neither was Spike. “Did Spike’s also knock him out?”

“No. He carried Gilda down. I believe they’re vigorously… celebrating at the moment.”

“Ah. Well, I’m going to take a shower. If you ever do start feeling regret about that shit, come talk to me. I’m very much used to regret.”

She smirked. “It sounds as though you should be talking to me.”

“Nah. Letting stuff fester inside until it becomes a mental illness is easier. See you later.” She bowed her head slightly, which I took as a sign to go.

It felt good to finally be done with that business.

 
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