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.


162. Chapter One Hundred and Thirty-Five

Once the coastal village and all its inhabitants were behind us, the feeling on the deck went from tense to mostly relaxed. At the moment, we were in a fairly flat, plain-like area, so we had good sight lines. I could see the start of the jungle several kilometers ahead of us, so I knew the feeling wouldn’t last.

Gilda was already in one of the masts, since her eyes were probably the best on the ship. I was on the right side of the ship, covering that side with my rifle. Kat was on the left, covering it with Spike’s crossbow. We each had one guard squad with us, with another squad stationed at the back of the ship. The naga was standing in the very front of the ship. Watcher let Spike act as a wanderer, since his infrared vision would probably spot any life in the jungle before anyone else could. Of course, Spike had no clue what infrared vision even was. After all, how do you explain to someone that what they’ve been seeing all their life is abnormal?

Twilight and Taya were near the center of the ship, doing… something. I don’t know, I’m not a unicorn. Applejack was sitting on her haunches next to them, looking fairly unimpressed with the proceedings. Given the choice between an exciting exploratory mission into an unmapped and possibly dangerous continent and going back to farming apple trees, I’m honestly surprised she wasn’t at least a little happier with where she was. But I guess some people are content with being boring background characters.

Jak and Zecora were busying themselves around one of the ballistae. It was one on Kat’s side of the ship, so I couldn’t hear what they were discussing and I wasn’t in a hurry to take my eyes off the horizon for long to watch them. Jak knew plenty enough about siege weapons to not need my help and I couldn’t help Zecora anyway.

Flo was standing next to me, with two of her tendrils absentmindedly playing with my hair. As much as I hate to admit it, it felt good so I didn’t say anything, even if I wasn’t sure how she pulled it out of my helmet. “We’re going to be on this river for a while,” she said.

“Can you tell yet how far away your sister is from the river?”

“No. We also won’t be sure when the best time to leave is. We’ll just make a judgment call eventually. But Africa happens to be a very large continent. It’s entirely possible my sisters made the wrong guess about the river. We’ll make it work, though.”

“I’d certainly hope so. I still don’t see why you guys even need us. Seems like you could just flow down this river faster than we could fly down it and not get seen anyway.”

“Faster, definitely. Safer, not necessarily. There are weird things in this world, some of which can harm even us. Besides, this allows us to assist Zecora.”

“Eh. Don’t matter much to me, I guess. I’m fairly confident that if we have to fight anything, we’ll kill it before it can do us any damage. I just hope it won’t come to that.”

“We feel the same. Bloodshed is pointless when getting along is so much easier.”

“If you were a pony, I’d rub your belly because of how adorable that was. Unfortunately, a certain giant white sun-ass horse probably made several of the tribes along the river unfriendly with her imperialism. Or at least, unfriendly to pony ships.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Celestia didn’t mention them being unfriendly and she did say this Pertz fellow was sending trade shipments down this river.”

“Was. They mysteriously stopped. We don’t know if that’s because he went awol or if they’re getting waylaid by pissed off tribals. She also said she was trying to spread the light of civilization here. Look at how that turned out for us. And note how many pony colonies we’ve run into.”

“Fair points, I suppose. Which is why we’ve chosen to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

“Tch. More like prepare for and expect the worst. Anything better will be a pleasant surprise.”

She stopped playing with my hair and patted me on the shoulder. “It’s hard to take your pessimism seriously when your hair is braided so cutely.”

“Did you—” I actually reached back and felt that sure enough, she braided it. After taking a few seconds to wonder why I couldn’t have just been aborted, I let the braid go and went back to watching the plains. “I guess that’ll keep it out of my way more easily.”

“I think next time, I’ll do pigtails!”

“If you do that, I’ll have a threesome with Rain and Raine just to spite you.”

“You know I wouldn’t let you cum, right? And I’d tell Twilight not to let you for a little while, too.”


She pinched my cheek before slithering off to do whatever she does when she isn’t torturing me.

Despite going at half speed, we got to the jungle fairly quickly. It wasn’t quite like a forest, which would just gradually build up until you couldn’t tell when you left the plain and entered the forest. No, there was a clear line of demarcation between these two.

Even with the river being as wide as it was, our balloon still brushed against several trees. After about half a kilometer down the river, the captain called for a stop and walked over to me. “We can’t keep hitting these trees, sir,” he said. “Our balloon is made of some stern stuff, but if we get a blowout here, we’re sitting ducks.”

“Our options are going higher or lower,” I said. “Unless the unicorns can do enough magic to keep the trees out of our way without blowing us up.”

“I was thinking we could have two or three of us on the balloon, cutting back the trees,” the captain said.

“If they fall, they’re fucked. Flight’s gonna be wonky here. We’re low enough that they’ll probably survive the fall with maybe a broken bone or two, but getting them out of the water before something gets them will be the trick.”

Flo decided to show up again. “You forget our utility, Nav,” she said. “We can slice the trees away easily, or just push them aside as we get close. Some of us will need to be on the sides to prevent any of the ponies from getting smacked in the face by a branch. Some will be on the balloon, to protect it.”

“What about Aerie? Think she could also help?”

“Of course she could. Whether or not she will, though…”

“Talk to your sisters. I’ll handle Aerie. Well, if it’s okay with the captain.” We both looked his way.

“Perfectly fine with me, sir. I’m interested in seeing these things in action.”

Flo nodded. “We won’t disappoint.” Since most of her sisters were still chilling on the hull, she flowed over the side and quickly disappeared from view.

“Be ready to move,” I said. The captain nodded and walked back up to the wheel. “Hey Applejack!”

Applejack, Taya, and Twilight looked over to me. “Whaddaya need?” AJ asked, trotting up to me.

“Can you go find Pinkie and ask her to send Aerie up to the deck? Unfortunately, I need her assistance.”

“Ya sure you wanna trust that thing?”

“No. She’s a psychopathic lunatic. And Aerie isn’t much better. But when I said I needed her assistance, unfortunately, I meant it.”

“Then I’ll go wrangle ‘em up. It’ll be good to get outta this heat for a second anyway.”

“Farm girl like you not like the heat?” I said, trying to smile. It was kinda hard, because I was feeling the heat too.

“I’m used to some heat. I ain’t used to some heat in armor and weather that’s so humid it feels like I’m underwater. See y’all in a sec.” She trotted back to the stairs and quickly disappeared from sight.

A minute or so later, I felt a slight breeze that quickly coalesced around my wings, stroking the feathers with a cool embrace. “I heard a friend needed assistance,” Aerie said, her voice gently tickling my ears.

“I do. We need a clear path to fly down. Too many trees means flying is dangerous. The waters will be helping, but I’d prefer someone that can fly up there. Would you mind lending a hand?”

“Hm… Sounds boring.”

“If we can’t save all the waters, we sure as shit can’t save the fires. The last water is on this continent and we need to go down this river to get to her.”


“Also, you can play with Spike again.”

“Deal! I do so enjoy the way he squirms.”

“But only after you’re done clearing stuff.” She giggled and the breeze around my wings vanished, leaving a strange ache in my loins.

Applejack finally got back to the deck and looked around for a moment before walking up to me. “Did she come talk to you? She said she would, but…”

“She’s supposed to be clearing for us now. Thanks.”

“Here’s hopin’ she don’t decide to drop something right on top of us, thinking it’d be funny.”

“Amen to that. We got the waters helping, so hopefully they’ll keep her in check. Just keep an eye on Twilight and Taya. Most of the people on deck are smart enough to get out of the way. Those two are so used to magic that they’d probably try to put a shield up and not even think to move.”

“Yep. I’ll watch ‘em. If I have to, I’ll protect ‘em myself. This armor means I won’t feel much’a nothin’.”

“Don’t put too much faith in that. It’s still a whole lot better to not get hit.”

“True enough. Talk to ya in a bit, Nav.” She started walking back to my daughter and the purple one.

When I looked back up to the captain, he was staring at me. I sent him a thumbs up. He tilted his head slightly. It took me a second to realize he had no clue what that meant. When I did, I waved forward and nodded.

He understood that, and we started moving. As soon as we did, a wall of water shot up the sides of the ship, slicing all the branches that were touching us. Some of the elementals stayed on the sides while others continued up to the balloon. They all lost their humanoid shapes and became straight blobs of water as they stretched to fuck up any branch that might get close to us. A wave of birds and other animals quickly started spreading away from our path as the destruction spread down the river.

One of the elementals happened to stop right next to me and hung over the side. I wasn’t sure which one it was. “I imagine we’d make a hell of a sight for any locals,” I said as I turned my eyes back to the underbrush.

“Hopefully as a curiosity and not as a threat,” she replied. “You do not know me.”

“I don’t. Not all of you guys have gone out of your way to introduce yourselves to me.” And them living on the bottom of the ship isn’t conducive to me taking the first step.

She turned a small hint of pink. “Some of us are shy.”

“Are you one of the shy ones?”

That light pink immediately went bright pink. “...My name is River.”

“Nice to formally meet you. If you ever want to talk, you don’t need to feel shy around me. Well, unless you want to.”

She picked up just a hint of green, turning her into a slightly sick-looking color. “It’s just… you’re…”

“Several million years younger than you and practically a baby in comparison? A being ripped out of time and placed where he doesn’t belong? A tranny?”

“My savior. And one of my creators. Your existence is overwhelming. I am not the only one who feels that way. Many of us were trapped for a long time. You alone had the power to motivate our sisters to act. When our family left us behind, one of our creators saw that his children were in danger and acted to save us. That you went through such hardships to do so proves your devotion. Some of us feel incapable of repaying our debt, and it humbles us, who once saw ourselves as goddesses. We have no desire to waste your time, father.”

I blinked. Flo, do you guys really see me as a father figure?

“This is the first I’ve heard of it. I do not, and I know Brook, Ice, Mist, and Naiad do not. I doubt Rain and Raine do. But Cascade, River, Waterfall, and Carl do not usually voice their opinions during our talks.”

I laid a hand on the water holding River to the ship. “I’d be happy to make time for you guys.” Her watery form started quivering slightly, so I pulled back. “If you ever want to talk, just find me. Though I can’t promise I’ll have anything interesting to say.”

She stayed silent and slowly turned blue again as we continued down the river.

We traveled for two hours before encountering the next snippet of sapient life. And by snippet, I mean two monkeys that swung onto our deck from a vine on one of the trees we were passing. One was a large baboon that was carrying a smaller monkey on his back, of a type I didn’t recognize.

As soon as they hit the deck, my gun was on them, Spike jumped in front of them and readied himself to blow flame, the guard squad on my side surrounded them, and Ames swung his monstrous sword threateningly. Kat and her squad looked our way momentarily before realizing we had it covered, then they went back to watching for more trouble.

While we were getting ready, the smaller monkey slid off the baboon, who held up a wooden spear toward Spike and hissed menacingly, showing off some massive fangs. The smaller one hovered close to the large one’s back, slowly looking from pony to pony before settling on Ames. “Why are you destroying our trees?” he called out with a surprisingly deep voice.

“Because they’re in our way,” I said. “We can’t go too high and we need to follow the river. Destroying them is the only way we can keep moving.”

That told the monkey who the ship’s leader was, I guess. He turned to me and said, “We can ask them to move if you give us time.”

I kinda want to know, but honestly, I’m not surprised by much of anything anymore. “You have ten minutes.”

“It will take five, traveler. EEE!” The baboon grabbed the smaller one and bounded off the side, jumping right back into the trees.

“Captain, stop the ship!”

“Aye aye, Nav.” We quickly slid to a halt.

“River, tell your sisters what’s what. And Aerie, if you can find her. Ask them to stay where they are, in case we need them, but to stop destroying trees until they get back in our way.”

“At once.” She oozed up the balloon to spread the word while Zecora walked over to me.

“Is this a madremonte?” I asked.

“Unlikely. These kinds of monkeys use trees to get across the river and to hide from ground-level predators. Their druids will likely commune with the tree spirits and ask them to sway their branches.”

“Why not ask the dryads?”

“Because dryads are a special kind of spirit that exist only in the Everfree. Or at least, that’s what I have found so far. I do not make a habit of communing with nature. Many spirits are fickle and most have no use for those of us that are sapient.”

“If the trees don’t listen to the druids, how pissed will the monkeys be if we keep destroying them?”

“Very. But I doubt they’ll do anything. They may be primitive in some ways, but they are not stupid. They can see that we have metal armor and they can certainly see that we have a dragon. Compare that to their wooden weapons. However, it is still wise to avoid making enemies, if possible.”

“That’s why we’re letting them get their shit together. Well, that, and to give the elementals a chance to rest. I don’t think they can get tired, but just in case.”

“We’ll have to have the monkeys clear the path on the way back out, too…”

“It won’t matter if they’re enemies, then. I’d still rather not fuck up their home, but if we’re in a hurry, that sure as shit won’t stop me. As it is, we have all the time in the world.” Not that we’d need it, though; the tree branches ahead of us were quickly swinging out of our way, all down the river.  “Get us moving, Gourd,” I called up to the wheel. He saluted real quick and we started back up. “Watch those treelines. I am not in the mood to get ambushed by monkeys.”

“Don’t like being a queen, sir?” one of the guards catcalled. Several of them laughed.

“Sorry, what was that? It sounds like you’re asking to be assigned as Rarity’s model.” Several more of them laughed at that. “And hell no I don’t want to be a queen again. You don’t know hell until you’ve had to be forced into a tight dress, covered in makeup, and then get forced to spend hours with tiny monkeys awkwardly hitting on you. Shit was awful.”

“You prefer tiny ponies hitting on you?” one of them asked.

“At least you guys have decent sized dicks. If I’m gonna be forced into a woman’s body, I might as well enjoy some of the perks. Even if the flare sucks.”

“Wait, humans don’t have flares?” one asked.

“I’m very much not in the mood for an anatomy lesson. When I find a way to get my dick back, I’ll let you all watch me cum on Doppel’s face.”

Some of them probably wanted to reply to that, but the same set of monkeys jumped back on our ship the same way. Our reaction this time was less severe, but several of the guards moved to intercept them should they try anything.

“Is there something else you need?” I asked.

“Information and trade, if possible,” the smaller monkey said when he slid off the larger one’s back.

“Zecora, you got an African shopping list?” I asked.

She shook her head. “My knowledge of the plants in my home continent is restricted to the plains around my village. I have all the basics I need, otherwise.”

I looked around the deck. “Anyone want a souvenir?”

None of the guards seemed interested, but Twilight stepped forward. “Rarity would. And I’m interested in the magic you used to make the trees move.”

“I know nothing of the druidic ways,” the monkey said. “Their secrets are only for their order.”

“Go get Rarity,” I told her. She sighed and started heading down. “What information do you need?” I asked the guy.

“Many of us are interested in why a pony ship is traveling down the river. Many more of us are interested in why you allowed us to move the trees, rather than paving blindly ahead.”

“This isn’t a pony ship. It happens to have a largely pony crew, but I’m the leader and I sure as hell ain’t no horse. The flag we’re flying isn’t an Equestrian one. I let you move the trees because I’ve seen a lot of cultures with a lot of customs and a lot of traditions. I figure these trees are probably important and I’d rather not mess you guys up if I can avoid it. Also, because we’re probably coming back this way on our return trip and I’d rather you guys not be pissed when we do.”

“There is little we could do against warriors such as yourselves, but thank you. Why are you traveling down our Heart’s Vein? Perhaps we could help you.”

“We’re hunting a pony criminal named Pertz.” The baboon flinched and made some kind of symbol with his hands. “The leader of the ponies found out what he’s doing to obtain his trade goods and she’s very displeased. We’re here to drag him to a trial back in Equestria. Information about what’s ahead would be nice, if you have it.”

The little monkey looked around the ship again before settling his gaze back on me. “If you want to take Pertz away, you might need more spear-hands. He has seduced a tribe of elephants and another of hippos.” I slowly looked over at Zecora, who had a very ambivalent expression. When the monkey continued, I turned my gaze back on him. “And he turned his once-peaceful tribe into a dark blight of war. They’ll likely be happy to accept any ponies as visitors, but they might not like the demon-ponies that serve you.”

“Bat ponies are way too adorable to be demons. Do you think the tribals would continue serving him if we proved that he’s not a god?”

“...He’s not a god?”

“Hell no. That little shithead’s just a normal pony that got a little bit too much power. That’s why I’m here to arrest him. The only pony that could actually be considered a god sent me to do it.” Even then, I refuse to worship anything that can be tickled into submission.

The monkey shook his head. “I truly do not understand quadrupeds.”

“No fucking kidding.”

“If they could learn to live as one with the land, as we do, perhaps our spear-hands would not be needed.” Applejack lifted a hoof to say something, then realized her hoof had metal armor on it. She shook her head and lowered the hoof. “Perhaps metal instruments of war and destructions would be unnecessary.” Spike looked at one of the ballistas and then looked down. “Perhaps my kind could live once again in peace.” Twilight almost said something, but then caught sight of Taya’s cutie mark and decided better of it.

But I shook my head, then took off my helmet and one of my gauntlets. “You and I share similar blood, brother.” His eyes widened when he realized what I was. “There is no calming the heart of discord within our kind. We were built for fighting. Tell me that none of your kind raised a weapon against another before the ponies came. Tell me so I can call you a liar. Ponies didn’t bring violence and conflict here. They just changed it. And I’m sure your kind changed quickly to match it. Such is the gift of our simian blood.”

The baboon grinned, showing off his large fangs, but the smaller one looked somewhat sickened. “You consider this mindset a gift, sister? The ability to kill without feeling?”

“Stagnation is a curse forced upon the world by those who feel no conflict. Progress and change is a predator’s tool. Revel in it, and excel the way only one born with this burning need in his heart can.”

He shook his head. “We may share some blood, but I feel no relation. It sounds as though you are lost, sister.”

“I am lost in time, yes. Once upon a time, my people ruled this world. Now, we are no more. Only our influence remains. But lost in temperament? In the past, perhaps. I’ve found my place, now.”

“Leading a ship of sell-spears, doing dirty work for a dark pony goddess?”

“Leading a ship of powerful and experienced soldiers, helping a beautiful pony princess correct mistakes. This one will save several lives and end an evil man’s influence.”

“Perhaps you should take a look at yourself and reconsider what you call evil.”

“I am not evil, little one. I solve problems. Violence just happens to be my preferred method.”

It’s probable that he would have had a response, but the arrival of Twilight with Rarity and Pinkie nipped it in the bud. Of course, both of them practically leapt across the ship to ogle him. “You’re so cuuuute!” Pinkie yelled, reaching a hoof out to poke him. The baboon snatched that hoof and glared at her, making her grin take a guilty turn.

Rarity took that warning and stopped herself from trying to hug the poor guy. Instead, she backed up slightly, cleared her throat, and turned her smile down a notch. “So I hear you want to trade,” she said.

The monkey cast a suspicious stare at Pinkie, who was shaking her hoof to try to dislodge the baboon. Then he looked at me for a moment before sadly shaking his head and turning back to the white horse. “If you have any items of interest, we’d be happy to compensate you.”

“I have plenty of spider-silk fabric I’d be happy to part with, if you have anything of interest…”

At this point, Pinkie was pulling backwards, trying to make the baboon let go. Spike was watching with some concern, but no one else was paying them any mind.

“We’d be very interested,” the monkey said. “Dyes, jewelry, exotic foods, ivory, fur, leather… I’m not quite sure what a pony would want.”

“What’s leather?” Rarity asked. Pinkie was resorting to using her puppydog eyes on the baboon, who was steadfastly ignoring her.

“Don’t worry about it,” I quickly said. “I can guarantee that you aren’t interested.”

Rarity tutted. “You said that about anime, dear.”

The monkey shrugged and said, “Leather is dried animal flesh. We usually use our… What’s wrong?”

Rarity was looking kinda sick. “N-nothing…”

“...We usually use our predators. There are many animals that think we are easy prey. We prove them wrong, and use their bones to make tools, their fur to make clothing, and their skin to make rope.”

“That’s very… macabre,” Rarity evenly said, trying to hide her disgust and succeeding in only showing distaste.

“We survive.”

“...Well, I’d certainly be interested in… some of what you have. Would you mind coming to look at my fabric?”

“Happily.” He looked over to his guard and Pinkie. She was back to using her full body weight to pull away from him and also shaking her hoof. The baboon didn’t even seem to be struggling. “Let her go.” He did so and Pinkie fell backwards and rolled a few times, because she’s controlled by cartoon physics. The small one looked back at Rarity and said, “Shall we?”

“By all means! Come along…” She started walking down. The small monkey jumped back onto the baboon and they followed her.

“Spike, go with them,” I said.

He blinked in surprised. “But—”

“Go. Protect Rarity.” He shrugged and followed them down. I didn’t expect them to do anything, but having a dragon there would ensure it.

“Your tale cowed them well,” Zecora said when they got through the door. “Fear is useful when you don’t expect to return often.”

“I’d say it had the intended effect, yeah.”

Pinkie hopped up next to us. “Ooh, is Navi telling stories again?”

I poked her on the nose. “It’s dangerous for you to be out here. Go back below.” I finally put my gauntlet back on, followed by my helmet.

Of course, she went all frowny on me. “But then I’ll miss story-time! You always have the best ones…”

Zecora gently wrapped a hoof around Pinkie’s shoulder. “I’m afraid it’s already too late,” she said as she started walking, dragging Pinkie along toward the stairwell. “But it was a dark tale, unpleasant to hear. Perhaps, if you behave, I will tell you a story later from my people. A tale of a shaman in love.”

“Is it a happy story?” Pinkie hopefully asked.

“That depends entirely upon where I decide to end it. But that story’s tapestry is still being woven, and it seems pointed to a satisfiable ending.”

Pinkie sighed happily as she started walking down the stairs, alone. “I like happy endings…”

Zecora turned her back on Pinkie and started walking back to the main deck. “Satisfiable is not the same as happy,” she quietly replied.

After we dropped off the monkeys, we didn’t run into any more wildlife. We successfully made it to night with no issues at all. Which, as it happened, brought an issue that I hadn’t really considered.

Watcher, Brook, Gourd, Zecora, and I convened in the main planning room when the sun finally went down. We hadn’t quite gotten above the equator yet, so I was being kept awake by Flo at the moment.

“Flying good?” I asked as soon as we all got settled.

“Yes sir,” Gourd replied with a nod. “But as expected, our magic started getting finicky a few kilometers down the river. The ship hasn’t had any issues flying yet, but I’m not confident enough to pull us out from over the river.”

“And security isn’t an issue,” I said. “We got plenty of stares and we ran into those monkeys earlier, but nothing attacked us and nothing looked more dangerous than we could handle.”

Watcher nodded. “As expected. The farthest most jungle races have gotten into metallurgy is copper. Our steel will beat it any day.”

“Unless you anger the druids,” Zecora quietly said. “Though our elementals will likely be more than enough defense against their trees.”

“We can hold the line,” Brook said. “As long as you can defend us from direct magic attacks.”

“Which brings us to the point of this meeting,” Gourd said. “We had our heavy hitters on defense today. You, Kat, the naga, and Spike were all out. That’s all of our ranged combat capability, minus the ballistas that aren’t pinpoint accurate. We also had three of the five squads. We can’t use magic to keep you guys awake, so we don’t have any ranged defense at the moment. We’ll also be missing more than half the actual crew soon, in case the flight spell fails and we have to go into the water. Do we want to stop for the night in a place we’re pretty sure is safe, and have the two squads watching the deck in case of intruders? Or do we want to take the risk and keep moving further in?”

Watcher looked to me, but didn’t say anything. I turned to Brook. “How far are we from your sister?”

“If we stop at night and continue at our current speed just during the day, it’ll take us at least four more days until we get to a point where I’ll feel comfortable moving on our own. Do not forget that we can act as defenders as well. There are enough of us that we can focus on the branches and on defense. And of course, our eyes do not work as yours do, so there is no need to worry about the lack of light.”

“Noted. Zecora, what are the chances of us running into anything overly hostile if we continue at the present pace overnight?”

“Given the monkey’s words earlier, I am no longer certain if there are still peaceful tribes in the plains. We’ll likely see the jungle begin thinning out soon, though we’ll hit more patches of trees later. Soon, we’ll pass into the lands of the lion kings. They’re territorial, but will have no means of enforcing their will on a boat, flying or not. They’re likely busy with their own politics, so they should have little cause to bother us.”

“As long as Simba keeps to his little hill, I’m happy,” I said.

“Last I heard, Simba had vanished after Mufasa’s death,” she said. I hate this place. “One called Taka rules. But that is of no concern to us.”

“Tch. Hopefully Kerchak won’t bother us, then. I’d hate to run into the missing link.”

She lifted an eyebrow and slowly said, “We passed through Kerchak’s territory earlier. That coastal village was one of his.” Flo, would you stop me if I tried killing myself again? “I’m surprised you even know these names. I didn’t think Celestia would consider it pertinent.”

“Alright, whatever. Can you answer the original question or not?”

“This ship is very well armored. It is bristling with weapons and it’s very obviously a warship. I believe the chances of us running into anything that will risk attacking us this night is low. And in the jungle, anything we pass that sees us destroying trees in front of us with water will think long and hard about their chances of success.”

“Watcher?” I finally asked, since we had the information needed.

“Security-wise, I believe we’re good to go. If we are attacked, I’m confident that my soldiers, along with the elementals, can drive them off. Flight-wise, I’m less confident. If we hit a patch of anti-magic that’s stronger than usual, we could fall out of the sky. Only three crew members will be up and active, compared to the four during the day.”

“Not so,” Gourd quickly interjected. “Nav put one of them in a magical coma a day or two ago and she still hasn’t woken up. There were only three out today, myself included.” Watcher blinked.

“And to add to that, what the fuck could the crewmates during the day do about that, anyway?” I asked. “Gourd?”

He shrugged. “Basically nothing. If we go down, we go down. All we can do is make sure we didn’t hit the riverbed and that there are no holes in the hull. Three can do that nearly as well as four. There’s only so much ground to cover, after all.”

Watcher nodded. “Then I say we keep moving.”

“Agreed. Gourd, get your crew ready. Watcher, get your troops ready. Brook, get your elementals in place, if they aren’t still there. Zecora, decide if you’re white with black stripes or black with white stripes.” Gourd and Watcher nodded and walked out. Brook probably didn’t like being ordered around, but it was something she was going to do anyway, so she just left. Zecora got a very confused look on her face, then lifted up one of her legs to stare at it. I left before things could get weird.

Somewhat surprisingly, both Taya and Twilight were in my room. “What do you two need?” I asked as I started to remove my armor.

“I’d like to report our initial findings, if you’re interested,” Twilight said.

“And I want to be tucked in,” Taya said.

“I’m not particularly interested in your magical findings, unless you have a way of fixing it. Do you honestly think I’d understand more than the occasional word?”

“...Fair point. I’d also like to discuss the dream magic, but you can meet me in my room for that when you’re done with Taya.” And by that, she meant that she was going to fuck me again.

“Of course. I’ll be along shortly.”

Twilight nodded. “Goodnight, Taya.” With that, she walked out, leaving me to finish removing my armor.

“Can you actually do dream magic here?” Taya asked.

“It’s not actually magic, so probably.”

She furrowed her brows. “What do you mean, it’s not magic?”

“Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s magic, Taya. The device we’re using as an interface was created by humans. We didn’t have magic there at the end. It’s pure technology. That said, I have no idea how it works, either.”

“Then how do you know it’s not magic? Maybe they figured it out.”

“And just because you don’t want to be wrong doesn’t mean you can throw logic out the window. Which is more likely: They used crazy weird technology to plug directly into the minds of races they purposefully built using more crazy weird technology, or they rediscovered the power of clapping your hands and believing in a time when hope was dead and no one believed in any powers anymore?”

She shrugged. “You can’t explain it either, daddy. I’m just saying it might be magic.”

“See, shit like this is why people believed a magic sky-wizard created everything. But whatever. You’re technically right. I can’t explain it and I guess there’s a small, theoretical chance that it might be magic. But I can’t do magic, and I can use the dream thing.” I finally tossed the last piece of armor on my bed, since I wasn’t expecting to be sleeping there.

“I know you could if you tried, daddy. And real magic can move mountains, if you just have the faith for it.”

I scoffed. “Maybe. I’ve never seen faith do anything to a mountain, but I have seen what it’ll do to skyscrapers.” She blinked. “Let’s get you to bed.” I picked her up and put her over one of my shoulders, then carried her next door, to her room. She had been too lazy to make her bed, so I just plopped her down in it. “I kinda doubt you want the covers up, because even I’m feeling pretty hot here.”

She nodded. “The magic air flow stopped working, I think.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll survive. But if you want, I can shave you in the morning. I bet that’ll keep you cool.”

She looked down at her flank and then back up to me. “Would my cutie mark still be there if you did?”

“Yes. Twilight fucked up a spell before I met you that made her completely bald, and she still had it. She just made us promise not to talk about it, because it was hilarious and she hates fun.”

“I bet she didn’t think it was funny…”

“She threatened to shave both me and Spike because we were laughing so hard. He escaped by having no hair. I escaped by hiding in Luna’s tail.”

“She didn’t see you in Luna’s tail? It’s not exactly large…”

“Oh no, she saw me. But when she got the razor close to Luna’s butt, she quickly realized she made a mistake. Luna did something to her to disable her magic, then teleported her across town so she had to walk back, completely hairless. I’ve never seen a pony turn so red before, and it wasn’t just the sunburn. She was still pretty fucking red after Luna healed that part away. Not quite sure if it was from anger or embarrassment, but either way, Luna regrew her fur, threatened to burn it off if she lifted a razor to me again, then left.”

“...What happened to Luna, daddy? Why did she go crazy?”

“You can only go unappreciated for so long before it starts to get to you. She jumped at the first show of affection from someone, which happened to be the corrupting influence of whatever Nightmare Moon was. Then she jumped at the second showing of affection when she got back, which happened to be me. There’s a darkness in her heart and a stain on her soul that I wish I knew about before I met her. I would have handled things very differently.”

“Do you think she could still be helped?”

“Luna has love in her heart. She cares for her subjects. She cares about her guards. She can be helped. That was never the question, not to me. To me, it’s whether or not I could bring myself to try after what she’s done to me.” I leaned in and kissed her on the forehead, avoiding her horn. “Goodnight, Taya. I’ll make sure you have sweet dreams.”

“But not like Rainbow Dash?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I patted her tummy before walking over to the exit, killing the lights, and shutting the door.

The halls were abnormally empty, for the time of day. It was technically dark, but it was fairly early in the night. Normally, bat ponies, Twilight’s friends, the crew members, or one of my weird friends would be out and about. But most of them had been on watch since we got to Africa, and they knew they’d have to be on watch all day the next day, so they were presumably getting what rest they could. Twilight’s friends were probably depressed about having to be inside all day, minus Applejack, who was definitely depressed about having to be on the ship at all.

All of that just meant I got to Twilight’s room with no interruptions. She was already on the bed, sporting her black lingerie and holding a riding crop with a hoof. I let myself in and eased the door shut behind me.

“I can’t turn you into a pony tonight,” she said. “Or the rest of the time we’re here, for that matter.”

“I’m aware. So what’s going to happen to the honesty in your book?”

She idly swatted the bed with the crop before shifting slightly. “The book doesn’t have to be in chronological order. There are things a human’s body can do that a pony’s can also achieve. And there is something I would like to begin working on, if I have your permission. It would be an ongoing process.”

“I’m listening.” She pulled the blankets away from part of her bed, revealing a row of buttplugs ranging in size from small to plump. “...I’m still listening.”

“I want to start training you to tolerate, if not enjoy, anal. As I discovered myself, it’s something you have to start slow. Not all mares will enjoy it, even if they give it every chance in the world. But I want you to try.” She lifted the smallest of the toys up. “I’ll start you here, to stretch you out. Every night, some time during our session, I’ll toy with that hole to test you. I’ll stop as soon as you tell me to, as long as I know you’re actually giving it a chance. During the day, you’ll leave one of these in you, unless you have my permission not to. If I find that you remove one without permission—and a very good reason, of course—you’ll go up a size or two until I believe you’ve learned your lesson.” She set the toy down. “Of course, I don’t expect you to do this without something in return. I know it’s a large mental block for you to overcome. For every week of good behavior on your end, I’ll wear a discreet remote controlled vibrator for a single day that you can play with as much as you want.”

“...Can I pick the day?”

“Yes, but it can’t be two days in a row and days won’t carry over if you don’t use them.”

I sighed and nodded. “Deal, on the condition I can back out whenever I want.”

She finally smiled. “Of course, Nav. I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I expected you to completely hate it and I wouldn’t demand you keep doing it if you found it intolerable.” The smile dipped slightly and she slapped one of my thighs with the crop. “Just remember, of course, that I’m the dom here.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I started disrobing. “I just have one request for tonight. Keep this session relatively short. It’s fucking hot.”

She smirked and slowly trailed the crop down my smooth stomach. “I think I want to see you sweat, my pretty little human. But I’ll keep that request in mind.” She hopped off the bed and pushed me toward it. “On your hands and knees. Let’s see how stretchy you are…”

By the time I got to the deck in the morning, we were past the jungle. The sun was beating down on the front of the ship and I resolved to stay under the balloon for as long as possible. Around us was a large savannah, lit a dull orange and yellow from the rising sun. There were trees, of course, but they were mostly out in the distance. Several animals were roaming around, foraging in the morning light, but none were paying us any mind and none of them seemed sapient.

Zecora was standing on the right side of the ship, looking over the side with an unreadable expression. It was the changing of the guard, so everyone else was milling about, waiting to be assigned their spots. They weren’t all that pressing at the moment, so I walked over to the beleaguered zebra.

She heard my boots loudly clomping over, of course. “It has been many long years since I beheld my home,” she calmly said.

“I’m glad we could give you the chance. No one deserves to be exiled.”

“Not I… and not you.”

“I was given a chance to make peace with the one person that truly mattered.”

“I was not. Nor will I ever be. The only one that truly mattered to me is long since gone. But I will finally have the chance to revenge myself upon the one who took him from me.”

My hands tightened around the grip of my rifle. “Say the word, and he won’t make it back to Equestria. Or if you’d prefer, Kat can make sure he survives the trip, but wishes he didn’t.”

She shook her head. “He will live. Making him a slave to the changelings is enough for me.”

“I guess with age comes wisdom, or something. Or maybe tolerance.”

She shook her head. “Time cools anger. I spent a very long time wanting to hurt him. In the end, I decided I would be better served helping those he hurt instead.”

I shrugged. “This is your subplot, not mine. We’ll resolve it your way, if that’s at all possible. So how long do we have before we get there?”

“Less than a week. It is likely that we’ll lose the support of our elementals before we arrive.”

“Well that’s shitty. But with luck, there won’t be any fighting anyway. Assuming, you know, we can actually prove this guy isn’t a god or anything.”

She pursed her horsey lips. “There are two options for dealing with him, depending on his mental state. If you tell him that you are a divine messenger here to return him to the sun goddess, his slaves will likely expect him to go with you. If he remembers that he’s not actually a god, that won’t end up working. The other option is going in with the intent of disproving his godliness, which I can definitely do. And if I can’t, then your ring can.”

“I can see a third option, a sort of addendum to the first one. According to that monkey we met earlier, the bat ponies we have are demonic. With my dragon armor, I look evil. We could very well act as a crew of demons here to punish him.”

“...Truly, my goal was to disprove the idea of ponies as gods entirely. Making my tribe believe the ponies have demons as soldiers would be counterproductive.”

“Fair. Kat’s people are probably known here. The naga are almost definitely known here. Same for dragons. Those three, me, you in disguise, Applejack as a normal pony, and maybe a single squad as support. They probably have no idea what a changeling is, so we can have Doppel as a backup Celestia in case shit goes south, if she can transform here. She won’t be able to do magic, but I bet Pertz will piss himself if he thinks she came for him personally.”

She nodded. “That sounds like a viable group. Shame we can’t bring Gilda, Twilight, or Watcher.”

“I know, right? Gilda’s a good fighter, but a griffin’s strength is in her wings. Twilight’s magic would be useful, but I’m not going to risk her being unable to do anything and just getting in the way. Watcher could come, but if we’re going to be stuck with a magicless unicorn, I’d rather it be one that’s younger and can run faster.”

“Of course, your team does have one problem: You. None of them will know what you are and it will make them suspicious.”

“We’re flying down the river in a warship. They’re gonna be fucking suspicious no matter what we do. But I don’t look like a demon and I can handle myself in a fight. And those monkeys we passed were spearchuckers, probably unused to seeing swords. No one is used to seeing a rifle. So I can probably get in there with my main weapons without it being much of a bother. And of course, it’s entirely possible that Pertz has heard of me. As far as he knows, he’s still on the good side of the princess.”

“All true. Then I believe we are prepared.”

“Hope so. Though you might want to bring it up with Watcher to see if he has any thoughts.”

She nodded. “I believe I will go see if he’s awake now.” Before leaving, she cast another long look out over the plains. “It doesn’t feel like home anymore…”

“Home is where you feel you belong, not where you were born. It took me too long to realize that.”

“Wisdom does not come from age. It comes from living life. I will see you later, Nav.”

She turned to go, but I said, “Just a sec.” She stopped. “What would you do if I rubbed your belly?”

“Probably enjoy it.” She finally left.

Apparently Spike showed up some time while we were talking, because he asked, “Why don’t you ever rub my tummy?”

It seems that he got a good poker face from somewhere. Or at least, I hope he did, because the other explanation is that he’s actually that retarded. “Spike, you’re a dragon.”


“So you have scales.” I reached out and poked his arm. “Did you even feel that?”

“Well… Barely.” He gasped and grinned. “Oh, I could rub yours!”


“Why not? I’ve given you massages before. You always seemed to like them.”

“That’s—” ...actually not a bad point. “Remember the last time you gave me a massage and I ended up very horny?”

“Yeah. It was funny.”

“Maybe to you. Now that I have Doppel, I guess I could go for it, but I’d still prefer not to.”

“Well I mean… I could handle it. I remember another time when I gave you a massage, you said not to touch your wings unless I was willing to go the rest of the way. Well, I found a few books about it and I know the basics.”

I didn’t really have an immediate response to that, so I stared out into the plains for a few seconds. Finally, I asked, “Why me?”

“What do you mean?”

When I looked back at him, he seemed pretty confused. “There are a lot of chicks on board that would be willing to have sex with you and some that might be interested in more. Why on earth would you be doing this with me instead of them?”

“...Because you’re my friend, and making you feel good makes me feel good. I have all my life ahead of me to find a dragon to love, one I can grow with. But before too long, I’ll be too big to do stuff like this with you.”

“No offense bro, but that’s kinda gay.”

He shook his head. “Nav, you can’t just blow sappy and friendly stuff aside by calling it gay.”

“You’d be surprised at what I can and cannot do, Spike.”

“Hmph. You owe me anyway. And I wanna collect by rubbing your belly!”

“Man, I don’t owe you shit. I have a very accurate debt memory, and you aren’t on it.”

“...Aerie came to my room last night.”

I flinched slightly. “Alright, yeah, fair enough. But of all the things you could do, why on earth would you pick that?”

He shrugged. “You wouldn’t let me do it any other way and I think it’ll be funny to watch you squirm like you make ponies do.”

“Weirdo. Fine. But not now. Maybe tonight.”

He decided to mock me with a claw pump. “See you then, Nav!”

When he left, I saw Ames hovering next to me on the other side, a sly grin on his face. “I don’t need your judgment, you giant fucking fish monster.” He opened his mouth to say something, but I put a finger on his lips to shut him up. “If the next words that come out of your mouth involve accepting the right gendered lover or finding happiness in being a subservient mate, I’m going to go have sex with Pinkie or Twilight on your bed. Or maybe Gilda, so you’ll find feathers everywhere. I’m not in a relationship, I’m not looking for one, and I enjoy sex regardless of the gender or species of the person I’m with.” Since he has some terrifying teeth, I decided to remove my finger, even though I was wearing a gauntlet.

“I advise cleaning your armor more often, human. Your finger smells strange.”

Let’s see, which mare was that…? “Noted. Now, do you have any words to say other than unwelcome advice about my relationship status? Or do I need to go warm your bed up for you?”

“Truly, the way of other races confuses me,” he sighed, shaking his head. “You need not flaunt your… un-naga-ness on my bed. It begins to seem to me that other races do not share our race’s innate aversion to such accidents. Our population is low. Our enemies are many. Diseases run rampant. Our people must breed. Personal desires take a back seat to obligations to the clan.”

“...So you think killing them is a viable alternative to them providing nothing to the clan but free labor?”

“Not doing your duty to breed means you have betrayed the clan. Why keep one that can only provide labor when you have others that can provide labor and children?”

“So what happens to the elderly? Those too old to breed and too weak to provide labor?”

He shook his head. “To a naga, elderly are a gift. There are so few that survive to an age old enough to become infirm. Their wisdom must be as preserved as possible, and respect is due to those who have done their all.”

I nodded. “Other races do not share your aversion to homosexuality, naga. My people numbered in the billions. Ponies seem to be the dominant race, and their population is stable enough that elderly are common. Same for all the other races. I understand disliking it. I grew up around people like your clan, and for a while, that’s how I felt because of it. I got over it. Love is love, man. Sex and breeding are nothing but a byproduct of it, for the most part. And trying to force someone to love who they don’t feel any desire to love is just asking for misery. Your people might have a stable population, but I imagine a good chunk of it is unhappy.”

“Perhaps. The survival of the clan comes first. The life of a naga is about sacrifice and glory. It seems other races are not the same. If having children is less of an obligation, there is little reason for such disgusting relations and desires to be disallowed. Discouraged, perhaps, but it might not be the place of an outsider to question what works for a society as powerful as that of the ponies.”

“To most ponies, it’s not even something outside the norm. People that question it seem rude.”

“Hm. I have been advised to act as a good example for our clan when out in the world. Unwarranted rudeness does my clan no honor. And if you, who lives your life with a great personal honor, find such a thing normal or even preferred, then I see no reason to doubt it. At the very least, I suppose living in such a land gives me an opportunity to see whether or not it truly causes unhappiness.”

“I’m glad to see you’re keeping more of an open mind.”

“I find such things disgusting, truly. But if they are commonly accepted and the act of decrying them is considered rude, then I shall keep my peace. The only openness in my mind on them is my attempt to see whether such a couple could truly be called happy. Since happiness does not matter to a naga when compared to the goodwill of the clan, it won’t affect my opinion one way or another.”

“Well, it’s a step in the right direction, at least. You weren’t invited to a lot of events in Ponyville because I knew how you would react if you saw some of the lesbian horses doing lesbian horse things.”

He snorted. “I likely would not have attended anyway. Pony games and parties do not amuse me.” The captain finally started ringing his bell thing, signifying the end of the changing of the shifts. “May your eyes not fail you, battle sibling.”

“Let your reflexes ring true, I guess,” I said with a shrug. He nodded as though that was a perfectly valid response, then left to get to his post. I readjusted the rifle in my hands and started watching the savannah again.

After about half an hour, Flo slithered up to me. “My sisters are wondering if you want us in position again.”

“If you guys had stopped those monkeys yesterday, I wouldn’t mind having you guard us. But you let them get to the deck twice without even warning us they were coming.” She flinched and turned slightly yellow. “Too many of us were relying on you to do your weird elemental shit to spot possible threats that we weren’t watching well enough ourselves. If you guys are incapable of properly guarding the ship, I’d rather have my troops fully alert.”

“...I’ll tell them their services aren’t needed at the moment.”

That was definitely mean of me, but Flo would have known my thoughts on the matter anyway. I figure, you know, why try to hide it? Partial points for being honest and all that.

“We certainly did not mean to let you down,” Flo sighed in my head.

“Most people don’t. You can tell your peeps to keep their eyes out if they want, but don’t ask us to depend on you guys if you aren’t going to pull through for us. And certainly don’t tell us that your eyes can see differently and then just ignore the monkeys that fly at us.”

“You aren’t wrong, Nav. We just didn’t even realize we had let you down.”

“When you advertise yourselves as goddesses, it doesn’t take many mistakes to start making people wonder. I trust you, Flo. But it seems that your sisters might not realize they have limitations.”

“...I will have a discussion with them.”

“I hope, now that you’re reunited with your family, you won’t forget what you guys really are.”

An icy chill immediately shot down my spine. “And what exactly are we?” she testily asked.

“Just as flawed as we are,” I said. The icy chill vanished. “Only a million years older. You and your sisters can make mistakes and you can learn from them. You can have opinions that differ. You are imperfect. I don’t know if some of your sisters realize that yet.”

“They do not. And it worries me that our so-called leader spent so long posing as a goddess. As I said, I will have a discussion with them. Some points will have to remain until after we rescue our last sister, when we are all together again.”

“Do you think anything will change?”

“I do not know, unfortunately. I know you will be in a hurry to get your… plug removed, but perhaps you should take time tonight to talk with River, Waterfall, or Cascade. They represent a faction among my sisters that none of us realized existed. You have a unique position to find out their thoughts for the future.”

“I’ll try to do that. But you’re right, I’m also in a hurry to get this thing removed. It feels wrong. But not as bad as I thought it would, at least.”

“It is something to which you agreed, so I will not assist you with it unless there’s an emergency. Now, I am with my sisters. Let me concentrate on them.”

“Good luck, babe.” Some warmth in my head was the only answer she gave.

We were finally given justification for our paranoia around midday. We were passing through a fairly nasty swamp-like area at the time, which annoyed a lot of us anyway. There were a lot of mosquitos that seemed to find the weak spots in armor. Not mine, of course, since they didn’t know I was there, but they annoyed the shit out of the ponies.

That annoyance got upgraded to terror when a very large swarm of them suddenly hit the ship from all directions. At that point, none of us realized we were even under attack. You sure coulda fooled the ponies. Apparently, even trained guards panic when hundreds of bugs are trying to suck your blood at once.

Spike, the naga, and I were the only ones not affected. Me, because of my tree thing. Spike, because he has scales. My only guess for the naga is that his cold blood kept them away. So as soon as I took stock, I shouted, “Spike, fire! Go for swarms!” After a second, he started blasting them apart. “Naga, shake ponies to knock them off!” He grabbed the nearest bat pony and started shaking the shit out of him. “Everyone unarmored, get below!” Taya, Twilight, Kat, and Gourd all started sprinting for the doors, heads and ears low. They’d definitely bring some of the mosquitos in with them, but it was better than getting drained dry. Zecora wasn’t on deck and Jak was joining the naga in shaking ponies, ignoring the mosquitos attacking him.

Then the water elementals slithered over the side and started engulfing ponies. The mosquitos they hit dissolved and all the wounds on the ponies instantly healed up. Between them and Spike, the deck cleared off enough for everyone to notice the very large dragon-like head peering over the side. It opened its mouth and another group of mosquitos shot out. The naga ripped a bolt out of one of the loaded ballistas and threw it into the thing’s side right as I shot it with my own gun.

His bolt did a lot more damage than my bullet, but neither did much at all. It roared and shook its head to dislodge the bolt, then took a bite out of the railing to clear space for his head. The ponies were distracted by the mosquitos again, so the naga and I drew our swords and charged it.

Thinking me an easier target, it slipped its head through the hole in the railing to snap at me. I jerked to the left and then jumped over the side, spreading my wings. Too late, I realized that I couldn’t fly for shit. Falling gave me a better view of the rest of it, at least. This wasn’t an actual dragon, but more like a dinosaur. Its back didn’t have any wings and it wasn’t covered in weird spine things like normal dragons. Its scales were also a lot more smooth.

Since I was falling, I reached out and wrapped an arm around its neck to try to slow my fall. It barely did anything and I couldn’t get any purchase on it, so I impaled its neck with my sword. After sliding for a few more seconds, I finally jerked to a halt. Of course, it started roaring and swinging its head around to try to dislodge me. It was all I could do to keep ahold of my sword. After about five seconds of riding it, the monster pulled its head away from the ship and then down to try to bite me.

I used the momentum from his neck jolting around to pull my blade out and fall even further down. When I hit its back, it roared again and twisted its head around even further to try to bite me again with its awful blunt teeth. My choices were to jump into the water (where I’d sink from the weight of the armor), move back even more and hope he missed, try to stab his mouth, or get eaten.

The naga decided for me. Since the monster’s neck was in a perfect loop at the moment, Ames leapt off the fucking side and used his massive greatsword to cleave right through the thing’s neck, completely decapitating it. The large head continued its fall, but it was unguided so I easily avoided it by backing up. I couldn’t avoid the spew of filthy swamp water as the naga and then the head hit the water, and I definitely couldn’t avoid the fountain of blood that shot out of its neck shortly after. The helmet prevented the blood from obscuring my vision, at least.

Thankfully, the rope ladder descended from the ship right as the monster’s legs started giving in, so I didn’t end up at the bottom of the swamp. I jumped to it and paused just long enough to sheathe my sword before starting the long climb. The naga joined me on the ladder after I got halfway up. That made the ladder even more wobbly since he didn’t have legs, but I still managed.

When I got to the deck, several of the soldiers were looking over the side, watching the monster’s head bob up and down. Zecora was just getting out and Twilight was tentatively poking her head out. She looked at me and I shook my head. Just like that, she went back in and closed the door.

Zecora surveyed the damage for a moment before joining the soldiers at the hole in the rails. When she saw the monster, she nodded once. “Ninki nanka,” she said. “There is little known about them, but I’m positive that’s one of them.”

“Will we run into more?” I asked.

“They primarily live in swamps. They’re very large and live long enough that there are rarely more than one per swamp. I doubt we will see another.”

“Good. This one spewed mosquitos at us. Will we need to worry about diseases?”

“Absolutely. I will begin brewing cures for all common jungle ailments immediately. You and the naga will also need it. You, for the water and the blood. The naga, for the water.”

“Then get started. I do not want any of my troops dying of malaria.”

“Of course.” She started walking below right as the naga pulled himself over the deck.

“So what did I just kill?” he asked.

“Zecora called it a ninki nanka,” I said. “Looked like a loch ness monster, but it didn’t ask for tree fiddy.”

“I have no idea what that means. I’m just glad my sword finally got to taste blood again, especially against such a beast!”

“I hope your sword enjoyed the taste more than I did. Some of it got in my mouth and that stuff was pretty awful.”

He snorted. “Then perhaps you should have been less concerned with riding it and more concerned with killing it.”

“I thought battle brothers were supposed to team up on enemies. I was just giving you a good shot at it to share the honor of killing it.”

That made him bark out a laugh. “I think I know better than that, human. Still, the courage of tackling such a monster is commendable. Now, I would advise getting cleaned up. You and your armor are filthy and it would not do to let it or your blade rust.”

“Agreed.” Before either of us could move, I got engulfed from behind by an amorphous blob of water.

A few seconds later, it pulled away from me and reformed as Ice. “My apologies for the delay,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“Thanks for the cleanup job,” I said. “Though I’m kinda surprised Flo didn’t do the honors.”

“She’s below, helping make sure all the mosquitos were killed and trying to find everypony they may have bitten.”

“...Did you just say everypony?”

He awkwardly scratched the back of his neck, despite being unable to feel itchy and having no fingernails. “It’s something I picked up from my host.”

“Whatever. Tell them to let Zecora know who all might need medicine, so she can make enough. And find the captain and tell him to get us back on the move. I want to be gone before something bigger comes along and starts trying to eat this thing’s body. Then tell Kat, Twilight, and Taya to stay below until they get medicine in them.”

“Of course. Oh, and one of my sisters told me to tell you to be more careful. None of us want you getting hurt.”

“I have no intention of getting hurt.” His smile deepened and he left without another word. I wanted to mutter something, but since he went out of his way to help me, it didn’t really feel fair.

Ames watched Ice move away for a moment before shaking his head and going back to his post at the front of the ship. He was quickly replaced by Spike. “So is the ship safe?” he asked.

“As far as I know. Take Kat’s side of the ship until she gets up here.”

“Alright. Just let me know if you need anything else!”

“Yep.” He wandered on over there and I took up position next to the damaged railing.

While nothing else was going on, I hollered up, “Gilda, you doing alright up there?” I couldn’t really see her in the mast, so I had no clue if she was messed up. When I said something, she poked her head over the side.

“Oh yeah! Those bugs didn’t get up here. Wish I had been part of the action, but at least I got a front row seat.”

“Have you been bitten by any mosquito at all?”

“Nah. I ate a few that got too close, though.”

I have no clue if those diseases can spread like that. “If you start feeling odd, let Zecora know immediately. I don’t care if it affects that whole tough girl machismo shit you got going on, I do not want diseases spread through the ship.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get sick. I got it. You need anything else, supreme overlord?”

“Nah.” Her head disappeared and things went back to silent.

A few minutes later, the ship started moving again and then the captain walked over to me. “We don’t really have the wood to fix that railing at the moment,” he said.

“I’m aware. You got some spare rope? I figure tying it off would work until we get to a friendly port. We should be safe at the moment, so someone could do it now.”

“Yes sir. And even if we did have wood, it would be hard to fix it properly without magic. I’ll go get someone to deal with it.”

He started to turn away, but I said, “If you’re heading below, ask Watcher to join me up here.”

“If he isn’t busy, yeah. Though I can’t imagine he’d be doing too much.”

“What I need isn’t urgent, but I’d still like to get his mind rolling.”

“I’ll tell him.” He finally continued down.

Soon after, Watcher wandered up, half-armored. His hollow eyes flinched slightly when he saw the sun, but he continued out and slowly walked over to me. “What do you need?” he quietly asked.

“Dude, you look like shit. You feeling alright?”

He sighed and shook his head. “...No. I’m old and I’m pretty sure I caught something yesterday. Zecora’s cooking me up something that should help at the moment, but she’s also doing it for half the rest of the crew.”

“Alright. As long as you’re dealing with it, that’s good enough. Do you have the details of what happened earlier?”

“With the… nanki thing? I don’t know, I was half out of it when one of the squad leaders reported it.”

“Yeah. Long story short, it was something covered in scales and none of your ponies had any means of fighting it. No magic, so they couldn’t do that. I don’t think it would have even felt a hoof. The pegasi couldn’t fly to distract it.”

“I am well aware of our limitations, sir.”

“I’ve been thinking that it might be time to tackle those limitations. Pony bodies are definitely not suited for combat, but there’s gotta be some place to attach blades or spikes or something.”

He went cross-eyed as he looked up at his horn. His eyes returned to me and he said, “For nonunicorns, we could put a spike on their helmet. But I’m not sure I like the idea of training my soldiers to headbutt enemies.”

“Understandable. But I guess it’s a last resort option for actual unicorns.”

He scoffed. “Not unless you want them doing blood magic for the rest of their lives.”

“...Wait, what?”

One of his hooves reached up to tap his horn. “These things are very magical in nature, Nav. As you’d expect, I’m sure. If a unicorn kills something sapient with their horn, their magic becomes… cursed might be the best word for it. You lose all ability to do beneficial or harmless magic, and the combat or dangerous magic you do is considerably stronger. However, doing it saps your life energy. Doing too much at one time will kill you. As opposed to normal magic, which can just sap your energy and make you tired or knock you out. Needless to say, such a thing is uncommon.”

“Yeah, I fucking bet.” I wonder if Blueblood knew that. “So that’s not an option. What else is there?”

He looked over my shoulders, to my wings. “Those are fairly maneuverable. We could put something on them.”

“What, like wingblades?”


“Hell no. If you cut something while flying and you hit bone or armor, you’d break your wing and fall out of the air. If you tried cutting something on the ground and you hit bone or armor, you might impale your wing on bones or otherwise damage it, making flying impossible. And if your blade gets stuck, you’ll end up entangled with the enemy. Even if they did work properly, coating your wings with blood is an easy way to make sure you can’t fly until they get cleaned.”

“Even bat wings?”

“Alright, maybe not for you guys. The point remains, no. Once you start feeling better, bring it up with Jak. Your experience and his weapon knowledge means you should figure something out. Preferably something that all ponies can use, not just unicorns or pegasi.”

“Yes sir. It’s been something in the back of my mind for a long time anyway. I’ve had a few ideas, but nothing too great. Do you need anything else?”

“Nah. Go lie down. And make sure you’re one of the first to get that medicine.”

“Yes sir.”

“And if you want, I can assign a young, attentive mare to help you with everything you need.”

“Pass. I’m not that sick yet and I’m not old enough to be lecherous.”

“Give it time.” He rolled his eyes and walked off.

Things went silent for a few hours, thankfully. Zecora brewed up nasty potions for everyone, myself included. An unfortunate side-effect of the potion is that it turned the coats of all the ponies bright blue. But she assured everyone that it would wear off in less than a day. Probably. Definitely less than a week.

The guards weren’t too happy with that, but Rarity was overjoyed to style the blue Twilight’s hair. Taya didn’t really seem to care, as usual, though she was quick to avoid Rarity.

While I was mentally preparing myself to deal with Twilight’s pitiful attempts at domination, a slightly pink elemental joined me and Taya in my room. “Hello, Navarone,” she quietly said.

“Hello. River, right?”

“Yes. And this is Taya.”

“It sure is,” I said, rubbing the named filly on the head. “Is there anything in particular you needed, or do you just want to talk?”

She was watching my hand on Taya’s head. When I finished speaking, she said, “I would like to… talk.”

“Cool. I’d like to start with a question, then. How much did you know about humans before you met me? Flo didn’t know about us at all.”

Her eyes flowed up my arm and stopped at my eyes. “Your existence was not a secret. But it was also not discussed. We acted as… goddesses. Many of us did not like being reminded that we were created by a species greater than ourselves. Some of us did not know. More of us did.”

Way to not answer the fucking question. “So how much did you know about humans before you met me? If you don’t want to answer, you can just tell me.”

“Little. I knew that your kind created us. I didn’t and don’t know why. Only Brook had met any of you. Now I know that you saved me and that your kind is selfless.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. But I do think that no one should be imprisoned for an eternity and I’m very happy to have all you guys free.”

“You did not have to save us.”

“I promised Flo that I would help her sisters. I keep my promises. And after the waters, I hope to free the fires.” Her body quickly turned yellow. “I did not think it would be a popular decision.”

“Convincing some of my sisters would be difficult…”

“The war is over. The world has changed. You have a common enemy. At the moment, no one knows how to kill Discord. But I’m hoping that the past and the present can put their heads together and figure something out.”

“After what it did to us… and to you, I agree. I avoided the war. I detest violence more than many of my sisters. But I believe the fires should be freed as well. You have already saved your daughters. I would happily help you save your sons.”

“And the airs?” She looked away. “I happen to share a similar opinion, unfortunately. Some things are better off forgotten. After the fires will of course come the earths. How much do you know about our enemy?”

She flinched a little. “We have… many enemies.”

“But only one is worthy of the title. You know exactly what I’m talking about, River. What do you know about Discord?”

She sighed and moved over to the window, then lifted a hand to it. “None of us know much about it. The name we gave it was Chaos. From the descriptions we have heard from the ponies, it has gained a personality of a trickster. In our time, it was chaos incarnate.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” I said. “You don’t know the history.”

She turned back to face me. “Do you?”

“Some. Before humans made you guys, we were the sole sapient race on the planet. We were either preceded by an even earlier race or we were the first, one or the other. But Discord showed up at some point. He apparently found magic threatening, so he waged an all-out war on it until it was dead. Instead, humanity turned to technology. Eventually, we made weapons that could destroy the world.”

She turned a very dark blue. “That’s awful!”

“Yes, it was. And terrifying. The first prototypes were used as weapons of war. They were full city-busters and made a proud nation bend its neck.”

One of her hands stretched over to caress my face. “There is a deep sorrow in your soul, Navarone. I believe part of it is caused by the knowledge of what your kind has done to itself.”

“Yeah, probably.” I reached up and pulled her hand away from my face. “Discord eventually got bored and decided the only way he could die is if all discord in the world stopped. To that end, he instigated a war wherein those weapons would be used. However, not all humans died. Apparently enough survived to keep him kicking.”

She probably wasn’t happy that I rejected her attempt at sympathizing with me, but she didn’t say anything about it. “And I assume he didn’t enjoy this.”

“Not in the slightest. My guess is that he did something in one of the bunkers, the one down south where I got trapped, that drove some of the inhabitants insane. He probably tried repeating the process in other bunkers. I don’t know how successful he was.”

“Not successful enough, I imagine.”

“Correct. Some of the survivors made you, and then put things in motion for other sapient races to be made. I assume the water elementals were supposed to keep the peace, so Discord stayed weak. Airs and fires were supposed to keep him alive by instigating some fighting. Not sure what was up with the earths.”

“That all seems… likely. But why would they want Discord kept alive?”

I sighed and pulled Taya into my lap. She was all too happy to comply and eagerly plopped down on me. “My guess is spite. Some of them knew about him in the end. I guess they knew he wanted to die and decided to kill us to do so. Because of that, they tried to make sure he stayed alive but weak.”

She jerked back, turning somewhat orange. “That’s incredibly irresponsible!”

“Humans seem to be experts at playing with fire and we very rarely learn when we get burned. But the other option was letting sapience die. I said it was spite, but it just as easily might have been the all-consuming urge for humanity to survive. Our species was doomed. Discord had our number; if we stayed alive, he would eventually get strong enough to guarantee we died. Building new species gave us something to sacrifice ourselves for, to create something that would survive past us. But we’re imperfect and we know it, so we knew whatever we made would eventually give Discord strength. That’s why we tried to minimize it by giving the new species special guidance.”

“But it didn’t work,” she slowly said, drawing slightly closer.

“...No, it did not. But I’m not positive that was our fault. This is pure speculation, but the spider things we recently discovered added a missing piece: How Discord got strong enough to manifest himself to the airs. The queen spider bitch in South America was a human around three thousand years before I was born. Discord gave her immortality and then forgot about her. She survived the great war and had a lot of evil children. I assume that gave Discord the added power boost he needed to begin manifesting and influencing the airs.”

“I see. And you believe he had an agenda when he began attacking my kind?”

Taya sighed softly when I started rubbing her ears. It gave me something to do while thinking of a response. Finally, I said, “Revenge is most likely, if he has or had any humanity in him. We kept him alive. That pissed him off and made him want to hurt the tools we left behind to control him. Alternately, he wanted power so he could try killing himself again. I don’t really know. After you guys disappeared, my knowledge of history pretty much stops.”

“And I’m afraid that I am incapable of filling in any gaps…”

“Is that because you can’t share what you know or because you don’t know anything?”

She turned somewhat yellow. “What I know isn’t worth sharing. Brook, Mist, Naiad, and Ice shared their experiences with us. What Brook told us corroborates your spider idea. The other three were useless. Little happened under the sea.”

“Ah. Sorry if I sound accusatory. Brook and Aqua were not kind. Mist and Naiad seemed like the kinds to hide things.”

She nodded and turned somewhat black. “Those are both true, I’m afraid. And all four want you protected. There was… talk of holding you against your will.”

I was silent for a few seconds, watching her turn a host of colors that ended in pink. “And how did that talk go?” I slowly asked.

“Five of us wanted to keep you safe, no matter the cost. Seven of us decided to watch and wait. We will ensure your safety, but we will not impede your freedom.”

Five. Aqua, Brook, Mist, Naiad, and who?

“Raine,” Flo said.

Go figure.

“I’m very glad you saw things the right way,” I said. “I make mistakes. I get hurt. I fuck up. But I laugh. I survive. I win.” She smiled and brightened. “Your sisters don’t know what it means to be alive.” I pulled Taya into a hug. “I love. I live. That is all a man can do, and they will not take that from me.”

River finally reached out and hugged me. “And I will guarantee it, father!”

The smile that came to my face had little to do with her hug. Well, I suppose that’s one way to get a few water elementals on my side…

“So it is,” Flo said. “But be wary when trying to manipulate them. Remember that your opponents are considerably more experienced than either of us.”

For now, it means that if things come to a vote, I have five that will generally be on my side and four that will generally be on the other.

“If. Brook knows now that she will likely be on the losing side of any vote involving you. Thus, she’ll probably try to avoid them.”

Well, if she goes full retard, it’s not like you guys are forced to obey her. Tell her to eat a dick and form your own water elemental group, with blackjack and hookers.

“That is certainly true. I doubt it will become an issue. At the moment, we are grouped together for a singular cause: Freeing our brothers and sisters and then dealing with Discord. Once that is done, we will be free to disperse. Brook’s goals align with yours. The only thing in question is her methods. Anyway, Taya is currently engulfed in water.”

I immediately pulled her away from River, letting her breathe. She finally slipped out of my lap and just sat next to me instead, still not saying anything.

River seemed to realize something was up and stopped hugging me. “Would you be interested in speaking to any of the rest of us?”

“Happily,” I said. “But not tonight. I have one more thing to do before I go to bed.”

She turned dark pink again. “I didn’t know! I’ll stop bothering you and go.”

She started to turn, but I quickly grabbed one of her hands and she stopped. “I make time for people,” I said. “Unless it’s an emergency, don’t feel bad about talking to me. I’ll let you know if you’re interrupting something important.”

She brightened up, but was still pink. “Alright. But I don’t want to keep you up too long, so I’ll leave you. Good night, Nav.”

“Night, River.” She finally left, and turned an even brighter pink as the door closed behind her.

Taya finally scoffed. “I’m a better daughter than that blob could ever be.”

“You’re certainly cuter,” I said, booping her on the nose. “Even if blue isn’t your color.”

“So if I dye my coat blue, I’ll be less cute?”

“You’d grow into it.” I grabbed her for another hug. “Also, do you see now why being able to run is really important?”

“...So I don’t get eaten by mosquitos?”

“So you’ll have an option if magic ever fails you. And so you can more easily keep up with a fast-moving group in a combat situation. I understand your strength is your magic, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect your body.”

She sighed and hugged me back. “I know, daddy…” We were silent for a few seconds before she quietly asked, “Would it help me escape ropes?”

When I started laughing, she huffed and walked out.

Since I was finally alone, I walked on over to Twilight’s room and had stuff put in me for a while. It was fun.

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