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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160. Chapter One Hundred and Thirty-Four Part 1

When I woke up the next morning, a familiar purple horse was sitting in my room, staring somewhat dubiously at a book bound in leather. As soon as I sat up, Twilight looked over to me. “So you’re finally awake.” She barely gave my naked chest a glance.

“So I am,” I said. “And you’re finally back on the ship.”

“So I am…” She looked back down to the book for a moment before going back to staring at me. “Do you know anything about this?”

“I’m assuming this is one of those forbidden texts Celestia said she was going to give you. She wanted me to have someone watching out for you if you did experiments.”

“I… understand why. After looking into it, this book is evil. I’m somewhat cautious about even reading it.”

Since just sitting up was kind of uncomfortable, I bared the rest of my flesh and turned so I could lean against the wall. “Well, unless Celestia’s planning on giving you a test about it, you don’t have to read it. You got plenty of other shit you could be doing, anyway. Learning about that evil armor, learning about dream stuff, really kinky sex, writing about really kinky sex, or I guess being a normal, boring horse.”

She looked back down at the book and gently put a hoof on the cover. “It’s going to be a long trip… And I know you’re still possessed.” She looked back again. “Do you want me to learn this, Nav? Be honest, please.”

“...Yes. I almost died in the hive because of Ava. The only necromancer that I know of is Grogar, and if he’s still alive, he’s in Tartarus. Celestia, Zecora, and Athena couldn’t get this thing out of me. But none of them have spent any special amount of time learning this dark magic. Someone who really studies it might be able to save me.” She looked back down at the book, uncertainty painted across her face. “If it was just an inconvenience, I would tell you to lock that book away and never look at it. But I don’t think these ghosts just want me dead, Twilight. I think they want me locked in their hell for all eternity. I don’t know if there’s an afterlife. At this point, I don’t believe any kind of god could have been cruel enough to make this place. But I know that there is something after death, a special kind of hell that not everyone experiences. I don’t want that hell. If the choice was reading that book versus risking letting me die, I’d take my death any day. But if the choice is reading it versus my eternal soul…”

She sighed and nodded, looking back up at me. “And despite everything, I’m curious. I read Grogar’s journal, the one we pulled out of Athena’s realm. I want to know what drove someone to shattering his own soul and binding it to an object. Maybe I’ll find answers in these books.”

“It’s a lot to ask and I hate to ask it, Twilight. But if anyone can figure this magic out without an actual teacher, it’s you.”

“And I will certainly try.” She lifted the book with magic and looked back to me. “But I do want to learn how to use the dream magic, as well. I went through the trouble of attuning myself to it. I might as well learn how to help you keep nightmares down.”

I nodded. “I’ll show up in your dreams tonight. With Aqua’s help, it should be extremely easy. Assuming, you know, she actually does help.”

“She will,” Twilight said. “After watching you do it when we were… with Trixie, she’s interested as well. And of course, there are several other things I need to do. Experimenting with your dragon scale armor will coincide with learning about necromancy, since it’s probably powered by that dark magic. I also believe I’ve successfully modified Trixie’s collars and I would like to test those. And I still have more magic artifacts from our time in Athena’s realm to look over. None of the ones I’ve studied so far have been any kind of useful, sadly.”

“That’s probably why they were left there.” Or why their previous owners didn’t make it. 

“Likely.” She shook her head sadly. “I have so much to do and so little time…”

“You could pawn the artifacts off on Watcher or another of his unicorns. They’re very experienced and would be able to learn the proper procedures for dealing with them. Some of them are probably bored enough to do it, too.”

“That’s a good idea! I’ve been meaning to talk with more of them, anyway. I’ve learned that experience means a lot more when it comes to magic than knowledge does. Losing to Trixie twice did a good job of teaching me that.”

“And I bet the changelings also helped.”

She pursed her lips slightly and didn’t reply to that. “I can take over Kumani’s room to use as a lab. If I have to be supervised by a soldier anyway, I can let the unicorns supervise me while I supervise their attempts to study the artifacts.”

“Cool. If you find any sex toys, let me know. I still haven’t been to her room since she left.”

“Noted. Speaking of which, I did happen to bring mine. And I most definitely remember a promise you made.”

“And so do I. Just give me a few days. Chrysalis drained me some and I need some time off.”

Her eyes opened slightly wider and she took a small step closer. “She didn’t hurt you, did she?”

“No. Just drained me. I don’t even know if she did it on purpose.” Though to be fair, that might also have been the changeling hookers. There were definitely a lot of them, since we were their only customers. She really didn’t need to know about that, though. Not since Spike was there.

“It… it took my brother a few weeks after she drained him, Nav. You remember how he was directly after we saved him. Wild. Reckless. Then he would shift straight to melancholy. It took him being around friends and Cadance to get better. Locking yourself in your room won’t help.”

“Yeah, probably not. You need anything else?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m going to tell Flo on you if you don’t come out of your room.”

“Twilight, that’s not how being a dom works. If I’m being a naughty boy, you have to punish me yourself. But seriously though, fuck off. After what I did last night, I really need a shower.”

She slowly lifted an eyebrow. “You’ll sleep with the princess, but not me?”

“What…? No, I was with—No. I don’t need a shower because of sex, I need one because I was somewhere nasty. I was helping two friends resolve an issue between them.”

That got her back to happy. “Did you write a friendship report to Princess Celestia?”

“McFucking kill yourself.” She giggled, surprisingly. “You have spent far too much time around me. I love it. Anyway, if I feel up to it, I’ll head up to the deck when I’m clean. Now, unless you feel like being a makeshift loofa, bugger off.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means I’ll lather you up with soap and use you to wash my body. Basically, you’d be an adorable and squishy wash cloth.”

“Huh. Didn’t you say two ponies in one shower isn’t fun?”

“Yeah. But you’d be a loofa, not a pony, so I wouldn’t care as much.”

“...I think I’ll pass. It’s an offer I’ll consider later, though, should we ever come across a fairly large bathtub. I believe I know a shrinking spell or two. It would be an interesting experience.”

“For both parties. I bet Dash would love it, too.”

Twilight shivered slightly. “After seeing her… tied up with Gilda, I can’t help but wonder what else she’d like. I thought you were joking about her interests, but now… It’s not my business, though.”

“You could totally ask her to help you test Trixie’s collars, you know.”

“...I could. Hm. I’ll talk to you later, Nav. As much as you think you need time alone to recover from Chrysalis, please at least try to get out. I promise that it’ll do a lot to help.”

“I promise that I might.” But probably not. She sighed and walked out, shaking her head.

“She isn’t wrong, you know,” Flo said, doing her best to butt in where she wasn’t wanted. “And you’re only upset at me for saying that because you don’t want Twilight to be right about something friendship-related.”

“Shut up, Flo. You aren’t my real mom!”

“No, but I could probably replace all of your memories of her with me and make you think I was.”

“...Is that actually something you can do?”

“I don’t know. Hold on.”

Wait, no!

“Too late. What did you get for your tenth birthday party?”

I don’t… I don’t remember ever raising a puppy… What the hell did you just do?

“I’m just checking a feature I never really thought about. Those extra nanites we picked up in the Russian bunker had a few features I never tested. One of them was erasing memories. I was able to rework that into replacing them. So instead of your parents embarrassing you in front of your friends and family by making you put on the dress they got for your sister, you got a puppy.”

Put that memory back or get the hell out of my body. And just like that, something clicked and I regretfully remembered what really happened.

“It wasn’t intended to be a permanent change, just a test to see if I could,” she quickly said. “I knew you would be upset.”

“You’re goddamn right. The only reason I’m not demanding you get the fuck out right now is because of trust. Don’t make me regret that.”

“You know me, Nav. There’s no need to warn me. I have never done anything to outright hurt you and you should know I never will. I am not my sisters. And in interacting with all the vibrant personalities on the ship, hopefully my sisters will remember what it is to revere all life.”

“What about all those times you hit me?”

“Let me rephrase that: I have never done anything to outright hurt you that you didn’t deserve.”

“Fair enough.” I finally got out of bed, wrapped a towel around myself, and went to take a shower.

An hour or two later, I was chilling in my room, trying to decide if getting on my laptop would be worth the effort. At that point, I knew whatever was draining me was probably getting worse, because I really wasn’t feeling much of anything.

For better or worse, an insistent knocking at my locked door made me get up. From where the knocks were coming from, I was able to narrow who it was down to three suspects. Sure enough, Kat was standing on the other side. “Yeah?” I sighed when I saw her.

She blinked at my weary tone, but didn’t say anything about it. “I wanted to confirm something you told Spider, just so I know I have it from your mouth. Do you really want me to teach him my combat style?”

“You saw the spiders we fought in the hive. And you saw how they moved around. And you know his capabilities better than I do, at this point. Do you honestly think the spiders would make good upfront fighters?”

She leaned against my doorframe and contemplated for a moment. “Against conventional cat fighting techniques, they would stand a chance. We usually use lighter weapons that have less of a chance of piercing their natural armor. However, against dogs or naga… Or humans, I suppose, no.”

“Their strength lies in stealth, from what I saw. Stealth and maneuverability. That seems right up your alley.”

“Indeed it does. That said, I truly wanted you to teach him something.”

Since I’m not too terrible of a person, I snaked my head out the door to check on something before saying the next thing. “Kat, I’m gonna be clear, since you don’t seem to be getting it. I will tolerate him. I will spend time around him if I have to. I will talk to him civilly. I will treat him like a crew member and I will not discriminate in any way against him. But I don’t want him here, I don’t want to like him, and I don’t want to spend time with him. I want nothing to do with that thing. Stop trying.”

Her eyes narrowed and she pushed back off the doorframe. “He’s a kitten, Nav. I don’t care if you like him or not. I just want you to be nice to him. I don’t want him afraid of overstepping any bounds because he’s terrified of the ship’s leader. Someone his age shouldn’t be stepping on his claw-tips out of fear. And after what was done to him, the only way to help heal his mind is to prove to him that you, the female leader of this ship, will support him and be nice no matter what. I’m not asking you to do things with him for the sake of a spider, Nav. I’m asking you to do them for the sake of a kitten. A tortured soul, just like you. Just like Taya, when you first found her. The only difference between them is that he isn’t cute.”

I sighed and dragged my feet back to my bed so I could fall into it. I really didn’t feel up to telling her she was pretty much right. And I also didn’t really feel up to telling her that I didn’t care that she was right, since I had no interest in spending time with that thing. “I can’t teach him fighting, because I’m still learning and I doubt my style would help him. I can’t teach him to read, because I could only teach Taya since she later told me she was already learning before she was orphaned. Patience is a virtue that I lack.”

“Something creative would be better than something deadly anyway. He’s already doing well enough with reading. What about something artsy? Or music-related? I know you were painting back in Canterlot.”

I wasn’t. Flo was, through my body. Same for playing the piano. And we don’t have any art supplies on board, since I figured the paint fumes would fuck with everyone in these tight quarters. I have basically fuck-all creative skills.”

Since my life is suffering, the actual Flo slithered in under Kat and regained her form next to me. “After my discussion with Celestia, I made arrangements to have a keyboard brought onto the ship,” she said. “I know we have speakers, but I assumed hearing more personal music would raise morale, were it ever needed.”

“Well there you go,” Kat said with a smirk toward me. “If she can play the piano through you, she can teach him to play it through you. You don’t have to actually deal with him and he still thinks he’s dealing with you, so it’s a win-win.”

That did leave a question, though. “Flo, how did you get a keyboard up here? Did you actually go to a shop and buy one?”

“I asked one of your soldiers to do it while we were waiting for Twilight. I temporarily put myself in him and told him what to get, using bits I knew you wouldn’t care about losing.”

“Alright, whatevs. I’ll agree to it on the condition that Flo deals with him through me. I already have more stupid bullshit to deal with than I’d like. And it ain’t startin’ today. I don’t even feel like talking, let alone being shunted into the back of my own body.”

“That’s acceptable,” Kat said. “If you feel sick, do you want me to go get Zecora?”

“Nah. It’s more of a spiritual thing than a physical one.”

“Then what you need is a friend.”

“No, what I need is a bullet to the back of the head. But that isn’t going to happen, so I’ll make due with nothing instead. Get the door before you go.”

“You were there for me when I was injured,” she said, taking a step inside.

“You wanted me there when you were injured. At the moment, I’m content being by myself.”

Her whiskers twitched a few times before she looked over to Flo. “You see into his mind, water. Do I have your blessing here?”

“I will be by his side, Kat. He will not rid himself so easily of all company. Leave.”

She sighed and shook her head. “Alright. I’ll see if you’re feeling any better tomorrow, Nav. I have a feeling we’ll all get busy when we get to Africa, so I’d like you to start helping him soon.”

“See you whenever,” I said, lying the rest of the way back down. It’s amazing how quiet cat feet are; I barely heard her leaving.

As soon as she was gone, Flo immediately swooped over my body, staring down at me. “This depression is worsening,” she said.

“I know. I have a feeling Celestia already did a magical diagnostic check on me, so I doubt Chrysalis did something like that. Can I even get sick?”

“Perhaps. There are places in your body I cannot normally go. Remain still.” Without giving me time to ask anything, she lost her form and fell on top of me. Just like that, she fully absorbed into whatever orifice she could find. As usual, it felt pretty fucking weird and not even a little sexy, despite where a good chunk of her ended up.

She told me not to move, but I took that to mean I could still talk. “So why can’t you normally just go wherever you’re needed in my body?”

“Because I exist primarily in your blood. Even though your internal body is very morphed, your blood still doesn’t go absolutely everywhere. And I found the issue. You’re being eaten from the inside by fungus.”

That should have been alarming, but I couldn’t really muster too much of a response. “Well that sucks.”

“Indeed. If I had to guess, that mushroom madremonte you found got spores in you somehow. Possibly while she was flying away, though you did try to avoid breathing it in. I doubt this would do anything to a normal human, but you are… different. I’m honestly curious about how you aren’t in pain.”

“Don’t jinx it. Just get them out of me.”

“I want you to speak to Zecora, first. I believe I can get them out without damaging anything else, but honestly, your body is so strange that my attempts might damage you. It’ll be damage I can repair, of course, but now that we know these things are here, I’d rather minimize what you go through so it’ll be fixed faster. I also don’t know if these are spores that can be spread by you to someone else, which is an extremely important concern. We need to find some way to test that before they’re killed.”

“Fair points. Any idea why they’re making me even more depressed than usual?”

“A few thoughts come to mind. I know they’re in your brain, but they aren’t actually eating it away. I believe they’re doing something to change it. The mushroom lady did say she could turn people into slaves, so it’s possible that’s what it’s trying to do. I already killed the spores up there, so that issue shouldn’t get worse.”

“Alright. Think going to Zecora can wait? I really don’t feel like it.”

“If I didn’t think you were joking, I might smack you.” I was already getting up when she said that, so I wasn’t all that worried.

“If you can influence my brain enough to make me forget something, why weren’t you able to tell I was infected with this shit?”

“That is a very good question. I’ll keep more of an eye out from now on. It wasn’t something I expected.”

The ship isn’t the largest place in the world, so I got to Zecora’s room relatively quickly. She and Nightshade were working on a potion, with the bat pony crushing something in a mortar and Zecora heating something over an alembic. “Ladies,” I quietly said, practically falling against the doorframe.

Nightshade looked over and nodded, “Sir.” She didn’t pay me any more mind, probably knowing I was there for Zecora.

The mare herself looked up at me and furrowed her brow in some concern. “You look bloated. Are you unwell?”

A sliver of Flo shot out of my mouth, meaning I couldn’t talk if I wanted to. “That is my fault,” she said. “I am in his body at the moment. We need a poison that will kill fungus. We also need you to check and see if it’s contagious.”

Zecora turned back long enough to lower the heat before hopping up and walking to her dresser. “I assume some manner of fungus infected Navarone. I will need details.” She grabbed what she was looking for and turned back to me, holding up a corked glass jar. “I will also need you to breathe out into this.”

Flo retreated back into my body as Zecora handed me the jar. I popped it open, took a deep breath, then pushed it all into the jar before recorking it. Zecora took it back and walked over to a small potion station she had set up.

While she started doing stuff to it, I said, “When I was in the hive, I ran into what Celestia called a mushroom madremonte.” That gave Zecora pause, making her look up for a few seconds before going back to what she was doing. “I assume she somehow put spores in me by accident. Or on purpose. I don’t know, she was a walking, talking mushroom. Shit was weird.”

“Hm. If she could infect you, she could infect others.”

“Others aren’t my problem,” I said. “Unless they happen to be on this ship. That’s why I need to know if I’m contagious.”

“There are two tests I have in mind,” she said. “The first is short-term.” She set several chemicals on her station. Two of them got mixed into a third flask, which she then hung above a burner. After it had a few seconds to heat up, she took my breath, uncorked it, then held it over the flask with the opening down, so the chemical vapors spread up. She held it like that for thirty seconds with no obvious effect. “And the short-term test passed. Excellent.” She set aside my jar and grabbed the one that was heated up, then held it up for me. “Drink this.”

I walked over and took it. “I assume it tastes bad?”

“Very likely.”

Bottoms up. I downed the uncomfortably vile substance in one shot, then shivered up a storm.

When I looked back over, Zecora and Nightshade were both giggling like crazy. “What?”

“I can’t believe he did it!” Nightshade said between giggles.

“...What did I just do?” I slowly asked. By way of answer, Zecora grabbed a small mirror and held it up for me. My entire body was slowly turning green and my hair was turning pink. “What the fu… Was that even to kill the fungus?”

Zecora shrugged. “I wanted to see if you would drink anything I gave you, just because I told you to.”

“If the fungus hadn’t eaten my brain to the point where I’m literally incapable of feeling emotions, I would be very pissed right now.”

Zecora and Nightshade both blinked a few times. “It’s… eating you?” Nightshade slowly asked.

“Yes. Flo stopped it in my brain but it’s still working on my body, because she doesn’t want to risk damaging me any more.”

“I did not realize,” Zecora said, instantly dropping her smile. “I assumed it was dormant.” She turned right back around to her workstation. “Nightshade, go to the kitchen and gather cinnamon, oregano, and rosemary. If they have any milk, get five hundred milliliters. I’ll prepare the base.” Nightshade didn’t waste any words and scurried past me. “Navarone, sit.” I took Nightshade’s place, since that was the only open chair. “If you’re wondering, the effects of that potion will fade over time and should be gone entirely in two or three hours.”

A part of me was kinda wondering, but at that point, I was incapable of caring too much.

“You’re probably also wondering why I’m using common household ingredients.”

“Not really. There’s a reason I drank that potion without asking. The reason I brought the people I brought is because I trust them. If you tell me cinnamon rolls will kill fungus, I’ll take your word for it.”

I could barely see a blush on her face as she continued to work at her station. She dropped a small spoonful of green powder into a flask that hung over a flame, along with a decent dash of water. Without the rest of the ingredients, I guess that’s all she could really do, since she turned back to face me right after. “It was unfair of me to take advantage of that trust. Truly, I always wondered why you were so quick to accede to my medical advice.”

“Because you know your shit. If you came to me for advice on how to get a girl off, I’m sure you’d do what I told you.”

Her ears twitched a few times. “Living alone in a forest for several years gave me plenty of practice in that matter. How many days has this fungus been in you and how quickly did it begin debilitating you?”

“Shit, probably been about a week now. It didn’t really start affecting me much until I got back on the ship. That said, I was a lot more active in the hive and might not have noticed it until I got sedentary again. These past few days have just been a grind, though. I didn’t even feel like getting out of bed today.”

“So it’s rapidly progressing. As far as I was able to tell, it’s not contagious. However, I would like to see its effects in a closed environment. Ask your elemental if she can isolate any spores and extract them.”

Flo stuck her head back out of my mouth. “I believe I can, but I’d like to know your plan.”

“I have a few ant farms I keep stored in Fluttershy’s room. I’d like to put spores in one of them and see what it does. Can you safely get them into a jar?”

“Bring me a jar.” Zecora hurried to obey. Soon enough, she was holding up a closed jar for us. “Nav, open it and hold it up for me.” I did so and Flo flowed into it, forming an airtight seal around the top. I could barely see some stuff sliding through her body and then into the jar, where they got expelled. As soon as she pulled away, I slipped the lid down over the jar of weird fungus and tightened it. Flo slid her full body back inside of me.

“Excellent,” Zecora said with a smile, taking the jar from me. “Unfortunately, we can’t test the poison on these. That said, I can guarantee that even if it doesn’t work on the fungus, it won’t actually hurt you. Though it’ll taste absolutely awful.”

“Go fucking figure.”

Flo asked through me, “How do you know of the madremonte, Zecora?”

She finally sat back down in her chair and thought for a few seconds before replying. “There are many tribes in the lands around mine that are very close to nature. There are stories of bipedal nature goddesses that some of those tribes worship and obey with unerring loyalty. They will fanatically defend their territory with every ounce of power they have, but will never leave their borders for anything. I was invited as a guest to one such tribe where I was allowed to meet one of those nature goddesses, who told me what she really was and asked if my tribe would like to host one of her sisters. I declined the offer and was sent on my way.”

“How likely are we to run into one of their territories?” Flo asked.

“Unlikely, but possible. There is a good chance that if we do pass through their territory, we’ll be left alone unless we try to disembark. Attacking every traveler that passes through your domain, especially if your domain contains a major river, very quickly makes you many enemies. They defend their territory against aggressors. As long as travelers stay away from their sacred groves, they will usually be allowed to pass through.”

That made me grin. “Sounds to me like we want to run into them. I’d rather pass through indifferent borders than aggressive ones. And friendly ones might just slow us down.”

“There is some wisdom in that thought,” Zecora said with a nod. “However, it is also wise to have friends in many places, both high and low. Assisting the villages we pass by if they ask us for help would not be unwise, especially given our return trip, when we might be low on supplies.”

Nightshade’s return put a lid on that discussion. Zecora was right, but I still didn’t want to get slowed down helping every savage we ran into. The bat mare passed the ingredients over one by one and Zecora quickly added them to the brew.

“What kind of poison is this?” Nightshade asked after the milk had been added.

“A fungicide,” Zecora said. “Usually, I’d prefer the oil of oregano and rosemary, but in a pinch, their leaves will hopefully do the trick. All of those ingredients can kill fungus, as can the kelp I put in the original mixture. With luck, they’ll be able to kill the one currently residing in our human. If not… we will use a considerably more lethal poison.”

“Lethal to him?” Nightshade slowly asked.

“Lethal to anything. We shall allow it to kill the fungus and then give him an antidote before it begins shutting his body down.”

“Wouldn’t matter,” I said. “I’m pretty immune to poison. I could probably drink all the weird chemicals you have and come out fine.”

“...I would like a sample of your blood when you are cured,” Zecora slowly said. “I remember your body fighting the bites of the timberwolves, and I would like to see if I could use it to make a cure-all of sorts.”

“Knock yourself out,” I sighed, leaning further back into my chair. “The only use it’s gotten recently is filling up a vampire, so you might as well…”

They both slowly turned to look at me. “A vampony, sir?” Nightshade asked, taking a small step closer.

“I ran into some weird shit in that underground bunker,” Flo said through me, covering my tracks. It wasn’t technically a lie, after all, even if it wasn’t what they thought it meant.

“I have faced a single bloodsucker,” Zecora quietly said, turning back to her potion. “It was an unpleasant scene.” She finally turned the burner off and used tongs to pass me the bubbling concoction. “This one will be truly vile. My apologies.”

“It’s also boiling hot,” I said. “I’m not drinking that.”

Flo saved me from that awful fate. She shot her body back out of my mouth and then into the flask, absorbing all the white fluid into herself. When she was fully saturated, she oozed back into my mouth, meaning I didn’t taste it or feel the burn.

In my mouth and throat, at least. As soon as the mixture got into my main body, I felt a sharp pain as Flo let it go.

“Nightshade, hold onto his hand. If you feel his skin start bubbling, immediately dose him with hemlock, concentrated apple seed paste, and your namesake. I shall be back as soon as I place these spores in an ant farm.”

“Of course, Zecora,” Nightshade said, grabbing onto me.

“Don’t tell Fluttershy,” I quickly added. “This room already feels crowded. Having her in here trying to baby me would be awful.”

“I want you to get better, not get nursed,” Zecora said before leaving.

“So what’s in apple seeds?” I asked.

“Cyanide,” Nightshade answered. “A few of them won’t hurt anyone. A lot of them, though…”

“Huh. Can’t you build up an immunity to poisons?”

“Yes you can, though it’s dangerous and rarely worth it. Though if what you said about your blood is true, it shouldn’t matter.”

“I’m just curious about the Apple family. Usually when they eat apples, they eat them whole. And they go through bushels at a time. I’m just wondering if they might be immune to cyanide.”

“Maybe, but unlikely.” She started gently stroking my hand. “I’ve never really thought about it before, but I don’t think I’ve seen another single smooth, soft sapient race. Naga and dragons are both scaley and hard.”

“I don’t guess there are a lot of us. It seems a lot of people like exotic things, too.”

She stopped stroking me and went back to just holding my hand. “With us around, you will never need to worry about unwanted attention again. Some of us have been in… similar situations, in places that rarely see ponies.”

“Having people watching my back is relieving. I just hope that none of you forget that I’m able to help you as well.”

“Giving us a purpose again did more for the ponies in this squad than anything else you could have, sir. When we got reassigned to Luna’s night guard, we were pulled back to Canterlot and kept on guard duty while she tried to reintegrate. Several of us were already thinking about quitting when things started getting bad.”

“...Are your old missions classified, Nightshade?”

“Some. We have done evil things in the name of Equestria, sir. We’ve also helped save it more than once. But I’m one of the newer members of the squad. The mare I replaced got sent deep undercover in Ponyville, to watch over and protect the Elements of Harmony. And you, back when you were more of an unknown. I was only with Watcher for two years before we were reassigned to Canterlot. If you want details on our missions, you’d be better off asking one of the older members. Just not Sentinel or Watcher.”

“That might be worth doing. It’s gonna be a long trip and I’ve been curious about the history of the people I have with me. Zecora’s the only other one on the ship with a history interesting enough to learn.”

“She is a very fascinating mare,” Nightshade confirmed with a nod. “One that is very friendly but doesn’t seem to ever open up.”

“She’s better about it now that she doesn’t have to rhyme anymore. I imagine being forced to talk like that for so long would make anyone prefer silence.”

“Which was the goal,” Zecora said, stepping back into the room. “Are your insides healing, Navarone?”

Flo stuck part of herself back out and said, “The fungus is dying. I should be able to break it down after it’s dead and heal the damage it did. I just didn’t want to take the risk while it was still alive.”

“Wise. I would advise you to ask your sisters to check the rest of the crew, if such a thing is possible. I do not believe it was spread through breathing, but I noticed an immediate reaction with the ants when I introduced the spores to them. Regardless, Navarone should remain here until all the fungus is dead. Should they adapt to combat the poison, we will need to know immediately. Nightshade, continue holding his hand.”

In addition to holding my hand, Nightshade also gently poked my belly, making it squirm and wobble. “Is that what having an elemental inside you does?” she asked.

“I never noticed before, but apparently,” I said. “I can’t even feel her, but I do feel that my clothes are tighter than usual.” Does this Flo make me look fat?

“No, but I do make your ass look big,” she answered in my head. She pushed back out of my mouth to answer Nightshade with, “We aren’t small. I can’t just fully absorb into his body without being noticeable. I could change my placement around to make it less obvious, but I saw no need.”

“So you could control his appearance, essentially?”

“In a way. That said, it’s not good for his skin and could likely leave stretch marks were I to stay in it for too long. Assuming, of course, I didn’t take measures to avoid such a thing. I could make Nav a very sexy woman, if I wanted to.”

I bit down, making her retreat back into my throat. “Thankfully, she doesn’t want to,” I said. “And there’s no one here that might be interested in such a thing.”

“I’m happily straight,” Nightshade confirmed with a nod. Zecora just rolled her eyes with a smirk on her face.

“So you want to go ahead and get a blood sample?” I asked, doing my best to change the subject from what the cruel and mean Flo could do to me.

“I doubt the fungus is in your arm, so yes,” Zecora said. “Would you prefer a needle or a gentle dagger prick?”

“Doesn’t matter. As long as it’s not a cursed dagger, at least.”

“I have that hidden away, though I imagine it would be ideal for extracting blood.” She pulled out a wicked curved dagger and an obsidian bowl. “If you do not mind, I would like to perform a ritual with the blood before experimenting on it. There will be no effect on you.”

“What will you do with it?” I asked as she set the bowl next to the mortar Nightshade had been using.

“A small magical test to see who blessed you. I have been curious for some time, since you are a Pathfinder.”

“...A what?”

“One that the dryads of the Everfree allow to explore freely. Were you interested, you could have made a pact with them to open safe paths through the forest.”

I was silent for several long seconds before I shook my head and said, “This world is fucking weird, man.”

“To an outsider looking in, perhaps.” She took my arm and placed it on top of her blood bowl. “This will sting.” She placed a towel over my arm then reached under it to gently slice my arm, making me flinch very slightly. Nightshade actually gripped my hand. “Did the dryads not make you the offer?”

“I didn’t even know dryads existed here. They never appeared to me.”

“...Then perhaps I was mistaken.”

“From my understanding, animals don’t see me as another animal. They see me as more of a tree, I guess. They’ll attack those around me but won’t even look at me twice. I always figured that was my case.”

“We shall see. If it is blessed, I will be able to tell you which dryad was responsible, and where in the forest you may find her to ask. If not, I would like to go with you into the forest to ask the dryads just what they think you are.”

“Why are you just now mentioning this?” I asked. “Why not, you know, when I was asking you shit about the Everfree when we were in Equestria?”

“Because you were reporting to the princesses and the dryads asked me not to give them away. Now I know where you stand.” She gently pressed the towel against the cut and pulled the bowl away. “And I have begun to… open up, now that I am no longer cursed. Something else you told me helped.”

“No clue what it was, but that’s good.”

“When you asked when I would tell you about my home, you said something that made me realize why I withheld some information. It made me feel a kind of power in what was otherwise a mostly powerless life. But that is not fair to friends and companions. And you helped empower me again, so I no longer feel the need to hold back information I once guarded as sacred.”

“Neat. What’s your favorite fetish?”

“Being spanked. Now remain silent. I am about to perform the ritual.” She set the bowl on the floor and encircled it with her own body. After a few seconds, she started whispering to it. I couldn’t tell what she was saying, but it made my ears itch. After nearly a minute, she stopped whispering and just waited. When nothing happened after another minute, she stood. “It seems your blood was not blessed. That makes me all the more curious.”

“Curiosity killed the cat,” I said, slightly shifting the arm she cut.

“But satisfaction brought it back. I may want more of your blood in the future. For now, this is enough. Is the fungus still dying?”

Flo pushed back out and said, “Yes. I’ve begun breaking down the dead fungus and using its materials to fix the damage. I’ll need more protein to fix the brain damage, though.” Not caring about stuff is okay I guess. Flo slapped the back of my head and said aloud, “Spike can cook something meaty. Or Nav himself can, once the fungus dies off.”

I ain’t going anywhere but my own room until I’m not green and pink anymore.

“He isn’t going anywhere looking like that,” Nightshade said. “Zecora, can I stop holding his hand yet?”

“Yes. Find the dragon and ask him to cook something, but don’t say why, just that Nav needs it. While he cooks, bring one of the water elementals here. Having them inspect the crew sooner rather than later would be wise.”

“Alrighty. That shouldn’t take long. Nav, if you make her use a new poison while I’m gone, I’ll be very upset.”

“I’ll miss you too, Nighty.” She sniffed at me and walked out. When the door closed behind her, I relaxed back into the seat. “So Celestia asked me to do something interesting while we’re in Africa.”

“Does she want you to scout out more of my people for her to subjugate?”

“She wants me to capture Pertz and bring him to justice.” She stopped fiddling with my blood and looked over to me, surprise etched across her face. “Turns out Celestia didn’t know he was pretending to be a god. If your testimonial is true and we find him pulling the same shit when we get there, he’s destined to one of Chrysalis’s hives to be used as food.”

“...I see. And how did you reply to the princess?”

“I told her that I’ll let you decide what to do with him, but that really only narrows it down to two choices. If you want him to die, we’ll kill him. But if you want him to live, he’s coming back to Equestria with us where, if he’s lucky, he’ll get a trial before being sentenced to changeling food.”

“Thank you for telling me this, Nav. I do not want to hurt him, and knowing he will be punished for his deeds will be comforting.”

“I don’t like people abusing their power. I might hurt him a little.” Or maybe a lot. “But if it’s at all reasonably possible, I’ll keep him alive.”

“If you bring him pain, I can bring him healing. Between the two of us… Well, he might find himself surprised what he can live through. I certainly feel no need to work years of pent up rage and anger out on him. But if someone were to do it in my stead…”

There wasn’t much I could say to that, so thankfully a water elemental entering cut off a need for words. “You need assistance?” the elemental asked, staring at me. It wasn’t one I recognized offhand. It didn’t even comment on my new look.

Flo stuck herself out of my mouth so she could talk. “Navarone was infected by a fungus while in the changeling hive. We aren’t positive if it’s contagious or not, so it might be best if we checked the crew.”

In response, the elemental dove at Zecora and quickly entered the extremely surprised mare. A few seconds later, she oozed out. “This one is clear. I will inform my sisters and we will scour the ship.”

Before she could leave, I said, “The ponies, especially the soldiers, won’t like it. If they start getting uppity, send Watcher to me. Same for the naga.”

“Very well.” She finally left.

So which one was that?

“Carl. She doesn’t talk much.”

So you know I gotta ask—

“Don’t.”

What’s the deal with airline food? She smacked me again and we went back to waiting for Zecora to unquarantine me.

That night, I was back to being apathetic because of extreme and untreated depression instead of fungus eating me. I was also no longer green and pink, with only Watcher having seen me in that state. None of the crew were infected with mushrooms, thankfully.

When I fell asleep, things were actually kinda starting to look up. The best part is that Flo didn’t even want to keep creepily cuddling me.

Instead, she just watched me sleep.

When the darkness claimed me, I found myself in the normal glade, with a strange addition: a few mushrooms poking out of the grass here and there. “I thought it was fitting,” Flo said. “I did use their resources to rebuild the damage they did to you, after all. So you’re part weird mushroom lady now.”

“Joy of joys. You think Twilight’s asleep yet? I’m looking forward to teaching her how to make wet dreams.”

“You really like torturing Rainbow Dash too much.”

“Hey, I didn’t say I was going to target her…”

“You were thinking it. Give me a moment and I’ll go talk to Twilight. If she isn’t asleep now, she will likely be shortly. But do note that dream time is very different than normal time. You could probably police a few dreams in the time it will take.”

“Might as well.” I had gotten pretty good at escaping dreams, so with just a thought, I was back in the open dreamscape. There were a few specks of light around me, but none that obviously needed attention. After thinking about a few people in Ponyville, I quickly found myself among a few more dots. Then after realizing I always defaulted there, I thought about a few of the Crystal Ponies and found myself up north. Shiny was already asleep, but Cadance wasn’t there.

There were plenty of nightmares there, though. That made sense, given the whole Sombra enslavement thing. That in mind, I resolved to visit them again and got to work.

It didn’t take Twilight too long to fall asleep. Magic and/or an elemental in your head makes it easy. Knocking first was probably polite, but she wouldn’t know what to look for anyway. I just eased myself in and immediately found myself in a wet dream of a more literal sense.

“So this is a normal water elemental’s realm?” I asked as I walked to the center of the swamp-like spring.

“I’m normal,” Flo petulantly answered, materializing next to me.

Aqua snorted. “From a different perspective, sister. It is rude to question the home in which you find yourself a guest, but now that you are in my home, I can freely offer to help you redecorate.”

Flo flipped Aqua off and turned her nose up.

“So anyway, where’s Twilight?” I asked. Aqua pointed to our right, where the purple mare was relaxing in the cool waters, a small smile on her face. Her eyes were closed and her ears were under the water, so she probably didn’t realize we were there.

Since she looked so peaceful, I teleported over and blew a massive raspberry on her stomach, making her jolt back and get water all up her nose. When her legs started flailing around, I jumped back and just watched.

It took her several long seconds to recover and she was still sputtering when she finally looked up to glare at me. When I booped her on the nose, she launched herself at me. I opened a portal to Aqua in front of myself and sent Twilight colliding into her elemental, which then necessitated another few long seconds as she recovered from that.

This time when I booped her, she just glared as hard as she could.

“So are you ready to begin learning?” I asked.

“Can I glare at you for another minute?”

“Knock yourself out. But I’ll help you smile instead. Just yell bubbles as loudly and angrily as you can.”

She blinked a few times, then tried it. Sure enough, she sounded happy on the second syllable and couldn’t hide a smile.

“There. Feel better?” I asked.

“You’re awful. So how do we begin?”

“First, let me tell you want to expect. When you break out of this dream, you’re going to find yourself in what Luna called the dream anteroom. It houses the subconsciouses of all ponies when they sleep. And all other races, now. When you get there, close your eyes and don’t move. The entire place is very disorienting for a beginner and I want to be able to show you things at my own pace. Even taking a single step could get you lost.” She opened her mouth, so I said, “Getting lost isn’t dangerous. It just means I have to find you.” Her mouth closed. “I’ll explain everything else when we get there, including letting you meet artificial humans.”

“Artificial humans?” she asked, tilting her head.

“This machine was built by humans. They added admin commands that allow you more control over dreams. You’ll understand when I show you. For now, the hardest part. With Flo’s help, I was able to do it instantly. But under my own power, it took me months to figure out how to do it instantly. I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to let Aqua do it or learn it the hard way.”

“What exactly do I need to do?”

Long story short, it took what felt like three hours for her to break out. When she did, I quickly joined her in the anteroom and set my hand on her back.

“When I open my eyes, what will I see?” she asked.

“Mostly darkness, with a few motes of light. Each of those lights represents a dream. Distances here can be deceiving, in some ways. That’s why I asked you to keep your eyes closed. From what I can tell, geographical location determines where in the anteroom you’ll find someone’s dreams. But looking around can be extremely disorienting. Let’s see…” I thought about Rarity and my head turned that way. “Think about Rarity.”

Her head slowly turned and she gasped. “I can feel something!”

“That’s her dream. Open your eyes, but don’t take a step.” She did so and beheld Rarity’s golden dream. “Different color dreams mean different things. Yellow is a happy dream. White is typical. Red is sensual. Black is nightmare. Blue is sad. I’ve seen green, but I never really could figure out the theme for that one.”

“What about the shape?”

“Not quite sure about that one. My theory is the soul, but Luna wasn’t sure either. Now, the next thing we’ll cover is movement. It’s very different. You can cover leagues with a single step, essentially teleporting from dream to dream. While still thinking about Rarity, take a step.” She did so and shot forward. I joined her in front of Rarity’s dream, the gold shape quickly becoming like a gold boulder.

“Oh my…” She finally decided to take a look around her and shivered slightly as all the specks shot around her vision. “This place is… amazing.”

“Yeah. Tonight, we can go two ways with the training. We can either go over the basics of entering dreams or we can try to figure out more of the human admin commands. I want you to get plenty of regular sleep, so we’ll only be doing one for tonight.”

“Well… I can get here whenever I want, now. But you won’t always be here to teach me about dreams. I’d like to go ahead and learn about those.”

“Alright. The first thing to learn is looking into dreams. Very gently put your hoof against the yellow smoke.” She did so, letting it rest on the surface. “Now pretend like you’re pushing bubbles aside.”

“So weird,” she whispered, opening a small hole in Rarity’s dream. “Can I just look in?”

“Yeah.” I joined her and together, we peered inside. Rarity was in the back room of a fashion show starring just Rainbow Dash and Applejack, who were dolled up in some very pretty dresses and smiling up a storm. Twilight pulled away, giggling. “You’ll see a lot of weird stuff in dreams, Twilight. I’ll warn you right now that entering or even looking in the dreams of friends can be a very big mistake. Dreams can show you the darkest thoughts a friend has had, even if it’s not something they really believe. Some of it hurts.”

“I… never really thought of that,” she quietly said, letting the hole close. “Nav, have you… have you seen anything like that?”

“Yes. A lot of it. And so has Luna. It doesn’t hurt as much when it’s coming from people you don’t know. But now… I try to stay away from Fluttershy and Applejack’s dreams. And Pinkie’s, but I did that anyway. I suggest finding a different dream for a few reasons. One, this one isn’t large enough. The only place for us to hide is in the crowd, and we can’t really do much there. Two, Rarity’s really insecure. If we accidentally mess something up in there, shit can go downhill quickly and you aren’t ready for dealing with a nightmare yet.”

“So where should we go?”

“I have an idea,” Flo said to me. “Celestia.”

Not a bad one. “Take my hand.” I offered it and she immediately grabbed it. Just like that, we sailed across the land of dreams, stopping in front of the white dream of the great horse queen. “What do you feel when you look at this one?” I asked.

Twilight let go of my hand and stared at it for a few seconds. “...Princess Celestia?”

“Yep. Here’s another lesson: Dealing with the dreams of people like us. Well, sort of like us. I don’t think she can actually dreamwalk, but her dreams are warded and she’s very powerful in there. We can’t even see what she’s dreaming without being inside. It’s better to ask permission, like this.” I traced, ‘Celestia, you mind if we come in? - Nav and Twiley’ on there.

“Can we do that for any dream?” she asked.

“Yes. But most people don’t know enough to even look for them, let alone how to reply.”

“How do you reply?”

“The words the outside person writes will appear in the sky. Just make clouds that spell what you want to say. Like she’s doing now.”

‘Not tonight. This dream is not to be ruined.’

“Fair enough. Let’s see… Cadance, maybe?” Twilight’s head turned toward Cadance. “We can try. Take the step.” She shot off and I joined her in front of the white dream. “Cadance’s dreams aren’t warded. But she does have the problem of being your old babysitter, so you might see some stuff you don’t want to.”

“I’m probably gonna see it eventually, Nav. Either with you or without. At the moment, dreams are too interesting not to study!”

“Then let’s take a look inside.” We both peeled away the smoke and saw a large game field. Shining Armor was the star player, running with a handegg. Or I guess hoofball, if you want to be particular. Cadance was one of the cheerleaders. “Alright, we can work with this. Her memory about this must be pretty clear, since we can see so far.”

“This is pretty normal, Nav,” Twilight said. “Are human dreams usually less clear?”

“You could say that. If I ever dreamed anymore, I’d invite you in one day. Well, if I ever dreamed and I wanted you to suffer, anyway. Alright, the main thing you need to know when you get into this dream is that you’re going to immediately be fighting against Cadance’s will. You aren’t part of the dream, so breaking away will be easier. But if you lose, you’ll become part of it and be stuck here until she wakes up, even if the dream turns into a nightmare.” She opened her mouth, so I continued, “If you die in a dream, you get knocked back into the anteroom. Same if she wakes up.” Her mouth closed. “But that won’t be an issue. If you start losing, Aqua can jolt you back. Basically, when you go in there, remember who you really are. Remember why you’re there. Remember that the anteroom exists and that you’re in a dream. Ready?”

“I… think so. What will she do to me if I lose?”

“Like I said, you become part of the dream. Basically, you become whatever she wants you to be. Since that’s teenage Cadance, you’d likely end up as a filly in the stands, cheering on your big brother. As an interesting aside, if you do completely lose yourself, you remember what happened when you get out. I’ve ridden through a dream like that once just to find out.”

“What happened?”

“Strangely enough, I got married to Rainbow Dash. Not really sure how it happened, because that was back when I was still a guy. Anyway, see the empty soccer field in the back?”

“Yeah.”

“Look at that and pull yourself inside.” She took a deep breath and entered her first dream. I jumped in behind her and then waited, staring at the very confused-looking purple filly in front of me.

After several long seconds, she quickly grew into the dorky purple pony we all know and… Well, that we all know. “That was weird,” she whispered.

“It gets easier to fight back over time. It’s harder when you’re already a part of the dream. You take over your dream representation’s body and have to fight out of whatever role you were taking. Anyway, we’re in a dream now. Look at the sky.”

She looked up and quickly noticed the white holes that were filling in. “That’s where we came in?”

“Yeah. The color shows what kind of dream it is. If we were to go over to Cadance right now and start messing up her cheerleading routine, it would probably go black. If we start making out in front of her, it might go red and shit would get weird.”

“Weird how?”

“I lived with her for a while. That mare has some weird fucking fetishes. You don’t even know. But anyway, the point is that the sky is the indicator of how the dream is going. If it starts changing, everything else will start changing around you to match.”

“What about us? Can they change us, too?”

“Not usually. Or at least, not mentally. They can take a sword to you, though. Or accidentally summon something that will. But once you win the initial battle, they can’t mentally change you.”

“Hm. But I can change the dream however I want?”

“Not quite. You can do just about anything here, including changing your body.” To show that, I became her but kept my voice. “You can’t directly change the type of dream. It can be very easy to indirectly change the type of dream, though. I’ve accidentally changed something from a wet dream to a nightmare to a good dream to a nightmare again in seconds, just by changing a few things about myself and the world. And of course, it can be hard to predict what exactly will happen when you change something in a dream. Killing the monster in a dream doesn’t always fix the nightmare, for example.”

“Interesting… So how do I do anything like that?”

“Just believe you are something else and you will be. We’ll start simple. Give yourself wings. Actual pegasus wings, not butterfly ones.”

“...Simple. Right.” She closed her eyes. “Me, an alicorn…”

“It’s easy, Twilight,” I said. “Open your eyes.” She did so and beheld me in her body with pretty purple wings spread out. “It’s not something you need to imagine. It’s just something you need to take as fact. When you stretch some muscles in your back, wings will spread out behind you.

“Hm…” She took a deep breath and stood up on her tip-hooves, then slowly eased down. As she did, wings grew from her back and spread out. “I did it!”

“Sure did. It’s just like lucid dreaming. And as an interesting note, you don’t even need wings to fly.” I made my set disappear and then started floating.

“...I can do this in my own dreams, can’t I?” she asked.

“Sure can, if you’re lucid enough. At Luna’s dream ball, she had an area set out with all the outfits you could want, letting the people there try on anything they wanted. She also had a way to try on different bodies, so you could look however you want. And there was a place you could travel the world, seeing all the sights.”

“Amazing.”

“I don’t think we can do the world travelling thing ourselves. I’m not really sure how she did that one. I’ve tried to replicate it, but I can only get to places I’ve been before. Anyway, that’s really it, in terms of what you can actually do. We can walk over to Cadance if you want and fiddle with the dream, but I don’t really want to start messing with dreamers until you can get out easily, or until we get a dreamer a bit more lucid.”

“Why not? If we make it a nightmare, you can protect me and then we can run off to hide again until I can get out.”

“Alright, we can do that. But a word of warning: If she wakes up, we can get thrown from the dream. If there’s another dream nearby, it’s very possible to end up thrown right into it before we can correct ourselves. And we know Shiny’s sleeping next to her, so we could end up in his.”

“That wouldn’t be so bad. Did you get a look at his dream?”

“Yeah. Red. Don’t wake her up. His fetishes are worse.” She hung her head and sighed very deeply. “Alright, how do you want to handle this?”

And that jerked her head right back up. “What?! Why do I have to decide?”

“This is training. When you go into a dream, you usually want to be discreet. After all, how do you feel knowing I was in your personal thoughts and playing with your mind?”

“...Okay, yeah. So, discreet.” She looked over the playing field again, taking in the crowd and the players. “Can we make a white dream a yellow dream?”

“Oh yeah. All it takes is a catalyst.”

“Can I change your body however I need it?”

“No. Or at least, not without a whole lot of effort.”

“Alright. How about this, then? I go up to the announcer’s box and announce a big enemy player joining the game. Then you show up as that player and let Shiny beat you. After I make the announcement, I become a cheerleader on the other side and lead a routine that Cadance can beat.”

“Subtle. Can I bang you under the bleachers afterward?”

“Only winning hoofball players get to buck the cheerleaders, Nav. That said, I bet we can do all kinds of… things here, can’t we?”

“Yeah. I’d advise against doing it in someone else’s dream, though. Quick word of warning: An orgasm here means an orgasm in real life. So be ready to wake up to a wet bed.”

“Noted. Are you ready to make Cadance’s dreams?”

I morphed from Twilight into a large black stallion, then gave myself a uniform of Shiny’s opposing team. After a thought or two, I also changed my voice. “What do you think?” I asked.

She took a moment to walk around me, looking at everything. “Can you do diamond dog instead? I remember seeing one playing for an enemy team when Cadance dragged me to a game.”

“Even better.” I changed again, this time looking like a big and muscular dog. The ones in the mine I slaughtered all had diseased eyes that looked really fucking creepy, so I matched those and then snarled.

“Dear Celestia… It’s perfect.” Since she approved, I gave myself the appropriate uniform. “Alright Nav, don’t make it obvious, but definitely lose. If you can, try to make it climactic. Cadance always liked stuff like that.”

“Alrighty.” She flinched at my voice. “Yeah, I never was a fan of that either. And as another side note, you probably don’t want to ever fuck one of these. They have large knots.”

“...Okay. Go wait over there. I’ll get in position and call you when it’s time.”

“Sure thing.”

To make a long story short, when we finally got out of that dream, Twilight was wearing a sexy cheerleader outfit under a sky of gold. When we got to the anteroom, she turned to me, beaming. “That was so much fun!”

“And you did really good. I usually just dick around because I’m a bad person, but that was an excellent job.” For some reason, that got her blushing. “Now we have a choice. You should really get some actual sleep, because it’s probably about halfway to morning, if I had to guess. But if you want to keep going to dreams, we can. Or I can show you the human stuff, which shouldn’t take all too long since I don’t know much yet.”

“I don’t really want to go back to my own dreams yet… This is far too interesting and I can just get some magic to keep me awake in the morning. It shouldn’t hurt for a few days, just until I get the hang of it.”

“Shouldn’t hurt you, but I’m still wary from the last time it happened to me.”

“...Understandable. But I do want to keep going.”

“Alright. Let’s start with the weird thing, since it shouldn’t take too long.”

Twilight looked around for a moment before staring at me. “Weird compared to what, exactly?”

“Fair point. Access subroutine artificial intelligence defender.” Three humans appeared in front of me, making Twilight jump. “List active users.”

“Anonymous: Admin. Unknown manual override user: Admin.”

“Give me details about this dream,” I said, pointing at Cadance’s.

“Race: Sub-equine, mark one. Status: Clean. Dreamstate: Rapid eye movement. Computer note: Sub-equine race constantly in rapid eye movement state. Admin note: Anonymous: Taffy pony always dreams about making me fall in love. Remember to make those dreams weird whenever possible.” Twilight giggled.

“Give me details about unknown manual override user.”

“Race: Unknown. Status: Online. Location: One meter due relative north. Programmer note: Why do I have to even program this in? Who the hell is gonna be able to override this damn thing when we’re all dead anyway? And for that matter, why is race even listed here? Admin note: Anonymous: Luna, if you figure out how to listen to this, go fuck yourself.” Twilight snorted.

“Twilight, wait here. Defenders, follow me.”

“Uh. Where are you going?” she asked.

“Across the world, to show you another command. When they show up, say pong Anonymous.”

“Um. Okay?”

I thought about Spike and took a step that way. The defenders followed me. “Ping unknown manual override user.”

Two of them disappeared. The one that remained said, “Ping delivered. Response delivered. Location: Several kilometers due relative north-northwest.”

“Take me to her.” It blinked and I reappeared in front of Twilight. The third defender joined us a moment later.

“What was that?” Twilight asked.

“A way for two users to find each other quickly. The only issue is that you and Luna have the same admin name, so it’ll be hard figuring out who’s who if she happens to be here at the same time.”

“Huh. Can I try something?”

“Knock yourself out.”

She nodded and looked at one of the robots. “I want to rename the uh… online unknown manual override user.”

“Input new name.”

“Twilight Sparkle.”

All three of them blinked. “Unknown manual override user will be renamed to Twilight Sparkle. Confirm order.”

Twilight nodded and said, “Confirmed.”

“Twilight Sparkle is online.”

Of course, I was smiling. “Good thinking on that one, Twilight. It never occurred to me. Rename Anonymous to Navarone. Confirmed.”

“Navarone is online.”

“Excellent. Twilight, you want to mess around with them any more?”

“Maybe. What does Anonymous mean to a human?”

“I don’t know why they’re calling me that. Maybe it’s a side-effect of not being plugged directly into the machine when I got access. I don’t really know any more commands, but you’re free to play with them all you want now.”

“Can I access them in actual dreams?” she asked.

“Unfortunately, no. Also, two points of interest. First, they aren’t actually intelligent. They’re artificial intelligences that can be given basic tasks and used to get some information. You can ask them questions and they can try to answer, but they won’t be able to hold a conversation. That’s compared to artificial general intelligences, like the elementals, who have actual sapience. Second, if you ever run into one of these things in a dream, run the fuck away. They’re friendly in the anteroom for some reason, but they’re hostile to you and Luna in actual dreams. You can tell they’re there by a red outline around one of the inhabitants as you’re looking in.”

“Why would they be friendly here and hostile there?”

“No clue. I tried asking, but the ones here didn’t know. Luna said they would hound you across the anteroom, other dreams, and even your own dreams if you manage to aggro one. Shit seemed hella fucked up, so I suggest avoiding it.”

“Alright. How common are they?”

“I’ve seen exactly one. Luna’s seen so few that it took her a while to remember they even existed. There are three hundred that are delegated to the dreams of all ponies. So yeah, they’re pretty rare.”

“Huh. Why do they even go into our dreams?”

“To defend against Discord. No idea how successful they are. Or were. Oh, and there’s one more command that I haven’t really tested fully, but kinda want to. These things have a lockdown feature that lets you stop anyone from getting into or out of a dream. But I don’t know if it keeps the dreamer asleep or not.”

“Ooh, that sounds interesting. But also kinda evil, if we use it wrong. Do you want to test it?”

“Not without the permission of whoever we test it on. I have no clue if it would work on one of us, so it would have to be one of our crewmates or something.”

“Alright, I’ll ask my friends tomorrow. Who do you suggest?”

“Rarity or Rainbow Dash. On the off chance we do keep them trapped for a while, their dreams are the easiest to keep gold. Then Fluttershy and Applejack, but I really don’t like going in them. I’ve never even looked into one of Pinkie’s dreams and I’m never going to.”

“It might be better if we both speak to them. You can probably explain better what we’re going to do.”

“Well, for the most part, it’ll be simple. We’ll get their dream golden and then we’ll lock it down. Then we’ll go about our night normally, checking on the dream every now and then to make sure it’s still gold. Then when the night ends, one of us stays and monitors it and the other wakes up to monitor the subject. If they’re still asleep after… Oh, say three hours after their usual time, we can try waking them up manually. If that still doesn’t get it, we’ll remove the lockdown and come to the conclusion that it actually does keep them asleep.”

“Works for me. Who will do what?”

“I’ll wake up and monitor her body. I can get in and out of dreams instantly, so we won’t keep her awake longer than necessary by you being slow at breaking out. It also gives you time to practice that.”

“Okay, sounds like a plan.” She looked at the defenders for a moment before asking, “So now what?”

“I don’t want to put you in a nightmare until you’re better at getting in and out of dreams and keeping your mind when you get into one. Unless Aqua will help with either.”

“She will, but I don’t want to get put into a situation where relying on her is my only chance,” Twilight said. “If you think I’m not ready, I won’t push myself. For now, you’re the boss here.”

That made my eyebrows lift. “You’ve really grown, Twilight. I remember a time when you’d rush through anything to learn more, at whatever risk.”

“Ponies… and people, change, Nav. There was a time I was like that, but my friends helped me learn. You did more than your fair share, of course.”

For some reason, that made me smile. “Then let’s find a simple dream we can play around in.”

“Oooh, can we give one of my old teachers nightmares? That mare was always so mean to me!”

I tousled her hair and we happily went off to play.

Twilight and I were screwing around in dreams until the sun came up. It was a lot of fun and seeing a new, more innocent perspective on dreams made me feel happier than it probably should have. Of course, that didn’t really help me when it came time to wake up. We were there so long that I got no real sleep. Naturally, I woke up feeling like death.

But I decided to give Twilight a few minutes to be awake before I decided to join her in the world of the living, so she quickly got to my room to jolt me with life. It wasn’t a real substitute for sleep, but it sure as hell felt like it.

“We have got to do that again tonight,” Twilight gushed, nearly bouncing in place.

“We’re going to. Remember, we want to test the lockdown thing.”

“Oh yeah! I don’t think Rarity or Rainbow Dash will be awake yet, so we’ll have to find something to do until then. Well, if you’re feeling better.”

“I am. Turns out my brain was being eaten by fungus that I got from an underground madremonte that I found in the hive.”

Her smile slowly disappeared as she took a few seconds to process that. When it clicked, she blinked. “Wait, huh?”

“Madremontes are apparently some weird nature spirits that guard groves of trees. There’s an underground version that guards mushrooms. One was living near the hive and I found it while I was there.”

“I… I actually remember reading about something like that. Was it bipedal with wings like leaves?”

“Yeah. Well, this one released spores when it flew. I happened to breathe some of those spores in I guess and they grew into fungus that started attacking me. Flo didn’t catch it at first because it stayed out of my blood.”

“That’s weird. Is there any way I can study it, or did Flo kill it all?”

“Zecora saved some that she put in an ant farm in Fluttershy’s room. But at the moment, I think you have enough on your plate.”

“Yeah, maybe…” Her horn lit up and a familiar collar appeared. “Do you mind putting this on? It shouldn’t hurt.”

I took the collar we grabbed from Trixie’s realm and held it up. “You sure about this?” I asked.

“Pretty sure. Before you put it on, don’t willingly do anything I tell you to do. Okay?”

“Alright.” I carefully put the thing around my neck and then flinched as it seemed to lock into place.

Twilight nodded once and said, “Stand.” I didn’t even think about it. My body just stood on its own. “Did you do that, or did the collar make you do it?”

“The collar.”

“Excellent! Sit.” I sat back down on the bed. Her horn lit up and a notepad and pen appeared. She took a second to write something on it before showing it to me. ‘Raise your arms.’ Nothing happened, so she said, “Read this.” My eyes scanned over the message again. “Interesting. Alright, read this and follow its directions.” I read it again and then lifted my arms. She floated the pad back around and wrote something else. “Lower your arms, by the way.” I did so as she floated the pad back around. ‘Take off the collar, if you can.’ “These are actually instructions, if it’s something you can do. I think I got the pain response off, but I’m ready to heal you in case I’m wrong.”

Since I’m pretty sure she wanted me to make the attempt, I started fiddling with the clasp. Every time I think I had it, my fingers just went limp and the necklace slid away. “Looks like I can’t. And I’m not in pain, either.”

“Oh wow. I’m really glad I got that one right… Do you mind if I tell you to have an orgasm? I want to see if it can actually access your brain or if you’ll just start… well, doing it manually. That seems better than telling you to feel pain.”

“I need a shower anyway. Go for it.”

She nodded and said, “Have an orgasm.” My body laid back on the bed, I spread my legs, and started reaching for my personal area. Right before I could touch myself, she said, “Stop.” I did, of course. “So it is limited. That’s probably a good thing. Two more things to test. One is something that’s impossible. So uh… What’s something impossible that’s safe for you to test?”

“Uh. Kissing my own elbow, maybe? That’s something I don’t think it’s possible for any human to do.”

“Alright. Kiss your own elbow.” My arm lifted up and my head bent down to try to kiss the elbow. After a few seconds of failing, I stood up and started walking to my sword. Twilight realized what was happening as soon as I put my hand on it and yelled, “Stop!” Thankfully, I did. “Okay, no more impossible orders!”

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