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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79. Chapter Sixty-Five—Building blocks of a home

I have to say, I was most definitely not expecting that one. That was the first thing that came to mind.

She sighed. “Yes, Navarone. Your fiancée. The king was very adamant that you get married right away, but as I said, we talked him down. He does not want an incident like this to happen again, and he believes that a tie between our ponies—and his griffins, of course—would help prevent it. He demanded that since you were the one to commit the deed, that you be the one that got married.”

“And it can’t be Luna?”

“I am not going to take her from the moon and give her to a griffin husband, Navarone.”

“Yeah, and I ain’t getting hitched to no damn griffin! I’d sooner flee the damn country!”

“Navarone, your window of opportunity for fleeing the country ended a few days ago. Now, are you going to let me explain how I am going to get you out of this, or are you going to keep whining?”

I calmed down. A little. “Why didn’t you say you had a plan already? Lay it on me.”

She nodded. “We could not deny Bloodbeak the engagement. Luna and I both tried as hard as we could and brought up precedent after precedent, but he refused to listen. As soon as we realized we could talk him down no further than engagement, we had our law ponies look up the griffin engagement laws. Normally, such engagements are easy to break. However, political engagements are much harder. One party or the other has to be found unsuitable as a mate for that to happen. The easiest way to be found unsuitable is to not own any property at the time of the engagement.”

I dropped my face into my hands.

“Quite,” she continued. “Since that option is now denied to us, we must turn to other avenues. Should you be deemed weak or unable to provide for the mate, you can be declared unsuitable.”

“Shit, that’s easy. I’m weaker than griffins.”

She shook her head. “The king knew you would say that. He mentioned how easily you apparently beat Hestra, the griffin you apprehended. That can be seen as proof of your strength.”

“But they’re stronger than me! That was just the armor and the element of surprise.”

“He won’t buy it. And you can’t be deemed unable to provide for her, because I imagine the naga is technically your retainer since you are a knight, and he will have to hunt to feed himself. The spare meat he does not use can be used to feed the griffin.”

“Then there better be more damn ways to break the engagement.”

“There is a Poneo and Pirouette Clause, surprisingly. If either party had a previous love interest in another pony, the engagement could be broken after a period of a year.” I sagged in relief, but she wasn’t finished. “IF… the romantic interest is still there. And the party that is ‘in love’ must stay together for another year before the engagement can be fully destroyed.”

I grinned wide. “Thank God. Kumani, you crazy dragon, you saved my ass again!”

She blinked. “Kumani? The dragon you slept with? What does she have to do with being in love with Luna?”

I snorted. “Fuck that crazy bitch. I ain’t dating no one that stabbed me in the fucking chest with a horn. I promised Kumani we’d see where things took us when we met again next year. Shouldn’t be that hard to get her to stick with me for a year.”

And it looks like I managed to surprise Celestia yet again. I think three times in one day is a new record for me. “Well. I never expected somepony to ever outmaneuver three long-term monarchs completely by accident. You win this round, Navarone. Now, wait here. I will go and get your griffin fiancée. Try to be civil. She didn’t seem that thrilled either.”

“Celestia, when am I ever anything other than the very image of a gentleman?” She just rolled her eyes and left the room.

I sighed and settled into the chair, dreading the meeting to come.

And when the griffin finally showed up, I couldn’t even pretend I was surprised. “Hello, Gilda.”

She did not look amused. “You! This is all your fault!”

I sighed and stood, walking over to the window. “In a way, I suppose it is,” I answered, pushing the window open and leaning back, letting my wings get some air. “However, it is not solely my fault. And,” I said, holding up a hand, “we have a way out.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Not we. I have a way out. No fiancé, no marriage.”

I had my sword up and out before she finished her pounce. I couldn’t use it, but she didn’t know that. “I suggest you calm down. My method does not involve the king getting angry that his original choice for a bride was killed by my hand. Do you want to listen, or do I have to pummel you into submission first?”

She was eyeing the blade warily. She took a moment before looking back up to me. “I’m listening.”

“Good. There is a clause in griffin law that allows a political engagement to dissolve if one of the lovers has another they would prefer to be with, and there was proof that there was a pre-existing relationship.”

“So? I haven’t been in a relationship in years.”

“I have, and I believe I can use that to get us out. There is a downside, though. The engagement has to last a year before it can be dissolved. So you feel free to go and do whatever the fuck you want to do. Just show up back in Ponyville in eleven months so we can make plans to get this damn thing dissolved when I meet with Kumani again.”

She grimaced. “It isn’t as easy as that. We have to share a home, at the very least. Sharing a bed is usually considered optional.”

I sighed, looking at the ceiling and just asking myself where things went so wrong. I was afraid to answer that and looked back at her a moment later, sheathing my sword. “Fine. My house is huge and it would be lonely anyway. It’s right on the edge of the Everfree. I’m okay with an open engagement if you are.”

“…Open engagement?”

“No rules about sex. We can fuck whoever we want. Back in my world, there was a such thing as an open relationship wherein couples would freely bang whoever they wanted to. It was an uncommon thing, but it happened. That is what I want to do. Actually… Fuck it, that’s what I’m going to do. Call it cheating if you want, I don’t care.”

“Wish I was born a human,” she muttered. “Alright, fine. That goes for me too, right?”

I shrugged. “Do what you want. As far as I’m concerned, we’re roommates, nothing more. And I would prefer that no one learn of this, if possible.”

“No feathers off my back. I don’t want it known I was forced to get engaged to a freak.”

“Ouch, my feelings. Why you, anyway? I thought you were just a noble’s daughter. I figured the king would try to use his blood to tie me.”

“I am his blood. I’m just a cousin, though. I’d never met the guy until he showed up at my dad’s place a week ago. Next thing I know, I’m getting dragged out of a tavern by royal guards and told I’m going to marry an Equestrian knight.” She grinned. “They had to pay a unicorn to heal me and several guards in the first pony town we passed through.”

Note to self: Don’t make Gilda get violent. “So are you sure you can live next to Ponyville for a year and be able to deal with the ponies? A lot of work went into that house and I’m not abandoning it just yet.”

“I’ll be fine, Nav. As long as I can take the occasional break from dealing with some of the more annoying ones, there should be no problem.” There better not be any fucking problems.

“Alright, good enough for me. You got any questions for me, while we’re trapped in here?”

“You aren’t going to try to pamper me, are you?” she asked after a moment.

“Why the fuck would I do that? You don’t pamper roommates, you tolerate them.”

She let out a breath of air. “Good. The king and my dad forced me to sit back and get… ugh, beautified when we got here.”

I actually took a second to look at her. The natural purple feathers under her eyes were accentuated with some kind of makeup. Her beak was much shinier than usual and her talons seemed sharper somehow. Her feathers looked a lot fluffier and shinier. Her cat parts were well groomed. The tuft of fur at the end of her tail was somehow pushed into a ball.

I felt myself slowly smirk as I saw all of those. She saw that and narrowed her eyes. “You see something funny?” she asked, her voice sharp.

“Nope, not a thing,” I answered, trying and failing to not giggle.

“Are you laughing at me?” It sounded more like a threat than a question.

“No, no, of course not, dear. I just remembered an old joke, is all. A joke about puffy tails.”

“That’s it!” Before I could react, she had pounced on me, knocking us both through the open window and into the garden. She had one of her talons raised to strike when it was stopped by a light blue aura. We both looked up, her glaring and me ready to thank someone. I saw an upside down Cadance staring at us.

“Nav, why is this griffin attacking you?”

Gilda snarled, “Because he’s acting like a jerk!”

Cadance’s horn glowed brighter and Gilda was pulled off me. I rolled over and Cadance stopped being upside down. “There are two sides to every story,” she answered. “Nav?”

“Cadance, meet Gilda. My new fiancée.” She blinked a few times, her gaze shifting between us a few times.

“I’m sorry, your what?”

“That was my exact reaction,” I answered, sitting up. “Blame politics. Long story short, we’re breaking the engagement as soon as we can.”

She was silent for a while. I almost thought she didn’t hear me. Finally, she said, “Who is forcing you two to be engaged?”

“Bloodbeak,” Gilda answered. “Nav here did something to piss him off and I’m getting punished for it.”

“You? I’m the one that’s getting saddled with a griffin that’s like as not to cut me to ribbons just because I said the wrong thing!”

Cadance interrupted us. “And if I have my way, this travesty will not happen at all. Marriage and engagements are supposed to signify love, not political contrivances! This cannot stand! Where is Celestia? She will help me convince Bloodbeak not to do this.”

Gilda and I shared a look that culminated in rolled eyes for the both of us. I looked back to Cadance. “You’re welcome to try, but that’s not how politics work. I don’t know where Celestia is, but if you can break this engagement, I’ll reconsider that threesome you asked for.”

She blushed very deeply at that. “That’s… not necessary. I took your advice to heart. It took some convincing, but I got him to try it and he loves it.”

“Not a mental image I needed in my mind, thanks,” I sighed. “But sure, go talk to Celestia if you can find her.” She nodded and walked off with a determined gait. When she was back in the palace proper, I turned to Gilda. “Sorry for laughing. Even you have to admit that your tail looks fucking silly as hell, though. I couldn’t help it.”

She lifted it up to her face and grimaced. “This is supposed to be a serious symbol of beauty among griffins. It is not supposed to be silly.” I reached out to squeeze it, but she jerked it back. “Don’t you dare!”

I yanked my hand back. “Fine, whatever. Don’t see what the big deal is, but whatever.”

She sighed and let it fall to the ground. “I forgot you don’t know much about us griffins. Our tails are considered private, something we only let our most trusted friends or lovers toy with.”

“Then yeah, I won’t fuck with it. Anything else I should avoid touching?”

She gave me a deadpan stare. “Only the obvious.”

“Hey, I’m just checking. Only rule I have is don’t fuck with my wings unless you’re interested in going all the way. So can we leave whenever we want?”

And now she’s looking away. That inspires confidence. “Not… quite. My parents want to meet you.”

I sighed. “I knew I should have brought my armor… Where are they?”

“Being lazy in their rooms, probably. There’s a reason I don’t spend much time at home.”

“Well, let’s get this thing over with. If I piss your dad off, he won’t try to attack me, right?”

She didn’t answer, just started walking the way Cadance went. I sighed and followed.

A few minutes later, we ended up in a part of the palace I don’t think I had ever been to before. I assumed it was the griffin guest quarters. She stopped in front of one room. “Before you meet him, I have to warn you… He doesn’t much like girls.”

I shrugged. “As long as he isn’t an asshole, I don’t care. I meet him once, he goes back to griffinland, I never see him again. Simple.”

“Right. Simple,” she muttered, pushing the door open. I followed her in. There were two older looking griffins chilling on couches, looking too comfortable. “Dad, mom, this is Navarone.”

I nodded at them. “Hi.”

The male sat up, looking at me. “So you’re the thing I sold my daughter to.” This isn’t going to end well.

“I’m the human, yes.”

“Well, you better treat her right. If she comes running back to me, the king is going to be rather displeased.”

I grinned. “Oh, you don’t need to worry about that. We’re going to be breaking the engagement as quickly as we can.”

He jumped up, rage in his eyes. “What?!”

I crossed my arms. “To my people, what you have done is one of the greatest evils. Selling your daughter to a man she doesn’t love… Well, let’s just say it’s good you aren’t in my world. Just because we aren’t, though, does not mean have to put up with it. I don’t love Gilda and I will not be forced to marry her, nor will I force her to marry me. I’ll accept the engagement because I have no choice, but you might as well get ready for the king’s anger, because this marriage won’t be happening.”

He jumped across the room and grabbed the front of my shirt with his talons, bringing my face close to his. “Listen here you hairless ape, you’re going to marry my daughter and you’re going to be happy about it! And when I demand your help with something, you will come to me as a son-in-law should!”

I narrowed my eyes. “I appreciate that you’re Gilda’s dad and an old man besides, but if you don’t take your goddamn talons off me, I will break you in half.”

He released me, backing away and quivering in anger. “Bah! Take my useless daughter, then. At least I’ll be rid of her for a year! She’s your problem until then, ape.”

“And the only reason she would even be considered problematic is because of her failure of a father. Come, Gilda. I don’t want to look at this filth anymore.”

I turned and saw that she had a very shocked look on her face. She quickly recovered and followed me as we left their room. She pulled the door shut and just stood there, looking at me.

“What?” I asked, after a moment.

“I’ve never seen anypony stand up to my father like that.”

I snorted as I started walking down the hall. “No one badmouths me or my friends.” After a moment, she started following me.

“But… he’s an old war hero. They say he’s killed hundreds of changelings!”

“Who says that? Him, or someone else?”

She was silent. “I… I think I’ve only ever heard him say it.”

I nodded. “Yep. That’s how men like him keep power. They lie about things they’ve done to impress and cow others. Stand up to them and they usually buckle. And since he’s related to the king, most people wouldn’t dare stand up to him anyway.” I shrugged. “I fear no Gods or kings, only man.” Well, I’m sometimes afraid of Celestia and Luna, but not because they’re princesses. “Now, can we leave this damn palace? I fucking hate Canterlot these days.”

“You don’t want to see if that taffy pony can help us?”

“…Taffy pony?”

“Yeah, that pink pony that said she would talk to the princess.”

“And you don’t even know her name?”

She shrugged. “If I had to guess, I’d say she looks like a Mary Sue. I don’t think that name is common with ponies, though.”

“Nah, her name’s Cadance. She’s pretty chill, if a bit stuffy at times. But I don’t think she’ll be able to help us. I’m pretty sure we’re stuck. We can certainly stick around if you want, but it’s probably best we get the hell out of this place before night falls.”

She looked over at me. “What happens at night?”

“The chances of us running into someone that will be very angry increase. Long story short, we don’t want to talk to Luna right now. In fact, I suggest you avoid her for as long as you can.”

“Why would she be—” She stopped. I looked at her to see she was even more surprised now. “Nav, are you shagging the princess?”

“Princesses, actually. Now come on, let’s find a balcony or something so we can fly back.”

She now had a reason to be in as much of a hurry as I did. She caught up to me and we walked until we found a window large enough for both of us to be able to fit through. After a moment taken to defenestrate ourselves, we flew off towards Ponyville.

We got back to my new pad just before sunset. “When was this place built?” she asked, looking at the walls that rose up around us.

“A few days ago. If I had known I was about to get engaged and we could have broken the engagement by me not owning property, I wouldn’t have had it built. Now come on, I still haven’t explored the entire place yet.”

I walked up to the doors and pushed them open. I saw two Pinkies grinning at me. I reached in and pulled the doors shut. That done, I leaned against the wall and slid down, thanking Chrysalis for having the stone smoothed down so it didn’t scratch my wings.

“What’s wrong?” Gilda asked.

“Look for yourself,” I sighed, gesturing weakly at the door.

She walked over and opened them. She closed them just as quickly as I did and joined me in sitting against the wall.

“And you wanna know the worst part?” I asked. She grunted. “There’s a party’s worth of ponies in there, just waiting for us to step inside.”

She jerked her head toward me. “What’s she celebrating? Does she… she couldn’t possibly know about… us.”

“This is a house-warming party. As long as she doesn’t find out about us, it’ll stay that way. I could see her turning it into a double party or something stupid like that.” I sighed, pushing myself to my feet. “We gotta get this over with eventually. Pinkie doesn’t need food or sleep when she’s in party mode, so she can stand there forever.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to test that before we give in?”

“Trust me, I’ve tested that extensively. Pinkie’s gonna Pinkie, like it or not.” I pushed the door open and walked in. “Doppel, I swear to God if you don’t turn back, Imma slap a bitch.”

Half of the Pinkies giggled. The other half didn’t move at all. “Silly Nav,” the moving Pinkie said. “That’s not Doppel!” She reached out and pushed the other Pinkie over, revealing that it was just a cardboard cutout. “Doppel’s tied up in the kitchen. She wouldn’t let me party, so I had to take care of her.”

My eyes widened and I quickly ran in the direction of what I was hoping was the kitchen. I think we passed it on the way to the cellar, but I was paying more attention to Chrysalis’s ass than I was to the house.

I burst into the right room to find Pinkie standing there. Someone flipped a light switch on and everyone shouted “Surprise!”

I blinked a few times, trying to figure out what the fuck just happened. Pinkie didn’t give me the time to figure it out and jumped up to me. “Did I get you? You’re usually soooo hard to surprise, so me and Doppel had to work extra hard!”

“Don’t pull that shit again,” I said by way of answer. “Now if we’re absolutely going to party, let’s move it out of the kitchen.”

There was a collective sigh of relief from the large group of ponies that had been crammed into my kitchen. I don’t know if that relief was from being able to get into a bigger area or if it was because I didn’t flip out. I realized during the Flankfurt thing that getting angry at Pinkie solves nothing. Flo wants it known that she told me so.

When I got back to the living room, I saw a nervous looking Pinkie staring at a confused looking Gilda. “So you’re not twins?” Gilda asked, looking at the Pinkie that just walked in with me.

“Nope!” the real Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing up to the fake Pinkie and wrapping an arm around her. “Doppel here’s a changeling!”

Gilda’s eyes narrowed. Doppel gulped. Oh shit, I didn’t even think about that. Griffins hate changelings, and I’m pretty sure the feeling was returned.

I stepped up. “We will deal with this later, Gilda,” I said. “Doppel, turn back.” She did so after a moment of hesitation. “My employees will have nothing to fear from my guests. Now, this is supposed to be a happy time, or something silly like that. Pinkie, you have free reign as long as you don’t break anything. Get everyone out by midnight. I have things to do, but I will attempt to join you all before you’re gone.”

She tried giving me the sad eyes, but I was immune to that by now. I looked to Doppel. “Show me where my room is.”

She extricated herself from Pinkie’s grasp and quickly walked to the stairs. I followed her up. I think Gilda tried to follow me, but was stopped by Pinkie. “Oooh, what did you do with your tail?” I heard Pinkie asking, making Gilda groan.

“So where’s your maid outfit, again?” I asked when we were on the second floor. She looked back and glared at me. I grinned back. She huffed and continued up the stairs, onto what was apparently the third floor. “Jesus, how big is this place?”

“There are four floors, three above ground and one underground.”

“Cool. I can get a full tour later. I’d prefer to get everything I need to do over with soon.” She led me to a room and pushed the door open. The bed was pretty massive, and had the changeling colors on it. I’ll be changing that. I stepped in and removed my weapons and set them on the bed. “Do I have an office or something?” I asked as I looked through chests and the closet and the bathroom.

“Yeah. It’s right next door, to the left.”

“Awesome.” I sat on the bed and looked at her. “Now, is Gilda going to be a problem with you? I can’t make either of you leave, so if she is going to be a problem, we need to get that sorted as quickly as possible.”

She sighed and looked down. “For the most part, changelings don’t hold personal grudges. I will be able to tolerate her as long as she is able to return the favor.”

“I’ll talk to her, then. And I suppose I’ll have to explain to everyone that’s living here what’s going on with that situation. That can come later, though. Do you think you can bring Twilight up to my office? I think she wanted to talk to me, and I’d rather do it there than at the party.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nav, I’m your slave. You don’t ask me to do things, you tell me to do them.”

“I am going to tell you this once: I do not own slaves. I have friends. As far as I’m concerned, you live here and keep up the place as payment being allowed to stay. If you don’t like that idea, then I’ll call you an employee and pay you. Either way, I will never let the title of slave owner be attached to my name. Now, are you going to get Twilight or not?”

She looked a little bit less depressed, at least. She went to go get Twilight. I stretched my wings before walking next door to my office. There was a very nice stone desk with a comfortable looking swivel chair behind it. A large window behind the desk gave a nice if distant view of Ponyville. An empty bookcase hid one wall and there was a closet on the other side. There was nothing else in the room. “Why do I even have an office? When am I ever going to use this?” I shrugged and sat in the chair. I quickly found out that it was able to lean back.

Twilight showed up to me juggling daggers, just to see if I could. She made a horrified sound and pulled them all away from me. “Hey, I was juggling those!”

“You’re going to hurt yourself!”

“I have to learn somehow. If I hurt myself, well, maybe that’ll teach me a lesson. Now, come in. I heard you wanted to talk.”

She sighed and set the daggers on the desk before pulling the door closed behind her. “This is a pretty nice house, Nav,” she said, walking up to the desk and looking around. “But it doesn’t really feel… homey.”

“I would imagine not. I’ve spent less than half an hour in it so far. I haven’t had a chance to explore most of it or set anything up. I imagine it’ll feel better soon enough.”

She sighed yet again. “Nav, the library feels so empty now. I know we haven’t exactly been getting along these past few months, but it feels wrong without you there.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Twilight, can you keep a secret?”

“I… I can try.”

I shook my head. “No, there is no try here. Either you tell me you can and you do or you tell me you can’t and I don’t tell you.”

She looked determined, at that. “I can,” she answered, nodding.

“I’m leaving in a year. There’s a good chance I won’t be coming back.” Her eyes widened. “I want to give you and a few others the feeling of me not being around that much, so it won’t be as much of a blow when I’m not around at all. Needless to say, this is a secret that you will keep to yourself. I’ll give you the same deal I gave Celestia and your brother: If I hear anyone knows about this, I will be gone the next day and the chances of me coming back decrease.”

“But… why?”

I leaned forward again. “Because there is no justice in this world for me. I was raped by two of the so-called elements of harmony and because they’re important, nothing will be done. I was raped by Luna, but because she’s the princess, she walks free. And as it turns out, Luna made everyone dream about me on purpose. Do you have any idea how humiliating that is, Twilight? Can you even imagine it? And she will never be punished. My reputation in Equestria is fucking tanked. Most of the mares in Canterlot think I’m nothing but a slut because my mind had all those spells on it at the wedding last year. Everyone, mares and stallions, dreamed about fucking me. And there is nothing at all I can do about it. Would you continue living here if you had to look forward to dealing with that? Fuck. That. Shit. The question isn’t why I’m leaving, it’s why I haven’t left sooner.”

She looked away somewhere near the start of that. When I finished, her ears were drooping low and her head was almost on the floor. “I’m so sorry, Nav…”

“I didn’t tell you this because I wanted pity, Twilight. I told you so you would understand my request. I am not leaving Taya here when I leave. But I do not know if I will be going anywhere dangerous. I want her to know how to protect herself. I don’t want her to know how to fight, though. I will not have her memories be of fighting and killing if we ever find a place to settle. I won’t always be around to protect her and I will not have something happen because I wasn’t able to get there in time. Can you do that?”

She looked a little less down now that I had given her something to help me with. “Shining Armor always was better at shields than me… But I can teach Taya enough so that she’ll be fine. She’s already frighteningly strong, but she still has some control issues. Are… are you sure you want to bring her?”

“I don’t want to, but I know she would find a way to follow me anyway. And I’m not going to abandon her again. So I’ll take her with me and make sure she stays out of as much of the action as possible, if there ever is any fighting.” Besides, if I leave her here, that just means Celestia and Luna will eventually try to use her to make me come back. “Now, enough of me. Has anything important happened while I was going?”

“Well… Rarity and Pinkie have both been really down about something, but neither will tell me what.” Three guesses as to what that is, and the first two don’t count. “I think Applejack wanted to talk to you. Something about the timberwolves. When I told her that you said they were intelligent, she mentioned something about her zap apples. And I’m sure Rainbow Dash is going to be interested in having Gilda back in town, though I have to admit to being curious as to why she’s here…”

So Applejack wanted to talk. Of Twilight’s main group of friends, I probably did the least amount of stuff with her. Oddly enough, she’s also the one that’s mistreated me the least. Maybe I should spend more time with her. “I can stop by the farm sometime soon, then. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of free time. Oh, and another thing: I have a naga living here now if you want to ask him questions. He might be willing to answer. I also have a changeling maid, if you want to ask her anything.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask about that… Why did you go to Chrysalis for your house?”

“Because I knew she would help me and she would get it to me for cheap. As it turned out, it was free. That means I have more money to save for when I leave. Which reminds me, I need to have my house inspected.”

She waved a hoof. “Pinkie took care of that already. She invited the building inspectors to the party and they looked it over while you were gone. You passed.”

Well, at least Pinkie’s good for something. “Awesome. You got any other questions while we’re up here, or do you want to go ahead and return to the party?”

“So… why is Gilda here? And why is the naga here?”

“Roommate and to teach me to use a sword.”

“Gilda’s your… roommate? I thought she had a home near Gryphus.”

“You’ve never met her dad. He’s an asshole. I offered her a place to stay when I saw how bad he was.”

“That was… nice of you.” She was silent for a moment. “You… you aren’t going to take advantage of her, are you?”

“How would that be taking advantage of her? I offered her a place to stay. She can leave if she wants. I’m sure Rainbow would be okay with taking her in, as long as Gilda was able to keep her bitchiness to an acceptable level.” I figured if I could trust anyone outside of the group that was living with me with the news I was engaged, it would be Twilight, but why tell her what she doesn’t need to know? “Now, if she does want to bump uglies, I’m not about to tell her no. Lord knows the bed I have is big enough for the two of us.”

She just shook her head, a small smile on her face. “You are simply incorrigible.”

I shrugged. “When you get to be my age—and gender—you’ll understand.” She rolled her eyes, the old joke not pissing her off as much anymore. “Now, you should get back to the party. I’m sure Pinkie has something with your name on it.”

“But what about you, Nav? This party is for you, after all. Your… new house warming party.”

“I’m Pinkied out. I just spent a week in very close proximity to her and I need a break. If she asks, make something up. She’ll understand.”

She looked back to the door for a second before turning back to me. “Just promise me one thing, Nav. Even though you have this nice house out here and a maid and a trainer and your… roommate, don’t forget about us. We’re your friends, Nav, and like it or not, you’re a part of Ponyville now. Don’t forget that.”

“Don’t you worry about that, Twilight. I might not be around as much, but I don’t think I’ll be disappearing entirely just yet.”

She stood there looking at me for a moment or two before slowly nodding and leaving. The door swung shut behind her.

I don’t know how long I was staring at it before it was pushed open by an annoyed looking Gilda. “You didn’t tell me there was a changeling here!” she said as she slammed the door shut behind her.

“You’re right, I didn’t. And there will not be any problems, either. Like it or not, you are both here to stay. If you don’t want to deal with her, ignore her. I already spoke with her about this. If you tolerate her, she will tolerate you. If you choose not to tolerate her, we’re going to have a problem. Speaking of that, I happen to be good friends with the changeling queen, as well. If she comes to visit, either be respectful or stay out of the way.”

She was quivering in rage. “Public enemy number one of the griffins, and you tell me to be RESPECTFUL?! How dare you!”

“Look, I don’t like this arrangement either. I will not say a word to anyone if you leave. But as long as you live in my house, you will respect my friends and my guests.”

“Or. What.”

I steepled my hands on the desk. “Do you know what it was that got you engaged to me?”

“You pissed the king off. What does that have to do with—”

“Have you ever heard of Hestra?” She blinked. “He is—was—a griffin noble. He was guilty of hiring an assassin to attempt to kill Cadance. Luna ordered me to capture him. I beat him so badly—in hand to hand combat—that I believe he had to be hospitalized when we got him to the jail cell. I am not above beating women, Gilda. If you cross me, you will come to very sorely regret it. Now, are we going to have a problem?”

She looked away. “No. But I don’t like it.”

“And neither do I. We can have hot, angry, hate sex to deal with it later. For now, just stay out of trouble and keep your head down. And I suppose if you need bits and whatever you need it for isn’t ridiculous, let me know and I can probably help.”

“I can take care of myself!”

“I’m giving you the option, not demanding you use it. You really need to stop taking things so negatively. Why would I be trying to piss you off if we’re going to be living together for the next year?”

She opened her beak wide, presumably to yell at me, but it clicked shut after a moment of silence. Eventually, she said, “I’m itching to get angry at something. This entire thing has put me in a bad mood.”

I nodded to the wall behind her. “The Everfree forest is right there. If you’re in a bad mood, go kill the shit out of something. Maybe if I have a refrigerator, we can store the meat. But wait until all the guests are gone before you bring any bodies in here.”

She looked a bit concerned when I said that. “The last guest left fifteen minutes ago. What have you been doing in here?”

I shrugged. “Thinking.” And listening to Flo sing. She has a very calming voice, like the ocean waves gently lapping at the shores after a storm. “It has been a hectic few weeks for me. Anyway, I suppose you need a place to sleep. I know the room to the right of this is mine. I don’t know about any of the others. I think the naga is sleeping in the cellar, but I’m not certain. You’re welcome to any of the rooms you want that haven’t been claimed.”

“I’ll look around and find one that doesn’t have anypony in it, then. I suppose I probably should go to bed…”

“If the guests are gone, it’s probably past midnight. Good night, Gilda.”

“Don’t know what’s so good about it,” she muttered, leaving my office.

“Well Nav,” Flo said, “you bagged yourself an interesting one.”

“Interesting. Right. If this is what interesting gets me, I think I’d prefer boring.”

“You should have taken a naga wife, then. Most of them are very submissive to their husbands.”

“Yeah, except for those that are rapists. With my luck, I would have found another one of those and she never would have let me go.” We were silent for a little while. “Tell me, Flo… Would you blame me if I swore off romantic relationships?”

“You can’t judge all women off a few bad encounters, Nav. I know you’ve had worse luck than just about anyone else, but there has to be someone out there for you.”

“No humans, no chance for children… Most of the mates I do find will die before my eyes. If I pick a dragon, she’ll grow and grow until she’s too big to be around anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I like Kumani, but I always saw that more as a fling. I don’t want to be with someone that’s three times my size. I’ve done some weird things, but I don’t want to add cave explorer to the list. And if she gets too attached, I might not be able to get away from her anyway.”

“Nav, you know I won’t let that happen. Well, assuming you are able to free me before it becomes an issue…” Ah, implied threats. How fun. “And you know I didn’t mean it like that. You know I care about you, Nav.”

“I don’t know anything, Flo. You live in my head and ask that I free you, but have offered little in return other than company. So far as I know, as soon as I break you out, you’ll stab me in the back. I’ll do it anyway because it will amuse me to see Celestia deal with the emergence of a massive power inside of her own country, but it’ll take more than your assurance to make me trust you. But I feel like we’ve had this discussion before. What do you think of Gilda? Is she safe?”

“She is obviously not safe, given that you already managed to enrage her to the point of attacking you once. However, I think she recognizes that it might be best to keep you placated. She is dangerous, but I don’t think she’ll make too much trouble. Just be careful with her. If you weren’t wearing your armor, she would probably be able to hurt you.”

“No surprise there… What about Doppel? I know she’s spying on me, but do you think there’s a way I can get her to not report what I’m actually doing? When I leave, I don’t want Chrysalis to know about it until it’s too late for her to get involved.”

“Work to earn her loyalty. I do not know how far a changeling can be subverted, but if one can, I believe it would be Doppel. You already have a good start with telling her that she is your friend. And if you can get her to go with you when you leave… Well, a changeling would be very useful, I believe.”

“True enough. I’ll see what I can do. She likes lust and I don’t have anyone else in my sights, so maybe I’ll toy with her.” I smirked. “Hah, first thing I do when I get a big house is start to fuck the maid. Man, what have I become?”

“It is okay to have needs and wants. Just be wary of Gilda, should you start sleeping with Doppel. It is one thing to have something you hate living with you. It is another when they start having sex with the one you are supposed to love. Even if she doesn’t care about you and even if she agreed to the open relationship you proposed, she might get jealous.”

I ruffled my feathers. “This sucks, Flo. I just wanted a nice long year to get all my affairs in Equestria in order before I left this place forever. I have more problems to deal with now than I did before I decided to leave. Am I ever going to catch a break?”

She sighed, and I felt something caress my face. “When we’re together again, I will help you with whatever you want me to. Until then, though, I will merely be able to offer advice.” Advice that I’ll probably continue to not take.

I sighed and checked the sides of my desk. They were empty and I didn’t have enough paper to continue writing.

I stood and walked over to my room. My plan was to go hunting. With that in mind, I grabbed my crossbow and quiver and went all the way to the ground floor. After a moment of thought, I went to the kitchen to figure out how much room I would have.

I didn’t notice it before, but my kitchen was huge. I nodded and went outside. Since I didn’t get much of a chance to look around the grounds before, I took a moment to do so now.

I had a stream going through the back of the property. I checked and saw that it went in and out through a grated cover. There was a gazebo behind the stream. There was a grill of some kind way away from the gazebo. Other than that, the place was bare.

I took my ring off and jumped over the wall as quickly as possible, slamming the ring back on my finger before Luna tried teleporting me.

 

I came out of the forest shortly before the sun came up. I had a few small creatures tied to my belt. Nothing that big, since I didn’t feel like dragging anything heavy out. I figured they could sate Gilda and the naga until they could start killing big things themselves. And if not, I really didn’t care. Taya could survive on the safe fruits and herbs I took from the forest until I could get to the market.

Flo sighed. “Nav, you have a maid now. You can send her and Taya both to the market.”

That’s a better idea than I had.

I got to the kitchen before anyone else was awake and looked around, lost. I forgot how to cook. I started poking around in cabinets and drawers. And I don’t have anything to cook with.

“I can help you with the first,” Flo said, “but not the second.”

I thought for a moment. “Well, how about a cookout for breakfast?”

She was silent for a moment. I like to think she was basking in my glorious idea. “Nav, that’s a terrible idea. You’d be better off giving Taya the money to get breakfast while she’s helping Doppel get groceries.”

Fine, just shoot down all of my great ideas. Man, the life of a bachelor with a female voice in his head is hard.

“Well, since you never even tried to take your dad up on the offer to teach you how to use a grill, I can’t help you with it. And grilling new animals that don’t even exist in your world is just a recipe for disaster. You’ll have to ask Gilda or the naga to teach you how, if either of them even know. They probably did the same thing you did: just cook right on a fire.”

Stupid women, always trying to make me be reasonable. I gave in to her demands, but only because she had the power to give me really bad headaches if she wanted to.

Anyway, I took the animals out back and gutted them to pass the time. I was pretty out of practice, but I did a decent enough job, I think. I knew Gilda would complain anyway, but she probably would have done that even if I had done a perfect job. I took the meat inside and threw it in the fridge before taking a shower and getting rid of the grime of hunting. The water pressure was insanely high, which was awesome. It took a little while to heat up, but that’s one of the dangers you have when you’re using experimental technology.

When I got out, everyone but Gilda was downstairs. The naga and Doppel were sharing details about their races. Taya was walking aimlessly around the house.

I found her playing with a light switch. “There’s something wrong with this house,” she said. “I… I don’t know what it is. But the library always had a vibrant feel about it, like there was something in the air. I feel nothing but dull echoes here.”

“That’s because this house isn’t powered by magic. Despite that, how do you feel about it?”

“It’s… empty. So large, but only us to live here… Daddy, why is there a griffin in our house?”

I sighed. “Long story short, she’s my temporary fiancée until we’re able to break the engagement. In a tyrannical monarchy, stuff like this happens. Just be glad I’m able to get out of it, or you’d already be calling her mommy.”

“Yeah, no. I know where my loyalties lie, and they’re not with a random griffin picked up off the street.”

Well that was harsh. “She’s actually a noble’s daughter. And again, that was really rude. Any other complaints?”

“There isn’t any food, other than some weird looking fruit and some scary stuff in the freezer.”

“The fruit is safe to eat. It’s from the forest. I was planning on giving you and Doppel some bits so you could go and get all the food and cooking stuff we would need.”

“Um. I don’t know anything about cooking?”

Well shit. “Can you put up with Pinkie for a few hours?” She grimaced, but nodded. “Alright, I’ll ask her to help you guys. I suppose you can get breakfast there, while we’re at a place that serves it. Then I can come back, get yelled at by Gilda, and start getting my ass kicked by the naga. That sound fun?”

“Not really…”

I patted her on the head. “Welcome to my life. I’ll go get some bits.” I started walking out of the room we were in, but stopped. “Do you know where the changelings stuck my cash?” She shook her head.

“Imma slap a bitch if they took any,” I muttered, trying to find the room where I could still faintly hear Doppel and the naga talking. It didn’t take me long to find them in the kitchen.

“Ah, human. Doppel here showed me how to use the… refrigerator. It seems you went hunting last night.” He was eating… raw meat.

“…Yeah, I did. Uh, are you sure that’s healthy?”

“We naga have hearty constitutions. This is a fine breakfast, if a bit tasteless. Given this house is new and unprepared, I expect little more.”

I nodded. “That’s why I’m here, actually. Doppel, where’s all my cash? You, me, and Taya are going into town and buying everything a kitchen needs to work. I suppose we’ll also get whatever else we might need. Since I suppose my training has to start today, I’ll probably come back when it looks like you two have it under control.”

“It should all be in the closet next to your room. Did you try looking in there?”

“So that’s what all those bags were. I figured they were clothes or something. In that case, get ready to go. If you think the ponies will be okay with you in that body, go in that body. Otherwise, pick a shape of a pony that lives nowhere near Ponyville.”

“They seemed okay last night…”

I shrugged. “Use your best judgment. Naga, I suggest avoiding high density areas. Ponies are skittish and you are freakishly huge. Again, I trust you to use your best judgment. I’ll try to build you something soon that will help you hunt in the forest.” I wasn’t joking about that ballista idea. “Until then, I can go with you whenever you want to hunt and shoot something while you drag it out.”

He grinned. “Do not worry about me, human. We are better hunters than you would think. Still, I would be interested in a weapon that allows me to kill from afar. There is no honor in it, but when you are hungry, honor matters less.”

“Then I’ll try to get some tools and materials when I can.” And if I do end up hiring the airship, I can outfit that fucker with some kickass weapons.

I got out of the kitchen before I could be asked any more questions and went up to my room. I pulled a small empty bag out of my rucksack and filled it full of bits from one of the larger bags in my closet. That done, I went down to the foyer, where I found Doppel and Taya staring somewhat dubiously at each other.

I carefully balanced the bag of bits on top of Taya’s head, because it amused me. “Doppel, I know you feed on love and lust and thus you’ll probably attempt to steal a stallion or something. I am okay with that, but remember one thing: If he tells you he’s married, that is not a challenge. Marriage is generally respected here, so keep that in mind.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nav, I am a professional. Married stallions are more trouble than they’re worth. Now, can we get this over with?”

I shrugged and pulled the bits off Taya’s head. It looked like she was getting annoyed anyway. We left the house and stepped into the yard. I saw Applejack and Fluttershy adding their hoof prints to the road that was probably going to eventually be formed between my house and town.

We met them just on the other side of the wall. “Howdy there, you three,” AJ called, seeming more pleased than necessary. Fluttershy added her own quiet hello that I barely heard.

“What brings you two by?” I asked. Twilight said Applejack wanted to talk, but I don’t remember her mentioning Fluttershy wanting to as well.

“I was hoping you could help me with a problem,” Applejack said.

Fluttershy looked behind us to my house and said, “I… I just wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Hmm…” I scratched at the hair that was growing in on my face. “AJ, you scratch my back, I scratch yours. If you can take these two into town and help them get all the kitchen stuff I’ll need, I’ll help you with whatever you need. That’ll give me a chance to talk to Fluttershy and start my training. We can talk about what you need when you get back.”

She lifted a hoof to her chin. “So when during that are you going to scratch my back? Rainbow says you’re really good at that.”

I blinked a few times before it clicked. “When you’re telling me what you want, I guess. I also give free belly rubs, if you’re interested. Deal?”

She shrugged. “Seems fair to me. Deal.”

I nodded. “Awesome.” I put the bits back on Taya’s head. “Buy what you need. Teleport what you buy back. We can sort it out later. If it’s something made of glass, try to make sure it doesn’t end up too high when it’s teleported. I’ll see you three when you get back.”

Taya wasted little time removing the bits from her head. She floated them to her back instead.

I turned to Fluttershy. “Now my dear, come into my lair,” I said, waving my arm toward the gate and smiling. Normally she was a little braver around me, but she actually shivered before stepping through the gates. I followed her. I wish I could have timed it so that the gates closed behind us, but not even I was that good.

“So what did you want to talk about?” I asked when I had caught up to her.

“Um… A few things, if you have the time. First, even if you made an effort to hide it, I couldn’t help but notice you had a griffin and a naga living with you. And… both of them eat meat…”

“An astute observation. I can’t promise not to hurt your animals, Fluttershy. I swear I wouldn’t do it on purpose, but I have no way of recognizing which are yours and which aren’t. And I can’t control Gilda or the naga.” Well, I might be able to control Gilda, but I wouldn’t want to try.

“I’m not worried about that, Nav. Everypony has to eat, after all. It’s just… your house is awfully close to mine, and my house is a well-known sanctuary…”

Ohhh… She didn’t want me to let the naga and Gilda ruin her image as a safe-keeper of animals by setting up traps or hunting the animals that frequently come to her place. “I will… try to make sure the two of them stay away from your shack and to only hunt closer to the orchard rather than your house. For your part, tell your larger animals to try to stay away from there. I don’t think the naga or Gilda would waste too much time hunting down rabbits or squirrels. Manticores and the like are better targets. And fair warning about Gilda: She is not at all pleased about having to stay with me, so try to avoid her for a few days or at the very least not mention me.”

“Everypony is helpless sometimes, Nav. Maybe you should remind her of that.”

“I prefer my blood inside my body, thank you. Now, what else did you want to talk about?”

I should probably point out that by this time we were in my den. She was seated upon a couch and I was in an armchair, hating my wings. She was watching them twitch behind me. She rolled her eyes at my discomfort. “I was going to say something else, but this has been bothering me for years. Nav, lay on the floor.”

I shrugged and slid off the chair onto the mostly clean floor. I heard her walking over to me until she was straddling my body. Her hooves somehow grabbed my wings and pulled them taut. “Now, this might be uncomfortable,” she warned, before tracing the back of my wings from the tip to the base. I shivered and tried to keep myself from getting aroused. After a few moments of toying around, she pulled one tight and pushed in on a random spot. I flinched before I realized that I felt no pain. I turned my head around and saw that the wing somehow folded along what was apparently a joint I never noticed.

“How in the fuck…” She shushed me and continued running her hoof along the unfolded part of the wing until she found another joint and pushed that one in too. My wing was folded against my body in a way that I imagined would be considerably less uncomfortable. I probably couldn’t lie on my back for too long, but sitting in a chair wouldn’t be a pain in the ass anymore. I was just gaping.

She reached over to the other wing and repeated the process. “There. I can’t believe you didn’t come to me for this sooner, Nav.”

“What did you just do?”

She giggled and walked back over to the couch. “Nav, I deal with birds all the time. I’m used to finding hurt areas in broken wings. Those joints were unused for so long that they’ll probably be weak, but your wings should be much more comfortable now.”

…Well shit. “Why didn’t you point this out sooner?”

“I thought you would come to me! I never imagined you would put up with it for so long. Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t discover them yourself.”

I pushed myself off the floor, still surprised. “I wasn’t born with these. You were one of the ones that had to help me learn how to even move them. Of course I don’t know where all the joints are. I don’t know how to move them or how to fold them because I didn’t have anyone to watch while I was growing up. I always thought what I was doing was the best that could be done, so I never bothered trying to improve it.” Which was silly, now that I think about it. There were some nights that I woke up from a bad turn and was just tempted to cut the fuckers off. “But thanks, Fluttershy. Hopefully I can remember how to do that again. I would offer to kiss you for that, but I already know you would turn me down. Now, what else did you want to talk about?” I sat back in the chair, finally able to comfortably lean back. It felt ridiculously good.

She muttered something that I didn’t catch and I swear I saw a blush, but I didn’t comment. After she had her little moment, she looked around the room before turning back to me. “Nav, this house is very large. And honestly, something seems… missing.”

I nodded. “Taya said the same thing. I didn’t expect you to be able to feel it, though. I thought it was more of a unicorn thing. There’s no magic operating here.”

She blinked a few times. “That’s… not what I meant. I mean, it seems empty empty.”

“Well, yeah. It was just built. Chrysalis was kind enough to give us some basic furniture, but we don’t have any knickknacks yet. I’m starting with the necessities like kitchen stuff, but we might get more later.”

She sighed. “Let me try it again. Doesn’t it seem lonely here?”

I blinked a few times. “Miss Fluttershy, are you flirting with me?”

She jerked back, blushing. “N-no!”

“Well geez, you don’t have to be so rude about it.” She lowered her head to her hooves, squeezing her eyes shut and making a funny whimpering noise. I burst out laughing. “Fluttershy, I’m just yanking your tail. I do, however, want to know what you mean.”

She took a few moments to recover from her embarrassment. When she was able to look up—still with a blush on her face, of course—she said, “D-do you w-w-want a pet?”

“Oh, that’s what you meant. I already have a kid, Fluttershy. I don’t need another one. I don’t think Taya cares about having a pet either. I don’t trust Doppel or Gilda to keep something alive. What the naga does is his own problem.”

“You don’t have any goats, Nav. And pets are so much fun! You can play with them and cuddle them and you can ride on the bigger ones! Just think of all the fun things you can do!”

“…I’ll pass. I’m going to have a hard enough time making sure Taya is fed to have to worry about something that can’t tell me it’s hungry.”

“Oh, but animals can tell you if they’re hungry! You just have to know what to look for and what to listen for! Like, when a yellow-spotted prairie mouse is hungry, it does—”

“Please stop talking.” She froze. “Thank you. Now, I appreciate that you tried to pawn one of your little critters off on me—after all, I’m sure from an outward appearance I look lonely—” And fuck if that isn’t true—“but I’m not interested. I already have enough problems to worry about without adding a creature that I don’t know how to take care of.” She opened her mouth again. “And yes, I know I could learn how.” Her mouth dropped shut. “Knowing my luck, I’d end up pissing Gilda off and she’d eat the fucker just to spite me. I made a deal and I can’t kick her out for a year, so there isn’t much I could do to her other than yell at her and psychologically torture her. She’s not as much of a bitch as she was, but she’s really pissed. I don’t want to risk it.”

“But you’re willing to trust her around Taya? What if Gilda hurts her?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Then they would never find the body.” Her eyes widened and her ears dropped. “But that won’t be happening. She should get over her anger quickly enough. Now, how have you been, Fluttershy? We haven’t spent much time together recently.”

She spent a moment to get over the horror I inflicted upon her—she gets faster and faster every time we talk. When she was better, she said. “I’ve been… okay, I guess.”

“Only okay? Something been bothering you recently?”

“Well, I just spend so much time with my animals that it feels like everypony is leaving me behind sometimes. It gets… lonely. Animals are so much fun to be with, but sometimes I just want to talk to somepony that can talk back.”

“Nothing’s stopping you from taking time off. Your animals will understand. And you should talk to your friends about it and ask them to make more of an effort to include you.”

“Nav, I am talking to a friend about it.”

I flinched internally at that. “I meant one of your pony friends. If I didn’t terrify you so much, I would offer to do more with you. As it is, I seem to scare you every time we talk. And you know that I’m not really good with animals. Well, those that can see me. I don’t even know why you offered me a pet when most of them wouldn’t even know I was there.”

“Nav, you know I find you more calming than I do scary. You just… have a few rough edges that need to be worked out.”

Don’t I know it. “Yeah… But I know your friends aren’t leaving you completely out of the loop. Did you guys do anything fun recently?”

We spent some time swapping tales before a grumpy Gilda hobbled down the stairs. “These things were not made for griffins,” she muttered before glaring at me. “So I found out that this whole thing wasn’t a bad dream. You make breakfast yet?”

“I didn’t make it at all. There is no food in the house yet. That situation is being remedied as we speak. Until then, you’re going to have to put up with being hungry or go find something yourself.”

Her eyes jerked to Fluttershy, who flinched slightly. I knew that if Fluttershy wasn’t here, I would be getting yelled at or attacked. Gilda’s eyes moved back to me. “Fine.”

She moved toward the door. I said, “Just stay to the side of the forest closer to the orchard, if possible. The other side has more of Fluttershy’s animals, and we don’t want any of them to get hurt.”

She didn’t answer, which might have been a good thing. One slammed door later and Fluttershy and I were alone again.

“Welcome to my life for the next week or two,” I said.

“Why… why is she acting like that?”

“Her father’s a right proper prick that basically told her not to come back. She didn’t take it well. If you see Rainbow, ask her to try to get Gilda out of her bad mood. I don’t want any property damage on the house that I just got.” Which reminded me to look into insurance.

“If you think Rainbow Dash could get her out of her bad mood, why doesn’t she just live with Dash?”

Well shit, she got me there. I waved a hand. “It’s a long story, Fluttershy. One you don’t need to worry about. Needless to say, Gilda is stuck here for a while. I don’t like it, she doesn’t like it, but that’s the way it is.”

“We have time. I want to hear the story.”

“Fluttershy, I don’t know how things work in Ponyland. But where I come from, when someone says that something is a ‘long story,’ it means that they don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh… okay. Nav, can I—”

The door pushed open and in walked a very unhappy looking Doppel. She walked past us both and into the kitchen, grumbling very unhappily. She didn’t even look up at us.

When she was out of eyesight, we shrugged and Fluttershy tried again, only to be interrupted by Applejack’s “We’re back!” Fluttershy just sighed as AJ kicked the door shut. “Well, the two of us at least. Taya stopped by Twilight’s place.” She got into the den with us and cast a suspicious look around before eyeing me and quietly saying, “I don’t like that changeling, Nav. She tried flirting with Big Mac!”

“…Was it working?” I asked.

“Yes! Well, it was until I stepped in. I nipped that in the bud and made sure she knows not to mess with any of my family.”

No comment. “So did you find everything you needed?”

“Yep!” She reached back and pulled my bag of bits from… somewhere. “Here’s what’s left.” She tossed it to me. I quickly put it down on the side of the chair, not knowing where it had been. I knew she wouldn’t cheat me, so I wasn’t worried about that. “Now, about our deal…”

I hopped up. “Yeah, yeah.” I walked over to another one of the couches and sat down, patting my lap. “Come on over. It’s easiest if you’re on my lap.”

“Wait, you were serious about the back scratch? Hot diggedy!” She leapt up at me and quickly situated herself across my lap. I pulled her hat off and set it on the arm of the couch and started scratching her back. After a minute or two, when I had her legs kicking really good, I saw Fluttershy casting the occasional look at my hands and Applejack’s face before biting her lower lip.

“Fluttershy, I have a spare hand.”

“But… but you and Applejack…”

“That wasn’t a question, Fluttershy. Get over here.”

“…Okay.”

Soon enough, I had two ponies sighing in pleasure as I scratched at their ears, head, neck, back, and really just about anything else I could reach without getting in trouble.

“So what was it you needed me to do, AJ?” I asked as I continued my evil work.

“Move your hand a little to the left,” she moaned. I did so. “Oooh yeah…”

I wasn’t really expecting to get much out of her in that state, but it was amusing to see the normally reserved Applejack like that. I kept going for a few minutes before slowly petering out.

She sighed in disappointment when my hand stopped moving. I was still petting Fluttershy, since I didn’t need information from her.

“Why’d you have to stop?” Applejack asked.

“Because I still need to know what it is you want me to do. You didn’t seem very coherent when I was scratching your back.”

She sighed and hopped down, grabbing her hat and walking to another couch. “Well, you know how you said the timberwolves could talk?” She looked over and blinked when she saw that Fluttershy had quickly taken the spot on my lap that she vacated. “Now I know I didn’t look that silly…” Fluttershy had a very contented look on her face. Applejack shook her head quickly. “Anyway, I want to know if you can talk to the timberwolves for me and ask them why they’re so attracted to the zap apples. If we can get them to not attack the farm every time the apples bloom, it sure would save Granny a lot of worry.”

“I suppose I can try to find a few packs and ask them. I’ll start tonight, since I don’t have anything better to do. I have no idea how long it’ll take me to find a group, though.”

“Take all the time you need, Nav. Their attacks don’t go nowhere, but they sure do cause Granny Smith some strife.”

Psh, that old bag was sure to die any day now anyway. But it would still give the rest of the Apple family some comfort to know why the timberwolves did it. I nodded. “I’ll get it done when I can. I don’t suppose you want a belly rub?”

Her eyes lit up before she turned away, blushing. “I wouldn’t want to take up any of your time…”

“Chillax. If you don’t want one, just say no.”

“Well it’s not that I don’t…” I patted the spot next to me on the couch. “Well, shucks. Why not?” She walked back over and hopped up, presenting her tummy.

I set my hand on it and said, “A warning: Effects of my belly rubs are random, and have reported to be ticklish, joyful, sexually pleasing, fun, and a recipe for disaster and a good night.” Before she could comment, I began rubbing. Her open mouth became a gasp and her eyes took on a dreamy state. She was humming quietly as I continued rubbing it and petting Fluttershy.

We were interrupted a few minutes into it by an unhappy Doppel. “All of your stuff is put away, sir,” she forced out with as much sarcasm and anger as she could.

Applejack jerked herself out of her reverie at Doppel’s voice and pushed my hand away, blushing. She rolled off the couch and said, “I uh… I just remembered that I promised to hang out with Pinkie today! See y’all later!” With that, she bolted to the door, tail as low as she could get it. The door slammed behind her.

Doppel watched her retreating form with confusion. “What was that about?”

I shrugged, stopping my assault on Fluttershy, who sighed. “Applejack’s a pretty silly pony,” I said. “Maybe she was just really in a hurry.”

Fluttershy gasped when I said that, and looked up at the really fancy clock on the mantle of the fireplace. “I have to go feed my animals!” She jumped down to the floor. “Thanks for the talk, Nav. It was… nice.”

“Any time, Fluttershy. Ain’t no reason for you to feel left out while I’m around.”

She smiled at that. “I guess not. I’ll see you both later.” And with that, Fluttershy joined Applejack in leaving.

Doppel turned to me, smirking. “Talk, huh?”

“Yes, talk. Fluttershy isn’t that kind of mare. You, though…” I looked her up and down. “If you’re looking for a good time, I’m down.”

She sniffed. “I am not interested in the queen’s hoof-me-downs.” Ouch. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have plenty of sulking to catch up on.” I rolled my eyes and grabbed her as she walked past, picking her struggling form up and putting her on my lap. “You put me down this instant!”

I didn’t put her down that instant. Instead, I began petting her. I knew it wouldn’t have as much effect since she had a carapace, but she enjoyed it before, so I figured she could get into it this time. She stopped struggling when she realized that she wasn’t getting anywhere, and instead just laid there and took it. After a few minutes I said, “Don’t you feel better now?”

She turned her head around and showed me an exaggeratedly unhappy face with glaring eyes.

“Look, I’m not going to have you pissed off. I already have Gilda pissed at me and I’m not going to deal with two of you. What will it take for you to stop being so pissed?”

She dropped her unhappy face and fell back onto the couch. “Nav, it’s not you. I just don’t want to be here. I didn’t do anything to deserve being made a… a maid. I went from being the queen’s personal assistant to a lowly maid… And I’m so far from the hive, so far from my own species. It’s lonely.”

I patted her on the back. “Doppel, you’re talking to the person with the second most experience with being lonely on the planet.” Not counting the elementals. “I am the only human in existence. You may feel alone, but you aren’t. There are three changelings in town. I’m sure you know who they are. And there is a hive near here. And you are still the queen’s assistant, because you’re reporting my every action and deed to her. Consider yourself her spy, not my maid. Or if you still don’t like that, consider yourself my assistant.”

She sighed. “I will try. I don’t like it at all, but I know it isn’t the fault of anypony here. Now can you please put me down?” I stopped holding her and she jumped down. “I suppose I can find something to do that isn’t sulk…”

“There’s a library in town. I’m sure if you’re a spy, you know how to read.”

“A library… I never spent much time reading before. Do you think they would let me check books out?”

“Probably. But I imagine that you’ll have to answer a few questions. If you’re interested, it’s the giant tree in town.”

She nodded. “I’ll go check it out. It’ll be better than lounging about the house all day…” She fluttered her wings. “And it’ll give me a chance to exercise.” And with that, I managed to get all the chicks out of my house.

I went to go find the naga. I wasn’t really in a hurry to get my ass kicked in sparring, but I knew I had to learn somehow.

I very quickly learned that learning is painful. God, is it ever.

 

 

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