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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49. Chapter Thirty-Eight—The Equalizer

The next morning, I left bright and early, carrying my battered falchion strapped across my back and my crossbow slung over my shoulder. I had my bolts in a quiver tied about my waist, for easy access. I had a few straps of throwing knives strung across my chest. Full water skins slapped against me occasionally as I took a heavier step than usual. I didn’t carry any food, the axe, or the armor. The axe would be pointless, food would be dead weight, and I honestly didn’t think I would need the armor.

The few ponies that were out and about gave me wide berths, until I ran into Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, who fell into step beside me.

Rainbow Dash said, “So Nav, I’ve been thinking—”

“That’s a nice change,” I broke in. Pinkie Pie giggled and Rainbow Dash glared at me.

“As I was TRYING to say,” she continued, “don’t you think it might be good fun if we had a little competition of sorts?”

“Of sorts? And what kind of ‘sorts’ would those be?”

“Oh, you know… Running, wrestling, a few other minor physical things.”

Pinkie Pie nodded, jumping in. “We can do dancing, too! And we can hold a big party at the same time! It’ll be so much fun, Nav!”

“Uh huh. I thought there was already a running competition held in autumn.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t have any of those other things!” Rainbow Dash answered.

“I see. And tell me, did you have anyone in mind for some of these competitions?”

“Weeellll,” Rainbow Dash began, but Pinkie Pie broke her off.

“We know you can’t really run as fast as any pony, Nav, so we were thinking you could compete in something else instead. And since all of us have been getting in a lot of dance practice, it wouldn’t really be fair to the rest of the town if we were to compete there.”

Rainbow Dash butted in again. “We were thinking you could, you know, wrestle! I mean, you’re built well enough for it, after all. I think you’d be able to give anypony a run for her money!”

“Do you, now?” They both nodded. “Tell me, do you see any potential downsides to your plan?” They shook their heads. “Then you aren’t doing enough thinking.” They looked at each other. “What happens if I lose?”

“Nothing!” Pinkie Pie said. “It’s all in good fun, after all.”

“Yep, you didn’t think it through… If I am to be a knight, I can’t go around losing fights against ponies. What kind of knight can’t beat the people he’s trying to protect?”

“But if the ponies see that somepony is able to beat even the big, strong human, they’ll grow more confident in their own abilities!” Rainbow Dash tried.

“Possibly, yes. Some probably would. And tell me, what happens if I win?”

“They all know you’re much better than ponies at wrestling?” Pinkie Pie guessed.

“Well, yes. But it will also remind them that they aren’t very good at fighting. Most ponies aren’t. If I am able to beat their best, what will the rest think about their own worth? And a lot of the threats out there look a lot more dangerous than I do, so if anything does happen and we end up fighting anything, the ponies will remember how they lost to something like me.” They looked at each other. “Do you really think I’m that stupid?” I asked.

Pinkie Pie sighed. Rainbow Dash finally asked, “So what would it take to get you to wrestle Applejack?”

“Do you know where she is right now?” I asked.

“Probably at the farm. Why?”

I changed my direction. It wasn’t much of a detour, and I should have weeks to explore the forest anyway. They followed along with my change of direction. We were a little ways outside of town now, and they had yet to even think to ask where I was originally headed.

“But you told me no yesterday!” Pinkie Pie accused.

“And look where we are today. You don’t know how to accept the word no, at least not when it comes from my lips. Maybe your mind will change when it comes from Applejack’s lips.”

They tried hiding smiles, but it didn’t work. I just shook my head and kept going.

They kept up their discussion about possible fun things to get the town to do. None of what they discussed sounded all that fun to me, but I guess that’s what I get for being a human. Or being a guy.

It didn’t take us that long to get to Applejack’s farm. We caught her and Big Macintosh heading into the fields. It was, as I said, rather early.

“What are y’all doing out here?” Applejack asked.

“They want you and me to wrestle,” I answered

“Uh. Why?”

“Ask Pinkie Pie,” I responded.

Pinkie Pie replied, “Ask Rainbow Dash.”

Who passed the buck back to me, with “Ask Nav.”

Big MacIntosh was staring at the group of us with his gentle amusement. Applejack turned her confused eyes back to me. “Fine, I’ll tell her the fucking truth.” Before Pinkie could try to stop me, I did just that, including Pinkie Pie’s mention of how cute it would be to watch Applejack get beaten like that.

So Pinkie got to be doubly embarrassed, once for everyone learning she lost the original fight and once for the reasoning behind why she wanted to see us wrestle.

I concluded with, “I don’t know why Rainbow Dash wants us to wrestle. But they wouldn’t take my no for an answer. I was hoping they would listen to yours.”

She turned her eyes to Pinkie Pie and said, “That’s kinda creepy.” She then shifted her gaze back to me. “I think I know why Rainbow Dash wants us to wrestle. But I’m going to have to agree with you on this one, Nav. She’ll just have to fight her own battles…” she finished with a toothy grin at Rainbow Dash, who audibly gulped.

“Good,” I said with a nod. I adjusted the crossbow. “If there’s nothing else you need, I’ve business for the princess to attend to.”

“I was wondering why you had so much stuff on you. Good luck in the Everfree. And I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Applejack said. “If you need any help, you know where I am. Now c’mere, you two!” She grabbed Rainbow Dash’s tail with her teeth and tried to get Pinkie Pie, who rushed to my side.

“I think Nav needs my help with something! Don’t you, Nav?”

I snorted and started walking. She quickly fell into step beside me, doing her best to look official. I heard Applejack dragging Rainbow Dash away. When we got out of earshot to the others, she asked, “So why are we going to the Everfree, again?”

We aren’t. We are going to the edge of the forest. I am going in the forest. You are going wherever it is you go during the day when I’m not around.”

“How can I help you if I stop following you when you get to the dangerous part?”

“By not being in my way if I need to actually fight something. And you aren’t here to help me. You’re here because I’m helping you escape whatever fate Applejack had planned for you. And no,” I said to the look on her face, “I don’t want to know what she had planned.”

“Why can’t I come?”

“Because I’m going to be in there for over a week, probably. I didn’t bring any food at all, and we don’t know what in there is safe to eat. I’m not going to be stopping at night and I don’t want to babysit you while you sleep. And if anything does go wrong, I have at least one guardian angel looking out for me, to bring me to safety. You don’t.”

“You’re no fun sometimes. So why are you going in there anyway?”

“To explore, see what I can find. I know there are some ruins in there, and Luna wants as many of them found and explored as possible. God knows why, but I’ve learned it’s safer to just say ‘Yes Princess’ and hope you survive.”

“They really scare you, don’t they?”

“They have absolute power over me. If either one deems me a threat, no one will question them if I disappear. If either makes a few ponies disappear, some questions might be asked. The human, though? Who knows what he’s capable of.”

“Neither princess would do that, though… Would they?”

“They haven’t yet. And I’m hoping they won’t. But we’re here, and this is where we part.”

She stopped at the edge of the foreboding forest. I kept going. Before I got too far, she called, “Are you sure about this, Nav?”

Without turning, I yelled back, “Nope.” She was the last pony I saw for a while.

 

I won’t relate the three weeks I spent in the forest, discovering all manner of new plants and animals. I won’t relate the number of close calls with animals that didn’t know what I was that almost erred on the side of caution in trying to eat me. I won’t relate the effects a few plants had on me when I barely brushed by them—nothing permanent, thank God, and nothing major due to my… condition, but annoying nonetheless.

I will say, though, that watching the sun rise over a massive expanse of trees, perched on the tallest branches of the biggest tree in the entire forest, was a sight I’ll probably never forget. I will say that three weeks is entirely too long to spend alone, awake, with nothing but the hope of something new to break the monotony. And I will say that when I finally found something interesting, it almost killed me.

It was near the end of the third week. I was so bored out of my mind that I had been taking potshots at animals with my crossbow for a few hours before I actually stumbled into the ruins. Literally, I mean: One second I was walking in a clearing, the next thing I knew I was several feet underground, with sunlight pouring into a small hole in the ceiling.

I tenderly picked myself off the floor, feeling for damage, and then looked around me. “Well well, what have we here?” I had taken to talking to myself almost from day one. An old habit, one that was hardly helpful. In this case, though, it proved its use: As soon as I spoke up, some manner of lights went on all over the place I was in.

Holy fuck. “Twilight, I hope you’re paying attention.” I was at the top of a massive, steep staircase leading deep into the earth. Blue flames lit the way down, and I couldn’t even see the end of it. The entire thing was littered with cobwebs, but the flames were making short work of them. I saw flares from burning web going as far as my eye could see, and an acrid stench started making its way to me. I tried turning to look behind me to see if I could escape the stench before it got worse, and saw behind me some manner of inscription. Looking at it made my head hurt, so I quickly averted my gaze.

I looked back down. “Welp, I’m not about to climb that.” I stretched my wings. Just the right size. Good. I backed up as close to the back wall with the horrid inscription as I could get. With my wings brushing against the wall, I ran forward and jumped head first down the stairs, gliding deep, deep into the ground.

I pulled out of the glide as soon as I saw the ground becoming some manner of flat and did my best to rub the pain out of my eyes. Gliding through smoke like that is a bitch. I’m kind of lucky I even saw the ground. I readied my crossbow and tenderly pushed forward, trying to see if there was anything moving down there.

I didn’t see anything. When I reached the flat ground, I saw that the hallway ended a few feet on, with nothing else in sight. Suddenly, I heard a booming voice, seeming to dig into my mind, “Who goes there?”

I answered aloud, “Navarone, a human explorer.”

“Who do you side with?”

“Whoever holds my leash. That is currently Princess Celestia.”

“Celestia…” the voice whispered, disturbingly reverent. Louder, it continued, “Do you seek your freedom, Navarone?”

“If it is my lot in life to be an eternal servant, well, I suppose someone has to do it. If I can be useful, does it matter how?” A chuckle answered me, and suddenly the walls all around me disappeared, or were perhaps pushed back several meters. Around the new walls were lined a series of marble altars, each bearing an item. The stairs behind me disappeared. “Pick an altar, and approach.” I approached the left-most altar first.

On it stood a picture of my family. My family… They were as I left them. It was a picture I well-remembered, and it was one that I was supposed to be in. My spot in the photo was empty, and looking at it filled my stomach with a pit of sorrow. The faces on the portrait slowly went from their normal amused looks to looks of grief and loss, and then back again. The voice in my head opened up again, “Would you go back, if you could? Go back to your real life? Wake up from your nap, to find it was all a dream? No wings, no eternal life, no talking ponies? Would you give all of this up for a normal life?”

I don’t know how long I stood looking at that picture, before I achingly tore my eyes away from it and woodenly forced my way to the next display.

On this altar stood a pair of stones, one blue and one pink. The voice didn’t say anything. I tenderly reached out a finger and touched the blue one. Nothing happened. I shifted my hand to the pink one.

There was a sudden fierce pain in my chest and crotch. I cried out, clutching both areas. Dimly, I noted that my cry was a lot higher than it was supposed to be. The pain only lasted a few seconds, but it was intense while it did. When it was over, I had a massive coughing fit, and ended up knelt down on the floor. I saw more than a little blood on the ground when it subsided.

I felt the afflicted areas and noticed that I was considerably more female than I had been before. There was more giggling in my head. I tried to force myself to my feet. I couldn’t make it all the way, and instead tried running my hands along the altar to find the blue stone. I knocked them both on the floor in my frenzied pawing, but that was thankfully enough to revert whatever the hell the pink stone had done to me.

When the change was done, I took a few careful swigs from one of my nearly empty water bottles, trying to get the taste of blood out of my mouth. I saw the two stones on the floor and shuddered slightly. I felt around my pockets for my gloves and slipped them on, then returned the stones to the pedestal. Thankfully, I suffered no ill effects, and I learned quite a bit of caution.

I kept the gloves on and gingerly stepped to the next pedestal. On it stood an exact duplicate of the lighter I had when I got to Equestria. “What does this one do?” I asked, hoping the voice would answer.

“A flame that never needs recharging. Limitless fire.”

“That could mean a few things. Does the fire it set burn eternally as well? Or does the fire go out just as easily as it would from a normal lighter?”

A candle materialized next to the lighter. I slowly picked up the zippo and flicked it open. I forgot how sweet that sounded… With a beautiful scratching sound, a flame started flickering and dancing atop the nozzle. I lit the candle and closed the lighter. I blew out the flame. The dead candle disappeared back into the void. I opened the lighter again and relit it, and then tried blowing out the flame. It went out.

“Word play. If you say something to me, voice, say what you mean. A lighter that doesn’t need fuel is useful.” I lit it again and left it standing on the pedestal, and moved to the next altar.

On it stood a mask with a single crack going down the center, bisecting it neatly in two halves. On one side was a smile, on the other a scream. “And this one?” I asked.

“With it, you can take the form of anyone. Pony, dragon, naga, cat, dog, griffon. Doesn’t matter.”

“I sense a but in there.”

“The mask is imperfect. One detail will always be wrong on the person you are trying to mimic. It might be something noticeable, it might not be. And if you take the place of something like a naga, you will not be able to breathe underwater, or do magic if you mimic a unicorn. If the person you are mimicking sees you… Well, there’s a reason half of the mask is a scream.”

I moved on to find an empty altar. As soon as I stepped near it, I felt a feeling of… peace. I ran my hand over the top of it, to see if something was hidden. The voice was silent and I didn’t find anything. I moved on. As I got farther away, the peace left my mind.

I moved to the next pedestal. On it stood a set of clothing as black as a moonless night. They stood out on the white marble like a Jew at a charity event. The clothes looked about my size. “Move invisibly, even in the brightest day.”

“Is there a cost?”

“As soon as you put them on, you are forgotten until you take them off. Everything you did, everything you said, your entire existence, forgotten. Only you will remember, until you take the suit off.”

I went to the next one. On it laid a simple ring, with twirls of some unreadable text all about it. “Immunity to magic,” the voice said. “All magic. You can’t fly while wearing it, for example. You can’t be healed or held, either. No teleportation or eavesdropping.”

I moved on. The next altar held a bag. “Bag of holding?” I asked. The voice murmured an affirmative.

I went to the next one. On it was a coin. “With that in your pocket, you’ll never want for money. There will always be another coin for your hand to find when you dig for one.” Like I need that.

On the next altar was an old fashioned key with a skeleton of an unrecognizable animal engraved into the end. “No locks will ever bother you. You can unlock whatever you want.”

Next was a quill pen. “You will be able to convince anyone of your position if they read your written argument.”

I looked up and saw that there was one altar left. On it was a simple hand mirror, face down. “Whoever looks in that mirror will see themselves as they truly are, for better or for worse.” I quickly pulled my hand away from that one.

I walked to the center of the room. “Interesting collection, voice,” I said. “Why did you show me this?”

“These artifacts are collecting dust down here. You are the only person in over a thousand years to come here. The last... Well, she was an interesting case. Some people can’t resist temptation; she looked in the mirror. But that’s enough of that. You see, Navarone, none of these things are doing anything useful down here. Don’t you think that’s due to change?”

“So you want me to take these things.”

“Don’t be greedy, now. I might let you take a few of them. If you could have any one of them, which would you take?”

“Is there a cost?”

“Would I be offering them to you without first discussing a price?”

“You did not say no.”

“I’m starting to like you, human. There is no cost.”

I checked to see if the lighter was still burning. It was. I looked over the rest of the objects, thinking of uses for each of them. Except for the mirror, that is. That one could stay here and rot, as far as I was concerned. And I didn’t think long on the way home. The pen could be easily abused. The clothes were too dangerous. The gender changing stones could be fun, but since I was the only human anyway, it wasn’t like turning into a chick would be useful. The lighter would be fun, but if I could only have one of these objects, it would be a waste. The mask could be fun, but it could also get me killed. The coin would be useless, the key would be fun. The bag could be really useful, but since I didn’t have to worry about carrying food or the like it loses a lot of its use.

The ring, though… It would put me on a considerably more even footing with any unicorn I ran into. Including Celestia and Luna. “I would take the ring,” I finally answered. The lights over the altars of the portrait, the coin, and the lighter went out, and the wall seemed to converge upon them, shrinking the room. I looked at the altar with the ring and blinked: It wasn’t there. Then I felt a warm weight on my finger. I removed my gloves, and found I was wearing it. I slipped it off and put it in a pocket. The ring altar slipped away and the room shrank yet again.

“Another?” the voice whispered, a caress at the back of my mind.

“The key.” The altars of the clothes, the bag, and the mirror slid away into the wall. The key went into a pocket. The only ones left were the pen, the mask, the stones, and the empty pedestal.

“Your last?”

The pen would be too dangerous. The mask would be too risky. Hell, Celestia wouldn’t let me keep either. “Is there any symbolism to the empty pedestal?” I asked.

“That item—or rather, those items—were taken long ago. Long, long, long ago. It is just an empty altar, now.”

I’m not about to leave with nothing. “I suppose I’ll take the stones, then. Who knows, maybe they’ll prove to be of use.” I put one of my gloves back on and threw the stones into the other glove, so I wouldn’t accidentally touch either of them if I reached into a pocket. All the pedestals sank back into the wall, and the room shrank down to its original size of a small hallway. I was standing near one of the pedestals at the time, and when the room shifted, I found myself shifted as well. It was somewhat disorienting.

“You know, Navarone,” the voice said, “most people—people, ponies, whatever—that entered this place would ask what it is, and what I am. You didn’t.” I didn’t say anything. After a while, I heard the voice giggle again. “So be it.” At that, I found myself back in the clearing. I looked around for the hole that I fell into, but I couldn’t find it.

I sat back against a small tree on the edge of the clearing and thought over what I had been given. Would Celestia let me keep any of what I had been given? The stones, sure; there was no way I could use that to my advantage. But the key? The ring?

I figured I had a few long days to think about it, as I continued to explore the forest. However, as I stood to continue on my journey, my surroundings shifted and I found myself in Twilight’s library. I blinked my eyes in the relatively dim light and tried to get my bearings.

“You’re alive!” Twilight exclaimed, and rushed forward to hug me. She recoiled as soon as she got near me, though. “And you smell terrible!

“I’ve been in the woods for three weeks with no change of clothes. Of course I smell terrible.” I looked around to see who else was here. I saw and nodded at Celestia, who was wearing an amused smile on her face. I saw Taya, who was alternating her gaze between me and Celestia. Spike was watching from a little ways away. “What brings you here, Celestia?”

“You completely fell off the map, Nav,” she answered. “Do you know how hard that is?”

“I what now?”

Twilight answered, “I saw you approach a clearing, and then after that, there was absolutely nothing.” While she was talking, my hands went to my pockets on either side, where I had hidden the ring and the key. I casually fingered the ring, thinking about slipping it on. “I contacted Princess Celestia as soon as you disappeared.”

“What was in the clearing, Nav?” Celestia asked. I flipped a coin in my head and said fuck it.

I walked over to a table and put all of the objects on it and turned to face them. “I found… I don’t really know how to describe it. I was walking, and then my weight suddenly opened some manner of shaft or something under me. I fell a few feet and may have been knocked out. When I came to, I was at the top of a massive staircase. Behind me was something that made my head hurt. As soon as I said something, lights flared all down the staircase, burning centuries of cobwebs. I jumped down the stairs and let my wings carry me down. When I reached the bottom, I heard a voice. It offered me many things. These are what I took. When I was done, I found myself back outside, in the clearing. I couldn’t find the hole again for life or money.”

Twilight, Taya, and Spike were looking over the items. Celestia said, “Describe the voice you heard.”

I sighed. “I say ‘voice’ lightly, not knowing how to really describe it. It was… a sensation, more than a voice. Instead of words, I felt memories. When it ‘spoke,’ it spoke with an amalgamation of my memories, using words and sounds I have heard in the past. When it said my name, I remembered dozens of voices, recalling the concept of my name perfectly. That’s the best I can do.”

Spike was reaching a hand out to touch something on the table. I slapped his hand away. He rubbed it and eyed me with his bright green eyes. “You don’t know what any of those do,” I told him. “You’re lucky you didn’t touch that pink stone.”

“What do they do?” Twilight asked.

“The key supposedly unlocks things. The stones… They change your gender. Blue for male, pink for female. The ring...” I picked it up and slid it on. “Do your worst,” I said, looking at Taya.

She looked at me uncertainly, and then at Twilight. Before Twilight could say anything, though, Taya blasted me with some manner of spell that completely dissolved as soon as it touched me. It works!

Celestia and Twilight were openly gaping. It was worth all that I had been through to see Celestia look like that. Taya was nodding slightly. Spike smiled and said, “Well, Nav, it looks like you found your equalizer.”

“Damn right,” I answered, nodding and smiling, balling up my fist.

Celestia shook her head, snapping out of it. “Nav, we can’t just let you keep magical artifacts you found in a mysterious place in the middle of the most evil forest in the realm! There’s no telling what the cost might be! You’re lucky you even got out alive.”

I shrugged. “You can have the stones. You can even have the key. But you will have to pry this ring off my cold, dead hands.” I think that might not have been the right thing to say. I thought Celestia was about to actually get angry, when Twilight broke in.

“You don’t have to let us keep them, Nav. Just let me study these things for a little while. I’ll give them all back if they’re safe. You have my word, as a friend.”

There was a moment of silence in the room. I looked at the ring, and then at Twilight. I slowly slipped it off and put it on the table. A few years ago, this would have gotten violent. Spike let out a bit of a breath.

“What else was there?” Celestia asked. I told them. I left out the portrait, and I didn’t mention that the mirror had been used.

When I finished, Spike said, “And of all those, you decided to pick these stupid stones?” He flicked at the blue one.

“Every time I picked, a few other choices were removed. At the end, the stones were the safest choice. The others were too dangerous.”

“They were,” Celestia agreed. “You shouldn’t have taken any of them, but since you did, these are probably the best you could have picked. The clothes would have caused massive confusion. I would have confiscated the mask or the pen. The coin could unbalance the economy if it fell into the wrong hands. I would have destroyed the mirror. I wouldn’t have minded the lighter or the bag. Tell me, do you think you could find this clearing again?”

I shook my head. “That forest is deceptively huge. I was in it for three weeks and I have no idea how much of it I covered. I was planning on coming home soon enough for a bit of R&R. That place… Something in it seems to seep into you, if you spend enough time there. I feel like I should be looking over my shoulder constantly, even though I was mostly safe in there and I know I’m safe here. I’ve said this before, but… that place needs to be burned to the ground.”

“Noted,” Celestia answered. “If you go back in, keep an eye out for that clearing, or anything similar to it. Make sure Twilight knows. I want to see it for myself.”

“Very well. If you don’t need anything else, I really need a shower.”

“Yes, you do,” Celestia sniffed. “I’ll get these items back to you as soon as possible, if they’re safe.” She picked up the items with magic. “Well, we know the ring only works if it’s attached to somepony.”

“I was hoping you could let Twilight test them, actually,” I said.

Celestia looked at Twilight, and then back to me. “She might not know what to look for.”

“I think I’ll take my chances,” I answered.

Celestia tried to stare me down, but I don’t give in easily. “I don’t,” she finally said. She and the items blinked out of the library.

Twilight let out a deep breath. “You shouldn’t risk antagonizing her, Nav!”

“And you shouldn’t tell me that you will study something of mine, and then let her take it away! If she decides she prefers me without a way of defending myself, I will never see that ring again. My only chance at equality, ripped away!”

“I’m sure the princess wouldn’t do that,” Spike said.

“I’m not,” I answered.

“And what if they really are dangerous?” Twilight asked. “I only know so much about magic. I might miss something. You know that forest is dangerous. I know you know, because I watched as you almost got eaten several times. Why risk it?”

“Because any possible dangers are outweighed by the ability to ignore magic.”

“Are you truly that afraid that a unicorn will hurt you?” Taya asked, finally breaking her silence.

“Honestly, no,” I answered. “But I think it is always wise to take precautions. Yeah, so Celestia probably won’t ever hurt me. What happens if she decides to, though? And if not her, who knows what kind of enemies I might make in my life? Yeah, I’ll probably never need it, but why take chances?”

“You’re paranoid, Nav,” Twilight deduced. “And you smell. Go take a shower.”

“No, Twilight. You smell. I stink.” I went to take a shower and get out of the grungy clothes. My hair felt like greasy grass and smelled like it was rotting. I think I’ll leave the descriptions at that. I had been planning on stopping at a lake or something—one without a tentacle monster—before coming back, but that option was pulled away.

The shower done, I started cleaning my gear; my falchion had pulled a bit of overtime as a machete and a number of knives had dried stuff on them from all manner of plants and animals.

By the time all of that was done, it was nearing nightfall. I figured that I had gotten back just in time to end up alone for several hours. I found Twilight poring over some manner of notebook.

“Some of those species you found in there were really interesting, Nav,” she mentioned, not looking up. “Not much you did with them was very scientifically sound, mind, but I suppose you did the best you could.”

“When a wolf made of wood is trying to decide if it wants to take a bite out of you, I think you’ll find your mind wanders a bit away from science. You’re lucky I managed to stand still long enough for you to even see it.”

“Wooden wolf? I think Applejack or her granny might know about those. I don’t remember seeing you run into it.” Of course. “I was talking about some of these plants! I can’t believe they were actually eating small animals.”

“Saw one rip a bird right out of the air. I was rather shocked at that, too.”

“I could tell by your reaction.” Yelling, drawing my blade and slicing the thing right in half. Too late for the bird, but not too late for me. I avoided those plants, after that.

“There are things like that in my world, but nothing that lives this far north. That forest is chaotic.”

“If you do happen to go in there again, can you bring out some samples?”

“I have some, actually. I just forgot about them in the excitement of my return.” I went to find my nasty clothes, and dug some stuff out of some pockets. “I didn’t exactly have anything to put stuff in, so I improvised,” I said, setting down a few water bottles. “I also found a few bones and teeth and whatnot on the ground floor.” I dumped a handful of stuff on a table. “If you were wanting live samples, well… Too bad, I guess.” Some of those plants had effects that I didn’t want to bring to a pony.

She pounced on the samples with glee. I left her to them and went to have a conversation with Taya. That done, I put her to bed, and wondered what the hell I was going to do until morning. A guy can go insane on a schedule like this. Twilight was apparently still working, but she was muttering some big sciencey words, most of which I didn’t feel like listening to. I settled back to watch her, in a stance that I one day found I could stand in for hours without blinking or moving an inch. Being half tree is useful, sometimes.

My mind wandered freely, though. It hit over several things, branching off in several directions. One thing I thought about often was what I had become. I was no longer a human, not anymore. I had a human shape and a human mind, but I don’t think the word ‘human’ was enough to describe me. I thought over many terms and descriptions, and settled on ent. Not completely accurate, because of my wings, but what the hell else could I call myself? Though, it isn’t like human had any real meaning to the ponies anyway. They know I am a human, and if I am now an ent, what’s to stop them from thinking humans are naturally ents?

Then it hit me: The fuck do I care? I’m still one of a kind. Who cares what I’m called, if I’m the only one of whatever I am out there?

I noticed a sudden break in Twilight’s mutterings. I broke out of my reverie and shuffled through what I had half-heard her saying. I deciphered what she was looking for and went to a nearby shelf and brought it to her without a word. She said some manner of thanks and I returned to my post.

We worked like that for another few hours. I occasionally answered questions or helped her with something, and then she went back to work. It was like one of many nights with her. Eventually, it got to be that she was yawning more than she was muttering. I shook myself and started putting things away. Probably not as well as Spike would have done it, but he was asleep.

When I had most of the stuff put away, I pulled a complaining Twilight to her bed. “Just one more…” she started, but I never learned one more of what since she interrupted herself with a yawn. “C’mon, Nav, it’s only a few minutes past nine…” It was well past two in the morning, I reckoned. She yawned again. “Maybe just a few minutes…” She was out before I got a few feet away from her.

I went back down to the library proper and looked around. “Another long, lonely night,” I said aloud.

I stood like that for a few more seconds, just thinking.

I suddenly found myself standing like that a few dozen miles away. I shook myself and looked around. “Your eyes settle in some interesting places, Nav,” I heard a voice say. Luna. I saw we were in the throne room. No guards were around. Luna was at her throne, with a smile of sorts on her face.

“I don’t tend to pay attention. And you aren’t supposed to be paying attention. I seem to remember an agreement of that nature.”

“You don’t pay attention, hmm? So you just spent a few hours staring at Twilight’s backside for nothing, I suppose. My, my, a mare could be jealous, with some of the things I’ve seen you up to.”

“I’m going to assume I’m not here so we can talk about… this.

She got straight to the point, and dropped her semi-mocking smile. “You made Celestia rather upset today.”

“Yes, I suppose I did. I don’t take kindly to someone trying to take something of mine.”

“Even if it’s for your own good? What if what she took might be dangerous?”

“Yes, even if it’s for my own good. Besides, it’s about time Celestia learned that she can’t always get what she wants. She might be a princess, but she’s still an adult.”

“Is that really why you think she was mad? No, Nav. She’s mad because you still don’t trust her. Of all of her subjects, you are one of the few she’s close to. Just about every other pony in this kingdom treats her with respect, but also a great fear. She’s a princess with so much power that she could probably destroy cities on a whim. No pony knows how to deal with that, and so few are willing to put much personal trust in her. Then you come along, with your talk of weapons that can lay waste to a planet. So many in your world have access to things like them that you are able to put it out of your mind. And yet you still find it so hard to trust anypony, even those that have shown themselves to have no desire to harm you.”

I hadn’t really thought of it like that before. “I do trust you both with some things. But not with everything. I don’t think I’m able to trust anyone with everything. There will probably always be a reserved center of secrets at my core. And if you think it odd that I’m afraid of magic, well, the fact that humans had weapons that could destroy everything wasn’t constantly pushed in my face. Every time I look around, I have about a one in three chance of seeing a unicorn. And I was just almost killed by magic a few months ago.”

“And you were saved by magic. What would it take to convince you that Celestia or I would never hurt you?”

“Nothing, but giving me that ring back would be a good start.”

She glowered at me. “How do you expect us to trust you if you won’t trust us?”

I glared right back at her. “Because where the hell else do you expect me to go? Do you think I like killing people? That I like putting my life in danger? Celestia told me I would end up in jail or worse if I didn’t do as she asked. Why should I trust that you won’t hurt me if the only way you think you’ll keep me in check is with threats?”

Her glare at me subsided. “Yes, that somewhat justifies your lack of trust. But your fear of magic… What is so scary about it, to you? In your world, you had to worry about dying. How often have you seen a unicorn kill somepony, aside from the slaves that killed the pirates?”

“Never, aside from them. But I’m not afraid of death.” At least, I’m probably about as unafraid of it as anyone ever can be. “When I get killed, it’ll probably be relatively quick. So unicorns don’t kill. But they do bind. They can change me. They have a nearly infinite amount of things they can do. I’m hardly afraid of death, but I can’t stand being held against my will and I am not a fan of being changed into a different shape. And when you mix them—as has been done to me in the past, I might add—there’s a serious problem. At least with ropes, I have a means of defending myself, or a way of breaking free. Against magic, I have nothing.”

“And Celestia capitalized on that fear without even realizing it, when she threatened to imprison you.” I nodded. “Does she know?” I shrugged. “She might be less angry when she finds out…” Her horn put off a dim glow and a box appeared next to her, floating. She sent it over to me. “We tested them all. Neither of us could find anything wrong with them.” I opened the box. In it were the four things I brought out of the forest. I pocketed the key and put on a glove to pocket the stones. I looked at the ring for a second, and eventually decided to slide it into a pocket as well. Luna smiled at that. The box disappeared.

“What can you tell me about them?” I asked.

“After a bit of experimentation,” she said with a hint of a blush, “we found that the stones only hurt the first time you transform. And the pain is less for a mare changing to a stallion. We don’t know why. The key worked on every lock we could find in the palace. It changed shapes to fit the small and the large. We put the ring on the tip of a unicorn’s horn, and she couldn’t do any manner of magic. Neither I nor Celestia could do anything magical toward her, either. We also have no idea what the ring says. They all work with a magic we don’t recognize, but we couldn’t discover anything harmful about them. We were tempted to keep them for longer, but… I see no reason to. Celestia might disagree, but when night falls, I rule.”

I nodded, and reached into the pocket with the blue stone. “So... how did it feel?”

The small blush she had before transformed into a full blush. “It was… different. But from the way Celestia told it, you found out yourself.”

I shuddered. “When I started coughing up blood, I called it quits. I didn’t stay changed long enough for the pain to stop. But if it only hurts once…” I pocketed the blue stone and pulled out the pink one. I was done changing before I even had it at eye level. I closed my eyes and did a mental check of everything I could feel. Chest heavier, no weight between legs, pants tighter. I dropped the pink stone back in a pocket and picked up the blue one again. I opened my eyes. Luna was wearing a smile. “I think I’ll pass.”

She shrugged. “We both prefer you as a stallion anyway. Too few of those worth having around.”

“Yeah, and I can think of a rotten one living in the palace. Shame Blueblood survived.”

She grimaced. “He’s a nasty piece of work. He tried flirting with me before he found out who I was.”

“Well, so did I.” I couldn’t help defending him with that.

“And you kept doing it! He didn’t. He even tried apologizing, as if I wasn’t a pony with needs too. It had been a while since I felt so insulted.”

I couldn’t help but smile at that. “Well, cougars scare some men away, I suppose.”

She sniffed. “I hardly think that description applies to either me or Celestia!” Evidence they were reading my journals. She didn’t realize her slip, though, and kept going, “We may be several thousand years old, but we hardly look it.”

“But you’re both giantesses. Celestia had to be over six feet tall when I saw her as a human. And you’re rather large for a pony as well.”

“That’s just because ponies started shrinking over the years. Back in our day, they were all larger.” Odd. “Celestia would still be larger than average, but I’m actually smaller than most of them were.”

“Nothing wrong with that. Hell, where I come from, I’m relatively short myself. It was a bit of a surprise to find I’m taller than just about every pony and most of the cats. Of course, most everything else is still taller than I am, but you can’t win them all.”

“Imagine how Celestia and I feel, dealing with the naga and the dragons. They all show deference, aside from a few of the ancient dragons and a few of the younger ones, but it is annoying being so used to towering over your subjects and then running into something that dwarfs you and could probably rip you limb from limb if they so desired.”

“Lucky for them that they don’t. I haven’t had many causes to get angry here, but I think that might do it.”

“I think I’d prefer it not happening than having it happen only to know it’ll be avenged, thank you.”

“Well, living in Ponyville makes it somewhat hard to proactively protect you.”

“We offered you the chance to live here. Taya could be taught in the school here and you could both live in the palace. You chose to live with those little hussies in that no-name town, though.”

“Hussies? That’s not very kind. And not very accurate, either.”

“I’ve seen how some of them look at you. That look of possession. You’ve slept with more than a few of them.” She didn’t say that with nearly as much venom as I expected. I think she read that from my look. “I’m not as… bad off as I was a few years ago, Nav. When you got here, it had been just over a year since I got back from my prison on the moon. I was desperate for attention, and you were the first stallion—male—that gave me any. I had been so long away from anypony that I wanted any manner of affection, even if I knew, intellectually, that it might be wrong. And when it came to a head, I realized how much of a fool I had been. It would never have ended well for either of us. Now, though, with your longer lifespan… Well, I’ve still a few years yet to pay. Live your life, Nav. But remember that you promised me a chance.”

“As you say, Princess.”

“And please don’t call me that. It sounds… wrong, coming from you.”

I shrugged. “If you’re fine with it, why call them hussies?”

Her nostrils flared before she could control them. “Who said I was fine with it? I said we’ll talk. As it stands, the only obligation you have to me is giving me a chance. And judging from how you talk, some of their actions weren’t entirely welcome anyway. But fine with it? Not quite. I call them hussies because I know how you feel about ponies; none of what they did would have been initiated by you.” I didn’t feel like pointing out the hypocrisy in that. At least, not without wearing my new ring.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’ve only slept with three of them. One of them is a lesbian and another… I don’t like talking about her.”

She grimaced. “That’s another thing that wouldn’t have happened back in my day.” She sighed, “But times are changing. I’d be a fool not to change with them. I’ve heard you talk about the other one. I don’t know how it turned out, though.”

“For the best,” I answered. Poor Fluttershy…

She nodded, understanding. “It’s sad when I can recognize that ‘for the best’ means the worst outcome for any two healthy ponies. Life isn’t easy for those of us that are so different. Which is why we have each other, I suppose.”

She didn’t even know the half of it.

“Until I finally piss you off for the last time and both of you agree that it’s best I disappeared quietly.”

“I’m sure you’ll find some way to play us off each other long enough for you to escape so far away that even we can’t find you.”

“Already have the plans ready.” Her eyes widened. I guess she was using the lie-detecting spell, and was expecting me to be lying. I wasn’t.

“You really are paranoid! Are you sure we can’t convince you to live here with us?”

“Twilight is the reason I’m here. It seems unfair to leave her, when I’m so useful.”

She already has an assistant. And she’s hardly using you to your full potential. Surely you get bored, playing nursemaid to a bunch of small-town ponies and an over glorified attention-demanding student.” She finished that with particular venom.

“You really don’t like Twilight, do you?”

“Have you ever read any of that sentimental tripe she sends Celestia every few weeks? Yes, friends are great. I don’t know why she insists upon sending Celestia constant updates about all the wee minutiae of her life!” I decided to drop that subject, on the grounds that I think continuing it might have been detrimental to my health. I agreed with her, anyway.

“Given that my other option is a series of dangerous assignments from you or Celestia, I think I might pass.”

“Dangerous? The only danger you faced at the party was getting pricked on a dragon scale!”

“God, you watched that, too? I think you get off to voyeurism. Also, I got poisoned!”

“You barely even noticed the poison. If Celestia hadn’t told you, you never would have known. But you forgot that you also got slapped. I suppose that was somewhat dangerous. I think you deserved it, though. You’re lucky she didn’t use her claws.” She didn’t answer the voyeurism charge.

“You only thought I deserved it because that wasn’t you.”

She looked down. I thought for a second I might have gone too far. I poised my hand to shoot down and grab the ring, but thankfully, I hesitated for a second.

Without looking up, she whispered, “Would you… dance with me?”

I was silent for a few seconds. Finally, I said, “It’s hard to dance with no music.”

Her horn glowed slightly and a very old and battered record player appeared, along with a few dusty records. I stepped up to it and bent down to pick up one of the records, trying to read the label. It had worn away with time. “Did you stockpile this before you went to the moon?” I asked.

She looked up, smiling slightly. “I’m old fashioned. Pick any record, I’m sure you’ll know the tune.”

I put the one I was holding onto the player and fiddled around until I got it playing. Gentle music filled the throne room. I actually did recognize it: It was a song Pinkie Pie used occasionally. It sounded a little bit different, but similar enough that I could probably dance it.

Luna descended from her throne. I turned to her, holding up an arm. “May I have this dance, lady?”

She took my proffered arm with a small bend of her knees.

“Forgive me if I misstep,” I said. “It has been a while since I last danced.”

“It has been since Egill since I danced. I believe we can find our steps together.”

We glided through the dance. When the last notes were echoing through the chamber, she laid her head over my shoulder. “Where were you a thousand years ago, my knight?” she whispered. I didn’t answer, just continued holding her.

I got back to Ponyville less than an hour before sunrise. All of my friends there were happy to see me back, when they discovered I was back from the forest. Pinkie Pie was saddened to learn she wasn’t able to greet me with a party, of course, but logic finally prevailed over the chaos of her mind, and I somehow managed to talk her out of it.

Thankfully, nothing went catastrophically wrong while I was gone. Or at least, nothing that it was my job to fix. I spent a week outside of the forest, letting my mind recuperate from the darkness it went through. Since the first time did so much to me, I decided to go with a week in, week out schedule to try to reduce the damage.

 

 

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