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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50. Chapter Thirty-Nine—I hate Canterlot Part 1

On the third day of the first week I spent back in the forest, I stumbled upon a cave. I had found plenty of caves before, with all manner of nasty critters living in them, but this was the first cave that had loads and loads of jewels in it.

I knew immediately that I was probably about to die. A cave like this means a dragon. That many jewels meant a large dragon. I started tiptoeing out the cave, trying to make as little sound as I could.

To no avail, of course; I wouldn’t be so lucky. I saw a massive green head poke out of a pile of jewels, and a large serpentine neck followed. “Who enters my cave?” the dragon rumbled, opening its huge orange eyes and staring directly at me.

I closed my eyes for all of a second to say a silent prayer. I opened them and answered, hoping my voice wouldn’t break, “A weary traveler, seeking shelter for a short time. I see there is no shelter to be had here, and will leave.”

“Not so fast, creature,” the dragon answered, snaking its head around me and blocking my escape. Massive spines larger than my body lined his neck. “What are you? I have not seen your like before.”

“I am a treant. Part tree, part man. I would not give you much satisfaction to eat, I believe.”

“I am not interested in eating a peaceful guest, treant. If you aren’t here to steal, like my last guest, I would welcome the company. The last dragon to visit stole from me, and had the temerity to be angry at me for pointing out his transgressions. What’s worse, he escaped.

“I have no desire for your riches, dragon. I have no use for jewels, I who get my sustenance from the sun.”

“And yet you have the lingering smell of gold about you…” He breathed in deep, sighing hot steam at me. “Much, much gold.” His snake-like tongue flicked out, slapping the air right in front of me and drawing back in with a nasty schlicking sound. I flinched.

“I have worked for rich ponies, in the past. Part of my job was protecting money.”

“You’ve lived among ponies!” Before I could do anything, his hand reached out and grabbed me. At that point I figured it was the end for me; it was day, so Luna wasn’t watching and Twilight or Celestia probably weren’t watching or either would have pulled me out by now.

Instead of crushing me or eating me, though, he set me down on a high pillar. “Much better,” he rumbled, bringing his head back up to eye level. “I grow weary of holding my head low to talk with the mortal races. How does Princess Luna fare?” he asked. “I remember long discussions with her, when the night fell and her subjects grew weary.”

Holy fuck, this dude’s old. “She is doing well,” I answered. “There are more of her subjects willing to stay awake during night, now. She hardly wants for friends.”

“I’ve noticed! I haven’t seen her in over a thousand years. I heard whispers from the night that she had been harmed, but I could find nothing definite out here in the wild. I rarely visit pony lands these days, since so many of them fear our kind now. I worried for her safety, but I knew if I came to help her, I might be attacked.”

“The situation with Princess Luna was… complicated. Her mind was subverted by something, and she basically turned evil due to jealousy of her sister. There was a struggle between titans, and Celestia came out on top. Luna was banished to the moon for a thousand years, until she could be freed and cured.”

“I see,” he hissed, narrowing his eyes. “And what of the creature that subverted her mind?”

“I don’t know. I might be able to live for thousands of years, but I’ve only just started. I wasn’t around while all this was happening.”

“And you never thought to ask?”

“You are a dragon, so this might not seem like a reasonable excuse, but… The princesses are incredibly powerful. Something like this is a bit of a touchy subject. I’m somewhat afraid to ask.”

He nodded, “I suppose you should be, at that. Truth be told, I would be leery of asking as well. The princess and I were friends, long ago, but she is young and might be angered at my asking. I would not want to risk hurting her.” Luna, young? Just how old is this guy?

“You aren’t worried of your own safety? She may be young, but she is powerful.”

“It takes more than magic to hurt something like me, treant. She could be annoying, of course, but it is better to just not risk it. I would not mind speaking with her again, but not on this. You have worked with ponies in the past, you said. Do you know if the princesses receive visitors still?”

“They do. And if they’re busy, I’m sure they could make time to see you. Though Princess Luna is usually only awake during the night.”

“What are a few hours, to one that has watched eons pass? I may call upon her, one of these years. Back in my day, more respect was given toward us ancients, but I suppose a thousand years is still a long time for one as young as she and her sister. I might have been forgotten over the years, with their turmoil.” He suddenly sniffed at me again. “I smell other things on you as well. Dragons. Cats. And,” his eyes opening a bit wider, “naga! I have not spoken with one of them in… I can’t even remember how long. Do you know if the great city Nagapolis still lies beneath the center of this land?”

“Big sapphire room?” I asked. He nodded eagerly. “There are still naga there, but the city was mostly abandoned when the caverns partially dried up. I’m told it is but a skeleton of what it once was. It is a shame what happened to them, but all things pass.”

“And we remain,” he answered, filling the cave with steam from a massive sigh. “I’ve seen wonders big and small. I knew Discord when he reigned, and knew his successors in Celestia and Luna. I’ve known mighty champions of almost all races, living and extinct. I’ve known every comfort and every hardship. I’ve seen many things come to pass, and I know that someday I, too, will pass. But enough talk of that. Tell me happy news, treant. What goes on in the world outside this cave?”

“Feel free to call me Navarone, friend.”

“Friend…” he slowly whispered out, as though tasting the word. Apparently he found it to his liking, for he slowly nodded. “It has been a long time since I heard that word. My name is… Is…” I heard a rumbling in his chest, followed by a deep chuckle. “I don’t even remember anymore. I suppose Princess Luna might know. You may call me Friend, until I remember. Tell me of your journeys, Navarone.”

I did just that. I didn’t tell him everything, of course, but I did tell him plenty. The telling took an hour or two, long enough for the sun to sink rather low in the sky. When I finished, he nodded, saying, “Things are getting interesting again. I might have to seek out some other dragons; I suppose I am probably one of the oldest of us, anymore. I have been away from things for so long… Long enough for the capital of Equestria to move. Long enough for a princess to be banished and reconciled without me even noticing. Long enough for the young to forget the reverence for the old. Too long.” He stretched his massive wings. “You say you know both the princesses.” I nodded. He looked at the shadows at the front of his cave entrance for a second and turned back to me. “What say you to reintroducing us?”

“Right now?” I asked, somewhat incredulously.

“Yes, Navarone.”

“I think you can fly a little bit faster than me, so you’ll have to slow down for me to keep up. But sure, I suppose I can do that.”

“You are not heavy, Navarone. You said you don’t like being handled, but I believe I can get us to this Canterlot in a short time, as long as you can tell me where it is.”

“I’ll need to go up to get my bearings, first, but I will consent to being held for a short time.”

He nodded, and bent down to a pile of jewels. He took a monster-sized bite right out of it, and chewed a bit before swallowing. “Let us depart this cave of mine, then.” He had to get down on his stomach to be able to get out, but he made it. I jumped down from my perch and followed him out, flying. When I was clear of the entrance, he moved a massive stone in front of it. “Avert your gaze, Navarone,” he warned, before blasting the stone with a massive gout of flame, clearly marking it. “I have learned my lesson,” he explained. “There are a few thieves out here, even in this relatively desolate forest. Go and find this city. I will be behind you.”

“You will probably scare them, Friend,” I told him.

“It truly has been a long time. They will get over their fear.”

I flew high into the air, until I could see Ponyville. Way in the distance, I could see the spires of Canterlot rising above the land. I looked down for Friend, to signal him up, to find he was already above me. In one thrust of his wings, he had soared higher than I was able to get in half a minute. I looked up and pointed off to Canterlot, to make sure he knew the way, and then flew into his talons.

You know, I never thought I would write that… We made it in five minutes.

And I was right: The ponies in Canterlot were definitely terrified. As soon as we got over the castle, Friend let me go. I led the way to the main entrance of the palace. He was barely able to fit in front of the entrance. When he landed, it felt like the entire castle shook on its foundations. As soon as we touched down, guards came sprinting up, terror visible in their eyes.

I waved them down from doing anything foolish. “Guards, this is an old friend of Princess Luna. Is she awake yet?”

“I am, Navarone,” Princess Luna answered, stepping out of the palace with Celestia in tow. “You caused quite a…” Her eyes widened farther than I had seen them do in a while. “Reginald!” She ran up to the dragon. Celestia watched with a small smile.

Reginald chuckled, letting out a bit more steam. “Reginald! That was it! There’s my name for you, Navarone.” Luna finally reached him, and was looking up at him with a look of wonder. “Hello again, my friend. It has been a little while since last we spoke, I believe.”

The guards were standing down, and looking to Celestia for instructions. “There is no emergency here,” she said to their questioning gazes. “Go and calm the ponies of Canterlot. I’m sure they have questions. Just tell them a friend has arrived.” They bowed and went to do as she commanded. “Sir Navarone, let’s go for a little walk.”

We left Luna and Reginald there, and walked to a massive labyrinth near the palace. “You always find a way to surprise us, Nav,” she opened with. “But this…” She shook her head. “It was foolish of you to bring him here, but it was also perfect timing.” Suddenly, a message burst into existence in front of her. She gave off a longsuffering sigh. “I could not tell you how many times Twilight has interrupted me with a note during an important meeting or function…” She passed it to me without even opening it. “Anything important?”

I opened it and did a quick read through. “Yada yada, dragon attack, do you need help?”

She sighed again. “I don’t suppose you have a quill and ink on you?”

I tore a strip of paper off what Twilight sent and pricked my arm with a knife. “You want me to just tell her no?”

“Please.” I didn’t think Twilight would be pleased to get a note in blood, but she’d get over it. When I was finished, I held it up. With a small glow of her horn, she sent the note back. I put some pressure on the arm; I figured it would stop bleeding quickly enough. She continued where she had left off, “Seeing this dragon will be good for Luna’s mind, I believe. She grew up with him as a friend. Where did you find him?”

“The forest. He was living in a cave. He didn’t even know about Nightmare Moon or that the capital had moved. He just knew Luna hadn’t visited him in over a thousand years, which to him is apparently a drop in the bucket.”

Celestia snorted at that. “He’s old, but not as old as that. He knew us before… Well, he’s been around for a long time. And he’s been in the forest all this time… It is interesting that he would choose now to come out, but I suppose it was going to happen sometime or another.” She was silent for a while. We walked around the labyrinth—not through it, but around—for a few minutes. “So, how goes the rest of the exploration in the forest?” she finally asked.

“I found an old castle that looked like it had been used recently; there were hoofprints all throughout it. I found what looked like an old factory, and that place… It was spooky. I felt like I was being watched the whole time I was in there. If I had to guess, I’d say it was another ghost. Those exist, apparently.” I shrugged. “As soon as this conversation is over, I’ll probably head back to the forest.”

“If you need to rest, Nav, you know the castle is open to you. I know Luna would be happy to have you here, and I always enjoy our talks as well.”

“I know. But there is still much to explore and much to find. I may have all the time in the world, but the sooner I start, the sooner I’ll be finished. This isn’t a task I’d want to postpone.”

“I understand. I wish we could send somepony in there with you, but… It’s dangerous enough for you to go in alone, let alone with somepony not invisible to the animals. Didn’t do you much good with Reginald, though.”

“When I found his cave, I thought I was a goner. I turned to sneak out and almost made it when he stuck his head out of the piles of treasure he had. I suppose I got lucky that he was lonely. When he grabbed me with those talons… Well, I’m here.”

“You are. And not wearing your ring, either. Leave it behind?” she asked with a smile.

“I don’t wear it that much when I’m in the forest. I won’t risk needing to be rescued but being unable to get help.”

“Yes, trust the magic when you need it. But you don’t trust me unless you’re wearing it.”

“Should I, Princess?”

I knew she was going to lie before she said, “Of course, Navarone.” So some ponies can lie. “I don’t know why everypony—and you—seem to think I’m such a villain. Do I truly seem so evil to you?”

“You blackmailed me into killing people. You threatened me with prison if I didn’t guard Blueblood. You aren’t a villain and you aren’t evil, but that doesn’t mean you are good.” She looked somewhat sour when I said that. “If you don’t need me for anything, I think I’ll return to the forest. I might as well try to find the spot I left.”

“You really do need some rest, Nav,” she said. “You seem… jumpy. I think the forest is getting to you. I know you don’t sleep, but please stay the night in the palace. As a favor to me, if nothing else.”

I thought about it for a few seconds. She might be right. That forest, man… It digs into the mind. And what’s a single night?

“Very well, Princess. I’ll freely admit that the forest gets into my mind. I will stay the night here. I have always wanted to walk this labyrinth.”

“You know, one of your friends from Ponyville is staying at the palace. You could spend some time with her, if you think it might help ease your mind.”

“Which one?”

She thought for a minute. “The white one with purple hair,” she finally said. “Rarity, I think it is. So many names in my mind, these days. I pay so little attention to the petty politicking that goes on in Canterlot, and I think this one visits just to be a part of it.”

I grimaced. “Yeah, that sounds like Rarity. The last time I was in Canterlot with her was when I was in prison… Though I do look a bit different now. I think I might pass on seeing her anyway. We don’t always see eye to eye.”

“That’s probably because you’re taller than she is. I really think it would do you good to talk to some ponies that aren’t princesses or guards, Nav. You’re getting strung out.”

“It’s nearing night, and I leave in the morning. Most regular ponies will soon be asleep.”

“You are free to take as much time off as you need, Nav. I understand that the forest is an evil place.”

“I don’t think I need any time off, Princess. I am staying the night here because you asked me to, not because I think I need it.”

“You don’t have to explore the forest if you really don’t want to.”

“And risk missing out on another discovery like that?” I asked, pointing over my shoulder where we left the dragon. “There is no telling what else might be in that place. And it has been interesting, at times, to see what manner of critters are in that place.”

“You are making this very difficult for me, Nav. Do I need to order you to stay out of that forest for a few days?”

I ruffled my wings. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to pretend I didn’t hear that. I will obey your orders in public, but remember that I am not a pony. Until you start threatening me again, I’ll do as you ask if I see a good enough reason to, or it doesn’t involve a serious risk to me.”

“I can do threats,” she said, her voice dropping in a way I wasn’t entirely comfortable with.

“Then you will lose a friend and gain another slave. A considerably more useful slave, but still a slave. I help you because I trust that you won’t ask me to do something I wouldn’t willingly do, or to do something that would put me in needless danger. You start disrupting that balance, I put my ring on and you never see me again.”

She sighed. “Why can’t you see that I just want to help you?”

“I’ve been wanting to try this for a while,” I said, digging something out of my pocket. I pulled out my old keychain, with the magic key attached. I envisioned Celestia’s mind as a locked box of secrets. “Are you trying to help me?”

Her eyes sort of… shut down. “I am trying to do the best for Equestria. Helping you right now furthers my primary goal.” While she was out of it, I slipped the ring on my finger. She blinked. “What did you do?” She did not sound at all amused.

“Abused the hell out of my key,” I answered, putting it back in my pocket. “Not quite what I was expecting, but okay. I’ll stay here for a few days, or until I feel I am not welcome.”

“What. Did. You. Do.” She was staring at me like I had just pinched her bottom.

“I have a key that can open any lock. Your mind is a locked box of secrets.” I shrugged. “I didn’t actually think it would work.”

“Do not do that to me or Luna ever again. And if I ever find out that you are abusing it, I will take that key from you.” She’s just jealous I thought of it and she didn’t.

“There’s a reason I tell lies. I know what the truth can do to people.”

She snorted. “I know you don’t sleep during these seasons, but there’s no reason for you to go carrying those,” with a look to my weapons, “with you in Canterlot. And you need a bath. And I suppose you should wash your clothes, too. You can have a room next to your friend. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you.” She must really not know Rarity that well.

She told me where to go and then left to do princess things. Probably torturing guards by ordering them to do pointless things. I went off to take a bath.

I dropped my clothes off at the palace laundromat—you can’t expect people important enough to stay at the palace to do their own laundry—and picked up a towel that was as big as I was. I didn’t have any spare clothes, so I had to do that ahead of time so I would have something to put on when I got back.

All that done, I carried my weapons and the contents of my pockets to my suite, wearing nothing but a giant towel. I dumped everything on the bed I wasn’t planning on using and took a bath.

By the time I was finished with all that mess, it was well and truly night. I got my clothes, strapped on some knife belts, put on the ring and grabbed my key and locked the door behind me.

“Navarone? What are you doing here?” I heard Rarity asking from a few feet away. I looked over and saw her at the door next to mine.

“Did you see the dragon come in?”

“You’re here because of that dreadful monster? I know the guards said the situation was under control, but I didn’t know they had to use your… talents… to do it!”

“Actually, he is here because of me. Reginald—the dragon—is an old friend of Luna’s. And I do mean old. He knew her before she was Nightmare Moon. Hell, he said he knew her before she and Celestia were even in power. I found him in the forest. He left several huge piles of gems to come to Canterlot to see her.”

Her eyes glowed a bit at that. “Huge piles of g—No! Not this time, Rarity… You’ve got things to do…” I let her have her moment. After a second, she continued, “How long are you going to be in Canterlot?”

“A few days. Celestia asked me to take a break from the forest.”

She got a thoughtful look on her face. “If you’re going to be here that long… Do you mind helping a friend in need?”

“Depends. What does this friend of mine need?”

“Well… You know how you’re a knight and all? The first Lunar knight in such a long time…” At my raised eyebrow, she continued, “And you’ve been ignoring so many invitations. Ever since you offered to take me to some events, I’ve been… Er, borrowing the invites you get.” I had wondered why I wasn’t getting any more of them. I suppose she just asked Derpy to deliver them to her instead. She blushed a bit at this next part. “I’ve been attending a few of the events you get invited to, when you get nameless tickets.”

I shrugged. “At least they aren’t going to waste.”

She sighed. “That makes me feel a bit better. I was thinking you might be angry!” Why would I be mad? “Since you’re here… I was just wondering if that offer to take me to a few of the more… Well, prestigious events still stands.” She gave me one of her seductive looks that did nothing for me. The smile accompanying it almost made me burst out laughing.

I opened my mouth to tell her hell no, but remembered what Celestia told me about spending time with regular ponies. I almost said no anyway, just to spite them both. After a second, I answered, “If I am not needed for anything else, I suppose I could. If we end up in prison again, though, I am done helping you. And I won’t give you your last request again, either.”

I saw her mouth last request with a confused look on her face, before she shook her head until a smile reappeared. “You can’t know how much this means to me, Nav!”

“A few points, though: This isn’t a date, it’s a thing between friends. This isn’t going to be a common thing. If you start getting ridiculous or annoying, I’ll leave you hanging. And if this makes Luna mad, you’re taking the heat.”

She waved her hoof. “It’ll be fine, Nav! I think I know you well enough by now to know what your limits are.”

“Good. How threatening do you want me to look?”

“Um. Don’t scare anypony, but otherwise feel free to go all out.”

“I’ll meet you in the morning, then. What time?”

“Oh, any time before eleven, I suppose… Hm. Are you going to be wearing that?”

I looked down at what I was wearing: Basically, a suit of camo clothes, shortened because it was spring and warm. I looked back up. “I just got out of the forest. This is all I have here.”

“You didn’t wear that marvelous armor? Why ever not?”

“Not worth it. That stuff is too hot to wander around in for weeks at a time. I’ve yet to get hurt, so I don’t really think I need it. It’s not a long trip home if you want me to go and get it. I can easily get there and get back before we need to leave tomorrow.”

“Hm. That could work. Though I don’t suppose you’d need me to fix up that set of clothes before you go?”

I looked down at my clothes again. They were pretty fucked up. I looked up at her and shrugged. “If you want. They can wa—” She dragged me inside.

“Not enough time to make anything new… Well, all you really need is a fix. Take your clothes off.”

I could see it now: I’ll take my clothes off and in five minutes Luna will come through that door looking for me, finding me and Rarity in some manner of compromising position. I closed the door and locked it. I turned to find Rarity giving me a look. “I’ve had too many misunderstandings,” I answered. I took my shirt off and threw it at her. She caught it in the air with her magic.

“You simply must stop treating your clothing like this, Nav!” she whined, doing her best to ‘unwrinkle’ my shirt. She was so absorbed in that she didn’t notice the pants flying at her. She peeled them off her face with magic, to reveal a glare, which quickly subsided when she noticed how many straps of knives I had around me.

I noticed her looks. “I know you’re not attracted to my human body, Rarity. Stop looking me over.” Her face turned crimson. I saw her cat giving me looks, too. “Shut up, Opal,” I said. The cat sniffed and went back to napping.

Rarity didn’t avert her gaze, though. “Nav… Are you… healthy?

I saw she was looking at my torso and I looked down at it. I was so skinny you could see my stomach delving up into my ribcage. I put a hand on my stomach. “Holy shit,” I said, feeling it. “Well, I don’t really need to eat anymore, so I haven’t been,” I answered. “Twilight doesn’t have many mirrors in her house and I rarely look down there. If I was still a human, I would be dead from starvation by now.”

“…How long has it been since you last ate?” she asked, horrified. I noticed her gaze was going… other places.

“Oh, about a week, I think.” She was looking at something else. “Rarity? Rarity!”

She blinked and looked up. “A week? Nav, you’re going to kill yourself like that!”

“I’ve survived this long. What’s a few more centuries? Besides, it’s not like I can eat most of that crap you ponies shovel down. I tried eating a few flowers when I realized I wasn’t quite human anymore and I got sick.” It was miserable, too.

She was shaking her head. “I can’t let you do this to yourself, Nav.” She used her magic to pull a cord hanging down from the wall. I saw a grille on the wall start to shine with a glow I’ve long since discovered means magic is being done upon it.

A voice suddenly crackled out of the grille and I realized it was an intercom. “What do you need, Mistress Rarity?” It sounded like a young stallion.

“I need a meal sent up here as fast as you can make it,” she commanded. “No grass, no flowers, no vegetables. Bread is fine, fruit is fine.” I could eat most vegetables, but there were a few I couldn’t. “Eggs, if you have them.”

“Right away, Mistress,” the voice answered. “Will there be anything else?”

“No, that’s all,” she answered. The grille stopped glowing.

“So that’s what that cord is for,” I said.

Rarity turned her gaze back to me. “I suppose this will be acceptable?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I’ll eat what I can.”

“No, Nav. You’ll eat all of it. You’ll eat it if I have to hold you down with magic. And I know you know I can.” You’d be surprised. I wanted to say it, but I wasn’t going to give away my trump just yet. “Now, let’s get started on your clothes.” She turned to where she had set them down.

Despite my time in this world, I still wasn’t comfortable with being naked in front of anyone. I sat on the bed and covered my lower body. “How long should this take?” I asked, somewhat dreading the answer.

“Oh, surely less than an hour. I don’t have to do anything too drastic. Just a bit of metal here and there, gotta modify the pants, I might touch up the shoes a bit…”

“I thought all you were doing was fixing them.”

She gave me a look. “Navarone, you are a knight! I can’t allow you to go around dressing like… Ugh. Even if you’re going to be in the forest, you still must have some standards!”

Pick your battles. I sighed. “Whatever. I have to have something to do all night, anyway.”

She beamed. “That’s the spirit!” She went back to changing my clothes. She dug through all manner of bags around her to get what she needed. She added metal studs to my gloves and curved metal knee pads for my pants. She added length to everything I had.

After fifteen minutes of doing essentially nothing but watching, I asked, “So what should I expect tomorrow?”

She didn’t look up, but answered, “Oh, you know, standard high society ponies. I don’t expect many of them to talk to you, but I’m sure you’ll make a nice impression. Especially when I remind them who you are.” Fun. “Hm… Do you think—Oh, shoot!” I looked over to find she had a needle stuck in her hoof. How does that even happen?

With a glow of her horn, she pulled it out. “This is what I get for not paying attention, I suppose. So, Navarone, do you think you can get Princess Celestia to one of the various functions around Canterlot? I’ve heard she almost never attends any of them.”

“She isn’t interested in stuff like that. We were actually having a conversation about that earlier, when she told me you were in town. Petty politics and social events like that start meaning less and less the longer you live, and she has lived for quite a while.”

“I never thought about it that way before. I don’t suppose… Is she lonely, Navarone? I know you are closer to her than most ponies know.”

“This conversation doesn’t leave this room.” I waited for her nod to continue. “She is. She has lived thousands of years. Time has ceased to have much meaning for her. Ponies come and go. Students come and go. Time passes. Every single one of her subjects sees her as Princess, not Celestia. Leader, not friend. She can meet with her subjects all she wants, but they’ll still only see her as Princess. That’s how they were raised, and it’s what they know. And she loves them anyway.”

“And what of you, Navarone? You said ponies treat her like that. I know you don’t see yourself as one of us.”

“I am one of her few friends, I think. I grew up with no reverence for royalty. We have an understanding of sorts.”

“I’ve never really thought about what it must be like, to live as she has. Do you think she would come to any event, if you asked?”

“Maybe. But even if she was, she would be treated as a princess, not as a friend. Luna has a bit of an advantage, there, since she is hardly known as a princess anymore. Or rather, she wasn’t when she started making friends again. Celestia, though? She could try. But I don’t think it would turn out well.”

“You know her better than I,” she answered doubtfully. She bent back to her work. Not a minute later, she looked back up. “What about Princess Luna?” she asked. “I know she isn’t usually awake during the day, but do you think you could get her to come with us?”

“I think I could, but I know I won’t.”

“Oh, come on, Nav! You said yourself that they were lonely and wanting friends, and that Princess Luna could make them easier.”

“And she told me she doesn’t like people toadying up to her. She wants friends, not people that listen to her because she’s important. You would be hard pressed to find somebody in this town that would be a good friend, I believe.”

“That’s not true! And this is a city, not a simple town!”

“First, if there are more than ten thousand ponies living in this place, I would be shocked. There are cities in my world with millions of people living in them. I don’t think the population of sapient animals in this world is as large as the population of Manhattan alone.” She couldn’t answer that. “And second, you might be correct about a few friend-worthy ponies being here. I will admit to not having met too many Canterlot ponies. I might be wrong. I suppose I can judge tomorrow.”

“I suppose you will,” she said, bending back to her work. Five minutes later she looked up again. “Do you still remember how to dance?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Hm…” She looked over my clothes. “No, it’s too late for that. This will have to do.” She went back to it. I was tempted to ask where she was getting the metal, but I have learned that it is wise to not ask where a pony is pulling something from. I’ve seen Pinkie Pie pull numerous things out of nowhere, often to use as comedic effect. And I don’t mean nowhere as in I didn’t notice them before she picked them up, I literally fucking mean nowhere. I’ve just learned to accept it.

Fifteen minutes later, she was finished. It took her a second to get my attention; I was zoned way the hell out. When I came to, I saw she had a look of concern on her face. “Navarone?” she asked. “Oh Celestia, don’t tell me you’re dead!” I blinked. She sagged.

“I’m part tree. I only sleep at night for half the year. For the rest of that, I’m constantly awake. Learning to zone out has saved my mind, in some ways.” I got out from under the covers and put my pants on.

She was watching for my reaction, but before I could give it she gave out a gasp. “What a beautiful ring!” she exclaimed. “I simply must get a better look! Hold it into the light for me!” I finished putting my pants on and did so. “My my my, where did you get this? I don’t remember seeing you wearing it before!”

“A gift from the Everfree Forest,” I answered. “Neither Celestia nor Luna knows what it says, or how old it is.”

“Hm… I know rings are out this season, but… Do you think I could borrow it for the outing tomorrow? This might bring them back in style!”

“You don’t want to wear this ring, Rarity. Trust me.”

“Oh, posh! This would look wonderful on me!”

I slipped it off my finger and onto her horn. “Bring a mirror on over to see how it looks,” I said, hiding a smile.

Her shriek of pure terror made staying in Canterlot worth it. “GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF!” she cried, pawing at her horn with her front hooves. I reached down and plucked it off, openly showing my smile. I slipped it on before she could retaliate. She gave me a haunted look. “I will never, ever question again why you like having hands.” Her eyes hardened. “And if you ever, EVER put that thing back on me, I will beat you to within an inch of your life.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the mental image that gave me. She thought about it for a second and gave me a weak grin in return. “Okay, I’ll admit that might be an overreaction. A bit of one. But still… How can you stand wearing that?”

“Because it makes me immune to magic. This isn’t the only gift the forest gave me, either.”

“Oh? Do tell! Though if they’re anything like that ring, I’m not so certain I want to know…”

“I’ve a key to open any lock and a pair of stones that can change gender. The first time you change is a bit painful, but after that it’s painless.”

“Change gender? Why would anypony want to do that?”

“Fuck all if I know. If it didn’t hurt the first time, I would have already thrown the male stone at you, just to see how you would take it.”

“I would not take it well.”

“That’s kind of what I thought. If it makes you feel any better, you were the only one I wanted to do that to.”

“It doesn’t, actually. It really, really doesn’t.”

“Well, to each their own. So, what have you done to my clothes?”

She brightened right up and began talking about things I don’t care about using words I don’t know. I already mentioned some of what she did. She also fixed all the damage everything had taken in the forest. She added iron to the toes of my shoes, which she promised was easily removed. It was her usual masterful work.

“I do feel a lot heavier now,” I said, trying to judge if it would slow me down any. A few seconds of experimentation told me my arm would be off if I tried throwing something, but I had a bit of time to fix that. “You need anything before you go to sleep?”

“You are staying right here until that food gets here, Nav. It should have been here by now, but it is late…”

“You really can’t make me stay, Rarity.” She got a look of determination on her face. I continued, “But I will stay anyway; I have few enough people willing to help me get better to risk hurting them.” She smiled with relief.

We talked a bit about my travels in the forest until the food got here. I knew she wanted to yell at the guy delivering it for taking so long, but she refrained. Poor stallion didn’t look like he could take being yelled at anyway.

She floated the tray in and gently set it down on a table set up against the wall. “Now eat!” she told me, giving me the kind of look I would expect from either a mother or Celestia.

I rolled my eyes and walked over to the table. “Apples. Raw bread. Boiled eggs. They don’t have any imagination down there in the kitchens, do they?” I asked.

She used magic to pull a chair out and pointed at it. I sat. I think she tried to use magic to push the chair back in, but it didn’t work; I heard her loudly gulp and when I looked up at her she was looking away. I shook my head and began. Least they could have done was give me some butter…

I finally finished and pushed the tray away, feeling slightly sick. “Happy?” I asked.

She looked down on the tray, making sure I actually had eaten everything. “Happy enough,” she replied. “You just make sure to keep eating, even if you don’t feel hungry. I don’t care what kind of magic you have sustaining you, you still need to eat.”

“I’ll be fine, Rarity,” I said, standing up. “I’ll just go drop this off at the kitchen and let you sleep, I guess.”

She nodded a bit. “Good night, Navarone. Have fun doing whatever you do all night.”

I grabbed the tray and shrugged. “I might have fun. I’ll probably just walk the labyrinth for a spell, or maybe explore the castle. And I still need to get my armor. See you in the morning.”

I dropped the tray off and got my armor and axe first. I threw the armor in a bag as quietly as I could and flew back to Canterlot and dropped it all in my room there. That done, I hit the labyrinth. Nothing much in it, but it killed a few hours. It’s deceptively big, too, and I made sure to explore the entire thing using the right-hand rule. I’m beginning to think a few places in this world have black holes in them, and distort space and time so they will look smaller than they actually are. I’ve said it before, though: This world makes no sense to me.

When I reached the end of the maze, I remembered I was wearing the ring. I removed it; if it was day I would have left it on, but Luna might wish to talk during the night. I wasn’t expecting it tonight, with her old friend here to catch up with, but you never know.

The labyrinth conquered, I decided to head into the castle proper, to see if I could find any manner of library. While I was still outside, I looked up at the sky to see if I could possibly tell what time it was.

When I looked down, I saw a massive dragon in front of me, with Luna alongside him. They were both looking at me. “Princess, Reginald,” I nodded to them. How did I not hear them coming?

I suddenly found myself being hugged by Luna—suddenly as in teleported into her open front legs. The thing about being hugged by a pony is that you get a lot of their weight shifted onto you. For Taya, that’s not a problem. For ponies like Twilight, it isn’t that much of a problem. Luna was pushing the edges of what I could hold, though. I don’t even want to think about being hugged by Celestia. I also really don’t want to think about where that would put my face.

Thankfully, the hug didn’t last long. “Thank you so much, Nav,” she said, letting me go. “I actually forgot about Reginald here until I saw him again!”

I heard a deep chuckle beside us, and felt a warm breath of steam hit us. “And they say the old have bad memories,” he quipped.

“You aren’t that much older than us,” Luna said. “Though you’ve always liked to pretend you were. Anything to impress somepony, as I recall.”

He snorted, bathing us with more steam. “Calling me not that much older is a bit of a misnomer, for those as old as us. I’m a few thousand years older than Celestia, Navarone, and don’t let her try to tell you otherwise.”

“A thousand years means quite a lot, you know!” Luna answered.

“To you, yes. Especially if you spend it on the moon, I suppose. To me? I recently woke up after sleeping for around a hundred years. Though to be fair, dragons are actually supposed to live this long. What happened to you—”

“Enough of that, Reginald,” she answered with a pained look. He bowed his head. “So, Navarone, is there any reason you fell off the map earlier?” How she manages to watch me all the time she’s awake, I don’t know; Twilight mentioned how distracting it was to see things from my view.

“I fear I angered your sister again. I thought it not worth risking my neck just to see how far I can push her and still come back.”

“Then perhaps you should stop angering her,” she answered rather pointedly. “But surely her wrath didn’t last that long.”

“I ran into a friend from Ponyville. I always find it pays to be protected around her. Never know what she might try to do.”

Luna’s gaze grew colder at the mention of Rarity. “I see.” The air grew somewhat frosty at those words. “I’m surprised to see you even still here. I suppose Celestia’s anger is because you refused to go back into the forest?”

“It was because I refused to take some time off from the forest, actually. She… convinced me to stay in town, and suggested I spend some time with my friend.”

“She did, did she?” I was just digging my grave deeper and deeper. “And what kind of plans do you two have?”

I was somewhat afraid to answer, but I did anyway: “Rarity wants to further her image here in town. She knows how I keep getting invited to all manner of boring events since I’m your knight. She asked me to take her to a few of them. We’re going to some tomorrow as friends.” I thought for half a second, and continued, “She tried to get me to ask you or Celestia to attend with us, but I knew neither of you are interested in things such as those.”

“Uh huh.” Sometimes I just shouldn’t open my mouth.

“Yup.” I think it might have been dangerous for me to be there much longer, so I decided to beat feet: “Well, it was good seeing you again, Reginald. I think I’ll leave you two to continue catching up. You know how to find me if you need me, Luna.”

She gave a stiff nod, and Reginald answered, “Until we meet again, Navarone.” I casually walked away as quickly as I could until I got out of sight, when I slowed down. I contemplated putting the ring on, and decided against it; no reason to risk pissing Luna off even more if she did want to talk to me later.

It didn’t take me much time to find a library. It took me even less time to get inside; it was locked, but that doesn’t mean much to someone with a skeleton key.

The sun took a long time to rise, that’s for damn sure; Princess Luna never summoned me, so I was left in the library all night. I was interrupted a little after dusk by a librarian. He saw me sitting next to a stack of books and his jaw dropped.

“How did you… What…” He sighed. “Human, why are you in my library?”

I shrugged. “I got bored. What time is it?”

“Around seven. When you get done, put everything up as you found it, I suppose.”

I finished a bit of the passage I was on and put everything up. The librarian let out a sigh of relief as I walked out the door. I slowly meandered my way back to my room.

I changed out of the clothes Rarity modified and put on some thicker clothes I brought with me to muffle the feel of armor against my skin. Then I started strapping on the actual armor, which took a while since I didn’t remember exactly how everything went. When I finally got it all on, I started putting on weapons. I left the sword in my room and slid the axe over my shoulder instead. I’ve described my weapon alignment before, so I don’t feel like writing the rest of it out.

All that done, I stepped outside, relocked my door, and knocked on Rarity’s. She opened it with a bit of a fearful look. “Thank Celestia,” she whispered. “Oh hello, Navarone!” she said, louder. “Do come in!”

She opened her door wider. I got a step inside. I. Am. An. Idiot. I saw Princess Luna inside, sipping casually at a cup of tea. “Luna,” I said, nodding at her. “If I’m interrupting anything, I can find something else to do for a little while.”

Rarity closed the door behind me a little bit too hard to be natural. “No, no,” Rarity said, “Nothing that important. Princess Luna and I were just talking about you, in fact!”

“We were talking about your invitation, to be more precise,” Luna said. “I think I might accept it; I have not been to many events in Canterlot since I got back, even though I am always invited.”

“Glad to see you’re trying to make more friends, Luna. Though I don’t really know if any of these people will be someone you’d want as a friend.”

“I guess we shall find out. Though that does raise a bit of a conundrum, of sorts… You see, my typical guards of the night are asleep right now. It simply wouldn’t do for a princess to be somewhere without an escort.”

“It’s a good thing Celestia has a load of royal guards just sort of chilling around the palace, then,” I answered.

If looks could kill… Well, I’d have died long ago. But I think my body would have just gotten dismembered by this one. “Indeed,” she answered in a tone that should have given me frostbite. Why do I keep digging this hole?

“So, Rarity, what kind of events will we be attending, anyway?” I asked, keeping my tune relatively hopeful.

She perked up a little, but she still looked rather scared. “An opera,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper. “And then a luncheon. And finally, a garden party.” By the time she finished, she was about up to a conversational tone.

Now, none of you will believe this, but I actually liked some opera back home. I didn’t know anything about pony opera, but surely it couldn’t be that bad. Though if I was having to deal with Luna being a jealous little filly the whole time it might be excruciating.

“So when do we leave?” I asked.

 

A few hours later, a relatively small group left the palace heading to some opera hall or something. Luna decided not to take guards, which gave me a bit of an eerie feeling. Rarity and Luna led the way, with me flanking them. I did my best to look like an actual knight before I realized that I honestly didn’t care.

Pretty much everyone on the streets was watching us. Some were more discreet about it than others, but we were definitely the focus of the crowds. And I don’t think it was Rarity’s ridiculous outfit that caused it. I was relatively well-known around Equestria by now, but I still always get looks wherever I go. But most of the looks were reserved for Luna, I believe. She didn’t go out much in Canterlot, preferring to spend her time either in the palace or in smaller places like Ponyville.

I noticed something that I wasn’t able to ask about until much later. When I did, I learned that there was some manner of tradition in the city for dealing with Celestia or Luna: If they were in a carriage or something, bow and make obeisance. But if they were on foot, they were to be treated with respect but no bowing or the like. We were on foot, thank God.

I had a feeling that anything Rarity might have gained from my being with her was going to be lost when everyone noticed Luna was there. Unless Rarity managed to convince them that Luna was there because of her. I wanted nothing to do with that; I was there as a knight. Or more truthfully, I was there as a friend of Rarity’s who happened to also be a knight.

 

At the opera, Luna was given a special VIP seat, of course, and much fuss was made over her. You know, typical royalty stuff. She very purposefully and very discreetly snubbed me and Rarity in taking over the VIP box just for herself, too.

The few ponies that would have been there with Rarity were put into the next best seating, and the buck pretty much passed down that way, until the people in the last ‘special’ spots were put into the regular crowd.

There were a few looks and comments about why she was snubbing her ‘loyal’ knight, but when I explained that I was here with Rarity, most of those comments were nipped.

In their place, however, were ponies actually talking to me before the show started. No one mentioned that I hadn’t responded to any of the letters I had gotten, which was good because they probably would have expected me to remember who sent what. I checked each one to make sure there was nothing personal before I had Taya start burning them, but I didn’t recognize any of the rich people here.

Shortly enough, the opera began and everyone settled down. I sat next to Rarity, of course. She tried to hide it, but I saw the hurt feeling in Rarity’s eyes from what Luna had done. When the singing and whatnot started, I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I know what Luna is doing, and why. I will try to reason with her.” I put my hand on her hoof for a second before backing out of the balcony.

I made my way up to Luna’s seating, where a small horde of the opera house’s servants stood milling about, uncertain what the exact protocol on this was; it had been so long since either princess had visited that there weren’t exactly any rules in place for it. I took one look at that mess and couldn’t help but face-palm. I don’t suggest doing that with gauntlets.

“Why are you all here?” I quietly asked. They all turned toward me with more hope in their eyes than they should have had. “Well?”

It took a few seconds, but one of them finally spoke up. He said, “We… we don’t exactly… what are we supposed to do? She’s a princess!”

I’m sure I had a bit of an exasperated look on my face. “What has she asked for?” I asked, somewhat dreading the answer.

“Not to be disturbed,” the stallion answered.

“Nothing else?”

They all shook their heads.

“One of you, stay here. The rest of you go back to your positions, whatever they are.” They all looked around at each other, but none started walking away. I rubbed lightly at my temple. I pointed to a pony at random. “You, stay here. The rest of you, leave.” They all looked at the marked mare, and she tried hiding her astonishment by bowing her head. After a short moment, they all started breaking away. I was left with the mare and the stallion that originally spoke up.

“Now Berry, you do as he tells you, ya hear?” the stallion was whispering to her. She nodded fearfully. “That’s a good filly.” The stallion looked up to me. “Thank you for setting us straight, friend; it has been a while since we had a patron of her rank. Berry here will serve you both well. She’ll be sure not to disturb the princess.”

I nodded. “Thank you both. We would have sent more warning, but it was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision for Princess Luna to even come by. My apologies for the inconvenience. I’m sure if you sent some manner of runner to the palace, you would be compensated for any loss of business from giving away the VIP seats.”

“Oh, no!” he said quickly. “It is an honor to have royalty here again! And the others all understand the reasoning behind it, of course. No insult was taken.”

I nodded again. “Thank you, then. If you have no further questions, I need to speak to the princess for a moment.”

The two ponies looked at each other. The stallion nodded. Berry hesitantly spoke up, “Princess Luna asked not to be disturbed… I’m sorry, but…”

“She’s expecting me,” I told them. She looked back to the stallion, who shrugged. I went on through and closed the door behind me.

“I was wondering how long it would take you to sort through that mess,” Luna said without looking away from the show. “I was starting to think they would all be there the entire time.”

“I would never let you down, Luna,” I answered. “Surely you know that by now.”

“And yet…” She stopped.

“And yet you still think Rarity might be some manner of threat to you.” I sat down next to her, making sure my wings didn’t get caught anywhere. “You are jealous.” I’m pretty sure I offended her when I said that. I pulled my gauntlet off and removed my ring, making sure she saw me do it. “You have nothing to be jealous about.”

She looked at me, then. “I know, Nav… It’s just hard, knowing you care so much about your friends. I know you care about me, but…” She sighed, looking down slightly before returning her sorrowful gaze to the show.

“I am doing a favor for a friend right now, Luna. I promised her I would do this for her. You and I both know it’s silly, but she asked and I agreed. I never go back on my word; you should know that by now. I lie, but if I say that I’ll do something, it will be done.” We were both silent for a little while, just watching the show.

Finally I said, “You scared Rarity, Luna. I don’t know what you did, but when she opened the door this morning, I could tell she was terrified.” Luna didn’t say anything, but looked to the floor instead of to the show. “You can make it up to her by being nice on the rest of this day’s trip. I know she’s overly dramatic and can be somewhat annoying, but a more generous soul you’d be hard-pressed to find.” Usually.

She sighed lightly. “I will be nicer,” she finally said. “And when the day is over, I’ll apologize.” She looked back up to the show. A second later she turned her gaze to me. “How deep does your friendship go?”

“We’re just friends, if that’s what you are asking.”

“What would you be willing to give me if I did more for her than be nice and apologize?”

“You are going to have to name a few specifics, both what she’ll get and what you want from me.”

She did so. When she finished, it was my turn to be silent for a while. It would greatly help Rarity’s image… But was it worth it? I debated that in my mind for a little while. Well, what the hell. I’ve done worse for less.

“Deal,” I told her. I held out a hand, and after a moment of hesitation, she held out a hoof. We shook. “Now, I fear I have to return to my seat. If you require anything, the little mare outside is named Berry. She’ll be happy to help.”

“Thank you, Nav.” I nodded and quietly left. I spooked Berry a bit when I opened the door. Her face quickly turned red.

I pulled out two coins and put them on a little table next to the door to the balcony. “For your… discretion,” I commented. She tenderly reached a hoof out. Before she could blink, there was a knife between the two coins, right in front of her hoof. “For your silence,” I whispered, holding my finger to her lips. Her eyes went as wide as saucers and her mouth would have been wide open if I hadn’t made sure it was shut. “Do we have an understanding?” I asked, removing my finger from her lips and brushing her low-hanging bangs from her eyes. She nodded, too afraid to trust her voice.

I pried the knife out and worked my way down the hall to where Rarity and the other stuffy rich folk were still watching the show with all appearances of absolute boredom. I slipped the ring on as I made my way back to sit beside Rarity. I leaned over and said in a voice for her ears only, “You owe me for this.” She waved her hoof back dismissively. I knew she got the message.

The show was due to go on for a little while, so I settled in to either enjoy it or ignore it, whichever came first. As it turned out, it was pretty good. Something about the founding of Equestria or something. They got it factually wrong, but it was still decent enough.

We all left the opera together, Luna, Rarity’s little group, and I. The workers there were relatively happy to see Luna gone, though they hid it well. It isn’t that they were afraid of Nightmare Moon, but more that they were completely unsure of how to handle her or if she was any different from Celestia. Still, I know they were pleased to have had her there.

When we got outside of the opera house, Luna came straight over to Rarity and the rich ponies around her. “Thank you for inviting me, Rarity,” Luna told her, making sure to be heard by everyone in the little group. “Sometimes I forget the simple pleasure of song.”

It took Rarity less than a second to recover. “It was my pleasure, Princess,” she answered, bowing slightly. The others followed suit. “You are welcome to join us for the rest of the day, if you are available…” A few others with Rarity offered their invitations as well. Fucking toadies, the lot of them.

Luna took a moment to pretend to consider. “Normally I am abed at this hour, but… I rarely get to spend time with friends. If I truly wouldn’t be a bother, I will tag along.” The toadies were quick to assure her that she would be very welcome.

So instead of Rarity getting to show off a knight, she got to show off a princess. And a knight, but with the princess there, few of them took much notice of me.

There were a few rich and very snooty people with Rarity, but there were one or two good ones. A fellow that really stuck in my mind was the hilariously named Fancy Pants. No, I’m not joking. To be fair, though, there was a guy in Ponyville named Filthy Rich.

Anyway, Fancy Pants was among the first to talk to me after the opera. “Sir Navarone, you’re here to join us today as well? Rarity, you do surround yourself with the elite!”

She looked up from her conversation with a few random, less important ponies to answer. “Sir Navarone? Yes, I know him from my hometown. He was kind enough to ask me to join him on some of today’s events!” I grimaced slightly and wished for a moment that I was wearing my helmet.

“I see,” he answered. “So, Sir Navarone, what brings you back to Canterlot? Last I heard, you were working out of Ponyville.”

I answered, “So there are some ponies keeping tabs on me. I suppose my fame is growing. Yes, I do live there. But perhaps you remember the dragon last night?” He nodded, shivering slightly. “He is an old friend of the princesses, but they had not spoken in a while. I found him in the Everfree forest—” That got everyone’s attention. “—and he asked me to come with him to visit them, in case he was not recognized. I suppose we caused a bit of a panic,” I finished with a light smile.

“Everfree forest?” he asked with awe. “Whatever were you doing in that horrid place?”

“Princess Luna asked me to explore it.” I shrugged. “There’s only so much of it you can see by flying over it, so I had to do it by foot.”

“And have you found anything worth the effort?” a redshirt asked.

“Yes. But you’d have to ask the princesses for more details; I have been told not to discuss my findings.” That set off tickers in a lot of minds. There was something worth finding in the Everfree Forest that the princesses don’t want anyone to know about.

After that, I was left alone, for the most part. The luncheon progressed nicely—though Rarity glared at me until I ate something—and within an hour or so, we found ourselves at the garden party. It was on the grounds of the palace, thankfully.

The rest of the day had been mostly small events, with a few people involved and all in relatively tight groups. There had been little chance for any of them to approach me, and less desire for them to do so with Luna and Rarity there. This party was a lot larger, with several rich ponies around. Luna got swarmed, and as soon as she mentioned she was there with Rarity, the swarm surrounded her as well. I was cut off from them both, thankfully. Rarity seemed to belong with those annoying people, and she was kind enough to pull as many of them as she could away from me.

However, with Rarity and Luna completely surrounded, that left little in the way of interesting people to talk to. That didn’t bother me so much, given that I could zone out for hours at a time, but it did matter to others. There was still Fancy Pants, but he was a common visitor to events like this. Given that, a few ponies started gravitating toward the only other thing of interest they saw at that party: Me.

I heard a mare behind me say, “So Sir Navarone, I’ve heard many tales about you.” I turned to face her and froze: It was Fleur. I gulped, worried that she might easily recognize my voice. She continued, “Is it true that you single-hoovedly led a rampaging army across Egypt?” I’m a fucking royal knight. What’s she going to do to me even if she does recognize my voice?

“No one pony leads an army, dear,” Fancy Pants answered, walking up. “I see you’ve met my wife, Fleur-de-Lis. I’ve heard tales of that feat as well, and always wondered the truth of them.” His wife? Interesting. Wonder if he knows she’s a whore. For a pony, she was probably beautiful. She didn’t have many other redeeming qualities. Trophy wife, I suppose.

“I was Celestia’s voice, I suppose,” I answered. “And I did my share of the leg work and planning to keep the army moving. But I wasn’t the actual leader of the group. That honor went to a cat named Jocasta.” They asked me a bit more about it. I’ve referenced that dirty event enough, I think, and if you really want to know more, look in a damn history book.

Then they got to asking me a bit more about the Everfree forest. “I’ve heard there are all manner of undiscovered fruits in that place. Have you considered bringing any out for study?” Fancy Pants asked.

“I have been, actually,” I answered. “I watch a fruit tree long enough to see animals eating the fruit, to make sure it is all edible. When I see that, I grab a few and make sure to grab some seeds as well. Some of them I give to a farmer friend and some of them I bring to a scientist friend. I don’t know how well the seeds will take to the ground, but if they do well, you can probably start expecting more Everfree fruit in the coming years.”

“Ah, the Apple family I presume?” I nodded. “We do so love their Zap Apple Jam…” Zap Apples are some strange brand of apples that came out of the forest and were grown at Applejack’s farm. Once a year or so, they magically sprout and grow the most magnificent apples you could ever see or taste. Every other time of the year, the trees are completely barren. “Though I suppose it will be some time before they start making products with the fruits.”

“I don’t know anything about farming,” I answered with a shrug.

“What else have you found in there, that you are allowed to talk about?” Fancy Pants asked.

“A few ruins. The dragon. A zebra hermit. All manner of nasty critters. I don’t suggest using that place as a vacation spot.”

They smiled at that. Before they could ask anything else, though, we were interrupted. “So where do you come from, human?” Blueblood asked, striding up. He looked… well, he wouldn’t be winning any more beauty contests, that’s for sure. The poison sure did a number on him. His face looked ravaged by time, and his mane was mostly gone. His eyes were bloodshot and had lost much of their color. His entire coat looked ragged. He was glaring at me with a fierceness I hadn’t been subjected to in a while, a sneer on his face. I saw that his teeth were rotting, as well. The only thing about him that was similar was his voice, which was an eerie contrast to his ruined body.

“Another dimension, I suppose.” I shrugged. “I’ve never really thought about it in relation to Equestria.”

“And is everypony there as bad a guard as you?”

“Hey, I got as much of that poison as you did! It’s not my fault you suck at living.” Oh, that pissed him off big time. It also won me a hidden smile from Fancy Pants; Blueblood was never well liked by most of the ponies that actually knew him, and I garnered that his recent behaviors had made him even less popular.

“Do you know what I do to bad guards, human?” he asked with a very dangerous gleam in his eyes.

“I suppose you yell at the royal guards. Maybe order them strapped or something.”

Or something,” he mocked. “I challenge them. If they can beat me, they do not receive any punishment. If they can’t… Well, their punishment varies based on their actions.”

“Then I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not a guard and that you have absolutely no authority over me.”

“You were assigned to guard me. I do believe that makes you a guard. And as to having authority? I am a prince. You are less than a commoner, not even the equal of a pony.”

I saw Luna turn her gaze and ears over to us at that point. I knew this was about to get interesting. “Frankly, Blueblood, I don’t give a damn what you think or what you think you are entitled to. Nor do I really care what you have to say. How about you head on back to bed? You look like you need some rest.”

What it looked like he needed was a chill pill. Or an unhealthy dose of euthanasia. With every word I said, his rage grew and grew. I think it was only the fact that he was in a public place that stopped him from attacking me offhand. “I challenge you, human,” he growled.

“Uh huh. Fancy Pants, what are the rules of an Equestrian duel?”

“The pony that is challenged picks the time and the place. Killing is discouraged, but allowed. The duel ends when either party is unable to continue fighting or either party admits defeat.”

“Weapons?” I asked.

He looked confused for a second. “There are no official rules against them, but they also aren’t specifically allowed. Maybe Princess Luna could fill us in?” She had been listening with more and more interest, and finally stepped up when called upon.

“Weapons are allowed,” she said. “It is an old rule, back when races with hands were more common in cities. Most races didn’t have as many natural weapons or strength as ponies, so it was decided weapons should be allowed.” I checked my crossbow.

“Of course,” Fancy Pants continued, “there hasn’t been a real duel in Equestria in… centuries, I suppose. There are a few games every year, but those are always for fun. To actually have a duel…” he smiled. “This day will be talked about in a while, I believe.” Blueblood was still giving me the most hate-filled looks you could imagine.

“So, I can set the time and place?” I asked. Luna put on a small smile, and nodded. I think she knew what was coming. I hoisted my crossbow a bit. “Blueblood, I accept your duel. I set the place to here and the time to… Now.” He had half a second to look surprised before a bolt dug deep into his neck. He dropped and began flopping on the ground.

“So that means I win, right?” The only ponies not completely panicking were Luna and Fancy Pants. Luna bent down to make sure Blueblood didn’t die.

Fancy Pants was doing his best to not burst out laughing. When he finally got control of himself, he answered, “Yes, Navarone, I think you won. Now don’t get me wrong: What you did was wrong and had absolutely no honor in it, but you definitely won.”

“Honor?” I asked, confused. “Why the hell would anyone fight with honor? If I’m in a fight, I’m in it to win, not to make my opponent feel okay about losing.”

“That is… an interesting way of looking at it, I suppose,” he answered. “But you won’t find too many ponies willing to fight against you if you keep that attitude.”

“Good. Only an idiot seeks fights out. I fight when I know I will win or when I know I have no choice. To do anything else is suicidal.”

He nodded slowly. “You definitely have a refreshing viewpoint, human. There are many that would call you a coward.”

“I’d rather be a live coward than a dead hero. Especially if either way I’m the victor.”

He gave a dark smile at that. “Yes, I can understand that. Tell me, how long will you be in Canterlot? Sometimes I grow weary of… this,” he said, waving his hoof around the party that was just beginning to stop panicking. “It would be nice to have somepony to talk to that isn’t just doting on me. Somepony that actually treats me as an equal.”

“I’m probably leaving tomorrow morning, actually. And I have a relatively busy day and night ahead of me, after this.”

“I understand,” he said. “When the princess calls, we obey.” He looked around again, sighing. “I suppose I’ll have to help fix this mess. Blueblood isn’t well liked, but he is a pony and he was just almost killed by something not a pony. I don’t think many here realized it was a duel that he challenged you to.”

“Hm… I didn’t think that this might add more fear against me.” I looked down to Blueblood, mostly recovered but still on the ground. “But I think it was worth it.” We shared another smile before he went off to calm the party.

He wasn’t gone half a minute before Blueblood got up and stormed off without a word. I grabbed the bolt that Luna had pulled out and reloaded my crossbow. “Well?” I asked her.

She just shook her head with a smile and went to help Fancy Pants. I sought out Rarity.

It didn’t take me that long to find her: She was also helping calm the ponies down. When they all saw me, the ponies she was trying to comfort bolted. She sighed and turned to me. “Well, Navarone? What do you have to say for yourself?”

I shrugged. “He wanted a duel.” I gave off a little chuckle, and continued in a flat voice, “I won.”

“Blueblood was stupid enough to…” She sighed again, shaking her head slightly. “This party is over. Head back to my room. I’ll be there soon enough.”

“You got it.” I slipped the ring off and jumped into the air. Probably not the best move to remind the people that thought I just murdered someone that I could fly, but I also didn’t really care. It was also probably not the best move to take my ring off when I just almost murdered Celestia’s nephew; I don’t imagine she would be too happy about that.

I made it to Rarity’s apartments with no problems, and put the ring back on with a sigh of relief. I got in using my key and sat back to wait. Opalescence rubbed herself against my leg and we played for a bit; as long as I was the only one around her, she was pretty alright. She was also one of the few animals smart enough to know I exist, which might have been why she was okay with me.

As soon as Rarity got back, though, Opal immediately hissed at me and buggered right off. Rarity didn’t spare the cat a glance, though. I barely had time to stand up before I was forced right back down by a tackle that soon resolved into a hug. I can’t imagine that was comfortable for her against my armor. “You’re the best friend ever!” she laughed.

“Yeah, I’m pretty great,” I said. “Now, I don’t suppose you could get off me?”

She noticed what position she was in. “Oh! Yes, I suppose I could do that.” She picked herself off of my lap and stood back up. “When you said you took care of Luna for me, I didn’t expect you meant that! What did you say to her?”

“We made a deal.”

“What did she want from you? I thought you did just about anything they asked of you.”

“It’s not important, Rarity. So your image wasn’t ruined by having your ‘date’ almost kill Blueblood?”

“Absolutely not! That was the best thing that happened for me all day! To have a date so loyal to challenge the most renowned fighter in all of Equestria for my honor! And then to win that duel, in my name… If I didn’t know any better, I would say you were expecting some kind of reward from me.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at what she said. “That’s what they told you the duel was about?” She nodded, looking confused. I continued, “I see no reason to deny it to any of your friends over there, but what really happened is that Blueblood was being a dick and I put him in his place. He didn’t like that, so he challenged me. I suppose Luna made the other story up to make you look better.”

She was silent for a moment, and then gave an even bigger smile and jumped on me once again. “Now I really owe you for getting Luna on my side! Whatever she demanded in return, it couldn’t have been enough!” Now that is an opinion.

“Honestly, I don’t know why you care so much about your image here. The only one of those rich people worth talking to is Fancy Pants. And his wife is the reason we ended up in jail those few years ago. Also, can you get off me?”

She jumped back down. “She is the reason we were arrested and your career as a model was ended prematurely?”

“Yep. We were visiting one of their country houses or something, and she tried to seduce me. I took it about as well as someone who isn’t at all attracted to ponies would. She was not amused and fabricated some charges.”

“Hm. I wonder why she would… Oh! She’s probably jealous of me.” At my look, she continued, “Of everypony here in Canterlot, I’m one of the few Fancy Pants actually enjoys talking to or being around. She might have assumed there was something else going on between us. To that end, she wanted some manner of revenge, and thought we were a couple and could get back at me by seducing you.” Or she was mad that someone else didn’t want to sleep with her.

“Well, I guess that makes sense. Didn’t work out very well for her, though. We got arrested and got out with no problem. And you’re free to continue sleeping with her husband.” She gave me a bit of a dirty look for that. I pretended like I was thinking about something for a second. “Maybe I should have slept with her. I suppose it would have been fair. Though I don’t know how she looks.”

“Hmph. I have not slept with Fancy Pants, nor would I. As to you bedding his wife? I don’t suggest it. I don’t think she thinks with her brain that often. She might be stupid enough to eventually think you love her.”

“Yes, that would be inconvenient. I’ve dealt with enough of that shit with you ponies; I don’t need another one to add to the list.”

“That’s just because we’re all more open-minded than you are. If you got over your distaste for the idea of loving a pony, you wouldn’t be complaining so much. From what I’ve heard, you don’t seem to have that problem with cats or dragons.”

“I got used to the cat when I didn’t have any choice in the matter for half a month. The dragon… Well, Celestia did tell me to enjoy myself at that party.” And God, Kumani could do some things with that long tongue of hers… I realized I was smiling slightly, and tried to wipe it off my face. “Everything after that is a bit of a blur, with all the spells I had over me. The only reason I remember some of that week is because I wrote it down while it was happening, in my spare time.”

“Well, if you ask me—” she was interrupted by a knock at the door. She gave me a look that promised this wasn’t over, and opened it with magic. In walked Princess Celestia. Here we go.

She didn’t look overly pleased. “Navarone, come with me.” Not even a word to Rarity. I got up and went with her, Rarity watching me go with a mixture of fear for my fate and respect for Celestia.

When I got outside Rarity’s rooms, I found Celestia was alone. Well, it isn’t like she needs guards to subdue me, if it came down to it. I’m not stupid enough to attack her anyway. She pulled Rarity’s door shut and led me away, not saying a word. I followed. After a second of thought, I casually slipped my ring off. If she noticed, she didn’t mention it.

I don’t know how long we walked. She never said a word to me, but she did talk a bit to a few other ponies we passed.

Eventually we got to the throne room. Celestia walked right up to the dais and took her spot. After a moment’s consideration, I stood a bit in front of her, to her side. We still didn’t have any guards with us, and I figured I might as well pretend to be here for a reason that wasn’t punishment.

We were there for a few hours, while a steady stream of courtiers and messengers came in to deliver something or discuss some issue. I gotta say, if that’s what Celestia does all day, I’m glad I’m not in that position. As soon as I realized I was there for the long haul, I zoned right the fuck out. I paid just enough attention to make sure no one threatening entered.

A few of the people that stopped by were there at the party. As soon as they saw me standing by her side, they quickly decided to head somewhere else.

We were like that until around the time the sun was setting, when Celestia stood and set off again. I followed her without a word. She led us to what I suppose was the royal dining hall or something. Luna was already there eating breakfast. She looked up when we came in, and raised an eyebrow when she saw me.

“Navarone? I wasn’t expecting to see you so early.” She yawned, reminding me that she didn’t get much in the way of sleep last night. Or during the day, I suppose.

“Well, Celestia told me to follow her, so I have been. She hasn’t said a word to me since, so I suppose unless you feel like telling me to follow you instead, I’ll just follow her right to bed.”

Luna’s guards stiffened at that, either at what they thought I implied or at the thought that they might be forced to deal with me. Luna looked thoughtful for a second and was about to reply, but Celestia finally decided to break her silence. “You seem to insist upon making my life hard, so I decided to make your life boring. It seemed only fair.” She sat down to eat.

Luna spoke up, “Well Nav, which would you prefer: A dangerous life or a boring life?”

“If I’m going to end up living in the palace, from the looks of things it’ll be both. Challenged to a duel by a royal twat and then punished for winning. It’s hard, being a human in a pony’s world.”

“Well, we’ve offered to fix that for you,” Luna commented, sipping at some manner of juice. “It’s hardly our fault if you choose to be difficult.”

“I don’t remember either of you offering to turn all the ponies to humans. I guess I took a few too many knocks to the head while serving you.”

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