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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39. Chapter Thirty-Three—Weddings to ruin, cheese legs to taunt Part 1

“What the fuck just happened?” I asked aloud, not really expecting an answer.

Then I saw a faint glowing. I whipped my head that way, dropping into a fighting stance. I saw Cadance looking my way in fear.

That fear turned to true happiness. “Thank Celestia, you’re okay! I thought she was going to hurt you!” She rushed forward and hugged me, which was somewhat awkward, what with me holding a dagger and all.

When she let me go, I looked around. “So who was that and where are we?”

She grimaced. “That was a changeling.” I had read about them. They feed on emotions, particularly enjoying love. They can take on the shape of anything they want. “As to where we are… I think we’re in the mines under Canterlot.”

I blinked. “That’s impossible. A city as big as Canterlot produces a lot of weight. If there were tunnels under there, the city would have collapsed. That’s the reason Paris doesn’t have any skyscrapers.”

She looked at me blankly. Oh right. Magic.

“So how do we get out?” I asked.

Her light grew much stronger, illuminating the entire area. After a few minutes of checking, we found that there was no way out. We were stuck.

She started crying lightly.

“Cadance, can’t you just… teleport us out?”

She blinked, her tears stopping momentarily. Her horn glowed brightly for a moment before fizzling. We heard laughter echoing through our little chamber. “There is no escape from your little prison,” we heard Cadance’s voice say. “These stones have magical properties. Short range teleportation is possible, but you can’t get far enough away.”

“Show yourself!” Cadance demanded. We just heard laughter again, and it slowly faded away.

“Well, shit.” She started crying again. I sighed at that. “Save your water, Cadance. If we’re going to be down here, you’re going to need it.” Thankfully, I followed my own advice and got a canteen back in Manehattan before we left. I set it down. “One mouthful every hour. We’ll decrease it as we need.”

She didn’t stop crying. “What’s going to happen to my Shining Armor?” she whispered.

“That lady is pretty bitchy. I’m sure they’ll notice her change in attitude. And when Luna finds out that I disappeared, well… They have ways of finding me. When’s the wedding, anyway?”

“Four days,” she sniffled.

“See there? Plenty of time to be rescued. Celestia can deep-six that changeling bitch, we get freed, and you can have your happily ever after.” That got a smile out of her. “Now come on. How about you tell me about yourself? You’ve apparently heard so much about me, but I didn’t even know there was a third alicorn until a few days ago.”

She looked pensive. “Where should I begin? There’s not too much to tell, but I would like to have somewhere to start.”

I shrugged. “How about starting from where you met Twilight? That seems like a common point of interest.”

She smiled and told me how she was Twilight’s foal sitter. Apparently that’s how she met Shining Armor. We talked about her until she finally passed out, sleeping deeply. To be quite honest, I wasn’t feeling that great either… I put my head down for a moment…

And woke up to Cadance groaning. I shot up. “I was asleep!” I gasped. I guess not having any sun or much light was affecting me pretty harshly.

“And we’re still here!” she moaned. “I need to stop her before she sucks the love out of my groom!”

“Relax, Cadance. It’s only been one night. She probably claimed to have sent me home and then went straight to bed, stating weariness from the journey. There’s still three full days before the wedding.”

She sighed, calming down. “You’re right, of course. We’ll be just fine.” We were silent for a moment. “So tell me about yourself, Nav. We talked about me yesterday. Surely you have some tales about yourself as well.”

“Well, you already know about Luna, so that’s the darkest secret.” I don’t think I should mention the brightest secret of Celestia. “I might as well start at the beginning.” I did just that. We talked until we were tired again. We slept next to each other for warmth. I wasn’t very comfortable with waking up being spooned by a pony, but I’ve been through worse. I extricated myself from her before she woke up and didn’t mention it.

She grew increasingly despondent and I grew increasingly weak as the third day went by. I don’t want to write down some of what was said. It hurt me to see someone so happy and full of life be brought down like that. And it also hurt me to grow so weak from not having any sun.

We woke up the fourth day to the sound of explosions. “Did you hear that?” I asked as I sat up, rubbing my eyes. The canteen was long emptied, meaning we had to deal with crusty mouths.

“It sounded close…” she said.

“A cave-in, maybe.” We heard it again. “That was right next to us!” We went over to the wall we heard it coming from. I tapped my fingers on it. “This is hollow! Can you break it with magic?”

Her horn glowed for a second before the wall exploded. “Good job,” I said to her.

“That wasn’t me,” she whispered, watching as the dust cleared.

“Twilight?” we both said at the same time, seeing her there.

“YOU!” she screamed, jumping at Cadance.

The strength of her tackle sent them a few feet into our chamber. I rushed in and pulled Twilight off Cadance. “This is the real one, Twilight! Calm down.”

“And how do I know you’re real, hm?” she harshly asked.

“Because if you get us out of this I’ll consider forgiving you for letting the dragons almost kill me.”

That calmed her down. “It is you! Thank Celestia! But… if you’re the real Cadance, who is the other one?”

“A changeling,” Cadance answered. “They can look like anypony they want to, and feed off emotion. We have to stop her!”

“Damn right. But first we have to get out,” I said.

Twilight smiled. “I can just teleport us out!”

“Nope. Short range teleportation only down here,” I said. “We tried that when we first got here.”

She sighed and looked back the way she came. We all turned our gaze that way and saw a faraway glint. I felt air stirring gently over my arm hair.

“That way,” we all said, pointing the same direction. We started running.

After a moment, I said, “Do… Do you hear music?”

Cadance began to sing. For fuck’s sake. At least it was a pretty good song, though I felt like we were only hearing half of it. Given that this style of song was often sung with one happy side and one evil side, I figured her doppelganger was up top, singing the opposite stanzas.

Anyway, cue a long run out of the mine shaft, with a trip on a mining cart included. I flew alongside it, not trusting it. It ended with us facing three evil bridesmaids, one of which was Lyra and one of which was Colgate. They were easily taken care of, though sadly my suggestion of punching them in the face wasn’t taken; Cadance actually just distracted them with a bouquet of flowers that appeared out of nowhere.

“Where’s the wedding happening?” I asked as we ran into Canterlot, bypassing the shield around the city. I felt the energy surging through me as the sunlight hit my hair.

“In the Royal Overlook,” Twilight answered, huffing slightly. I knew where that was.

I smiled. “Divide and conquer. You go in and distract them. I’ll come in from behind and kill this cunt while her back is turned.”

They nodded, both too tired to speak. I took off into the air, flying to the outside of the overlook. When Twilight and Cadance burst in, I would be in the perfect position to shoot this changeling in the back. I held on for dear life, hoping no one saw my fingers gripping the edge. After a few minutes, I heard someone barge in, interrupting the ceremony. I heard some pointless exposition and then an explosion. I propelled myself up, letting the air catch my wings and aiming the crossbow at a cylinder of green fire.

I gaped when I saw the changeling’s true form. That is so very, very badass. Why can’t the good guys ever look like that? She was shaped like a pony, with dragonfly-like wings, each one ragged and covered in holes. Not practical, but I guess magic helps. She had a horn on her head that was all kinds of fucked up: It jutted in three different directions, angling sharply. Her four legs had holes drilled through the lower halves so that you could see clear through. Her hair was a long and straight light blue. She appeared to have a crown or something on her head. There looked to be some kind of green saddle or something strapped to her back. She also looked unhealthily skinny. I couldn’t see it at the time, but later I found her eyes were neon green with lizard-like irises. She had large fangs for teeth.

I shook my head and readied the shot, aiming at the base of her neck. She stepped in front of Shining Armor, cutting off my shot. I gripped my crossbow nervously. If I move too much, she might see me. She was going on and on about some plan. God, even her voice is awesome! I ducked behind a pillar until I heard her move again and continue talking. I moved back out. This time Celestia was in my way. For fuck’s sake!

Lacking anything else to do, I actually started listening to her. Apparently she was the queen of the changeling race or something, meaning it was… it was… her job to secure food. I looked at her body again.

As skinny as she was... It looked like she was starving. If I had to guess, I'd say she wasn’t attacking us to be evil, but rather out of desperation. She had no choice, if she wanted to feed her people.

Celestia finally spoke up. “No, you won’t.” In reply to something about taking over Equestria. “You may have made it impossible for Shining Armor to perform his spell, but now that you have so foolishly revealed your true self, I will protect my subjects from you!” That last was said while jumping into the air and launching a spell at the queen. The queen countered with one of her own.

Well, Celestia did kind of have a point. What the changeling did was still wrong, even if it was for a good reason. All of that went through my mind very quickly as I readied a shot. I hesitated for an instant, watching the flow of things. For a second, it looked like Celestia would come on top easily, but then the changeling began to push back.

“Nope,” I said aloud as my finger tightened on the trigger, sending a bolt right at the queen’s chest. It bounced off, but it was enough of a distraction to give Celestia the upper hand, bringing her spell down to the queen and knocking her back into a pillar with a nasty crunch. The queen slid to the floor with a thud, knocked clean out.

Most everyone in the room was pretty shocked with this whole turn of events. Cadance reacted first, sprinting up to the stage and doing her best to wake Shining Armor up from his stupor. Her horn glowed for a brief moment and a heart leapt out of it, hitting him in the head. I flinched, reminded of a bad experience with the need it/want it spell. He flinched as well, shaking his head clear.

Celestia and I walked over to the changeling queen, while Twilight ran up to her friends—standing where the bridesmaids would be. “I was wondering when she would show her hoof,” Celestia mused aloud as we looked down on the unconscious queen. “That wasn’t a dog at the party, it was a changeling.”

“I told you that you should have let me question it,” I said, looking down at the queen.

“I knew it was a changeling as soon as I read its memories, Navarone. I didn’t tell anypony because I wanted the queen to show her hoof. They can disguise as anypony they want, so I didn’t know who I could trust. When you disappeared, I knew the queen had taken Cadance. But without knowing where you and the real Cadance were, I didn’t want to risk letting her know I knew. I could faintly see you with the eavesdropping spell, but I couldn’t teleport you out.” I saw a bright pink light behind us and I turned around. Shining Armor was back. Apparently it was his job to keep the protection spell up around the city. It had grown weak while his mind was being corrupted, so he just strengthened it.

“Well, we won. This queen is still very powerful, though. If I hadn’t intervened, she would have won that little duel.”

“You are correct, Navarone. That is why I’m going to banish her to Tartarus before she wakes up.”

I turned to Celestia. “That would be genocide, Celestia. What she did was wrong, yes, but can you honestly say you would have done differently if your people were starving?”

Her eyes hardened. “I would have asked first,” Celestia answered.

“So you’re going to condemn the entire race to death because of the mistakes of their queen? Surely I am not the only one that can see the use of a race that can shapeshift at will. And if all you have to do is feed her love, it shouldn’t be that hard to find an agreement.”

She sighed. “You aren’t wrong. Watch her. If she moves at all, yell.” She walked away and I turned back to the queen, reloading my crossbow. I picked her crown off her head and looked at it. Is this made of… fungus? I put it back on her head, shuddering lightly. As I did so, I couldn’t help but feel her mane. It’s like moss… Just what the hell is this chick made of? I tapped her jet black horn. It felt like every other horn.

I stood back up, hearing others approach. “And you just want me to put her in a bubble?” Shining Armor asked, sounding incredibly surprised.

“Yes, I do,” Celestia answered. “I don’t want your wedding day to be ruined by knowing the pony guilty for almost ruining it is running free. We shall deal with her after the wedding.” The queen shifted. I had my crossbow up in an instant, pointed at her head. “Now!” Celestia commanded. His horn glowed, wrapping the queen in a see-through pink bubble. The bubble gently rose a bit off the ground. The queen shifted again, and then was still.

“Princess, we uh… We have a problem,” Twilight said. We all looked her way. She was looking outside, up.

“Navarone, stay here. Watch her. Shining Armor, come with me.” They walked over to the edge and looked up. I heard Shining Armor whistle lightly. Celestia turned to him. “Can you move that bubble?”

“Yes, Princess.”

Celestia looked at the crowd. “Go to your homes, my little ponies. The wedding will be postponed for one week. Do not panic at the sight awaiting you in the skies; we are all perfectly safe.” They slowly began to filter out. Celestia turned to the collection of bridesmaids and the others. “Rainbow Dash, Cadance, grab Shining Armor. Shining Armor, carry the bubble with the queen. Navarone, come with me and be ready to fight.” We all did as she asked. The bubble drifted over to the group. “Now follow me, everypony.” We walked to the edge and jumped into the air, Cadance and Rainbow Dash carrying Shining Armor.

I looked up. Holy fuck. There was an entire horde of changelings above us. We flew up to the main concentration of them and hovered there. Slowly the horde sorted itself out and one very large one was staring at us standing on the shield.

“Navarone, stick your hand out of the shield,” Celestia ordered.

Are you fucking crazy? I did as she asked, though. The big changeling grabbed it. “Pull him in,” she told me. I did.

“You have our queen,” the guy rasped. He wasn’t angry or sad. Just matter-of-fact.

“She will be well-treated, pending your behavior,” Celestia answered. “If you desire, you may pick one changeling to keep her company. The queen will be staying here for a little while. Depending on how our talks go, she will either be returning home or she will be taking an extended vacation to Tartarus.”

Cadance, Shining Armor, and Rainbow Dash all looked at Celestia like she was crazy.

The changeling nodded. “You are merciful,” he rasped. “I am needed to guide our people until a new queen may be chosen or ours is returned to us.” He looked up. One changeling immediately struck the shield, trying to get to us. He turned to me. “That one,” he said. “Pull her through.” I looked to Celestia, who nodded. I reached up and let the changeling grasp my arm. I tugged her through. The male turned to the new one. “Protect the queen. You will be her only servant for some time.”

“Yes, commander!” the female said.

The commander turned to Celestia. “This is Doppel. She is one of Queen Chrysalis’s maids. She will not misbehave.”

Celestia nodded and turned to Doppel with a smile. “Welcome to Canterlot.”

Shining Armor slipped slightly and Cadance looked down. I knew she was weak from her time in the caves. Celestia said, “Rainbow Dash, take them down. Cadance, get some food in you, and then go get some rest. We can take this from here. Doppel, go with your queen.”

With a chorus of “Yes, Princesses,” they all left. Celestia and I were left with this commander fellow.

She turned to him. “I want your ponies away from Canterlot, commander. I want them away from Equestria entirely, but I don’t think that will be happening…” She thought for a moment. With a bright flash, she summoned a map. “Navarone, where was the entrance to the caves in which you were trapped?”

I looked down at the map, and then up to the surrounding countryside. I pointed a spot out on the map when I found the position. “Around here. But there are three bridesmaids down there, brainwashed. We need to bring them back.”

She muttered something dark. “Go with them, Navarone. Lead them to the cave and bring back the three ponies there.” Celestia turned to the commander. “If the four of them don’t make it back, your queen will suffer.”

He bowed his head. “This one,” referring to me, “is empty. We do not need him. The others have already been sucked dry by the queen; until they are given a chance to recuperate, they are useless to us.”

Celestia didn’t look happy about that, but there wasn’t much she could do. “Go, Navarone. Come back to me as soon as you get back to the city. We have several important things to discuss. And do not let your guard down.”

“I’ll be fine, Celestia.” She nodded, and began to descend back down to the palace. “So what is your name?” I asked the commander.

“I am called Ditto,” he answered. “I am the commander of her majesty’s swarm.”

“Neat. Shall we?”

“The swarm follows you, Navarone,” he answered. I pulled him out of the bubble. When I did, I finally heard the sounds of the changelings. It… It cut into my mind. Think of a swarm of locusts. Now magnify that a hundred-fold, increasing the size of the locusts and the size of the swarm. Beam that sound directly into your brain. Then you’ll know a little bit of the sound of that mass of changelings.

It was disquieting, to say the least. It wasn’t helping that they were all staring at me with blank expressions. “That’s not creepy or anything,” I said aloud. They all continued staring.

“Go, Navarone. We follow,” Ditto said. I turned and flew to where the entrance to the caverns was. I heard the swarm following me. Ditto flew at my side.

I landed right in front of the entrance. “This is it,” I said. “There is a massive cave system down there, with very little light. You’ll want to be careful that you don’t lose many of your people before you have the system mapped out. But for now, wait out here; I need to go get the ponies out.”

“Navarone, what are… people?”

“You and me. We’re people.” I waved my hand over my shoulder at the changeling army. “Those are people.” I pointed to the hole. “The ponies down there are people. ‘Your’ people would mean all of the changelings under your command.” He nodded once. I jumped back into the cave, sliding down the steep incline leading up to the entrance. When I got down, I heard the three ponies still fighting for the bouquet.

I walked over to the three, watching and wondering what to do. Eventually, I sighed and ripped Lyra from the group. She struggled at first until I began tickling her tummy with my fingers. She stopped fighting and starting laughing. After a moment, I saw the green eyes that signified someone was mind-wiped by the queen disappear from her and I stopped.

She quickly calmed down. “Where am I? Navarone, is that you? What am I… what am I wearing?”

“You’re in the caves below Canterlot, yes it is me, and you are wearing a dress.”

“What happened?” she wearily asked, trying to stand to her hooves.

“You were brainwashed by the queen of the changelings and had all of the love slowly stripped from your mind, leaving your body weak and under her control.”

She looked at me like I was an idiot. “That’s stupid. What really happened?”

I shook my head. “Not important. Help me wake the others up.” That was when she noticed them.

“What are you two doing? This is a joyous occasion, not a time to be fighting!” She used her magic to rip the bouquet from their hooves and threw it over the side of a nearby cliff. We actually teleported up it, the drop was so far. “Come on you two, we have to get back to Canterlot for the wedding!”

They looked at her with glowing green eyes that slowly narrowed. “She broke free,” one of them said.

“Not for long,” the other answered.

“Uh, Nav?” Lyra whispered, backing into me. “What are they talking about?”

I popped my knuckles, walking past her. “You’ll find out when you get back to the castle,” I answered.

Two punched out ponies and several new curses added to Lyra’s dictionary later, we got the two of them back to the surface.

“Cave’s all yours, Ditto,” I told him.

He nodded. “Thank you, Navarone. We will settle in shortly. Do you require aid with your charges?”

“I wouldn’t say no to the help. I sure don’t feel like dragging either of them back to Canterlot.”

“Navarone… What are those?” Lyra stammered. I looked at her and saw she was staring at the changelings, completely terrified. I think she was just now able to form words.

“Changelings,” I answered. “Now come on, we need to get back.”

Ditto gestured to a small group of changelings that came towards us. “Four of you go with them. Escort them to the shell. Carry the unconscious ponies.”

Without a word, the changelings picked the ponies up and dropped them on the backs of two of their number. They all looked to me. With a sigh, I led the way back toward the castle.

“Navarone, what happened to us?” Lyra asked, her voice wavering.

“You were brainwashed by the queen of the changelings, helped almost doom Equestria, and tried to keep Cadance, Twilight, and I from saving the day.”

She promptly fainted. One of the changelings threw her over the back of another one. We continued on the way.

As we walked, I tried to draw the changelings into a conversation with no results at all. They all seemed completely blank. After my third attempt, I just sighed. Then a thought hit me. “So you guys can change into anything at all, eh? Can you turn into a human?”

The changelings looked at each other. After a moment, the one without a pony on his back mirrored myself, but was walking on hands and legs. He pushed himself to his feet and promptly fell on his ass. I couldn’t help a smile as he shifted back to the bug-like changeling. I reached out and pulled him to his feet. I shivered at the feel of his skin—it was like an exoskeleton.

“So you can do bipedal, but you can’t stand on two legs without practice. Neat.”

One of them turned into Rainbow Dash. One turned into Cadance. One turned into Shining Armor. One turned into Celestia. I laughed. “Oh man, if you guys could talk, this would be perfect! I don’t suppose you can do magic?”

They looked at each other. Rainbow Dash—the one without a pony on its back—shrugged. I smiled at that. Even as a changeling, she was avoiding work. They all turned back to their real shapes; we were nearing the shell and they probably didn’t want any of the ponies inside seeing them and assuming they were mocking the princess or something. If they could even think.

I walked up to the shell, smiling at the possibilities of an army of shapeshifters. I heard four thuds behind me as the changelings bumped into the wall. I turned and saw them all on their asses, rubbing their heads. The ponies were on the ground, dropped unceremoniously.

An army of really stupid shapeshifters. I shook my head and waved forward a few guards to help me carry the ponies into town. The guards followed me out of the bubble and glared at the changelings.

“Relax, men. We have their queen; they won’t try anything.”

One of the changelings turned into a guard, complete with armor. One of the others smacked him in the face, causing him to change back.

I shook my head with a smile. “These guys are fucking awesome. Now go back to the caves, you four. We have it from here.”

With bad salutes, they took off and went back to the caves.

“You’re getting too close to those monsters,” one of the guards said as he hefted Lyra. “Now what happened to these three?”

“They were reluctant to come back. I had to persuade them. Take them to a doctor. Strap the dark blue one and the white one down until the teal one says they can go.” With much better salutes, the guards trotted off. I flew back to the overlook to find it almost empty.

The three guards posted there saluted as soon as I landed. “I’m not an officer,” I said. “Where’s Princess Celestia?”

“Follow me,” one of them said. I did just that as he led me through the winding palace. We slowly worked our way into the depths of the palace until we eventually got to the dungeons, where he pawned me off to another guard. I followed him deeper into the depths until we got to where the queen was apparently being kept.

It was just her and Celestia in the room, with the queen being in the bubble. The queen had Celestia’s shape.

I watched them glare at each other for a few seconds before loudly closing the door behind me. The both turned their glares to me before the queen gasped. “The void has returned!” she whispered, shifting to her real shape.

“About time, Navarone,” Celestia said. “I am beginning to regret letting you talk me into sparing this changeling. She is incorrigible.”

“You should know this lesson by now, Celestia,” I said. “If you want respect, you must first give it. Queen Chrysalis is a guest, not a prisoner. She does not belong in the dungeons, though she does belong in her bubble until she proves that she is not a threat.” The sound of Celestia’s teeth grinding was rather audible, and the queen smirked at her. I turned my gaze up to her. “The same goes for you, queen. You did nothing at all to represent your interests here. I asked that you be spared because I understand what you did, not because it was right. You acted like a cunt and you deserve whatever punishment you get because of it. But my species has killed enough other species to know that it is a bad idea to do so, and I know that your people depend on you. I believe that a deal can be made between the ponies and the changelings, but for right now, both of you need time to calm down and cool off.”

They both glared at me for a moment before turning to each other and smiling. “I told you he would say something like that,” Celestia said warmly.

“You were right about him, I’ll admit,” Chrysalis said, not warmly but at least not harshly.

With a glow of Celestia’s horn, we teleported to one of the fine rooms for guests in the palace. Chrysalis’s bubble slowly expanded until it covered the entire room. “These are your quarters for now. If you continue acting reasonably, you can stay here. I will try to find a volunteer to… donate… some love to sustain you. Do not harm them overmuch and everything will be fine. We will talk every now and then, and you might receive some visitors. If the visitors are not accompanied by me, Navarone, or Luna, do not let them inside. We will discuss terms in eight days, after the wedding. Now, I would stay, but I must go and fix the mess you made of my kingdom.”

Chrysalis nodded, not looking ashamed or anything like that. “Would you mind if I spoke with the void, before you remove it?” she asked.

Celestia turned to me for a second before looking back to Chrysalis. “You can talk with him later. I need him for now. Come, Navarone.” Celestia turned and left, leaving the door open.

“I’ll send your maid to you when I find her, your majesty,” I said with a nod.

She had already turned, examining her room. I saw her horn flash for a moment before fizzling. She gave a frustrated snarl and I left before she noticed I was still there; she might be unable to use magic, but she still deflected a crossbow bolt with her chest.

I gently shut the door behind me, to find Celestia staring at me. “Be careful with her, Navarone. She is old and wily. She may be here because you requested it, but that does not mean she will feel beholden to you.”

“I’m not worried about her, Celestia,” I answered. “I may be an idiot, but even I am not stupid enough to get close to something like her.” I would be visiting a few times, though; she was probably one of the few people in this blasted world I could have a dark conversation with, without being judged. I was tired of getting looks when I mentioned some things.

“Remember that, Navarone. Now come. We have things to discuss.” I followed her to that evil sitting room that I hate and want to burn down. She opened the door and went inside. I followed her and stopped.

“Celestia, when did Taya get cloned?”

“It’s amazing what happens when you disappear for a week and a half,” Twilight said. I didn’t even notice her; I was too busy looking at the two Tayas that were staring at me.

I looked at them both. One was Doppel, I knew that much. I studied them both for a few seconds. After a moment, I looked to the one on the left. “Daughter, I’m back.” The one on the right shifted to a changeling as Taya ran up to me and hugged me.

“Aww, how did you know?” Doppel asked, somewhat disappointed. “I wanted a snack!”

I heard an intake of breath from Twilight. I looked at Doppel. “Father’s instincts. Your queen desires you.”

“I don’t know the way,” she answered with a shrug. Celestia’s horn glowed for an instant and Doppel disappeared from view.

“Daddy, what’s this?” Taya asked, jerking my medal with magic. I didn’t even realize I was still wearing it. I pulled it off and showed it to her.

“I won a tournament while I was away,” I said. I pulled the bag of bits from my pocket and hefted it slightly. “A raw platinum medal and a large bag full of bits. I don’t think it was worth it, to keep me away from my daughter.”

She looked up at me, beaming.

Twilight said, “You won the tournament, Nav? All by yourself?”

“I sort of cheated, but I did win, yes.”

“‘Sort of’ cheat doesn’t quite cover it, Navarone,” Celestia said with disapproval. “I’ve already had complaints from other participants. What you did was nothing short of brilliant, and yet at the same time so darkly underhanded that I feel dirty congratulating you for it. I’m thinking about changing the rules for the first time in history.”

I smiled. “Why thank you, Celestia. That means a lot, coming from you.” She grimaced.

“Okay, now you have to tell the story!” Twilight said.

I explained to her what I did.

“Correct me if I use this phrase wrong, Nav, but… that’s fucked up,” Twilight said.

I nodded. “You used it correctly. And it most definitely was. Now don’t say that word in front of Celestia again; she’s too young to hear that kind of language!”

“Ahem,” Celestia said. We turned to her. “You didn’t break any rules and you were already declared the winner. And you are hereby banned from competing in any further tournaments of that kind.”

I turned back to Twilight. “This is what I get for winning. Do you think that’s fair?”

“Navarone, shut up,” Twilight simply said.

Human in a pony’s world, man. Just not fair. I shook my head.

Celestia ahemmed again. “Now, Navarone, we need to commission you a suit of armor for your knighting ceremony.”

“Back up.” No one moved. “What was that?”

Celestia smiled at me. “You need a suit of armor to be knighted in. I already have your friend Rarity working on a few designs, but they’ll need your approval.” I felt my wings slowly stiffen at each word she said, until they were sticking out completely.

I opened my mouth, only to have it forced closed by magic.

“You aren’t going to win this argument,” Celestia told me. “I am going to knight you and that is that. The ceremony is going to take place immediately after the wedding, so everypony that’s important will be there. Your armor should be ready by then. I can commission you a new weapon as well, if you desire.”

I felt the magic around my mouth dissipate. “Fuck no.” The magic closed my mouth again.

“No new sword. Fine.” I shook my head. “We’ve already been over that, Nav. You don’t want a sword.” I glared at her. “This isn’t a discussion. I. Am. Going. To. Knight. You. There is no choice here.” She looked pensive for a moment and raised a hoof to her chin. “Well, there might be a choice, actually. You can let Luna knight you instead. Which would you prefer to be, Nav: A Lunar knight or a Solar knight?”

The magic disappeared again. “Neither,” I growled. The magic shut it again.

“Well, you don’t have to choose now.” I heard Twilight giggling behind me. I turned my glare to her, which just made her giggle more. “Now Twilight, that’s no way to congratulate your friend!” Fucking Trollestia. I forced my wings back down. “Princess Cadance will want to speak to you as soon as she wakes up, so you should probably go wash up. And you should get some food in you as well. When you do those, go and talk to Rarity; she’ll want to hear your opinion on the armor.”

The magic on my mouth disappeared again. I opened my mouth but before I could say anything Celestia said, “Your room is to the right of the queen’s.” I shut my mouth.

I left the room and stalked away. I heard a gentle clopping following me, and I knew if I turned, I would find Taya following me. I slowed down for a moment so she could walk alongside me. “Taya, do not go into the room next to ours for any reason, unless it is with me. And if I ever ask you to go in there without telling you the code word, don’t do it.”

“What’s the code word?”

“Bacon. The lady that lives in there feeds off emotions. A lot of bad things just happened because of her. We are trying to help her, but finding a little filly might be too much of a temptation for her.”

“Don’t worry about me, daddy.”

“I always worry about you. That’s my job.” She smiled at that. “When did you get here?”

The smile dropped. “Three days ago. Twilight brought me here to be a… flower filly. I told her that you wouldn’t make me do that, but she said that you weren’t here. Celestia agreed with me.”

Damn right. “I didn’t like doing stuff like that as a child, either. God, I hate weddings. I much prefer funerals, but I got banned from them back home; I cracked one too many jokes and my family decided enough was enough.” It wasn’t quite as strong as the legal order I had banning me from singing, but when the entire family gets behind banning someone from a family event, you don’t tend to get invited to many.

“It sure is a shame you’re going to be the guest of honor, then!” Pinkie said, jumping out from behind Taya.

Yes, I am aware that doesn’t make sense. This is Pinkie Pie.

“Ooh, you reek! Where have you been these past few days?”

“Trapped in some caverns with Cadance,” I answered. “It was awful. She wouldn’t shut up about love! It was love this and love that. I really wanted to smack her.”

“Well duh! She’s getting married, Nav! Of course she’s talking about love so much. Besides, it’s her special talent! Did you see what she did to Shining Armor at the botched wedding?”

“No, I was too busy watching Queen Chrysalis.”

“Oooh, is that her name? I was just on my way to visit her now!”

“How did yo—never mind.” How did she know where her room was? “I was going to visit her after I take a shower. Wait in my room and we’ll go together.”

She waved a hoof. “I don’t need a foal-sitter, Nav. I’m an adult too!”

“She isn’t allowed visitors that aren’t accompanied by me, Luna, or Celestia. I’m shacked up right next to her for that reason.”

She frowned. “That doesn’t seem very fair, Nav. How is she supposed to make friends like that?”

“I don’t know.” I felt sorry for Chrysalis, at the look of determination I saw on Pinkie’s face. “Where is Rarity staying? I will need to talk to her after I visit the queen.”

She smiled. “I can lead you there. I have plenty of spare time since the reception is already fully planned, but Rarity is working overtime now that the real Princess Cadance is back!” And when that is done, I’ll need to eventually talk to Luna.

Pinkie Pie proceeded to repeat the word “Blah” several hundred times in rapid succession while we continued walking to my room. I nodded a few times and giggled when she paused and looked at me expectantly. At one particularly fierce round of them, I shook my head. “I disagree, but I understand why you think that.” She glared at me and continued saying ‘blah.’ When she paused I shrugged. “I’m sorry, that’s just my opinion. I don’t judge you for it, and I hope you don’t think ill of me.” She shook her head with a sigh and gave a few conciliatory blahs, and then launched into another quick round. I nodded my head at the end and she clopped her front hooves together quickly, beaming.

I saw Taya next to me staring straight ahead with a thousand yard stare, trying to ignore Pinkie. I felt Taya’s pain; I had no idea what was going on. I just found that it’s best to humor her sometimes.

When we got to my room, I led the way in and immediately stopped. Pinkie bumped into me and let out a much darker blah. I pushed her out the door and slammed it shut.

On my bed was a very naked female version of me. It was horrifying.

“Doppel, I swear to God if you do not change yourself and get out of my room, I will kill you so hard you die to death.”

My lips were not made to pout like that. “Don’t you want to love me?”

I felt like vomiting. “GET OUT! And if I ever catch you doing this shit again, your queen will be punished! You are here as a boon to her, not to satisfy your own desires!” She sighed as she shifted to her changeling form. I nodded. “Tell your queen to expect visitors shortly. I’m bringing two ponies to meet her after I get out of the shower. And if you do not inform her of this incident, I will. Now go.” She shifted to Taya’s form again as she stood to go. I grabbed her by her throat and lifted her up to my face. “You will not change forms away from your queen’s rooms without permission. At all. Or you will be banned from leaving her rooms as well. Do we have an understanding?”

She nodded weakly. I let her fall to the floor. She changed back to her changeling form. “Now get out.” She walked to the door, tail between her legs. She opened it and left without a word. Pinkie bounced in and Taya followed.

“What was that about, Nav?” Pinkie asked.

I grimaced. “The queen’s maid was not clear on a matter of decorum. I informed her of it.” I started emptying my pockets. The medal and the bag of bits I had left went to the bed. A large dragon scale followed them. An empty canteen clicked when it bounced off the medal. I started removing weapons and turned to Pinkie. “Touch whatever you want, but don’t break anything.” I saw a gleam in her eyes. “Whatever, not whoever.” She sighed. I looked around the room. “Damn, I’m going to need some clothes.”

Taya used magic to open a drawer. I looked inside. I kicked the drawer shut. “DAMMIT!” It was full of brightly colored clothes stamped with Celestia’s royal seal. Taya magicked another drawer open and it was full of dark clothes with Luna’s seal. “That’s not making me any happier, Taya!” She smiled and opened a third one. It had some of my clothes from Ponyville. “Much better,” I said to her. “Thank you.” She nodded.

“So… what were in the other two drawers?” Pinkie asked as I pulled some clothes out.

“Look for yourself,” I sighed as I closed the bathroom door behind me.

A shower later, I stepped back into my room to find a tea party going on. Knowing Pinkie was there, I wasn’t entirely surprised, but I was quite surprised with the party guests: Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie, and Taya.

I looked at Applejack and Rainbow Dash. “I swear to God, if one of you is Doppel, I’m going to drag you to her room and chain you to the fucking floor.”

“Relax, Nav,” Rainbow said. “That crazy shapeshifter can’t match up to me!”

“She sure can’t beat the ego,” Applejack slyly said, sipping at some tea. “But who is Doppel? One of them freaky bug things?”

“She’s the maid of Queen Chrysalis,” I answered.

“Queen who-now?” AJ asked.

“The big evil thing we captured today,” I said.

“Oh, her. Why does she have a maid, again?”

“Because she’s a queen?” Pinkie said. “Duh, AJ.”

“What she means,” Rainbow Dash said, “is, why are we treating her so nicely? She tried to take over Equestria and she totally ruined the wedding!”

How can I explain this in a way that will make them not hate Chrysalis? Time for conjecture, I guess. “Alright, all of you listen: Did you look at her when she transformed?”

“Yeah, she was really creepy!” Applejack said.

“And evil!” Rainbow Dash added.

“She was starving,” Pinkie Pie whispered into her cup of tea.

The other two looked at her in surprise. Applejack nodded in understanding after a moment. “She was awfully skinny.”

“I don’t get it,” Rainbow Dash said. “She had all the food a princess could need!”

I shook my head. “She’s a changeling, Rainbow Dash. They can’t survive off regular food.” She blinked. “They eat emotions.” Rainbow Dash and Applejack gasped.

“So that’s what she was talking about!” Applejack said, putting the words of the evil speech together with what I just told her.

“Applejack and Pinkie understand, Rainbow. Do you?”

“So she was trying to… eat Shining Armor?”

“She was trying to help her subjects, Rainbow. It is her job to obtain food. But when you have a species that eats love, food is hard to obtain; it’s hard to convince someone to feed you something like that when it means they have to go without. Chrysalis isn’t evil, she’s just desperate, and is trying to be a good ruler for her people. She migrated to where there is an abundance of food so her people won’t be starving anymore.” She looked at me blankly. “Think back to the founding of Equestria. All three pony races moved from their barren, freezing land to a new paradise. They moved here because food could be grown and their people could flourish. It wasn’t perfectly good for the environment, but the ponies didn’t think about that because to them, the environment was just a way of securing food. But to Chrysalis, ponies are the trees and love is the crop. She might not want to hurt them, but she has to in order to feed her people.”

Although to be quite honest, I think she might enjoy her job a little bit too much. I wasn’t about to say that in front of them, though. After all, I wanted them to think Chrysalis wasn't completely evil. I know how much Celestia values the input of Twilight, and I know how much Twilight values the input of her friends. Even if most of them aren't overly intelligent.

“She couldn’t have just asked?” Rainbow Dash questioned.

“Chrysalis has been the queen of her people for a long time. How many races do you think she has asked for help, and how many times do you think she has been rebuked? Think about it: Would you willingly give up some emotions just so something as creepy looking as her can sustain herself?” She blinked.

“Well…” She stopped.

“Think about it,” I said, walking over to my bed. I began to strap weapons back on. “It is always good to keep an open mi—Pinkie, what the fuck is this?” I held up a sheath with a rubber chicken stuffed into it.

“That’s a chicken, Nav,” she said. “Are you okay? I mean, that was a pretty stupid question.”

I dropped the chicken and threw my sword belt over my shoulder. “I’m ready when you are, Pinkie.” I turned to find them all staring at me. “What?”

There was a chorus of ‘nothing.’ I shrugged.

“So Nav, where did you get this?” Pinkie asked. I flinched when I realized she was suddenly right next to me and holding the medal I got from the tournament.

“I won it.”

She read off it, “512th European Grand Combatant Tournament Winner. What does that mean?”

Rainbow Dash spit out her tea all over an instantly disgusted Applejack. Before anyone could react, Rainbow Dash was in my face. “You won that? What happened to the ponies? Spitfire was in that tournament this year!”

I shrugged. “They got their asses kicked. The unicorn put up a large fight, but the other two were put down before they could even fight back. I think the unicorn scored two kills before getting waxed himself.”

Rainbow Dash moaned in disappointment. “What happened?” she groaned.

“Oh, I betrayed them all. It was pretty awesome. Every team that participated asked me if I wanted to help them fight the other teams, and I said yes to each one and told them to all meet me in the same place. They all showed up there and found each other, so it was a glorious and brutal melee. Ponies have no place in something like that. The only team that walked away from that whole was the dogs, and that’s because I told them where not to go because I wanted them to help me mop up the angry survivors.”

Applejack was staring at me in horror and Rainbow Dash was staring at me in disgust. Pinkie Pie was trying to catch her reflection in the dragon scale. “So where did you get this?” she asked, holding it up.

“A friend,” I answered.

“A special friend?” she asked with a grin.

“Yes.” She gasped, dropping the scale and her grin. I picked it up and stared at it before putting it back on the bed. “I’ll probably never see her again, though. No great loss.” Her grin picked up again. “Now, we are expected. We really do need to go.” I turned to Rainbow Dash and Applejack. “Enjoy the hospitality of my room. I don’t know when we’ll be back, but I expect you’ll be seeing Pinkie Pie shortly.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Pinkie demanded.

“She’s going to be a friend like Cranky Doodle,” I answered. If she doesn’t immediately try to ban me from bringing Pinkie back, at least.

“Well, at least she’ll be a friend!”

“Who are y’all gonna go see?” Applejack asked.

“Chrysalis,” I answered. AJ nodded and Rainbow Dash blanched. “Come along, Taya.” She didn’t move. “Bacon.” She trotted to me.

“You can’t take a filly to see her!” Rainbow Dash cried.

“You would be surprised at what I can and cannot do, Rainbow Dash,” I answered. “Wait here if you want.” I led my little group out and down the hall. It wasn’t a long walk. “Any doubts, now’s your chance,” I said.

Pinkie Pie and Taya nodded at me. I knocked. Half a second later, the door opened wide and Princess Celestia wearing a French maid dress opened the door. Pinkie giggled.

“We’re here to see her majesty,” I said.

Celestia shifted to Chrysalis. “What do you want, void?” she practically hissed at me.

“You said you wished to talk to me. I brought a friend full of life and a child full of love so my presence wouldn’t hurt you so much.”

Her gaze turned to Pinkie Pie and she snarled. “I remember you, pink one.” Her eyes turned down to Taya. “You, I do not know. How did the void con you here, purple one?”

“If you mean my dad, he asked me to come see you. I don’t know why, though; you seem pretty rude.”

Chrysalis jerked back, her gaze returning to me. “Interesting. You and the purple one may enter. I request that the pink one never return.”

“I’ll give you this warning for your own benefit: It’s better to humor Pinkie Pie a few times than it is to try to rebuke her. She’ll find increasingly improbable ways to annoy you until you either go insane or finally give up,” I told her. Pinkie’s smile grew impossibly wide and she nodded at what I said.

“I will take my chances.”

I shrugged. “That is your right. Pinkie, head on back; I’ll still need you to take me to Rarity.”

Her entire body seemed to deflate, but her eyes took on a very sharp focus on Chrysalis. “Soon. You,” she said, before slinking down the hall, staring the entire way.

“Enter, void.” The door opened further, allowing Taya and I inside. She silently closed the door and followed us in. “I do not approve of this décor, but given my options, I suppose I cannot complain.” Her options were Tartarus, dungeon, or this. “And I believe I have you to thank for what little I do have.”

I turned to her, to find her staring out the window. “I cannot make up Celestia’s mind. I can merely offer advice. She chose to take it. I thought you deserved a chance to present your case in a manner that did not make you appear insane and dangerous. You still have a chance of ending up in Tartarus, don’t get me wrong. But now, at least, you can seek to help your people in a way that doesn’t involve torturing another race.”

“Let me tell you a story, Navarone.”

“I don’t like stories.”

“Then I’ll tell you this: I petitioned Celestia for aid nine hundred years ago. She denied me. She told me that if any of my changelings were caught in her territory posing as a pony, it would mean war, and that was something we could not win at the time. I could go into all the history of it, but it boils down to that one event right there. I asked for help and she told me no.”

“There is history on your side and there is history on her side. A hundred years before you asked her, she was forced to banish her own sister to the moon, using powers they were supposed to only be able to wield together. For a long period of time, Celestia was in a massive depression that only started to wind down around a hundred and fifty years after the event. Fifty years after you asked for her help.”

Chrysalis turned to me, then. “And does that excuse the thousands of mine that died of starvation? The depression and arrogance of one ruler, versus thousands of my subjects?”

“You could ask yourself the same question, Chrysalis.” She stiffened when I said her name. “You risked your entire race when you enacted this plot. Your arrogance in thinking you could win this single-handedly almost landed you in Tartarus. Every one of your subjects would have starved without you there to lead them.”

She glared at me.

“But to answer your question, no, it doesn’t. Celestia’s actions in the past were not good and they were not just. But you are not so clean yourself. If you had succeeded, you would be guilty of genocide just as surely as Celestia would have been if you had all died after she sent you packing nine hundred years ago. Ponies require love to survive, just as your kind does. They do not eat it, but if they don’t feel it, they will shrivel and die, lose the will to survive over time. You were with Shining Armor for around four days, and he became so weak in that time that he could barely perform magic.”

She growled. “So that leaves us with no food source yet again! Why am I even here, then, if you are just telling me I cannot take the love from a pony?”

“You have to take it in small doses, and from several different ponies. You are like a vampire; you cannot expect to survive from one donor, but if you have several to sustain you, you will do much better. And if your kind can survive on other emotions, aside from love, all the better. If you can suck the anger or sorrow from someone, you will be well-received.”

She got a faraway look in her eyes. “I tried feeding on anger, long ago. It ended poorly. Sorrow, though… I don’t think I’ve ever tasted that.”

“Taya, come here.” She slowly walked to me. “Do you want to try an experiment?” Her eyes flicked from me to Chrysalis. She nodded. I looked to Chrysalis. “If you hurt her, I will kill you.”

“I have been doing this for a long time, Navarone. I know how to take just what I need.”

“Avoid the love. Focus on something else.”

She glared at me. “I know what I am doing.” Her twisted horn glowed neon green and slowly pulsed down to Taya’s head. After a moment, both of their eyes widened and Chrysalis recoiled, cutting off her magic. Her wide eyes darted everywhere in the room before settling on me. With a terrifying scream, she latched her hooves on me and moved her horn to my head. It pulsed green and the beam hit me. I felt… nothing. She was like that for half a minute before finally calming down.

“Better?” I asked when she released me.

“Never. Again,” she gasped.

“Bitter?” I asked.

“No, her sorrow was sweeter than love. But the things I saw…” Her body shook. “That she is still standing is amazing.”

“Wait, the things you saw? What?”

“When we steal emotions, we see glimpses of the causes of those emotions. When I was pulling the love from the mind of that fool, I saw constant glimpses of that annoying mare, Mi Amore Cadenza. I saw some of what is in her mind,” she said with a gesture to Taya. “It is not something I want to try on her again. If you can find me somepony that is suffering from sorrow for a different reason, I will be happy to try it.”

“Then what did you do to me?”

“Embraced the emptiness. Your mind is blank, I could feel it as soon as I saw you.”

I nodded slowly. “Try me now.”

“There’s no—wait.” She gazed at me. After a second her horn glowed and the light hit me. She gasped. “Love… It’s watered down, but it’s there! How is this possible?”

I smiled. “Keep going.” Her eyes narrowed as she probed further. She let out another gasp.

“Sorrow! Unpolluted, raw…” Her eyes went wide. “What sorcery is this? How is this here?”

“Try it,” I told her. “Tell me what you see.”

I felt something tugging from my mind. I ignored the sensation. “Odd…” she whispered. I saw her facial expression harden momentarily before she gave a triumphant smile. “Another… whatever you are. It looks different and has longer hair of a different color.”

“Yep. Take all of it.”

“What? That would… I don’t think that would be a good idea, Navarone.”

“Not all of my smart ideas are good. Take as much of it as you can bear, if you refuse to take all of it.” I felt a gentle trickle of something leaving my mind. The feeling was indescribable.

She finally pulled away. “I do not want to take any more until I see what side-effects may come from this, Navarone. I am here on the condition that I do not hurt anypony. I will not risk hurting you, as I believe that would quickly end up with me in Tartarus.”

I felt my hands tighten into fists. “Very well. In that case, check my mind again.”

She smiled and did as I asked. She gave another gasp. “What are you doing to me? Why can I feel nothing from you sometimes and feel so much at others it’s almost overwhelming?”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to answer that question some other time. I unfortunately have somewhere else I need to be. If you ever desire to speak, my quarters are next door to yours. I believe your maid knows the way.”

At the mention of Doppel, Chrysalis frowned. “She will not disturb you again, Navarone. I did not know she was going to do what she did.”

“Thank you. I do not wish her to further damage Taya’s mind. And if you saw what she looked like a few minutes ago, you would understand my fear.”

“She told me that she mimicked you, which is horrifying enough as it is.” Gee, thanks. “You have my thanks for snipping her antics in the bud; I would not want to risk her angering Celestia or Luna.”

“Just trying to make sure my species doesn’t have anything to do with killing off another species.”

“You will have to tell me more about that in our next talk as well, Navarone.”

“I look forward to it, your majesty. Until next time,” I finished with a nod. I opened the door and led Taya out, gently closing it behind me. “That could have gone worse,” I said as we walked back down the hall.

“She doesn’t seem very nice,” Taya commented.

“She’s also not used to talking to anyone; from what I saw, most of her subjects have no intelligence. But no, I also don’t think she’s a very nice person anyway. I don’t think she’s evil, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t bad. It’ll be nice talking to her, but I don’t think I’ll bring you to her anymore.”

She stopped moving. “You’re just using her, aren’t you?”

I stopped, turning back to her. After a moment, I smiled. “Don’t tell anyone else.” The thought to use her didn’t actually enter my mind until a few minutes ago, but I was beginning to think I could use Chrysalis to cure my depression. Who says parasites have to be bad?

Taya continued following me as we walked the rest of the way to my room. When we stepped inside, we found that the tea party had turned into a war planning session. “What,” is all I was able to say as I saw Pinkie poring over maps, a camo helmet on her head. Rainbow Dash and Applejack were still there, trying to look official.

“If you aren’t going to help me talk to Queen Chrisa—Chry—Bug Lady, I’ll have to figure out how to do it myself!” Pinkie said.

“Dammit, Pinkie. Leave her alone. She is too useful to risk antagonizing her and getting her banished to Tartarus.”

“I’m not going to antagonize her, Nav. I’m just going to befriend her!”

I face-palmed. “Rainbow Dash, tell her what is wrong with her statement.” I’ve heard Rainbow Dash describe what Pinkie does well.

“You mean Pinkie’s over-the-top super-hyper antics?” Rainbow asked.

“Yes, those,” I answered. “I’m not even going to try to ask you to understand the politics involved, Pinkie, but trust me when I say that Chrysalis is too useful to be cast aside for hurting a pony. And you are too useful to allow yourself to be hurt by Chrysalis. So just don’t bother her.”

Pinkie looked hurt. “But she needs friends! It’s just her and her maid, and she can’t leave. Surely she’s lonely!”

“I will visit her when I am able. I’m sure Celestia and Luna will as well. And you know Twilight will want to stop by at some time to try to study her. She’ll be fine.” Pinkie still looked ready to argue. “Celestia forbade visitors that weren’t accompanied by me, Luna, or her. If you try to get to her against that proclamation, you might be punished.”

“It would be worth it, to give somepony a smile!”

“Leave off, Pinkie!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “If that monster wants to be alone, let her be alone! She deserves to be a bit lonely for what she did.”

Applejack spoke up, “I know what Nav here said is true, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be punished for her actions. Dashie’s right. She deserves some kind of punishment, and a bit of loneliness seems fitting for trying to break up a marriage before it even started.”

“Honestly, I think being defeated and captured by her prey is punishment enough for someone as proud as she is,” I commented. “But they are still correct, Pinkie. Despite my words, she is not a good person. She did what she did out of desperation, but that doesn’t mean she thinks it was wrong. Just leave her alone.”

Pinkie sighed and slipped her helmet off, leaving it on the table. I knew the helmet would be gone the next time I looked away, so it wasn’t a problem. She slipped down to the floor. “Let’s go find Rarity,” she said, her voice sounding sad.

“Can we stop by the kitchens first?” I asked. “I haven’t eaten in about five days.”

Applejack perked up. “There’s plenty of grub left, from the failed wedding. Since it’s being postponed for so long, we were thinkin’ we’d have to scrap most of it. What’s there is yours, though.”

Oh hell yes. Wedding food without having to actually go to the wedding? I am so down with that. “Lead the way. Taya, you can stay or go.” She went, of course. Free food and the chance to be with me? No way in hell she’d be staying here. I grabbed the medal and the bits off the bed before we left and slipped them into a pocket.

I couldn’t help but hum a bit on the way to the kitchens. I was back home—or close to it—I was with friends, I was set for life in terms of money, and I was about to get some awesome food. Today was a good day.

Then I noticed the three friends were staring at me. “What?”

“I haven’t heard you do that in a long time, is all,” Pinkie said. Then she gasped. “And I haven’t seen that smile in a long time either!” I noticed I had a small smile on. “Girls, the queen kidnapped Nav and replaced him with Doppel!”

“Pinkie, don’t be silly,” Rainbow Dash said.

“Then why is he smiling?” Pinkie demanded. “I can’t get that smile from him, so why could she?” She sounded a bit indignant.

“I could answer that question, but I think it’s more fun not to,” I said.

“I’ll find out one way or another, Nav,” Pinkie said, suddenly serious. “It might be easier on yourself if you just told me now.”

“You’re good, Pinkie, but I’ve beaten you before. I escaped you in the cellar and I can escape you again.”

She grimaced at that. She never did forgive me for getting away from her. “You only escaped because you had Luna there to help you. I won’t make that mistake again. I’ll learn what it takes to get you to smile like this if it’s the last thing I do!”

With that, she threw something on the floor that created a large amount of smoke. When it all cleared, Pinkie was still standing there, smiling. “I love those things!” she said, giggling.

We continued to the kitchens. “Now I have at least two ponies on my case,” I sighed. “Cadance about love and Pinkie about smiles. Wait, three: Celestia wants to fucking knight me.” I heard three gasps. “Life here sucks.”

Cue Rainbow Dash in my face again. “You’re getting knighted? When?”

“Right after the wedding, apparently. For some reason, Celestia told Rarity to design the armor. After I grab some food, I’m going to make sure she keeps it simple and inexpensive since I’ll never wear it again.”

“Oh this is so cool! You’re going to be a knight! Wait, what do you mean you’ll never wear your armor again?”

“My main advantage when it comes to close quarters fighting is my ability to move quickly and avoid getting hit. Armor will kill that advantage, and render me useless in a fight. Besides, I’m not strong enough to move around in that stuff.”

She waved a hoof, landing. “That’s easy! Just start coming with me when I go to work out! We’ll have your wings and body strong enough to carry boulders in no time.”

“Not even close to interested,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind getting in shape, but I don’t care about being strong. Being dangerous is enough for me, and as long as I have this,” I said, lifting up my crossbow a bit, “I’m one of the most dangerous things out there.”

She looked at it dismissively. “I could break that with one hoof, Nav.”

“You’ve seen me use it before, so I don’t need to tell you that you would probably be unable to get close enough to destroy it. And even if you do, you would be hard-pressed to use hooves against a sword,” I said, letting the crossbow drop to its sling and drawing the sword from my back.

She just rolled her eyes.

“So how many weapons do you carry, Nav?” Applejack asked, concern evident in her voice.

“A bunch,” I answered, sheathing the sword.

“How many is a bunch?” Rainbow Dash asked.

I opened my mouth for another smartass response when Pinkie said, “Twenty throwing knives, three fighting daggers, a falchion, the crossbow, and seventy bolts. Two throwing knives are concealed up each sleeve and six are strapped to his belt. The other twelve are in two belts he keeps around his chest. He has one dagger on each leg and one strapped to his belt. Most of them have never been used.”

I closed my mouth when she started. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were alternating their stares from Pinkie to me. When she finished I shrugged. “Yep. There you go.”

“How does she know that?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“It’s Pinkie Pie,” I answered. “She just knows.”

“Doesn’t that seem like a bit much?” Applejack asked.

“It’s better to be careful,” Taya said. They looked at her in confusion.

“She’s right,” I said. “I don’t know if any of you were paying attention, but when I shot Chrysalis with the crossbow, the bolt bounced off her. My next attempt would have been lopping her head off with a sword. It’s better to have a bit of variety for different kinds of combat.”

They just shook their heads and we walked on in silence.

I remembered something. “Oh yeah, Pinkie, if I end up going to that big party next year, do you want to come with me?”

She exploded.

Like, one moment she was standing there, and the next moment Taya, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack went flying in different directions. I flew backwards several meters and landed with a pink blur on my chest. What is it with ponies and tackling me?

“YES YES YES YES YES!” She said it a few more times, but I think the message was made clear.

“Then can you get off me?”

“Well I could, but I don’t know if I want to.”

“Would it help if I said please?”

“It might, but I know something that would help much better…” she said with half-lidded eyes.

“I think please will be sufficient,” I said, struggling under her weight.

She sighed and got off me. Hooves on your chest really hurt, man. Well, hooves on your everything hurt, I should rather say.

I sat up and saw the others doing the same. Rainbow Dash had actually been thrown out a nearby window, which was thankfully open. She flew back in and gently preened her wing for a moment. “Let’s not do that again,” she said when she got the loose feather out of the way.

“You said it!” Applejack agreed, picking herself up from the heap she was in.

Taya nodded.

We continued on our way to the kitchens with no further shenanigans. Applejack and Rainbow Dash left us there, to see what they could salvage from the food supplies. I grabbed a bag of stuff for Rarity because I know how she gets when she works. Pinkie led me up to a pretty tall tower. I noticed an open window at the top and grinned.

“You two head on up. I’ll go and surprise Rarity.”

Pinkie mimicked my grin and off they went. I jumped into the air and flew my way up to the window and peered in. I saw Twilight and Rarity gathered around a table on the far side of the room, facing the other way. I slipped in and snuck up behind them and peered over their heads. On the table were several designs.

“Which do you think the real Princess Cadance would like, Twilight?” Rarity asked.

“Oh, you know I trust your intuition better than my own in things like these, Rarity,” Twilight answered. “And it’s been so long… She doesn’t appear to have changed much, but I haven’t had a chance to really talk with her since we got back.”

“Well, I’ll just go with my original design. I’m sure since that horrid beast hated it, Princess Cadance will just love it!”

“I’m sure she will, Rarity. All of your work is just lovely.”

“Now, onto our favorite human’s new armor…”

I could see Twilight grinning. “Whatever it is, you’ll have to make sure it can help him sneak better.”

“I know! There’s just no way he can stay silent with that horrid getup he’s wearing. I could hear the disturbance in fabulosity a kilometer away!” They turned to face me, both smiling. Well, that was disappointing.

“You made these clothes, Rarity,” I reminded her.

“I made the clothes, but you put together the outfit. And whoever told you those two things match lied. Why didn’t you wear any of the new clothes I made you?”

“I assume you mean the… liveries… in my drawer?” She nodded, smiling. “Because I am not nor will I ever be a servant. I do not wear the mark of another. I have ideas for my armor, but I will need to find the correct supplies. And you will never ask me where I got them or what it’s made of.”

She frowned. “I’m afraid that isn’t an option, Nav. Princess Celestia sent me word with the specifications already. I know what the armor will be made of, but it is up to me to decide the design.”

“Merde…” So much for making it from leather. “At least I only have to wear it once, and then I can scrap it.” I held up a bag of food. “Here. I know how you get when you start working.”

She pulled the bag from my hands with magic and opened in. Her eyes lit up. “You know, I am rather hungry… But it can wait.” She started to send the bag away.

“No it can’t, Rarity. I know you. You’ll start again and then you’ll forget that’s over there. Eat.”

“He’s right, Rarity,” Twilight said. “You do get awfully into your art.” Rarity rolled her eyes and pulled something from the bag.

I wandered the room a bit, looking around at some of the creations adorning the area. The wedding dress from earlier today was burned in the fire surrounding Chrysalis when she showed her true form, but Rarity was already making new designs. And there were six other dresses here. Five were from the bridesmaids, Twilight’s five friends. I guess the sixth was for Twilight. I saw a suit on one mannequin, and I assumed it was for Shining Armor. I can’t believe they made the poor bastard wear that tacky getup. But then, what do I know about fashion? I saw that a few smaller mannequins had the flower girl dresses, which reminded me of something.

“Twilight, Taya said you tried to make her be a flower girl.”

“I was… convinced… that it would be a bad idea,” Twilight said, blushing. “But Princess Celestia didn’t say why. She explained some things to me, after you left with the changelings.”

“In the future, if Taya says no to something, I suggest listening to her. There is only so far you should push someone out of their comfort zone.”

Rarity said, “If you had been there, you could have spoken up for her.”

“I’m not going to dignify that with a response.” Rarity stuck her tongue out at me.

Which made for a pretty funny scene when Pinkie and Taya came in.

“Ooh, are we making faces at Nav?” Pinkie shouted, jumping next to Rarity and making one of her own.

Rarity backed away from Pinkie and tittered. “No, no. Just… You know.” She waved a hoof.

Pinkie looked at her and smiled. “That doesn’t seem very lady-like, Rarity.”

“Well, I can’t be perfect all the time! Even a lady needs some time to let her hair down.”

They continued some manner of discussion or another. I went over to Twilight. “Where’s Spike?” I asked her.

“He’s in the library I believe. Why?”

“I need someone sane to talk to. The others are all consumed about the wedding or my approaching knighthood or both. Luna is probably still asleep so I can’t get her to tell Celestia to cool it.”

“I don’t think Luna will side with you on this one, Nav. She probably wants to see you knighted as much as Celestia does.”

“Do you think I could approach Chrysalis for succor, then?”

“That seems like a terrible idea, Nav.”

“I know. But I don’t want to be knighted. I wonder if that griffin’s offer for generalship still stands…”

“What?”

“Oh, after I won the tournament thing, one of the griffins offered to make me an officer in their army. I turned him down, but I bet he would still take me if I asked.”

“That’s… interesting. Does the princess know about that?”

“Fuck all if I know. I’ve had one conversation with her in the past few days, and that was just me convincing her to not banish Chrysalis.”

Twilight grimaced. “Which was a mistake, I believe.” I opened my mouth to retort but she continued, “I know why you did it; Celestia explained it well. But if she was just acting in the best interests of her changelings, I probably never would have realized she wasn’t really Cadance. I think she really is a bad pony, Nav.”

I nodded. “She definitely is. But that doesn’t mean she can’t be useful. And I believe it would be very useful to have an army of shapeshifters on our side, dependent on us. Even if they are all dumber than dirt.”

“You stopped the princess just because you thought we could use her?” Twilight asked, dumbfounded.

“No. That’s one of the arguments I used on Celestia, though. I stopped Celestia because I understood what she did. I’m glad I did, too; I had a talk with her earlier and she is quite interesting.”

“You don’t say.” It wasn’t a question. “I might have to pay her a visit one day, then. I have a few choice words for her about what she tried to do to Cadance.”

“You’ll have to go in with me, Celestia, or Luna. And if you start antagonizing her, any of the three of us will drag you out.”

“How can you possibly defend her like that?” Twilight asked, sounding slightly hurt.

“Because she and I are somewhat alike,” I said. “We are both species higher in the food chain forced to live among species lower than us. It took me a while to adjust and I know it will take her longer.”

She looked disgusted at the thought. “You would never eat a pony.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t. You are prey and I am a predator. Chrysalis is shaped like a horse, but you can tell by looking in her eyes and in her mouth that she is a predator. There’s a reason you are supposed to only enter her room with an escort.”

I think she was grinding her teeth. “She better apologize to Cadance,” she growled. Her entire demeanor seemed to shift. “I wonder if I could study her… Hm.”

“I don’t think Cadance would mind you studying her, but why would you study an alicorn when there’s a changeling here that you could study?”

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