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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16. Chapter Twelve—Aftermath Part 2

One of the day guards spoke up then, refuting my claim: “There were no guards posted in this area, Princess. You told us to give the guests no sign that they were confined, so we didn’t think any guards here would be needed. The disturbance was reported by a servant that was coming to check on the guests to see if they had any needs. The only way a guard would have been here would be on his own volition.”

“I don’t care what he says, there was a guard here that saw what I saw. Not like he did anything with it in terms of protecting me; he was just as eager as I to get that door shut.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just have a bad dream?” Celestia asked. “I know Twilight mentioned that you seem plagued by them at one time.”

“My definition of a ‘bad dream’ is memories of a home that I was rudely ripped from, not monsters. Monsters are easy to escape, and they go away when you wake up. Fond memories haunt you forever. I was awake when it happened anyway, so I know it was not a dream.”

“And you’re sure you weren’t just seeing things? You said it was dark; you could have just been imagining it.”

“Yeah, it could have been possible, but it was rather unlikely. For one, the beast was still there when I opened the door with the guard to check, and for two, I heard the thing when it was inside. I could hear the gentle humming of its wings as it hovered in place.”

 “If you are certain of what you saw, then, I’ll have the guards look outside for it and keep a lookout in the other rooms of the palace in case it reappears. I know of a creature that fits its description, but I haven’t heard of one being sighted in many, many years. We shall talk more on it in the morning, as I wouldn’t want to keep all of you awake for any longer than necessary. Go back to your beds, my guests. This matter will be taken care of.” That was when I first saw Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were also awake, and looking at me with apparent concern.

“Fine, we can table it until the morning,” I said. “But there’s more to talk of than just that, and I’d rather have you alone to discuss it, Princess, if you don’t mind my temerity in asking.”

She arched an eyebrow, but said, “Of course I don’t mind. Guards, go about your business and look for any signs of this creature. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, feel free to go back to bed. Navarone, we can have another room drawn up for you, if you wish.”

“No, I don’t think I’ll be getting any sleep tonight. Do you have any big rooms with lots of books?”

In hindsight, I probably should have guessed that some servant was really annoyed with those proceedings and would lead me straight to the royal treasury record room instead of the library, but at least there I was able to snatch a few hours of troubled sleep in physical, if not mental, peace. I know I said I didn’t feel tired, but hell, it’s amazing what extreme paranoia added on to the literal fear of getting your face eaten does to you. When I finally got settled on the floor of the musty treasury chamber, I wasn’t sitting for two minutes before I fell out.

And because everything about that trip seemed destined to make me feel bad, I got woken up by getting kicked in the ribs by a very hard hoof. Apparently the servant that thought to play the joke of putting me there didn’t mention my presence to the incoming treasurer, and he was trying to get what he considered an unwelcome intruder out of his hair. Fucking stuck up bureaucrats, man.

Long story short, I extricated myself from the treasury at a dead run, followed by a string of curses that seemed odd to hear coming from a pony.

Apparently that servant pony also forgot to tell anyone else where I was. I wandered upon a search party combing the castle for me a bit later.

“When we couldn’t find you in any of the palace libraries, or any of the other locations with books, or any of the guest rooms, we really started to worry!” one of the servants said.

“Yeah… some jokester took my meaning of asking for a roomful of books as meaning a treasury record room.” A jokester I mean to hurt, if I can find again.

“Princess Celestia is waiting for you. Please, follow us.”

I did.

Princess Celestia was waiting in the same sitting room. “Thank goodness you found him! Go tell the rest of the search parties that they can return to their normal duties.” When they had bowed and exited, she looked at me. “Sit, Nav. We… need to talk.” Oh, shit. I walked over to the chair closest to her couch and sat, not feeling overly comfortable at all.

“Look, if this is about—” I started, before being cut off.

“No, we’re going to talk about my sister, first. What happened last night? What did you say to her and what did she say to you?”

“She accidentally admitted to enchanting the monster to attack me, I think.”

“I already know that much. What else?”

Oh God, this really is bad. “…We were talking about my conversation with you. I didn’t know if she was trying to pry me for details about what I told you or if she was just making conversation.” Something clicked, then. “Wait, what do you mean you knew?”

“In a minute. What else did you talk about?”

“We were just… joking around. What’s this about?” I asked, slowly growing very worried.

She sighed, rubbing gently at her face for a second before saying, “Luna is a little beyond having a crush on you. To that end, she spent the entire festival trying to impress you. Apparently, if she failed to entice you on the ferris wheel, her plan was to summon the beast she had enchanted beforehand to attack you, then save you from it and hope you were grateful enough to give her a chance. She didn’t think you would be in any danger, since she could just remove it whenever she needed to. Then she failed to protect you. Apparently when you were speaking last night, you said something that made her think you knew, which terrified her. And then, in some kind of jealous fit, she tried to assassinate Rainbow Dash. The moonlight butterfly is a kind of night creature that only Luna or the most powerful of magic users can control. I suspect the guard you saw last night was positioned to make sure Rainbow Dash didn’t make it. After he disappeared, he reported to Luna that the attempt had failed, and that instead of targeting Rainbow Dash, it had almost targeted you. She was rather distraught and immediately saw herself to my chambers, where she confessed all of this to me. She’s sitting in my quarters still, crying her eyes out. This puts us all in a very… awkward position.”

She was silent for a few minutes, letting that sink in. It was… a lot to take. And it sounded like a fucking drama flick. Unrequited love, a botched murder attempt that almost took out the love interest, a young, naïve princess falling in love with a common monster… I looked up at Celestia. “What the fuck is wrong with this place?”

“I wish I could tell you. Now, I need to know some things. First, do you know why she might be jealous of Rainbow Dash?”

I nodded slowly, putting some pieces together in my mind. “I have a… suspicion,” I said, leaning back and cursing my fucking wings. “For one, Rainbow Dash is the one that ruined Luna’s attempt to save me. Which means, of course, she was trying to save me as well. To Luna, that might mean competition. And when I first met Luna, I had been doing an experiment with Rainbow Dash and Applejack. I may have mentioned that I learned a few interesting secrets about Rainbow Dash, but I didn’t expound upon what they were. It’s so long ago that I don’t really remember anymore. Luna may have just been trying to eliminate a rival to what she conceived as her position on my list of people that I ‘love.’” Come to think of it, though, Big Macintosh said she didn’t want a stallion. He didn’t say specifically that she wanted a mare instead… It was possible, but very, very unlikely, that Rainbow Dash also loved me. I don’t believe it, but the way this day is going, who knows?

“That fits with what she told me, sadly. And you said you don’t care for her that way?”

“I do not love her. I saw her as a friend. She’s a horse! What the hell is wrong with this place?”

She smiled at that. “I don’t know if I should feel insulted by that or not. But it still leaves us with a problem.”

“I know… I’m worried, Celestia. If we don’t handle this well, I’m fucked. A princess with unrequited love? That can end in a few ways: the lover gets over it, the lover obsesses in silence until they die, the lover obsesses aloud or in poetry, or the lover kidnaps the love interest and holds them captive until Stockholm syndrome takes over and they’re loved back.” That doesn’t happen often. But then, it isn’t often that a princess with magic falls in love with someone without magic. “If this doesn’t end right, we might all think this is blown over, and then one day I disappear and can never be found again.”

“Relax, Nav. That won’t happen, one way or another. I’ll imprison her until you die of old age before I let her kidnap somepony and force them to love her against their will.” I was somewhat relieved at that, but also saddened at the thought that it might come to that. “Now,” she continued, “I want your opinion. How do you think this should be handled?”

I thought. “Who all knows that Luna tried to murder Rainbow Dash?”

“Me, you, Luna, and the guard.”

“How trustworthy is the guard?”

“Third generation. He’ll do whatever he’s told without question.”

“There are a few problems in saying we just pretend this whole thing never happened. It will give Luna hope that I return her feelings. And if we do pretend it never happened, it’ll make this kind of behavior seem okay. I don’t envy the stallion she’ll eventually properly fall in love with if he doesn’t return her feelings. How can we show her that attempted murder is not okay while at the same time making sure as few people know about this as possible, and make sure she knows that I don’t love her without either pissing her off enough to kidnap me or grieving too terribly?”

“I want to see what you can come up with. I have a solution in mind, but it is you who was targeted, so it’s only fair that you be allowed input. But imprisonment is an option, yes.”

“Not a very good one. The people would never accept her back if they found out why she was being imprisoned and you just know someone would be asking the question. Dodging the question or lying would backfire, as I’m sure there are only so many crimes a royal princess could do that would warrant exile. I would prefer this ending with all parties reasonably pleased with what they get.”

“What if Luna was willing to become a human?” she asked, perhaps spurring me in a certain direction.

A direction that stumped me for a moment. “I have a few problems with that. Wouldn’t that bring a lot of awkwardness on the royal family?”

“Yes. But I’m willing to deal with awkwardness in order to make you both happy.”

Hmm. “Is the transformation permanent?”

“It could be reversed. Apparently she’s tested it a few times. She was going to surprise you with it last night, before she fled.”

That sounded ominous, in a few ways. “I find myself objecting to the idea of love stemming only from appearances. I think that, if I was a person someone deserved in terms of love, I would accept them for who they are, and not have to force them to adapt to my standards. Why is this any different?”

“To be honest, that’s exactly the answer I expected from you, and philosophically I’m pleased to hear it. However, in terms of the situation, this puts us in a bad spot. Do you have any other suggestions?”

This is a bad, bad idea… “You could kill me.”

The pervading silence was very awkward, to say the least. “And what,” she finally asked, “would that solve?”

“You wouldn’t do the killing yourself, mind. The guard that knows Luna ordered the attack would be best, so she would hate him for it instead of you. I can’t believe I’m actually suggesting this… Think about it: with me dead, there are now three people that know about this, and none of the three of them will ever make any mention of it. The guard will very likely end up dead soon after, or find himself reassigned. Sucks for him, boohoo, that’s what he gets for not abiding by the Nuremberg Principles. Luna will grieve but she’ll get over it eventually. Her anger at Rainbow Dash will end, since there’s no reason for her to be a threat anymore.”

“That still leaves her going unpunished for the crime of attempted murder and we’ll have a murderous guard on the staff.”

“Have the guard put to death, then. If he follows two orders to murder, he’s not safe to have around. And if you put the guard to death for murder, Luna will never suspect you of having ordered my death. Console her in her grief and tell her that you think she’s been punished enough. She’ll buy it, because you’re a merciful leader and a good sister.”

“That’s a perfect solution, but for one issue: I’m not going to order somepony murdered.”

I’m hardly a pony, but… I let out a breath that I didn’t realize I had been holding. “I’m not going to say I’m disappointed.”

“I would be worried if you were,” she said drily. “Now, any other ideas?”

“I can think of one more thing to try, but it’s hardly perfect. How often does Luna leave the castle?”

“Every now and then to see you, but otherwise, she’s usually here.”

“Forbid her from leaving at all, aside from a few state functions that it would be noticed if she wasn’t there. Attempted murder where I come from has a sentence of, like, five years or something. There’s a chance that, at the end of that sentence, she’ll have forgotten her love for me. But there’s also just as much of a possibility that she’ll come out of it with me foremost in her mind. God, there’s just no good way to do this!” We thought for a while until I gave up with a sigh. “Princess, if you honest-to-God truly believe the best solution would be me admitting love to Luna, I can lie. I don’t like the idea of it and you don’t like the idea of it. But… what else can we do?”

“...Hm. Does the number seven have any meaning to you?”

“...What?”

“Any symbolic meaning at all?”

“...Yes? Why?”

“I have an idea, a mix between my original one and yours. Luna is confined to the city of Canterlot for a full seven years, unless there’s an extremely important reason for her to be elsewhere. And in the first year, she is forbidden to see you unless not doing so is impossible. I’ll need a promise from you, however.”

“Name it,” I sighed, dreading what it might be.

“That if you don’t find somepony else and she doesn’t lose interest, you’ll give a relationship with her a chance.”

“That… works well enough for me. I don’t like promising myself away like that, but it’s sadly the best choice. I will miss spending time with her, but I’d prefer not getting attacked by any more freaky monsters. As long as she abides by it, I’m willing to accept that.”

“Excellent. I shall tell her the news immediately, then get her to her room. And I’ll have somepony escort you back to Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. I will give the three of you a nice breakfast, then send you back to Ponyville. I’m sure you’re feeling tired, after your night and this news.”

“Yeah…” I wasn’t really feeling hungry, either, but I’d at least try to humor her.

She let out a slow breath before nodding. “I haven’t had to do this much damage control since Luna tried to rebel the last time.”

“This is my first time dealing with something like this. Hopefully it’ll be my last. I hate dealing in politics. It’s usually easy, since people are so stupid, but sometimes shit like this comes up and just blows up in everyone’s face.”

“Hm. Wait here for a moment.” She walked over to the door, opened it, and stuck her head out. I could hear her saying something to someone outside, but I had no idea what was said. Then she came back in and flopped back onto the couch. “Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash will be sent to my private dining room. You’ll join them in a few minutes. But I would like to take a moment to… unwind. So tell me, do you think Rainbow Dash actually has feelings for you?”

Ugh. “While I was surprised to hear that Luna loved me, I would be absolutely and one hundred percent shocked if Rainbow Dash did. I think I know who she’s interested in, and it’s not me.”

“Gossip seems like a good way to unwind. Do tell!” I was committed, now, and revealed what Applejack and I discovered back at the farm. In case Rainbow Dash somehow gets her hooves on this, I’ll leave my suspicions unprinted. She’ll already defame my name enough if she reads what we really did to her at the barn, but I don’t need her digging my body up and abusing it on top of everything else.

“And she doesn’t even suspect?” Celestia asked, smiling. “I never would have guessed… Anything else?”

“Spike likes Rarity. I’m pretty sure she knows and is just using him for free labor. Fluttershy would like to be a tree. Pinkie Pie is probably manic depressive. Nothing really that juicy or interesting. I don’t gossip much with them.”

“Oh, come now. You’ve lived with Twilight for almost a year now. You have nothing to show for that?”

“Alright, but don’t ever tell her I said this…” I’ll also leave this unprinted, because I don’t trust Twilight’s magic to not find a way to revive me and then kill me again, in a more painful manner. And if I’m not dead, well, fuck me. I hope whoever is reading this doesn’t like the idea of blackmail.

When I finished, Celestia was quiet for a minute. I honestly thought I went too far for a second, until she just burst out laughing. “No way! Just no way! Are you sure?”

“As sure as I can be without actually asking her, yes. And there is no way in hell I will be doing that. And you won’t, either, because she’ll wonder how you found out. And then when you don’t tell her and she finds out that we were talking alone for several hours, she’ll put two and two together. If she ends up beating me for that, I’ll find a way to get back at you, princess or not.”

“I believe it, and I can understand why! I never thought… Wow! And you never once thought to move?”

“And where else am I going to go? Fluttershy lives in a small cottage full of animals. Rainbow Dash lives in a mansion in the sky. Pinkie Pie and Rarity, hell no. Applejack, maybe, but I always hated working at the farm. And before, when living here with you and Luna might have been an option, it would have separated me from the only other people I ever knew here. That isn’t even an option anymore, though, so yeah.”

“Well, it could be an option. You always have the option of canceling this little deal and giving Luna a chance now.”

“Ugh. It’s a damn shame it even came to this. I honestly didn’t think… I’m still used to human women, you see. My culture… everyone there grows so desensitized to stuff like I was saying to her, the little flirty remarks. I never once imagined it would turn into… this.”

“I understand, Navarone, and I don’t blame you. Really, I should have noticed some of the warning signs. She started acting strange not long after she met you, and left more and more of her royal duties undone in order to visit you.”

“I just… I don’t really even understand why she fell for me. I mean, I’m at least a thousand years younger than she is.”

“The only things near our age are dragons, Nav,” she said. “And the heart is not picky in whom it picks.”

“But I’ll die in about seventy years anyway, if I even last that long! She’ll just keep on trucking, living who knows how much longer.”

“Not necessarily. There are… ways of extending life.” Now that got my attention. “As with anything of its nature, though, it involves a sacrifice. One lifeline for another, basically. It’s old magic, dark and nearly forgotten. There are ways of abusing its stipulations, but there are always costs. I wouldn’t want anypony to lose their lives for it, though.”

Has she really never thought of this? “So we’ll use a fucking tree. Hell, those live forever and are easily replaced.”

“Luna and I have thought about it,” she slowly said, nodding. “But as I said, there are always costs and pitfalls. It is not as easy of a problem to solve as it seems. But in a pinch, such a solution would do.”

“Hell, I can’t imagine I would want to live forever anyway. Sure, you get to live forever. But at what cost? To see the eons pass, to see everyone I know wither and die, to watch civilizations grow and crumble, to watch trends disappear as fast as they appear, to one day lose myself to the passings of millennia and then finally, to have a massive memorial service for one of the deathless giants… To you, who has lived it, is it worth it?”

“For me, who had no choice in the matter, yes. I do watch my friends die, yes, and every time I look upon them it seems like they have changed, while I remain the same. But—and this is a very important but—I have the memories of all the happy times with them. I am old, Nav. Very, very old. I have seen all what you have said. I can’t lie; I miss my lost friends. But I don’t regret their passing and my living. For a long time after my sister betrayed me, I stayed completely aloof from everyone. I ruled in near silence, not trusting anypony around me. For almost a hundred and fifty years, I was like that. I look back, and of all my life, that is one of my biggest regrets. For me, who was forced into this life, it was worth it. For you, who have seen less than twenty summers and are just that mature, it might not be. And when you are spending that life in the company with somepony you don’t love, it would be unbearable.”

“I don’t dislike Luna. I just… don’t love her. I have at least seven years to decide. I will… think on it. And I will mention it to no one.” Of course, anyone reading my journal would find out about it. So it’s a good thing no one is reading this. Right? RIGHT?

…Unless I’m still alive and am just lying about this conversation to find out who’s reading my journals. You assholes.

 We shared a small silence for a few seconds before I asked, “What should I tell Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy?”

“This little visit the three of you made wasn’t supposed to take long anyway. I’ll just tell them that Luna felt unwell and was weary this morning, so she couldn’t join us for breakfast. I will be slightly late to arrive at the dining room, so tell them I went to make sure she was feeling better.”

“Easy enough. Should I go ahead and go now?”

“Indeed. Let’s go and I’ll find somepony to escort you.”

I followed her out and then followed the servant she set to guide me, all in silence. My mind was too busy running laps, trying to process all that just happened, all that was just said. God, why me, of all people?

“Why did Princess Celestia want you?” Rainbow Dash asked when I walked into the dining room alone. “You two sure have been talking a lot.”

“She… likes talking about my home,” I said, the lie coming easily enough to my lips. “And to tell me that we’ll be leaving soon. Luna apparently ain’t feeling too hot, so Celestia’s gonna be late to breakfast to make sure she’s feeling alright.

“Oh, I hope she is,” Fluttershy said. “Is there anything we can do for her before we leave?”

“Nope. Celestia’s taking care of it. She should be here soonish and you can ask her about it then.”

Speak of the devil and he shall appear… Celestia walked in moments later, smiling. “My apologies for being a few minutes late,” she said. “I just needed to check up on my sister.”

“Oh, it’s alright,” Fluttershy said with her typical smile. “Is she feeling alright?”

“Much better, yes,” Celestia said. “Sit, all of you, and let’s eat. I wouldn’t want you to return to Ponyville on empty stomachs!”

I could barely pay attention to what was said after that, my mind too consumed by what it had dealt with. The normally pleasant fare provided by the servants tasted little better than typical tasteless Southern food.

Even the chariot trip home, which would normally be cause for concern even with my wings, earned little more than the tightening of my fingers on the rails. I don’t know if Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash noticed, but I was very much out of it.

 

The first thing I did when I got back was collecting a large amount of dead wood from the forest and starting a bonfire. I don’t know why, I just wanted to burn something.

I found myself humming a song from a game I once played… I don’t want to set the world on fire. Not the most fitting song, for at the moment I wanted to burn everything I could see, but I suppose the romance aspect of it worked well enough.

The wood I found was mostly dry, so it caught easily. I made sure to pack it in well enough that it would burn late into the night.

I won’t lie, I am tempted to leave the rest of that night out. No real reason for it, but it just seems… like something I wouldn’t need to write down to have to remember.

All of Twilight’s cadre, including the mare herself, eventually joined us at the fire. Few of them had seen one so large.

Pinkie Pie was the first, of course. “Hey Navi, what’s the occasion?” Pinkie Pie asked me, her voice cutting through the solemnity of the moment I was feeling.

“Nothing in particular,” I answered. “I just… wanted to see something burn.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t even bring any marshmallows! How can you have a bonfire without marshmallows?” she remonstrated me. “And you didn’t invite anypony, either! What kind of party is this?”

“It isn’t a party. Feel free to invite anyone that wants to join me, though. And feel free to bring marshmallows if you want. I did not wish to spend the night with company, but alas, here you are.”

“I’ll go tell everypony, then!” she shouted with as much joy in her heart as I felt leave mine. Maybe she just devours the joy of those around her, leaving them an empty husk. Before I could ask her about it, though, she zoomed off.

Rarity was, of course, the first to arrive. Just my luck. “So, Navarone, what’s the occasion? Pinkie Pie just told me there was a party happening here. But… you don’t look overly happy, for the host of a party.”

“Pinkie Pie, as ever, has the tendency to exaggerate. What I said is that I was burning for the sake of burning, and that she could invite anyone she wanted to. She’s the party planner. Me? I just wanted to burn something. Feel free to stay; I find it’s very therapeutic to just watch the flames.”

She shrugged and sat across the fire from me, likely assuming that when the rest got there the actual party would start. Soon, she was just as engrossed in the flames as I was.

The next to arrive was Fluttershy. “Oh, hello Navarone! I didn’t know Pinkie Pie got to you already. I was just walking back home when she ran into me and told me to come here.”

“She didn’t have to go far to find me,” I answered. “I set the fire, after all.”

“Oh, I thought this was another of Pinkie Pie’s plans to welcome us back. Still, it’s nice to get together with friends… Oh, hi Rarity! I didn’t see you over there!”

Rarity muttered something, a greeting perhaps, somewhat absorbed by the gentle flickering of the flames.

“Rarity?” I said a bit louder, getting her attention.

“What? Oh, hello Fluttershy! I was just… watching the fire. I have to give it to him, Navarone knows what he’s talking about when it comes to that. It is… enchanting, in a way.”

Fluttershy joined our impromptu circle around the fire.

We were all getting into it again when Applejack arrived in a mad dash. “I got here as soon as I could! What are y’all just sitting around for? We gotta put this thing out!”

“Nope,” I answered, shaking my head. “I made this and I’ll wait for it to die. But we’re not killing it. It’s harmless.”

“Pinkie Pie said there was a fire. I didn’t know it was just a silly bonfire! That girl done scared me for nothing!”

“You know how she is. She didn’t mean any harm by it, I’m sure,” I said. “Feel free to join the circle.” I waved my arm to show I didn’t care where. That’s when she noticed the others.

Applejack shrugged and sat next to Fluttershy, trying to chat with the others. I just went back to watching the fire licking at the wood.

Rainbow Dash was the next to show up. Her arrival was… less than spectacular, crashing in the growing darkness nearby. Applejack went to make sure she was okay, and they both got to our circle laughing about something. Dash serious’d herself up when she saw me. “Navarone, your fire is screwing with the winds up there! I can hardly control myself!”

I answered, “Thermals are a bitch. Welcome to the… party, if you’re listening to Pinkie Pie.”

“And if you’re not listening to Pinkie Pie?” Twilight asked, coming out of the darkness with Spike in tow.

“Then it’s just a fire,” I said, noting the marshmallow pack in Spike’s hands. Wonder what he does to those in his spare time, with as close as they are to Rarity. “You know,” I said to him, “this fire might have been easier to set if you had been around.” And it might have ended up with a log atop Celestia’s head, I thought with a smile.

“Then you should have invited me sooner,” he said as he and Twilight joined the circle.

I just shrugged, turning my gaze back into the flames.

Applejack and Rarity were handing out sticks for the marshmallows when Pinkie Pie came skipping back. I found myself softly singing, but forced myself to stop. At least one of the ponies noticed, but didn’t say anything.

Everyone looked to Pinkie Pie to start the… festivities, I guess, but she surprised them all when she turned to me and said, “So, Navarone, what did you have planned?”

“It’s your show now,” I said. “Don’t try to pin this on me. I set the fire. You made a party out of it.”

She gave me an exasperated look that said, You should know better by now. I would have brought up ‘never have I ever,’ but it wouldn’t exactly be fair, as none of them but Spike had any fingers and we didn’t have any alcohol.

Pinkie Pie tried for a little bit longer to get the group into something, but my mood seemed to have spread about. Aside from Pinkie Pie’s indignant mutterings, silence reigned.

I… can’t put into words how it made me feel, seeing them all there. They came because Pinkie Pie invited them but they stayed just for the pleasure of each other’s company. And I was a part of them, now, even if I pretended otherwise. I had been on a roller coaster ride of decisions with life-altering consequences, right after almost dying, but I was finally among true friends.

Silence reigned in our little group, aside from the gentle popping of the fire, and one by one, the ponies fell asleep next to each other. Spike was out first, of course. Pinkie Pie, despite her fervent aspirations to stay up to ‘see what the big deal with the fire was’, was the next out. Fluttershy, still tired from the exhaustions of the trip, soon joined them in sleep. Rainbow Dash and Applejack didn’t last much longer, both nodding off at almost the same time. Rarity, despite trying the hardest to stay awake, was the next to fall; she didn’t want to ‘ruin her hair’ sleeping on the ground, but you can only fight for so long.

Soon enough, it was just me and Twilight left fighting back our demons.

“So, Navarone, what’s the real reason behind this?” she whispered to me.

“It is… a balefire,” I whispered to her.

“Who died?”

“Not who, but what,” I sighed. My loneliness, maybe? My attempts to distance myself from you? Or perhaps my hopes for the future, now that it seems I’m shackled to Luna. “I’m afraid that there are some things I must suffer alone.”

I could tell she formed a thousand suspicions about that, but didn’t voice any of them. “You know we’re always here for you,” is all she said before drifting off to sleep with the rest of them.

I spent the rest of the night in silence, just staring into the fire and thinking.

I was stolen from my half-asleep reverie some time after the sun had risen by a loud shriek, followed by some pitiful mewlings about ruined hair and bugs and dirt and various other inanities. Rarity, it appeared, had awoken, bringing the rest of the ponies with her. The mood I had cultivated in the night was shattered in an instant, the ponies ripped from the world I had created for them and thrown suddenly back into their own.

The poor fire was down to smoldering embers. A small flame gently licked up a few of the longer-lasting logs every now and then, but for the most part, a dull red gleam of coals was all that remained of the tempest of flame that had ruled the night before.

Rarity didn’t take long to calm down. Apparently she was just surprised at her odd sleeping location and woke up not realizing where she was or why she was there.

Pinkie Pie was asking Fluttershy what she missed when she slept, and if any of us ever ended up having fun. Fluttershy, for her part, didn’t know how to answer the fun part of the question. I couldn’t have helped her.

Applejack and Twilight were asking Rainbow Dash more about the trip to Canterlot, trying to figure out just why we even went. Rainbow Dash was exaggerating the story with the moth monster that she didn’t even see, making herself out to be the heroine that was saving me from the jaws—or, I guess, mandibles—of doom. The other two were looking at each other askance and trying not to laugh.

Spike and I just stared into the remnant of the blaze.

“Feel any better?” he asked me. I wonder if he even knows what that means.

“Immeasurably so,” I answered anyway. “This has been… an enlightening few days.”

“Was your talk with Princess Celestia really that bad?”

“Not just that, no. I looked death in the eyes more times in the last few days than I have in any given year of my life. And I have learned some interesting things in that time, about myself and about others. And I finally know, for sure, that I am no longer alone.”

“You never were,” Twilight said, approaching us. Rainbow Dash’s tale was over, and the ponies were breaking up and heading for their respective homes. “Let’s put this fire out and go home.”

It was good to finally be among friends, for better or for worse.

 
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