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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29. Chapter Twenty-Four—Knives in the... day Part 1

I don’t know who was more surprised. I just know I recovered first, and slammed the door shut as they tried to pull themselves up, breaking some of their fingers. These two were well trained, though, and made no noise as they forced the door open with me still on it, trying to hold it down.

They were well trained, and I was not trained at all. I had been in a few live fights, but most of what I did was slitting throats, or running away until I could get in the air. All I had were two knives in my boots, while they had who knows what. I took off into the air as soon as they forced the hatch open, and I ripped one of my knives out to throw it, hoping to get lucky.

I did. It hit one of them in the shoulder as he was pulling himself out of the hole. He fell back in, unable to hold himself up.

The other kept coming. Thankfully, they weren’t expecting to be fighting anything outside like this, so they didn’t have any real ranged weapons other than a few knives actually made for throwing. Those, the assassin did his best to hit me with. I got incredibly lucky, as one hit an iron plate in my clothing and bounced off. I’m going to have to kiss Rarity for that… My luck dried up, though, as his next two nailed straight through one of my wings and stuck there.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an injured bird flop to the ground, but to be quite honest it’s kind of funny. I decided I wouldn’t laugh at it anymore, though, now that it happened to me and I know how it felt. I hit the roof of the building hard, and if it wasn’t made of… whatever the hell it was made of, it probably would have collapsed under me.

Honestly, as I saw the assassin walk towards me, I thought that would have been a pretty good thing. I would rather survive with some broken bones than die with a slit throat.

I struggled to my feet and pulled my second dagger out of my boot. The assassin stopped when he saw that.

“If you leave right now, I might consider letting you go,” I told him.

“Your head was not the one requested, but I’m sure we would be paid for it just the same. If you give in now, I’ll make it painless.”

Well, shit. I snapped my fingers in defeat. “Well, I gave it a shot. I’m sure you’ll come to regret this a lot.”

Thankfully, the assassin thought I was a trained specialist fighter, and he approached me very warily. I don’t know what he was expecting me to do, but I know he was not at all expecting me to tackle him. I didn’t even try to use the dagger, I just jumped at him, dragged him to the ground, and then started punching.

He was so surprised that he didn’t bring his dagger to bear until he was already down. When he tried stabbing me, I just grabbed his hand with both of mine and smashed it down onto the roof, forcing him to drop his weapon.

Before I go on, I feel I should mention this: I found out somewhat early on in the Egypt campaign that I was stronger than almost every single cat there. Physically, at least. My bones were tougher and I had more physical strength. They were fast, of course, but I was stronger. If I could get them in a position like this, there was nothing they could do but try to claw me to death.

Which this one most definitely tried to do after I broke his hand that had the dagger. He got one good swipe in on my face before I returned the gesture to his face, breaking his nose and completely knocking him out.

I didn’t trust that, though, so I went ahead and nailed him to the roof by his wrists with his own daggers. That accomplished, I checked my wings for damage.

I almost regretted doing that. My left wing was completely fucked. What were normally white feathers were covered in crimson blood, though both of the daggers were thankfully still in, preventing too much from flowing out. I was hoping they weren’t poisoned, or leaving them in like that would sign my death warrant.

My wing was looking nasty as hell, but I didn’t think there would be any permanent damage, and it didn’t look bad enough to need to be dealt with immediately, so I went to check on the other assassin. I grabbed some daggers from the fellow nailed to the roof and slowly peered down the still open hatch.

“What did you do to my apprentice, you monster?”

“Broke his nose, one of his hands, and nailed him to the ceiling by his wrists. He might survive, but he’ll never use his hands again. Looks like that won’t matter too much to you, though.”

That was true. There’s a major artery or vein—I forget which—leading from the shoulder into the arm. Cut through that and your enemy will die very, very quickly, unless they are able to stem the flow somehow.

This guy wasn’t able to do that, and he was leaking blood all into the room that he was laying in. By the time I got to look at him, he was too weak to even raise his other arm to throw the knife he was barely able to grasp. For good measure, I threw another dagger at him that went straight into his chest. He died hissing.

Look, I don’t take chances, and he was dead anyway.

I was afraid to leave this assassin alive up here, but I knew I couldn’t kill him without questioning him. I was also afraid to jump into the hatch, in case there was another assassin in waiting down there. But I knew I couldn’t get down unless I went in this way; this building wasn’t that huge, but it was big enough that I might break something if I jumped off it, and there was no way I could glide down with my wing like this.

So it was with much trepidation that I jumped into the hatch, landing in a crouch as I looked all around me at once.

Seeing nothing, I ripped the dagger from the assassin’s chest and looked for the door out of this secret room.

It didn’t take me long to find, and not a minute later I and the two guards here were combing the building for any other assassin groups. We didn’t find any, thank God.

Before I let my wounds be bound by one of the cat servants we had, I got one of the guards to boost me up to the ceiling, where I pulled the assassin down and into the building. He was still alive, for better or for worse.

With his wounds cauterized and bound—no reason to waste time cleaning them well if he might not survive the questioning—I finally allowed the daggers to be pulled from my wing.

The daggers were serrated, so it hurt like hell. The wounds were treated as well as possible and bound. I was hoping Emerald knew some healing, but I doubted it.

The cuts on my face hurt worse than the ones on my wings. They stung like a bitch. I was afraid to look in a mirror, but I know it wasn’t pretty. The servants cleaned them and wrapped them as well as possible.

One of the guards asked me, after I had been treated, “Who do you think sent them?”

“Doesn’t matter. They showed their hand, and we have one of them alive. I don’t think I’ll be able to make him talk, but I’ll certainly try.”

The other guard asked, “Do you think we should send word to the ambassador? Or the king?”

“No to both. Assassins here mean there won’t be assassins waiting for her, at least not from the same person. They don’t come cheap, so no one would hire more than they need. These two snuck in when there was almost no one here so they could hide until night. If we show that we already took these two out, there’s a chance that whoever did it will make a move openly while Emerald is surrounded by hundreds of cats that the assassin can blend into. And we can’t tell the king because they might have been his men. If we told him, he could force Emerald Script into somewhere, ostensibly for her safety, but really so he could fabricate a story of how an assassin snuck in to kill her.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Wait for this bastard to wake up, and wait for Emerald Script to get back.”

“Speaking of that, why are you here, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be guarding her?”

“I got bored of the party.”

“Why did Princess Celestia send you here, again?” the day guard asked.

“To deal with shit like this,” with a gesture at the injured assassin. “I’d like to see you try to question him. Hooves have no delicacy, and we couldn’t trust any cat to do it; they might ‘accidentally’ slip a dagger in the wrong place and end the questioning prematurely.”

“You have a scary mind, human.”

Of course, all of my plans were contingent on the assassins being overconfident. If they had someone watching the roof to report success or failure, Emerald might already be dead. There was no need worrying these guards about that, though. If she was dead, we were all three getting the hell out of this place. I wouldn’t even stop to say bye.

Okay, I started thinking about it, and I realized my descriptions about the embassy we were in might be hasty and confused. Realize, though, that I typically don’t write such things as that down, since they stick in my mind enough to make it not worth the paper used to record it. We had five cat servants, though none were trusted enough to be anywhere near our private conversations, like the one I just had with the guards.

There were ten bedrooms primarily dedicated for use by ponies—and me, since I was with them. Two were not in use, since Calix wasn’t here. The two ambassador rooms had decent sized offices in them. I took over the second ambassador room, since it wasn’t exactly being used. All ten of these rooms were on the second floor.

The third floor was storage and servant rooms. I found the assassins hiding up here.

The first floor was everything else: kitchens, dining areas, a small greeting hall, and two sitting rooms. Small hidden rooms were dotted here and there, but most were, as I said, small.

After we found the assassins, I mandated that all hidden rooms were to be kept open, and that if they were ever closed for something they would be presumed to be hiding assassins.

We didn’t have to wait long for the assassin to wake up. And when he did, we definitely knew it: he woke up screaming about his hands.

I slapped him across the face. He kept yelling. I slapped him again. Finally, I covered his mouth with my hand and hoped he wouldn’t bite me.

“When I remove my hand, you will answer my questions.” I waited until some recognition returned to his eyes. “Who hired you?” I removed my hand.

He regained his composure very quickly. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

“Look, I’m not in the mood for this. Every time you refuse to tell me something, I will remove something from your body. I will ask you again, who hired you?”

He didn’t say anything.

I took a dagger, forced his mouth open, and pried out a front tooth.

“Who hired you?”

“You’re crazy!”

“Look, I don’t like hurting people. I really don’t. But if you keep this up, I will keep hurting you. I will remove all your teeth, I will remove your fingers joint by joint, I will remove your toes, and then I’ll just get creative.” He stared at me in horror. “I’m not a trained torturer. I take no pleasure in it, either. But I promise you, I will not let you die if you don’t tell me what I want to know. I will cut off everything, and leave you alive. I will drop you off in the middle of a city with nothing and leave you there, after making sure you’re fed enough to survive for a while. Who hired you?”

I don’t know if it was the pleasant, calm voice I said it in, or the words themselves, but he opened up a bit.

“I… I don’t know who paid the money, but we were contacted by a pony called Joseph. He was red, with a mark of hooves.” Anton…

“Where and when are you to meet him again?”

“In three days, at the base of the Sphinx.”

“What was your mission?”

“Kill the ambassadors.”

“Why?”

“We weren’t told. Please, I don’t know!” It didn’t matter, anyway.

“Was there any manner of code that you needed to get to this pony that contacted you, or did you just have to be there?”

“I don’t know! My partner had all the details!”

I pried another tooth out.

“Please, I don’t know!”

I cut off a knuckle on his left pinky finger, and then cauterized it with a dagger I had sitting in a bed of coals. The two pony guards watching were looking somewhat queasy. I felt the same way; I detest causing pain. I absolutely fucking hate it. But there was a point to this pain. I needed answers if I was going to keep Emerald alive.

The prisoner was trying not to scream. I gave him a minute, and then demanded an answer. He finally gave it, weeping, “The rising sun will not set here.”

“Good…” I gagged him and wiped the dagger off on his coat.

He gazed at me piteously, perhaps wishing for a mercy I was loath to grant him yet.

“First lesson of interrogation: Check information before you kill the prisoner. We’ll see if your contact is where he’s supposed to be, first. So,” I said, turning to the guards, “how do we dispose of bodies discreetly here?”

They both looked like they were about to be sick.

I sighed. “I have to do everything around here, don’t I?”

In the end, I stripped the body of everything useful and wrapped it in a carpet. I tied the bundle to the back of one the guards and told them to dump it in the Nile while no one was looking.

Seriously.

I could have actually disposed of it in a smart way, if I cared enough, but I didn’t have the time or the room, or some of the supplies. If I had more time before Emerald got back I would have, at the very least, carried it a day into the desert. But I also had a date to make with Anton.

Still, I figured the Nile had a pretty high number of bodies dumped into it, and one more wouldn’t raise too many suspicions.

Rarity’s poor clothes… They were pretty covered in blood, now, and cut in some places from the knife that hit iron plates and bounced oddly. I know I said I hated the getup, but I also know that a lot of work went into it, and I regret that it had to come to such a sad end. Especially after it saved my life.

I went up to my room to change.

When I was up there, I saw a mirror. Oh yeah, that’ll be a scar… Thankfully, he missed my eyes, my nostrils, and my lips. Still, the cuts went pretty deep. Magic might be able to stop it from scarring, but I don’t know. All in all, though, I think I came out of that encounter on top. Thank God for luck, I suppose.

I changed and then went to wait for either Emerald or the two guards, whoever got back first.

While I waited, I worked to catch up on my journal. I did what I could, but my head was starting to hurt. Not the stinging hurt from the cuts, but a headache caused by the pain of the cuts. Or at least, that’s what I was hoping it was; I didn’t think to ask the assassin if any of his stuff was poisoned.

So much for the coming spring I was promised. I left in our spring and got here in their fall, soon to be winter. And here I was, killing people again. This time I even had the choice—and a good reason—to have kept Calix alive. I still hate killing sapient life, detest it even, but it’s starting to feel less and less like something I’m forced to do and something I just accept as necessary.

If this is what the future holds in store for me, I’m glad I haven’t taken Celestia’s offer of near eternal life.

Emerald took another hour to get back with her escort of four guards and Kat. Emerald took one look at my face and blood-stained wing and ordered everyone else out of the room. “What happened?”

“Assassins waiting in a hidden room upstairs. One dead, one upstairs, bound. I have the name, location, and time they need to meet their contact.”

“Where’s the body of the dead one?” Not how did he die, but where are the bodies. This chick was going places.

“The guards that were here are dumping it in the Nile. I removed everything of value from him first, so it would look like a robbery if he’s found.”

“What do you think we should tell the king?”

“Nothing, until I meet with the contact. We don’t know if the king is the one behind it.”

“He could give us help we desperately need, now that we know we’re a target.”

“Help that could wait until our backs are turned before slipping a knife in us. We wait until we deal with the contact. The problem is, I know this guy, the contact. He knows how I look when I wear desert clothes, so I can’t be the one that meets him, not personally. We need two cats we can trust to go, or I can shoot him from afar and move in close to secure him before he can get too far away. Or we can abandon all subtlety and just sprint in and take him.”

“It might send a better message if we just don’t show up. I don’t know if I want to risk anypony going after this guy. You dealing with these assassins might be enough of a message to the rest.”

“I’ll be gone in a month. I’d rather take out the man that sent the assassins than hope that he won’t send any more.”

“Who could we send to collect their contact, though?”

“Without telling anyone, I don’t know. I would say the best thing to do would be to just take him out as fast as possible, but I can’t fly with my wings like this. I could shoot him from afar and send the guards in to collect him, but he might not be alone. I know our guards are fighters, but being outnumbered against people with actual weapons would not end well for them.”

“If you really think we need to do this, that might be the best option.”

“Well, I did say I wanted to see the Sphinx… The contact will be there in three days. I don’t know when, so I guess we’ll be camping there for a bit.”

“What should I do in the meantime?”

“Act natural. If anyone asks why I’m injured, just say it had to do with why I left the party.”

“What if the contact isn’t there? If I’m seen after today, and no big fuss is made about me being dead, he probably won’t even show up.”

Shit, why didn’t I think of that? Oh right, because I learned all of this from books, not from actually figuring it out. “We still need to try. If he doesn’t show, he doesn’t show. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“What about the assassin that’s still alive?”

“Depending on how the meeting with the contact goes, I’ll drag the assassin to the king and use him as proof that we were attacked. If we find out that the king ordered the attack, we use the assassin as proof that the king tried to kill us.”

“Can I see him?”

“I don’t know if you want to. If you think I look bad, this guy might make you sick. He was… reluctant… to share information.”

“You didn’t… torture him?”

“When I ask questions, I expect an answer.”

“You monster!”

“I know. I don’t suppose you know how to heal?”

“I wouldn’t heal you if I could! I might have some mercy on the prisoner, but not you, not after that!”

“He was going to kill you! I was just protecting you!”

“Take me to him.”

Judging by her tone, I probably shouldn’t have. But I did anyway, because what other choice did I really have?

He was passed out or dead, I don’t know which. Blood loss and shock probably had him near death. The gag was bloody from the teeth I removed, and the coagulated blood from his wrists and pinky made nasty little pools where he lay. The mass of burnt tissue and fur on both arms where I nailed him to the roof made it quite clear he would never use his hands again.

Emerald took one look at him and left the room. She refused to even look at me.

I went to find Kat and the other guards. I found her idly toying with the ends of one of their wings, much to that guard’s discomfort. The other guards were watching with veiled humor.

“Guards, go talk to Emerald Script. She has a bit to fill you in on.”

They left, after giving my injuries several odd looks. Kat was staring at the dried blood staining my wing.

When the guards left, she asked, “What happened to you, Nav?”

“I ran into a scrap. Tell me, do you recognize this?” I asked, handing her one of the assassin’s daggers.

She was clearly surprised to see it, and dropped it in shock when she looked at it. “Where did you get this?”

“I ran into two cats that seemed to think it was a good idea to attack me.”

“Did you kill them?”

“I killed half of them. The other one lives, but is in no position to attack again.”

“Good! The guild that these two work for will only take on a single job to take out a target. If they fail, they will never try again, since the target earned the right to live by taking out the assassins sent.” People here are so stupid! Why is honor such a big factor in this world?

“How do you know so much about them?”

“They used to use slaves as assassins.” She left it at that. Interesting…

“I need you to not tell the king about this yet, if you can avoid it. Their contact is due to meet them in three days, and I don’t know if it was the king that hired them to do this.”

“The contact will never show up if the mark isn’t dead. And you can’t afford to fake a death, not this soon. And I have to tell the king. It’s my job.”

“I’ll let you help wash my wing if you wait.”

“I don’t know if it would be worth it, Nav. I’m really fond of my head.”

“If anyone asks why you didn’t tell him, just say that you didn’t know. If anyone asks how I got injured, just say that it was part of why I was sent from the party.”

Her eyes widened a bit. “That’s why you left? How did she know there were assassins?”

“She’s a unicorn. They have magic.” Well, that sounds better than, ‘I don’t like parties so I left and got lucky when I ran into them.’

“You are a very dangerous team, you and that unicorn.”

“That’s why I’m here. Do we have an agreement?”

“Throw in letting me see the assassin before you kill him, and yes.”

“If he’s still alive, you can. I don’t know if he’ll survive what I did to him.”

“You’ll have to tell me the story while we’re… washing.”

An indeterminate amount of time later found us lounged on my bed, with me lying across her lap and her idly stroking my healthy wing—which actually felt kind of nice, now that it wasn’t forced. Still don’t know why she isn’t scared… or why I’m letting this happen. But it feels good, so can I really complain?

“You realize, of course, that if you show up, there will probably be a trap,” she was saying.

“Shit, you’re right.” She was, now that I thought about it. It would be the perfect chance to catch and kill the guards—and me—that came to try to collect the informant. “Dammit, that means we either can’t go or we’re going to have to be very careful. God, I wish we could trust mercenaries…”

“What would you say if I could get you the strongest fighter and best assassin in Egypt?”

“I’d say no.” I paused. “Christ, one way or another we’ll have to tell the king. Might as well get a contingent of guards to help us.”

“You don’t trust me?”

“As I recall, we weren’t exactly on the best of terms when I left. And there’s only so many favors I’m willing to accept before I start thinking you’re saving up for something.”

She snorted at that. “What could I possibly need from a citizen of Equestria?”

“Depends on what you’re looking for. Adventure, escape, who knows?”

She flinched when I said escape. “Well, I was going to wait a while to bring this up, but… It’s nice, working with Jocasta and Rock, but there are still some cats here in Egypt that don’t much like the idea of me walking free. That problem might be solved with that assassin you have locked up, it might not. If he’s the one, or his friend was, I owe you more than you can possibly know.”

“If you want, we can go see him now. He might be awake. Now that I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to tell the king anyway, I don’t see any problem with it.”

She got a very vicious smile on her face. I warned her, “Don’t kill or hurt him anymore than he already is. We might still need him as proof.”

“Don’t worry, Nav. No matter what kind of training your sadistic princess might have given you, no one knows how to torture better than I. I know the limits of every cat’s body, just by looking at it.”

Kat scares me more and more every time I talk to her.

The day guard Emerald posted was reluctant to let Kat through. “Navarone, Emerald Script said no cat was to enter this room.”

“She got that instruction from me. I’m rescinding it. This Kat just pointed out something that likely saved all our lives anyway, so the least you could do is stand aside.”

“I don’t know…” he said. “Do you think we should at least ask the ambassador first?”

“She isn’t talking to me right now. Move.”

With a very uncertain look at Kat, he did. I didn’t have to look behind me to know she had a Cheshire cat grin on her face.

That smile lessened when she saw the fellow on the table. “That’s an apprentice,” she told me. “An older one, but an apprentice. You might have killed the master he was working under. And you almost killed this one, looking at him. What did you do to him, Nav?”

“I’m not as good at torturing people as you are. I just cut pieces of him off until he talked. He’s missing a few teeth and a knuckle. And he’ll never use his hands again.”

“Killing him will be a mercy, then. An assassin is no good without hands. Can you wake him up?”

I prodded the fellow. He groaned as he woke up, and I swear I think he almost teared up when he saw me.

Kat saw that and giggled. “There’s something to be said for crudeness, I suppose. Remember me, Mark?”

The prisoner turned his head at her and his eyes widened even more. I removed his gag.

“Cleo? You’re supposed to be… My master was right!”

“You’re lucky I’ve promised not to hurt you, or you would be feeling more pain for using that name. Still, I know a few ways to bribe my friend here. He might let me have some fun with you. So watch your tone, boy.”

“What do you want, traitor?”

She looked to me. I shook my head, slightly.

“Information,” she answered, frowning. “Your master is still the one that wanted me dead, yes?”

He tried spitting at her, but nothing but a wee bit of blood dribbled down his mouth. Kat looked at me again. I sighed.

I thought about this for a while, as I was writing this, and I decided not to describe anything she did to him. The guard came in as soon as he started screaming, and watched in mute horror. Before, the guards just looked like they might be sick. This one actually was, at one point. I almost joined him, a few times. And the prisoner never once lost consciousness.

Kat got the information she wanted, in the end. And when she did, she couldn’t stop hugging me. With her nasty, gore-encrusted hands.

As it turns out, the fellow I had killed was the main supporter in the assassination cartel that was trying to round up all the escaped assassin slaves to either force them back into the cartel or deal with them in a more permanent manner. With that fellow dead, she was safe. As safe as anyone here, at least.

Talk about coincidence. And luck. If that other guy I killed was a master assassin, and this apprentice gave me a run for my money, I wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in hell against the master.

I nodded at the guy on the table, “So what do we do with him now?”

“Give him to the king. I don’t care.”

“Will he survive that long?”

“Oh, yes. Nothing I did is fatal, just remarkably painful.”

Holy shit, that could have been me on that table… “I’m glad you don’t know how to do that to me.”

“Oh yes, I’d need to study you much better to know how to cause you that much pain. You may be bipedal, but you’re hardly a cat. I can torture cats, dogs, and I know a little about ponies. I wouldn’t even want to try a naga. I have no idea where to even start with you. If you want, though, we can go and I can study you a bit more…”

The guard stared at her with open incredulity. I felt much the same. She had just tortured a dude, with a smile on her face the whole time, and now she wanted to…

Now I remember why I thought she was crazy.

Thankfully, I had a very good excuse. “Sadly, I must pass. As you said, there’s likely to be a trap set for us. I need to talk Emerald Script into letting me give this guy to the king, after I talked her out of it earlier. And that requires getting her to talk to me again at all.”

“What did you do to put a bee in her bonnet?” How the hell would she know that idiom?

“She’s a pony. A noble, at that. She doesn’t like torture.”

Kat looked at her paws. Her bloody, gore splattered paws. “Maybe I shouldn’t go with you when you talk to her.”

“That might be for the best. Go wash up. I’ll have you take us back to the palace after I talk to Emerald Script.” I turned to the guard, “And not a word of this to Emerald Script. If she asks how he got like this, pretend you don’t speak English.” I honestly didn’t know if he was going to obey that. His morals should say he should tell her. Chain of command and fear says he shouldn’t. Logic says he should. Hell, she was going to be in charge of him longer than I was; might as well get in her good graces.

Actually, thinking about it, I don’t know how the chain of command dictated this. I mean, technically I was outside of it, not on top of it. I was here as a direct agent of the crown, basically an inquisitor. I don’t know if that gave me rank over that of an ambassador in the guards’ minds, though.

I think I was going to find out soon, though.

Kat went off to the washroom. The guard took his post again. I went off to find Emerald. Thankfully, I found her looking for me. She had a letter with her from Celestia. She gave it to me without a word, and refused to acknowledge me further. This is going to be harder than I thought.

I sighed and opened the letter.

It read, “I expected you to wait longer to kill Calix. I sent you there with him so you would, though I will deny it to your dying day if you tell anypony I said that. I was expecting you to end up killing Emerald Script as well, honestly, but after looking at her reports, I don’t think that will be the case.

“It is very good that you managed to deal with those assassins. But I will never allow or condone torture. From this point on, you are forbidden from torturing a prisoner in my name, for any reason. I don’t care what kind of information you think the prisoner might have. Don’t even bother asking me for permission.

“Now that I think you might trust Emerald Script, I will actually put some real faith in this mission. I was honestly expecting it to fail. Maybe it was something you said to her, but she seems to have handled herself fine on the first day.

“I know you find this hard, but you must trust the king. If he betrays you, it honestly won’t matter if you succeed or fail in this mission; I cannot support another rebellion right now. The king they have is the king they’ll keep, as far as I’m concerned. If he betrays you, get out of Egypt however you can. I will allow you to do anything to do that, even torture, if it means you, Emerald Script, and the guards get back safely.

“Trusting the king means giving him the assassin. By the time you read this, Emerald Script will probably have already ordered him moved. She is very upset with you. In fact, she wanted you called back to Equestria for discipline immediately. I think some things I told her will put her back on speaking terms, but it’s up to you to close that gap back up. Honestly, though, it doesn’t really matter. Depending on how this situation with the assassin goes, you might soon be on your way back anyway. I don’t want to cause the king political trouble by keeping you there.

“I’m expecting a full report when you get back. And expect to see Luna when you do, as well.”

I looked up and noticed Kat standing behind me, trying to read over my shoulder. “Who’s Luna?” she asked as I turned.

“Celestia’s sister. Don’t read my orders.”

“That looks more like a personal letter than orders, to me.”

“Celestia is very informal.”

“I’ll say, letting her subjects call her by name.”

“Most people don’t, out of respect. I’m just a bad person.”

“Are you sure it isn’t that there’s something going on between you two?”

“I’m not attracted to ponies.”

“But you have no problems with cats?”

“You look a hell of a lot more like a human than they do.” And I suppose I got used to it while it was forced is something I kind of wanted to say.

She sniffed at that. “I’d be willing to put good salt on your princess being willing to take you as a lover, if you asked.”

“Trust me when I say she wouldn’t even consider it. Drop it.”

“Fine. But you’re the one missing out.”

I can just imagine Celestia laughing her ass off if she was eavesdropping on that conversation. Either way, I think it’ll be something to leave out of my ‘report.’

“Now, we need to head Emerald Script and the guards off, if they are escorting this prisoner to the king. Yes, we have to let him go, but I should probably be there when he gets presented.”

“Nav, you’re not all important. Put some faith in your ambassador. That might be a good way to get back on her good side.”

“This is a hell of a thing to trust her with. If she screws this up, she might piss the king off as badly as if it was actually him that sent the assassins. And if it was him, I might have to pull her out of the fire.”

“If it was the king, there’s nothing you can do. And trust has to start somewhere. Might as well be here.”

“…Was it the king?”

“As far as I know, no, it wasn’t. And I’m not lying, either. My word, to the one that saved my life.”

I sighed. “Fine. But if it ends up with our heads on the block, do your best to speak on my behalf. If Emerald screws it up, that’s on her. But I don’t want to lose my head for her mistake.”

“I won’t let the king kill you. I know a few good places to hide you, if it comes to that.”

“I’ll go ahead and tell you that the last time I tried hiding in a king’s harem, it didn’t turn out well for me at all. I don’t even want to talk about it.”

“Well, I still have plenty of other hiding spots, but that was actually one of them. You’ll have to tell me that story one day.”

“That might be a bad idea, for more reasons than one.” Namely, that it never happened. “But if I can’t watch to make sure Emerald does the right thing, I will at least need to know what she does. Would you be willing to go and spy for me?”

“I’m hardly privy to the king’s briefings with foreign powers.”

“But you are an ex-assassin. I’m sure you could manage to sneak in.”

“Hm… Will you promise to take me flying?”

“If my wing heals before I leave, and I don’t have any duties preventing me, yes. With my wing as it is, I don’t know if I could get myself in the air, let alone someone else.”

“You’re lucky we’re such good friends, human. I don’t think I’d let many people talk me into something like this.”

“A friend with benefits is the best kind of friend there is.”

“We don’t have that term here, but I think I know what you mean. We call it something else.” I think I could guess.

“Good luck, and thanks. Report back whenever you can.”

“What will you be doing, in the mean time?”

“I wish I could say that I would be starting up a spy network across the city, but these wounds really, really hurt. Hell, I don’t know how to set up something like that anyway. You’ll have to help me with it.”

“Why would you even need it?”

“It’s in the best interest of a foreign ambassador to know how the people feel about them. That way, they know how hard they can push the king. If the king tries to go to war or kick out the ambassador of a popular nation, the people will be unhappy. And the people here just got done with one manner of revolution, so don’t think that won’t be fresh on their mind.” Thank God for all those books I read. Hopefully following them will turn out well.

“It is good you are able to think in matters of politics. My specialties are somewhat… different. I might help you make your network, later. For now, I will see you soon.”

I went to find how many guards I was left with. I wasn’t planning on doing anything, but I needed to know if they were still in my camp, after Emerald found out what happened to the prisoner. I could foresee a few problems if she was trying to undermine my authority over them. The authority that might or might not exist. It would be good, in the long run, if they were supporting Emerald over me.

But at the same time, I knew that if I had only Kat’s support in the coming days, I would run into several problems. First, that I’d lose legitimacy. I would look more like an agent of the king rather than an agent of Celestia. Second, I didn’t know how far I could trust Kat. She said I saved her life, but that could have been a ruse to get my trust. That assassin definitely knew her, but he didn’t confirm anything she told me, and the things he did say could have been said under stress of torture. She could just be working for the king to get into my inner circle, to hopefully learn whatever she could. Which could have been why she was reading over my shoulder. Third, working with her for too long would drive me mad. Fourth, I’ll need the guards’ trust if I’m to keep the ambassador safe, even if she is being bitchy. And finally, they’re just fun to talk to sometimes.

With that in mind, I went to find a guard. When I did, I said, “So the ambassador is kind of mad at me.”

The day guard didn’t say anything.

“I need to know, how long are the guards going to be on my side?”

He looked away.

I said, “I know you’re only following orders. And I know you don’t like what I did to the prisoner. But some things have to be done. You have your orders and I have mine. And you’re wise to listen to her over me; in the long run it will benefit you more. Assuming she survives. But I will likely need some help in the coming weeks with things that the ambassador will not approve of. I may be an agent of the crown, but I’m not perfect. Will I be able to count on the support of the guards?”

He took a minute to respond. “I can’t speak for us all. I detest what you did to that prisoner. It sickened me. And then you let that… monster at him. But I understand that you are doing it for Equestria, and to build trust with the king here. Our loyalty is to Equestria and Celestia above all else, even the ambassador. If you can give a good reasoning for what you do, and I can get away from the ambassador, I will help you if you call. But I cannot speak for the rest.”

“That’s all I can ask for, I suppose. If you’re going to be supporting me, the first thing I’ll need help with is an escape route. I need as many as I can get. Assume in some that we have the ambassador and that in some we don’t, so we can utilize wings.”

“Why would you want our help with that?”

“Because I can’t think of everything myself. There will always be something I’ll miss. The more people that scrutinize a plan, the better the chances of ironing out all the small problems.” And the more likely that plan is to be scrapped.

“I’ll give it some thought.”

I nodded, thanked the fellow, and went up to my room. My face really was burning where it was scratched. The cuts weren’t large, but they were deep. There was a lot to do. Escape routes to plan, spy networks to build, important people to get on our side, Anton to deal with… Well, it would be interesting, anyway. Maybe I read too many books, back in the day… Normal people don’t think like this.

Kat didn’t report back to me until the next morning, which I honestly didn’t mind that much. It was pretty late by the time Emerald and the guards got back anyway, so it probably would have been later by the time she got back. Either way, I was asleep, so she would have had to wake me up.

And when I did wake up, I woke up groaning. My head was pounding and my wing wasn’t that much better. I checked my face in the mirror and saw fresh blood on the bandages. Not much, but enough that they had to be changed.

I was doing that when Kat waltzed in, without knocking and with no announcement. I heard the door open and was scrambling for a dagger before I realized it was her. She smiled at that.

“I have good news for you, Navarone,” she said, as she sat on my bed. “But I don’t know if I should give it to you, yet. You still seem rather… undressed.”

“Doors were invented for a reason.” I didn’t even bother hastening to cover up, but I did at least put some pants on.

“You didn’t have to put anything on, you know. I could think of some fun things to do after I tell you the news.”

“Pleasure will have to wait, I fear. There is much to be done and I’ve only a short while in which to do some of it.”

“Fine, have it your way. You won’t have to deal with the informer at all. The king has taken over the investigation.”

“Shit. That’s good and bad. I don’t know if I should be happy or sad about it.”

“Less work for you.”

“And I have no way to influence how it works out. And I have no way of knowing if the king will be honest in his dealings with the assassin cabal, if he ever roots them out. I don’t even know if he’ll try. Good for the king, that he’s doing this, but not as good for me. He gets the approval from the people that he’s actively trying to root out crime, and everyone that’s pro-Equestria will be happy he’s helping us.”

“Either way, it is still good for your image, especially given that little show you put on at the party before you left.”

“True.” I wasn’t about to tell her that image was the only reason I was here anyway. I don’t know why I had so many plans in the first place. Honestly, all I had to do was spend the month looking threatening. Escape plans are always good to have, of course. But the spy network was completely my idea and mostly unnecessary. I just wanted to try it because I thought it would be interesting.

“Did Emerald Script handle herself well during the interview?”

“Remarkably so. It wasn’t how I would have handled it, but she did very well for herself. You’re worrying over nothing, Nav. She’ll be fine.”

“Good enough for me. What did the king do with the assassin?”

She smiled. “You can hear his screams from half a kilometer away.”

“Emerald Script will be pleased at that, I imagine…”

“That was the one stickling point. She proposed to let him go. The king… disagreed.”

“Good that he did. I don’t want to let the enemy know what I’m capable of.”

“You took out an assassination team headed by a high master. I think they’re well aware of what you can do.” Luck. Lots and lots of luck.

“Personally, I’d have just killed the fellow. No reason to keep him alive anymore, other than sadistic glee.”

“Maybe for your kind of investigation. But when you want to take down the entire cabal, everything you can learn is useful. Shame you killed the master and captured the apprentice.”

“What’s done is done. I don’t know what Emerald Script has planned for the day, but now that the whole assassin problem is being dealt with, I would like to get started on that spy network. I figure the first place we should start is the brothels.”

“You would say that.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, but still.” I know it sounds odd, but who hears the most news in a city? Brothels, of course. When men have sex, they talk. And when men come in on caravans or whatnot, the first place they go is to a brothel. So if you can get the brothels reporting to you things that people say, you’ll often hear news from outside of the town before anyone else does, and in a generally more pure way, without having to deal with rumors.

“After that, I was thinking about hitting up taverns, seeing who is pro-Equestria and who isn’t. Slip a little gold here and there, see who is willing to send a few scraps of info our way.”

“Better be careful with bits, in this city. Flash too much of that and footpads might get a little eager with their knives.”

“Between you and me, I think we can handle everything that comes after us. And if all else fails, either of us could requisition a detachment of guards to escort us back to friendly territory.”

“If we have to do that, your entire network will collapse. It would be all over the streets.”

“I’d rather be alive with nothing than dead with something.”

“Just saying,” she answered with a shrug.

“I don’t really care what the criminals are doing here, so we really don’t have to hit too many seedy taverns anyway.”

“It’s always a good idea to know what the criminal element is doing.”

“For me and you, maybe. But I won’t be here forever. Emerald won’t care, when she inherits the system.”

“Do you honestly think she’ll use it anyway?”

“If she’s as smart as you think she is, yes. Information networks can go both ways. Slip something you want known out, and you can get it spread all over the city in a heartbeat.”

“If you’ve never done this before, how do you know so much about it?”

I read a lot. “Training.”

“Sounds good to me, then. Shall we go see what the ambassador plans?”

“Might as well,” I said. “If she’s willing to talk to me.”

I put on more clothing, and finished changing the bandage first. No reason to go to her half naked and bloody.

When we got to the ambassador’s room, the guard let us in with a small warning, “Be careful, Navarone.”

Emerald was at a desk, writing. She looked up when I entered, and said, “Sit, Navarone, Kat.”

I still haven’t figured out why ponies have chairs. How the hell do they sit down?

Anyway, we both did. Kat was about to say something, but I took her hand and shook my head slightly, then let her go. Emerald was trying the same trick Jocasta pulled on me: Wait them out to make them give up control in the conversation. If Kat was on my side here, and she spoke first, it would hurt me.

So we waited. Thankfully, Emerald didn’t have much time to try to outwait us, and gave up that tactic after ten minutes.

“I trust your letter from the princess suited you,” she said to me, looking up.

“I’m glad I got it when I did. A few minutes sooner and it would have put a real damper on things.” She pursed her lips. I knew antagonizing her probably wasn’t a wise move, especially now, but eh.

“I was beginning to think, before this incident, that you truly regretted what happened with Calix.” She was being discreet because Kat was there, I assumed. “But this little episode is making me think otherwise. The letter I received from the princess paints you in an interesting light, but she is not here. She is not seeing what I am seeing. She did not see the body of that cat as he struggled to breathe. Why she is letting you, of all ponies, represent Equestria is beyond me.”

I can honestly see where Emerald is coming from with that, and looking back I can agree. These cat people have had one oppressive and torturous regime after another. They’ve known crime, torture, and oppression. Now, they finally have a chance for peace, and to be allied with a massive, strong, peaceful foreign empire. But their image for that empire is me. I was there at the revolution and I’m here now. I’m violent, ‘powerful,’ and strong. And I represent the interests of a peaceful nation. What kind of ‘better tomorrow’ do I promise? I would just seem like more of the same, once you got past the whole revolution thing.

So yes, I can see where she’s coming from. But at the same time, I did what had to be done. There is no other way around it. I would not have known what I now know without asking the questions I did, and using the methods I did to ask them.

So I just said, “You’ve heard my rationalizations. There is no need for me to explain it again. What is on today’s agenda?”

“The king is keeping me out of sight until the day after they try to intercept the contact. I’m to remain here until then. You, however, are to be seen about in the city, asking questions. Kat, would you kindly leave us for a moment?”

Kat stood up and, with a small bow, walked out.

When she was gone, Emerald said, “Your fascination with her cannot get in the way of your duties. Or in the way of my duties. And you can’t take her back to Equestria, either, so don’t even get that thought in your head.”

“Why the hell would I want to do that? That bitch scares the hell out of me! I wouldn’t have her anywhere within a hundred miles of either princess, or any of my friends.”

“But you have no problem being around her, or letting her come here?”

“She is useful. But she has a price, of course.”

“Keep that price in mind when you deal with her. If it is something you alone cannot pay, don’t accept her help. I don’t want to get Equestria involved in your debts.”

“Different kind of price,” I said, with a general motion I’m sure she understood.

“And the king gave her to us as a guide? This place is crazy, Navarone.”

“I warned you. I warned the guards. I warned Celestia. Just be glad we’re not down in the Congo. The heart of darkness down there would have driven all of you mad.”

“…What?”

“Nothing. Just something from back in my world. What kind of questions do I need to be asking?”

“Anything. Offer bribes, if you have to. Those, the treasury will cover, if I deem them necessary.” Perfect. “I would order you to take guards, but they wouldn’t follow that order if I gave it. I don’t know what you did to them, but they seem to be on your side more often that they’re on mine.”

“Their loyalty is to the princesses above all else. And she gave you the status of ambassador and me the status of agent of the crown. Agents are usually outside of the chain of command, meaning that I can usually avoid having to follow orders given but can at the same time give orders, if I can justify them well enough. Doesn’t mean they have to be followed, though.”

“Why did Princess Celestia tell me none of this?”

She was expecting you to piss me off so I’d kill you. “She probably wasn’t expecting me to actually take my role seriously.”

“I will have to request updated instructions on how to deal with you.”

Rule one: Don’t piss me off. Rule two: Let me do what I need to do.

“If that’s all you need, I’ll leave. The sooner I get into position the sooner I can get to doing nothing.”

She dismissed me.

Kat was waiting for me in my room.

Wearing nothing.

I sighed. The things I do for Equestria…

An indeterminate amount of time later, we were both getting kicked out of a brothel by a very large cat.

Thankfully, I was disguised, but that was hardly a consolation. When the door had been slammed behind us, I turned to her and said, “I thought you had done this before!”

“No, I let you assume that I had done this before. I’ve used a spy network, but I’ve never built one.”

“…” I gave her a look mean enough so that she could hear the ellipsis.

“What?”

I shook my head. “If we keep this up we’re going to get killed. Violently. Let’s head back to the richer side of the city. At least there I can do what I’m supposed to be actually doing, with considerably less risk.” And I can possibly build something up by making pointed remarks.

We started walking. She said to me, “If you really want to keep what you’re doing here hidden, we should probably lose our tails.” Meaning someone was following us. Great.

“Kill or evade?”

“Evade if possible, kill if not. Shame you can’t fly yet.”

We both had rucksacks with spare clothes in them, so we could move around the city with less notice. The problem with that, of course, means that we were carrying bags with something in them in the poor parts of the city. If there’s a bag, it means you have something. Something that could be worth something.

Unless our trail knew I was human, all I had to do was take off my head mask and they’d probably turn around and walk away. Or run away, probably. But that could present problems, as they probably just saw me get kicked out of a brothel. What we needed was a place to hide for a few minutes so we could both change, or so at least I could change.

But experienced cutpurses are very good at not letting their target get out of sight, or at least not for long.

Thankfully, we were in a pretty crowded area, and neither of us actually had purses on us. They would have to confront us directly in order to get at our money, and not even a mass of poor people would let a thief get away. It was more of an annoyance than anything, really. We couldn’t get too far into the richer areas without getting kicked out by guards, but neither could the follower. We couldn’t change, because we might be seen. So we were stuck until we dealt with him or lost him.

“We could just politely ask him to leave,” I suggested.

“How confident are you in your running skills?”

“Cats are faster than I am. But I’m stronger than most cats. Fighting this fellow shouldn’t be that hard.”

“I’ve dealt with footpads in the past. But I have never, ever tried reasoning with one. That sounds… interesting.”

I wasn’t expecting her to actually take me seriously. She turned and walked up to a fellow that was standing near a door, looking somewhat confused. I followed her. “So, why are you following us?” she asked.

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded.

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