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.


30. Chapter Twenty-Four—Knives in the... day Part 2

“I would very much appreciate it if you stopped,” I said.

“And how else am I supposed to feed my family?” he asked vehemently. “Being in slavery for all of my life gave me no useful skills and no money! This is all I can do!”

“Not our problem. Follow us and you’ll catch a blade in your heart, if you’re lucky,” Kat said. The poor cat following us looked like he was about to cry.

I had a bit of an idea, and snapped my fingers. I removed my head piece. The ex-slave gasped, as did a few of the cats that had stopped to watch. Now the kid really looked like he was about to run away or just die on the spot.

“Let’s go for a little walk. I think you and I should talk,” I said. Kat gave me a look that I ignored as I grabbed the fellow gently by the arm. He barely tried to resist as I led him along.

When we were away from most of the spectators, I put my head piece back on and led the group down a small alley.

“Now,” I said, “despite what you may have heard, I’m not a monster. Well, sort of not a monster. Either way, I’m not a terrible person.” A lie, of course.

“I heard you killed a thousand cats on the March of Liberation!” he accused me.

“More like ten, at most. Most of what I did was letting people free or planning. Now, in the end I was probably responsible for that many deaths, but it was not my hand that did it.”

“I also heard you took on ten assassins at once recently!”

“How did that already get out?” I asked Kat. She shrugged. “Whatever. It was two. I killed one and captured the other. They attacked me first, and were going to attack my ambassador. How does that make me a monster?”

“Only a monster could kill two assassins like that.”

“Or a well-trained Agent of the Equestrian Crown.” I made sure you could hear the capitals.

“A peaceful nation produced such a violent agent?”

“Sometimes violence is what is needed to get the job done. Sometimes, but not always. You, for example, could have been taken care of with violence. Reason and compassion are occasionally good ways of dealing with things.”

“So you talk to me and let me go. What good will that do me? I’ll still starve because of your actions!”

I dug in my pocket and held up a bit. “I’m offering you a job. Gold for information. I won’t be here forever, and I can’t keep our ambassador informed of how the city feels. I need to plant seeds and find people that are willing to send information to her. She will need to know how the people feel about Equestria and several other things. Those rich nobles she’ll normally be talking to will tell her nothing but what she wants to hear. But the people will tell her the truth.”

“So you want me to spy for you. Spy on my own people, for money.”

“Not spying. Just telling her things she needs to know.” So yes, spying. “What kind of important secrets will a peasant find? All you are doing is telling her how the city feels. You’re finding opinions, not facts. And possibly news, if you think it is important.”

“What makes you think anything I say will be important?”

“You are a freed slave. You are one of many. Ask friends and family questions. Ask them opinions. And when you report to the ambassador, ask her for questions to ask them. If you prove useful, you will be rewarded. If not, well, at least you tried. And if nothing else, it is a better job than risking your life as a thief. And it will give you some bits that you can use to get started learning useful skills.”

He was silent for a few seconds. “I’ll try,” he finally said. “If nothing else, this money will keep me alive for a while. Where do I go to report?”

Oh, shit. “I don’t suppose you know how to write?”

He smiled nastily. “That’s the one thing I was taught, as a slave. I was a record keeper.” And that’s not a useful skill? Fucking Egypt, man.

“If you can, write up your reports and drop them off at the embassy. Just ask any guard where it is.”

“Asking a guard where the embassy is looking like that will get you booted right back to the lower city,” Kat said. She explained to him where it was. I nodded in thanks.

“Mark your notes for ‘The Dude.’” To be honest, I had never seen that movie, but I thought it was a neat sounding name. Not like they would catch the reference anyway. “Oh, and don’t tell anyone you’re reporting to us, either.”

“I won’t tell a soul. Thank you for this, Sphinx.” He bowed slightly and ran off.

“Well, that’s one contact, at least,” I said. I caught Kat smiling at me. “What, imagining me changing already?”

“You just always seem to find a way to surprise me.”

“I’m good at that. Let’s get out of this place.”

The rest of the day was spent in richer bars and inns, playing dice games for small sums and asking questions. Kat was relatively well known, and I was very well known, so we had no lack of company. I asked a few pointed questions in each tavern about assassin cabals, and covered them up with various other questions about the culture and the area.

I was certain what I was saying was going to get reported back to the mastermind. I also won a few games and got a nice bit of local money. Which was salt. Yay, I guess.

I got a few more contacts, but none of them really had any neat stories attached. Just more innkeepers that were probably lining their pockets with money from reporting to dozens of people.

In case you’re wondering, none of the taverns here had alcohol. They did, however, have various manners of getting yourself wasted. For cats, there was catnip. For ponies, there were special salts. For dogs, there were some mild forms of chocolate, which apparently does something different in this world than it did in mine. For the naga, there was mercury. Nothing for me, though, and I wasn’t about to tell people here how to make booze.

When we got back to the embassy, I reported to Emerald to tell her of my efforts with the spy net.

“I… understand, I suppose, why you would want to do this. But how do you think I’m going to pay for it?”

“Magic in some bits from Equestria. Most people here sell themselves cheap. When I’m gone, you inherit the network. Shouldn’t be that hard to maintain, as long as the guards don’t start arresting people that come by.”

“You should have asked me, first, you know. I’m not certain I’m comfortable having cats from the lower city come here.”

“He probably won’t come often. Just make sure to read what they give you before you pay them. No reason to let them expect to be paid for dropping scraps of paper off that have nothing useful on them.”

“I’m not an idiot, Nav. Why did you bring her with you?” with a significant glance at Kat.

“Hey, she got me my first contact. She knows this city better than I do, and was very helpful. Now that I know my way around better, I’ll get people that the king won’t find out about.”

“You wound me,” Kat said. “I’m on your side in this, Nav, not the king’s. I remember old friends.”

“I know that and you know that, but my ambassador is properly learning paranoia.”

I got a mean look from Emerald for that one.

“What?” I asked. “You’re going to have a fun time back in Equestria, after this assignment. Trust me on that. At least you won’t have combat reflexes drilled into you like I did. I almost stabbed a friend when she surprised me one day.” Fucking Pinkie, man, popping up out of nowhere.

Emerald sighed. “I know, Nav. This place is not like Equestria at all. I’m still in shock that I was almost killed! Saved by you, thankfully. And I never did thank you for it… So thank you, Navarone. Thank you for saving my life.”

“It’s what I’m here for. Well, one of the reasons I’m here. Tell me, what am I to be doing tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, you are supposed to stay here all day. Don’t be seen. The day after that, depending on how the ambush goes, we return to active duty.”

“Good. Tomorrow is going to be boring, though. At least it’ll give me a chance to heal a bit.”

“Am I to be running any errands for you?” Kat asked with a bit of a hopeful lilt to her voice.

“No, Kat. If I’m dead and Navarone is here planning the return trip, what use will you be? I’m sure the king will find something for you to do.”

Kat sighed at that. I was somewhat relieved. I wasn’t lying about being happy to get a chance to heal a bit. Having her around to pester me would be a bit counterproductive.

I spent the next day looking around the embassy some more, avoiding open windows. I wasn’t really expecting to find anything, I was just bored. We didn’t bring any books with us, as that would have been more weight through the desert. I spent some time talking with the guards. For all looking the same, they had vastly different personalities. I gave and took advice from them. I asked them, academically, how they approached mares when off duty. Not for myself, mind, but because I kept getting asked back home.

When I asked that question, I wasn’t expecting the looks that came with it. I did my best to reassure the first one, a night guard: “I’m not asking for myself, man.”


“Hey, I keep getting asked how to approach mares back home. I don’t know why they’re asking me, but they do. I just want to make sure I’m right.”

“Asking you for advice? Hah! I can’t even imagine you getting a human woman, scrawny as you are.”

“Scrawny don’t mean shit. Give me my weapons and enough time and I could take down any target.”

“You couldn’t take down Princess Celestia or Princess Luna if you tried.”

“I wouldn’t dare attack either, just because I don’t know what effects it would have on this world. I’m positive I could kill them, but I wouldn’t.”

“You’ve obviously never seen them use magic, if you think you could kill them.”

“I’m not stupid enough to attack her head on. Poison, a knife in the night, a shot from far away… I could bring them down. I just have no reason to.”

“Sounds like you need to be taken down a peg or two. You forget that both are being guarded constantly.”

“I could probably kill either, guards or not. I’d offer to do it as a training exercise, but we’re both here, and they’re half a world away. Besides, most of my strength comes from being stealthy. If the guards knew I was coming, it would be harder.”

“You’re very arrogant. I say you should ask the princess yourself if you can turn it into a training exercise. After all the trouble you’ve put some of the guards through, I’m sure they’d be happy to beat you down.”

“After the whole Africa campaign, I’m pretty sure I’ve saved the guards more trouble than I gave them. But we digress. Do you have any advice for me or not?”

He rolled his eyes and told me pretty much what I was expecting to hear. I got similar answers from the other guards.

After a day of doing basically nothing, my wounds were feeling a hell of a lot better. I was still thinking the ones on my face would scar, though I was hoping it wouldn’t be too noticeable. Either way, I could probably get the scars healed away. Hell, Luna’s first healing removed most of mine.

Today was supposed to be the day the contact was taken. If he showed up, that is, which I found myself doubting. More likely that it would be a trap, which was okay with me since none of my men were doing the attacking.

I went to talk to Emerald to see what our agenda for the day was. I found her fretting and pacing nervously in her room. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just so nervous about this contact situation! If he isn’t caught, when will the next attempt on my life come? Ponies aren’t supposed to deal with stuff like this!”

“You shouldn’t have to worry about another attack from that assassin group. Kat told me they won’t accept two contracts on the same person. If you’re really worried, you can ask the king to give us different accommodations, or more guards.”

“I’d feel much better if I didn’t know you were leaving soon. You’re the only reason I’m still alive. Not like my guards did anything to stop that attack…”

“I’m sure the assassins would have been stopped before they got to you. As it was, I don’t think they were even there long when I found them. They were likely waiting for you to get back. The guards would have stopped them before they got to you. Besides, I thought you were still mad at me.”

“I feel like I should be, but the princess and I both know that all you’ve done was done for the best. It’s just hard to think that when you see the grisly results…”

“It’s done and over with. What’s on our agenda for today?”

“Laying low until the ambush party gets back with or without the contact. When they get back, we go to see the king.”

“I feel I should let you know now, before it becomes an issue: The king wants my help with something. He didn’t say what. I think he’s going to try to bribe me to do whatever it is.”

“Why would he think he can bribe you? What would he even try to bribe you with?”

“He probably still holds to the belief that I’m a mercenary, and that I’m in this business for money. I don’t know why he would still be thinking that, but whatever. I might be able to use it to our advantage. It’s not like I have to help him with whatever it is.”

“Interesting… Keep me abreast of anything he asks you to do. If it won’t endanger you or the mission, feel free to do whatever it is. At least one of us might as well come out of this endeavor a bit richer than before.”

“I don’t think salt will do me any good back home. Not like I really need money anyway, with both of the princesses looking out for me.”

“I didn’t figure you to be one for living off the kindness of another.”

“I don’t. I earn my pay doing stuff like this.”

“Fair enough. So their money here is salt? Do they know ponies use that as a stimulant?”

“Yes, they do, and they think it’s hilarious. That said, they’ll also take bits if you have it. I wouldn’t be surprised if their official system is bits and their unofficial is just salt, because it’s so useful.”

“I’ll have to see about asking the king to set this place up on Equestria’s gold standard. That would be one way for us to become closer, and to facilitate trade.”

“That’s none of my business. I want nothing to do with the economy.”

“Lucky you. Sadly, I’m stuck doing all this work now. Alone. Since, you know, you killed my partner.”

“Yeah, that’s such a shame,” I said wistfully, pretending to not catch the hint.

She harrumphed. “You know, I’m sure your human mind has all kinds of interesting ideas in it…”

“I’ve had people think that before, yes. And they are correct that it does.”

“Any help you could give me would be… appreciated.” Why the slight pause?

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

She waited for more, but got nothing. “We have a while before the ambush party is due back…”

I sighed. “Fine, if you really want to know.” I spent a while detailing how the American economy works. When it works, that is. I don’t know how it’s going now, but when I was stolen, everything was tanking.

When I finished, she just said, “Humans are crazy!” I couldn’t disagree.

In the rest of the time we had left until the royal emissary came to get us, I decided to try to learn how to juggle. I don’t know why.

I was failing rather badly at my efforts when a guard came by and told me to get ready to go.

“Any word on what the locals found?”

“Not that I was told,” he answered.

I shrugged and grabbed my gear. There was no need to go about hiding who I was here, so I didn’t bother with all the concealing clothes. Just grabbed my crossbow, a random quiver, a few knives, and went to find some news.

Kat was waiting for us all in the front lobby area.

“Well, are we safe?” I asked.

“I’ll wait to say until the ambassador is here.”

“Little tease…” I couldn’t read her, either. Ah well. Either way, I’d probably be gone soon enough.

Thankfully, Emerald didn’t take long to get there. “Well, Kat, are we safe?” she asked.

“We didn’t nab the contact, but we did wipe out an ambush. They weren’t expecting the numbers we brought.”

“Any losses?” I asked.

“None that were important. And we think we know the name of the cat responsible.”

“It could just be a fake,” I warned. “I wouldn’t be too surprised if they were given a fake name when told who they were working for.”

“Not likely. We caught the chief bodyguard of one of the biggest pro-slavery barons in Egypt. Soldiers are on the way to arrest the baron as we speak.”

“I don’t envy them. Anyone that can pay for assassins and wield a large enough army to risk men in an ambush probably has a large standing guard force paid to be well loyal. And he’ll know someone is coming, if his men haven’t reported back yet.”

“That’s why I’m here, instead of in the assault. Are you ready to go talk with the king?”

I nodded and Emerald said, “Lead the way.”

I don’t feel like describing local politics, and honestly, it isn’t that important. So I’ll just say that when the king got an excuse to take down a powerful baron that was basically opposing him, he very happily took it. Doing so greatly increased his own power, and it put all the other barons on their toes.

So the king was very happy to see us again. “Feeling well, Navarone?” he boomed as soon as we stepped in.

“Better than the other fellows, majesty,” I answered.

“Quite. I don’t suppose you’d want another crack at the fellow that did that to you? He’s still alive, I think.”

“I don’t torture for pleasure. As far as I’m concerned, his usefulness is over and should be put down. No reason to leave him suffering.”

“His usefulness to you is over. But he is still part of a guild of assassins that I am very interested in putting down.”

“It is your kingdom, lord.”

“Yes, it is. And I have you and your patron to thank for that. And I have you and your ambassador here to thank for helping me keep it. I won’t forget that.” I bowed my head in response. I mean, what was I supposed to say?

Thankfully, Emerald took over. I don’t actually know what the hell she was trying to get from the guy. I mean, I know ambassadors do… stuff, I guess, but I’ve never really thought to care what.

And I didn’t think to care now. I zoned out of their conversation rather quickly. I was supposed to be a guard anyway, so I figured I’d just sort of look around, pretending to watch for assassins or whatnot.

The throne room we were in was lavish, but thankfully not that garish. I think Rarity would have given it a grudging approval, though I’m sure she would have rushed to ‘improve’ most of it. There were no windows, which was a smart move. One official way out, though I was guessing there were hidden exits dotted about. The throne was wooden, engraved with all manner of scenes, all of which I later learned were pivotal points in the history of Egypt. I didn’t see the revolution anywhere on there, though.

The king’s guards were lazily watching us from the foot of the small dais the throne was on. Our guards were doing their best to watch everything without the impression of moving. They had almost failed once, and they weren’t going to risk it happening again.

I was watching all this, so it came as a bit of a surprise when the conversation came to a close. “I don’t suppose you’d mind if I talked to Navarone a bit, would you, ambassador?”

“He shouldn’t have a hard time finding his way back. It wouldn’t be his first time. You can borrow him for now. If I need him, I have a way of calling him.” Like I’m a fucking pet. At least I had warned her beforehand. Now she wouldn’t be concerned about it.

The ponies bowed their way out, pulling Kat along with them. I fixed my gaze on the king.

“So. Navarone. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to take a little job on the side for me? It would pay well, I promise you.”

“That depends on what the job is, lord.”

“You question the job, rather than the pay? What manner of mercenary are you?”

I smiled at that. “I told you true when we met on the field east of the Suez. I am not a mercenary. I am an agent. However, if there is a job you need help with, I might be able to do it.”

“Hmph. And how can I trust you’ll settle the manner according to my needs instead of according to Celestia’s needs?”

“I will not betray Equestria or Princess Celestia, and I will always put Celestia’s interests above yours. I am, if nothing else, a loyal subject. If your job asks me to betray them, tell me so I can go back to the embassy now.”

“No!” he said, too quickly. “No, human,” said slower. “I need you. I do not think it will be a betrayal of Equestria or Celestia.”

“Tell me your job, then. I’ll decide myself.”

“First, let me see that dagger at your waist.”

I handed it over, with a raised eyebrow.

“As I thought… this is naga work, yes?”

I looked at it. That was one of the knives I got from the naga. The sword was stolen by the slaves. “Yes, lord.”

He handed it back, and started to pace somewhat angrily. “There is a group of desert naga living under the Sphinx. I think they get their water from the Nile. I need their support, but they refuse to see any of my messengers, cat, dog, or pony. I don’t have any dragons to ask for me, and naga mercenaries are so rare and I don’t think I could find one willing to risk going down there. But with that dagger, you could get in.”

“I did not know this dagger was like a key.”

“Not quite like a key. But there is apparently a custom among naga: Anyone with a naga weapon is welcome into their caves, as long as they come in peace.”

“Are naga weapons so rare that you’d need this thing?” I asked.

“Yes. Exceedingly rare. You must have broken into a naga cave to get that, or killed a naga from a main group that was migrating. They don’t let those weapons get far from the main group.”

“Glad I haven’t lost it, then. What exactly do you want me to do?”

“Get in and ask them what I can do to buy their loyalty.”

“And if their answer is negative?”

“Ask them what I can do to ensure they won’t sell themselves out to an enemy.”

“And if that answer is negative?”

“Come back to me. I might have you help me wipe out their nest, if that’s the case.”

“I won’t fight under another foreign flag. But if I can draw you up a map, I will.”

He shrugged. “I have soldiers aplenty.” I was tempted to smack him for saying that, but smacking a king is usually a bad idea.

“What is the pay?”

“Whatever you think your services are worth. Tell me what you want when you get back.” Interesting.

“When do you want this done?”

“As soon as possible.”

“I’ll go change and do it right now, then. I’ll bring an answer back as soon as I can.”

“Why would you need to change?”

“The naga I met hate wings. I want mine to be hidden while I meet these.”

“I will have to remember that. Go in peace, Navarone.”

I stopped at the embassy long enough to change, warn Emerald where I was going to be, and grab Kat.

“Why do you need me to go?” Kat asked.

“So I don’t get lost on the way to the Sphinx, and so I can find the entrance to the caverns they’re living in.” That, and I was planning on trying to fly back if I could, and with her there I could solve two obligations for the price of one.

It took us a few hours to walk through the city, and another hour to reach the Sphinx. It doesn’t look like that long of a distance, but it’s a lot longer when you’re weaving through crowds and trying to find a direct route through the city.

Thankfully, the city guards still had a cordon around the Sphinx from the raid earlier, so getting in was no large problem. The guards were slightly hesitant to let us in, but when they saw my face and my wings they folded.

And I finally got my first close up look at the Sphinx. Body of a human male, bird-like wings, and head of a cat. Complete opposite of my world.

I asked Kat, “Why did the naga allow such a thing to be built over the entrance to their caverns?”

She looked at me, somewhat surprised. “The king didn’t tell you? The naga commissioned the statue. It was built with slave labor. Nobody knows why they commissioned it or how they paid, or at least no one told any of us.”

“As long as it isn’t part of some ancient prophecy that I have to fulfill, I don’t suppose it matters. I just want an answer.” I started unwinding the bandage around my head. “No reason to go in there looking too injured…” I muttered.

“Do you want me to try to go in with you?” Kat asked.

“I don’t think they’d let you in. If you want to wait here, I was planning on trying to fly back, if my wings were up to it. Or you could head on back, if you want.”

She looked at me somewhat dubiously. “I don’t think your wings can take two right now. I saw the damage in them better than you did. I’ll see you back at the embassy.”

I shrugged and went into the door on the side of the Sphinx. Despite it being winter out there, it was really hot in the daylight. The freezing cold in the nights was an annoying contrast. I was really hoping this whole mess would be over quickly so I could get back to the city before night fell.

My eyes were starting to adjust to the darkness when I saw a few hulking shadows slink out of darkness of a larger connecting room. “What is your business here, creature?”

I slowly pulled the dagger out of its sheath and presented it to him, hilt first. He took it, and I said, “Shelter for a spell, if you’ll have me. And a word with your leader, if possible.”

“This is not a clan I’ve seen a symbol for. But it is definitely naga make. Where did you get this?”

“A clan of naga, around five hundred strong, around the middle of Equestria. It was payment for services rendered.”

“You are no pony,” he accused. I was about to answer when I heard and saw a striker in action as he lit a torch. I squinted in the bright glare. “You are also neither cat nor dog. What are you?”

“Human. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of me.”

His eyes narrowed. “Oh, I’ve heard of you. Human. Winged. Liberator. Monster.” He handed the dagger back. “Friend of naga. Come.” That could have gone worse.

I sheathed it and followed him into the murky shadows beyond the torch’s flickering light.

As we walked, the naga said, “Remove the cover over your wings, human. Deception will give you nothing, here.” I sighed and did as he said. I stretched them as far as I could, to try to relieve some of the cramps they get when hidden for so long. I could see the tips brushing against the walls of the hallway we were in. I was able to make out the naga stiffening and catching his breath when he realized what I was doing. These people really don’t like wings…

We had to walk rather far before we started getting to natural caverns, and even farther before we found any signs of habitation. Around the time we hit the natural caverns, my boredom overcame my logic and I started asking questions. “Does your water come from the Nile?”

“Yes, but it goes through much cleaning before it gets to the main cavern. We control it using a system of floodgates and, when necessary, buckets. Not the most pleasant of jobs, but the water rarely needs to be changed, so it thankfully doesn’t need to be done often. Where did water come from in the other cavern you visited?”

“I honestly don’t know. I think it was a natural spring, but I didn’t ask. I had other things on my mind at the time.”

“That is likely. Most groups go after natural springs, to save themselves much effort. We just live here for the convenience of being near a large city.”

“What do you get from the city?”

“News, food, jobs, any raw materials we can’t make ourselves.” If they get jobs from the city, why wouldn’t they talk to any emissaries?

“In the other group, there were warriors stationed near the entrance. Large war bands, not just a few sentries. Do you not fear any attacks?”

“No one in these deserts would be stupid enough to attack any of us. And we know these tunnels better than anyone. One of us could hold an entire invading force back long enough for the other to get to the main cavern and alert all the fighters, and we could spread ourselves out in such a way that no one could get through without losing too many fighters. The only reason we would station a war band near the entrance is if we wanted to be able to attack outside us quickly, or scout for a new location to live.”

“I suppose that’s what the other group was doing. I helped them wipe out a hostile group of naga.”

“What was their number?”

“The enemy numbered at least a hundred. Probably half of those were fighters. We had fifteen naga and me.”

“And you killed them all?”

“All but one, yes.”

“The naga in your land must be warriors out of legend!”

“It helps that I snuck into the enemy camp and killed about a quarter of them in their sleep, and then lit their camp on fire before fleeing.”

“That is not the way of honor. But not all fights are about honor, I suppose.”

“When I take on a job, I strive to finish the job. The best way of finishing a job is with the least amount of danger to me and the people I’m working with.”

“I find it odd that those naga would have given you a weapon in exchange for a service like that.”

“I also used torches to light their ceiling for them. Their main cavern had alcoves carved into the ceiling in the form of stars, and they had me place lit torches in each alcove. That was a long and exhausting job.”

“I can imagine. Tell me, if you are a hero to the cat people and an agent for the ponies, why do you seek shelter here?”

“I’ve a question for your leader, if he’ll see me.”

“What is your question? Maybe I can answer it.”

“Why won’t your people respond to the emissaries the king sends?”

“We do. We just don’t respond in a manner the king wishes to hear. We refuse to hire ourselves out to him, and have told each of his emissaries the same thing.”

“Why won’t you work for him?”

“Because we don’t get involved in political struggles until it is clear who the winner will be. The king has a very rocky hold on power right now. If we decide to support him and he gets overthrown, we might be persecuted for helping him.”

“Wise. But I have some information that might sway your opinion on the rockiness of the king’s power.”

“This must be rather new information. We keep agents in the city, and they report any wins or losses in the local power struggles.”

“I’d be more comfortable speaking to a leader about this. But then, I think I am, aren’t I?”

I was guessing that if I could see the naga I would see a smile on his face. “You aren’t wrong, Navarone. What gave me away?”

“Most leaders wouldn’t pull sentry duty. But most common soldiers wouldn’t be able to discuss strategy and politics so openly. I suppose you had someone see me coming and came up using a shortcut to take the place of a sentry, so you could judge my mettle before I arrived in any dangerous position, where I might could hurt your people.”

“Astute. What is your new information?”

“One bit is older, and you probably already know it. Which means you don’t put as much weight on it as you should. Princess Celestia is supporting King Johnson.”

“We knew this.”

“The strongest pro-slave baron opposing the king is in the process of being arrested or killed by troops loyal to the king.”

“That is happening right now?”

“It either has happened in the past few hours, will happen within the next few hours, or is happening right now. I don’t know exactly. There was a skirmish outside the Sphinx today, and that gave us the evidence we needed to bring down the baron.”

“That is, indeed, pivotal news. If it is true.”

“When you learn that it is true, would you send someone to talk with the king, and tell him you are willing to discuss working with him?”

“Yes. We should learn the truth of this matter within seven surface cycles. Days, I believe you call them. If we learn it to be true, and the raid is successful, we shall send word to the king.”

“Cool. I don’t suppose there’s an exit from these caves near or inside the city?”

“There is. But I think there are some matters for you and our elder to discuss.”


“I do not know. But you are the closest thing we have ever seen matching the description that was passed down. I would be a fool to let you leave without talking to the elder.”

“If you’re going to try to make me pass some ridiculous rites of passage, would you be overly upset if I left?”

“I wouldn’t care one whit. The elder would, though, and that means most of the naga here would, so I don’t think that would end well.”

The situations I find myself in…

The caverns here didn’t have any nice sights like the burial chamber or the sapphire chamber, but their main cavern was still a sight to see. There weren’t fish in it, though, and I don’t think there was any way for the ceiling to be lit up. So it was just a massive, dark chamber with a few circles of light weakly fighting back the encroaching darkness. The leader fellow I was talking with called up a guard to watch me while he went to find the elder.

It took about ten minutes. As soon as the elder got out of the water and got a good look at me, he smacked the younger leader on the back of the head. “Does that look like a cat to you?”

The young guy was rubbing the back of his head and staring daggers at the elder. “You’re the one that asked for any leads! This is the closest we’ve gotten to anything approaching the description. I figured you could ask him some questions or something.”

The old one tried to mutter under his breath, but since he was old and bad of hearing it was clearly audible: “Stupid youngsters, bringing ugly fliers down here…” In a louder voice, he said, “Fine! What are you supposed to be, you ugly mutant?”

“I’m supposed to be respectful and kind, but sometimes I change my mind about that.”

The young guy was smiling, the guard that was still watching me was glaring at me and making a point of rearranging his weapons, and the old one seemed taken aback for a minute before coughing a laugh and saying, “Oh, you wanna be like that, huh?”

“I would like to be kind and respectful, but if you keep up that attitude, I’ll change my mind. I don’t care how old you are, I’m not above smacking some respect into you.”

The guard behind me unsheathed his very long sword. The young leader did the same, with a warning to the guard, “He’s a guest, with naga steel to back him up.”

“He is threatening our elder!” was the retort.

“As far as I’m concerned, the elder deserves it. And I control what guest lives and dies here.” The guard lowered his weapon, but didn’t put it away until the elder waved him down.

“Fire in you,” the elder said. “Good. Don’t think that makes you the chosen one.”

“Fuck that, I don’t want to be the chosen one. Chosen ones have to risk their lives doing things for people that are too inadequate to do it for themselves, and rarely gain anything of note but pain for their troubles.”

“Well, you don’t match the description anyway…” the elder said. “That scratch on your face. Where did you get it?”

“An assassin. A male cat assassin, so don’t get any ideas in your head.”

“Hm. Fine. You aren’t the one we’re looking for.” I put my shirt back on while he continued. “However, you are close. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to go through some of the trials, as a test run?”

“I would not be. In fact, if possible, I’d kind of like to leave.”

“There’d be no danger to you involved. Just a bit of flying.”

“My wing was recently injured. I haven’t tried flying yet. I might or might not be able to fly at all right now.”

“Then all the better to try now, in a safe environment!”

I looked to the young leader, “Can he stop me from leaving?”

“He can make it very difficult.”

I sighed. “Fine. Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. And then I’ll leave.”

“Great! Fly to all the lit up points in the room and come back here.”

“That’s all? Are there any obstacles between the points, or is it all open space?”

He looked down at that and mumbled something. “What was that? I didn’t quite catch it,” I said.

“He said to watch out for stalactites and stalagmites,” the young guy said. “There aren’t many, but there are a few.” The elder glared at him. “What? You already said he isn’t the chosen one. No reason for him to risk cracking his skull.”

“Damn right. Cats can see in the dark. I can’t,” I said.

All three of them looked at me like I was an idiot. “You… you can’t see in the dark?” the elder stammered.

“Why would you come into a cavern if you can’t see in the dark?” the young guy asked.

“No, I can’t see in the dark,” I said again. “And I came here because I was asked to.”

“Are you sure he isn’t the chosen one?” the guard asked the elder.

“I hope not! This guy’s an idiot!” he responded, still looking at me like I just said I forgot how to breathe.

“So… you still want me to fly?”

“Let’s just… let’s just go, human. I’ll lead you to an exit near the city,” the young guy tried.

The elder stopped him. “No. I want to see him try it.”

“I’ll take it nice and slow. Don’t want to risk hurting my wings anyway. If I run into anything, it shouldn’t hurt that much.”

“Your funeral…” the guard muttered.

I did fine. A few close calls, and my wing started to ache a bit near the end, but I made it. I got a lot of looks, and there was a small crowd around the elder when I got back. I did my best to load the crossbow in the air, just in case, and then landed.

“I made it. Your test is fine, old man. Now, where’s the exit?”

“What would you do...” he started, and I pointed the crossbow right at him, “…if I said you were the chosen one?”

“If you have someone behind me knock me out, my finger will pull this trigger and you’ll die. I’m not your chosen one. I don’t care what you need a chosen one for. I don’t care what kind of great evil you’re fighting. I don’t care what the rewards are. I don’t care if you’ll threaten to kill me. Where’s the exit?”

“Just asking. Show him out,” he said to the young guy. He nodded, and began pushing through the crowd. I jumped back into the air and flew over the group of naga in the direction he was heading, crossbow still aimed at the elder.

When he got to me, the fellow said, “Wise. But he was just joking.”

“I’m not unloading this thing until I’m back in the city, and I’m not going to stop pointing it at a naga until I’m out of these caves. I refuse to be used by another group of people for a goal that I care nothing about. Four is enough for me.”


“Princess Celestia, the slaves, King Johnson, and the naga back in Equestria.”

“If all those have you pursuing goals you don’t care about, what do you care about?”

“Getting back home to my friends and living in peace. My adoptive home, rather, not my original home. That is now beyond me.”

“It is good to be among friends, yes. But don’t you ever feel the need to serve a cause bigger than yourself?”

“Yes, but I manage to remind myself that most people that dedicate themselves to causes get used up by that cause before too much progress is made. And if you think I willingly went along with any of their requests for help, you’re only partially correct. I was captured by the naga and my choice was basically endure captivity until the naga that captured me won out over the invaders, or help the naga deal with their enemies. I refuse to be a captive, or bound forcefully to one place for too long. Princess Celestia blackmailed me. The slaves held a knife to the throat of a friend. And serving the king is an extension of serving Princess Celestia. I just want to live in peace, but here I am, covered in weapons, threatening the life of someone that doesn’t deserve to die just so that I won’t risk my freedom again.”

“You are welcome to stay with us, you know. You may not be our chosen one, but you could help us plan for him. It would take more manpower than anyone would risk to come and get you.”

“It wouldn’t take any manpower to get me. Princess Celestia could pluck me from the air with her magic. And then I’d be stuck with one very pissed off employer, with no defense and completely at her mercy.”

He looked rather alarmed at that. “She can use magic to take anyone at any time?”

“No, just a few people she’s attuned to. She is attuned to me. That has saved my life in the past, so it isn’t all bad. Though, to be fair, it was her fault I was in any danger at all.”

“Does she automatically know when you are in danger?”

“I don’t know how it works. She never explained it. I know she can eavesdrop when she wants, though.”

He looked alarmed at that, too. “Aren’t you worried she’ll hear you talking about her?”

“She’s the immortal princess of over half the planet. Surely she has something more important to do than listen to me all day.” Probably. “And if you are listening, I want it known that this is all said under duress,” I said with a smile.

The naga smiled, and said, “Quiet, you! Get back to telling us how much you hate your life!”

“Well, a few years ago I was kidnapped from my home plane and forced to live in a fairytale world where ponies and buffalo could talk, cat people and dog people existed, and naga lived in caves. Ever since then, life has just had so many twists and turns that I don’t know what to do with myself. I accidentally caused someone to fall in love with me, I’ve been forced to change my shape, I grew wings, and I’ve had taken from me something that should only ever be freely given on more than one occasion.”

“You sound like you need a break.”

“I get a few. And then something else comes up. I just can’t win. I keep waiting for the spring, but I fear I’m lost too deep in winter to have much hope for the coming warmth.”

“Just remember that all seasons turn eventually.”

“That doesn’t do me any good if I don’t survive long enough for that.”

“True enough, human. This is your stop.”

We arrived at a ladder leading up to a trap door. “There’s no way you have a trapdoor in the middle of the sandy plain between the city and the Sphinx.”

“This leads to a back alley near the edge of the city. Thieves have learned to avoid this particular alley, so don’t worry about getting attacked right outside.”

“Thanks, man. And good luck with your chosen one, whatever you need him for.”

He rolled his eyes. “I couldn't care less about it. Until I saw you, I thought the elder was a complete nut case. My attitude on that matter is the same as yours: Chosen ones are for those that can’t deal with their own problems. Good luck on the surface. Tell the king he’ll have his answer soon.”

I nodded and climbed my way out.



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