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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35. Chapter Twenty-Nine—I just can’t hold all these snake people!

The next day, the five of us boarded the train to a rock farm in the middle of nowhere. Spike did decide to go. His decision probably had something to do with naga eating meat. Or the room full of sapphires he overheard us talking about.

It had been less than a week since we got back from the last trip, and it felt wrong to be leaving home again so soon, even if it was for such a short while.

The train ride wasn’t that long, thankfully, just a few hours. Since it was such short notice, Pinkie Pie’s parents didn’t know we were on the way, and didn’t meet us at the station. We slowly made our way to their house, with Spike commenting on how depressing the landscape became as we got closer. I’ve mentioned the same thing before: Pinkie Pie’s parents live in the middle of the most depressing area I have ever been in.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about that, Pinkie Pie. What the hell is up with this place? All of Egypt that I saw was livelier than this place. At least there you could see the sun!” I said.

“I don’t know…” she said. “I’ve wondered that myself.”

“Twilight, do you have any insights?”

“Yes, actually, I have a guess. You see, this is Equestria, land owned and made pleasant by association with Celestia. However, there is a large concentration of naga living under the land here. I think their innate violence seeps into the land, into the air, and crushes this place in a miasma of depression.”

“Twilight, that’s retarded,” I said.

“It’s the leading scientific theory. There’s a place near Ponyville where dog people live underground. It is very desolate as well.”

“So you’re saying that this place is basically sanctified by Celestia, and the naga are a corrupting influence. And since Egypt isn’t owned by Celestia or her ponies, it can’t be corrupted because it was never pure.”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, I’m going to go with that being retarded. My vote is because this place is the fucking dust bowl.”

“Dust bowl?” Spike asked. “What’s that?”

“In my world, there was a long time when a large portion of the center of this continent was completely barren. The entire place was flat, and large portions of it were furrowed and had open dirt due to crops. Well, the land was never very wet to begin with, and with people pumping so many crops out of the land to support a massive war effort, the land became overtaxed. Most of the moisture vanished from the soil, and then from the entire area. And since it was so flat, there was a shitload of wind. All the open soil that was now too dry to stick together started getting whipped into dust storms by the wind. And the place was surrounded on all sides by mountains. So you had a lot of farms in the 1920’s and onward unable to grow much more than subsistence crops while at the same time being pelted by massive dust storms. The result of that gave the sky an almost permanent overcast look from all the dust in the atmosphere, even though it almost never rained because there was no fucking water and it was the middle of a continent surrounded by mountains.”

“So your theory is that something from your world is affecting ours?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“No, my theory is that what happened to my world is happening or did happen to your world, without the massive war part. Basically, good luck with that, and I’m glad I don’t live here.”

“I’ll… have to ask the princess about that,” Twilight said. “We don’t want to let something like that happen here.”

“I’ll say. That shit happened to us at one of the worst times in recorded history. We were between the two largest wars our world ever remembered, with millions dying in each, and the economy completely crashed in the time between them. So there was a general food shortage, a lack of jobs, one war fading into memory, and another war looming on the horizon.”

“You told us a little about your world, but not much. If you ever think of any mistakes your people made that we might avoid, let me know,” Twilight said.

“Later. We’re coming up on their house now.”

“Pinkie Pie, you lived there as a child?” Spike asked incredulously. Their house fit in with the landscape very well.

“Yeah… There’s a reason I left.”

“And a reason I didn’t take the job I was offered here,” I added.

We got to the house. Upon knocking, we learned only Sue was home. The rest were out in the fields.

“Pinkie Pie, you and Taya can go look for them if you want. I’ll take Twilight and Spike to the well.”

“Why can’t I go with you to the naga?” Taya asked.

“Because they might not let Twilight in even if I ask. They certainly won’t let a little filly in, daughter of mine or not.”

“Daughter?” Sue asked, surprised.

“Adopted,” I answered. “We probably won’t be long,” I told Taya. “Besides, you’ll get to meet a naga up here anyway, assuming that fellow still works here.”

“He does,” Sue answered. “The lifestyle doesn’t suit him, but he has nowhere else to go…”

“He could be a guard. Or he could go across the ocean and become a mercenary.”

“We do need his help, though,” she said. “And he likes being around others of his own kind, even if they have very little interaction.”

“Fair. Let’s go on to the well.”

I led them to it. “Twilight, I sure as hell can’t get you down there. I don’t even think you can fit down there. I’ll go down and ask if you can come in, and then take you to the cave entrance if they say yes.”

“Okay. We’ll be waiting.” I pulled the bucket string four times and jumped head first down the well.

I let myself fall about halfway into the cavern before opening my wings and gliding to the side. Halfway, because I could hardly see the water anymore with most of the lights out again.

I glided to the edge with the most light and waited there for someone to come up. When someone finally did, I saw that it was the warlord fellow I dealt with the other two times I had been down here. His eyes lit up a bit when he saw me.

“Human, you return to us once again! Are you for hire right now, by chance?”

“I’m in the middle of a job, actually,” I said. “I’ve been sent to ask you a question.”

“Ask, then.”

“Would you mind if a scholar sent by the ponies, and her assistant, came into your caves to study your people and ask questions of you?”

His face darkened a bit. “You know how we feel about ponies, Navarone.”

“This is not a pegasus or an earth pony. This is a unicorn, a very powerful one. Your ceiling is growing dim again. She could probably light it up again in a quarter of an hour.”

His face grew contemplative and he thought for a few seconds. “If she can do that, she can study our caves and ask me what questions she wills. I’ll ask for volunteers among my clan, see if any might be willing to answer a few questions or be… studied,” he finished with mild distaste. “I assume she’ll be coming in from the front entrance?”

“Yes. If you could send word, and perhaps leave us a guide, that would be wonderful.”

“Very well. While she is lighting our ceiling, you and I can talk on other matters.”

“If you desire. Oh, and one more thing. Her assistant is a small dragon. A very small one. That won’t be a problem, will it?”

“As long as it doesn’t eat our history room, no. I hope your scholar doesn’t expect to be fed. The dragon, though, we might be able to give something.”

“Thank you, friend.” With that, I took off, clawing my way out of the depths.

When I got to the top, huffing slightly—it’s a hard fucking climb—Twilight asked, “Well?”

“You can go in, but you’ll have to do some magic for them. Their ceiling is lit by torches, and it’s growing dark again. Just light it up again, and they’ll answer your questions.”

“Sounds simple enough. It only took you a few hours to do it by hand.”

“Showoff. Let’s get this walk over with. It’s hardly a short one…”

We passed the other group on the way to the caves. I greeted the farmer, introduced Twilight and Spike, and explained what we were doing.

Twilight was staring at the scout-turned-farmer naga. I realized it was probably the first time she had seen a naga, and that I never gave any real manner of description of the naga in my journals. Other than that they were fish/snake people.

Pinkie’s dad nodded and sent us on our way. I figured if I turned I would see Taya watching us walk away. I didn’t look, though I knew I probably should have.

It took us about half an hour to get to the cavern entrance. There was a slightly familiar looking naga waiting there for us. His eyes flicked from Twilight’s horn to Spike to Twilight’s body to me. “So, Navarone, you’re the guest I was told to expect. Now I know why I was sent instead of a hatchling.”

Oh, it’s that dude I saved. “I don’t think many naga would appreciate letting a pony into their main cavern. Since I know you’re wondering, no, they didn’t learn of your home from me, at least not directly. My after-action reports were stolen, and found their way to her. She hired me to plan an expedition of sorts. Here we are.”

“I wasn’t blaming you, Navarone. You saved my life, and for that, I owe you much.”

“If you say so. I wouldn’t have minded having a few of your kin by my side recently, in my latest escapades in Egypt. I was almost killed by assassins. Though I did run into a naga cavern there. They thought I was their chosen one or some crap.”

He snorted at that. “We knew from the instant we saw you that you weren’t the chosen one. Were they blind? You don’t have the face of a cat.”

“Chosen one?” Twilight asked.

“It isn’t a tale told to outsiders, no matter what we owe them,” he said.

“Yeah. They didn’t even tell me, just asked me a few questions and asked me to take a flight around their cavern.”

“I’m surprised they let you do that much,” the naga said. “The only reason they let you in at all is because you bear the steel of a wanderer atoning for his past mistakes.”

“What?” Twilight asked.

“Is that what having a naga weapon symbolizes? The cat that hired me to talk with the naga there said I could come inside while I bore this dagger, but he didn’t know why.”

“In our culture, there are several punishments that can be given. The worst punishment is exile. They are stripped of rank and their weapons and are cast out of naga society. They can prove their worth by killing a naga with a real weapon and taking up the weapons of the one they killed, but they will never be welcome in the original cave again. The second worst is death. The third is being cast out to atone of their sins. They are allowed to keep their weapons, so they are welcomed in any hold, but everyone in the hold they come from will know what they did and why they were cast out. The shame sends all of these away. Since they have their weapons, they are welcome in other holds, where their past will never be questioned. However, others in that hold will know they did something worth being sent out for. After a certain amount of time, they are welcome back in the original hold, with everything forgiven. If they survive long enough, and return home, they are welcomed back as though nothing transpired. They can be killed by an exile, and have their weapons taken, but the exile will never be welcome in the original hold, and will always have the shame of being forced to move in his heart.”

“Interesting… So yours is an honor based society… Spike, take note…” She droned on about something or another. It was pretty boring.

We were making pretty good time into the caves, at least, and the conversation proved interesting.

“So why was I given this dagger?” I asked.

“You came to the naga in our time of need, despite having no personal reason to,” he answered. “That makes you a friend of the naga. The weapon you hold symbolizes to all naga that you are worthy of being in our holds.”

“And if I killed a naga and took his blade, I would be worthy by virtue of proving myself in combat?”

“Right.”

“But what if someone who didn’t know the significance of the weapon sold it, and someone else bought it that did?”

“Well, the naga would probably never know the difference. And I don’t think many know about the significance of a naga blade in the hands of an outsider anyway. It is not often that we give them out, and it is not often that atoners are killed. Naga blades are supposedly rare on the surface. The weapons we gave you were the only ones we gave out in my lifetime.”

Twilight used her magic to pull the dagger out of its sheath, and pulled it to where she and Spike could see it. The naga looked on wide-eyed at the use of magic. The gentle glow from her horn lit up a bit of the tunnel around us, letting me notice a small decline I would have stumbled in.

“We’re getting near the burial chamber, aren’t we?” I asked. Twilight looked up at that.

“Pretty close, yes. You know, human, if you ask, you might be allowed to be buried there. What you did was sufficiently heroic, I believe.”

“I think I’d prefer to have something of me carved into the sapphire room than be buried in a crypt,” I said. “When I die, I want to be cremated.”

“Cremated? You mean… burned?” he asked, horrified.

“Yes. My people view death more pragmatically than yours, I take it.”

So we had a long discussion on death, punctuated by the stop at the burial chamber. Spike was writing furiously. I don’t feel like recounting the discussion here because frankly, it was morbid and I don’t feel like it.

Twilight thought the chamber was incredibly interesting, and probably would have spent hours there if we hadn’t pulled her out after a few minute’s break. “You’ll have time to look at it later, Twilight. You’re still on borrowed time until you fix their ceiling.”

“Yeah, what’s so great about coffins anyway?” Spike asked. “I’d rather visit the sapphire room!” He started salivating a bit at that.

“Dragon, you are a guest here. But if you eat any of the rocks in that room, I will throw you out personally, and I don’t think I’ll have to convince Navarone to do it.”

“If you touch any of the rocks, I’ll tie you to Twilight’s back,” I said. “And you know how annoyed that would make her.”

“You are a strange mercenary, Navarone,” the naga said.

“Yes, I am. But I’ve pulled jobs with these two in the past.” He just shrugged. After a second I said, “Spike, I’ll have you know I’ve been glared at by both princesses for better reasons than threatening them. You’ll have to step up your game if you want to faze me.” He jumped, since I hadn’t even looked at him since I threatened him. I knew he was glaring, though.

He muttered some mean things that I pretended not to hear and went back to taking notes.

“You’ve met both the princesses? And survived their anger?” the naga asked with wonder.

“I’ve done multiple jobs for Celestia, and I’m good friends with Luna.”

“Incredible. Those two are the only ponies our clan would take jobs from, but I don’t even think they know we exist.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” I said. “They know quite a bit about their lands.”

“So you’re saying they read your after-action reports as well?”

“The job I did for your people is what convinced them to hire me for the Africa job. But it isn’t often that they need someone willing and able to do violence.”

“When you see our leader again, tell him about your dealings with her. He might ask you to offer her our services.”

“I will do so,” I said. Even though he already knows I’ve done jobs for her.

We had crossed through several large caverns, each one of which Twilight sent probes of light through, to illuminate them. We found nothing worth noting, though I did get smacked in the face by a bat, which Spike, at least, thought was funny.

“Seriously,” I was saying, “why would the bat fly right at me? I wasn’t even close to the exit!” I noticed Spike and Twilight had stopped. Probably because we entered the sapphire room.

“I could spend all of my life in here and still have more to study…” Twilight whispered, her head slowly swiveling around as she studied the place.

“I could spend a few hundred years of my life in here and never run out of food…” Spike whispered, a bit irreverently, or at least that’s what I thought.

“You don’t have all your life. Play tourist for a spell and let’s go. And if I catch you even touching any of these rocks, Spike, you’re going on Twilight. I don’t need to ruin the only good reputation I have in this world…” That last was muttered so only the naga that was still standing by my side could hear. He didn’t comment, just watched Spike with careful eyes.

“How long have your people been in these caves?” Twilight asked.

“I do not know,” he answered. “There are records here going back thousands of years, as far as we can tell. This entire cave system used to be full of water, and contained a massive naga city. But then for some reason, the water started disappearing. We do not question life’s turnings, and many of our people left, taking with them much history.”

“By the way, what’s your name?” Twilight asked. “Navarone’s… report… didn’t mention it, and you never said.”

“Names are not for outsiders. Any of them. I might be willing to tell Navarone, though it would be a massive faux pas, but I would have to ask him to tell no one and to not include it in anything he writes.”

Twilight looked at me hopefully, but I shook my head. “No. I’ll not ask you to go against the will of your people,” I told him. He nodded his thanks, while Twilight shook her head.

We left the sapphire room, leaving nothing out of place, and continued on to the main chamber.

I was talking to the guard about a way of mapping the cave system using colored rope when we entered the main chamber.

“I know you don’t get many visitors, but I think it might be worth it so you don’t have to worry about any kids getting lost.”

“Our hatchlings do not often wander far from the main chamber. I don’t know of any ever getting lost. And on the off chance any enemy ever attacks our home again, I do not want to give them a way of getting straight to the main hold.”

“Fair, I suppo—Oh, we’re here.”

Twilight and Spike stopped again, looking up and out and around. “When your report said it was big… I never expected this!”

“Our guide just said this place used to be a city, Twilight. What do you think he meant by that? This place would swallow Ponyville and not notice,” I commented.

“Shame it’s just plain rocks,” Spike said, kicking a pebble. “I wouldn’t mind another gem room that no one cared about getting eaten.”

“If it makes you feel any better, the naga eat meat. And I think their leader mentioned something about feeding you, if you wanted anything.” He seemed a bit happier about that, but Twilight ahemmed.

“I think we’ll be too busy taking notes, Spike,” she said with a glare in my direction. I shrugged.

“You have to light the ceiling, first, scholar,” the big warlord said, rising from the dark water. “If Navarone’s brags for you weren’t in jest, that is.”

Twilight and Spike both jumped at his sudden arrival, and stood gawping at him. I feel I should mention that while most male naga stood over a head taller than me and were broad enough in body to make me and a half, this naga stood a head taller than most of them and broad enough to make two of me. He was big and bristling with weapons.

Twilight got over her surprise and asked, “How do you make weapons that don’t rust?”

“Magic first, questions later,” he answered. She sighed. “The stack of torches is over—”

He didn’t even finish before Twilight started. I should mention that I’ve seen her pick orchards of apples—full orchards, shitloads of apples, with every tree picked bare—in seconds. Had them loaded into hundreds of buckets in minutes.

She finished this job in ten minutes. The naga warlord stood, transfixed. I saw heads poking out of the water, staring in wonder. The naga guard was openly gaping.

“So, how do you make weapons that don’t rust?” she asked when the last torch was locked in place.

 

An hour or so later, the warlord and I were standing off to the side of a crowd of naga, with Twilight and Spike in the center. “When you commented on how fast she could do that, human, I thought you were overstating. That was… incredible. And Princess Celestia is stronger?”

“Princess Celestia wouldn’t have needed torches. She would have put a fucking mini-sun in this place and it would never run out.” I don’t think I was joking.

His eyes widened, either way. “My people always wondered why the ponies ruled most of the world. Now I suppose we know why…”

“There is a reason I work with them rather than against them. You said you had things you wanted to discuss, though?”

“I was going to ask about your latest adventures. I know your work with the ponies sends you in strange lands.”

“Yeah. I ended up back in Egypt. I met a group of naga there, living under a massive statue. Face of a cat, body of a human—what I am—and wings.”

“Body of a human and wings? Are your wings not natural?” he interrupted.

“They’re a result of a magical fluke. Hell, I was almost stuck as a pegasus because of that fluke…”

“You have lived an interesting life. Tell me of these naga.”

“They didn’t have any ceiling torches, for one. They were apparently looking for some manner of chosen one, and they thought I might have some information on whoever it is, because of what I am. I disabused them of that notion.”

“If you ever do get news of the chosen one, tell the first naga you can find. I hope that will be our clan, but it is imperative he is found.”

“I will do so,” I said. “Though I doubt I’ll be alive long enough to find whoever it is.”

“You never know. Any other stories?” I told him the whole tale while Twilight was doing her thing. “So you have a daughter now,” he said when I finished. “And a pony, at that. How are you liking being a father?”

I flinched when he called her my daughter. “I never wanted kids. I always figured I would be a terrible father. And then Taya came along… I feel like this is the easy version of parenthood, though. I didn’t have to put up with her while she was a baby, and even now when she’s young and should be making tons of mistakes and generally being a bitch, she’s silent and does very little wrong for fear of being punished extremely hard or abandoned again.”

“No, yours is not the easy version of parenthood. You just have the complete opposite extreme of it. There is the rebel hatchling, the one that says yes when you say no just to spite you. And there’s the normal hatchling, who will occasionally mess up and will occasionally do well, but you never want to smack because they always try to do the right thing. And then there are those like your Taya, who are so afraid of being chastised they’ll do just about anything anyone tells them, and will pretend to want to do it just so they don’t get viewed as recalcitrant. That is a bad way to live, and something you need to try to get her out of.”

“I know. Do you have any advice?”

“No. All of my children were the rebels that I wanted to beat bloody. I didn’t, though—it hurts us enough to hit them, even if they think we lie when we say it hurts us worse than them.”

“I used to think they lied, too. Now, though, I couldn’t imagine hurting Taya. I remember a story my dad used to tell… One day he fucked up big time. His dad was away somewhere, and his mom went to beat him with something. She said, ‘This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!’ When she went to hit him, she missed somehow, and popped a blood vessel in her hand. She started crying and my dad started laughing, saying, ‘Looks like it did hurt you more!’ When his dad got home, he got his ass tore out the frame.”

He smiled at that. “Yes, I can imagine that looked like justice from the eyes of a child. Still, sometimes pain is a good teaching tool. Other times, it isn’t. How to tell when, though, can’t be taught. Still, I don’t think you’ll need to worry about hitting Taya. I can’t imagine a pony child ever doing anything worth getting hit over.”

“Nor I, come to think of it. Though I have been tempted to hit a few fillies that aren’t mine…”

“The hatchlings of others always irritate more than our own,” he said.

“Well, these three were asking if they could perform impromptu surgery on me when nothing was wrong.”

“That seems… irresponsible.”

“They don’t understand what pain is. They’ve never been hurt, not more than a few bruises. And ponies have an almost comic resistance to abuse and taking damage. I’ve seen a pegasus fly through a window at speeds faster than ponies can run and then slam into the wall. She got up a few seconds later dazed but completely fine. I’ve heard a story—I was there, but I barely remember it—of that same pony ramming head first into Princess Luna, going at a very fast speed. They both woke up a few hours later completely unharmed. But then, I also slit the neck of a pony with no problem.” Poor, poor Calix...

“Strange creatures. We might have to have more dealings with them…”

“The ponies here have little need of mercenaries, as I mentioned the first time I met you. Princess Celestia might be able to use you, but I’m pretty sure you would be moved very far away. The lands all around here are pretty well pacified. You might pull exterminator duty, killing a few pests left in pony lands. I’ve heard tales of ponies being kidnapped by dog people. The only one I’ve met that was kidnapped made light of the situation. She was released by being so annoying that they begged her to leave.”

“A dog person being annoyed that much? She must have been beyond unbearable. All the dogs I’ve met were terrible to be around. They got on my nerves just from their mannerisms.”

“Yeah, she can be hard to get along with. Anyway, it might not hurt to send an emissary to the princess. If you want, you can send one with us when we go back where we came from. We’re near enough to Canterlot that getting the rest of the way shouldn’t be a problem, alone.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “I will definitely think on that.”

We talked of inconsequential matters for some time, before I looked around the well entrance and judged it was either night or nearing it. I went to go talk to Twilight. Her attention was being distracted by a flexing naga.

“Twilight, it’s either night or close to it. I’m not leaving Taya alone at night in a strange place.”

“What? Oh, yes, of course not. I think Spike is getting tired as well. You can head on back out. I’ll ask the naga leader if Spike and I can stay here for the night, since it’s such a long trek to and from the caverns. We’ll either stay here or be back sometime late tonight.”

I waved and took off to get back to the surface. Thankfully, there wasn’t any manner of party waiting for me. There was a very happy Taya, though, and a family full of ponies that wanted stories. I doled out a few and held the others hostage for the price of a bed and maybe some food, though I don’t think holding back the story is really what got me those.

Pinkie Pie’s sisters were warming up to me quickly, now that I wasn’t ruining any love stories in the making for them. Warming up to me disturbingly so…

“Oh, come on Nav! You can’t just stop the story there! Surely there’s… something I can do for you to make you keep going,” one of them said when I stopped to go to bed. Emphasis on I, with a bit of a glare to her sisters. The parents didn’t notice her wording, or her meaning, but Pinkie Pie and the other sister did.

The other one spoke up, “I can think of a few things I can do to get you to keep going. I’m used to late nights; it wouldn’t be so bad…”

I had to remind myself that, despite ruining their love story, I also ‘saved’ them from the naga, came back occasionally with stories of ‘heroics,’ and finally came back with a daughter—and no mention of any manner of mother. They’re relatively ignorant farm girls, with no access to the outside world. What can you expect?

Before I could awkwardly shoot them down, Pinkie Pie came to my rescue, “Taya needs her rest.” Before Taya could speak up—and before I remembered she probably wouldn’t—I lay a hand on her to still her. “Come on, Nav. I’ll take you up to our room.” Emphasis on our.

That, her parents noticed. “Don’t you want to sleep in your old room?” Sue asked.

“I’m fine with the guest room,” Pinkie Pie answered. “Twilight wants us close so we’re easy to contact if necessary.” That was a complete and total lie, as Twilight had no means to communicate with us and she never even mentioned the possible need for it. I didn’t dispute it.

“If you’re sure… The bed in there is large enough, at least.” I stayed in there before. That bed was beyond huge. All three of us could probably fit on it, even though Pinkie Pie rolls and twitches a lot in her sleep. “Taya can sleep in your old room, if she wants. Surely your friend wouldn’t need her help.”

“Taya?” I asked. She very lightly and somewhat nervously nodded an affirmative. I was a bit surprised. “If you’re sure. You know where I’ll be if you need anything.”

I put her to bed in Pinkie Pie’s old room. That place was covered in pink, as I’m sure you can imagine. I unstrapped my crossbow—we weren’t in town, and I felt justified in having a weapon around the naga—and laid it where she could see it. A thought occurred to me. “Don’t trust the naga here. He might still hold a grudge for… what I did.” She knew what I meant, from my story.

“He hasn’t said a word to me, but I don’t think he would hurt me.”

“Just stay near Pinkie Pie or Clyde if I have to go back into the caves. I don’t think he would do anything where he could be seen, and he owes that farmer his life.”

“Don’t worry about me, daddy.” I flinched, but she couldn’t see it in the dark. “I’ll be fine.”

“I know. Goodnight… daughter.”

“Night, daddy,” she yawned, rolling over a bit as I stood. I walked down the hall to the guest room, where Pinkie Pie was waiting on the bed already.

“Your sisters are hitting on me,” I said when I had the door closed.

“Yes, they are. But they probably won’t make a move on somepony they think I’ve claimed already.”

“Are you sure you’re Pinkie Pie? You seem too clear-headed.”

She smiled at that. “I’m just saving them the heartache. I know what you’re doing to Fluttershy. I can’t say I approve, but it’s probably for the best.”

“How could you… We left the day after I gave her the journals. How do you know I was doing that?”

“She came to me crying the night before we left. Didn’t know what to do or who to go to. Couldn’t trust Rainbow Dash, you were trusting her to answer questions. Couldn’t trust Twilight, she was too close to you and you were at her house anyway. Couldn’t trust Rarity or Applejack not to run over to where you were and attack you for making her cry.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I can’t tell you that, Nav. You should know that.”

“I know. But I don’t know what to do about it either. Giving her the journals seemed the easiest way to tell her I’m not safe to love, and that I’m not at all what she thinks I am.”

That’s what you wanted to get across to her? Oh Nav…” she laughed. “You’re an idiot.”

“I know. But for what cause am I one this time?”

“She didn’t come to complain to me about how dangerous you are, or how evil you are, or that she couldn’t love you anymore. She came to cry to me, to wail and to weep, at how tragic your life is and how she needs to fix you.”

“Oh my God, Fluttershy’s one of those women, isn’t she?”

“I don’t know what you wrote in your journals, but she seems to think you’re a tragic hero for some reason. I can sorta understand that. Stolen from your home, given a life you weren’t expecting but making the best of it anyway, meeting princesses and working for them, saving ponies and asking for nothing in return, constantly getting the raw ends of deals but still offering to help, saving an orphan girl and taking her in, and all the time feeling horrible about the ponies—and cats and naga, I suppose—you have to hurt, but doing it anyway because you’re so certain it’s the right thing…”

I sighed. “That’s before she could read the whole thing. She’ll change her mind. And if not… well, it will end badly,” I finally said.

“Nav, Fluttershy… She’s…” Pinkie sighed, trying to find the words. Finally, she said, “Fluttershy is the kind of pony that lives for helping others. Your journals paint you as someone she could help get better.” Who are you and what did you do with Pinkie? “If you wanted her to not be interested, you did the exact wrong thing.”

I sighed, slowly running a hand down my face. “Well?” I asked after a few seconds of thought. “What can I even do?”

“I dunno,” she said with a shrug. “I want you both to smile, but I know it’s not going to work out like that. I’ll certainly do the best with what I can, but… I dunno. Let’s go to bed.”

“...Pinkie Pie, when did you become sane?”

“I’ve always been sane! It’s just more fun to act silly. Just don’t tell anypony, or I’ll deny it and then make you look like you belong in a loony bin.”

...Mares are fucking crazy, man, I swear.

 

I woke up late in the night with what felt like an iron vice around my chest and my legs. I opened my eyes to find myself crushed into Pinkie Pie. She was holding onto me with all four legs, muttering something.

I pulled my face away from her furry neck and whispered, “Uh, Pinkie Pie?” I knew she was plagued by bad dreams, but I’m not used to being a teddy bear.

She started nipping my hair, lipping it like horses do back on my world. It felt just as unpleasant then as it did in the past. “Pinkie Pie?” I tried, a bit louder.

She snorted and cracked her eyes open slightly. I don’t think she could actually see me, the way she was holding me, so I tried asking, “Why are you holding me?”

“Guard from dreams…” she sleepily said, rolling onto her back and dragging me with her. I heard and felt the gentle breathing of sleep begin within her again, but she wasn’t muttering or flinching anymore. At least she couldn’t bend my wings if I was on top of her…

I sighed and did my best to get back to sleep.

 

The next day, we just hung around the farmhouse for a while. I told a few more stories, doing my best to leave out the gruesome bits. The two sisters glared at Pinkie Pie some of the time and spent most of the rest of it staring at me. What they didn’t spend doing one of those two, they spent doting over Taya, who didn’t quite know how to take it. It didn’t take me long to realize that I would have been better served warning her to avoid them than I was warning her about the naga fellow.

Around midday, I filled a sack with vegetables and whatnot, then dropped into the well to see if Twilight needed anything. The only thing she needed was a few minutes of peace.

“These naga keep crowding around us!” she bemoaned, while munching on something or another. I don’t usually pay attention to ponies as they eat; sometimes it’s a horrifying sight, though Twilight is better than most. “I keep trying to get them one-on-one, to ask questions of a more—ahem—personal nature, but whenever I try, another one of them volunteers some random scrap of information!”

She and Spike were taking a short break near the edge of the water. It was a really peaceful scene. The three of us were sitting on a small outcropping above the water, just low enough that I could get my feet wet. Spike and I were dangling our feet over the edge, and Twilight was lying on her stomach, staring at a small group of milling naga.

I looked into the crowd of the naga and got the attention of one of the ones looking at us. I motioned him or her—hard to tell with them, sometimes—over. She—I was able to tell as she got closer—came without a hesitation. Twilight looked up at me, alarmed.

Before she could say anything, I asked the naga, “You mind answering bedroom questions?”

She blushed, which I thought was rather odd and disturbing looking, and said, “No, human. What do you wish to know?”

“There you go, Twilight. All you have to do is ask.”

Spike’s mouth was hanging open and Twilight was blushing a deep scarlet.

“What?” I asked.

“Navarone, you don’t just… Stallions!” Twilight stuttered. “Well? Are you just going to sit there? Some privacy for us mares, please!”

“Twilight, I’ve seen all this in motion before. And don’t you need Spike to take notes?” The naga was looking somewhat confused.

“Spike is too young for some of these questions, I think. Take him and do… something. Get more paper, I guess. I think we’re running low.”

I rolled my eyes and picked Spike up despite his protests. We took off into the air, with him trying to look behind me. I slung him over my shoulder and climbed up the rope.

We got to the top and looked at each other. We spoke at the same time: “Women.” “Mares.” Guess who said what.

We went into the farmhouse to ask if they needed anything from town while we went to get paper.

Sue gave me a short list. “Let me just get you something to cover that…”

Before she could move, I said, “Don’t worry about it. You’ve let me stay here more than a few times, least I can do is cover groceries. Besides, I’m accidentally rich from a trick the princesses pulled on me.”

“Accidentally… rich? What?” she asked. One of the sisters was at the table, listening. I realized what I had done too late.

“I was given a decent sum of bits to get home with after my last big trip,” I answered, resigned to my fate. “I didn’t realize how much it was. The princesses made me keep it to punish me for being obstinate.”

“That’s the worst punishment I can think of,” Sue said.

“I know! I have all this money and I don’t know what to do with it. Everyone says Celestia is so loving and generous, but she’s quite horrible to me.”

“I mean, that’s a terrible way of punishing somepony. How is that supposed to teach you any kind of lesson?”

“Oh. I don’t know. I think they just like to see me suffer… That’s what I get for being human in a pony’s world, I guess. We’ll be back in a bit.” Spike and I left. Before we got more than a few paces from the door, Taya came trotting out behind us. I knew if I looked back into the window, I’d see two sisters talking quickly, with several animated hoof gestures. Dammit.

 

An hour and a half later—it didn’t really take that long, but none of the three of us really wanted to go back—found us back at the farm. Before we went in, Taya said, “Please don’t leave me alone with them again, daddy.”

“Normally this is when I would say something about being social, but I agree. Those two sisters are getting on my nerves. Have you tried saying that you need to practice magic?”

“Yes. I’ve also tried staying near Pinkie Pie. One distracts her while the other spirits me away.”

“I’ll try leaving a sign on your door. I have to drop Spike off, but I should be back up in just a few minutes. If push comes to shove, just tell them I said to leave you alone so you can study in peace for a bit.”

“Maybe that will work…” We entered. I dropped the groceries off and grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen from Spike. I wrote, “Do not disturb – Navarone” on it. I took Taya up to her room and, lacking anything else, stuck the note to the door with a knife. “I’ll be back in a few minutes, hopefully,” I said. She nodded. I pulled the door shut. And found myself staring at one of the two sisters.

“Yes?” I asked, a small bundle of nervousness kicking me in my stomach.

“So what do you think about Pinkie Pie?” she asked.

“I think I’m needed in the caves. I’ll be back soon enough. And please don’t disturb Taya—she’s at an early stage of learning magic where if she stops now, it’ll take her a while to get started again.” That was probably a complete lie; I know nothing about magic. But I figured this country girl didn’t know anything either.

She deflated slightly, but put on a small smile when she realized that I didn’t say one thing or another about my feelings for Pinkie Pie. I was already halfway down the stairs before she realized I was gone, and I had grabbed Spike and was about to drop down the well before she caught up. I pretended not to hear her as I fell down the well, holding onto Spike.

He was not expecting a sudden drop, but managed to hold onto the paper as we fell. I let us get almost to the water before I opened my wings. He was yelling in fear before I did so, and I couldn’t help but smile at the look of hate he gave me. I’m surprised he didn’t sling the paper everywhere when I pulled out of the dive, but I suppose he was experienced at dealing with it.

“Where have you two been?!” Twilight demanded. “I ran out of paper hours ago!”

“Twilight, we haven’t been gone more than two hours.” I said.

“Are you sure? It seems like I’ve been down here for days.”

“You’re not used to being underground. It’s getting to your head.”

“Just be glad I have a good memory! Their mating rituals are so fascinating! Spike, take note…”

I don’t know what I was supposed to be glad of, since I was leaving, but whatever. Spike and I shared a short look that communicated our shared suffering before he bent down to write. I shook my head and jumped back into the air.

“Nav, wait!” Twilight shouted. “Where are you going?”

“Pinkie Pie’s sisters are being twits. I’m going to go protect Taya.”

“Before you go, can you… um… get a male naga over here?” I rolled my eyes and landed for a sec, then motioned the hulking warlord over. Twilight gulped when she saw him approach.

“What do you need, Navarone?” he boomed.

“Twilight wants to ask you some inappropriate questions, and was too shy to bring you over herself.” I saw her turn an even deeper red than before, and heard Spike laughing behind me.

He nodded sagely. “Yes, as small as these ponies—and you—are, I can imagine she’s well interested in our sexual prowess. I will satisfy her… curiosities.” He said it with a small smile that told me he was joking. I couldn’t tell if Twilight was offended, terrified, or even shyer now. Spike was laughing so hard he was choking.

I just nodded and said, “Remember, she has to be able to walk out of the cave.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle. Go on your way, human. I’ll take good care of her,” he said, smiling deeper. I flew out, snickering the whole way. I was going to catch hell for it later, but I think it was worth it.

When I made it to the top of the well—muttering obscenities the whole way—a scaly hand shot down and pulled me out by my arm. I was left dangling over the well, held up by my arm.

“Oh, hi. Thanks for the help. That lip is a bitch to get over,” I said. I turn into a smartass sometimes when I get worried for my life.

The naga looked me over. “You know, I was a scout in my clan. Not the best, not the worst. Do you know what qualities scouts are selected for, Navarone?”

“Stealth? Stature?” He was smaller than most of the other naga, but still larger than me. Large enough to hold me up by an arm without any trouble.

“Not fitting in. Being generally nonviolent. Not being liked. In some cases—mine, perhaps—so I could certainly die in a way that wouldn’t completely shame the clan.” He set me down on the ground. “For a long time, I thought I should kill you for what you did to my people. Kill you and take that dagger you openly wear proclaiming your guilt. And then I started thinking about it. They were my clan, my people. But they were not my family, nor my… friends. They were violent, and they met a violent end. I came to a realization one day… Those that live by the sword usually die by the sword. You saved me from that. I wanted you to know that, and be warned. I will not harm you, but if you live as you are, your life will kill you one day.”

After a long pause, I said, “My people came to that realization hundreds of years ago. We fight on, knowing death will come. I never wanted this life and I do not like it. I hate killing. But some people need to die. And someone needs to be willing to be the one that kills them. I realize that one day I will probably become one of those people that need to die. But thank you for the concern. It is good to know there is someone out there that wants to warn me of my probable fate.”

He nodded and left. Knowing what was waiting for me in the farmhouse, I flew up to Taya’s window and knocked on it. She opened them with magic. She’s really progressing…

I stopped in the window. The entire room had changed color from pink to black. What. The. Fuck. Note to self: Don’t get her pink anything. “I hope you’re going to change the room back before we go.”

That’s when I noticed Taya on the floor, eyes glowing like high-beams. She looked like she was having a seizure. I was at her side before I even knew I was moving. I noticed a terrible, searing pain, but I put it as far from my mind as possible so I could try to help Taya.

At my touch, she froze. She had one more terrible convulsion, and was still. The light in her eyes slowly faded. She looked at me, confused. “What… what happened?”

“I do not know,” I think I said. It sounded odd to me, though. Before I could continue, I heard a scream from the door. I looked up to see Pinkie Pie with her hoof to her mouth, staring in horror at me.

That’s the last thing I remembered happening for nearly a week.

 

 

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