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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28. Chapter Twenty-Three—Back to Egypt

Two months after my birthday, I was again summoned to Celestia. When I was teleported in, I made a quick survey of my surroundings. I saw two random ponies and Celestia standing nearby. I nodded to them.

“I see you haven’t trained this… creature… very well, Princess,” said one of the visitors rather haughtily.

I pulled out my dagger. “You wouldn’t believe what she had me trained to do to people I don’t like. And if you keep talking like that, you’re going to find out firsthand.”

The stallion that made the remark visibly blanched, while his mare companion smirked at my response.

Celestia just said, “Remember what happened the last time blood was spilled in front of me, Navarone. And remember whose it was.” So we’re doing some acting, is it? So be it.

“Bah. You’re the one who summoned me, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be talked down to by a pony. I don’t care what kind of influence he holds."

“That’s no way to talk about somepony that will soon be in your protection, if you’d have him,” she answered. “Both of them, actually.”

I put the dagger away. “And what makes you think I’d want to do any more of your jobs? The last one ended up with me at the forefront of a revolution. I came closer to dying there than I did fighting with the naga, which is the job that brought me there in the first place.” She already knew this, of course, but if I was going to end up guarding these two ponies for whatever reason, I wanted to make sure they knew I wasn’t someone to fuck with.

“Standard fare, of course, Navarone.” Meaning it was this or bust, for me.

“You always have such a way with words, Celestia. What’s the job, and why are these two worth my time?”

“The job is pretty simple. These two ponies need to go from here to Egypt. Since you’ve been there in the past,” I snorted at that, “I figured you’d be the best for the job. And knowing how some of the natives there feel about ponies, I figured they could use the extra protection.”

“Fucking ambassadors. Why not give them royal guards?”

“I will be. But royal guards weren’t at the final confrontation with the leader now in power in Egypt. You are a reminder of my power and the forces I can bring into play if either of these two end up hurt.”

I took a second to study the guests better. The mare was a green unicorn with a cutie mark of an open book and a mane of light blue. The male was a brown earth pony with a cutie mark of a chalice and a mane of a darker brown. He didn’t look quite as abashed as before, though he still didn’t look quite like he wanted me as a protector.

“How long will this thing take? I may not belong here, but I’ve made a life here now, and I’m not exactly overly pleased to be having to keep leaving it like this.”

“Like it or not, Navarone, you’re useful to me and to the realm. However, your part in this shouldn’t take that long. You’re supposed to be there just long enough to be seen by enough people in power. Unless their lives are actually threatened, you should be back within a month of being in Egypt. All around, it should take three months for you. They’ll be there a lot longer.”

I sighed. “I’m starting to think you hate me. You always want to send me away whenever we talk. Fine. I’ll do your fucking mission. But I want a neat hat.”

“Sorry, but I actually have something else in mind for you to wear.”

“Is it too late to request the death penalty for that treason charge you pushed on me?”

“You haven’t even seen it yet! I even had one of your friends help make it!”

“…” You could actually hear the ellipsis in what I didn’t say.

Remember that ‘outfit made for the Liberator of Egypt’ Rarity promised me? Yeah, she made it. Out of complete boredom, as far as I could tell, because I would never willingly put that on my body, and she had to know I would never willingly put that on my body.

The two ponies I was set to escort—named Calix and Emerald Script, if anyone cares—seemed to love it. If I had my fire starter on me, I would have lit it on fire and hoped it burned, and then did my best to exorcise the ashes.

Since this is supposed to be a true account, of sorts, I suppose I should describe the damn thing. It was purple, blue, and white. Purple, to show my… royalty, or the fact that I act on a royal leash. Blue, to show that I am still a public servant. And white to show my… mercy, I suppose. Not exactly the colors I would choose to depict myself. And not the prettiest of things to look at. In the deserts, I would stand out.

It was interlaced with iron studs, ostensibly for protection, but more likely to make me look more like a warrior. They weren’t placed anywhere useful. At least it was iron instead of gold; on the off chance something did hit them, they would actually block some force. Gold is pretty much worthless.

The entire thing was gaudy as all fuck. It’s like it was made to show off my wings, for one, and there were frills all over it. I don’t think I could even draw a damn knife in that thing, let alone find a place to store one.

I took one look at it, turned to Celestia, and said, “Hell no. I would rather light myself on fire and greet the Egyptians that way.”

“That would rather go against the idea of peace we’re trying to push, Nav.”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take. I ain’t wearing that shit.”

Emerald looked at me and said, “I think you’d look good in it.”

Calix added his opinion to the matter as well, in his annoying, greater-than-thou nobleman accent: “Yes, it would certainly be an improvement to what you’re wearing now.”

“Are you sure I can’t kill them? I’ve heard horse meat is pretty good, and I could share with Spike!” They both looked a bit frightened at that, not knowing who or what Spike was.

Celestia shook her head, saying, “No, they’re too useful right now. Maybe when they get back, if they manage to mess up in Africa.” When I got a thoughtful look on my face, “No, you can’t sabotage them.” I sighed. She continued, “In all seriousness, though, you need to wear something regal. This is what we have. If you have something better in mind that you can get within a day, by all means. Otherwise, this is it.”

“How often do I need to wear it?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’d only need to wear it when you first arrive at the palace and at some important state functions. When you arrive there, though, Emerald Script will be in charge.”

“So all this job entails is going to Africa, guarding these two kids for a month, and then running home?”

“I wouldn’t quite say that,” Emerald said, with a disturbing smile.

“Just so we’re clear. I’ll do jobs for you. I might even be willing to kill someone for you, if I think there’s a good enough reason. But I draw the line at things of questionable moral standings."

Calix turned to Celestia. “Where do you find these servants?”

She just shrugged and said, “Blame my students.”

I had one more demand, since it was going so well anyway. “Oh, and while we’re there, I want to see the Sphinx. I’m sure I’ll find some time to do it, but I’m not coming back until I see it.”

“So you will do it?”

“What other choice do I have, dammit?”

“Good. Emerald Script, Calix, see to your preparations. You all leave tomorrow.” They bowed and left. When they were out of earshot, Celestia turned to me. “You really need to learn what to say and when to say it. I think you might have made them both rather mad.”

“They’ll get over it. They both need to learn to treat others better anyway. Calix is a dick, and Emerald Script is rather creepy.”

“I think there’s something you’re not telling me.”

“There is. But you don’t need to know about it.”

“We’ve been over this before.”

“Yes, and we won’t get anywhere new by doing it again.”

“You’re always such a pleasure to talk to, Nav.”

“And you always know just the right things to say, Celestia.”

She turned serious. “Honestly now, you don’t have to do this one if you don’t want to. I would really, really like you there, but I know you’re getting close to your friends. And I know there are a lot of painful memories for you in Egypt.”

“You don’t even know… But this needs to be done, sadly, and I’m one of the few that can do it correctly. I doubt they’ll be attacked, but Egypt… is not like Equestria. Someone well versed in pony ways and that knows about Egyptian ways will be needed as guides for your ambassadors, if nothing else. Though I don’t know why you had to choose those two.”

“I picked them to get them away from here, for the reasons you described.”

“Are you sure those are the kind of people you want representing Equestria?”

“No, but I also don’t have anypony else to send over there. And when I said Emerald Script will be in charge, I didn’t actually mean that. For their benefit, she will be. As far as I’m concerned, you’re still a foreign entity. You can do whatever you need to do to keep them safe, and as long as you don’t go crazy with that privilege I will back you up. You are there to show the natives of Egypt the power of Equestria.”

“That means no getting raped by another crazy cat woman.”

“I still don’t know why you let them twist the wording in my letter like that.”

“I don’t know why you let it happen when you knew it was happening. Besides, Africa was a dangerous place. I couldn’t risk letting an ‘accident’ happen to me. But eventually… enough was enough.”

“And that is precisely why you are going with them, and why you are basically in charge of their safety for the first month or so. They will be getting royal guards, but you’re the real muscle there.”

“I’m really starting to dislike that ability you have.”

“And which ability is that?”

“That one that basically forces everyone to do what you want.”

“Oh yes, that. I know. I’ve been a princess getting unruly subjects to do what I need them for longer than you’ve been alive, though. If it makes you feel any better, you’re one of the few that have actually noticed I’m doing it.”

“Stop it!”

“Just proves my point. Do you need anything else while you’re here, or should I send you back to Twilight now?”

“Send me back. If we’re leaving tomorrow, I’ll need to say a lot of goodbyes in a very short time, and grab a lot of stuff.”

And just like that, I was back on the way to fucking Africa.

 

The goodbyes were depressing, even though I knew I should soon be back. I’d miss most of summer there, if nothing else. Which means I’d pick up the brunt of winter in Egypt, something I was not looking forward to.

And I made sure to hate on Rarity for the costume she gave me, though after the whole fashion thing we were a little closer than before, even though she doesn’t remember the time we spent in the jail cell and when she was forced to use me to keep warm.

 

Rainbow Dash was distraught at my leaving for what I thought was probably the coolest reason ever. “How am I supposed to use you as a wingman if you’re leaving?” she practically wailed at me.

I paused. “Do you mean me helping you pick up chicks, or me helping you practice for the Wonderbolts?”

“Yes!”

“I’ll be back soon enough. And honestly, depending on the chick you’re trying to pick up, you might be better off without me helping you do it. Also honestly, I’m really not the fastest flier, despite having huge wings. There is little magic in me; I’m mostly good for gliding.”

“Well, yeah, but if we turned you back into a pegasus you’d be better at both!”

“Depends on what you’re looking for, in terms of relationships. And who you’re looking to bag.” She opened her mouth, but I forestalled her, saying, “Don’t tell me now, Dash. Give me something to look forward to when I get back.”

She smiled at that.

 

Spike really wanted to join me on my trip, but I told him there was no room and that Twilight probably wouldn’t let him anyway. He tried to get me to promise to bring him some jerky, but I managed not to. Hell, if I was bringing any jerky back, I’d have to bring pounds and pounds of it, or it would all be gone by the time I got home. I love me some jerky.

Twilight was also pretty easy to say bye to. “I will definitely miss our conversations, but when the princess calls, she calls. I understand royal duty well enough,” she told me.

“True enough, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. At least this time I probably won’t be fighting for my life.” I stressed that probably.

“You were hardly fighting for your life last time. Hearing you describe it, you were doing very little in the way of actual fighting.”

“I consider slitting throats some manner of fighting. I just managed to stay out of the way of most of the blades, which is a good enough achievement, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Maybe you’ll even run into some of your old friends while you’re there!”

“I hope not. I wouldn’t call any of those cat people friends. Jocasta was only on speaking terms with me when she needed me. Rock scared the hell out of me. Kat was… no. Miguel was probably arrested for being a murderous, scary little man. The rest, I didn’t know that well.”

“You always meet such colorful characters.”

“Yeah, just look at you! You’re purple!”

She stuck her tongue out at me.

 

Applejack was also decently easy to say bye to, especially since she knew I was coming back. She was very practical, honestly. And it also meant that, if she decided to go back to any dancing lessons, she would probably end up dancing with Rainbow Dash. I teased her about that.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, though…” she mused. Catching herself, she blushed, and corrected, “To have a partner that might actually be attracted to me, I mean! You’re alright, but I know you don’t feel anything towards ponies!”

I smiled at her. She blushed deeper, muttered something about having farm work to do, then ran off. Kids these days.

 

Pinkie Pie was sad to see me go as well, though for different reasons. “No time to throw a going away party again? Princess Celestia needs to stop giving us such short notice! How am I ever going to throw you a good party if you’re always leaving too soon?”

“Relax. I’ll be back before you know it, and then you won’t have had to worry about throwing me a party anyway.”

“Are you saying that you’ll leave and be back so quickly that when you get back the light particles from your presence immediately before you left will not have even departed yet?”

Pinkie Pie is fucking crazy, man. “Not exactly what I meant, no. More like I should be back within three months or so, and that the time will pass fast enough.”

“Oh. That makes much more sense!”

 

Fluttershy was… difficult. “Why are you leaving again, so soon?”

“Celestia needs me. She presented me with two choices. One was going to Africa. The other was… less pleasant.”

“You and Twilight make her out to be such a villain! Whenever I talk to her, she seems so nice.”

“Be happy she doesn’t need anything from you, then.”

“Couldn’t you ask her if you could stay? Why does it have to be you?”

“Because I was the one that helped the slaves. I am the living representation of Celestia’s power. And I have spent time in Egypt before; I have experience her ambassadors will need.”

“Wouldn’t you much rather stay here, with m—I mean, us?”

I was somewhat surprised, but didn’t comment. “Yes, I would. But would you deny someone your talents if they needed them? I could not refuse to help someone in something like this, myself, not when I know I could be useful. And especially not when my aid is requested. There is nothing more I’d rather do than stay here, but I don’t have that option. Maybe after this, things will die down. Maybe the spring is coming for me, finally. And when I get back, we will… talk.”

She smiled at that, at least. Hers was one of the last friendly faces I saw in a while.

 

The next day I was given a ride from Ponyville to Canterlot. It was easier doing that than it was teleporting me, with all the stuff I was bringing. To be honest, it wasn’t that much: My desert suit, which I was hoping I wouldn’t need all that much, my weapons, another honing stone, another new fucking cloak, some more sensible clothes, and what I was hoping was enough paper to keep me writing for a good spell. And, of course, that outfit Rarity made for me. I was on this trip for royal reasons, and I was hoping the Crown would be paying for more clothing when I got there. And whatever else I needed.

And all I had to do to earn it was keep two idiots alive. How hard could it be?

On the train ride to Manehattan, I found out how hard it might be. Not to keep them safe from external threats, but to keep me from killing them both myself.

I ran to their cart when I heard a yell. I ripped the door open to find… nothing.

Before either one could open their mouth, I said, very calmly and coldly, “If you complain about this cart being too small or not comfortable enough, I will hurt you.”

I waited for a few seconds. They said nothing. I closed the door. I heard Emerald say through it, “I told you that would happen!” I walked away.

It was going to be a long, long trip.

 

I wish I could say that when we got to Manehattan we wasted little time in getting to the boat, but those bastards had a metric fuckton of shit they brought with them. Like, boxes and boxes of just crap.

Fucking nobles, man. I was starting to wish this was Dwarf Fortress, so I could just get them to kill themselves.

When they asked me to help them with their crap, I told them upfront, “I’m not a servant. I’m not technically even a body guard. I am an agent of the crown. I get my orders from Celestia or Luna, no one else.”

Emerald tried to take me off that high horse: “My orders said that I’m in charge! You can’t say no to me!”

“Your orders were wrong. You can ask Celestia if you want.”

She tried to get the other guards that were accompanying her to arrest me or something. I looked at them.

They didn’t even try.

In the end, Emerald and Calix had to carry some of their stuff themselves, while they hired some day laborers to carry the rest. The guards and I just watched impassively, though I, at least, was struggling not to laugh.

I didn’t mention this earlier, but there were six guards here from the palace to watch over the two. There were two of Luna’s night guards and four of Celestia’s day guards. And yes, each of the day guards and each of the night guards looked the same. Don’t ask me how, though my guess was that Celestia had a gene lab hidden somewhere and was cloning them all. Anyway, they got the same orders I did, apparently, or they might well have tried to arrest me when Emerald told them to. They probably would have succeeded—they’re trained fighters, while I’m a burgeoning assassin and ranged fighter. Up close and personal, it would be hard to take down even one of them. That would have been pretty embarrassing.

 

Oh, and when the nobles saw the boat we were going on, I thought they would throw a hissyfit that would make Rarity proud. We were not going on a royal military fleet. No, we nine were going on a merchant ship. The two nobles had to share a room. The guards and I didn’t even get rooms. We were given the option of bunking in the mess hall or outside. I chose outside; it was stifling inside. Most of the guards did the same.

And to make my cliché about the seasick people semi-true, both the nobles did end up getting seasick. It was their first time at sea. I didn’t make any kind-hearted jokes about it, though. They were all mean, and all shared between the guards and I. I managed to get the guards laughing, which wasn’t supposed to happen. Just showed how they all felt about the two nobles.

Since it was a merchant ship, they were in a hurry to get where they were going and they didn’t have to actually slow down to maintain any formation. It didn’t take us as long to get there this time. I wasn’t looking forward to getting to Africa, but I was looking forward to being able to get away from the two ambassadors for a bit.

 

The merchants were able to drop us off in Alexandria, but they couldn’t stay; formal relations between the two nations had not developed enough to allow easy trade. Besides, not many people here would give good deals to ponies.

Before we hit the city, I warned the guards: “Do not expect a warm welcome. When I was here last, ponies were not treated well. I don’t personally expect open hostility, but nor will I be surprised if you receive it. Guard the two nobles, and watch out for thieves. If you have to, abandon their shit and rush them to a tavern called The Salted Mare. Ask any pony for directions. If you’re posed a riddle, the answer when I was here last was ‘Celestia and Luna.’ If the shit absolutely hits the fan and you cannot stay in the city any longer, use your wings, pick them both up, and fly off. I’ll be out and about, and if you have to flee I’ll meet you south of town. There are plenty of oases between here and Catro, so don’t worry too much about supplies if you have to abandon everything.”

One of the day guards spoke up, “Do you really expect it will be that bad?”

“The first thing you’ll learn here: Expect the worst. Sometimes you’ll be surprised. Wait a day for me at The Salted Mare. If I don’t show up, go on without me. I’ll either catch up or I’ll be dead.”

With that warning, I put on the rest of my desert clothes and jumped off the boat. I was able to sail in from a little ways off the city, so I could walk in again, as I had the first time. I had on me my pack full of everything I brought and my weapons. I also had enough bits to hire a room for the night if I needed it. The goal was to join a caravan going south if possible, and if not, we were just gonna walk the whole way ourselves.

I wasn’t going to stay away from the main group that long, just long enough to visit a few places. Mainly, to see if Amir was still alive and well, and to pick up more clothes if possible. I had some words for Amir, if I could find him again. And I had a knife for Anton, if I found him.

Thankfully, there weren’t any bodies on the city wall this time. The guards at the gates also made me peace-bind my weapons as I walked into the city. My knives, at least; they didn’t know about the crossbow.

When they made me do it, though, I commented, “How is this fair? The ponies still have their sharp hooves. Why remove my main defenses if there are still those about that can hurt me?”

“Almost none of the ponies will attack unless attacked. You must have been away from cities for a while. To be fair, most of the guards agree with you. We follow our orders, though, and since we’re told to peace bind weapons, we will do so. Just use your claws if you must. They can’t deprive us of those!”

I laughed along with him; no reason to let anyone know I wasn’t a cat. Yet. Thankfully they didn’t inspect my bolts. That would have raised a few questions.

When I got into the city proper, I saw that little had changed, aside from there being fewer ponies out and about. The place was still a bustling port city on the side of a desert, and despite there not being any trade going on with Equestria proper, there was still trading going on with other parts of Africa and with pony smugglers that operated out of the Middle East.

Hell, everyone has a price. Even ponies.

 

Finding Amir’s tavern wasn’t that hard; the city may be large, but I’m pretty good with remembering directions. Not much about the tavern had really changed, other than a hulking guard sitting near the back, with paws that looked like they had been broken over faces more times than their owner could count.

I sat at a table and waited for a serving woman to approach me. She was one of the same cat women that had been working here the last time, I thought, though it was a bit hard to tell; I wasn’t paying much attention at the time. I asked for water and meat, as before, and I asked about Amir.

“He doesn’t come out as much as he used to, now that his position as a slave helper has been revealed. Why should I fetch him now?”

I took off a glove and told her, “A friend from the past is here to see him.”

Her eyes widened a bit. She slowly nodded and went off to do as I asked. I put the glove back on before too many people could see my hand and comment. I didn’t know the kind of reaction I’d get for my actions in the revolution, which was one of the reasons I came to Amir’s inn. He would be able and willing to tell me what to expect, especially when I threatened to gut him for selling me out, though I was hoping it wouldn’t have to come to that.

The wait wasn’t long before the serving lady came back and told me where to go to find Amir. I followed her directions and found myself in a back room.

I pulled one of the bolts out of my quiver and idly twirled it around, waiting for someone to arrive. I was expecting either the guard, to knock me out or worse, or Amir.

Thankfully, Amir showed up, though I figured he had his guard standing outside the door, listening for a shout. I put the bolt up.

“Human, why are you back here? I never expected to see you again!”

“I could say the same. I’m here in your inn for information. I’m back in Egypt because I go where the Crown wills. I’m pretty sure you were told what a haul you had in me, when you sold me out to the slaves.”

“I did what I had to do! They had my daughter…”

“I don’t care about motives or your life story. What is done is done. What I need is information, and perhaps a bed for the night, depending on what you tell me.”

“Tell me your questions, then, O Great Liberator.”

“What kind of reception will agents from Equestria receive here? Actual pony agents, not more like me.”

“Ambivalence. Most cats won’t care, though a few might look at them negatively. The dogs never cared for ponies, any of them, and will give the usual negative responses. But as far as I know, they won’t be openly attacked, unless they do something to rile the natives.”

“What kind of reception will get here, and in the capital, if I go around unmasked?”

“Differing reactions. Some hate you for what you did, some don’t know much about you, and some love you for it. Not many were privy to what your actual actions were, other than that you were pivotal in the revolution effort.”

“And as far as I’m concerned, that’s how it will stay. In your opinion, would I be better served by staying hidden for as long as possible, or should I make who I am known?”

“That depends on why you’re here. I presume you’re part of a diplomatic team, if you’re here with ponies. In the streets, you might as well go masked. You will probably be safer, if nothing else. But among the leaders and politicians in Catro, you should go unmasked. You will gain no ground by being a faceless voice, no matter what policies you hold.”

“The same way it is everywhere. Good. What else has been happening here, in the time since I left?”

“Massive upheavals. We have learned the hard way that you can’t remove a head of state in a military coup without some problems. For the most part, things have been safe, but some of the slave groups in the desert still haven’t gotten the message that the war is over. Banditry is still of a problem. The main roads are patrolled, though if you’re going to Catro you better make sure you have some manner of identification showing yourself as an ambassadorial party.”

“Do you know what happened to the cats I left behind in the slave group I helped lead out of Egypt?”

“Some of the leaders accepted positions within the new government. Some continued fleeing from Egypt into pony held lands. Some stayed behind here, to try their luck as free people.”

So I might run into Kat again. And this time I won’t be forced to do as she asks. Interesting. “How secure is the new leader?”

“He has the entire army behind him. The only ones protesting are a few richer slave owners, and slavers with their own private armies. Most know how to ride the winds of change, however, so I don’t expect they’ll hold out too long.”

“I don’t suppose you know where Anton is, do you?”

“No. He’s the one that kidnapped my daughter. If you find him, hurt him for me. Thankfully, she was returned unharmed after the slaves were released, but that doesn’t change the fact that she was taken from me.”

“I was planning on hurting him plenty enough for myself, but I’m sure I can find it in my heart to share the hate.”

I turned to go, but Amir stopped me. “For what it’s worth, Navarone, what you did was good for this country, even if you didn’t want to do it.”

“I know. But just because something is good doesn’t mean someone else should be forced into doing it. You were forced to help the slaves because your daughter was kidnapped.”

There was nothing he could say to that. I left.

 

I took a few hours to wander the marketplace, making sure to keep a tight hold on all my belongings. There was nothing here I actually wanted, and it would be a bad idea to buy anything now that I’d have to carry with me on the trip to Catro, but it gave me something to do while waiting for the ambassadors to get to the inn. I did get some more clothes, at least; those I had on were getting rattier than they were when I got them, and none of the cuts they got when I was fighting helped them any. I tried to avoid blades, but it’s hard to keep baggy clothes out of the way of cuts. I had tricked more than one enemy into leaving me for dead that way, too, so I guess it wasn’t such a bad thing.

The sun was starting to set when I decided to make my way to the tavern I told them to meet me at. Thankfully, when I got there I found it hadn’t changed at all in the time since I had been to it. However, I was asked two riddles this time, instead of one. The first was the same, with the same answer. The second was about what I was expecting, at that point: “Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be?”

“A cat person. Or a dog person. Or a man.” Yeah, they didn’t know what a man was, but they gave it to me anyway, since they were told to expect someone fitting my description.

When the doorkeeper let me in, I asked him, “Why the extra question?”

“We have important guests from the homeland. We can’t risk allowing them to be hurt. You are likely the one they told us to expect, though. And if you aren’t, don’t expect to be here long.”

I took off my cape and my head mask. “Those royal guards wouldn’t lay a hoof on me.”

The doorkeeper smiled at me. “It’s good to see you again, Liberator.”

“Name’s Navarone. Where are the ambassadors? And the guards?”

He blinked at my pause between guards and ambassadors, and the fact that I mentioned the guards at all, but he answered nonetheless: “The ambassadors are in their room. The guards are dotted about the building, with one watching the ambassador’s door.”

I nodded. “Thanks.” I went to look for the guards first, because I really didn’t feel like dealing with the ambassadors.

I found two of them in the common room. They nodded a greeting to me, and then went back to somehow playing dice with their hooves. I don’t know how the hell ponies do stuff like that.

“You’re lucky I’m not in charge of discipline,” I told them. They just shrugged. “Anyway, how was the trip into town?”

“Nothing to report. We got a few odd looks, but no open hostility. No one was expecting us. Are you certain Princess Celestia sent warning ahead that we would be here?”

“No, I’m not, and that worries me. As far as I know, we’re flying blind here. I don’t know what she told the ambassadors, and since I did nothing to ingratiate myself with them, they wouldn’t tell me if I asked.” A thought struck me. “I don’t suppose we’re carrying any manner of Equestrian flags? Or anything to show that we’re a foreign entity?”

“I think the nobles might have a flag. We usually just follow orders, and we weren’t told to bring anything like that.”

“Damn. Okay. When we get on the move to Catro, take off your armor, by the way. You’ll die of heat stroke by the time we reach the first oasis if you’re wearing that metal stuff.”

“Yes sir.”

“I’m not an officer, son, I work for a living. That’s just advice, not an order.” That definitely got them smiling. “And spread that advice around to the rest of the guards. I don’t want to have to carry a pony because he was stupid enough to wear metal armor in the Egyptian sun.”

“Will do. And by the way, the ambassadors are mad at you. So be careful when you visit them.”

“They can’t do anything to me, but thanks for the warning, at least.” Probably pissed I left them on the boat.

I went to the rest of the guards first, repeating my questions and advice. Most of them told me the ambassadors were pissed.

I was tempted to prove a point and not even bother with the ambassadors, but since I was stuck with them for at least another month, I decided to do the good thing and at least see what they were mad about this time. I may be a bad person, but I really didn’t feel like having to work closely with people I didn’t like and couldn’t stand being around for a month.

With that in mind, I knocked on the door to their shared room. “Who is it?” Emerald sang out.

I sighed internally, then said, “Navarone.”

The door ripped open and magic pulled me inside. Oh fuck, not again…

I heard the door slam shut behind me and the lock get pulled. So much for getting the guards to help me… Still, I have yet to find a truly dangerous situation I couldn’t talk my way out of.

Before either Calix or Emerald could say anything to me, I asked, “I don’t suppose either of you brought a flag from home?” There’s a chance I can make it out of here easily…

Neither of them were expecting that question. Calix answered, before he could be stopped, “Yes, we have one. Why—” He was cut off by Emerald.

“That’s not how this is going to work, human. You have a lot to answer for.”

“I don’t see how. The guards got the same orders I did. You have nothing on me, other than the ability to use magic. And the way in which you’re using that makes you little more than a bully.” I was doing my best to shame her. I figured, if push came to shove, there was a very small chance she was actually a powerful magic user, and I could escape her. I didn’t want to risk tipping my hand at that point, though.

“We’re ponies, and we’re nobles. You’re just a mongrel pulled out of nowhere to serve us. How dare you try to shame us, or lord anything over us?” Calix accosted me.

Oh, you’re on my shit list now, boy. “The lot of the sapient life form is based on their ability to reason. You obviously scored low on the reasoning level, so I was placed above you in terms of natural rank. Celestia saw this and put me outside of any of your social structures, and given that, you have nothing on me. You may be a noble, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re a fucking mite. My job is to do what’s best for Equestria. If you keep thinking that, as a pony, you’re part of a master race, what I think is best for Equestria will be your permanent removal from any capacity as an ambassador.”

“Are you threatening us?” Calix asked.

“No. I’m threatening you. All Emerald Script is doing right now is holding me. You’re the one insulting everything not a pony, while at the same time going to serve as an ambassador to an extra-pony race. That is a dangerous mix, especially when the people you seem to think are beneath you have a habit of eating just about any meat they can find.”

I felt the magic bonds around me fall away. “He’s right, Calix. We can’t keep doing this. We got exiled here from Equestria because of this. This is the end of the line for us!”

I don’t think Calix knew I wasn’t being held up anymore. He turned on Emerald Script and said, “If you weren’t holding him in place right now, I would do to you what I did to that serving filly! Do not try to stop me from teaching this beast a lesson!”

Emerald visibly blanched at that. I decided then and there that he would not be surviving the trip to Catro. I couldn’t kill him here, because that would technically be murder. But anything can happen on a dangerous road, and by the time a body spends a day in the Egyptian sun, it’s impossible to tell what killed it.

I flexed, to make sure he knew I was free. When he rounded on me in horror, I just gave him the coldest look I could manage. “You two will not be sharing a room. And Calix, you’re to be watched by a guard until we leave tomorrow. Emerald Script, come with me.”

We left him there. I told the guard at the door to keep an eye on him, and to keep shifts on him for the rest of the night to make sure he stayed there. Emerald was practically quivering in either fear or rage when we got to what I was told was to be my room for the night.

“What did he do to this serving girl?”

“He… he beat her. Badly. That is why he’s here… He has always had a bit of a temper, but he’s never used it against me before!”

“Do not worry about him. He will be taken care of. The road to Catro is a long and dangerous one.”

“Surely you don’t mean… You wouldn’t kill him!”

“I meant what I said in there. He is a danger to everyone around him, and to Equestria. The ship’s already gone, so we can’t send him back. We can’t leave him here and we can’t afford to keep him with us in Catro. And anyone that admits to beating someone will have done it more than once, likely. It is not a kind fate that I will give to him, but it is what must be done.”

“How can you be so… callous about this? He’s a living being!”

“I am a servant of the crown, right now. I have been told to do what is for the best for Equestria. If that means killing one of the ambassadors that is supposed to represent Celestia, then so be it.”

“How am I supposed to explain that in my reports to Princess Celestia?”

“He was attacked by bandits in the dangerous roads. That gives us the excuse of the dead ambassador and leverage to use over the king.”

“You’re cold, Navarone.”

“Yes, I am. Feel free to bed here for the night, if you want. I can sleep with the guards.”

“This room is big enough for two. I don’t care how cold you are, there’s no reason we can’t share a room.”

“If you’re really afraid of Calix, I can stay here if you wish. I see no reason for it, but whatever.”

“That would be… nice,” she said with a little smile. Thankfully, she didn’t try to push anything. Might have had something to do with the fact that I just told her I’d kill her partner soon.

 

I didn’t even bother trying to find a caravan going the same way we were. We needed to get out of the city as quickly as possible, and traveling with a caravan of obvious merchants would mean danger when there were bandits about. A group of six obvious soldiers, a mysterious creature with wings, and what appeared to be a scholar wouldn’t be attacked, I was hoping.

Besides, it would be hard to explain why I killed Calix to any caravanners, and they might well kick everyone in my group out of theirs when I did so.

So it was a fairly small group that left the city. Knowing we had to travel light, and that we also had to carry food and water, Emerald was smart enough to let me leave most of their crap behind. With the funds selling that stuff to a merchant gave me, I was able to buy food and water for all eight of us, using native money that wouldn’t raise too many questions.

I also skimmed a bit off the top to get a falchion and a few more daggers, so I would hopefully look more threatening when we got where we were going. I had no idea how to use the falchion, but the daggers were pretty simple: Throw and hope you don’t miss. I also had a few darker reasons for getting them: If Calix’s body was found, we could claim that he went missing and we couldn’t stop to wait or look for him. His death would be blamed on bandits.

I also got a holster for the flag, so one of the guards could carry it on a pole on his back. I was hoping that someone would, if not recognize the Equestrian image on it, recognize that it was at least a foreign power, and that messing with us would be bad.

 

I killed Calix three days outside of town.

Even now, as I sit writing this, I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. I do not like killing, but I do recognize that sometimes it is the best thing to do. And he was a bad man. Well, a bad pony. He was also a danger to the mission.

But should I have killed him?

None of the guards judged me, I don’t think, and the two that were to be assigned to him when we reached the city almost seemed happy about it. Emerald kept her opinions on the matter secret, though I suspected she would not be lying to Celestia about it.

I had a good excuse, if nothing else.

 

We made pretty good time, all things considered. I’m not going to lie, though: I definitely slowed the group down. Sensible security measures and ensuring we were always within range of an oasis when we camped probably added a day or more to our schedule.

And while I have more stamina than the ponies on average, I was also slower. So instead of them trotting, they walked. To be fair, though, that was better than the alternative. After all, it’s easy to overheat out in the desert if you aren’t used to it. Trotting would quicken the process.

It was not an easy trip. But we did pretty well at it, anyway.

 

As a small side note, back at home, I used to read a lot. And I mean, a lot. I always read about adventurers walking places, and taking a week or something to do it.

You want to know why authors mostly skip over that week?

Traveling. Is. Boring. As. Fuck.

Especially in the hot sun, in an empty desert, with possible bandit activity all around you. It’s walking and walking and walking, then a bit of flying, then some more walking. You go to bed late, set out quarter watches until morning, with everyone getting a turn each night. Then you wake up exhausted and have to keep walking.

There were two relatively interesting things that happened those nine days, and half of them were me killing Calix. The other thing was running into a small group of about twenty cat people roaming the deserts, looking for any traders. When we saw them in the distance, I almost lost my shit thinking they were bandits.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually were bandits, but just didn’t see any reason to attack our group. Despite what I told Calix, I honestly don’t think any of the cat people would eat a pony.

 

Anyway, we finally made it to Catro after nine long, boring days of travel.

And God, seeing that city made those nine days almost worth it. We crested a dune around the time the sun was setting behind us, and saw the city in the red light of the sunset. Minarets cast massive shadows spanning the entire city. Light bouncing off parts of the Nile cast a glow to parts of the lower slums, making even their ramshackle appearance light up before our eyes. We could barely see the tips of the pyramids sticking out to the west. The city’s administrative center, the massive palace, was located on our side of the river. It took up several blocks, and was several stories high.

It was a wonderful view.

We made it into the city just as night was falling. I had never been here before, so I had no idea how bad any crime would be. Since I was part of a foreign ambassador team, I didn’t have to peace-bind my weapons, which was nice. I was hoping I wouldn’t need them, but hell, you never know.

And yes, as it turns out, we were expected. However, they were expecting us to come down the river, not to walk here. Which, as I took a second to think about it, would have made a hell of a lot more sense.

But whatever. We were given very nice accommodations near the palace. After checking the rooms for anything that shouldn’t be there—which I admit, I honestly had no real idea how to do—I washed the dust and grime off and went to bed. I was basically just hoping that there were no hidey-holes for eavesdropping or poison in anything.

Oh, and if any readers are wondering why I didn’t seem to suffer from much jet lag, well, traveling on a slow moving boat removes much of that. I did have some problems, yes, but they were hardly of note.

 

The next morning, I laid down the basic rules for the group: “Don’t leave this building alone. For any reason. We are not in Equestria anymore, and there are some groups that do not like us being here at all. They might or might not hesitate to use murder to achieve their goals of getting us gone. I do not want to explain to Celestia why any of her guards disappeared, or why our remaining ambassador was kidnapped off the street.”

One of the night guards spoke up, “Does that rule apply to you?”

I scoffed, “Hell no.”

Emerald interjected, “Perhaps, Navarone, it should apply to you most of all. You are here as a symbol of Equestrian power. If any enemies can take you out of the picture, that would be a crushing blow for our relations in the area. We would appear weak, if nothing else.”

“And that’s precisely why I shouldn’t be guarded. If I’m to appear as a symbol of power, I shouldn’t need guards. I should be able to take on anything they throw at me.” That wasn’t the real reason, mind, but that was good enough. The truth was that I just didn’t want to be bothered by guards. Either way, though, she bought it. “The second thing is to never trust anyone except each other. I know you come from a land of happiness and plenty, but here there are liars. Plenty of them. Some people will tell you the truth and some people will tell you lies. Some will mix it up.”

The other night guard spoke up, “What of you, human? I’ve heard it said that little of what you say is true, and what is true is so full of fluff it’s hard to tell what you really mean.”

“The difference is that you know I’m a liar. You already know most of what I’m saying isn’t true, so you’re prepared to counter that. But here, you don’t know who is who. Just be prepared. Any other stupid comments?”

There weren’t. They even left the obvious thing unsaid: If we know you’re a liar, why are we even listening to you?

“My last warning is to beware the food. It’s spicy. And it might be poisonous. A good way to get rid of rival diplomats is poison, after all. Enjoy your stay in Egypt.”

I think I just convinced a few of them to go on diets.

Emerald did chime in on that, with a contribution I was extremely pleased to hear: “Part of my diplomat training actually included a magic lesson in identifying poison. We shouldn’t have to worry about that. The spiciness, though, I can’t help with.” Thank God for that, at least.

 

Our palace liaison wasn’t due for a few hours, so I had a bit of time to do a more thorough sweep of our building. I was hoping I wouldn’t find anything, so I wouldn’t have to take time to deal with it, but just because you hope something is true doesn’t mean that’s what will happen.

Thankfully, I didn’t actually find anything. There were a few hidden rooms, yes, but as far as I could tell none of those rooms bordered anywhere important, so we didn’t have to worry about anyone eavesdropping. I told the guards about them, and let them deal with it. I was kind of hoping they’d make signs or something that said, ‘secret room here,’ but all they did was just note their positions.

Despite my killing Calix, Emerald was still rather pushy about me actually wearing the getup Rarity had made for me. I was planning on not putting it on and just sort of not bringing it up at all, but she was having none of it. And perhaps killing Calix had a part in why I caved so easily on the issue of wearing it; I wouldn’t be surprised if I was feeling some manner of hidden guilt for the probable trauma I caused Emerald, and was dealing with it by assenting to her demands.

Either way, I put the ridiculous thing on, feeling like a total fruit. I swear, the thing did its best to hold up my wings and make them completely noticeable, which was not at all comforting. I don’t know if Rarity actually hated me, or if this was her way of doing me a favor. Heh. She made me a pushup bra for my wings. Now I know how women feel, I guess.

I was looking at myself in the mirror, wondering where I was going to put any weapons, when someone knocked at the door. It was one of the guards, to say, “The liaison is here. She claims she knows you.”

Well, there just went any good feeling I had… Jocasta or Kat, one of the two. At least it wasn’t Rock. He never was that impressed with my fighting ability. Probably because the fighting ability I used was slitting throats instead of using a massive weapon and swinging it around like I owned the place.

I grabbed two of my daggers and put them in my boots. Better than nothing, at least, and it meant I did have some manner of protection if it did turn out to be Kat.

Which, of course, it was.

“Navarone! We have so much to catch up on!” she exclaimed as soon as she saw me. I froze as soon as I saw her. My mind went blank. Oh God. Wait, why is she happy? She ran up to give me a hug that I was too surprised not to return. Her hands behind my back went straight to my wings. I felt my mind caving slightly under the feeling of her touching me like that. Not again… I won’t be her pet again. I felt the reassuring weight of the daggers in my boots and I saw the guards—pony guards—around me. I knew I was in control here, not her. I felt sanity slowly returning to me, and I knew I could do this.

When she released me, I responded, “Yeah, we just might. But first, we got ourselves some business to deal with. I don’t reckon you’ve met our ambassador yet. She should be down in a sec. Name’s Emerald Script.”

“I was told to expect two of them.”

“He’s a bit dead. Killed by bandits on the way in.”

I was saved further explanation by the arrival of Emerald. Kat made a half bow to her after a questioning glance my way and a small nod from me. I introduced the two.

Emerald asked me, “Is this one of the freedom fighters that was with you in the liberation movement?”

“Yeah, she was one of the leaders,” I answered. “You’ll have to ask her for any more information. I was told as little as possible during that episode.”

“I’m right here, you know,” Kat said.

“Yes, I know; you’re rather noticeable,” I responded.

“Now, Navarone, that’s no way to treat guests,” Emerald said.

“Oh, we’re old friends. I understand,” Kat said with a wink at me.

Why the hell aren’t you afraid of me? Although… if I could make that whole relationship dynamic equal, I could actually have fun with this chick… I shook that thought from my mind. After what she did to me? It would take a lot of convincing. “So, Kat, what’s first on today’s agenda?”

“You’re to be greeted by Jim Johnson, our leader.” His real name, I shit you not. “There’s to be a lunch with him and several other leaders. Jocasta and Rock will both be there. I’m glad I don’t have to tell you to change, Nav. Those rags you insisted on wearing in the desert would not be suitable here.”

“I was… convinced… against wearing them,” I said with a pointed look at Emerald.

Kat smiled at her, and said, “I bet magic is a much easier way to get him to do what you want. We had to use ropes and chains.”

Emerald smiled conspiratorially and responded, “Magic is all well and good, but I think I might have to try rope one day. He just doesn’t seem to learn his lesson.”

I couldn’t tell if the guards were smiling at my discomfort or at her joke.

 

When we left for the palace, Kat made a point in curling her arm around mine. I honestly don’t know if she thought she was trying to compete with Emerald or if she was just trying to be cute. She chatted idly about her time since we had left, intermixed with details of the parts of the city we passed.

The four guards—three day, one night—we brought watched the crowd around us warily, never letting Emerald—or, I noticed with some surprise, me—out of their eyes for long. Emerald was listening to Kat’s talk impassively, smiling at some parts of it and seeming to drift in and out of actually paying attention. I figured she was nervous about meeting everyone while relatively alone. Maybe I really shouldn’t have killed that fellow… It felt like the right thing to me, honestly. Still, I was probably too quick to kill him. What’s done is done, though.

It didn’t take us that long to get to the palace, but the leisurely rate we were walking, and the way we were almost constantly surrounded by a shifting crowd of curious cat people, seemed to make the walk take hours. We made it in ten minutes, but I felt like a day had passed on that walk. I was planning to fly in the future, if I had the option.

Something Kat said actually pricked my ears. I tuned in. “Now that we’re not trying to hide, you’ll have to take me flying one day, Nav. I know for some reason you always took that creepy Miguel with you when you went liberating camps, but I was hoping for more than a short jump. Tell me, is it true that you can sit on clouds?”

“Yeah, I can. Not like we’ll find many of those here, though.” Drop her from way up there, call it an accident… No one has to know. I shook that thought from my head, not liking the idea of murdering anyone, even someone like her.

“I’ve also heard unicorns can change the weather, though,” she said with a pointed gaze at Emerald.

“Some can,” Emerald said. “However, I do not know the technique.”

“Shame. We’ll have to find a solution to that, then.”

“Why? There are plenty of clouds for me to settle on in Equestria. I don’t need any here.”

“So you can hold me up on one, of course! Why else?”

“You might be underwhelmed. Clouds feel very different to someone that isn’t magically attuned to them. For you, they’d feel cold and wet, not at all something most would happily walk on.”

“It is still something I would like to try…” she replied with another tweak of my wings.

It was going to be a long month.

 

At least Rock and Jocasta didn’t care about me being there. Kat tried to engage them in conversation about me, but they basically said meh and turned away to greet Emerald instead. I wasn’t complaining. I had no idea how much work it took to get Rock to wear a uniform, but he was looking even scarier in it than he had before. And I never really liked Jocasta anyway, after the whole almost causing me to starve while letting me be raped thing.

Though when I realized what their disinterest opened me up to, I started to wish they’d care a bit more. See, we weren’t the only ones at the lunch thing. There was, of course, Jim the leader guy. There were also various dignitaries, and heads of all manner of guilds and cartels and ex-slavers and whatnot. I’m somewhat surprised they even got Rock in here without him cracking some skulls in revenge.

But without Jocasta or Rock to act as a decent buffer, and since Emerald and the guards were occupied, it was pretty much me with Kat still on my arm against all the important people that had heard legends of what I had done and wanted to know more about me, or secure my support for various ideas and projects.

I was floundering in deep water, there. I told what tales I thought were appropriate when that question was asked. Mostly, I told the truth about my exploits. Some of their questions were useless, about personal plans or supporting so-and-so. Thankfully, Kat made herself useful and answered those for me, “Nav doesn’t know much about the local politics yet. Give him a few weeks and he might have an answer.”

I didn’t mention that I was going to be gone in a few weeks.

Jim did make a point to ask me a few questions himself. “So what brings you back to Africa, Navarone? I know your first experience here didn’t paint a nice picture in your mind of our land.”

“I’m here as extra muscle for the security detachment. I fear I’ll be needed now more than ever, after one of our diplomats already had an unfortunate and fatal accident.”

“The deserts are a dangerous place, as I’m sure we both well know. How long are you going to be here?”

I’m only going to be here for about a month or so, depending on how well Emerald Script settles in. I imagine they’ll be here as long as they’re needed, or allowed.”

“A month, eh? I’ll have to arrange another meeting in that time. We have some matters to discuss, you and I.”

“My first responsibility is to the Equestrian crown, but if I have no responsibilities for the princess to do, I’ll come at your call.”

“You don’t have to fake any nationalism for my behalf, Nav. I know where your loyalties lie.”

To myself and whoever holds my leash at the time, is what I wanted to say. I instead answered with, “You might. Tell me later when you want to talk, and I’ll see if I can be there.”

He nodded, and the swirls of the party swept us around and I found myself facing yet another rich merchant. I sighed inwardly and got ready to tell yet another tale of the last bloody battle we fought.

 

About an hour after the party thing started, Kat started trying to get me alone. I don’t know if she wanted to talk in private or do something a bit more intimate, but either way, I was forced to deny her.

“I can’t. I’m a part of security. If I leave and something happens, it’ll mean my head.”

“I wasn’t near you when your princess joined us at the canal, but I was able to see her from where I was. The way she was looking at you, she would never harm you. Besides, nothing will happen here. Despite some of their words, even the slavers realize we probably need Equestria’s help, now that we lost our slave labor. No one would dare harm the diplomat.”

“You don’t know Celestia like I do. And you say no one will harm Emerald Script, but I can’t afford to take that chance. We can talk later, back at the embassy.”

After a few more half-hearted attempts to pull me away, she gave up. Despite myself, I realized I actually did want to talk to her later.

 

About two hours after the party started, I was beginning to wish I had taken her up on that offer. This thing was boring as hell, without someone fun to actually talk to. Emerald’s other guards were taking the wait well, but this is what they were trained for. I was getting bored of answering question after question from various dignitaries about pony politics or my personal stance on things.

A few seemed to think I was closer to Celestia than I actually was, and asked all manner of disturbing questions that I don’t want to repeat here in case she actually reads this.

Several were far more subtle with their questions, asking me small things about the state of Equestria itself. My answers, if I had given them, would have told them all manner of things about Celestia’s leadership and the state of the economy there.

The party was nearing its third hour when I just said fuck it. The dignitaries were leaving and being replaced by a new batch, and I was determined to bail before more people could pester me with questions. Duty is great, and all, but I’m really not the kind of person to just stand around and talk to people like these for hours.

I managed to abandon Kat while she was talking to someone in my stead, and carefully picked my way to Emerald Scipt. She was looking about as bored as I felt, but hell, this was actually her job.

When she saw me waiting to talk, she made to finish her conversation with the random cat she was talking to, and motioned me forward. I asked, “How’s your first day as an ambassador?” I asked.

“Exhausting. You owe me a lot for killing Calix.”

“It was for the best and you know it.”

“So what did you want? I assume there’s a reason you abandoned your… friend to talk to me.”

“I was planning on asking if I was needed here any longer. Parties like this… they aren’t my style.”

“And you decided to actually consult my opinion first? Shocking.”

“In public, you’re in charge. Besides, I’m supposed to be an operative, basically. If I finish talking to you and then mysteriously disappear, it means they’ll suspect you sent me off to do something. And if I were to do, say, this,” as I pulled a dagger smoothly out of my boot and made a show of cleaning my fingernails as I continued, “and then left, people will suspect what you sent me to do was dangerous, furthering the image I’m supposed to have.”

“And what makes you think we’re being watched? I see no one looking at us.”

“You’re the official star of this party, and I’m the unofficial one. And instead of talking to others, as we’re supposed to be, we’re talking to each other. Everyone in this room is watching us.”

“And if I am asked why you approached me instead of the other way around?”

“You have magic that no one here understands. Just imply that you used it to call me.”

“Based on what you’ve seen so far, how likely is there to be an actual attack here, today?”

“Very unlikely. Your guards are watching people like hawks, and there are local guards spread throughout the crowd disguised like merchants. Anyone other than me that pulls a knife in this party will be put down like a dog before they get within five feet of you.” I sheathed the knife.

“Go, then. But leave your cat friend here. I might need her later.”

“With pleasure.” With a mocking bow and a large smile on my face, I disappeared through a side door I had earlier judged to be unlocked. Thankfully, it led to a corridor instead of a broom closet, which would have been very awkward.

I wandered around the palace for a few minutes, completely and totally lost. I finally approached a servant and asked him to lead me to a balcony. I got an odd look, but I fluttered my wings a bit and he nodded, as if understanding.

When he got me to one, I thanked the fellow, pulled myself onto the ledge, spread my wings wide, and jumped.

 

It was a nice, short flight back. I scared a few local guards that weren’t expecting any fliers, though.

I found that there was, thankfully, a roof access on our building. I pulled the hatch open from outside and looked in.

And found two assassins looking back at me with complete surprise in their eyes.

Well, shit.

 

 

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