A Different Perspective

Long Path, an earth pony living in Canterlot, and his best friend, a griffon named Free Agent, set out in the company of Twilight Sparkle to visit various places and species to look into what makes them different, and hopefully learn how to get along with them better. Things rarely go to plan though, and along the way, they discover things about themselves, and find love, drama, and laughter. Then Chrysalis changes everything, and the fate of the whole world might be at stake. Their lives will never be the same!
This story is set mostly after the events of Conversations in a Canterlot Cafe and builds on the fanon of the series, especially changelings, so you might want to read those stories first for background material.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/246414/a-different-perspective

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11. Chapter 11: Pawns, Kings, and Queens

Path was both dreading and looking forward to this meeting with King Glimfeather. He was going to start a revolution among griffon society at best, or provoke a great deal of enmity at worst. He took a deep breath to compose himself before entering the king’s audience chamber.

Roseclaw gave him a reassuring hug. “Stand your ground and be confident, my love. The king can be a lot more reasonable in the privacy of his audience chamber.”

Path nodded. “You’re right, so we better get started. Don’t want to get things off on the wrong hoof by being late.”

Path knocked on the chamber door and was admitted by the king’s chamberlain. Glimfeather was already seated behind a magnificent oak desk that had been lovingly carved and polished to perfection. It was also an imposing reminder of the power in this kingdom. Path and Roseclaw stopped before it and bowed respectfully.

“Good morning, Your Majesty. Thank you for this audience.”

“Good morning to you too, Lord and Lady Path. I was expecting your request for an audience anyway. It isn’t often that new House is created, and there is inevitably much to be sorted out. You have our undivided attention for now. I believe you have your proposed House tenets and goals to present to me?”

“Yes, sire, and a few conflicts to resolve.”

“Then perhaps we should have a look at those first,” the king replied equably.

“Right. First of all, as a lord of a Griffonian House and especially as an officer in the Griffonian army, I am expected to give my services to the nation and the Crown. However, as a citizen of Equestria, an envoy of the diarchy, and with a princess of Equestria as one of my House’s founding members, you can see that there can be a considerable conflict of interest.”

“You are correct, although I reassure you that I have no designs against Equestria.”

“I did not wish to imply that you had, Your Majesty, but there are other problems that aren’t so simply resolved. Unless they can be, I might at least have to resign my commission in your army.”

“I would advise strongly against it. You have been here long enough to understand the value of rank and status in our society, and that would be a major blow against your other efforts.”

Path got the impression that the king had already anticipated a number of points that he was going to bring up. “You would be correct, but before I pursue that further, I wish to bring up the most important matter that came to my attention just yesterday. Are you aware that there are ponies being held as slaves here in Griffonia?”

“I am,” the king replied without changing his expression.

Path would have been hugely surprised if the king had not been aware. “And did you realize that Ravenwing kept a large herd of them to maintain his castle’s grounds?”

“I did.”

“So you expected that I would find this out and be outraged by it?”

“Correct. So what are you going to do about it?” Glimfeather asked calmly.

Path was startled by that response. “Me? I’m not the one who allows slavery! I can emancipate my slaves, but they’d still be regarded as property by the majority of griffs. I talked to them again this morning , and most of them don’t even understand the concept of freedom. I can’t even send them back to Equestria because they were born here and consider this country their home. I need to break this mindset and the cycle of slavery from one generation to the next, and I am certainly not stopping with just the slaves on my property! I need your authority to put an end to all slavery once and for all.”

Throughout Path’s rant, the king listened calmly. He then asked, “Tell me, Lord Path, what is your impression of your slaves? Are they well fed? Healthy? Happy?”

“I suppose so. Aside from being respectful to authority, especially me, they seemed more like servants rather than slaves.”

“I can tell you that this was not always so. Back when their ancestors were captured, they were much abused, and several died from their maltreatment. After many years, the survivors and their owners settled into a harsh but sustainable relationship. The troublemakers were eliminated and the strong survived. Eventually those survivors bred, producing foals who never knew anything else but life as a slave. Despite severe punishments and privation, they were slaves and that was how it ever was, and despite being told tales of Equestria by their parents. By the time that I came to power, yet another generation had been born who by now regarded those tales as mere fiction. It came as a surprise to them when I started making laws requiring that slaves be treated with due care and consideration. Whipping and other corporal punishments were banned, and slaves were required to be adequately fed and housed. By now, those pony slaves are much more as your impression of them – servants of the nobles and warriors.”

“But still slaves,” Path pointed out. “They are not paid, don’t have any choice in their careers, and may not leave their employ or the country. If you are so benevolent, why didn’t you just simply free the slaves and send them to Equestria?”

Glimfeather laughed. “If only it was that simple. Let me give you a lesson in being a king, my young stallion – a king that doesn’t listen to his nobles will quickly lose their support, and thus his ability to rule, and a king who doesn’t listen to his warriors will soon be king no more. The possession of slaves had become more than just an act of defiance against Equestria, but also a big status symbol. If I had tried to take their slaves away, that would have affected their status enormously.”

“And status is everything in griffon society,” Path concluded. “So you’ve done as much as you can, and now you’re expecting me to take it further?”

The king grinned broadly. “I knew you would figure that out. You are in a unique position, Lord Path – a noble in both Griffonia and Equestria. You might be able to do what I cannot do alone.”

“That answers one question that has been bothering me – why did you create a new House for me and my friends when all I had won was Ravenwing’s possessions, status, and castes? You knew that my title would probably be ratified by Princess Celestia and Luna, especially with Twilight Sparkle as both witness and member. You have maneuvered me into providing a balance between the Equestrian and Griffonian kingdoms, with my recent popularity giving me the status to actually achieve something.”

“Excellent! So I ask you again – what do you intend to do about it?”

“It’s funny that you should ask, Your Majesty, because I have some proposals that could radically change the relationship of griffons to ponies. But before I present those, I would like to clear up why Princess Celestia never did anything about the slave situation. It seems unlikely that in the nearly eight decades since the end of the war, she has been unaware of them.”

The king shook his head. “She did not at first, and that was her own fault. King Warscream had been quick to offer to repatriate the prisoners of war in exchange for some face-saving concessions. What he did not tell Celestia was that they had far more prisoners than the ponies knew about, many already regarded as being killed in action. Warscream retained a large portion of these ponies who had never been in contact with the other prisoners, and he handed those out to the various nobles and warriors whose support he wished to keep. Those pony slaves were probably what saved Warscream’s crown, else he may have been quickly deposed rather than ruling for another half century. Kings who lose wars don’t often survive their loss. Anyway, Celestia imposed a strict embargo on Griffonia, preventing all trade and communication with our nation. The secret of the slaves was kept for a long time; so long that by the time that Celestia did learn of their existence, it was too late to do anything else but very slow diplomatic approaches. The only alternative would of course have been war, and that would have lost far more lives than they would have saved from slavery.”

“So you and Celestia have been working on this together for decades then?” Path concluded.

“Correct.”

“Why didn’t she warn us about this situation then?”

Glimfeather shrugged. “Neither she nor I are omniscient and can’t foresee every contingency. We had intended that you be gradually introduced to the situation as you came more familiar with our ways, as was your original intention, I believe. Princess Luna’s enthusiastic backing of your project only accelerated our plans. The duel was completely unanticipated though, but I was quick to see how it could be turned to our advantage.”

Path’s respect for the griffon king grew. He was not only intelligent, but also caring. In a society where status and strength were worshipped, he had achieved much, but there was still a lot more to be done. “Okay, if we are to be your tool, then we are going to need a lot of support from you. First of all, we need money. Ravenwing left his estate deep in debt. By selling off some things, dismissing excess staff, and negotiating various deals, I have greatly reduced that debt. However, there is still a considerable amount left, and this would greatly hamstring my efforts.”

“Present Stormwind with the details of those remaining debts, and he will take care of them,” Glimfeather said with a nod towards his chamberlain.

Path understood why the chamberlain was present at the meeting now – some of those needs had already been anticipated also. That gave him greater confidence with his further proposals. “The House of Path will not be merely trading on its status. As such, we propose that this House be warrior-scholars. The art of war will be balanced with the power of knowledge. Our purpose will be defending those who need it. We will not go to fight any war, but we will defend the weak and defenseless, and when we have built up our numbers, we will also be the final line of defense when war comes to us. As such, I wish to retain my commission, but be detached from the regular Griffonian army, with the members of House Path be considered a special defense corps.”

“Interesting, but I can’t have mere lieutenant command such a potentially powerful unit.”

“I suppose not, Your Majesty, but I cannot have an outsider to the House as commanding officer.”

“I suppose I’m just going to have to promote you to colonel then. That is high enough rank for you to command and not suffer undue interference from other officers and nobles. Perhaps one day, if you get sufficient experience, you might even make it to general.”

Path felt a little dizzy at that unexpected promotion. “Aren’t you going to cop some criticism for giving me such a hefty raise in rank?”

The king waved his talons dismissively. “That’s my problem. You will have enough of your own.”

“Ah… right. Well, seeing as you are amenable to the proposal, I hereby request a stipend to establish the school and training facilities.”

“Have you drawn up details of your needs already?”

“We have a list of the essentials plus a lot of other things on our wish list. I would like to point out to Your Majesty that the best tools give the best results though.”

Glimfeather laughed. “Yes, yes they do. We will discuss these details and more after I examine your proposals in depth. Anything more?”

Path was really feeling excited now. The king’s ready acceptance of his ideas steeled his resolve. “I intend to start the school as soon as possible, and while I intend to get griff students, I also want all the slave children to attend it. The ones that graduate will become members of my House and go on to further studies as warrior-scholars also. In fact the school will take in all species. Our long-term goal is to establish a wing of our House in all countries, with Equestria being the first.”

“That’s going to be a very hard sell. What do you have to offer that will appease the nobles?”

“A mutual defense pact.”

“Your House is not powerful enough to offer that as yet.”

“The House, no, but one of its members, yes. Princess Twilight Sparkle has full authority to negotiate such a pact, and she has indicated to me a willingness to do so in the name of bettering relationships between our kingdoms. As Princess of Friendship, she wishes that there will never be war between ponies and griffons again, and that we learn to be friends through mutual respect.”

Glimfeather was quiet for a long moment while he considered this. Eventually he replied, “This could work. You may have reason to promote your cause sooner than you think though.”

“How so, sire?”

“Our eyries to the north and east have been suffering raids from the centaurs recently. They are a clever and dangerous foe that has given us much trouble for decades. I believe one of them almost conquered Equestria a few years back?”

“You mean Tirek? Yes, his talent for stealing magic was nearly our undoing, but fortunately the power of Harmony was even greater.”

“And that is probably what is going to sell your proposal eventually. Princess Sparkle will have to come to my court to make her proposal in person, and be prepared for some stern opposition from the warriors and nobles, but I am more than willing to consider it.”

Path smiled. “Then I think we have the basics covered. Shall we discuss the details now?”

# # #

Twilight found Free just outside of the portal outpost with his easel and painting materials set up about him.

“Hi, Free. How’s your day been so far?”

Free put down his brush and gave Twilight a nuzzle. “Pretty dull so far. After I harassed the portal guards as usual, I thought I’d do another patrol, but there’s nothing around here that has changed from the previous couple of days, so I got bored. I decided that I might as well practice my landscapes. What about you?”

“You’re right in that nothing seems to be happening. I’ve been using my time productively though. I’ve been looking into spells that Path can adapt to earth pony magic, as he requested. It’s something that I have never considered before in my magic studies, and I find it quite fascinating. Makes me wonder if there are other cross-species spell adaptations possible. Could a pegasus do earth pony magic, for example?”

“Umm… Fluttershy?” Free suggested.

Twilight smiled. “You got it. Fluttershy’s abilities are noteworthy in that they aren’t typical of pegasi, but I had never looked at it before as an extension of earth pony magic. After I found out that she has a great grandparent who was an earth pony, it did give a bit more impetus to the idea though.”

“So, what kind of stuff are you looking up for Path?”

“I’m keeping my eye open for anything with potential, but I’m prioritizing fighting magic. I suspect that he may need greater offensive and defensive abilities in the future if he’s going to be a griffon kingdom noble. The thunderhoof is a great surprise weapon, but if you know about it, you know how to avoid it.”

“Yeah, you have a point. What about the… oh, horseapples!”

“What’s wrong, Free?”

Free Agent pointed behind the alicorn. “Another of those whirlwinds is coming this way. Help me pack up my stuff before it gets ruined,” he answered, putting words into action.

“Calm down, Free. There’s no need.”

Her horn glowed and a bubble of magic formed around them. Moments later, the whirlwind engulfed them, but neither wind nor debris penetrated the shield. A minute later it was gone.

Free gave a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Twi. That was quick thinking.”

“I got lessons from my brother on making shields. It’s his special talent, after all, and he’s very adept at making different kinds for different purposes.”

“Like this one,” Free said, standing up and leaning back, only to stop hard against thin air.

“I didn’t realize we were that close to the changeling shield,” Twilight admitted.

“With that there, any enemy changeling can’t sneak up behind me while I’m occupied,” Free explained.

“Smart thinking.”

“Yeah. Pity it doesn’t help with suspicious ponies.”

“What do you mean?”

“Applejack still doesn’t trust me and keeps spying on me.” He turned around and indicated a bush that was not too far away on the other side of the shield. “Right now she’s hiding behind that bush, thinking that she’s concealed from me, but I can taste her suspicion from here.” He waved to the bush. “I hope you didn’t get too bored watching me paint!” he called out.

The orange earth pony emerged from behind the bush and stalked off without comment.

Twilight could not help smiling a little at her friend’s discomfort at being caught out. “Sorry about that. Do you want to go on with your painting now?”

“Did you have anything else in mind, babe?”

“Oh, I dunno. Maybe a mare and her special somepony could take a quiet walk by the riverside for an hour or so.”

Free’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Princess Twilight Sparkle – are you saying that you haven’t got more important things to do with your time?”

Twilight giggled. “Everything is relative, Mister Free Agent. Right now, this is very important to me.”

Free grinned and replied, “Looks like you’re going to have to help me pack up after all.”

# # #

That evening, they listened eagerly to Path and Roseclaw’s report on the day’s negotiations.

“So my suspicions were correct,” Twilight commented. “I had a feeling King Glimfeather had a larger agenda, and we were being manipulated.”

“Mostly me,” Path agreed, “but you’re going to have to play a big part. You are going to have to sell that mutual defense pact to some rather hostile griffs.”

“I think that’s part of the obligation of being a princess,” Twilight replied. “I’ll play my part like you play yours.”

“What about me?” Free asked.

“After your success at the pub, I reckon your forté is going to be relations between the average griff and Equestrians. I think we’re especially going to have to look at Equestrian griffs who emigrated from Griffonia because they were disaffected with society there. They’re going to be even more skeptical than the average pony. However, that’s a bit more long-term, and I’d be happy with whatever you can do to thaw relationships between our countries.”

“That’s what I do best,” Free boasted. “They ain’t seen nothing yet!”

“And Roseclaw’s role in all this?” Twilight asked.

“She’s keeping me on track, guiding me with her local knowledge. Most of all, she’s my pillar of support. Sometimes I think that there’s too much for me to cope with, but she’s always there to lean on.” There was a long moment of suspicious silence, and neither listener had any trouble imagining what was happening just then. Eventually he continued, “I have been so used to having you with me for support, Free, that I was wondering if I could deal with you being away, but Rose has always been by my side to help me. She’s truly the First Lady of this House.”

Rose added, “How could I not support my chosen mate? It just makes me prouder that I have two other members of this House to help make it greater.”

Free said, “I can hardly wait for this herd to get back together. We rock as one!”

# # #

“Hey, Sterling, I hear you like cherry delight?”

The Red Changeling Royal Guard looked at Free suspiciously. “Have you been snooping into my personal details?”

“Nah, I caught you sneaking an extra slice the other night, and I asked around. Seems it’s not the first time either.”

Sterling Shield looked slightly embarrassed. “Umm, yeah, I do like it a lot.”

“Really, sarge?” Bazztuk asked. “Aren’t you always ragging on us about self-discipline?”

Sterling glared at the junior Guard. “Everyone has their little weaknesses. Unlike you though, I exercise off my indulgences. When our shift finishes, I think you’ll be running a few dozen laps of the outpost to run off a few of yours.”

Bazztuk gulped and wisely decided to shut up.

“Besides,” Sterling continued talking to Free, “it reminds me of a good friend that I made a while back. You might call it my happy food.”

Free took out a plate from concealment and showed Sterling the large slice of cherry delight with whipped cream that was upon it. “You can have my piece if you let me have a peek down the hallway.”

Sterling merely looked disgusted. “Really? You think I can be bribed with a piece of pie? Or at all? I’m disappointed with you, Free Agent.”

“Nah, I didn’t really think so. That’s why I’m going to torture you by eating it front of you instead.” Free produced a spoon and started to cut off a piece of the pie.

“Out! Get out of here, you crazy griff-ling!” Sterling yelled, pointing his spear menacingly at the griffon.

Free fled, but his laughter floated back to the irate Guard. Sterling shook his head in disbelief. “Celestia help me – what shenanigans am I going to have to put up with from him tomorrow?”

Bazztuk knew a good time to keep being silent.

Free was enjoying his cherry delight. Stirring up the changeling Guards was becoming the highlight of the mornings. Saving his pie from the previous night’s dessert course had been inspired, and he wondered how he was going to top it. He finished it with a satisfied sigh. Unfortunately the rest of the day was already looking to be dull. Maybe Twilight would want another romantic walk? Probably not until later though. Maybe burn off all the extra energy that he had lately with a long, fast flight? He looked up into the clear skies. “Yeah, let’s see how high I can go over the shield!” He took off with renewed enthusiasm.

# # #

The advantage of having a monarchy is that when the king commands something to be done, it gets started immediately. King Glimfeather had announced the establishment of the House Path College for Warrior-Scholars, and both teachers and students would be required. Interviews for both would begin immediately. Not even Roseclaw had anticipated how rapidly things would progress, and Path was blown away by getting his first prospective instructor almost immediately after the proclamations were made. He was even more surprised when he found out exactly who it was.

“General Warfist Bloodfeather? Please come in and make yourself comfortable while we discuss your application,” said the slightly bemused Path.

The elderly griffon entered Path’s office with no sign of infirmity. While his light brown feathers and orange fur showed fading from his age, his golden eyes were as bright and sharp as a youth’s. However, unlike a young griffon, those eyes also showed a world-weariness of somegriff who had seen many battles in his lifetime.

Path sat behind his desk and considered the paperwork that Roseclaw had given him, and then deliberately set it aside. “I suppose it would be pointless asking what sort of military experience you have, although I am curious about your specialties, if any?”

“Unarmed combat, Lord Path. However, I am also very proficient with spear and arrow. I hope though that my greatest contribution will be my knowledge of tactics.”

“Excellent, but I already guessed that would be the case. The real question is why an old soldier like yourself would want to be a teacher in my college? You have a whole army of warriors at your beck and call.”

“Warriors? Pah! Brawlers at best. Besides, I am retired from the army. They had no place for an old bird like me. Now it’s all puffery and arrogance – a claim for status. The true warrior is a thing that is nearly forgotten.”

“General, I am not seeking to build my own army – I am pursuing a philosophy that includes martial abilities. What makes you think that your ideas about warriors fit with that?”

“You wish to create a caste of warrior-scholars, correct? I have knowledge of battles spanning back to before House Rockfeather rose to power.”

Path blinked and looked to Roseclaw.

She explained, “He means that he is familiar with battles going back a couple of thousand years, which is no mean feat.”

“Ah, I see. And again, how do you see this fitting best with us?”

“If it’s your intention to be true defenders, you must have equal knowledge of how to attack, or else you cannot plan to effectively cover all contingencies. To defend, you must know your enemy and their motivations. To defend, you must be able to fight well. These and much more I can teach to those willing to listen.”

“That’s very appealing, but we come back to my initial question – why would you want to join this House and be a teacher?”

Warfist grinned. “Why do I want to join? It’s not every day that a pony bests a Glimfeather, and becomes an ally of the kingdom, and that impressed me. My House never was noble, and I am the last of them. That’s the thing when you are forged in war – you either become increasingly tempered with each battle, or you eventually break. I want to pass on what I know before I am felled in battle, and this seems to be the best opportunity for me to do so. And if that isn’t enough, then I consider your goals to be worthy. You have chosen to take the path of non-aggression, and that takes more strength than most so-called warriors realize.”

Roseclaw said, “Well I think that you would be a massive boon to our House, but would you be okay with teaching other species – pony, changeling, dragons, or any that seek to join our House?”

“I will be teaching the art of war, and war knows no species, rank, nor gender. Send me students and I will make them into warriors if they are worthy.”

Path stood up and held out his hoof. “Welcome to the House of Path, General.”

Warfist took Path’s hoof in his talons and shook it solemnly. “Thank you, your lordship. Please call me just Warfist though because I am no longer a general. I am a warrior-scholar.”

Path grinned. “That’s the spirit! And you already have your first student.”

“I do? Who would that be?”

“Did you see my duel with Ravenwing?”

“Yes, I did.”

“And you saw my special magic attacks?”

“Again, yes.”

“If you and I faced off in the arena, could I defeat you?”

“You would lose badly, sir.”

“Exactly. Teach me to not lose that badly.”

Warfist grinned. “My pleasure, Lord Path.”

# # #

Path and Roseclaw received a surprising number of applications that day and the next. It seemed that their notoriety from the both the pub and the duel had caught the interest of the population, especially the younger griffs that Path most wanted for the college. He even had a few parents bring along their younger children, hoping to enroll them in the new school. It was obvious that some of them were seeking a better life for their chicks, and Path was certainly empathetic with that, but some of them just as obviously were status-seekers, and were rejected.

Warfist insisted on sitting in on the interviews, and Path and Roseclaw were grateful for his insight. He caught out many in lies, and intimidated those who would not have made good warrior material anyway. A few of the more arrogant decided to challenge Warfist to show off their prowess. Few of those got to join the House.

“Now get out of here before I really get mad!” Warfist told the griffon who was sprawled on the floor.

Path looked at Roseclaw and said, “I didn’t know a griffon could head-butt somebody across the room.”

Roseclaw shrugged. “Neither did I.”

“Send in the next victim!” Warfist yelled outside.

Path had initially thought to stop him from this rather intimidatory call, but he realized that the old griff was doing so deliberately in order to weed out a few of the obviously unsuitable applicants before they could waste his time. Not quite what Path would do, but he deferred to Warfist’s judgement on this.

However, this time a completely unruffled young griffoness entered Path’s office. She was lanky of build, had white feathers with numerous blue spots, bright white feline fur, and a bright blue tail tuft. Oddly, she had a bow slung over her shoulder and a quiver of arrows belted to her waist, as well as a backpack on her feline half.

“Hi, I’m Techbird Sunbeak,” she said, handing over her résumé.

Roseclaw spoke up. “Isn’t the Sunbeak family a non-noble House primarily involved in agriculture?”

“You know your Houses! Yes, that does describe my House, but it doesn’t describe me. I’m horrible with plants and animals. My passions are mathematics, physics, and astronomy.”

“Oh? Say something to wow me,” Path instructed.

“Okay!” She pulled out a scroll from her backpack and got Warfist to hold it up. It amused them that she was so behaviorally blind that she was not intimidated by him. She pointed to an illustration and said, “As a teenager, I figured out the distance to the sun by observing the different angles of a vertical pole at the same time of day at two widely separated points.” At Path’s look of surprise, she added, “My family took a vacation to visit relatives in Smokey Mountain Eyrie in Equestria, and I took advantage of it,” she explained.

“I’m surprised that you even thought to do that,” Path replied.

Techbird smiled. “Yeah, but it was so cool to be able to do it! The hardest part was getting an accurate measurement of the distance between those two points; the maths was easy,” she said enthusiastically.

Path and Roseclaw returned her smile, her enthusiasm being infectious. Warfist retained a neutral expression though, and spoke up next.

“I have the feeling that Lord Path won’t need further proof of your competence in those fields, but that is only half of what it takes to join our House. What skill do you have to offer as a warrior?”

Techbird pointed outside through the open balcony doors. “See that oak tree? See where a branch was removed and left a plate-sized end facing us?”

The tree was pretty far away, but they could see what she was pointing at. “Yes, I do,” Path replied.

The griffoness had unslung her bow as they had looked, and she drew an arrow from the quiver. She nocked it, drew it back, and let it loose all in one smooth action. The arrow hit the target virtually dead center. Lowering her bow, she said, “I have always had a knack for archery.”

“But can you teach it?” Warfist asked.

“I can try, if griffs are willing to learn.”

“You won’t be teaching just griffs, you know?”

“I know! Isn’t that so cool?!”

Finally Warfist smiled. “Yes. Yes it is.”

“Well, I think we can consider your application acceptable,” Path said with barely concealed glee.

“We haven’t even asked why she wants to join our House,” Roseclaw pointed out.

“I can answer that,” Techbird said. “I don’t want to be a farmer, and that angered my family. In fact they threw me out of the house when I told them that I wanted to pursue other goals. I want to broaden my horizons and meet other species. Perhaps they will have a piece of the puzzle.”

“What puzzle?” Path asked.

“The only thing known about the puzzle is that the only attribute of the puzzle is that it’s puzzling,” she replied.

Warfist looked at Path and Roseclaw and grinned. “I like this one – she’s just the right amount of crazy.”

“Welcome to House Path, Techbird,” Path said, slightly bemused once more.

# # #

“So what have you got in store for me today?” Sterling Shield asked in a resigned tone.

Free was silent for a long moment before saying, “Pretty please?”

Sterling was surprised. “That’s it?”

Free shrugged. “I’m dry. Can’t think of anything else that wouldn’t be outright nasty.”

“Then why did you bother coming here this morning?”

Free’s expression hardened. “Because I am genuinely concerned about security, and I can’t help feeling that we’re all overlooking something here. I’m going to keep coming back until I figure it out.”

Sterling nodded. “If you do, don’t hesitate to tell me.”

“Of course.” Free turned to leave, but paused and looked back. “You gonna come to that dance competition I’ve organized for tonight?”

“And give you a chance to mock my dancing abilities?”

“Naturally,” Free replied with a grin.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Sterling reassured him.

“Great! Seeya!”

Free’s grin faded as he left the building. Once more he was left with practically nothing to do, and he wondered what could fill in the rest of the day. He spotted Twilight walking between the buildings and went over to join her. “Hey, Twi. What are you up to?”

“Just fetching some materials from the stores to make a few more of my talkie-trotties.”

“Need help?”

“Bored again?” Twilight asked.

“Uh-huh. I think that’s Chrysalis’ secret attack – boring us to death.”

Twilight giggled. “Yes, that seems likely.”

“Seriously though, how much longer can we keep this up? Rarity needs to get back to her shop; Applejack is champing at the bit to get back to farming and she’s taking out her frustration on me; Fluttershy is pining for her animals; Rainbow Dash is treating it like a holiday from her responsibilities with the Wonderbolts, but even she’s getting bored with the inaction. We can’t keep the Harmony Bearers here on hold indefinitely.”

“I know what you mean,” Twilight replied glumly. “Even I’ve been wanting to get back to Griffonia to pursue our quest. So much is happening there with Path and his new House and the college he’s establishing… oh, I so want to have a part of that!”

“Me too. I’ve always done just about everything with Path before, and this is slowly killing me.”

Twilight gave him a reassuring hug. “He’ll do okay for a little while longer, and I’m honored that you sacrificed staying with him to be with me.”

Free grinned. “It was a tough choice, but you cuddle better.”

“We hadn’t cuddled before we left Path back in Griffonia.”

“Oh, I dunno. I seem to recall a bed with two ponies and two griffons after a night at the pub….”

Twilight’s wings pomfed out as she recalled that event. “Umm… yeah. Wait – weren’t you still asleep?” She looked at Free’s expression and blushed. “No, obviously not.”

“You know what I’ve been dreaming of, Twi?”

“Tell me.”

“The four of us – one bed – together again and loving it. We’re a herd, Sparkles. We should be together.”

“That’s still a big step for me, Firetail.”

“I said it was a dream, but if you try hard enough, sometimes dreams come true.”

“I know. I didn’t say that I disliked it. I’ve been enjoying the progress so far. For instance, I like being able to do this now.” She then kissed him on the cheek, quite publically.

As he was in griffon form, Free could only give her a nibble-lick in return, but it was enough.

“Go fetch your paints, Free. I feel the need for a portrait done of me working.”

“As you command, my princess!”

# # #

Path had been surprised when Goldenquill had announced the visit of two griffon nobles. He had been so buried in work and the stress of organizing so many things in so short a time that he simply hadn’t had time to have anything to do with the nobility.

“I suppose I had better see them. I can’t put them off indefinitely. Send them in, ’Quill.”

The butler nodded and left, returning moments later.

“Announcing Lord Razorbeak and Lord Blacktalon.”

A white-feathered griffon with tan fur entered, accompanied by a silver-feathered griffon with black-spotted grey fur. Both wore status capes heavily adorned with their rank and accomplishments, and both had jovial expressions that instantly rang false with Path.

“Lord Path – a pleasure to meet you at last.” He held out his right foot and Path reluctantly shook hoof and claw with him, repeating it with his companion.

“What can I do for you, my lords?” Path asked.

“We are here to make you aware of an important event that had been arranged before your acquisition of this estate,” the spokesgriff replied.

“Oh? The king neglected to mention any such event.”

“Mostly because the king wasn’t directly involved, I assure you.”

“Then what is this event?”

“It’s called ‘The Hunt of the Broken Wing’, and it was to be held on Ravenwing’s estate this year. While he obviously cannot lead the hunt anymore, nevertheless it is too late to organize an alternative. As the new lord of this estate, we expect that you would want to grab this opportunity to host the hunt anyway. It’s a very prestigious event, and could boost your status considerably. A young lord with such a new House as yours would not usually get this honor.”

“Exactly what would be my involvement with this hunt?” Path asked suspiciously.

“As it would be on your estate, you have the privilege of leading the hunt.”

“And how could I do that? I cannot fly.”

“Ah! But that isn’t a problem at all. The hunt is called by that name because it is a test of a griff’s ability to hunt despite being incapacitated. It is done entirely on the ground, and I believe running is well within an earth pony’s ability?” Razorbeak said smugly.

“Ponies don’t hunt,” Path countered.

“You only need to lead the hunt, if it bothers you. The other members will happily take the privilege of making the kill.”

“Just what are you hunting?”

“Any medium to large prey. It’s symbolic of a griff being able to sustain his family under adversity, so the bigger, the better.”

Recalling that in the past, ponies were considered fair game, Path asked distrustfully, “Do you hunt pony slaves or any other sapient being?”

Razorbeak smiled reassuringly. “It would only be the wild beasts on your estate.”

Path mulled it over for a while. The concept of being in a hunt at all was repugnant to him, but he was now in a wholly different situation where he needed to constantly compromise to deal with what were normal social conventions for griffons. This was a lot more extreme than he was used to, but it had larger social implications also. As he had been told, status was everything to these griffs, and his fledgling House could ill afford any setbacks right now. “When would this hunt be held?”

“In two days’ time,” Blacktalon replied.

“I will give you my decision tomorrow morning. That should give you plenty of time to advise the members of the hunt.”

“Excellent! We look forward to hearing your decision.”

Both griffons got to their feet.

“Until we meet again, farewell, Lord Path,” Razorbeak said smarmily.

“Until then,” Path replied.

When the nobles were gone, Path called out, “ ’Quill!”

The butler stepped inside Path’s office and said, “You called, sir?”

“Please arrange a meeting with the king at His Majesty’s soonest convenience.”

“Yes, milord.”

# # #

It was perhaps indicative of the king’s own interests that Path was able to secure a prompt appointment, and he and Roseclaw were in the king’s audience chamber little more than an hour later.

The Hunt of the Broken Wing? Yes, it’s a legitimate event, although more of an indulgence of the nobles rather than a cultural event. However, it’s precisely for that reason that it has much ability to affect your status.”

“Then you’re recommending that I accept it?” Path asked.

“On the face of it, I would. However, it’s also very strange that they would offer it to you. It certainly could be hosted elsewhere, and young lords like you with brand new Houses simply don’t get offered the privilege normally.”

“Yes, they did point out the honor they were giving me.”

“Those nobles never give away such honors lightly. Also, both Razorbeak and Blacktalon were, or perhaps still are, cronies of Ravenwing. It seems suspicious to me that they would be encouraging you to participate.”

Roseclaw said, “The nobles haven’t been very happy with some of the changes that have been happening because of Path. Could it be their attempt to have a little revenge by making him do something that would normally be anathema to him?”

“An excellent point, and not something that I would put past their petty minds. Maybe even suggested by my idiot nephew.” The king sighed.

“Can’t choose your relatives, even when you’re a king, can you?” Path asked.

Glimfeather grimaced. “That’s true of any species. Anyway, even bearing all this in mind, it would still be to your benefit to host the hunt. At this point, you need every bit of status and support from the nobles that you can garner.”

“So, suck it up and deal with it?” Path concluded.

“And watch your back,” Glimfeather added.

“That’s what I’ll be doing,” Roseclaw stated with a cold finality.

# # #

To alleviate boredom and burn off his restlessness, Free had organized some competitive athletic games for the off-duty troops that morning. He had just finished a flying race with some pegasi and a couple of changelings, and only managed third place. Admittedly trying to beat Rainbow Dash had been a forlorn hope, but being beaten by gloomy old Hailstorm had been annoying. He didn’t understand why, but something was bothering him, affecting his performance. He had just started resting up from his race on a small cloud that had been parked there by for their convenience by a weather pegasus, when he heard Twilight calling his name. Looking over the edge, he spotted her flying in his direction.

“What’s up, Twi?” he called out.

“Free! There’s a call on the talkie-trottie! Hurry down!” the alicorn told him urgently.

Free launched himself off the cloud and power dived to meet her. Path never called at this time, so it had to be something urgent. They nearly crashed through the door of their accommodation in their haste, and the communication device was loudly ringing on the cupboard.

Free snatched up the talkie-trottie and said, “Path! What’s wrong, buddy?”

It was not Path’s voice that answered him though. “It’s Rose, Free. A terrible thing has happened.”

“Where’s Path? Has something happened to him,” Free asked with a hint of panic in his voice.

“He’s in the bedroom, and he’s not hurt – at least not physically. Just listen for a moment.”

As Free and Twilight listened, they could hear the muffled sound of crying which grew louder as Roseclaw apparently carried the device closer. And it was not mere weeping but heart-rending sobs and the occasional wail. Then the sound faded again as Roseclaw withdrew from the source.

“Rose! What’s happened to him? Why is he crying like that? I’ve never known him to cry – ever! He’s always been so tightly self-controlled.”

“It started with ‘The Hunt of the Broken Wing’ that we told you about. The nobles gathered at our estate as planned, and we set off on the hunt….”

# # #

So far things had not been too bad for Path. As a natural runner, he had the advantage over the griffons, and it allowed him to retain the nominal lead. However, several griffons had spread out to try to find and flush out potential prey, so where they had been exactly in relation to him had been unknown. It had taken nearly an hour to find something bigger than a rabbit, though, but eventually they had a small deer on the run. The griffons and he had almost encircled the prey though, and before long, they had it trapped, its every move quickly countered by a grinning griffon. Then one of the nobles pounced and pinned it to the ground.

“Lord Path,” the noble called. “Do you wish the honor of the killing blow?”

Path’s nose wrinkled in disgust at the thought as he beheld the helpless creature before him. “No, that ‘honor’ is all yours.” He turned his head away so he would not have to witness the sight, disgusted with himself for having even participated this much.

“No, please don’t,” a small, trembling voice said.

Path’s head whipped back around to see the deer gazing desperately at his captor with his bright, intelligenteyes. “NO!” he screamed at the noble, lunging at him to try to stop the fatal blow… too late.

That was a sapient deer!” he yelled at the noble.

“Not a terribly clever one if it strayed onto griffon land,” the noble replied.

Path whirled around to face Razorbeak. “You promised me that you wouldn’t be hunting sapient beings!” he roared at him.

“I said we would be hunting wild beasts. It seemed pretty wild to me,” Razorbeak replied with a smirk.

Path’s fury mounted. “Get out!” he screamed at Razorbeak, and then whirled around to address the rest. “Get out, all of you! Get off my land before I buck you all to Equestria!” Magic began to glow about his hind hooves, and the griffons hastily started scrambling away, knowing exactly what that meant. The noble who had killed the deer tried to take it with him though, and that slowed him down. With a fearful scream, Path spun around to face away from him, and released the thunderhoof. A crash of thunder rocked the forest, and the griffon was buffeted hard by the shockwave. He lost his grip on the carcass and it dropped to the ground. However, he had managed to get far enough out of range to not be knocked out of the sky, and so he painfully flapped away out of reach of the furious earth pony.

Path staggered over to the dead deer and the anger abruptly drained from him. He collapsed to his knees and he laid his head upon the deer’s body. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I should never have agreed to this hunt! I thought I was being manipulated but I still went ahead because I thought it necessary. I didn’t know! I just didn’t know! I’m such an idiot! I’m so sorry!” He burst into incoherent wailing at that point, great sobs wracking his frame.

Roseclaw had witnessed all this helplessly until now. She went over to him and laid a wing over her mate. “It wasn’t your fault, Path. If anygriff should have seen this coming, it should have been me. I should have stopped this before it happened.”

However, Path was beyond listening at this point, lost in a sea of self-recrimination and remorse. The wailing and the tears continued unabated for a very long time.

# # #

“I ended up having to carry Path all the way back to the castle, and he’s now in our bed. I still can’t seem to get through to him though. I can’t console him at all. Free – Twilight – what can I do?”

Free replied, “Just keep trying for however long it takes, Rose. He has to respond eventually.”

Twilight said, “I’m going to order the Skylark to depart immediately to pick you two up. I’ll send a doctor along with the crew. Even if Path responds before the Skylark gets there, I still want you back here. There could be serious psychological harm done if left untreated.”

“Can Skylark swing by here and pick us up before heading to Griffonia, Twi?”

“It could, but it would mean losing far too much time. I’m supposed to give advance notice if I need its services, and last I heard, it had been sent to Fillydelphia on official royal business. It means that they are actually closer to Griffonia right now anyway. Besides, I can’t leave this post as yet.”

Free slashed the bedding in frustration, and Twilight gently put a hoof on his shoulder. “I want you to go too, but it’s best for Path if we get him back here as soon as possible.”

“I know, Twilight, but this has got to be the most frustrating thing to ever happen to me. He’s my brother! He means as much to me as my parents, and you too. I don’t know what I’d do without him!”

“He has so many who love him, Free. We’ll help him, believe me.” She pulled him into a hug to reassure him.

“Rose,” Free said in a pleading voice, “Give him my love.”

“If that will help him, of course I will,” she replied.

# # #

“Are you okay, Free?” Sterling Shield asked.

The griffon had wandered in as usual after breakfast, but instead of approaching the changeling Guards, he just stood there listlessly, barely even bothering to look around. He sighed and said, “Sorry, guys – my heart isn’t in it this morning. Seeya.” He then turned about and left.

“What’s up with him?” Bazztuk asked.

“He got some very bad news yesterday. Rookie, you’re getting to see one of the disadvantages of a changeling getting emotionally bonded to a pony. While the highs are very high, the lows can be painfully low.”

“I thought he was courting Princess Twilight though, and she’s fine, isn’t she?”

Sterling frowned. “You really need to be more observant if you’re going to make a good Royal Guard. It’s not the princess who has caused this. Free’s an unusual changeling, perhaps unique. He was brought up outside the hive as a griffon, and he bonded with his childhood friend, Long Path, an earth pony. He’s in Griffonia at the moment, and from what I’ve heard, he’s had a very nasty incident that has left him incapacitated. Free is suffering because of this.”

Bazztuk grimaced. “If that’s what happens, I don’t know if I ever want to bond with a pony.”

“Junior, you don’t know what you’re talking about, so shut up and mind your post.”

“Yes, sergeant!”

# # #

“Twilight, I want to go to Canterlot to wait for Path.”

“Free – you know he won’t be back for a few days yet. There’s no point in going to Canterlot right now.”

“Yeah, I know, but it would make me feel that much closer to seeing him again.”

Twilight sighed. “Maybe, but you would be there without emotional support, and that would be worse for you, and no help to Path. Besides, I need you here still.”

“Doing what? It’s not as if I’m the only one here who can detect changelings, or a trained fighter like the Royal Guards.”

“No, you’re not. You’re a pain in the plot, free-thinker who sees things a different way from us regular ponies and changelings. You keep telling me that you think there’s something not quite right, and I believe you, so I need you to stay alert and watch for it.”

Path smirked a little. “Pain in the plot?”

“Yes – outrageous and frustrating too.” Then she nuzzled him. “Also endearing, thoughtful, loyal, and fun. Just what I need to keep me from getting to be a boring old bookworm. After all, I can’t be around my friends all the time and still do my work, but a coltfriend? Somepony who I can count on to support me? I think that I might keep him around.”

Free managed a real smile this time. “I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me yet. Okay, I’ll stay. So what are you going to do now?”

Twilight’s expression took on a more serious tone. “Being cut off from Path just highlights how I can’t be in more than one place at a time, and if I’m going to fulfil my role as Princess of Friendship, not to mention my part as a member of House Path, I’m going to have to look into some contingency plans. I’m going to the city to discuss some things with Cadance and Shining Armor. I wish I could bring you along, but….”

“Yeah, I know – no Alicorn of Awesomeness again.”

Twilight kissed him on the cheek and grinned. “Right. How much awesomeness can one mare take?”

Free actually laughed at that. “Come back as soon as you can, okay?”

“I will, I promise. Bye!” Twilight took off and started flying in the direction of the city before her horn lit up and she teleported away.

# # #

Twilight did not return until mid-afternoon, but she spent the rest of the day in the company of Free.

The word from Roseclaw that evening was not very reassuring. Path had apparently cried incessantly until at last he had slipped into an exhausted sleep. No one could say though whether it would help, or whether it would all start again when he woke. None of them slept well that night.

# # #

Despite his restless sleep, Free woke up with energy to spare. He got out of bed, careful not to disturb Twilight, and headed for the bathroom.

Some benefit to sleeping near a source of ambient love,’ he mused as he made his morning ablutions. He sighed. ‘I’d trade it in a heartbeat to be with Path right now though.

He was considering whether to wait for Twilight to wake up or head off for breakfast when he heard her sleepy voice say, “Morning already? Ugh!”

Free smiled. Twilight hardly needed an alarm clock because she usually woke bright and early, eager to start the day. Normally it was she who had to drag him out of bed. “Hey, Twi, want to go with me to breakfast?”

“Huh? Oh! Just a minute, Free. Let me freshen up first. I won’t be long.”

Free waited patiently for the alicorn, knowing that unlike some mares, when Twilight said she wouldn’t be long, she meant it. Sure enough, she quickly reappeared with her mane tamed back into its normal style and ready to face the new day.

They headed off to breakfast, finding Applejack already there as usual. The farm mare always got up at dawn and complained about how she always had to wait for the rest of the sleepyheads. Twilight and her friends made it a point to start the day together, so poor Applejack usually had to wait around the longest for the last member of the group to arrive. Inevitably that was Rainbow Dash.

“Hi, girls! Morning, Beaky!”

“Morning, Crash,” Free replied.

After flip-flopping for a while, Rainbow had decided that Free was cool, and they had started trading good-natured insults. Rarity still thought him to be uncouth, but otherwise gave him the benefit of the doubt. Applejack remained the sole sticking point, perpetually suspicious of Free’s motives. She was why he preferred to wait for Twilight before going to breakfast.

With breakfast done, they parted company, and Free headed off to the portal building to take out some of his frustrations on the changeling Guards. He had thought of a real zinger to pull, and he was eager to try it out to help keep his mind off other things.

From the moment he stepped inside the office though, Free sensed that something felt wrong. He could not put a claw on it though – everything looked the same, including his intended victims – Sterling and Bazztuk – standing guard. As he approached them though, something odd happened: they regarded him with confused expressions – expressions that he had seen before. For a moment he struggled to recall when, and then his heart started pounding as he remembered. Rather than the zinger he had planned, he simply said, “I’m ready to go through now.”

To his dismay, they stepped aside and let him through. He trotted hastily down the hallway and around the bend before they decided that something was wrong. As expected, two unicorns waited near the end of the passage, but their glassy-eyed stares were disconcerting.

“Open the portal!” Free commanded in his most authoritative voice.

“Open the portal,” they echoed in a toneless drone, and did exactly that. Free dashed through the opening and into the room beyond. There was an ordinary room beyond with an ordinary door to the outside. The room obviously was used to station earth pony Guards – obvious because four of them were unconscious on the floor. Free hoped that they were only unconscious. He dashed out the door and could see the rear of the building for the first time. It was utterly unremarkable except for the fact that he should never been able to realize that fact. He raced around the corner to try to find someone in authority, only to smash into the changeling barrier.

“OW! What the bucking hay?! Should’ve known the bucking thing works both ways. Where’s a soldier when you need one?” He looked around frantically and finally spotted Twilight heading for the store. “Twilight!” he yelled, waving his wings frantically to try to gain her attention. Fortunately she noticed, and changed course to meet him.

“What’s wrong, Free?” she asked, puzzled at the panicked look on his face.

“We’ve got a huge problem, Twi.”

“What problem?”

“This!” Free stood up on his hind legs and leaned against the invisible barrier.

Twilight’s eyes widened in realization. “You’re on the wrong side of the barrier! How did you do that?”

“The changeling Guards – they’re not ours! I think they’re Blues. The unicorn portal-keepers are bewitched. I asked and they just let me through. Twilight – I think Chrysalis is making her move!”

Just then, another of the frequent whirlwinds roared out of the farmlands and started moving through the outpost. Twilight threw up a shield to protect them both from the wind and dust, so they were quick to see that as it passed, ponies stepped into view from the concealment of the whirling debris. They seemed to be ordinary unicorns, earth ponies, and pegasi, all in Equestrian soldier uniforms the same as that of any other soldier based here. There was also a larger than average unicorn mare in officer’s uniform bringing up the rear.

Free pointed at the soldiers. “Twi – I can’t taste any emotional energy coming from them. They’re all changelings! They’re heading inside the portal building!”

Twilight started to head to the back of the building. “We’ve got to close off the portal!”

Free hastened after her, but before they got to the door, changelings started pouring out.

Twilight immediately powered up her horn and started firing magic bolts at them. Free leapt at another with talons extended, slashing viciously, while trying to clamp down on his mounting fear. He grabbed one more, but yet another jumped on his back, seeking to sink his fangs into Free’s neck. This would normally paralyze a pony for the changeling to feed on their love, but Free was a changeling also, and all it did was inflict a painful wound. Free screeched and snapped with his powerful beak. The injured changeling was knocked off, and Free finished off the changeling in his claws. They tried to force their way into the doorway, but more changelings poured out of the portal faster than they could deal with them, pushing them back. Twilight threw up a shield, temporarily blocking their exit, but they immediately started battering away at it, just as they had against Shining Armor’s at Canterlot.

 

 

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