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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13. Chapter 12: There's No Place Like Home!

Before they had retired for the night, Twilight had left word with Quiet Words that Long Path was okay, and they would be returning in due course to continue their work there. She had asked him to pass the talkie-trottie to Warfist in the morning so that they could update him also, and get any news from the House. Twilight vowed to make sure that there were more of her devices to spread around to key people in future. Instant communications was proving to be very important, and she intended to have a talk with the Council of Mages about further developing her invention for greater functionality and convenience.

All four slept in late that morning. Both Twilight and Roseclaw woke before their partners, but chose to stay with them until they also woke. Twilight’s emotional support continued to help Free’s recovery even as he slept, while Roseclaw simply wanted to be with her mate now that he had recovered. She was there for him from the moment that he opened his eyes, and they reaffirmed their love.

Because they had all retired very early, their breakfast was not too late in the morning, but it did drag out a good deal as they caught up with the details of their experiences while they had been separated. It might have gone on for even longer if they had not felt the need to contact Warfist, and they all gathered in Twilight’s palace apartment.

“It’s good to hear from you again, Lord Path,” Warfist replied. “I was confident that you would recover with your friends’ help.”

“Thanks, Warfist. It was Free Agent’s help that I mostly needed. I look forward to introducing him to you.”

“I look forward to meeting him. I hear that he has already made a big impression on the common griffs.”

“That’s his special talent, I reckon. Anyway, it will have to wait for a few days because I’m under orders to rest for a few days, and he’s recovering from battle wounds.”

“Battle?” Warfist asked, his voice giving away the curiosity aroused in the old griffon.

“Free was instrumental in saving the Crystal Kingdom from invasion by changelings. He got pretty banged-up, but he’s recovering fast.”

“I was under the impression that he was artist caste?”

“Free has many hidden talents, and it’s best not to underestimate him.”

“Wise words that I’ll take to heart, sir.”

Roseclaw said, “We’ll give you the juicy details when we get back. Meanwhile though, how are things at your end?”

“We have continued recruiting as much as possible during your absence, Lady Roseclaw. I have conditionally approved a few more, awaiting your and Lord Path’s final say. There is one I fully approved immediately though, if you will forgive my presumption. A griff hen by the name of Raza Copperquill. She has the finest knife skills that I have seen in any griff bar none. However, it’s her organizational skills that sold me. While I am grateful that you have confidence in me to leave me in charge, it takes a different skill set from mine to coordinate the many plans that you have set in motion. Raza makes it look easy, and I have already assigned her that job. With your approval, she will be your right claw as we build the House of Path.”

“That sounds great. Is Raza a noble?” Path asked.

“No – quite the opposite in fact. She sees membership in House Path as a major step up the social ladder.”

“As long as it isn’t just a perpetuation of the griffon quest for status. House Path must stand for more than that, even if she is otherwise excellently qualified.”

“I have already enrolled her in the House ethics program, sir.”

“One step ahead of me as usual, I see. I look forward to working with her. Any other news?”

“On the subject of nobles, yes – two in particular, actually.”

Path’s mood sunk. “Let me guess – Razorbeak and Blacktalon?”

“Correct.”

“Mocking me, I suppose? Poor pony breaks down after seeing a deer killed?”

“That was the case, sir.”

Was?

“One does not mock a lord with impunity; especially the head of a House. Other members of said House might take exception….”

# # #

Warfist studied the invitation and pondered his response. While he was not a noble, his military rank had earned him regular invitations to high social functions for many years. However, unless he was obligated for some important reason, those invitations invariably ended up being thrown out. His status might put him on the same level as the nobles, but he had little but contempt for the majority of them. Most lived on their rank and achieved very little with their lives. Others were born into warrior Houses, but had never truly earned their caste. He felt no desire whatsoever to socialize with them.

This, however, was a golden opportunity. Razorbeak’s party was obviously the griff’s excuse to boast about the recent hunt and his coup in hurting Long Path. Lord Razorbeak was going to regret that he did not personally select the invitees.

When Warfist turned up at Razorbeak’s castle, the griff servant at the door looked at the former general curiously, never having seen him before. However, the invitation that he carried was genuine, so he admitted him. Warfist had deliberately turned up later than most in order not to be conspicuous, and he mingled with the crowd. His relative obscurity kept most from even trying to initialize conversations with him. When they did, inevitably most of what they talked about was boring and trivial, but it did enable him to listen out for the important things without really missing anything, or having to respond. However, it did not take long for the moment that he was waiting for to arrive, and Razorbeak started conversing with a group of fellow nobles.

“You should have seen his expression when he realized that the deer was sapient. The fool never realized that his lands are grazing grounds for a whole herd of them.”

Blacktalon added, “He started crying over the corpse. What sort of lord cries over prey?”

Razorbeak grinned, “A weak pony, that’s what. I knew that he would fold if I pushed him hard enough, and that upstart House of his would be shown up as the joke it is.”

Warfist spoke up. “What makes you feel that it’s a joke, Lord Razorbeak?”

Razorbeak eyed the old griff. “And who might you be?”

“Warfist Bloodfeather, General of His Majesty’s army, retired.”

“A true warrior! Then you of all griffs should understand what it takes to be a warrior and the leader of a House.”

“I do, perhaps more than you realize. I ask again, why do you think Lord Path’s House is a joke?”

“How can a pony understand what it takes to be a Griffonian lord and what is expected of his House? He wonhis caste, and certainly was not born noble. He seeks to undermine our very values, and attracts other weak-minded griffs to him and his bizarre causes. Where are the strengths and the proud traditions of griffon society?”

“He says he seeks to build something greater, with all species welcome in his House. Is this not a noble goal?”

Razorbeak scoffed. “He is a fool, and anyone who joins his House is a fool.”

Warfist let his self-control lapse and he flared his wings and gave out a war scream. “Lord Razorbeak, I am Warfist Bloodfeather, warmaster of House Path, and you have insulted me, insulted my House, and insulted my Lord! I demand satisfaction in an honor duel!”

Razorbeak had reflexively stepped back, and stared in shock. “You… you’re House Path?”

“I am, and on behalf of my House, I will defend its honor to my final breath!” He turned to look at Blacktalon. “You! You were Razorbeak’s accomplice in this matter – would you care to defend his actions?”

Blacktalon shrank back from Warfist’s glare. He was in absolutely no doubt that he was looking death in the eye. “No! It was Razorbeak’s idea.”

“Coward!” Warfist sneered, and then turned away, ignoring the griff.

Blacktalon realized that he had shown his true colors in front of a crowd of nobles, and knew that his status had just taken a huge, irreparable hit. Perhaps a duel would have been the better choice, but Warfist had been right – he was a coward.

Razorbeak meanwhile had been considering the situation. Warfist obviously had sufficient status to demand an honor duel, and his reasons for doing so would stand up. He had no choice but to accept. Unlike Blacktalon though, he knew how to fight, and was not afraid to do so. “Very well, we duel first thing tomorrow.”

“Done. We fight to the bloodletting.” While Warfist had the status to call a duel, he could not enforce anything more.

Razorbeak had other ideas though, and as head of his House, he had the rank to demand more. “No, we fight to the maiming, and all will see that the House of Path is the joke that I say it is.”

“You are an even bigger fool than you claim that I am. So be it.” Warfist then took to wing and left.

# # #

“Considering that you’re calmly talking to us this morning, I’m going to bet that Razorbeak was indeed the bigger fool,” Path commented.

“An honor duel is fought without weapons. What did I say was my specialty when I joined your House?”

“Unarmed combat – Razorbeak really didn’t do his research, did he? So how did you maim him? Destroy a wing like I did?”

“Let’s just say that his one-eyed opinions are now matched by his physical appearance.”

Path winced. “He sure got what he deserved, I suppose. What about you though? You’re not going to tell me that you got through a duel unscathed?”

“Hardly, but I’ve had worse wounds during my career. They’re not hindering me in the performance of my duties. I am glad that I have Raza to help me though. I seem to be awash with new possessions that I need to put to good use for the House.”

Path laughed. “I sure know that feeling. Warfist, I think I’ll be saying this a lot, but I am deeply honored and pleased that you joined our House.”

“For the first time in decades, I feel that I am going to make a real difference, Lord Path. It is my privilege to be part of that.”

Roseclaw added, “We are more than just a House. Our unity of purpose makes us a family, or as my mate likes to put it, a herd. I am happy to have you as part of it.”

“Thank you, Lady Roseclaw.” They could all hear true pride in Warfist’s voice.

Twilight said, “I think we had better let Warfist get on with his work – it sounds like he’s going to be quite busy for a while.”

Path nodded. “Keep the communication device with you, Warfist. We’ll check in with you at least once a day, and you can call us if you need.”

“Yes, my lord. Farewell.”

“Why doesn’t anypony like my name for my device?” griped Twilight as she set it aside.

Roseclaw giggled. “Because it sounds silly, and nobody wants to sound silly also saying it.”

Twilight just pouted.

Free put an arm around Twilight. “So you aren’t great at naming things; nobody invented something like this before, so you get that satisfaction.”

“I suppose so,” she replied with a sigh of resignation.

“So what’s next on the agenda?” Roseclaw asked.

“I want to bring Twi home to meet the folks, and tell them about what I’ve been up to lately,” Free said.

“That’s a great idea, Free. I want my parents to meet Roseclaw too. What say we go to your place for lunch, and mine for dinner? I know Thundercloud and Zephyr are likely to be home because they’re retired, but my folks are still working. I can send word to them warning them to expect guests.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Twilight said, “I need to run a couple of errands. Can I fit those in before we go to lunch?”

“Sure,” Free replied. “In fact I need to do a couple of things also.”

“I’ll take the opportunity to show Roseclaw around while you do that,” Path said. “She hardly got to see much of Canterlot when she was here with her father.”

Twilight nodded. “Let’s meet back at the castle gates at midday and then go to Free’s place.”

“Okay by me,” Path replied.

# # #

Twilight had been dreading this. She had asked for the responsibility, but it was not going to be easy. She had avoided the morning rush, so she would have decent opportunity to talk, but she hardly knew what she would say. She braced herself and walked into the True Brew Café. There were only a few patrons and only one customer being served, and that pony left the counter with his coffee and cake before she even reached it.

Frothy Brew’s face up lit up in pleasure at seeing her. “Twilight! It’s been a while. You want your usual?”

“Not now, Frothy. I didn’t actually come in for coffee today. In fact, I am the bearer of bad news. Are Peach and Cherry available? I’d like them to hear this also.”

Frothy was puzzled. “Peach is preparing for the lunch crowd over in the restaurant, but can spare a few moments. I don’t think Cherry has had a chance to take her nap yet because of Mocha. The young foal tends to need attention at the most awkward times.”

Twilight smiled. “Yes, I hear that they tend to do that.”

“Give me a moment while I fetch them. Mixitkl – look after the counter for a moment, please.”

Twilight fidgeted while she waited, but a couple of minutes later, Peach and Cherry had joined them in a quiet corner of the café.

“I’ve just returned from the Crystal Empire, dealing with an incursion by Queen Chrysalis, and unfortunately there were many casualties. It’s my sad duty to inform you that Sterling Shield was among those lost.”

Cherry gasped, but as expected, it was Frothy who looked as if he had been punched in the gut.

“How? What happened?”

“He was assassinated in a covert attempt to gain access through the changeling barrier. He died in the line of duty, and will be greatly missed. He and all the other Royal Guards who lost their lives that day are going to be formally buried in a ceremony tomorrow at the Canterlot military cemetery.”

“I… I need to attend, Twilight,” Frothy said.

“I expected that you would. I’ll leave word that you are to be admitted to the ceremony.”

“Thank you, Twilight. He may have been a great Guard, but to me he was a greater friend.”

As Twilight left Frothy in the comforting embrace of his wife and daughter, she could not help but think of what her feelings would have been like if Free had been one of the victims that dreadful day.

# # #

“Fired! But why?” Free asked.

“Look, Free,” his former boss began, “you’re a great physical instructor, but to instruct, you have to actually be here, and you just haven’t been for too long. I’ve hired somepony else to take your place now, and he’s more reliable than you can promise to be now that you’re gallivanting all about Equestria.”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Free glumly agreed. Then he cheered up. “Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. No hard feelings. I’ll just grab my stuff and vamoose.”

“Thanks for taking it well, Free.”

“I suppose I’ll be too busy with a lot of other things like my engagement to Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Free said casually as he headed off to the lockers.

The flabbergasted gym owner could only stare after the griffon, wondering if Free was spouting a load of horseapples, or whether he had just fired someone who could have given his gymnasium a lot of publicity.

# # #

The Dean of Canterlot University felt distinctly uncomfortable under the gaze of the very large she-griffon who had accompanied Long Path as the earth pony had reported in. He shuffled the papers that Path had given him.

“I’m sure that this is going to make very interesting reading, Mister Path. However, while you were absent, all teaching positions came up for review, and the faculty has decided to terminate your employment.”

The griffoness’ glare intensified, but Path took it equably.

“That’s unfortunate. I’d hoped that the university and I could work together in creating a new campus for the branch of the House of Path.”

“The House of Path? What is that supposed to mean?”

Roseclaw spoke up. “What Lord Path means is that he is a noble of the Griffonian Kingdom, and his noble House is in the process of establishing a college there for warrior-scholars, and he wishes to do the same here.”

The dean gaped. “Surely you’re not serious? A pony lord in Griffonia? It could never happen.”

Path grinned. “I know it sounds impossible, but I assure you that it’s true, and if need be, I can call on Princess Twilight Sparkle as a witness. Oh, and she’s a founder of the House also. However, what you believe is irrelevant because I intend to set up the college with or without the university’s help.”

The dean threw Path’s papers back to him. “Get out! You’re not going to pull a fast one on the faculty while I’m in charge. I’ve never heard such a pile of horseapples in my life! Take your things and leave!”

Path shrugged and picked up his report. “Let’s go, Rose.”

If looks could kill, Roseclaw’s gaze would have slain the dean on the spot, but she followed Path out of the office without a word. Once outside though, she let her feelings known.

“What a pompous buffoon! How can you be so calm about this? Things are going to be a lot harder without the university’s support.”

“That was before Warfist substantially increased our resources. Yeah, it’s still going to be a little harder, but it has the advantage that we’ll be totally independent now. As for being calm, I just have to picture the dean’s face when he learns that we told him the absolute truth, and he threw away the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Roseclaw thought about that for a moment, and then her beak split in a grin. “Yes, that is a most satisfactory mental picture. I for one will be happy to follow it up with a personal visit to rub it in his muzzle.”

“Now, now, dear, no need to trouble yourself. I’ll be happy to do that for both of us.”

Roseclaw giggled. “Yes, my lord.”

# # #

The foursome met up promptly at midday and headed off in the direction of Free’s parents’ home. As they walked, they exchanged accounts of what they had done that morning.

“So you’re unemployed too?” Path asked.

Free shrugged. “I liked the job, but I wasn’t married to it. I like to think that it’s an excuse to concentrate on other things now, like House Path stuff, and my art. It’s not as if I will have to worry about being able to pay the rent anymore. Oh, crap! I haven’t paid the rent lately. We better see the landlord tomorrow.”

“I don’t think you need worry about a roof over your head,” Twilight pointed out.

Free shook his head. “Maybe not, but we still have all our stuff that we left there.”

“Good point,” Path said. “We better do something about that very soon.”

“I have a suggestion – I have a castle in Ponyville with tons of spare rooms. If you like, you can store your stuff there.” Twilight moved closer to Free to rub up against his flank. “I even have a special room for us.”

Path looked at his griffon friend curiously. “Free?” That one word conveyed a plethora of questions.

Free just gave him a huge grin that gave an equal number of answers.

“Congrats!” Path told them both.

“I am happy for you, House Sister,” Roseclaw added.

It was a very happy and carefree group that arrived at their destination. Unsurprisingly, it was a house located right next to one of the cliffs that delineated Canterlot. A rear exit gave immediate access to open skies which suited the large griffons who preferred more room to take off than pegasi. The street side though was an unremarkable two-storey dwelling, and unless you knew otherwise, it could have been home to ponies also.

“Here we are – home, sweet home,” Free declared as he rapped on the door.

Very shortly, the door was opened to reveal an elderly griffoness, grey of feather and fur, although the feathers were ticked with black markings that were quite attractive. She was also much larger than Free, although not quite as big as Roseclaw.

“Cirrus! Where have you been for so long? Don’t you want to visit your parents anymore?” she scolded him.

“It’s Free Agent now, mom – don’t you remember?”

“Call yourself what you like, but you’re always going to be my little Cirrus. And speaking of little, when are you ever going to grow up? How are you ever going to attract a mate and give me grandchicks?”

Free rolled his eyes. “Mom, you know I can’t do that anyway, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a mate.” He turned his head to indicate the others behind him.

The matronly griffon eyed Roseclaw. “Well, she’s pretty, I give you that, but isn’t she a bit big for you?”

“Another crack at my size already, ma? Sheesh! Besides, Roseclaw isn’t my very special somepony. Twi, come meet my mom.”

Twilight stepped up and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Ironbeak.”

The griffoness eyed her coolly before remarking to Free, “Well, I suppose a changeling is an appropriate mate for you.”

Free blinked in surprise. “Changeling? Mom – this is Twilight Sparkle, alicorn Princess of Friendship, Harmony Bearer of the Element of Magic!”

“And I’m the Queen of Griffonia,” his mother replied. “Son, I love you dearly, and you don’t have to try to show off like this. I would have been happier if she had taken a more appropriate form instead of something so unbelievable as this.”

Free’s frustration was not helped by the sniggering that he heard coming from Path. “I know this sounds incredible, Mom, but this is the real Twilight Sparkle.”

“I really am,” Twilight said earnestly.

 

 

“Well, if you wish to keep up the pretense, I won’t nag you about it. Come on in and you can tell me what you’ve been up to while ignoring your parents for so long.”

Free shrugged and entered the house. Path and Roseclaw stepped up to the door.

“Hello, Zephyr. It’s good to see you again.”

“You too, Path. Why didn’t you bring Cirrus around to visit sooner? You’ve always been the more responsible one.”

“Busy with my castle and estate in Griffonia, while he was saving the Crystal Empire.”

“Oh, this just keeps getting better and better. I see I won’t be bored this afternoon. And this young griffoness came back with you, I suppose?”

“Yes, actually. This is Roseclaw, daughter of Far Scream, the Griffonian ambassador, and my betrothed. Rose, this is Zephyr Silverfeather, Free’s foster mother.”

“Betrothed? Now how did that happen?”

Roseclaw smiled in fond recollection. “First he won my mind, then he won my heart. He is my chosen warrior.”

“Warrior now, is it? Long Path the bookworm has won a warrior noble? Are you trying to outdo Cirrus’ tall tales now?”

Path exchanged grins with Roseclaw. “I think we both have enough to boggle your mind.”

“Well there’s no point in doing it here in the doorway. Inside with you both and make yourselves comfortable in the lounge room. I was about to make lunch; have you eaten yet?”

“Rose and I haven’t, and I don’t think Free and Twilight have either.”

They joined Free and Twilight in the lounge while Zephyr went over to the staircase to the upper floor.

“Thundercloud!” she shouted. “Come on down! Your son and his friends have come by for lunch.”

“Be there in a moment,” was the muffled reply.

Zephyr then bustled off to the kitchen.

“Well, that was unexpected,” Twilight said. “I’ve had quite a variety of reactions to me since I became an alicorn, but not outright disbelief.”

“My fault, Twi,” Free said, putting a wing around her and drawing her closer. “I never gave Mom a reason to believe that I would be anything more than a carefree bachelor with little ambition. I was happy with my life until you showed me something a lot better.”

“I don’t know, Free – it seems to me that a mother always expects more of their children than they think they can do.”

“Maybe, but I’m a rather unique case, and Mom has never had chicks of her own. I think she has been resigned to settling for raising me with low expectations.”

“Now you’re putting yourself down, and I know better than that.”

Free was about to retort, but he was interrupted by a bellowed greeting.

“Cirrus! It’s good to see you, son!”

The old griffon’s aqua feathers were fading, but obviously not his vitality. He bounded into the room, grabbed Free, and hugged the stuffing out of him.

“Awk! Easy, Dad!” Free gasped.

Free’s father let him go and stepped back to look him over. “You’re looking a little worse for wear; what’s been happening since you last visited?”

“Lots, Dad. We’ve got tons to talk about when Mom can hear it also, but for now, let me introduce my very special somepony….” Free started to indicate Twilight.

The griffon grinned broadly and said, “Princess Twilight Sparkle!” He grabbed her right hoof and shook it vigorously. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you. I hope my boy has been doing right by you?”

Twilight was a little dizzy from the sudden turnaround and introduction. “Um, yes sir. He’s been making my life pretty interesting lately.”

“That’s my son! Well done, Cirrus!”

“Please call me Free, Dad. You know I prefer that.”

“Sure! Sure! Free Cirrus Ironbeak.”

“Close enough,” Free conceded. “Anyway, Twilight, obviously this is my father, Thundercloud Ironbeak. As you might be able to guess by the paint splattered on his feathers which he has just smeared on me, he’s an artist.”

Thundercloud grinned. “If you don’t get a little paint on yourself, you’re not showing enough passion.”

Free returned the grin and said, “I take after Dad in that department. He gave me lessons as a chick, and I’m still trying to get half as good as him.”

Thundercloud turned his attention to the others in the room. “Long Path! Let me hug you, my boy! Seems like you’ve both been too busy to visit lately. And who’s this gorgeous lady?”

“It’s good to see you again, Thundercloud. This is Roseclaw, daughter of Ambassador Far Scream. We are betrothed.”

“A pleasure to meet you, sir,” Roseclaw said, extending a claw.

“The feeling is mutual, my girl! Young Path here is a fine catch for a fine noble griff like you.”

“I don’t need any persuading on that point, sir.”

Path said, “It’s okay, Thundercloud. It’s not like you and Zephyr.”

Roseclaw looked at Path curiously. “I sense a story here.”

Free spoke up. “He means that Dad was a low-born artist caste, while Mom was a high-born warrior. Mom fell in love with Dad, but Dad didn’t have the status to present his suit for her. They left Griffonia to live here in Equestria to get away from the caste system and other restrictions, and get married.”

“I see. That’s a touching story. I wonder if I would have had the same strength of commitment if Path had not gained warrior status?”

Thundercloud looked at Path in surprise. “You’re a warrior? How did that happen?”

“It came as a shock to me too. Long story.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.”

“Well you can tell us over lunch,” Zephyr said from the door of the kitchen. “Cirrus, come help me serve up the food for our guests.”

“Okay, Mom.”

“The rest of you make yourselves comfortable at the table. Food will be coming right out.”

“Just one moment, Zephyr,” Twilight said. “I have something to tell you first.”

“And what would that be?”

“Changelings can’t teleport; only alicorns and some unicorns.”

“So?”

Twilight’s horn lit up and she popped out, only to reappear at the dining table. “I’m not a changeling,” she said matter-of-factly.

Zephyr gaped as realization dawned on her. “Sweet Celestia! You really are Princess Sparkle! Oh, Your Highness – I apologize for my disbelief and rudeness. I’m honored by your presence in our home.”

“It’s okay, Zephyr – I understand. I’m here today as just plain Twilight Sparkle, Free’s special somepony, and not as a princess. I hope that we can have a nice family get-together.”

“Yes! Yes, of course. Oh, I’m so flustered right now.”

“Told ya, Mom,” Free said as he passed by with a plate of sandwiches.

“No smart beak from you, Cirrus!” Zephyr said crossly.

“It’s Free Agent now, Mom!”

Twilight giggled. “Yep, just like home.”

# # #

The four of them spent all afternoon talking, catching up on the news, their change in status, and the plans for the future. They would probably have talked on into the evening if they did not have an appointment with Path’s parents for dinner. Hugs were exchanged on the way out, and they left in high spirits.

“I like your folks a lot, Free,” Twilight commented.

“I can’t complain, Twi. They took me in, gave me love, and raised me well.”

“I didn’t even know they had a griffon in the City Guard.”

“Yeah, but as a warrior, Mom liked the work. It let Dad concentrate on his art, and look after me as a chick.”

“It makes me wonder why we don’t have more griffons in the Canterlot community. We even have one living just outside of Ponyville near the Everfree Forest, and he seems to fit in well enough when he comes into town.”

Path replied, “That’s the kind of thing that we’re trying to find out with our studies. We’ve been a little side-tracked lately with the House and Chrysalis, but we’ll get back to it eventually. Maybe we can find the opportunity to have a chat with him while we’re there to bring our stuff to your palace?”

“It certainly can’t hurt to ask. The worst that can happen is that he tells us he’s not interested.”

They ambled along in quiet amiable companionship for a little while before Roseclaw asked Path, “How are you feeling now, dear? We aren’t putting too much strain on you so soon after recovering, are we?”

“As long as we take it easy like we’re doing, I’ll be fine. I’ve had a good rest and a couple of large meals to build up my strength again.”

Free laughed. “I thought Mom was trying to fix that all in one go, the way she kept pushing food on you.”

Path grinned back. “You know she’s always acted a bit maternal towards me. Hard to believe that she’s a tough City Guard when she’s like that. Anyway, she kept stuffing you almost as much. I reckon she still thinks you’re a growing boy.”

“That’s something I’m curious about, Free,” Twilight said. “Your mother pointed out that you haven’t grown to their size, and you’re certainly smaller than any adult griffon that I’ve ever encountered. It’s not as if you can’t use your shape-changing ability to ‘grow up’, so why haven’t you?”

Free shrugged. “I’ve never really thought about it. I hardly ever encountered other griffs before we went to Griffonia, so maybe I just wanted to blend in with the average pony. Path and I are virtually the same size, so maybe I just wanted to be more like my best friend.”

“Maybe it’s time you took a slightly bigger form? It’d probably help stop your mother from bothering you about that.”

“What? I thought you liked me like this?” Free said with an exaggerated wounded look.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “I’ve liked you in all sorts of forms. A bigger one won’t make a difference to me, but might make your mother happier.”

“Your wish is my command, O Princess of my Heart.” Free looked about and then ducked into a nearby alley. A moment later there was a flare of magic, and then Free stepped back out, basically unchanged except for being a few inches taller. “Enough? Can’t grow too much in such a short time. Ponies might start wondering.”

“Good idea, and a fine start,” Twilight replied. Then she nuzzled him. “Hmm, I think I’ll have to take back what I said earlier – this does make a difference to me.”

“You like?” Free asked with a roguish grin.

“I like,” she replied happily.

“I think I’ll keep it then.”

“Hey, you two,” Path interjected, “Remember that we’re still in public before you start getting too steamy.”

Twilight blushed furiously as she realized what she was doing, and pulled away from the unrepentant griffon.

Path and Roseclaw chuckled. Neither of them cared about their significant size difference, but it was amusing to watch the reactions of their friends in the same situation.

Eventually they came to another home, this one somewhat more upmarket than Free’s parents’ house. The fact that Path had come from a fairly wealthy family compared to Free’s had never made the slightest difference to either of them though. Each had spent almost as much time at each other’s place as their own. One of the more obvious differences between their class levels was the maid who answered the door.

“It’s good to see you again, Long Path,” the maid said with a genuine smile. “And you too, Free. And these are the guests that you said you were bringing?” Her eyes widened in sudden recognition. “Oh my, are you Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

“I am,” Twilight replied with a warm smile. “But I’m not here on official business, so please just call me Twilight.”

“Uh… yes, ma’am.”

“And this is Roseclaw,” Path said.

Roseclaw gave the maid her friendliest smile, but it was clear that she was a bit intimidated by the large griffoness.

Free said, “Hey, it’s okay, Lacey. Rose may be a lot bigger than me, but she’s cool.”

White Lace nodded. “Please come in. Long, your parents are out on the balcony enjoying the afternoon sun. I suggest that you join them out there. Dinner will be served in about half an hour.”

“Thanks, Lace. Come on in, everyone.”

As they followed Path through the house, Free said, “What’s the bet that they make the same mistake that Mom did and think that Twi is your mate?”

“Don’t be too sure. Mom’s isn’t as narrow-minded as most – she’s never had trouble with you being my friend, after all,” Path said with grin. “Besides, with my mother’s connections, she might have heard something that most ponies haven’t.”

“Try not to give it away. I want to see if you’re right or me.”

They exited onto a west-facing balcony which was enjoying a colorful sunset. A black-coated earth pony stallion with a white mane was reading a rather thick book, while a green-coated unicorn mare with a dark green mane was sipping tea. She was the first to notice the group arrive.

“Winding, our son has arrived with his friends,” she said. “We also seem to have some extra special company for dinner.”

The stallion looked up and his face lit up in pleasure.

“It’s good to see you again, son. Your mother and I have been looking forward to hearing about your adventures. Ah, I see what my wife meant by special company. Welcome to our home, Princess Sparkle.”

“Thank you, sir. Please just call me Twilight though. I’m here socially, not royally, if you understand what I mean.”

Path said, “And this is Lady Roseclaw, daughter of Far Scream, the Griffonian ambassador.”

“Another unusual guest! You are most welcome also, Lady Roseclaw,” Path’s mother said with a genuine smile.

Path continued, “Rose, Twilight, this is my Father, Winding Road, and my mother, Ivory Tower. Dad’s a historian, and Mom’s on the board of the Council of Mages. I get my academic streak from Dad, obviously, but it’s Mom who got me interested in unicorn magic, and helped me figure out how to adapt it to earth pony magic.”

“Ivory and I are already acquainted,” Twilight said with a smile in the mare’s direction.

“Indeed,” Ivory agree. “It would be a little odd that the Element of Magic was not familiar with the members of the Council of Mages, and vice-versa. Twilight has managed to make quite an impact on our magical studies despite her youth.”

“Your son managed to do something that even I had not thought of yet, though. I think he owes a lot to you for that.”

“You’re too kind, but I am proud of his accomplishments.”

“You’re going to be flabbergasted by what he’s done lately then,” Free commented.

“And we’ll have plenty of time to talk about that later,” Path interjected. “However, first of all I have an important announcement to make. Mom, Dad, I have recently gotten engaged, and I’m here to show off my fiancée.”

Ivory eyed both Twilight and Roseclaw with keen interest. “Oh? Which one?”

Path winked at Free. “Told you!”

Roseclaw moved over to Path and wrapped a wing around him. “Path is my chosen warrior,” she said almost shyly. Apparently confronting her future mother-in-law was a little daunting even for a large warrior griffoness.

“A warrior now, is it? This is getting more interesting by the moment.”

“Heck, yeah, Ivy,” Free said enthusiastically. “We’ve all had quite an adventure or two in the past few months. Maybe the biggest adventure is still ahead of me. You see, Twilight and I are in a relationship too.”

That finally shook the mare. “You and Twilight? Is this your idea of a joke, Free Agent? I love you like a second son, but….” Ivory was lost for words.

Free chuckled. “Hey, I can hardly believe my luck either. Even my Mom couldn’t believe it, but I’ll declare this in front of you and anypony else who cares to listen…” Free paused to nuzzle Twilight’s cheek, and she promptly blushed. “I love Twilight Sparkle.”

When Twilight did not refute Free’s claim, Ivory was forced to accept the farfetched notion that her son’s eccentric best friend had indeed won the princess’ heart.

“I see history in the making here, Winding.”

Winding Road nodded gravely. “It has interesting implications for Equestria. My boys, you and I are going to have a long discussion on how this came to be.”

“Speaking of history, Dad, we’ve got some additions and corrections for you with regards to the last Pony-Griffon War. They’re going to intrigue you, and frustrate you also because some simply can’t be published as yet.”

“Son, if you think that will deter me, then you don’t know me as well as you think you do. However, I suggest that we move inside and start your stories from the beginning. We have all evening to hear all the details. And Lady Roseclaw – welcome to our home, and hopefully to our family.”

“Thank you, sir.”

# # #

Roseclaw managed to get comfortable enough with Ivory to relax in her company. She still spent almost every moment cuddled up to Path as if to affirm to the mare that she was serious about her relationship with Ivory’s son. Path was a little mortified when his mother brought out several photo albums to show Roseclaw pictures of him in his foalhood. Many were taken with a very young Free Agent with the colt, including one where Path was excitedly riding Free while he was flying.

“Moments later, Path fell off, but fortunately I caught him with my magic,” Ivory explained. “He never tried that again.”

Twilight said, “That might account for Path’s nervousness with heights.” She glared at Free. “You never did learn your lesson there, did you?”

Free shrugged helplessly. “I was only six then! Gimme a break, hon!”

They might have talked all night, but eventually Path had to plead weariness due to his recent debilitating experience. The foursome left in high spirits, promising to visit again before they left for Griffonia once more.

The streets were virtually deserted at that time of night. Of course the steady rain might have had something to do with that also.

“I forgot that rain had been scheduled for tonight,” Path said glumly.

“I still find it fascinating that your pegasi control the weather here,” Roseclaw commented.

“I suppose I could hold an umbrella shield over us all until we get to the castle?” Twilight suggested. She was feeling quite tired by now though, and wasn’t keen on putting in so much effort.

“”I’ve got a better idea,” Free declared. “Our place is much closer. We can crash there for tonight.”

“That okay with you, Rose?” Path asked.

“As long as I’m with you, I don’t care where I roost.”

“Seems like a plan,” Twilight said, powering up her horn and forming a large umbrella shield. “Let’s trot!”

With Path leading the way, the foursome set a fast pace.

Free kept close to the alicorn, working up the courage to ask a question. He knew it was inevitable, but it didn’t make it any less daunting. “Umm… Twi, when are we going to see your parents? I mean, we don’t have to immediately, but if you really want to…?”

“I checked this morning, and my parents are out of town at the moment. I hope they come back soon; I really want them to meet you.”

“Sure, sure, Sparkles,” Free replied, trying to keep the relief out of his voice. With a bit of luck, they would be gone before her parents returned. He would rather face Chrysalis than Twilight’s parents right now – at least he didn’t have to worry about her opinion!

They made good time to his and Path’s apartment, and were soon at the doorstep. Path fortunately still had his key in his saddlebag, and soon had the door opened. He stepped inside, groped for the light switch, and a moment later the magic crystal flared into life to illuminate the room.

“Come in and be welcome,” Path said with an exaggerated bow.

Roseclaw entered, closely followed by Twilight. Free pulled a piece of paper off the door before closing it behind them.

“What’s that?” Path asked.

Free scanned it and replied, “Notice of eviction. Apparently we’re really late with the rent.”

“Jobless and homeless – whatever will we do?” Path said melodramatically.

Free chuckled. “I’ll go see the landlord tomorrow and square us up for back rent, and to give us a chance to move our stuff out. What do you think, Twi? Start moving immediately?”

“You two are still recovering. I’ll arrange for some movers to take your things to my castle.” She looked about at the furniture and their other belongings. “Although I’m not sure how much of this stuff is actually worth taking.”

Path sheepishly rubbed the back of his head with one hoof. “We weren’t exactly much worried about the décor. It was a roof over our heads, and a place to sleep and eat. Neither of us had exactly been worried about bringing future wives here. Sorry, Rose.”

“A warrior needs no more than this,” Roseclaw pointed out. “That said, a lord deserves better.”

“Right now, I just want to get some sleep,” Twilight said.

“Allow me to show you to the boudoir, Your Highness,” Free said with an exaggerated bow and a sweep of his claws in the direction of his bedroom.

“Most gracious of you, sir!” Twilight said primly, with a barely noticeable smirk of amusement. She headed into the bedroom, with Free following close behind.

Path held out his hoof. “Will you join me, my lady?” he asked, keeping up the formal theme.

“With the greatest of pleasure, my lord,” Roseclaw replied, taking his hoof into her talons and allowing him to escort her to his bedroom.

Some minutes later, Free had switched to pegasus form in order to do some serious kissing and cuddling with Twilight in his spacious bed. Abruptly they heard a crash from the other room.

“What was that?” Twilight asked as she lifted her head and swiveled her ears in the direction of the noise. “Should we check on Path and Roseclaw?”

Free reached up to pull her head back down to his level. “My guess is that Path’s bed collapsed under the weight of a big earth pony and an even bigger griffoness. Judging by the emotions that I can taste coming from their room though, neither is particularly worried. In fact… oh yeah… that’s my buddy!”

“Free! Stop being so voyeuristic!”

“Can’t help but taste it, y’know?”

“Perhaps I can distract you?” Twilight suggested coyly.

The mare had the same aroused look that she’d had the previous night, and its effect was just as great as the feelings for him that she exuded and he savored. Suffice to say, Free did not notice what was happening in the next room for the rest of the night.

# # #

Free was the first to wake up the next morning because the previous night had charged him up with sufficient love energy that he needed little sleep. He carefully disengaged himself from Twilight so as not to disturb her too much, even though he realized by now that she was a habitual early riser. She would wake up when she was ready.

He made his way to the kitchen with the intention of making breakfast.

“Hmmm, let’s see what we’ve got that can feed two ponies, a big griff, and myself,” he muttered as he opened the coolbox. He immediately slammed it back closed as a repugnant odor wafted out. “Uh-oh. Strike one. How about the pantry?”

A search of the pantry cupboard was less than encouraging. He found a box of oats, a bag of flour, and four cans of beans. He remembered now that he had not bothered stocking up due to their taking off for a long trip. He decided that a quick trip was in order.

Free grabbed his coin satchel and headed out to the market. Hopefully it would not be too soon.

Less than half an hour later, he returned with several parcels and headed for the kitchen. On the way, he noticed the sound of the shower running, and knew that at least one person was now awake also. He began the breakfast preparations promptly, starting with heating up the stove, and then he began making some batter for pancakes. Next he sliced up some fruits that he had bought and put them on a plate. Then he unwrapped one of the parcels to reveal the slab of bacon that he had been pleased to be able to procure. He sliced some off and had it ready to fry as soon as Roseclaw and Path showed up, along with some eggs.

Twilight walked in about then, freshly bathed, with her mane neatly brushed into her usual style.

“There you are! I woke up to find you gone.”

“Sorry, Sparkles. I hoped to bring you breakfast in bed, but we were short on a lot of stuff, so I had to zip out to the market. I’ll have some pancakes ready for you in a minute, but there’s fruit there already.”

“That was thoughtful of you, Firetail.” Twilight sat at the table and levitated some of the fruit onto a plate that Free had already set there.

Free started making the pancakes, expertly turning out a stack of them in a short time. He presented them to the alicorn along with a jug of syrup and a bowl of berries.

“Wow! These look marvelous!” Twilight said with a lick of her lips.

“I’ve been the chief cook for Path and myself for years. Practice makes perfect.”

“Didn’t Path do any of the cooking?”

“Let’s just say that after sampling his efforts when we first moved in here together, I knew that he was never going to earn a cutie mark in cooking. I banned him from doing anything more than heating up a can of beans. He gets to do the cleaning up afterwards.”

Meanwhile, Twilight had started on the pancakes. “Mmm, these are good. I’m glad that I’ve got a coltfriend who knows how to keep his special somepony well fed.”

Free grinned. “Oh? Then can I tempt you with my bacon and eggs on toast?” he asked mischievously.

Twilight paused chewing and glared at the griffon. “Are you trying to spoil my appetite?”

“Come on, Sparkles – you know ponies are perfectly capable of eating meat. You have to try it out eventually.”

“Not yet, I don’t. Right now I’m still working on not being revolted by watching others eat it.”

“Better be done before the others turn up for breakfast then. I’ll wait to have mine then also. You want a drink? I’m making coffee.”

“Coffee would be good, as long as you have milk to go with it. I don’t like it black.”

“You’re in luck – I picked up a bottle of milk while I was out.”

He was just pouring out a mug for her when Path and Roseclaw made an appearance, both looking a bit disheveled.

“Hey, lovebirds, do you want to have breakfast now or shower first?” Free asked.

“Give us a moment to freshen up,” Path replied. “If you have breakfast ready, we’ll skip the shower for now.”

“Is that bacon that I smell?” Roseclaw asked.

“Yep.”

“We’ll be back soon!” the griffoness said eagerly.

“See, Twi?” Free told her smugly. “Bacon is always good!”

“Free!” she said in a tone that warned him to drop the subject.

Free chuckled and went to prepare the bacon and eggs.

Path and Roseclaw were soon at the table, and Free served them both a big plate of bacon and eggs over easy, on top of hot buttered toast. Roseclaw got stuck into hers immediately, but Path looked at his with less enthusiasm.

Path looked at Free and said, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t feel like having bacon at the moment. Could you heat up some beans for me?”

Free was surprised for a moment before he realized what was wrong. “Sure thing. Do you want some extra bacon, Rose?”

The griffoness nodded and Free forked the bacon onto her plate, leaving the eggs on toast for Path. He then headed off to the pantry to dig out a can of beans to heat up.

Eventually Free was able to sit down and have his breakfast also. “So what’s on the agenda today?” he asked before shoveling a loaded forkful of food into his beak.

Twilight had fetched her day planner and was using it to ignore the carnivorous activity at the table. “We have to attend the funeral for the fallen soldiers this morning. Before then, I’ll arrange to have some movers come by after the funeral and you two can supervise what you want taken to Ponyville, and what you want to get rid of.” She looked up to eye Path and Roseclaw. “Things like old beds, perhaps?”

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