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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16. Chapter 13: Truth Hurts Part 2

“Yes! That is the very core of my arguments that peace and understanding between all species can best be achieved by learning everything that you can about them and understanding their perspective. Could you do that for me?”

Iridia looked uncertain. “I can, but I’m not sure that I should. I will think about it.”

“I hope you'll be careful if you try that out,” Roseclaw said with some concern.

Path gave her a nuzzle and said, “Fortune favors the bold, dear.”

Roseclaw sighed and nodded. “You are a dauntless warrior, I know.” She changed the subject to take her mind off her concerns. “Is that green stuff that the attendants are feeding the nymphs the emo-gel that you mentioned?”

“Yes, it is. They also are fed regular food to grow their bodies.”

“I find it fascinating that you can take emotions and store them as a physical object. How do you do that?”

“To us, love and other emotions are just a form of energy that can be stored. The gel is a matrix for that energy. Think of it like a battery.”

“What would happen if I ate it, or a pony? Is it harmful to us?”

Iridia’s lips curled in amusement. “No, it is physically harmless, but you would receive no energy benefit from it like us. You probably should not bother trying it. Speaking of eating though, this would be about dinner time for you all, and I’m feeling a bit hungry also. Would you be interested in having a meal?”

There was a general consensus that food would be good at this time, and so Iridia led them back towards the kitchens, but diverted to a huge hall nearby. It was filled with tables at which dozens of changelings were seated, eating. At the rear of the hall was a counter where more changelings were lined up, apparently being served.

Iridia explained, “This is our main meals hall. There are no set meal times here, and food is served 24 hours. While it is possible to get some variation in what is served, especially if you’re royalty,” she added with a wink, “everyling is normally served the same thing – a balanced meal of some sort of protein, vegetables, fruit and perhaps some treat. If you care to join me in the queue, we can all get a good meal.”

They all joined the changelings in line, and patiently waited for their turn to be served. Meanwhile they ignored the stares of the curious drones, but were never bothered by them, perhaps warned off via the hive-mind. The servers looked a bit uncertain when it came to their group, but then they shrugged and handed them a tray each laden with small portion of appetizing food. Twilight was relieved to see that the protein in question was mushrooms this time. She did not want to have to look ungrateful by rejecting any meat. One additional thing that surprised her was the inclusion of a small cup of what had to be emo-gel. It made sense that it would be served along with the rest of the food. They got their minimal food requirements and energy requirements all at one sitting.

Iridia said, “I know that the food portions are a bit small for ponies or griffons, but it’s okay to go back for a second helping. As I said, this is just a standard meal for the drones. Queens and breeders need more also.”

While mass-produced, the meals were nevertheless interesting and tasty, and they all finished their first course and went back for seconds. Twilight felt replete after that, but she eyed the cup of emo-gel speculatively. She had noticed that Free tried it out too, and he’d had a look of pleased surprise on his face. “She did say it was physically harmless, so let’s see what it tastes like,” she murmured.

She picked up the cup and drank the contents. It had a faintly honey-like taste, but the texture of jello, and it slid down her throat quite easily. “Well, that was a bit of an anticlimax,” she decided before she looked up and noticed Free looking at her in surprise.

“What? I just wanted to try it out. It wasn’t bad. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I liked it.” She picked up the cup from her other serving and tipped that into her muzzle also.

Free squawked in alarm, bringing the situation to the attention of the others.

“You didn’t, did you?” Path asked, half in amusement and half in concern.

“Yes, I did, and I love it!” Twilight declared as a slow, goofy grin spread over her face. “In fact, I loved the whole meal! I love this meal hall, and I love these changelings!” She started nuzzling Free enthusiastically. “I love you too!”

“That’s odd, I don’t taste it coming from you,” Free replied.

Iridia said, “That’s because pure love is metabolized directly, and not wastefully radiated out like it normally does with ponies. You won’t taste any of it.”

Twilight rambled on. “I love your feathers – they’re so soft… and feathery. And I love your fur – it’s so wonderfully brown. I love your bright red tail… ooh, I love how it twitches!”

“Is this going to go on much longer?” Free asked.

“Yes, and seeing as she had two cups, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

“I thought that you said that it was harmless?” Path asked.

“I said it was physically harmless; it won’t hurt her a bit. I never said that there wouldn’t be any effects though. She’s going to be loopy for a quite a while,” she added with a grin.

Meanwhile Twilight had shifted her attention to Roseclaw. “I love griffons. I love big griffons like you! I love your bright purple plumage!” She snuggled up to the startled griffoness who looked at her a bit leerily.

“Help, please?” Roseclaw uncertainly.

Path tried to disengage Twilight from the discomfited griffon hen, only to have the alicorn’s attention turn on him instead.

“Ooh, I love big, strong earth ponies! I love sexy stallions like you! I love big, strong, handsome, clever, sexy stallions.” By now, Twilight’s physical affections were getting more blatant and enthusiastic.

Path was glad that Twilight had not yet started using her magic, and could still hold back the ardent mare. “Is there some place we can take Twilight so that she can get over this without causing a big scene?”

“I’ll take you to the dormitories and find a spare room,” Iridia said, getting up from the table and heading to the door.

Path heaved Twilight onto his back and carried her away, uncomfortably aware of how she immediately started nuzzling and licking his flank.

“I love your cutie mark! It tastes like words!” she declared before going back to licking.

Path was not amused by hearing Free chuckling at the sight, but was relieved that it had at least drawn his friend out of his funk. The journey to the dormitories though seemed to last forever.

They put Twilight on the bed after struggling to detach her from Path. She protested that she loved riding him and wanted to stay, but Free craftily drew her attention to the mattress and said, “Look, Twi – isn’t this the bestmattress? I think I love it.”

Twilight’s attention was immediately focused on the mattress, and she leaped upon it and started fondling it. “Ooh, I love its feel! I love how warm and comfy it is! This must be the best mattress in Equestria!”

“Are we just going to leave her here like this?” Roseclaw asked.

“I’ll stay with her,” Free said. “It’s not as if I particularly wanted to see the hive in the first place.”

“Can you give us any idea when she’ll snap out of this?” Path asked.

“Normally ponies that have tried the emo-gel only have one cup. She’s had two, so I’m not sure. A few hours at least,” Iridia replied uncertainly.

“We’ll come back in a few hours then and see how she’s doing.”

Free asked, “What if she comes out of it sooner?”

“You can re-join with us,” Iridia replied. “Just find a drone and say my name. I’ll leave a prompt in the hive-mind for it to guide you to me.”

“Have fun, guys,” Free said, and turned his attention back to Twilight who seemed to be trying to make out with the mattress. “Hoo boy, this is going to be a long few hours.”

Twilight’s attention soon wandered to the other objects in the room, and how she loved them so much, but eventually she focused back on Free. “I love you, you silly, sneaky, funny, cheeky, griffling! I love your songs, and I love your art, and I love your kisses, and I love kissing you!” She proceeded to do exactly that, multiple times, and with great enthusiasm. Then she stopped, turned around, and lifted her tail. “And I love making love with you, you big studly cock!”

“Whoa! Not so fast, Twi! I love you, hon, but you’re not thinking straight – or is that feeling straight? Lower that tail and come over here and kiss me some more.”

To Free’s great relief, Twilight squealed in delight and did so, saying ‘Love you!’ between each kiss. He had no intention of taking advantage of her in this state, but he felt he could justify the kissing – maybe a bit of cuddling also to kill the time.

# # #

The tour of the hive continued with Path and Roseclaw, covering every aspect of how it functioned, and which parts were enhanced by their alliance with the citizens of Hollow Shades. However, after it was completed, Path revisited the idea of trying to connect to the hive-mind.

He argued, “As much as this visit has enhanced my viewpoint of changelings and their society, there can’t be any comparison to the in-depth knowledge that could be available to me in the hive-mind. I need to give this a try.”

Iridia sighed in defeat. “Okay, we’ll give this a try. Let’s find some place for you to be comfortable while you’re immersed in the hive-mind.”

She led them to a section that they had not visited before, and the room that she showed them into was luxuriously appointed in comparison to the rest of the hive.

“These are my own quarters,” Iridia explained. “Make yourself comfortable on the sofa, Long Path, and we’ll begin.”

Path climbed onto the sofa and settled down. Roseclaw sat at the end, still worried about what they were about to do, but supporting her mate’s choice.

Iridia smiled at her reassuringly. “I realize that what I am about to do will look a little dangerous to you, but I assure you that I will not harm Long Path, nor will I drain any of his love. I will only seek to connect to his chi so that I can attempt to join him with the hive-mind. The way to do so will be for me to bite him, preferably on the neck and close to his spine. Our fangs are adapted to make this connection, and it’s the only way that I can do so.”

“I understand,” Roseclaw replied.

“Me too,” Path said. “So bite me already,” he added with grin.

Iridia smiled in return before transforming into her natural form. “This will sting a little at first.” She leaned over, carefully selecting her site, and then sunk her fangs into his neck.

Path jerked a little at the minor pain of entry of the fangs. At first there was nothing more, but then as if there was a large crowd rapidly approaching from the distance, he began to hear voices – lots of voices. Suddenly his consciousness expanded, and he became aware of much, much more. He could feel the presence of the thousands of changelings in the hive – some near, some further away, and even some in the township above. There was a soft hum of connection between the entirety, and yet he could still pick up individual strands of connections. He could identify Iridia’s strand, and it pulsed in recognition of his own. His mind swept further, recognizing links to breeders, tunnelers, harvesters, farmers, nurses, teachers, and then he found Queen Dianthia’s. There was a spike of surprise before he moved on, diving deeper now, looking for knowledge. First he found the common stuff – what tasks needed to be done and how to do them, where to go, and when. Deeper yet, and he found the years of learning that some drones had put in to be able to do their tasks on top of the common knowledge. It was not far enough yet though.

Path continued to dive deeper and deeper until he could start reading the history of the hive. He saw the reaction to Chrysalis’ invasion of Canterlot. Deeper yet, and he saw the decades of peaceful cooperation with the citizens of Hollow Shades. He saw the rise to power of Queen Dianthia after the death of her mother. Then he realized that he had jumped back many centuries to the beginning of this hive and the fateful meeting of a young changeling queen with a unicorn stallion whom she had chosen to be a mate, and instead fell in love with, starting the alliance between changeling and ponies, and establishing the town of Hollow Shades. He took it all in, and went in search for more.

# # #

Dianthia looked at the pony on her daughter’s sofa and shook her head. “This was not wise. He has a strong mind, but he is not adapted to the hive-mind as we are. I felt his touch, and he was seeking unrestrained and indiscriminately. He might get lost.”

“I’m sorry, mother. He was so insistent though, and I thought it would be a valuable experience and worth the risk.”

“I understand, daughter, but some things are better learned the slow way. Meanwhile, I wonder what we can best do to guide him back?”

Roseclaw scowled. “Are you saying that Path’s mind is trapped in your hive-mind?”

“Not trapped,” Dianthia reassured her. “However, in this state, he’s unaware of the passage of time, how deeply he’s going, and how to retrace his route.”

“That says to me that he’s as good as trapped!” Roseclaw snapped back. “Can’t you just break the link?”

“No, he would still be in the hive-mind, but unable to return. He needs a guide. Someone must go deep into the hive-mind and bring him back first.”

“Then let me do it. I love him, and I want my mate back!”

“No, you would get lost also. If anything, your mind is even more vulnerable than his. If Long Path cannot make his own way back, then there’s only one person that we can send after him. Someone who knows him intimately enough to find him in the depths of the hive-mind and entice him back.”

“Free!” Roseclaw exclaimed.

“Correct. Unfortunately, Free Agent loathes the idea of being connected to the hive-mind. We had best hope that it doesn’t come down to that.”

# # #

Twilight’s exuberant loving of all the things in the room, not the least being Free, had worn her out, and the griffon was relieved when she slipped into slumber after a few hours. He was pretty worn out from trying to keep her under control. He’d had to fend off two more attempts to bang him, each harder than the previous. He studied the sleeping alicorn, wondering how he had been so lucky to win her heart. She had certainly stolen his. Once he would have banged her without hesitation, but now that was so much less important than the relationship he was building with her. He chuckled in wry amusement at the realization that he could at least claim to be a prince for his princess now. At least there was something positive coming out of this disaster. No, two things – he couldn’t wait to talk to Dad, knowing now that he was truly his father’s son.

The opening door drew his attention away from Twilight, and he saw Iridia enter the room, along with a drone.

“Be quiet,” Free said softly. “Twi’s fallen asleep, and I don’t want to wake her.”

Iridia nodded, and kept her voice down as she replied, “We have a problem, and we need you now. This drone will look after Princess Sparkle for you.”

“Where are Path and Rose?”

“Long Path is the problem. Roseclaw is with him.”

Free hastily got to his feet. “What’s happened to Path?”

“I’ll explain along the way.”

Several minutes later, Free stood beside the sofa with his best friend upon it. Path looked as if he was merely asleep, but Roseclaw’s distress was a clear indication otherwise. “So, what am I supposed to do to snap him out of this? Shake his shoulder and say, ‘Wakey, wakey!’?”

“You need to enter the hive-mind and call him back…”

“What?! After I get through telling you what I think of your hive-mind, you want me to do that?”

Iridia tried to maintain a sense of calm in the face of Free’s ire. “Yes, I do. Believe me, if we thought that we could do it any other way, we would do it.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you can’t find him in your own hive-mind?”

“Find him? Yes. Get him back? No. Right now he is focused so much on his mission, he is pretty much ignoring us. You, on the other hoof, have a stronger bond to him, and can do what we can’t.”

“What is this mission you talk of?”

“We don’t know, but it is taking him deeper and further into past memories every moment that we speak. The further he goes, the harder it will be to retrieve him.”

“So I have to decide now, or not at all?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Free sneered at Iridia. “Lady, you’re pathetic if you think my fears will stop me from saving my friend. Now get me in there!”

Free laid down in front of the sofa, and the startled changeling princess hastened to comply with his demand.

Despite his fears, Free was a little surprised at how familiar the sensation of the hive-mind was. Perhaps it was a long-buried memory of when he was still a nymph in the Blue Hive? He put aside the speculation – he was there for an important reason, and time was of the essence. He sought out Path’s tenuous link to his body, and then started to follow it. Again, the ease at which he did it surprised him, but then again he was a changeling queen. That was one reason why they thought he could do this. He tried to not let himself be distracted by the memories that flashed past him, but he could not help but notice some of them. An image of a very young Celestia with a pink mane alongside a filly Luna startled him, but he forged onwards. He saw flashes of wars with griffons and dragons, never-ending winter, and alicorns preceding the current rulers. A particularly strong though ancient memory of the changeling immigration to the land which one day would be named Equestria distracted him for mere moments as he finally realised where Path was headed.

He’s looking for the origin of the race! That could be so deep though that even I won’t be able to get to him.

Free redoubled his efforts to trace the ever more tenuous link.

Long Path was more excited than he had ever been in his life. He was learning more in the short time that he had been in the hive-mind than he had in his entire life. Every step was a new revelation, and he longed to spend more time examining it. However, he was determined to achieve his main goal, and learn the secret of the beginnings of the changeling race. If their hive-mind was true, then every significant memory since its inception would be preserved in there somewhere, and he was going to find it!

After a lengthy period, he seemed to find a focal point at last. A figure – perhaps a progenitor? It was very fuzzy and hard to pin down at first, but now that he had something to latch onto, he began pulling it into focus. He recognized the lanky, tall shape of a changeling queen, a green aura about it – maybe the first Green Changeling? He got closer, and details started to resolve – the mane, the delicate wings, the long jagged horn, the holey limbs, the… cutie mark? “Free? What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to get you out, buddy.”

“What? But why? I’ve only been in the hive-mind for a few minutes or so, and I’ve already learned so much!”

Free’s soul-form moved close to Path. “Beloved brother, you had been in the hive-mind for hours before I came in after you. It’s probably been hours more since. If you don’t come back with me now, you might never be able to come back at all.”

Path was stunned. “Hours? Truly?”

“Do you really think I would have come in here after you if it wasn’t necessary?”

Celestia herself could not have managed that feat, which finally convinced him of Free’s sincerity, and he regretfully abandoned his mission. It was only then that he realized that he had no idea how to return. “Free, how do we get back?” he asked with genuine fear creeping into his voice.

Free smiled reassuringly. “Hold my hoof, brother, and I will take us home.”

Path held up his hoof, and Free linked it with his. There was a sensation like a rubber band snapping, and the memories that Path had so laboriously dived through before, all flashed past in an instant.

Path sat up in the sofa with a gasp, his heart hammering in his chest. He looked about wildly for an instant before being abruptly smothered by a joyous griffoness.

Free opened his eyes, but he could still see the links that bound him and Free to the hive-mind. With a growl of anger, he snapped them, and he surged to his feet and glared at Iridia. “Don’t ever do that again!” he snarled. He then turned back to Path, and joined Roseclaw in hugging the earth pony.

Iridia was shaken, both by the mishap and the righteous anger of the griffon changeling. She left the threesome to themselves for the time being, and sought out her mother to tell her the outcome.

Dianthia consoled her daughter. “I am 257 years of age, and there are two things that I know to be incontrovertible truths – we always continue to make mistakes, no matter how long we live, and we continue to learn from them or fail. One day you will take over this hive, and the lessons that you have learned today will help make you a better queen. Meanwhile though, do as Free Agent says, and don’t try that again.”

“Yes, Mother.” She paused and then added, “But we all learned a lot today, didn’t we?”

Dianthia nodded. “Whether they realize it or not, both Free Agent’s and Long Path’s memories are now a permanent part of the hive-mind. We are the stronger for having our new friends as part of us.”

# # #

Path finally managed to get unburied from the griffon pile and took a deep breath. He grinned at them and said, “Kwa der esposio! Ker aben moor yan aegi hy ejarro. Bene pur gaddy mo unt fador.”

Free stared at the earth pony before replying, “Huh?”

“What’s he babbling about?” Roseclaw asked.

Path frowned in puzzlement. “Beeno hargen ka trubla?”

Roseclaw looked at Free. “Are you sure you brought the right pony back?”

“Sounds like it might be some ancient language.” Free raised his right leg, made a fist of his claws, and then rapped Path sharply on the head.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“Just a bit of percussive maintenance. Don’t ever scare us like that again, you idiot.”

“Sorry guys. I thought it was a good idea at the time. At least I didn’t come back empty-hoofed. I have enough material to write a huge treatise. I’m going to love waving that in the face of the Dean of Canterlot University.”

“Not now, you’re not,” Roseclaw said firmly. “I’ve had my fill of this hive – let’s head out.”

“Two problems with that,” Free replied. “First – Twilight needs to recover her wits again, and I’m not going to wake her up to find out if she’s okay yet. Secondly, it’s the middle of the night outside. I think we’re going to have to find ourselves beds and take off in the morning.”

“Good points,” Path agreed.

“I’ll head back to join Twi. Let’s say I meet up with you at the meals hall for breakfast if nothing else happens.”

“Okay. We’ll wait for Iridia to come back and ask her to find us a room.”

“Pleasant dreams. Please don’t wake up speaking tongues again,” Free said as he walked out the door.

“Huh?” Path replied.

“Never mind, love – I don’t care if you’re incomprehensible,” Roseclaw said as she snuggled him.

“Would somepony tell me what’s going on?” Path asked plaintively.

# # #

It was early… really early… and nobody from House Path was awake yet bar one. Path carefully disengaged himself Roseclaw and slowly crept out of the room. Now that he had all of his faculties back, he had to own up to his folly. He arrived at the royal chambers just as Dianthia and Iridia were getting ready for breakfast. He chittered to the guard and waited until he was allowed in.

“Long Path – I was not expecting you to be up so early, especially after what happened yesterday,” the queen stated as she looked him over.

Path cleared his throat in preparation for communicating with them in their own language in an effort to show as much respect as possible. He bowed deeply, his muzzle mere inches from the floor as he chittered, “I am here to apologize for my transgression, especially to Iridia. I pressured her to let me have access to the hive-mind. It was a part of changeling culture that has never been discussed in any known text from any known culture that tempted me, but in my lust for knowledge I did not listen to her valid reasons for denying me. It was my own hubris that put me in danger, worried everyone, and could have potentially damaged the hive mind. I beg your forgiveness for this, and I will endeavor to compensate you for my transgressions.”

Dianthia looked to her daughter. “What say you on this?” she asked formally.

Iridia replied, “He is correct in that he did pressure me, but I am not without fault in this matter, so I forgive him.”

Dianthia nodded and turned back to Path. “Your apology is accepted, Long Path, but I will expect two things of you as penance. First, in return for all the knowledge that you have gleaned from the hive-mind, you will be expected to add to it as fair compensation. You will return to this hive on a reasonably regular basis, and you will be guided into the hive-mind in strictly controlled circumstances to share with us everything that you have learned of other cultures through the efforts of the House of Path.”

“That seems fair and reasonable, Your Majesty.”

“Second, I will assign a Harvester to be member of your House. He will work for you, but report to me when necessary, in the same manner as Scribe does for Princess Luna.”

Path hesitated. “He would be expected to fulfill the same requirements as any other House warrior-student.”

“Of course. I will select an appropriate drone. Are these conditions acceptable?”

“They are, Your Majesty. Thank you for accepting my apology. Based on what I have learned here, I will be working on an updated version of Twilight’s original presentation on changelings that I will submit to you for your approval before showing it to the public. Right now though, I need to get back to Roseclaw.”

“Very well, we will talk more later.”

Path bowed deeply one more time before he left the throne room.

Iridia said to her mother, “I think that was a triple win for us.”

The hive queen smiled. “It was, but more importantly it was a mutually beneficial win.”

# # #

Twilight awoke to a headache and complete disorientation. If it was not for Free sleeping on the mat nearby, she might have started panicking. Then memories started slipping back and she recalled consuming the emo-gel, and then… oh, sweet Celestia! She was never going to live this down.

Twilight suffered through the recollection of all the things that she did under the influence of the concentrated love essence. Right now though, she felt strangely empty of any feeling of caring – perhaps a reaction to the overdose? One thing was for sure – it was way too easy to manipulate a pony’s emotions this way. She looked at Free again, thinking of all the times she had said she loved him and smothered him with kisses. Free Agent, the changeling child of Chrysalis, the lying and scheming power-hungry queen. How could she have been so blindly trusting? How had she not been suspicious of how quickly she had fallen for him? Her brother had warned her, and despite his firsthand experience, she had ignored him. She was such a fool!

Free stirred at that moment, and half-opened an eye to see her staring at him. He lifted his head from the mat and said, “Oh good, you’re awake. How are you feeling? Not going to smother me with kisses again, are you?”

“Not likely!” Twilight snapped.

Free blinked in surprise at the wave of negative emotions that came his way, but decided it was a consequence of withdrawal from the effects of the emo-gel. “Okay. Path and Rose are supposed to be meeting up with us for breakfast in the meals hall, and then we’ll head on home.”

With no other real options, Twilight decided to go along with him. As it turned out though, neither of their friends was there. “I thought you said that Path and Roseclaw would be here? Were you just trying to get me here to have some more of the emo-gel?”

Free gave her a puzzled look before replying, “I said we’d meet them here. It just seems that we’re here first. And no, I don’t want you touching that stuff again.”

A likely story,’ Twilight thought. ‘Lying, scheming queen. Is anything you tell me not a deception? Why didn’t I listen to Mom? I made a right fool of myself in front of her with my grandiose statements.

Twilight did not notice how the heads of the dining changelings in the hall were turning to look at her with discomfort and confusion.

Free headed to the queue to get some food. Twilight reluctantly followed, her empty belly making itself known with loud gurgling noises. When she got her tray, Twilight immediately levitated the cup of emo-gel off it before heading to the table where she sat on the opposite side of the table from Free.

For a long time, they ate in silence until Free could take it no more. “Okay, what’s bugging you so much?”

Twilight put down the apple that she had half eaten and glared at Free. “What’s bugging me is that it’s taken until now for me to see through your schemes, and how you’ve been manipulating me from the start.”

What?! What the hay are you talking about, Twi? I’ve always been open and honest with you.”

“Oh, sure – a changeling queen just happens to want me, an alicorn, as his mate. Could you possibly be more obvious? If your mother can’t get power one way, her child can get it for her in another.”

Free slammed his fists on the table. “I said don’t call her my mother! I’ve never met that bitch, and she certainly has no say in what I do.”

“You could have fooled me; in fact you did for a while with your slick words and singing and painting. You even had the gall to tell me to my face once that you wanted to bang all the alicorns in Equestria.”

“Yeah, I wanted to do that, up until I found something better. I’ve done nothing but try to make you happy, because it makes me happy also.”

“Yes, you changelings are masters of manipulating emotions, aren’t you? Well, I’m done being lied to and manipulated.”

What lies? I’ve never lied to you. Hell, I even told you I was a changeling the first day we met, and I never did that for anypony before.”

“You probably realized that I would figure it out quickly, and telling me up front would gain my confidence.”

Free looked at her incredulously. “Really? Are you going to rationalize every single thing we ever did together?”

“You mean every single thing that you did to manipulate my feelings for you?”

“I did nothing that any stallion wouldn’t do for their very special somepony!”

“Are you trying to tell me that you never used your changeling powers on me?” Twilight sneered.

“Of course I used my abilities! I used them to taste what you liked the most, and did that more. I used them to taste what you didn’t like so much, and skipped that in future. I used them to change form so that we could enjoy some other things together. I especially used them so that I could have lips to kiss you with, but I have never used them to manipulate you!”

“So you say. What about Long Path?”

“Huh? What about him?”

“You’ve been manipulating him all your life and feeding on his love. You even said it yourself how Path was so calm during the invasion of Canterlot because of you – you manipulate ponies all the time.”

Free stared at her, realizing that anything he said would be twisted around. His heart felt as if it was breaking, and all he could think to say was, “I love you, Sparkles.”

“Ha! I can’t believe anything you say, and I don’t love you,” Twilight said, turning her face away from him.

Free was shattered, and his tears started flowing. “Goodbye then, Twi.” He turned to leave, but paused and said, “Pie Fight.”

Twilight frowned and asked, “What do you mean by that?” However, he just shook his head and left the hall.

 

 

After a long moment, Twilight realized that at least half the changelings in the room were staring at her. “Oh, mind your own business!” she snarled. She lit up her horn and teleported out of the hall.

# # #

Path and Roseclaw encountered the grieving griffon on their way to the meals hall. He had collapsed only meters from the entrance, lacking the will to go on, and he simply wept. He could not understand the change in Twilight, and the flood of emotions that had been coming from her had been an incomprehensible mess. How could things have gone so wrong?

“Free! What’s wrong, buddy?” Path asked with much concern for his soul brother.

“Twilight’s left me, Path. She accused me of lying and manipulating her.”

“What? That’s crazy!” Path protested.

“Perhaps it’s a withdrawal symptom from the effects of the emo-gel?” suggested Roseclaw.

Free said, “Maybe, but she went to a lot of effort to tear down any arguments that I put up. That seems a lot more than being depressed after being high on love.”

“Whatever the case, we’re not letting this stand,” Path declared. “Where is she? We’re clearing this up right now!”

“I left her back at the meals hall.”

“Let’s go then.”

Bolstered by the positive feelings from Path, and even some from Roseclaw, Free found the strength to get up and follow them. However, the alicorn had long gone by then.

# # #

The threesome collected their belongings before visiting the throne room, where they were introduced to a rather androgynous changeling in the shape of a pegasus by the name of Proper Place. He or she had a light green coat, with blond mane and tail, and a cutie mark depicting three green claws.

“What do those talons represent?” Roseclaw asked.

“My fighting talent,” Proper Place replied, producing fighting claws on his hooves seemingly out of thin air and striking a fighting pose.

Path blinked in surprise before he grinned. “You transformed to produce the claws, didn’t you?”

The changeling grinned back. “Yes, and they’re green to conceal the flash of transformation magic that produced them.”

“That’s excellent. We’ll see if you can surprise Warfist with that. And what about your non-fighting ability?”

“Economics. I had been considering teaching it in Manehattan before Queen Dianthia assigned me to you.”

“Economics and claw-fighting seem an odd mixture.”

“Even changelings have hobbies,” Proper Place replied with a grin.

“You’re going to fit in well, I can already tell. Welcome to the House of Path.”

Path and Roseclaw then expressed their thanks to Dianthia for her time and help, but Free could not bring himself to do the same after all the pain that the visit had caused him.

Iridia left her mother’s side to come over to Free, and laid a sympathetic hoof on his shoulder. “I regret that I did not anticipate Twilight Sparkle’s impulsive action and warned her, as well as Path and Roseclaw. I would like to reassure you that she should recover her normal mood soon, but the double-dose has already had unforeseen consequences. Don’t give up hope yet though.”

Free regarded her mournfully. “You weren’t there. While she was accusing me, I could not taste even a trace of love, nor even any caring at all. Can you tell me with certainty that this will change?”

Iridia hesitated, and then shook her head.

“I thought not.” Free turned around and started walking out of the throne room, saying, “Thanks for nothing, Queenie. Don’t call me again.”

The others bade the queen and princess a more polite farewell, and then they caught up with Free. They took the next train back to Canterlot, hoping to find Twilight there, but Celestia informed them that she had come and gone already.

“She seemed strangely upset, but refused to talk about it. She said something about Free Agent being a queen, the child of Chrysalis, and shouldn’t be trusted. Is that true?”

Free was sullenly quiet, so Path answered, “Yes, he’s a queen. Yes, we think the most likely changeling to have given birth to him is Chrysalis. No, we still trust him unconditionally.”

“Fascinating! I look forward to the detailed report on the matter. Anyway, about the only other thing that she said was that she would be heading for the Crystal Empire after taking care of some business in Ponyville.”

“She probably intends to seek some comfort from Shining Armor and Cadance,” Path guessed.

“I would say the same. I suggest that you see my sister though. I believe Twilight intended to have some words with her also.”

Luna seemed to have been waiting for them. “What did you do to tick off Twilight Sparkle so much?” was the first thing that she said as soon as she saw them.

“We’re trying to figure that out,” Path replied, “but poor Free bore the brunt of it. We were hoping you might know more.”

“She only stopped by to tell me that she was dropping her sponsorship of you, but I believe that your work is far too important, so I will be continuing to support you. Otherwise, she was far from communicative. She only left one message for you, and Free Agent in particular.”

“What was it?” Free asked hopefully.

“Don’t follow me.”

Free sagged dejectedly.

Path sighed and hugged Free. “Sorry to hear that. I suppose that there’s no point in hanging around here now. Rose and I have to get back to Griffonia and continue our work without Twilight. Any idea how we’re going to get there now?”

Luna smiled. “The Skylark is still available for your use. As I said, we consider your work to be of great importance, and the airship is ours to command too.”

Path smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Princess. Can we leave first thing in the morning?”

“I will inform the crew,” Luna assured them.

“Thank you.” Path hesitated for a moment, and then added, “There’s one other thing that we had been discussing before going to the Green Hive. We would be honored if you would accept membership in the House of Path. I realize that as a ruler of a nation, it might be construed as a step down to a small noble House, but we…”

Luna held up one hoof to halt him. “Say no more, Lord Path. I would be honored to accept. I can add it to my titles. Lady Luna has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” she said with a wink.

Path grinned. “Thanks again, Your Highness.” He turned to Free and said, “There – Luna is your House Sister now. Does that make you feel a little better?”

Free snorted with unexpected amusement despite his depression, and he nodded.

“Coming with us, Free?” Path asked.

“There’s nothing here for me, Path. My place is with you, my brother.”

# # #

Free had mixed feelings as he watched Canterlot recede into the haze of distance. Ahead of him lay the potential for great things as a member of the House of Path, but behind him he was leaving a broken heart. He could only find one person to ultimately blame though.

“Chrysalis, if we ever meet, I will kill you!” Free Agent swore before turning to join with his friends.

# # ## # # # # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

Phew! You don't know how much I was aching to do the big reveal. Thirteen chapters! Of course I did provide lots of clues throughout the chapters, but this one brought all the pieces together with a couple of new key elements. So, how many of you figured out that Free is a queen? What does it mean for the future? And what about Twilight's outrageous behavior? Oops! You're going to have to wait to find that out... unless you think you can figure it out first. I might have a couple more surprises for you yet though.

Art by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf - http://www.furaffinity.net/user/foxenawolf

   
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