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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15. Chapter 13: Truth Hurts

“What’s wrong, Free? Why don’t you want to go to the green Hive?” Twilight asked with a puzzled frown.

“Why should I? I’ve heard about the hive-mind and how the queens control their drones that way. There’s no way I want to get into some queen’s clutches. I’m my own hive, and that’s the way it’s going to stay!”

Iridia approached Free and said, “You seem to have some misconceptions about the hive-mind, Free Agent.”

“Oh yeah? I just fought beak and claw with the Blue Changelings under Chrysalis’ control. Are you going to tell me that they aren’t slaves to her will?”

“Chrysalis is an aberration that has not happened before in our recorded history. The true purpose of the hive-mind is to give us unity, communication, and knowledge. The hive-mind coordinates our efforts, and gives us a sense of family. It enables the nymphs to learn the changeling language within days of birth, and it’s a repository of knowledge that we can share.”

Twilight’s ears perked up at that last bit, but Free ignored her reaction.

“Well, I’m not part of your family, and I have no intention of ever being part. So thanks, but no thanks.”

Iridia started to look a little irritated. “Free Agent, I assure you that we have no such intentions. My mother has been following your exploits with interest, and she believes that she may be able to shed light on the mysteries of your childhood. Aren’t you the least bit curious about that?”

“Not enough to want to step into a changeling hive. Where have you been getting all this stuff on me anyway?”

Scribe stepped up a little hesitantly. “That would be my fault, sir.”

Free glared at him. “You’re supposed to be Luna’s personal assistant – are you actually a spy?”

“Sir, by Princess Luna’s authority and Queen Dianthia’s appointment, I am the official liaison between the Equestrian court and the Green Hive. I report on all matters that may be relevant to Her Majesty, and coordinate with Her Highness, Princess Luna, where necessary. There is no spying, as you put it; I merely facilitate the discreet exchange of information.”

“Right – like a spy. Okay, here’s a bit of information for you – I don’t care! Apparently neither did whoever birthed me because I was abandoned as little more than a nymph. You know what I am? I’m the product of my true parents – the griffons who took me in and raised me. That’s what I care about.”

“That is a powerful argument,” Iridia admitted, “but it leaves enormous questions unanswered. How did you end up in your parents’ care? We don’t adopt out our young. How did you survive the recent changeling attack? No mere harvester should have been able to do so. How did you heal your soul brother, Long Path? The manner in which you did so was extraordinary. There is so much for you to learn about yourself that you have never had the chance to find out, and we might be able help you discover it.”

Free shook his head. “You still don’t get it. I know what I need to know already. Anything I was really curious about, I asked one of the changelings in the community long ago. I need nothing more from you.”

“Then what about how it might affect those close to you? Your brother? Or maybe your special somepony?”

That shook Free. How could he deal with the unknown if it caused Path or Twilight problems? He looked towards Twilight questioningly.

Twilight took the cue and said, “Free, knowledge is a powerful thing, and yes, we would be better off if we knew more about your past. With it, we are always stronger and better, but I believe you already realize this. I think that it’s your feelings about this situation that are the real problem. You want nothing to do with the hives because you have nurtured a feeling of abandonment since you learned that you are a changeling, and not a true griffon. You will never be able to let that go until you learn the truth about your past, and if Dianthia can help you do this, then I urge you to trust her and go.”

“Twi – what if I don’t like what I learn?” Free asked with the most timid voice she had ever heard from the changeling griffon.

“I’ll be with you, Free. We can face it together if you wish.”

Iridia said, “My mother only invited Free Agent…”

She was cut short by Free. “Then I won’t go,” he said with finality.

“…but considering the circumstances, I will authorize Princess Twilight Sparkle to accompany you,” Iridia continued as if that had been her intention all along.

“Path too – I’m sure that he’d love to learn some stuff about you lot while you’re interrogating me,” Free said. “And of course Roseclaw has to come with her mate.”

Iridia opened her mouth to protest, but was cut off by Free again.

“They’re my House and my Herd. You might even say that they’re my Hive. We are a team, and we stick together. If you really want me to come, then it’s all or nothing.”

Iridia stared at Free for a long moment, before she surprisingly smiled. “Mother warned me that I might get an unusual response from you, and I had to be prepared to be flexible. I wonder if she understands what she’s letting herself in for? Very well, all four of you may visit our hive. Be prepared to leave in about three hours.”

“Why three hours?” Free asked.

“Because otherwise we might miss the train, of course!” Iridia replied with a sly smile.

# # #

While Twilight had visited the Red Hive in the past, she looked forward with considerable excitement to getting to see the biggest hive in Equestria. Like the rest of her comrades though, she was puzzled as to why they were on an ordinary train on the main line to Manehattan.

The five of them had boarded the regular morning train to the big city, prompting the alicorn to say, “Surely the Green Hive isn’t hidden beneath Manehattan?”

Iridia shook her head and replied, “We will be getting off the train well before then.”

“Why couldn’t some Royal Guards take us in a pegasus carriage there then?” Path asked. “Or just me at least – the rest of you have wings.”

Iridia shook her head. “Despite being a huge hive, its location has remained a well-guarded secret for millennia, only known to a few outsiders even now. It has remained so because we are careful not to draw attention to ourselves. An alicorn accompanied by two griffons carried by Royal Guards is hardly discreet. No, we will be just normal passengers taking a normal train trip to a normal destination. That’s why I asked you to wear a cape for the journey, Princess Twilight. You blend in better if ponies think you’re just a unicorn, unless they recognize you of course.”

Twilight grimaced. “You’d be amazed at how seldom I get recognized outside of Canterlot or Ponyville. Still, it’s usually better for me that way. Celestia and Luna can have the high profile jobs. As Princess of Friendship, I work better on a more informal level.”

Thus it was the five of them travelling in a large private compartment. That was hardly unusual for nobles and important businessponies to do on that route, so they were basically ignored, and it left them free to enjoy the ride in peace. Twilight wanted to ask Iridia a lot of questions about the hive, but the changeling deflected all attempts to start a conversation on that subject.

“The queen will answer any questions that you may have. My task is just to bring you to the hive. If my mother wishes for me to do more, she will let me know when we’re there.”

So Twilight had to bide her time which she spent reflecting on the morning’s events – her mother in particular. When they had left the audience chamber, they had immediately sought out breakfast… and some headache tablets. Hangovers don’t go away quickly by themselves! Neither did her mother. Twilight had felt some regret for having used the Royal Canterlot Voice on her earlier, and she had decided to try to make amends.

“Mom, I’m sorry for shouting at you before,” Twilight began.

Velvet immediately jumped on that statement. “So you’re beginning to see that I’m right and that changeling…”

Velvet was cut off as Twilight placed her hoof over her mother’s mouth.

“Stop it! Stop right there. That’s the kind of thing that you always do – I give an inch and you take a mile. That’s why I tried my best to impress on you that I’m serious. I’m not changing my mind about this relationship, and even if it turns out to be a mistake, it’s my mistake to make.” She looked at Free and continued, “But so far, I have never been happier, and I won’t let you spoil this for me.”

“Cadance likes me,” Free offered.

Velvet scowled. “Princess Cadance is not Twilight’s mother, nor yours for that matter.”

“You’re rejecting the opinion of the Alicorn of Love?” Free asked ingenuously.

Velvet had had no answer for that.

Twilight checked on Free, and he was morosely gazing out the window, staring unseeingly at the scenery. “Cheer up, Free – we aren’t going to our executions.”

Free grimaced in a half-smile. “Feels like it though. I’m doing this more for your and Path’s benefit, y’know.”

“At least you know I’ll be there to support you, whatever happens.”

Free put one arm about Twilight’s shoulders and said, “Thanks, hon. That means a lot to me.” Then he grinned and added, “So now I’m your fiancé, am I?”

Twilight blushed. “I only said that to show Mom that I’m serious about our relationship.”

“It’s okay, Sparkles – I knew you were just yanking her chain. It sounded nice though.”

Twilight snuggled up to him and they enjoyed a mostly silent companionship up until they pulled up at a major train stop.

“Neighagra Junction! Change here for Neighagra Falls, Foal Mountain Ski Resort, and Hollow Shades!” came the voice of the conductor who repeated it as he made his way through the carriages.

“This is where we change trains,” Iridia announced as she started heading for the door.

Everyone picked up their baggage and followed her out onto the platform. Another train was already waiting on the other side of the platform, and they boarded that immediately. They waited for about six minutes before it departed.

When they started pulling into the Foal Mountain station, Path asked, “Is the hive hidden in the mountains here?”

“No. We’ll be riding the train all the way to its terminus at Hollow Shades,” Iridia replied.

The train line entered a dense forest after Foal Mountain, and it wound its way around rolling hills and over deep gullies for over an hour, leaving the passengers completely disorientated, but at least enjoying the view. Then the forest abruptly thinned out to reveal farmlands and eventually a moderately sized township.

As they pulled into the town’s station, the conductor announced, “Hollow Shades – end of the line! All passengers disembark here. This train departs for Neighagra Junction again in half an hour. Hollow Shades! All passengers must disembark.”

The group picked up their baggage once more and followed their guide out of the station and into the township. As they looked around, they saw a typical township, with a standard population of mixed pony species a little skewed towards the earth pony types. Shops and homes were of a very old style, but beautifully maintained, and landscaping enhanced every street and house garden. The community seemed to be peaceful and polite, reminding Twilight of a more mature version of Ponyville, and she wondered how they would feel if they knew that a changeling hive was apparently located nearby. All in all though, it seemed quite a pleasant place to live.

Free leaned towards Twilight and murmured, “Twi, about half the ponies here are changelings.”

That startled Twilight. “What?! Are you sure?”

“There are too many of them for me to distinguish more accurately, but yeah, about half.”

“But that would mean that we’re right on top of the hive! How can there be so many changelings here without the ponies knowing about them?”

Iridia apparently overheard Twilight as the alicorn’s voice rose in excitement. “Simple – they do know. The citizens of Hollow Shades and the Green Hive have been living in harmony for millennia, to our mutual benefit. We have escaped attention despite our size because we are part of the community. Our harvesters and foragers can come and go without looking conspicuous, and many of them live permanently with the ponies. In fact, the typical family unit here consists of one stallion, one or two mares, and a changeling. I think you might have to start a whole new chapter in your book just to look at those relationships.”

Twilight shook her head in disbelief. “All this practically under our noses! It’s quite an exemplary achievement and the rest of Equestria could do well to emulate it.”

“Yes, we’ve been observing how changeling acceptance has been growing in Canterlot and other places. We have yet to decide whether it’s a good thing that so many changelings are out in the open, but we tend to be optimistic so far. The only sticky part is the continuing efforts on the part of Chrysalis to tear it all down again.”

“So you continue to remain hidden,” Twilight concluded. “Fair enough. The hive is below the town, I gather? How do we get there?”

“In a sense, the town is part of the hive, so you’re already there. However, the main part, and the queen’s court are well below ground, and we’re heading for the main entrance right now.”

The group made its way to the center of the township, with Iridia occasionally greeting, or being greeted by, some of the citizens. The griffons were given some curious looks, but the normally discreet nature of the inhabitants meant that they were not bothered by any of them. The biggest building yet turned out to be the town’s community center, incorporating the town hall, council offices, and apparently the entrance to the hive. Iridia led them through the building which, unsurprisingly, looked like any other major town’s offices. Its very ordinariness made it a perfect cover. At the end of the hallway were the mayor’s office, and the council chambers. Two security guards – a unicorn and an earth pony - were stationed there, again a completely normal sight, but apparently not so normal in duty. Iridia stopped to address the unicorn.

“These four are guests of the queen.”

The unicorn looked them over and nodded. “Have them sign into the guest book, Princess.”

They did so, and were allowed to proceed.

“The unicorn is a changeling, in case you wondered,” Free murmured to the others. “The earth pony is genuine though.”

Iridia led them to one of the larger chambers and let them in. She closed the door behind them and crossed the room to the podium there. She touched something on the lectern and the back wall slid open to reveal a large tunnel.

“This is the main entrance to the hive. As you can see, it’s large enough to allow a high volume of traffic if necessary, but on average only a few dozen come and go each day. There are other smaller access tunnels that connect to strategic places, and a couple of huge emergency tunnels that have no opening normally because the last couple of meters of rock and soil have been left in place. It would take the burrowing drones mere moments to open them in an emergency though. Come in and be welcome.”

They all entered the tunnel, and the wall slid back into place, closing off the end of the passage once more. The tunnel was well lit though, and the walls were smooth and ornate. Twilight paused to examine one more closely.

“What kind of rock is this?” Twilight asked.

“It’s nephrite,” Iridia answered.

“So all these walls are essentially types of jade? No wonder it looks so pretty.”

“We’re rather proud of it. Nephrite is very common around here, and the hive has utilized it extensively.”

The passageway continued downwards for a while before it started branching off. Iridia kept them in the main hall though, and like the main street of the town above, it eventually led them to a huge cavern which was apparently the center of the hive. From there, the changeling princess took them towards a pair of large gates flanked by two soldier changelings. As she approached, the changelings came to attention and saluted.

“Welcome back, Princess. Her Majesty is expecting you. Go right in,” one told her.

“Expecting us?” Path queried.

Iridia smiled reassuringly. “The hive-mind is useful for that kind of thing. My mother has been aware of our coming since we arrived in Hollow Shades.”

The soldiers opened the doors, and Iridia led them inside. The room beyond was large, but not exceptionally so. It looked to be some sort of audience chamber with a throne at the far end flanked by desks at which changelings sat, apparently working. It was the changeling who occupied the throne though who commanded the most attention.

Queen Dianthia stood up, and they could see that she was at least as large as Princess Celestia. The shiny grey chitin of her carapace contrasted strongly with the bright green band around her barrel and the darker green of her lengthy mane and tail. She had a double set of long, insect-like wings, a jagged horn, and wickedly sharp, long fangs. Despite all this though, she still managed to exude an air of friendliness and pleasure at seeing them.

 

 

Path’s eyes widened in surprise – she seemed kind of familiar. Before he could think it through though, the changeling queen spoke up.

“Welcome, Princess Sparkle! And welcome to you also, Free Agent, Long Path, and Roseclaw. Thank you for coming.”

“Many thanks for allowing us to visit, Queen Dianthia. I haven’t seen you since the last Council of the Queens at Canterlot, and I’m sure we will have much to discuss.”

Path stepped forward then and started uttering chittering noises, accompanied by clicks and hums. He seemed to say several sentences before stopping. Twilight and Roseclaw listened with slack-jawed astonishment.

Dianthia made a short chittering reply before returning to Equish. “Thank you for the compliments, Long Path, and may I commend you on the excellent command of our language that you have. I gather that Free Agent taught it to you? Is it your special talent?”

“Yes to both, Your Majesty. I started learning it straight after the invasion of Canterlot by Chrysalis, and got my cutie mark when I mastered it.”

“Impressive. Sometimes I’ve wished that we possessed special talents of our own to discover. I see that it’s not quite a hopeless dream though.” She looked pointedly at Free’s cutie mark. “And it’s that and so much more that has led to this moment. Thank you for coming, Free Agent. I hope that we can get to the bottom of the mystery of your past.”

Free frowned. “Just so you know, Queenie, I only came because Twilight and Path wanted me to. Personally I don’t much care what you want.”

Dianthia cocked an eyebrow at him. “No curiosity at all about yourself? I find that hard to believe. We all want to know what we truly are.”

“Like I told them, I know what I am, and I’m happy with that. But I told them I’d do it, so here I am. Why’re you so curious anyway? You aren’t going to tell me that you’re my mother, are you?”

Dianthia chuckled. “No, I’m not going to do that, but if my suspicions are correct, you might say that you’re on the right track. My reasons are simple – you are an anomaly in the changeling community, and it has aroused both my curiosity and concern.”

“Concern? Why?”

“Let’s just learn a little more about you before I go into that. You may be able to answer that question for yourself. For starters, could you tell me about your griffon parents?”

“How much do you need to know?”

“Just the general details from the time that they left Griffonia. If I need more specifics, I’ll ask.”

“Well, I suppose you know already that they left Griffonia because Dad was a low-caste artist and Mom was a high-caste warrior, and the rules of society wouldn’t let them be mated. They heard legends of the Kingdom of Griffonstone though, and decided to migrate there and start a new life. If you know your history though, you’d know that they found that Griffonstone society had collapsed and the kingdom had degenerated. My parents decided that they would not stay there, so they moved on, intending to head for the Smokey Mountains Eyrie, the only griffon city in Equestria. However, before they got there, Mom got herself a good paying job as a security guard for a caravan of travelling merchants, and they lucked onto a nice cottage outside of the eyrie where Dad could stay and work on his art. Mom and Dad had a good life there, but the one thing that they never achieved was having children. After consultation with some medical experts, it was determined that due to injuries that Mom had received early in her warrior career, she was now infertile. Dad loved Mom though, and he stuck by her.”

Free paused as he recalled their story. They had had a true love, and gone through much to be a family, only to be dealt this blow. It was both inspiring and tragic to his mind. He sighed and continued.

“One day, Dad was taking a walk in the forest as he often did as a respite between his art, and he came across this strange creature apparently abandoned, and he decided to take it back home as a pet. Mom said that she thought it was a rather bizarre creature, but she was willing to indulge Dad. Imagine their surprise when, a couple of days later, it changed into a griffon chick. This was long before the invasion of Canterlot, so nobody knew of changelings back then. When the changeling stayed a griffon for weeks, they decided to raise it as their own child. Mom was quite clucky over it, in fact, and they loved him to bits. Just the thing for a growing changeling! When I got old enough, they decided that they wanted me to have a good education, so they moved to Canterlot where Mom took a job in the City Guard. They decided on Canterlot rather than the eyrie because of my unusual nature, and they thought that the more mixed population and variety of lifestyles might cover up any anomalies I might exhibit. And that was how things stood with me until I learned that I was a changeling, and my parents confessed that they had adopted me.”

Free looked at Dianthia and said, “So, is that enough for you?”

The queen nodded. “It fills in some very significant details, and firms up my theories. To confirm them though, I would like you to assume your natural form.”

“You’re looking at it, Queenie.”

“I mean your changeling form.”

“I know what you mean, but you don’t understand what I mean. I’ve been a griffon for the greatest part of my entire life, and I haven’t become a natural changeling since Dad and Mom took me in, with the one exception of when I got blasted by Shiny and Cadance’s love spell that ended the invasion. I even managed to retain my form after the beating I got during the attack on the Crystal Empire. As far as I’m concerned, this is my natural form.”

Dianthia looked sympathetic. “I understand, and it’s very good that you have a strong sense of self-identity. However, in this case I really do need to see your base form.”

“No,” said with finality.

“May I ask why not?”

“Look, I might take advantage of my shape-changing ability and I might have to consume love for sustenance, but as far as I’m concerned, I want nothing else to do with my origin. I’ve only ever bothered learning as much as I have about changelings because of how it affected my life. I even only know changeling language because it was already instilled in me before I was found.”

“And yet you volunteered to help your friend, Long Path, in his experiment with the Crystal Heart.”

Free glared at the queen, and then reluctantly replied, “Yeah, but I would do anything for my soul brother.”

“I see. You will help Long Path learn about changelings in general, but not you in particular. Would it help if I were to tell you that if what I believe is true, your very existence could drastically change changeling affairs?”

“Oh, you have to be kidding! You’re just trying to get me to change.”

Twilight decided to intervene just then. “No, Free, I think she might have a point. I’ve noticed several anomalies about you compared to other changelings. For me, it’s a matter of curiosity, but if Queen Dianthia thinks that there might be more to it than that, I believe you should indulge her.”

Free gave Twilight a pained expression. “Twi, ask me to become a unicorn, a thestral, or even a dragon – anything but a changeling!”

Twilight came over to hug and nuzzle him. “I think that I understand. You feel vulnerable because of your abandonment as a child, and you want nothing to do with that. However, I think you need to come to terms with those feelings and accept who you are. To do that, you need to understand completely as possible where you came from and what you are. So I am asking you to do this, not just for me, but for yourself.”

Free stood there in silence for a long while, his eyes downcast and his emotions in turmoil. Eventually he sighed and said, “Just because you asked, Twilight.”

Twilight stepped back, and Free’s form burned with green magic fire. When it passed, a much taller changeling stood uncertainly in his place, and Twilight gasped in surprise.

“You… you’re a queen!” the alicorn said with amazement.

“I am?” Free said with shocked surprise.

Free’s form indeed resembled that of a younger changeling queen, with a long mane rather than a crest, slitted eyes rather than the blankly glowing eyes of a drone, a long and jagged horn, and longer and more graceful wings. There was absolutely no doubt that he was not the harvester that he had long assumed he was.

 

 

Twilight turned to Path and asked, “You told me that you saw his natural form that one time – why didn’t you tell me he was a queen?”

“I’ve never seen a queen until we came here!” Path protested. “I knew he was a lot different from the other changelings that had invaded Canterlot, which is why I believed him readily when he told me that he wasn’t one of the Blue Changelings, but I had no idea that he was a queen.”

“Okay, that’s understandable I suppose.” She looked at Free again. “Why can’t I tell what hive he’s from though?”

Dianthia responded, “That had been puzzling every changeling who has ever met him. His coloration does not match anything I’ve ever seen before, and I know of a couple of hives outside of Equestria.”

Free was indeed very different. His carapace was shiny chrome lacking in any of the identifying color of the hives. His mane, tail, and wings were all a washed-out blue shade, but his eyes were green.

“There is one answer which is what I have suspected all along, and now have confirmation. Free Agent is a mutant child. Such are not uncommon among nymphs bred to be queens, but they almost always die soon after they change into young drones. That also accounts for why he was left to die, although not why he was abandoned where he could be found by his father.”

“You let mutant children die without trying to heal them?” Twilight asked.

“Not always. It depends on how badly they are affected. Some live a full life, although they are usually useless to the hive. Most, however, are burdens that are simply allowed to run out of love to sustain them. They go to sleep and never wake up; it’s a painless and merciful death.”

“Can I change back now?” Free whined.

“If you wish,” Dianthia replied.

Free resumed his griffon form and shuddered. “That was creepy and unpleasant. So why did you have to ask about my parents first if that’s what you wanted to find out?”

“Because of how new queens are born,” Dianthia replied. She looked to Twilight. “Princess Sparkle – I am aware of the research that you have been doing into our species, but there remain large gaps in your knowledge, in this case it’s how new queens are bred. Tell me – how would you say we would go about this?”

Twilight considered the question for a long moment before replying. “I know that changeling queens can produce several types of egg that will hatch into different kinds of nymphs which mature into various types of changelings. Of these, only one type is fertile – the breeders. I can only presume that queens mate with a breeder to produce the appropriate egg.”

“That is a possibility, but not a good one. Think for a moment – all the breeders are the queen’s children, so what problem do you see?”

“Massive inbreeding,” Twilight responded.

“Solutions?” Dianthia prompted.

“Mating with a breeder from another hive seems to be the obvious answer.”

“Correct, and yet it very rarely ever happens. While we co-exist harmoniously with the other hives, no hive wants a member of another in their hive, or a crossbreed queen. So what is our alternative?”

Twilight looked very puzzled. “That only leaves breeding with another species, but I know for a fact that you aren’t inter-fertile with other species, and you would require a compatibility spell to produce a child. However, I researched that for a changeling friend of mine, and I don’t believe such a spell exists.”

Queen Dianthia gave Twilight a benevolent and slightly condescending smile. “Twilight Sparkle, I am a compatibility spell.”

Twilight’s mouth dropped open in a silent ‘oh’ before she face-hoofed. “Of course! Wait! Are you saying that Free is a product of a breeding attempt with a griffon?”

“I am saying exactly that. One of the giveaways was the part where he spontaneously changed into a griffon chick. You may not be aware of this, but our drones cannot transform until they mature, and even then they start with just imitating others. They need to learn how to make unique identities. The same is not true of queens though. They are capable of taking on the form of their sire’s species, hence why Free became a griffon chick. My own daughter was sired by a pegasus.”

Iridia nodded and added, “That’s why this is my preferred alter ego – it just feels comfortable.”

“Have you ever met your sire?” Path asked curiously.

“I have because he’s one of Hollow Shades’ citizens. He was very honored to have the privilege of siring the next queen.”

Dianthia added, “Not all hives have this advantage though, and most new queens never know their sire. However, it’s usually a male that has been identified as being worthy in various ways, as well as being conveniently available for breeding. That is another reason why I asked about Free’s parents. Free – you said that they lived outside of the eyrie, and your mother travelled for her work. My theory is that your father was identified as being a suitable sire, and frequently available. All it would take is for the queen to come to his home, perhaps pretending to be his wife returning earlier than expected, and them making love. She would get fertilized, and he would get a big surprise when his real wife turned up later not knowing anything about their supposed lovemaking.”

“It all fits together, but it leaves just one question,” Twilight said.

“Which queen raped my father?” Free asked sourly.

Dianthia looked at Free sympathetically. “I can’t answer that with certainty, but I do have a very strong contender. There used to be a hive located between the Smokey Mountains and Griffonstone.”

“Which?” Free asked, although in his heart he had already guessed.

“Blue. I believe your mother was Queen Chrysalis.”

That bitch is not my mother!” Free screamed before he slumped his shoulders and repeated, “She’s not my mother. She might have given birth to me, but she was never my mother. Zephyr Silverfeather is my mother.Don’t ever give Chrysalis that honor.”

Path came over to give Free a heartfelt hug. “Free, I don’t care who gave birth to you. You are my best friend and my brother.”

Twilight watched them, wanting to give the same reassurance, but suddenly she had her doubts. Her special somepony was not only a changeling queen, but also the child of one of her worst enemies? An enemy who had mind-controlled her brother? What else about him didn’t she know?

While Twilight continued to agonize over those questions, Roseclaw went over to Free and laid a reassuring wing over him. “It’s not all bad news. I haven’t known for long that you’re a changeling, but since then you’ve kept telling me that you’re just as much a griffon. Well, here’s your proof – your sire was a griffon, so your claim is completely true.”

Free looked a little startled, and then his grin half-returned. “Yeah! Told you!” His expression turned serious once more. “Dad and I are going to have a long talk about this though.”

Path asked Dianthia, “What else made you suspect that Free was a queen?”

“There were many other pointers, such as him surviving the changeling attack. Obviously he has more power available to him as a queen, and better recuperative ability. He also was able to come closer to the Crystal Heart than he should have been able to and survive. His ability to heal Long Path’s emotional sickness without making contact through his fangs is also an advanced ability of queens alone. Actually, Long Path’s sudden extreme emotional collapse was probably due to the absence of Free who normally unconsciously mitigated negative emotions, also an advanced ability.”

“Hey!” Free exclaimed, “That explains why he was so bloody calm during the invasion of Canterlot – I was doing all the panicking for both of us!”

“That sounds correct. However, one of the earliest and most telling indications was Free’s sex-drive. Have you ever wondered why he is so sexually active?”

“We thought that it was because he was exposed to so many sexually stimulated fillies during puberty.”

“That could have served as a catalyst, and started him a bit sooner than normal, but it’s not the real reason. You may not realize this, but we queens are constantly driven to breed. Every changeling in this hive is either a child, grandchild, or great grandchild of mine. However, to rule effectively, we cannot be constantly pregnant, so we produce breeder types to take the majority of the burden. The urge to breed does not go away though, and we need to exercise self-restraint. That has not been true of Free Agent.”

The discussion caught Twilight’s interest and distracted her from her doubts for the moment. “Something puzzles me about that – if queens are capable of breeding with other species, why has Free never sired a child? We thought he was infertile like other drones. Or does it just work in one direction – fertilizing the queen?”

“A valid question, but one lacking in background knowledge. While it is true that we can breed with any species, it is a very delicate balance between our changeling nature and that of the sexual partner. Therefore we must exactly match their species. For example, it is not enough that I took the form of any type of pony when I wanted a daughter. I had to become a pegasus to match Iridia’s sire. If he had been a unicorn, then I would have become one also. Did Free Agent ever do that?”

Free answered, “Not likely! The fillies took advantage of me to cool their fires precisely because they believed a griffon couldn’t get them pregnant, and that’s something that I’ve used to my advantage since then. While I’ve taken on pony form on occasions for sex, I rarely matched the type – it’s often more fun for them to mate outside of their own type when having a fling, but even then I didn’t do it with mares in heat simply because they didn’t want to get pregnant, and they didn’t know that I wasn’t really a stallion who could knock them up.”

“That makes sense,” Twilight said, nodding thoughtfully. “Dianthia, you mentioned a delicate balance – is that the reason why so many queen nymphs are mutants?”

“That is correct.”

“And if Chrysalis is Free’s mo… umm… dam, then she might have believed that Free was an unviable mutant, which is why he was abandoned. It all makes sense. It also means that if he’s her child, then that leaves a potential power struggle for the hive, which is why you wanted to resolve this question.”

“Precisely.”

“You’re dreaming,” Free said emphatically. “I have exactly zero interest in her hive. No, wait, I take that back. The only thing that I want for that hive is to have it wiped out completely.”

Path looked shocked. “That would mean destroying an entire sub-species. What about our goal of peace and cooperation through mutual understanding?”

Free looked at Path sadly. “Path – you’re going to have to accept that sometimes you’re not going to succeed. While Chrysalis lives, that ain’t going to happen, and if she dies, there goes the hive.”

“I don’t believe in a no-win situation, Free.”

“Equestria would be rid of a curse, and that’s a win in my book.”

Dianthia stepped in. “The Blue Changeling hive was once like the rest of the hives; it can be so again.”

“Good luck with that,” Free said with finality.

Path recognized that the subject was closed for now, and he decided to change the subject. “If we have finished dealing with the mystery of Free’s nature for now, can we explore some other avenues of interest? I would very much appreciate being able to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about changelings and their hives.”

“I suppose that’s only fair,” Dianthia conceded. “Iridia, would you please escort our guest around the hive and answer their questions? I have other matters to attend to now.”

“Of course, mother.”

“One personal question first, if I may be so bold?” Path asked.

“Ask. I don’t promise to answer though.”

“Do queens ever fall in love with their mates?”

Dianthia looked startled for a moment before she smiled. “Queens rarely have time for a relationship. However, there was a reason that I chose Sunbeam as Iridia’s sire. Does that answer your question sufficiently?”

“It does, thank you, Your Majesty.”

“If you would follow me, I will show you around,” Iridia said as she moved towards the entrance.

The group followed her, and she led them out and down one of several tunnels that led from the cavern. There was more of the jade-bearing rock for a while before it eventually gave way to normal rock. It was all smoothly polished though, and looked almost as attractive. The tunnel branched out and connected with various chambers, and the further they went, the more drone activity there was. They eventually came to another cavern, although smaller than the first, and filled with various materials and tools. There Iridia paused.

“We are now in the midst of the construction and maintenance nest. From here, we coordinate the construction of new segments of the hive, plan new rooms and tunnels, and maintain the existing structure. The drones that you meet here will mostly be of the kind responsible for those jobs. For example…”

The drones, while exhibiting mild curiosity, had not stopped or bothered with the group until then. However, one suddenly diverted from its course and came over to the group.

“Introduce yourself,” Iridia directed it in Equish, and followed it up with the chittering of changeling language.

The drone chittered in response.

“What did it say?” Roseclaw asked.

Path replied, “It said ‘I am Klikbik, and I am a tunneler’.”

The drone abruptly left, only to have another join them immediately and the process repeated.

“That one is Ruksak and he says he’s a support structure builder,” Path interpreted.

“You have a very good grasp of changeling language,” Iridia commented. “My mother was most pleased by your greeting, Long Path.”

“Changeling language was the first that I learned to discover my special talent for languages,” Path explained.

“What did you say to her?” Twilight asked.

“I said, ‘The House of Path thanks you for the gracious invitation to your Hive. Other than your inquiry about Free Agent which brought us here, I was wondering if a cultural exchange would be possible?’ Queen Dianthia replied, ‘I believe we can come to an arrangement once the main topic has been addressed.’ And here we are!”

“How come those drones came over without asking?” Free queried.

“The hive-mind, of course. I told you that it facilitated communications. I just focused on a drone and requested that it join us. Of course it was with my authority as a princess, but it was still a request and not a compulsion, as you seem to fear. Let’s move on to the next section.”

A journey through a tunnel brought them into a series of chambers that were filled with the smell of decaying wood and leaves.

“We grow mushrooms here. They’re an excellent source of protein, and we produce enough to sell the surplus in the markets both locally in Hollow Shades and shipped to towns like Manehatten. The job of the drones here is solely to farm mushrooms of various kinds.”

Iridia brought them to a huge kitchen next. “This is the preparation area for all the nourishment that the hive requires. Our foragers have it a lot easier than the rest of the hives because they can actively work with the farmers of Hollow Shades instead of discreet collection of wild plants, nuts, and fish. This cooperation has been a major factor in our being the largest hive in Equestria.”

The next stop was apparently a furniture workshop, then sanitation works, a cloth-making facility, and a nursery.

Iridia opened a door onto a chamber, but said, “Please just look inside this room from the doorway.”

They all looked and saw rack after rack filled with large eggs with shells of various shades. There were only a couple of drones in attendance, and they frowned in concern at the visitors.

“These are the next generation of drones. The temperature in here is strictly controlled for maximum viability, so I can’t have this door open too long.”

She led them further down the passage and took them into another room. This time it was filled with cribs in which were changeling nymphs. They all looked virtually identical down to their soft white skin, but a closer look revealed subtle hues that matched those of the eggs. Unlike the previous room, this one had a lot attendants looking after the needs of the baby changelings. Some of the attending drones were feeding a greenish gel to the nymphs, while others seemed to be doing little more than just cradling the nymphs.

Path pointed one out and asked, “Does that nymph require special care?”

Iridia smiled. “No, it is learning. The attendants don’t just feed and care for the nymphs, but they’re also their teachers. They are using the hive-mind to teach them our language and other things to prepare them for their lives as drones.”

“That is looking to be an extremely useful tool,” Path commented.

“Useful and reassuring: a changeling is never completely alone as part of the hive-mind.”

“Do you do all your learning that way?”

“Oh, no. There’s a limit to how far that can go. Drones need to be trained in the details of their jobs, and the more complex the job, the more schooling they need, not unlike for ponies. The emotion harvesters take the longest to train because they have the most to learn, but they are also one of the most essential workers for the hives as they supply us with the emo-gel that has the concentrated love that gives us energy.”

“So you have a library?” Twilight asked eagerly.

“Yes, although I suspect that you would be disappointed with it. It mostly contains reference materials for teaching the drones their skills.”

“But what about your history? Surely you have volumes on that subject, considering how large and old your hive is?” Path asked.

“We certainly do have a long and proud history, but it is something that we all share through the hive-mind. If you like, we are the library. All our records are part of the gestalt that is our collective memory.”

“It’s an Akashic Record!” Twilight realized.

“I have not heard of that term,” Iridia replied.

“It’s defined as a compendium of thoughts, events, and emotions believed by theosophists to be encoded in a non-physical plane of existence known as the astral plane. Up until now though, I haven’t heard of any real examples. Your hive-mind seems to match it quite well.”

“I agree, but it makes no difference because you can’t put it into a book on a library shelf.”

Twilight looked downhearted at that news. “No, I suppose not.”

“Is there no way for a non-changeling to access that knowledge?” Path asked.

“Well… yes, but you probably would not like it.”

“How?” both Path and Twilight chorused eagerly.

“I would need to connect you to the hive-mind, but I’m unsure of the effect that would have on you, not to mention the means by which it would have to be done.”

“And that would be…?” Path prompted, undeterred.

“I believe you have witnessed how a changeling can rapidly drain a victim’s emotions?”

“Yes, I have. You don’t mean that you have to put the bite on me?”

“I mean exactly that. I would have to make a solid contact with your chi and bind it with the hive-mind, but because you are not a changeling, I cannot predict the effect it might have on you.”

“Has no pony ever done this before?” Twilight asked.

“Not in our hive anyway. If a pony wanted information, he just asked.”

“But this way I would have access to all the knowledge at will?” Path asked eagerly.

“That should be the case, yes. Are you truly that eager to learn our history that you would risk the unknown to find out?”

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