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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25. Chapter 18: Ascendancy Part 2

Celestia actually laughed. “I’d be sadly disappointed if you were anything less.” She grew serious again. “However, the Blue Hive still needs to be dealt with. We can’t just have the drones sitting out there at the border.”

“They can wait. They’ll still have the ambient love energy to keep them going for now. I can get them to come back and get rid of the rest of the changeling corpses. Maybe even help with the clean-up if you wish? They can stay until they’re at their limit and then leave until they burn off the energy.”

“No, I think they had better stick with removing the dead drones. I don’t think that Blue Changelings are going to be very popular around here for a long time.”

“Point,” Free conceded. “What about me then?”

“Seems to me that you’re a new type of changeling – a Chrome Changeling, perhaps? The crystal ponies need only know that you defeated Chrysalis and wrested control of the hive from her.”

“What? No warrior queen? Not even the Alicorn of Awesome?” Free sighed. “I suppose that will have to do for now.”

Just then, Azon returned in the company of two disguised House Path changelings who were carrying an organic-looking container that was familiar to Twilight.

“Ah! You’ve got the preservation pod.” Twilight turned to Celestia and asked, “Can I impose upon you to teleport Path to Canterlot for treatment? I’m still working on increasing my range, especially with cargo.”

“Of course, Twilight. However, I must ask you to wait until I am rested a little more. I have expended much power during the battle, and I need to bolster my reserves. I need to save some to set the sun too. Luna would be most unhappy with me if I don’t do so as soon as practical.”

As they watched Path being placed into the pod, Twilight said, “It should be okay. Once Path is sealed into the pod, he’ll virtually be in stasis. He won’t get any worse while he’s in there. Of course, he won’t get any better either.” Just then she spotted something that no one had noticed until then, and she gasped. “Oh dear, that’s not good.”

The others looked to where Twilight was pointing, and they realized what she meant.

“Path’s gonna be pissed,” Free commented.

“That’s the least I’m worried about,” Twilight replied as they stared at Path’s blank flank.

# # #

Due to the damage done to a substantial part of the unprotected part of the city, Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor declared that the affected citizens could take shelter in the castle where they would be fed and given a place to sleep until alternative arrangements could be made. Princess Celestia set the sun as promptly as she could after the city’s defenders dealt with their dead and wounded, and withdrew to their encampments. Under cover of darkness, Free ordered the drones to come back and retrieve the rest of the drone corpses, sparing the citizens the sight of another swarm. Apparently the drones could work almost as effectively at night as during the day

Exhaustion and hunger were the order of the day, and the kitchens of the palace were working at a furious pace to turn out hundreds of meals for the weary defenders. If it wasn’t for many of them falling asleep where they rested, it would have been a lot harder to feed everyone at once, so they let those soldiers sleep until food was ready for them. Princess Celestia not only ate and recovered her magic, but she spent the majority of that time making relief plans with Cadance, Shining, and Twilight. While Free and Roseclaw refused to leave Path’s side, Proper Place was given the task of dealing with the House forces and the Griffonian contingent. The griffons especially were a bit of a problem as they were rather rowdy in their celebration of their victory. Many tales of their heroics were spun that night.

Eventually Celestia declared that everything that she could do there for now had been done, and she was ready to teleport back to Canterlot. Having anticipated that all the House-mates would want to go with Path, as well as Azon, she allowed herself plenty of margin for power usage, so the transition went smoothly. Luna met them at the hospital with several of the kingdom’s best healers, and Azon immediately consulted with them before they levitated Path’s pod and started taking him for treatment, while an orderly wheeled Streak away for further work on his injuries. Free, Roseclaw, and Twilight tried to follow, but Luna gently restrained them.

“Nay, let the doctors work in peace. You cannot help at this time. I have arranged for the room adjacent to theirs to be prepared for your use so that you can be nearby at all times, and still allow you to rest until they bring you news.”

They begrudgingly accepted this, and they soon made themselves comfortable in the room which was obviously normally a hospital ward. Nevertheless they had a couple of palace servants at their beck and call at all times.

“They’ve taken Path out of the pod,” Free said shortly after they arrived.

“You can feel that through your link to him?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah. Back in the Crystal Empire, I could hardly sense anything because my head was being overwhelmed by the hive-mind. I’m still trying to sort that out. However, this far from the swarm, it’s quieted down a lot.”

“Can’t you disconnect yourself from the hive-mind like you did back at the Green Hive?”

“Twi, back then I was just one little spoke on the hub; now I am the hub. I can’t disconnect myself. Besides, even if I could, that would leave the Blue Changelings floundering, or completely unresponsive like back at the Crystal City, and that isn’t what you want, is it?”

“No, you’re right. So have you gained anything from being connected?”

“Ha! Too much, actually. As I said, I’m still trying to get it all straight in my head. However, because it was uppermost in Chrysalis’ mind when she passed the hive-mind to me, I know a lot more about myself. While we were virtually certain that I was Chryssy’s child, I can confirm it now. I was the latest attempt to breed a successor, and she had named me Gossamer.”

“So that’s why you called yourself Queen Gossamer. What do you mean by ‘latest attempt’ though?”

“It seems Queen Bitch had a big problem. All her attempts to breed a new queen as her successor failed. They either never hatched, or were unhealthy nymphs that either quickly died or were useless. I was the latest and the closest she’d come despite obviously being a mutant too, but even I was failing. So she did something very different. She took me back to where I was conceived. Twi – I wasn’t ‘found’. Chrysalis met Dad disguised as Mom again, only this time Dad knew what was going on because Mom was with him. They tried and failed to kill her, and after they were subdued, Chrysalis showed me to them. She gave me to them to try to raise, and because I was Dad’s kid, they did so. Chrysalis secretly kept watch on me, and she was surprised and pleased when I grew strong from their real love for me, especially when I quickly took on my griffon form and stayed that way.”

“Why didn’t Chrysalis take you back then? She obviously finally got the healthy queen that she wanted.”

Free chuckled. “She didn’t watch me close enough. My parents decided to move to Canterlot to raise me properly, and Chrysalis never caught wind of it. So one day she went to check on me, and we were gone. She never knew where I went, so I got to grow up away from her influence.”

Twilight frowned in puzzlement. “But if you were connected to the hive-mind, she should have been able to find you, surely?”

“That’s where she made a big mistake. She gambled on Dad and Mom being able to sustain me like she couldn’t, but to do so, she needed me to bond with them, so she disconnected me from the hive-mind. She figured she could reconnect me when she was ready to take me back, and that would be the end of it. She really didn’t understand what it’s like to be free though, pun intended. I’m not only reconnected now, but also the hive queen, and yet I’m still me. I’d never have been able to follow in her hoofsteps.”

“So, what are you going to do now that you’re the head of a hive?”

“I can’t give it away, and you won’t let me ignore it, so I suppose we’ll have to figure out how best to make use of it. And yes, I do mean ‘we’. As far as I’m concerned, the hive is now a House resource. I have no intention of running it like the other hives. In fact, I don’t really know how to run a hive at all.”

“Maybe we can get some help from the other queens?”

Free sighed. “I suppose so.”

“First we’ll have to assess what the situation is like. Right now, all we know is that the hive is hidden, and the majority of its members are sitting at the border of the Crystal Empire waiting for orders. As soon as we’re sure that Path is going to be okay, we can head back and scope things out. Speaking of Path though, can you sense anything more?”

“He’s still unconscious, so not really.”

“I suppose we’re just going to have to be patient then.”

Their patience was tried severely though as it was a couple of hours before they received word from the Path’s doctors. In the meantime, Streak was returned to them with magic-infused casts on his forelegs, and after a hug from his parents, he was immediately put to bed. The exhausted colt fell asleep almost the moment that his head hit the pillow. Eventually Azon came in to update them.

“First of all, let me assure you that Lord Path is going to live, and has a good chance of recovering full health. However, none of us are sure why he survived at all. The damage done to his body by channeling all that power was massive. The overload literally cooked him, and we should not have been able to revive him. However, he did revive, and the unicorn healers have been working their best to repair the damage to the point where his body can take over. He’s going to be spending a very long time in recovery, even with daily treatments to accelerate the process.”

Roseclaw sighed tremulously with relief. “It is enough that he will recover. A warrior can expect to sustain injuries and come off worse than he has. My mate is strong!”

“There’s one more thing, and it’s not good news. The magic overload seems to have completely burned out his earth pony magical abilities. He is now and always will be a magic cripple. That means he won’t be able to draw strength from the earth, nor manipulate objects with touch-telekinesis. His flying armor can’t be powered by him anymore.”

Twilight lowered her eyes and shook her head sadly. “I suspected as much when I saw that his cutie mark had disappeared. They’re so integral to what we are that it would take the total loss of magic to make it disappear.”

“You don’t think that Path will let that slow him down, do you?” Free asked pointedly.

Twilight smiled. “No, you’re right. If I know Path, he’ll soon find ways to cope, and it’ll be business as usual.”

“Can we go see him now?” Roseclaw asked.

“You may, but there’s not much else you can do. He’s still unconscious though, and we’re not sure when he’ll wake up.” Azon headed out of the ward. “Follow me.”

Azon took them to the recovery ward where they had put Path. They were surprised to see him back in a pod.

“Why is he back in the preservation pod?” Twilight asked. “He can’t heal in there.”

“Not the same kind of pod,” Azon explained. “This is a sustenance pod that I had brought in while we worked on Path. It promotes natural healing while sustaining all the body’s needs. It’s one of our most useful tools for dealing with injuries and sickness in our hive.”

“I knew having you in our House was going to be very beneficial. I just wish that it hadn’t come to this.”

They peered through the translucent shell of the pod. Tinged green by the material of the pod, Path could be seen swathed with bandages, but otherwise seemed to be sleeping comfortably.

“I’d like to stay by my mate’s side now,” Roseclaw said.

“We thought you might,” Azon replied. He indicated the other bed in the ward. “You can use this bed. Just be aware that a nurse will be coming in regularly to monitor Lord Path’s condition. She will try not to disturb you, but the nightlight has to remain on for her to see.”

“I understand.”

Twilight yawned. “Now that I know that he’s going to be okay, I need to get some sleep. Coming with me, Free? We can use my room in the palace.”

Free looked towards Path and said, “Perhaps I should be here when Path wakes?”

Twilight put a hoof on Free’s shoulder and pulled him a little closer. “Please – I need you, Free.”

The griffon-changeling’s mind was immediately made up. “Coming, Twi. Call us if you need us, Rose.”

The griffoness nodded and waved them farewell before she returned her attention to Path.

Twilight and Free travelled in silence from the hospital to Twilight’s palace room. She immediately headed for the bed, and tiredly climbed onto it. Free wasn’t physically tired, but he was mentally drained, so he climbed up and snuggled up behind her. After a short time, he noticed that she was trembling.

“What’s wrong, Sparkles?” he asked gently.

For a long moment, Twilight did not respond, but the trembling became shudders, and then great sobs.

“Twilight! Talk to me, please!”

Between her sobbing, she replied, “It’s all the death, Free. I’m the Princess of Friendship, but all I did this past day was kill and kill again. I couldn’t make peace with them; I couldn’t even consider disabling them because they’d heal almost immediately, so I had to kill them. I don’t know if I will ever get over this.”

Free drew her in closer and kissed her. “I won’t try to persuade you that it was necessary because you already know that. I won’t say that their deaths aren’t a great loss because they were nearly mindless drones, because even they deserved better, despite what I said earlier after the heat of the moment. But Twi, that’s what we do so that the innocent and the helpless don’t have to die instead. You know better than I do that sometimes there aren’t any good solutions, only the least worst, and killing those drones was the only solution that we had at hoof. We’re all going to have to live with that.”

“I do know, Free. I knew that it might come to this someday, but I had hoped that it would be a lot further in the future. I’m not as hardened to this as others are. It’s tearing me apart.”

“I’ll be right here to keep you together, beloved. Just think of all the ponies we saved rather than the drones we killed. Think of the foals that will never know the terror of a mad changeling queen, the griffon chicks who will grow up without the specter of fear, and even the other changeling hives which surely would have been wiped out if Chrysalis had won. This was a battle for life, not death.”

Twilight sniffed back her tears. “You’re right, and that’s why I fought and killed. I’ll just have to come to terms with that.” She was still trembling though.

Free gently said, “You know that I can draw out those negative feelings like I did with Path if you want?”

Twilight shook her head. “No, that wouldn’t be fair on you, and I have to learn to cope. Just hold me, Firetail, and never let me go.”

“I can do that, Sparkles. I most certainly can and will do that, now, and for the rest of my life.”

Twilight turned her head to kiss Free. “I love you so much!”

“I know, and you are loved even more.”

# # #

Twilight and Free slept in fairly late. After dropping by the hospital ward to check on Path and Roseclaw, they picked up Streak and returned to the castle for a big breakfast and to make plans.

“First we have to see how Proper Place is dealing with our team. We also have to find out which of them were killed in action,” Free said.

“What about the Crystal Ponies?” Twilight asked between mouthfuls of cereal.

“They’re Cadance and Shiny’s problem; we have enough of our own.”

“I suppose you’re right. So, after we check up on the team, I think we should look into the drone situation, and perhaps find the hive. Have you been able to figure that out yet?”

Free shook his head. “Too many images of too many places for me to sort it out in my head yet. Probably easier and quicker for me to tell them to take me there.”

“Simplest way, I suppose.” Twilight turned to Streak and asked, “Do you want to come along? We can arrange a wheelchair for you.”

“I’d like to stay with Dad, Mama. I can see the other stuff later.”

“Okay. Probably for the best. Anything that you need while we’re back there?”

“Sure! Can you bring Slick back with you? He probably misses me a lot.”

Twilight smiled indulgently. “I’m sure he does.”

After breakfast was done, they took Streak back to the hospital to keep Roseclaw company while they waited for Path to regain consciousness. Celestia teleported them to the Crystal City, and after they contacted Captain Kerbarok, they flew out together to meet him at the border. The entire surviving changeling contingent was resting aboard the airship while the remainder of the House contingent were enjoying the hospitality of Crystal City.

Free shook hooves with Kerbarok. “Good to see that you survived!”

“I’m happy that my first mission wasn’t my last,” the changeling replied.

Twilight also shook Kerbarok’s hoof. “I’m very pleased that you and your fellow changelings fought so hard on our behalf. You never hesitated for a moment.”

“It’s what we train for, and our purpose in life. I’ll never let you down, Your Highness.”

Twilight was struck by his words. “After we get back home, I want you to come see me about an important proposition that I have for you.”

“As you wish, ma’am.”

“Right now though, I’d like you to come with us while we check out the Blue Changeling situation. Free and I might need another informed opinion.”

Kerbarok turned to Free and said, “You weren’t kidding when you said you were a queen, were you?”

“Heard about what happened, did you? Nope, I was deadly serious. Now I’m stuck with a hive I don’t want. Are we having fun yet?”

Kerbarok looked back to Twilight and nodded. “Yes, I can see you’re going to need a bit of help.”

The three flew to the nearest swarm of Blue Changeling soldier drones who were waiting with infinite patience for further orders from their queen. A huge pile of drone carcasses were nearby, but they decided to deal with those later.

“Lead us to the entrance to the hive,” Free ordered one of the changelings.

It took off, not questioning for even a moment why its queen did not know the way. It led them up into the nearby hill where an overhanging ledge concealed a tiny opening into the hillside. They squeezed through, and were relieved to find the tunnel beyond was a little bit wider and higher, enabling them to walk normally, if only barely. Twilight led the way with her horn lit up for illumination.

All three were struck by how primitive this hive was. While Free only had the Green Hive to compare it to, and Kerbarok his own, Twilight had visited a few of the Equestrian hives, all of which showed the grandeur and beauty of their ancient origins. This, however, was little more than holes in the dirt and stone. They passed by innumerable tiny alcoves barely big enough to hold a single changeling.

“I’m guessing that these were the hibernation chambers for the drones,” Twilight commented.

Free accessed the hive-mind and nodded. “You’re right on the money. Now that I can call it up, I can see these going on for miles and through many tunnels.”

They continued on, with Twilight leaving a magic mark on each intersection so that they would not get lost. After what seemed to take forever, the tunnel opened up into a larger cavern and they encountered the first Blue Changelings that weren’t soldier drones.

“Breeders and carers!” Twilight exclaimed. “They’re still producing soldier drones.”

“Not anymore,” Free said grimly. “I just put a message into the hive-mind that all breeding of soldiers was to stop until further notice.”

They looked around and saw what was basically a mass-production set-up, with breeders pumping out eggs as fast as they were capable. The eggs were then put into baths of warm glowing gel that, in conjunction with all the ambient love energy, apparently accelerated their development. Carers had taken the newly hatched nymphs and force fed them as much emo-gel and food as possible to make them grow fast, while inculcating basic language skills into them via the hive-mind. As soon as they metamorphosed into adults, the soldiers were given a compartment and forced into hibernation mode. Very efficient, very effective, and very monstrous.

“This is the antithesis of a good hive!” Kerbarok declared with disgust. “How could Chrysalis have come down to this level?”

Twilight replied, “My guess is a combination of greed for power, sociopathy, and intense frustration at her failure to breed an heir.”

“In other words, she was insane,” Free concluded. “Clever and dangerously crazy. We’ve only seen a fraction of what she built here. I’ve been communing with the breeders and carers, and they tell me that this is just one facility. They’re scattered all around the entire perimeter of where the shield used to be. That’s why they attacked from all directions.”

“How many more drones did Chrysalis still have in reserve?” Twilight asked.

“Lots. Enough to have waited us out if she had just been patient. We saw for ourselves that she was prepared to throw unlimited drones at us with total disregard for their wellbeing. Exhaustion on our part would have won the day for her. Path's suggestion to Celestia to keep the sun up probably saved us. I feel an echo in the hive-mind of her displeasure when it became obvious that night wasn’t coming.”

“I’ve seen enough. Let’s get out here.” Twilight started backtracking their route inside.

“One moment, Twi,” Free requested. He stood there with his eyes closed for a while, then he re-opened them and nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”

“What did you do, Free?”

“I ordered all the soldier drones back to their chambers to go back into hibernation. They’ll be fine there as long as the Crystal Heart keeps pumping out ambient love. I also ordered the gatherers to store up some food, and the breeders to start making more tunnellers and other useful drones. If I have to be a hive queen, I’m not going to rule a dirty, cramped hole in the ground!”

Twilight smiled. “Are you sure you’re not cut out to be a queen, Free?”

“Didn’t say I couldn’t do stuff. Just not my goal in life,” Free replied sulkily.

The threesome made their way out of the hive and started flying back to the Skyshark. They were only about halfway there when Twilight’s comm rang.

It’s Roseclaw here. Path has woken up!” came the griffoness’ excited voice. “Here – let me put him on for you.

Hi, guys!” came Path’s voice next. “They’ve taken me out of the preservation pod temporarily. They didn’t want me panicking after finding myself trapped in green goo, and they’re taking the opportunity to change my dressings as I speak. I just wanted to take the opportunity to let you know while I’m a bit of a mess, I’m basically going to be okay. The pod takes away most of the pain too, so I’ll be happy to go back in straight away. Don’t worry – Azon assures me that changelings can communicate fully with me while I’m in there, so I won’t be incommunicado while I’m healing.

“That’s awesome to hear, Path,” Free said. “Is there anything that we can do for you while you’re out of action?”

As a matter of fact, there is. We have just earned an extraordinary amount of good will from this victory, and we need to take advantage of it. Bring Proper Place to Canterlot with you. Tell him I’m activating Contingency Plan #5. He’ll explain to you what that involves. I’ll fill you in with the details when you get here. The healers are already giving me dirty looks and want me back in the pod.

“Will do. We’ll bring you up to speed when we get there. Love ya, mate!”

“Same here!” Twilight chimed in.

See you soon!

Roseclaw came back on the comm. “Now that I know that Path is going to be alright, I’m going to bed. I’ve hardly slept at all since the battle. If I’m still asleep when you get here, wake me up.

“Okay, we’ll do that, Rose,” Twilight replied.

Bye for now.” Now that her vigil was done and she was relaxing, the tiredness in her voice really started to make itself known.

“What now, Twi?” Free asked.

“First we pick up our warriors, and then we head off to Canterlot. If they want to do some more celebrating there, that’s fine, but the Crystal City has to focus its attention on recuperating right now. Captain, I’m going to call the team leaders and warn them to be ready for immediate withdrawal. Have the Skyshark make its way there so that we can pick them. Then we’ll come back for the changeling contingent and head off to Canterlot at best normal speed. I’ll give you the medallion that will shield you from the ambient love so that you don’t get overdosed.”

“Aye aye, Your Highness,” Kerbarok acknowledged.

“You’re really going to have to make more of those medallions,” Free pointed out.

Twilight nodded. “I agree, and in fact I plan to mass-produce them. I have a feeling that we’re going to need them. Fortunately, now that I’ve worked out all the details of the spell and construction of the icon, it’s all pretty straightforward duplicating the process.”

Once they had boarded the Skyshark, Kerbarok immediately ordered the great airship to head for the city. He waited until they were closer before ordering the changeling crew and warriors to evacuate and await rendezvous. By the time that they got to the city, the House troops were already amassed in an open area. Well, most of them. Some griffons were still staggering to the rendezvous after over-indulging in their celebrations, urged along by their more sober compatriots. Free hoped that they were all non-House warriors, otherwise he was sure Twilight would notice and have something to stern to say to them later.

As soon as all were aboard, the Skyshark started to backtrack to pick up the changelings.

“What’s going to happen about our fallen warriors?” Kerbarok asked once they were under way.

Twilight replied, “I’ve made arrangements with my brother to find and prepare them for transport back to Griffonia. We’ll be returning soon, and we’ll pick them up then. They will be honored in appropriate ceremonies back at the House. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Captain, I have a lot more arrangements to make.”

Twilight spent much of the trip to Canterlot on the comm. She was a very satisfied alicorn by the time that they arrived.

The warriors were given two nights’ leave and told to enjoy themselves responsibly, although there was little that Twilight could do to enforce that order upon the non-House griffons. Fortunately they still respected Free’s rank, so when he reinforced the order, they did seem to listen, and when he suggested that they pair themselves with an Equish-speaking House warrior for ease of communications, he effectively gave them a chaperone without making that obvious.

They sent a messenger to find Roseclaw and let her know that they had arrived. Twilight, Free, and Proper Place then headed straight to the hospital. They found Path in his sustenance pod as expected, with Azon in attendance. He smiled as they entered the ward.

“Here at last! Lord Path has been quite chatty since he woke. He’s eager to see you all.”

They looked through the translucent shell of the pod, and to their surprise, they saw him looking back and he gave them a smile and a tiny wave.

“How do we talk to him?” Free asked.

“Just touch the pod and you will be mind-linked to Path, much like the hive-mind. Lady Twilight, I’m afraid that only works for changelings,” Azon said apologetically.

“Not so fast, doc,” Free interrupted. “Twi, try touching your horn to the pod. Your link to Path should let you do the same as us.”

“What link?” Azon asked in puzzlement, but he got no answer as the threesome turned their attention to their injured House-mate.

Hi guys!” Path’s ‘voice’ came into their heads. “Isn’t this cool?

It sure is handy, and you certainly sound upbeat for somepony who very nearly killed himself taking on far more than he could possibly cope with.” Twilight ‘said’.

It needed to be done, and I have no regrets.

Even though you’re now magic-crippled?” Free asked.

I’ll cope without magic. I don’t need it to build the House into something great. Speaking of that, did Proper tell you about Contingency Plan #5?

I did,” Proper Place replied.

Free frowned. “Having Proper imitate your form and take your place for some things while you’re healing could be useful, but I could have done that for you.

You have your own responsibilities, and I have coached Proper to be a credible stand-in for me. Besides, I have need for both Free Agent and Queen Gossamer for what I have planned…

# # #

The Skyshark had made a couple of trips between Canterlot and the Crystal Empire, each time bringing more aid to the war-ravaged city. A large encampment had grown on the outskirts to shelter the many volunteers who had come to help repair the extensive damage. The biggest surprise to the city’s inhabitants was that while many craftsponies had come, the majority of the aid was supplied by the five other Equestrian hives. Hundreds of worker drones, each wearing a hastily constructed medallion to stop them from gorging involuntarily on the ambient love, had immediately set to work clearing the damage and starting to reconstruct homes for the dispossessed. Although there had been some suspicion of the changelings at first, it was quickly apparent to the crystal ponies that they not only had nothing to do with the recent invaders, but they were remarkably quickly and efficiently rebuilding their homes.

Cadance had been no less surprised. Since the end of the invasion and while Shining Armor coordinated the relief efforts, she had attended the Crystal Heart. The artifact was riddled with cracks and fractures caused by the strain imposed upon it by two battling changeling queens, and it was a wonder that it had survived. She needed it to heal and shine like it once did because she was so tied to the Heart that it hung heavily on her mind and spirit, and it was taking a toll on her body now too. She poured all her energy into the Heart without stint, but achieved very little. It was all too much for her and she snapped. She started yelling at it.

“What more do you want from me?! I give you everything I have every bucking day! What more can I give?!” She started to cry, and as the tears rolled down her cheeks, she heard the tapping of hooves. When she looked around, she found herself staring at Queen Dianthia of the Green Hive. To her were left Lamina, Queen of the Violet Hive and Carpacia, Queen of the Red Hive. To her right were Orlare, Queen of the Yellow Hive, and Polistae, Queen of the Orange Hive.

Cadance looked at them sourly. “Come to pick at the scraps left behind by Chrysalis and Free?”

Carpacia was about to say something before Dianthia raised her hoof. “She knows not what she says. She has been pouring herself into the Heart for days and has nothing left to show others at this time.”

Cadance was indeed faded and dispirited, and she sat down tiredly. The allied queens followed suit as she asked, “Why are you here?”

Dianthia smiled slightly. “We are here to help. Even though you might not think it, you are linked to us in more ways than you can imagine. But for now, let’s repair the Heart so you can begin to shine again… hmm?”

The queens stood up and took positions around the Crystal Heart. They flared their wings open and aimed their horns at the Heart, and Cadance hastily took the cue and did the same.

Dianthia started to count down. “Three….two…. one….”

Six beams of pure love magic hit the Heart at once, and soon the crystal started to resonate again, creating and magnifying the love around it as slowly but surely the cracks started to heal themselves. After a few minutes, the crystal floated there just like it had before the siege, brightly gleaming and flawless. Cadance smiled softly, and then promptly collapsed to the ground.

 

 

Dianthia said, “I’ll take her back to her room and talk to Prince Shining Armor when I get up there to let him know what’s happening.”

The other four queens nodded and left the main chamber while Dianthia telekinetically lifted the exhausted princess onto her back, and then started to walk further into the palace. She found Shining Armor still working with some coordinators for the ongoing relief efforts. He had been taken aback a little at first when all the changelings had arrived to help with the rebuilding, but he had come to accept them. When he saw his wife unconscious on the back of one of the changeling queens though, his heart started racing.

“What happened?” he demanded.

“She was draining herself trying to repair the Crystal Heart. We sensed what was occurring and came to assist her, and now the Heart has been restored. However, Cadance will need a few days of uninterrupted bedrest to recover.”

Shining sighed in relief. “I’ll make sure she gets some uninterrupted sleep. Thank you for this and… well… everything. Rebuilding all that was destroyed in the battle would have taken us years, but your workers will have us back to normal in mere months!”

Dianthia shook her head. “Each hive has pledged at least a hundred workers until the city has been restored. I estimate that everything will be completed within five weeks.”

“But…. why are you doing this for us?”

Dianthia smiled and spoke softly “You need us. We need you. This fact has never changed throughout the millennia, but maybe in light of recent events, you will come to realize and embrace this as fact?” She floated Cadance over to a sofa and smiled softly. She then started to head back to join with her allies, saying, “When you want to talk, ask one of the worker drones and one of us will come. Until then, take care of your wife.”

She left behind a very bemused and thoughtful alicorn Prince.

# # #

Long Path requested that all those present in the Crystal City, whether citizen, worker, or warrior, be present for a speech that he would be making that evening in the courtyard of the castle before the evening meal. Some came because they were curious, some because they felt an obligation to their defenders, some because they were required to do so, and sadly some because they still had no other place to go.

As the appointed time came near, Lord Path stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the courtyard. He was still heavily bandaged including a patch under one eye, and he walked with a pronounced limp, but otherwise he seemed fine. He was closely followed by Princess Cadance, Prince Shining Armor, Princess Twilight Sparkle, Princess Luna, Free Agent, Roseclaw, the five hive queens, and Lord Harkness.

As the crowd slowly noticed that something was happening and started to quiet down, Shining Armor came over and sat beside Free Agent. Neither said a word for a while until Shining eventually broke the uncomfortable silence.

“So… hive queen, hey?”

Free nodded. “Uh-huh. Pretty much. … … And you – Alicorn of Protection?”

Shining shrugged. “Yeah. Seems so.”

There was another long silence before Shining again spoke up.

“Truce?”

Free smiled slightly. “Truce.”

Free held up one foot with clenched talons, and Shining hoof-bumped him. Then both broke out in embarrassed laughter.

Shining got up and said with a genuine smile, “Look after my sister, bug-brain.”

“You bet, pie-face.”

Shining took his place beside his wife while Free cuddled up to Twilight.

Right at the appointed moment, the Royal Trumpeters signaled for attention. Path activated the public address spell that amplified his voice so that the entire crowd could hear him clearly.

“Ponies… Changelings… Thestrals… Griffons… Today I speak to you not as a member of any of these races or their nations, but as a citizen of the world of Equus! Just a few days ago we all stood up as one, and ended the reign of the mad queen, Chrysalis!”

The crowd cheered.

“Chrysalis was a threat not only to this city, but to the entire world. Such a powerful enemy needed an equally powerful force to defend against her swarms. This we accomplished, but it was only made possible with the cooperation of many different groups united under one banner, the banner of House Path!”

The crowed kept cheering louder.

“House Path has sworn to become Equus’ Shield. This House is a beacon of learning, intercultural understanding, a place where you can sharpen your mind as well as your body, and a safe haven for everyone regardless of which species they may be!”

The energy of the crowd just kept increasing.

I ask you now – who among you recognizes House Path and declares an alliance?!

Off to Path’s right, Shining Armor and Cadance came forward and declared to the crowd, “The Crystal Empire recognizes the noble House Path and declares an alliance!”

Enthusiastic roars of approval greeted their declaration.

Next, Luna and Twilight stepped forward and said, “The Equestrian Kingdom recognizes the noble House Path and declares an alliance!”

Yells and clopping hooves applauded.

Dianthia was next to step forward. “The Hives of Equestria recognize the noble House Path and declare an alliance!”

An enormous buzz of enthusiasm came from the changelings, but not a few ponies as well.

Lord Harkness then came forward and declared in heavily accented Equish, “The noble warriors of Griffonia recognize the noble House Path, and will seek to forge an alliance between the House, our kingdom, and yours.” He repeated it in Griffish for those who could not understand Equish.

Raptor screams and thundering wings gave their approval.

While the crowd was focused on everyone else, Free had slipped back into the room and transformed into his natural changeling queen form, although he did augment some of his aspects to look more impressive. On cue, he then followed after Harkness.

“I am Queen Gossamer, the Chrome Changeling who wrested control of the Blue Hive from mad Queen Chrysalis. I am here today to assure you all that you will never have to fear the Blue Changelings again. The Blue Hive recognizes the noble House Path, and will not only ally itself with it, but serve as its strong right hoof. In the future, all sapient beings will look to the House in their time of need, and we will answer their call. Long live the House of Path! Long live Lord Long Path!”

The roar of the crowd started to get overwhelming, and Path had to wait until it died down before he could speak again.

“With every new alliance, the shield grows stronger, as do the people it protects! I promise you all now that the House of Path will never seek to rule or interfere in a nation’s business. It will be a mediator and a sanctuary. It will be Equus’ strong protecting hooves and sharp defending claws, not its head. Today is a day to be proud! Tonight we celebrate our unity! Go in peace my friends!”

The group left the still-cheering crowd and gathered in the room. Once the doors to the balcony were closed and the curtains drawn so that they were out of sight, Path was suddenly engulfed in light green fire, and Proper Place was revealed. He leaned against Twilight, panting. “I have never felt that much respect and enthusiasm before! Such heady stuff!”

“The medallion only filters out the ambient love, so the other emotions can still hit you just as hard,” Twilight observed.

“No kidding!” Proper said fervently.

Twilight then turned to Gossamer and said, “You laid it on a bit thick, didn’t you?”

“I was caught up in the moment,” she said with an unabashed grin, “but I meant every word that I said. I hope you liked it, Path.”

Back in Canterlot, Path rested in his sustenance pod with a comm inside with him. He had listened to every word and heard the crowd’s response. While he could not reply while immersed in the healing gel, his smile of happiness at the success of the event could not be wiped from his face. ‘Yes, I liked it, Free. I liked it very much, my soul-brother.

 

Author's Note:

Phew! Was this ever a tough chapter to get done! Anyway, I hope you liked the resolution of the battle with Chrysalis. The show usually had the heroes cooperating to defeat a villain, so I felt that it would need cooperation of another kind to win the day.

So, who foresaw the possibility of Shining Armor ascending into an alicorn? Be honest! When my collaborator suggested this, I was initially against the idea, but the more that I thought about it, the more sense it made. Shining is undoubtedly a very powerful unicorn in his own right, and being the target of the power of Harmony, it just seemed a logical step. At least Cadance will be happy.

One more chapter to go as an epilogue. I don't know if I'll make it to the 200,000 word mark, but it's going to come close!

I also overindulged in art this time around. The picture of Mort was done by Baron Engel nearly two months ago, and has been waiting for me to get to this point to use it. By contrast, the split pic of Path was done just a few hours before I posted the chapter, after I had finished writing it. That and all but one of the rest of the pictures were by my usual go-to artist, Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf. However, the "Healing the Crystal Heart" picture was donated later by a fan. and drawn by Fantazyme.

EDIT - 26 March 2016: Okay, if you have now seen the premiere of Season 6, do you realize just how similar that scene of restoring the Crystal Heart is to the illustration in this chapter? I'm boggled if you're not.

Also, as of the finale of Season 5 and now reinforced by Season 6, I wish I'd had a crystal ball to see the future because I sure would have put Starlight Glimmer in Sunset Shimmer's place in the story. I still like Sunset's design better though.

   
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