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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24. Chapter 18: Ascendancy

“So, this is the source of the unexpected resistance,” Chrysalis said. “I should have known that I would clash with you again, Twilight Sparkle, but this earth pony with delusions of pegasus-hood is a surprise. And who’s this she-griffon who so defiantly stands guard over him? I taste your fear, but also your love for him. He’s your mate? Good – you can watch as I drain him of every shred of feeling he has for you for daring to try to capture me!”

Roseclaw hissed defiantly at the changeling queen.

Chrysalis smirked, and then looked upwards, fixing her sights on the Skyshark. “And my spies tell me that new toy of yours is what has been coordinating your army. Let’s get that out of the way, shall we?”

A huge swarm of drones suddenly headed for the airship.

Twilight screamed. “Streak!”

“Onyx!” Path yelled into his comm. “Full defensive measures! Move the Skyshark to rendezvous with Celestia’s contingent.”

The great airship immediately started moving in Celestia’s direction, losing altitude in an attempt to get the city’s shield at its back. The drones got there first of course, but the Skyshark started to show its teeth then. Port hatches that were flush with the skin of the gondola and canopy opened up to reveal the latest in magi-tek weaponry, and began opening fire. Mana charged pellets shot out and exploded on contact, disabling or often killing their targets. Any pellets that missed burned out after a pre-set distance, ensuring that they did no unintended harm. Auto-loading crossbows were operated by the few crewmembers remaining on the ship, taking out more selective targets. The airship also had cannons, but they weren’t designed to be effective against a swarm, and they remained silent.

Nevertheless, as with the city’s shield, several drones still got through to launch their suicidal attack on the airship. Mana-reinforced resins and other materials absorbed the force of the attacks though, with few indications of the brutality of the impacts. The defenses were good for as long as the mana wasn’t drained, and the ship and its crew seemed safe… for the moment anyway.

One among the crew was not concerned about his safety though. Blue Streak had been very tired of doing nothing for so many hours, and he still wanted to get into the action despite witnessing the struggles and injuries their allies were enduring. It simply was not in his nature to be a passive observer, so when the Skyshark finally had to defend itself, he very quickly found himself a station at one of the crossbows, and started taking out the enemy. While aiming at the changelings was not easy for the rest of the crew, to Streak’s hyper-reactive senses, they might well have been virtually motionless, and it seemed like he had all the time in the world to line up a target and fire. He never missed, and he fired as fast as the auto-loading system would allow. It felt good to let out his frustrations after witnessing his father’s failure to capture Chrysalis.

Path pulled himself up onto his hooves with a groan. Bruises and burns, he decided, but otherwise intact. He tapped his comm. “We’ve taken our best shot and lost, so now she’s becoming overconfident. We have to be able to use that against her somehow.”

Twilight replied, “You’re right. How do we go about this?”

Roseclaw said, “Three-pronged attack! Twilight – you need to use your force fields to run interference for us. Clear the air of changelings so that Path and I can get to Chrysalis. While we attack and distract her, you can join us and we’ll try the trap again. Path and I will keep the drones away while you concentrate on the spell.”

“You’re not going to be able to hold off that many drones in the time it takes to complete the spell!” Twilight protested.

“We have to try!” Roseclaw insisted.

Twilight hated it, but the griffon was right. “Okay. Are you ready?” At a nod from both Roseclaw and Path, Twilight took off and started towards Chrysalis, thereby attracting the attention of her defenders. She started shoving them away, occasionally blasting and killing some that made it too close.

Roseclaw and Path took off close behind Twilight, and they worked their way through the gaps that the alicorn was making. It looked as though their strategy might be working. Unfortunately, Chrysalis noticed their approach, and suddenly a huge swarm diverted in their direction. Most of them directed their attention at Roseclaw and Twilight, but for some reason, they were mostly ignoring Path. He managed to slip closer and closer, and he charged up his tek-horn to blast the changeling queen. Just as he was about to launch his attack, Chrysalis turned and focused her attention on him, and with a malicious laugh, shot a bolt of magic fire at him. While his armor absorbed the brunt of the attack, he nevertheless was sent floundering through the air. The mad queen followed him, and began brutally pounding him both with hooves and with horn blasts, while his companions were helpless to prevent it. He was beaten to the ground, and after another bruising impact, Chrysalis landed beside him and her horn glowed with power. Instead of a killing blow though, telekinesis ripped his tek-wings from his armor, rendering him flightless.

Chrysalis laughed maniacally before she started gloating. “I said that I would have my vengeance on you, upstart pony, and your mate would witness it.”

Path struggled to his hooves and replied, “Oh yeah? I might have something to say about that first.” He turned about and bucked. The shockwave from his thunderhooves sent Chrysalis tumbling, and Path galloped painfully after her. Before she had time to recover, he bucked again. Once more, the queen was sent flying out of control and the pony followed. This time though, he took a bit of extra time to try to buck her directly instead of using the shockwave. That was a mistake. He didn’t listen to Cadance’s voice yelling that the drain on the Crystal Heart had suddenly increased. In the short extra time that Path took to position himself, Chrysalis drew enough love energy to recover and power up her horn. She blasted the earth pony just as he was about to deal the winning blow.

This time it was Path who was sent tumbling, his protective armor shattered by the blow, as well as several ribs. Dazed, confused, and in a lot of pain, Path tried to pull himself together. He looked for his allies, but they were hidden behind a veritable cloud of drones. They probably could not even see his current plight. He could see his nemesis though as she walked up to him in a calm fury that chilled his blood. Blood dripped from her mouth and she spat it away. Cracks in her chitin seeped more, but then they glowed with power and sealed up. The close proximity to the Heart was accelerating her healing to an amazing degree, and by the time she stood beside him, she was whole once more.

“That was quite a trick, pony. Let’s make sure you can’t do that again, and stop you from running away at the same time.” She reared up, and then her forehooves came crashing down on Path’s hind legs.

Path screamed in agony as his leg bones snapped.

“Can you do that with your front hooves too, little pony? Maybe I should break those too?” Chrysalis laughed as she watched Path writhe in pain. “Perhaps that won’t be necessary, and I’m so looking forward to draining you of every bit of your love and all your positive emotions.” She loomed over him, baring her long fangs, taking delight in the terror she was invoking in him as she slowly approached his neck.

There suddenly was a blue blur that slammed into the changeling queen’s side, accompanied by an ear-shattering sonic boom. Chrysalis was hurled a huge distance away, her chitin shattered, coughing up blood. A blue-furred colt was lying nearby, crying in pain.

Blue Streak had taken a weapon emplacement that had given him a good view of his family’s battle with Chrysalis. As the attacks on the airship had eased, he had given a lot of attention to the fight, and when his father had been knocked to the ground, he decided that he wasn’t going to take a passive role anymore. He raced away to the closest exit and opened the hatch. Although the airship was not grounded, it was low enough that he could leap onto a nearby rooftop. He was able to travel from rooftop to rooftop by using his great speed to bridge the gaps until he was able to find a route to the ground. However, just before he lost his high viewpoint, he witnessed Chrysalis looming over his father. He screamed in anger and concern and poured on the speed more than he had ever done before. With an almost straight run down an abandoned street, Streak zeroed in on the changeling queen, and he shattered the sound barrier for the first time.

The impact at Mach one would have killed almost anyone, but a changeling queen was made of sterner stuff. Nevertheless her concentration and connection to the hive-mind was disrupted, and the drones eased off their attacks. As her view cleared, Twilight was finally able to get an unobstructed look at the situation. She saw Path lying in a wretched heap but Roseclaw was already rushing to his aid. She had heard the thunderhooves, but the sonic boom had puzzled her until she spotted the blue colt lying nearby Chrysalis.

“Streak!” she cried, and flew hastily to his side. It was immediately obvious that he had broken both his front legs in the attack, and the fur around his eyes was drenched with tears caused by the pain. However, it seemed that his magic talent had spared him any other major damage. “Oh, Streak! You foolish, wonderful colt. Thank Celestia that you’re alive.” She turned her attention to Chrysalis, and realized with a shock that the queen was already recovering. Twilight hastily began an attack on the queen, but once again she was inundated by the soldier drones. She cursed herself as she realized that she had squandered a valuable opportunity to bring the battle to an end because of her concern for her foster son. Worse yet, as Chrysalis painfully got up, she could see that changeling was boiling in rage, and the attack that soon followed was equally furious. Twilight threw up a shield to cover herself and Streak, and Chrysalis battered away at it ineffectually.

Suddenly the swarm parted and a red-maned alicorn flew in to blast Chrysalis away. Free landed beside Twilight and said, “You have to let me have a crack at her now!”

Twilight nodded. “Do it. I’ll help as best I can, but I have to protect Streak.”

“I know. Keep him safe, Twi.”

Chrysalis had returned by then, the magic burns from the horn blast visibly healing as they watched. “Who are you? You’re no alicorn! How did you get past my soldier drones?”

Free grinned grimly. “I got past the same way as I usually do. I confuse your changelings, Chryssy. They don’t know what to make of me either, and while they’re trying to make up their simple minds, I’ve either already killed them or gotten past them. As for my name, I’m Free Agent, the one who is going to kill you.”

Chrysalis laughed. “A great boast from a changeling without their own swarm. Your name means nothing to me!”

Free smirked. “What? Don’t you recognize one of your own, mother?”

For the first time, Chrysalis looked startled and confused. “What are you talking about?”

“Perhaps this will jog your memory,” Free replied, and transformed into his natural body.

Chrysalis’ eyes widened at the sight of the chrome-chitined queen in front of her. “Gossamer?” she blurted out.

It was Free’s turn to be startled. “Say what?”

Chrysalis’ expression firmed. “So you survived after all. It’s not too late for you to join me and share in my conquest of this empire.”

“Join you?” Free laughed and turned back into his alicorn form. “I want nothing to do with you, bitch! You bucked up my life, and now I’m going to take yours!”

Chrysalis sneered. “You don’t really think that becoming a fake alicorn will achieve that, do you?”

Free grinned ferociously. “It has two advantages. One – I can use all my powers this way, and two – it looks absolutely nothing like your ugly face!”

Chrysalis snarled in rage and attacked. The time for talk was past, and neither was holding back. Each combatant blasted the other with full-powered horn attacks. Some struck, and others missed or were deflected. The injuries incurred were healing almost as fast as they were being inflicted.

Cadance’s voice came over the comm, the concern evident in her tone. “What’s happening? The draw on the Heart has risen to its greatest yet. I’m holding it together with my power, but it’s starting to crack under the strain!

Twilight replied as she maintained the shield against the swarm. “Our trap has failed, and Free has engaged with Chrysalis directly. He’s the only one who has been able to get to her, but he needs the power of the Heart to fight her.”

If this keeps up, there might be no Heart to fight over,” Cadance warned.

“At this stage, I don’t think it really matters to Chrysalis,” Twilight replied worriedly.

Find another way to attack her!” Cadance pled.

‘But what?’ Twilight thought helplessly as she watched the fight.

Suddenly a large number of the drones surrounding Chrysalis, defending her from other enemies while she was preoccupied with Free, glowed green and dropped to the ground, apparently exhausted. Chrysalis’ horn lit up brighter than ever, and energy poured forth and shot at Free, blasting him into the stadium that had hosted the Equestria Games. He crashed through the roof and into the seats, wreaking destruction as plummeted helplessly.

Chrysalis started laughing contemptuously again, and focused her attention back on the others. The attacks on both Twilight with Streak, and Roseclaw with Path ramped up as the changeling queen once more made her way towards the earth pony, intent on making good on her threat to drain him.

Up until then, Twilight had sought to fight as dispassionately as possible in order to maintain her mental equilibrium in a situation that ran completely counter to her instincts. Now though, the constant attacks on her loved ones pushed her into fury. Twilight’s hide glowed white hot as her mane seemed to burst into flame and her horn pulsed with power. She had a clear shot for once, and she sent a huge burst of magic at the laughing changeling, hurtling her away and back towards the stadium, smashing through everything still left standing. Just then, Free rose from the wreckage to resume his battle with Chrysalis. Despite the mighty blow though, the changeling queen recovered quickly, and defended herself more than adequately against him.

 

 

Princess Celestia suddenly approached the combatants, leading a charge on the changeling queen with a squad of Royal Guards. However, with but a thought, Chrysalis swamped them all with a huge swarm of soldier drones.

“Go away, Celestia,” Chrysalis snarled. “This is between me and my ungrateful offspring!”

It seemed that Free had to win this fight on his own, or not at all.

Twilight’s fur and mane resumed their normal state. She could not maintain the rage, and unlike Chrysalis, she could not replace the expended energy as readily, nor could she steal it from the drones to add to that she already she had. The drones had already recovered by now, and would soon be full of love energy once again. Chrysalis’ hordes not only were an inexorable offence and potent defense, but were apparently living batteries too. How could they possibly overcome that?

“Twilight!” Path called. “We need to help Free!”

“I know, but how?!”

“We have to match Chrysalis’ strategy. We have to supply Free with energy.”

“Again – how?”

“My link with Free! Can I channel power to him that way?”

Twilight was startled, and began to think furiously. “Is the tek-horn intact?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“What about the mana converters in your boots?”

“Still working.”

“Then I think we can do it. I need to write a quick spell into your horn. Hang on one moment!” She picked up Streak with her telekinesis, and the colt whimpered in pain as his broken legs shifted. Twilight held them as steadily as she could as she carried him over to Path. “I’m really sorry, Streak, but I haven’t the time to do a complex healing spell right now.” He placed him gently down as soon as she could cover all four of them with her shield.

Roseclaw nearly collapsed with relief as she no longer had to fight off the drones. “I’ll look after Streak while you do what you need to do, Twilight.”

Twilight nodded, and hastily began constructing a spell to program into the tek-horn. Sweat beaded on her brow as she wrote the complex equations in her head and adapted them hastily. There was no time to test her assumptions, nor even be sure that it would work at all. It was time to prove her mettle as the Avatar of Magic though, and she touched her horn to Path’s magi-tek prosthetic. Her horn glowed as the spell was transcribed, and then it was ready.

“You need to use your earth pony magic to draw power from the ground. That will provide sufficient power for the horn to convert into a form for your link to Free to use,” Twilight explained. “I hope,” she added.

“Just in time,” Path said as they saw the combatants break free of the confines of the stadium. The boots on his forehooves glowed as they drew strength from the earth, as was the earth ponies’ prerogative. Just as it had been channeled to his now-defunct wings, so was the mana directed to the tek-horn. Path saw the new spell highlighted in his mind, and he triggered it. The horn infused the mana into his chi, and his thoughts directed the power to Free via his indelible link to his soul-brother.

Free whinnied in surprise as he felt the rush of power flow into him, and he spared a glance in the direction of his House-mates. Then he turned his attention back to the fight and unleashed the power on his foe. Chrysalis was surprised by the strength of the blow, but it still wasn’t enough to match her own. The fight continued, and once more Free was sent crashing to earth.

“It’s not enough power!” Path grated out. “I need all four hooves drawing strength from the ground.”

“Your legs are broken!” Twilight protested. “I can’t move your hooves into place without causing you great pain.”

“Just do it!” Path insisted.

Twilight reluctantly and very carefully lifted Path’s hind quarters telekinetically, and shifted his legs into position so that the hooves were properly in contact with the ground while keeping the legs as straight as possible. Path gritted his teeth and sweat broke out on his brow as she did this, but the boots glowed as the power take-up began. The tek-horn pulsed once more with a greater burst of power.

Free drew on the strength readily to heal his injuries and resume the fight which became ever more furious and destructive. The side-effects of their battle were doing much damage to the unprotected suburbs, and many crystal ponies were losing their homes. Power blasts matched power blasts, and fires started in the backwash. The only time though that Chrysalis looked anything less than in control was when Free resorted to physical attacks taught to him by Warfist. The changeling queen was completely unused to these tactics, and frequently fell for them, only to counter with telekinetically hurled objects and more magic blasts. Gradually, Chrysalis got the upper hoof once again and hurled Free to the ground for the third time. He crashed through the roof of a house and lay there stunned.

“It’s still not enough!” Path said between clenched teeth as tears of pain squeezed out from behind tightly closed eyelids. “Isn’t there a way of boosting the power?”

“There is, but you wouldn’t be able to take it,” Twilight replied.

“Tell me what it is!” Path insisted.

“I would feed you my power, but you’re not an alicorn, and your body would not be able to sustain it.”

“And if we lose, what would that matter?”

“There’s more. To do this, I would have to make a link as strong as the one you have with Free.”

“So what?”

“So it would be permanent. Once forged, that link is for life!”

“Twilight – you’re my herd-mate, my brother’s mate, and almost as dear to me as Roseclaw. Would that really make much difference?”

“I suppose not, but you don’t know what other consequences there may be.”

“Consequences worse than death? Do it! Please!” Despite the pain he was enduring, Path opened his eyes and fixed Twilight with a rock-solid gaze of determination.

Twilight’s fear of what might happen melted in the face of Path’s resolution, and she lowered her horn. A moment before she began though, Roseclaw said, “If it will help, can you add me in also?”

Twilight was about to say no, but she realized that this wasn’t really a request. However, she had no intention of putting Roseclaw in a direct link with herself. An indirect link via Path though…. She nodded and began her spell. It was a slight modification of a teaching technique that let student and teacher achieve a form of harmony meant for more philosophical pursuits. Warfare made for strange innovations though. She reached out with a mind spell and felt for Path’s presence. That done, she forged a bond between their chis. Then from there she could sense Roseclaw because of Path’s love for her, and she forged another link between the griffon and Path. Neither link could have been achieved without that existing pre-existing connection. To do it, Twilight had to admit that she loved her herd-mate, even if that paled before her love for Free. The four were now one, united through Long Path.

“I hope you’re ready for this, Roseclaw, because it’s not going to be easy. Path, I’m sorry, but this is going to hurt. Give Free my power and our love!”

Twilight put a wing around Path’s torso and indicated that Roseclaw do the same. Then her horn lit up again as she started to transfer some of her power to Path whose tek-horn glowed in response. The earth pony shuddered and whimpered as the mana surged through his body and then through the link to Free.

Free’s head cleared as the influx of energy revived him and healed him yet again. For a moment, he took wonder in the nature of the extra energy and the love that powered it, but he could not afford to do so for long. He shrugged off the rubble of the roof tiles and timbers just in time to notice Chrysalis moving in for the kill. He blocked her horn blast and hastily made another destructive exit from the poor dwelling.

Chrysalis was getting a bit perturbed. Every time she knocked down her upstart offspring, he came back stronger than before. How was he doing it? “Curse you, Gossamer! You should be fighting with me, not against me. We’d be unstoppable!”

“That’s the kind of thing I’m afraid of,” he replied with venom. “And the name’s Free Agent.”

“How can you hope to stand against me, child? I am far older, more experienced, and stronger than you. Give up this foolishness!”

“Stronger than me? You steal your love, but mine is given to me freely. Who’s the stronger for it? Let me show you what true love can do!”

The fight resumed with a vengeance as Free released the power that was flowing into him, and this time it was Chrysalis who was sent crashing through the side of a building. Free was dismayed to see a small nearby swarm of changeling drones suddenly collapse to the ground as they were drained of energy, and he braced himself for the inevitable. Sure enough, Chrysalis burst out of the building, seemingly unharmed by the collision, and the battle resumed.

While Path, Twilight and Roseclaw could only see parts of the battle, their link to Free gave them a clear enough indication of what was happening.

“Twilight – it isn’t enough,” Path gasped out painfully. “Free can’t make a conclusive strike against Chrysalis while she can draw on both the Heart and her minions. You have to give me more power!”

“You can’t handle more power, Path! You’re practically burning up already!”

“I have to handle it. Unless you’ve suddenly got another brilliant plan, this is the only way we can stop Chrysalis.”

“No! It will kill you!” Twilight wailed.

“Damn it, Twilight, don’t make me do this. As the Lord of the House of Path, and by the tenets of our House that require us to protect the helpless, I order you to give me more power. Please!

Twilight started crying, but she nodded and let go of the last bit of restraint that she had on her magic. Her eyes shot open wide as they turned a bright red and her fur shifted to white hot again. Her energy poured into Path, and he screamed in agony. Twilight thought she could smell something burning, and she could see a red puddle starting to form under the earth pony as his body shook as he continued to act as the conduit for their combined power. It was sheer torture… but it was working. Not only did their power flow though, but so did their minds, and the four were bonded as never before.

The changeling queen and the pseudo-alicorn were blurs of motion as each used their borrowed power to try to get a killing shot in. They were firing their blasts in broad beams due to the fact that they were evading as well as trying to hit each other. The devastating shafts of magical energy were sweeping quickly in random directions; one beam cut through a block of crystal homes, while another one moved across the central castle shield, causing it to pulse and flicker dangerously. The gestalt realized that they were at a stalemate, and the kingdom was running out of time because they would not be able to maintain this level for long. They had to win and they had to win now. Then the part of the gestalt that was Twilight realized something.

Changelings can’t teleport,’ she recalled saying.

We are so much more,’ the Path component observed.

Let’s do it!’ Free’s aspect declared.

Free’s horn lit up once again, but this time he let the power build up without releasing it. Chrysalis saw this, but Free’s lack of attempt to line himself up for an attack left her free to dodge or counter at whim. She chose to use the extra moments to prepare her own next attack. Then after what seemed an interminable time in this furiously-paced battle, the pseudo-alicorn disappeared, to Chrysalis’ immense surprise. Free reappeared behind and above the changeling queen, and before Chrysalis realized and could react, the gigantic accumulation of power was released, and a shaft of energy tore through Chrysalis’ body. She plummeted to the ground, and the aura of power around her started dying.

“VICTORY!” screamed Free in the Royal Canterlot Voice.

Every Blue Changeling drone suddenly ceased doing anything. Those on the ground simply collapsed where they were. The ones in the air plummeted to the earth, and the highest ones were killed by the impact.

Free landed beside Chrysalis’ form and noticed that she was still not dead. Amazingly, the enormous wound was glowing with magic along the edges and attempting to heal, although it was far too large to succeed, so he knew it was only a matter of time. Her eyes managed to focus on him, and she tried to talk, but only hacked up blood. She tried again, and Free moved closer to try to hear what she was saying.

“H…how?” she managed to say.

“I told you already – True Love and the Magic of Friendship. You should have tried it.”

Chrysalis managed a ghost of a smile. “At last… a worthy … … heir.” With the final dregs of her strength, she reached out and touched Free’s nearest hoof. A spark leaped between them, and then she collapsed completely. The light left Chrysalis’ eyes as the changeling queen died.

Free stood there in shock for a long moment as he realized what Chrysalis had done. Then he started cursing and kicking the corpse. “Celestia damn you to Tartarus, you bucking bitch. You miserable excuse for a mother! Just had to get the last laugh, didn’t you? I hope there’s a hell and you burn in it forever!”

His squad found him there minutes later, still kicking the corpse, and on his twentieth iteration of his complete collection of curses.

Twilight’s power had ceased flowing immediately upon victory, and she wavered in near exhaustion. Path raised a shaking hoof to his comm and said with a weak and raspy voice, “Chrysalis is defeated. We have won.” His hoof dropped and he slumped lifelessly. Twilight realized that Path was totally still and not even breathing, his eyes staring unseeing.

Roseclaw screeched in horror. “Path! Speak to me, beloved!” She shook him to try to get him to respond, and then pulled her talons back to stare at them in shock. His body was so hot, it was almost painful.

Twilight hit her comm. “Azon! Medical emergency! Lord Path is dying!” Then she immediately set to work with a healing spell. She shuddered as the spell revealed the extent of the damage done to his tortured body, and she wondered if her attempts were going to be in vain. Despite her tiredness, she spared no effort in trying to revive him. When the griffon-changeling doctor arrived, he worked desperately in conjunction with Twilight to try to bring Path back from death’s door.

# # #

The pain was gone. So were the sounds of battle. In fact, Path could sense almost nothing. His eyes stared out at a formless grey mist. He tried to move, but nothing responded. ‘Is this death?’ he wondered.

Nothing happened for an interminably long moment, but then a dark shape started to rise out of the mist as Path watched. The shape firmed, but remained lacking in detail. In fact it resembled a living shadow rather than a solid form, but it was a shadow that Path had glimpsed twice before. Now he could recognize it though, and if he could actually do anything, he would have gasped in surprise. It was an alicorn, but one as ethereal as Celestia’s mane. The alicorn’s head turned towards Path, and its eyes opened to stare at him. Those terrible eyes were the sole source of light, glowing a cold spectral blue.

‘Long Path, you were destined to die here, and yet you had many opportunities to avoid this fate. You could have chosen to direct the battle from safety, and you could have chosen not to destroy yourself to give Free Agent the power he needed to ensure victory. And yet you willingly embraced your fate. Why?’

Path still couldn’t move, yet he found voice somehow. “This wasn’t just about me. If I had to die so that a whole kingdom could live, then I consider that a win. The framework of the House has been set and I have an heir. If it ends here, then it ends with me knowing that the world has a chance.”

The fate of the world has indeed been altered due to your choices. Few have had that privilege. You have become a focal point, a signpost to a future of your shaping.

“You talk as if I can do more, but aren’t I dead?”

I am the gatekeeper for death’s door at which you lie. With but a thought, I could pass you through, but I don’t believe that is your new destiny, so I am giving you a choice. You may pass on to your just reward, or you may return to the world of the living. However, if you choose the latter, be aware that you will have to pay a hefty price.

“But I’ll still be with my family?”

Of course. They will be your source of strength for the years to come.

“Then I choose life! I am not ready to leave them behind as yet.”

Very well, it shall be done.’ The shadow alicorn moved towards Path.

“Who are you?” Path asked.

Call me Mort. We will not meet again for a very long time, Long Path.

Mort leaned over, and a tendril of his mane touched Path’s head. His perception swirled and broke up, to be replaced by the harsh glare of sunlight, a cacophony of voices, and pain. So much pain!

 

 

# # #

“He’s breathing!” someone shouted.

“His heart has restarted too,” someone else said.

“Twilight, concentrate on healing his magic burns. If we can stabilize him internally, we can deal with his other injuries later.”

Path groaned. “Hurts…” he managed to say.

“Hang in there, Lord Path,” a voice that Path finally recognized as Doctor Azon’s said soothingly. “I have some painkillers for you as soon as we deal with the worst problems.”

Whatever they were doing, it seemed to be adding to the pain rather than alleviating it. However, considering that he was still alive to experience it, at least was better than the alternative. “Rose…”

“I’m here, my love. Free and Twilight too.”

Claws that could eviscerate an enemy, instead gently caressed his head, making him feel a lot better.

“I came as soon as they told me what happened to you,” Free said, his voice heavy with concern. “I lost contact with you after the fight.”

Path’s eyes managed to focus on his soul brother. He managed a smile. “Alicorn of Awesome…”

The pseudo-alicorn’s eyes were full of tears, but he smiled in response to Path. “Not as awesome as you, Path.”

“Please stop trying to talk, Path,” Twilight told him, her words heavy with emotion.

“Not going… to die yet,” Path tried to reassure them as the memory of his encounter with Mort resurfaced.

Twilight misinterpreted his words. “No, we’re doing our best to make sure you survive your crazy stunt.”

Azon said, “I’m injecting a painkiller now. Mind the prick!”

Path would have laughed at the doctor’s warning if it didn’t already hurt so much. Blessed relief from the worst of the pain started almost immediately, and he sighed in relief.

A pair of unicorns galloped up just then, carrying large saddlebags. One of them said, “Princess Sparkle, we’re healers sent by Princess Cadance to take care of Lord Path. Please allow us to take over from you.”

Twilight nodded and readily let them take her place. Not only were they better trained in magical healing than she was, but the two working in conjunction could achieve far more.

The healer added, “Her Highness also requested that you join her as soon as possible. We can work with your doctor without needing you here right now.”

Twilight realized that he was politely telling her to get out of the way, and she nodded. She turned her attention to Blue Streak. “Let’s do something about those legs of yours now. I'm sorry, but this is going to hurt a bit while I straighten them.” She cuddled up close to Streak to comfort him as she worked, knowing that it was going to be very painful. Her horn lit up and she started a healing spell to pull his broken legs back into position and the bones back in order. The colt whimpered and she stroked him comfortingly. “You know, you may be incredibly fast, but you’re not invulnerable.”

“Sorry, Mama.”

“Don’t be sorry, Streak. You saved your father’s life when none of us could do anything. You even broke the sound barrier! You’re a very remarkable colt. There! I’ve fused the bones together. However, you have to stay off those legs for a while so that they can fully heal and get their full strength back.”

“Okay, Mama. Can I stay with Dad?”

“If these healers let you, sure, but Free is here for you too.” Looking over to Free, she said, “Keep an eye on Streak while I go find out what Cadance wants. You can update me with anything important happening here via comm if necessary.”

Free nodded. “No problem, Twi. I won’t be leaving Path’s side, so Streak will be fine with me.”

Twilight was too tired to teleport, so she took flight. Despite her weariness, she pushed herself to make good time to the palace, and with the shield now gone, it didn’t take long. The sight that awaited her though, made her gasp.

Her friends were all lying on the floor where she had left them previously. They were obviously exhausted but otherwise okay, and they gave her a welcoming smile. It was her brother that caused her concern though. Cadance trotted over to speak to Twilight.

“Shining dropped the shield as soon as we could confirm that the battle was indeed completely over. However, while the avatars stopped supplying him with the power of Harmony, the glow of power surrounding him hasn’t abated at all, and he hasn’t responded to us since.”

Shining Armor was indeed still glowing, but unlike the avatars, he seemed to be at rest rather than exhausted. Twilight was at a loss at what to do because the power was inherently safe, and her brother looked otherwise fine. Then as they watched, the glow seemed to expand and bulge out from his body from his shoulders. His eyes opened, and he stood up and shook himself as the glow died away.

“Sweet Celestia! I feel great!” he declared with a grin. “Hey, sis, congrats on the great win…. what are you staring at?”

Twilight lifted a hoof to point. “Look behind you, BBBFF.”

Shining Armor turned his head to look and then stumbled backwards in shock. “What the…? Where did thosecome from?”

Proudly spreading from his shoulders were a pair of wings the color of his fur.

 

 

Twilight looked at Cadance who shrugged. “Shining has always been a powerful unicorn in his own right, so perhaps he ascended because he was the focus of Harmony?” she suggested.

“That’s a bit like what happened to me,” Twilight agreed. She turned back to Shining and walked up to him to put her forelegs around his neck and give him a kiss on the cheek. “Welcome to alicornhood, big brother.”

“This is so unexpected, Twily.”

“I know. Think of it this way though – you don’t have to worry about leaving Cadance alone because of dying of old age anymore.”

Cadance joined her sister-in-law and husband. She gave him a long kiss before saying, “I look forward to doing that for centuries with you, my love.”

Shining Armor grinned. “Great! Now will someone tell me how to fold these things up?”

Twilight laughed. “Have fun figuring it out. I know I did.” She then turned to her friends and hugged them all. “Congratulations on a job well done, especially you, Sunset. I knew that you had it in you to be a great avatar.”

Sunset Shimmer put a hoof behind her head and rubbed her neck self-consciously as she smiled sheepishly. “Thanks for having faith in me, Twilight.”

 

 

“You deserve it. The girls and I have really enjoyed having you join our circle of friendship.”

“How’s your new family working out?”

Twilight’s face fell. “Path was seriously injured, and he was actually clinically dead for about four minutes before we managed to revive him. They’re still working on him right now.”

“Oh! I’m sorry to hear that. What about Free? I heard that he confronted Chrysalis directly.”

“He’s okay. While he was injured, he’s already healed. That’s the advantage of being a changeling with a virtually unlimited amount of love energy available to him. Speaking of which, how did the Crystal Heart come through this, Cadance?”

“It survived, obviously, but not unscathed. It has several cracks which I hope won’t get worse. However, its output seems only slightly affected so far.”

“I suppose we’d better ask Free to move back to the border now that he doesn’t need to draw on its power. I don’t know if he’ll leave without Path though. Free’s really worried about him.”

Cadance looked puzzled. “I thought that Free had already left because he’s not drawing power on the Heart anymore.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am. It quickly tapered off shortly after Chrysalis was defeated.”

“That’s very strange. I had better get back to them now.” She turned to the rest and said, “I hate to run, but my family need me now.”

Rarity said, “Of course, darling! Go! Shoo! We can catch up later.”

Twilight flew back to the others and landed next to Free who was cuddling up to Streak while they watched the healers work on Path. She settled down beside him, putting a wing over them both. “Any change?” she asked.

Free replied, “Path lapsed into unconsciousness, but the healers assure me that it’s mostly due to their healing spells. They’ve stabilized him, but they still need to get him to a hospital where he can get the best attention.”

Azon said, “I’d like to take him to Canterlot. They’ll have the best equipment and doctors there.”

“Can he stand a journey like that? Even teleporting is rough on a badly injured person,” Twilight asked.

“I have a proposal: changeling preservation pods. Any living thing put in one of those pods is not only preserved, but virtually in stasis. Path would not feel a thing during the journey.”

“That sounds like a good idea, if the other healers agree?”

Neither of the unicorn doctors had heard of the preservation pods, but after some reassurance from both Azon and Twilight, they agreed.

Azon got up and said, “I’ll get in contact with the appropriate changelings to organize this immediately.” The medic then flew off.

Twilight knew that of course Azon would have no problem finding the necessary changelings, being one himself. There was one more puzzle to deal with though. “Free – Cadance says that the drain on the Crystal Heart has stopped, but you’re still here. How is that possible?”

Free chuckled. “It’s stupidly obvious in retrospect. Chrysalis could draw on any source of love energy at will, even that stored in her drones, but she could also give it away just as readily. That implies full control, and where you have control, you usually have a way of stopping it completely.”

Twilight understood the implications immediately. “So you simply turned it off?”

“Yep. Simple as that, once I knew. No love-drunk queen. No burn-out.”

“So that’s how Chrysalis planned to take the Heart; she knew that she had no problem approaching it closely.”

“I wouldn’t try touching it,” Free admitted, “but telekinesis would do the job of removing it quite well.”

Just then, Princess Celestia flew in, flanked by several Royal Guard pegasi. She immediately trotted over and saw Path’s injuries. She looked at Roseclaw and said, “I heard that Lord Path had almost died. I pray that your mate gets better soon, Lady Roseclaw.”

“Thank you, Your Highness. I believe he will. He’s a mighty stallion.”

“He is indeed.” Celestia turned to Free then. “Free Agent, the Crystal Empire, Equestria, and perhaps the entire world owe you a debt for defeating Chrysalis.”

Free shook his head. “I literally couldn’t have done it on my own. Without Path, Twilight, and Rose, this day probably would have been lost.”

“And yet without you, they could not have achieved the same result. You are a most remarkable individual.”

“Thanks. Don’t forget the invites to your next party.”

Celestia smiled. “You’ll be permanently on the list from now on.” She then turned to Twilight. “My dear Twilight! How you have grown in the few short years that you have been a princess. Your contribution to the defense of this city was immeasurable. So many aspects felt your touch. I am immensely proud of you.”

“Thank you, Celestia. I hope that I don’t see another war though.”

Celestia sighed. “Yes, that is always my hope too, but history tells me otherwise. No matter – we have unfinished business. What do you propose that we do about these immobile changelings?”

Free spoke up. “Why do anything? Leave them long enough and they burn out and die.”

“Free! We can’t just let them die!” Twilight objected.

Free shrugged. “Why not? They’re nearly mindless killing machines.”

“They’re still living creatures, and I’ve had more than enough of death, thank you very much!”

Free stared at Twilight and then sighed. “Okay, you win. It’s easy enough to deal with anyway.”

“Oh? What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that the bitch queen got in one last score on me before she died. Look!” Free pointed to a group of three nearby changelings. “Get up and come over here.”

To everyone’s amazement, the Blue Changelings did exactly that. They stood next to Free, attentively waiting for further orders.

“What is the meaning of this, Free Agent?” Celestia demanded.

“It means that Chrysalis decided that I was a worthy heir to her hive, and transferred the hive-mind to me.” Free transformed into his changeling form, with the addition of a crown. “You’re now looking at Her Majesty, Gossamer, Queen of the Blue Hive.”

There was a stunned silence from both Celestia and Twilight.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel about it too,” Free said before turning to the drones. “Okay, every living drone pick up a drone corpse and carry it to the border. Wait there for further orders.”

As far as everyone could see, the previously unresponsive drones all started getting up and picking up the nearest corpse, flying away with it in the direction of the border.

Free transformed once again, but into his griffon form. “There! No more living drones, and a big start made on clearing out the bodies. Anything more that I can do for you, Princess?”

“If you’re a hive queen now, you really need to join the Council of Queens.”

Free poked his tongue out in distaste. “No, I really don’t. I belong with the House of Path.”

“And what of the hive?” Celestia asked.

“I don’t know. I never wanted it!”

“Free! You have a chance to make a huge difference,” Twilight pointed out. “You can shape the destiny of an entire sub-species of changelings!”

“I thought I was already doing my fair share as part of House Path!”

“Then why not make them part of House Path? Your part.”

Free opened his mouth to argue, but he was struck by a thought. Suddenly he started seeing all sorts of possibilities. He started smirking. “Oh, Sparkles, you don’t know the can of worms you just opened. Okay, I think I have some ideas, but I’m still damned if I’m going to play the queen. I might be stuck with the job, but there are going to be some big changes.”

“What are you up to, Free Agent?” Celestia asked suspiciously.

Free gave her his most roguish grin. “Who me, Celly? The undisputed leader of the biggest and most dangerous army of this continent, and perhaps the world? A changeling queen with enormous power at my disposal? Why should I be up to anything? Right now I could… OW!” Free rubbed his head where Twilight had whacked him with a forehoof.

“Behave yourself, Firetail.”

“Jeez, can’t anypony take a joke?” Twilight just glared at him. “Okay! Okay! Sorry, Twi.” He turned back to Celestia. “Princess, let me assure you right now that I have nothing but the most benevolent of intentions, although perhaps not everything will be to your preference. While my loyalty is to my House, and to my House-mates, I still consider myself a citizen of Equestria, and thus your loyal subject. But if you think I’m going to be any different from what I’ve always been just because of the latest developments, you’ve got another think coming.”

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