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.



3. Chapter 3: This Is Why Free Agent Can't Have Nice Things

Long Path opened the window to their private compartment on the train, letting in the icy cold wind. They had just exited the pass through the Crystal Mountains and were on the last stretch down into the Crystal Empire. Here though, the altitude ensured that snow was still in abundance, and the breeze frigid.

The stallion poked his head out and looked about. Spotting his target, he called out, “Free! Aren’t you getting cold yet?”

The griffon was pacing the train, but weaving around the landscape for the heck of it. His reply was hard to hear over the noise of the train and the wind. “Nah! I’m good. Reminds me of the top of Mount Canterhorn – brisk and invigorating!”

“You said you were only going to be out there for a few minutes to stretch your wings.”

“And they’re feeling much better, thanks! I’m in no hurry to come back inside though if you two nerds are still geeking-out in there.”

Path felt a pang of guilt. Princess Twilight and he had found so much to talk about on the journey from Canterlot that it was possible that he had been ignoring his best friend. Nevertheless he needed him back inside. “Remember the instructions that we got from the Crystal Empire – you’re to keep together with us until we reach the destination.”

“I know! Don’t be a nag! I’ll come back inside in a few minutes,” Free replied petulantly.

Path decided that was good enough and withdrew from the window, closing it firmly. The compartment had lost most of its warmth though, and the tiny heater struggled to bring it back up to a comfortable level.

“Is he coming?” Twilight asked.

“He says he’ll be a few minutes more. That should be in time.”

Twilight nodded in agreement and then asked, “How did you and he become such good friends? You are such different personalities.”

“It’s not that surprising really. I was the only earth pony and he was the only griffon in a class full of unicorn foals who promptly gave us the cold shoulder. We basically supported each other throughout those school years. He’s actually been quite a good influence on me over the years, believe it or not.”

“I find that hard to credit,” Twilight said with a voice heavy with skepticism.

Path grinned. “Yeah, I know, but without him I’d probably be a total stick-in-the-mud with nothing but books as my friends.”

That jolted Twilight. “Um… yeah, I see.”

“I’ve probably got a lot more out of my life because of him, and in return I try to stop him from doing anything too over the top, and keep him out of trouble.”

“What about his overactive libido? That’s a bit excessive for his griffon identity, but totally inconsistent with what I have learned about changelings. They typically react to sexual overtures rather than actively pursue sex.”

“When I thought he was just a griffon, for a long time I didn’t really know enough about the species to say that his libido was excessive. Even after I did learn more, he didn’t strike me as being anything more than being at the extreme end of the curve. However, since I learned his secret and discovered more about changelings, it did seem very strange to me. Like you said, none of the other changelings that I’ve met have been anything like him. However, I do have a theory.”

Twilight’s ears perked up. “Go on!”

“With the exception of the invasion swarm, all the changelings we ever meet in the open are Harvesters, correct?”

“Mostly correct. The queens of each hive have met with the princesses and other top officials, but they don’t normally go out in public.” ‘At least, not undisguised,’ she added mentally, thinking primarily of Fleur De Lis and her penchant for mixing with the common ponies.

Path nodded. “Right. Anyway, I found out that the Harvesters are trained for their task for a long time before being sent out to create new lives in Equestrian society. They are always adults by this stage. Free, on the other hoof, grew up from barely out of nymph stage in the home of a griffon couple, and went to school in Canterlot. He developed a lot of personality in those formative stages, but especially during the teenage years of puberty. Just imagine how a class full of ponies with raging hormones would affect an emotion-sensitive creature like a changeling.”

“Sweet Celestia! It all makes sense. He has been permanently shaped by those experiences. How did his classmates react to that though?”

Path chuckled. “Oh, he became very popular with the girls. Just imagine all those fillies in heat who discovered an equally horny male who couldn’t get them pregnant.”

Twilight gulped as she remembered her own period of puberty and wondered if she would have resisted the temptation like she had with the colts.

Path continued, “However, there’s one thing that really set him apart from the other colts – he always left the fillies pleased and satisfied, and now it’s obvious why. Changelings instinctively act to make the people they’re with happy and content so that they can feed on their positive emotions. As far as I know, despite his outrageous behavior, not one single pony that he’s ever had sex with has ever had regrets about it. Nor any other species or gender for that matter.”

Just then, the door to their compartment opened and Free Agent came inside. “Phew! That feels much better!” he declared, settling himself on the seat next to Twilight. He unfurled a wing and put it around the alicorn’s barrel. “You don’t mind if I warm up next to you, do ya?” he asked with his boldest grin.

Twilight could feel a hot blush burning her face. Knowing what she did about him now, it was hard not to picture what it would be like being with the griffon. Worse yet, he was probably tasting those stray emotions. She tried desperately to clamp down on those thoughts, but he still waggled a knowing eyebrow at her.

Free was pleased. This time she had not teleported him away again. Things were looking up!

Much to Twilight’s relief, Path intervened.

“We shouldn’t be much more than about a quarter of an hour away from our rendezvous. You have to stay with us from now on.”

“I’m quite happy right here,” Free replied, his wing still firmly about Twilight.

Both Twilight and Path reckoned that if it got Free to behave, they would tolerate the situation.

Right on schedule, the train started slowing down, but there still were no buildings in sight. They pulled up at a small siding that was located in what appeared to be farmlands.

“Color me unimpressed if this is the Crystal City’s main station,” Free said.

“Hardly,” Twilight replied, “but it’s where you get off. In fact, I see my brother waiting for you out there.”

“I’m the only one getting off?”

“Yes. Long Path and I will continue on into the city, while you and Shining Armor make your way later. I’ll explain more after we go out to meet him.”

All three disembarked onto the platform, discovering that it was much warmer than it had been in the mountains. Shining Armor came over to meet them, and Twilight trotted ahead to greet her brother with a hug, giving Free a big snack out of the ample love they shared for each other. Then Twilight indicated her travelling companions. “Shiny, the earth pony is Long Path, and Free Agent is the griffon changeling whom you’re expecting. Guys, this is my brother, Prince Shining Armor.”

Shining Armor shook hooves with Path, giving him a sincere smile. “Welcome to the Crystal Empire.” The unicorn then turned to Free who held out his claw. Shining reluctantly shook that also. “You too, I suppose.”

“Shiny! That’s no way to treat a guest!” Twilight objected.

“You know I’m not one of Chrysalis’ minions, don’t you?” Free asked, fully aware of exactly how the unicorn felt about him.

“You know that I was physically and mentally traumatized by her? Shining retorted. “I’m only doing this for Cadance’s sake.”

“And I’m doing this because my best friend has a worthy goal that I’m happy to help him with, so which of us has the better motivation?”

They glared at each other for a bit before Twilight said, “Okay, you two. Break it up! You’re going to have to work together, so put aside your hostilities.”

Free turned to the alicorn with his normal cheerful expression. “I’m cool if he is. You were going to explain why I’m being left here with him though?”

Twilight nodded. “We’re not going to start the testing regime until tomorrow. We have a full day planned, and there won’t be enough time left to do much today, so we might as well relax after our journey. However, because we’re still unaware of what effects a changeling might have on the Crystal Heart, we will be bringing you into the city slowly, and housing you out in the suburbs, well away from the Heart. Shining Armor will be accompanying you to monitor for any worrying effects while we go on ahead. Path and I will rendezvous with Princess Cadance who will be monitoring the Heart from when you begin to come in. If all goes well, we’ll all reunite for dinner in a couple of hours.”

“Okay, but how are either Cadance or Whiny here going to know if something goes wrong at the other end?”

Twilight ignored the slight against her brother, and sincerely hoped he would too. She took two objects out of her saddle-pack and held them up for everypony to see. “These are my latest invention. If you look closely, you will see a crystal mounted on a diaphragm mounted inside these tubes.” She moved them so that they all got a look inside before she continued. “Those crystals used to be one larger crystal upon which I cast a new spell that I call Eternal Oneness. What it does is permanently link every part of that crystal to every other part. After splitting it into two pieces, what I do to one half, also affects the other, no matter how far apart they are. By mounting the crystals on a diaphragm, our voices can vibrate it, and thus the crystal also. As I said though, what happens to one half of the crystal, happens to the other half also, and it vibrates the diaphragm in the other tube, replicating the voice of the distant speaker. That way, anypony can stay in permanent contact no matter how far they travel. I call it the Talkie-Trotty!” she said proudly.

“That’s amazing!” Path said, “but wouldn’t Talkie-Walkie sound better?”

“Talkie-Trottie is alliterative,” Twilight replied defensively.

“But Talkie-Walkie rhymes better,” Path pointed out.

“Are we going to get anywhere before sundown?” Free interrupted.

“Oh, right. Anyway, I’m leaving one with Shining, and I’ll give the other to Cadance when we get to the city. She will then let you know that you can begin.”

“Well done, Twily,” Shining Armor said with a proud smile for his sister. “Now you had better get back aboard the train before the driver gets tired of the delay, and leaves without you.”

“He wouldn’t dare leave behind an Equestrian princess, would he?”

“You obviously don’t know engineers and their obsession with being on time. I’ll see you soon, sis.”

“Will do, BBBFF!” With one last hug, Twilight re-boarded the train, closely followed by Long Path. He was barely inside the carriage when the engine whistle blew, and the train commenced the remainder of the journey.

As they made their way back to their compartment, Path said, “Hey, Twilight, that crystal – if you split it into four pieces instead of two, you could make four of those devices, couldn’t you?”

“Yes, and in fact I could make a lot more than that. However, the effect diminishes in direct proportion to amount you divide it. Four pieces only have half the strength of two pieces. Six pieces would have a third of the strength, eight pieces a quarter of the strength, and so forth. There reaches a point where you simply would not be able to hear at the other end.”

“Then start with a much bigger crystal. You could make lots of Talkie-Walkies out of one crystal then.”

“But if you have too many, how do you know who is supposed to get your message? And it’s Talkie-Trotties!”

“It would probably be good for squads of Guards who need to stay in constant communication. Squad leaders can issue commands, while the Guards need only respond to a direct question. Also, if you put more than one kind of crystal into a Talkie-Walkie, superior officers can address several squads simultaneously.”

“Ooh! That’s a great idea! I’ve got to tell Shiny about that. I bet that soon, everypony will have their own Talkie-Trottie.”

# # #

“So, we’re just going to sit here and wait until we get the call?” Free asked as the train started pulling away.

Shining Armor merely nodded.

“What’s to stop me from just jumping on the train and leave you sitting on your miserable duff?”

Shining gave the griffon a cold smile. “The train would continue, but you wouldn’t.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Follow me.”

Shining Armor started trotting up the platform in the same direction as the departing train. Just before the end of the platform, he stopped but inclined his head to indicate that Free was to continue.

The griffon did so, and almost immediately bumped beak first into an invisible wall. “Ow!” Free carefully reached out with a foreclaw and encountered an unyielding surface.

Shining Armor explained, “It’s a magic barrier, but unlike the spell that blasted Chrysalis’ horde out of Canterlot, this one blocks all types of changelings. If you had been aboard the train, the barrier would have shoved you through as many walls as there were between your compartment and the rear of the train. You probably would not have survived.”

“Nice. You sure have a hate on for changelings, don’t you?”

“I understand that most changelings are perfectly good citizens of Equestria, but I don’t have to like it. Maybe time will change that, but for now it’s not hate that’s the reason for the barrier. We have a perfectly valid reason for banning changelings from the Crystal Empire, and until your friend’s experiments prove otherwise, that ban will stay in place. However, laws alone can’t prevent a changeling from either deliberately or accidentally passing into the empire, so the barrier is absolutely necessary.”

“I understand your reasons, but I don’t have to like them either. I’m a citizen in good standing of Equestria, and I don’t deserve this treatment.”

“This is the Crystal Empire, and the ban stays in place… but with our apologies,” Shining added reluctantly.

Free glared at Shining for a little longer before his beak opened in a grin. “Good enough. Now what are we going to do while we wait? This platform seems to have little in entertainment value. Why is there a platform out here in the middle of nowhere anyway?”

“Freight trains stop here to deliver goods and pick up produce from the farms. Passenger trains don’t usually stop here at all.”

“So it stopped here just for me? That makes me feel so special!”

Shining Armor rolled his eyes. “You’re not like any griffon I’ve ever met before. As a changeling, why would choose such a conspicuous character? You sure don’t blend in at all.”

“Who wants to blend in? And how many griffons have you ever met?”

“Several while I was Captain of the Guard at Canterlot. Looking after the security of the griffon delegation was my responsibility, so I have met many them over the years.”

“Fah! Stuffy diplomats from a kingdom of arrogant arseholes. You obviously haven’t met the average griffon on the streets. My parents left for Equestria to get away from all that. They preferred pony society, even when many ponies were rude to them.”

“Your parents? You’re a changeling! Your parents are changelings!”

To Shining Armor’s shock, suddenly Free Agent was in his face, glaring furiously at him.

“Don’t dis my parents! I may have been born a changeling, but Thundercloud Ironbeak and Zephyr Silverfeather are my real parents. I was brought up as a griffon, and that’s what I am.” He panted heavily in Shining’s face before turning aside and continuing more calmly. “Besides needing to consume positive emotions like love for energy, I’m not really different from the average griffon. Buck! I didn’t even realize that eating love was not what griffons normally do until I was much older and met my first changeling in pony disguise. That was an eye-opener, let me tell you!”

“You mean to say that you never changed form in all that time?” the unicorn asked incredulously.

“Nope. Dad told me how he found me apparently abandoned, scarcely older than a nymph, although of course he didn’t know anything about nymphs at the time. I was very young, okay? Shortly after they took me into their home, apparently I instinctively changed form into a griffon child. When it became obvious that I wasn’t going to change back, they started teaching me just like any other griffon child, including learning about my griffon heritage. They moved to Canterlot so that I could go to school there and learn to fit in better with pony society. That’s where I met Path and we became best friends. In all those years, I never reverted back to changeling form.”

Shining Armor looked thoughtful for a moment. “So, you didn’t really know much about changelings for years?”

“Just what I learned from the other changelings that I met later and were willing to talk. They found a young, hiveless drone like me to be weird.”

“Do you know why you were abandoned, or what hive you came from?”

“Nope. Don’t even care much either. It doesn’t really seem relevant to me aside from idle curiosity.”

“So why did you agree to do this changeling test?”

“Agree? I volunteered! Stuck my claw up and opened my beak. But why? Because my best friend in the whole world was excited about this project, and I’d do anything for him.”

There was a long moment of silence while Shining Armor considered Free’s words. Eventually he said, “It seems that I may have been guilty of some prejudice against you, Free Agent. I hope you and your friend’s project goes well.”

Free’s mood changed like a switch. He grinned and said, “No harm; no foul! I’m sure we’ll be good friends too.” With a flare of changeling magic, he took the form of a gorgeous unicorn mare and nuzzled the startled stallion, saying, “Or a whole lot more, if you know what I mean?”

“And there’s that moment spoiled,” Shining said, pushing the amorous changeling away with his magic.

# # #

The train pulled up on schedule at the Crystal City station, having made up time on the home stretch. Twilight and Path disembarked to find a reception waiting for them. Flanked by a couple of her Royal Guards, Princess Cadance stepped up to Twilight with a happy smile on her face.

To Path’s enormous surprise, the two princesses then did the most unprincesslike song and dance.

“Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!”

They then laughed and hugged, while the Guards studiously ignored their behavior.

Path shrugged and went with the flow – it wasn’t a royal reception after all.

Twilight then turned and indicated Path. “Cadance, this is Long Path, the earth pony scholar whom I told you about. Path, this is Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, whom you better know as Princess Cadance.”

“An honor to meet you, Princess,” Path said as he bowed low.

“And a pleasure to meet a friend of Twilight’s, Master Path. Welcome to the Crystal Empire.”

“I hope my friend, Free Agent, will feel as welcome when you meet him.”

Cadance’s smile did not falter. “I hold no grudge against his kind. As long as he sticks to the agreed stipulations to his visit, then he will be welcomed also.”

“Thank you, Princess. He’s currently ‘enjoying’ your husband’s hospitality though, so may I suggest that we proceed immediately to the Heart and allow him to continue his journey to the city?”

“That’s a reasonable suggestion, and I’d like my husband to join me for dinner too. Please follow me.”

She led them to a carriage which she boarded, followed by Twilight and then Long Path. Four crystal ponies drew the carriage from the station towards the castle in the center of the city. While Path enjoyed a little sightseeing along the way, he was mostly interested in their goal for now, and he soon spotted the Crystal Heart at the palace’s base. Far from being heavily fortified like the national treasure it was, only a few Royal Guards stood watch over it. They stepped out of the carriage and made their way over to the Heart as the Guards bowed and moved aside. This close to the talisman, the power it exuded was palpable.

Twilight pulled the second long-distance communicator from her saddle-pack and passed it over to Cadance. “You can call Shining on this as soon as you’re ready.”

“How do I use it?”

“Just talk into the open end. When you’re finished, hold it up to your ear to hear Shining’s reply.”

“Okay, let’s try this.” Cadaence lifted the tube to her mouth and said very loudly, “Shiny, are you there?”

Twilight winced and said, “A normal voice should be adequate, Cadance.”

Cadance nodded as she held the tube up to her ear. A moment later she winced as the equally loud reply came back.

“And you can tell Shiny the same thing,” Twilight added with a giggle.

Cadance gave Shining Armor the go-ahead, and then turned her attention back to the others.

“You might as well head over to the library now before it closes for the day. Since I won’t actually be doing anything more today than monitoring the Heart while Shining monitors your friend, there’s no point in hanging around. As much as I want to catch up with what you’ve been doing lately, now is not the time to be distracted from my task.”

“Sounds like a plan to me. Long Path and I should be able to get some valuable research done, and perhaps learn something more that we can test while we’re here.”

“Just be sure not to forget the time. In fact I’ll send one of my Guards along with you to keep an eye on you, and give you a reminder.” She nodded at one of the Guards who saluted and fell in behind Twilight.

“Just wait until you see the library, Path!” Twilight said enthusiastically as she led the way. “I think we’re really going to need this Guard.”

# # #

“Okay, let’s go!” Shining Armor told Free Agent after concluding his conversation.

“Sure. How do we do this?” the griffon asked.

“With a door.” Shining’s horn glowed blue, and a spot of the same color appeared on the barrier. The glow expanded into a circle, growing up until it was pony-sized. “After you!”

Free stretched out a claw first, but encountered no resistance within the circle. He stepped through and waited.

Shining let the door collapse and followed Free, completely unhindered by the changeling barrier.

“So how are we getting there?” Free asked, looking around for some form of transport.

“We walk,” the stallion replied, setting out along the maintenance path paralleling the train track.

“All the way into the city? I’m not a pony, y’know? I’m not built for long distance walking.”

“We want to approach at a controlled slow rate, and a walking pace was deemed the safest. If you need to, I’ll let you fly, as long as you don’t get ahead of me. If you do, I will yank you back with my magic. Got it?”

“Gotcha,” Free replied equably and followed the unicorn down the path. He already could feel the Crystal Heart’s influence now that he was on the other side of the barrier. It was unlike anything that he had felt before – a general ambiance of very low-level love. If he could feel it this far from the city though, he wondered what it would be like at the city itself.

They walked on in silence for a while. After about ten minutes, Shining checked in with Cadance. Apparently hearing nothing concerning, he continued onwards. This was repeated in another ten minutes, and yet again ten minutes after that. Free found that far from tiring though, the gradually rising background level of love energy was bolstering him. By the third stop, he was feeling very perky. As they continued on Free started giggling.

“What’s so funny?” Shining Armor asked.

“Nothing. I just feel so good.”

“I suppose that’s to be expected. As long as it doesn’t affect the Crystal Heart adversely, you can feel as good as you want.”

Feeling good was a gross understatement soon though. The strength of the love radiation was growing at an exponential rate, and by the next check-in, Free was abuzz with the love that his body was absorbing constantly.

Shining looked at the griffon who seemed unable to stand still. He had started singing to himself while dancing around. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong at your end, Cadance?”

Cadance replied, “I can detect nothing wrong with the Heart, but I sense that the flow of love energy has shifted slightly in your direction. This does not constitute a threat, so you’re free to proceed.”

“I suppose I can’t blame a changeling for enjoying a feast. I’ll check in at more frequent intervals from now on though. I’ll keep the communicator close to my ear though, so if anything comes up, give me a yell.”

Shining Armor headed off again, but for the first time, Free took to the air. He started doing barrel rolls and loop the loops. “Wheeeeee!”

“Don’t get ahead!” Shining reminded him sternly.

“Aye aye, Captain Killjoy!”

Free managed to restrain himself until the next check-in. This time Cadance reported that the flow of love had definitely increased in their direction. “I think he’s acting like a magnet for it.”

“I can believe it,” Shining replied. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that he’s been on a bender. He’s still cooperative though.”

“It’s up to you to decide if you will continue, but I can’t veto it on the basis of how it’s affecting the Heart. It’s still behaving normally despite the change of the flow of love after it leaves the Heart.”

“I don’t want to disappoint Twily, so we’ll continue. I can deal with a drunken changeling, I reckon.”

“Can you, handsome?” Free Agent asked, nuzzling him unexpectedly again, although still in his griffon form this time. His voice was a little higher though.

Abruptly Shining Armor realized that Free had changed gender. Differences between male and female griffons were subtler than with ponies, and he had failed to notice the change. Perhaps dealing with a changeling drunk on love was going to be a bit trickier than he originally thought. He pushed the griffon away. “Not interested, and not available, Free Agent. I don’t want to call this off, but I will if you don’t restrain yourself.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing!” Free sing-songed as she pranced away.

A little reluctantly, he continued onward. The city had come into sight by now, and the house that they had selected for temporary quarters wasn’t too far away. With a bit of luck, they would get there without the griffon getting out of hoof.

Free’s acrobatics had taken on a nearly frantic nature by the next check-in though. Something was bothering Shining Armor – something that he felt he should understand about the situation but was eluding him. Cadance’s next report did nothing to reassure him though.

“The Heart has increased its output slightly to compensate for the extra flow in your direction. Again, it’s too little to constitute a danger, but it might be indicative of worse to come. Is it much further to the house?”

“We should make it there by the next check-in, I think. The changeling’s antics are growing, but still benign. Your call, hon.”

“Continue then. I’ll make the final decision at the house. If you feel that he can’t be restrained there, or I feel that the Heart is affected too much, we’ll send him back to the border. I’ll arrange for a pegasus carriage to meet you at the house to expedite things.”

“Okay. Wish me luck. I think I’m going to need some.”

Hoping to get this situation over and done with, Shining Armor set a fast pace for the final leg. Free Agent followed, laughing and singing, occasionally diving playfully at the unicorn. “I can see the castle! It’s bee-yoo-tee-full! I can feel the love! How can you not feel the love? It’s magnificent! I can feel it calling to me! Oh yes! Yes!”

Abruptly the griffon shot off ahead of Shining Armor.

“Come back!” the unicorn roared, but to no avail. His horn glowed, and a bubble of energy formed about Free Agent, restraining him. Not for long though. Free suddenly reverted to changeling form, and a burst of energy came from his horn, shattering the bubble. He changed form again, this time into a sleek racing pegasus, and streaked away.

“Oh, buck!” Shining Armor swore vehemently. He now recalled what had been bothering him. Queen Chrysalis had been so overcharged with love energy that she had been able to overcome Princess Celestia, and here they had given a virtually unlimited supply to a changeling. Free Agent might not be the malevolent power-hungry person that Chrysalis had been, but who knew what mischief a love-drunk drone could get into? “Cadance!” he yelled into the communicator, “The changeling has gotten away from me and is heading your way fast. Be prepared for anything!”

# # #

Long Path was in heaven. He was already loading up a second cart of reference books for later study. Refraining from reading them right now was one of the hardest things that he had ever done. Even so, he was barely keeping up with Princess Twilight. They had started an unofficial and unspoken competition to find the most relevant materials to aid their research, and both were having the time of their lives. Twilight did not have any Equestria-shaking threat to worry about for a change, and he had never had access to such a literary goldmine. Then he struck the mother lode, and thoughts of trying to keep up went out the door. Minutes later, one entry jolted him.

“Hey, Twilight! Come look at this!” he called out, only to be furiously shushed by the librarian.

Twilight trotted over and looked at the book that Path was holding up. “What is it?” she asked in hushed tones.

“The author of this book refers to an insect-like pony creature that visited the Crystal Empire a few decades before Sombra.”

“That sounds like a changeling,” Twilight said with growing interest. “What else does it say?”

“I called you over as soon as I saw the reference so we can both find out together.”

“Okay. Let’s see…” She started speed-reading the text to try to glean relevant information quickly. “Discovered injured specimen … treated injuries … discovered it was intelligent when it regained consciousness … shape-changed into a crystal pony … started bringing it back to the city … it rapidly got stronger as we got closer … hypothesize that it ingests the love energy from the Crystal Heart … behaved as if inebriated … loss of self-control … unable to restrain … specimen died after less than a day in the city … autopsy revealed collapse of nervous system … conclude that specimen burned up from excessive intake of energy.” Twilight looked with a look of horror on her face. “Sweet Celestia! Free Agent could be in mortal danger!”

Path’s expression matched Twilight’s. “And that part about loss of control doesn’t sound good either. We have to go!”

Twilight wasted no time in racing for the entrance, and Path was hot on her heels. “Check out my books for me!” she shouted as she galloped past the librarian and out the door. Their Guard was startled out of his boredom and hastily followed.

The librarian shook her head and clucked her tongue in dismay. These young princesses simply didn’t know how to behave themselves in a library!

They were only halfway back to the Crystal Heart when they were intercepted by another Royal Guard. “Princess Cadance requires your immediate return. There’s a problem with your friend.”

“We’re too late!” Path moaned.

“No, we know more than that author did. We can act and save Free. But first, we have to find out what’s happening.”

They reunited with Cadance within moments, and the pink alicorn looked very worried.

“Shining Armor reported that Free Agent behaved as if he was drunk before finally abandoning Shining, who could not restrain him. Your friend seems to have gotten powered up like Queen Chrysalis did, and is too strong for us to control.”

“The situation is worse than you think,” Twilight replied. “We found a reference that suggests that the love energy that he’s taking in will burn him out, eventually killing him.”

“But that didn’t happen to Chrysalis,” Cadance objected.

“The queens are different from the drones in many ways. They actively control the entire hive, and distribute love energy to all the non-Harvester type drones. I think that they might be able to cope with this, unlike poor Free.”

Path asked, “How long ago did Free leave Shining Armor? He could be here any moment, and we need to make a plan to –”

He was interrupted by what could only be described as the Royal Canterlot Voice coming from above them.

“I am the Alicorn of Awesomeness! Come and behold my glory!”

They all raced out into the open and looked up, and quickly spotted what had to be Free Agent alighting on one of the tallest towers of the castle. He had assumed another form – a male alicorn with chrome fur, mane and tail. He posed dramatically, and Twilight gaped in surprise and awe. He was magnificent… and sexy. She started blushing furiously at that thought. “Mind on the problem, Twilight!” she scolded herself.

Free took off and started doing laps of the city blocks. Again he started shouting. “The Alicorn of Awesomeness wants to give his gift of love to each and every pony! Come out and share the joy!”

Crystal ponies started coming out of the buildings and houses to investigate the strange happenings and who was doing all the shouting. Free responded by putting on a display of stunt flying and a light show from his horn, attracting and holding the attention of the population.

“He may have gone totally nuts, but he’s doing a great job up there,” Path observed.

“Yeah, but what’s he up to?” Twilight asked.

They soon found out. Free dived down to the crowd, and a beam of power came from his horn, striking many of the ponies. “My blessing upon you all! Spread the love; spread the happiness!”

“What has he done to them?!” Cadance cried out, leaping into the air and flying as fast as she could towards the changeling alicorn.

Twilight immediately took off to follow.

“Hey! Wait for me! Awk!” Long Path squawked as Twilight’s magic enfolded him and carried him away with her.

Cadance approached Free, calling out to him, “Stop whatever you are doing! You must not harm my subjects!”

“Hey, it’s Princess Lovey-Dovey! How’re you doing? Isn’t this an awesome day? Aren’t I the most awesome pony you’ve ever met?”

“Be quiet! How could you hurt my people?”

“Hurt? Oh no, I’m not hurting them. I’m giving them what they need the most – the best reason for living! Pardon me, but I have more joy to spread.” Free then flapped away towards another group of ponies.

Twilight had been checking out the ponies who had been struck by Free’s beam, and her jaw dropped in shock. Every pony was engaged in passionate kissing, fondling, or even more intimate interactions. Her relief that no pony was harmed was tempered by her realization of what had actually happened. “They’ve been hit with a lust spell? How’s that even possible?”

“It’s Free amplified to the maximum,” Path said as he hovered next to Twilight. “Somehow he’s transferring his unfettered libido onto those ponies.”

“That might not be an immediate problem for these ponies, but it could bring about unintended consequences for some. Like them, for example.” She pointed out a pony couple banging behind a hedge.

“Twilight, that’s bad, but not as bad as Free killing himself. We have to get him out of the Crystal City!”

“Right! We have to try to capture him. We need a plan. Have you got one?”

Path shook his head. “Not yet. Put me down while I think about it. You and Cadance try to restrain him in the meantime. If you come up with anything that I can help with, let me know.”

Twilight lowered Path to the ground and took off in pursuit of Free. The earth pony felt weird standing amid such a blatant and widespread demonstration of unrestrained lustful interaction between ponies of all kinds. It seemed irrelevant to any of them just who they were with, and Path wondered if they were going to recall this with humiliation when the spell wore off. It was so much like Free though that he also wondered if they might just recall it with great fondness. Either way, this city was never going to be the same.

# # #

Twilight caught up with Cadance just as she was firing a blast at the chrome alicorn. With deft ease, Free dodged it and struck yet another group of ponies with his lust spell. Cadance cried out in alarm, but Twilight called out, “He isn’t hurting them, Cadance. It’s a lust spell. His so-called gift is turning up everypony’s libido to an irresistible degree.”

Cadance really looked for the first time at the victims, and saw for herself that none were really injured. However, what some of them were actually doing…. “He has to be stopped now!”

Suddenly Free was right in front of her face. He had taken advantage of her distraction to fly right up to her, flinging his forelegs around her neck and pulling her to him. “First ya gotta catch me, toots, but I’m always Free!” Then he kissed the pink alicorn passionately.

Cadance finally managed to break free, and then blasted him with a stun spell. Free wavered for a moment before recovering and flying away again.

Twilight was inexplicably resentful that Cadance had gotten the kiss. After all the time the changeling had spent trying to get her interested, he had chosen to kiss Cadance instead? “Argh! Stallions!” she cursed before pursuing them again.

# # #

Long Path was surprised to spot Shining Armor galloping up the street. He must have been galloping all the way from where Free had left him to get here so soon. Indeed, the stallion was snorting and panting heavily when he pulled up to Path. “What in the name of Celestia and Luna is going on here?” he demanded.

Path explained what had occurred, and what he and Twilight had discovered.

“We have to get him out of the city and as far away as possible as soon as we can,” Shining concluded.

“Yeah, we already figured that out. Got any idea how?”

“He’s your friend – you should know best how to lure him away,” Shining pointed out.

They stood and watched the aerial maneuvers that were occurring not too far away – two alicorns frantically trying to stun an elusive third alicorn, sometimes hitting but never doing more than slowing him down briefly. They were moving too swiftly for Shining Armor to try to assist from the ground, and all the while Free was hitting more ponies with his lust beam, telling them to rejoice, and commanding more to join the blessing.

Suddenly Path realized that Shining was right – he did know best how to lure Free Agent. “When does the train leave for Canterlot?” he asked the unicorn.

“Huh? In about half an hour, I think. It’s the overnight service. Why?”

“I want you to go to the train and hold it. Don’t let it go without me because I intend to bring Free with me. Reserve a private compartment for us. Kick out somepony if you must, but get me that compartment.”

“What are you planning?” Shining asked suspiciously. Path explained himself, and Shining nodded in approval. “Yeah, that sounds like our best option at this time. Are you sure that you’re up to it though?”

“I think so. Have you still got that talkie-walkie with you?”

“The what? Oh, you mean the communicator! Sure.” He pulled it out of his saddle pack and passed it over to Path.

“Good. Hopefully Cadance has hung onto hers too. That way we can coordinate our efforts better. You had better go.”

“Right! Good luck!” Shining galloped off in the direction of the station.

Path brought the communication device to his mouth and called loudly, “Princess Cadance, if you can hear me, please answer!” There was no response, so he tried again, this time yelling in case the other device was out of easy earshot. “Princess Cadance! Please answer me at once! It’s imperative that you respond!”

Moments later, Cadance’s irritated voice came back to him. “Long Path? This had better be important.”

“Shining Armor and I have a plan, but we need you to help us. I want you and Twilight to stop trying to stun Free, and try to herd him instead. Act like you’re still trying to blast him, but do it in such a way that he dodges in the direction of the train station. I will be waiting on the platform there. Once he’s within earshot of me, I will take over from there. Do you understand?”

“I understand and will cooperate. What do you plan to do then?”

Path filled in the details for her.

“I see. We appreciate what you are doing for our city.”

“Honestly, your Highness, I’m doing it more for my friend than for your city.”

“I understand. Good fortune, Long Path.”

The earth pony put away the communicator and galloped for the station, praying that he did not get disorientated. Thankfully his memory did not betray him, and he soon found himself on the platform. The stationmaster hurried up to him.

“Are you Long Path?” he asked. After Path acknowledged, he continued, “Prince Armor has ordered us to be at your disposal in order to deal with a menace to our city. Has it anything to do with whatever is going on up there right now?” He pointed to the distant alicorns.

“Yes, it certainly does, and they should be headed this way. So I suggest that if you don’t want to get involved in that trouble, you had better stay inside and out of sight.”

The elderly stallion looked offended. “I’ll have you know that I served in the Crystal Empire’s army, and my courage is not lacking.”

“Your courage is not in doubt, sir. You may not enjoy the consequences if you get caught up in this though.”

“I’ll take my chances, Mister Path.”

Path decided that perhaps the old soldier could do with a little frisky fun if he got hit, and let the subject lie.

Path watched the aerial battle slowly making its way closer. He noticed Shining Armor come and go a few times before the alicorns came almost within range. He then said, “Stationmaster, clear the platform of everypony now, then go to the driver of the train and stand by. The moment that I get on board with one of those alicorns, tell the driver to depart immediately, and put on his best speed.”

“Yes, sir.” The stationmaster hastened to comply.

“Now for the tricky bit,” Path murmured. As soon as he judged that Free was within earshot, he gave a loud whistle and shouted, “Hey! Alicorn of Awesome! Why haven’t you used your gift upon me? You know you want to! You’ve been trying to get me into bed with you for years, but you still haven’t. I don’t think you’ll ever manage to do that.”

That caught Free’s attention. “Path! Is that a challenge?” He grinned enormously, and charged up his horn. “You know I can’t resist a challenge of that kind. Behold my gift to you!”

‘This had better work,’ Path thought as he reared up on his hind legs, forehooves held as a shield between him and Free. He recalled the lessons that he had learned in unicorn magical theory, and his own modifications to it. He had no horn to cast a shield spell, but an earth pony’s magic is focused in his hooves, and he reinforced them with the spell. Free’s beam struck them and was dissipated, and Path breathed a sigh of relief.

Free was unaware of the failure of his lust beam though, and alighted next to Path. With a flare of changeling magic, he changed from a chrome alicorn into a brand new form. Path gaped in stunned amazement, for now he beheld the epitome of earth pony maredom. She was muscled just enough to make her feel strong, but that was balanced out by beautiful full curves, a lustrous mane and tail, and eyes that were limpid pools. She fluttered her eyelashes at him and walked up to him with a sensual sway to her hips. “I’m going to fulfill your every dream – past, present, and to come,” she said in a sultry voice.

Path begun to wonder if he had blocked the lust spell completely after all, because even though he knew what was happening, there was no doubt that he was being aroused. It did not help when she leaned in kissed him full on the lips, her tongue seeking to come in further.

‘Close your eyes and think of Equestria, Long Path!’ he commanded himself, submitting to the kiss.

To be totally honest with himself, it was great kiss. If he didn’t realize who was kissing him, he might have let himself enjoy it. Instead, he had to break it off as soon as possible… okay, just a few more seconds.

With more effort than he thought it would take, Path broke off the kiss with Free, panting a little.

Free smiled coyly. “You liked that, didn’t you? Now let me, take you all the way!”

“I liked it, but I won’t go further here. You know me, Free – I’m a kind of private stallion. I don’t want to do this in public.”

“Silly pony! It’s just as good here as anywhere else,” Free said as she nuzzled him and licked his neck.

A thrill went down Path’s spine, but he clamped down on the feeling. “But I have a private compartment reserved on the train. A big compartment just for the two of us. You and me, for as long as you like, lover.” He emphasized the last word to get Free to focus on it, and distract him from wondering about wanting to be on the train.

It must have worked because the mare’s grin grew larger. “I love the sound of that. Come on! Let’s not keep ecstasy waiting!”

Path had anticipated trying to half-drag the changeling onto the train. Instead he was the one being tugged along, and he had to try to steer Free in the direction of the correct carriage. It would have made things a lot more difficult for their plan if he chose a compartment at random.

However, they did board the right carriage, and the compartment they needed was the only one with its door invitingly open. The fold-down bed was even already down and waiting for them, and Free threw herself onto it and posed sexily for him. “I’m ready, waiting, and eager for your hot body, lover.”

That was almost too much for Path. Now he was almost certain some of the lust spell had leaked past his shield. That had to be the answer, right? RIGHT?

Thankfully he did not have to answer that question. The doors to the other compartments opened and Shining Armor and some other unicorns poured out. Shining shoved him aside and they squeezed into the compartment even as Cadance and Twilight appeared at the open window. “Now!” shouted Shining, and all of them simultaneously hit Free with a stun spell.

With no time to think, and nowhere to dodge, Free took the full brunt of the blasts. Incredibly, she still remained conscious, and she feebly cried out, “No! Where’s the love?”

“Again!” commanded Shining.

This time Free lost the battle with consciousness, and she slumped onto the bed, unmoving.

“Praise Celestia, the changeling is out cold,” Shining declared after cautiously testing Free. “Twily, I need you in here to help watch over her. She’s still absorbing love energy, so she might recover faster than we anticipate.”

“Right!” Twilight agreed, and teleported inside.

Shining then addressed the unicorns who had accompanied him. “Mares and gentlecolts, thank you for your valuable assistance. We’ll let you off the train at the farm siding where a pegasus carriage should be waiting to take you back home.”

The unicorns nodded in acknowledgement and left the compartment.

“Twily, Cadance and I have a lot to take care of right now, so I can’t stay and catch up like we planned. Hopefully we’ll see each other soon under better circumstances.”

“I understand. Love you, big brother!” She and Shining hugged, and then the unicorn headed out of the carriage.

Path watched as Shining opened the door of the moving train and leaped out, only to be caught in the telekinetic field of his wife who then flew them back to the city. He then turned his attention to Twilight and his sleeping friend. “Well, so much for our grand experiment, hey?”

Twilight laughed. “Even unexpected results are good results. We learned a lot today, even if it wasn’t what we hoped to learn.”

Path thought to himself that he had learned a thing or two about himself that he hadn’t anticipated either.

# # #

The sun had been up for a while before Free Agent woke up and joined Twilight and Long Path in another compartment. The two had been a little concerned about that, fearing that perhaps the changeling had burned himself out a little already. He had reverted to his normal griffon form though, and aside from looking a bit disheveled, seemed to be okay.

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

“Doesn’t the Alicorn of Awesomeness remember his feats?” Twilight teased.

“The what?”

“You know – the form you took while drunk out of your mind on love energy.”

The griffon’s blank look told them he hadn’t a clue what they were talking about.

“I remember walking with your uptight brother towards the Crystal City, and enjoying the ambiance. I recall feeling really great – better than I have ever felt. I was doing some aerobatics for the thrill of it and then… it’s all a blur. And now we’re back on the train.”

Twilight looked at Path, and they realized that they were thinking the same thing. Burnout had apparently affected his recent memories.

In spite of that, Path grinned. He was going to enjoy telling this story in the most embarrassing way possible.

Several minutes later, with Twilight adding several details, Path had filled in his friend.

Free could hardly believe his ears, but wisps of memory seemed to confirm everything that they told him. “You mean I kissed Princess Cadance, but I can’t even remember it? That’s not fair!”

“Oh, it’s worse than that, Free. I told you that we lured you onto the train and stunned you, but not how we did it.” Path had been saving that tidbit for last. “I called you down and asked you to spread the love with me. You even turned into this awesome earth pony mare and we kissed. Then we went to our own private train compartment, with our own bed waiting just for us….”

When it became apparent that Path wasn’t going to say more, Free begged, “And…?!

“And it’s best that I don’t say any more.”

“What? No! You can’t do this to me! You know how long I’ve been wanting to bang you, and you’re just going to pretend it didn’t happen just because I can’t remember? Tell me!”

Path noticed Twilight trying desperately not to laugh. “Nope. Especially not in the Princess’ company.”

Twilight couldn't hold it in any more, and burst out laughing at Free’s dejected expression.

“Well, if you two jokers are done rubbing it in, I’m going to find myself some breakfast.”

He turned about to leave the carriage, and Path noticed something that he hadn’t been in a position to see before.

“Hey, Free! What’s that on your rump?”

The griffon turned to look at his hindquarters and then said, “Okay, which of you thought this was funny?”

Both Twilight and Path had a good look at Free’s hindquarters. Upon it were displayed interlinked pink and blue male and female symbols. Twilight’s eyes bulged in realization.

“Free, look at your other flank.”

The griffon did so. “Same there. You’re thorough at least.”

“No, we didn’t do anything. You’ve got your cutie mark!” Twilight was nearly bouncing in excitement at the concept.

“No way! Griffons don’t have cutie marks! Ponies have them, not me!” He transformed into a copy of Twilight but the sex symbols remained. He then changed into a facsimile of Path that was accurate to a hair, but not the cutie mark. He reverted to griffon, but his leonine flank was permanently emblazoned. “I can’t get rid of them! I’m a changeling, but I can’t change them!”

“That’s the magic of the cutie mark. You must have gotten it while you were in pony form in the Crystal City, and found your special talent. Oh, I’ve got to write a paper on this. The first changeling in recorded history to get a cutie mark. You’ll be famous!”

“Yay me,” Free replied mournfully.



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