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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5. Chapter 5: Paint Me Like One Of Your Prench Girls

Twilight spotted Path at one of the reading desks and trotted over to him. “I thought that I might find you here,” she said with a grin.

Path looked up from the book that he was reading and gave her a matching smile. “Since Princess Luna gave me access to the Royal Archives, I’ve been taking advantage of it as much as possible in case she changes her mind.”

“Luna is not going to do that, you know? I believe that she’s genuinely interested in what your research can achieve.” She smirked at him knowingly. “I think that you’re just enjoying this too much. I know that I do.”

Path laughed. “Okay, guilty as charged. So, what brings you here today?”

“I have some news. Where’s Free? I’d like to tell you both.”

“Do you honestly think you’d find him here? Even if he wasn’t at work, he’d be bored out of his mind in the Archives.”

“I guess you’re right. Er… where does he work anyway?”

“At the Canterlot Fitness Club – he’s a physical instructor.”

Twilight blinked in surprise. “I… must admit that I wouldn’t have thought of that.”

“Apparently ponies get a lot of pleasure from looking trim. Besides, I think you can imagine the number of clients he’s brought home to bang.”

Twilight’s face dropped. “Oh… yes.”

Path noted Twilight’s mood with interest. His friend often had unexpected effects on the ponies he met. He decided to steer the subject away. “Free has also kept me from being a fat slob. Any time he thinks I’m getting too involved in my work, he drags me away to get some exercise. He’s really dedicated to his profession. However, I don’t think he’s why you came here today.”

Twilight brightened. “That’s right – I’ve got great news. Word has come from the griffon embassy that your request has been approved. We’re going to the Griffon Kingdom!”

Path leaped up and hugged Twilight. “That’s great! When can I go?” He then realised what he was doing and let her go, backing away sheepishly.

Twilight blushed slightly, but otherwise ignored the casual familiarity. “Once I’ve organised an appropriate team, we can leave immediately. I have to arrange transport, choose support crew, and make a list of everything that we need to take. I expect that we can leave the morning of the day after tomorrow.”

Path grinned at her enthusiasm. “That’s right, you’re Twilight ‘Organised’ Sparkle.” Then he realised something and looked at her curiously. “You said ‘We’ – I thought that this was my expedition? Do you intend to come?”

“Of course, silly! You will be going as the cultural attaché for the diplomatic team. You don’t have the credentials to be an ambassador, but as a Princess of Equestria I do, so I will be taking that role. I’ll be accompanied by an experienced member of the Equestrian Diplomatic Corps to serve as adviser. Therefore we can take care of those details, leaving you a lot more free to pursue your research.”

Path nodded thoughtfully. “That makes a lot of sense.” Then he gave Twilight a keen look. “So why did you particularly want Free to hear the news also?”

Twilight looked flustered as she tried to answer. “Well, he’s your close friend and assistant, didn’t you say? I thought he always helped you out with your projects?”

“Yes, but putting aside that, why in particular do you want him on the team? What purpose would he serve?”

“He’s a griffon who has lived virtually all his life in Canterlot. He would provide interesting contrasts and comparisons with those in Griffonia.”

“He’s a changeling though,” Path pointed out.

“They won’t know that, and it makes no practical difference anyway. He was brought up as a griffon, and as he pointed out, that’s what he wants to be.”

Path smiled to himself. Twilight was rationalizing, and they both knew it. He decided to push it a little further. “Surely there’s a natural griffon living here who might be interested….”

“I want Free along, okay?” Twilight interrupted, blushing furiously.

“So do I, but why do you really want him along?”

Twilight sighed. “We’ve been getting quite familiar with each other these past few weeks, but there’s still more that you don’t know about me. Let me tell you a little about my youth.”

Twilight settled down, and Path followed suit next to her.

“Years ago, I was admitted to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns as her personal student. I was a precocious foal, gifted with both an enormous talent and an insatiable appetite for learning. I spent most of my waking hours either reading a book or taking lessons. During that period, I had no time for practically anything else, especially socializing. I hardly had any time for friends besides Celestia and my big brother. So it came as a very big shock to me one day when Celestia sent me to this little town called Ponyville, and instructed me to make some friends.”

Twilight smiled crookedly as she reminisced. “I thought that the ponies whom I met were all very peculiar, and it was the most ridiculous waste of time. Biggest mistake of my life! Those ponies of course were the ones who would become my best friends and bearers of the Elements of Harmony. They all had aspects that enabled me to learn and grow. Without them, I could never have ascended to alicorn level, and become the princess that I am today. Now the Elements are back with the Tree of Harmony, but my friends and I have retained their aspects, and can call upon them in time of need. All this because I made some friends.”

Path asked, “How does this relate to Free though? He’s hardly your typical acquaintance.”

Twilight giggled. “No, he isn’t, and that’s exactly why I like to have him along. He takes me out of my comfort zone and makes me do things that I wouldn’t do otherwise. Sometimes it’s embarrassing, but other times it’s exhilarating. That’s what friends do. You and I are very much alike in that we both love books, like to study and learn, and you even have an interest in magic despite you being an earth pony. You and I might be a very good match for each other, but we both need someone like Free Agent in our lives.”

“Even though you know he wants to bang you?” Path asked with an arch of eyebrow.

“He wants to bang you too, but that doesn’t stop you being friends.”

“I’m used to him.”

“I’m not about to throw myself at him either.”

“You’re not going to change him either, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Can’t change a changeling? That almost sounds like a contradiction. Life is a compromise though, so maybe we can find a happy medium.”

“Welcome to my world, Twilight Sparkle,” Path said with a warm smile.

“I’m enjoying it a lot, Long Path,” Twilight replied as she got up. “I’ll begin preparations and keep you updated.” She then threw her forelegs around Path’s neck and hugged him. “And I’m just as excited as you, y’know?”

This time it was Path’s turn to blush. As he watched Twilight leave, he realized that she was right and everyone compromised now and then. Maybe that’s why a little of Free Agent had rubbed off onto him.

# # #

Path and Free turned up early at the Canterlot airfield, with a cartload of luggage. As they turned the bend, they got their first view of the balloons tied up there, and they halted in surprise.

“Whoa! That’s no ordinary balloon craft,” Free said in an awed tone.

“No, that’s a dirigible. I’ve rarely seen one before. They’re normally used by the Equestrian Air Force.”

“Do you think that we’ll be going in that?”

“Of course we will!” Twilight’s voice suddenly came from behind them, making both pony and griffon jump slightly. “Good morning,” she added.

“Good morning to you too,” Path replied. “So why the dirigible?”

“Just think – we’ll have a large team, supplies for an extended absence, and a very long journey overseas. A normal balloon was never going to be adequate for our needs, nor for my station as Princess and ambassador also. Making a good impression is important, especially with the griffons.”

Free commented, “Knowing what those stuck-up prissy Griffonia types are like, I gotta agree with you there, babe.”

“I suggest you refrain from calling me ‘babe’ in front of the crew, Free. Military types don’t take kindly to anyone being so familiar with royalty.”

Free shrugged. “Eh, they’re cool once you know what their hot buttons are.”

Path grinned at Twilight. “If that was an attempt to get Free to stop using cute nicknames for you, I’m afraid you’ve crashed and burned.”

Twilight nodded in resignation. “I should have known better. Anyway, back on subject – there’s one other extremely good reason for using a dirigible. We will be going out of the pegasus weather control area, and there won’t be any tame wind currents to take a regular balloon to another continent. A dirigible is powered and far more maneuverable.”

“Makes sense. So is it time for us to board yet?”

“You can board anytime. In fact, the sooner, the better. We can cast off immediately because the dirigible was fully provisioned last night, and the crew are just awaiting us.”

As they stepped up to a boarding plank, a crewpony on watch saluted Twilight. “Welcome aboard, your Highness!” the unicorn mare said smartly.

“Thank you,” Twilight replied. “Could we get some help loading our luggage and equipment, please?”

“At once, Princess!” The mare blew on a whistle that had been hanging on a cord around her neck, and several ponies rapidly responded.

As some of them unloaded the carts, a pegasus in what seemed to be an officer’s uniform stepped up and said, “I’m Commander Flightpath. If your Highness and your colleagues would care to follow me, I will familiarize you with the ship.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

They followed Flightpath up the ramp and inside. The passageways were cramped due to needing to not waste space, and the rooms were equally compact. He showed them the crew’s quarters, the galley, mess room, chart room, and they finally ended up on the bridge. There they found a grizzled earth pony mare officer, talking with a middle-aged unicorn stallion.

Flightpath said, “Captain, I have Princess Twilight Sparkle and her entourage.”

The mare gave Twilight a respectful bow. “Welcome aboard the Skylark, your Highness. I’m Captain Fairweather, and it will be my honor to take you to the Griffon Kingdom.”

“Thank you, Captain. I’m looking forward to the journey. I see Ambassador Quiet Words is here already.”

The unicorn bowed. “I woke early today and decided to come over as soon as I had breakfast. The captain and I have been conversing about the journey to come while we waited for you and the others to come.”

“Speaking of which, let me introduce you to our cultural attaché, Long Path, who is also a scholar and researcher, and his assistant and our good friend, Free Agent.”

Path shook hooves with the captain and ambassador. Free grinned and gave them a sketchy salute.

“With your permission, Princess, I would like to cast off and get under way,” Fairweather said.

“Permission granted, Captain. We have to settle in anyway.”

“I’m sure that the commander will be able to help you if you have any problems.” She then turned to a small bank of speaking tubes and opened one. “Engineers, start the engines. All crew, prepare to cast off!”

Flightpath led the threesome back the way they came. Passing the entry, they saw the gangway had been retracted and somepony was securing the hatch. In the aft section were staterooms for the officers and VIPs. He indicated the first one that they came to on the right. Like every other room, it was small, but certainly larger and more lavishly appointed than the crew bunk-rooms.

“This will be your room, your Highness.”

Twilight noticed that her luggage had already been deposited there.

“Excellent, thank you.”

“Hey, Twi,” Free said as he inclined his head towards the room, “that bed’s just a nice cozy size for two, don’tcha think?”

Twilight glared at the griffon. “Or maybe just enough for someone with wings,” she said, spreading them out and ‘accidentally’ clipping Free over the ear.

Flightpath looked at them with some puzzlement, but apparently decided to keep his opinions to himself. “If you gentleponies… and griffon… would care to follow me, I’ll show you your rooms.”

He did so and then led them to the back of the craft. Pausing at the door, he said, “Those without wings, be advised that this deck has only a guard rail to stop ponies from falling out. This is an observation post and a launch platform for our pegasi.” He opened the door to let them have a look. Path elected to stay close to the door, but Free and Twilight stepped right up to the rail. They had an excellent view of Canterlot falling away behind the dirigible as they rose to their cruising height.

“I think I’m going to like this spot,” Twilight said as the breeze ruffled her mane and feathers.

“Me too,” Free said, but his eyes were more on the alicorn than the vista.

# # #

They headed east at a fairly fast rate aided by one of the stable wind currents set up by the weather pegasi for the use of balloon craft. Nevertheless it was approaching sunset before they reached Horseshoe Bay and began their journey over the sea. None of the expedition members were required to do tasks in the hours between, so they all filled their time as they saw fit.

Twilight and Path spent some of the time on her language lessons. Although she had no expectations of becoming fluent in griffon speech, she felt it desirable to at least understand the basics, and to be able exchange greetings and formalities in their own tongue. While Free could have taught her also, not only was Path a better teacher, but he was also a lot less distracting than the griffon.

The rest of the time both worked on more research, poring through the books that they had packed to take along with them. The cramped little cabins weren’t as conducive to long-term work as her own library though, and eventually Twilight felt the desire for some fresh air. Carefully bookmarking her place, she then stepped out of the cabin and headed for the observation deck. What she saw when she opened the door to the deck made her pause though. While she had expected the possibility of a pony or two there, the actuality was a bit more of a mind trip.

A unicorn crewmare was posed idly on some cushions at one end of the deck, while sitting behind an easel a couple of meters away, Free Agent was painting her portrait!

Free looked over and gave Twilight a smile. “Hi, babe! Wanna be next?”

Suspecting a trick, Twilight moved over to see what he was actually doing and gasped in surprise. It was good – really good. She looked at him in astonishment. “You never said that you could paint!”

“What chance have I ever had to show you?”

Twilight reflected that that was true enough – she still deflected all his attempts to get a date with her. “You still could have mentioned it, say on the train ride to the Crystal City.”

“Yeah? What does ‘Come back to my place and look at my paintings’ sound like?”

“A bad pick-up line,” Twilight admitted. “How long have you been doing portraiture?”

“Dad's an artist, but I really got interested in it about eighth grade. I’ve been working on it ever since. I’ve been thinking of entering something in the next Canterlot Art Faire.”

“You really should. I mean, if this is anything to judge by, you’d do really well. I’m no art judge, but I know what I like, and I like this.”

Just then, the unicorn mare cleared her throat ostentatiously. Having gained their attention, she said, “With all due respect, your Highness, I have to go back on shift soon, and I’d like to have this finished by then.”

“Oh! Right. I’ll leave you two going at it then. I mean, I’ll let you finish up. I… I have to go.”

Twilight beat a hasty retreat before she inserted another hoof in her mouth. She found Path still at work in his cabin. She knocked on the open door to get his attention.

Path looked up and smiled. “Hi Twilight. What’s up?”

“Did you know that Free is a portrait artist?”

“Of course. You found him at work, I gather?”

“Yes, on the observation deck. I admit that it blew my mind.”

Path looked at her with a slightly disappointed look. “Why would it do that? Is it because he’s a bit sex mad? Or maybe because he works at a gymnasium? What do you really know about him?”

Twilight felt embarrassed. “I’m guilty of some prejudice, I suppose. You could have told me about that though.”

“Why should I? That’s the kind of thing that you talk about in a conversation with him. However, if you really want to know more, while I pursued the sciences in school, Free followed the arts. He only works as a gym instructor because it’s a steady job that he enjoys, and it’s much easier to earn a living at that than as an artist.”

“I see. So his offer to take somepony home and show them his paintings isn’t just a pick-up line.”

Path laughed. “Of course it is! However, they would get to see and appreciate his art before being shown the bedroom.”

“It seems I have a lot of re-thinking to do. Thanks, Path.”

“One last thing while we’re on the subject – you know that I am still working towards the goal of being a full teaching professor at Canterlot University and don’t have much of an income. I make some money doing research for others, but it’s hardly enough to live on. Free’s job pays for our place, and keeps food on the table. Whatever his flaws, he is nevertheless a most dedicated friend, and the soul of responsibility. You might want to get to know those aspects of him also.”

“I wouldn’t be much of a Princess of Friendship if I couldn’t learn from my mistakes.”

“Can’t ask for more than that.”

“I’ll see you at dinner, okay?”

“Sure. I’m curious to find out what dinners are like aboard this ship.” Path then made a note about researching the different cuisines of various cultures, and their influence on Equestrians.

Twilight went to her cabin, deep in thought. Whatever else happened, she would never be able to think of Free Agent in the same light again. She tried to get back into her work, but she could not focus. Eventually she sighed and headed back to the observation deck.

Free was packing up his art equipment when she arrived. He looked up from what he was doing, flashed her a smile and asked, “Did you want your portrait done after all?”

Twilight automatically started shaking her head, but then paused and said, “Maybe another time. I’d just like to talk, if you have the time?”

“For you, I have all night!” he replied with a broad wink.

He probably meant that statement in all its interpretations, Twilight mused. She settled down, her gaze towards the sun setting over Equestria’s coast. Celestia’s day was almost done, and soon it was time for Luna’s night. Somehow she felt the Moon Princess probably knew more about the griffon changeling than she did. It was time to change that.

“Free, have you ever painted landscapes like this sunset for example?”

“Sure I have, but I prefer painting people. I like to try to capture their personalities in whatever art medium that I am using at the time.”

“I suppose being able to taste their emotions would help?”

Free laughed. “Yeah, I have a bit of an advantage there, but it takes skill to render those emotions in oils or water colors. I’m still working on that.”

“Practice makes perfect is even more true for art than it is for the hard sciences. You may work for a living, but in many ways, you are still very much a student still.”

“Why, Twilight, that was almost poetic. There’s hope for you yet.”

Twilight’s eyes opened in surprise at that comment, before she burst out laughing. “It’s a long time since I’ve been made to feel like a young student being lectured by a professor. You are full of surprises, Free.”

“I try my best.”

“What else don’t I know about you that I should?”

“Ah! Now that’s something I could spend all night and the rest of this trip showing you,” he said with a leer.

“Perhaps, but one step at a time, cheeky griffon. We’re just talking for now.”

“I’ll do you one better, Twi. Give me a moment. Watch the sunset or something, okay?”

Puzzled, Twilight nevertheless did as he asked. She heard him rummaging among the cases stacked beside him, and then she heard the opening bars of a tune. She turned to see Free propped up on his hind legs and with a lute around his neck. His claws were expertly plucking chords from the instrument, and then he opened his beak and started to sing…

Enchantress!

The time has come to be alive

In the Circle of Magi, where we will thrive

With our brethren

Enchanters remind

That time will not unwind

The dragon’s crooked spine

Will never straighten into line

What we plea will be

A faithful end decree

Where a mare will not retreat

From the defeat of her forebears

Enchantress!

The time has come for battle lines

We will cut these knotted ties

And some may live and some may die

Enchantress, come to me

Enchantress, come to me

Enchantress, come to see

Can-a you, can-a you come to see

As you once were blind

In the light now you can sing

In our strength we can rely

And history will not repeat

Enchantress!

The time has come to be alive

In the Circle of Magi, where we will thrive

With our brethren

Enchanters remind

That time will not unwind

The dragon’s crooked spine

Will never straighten into line

What we plea will be

A faithful end decree

Where a mare will not retreat

From the defeat of her forebears

Enchantress!

The time has come for battle lines

We will cut these knotted ties

And some may live and some may die

Enchantress, come to me

Enchantress, come to me

Enchantress, come to see

Can-a you, can-a you come to see

As you once were blind

In the light now you can sing

In our strength we can rely

And history will not repeat

[*Lyrics of Enchanter (Tavern song from ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’) modified for Free Agent’s song.]

From the first words, Twilight had been spellbound. His music filled her soul with wonder, and she was enraptured. Too soon for her, the song ended, and the lute’s last chords died away. She looked at Free’s face, and it was clear that he had been enjoying the positive emotions that had to have been flooding from her. In that one moment, she felt she knew changelings better than ever, and perhaps Free Agent as a person a whole lot more also.

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“I wrote that for you, Twilight.”

He called her by her proper name for the first time! She was the enchantress! This was becoming too much for her to take in at once. “I… I…” She could not say it.

As fate would have it, the ship’s bell rang just then, signalling dinner for the passengers and officers.

“I’ll see you at dinner!” Twilight blurted out, and then hastily beat a retreat.

Behind her, Free cocked his head thoughtfully. All things considered, this was going well. He carefully packed his lute, its task accomplished for now. There would be more opportunities for it to work its magic.

# # #

The next morning, Twilight took breakfast with the crew. Her penchant for getting the day off to an early start meant that she had woken long before the others, and she did not feel like waiting for the formal meal. She also wanted to get better acquainted with the crew in her role as Princess of Friendship, and after several strong reassurances to them that she honestly did not want them being formal with her while at the table, they did open up to her. To be honest, she did have a bit of ulterior motive also – where else could you hear gossip on board this ship?

It was no surprise whatsoever to Twilight that she learned that the mare who had been posing for Free yesterday had not used her bunk that night. Most of the other crewmembers suspected where she had spent the night, and Twilight realized that they had already fairly accurately sized up the griffon. She knew now that there was a lot more depth to him than they suspected, but that did not mean that he was not still a lecherous cock. What amused her to notice though was that it hardly bothered her at all anymore. While her feelings were ambivalent, if you took away that part of him, he just would not be the same person.

But was he going to be more than a friend? Twilight’s thoughts ground to a halt. No, she was not ready to confront that quite yet. She rose from the table and bid the crew a good day, and then headed for her cabin. There was work to be done, and she needed no more distractions.

Twilight did not emerge again until Path came and practically dragged her out for lunch. She was a little relieved to see that Free was not there.

“Free made several of the crew nauseous last lunchtime when he brought out some beef jerky to supplement his diet,” Path explained. “The captain asked him to be a bit more discreet about it next time.”

“He did that deliberately, didn’t he?”

“Need you ask?”

Twilight giggled. “No, I suppose not.”

“How do you think they’d react if I ate some jerky too?”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

Path just grinned at her.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “You’re almost as bad as him sometimes. No wonder you make such good friends. Just promise me something.”

“What’s that?” Path asked, his curiosity piqued.

“Make sure I’m there when you do it. I can’t miss that!”

Path chuckled. “Free has rubbed off on you too. Admit it!”

“Guilty! Although I have to introduce you to Pinkie Pie someday. Now there’s a pony who would literally do anything to make you smile and laugh.”

After lunch, it was time for more language lessons. However, since leaving the pegasus weather-control area, the climate had progressively gotten warmer and more humid, and the cabins had started to get stifling.

“Let’s do the lessons on the observation deck,” Path suggested.

“I don’t know – it may be occupied.”

“So what if it is? Unless it’s too crowded, it should still be better than in here.”

“Maybe they won’t like listening to us? Griffish is rather screechy.”

“You’re stalling, Twilight.”

The alicorn sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go.”

As she had suspected, they found Free there, along with his art gear again. To her surprise though, this time there was no crewmare posing for him, but instead he was painting a seascape. He turned to see who had come onto the deck, and smiled at the sight of Twilight.

“Ah, have you come to pose for me at last?”

Before Twilight could reply, Path spoke up. “We’re here to do language lessons as it’s too unpleasant in our cabins. I think that she could hold a pose for you while we’re at it.”

Twilight looked at Path suspiciously. “Did you set this up?”

“Since when does Free need help with this sort of thing?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Does it matter?”

Twilight thought about it, but could not really think of a good reason not to, so they spent a few hours learning Griffish while Free painted her onto his seascape. The griffon occasionally supplied a new word for both Path and Twilight to learn, and she found herself relaxing more. The combination of learning while enjoying a wonderful view was just too pleasant.

All good things must end though, and this one was ended by a pegasus stallion coming in to land on the deck. Twilight recognized him as one of the crew whose job was lookout for hazards, which included bad weather.

“Pardon me, everypony, but I strongly recommend that you pack up and move inside. There’s foul weather ahead, and it won’t be very pleasant out here for much longer.”

“Is it going to be a problem?” Twilight asked.

“This dirigible is built for much tougher conditions than what lies ahead, ma’am. It just won’t be a very enjoyable ride while it lasts.”

“And how long will that be?”

“The storm front looks extensive, so it’s a bit hard to tell. Us pegasi will be doing what we can to ameliorate the conditions and guide the ship along the best route, but you probably will have an hour or so at least to put up with. Now I have to go check in with the captain. She doesn’t like being kept waiting.”

Twilight thanked the pegasus, and then she and Path helped Free pack and carry his art equipment inside. She was especially careful with the portrait, and only then did she get a good look at it.

“Oh! You have flattered me too much, Free.”

The griffon grinned. “Can’t flatter perfection, babe. Glad you like it.”

“Are you finished with it? It looks complete.”

“A portrait is never finished because the subject is always changing every second, every minute, and every hour. However, I think we’ve captured the moment well enough.”

“Can I put it in my room, please?”

“It’s yours, Twi. Do with it what you wish.”

Twilight threw her forelegs around the griffon in a hug. “Thank you!” Then she realized what she had done so spontaneously, and hastily let go. “A-heh. Ummm… gotta go hang this up now.” She trotted off hastily.

Free looked at Path and winked. His friend just shook his head with a small smile.

# # #

Path discovered that while he had no problem with normal air travel, the roller-coaster ride through a storm gave him a bad case of motion-sickness. He spent much of the time on his bed feeling miserable. Even after they had gotten past the storm front, relatively trivial swaying still nauseated him.

Twilight visited him at dinner time, a bowl supported in the glow of her magic telekinesis. “Still feeling bad?”

“Only when the ship moves,” he replied as the dirigible lurched in yet another gust.

“You need to eat something to keep your strength up.”

“I don’t know if I can keep anything down right now.”

“Don’t worry, this is a light broth made especially for you. The cook reckons that he’s made it for ponies like you for years.”

“Ponies like me? Sea-sick ones?”

“Landlubbers, actually. I think he used to be a navy cook.”

“Well, I am an earth pony.”

“Then this broth should work, right?”

Path could not counter that logic, so despite his misgivings, he tried the broth. Much to his surprise, it went down easily and stayed down. He spooned up some more before asking, “What about you? Don’t you feel even the slightest bit queasy?”

Twilight shrugged. “I haven’t experienced motion-sickness since I got these.” She spread her wings briefly. “It seems that a stronger constitution is part of being an alicorn. Or maybe it’s because I’m part pegasus now. Pegasi don’t get motion-sickness.”

“That’s convenient.” He ate some more of the broth before continuing. “Speaking of alicorns though, isn’t this a bit topsy-turvy? Princesses aren’t supposed to be serving their subjects, or being their nursemaids.”

“We’re companions and researchers on this trip. Rank doesn’t come into it. We’ve known each other long enough for you to realize that I only pay attention to my station during formal occasions.”

“I know, but it’s still weird.”

“Yes, I did get a few odd looks from the crew when I volunteered to bring you the broth.”

“You didn’t need to do that, y’know?”

“I wanted to – friend helping friend is kind of what I do.”

“Thank you. I’m a little surprised that Free didn’t do it though.”

“Who says he didn’t? He was the one who actually asked the cook if he had anything suitable for seasick ponies. I just asked to take it to you when I found out.”

“And he agreed just like that?” Path asked with an arch of an eyebrow.

“Well, I may have fluttered my eyes at him and said ‘Pretty Princess Please’.”

Path laughed. “He didn’t stand a chance! Well, my stomach is feeling better now.”

“Score one for the cook. Now how about getting out of this stuffy cabin for a while?”

“Whatever Doc Twilight prescribes. What do you suggest?”

“Let’s bring a book or two out onto the observation deck. We’ve a little reading time to make up for.”

“Sounds like excellent medicine to me. Let’s go.” Path got up from the bed and wobbled on his legs a little. “Ooh, but let’s take it easy. I’m not quite right just yet.”

They chose a few books to take with them, and made their way to the deck. The sun had set, but there was still a slight glow on the horizon. The moonlight reflected off the surf below them, but did little to illuminate the deck. Lanterns had been hung there though, providing adequate light for reading, and they settled down together to study it.

Some time later, without either pony particularly noticing it, Free quietly came onto the deck. The griffon smiled when he saw the two huddled over a book, and he settled down on his haunches nearby. Taking the lute he had hanging around his neck into his talons, he started softly strumming the instrument. Choosing something appropriate, he segued into a quiet wordless tune.

Twilight and Path looked over to the griffon and smiled before turning their attention back to the book. The three friends enjoyed just being together for about an hour and a half before a shift change for the pegasi disturbed the tranquil scene, and they decided to call it a night.

# # #

Morning found them over land once more. The dirigible had crossed the coast into griffon lands sometime around five in the morning, but apparently not unnoticed. The airship was now accompanied by several griffons in light armor, spaced at a reasonable distance, but close enough to show that they meant business.

“I presume that those are their coast guard?” Twilight asked the captain.

“That’s right, your Highness, but as they were expecting us, we should have no problems. We’ll probably have a visit from an officer when they swap out with their Home Guard closer to our destination.”

“How long before we reach our destination?”

“The wind is favorable, so I estimate another five and a half hours. May I suggest that you take the opportunity to sightsee while you can? This is a very rare opportunity for Equestrians to visit the griffon kingdom.”

“Hopefully not as rare in the future. Learning more about griffon culture is the main purpose of our visit, and hopefully easing relationships between us as a consequence.”

“I wish you good fortune, Princess, but I hope you’ll pardon me for not being too optimistic. I’ve had my skirmishes with them in the past, and frequently I’ve been confused about their motivation. I know all too well their determination though.”

Twilight took another look at the war mare and realized that despite the battles she had fought, this grizzled veteran had probably seen far worse.

After breakfast, Twilight, Path, and Free took the captain’s advice and watched the countryside pass below them. It was a lot more mountainous than Equestria, and harder to spot signs of civilization. Griffons tended to build their towns, or rather their eyries, in elevated areas, such as cliff sides or high plateaus, and because they were primarily meat-eaters, they had few farms interrupting the forests that were home to their prey.

“Don’t they raise non-sapient beasts for food also?” Path asked.

Free replied, “Yes they do, but I was told that they prefer to hunt their meat when possible, so it’s not as big a business as it could be. Be grateful though – once upon a time, they regarded ponies as a food source also. It took a few wars before they were convinced otherwise.”

Twilight added, “Some still hold out that viewpoint, hence some of the skirmishes in the past. While ostensibly fought over possession of land, they often did not regard food as having the right to possess it.”

“Is that going to be much of a problem for us, Twilight?” Path asked.

Twilight gave him a reassuring smile. “Unlikely. The current ruler of Griffonia has been considerably more enlightened than many of his predecessors. He’s seen the advantages of trade with Equestria over trying to conquer it.”

“And the fact that it has several extremely powerful alicorns protecting it has nothing to do with it, of course,” Free added dryly.

Twilight grinned at his comment but did not deny it.

Twilight had more lessons in griffon tongue while they enjoyed the scenery. As predicted, when they came close to the mountain range that was their destination, a squad of griffon soldiers was seen to approach. They spread out, apparently relieving the coast guard, but one approached the dirigible. The companions moved aside to allow the griffon to land on the deck unhindered.

The griffon had a magnificent golden eagle forequarters, and hindquarters of a white lion. While he wore armor, it looked to be more ceremonial in nature rather than anything more battle-worthy. He eyed the occupants of the deck before focusing his attention on Twilight.

“I am General Javelin. Would I be addressing Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

“You would. Welcome aboard the Skylark.”

The general inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I will inform the king’s ambassador of your impending arrival so that he may greet you. He will take you to the palace to formally introduce you to his Highness, King Argent Glimfeather. Advise your pilot to follow the path indicated by my squad. Do not deviate from that course.”

“Understood, General. I look forward to our meeting with your king.”

Javelin nodded curtly. “By your leave, your Highness,” he said with a minimum of courtesy before taking off again.

A pegasus who had been flying close by the deck as a watch guard took the griffon’s place. “I can pass on the general’s instructions to the captain if you wish, your Highness?”

“Please do so,” Twilight replied. As the pegasus left, she turned to the others and said, “I hope you have packed your essentials. We’ll be following their protocol for now, and that basically means just us and a couple of honor guards accompanying us. The crew will bring the bulk of our luggage to our quarters later.”

“I already have a saddlebag packed,” Path replied.

“Got mine ready too,” Free said.

“Then let’s get them and head for bridge. I’d like to watch the approach.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Path agreed.

It was a bit crowded on the small bridge, especially when Ambassador Quiet Words also joined them. Captain Fairweather scowled a lot, but tolerated them.

As they watched the griffon’s capital approach, Path murmured to Free, “I didn’t see much of Quiet Words on this journey. Did you?”

The griffon grinned and replied equally discreetly, “Let’s just say that it wasn’t a coincidence that we found him already with the captain when we boarded.”

Path looked at the stallion in surprise. “Really? Those two?”

“Would I be mistaken about that kind of thing?”

“Not likely,” Path admitted.

As they approached, they could see that the eyrie had been built into an enormous extinct caldera, with the palace dominating the center of it. More structures covered virtually all the surrounding rim, but the remainder of the floor of the caldera had parklands. Nowhere to be seen was there any suitable place for the dirigible to land though.

The captain spoke up. “We’ll be mooring at a designated site on the other side of the caldera. I suggest that you get ready to disembark now.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Twilight replied. “Let’s go, everypony.”

Twilight lead them all back to the observation deck. They were almost over the center now, and Path could see a gathering of griffons in the courtyard.

Twilight said, “That’s our official greeters. I see the ambassador there among them.”

“You can see that from here?” Path asked.

“Pegasus far-sight,” Twilight explained. “Another benefit of being an alicorn.”

“So how do we make our way down there?”

“I have that covered…” Twilight began before Free interrupted.

“Let’s take the quick route.” Before Path realized what he was doing, the griffon placed his clawed hands under the stallion’s rump, and heaved him over the railing, before diving after him.

“What in Tartarus!” yelled Twilight before she followed suit.

Path simply screamed in terror as he plummeted towards the ground. Earth ponies did not belong up in the air!

 

 

Abruptly his fall was greatly slowed as talons grasped his flailing forelegs. He looked up to see Free grinning at him as he lowered his friend down at a less than lethal rate. They were quickly joined by a furious alicorn.

“What in Celestia’s name do you think you’re doing? I was going to teleport us down there!”

“Boring! You have to impress these griffons. They’re not like the ones you might meet in Canterlot. They don’t like unicorn magic, but they like bold gestures. What’s bolder than an earth pony diving off an airship?”

Twilight was still annoyed with Free, but she was forced to admit that he could be correct. “Alright, let’s try to make this look as rehearsed as possible.”

She led the way to a landing close to the official welcoming committee, and Path managed to make a fairly decorous touchdown, although with legs slightly shaky from the experience. Two griffons stepped forward to meet them, and Path recognized the ambassador from his meeting with him at Canterlot.

“Welcome to Griffonia, Princess Twilight Sparkle, and to your companions as well.”

“Thank you, Ambassador,” Twilight replied.

She did not get the chance to say more before the other griffon spoke up.

“Hello, Long Path, I’m really happy to see you again,” she said coyly.

Path gave the griffoness his best smile and said, “Hi, Roseclaw. Glad I could drop in!”

 

 

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