The Growing Years

This story is a sequel to A Different Perspective
Both the House of Path and Herd Path enjoy strong growth in the years following their establishment. Like all such things though, they both have their highlights and lowlights. These are vignettes in the lives of the children of Twilight, Path, Free, & Roseclaw, from foals to young adults.
This is a series of stand-alone stories of events that occur after the events of A Different Perspective, which I strongly recommend that you read first.
My collaborator, AlaskaIsCold, has written some of these and I mostly just edited them.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/296939/the-growing-years

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18. Clandestine Conversation

This was one of Epiphany’s favorite times of the week – shortly after school had let out on Friday afternoon, and the population of Ponyville was winding down from a week of honest toil. One of the preferred places to do so was the Java ’n Jazz Cafeteria where many ponies, changelings, and even a couple of griffons could be found quietly talking to each other in small groups while enjoying the shop’s fare. The Cafeteria served an excellent range of hot and cold drinks, and a variety of foods from cake to light meals. Some were hanging around just enjoying the positive emotions in the air, the overall calm vibe being enhanced by the smooth jazz being played by the house band.

During a pause in the music, the oboe player said, “Hello, I am Smooth Beats, with Resonant Thorax on the drums, and on the piano is Tickling Ivory. We are Catch the Relax, and we’re just going to keep on playing for your pleasure for the next two hours. To all the students who have joined us this night, try to keep calm during the difficult finals ahead.” The band then eased into another quiet tune.

The sixteen-year-old filly in her guise of a unicorn with tan fur and pink mane walked toward her usual sunken-in booth where she relaxed on the plush seats and set most of her books down gently on the table and the seats surrounding her. She reserved this anonymous identity to escape the recognition and fuss that normally accompanied the princess of the Chrome Hive, and while other changelings could recognize that she was a changeling, as long as she didn’t utilize the hive-mind, they were unable to distinguish her from any other Chrome Changeling. She took a deep relaxing breath before sipping carefully on her steaming hot tea. Pif sighed in satisfaction before regarding the books that she had brought with her. High-level mathematics, astronomy, resource management and big business administration were a few of the subjects on her plate today – not everyone’s idea of fun, but like one of her mothers, she never could get enough of book-learning. She closed her eyes for a few moments to take in the atmosphere. “Mmm... this is nice.”

A middle-aged unicorn mare with a blue-gray coat and green mane approached the booth carrying a cup of espresso coffee and a bag of cakes. She observed the teenage unicorn for a long moment with a sly smile before finally speaking up. “Pardon me, it’s quite busy tonight, and all the booths and tables are occupied. May I join you at yours?”

Epiphany looked up at the unicorn, smiled and nodded. Her senses told her that this was another changeling, but that was hardly unusual in Ponyville, and even though she was princess of the hive, she certainly did not personally know every single one of them. A quick peek into the hive-mind would have informed her, but it would also give herself away, and she simply was not that curious anyway. She levitated all of the books that she had piled up on one side to stack on those on the other side, leaving room for the mare to put down her cup and the bag of cakes that she was carrying. “The more the merrier,” she said rather lazily, the calming emotions of the room getting to her and making her more relaxed than normal. “My name is Vibrant Ledger, what’s yours?”

The mare put her coffee and cake on the cleared area and sat down. She gave Epiphany a wide smile and said, “Oh, I’ve been called many things, my dear, but right now why don’t you just call me Grandma?”

The filly blinked in surprise as she was shaken out of her calm by the mare’s tone and sly smile. She started to piece things together. ‘Grandma...? No way!’ She almost squealed in delight, but she restrained herself and said in a hushed tone, “GramGram? How are you here? Why are you here? Moms and Dads want your head on a pike!”

Chrysalis raised an eyebrow questioningly. “What? Can’t a grandmother pay a social visit to her granddaughter?” She looked around approvingly, blithely ignoring the frantic tone in Pif’s voice. “And such a tasty atmosphere to meet you too. Seems like the perfect place to me.”

Epiphany was stunned that Chrysalis would take such a risk to visit. “You hardly look any different from your coloration in your natural form – aren’t you worried that you’ll be recognized?”

“Pfft! Ponies look, but they don’t see!” Chrysalis scoffed. “I’ve been using this disguise for a long while, and no one ever picks up on that.”

“I’m still worried, but I’m glad you decided to pay me a visit. One of my first memories was of you looking down at me and giving me that doll. I still have Mr. ClickClick somewhere. Anyway, have you been well?” She was now letting the atmosphere soak back into her as she calmed down with a smile.

Chrysalis chuckled softly. “Ah yes, I remember that day well – I rather enjoyed bringing that gift to you. My agents reported that you were seldom seen without it. I was a little surprised that they let you keep it though. The aftermath was quite a hoot.” She took a sip of the hot coffee and nodded approvingly. “They still serve the best coffee in Ponyville here. Anyway, to answer your question, I have indeed been well, and getting better every year.”

Pif giggled a bit. “Oh, they were so mad, but after they scanned it about a million times, they gave it back to me. Mr. Clickclick went everywhere with me.” She let out a happy sigh before she smiled and looked back at Chrysalis, raising an eyebrow inquiringly. “I’m glad that you’re well, but what do you mean you’re getting better? You seem fine right now?” She took a sip of her tea and waited for an answer.

 

 

Chrysalis gave her a melodramatic sigh. “After the rather rude setback that your mother gave me, I’ve had to do a lot of rebuilding. It’s not easy starting all over again, but at least I had the benefit of experience, while my daughter… well, I sometimes despair for what she’s done with her legacy. So I’ve been slowly laying plans to correct that, and I’d love it if you would be part of them.”

Pif let out a sad sigh. “While I don’t completely agree with how they went about the Crystal Empire situation, I don’t particularly agree with your part either.” She crossed her arms. “You both could have done things differently, and that would have saved a lot of bloodshed. The Blue Hive has been getting a lot better though since being reborn as the Chrome Hive. Actually, Dad is trying really hard to push the hive onto me so that he can go off adventuring again. I already know what direction I want to take it. Dad doesn’t realize it, but I have a few citizens directly linked to me. By the way, I don’t call them drones; I call them citizens because it’s less demeaning. Anyway, they are researching in libraries as we speak.” She waved her hooves expansively. “Lately I have been consumed with this desire to know everything.”

Chrysalis nibbled on a cake as Pif talked, and she licked a few crumbs from her lips. “If you want to know everything, perhaps you should spend some time with me and learn what it is to be a true queen? Gossamer certainly doesn’t! Maybe you would understand my motivations better then. It’s been my dream for a long time to unite this world under my leadership, and pass that on to… well… you now. The very fact that you have some dron… ah, citizens… under your control shows that you take a lot after me. You know what you want, and you act accordingly.”

Epiphany smiled. “But see, here’s the thing. As civilizations become more and more advanced, they are also more and more resistant to absolute monarchy, which is what you are suggesting. The only way to maintain a hold on the entire world would be to keep the entire world in the dark. I think that you as well as a few other changeling queens that are up there in age are old-style changelings, traditionalists with a strict hierarchy. I might go so far as to say that you are a changeling supremacist. If truth be told, Dad is a pretty bad queen because he didn’t want to be one in the first place, but he still has everyone’s best interests at heart. That being said, your end goal to unite the world is a goal that I share. I just think our ways of doing it are completely different.” She took a sip of her tea. “I’m not saying that your way is totally wrong, or right; neither is mine, but my way is a one that has yet to be tried. So yes, I have twelve currently working for me, four of whom are reading in the Griffon Kingdom, four in the Crystal Empire, and four are hounding the princesses to give me access to the restricted Canterlot Library wing.”

Chrysalis pondered those words while sipping her coffee. Eventually she replied, “I admire your proactive approach – seeking knowledge has ever been the Blue Changelings’ hallmark, and knowledge is power. You talk about absolute monarchy as if it’s a bad thing, and yet it has worked very well for centuries. I do not see a reason to change that now. Just because I have failed to do so yet only means that I have yet to find the right approach. With my experience and your resources once you take over control of your hive, we can achieve that goal of uniting the world under us.”

Epiphany let out another sad sigh. “But as education and technology improve, it becomes increasingly difficult to control a world population and renders an absolute monarchy obsolete. Even the princesses are attempting to move away from it, one resolution at a time. An empire’s stability decreases in proportion to its size, which leaves only two options: it either becomes a dictatorship where you need an increasingly large police force to keep the masses in check, or you give more and more concessions to keep things stable until you are nothing more than a figurehead.” She smiled. “My route is to become more of a technocracy. Explore several key markets, monopolize them, then use that monopoly to exert pressure on foreign powers. It’s not enough to outright control them, but if they want the newest and most efficient thing, they will listen to what I have to say, using their own greed to get what I want.” She grinned a bit before she shook her head. “I’m really not that dark, I promise! I just want to begin a massive technological revolution once I’m in charge.”

Chrysalis beamed proudly. “Don’t put yourself down, granddaughter – those sound like perfectly wonderful plans of domination. However, I feel that they would be so much easier to implement if you start from a position of power. First establish your leadership, then make your approaches with the illusion of freedom. Working in the background is a true changeling trait and one that you should use to your advantage. One does not have to sit on a gleaming throne in a showy castle on a mountaintop to be the undisputed power in the land.” She smirked as she finished off her coffee. “Just ask the citizens of Saddle Arabia if they are free. They will give you a hearty affirmation… and do exactly as I want them to.”

Pif blinked in surprise. “Your hive controls Saddle Arabia?” She stared at Chrysalis for a long moment before she finally realized what was going on. “I think we have a fundamental breakdown in understanding. This is why we start off on the same page, but then we diverge.” She rubbed her temples with her hooves. “See... I want ponies, and griffons, and even my own citizens to actually be free to do as they wish, as opposed to the illusion of freedom. I’m concerned that you have already taken over a country that Path and Free are currently in negotiations with.” She sighed again and sipped her tea. “I don’t want to dominate, I want to thrive, and to do that requires a lot of math. So much math!” she added with a groan and rubbed her eyes. “Anyway, I feel that I can reduce our divergent trains of thought with one question.”

Chrysalis frowned. “We have always thrived by dominating, so that is meaningless to me, but let me hear your question anyway.”

Pif snorted. “According to the other five queens, your statement is false. Generally in science, when six independent sources come up with answers, and five have the same answer while one has a different one, the different answer is considered an error and discarded. Anyway, my question is this: What are ponies?”

Chrysalis was perplexed. Knowing her granddaughter, the obvious answer was not what she was looking for, but it seemed like the only correct one. “They are food.”

Pif grinned and decided to see if she could outmaneuver her grandma. "I agree. Surprised?"

Chrysalis blinked uncomprehendingly. “Then what was the point of your question?”

She picked up her cup and set it on the table between herself and Chrysalis. “This is a pony. This pony is full of love.” She moved the cup around. “La, la, la.... Here comes a changeling.” She sipped some of the tea from the cup and set it back down. “Now – would you say that this cup pony has less love than before?”

“Obviously.”

“So now you come along.” She took another sip. “And a lot more changelings come around.” She took a longer long sip. “She can’t explore, she can’t grow as a person.” She took more and more sips, naming off consequences each time that Chrysalis would cause by taking over. She set the empty cup down. “Would you agree that this cup pony is empty, there is no love, there is no tea?”

Chrysalis smirked. “But ponies are not cups of tea.” She picked up an apple from the bowl of fruit on the table. “They are like an apple tree – harvest all the apples and they just grow more the next season.”

Pif’s pupils dilated as she grinned. Chrysalis had fallen for it! “And you are correct... unless you harvest so many apples that you harm the tree to the point it stops bearing any more fruit.” She leaned in with a grin. Chrysalis might remember this look from a report from one of her drones; it’s the look Epiphany got when she thinks she’s winning. “You can break a pony to the point where they cease to function and become just husks. No love; no foals; just a shell going through the motions until they die. The last ‘season’, to use your analogy. What will you do then, Gram Gram, with your barren orchard? Move on to peaches?” She made a griffon crooning sound. “Pears?” She made a dragon growl. “With your method, eventually you will have the world, but a world of nothing, and the last hunger will set in.”

Chrysalis’ temper was starting to fray. This conversation was not achieving what she had hoped when she had walked in. “Plant more trees then!” she snarled.

Pif shrugged. “But you have eaten all the apples, pears, and peaches. Where will you get the seeds to begin again? Will you try to raid the other hives? It won’t matter because with the planet barren, there will be no redemption, and all will eventually die. That is why I believe my way is more efficient in the long run. We don’t dominate, but we will have monopolized the things they think they need for everyday life. Monetize love; create a changeling trading market; make it so that the ponies pay love for goods and services. Their lives improve, the cup overfills, and the hive profits.” Her tone changed; she actually really liked Chrysalis and the old queen could sense it. “I guess I’m the middle ground between you and Gossamer. She doesn’t like my ideas either. It’s why I’m not sharing them over the hive-mind anymore.”

Chrysalis just stared at Epiphany for a long while before she started chuckling, then breaking out into outright laughter. A few of the other patrons turned and stared at her for a moment before rolling their eyes at the weird mare. When Chrysalis calmed down, she said, “I love your deviousness, but you will find that that enough is never enough. I would share my power with you, granddaughter, but that’s as far as I would go.” She picked up her coffee and swigged it one gulp. She put the cup down and continued. “I will sip or I will gulp at my will because unless I have it all, I have nothing.” She stood up. “I have enjoyed our little conversation. We must do so again sometime. I really want some more of that… coffee.”

Pif gave her a happy smile and got up. “You always know where I like to hang out, Gram Gram. You should visit me more if you feel like it.” Still grinning, she decided to take one more blatantly playful jab at her grandmother before she left. “I do hope that later on you decide to pay my hive a visit.” She gave Chrysalis a warm hug. After all that had been said, she still regarded her rather favorably; maybe even more so than before.

Chrysalis smirked. “Now that will be the day! Farewell, Granddaughter. Make me proud.” She turned to leave, but paused and looked over her shoulder. “But don’t get in my way.” She then exited the cafeteria, her bag of cakes floating in her magic after her.

Pif turned back to her books and murmured, “I’ll try, Gram Gram, but I suggest you don’t get in mine!”

# # # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

This story was roleplayed with AlaskaIsCold taking Pif's place, and me taking Chrysalis' place. After that, I took the notes of the session and wrote it up properly, adding all the extra details.

So what do you think of Pif's viewpoint of her grandmother? What do you think of Pif's attitude in general?

Art by Foxenawolf.

   
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