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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13. Spring Break - part five

Author's Note:

This part was about half & half AlaskaIsCold and Goldfur. Can you figure out which parts are whose? 

Blue woke up with a groan. His entire body hurt, and he couldn’t help but taste copper in his mouth. He licked his lips slightly and slowly opened up one eye to look up at the center of the yurt and the stars that shone through.

“Mmph…” Blue huffed and looked around, not used to being sprawled out on his back. It took him a few moments to see Cinder lying next to him. Based on her positioning and the huge grin on her snout, he could only assume that they’d had quite the night.

Blue stood up slowly and walked out the door, carefully closing it behind him before he walked toward the ever-burning fire and sat down. He stared into it for a few moments before he looked at the trottie headset. This was not going to be a fun talk, but he figured he couldn’t put it off forever. He was so distracted that he did not notice the Seer and the Matriarch approaching him until the last moment. The Seer’s face had her usual knowing smile, but the Matriarch’s face was unreadable.

“The Goat Destroyer awakes,” the Matriarch said as she slowly started to smirk.

Blue cringed a little. “Listen… I’m really sorry about what happened. I’ll understand if you want me to leave. I am really sorry I caused such chaos.” His ears drooped as he turned to face them, and he made his body slightly smaller.

The Matriarch started to laugh softly as she looked up to the sky. The stars were starting to fade as the sky brightened with the approaching dawn. “You know, when Cinder begged me to let you visit, I was halfway tempted to agree just so I could eat you. A pony suitor for my daughter? Such madness! However, Cinder, the Seer, and my mate figured it would be bad for relationships.” The Matriarch sighed.

Blue just blinked. “Well… I’m glad you decided not to eat me?” he responded uncertainly.

The Seer chuckled, and then changed the topic. “I won’t go into details, Blue Streak, but when you came to me injured from your battle, you were close to death. Your injuries were great and you weren’t responding to normal treatment, so I had to open up your mana channels and take advantage of the oversaturated mana of our lands to heal you. As a side effect though, you might have picked up some of our ingrained instinctual behavior as well as some of our physical characteristics, but I assure you it is temporary… I think.”

The Matriarch just looked at the Seer with a raised eyebrow.

“What? It’s not like I read a book about this; it was a dire situation and I had to improvise!”

Blue looked at the Seer somewhat confused.

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “I used earth magic to heal your body, but other stuff went in as well, so that’s why your eyes are slit,” she explained simplistically. “They should revert back to normal in a few days, by the way. Other things might take more time, like the urge to horde things, and the growling.”

“What about breathing fire?” Blue asked. “Breathing fire was pretty cool, not going to lie.”

The Seer rubbed the back of her head in puzzlement. “I don’t really know how you did that. The best thing I can assume is that you acted as a conduit for the earth magic to shift phases, The ‘fire’ was nothing more than an arc reaction. Like a slow moving lightning maybe?” The Seer hummed thoughtfully, deciding to look into it further when she had the opportunity. “We honestly don’t know if the… well, for lack of a better word… taint is permanent, or if it will bleed out in time. Just… until we know more, don’t get too worked up, okay?”

While the Seer smiled at Blue, the Matriarch still looked neutral at best. “So… were you serious about my daughter, or was that just your inner beast?” she asked with a snarl.

That made Blue think over his answer carefully as opposed to saying the first thing that came to his head. “You know… I think I am.” Blue’s body language visibly brightened as he smiled up at the dragon. “That is, if it’s okay with you, ma’am?” He gave her his best confident smile.

The Matriarch rolled her eyes. “It takes more than breathing fire and grabbing a goat to impress me, but you are on your way.” She snickered and stood up, motioning for the Seer to follow her. “We need to talk more about your new condition. Take some time, enjoy the morning fire and contact your parents.” They turned around and walked back to the Seer’s hut.

# # #

Everyone was in the main hall eating dinner when the crystal comm starting to ring. Path looked at the comm, then to Free, and then to Twilight.

“No, no, not again!” Twilight squealed and tried to cast a levitation spell on Free, but before she was able to cast it, she was beaned by a pillow. “Who keeps a pillow in the dining room?!” she squealed again as she felt Free move on top of her and lick her horn. “Why do you keep doing this?!” she whined helplessly.

Roseclaw and Luna were holding themselves laughing. The frustrated look on Twilight’s face and the look of conquest on Free’s was perfect.

“I like your initiative, Free, but this time you won’t need to do that,” Path said.

“What initiative? Do what?” Free said with an innocent tilt to his head as Luna and Rose fell over laughing, trying to catch their breaths.

Path pressed a button on the comm to put it into loudspeaker mode, and the entire room could hear Blue Streak on the other end.

“Hey, Moms and Dads!” Blue spoke.

At that point, Twilight and Roseclaw ran up to the comm and started yelling at him.

How could you do something so dangerous!” Twilight screamed!

When you get back, your hide is going to get a tanning!” Roseclaw squawked.

Path spoke up. “So before you punish and beat him, maybe you should ask if he’s okay?” Path rolled his eyes and Free grinned in agreement.

Twilight and Roseclaw sighed. “Tell us what happened please, Blue,” Twilight ordered firmly.

Blue Streak chuckled – it wasn’t very often that the dads shut down the moms like that. “Well, it’s not like I went asking for it. After I hunted, successfully I might add, I decided to go graze near the river since I remembered the doc saying that I still need to eat plants because of the vitamins or something. So while I was eating, there came a great stabbing pain in my flank along with a deep growl. It hurt so bad, but I managed to buck it off. Then it came back around. I stood on my one good leg, and when it came in range, I bucked as hard as I could. Then things went dizzy and I woke up a few hours ago.”

Free blinked in awe. “Dude – our son kicks ass!”

Roseclaw and Twilight screeched at the griffon in unison, “Don’t encourage him!

Roseclaw went on to say in a more moderate tone, “But you’re going to be okay right? Do you want us to come and get you? I bet the crew of the Skyshark would love to go visit a new land.”

Blue replied, “No, no, I’m okay, and I think the Matriarch is starting to like me now! Apparently I am very dragon-like. I know you can’t see me right now, but I’m puffing my chest out at nothing.”

Twilight was still very wary. “Okay then, but call me if there happens to be any other problems.”

“Okay. Oh! Before I forget, later on tonight, the Seer – she’s the dragon equivalent of a shaman, I guess – and the Matriarch want to speak to you! So the next time the comm chimes, it probably won’t be me. Anyway, if there’s nothing else, I gotta go, okay?”

All of his parents replied all at once. “Be careful!” “Call us soon!”

The crystal comm stopped glowing, indicating the closing of the connection.

Free looked at Path. “You know that Blue is pretty much following in our adventurous footsteps?”

“Yes, and you have no idea how happy that makes me.” Path picked up a radish and took a bite out of it, oblivious to the glare of his mate.

# # #

Blue walked into the Seer's hut later that day after being summoned. The Matriarch was there as well, and they both turned to him.

“So, we think we know why you had draconic traits when I was in your dream, as well as why you had draconic eyes when you were suffering the side-effects of the healing process,” the Seer said as she moved to one spot in the large yurt, and indicated for Blue Streak to move to a different spot.

“You do? Lu– I mean Queen Nocturne was thinking it had to do with the energy you were using to heal me,” Blue said as he sat down on the spot.

“We believe her to be correct. However, there is one way to know for certain. Tell me, how are you feeling right now?” the Matriarch asked.

“I’m feeling pretty good, actually.” Blue smiled as he looked at the two dragons.

“Please take your horseshoes off and put your hooves directly on the ground,” the Seer instructed as she started to draw some runes on the ground.

“Okay, so what’s the test?” Blue asked as the Seer drew a few sets of runes leading from the Matriarch to Blue Streak.

“I’m going to focus some of my mana into the runes, and see how your body reacts,” the Matriarch replied. “The Seer believes that this will confirm or refute her theory.”

The Seer started to activate the runes as the Matriarch put one heavy talon into one of the circles. The effect was almost immediate. Blue stood up straighter and his eyes gradually started to shift, his pupils turning into slits as he let out a low growl.

“Oh… oh, this is interesting.” The Seer watched and made mental notes, as the Matriarch sent another pulse into the rune sets between herself and Blue Streak.

The pony started to snarl and smoke came out of his nostrils as he went into a crouching position. Moving into a stalking position, he advanced on the Matriarch.

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re kidding? You’re kidding, right?”

The earth pony growled and began to charge at her, only to stop dead in his tracks as she opened up her wings, wrapping them along the perimeter of the yurt as she let out a threatening roar.

Blue’s eyes widened as he stopped only about a foot from her and let out a whimper, crouching down and making himself look small.

The Matriarch grinned and put one of her large fore-talons on his back to keep him crouched down. “Even when you’re overrun with energy that controls you, your body still follows the nature of the mana you have absorbed.” The Matriarch looked at the Seer who nodded and reversed the flow.

The Seer was still quite amazed. “A Mana Synthesist… I have heard of some Zebrican mystics able to do such a thing, but an earth pony, and one so young? Blue, you keep surprising me every day you are here, although it does explain how you are able to convert that mana to speed.” The Seer smiled as Blue Streak groaned weakly as the dragon-tinged energy was drawn out of him, and his eyes reverted to normal.

“Ngh…. hungry…” Blue groaned.

“Good. I think it’s almost time to eat anyway.” The Matriarch moved her talon off of Blue. “Put your shoes back on and go wake up Cinder. The Seer and I will be out shortly.”

Blue Streak left quickly as the Matriarch looked back at the Seer with a grin.

The Seer just watched the pony leave the yurt, her eyes flickering a few times before she sat down with a sigh. “Incendia… the pony does not even realize what it means. Can nobody in their land see the beginning and the end?”

The Matriarch sighed. “Not many can embrace all instances without succumbing to madness. If they did, then everyone would be a Seer and your tent would be crowded.”

The Seer couldn’t help but chuckle as she shook her head.

# # #

It took Blue a while to wake Cinder. She was most likely the heaviest sleeper he had ever met, even worse than Papa Path. “Oh, for the love of… COME ON!!!” He started to rub his feet along the rug, and he felt the static charge building up. Then he touched her nose, the resulting snap of electricity made her wake with a jerk, and she flailed around a bit.

“Okay, okay! I’m up! Nnggh... it’s too early,” Cinder groaned, and then started to lay back down before Blue pushed her to get her on her feet.

“No, no, no! It’s mealtime and we are going. I hunted a ram, and you’re going to eat it! I didn’t work that hard to grab the biggest one just so you can sleep through my success!”

Blue kept fighting to get her to wake, but when he mentioned the size of the ram, her eyes sprung open and she looked at him eagerly. “Really? You kept the biggest one for me?” Her eyes started to water and Blue started to become uneasy.

“Yes?” Blue said more like a question than a statement.

“Come on – let’s go then!” Cinder ran out of the yurt as Blue followed after her, puzzled as to her abrupt turnaround.

# # #

Later that evening, the Matriarch and the Seer borrowed the comm from Blue Streak and took it into the Seer’s tent. Blue was a little worried about it in spite of knowing that he would get it back safely.

“Are you ready to break the news to them?” The Seer sighed as she tapped the crystal as she had been instructed. It started to glow to indicate that it was establishing a connection to the other end. After a rather annoying but brief hum, the dragons could hear a voice as clear as day coming from the other end.

Hello. Is this the Seer and the Matriarch like Blue Streak said would call around this time?” a rather perky female voice asked.

“You are speaking to the Twelfth Matriarch, Incendia, leader of the Western Clan, Fourth pledged to the Greater Matriarch Council,” Incendia rumbled before glancing at the Seer.

“Ah, yes. I would be the Thirteenth Greater Seer, advisor to Incendia… and general knower of things!” The Seer could not help but chuckle slightly. Despite the gravity of her position, she had always had a wicked sense of humor.

The voice resumed. “I am Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria, Lady of the House of Path, and with me is Lord Long Path, the one who created the school that Cinder attends, and his mate Lady Roseclaw. Also my mate, Free Agent and–

Twilight was abruptly cut off as a deep rumbling voice came across the comm. “Queen Nocturne!

“Q-Queen Nocturne!” the Seer stammered. “Many apologies for disturbing you again, but the news we bring is very important as it concerns Cinder’s boyfriend and your nephew!”

What is this news? I was told that thou wert able to heal him of his wounds, both of his spirit as well as of his body. This is what Cinder said. Incendia – was thy daughter less than completely truthful?” Queen Nocturne ended her sentence with subtle threat in her voice.

“No, no! It wasn’t that! It was that she couldn’t know everything that happened to Blue Streak, or rather what our healing runes unlocked within him.”

The Seer started to go on before the Matriarch cut her off. “We discussed Blue Streak’s achievements with him, and it appears that he already had a slight ability as a mana synthesist before he visited our lands. That is why when he races in Equestria he could break the sound barrier, but only just. When he did it in the newly restored Crystal Kingdom, there was even more ambient energy for him to draw on. However, when he came here and interacted with the untapped mana lines of the dragon lands, he managed to break the sound barrier within seconds, according to the Hunt-Master.”

The Seer added, “But when we had to heal him, the resulting influx of mana forced all of his channels fully open. As you know, Queen Nocturne, once they are open, they cannot be closed.”

I’m confused; why is this a bad thing?” Twilight asked.

Luna/Nocturne answered, “Because… think of an opponent thou faced a few years past that was able to drain magic out of ponies, and nearly destroyed Equestria.

My son is not Tirek!” Twilight yelled.

“He isn’t, I can assure you,” Incendia replied. “However, when we conducted our tests, he unconsciously attempted to pull my mana into himself. Using the earth as a conduit, he managed to get quite a large portion, and it threw him into a rage. He tried to attack, but dragon magic follows dragon rules. After a display of power, Blue Streak submitted, and I was able to draw it back into myself.”

How do you know so much about Tirek, Matriarch Incendia?” Path finally spoke up.

“Because it was the Matriarch Council that held him at bay while Queen Nocturne and Diurnal built up the spell that originally cast him into Tartarus.” Incendia said simply.

I have heard enough!” Luna bellowed. “I am going to pick up Blue Streak and Cinder myself!

“I understand, Queen Nocturne. However, Cinder and Blue have already managed to get two other younger dragons interested in your House – a lesser male and the Seer’s apprentice.”

It matters not! Prepare thyself for I will soon be there!” Luna growled sternly.

“Very Well, we will await your arrival.”

The connection was broken, and Incendia gave the Seer a troubled look. “Should we be worried?” Despite her age and power, the grand old dragoness was shaken by the power and authority in Queen Nocturne’s voice.

The Seer grimaced. “We have annoyed a goddess – what do you think?”

Incendia snorted. “If I had known that Blue Streak was of her family, I would have done things differently.”

“I thought you said that you were considering eating her nephew?” the Seer said dryly.

Incendia shuddered. “Upon reconsideration, I lost my appetite.”

# # #

“What was all that about, Luna? Or should I say Nocturne?” Path asked as the alicorn headed for the balcony.

Luna paused to explain. “We are known by many names, and by many cultures. To dragonkind, I am Queen Nocturne, and my dealings with them reflect their expectations. Dragons respect strength first, and all other considerations must follow.” She opened the balcony doors and stepped out into the moonlight.

“They could have hardly known the consequences of Blue’s actions. There’s no need to strike fear into them because of what has happened.”

“Nay, ’tis not fear that I desire, but dragons seldom listen if there are no consequences to their actions. To make them understand, I must command respect in a manner that dragons know well.”

With that, Luna spread her wings wide and her horn glowed. Then her whole body shimmered and started to expand. As she grew, her features started to shift – her eyes’ pupils became slits and her snout lengthened, with long sharp fangs protruding from her mouth. Her horn seemed to divide in two and each shifted to one side of the head even as they grew thicker and gnarled. Scales began appearing on her extremities and steadily replaced her fur until she was covered in obsidian armor. Her barrel expanded, as did her limbs, both rippling with powerful muscles. Hooves turned into talons and ethereal tail became a mighty bludgeon. Her leathery wings beat strongly and she launched herself into the night sky. Moments later, the boom of teleportation rumbled across the estate.

All the herd members had been watching in awe, but it was Free who finally broke the silence.

“Whoa! Anyone else turned on like I am right now?”

Both Twilight and Roseclaw glared at him, while Path just rolled his eyes. Some things never changed.

# # #

There was no mistaking Queen Nocturne’s arrival; the crack of thunder even made Incendia jump, and the monstrously huge form of a dragon eclipsed the moon and threw most of the campsite into shadow. Incendia watched as Nocturne lowered herself to the ground in a clear area that the Matriarch had ordered to be made vacant. The Queen of the Night was at least half again as big as her, and barely fitted. Worst yet was the glare that that was fixed upon her.

Art thou the Matriarch?” Luna/Nocturne thundered.

“I am, Your Majesty.”

Then t’was thy responsibility for the welfare of my nephew!

Incendia nodded. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

And yet not two days pass before he is almost killed, and still he suffers the consequences.

“Blue Streak is a headstrong youth, Queen Nocturne. Responsibility for his actions must at least be partially borne by him.” Incendia cringed a little inside as she saw Nocturne’s reaction to that.

Nocturne’s glare grew more intense, and her eyes glowed with building power, but after several tense moments, both died down to normal levels. “Indeed, he is headstrong, but as thou didst just say, he is but a youth. I believe I knew thee as a youth of a mere two centuries, and thou wert as headstrong as Blue Streak back then. He has less than two decades of experience with the harsh realities of the world, and thou should have been aware of his vulnerability.

Incendia hung her head. “My abject apologies for my failures, Your Majesty.”

Nocturne nodded in satisfaction. “I expect better next time. Meanwhile, it is my will that dragonkind and ponykind work toward a mutual understanding. Although their lives are unfortunately brief, ponies nevertheless have much to teach dragons, and in turn learn from dragons. For this reason, I will accept the two dragon youths who wish to travel back with us. Bring them forth now.” Nocturne looked around. “Where are Blue Streak and Cinder?

Blue Streak stepped forth from a group of dragon youths, pulling Cinder along with him. “We’re here, Auntie.” Although he had been a little stunned when the gigantic dragon had arrived, once Blue realized that it was actually Luna’s Queen Nocturne form, he had been intrigued rather than concerned… not counting the scolding that he anticipated getting later. To the other dragons though, his confident familiarity with the dragon goddess left them awestruck.

Cinder though was just about to faint from sheer terror. Until this moment, she had not realized just who she had been treating with almost contemptuous familiarity on the few occasions that she had met Luna. She had never truly associated the pony princess with the dragon goddess, even after Blue had told her about the dreamscape. Right now, she felt less than a bug that deserved to be squished.

Blue noticed his girlfriend’s reluctance and put a reassuring arm around her shoulders. “Don’t let Auntie bother you too much, Cinder. I reckon you have to worry more about my Moms’ tongue-lashings when we get back.”

Cinder cringed a little more. “Maybe I should stay right here.”

Blue chuckled sympathetically and pulled her towards Nocturne. “If I gotta take it, so can you.”

Meanwhile, two young dragons broke from the crowd and stood nervously at Nocturne’s feet. Blue and Cinder joined them, and the massive dragoness spread her wings and enfolded them all. Then with a surge of magic that all present felt like a physical blow, Nocturne teleported out with a thunderous boom.

All the dragons just stayed where they were for a while, pondering their encounter with a living goddess. Eventually the Matriarch turned to the Seer and said, “Why do I feel like a hatchling scolded by her parents?”

The Seer smirked. “Probably because that is what we are to one such as she. Now if she considered us responsible adults, think how much greater her anger would have been.”

Incendia gulped. “Point taken.”

# # #

Nocturne arrived outside House Path with an equally impressive thunderclap, and released her passengers from her enfolding wings. Then as they watched, she drew her power within herself once more and her form shrank down and resumed pony form and within a minute, alicorn princess Luna stood in Nocturne’s place.

The new dragons had watched in awe, stunned by her eventual transformation. Although Cinder already knew Luna, her perception of the alicorn had been radically altered by the experience, and she was no less blown away. As Path approached Luna and started talking with her, none of them could comprehend how an earth pony could be so familiar with a goddess.

“You look tired, Luna. Are you alright?”

“I am fine, Path, but teleporting so far directly, and with passengers, is no easy task, not to mention my manifestation in dragon form.”

“How come you didn’t use that when we fought the changelings?” Path asked curiously.

Luna gave him a tired smile. “There is a price to pay for everything, some greater than others. While I am more powerful as Nocturne, my endurance is much lower. The battle of the Crystal City was one of attrition, and best fought in my normal alicorn form.”

Path nodded. “Makes sense.” He then peered behind Luna where he spotted Blue and Cinder trying to look inconspicuous. “Come on, you two. You’re only putting off the inevitable.”

By then, the other members of Herd Path had joined him. Blue was grinned meekly as he was stared down by a purple alicorn and giant griffoness. “H-Hi, Moms… I’d like you to meet my two friends who would like admission into the House if it was possible.”

The Seer’s apprentice walked over to join them. She was a quadrupedal dragon, slightly larger than Cinder, but instead of a rich gold color, her hide was a mottled brown, and her eyes were a contrasting deep, rich hazel. She was wearing a strange wooden necklace and there were runes painted on her form in jet black ink.

She smiled nervously and bowed to the group. “Ah, hello. Maybe we have met? Are we meeting now? Maybe we have yet to meet? My name is Oörchlögdsön Üzmerchor… translated into a pony name, I believe that would be called Altered Seer” She bowed again.

The smaller male slinked out from behind Luna and Altered. “H-hi… my name is Ondög Ayuulaas. If you translate it like how Altered did, it means Egg Warden, which I guess makes sense since back in the clan I watch the eggs with the other lesser males while most are out hunting or gathering minerals.” His eyes met Free’s and widened in recognition. He made a small squeak and crouched down, making himself look smaller than he already was.

Twilight and Roseclaw were quiet just long enough for Altered Seer and Egg Warden to give their introductions before they launched themselves onto Blue. Twilight grabbed him with her magic and lifted him up.

You have no idea how much trouble you are in, mister!” Twilight snarled.

I’m going to make sure that Warfist gives you extra encouragement!” Rose squawked as Blue was carted off into the main house, protesting all the way. Cinder followed after them, trying to better explain what happened.

Free was glaring daggers at Egg Warden and was about to say something before Path put his hoof in the way.

“How about Altered and Luna go and talk while they get some supper. I’m sure that Luna could do with some food and rest, and she can help Altered Seer adjust to House life,” Path said, giving Luna a knowing look. “While she is doing that, Free, you and I will learn more about our newest student?”

Free huffed and turned to walk toward the meeting room. “Yes. Yes we will. Let’s go, Egg Warden.”

Free walked off while Egg Warden slinked behind the griffon. Path rolled his eyes a bit before saying to Luna, “We’ll join you a little later.” Path then followed the pair.

Luna looked down to Altered Seer and smiled reassuringly as she led her toward the House cafeteria which was always open in order to cater to the needs of the House’s students. “I am surprised that thou art not wondering why I look different, nor why they call me Luna instead of Queen Nocturne?”

Altered giggled. “Oh, I have been an apprentice for a while. I understand the order of the Aspects. In each culture you are represented differently based on the cultural perceptions. While this is true for the four Prime Gods – those of Light, Dark, Chaos and Order – there are lesser beings that are not subject to those rules, like Miss Twilight and I believe her name is Cadance?”

Luna was impressed that the apprentice knew so much, but then again she did have a good teacher. “Ah, so is that why thou hast adapted so quickly and act so casually with me then, Altered Seer?”

“Well, actually it’s a theory that my master shared with me after she visited you in Blue’s dream. She asked me something.” Altered grinned a bit. “What is the difference between a good and a bad Aspect?”

“Hmm… what was thine answer?” Luna asked.

“I don’t really remember to be honest, because she stopped me halfway and told me that there is no difference. The better question to ask is if the Aspect acts in its own interests, stays neutral, or in the interest of others. She said that the Aspect of Chaos acts only in his own interests, the Aspect of Order keeps neutral and watches, while the Aspects of Light and Dark act in the interests of others. True to Harmony, you and your sister, Light and Dark, are working toward the common goal of peace. Only your methods differ.” Altered held open the door to the large cafeteria for Luna and then followed her in.

“By that logic, art thou calling me a dark god?” Luna asked with a smirk as she grabbed a tray telekinetically.

Altered Seer followed suit. “Well, the idea of Light and Dark is not nearly as cut and dried as most think; not even their definition is concrete. That’s the confusing part about the higher order to those not on its level.” Altered spotted some delicious-looking salmon and grabbed some to add to her plate.

“Ah, so then what thou art doing now is mimicking how the others are acting so that thou can figure out what their cultural representation of me is?” Luna chose a table and sat down, followed by Altered Seer, and they began eating.

“Correct. I have to admit however, that I definitely was not expecting things to be so casual. It’s a huge difference from the Queen that you are in the Dragon Lands, to the princess in Equestria, to the ‘Auntie Luna’ here in House Path. I… I think it’s cute.”

“Hmm…” Luna considered that as she ate some cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce. “I do muchly like it here like this. Even a god needs family to help keep her balanced.”

“Well, you know, if an Aspect lives for all eternity, then it stands to reason that there is a one hundred percent chance that you will eventually do everything, including this,” Altered Seer pointed out.

“Huh… I cannot dispute that.” Luna blinked a few times and she started to laugh.

# # #

Path, Free, and Egg Warden moved into Path’s office, and as soon as the door shut with them inside, green fire flashed around Free as he changed into his changeling queen form, adding to his intimidation, as he moved up into Egg Warden’s face.

“You can quit faking. I want to know what hive you are from and what your intentions are right now!” the Chrome Queen growled as Egg Warden squeaked and lowered himself down again, moving almost into a corner of the room before Path intervened.

“Okay, how about we decide not to go overboard with the scare tactics. He is one changeling far away from home, and no threat to you, ‘Queenie’.” Path grinned a bit as Free huffed and calmed down. He motioned to Warden to sit down in front of the desk and Free did the same.

“So, you already know Free Agent here, also known as Queen Gossamer of the Chrome Hive,” Path said as he smiled at Free who now looked more impatient than angry. “I am Lord Long Path, a noble in pretty much every civilization that was involved in the Crystal Kingdom crisis, as well as a few that weren’t.” Path grinned as Free rolled his eyes. “So, Egg Warden – tell us about yourself.”

“Ah… Well I’m a changeling, as you already figured out. I’m a part of a loose association of changeling hives from the Dragon Lands that calls themselves the United Changeling Council – four hives ruling the four cardinal directions. But then again, ruling is a rather broad term. It’s more like loosely defined territories. We don’t have hives nearly as large as yours because we need to deal with the nomadic dragons. It’s honestly really hard to explain because I don’t know the whole story. While you might be in a constant state of breeding, my queen doesn’t do it very often, opting instead for short intense seasons rather than low intensity year round breeding. So that’s why I have that role in Cinder’s clan; I tend to and care for the eggs with the other actual males, because that is what my role is when my queen has her season.”

Egg Warden focused a bit, and deep red flames flickered around his feet before moving up his body to reveal his changeling form. He actually didn’t look a lot like any changeling that they were familiar with, and his chitin was rather blocky, obviously armor of some kind. If he had been a changeling from Equestria, he would definitely be classified as a soldier class, but judging from his submissive demeanor and his fear, it was clear he was a support-class changeling.

Path grinned. “Good. Now that you two have started talking, I’m going to go make us some love tea.” He stood up and walked into the side room.

Love tea?” Egg asked.

“It’s when he has one of my assistants take a little bit of his love, then dilutes it into a rather sweet tea,” Free explained. “If you’re not used to the flavor, it’s quite a treat. Even I don’t get it very often.”

“Oh! I look forward to it!” Egg started to smile.

Free locked eyes with the dragon changeling. “Now – let’s get back to our talks, shall we?”

Egg Warden shuddered.

# # #

Twilight threw open the doors and Blue sailed inside, still caught up in her magical field. Roseclaw stomped after her, followed by Cinder who ran in and interposed herself between the two and Blue Streak.

Wait! Wait! Before you punish him, hear me out, please!” Cinder screamed as she opened her wings to their maximum extent. This was a sign of great aggression, so Roseclaw opened hers up as well and let out a battle screech. Twilight, however, had no such instincts, so all of her steam was lost at the sight of the two females circling each other, wings flared and claws bared.

“You have been a very bad girl, Cinder,” Roseclaw spoke in a tone that she very rarely used, and the dads outright feared. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t punish you myself. Blue is our oldest son – how well do you think I would handle him nearly dying?”

“That wasn’t my intention at all! Blue wanted to show the rest of the males that he was capable! He was trying to gain favor with my Hunt-Master father! He rightly earned that favor because he was able to provide food for the clan for nearly a week through his strength,” Cinder said, not letting her wings down yet. Her pupils were fully dilated as she expected to be attacked at any moment.

“Go on…” Roseclaw said, her tone still unchanged.

“He wasn’t attacked when he was hunting; he was attacked while he was grazing before the flight back! We patched him up the best we could, really we did!” Cinder was now starting to stammer, her wings shaking slightly. “I didn’t want to lose him!” Cinder started crying as her wings folded down. “Then when he woke up, things were weird, and nobody but the Seer and the Matriarch knew what was going on. He ended up eating half a goat raw, then knocking out one of my suitors in one hit. Then he….” She trailed off.

“Then he what?” Roseclaw asked as she took a step closer to Cinder, her muscles tensing up.

Cinder looked away briefly due to embarrassment, and it was the opening that Roseclaw needed. She was on top of Cinder in an instant, her stronger frame pinning the smaller dragon down on her back as her beak moved until it was an inch from Cinder’s ear.

“I forgive you this time, Cinder, but if anything like this happens again while he is in your care, I’ll be wearing a dragon skin coat. Am I clear?” Roseclaw spoke in an eerie calm voice as Cinder screamed and nodded fervently.

HEY!” Blue yelled at Roseclaw. “Don’t threaten her like that! You leave her alone!

Roseclaw turned her head to rebuke Blue Streak, only to feel the tug of Twilight’s telekinesis pulling her away from the terrified dragoness.

“Blue’s right, Rose. Not only don’t we do that in the House of Path, but you are also threatening his potential mate.”

Roseclaw frowned hard. “Cinder was responsible for his safety. She should have been with the hunt pack to protect him from the unknown, but she wasn’t. She needs to know that is unacceptable.”

“She knows it without needing to threaten her life. She made a mistake – let her learn from it.”

Roseclaw’s frown eased and she nodded. She turned to Cinder and said, “Leave us now.”

Cinder scrambled back up to her feet and ran out.

“That… that was intense,” Blue said, drawing Twilight’s attention back to him.

“Blue Streak, you’re going to be punished as well, and it won’t be as nice as Cinder’s,” Twilight told Blue as Roseclaw walked over to them.

“Why am I even being punished?! It was a sneak attack!” Blue fumed and thrashed around in the magical field.

Because you were careless!” both mothers screamed.

“We are going to see Azon and Techbird for a complete examination and testing,” Twilight said as they started to walk down the hall.

“That’s it?” Blue asked.

“You wish that was it!” Twilight laughed.

They rounded the corner and Blue was face to face with fear itself – the Warmaster.

“So glad to see you, Blue Streak, so very, very glad. I am very disappointed with you, and I’m told that I will be allowed to give you special encouragement – 3pm to 9pm – one month straight. We will become great friends you and I.” Blue had no idea how he could grin like that with a beak, but that old bird had the ability to instill fear into anyone.

“Yaayy…?” Blue was barely able to squeak out.

“Now let’s get you to the examination room!” Twilight said smugly as all four of them continued down the hall.

Warfist watched them go, a satisfied smile on his face. He had been looking for an excuse to get Blue’s training back on track. The colt’s hormones and youthful impetuousness had completely disrupted the training that had started so promisingly years ago. When Twilight and Roseclaw had approached him about this incident, he had suggested a month of intense coaching as ‘punishment’ to catch up, with special emphasis on situational awareness. If Blue wanted to be a great warrior when he grew up, by the Egg, he would make him one!

# # #

Much later at night when all of the young ones were asleep, and even Blue and Cinder were passed out in their bed, Twilight, Luna, Path, Free, Roseclaw were all down in the meeting room with Techbird and Azon.

“So… how bad is it?” Path asked, looking at the doctor with a rather concerned look on his face.

“It’s not bad… it’s not good… honestly I don’t know what it all means. I am not a magic specialist.” The disguised changeling put a few images on the table so everyone could look at them. “This is what I do know though. As you can see, his mana channels are several times larger than they should be. The ones that earth ponies usually use for their passive earth pony abilities are generally microscopic, just like the pegasi, because if their channels were open any more, you would get earth ponies draining whole tracts of land, or even other ponies, to aid in their cultivation. Or even worse, you would have pegasi flying so fast that they would break apart under the aerodynamic stresses.”

Azon showed comparison pictures of Applejack and Rainbow Dash, showing their mana channels that were slightly larger than normal ponies. “Blue, on the other claw, has had his channels forced way open by the draconic healing. Once they are opened that wide, they can’t be closed again. Right now the only things keeping him from draining everything around him is that he doesn’t know how to activate the draw unless under duress, plus the fact that those traction-enhancing shoes are actually limiting how much he can take in.”

The herd listened intently as Azon continued on.

“Also, since the eyes are the window into one’s magic, or one’s soul if you will, it explains why his eyes change. I heard in the report that his eyes were draconic slits while under the influence of the enhanced mana. This would make sense due to the draconic magic that pervades their lands overriding his own. I believe that if he takes in more than he has already, there may be further physical changes. This is bad because it means that after a certain point he loses control, and the magic itself is driving him. It’s a slippery slope.” Azon picked up the photos and reports and passed them over to Twilight so she could draw her own conclusions from the data.

Roseclaw asked, “Aside from that little problem, how is he?”

“Healthy. In fact, robustly so. Whatever the Seer did to heal him was extremely effective, although of course not without those unintended side-effects. I could scarcely even see the signs of his injuries. I suspect that it’s the dragon magic that is responsible for that, so it’s not exactly something that I could easily reproduce, but the results are undeniable.”

“Well, that’s something good at least,” Roseclaw conceded.

Path nodded in agreement. “For now, let’s just keep a watch on Blue to make sure that no other problems pop up. Techbird, Blue’s shoes acting as limiters is something that they weren’t designed to do, and that might cause them to fail somehow. I’d like you to look into making a new set for him with this specifically in mind. Maybe throw in some improvements at the same time. Blue must be encouraged to wear them at all times. I want that the first thing that he does of a morning as he climbs out of bed is to slip into his shoes.”

Techbird’s head was already spinning with ideas, and she nodded eagerly.

Path drew a deep breath and steadied his nerves for what he had to say next. “Twilight, Roseclaw, I know that you’re not going to like this, but once we’re sure that Blue’s situation is stable, I want to slowly start to train him to use this new power available to him.”

“What?!” exclaimed Twilight.

“Absolutely not!” Roseclaw said with an angry flare of her wings.

“Nay, Long Path has the right of it,” Luna said sternly. “Blue Streak must learn to control the power, or it will control him. That is a bitter lesson to learn the hard way.”

Roseclaw glared at Luna for a long moment before relaxing her wings and nodding.

Twilight shook her head. “I still don’t like it, but I see no alternative. History shows what happens if you ignore it.” She then turned a resolute eye on Luna. “But he should learn this from someone who knows the consequences of failure.”

Luna nodded gravely with a touch of shame. “Aye. Blue shall receive extra teachings from me, an apprentice if you will. Equus will never again face another like Tirek… or the Nightmare.”

# # # # # # # # # #

End of Spring Break.

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