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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20. The Epiphany Gambit

Epiphany was confused; her grandmother’s hive was not at all like she was expecting it to be. She looked about the luxurious royal chamber as she leaned back against Chrysalis. The queen pulled up a brush and started to comb Pif’s frazzled hair, smoothing it out as she chirred softly into her ear.

“You are going to love it here, my dear. Word has already gotten out in the hive that their princess has arrived and is here to stay. They are all so very happy and they want to meet you!” Chrysalis said with pride.

“Who wants to see me? I’ve only been here for a day; I didn’t think it was really that big of a deal.” Pif blushed a bit, but she was still loving the attention. She didn’t notice her grandmother’s horn light up faintly as she felt relaxed, so very relaxed. Soon she was asleep in the queen’s arms, snoring softly.

The queen couldn’t help but grin as she looked back down at her progeny and murmured, “Where I failed with Gossamer, I will succeed with Epiphany.” Out of the corner of Chrysalis’ eye, she saw her most loyal soldier slowly walk into the main room. “General Breezon – come to see the princess? How many are waiting for her?”

The large male changeling stood stiffly to attention as he saluted. “Almost all of the hive members that are not on active orders from you are waiting in the great hall to see her. They have their offerings to give her and wish her well.”

Chrysalis nodded a few times in satisfaction as she smiled and looked down to Pif. She had only been asleep for a few moments, but it would have to enough. Soon she would become charged with love. She nudged her granddaughter awake and Pif’s eyes snapped open. She looked around in confusion before getting back up to her hooves.

“Mmnhh… no, I’m up! I’m up! What’s going on?” Pif asked Chrysalis and Breezon as she yawned softly.

“Everybody is waiting in the main hall; they want to see their new princess!” Chrysalis said cheerfully before standing up alongside Breezon.

 

 

All three of them walked to the great hall. Pif switched from her hybrid form to her pure changeling princess form before entering, and then her eyes went wide. There were so many more than she was expecting, and they were all staring at her. So many changelings; so many eyes; she was starting to get nervous and moved to hide behind her grandmother – that was up until she felt their ‘offerings’. The drones were feeding her gathered love? She hadn’t had this feeling since she was a hatchling! But she didn’t remember it being so sweet, so strong. It didn’t take long before she was blushing and her wings were buzzing so hard it was producing a high pitched squeal.

Chrysalis grinned widely and her horn lit up slightly. Pif calmed down but she still had a silly grin on her face.

“All this love is just for me, Gram Gram?” Pif asked as she looked up at the queen, her wings still fully extended.

“But of course, my dear. They recognize that you have a right to rule them, only after me of course. To give tribute is in their nature. They are our drones after all.” Her horn lit up slightly brighter as Pif looked up to her with a smile, the very edges of her eyes a pale green before she turned back to the crowd as she started to shift forms.

Pif’s growing arrogance was starting to show as she grew a little taller and stronger-looking. She was now only a head shorter than Chrysalis, her horn was sharper than before, and it looked like she had armor plates. This change was of course fueled by the overwhelming amounts of love being given to her.

“Hello! I am Princess Epiphany, granddaughter of Queen Chrysalis! I look forward to working with all of you in the future!” She waved as the 'lings all buzzed and cheered as Pif gazed over them all.
“I will be asking my grandmother if I can start my projects tomorrow. I might be calling on some of you to join my think tank!” Again she was met by cheers as she took a few steps back and started to walk back out the way she came, she was practically hovering as she left their sight.

Chrysalis just grinned as she looked at Breezon. “She was so starved for love and affection! This is going to be simpler than I thought. Oh Gossamer, you made it too easy.”

The queen looked at the gathered 'lings and, with a mental command, they all scattered in fear before she turned back to Breezon.

“Shall we go feed? The royal family has brought their weekly tribute to me. A queen and her high general should always stay well-fed and battle ready.”

Breezon nodded, and they walked toward the receiving room and their feast. All the while, Pif remained blissfully unaware as she rested in her royal chambers.

The next several days went by fast. Pif, for the most part, stayed out of the queen’s hair. Every now and then, Pif would stop by and ask a few questions, request a few things, and of course the queen placated her. Much like the spider and the fly, she had to lure her in before she could strike, and so far it was working.

After the fifteenth day, Chrysalis woke up to find her network slightly altered. Twelve of her changelings’ positions had been changed in the network, pulled from various locations and grouped into one place. She watched the one area intently to verify if she was correct and it was not long before she felt Pif on the network for a brief moment.

“My queen – is there something wrong?” Breezon asked as he looked at Chrysalis who seemed to have frozen for a moment.

She just looked at him and smiled. “She’s taking her first steps deeper into the network. I can feel her; she’s being very cautious. She’s arranged a few of the drones so that she can access them easily. I wonder if her think-tank is taking off as well as she would like?”

Breezon just looked at her. “Do you think she will make a permanent connection?”

“Oh, she will. She craves attention and adoration, and the drones will give her more than she has ever felt before. For now let’s go see what she’s doing.”

When they found Pif, she was in her ‘Princess Chambers’, the name that she had given the suite of rooms that Chrysalis had gifted her. However, it didn’t have all of the luxury that the rooms were originally furnished with. The entire main room was lined with black chalkboards with what looked like complex formulas on it. The twelve 'lings were in a circle around Pif as she lit her horn, and theirs lit in response, several times a second as she kept writing on the board.

“We did it?”

“WE DID IT!”

Her happy enthusiasm caused the other twelve to be happy too, and she started high-hoofing each and every one of them.

“Now that the theory is proven, we can begin construction!” She pointed at four of them and they hopped to their hooves, trotting in place from excitement. “Bring me the purest sand of type three that you can find!”

“Right!” Drones one, two, three, and four scurried off.

She then pointed out five others. “Bring me five barrels of the most highly concentrated love you can get your hooves on! If anyone asks, tell them that the Princess has requisitioned it.”

They all saluted. “On it!” they said in unison and hastened away.

She pointed to the last three. “I need you three to rest up for at least a day. You’re going to help me in the construction! Actually, why not just use my bed? It’s large enough for the three of you with room to spare. And it’s really soft and comfy.”

The final three let out happy squees as they turned, only to bump into Chrysalis. They let out a scared chitter as they backed up and hid behind Pif.

“Granddaughter – what are you doing, and why did you just take love reserves and send my construction drones out?” she asked in an icy calm tone as the drones started to shake.

“You said that I could use hive resources to work on projects,” Pif explained matter-of-factly. “I rearranged the twelve drones that were the smartest so I had easy access to them, and we started to work. Project W is under way!”

Chrysalis just regarded her for a long moment while Breezon looked at the formulas on the wall. “Very well, but while you let the… drones sleep on your bed, you have royal duties to attend.” Chrysalis smiled at the drones in a way that just made them fear her more as Pif nodded.

As Chrysalis walked down the hall with her granddaughter, she couldn’t help but realize that in the few days that Pif had been in the hive, the drones had started to favor her, calling her the ‘Merciful Princess’. She hoped that the lenient attitude that she was showing Epiphany would not foster disobedience among her workers. Eventually Pif would have to make it clear that they needed to know their place.

“So what kind of royal duties do we have to do?” Pif asked as they entered the throne room.

“Right now, there are a few drones that need to be punished.” Chrysalis lit her horn and four worker 'lings were herded in by the force of the queen’s magic. “These four are guilty of stealing from our love reserves. Their actions, if they continued unchecked, could cause a disaster in the hive. My granddaughter, I leave it up to you to punish them.” Chrysalis took a few steps back and sat on her throne, with the general taking up position by her right side. She watched Pif carefully as the princess considered the offenders.

“This is your first time committing such an act?” Pif asked.

Out of the four cowering drones, one was brave enough to nod and reply. “We were just so hungry! We work in the lower levels, so we tend to get our rations of love last, if there is any left.”

Pif frowned a bit, not realizing that Chrysalis and Breezon were reading her every move as she powered up her horn. The four offenders curled up in a tight ball, expecting to be struck down, killed at best, or slowly tortured at worst. What actually happened surprised the offenders, confused Breezon, and enraged Chrysalis.

Pif’s horn flared brightly to cover the four offenders, and their cries stopped as they stared at her, eyes widening in surprise. She was sharing her own love energy with them, feeding them when they were hungry, as well as mending the injuries that were sustained in their treatment prior to this point.

“I give you this gift, but be warned – if you do something like this again, I won’t be able to be so merciful. You can feel my grandma’s anger behind me; this is not what she would have done. Take advantage of your second chance and please don’t do this again.” Pif smiled as she walked over to the offenders and nuzzled each of them. “Off you go now.”

The 'lings didn’t waste any time as they hightailed it out of the throne room. Pif smiled and turned to look at a very angry Chrysalis. Her ears folded back and she let out a soft squeak.

“You were supposed to punish them, granddaughter, not reward them and send them on their way!” She started to get loud as Pif made herself look smaller.

“It was their first offense. I stressed the importance of their reformation. They won’t do it again.”

The queen sighed and shook her head as her anger deflated. “Still so young…. When they do it again, and they willyou will enact the punishment that I deem suitable. Are we clear?” The queen glared at Pif as she nodded a few times. “Good. Now go run along. That’s your lesson for today.” Chrysalis waved her off and Pif scampered off.

Breezon looked at the queen. “How do you know that they will do it again?” he asked.

“Because I’m going to make them do it again,” Chrysalis chuckled malevolently.

# # #

Nearly a fortnight passed before anything of significant interest happened. Chrysalis was at her position as the Saddle Arabian king’s Royal Advisor. It was merely a front because she already had the entire royal family under her power, but this position kept eyes off of her and also kept her by the titular leader of the nation where she could monitor all information going in and out of the country. Therefore she was more than a little confused when she heard the next petitioner to talk to the king and queen.

The herald looked at his scroll and announced, “My Lord, your next appointment is with Clip-Clop the Wise.”

The king and queen looked just as puzzled as Chrysalis did. A large cart was being wheeled out into the main hall, and once the small stallion came out from behind it, Chrysalis face-hoofed.

Pif was in stallion pony form, which didn’t look all that much different from her natural changeling form, except for the lack of wings and her normal-looking eyes.

“My King, I have invented something which will revolutionize everything and improve the quality of life for all of your subjects!” Clip-Clop exclaimed as he turned the box around to reveal a massively complicated system that neither the king nor Chrysalis understood. “If your guard would be so kind as to assist me?”

One of the guards walked over as Clip-Clop scooped a cup of water out of the main vat labeled ‘INPUT’. “Now take a small sip – is it salty?”

The guard took a sip and licked before spitting it out again. “Yes. Yes it is!”

“As well it would be. Almost all of the available water in Saddle Arabia is contaminated with salt, but this machine can quickly and efficiently draw the salt out of the water, as well as other contaminants, and leave pure, clean drinking water!” She smiled and pressed a button on the side as the machine started to hum. Clip-clop walked over to a tap labeled ‘OUTPUT’ and held a cup to the spout as crystal clear water poured into it. She shut the machine shut off when the cup was full and passed it to the guard who warily took a sip. His eyes widened and he drank the entire glass.

“It’s so cold and clean! I have rarely tasted the like of it!” the guard exclaimed as Clip-Clop bowed to the king.

“This device is amazing. If this could be mass-produced, our water shortages would be solved!” the king exclaimed. “Talk to my royal accountant. We will see to it that you gain the resources needed to make this for large scale applications!”

Stallion Pif bowed again and then left, pushing the cart out with him, leaving the king with his advisor. Chrysalis was torn; she was very impressed that her granddaughter was able to create such a thing, but she was not at all happy that the device required love to function, and that she would waste the precious resource on lesser beings.

# # #

Several more weeks passed, and Pif had not wasted a moment of them. However, Chrysalis was getting frustrated because she still was not able to feel her granddaughter’s presence in the hive-mind very often because Pif was only using a series of brief connections with the group of twelve she had picked to be her think-tank. This morning was different though, and the queen could feel a massive spike of energy coming from one particular section of the hive and that one particular group of 'lings. For the first time, she could feel Pif directly connected to the network, but access to her was very difficult due to the amount of activity and energy being channeled. Maybe she should see what’s was going on?

Chrysalis made her way to Pif's room. Not bothering to knock, she entered and stopped in surprise, blinded by light and caught off-guard by a blast of wind. Gradually she made out a group of six of the 'lings firing a solid beam of magic into a point in the center of the room, while another three were offset and doing something similar. It looked like a star was starting to form in the center of the room. Pif was on her hind hooves, standing next to ten now-empty barrels of love gel which they had apparently eaten, and she was channeling all of the energy that she had gained from them into the star-like point. Like the others, she was wearing black-tinted goggles and cackling with glee, perhaps more than she should be, although it was hardly surprising considering the amount of love she had consumed. She had the mad scientist thing down pat though.

Yes! Yes! Keep going! We are at 94% fusion and 89% saturation! Don’t let up, my friends!

Every 'ling braced themselves and gave it all they had, and the queen could see something starting to form out of the light. Although Chrysalis was irked at not only being confused but ignored, and even outright angry, she was concerned for Pif, and did not dare interrupt... whatever this was. The sheer amount of power being used could be disastrous if randomly released.

The light started to draw into the center as the love permeating the air collapsed into it, and within a few more seconds, everything quieted down as the nine changelings collapsed to the ground, exhausted. The remaining three tended to them while Pif fell onto her belly, panting like she had just run a marathon. In the center of the room for all to see was a strange floating sphere with a flawless mirror-like finish. The eerie thing was just how perfect it was, and that it floated in the center of the room without anyone holding it up.

Pif looked over to Chrysalis with an almost drunken smile on her muzzle. “Gram Gram, we did it. For the first time, theory has been made reality.”

Chrysalis frowned. Now that the activity was ended, she wanted answers! “What theory is that? How best to consume the hive’s energy reserves in one enormous indulgence? I've given you a lot of freedom, Epiphany, but I expect you to be a responsible member of the hive at the same time.”

Pif slowly got up to her feet and hugged Chrysalis tightly. “I haven't wasted it, Gram Gram! I made it better!” She weakly reached out with her hoof, and that strange orb moved over to Chrysalis. “Don’t try to drain it; just feel it. Trace the patterns and notice the flow, and you'll see what I mean. This is big, Gram Gram. It's the experiment that Mom wouldn’t let me do because she thought I wasn't smart enough to get it right!” She lit up her horn, wrapping her magic around the queen’s horn as she guided it through channels and vertices that the queen would not know existed, and even Pif wouldn’t know if not for those walls upon walls of calculations. There were ten barrels of love energy inside that small hoof-sized perfect sphere, but when Chrysalis felt where Pif was leading her into the sphere, she could feel that there was a little more than should be there. It was a barely detectable amount of extra love energy, but a faint spark in the very core of the sphere that defied explanation.

Chrysalis’ eyes widened in surprise. “The power – it's all still there and more! What is this? What purpose does this serve, child?”

“It’s a way to improve lives.”

“How can... this... improve our lives? The hive is already rich and powerful without extravagant toys. And what is this inexplicable thing that I'm feeling within?”

Pif just grinned with just one eye remaining open. “It’s generating its own love, just like the Crystal Heart. A small, nearly imperceptible amount right now, but the theory is sound, and the concept worked. I think I might know how the Old Ones did it, Gram Gram....” Her voice trailed off as she leant forward slightly against Chrysalis and went still.

Chrysalis heard Pif start snoring, and she realized that her granddaughter had fallen asleep while her connection to the hive-mind was still active. Pif had needed the hive-mind’s computing power to accomplish her task, but she had been too exhausted and left with too little energy to close it like she normally did. ‘A love generator? Was such a thing truly possible? Yet it took ten barrels of stored love energy to create it – would it actually justify its creation?

# # #

It had been a week since Luna had last visited Pif's dreamscape, and as she phased in, she looked about her with an eyebrow raised in curiosity at the perfect sphere dominating the scene. This was new – perhaps this would be an interesting visit. She approached her recumbent niece.

“Good evening, Pif. If what I am seeing is any indication, thou hast been very busy. Do I sense a feeling of accomplishment?”

Pif nodded and smiled. “I did something I thought was virtually impossible, but my calculations held out! It worked, and I’m glad it did when it did. My horn was starting to turn red hot.”

Luna smiled proudly at Pif as she lay down next to her to cuddle her with a wing. “I am glad for thee. I know thy desire to achieve great things, and I believe that thou shalt accomplish much. So... what didst thou accomplish that has so excited thee?”

“That!” Pif said as she pointed to the sphere with great pride.

Luna smirked. “That says so much, and yet so little. Need I ask thy parents to what thou art referring? A dream construction can tell me little.”

“It was a project that Moms and Dads thought too dangerous for me to do at the Chrome Hive. It’s a unification of Crystalmancy and Amouremancy. Basically I made a storage container for massive amounts of love energy, and once it reached a critical density, it started to produce it on its own.”

Luna was impressed. “I had not thought an artificial love generator would be possible. What powers this artifact? Thou cannot get something for nothing.”

Pif scratched her head. “That’s just it... I’m not completely sure, although of course I suspect it draws upon ambient mana in much the same manner that we believe the Crystal Heart does. I can’t deconstruct the Heart, but my theory on how it works showed that when I factored in everything, there is still a net increase in love. My sphere is very small, but it’s definitely there, so it must be something that I have yet to even consider.”

“Be careful, dear Pif. It is rare that the known quantities are the cause of the biggest problems. I could tell thee tales of overconfident mages who have created remarkable spells, only to discover too late that unforeseen side-effects caused undesired results ranging from unpleasant to disastrous.”

Pif nodded slowly. “I’ll be careful. Now that I am certain that I’m on the right track, I can start experimenting to quantify those unknowns. In other news...” She paused to figure out how to say what she said next. “I have made friends, and they like me a lot. They like working with me a lot more than their previous tasks, and I’m thinking about how I can work it to my advantage.”

“I am very happy to hear that. So what is this advantage that thou dost mention?”

Pif’s ears folded back slightly. “Oh, I just seem to work with them a lot better. They are... faster than my previous team if that makes sense.”

“Perhaps it’s the environment? Nevertheless, it means a lot to me that thou art happy again, and I can tell thee that thy parents will be reassured as well. They miss thee so much, and always eagerly await news of my visits with thee.”

Pif looked at Luna and couldn’t help but smile a bit at the mention of her parents. “They miss me? I thought they would be focused on Lucida or Blue Streak.”

“Oh, Pif, just because thou didst make mistakes and they had to mete out punishment, dost not mean that they love thee any less. Of course they miss thee, but they also realize that thou must find thy balance and happiness once more. If thy work here accomplishes that, then they wish thee every success. And it would seem that there are factors here that have enabled thy greater success with thy new team, so that is a very positive beginning. Just remember, I beg thee, that thy goals might not always be Chrysalis’ goals. Be wary, dear niece.”

“I can tell that already. I can feel how angry she is when I pass down rulings when she lets me because I always side with compassion. She’s been... more assertive as of late.” Pif indicated the unwavering barrier that walled off her dreamscape. It looked like there was a thick green mist trying to get in, but it just wasn’t able to penetrate the wall. “She wants in, and I think her lack of progress is upsetting her.”

“Thou playeth a dangerous game, Pif. Chrysalis is an old and experienced queen, and for all thy talent, thou art still an amateur. While I have no doubt that thy grandmother doth love thee, I also believe that she will not let that stand in the way of her mad ambitions. While she would prefer thee to stand by her side and share her dreams, thou art not her, and hopefully never will be, and therefore inevitably you will clash. Remember, Chrysalis didst first try to convert Free to her cause, but then attempted to kill her child when he rejected her. Do not tempt the same fate.”

Pif sighed a bit. “I am starting to realize this, although I think I’m making some progress. However, that’s why I have the return crystal close by me at all times. I just need to throw it at my hooves and I’ll be sent to wherever you are, although I have no idea if it will be comfortable.”

“That is a wise course of action. Do not be afraid to seek my counsel in the meantime. While I have my preferences, I will not seek to force them upon thee. I seek to guide, not lead. If thou dost return, it must be on thine own terms, not ours.” Luna noticed that Pif was taller and her chitin plates bulkier and stronger than before, a reflection of her real self’s growing defenses. Despite her rather naïve hopes, Pif was not ignorant of the need to protect herself. She gave Pif a reassuring hug and said, “I am curious, Pif – this dream form of thine – it has grown muchly as of recent. Does it represent thy growth in spirit, or is it a reflection of thy true form?”

Pif looked at herself. “I... I never really noticed it before.” She stood tall to show off herself to Luna as she walked around in a circle, and she looked a lot more muscular than before. “Huh! How about that? I think it must be like I really am; I sure didn’t consciously try to change my dream-self this way.” She settled down next to Luna once more. “Luna... I was wondering... when I had you in the mini-network, could some of your memories have been transferred to me by accident?”

Luna grimaced. “It is inevitable. While Free did remove the memories stored in thy network, some were impressed upon thy mind before thou didst lose control and try to shut down the torrent. What dost thou think that thou hast gained from me?”

“One name keeps coming to mind, but I have heard of it before.”

“A name? Speak! Thou hast aroused my curiosity.”

“I don’t know old Equish, so it might be nothing. It was Lune Unyielding.”

“Ah! An odd thing to recall. Let me give it form for thee.” Luna concentrated and created a dream facsimile of an ebony blade which had her symbol embossed upon the handle. “Lune Unyielding is my sacred weapon, imbued with dozens of enchantments and a portion of my own power. Its edge is ever sharp, and its blade unbreakable. It is only drawn in times of war, and it last drew blood against thy grandmother’s hordes. Does this disturb thee?”

Pif grew still and she seemed almost hypnotized by the blade. When Luna moved it, her eyes followed it intently. “It does not. It looks... it looks right. I feel like I’ve known it for a long time.”

“As it is my memory that thou dost possess, that is hardly surprising. The memory is no less real for having been stolen. Nevertheless, feeling an affinity for it is not the same thing. A blade like this chooses its wielder as much as the inverse. It might indicate that it would consider thee a suitable wielder, but it also will only serve one master at a time, and I will not be relinquishing it.”

Pif hummed slightly in thought as she nodded a few times. Then she smiled. “Hee! I’m not going to fight you for it. I’m pretty sure that the wielder of Lune Unyielding can’t be decided by a tickle war.” She snuggled up against Luna. “I’m glad you visit me from time to time. It’s nice to know you still want to talk to me.”

“Tsk! Didst thou ever doubt that I care for thee, and wish to look out for thy welfare? Our dream conversations are the least that I can do under the circumstances. How could I cuddle thee otherwise?” Luna then tickled Pif. “And thou art correct - I am the Tickle Queen!”

Pif let out a squeal as she flailed about while she was tickled. Her laughs got louder before the dream abruptly collapsed, sending Luna back into the space between dreams. Back in Saddle Arabia, Pif suddenly woke, curled up next to Chrysalis in her chambers. “Sneaky Auntie!” she murmured before going back to sleep.

Luna withdrew her consciousness back to her body and considered what had happened. She nodded in satisfaction before getting up and heading out to join the rest of the herd. She had a lot of news to relate – much of it good, but some a little disturbing. She realized that a crossroads might soon be reached, and they all needed to be prepared.

# # #

Pif was working on her latest device when she felt Chrysalis call for her over the network. She sighed a bit, regretting that her grandmother had managed to strengthen the link to her. The queen’s figurative looking over the shoulder had become a lot more obtrusive lately, and was making her tasks significantly more difficult. Pif looked over to the twelve 'lings that had been working with her and making her goals possible despite the handicap. She had managed to get them clothes and they were all dressed up in lab coats, something that they treasured because it was a unique feature that showed that they had the Princess’ favor. She instructed them to keep working as she walked out of her room and into the throne room where she froze. Chrysalis was looking at her with a large grin on her muzzle. Breezon was unreadable as always, but what worried her was that also present were the same four 'lings from last time. Her heart sank.

Chrysalis spoke up with a smirk. “Do you remember our agreement? What would happen if these four did it again? Come stand next to me child.”

Pif slowly and very warily walked over to her, and she slowly turned to face the four that were looking even more frightened than the previous occasion.

Chrysalis scowled at the terrified 'lings and said, “Your punishment will be far more severe. The penalty for stealing from the hive not once but twice is death.” The queen boomed out the last word for everyone in the hive to hear over the hive-link, and everyling turned their attention to what was going on in the room.

“Gram Gram, you can’t be serious! I’m not going to kill them just for being hungry!” Pif screamed at Chrysalis, only to see the queen’s horn glow in response.

“I do not believe that I was asking.”

Everyone in the hive froze as they watched what was happening. The queen was overwhelming the comparatively weak mental defenses of the princess as she forced her will on the queen-in-training. Pif looked back at the four with her eyes glowing a sickly green. A slightly sadistic grin grew on her face as Pif walked over to them, her horn starting to charge. “You four have been naughty 'lings, haven’t you? I tried to help you, and you stabbed me in the back, so now I have to do the same to you.” She started laughing, her normally smooth voice starting to mimic Chrysalis’ tones. Her horn discharged twice and two of the 'lings fell to the ground, a hole where their hearts used to be. Pif continued to stalk the remaining two as they futilely tried to retreat. “What have you to say for yourself, my little drones?” Before they could speak, her horn discharged two more times, and the last two fell over in a heap, dead.

Pif’s eyes cleared up and she blinked a few times before she looked down at the drones at her feet. Her eyes widened in horror and she turned to glare at Chrysalis. “Why did you make me do that? They could have learned! They could have learned! They didn’t have to die!

The queen smirked. “Child its time you learned that a quee–”

A loud smack rung out in the chamber and the entire hive froze up in shock. Pif had her hoof outstretched and the queen’s head was turned to the side. She had struck the queen! Breezon was quick to respond, and he swung his hoof in a punch that connected with Pif’s head hard. Before the princess knew it, she was on her back, completely exposed and a heavy hoof was on her neck keeping her in place.

How dare you strike the queen?! Royalty or not, that is unforgivable!” the general roared out.

The queen just grinned. “Breezon – let her up. I think she needs to go back to her room and think about what she did.”

The general slowly took his hoof off of Pif’s neck and she scrambled to her hooves and galloped out of the royal chamber. He then turned to Chrysalis. “Why didn’t you punish her for striking you, my queen?” he asked.

“Because, my dear general, I was starting to worry that she wasn’t capable of violence. Now I know that all I need to do is push her hard enough.” The queen started to laugh.

# # #

The next several days after Pif’s outburst went very slowly. Chrysalis was monitoring how Pif was using the network but she found that she wasn’t doing much of anything. The few times that she had connected to the hive network to go over things with her twelve, she was saturated with caution and fear. The queen started to wonder if she had pushed Pif too hard too fast. Her granddaughter was of no use to her if she was terrified and turning into a recluse. Although she was gradually working on projects, they seem to have been drastically reduced in scale.

A week after the ‘punishment’, Chrysalis was working on her plan when she heard a knock on the door, and it slowly opened. She turned around to see Pif in her usual hybrid form pushed up against the door, making herself look small. She was already shaking as the still-fresh memories of this room came back to her.

“Hi, Gram Gram.”

The queen smiled softly and patted the spot next to her. Pif was reluctant to come closer, but eventually she slowly walked over and sat next to Chrysalis as the queen put her arm around her gently.

“Epiphany, you know that I did not like being slapped, right?” Chrysalis asked softly.

What she said as well as her tone just made Pif start shaking again. “I’m sorry, Gram Gram. I really am. I just don’t like killing. Nobody ever deserves to die.” She nuzzled against the queen, not noticing that her horn was starting to glow.

“Oh Pif, you have such potential. I just need to push you to realize it. Fortunately, the tribute is tonight, and I have demanded that they bring double so that you and I can feast together.” The queen smiled as she looked down at Pif who looked back up with eyes that were gradually being outlined by a ring of faint green.

“That sounds lovely,” Pif said dully.

“I know it does. Come along now,” Chrysalis said as she got up and started to walk toward the chamber behind the royal throne.

As Pif walked down the gilded hallway, she started to get more and more hungry, and her hooves shook with each step. “Gram Gram, why am I so hungry? Why am I so weak?” Pif asked as she looked toward the far end of the room. Whatever was there was getting tastier and tastier.

“Oh, Pif, you’re hungry because I’m venting your love back into the network in order to make this next treat all the sweeter.”

Pif was barely able to understand what she was saying as she started to lurch toward the room, and the two of them entered the strange chamber. There were two ponies standing there with wide smiles on their face. By the looks of their eyes, it was clear that they were under Chrysalis’ thrall. Pif, however, was in no condition to tell as she walked right up to one of them, panting heavily. The red earth pony giggled softly and did a little circle, running her tail under Pif’s chin.

“You look so hungry.”

The other pony, an off-white pegasus, moved over to where he knew he had to go as Chrysalis sat down with a grin. The pegasus leaned over and Chrysalis licked her neck a few times, a haze going over the changeling’s eyes as she viewed the pony’s chi paths directly.

“Can you feel the love, Epiphany? All you need to do is bare your fangs, and your instincts will take over from that point on.” The queen grinned as she looked at her tribute, and with a large hiss, she dug her fangs into the pegasus’ neck, extracting the love as his eyes went wide and he went limp, occasionally convulsing.

Pif looked at the queen, then looked back to her ‘tribute’. The earth pony was grinning as she leaned in and nuzzled Pif who was already starting to shake as she fought with herself. “Come on – just a bite will fill you up.”

Pif panted softly as the haze covered her eyes. She looked back at the earth pony and she could see the varying channels swirling around her body: hate… love… ambition… magic… it was all there, and all she had to do was just give in. Her fangs slowly exposed themselves as she moved in, letting them graze the pony’s neck, and she focused intently on the natural pulse of her body.

“Mmnhh… come on… just a bite!” the earth pony moaned with a shudder as she bared her neck for Epiphany.

Pif could feel the love, but when she dived deeper, she could feel the pathways her love took to the rest of the hive network. She could feel all of it! Pif took a sip, but then her mind revolted and she stopped. Pif whispered just loud enough for Chrysalis to hear, “If it’s not Free, it’s the nobles. If it’s not the nobles, then it’s you. I’m always a pawn, and the only difference is who’s moving the pieces.”

The queen just chuckled as she tossed the corpse of her tribute to the side. “That’s how life works – give it enough time and soon you’ll become a puppet master as well.”

Pif’s eyes glowed a bright white as she shifted into her full changeling form and her wings flared out. She grabbed onto the network as completely as she could and in one hard tug she inverted the flow of the love energy, not only taking her own energy back, but also causing nearly every drone to collapse from exhaustion.

Breezon burst into the chamber just as Chrysalis started to snarl. “If you betray me, you’ll have nobody else left to turn to! You will have nothing! You will be nothing!

Pif had a moment of clarity, and in the vault of her mind, two books from her link with Luna remained seared permanently into her memory, and for the first time she saw them clearly. “I may be nothing, but I’ll always be more than you.” Her chitin turned a bright chrome and she disappeared along with the earth pony that she still held. The resulting flash and concussive wave of the air collapsing in where she once was sent the rapidly approaching Breezon and still-stunned Chrysalis slamming into the side of the chamber.

“How did she…?! GENERAL, GET TO HER CHAMBER NOW!” Chrysalis screamed.

Pif reappeared in her chamber as she tossed the earth pony onto the bed with a few of the changelings. All twelve of her think-tank were waiting for her in her room, and they looked at her with fright. “What’s going on?!” one of them screamed as they started to panic.

“Find my special backpack! Get the Crystal! Evacuation protocol!” Pif ordered.

They all started to move with orderly haste, gathering all that they needed and putting it onto the bed.

The locked door to the large chamber blew off its hinges, and General Breezon sneered, “Little princesses should know when they have gone too far.”

Pif looked at the general, her eyes wide as she scanned her mind in a panic for something –anything – she could use. That jet black book was still there unopened, and she had a deep sense of dread before she opened it. Her eyes turned into narrow slits as she screamed out, “MIDNIGHT UNENDING!” Her horn fired out an intense jet of energy as it solidified into what looked like an ebony scythe. She grabbed it in her magic and ran at the charging general. She started to slash at him with the scythe, but she did not have his combat ability, only the few lessons that she had learned from Warfist. However, it was like the blade was moving itself, and scythe and horn clashed over and over again.

“Hurry up!” Pif screamed as all of the drones got on the bed and surrounded the earth pony. Pif shoved Breezon back, dashed over to the bed, and grabbed the Return Crystal that one of her assistants held out for her. She smashed the crystal on the floor, and the area-of-effect spell activated. She turned back just in time to see the general jump into range of the spell, and he teleported with them.

# # #

It was Friday dinner at House Path, and everyone in the herd was there, as well as the usual horde. Today was extra special, however, as the Crystal Prince and Princess decided to pay them a visit along with their daughter, Flurry, to see how their favorite sister/sister-in-law was doing. However, in the middle of the dinner, Luna suddenly stood up, her horn lighting up violently. Her eyes went wide and glowed with power, and then she ran outside, yelling, “Epiphany hath activated the Return Crystal, but many doth accompany her!”

Luna ran out into the clearing outside the house just as the teleport completed, and a few things happened all at once. The spherical spell shimmered into being and then burst. A large bed fell to the ground with several Blue Changelings and a red earth pony upon it, and Shining Armor immediately threw a restraining force field around them. More importantly though were the two larger changeling doing battle in the air. No longer constrained by her room, Pif took off with the general on her tail. She focused all the stolen love to augment her physical abilities to match the general, and as a result, they were blurs moving around in complex patterns, and every now and then the spectators heard the clash of metal on metal.

“I’LL KILL YOU! NOTHING WILL SURVIVE AND NOBODY WILL REMEMBER YOUR PITIFUL EXISTENCE!” Pif screeched out as she landed a series of slashes upon the general.

“What a pity. With this much tenacity, you would have made a fine Blue Queen,” Breezon laughed as he dodged and parried most of the attacks, letting her slash and cut him occasionally, and making her becoming more and more enraged.

“STOP TALKING AND START DYING!” Pif screamed as she spun the scythe around to deflect his blasts, her eyes turning bright teal as the scythe became darker, absorbing all light.

The changeling General started to worry as he could not press the attack, and he remained on the defensive. Every time he tried to get close, he was pushed away by the overwhelming attack of the changeling princess.

However, while Pif was gaining power from rage and adrenaline, the corruptive nature of the summoning spell was also quickly starting to overcome her.

Path narrowed his eyes and he growled, “Luna, is Pif being consumed by the nightmare?”

The alicorn shook her head. “Nay. The scythe is just one of her weapons, and it’s a pale imitation at best, but all things based in her magic are heavily corrupted. If we don’t stop this fast, Pif will become tainted.”

Path nodded and calmly started giving orders. “Shining, when Pif and Breezon near the ground, I need you to confine them in a one-way barrier. Luna, be ready to grab Pif. It’s time for the ultimate gambit, so stand-by. Cadance – those twelve changelings in the coats must be Pif’s assistants, and they’ll need protection. Free will fill you in.”

Pif and Breezon were at a stalemate. While her power continued to grow, it also got more wild and frenzied. She could not penetrate his defenses, but neither could he get past hers. His focus was so totally upon her though that he failed to notice that they were now confined within a force-field until too late. The fight continued unabated though, but his attention was drawn by a yell of anger, and he looked around just in time to see Path passing unhindered through the shield, aiming a flying kick at his head. Path’s hoof connected with a sickening crack of chitin, and the general was sent flying, losing his sword in the process.

 

 

As soon as Breezon was distracted, Shining dropped the shield and Luna snatched Pif away. The alicorn’s magic then banished the ebon scythe even as she drew the young changeling to herself and hugged her tightly. At first, Pif struggled and beat at Luna with her hooves, screaming incoherently. Luna took it stoically while projecting her love at the young changeling. Gradually Pif felt the affection that her auntie was lavishing upon her, and she started to calm down. It was not long before Pif was returning the hug, tears flowing down her cheeks.

Meanwhile, Breezon had gotten back onto his hooves, snarling in rage. A mere pony had hit him! That pony would die! He charged into the attack, but was shocked to be effortlessly countered. After throwing a flurry of blows that failed to land, he stepped back to take stock of his foe more carefully. The earth pony was large, although not exceptionally so, but what stood out was his musculature. Breezon had never seen such a powerfully muscled pony before, but this was no mere body-builder. His experienced eye could tell that his physique was a result of hard training, and the way the pony held himself told him that he knew how to use his strength.

Path smirked at him. “I’m not such an easy target as a child, am I, General? I’ve been waiting nearly two decades to get another crack at Chrysalis, and I’ve been preparing all that time. A pity she’s not here, but I’ll be delighted to take it out on you.” Path’s expression shifted to one of utter rage. “Anybody who attacks my daughter will suffer the consequences!” Without another word, he hurled himself at Breezon.

Although Breezon approached the new fight with caution and a greater emphasis on tactics, the battle was not going well for him. The vast majority of his attacks had been easily evaded or parried. Path on the other hoof had slowly chipped away at his defenses and gradually flaws had started to appear, and each time Path had taken full advantage of them. An attempt to grapple him had instead resulted in the pony latching onto a wing, and he had screamed in agony as it was ripped out. It lay on the ground, still bleeding green blood from its stump. His horn had cracks running along the base due to the repeated strikes against it whenever he had tried to charge up a spell. The general panted heavily and was close to being exhausted, but the green-haired pony circled him relentlessly, his body low and his mane almost standing on end, growling like a timberwolf. “Ponies don’t act like this! Ponies are food, not predators!” he screamed in frustration.

Path just grinned as he kept circling him. “Ponies are so much more than that, but it’s too late for you to learn. I'm going to kill you myself.”

The tired general blinked, opening up another hole in his shattering defenses. Path pounced on that mistake in an instant, a flying kick sending the general sprawling onto his back. Path followed it up by jumping onto him, his hoof-stomp cracking the chitin on his chest. The general howled out in pain, but he managed to grab the pony’s hoof and haul it towards his mouth. He sank his fangs into Path’s leg. “Let’s see how well you fight without your earth pony magic!” he gloated, only to realize a moment later that his ability to drain pony magic was achieving nothing.

Path had grunted in pain as the fangs had sunk in, but he resisted the instinct to just rip his leg free which would have caused more damage. Instead he sneered at the changeling and said, “Not having much luck, are you? I burned out all my magic fighting your mad queen in the Crystal Kingdom. I trained with one of the world’s foremost unarmed combat specialists to compensate. You never stood a chance.”

The changeling realized his mistake and tried to drain the pony’s positive emotions instead, despite the less than ideal location of the contact. Before he could though, Path’s other leg gave him an uppercut that knocked his fangs out of the muscle. Then the leg came back down on the general’s neck, forcing his windpipe shut without quite crushing it. Breezon’s eyes went wide and he started thrashing in an attempt to break free, but Path held on grimly. He began to panic, shifting into different forms over and over as he tried to slip out of the pony’s grasp, but it was too late, and his fate was sealed. The transformations happened slower and slower before they stopped, and as the general started to lose consciousness, Path let go of his neck, letting Breezon's head loll limply to the ground.

Path turned to Shining Armor and said, “Confine him, please. This isn’t over yet.”

Shining nodded and a force bubble appeared about the beaten changeling. “What about those Blues?” he asked with a nod in their direction.

“They might be as much victims of Chrysalis as well, but they still pose a risk for the moment. Just continue confining them for now.”

Roseclaw came up with a bandage to bind the bleeding wound on Path’s leg. “That was a magnificent battle, my warrior. I am so proud of you.”

“Thanks, Rose, but time for that later. We have a final task to complete.” He gestured to Luna to bring Pif over, and she arrived just as Free and Twilight joined them.

Still sniffling a bit, Pif detached herself from Luna and looked up at her parents. “I’m sorry,” she said in the smallest of voices.

Path shook his head. “It’s we who are sorry, Pif. I should never have let the nobles get their way. The punishment was far too great for the offense.”

“I’m sorry too, Pif,” Free confessed. “I failed to accept my responsibility as the hive’s queen, and I should never have pushed you so hard to be my replacement. We will talk about this more later to try to right this wrong.”

Twilight stepped up to hug Pif. “As a Princess of Equestria, Lady of the House of Path, and most of all as your mother, I should never have allowed this situation to happen. I failed you, Pif, and I am so sorry.”

Roseclaw stepped up next. “I did not approve of some of the things that my herd had done, but I allowed them to go ahead, and for that I am sorry also. However, you are strong of will and a fighter, and you have come through despite all of this. As your mother also, and on behalf of Herd Path, I ask if you will forgive us as we forgive you?”

Pif burst into tears again as she hurled herself into Roseclaw’s embrace. Path, Free, Twilight and Luna all came in to join the hug, and the young changeling found herself nearly drowning in a flood of love. Pif eventually said, “I need to know where I fit in, what I’m supposed to do.”

Free replied, “Let's find out together, okay?”

Pif buried her head in Free's chest feathers and sniffled. “Sounds good to me, Mother.”

After several long minutes of this, they were finally pulled away when Shining Armor announced, “The prisoner is waking.”

Breezon regained consciousness to find himself pinned to a garden wall by magic bonds, and the members of Herd Path gathered in front of him, radiating hostility. Epiphany stood with them, and he spat in her direction. “Traitor!”

Pif turned her head away sadly. “My grandmother betrayed me first. I wanted to make things better for her hive, and perhaps even bring peace between it and Equestria. Instead she sought to subvert me even as she claimed to love me. I was never anything more than a pawn to Chrysalis, and I wasted my love on her. Now I can’t even be sorry for the consequences.”

“Consequences? What are you babbling about? Do you think this minor setback will stop her plans? You have no idea what you’re up against!”

Pif looked back at him with the smallest of smiles. “You’re wrong. I know virtually everything. I even told Gram Gram so, but she thought I was exaggerating. It all started with my first successful long-distance communication, and from that moment, Chrysalis’ fate was sealed. If she had been true to me, nothing more would have happened, just as I promised, but she betrayed me, and thus she released me from my promise. I am going to destroy you, Gram Gram.”

“I’m not your grandmother,” Breezon replied with a scowl.

Pif just chuckled. “Still not listening, I see. Goodbye, Gram Gram.”

Free stepped up then, shifting to queen form. She sneered at Breezon. “What she means, General, is that we know that Chrysalis implemented Pif’s superior communication system, and she’s currently seeing and hearing every word we’re saying. So, hello again, Mom. You tried to take my daughter, Maggot Queen, and I cannot forgive that. You are dead. Your hive is dead.”

“Fool!” Breezon shouted. “You have no power over us!”

Path replied with deadly seriousness, “That is where you are wrong, and as head of the House of Path, and in accordance with our charter to protect those who cannot protect themselves, we have found you guilty of leading two invasions, planning others, and committing a myriad of crimes against the sapient species of this world. You are an intractable threat to all of Equus. You have only been permitted to live in peace up until now as an act of mercy that your granddaughter begged of us. Your complete and utter destruction is the only option that you have left us. As Queen Chrysalis is the de facto head of government of Saddle Arabia, we can declare a total war protocol against you. It starts now.” Path motioned for Luna to step forward.

The alicorn’s horn glowed brightly and Breezon could see a spell being constructed. Then Luna’s eyes started glowing with the power of the spell, and he tried to look away, only to have telekinesis force his head back. Luna’s eyes locked with his, and the spell was released. It shot through the enhanced connection and started spreading throughout the Blue’s hive-mind at the speed of thought to all Blue Changelings irrespective of distance, activating the hidden commands that Pif had laboriously constructed even as she had seemed to be working on other projects for the benefit of the hive. The commands that she had implanted into all who were connected to the hive-mind affected every Blue Changeling, causing them to shift to their natural form and let out a high pitch screech, exposing their true nature wherever they were in the world. All across Equus, their enemies started culling them immediately. Those who weren’t caught immediately soon discovered that their connection to the hive-mind had been permanently severed, leaving them virtually helpless. The screeching was also at the exact resonance frequency of the new love containment glass that Pif had designed and Chrysalis had been producing as fast as possible, shattering them and causing high-energy explosions, with the biggest in the areas with the greatest amount of love energy stored. The Blue Hive’s nursery was utterly obliterated, and the multitude of explosions elsewhere killed many others and buried even more in collapsing tunnels.

# # #

The throne room was damaged, but it survived. When the smoke and dust cleared, Chrysalis found her mind chillingly quiet. Even the two special guards in the throne room with her were a blank to her. Debris fell from the roof, and she realized that this room could also collapse at any time. It was time to abandon the hive. She ordered the guards to follow her, and she headed for the surface. They had to make many detours due to the collapsed tunnels, but they eventually approached one of the exits. A pained cry from just outside made her pause though, and she sensed a trap. With stealth that only a changeling could manage, she got as close to the tunnel mouth as possible and spotted Blue Streak in his magitek wings patrolling the sky with his squad, and some Wonderbolts further away, covering other areas. They were eliminating all survivors without mercy as they escaped the destroyed hive.

Chrysalis realized that they would not stop until they had found her and made sure that she was dead. She debated sending out one of her special guards disguised as herself, but unless they completely obliterated the changeling, the ruse would be revealed as it reverted upon death. There was only one recourse now, but it was one that she had planned for and kept hidden even from Epiphany. The special guards had been bred to serve as vessels for her mind in an emergency, and would in time grow into a new queen, but first she had to make a connection with one of them. With the hive-link broken, she had to resort to sinking her fangs into one to make a new connection. She pushed aside the guard’s mind, ruthlessly supplanting it, but she retained a link to her old body. She puppeted it out of the tunnel, made a show of resistance, and watched as it was blasted mere moments later. She did not stop to watch them come down to positively identify the corpse. She knew that they would flush out the tunnels next, rooting out the last of her changelings. She took her final guard and retreated, eventually finding one of her secret passageways. She collapsed the tunnel behind her and took shelter in a top-secret bunker that had been stocked with supplies. When her enemies left, she would emerge and start anew.

Chrysalis burned with hate. The first and only thing on her agenda was House Path’s utter destruction.

# # #

Path’s hoof slammed into the base of Breezon’s horn, snapping it off at the base. The general screamed and his body convulsed for a moment before he went totally limp.

“Azon! Get a stasis pod now!”

The doctor quickly fetched a pod, and Path tossed the half-dead Blue Changeling into it. Azon sealed him inside and, with the help of a student, carried it away to be dealt with later.

“Are we going to do the same to those other Blues?” Shining asked.

“No!” Pif exclaimed. “They’re my friends!”

Path went over to Cadance and asked, “Did you manage to protect them from the effects of the spell?”

Cadance nodded happily. “They should be able to re-link with Pif without a problem.”

Path said to Shining, “You can drop the force field now.”

As soon as the bubble of magic surrounding them disappeared, the twelve changelings rushed over to Pif, briefly alarming Path, but all they did was start profusely thanking her, some even hugging her. As she touched each one, she re-formed a link with them, and soon she had her own mini-network once more.

One of the changelings turned to Path and bowed. “Thank you, Lord Path. On behalf of my colleagues, I swear loyalty to our Princess Epiphany…” He bowed to her. “To Queen Gossamer…” he bowed to a rather surprised Free. “And to the House of Path.” He bowed once more to Path and then Twilight, Roseclaw, and Luna.

“Because Pif vouches for you, I am happy to welcome you all to House Path.” Path then smirked a little. “If nothing else, you won’t be bored.”

The changeling looked a little confused by that last statement, but was reassured by the good humor that he could taste coming from his new Lord.

Path then indicated the red earth pony. “What’s his story?” he asked Pif.

“Unwilling victim. Looks like he’s coming out from under Chrysalis’ spell. He’ll need a lot of emotional support and reorientation before we can arrange to send him back home.”

Path nodded and said, “We’ll make sure that happens. Free, I think our daughter needs to be cleaned up after her experiences.” He looked over himself, noting the various cuts and bruises he had incurred during the fight. “I’m going to take a shower and get cleaned up too. After that…” His hoof swept in the direction of the crowd of spectators on the balcony who had watched the events unfold. “I think we’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”

# # #

Path and the rest of the herd had been explaining the facts behind the evening’s unusual events to a rapt audience.

“It was the riskiest gambit that I will probably ever do. If I had known what Pif had planned before it started, I would have put a stop to it immediately.”

“Which is exactly why I didn’t tell anyone,” Pif said from where she was snuggled tiredly between Luna and Free. “I literally couldn’t take any more of the hostility at Canterlot, so when Chrysalis approached me at Donut Joe’s, I saw it as an opportunity to get away from it all, as well as the cold shoulder I was getting from my parents.” She shrugged apologetically, but Free just hugged her reassuringly and Path waved it off. “I also saw it as a chance to put my ideas to the test and try to reform Gra– uh, Chrysalis. I know now that I was terribly naïve, but I don’t regret trying. I wasn’t completely stupid though. A short while after I arrived at the hive and had gotten a large dose of love energy and a good rest, I started looking into a way of taking Chrysalis out if I could not reform her.”

Free jumped in then. “Her experiments were mostly a blind for her most important activity. She used the information that she had taken from Chrysalis when she did her first hive network probe experiment to mask the fact that she implanted her hidden commands in the hive-mind. When she communicated with Luna in her dreamscape, she passed on the activation spell. That was also when she gave us updates on her progress, or lack thereof. She gave Chrysalis the technology to create a very efficient way to store love, but made it intentionally difficult for Chrysalis to comprehend, therefore failing to see that it was deliberately flawed and how easily it could be disrupted to cause a massive explosion upon release of all the stored energy. All Pif had to do was return with at least one drone to act as a remote link, and it could all be triggered.”

Path continued the explanation. “Of course we couldn’t expect to get all of them in the explosions, but Chrysalis never did discover the tracking spell that Pif had put on her long ago, and we’ve known where her hive was located for some time now. We planned to execute our attack very soon, and two days ago, we sent Blue Streak and his squad, plus several Wonderbolt elite squads to stand by to do clean up and to recover Chrysalis’ body. This time we had to make sure that she didn’t get away again. Although Chrysalis jumped the gun on us slightly, fortunately they were in place and waiting when the action began. Blue has been reporting that all has been progressing smoothly.” Path sighed. “I am not proud of having to initiate what could be considered extermination, but it had to be done.”

King Glimfeather looked over at Epiphany who appeared to have fallen asleep while draped in Luna’s lap. “I don’t know if she’s a mastermind or a sociopath. She’s played everyone. She used the backlash for biting Luna to her advantage, and she even knew that if she joined Chrysalis, she would have access to her thoughts. She also knew that Luna could securely pass on details of her plan. It was amazing for something that was conceived and executed on the fly.”

Pif slowly opened her eyes, apparently still awake despite her tiredness. “I wasn’t expecting Breezon. I didn’t anticipate almost giving in to ripping love out of a pony. I wasn’t expecting Luna being so terribly sad when I left. There were a lot of things I did not expect that could have gone wrong, but I just happened to plan out the most important things.” She looked up at Luna and continued, “In fact I was very nearly a complete idiot, Auntie. I truly wanted to believe that I could do some good there, but instead Chrysalis made me do something horrible.”

Luna smiled reassuringly. “We all have our regrets, dear child. Do not let thine torture thee as I didst torture myself. Remember the lesson and move on with thy life.”

“I will, Auntie.” She looked over to Free and asked, “What happens now?”

Free replied, “We’ll have a long talk about that, but for now I think I had better stop shirking my queenly responsibilities, and leave you free to figure out what you want to achieve with your life. I promise that you will have my reasonable cooperation from now on. Just let me know when you think you’re ready to take over the hive.”

Pif giggled. “I suppose that’s for the best. I’ve been so focused on being groomed as the new queen that I have never even stopped to think if I wanted to be queen as yet. I think you’re going to be stuck with the job for a while, Dad.”

Free shrugged. “I have my daughter back, and my family to support me; I can think of worse fates.”

# # #

“Pardon me, Princess Cadance, but may I have a word with you?”

Cadance looked up from the book that she had been reading in the sunroom. She recognized the speaker standing in the doorway as one of the twelve changelings that Pif had brought with her, still proudly dressed in his lab coat, but with the addition of a badge marking him as the chief assistant which he earned by his leadership qualities.

“Come in,” she said with a smile. “What is your name?”

“Zavak, Your Highness,” he replied as he trotted over to her.

“What can I do for you, Zavak?”

The changeling’s magic drew an object from the saddlebag he was wearing. It was a small sphere with a perfectly reflective surface, and he passed it to the alicorn. “This was one of the things Princess Epiphany worked on while she was in the Blue Hive. We understand its importance, but also its risks. This device is within your realm of responsibility, so we would like your opinion about what should be done with it.”

Cadance examined it with her magical senses, and was startled to feel the very small amount of love emanating from it. “Although it is tiny in comparison, this object is akin in nature to the Crystal Heart. And you say that Pif was responsible for creating this?”

Zavak nodded. “With our assistance, Epiphany was able to make her theories reality.”

“You do realize that with a fully working version of this, the hives could be forever free of their need to harvest love? Free of the vagaries of pony attitudes, the changelings could grow to meet their full potential. However, there is also a possible dark side to this invention. Changelings would also be free of the need to live in Harmony with other sapient races. Would they continue to do so? Chrysalis showed us what just one hive could do to us. What if all the hives turned against pony-kind?”

“With respect, Your Highness, that assumes love is the only thing that we would want from pony-kind, and I think you already realize that is not true. However, to put this into perspective, this prototype took nearly a hundred kilocadance to create, but only generates a millicadance of extra love. It’s barely anything, so far.”

Cadance smiled knowingly. “That’s not the entire story though, is it?”

“You are very perceptive. Although its output is currently miniscule, as long as the excess is not drawn off, the love energy is recycled into the generation process in a positive feedback loop.”

“So what you’re saying is that the output is exponential? If that’s true, eventually this will become another Crystal Heart.”

“Exactly, hence why we are so concerned. It is a double-edged weapon, capable of doing as much harm as it could do good. In short, it is dangerous. So what do you think we should do with it?”

“You are thinking that I should take it back to the Crystal Kingdom with me? While it’s true that I could offer it the same protection as the Crystal Heart, I believe that when it reaches its full potential, it would focus too much love energy in one place, with possible undesirable side-effects. However, in my opinion, the potential benefits outweigh the risks, and there is one hive that I would trust to keep it safe and handle it responsibly.”

“The Chrome Hive,” Zavak confirmed. “Epiphany thought so too, but she felt that we needed a second opinion, and one with the greatest degree of expertise. I am happy to have you confirm our hopes for the device. I will not live to see it reach its full potential, but sometime in the future, changeling-kind might at least be freed from the shackles of our needs.”

Cadance passed the sphere back to the drone. “This is not mine to keep. It belongs to your princess, and it will be her legacy. Take very good care of it, for someday it will change everything for all changelings.”

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

Phew! This was a hard one to put together, but hopefully it was worth it. I reckon there are going to be a few nervous changeling queens after this, although maybe the Red Queen, Carpacia, would admire House Path's martial capabilities.

Art by Foxenawolf.

   
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