Quantum Gallop

Five of the youth of House Path are abruptly whisked away by the enigmatic Doctor Whooves, and they find themselves in a Ponyville that they can scarcely recognize. A tyrant queen rules Equestria, alliances were never forged with Griffonia and the Changeling Hives, and three of the group had never been born! Someone has changed history, and it's up to them to figure out when, how, and who did it, or Equestria will suffer, and the rest of the world along with it.
This is the direct sequel to "The Growing Years" and "A Different Perspective", and I advise reading those stories first.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/328566/quantum-gallop

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18. Chapter 10 - School Days Part 2

Sterling laughed. “I admit I’ve slept on far better, but it’s okay.”

“Well, I won’t mind if you use the bed. It’s more than big enough for the two of us.”

Sterling raised an eyebrow that he didn’t have in his natural form, but couldn’t help using in his unicorn guise. He opened his mouth to taste the emotions in the air – admiration… dedication… attraction? He didn’t know how he should take this. He was significantly older than her, and of a totally different time. They were thrown together by circumstance rather than as a consequence of socializing, but they worked together well. She was with her family and yet still alone while the others had partners. Should he encourage this, or gently steer her away? It was not as if he needed her affection – as he had told her, he was well fed. A relationship would only complicate his work. And yet the idea was appealing, and she would not have to be alone. He decided that he would take this one step at a time, and see what developed.

“Thank you. I think I’ll take advantage of that offer.”

Lucida smiled happily. “Good. I’ll go make us some breakfast.”

Sterling watched her go, enjoying the sweet happiness that she had exuded. This was a nice start to the morning. He looked forward to seeing what happened in the coming days.

# # #

Pif discovered her first Blue Changeling that morning, but was disappointed to find out that it was an ordinary Harvester. A little ashamed of having terrified the innocent drone, she erased the incident from its mind before sending it on its way. As she made her way to the Displaced Foundlings Institute, she pondered her technique. She had to be extremely careful not to alert the current-day Chrysalis to her presence, and impersonating the Queen focused the drone’s attention on herself rather than the real Chrysalis’s presence on the hive network. However, she had not anticipated the level of fear such a confrontation would cause. She had only ever known what it was like in Chrysalis’ new hive built after her defeat by House Path, and she did not have normal Harvesters anymore. No wonder Elusive Clue and Whirring Cogs had defected from the Blue Hive after the Canterlot Wedding disaster. Pif decided that she would have to try to be more subtle next time.

As Pif mounted the steps of the DFI, she shuddered at the foul taste of the emotions leaking from within. She took a deep breath and braced herself to endure it for the day. “Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without some sacrifice, Epiphany,” she reminded herself as she opened the doors and stepped within.

# # #

Lucida spent the morning familiarizing herself with the pupils. Her first class did not include Cirrus or Long Path, but giving lessons to a slightly older group of foals helped settle the butterflies in her stomach. The second class was the first-grade students, and as most, if not all, of the students had never seen a hippogriff before, Miss Chalkboard introduced her to the foals first. As Lucida had expected, she had spent that initial period talking more about herself, although she had to concoct a few stories to cover the parts she could not tell them. By the time that she was done, virtually all the students had gotten comfortable with their odd new teacher, which was exactly as Lucida planned. This was going to work out beautifully!

# # #

This was a disaster! She never knew what a bunch of brats so many unicorn foals could be! They were never this bad in Ponyville! Lucida had always thought that her parents had exaggerated the degree of snobbery that the Canterlot unicorns exhibited, and surely foals this young would not be affected? Lucida groaned. It seemed the teacher was the one learning the lesson today. Her plan had backfired mightily. They had gotten so comfortable with her that they did not respect her authority. She was not a unicorn, after all. If it got any worse, Miss Chalkboard might suspect her supposed love of teaching youngsters. Now what would her parents do in this situation?

Then Lucida recalled some of the delegates that she had negotiated with. Despite their greater age, more than once she had mentally compared them to bratty children, and she had to play to their foibles to reach mutually acceptable agreements. This time she had actual children, but would the same techniques work with them? She shrugged. If they were this class-conscious at their age, they were probably susceptible to the traits that went with it. It was certainly worth a try.

“Attention, class!”

It took a little while to get the foals quiet enough for her to continue, but eventually they settled down.

“Who hopes to go to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns one day?”

Every unicorn foal stuck up a hoof, and Lucida grinned to herself. Of course they all did. They were perfect and talented foals – their parents said so! Of course they were going to Celestia’s school. The fact was that many of them could not even levitate anything as yet, and few if any would make it that far. They did not have to know that however.

“Miss Chalkboard has asked me to look out for particularly talented foals to recommend for extra training to help them get into Princess Celestia’s school.” Lucida put on a sorrowful face. “I’m so sad that I have not found any yet. All I seem to have in this class are naughty fillies and colts who are not interested in learning and becoming great unicorn mages.”

That was laying it on a bit thick, but it seemed to be doing the job. Several of the foals were already protesting that they could too be great mages.

“Well, if you really think you can do it, then you had better show me that you know your numbers and letters first. I won’t recommend any foal who can’t read or add and subtract at the end of the year.”

That did the trick. Those who genuinely believed that they were good enough for Celestia’s school immediately started paying more attention. Others who were not so confident, but who would not be caught dead looking as if they anything but the best, also began to take things more seriously. Lucida heaved a sigh of relief. She had them under control for now, but tonight she was going to talk with the rest of the team and get their input on how best to handle young students. This was not going to be easy, and she was going to need all the help that she could get.

# # #

Recess came as a relief to Lucida in spite of the attitude improvement, and she sighed as she sat down to watch the foals at play. Soon she was joined by a blue stallion with a white mane.

“How’s it going, sis?”

“Just be glad that you’re a unicorn, ‘Fate’,” Lucida replied. “At first I was a curiosity, but then I became one of the lower-class species who could be ignored. I reckon that if I wasn’t half pony, they wouldn’t have paid any attention to me at all. What do these Canterlot unicorns teach their foals?!”

Destined put a reassuring arm around the hippogriff. “It’s just your first day, and those foals are still feeling you out to see how much they can get away with. I think you lack that experience, whereas I got to grow up with more ponies, so I remember what it’s like. First time it has been an advantage for me being the younger brother though.”

Lucida chuckled. “I suppose you’re right. I think I have them under control for the moment, but I’ll be wanting to have a family chat about this tonight. I could use some of your insight into…”

BOOM!

“What the…?” Destined gasped.

They looked to the right in the direction of the noise and saw a rapidly spreading ring of rainbow colors.

“Sweet Celestia!” Lucida gasped. “That’s today!” She leapt into the air, spread her wings, and rapidly headed towards the castle.

All the students were distracted by the rainboom, and Destined ducked back into a doorway, shucked his coat, and switched illusions to show him as a pegasus instead. Intense training enabled him to do all this in mere seconds, and he was quickly in pursuit of his sister. He had almost caught up to her when another noise was heard.

CRASH!

Lucida had not been heading towards the castle itself, but a building adjoining it – Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. A dragon’s head had just burst through the roof and rubble was showering down the sides. Fortunately no pony was close enough to be harmed, but it sure was attracting attention. Destined spotted a white alicorn heading towards the source of the disturbance and entering the building. He joined Lucida who was now hovering over the hole in the roof where the huge but youthful-looking dragon was sitting quietly. They could clearly see through the gap where a very small purple unicorn was glowing with immense power, power that she clearly could not control.

“That’s Mom!” Destined said with astonishment.

“Yeah. This is the day that Celestia takes her in as her personal student,” Lucida replied.

They watched as Celestia approached Twilight and placed a hoof on the filly’s shoulder, calming her down. The immense aura of magical power faded and the various effects of it reversed. The dragon suddenly shrank down to the baby that was Spike, and they had an even better view of the events. They were too high to hear Celestia ask Twilight to be her protégée, but they knew exactly what she said, and what would come next. Celestia pointed at Twilight’s flank, and suddenly the filly was bouncing around the alicorn in joy at the discovery of her cutie mark.

After Celestia led off Twilight along with her parents, Lucida said, “We’d better get back to the school.”

Destined nodded as he turned to follow her. “I never thought I’d get to see that moment in Mom’s life.”

“Me neither. I never thought I’d be thankful for Chrysalis’ time-meddling, but for once it’s brought something positive into our lives.”

“Yeah. No wonder Mom became the Avatar of Magic and an Element Bearer. I never did anything like that as a foal.”

Lucida giggled. “No, you only teleported between continents when you were just twelve years old, and can manipulate time without a spell. Momma Twilight never did that. I reckon you could be a great Avatar of Magic.”

Destined snorted. “What? And go around with Mom’s friends using the power of Harmony against Equestria’s enemies? Yeah, sure! Besides, Sunset Shimmer has the backup Avatar position sewn up, and Starlight Glimmer has got to be another potential Avatar Mom’s age.”

Lucida swung close by to punch Destined in the shoulder. “Stop putting yourself down. Who says it has to be Mom’s friends anyway? In theory, it just takes six ponies with the required attributes.”

“All I’ve got is smart-ass siblings,” he replied with a smirk.

Lucida would have retorted to that, but they reached the school grounds then, and had to discreetly rejoin the foals. The task was made a lot easier by the number of other pegasi who had left to gawk at the spectacle, and served as a distraction. Destined was able to resume his Inevitable Fate guise without a problem just as the end of recess bell rang out.

“Well, let’s see if the rest of the day is half as interesting,” Destined said as he left for his class.

“I’d settle for calm and uneventful,” Lucida muttered as her foals headed in her direction.

# # #

“I brought home steaks!” Pif announced. “Who wants one?”

There was a chorus of replies in the affirmative. Because meat-eating ponies stood out too much when they were trying to be unnoticed, the steaks were a rare treat for most of those who enjoyed the odd inclusion to their diet. Both Cinder and Lucida needed some meat regularly, but the others had no such excuse.

“What’s the occasion, Pif?” Blue asked.

“Well, I could say that it’s to celebrate Momma Twilight getting her cutie mark today, but really it’s because I felt like some comfort food. I had a rough day.”

“Sorry to hear that, sis. Want to talk about it?”

“Not really. You’ve already heard what I discovered about the DFI. Now I have to worm my way into that mess. The sooner that I expose the corruption in there, the better. Right now though, I want something special to take my mind off it all.”

“Want me to cook them up for you?”

“Thanks, Blue. I know you’re the best steak chef among us.”

“And I know all your preferences too. Did you get an extra marbled one for Cinder?”

“Of course. The butcher was rather surprised that I wanted so many lean steaks though. I couldn’t tell him that most of them were going to be eaten by ponies. I was in griffon guise, of course.”

Blue headed off to the kitchen with the steaks while Pif settled with a sigh of relief on the sofa next to Citrine. The crystal pony put an arm around Pif and kissed her.

“Need a recharge, love?”

“You know it, hon.” Pif returned the kiss and carefully extracted the love energy that Citrine freely offered. The crystal pony sometimes seemed like an unceasing font of love and joy, and the changeling blessed the day that she had come into her life. Pif could not understand what about her had attracted Citrine, but she now felt the same way about this pony, and would never harm her. She drank enough of emotional energy to deal with the effects of the negative emotions she had endured all day, and then kissed Citrine some more with passion rather than thirst.

“Hey, you two! You have your own room, y’know?” Lucida scolded, but with humor in her voice.

Citrine grinned unapologetically, and Pif leaned back into the sofa with a contented sigh. “Ah! Much better!” she announced.

“Good,” Lucida said with a nod. “While Blue is cooking the steaks, I’d like to have a family discussion. Silk has to leave for work straight after the meal, so I’d like to get this done now.”

“Probably a good idea,” Pif agreed. “I’d like to spend the rest of the evening not thinking about what happened today.”

Lucida told them all about her experiences with the young foals that day, and then asked for comments and suggestions. Silk proved to be surprisingly helpful because of his own experiences, although from the perspective of the student rather than the teacher.

“I grew up in a rough environment, and the teachers had to be tough to do their job. Let me tell you about my favorite ones.”

By the time that Blue served up the steaks along with vegetables that had been prepared earlier, Lucida had been able to formulate a few strategies to deal with her students. Tomorrow was looking a lot more promising.

# # #

Blue Streak had saved up the large marbled steak for preparing later when he went back to the room that he shared with Cinder. He cooked it up along with a lot of mushrooms in a pepper sauce that she liked, and served it up at the table.

“Come and get it, Cinder!” he called.

“I’m not leaving our eggs!” she called back.

Blue went into the bedroom where his dragon mate still lay coiled around the two eggs. “You know, you can’t spend the next ten months like that.”

“I can, and I will,” she retorted firmly.

Blue chuckled. “Even dragons need to use the bathroom occasionally.” He climbed onto the bed next to Cinder. “Here, let me protect them for a while,” he said earnestly.

Cinder lifted her head from where it had lain on top of the eggs. She gazed into his eyes and smiled. “My warrior. My mate. Protector of our children.” She leaned forward to kiss him. “I trust you.” She uncoiled from around the eggs and slid off the bed.

Blue arranged himself around the eggs as best as he could, not possessing a dragon’s flexibility. It earned a nod of satisfaction from Cinder though, and she left the room to enjoy her meal.

This was the first time that Blue had gotten so intimate with the eggs, and he felt a sudden upwelling of emotion. Despite their plans, he had never felt as much of a father as at this moment. Two lives conceived by him, and now dependent on him to protect them until they hatched. It was humbling and uplifting all at the same time.

Blue noted how much warmer the eggs were than him, just like Cinder, and he began to worry if he was keeping them warm enough. Maybe if he did a super-speed gallop, he would be hot enough to make up the difference, but he couldn’t leave the eggs to do that. Then he recalled an incident on a camping trip when he had nearly set fire to the tent as he had idly vibrated his hoof on some firewood. At his abnormal speed, those vibrations generated enough heat to cause the branch to burst into flame, and he had flung it away in surprise, landing right next to the tent flap. A swift response had saved their tent, but it still earned him a scolding. However, with some care, he could put that experience to use today. He carefully vibrated his limbs around the egg, and felt the heat being generated. When Cinder returned, the eggs were nicely toasty warm. Unlike tents, dragons and their eggs were fireproof, so at least Blue did not have to worry about overdoing it.

Apparently Cinder found the scenario very hot in more than one way, because what followed was some awkward but passionate love-making. Sometimes Blue wondered what it was like for normal ponies, but he decided that he didn’t care enough to find out. As far as he was concerned, this was perfect.

# # #

Sterling came home that evening and hung up his cape, using the Blue Changeling agent like a coat rack. Since it had been told to stand in the corner and await further orders, the enthralled 'ling had stood there unmoving, and it amused the Red Changeling to put it to practical use. Sterling was not concerned about its welfare – there was enough ambient love to sustain the agent indefinitely.

Lucida walked out of the bedroom and said, “Welcome home. Do you want something to eat?”

“That would be nice, thanks.”

“I’ll cook it up right now then. Give me ten minutes.”

“I’ll have a shower while you’re doing that.” Sterling headed for the bathroom. Upon his return, Lucida was just serving up the food. “This looks great. I hope you don’t think I expect you to do this for me every day though?”

Lucida giggled. “Not really, but Pif brought home steaks, and she brought enough for you too, so I wasn’t going to let someone else snag it first.”

“I see. Well, I’m grateful anyway. However, I’m a little surprised that a noble of your stature can cook so well.”

Lucida passed the salt shaker to Sterling and replied, “Neither of my dads started as nobles, and Mama Twilight didn’t start as a princess either. All of us kids got a very down-to-earth education, and we all can cook a little bit at least. Washing the dishes instead of the House staff was a favorite punishment. Consequently none of us are too proud or incompetent to do ordinary stuff like this.”

Sterling chuckled. “I commend your parents. Anyway, how was your day?”

Lucida sighed. “I’d rather not talk about it anymore. Let’s just say that it was a learning experience, and I expect tomorrow to be a lot better. How about you?”

“Uneventful; just the way I prefer it. I saw you take off after that rainbow explosion this morning. Naturally I stayed to watch Cirrus.”

“I figured you would still be playing guardian despite him being at school with us.”

“Neither you nor Destined will be his teacher for every period, so I will still be on watch at those times.”

“You are amazingly dedicated, Sterling.”

“I am a Red Changeling – that is what we do.”

Lucida shook her head. “Even for a Red, you’re exceptional. Your alternate history self was remarkable also, so I think you’re being a little too modest.”

Sterling smiled slightly at that. “Perhaps, but it makes me happy to do my duty.”

“And it makes me happy to reward you just a little for doing that,” Lucida replied before she yawned widely. “Pardon me – it’s been a long and difficult day for me. I’ll be getting off to an early start tomorrow so that I can make some preparations before class, and I’m going to head off to bed now.”

“Rest well, Lucida.”

The hippogriff paused before the bedroom door. “Remember, you can share the bed with me if you wish.”

“I remember,” Sterling said with a reassuring smile.

The Red Changeling finished his meal and took the dirty plate and cutlery into the kitchen where he washed them and put them in the rack to dry. He then turned off the light in the kitchen and the living room before heading for the bedroom. A small nightlight showed Lucida apparently asleep already on one side of the large bed, and he paused to watch her for a moment. Sterling had known fellow Harvesters to take on pony partners, sometimes even going so far as marrying them. He had never considered that option for himself, instead choosing to focus entirely on the Royal Guard to extract the most positive emotion out of that career and his fellow Guards. Looking at Lucida right now though, he wondered if that had been the best alternative. He felt comfortable with the hippogriff and her family, and his current situation showed that it would be anything but boring. He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming his thoughts. They had ten months of this to look forward to, and he would decide by then whether a permanent change of lifestyle was called for.

He pulled back the covers on the empty side of the bed, and slid in with care not to disturb Lucida. He had just gotten comfortable when the hippogriff shimmied over and put an arm around him, snuggling up close. She emitted a soft purr, and the burst of half-asleep contentment was like a sweet kiss goodnight. He smiled and relaxed. Yes, he could get used to this.

# # #

When Silk Touch came home from his shift at the tavern after 1:00 a.m., he had not expected to find Destined up and about, but he gave the stallion a kiss and a hug anyway.

“Why are you up so early in the morning, Des?” Silk asked as he nibbled on the alicorn’s neck.

Destined shivered in pleasure before answering. “I figure that if you’re going to be away most evenings, I might as well go to bed straight after dinner so that I can be awake when you got home. Then you can go to sleep only when I have to go to work. That way we can have plenty of time together.”

“So you’ll go nocturnal for me?” Silk asked with a smile that showed off the tips of his fangs that thrilled Destined.

“I’m still discovering what it’s like to be in a relationship with somepony, and it would be hard to keep it up if one or the other of us is always either at work or asleep,” Destined replied with that touch of shyness that Silk adored.

“You’re taking this very seriously,” Silk observed.

“Am I doing it wrong?”

The thestral shook his head. “No, I think you’re doing just fine. Let’s snuggle on the sofa and I’ll tell you about the fun I had this evening at the tavern. Maybe even give you a massage if you like? I need to keep in practice, after all.”

Destined thought that was a great idea, and their time together passed so quickly that it came as a surprise when Destined’s alarm clock told him that it was time to get his work day started.

# # #

As usual, the team gathered at Lucida’s room for breakfast, sans Cinder of course. Pif and Citrine were the last to wander in, and Blue gave his sister a curious look.

“Rocking the stallion look this morning, Pif,” he said with a grin.

Pif paused in surprise and looked back at herself. Although in the usual unicorn guise, Pif was most definitely male. “Oops!” she said before shifting form back to female.

Citrine, who had been following close behind, laughed as she headed to the table, walking a little oddly.

Blue’s grin widened. “No need to ask why though.”

Pif blushed, but kept her mouth shut.

“Whose turn to make breakfast?” Citrine asked. “I’m starving!”

“Silk volunteered,” Blue replied. “Worked up an appetite already, Citrine?”

“In the best possible way!” the crystal pony replied, utterly unabashed.

“Stop teasing Pif,” Lucida said sternly, although she was secretly amused too.

There was laughter all around, but they let Pif off the hook and settled down to eating as Silk started bringing out the food. The acrimony and frustration of a couple of days ago had all gone by now, and the team had pulled together once more. It was going to be a long ten months, but they would get through it united as family.

# # #

Fortified with her game plan, Lucida quickly gained control of her class over the next few days, and the lessons flowed well from then on. It enabled her to spare more time watching Cirrus and Long Path as was her original intention. Although she tried to involve them in the classroom activities, anything social in nature saw them snubbed by the unicorn foals, just as they had told her it was like when she was growing up. She was ever so grateful that she had been raised in such a loving and nurturing environment, and it hurt to see how different it was for her two dads.

Recess time was especially sad as she watched the normally excited and playful griffon-changeling get constantly ignored by the foals, and excluded from their games. Meanwhile, young Path sat quietly playing by himself. Lucida could see now how he managed to grow up into an unassuming university professor in another timeline. Perhaps they were destined to get to know each other eventually, but she could not see a reason to put off that meeting much longer.

When lunchtime came around and the unicorn foals tore out of the classroom, Cirrus started forlornly following them until Lucida called out to him.

“Yes, Miss Lightgiver?” Cirrus asked.

“You’re having problems with the foals, aren’t you?”

Cirrus hung his head. “They’re mean! They don’t like me 'cause I’m a griffin.”

“Yes, I’m afraid that many of these unicorn foals have had a bad upbringing, and the rest just go along with the crowd. Don’t think that all foals are bad though.”

“But they are all like that!” Cirrus protested.

Lucida shook her head. “No, other ponies can be treated badly too. You just happen to be the easiest target, so you don’t see it happening to others.”

Cirrus looked at his teacher quizzically. “What do you mean, Miss?”

Lucida steered Cirrus around to point at the one foal who had not left the room with the others. Path was quietly playing with blocks at the back of the room, unnoticed by all but Lucida. “Long Path is the only earth pony in this class, and one of the very few in this school. He not only gets ignored like you, but he also gets teased as being a mere mud pony. That can be very hurtful to young foals, and he could do with a friend.”

 

 

Cirrus looked at Path hopefully. “What should I do, Miss Lightgiver?”

Lucida smiled. “Why not try offering to share your lunch for starters? See how things go from there.”

Cirrus’ smile returned, and he said, “Alright!” He walked over to Path and sat beside him. “Hey! Wanna eat lunch with me? Mom made me some great sandwiches.”

Path looked at the griffin with surprise. He was the first person besides his teachers who had ever tried to talk with him at school, and his curiosity was aroused. “Okay. I’ve only got some grain bars and fruit though.”

“Hey, I like them too. Do you like ham?”

“Dunno. Never had it. What’s ham?”

“I’ll let you try mine. Let’s go!”

The little griffin excitedly started tugging Path, and the foal came along. Lucida followed them as they went to their lockers to fetch their lunch boxes, and then to the lunch room where the other foals were eating. They found a table for just the two of them even as the unicorn foals stared at the odd pair. Cirrus took a thick sandwich out of his lunchbox and held it out for Path who took it and sniffed at its contents.

“So, this is ham?” he asked.

“Yep! Try it!” Cirrus said, quite aware that he had been told that ponies did not eat meat. He loved its taste though, and was sure Path would too!

A gasp came from the nearby table as a filly apparently recognized what ham was. Path took no notice, and he took a bite out of it. He chewed it thoughtfully, swallowed, and said, “I like it.”

“Yes!” Cirrus said with glee. “I knew Mom was wrong when she said that ponies wouldn’t eat it.”

There was a strangled cry from the filly who knew what Path had eaten, and she got up and raced out of the lunchroom to find the bathroom. A few more at the table who had heard Cirrus mention meat grew aghast as Path happily took another bite of the sandwich. The two started chatting, blissfully oblivious of the chaos that they had started among the foals.

Lucida watched with a smile plastered on her beak. She had witnessed the start of a relationship that would grow into one of the strongest in Equestria, and she was proud that one would someday be her sire, and the other her second father.

# # #

Six weeks later…

After Silk turned up to relieve her at the tavern, Citrine headed home feeling pretty good about the day. She’d had two new customers today who had not met her before, and tried to assert their dominance over her. She had introduced them to the pavement outside. Then they came back in and bought her a drink. Nice guys!

As she entered the apartment that she shared with Pif, she was greeted by the concerning sight of her marefriend slumped on the sofa with her eyes closed, with an undisguised changeling drone looming over. She immediately thought that Chrysalis’ agent had broken the enthrallment and had attacked Pif.

“Hey, ugly!” she shouted, leaping at the drone.

The Blue Changeling turned to look at her with a mixture of confusion and shock just before Citrine’s hoof connected with its cheek and sent it flying across the room.

Citrine was about to press her attack when a commanding voice yelled out, “STOP!”

Citrine turned to see Pif glaring at her, and it was her turn to be confused.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Pif asked her.

“Umm… rescuing you?” the crystal pony replied uncertainly.

Pif rolled her eyes. “You just pounded my newest acquisition. Spark, come over here and introduce yourself.”

The changeling twitched and groaned.

Pif sighed. “Oh, great. I hope you haven’t broken her. I was making some nice progress when you interrupted.”

Citrine shrugged and gave her a half-hearted grin. “Maybe you can explain while she’s recovering. I don’t think I broke her too badly.”

“I suppose that’s best. This is Bright Spark, or at least that’s her pony name. She’s my first infiltrator. I was feeling depressed after another bad day at the DFI and thought I’d get myself cake and coffee to tide me over until you got home. Imagine my pleasure when I detected a Blue drone coming into the café just as I had finished my treats. I latched onto her and took control as soon as I realized that she was an infiltrator rather than just a harvester. I brought her here to try a trick that I have been working on. Rather than the rather blunt method that I originally planned, I was using her as a Trojan Pony.”

Citrine tilted her head and frowned in puzzlement. “A what?”

“Oh. I’ll explain that later. What I was doing was connecting to Chrysalis’ network via Bright Spark. That way, if any of my enquiries were noticed, they would be traced back to her instead of me. As she has legitimate access because of her task, she would then be ignored. I’ve gotten access to a lot of the Queen’s network with no trouble at all. I had to put my full concentration into it though, so I made myself comfortable on the sofa while I scanned the network.”

“You realize that it looked completely different to me?” Citrine protested.

“But she’s an infiltrator, not a harvester! Can’t you tell the difference?”

Citrine looked hard at the drone who seemed to have started recovering. “Umm… no?”

“She has a notch in her horn! Harvesters don’t have notches!”

“How was I supposed to know that?”

“Didn’t I ever show you?”

“I’ve seen all the notches and twists in yours, but I don’t know what difference it makes.”

“Oh. Apparently the more power that changelings have, the more convoluted the horns get. Infiltrators are one step above harvesters.”

“I’ll have that cappuccino now,” came a strained voice from the direction of the drone.

“Go help her up, will you?” Pif asked.

Citrine helped the drone to her hooves. “Sorry about that. I thought you were attacking Pif.”

“S'alright… Protecting your Queen… Gotcha,” Bright Sparks replied as she wobbled unsteadily. Then she focused properly on Citrine and she looked surprised. “You’re not a changeling.”

Citrine grinned. “Nope.”

“Then why…?”

“She’s my marefriend.”

“You’re Her Majesty’s consort?”

Pif spoke up. “No, Spark. I’m not like Chrysalis or the other Queens. I’m in a real relationship with Citrine.” She looked at Citrine and her eyes shone with affection. “In fact, when we eventually get home, I… I'm going to marry her… if that’s what she wants?”

Citrine gasped and her eyes widened. She pounced on Pif and started kissing her madly. “Yes!” she cried between each kiss.

Pif was nearly overwhelmed by the love that flowed into her, washing away the malaise of the day spent at the DFI. She started kissing Citrine back until they eventually parted, panting.”

Bright Spark watched with bemusement until they were done, lapping up the overflow of love energy. “Congratulations on the engagement, my Queen.”

Thank you, Spark. Are you feeling good enough to resume your disguise?”

By way of an answer, green magic fire engulfed the drone to reveal a yellow unicorn mare with a silver mane.

Pif nodded. “Good. We’ve done enough today, so let’s go out and I’ll buy us all a coffee. I believe I owe you a cappuccino, wasn’t it?”

“My Queen, you don’t need to give me anything!” Bright Spark protested.

“Lesson number two about Chrome Queens – we do a lot of things differently from what you might expect. My drones are my friends, not merely servants. I don’t desire blind loyalty. My drones stay with me because they want to, not because I order them to. If I want to treat a new friend, I will do that too.”

Bright Spark looked a bit dazed. “I… suppose so, Queen Epiphany.”

“Pif. Friends call me Pif.”

# # #

After being on the job for a few months, Lucida decided that she was almost getting the hang of dealing with young foals. They in turn had gotten used to having a hippogriff teacher, and a reasonable balance was reached between them. Today was one of the better days so far though. Nightmare Night was fast approaching, and the class art project was to design and make costumes. While it certainly wasn’t something that Lucida had trained for, she had always greatly enjoyed the Nightmare Night festivities, and she was happy to help the foals have fun with it too.

She had just finished helping a filly fasten her costume together when two very familiar voices called for attention from behind her.

“Miss Lightgiver, our costumes are ready,” Cirrus announced.

“Yeah, how do you like them?” asked Path.

Lucida turned around to look at the boys, and her heart nearly burst with the cuteness she beheld. Path had cardboard wings fastened around his barrel with feathers crudely drawn on them, and a cardboard beak held in place with tape. Cirrus had his paws and talons stuck inside four large tin cans, a cardboard muzzle with brown crayon coloring to look like a pony’s muzzle, and a red cape covered his wings. The friends had swapped species!

 

 

The two struck a heroic pose and simultaneous chanted, “Never fear! We are here!”

Then Path said, “I’m Captain Cluck!”

“And I’m Commander Trotty!” Free immediately followed on.

Then together they chorused, “We are the Champions of Canterlot! Ta-daaaaaaa!”

When Lucida managed to suppress her giggles, she asked, “Aren’t your paws hurting like that, Cirrus?”

“Commander Trotty!” he insisted. “My hooves never ache!”

Lucida supposed that could even be true. Although Cirrus would not discover what he actually was for several years yet, he could still be unconsciously using his shape-changing ability to make his paws fit better inside the cans. Lucida smiled, knowing that one day Cirrus would be able to give himself real hooves, and Path would have his magitek wings, but they were never going to be as cute as they were now.

“It’s an honor to meet the world-famous heroes of Canterlot,” Lucida said.

“Call us if you are in peril!” announced ‘Captain Cluck’.

“We’re off to protect Canterlot!” declared ‘Commander Trotty’.

The pair turned and galloped off to do their duty, the tin cans on Cirrus’ paws making a mighty racket.

Just wait until I tell the others about this tonight!’ Lucida thought with a giggle before turning to the next foal looking for her help.

# # #

The rest of the team certainly got a chuckle out of Lucida’s description of Cirrus and Path’s costumes, but it was not until the class photographs had been developed and printed that they got the opportunity to actually see them for themselves and the hilarity was renewed. Lucida did not need the photos to remember though, because even after Nightmare Night had come and gone, Commander Trotty and Captain Cluck still made frequent appearances at school over the following days. Some instances were more memorable than others.

Lucida was on yard duty this particular lunchtime, and her attention was being drawn to a commotion in one corner of the play yard in the shelter of some trees. She walked over to investigate and the students parted to let her through. Her eyes widened in shock when she spotted Cirrus tied up in a rope and hanging upside down from a tree branch.

“Cirrus! What in Equestria happened? Why are you tied up like that?” She reached up to untie the griffon.

To her surprise, Cirrus just grinned and said, “I’m bait.”

Lucida blinked uncomprehendingly. “You’re what?”

Suddenly, a form fell from above and landed on Lucida’s back, and she squawked in surprise. Limbs wrapped around her neck and torso, clinging tightly.

I have you now, villain!” shouted a familiar voice. “Nopony expects Captain Cluck!

Lucida looked back to see Path in his costume. “What?! How did you get up into that tree? Earth ponies can’t climb trees!”

Captain Cluck is the master of all things! Caw!

The hippogriff decided to roll with it. “You’ve got me, Captain. I surrender.”

“YES!” Path yelled before jumping off Lucida’s back. “Once again, Captain Cluck is victorious over the forces of evil!”

The small crowd of foals around them cheered.

Lucida finished untying Cirrus, and he hoof-bumped Path before they charged off on their next adventure, followed by their entourage of followers.

Another teacher walked over with a disapproving look on her face. “I saw all that. You really should have scolded them and gave them detention.”

Lucida scowled at the unicorn mare. “I most certainly will not, Lengthy Numbers! Those two have blossomed ever since they became friends, and they’re the happiest and brightest of my students. But that is far from all that they have achieved.” Lucida gestured in the direction of the departed group. “Look at all the foals that look up to them. Before they became friends, none of the unicorn foals wanted anything to do with them, either through prejudice or peer pressure. One by one, they started joining in with the fun that those two were having, and now most of the class are their friends also. They might be a bit rowdy sometimes, but they’ve been an enormously good influence on the students. Just you watch – one of these days, they’re going to do great things.”

Lengthy Numbers sniffed condescendingly. “Foals should be taught discipline and respect, not allowed to run rampant.”

“They are foals, Lengthy. This is when they should be learning to socialize, as well as words and figures. They will respect you if you respect them and let them grow to be themselves and not a reflection of what you want.”

“Humph! On your head be it. They’re your problem.” The mare turned and stalked off.

Lucida shook her head sadly at the aged unicorn’s old-fashioned attitudes, and then she went to watch over whatever Cirrus and Path were doing now. As much as she had defended the two, she still had to ensure that the dynamic duo did not go too far. Everyone had their limitations, and it was up to her that they learned them without being hurt doing so.

She groaned a little at the mild backache that she had gotten from Path jumping on her. She also had to try to not let others get hurt either. And to think, she still had over half a year of this to go! She chuckled to herself. ‘I hope I survive!

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

Believe it or not, this is really only part of what I had intended for this chapter, but I got this far and I still have several way-points to reach. This was a logical place to end this chapter though in view of what the rest will address. It's already the second-longest chapter in this story, and would have been far longer if I had continued.

I've put to rest the theory that one of the eggs was Spike, although that was pretty far-fetched anyway. It certainly was close enough to Twilight's test though.

If you enjoyed this chapter and haven't already done so, please give me a thumbs-up and fave.

Art by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf 
I'm still looking for donations for art money. Christmas is rapidly approaching, and I need to tighten the financial belt somewhat. You can donate to my Paypal account . Every bit helps!

   
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