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.



19. Chapter 11 - Ten Months

Silk sighed in relief as he walked in the door of his home for the past several months. There was a certain degree of comfort in having a steady job that was not dull, but being a bartender in a griffon tavern was hardly his idea of a life goal. And while the situation at the bar had improved considerably since he had started there, some nights were still worse than others. Tonight had been such a night, and he looked forward to relaxing with his coltfriend.

He spotted Destined lying on the sofa, resting with his eyes closed, but just as Silk was about to call out a greeting, the alicorn suddenly disappeared. There was no flash and bang of teleportation; Destined just quietly blinked out of existence. Silk was only stunned for a moment until he figured out what had happened, and then he grinned as an idea occurred to him. He made himself comfortable on the opposite side of the sofa from where Destined had been, faced in his direction, and then waited. Silk had to be more patient than he had anticipated, but suddenly Destined blinked back into existence and opened his eyes.

“BOO!” Silk said with a toothy grin.

“Waahaaa!” Destined flailed in surprise and fell off the sofa onto the floor.

Silk laughed as he looked down at the stallion sprawled haphazardly on the rug. “Sorry about that, Des, but the opportunity was too good to miss, and I needed a laugh.”

Destined grumbled as he righted himself. “Happy to have been of service. How come you’re home so early?”

“Early? For such an expert on time, you sure have lost track of it. If you have been practicing those time-jumps a lot, you probably have skipped an hour or two.”

Destined looked over to the wall-clock and noted the time. “Oh, horsefeathers! I didn’t mean to do that much.”

“I think you managed to jump ahead a whole five minutes that time. That’s pretty impressive.”

Destined snorted in disdain as he climbed up next to Silk. “I can jump way further than that! I’m just restricting myself to very small jumps for a few reasons. First, I still worry about getting out of sync with History, so I’m reducing the risk with small jumps. Also, I was concerned about losing too much of the day, as I just did apparently. Lastly though, I’m focusing on building up my endurance. It’s taking a lot less effort to do that five minute jump than when I first did it.”

Silk pondered that, then asked, “So, are you going to try to take us home without the power that Blue supplies?”

Destined laughed. “Not a chance! Maybe one of these decades, but not anytime soon. However, my goal is to be able to take our entire team at least a few minutes away from harm in an emergency. Chrysalis showed how teleportation can be blocked, but I’m unaware of any way to block a time-jump.”

“That’s a pretty good idea, and pretty damn amazing,” Silk said admiringly. “I have a really talented coltfriend.” The thestral put his foreleg around Destined and pulled him into a hug and nuzzle.

Destined blushed, but returned the nuzzle before kissing the bat-pony and hesitantly asking, “Silk… did you have any… other coltfriends before me?”

Silk looked at Destined curiously. “What brought this on? Yes, I had a couple. Does it matter?”

Destined bit his lower lip uncertainly. “Can you tell me about them?”

Silk had an inkling of what was bothering the alicorn. “Well, my first was when I still a teenager in school. I’d known that I was gay for a while, but I hadn’t been interested in doing anything about it until I met an earth pony in class who was similarly inclined. We… experimented with each other, discovering what it was like to be with another stallion. We had some good times, but when school ended, we went our separate ways. While we were friends, we really didn’t have much in common, so we parted amicably. The same can’t be said for the next.”

Silk sighed sadly. “I was not particularly interested in pursuing a relationship for a long while, so it was a couple of years before I fell in with a pegasus that I met at a dance club. For a while, we had a good time together, but he slowly started getting more aggressive, and then abusive. One night it got so bad that I used my sonic blast on him, and then promised to do a lot worse if he ever came near me again. Thankfully he took the hint and stayed away. I was rather soured on any sort of relationship for quite a long time after that.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I learned a lot from both of those, and I made sure that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. For a time, I concentrated on making friends rather than coltfriends.”

“So what attracted you to me? I know I was pretty much in denial about my own sexuality back then, but even so I was aware that your interest was more than professional. That’s what made me so nervous and excited about visiting you at the spa.”

Silk grinned roguishly. “Aside from you being drop-dead handsome and sexy?” He kissed Destined on the cheek. “I think it was your innocence and completely unfeigned niceness. I had dealt with a variety of attitudes over the years, but yours was so refreshing. I selfishly wanted to have more of it.” Silk chuckled. “I even made a deal with Aloe and Lotus so that I would always be available to you whenever you visited the spa.”

Destined stared at Silk in surprise. “So that’s why I never had a problem getting an appointment with you!”

“Yep! I would have done even more to encourage you, but you seemed to want to come anyway.”

Destined blushed again, even more than before. Silk found that so adorable! “You were the sexiest stallion that I had ever met,” the alicorn admitted. “You started awakening something in me that I had never felt before. My brother, Flix, and my sister, Pif, are the same age as me, but both were in some sort of relationship before I even got started. Pif is a changeling and doesn’t even respond to affection the same way as a pony, and she still got a marefriend before I ever thought about a relationship with anyone. I didn’t really know how to go about having one, so I just started hanging out with you as much as I could.”

Silk chuckled. “Silly stallion! That is one way you can start a relationship. I loved that you liked sharing my activities outside of the spa. Those weeks before we went back in time were some of the best in my life, and to be able to spend these past few months with you has been an unexpected blessing. You’ve made this an adventure rather than a trial. As long as you are with me, I’m happy.” Silk’s happy smile melded into one of curiosity. “So what brought on these questions?”

For a moment it seemed that Destined was not going to answer, but he was actually trying to find the right words. “I have… fallen in love with you, Silk, and I think I’m ready to… go to the next level.”

“You mean you’re ready to have sex?” Silk asked gently.

Destined blushed and merely nodded in reply.

“Are you sure, Des? It’s a big step to go from coltfriends to lovers.”

“Is anyone really ever completely ready? Were you?”

Silk shook his head. “That’s why I said we experimented in school – we were learning too. I know enough now that I believe I can show you why good sex is called making love, and I would be honored to teach you.”

Destined lowered his eyes shyly. “Please do, Silk.”

Silk got up from the sofa and gently pulled Destined along with him to the bedroom. “I will do my very best, but let me say this first. I love you too, Destined Path. I have been sure of that for a while now but I have been waiting for you to feel the same way too. I promise that I will do my best to make that true for the rest of our days together.”

“And I’ll make that same promise,” Destined replied as he sat on the edge of the bed. “So, how do we start this?”

Silk smiled tenderly. “How about with a kiss?” He leaned forward to bring his lips to Destined, and the alicorn met him partway.

They had kissed often enough before, but this time they both let their feelings rise, and they embraced with growing passion. Then Silk began to show Destined greater intimacies, and the alicorn colt finally learned to be a full-grown stallion lover.

# # #

Pif woke with a jerk and sat up in bed, wondering what had disturbed her. Citrine was still peacefully slumbering by her side, so that wasn’t it. There was no unusual weather either. Then her fuzzy mind cleared and she tasted the heady mixture of true love and lust wafting through the wall from the apartment next door. She slowly grinned. “Way to go, brother,” she murmured as she settled back onto the pillow. She giggled softly. “Seems like I won’t be getting too much sleep for a while.”

# # #

“My Queen, I have found another,” Bright Spark said to Pif as she exited the DFI building.

Pif’s tired expression lightened. “Great! I could do with some good news.”

“Another hard day?” the changeling infiltrator asked as she led Pif away to her discovery.

“Aren’t they all? I’ve been doing a lot better though ever since you’ve been able to supply me with love gel sandwiches to fortify me during the day. So which one did you find, Spark?”

Bright Spark smiled happily. “The one you most hoped to get – one of Princess Celestia’s mares-in-waiting.”

“Excellent! How did you get her out of the castle?”

“I didn’t have to. It seems that one of the other mares-in-waiting is celebrating her engagement at a local restaurant, and she invited all the off-duty ones to participate. Of course, the infiltrator accepted as part of her cover.”

“I gather they are at the restaurant right now?” Pif asked, picking up her pace eagerly.

“Yes. Depending on how much they celebrate, I estimate that they should be still there anywhere from half an hour to an hour. I believe the crowded nature of the venue and the necessity for reservations would preclude them from dallying longer.”

“Good. I’ll get our little trap laid by then.”

Spark stopped outside of a fairly high-end establishment in restaurant row and pointed through the window. “The mare with the light blue coat and pink mane. She goes by the name of Cotton Doily.”

Pif nodded after fixing the changeling’s pony guise in her mind, and then she sent a message over her mini-network. Pif now had seven infiltrator drones attached to her hive-mind, thanks to the assiduous work of Bright Spark who knew the identities of many of Chrysalis’ infiltrators. As each had been added, it had gotten easier to isolate and assimilate them, and she had a plan worked out to deal with the one infiltrator that had eluded her so far due to being staying constantly in the castle where it was difficult for her to follow and act.

Forty minutes after Pif arrived, the celebration party seemed to be breaking up. Three of the mares at the table got up and headed for the door, including her target.

Everyling – the operation is about to commence!’ Pif sent over her network.

As expected, all three mares headed off in the direction of the castle. Pif and Spark discreetly started following, and the remainder of the team was given the signal to start the operation. As the threesome came to an intersection, a large wagon being drawn by two burly earth ponies abruptly turned into the path of the mares. Surrounding pedestrians dived out of the way, shoving the mares-in-waiting apart. In the chaos, one of them was shepherded aside into an alleyway which was promptly blocked off by another pony with a cart.

Tea Service and Layer Cake stared after the offending wagon with a mixture of consternation and disgust.

“What do you suppose that was all about?” Tea Service asked.

“I have no idea, but I hope the City Guard apprehends those ruffians!” Layer Cake replied.

Tea Service looked around. “Where’s Doily?”

“Over here,” the blue mare replied, walking up to join them. “I was shoved to the other side of the street.”

“Let’s get back to the castle before anything else happens,” Layer Cake said.

“I agree totally,” replied Bright Spark with Cotton Doily’s voice as she fell in with the mares.


The real Cotton Doily was still trying to get reoriented, but just then she sensed a surge of changeling magic and green flames briefly lit the alleyway. She turned around and gasped at the one she saw standing there.

Doily shook with shock. “Queen Chrysalis! What are you doing here, Your Majesty?”

‘Chrysalis’ walked up to the mare and said imperiously, “Transform and report!”

Obediently, Cotton Doily assumed her true form and was about to speak when ‘Chrysalis’ leaned forward to touch horns with her. The drone’s eyes widened and glowed with the power of the Queen that flowed through her. Within moments, her knowledge had been gleaned and the connection to her hive severed. Chrysalis’ form flared once again to reveal Pif’s chrome carapace, and she backed away from the shaking drone.

“Whom do you obey, Infiltrator Bezzet?” Pif demanded.

Doily bowed low. “I obey you, Queen Epiphany.”

“Resume your normal pony duties, but avoid all unnecessary contact with other Blue Changelings other than those on my network. Chrysalis must not be made aware that you are no longer hers. Be prepared to join us soon for a full induction into my mini-network.”

“I will obey, Your Majesty.” Bezzet resumed her pony form.

Epiphany shifted to her unicorn guise. “Believe it or not, I’m sure that you will quickly come to enjoy being part of my hive, as have all the others.” The cart that was blocking the alley was pulled aside by another of Pif’s drones upon a mental command, and the chrome changeling started to leave. She paused and turned her head to give Doily a warm smile. “Welcome to the team. And call me Pif.”

# # #

“So you’ve got eight infiltrator drones now?” Lucida asked.

“That’s right,” Pif replied. “Enough to make a sufficiently large network to safely download the information in Zark’s head.”

“Are you going to do that tonight?”

Pif shook her head. “I’ll let Doily settle down for now. Like the other seven, she will be a little disoriented and coming to terms with the change of leadership. While her loyalty isn’t suspect, her execution of my commands will improve as she gets comfortable with the new arrangement and realizes how much better her life will be without Chrysalis.”

“So – in a few more days then?” Lucida suggested hopefully.

Pif sighed. “Look – I know that you’re eager to get this intel, and so am I, but it still bothers me that I will most likely destroy Zark in the process.”

Lucida looked at her sister sympathetically. “I understand, but not only might that information save untold lives in the future, but that particular drone might also be too great a risk to keep around. He’s not like the other infiltrators; he’s one of Chrysalis’ specially bred drones with unknown capabilities. I might be a bit paranoid, but there are too many risks involved with keeping Zark. Remember General Breezon?”

Pif groaned in frustration. “I know! That still doesn’t make it any easier!”

“Perhaps we’ll find an alternative. Forget about my impatience, Pif. We’ve got until Cinder’s eggs hatch for us to find a solution.”

Pif hugged her big sister. “Thanks, Lucy.”

Lucida returned the hug willingly. “No problem, sis.”

# # #

Pif was unwinding after another hard day at the Displaced Foundlings Institute, sprawled on the sofa of her and Citrine’s room, with a love-gel sandwich bolstering her energy level. She heard the apartment’s door opening, and she could already taste her companion’s emotions. Something was not quite right.

“Hi, Piffy!” came Citrine’s voice, cheerful as usual, but a bit more subdued than normal.

“Hello, love. Is something wrong with – GASP! What happened to you?!” Pif stared aghast at Citrine’s bruised and battered form, one eye swollen shut.

Citrine waved a hoof dismissively. “I’m okay – just a little altercation at the tavern today. Should’ve seen the other guys!”

Pif came over to Citrine to look over her more carefully. “You’re far from okay. How did you get so beat up?” she persisted.

Citrine sighed in resignation. “Three buddies ganged up on me. If I could have armoured up, I could have coped, but I knew Lucida would hit the ceiling if I went crystal.”

“For Celestia’s sake, Citrine – we don’t expect you to get yourself killed trying to keep the secret! We could have passed it off as some sort of protective charm or something. We need you. I need you!”

“Aw, c’mon, Pif! It looks worse than it is. I’ve got friends watching my back too. The regulars came to my rescue. Pretty much pounded the punks into paste and plucked them naked.”

“I’m glad to hear that they got what they deserved, but I’m still concerned about you. Just because you think you’re okay, doesn’t mean that you are. Come on!” Pif hooked a foreleg around Citrine’s and pulled her towards the door.

“Where are we going?”

“To Destined’s room. He’s home already, and he can use a healing spell on you.”

The alicorn was equally shocked at Citrine’s appearance, and he needed no urging to start a healing spell immediately. After several minutes, the worst of the bruising had subsided, and Citrine could see through both eyes again, even if one was still recognizably blackened.

As he worked, Destined asked, “Why didn’t you go straight to the hospital and get treated? The doctors there are better at specialist healing spells than me, and it’s obvious that you had to be in some pain.”

Citrine scoffed, “I’ve had worse when I was with my posse in the Crystal City.”

“I doubt it. It’s a good thing Pif brought you to me, because I detected some internal bleeding. I’ve stopped it and you’ll be okay now, but you’re not going to work tomorrow.”

“I second that,” Pif added.

“Okay! Okay! Stop nagging me!” Citrine said irritably. “Garth told me to stay home anyway. Can’t fight you all, I suppose.”

“Could you consider quitting that job? I worry about you,” Pif asked earnestly.

Citrine just grinned broadly. “Not a chance, Piffy. I like my job. I’ve made a difference there too. Even the City Guard has noticed that there have been a lot fewer brawls there lately.”

Pif shook her head helplessly, then leaned forward to rest her forehead against Citrine’s, taking a bit of comfort from the positive emotions her companion was radiating. “You can’t cure everything with a laugh, you know?”

“I’ve been doing okay so far. You worry too much.”

Pif poked a sore area with her hoof, and the crystal pony flinched. “I don’t think so, Citrine. I can’t marry a dead pony, so try to be more careful, please.”

Citrine’s expression grew a little more serious than usual. “I promise, love.”

“All done!” Destined announced as his horn’s glow died away.

“Thanks, Des,” Citrine said.

“Anything for my future sister-in-law, Ms. Quartz.”

Citrine mock-glared at Destined. “You cruisin’ for a bruisin’, future bro? Nopony gets stuffy and formal with me!”

Destined grinned, waggled his eyebrows, and said, “First you gotta catch me!” He promptly disappeared in a flash and bang of teleportation.

“He’ll keep for later,” Citrine said smugly. “Right now I think we’re missing some serious snuggling time.”

“Amen to that,” Pif replied as they headed for the door and back to their room.

# # #

Sterling came home as normal after an uneventful evening shift, expecting to find a light meal waiting for him before he went to bed. Instead he was inundated with a wave of roiling emotions that made him hesitate for a moment before bracing himself and heading directly for the bedroom.

Usually Lucida was fast asleep, and only woke enough to snuggle up to him when he climbed into the bed to get some sleep. The hippogriff never did anything else, but even in that barely conscious state, she radiated some mild happiness which he ate like a tasty snack. It definitely helped him to go to sleep easily, especially if it had been a difficult day’s work. He was happy that he could be a source of comfort to her as she had the responsibility of being the team’s guiding claw, and the big mistake that she had made still weighed heavily on her as she considered the effects the unplanned stay were having on the others. Sterling had yet to decide if he wanted to fan that pleasure in his being with her into something more, but tonight he might have to do something that might sway that decision.

Lucida was tossing and turning on the bed, the covers mostly in disarray on the floor. She was moaning and panting, and her scent was overwhelming. The hippogriff was in the throes of estrus, and if he was any judge of mares after all these years, she probably had been for much of the day. He wondered how she had managed to do her job if it was this bad.

“Lucida,” Sterling said gently but firmly.

The hippogriff jerked at the sound of his voice, looking up and noticing for the first time that he was there. She made a visible effort to collect herself, striving pointlessly to conceal her sexual distress.

“Sterling! I… I didn’t realize that it was so late.” She attempted a laugh. “Haven’t made the bed up yet….”

“Stop it, Lucida. I know that you’re in heat. How bad is it?”

Lucida’s face fell. “Can’t hide anything from you, can I? It… it’s bad. I’ve never had it so strong before. I thought that I could get through it like I have all the other times. I’ve already had three cold showers!”

“So, that implies that you’re a virgin. It’s not unusual for an unbred mare to have a stronger heat. It’s your body saying that it’s more than ready to make foals, and it doesn’t want to be denied.”

“Blunt but true,” Lucida conceded even as she shuddered as another wave of desire surged through her.

“Trying to ignore it obviously isn’t working. You really have only two alternatives – medication or satisfaction. Like most mares, you apparently have spurned the former, so why not try the latter?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t got a special someone that I could do that with.”

“That’s not a problem for most mares. Be honest – you’re nervous because you’re a virgin, and you can’t make a decision because of it. Making decisions is what you do all the time, and the fact that you can’t is just making the situation worse.”

Lucida sat on the edge of the bed, her arms wrapped around herself, trying to contain her feelings and refusing to look him in the eyes. “You don’t pull any punches, do you?” she replied without acknowledging the truth of his statements.

“I’m a soldier, not a therapist.” He moved up to Lucida and placed a hoof under her chin. He raised her head so that she had to look at him. “Lucida, you know what I am and what I do. I am your friend, and if you wish, I can offer you the relief that you need.”

There was a long silence from the hippogriff as she considered his words. Finally she asked, “Have you done this with other mares?”

“Several times, although they all asked me first.” He chuckled. “Something about being a Royal Guard attracts the mares. This is the first time though that I have offered before being asked.”

“Why now?” Lucida asked.

“Because I care for you. I enjoy being with you, and it bothers me to see you like this.”

“So it’s not the chance to have some sex?”

“I believe you know better. Changeling drones are not driven by sex, as most species are. Yes, we can enjoy sex, but we don’t need it. You do though. I can offer this with pure intentions. Lucida, let me relieve your sexual tensions.”

Lucida blushed fiercely, but nodded. “Can I ask one favor?”

Sterling tilted his head curiously. “What is it?”

“The chances of me meeting another hippogriff, let alone a male one my age, is extremely small, but I’ve often fantasized about having one as a special someone.”

“Say no more,” Sterling said with a smile. Magic red fire engulfed his unicorn form and in its place was a magnificent hippogriff stallion.

Lucida’s heart leaped as a surge of lust swept over her. She rose up into Sterling’s embrace and kissed him fiercely, beaks locked together and tongues entwining. Then she fell back onto the bed, pulling him with her. She broke the kiss and said hoarsely, “Make me a real mare!”

# # #

Pif sat up in bed, her eyes widening in surprise before she realized what was happening. There was still just one emotional signature coming from Lucida’s room, but with the unmistakable feelings only generated by a couple. ‘Looks like I’ll be able to get to sleep tonight after all,’ she thought. ‘Although, considering Lucida’s needs, maybe not too soon,’ she added with a giggle.

# # #

Four weeks later.

Lucida watched in consternation as Destined galloped past her into one of the empty classrooms. She followed him inside before he slammed the door closed. She regarded the cardboard wings that were stuck askew on his back over the jacket that he wore to conceal his real wings.

“Hail the mighty alicorn!” she said with a giggle.

Destined rolled his eyes. “I caught Cirrus trying to give Captain Cluck flying lessons, so I confiscated the wings as a reminder that Path can’t really fly with them. Big mistake! Cirrus immediately declared that I was an evil sorcerer who had stolen Captain Cluck’s wings, and they had to defeat me.”

“So? You’re trying to tell me that you can’t handle two foals?”

“Two?! Try most of his class! You of all people should know that those two have corrupted almost all the foals in his class and they’re all now minions of Commander Trotty and Captain Cluck. They all decided to join in conquering the evil sorcerer.”

Lucida laughed. “Yes, those two made school time so much fun that the foals just wanted to be part of it despite turning their noses up at them originally Cirrus and Path went from being two lonely souls to the center of attention. They have quite a following now, as you have found out.”

Destined pulled the wings off his back and levitated them to Lucida. “Well, you can tell them that you defeated me and return the wings. I’m staying here until it’s safe!”

“Coming to your rescue again, Des?” Lucida asked with a huge grin.

“Yeah, yeah!” he acknowledged with a dismissive wave. “Return wings now; gloat later.”

“You owe me, brother,” she said as she exited the classroom to look for the mischievous duo.

Lucida looked forward to telling Sterling about this later. The two had found a new dynamic – not quite lovers, but more than friends. She had enjoyed sex with him a few times since the night of her heat, but it was a source of comfort and mutual pleasure rather than as passionate paramours. She confided in him the difficulties and accomplishments of the day, and he did the same. While she still looked forward to going home again, she was happy for now with a true friend sharing her life.

# # #

Three weeks later.

Pif stumbled into the Broken Beak Tavern, ignoring the stares of the clientele as she headed straight to the bar. Citrine spotted her and her eyes widened in shock at the sight of her distressed lover. She practically leaped over the bar to go to the disguised changeling.

“Pif! What’s wrong?!” Citrine enfolded her in her forelegs and concentrated on feeding her some of her love.

Pif drank it in hungrily and her shaking slowly stopped. Eventually she whispered, “Stop, Citrine. I don’t want to drain you.”

“Tell me what happened to you.”

“Not here,” Pif replied.

Citrine looked up to see Garth staring her way curiously. “Boss! Gotta go!”

The griffon nodded. “If you see Silk, ask him to come in early.”

Citrine supported Pif as they left the tavern and headed home. The changeling sank wearily onto the sofa before anything more was said.

“Okay, now spill it!” the crystal pony demanded.

“It was horrible, Citrine. I’ve told you of the misconduct at the DFI, but today was the worst. One of the new griffon chicks was almost maimed as she struggled against the abuse of the staff. It was enough to cause a minor revolt among the other orphans, and the staff… they… Oh, Citrine, what they did to them!” She burst into tears.

Citrine tried her best to comfort her beloved, but Pif was refusing to take any more emotional energy from her. “Enough! You have to expose the DFI now. You owe it to the orphans. You owe it to yourself!”

Pif nodded. “I can’t go on like this, but I think I have enough evidence collected to prove my allegations. I’ll take it to the authorities tomorrow.”

“No, you’ll take it to Princess Celestia! She has to be good for something!”

Although Citrine’s opinion of the alicorn had improved since her first encounter, this past version of Celestia had not earned that respect as much, and Citrine did not usually want anything to do with her. It had to take a serious situation for the crystal pony to consider dealing with the monarch of Equestria. Pif appreciated that fact, and she nodded again. “Okay. I’ll take my evidence to her court tomorrow morning.”

“Good! Now I’m going to see if Silk can go to work early, but I’ll be straight back. You and me have to work this sickness out.”

Pif smiled at her lover as she headed for the door. “Thanks, Citrine. I love you.”

Citrine paused at the door to look back with a happy smile. “I love you too, Piffy.”

# # #

Pif was unusually nervous as she approached the throne the next day after being announced. She had detected a Red Changeling among the Royal Guards on duty in the throne room, but as this was happening before the invasion by Chrysalis, if the Guard realized that she was a changeling also, he was probably merely curious rather than concerned. No, the nervousness was more due to the fact that she was about to cause a massive upheaval in the bureaucracy that had allowed the horrendous situation with the DFI to come about, and Princess Celestia was not going to be pleased at all.

Pif bowed before the alicorn princess. One day in the future, Celestia would be a beloved aunt, but for now she was a stern ruler, and Pif a loyal subject.

“What can I do for you, my little pony?” Celestia asked formally with a gentle smile.

“Your Highness, I bring evidence of severe corruption and abuse that is prevalent in the Displaced Foundlings Institute. I seek your intervention to correct this situation and bring justice for the orphans held there.”

Celestia frowned. “Those are very serious allegations. I trust that you have the evidence to back them up?”

“I do – far too much, in fact.” Pif levitated a large stack of papers up to Celestia who took it in her magic.

The alicorn started leafing through the papers, and her frown grew stronger. Not even a third of the way through, she stopped and turned to her Sergeant-at-Arms and said, “Court is now in recess.” She looked at Pif and said, “Come with me, Agile Mind; we have work to do.”

# # #

The DFI was raided the next day, and all the staff arrested. A crew of temporary helpers were brought in to take care of the orphans until they could be permanently dealt with. It had been decided that the Institute was a lost cause and would be shut down, and to her surprise, Epiphany had been appointed to oversee the transition.

“Me?” Pif had blurted out when Celestia had given her the job.

Celestia had smiled and replied, “Who better than the pony who went to much trouble and risk to expose this terrible situation? It’s obvious that you care for the welfare of those foundlings, so why not complete the job?”

Pif could not argue with that, and found some satisfaction in being able to personally take the orphans into a better situation. That was why she was now in the foyer of the Canterlot Orphanage.

“Agile Mind to see Director Guiding Hoof, please,” Pif told the receptionist.

The mare nodded. “One moment, please.” She left to go to the director’s office, and returned moments later. “Director Hoof will see you now. He has been expecting you, Ms. Mind.”

“Thank you.”

Pif went to the indicated office and stepped inside. As she closed the door behind her, she took note of the pony behind the desk. The stallion had a light yellow coat with a very pale yellow mane. He had a kind face and a gentle smile that she liked immediately. Then his eyes widened in surprise as he recognized something.

“Well, well,” Guiding Hoof said. “I did not expect Celestia’s representative to be a changeling.” He narrowed his eyes and peered at her more closely. “Although I can’t seem to determine which kind you are. I would have to say Blue, although that hive is not usually associated with this kind of work.”

“You’ll find that there’s a lot that’s unusual about me, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline satisfying your understandable curiosity. I was already aware that you are a Yellow Changeling though, and I have no problems with dealing with that.” Pif did not add that she had met Guiding Hoof in the future when Twilight had introduced them on one occasion, and although the director still maintained his pony guise then, Twilight was privy to his secret, and had explained the yellow changeling’s role in the care of all of Canterlot’s orphans, as well as those from the many Equestrian towns and villages that did not have orphanages of their own. Guide, as he insisted on being called, was a trusted and worthy protector and nurturer of those entrusted to his care.

“Excellent. So let’s get down to business, shall we? Was the situation at the Displaced Foundlings Institute as bad as I have been informed?”

“Probably a lot worse. I was physically sickened many times by the negative emotions while I was working there to gather evidence against them.”

“I admire your dedication. Could I interest you in a position here once we have concluded transitioning the orphans to our care?”

Pif smiled. “Thank you for the offer, but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to take a permanent position because I will have to move on in few months.”

“I see. Nevertheless I would be happy to have your help until then. A familiar sympathetic face would aid in settling the orphans into our system here.”

“I think I would like that, Director Hoof. I only insist that you do not pry into my background.”

“That is not my way of doing things, Ms. Mind. Your privacy is assured. We can find where you best fit in once we have completed our immediate task. Shall we get started then?”

Pif nodded and pulled out of her saddlebag the inevitable bureaucratic material that was involved in transferring the responsibility of so many foundlings into the care of the Canterlot Orphanage. “As always, everything starts with the paperwork.”

# # #

Ten months and four days had passed since Cinder had laid her eggs. While the team eagerly looked forward to the imminent hatching, none of them were awaiting it without some regret. They had all found places for themselves where they were happy and useful, and it was going to be a big change to go back to their old lives. Nevertheless, only the parents looked forward more to seeing the eggs hatch.

It was the weekend, and all but Sterling were gathered as a family. They had done so yesterday also, hoping that that would be the day, but unfortunately they had been disappointed. Once again today they held out hope for a hatching, but the day was rapidly running out and they thought that they were out of luck again. However, a shout from the bedroom raised their hopes.

Blue rushed into the bedroom, and soon he and Cinder returned, each carrying an egg. Scratching sounds could be heard coming from the inside of both as they laid them onto a nest of bricks that had been made in the living room. The purpose of this odd arrangement became clear as Blue backed away and Cinder leaned over the eggs and started belching fire over them.

As the room rapidly warmed, Blue explained, “The heat gives the dragonlings the energy to crack the shells, and it also makes the shells more brittle. All dragons are born in fire.”

Before the temperature in the room got unbearable, the first egg cracked, followed moments later by the second. Shards started to break off both as the chicks began to break through, then the top third fell off one egg and tipped over, spilling the dragonling halfway out. Cinder continued breathing her flames, but of course the child was unaffected. A species that could bathe in lava was hardly going to be bothered by a little fire. The second egg split in half, and the other dragonling crawled out into the welcoming flame. After a few more seconds, Cinder stopped exhaling fire and the watchers got a clear look at the two children.

The first to hatch had a golden hide similar to Cinder’s, and clawed feet like a dragon’s. However, the face was very definitely pony shaped, complete with a blue mane that apparently was as fireproof as the hide. As the dragonling wobbled to its feet, it became apparent that it was a female, and her build was very much like a pony’s also.

The second dragonling was a male, and again there was a mixture of pony and dragon traits. His head was reptilian, complete with a webbed crest and ears. Golden-membraned wings adorned his back, but he had blue coat of hair all over the rest of his body, and his rear legs had hooves although the front legs had taloned feet. Unsinged by the flame like his sister, it was evident that he was equally fireproof.

The dragonlings were startled as the assembled watchers burst into cheers and began congratulating the new parents.

“Have you decided on names for them yet?” Lucida asked.

Blue replied, “We’ve had plenty of time to think of some, but we have settled on calling them Eon and Era.”

“Which is which though?” Pif asked.

Blue looked at his mate. “Cinder? The choice is yours.”

Cinder fondly watched the hatchlings start playing with each other. “Our son will be Eon, and our daughter, Era.”



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