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.



21. Chapter 12 - Relatives and Relationships

The evening morphed into a party to celebrate the new grandchildren, and Destined’s first day as acting Prince of Equestria, even if for him it had been nearly a year ago. The celebrations grew even more exuberant when Pif took the opportunity to formally proposed marriage to Citrine in front of her parents, as she had promised to do months earlier. Only Destined was a little quiet after that, and Free noticed him sitting away from the others, looking thoughtful.

“What’s wrong, son?” Free asked quietly as he sat down beside the alicorn.

“Nothing,” Destined denied.

“Must be an awful nothing to make you mope this bad when you should be as happy as the others.”

Destined sighed and shook his head. “Ever feel like a fraud, Papa?”

Free cocked a curious eyebrow at his son. “What do you mean?”

“I mean… I never would have gotten through that court without Lucy’s help. She even got a cutie mark out of it, for Celestia’s sake! She’s so much better at it than I am, but I was the one on the throne pretending that I knew what I was doing.”

Free chuckled. “And yet you successfully got through the entire Day Court without a glitch. Do you think Celestia does it all by herself? She has a horde of advisers, researchers, and specialists to help her make the big decisions. She only makes it look easy because she’s been doing it for centuries. How do you think she must have felt when she was first crowned and told that she now had the responsibility of leading an entire nation?”

“There was probably a transition of power. They couldn’t have just dumped her into the deep end of the pool!”

“And did she give you any really major tasks to handle? Did you have to deal with them by yourself? No, Celestia gave you a relatively easy session with the guidance of someone with more experience. She knew what she was doing and she believed in you. Was she so wrong?”

“I suppose not.”

“And yet I can taste that unpleasant glumness hanging about you still, so what’s really bothering you?”

For a long moment it seemed that Destined was not going to reply, but then he looked away from Free and said quietly. “What will the nobles think of their Prince if they knew he was gay and in a relationship with a commoner?”

Free was startled and not a little annoyed by that answer. “First of all, even if those nobles in Canterlot would be shocked at you being in love with a commoner, it wouldn’t be the first time. While I was considered royalty by some standards as I am a Queen, others never accepted me because I am a changeling. Guess what? It didn’t matter! Twilight and I still got married and have been happily ignoring those jerks ever since. So Silk definitely isn’t royalty, but who cares? None of your family cares, not even Luna who comes from different times with different attitudes. Anyone who really matters doesn’t care. Frankly all of us would prefer to see you happy with someone who shares your love rather than someone politically expedient.”

“And the fact that he’s a stallion?”

“It’s not as if gay relationships are that new to Equestria either, so what if you’re love with a stallion? We knew you had the hots for him ages ago, and it didn’t bother anyone. Not even your mother was upset, although she is disappointed that you won’t be giving her any grandfoals.”

Destined snorted at that. “Yeah – look at how Mom’s obsessed over Cinder and Blue’s kids, and they aren’t even blood-related! She’s going to keep harping on how disappointed…”

Free planted his talons over Destined’s muzzle to stop him from talking. “Don’t disrespect your mother over something she hasn’t even done, and probably won’t anyway. And just because you feel nervous about how others will see you doesn’t mean that they are right. I’ll tell you right now without fear of contradiction from any in my herd that we will be happy and proud to see gay Prince Destined ruling Equestria with his husband by his side. Now, are you going to stop moping and join in the celebrations?”

Destined chuckled at the picture Free’s words had projected in his mind. He looked at his father and smirked. “No.”

“No?” Free echoed questioningly.

“Gotta do something first. Back soon.” With that, Destined teleported away.

Free suspected what Destined was up to, and he smiled.

Several minutes later, Destined reappeared with Silk at his side. The showy entrance drew the attention of the others, which the alicorn took advantage of.

“Dads, Moms, Auntie Luna, you all know Silk Touch. We would like to announce our engagement. Silk has consented to marry me.”

Twilight squealed in excitement, and was first to throw her arms around Destined to hug and kiss him. To Silk’s surprise, she did the same to the bat-pony, saying, “Welcome to the family!”

Roseclaw and Luna followed suit, and for the first time the self-confident thestral grew embarrassed by all the attention. After Destined’s siblings had added their congratulations, Silk was more than happy to join in with the ongoing celebrations.

Eventually, the need to get at least a few hours’ sleep drew the party to a close. Before everyone left for their rooms though, Path asked about their plans for the next day.

Lucida replied, “We’re going to Canterlot to check for any adverse changes due to not undoing our influence on History. I know that so far everything looks good, but we have to be sure.”

Pif added, “While we’re there, I’m going to meet up with my special agents. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

“I want to drop in on Auntie Celestia too,” Destined said. “I think we have some things to discuss. And I want to introduce my fiancé to her too,” he added with a blush.

“I’ll let the others sort out those things,” Blue said. “I have a lot of training to catch up on with Warfist. He’s going to think I’ve gotten soft!”

Cinder said, “I have two children to look after now. Between my House duties and them, I think I’ll be more than busy.”

“I think I’ll accompany you, Lucida,” Twilight said. “If everything is okay, we’re going to have to organize a summit to discuss these latest developments.”

Path nodded in agreement. “I’ll reschedule everything to allow for that. We’ve learned a lot tonight, and things are going to change drastically soon. Chrysalis will soon learn that she can’t hide from us anymore.”

# # #

The time-travelers allowed themselves the luxury of a late morning sleep-in, although it might have been considered a necessity rather than a luxury after the late celebrations both with the family and then later in the bedrooms. Despite their stated intentions of the previous evening, both Cinder and Blue took the rest of the morning to wander around Ponyville, ostensibly to check for unexpected History changes while the others checked in Canterlot, but mostly because they wanted to show off their children. Explaining how Cinder went from being pregnant to having hatchlings overnight was a little tricky, but Ponyville residents were used to far stranger things than that.

The group that teleported to Canterlot stayed together initially, with Twilight curious to see if they picked up on anything different. After a couple of hours, they had all but one hundred percent concluded that if there were any changes, they were so obscure that it did not matter anyway. Lucida was extremely relieved because although she had pushed to skip the retcon of their ten months or so then, as the leader of the team, it was still her responsibility ultimately. They then split up – Twilight, Destined, and Silk heading for the castle, while Lucida and Pif headed for a rendezvous with the changeling’s special agents. The hippogriff wanted to hear what the agents had to say about the intervening years, and perhaps add that to the final report.

A conference with Zark over Pif’s mini-network had arranged a meeting with him and the agents at the Canterlot Café where they could have lunch while catching up in person. They stopped in the coffee shop section first to say hello to Frothy Brew before going next door to the dining section. There they found a large table surrounded by nine changelings – some in their original disguise, a couple in new guises, and one actually in natural form. Once upon a time, Frothy would have cheerfully strangled the Blue Changeling, but the intervening years and Free’s control of the new hive and its legacy of Blues had changed that gradually. Now all Frothy asked was that they stay disguised or at least out of his sight.

The faces of all the agents lit up with pleasure at seeing Pif, and a blue unicorn with a silvery mane got up and approached her. He gave a brief but respectful bow.

“I am so happy to see you in person again, Your Majesty. And yes, that’s the last time I’ll address you by title, Pif. After thirty-six years, I just wanted to express my gratefulness and loyalty in person.”

Pif smiled and hugged him. “It’s so great to see you doing so well, Zark, so I’ll forgive you for the excessive formality. I notice that you’re referring to yourself as ‘I’ now though – have you changed that much?”

“Not in that way. We are still a gestalt mind, but that gestalt developed its own personality that qualifies it as a being distinct from its component parts. That individual personality is me, Zark.”

Pif was beside herself with glee. “You have no idea how happy I am that my experimental procedure worked out. I hope you have enjoyed getting to know yourself over these years.”

“It has been a unique experience, and I have my fellow agents to thank for their help and encouragement. To put it mildly, I have had a remarkable life, and one that I have been more than happy to experience.”

“Excellent!” Pif turned to the others. “Hey! Don’t I get a hug from you lot too?”

The others had been hanging back to allow Zark and Pif to enjoy their reunion, but the dam broke then, and they all surged toward their queen and friend. It took a while to give satisfactory hugs and nuzzles to all of them before they settled down at the table.

“Before we place our orders, there’s one last thing I want to do, Pif,” Zark said. He looked over at Lucida. “When you told me that you would be coming with your sister, I made one other arrangement.” His eyes went to the doorway.

Apparently waiting for his cue, a brown unicorn stallion with a two-tone blue mane streaked with grey entered and walked over to them. He smiled gently at Lucida and Pif.

“It’s good to see you after all these years.”

The hippogriff and the changeling princess’s eyes widened and they gasped in shock. “STERLING!” they chorused as they almost bowled him over as they crash-tackled him in a hug.

“Whoa! Easy there! I’m not as young as I used to be,” he said with a chuckle, even as he returned the hug willingly. “Oh, and it’s been Steady Gaze all these years. Don’t want to be shouting that name in this café.”

“Don’t care!” Lucida said with a sniffle. “I wasn’t sure that I was ever going to see you again after we parted back then. What have you been doing all these years?”

“That’s a long story. Mind if I join you for lunch?”

Lucida rolled her eyes. “As if I was going to let you leave without a meal and a lot of conversation!”

Steady Gaze grinned. “You’ve talked me into it.”

It was a good thing that Pif and Lucida were friends of the Brew family as they were quite used to various House Path members using the café as an informal meeting place. The staff members were discreet, and coffee and other refreshments were supplied without fuss. While they ate, Pif learned what each of the agents had been doing in the intervening years, but it was after the meal that they all settled in to listen to Steady Gaze’s tales.

“As I said I would do after you left, I dedicated my life to ensuring that Cirrus had a life free from meddling by Chrysalis, and whatever else could threaten the future that would bring a beautiful hippogriff into being.”

Lucida blushed but did not interrupt.

“The first significant incident happened only a few weeks after we parted….”

# ~ # ~ # ~ # ~ #

Cirrus was a little unsure of what his uncle wanted. In fact he had not even known that he had an Uncle Jetstream Ironbeak until very recently. He wanted to chat with Cirrus on the way home from school, and the young griff did not mind that, but he wondered why the grown-up had turned them into this quiet alleyway.

A City Guard abruptly moved into their path, seemingly out of nowhere. “Halt! Where are you going with this child?” he demanded.

Jetstream was irritated by the delay. “We are merely making a slight detour on the way home, officer.”

“This is not the way to this one’s home,” the unicorn Guard replied, stepping forward, scowling at Jetstream.

The grey griffon’s eyes narrowed as he recognized something. “This is none of your business, Red!”

“On the contrary, agent of Chrysalis, it is very much my business.” Steady Gaze looked at Cirrus. “Go back and hurry home to your parents. I must have words with this griff.”

Cirrus was confused and slightly frightened, and he wished Path was here to be heroic with him right now. Instead he nodded, turned, and hastened away.

Jetstream glared angrily at Steady Gaze. “It is not your place to interfere in the affairs of other hives!” he spat.

The unicorn frowned. “That’s rich coming from you. I know your agenda, and you are nothing less than a threat to all of Equestria. I will not allow it.”

“I will complete my Queen’s commands, whether you like it or not.”

“Then you leave me no choice.” Steady’s horn lit up.

“Is that a threat?” Jetstream said, readying himself for combat. “I am far superior to even a Red Changeling. You will not stop me. One of us will not be leaving this alley alive.”

“I have had the occasion to meet your brother, and you might be correct, so it forced me to plan ahead.”

A large crate that Steady had levitated under the guise of preparing a magic blast was hovering over Jetstream. Steady’s magic ceased, and the crate silently fell upon the unsuspecting ‘griffon’. He barely had time to squawk before his life was snuffed out.

Steady Gaze pushed the crate off the Blue Changeling corpse that remained. He powered up his horn with an immolation spell, and cast it upon the body. Soon there was nothing but ashes left, and the Guard sighed. Killing was always his final option, but he would not hesitate to do his duty. He was a Red Changeling with the sworn task to protect the future, and he would not be found wanting.

# ~ # ~ # ~ # ~ #

Cirrus carefully pushed open the door of the art supplies shop, his arms full of the painting materials that his dad had asked him to pick up on the way home from school. The young teen had not minded, but had not realized just how much his father had ordered. It was quite a juggling act to hold everything in his front limbs, his view partially obstructed as he moved into the open where he paused to spread his wings to fly home. Before he could though, something crashed into him, sending the supplies flying instead of him.

As Cirrus picked himself off the ground, he looked around to find the source of the disaster. A white unicorn with a golden mane and a compass-rose cutie mark was also getting up, and he was furious.

Look at what you’ve done, you fool!” the unicorn roared. Streaks of various colored paints ran down his face and barrel.

“Calm down, Blueblood,” his companion said as she tried to help him get back in order.

“Calm down?!” he spat back at the mare who shrank back in shock. “This clumsy idiot covers me in this hideous mess, and all you can say is calm down?!”

“Sorry about this,” Cirrus said as he started to gather up the scattered goods, “but you were the one who ran into me, not the other way around. Perhaps you should have been paying more attention to where you were walking instead of your marefriend.”

Blueblood turned his gaze on Cirrus, and if looks could kill, the griffon would have died that instant. “Do you know who I am, catbird?” he hissed.

“If I can believe what I just heard, you’re Blueblood,” Cirrus replied.

“That’s Prince Blueblood to you, cretin! How dare you accuse me of being at fault! I will haul you before the Royal Guards and have you thrown in a cell for this!”

Cirrus paused to look at the ranting unicorn. He could see veins beginning to pop as his face turned red from fury. “It takes skill to run into someone who can barely move due to the load he’s carrying. Perhaps that compass on your butt is pointing up your ass?”

Blueblood gave a strangled scream before he shouted, “I will have Auntie Celestia lock you up until you’re old and grey! I will make sure you’re fed nothing but moldy hay! I will….

“What seems to be the problem here?” A stern voice interrupted.

They all turned to see a Royal Guard officer who had approached unnoticed.

Blueblood grinned maliciously. “Officer, I want you to arrest this griffon!”

“On what charge, sir?”

“Assaulting royalty, namely myself, threats of violence to me and my companion, and malicious vandalism for starters. I will have more when he is booked.”

“Hey!” Cirrus objected. “That’s a load of horsefeathers!”

“I see,” the Guard impassively replied. “Do you realize that those charges, if upheld in court, could result in his incarceration for something like twenty years?”

“Of course I realize, you idiot! That’s the idea!”

“And you would swear to all these charges in court?”

“Of course. You would have the word of a Prince!”

“I must advise you, Your Highness, that I witnessed the entire incident. I would be required to testify also.”

Blueblood abruptly froze and then began to look nervous.

The Royal Guard continued calmly. “I saw you chatting with your marefriend, focused on her and not looking where you were going. The young griffon was standing there, preparing to take flight when you ran into him. As a member of the Her Highness’ Royal Guard, I would have to give my sworn testimony in front of Princess Celestia that not only were you at fault, but you also sought to bear false witness against this griffon, accusing him of serious crimes that he did not commit, and sought unlawful imprisonment of a minor. Now, do you wish to amend your version of the incident?”

Blueblood glared at the Guard for a long moment before turning his head away. “It was an unfortunate accident,” he mumbled.

“I thought as much,” the Guard replied. “Perhaps you could replace the paints that you spilled in order to make up for it?”

Blueblood seethed but nodded.

“Excellent. I will help the lad get his goods back in order while you make the purchases.”

Cirrus grinned and passed the spilled tubes of paint to Blueblood. “And don’t buy the cheap crap. Dad’s a professional artist!”

Blueblood was lucky that he did not see his marefriend cover up a snort of laughter at his expense, or else he might have had a stroke on the spot.

“Thanks!” Cirrus said to the Guard as they collected the last of the intact materials.

“Just doing my sworn duty, sir, but you’re welcome.”

After receiving the replacement paints, Cirrus took off for home, and Blueblood stomped off to his too. A long shower to get out the paint was uppermost on his mind, and the mare was forgotten. She watched him leave, shrugged, and departed in another direction.

The Guard smiled, knowing that the mare had probably dodged an arrow. He trotted off down the street and turned into a quiet alleyway. A red flare of magic went unseen as he changed from a unicorn to a pegasus, and the Royal Guard armor illusion dropped to reveal genuine City Guard armor underneath. Steady took off to follow Cirrus once more, his never-ending duty to fulfill. Not every threat to his ward would necessarily come from Chrysalis, but with all of Equestria at stake, he would be there to deal with them all.

# ~ # ~ # ~ # ~ #

“I tell you I have an invitation! It’s just been mislaid somehow. I was told to come to this entrance and I’d be allowed in,” Free insisted.

The Royal Guards flanking the doorway looked bored and unconvinced.

“Sir,” one of them replied, “As I have already said, we have had no notification with regards to you. We will not let you in without proof of this missing invitation.”

“And what do you suppose Princess Celestia will say when she hears that two Guards can’t even check for this invitation, and stopped an esteemed guest from participating in one of the most important diplomatic events of the year?”

The Guard rolled his eyes. “If you are so esteemed, sir, why are you here by yourself, with no staff, and again, no invitation?”

“How many griffons do you know in Canterlot? Who else would be coming to a Griffonian diplomatic function?”

“I’m sure the Griffish Butcher might have had occasion to supply appropriate food,” the Guard replied with some distaste. “However, I don’t believe he has an invitation either.”

“Look, just let me find the mare in charge, and have her send back confirmation. It’ll only take a minute!” Free pleaded desperately.

“Please move away from the entrance, sir,” the Guard replied firmly.

“But…” Free started, but could not find another argument.

“What is going on here?” came a voice from behind the Guards.

The Royal Guardspony who had been talking to Free turned to look at the newcomer. “Sergeant Sterling Shield! This griffon claims to have had his invitation to the Griffonian diplomatic function mislaid, and has been trying to gain entrance. I was just turning him away, sir.”

Sterling Shield looked at Free. “Ah, yes. You must be Free Agent. I was sent to find you when we realized that your invitation was not properly delivered. If you would care to follow me, I will escort you to the event.”

The two Guards were very surprised, but stood aside to allow the griffon to enter.

Free was no less surprised that somepony was playing along with his bullshit story, but he rolled with it. He gave the Guards a condescending sneer as he followed the Sergeant. It did not take him long to notice something about the Guard though, and he stopped while they were alone in a long hallway.

“Okay, first of all, thanks for getting me in. Second, I know you’re a changeling, but you’re one of those obsessively loyal Reds, so why did you do it?”

Sterling faced Free and said with deadly seriousness, “You have a destiny to fulfill. Don’t blow it.” He then turned back and continued onward without further words.

Free was left even more mystified, but did not push his luck. He was shown to the door of the soirée and then suddenly the changeling Guard was gone. Free shrugged, put on his most ingratiating smile, set his sights on Princess Celestia, and murmured, “It’s show-time!”

# ~ # ~ # ~ # ~ #

“What?!” exclaimed Pif. “You mean to tell me that you were responsible for Dad getting a hoof in the door at the palace?”

“Yes. I’ve watched over nearly every aspect of his life over those intervening years, and I clearly remembered all the highlights of your family’s history that you and the others told me over those months that we spent together. When I saw that Free’s attempt to talk his way past the Guards was going to fail, I stepped in to ensure that he would get that chance to ingratiate himself with the Princess that first time.”

Pif shook her head in amazement. “Do you realize that you have single-hoofedly put into motion the events that eventually led to the formation of House Path?”

Steady Gaze smiled. “Not quite. I could never have done that if a certain team of time-travelers had not put me into that position, and with the necessary knowledge to act upon it.”

“But that’s circular reasoning!” Pif protested. “We would not have traveled back in time to preserve history if House Path did not exist, and it only existed because certain events occurred due to your intervention!”

“I gave up trying to understand it long ago. No doubt Destined might have a better understanding of it than a mere changeling drone.”

“You aren’t a mere anything, Sterl… Steady Gaze. But Des manages to confuse me too, so I think we’ll both be better off not thinking about it too much.”

Steady chuckled. “Agreed. So now that I have no more historical foreknowledge to act upon, what do you think I should do now?”

“Lucida and Mama Twilight will no doubt organize a summit soon. I believe that you should attend.” Pif smiled slyly. “Queen Carpacia will be there.”

Steady’s gaze took on a distant look. “I have been close to her on previous occasions when she and Free came together. You don’t know how hard it was to not say something then.”

“The time for secrecy has ended. I don’t know of any changeling more deserving than you to claim his just reward for services rendered.”

“I need no reward – I just did my duty. Re-joining the hive-network will be enough for me.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. Hey! I just realized something – we’re related.”

Steady looked at Pif curiously. “How do you figure that?”

“Carpacia sought out Dad to sire a princess with her. Fidelitas is my half-sister. That makes you and me kind of cousins, right?”

Steady Gaze laughed. “I guess it does. Never thought I’d have a Chrome Changeling relative.”

“You’ll always be welcome in my hive, Cuz!” Pif replied with a grin and a slap on the back.

# # #

“My sister informed me that you would most likely be visiting me about lunchtime,” Celestia said. “May I suggest that we discuss things over an extended lunch break?”

“That would be fine, Princess,” Twilight replied.

“Excellent. I will meet you in the dining room soon when Day Court goes on recess.”

Twilight bowed formally and then left the throne room as the sergeant-at-arms called for the next petitioner.

Twilight joined up with Destined and Silk again, and they made their way to the dining room. The staff was more than familiar with the frequent unplanned guests that the royal sisters had, and food and drink was rapidly prepared for them all. It was not long before Celestia was finished with the final petitioner, and she arrived at the dining room also. She seated herself at her usual spot at the end of the table as she greeted her guests.

Silk was a little nervous about meeting Celestia, but Destined firmly brought him up to meet the Princess.

“Auntie Celestia, I’d like you to meet someone who is very near and dear to my heart. This is Silk Touch, and last night I proposed marriage to him, and he accepted.”

Celestia gave Silk a beaming smile. “It is wonderful to meet the pony who has made my nephew so happy. I’d say it was awfully sudden, but my sister mentioned that your recent trip together was quite extended.”

As there were still servants in the room who were not privy to the time-travel events, they had to speak discreetly about them. “Yes, Your Highness. We had quite the opportunity to get to know each other better, and I was very happy to find out that his feelings for me matched those of mine for him.”

“There is no need for formality, Silk. We are all family here, or at least in your case, very soon to be. Have you planned a wedding date yet?”

Destined made choking noises, and Silk looked at him with a grin before turning back to Celestia. “I think my fiancé is still getting used to the idea of us getting hitched. We’ll worry about the actual ceremony when he’s ready.”

Celestia smiled in amusement. “I see. Well, I do hope you keep me in mind as the celebrant.”

Silk’s smile slipped a little. “You?” he squeaked.

“It is a royal wedding, after all.”

Silk suddenly sat down hard on his rump. “Somehow that never really got through to me before now,” he said dazedly. “He’s virtually always been just Des to me, not Prince Destined.”

“And that is one of the reasons why you are such a good match for him. While we eat, I’d like to hear some more about you.”

The servants served up lunch to Celestia and her guests, then discreetly retired from the room, leaving the occupants free to talk about the recent time-travel events. Destined and Silk gave the same condensed version of events that they had related the previous night, but they also expanded upon their personal experiences. Celestia was discomforted by the fact that she had been so thoroughly used in that alternative History though.

“Free Agent has been a powerful force for Harmony, but things could so easily have gone the other way. Let us all be thankful that the Queen Gossamer that we know today is nothing like the one that you met back then.”

“Papa Free really hates it when you call him Queen Gossamer,” Destined pointed out.

“I know,” Celestia replied with a sly smile.

Twilight chuckled. “Free and Celestia have been teasing each other since before you were born, Destined. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.”

“Indeed. Ever since he managed to crash his first diplomatic party, we’ve been enjoying a bit of byplay with each other. He certainly livened up the castle on many an occasion. Thank the heavens he made a family to carry on the tradition.”

The others laughed, and even Silk joined in. He really liked this unseen side of the royal family.

Twilight arranged a suitable time for a summit to be held with the usual people who were in the know. As some of them were known to be far away at this time, the meeting was scheduled to occur in three days. The extended luncheon ended and Celestia headed back to the throne room for the afternoon session of Day Court, although not before offering Destined the opportunity to hold it in her place. The young alicorn stallion vehemently declined, and the alicorn princess left with a smile on her face.

“Your aunt has a wicked sense of humor,” Silk observed.

“Tell me about it!” Destined said with a sigh of relief.

# # #

After they left the castle, Twilight, Destined and Silk headed for the Canterlot Café in order to rendezvous with Pif and Lucida, not to mention making a social call on Frothy and family. Needless to say, Destined was delighted to see that Sterling/Steady Gaze had made it through the intervening years successfully.

“You’re looking good, although I see some grey in your mane,” Destined said.

“Well, I am in my seventies, you know,” Steady Gaze replied.

“And you’re a changeling who can look like anything he wants,” the alicorn retorted.

“I prefer to look my age. Besides, it helps keeps up my secret identity.”

“So what have you been doing lately?”

“I’ve been telling Lucida and Pif about how I’ve kept watch over Cirrus/Free over the years. Aside from that, once I was forced to retire from the City Guard due to my age, I kept myself busy with freelance security. I had a lot more freedom in the later years once Free got involved with House Path.”

“I suppose it would have been hard to keep up with Papa Free once he started travelling overseas?”

“There was that, but there was also the fact that he was starting to travel in powerful circles, and he had a lot more protection than just me shadowing him. Once he met up with Princess Twilight Sparkle, I knew my role was diminishing.”

“So you saw Dad and Papa meet Mom for the first time? What was that like?”

Steady chuckled. “Free hit on her, and she teleported him out of the café. He persisted after that, and Twilight was amused.”

Destined laughed. “Papa never told me that bit about being teleported away.” He paused thoughtfully. “Have you revealed your true self to Frothy Brew?”

Steady shook his head. “I saw my alternate History self on a few occasions. He and Frothy were such good friends and I was a little envious, but I am not that Sterling, and trying to take over that friendship would not be right. I don’t think Frothy would appreciate my taking Sterling’s place. As Steady Gaze, Frothy and I have a cordial relationship, and I am content with that.”

“I understand. Has Lucy told you that we’re arranging a summit to discuss our History change?”

“Yes, she did.”

“Then you know that Queen Carpacia will be there?”


“The moment that you and she meet is what I look forward most to seeing.”

“Believe me, I am too.”

“Meanwhile, you are going to be joining us in Ponyville, right?”

Steady grinned. “Frankly, I doubt that anypony would let me get away with not joining you.”

“You got that right!” Lucida agreed emphatically.

Twilight spoke up then. “In fact I believe that we’ll want to celebrate with all of you. Will that be a problem?”

Zark replied for all of the changelings. “As we knew that Pif would be returning to the present yesterday, we have all arranged to have a few days free. On behalf of my companions, I accept your invitation.”

“Well, if you’re all ready now, I’ll teleport everyone to my castle right now.”

There was no dissent, and so Twilight lit up her horn and teleported them all to Ponyville. Once there, Twilight had Spike arrange guest rooms for everyone. Zark and Bright Spark shared a room. Apparently their cover relationship had grown into something a bit more, and they were a genuine couple now. Considering their need for emotional sustenance, that came as a surprise to Pif.

“We’re in a herd relationship with another couple,” Zark explained. “We get all the emotional energy we require from them, and the four of us have made a family between us. Like your own parents, we are father and mother to three children. Unlike your family though, only Morning Glory has borne the foals.”

“So, they know that you are changelings?”

“Yes. They had been sympathetic to changelings and worked to help integrate them into Equestrian society after being inspired by others such as Frothy. As part of the overall task to investigate all changeling-related events that you set us before leaving for the future, we checked them out, but ended up making friends instead. That friendship grew until one day Morning Glory proposed a herd relationship. While Spark and I were attracted to the idea, we could not agree to it without being honest with them, and so we confessed that we were in fact changelings.”

“But you’re Blues! Surely that would have been a sticking point?”

“You underestimate Morning Glory and Radiant Beam. Thanks to Princess Twilight’s research and their own investigations, they know everything there is to know about changelings, including the fact that even the Blue Changelings once coexisted with ponies peacefully, and they reasoned that not all of them might agree with Queen Chrysalis’ ambitions. While that was true for the Blue Harvesters, it was not completely true for us, but rather than disabuse them of that notion, we told them that we had been actively opposing Chrysalis for years before the invasion. They took our word for that, and after some more heart-to-heart discussions over the following days, they renewed their proposal and we have been happily herding ever since.”

“You’ve led a wonderful life, Zark. I wish that I had been able to watch it unfolding.”

“I wish that you had been there too, Pif. Anyway, I have a question for you now. What’s happened to my brother?”

Pif blinked uncomprehendingly. “What brother?”

“The egg…?” Zark prompted.

“Oh! The egg is in the Chrome Hive nursery. Actually, let’s all go there now. The Chrome Hive will be your hive too.”

Zark smiled but shook his head. “I think you will find that the only hive we belong to is the Pif Hive. We are loyal to you, not Queen Free.”

“But I am Princess of the Chrome Hive,” Pif replied.

“One day you will be its Queen, and if we are still around then, we will become part of the Chrome Hive too. For now though, you are our Queen and your loyal servants.”

“And friends – never forget that!”

“We won’t, because that is one reason why we are loyal to you.”

Pif was getting embarrassed with all this praise. “I still need you to pass on all the data that you’ve accumulated for me, and that will be stored in the Chrome Hive network.”

“We connect to you, and you connect to the Chrome Hive. Not a problem.”

“No time like the present then. Let’s go see your brother, and then get to work on this data. We’ve got a lot to sift through before the summit in three days.”

# # #

Day Court was cancelled three days later to allow the entire day to be devoted to a summit meeting of all the Hive Queens, all the alicorns, the House Path leaders and time-team, Pif’s special agents, and Steady Gaze. Queen Carpacia had been informed ahead of time about the latter’s inclusion, and the story behind the Red Changeling who had devoted a lonely life to his duty. She waited almost impatiently in the hallway leading to the conference room for Steady to arrive, and when he stepped into view, their eyes met and locked for an eternal moment. Then Steady stepped forward while his companions waited. He stopped before Carpacia and bowed his head.

“Your Majesty, I am honored and overjoyed to see you. I have performed my duty as best as I could for many years, but now I wish to come home.”

“Kirrabek – Sterling Shield – Steady Gaze – so many names for one amazing 'ling. Your other self was remarkable enough, but you have done so much more. Rarely have I seen such dedication even among the best of our kind. Sterling’s loss was a blow to us, but by a quirk of time and fate, we have the same person back, and our Hive is the better for it. I am proud to welcome you back, my child.”

Carpacia leaned forward and touched her horn to his head, connecting him to her hive’s network for the first time in thirty-seven years. Through the link, she poured the love that was the Queen’s gift to him – not just the energy that it imbued him with, but also the true emotional experience.



Steady Gaze shuddered and his eyes opened, glistening with tears. “Thank you, Mother.”

Carpacia embraced him then, and he returned the hug fervently.

Lucida looked at Pif questioningly. “Mother?”

“Don’t look at me! I didn’t know any more than you did!” Pif protested.

“Know what though?”

“Well, you know that the majority of drones come from eggs laid by the breeder class drones whom the queen fertilizes, like Papa Free does with his breeders, and if a queen wants to breed an heir, she mates outside of her species for genetic variance like Carpacia did with Dad, but if she needs any special types, she gets a male breeder to fertilize herself, and her magic shapes it as required. That’s what Chrysalis has been doing to make the special agents. What we’re apparently looking at though is something unique. Steady Gaze seems to be a changeling Prince!”

“But… he’s always just been like any other drone!” Lucida protested.

“Has he? Carpacia wasn’t exaggerating when she praised Steady. Perhaps the Red Changelings do things differently from the other hives?” Maybe princes lead by example?”

“I think we’re going to have to have a long talk with him later,” Pif concluded. “One thing looks likely though – he’s not my cousin but more like my half-brother!”

Lucida giggled. “I’d say quarter-brother at most. You’re only technically related because Dad mated with Carpacia.”

Just then, a strong voice came from the doorway to the conference room where an earth pony Royal Guard was calling for their attention.

The summit is due to start in two minutes! Please make your way into the conference room for a prompt start!

“Our curiosity will have to wait,” Lucida said. “Let’s go!”

# # #

The time-travelers were allowed to give a full report on their entire trip to the past without interruption except for a couple of requests for clarification. Not even the House Path leaders had heard all of what was reported than, and everyone was left thoughtful by the end. Twilight was the first to comment though.

“Well, that clears up a mystery that I’ve been wondering about since Shining and Cadance got married.”

“What’s that, Twily?” her brother asked.

“Chrysalis was the Queen of the Blue Changelings who were known for their investigative abilities, and yet Chrysalis in her disguise as Cadance was such a poor imitator of her that I became suspicious from very early on. Her infiltrators should have told her about me and my friends at the very least, and yet she knew next to nothing about us. Her knowledge of wedding customs and behavior was terrible too.” Twilight turned to Zark. “So how could this possibly be?”

“Because we didn’t pass on that knowledge and fed her disinformation,” Zark replied.

“Exactly! And now we have another piece of evidence that the time-team’s actions during those ten and a half months not only became History, they always have been!

“Mom’s right,” Destined said. “We remember her telling us all about that, and we saw for ourselves how Chrysalis behaved then. She always lacked the knowledge to avert suspicion.”

“But how is that even possible? Most of you hadn’t even been born then. You had to make a trip into the past to make it happen! Isn’t that a paradox?”

Destined shook his head. “Time is far more complex than that. You are thinking of the cause and effect as a circle, but in reality it is more like a loop made by a roller-coaster. This present that we know is almost exactly the same as the one we left when we looped back, but it isn’t the same History path. It can’t be, because that’s your paradox. However, it can be so similar as to make no real difference, and more importantly, it can also re-join the original path after the diversion. History says something happened in the past because of an event in the future, and that’s fine because probability says so.”

“I don’t follow,” Carpacia complained, and several others murmured agreement.

Destined struggled to express a very complex situation in the simplest possible terms. “I’ve described for you before how History is actually the path taken by the highest probability events, but that probability varies a great deal. It can point strongly forward, or weakly, or partially sideways, but always forward… usually. It’s possible though for probability to point backwards instead, and that’s where the time loop happens. The mathematics that proves this is exceedingly complex, and I don’t know of anypony aside from the Doctor who could understand it fully.”

“'Tis true,” Luna agreed. “Prince Destined once showed me a model of the timescape, and it exceeded my ability to comprehend fully. I suggest that unless thou dost wish to tempt frustration, merely accept that which has been stated to be true.”

“Agreed,” Celestia said. “We should concentrate instead on what concerns us now, not then. I will attempt to sum up. Chrysalis is now located in Zebrica where she is working with some militant factions to destabilize all peace initiatives, and inciting uprisings against all non-zebra species. In particular, she is in league with a shaman group that is using their form of magic to enable sending agents back in time to work Chrysalis’ will. The power to do so has partially been enabled by the Nightmare who has taken Chrysalis as her latest pawn. Chrysalis does not realize that the Nightmare is only using her until it can take control. When that happens, it will begin its own agenda, and because it’s an agent of Destruction, you can bet that it will be something terrible. Last time as Nightmare Moon, it wanted the night to last forever, which would have killed every plant, and eventually every animal because there would be no food.”

Celestia let that sink in, then continued, “Up until now, Chrysalis has been in control, hence her attempts to regain what was lost and to strike out against her enemies. The Nightmare cooperates because House Path is a direct threat to its plans. It will continue to strike against the House and Equestria until such time as it makes its final move. Pif’s changeling agents have ascertained that Chrysalis is constantly on the move within Zebrica, but there is one location where her efforts are focused. I propose that it is time to bring the fight to Chrysalis, be proactive in our response to her machinations, and prevent further time-meddling. I open the floor to debate.”

There was an outburst of voices that continued until Lucida called the meeting to order and began handling the meeting as acting chairperson while Path watched on proudly.

Much was discussed that day, and a plan of action devised. Much of it still relied on House Path, but it would receive the full support of the Equestrian Princesses and Hives. It would take some time to put everything into motion, but overall there was an air of confidence where once was uncertainty. They were no longer fighting blind, and their enemies would not find things so easy from now on.

# # #

It was a weary group that returned to Ponyville that afternoon. Many of the time-team opted to visit the spa to unwind, and only returned to the castle for dinner. To their surprise though, Twilight called Destined, Lucida, Pif, and Blue to her office first.

They entered to find a familiar couple already there – a grey pegasus and a light green unicorn.

“Uncle Cogs! Auntie Lavender!” Lucida said upon seeing them. “What are you doing here?”

“Apparently having an unexpected whole day off from work,” Cogs grumbled.

Lavender rolled her eyes and said, “What he means is that we came here this morning to see your parents about something, not realizing that they had all gone off for the day for some special meeting. We had to wait until you returned before we could get to talk to Twilight. It wasn’t worth the effort to return home and come back here again later.”

“And here’s why they came,” Twilight said as she put an arm around the other newcomer, a brown unicorn colt. “Forest Breeze wants to join House Path.”



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