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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23. Chapter 13 - New Battles

To say that a plan had been put into action was speaking only in the broadest terms. Unlike reacting to the imminent invasion of the Crystal Kingdom decades ago, this time Celestia and Luna were planning nothing less than a war with another nation as well as its changeling allies. This would take a great deal of time and effort. Also this time they did not have a time-traveler give them forewarning from the future to enable them to move troops into place in anticipation of the need. Therefore, days after the decision to carry the fight to Zebrica, details were still being worked out, soldiers were being transported to rendezvous points, reservists were being activated, supply lines were being established, and the great ships of war brought up to full battle-readiness. The Skyshark’s sister ships, the Orca and the Stingray, were recalled from their current assignments to be ready at a moment’s notice to carry the first wave of troops into the field.

Blue Streak had of course wanted to get more involved, but had been told in no uncertain terms that his responsibility still lay with House Path.

“Up until Chrysalis and the Nightmare are defeated, we are still vulnerable to time warfare, and you are the House’s source of power for time-travel, not to mention the team’s foremost warrior,” Path stated. “You will continue with those duties until further notice. Besides, didn’t you promise both Prince Glenn and Forest Breeze some personal lessons to help them both get up to speed with unarmed combat?”

Blue glumly accepted that his father’s logic was unassailable, not to mention his orders were clear. In one way though, he was happy for a good reason to stay behind. He was a father now, and while his children were too young to do anything yet, he would be there for them and for his mate. He had spent years without parents, and nothing was going to stop him from ensuring that the same would not happen to Eon and Era.

Prince Glenn had already ingratiated himself with much of Ponyville’s House Path school, but in particular with the family. Like Cogs and Lavender, Queen Gilda was a friend of the family, and her son was treated as such also, sharing mealtimes with the herd. Forest was a lot quieter than Glenn, almost to the point of shyness, but his familiarity with the Path children allowed him to relax and be more sociable than if he had to live in the dormitory and share dinner with the rest of the students. Of course Path and the others had other motivations also. Keeping Glenn and Forest in close acquaintance with Blue, Pif, Lucida, and Destined meant that they could bond better and be able to put more time and effort into their education. They both had a lot of catching up to do in comparison to the long-time students.

Glenn surprised them one evening though when he announced that he had arranged a special meal for everyone. They sat down at the dining room table, utterly mystified. Nobody had caught wind of the griffon’s surprise, and they all peered curiously at the covered dishes that the servants had brought in.

“Griffonstone is not noted for many things,” Glenn began saying before revealing the food, “but there is one thing that our culture has recovered from the past, and that is its cuisine. Admittedly this is something that we adapted from the Neighponese, but that merely means that it’s suitable for ponies as well as griffons.” He curled his talons around two of the cover handles. “May I present to you my preparations of Griffonstone sushi!”

Glenn pulled off the covers, revealing a rich assortment of rice-based food, covered with everything from avocado and cucumber, to salmon and squid. Accompanying it were bowls of seaweed salad and tempura vegetables, as well as small dishes of freshly grated Neighponese wasabi root and bowls of soy sauce. The servants uncovered the rest of the trays, revealing even more.

They all oohed and aahed over the food, and they quickly started helping themselves to the feast. Twilight had long since been converted to enjoying fish, and there was little among the selections that she would not touch. Glenn grinned in satisfaction at the obvious enjoyment that they were all getting from the fare. He had spent considerable effort arranging for the various ingredients to be shipped to Ponyville, not to mention the time spent this afternoon in preparing it all with the complicity of the kitchen staff. Merely finding a gap in his busy student schedule had been a feat in itself.

“Did you make all this yourself?” Free asked.

“Yes, although I had the assistance of the chef in preparing some of it under my direction. I really owe him a lot of thanks for being so cooperative.”

Twilight said, “I know many chefs are very protective of their domain, but I chose ours for his ability to be cooperative and friendly. After all, this is Friendship Castle first and foremost, even if it’s also House Path’s base of operations in Equestria.”

“So how come you know so much about making this stuff?” Free asked.

“It’s my favorite food. I kept bugging Mom so much about having it more often that eventually she told me that if I wanted it so much, I had better learn how to make it, so I did.”

Twilight nodded. “Gilda started making an influence on Griffonstone not only with her attitude, but also with her baked goods. I think perhaps you’re continuing a family tradition.”

Glenn grinned. “I think it’s a great and tasty tradition.”

“Hear! Hear!” Blue agreed enthusiastically, and echoed by the others.

# # #

After-dinner conversation was always a big thing for the family. Frequently the topic of conversation revolved around what they had all done that day, and Lucida had just finished telling about the lessons that she had taught.

Path nodded thoughtfully and said, “You’ve become a fine teacher, Lucida, or should I call you Lightgiver now? You still have your new coat and feather colors. Are you going to revert to your natural colors?”

Lucida shrugged. “I’ve become quite used to these colors after a year, and I’ve always liked them. I think I’ll hang onto them for now. I can always ask Des to change me back if I get tired of them.”

“Speaking of changing, I would like to see the spell that Destined used,” Twilight said.

“I can easily give a demonstration if you’d like, Mom.” Destined got up and looked around before fixing his gaze on his father. “Dad, want to be my subject?” he asked with a grin.

Path looked a little skeptical, but nodded. He got up off the sofa and stood in front of Destined. “What do I do?”

“Nothing. Just don’t look at what I am doing.”

“Why not?”

“It’s distracting!”

“Oh. Okay.”

Destined’s horn lit up as he drew out the power needed for the spell. He built it slowly so that his mother could observe its formation, and then he cast it.

Twilight gasped, as did a few others who could see what Destined had done.

Path looked around and looked disappointed. “I’m still grey and my mane is still green. What did you do?”

Destined pointed with his hoof at his father’s hindquarters. “Look closer.”

Path looked and his jaw dropped in shock. His flanks had been blank for years since the Battle of the Crystal Kingdom, but now a pair of double-quote marks the same color as his mane adorned his hide –

“ ”

“How… how did you do that?” he gasped.

“That should be impossible!” Twilight said incredulously. “The magic of the cutie mark is impossible to control. I should know – I tried to give a filly one long ago. It can’t be done!”

“And you’re quite right, Mom. That’s not a real cutie mark. It’s just the equivalent of a coat-color change but just in that one spot on each side, and in that shape. The reason why you can’t give a pony a real cutie mark is the magic of the mark itself, but because Dad lost all his magic and thus his mark, I’m able to make a false one in its stead. It’s based on what he used to have, so I think this is a good substitute.” He turned back to look at his father. “I hope you like it.”

Path looked away from his new mark and set his gaze on his son. His eyes brimmed with unshed tears as his emotions choked him up. “Destined… Son… this is the best present you’ve ever given me.” He threw his forelegs around Destined’s neck and hugged him fiercely.

Destined hugged him back as the others cheered. “You’re welcome, Dad. Happy early Father’s Day.”

After a discussion with Twilight about the spell that Destined used, conversation shifted as it often did to the missing member of the family.

“Anyone heard from Flix lately?” Path asked hopefully.

Roseclaw nodded. “As a matter of fact, I heard from him today. He’s completed his journey across the ocean, although he says he’s not exactly sure where he is. Amazingly different was all he could call it.”

Twilight smiled. “I hope that he makes notes. When he returns, he’ll have so much to show me!”

Roseclaw nodded even as she hoped that Twilight was not being too optimistic. Their son had barely begun speaking to some of his parents again, and he had shown no inclination to return home anytime soon. She was just grateful that Twilight’s amazing comms worked equally well no matter where in the world that Flix happened to be. “I’m sure he will. Oh – and Orlonda also says ‘hi’, and she hates the ocean.”

Free chuckled. “The Orange Changelings’ greatest weakness – seasickness!”

The family laughed along with him, but they knew that he was using humor to cover up just how much he missed Flix too.

# # #

Even in the midst of war preparations, time needed to be taken out to de-stress and relax, otherwise the troops would not be at their peak when the time for battle came around. This was equally true for the upper echelons, and this day found an odd assortment of Princesses, Queens, and nobles engaged in a friendly game of poker at Canterlot Castle.

Fifi was perched with her hind legs on Path’s back and forelegs resting on his head so that she could see his cards. She pointed at them and Path passed them up to her. She then floated them down to the table with her magic.

“Full house! Special Hat wins!” She laughed as the others surrounding the table groaned.

“I know she’s not psychic, so how can she be so good at this? She’s still a foal!” Shining grumbled as he watched Path move the large pile of bits toward his part of the table.

“She has been sitting on Path’s head for so long that she has absorbed his poker skills,” Luna replied. “Why dost thou think she is nicknamed Special Hat at these games?”

Graxx was about to say something before the Red Princess started squealing. She jumped off of Path’s back and slid to a halt in front of a rolling table with a giant red velvet cake sitting on top of it. “I want it!” she squealed as a pair of ponies dressed up in chef outfits walked around from behind it.

“This is a Royal Red Velvet Cake,” the head chef explained. “It is painstakingly crafted, and takes hours to perfect. We only create it once a year for–” His explanation was cut off as Celestia walked over to the serving cart.

“Ah! The cake is finished!” Celestia said with delight as she approached, but the little Red Changeling cut her off.

Fidelitas puffed herself up to make herself look bigger. “My cake!

“Little one, this is my ca–”

“MY CAKE!” Fifi screeched.

“But I perso–” Celestia tried to explain.

MY CAKE!” The little 'ling screeched out louder.

Path walked over to Fifi and she climbed up onto his back so that she could glare defiantly at the tall alicorn.

Path looked over to Free and gave him a wink.

Free grinned and went over to Celestia and whispered something in her ear.

It took a few moments before Celestia started to smile. “It seems that Special Hat wants my cake, but can you defeat me and take it for your own?” Celestia challenged the little red 'ling with a smirk.

Carpacia was curious as to how her daughter would handle the challenge. She was expecting her to yield before the powerful alicorn, but instead she felt the Princess’s connection flare up in the network. Fidelitas was drawing on some of the locally connected drones! The Queen smiled proudly at her daughter’s strong will.

My cake!” Fifi repeated defiantly.

Path then spoke up. “The battle for the Royal Red Velvet Cake will commence in the Royal Gardens in twenty minutes! Pick your side!”

Everyone started to get excited for the play fight and already people were choosing their allies.

“Of course I will be at the side of the Solar Princess. Where else would I be?” Shining huffed out.

“Well if Shinybutt is going on her side, I’m siding with Princess Special Hat.” Citrine declared as she walked over to join Path.

Soon everyone had chosen their side and called in allies to fight on their team. They then headed off to the field of play.

# # #

Twilight parked a cloud over the field of battle, and she, Free, Carpacia, and Cadance made themselves comfortable on it to watch the event. They saw Fifi riding Path as usual, arriving with a group of Red Changeling drones headed by Graxx, with Citrine by her side as her general. The crystal pony had a baseball bat slung over her shoulder and a confident grin on her face.

“What does Citrine intend to do with a mere wooden pole?” Carpacia asked curiously.

Twilight replied, “Master Warfist found that Citrine was poor at handling classic weapons, and broke them more often than not. However, she excels at freestyle fighting, and can use almost anything that she lays a hoof on as a temporary weapon. With that in mind, Warfist supplied her with a bat made out of ironwood, which comes from a tree that only grows in Griffonia. It’s virtually unbreakable, and Citrine loves it. Needless to say, her sparring opponents hate it.”

Celestia marched up with her team, Shining Armor by her side and her allies rallying behind her.

A small tent in front and between each of the teams held the prized cake.

Twilight stood up when it appeared that both sides were ready, and announced in the Royal Canterlot Voice, “On my mark, let the contest for the Royal Cake begin. Team Celestia versus Team Special Hat. The first team to get their leader to the prize will win. Mark!

Citrine led the charge, screaming, “My bat is hungry!

Shining Armor moved to intercept the mare, firing a stun blast at her. Amazingly, Citrine swung her bat and knocked the beam aside.

“Did I mention that I spell-proofed it also?” Twilight commented.

Meanwhile, the rest of the players had advanced on the field, but Shining Armor was focused on his rival.

“Is Fifi using Citrine as a distraction?” Cadance asked.

Carpacia nodded. “My daughter avails herself of the network and hive knowledge.”

Citrine had closed ranks with Shining who threw up a spherical shield about himself. Citrine’s bat slammed into it, but although the shield reverberated loudly with the impact, in no way was it weakened.

Shining grinned. “Got to try harder than that,” he gloated.

Citrine whacked the shield again and again with no better result.

“Why don’t you give up now and stop embarrassing yourself? I held a much bigger shield all day against a horde of changelings – do you think you stand the tiniest chance of breaking it?”

Citrine stopped and smirked. “No, but I can keep you out of the fight. You can’t do anything while you’re stuck in that bubble.” She resumed beating on the shield.

Shining’s face fell as he realized that he had been suckered. He could not drop the shield now or else Citrine could attack him directly. He couldn’t even fly out of range while within his protective bubble. The mare had him trapped!

“Graxx! To me!” Citrine yelled as Shining tried to think of a way out. The Red Changeling and several drones under his command diverted to her, and moments later a red glow of power surrounded Citrine’s bat. “Crystal pony takes out smart-ass alicorn!” she growled as she swung the bat with all her strength and it connected with a loud ‘BOOM!

Of course the shield held, but it lost the fight with gravity. The bubble flew far away off the field of play, taking along with it a lenticular-shaped piece of the ground, and the hapless alicorn stallion who had been standing on it.

 

 

“Home run!” declared Citrine with satisfaction.

Shining Armor has been eliminated!” Twilight announced in her capacity as umpire.

Meanwhile, Destined flew directly to the tent, dodging attacks from various winged opponents. By agreement, no one was allowed to teleport within the tent, otherwise Celestia or he could simply have 'ported there and claimed the cake without actually having to compete for it, which was against the spirit of the competition. He was surprised to find Path was there only moments later, but he grinned and said, “Looks like we’re going to win.”

“You think you have won? The Great and Powerful Path thinks otherwise!”

Destined blinked in confusion. “What…?” he said as Path threw something onto the ground.

“Nap time!” Path said as a green cloud burst out and surrounded the alicorn.

Destined’s head swam and he slumped unconscious to the ground.

Path’s form shimmered as the glamour spell wore off to reveal a smirking blue unicorn.

Destined Path has been eliminated!” Twilight declared.

Free blinked in confusion. “Wait… what?”

“Trixie teaches illusionary magic, remember?” Twilight said. “I’m a little surprised that she decided to join in, but she certainly knows her stuff.”

“So where’s the real Path gone?”

Carpacia said, “It would seem that while we were distracted, he and Fidelitas have managed to disappear. The impressions that I am getting from her point towards a cunning ploy.”

“Which I suppose you’re not going to tell us?” Free asked drolly.

“Of course not,” Carpacia replied smugly.

Blue Streak had allowed Citrine to make her diversionary move before he took to the field. Carpacia’s soldier drones clashed with Celestia’s Royal Guards, but as they were both restricted to fighting in a manner that would not cause injury, they were pretty much stalemated. Blue intended to break that stalemate. He summoned his power and took off in a blur of speed. He picked a target and simply tackled them. They not only did not see him coming, but they also failed to recover before he had picked them up with his earth pony strength and carried them off the field of play. One by one, he picked them off, but just as he was lining another up, he was brought up short by a lance of magic that cut across his path. He glanced to its origin and saw Celestia smile back at him. He grinned. Challenge accepted!

Blue took off again, dodging and weaving, but this time his target was the Solar Diarch herself. Nothing in the rules stopped him from treating her any differently. More stun beams came his way, but he dodged them as he closed in. “Sorry, Auntie 'Tia,” he said as he tackled her.

To his surprise, he went right through her, and the mirage shimmered away out of existence as he tumbled on the ground. Even with his superior recovery speed, he was unable to get up in time to dodge the stun beam that rendered him unconscious.

Blue Streak has been eliminated!

Free shook his head. “Still overconfident. Blue should have known that he wasn’t going to be able to take Celestia that easily. She’s survived several real wars unscathed, after all.”

“Nevertheless it was a valorous effort,” Carpacia replied. “Against virtually any other opponent, he would have been victorious.”

Luna alighted beside Trixie. “Well done, Trixie Lulamoon. Let us take the prize to my sister.”

Trixie gave a triumphant smile and turned towards the tent, only to be stunned by a beam from Luna. The unicorn collapsed onto the grass and Luna stepped over her to enter the tent where she spotted the cake on a table on the other side. Just as she moved towards it, a dark mist suddenly rose from the ground, and a form materialized within it.

“The cake shall be mine forever!” the dark mare declared.

“Nightmare Moon?!” Luna gasped before she was stunned by a blast from the newcomer. She fell unconscious as green magic flames flickered over her body to reveal Epiphany’s natural form.

Nightmare Moon snickered and resumed her real appearance. “Nice try, impostor,” the real Luna said before turning to her prize.

Unnoticed by her until then, a hole had quietly opened up in the ground and a large diamond dog hauled himself out, followed closely by Path. Even as Luna laid eyes on him, he reached out with his token weapon and tapped the alicorn with it.

“You’re out,” Path declared.

Luna pouted and said, “Oh, phooey!” She sat on her rump and crossed her forelegs and sulkily watched as Path turned toward the cake. He abruptly found himself treading air. The glow of magic surrounding him had levitated him off the ground, and now rotated him to see Celestia entering the tent.

“Where my sister goes, I will never be far behind,” Celestia declared. “It seems that I win, Lord Path.”

Path just grinned back at her. “Are you so sure of that, Princess?” He tilted his head to indicate the cake.

Celestia looked at her prize, only to see it slump over as a little Red Changeling started eating large chunks of it. She sighed as she put Path down and said, “Well done. I believe I will have to ask my chefs to prepare another and keep it hidden from Fifi.”

“Sounds like a plan. Shall we leave Fifi to her prize?”

“Yes, I think I will get depressed if I watch her scoffing my cake for much longer.”

Fifi looked up. “My cake!” she said proudly through a mouthful of said cake. Then she sensed the alicorn’s sadness at losing her treat, and Fifi waved her over.

Celestia approached curiously and asked, “What is it, little one?”

“Share cake!” Fifi declared, and stuffed a hoof full of it in the Solar Princess’s snout.

Celestia was startled, but licked the cake off her face, enjoying its rich taste. She swallowed the mouthful and said, “Thank you, Fifi.”

Carpacia was still monitoring her daughter through the hive-mind, and she sensed what Fifi had done. The Queen smiled and murmured proudly, “Honor in battle, and honor your opponent.”

“I’m going to have to watch out for that little one, aren’t I?” Celestia asked as they exited the tent, followed by Luna and the broadly grinning diamond dog.

“Of course – she’s my daughter, after all,” Path replied proudly. He looked up to the spectators on the cloud and gave a signal.

Team Celestia has been defeated. Team Special Hat has claimed the cake!” Twilight announced, and all combat on the field ceased.

“That diamond dog was a surprise,” Celestia admitted. “I had not realized that you had one in House Path.”

Path nodded. “Boris is a recent addition. He’s smarter than average, and a bit bored with the typical diamond dog lifestyle. We offered him a challenge, and so far he’s been enjoying himself. Right now I bet he’s mighty pleased that he was instrumental in winning the game.”

“And rightly so. You and your House continue to impress me. Keep up the good work.”

“As you command, Your Highness,” Path replied with a smile.

The alicorns went around the field, reviving all the magically stunned combatants. Destined took a bit longer to revive as Trixie’s sleep gas was very effective. Everyone started heading off into the palace, chatting about the tournament, often with their foes of a moment ago. Path was quite satisfied with the turn of events because everyone seemed much more relaxed after the excitement of the spontaneous competition.

However, it was time to concentrate on the serious preparations for combat once more. Soon Celestia would send an emissary to formally declare war on Zebrica – they might have started clandestine attacks on House Path and Equestria, but Celestia would not hold to similar duplicitous methods. Not that she truly expected to be surprised, but one could always hope that a firm statement of intent would sway the enemy.

# # #

Destined, Blue, and Lucida met up with Glenn, Forest, and Watchful who had been spectating. Pif and Citrine paused briefly with them to announce that they were going off to dinner to celebrate.

“Dinner for two!” Citrine added.

They got the hint, and left the lovers to themselves. That did not stop them from going off on a victory celebration of their own.

“Want to detour and pick up Silk while we’re at it?” Blue asked.

Destined shook his head. “He’s still at work right at the moment. He might be engaged to a prince, but he still needs to earn a living for now at least.”

“Have you decided on a date for the wedding yet?” Lucida asked.

“Are you in a hurry to get us hitched, Lucy?”

“Oh, come on, Des. We waited long enough for you to pop the question – how much longer before you actually get married?”

Destined grinned, happy to be able to tease his sister for a change. “Give us time, Lucy. We’re happy with the pace right now.” He was not about to tell her that they had been discussing the possibility of a double wedding event with Pif and Citrine, and had almost settled on a date. The upcoming war was the only thing that had prevented them from committing to it so far.

The group was ready to leave, and they started to head out of the castle. As they turned into the corridor to the main gate, a swirling and flashing hole appeared in front of them. Derpy flew out of it and skidded to a halt on all four hooves.

“Woohoo! Nailed it!” she crowed in delight.

“Oh no! Not again!” Destined moaned.

“Yep!” Derpy said cheerfully. “Let’s go!”

“Wait!” Lucida cried. “Glenn and Forest aren’t….”

The vortex reopened and drew the seven of them in, and a moment later the corridor was empty and quiet once more.

# # #

Seven people sprawled on the floor of the workshop.

“… supposed to come… oh, damn it!” Lucida finished saying.

“Whoa! What was that?” Forest asked as he looked about himself.

Glenn was equally confused, and he stared at the Doctor as he approached the pile.

“Derpy, love, who are these three?” the Doctor asked.

The grey mare looked at the griffon, unicorn, and red changeling, and shrugged. “They were with the others.”

Of the three newbies, only Watchful was aware of what had happened. “We are friends and comrades of Destined, Blue, and Lucida. I am charged with safeguarding them for the duration of the time war.”

The Doctor arched an eyebrow at her. “Are you now? Well, in the absence of Epiphany, I suppose you’ll have to do.”

Watchful was a little miffed at the Doctor’s dismissive attitude, but it wasn’t her place to object.

Lucida asked, “Can you tell us what’s happening, Doctor, or is it like all the other times?”

“I’m afraid so. Sorry about that.”

“Can somepony tell me what’s going on?” Forest asked.

“It’s a long story, Forest. I’ll explain it while we snack on Derpy’s muffins,” Lucida replied.

Right on cue and as expected, Derpy returned with drinks and a tray of steaming muffins fresh from the oven. “Watch out – they’re really hot!” Derpy warned.

The visitors ate and drank while Lucida and Destined took turns to explain what was happening and what had happened on previous trips. When they finished, Glenn said, “So this is another time-attack, and we’re all going to travel back in time to fix it?”

“You got it,” Blue replied. “Nervous?”

“Of course!”

Blue nodded in satisfaction. “Good. That will help keep you alert. We have no idea whatsoever what we’ll find when we go out the door.”

“And it’s time that you did so,” the Doctor said. “I suggest that you try not to do anything to make you stay in the past for so long again. It tends to… complicate things.”

“We’ll try, Doc. No promises though.”

The team gathered at the workshop door, some more nervous than the others, but none knowing what they would find outside. Destined used his magic to hide his horn, while Watchful assumed the form of a unicorn with a red coat and yellow mane. The Doctor opened the door and Blue took the lead, cautiously peering out the door before proceeding. They gathered outside the doorway and looked about.

“So – we’ve just moved to Ponyville?” Forest said with a touch of disappointment in his voice.

“Just?” Blue echoed. “Tell me – where’s the Chrome Hive?”

Forest looked again. From this position, they could see the top half of Twilight’s castle, and they should have been able to see an equal amount of the hive, but the mountainside was untouched.

While Blue had been taking the long view, Lucida had been observing close-up. “Everything looks normal otherwise, but you know that could be misleading. We’ll walk through town and look for clues for what has changed. Even if we don’t find any, I want to head for the castle. Unless we find a reason to do otherwise, I intend to consult with Princess Twilight.”

“Are you sure that’s wise, Lucy?” Destined asked.

“While we had a bad experience the first time, that involved a very specific set of circumstances. I suspect that it’s far more likely that Twilight will be a valuable source of information. Again, I want you all to look for clues that I have judged this poorly.” Lucida looked at Glenn, Forest, and Watchful. “Just because this is your first time doing this, I don’t want you to be afraid to speak up if you notice something that you consider to be odd. It could save our lives.”

They all nodded and assured her that they would.

“Okay, let’s go.”

They moved off, and Blue noted that the workshop was back in the same place it had been on their first adventure.

At least something is consistent,’ he thought.

At first the township seemed absolutely normal. The market was busy as usual, ponies were going about their lives cheerfully, and there were no unusual structures. Eventually though, one oddity stood out.

“Is it my imagination, or are there more changeling Royal Guards than usual?” Watchful asked.

“I think you’re right,” Lucida agreed.

Blue had paused at a newspaper vendor, and he walked up to the group while scanning the headlines. “I think I’ve found our history change.” He held up the newspaper.

New Changeling Incursion from Crystal Kingdom,’ read the headline.

Destined said, “Sounds like Chrysalis’ invasion of the Crystal Kingdom succeeded this time.”

“Yes, but since she wasn’t killed by Twilight this time, it has resulted in a totally different future. All the changeling Royal Guards are probably here to watch out for Blue Changeling spies or assassins because changelings can always detect other changelings if they’re close enough. And because the Guards are regarded as allies, that means Twilight has no hate of them in this alternate History. We need to find out what was changed, so it’s time to check out Friendship Castle.”

The team headed towards the castle, although they slowed to cautiously scan for problems before entering. Ponies were visiting the castle’s library as normal though, and they found Spike helping them find their books and checking them in and out. Aside from a few curious looks at the griffon and hippogriff, the situation seemed safe, and Lucida approached the dragon.

“Excuse me, Spike, but could you help me, please?”

Spike gave her a friendly smile and said, “Sure! What book are you looking for?”

“Not a book, actually. I want to consult with Princess Twilight in regards to the changeling invasion.”

“Oh. The Princess is quite busy. Can you come back at one of the scheduled public courts?”

“I suppose I could, but my friends and I believe we have information that can end the changeling war.”

Spike blinked in surprise. “Uh… I think I’d better check. Give me a minute, okay?”

They waited several minutes, but Spike did not return with Twilight. Instead he was accompanied by a familiar Chrome Changeling princess.

“Pif? How did you get here?” Glenn asked.

The changeling looked at the griffon coolly. “My name is not Pif. It is Hypotenuse.” She looked at the others. “Are you the ones who claim to have intelligence that can end the changeling war?”

Lucida replied. “Yes. We have information and evidence of this nature.”

Hypotenuse nodded before focusing on Watchful. “Red Changeling – why are you part of this group?”

Watchful stepped forward. “I am assigned by my Queen to watch over the safety of this team.”

The Chrome Changeling considered that and nodded. “Acceptable. Please accompany me.”

The group followed, and as they did, Blue said to Glenn, “You’ve probably only seen Pif once in her natural form, so it’s easy to make that mistake, but Pif has a pale green mane, while this one has a pale mauve.”

“Her attitude and speech are a whole lot different too,” Destined added.

They were shown into an office and asked to wait. Before long, Twilight Sparkle joined them. She smiled and welcomed them, and they introduced themselves by first name only. Then Twilight sat on the chair behind the desk, folded her forelegs on its surface, and assumed a serious expression.

“My daughter informs me that you have intelligence that can turn the tide of the war with the Blue Changelings. As she could detect no evidence of deception from any of you, I am ready to believe that this might indeed be possible. Please don’t disappoint me.”

Lucida stepped up. “I am about to tell you some facts that I am prepared to back up. The fact that you have had experience with similar events with Starlight Glimmer should lend credence to my words. History has been changed. The invasion of the Crystal Kingdom never succeeded in the timeline that we come from. We have been waging a time war with Queen Chrysalis who has been meddling with past events in order to gain control of Equestria. This is her fourth attempt, and we are here to fix it.”

Twilight stared at Lucida with a touch of shock. After a long moment, she said, “I concede that what you say is possible considering what you said with regards to Starlight’s attempts to change the past. You say that you have proof?”

Lucida turned to face her brother. “You’re up, Des.”

Destined stepped up and dropped his illusion, revealing his horn. “As you can see, I am an alicorn and, in the correct timeline, I am your son.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed and she sprang up from her chair. Her horn glowed as she scanned Destined, and then she slumped back in the chair in shock. “It’s true – you are an alicorn. There hasn’t been another since Wandering was born.” She stared at him in wonder. “And you say that I am your mother? Who was the sire?”

“Long Path.”

Twilight blinked in confusion. “Long Path died in the arena when we visited Griffonia.”

Lucida said, “No, he did not. Or at least he should not have if History was not tampered with. My full name is Lucida Path, daughter of Long Path and Roseclaw.”

“I remember Roseclaw. She tried to help our cause for peaceful relationships between Equestria and Griffonia, only to have her efforts sabotaged by the griffon nobles.”

“In our timeline, Roseclaw fell in love with Long Path, and his win in the arena secured him a noble House in Griffonia. From those beginnings, he, Roseclaw, you and Free Agent built House Path which has had a profound effect on world events, the first of which was to be instrumental in Chrysalis’ defeat at the Battle of the Crystal Kingdom.”

“And that’s what you have come to correct. Wait – if Path mated with Roseclaw, how is it that I am supposed to have had a son by him?”

“It’s a long and complicated story which I am willing to tell later. Path also sired a child with Free. That changeling princess was named Epiphany, although Free promptly nicknamed her Pif.”

“So that is why you called me Pif,” Hypotenuse said. “I resemble her, but I am the daughter of Free Agent and Twilight Sparkle.” She looked at Twilight. “Dad, I believe they are telling the absolute truth. I have not detected a shred of deceit among them.”

“Dad?” Blue said questioningly.

Twilight blushed. “When Free went into breeding mode, he… she needed a male partner. As Free’s wife, I felt obligated to use a gender-swap spell to oblige. That’s why Hype calls me Dad and Free Mom.”

“Hype?” Blue questioned again.

Hypotenuse replied, “Like your time’s Free Agent, he nicknamed me also. I am far more often called by that name.”

“That’s Free alright. So are you an only child?” Blue asked.

“No. Wandering Free is my younger brother.”

Blue looked at Twilight and asked, “So you did succeed in having a child by Free. Mama Twilight has been trying for a while, and has been worried that it wouldn’t work.”

“Mama?” It was Twilight’s turn to question the appellation.

“I was adopted into the Path family,” Blue explained.

“What about you two?” Twilight asked of Forest and Glenn.

“No relation; I’m the son of Queen Gilda of Griffonstone,” Glenn replied.

Forest said, “I’m the son of Whirring Cogs and Lavender Dreams.”

Twilight gasped. “You’re Cogs’ son? Do you know what happened to him? He disappeared…. No, wait. You couldn’t possibly know. Cogs fled Equestria with his family when the Blue Changeling purge happened after Chrysalis conquered the Crystal Kingdom. It was so unnecessary too. They only ever found one other Blue, and he was a Harvester too. They killed him before I could get to interview him though.”

“That was Elusive Clue,” Lucida said sadly. “He hated what Chrysalis did as much as Cogs did. It’s awful what ponies will do out of fear. Our Elusive now works for House Path. He helped design the Chrome Hive which was built into the mountainside near here. We noticed that there’s no such hive here.”

Twilight shook her head. “Free has never been interested in being a Queen. The breeding compulsion resulted in Hype, but she’s the only other Chrome Changeling. So far, anyway.”

“Yeah, Papa Free will probably eventually go into breeding mode again, and I suppose you will be the sire once more,” Destined said. “Was it really that awful being a stallion?”

Twilight blushed far more than she did before. “No. No it wasn’t,” she quietly admitted.

“Where is Papa Free anyway?” Blue asked.

“Free is my manager. He helps coordinate my studies with my duties as a Princess of Equestria. It means he needs to get around a lot.” Twilight sighed. “You might hardly recognize him. When Path was killed, it was like a part of Free died too. We left Griffonia immediately to bring his body home so that his parents could give him a funeral. I had to support Free emotionally for a long while, and I suppose that dependency is what drew us together. He eventually asked me to marry him, and I said yes, and we have been happy together since, but he never regained that spark that first attracted me to him.”

“He and Dad are bonded,” Destined said. “Long Path would have been equally devastated if Free had died. I hope I never encounter a timeline where that happened.”

Lucida said, “It sounds like Long Path’s death is definitely the key change to History that we’re looking for. Twilight – could you describe the events leading up to his death so that we can compare?”

“Very well. Long Path had this vision of investigating other cultures to better understand them in order to make friends and have peaceful relationships with them. To this end, he and Free attracted my interest in the project….”

Twilight retold the story of how the three of them first investigated the Crystal Kingdom before heading to Griffonia on the invitation from Roseclaw’s father, the ambassador to Equestria. Then there was the challenge by Ravenwing that led to the honor duel at the arena.

“Path was in bad condition, but he seemed to have a plan in mind. He had turned to buck Ravenwing, but nothing happened. Ravenwing’s attack on the next pass made Path lose so much blood that he never recovered, and he died on the arena floor.”

“Stop there,” Lucida said. “Dad never talked about it in the early days, but he had worked with his unicorn Mage mother to try to adapt earth pony magic. He had developed what he named the Thunderhoof. That buck should have sent out a magical shockwave that would have disabled Ravenwing. Path then maimed Ravenwing, thereby winning the duel by the stipulated conditions. He won all of Ravenwing’s possessions, including title and holdings. That was what started House Path. That is the turning point in your history.”

Twilight sighed. “So, you say that you can correct this and stop the invasion of the Crystal Kingdom?”

Destined cleared his throat. “Not exactly. You see, History is merely the course of highest probability through every possible event at every possible moment of time. This History that you know is one that was of a lower probability, but forced into existence. When we go back into the past and correct the course of events, this reality will be relegated to lower probability once again, and the original returned.”

Twilight frowned. “So what you’re saying is that this invasion won’t merely be overturned, it will cease to exist.”

“No, the invasion happened, but Chrysalis was defeated.”

“And everyone lived?”

“Dad nearly died, but he survived to start a family.”

Twilight looked over at Hypotenuse. “But Hype was never conceived?”

“No, she wasn’t,” Destined admitted.

“I… I can’t allow that,” Twilight said quietly.

“Mom, you have no choice. We need to correct History.”

“I don’t know you, Destined Path. I know my daughter, and I have no wish to lose her.”

Lucida took up the argument. “Mama Twilight, if we don’t correct History, thousands will have died in the Crystal Kingdom, and an invasion of Equestria will be inevitable.”

“Don’t call me Mama! I don’t know you either. I only know my daughter and my son, Wandering. What are his chances of ever being conceived in your History anyway? He should be about sixteen by now if it was ever going to happen!”

“Our Twilight is trying for a foal, as was said earlier. With regards to Hype though, I doubt that it will happen. With Long Path as herd stallion, Free might never require our Twilight’s help in conceiving.”

“Then I will not allow you to change History!” Twilight cast a spell that surrounded the group in a glow.

Everyone in the team immediately felt weak. “What have you done?” Lucida asked.

“I have blocked your mana flow. Without magical energy, you cannot time-travel, and I won’t lose my daughter.”

Lucida looked at her sadly. “That’s twice now that you have let your emotions let a terrible timeline persist.”

Twilight flinched but did not relent.

“Dad – stop this,” Hypotenuse calmly told Twilight.

The alicorn looked at Hypotenuse with anguish on her face. “I’m doing this for you, Hype.”

“They are right – they need to correct History. The deaths of thousands will be on your conscience otherwise, and it will break you. I cannot allow that to happen to you. Let them go, Father.”

With a sob, Twilight dropped her spell.

“Thank you, Hype,” Lucida said gratefully, and the others murmured in agreement.

“Don’t thank me. Just go do what you must.”

Lucida nodded and turned to Blue. “Are you ready, Blue?”

“Give me a moment, sis. Twilight’s spell drained some of the power that I had already built up.”

“Destined?” she asked her other brother.

“I remember the date. I’ll allow some time for travelling to Griffonia.”

There were some long, awkward moments while Blue was still recharging for the time-jump as Twilight lay her head on the desk and softly cried.

Hype put her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and said with a voice much warmer in emotion than ever previously, “It will be okay, Dad. I promise.”

Blue eventually said, “I’m ready.”

“No sense putting this off any longer. Goodbye Princess Twilight. You too, Hypotenuse. Okay Des, let’s go.”

The time vortex started to form, but just then Hypotenuse leaped into their midst, and before anything could be done about it, they had all plunged into the time-stream.

# # # # # # # # #

 
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